reading in bed
I’m sick and in bed. It’s where I’ve been all weekend. I missed our annual Robbie Burns party, in fact. (Not to sound too over-pitying but the photos above and below were taken during the party. I spent the night at my mom’s instead, with the younger kids, enjoying live-text updates from the party by Albus, Kevin, and my friend Zoe, who had baked Kevin a birthday cake, as we still have no oven. It felt ever so slightly like being there, as I tried to help her locate one lousy birthday candle somewhere in our entire house; she did.)
The one upside to being sick and in bed is all the reading I’ve been able to do. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I lay around devouring books at this pace. I love books, but I’d forgotten how much I need them. When I think back on my life, I realize that I remember in specific detail sitting and reading, or lying in bed and reading, in many different rooms and seasons, and at many different ages. The winter after I’d turned twenty, I lived in a basement apartment with my brother, and we had no television, and the internet, as we now know it, had not been invented (or at least wasn’t available in our basement apartment). I used my computer much like a typewriter: to write papers and poems. And I read for entertainment. I remember reading Pride and Prejudice, maybe for the first time, and all of J.D. Salinger, for the millionth time, and Anne of Windy Poplars, which I still read every once in awhile, just because.
This weekend I fell in love with a book: Born with a Tooth, by Joseph Boyden. Well, it’s short stories, and I do fall for short stories. If you haven’t read it, seek it out and do. I’m certain some of the themes that seed his novels are planted here, and perhaps not as fully developed, this being his first book, but I don’t mind, not at all. These are stories that will gut you, and make your heart ache, and maybe take your spirit somewhere deeper too.
I also read an entertaining cowboy-noir tough-guy book called All Hat, by Brad Smith, which got me through a really crummy Saturday.
And now I’m reading Nathan Englander’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank. More stories. If I find out a writer I like has written short stories, that’s what I go and seek out. I love them. I find it odd that I haven’t felt like writing them, myself, for awhile. It’s almost like poetry. The urge to write a poem comes and goes — goes for years, lately. And then suddenly comes again. I seem to be thinking in novels instead, since Juliet.
shadow of our house
My profound thought of the day is that everything in this world comes down to land and stories. But now I’ve forgotten why I formed the thought. My brain feels muddy and my eyelids are heavy. Land and stories. I was thinking that war is almost always about land, but not just war — conflict of all kinds. What does it mean to possess land? To claim it? To take its riches? What claim do we have on the land we call ours, both personally and nationally? And then stories. I’ve been thinking how much stories matter. They matter in ways we don’t fully appreciate or maybe can’t take in. Stories are alive and changing, flexible, they can answer the questions we hardly dare to ask, and they can corner us, too, and pin us down. The person in control of the stories is the person with the power. Maybe even more powerful than the person with the land, when you get right down to it.
This could be the fever talking.
Outside, winter winters on, temperatures burning cold, snow whirling, wind whipping. Maybe I will remember this time of reading, years from now, and the stories that filled me up.
on the prow of an imaginary ship, hair whipping in the wind
|fake album cover|
I knew it would be tough to get to my desk these past few days. And it has been. And I probably should be napping instead of posting right now (I’m feeling crummy and am actually on antibiotics, as a matter of fact). But dammit, I need to write!
Friday was a good news day. I finished marking on Thursday night, as planned, if a little later than hoped, spent Friday morning double-checking my math, and then delivered the graded portfolios to campus for pick-up, my writing hand still cramped up from all the unfamiliar work. In future, were I to teach again, I might abstain from making detailed comments and suggestions unless such feedback were directly requested by a student. But it’s what I had to offer, this time around, and it’s done now.
Almost as soon as I’d finished that fairly enormous task, which has occupied a large part of my fall, all of the suppressed anxiety about final revisions for Girl Runner kicked in. I kid you not. The anxiety must have been sitting there just waiting to pop. I literally finished packaging up the portfolios and alphabetizing them (because I am nothing if not needlessly organized), and then texted Kevin with a “Help! What’s happening to me?”-style of message.
|ooh, pretty colours|
He requested that I check CJ’s “feelings” handout, which we’ve all been referring to with a certain amount of seriousness since he brought it home from school. (A funny after-dinner activity last week involved CJ directing me to act out, with facial expressions, a variety of feelings. Bored. Sad. Worried. Frustrated. (“Not angry! I said ‘frustrated’!” “But this is my frustrated face!”
|Pensive; also, Cold (note red nose)|
|Tired, yet Prepared for a Challenge?|
Oh, and Happy, Excited, and Proud. I counted three positive feelings and a whole lot of not so positive ones, but fair enough. Maybe we humans have a better understanding of the gradations between unhappy emotions, and the happy ones are more mysterious, kind of lumped together into one weird and wonderful and slightly scary experiential glob. I’m noticing as I’m considering this that my happy feelings seem somehow less trustworthy than my unhappy ones. Their transitory nature seems more fragile, more vulnerable to chance (that’s what makes them scary, I think). I wonder if by thinking this way (completely unconsciously) I prevent myself from experiencing Happy as fully as I could.
Anyway. So I went to CJ’s feelings sheet, studied it for a moment, and texted Kevin back: Uh oh. It appears that I’m feeling Anxious.
|I will slay you with my sombreness|
Less than an hour passed before the phone rang. And my feelings went from Anxious to, well, Relieved, but that’s not on the feelings sheet. (As AppleApple said, “I don’t think all of the things I’m feeling are on there.”) The person on the other end of the phone was my US editor, calling with warm and believe-you-me very welcome praise for the newest draft of Girl Runner. Yes, I’ve still got the final revisions to complete, but I can’t wait to get to them, and oh man, was I ever Relieved — and no, that’s not exactly the same as Happy — to get that call. “But aren’t you ‘Excited?'” Fooey asked me when she got home from school and I’d reported the good news. And then she said, “Or maybe ‘Proud.'” Well, maybe the latter, yes — why not!
|Serious writer face, with a hint of scorn?|
Hauling my feelings with me from afternoon into evening, I decided to run a little further than planned while at my daughter’s soccer practice. With geeky headlamp in place, I proudly (if slowly) conquered 12km: the furthest I’ve gone since the concussion. But I woke up Saturday morning feeling a bit queasy and headachy, which could indicate a bit of a regression. Consult feelings sheet: Sad. But by evening, I felt well enough to get dressed up for a party. And take photos! And at the party, I felt well enough to stay out past our (purely self-imposed) curfew (given the early morning soccer game we had to get to). I was having too much fun to be Entirely Responsible. In short, I was Happy.
|Proud. Take that, reading public|
My creative project for the weekend involved trying to take a self-portrait that could work as an author photo. It was entertaining, but I’m afraid I did not succeed. I’m including here some of the many out-takes.
“That one’s pretty,” said Kevin, looking through my efforts last night (see photo at bottom of post). “It could work as an author photo.”
|Calm; and possibly already had a drink?|
“But could it work as my author photo?” By which I meant, is this the facial expression I wish to present to the reading public? What feelings am I hoping to conjure up and send out into the world? I’m vain, I’ll admit that up front. I’d like to look pretty in my author photo, and preferably not tired and weary. But I’d also like to look not overly serious or somber. Instead, I’d like to look like someone who you’d want to meet for tea, someone you’d trust with your story — with your feelings. Friendly, approachable, calm, but with spirit and humour. And while I’ll admit to being vain, vanity is the last thing I’d like to project.
And on this abrupt note, I must declare: End of post. I’m late to meet the school bus!
Be forewarned: I’ve got nothing particular to say. Be reassured: the one thing I’m not going to do is to ramble on about Rob Ford, the spectacularly awful mayor of Toronto, even though it’s just about the only news penetrating the wall of fog that seems to have lowered itself around my noggin. It’s these early mornings, one after the next after the next.
I’ve been wondering about my inclination to get up and exercise, no matter how tired I am. Is it helping? Is it making me a calmer, happier, fitter, stronger, more productive person? I sleep better when I exercise, and that counts for a lot. And I’m often up early anyway, so it seems like the practical thing to do. But I also know that tiredness can bleed into the whole day.
I’ve got a sick kid home. He read me a whole book, with some help on tough words here and there. “Did you know you could read that book?” I asked in astonishment, and he shrugged and said, Nope, he had no idea.
There are only three classes left in the term. Tonight I’m tackling creative non-fiction, a subject that makes me nervous, as my level of expertise is not as high as when we’re talking about the short story. Still, creative non-fiction fascinates me, and it’s worth tackling, assuming my fogged-up brain can make sense of my scrambled notes.
This is where I sat last night to compose those scrambled notes and find readings to support my claims and generalizations. I will miss this office, quite a lot, actually. I will miss the quiet, and the routine. And I will miss the camaraderie that’s been created in the classroom over the course of the term, that I will miss a lot. It will make life easier, not to have this extra obligation, but my preference, as you may have observed, doesn’t generally skew toward easier.
Tonight’s supper: turkey noodle soup, with buttery corn-off-the-cob on the side.
Last night’s supper: grilled salmon, and macaroni-and-cheese made with leftover noodles and real buttermilk.
Yesterday’s after-school activity: music. In this beautiful sunlit building. I’m about to leave for campus, to teach. The kids are home, and it’s our quiet evening, with only one extra activity — karate — to which the boy has a ride, thankfully. I’m letting everyone eat the Halloween candy as their after-school snack. And I’m grabbing some to go. Be forewarned. Be reassured.
I’m basically scooping my daughter’s homework deadline, but I just had to share her response to a school assignment to write a six-word memoir. After trying out a variety of ideas that played around with her connection between the imaginary and the real, she came up with the six words above, and had me take an accompanying photo. I love the dreamy, peaceful, joyous expression on her face. The saddle is from my own pony-owning era, with safety stirrups that I remember my Gramps, who loved horses too, insisted I use. We couldn’t find a bridle with reins in the attic, so she’s got a skipping rope instead. Hey, the imagination works wonders. Her little brother and sister have also been welcomed into this imaginary world and AppleApple happily responds to all requests to “go ride Nellie.”
(As an aside, do you think you could write a six-word memoir? Could I? Maybe I will ask my students to try this exercise when we meet for the first time tomorrow.)
This is turning into Carrie’s bad news bed bug and concussion blog, but I figured you might like an update on my head. I saw a sports medicine doctor today. If you’ve got a few minutes, take time to watch this surprisingly helpful and succinct video on concussions made by a doctor in Montreal. Unfortunately, I’m not even at step one of the steps to recovery: I’m still suffering symptoms even while at rest. But overall, I was relieved to know that I haven’t done anything too terribly wrong, with the exception of going back on the field to play out the game in which I suffered the concussion. In retrospect, I realize I would never let one of my kids do that, but apparently my judgement wasn’t the best following a blow to the head; and it’s not a mistake I’ll make twice. Otherwise, I’ve been properly conservative in my attempts to return to activity. I’m going to see a physio tomorrow, who also specializes in post-concussion syndrome, and will report anything of interest. Meanwhile, I need to be cautious even about my cognitive activities (argh!), which obviously take precedence over any exercise-related activities. The doctor’s words that stick in my head are: “You will get out of shape. I know that’s frustrating.” I think my main goal for right now is to accept that, and be grateful for all that I can do in the weeks and months ahead.
For example, I recognize that I won’t be able to race the Run for the Toad this year. It’s not that I couldn’t do it, rather that I would pay a very heavy price to complete it. Running seems to be a major symptom trigger. At this point, if I feel well enough, the doctor suggested an easy walk, and possibly an easy swim. But if I’m honest about how I’m feeling, even an easy walk hurts rather than helps right now. So does looking at my computer screen. Which means I’m signing off for now.
Thanks for all who have reached out to me recently with thoughtfulness and care!
“Do you plan on waking up tomorrow morning?” Kevin asked me last night, as we were reading in bed.
“Um, yes, waking up in the morning would be my plan,” I said.
He meant, should he set his alarm or did I plan to wake up early, but the phrasing seemed ominous under the circumstances. My bad news is that it appears my concussion symptoms have not gone away, as I’d hoped, despite a restful week at the cottage. I tested things out last week with three short easy runs that caused me no ill side effects. So I thought it was safe to do a longish run yesterday in preparation for the 25-km trail race, just a few weeks from now: off I went, enjoying a speedy comfortable 13km run in beautiful weather, returned home feeling terrific, and gradually became aware as the afternoon turned to evening that I wasn’t feeling so terrific anymore. Headache, nausea.
In fact, I was feeling so off that I realized I couldn’t play in my soccer game. You know me. That’s huge! It was our last game of the season, and we were playing in the cup final. It was painful to stand on the sidelines, but my team played an awesome game under the lights (with a sliver of a moon overhead), and I was so glad I’d come out to cheer. We won! So my team went undefeated all year, won the regular season, and the cup final, and as you can see from the photo, we were all pretty happy. Look, shiny medals!
Come to think of it, this is my first experience being on a winning team, mainly because I only recently started playing team sports — this is just my second season. And here’s my observation: it was really fun to win, but it was more fun simply being part of a team that enjoyed playing together (which is probably a good recipe for a winning team). We were well-matched in effort and skill, the talk on and off the field was positive, supportive, and helpful, we put together some awesome plays, and I learned a lot playing with these women. The coach was pretty awesome too. So bottom line: winning is fun, but playing for a happy team is more fun.
I feel fuzzy-headed, today, though. Is my writing fuzzy-headed too?
I’ve made an appointment with a sports medicine doctor who specializes in concussions. Maybe should have done this weeks ago? But there’s no point beating myself up with should’ves and could’ves. I will keep you posted on progress, and meantime, I’m going to do NOTHING exercise-related. I’m also going for a nap as soon as the guy punching a hole in our basement wall is done (yes, we hired him to do it; something boiler-related).
We’re having a nice gradual entry into extra-curriculars this fall. This week Fooey’s gymnastics starts. Piano lessons continue. We have two meet-the-teacher nights, one of which I have to miss due to teaching myself — my class starts this week. I also have a reading on Friday in Toronto, and I encourage and invite you to come: click on the link for details. I’ll be speaking with three other panelists, including the delightful Kerry Clare of Pickle Me This, in support of a new anthology (in which I have an essay) called Have Milk, Will Travel: Adventures in Breastfeeding. These are light-hearted, funny reflections on breastfeeding, and I’m looking forward to sharing stories (and in my case reminiscining, since that time has passed for me, now).
So that’s my week. I also have more revisions to get to following an excellent editorial meeting on Friday re Girl Runner. I keep meaning to make an official announcement with links, but I can’t find any links, so I’ll just go ahead and tell you, in my semi-addled state, that if all goes according to plan Girl Runner will be the lead novel on House of Anansi’s list next fall! Gimme a woot-woot!
This is a Twitter pic of me reading at the Starlight in Waterloo on Thursday night. Fooey and AppleApple watched with great interest as I applied my “going-out” makeup in the dining-room mirror, with Fooey offering plenty of style advice (AppleApple agreed that Fooey was the expert, and shared her own method for choosing her outfits: “I reach into my drawer in the dark and pull out whatever’s on top.” Then she pairs whatever she finds with soccer shorts). My friend Zoe came along to the reading and promised me that I didn’t look old and haggard. I forgot to ask her about looking “witch-like,” which I think the photo evidence suggests may be the case. In any case, Zoe and I are already excited about planning a launch party for Girl Runner. It’ll be epic!
But, oh right, there’s still work to be done before then.
And I must rest my head, too. Good morning.
I’ve spent the last hour reading a book. For pleasure. While sipping a cup of coffee, curled in my great-aunt Alice’s rocking chair, the sound of spring birds and morning traffic out my office window. That sounds indulgent, and it is. I’m a bit under the weather, in fact, and skipped out on soccer last night to crash early.
To qualify, however, the early crash was preceded by five hours of domestic labour that included preparing supper (tacos: fresh-cooked beans and rice, hamburger, avocado and tomato salad, sauteed spinach with garlic, grated cheese, etc.), driving a kid to swimming, hanging two loads of laundry and folding two more, feeding children supper, discussing with younger daughter why she can’t get a kitten right now, cleaning up from supper, supervising bathtime, supervising piano practice, brushing children’s cavity-laden teeth, bedtime rituals, and two extra trips upstairs post-lights-out to fetch water bottles and debate with youngest whether or not his stuffed tiger needed emergency surgery (no, the doctor, aka mama, ruled). If you are wondering where Kevin was in all of this, he arrived home with supplies for supper, we said hello, I left with the swim kid, and he was waiting on the porch when I returned, ready to race off to the U12C boys’ soccer practice with Albus. He arrived home with the two eldest children around 8pm, just in time to put on his own soccer gear and sprint to his own soccer practice. To which I was invited. And simply had not the energy or health to go.
Instead, I took a bath, read a book, crashed early.
I haven’t got a handle on balance, these days. Don’t come to me for advice. I’m tired of waiting for news, but I’ve decided to look on these quiet days — quiet, anyway, while the children are at school — as fortunate. Why waste the quiet with interior storm? I am in need of rest and comfort.
Chicken stock. Tea. A rocking chair. A good book.
It’s in my head, always, like a current pulling out to sea, that I need to get out and run. But maybe I need to curl up sometimes, too. One can’t be constantly pouring oneself out without replenishment.
I worry about being this poem, “First Fig,” by Edna St. Vincent Millay:
My candle burns at both ends
It will not last the night;
But, ah, my foes, and, oh, my friends —
It gives a lovely light.
Speaking of poems, a friend from poetry book club sent me this one, “Glory, in the dictionary,” by Erin Bow, in response to Friday’s “How are you?” post.
Glory, in the dictionary: the open mouth
of the glass furnace. A radiant shadow
cast onto mist. Think of Icarus:
his shadow huge and haloed
on the backs of the clouds.
The higher he went, the larger
it loomed. To go into glory, then,
is to walk into fire.
And the angels begin as they always do:
Don’t be afraid.
I’m not sure what I think about this. Glory. Exaltation; or do I mean exultation? The shadow cast. But I love the angels, who begin as they always do: Don’t be afraid. I want those angels to be my angels.
Exaltation, in the dictionary: a feeling of intense, often excessive exhileration; a flight of larks
Exultation, in the dictionary: the act or condition of rejoicing greatly
A few links:
My updated reading list, 2013, now including April. Having not, prior to this year, strictly kept track of books read, a few trends surprise me: I’m reading more male authors than I expected, also less Canadian content, and more non-fiction. Hm. But there is quite a variety. I think of myself as a democratic or catholic reader: I like almost everything. Unless it’s boring. I do, however, have an inner critic that edits for content and structure as I read, and that can be really annoying and next to impossible to turn off.
I wrote a piece for Today’s Parent on Mother’s Day, which happens to be one of my least favourite holidays. I didn’t write about that, however. I aimed for moderately sappy truth. The piece appears in the latest issue of the magazine, but it’s also online. (To put in a plug for the hard copy, the layout in the magazine is inspired.)
One more thing. That kitten that Fooey really wants? Why do I secretly want it, too? Don’t tell her. It’s worse than impractical. But I got the image this morning of a messy open house, where it’s mostly chaos, and all creatures great and small are welcome. Not sure where I am in that picture. Doing the dishes and hanging the laundry and getting a kick out of forever and impossibly trying to maintain order? Or could I be curled in the rocking chair reading a book, covered in cat hair? Or racing in the door from a run? But who’s cooking supper? Who’s making sure the soccer socks are clean? Who’s cleaning the kitty litter box?
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