Everything is winding down, summer holidays are nearly upon us, and the truth is that I’m feeling a little bit flat. A little bit weary. I sense that I’m jealously guarding my reserves of creative energy as if in fear they might run out, which is perhaps not the best strategy; after all, creativity feeds on its own bubbling forth. And I don’t actually believe it can be spent, entirely.
But my instincts feel protective, somehow. Cautious. Inward-looking.
I spent yesterday writing. My working title is The Girl Runner; but that might not last. All I will say of what I’ve written is that it’s unexpected in tone and content, and the writing itself feels like disappearing into a daydream. From which it can be hard to emerge. It’s like getting lost. But I’m often not aware I’m lost until I realize how much I’m struggling to connect with what the kids are saying to me, or to respond with coherence to their requests.
It’s possible that their mother memories will include them prompting me to finish sentences, reminding me of what we were just talking about. It’s convenient to blame the writing; but it’s not always even that. Sometimes I’m distracted by a scheduling conflict, or by some errand I’ve just remembered needs doing, or by a voice on the radio, or a newspaper article, or a conversation or dream freshly recalled. I don’t know why it is sometimes so difficult for me to ground myself in the present moment. There are times when I must deliberately force myself to follow a spoken response through to its conclusion, force myself to pay attention to the reply, force myself to hold the thread rather than to drift.
Scattered. I wonder, and worry: How can such a scattered woman manage a functional daily life, manage to keep her children fed, manage deadlines, and plotlines?
Perhaps this explains why I wrote The Juliet Stories as a fragmented narrative: why I ask the reader to piece together clues, and take leaps. I was honoured to read an extremely sympathetic review in The Winnipeg Review posted earlier this week; the reviewer understood and was not frustrated by the leaps in the book. Read her review here.
And if you’re interested in listening to me (try to) talk about the connections between the book and my own experience, earlier this week the CBC ran my “riff” on Shelagh Rogers’ book show, The Next Chapter. Click here, and find me at 37:13 (with thanks to the friend who figured that out).
At the very end of the interview, I mention that I haven’t asked my siblings how they feel about the book, and I say something air-headed like, “I hope that’s not a bad thing! [Giggle]” *(Aside: I should probably make it policy never to listen to interviews of myself.) Anyway, my brother Christian heard the interview, so he dropped by the other evening to let me know that he really liked the book. We ended up having a funny conversation about the real events he recognized, and how they were dropped into such different contexts, all mixed up; and I was relieved to hear that he didn’t read himself as the brother Keith. In fact, I think he might be the perfect degree of closeness to recognize exactly how fictional the Friesen family is. He said his wife, on the other hand, is exactly the wrong degree of closeness, knowing just enough about our family to imagine that the book is somehow veiled history. If you know just a few things about our family’s past, I can imagine it would be easy to make the leap. But if you were there for it too, there is no leap, because it isn’t what happened, and we’re not the characters.
If I ever write a book about my family, it will be a very different book, about a very different family; and, frankly, I can’t imagine attempting it. But there’s no doubt families are enormously compelling, and if I ever storm up the nerve to try, it would make for an interesting exploration.
If asked, I will tell you that I pray none of my children become writers. Personally, I think it would be a bit of a curse to have a writer for a child. We’re dangerous. And probably maddening. *(Another aside: I read a tweet recently in which a writer noted that writers of fiction are constantly being asked “what’s real?”, while writers of non-fiction are constantly being asked “what did you make up?” Obviously, audiences have a compulsion to understand the links between fact/fiction, life/imagination, memory/invention. Etc.)
Which brings me round-aboutly to The Glass Castle, which I’ve been reading all week. In fact, I went to bed extra-early last night in order to finish it. It’s a memoir about a family of such incredible dysfunction that it staggers the mind. What amazed me most profoundly was the love expressed throughout — love of child for parent, and parent for child — despite the author’s childhood of parent-induced agony and chaos and hunger and violence. Love is so complicated. It isn’t reasonable. It guarantees nothing. It can be the source of terrible wrongs. And yet even the most disastrously-expressed love seems to answer something in us; seems to be something we need and crave, and could not survive without.
I’m not bringing this post around to any kind of coherence. Other than this: writing can be an act of love. But it is sometimes — often? — an act that feels more like dire necessity, or selfish need; it takes me away from my children, it removes me from the present moment, it deposits me in imaginary spaces. I don’t know where it comes from, or why I need to do it. I just hope it does ultimately create artifacts of coherence, and patterning, and some kind of connection and truth. Because that’s what love is, isn’t it? Love is connection, no matter how tangled.
What am I missing? I asked in my last post.
Well, this morning I was missing my sanity, at least briefly. A left-behind lunch box required a hasty drive to a far-away school. And it felt a bit like the straw on the camel’s back. What am I missing? Maybe the whole point. Life is good when it is busy, but it can get just that much too busy. So busy that instead of hugging my kids goodbye, I’m racing out the door yelling hurry, hurry, hurry! Because it feels like there isn’t a second to waste.
Is there a second to waste? What, exactly, would I be wasting in that second, anyway?
What am I missing?
Yesterday, a friend’s wife passed away. Cancer. I never met her, except through her blog. She was the mother of children close to the ages of mine.
That much-repeated bit of advice about holding your kids while you have the chance? Yes. That’s all.
thanks to my mom for taking this photo of my kids walking to a diner for breakfast
This morning, our littlest piano player was becoming frustrated with her practicing. Slam, slam, slam the fingers on the keys, wrong note, BANG, wrong note, BANG, wrong note, BANG. “This song is too hard!” This was preceded by a ridiculous argument with her sister over the “funnies” in the paper (which no one finds funny, yet everyone insists on reading; which I find funny). And it was followed by a ridiculous argument with said sister over a sunhat — she wanted to wear her sister’s hat, which was apparently much superior to her own. “I only have one hat and she has two!” was the cry of misery.
Suddenly I realized — she was tired. It had been a late night, her first soccer practice of the season, bedtime pushed back by an hour, and she’d woken early.
Ah. It all made perfect sense.
I’m feeling a little bit the same way myself, frankly. Need more sleep.
… “m” for Marita!
This was easy and fun. I’m tempted to do it again. I really like giving things away. (Would you come back and enter your names all over again for a second round?)
AppleApple picked the name out of the basket because she and I had scheduled writing time together this morning. I wanted her help on The Big Fat Juicy Belly Worm story. She’s got lots of top secret information about the BFJBW. So we found a pinch of time on Saturday morning, squeezed in between starting bread dough (me) and soccer game (her). She looked forward to it all week–and so did I. Except it wasn’t as fun as we’d anticipated. Writing isn’t really fun, exactly. There’s a lot of erasing and starting all over again. Most ideas get chucked. Information has to be spun into plot. I’m afraid she found it all very tedious. I’m also afraid I’m very abrupt and business-like when writing, even when the subject is a fun children’s story. And we didn’t even finish the chapter.
Maybe I’m just not good at sharing?
Who’s house is that? We pushed the sofa away from the wall for a poetry book club a couple of weeks ago, and never pushed it back again. Furniture in the middle of the room … who knew? It makes for a cozy seating area with space for piano practice and the art table behind it. I still don’t have a decent location for the piano books, but someday. Someday.
I’m operating on a hopeful mission to sort out and tidy every drawer and surface in the house. And also to keep the bathrooms/kitchen clean. My strategy involves doing it when I see it needs doing. In practice that means I was cleaning out the bottom drawer of the fridge on Monday evening while unloading our Bailey’s food. The idea, borrowed from my friend Rebecca’s blog, is to ask: Do I have five minutes? Usually these minor cleaning tasks take only a few minutes. And I almost always have five minutes. I also found five minutes, which stretched to a few more, to scrub mold off the grout in the shower one evening last week. Just what one feels like doing after tucking the kids in, let me tell you, but that’s when I noticed the mold. Did I have five minutes? I did. We use baking soda and vinegar as cleaning agents, and as I scrubbed and scrubbed (using an old toothbrush) I found myself reminiscing about the Old Dutch cleanser my mom used to use, which would remove a layer of skin from your hands but sure got the tiles sparkling in a jiffy. Advice from fellow green-cleaners out there? Is the secret all in the elbow grease and the lowered standards?
If I’m talking a lot about the house, it’s because this has been a housebound week, high on domestic necessities. My girl is still sick. We will be heading to see the doctor shortly.
I don’t function well in housebound mode (and for the record, yes, my office is at home, but my office does not make me feel housebound). I don’t function well on interrupted sleep. I get grumpy. It’s fair to no one, but by 6pm, on a day when I’ve been doing nothing but scrubbing grout with a toothbrush, preparing meals, cleaning up from meals, entertaining sick children, worrying about sick children, and ferrying other children with sick child in tow to after-school activities — by 6pm I’m liable to bite someone’s head off. Usually my husband’s. Because by 6pm he’s around, that’s why. And he’s not a kid. Yup. Totally unfair.
I’ve been enjoying reading the latest issue of Brain, Child magazine, which has a piece on whether or not mothers complain too much about motherhood these days. Do we? Do I? Or should I really be complaining more? I wonder sometimes whether I get the balance right: truth-telling, accurate reporting of on-the-job realities mingled with gratitude. I do feel some discomfort about being a “mommy blogger” … about presenting my family’s life in some ideal package or inducing guilt in any other mother out there who doesn’t have time (or the interest) to make homemade food or who drives instead of making her kids walk to school or etc. I think we’re all trying our best. We have good intentions. We make mistakes. Life isn’t perfect. And “mother” might just be the most judged and criticized role any of us could have chosen to take on, but that didn’t stop us, so there’s bravery right there.
And I’m rambling.
And it’s time to go.
Yesterday, after running errands and going to the library, CJ fell asleep on the couch listening to a CD he brought home from his grandma’s house when we visited over Thanksgiving. He picked it out based on its cover art: two shaggy Scottish cows. An artist I’ve never heard of. A bunch of cover songs. Grandma didn’t seem sad to see it go. I was upstairs hanging laundry while he was listening, and I heard him chiming in with the first song on the words “Just like a rhinestone cowboy!” Except he was singing “Just like a rockstar cowboy!”
Another funny misheard lyric: on Monday evening I was driving four girls to their theatre rehearsal — there is always singing from the back seat. One girl had just seen The Sound of Music, and at least one other girl knew all the words to all the songs too. So I was treated to “I am sixteen, going on seventeen.” The funny part was when one girl sang the line: “Fellows will fall in line,” as “Pillows will fall in line.”
I can just picture it.
What was I going to blog about today?
Somehow, I think there was another topic in mind when I began.
Oh yes. One boy sleeping on the couch yesterday afternoon = one mildly sick boy at home this morning — my rockstar cowboy. I pictured us spending the day doing fun activities together — crafts, puzzles, baking, reliving the days of yore. But instead he just wants to watch movies and lie on the couch, and I’ve had a nap and read the newspaper. And now I’m blogging. And it’s a beautiful day. My plan is to coax him off the coach (he’s really not that sick) and get the two of us outside to walk around the block … or something … outside.
I’m amazed at how uninspired I am to do anything. How did I ever get anything done when I was home with kids full-time? Well, I never let them watch movies like this, that’s for sure. I should be filled with guilt except I’m uninspired even to do that.