Category: Writing

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

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

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

A little glamour for your snowy Friday morning

What happened to the past two days?

Well, yesterday was spent organizing digital photos for the year. Ugh. It’s one of those things that has to be done that didn’t used to have to be done. Remember film? Remember prints? Here’s my digital method: I order prints of, say, the top 300 photos of the year right around now, in time to be put into albums for Christmas. It’s tedious work, but someone’s got to do it. If we want to keep these photos, that is. Poor Fooey’s babyhood is essentially unrecorded due to an awkward family switchover from film to digital. And she was the cutest baby ever. I don’t want any more eras to disappear; or at least not due to negligence on my part.

So that was yesterday.

Today, I’m going to post the blog I should have written on Wednesday. Yes, I’m behind the times. This is yesterday’s news. But what lovely news it is: on Tuesday evening, Canada’s literary scene got all glammed up for the biggest literary prize we’ve got going on here. The Giller Prize! And my publisher, Anansi, was there with TWO books on the shortlist. They posted a behind-the-scenes slideshow if you want a peek inside. Ah. It will make you want to drink champagne while wearing something sparkly.

Once upon a time, I got to attend the Gillers. I was 24. I dropped the better part of a pay cheque on a glamorous outfit, arrived early, sat at the back with fellow books section types and drank and ate and had so much fun. A little glamour goes a long way, especially in an industry not really renowned for the glitz. Let me tell you, sitting here in my sweater thinking about semi-colons: nothing but hot.

Now, I’m not super-connected to the CanLit scene, having spent the past decade being mostly-mom-at-home in the wilds of Waterloo, but still. The CanLit scene is like Six Degrees of Separation minus a few degrees. So I can say that my editor edited two of the books on the list (that’s pretty sweet.) And I can say that I read at an event with this year’s winner, Esi Edugyan, back when we were both promoting our first books. If I say I knew back then she’d win prizes someday it will sound less like intuition than hindsight, but man, I just knew she’d win prizes.

Anyone else looking forward to reading through this year’s nominees? Any books you wish would have made the list? Got any six-degrees-of-separation connections you’d like to share?


Oh, and on a side-note: I’m developing a weird hankering for an electronic reading device. Anyone? Anyone? Kindle? Kobo? I do love books, the objects themselves, don’t get me wrong. But I keep having thoughts like, wouldn’t it be cool to, say, watch a video about an author after reading a book? Do e-books have features like that? They should. I so often finish a book and want more. I want to hear the author telling me where she got her ideas, or where she grew up, or how she feels about her characters. Know what I mean? That would be a very appealing addition to any book.


PS Yes, that’s a photo of my new office!!!!!!! Electrical work needs doing today. I’m moving in on the weekend. Can you believe it?! Me neither.

How much do you care about a question mark (?)

Ah, the best laid plans. I am sitting at my desk and working, and sat and worked most of yesterday too, but I’m not writing reams of words into a new book; instead I’m going over the final copy edits for The Juliet Stories, which arrived on Wednesday afternoon. I was almost afraid to open the file. When Hair Hat was being published, lo these many years ago, I enjoyed every stage of the editing process … right up until we got to the copy editing. Suddenly, I disagreed with the editor, and strongly. You’ll remember that my one real job was at a newspaper where I worked my way up to being a copy editor. So I was feeling pretty confident that I’d turned in a clean manuscript to my publisher.

But the copy editor didn’t think so.

And, listen, she was right and I was right. We were both right. The copy editor’s job is to use a fine-toothed comb and to insist on grammatical correctness and stylistic consistency, by which I mean adherence to the style guide used by the publisher, and not style as in stylish. And that was where we disagreed. I wrote Hair Hat in a deliberately flat and uninflected (stylish) style. I didn’t even use question marks. I wanted the reader to arrive at conclusions without being dragged there by me, the author. The copy editor wanted all questions to end with a question mark.

I just couldn’t do it. It sounds ridiculous to get upset over punctuation, but by God, I just could not compromise. And it pained me. I like to make people happy (even more so at the time than I do now.)

So when the copy edits landed on Wednesday afternoon accompanied by a long message from my editor explaining the process, I went all fear and trembling. It’s been a fabulous editing process up until now. Would the copy edits do me in? Well, I’m only about halfway through them now, but the answer so far has been a gentle, no. These copy edits will not do me in. Am I a more relaxed person, now, than I was before? Is my (stylish) style in The Juliet Stories more compatible with traditional grammar? Or have I just accepted that some disagreement will be part of the process, and conflict doesn’t upset my stomach in the same way that it once did?

I have to go with door number three. I’m still a pretty finicky person. I can get very excited over a semi-colon, let me tell you. And my (stylish) style in The Juliet Stories, though different from Hair Hat, is unique, and sometimes idiomatic rather than grammatically correct. I don’t always agree with what the copy editor has suggested, but I’m okay with that; we don’t have to agree about everything, and I get that this time around. She’s done a bang-up job on this book. The fact checking is amazing. And I’m taking notes on her highly effective use of italics.

I’m back at it again today. Thankfully without dread.

Where does that leave my ambitions for a November writing month? I’m sticking with the original plan, just pushing the start date back by a few days. The copy edits are due back at the publisher on Tuesday morning. The amazing thing is that the builders say my new office will be DONE by Wednesday. In some strange confluence of otherwise unconnected endings and beginnings, that means that I will start my new book in my new office, having dotted all i’s and crossed all t’s on this one.

It’s too much to think about. So I’m off to think about italics instead.

Yes, this photo is blurred. But within the blur, the colours seem brighter, and the body positions more expressive. I should make something of that. Observe that it mimics our perception of time when mothering small children, the way the days disappear into a blur, and some small detail remains in memory, a flash of colour, a story that gets passed down and requested at bedtime.

Today, I am thinking about motivation. I am thinking about sitting down at my desk and writing into a story that may or may not become a novel that may or may not succeed. What keeps me sitting back down and writing more, not knowing what may come of it? I think it must be hope. I’ve read that people with depression have an inability to imagine the future; instead, they see an unchanging blank. I’ve got whatever is the opposite, though it’s got its downsides, too. Let’s call it an over-active imagination. I get excited about the future based on the slimmest of evidence. My happiest daydreams fling me far and wide through adventure and thrill and accomplishment. “What was I just thinking about?” I’ll wonder, returning to earth with a glowing feeling, and then I’ll remember, oh yes, I was thinking about being interviewed by Eleanor Wachtel. Or about training as a midwife and travelling to Central America to practice. Or about recording myself playing an original song on the piano and becoming a star on YouTube. Heh.

Is it healthy to daydream such big, such ridiculous, such clearly out-of-reach dreams? I’m not sure. But some of the things I’ve dreamed have come true. I dreamed of becoming a published writer, long before anyone else would have dreamed it of me. I dreamed of motherhood. I dreamed of completing a triathlon before I could even swim. Of course, the original dream was that I could become an Olympic triathlete, and reality whittled that fantasy back down to size. But that’s okay. Even if the original dream was wildly over-ambitious, it sent me on a path toward actual achievement.

Almost always (or is that always always?) the daydream is realized in watered-down and compromised form. Reality has mosquitos and critics and temper tantrums. It has limitations. Daydreams don’t.

Lately, I’ve been daydreaming about writing this story. I would like to sit down and just do it, but I seem to need the daydreams to carry me over the fear of failure, the doubt that it will add up to anything special. I also need tangible goals. So I’m going to do something I’ve never tried before. I’m going to write in volume. I’m going to participate in November’s National Novel-Writing Month, even though I’ve disdained it for years (who can force the muse to show her face?) It’s abbreviated as Na-No-Wri-Mo for the hashtag on Twitter, and I’m going to tweet my progress. My goal is 30,000 words by the end of the month.

Because daydreams are shiny happy places in which to linger, but you have to get to work if you’re going to leave a flash of colour in the blur of reality.

Today is a perfect fall day and I will sit at my desk and write

Today is a perfect fall day, crisp, pale blue sky threaded with grey clouds.

Today, I will sit at my desk and write.

Today, I will enjoy this cup of coffee and wish for a second one.

Today, I did not get up early for yoga. When the alarm sounded, I turned it off and crawled back into dreamland.

Today, I ate porridge for breakfast, plus an egg with toast.

Today, I kissed and hugged four children, reminded them repeatedly to get ready for school, listened to them play the piano, and bribed one of them to go to math club once a week.

Today, the builders arrived to continue their work.

Today, I will sit at my desk and make up stories about characters I’ll never get to meet in real life.

Today, I pause to remember my Gramps. Once, he took me to see wild horses. Mustangs. It was sadder than I thought it would be. I was ten or eleven. The mustangs were corralled for sale on a ranch, of sorts. I remember dust. I don’t know what my Gramps thought of it all. What the wild horses meant to him. I think he appreciated the atmosphere of wheeling and dealing. But I know he loved horses, too, like I did. When I think of him, I think of horses.

Today is a perfect fall day, yellow leaves on green grass, and the frost lifted by the sun.

Today, I will write something for Gramps.

Climbing hills and trees: more thoughts on motherhood and work

How to pare down today’s thoughts into a blog-worthy parcel? First, I want to say thank you to the many who added their comments and experiences to the working-mom meets stay-at-home-mom post. So much food for thought. And I’ve been hungry. Here’s where your thoughts led me:

1. Six-and-a-half years ago, I read an essay by Carol Shields that both comforted me and rung true. In it, she offered the idea that there is enough time. She was writing the essay while dying of breast cancer, but even for dying, she wrote, there is enough time. When she was younger, she worried about fitting everything in, but in each stage of life, she discovered time enough. It wasn’t that she could do everything all at once, it was that she honoured and lived out each stage.

I loved that idea (still do). That I could enter fully into intense hands-on motherhood and take my time. And when the stage passed, I could enter fully into whatever came next. And in my untested theory, somehow those years of intense motherhood would be an asset to whatever came next: all the juggling of multiple demands and scheduling and coping with crises and being nurse / healer / calm-amidst-the-storm / psychiatrist / chef / chauffeur / event planner / and on and on as the moment required would be valued, and would add value to whatever I chose to do next.

A couple of big assumptions in my theory. a) That employers would value experience that couldn’t be validated or quantified. b) That careers could be built overnight or slipped into like a pair of shoes. c) That I would get to choose my career like an item picked off a menu. d) That I would have a clear idea of whatever came next. e) That the intense hands-on motherhood stage would pass.

Reading your thoughts, it struck me: my theory is entirely unproven. I’ve spent six years quietly and confidently assuming everything would fall into place at the right time. (And who knows, stranger things have happened.) But let’s just say things don’t. Let’s observe that intense motherhood doesn’t pass, exactly, things just calm down somewhat. Even a decade on, it’s still pretty intense (with children ages 10, 8, 6 and 3). Meeting their needs continues to occupy a large portion of my mind and my time. The stages of life, therefore, aren’t so clear-cut and tidy.

2. Beyond that, I’m feeling a deeper appreciation for the work that career-building takes. Success in a chosen field isn’t something you can step into. It’s a slow build, a steady climb; you have to be there in order to make connections and to stumble into the right place at the right moment. It takes hard work and commitment. And time. Time and commitment that I’ve chosen to put into my home life and my children. Not into a career.

3. But: At the expense of a career? I still refuse to believe that. Especially because I have been (slowly) building a career as a fiction writer, and, yes, it’s taken time and commitment. But as most writers of fiction will tell you, this ain’t a career known for wild profiting; or even, in all honesty, breaking even. Which brings me to …

4. How much do I prioritize financial independence? I am in a marriage with a supportive partner who has shouldered the burden of our expenses ever since we started having children (you could say, conversely, that I’ve shouldered the burden of caring for our children during that time; and that perhaps we both have made sacrifices–and gains–in this arrangement.) I realize that I’m fortunate even to be able to ask this question, but, if I had to choose between nurturing my creative life and becoming financially independent, which would it would be? Because, let’s be realistic, it may be that there isn’t time to be a mother, and a writer, AND a [fill in the blank] money-earner. At least not all at once.

5. Feminism. One reader commented that her mother strongly prioritized financial independence, for herself and by extension for her daughters; and I know my own mom was troubled by her lack of financial independence, and hoped for better for her daughters. I haven’t done much better, not yet. Why does this weigh on me? (Because it does.)

And, finally …

6. Experimenting freely. Does all of this worry and analysis leave out the most important part, the most exciting part, about where I stand, right this second? (Okay, I’m actually sitting.) Because there is so much possibility in the unknown. My imagination runs wild. Sometimes I’m afraid; but mostly, here’s how I want to frame this nebulous whatever comes next stage that no longer seems so well-defined and particular …

**Like I’m marching joyfully up a giant rock in my rubber boots to survey the fields all around.

**Like I’m climbing an old apple tree, not necessarily expecting to find edible fruit, but for the heart-pounding excitement of being up so high; and to test the branches, and my own bravery.

(Now, if you please … tell me what you think.)

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