Category: Writing

On being competitive

*Cross-posted from my Swim/Bike/Run blog.*

This morning, I went for a long run. I planned to run 15km, and the idea of the long run is to go fairly slowly. But I found that I didn’t want to go all that slowly. I felt so good! So I let myself run. I ran 15km in an hour and 20 minutes; not quite my half-marathon pace, but close. It is just the best feeling to be able to run and run and run. I decided to stay at my edge, where my breathing was very controlled and rhythmic, and to let myself stay at that pace as long as my breathing stayed sure. I find that in races, I’m running harder, and my breathing gets much heavier. I didn’t want to run that hard.

Today, I thought about how far I’ve come on this journey. I don’t always take time to appreciate it, because as soon as I’ve accomplished something, I’m pushing toward something else. I’ve decided to embrace that part of my personality. It’s just who I am. It’s how I write, too. I’m pleased with a story, and then give it some time and come back and discover that it could be improved, so I work even harder. The story may never be perfect, in my mind, but that doesn’t mean I’m not proud of it. Somehow I’ve found the same pleasure and balance in my running/swimming/cycling. I love doing it. And I love doing it even when I’m pushing myself to go faster and even when it’s hard and it hurts. I love doing it even when I wish I were capable of doing it better. Feeling like I could do better doesn’t discourage me, it has the opposite effect–it makes me want to try even harder. I might have a moment of feeling down (like I do when a story has been rejected, or I read a bad review), but the pain or disappointment only lasts a short while, and before I know it my spirit bounces back with even greater drive and intent.

I think in a funny way, I’m as motivated by failure as I am by success. I’m certainly not afraid of failure. Or of success.

So that’s how I’m thinking about my naturally competitive spirit, these days. I’m coming to terms with it. I’m embracing it. The bar for accomplishment is always of my own setting, and hopefully mostly in line with my actual abilities.

And there’s nothing like running and running and running. Nothing. I can hardly think of anything that brings me greater happiness. Best of all, when I got home from the run, the older kids were waiting and ready to go: we’d agreed to run one or two kilometres together at the end of my run. My son surprised me by running two; my daughter was ready to stop after one (she ran it a bit too fast and got a cramp). What joy to hear my son say: “This is really fun, Mom!”

What a lot to be thankful for.

Snatam Kaur concert

I went to a concert earlier this week. If you want to hear one of the songs, here’s her version of “Long Time Sun,” although her onstage version was less-produced-sounding, and we all got to sing along. In fact, we sang along (or chanted) the entire two-and-a-half hour concert.
During the concert, I was struck by two thoughts that are not quite enormous enough to be called revelations, but nevertheless felt revelatory. The first was that I must stay open to mystery. Not sure why I need the reminder, but maybe in all this literal, physical work I’ve been doing toward the triathlon, I’ve forgotten that it is driven by the spirit, and that without a strong spirit, I wouldn’t be able to do it. It also reminded me that my word of the year is “heart.” Still haven’t figured out much about that (admittedly cliched) word and the year’s almost half over; but there’s a piece of mystery to ponder.
The other thought that came over me powerfully is the fortune of my family: my children, my husband. I was just overwhelmed with gratitude for them.
This whole post sounds cheesy, like most heart-felt things. I thought a lot about my Juliet Stories during the concert, and my hope for them is that they express the heart-felt without being cheesy. But this post is written in haste on a sunny spring afternoon and there is no distillation in it. And that, my friends, is the difference between story and blog.

Almost Ten

I’ve been neglecting to link to my twice-weekly triathlon blogs on Chatelaine.com, but here’s today’s: an ode to yoga, and to cross-training generally.

:::

In other news, my eldest turns 10 tomorrow, and to celebrate, we’re going all out. He’s invited eight friends for a sleepover party. Already, overnight bags are collecting in our front hall. I’ll be heading up to school soon to supervise the walk home (but from a distance, it’s been requested). Albus has spent a lot of time thinking about this party. He wrote out a draft version of his itinerary, and then a good copy (if you know Albus, you know how unusual this is). The itinerary includes a walk to the comic book store uptown. The boys will then read their comics “on a bench or on the curb.” That’s my favourite part.

I’m not expecting much sleep tonight.

But I hope to rest a little bit this weekend in advance of the duathlon on Monday. My next big challenge. I’ve never raced on a bicycle before. But I did learn how to change a tire yesterday (hands on), thanks to this super-woman. In the words of a favourite children’s story: I think I can, I think I can, I think I can! The race is 4km run, 30km bike ride, 4km run. The bike course is described as “challenging,” and having biked part of it on Tuesday morning, I know why: hills and headwinds. It’s also supposed to be raining on Monday. My goal is simple completion. If I don’t chicken out, if I actually show up and do this, I will be a proud.

And now I see it’s time to switch gears and sign off. Writing day done. Full-on-mama again.

The Message I’ve Been Waiting For

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.

A Week in Suppers: 8

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.

More on Chatelaine.com

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.

Siiiiiigh.

But I try to squeeze this stuff in wherever it will fit.

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