smile for the camera!
1. I went to the mall two days in a row. TWO DAYS IN A ROW I WENT TO THE MALL. I hadn’t been to the mall since back-to-school shopping last fall. I kind of consider shopping, especially at malls, one of those rings of hell, though perhaps a lesser ring. But I did it. I did it! I even returned items, and got a refund for a torn pair of jeans without having the receipt, which felt like I’d pulled off a minor miracle. Inside a ring of hell, no less.
2. Due to my sufferings at the mall, I now have outfits appropriate for all occasions in London. With accompanying footwear. Fooey and Kevin have seen and approved everything, although Fooey was in a bad mood and was a bit unnecessarily harsh in some of her critiques. Getting older under the scrutiny of one’s children is an exercise in biting one’s tongue/laughing on the outside/crying on the inside.
3. Did I tell you that my other daughter, somewhat in conversational context, asked this recently: “Mom, did you used to be really pretty?” To which I did a sit-com-worthy double take, and then, with dignity, argued that I consider myself even more attractive (not to say “pretty,” perhaps) as I age, because of blah blah blah experience, confidence, etc., to which she replied that she didn’t mean that, exactly, she was just wondering if I was “prettier back then,” to which I suggested she perhaps stop digging the hole any deeper and we could just leave it at that.
4. Motherhood. I tell ya.
5. But hey! The sick boy has been reading and reading! I don’t allow electronic devices when he’s home sick, because I want to offer no enticements to stay home any longer than strictly necessary. The awesome part is that he devoured all three of Susin Neilsen’s books, including that one I hoped he would try and nearly killed with my overt recommendations: The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larson. We even talked about the books, at least a little bit.
6. Today is publicity planning day. Apparently, I’ll be recording a little publicity video for Two Roads, my UK publisher, on Friday. As I also land at Heathrow on Friday, I’m a little worried about looking jet-lagged and in need of a shower. I will aim for a haggard glamour, as the fresh-faced variety may be out of reach. I will also aim for coherence.
7. That’s on Friday! Friday! Two days from today!
8. Also on Friday, I’m having dinner with my Canadian publisher, and on Sunday I’m having lunch with my American publisher. And there are parties on Monday evening. Wowza. It feels like I’m about to step out of one world and into another completely different one.
9. I still have to fit everything into my bag. And leave room for souvenirs. I am not to return home without bringing souvenirs, says Fooey, who will not object if I note that she is my bossiest child, because she knows this, and is proud of the fact. (Or rather, as per the Boss Not Bossy campaign, she is my exceptionally-gifted-in-the-senior-executive-skills child. She really is too.)
10. The boys both need haircuts. I will not have time to attend to this detail until after I get back from London. I suppose there are lots of other details I will have to leave until then, when I dive right back in where I’d left off. Including this: please note in the events calendar on the RH side of this page that I’ve got readings coming up in Waterloo and Toronto, almost immediately upon my return — and come if you can.
11. Deep breathing. Deep breathing. Speaking of which, my cold is much better. It must have needed the rest.
12. It’s time for the piano lesson run. And, go!
one way to clean up the toys in the back yard, left out since the fall: cover them with snow
I was doing so well with my plan to visit FB only during portions of the day devoted to waiting in the car or standing on the sidelines, as happens virtually every day. In fact, I did so well that FB got in touch to tell me what I was missing, to which I said, haha FB, you are only confirming that my goal has been achieved!
I was doing so well until this morning, when I did a bit of work on my FB author page. If you feel so inclined, please *like* it. I will use the page for promotional purposes so as not to clog up my personal page with self-cheerleading, which can get a bit tedious. I don’t want to lose friends.
Anyway, this morning. This morning, I had news to post on my author page, so I visited FB and instantly got sucked into the vortex of liking, making witty/supportive comments, clicking on links, and, I must confess, looking at photos of Leonardo DiCaprio (hardly on purpose, I swear!). Therefore, I recommit to climbing back on the wagon henceforth.
Here is my news: we’ve had offers for Girl Runner from Catalan and Poland. Catalan and Poland! That means Girl Runner has sold in 11 territories, and will be translated into eight languages (German, French, Spanish, Italian, Swedish, Dutch, Polish, and Catalan). I’m told that the publishers will send me copies of the translated book, which in my imagination I’ve already lined up on my office bookshelf to gaze at in wonder. Will they all have different covers? Will the title be changed in translation?
I’ve received comments back from my US editor, and the news is good. The work that remains is minimal. I expect to have a finished manuscript to deliver (to all of these publishers!) within the week.
Oh, and we’re getting a gas stove in the living-room! It won’t be installed for a few weeks, but I have a funny feeling we’ll still get use out of it this winter. Yesterday, I was tossing shovelfuls of snow onto banks already so high that I was lifting the shovel to shoulder height. There’s nowhere to go with this stuff! When I came outside for my run, at a very early hour this morning, I discovered that in the night the snow ploughs had gone by and thoughtfully undone all of yesterday evening’s work, filling in the nicely cleared sidewalk and driveway with heavy, rock-hard street snow. In a rage (and in my running shoes), I grabbed my shovel right there and then and cleared the sidewalk again, tossing the snow on the street-side banks, because there was nowhere else to go. It was like human v car, with car obviously winning. Have we noticed how much we privilege cars over humans in our culture?
Then I went for my run, slipping and sliding and tripping, and generally wondering whether it was worth it to expend such an effort for a pace so ridiculously slow. Is this even running? I asked myself. Could 5 kilometres under such conditions perhaps count for 10? How the heck could I begin to train for a marathon under these circumstances? (As I’m not training for a marathon, this was a purely theoretical question, but now that I mention it again, it makes me want to!)
there’s a boy in that bed
Albus is home sick for the fourth day in a row, but I’m sensing his imminent return to school. Every day he ate noodle soup for lunch, and we sat together reading the newspaper. Today’s conversation centred around the new book deals, and what I might want to write next.
“You should write Girl Swimmer. And then Girl Cyclist. And then Girl Triathlete!”
“Well … it’s not really a sequel kind of a book.”
“You could write a prequel! Girl Before Runner.”
“Before Girl Runner?”
“Girl Before Runner.”
“Girl Before Runner. I like it.”
Yesterday evening I remembered that someone from The Cord (the WLU newspaper) had emailed with a few questions a couple of weeks ago. I kind of forgot about it, what with everything I’m forgetting about these days, but when I was answering some other interview questions last night for a CBC site on blogging, it must have twigged my memory. Hey, I thought, I wonder what that other interview was about. A quick search, and I found the paper’s “Best of Waterloo Region” poll, clicked on “Best Local Author,” and there was my own half-smiling face. What the? I had to call my kids in to check it out. The ones who were still awake and should have been in bed. I’d been helping with homework, which has been a nagging theme for these past couple of evenings.
“Mom, could you just proofread this for me?”
I like to help, but less so at 9:30 at night, and even less so when a project is not truly at the proofreading stage, but rather at the “I’ve made up a few facts that I think sound cool” stage. I am currently conducting late-night mini-tutorials on proper research and use of a bibliography, in between lectures on capitalization, the differences between there, their, and they’re, and have you ever heard of a comma? I’m a really patient teacher.
No, I’m really not.
Here’s what I wanted to show you. I’ve got essays in two new anthologies out this fall, plus in the summer issue of The New Quarterly. I’ll be reading from The New Quarterly piece on Saturday at Word on the Street. Find me at the Walper, 4pm. The Waterloo launch for How to Expect What You’re Not Expecting is on Oct. 3 at the Clay and Glass Gallery, 7:30pm (get in touch if you’d like to attend that one, please!). If I had the energy or wherewithal, I’d also organize a local launch for Have Milk, Will Travel, an anthology of comic stories about breastfeeding, but right now I’m overwhelmed by the every day stuff. Like vacuuming the bedroom, cleaning paint off a dog, supervising piano practice, and picking up my swim girl who is home now and eating supper, which I left on the table for her and therefore still needs to be cleared when she’s done. (Supper = fish tacos! Fish tacos = zero complaints!) I’m just pleased to be squeezing in a little necessary, happy-making blogging and book-styling before bedtime.
Got up for yoga class, early early. Almost skipped. Didn’t. And it turned out to be a special class for one my favourite instructors — her last here in Waterloo. I’ve been going to this studio long enough to remember being in one of her first classes, and have seen her grow in confidence over the years, and it felt like a lucky break to be there to say goodbye.
She wanted to reflect on impermanence. She asked us to focus on something we needed to change, or some change we were struggling to accept, and as we knelt on our mats these words popped into my head: Goodbye, Obscure CanLit Mama.
Wow. I can hardly bear to type them out. But I think I might be on to something. It might be time to say goodbye. I’m not clear what it is I’m saying goodbye to. Is it blogging, wholesale? Is it to the persona? Am I recognizing that this blog has become, in some ways, a heaviness, an obligation rather than a joyful expression?
As I reflect on what this blog has been for me over the nearly five years it’s existed, I am so grateful. It’s been a place to test out ideas, to meet other “Obscure CanLit Mamas,” to record my children’s quickly passing stages and my own attempts to manage and frame my role as their mother. It’s been a public journal, in many ways. It’s allowed me to claim my writing self. I learned how to take photos because of this blog. I’ve connected with old friends, and new. I’ve felt, at times, too opaque, at others, too raw. I’ve written about books that I’ve loved. It’s also been a forum for publicity for The Juliet Stories.
And I guess I don’t really know what this blog is for anymore. I still love the writing of the posts. But I’ve been having panic attacks when I press “publish.” I’m worrying far too much about offending readers, about tone, about perception, about being liked (or worse, not liked). The spirit of the enterprise feels off-kilter somehow. I’m worried, also, that blogging may jeopardize future employment opportunities. (Kevin thinks that’s a ridiculous fear, but I wonder: would you trust your midwife if she had a blog?)
I am still an Obscure CanLit Mama. But I’m not quite the same Obscure CanLit Mama who pressed “publish” on that first post all those years ago. I have more confidence in my writing. That may be it, pure and simple. I can think of myself as a writer now without feeling like an imposter.
I am a writer.
It is my instinct to continue to write, to blog, to post, to tell, to record, to celebrate, to reach out with words. But what am I offering, and what am I asking for in return? I’m not at all clear, anymore. I should be. It’s time to take a break, for now.
Thank you for sharing my practice with me. I’m quite sure, I am, that this isn’t goodbye.
this morning, convalescing kid with companions
Recently I sat down and wrote out a schedule. My goal was to identify any spare pockets of time into which I could slot one of the following activities: exercise, writing, social time, Kevin time, and cleaning. (My standards are low, but even basic maintenance for a family of six without a dishwasher requires a little effort every day.) I discovered a few extra spots for running or yoga, plus worked out my strategy for maximizing my writing hours (hint: it involves scheduling separate time for email). Social time seems to be the hardest to come by.
But I did find an extra fifteen minutes here and there to throw at vacuuming and cleaning out cupboards and filing the stacks of paper that fly into the house and somehow multiply and spread to every available surface. To which I say, Whoo-hoo, without much enthusiasm.
But now I’ve got a kid home sick, and the schedule’s gone out the window. This is temporary, right? Right??
Last night, I visited another book club, my fifth this fall. I’ll admit that I was exhausted and drained after spending the previous night at the hospital, but I had a feeling that I needed not to cancel last-minute. I needed to go. And didn’t I! I was hosted by a group of mothers and daughters whose comforting warmth and welcome restored my energies. You just never know when these unexpected gifts are going to arrive. I returned home feeling repaired and strengthened by the evening.
I also got to show the book club the reprinted version of The Juliet Stories, which arrived yesterday. Oh my goodness! It looks quite different: GG finalist sticker embedded in the cover design, and new quotes from reviews on the back and front.
Kevin has made me a little gift: he put together a video with photos from this past month’s GG adventure, set over top of the clip on The Juliet Stories that was played on Monday evening on CBC radio’s As It Happens. Small story about that clip: I got to listen to it twice. First, I heard it live. I was washing the dishes, and I always listen to the CBC while washing the dishes (perhaps this is reason enough to remain dishwasher-free). Kevin was at a soccer game with AppleApple and the other kids were playing soccer in the rainy dark backyard, and suddenly there was my name and then my voice. I didn’t call the kids in. I listened alone, appreciating the quiet. What a sweet life moment. An hour later, the whole family got to hear it together: we streamed it from the Winnipeg station online. AppleApple was beaming from ear to ear: her Halloween costume is mentioned in the intro. (Several of her siblings were slightly jealous.) When my reading came on, CJ said, “Who is that?!” “Who do you think?” And he was suddenly too shy to say, but he knew.
Click here to see the video. Thanks, Kevin. It’s quite the keepsake.
Mother Nature and Junot Diaz
If you read my blog you’ll find Kevin’s Halloween costume funny (I hope); everyone else will just be baffled (especially because Kevin never remembered how to pronounce his last name). At the party last night, Kevin spent a lot of time explaining to everyone else who he was, and why. I spent a lot of time eating cheese and pickles and olives and cheese again. Wasn’t sure I’d make it into party-land standing, let alone wrapped in vines plucked off the side of our house, but a nap with the dogs on the couch gave me a couple more hours of stamina.
Yesterday was a Chapters day, and I enjoyed myself despite (because of?) spending five hours behind a table stacked with my books, smiling and waiting for people to approach. Thankfully, many friends turned up — for the hugs, right? One bought me a coffee and a protein box from Starbucks, which lasted all afternoon. And I sold a bunch of books, and not only to friends. I tried to tailor my pitch to whomever was approaching. Mention the setting? But offset it by adding, “It brings a child’s innocence to a politically-charged situation.” (Thanks to Charlene Diehl for the suggestion: I was riffing about pitch ideas on Facebook during the slower moments yesterday.) I also said that it was a good book club book, and I’d got strong and heartfelt responses from readers. I used vague phrases like: “mother-daughter relationships,” “family drama,” “memory.”
During a mid-afternoon lull, I had four back-to-back long conversations with people who apparently were just looking to chat and didn’t buy the book (that was a low point). I gave advice on how to get published. I declined free manuscript reading. One woman said she rarely reads in English (she is French), but that she felt extremely drawn to the book. She stayed for a long time, but never quite made the leap to purchase; I wondered whether I should have pushed her harder, but pushing is not really my forte. My inner-Menno recoils in horror at all this self-promotion. What if I’d said, “Maybe there’s a reason you’re being drawn to the book.” But I couldn’t, and didn’t. (But I’ll admit I wondered afterward: maybe there was a reason.)
A woman originally from Romania said she thought it would be too close to her own experiences to read, and apologetically walked away; but then changed her mind and came back all in a rush and bought it as a gift for a friend.
Mid-afternoon I posted on Facebook that no men had yet to buy my book, but lots of them were smiling at me. Of course, three minutes later a man bought the book. By the end of the afternoon, I figured about half the sales had been to men. Some were buying gifts for their wives. One had never met a writer, and complimented me on my author photo. He’s the one who had the best line of the day. After I’d signed the book for him, he said, “Damn, I should have had you write ‘Thanks for a wonderful night!’ so I could show it to my ex.”
See. I wouldn’t get any of this stuff if I’d stayed home instead.
This morning I listened to an interview with Junot Diaz (the real one) on YouTube — Kevin had found it while researching his costume. I guess this is one way to discover a new writer — be mistaken for him. It’s a very long interview, but if you’ve got time while kneading bread or doing dishes, listen in. I started around the 19th minute, where he’s talking about the book being an archaic medium because it moves at a human rhythm, not at the rhythm or speed of a machine; it’s archaic because we have been trained to become machines, and to forget that we are humans. He also said that to find something new, you have to first be lost.
I resonated with so many of the things he was saying, and I think other writers will too. (Be warned: he did use the F work often enough to interest Fooey, who was playing in the living-room. “It’s that word Mommy uses when she’s driving,” she said. Argh! I keep promising the kids I’ll stop swearing in the car, and I keep failing miserably. Just like a human or something.)