the leaves have all since fallen off this tree
I’m distracted. It appears to be Wednesday already, which means I’ve got course prep to finalize, and photocopying to do, which means also that I get to visit the mailroom at the English department and check my mailbox. My mailbox never has anything in it, and yet it gives me such pleasure to check.
my mailbox, in its natural state
I was musing about this little slice of happiness while driving AppleApple to swimming last week, and she said maybe it makes me feel part of something bigger, to have a mailbox at the English department. I think she’s on to something. It’s not that I don’t love my home office (I do!), but I work very much alone (not counting the two dogs), very much on projects of my own devising (which I love, don’t get me wrong). This brings me great satisfaction, but not a sense of connection with a larger community. It’s desert island work, in a way. I’m tapping away under my palm tree, shoving notes into bottles and heaving them out to sea. Every once in awhile (or quite often, lately) a bottle returns with a note that says, I love your note! Or something to that effect, if we’re following this metaphor to its conclusion, which we really must, having committed ourselves thus far.
there she goes, Girl Runner
I’m trying to parse the oddness of what I’ve been feeling as Girl Runner sells abroad. I receive a phone call, or an email, that seems out of the blue: Carrie, we’ve had offers from X,Y, and Z, and we recommend accepting Z’s. And I reply, Sounds good to me! And then I go back to my office and try to maintain good posture whilst working on revisions, staring at the words on the page, and wondering at the power these very words seem to have, and how that power, which might almost be magic, seems utterly separate from me. It’s as if Aganetha Smart (that’s her name, my Girl Runner) is off on adventures all her own, while I’m here in my ordinary office waving goodbye, and admiring her efforts, but quite distanced from them.
I just got a phone call. Spain, people, and all of Latin America. If you visit the publisher’s web site, you’ll see they distribute through Central and South America, as well as to the US Spanish-speaking market. It gives me particular joy to see “Nicaragua” listed among the countries. So, you see, there she goes, Aganetha, off on another adventure.
Suzi, hard at work
Meanwhile, my two colleagues, Suzi and DJ, sigh in their dog beds under my desk, and relax into the afternoon. The other evening, AppleApple and I got a kick out of imagining the conversations I might have with my home office colleagues, Suzi and DJ, as they “get the job done.” Suzi: “Rearranged the blanket on the couch with my paws. Totally got ‘er done.” DJ: “Snored so loud I woke myself up. Knocked that one out of the park.” Suzi: “Shortest bathroom break ever. Did you hear me scratching at the door? Genius.” DJ: “That’s nothing. I’ve been eating something unidentifiable under the porch for the last hour. Rocked it.” (Not sure why the dogs like to brag about their efforts around their water bowls, but that’s what we heard.)
Moving on. Work, Carrie, work! Focus! C’mon. Get it done.
This weekend passed in a dreamy haze.
We keep having (minor) bad things happen, then discovering that the bad seems to have sparked something good. Case in point: on Friday night, Kevin herded the dogs down to the basement to crate them. DJ ran ahead and somehow, somewhy, and completely out of character, peed on the futon we’d literally just moved down there from our bedroom (because we got a new bed! YAY!). In cleaning up the mess, we discovered that the futon was in dismal shape, and then we did the math. Purchased in 1996. Okay, that makes it ten — no, wait — almost twenty years old! GAH!
Clearly time for a change. Last weekend, we bought our new bed from a futon store uptown: the plainest, sparest bed you can imagine. So we’d already priced out (and knew we could afford) a similarly plain futon and frame for the basement, to use as a guest bed. Kevin bought it and put it together on Saturday afternoon.
And just in time.
That very same afternoon we learned that a family member needed a place to stay temporarily — and we could offer our brand new futon. It seemed providential, an old-fashioned word that wants using from time to time.
I feel the same way about the bed bugs, another bad thing that set into motion all sorts of good things: clearing our bedroom of years of clutter, and finally painting the room, which spread to other painting projects around the house. I spent this weekend setting our bedroom back up again, so that we no longer feel like we’re camping.
Kevin cleared the basement of much clutter, too.
We’re ready for guests. The house feels like it’s being steadily cleared of excess, stripped down to the basics, an orderly, comfortable home, even if the order is disguised beneath dog hair and art supplies and sports equipment. (Why must we keep two skateboards in the living-room, and a scooter in the front hall?)
There wasn’t much time for relaxation this weekend, but I squeezed in two long walk/runs on this serene path you see above, both afternoons, during AppleApple’s soccer tryouts. I miss the high of pure running, but walking has its benefits: you see more detail, you can meet a friend and walk together, and you can pause to look up in awe at a bald eagle in a bare tree that you might not have noticed if you were travelling through, apace.
this is where I went this morning
this is why
Bus ride, hee-hawing donkey, straw bale maze, wagon ride, corn maze, pumpkin patch. I’ve been on field trips with all of the other kids — fire station, nature hike, a different pumpkin patch — but never with this last one; so he gets his due. This might mark the end of the line for me, the last of the field trips. Six hours a day of work-time (ie. school hours) are already too slender for my requirements. I’m going into my office on campus on Wednesday evenings for teaching prep. I’m out of the house on Thursday evenings too (for class), and may maintain the habit even if I’m not teaching this winter. I need the extra hours wherever I can find them. And everyone’s getting along just fine without me.
“If I’m going to be more of a house-husband, you might have to give up some control over the laundry,” Kevin told me, as he chauffered me to campus yesterday.
The laundry remains my only real area of total domestic domination; why am I holding on? I used to maintain exclusive management of the following: kitchen, dishes, lunches, meals, food gathering, bedding, bathrooms, vacuuming, and laundry. I let Kevin handle the basement, garbage, pets, and yard (such a classic gender split, I know). I’m down to just laundry, having acceded control over everything else. I can’t remember why I used to be so possessive of those spheres, so certain of my own superior expertise.
Where was I going with this post?
Oh, yes. Such a jam-packed evening yesterday. After being dropped on campus, I holed up in my office to work. Then we had class, cut short due to a reading planned months ago. I walked through Waterloo Park with several students brave enough to tag along, to the Clay and Glass Gallery, where a double-launch was already underway for the Wild Writers Festival (coming to Waterloo Nov. 8-10), and for How to Expect What You’re Not Expecting, a new anthology of personal essays, to which I’m a contributor. I was the last to read, and had time to down a glass of white wine and fix my hair (sort of) before going on. It felt quite magical, actually. I’d slashed my essay to a reasonable reading length, and the words seemed to fall into a hushed and welcoming space.
I love reading. I want to say more about it, but everything I try to type sounds presumptuous and vain. I love the opportunity reading affords: to share a moment that has the potential to be profound. Yup, that sounds lofty. All I know is that when I’m reading, it feels exactly like what I’m meant to be doing. And that’s a good feeling.
Afterward, I went out for drinks with friends to celebrate, well, all of this.
Which is another reason I was not so extremely filled with happiness to find myself on a crowded school bus this morning.
More news, to end on: Girl Runner has found herself a German publisher! Yes, it’s true, we’ll be going out for schnitzel. And beer. The book will be published in translation, which is kind of mind-blowingly awesome, isn’t it? We were trying to figure out last night what the translation of the title might be: Madchen Lauferin, according to Google (sure to be spot on).
And, last but not least, here’s a link to a piece in today’s The Bookseller, on the UK deal.
More projects on the go! Kevin’s on a painting kick. This weekend he’s tackling the stripes Fooey requested for her bedroom. The kid is onto something. Her instinct for style is uncanny. Kevin’s only finished the blue stripes (there may be green and yellow ones yet to come, depending on his patience for what has turned out to be a time-consuming job), but it seems to have added something dimensional to the walls. I swear the room looks cleaner. Stripes as mess-camouflage?
I can tell my head is better not only because it doesn’t hurt, but because I was operating at high efficiency yesterday. I tackled a series of projects of the sort you never intend to tackle, but simply find yourself head-shakingly in the middle of. It was all precipitated by an order of a half-bushel of roma tomatoes, which I knew I would both regret and appreciate. I never intended to can them, there being ample room in our freezers due to lacklustre enthusiasm (from me) on the food preservation front this summer. I’ll freeze them, thought I! Nothing simpler! (Really, there isn’t; I just toss them cored but whole into freezer bags). Then I scouted out the freezers. Two half-full small chest freezers desperately in need of defrosting. Perfect! No time like the present! I’ll just defrost these, one by one, switching the frozen items between each, clean out the interiors, oh, and wash behind and underneath while I’m at it, discovering enough fur-like dust to make a pile that looked (disturbingly) mouse-like (it wasn’t). And then I froze the tomatoes. The defrost project dragged on all day, but freezing the tomatoes took less than half an hour; I’ve ordered another half-bushel to process next weekend.
I also made a run to the grocery store for boring bulk essentials that we were totally out of like TP and rice and dog food.
on the landing
I declared Saturday to be cleaning day (that made me popular), and ordered the kids to strip their beds. There were mountains of laundry. I attacked hard water stains in the upstairs bathroom with vinegar and elbow grease.
A million friends came over to play, with children rotating between houses on scooters. One child did nothing but Rubiks cube all day (“cubing” is all the rage in her class, which probably tells you something about her class). Kevin and I, at the eleventh hour, left a houseful of kids playing the card game “Pit” at the highest imaginable volume, in order to go shopping for a new bed. We’re sticking with our living-like-grad-students theme and made the purchase at a futon store uptown. Kev’s picking up the new frame and mattress this afternoon. Photos forthcoming.
the colours in Albus’s newly painted room (I told you Kevin is on a roll!)
And then we fed the kids pancakes for supper, and took ourselves out for dinner to celebrate: our first opportunity since Monday’s news. Truth be told, we were both really tired. We drank, we ate, we tried to talk about it. We don’t know what’s ahead, can only sit in the strange calm of right now, shaking our heads and laughing at the ridiculous year we’ve had so far, a year of extremes and unforeseens, of injury, bed bugs, concussions, fresh paint, career turns, difficult choices, and, at times, seemingly no choice at all but to keep on keeping on. So we’ve kept on. Thankfully. And here we are. Thankfully, and with thanks.
Above, our house, captured, in reflection, in its natural state. We’ve got son plus friend, plus clean laundry unfolded in basket on dining-room table, plus piano (not being practiced), plus basket of mail (unopened), plus family photos more than a decade old (which I long to update), plus book on table from Friday night’s poetry book club meeting (The Griffin Poetry Prize Anthology 2013), plus covered chalkboard wall, plus broken bridle on living-room floor (remnant from my childhood, used recently as a prop in a child’s school presentation on horses). I also spy art supplies on the dining-room table, because art supplies are like weeds. You think you’ve got them coralled and under control, and bam, they’ve sprouted everywhere again.
I’m feeling at peace with the messiness, with the constant state of disorder. I don’t like dirt. Or dog hair. But I love this evidence of flourishing life, creative, shared, blessed, untidy, in the midst. I love being in the midst. Keep me here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?]
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