Category: Writing

Self-Serving Petition

Consider signing this petition, which protests the federal government’s plan to cut grants to small magazines (those with an annual circulation under 5,000). Or, consider subscribing to a favourite Canadian arts/literary magazine, because geez, how pitiful is it that virtually all Canadian arts/literary mags fit into that category?


First, news. The New Quarterly will be publishing not one but THREE new stories from this (nearly) completed collection in their upcoming fall issue. I will notify you and harass you at that time to go forth and purchase said truly lovely literary magazine. And because you are patiently accompanying me on the writing journey, here follow a few encouraging words from the editor on these stories: “I’ve read all three stories now and am excited about them, about these characters which have both complexity and mystery, and about what you are doing with the narrative structure and the language … to get at the complexity of human relationships and feelings which are seldom simple and straight-forward but more often ambivalent and contradictory. You put it so well yourself in one of the stories: She wants every moment to yield to possibility. She wants every moment to remain in motion, to admit that it is many things, all at once.”
It is lovely news indeed, both to be anticipating publication, and to hear from an editor that she is reading these stories as I have written and intended them.

Second, I feel myself coming around toward a decision (how’s that for muddling) about this coming year (by which I mean this coming school year, since that’s when the new year really starts for those of us who are parents). I am seriously entertaining the idea of babysitting another child, close in age to CJ, two days a week. That would mean I wouldn’t be doula’ing, which has given me pause; but this most recent doula experience (which I didn’t blog about) really clarified the difficulties of committing to that work at this time in my life … and more importantly at this time in my children’s lives. Look at that kid up there. He’s 14 months, active, energetic, busy, animated, bursting with New, open like a sponge to learning, and I have the opportunity to stay home and share this time with him. As I’m envisioning it right now, I will commit to two full days at home, very child-focussed; and at least one full day of writing; and one more day when I’ll exchange childcare with a friend. That will leave one day free and unscheduled. I also plan to take one night class this fall toward the eventual re-education plan.

Life will be easier and I’ll feel less muddled, less distracted, when I commit. But I take commitment pretty seriously, which is why I want to be certain, gut and heart.

Now and Soon and Later

Spent yesterday baking, completing my to-do list. Apple-Apple is my new bread dough kneader. She’s amazing and strong and loves to do it All By Herself. Together, we’re turning out these gorgeous loaves (four at a time). Next, I mixed up oatmeal cookies in my Grandma King’s electric mixing bowl. Fooey arrived in time to place a few pats upon the tray, then decided it would be more fun to lick her hands. She also stirred the granola, to which we added a few surprise elements: maple syrup and ground pumpkin seeds. By this point, I was going a bit frantic from the pile of dirty dishes and the relentless call of the oven timer, and it was lunchtime. Somehow, Fooey managed to exist almost entirely on cookies yesterday, but Kev whipped up some omelettes for the rest of us. I started a lentil barley soup for supper, using one of the last jars of canned tomatoes. (That was a canning project worth the effort. Must remind myself when tomato season is once again upon us.) Lastly, I baked two loaves of a breakfast bread for my upcoming girls’ weekend away … and left out not one but TWO important ingredients. Seriously. Luckily butter wasn’t one of them, and the loaves turned out tasty enough to inflict on friends.

Nina’s buying club is up and running again, and I am trying to re-inspire myself to bake. And make. And it’s ever so slightly harder to find that inspiration; perhaps because I’m noticing that every act that moves us closer to the land, the local, the rituals of the past, the slow-life, also invents new snags and issues. It takes more time, for one thing. Baking bread, the smell of it rising, the sturdiness and nutritional value of homemade … it’s amazing. But it takes planning and effort, and commitment. I am trying to determine my commitment level on a number of fronts. There is only so much Me, and no matter how I might wish it were otherwise, I have only so much Focus and Energy. I cannot use myself to my full potential at every moment of the day. Daydreaming, newspaper browsing, snuggling, computer-screen-staring: these are not character flaws, these are mental-health necessities (that’s my theory, anyway).

So, we had some warty moments yesterday, which I attempted to record photographically. Guess what … kids don’t like being photographed while throwing temper tantrums. It removes them from a good hollering self-pity session, makes them feel silly. It also invades their privacy. And I get that. Would I like to be photographed dumping last night’s coffee grounds in the sink while yelling over my shoulder, “No yelling this early in the morning!”

The question is: where am I putting my energies? Now. And soon. And later. Now being the most important to determine, though Now leads to Soon and Later; that’s where planning comes in, and lists. Housework. Cooking. Baking. Laundry. Food-Gathering. Mothering. Reading. Writing. Doula’ing? Re-schooling?

My current summer plan involves slowing down and focussing almost entirely on the kids: swim lessons, picnics, park, bike rides, crafts, playing outside, developing a little week-long drama camp for my kids and a few friends, camping, canning. Eight weeks of Mother.

Handful of Stories

Printed a copy of the new, completed manuscript. Apple-Apple read the first paragraph to me and Fooey, while CJ played, in our basement. (It isn’t really for children, but on the other hand, it won’t harm them if they do read it; an interesting consideration that hadn’t crossed my mind till this very afternoon). Now I’ll put this copy away and wait to hear what may happen next. (Be warned: this could take awhile. But it’s nice to have completed this first step.)

(Nice? Sorry, as a writer, I should definitely come up with a better word for the feeling, but that’s as good as it gets. In platitudes, may many layers be found.)

Inside and Out

So it was a gorgeous day, a holiday here in Canada … and I spent it writing. Inside. Living in my head. My goal is to have this project completed before school’s out (end of June) so as to Live Life Outdoors all summer. Is this realistic? After today’s writing session, I’d say yes. Kevin and the kids enjoyed their holiday together, playing and working outdoors most of the day, planting grass and weeding dandelions, going to the park, eating hot dogs from a stand, injuring their knees, icing their injuries, et cetera.

On Endings

Writing day, and I’m afraid to tackle this opening story. The project feels close to its end, and rather than filling me with delight, I’m slowing down, dragging heels, aware of enchroaching emptiness. 

I almost never watch television, so it seemed fated that last night, while folding mountains of laundry, I should switch on the glowing box and be immediately confronted by gorgeous, haunting black and white photographs, swept into the middle of a documentary on Sally Mann, a photographer whose body of work has been intensely personal, and controversial. Her own three children were and are her subjects, as is the land she lives on. The documentary follows her journey to create a new collection called “What Remains,” which is about death; the show is planned for a major gallery in New York who cancel at the last minute. The camera captures her shock and self-doubt and grief at rejection, and her husband’s grief too, and his silence, how he has no way to comfort her other than to listen and be present, and I turned to Kevin and just stared, struck dumb. She was saying the same words I say, at low moments, yet how could she possibly doubt, when what she’d created was so obviously of merit and worth and beauty? That moment also gave me a glimpse of what it must feel like to be the one absorbing that grief, on the artist’s behalf. Later, as she walks with her son in the woods, she says that it doesn’t matter if what she’s making is going to sell, she has to make it. She has no choice. I was in tears. It felt very close to the bone. 

Her photographs are eventually shown in a museum in Washington D.C., and well-reviewed and celebrated.
My stories … well, it’s presumptuous to compare myself to someone who has succeeded as an artist; my success feels transient, and sporadic, and there’s no telling whether these years of work will this time add up to something of beauty and merit, but I felt a kinship watching her struggle, mourn, reflect, create. It’s a blessing and curse to want to translate experience into art–not just to want to, but to do it. The work involved. Working toward an end you can’t see until you find it. Will it be whole, or still-born? All these infinitessimal choices along the way that shape the final artifact, that leave you wondering–why this and not that? So much room for criticism, self and other. There’s the artifact created, and the one intended, and the multiple ones that might have been. 
At times I question whether I’m too patient, too painstaking. A year feels like nothing to me anymore, writing-wise. Will I rest, at peace with this project, or will I keep chasing the ones that might have been? How will I know when I’ve arrived? Is it only when someone else tells me so? (Hair Hat might never have been finished either, in my mind, had it not been picked up for publication). Can I accept and find an ending in solitude? 
The answer might be … no. Which is terrifying. Which is why I’m typing this, and not that.
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