Category: Writing

Tidbits of News

Have you seen him in his Strawberry Shortcake hat? He accessorizes with pink mittens, too. These are his choices, and I support them! The photos of Fooey were taken by her sister; I wanted to show how she’s posing for photos these days, very deliberately. I think it’s an effect of being photographed so often, and also of watching me photograph myself for the 365 day project. I often set up the camera and fool around with various poses and backgrounds … it can take quite awhile, and the kids are used to the beep-beep-beep of the ten-second timer going off, and run to check out the resulting picture. They’ll report, “That’s a good one, Mommy!”
Today, I have some news. It’s not of the good variety, but on the other hand, as I think my way through it, it’s not of the bad variety either. ParentDish, the Canadian version for which I’ve been writing regularly, is going on hiatus while the company retools the American site. That means I am temporarily out of regular writing work. My last column will publish tomorrow. The reason this news is not altogether bad, upon reflection (thank you, hot yoga) … well, a couple of reasons, actually. 1. Over the winter, I have been writing very little other than my columns, and have found it hard to focus, in the few extra hours available, on poetry or short stories. I will enjoy doing that again. 2. I also need to consider whether I would prefer to publish under a pseudonym were I to write a column like this again. Recent posts have gotten a number of comments, some smart and thoughtful, and others a bit hostile and weird. It’s made me go hmmm, if nothing more. I don’t mind having time to reflect on this. 3. There might be a third reason. I can’t remember it. It’s almost time to head to school.
The days go.
But CJ and I had a lunch date with Kevin today, and I thought, walking over in the breezy sunshine, of the great fortune of time that is mine. And I thought of that poem from a few posts back: “This is what the living do.” We get to walk in spring sunshine, and see another spring burst into bloom.

Good, Better, Best

Could I have used the word “practice” just a few more times in that last post? Still, I’m sticking with the general theory, maybe just need to find a different word for “the practice,” ie. the noun.
One more tiny addition to the theory … with practice, there’s an expectation that you improve. That’s not always the case, though, is it. Sometimes, instead, all you figure out is what does or does not interest you. We’ll all always be better at practicing what interests us. That’s why it’s good to try things out. Because you never know till you do it. Interests change.

Got a kick out of reading Amy Jones’s blog, which she shapes like lists. It totally late-night cracked me up. And made me go … ugh, I’m so damn serious. Lighten up already. Such a light-hearted thing to think, I know. It’s sort of like that voice in your head saying, stop being so self-critical! Um … okay.
Pickle Me This tweeted a link to an absolutely eviscerating review of Yann Martel’s new novel Beatrice and Virgil. I read it and cringed with sympathy for Mr. Martel, though I haven’t read his book, and therefore cannot claim with any authority that it is not exactly as terrible as the reviewer thinks (“Worst Book of the Decade” was his headline, actually). It sounds, from the interviews I’ve read, like Mr. Martel suffered a serious case of writer’s block after the runaway success–critical and popular–of Life of Pi (which I did read, and truly enjoyed). Two years writing an essay on the Holocaust. Grim meeting with international team of editors who tell him to toss everything out and try again. Pots of money at stake. Doesn’t sound like a recipe for easy creation. Sometimes it’s easier to make stuff in the margins. It’s all about expectations–the ones we put on ourselves, and the ones we perceive others want us to live up to. Maybe writers/artists could benefit from whatever sports psychology the Canadian Olympic team used in the lead-up to Vancouver. It’s not just about what to do after achieving success, but about not being afraid to fail while seeking success. Well, and not being afraid to succeed, though that sounds odd. Who wouldn’t want to succeed? Quite a lot of us, I’m guessing. It’s like in Anabaptism, where you choose to get baptized as an adult, and then “go and sin no more.” Uh. Tall order. You could see how it would be nice to believe in a little weekly Catholic confession instead. Or how you might put off baptism till you’re at death’s door, just to be sure. Perfection. It’s not all it’s cracked up to be.
Practice, practice, practice.
This is a little rhyme my mom used to say: “Good, better, best. Never let it rest, till the good is the better and the better is the best.” That might be about practice AND perfection. Oh, and about remembering a grammatical point, but I’m always looking out for the metaphor.
I’m rambling. It’s because I have to write two new columns this morning. And now I shall. And now my computer crashed. And now I’m working on a new computer. It’s just one of those mornings. Not sure what I’m practicing but good writing ain’t it.
PS That’s a totally random recent photo of AppleApple’s hair. I took the picture in order to convince her that it did, in fact, require tending. Whenever I mention picking out her hair (we don’t brush those curls, we pick them), she goes into spasms: “Who cares what my hair looks like? I don’t care! Why do you care?” And I say, okay, why do I care? And sometimes we decide that it’s fine as is, and we neither of us will be overly vain or focused on appearances. And other times … well, I resort to desperate measures. Because it turns out that I do care that she not enter the world looking like the neglected homeless child of a crazy woman. And even she had to admit, upon viewing this photo, that something needed to be done.

Tap Tap

Wow. Serious lack of time and energy has lead to a serious lack of writing or creating. I need a kick in the pants to send me back to the keyboard for some tap tap tapping. I almost feel afraid to start up work again. A sense of temporary paralysis. Deep breath.
This morning I spoke to a creative writing class at a local high school, feeling ever so slightly like an impostor. Or maybe just feeling seriously elderly. When I told the young man who led me to the classroom when I’d graduated, it blew his mind. Yes, it probably was long before he was born. How the heck old am I, again?

My own children were entirely baffled by the invitation to speak. “Why do they want you to talk to them? Maybe you should play some music for them so they won’t get bored.”
I like talking to teenagers. It’s like searching for clues to my near-future (Albus is already almost nine).
And upon reflection, the class’s question and answer session got me thinking about the writing I’ve done during this (almost) decade of declaring myself a writer. It’s been a split identity, with mother coming out on top almost always. When I think of the concentration and focus that writing demands of me, I’m glad I’ve chosen mother more often than writer, or been willing to let writer slip to the margins where I tap tap tap only when the occasion arises (or, more precisely, when I make time for the occasion). Yes, it means forfeiting the bigger projects that require more than three hours at a stretch of devoted focus. But less doesn’t mean nothing. It just means a smaller scale and scaled down expectations. The kids grow. They don’t appear to be slowing down on that front. This season will spin away from me and I won’t forget (I don’t think) how to dream and be brave between now and then. Meantime, tap tap, I’ll try, again, this week. Hopefully back to normal writing hours as of Wednesday.
Food made me happy this weekend. Three bags of spring greens arrived on Friday evening, and I made salad with pecans and apples and maple syrup dressing, and two spinach quiches. Used up the half-bag of mouldering carrots discovered (with some horror) in the cold cellar on Saturday, by making a giant pot of carrot soup of Sunday. I also had fun with phyllo pastry for Saturday’s supper: homemade samosas with dahl, and an apple streudel for dessert. That may not be how one spells streudel. The spellchecker on this computer doesn’t like any permutation my brain suggests.
I am cooking up pasta sauce for supper right this very second (tomatoes frozen last summer; I still have enough to take us through to the coming tomato season). It’s dentist day after school, so supper needs to be ready to set on the table when we arrive home from that outing of fun and joy. This is the all the writing I’m going to get done today.
Tap tap. That’s okay.

Ahhhhhhhhhh ….

That is sound of me breathing deeply and sighing it out, like the body needs to do and craves to do sometimes. And then you discover that you’re sitting with shoulders hunched up to ears, and jaw clenched, and you let it all drop down and soften.
Because it’s been two weeks since I’ve had this privilege: the still and empty house, emptied of children and husband, and only mine, for three hours exactly. I’m the only one of us who gets this privilege, come to think of it, since the children are never left here solo, and Kevin’s privilege is to work away from home at an office. I’m grateful to be here, right now.
I am trying hard not to think about CJ in his new pull-ups at nursery school. He was not so keen to go this morning, though the last few times he’s loved it–running out the door with a cheerful “bye-bye Mom!” (Yes, he calls me Mom. C’mon, kid. Couldn’t we do Mama for at least another year?) But it’s been two weeks since he’s headed off to nursery school. Plus, the potty training. That’s enough to throw anyone off balance.
Just ask me.
The constant checking and reminding, the spidey senses alert to the cues, the way I can intuit, even when he is out of sight, that he’s paused and we need to rush for the potty. It’s bizarre. It’s also comforting to know how tuned into him I can be. And hopefully I can be that tuned in to all my kids, when I need to be. Because I’m not always so tuned in. Writing tunes me out. Tunes me elsewhere. Sometimes it tunes me so distracted that the world goes on around me and I respond, but through a haze, so that afterward I remember the things that really happened as if those were a dream, and imagination was reality. Or, worse, that absence was reality.
I’ve been thinking about going deep. What it means and what it takes to get there … to the depths, to the core; that place that is more metaphor and idea than something tangible. I think that to get at the profound emotions, at a profound understanding of the world and one’s place in it, to get perspective, which brings calm, you need time. There isn’t a substitute for sustained time to focus the mind.
Yet, it happens that often I write something profoundly moving and real in a flash.
I believe those flashes of light don’t come out of nowhere. There is hidden work that gets done while I go about my everyday, alighting on surfaces and meeting multiple demands. Effort doesn’t pay out instantly. Experience can’t be bought or faked. There are no short-cuts.
This morning, I greeted the silence by playing piano. I’m not a fabulous piano player by any stretch of the imagination, but I love the way I’m able to let go and be inhabited by rhythm. When I’m in the right mood, I crave the feeling of fingers on keys, getting inside something larger than myself. I don’t even think. It’s not great music, but it feels amazing.
Here’s something funny, though I’ll have to paraphrase, from poet P.K. Page who died last year. She said that a census-taker came to their door, and she gave her occupation as “housewife.” Her husband asked why she hadn’t said “writer.” (At this point in her life she’d been writing for, oh, about forty years). And she replied: You know I don’t feel comfortable claiming to be a writer, I’m so uncertain about my talent, etc. To which her husband said, But you are a writer. You don’t have to claim to be a good one.
Next on the morning’s silent menu … upstairs to the attic to search through old files. Then some writing. I am writing a story for children. It’s short. And maybe profound. And came at me all in a heap, unexpected, while I was working on the potty training and serving lunch to three preschoolers. It didn’t make me a better mother to write this story down, and that’s the damn truth. The question is: did it make me a better writer? Or worse, the question I should really stop asking, but somehow cannot: does writing it down matter? Mindless question. Mind over matter.


In today’s yoga class, which seemed to catch me feeling more tired than usual, I kept thinking: this sucks and it’s hard. Fortunately, the instructor seemed to catch the vibe (which might have been everyone else’s too, who knows), and asked us to take our thoughts elsewhere if something negative was coming up. So, I changed it to: this is challenging, and it might be rewarding. Not quite thoroughly positive, but all I could muster. And it helped.
This week’s classes have brought out a few Big Thoughts. One, that I always have a little more to give. I always do. I don’t think that I do, I can’t imagine it could be possible, but if asked to give a little more, reach a little further, hold a pose a little longer … it’s there. I can. This is a strengthening metaphor for the whole of my life. The only thing holding me from giving more is my own belief that I’m spent, and that I can’t.
That said, my other Big Thought was that pushing toward my potential is a delicate balance of being compassionate while asking more of myself. Compassion isn’t about letting someone off the hook, it’s about recognizing the frailty and vulnerability and strength in another person. Even if that person is oneself. The more I practice yoga, the more open I become to accepting my weaknesses, and the difference in my practice from session to session. It’s humbling. Some days I feel strong and energetic. Other days it is more of a struggle. And pushing through on the days of struggle leave me with a greater sense of accomplishment afterward, while on my strong days the sense of accomplishment is accessible within the practice itself.
In other news … CJ has been peeing on his potty with more consistency–and a lot of pride. The other evening, he timed it with dinner and got a hearty standing ovation from his family. I am almost considering hunting in the attic for some toddler-sized underpants, but I’m not sure how quickly to move with that next step, especially since he gets cared for out of the house and by other people more often than the other children did at the same potty-training point. At this point in the training, once the body awareness is there, it’s a pretty big leap to being consistent all day long. It requires an adult with spidey-senses on the alert. Full-time. For at least a week or two. And when training this early, it also requires spare pants in the diaper bag. If he’s ready, I’m ready. No pushing.
Finally, can I just say … I was pretty disappointed in myself for not enjoying March break more. More precisely, for not enjoying being with my children non-stop during March break more. However, it did make clear that last summer’s writing holiday will not be happening this summer, not unless I crave a nervous breakdown. I’ve become accustomed to having time to pursue my own work. I need it now. Even when it sucks and it’s hard. Because, yes, it is also challenging and potentially rewarding.

Itchy Scratchy

Outside. Boy did we have fun yesterday. More fun than the last photo suggests. I was trying to take yesterday’s photo for the portrait project when the kids I was babysitting booked it for the frame. They literally saw the camera, heard the beep, and booted it across the yard. And posed solemnly. My boys joined in, too. Though the girls were outside, too, only the boys were attracted to the camera. Hm.
I’m babysitting again today. I’m sure we’ll spend a portion of the day outdoors given the gorgeous sunshine. I cannot believe how weary I am at the end of these days. It makes me appreciate how much easier it is to split my day between writing and childcare; and how much easier it is to look after only one child or two children on any given day (thank heavens for public schools, say I!). I stayed up till after midnight last night, despite exhaustion, to play the piano after the kids were in bed. I find myself craving creative outlets in a way that I don’t ordinarily. Maybe it’s a good thing to crave creativity. Or, maybe it’s a good thing to satisfy those creative urges most of the time. Though I sometimes wonder whether I’m dulling the urge to write fiction/poetry/new songs by writing this blog. And the portrait project seems to scratch a connected itch, too, though it’s visual creativity rather than the rhythm of words. It’s almost like there’s a balance within my body, something I feel physically, that is sensitive both to lack or over-indulgence. I need to go inward and bring something out. But the more I’m thinking on this, I’m thinking: rarely do I get to too much. Rarely do I feel totally satiated and done for the day. That’s probably one of the gifts of my main occupation (mothering)–it keeps me wanting, needing, searching for more.
Must get focused on today’s requirements, none of which revolve around singing, playing piano, writing, or taking photos. Can I just admit … I don’t want to?
CJ talked to me about his nursing experience last night. If you fear exposure to too much information on the subject, avert your eyes now. He told me that “baby nursing on a mama … baby holding a mama … mama holding a baby … baby sucking on a mama.” He also told me, when asked, that he was not a baby. He laughed and chatted, and said thoughtfully, “warm and soft.” Then he started to babble excitedly and lost track of his thoughts … “can’t remember,” he finally said, and sighed. And started directly in on a diatribe on snowpants, coat, hats, boots, and mittens. “Mittens come last,” he told me. Fooey taught him that (she learned in JK). And that was the end of the nursing chat.

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