how does your garden grow?
It never rains but it pours.
Those old tried and true phrases sure are tried and true. My kids love them, especially AppleApple, who is a word-fascinated child, and a writer in the making. Here is a funny poem she wrote recently: “I dropped a glass upon the floor / My mom came charging like a boar / Now I have an extra chore / To pick that glass up off the floor.”
“You captured me very accurately,” I said. (I hate messes; I probably do charge exactly like a boar when I hear the sound of a giant mess being made.)
“But I don’t really have chores to do,” said AppleApple.
Well, we all make things up. If you’d like to hear about the things that I make up, you can come to the Waterloo Public Library this evening at 7pm. I plan to read a story I’ve not read before, and will also be answering questions like, Did that really happen? What’s true? What’s invented?
It is raining and pouring very nice things these past few days. It is raining writing work, frankly, and I’m pleased. Some of the work I’ve been doing is essentially invisible. I’ve even taken on work minus a byline because the pay is good. Perhaps as a proud writer, I should not confess such things. I work just as hard on every single task, whether or not I’m getting credit, due to my obsesssive-compulsive character. But then, I work just as hard on learning how to kick a soccer ball, truth be told. It would be nice to be able to regulate this dial, to turn down the inner perfectionist, but hey. It’s brought me here. I accept it.
Not to get too far off topic, but I’d like to share my theory about work. I figure I’m about a decade behind where I would have been, had I stayed at my job at the National Post. And I’m not fussy about it, or regretful in the least, because those were years well-spent with my children, and yes, I did continue to write fiction throughout. But I also accept that I have catch-up work to do, and experiences to gain, and therefore I’m willing to take jobs that are not particularly glamourous. Experience is experience. I would like to be an excellent interviewer, and I would like to write stories that dig deep into subjects that call out to be explored, to have light shone upon. Those are my goals. This is the path I’m choosing.
As a proud writer, I’m also thrilled to share the news that I’ve been invited to the Vancouver International Writers Festival in October. Insert large paragraph of exclamation marks, here:
I’ll also be at the Winnipeg Writers Festival in September, and Eden Mills Writers Fest also in September. And Word on the Street here in Kitchener. It will be a busy fall.
Meantime, back to work. I’ve got some interviews to do.
I want nothing more than to write a big fat juicy post about our weekend. But I’m on a tight deadline. So here’s the quick and dirty version.
Soccer girl played six games in a tournament this weekend. Kev took the the first two days, and I went yesterday. That way we could manage to run errands, do some gardening, and not have to drag the other kids along. Her team finished with a bronze medal and a lot of happy faces.
Yesterday our eldest turned eleven. It was a good party, from what I hear. My great regret is that I spent virtually the entire day not with my eleven-year-old. AppleApple and I were off early for the tournament, and home later than expected. The party was already in full swing. I had just enough time to download photos from the various cameras I’m testing out before changing into soccer gear myself.
Off to play in the pouring rain! On a weird field with a wide strip of mulch and grass seed sweeping across it! Against a team of 19-year-old girls who had a coach and a full line of subs! (My team is, well, my age-ish, and had two subs.) I was tentative and terrified for the first ten minutes, but finally got my foot on the ball, and then it got better. There’s nothing like playing a new sport to make you feel out of shape, but I quickly figured out that I would recover from the sprints; thankfully, I have endurance. I badly need better ball-handling skills. And to hold my body differently against the big contact players. (I felt very very small, let me tell you.) But it was really fun.
eleven for real
And then I came home and spent some time snuggling my big eleven-year-old boy, who was feeling kind of sad that I’d missed his whole day. Me too. In fact, that feels like most my days right now — rushed and hurried and squeezed. Am I running on adrenalin? Will I wear myself out? What am I missing???
My thoughts are all over the place on this Monday morning. I’m wondering: should I blog our week in suppers? Skip over that and write about my weekend of solo parenting? Share news about upcoming events and unexpected Juliet feedback?
Last night, I set my alarm for swimming. I woke at 2am. I’d been dreaming about sleeping (again!). I decided to turn off the alarm and really sleep. I have three early mornings planned this week; given that I also have two evening readings, self-preservation starts to come into play. It was a little easier to turn off the alarm given that yesterday, late afternoon, I ran 12 pain-free kilometres, keeping up a good pace and plotting my return to distance running. That counts as my first real distance run since my injury in January. It’s short, as far as distance runs go, but it was a blast. Next week … 14 km??
Uh. Where was I? Oh yes, self-preserving.
Tonight, I’m ferrying children from dance to soccer practice while Kevin has an early soccer game. Tomorrow, I’m at the Starlight in Waterloo (come, too!), from 7pm onward. Readings start at 7:45. And on Wednesday I’m headed to Toronto for an event at Type Books called the “Short Story Shindig” with Heather Birrell and Daniel Griffin, and hosted by Kerry Clare; 7pm (come, too!). This is all very exciting, but doesn’t go terrifically well with excessive early morning exercise.
As I said to Kevin this morning, “This isn’t the year of the triathlon. This is the year of The Juliet Stories.” (Which may be the first time I’ve admitted that, even to myself. I really really liked the year of the triathlon. I felt so hard-core. Sharing my book feels less focused, less goal-oriented. Maybe I need to start thinking of readings as races. They definitely affect me in similar ways — I’m nervous before, wired and happy during, and it takes me a little while to come down afterward.)
So. Slightly less focus on exercise, slightly more focus on evening events.
Now. Let me tell you all about my weekend with my kids. We had so much fun! Why can’t we have this much fun all the time? Is it because I’m usually trying to get too many other things accomplished? That can’t be entirely it, because we seemed to accomplish quite a lot, even while finding time to relax. Our weekend included …
:: watching Modern Family on Friday night while sharing an entire bag of Cheetos (which were utterly disgusting, may I just add)
:: trampoline ninja jumping (everyone!)
:: a bike trip to the grocery store for picnic and party supplies, followed by a picnic in the park
:: reading outside while two girls rode giggling past me on scooters and bikes too small for them
:: hanging laundry on the line, baking bread
:: playing on electronic devices; taking lots of photos
personal pizzas for party night (the one with the olives, asparagus, and eggplant? yes, that’s mine)
:: “Party Night,” wherein we had homemade personal pizzas and punch with ginger ale while watching a movie, then gorged on episodes of Modern Family while simultaneously gorging on boxed cereal and utterly disgusting candy; the rules for Party Night go like this: everyone gets to choose one treat from the grocery store (under $4), and we stay up as late as we want; oddly, three of four children chose boxed cereal (Corn Pops, Frosted Flakes, and Froot Loops, for the record). We have never felt so collectively gross. I blame the milk. Maybe the sugar too. It was surprisingly easy to herd the children off to bed at a not entirely unreasonable hour (9:30ish) …
:: … though AppleApple and I got distracted searching for my old Grade One piano book in the basement, which we never found, but we did find one of my old and relatively simple classical piano books, and ended up staying up for another hour playing songs. The Wild Horseman. The Happy Farmer. One of Muzio Clemente’s simple Sonatinas (she’s learning it!). Minuets from the Anna Magdalena Bach notebook). Bliss!
:: sleeping in
:: making and delivering, on bicycle, invitations for an 11th birthday party (a week from today!)
:: more bike riding and trampolining and laundry hanging; hey, whatever makes us happy
Mother’s day was capped off by the return of Dad, and supper out at all-you-can-eat sushi with my mom, too.
And that is plenty for one blog post. Never got to the unexpected and lovely Juliet feedback. Well. More tomorrow.
“Creative discomfort.” I know the feeling well, and now I know what it’s called! If you have 36 minutes to spend watching John Cleese talk about creativity, click here. (As a multi-tasker, I did physio exercises whilst listening, but even without the exercises I would consider it time well-spent.)
Here are a few points that really clicked with me.
Be open. Be silly, be judgement-free, play. There is also a time to be closed and to apply your ideas, to bring them to fruition and into coherent shape. But without time to play freely there is no creativity. He advocates a beginning and an end to play. It’s exactly what we all hated as kids: being told that it’s time to come inside and wash up for supper; time to clean up the toys. Playtime isn’t all the time. There also needs to be time to build your invention.
But creativity is not just about playtime, and structured time. It’s also about sitting with a problem that has yet to be solved. It’s about passing by the easy or obvious solutions, and sitting with the problem/subject and giving your mind time to dig into its unconscious and come up with something original. This is a deeply uncomfortable process. I do it instinctively and not without pain — for me and for everyone around me. When I’m working out a problem, I’m irritable, agitated, distracted. (It’s one of the reasons I exercise.) But I can’t help myself. I can’t accept the easy solution. I have to keep looking until I find something else. I’ve sometimes thought of it as a kind of obsessive personality flaw. After listening to this talk, however, I think it might be the single-most important quality in my personal creative toolbox.
A few more points. When we play freely, we don’t worry about making mistakes; we risk being silly and wrong and ridiculous, because there is no silly or wrong or ridiculous. I think of this in my own parenting. I wonder. Am I too quick to point out problems or flaws? Successful collaboration and communal play comes from building on each other’s ideas, not knocking them down. That doesn’t mean you have to blanket every idea with “Wonderful!” but that you help build on the ideas that come. “Could you elaborate on that? Could you push it futher? What if …?” Maybe it’s also like riffing. When you’re in the middle of a good conversation and everyone is carrying everyone else along, not worrying about taking detours, or getting off-topic.
One final point. Cleese is very much against solemnity. He’s not against seriousness — we can talk deeply about serious subjects while laughing, after all. What gets his goat (and also squashes creativity) is self-important solemnity that refuses humour, that sees it as subversive (well, it is!); the ego that refuses to laugh at itself, that is defensive, that shuts down the house for the sake of propriety.
And on that note … I’m off to ponder and wonder and sit with some pretty grumpy-making creative discomfort. But with a light heart, friends. With a light heart.
Have I been writing quite often about my dreams? Maybe it’s because I’m woken on so many mornings by my alarm, pulled out of dreamland, bringing the dreams with me. My kids are not going to remember the 2.0 version of their mother, the one who for thirty-five years or so was the very opposite of early riser. The 2.0 version thought 7 o’clock in the morning was quite viciously early enough, thank you very much. But the 2.0 version has been obsolete for over a year now. She may already have been forgotten. My kids are going to remember version 2.1, up before dawn, coming in from outside in running gear, or freshly showered after spin class. “Where were you this morning?” they ask sometimes, greeting me from their perch at the breakfast bar.
I’ll admit: it wasn’t easy to recalibrate my instincts. But I’ll admit, too: change has brought about all sorts of good things. I’m friendlier, for one thing. Less prone to the growlies. Less resentful, somehow, of the necessary morning duties, more light-hearted regarding the inevitable complaints. (“This toast is too cold!” “This porridge is too hot!”)
This morning, I woke with dreams of my friend’s father still in my mind. We attended the memorial service last night. Let me tell you about one small and extraordinary moment. After the more formal proceedings, we all went to the church basement to eat sweets, visit, and share memories. Among the people who got up to say something was a woman I’d never met. She wasn’t a family member or someone from the neighbourhood. She said she knew my friend’s father from work. She said that she worked as a teller in a bank. My friend’s father had been a customer. She spoke about his friendliness, his stories, his interest in her life, about how, as she came to know him, she would wave him over to her line. She regretted that she hadn’t gotten the chance to say goodbye. She was glad to be able to come to his memorial service. She came to his memorial service. Isn’t that amazing?
This is what it says to me: The potential for meaningful relationships is all around us.
Meaningful relationships don’t have to be conventional. They don’t necessarily require tons of time. They can be as simple as asking your bank teller a question. Being interested. Being curious. Being, most of all, present.
Today was a day rife with potential challenges. I got up early. I did not nap. I was interviewed on live radio right after the kids left for school. And then I headed off to lead writing workshops for teens. Several fairly major things remain to be checked off my to-do list. But it hasn’t been a hard day, not at all. I feel a little foot-weary from standing. I feel a little wired from more than my usual dose of caffeine. But I feel, also, the worth of every interaction, no matter how small. Pay attention. Whatever is happening in your day, look it full in the face. Ask questions. Wonder. Give it your best.
I thought, today, about how new experiences are always around us. How people, if pushed in the friendliest of ways, will embrace something new. How even the most grownup of us crave to feel those moments so common in childhood — the ones that delight and surprise us. How maybe all of us are waiting to be delighted and surprised. And then I thought, I can do that.
It’s as easy — and as crazy hard — as stepping outside of my comfort zone.
at the farm
When we were driving home from Kingston, post-Easter holidaying at the farm, I was filled with ideas. Future plans. Things I want to do someday. Big things. Let me get them down on the page. (And maybe you’d like to share your big plans in the comments below; I’d love to hear them.)
** Bike trip through Ireland (or another beautiful place). With the whole family, if possible.
** Own a horse. Actually, own two horses, so AppleApple and I can go riding together.
** Write and record an album of songs. (This would require devoting several hours a day to singing and playing.)
** Spend a year training five or six hours a day and run an ultramarathon (like the Canadian Death Race, even though that’s a terrible title for a race).
** Tear down our garage and build a small apartment that could house university-aged children.
** Share a getaway in the country with friends, for retreats, summer holidays, etc.
** Get a dog. (I don’t know why that seems like such a big thing, but it does!)
But upon reflection, this morning, I see that I’ve already accomplished some of the big things I once dreamed of doing, and I want to recognize that too. I wanted to be a mother, and I have children. From a very young age, I intended to be a writer, and I’ve published two books. As a child, I dreamed of being a runner, and now I’ve completed a marathon. As an adult, I was troubled by the fact that I’d never learned how to swim, and I’ve learned. Once upon a time, all of the above were just hopes and imaginings and dreams. I’ve been so fortunate.
Last night I went to a kundalini yoga class. It’s been about a year since I last took kundalini. The experience felt different this time around. In the interim, I’ve pushed my body further than it had ever gone before. But I also learned that my body could be pushed too far, and injured, and that’s changed how I think about effort and pain. I felt so attuned to my own body, last night. It was easy to listen to it, and hear what it was saying — to recognize the difference between the agony of effort and the pain of gone-too-far. I felt more cautious, and yet also more available, more open to the movements, like I could flip a switch and go there. I felt a deep trust — of myself. But here’s the thing. The sense of wonder and discovery is not the same. I’ve learned my body is capable of accomplishing very difficult tasks. I’ve learned that I am strong. When I first started kundalini, now a few years ago, I was utterly amazed, blown away by what my body could do. I had no idea.
Now I know.
That takes away some of the sheen of adventure and discovery. But it also means there is room for a richer, more layered experience. It’s like having the second child. You’re simultaneously more relaxed, more laid-back, and not as blown away by the newness of discovering what it means to be a parent. It’s familiar, it’s known territory.
I think life should have a balance of known and unknown experiences. I’m not sure we get to choose these experiences, at least not all of the time. But I like thinking about what I would choose, if I could. And what I’ve chosen. And how I’m working out that balance in my life right now.
Can I tell you something? I really really really want to write a book in this blog-voice. Not a book based on the blog. But a book that would capture the yearning, reflection, wondering, and experimenting that I feel this blog is really about. Put that on the first list. I have no idea how it would be shaped. But I’m opening my mind to the possibility.