in Alice Munro country
This has been a good weekend, and so I must write about it, especially after my tired post last night. And I am tired, there’s no doubt, but this is also the season of gratitude and harvest, and I want to tell you that, on occasion, the “glamorous writer’s life” can actually feel, well, kinda glamorous.
On Friday evening, Kevin and I drove northwest out of the city in separate vehicles, heading for Huron County, otherwise known as Alice Munro country. The kind organizers of the Alice Munro writers and readers festival had invited me to speak at their event, and offered to put us up overnight in an Inn called The Benmiller. We drove through rolling hills, down huge valleys, taking a circuitous route recommended by Google maps that must have been recommended for the views. Yellow cornfields, stands of trees with changing leaves, wending rivers. (Is that the right word? I want it to be.)
We arrived in time for dinner. When we clinked glasses, I said, in tones utterly heartfelt: “Here’s to the perks of being a writer!” We haven’t been away overnight, just the two of us together, since mumble mumble mumble. A really long time. Yeah. I was pregnant with our now-nine-year-old on our last overnight getaway. So this was a real treat. It was a treat I wasn’t sure we’d manage to pull off, given our busyness (Kevin drove back early the next morning to soccer tryouts, while I went to Blythe on my own for the presentation.) Accept all treats! That is going to be an addendum to my motto: I don’t procrastinate. Actually, those fit together well. It’s a reminder that it’s just as important not to procrastinate when it comes to the good, pleasurable, sweet things that life has to offer. My naturally ascetic personality needs to be reminded.
So, thank you to the organizers of the Alice Munro festival, in beautiful Huron County. (Mark your calendars for next year’s festival.) And thank you to my mom for staying overnight with the kids.
I haven’t been reading reviews of Girl Runner closely, mostly because I’m a wimp. No, mostly because the book feels too newborn and my feelings about it too raw to read anything that in any way could be taken as critique. I avoid Goodreads, for example (although I encourage you to go there and enter: they’re drawing for a giveaway of Girl Runner tomorrow). My publicist is sending notification of reviews to Kevin, who summarizes them for me. The reviews he’s told me about have been good, even great, but I still know that, early on, even the smallest critique feels like a stabbing, so I steer clear. (And I have to add that as time goes by, I will be able and willing to engage with a variety of opinions in a reasoned and thoughtful way; it doesn’t hurt me to read reviews of any kind of The Juliet Stories now, because I know what I love about it, and trust its value and worth. I also fully accept and understand that readers have very different opinions, takes, likes and dislikes—and I also accept and understand that I’m not ready to confront those quite yet, with Girl Runner.) That was a long lead-in. The point being, Kevin insisted I read in full, for myself, the review that came out in this weekend’s National Post. So I did. It left me breathless. The reviewer read the book just exactly like I hoped it would be read. Click here for the link. (They used the running photo again.)
Perhaps what I appreciated most about the review is that it was written by someone who doesn’t love running; yet she got it.
“I don’t understand Aganetha Smart’s relationship to running in particular, but I do connect with her deep love, her profound physicality. And her desire to pursue the thing she is meant to do above all other things, in the face of resistance that borders on impossibility. This is where I connected with her: there is no better way to raise a demon in her brain than to tell her a thing cannot be done. There is no wrench in the gears, no threat or heartbreak that succeeds in turning her away from the thing she loves, nor can it be taken from her.”
Goosebumps, I tell you.
This morning, I received notice of another review, on the 4Mothers blog, which Kevin also insisted I read. Click here for the link. Again, the reviewer connected with Aganetha’s competitive spirit:
“What I most loved about the book is the description of Aganetha’s ambition. I don’t think there are enough stories about female ambition. Snyder describes ambition not as something hard or calculating, but as if it is something organic, born and not made by the goal-setting cheers of the chorus of life coaches that seem so loud in the 21st century.”
I want to pour us all a cup of coffee and sit down for a long chat on this subject.
So, thank you reviewers for your generous reviews.
(And thank you to all reviewers, even if I haven’t had the courage to read you all the way through, yet. I will, I promise! When the newborn gets to the toddler stage and starts climbing the stairs by herself in 10 seconds flat, I’ll teach her how to come back down safely, and then we’ll both be ready to engage with a range of opinions, takes, likes and dislikes.)
Be warned: this is a photo-heavy post, and a little behind the times in terms of news items. Apparently summer has decided to kick into fast-forward and honestly, I can’t keep up. I don’t even want to. This morning, driving with a friend to our spin & kettle bell class, we saw that it was dark. It was also early, and for most of the year, darkness is to be expected at this hour, but we’ve been spoiled by summer’s long light, and it didn’t seem like it should already be contracting. August is a melancholy month. Always is. I fight against the melancholy because after all, it’s still summer. But even the youngest of our crew is noticing: “Is it fall?” CJ asked yesterday, as we sat out in the back yard watching Kevin dismantle our rotting picnic table. “No! It’s still summer!” I said. “Why did you think it might be fall already?” “The leaves are falling,” he said. And so they were, some of them, enough to dot the grass, into which a path has been worn by the soccer ball being played back and forth, back and forth, obsessively this summer.
We haven’t gotten to all of the tasks we’d meant to. Our to-do list seems as long as ever. But we’ve also had afternoons like yesterday, mild, breezy, sunny, when I sat reading out loud to the kids from a book of old English folk tales. And weekends like the one before, when cousins came to stay. And two visits to the Stratford Festival in just over a week: first, with Kevin to see King Lear (and celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary), and then on Saturday with the girls to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream. As we walked uptown to the carshare, we realized how unusual this grouping was: me and my girls, just the three of us. We really had fun. We got dressed up. We had a picnic by the river and named the swan and seagull who tried (unsuccessfully) to befriend us (Swanda and Seagram). We chose a feathery mask in the gift shop that we all could share. And we got a treat at DQ afterward, tapping into a gift card Fooey had gotten for her birthday. “This day feels like an adventure,” one of them observed as we drove home past fields of corn and turning wheat.
Party cake, number one.
And Fooey has had her birthday, celebrated now many times over. I’m weak, speaking parentally. We allowed her, as her birthday gift, to purchase her own iPod Touch. Our three eldest now have this electronic device, and I don’t love it, but I don’t hate it, either. Here she is on birthday eve.
Selfie, with brother.
And here she is on her actual birthday.
Party cake, number two.
She planned her friend party months ago, with an ever-shifting menu and lists of crafts and games and activities. We ended up serving Kraft Dinner and potato chips for the main course, which I supplemented with bowls of raw veggies and fruit, met with a chorus of, “Mom! It’s not a veggie party!” Moms know how to have fun! (In my defence, the veggies and fruit were devoured.) The whole party was easy, and I was glad to see that Fooey’s friends didn’t mind her stern organizational tone, as she herded them out to go “bowling” with a basketball and a bunch of plastic honey containers, or instructed them to “design your own book cover,” as the opening craft. Be still my beating heart. I was smitten all over again with this kid of mine, now nine.
And I think that catches us up on the news front, minus a soccer tournament on the weekend, to which I brought my camera but then forgot to pull it out of my purse to take photos. Guess I was engrossed in the match. Sorry, Albus. (He doesn’t want his photo posted on the blog these days anyway; or at the very least, wants to curate the photos of himself that do appear. We’re all growing up. More evidence of the time, and its passing.)
We basked in glorious weather this weekend. We tuned bikes, ate outside, and got a bit too much sun on our noses. But I have to tell you. There is grief and worry rivering under our spring gladness — it feels false not to write about it here, and yet I’ve been hesitating to do so, being as this is not a story directly about me. But here it is. My stepmother (my dad’s wife) has been diagnosed with cancer. All who’ve had illness alight when least expected must know how this feels: shock, sadness, determination, all mingling together with a sense of helplessness, and the parallel impatience to get going already and live each day. Maybe it’s why I’ve been running so much lately. I don’t know. But that’s the other thing I did this weekend: I ran a long way. The mind goes quiet, when running a long way, and the body begins to take over and grow stronger until the mind has almost nothing to say anymore, but waits in stillness and calm, amazed at the effort accessible to the body in this state that seems to me almost intensely serene.
Supper prep is calling. Get going: eat, drink, jump, play, run, but most of all love.
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.
March 28, 2014
how old are you tonight?
(note the perfectly posed DJ dog: she loves the camera)
March 29, 2014
how old are you this morning?
last photo by Albus