Pickle Me This has posted its picks for 2011: Canada Reads Independently, and this year I was asked to champion a book, not an easy thing to do as it turns out. How to choose? In the end, though I wanted to go with something newer or more obscure, I had to champion a writer who has been with me for many years (in my imagination, I mean), and who has deeply influenced my own writing–and whose work I return to perhaps even more often than L.M. Montgomery’s or Agatha Christie’s. (My taste is not highbrow). Interested in finding out more? Click here.
In other news, I find myself obsessed with an accident that occurred in our neighbourhood, in which a twelve-year-old boy was struck by a vehicle while crossing the street (in the crosswalk). (He survived, but will have a long recovery). The boy was outside, on his own; not unlike I hope for my own children and other children of the neighbourhood to be able to be. And for all my primitive brain fears of losing a child to a stranger, my rational brain understands that the car is a much greater danger to them, outside, on their own.
My children have walked with me since they were very small, all over town; a fairly large proportion of our conversations, while walking, have related to how we are negotiating with traffic. Let’s just say I’ve had a lot of teachable moments while walking with my children. My conclusion is that our city is not a safe place to walk. Pedestrians can follow the rules of the road, but this will simply not guarantee their safety: they must use instinct and constant attention; a lot of ask to anyone, let alone of a child.
How many times have my children and I waited at a crosswalk, with the signal telling us that it is our right of way, while a driver, who wishes to turn right on a red light (her legal right, too), inches forward, head craning to look the other way: she will step on the gas and go if it’s all clear on her left and never look to see what’s before her: a child, a mom, a stroller, a cyclist. My kids have been taught to make eye contact with drivers before making the decision to cross the street. On their walks to school, they’ve waited for vehicles whose drivers are backing out of driveways without ever once checking behind for children walking on the sidewalk. An elderly woman waved to my daughter at a crosswalk, typically a sign that the car is waiting for the pedestrian to cross; fortunately, my daughter had only taken a step before the woman zoomed through the intersection. Apparently she was just saying Hello to the cute little child, as she hurried on her way. These are not isolated incidents; similar things happen every day. We might call them minor, but they are inches away from being major.
As pedestrians, of course we have to stay vigilant. But pedestrian vigilance is surely not the only or even the best answer to this problem, which seems to go much deeper, and speaks to the many sacrifices our culture has made on the altar of the car. Our cities are built not to move people, but to move cars.
The way we think about driving is mixed up, too. We consider driving to be a right; getting a driver’s licence is also a rite of passage. We forget that driving is actually a privilege and a responsibility.
To get inside a car is to enter a sealed bubble; it distances us from the world we’re driving through. How often am I hurrying to get somewhere, or late, or distracted by grumpy children behind me? Getting into the car does not make me a kinder, more aware, more empathetic person; it makes me quite the opposite. I become impatient. It’s the last place I want to be–in between, en route from somewhere to somewhere else, and not enjoying the journey. Inside the car is about the only place you’ll ever hear me swear (oh–though you might hear me swearing at cars when I am walking).
Yet I am very very appreciative of our vehicle. I use it primarily to ferry kids to activities that our family considers valuable: theatre school, music lessons, horseback riding. I’m not prepared, voluntarily, at this moment in time, to live entirely car-free. But I do want to try to live as car-free as possible. I want to remind myself, always, of the heavy responsibility that I bear as a driver: for lives both inside and outside of my vehicle. And I want to be able to walk safely in my city.
What are some next steps, as I consider how to bring about real changes? At the very least, a letter to the editor. But I also need to clarify my thoughts on the subject. Should I consider researching and writing about the car, about walkable cities, about how to get from where we are now to where we could be? How does change happen, especially change that feels enormous and structural? Any ideas?
I wonder what picture I create–of my life, and of my character–here in Blogland, and whether it relates, even somewhat accurately, to reality. I don’t mean that I deliberately attempt to misrepresent myself, only that I often blog about best intentions, questions, hopes and plans, and forget to follow up with the hey-here’s-what-happened-with-that post.
So here’s what happened with a few things …
1. Kids playing outside, alone.
The most wonderful thing happened this weekend: two boys from Albus’s grade, twins who live up the street, spontaneously appeared on our front porch, dressed in winter garb and throwing snowballs, to invite Albus to play with them! Seriously! No parents were involved (though we did give Albus permission to go). Off the three of them went, tumbling like puppy dogs, to have a snowball fight. And the twins came back again yesterday, and Albus spent about three hours playing outside with them, all over the neighbourhood, all on their own. I am thrilled. And I had not a moment’s pang about his independence and freedom to wander. I think this has to do with several factors: he’s old enough, and he’s not alone, but with friends.
2. The book. The publisher.
Okay, I’ve been wanting to make a formal announcement for awhile, but the truth is that no moment ever feels quite momentous enough, and in any case the good news has leaked out in dribs and drabs and you probably already know what I’m going to say. But just in case … I signed a contract with a publisher! The publisher is the wonderful, independent, Canadian House of Anansi Press
. (Please visit them, and pick up some of their books for Christmas gifts, which you can get directly from them for 30% off. Yes, I am shilling on their behalf; but only because I think the books are that good
. Offhand, for grownups, I would recommend: Far to Go, by Alison Pick; Annabel, by Kathleen Winter; February, by Lisa Moore. Their children’s imprint is Groundwood
, which publishes the Sam and Stella books, by Marie-Louise Gay, and the classic Zoom, by Tim Wynne-Jones, illustrated by Eric Beddows. Good, good, good.)
The tentative pub date may sound like a long way off to anyone not involved in writing and publishing books, but sounds plenty soon to me: Fall, 2012.
I’ve been working with Anansi’s editor, Melanie Little, for several months now, and if you spot me mumbling to myself on the walk to school, or looking particularly grumpy/lost/absent, please be kind. The transition between writing time and mama-time is not always smooth, especially if I’ve had to leave a story unfinished (which is most days). Don’t take offense, run in the opposite direction, or report me to the authorities, please. Really, I want you to approach and talk to me. Throw me a lifejacket. Pull me out.
I am thankful for yoga, which gives me time to empty my mind so that it can be filled anew. I am thankful for a recent writing week, which yielded another story and a half, and solid new ideas to boot. I am thankful to Kevin for doing more dishes and cooking more suppers than he did even a few months ago. I am thankful for an excellent nursery school, public school, and babysitter. And I am most thankful to have a publisher’s support backing this work. I won’t say it’s erased all anxieties or doubts, but it’s a true gift to know others are out there, rooting for this book, and doing their best to make it all that it can be.
3. Green dreams. Confessions.
People, I am dreaming green and living grey. I drive my kids to swim lessons (yes, it is walking distance). On a rotten weather day last week, I drove to pick up the kids from school. I had no excuse except convenience and comfort. And I keep using the drier! (There continue to be lice outbreaks at school, but still …). Last Wednesday, while Albus was at piano lessons, I lost my mind at the grocery store (at least I’d walked there), and in a sleep-deprived haze grabbed off the shelves several boxes of snacks and treats. Packaged up in plastic and cardboard. With ingredients I can’t pronounce. Better versions of which I could have made at home. There. I won’t go on. Just know that my intentions are good, but they are not good enough.
4. Is there anything else?
Probably. But that’s all for now. I am inches from finishing a Really Good Story. I’ll let you know how it turns out … or will I?
Today was supposed to be the start a writing week, which would include this weekend, and every day of the coming week. Though I’m still not prepared to announce details, I am already working with an editor on the latest draft of The Juliet Stories, and expect the ink to dry on the publishing contract fairly soon, at which point I will shed superstition and tell. Suffice it to say, there is work to be done, and I am glad to be doing it. But twelve hours a week does not feel like enough time in which to accomplish what I want to do. So, Kevin kindly offered to help me make more time. Writing weeks are hard on everyone, require a ton of extra scheduling and planning, and are, frankly, a gruelling way to produce new work. But I’ve found them to be an extremely efficient use of time. The last writing week, I wrote two new stories while spending my days and nights completely lost in my own head. I need that level of focus. Therefore, the planned writing week. But early on in the planning, it seemed the week was already being chipped away at: AppleApple’s eighth birthday happened to fall during the week; there were necessary parties and cakes to be made; then The New Quarterly contacted me about their fall launch–yup, during writing week. But we decided to go ahead, largely because this was the only week that could work before the new year.
Yesterday morning, my grandma passed away. How quickly plans change. How easily they can be changed, when something critical arises. How little the little problems matter. Of course, we will be at her funeral–no matter when it falls. What could be more important than taking time to honour her life?
I am looking at a photograph of my grandma holding Albus. He is six months old, a drooling fat baby, nearly wriggling out of her arms. She is so completely herself in the photograph. A small smile crosses her lips as she gazes down at him. Her hair is done, like it always was. I think of all the ways that she was there for me, even though we lived at a distance. I remember the angel food cakes that she made for many of my birthdays: with strawberry icing. We were frequently travelling on my birthday, which falls between Christmas and New Year’s; I remember on several occasions that we blew out candles and ate Grandma’s specially-made cake for breakfast, before my family set out on a long birthday drive home. Her recipe for sugar cookies (a very unusual cookie that looks and tastes like a muffin top) was the last recipe she gave me: I phoned to get it a few years ago. She was already showing the early signs of Alzheimer’s, but she was able to read me her recipe, which was for a batch twice as large as the one I make (and which is posted on the blog). She had lots of grandchildren and great-grandchildren to bake for. She not only produced enormous batches of cookies and other baked goods, pickles, and all manner of canned foods; she also worked outside the home for most of her life. I never heard her complain. She was possibly the most composed person I’ve ever met. She could be relied upon to bring calm and dignity to any situation.
So. This is what this writing week will bring instead: memories, family time, and a batch of sugar cookies. Who knows, it may bring some stories home, too.
Thinking about commitment today. It has been a week since I last ran or went to a yoga class … the longest stretch in this past year.
It’s been a busy seven days. I even got my hair cut early Saturday morning, and glammed up for a party on Saturday night. And just to bump life up into an extra level of exciting, on Sunday/Monday, I was honoured to doula at a birth: friends from the neighbourhood. Like most babies I’ve met, this little guy decided to arrive in the wee hours before dawn. I was home in time for a Thanksgiving dinner, but not home in time to have to cook the turkey. Kevin’s rookie attempt was delicious, and we feasted for what seemed like an entire afternoon. Thanksgiving might possibly be my favourite holiday: please pass the gravy, thank you! But I woke up yesterday morning with a scratchy voice, which is no better and perhaps worse this morning. Are you hearing all of my excuses in this post? All of the logical reasons that have conspired against a week’s worth of exercise? Oh, there’s one more. I am also getting treatment for a shoulder injury that hasn’t budged for two months. Truthfully, though, during my spurts of inspiration, none of the above would be enough to stop me.
Which is why I am thinking about commitment. Is this dip in energy temporary? I believe that it is. I will get back to yoga and running as soon as I’ve gotten past tired. Real tired. (Or would yoga and running help me get past tired? There’s that to consider too). There are other commitments, too, perhaps more ascendant right now, like simultaneous plot-lines that arc and fall in a novel. Plot-line a) triathlon project (taking a cold-weather nose dive). Plot-line b) writing/editing a book (orange level priority). Plot-line c) children (always, pervasive, distracting, the core of my story). Plot-line d) side projects like doula’ing and photography (hanging in there; daily photos are easy to take; doula opportunities don’t come often, and are richly rewarding when they do). Plot-line e) health (so critical, yet unpredictable; make hay while the sun shines).
I’m off to make some ginger/garlic cold-fighting brew. And to write. Because the house is quiet this morning, and I am alone with my thoughts.
I will be reading at The Word on the Street in Kitchener’s Victoria Park, Suday afternoon at 1:30, with The New Quarterly team. Look for us in the “Kitchener Radio Group Spotlight Tent.” There are loads of other tents, and readings, and books, and storytellers, and kids’ programming, so here’s hoping for good weather, and lots of friendly faces out and about.
Um, yes, the photo is an unrelated indulgence.Whee!
Cooking with kids: AppleApple’s menu yesterday was vegetarian. She had a hard time narrowing down her menu choices, perhaps because I went to the library and got out some kids’ cookbooks, most featuring foods of different cultures. In the end, she made iced mint tea with mint picked from our backyard patch (not from a recipe). For the main course, she served freshly made pear/applesauce with mashed potatoes, and a Caribbean-flavoured squash soup, with a red and yellow pepper salad on the side. Dessert was canned cherries from Bailey’s and peaches canned by my mom. It was such a local meal!
Fooey’s up next weekend.
And last weekend, Albus’s German sausage hotpot did the body good.
Day of rest, two Sundays on: all is well. With church in the morning, it’s impossible to make elaborate plans for the day, and that actually works out fabulously if one is ‘re able to let go of the idea of getting other things done. It does mean piling more into Saturday, perhaps; and I am also now planning to use my Tuesdays home with the little kids as baking days; but if the redistribution of tasks results in more days like yesterday, where I had time to play the piano, work on homework with Albus, and doze off (while trying to read a book), I’m sold.
Also thinking about how to fit everything in, and reminding myself that a little every day adds up to a lot. As I prioritize my goals for this coming year, I think about the 365 project, and how committing to spend between 5 -30 minutes a day on that has added up to an ongoing master class in photography. The same goes for the triathlon project, which dovetails with my more general goal to be fit both mentally and physically; this morning, instead of mucking around the house this morning, I chose to go to yoga class, and not only feel stretched out and fit, but I enjoyed a burst of acute organizational powers in the forty minutes afterward, sitting in the sunshine at a picnic bench, waiting till it was time to pick up CJ from nursery school. Lots of notes were taken.
The first step to fitting everything in is to set strong priorities. And then make leaps. Put into play whatever needs to happen to make those priorities become a part of the routine. But stay flexible, because if something’s not working, you can always make changes, even drastic ones. Here’s what went onto my “fitting it all in … a little at a time” list of priorities: triathlon project (including swim lessons for me); photography; fiction writing; church; friends. (That list does not include the daily priorities of feeding and caring for my family, which kind of goes without saying, for me).