Sunday morning. Family reading by the fire. The French horn being practiced, drowning out the radio. Smoothies and eggs for breakfast. I’m sitting in comfy pants at my desk looking at photos I took yesterday afternoon out in the wintry countryside, for my brother and sister, who are the band Kidstreet.
I got up early every morning this past week, but not on the weekend. I wrote every day.
I write during the day, but because my working hours are foreshortened due to children arriving home from school, or music lessons, I’m always looking for additional time slots, especially useful if I’m in the flow of a project; less useful if I’m trying to manufacture a scene or story from scratch. On Tuesday I took my laptop to gymnastics and wrote, and on Friday I took my laptop to soccer practice and wrote. I even took my laptop to piano lessons, and wrote, although that was more of a challenge, as I had bored children waiting on the bench beside me, angling for snacks and chat. I couldn’t use the ear plugs I usually do, while writing. (I even use ear plugs when I’m home alone with the dogs in the middle of the day; it’s a physical cue that helps me focus.)
On Friday, I had a fascinating correspondence with my Dutch translators, who sent over a series of questions about the nuances of words and phrases in Girl Runner.
The coming week will be different, as I’ve got three book club appearances on three consecutive evenings — two involve a meal in a restaurant for a book club called “An Appetite for Reading.” Will I be able to get up early every morning? I’m going to try. But no running. I was going to say, no running, sadly, but you know, I have to accept where my body is at, and be grateful that I’ve got options: spinning, yoga, swimming, walking, strength-training. I tried doing run/walk intervals this week, and the pain re-appeared immediately. It had been gone, even through heavy spinning and swimming, so it appears to be running-induced. Which means that for now, I’m a runner in spirit only … religiously doing my physio exercises and testing out running shoes on the treadmill, while walking and writing. (Ironically, I just got a new gig testing running shoes for a running magazine and boxes of shoes keep arriving at the door.)
And now, I think it’s time to write a poem, before another Sunday morning vanishes. Piano being practiced. Swim lesson prep has begun. Ear plugs in.
Yesterday our family celebrated the winter solstice. My made-up ritual went like this:
〉 bake brownies with Fooey
〉 tell everyone we would eat brownies as part of an after-supper solstice celebration
〉 then tell everyone they would have to recite a poem at said celebration
〉 light all available candles and arrange on dining-room table
〉 turn off all other lights
〉 gather (that took awhile)
〉 enjoy the scene
〉 recitation by CJ: presentation in French, which he wrote and performed at school, on his stuffed tiger
〉 reading by Fooey: a dramatic performance of excerpts from Geronimo Stilton
〉 recitation by AppleApple: a dramatic performance of “The raven himself is hoarse,” Lady Macbeth soliloquy
〉 reading by Albus: from Diary of a Wimpy Kid
〉 recitation by me: of “First Fig” by Edna St. Vincent Millay
〉 reading by Kevin: poem from Ken Babstock’s collection Mean
〉 (with occasional interruptions: moans from CJ, who is suffering a terrible toothache that comes and goes, and will be investigated further by a dentist this afternoon)
〉 the eating of the brownies (probably not helpful to the toothache…)
I know our solstice celebration was just hacked together, like a fort made of blankets or a book made of folded-up construction paper. But it was a really fun thing to do. (Fun = entertaining, creatively delightful, collective and personal.) Even though I love the winter solstice because it means the light is coming back, gathering in the early dark made me appreciate the early dark, too. It lowers around us and encloses us, safe inside our house, and, if all is well, it brings a stronger sense of warmth and togetherness. All is well. It’s never far from my mind how fortunate, how easily disrupted, “normal” is.
Today: kids enjoying first official day of no school. They are currently — all of them — barricaded in an upstairs bedroom, dressed in costumes, making a movie using our little digital camera based on a book everyone finds funny: “Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores.”
Which leaves me free to write this blog post, process photos, and start wrapping presents. Before dentist-time.
At the Wild Writers Festival this weekend, here in Waterloo, I took my daughter along to volunteer. At lunchtime, I gave her some money and she went across the street to the grocery store to buy herself something for lunch.
Something for lunch, as purchased by AppleApple: a 500 ml tub of lime-flavoured Greek yogurt; a plastic-wrapped English cucumber; a loaf of Italian-style bread.
She found me in the green room, chatting with a handful of writers/editors/publishers, sat down beside me at the table. “This must be your daughter,” was a refrain we heard all day. “What’s that?” said the editor. “It’s my lunch,” said my daughter.
And then, this-must-be-my-daughter proceeded to eat the cucumber, whole, in great munching bites. I didn’t see what happened to the bread. The yogurt she polished off directly too. I could not have been more proud.
The thing about blogging is that so much gets left out. I haven’t, so far, made this a particularly political space. It’s not terribly ideological either. That doesn’t mean I lack for political thoughts and opinions, simply that I haven’t felt this to be the place and space to raise them.
I’m struggling with this choice at present. There are zeitgeist moments when an issue seems to get ripped open and demand conversation. But the conversation is never ever simple, that’s why issues are buried and need an almost shocking violence to bring them to the surface; we don’t want to have these conversations. Why would we? They’re painful. They tear us apart. They challenge our safe ideas of who we are. In Canada, that issue is sexual harassment and violence against women, and underlying it, biases and beliefs so entrenched that we don’t even notice they’re there. It’s distressing and depressing to be talking about this again or still. I suspect that no one wants to talk about this less than women. I consider myself an equal. I consider our culture much-changed and for the better. But it hurts my head to try to make melodic the dissonant chords of experience.
Consider this. A woman on stage presenting her book: she looks like she doesn’t care, she gives off an aura of irritation, responds to questions with her own personal grievances, cuts others off, and appears to be drunk. Would this ever happen? I’ve never seen it. But I’ve seen a man on stage doing that. (Granted, it’s unlikely to win him fans, but he still feels like he can do it.)
Maybe that’s a bad example. I would never want to feel like I could do that.
What about this? A woman writer on stage making fun of the other writers on stage, all in good fun. This also almost never happens, but if you think about it, friendly mockery is frequently the patter between men on stage, and it is funny, it’s appealing, not negative. So why do women rarely do it? Could we get away it? I wonder. It’s not that women can’t be funny on stage. I’ve seen a lot of funny women on stage these past two months. But here’s the difference: women on stage make fun of themselves. (So do men sometimes; I’m not suggesting otherwise.) That’s funny too. It’s self-deprecating. But it’s not the same thing.
I think that’s the difference between the privilege of being taken at face value, of being given the benefit of the doubt, and not. Some of us women would like to be joking around in public with the men (and women), joining in the joke—really, that’s what it is. Some of us would like not always to be so damn self-deprecating in order to get laughs. We would like to be taken seriously without having to be so serious. I would like that very much, at least on occasion. I would like it to be an option. This is a small small observation, and you may think it unrelated to the issue at hand, and certainly it’s not serious in the way that sexual harassment and violence is serious. But I think it’s a small piece of the larger picture. It points to a difference in the parameters of public behaviour open to women who wish to be taken seriously, versus men.
Listen. I’m a polite Canadian woman. I fear offending. I’m not especially brave. (And may not be very funny, either.) I prefer to be liked. I can’t help worrying as I push publish on this post. But I’m going to push it anyway.
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.
Seen, on walk to Granville market this morning.
I’m still in Vancouver.
Today is it 14 degrees, feels like 13, and there was sun, briefly, though it looks overcast again. That’s okay. I brought red rain boots, which are squashable and therefore transportable across the country in a very small carry-on bag. I wore them to a party on Wednesday night, because my other red shoes, the ones I’d worn to a fundraising event hosted by Joseph Boyden earlier in the evening, the fancy retro heels, had rendered my toes completely numb. Plus, they’re a bit big and I had to stuff them with tissues in order not to fall over whilst walking in them. (Sounds glamorous, I know. Busted.)
The rain boots felt so good. It was like wearing slippers to a party.
Party, party, party. It’s not all I’m doing. What am I doing? I’m living in another world, a parallel universe, one which feels like a rather long performance piece being written on the fly, with a wheeling cast of characters, and the utter absence of a working interior clock. The moderator on my panel this morning, Timothy Taylor, kept saying “tonight,” in his introductions, as in “Tonight, we welcome Carrie Snyder, Russell Wangersky, Ian Weir, and Herman Koch ….” And while I could have sworn it was mid-morning when we left the hotel to walk to the theatre, I almost started to believe that it had somehow, during our passage there, become tonight.
But it is not tonight, not yet. It is late afternoon in Vancouver and I haven’t gone for a walk, as intended, let alone a run. I have eaten a giant honey crisp apple bought at the Granville market this morning. That may be the single most healthy choice I’ve made all day.
I skyped with my children yesterday afternoon, but it only made me feel further away.
I’m living in a bubble. It’s a brief span of time, and I will look back on it fondly, but it’s a bubble nevertheless, an unreality, a fantasy, even, of hotel rooms and little shampoos and hospitality suites and rain boots paired with Little Black Dresses. There’s a haggard glamour to it all. I’ve got more grey hairs today than I did a week ago, I’m quite certain. I myself am a bubble, I think, too. Afloat. Not adrift, but afloat.
Home on Sunday.
I’m still in Calgary.
The Weather Network says that it’s 8 degrees, feels like 6. It also tells me that there was a small earthquake yesterday in Banff. Coincidentally, I’m going to Banff this afternoon. This reminds of the time I was going to Calgary and they had an underground electrical fire and all the power went out downtown for a few days. Oh wait. I’ve only been to Calgary twice. That was this time. And the power was all back on by the time I arrived.
But the mayor of Calgary, the most awesome mayor in the world, Naheed Nenshi, was unable, due to the electrical fire, to attend a Wordfest event last night called a Literary Death Match. He was going to be one of the judges. (Literary Death Match is a thing. Look it up. Adrian Todd Zuniga, the fellow in the electric blue suit with the pomaded hair, who appears to have invented the event wholesale, runs an excellent circus.)
I got called in very very last minute to fill in for Mayor Nenshi. My biggest moment, possibly ever, let’s be honest. Not necessarily the best news for the audience, however, let’s also be honest. But because Mayor Nenshi was such big shoes to fill, I was only one half of his replacement. The other half was a comedian named Chris, whose last name I can’t find on the internet anywhere*. But he also had long red hair, so we kind of matched. Only he had a beard and was funnier. We were judging “intangibles.” The other judges were Johanna Skibsrud on “literary merit,” and Mark Tewksbury on “performance.” (I was sitting by Mark Tewksbury! I was offering moral support to Mark Tewskbury! I was hamming it up with Mark Tewksbury! And Johanna Skibsrud!)
It was, hands-down, the most entertaining literary event I’ve ever attended. I woke up this morning, imagining myself killing it at the “Gals and Good Times” panel I’m on this morning (because that’s what you do at a Literary Death Match; or you try to, anyway.) I imagined myself saying, in my allotted 2 minutes to speak about my book, I was here in this same theatre last night for a Literary Death Match, and I’m afraid it’s going to affect today’s performance. First, I’m a bit hungover. Second, I’m going to swear and mention body parts in an effort to get laughs. Third, I’m going to think I’m actually funny.
So, yeah. Let’s not do that, shall we. Let’s drink several bottles of water, take our vitamins, and stop blogging. Now.
I’m off to shower, eat, and attempt to look presentable. Wish me luck, please. And also with the earthquakes and underground electrical fires.
PS I’m calling the photo above Woman Prepares for Literary Death Match by Donning Very Sparkly Shirt and Taking a Selfie.
*Found it. Chris Gordon. He swears and mentions body parts a lot. In person, he is hilarious.
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