I have the best husband with whom to co-host birthday parties for children. Give him an idea (say, an Olympics theme) and the next thing you know odds and ends from the garage, basement and attic appear in the back yard, arranged into an obstacle course, or high jump (with bouncy landing pad), or relay track.
This was a three hour party. At least two hours were spent on the Olympic events in the back yard. For a full hour, kid you not, the mostly-seven-year-old crowd lined up and took turns jumping over a pool noodle onto a mattress to great cheers and applause.
As you can see for yourself.
1. Staying up late. Sleeping in.
Yes, I still get up early two mornings a week to exercise, but early morning exercise isn’t so critical during the summer — I’ve got lots of other opportunities. So on all the other days of the week I sleep in, often until 8! The kids sleep in too. And we’re all up much later than during the school year, out at soccer fields, or just playing in the back yard until it’s dark. And we’ve been letting the kids stay up even later to watch Olympic coverage on TV.
Which I’ve already rhapsodized enough about, but hey. I didn’t skip out on my writing time today, but today has been the exception. Around 11am, you can find me at the pool, swimming lengths, most weekdays so far this summer.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this last luxury. On Monday evenings, Kevin plays soccer and AppleApple has a practice, so I’ve been taking all of the kids to practice, along with snacks and water and a bag of soccer balls, and we’ve been playing on the empty field nearby. Often, I’m practicing skills to try to improve my own soccer game, and the kids are kicking balls at me, or we’re all running up the field doing passes, taking shots on net, pretending to let CJ score on us or save our shots, or whatever we’ve decided to do. Whatever develops.
I’ve noticed that while fathers can often be seen playing with their kids — kicking a ball, coaching, running around, winding up to take shots on net — I rarely see other mothers doing this. I might almost say I’ve never seen another mother doing this. I’ve seen the occasional mother coaching her kid’s soccer team. But I’ve never seen another mother playing pickup soccer with her kids — running hard, getting sweaty, shouting, playing.
Is this your experience too? I’ll admit I do feel self-conscious being the only mom (and often the only parent, period) running around. (My purple soccer cleats make me twice as geeky).
I wonder why I don’t see groups of young women gathering at the park to play pickup soccer. I see lots of groups of young men — probably university students — gathering, and, yes, there is often a young woman or two in their midst; but I’ve never seen a group of young women gather spontaneously like that. I see women in the park doing boot camp together. I also meet friends to go to exercise classes together. But let’s face it, that’s not really playing.
Here’s what I’ve been wondering: Is it taboo to play, as a grown woman?
Honestly, I don’t care if it is because I’ll tell you this — it’s fun. It’s so fun.
Last Wednesday evening, our backyard was transformed into a mini-studio: the lights you see above, plus one of those big umbrella-looking things (also a light), and a heavy-duty insanely expensive camera that, honestly, I couldn’t even covet after I heard how much it cost. That’ll never be mine. It would have been fun to take a self-portrait of the portrait being taken, but in all honesty, I was a little embarrassed by my rinky-dink setup. Besides, I was supposed to be posing, looking contemplative and intelligent in my black sweater, not running around trying to take photos.
I’d been invited to be a subject for Jonathan Bielaski, a local photographer who works for Maple Leaf Entertainment, among other clients — yes, he photographs sports stars. But he started a side project this past year called “For the Love of It,” where he takes portraits of people who love what they do.
I hope you’ll browse around his blog. He’s found some very interesting people. Maybe you do what you love and love what you do, too? Let me know, and I’ll let him know. He’s always interested in finding new subjects.
(Come to think of it, this project fits well with my words of the year: work/play. This summer, it’s felt like I’m getting closer to achieving a sense of both in my daily life.)
This morning I blogged that one of the awesome things about doing interviews this week is meeting people in their air conditioned office spaces. And, okay, admittedly, that is pretty sweet, as I sit here at my own desk in a room that is pushing 90 degrees F.
But that’s not actually the best part.
The best part is meeting people — and the conversations themselves.
Here is the benefit of being an observer: the world is endlessly fascinating. There is always more to learn. There are different approaches to problems, different enthusiasms, different values, different organizational systems, different social approaches, and I could go on and on. I must say I had no inkling of how absorbingly interesting it would be to conduct interviews — the research part of my job. I was thinking of it as a necessity, I guess, a means to an end, the end being the writing itself. And truth be told, I was ever so slightly intimidated by the thought of asking strangers personal questions.
But the more work I’ve done, the more I appreciate the privilege of getting to ask questions. To focus my energy entirely on someone else’s interest or cause or life’s work or story or niche area of expertise. It’s a real gift to get to listen. And it’s proving to be a bigger piece of the writing-for-money puzzle than I initially bargained on. Yes, communicating the end story is hugely important, but the end story can’t exist without first going through the process of trying to understand a subject in-depth.
I know. This all sounds very obvious.
Perhaps what has me most happy, on this extraordinarily warm Friday afternoon, is the discovery that I’m really enjoying the work I’ve chosen to do — the work for money, I mean. There is such variety in it. I love variety! I’m a serial enthusiast by nature; this is kind of the perfect outlet for those instincts.
One more unexpected and happy discovery: The work itself feels very genuine, even though the situation is by its nature contrived — by which I mean, I’m writing stories that have been assigned to me, about people I wouldn’t ordinarily get to sit down and talk to. But the conversations don’t feel contrived or artificial. (My hope is that the people I’m interviewing feel the same way too.)
It’s been a good first week of the summer holidays. And I capped it off by dropping in at my local Chapters, in my other guise as fiction writer, and signing their stock of Juliet Stories. The girl was so super-friendly, it made my day.
Next up: soccer sidelines, and a picnic supper.
We spent Canada Day weekend at my brother and sister-in-law’s farm. This tradition stretches back to before CJ. When we remarked on this, CJ gaped at us in horror and disbelief: “WHAT?!” I know, kid. It’s hard to believe there was a time when you didn’t yet exist.
This is our first week of summer holidays, and the first summer I’ve attempted to work approximately as many hours as during the school year. Babysitting has been arranged; we’re on day two, and so far, so good, thanks to my trusty ear plugs. But … will it be hard to work from 9-3 while the children play? Will I regret not taking time off? Will the kids feel like they’ve had a real summer?
Here are a few of my compensatory plans:
* biking to swim lessons at the outdoor pool (shifting work hours to accomodate)
* post-3pm outings to library, Herrles, park, air conditioned mall, etc.
* looking after the neighbours’ chickens (all this week! nearly a dozen eggs collected this morning!)
* dogsitting (first go, this weekend; and we’d be open to dogsitting more often, if you have a dog you’d like sat)
* one promised day-trip to the local outdoor water park (Albus got a free pass for volunteering as a crossing guard at school; very clever, local outdoor water park, very clever)
* summer movie matinee
* one week away at a cottage
* visiting brand new cousin, when born (due August 8th!)
* ?? TBA
* please share your plans and ideas
And a few more compensatory plans, for myself:
* swimming during the little kids’ swim lessons
* more exercise in the evenings, fewer early mornings (I’m down to two/week, and barely managing it; no naptime, and late nights)
* stretching after soccer
* taking time to hang the laundry outside, even during work hours
* saying yes to social invitations
balloon-dog, by AppleApple*
*Yes, she made her own balloon-dog. She looked up instructions on the internet. When she explained the twisting technique to me, my brain malfunctioned. That is because, when it comes to engineering of any practical sort, I am the opposite of gifted. She’s thinking she could sell balloon animals this summer at street parties; we weren’t convinced the yard sale approach would work for such a specific product.
Here’s what I’ve learned at soccer, so far. This is purely skills-related. Skip over this section if you’re not remotely interested in playing the game of soccer.
First game: I learned to touch the ball.
Second game: I learned that I was fast. And that this is handy, if you like touching the ball.
Third game: I learned that a pass into the net is as good as a hard shot; likely better. Perhaps not coincidentally, I also learned how to kick the ball without injuring myself.
Fourth game: I learned to run with the ball by kicking it in front of me rather than trying to dribble it at my foot. I also learned how to do a throw-in. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way–during game play, by doing it wrong the first time.
Fifth game: I learned that when heading for the net, I need to turn in toward the middle a lot sooner. Unfortunately, in this lesson I’ve only gotten as far as realizing that I must be doing something wrong. I get the ball, start running up the wing, and then (mostly) lose it because I come up against a defender. Kevin tells me I shouldn’t really be coming up against a defender, but should be making my decision earlier either to turn or to pass.
Maybe in the sixth game I will learn to keep my head up?
While speaking of learning things, here’s an anecdote to make you feel better about yourself.
Yesterday I was at the bank to make a simple deposit, and found myself waiting for ten minutes in a line-up of one (me), while one teller served one client, and several other teller-types walked briskly around in the background avoiding catching my eye, as if to say, I’m much too busy to open up another window here. Is a ten minute wait long enough to start getting truly impatient? Because I was truly getting impatient. In fact, steam was coming out of my ears.
When finally I handed over my cheques for deposit, a transaction that look less than a minute to complete, the teller thanked me for my patience. It felt farcical, like I was part of a reverse psychology experiment. I almost replied, “It would be much more accurate to thank me for my impatience because it’s clear I’ve got none of that other stuff, and you know it as well as I do!”
Oh my goodness, I am not a patient person. It’s the main reason I swear so much while driving. All that time wasted, endless inefficiencies, and being at the mercy of systems not of my own creation.
My goal is to find something good in every situation, to waste nothing, by which I mean to find in any situation something redeeming: educational or funny or comforting or amusingly distracting or morally relevant; but I sure enough wasted those ten minutes at the bank, seething with irritation. What do you think I should have done to salvage the situation?
One more miscellaneous item, relevant today-only, and only if you live in the greater Toronto area. If you pick up today’s Toronto Star, you’ll find a special section on Canada Day, with a bunch of stories and a few photos by me! I’m especially pleased about the photos, though this job has spurred me to make a few minor (and thankfully inexpensive) improvements to my current photo-processing and -storing capacity. I would like to add Photographer to my toolkit of marketable skills, and this is an excellent start.
I see myself as a workmanlike photographer rather than an artistically-skilled one. But I think that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and that there’s a place for it.
It fits in with my philosophy that there’s a place for all kinds of writing, too; I aspire to be able to work across the genres. I think anyone who writes serious literary fiction should damn well be able to write light-hearted party-planning pieces, and snappy headlines, and generally entertaining well-constructed articles on most any topic imaginable, assuming there’s time to do proper research. These take technical skill, as much as anything else. I also believe that writing across the genres will make me a better literary writer. (My only caution would be: don’t get stuck in a rut, and don’t write the same thing over and over; write widely, if possible.)
And that concludes my On Being a Writer 101 lecture for today.