Quiet in the house. Construction noises loud outside.
Outside, 20 degrees C, sunny, windy. Clothes on the line whipping in the breeze. Small dog settling into dead leaves in raised garden bed, beside newly greening rosemary and thyme.
Thinking of the books I will write.
Seeing their spines in my mind’s eye. Sweet imagination.
Even while pressing down anxiety, clothespin in hand: What’s happening after school? Where do I have to be, when? Which carshare car have I booked? How early does supper need to be on the table?
I think, pasta with the last of the tomatoes.
Small dog stands, alert, to warn me of approaching pedestrians, big diesel trucks, other dogs, a squirrel.
Locating myself in time, to this moment.
Thinking of all the books I will write.
Everyone will get to where they need to be, even if they are a little bit late. Even if we are always, perpetually, just a little bit late. Rush, rush. “Mom, we’re fast-pokes, you and me.” (Fooey, age 7, and always organized and ready to go.)
Thinking a run in the woods. Touring the science fair. Soccer under this swept sky. What good kids I have. I will write them a book.
Clothes flapping to dry under a promising sky.
All the books I will write. All the books I will write.
all of these photos look even better viewed in full: click on them to see
I ran on Tuesday evening: 10 kilometres. I ran again on Wednesday morning with a friend: 8.8 kilometres. I ran again on Thursday evening, in a light rain: 10.5 kilometres. I ran again on Friday evening, in a wind that took the breath away, cursing with fury the weather: 7 kilometres. On that run, fist at sky, a grin broke across my face somewhere in the second kilometre. Running makes me happy, no matter how irritable my mood, no matter the weather. That’s when it came to me. I had run every day since the explosions at the Boston marathon. I hadn’t chosen to do it consciously.
I have six more kilometres to run, and then I will have completed the marathon distance, spread over six days rather than an afternoon.
It is Sunday afternoon. I have one more indoor soccer game today. I’d like to shut the computer down and run those last six kilometres, but I also want to take time to process photos and to write. I am trying to train myself to be disciplined with my time. On Friday, for example, I had an hour alone in my office, the kids being home on a PD day. I forced myself to turn the hour toward my new manuscript, a children’s novel.
Kevin is playing top forty dance music while he does the dishes.
I took my camera with me this morning when I drove to pick up AppleApple from her swim practice. It was my third trip out already this morning, and I thought, let’s document where I spend so much of my time: inside a vehicle, driving these familiar roads. Seen through the lens, the landscape looks bleak, somehow, empty, under construction. I like the resulting photos. Processing them, with Kevin’s music in the background, has given me a curiously crushing happiness this noon, a demolished happiness, like the happiness I associate with being young, with being alive to a potential and possibility not quite defined but present, a streak of light, a flare of anticipation, excitement mingled with melancholy, premature nostalgia. Nostalgia for a moment already happening.
This is the mood I’m in when I want to play the piano and sing.
This is the mood I’m in when I want to write a new story.
Or create photographs. It’s a happy mood. It’s a split-the-world-open mood. It doesn’t happen every day. I am thankful.
P.S. Just ran those last six kilometres. With love to all the long distance runners out there.
Above: letting the photos tell the story of a Big Moment in her life so far. Her older sister has no interest in ear piercing, so it was a first for me too. We went with her friend and her friend’s mother, so all of us had peer support on the adventure.
But that was only one of many things that happened this weekend! While the two of us were at the mall, Kevin was at our doctor’s weekend clinic, trying to figure out what the heck was wrong with CJ, who was sick and getting sicker by the minute. It turned out to be strep. There’s always something, I tell you. Meanwhile, Fooey and I had arrived home to a weirdly empty house — the two other kids were with friends. We had a few minutes to eat lunch, then realized Kevin and CJ would never make it home in time for us to get AppleApple to her soccer practice. Thank heavens for the carshare! I was able to book a car within fifteen minutes of us needing it, and AppleApple ran home to change, and then we all ran about a kilometre to the available car, zoomed out to practice, zoomed back to the lot, and Fooey and I ran home (Fooey in her new shoes, dragged along, and starting to complain of muscle cramps), just in time to meet my brother, who, at the very moment we were puffing up the sidewalk, was pulling into our driveway to pick me up for my sister’s piano recital. With Kev and CJ still on their strep odyssey, Fooey came along too.
new shoes, her choice
How I enjoyed the hour of peaceful listening, with nothing to do but sit in stillness and absorb music. I thought about how we are fed by ephemeral, transient offerings we don’t fully understand, by the hard work and efforts of others to create and interpret and share beauty.
with her aunt Edna
Fooey went off afterwards with her aunt and her grandma for a sushi treat, while I caught a ride home with Kevin and the rest of the family, reunited post-soccer practice, with meds for the sick lad. I would have enjoyed the sushi treat, too, but there is such a thing as duty, and Kev had done some hard time all morning and most of the afternoon. Instead, I used leftover fish heads to brew up a rich fish stock, which I used as a base for a potato and corn chowder. Supper was served terribly late, and only a few of us would eat the fishy chowder (DELICIOUS!). The rest had grilled cheese instead, made on the waffle iron — Kevin’s handy-dandy innovation. We are teaching the kids how to use it so they can make hot meals for themselves next fall. But as CJ was falling off to sleep, he claimed terrible hunger, and what was he hungry for? “Chicken!!!” We had no chicken in the house, so I promised I would go and get him some right away, and that is what I did, with the two big kids giddily joining me on the late-evening mission to the grocery store. We picked up supplies for the week — of course there was no rotisserie chicken left at 9:30 at night, so we chose a packaged of pre-roasted slices that I would never ordinarily buy. Ever. Except when my sick kid wants chicken, I guess. We came home and gorged on mangoes, Kevin already asleep on the couch.
Through the night, I played nurse to the sick boy, who slept restlessly, but woke somewhat better. At least he was no longer getting worse. Kev was feeling under the weather, so I got the kids going, (chicken for breakfast, anyone?), waking AppleApple with mere minutes to spare before driving her to swim practice, and then it was time to put on my writer’s hat. Or pants, as the case may be.
“Are those new jeans?” Fooey, my fashion-conscious-child, inquired. “Nope, not new, but I only wear them for special occasions.” “What’s happening? What are you doing today?” [said with slight panic in her voice] “I’m going to a reading in Hamilton.” “Why are you dressing up?” “A reading is like a performance. I’m the entertainment, so I’m getting dressed up.” [note: “dressed up” is a term used loosely in our family, and yesterday involved the aforementioned jeans, a short-sleeved blouse and a jacket, with boots, and a necklace made of unpolished stones, plus or minus lipstick]
I drove to Hamilton to take part in GritLit, that city’s spring literary festival. I appeared on the short story panel with Cary Fagan and Miranda Hill, a pair of very entertaining performers, indeed. Questions answered, books signed, hands shaken, I then drove fast and made it to my soccer team’s first playoff game, changing in the bathroom and racing onto the field before the whistle blew. We won! Back at home, Kevin was making supper, the laundry had multiplied into a slightly scary mountain, the older children had played in an exhibition soccer game together, and Grandma had come and gone. The sick boy was still sick. The piano had been fitfully practiced. The dogs needed walking.
two sick boys
Today, I’m home with two sick boys, which has been a bonus, as the elder of the two is not that sick and has sweetly entertained the younger. I’ve achieved only the minutiae among goals, but sometimes that’s the best one can hope for. The laundry mountain has been mined down to a timid hill, the boots I left at the soccer field (oh, my spacey-post-game-brain!) have been retrieved, I’ve swung kettlebells in the early hours, and answered emails, and organized our week on the chalkboard, and I’ve even written this blog post. Hallelujah!
But the whole damn weekend went by too fast, and Monday is going too fast, too. I’m sensing a theme. Life, the fast-forward version.
transforming my office
This is my birthday gift from my dad. It’s still a work in progress, as you can see, but already I sense how it will alter and expand my space in this lovely little room.
When I first moved into my office, just over a year ago, I loved the blankness of the space, the empty walls, the echoing newness. I wanted to spend time in the room before building anything permanent into it — to see where the light fell, to see what was really missing or necessary.
I set up my wheelie computer desk, which I’ve been writing on since grad school, c. 1997; my chair; a plastic office organizer with drawers, formerly Kevin’s; my great-aunt Alice’s tiny rocking chair (she was a tiny woman); and a cast-off cupboard with doors, inside which I hid my piles of paper. After we got dogs this summer, the dog beds somehow migrated here too. The dogs love the heated floor and finding retreat from the constant attention of the children. (The children know to knock.)
It didn’t take long, really, for the blankness to be replaced by clutter.
And darned if I could no longer blame the clutter on other people — for the first time since about 1999, I had a space that was all mine. Which meant the mess was all mine too. The room began to seem small. Piles of books teetered atop stacks of paper. Soccer cleats took up residence on a windowsill. Framed artwork was stacked in the corner, facing the wall. Behind the doors of the cast-off cupboard, items became so crowded and sprawled as to be basically unfindable.
I couldn’t afford built-in shelves and desk, but thought maybe I could put my GG finalist earnings ($1000) toward Ikea shelves and a desk. And then my dad got wind of my plan. Before he became a professor of Anabaptist history, he seriously considered apprenticing as a carpenter instead. He used to make our Christmas gifts out of wood when we were kids. Now he’s retired. He’s got a wood-working studio in his garage. So he volunteered to take on the job of Carrie’s office.
I’ve been working in here for the first few days of this new year, still using the old wheelie desk, c. 1997, but with the architecture of the shelves in front of me, giving my eye some relief from the blank wall. I’ve been writing steadily. For my birthday, I bought myself Scrivener — no longer a trial version. This promises to be a big book. I’m not sure how big, but it seems quite big already and it’s not done yet. Oh, and it’s a novel. I’ve also started believing my character is a real historical figure, which is weird. I’m making her up but I feel like she really lived.
I’m imagining a hibernating winter with these shelves warm with books and pictures, the dogs in their beds, the clutter temporarily wrangled and contained. I imagine a filled space, and the comfortable march of words. I’ll be writing.
Haircut, Monday evening, while waiting for the hot chocolate to cool, because, as always, “This hot chocolate is too hot!”
I wasn’t going to blog this morning, but I’m operating so efficiently that I genuinely believe I can write and post this in ten minutes (which is the time I’m allotting towards it). I have already been for a run (with a friend, in the dark, and oh it’s dark these mornings, which is why you’ll see me wearing a headlamp, even though I discovered it left a funny mark on my forehead this morning). I have a soup simmering in the crockpot. I got the kids up, dressed, fed, and off to school by myself, as Kevin headed off early to Toronto (thankfully he walked the dogs before he left, that might have been the straw for my this morning). I’ve had a nap. I’ve eaten breakfast! I just made a fresh pot of coffee.
I’m going to spend the day writing.
But I did want to report back re sad neglected advent calendar. Monday ended on a high: I put slips of paper into each empty pocket. I was so excited to tell the kids when they got home from school: check the calendar!
Monday’s activity? “Look at photo albums.”
“Oh! I just did that!” said Fooey. (Yes, that’s what gave me the idea, thought I. The photo albums were still out.)
Yesterday’s activity: “Write our family Christmas letter.”
Which AppleApple and I accomplished in an hour of manic productiveness after swimming, while the little kids got their own snacks and brushed their own teeth (Kevin and Albus were at soccer). Now comes the hard part: printing and sending. If you think you’re not on our list and you’d like to be added to our list (where is our list? note to self: find!), you are welcome to send me your address via email.
Today’s activity: “Wear red and green.” (Because today is “green” day in CJ’s “big school” classroom and I didn’t want to forget.)
I can’t remember what tomorrow’s is. But trust me, all of the activities are extremely low-key, or things I’d already planned to do. For those more ambitious, a friend sent me a link to this Pinterest page with advent activities that are, admittedly, quite do-able, but kind of overwhelm me with their impossible enthusiasm nevertheless.
Time’s up. Enjoy your Wednesday, whatever it is you’re doing today. (Just noticed that I’m not wearing red or green …)
This is what I feel like doing today.
Instead, I am having one of those exquisitely Mondayish days. And Monday is winning. Damn you, Monday! The hours are cruising past while I blither away at apparently endless and infinitely finicky odds and ends that must be done somehow by someone and soon. I’m telling you, spreadsheets are involved.
“This is the most disappointing advent we’ve ever had,” said one of the children this morning.
And I’ll admit, I have not found a good way to fill those little slots with daily seasonal activities, despite having an envelope full of ideas in my office. We had the “candy cane meltdown” last week, wherein a slip of paper promised candy canes we proved not to have. We’ve had way too much hot chocolate for breakfast. The Christmas decorations never got made. The snowflakes for the front window did, but remain as clutter on the dining-room table. And for the past two mornings, the children have found nothing in their advent calendar. Nothing. Serious seasonal fail.
I should at least write on a slip of paper, “Make toast!” or “Pet the dogs!” I think the kids would prefer that over nothing. They might even prefer to imagine that we’re going to do activities that I know in advance we won’t have time for, such as “Bake cookies!” or “Go skating!”
All of which is to say that this Monday finds me quite entirely overwhelmed by the details of the season. Who has bought gifts for whom? What’s our budget? What’s happening when? Can we split childcare over the holidays? Is everyone happy? Will everyone be happy? I know, I do, that it will all come together, and that the time I’ve spent today will help make it so, but oh, this is tedious.
Meanwhile, the novel waits patiently (or maybe not so patiently; I’m pretty sure the novel has the bit in its 210-pages-of-teeth and is begging me to gallop for the finish line. But listen, novel, we’ll just have to go back to the beginning and start the race all over again, so, really, what’s your hurry?). I hear, from a novelist much more experienced than I am, that I should look into Scrivener, a program that helps keep track of all the book’s bits and pieces. Unlike Word, which makes me feel like I’m composing one insanely long drawn-out thought that may have completely gone off the rails way back when and is missing several dozen terribly important pieces but I can’t stop now and must simply forge ahead til I reach the end. Writers out there — thoughts? (Also, it occurs to me that I could really use a Scrivener-like-program to organize my entire life. Talk about bits and pieces.)