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?
There’s a picture in my head made up of words in the shape of a clock, or a circle. The words are ones I associate with myself, with who I am. This is the post I planned to write awhile ago, and it has been marinating ever since. I keep thinking the ideas will come together more coherently, but instead it remains the same as it was when I first came across the thought: a circular list of words. Some are big–bigger than I am–and apply only in a theoretical sense. I haven’t accomplished enough to claim some of them, but they’re not end-point words; rather, they’re associative, hopeful.
Writer. Mother. Chef. Photographer. Doula. Athlete. Friend. Partner. Family-member. Musician. Designer. Organizer.
I could add in a word related to doing laundry and dishes, but I don’t want to. I choose not to.
These words represent the ways that I use my time. Everything I’ve listed gives me pleasure or is something I want to pursue further.
(Which is why the chores get left off the list; yes, I use my time to do a lot of chores, but they’re not essential to who I am. Or are they? Probably they are. Probably they’ve taught me all kinds of good things about patience and persistence and the necessity and and meditative nature of routine. But I’d still let someone else take over the bulk of them, at least half the time, without blinking an eye.)
Thinking about these words gives me a way to consider what I’m doing, and what I would like to be doing. Which words are more ascendant within me right now? Or this week? Or this year? Or long-term? I have a lot of energy, now that I’m sleeping through the night, and when I set my mind to a task or a goal, I home in on it with laser-beam eyeballs and a focus that frightens me just a little bit sometimes. My question right now, having sent off my manuscript, and balancing on the cusp of who-knows-what, is where should I direct this focus? I am filled with ideas, and long-term plans and plots, but everything scatters like dust without concrete goals. Without placement.
The portrait project is a good example of something that has drifted, that, finished, feels a bit purposeless. I like a solid goal. I appreciated the challenge of taking a portrait every day, and appreciated everything I learned over the year. But. There it ends, a series of photographs, some quite lovely, some I’m happy never to see again, without any kind of summing up, without a home. What, I wonder, was the meaning of that? Could it add up to something other than the disconnected list that it is?
In other news, my eye woes are mending. Not altogether healed, but improved. In fact, as soon as the gigantic pustules started shrinking–and even while they remained quite large and ugly-looking–I discovered an instant upswing in my confidence. The confidence was (and may very well still be) entirely out of proportion to the size of the pustules; the confidence relates, quite simply, to how bad it was before. Simple comparison. As long as it is better than it was, I am flying, I’m on top of the world, brimming with confidence. Plus, I have peripheral vision again, which is handy and quite useful.
It’s been awhile since I’ve blogged on a writing day. But I have a feeling today is going to be a good day. Here’s why: the manuscript is ready to send, save for a few crossing of t’s and dotting of i’s, and my editor has given me the green light to send it to her. In the months that it’s sat quietly waiting, I’ve had the chance to polish some stories, and decided in a fit of dissatisfaction last week to completely rewrite one, which seemed weak and undone–the notes to a story rather than a completed story. I didn’t want my editor to read it as it was. I knew it could be better.
Last week, I picked and picked at it, with discouraging results. At some point, probably during a yoga class, it occurred to me that the story contained too many disparate elements, and specifically, too many narrative threads that didn’t cohere. Of course, I was quite attached to a couple of those threads, which is why they were still in the story (it’s funny how that works; I actually recognize the problem, but am attached to it, and defend it until it becomes glaringly, arrestingly, hideously clear that it’s indefensible, and we must part ways; I soothe myself by thinking, hey, never know when this might become useful some other time, some other place, some other story). So I scrapped a lot. And suddenly–it was suddenly–on Monday afternoon, as the clock ticked down toward babysitter-going-home-time, my brain jumped tracks and my fingers leapt across the keyboard, and I closed my eyes and typed. The story finished itself. This does actually happen; it isn’t a writing myth. I would never have been able to plot this story and its ending out in advance. I had to wait and wait and tough it out and hang around and attend with patience and hope to receive what arrived, at last, like a gift.
I’ve been thinking about the image created ever since. It comforts me in my mind’s eye. I will tell you what it is: the empty cellar of a burned-down house, overgrown and abandoned and forgotten, and in the centre of the cellar is a box, perfectly placed, left to the elements. Do you want to know what’s in the box? Well, I’m not going to tell.
With some more work done on Wednesday, and the finishing polishes today (hello, my friend Spellcheck), I will send The Juliet Stories away with a light heart. There is more work to be done, of course, because there always is. But I have gotten the manuscript to the precipice, to the furthest corner of the earth that I can currently carry it. And I will be happy to set it down and rest apart from it for awhile, til a new map arrives to show me a way to get even further, even deeper into territory I can’t yet imagine.
I love this process.
In other news, I received a package yesterday and it had a book in it–not mine, though my name was on the back, beneath a short review I’d written of the book itself. I will tell you more about this book when it becomes available in stores next month. It’s called Up, Up, Up, and it’s a book of stories by a first-time writer (whom I do not know, but look forward to meeting someday; the CanLit world is a teeny-tiny world).
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?