Category: House

Experiments in expertise

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You all really liked that other colour of green, didn’t you? It’s okay, you can tell me. I can take it. I really like it, too. But it didn’t fit with my vision for the room! To use a metaphor, as I’m wont to do, it’s like editing one’s own writing: kill your darlings, is how Stephen King puts it. The point being, just because you love something doesn’t mean it fits. Sometimes you have to paint over a colour you really love, or remove a plot point that charms you, or exise your favourite sentences (actually, in writing, that is almost the rule rather than the exception. Your favourite sentences will inevitably be the ones you have to sacrifice in honour of the whole.)

Stick with your vision. This will make you happier in the end.

Yesterday, the Giller longlist was announced. I didn’t hear about it until rather late in the day, which put in perspective the difference between this year and last. Last year, I was on tenterhooks the morning of the announcement, which kicks off prize-season here in CanLitLand. And then I wasn’t on the list. It felt crushing, but I coped, and pretty soon I felt better. But it was kind of a relief, this year, not to have that pressure of waiting and wondering and then coping and forging onward. A year from now, I’ll be going through this all over again. I can’t even ask the question: should literary prizes matter so much? One hopes a deserving book finds its readers no matter what, but the prizes do help focus attention, especially on books that might go otherwise overlooked.

I want to congratulate everyone on the list — and also hug everyone not on the list, especially those who it seemed might find their way there. One small observation: there are 13 writers on the list, and 4 are women. I wonder about that. And then I observe that the jury is made up of two Canadian women (Esi Edugyan and Margaret Atwood) and one American man (Jonathan Lethem). So, who knows. I realize that’s not a profound conclusion, but I haven’t got one.

One more thing: looking over this list of authors, I notice how many are of my own generation, or just a little older than me. Makes me realize that “the establishment” is fluid. The list also reinforces my sense that CanLitLand is about the size of a neighbourhood, and that I’ve found it a lovely place to dwell. Despite the pressure and anxiety around prize lists, I’m looking forward to having a new book out next fall, because it’s a reason to travel and meet other writers, and that’s my favourite part of living in CanLitLand.

I woke up without a headache this morning. I’ve been sitting at my desk for over an hour, and I still have no headache. This feels worth celebrating! Perhaps with a sunshiny walk: I saw the physio yesterday, and he said I could try a half hour walk once or twice a day. He also did acupuncture, and I swear it helped. As yesterday afternoon turned to evening, it felt like the fog was lifting.

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I cut this lad’s hair yesterday outside in the backyard. I’m trying to remember when I became an “expert” haircutter, and I think it was as a teen, when I simply insisted that I knew what I was doing, and my mother let me experiment on my younger siblings, who suffered some occasionally unflattering cuts as a result. (Edna, please forgive me that bowl cut?) But some of the cuts actually turned out, cementing my “expert” status! (Or, more accurately, my delusions of expertise.) I remember giving my mother a brilliant haircut right before her high school reunion. In turn, this anecdote should give you a succinct understanding of who my mother is: a woman who would let her teenaged daughter give her a haircut right before her own high school reunion!!! She trusted it would work out, you see. That’s pretty awesome mothering, in my opinion.

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Stripes! We should have done stripes just like these! This girl had her second gymnastics class yesterday evening. Flushed and happy afterward, she wondered whether she could take more than one class a week. “I might have found my special thing, Mom!” (She’s been terribly worried because her siblings all have their “special things” that they love to do, soccer, mainly, while she’s dabbled in, but never loved, quite a few activities including dance and tennis.)

I tried to ease her anxiety by explaining that we may discover many special things that interest us deeply at different times in our life, and that experimenting is a good thing, but I’m to blame for putting the anxiety in her head in the first place, by suggesting that we all have “special things.” I meant to encourage her to explore her interests, but instead I planted a seed of worry. Parenting. Try, fail, try again, fail better.

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One of this girl’s “special things” started yesterday evening, and we were both really excited to get the season underway. Swim team! Last fall, she was a novice who couldn’t do a flip turn or a start dive, and now she seems like a veteran. Here’s a thought. A sign that something may be our “special thing” is that we return to it with excitement, enthusiasm, and commitment, even when it’s no longer new. Even when we already have a sense of what to expect from ourselves. Even when we’re acquainted with our limits, and know our own strengths and weaknesses. If, even then, we want to participate and keep learning and stretching and growing, then we’ve landed on something special.

We should have done it in stripes

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So, the living-room. We were going to paint three walls a lighter shade of green, and one wall darker, but the darker tone turned out to be not drastically different from the lighter, as you can see (above).

Here’s how the conversation went after all four walls had been painted, yesterday afternoon:

Me: It’s a good colour, but it’s not what we planned.
Albus: I like it.
Me: I’m not sure.
Apple-Apple: You could paint the wall that colour I wanted [note: that colour she wanted was a violently brilliant eye-popping apple green].
Me and Kevin: No.
Albus: Well, it’s your house so you get to choose.
Me: But what do you think?
Fooey: I think you should do stripes!
AppleApple: I know! You could paint the ceiling that colour I wanted!
Me and Kevin: No!
Fooey: Like a stripe of purple and a stripe of blue and then green and yellow and …
Me: I mean, I like the colour, it’s just not what we planned.
Kevin: I have to know by noon tomorrow because I won’t have time to paint after that.
Fooey: Can you paint stripes in my room?

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Me, [messaging Kevin, 10:07 AM, today]: I went and looked again and decided you should paint it.
Kevin: Ok I will come asap.
This is the bonus of having non-traditional jobs: so we can pop home and paint whenever the mood strikes! From the sounds of it, he’s got a soccer game going in there, too. Pretty nice way to spend a Monday afternoon.
[Note: if you really really love that shade of green over which Kevin is painting (above), please don’t tell us, because he’s covering it up right now, as I type, and we’re not going to repaint this room three times in as many days. But, who knows, we might use it for stripes in Fooey’s room. Why not?] 

All shook up

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I present to you the chaos in which we are currently living. We are having the house re-treated for bed bugs this coming week, which means moving all of the furniture away from the walls, so Kevin decided to finish the painting project in the living-room. Praise be! I’d resigned myself to the likelihood that we’d be looking at empty walls blotted with holes pretty much indefinitely. And now we’ll enjoy a freshly brightened space instead.

As it is, it feels like we’re living with uncertainty pretty much indefinitely.

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this morning, in process, two walls done

I keep getting messages from friends concerned about my ability to take it easy and rest. I would like to assure you that this is not actually a problem. In fact, I’m finding it alarmingly easy to rest, for the simple reason that my head hurts when I don’t. I can see why you’d think it hard for me, given the pace at which I prefer to live my life, but what’s perhaps more distressing is how easy it is for me to shut down, lie down, close my eyes, and not do anything at all. The only problem, I suppose, is of identity. I prefer the Carrie who operates at high efficiency and can be relied on to squeeze the marrow out of her days and hours. The-meditational-Carrie-on-the-couch-whose-head-hurts-when-faced-with-effortful-tasks seems a foreigner, a stranger, from whom I may learn something, someday, but whose presence is, it must be said, a bit of a drag. It reminds me of the six weeks, or so, post-partum when everything would feel off-kilter and I would long for life to return to normal; and eventually, it did, or rather to a new normal. I imagine, at some small distance from now, writing an essay reflecting on this slightly bizarre time in my life.

A friend on FB recently posted a status that went roughly like this: “I’m thinking of all those times when I thought ‘I’m barely holding on.’ Perhaps it’s those moments that are conspiring to help me let go.”

I like that. The positives of this experience seem to relate to letting go. Maybe that’s why I’ve been playing the piano more often, and singing: my head likes it, and I feel very free as my fingers and voice improvise and play with rhythm and melody. I’m shifting plans to make life easier, too. On Friday, I realized that there was no way I could drive myself to and from Toronto for a reading; so Kevin drove me, and we got to spend an unexpected evening together. Hardest of all is not limiting physical activities, but cognitive ones, as I’m healing. This includes limiting writing time, reading time, and time conversing with friends, all of which I find surprisingly taxing. I trust that my friendships and books will wait for my return; my anxiety circles instead around a fear that I won’t be able to write with clarity and depth, given this injury seems to affect most strongly my ability to focus for long periods of time: that’s why I’m continuing to blog. It gives me hope.

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Here’s how Kevin and I are living right now: like grad students. It’s like we’re camping inside of our ordinary lives. It changes the perspective. There is comfort in simplicity, in a bed on the floor and not much more, the entire family crowding in on a Saturday morning to laugh and talk and snuggle.

What happens when we’re shaken up? What happens when we can’t be our best selves? What happens when we’re asked to live in flux? What happens when we let go of all that we can’t control?

Sent and spent

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I sent this pair off to buy something for lunch, for the second time this week. They went to Vincenzo’s and got sushi and soda pop. CJ ate a blue frosted cupcake before they were even home. “We tried the free samples!” (On Monday, I let them go to the grocery store to get something for lunch and they returned with: Corn Pops, Cap’n Crunch, mini chocolate chip cookies, and three cheese buns. I think I see improvement?)

Fooey is doing tennis camp this week, which is why she’s not been involved. (Side note: she’s been working on filling in a journal all about herself, and had this to say on the page with prompts about her parents. “The one thing I hope I never inherit from my mom is the way she … HAS NO STYLE.” And: “The one thing I hope I never inherit from my dad is the way he … HAS NO HAIR.” My attempts to defend myself were met with scorn. Well, justified perhaps, because that kid has style.)

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It feels like a day for black and white.

Here is my desk, right now. On the left, see the syllabus I’m working on. In the middle, my BlackBerry, which flashes whenever I get a message (very distracting, but I must like being distracted; text me, please!). On the right, this week’s calendar full of to-do lists and daily events not to be forgotten. And on the computer screen, a message to my editor with the revised version of Girl Runner attached. Yup! She’s gone off. I’ve sent her on her way.

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Kevin, who has been my first reader for as long as I’ve had a writing career, stayed up past midnight reading the new draft, and told me this morning that he couldn’t put it down. He offers the following blurbs: “I felt like I was running in Aggie’s shoes over a 100-year race.” And “The book had the perfect combination of pace and depth, just like the 800 metres.” And: “Normally I can read only a few pages at a time. I read half the book in one sitting.” As he’s obliged only to say good things, for the sake of our marriage, you might think this input is highly suspect, but I’m going with it. It’s been a summer of intense and sometimes crazy-making labour, and I can’t do more without a serious break from the material. And my editor is pleased to have it back on her desk again.

And now I give myself the respite of a week or so, before the madness of the fall schedule begins, to be quiet, peaceful, breathing, playing, and not working. Tall order.

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One last thing. My next post is going to be about everything I’m excited for this fall. It really and truly is. Because there is so much coming in and now that I’ve sent the manuscript I can breathe and sit back and look at it all. And rest my head. And say thank you.

Projects and tangents

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Ten years ago, in late June, we moved into our house, two little babies in tow: Albus had just turned two and AppleApple was seven months. The house seemed enormous, and almost unfillable, but we seem to have solved that problem. Our bedroom is perhaps the one room in the house that remained untouched over the past decade. We added drapes. We moved bassinets in and out and in again. For awhile, my writing desk and computer were crammed in a corner (I wrote virtually nothing publishable during that stretch; weird, huh). But the walls remained the unpainted dull white plaster through which the lathe could be seen. Yes, that’s how unpainted our bedroom has been for the last decade.

So it took an invasion of bed bugs to move everything out and paint. Well, at least it happened.

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Kevin stayed up late last night to finish it. We decided to go with a darker colour field on one wall against creamy-white ceiling and other walls. We chose a soothing deep blue with hints of purple.

“Your room looks beautiful!” Fooey told us this morning.

We’re debating whether there’s time to paint the living-room, too, which came freshly painted when we moved in, which was, as noted, ten years ago, and is now, not surprisingly, full of holes and scrapes. We are, however, also hosting a party for our eight-year-old tomorrow evening. Can we do it all?

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birthday cake for birthday girl, with scrounged candles from junk drawer

Meantime, I actually (unbelievably!) turned over the last page of my manuscript yesterday evening, the version that holds my editor’s revisions. That doesn’t mean the book is ready to send back to her, but it does mean I’ve now worked through every single page and addressed every comment. Today it’s back to the beginning to see whether my many many many changes hold together. Good grief. I’m in a state of anxiety, let me tell you. I also note that we’ve got less than three weeks left of summer holidays. That’s me you hear crying out from the heart: nooooo!

:::

Here’s my tangent, which I post at risk of sounding ancient, crusty, and out of touch with young people these days (say that last bit in a quavery old woman voice for full effect).

I’ve been listening to top forty radio this summer. Sometimes all I want is a singable song while I drive home from a soccer game. Unfortunately, the songs with the good hooks seem to be highly inappropriate, not to mention misogynist in tone. (Blurred Lines, I’m frowning at you, with your fun sound and sticky bass line, which I would like to enjoy listening to, but can’t without censorship: there are kids in the car! And I’m a feminist!) So it was an odd relief to get snagged on Lorde’s Royals while stuck in traffic with CJ the other day. We both liked it. I think my ears were craving that clean choral sound, and a subject unrelated to booty, booty-calls, getting booty, shaking one’s booty, and anything else booty-related. It’s the female body as material object mixed up with materialism itself, and I hate the juxtaposition, and the shallowness and amorality underpinning it. There aren’t even any interesting metaphors in these songs. You know you want it. Um, no, I don’t, not all the freaking time! You’re boring me! C’mon top-forty songwriters! And then I came across Macklemore’s Same Love, and felt relief, too, to hear a straightforward political song with a lovely singable hook, on a top forty station. But I miss K’naan. Where’s he gone? Any other pop fans out there? Who are you listening to this summer?

Wild: wanted and not wanted

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Wild. What a word.

I’ve been thinking about how thin the veneer is between us and the wild, how porous the borders, how I simultaneously crave the peace and calm of a contained and civilized existence, even while sensing my need to be out in the wild.

I’ve been thinking about how much of my life involves containment, grooming, and cleaning — there is so much effort involved in keeping our domestic environment, and ourselves, free from dirt and bugs, safe from weather, our food at a remove from the earth, our bodies in a socially acceptable state.

Sometimes it seems like nothing more than illusion.

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squirrel in window-nest

Recently, a squirrel tore a giant and strategic hole in the screen outside the younger kids’ room. It then dragged in a bunch of ivy, and set up house. Clearly, it was pregnant, and nesting, and had no intention of leaving. Briefly, I considered letting it stay, since the window would have provided a terrarium-like observational environment for homeschool-style education, but then I thought of everything that could go wrong. (Infant rodents perched two stories above a paved driveway, smushed up against the kids’ bedroom window???) So instead, we scared off the squirrel, and removed her ingenious screen nest.

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emptied bedroom

On Monday morning, we discovered that the “hives” I’ve been experiencing for months are caused by bed bugs, which are not just for nursery rhymes. I’ve decided to write about it because life is not neat and tidy and perfect, even in Blogland. Unpleasant things happen sometimes. Apparently some people are non-reactive to the bites (like Kevin), while others experience allergic reactions in the form of hives (like me), which is why it took us so long to figure the situation out. Nobody wants bed bugs. But they’re better than an auto-immune disorder, I say; plus we’ll finally get around to painting our bedroom after a decade of procrastination. And we’ve got rid of the bed, which I never liked. We’re having the house steamed today, and I sense that after that, life will go on. As it does. Messy and disordered. (Our house is currently turned upside-down, and yet, look, life keeps marching forward. We cook, we eat, we work, we play, we go to swim lessons. Some of us even blog.)

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Happy Birthday, DJ and Suzi!

Our dogs seem like the least wild of creatures, but it fascinates me that so many of us humans choose to live with other species. It’s been a year, as of August 6th, since we’ve shared our home with these two little doggie-wogs, aka the poggles, aka the pogs, as they’re called, among many other odd nicknames (where do nicknames come from?!). All of the kids made them birthday cards and fashioned these little hats for them, too, though the dogs were tolerant of (ie. not keen on) the hats, and only “listened” to the cards being read to them because the card-readers were offering treats in return. I’m pretty sure we’ll always have animals — I can’t imagine life without them, somehow.

I’m not at peace with the torment of bugs, or the inevitable march of dust upon every surface, or the grease in the stove’s mesh trap, or the relentlessness of change and accumulation that demands vigilance and attention. I’m not at peace with it, because part of me wants to live with less and less and less stuff. The less stuff we have, the less there is to protect from the insinuation of the wild. I’m not at peace with it, also, because I can’t really prevent these invasions from happening. I have other things to do. There will be dust on the bookshelves, and dog hair under the couch. Not all the time, but it’s coming back, no matter how much effort I expend on keeping it at bay.

Which is maybe my way of saying that I’m not at peace with it, but I accept it. I keep it out, and I let it in, in balance, as much as is possible, all the while understanding that I’m part of it, too. It’s not separate from me — the wild.

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