Category: Writing

Cracks in the plans

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This week has not been the easiest. We’re halfway through January and already I’m seeing cracks in my new year’s plans. My hip creaks (literally) and I need a training plan that will accomodate returning me to injury-free status (no long runs for a little while? I’m ever so slightly panicked at the thought). I haven’t taken a Sunday photo today. The weekends are proving more packed than anticipated. I sense the dropping of many balls. I’m probably dropping several right now as I sit and type in my dark office instead of heading for the dinner table.

….

And I’m back. Decided to head for the dinner table when the cries for Mommy grew too strident. They need me at the dinner table. I need to be there too, catching what’s falling, in touch with the many moods.

And there are many moods. Disappointments to walk alongside. Hopes. Plots and plans. Energy that might be silly and outrageous or emptied out and low. Sadness. Grumpiness. Sibling unkindness. Siblings racing around and egging each other into greater and greater goofiness.

Tonight my mind is occupied, too, by tomorrow’s publicity meeting tomorrow with Anansi. I hope to return with good news to share, and good energy to share, too. I’m entering into a new stage of this book’s life, and I have very little control over what happens next: how the book is received. It’s a tough stage for me. How to let go? How to be graciously accepting, no matter what? How not to dwell or muddle or worry or fret? There may not be an easy answer. Sometimes just gutting through is the only answer I’ve got.

Window on writing

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I’ve been reading Charles Foran’s biography of Mordecai Richler. It’s a fat book and I’m not even halfway through, but already lines are jumping off the page. I’m deeply intrigued by the portrait of the formative writer–the kid, no more than twenty, who set off to Europe cadging money from any willing family member or friend, working as if possessed, carousing, ambitious. That’s what strikes me most about his formative years, when he was writing frantically and receiving nothing but rejection letters–the sheer volume of his ambition. Of course, in part what he displays is youth. And he had talent even if it was awfully raw at that point in his life. He had luck too. Just before he left Europe to return to Montreal, broke, just twenty-one, he found an agent who admired his potential, and helped him see his way into this life he was demanding for himself.

Charles Foran writes about what might have happened, had Richler not been found and professionally validated; he had a lead on a job at the CBC and in fact worked there briefly writing news copy; but not for long. “By 1952, CBC radio and the new television network were already the destination of choice for those with talent and culture who dared not risk seeing if they could really make a go of it as artists…” [my emphasis]

Guess what Mordecai Richler dared to do?

What elements make up the personality of someone willing, as Foran writes, “to hustle, do what was required. … Henceforth, he would be freelance, his own master and servant. Without security. Without nets.” Brash? Egocentric? Bold? Calculating? Intensely focused? In many ways, it’s not the nicest personality, is it? It can’t really be. You can’t worry about pleasing others, or meeting conventional expectations. It helps not to be apologetic in your approach. Why apologize for being who you are?

(Side question: Does this apply mainly to male artists? Personally, I don’t think so, though traditionally it’s been less acceptable for women to be unapologetic in their ambitions. Now where the heck does motherhood fit into the bold/brash/intensely focused rubric?).

One more thing. Around this same time, Richler wrote to his editor Diana Athill: “Often I think I don’t like or dislike writing, it’s just something I’ve got to do.”

I read those words and felt like something in me had been struck. Yes.

:::

This week has been a flurry. There’s a lot of hustling going on. At various moments during any given day it feels like I’m keeping up; not keeping up; almost keeping up; hanging on by sheer will; taking a tumble; staying with it; losing track; back in the game; organized; overwhelmed. But mostly, okay.

I’m okay because I keep landing on this thought that completely amazes me: I’m doing what I want to do. No, you know, it’s even more amazing than that: I’m doing what I’ve got to do.

Who begins too much?

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Found this German saying in the newspaper this morning: “Who begins too much accomplishes little.”

Uh oh. Is that me? As I woke at 5am, churned away at spin class, got home, ate breakfast, threw laundry in washer, thought about working on the writing project I’m developing, checked email instead, received message on how to use my camera better, spent next hour and a half playing with camera settings and taking random photos around the house, finally sat down at desk to work and started a new blog post. This one.

All the while, this is my morning to work while Kev hangs out with the kids. ie. my time is limited! And what have I done? Is it my habit to dart from project to project, from activity to activity, never fully developing the potential of any?

Maybe my word of the year should be focus. Or choose. Or limits.

Ugh. I don’t want a word like that. I want to do too many things. Not just do them, but master them, become expert at them. IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK?

(Yes it is, at least all at once, if experience is any guide.)

But everything in me wants to deny it. Wants to embrace the opportunities, chase all interests, learn with a hungry and curious mind.

Look at it this way:

**This morning I challenged my body and put in time and effort toward racing goals this summer.

**This morning I ate breakfast with my kids.

**This morning I learned something new and useful: how to adjust the aperture and shutter speed settings on my camera manually, and what effect these previously mysterious numbers have on the outcome of the photos I take every day.

**This morning I recorded, briefly, where my mind is at.

**This morning I connected with friends in person and via email.

And now I am going to open a word processing file and spend an hour, **this morning, working on The Big Fat Juicy Belly Worm. Yup. My project in development is a story for children. I read the first chapter to my kids last night, and I think they’d like to hear another one. What could be more motivating?

Sorry, German saying. You’re probably right, but I’m going with my manic energy this morning.

***

On a completely different note, this blog post titled “Read and Loved in 2011” by The Keepin’ It Real Book Club reached out of the blue and touched me **this morning. Read it and see for yourself.

Snow falling on resolutions

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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.)

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