photo credit: Shari Lovell
This morning began unusually. I woke at 6AM, refreshed after a very very long sleep, having crashed out just after 9PM last night. Teaching takes a lot of energy, at least for someone who would skew toward introverted on the personality continuum, and I had my class on Wednesday night (a happy place to spend three hours, I must tell you, even though our windowless brick room in a hive-like building resembles a bunker, and gets very muggy when packed out with creativity and debate). What a day to go and teach. I think it was a good thing, as it forced me to be focused and to pay attention to something other than the noise.
There was some noise on Wednesday. There was this lovely interview done by the Canadian Press, which ran in various media outlets. There was the phone call from the Writers’ Trust to confirm that Girl Runner was on the list, and various emails to note upcoming appearances and media requests associated with the award. I checked my calendar a lot. And my phone. Twitter and Facebook kept pulling me in. It was a lot of noise, as I say, and I found myself unable to settle and reflect, or even, quite, to feel what was happening.
So I was grateful to my students for occupying my evening. We talked about poetry. There was so much to learn from the discussion, so many reminders of why poetry matters, why words matter.
photo credit: Shari Lovell
Kevin had gotten take-out ramen for supper, which I reheated in our shiny new microwave when I got home, nearing 10PM. (Yes, we finally got a microwave, and I must confess my leftover lunches are much more enticing than those consumed during our long, cold pre-microwave era.) After eating, all the kids in bed, Kevin dug through his scotch collection (so many bottles, each with an inch or three of liquid, leftover from our years of hosting scotch parties), and pulled out a particularly choice selection. I don’t have the name handy. But he went online to check its current value, were it full and unopened, and announced that we would be celebrating with a $5,000 bottle of scotch. I mean, seriously?! There was just enough for two wee drams.
One of the pleasures of the scotch party is hearing our friend Mike read the tasting notes, so to keep with tradition, I will tell you that this ridiculously pricey scotch tasted heavily of oak barrels, with overtones of straw (or was that the colour?) and undertones of turmeric and cinnamon. Or something like that. Maybe it was nutmeg. And a bit of blue sky.
It was a lovely celebration. I was up five hours later to run with my speedy friend Heather, who kindly slowed down for the occasion; also because that will be my last run before I attempt the Toad, tomorrow morning: 25 kilometres of likely-to-be-muddy trail. God help me.
The book I was reading this morning is called A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki. I’m going to keep talking about it until I’m done, and probably for a long time thereafter, and the next reader I’ve got in mind is my 11-year-old daughter.* We’re both of us possessed of a lot of energy and drive (I hazard to suggest she’s got even more of both than I do), and we both of us need to find ways and reasons to turn down the noise and become still. (And not because we’re crashing!)
my girl runner
Wednesday, after the prize announcement and before teaching, I dashed over to her school to watch her run a cross-country race. She came second out of a large field of 7th and 8th graders. “I’m so tired! Weirdly tired! Like way too tired!” she told me immediately afterward as she lay prone on the grass. “You just ran three kilometres really fast,” I pointed out. “That’s not it!” “Well, maybe you’re too frail and shouldn’t run more than 200 metres,” I suggested, tongue in cheek. She’s read Girl Runner. She smiled faintly. Then she sat up and took off her shoes. “My feet are too hot!”
At first, she was quite disappointed in her performance, and it mattered not when I pointed out that the girl who finished first was two heads taller and a grade older. She insisted on expecting better of herself. I kept assuring her that she’d been wonderful, that she’d given her all, that I was very proud, and finally, much later, before bed, she smiled to reassure me that she was happy with the race. Mostly. I can’t argue with her. Her expectations are her own. She isn’t discouraged when she doesn’t meet them. Instead, her expectations seem to fire her with greater focus and renewed intent. Yeah. I get that. There will always be someone faster, smarter, more talented. But I think she already knows: that it’s not about comparisons. It’s about finding one’s own voice, one’s own passion.
But what about stillness? What about releasing expectation? What about rest for the mind and body?
A Tale for the Time Being is the story, in part, of a 104-year-old Buddhist nun who’s offered decades to the practice of meditation, prayer, ritual gratitude for each gift, no matter how small. She bows with her whole body to the world. She is at peace with mortality. The humility of her daily practice gives her SUPAPOWAs! Even her physical frailty is a strength.
So I wake this morning, early, thinking about how whatever I have to offer must come from a grounded place, a place where I sit in stillness and silence, practicing gratitude, bowing with my whole body to this beautiful, difficult, scary, noisy world, with openness and with humility. A gift is a gift. What to do with it? How to give thanks? How to give, no matter how tired, frail, mortal, flawed? How to be still. How to listen.
PS I’d like to point you toward a review of Girl Runner by a blog-reader who is an Ironman athlete and writer; he also digs into the history of women’s long distance running.
* Note: after writing this post, I finished A Tale for the Time Being, and discovered that in the final third of the book, there are several extremely dark scenes relating to extreme bullying, attempted rape, and child prostitution, and although my 11-year-old is a mature reader, I don’t think the book is meant for her–not yet. But sections of the book are meant for her! However, I can’t figure out how to carve out the darkness to show her the light. I think this Tale for the Time Being will have to wait, for the time being. Nevertheless I highly recommend it to a mature adult audience. What is light without shadow? (The book also contains the clearest explanation of quantum mechanics that I’ve ever read.)
My book! She is here!
So, this arrived yesterday. It’s the finished book, freshly arrived at the Anansi offices this week, and sent directly on to me, so, no, it’s not quite in stores yet, but will be soon; and for sure by Sept. 6th, the official pub date in Canada (other countries coming next year). This will be my reading copy. I’m going to write that on the inside cover. Actually, I’m going to do that now, while I’m thinking about it, because that is how I’m approaching life, that is my survival strategy: think of it, do it, done.
My motto (for real): I don’t procrastinate. Oddly, this can cause problems.
But it solves more problems than it causes, and it’s been working for me for years, so I’m sticking with it.
“Reading copy. Aug. 19, 2014.” GIRL RUNNER
See? Thought it, did it, done. (And yes that is yesterday’s date, because yesterday is when I received the book, and that’s what I want to remember.)
This fall is already knocking down my door, and I want to welcome what’s coming, not greet it with anxiety or worry over all that I can’t control. Here is the visual that’s keeping me grounded these days. I am a still point in a fast-moving river. I’m not drowning. I’m not even swimming. I’m simply being pulled along, like a leaf or a branch, floating through all that is happening and trying to take it all in.
It’s going to be busy.
It’s already busy.
My strategy: stay very organized, and don’t get pushed ahead of exactly where I’m at — stay with what’s happening, here, present in the moment.
This morning, walking through the kitchen, I had a flash of memory that made me laugh. I was remembering standing at the counter stirring up a batch of biscuits for supper, a baby strapped to my chest in a sling, a toddler lying at my feet crying that she wanted to “help,” and the older two freshly home from school and in that state of exhausted, hungry, miserable transition. Chaos, noise, demands, needs abounded. The radio was on too. I grabbed the camera and took a video to preserve the moment, because it seemed very comical to me. And I thought to myself this morning: if I could be the still point in that storm, I can be the still point anywhere, anytime, but most especially, most easily, in this storm of my own creation, that I’ve been working toward for years now. It’s here. And I’m being pulled along.
“Who dumped the clean laundry onto the basement floor? Who? Who?” [Voice of rising rage.]
“I had to find my soccer shorts! If you’d just fold it, I wouldn’t have to dig around.”
“If you’d just fold it … [muttered]. Get down here and put it back into the basket.”
“If you’d just fold it …”
“When exactly am I folding this laundry?”
“Last night I was at your soccer game until 9 o’clock.”
“And I was in my office working all day today. Do you know my earning potential?”
“Neither do I! But I’ll tell you my earning potential while I’m folding laundry.”
“Someday, you’ll have to all do your own laundry. You could each have your own laundry hamper in your own room that you’re in charge of.”
“Nice. My own hamper.” Pause for thought. “Won’t that waste a lot of water?”
“You wouldn’t do laundry every day. You’d do it maybe once a week.”
“You’re right. That’s not going to work. The sports clothes! They stink. You can’t wash those once a week.”
“Maybe we could all fold our own laundry.”
“Maybe. Or maybe you could take turns folding laundry. Everyone could have a laundry night. It’s hard to find your own laundry in the basket when it’s all mixed up.”
Fast-forward to 8:30PM, same night, post-soccer practice, post-late supper, post-bedtime snack. Carrie folds two giant baskets of clean laundry at the dining-room table. At the other end of the table, her family enjoys a games night: Settlers of Catan. (Carrie doesn’t enjoy playing games, so this is not quite as unfair a set-up as it sounds.) An hour passes, perhaps more than an hour. The game ends. The laundry is folded, carried to rooms, placed into drawers. Carrie glances into the hamper in the upstairs hallway. It’s already nearly full.
(Solutions, friends? How does your family handle its dirty laundry? Help wanted. xo, Carrie)
I seem to be happiest when in motion. I can’t say why this is, but contentment seems to derive from a sense of continuing, a stream of mostly humble activities rolling one in the next into the next, overlapping, flowing always forward and pulling me along.
I’m wary of inertia.
I ward it off with projects and lists, with the demands of parenting, and the urgency of getting to the right place at the right time.
This sense of urgency can make me feel drawn, tense, running on pure adrenalin. Or, oddly, it can make me feel calm, serene, like I’m being swept along rather than having to propel myself. This summer feels like a bit of both, but mostly, I’ve been feeling calm about where I’m at. I’ve been feeling buoyed and buoyant and not overwhelmed, even as I’m whirled from task to task.
Kevin and I accomplished something major on the weekend. We rented a dumpster and cleared eleven years of why-are-we-keeping-this junk from our attic, basement, garage, and many closets and cupboards. We filled it to the top. It felt cathartic and it was a ton of labour, squeezed in around three soccer games on Saturday (only we would think a mere three soccer games on a Saturday is an invitation to rent a dumpster), a long run on Sunday morning (me), and a soccer practice on Sunday evening. The resulting purge of possessions was like preparing for a move, without the necessity of actually moving anywhere.
My conclusion: we should do this at least once a decade. I’ll put it on my to-do list for 2024.
And the things we got rid of. I put anything that looked even moderately appealing out on the curb. We may have a hoarder in our neighbourhood because boy, did items go fast. At one point, I set out a miniature crockpot, then realized it was threatening to rain. “I’ll just bring that up on the porch for now,” thought I, heading back out for the rescue — but it was already gone. Vanished. It felt quite remarkable, like discovering a black hole or something, a vacancy down which to toss all those things that still seemed useful, not junk, but no longer wanted by us. I imagine it, now, somewhere nearby, stuffed into the corners of someone else’s life, while our lives are somehow lightened by the space that’s been cleared.
On the schedule this week …
one child at musical theatre camp, with performances on Friday
one child at horse camp
several soccer practices + four games
one story contest to help judge (done, this morning!)
one book launch party to plan
many kilometres to run (training for the Run for the Toad in October)
one wedding to celebrate (my little sister Edna is getting married! and I get to call her little because she’s twelve and a half years younger than me)
On, on, on we go. Even when I’m really tired, I feel the tidal pull, carrying me along, and I’m glad for it. I’m glad for being at a stage in my career where I’m being invited to participate. You won’t catch me complaining about being too busy. It means: wealth of experiences. It means: my cup runneth over. It means, for me, a constant source of replenishment.
Top ten travel locations so far this summer 1. the point at Seeley’s Bay, Ontario 2. soccer field(s), Fooey’s team 3. soccer field(s), Albus’s team
4. soccer field(s), AppleApple’s team
5. Silver Lake camp 6. Kingston, for tournament, with siblings, cousins, aunt and Grandma
7. Swimplex, Nepean, with cousins, aunt and Grandma 8. Ottawa 9. en route, from somewhere to somewhere 10. our house; swim lessons; friends’ houses; backyard
Top five reasons I’m blogging less this summer.
1. I’m out and about with the kids all the time. And I’m swimming at lunchtime.
2. I’m prioritizing writing work in those spare moments not populated by children and their summer activities (and mine).
3. Blog-time is going largely toward building a new web site to house this slightly long-in-the-tooth blog.
4. Summer. Have I mentioned summer?
5. See above. And below.
last day of school, June 26, 2014
Oh summer. Summer summer. Summer! I love you and you are killing me with your demands, with your late nights and early mornings, your travel time spent in highway traffic going to far-flung soccer tournaments, swim meets, and beaches, and I realize how privileged that sounds — and is — but I’ve been to Toronto (twice), Ancaster, London (twice), Kincardine, Ottawa, Sauble Beach, and Kingston in the last five weeks, and if I have to spend another kilometre on the road I might dissolve into genuine rage. Or tears. I might come undone. Oh wait, summer, you’re sending me to Elora tonight for a soccer match in a rainstorm. Okay. I will do it. There’s seems no other way but through.
Summer, there’s more. I know I’m putting this all on you, but I have to tell you. You are killing me with your lack of school. It’s my own fault that I have four children. I take full responsibility for that. But there’s no substitute for school. Despite no lack of planning and foresight, summer, these four children, or some combo thereof, have taken over the house all day long. And for large portions of the evening too. I’ve started going to bed before some of them do. They are right this second making themselves elaborate lunches in the kitchen. I can’t even discuss the state of the living-room.
And the laundry. I weep.
I have told my four children to leave me alone for twenty minutes, which, frankly, seems a lot to ask given all the elaborate lunch-making currently underway. I am going to my office, I cried, and you must pretend that I am not here for twenty minutes!
I see my time is nearly up.
I am about to get in the car and drive to another set of swim lessons.
I have a message from a publisher, waiting, regarding a book cover. I have a magazine pitch to work up on a story I’m really excited to dig into — on women in sports. I have an essay waiting to be finished. Not to mention the book-writing writing that is on-going, and that I try to make an every-day event, but which is suddenly — summer, this really is on you — a rare occasion, shoved into corners, typing away in a car at a soccer field behind a high school in Elora. You know? It isn’t ideal. I don’t think it’s conducive to top flight work, summer.
And what of the lounging with gin & tonics, summer? Can you slide that in somewhere, please? Could you give me an evening out with my husband to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary? Could you let me lie around and read a book?
I’m putting this all on you, summer, but I get it, I do. I’m the one setting the course, running the race, putting in the miles. While you while away. So maybe it’s not you; maybe it’s me. Whatever, as the kids say. What’s clear is this: one of us is killing the other.