So far, this morning has been less than productive. I wonder, is it the post-reading feeling of calm? Is it the three previous mornings of rising well before dawn? Is it the empty house, children successfully breakfasted and clothed and shuffled off in their various ways to their various schools?
Whatever it is, I am not cutting with efficiency through my writing day. There are a few small edits to make on a few of the Juliet stories. Otherwise, I’m facing brand new projects. One is a bit like poetry, and can’t bear more than an hour’s concentration at a time. I am taking photos from the 365 project and pairing them with words. But I can’t tell whether or not they’re any good. The results have so far been rather koan-like. Mysterious. Do they bear scrutiny? How can I tell? Any visual artists out there willing to look and to comment?
My other projects are in the thinking stage. I have two ideas for two different novels. Yes, novels. Not stories. I know, it’s so unlike me. But after reading Kate Atkinson’s Left Early, Took My Dog, I have a hankering to write a mystery. It’s an old hankering, actually. I have long admired the tidiness of mystery plotting. When I’m down and out, a mystery is what I turn to.
During my last yoga class, an entire plot plunked itself plain and simple into my brain. This is unprecedented. Characters plunk themselves into my brain. Emotions. Landscape. Props. The colouration of scenes. But the solidity of plot has never been my gift. So I am intrigued and curious to begin, and yet I think, not yet. I’ve jotted it down for later.
The other novel project is based on an older manuscript that I discovered when we cleared off a shelf in our bedroom. I couldn’t stop reading it. It’s funny and light and particular. It was written as entertainment, not to be deep. Which isn’t saying it’s superficial, just that it isn’t The Juliet Stories. It isn’t quite so literary. And it’s really funny.
All these projects seem so different from what I’ve been working on. Scattered. I need to find focus. But maybe that’s not what’s meant to happen on this Friday morning. On this Friday morning, I’m treating myself to a second cup of coffee and a lazy happy drifting mind.
I couldn’t get the poster to upload, but wanted to let you know that I’m reading tonight in downtown Kitchener at The Museum (formerly known as the Children’s Museum). Doors open at 7pm, but the readings don’t start till 7:30. It’s a free event. I don’t know whether or not there will be drinks available. Should have asked.
Back from my early morning swim, feeling buoyant. Seems to be the feeling I get after my early morning swims. Could also be due to a piece of good news received in the mail yesterday. I opened the non-descript envelope hurriedly, on my way into the house to turn down the crockpot, with CJ waiting in the truck outside in the driveway (yes, I’m that kind of mother; but the truck wasn’t running). I was running late for an appointment, and didn’t want the lentils in the crockpot to scorch. Then I saw the envelope. It was from the Ontario Arts Council, and I knew what that might mean–grant application denied. Or, the opposite. Ripped it open, read the first line, saw the cheque, and began bouncing and screaming. Remembered to turn down the crockpot. Raced outside to tell CJ. Wondered whether I had indeed remembered to turn off the crockpot. Raced back inside to check. Yes, crockpot turned down. Raced back to truck. CJ mildly interested. Should I really be driving under the circumstances? I asked. It was a brief spell of intense joy, and I’ve learned to embrace those spells full-on when they come, because they don’t last, they can’t, and the intensity quickly dissipates. That’s okay. But the huge smile and feeling of goodwill toward all humankind–that was nice. I will try to keep the feeling of goodwill going.
I’ve been writing more regularly on my side-project blog, Swim/Run/Bike Mama (yup, it’s on the triathlon project), and less regularly, perhaps, here. Since finishing the 365-project (apparently, I thrive on projects), I’ve hardly picked up the camera. I am giving myself a full week of breathing before even thinking about what to do next, photography-wise; but one interesting discovery is that out of 365 photos, there are about thirty that stand out, and among those, a few that might just come together to tell an interesting story quite apart from the project and apparent subject matter: ie. I can make something else out of them. Maybe that’s reason enough to continue taking a photo every day. Because at any moment, something lovely is waiting to come into existence (surrounded by a lot of other moments and attempts).
I’m linking to a piece in the National Post by my former boss, Noah Richler: he argues that funding the arts provides a public service quite beyond what can be valued monetarily. The salient point is: some things aren’t done for profit–how do we measure their value? And what does what we value and support say about our country?
And, you know, on a very personal level my thinking has been heading this way, too: questioning my compulsion to evaluate what I do in a very black and white, cost-versus-profit manner. I wrote a few posts back about wanting to be independent, financially. That’s not a superficial desire. On the other hand, it doesn’t take into account–or value–all the ways that I do support my family and contribute, ways that aren’t and probably can’t be compensated in a “fair” way. In our marriage, we try not to do too much horse-trading, ie. I did the dishes so you have to put the kids to bed. Because that just creates a feeling of unfairness: maybe the dishes are worth only two kids being put to bed; or maybe on that particular evening, the kids need a bath, which is more time-consuming, so it should be worth an extra round of dish-washing; or … well, you see where I’m going with this. In the same way, there is no way of measuring the effort that goes into, say, writing a book, and compensating it “fairly.”
Do I need to be financially independent? That’s a really personal question, I guess. I haven’t got an answer yet. But I’m interested in all the reasons that maybe, maybe that question throws me off track. Maybe it’s a red herring. Maybe the question is: can I accept that the work I’ve chosen to do may never be compensated at a rate that would allow me to be financially independent? What matters? Is it money?
Post-yoga thought: guidance. Sometimes it takes pushing to get to where one wants to go; sometimes all the pushing in the world won’t do it. I’ve had some doors open for me, over the years; and some stay firmly locked.
I’m not a huge fan of waiting for things to come. I prefer to be active. I’m an action verber: a do-er, a go-getter.
But I’ve pushed a whole lot to get to where I am right now (thinking about my writing). And I think it’s time to sit quietly and wait for guidance. That sounds extremely hokey, at least to me, it does. But I think so. I think it’s time. In a good way.
Because my heart, speaking literally, powers my body as I work toward the goal of completing a triathlon and/or half-marathon this year.
Because I live in my head. Because I want to allow myself to respond spontaneously, without checking in with my head. If the heart says do this, I want to. At least, most of the time. Okay, even some of the time. (I’m a little bit afraid of giving myself over to my heart; I sense that mistakes will be made; I sense also that mistakes must be made).
Because of love, compassion, empathy. Because in my efficiency, I am sometimes deficient in these most important gifts.
Because it’s a challenging word, filled with challenging ideas, for me.
Because I want to explore other aspects of myself, even if it means just pushing ever so slightly against the seeming-solidity of who I am, right now.
But I’m keeping spirit, last year’s word. I nominate it to be word of the decade, an umbrella under which I will develop different aspects of the spirit. What does spirit mean, to me? It means the life unseen, not of this world, and yet expressed within this world, through words and deeds. It means: there’s more to life than what can be seen. It means mystery. It means being moved. Being open. Being emptied out to make room for God, for the divine.
My poetry book club met for the third time on Saturday evening. We were unable to get copies of the book we’d planned on reading, a collection by Giller-winner Johanna Skibsrud (Gaspereau Press, we suspect, is even now hand-sewing the binding in readiment for shipment by ox-cart); so instead, we all brought favourite poems to share. We were giddy. It was ridiculously fun. We are getting to know each other that much better. And best of all, there’s poetry. I was deeply moved by a number of the poems, unexpectedly moved, caught off guard: ah, there’s my heart, opening.
Being moved by a poem. It feels of enormous significance to me, right now, as I struggle to balance my ambitions and my sense of self, to figure out what matters, and why.
To create something that moves someone else, it’s a strange talent. It might not even be a talent, but a gift, given and taken away on a whim. It’s also a strange thing to want to do: to express the mysterious, to give it shape and form, and to share the beauty, joy, grief, loneliness, ache with others. It’s not a profitable enterprise. It’s not of this world.
My new year’s anomie seems to be somewhat late-flowering; 2010 was a fine, fine year, and it seemed, at its end, that perhaps nothing needed changing, not a whit. Four weeks in, and it suddenly seems everything needs changing.
I’m conscious of my underlying desire to be independent, financially; not because my survival depends on it, but because, as Fran Lebowitz says in an interview in Bust magazine: “Here is the key to independence: earn your own money … This is true of life–people who are paying you, whether they are paying for you like parents who pay for children or paying like a boss pays an employee, they’re in charge of you. You don’t want someone to be in charge of you? Don’t take their money.”
Now, I am in a marriage I consider happy, in a partnership I consider equal; nevertheless, the fact that I earn next to nothing, that I rely on Kevin to support our family financially, bothers me, and it has for a long time. I read that Fran L. interview on Saturday and it went click in my brain: the key to independence. (I read it out to Kevin, too, and he understood). I wish I could say that writing were my key to independence; but it’s not. If my family relied on my earnings, I would have to do something else, use my current skill-set in a different way; and I can’t think of any job I’d want to do that would use my current skill-set. And so, I continue to return to the question: do I want to retrain? Do I want to gain a new skill-set? Do I want to equip myself for an entirely different job?
It’s not that I imagine myself never writing, were I to earn my money differently. It’s that I imagine myself writing the way most writers write: look around–most writers, even successful writers, have day-jobs. The most successful writers, those earning a reasonable living from their writing, work their tails off pitching stories, writing grant requests, and working freelance from job to job until they become Mordecai Richler and editors come to them with story-requests (and I happen to know that Mordecai Richler was an extremely hard-working and not at all precious writer).
I’m not much good at pitching stories. I work pretty slowly. My overall interest, when I write, is to make something lovely, not to earn money.
And that is why I come back to the idea of retraining and earning my living in another way. Earning my living, period. I’ve given myself the imaginary deadline of CJ entering school, which is in a year and a half, when he starts kindergarten. I will be thirty-seven, not too old, I think, to start something new.
I’m not sure that heart relates remotely to this dilemma. Or, maybe it does and I haven’t puzzled out how, yet.
Little wee writing thought to record for future use (I hope) … I’ve noticed that I write the good stuff, the inspired stuff, in small batches, often unexpectedly, though also often when I have the time to hang around and spiral slowly down deep. The corollary of that phenomenon is that I spend many a writing day fooling around, sitting around in front of the computer, slightly bored, not inspired, and writing nothing of any substance or use. (And I don’t mean blog entries, because I consider those relatively useful, and, even, occasionally, substantial). I mean, I write nothing of use. Period. Type, type, type, only to realize that a particular story or a particular take on a story is not meant to be; worse, that it isn’t a necessary story. It doesn’t long to be. (Though sometimes these ideas get recycled many years later). (So, maybe not useless, or not always useless).
Ahem. Nice circular thinking here, OCM. Very clear-headed at 10:41pm, after a good night run around the snowy neighbourhood.
My point. I had one. I want to give myself the freedom to do something else on those writing days of useless effort. Because the writing will get done–it gets done when a necessary story arises and must be told. It does. That’s how I write the keepers. Yet I feel guilty because only a few days each week are meant for writing, and I go to great effort and some expense to clear the house of children, in order to write. And then along comes a writing day when I’m not inspired, not at all. What the heck to do? Can I free myself of the guilt and …. and there my imagination pulls up short. And, what? Go for a walk or a run? To a yoga class? Play the piano? Read a book? Write a letter? It has to be something spontaneous, not planned, something flexible. It doesn’t have to be the same something every time, either. I’m terrified of losing my discipline; but maybe all this discipline is robbing me of experiences, of sources, of alternative creative outlets that could create connections in my mind; and it’s the connections that invent necessary stories.
Maybe there are some new year’s resolutions waiting for me after all. I am a generalist, and I wonder what it would feel like, what it would take, to be passionate about something more specific. Being a good writer is a fine and lovely thing, but being a good writer without a subject is futility itself. The book I’m writing has a very specific subject, and it’s occupied my mind for a number of years; and I’m seeing an end in sight. What comes next? What are my obsessions, my subjects, my loves?
Word of the year … I’ve got one; but I’m holding out for another post to share it. I don’t have that post in me tonight.