This is my IFOA weekend look. I wore the same outfit both days. One can only do so much with one’s limited “dress-up” clothes.
Yes, another anonymous hotel room. It looks very much like the last.
I arrived yesterday morning on the train, trundled my (borrowed) tiny wheeled suitcase along the sidewalk, through construction, stopping to buy two newspapers (to gorge despite my better judgement on the happenings surrounding ‘he who shall not be named’), returning to the same hotel room I’d been in earlier in the week. Different room. Different view. I can see the island airport from my window. And, more distressing to me for some reason, I can see into the windows of a nearby condo, and have detected humans, who may in turn be seeing me. And so I draw the blinds after dark.
Both the reading and the panel have gone well this weekend. A panel is a tricky event to run, and its success relies heavily on the moderator and on the chemistry of the assembled writers; this afternoon’s was a pure pleasure to participate in: moderated by Brian Francis (of Caker Cooking fame), I got to talk about history, memory, place, and our place in all of this with Michael Winter, Joseph Kertes, and Dionne Brand (whose poetry I studied in university!!).
Now to return to coursework responsibilities, the hunt for supper, and perhaps a drink later on this evening with several siblings who happen to be in town (well, my sister Edna does live here, so that’s not exactly happenstance).
I have quite the to-do list written on a loose sheet of note paper, resting beside my elbow on this anonymous desk. I’ve yet to check anything off completely. Let me share it with you, actually. It’s awfully aspirational.
Kim J essay
LEARN & check UW email
read students’ drafts
prep for class
or write in memoir
pictures for Jammie Day
send babysitting message for AA
(Actually, that last one I did check off. The neighbourhood has been officially informed that my elder daughter, now in grade seven, would like to babysit your children; I can recommend her as creative, energetic, thoughtful, kind, and capable of cooking eggs in any style.)
PS “Start novel.” Yes. Just put it on the list.
Why am I so tired? I asked as I arrived at the top of the stairs at 8:45 this evening, a bit breathless, carrying a full, folded basket of clean laundry. And then my day ran through my mind: supper from scratch (polenta with tomato sauce and goat cheese); baked a batch of bread; made the week’s schedule; three loads of laundry; sheets changed; errands run on foot uptown; 12.5km run; kid to soccer tryout. That’s enough for one day, right?
Am I supposed to be this tired, or am I abnormally tired? Honestly, I can’t tell. The run today was hard, even though I took it easy for the first half. But I struggled toward the end, which has me fearing the Toad next Saturday–twice the length, and a much more challenging course. I didn’t feel like myself.
How can I not be so tired? I ask. And then look at my upcoming schedule and can’t figure out how. That’s all for tonight’s post. I still need to read a bedtime story to my wee ones, one of whom is standing right beside me, clutching his chosen books, and wondering … “When will you read to me?”
How about now?
I’ve been thinking that I need a better answer to the question: How do you fit everything in? I usually laugh and say, I have no freaking idea, or something to that effect. But that’s not quite true. That’s the lazy answer. Because of course I have some idea. I’m doing it, after all. It isn’t just magically happening, it does take thought, care, effort.
Here’s the thing: the real answer is awfully long and detailed, hardly useful in interview situations, when the pithiest answer is best. But this is my blog, and we don’t care about pithy so much here, at least not all the time. So here, I present to you the non-pithy, heavily detailed, low-down from one woman’s organized life. (Note: I’m not suggesting you adopt these measures yourself; I recognize that many would not wish to lead such a strictly organized life. Please take this as descriptive rather than prescriptive.)
1. First of all, as you already know, I don’t procrastinate. Think of it, do it, done. If it can’t be done, make a note in a calendar so that it will be done. This unclutters my brain a great deal.
2. Keeping detailed notes in an online calendar also unclutters my brain, and prevents me from dropping too many balls in one day.
3. If I drop a few balls, I forgive myself. I think that’s key.
4. I lower my standards and relinquish control. The house isn’t very clean. The sheets aren’t regularly changed. The laundry is washed and dried, but may pile up for days unfolded in baskets in the basement. The meals aren’t planned. The kids aren’t terribly well-groomed. The garden is unkempt. And it’s okay. Because the domestic front isn’t exclusively my responsibility anyway — there are six of us in this house. As soon as I recognized this (and it wasn’t easy), I stopped critiquing others’ contributions. I would observe that an absence of critique makes it easier for others to take responsibility and contribute.
5. I’ve gotten good at assessing my own patterns of behaviour. For example, it’s no good to schedule exercise at lunchtime, which other people seem perfectly capable of doing; that will never happen for me. At lunchtime I will be working so intently on something else that I will forget to eat lunch, let alone remember or choose to exercise. So why fight the pattern? Instead, I schedule exercise early, or at times when I won’t be doing anything else, and will be outside somewhere (i.e. kids’ soccer practice).
6. Yeah, I schedule exercise. I schedule friend-time. I schedule writing time. I schedule everything. Some of it is actually jotted on the calendar, and some is just me, in my own head, blocking out time, observing the flow of the day, grabbing the moment and designating it: writing time. Or: interview time. Or: course prep time.
7. If the schedule isn’t working, I reassess on a deep level, or, often, I just go with the immediate flow and change course in the moment. The schedule is there because it works. If it doesn’t work, the problem is the schedule, not me or my family or us. I ditch what’s not working.
8. I don’t let the work that requires deep thought and focus overlap with all the rest of the work that requires deep thought. If I’m writing an essay, I want to be writing an essay and that is all. I try to apply this same principle to all activities. If I’m reading to my kids before bed, I want to be reading to my kids before bed and that is all. If I’m out for coffee with a friend, I want to be out for coffee with a friend and that is all. Heck, if I’m driving across town on errands, I want to turn on the radio and listen or stare out the window and daydream and that is all. You get the pattern.
9. I try to finish what I’ve started, or finish what I’ve decided needs finishing during this block of time. Big projects will not be finished in one go, or even in ten or twenty. But they can be finished in many small chunks of concentrated time. My dad used to have a sign on his office door that read: “If I do just a little bit every day, eventually I can let the task completely overwhelm me.” I remembered that recently, and had to laugh. Because that pretty much sums up my strategy. I do a little bit of many things every day. Thankfully, I don’t feel overwhelmed. In fact, I feel quite the opposite. I feel interested, engaged, challenged, and fruitful.
10. Finally, I don’t try to do it all.
I realize it may look like I do. But I don’t. Instead, I try to make what I do count. I’m actually strategically and instinctively an opportunist (not in a bad way, I hope; I mean, I look to recognize and enjoy opportunities that exist, rather than demand the existence of ideal/idealized opportunities).
Sometimes opportunity is about efficiently gleaning multiple benefits from one task. For example, my teaching gig is a) a job, b) interesting and intellectually challenging, c) a chance to free-write during in-class exercises, d) helpful (I hope, for my students’ sakes!), and e) excellent training in public speaking.
Other times, opportunity is about embracing what’s immediately important. For example, this fall is about promoting Girl Runner. It is not about writing a new novel. If I try to make it about writing a new novel, I won’t enjoy going out into the world to share Girl Runner. And that would be a real shame. It would be a shame for two reasons. One, because there’s no way I can write a new novel amidst all this distraction, so I would be unhappily beating my head against an invisible wall. Two, if I were wishing to do something else, I would fail to appreciate what’s happening now.
Life’s short. I have right now. If I’m managing to wreck right now with my own expectations and worries, well, I’m wasting all I’ve got. I believe that.
After a quiet week, I was so looking forward to having everyone home. And they’re back, and all’s well with my world. But I’m glad they got to be away, free and independent and outside in a way that can’t be duplicated at home. I’m too tired just now to reflect more deeply on all that’s happened this summer, but I know the memories that seem to be sticking are located outside. Walking the dogs with the little kids in the evening, running in the early morning light or on shaded trails, sitting in sand beside water, swimming at noon, doing annoying running commentary beside children’s soccer fields (can’t seem to stop myself; sorry, everyone nearby!). I have no idea how to gear up for the fall, for back-to-school, back-to-teaching, travel, soccer tryouts, swim meets, music lessons & practice & homework, other than putting absolutely every little thing on the calendar, and then doing my best to show up.
But I don’t know how to put be still, outside on the calendar. Anyone figured that out?
My book! She is here!
So, this arrived yesterday. It’s the finished book, freshly arrived at the Anansi offices this week, and sent directly on to me, so, no, it’s not quite in stores yet, but will be soon; and for sure by Sept. 6th, the official pub date in Canada (other countries coming next year). This will be my reading copy. I’m going to write that on the inside cover. Actually, I’m going to do that now, while I’m thinking about it, because that is how I’m approaching life, that is my survival strategy: think of it, do it, done.
My motto (for real): I don’t procrastinate. Oddly, this can cause problems.
But it solves more problems than it causes, and it’s been working for me for years, so I’m sticking with it.
“Reading copy. Aug. 19, 2014.” GIRL RUNNER
See? Thought it, did it, done. (And yes that is yesterday’s date, because yesterday is when I received the book, and that’s what I want to remember.)
This fall is already knocking down my door, and I want to welcome what’s coming, not greet it with anxiety or worry over all that I can’t control. Here is the visual that’s keeping me grounded these days. I am a still point in a fast-moving river. I’m not drowning. I’m not even swimming. I’m simply being pulled along, like a leaf or a branch, floating through all that is happening and trying to take it all in.
It’s going to be busy.
It’s already busy.
My strategy: stay very organized, and don’t get pushed ahead of exactly where I’m at — stay with what’s happening, here, present in the moment.
This morning, walking through the kitchen, I had a flash of memory that made me laugh. I was remembering standing at the counter stirring up a batch of biscuits for supper, a baby strapped to my chest in a sling, a toddler lying at my feet crying that she wanted to “help,” and the older two freshly home from school and in that state of exhausted, hungry, miserable transition. Chaos, noise, demands, needs abounded. The radio was on too. I grabbed the camera and took a video to preserve the moment, because it seemed very comical to me. And I thought to myself this morning: if I could be the still point in that storm, I can be the still point anywhere, anytime, but most especially, most easily, in this storm of my own creation, that I’ve been working toward for years now. It’s here. And I’m being pulled along.
“Who dumped the clean laundry onto the basement floor? Who? Who?” [Voice of rising rage.]
“I had to find my soccer shorts! If you’d just fold it, I wouldn’t have to dig around.”
“If you’d just fold it … [muttered]. Get down here and put it back into the basket.”
“If you’d just fold it …”
“When exactly am I folding this laundry?”
“Last night I was at your soccer game until 9 o’clock.”
“And I was in my office working all day today. Do you know my earning potential?”
“Neither do I! But I’ll tell you my earning potential while I’m folding laundry.”
“Someday, you’ll have to all do your own laundry. You could each have your own laundry hamper in your own room that you’re in charge of.”
“Nice. My own hamper.” Pause for thought. “Won’t that waste a lot of water?”
“You wouldn’t do laundry every day. You’d do it maybe once a week.”
“You’re right. That’s not going to work. The sports clothes! They stink. You can’t wash those once a week.”
“Maybe we could all fold our own laundry.”
“Maybe. Or maybe you could take turns folding laundry. Everyone could have a laundry night. It’s hard to find your own laundry in the basket when it’s all mixed up.”
Fast-forward to 8:30PM, same night, post-soccer practice, post-late supper, post-bedtime snack. Carrie folds two giant baskets of clean laundry at the dining-room table. At the other end of the table, her family enjoys a games night: Settlers of Catan. (Carrie doesn’t enjoy playing games, so this is not quite as unfair a set-up as it sounds.) An hour passes, perhaps more than an hour. The game ends. The laundry is folded, carried to rooms, placed into drawers. Carrie glances into the hamper in the upstairs hallway. It’s already nearly full.
(Solutions, friends? How does your family handle its dirty laundry? Help wanted. xo, Carrie)