Pouring my coffee this morning, I thought, this is my favourite moment of the day — the smell of the warm coffee, the anticipation of sitting down at my computer and tasting the first sip.
But then it occurred to me that my day is full of favourite moments.
Some are ritualistic in their daily repetition, such as the cup of coffee.
Others alight out of the blue, like sitting beside CJ on the stairs well after his bedtime while he tries to remember what worry he was going to ask me about, what worry is keeping him from staying in his bed and falling asleep, his face in profile to mine, fixed in thought, and it feels like I could go on looking at him forever without ever tiring of the sight of him in the late-evening half-light coming through the window. At last he says: “Why do we have to lose our baby teeth and then grow adult teeth? Why aren’t we just born with adult teeth?”
This is my favourite moment. And this. And this.
Leaping in the air to cheer my daughter who is suddenly rocketing into second place with a pure blast of speed as she comes around the bend at the end of the 800-metre race. Somehow, on the straightaway, her face turns toward mine, from the track to the stands, and it feels like our eyes lock and I can see the fatigue caused by her effort, and I am telling her that she can keep going, she can do it, and she is telling me that she already knows this, wordlessly, and the image becomes fixed in my mind in a way that feels quite permanent.
An email out of the blue from a senior editor at a major Canadian magazine, asking me to consider writing for them — goosebumps.
The light in the early morning as we approach solstice.
The scent of peonies in bloom.
Talking to a loved one, even though they’re not having a good day, knowing a loved one feels comfortable talking to me, even though they’re not having a good day.
Seeing a 4:10-kilometre split while out-running a thunder storm at soccer practice. Saying to my daughter after we’ve dashed to the car through driving rain, now I’m going to go for an under 4-minute kilometre. Just one. And she says, you can do it!
And anything seems possible.
Enjoying the peace of this photo. Or maybe it’s the pause. The moment suspended.
In a rush. Monday morning. Dog can’t decide whether she wants in or out. Need to get on bike and get to a school meeting. Still not getting enough sleep.
I’m tempted to put all of the above into hashtag form, but I don’t know why. Maybe hashtags are kind of like miniature poems? Or maybe I should just sign up on Instagram? Here’s how it would look …
#inarush #Mondaymorning #dogatdoor #biking #meeting #moretiredthansleepcancure
Just have to add a postscript. Goes like this.
#bikechainblues #argh #greasecoveredhands #foreverrushing #notquitelate
I’m collecting all these photos to illustrate blog posts that have gone unwritten.
For example, these photos are from last Thursday, when I got up early with AppleApple who was swimming, went for a lovely run (first I checked the temperature and actually said to myself, hey, -24 with the windchill, that’s not bad!, mainly because I’d been expecting -30 and you’d have to admit, by comparison, -24 sounds positively balmy). I started my run around 5:30AM and discovered that the sky was growing pink by 6:20AM. It was a beautiful morning in Canada! (Today, I was running in nearly broad daylight by 6:45AM, although it was still -24 for some reason. I run on Tuesdays with my friend Nina, and we swear that this winter’s trend has been: Tuesday will be the coldest morning of any given week.)
So last Thursday, post-run, post-shower, post-poached-eggs-for-breakfast I fetched AppleApple from swimming, and tapped out a blissfully happy status update on FB: A beautiful morning in Canada! Then I took a nap. Kevin got the little kids up to their friends’ house before walking to his office. The older two were both home, one sick, and the other taking a “mental health” day (which we all need, on occasion). I was woken from my nap by the sound of wind striking the house. It was that loud, that dramatic. I opened my eyes to a scene of winter obliteration outside the window, and saw the time: 8:57AM. Exactly when my two little kids would be walking to school with their friends. So much for the beautiful winter morning in Canada! My initial instinct was to hop in the truck to try to “rescue” the children, but after I’d texted Kevin and the parents of the walking friends, I downgraded my response to “anxious pacing.” It was clear that driving in such conditions would help no one. (In fact, the shockingly sudden snow squalls caused enormous pile-ups during the morning’s commute.) The squall blew itself out in less than 15 minutes.
less than an hour and a half separate these photos from those above
That afternoon, Fooey reported that they were nearly at school when the snow blast arrived — “I couldn’t even see J, who was right in front of me!”
“Was it kind of exciting? Like an adventure?” I asked, hopefully.
“No. It was cold. It wasn’t fun.”
Right. Hello, realism. Well, at least no one was scared or lost or sad, from the sounds of it. Tough little Canadian kids we’ve got.
On Friday, I met Kevin for lunch and I splurged, which is not a word that I usually associate with my purchasing actions (I hate shopping, as a rule). I bought x-country skis, boots, bindings, poles, plus vastly reduced snow pants (everything was on sale, which helped me to justify the decadence). And then on Saturday I went skiing while Kev took the kids sledding. I went out again yesterday morning with a friend. It was -27 for some reason. It was also stunningly beautiful.
I used to hibernate during winter and get pretty blue. A few years ago, I discovered that running was an all-season activity, given the right clothing. Winter improved immensely when I started getting outside in it. But there are times, as when slogging up a slushy street struggling to find footing, when one thinks to oneself: I’m trying my best, but let’s be frank — this sucks. When will this damn stuff melt so I can really run again? Truth is, I’ve never embraced winter sports; I’ve never, up until last Friday, invested in any equipment that would deliberately draw me out into the snow, that would induce me to think, even faintly, hey, I hope this snow lasts awhile longer because I’d really love to go out skiing again soon! That is a whole new level of winter acceptance right there.
The fireplace in the living-room doesn’t hurt either.
I’m 39 years old and I’ve spent the better part of my life in this country. I think I’m finally starting to feel like a real Canadian.
Some days I don’t have so much to say. Some days I’m teeming with ideas. Today is the former. I find myself a bit dazed and distant, wandering my treadmill (though I promised not to mention it). Maybe it was being awoken at 4:44 AM by a whining dog, and then submitting to the realization that I wasn’t fated to fall back asleep, given that my alarm was set for 5:05 AM. And the dog would not stop whining. Even after I took her outside.
I brought the dog inside. I drank a glass of water and brushed my teeth. I woke my daughter for swimming. I dressed and did yoga in the dark of the living-room. And then I went out for a run (-19C). It was a bit earlier than I usually go, and the streets seemed especially dark and empty. My eyelashes became bejewelled with droplets of ice. Cold seeped through my double and triple and quadruple layers. I ran as fast as I could, but I couldn’t run myself warm. I saw three people during my entire run, and a single vehicle passed me. The neighbourhood felt that emptied out, that silent, that blissfully asleep. And I was blissfully awake. I am a complete convert to the early morning.
The people I saw: one woman going for a walk; one woman going for a run; one man I’ve seen before (or smelled, more precisely), who walks down the middle of a particular street smoking a cigar at approximately 6:15 AM (eep!).
Before kids and jobs, as a university student, my interior clock was switched around. I did my best work after midnight, and had difficulty rising in time to make my 11 o’clock classes. Maybe waking early is just another version of that devotion to the hours when most of the world is asleep. I think that’s what I love about being awake early. I love the quiet. The illusion of solitude. The sense of being a watchful eye on the sleeping houses.
My daughter was so happy when I picked her up at the pool, maybe for the same reasons, though I don’t know for sure.
I’m not saying it’s easy to set the alarm, or that it comes naturally, even now, after several years of practice. Oddly, it’s actually not. It’s actually something that I have to remind myself, almost every single time, will be worth it. If there’s a secret to discipline, it’s this: the first step is the hardest one to take. I forget this regularly, and learn it again, regularly, very often at 5 o’clock in the morning when my resistance is low and I’m somehow willing to stagger forth. The first step is the hardest.
Last week I blogged about fiction versus non-fiction, and a friend posted a link to an article titled “Based on a True Story. Or Not.” If you’ve got time to ponder the subject, go off now and read it. If you’re in a hurry, here’s my brisk summary:
The essay is about the use of autobiography in poetry. We, the reader, tend to assume that a personal-sounding poem is autobiographical. So what happens when we, the reader, discover that a personal-sounding poem is in fact fictional? Do we have a sense of being cheated out of something “real,” or of having been fooled or tricked by the poet? Why do we want so badly to know that the poet wrote out of experience rather than imagination? Why does it matter to us?
Because it does matter, at least to many of us.
I’ve visited quite a few book clubs for The Juliet Stories. There is one question asked every time, usually immediately, a variation of: “Is this story something that really happened to you?” How I answer the question probably depends on my mood, and I often feel rather weary as I try to explain my creative process. But even if I don’t welcome the question, exactly, I don’t disdain it. I’ve come to believe the question must tap into something fundamental within us, something held in common, as readers. That we come to a story looking for truth. We come looking for the connections between author and subject. We want to believe in the veracity of what’s being told. (Maybe we want to be part of the story or become closer to it, by being witnesses rather than “mere” readers.)
The closer a story appears to be to autobiography, the more jarring it is to be told: this is fiction. We’re not comfortable with something we suspect to be full of half-truths, which are also, of course, half-falsehoods. I find it very difficult to wrestle with these distinctions. I’d rather say, “None of this happened” than “Bits of this happened”; while the thought of saying “This all happened” makes my skin crawl. I’ve got no desire to be a memoirist, clearly.
But every story I’ve ever written has been inspired by a glimpse of something actual, whether it be a house I once lived in, or the memory of an emotion that washed over me in a specific situation, or an amulet from childhood, or by knowledge I’ve personally gained cooking or horseback riding or running. I get my ideas from life. But an idea isn’t a story, an emotion isn’t a story, a glimpse isn’t a story. To make a story, I imagine what might have been if life were different. I seek alternative explanations for those things I can’t explain. I go off the trail. I wonder. I make it up.
As a fiction writer, I’m not asking my readers to be witnesses, to paraphrase the conclusion of the essay cited above. I’m asking my readers to imagine.
Curious, though. What am I asking of readers here on the blog? This isn’t fiction, obviously. This is it. Here, perhaps, I’m asking you to be witnesses.
Yesterday at 9AM I wanted to write a post that listed in fine detail every damn thing I’d already accomplished since waking four hours previously; but I was too tired to do it, and instead went upstairs and fell into the oblivion of a nap. It will sound like bragging. Maybe it is. I don’t mean it to be. I myself am astonished and only want to record it because I doubt I’ll believe it years from now, the pace at which I’m currently pushing myself, wondering whether it’s too much, whether I’ll stumble, and badly. (Note: Kevin was working in Toronto yesterday, and usually shares half these duties.)
5:04 – Alarm. Brush teeth, dress.
5:11 – Daughter’s alarm. Help her get ready for swimming.
5:19 – See daughter off with carpooling friend.
5:33 – In darkness, leave house for a run on snowy roads.
6:29 – Home after 10.2km (slow; muscles never warmed up in the cold).
6:33 – Dash out with whining dogs for walk, chilled.
6:47 – Feed dogs. Shower. Dress. Scarf toast with PB.
7:00 – Wake eldest son to watch dogs and be on alert for rising children. Leave for pool. Listen to news on the radio, blast the heat.
7:15 – Pick up daughter and friend at pool. Feed them bananas. Chat.
7:25 – Drop off friend.
7:35 – Home. Feed myself and daughter poached eggs on toast.
7:55 – See friends waiting for elder son to walk to school, run out and tell them go; he’s sick. Call school to report his impending absence.
8:00 – Send daughter to bed.
8:03 – Wake small children. Dress smallest.
8:15 – Feed small children vanilla yogurt with cut-up pears. Empty dishwasher, begin filling again.
8:19 – Check lunch boxes, add desserts, make snack to put into smallest’s coat pocket for field trip, as per instructions on form sent home by teachers, lost, and then after much searching, found. Start load of laundry. Wash beans for supper.
8:29 – Get small children into outdoor clothes. Not quickly enough.
8:37 – Wake eldest daughter. Drive small children to meet friends for their walk to school (they usually walk there).
8:47 – Wake eldest daughter again. Pack her school bag.
9:01 – Drive eldest daughter to her school (she usually walks there, too).
9:10 – Check on sick eldest son, returned to bed. Make him a cup of tea.
9:20 – Crate dogs. Nap.
9:50 – Woken by whining dogs. Get up. Feel grumpy. Get on with it.
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.