Category: Work

Yes and no

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Woke up early to run this morning, and woke up my eldest girl too. She wasn’t going for a run. Nope: science project due today, with a few finishing touches to complete: framing text and photos and placing them on her backboard. “Herbal Medicine.” She even prepared her own Garlic Tincture for the project. She left for school looking proud and happy and DONE! That is a good feeling.

She didn’t get a nap, but I did. Thankfully. Doing dishes at 10 o’clock at night is not conducive to early morning exercise.

I drifted down into sleep thinking about this article that’s going around called “Creative People Say No.” According to the piece, a signficant proportion of creative people say no to things they consider distractions in order to get their work done. The article irritated me. Why? Do I disagree? Do I just dislike saying no?

I don’t disagree, in fact. I know the time it takes to complete a project. The quality of that time matters, too. If you’re going deep, you need to sink down slowly, stay under, and not be presumptively yanked out. (Being presumptively yanked out seems the very definition of parenting, frankly.) I fight for my time, and resent when it’s taken away. In fact, I probably do say no quite often. When I’m deep inside a project I believe it wise and wholesome and productive to say no to the following major distractions: Facebook, Twitter, email.

But there are many things I cannot say no to.

I can’t say no to the dishes, no to the science fair project, no to the sick child, no to the solo parenting weekend due to Kevin’s work, no to providing meals and clean clothes, no to walking the dogs, at least not all the time. And there are many things I don’t want to say no to, too. I want to see my kids play soccer and swim. I want to help them practice piano. I want to meet friends for lunch and early morning runs. I want to connect and be connected, and therefore I say yes.

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Reading that article gave me a sense of panic, I suspect. Given all these things I can’t say no to, how can I possibly create? But I do! I do create. There is more than a smack of privilege to this whole “saying no” thing, an assumption that a creative person owes to his or her art an aloof and introverted life. 
That actually doesn’t work very well for me.

That said … how different would my life look if I worked in a traditional full-time job, if my office were not in my home? What would I have the privilege of saying no to, under those circumstances? We might have a dishwasher that the kids could load and unload. Kevin might share sick kid duties. Our meals might be less from scratch, or more from the crockpot. Then again, I might not be able to meet friends for lunch quite so easily.

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Kevin and I are thinking about these details quite a lot right now, imagining sharing the roles at home and at work more evenly, imagining our lives shifted slightly, again, to accommodate me stepping even more fully into work, and him stepping even more fully into home. I say yes a lot, but I’ll tell you, I would happily say no to the dishes.

The suddenness of Spring

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On May 6th, eighteen years ago, I met Kevin in circumstances that do not bear blogging about but which were, I assure you, youthful and spontaneous and highly unlikely to lead to marriage, children, home-ownership, and a stable future. But that’s what happened.

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I love that we met at this time of year. It’s exactly when the leaves burst out overhead, when the fruit trees and magnolias bloom, when the forsythia blazes yellow. Today, just three days past the anniversary of when we met, and already that moment of fragility and show is transforming into something else. How can the blossoms already be falling off the branches? But they are. How can the pale green just-unfurled leaves be fattening into a canopy overhead? But they are. How does the world fill itself in with such lushness, seemingly overnight?

But it does.

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Yesterday, I proofread an essay that will be appearing in the next edition of The New Quarterly, and later this year in a collection of essays titled How to Expect What You’re Not Expecting. I hadn’t read the essay for several months and how heartening it was to discover its strength and solidity. I’ve had a thought about my long-pondered non-fiction project. I’ve decided that it will be a series of essays. This essay, for example, is called “Delivery,” and it’s about the year leading up to the birth of our fourth baby. But it’s also about grief and denial and love. I have my doubts about doing memoir. My life is not that interesting. But an essay elevates ordinary experience by connecting stories to universal themes, and a series of essays can add up to the portrait of a life in flux, which is about as memoir-ish as I’m likely ever to get. I don’t like writing The End. I don’t like considering the past Done. But I do love considering the past.

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The other project I’ve been working on this week is a tight plot synopsis for Girl Runner. This will help me down the road in edits. And it will help my agent pitch the story to a film agent. Sadly, unlike in books, there are no surprise endings in plot synopses. I have to give away all my secrets.

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In Blogland, however, the secrets will have to be kept some while longer. Thanks for your patience while we wait together.

All the doors thrown open

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woman watches spring

Writing a book can be a funny thing. Occasionally it feels like control has been unintentionally ceded to some other power: the original vision just doesn’t fit on the page. The character refuses to do what the writer has planned. This doesn’t happen all that often, but it can.

Writing a life, well, do we get to that? Do we get to write our own plotlines, choose who we will become? To some degree I strongly believe that the answer is yes. Right up until it seems to be out of our hands.
I’ve had a strange week. It’s been wild, it’s been wonderful.
What can I say? Well, not everything. Okay, frankly, not much. Hardly anything at all, in fact. And I apologize for being mysterious, and will let you know that the news that I cannot tell is good, and that it is writing-related.
You know that saying, It never rains but it pours?
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soccer coach, in reflection
Throw into the mix: Kevin away in Winnipeg, a mysterious allergic reaction that sent me to the doctor, solo parenting on the weekend, having to coach our youngest’s soccer team, and several more soccer games including my own on Sunday evening, and I’ve got to tell you, it’s been … overwhelming. 
Imagine me walking uptown on Saturday with my brood of children, running errands in the brilliant sunshine. I say, “Kids, I feel ten feet tall.” “But you’re short, Mom. We’re short people.” “I know. But I feel like I’m much taller than I actually am. I feel like I’m floating.”
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I have spent more than twenty years aiming myself toward this moment. More than twenty years working to accumulate the knowledge and skill to write books that people will want to read. More than twenty years of tenacity and, let’s admit it, almost obsessive effort, even against self-doubt and the rejection that comes to every creative person who opens herself to the world. And here I am, more than twenty years on, dropped into the perfect moment in which the universe says: What you wanted? Here it is.
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I am thankful

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all of these photos look even better viewed in full: click on them to see

I ran on Tuesday evening: 10 kilometres. I ran again on Wednesday morning with a friend: 8.8 kilometres. I ran again on Thursday evening, in a light rain: 10.5 kilometres. I ran again on Friday evening, in a wind that took the breath away, cursing with fury the weather: 7 kilometres. On that run, fist at sky, a grin broke across my face somewhere in the second kilometre. Running makes me happy, no matter how irritable my mood, no matter the weather. That’s when it came to me. I had run every day since the explosions at the Boston marathon. I hadn’t chosen to do it consciously.

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I have six more kilometres to run, and then I will have completed the marathon distance, spread over  six days rather than an afternoon.

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It is Sunday afternoon. I have one more indoor soccer game today. I’d like to shut the computer down and run those last six kilometres, but I also want to take time to process photos and to write. I am trying to train myself to be disciplined with my time. On Friday, for example, I had an hour alone in my office, the kids being home on a PD day. I forced myself to turn the hour toward my new manuscript, a children’s novel.

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Kevin is playing top forty dance music while he does the dishes.

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I took my camera with me this morning when I drove to pick up AppleApple from her swim practice. It was my third trip out already this morning, and I thought, let’s document where I spend so much of my time: inside a vehicle, driving these familiar roads. Seen through the lens, the landscape looks bleak, somehow, empty, under construction. I like the resulting photos. Processing them, with Kevin’s music in the background, has given me a curiously crushing happiness this noon, a demolished happiness, like the happiness I associate with being young, with being alive to a potential and possibility not quite defined but present, a streak of light, a flare of anticipation, excitement mingled with melancholy, premature nostalgia. Nostalgia for a moment already happening.

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This is the mood I’m in when I want to play the piano and sing.

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This is the mood I’m in when I want to write a new story.

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Or create photographs. It’s a happy mood. It’s a split-the-world-open mood. It doesn’t happen every day. I am thankful.

P.S. Just ran those last six kilometres. With love to all the long distance runners out there.

Betwixt and between

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This photo illustrates my feelings about our weekend. Life’s a whirl. The weekend was extended by the fake ice storm on Thursday (deemed a snow day, kids home), followed by the real ice storm on Friday (no electricity til bedtime, camping out our friends’ house). By that point, the laundry was already crawling up the basement stairs.

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See, I took a picture.

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The ice storm made the trees quite beautiful, but dangerous. A limb crashed down in our yard, and narrowly missed crushing the trampoline.

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Despite an odd and dislocated day on Friday, I tried to stay focused on Saturday morning’s task. When I arrived home, around 1:30 in the afternoon, I was drained. The laundry was still crawling up the stairs. Kevin was working in Toronto. The sense of dislocation and uncertainty remained. I went out with friends after the kids were in bed, feeling like a shadow of myself. Also, I was wearing dog-hair-infested yoga pants and a hoodie because it took every ounce of energy just to get out the door, and I couldn’t work myself up into changing first. I knew I had before me another early morning, and long day.

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But it would be a day spent with these people, so, really, I have no complaints. I took this photo on Thursday evening, pretty much convinced I was living my dream. Book-reading children on the couch snuggling with dogs, while the piano is being practiced. Plus the house looks really clean here. Oh, that’s right — I spent Thursday cleaning. Let’s just say it doesn’t look that clean anymore.

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Kevin was working in Toronto again on Sunday. CJ had a swim lesson, bright and early. I felt comfortable leaving the older children on their own for the hour we were gone. I put on my running gear, and dashed around the park for 21 minutes, exactly, arriving back at the pool one minute late to pick up CJ. Almost perfect timing. Back home, had time to shower and gather up supplies, and we were off again. AppleApple had an afternoon swim meet in Etobicoke. The “little ones” were dropped at Grandma’s house, while the “big ones” came with me.

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It was her first long-course meet. This is the warm-up session. Points for locating the blur in a green suit on the left-hand side of the photo. By the time she swam her first race, I’d been waiting in the stands for three hours. Along with this guy.

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Oh boy, he’s really feeling that smile. He was briefly happy when I gave him some change and sent him off to find a vending machine. Kevin finished work early, and drove over to join us: the first meet he’s been able to attend. But neither of my companions showed great stamina for the proceedings, and left after watching her second race. Two more to go! It was sauna-sweaty in there. I tried to read my poetry book club’s next choice: Seal up the thunder, by Erin Noteboom. I tried to be patient, and to sit up straight on the backless benches. I tried to be supportive and encouraging when the races, with the exception of one, did not go as she’d hoped.

It was nearly 7:30 by the time we made it home. Kevin had supper waiting for us on the table: fresh take-out Middle Eastern fare.

The laundry was still crawling up the basement stairs. I set my alarm for my early Monday morning exercise class. And this morning, when the alarm went off, and I figured out what that terrible noise was and why it just wouldn’t stop, I got up and got on with the brand-new week.

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I’ll admit that I’m feeling off-balance, a bit overwhelmed, out of sorts. In between. Waiting. Struggling to be patient on a variety of fronts. I hope to have news to share, by early May, perhaps, and I hope it will be good. (And here’s an update I should have done ages ago: the bad news always less pleasing to pass along than the good. For those still wondering, no, my friend Tricia and I will not be contestants on The Amazing Race Canada. We did, however, go out for a drink to celebrate our effort. Efforts should always be marked, no matter the outcome!)

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Meantime, there is no way to plan toward a particular direction without knowing what that direction will be. Betwixt and between. Betwixt and between.

A good day to learn how to swim

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photo of unrelated cuteness

I’m dying to process my interview experience, but was required to sign a confidentiality agreement about the questions therein, so instead, I will sift through the memorable bits that surrounded my interview experience.

I woke up at 5:30 AM, in part because it’s comforting, now, to wake up early, and in part because I wanted to get to my destination early without stressing over parking or directions. Kevin was also away, so my mom came over to stay with the kids. On the highway, rehearsing for the millionth time “why I want to be a midwife,” I was suddenly overcome with emotion. Yes, I was verklempt. All I kept thinking and saying, from the moment I woke up, was: Wow, this is really happening. I can’t believe I’ve come this far! It felt surreal to be driving to an interview in another city, in hopes of starting a midwifery degree. And I realized how many years I’ve been weighing the possibility, how long I’ve been trying to imagine myself into this possibility, which is, let’s be honest, so very different from the educational and career path I originally chose. So, I got that out of my system. I did not want to burst into tears if asked the question: “Why do you want to be a midwife?”

Then, again, who knows, bursting into tears isn’t the worst thing to happen to a person.

I was so early. I was so in need of a good hard run (hadn’t figured that into my schedule.)

The building seemed like a labyrinth. The only other person waiting at the location was a young man. He’d been sent ahead by a friend to find the location, and was not, more’s the pity, a prospective male midwife (why not have male midwives, I say!). When all of the morning’s candidates were gathered together, we were indeed all women, and I was glad to see I wasn’t the only older prospective student. Nerves were tight. It terrified me slightly to learn that at least four or five of the women were coming back for the second time — they’d applied last year, had interviewed, had not gotten in, and were applying again. (Which is what I imagine I would do, too.) Someone blithely commented, “Oh, that will make it easier for you this time around!” to which one of the women replied, jaws somewhat clenched, “There’s nothing easy about this.”

She was right.

I won’t give you details, but I can assure you that coming two years in a row would offer you very little in the way of advantage. The pace is gruelling. The questions are surprising. It’s like speed-dating, with assessors. There’s hardly time to ask oneself, What the hell was I going on about in there and did it sound as inane as I suspect it may have? Was I actively babbling? So that’s nice. No time to worry, really, just on to the next little room.

My energies flagged about five rooms in, but recovered for the last three or so. There was a palpable sense of relief and celebration as we finished our circuit, and dispersed, walking past the next group of candidates, who were beginning to gather, looking as nervous as we had just a few hours before.

Afterward, feeling drained of all personality, I had coffee with a fellow candidate, who is my age, also a mother of four, and who was a medical doctor in Mexico. I’d give her a spot. Who knows, maybe we’ll meet up again in the fall. And it really does feel like “who knows?” I wish I could say I came out of the process feeling confident that I would gain admission … but in truth, I came out of the process feeling completely unable to assess my own performance. It’s a blur. I did my best, I do know that. I felt, a bit, like a fish out of water, like a novice, I guess. It’s like learning to swim all over again. I’ll admit it was a hard process to go through — trusting myself, and yet recognizing my own limitations. Like the woman said, It doesn’t get easier. Starting something new, being the opposite of expert — well, there’s nothing easy about it, is there? There’s no template you can follow to make the hard things life feel easy.

But it’s like learning how to swim. You have to get wet. You probably flail a bit. You get instruction. You practice and practice and practice. And that’s the only way that someday, you’ll get to the place you imagined you might.

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