Category: Writing

Snow falling on resolutions

snow
Resolutions. Do you make them? We went around the table last night and everyone had the chance to make a resolution for 2012. Not all cared to participate, but here’s what we got:

**Albus resolved to finish his Perplexus game (at least it’s not a video game), and buy two new ones and finish those too. (Inspiring … sigh).

**AppleApple resolved to train for and complete a try-a-tri. Her dad wants to, too. We’ll check age limits, but try-a-tris are short-distance triathlons with lengths I’m certain she could manage.

**In addition to the try-a-tri, Kevin resolved to dance more. He intends to practice with help from a wii game we played on New Year’s Eve called Just Dance (we had a kid-oriented New Year’s; very fun). I’m not sure whether a wii game will make him a better dancer, but it is good exercise. (Fooey said, “The best part is that you don’t even have to have a wii remote–you can just dance!”)

horizon in the snow
“all the little grains of snow,” taken this morning, back porch

Today, I am pretending the holiday is over; Kevin is helping with that. Whenever the kids are off school or home sick, childcare coverage falls to me, and as I start both working more and wanting to take on more work the imbalance becomes more obvious. I’m thankful that Kevin came around to recognizing this himself, and offered, for this coming week, to share childcare and split the days. Today he’s off anyway, so I get the full day. Friday I’d already arranged for babysitting in the morning, so he gets the full day. We’re splitting the other days half and half. I’m already floating the idea of doing this for summer holidays too. Something’s got to change this year.

I don’t usually do resolutions because who knows what will come or how a year will change a person. But I love lists, and this is good place to start.

1. Share the childcare. Take on more work projects. Work more hours.

2. Explore work options. Take risks. Dabble. Whatever I do to fill my hours and earn money, may it be creative, and perhaps surprising.

3. Budget better. Needs no explanation. Kevin and I are already collaborating on this front.

4. Continue early mornings + exercise. On my race list this year (assuming no injuries): the 30km in Hamilton in March; another Olympic-length triathlon; another marathon; and maybe just maybe a half-Ironman triathlon. I’d also like to do another half and another 10km. But racing is expensive. See #3.

4b. (late addition) Stretch!!!! After all exercise. For at least five minutes.

5. Develop book ideas. Apply for grants. Write another book!

6. Promote THE JULIET STORIES.

7. Practice photography. Use my eyes. Use my feet. Find new locations and subjects.

8. Make music. Write songs. Record.

9. Do everything I can do to continue to be “a good model” for my children. Be forgiving. Be kind. Seek to understand. Love.

10. Go bravely forth.

desert in the snow
“Desert in the snow,” taken this morning, back porch.

*note: to see photos in full please click on them

What I’ve been up to …

photographing the photographer
What a weird and wonderful week it’s been. I am positively bubbling with creative energy. And, right about now, caffeine. Which might explain the rapid-fire typing you’re hearing.

Yesterday had a stinker of a start. Well, not the very early start, which was spin class, and which, though I never quite got into it, still kicked off the day with a rush of happy endorphins. But then I got home. And discovered that CJ was refusing to go to nursery school, again. And you know, he’s been sick, so I wasn’t sure. Maybe he was still a bit off? Okay, kid. I’ll give you another day. Even though that means cancelling my morning plan to go record a song at my brother’s studio. Fine. Except it wasn’t fine, and I wasn’t fine, and I had to go to the basement and throw laundry into the washer and yell things and slam the door and perform other unpleasant and completely immature venting activities. It put a pall on the general everyone-heading-off-to-school-and-work part of the morning. I have a rotten temper.

It’s all about the expectations. I’d expected and planned to do one thing, and when plans suddenly shifted, I was disappointed. And frustrated. And facing another housebound day with a less than willing spirit.

But I came around, in a moping sort of way, to acceptance, and went on with the changed plans. When suddenly the phone rang–it was Kevin. His morning appointment had to be rescheduled. “I’ll come home and look after CJ, and you can go and record.” “Seriously?” “Seriously.” Well, off I went, let me tell you.

Proof that a stinker of a start doesn’t mean the whole is ruined. Remember this. Remember, and leap for the unexpected opportunities that parachute into your hours.

Why didn’t I take my camera? My brother’s new studio is filled with light. It’s an old Mennonite schoolhouse, one big room, and I sat right down at the piano to get loosened up. And then we recorded. Just one simple song, a lullaby. I wrote it for a character in Juliet. In fact, I’m pretty sure I wrote it as my character. Because my brother Karl is such an amazing and talented producer, as well as a musician, I know we’re going to have a beautiful song at the end of the process. It’s exciting. And I found myself up late last night perfecting more songs as my character. It’s weird, but I can write songs as her better than as me. Maybe it gives me the distance necessary to be vulnerable, to allow myself to tap uncritically into emotions and even a particular style that I can ascribe to her. Maybe it’s like writing a poem in a persona. I won’t question it. It’s working.

This morning, I surfed the creative wave toward a different shore. It helped that CJ trotted merrily off to nursery school–unquestionably healthy again. PRAISE BE. This morning, my friend Nancy arrived with coffee to share, and her camera. She is working on a new project that she calls “ipowr,” or “Intriguing People of Waterloo Region,” and she chose me as her first subject to interview and to photograph. I couldn’t resist photographing her too, plus it put me at ease to stand behind the lens. A nice way to warm up, perhaps for both of us. Less pressure. The photo above makes me think of a villa, a place both stark and soft, and somehow old-fashioned. The crop doesn’t quite do it justice. You can see the original here.

And so that is my yesterday and my today. I am basking in creative activities that would seem outside of my comfort zone. But neither feel like a stretch. Instead, both are extensions of what I’m already doing. And I’m brimming with appreciation for this quiet time between major projects, when I can do and try anything.

The world is full of beauty and light.
I am teetering on the brink of over-caffeination.
It’s all good.

The creative life: dig in

Yesterday, a reader commented on my Green Dreams post, which was written about a year and a half ago. This morning, I read that post again and found these words, which feel like a wise reminder from my (slightly) younger self:

I would like to offer my time–because I have it, and I’m grateful for that gift–to living creatively. Anyone who’s ever made anything knows that there is a great deal of invisible work behind what’s created. There is the original vision, changed and altered and made deeper by reflection and time, there is work, there is error and recognition of error, and incorporation of error, too, and there is luck, happenstance, improvisation. There are bursts of production and activity, and lulls of wondering, daydreaming, even doubt. There is sacrifice. You have to figure out if it’s worth it to you–figure out what you’re sacrificing, and why you want to.

Mostly, though, you just do it: you do the work you’ve chosen to do.

Living creatively, improvising, digging in, committing, taking risks, messing up, pausing to reflect, continuing, trying new things and rediscovering the tried and true: that pretty much sums up my life at present–or at least, the life I’m aiming for, every day. Yours, too?

::::

On that note, I’d like to tell you about a few projects I’m currently digging into.

* increasing subscribers to my blog: If you look on the right-hand side of the blog, I’ve got links to a variety of extras, including a new feature that allows you to type in your email address and receive blog posts in your inbox. We’re still tinkering with this (and by “we” I mean my techie friend Nath is troubleshooting for me), but I’d be happy if you signed up. And then please let me know if it’s working for you.

* Storywell: My friend Susan has launched a business aimed at helping people tell their stories: “Whether you are writing for your own family and community, aiming at publication, or needing help in telling your company or organization’s tale, we can help you tell your story well. We offer you a team of professional writers, editors and proofreaders whose goal is to help you develop as a writer.” And guess what? I’m one of the professional writers on her team. Interested, or know someone who might be? Get in touch.

* a new challenge: “Make Carrie’s Book a Bestseller.” Okay it’s a crazy challenge over which I have no real sway. Even publishers don’t know how books make it onto bestseller lists, the compilers of which seem to collect data from a variety of unpredictable sources. But I think it will be fun. Kevin is the brains behind the idea. He created and hosts a flexible web site for his business that can be used by personal trainers as a forum to run challenges. We’re using that forum to create a challenge called: “Help Make Carrie’s Book a Bestseller.” The site is still under construction, but I plan to have it ready to launch in the new year, and you will be invited to join. I only have one hope for my book, and that’s that it will get read. Then it can speak for itself.

* early to rise: This isn’t really a project, it’s just something I want to continue whether or not I’m working toward a particular race (my next one is in March, which still seems too far off to be highly motivating). I like the ethic involved in getting up early. I like that it’s not easy. It’s not easy, but it’s ALWAYS rewarding. This morning, my internal alarm woke me up for yoga. I’d planned to sleep instead, but when my eyes saw 5:48 on the clock, I recognized that it was a little gift, and I accepted it. Few of my evenings are free. My only guaranteed alone time is in the early morning hours. I’ve never been a morning person and even now do not consider myself one; but that doesn’t mean I can’t rise early and move my body and stride confidently into the day.

(Just realized that this looks like an early New Year’s resolution list. It’s not meant to be. I’m very ho-hum on resolutions. I prefer big picture overviews of the past year combined with swooping excitement and energy beamed at the year ahead. Every year on the eve of my birthday–which is Dec. 29th–I write just such an overview in my journal, by hand. Very old-school. Very satisfying.)

Proofing the page: reading Juliet

I am thinking about perfection. I happily admit to being a perfectionist. Not about everything, mind you. But when it comes to writing — and writing fiction, particularly — I obsess. I consider myself a technician, deeply interested in grammatical construction and the very tiniest of word choices. You would not believe how long I can suffer over the inclusion or removal of a “the.”

But as I read these page proofs, I’m starting to question my obsession with perfection. I mean, for me it’s the way I do it and I’m not likely to change what’s working. But I’m seeing that it may not be that important in the end. In the end, a story, a whole book, it works because it leaves the reader with an impression, an emotional impression, something intangible that exists because it exists. Not because a “the” was removed. I’m not speaking against a careful craft, please understand.

I am speaking against perfection.

Sometimes, the imperfection of my creations bothers me. I’ve worked so hard and yet I know here and there is a paragraph too many or a flabby word choice that I cannot budge. But when I let myself sink into what I’ve made and forget about how it could or should be perfected, I am moved by what is being offered. To do this requires me to place a layer of distance between myself and my words, almost to read as if I were someone else.

When I consider my favourite books by other people, none are perfect — and I couldn’t care less. It’s how they make me feel when I read them that matters. It’s that they make me feel. They catch me off guard. They push me. Or they lift me. And though these books almost all display technical accomplishment, it is not for their technical accomplishments that I love them. I love them for existing.

That is the kind of book I hope to write; I hope to have written. Imperfect. With feeling.

I am loving this quiet week in my office, reading words on the page that I’ve written, gathered into a whole. I am loving being pulled right through the book from beginning to end and understanding its wholeness differently, in a new way. This feels like a special and unusual experience. I don’t expect to have it again anytime soon. I am savouring it.

:::

P.S. The photo is a detail of a photo that depicts me posing in costume to look like a very old family photograph of my Great-Grandma Carrie Anne, my namesake. (A little more about Carrie Anne here.) The photo was taken for a photo project by Ilia Horsburgh.

“You’re always grumpy in the morning, Mom”

What to do, what to do?

What do you do when you’re feeling less than inspired?

This morning was my “sleeping-in” morning; naturally Kevin decided he’d get up early and spend about five minutes rustling around in the dark looking for his clothes. I stayed in bed until 7:15 but shouldn’t have bothered. It’s not like it made me happier. Downstairs, AppleApple greeted me with beautifully brushed hair and a packed schoolbag: “You’re always grumpy in the morning, Mom, so I decided to try to have everything ready to go, so you wouldn’t be so grumpy.”

Gee, thanks, kid. A hint: don’t tell your mother she’s grumpy if you’re trying to lift her from her grumpiness.

Truth is, it’s probably more anxiety than grumpiness. Is it the lack of light? General Novemberishness? The sudden onset of Christmas? Whatever it is, this is not my best time of year; never is. As the light recedes, I’m dark with indecision.

**What thoughtful and possibly homemade gifts can I devise to spread cheer and joy this season? Can I find stress-free ways to fulfill our family’s seasonal rituals and traditions and meet everyone’s expectations?
**Should I skip supper and try out that running club tonight? How can I fit a club’s schedule into my own? Maybe that’s why there are no women my age at running club — maybe we’re all at home eating supper with our families and trying to keep a finger on the pulse of each kid’s well-being.
**What the heck book am I writing right now? I keep finding characters and abandoning them: sorry, don’t want to spend the next six years with you.

I’m thinking in massive chunks rather than manageable morsels. I’m thinking an entire book rather than a page or two.

Know what I mean?

As if every tiny individual choice has to fit into a larger whole, has to be a stone in this solid structure I’m building, this thing called Life. And if I go off piling stones in the wrong place, the whole thing is going to be ruined. Hm. Office as metaphor: Remember how the windows were the wrong size? How upset I felt? And how unexpectedly easy they were to change? It took some work, for sure, but it wasn’t impossible or disastrous, and ultimately only cost a day’s labour.

So what to do?

Today, I’ve set myself a small task. I am writing a song for a character in The Juliet Stories. She’d probably write a much better song herself, but that’s okay. My brother Karl has a new recording studio and when the song is ready, I can go and record it, which is pretty cool. It doesn’t add up to anything particular. It doesn’t fit anywhere else. It doesn’t answer a single question. It’s just something I want to do.

It’s just a little pile of stones I’m making in the middle of a field I happen to be passing through.

Sigh, this is embarrassing, but it’s all I’ve got this morning and I promise to shut up already, soon

As I look out my window I see

leaves in the street
almost bare branches
pale blue sky
a white apartment building with green trim and crooked window blinds
passing cars
a recycling truck

sometimes, people
people walking dogs
people running
people pushing baby strollers
people alone
in pairs
talking
thinking

the floor is warm under my stocking feet
shadows move on the white bare walls
there is an echo

I want to keep this room
bare
echoing
spare

I did not know what I was craving
until I sat down in the quiet of this room
my own room
I did not know how much I longed
to be alone
for a little while
every day

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