My editor has returned my book, with the line edits. The treatment is fairly light, except for two stories, one brand-new, which is admittedly underwritten, and the other, which has been a nemesis for years now; both need more work, and quiet thought. Every time I look at her message, a faint wave of fear washes over me. Because it’s summertime. Because my babysitter has extended her stay in Germany through mid-August. Because I may need to spend our week of family holiday, when Kevin has time off, holed up and working, rather than hanging out with my family. There may be — must be — alternatives, but my brain has yet to plot these out. Basically, I need to schedule time away from the children. Quite a lot of time.
July is coming to a close. In my mind, August magically turns into a month of productivity. But what are the children doing, exactly, while I’m confined at my desk, deep in concentration? Imagine us stepping into a parallel universe, one I believed existed pre-motherhood. The children play quietly at my feet; the older ones fetch snacks for the younger ones; no one poops; no one makes up songs with lyrics offensive to anyone else, and sure to draw ire; birds chirp and soft breezes soothe through open windows; words flow from my fingertips; we all wear crisply ironed linens — why not?; their hair is brushed and their nails are clipped and supper will be a picnic already prepared and waiting for us in a basket. As soon as I’ve solved this tricky handling of plot and character — no, it won’t take long — we will dance merrily outside to the bug-free, itch-free grass to eat it.
Alternatively, I need to find some childcare options, and mark out on the calendar a bank of whole days and weeks, and get this done. Yikes. Here comes August.
Last week was a hard one for me. Home alone (with the children), I thought, well, I’ll think of it as a holiday. But it didn’t feel like a holiday. It felt like me, home alone with the children, with no writing time. It felt like in one short week, I’d lost the ability to talk coherently to grownups. My patience was thin. My envy of anyone with a job outside the home was thick. Note to all mothers of young children who read this blog and wonder how the heck I do the things that I do: I do those things while other people look after my children. There’s no secret to it, really. When I’m home alone with my children, I can barely string together a sentence without interruption. It’s a recipe for madness, not for insightful thought.
(I write this while one child quizzes me in multiple choice form and we all stare out the window at a man with a hammer breaking apart some copper piping in front of our house — not our piping, but I’m guessing he didn’t come by it honestly; but as I’m sitting in my bathing suit because it’s really really hot, and though the kids have suggested it, I’m not going to approach the man with the hammer to ask what he’s doing on our sidewalk).
Neither, really. But this morning, I got up early and went to a yoga class: my first in nearly two weeks. A short list for mental survival arrived. I must write this down and remember it, I thought. Why is it so hard to remember the little things that make life better? And then to step out of inertia to do them?
– yoga, for meditation and quiet thought
– writing, journalling
– reading poetry
And while this week alone with children is not a holiday, and it’s not going to be productive work-wise either, it is time with my children, unstructured together-time. We made an attempt at an adventure this morning. It didn’t really turn out (too many mosquitoes), but everyone enjoyed it. “This really is an adventure!” someone said, as we fled the woods amidst a storm of bugs. This week, I’m going to write a bit more, hang out a bit more, and yoga a bit more. And not try to wish this summer into something it’s not.
My friend Rebecca wrote this thought-provoking post on ‘thin spaces’, the Celtic concept of places (or moments) where the spirit world comes very near to our world. We can reach through and touch it; or it brushes us. She asked where we find our thin spaces. It might be a physical place, or it might be an experience. It might be something we can seek out, or it might be something that we can’t, that just comes upon us.
Here is my short list, the things that jumped immediately into my mind:
– being with someone during labour and birth
– sometimes while writing, when the words seem to come from beyond me
– when someone reads a poem out loud
– when my body is working very hard and my mind becomes very quiet
I was out with my siblings last night (and Kevin!), and I was thinking about how all five of us Snyder kids are both creative and impractical (thank heavens Kevin is practical). I don’t mean we’re disorganized or incapable of functioning in the world, but I do think we look at some practical things, such as work and earning a living, differently. Somehow, we must have been raised to value the making of things more than the buying of things. I think within that is some quiet value, never spoken of, of thin spaces. And our thin spaces maybe aren’t that profitable, but we were raised to choose unprofitable over practical if unprofitable feeds us in other ways.
I think many people choose the work they choose because it brings them closer to those thin spaces. What’s your work? Does it take you to unexpected moments or places of peace / calm / meditation / joy / insight / grace / giving / acceptance / fill-in-the-blank-with-your-word-for-a-thin-space?
I made a budget earlier this week. There are certain fixed expenses that I cover every month, out of my writing. I had a sneaking suspicion that output was higher than input, and unsustainable, so I checked. This probably sounds ridiculous–shouldn’t I know exactly how much is going in and coming out? Yes, I should.
Looking at finances, for me, takes facing some demons. Sometimes I wonder if this is my last frontier, a foggy wasteland into which I’m afraid to venture. My parents fought a lot about money when they were married (to each other, I mean). One of the things I’ve appreciated about Kevin is that we spend money quite similarly, and almost always have similar financial goals. But the truth is that I also step back a lot, or worse, close my eyes and just say, you go ahead, honey, and make the decisions. I’d rather not know.
It’s strange. This desire not to know. To be deliberately in the dark.
But I have my own bank account, too. And my own expenses–largely childcare. And my own income. Which is sporadic and not-to-be-relied-upon and if I had to support our family on it, we would live in someone’s basement. Maybe yours. You’d have to feed us, too.
Where was I? Oh, yes. Tracking a path toward financial non-ignorance. My conclusion is that I will need to earn more money this year. I haven’t got enough socked away to cover the truly high costs of childcare. But without childcare, I am looking after these kids by myself, and there is no way to look after kids full-time and to write, too. Or to do anything that requires being out of the home, away from the kids. Want to know why parents are so happy about proposals like all-day every-day kindergarten? Check out the cost of childcare; which, by the way, is a pretty underfunded vocation, given that for childcare to make sense, it has to cost less than what the parents are earning by not doing the childcare themselves. There’s my feminist rant for the day.
Anyway, my brainstorming went something like this:
ways to earn $ – ??
Can you see why I fantasize about being a midwife? I think it’s the stable steady work that appeals as much as anything. If I were a midwife, I could join a clinic, I could practice, and I would know how much money would be coming in every single month. None of the options above offer any sliver of stability, at least not as I am currently practicing any of them.
A former boss of mine, who is a writer, made a very funny/for serious flier advertising his services: “January Blowout Sale. Book writer now and save 20%.”
I’m wondering … should I do something of the sort? Pitch, advertise, apply? (All of which take significant time and energy, too, of course). Or should I just keep doing what I’ve always done, which is to carve out bits of time, write and work, and sometimes get lucky–just often enough to keep the bank account at a slightly stable level. It seems such a haphazard way to construct a career. And that’s what I want–a career, not a hobby.
Note: beautiful photo of clover and shoe-print by AppleApple.
I keep starting this post, then erasing the words and trying again. I’ve been wondering how best to express my feeling of gratitude for the support and luck that make possible the arc of my days.
I am grateful to be able to send my children to school and nursery school where they are nurtured by caring teachers. I am grateful that I have a babysitter who picks my youngest up from nursery school three days a week, walks patiently home with him, feeds him lunch, plays with him, and loves him, so that I can write (that she happens to be a qualified teacher in her country of origin, who speaks five languages, is our fortune, too, though I’m rooting for her to get her Canadian qualifications so many more children can benefit from her gifts).
I am grateful to have a grant, and an advance, that allows me to focus on my fiction writing (and pay for said nursery school and babysitting time). I am grateful my husband has a job that covers our household expenses, so that my grant/advance can go toward writing time.
I am grateful for my family’s willingness to make room for my crazy triathlon project, and the countless hours of training it’s required (hours from which they are excluded).
I am grateful to live in a country with universal health care.
I am grateful for clean water from our taps, for fresh ingredients from which to prepare healthy meals, for the shelter and space of our home and yard, for safe sidewalks, and a community-oriented neighbourhood.
I am grateful for all of these things, while knowing that my fortune is neither deserved nor earned, and that the individual pursuits of art and athleticism are gifts. They are not mine for the taking. They could not exist without the offerings of many others, and of even larger, structural offerings that are pure luck: where I was born and to whom. I wonder sometimes how the relative few of us can bear to live with such wealth, when so many live with less than a little. How can I?
What I’m saying is that my gratitude is mixed with guilt, and questioning. What luxury–to train my body to complete an arbitrary task that has nothing to do with real survival. What luxury–to sit and to think and to create in repose, without anxiety or fear or threat. Are my luxuries just for me? Is that how I’m using them, and if so, does that not express greed rather than gratitude?
I’ve noticed an uptick in visitors reading this blog, and it would be a pleasure to hear your voices (thanks, Rebecca, for the inspiration: your post on engagement made me want to invite more engagement and conversation, here, too). So, what are your thoughts on being grateful/guilty? How do you take the luxury of your individual gifts and use them to satisfy something greater than your own comforts and desires?
The child not pictured is inside, upstairs, huddled in his bed, too sick even to enjoy unlimited access to the computer. So we aren’t off to swim in a lake, as planned. If I don’t get another chance to use the wetsuit before the race on Sunday, well, so be it. I’ll swim on Sunday. The sun is shining, the sky is bright, the girls talked all the way home from school (and held hands), and the supper menu is enticing. It is based around the chicken stock I’ve been brewing all day: hot and sour soup for those of us so inclined, and miso for everyone else, with pasta salad on the side.
re writing: The last story didn’t get finished today, but it got continued, and that was all I could ask of my weary brain. I’ve noticed myself tending to muck around on these last few writing days and suddenly gain inspiration with seventeen minutes left on the clock (avoidance is not my usual style, but with this story I’ve begun to appreciate the kick-in-the-pants of working under pressure).