Category: Writing

Writing as leftovers

Today I am supposed to be writing. I am very nearly done reconstructing several stories in the early section of my Juliet Stories; but it has been much more taxing than anticipated. It’s not been hard work, exactly, but work that makes me impatient and mildly anxious. The early section of Juliet belongs to the book as it was originally conceived, only fragments of which still remain. I have reimagined these stories more times than I can count. There remain lasting sentences and phrases repurposed for different contexts. It’s dizzying.

I feel like I’m eating leftovers for the tenth day in a row. I’ve had this meal before. I can eat it cold, or heat it up, or add some hot sauce, or wrap it in a tortilla, but dammit, I know exactly what I’m eating, and I’m so very very tired of it. But if a friend came over, and I wrapped some up for her, she would probably think it tasted awesome. Know what I mean?

I’m down to the nitty-gritty, to the less-than-glamorous, stuck-in-the-kitchen part of the process. I accept it.

Here’s what I hope is happening: that I’m transforming these leftovers into a really fantastic meal that I’ll get to share with a tableful of welcome company. And it will all be worth it, even though the kitchen is getting hot, and the onions are just shy of burnt, and the sun is shining, and I’d really really really like to run outside and play.

Ode to Cheesies

Ever feel like you’re just not into the domestic necessities? I can usually find some smidgen to enjoy in some portion of the daily chores that Must Be Done. But not right now.

Right now, due to soccer-all-the-time, I am washing dishes in a grumpy stupor after 9pm. “Remember when I got to wash dishes right after supper while listening to ‘As It Happens’?” I said to Kevin last night, who was also in the kitchen, putting together lunches for school. “Who knew that was such a treat?”

And hanging laundry–an often peaceful activity, a moment of quiet in a noisy day–right now, feels like a relentless intrusion on my time. There’s so much of it and so many stages to the doing of it: gathering, washing, carrying the basket up and down stairs, hanging inside or outside, gathering, folding. The only thing I refuse to do is to put away the stacks of clothes neatly piled and arranged from youngest to oldest, on my bed. C’mon. It’s the least they can do.

Even cooking is not drawing me these days. I haven’t baked bread in over a week. I’ve been stocking up at the half-off shelf at our nearest grocery store (and because our grocery store is frequented by a lot of students, the half-off bread is usually the best they sell: multi-grain or spelt or Red Fife wheat).

I haven’t baked a cookie, square, or cake in ages. I offered my two youngest a half-bag of cheesies to snack on while we sat waiting in the hallway for AppleApple to be done her final piano lesson. I’d assumed we’d be alone, because the music school is pretty much shut down, but of course there was a mother across from us, watching my offspring coat themselves in sticky orange powder. I pretended no shame.

Maybe I wasn’t even pretending, come to think of it.

I am consumed, right now, by two major projects. One is the triathlon, which will happen next weekend (not this one). I am training heavily, and it is eating a great deal of my time, mentally and physically. What I’ll do after it is over, I just cannot fathom. I can’t really think that far. I love the early mornings, but they take a toll. I would like to get together with friends and enjoy a drink of an evening, again, for example. But meantime, I am aimed like an arrow at a target, with a focus I just can’t turn off.

My other major target, on which I feel just as significantly and undistractedly aimed, is my Juliet Stories, several of which I am reworking in quite radical ways. I am rolling with ideas, especially after a conversation this morning with my editor, and trying to be patient and to work within the limits of the time that is put aside for writing work. I am grateful to Kevin, who is taking over everything this weekend, so that I can write.

And so the kids are eating cheesies, and I am resenting the laundry, and we are doing a lot of last-minute barbequeing.

I just realized something. It’s not pretending. There’s no shame. I’ve lost whatever guilt I once had, as a mother, about pursuing interests that don’t revolve around my children and my household. Right now, I am wired tight as can be, focused, excited, energized, exhausted, stretched, and it’s all good.

The Juliet Stories have their own ISBN number

My next book exists in a publisher’s catalogue. Look for it on pages 22 and 23, House of Anansi. My picture is in there too (does it look too serious? too intense? too “brooding-writer-who-would-be-no-fun-at-a-party”? Maybe I should send them a different photo for the cover).

The irony, of course, is that I continue to polish this new book, so for me, it’s not finished enough to exist anywhere; the catalogue copy, to me, reads like a birth announcement made at 34 weeks gestation. I never named my babies in utero, and always felt a bit superstitious about pre-birth baby showers. Let’s get this baby born, bathed, and bundled before sharing the good news. But how done is done? I remember a funny conversation with the doctor who oversaw the early months of my first pregnancy. I said, “So when I get through the first trimester, I can stop worrying, right?” (I was terribly anxious about miscarrying). And she gave me an odd look: “Um, I’m not sure you ever stop worrying,” she said gently. Riiiiight.

So I suppose, if conflating book-production with having children (a facetious comparison, let’s be honest), it stands to reason that even with the last “t” crossed and “i” dotted, joy will continue to mingle with unease.

The other morning, we were reading an article in the newspaper about a man who is training for a traithlon. It’s part of a regular weekly series: the paper profiles someone relatively well-known and a trainer helpfully critiques his/her exercise plan. I was shocked by how little training this man was doing, and how confident he sounded, and Albus thought that the paper should come and interview me instead: “You should be in the newspaper, Mom.” I explained that the fellow was being profiled not for his excellent triathlon-training, but because he was relatively well-known. But, I said, when my new book comes out, we probably will be able to read some things about me in some newspapers.

The kids were blown away by the idea. That’s when it struck me: Albus and AppleApple were 2 and 14 months, respectively, when Hair Hat came into existence. They had zero awareness of their mother being anything other than their mother. It was news to everyone that, in fact, I’d been in the newspaper when Hair Hat came out, and they thought this was just plain awesome.

But dancing oneself into the public eye involves grabbing for a double-edged sword. I was fortunate enough to read multiple positive reviews of Hair Hat before the first negative review came in, several months post-publication. It gutted me. (Obviously, I recovered). So that’s what I explained to the kids: when the new book gets reviewed, we all have to pray that it falls into the hands of readers who appreciate it. Because no book will please everyone, and there’s much luck-of-the-draw fate that can befall a book. Such is the way of art, and individuality, and taste. Even positive reviews almost always highlight some small flaw, as if to note: nothing’s perfect. Fair enough. Nothing is.

I think this sobered the kids up a bit. Me, too, but for different reasons. Last time around, it was really just me who was affected by the publicity process. I could turn away and bury myself in my babies’ oblivious needs. I identified myself, even in my own head, as “mother,” not “writer,” and that comforted me. This time around, it’s different. I’ve got no babies, nor have I the prospect of more. Instead, I’ve got some interested parties tagging along for the ride. And I’m beginning to wonder: what’s the tipping point at which I become more working-mother and less stay-at-home mother?

It feels like I’ve metamorphosed without noticing, during this long stretch between books.

Almost June

It’s almost June. It doesn’t seem possible that May is nearly over. I have only hung my laundry outside once or twice so far this entire spring; it’s been too rainy and unpredictable. Thankfully, I have a system for hanging laundry inside instead, but it’s not the same.

This coming month will be crowded. I’ve neglected my Week in Suppers installment, as it takes more time than I currently can spare. I would like to find some way to keep that journaling of our daily lives going, but in a more efficient way. I’ve been enjoying Kathleen Winter’s blog wherein she attempts to do one new thing every day. In order to make it manageable, she’s often creative, and the new thing is not necessarily unusual or out of the ordinary, but might be a new way of looking at something, or even just acknowledging that every new day brings new experiences and surprises. Life is interesting.

I will be writing a lot this coming month, as often as I possibly can, in order to rework some critical sections of The Juliet Stories, and because July and August are summer months with unpredictable childcare available. More importantly, I want to be able to enjoy my kids when they’re home, so my goal is to work crazy hard, and then “take life easy.”

Wish me luck. (With both the hard work and the taking life easy).

On being competitive

*Cross-posted from my Swim/Bike/Run blog.*

This morning, I went for a long run. I planned to run 15km, and the idea of the long run is to go fairly slowly. But I found that I didn’t want to go all that slowly. I felt so good! So I let myself run. I ran 15km in an hour and 20 minutes; not quite my half-marathon pace, but close. It is just the best feeling to be able to run and run and run. I decided to stay at my edge, where my breathing was very controlled and rhythmic, and to let myself stay at that pace as long as my breathing stayed sure. I find that in races, I’m running harder, and my breathing gets much heavier. I didn’t want to run that hard.

Today, I thought about how far I’ve come on this journey. I don’t always take time to appreciate it, because as soon as I’ve accomplished something, I’m pushing toward something else. I’ve decided to embrace that part of my personality. It’s just who I am. It’s how I write, too. I’m pleased with a story, and then give it some time and come back and discover that it could be improved, so I work even harder. The story may never be perfect, in my mind, but that doesn’t mean I’m not proud of it. Somehow I’ve found the same pleasure and balance in my running/swimming/cycling. I love doing it. And I love doing it even when I’m pushing myself to go faster and even when it’s hard and it hurts. I love doing it even when I wish I were capable of doing it better. Feeling like I could do better doesn’t discourage me, it has the opposite effect–it makes me want to try even harder. I might have a moment of feeling down (like I do when a story has been rejected, or I read a bad review), but the pain or disappointment only lasts a short while, and before I know it my spirit bounces back with even greater drive and intent.

I think in a funny way, I’m as motivated by failure as I am by success. I’m certainly not afraid of failure. Or of success.

So that’s how I’m thinking about my naturally competitive spirit, these days. I’m coming to terms with it. I’m embracing it. The bar for accomplishment is always of my own setting, and hopefully mostly in line with my actual abilities.

And there’s nothing like running and running and running. Nothing. I can hardly think of anything that brings me greater happiness. Best of all, when I got home from the run, the older kids were waiting and ready to go: we’d agreed to run one or two kilometres together at the end of my run. My son surprised me by running two; my daughter was ready to stop after one (she ran it a bit too fast and got a cramp). What joy to hear my son say: “This is really fun, Mom!”

What a lot to be thankful for.

Snatam Kaur concert

I went to a concert earlier this week. If you want to hear one of the songs, here’s her version of “Long Time Sun,” although her onstage version was less-produced-sounding, and we all got to sing along. In fact, we sang along (or chanted) the entire two-and-a-half hour concert.
During the concert, I was struck by two thoughts that are not quite enormous enough to be called revelations, but nevertheless felt revelatory. The first was that I must stay open to mystery. Not sure why I need the reminder, but maybe in all this literal, physical work I’ve been doing toward the triathlon, I’ve forgotten that it is driven by the spirit, and that without a strong spirit, I wouldn’t be able to do it. It also reminded me that my word of the year is “heart.” Still haven’t figured out much about that (admittedly cliched) word and the year’s almost half over; but there’s a piece of mystery to ponder.
The other thought that came over me powerfully is the fortune of my family: my children, my husband. I was just overwhelmed with gratitude for them.
This whole post sounds cheesy, like most heart-felt things. I thought a lot about my Juliet Stories during the concert, and my hope for them is that they express the heart-felt without being cheesy. But this post is written in haste on a sunny spring afternoon and there is no distillation in it. And that, my friends, is the difference between story and blog.

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