That title is grammatically incorrect. Forgive me. It sounds perfect to my ears.
Here it is: good news, arriving in my inbox and waiting for me to get home from running errands on bicycle yesterday, with kids shouting in the stroller behind. I was so busy that I only had time to skim the message once before jumping back into the other projects in my life, namely, cooking, laundry, and children. (Laundry: how can there be so much of you? you never give up).
This was news from my other life, the one where I’m a writer. It was a long message from my editor, who had finished reading the draft of The Juliet Stories I sent awhile back. I’d written many new stories for the revision, and was praying she would like where I’d taken the book.
First, the “bad” news, which is easy to swallow: I will need to rework two stories from the opening section, possibly combining them into one. I like her suggestion to combine the two and will put on my thinking cap. I’m pretty much always up to a good challenge. I will have a month or so to do this. I estimate it will take me three full long days of work, assuming the ideas flow. If they don’t; well, I won’t go there. Why assume the worst?
Because the best is the rest of my editor’s message, of which I’ll share my favourite part here. The hard work, the isolated hours, the years of doubt, all add up to: “My heart was in my throat as I read these new stories.” Emotional connection: it’s what I crave for my writing. I also appreciated, and read with much relief, the line: “The book is cohering so beautifully now …”
I like to think this “Obscure Canlit Mama” blog, now in its third year, had something to do with the creation of The Juliet Stories. It’s brought me connections with other writers; allowed me to be vulnerable; and it’s given me permission to embrace myself as a writer. Sometimes just saying something out loud is enough to make it real.
And now to spend a weekend celebrating by eating cheese, swimming in a lake (I hope–in my borrowed wetsuit), and communing with friends who’ve been with me since I was way more mama than writer. (I’m still way more mama than writer, but I’m not intensive-pregnant-nursing-mama anymore; and somehow that’s changed how I imagine my life and explore other parts of the whole. They’re out of the cocoon, in a way, and so am I).
One last thing. My editor also described The Juliet Stories as “deeply feminist,” which surprised me. It’s not that I don’t see myself as feminist (I do! I am!), but I never imagined writing with the intention of expressing a political viewpoint. I hope she means that the book explores the emotional and physical potential in women’s lives. I do think of my characters, especially the women, as free, somehow; or as free as any human being can be, to claim their own lives and essential selves, and to make choices beyond the boundaries of gender, while still understanding and partaking in the potential of their bodies. “My soul felt decidedly less shrunken when I’d finished reading it,” my editor wrote.
Next up: a complicated rewrite for two thematically linked stories. Followed by the line edit. Followed by … book cover design? Copy editing? And the big intake of breath before the finished book exists and hits stores, and makes its attempt to kick out a place for itself in the tough and largely indifferent world. If I learned anything from the first time around, it’s to enjoy the moments when they come, and not try to put them away and save them for later. Enjoy in a big way. Laugh, cry, shout. Forget muted gestures. There is no way to store the rush of immediacy. Which is why I let myself bask in the feeling of relief yesterday afternoon, in the midst of busyness. Ahhhh.
Monday supper. Ginger beef in crockpot, with tofu and brocolli. Baked rice on the side. The kids were off school today, but Kevin had to go to work (Easter Monday). I swam and ran early, and napped early, too, before Kevin left for work. I managed to file a story while the kids played. Or maybe they played wii, truth be told. In the afternoon, the kids and I went to a super-delicious “soup party” to which I contributed a big cake-shaped paska. It rained most of the day, but the kids played outside — soccer and hockey. We dashed home to get changed for swim lessons. CJ and I had many long chats about going in the pool alone, and he mostly said, “NO!” but was swayed, sort of, by the idea of a treat afterward (oh bribery!). When we arrived at the pool, my heart fell — his regular teachers were both sick; two substitutes instead. It turned out not to matter, though; the teachers kindly let me get in the water, too, and CJ willingly went with them, while occasionally leaping with a fake pout toward me. Mid-lesson we took a bathroom break (curses! this happens every time!), and when we got back, the kids were putting on life-jackets and playing with toys. CJ was thrilled. He didn’t even noticed when I climbed out of the water, and he waved happily to me for the rest of the lesson. Afterward, he got his treat: to spend a quarter at the candy machines. Of course the other kids got in on the quarter action, too. Dentist appointment next week. Is this a case of short-term gain for long-term pain? We squeezed in drum and guitar lessons after eating supper together. Kevin practiced soccer at 10pm.
Tuesday supper. Roasted red pepper soup with homemade croutons. Gallo pinto on the side. Green salad. (Gallo pinto is beans and rice fried together: always delicious, and an easy way to use up leftover rice and/or beans). The soup was delicious: I used red peppers roasted and frozen last summer. I had my last spin class of the season (everyone’s riding outside now). The little kids and I enjoyed a quiet morning together, and then our babysitter arrived for an extra afternoon (thank heavens — I missed two writing days due to Easter!). Kevin came home early so I could go to yoga. We waited and ate supper together, though AppleApple ate late, due to soccer practice (successful carpooling!). There were playdates all around after school. And the sun was shining.
Wednesday supper. “Roast” chicken in the crockpot: seasoned with garlic, onion, and sage. Green salad. I peeled and sliced the potatoes first thing in the morning, and kept them covered in cold water until arriving home from music class: then I boiled and mashed them up fresh. No one had to race off anywhere, so we could eat at our leisure: big thumbs up around the table. Today was an unusual day and I did not get a lot of writing done. Instead, Kevin and I met for lunch, and I decided to go ahead and buy a road bicycle and all the accoutrements. Exciting, and terrifying. (I hate spending money, especially on myself). After supper, I walked Albus to piano, and then jogged over to my dad’s to practice, along with my siblings, for his upcoming retirement dinner. We are singing and playing two songs together. My sister Edna and I worked out some pretty harmonies. We didn’t even know we could harmonize together. It took longer than expected. I ran home after Montreal tied up their game seven to go into overtime; and wasn’t home long before the goal that killed their playoff dreams was scored. Kevin was watching, of course.
Thursday supper. Sweet and sour chicken and tofu in the crockpot (oh, and a bit of leftover beef and brocolli, too). Served with baked rice. Kevin got up early this morning for yoga, so we are back to our regular schedule. The kids and I enjoyed playing with friends in the morning, then dashed to the grocery store. I also baked bread, made yogurt, and supper, and hung laundry in the early afternoon: domestic multi-tasking hell, to be perfectly frank. But it all got done in time for me to go to a vinyasa yoga class before supper where we tried a crazy upside-down hand-stand. We cancelled our babysitter due to AppleaApple’s soccer practice, which was then cancelled last-minute due to rain. Oh well. My dad and sister came over to practice the harmonies some more. Good feelings all around.
Friday supper. Braised squash, yams, and chickpeas in the crockpot, with couscous on the side; devilled eggs, too. (Leftovers were also served). The braised squash was a pitiful fail. I think it was the mushrooms I added to the mix. It was something. There was a funky scent going on. Sometimes crockpot meals seem to go from delicious to overcooked in the waning hours of the day. Next time, no mushrooms. At least the buttery couscous was delicious, and everyone liked the devilled eggs. After supper, we dumped the squash straight into the compost, though Kevin and I did eat a fair share; weirdly, it tasted okay, it was just smelled disgusting. I didn’t blame anyone for not trying it. Albus had a friend over who politely thanked me for supper. I felt like apologizing: sorry, kid, I know it was gross and you ate cold leftovers instead. Don’t tell your mother. I had a writing day, and started the morning with a swim. Kevin and I got some tv time together after the kids were in bed. We also met with a different contractor about the porch/office project, and with more optimistic results. We both like this man, we like his work, and his quote was significantly less than the previous quote, and within our budget. It looks like we will be getting the ball rolling over the course of the summer. AppleApple and Albus are already plotting who will get to claim the spare room upstairs (and Fooey and CJ would like to share a room). Lots of groundwork ahead: architectural drawings, permits, etc. We are all dreaming.
Saturday supper. Homemade pizza. The grownup portion had sliced cauliflower and hot pepper flakes, in addition to the kid version of roasted red pepper and cheese. I served nothing else, and we ate every last slice. Uh oh. Double batches, here we come. This was a fairly low-key day, and we finally enjoyed sunshine and warm breezes. There was soccer, of course, and AppleApple’s rehearsal for her theatre performance coming up at the end of the month, and errands, a birthday party, and also my first bike ride ever on a road bike. I only fell once, and it was at a stand-still into grass (the clip-in pedals take some getting used to). I’d meant to take the day off to rest for race-day tomorrow, but oh well. It was just too fun getting out into the sun and riding fast.
Sunday supper. Homemade burgers, nitrate-free hot dogs, homemade french fries, cut-up veggies. Kevin did most of the work, though it was supposed to be “cooking with kids”: Albus’s turn. He and his friend chopped the veggies, then went outside to play (messy, muddy, sandy play = ridiculous amounts of laundry!). The french fries were delicious. I ate more than my fair share. The morning was focused on my 10km race: my maiden voyage. It was so hard. I was chilled to the bone afterward, though I didn’t notice it until we got home and Kevin said: “Your lips are blue.” I took a long, hot bath. The kids gamely came along despite the rain, and my mom even got to see part of the race: she walked over from her church, which was nearby. Fooey’s favourite part was the hot chocolate: “I love hot chocolate,” she reported when someone asked her how the race was. I tried to nap, but was very physically wound up. Instead, I wandered around uselessly, and did a bunch of laundry. My dad and sister, and one of my brothers came over to practice again. I think we’re all set for Tuesday’s performance. One more chance to practice with the mics and the sound on Tuesday afternoon. The kids and I finished off the day together, watching an episode of The Amazing Race. We’re starting a bit late in the season, but it’s an easy show to follow. I really really enjoyed it. Sometimes tv is alright. I fell asleep last night just before the Obama announcement, though I did see it coming on Twitter. I heard the news about OBL early this morning, when I was running on the indoor track: two old men were discussing it. Funny, my Royal Wedding moment happened in the same building on Friday morning. I was swimming, and I looked up through my foggy goggles and saw the tv in the snack area: there were William and Kate pledging their vows. I watched for a breath or two, and thought, there it is, my wedding moment.
And there it is: our week in suppers.
Here’s a link to my second blog for Chatelaine.com on the triathlon challenge: note that the illustration is a stock photo, unrelated to me and my post-four-children body.
It’s a pile of questions today. One that I know may never get answered is about balance. Just ask me about the past two hours.
I am spending my non-writing day with the kids cramming in way too many domestic tasks. Here’s what I did between 1 and 3: arrived home with load of groceries, unloaded groceries, fed children, got bread (already in second rise on the counter) into hot oven, made yogurt, made supper in crockpot and rice in the oven, supervised two art projects, showed Fooey how to use CD player. Still haven’t eaten lunch. And laundry and dishes are crying to be done, too.
But I try to squeeze this stuff in wherever it will fit.
I’ve got a new writing gig: blogging twice a week about my triathlon challenge for Chatelaine.com. Today’s the first day. Let me know what you think!
The week has gone by in a blur. I’ve had less energy, yet have stuck to the basic routines. And here we are, arrived at a holiday. Kevin is home from work. So I am working. Yes, I am upstairs in the playroom/office typing away on a new project that I plan to reveal next week when it goes live. Stayed tuned.
This week has seen its ups and downs. And downs and ups.
One item that started up, then plummeted down, (thankfully not literally), was our porch, which we hope to rebuild this summer. It’s been steadily decaying due to water damage, and might make it one more year before falling off the front of our house–might. So we’ve been saving our pennies and gathering quotes from contractors and builders. And in the midst of this planning, my friend N offered an exciting suggestion: while we’re rebuilding the porch, could a tiny home office be built, too? There is a perfect place for it: we have a door that leads off the dining-room onto the side porch, and both door and side-porch are currently underused; wasted access, and wasted space. Would it be possible to create an insulated room right there? I have to confess that I was/am hugely excited, giddy almost, to be entertaining the idea of having a home office — a real writing space, a room of my own. I could imagine it in perfect detail: spare and functional, with white painted wood, tall windows, a wall of bookshelves, and a desk. Simple. Perfect.
My feelings were/are almost covetous. Drooling. Dreaming.
Well, here’s the down. We got our first quote for the job and it was double our budget. And we thought our budget was pretty generous. Did I mention that the quote was just for rebuilding the porch? Nothing to do with adding on said fantasy writing room? We’re not quite back to square one, because quotes can vary wildly; but my home office bubble is suffering serious deflation. And you know, maybe it isn’t my time, yet. I need to earn entry into the perfect writing space. I need to sell more books, more words. (Words for sale! Words for sale!).
Speaking of words for sale, I had a pleasant chat with my agent yesterday. And I have news! My second book, THE JULIET STORIES, will be published earlier than originally anticipated: look for it in stores this coming March (in Canada, that is). Which means that there is exciting work ahead, also sooner than anticipated: editing the manuscript on a micro rather than a macro level; discussing cover design; meeting the kind people at House of Anansi; and planning publicity for the book. Yikes! Yowza! Woot!
But enough of ups into downs and downs into ups. Time to stop typing, stop working, and let this space revert back to a playroom for most of the rest of the weekend. It is a holiday, after all.
The race brought up some unexpected and deep emotions. It was inspiring. It was healing. It gave me a new perspective on myself. It brought up thoughts like: if I can imagine doing it, I can set myself on a path to be able to do it. This is going to sound like typical motivational gobbledeygook, but it made me ask: what are the barriers I’ve erected in my own mind that are preventing me from doing the things that I want to do–that are preventing me from even imagining and glimpsing the things that I want to do? It’s too easy to say, oh, that would be hard, that would be impossible, I don’t have the time.Yes, it’s been hard to train myself into a different and more athletically capable body. But it hasn’t been that hard. It certainly hasn’t been impossible. The time is now.
My larger thoughts are still amorphous and vague. But my most concrete thought is this: I already have the skills to do great/good/helpful things. I don’t need to retrain and gain a new skill set. I’m a writer. It’s what I do. Being a writer is similar in a lot of ways to being a runner. It’s an individual journey. But even the individual, within the larger collective of a race, or a running group, or a yoga class, has the opportunity to affect the larger community–either negatively, neutrally, or positively. Think of the good energy you can receive when you practice with a committed group of yogis. It is so much bigger and more inspiring than practicing on your own–but your own practice is important too, and you need to build it and strengthen it in order to give back to the others around you.
So. I’m thinking of my writing in those terms. I’m thinking: where can my writing be of use? Where can I find homes for it? Where is it needed? How do I want to change the world? Small changes, big changes, radical changes, subtle changes? And how can I use what I’ve already got to push for those changes?
Also, I think one of the stumbling blocks to change is knowing that one will be changed–but not knowing how. That can be scary. For example, I did not know, when I started the triathlon project, that I would want to run long distances, too. The idea of running a half-marathon, let alone a full marathon, never occurred to me. I also couldn’t have predicted or guessed that the training would turn me into someone for whom 5:15am is a happy hour of the day. I like rising early. I love my naps. I can’t undo figuring that out, even though it means sacrificing a lot of late nights in order to enjoy the early mornings.
And change is slow. That’s the other factor I continue to keep in mind. Patience. Slowly, slowly, the accretion of work and discipline, and the unexpected, will change you. Being curious, exploring along the way, testing things out, being willing to drop things that aren’t helpful or are blocking the way, accepting opportunities that arise, being spontaneous: these all make the slow and steady journey interesting. The goals, the end-points, those markers are going to change along the way, too. How fascinating is that?