Everything is winding down, summer holidays are nearly upon us, and the truth is that I’m feeling a little bit flat. A little bit weary. I sense that I’m jealously guarding my reserves of creative energy as if in fear they might run out, which is perhaps not the best strategy; after all, creativity feeds on its own bubbling forth. And I don’t actually believe it can be spent, entirely.
But my instincts feel protective, somehow. Cautious. Inward-looking.
I spent yesterday writing. My working title is The Girl Runner; but that might not last. All I will say of what I’ve written is that it’s unexpected in tone and content, and the writing itself feels like disappearing into a daydream. From which it can be hard to emerge. It’s like getting lost. But I’m often not aware I’m lost until I realize how much I’m struggling to connect with what the kids are saying to me, or to respond with coherence to their requests.
It’s possible that their mother memories will include them prompting me to finish sentences, reminding me of what we were just talking about. It’s convenient to blame the writing; but it’s not always even that. Sometimes I’m distracted by a scheduling conflict, or by some errand I’ve just remembered needs doing, or by a voice on the radio, or a newspaper article, or a conversation or dream freshly recalled. I don’t know why it is sometimes so difficult for me to ground myself in the present moment. There are times when I must deliberately force myself to follow a spoken response through to its conclusion, force myself to pay attention to the reply, force myself to hold the thread rather than to drift.
Scattered. I wonder, and worry: How can such a scattered woman manage a functional daily life, manage to keep her children fed, manage deadlines, and plotlines?
Perhaps this explains why I wrote The Juliet Stories as a fragmented narrative: why I ask the reader to piece together clues, and take leaps. I was honoured to read an extremely sympathetic review in The Winnipeg Review posted earlier this week; the reviewer understood and was not frustrated by the leaps in the book. Read her review here.
And if you’re interested in listening to me (try to) talk about the connections between the book and my own experience, earlier this week the CBC ran my “riff” on Shelagh Rogers’ book show, The Next Chapter. Click here, and find me at 37:13 (with thanks to the friend who figured that out).
At the very end of the interview, I mention that I haven’t asked my siblings how they feel about the book, and I say something air-headed like, “I hope that’s not a bad thing! [Giggle]” *(Aside: I should probably make it policy never to listen to interviews of myself.) Anyway, my brother Christian heard the interview, so he dropped by the other evening to let me know that he really liked the book. We ended up having a funny conversation about the real events he recognized, and how they were dropped into such different contexts, all mixed up; and I was relieved to hear that he didn’t read himself as the brother Keith. In fact, I think he might be the perfect degree of closeness to recognize exactly how fictional the Friesen family is. He said his wife, on the other hand, is exactly the wrong degree of closeness, knowing just enough about our family to imagine that the book is somehow veiled history. If you know just a few things about our family’s past, I can imagine it would be easy to make the leap. But if you were there for it too, there is no leap, because it isn’t what happened, and we’re not the characters.
If I ever write a book about my family, it will be a very different book, about a very different family; and, frankly, I can’t imagine attempting it. But there’s no doubt families are enormously compelling, and if I ever storm up the nerve to try, it would make for an interesting exploration.
If asked, I will tell you that I pray none of my children become writers. Personally, I think it would be a bit of a curse to have a writer for a child. We’re dangerous. And probably maddening. *(Another aside: I read a tweet recently in which a writer noted that writers of fiction are constantly being asked “what’s real?”, while writers of non-fiction are constantly being asked “what did you make up?” Obviously, audiences have a compulsion to understand the links between fact/fiction, life/imagination, memory/invention. Etc.)
Which brings me round-aboutly to The Glass Castle, which I’ve been reading all week. In fact, I went to bed extra-early last night in order to finish it. It’s a memoir about a family of such incredible dysfunction that it staggers the mind. What amazed me most profoundly was the love expressed throughout — love of child for parent, and parent for child — despite the author’s childhood of parent-induced agony and chaos and hunger and violence. Love is so complicated. It isn’t reasonable. It guarantees nothing. It can be the source of terrible wrongs. And yet even the most disastrously-expressed love seems to answer something in us; seems to be something we need and crave, and could not survive without.
I’m not bringing this post around to any kind of coherence. Other than this: writing can be an act of love. But it is sometimes — often? — an act that feels more like dire necessity, or selfish need; it takes me away from my children, it removes me from the present moment, it deposits me in imaginary spaces. I don’t know where it comes from, or why I need to do it. I just hope it does ultimately create artifacts of coherence, and patterning, and some kind of connection and truth. Because that’s what love is, isn’t it? Love is connection, no matter how tangled.
From dancer to soccer player.
Sisterhood. (Click on the last photo to get the full view.)
Today is brag-about-my-brother day. My brother Karl is the youngest of my three brothers (I also have a sister who is the youngest of us five siblings). I was seven-and-a-half when he was born, and there’s a fabulous photo floating around somewhere of me on my red bicycle with baby Karl plopped in the basket on the handlebars, with my mom, another brother, and my best friend Katie all posed around us, every last one of us grinning with delight; ah, the freedom of the early 1980s. Karl also spent a lot of time being swaddled and stuffed into my toy baby carriage — for a big sister, what could be better than a real live baby to play with?
As he grew, Karl demonstrated tenacity and an outsized will. He was always a tiny child, but absolutely fierce.
He wasn’t interested in school or academics. But he was talented at many things, including playing the drums, among many other instruments. Somewhere along the line, he and my brother Clifford acquired equipment for recording and producing music at home. There was the studio in my parents’ basement, lined with egg cartons; and a portable studio that he could set up anywhere.
And now he has his own studio, out in the country, with a wall of windows overlooking fields.
What makes me most proud of my brother Karl is that he knew he wanted to make music. He knew it was what he wanted to do with his life. And so he set about becoming a musician, no matter that others might have wished for him a career that would promise greater financial stability and security. He’s worked incredibly hard. Fame has never been a motivator for him — what he loves to do is to make music. And as anyone who chooses the creative arts as a career knows, there are years of invisible, unseen labour and practice underlying any visible success.
Well, Karl’s had some success recently. His song, which is titled, simply, “Song,” is the music for Apple’s new MacBook Pro commercial, on television and online, worldwide. Click here to listen to the entire song. And if you like it, you can get the entire Kidstreet album on iTunes. (Kidstreet is made up of my brothers Karl and Cliff, and my sister Edna; all of them talented musicians.)
To see Karl’s work and talent appreciated on this level makes me just ridiculously proud. I will try to restrain myself from running up and down the streets whooping with delight.
Instead, I’d like to make a toast to everyone who chooses to a pursue a dream, against the odds, and despite the heartbreaking challenges along the way. Join me? All I’ve got this morning is a cup of coffee.
Karl, you’ve made something beautiful.
What a weird and wonderful week it’s been. I am positively bubbling with creative energy. And, right about now, caffeine. Which might explain the rapid-fire typing you’re hearing.
Yesterday had a stinker of a start. Well, not the very early start, which was spin class, and which, though I never quite got into it, still kicked off the day with a rush of happy endorphins. But then I got home. And discovered that CJ was refusing to go to nursery school, again. And you know, he’s been sick, so I wasn’t sure. Maybe he was still a bit off? Okay, kid. I’ll give you another day. Even though that means cancelling my morning plan to go record a song at my brother’s studio. Fine. Except it wasn’t fine, and I wasn’t fine, and I had to go to the basement and throw laundry into the washer and yell things and slam the door and perform other unpleasant and completely immature venting activities. It put a pall on the general everyone-heading-off-to-school-and-work part of the morning. I have a rotten temper.
It’s all about the expectations. I’d expected and planned to do one thing, and when plans suddenly shifted, I was disappointed. And frustrated. And facing another housebound day with a less than willing spirit.
But I came around, in a moping sort of way, to acceptance, and went on with the changed plans. When suddenly the phone rang–it was Kevin. His morning appointment had to be rescheduled. “I’ll come home and look after CJ, and you can go and record.” “Seriously?” “Seriously.” Well, off I went, let me tell you.
Proof that a stinker of a start doesn’t mean the whole is ruined. Remember this. Remember, and leap for the unexpected opportunities that parachute into your hours.
Why didn’t I take my camera? My brother’s new studio is filled with light. It’s an old Mennonite schoolhouse, one big room, and I sat right down at the piano to get loosened up. And then we recorded. Just one simple song, a lullaby. I wrote it for a character in Juliet. In fact, I’m pretty sure I wrote it as my character. Because my brother Karl is such an amazing and talented producer, as well as a musician, I know we’re going to have a beautiful song at the end of the process. It’s exciting. And I found myself up late last night perfecting more songs as my character. It’s weird, but I can write songs as her better than as me. Maybe it gives me the distance necessary to be vulnerable, to allow myself to tap uncritically into emotions and even a particular style that I can ascribe to her. Maybe it’s like writing a poem in a persona. I won’t question it. It’s working.
This morning, I surfed the creative wave toward a different shore. It helped that CJ trotted merrily off to nursery school–unquestionably healthy again. PRAISE BE. This morning, my friend Nancy arrived with coffee to share, and her camera. She is working on a new project that she calls “ipowr,” or “Intriguing People of Waterloo Region,” and she chose me as her first subject to interview and to photograph. I couldn’t resist photographing her too, plus it put me at ease to stand behind the lens. A nice way to warm up, perhaps for both of us. Less pressure. The photo above makes me think of a villa, a place both stark and soft, and somehow old-fashioned. The crop doesn’t quite do it justice. You can see the original here.
And so that is my yesterday and my today. I am basking in creative activities that would seem outside of my comfort zone. But neither feel like a stretch. Instead, both are extensions of what I’m already doing. And I’m brimming with appreciation for this quiet time between major projects, when I can do and try anything.
The world is full of beauty and light.
I am teetering on the brink of over-caffeination.
It’s all good.
Very serious production, as you can see. You can’t see the parents in stitches over the seriousness, though we tried to keep our faces straight. Fooey earned a walk-on role.
Big sister, little brother. Fooey is helping CJ read the book he brought home from nursery school. This morning, I am thinking about siblngs. Brothers and sisters. It’s fitting the kids are in pajamas in this photo, because I’m also thinking about late nights and being up past my bedtime.
Here are some other siblings of whom I’m awfully fond (and proud). They belong to me. On Thursday, two of my brothers, and my sister, who make up the band Kidstreet, launched their debut album. Of course, I was there on the dance floor to celebrate. (That was late night number one.) **Listen to their album on soundcloud, or buy their album on iTunes.
I am so proud of them for working together all these years, song-writing together, travelling together, performing together. Not all siblings could pull that off; in fact, I’m pretty sure they’re in the minority. All five of us are pretty close, as it happens, and I don’t take that for granted, not at all.
And I wish the same for the batch that Kevin and I have created, and for another brother/sister team who came into being just last night.
Because last night was late night number two. Last night, the stars aligned (they really did; it was dark and rainy and cloudy, but I’m positive about those stars). The stars aligned, and I drove to Toronto to be with friends who were about to become parents for the second time. Especially amazing is that I’d been present at the birth of their first child, too. So, last night, I got to see a little brother being born, and I remembered his big sister being born almost exactly two years ago. Just think about how her world has shifted this morning. She might not like it for the first little while, but she’s going to love that little brother. I just know it. And he’s going to love her right back.
I drove home in the middle of the night (still raining), filled with gratitude. Thankful for the moments when I see my kids helping each other out. Thankful for my own joyfully creative siblings. And thankful for friends who welcomed me — not once, but twice — to be a part of their birthing experience.
Now for a little nap, perhaps …