Today, I am experimenting. Can I compartmentalize and work on two projects at the same time? I am going to attempt to develop my new character (ie. creative, not-yet-for-profit work), even while keeping several irons in the fire for a freelance piece I’m writing (ie. less creative work-for-pay). The new book, of course, has no due date, no deadline. The freelance piece does. I am obsessive about meeting deadlines (not necessarily a bad thing); except I’m so obsessive that I frequently meet deadlines well ahead of schedule. And honestly, I’m not concerned about meeting this one. I know I can do it. Things are moving along nicely. I know this. Still, my instinct is to worry it until it’s done. Thing is, I can’t finish this morning. There are interviews yet to do and other people’s schedules to take into account. More to the point, I don’t need to finish this morning. The deadline isn’t until next week.
So. Can I step back, set it aside, not worry about it, and work productively on something completely different?
As I say, it’s an experiment. It had better work, because, frankly, this could be my life for a long long time. It already is my life, you say? What with the children, and the cooking, and the triathlon training, and the book-writing? It’s funny, but those things all fit together in a long-term way that doesn’t trouble me. They’re all part of a steady routine, an ebb and flow that isn’t exactly predictable, and yet seems symbiotic somehow. More of this, less of that; more of that, less of this.
If I don’t write a blog post today, I’ll write one tomorrow. If supper is on the table late, well, eat some crackers and cheese, kids. If I have to drop a writing day to take a kid to the doctor, my book doesn’t know it. In all of these circumstances, I’m flexible. But give me a deadline and I focus to the point of compulsion. Hm. Maybe this goes back to childhood: feeling a sense of responsibility as the eldest of five, wanting to please, anxious over any perceived failure, stomach in knots if we were late for school. I was “high-strung.” Maybe, maybe, in some circumstances I still am.
My goal for today: Trust myself. I will get the job done. All in good time. And meantime, there is other work to be done, and it’s just as valuable, even if invisible.
Yesterday, a client of Kevin’s brought him a ripped-out page from the latest issue of Elle Canada. “Tracking the best in movies, books, music and art,” says the page. “This month, we’re inspired by free spirits.” And there is The Juliet Stories! I love that Juliet is being identified as a free spirit. (Wasn’t “spirit” my word of the year when I was writing Juliet?) There’s a dark side to being a free spirit, of course, and I suppose that’s partly what the book is about; but sometimes I wish I were more free of spirit — colourful, creative, adventurous, alive. Writing is my window into all those things I couldn’t actually be.
Finally, two exciting reading discoveries.
1. CJ is “reading” to us. I’m pretty sure he’s essentially repeating memorized text, but he links the words on the page with the words he’s saying. Out and about, he notices and reads signs (STOP is a good one), and he notices words and points out letters and letter sounds that he knows. Exciting!
2. Fooey read bedtime stories to CJ last night. For the record, I still love reading bedtime stories to the kids, but I’m not always available — last night I was walking Albus home from piano lessons. I got home in time to hear the tail-end of the last story, and give goodnight kisses. Sweet.
Drifted off to sleep last night meditating on my new character, thinking about what I would write today. Yesterday was a tough day. My baby turned four. I had a sense of aimlessness all day, despite discovering this terrific review from Halifax’s The Coast, and, later in the day, this. Nice, right? But the aimless feeling prevailed.
Finally, I left my office and walked uptown to buy my four-year-old a gift. A book, of course! Everywhere I looked it seemed women were out walking their babies. But not me. Just a short while ago, being out and about mid-day unemcumbered by small children would have seemed incredibly novel, and thrilling. Suddenly, it’s every day.
My book is gone too, off to see the world. I was having a now-what feeling?
Somehow, I’ve gotten into the habit of thinking that change is propelled by unhappiness. Certainly, unhappiness can be a powerful motivator to kick us out of negative habits. But it occurred to me this morning that of course there are many other triggers for change. And the instinct to make wholesale changes in a moment of doubt isn’t necessarily positive. If I were even five years younger, I would probably be seriously considering adding another child to the family. That is the kind of change that I could so easily understand and embrace. But I know that’s not the right change anymore. I know in my heart that it’s not even change I really want.
Guess I don’t know what changes are calling me. I just know that seeing my babies grow up, buying more time for myself during the day … well, it’s not as straightforward as I thought it would be. It doesn’t equal direction or ease. The big questions remain. Am I spending my time wisely? Am I doing what I love? Also, a question that never lets me go: am I adding something good into the world, by my actions, by my choices, with my life?
Alright blog, what have you got for me today?
This feels like a day for random bits. Things I want to remember about this very moment in time.
**My two eldest children, at this moment in time, have exactly the same shoe size as me. And apparently I have a lot of shoes, because right now my eldest wears a pair of my old running shoes as his indoor shoes at school, another pair as his outdoor shoes, and his winter boots were also formerly mine; and just this morning AppleApple took my pink lightweight tennis shoes to school to be her new indoor shoes. She’s outgrown her old ones. She’s also outgrown all soccer shoes. And this morning started with a lengthy search through her drawers for clothes that still fit. Suddenly all pants are rising above the ankle, and all shirts above the wrist. The very definition of a growth spurt.
**I’m plugging away at my multi-sport activities. This morning was spin class. Do I push too hard in this class? I really give it my all, leave everything in the room; and then look up with glazed eyes at the end of hour and realize it is 7:15am and the bulk of the day’s responsibilities still lie before me.
**I had my first DNF in a race on Sunday. It was a 30km race, and given my injury I could neither train for it, nor hope to complete the distance. I’d accepted that it wasn’t to be a few months ago, but hearing people in spin class this morning talk about their experiences in the same race made me more than a little envious. I feel like I’m holding steady in terms of my fitness. Barely. After such exciting gains last year, it’s difficult to stay positive about just hanging in there. But just hanging in takes commitment too. And I haven’t quit. Four early mornings a week is four more than I was doing two years ago. It’s hard to remember sometimes, but daily commitment and discipline isn’t often or even usually about an immediate reward, nor does it happen because we feel like doing it every day. It’s about making change over time, the steady accretion of experience. Mostly, it’s just about showing up.
**I’m starting to do research on what I hope will be my next book. Kevin and I have marked several writing weeks on the calendar, one per month for the next three months. I’m nervous about diving into a new character and a new world. But I’m curious to see what will come of it. Stay tuned.
**Remember when I used to get a good revelation after most yoga classes? Not necessarily an enormous life-altering revelation, but at least something small, some interesting new way of approaching a problem or idea? And that doesn’t seem to happen any more. It’s made me wonder whether I’ve stopped looking for revelations. Am I going to class free from specific unsolved problems? Or have I forgotten to use that time as a meditative space? I’m not sure. In any case, I took a nice long shavasana yesterday evening, and emerged with the notion that I should learn how to write screenplays. Is that nutty? Maybe it was sparked by reading this article in yesterday’s Globe and Mail about the slow decline of the novel, and the rise of awesome tv shows. A large part of being a writer (for me) is wanting to express ideas and be read, to provide entertainment but also food-for-thought — to an audience. I never got around to writing in-depth about Mordecai Richler’s biography, but one of the things that impressed me about his career was its breadth across the mediums. He wrote frequently for television and radio, and in his early career worked on many screenplays for which he received no credit, but obviously gained valuable experience. Would my abilities fit into other mediums of expression? … that was yesterday’s take-home yoga “revelation.”
**But I’m too tired this morning to follow up. On just about anything. So a quick and dirty blog post it is. And catching up on emails.
**And running birthday party errands for an almost-four-year-old; that will be this afternoon’s main task. The bar for today is set pretty low. I was just glad to get laundry in the washer, and soup in the crockpot after waving the kids off to school this morning.
a bird in the bush
Spring. Spring! The last day of March break. My children occupied elsewhere. A quiet and completely empty house (just now). Not-so-deep thoughts. But persistent ones. I’m tired. My body hasn’t made a very successful switch to the time change. I’m listening to classical music, while wearing ear plugs; an odd but necessary combination. Ear plugs signal work-time. Classical music signals calm. This is ramble.
I am feeling, well, drained, rather. The big publicity push seems to be resolving itself, slowing, and I can stand back and breathe. And as I breathe, I think about that phrase “feeling drained.” And it seems to express an almost literal sensation. Because I’ve been pouring myself out, pouring myself into the effort of spreading the word about Juliet. At some point, I will have to stop pouring and start replenishing the well. Which, though not dry, seems to be creaking with complaints.
Patterns. Habits. When something isn’t working anymore, it becomes steadily more apparent, harder to ignore. And then the question is: what to change? and how?
One change would be to break myself of the BlackBerry habit. I’ve become accustomed to receiving new! urgent! exciting! messages throughout the day, and it’s changed my brain — I expect and anticipate the little ping. It’s like a hit of affirmation. I’m not alone! Connect, connect! Trouble is I’m starting to crave the ping even when I’m in the midst of seemingly interesting Life. Worst of all, the ping itself has almost become more meaningful and exciting than the message received. I am Pavlov’s dog.
A second change. I think it’s time to shift gears. To stop writing about Juliet, and start writing on/into/toward a new project. Even if the new project doesn’t take shape immediately. Even if I feel uncertain. If this is what I want to do, go on and do it. It’s been a real pleasure this week to shape a new poem, to see that I can make something with the kind of accessible tone I’d want to read. More of that! Please.
There is a third change, but I have nothing to pin to it. I want to pursue another goal (not writing-related) like the triathlon challenge. I want a particular reason to be outdoors. To run or bike or swim or yoga even when I don’t really feel like it. I am lacking in meditative space right now. I feel almost incapable of sitting quietly and resting my mind. It seems the only time that happens is when I’m working really hard, physically. Some writers turn to alcohol. I understand the impulse. One needs to turn to something. One longs for a mind at rest, at ease. I crave the spiritual rootedness that comes from discipline — and I find discipline in physical effort. It connects me to some part of myself that knows endurance and ambition and suffering, and is rewarded by it. Which probably sounds weird. And isn’t exactly the path of least resistance. I’m only half-heartedly committed to that work at present (partly due to being in rehab for the running injury), and I want to reconnect with whole-hearted commitment again. Stay tuned.
fake front page from December 8, 2000
All this week, I am guest editing the Afterword, which is the National Post newspaper’s absolutely terrific book blog. Since my first real job was at the National Post in their books section (oh, more than a decade ago now; pre-children and post-grad school), the current books editor, Mark Medley, suggested I write about my time there. Which got me all nostalgic, I must confess. And that is the subject of today’s post on the Afterword. More of my posts, on other subjects, will follow throughout the week.
A word on the photo above. When I left the National Post, colleagues in the section surprised me by putting together a fake front page with stories written by them especially to mark the occasion. It was one of the sweetest gifts I’ve ever received, and of course I framed it to keep forever. Below, a close-up. This photo was taken at a Post party, and it’s what I looked like in the fall of 2000. I was in fact pregnant with my first baby, though you can’t tell (and yes that is a non-alcoholic beverage in my hand). I just look at this photo and think: so young. (Also: why the turtleneck, young sexy Carrie? Why?)
I look at this photo and it makes me happy.
this morning’s paper
Kevin and I slept in this morning. Indoor soccer season *at 8am for six-year-olds! is finally over. We must have been tired.
When we finally dragged ourselves out of bed, I picked up my phone to check messages. Here is the first one I saw: “Congratulations on your Globe review, Carrie. You’re probably going to want to read this one.”
Without saying a word, I beelined for the porch, retrieved today’s Globe & Mail, flipped through to the Arts section, and to Books. And found my own self-portrait, which my brother tells me has a Zoolander flavour to it (nooooo!). I also found a really solid review of The Juliet Stories. Exhale.
And then Fooey came to see. “I found your name, Mommy!” She tried to sound out the headline: “sp, sp, sp …” And then Albus asked if he could have the section. It has the funnies in it.
At dinner the other night one of the other writers with whom I was reading said a good review is like a sugar rush. This feels like a caffeine high. I’m not sure it’s quite healthy. Don’t get me wrong, I am not arguing in favour of bad reviews, not at all. It’s that attention of any kind has an unpredictable effect on the human spirit. It’s a dangerous flirtation. This may be my Mennonite roots showing. Guarding against vanity; humility of spirit.
But this is a good and happy and out-of-the-ordinary moment in my life.
So on behalf of all Obscure CanLit Mamas out there, I embrace this unsettling rush, with deep appreciation for a continuing dream. My feet are off the ground — one flash-frozen stride in a long journey.