Category: Word of the Year
February, out our window
Update on eating down the cupboards: Made hummus! Used up two mostly empty jars of tahini! Now we only have two jars of tahini left! (This emptying the cupboard project is revealing certain inefficiencies in our shopping/storage system.)
Also, and basically unrelated, I made yogurt on the weekend. It had been awhile. I got discouraged after making a batch that scorched and stopped for a year or so. But it’s easy! And we’re eating lots of yogurt again, due to my renewed breakfast mandate: no cold cereal. Somehow, somewhere along the line this fall, we got into the habit of having boxed cereal around for snacks, and from there we slipped into kids eating boxed cereal for breakfast, too. (In our family, cold cereal has traditionally been considered a junk-food-type treat, bought only on occasion.)
The complaints regarding this change were loud, but brief.
February’s Every Day Breakfast Menu:
* yogurt with pearsauce and bananas (chia seeds optional)
* eggs made to order with toast (homemade bread)
* toast with peanut butter and jam
* porridge (not instant)
I met with my word-of-the-year friends last night. We are planning to meet more often throughout this year for reflection. I came away from our conversation with the renewed intention to be in the world without judgement. To quiet my critical inner voice, whether the criticism be negative or positive, and simply to be present.
This is not necessarily the easiest task for a writer. But I do think there are ways to be attentive to the world without setting myself apart from it, or above it, or wishing I could alter it.
On “stretch,” my word of the year, I realized last night that I’d already lost track of my intended usage of the word, which was to take time to stretch — to become more flexible by slowing down. Taken literally, I am indeed doing yoga once a week and stretching after running and spin; it’s the metaphorical stretching that confounds me. Instead of stretching, I find myself stretched, a bit, and wondering: do I say yes more often than I should? I love yes. I love exploring possibilities. I love remaining open to experiences.
Therefore, I stretch myself to be many things all at once. Question asked by friend: Will you stretch until you break?
Answer: I hope I won’t break. And yes.
Lost-and-found, the neverending story:
* one red mitten: lost
Child climbs off of school bus. “Where is your mitten?” “Can’t find it!” “When did you lose it? Could it be on the bus?” “No, not on the bus.” “Did you lose it at school?” “Yeah.” “Did you have to go all day without a mitten?” “Yeah.” “Was your hand cold at recess?” [Shrug] “You can wear my mitten.” [Tries mitten, takes it off] “Too big. I can go like this!” [Covers exposed hand with mittened hand, chats cheerfully all the way home]
* one black Celtic hat: found!
In Kevin’s hat bin. Pink mittens still missing.
* one grey hat with ear flaps: found!
Found before we even realized it was missing (well, AppleApple knew, she just didn’t want to mention it, considering how many of her personal belongings go missing; I don’t blame her, really). Hat was left at soccer field, and kind observant parent (not me or Kev) recognized it. Now we just have to pick it up.
I’m liking the ten-minute post. 1. It keeps me from rambling. 2. It keeps from obsessively over-editing every precious word. 3. I’m writing a book, and I need to do that more than I need to blog … but I can spend ten minutes blogging without harming my book writing.
Okay, the above took me two whole minutes!
Which leaves me eight to write about my word of the year. Drumroll, please.
Word of The Year, 2013!
No, don’t get up. I’m not giving you advice or suggesting that you do, although perhaps you should. That’s my word. Yes, that’s it. Stretch.
Let me explain. Let me explain first that my best words have come very suddenly, seemingly out of the blue. I found this word during my long run on Saturday afternoon. It has several different meanings, and I intend to explore them throughout the year, but its most basic meaning is where I’ll begin.
Stretching. I need to do more of it, quite literally. If I am to keep doing my long runs and not get injured, I must stretch. I don’t know why it’s so hard to add that simple extra step into my routine, but it is. Therefore, word of the year will remind me to stretch.
On a metaphorical level, I see it like this: There are things that I want to do. Big, exciting, challenging, adventurous things! If I’m to do them, I will need to stretch. I will need to do the simple little things that keep me flexible (metaphorically speaking). My focus tends to go right to the big part of any challenge, the grinding, tough, overtly demanding, adrenalin-fuelled, energy-burning part. And I skip over the milder-seeming, gentler, supportive part that requires stillness and patience. I find my joy in motion.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.
It’s just that if I want to stay in motion, I need to learn to stand still and stretch. Know what I mean? The one supports the ability to do the other. You can’t soar if your wings are stiff. Does that sound like it belongs on a really bad motivational poster, perhaps involving a pastel sunset and bubble letters? Hm. Well, something like that.
And that’s my ten minutes. Plus three. Or four.
I stretched it a little.
random unrelated photo from our holidays
I’ve got ten minutes to write this post. It’s 5:47 AM and I’m up because a) I’m planning to go to a yoga class and b) I couldn’t sleep because c) my mind was racing with everything that needs to get done today — the first day back to regular routine.
There won’t be time to blog today. So, why not get up early and blog, thought I, and eat an egg on toast, and write a note to a kid’s teacher re mixed up black Bog boots, and send an email to my husband, still sleeping, about tonight’s difficult-to-coordinate after-school soccer/supper/local food pick-up plan. Why not?
So I’m up. Egg eaten, note written, email plan sent, yoga bag packed.
Now to blog. It’s word-of-the-year time. Tonight I am meeting with two friends to talk about our words of last year, and words of the coming year. So I’d like to reflect (oh so briefly!) on my word of this year past. I cheated, slightly, and chose two: work and play. As the year unspooled, it seemed that work was the dominant word. I struggled to figure out where play fit, and I’m still not sure. I played soccer, which was new. And I tried to enjoy my work and find the joy/play in it. But maybe one word would have been enough.
I worked to repair an injury last winter.
I worked to promote The Juliet Stories.
I worked as a freelance writer.
I applied to midwifery school — hoping to do work of a different kind.
Working to repair an injury is not as much fun as working toward completing a triathlon. But it was necessary, and I am repaired, for now, and looking forward to more goals and races this coming year.
Working to promote my book was good. It really was. It was work, without a doubt, and it took energy, but by the end of the season I felt comfortable on stage, and had benefitted from connections made at the different festivals, and I think I was able to see myself as a writer in a tangible and public way. It was a good year for my work as a fiction writer.
Working as a freelance writer was, well, I’ll be frank, it was hard. I don’t have time to elaborate, but suffice it to say, that experiment encouraged me to make the leap to apply to midwifery school, after many years of considering the possibility. (That, and the fact that my youngest child will be in school full-time next fall.)
Writing fiction continues to be both work and play, for me. I am blessed to have found something that brings both elements together. I’m looking forward to working/playing today … after yoga, breakfast, kids off to school, and my quick morning nap. Can’t wait!
I’ve been re-reading old blog posts. The photos are fun, but it’s the changes that are most remarkable to see in fast-forward (or fast-rewind).
Consider the post from Monday, May 18, 2009, titled “On Endings,” which seems rather appropriate for this last day of 2012. In this post, I’m writing about trying to finish a story, one that would become, in one way another, part of The Juliet Stories. I am amazed by my own resolve under circumstances that look, from this vantage point, very difficult indeed. My youngest was not-quite-fourteen-months. My eldest was not-quite-eight. I was home with the littlest children full-time, and I was finding it trying. Kevin was recovering from a broken knee. Friends had been bringing us meals (bless you, friends!). We’d had “the barfing thing” four times in four months. I was sleeping sporadically, still nursing at night. I must have been utterly exhausted. No time for exercise, no time even to imagine exercise — who could get up early after being woken half the night?
And yet, I was writing.
There was no guarantee that what I was writing would become anything anyone would ever want to read, let alone publish, let alone nominate for a major prize. I was writing because I had to write this particular story, in this particular way. I was doing what I had to do, and if there is a lesson in here, it is simply do what you have to do. Don’t look for reasons not to do the things you have to do. Come alive. Do! I think that even if that story I was writing had not turned into The Juliet Stories, it would have been worth writing, because it brought me hope, because it gave me space and allowed me to dream.
In the blog post “On Endings” from May, 2009, I reflected on a documentary I’d just seen on the photographer Sally Mann, an artist who was suffering from doubt and set-back — and yet her art seemed without question worthy and beautiful. How could she doubt?
Here’s what I wrote in response:
“There’s no telling whether these years of work will this time add up to something of beauty and merit, but I felt a kinship watching her [Sally Mann] struggle, mourn, reflect, create. It’s a blessing and curse to want to translate experience into art — not just to want to, but to do it. The work involved. Working toward an end you can’t see until you find it. Will it be whole, or still-born? All the infinitessimal choices along the way that shape the final artifact, that leave you wondering — why this and not that? So much room for criticism, self and other. There’s the artifact created, and the one intended, and the multiple ones that might have been.”
Weirdly, I see that her art show was titled “What Remains.” I say weirdly because that very nearly became the last line in the epilogue to my book, but we decided to cut it. I’m still not sure about that cut. It’s the only one I question and wonder about. This is the ending that almost was: “Tell me, for I need to know. What remains?”
I have a million other things I’d like to blog about, here, as we stand on the threshold of a new year. These are all on my mind: Chief Theresa Spence’s ongoing hunger strike; the need to protect and cherish the land we live on, the air we breathe, the water we drink; the nihilism of a sub-group of young men, worldwide, who commit acts of terror, from the random-seeming shootings in the United States, to suicide bombers elsewhere, to the violent rape that is moving protestors in India to rise up against a casually misogynist culture. There is more, I know. I wonder, will this be a year in which protest brings about hope and healing? What is my (small) part in creating a more hopeful world? We all long for peaceful communities, whole relationships, happy families. We are imperfect.
We work toward ends we cannot see.
This is a perfect writing day.
Rainy, grey, dark, gloomy. No pull to go outside or run errands in the sunshine (not that the pull is very strong for me anyway, when I’m on a writing roll). I woke from my post-spin-class cat-nap to the sound of heavy rain on the roof. That sound makes me feel content, dreamy, and ever so slightly guilty for sending my children off to school without umbrellas or rain jackets. I’m their weather girl. And apparently I’m good at maintaining the long-standing weather-person tradition of totally wrong forecasts. I should get a green screen and a pointer, and do my hair and makeup.
Attention: Minor profound thought of the day coming right up.
Writing fiction is not a responsive job. In a responsive job, you show up with your talents and skills, and respond to the needs presented to you. Your schedule, also, responds to other people’s needs. I imagine this could be very satisfying: here is a need being treated by my specific skills. I sometimes fantasize about having the skills to do work like that.
I don’t, really. (Although I could, perhaps, find a job as a copy editor or a creative writing teacher, given my current skill set.)
Writing fiction is quite different. I’m going to call it an originating job. In an originating job, you set your talents and skills to projects of your own devising, and hope to heck that others will connect with what you’re doing, and see value in it. The work (and the schedule) is self-directed. If I want anything exciting to happen, I must make it happen. I must see what could be, believe in it, and bring it about. I must pursue my goal against inevitable headwinds of creative dissonances and deeply uncomfortable emotions: doubt and uncertainty caused by a lack of exterior motivation. No one needs a book. (If I break my arm, I need a doctor; but a book of fiction answers no such direct need.) Being a fiction writer can feel excruciatingly meaningless. Completely unnecessary. It’s quite easy to go from wondering, can I do this, to why am I doing this?
That is why Wild Optimism is a huge part of my every day existence. The belief that I have something to say. The desire to express it. The sheer chugging energy that fires me toward an end. That is also why sometimes I am tired and weary, and I fantasize about people calling me up and begging to pay me pots of money to write books for them! That is why I fantasize, too, about doing other work, where I could walk into a room and respond to a need, immediately. I long for a different skill set, sometimes, or an enhanced and deeper skill set.
But I love the freedom and seemingly endless possibilities that come from doing an originating job.
Attention: No conclusions shall be drawn today.
I’m meeting Kevin for lunch tomorrow, to brainstorm and discuss our future plans, big and small. I’m sure we’ll have all the answers by tomorrow afternoon. Well … at least we’ll have a lunch date together.
hospitality suite at IFOA
You’re going to suspect that I do nothing but jet around to festivals and parties. Heck, let’s pretend it’s true. Let’s pretend I’m not sitting at home in a slubby hoodie neglecting the sick kid on the sofa who is playing video games. At the very least, I’ll provide no photos of my current state.
I’ll admit it. I ache. I think it’s a combination of playing soccer on Sunday followed by all the driving and standing and sitting required by parties and readings. I have it down now: I’ve got comfy but good-looking shoes for the standing parts and the parties, and I save the heels for the readings themselves.
I’m doing a bad job of telling this story.
Yesterday, Kevin and I drove off to Toronto, mid-afternoon, leaving my mom to look after the sick kid and everyone else (dogs too! good grief!). I checked in at IFOA (Toronto’s International Festival of Authors), and the organizers let me use a hotel room to change in (for some reason, I didn’t get a hotel room out of this event, perhaps because Toronto considers Waterloo to be a suburb or a cousin once removed? In any case, no hotel room for GG finalist Carrie Snyder). Kevin and I also ate sandwiches and eggplant dip in the hospitality suite: supper.
here’s what I decided to wear
Then we went to the IFOA party. I can’t remember the title, but it was crowded with industry folk, and it was hot. I was happy to talk to the people I knew, but equally happy to stand on the sidelines and just observe. Best moment of the evening: when we were approached by a very excited woman who came right up to Kevin and said, “Junot Diaz?!” Needless to say, my husband is not acclaimed American writer Junot Diaz (who wasn’t at the party in any case), but when we checked the author photos in the IFOA guide, we thought, hey, maybe he should put on a name tag. And grow a goatee. Because otherwise, people, I’m basically married to Junot Diaz.
The woman was embarrassed when she realized that I was the writer, and that she’d never heard of me. People keep joking that I may need to change the title of this blog, but I’m not too concerned. I reassured her, and she said she’d buy my book. (But I’m thinking she’ll probably buy Junot’s instead.)
Should I do more name-dropping? It seems almost obligatory. Here’s who we talked to at the party: Sarah MacLachlan (my publisher); various Anansi people; a lovely woman from the Canada Council who had read my book thoroughly enough to know exactly which story I was going to read when I told her the title (I was impressed!); Iain Reid (One Bird’s Choice); Linda Spalding (fellow GG finalist) and her husband Michael Ondaatje; Ania Szado (a writer with whom I toured back in the Hair Hat days); Eva Stachniak (The Winter Palace; she is Ania’s friend); Mark Medley, books editor of the National Post, who commissioned my best writing assignment ever, which just ran on Saturday: a review of Alice Munro’s new book, although it is more ode than review; the woman who thought Kevin was Junot; and a few others, though possibly by accident. We were there for an hour and a half, so clearly we didn’t excel at the mingling.
Then Kevin spotted Vincent Lam (The Headmaster’s Wager; fellow GG finalist). Vincent was leaving the party, so we thought we’d better follow him, because I didn’t really know where I was going for the actual event. Vincent and his wife were both super-friendly, and possibly super-human (he’s an emergency dr and she’s a family doc and they have three kids under 7). We had a nice chat. After awhile, we were joined by an IFOA publicist, and Linda Spalding, and set off for the theatre, quite clearly going the wrong way. There we all were, tramping around in the dark surrounded by a very high fence. “I’m sure IFOA will provide us with a ladder,” said Linda Spalding. Thankfully, no ladders proved necessary. Eventually, we went the right way, and were soon backstage at the theatre. Our group now included Robert Hough (Dr. Brinkley’s Tower) and Tamas Dobozy (Siege 13) and the poet Phil Hall (Killdeer).
I tweeted a terrible photo. Vincent Lam tweeted a better one. Guess which is which.
We met Shelagh Rogers. She gave me a scarf because it was freezing backstage, and you’ve seen what I was wearing. I read second to last, which gave me ample time to freak out. I handled my nerves by going into an almost comotose stillness during the first several readers. Conserving my energy, I thought, if I thought anything at all. It was kind of peculiar, actually, and prevented me from doing any useful networking backstage. But when it was nearly my turn, the stillness broke and I got very jittery, which was quite unpleasant. I don’t usually get so jittery. I had to go for a little walk in my noisy high heels. But then I thought, just harness the energy and be glad you’ve got it: better lots of energy than none. I also thought, perhaps rather melodramatically, You’re doing this for Juliet, so just go out and do it.
that’s me onstage
So I went out and did it. I settled down instantly, under the lights. I read “She Will Leave A Mark” from the first section. I think the story carries more poignance and depth after you’ve read the second section, but it’s a good story even on its own. I love reading. The only emotion I felt at the very end of the story was, well, a kind of bittersweet sadness. Because the moment was over.
I enjoyed being asked by the stage manager if I’d like something to drink at the booksigning table (white wine, please!). And I enjoyed signing books. Kevin brought our stack and had all the GG finalists sign them, but there was a mix-up with Vincent Lam’s. Kevin is going to need to find a second wife named “Sandra” in order for the dedication to make any sense. More proof that my blog title is in no danger of becoming obsolete. But then Michael Ondaatje shook my hand and told me he’d loved my reading. Hm. So maybe fifty-fifty.
The evening was starting to get really fun, probably because my publisher Sarah and her husband Noah Richler were on the scene, so we were talked into going back to the hospitality suite, which we hadn’t planned on doing, being responsible parents from Waterloo, Ontario. Just being around Sarah and Noah has the effect of regressing me to my pre-child self — almost; but let’s not call it regression. Let’s call it staying in touch with my spontaneous glam girl side. I’m shocked to report that side still exists.
But I’m not shocked to report that spontaneous and glamourous doesn’t go exceptionally well with early mornings and sick kids and walking wet dogs in the rain.
No regrets. This is an strange and happy little bubble of a moment. I’m going to float while it’s floating. (But thanks to kids and dogs I’m quite sure that I won’t float away.)