The problem with these before and after photos, is that the “afters” remain works-in-progress. You’ll see what I mean.
Living-room, before: giant TV cabinet in mid-removal. (Why base a room around a piece of furniture we almost never use?)
Living-room, after. Removal of TV cabinet reminds us, screamingly, that we haven’t repainted this room since moving in TEN YEARS AGO. Ouch. So that’s on the new to-do list. Also: move art, or change art, now hanging way too high above couch on wall that desperately needs painting. But the good news is that the room, as you see, is being used as we hoped: for reading and socializing.
Basement, before. I didn’t take the before-before photo, which would have shown this area looking impressively disastrous, jammed with futon frames and soccer equipment. In fact, this is after Kevin cleaned, in anticipation of the arrival of something you’ll see in the photo below. When I saw how nice it looked, I had the brilliant and possibly tequila-fuelled idea of moving the TV cabinet down here and turning this space into a games room. The idea seemed much less brilliant the next day as we dismantled the damn thing outside in a sudden rain shower in order to get it to fit down the basement stairs. I can assure you, it’s never coming back up.
Basement, after. See: we made room for a foosball table! All the kids can play!
But it still looks like a basement. Like an unfinished basement, to be precise, and that is what it will probably always look like. We may move the foosball table to the far end of the room in order to make the Wii/TV cabinet more accessible, but we don’t have any grand plans for this space. It’s got low ceilings, exposed pipe, stone walls, and ugly old shelves. Someday I’ll get around to clearing the shelves of all the things we’ll never use, but that’s about the extent of my grand plans, and I find myself in no great rush to knock that one off the new to-do list.
the bonfire of the schoolwork
beach bound with dogs, who behave superbly–guess we can take them anywhere!; water’s cold, and wind’s chilly, but you’d never know
hosted by my bro and sis-in-law, we all play “Pit” late at night and mid-morning (no photos); and I lounge half the day reading Agatha Christie (also no photos)
I’m suspicious of leisure, but why? If it’s too easy, if I’m enjoying myself too much, if there is too much time in the day for sitting and sipping coffee, I feel uncomfortable. What should I be doing? (There is always more to do, and perhaps my anxiety arises from the fact that often the reason I’m relaxing and sitting is because a) I’ve forgotten about something I’m supposed to be doing or b) am ignoring things that need doing.)
I could fight this character trait, or I could give in to it. Generally, I give in because I feel better about myself. Somehow, all of this doing gives me a sense of purpose and progress, or even just basic maintenance. Which could be utterly false, even self-deluding, and I get that. I get it, but, still, I crave the sense of purpose and progress.
Today I am thinking about photography. On the weekend I read Ian Brown’s essay on being a judge for a photography contest in which no prize was awarded — none could be, because none of the hundreds of photo essays submitted met the criteria of not just being aesthetically appealing, but also narratively significant. In other words, none of the photo essays needed to be, in the judges estimation; their beauty was superficial because it did not matter, as nothing was at stake.
Brown wondered whether with our excessive photo-taking and recording of our lunches and pets and children’s every move, we’re losing the ability to recognize, tell, and maybe even to look for the deeper stories, the essential and underlying and specific stories that make us look and think and stop, rather than entertain us. I feel myself guilty of exactly this: pulling out my camera to capture “a moment.” Am I looking for a story? Or have I already decided what the story is simply by pulling out my camera to snap the photo? What’s the difference? In the latter scenario, I’m thinking of my photos as illustrations. X marks the spot. We were here. I was here. I’ll admit that I find poignance in snapshot, but I’m kind of nostalgic, I guess. I’m hyper-aware of the passage of time, and of change.
The former scenario, is, however, more interesting and more challenging and more difficult. Looking for the story means admitting from the get-go that I don’t know the story. That the story might only become apparent through work and time and effort, that it isn’t immediately available, even if the technology is instant.
When I took the pool photos on Saturday afternoon, I pulled out my camera because I noticed the way the light was hitting the water. That was what I wanted to capture, as much as the event itself, and then I saw through the zoom my daughter waiting for her race, drawn into herself, looking solitary and private even while surrounded by crowds of others. There was a story waiting to be told. The picnic photos, on the other hand, are merely decorative, illustrative: I wanted to note what we were up to. The noting was almost as important as the doing, maybe. I carried my camera out along with the dishes and food. I sense that there is a difference between motivations.
The year that I spent taking a self-portrait every day, I began to get bored of my own face and of our house and yard. Toward the end of that year, I found myself experimenting with composition, trying to tell stories that weren’t my own, that were projections (see above). The limitations forced me to become more creative. Every day, I struggled to choose just one photo. But the whole project was stronger because of it. I believe in limitations, in art and in life. Boundaries, strictures, rules, natural or artificial, make us work, make us choose, make us care.
This week, Brown’s article has me stopping myself from automatically picking up the camera. Asking, is this necessary? Or does it just add to the noise? (Hence, the recycled photos in this post …)
Maybe I photograph the moment because I’m caught up in wanting to do, do, do. Or maybe, sometimes, if I am to be honest, to distract me from what I’m stuck doing. Maybe it makes me feel less anxious about all I don’t understand. Maybe I photograph the moment because I am terminally nostalgic. Maybe because a photograph seems to make living itself more real, by committing it to images that give the illusion of permanence. And maybe, too, I’m looking for the larger narrative. I’m hopeful. I think I’ll find the story here, and that it will make sense. Maybe that’s what we’re all doing as we snap away with our digital cameras, creating too much, not knowing what to do with what we’ve made, nor how to keep it once we’ve got it.
Maybe the story comes in the curation afterward. The cull. The work. And also the pause, the stop, the stillness. That could make all the difference. I suppose it does.
One more thing: the photos I like best are the ones that are a bit askew, the mouth open or the eyes closed — something is not quite right, not quite perfect, and that makes it interesting.
Back porch: a collection. Roller blades and helmet, new for his birthday and much used. Goalie gloves, for after-school practice with little brother taking the shots. Dirt, from the snails, who returned to the wild with great sobs of sadness from CJ. Dirty running shoes. Dirty socks, examples of which can be found almost anywhere. I found one on the driveway yesterday. Yes, it belonged to someone in our family. I have a gigantic single sock collection on my dresser and never give up hope of finding matches.
I’m going to insert a tiny rant here about the sliver of hell that occurs daily between 4 and 5:15. This is when a) the kids are newly home b) hungry for snacks c) I’m cooking supper d) supervising playdates e) trying to catch up on any issues f) reminding kids to get ready for soccer/swimming g) packing my own gear for running h) texting Kevin for missing ingredients i) asking for help setting the table j) suffering increasing disbelief that we’ll be able to meet the deadline for multiple departures while k) throwing hot food on the table and demanding it be eaten in five minutes flat. Soccer and/or swimming begins at 5:30 five nights a week. There is no way to make this easier that I’ve discovered. The good news is that as soon as the 5:30 people have left, the others can relax and enjoy dinner and dog-walking until their own 6:45 deadline arrives, which, the other good news is, only occurs three times a week.
Monday evening, returning the carshare car to the library post-swim-girl pickup with little kids in tow, we took the opportunity to pop in and exchange books. It had been raining, lightly. I was slightly worried about the walk home in the cooling rain, as darkness and bedtime edged closer. The kids ran ahead to the children’s section while I unloaded a pile of books at the front counter. A woman stopped and said, “Are you Carrie Snyder?” I didn’t recognize her. “Yes.” “I just wanted to say that I read your book — The Juliet Stories — and I liked it very very much. Thank you for writing it.” Oh! “Thank you for letting me know!” Glow! (Vainly, I simultaneously wondered how bedraggled my hair, how rumpled my clothes, how pursed my forehead might, at that moment, be.)
hide-and-seek soccer ball
This week is thin on running/exercise time (unless I want to set my alarm early every morning), so I packed my soccer cleats and some balls and the little kids and I played together yesterday evening while waiting for AppleApple’s game to start. It wasn’t the same energy-burst and release as going for a solo run, but it helped. Except maybe it didn’t help enough because by the time we were all reunited at home, it was after 9pm, supper was still sitting on the table, we appeared to be all out of snacks, people needed showers, someone had forgotten to study for a test, and then it was discovered that a mysterious blue substance had been spilled on someone’s sheet, apparently a disaster worthy of dramatic meltdown. By the time I’d gotten the little kids in bed, I was this close to meltdown myself. I’d scarcely landed in the downstairs world of dishes and table clearing when I heard a little voice: “Mom???” Well. “No you did not just do that!” I hollered up the stairs. Screeched might more accurately describe my tone. “I am not coming up there again! I am taking a shower and going to sleep, which is what you’d better do too! Minus the shower!”
After the shower (mine), those of us still awake discussed subjects covered in our fifth grader’s health class that day — a public health nurse had visited, apparently with a vagina puppet and tampons (I must say that sounded really cool, and much more helpful than the weirdly uninformative movies we were forced to watch in my era). Anyway, the topic of PMS came up, and I said I never noticed it myself. “I have plenty of emotions at all times,” I said, and everyone in the kitchen agreed. Lest you think we’re a cool quiet and collected house. And I am a cool quiet and collected mother. We aren’t. I’m not.
And then we all went to bed.
This day is off to a fine start. One contract signed and sent. Notes from an editor on the new children’s picture book to mull. And another application completed and ready to be sent. Also, I began with an early morning run. That might have helped too.
on Birthday Eve, still eleven years old
on Birthday Morn, twelve times ’round the sun
I’m feeling compelled to sum up this month, even though it’s not quite over. It’s been such a month, and I’ve been unable to share some of the crucial details of its ups and downs and whirling arounds, which has forced me into awkward positions on this blog, made me into something of a contortionist. My ambiguity has caused a few friends to contact me with concern, wondering if all is well.
Well, all is well. And I don’t mean that in a Rob Ford way, whistling past the suddenly emptied offices of his communications team.
It’s been a good month.
It’s been a good month, but I won’t pretend it’s been easy. Decision-making is never easy, even when one is making decisions about excessively positive things, opportunities one has called out for, and hoped for, and pursued with determination. As I wrote in an earlier post, the doors are open. An open door is a blessing, and I feel blessed to be welcomed to enter.
But I have come to recognize, also, this month, that I can’t walk through every open door, not at the same time. I may contain multiplicities, but I am only one. I can only be in one place at a time. (I know you already knew that, but it’s taken me some convincing.) I am mother to four children. I am a writer. I would like to become a midwife. All those doors are open for me, right now. And I feel blessed. You, however, have probably already jumped ahead to the very obvious question that I somehow managed to avoid throughout this whole process: You are probably asking, okay, Carrie, that’s wonderful and all, but how, exactly, do you plan to go to school full-time, remain involved in your children’s busy lives, and continue to write?
Somehow, I thought I could do it all. I wasn’t going to not do some of it, oh no, I was going to do it all.
Magical thinking, perhaps. I am the sort of person who thrives on juggling responsibilities. Quietly, I told myself I could set aside the writing for the summer months. I did not need to attend so many soccer games and swim meets. We could get a dishwasher. The kids could learn to cook. Quietly, I thought, bring on the challenge.
But then the doors opened, all at once.
And suddenly I had to confront my own limitations — of time and of energy. I had to ask myself: what am I prepared to sacrifice? And I had to accept that now is not the right time to become a midwife. That is a hard sentence to write, and it’s taken me all month to carry myself toward accepting what I’m realistically capable of, right now.
For a good part of the month, I thought that this was an existential question about midwifery versus writing. Do I want to be a midwife or a writer? Well, the fact is, I’d like to be both, and I still believe it’s possible. I am already a writer, married to it for better or for worse and enjoying a happy stretch of career momentum right now. And I’m grateful to midwifery for being a career that does not discriminate against age: expect me to apply again sometime in the next decade, as my children grow up and get their driver’s licences and learn how to cook. No, what I’ve come around to recognizing is that this is not a question about midwifery versus writing. It’s not even, really, a question. It’s about being where I’m at, right now. And right now I have four children in the thick of their young and developing lives, and I want to be at the soccer games and swim meets. The shortened work day might drive me crazy sometimes, but I want to be here after school to gather them in, to follow up and dig around and take care of their lives in this very hands-on way. Juggle and spin it however I like, I can’t commute to another city for school and be here for this now that won’t always be.
How fortunate that I have an office, here, that I have quiet space to work, solitary time that is sandwiched on either side by frenetic activity and demands. I even have time to run and play soccer myself, to cook from scratch, see friends, and go on the occasional field trip. I go to bed done, and I sleep well at night.
I’d still love to doula at friends’ births.
I’d still like the kids to learn how to cook.
And we’re getting that dishwasher anyway — on Thursday, in fact.
When the time is right, I still hope to become a midwife.
But for now, my heart is full with the life that is all around me, right here, right now.
Here’s a poem that wrapped itself around me a few days ago, coming from a book of essays I’m reading by Anne Lamott, called Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith.
“Late Fragment,” by Raymond Carver
And did you get what
you wanted from this life even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
Someone got glasses.
All four kids had cavities filled at the dentist. (Popsicles only incidentally implicated.)
Kev and I cleaned the house and yard (not pictured).
I baked a cake. (Party cake # 1!)
Twelve candles were blown out.
Soccer girl and mama went on a road trip. Too much sun. Too much chlorine. Hotel dreams. Big saves in net, sweet passes from the wing, and a game-winning goal. One proud mama, too tired to type more than this.
But tomorrow’s a holiday, may we all sleep in.