Category: Writing

Dark days

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I took a holiday from electronics over the weekend. The word “electronics,” aka ‘lectronics, is heard often in our house, and is often a source of conflict, as I, responsible mother, repeatedly refuse my children time on their ‘lectronic devices.

Yesterday, driving home from a soccer game, the whole family in the car, the youngest in tears because we weren’t watching a movie or letting him play on his brother’s Playbook — during the relatively short car ride — I had one of my ranting moments, this with the theme “Addicted to Electronics.” It’s kind of like a Ted talk, only unedited, and interactive.

“But what about all the time you spend on Facebook, and doing your blog, and writing?” my eldest pointed out. “What about email? And you have your Blackberry that you’re always checking.”

So we drew some lines. Games and Facebook are kind of the same thing: entertainment. Email/texts are, for me, and for better or for worse, like the telephone; they connect me to friends and family. Writing and blogging can be useful and creative. “If you want to write a story on the computer, I will make sure you have a computer to use,” I said. “But an hour of wii-time on Saturday and Sunday seems like enough.”

I don’t want to ban ‘lectronics from our lives. I want us to use them in ways that are positive, that don’t cause conflict, and that don’t prevent us from exercising our brains and collective selves in non-‘lectronic creative ways.

This is what passes for family meetings these days. I actually think it was a fairly effective conversation, by the end. I had my rant, the kids got to counter with their arguments, and we all finally agreed that Facebook and computer games needed to be limited, but that there are occasions when ‘lectronics are useful tools.

*

I’ve spent the weekend in a kind of hibernation. I’m sick, but functioning, up all night coughing, slogging through during the day. “How can I feel so yucky, and still rock a 10 kilometre run?” I asked Kevin on Friday night. I took two extra-strength Tylenol and ran for fifty minutes at soccer yesterday — our team had no subs. I felt terrific during the game; chilled and feverish afterward. I’m a believer that exercise is curative. But I still feel sick.

I don’t think my electronic hibernation this weekend was about feeling sick, though. I think it was about the latest shooting in the United States. I didn’t hear about it until late Friday afternoon. I’d spent all day setting up my new book in Scrivener, cut off from the world, marvelling at this brand-new-insanely-useful tool, feeling like I could have happily chained myself to my desk for the next three months and just lived in my imaginary world. Which isn’t practical. So at around 4pm, I turned it off to get ready for our complicated Friday evening ritual, which involves a carshare car, a picnic, soccer equipment, and me in running gear.

But first I checked Facebook.

And then I saw the news. And then the news was all I could see or think about or handle, except I couldn’t handle it. Fury and rage. That was my gut response. The thought that these weapons are legally obtainable. The thought, maybe, that these weapons even exist. Tell me why we need them. Why does anyone on earth need a gun that can rapid-fire hundreds of rounds of deadly ammunition? And if you think you need something like that, I’m pretty sure that should disqualify you from getting access to it. As I ran, sick and sad and furious, on Friday night, I thought, this could be my hill. This could be where I take my stand. But I drove home, alone, weeping so hard that I had trouble seeing the road ahead.

How to pick one hill? I feel a familiar sinking. The injustices and wrongs and evils are too numerous to list, let alone to comprehend. Child soldiers, dictatorships, unsafe factories where people work like slaves so we can buy our clothes for cheap, repression, rape, self-interest, tar sands, money and the lack of it and the greedy excess of it, drones, refugees in Canada denied health care, hunger even right here in our very own wealthy country. Is evil ordinary or extraordinary? Can it ever be contained? What is the meaning of safety and security? What is the meaning of prosperity? How can I do no harm? Or even just do less harm? How can I help.

This is the darkest time of the year. The holidays at this time of year celebrate the coming of light, and all that that means.

I don’t know that I know what it means.

These are the words that come to me: Pour out your love, you won’t run out.

The six-minute post that took ten minutes

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terrible phone photo of a beautiful child, on our Saturday morning date

Uh oh. Only six minutes to post today. Must have taken a longer nap after spin & kettlebells.

I have lots of little things to comment on. Don’t know why I need to comment on them in public, on the blog, but if there’s one rule about blogging it’s don’t question why you’re blogging. Or else you probably wouldn’t. So, on the off chance that someone else out there is interested too, here’s what’s on my mind.

* My friend Tricia and I are plotting how to become contestants on Canada’s The Amazing Race. We’re dead serious and both of us are FAIRLY COMPETITIVE, to put it mildly. And we both love racing — we’ve raced together twice, and once I beat her, and once she beat me, and both times, both of us were convinced the other made us run/bike way faster than we could have gone on our own. I’d give us good odds. If only we can crack the audition challenge.

* Shoot, that puts me at two minutes. Six minutes is not enough time for a quick post.

* Advent calendar activity today: “It’s in your writing, Mom, so I can’t read it.”
“It says ‘Eat supper by candlelight.'”
“Oh.”
“We could breakfast by candlelight, maybe.”
“But I like the lights.”
“Hey, I brought home a cake from the book club I visited last night — how about we’ll change it to ‘Eat cake by candlelight.'”
“Cake for supper! This is the best!”

And that’s my time. I’m sure there were more thoughts, but I’m going to pour them into the house I’m building out of words, which is getting pretty solid. I had hopes of completing the draft before Christmas, and then giving myself Scrivener as a birthday gift, and learning how to use it over the holidays before digging into the second draft. Wait. Why did I put that in the past tense? I still have hopes!

* Kevin is attending CJ’s nursery school Christmas concert this morning specifically so that I don’t have to and can write the book instead, AND I turned down a freelance gig this week specifically so that I could keep working on the book, and so I am signing off to enjoy the luxury of a writing day. Waste not, want not.

Agh. That’s nine minutes. Maybe a ten-minute post is all I can realistically pare myself down to. Good to know.

The ten-minute post

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Haircut, Monday evening, while waiting for the hot chocolate to cool, because, as always, “This hot chocolate is too hot!”

I wasn’t going to blog this morning, but I’m operating so efficiently that I genuinely believe I can write and post this in ten minutes (which is the time I’m allotting towards it). I have already been for a run (with a friend, in the dark, and oh it’s dark these mornings, which is why you’ll see me wearing a headlamp, even though I discovered it left a funny mark on my forehead this morning). I have a soup simmering in the crockpot. I got the kids up, dressed, fed, and off to school by myself, as Kevin headed off early to Toronto (thankfully he walked the dogs before he left, that might have been the straw for my this morning). I’ve had a nap. I’ve eaten breakfast! I just made a fresh pot of coffee.

I’m going to spend the day writing.

But I did want to report back re sad neglected advent calendar. Monday ended on a high: I put slips of paper into each empty pocket. I was so excited to tell the kids when they got home from school: check the calendar!

Monday’s activity? “Look at photo albums.”

“Oh! I just did that!” said Fooey. (Yes, that’s what gave me the idea, thought I. The photo albums were still out.)

Yesterday’s activity: “Write our family Christmas letter.”

Which AppleApple and I accomplished in an hour of manic productiveness after swimming, while the little kids got their own snacks and brushed their own teeth (Kevin and Albus were at soccer). Now comes the hard part: printing and sending. If you think you’re not on our list and you’d like to be added to our list (where is our list? note to self: find!), you are welcome to send me your address via email.

Today’s activity: “Wear red and green.” (Because today is “green” day in CJ’s “big school” classroom and I didn’t want to forget.)

I can’t remember what tomorrow’s is. But trust me, all of the activities are extremely low-key, or things I’d already planned to do. For those more ambitious, a friend sent me a link to this Pinterest page with advent activities that are, admittedly, quite do-able, but kind of overwhelm me with their impossible enthusiasm nevertheless.

Time’s up. Enjoy your Wednesday, whatever it is you’re doing today. (Just noticed that I’m not wearing red or green …)

Carrie v. Monday

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This is what I feel like doing today.

Instead, I am having one of those exquisitely Mondayish days. And Monday is winning. Damn you, Monday! The hours are cruising past while I blither away at apparently endless and infinitely finicky odds and ends that must be done somehow by someone and soon. I’m telling you, spreadsheets are involved.

“This is the most disappointing advent we’ve ever had,” said one of the children this morning.

And I’ll admit, I have not found a good way to fill those little slots with daily seasonal activities, despite having an envelope full of ideas in my office. We had the “candy cane meltdown” last week, wherein a slip of paper promised candy canes we proved not to have. We’ve had way too much hot chocolate for breakfast. The Christmas decorations never got made. The snowflakes for the front window did, but remain as clutter on the dining-room table. And for the past two mornings, the children have found nothing in their advent calendar. Nothing. Serious seasonal fail.

I should at least write on a slip of paper, “Make toast!” or “Pet the dogs!” I think the kids would prefer that over nothing. They might even prefer to imagine that we’re going to do activities that I know in advance we won’t have time for, such as “Bake cookies!” or “Go skating!”

All of which is to say that this Monday finds me quite entirely overwhelmed by the details of the season. Who has bought gifts for whom? What’s our budget? What’s happening when? Can we split childcare over the holidays? Is everyone happy? Will everyone be happy? I know, I do, that it will all come together, and that the time I’ve spent today will help make it so, but oh, this is tedious.

Meanwhile, the novel waits patiently (or maybe not so patiently; I’m pretty sure the novel has the bit in its 210-pages-of-teeth and is begging me to gallop for the finish line. But listen, novel, we’ll just have to go back to the beginning and start the race all over again, so, really, what’s your hurry?). I hear, from a novelist much more experienced than I am, that I should look into Scrivener, a program that helps keep track of all the book’s bits and pieces. Unlike Word, which makes me feel like I’m composing one insanely long drawn-out thought that may have completely gone off the rails way back when and is missing several dozen terribly important pieces but I can’t stop now and must simply forge ahead til I reach the end. Writers out there — thoughts? (Also, it occurs to me that I could really use a Scrivener-like-program to organize my entire life. Talk about bits and pieces.)

Pulling teeth

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Creative discomfort. I’m in the throes right now. I am sitting with problems yet unsolved within in a book partially written, and it’s agonizing, I’ll admit. But it is also part of the process — no, it’s critical to the process — and the book I want to write cannot be completed without the discomfort, the discordances, the anxiety, the wish to be done with it combined with the knowledge that only patience will bring relief.

It’s been an intense writing week, in an intense writing month, as I lay down the bones and structure for this book begun many months ago. I’m desperate to finish building an arc from end to end. I’m close. But I can’t guess how close. Am I days, weeks, or still many months from creating a solid first draft? I imagine myself, with a pleasantly whole (if drafty) draft completed, marching back through these rooms to carve all the fancy parts, the elaborations, to paint the walls, and fill the closets, and scatter things on the floor. To make messy and lived-in what is yet quite bare and sparse. This book feels like a house. Which makes perfect sense because it is, in part, inspired by a house I once lived in.

I sometimes say that The Juliet Stories took six years to write, but it would be more accurate to say that The Juliet Stories took six years to get right. The actual writing of the actual stories in the finished book came in bursts and jags. Some required much rewriting. All needed polishing. Some of the best came quickly and suddenly from nowhere I could have imagined before sitting down and discovering them.

The whole of it looked messy and incomplete for a very very very long time.

How to live in a messy and incomplete house? A house that hasn’t got a roof yet, but that is already ghosted by characters? They wander too, wondering what I’ll build for them, wondering where I’ll arrange them, and why.

On Wednesday, the little kids and I finished reading Little House in the Big Woods. So last night we moved on to Little House on the Prairie. The Big Woods have become too crowded and busy for Pa’s liking. The little path in front of their log house is almost a road, now, and almost every day Mary and Laura stop their play to watch with surprise as a wagon passes by. One wagon a day is too many for Pa. So he builds his own wagon, and as Ma “does not object,” the family says goodbye to the little house in the big woods of Wisconsin and sets off for the less-populated West.

CJ was almost in tears at the loss of the cozy little house. Would Mary and Laura ever see their grandma and grandpa and aunts and uncles again? (I think the answer is: no.) He couldn’t bear the thought. And I felt the pain, too, as if it were happening to us: the early dark of a March morning, the goodbyes of family, the emptied house which can’t see them go because its windows are shuttered.

They never saw that little house again, writes Laura.

What do I hold onto? Why? What do I think I could not bear to let go of? How rooted is our family, here? We feel so very rooted, such a goodbye seems impossible to imagine.

I just finished reading Alison Pick’s Far to Go, which I highly recommend. It ends with a reflection on how swiftly the world we think we know can fall to pieces. I don’t know whether it is this present state of creative discomfort, or this dark season before the coming of the solstice, but right now I am keenly attuned to the off-kilterness in our larger world with too many sadnesses and wrongs to list here, except to say that so many of them seem caused by greed, and by the hunger of the now.

Attention: Minor profound thought ahead

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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.

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