Hello there! Just checking in. How are you? You may have observed (as my dad recently did) that I’ve been checking in somewhat less frequently here, as my writing time is quite cramped. I also take way less photos than I used to, relying mainly on the camera on my phone. Your understanding is appreciated. I think this is a good example of how I make things work, generally speaking; it isn’t always perfect, or even approaching perfect, but I try to do as much as I can, in as many of the areas of my life that I can, using the resources available. And with plenty of compromise.
This weekend, AppleApple and I made a trek to Ohio for a soccer tournament. I’d been dreading the long drive and leaving behind my writing work, but it turned out to be really fun. Note to self: stop dreading things! Good grief! Somehow, in my anxiety about crossing the border and having to navigate solo, I neglected to appreciate that I would be alone with one kid, with very few responsibilities other than getting her to and from games, for several days. I left behind the calendar, the scheduling, the laundry, the cooking, the cleanup — well, everything, really. We had beautiful weather, spring had sprung in Ohio, they sell beer in grocery stores there, and everyone was super-friendly.
* lounging and watching Friends on my laptop via Netflix with AppleApple in the evenings
* a social meal out with the team on Saturday night
* buds on trees, flowers blooming, needing to wear sunscreen again
* an impromptu picnic in a Kroger’s parking lot (we know how to class it up)
* taking a detour home through Bluffton, Ohio to visit friends and see the house I grew up in from kindergarten through grade 3
So my kid complained about me singing along to the radio on the drive. So her team didn’t win every game. I can’t think of anything else to complain about, actually. How lucky we were to get that time together. How fortunate we are to travel at our leisure, for fun, for recreation.
Back in Canada, driving driving driving, we tuned into the CBC news at 6 o’clock and heard about the failed efforts to rescue hundreds of migrants, drowned when the boat they were travelling on capsized in the Mediterranean sea; I can’t get that out of my head. I keep mentally juxtaposing the ease and safety and fun of our journey with the desperation of the journeys undertaken by so many.
I can’t make sense of it. So it’s just sitting here with me today.
PS I’ve got some good news on the book front. I look forward to sharing it with you later this week.
For our final “fun” event of March break, we rented a third of an indoor soccer field, and played soccer together as a family. My brother Karl joined us, too. It was a fun event, not merely a “fun” event, so much so that we’ve booked more family field time, and are going to play hooky this afternoon — hooky, and soccer. My brother Christian is planning to come along too this time. I predict a decimation of the oldsters by the fit and skilled youngsters.
In honour of the occasion, here is a poem I wrote while watching my 12-year-old at a soccer practice this winter.
Girl at soccer practice
I only ask to be more or less still as I fall under the spell of a girl lifting into flight a ball with knee, foot, foot, knee, body, foot, foot, the ball never striking the ground, air-bound circle, and I only ask to fall to watching, to trust the meaning of what is here and shows itself and asks only to be seen, to be watched
I only ask for a moment and another, air-bound circle, to restore what seems lost from me; what there is no need to find when I focus on such focus that it seems it might never
Soccer, soccer, and more soccer. It’s a theme!
Right now, I’m debating whether to play soccer again this summer. I’ve signed up to coach or assistant coach the two younger kids’ teams. And my #FridayReads is Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby, an odd little memoir (and quite possibly his first published book), in which he details his soccer/football obsession as an Arsenal fan through the 1970s and 1980s. He paints a disturbing picture of the dark underbelly of football culture in the UK (has it changed? I’m not sure), with its tribalism and violence, misogyny, and racism. Hornby looks around the stadium and observes that he and his fellow fans are utterly outraged at almost all times, filled with fury and disappointment as they watch their team play; and it seems such a strange misery to devote oneself to so fully, like one’s ordinary life can’t bear the burden of strangled rage, and so one becomes a football fan in order to let loose, in the company of others, this vast current of dissatisfied energy. Of course, there are the communal highs, too, when one’s team wins. Culturally, we devote a vast amount of news coverage and personal energy to sports, particularly professional sports, and that interests me. Why? What need is it filling?
Although I enjoy sports, I read Hornby’s memoir with the detached curiosity of someone who is not involved and cannot fully understand. I like to play more than I like to watch, in all honesty. (Unless I’m watching my kids play. See poem above).
Today’s post is an unusual one, for me. While this is a literary blog, of sorts, I write it as a writer going about her daily life, not as a reviewer or critic. This means I don’t review books on my blog, don’t take part in blog tours, nor do I accept review copies. Which makes today’s post an odd fit — I was asked to be part of a blog tour for Michelle Berry’s brand new novel, Interference, and I said yes.
I said yes because I really loved Michelle’s book. In fact, I blurbed for it. That’s my endorsement, or part of it, on the book cover above. Here’s what I wrote, in full: “Michelle Berry’s Interference is an immaculately constructed page-turner that is also, miraculously, a redemptive meditation on loneliness and community. Read it for the beautiful writing, the cast of unique characters, and for a certain tender brutality that infuses the telling — by turns moving, darkly funny, and ultimately warm and illuminating.”
So I said yes to Michelle’s blog tour … then wondered how to make this subject not feel shoehorned in to the larger purpose of the blog. And that’s when it came to me: soccer. (There’s no soccer in the book, I hasten to add; but my life contains up to 60% soccer some days, so it was a natural leap. Stay with me.)
Interference is a book with many threads pulled together around an unusual focal point: adult women, who don’t necessarily know each other very well, gathering weekly to compete in a team sport together — in this case recreational hockey. Until last summer’s concussion, this was me: an adult woman joining other women to compete in a team sport (see: soccer!). I miss playing soccer. This book made me miss it even more. So I decided to ask Michelle (whom I haven’t yet met in person) about her connection to sport. Here follows our somewhat abbreviated conversation, for the record.
〉 Me: What’s unique about the team experience that made you want to write about it? Were you part of sports teams when you were younger, or is it something you came to as an adult?
Michelle: Four years ago my friend signed me up for hockey. Our daughters had signed up together and, as my friend said, “If they can do it, we can too.” Neither of us had played before. I knew nothing. The hardest part was putting on the equipment. I really had to concentrate on the order in the first season — what goes on first. Several times I had my skates on before my pants and had to take them off again. But when I was finally bundled up in my equipment, when I had figured out my hockey skates, and when I went out onto the ice, it was life-altering. To be a woman covered in equipment (no jewelry, no makeup, no worry about clothing or hair — I was a giant, hulking body draped in ugly, smelly second-hand pads) was freeing. To be a woman in a competitive sport working together with other women as a team was freeing.
〉 Me: In my case, as an adult and a beginner, I came to a soccer team wanting to play soccer, without giving much consideration to the social aspects of being on a team — and quickly discovered that social dynamics play into how well a team works together. But it was also completely different from being part of a neighbourhood playgroup or book club, in terms of building relationships and friendships around a shared interest. I feel like your book captures the way that being on a team is a bonding experience that leaves a lot of room for privacy.
Michelle: Yes, being on a team works better than playdates and book clubs because it’s a group of people who probably have nothing else in common sharing one same goal. We are there to win (although my team never does and we don’t really care…. not really). And we aren’t there to form friendships and bonds and to make sure our kids play together nicely. We aren’t competing intellectually or emotionally. We are there to do a job. Play a sport. Although friendships and bonds do get formed in the change room, we tend to leave those friendships there. Book clubs, playgroups, those kinds of things, are more about trying to make connections intellectually and emotionally. Hockey is all physical — play well, even play not-well but try, and you belong.
〉 For more information about Michelle, or to purchase the book, click here to visit her publisher’s web site.
So, what do you think? Do you play a team sport, or did you once upon a time? Maybe someday, I keep telling myself. Maybe someday, I’ll play on a team again. Because as much as I love running and spinning and yoga and kettle bells, I’ve yet to find anything that replaces it.
Saturday. Early rising. Long drive. Poolside. Laptop open.
“Are you writing your next novel right here?”
“Erm. Kind of. Well, yes, actually. I’m trying.”
Saturday evening. Barely awake. Stroll uptown. The whole family.
Burger Badanga at the Chainsaw. (Fundraiser for Habitat for Humanity)
Also, burgers, beer, pop with unlimited refills.
But really it’s all about the football.
England v. Italy.
Not the hoped-for outcome.
“I always feel sad for whoever loses.”
“Wow, Mom. Someone always loses.”
Sunday. Early rising. Ritual stop at best early-morning coffee & breakfast joint in town, City Cafe, aka “the bagel place.” Long drive. Poolside. Laptop.
The kid is fast and strong. The mother is plain worn out.
Stop for falafel and chicken shwarma. Eat under tree. Long drive home.
Followed by deep nap.
Followed by must get up and do days’ worth of laundry, run errands, and think up Father’s Day supper.
Meet “Vanna,” above, our new front yard dwarf cherry tree. “Stella” is in the back yard. Two apple trees, as yet unnamed, await planting.
Neighbour we’ve never met stops to tell Kevin: “I’ve been walking by your front yard for the past ten years, and I just want to tell you how much I enjoy watching what you’re doing here.”
I think: Kevin’s dad, enthusiastic gardener, would have been so proud.
I call my dad.
Supper: hot dogs, bacon, fixings, roasted asparagus, kale slaw (“You shouldn’t call it that! Nobody’s going to want to eat it!”).
After supper: playing in the back yard. Kevin: Gardening and soccer-ball juggling. Albus: Trampoline and soccer. Fooey: Trampoline and soccer-ball juggling. CJ: Soccer, soccer, soccer. Me and AppleApple: catch, with tennis ball and baseball gloves.
The long late light. The best part of summer.
“Should we be responsible parents and tell everyone to go bed?”
“Do we have to?”
That thing woven into her hair is a dandelion. Yesterday, at recess, she and her friends celebrated a completely invented ritual called The Commencement of the Dandelion Festival.
She tells me this, and then she heads off to play a soccer game.
On his 13th birthday, Kevin and I take him out for lunch. (Fries with gravy, a milkshake, and a banquet burger.)
Also on his 13th birthday, his soccer team wins their game, and AppleApple and I pick up a cake from DQ on our way home from her game. He mentions that it’s been a great birthday.
It’s around 9:30 PM when we gather to blow out the candles. For some of us, DQ cake is supper.
Some of us don’t seem to mind.
Friday evening. Tuna melt supper for him, leftovers for me. He’s played soccer in the living alone for too long. He’s bored. It’s only the two of us, alone in the house. And so, of course, we sit at the dining-room table and colour together. We make it into a game. It’s the kind of “fun” activity I cajole my children into doing, when we “play” together. We haven’t done this for a few years. I sign my name to my picture, age 39. He signs his name to his picture, age 6.
If you notice I’m writing here a little less frequently, it’s due to writing elsewhere a little more frequently. On balance it all equals out, although the other things I’m writing don’t receive instant publication.
It feels really really good to be writing, especially new fiction. It’s so deeply satisfying to my brain. Like scratching a hard to reach itchy spot, or discovering a stretch that eases a tensed muscle.
I’ve been reflecting more deliberately this month on my word-of-the-year, which is SUCCESS. Such a daunting word to take on, yet it keeps calling out to be wrestled with. Any change in identity causes disturbances within the self, even positive change, even success. Even the meaning of success changes depending on the kind of day I’m having. It’s really personal. I also find myself rolling over the idea of how much a person can change, fundamentally, throughout a lifetime. Do the same insecurities that arose in childhood continue to affect my behaviour and choices now, or am I wise enough to stand counter to the pettier of the emotions and weigh my reactions rationally? I don’t have the answer to that.
On instinct, I continue to do the things that ground me. I set the alarm early. I run. I read. I spend time with friends. This weekend I also baked. In fact, I went on a baking tear yesterday afternoon. Kevin was out most of the day with the older kids at two separate soccer events, and therefore I was home alone with the younger ones, who still need supervision. For a fruitless hour around noon, I kept trying to arrange their happiness so that I could go into my office and work. Best-case scenario involved being interrupted every few minutes with reports from CJ’s latest invented back-yard soccer match, while Fooey and friends played tea party with soapy water in her bedroom.
So I capitulated. I picked up the cards I’d been dealt. I wandered into the kitchen and remembered baking. Remember baking? I used to bake all the time. Then the oven broke right before Christmas and by the time it got repaired, two months later, I’d kind of forgotten all about it. But yesterday I remembered. I now know why I used to bake so often — because it gave me the satisfaction of being productive while looking after young children. I tuned in to CBC Radio, tied on my apron, and went to town. First, Fooey and friend and I baked brownies from a box. Then they went outside to play, and I carried on, sans boxes. I baked granola bars, I baked granola, I baked mac & cheese, and I baked bread. The afternoon turned to evening, Kevin texted me updates from the soccer sidelines, the radio kept me company, and it didn’t feel like an intrusion when CJ ran in and out of the kitchen to report on The Crushers vs The Avalanches of Doom, both teams of ducks, he said, whom he was training up to play soccer.
All of this was made easier by two things: one, that I have some really heavy work to do this week, going through two sets of page proofs for Girl Runner, and I probably needed the mental break, and two, that I had gone for a long run the day before, so I figured a day of rest wouldn’t hurt.
I’m not playing soccer this summer.
I miss it already and find myself mourning for my soccer-playing self. But I can’t take the risk of getting hurt again and being unable to work or think, especially in the lead-up to this fall’s challenging workload. So to comfort myself, I’m doing more distance running. Soccer tended to beat me up at the best of times, making distance training a challenge, so I’m looking at its absence as an opportunity to run long.
I announced this intention at a family meal last Monday and my little sister literally rolled her eyes at me. I know, I know. This is my idea of fun? And comfort? But it makes me feel good. Grounded. Strong. Present.
It’s what I need. I’m going on instinct here.