DJ is posing for the camera, which we’re all finding hysterical
Somehow, last week’s brief thaw fooled me, despite knowing better, into thinking that spring-like conditions were in the offing. I keep stepping outside and registering the cold as a shock — as a personal affront — as if it weren’t absolutely to be expected at the end of February. The windchill registered at -21C on my run this morning, for heaven’s sake! AppleApple has told me that on April 1st, she is wearing a sweater to school no matter how cold it is. I was just glad she didn’t set that particular deadline for March 1st.
To further gather my thoughts regarding yesterday’s post on fear and unwinding, I would like to observe that there’s a fine line between acknowledging and reflecting on one’s fears, and becoming mired and stuck in an introspective feedback loop of one’s fears. I feel like I’m atop a small hill that I’ve been climbing for awhile, and this is a good place to pause and acknowledge that it was hard to trust my brain post-concussion. It was hard, and it was scary, but I don’t want it to colour my life. I’ve got other hills to climb.
That’s why I played soccer a few weekends ago. That’s why I write every day. That’s why I meet friends. That’s why I want to go out dancing and do kundalini yoga again and get a decent pair of snow pants and maybe some cross country skiis so I can play outside whatever the weather — take that, February! I’m a huge believer in imagining your way to success. You have to know where you want to go or you’ll never get there.
Writing and meditation and reflection are expressions I’m naturally drawn to as an introspective person. It’s why I’m a writer, I am sure. But life is lived concretely. It’s hands in bread dough. It’s running as the sky grows light. It’s vacuuming the dog hair (or teaching the five-year-old how to vacuum the dog hair).
Here’s what I’m visualizing. And doing.
My big (overarching) goals for the year:
* write the first draft of a new novel
* promote Girl Runner
* create a solid curriculum for my creative writing class
My small (everyday) goals for the year:
* write daily meditations
* run, weight lift, yoga, spin, bike, dance, play soccer
* help and support my family
* give the kids more responsibilities around the house
* offer and accept invitations to spend time with friends
* play the piano and sing
I could go on. But that’s a good start.
two Saturdays ago: this was taken after we all pitched in to clean the house together; I hope to blog more about this new plan, if all goes well
A total side note that spoke to the fitness guru in me: I read in yesterday’s newspaper that sprinting is more beneficial to the aging body than distance running (the caution being that you need to be a strong runner, and probably a distance runner, before attempting sprints, because non-fit sprinting an excellent way to injure yourself.) No wonder I love soccer so much — it’s basically sprinting, except you get to chase a ball.
I also read that going for a walk has an almost medicinal effect on the mind and body. Why don’t we build our cities and communities around that simple concept? Imagine the health benefits. Imagine how we’d all be walking off the edges of our worries. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing?
I am not writing well today. Every sentence comes out like I’m mumbling cliches. I don’t know why. I wanted to write about our weekend, which contained two “I finished my book” celebrations, a series of nature art projects installed throughout the yard, a snow fort, sledding, and a living-room yoga session. There, I’ve written about it. (That’s probably my ten minutes up.)
Friday afternoon: I sketched a map and a family tree for my book, and scanned them, and sent them to my US editor. I can’t draw, and apparently I can’t design a family tree or print legibly, but I tried. It was oddly satisfying to map out the location of the story, which has been so clear in my head. This looks just like it! I found myself saying, like I was drawing something from memory, not from imagination.
Friday evening: Kevin and I decided, rather late into the evening, to duck out for a drink. I’ve got greasy hair, I argued, and it’s so late, and this is not a going-out ensemble (yoga pants and comfy shirt; which I’m actually wearing again today, I see). But he thought we should celebrate. So I changed into jeans, ignored the hair, and we walked uptown. Why is it always so cold? It’s always so cold! At the bar, we were seated quickly but ignored entirely. At last, I declared, Two more minutes, and we’re giving up and going home; which is when a waitress turned up with heartfelt apologies. The manager turned up too, to comp our drinks (we hadn’t complained, being ever so Canadian, so this was an especially nice surprise). Thus, my “finished-my-book” celebration was sponsored by the good people of Beertown.
Saturday day: Fooey and Kevin worked on a snow fort, while AppleApple worked on nature art. “This is the best school project ever!” she declared. We ended the afternoon by lighting the “snow volcanoes and snow chimney” (see the photo at the top of the post). It was pretty awesome. Kev also took the little kids sledding for the first time this winter, while the older kids played with friends, and I fell asleep on the couch (likely in payment for Beertown’s sponsorship the night before).
Saturday night: Pizza ordered for the kids. Kevin and I went out for dinner and a movie, as originally planned (the extra night of celebration was a last-minute addition). We’ve seen three movies this year already, which is two more than we saw last year, total. Philomena has been my favourite, far and away. I was underwhelmed by Inside Llewellyn Davis, in which a folksinger drowns in his own self-pity (tell me that isn’t a tedious concept!). And I didn’t much like Her — our Saturday movie — which couldn’t decide if it was ironic or aiming for some deeper, more meaningful message; however, the dialogue, when it aimed for deep and meaningful, was truly terrible; also, it featured another self-pitying main character, on whose face the camera fixated for excruciatingly long spells (I suppose that’s a necessary complication of a movie about a man in love with his operating system). The best thing about the movie were the pants that all the men wore in this slightly futuristic time and place. I’m dead serious. The pants are hilarious.
I like going out to the movies. I’ve realized, though, that I’ve lost my patience for movies a) in which the characters are very sorry for themselves and/or b) the women play entirely token roles and/or c) love is too mysterious to be understood. Please. Love is not too mysterious to be understood. It’s the stuff of living, not the stuff of pondering. Or maybe I’m just grumpy these days.
It is really cold. It just keeps snowing.
I would like to a see a movie in which the girls and women talk to each other, and pursue interests that do not relate to romance or motherhood (we can throw some of that in too, but it doesn’t have to be the full meal deal). Y’know? Am I missing those movies? Are they out there?
Sunday day: morning run to kick out my restlessness, outside even though it was snowing and really cold; soccer game in Mississauga; late-afternoon tasks and organizing, while Kevin made pad thai.
Sunday evening: yoga in our living-room, led by AppleApple.
Actual dialogue, overheard during savasana:
AppleApple [soothing tones]: Try to empty your mind.
CJ: This is so BORING!
AppleApple [soothing tones]: Lie still. Try to empty your mind. [pause] [tones becoming less soothing] Lie still! [pause] I can see what you’re doing! Try to EMPTY YOUR MIND!
Some days I don’t have so much to say. Some days I’m teeming with ideas. Today is the former. I find myself a bit dazed and distant, wandering my treadmill (though I promised not to mention it). Maybe it was being awoken at 4:44 AM by a whining dog, and then submitting to the realization that I wasn’t fated to fall back asleep, given that my alarm was set for 5:05 AM. And the dog would not stop whining. Even after I took her outside.
I brought the dog inside. I drank a glass of water and brushed my teeth. I woke my daughter for swimming. I dressed and did yoga in the dark of the living-room. And then I went out for a run (-19C). It was a bit earlier than I usually go, and the streets seemed especially dark and empty. My eyelashes became bejewelled with droplets of ice. Cold seeped through my double and triple and quadruple layers. I ran as fast as I could, but I couldn’t run myself warm. I saw three people during my entire run, and a single vehicle passed me. The neighbourhood felt that emptied out, that silent, that blissfully asleep. And I was blissfully awake. I am a complete convert to the early morning.
The people I saw: one woman going for a walk; one woman going for a run; one man I’ve seen before (or smelled, more precisely), who walks down the middle of a particular street smoking a cigar at approximately 6:15 AM (eep!).
Before kids and jobs, as a university student, my interior clock was switched around. I did my best work after midnight, and had difficulty rising in time to make my 11 o’clock classes. Maybe waking early is just another version of that devotion to the hours when most of the world is asleep. I think that’s what I love about being awake early. I love the quiet. The illusion of solitude. The sense of being a watchful eye on the sleeping houses.
My daughter was so happy when I picked her up at the pool, maybe for the same reasons, though I don’t know for sure.
I’m not saying it’s easy to set the alarm, or that it comes naturally, even now, after several years of practice. Oddly, it’s actually not. It’s actually something that I have to remind myself, almost every single time, will be worth it. If there’s a secret to discipline, it’s this: the first step is the hardest one to take. I forget this regularly, and learn it again, regularly, very often at 5 o’clock in the morning when my resistance is low and I’m somehow willing to stagger forth. The first step is the hardest.
A habit I’m reinstating: yoga, once a week. I went to a free class on my birthday, and renewed my commitment to practice more regularly, and not just in my office (although that counts too, and is valuable). I like being pushed, in a class setting, to hold poses longer than comfortable. I like the community feeling, too. And I’ve become excellent at savasana. I’m serious! When I started practicing yoga, four years ago, I hated lying in the final pose, and had to force myself to be still and stay in the room. I was absolutely itching to get up and get going — after all, the hard work was done; what was the point of lying around?
Now I open my eyes and think, Uh-oh, there are only two people left in here, and the next class is waiting to get in. And while I haven’t been asleep in savasana, I have been away. It’s that away-ness, that emptying out, that I’m committing to again this year. I remind myself, again, that I can’t grab for things; that isn’t how it works. The things that are truly worthwhile arrive, alight like the gifts they are. The moments we live for. I’m not saying sit back and relax while the universe takes care of everything. I’m saying, prepare yourself always for these moments of grace, and recognize them when they come. That’s all. Choose work you love, if you can, so that the process always seems to be renewing and refreshing itself, so you’ll always have more to learn, so you’ll stay curious and engaged.
After yesterday’s class, I found myself reflecting on the word “discernment.” (Fellow Mennonites are likely to be familiar with this word.) It’s a word I’ve long disliked. At worst, I suspect it of being code for “refusal to decide” or “failure to take a stand” or “terminal wishy-washyness” or “paralysis of purpose.” (Can you tell I would flunk at committee meetings?) I’m not against reflection or debate or consideration. But at a certain point — and who’s to say when this is? — the discernment must end and the decision-making begin.
Or maybe that’s my problem with discernment. Maybe I don’t like for discernment to be artificially separated out from action. Maybe the way I figure things out is to do, to try, to practice, to hash it out along the way, to stuff my foot in my mouth from time to time and learn the hard way. Maybe I believe less in coming around to clarity, than in going on gut and whim and instinct. I really don’t know. Too many questions, too much guilt, too much worry about being politically correct or causing offence, and I grind to a halt, afraid to do or try or say anything. But the opposite of discernment is Rob Ford: shameless empty entitled belligerent self-pitying posturing. There’s got to be a middle ground. There’s got to be a way to be in this world that is considerate and out-spoken, compassionate and practical, whole and vulnerable, open and strong, clear and welcoming, thoughtful and active.
There’s got to be.
That’s my savasana reflection, from January 9th, 2014. Perhaps this will be the first in a small, ongoing series.
Cold rain run this morning. Yoga stretching to kundalini playlist before that. Soon after, a quick shower. Picking up two swim kids from the pool, eating bananas. Eating eggs on toast. Braiding the hair of two red-headed girls. Laundry. One minor meltdown (mine) on the subject of the constant stream of demands directed at MOM, when Dad is clearly standing right there, too. (Why? How is it possible that I am the recipient of all grievances, from the much-loathed raincoat that has yet to be replaced, to the injured knee, to the pangs of hunger, to the lack of desirable snacks? I suppose I should counter that by noting that I am also the recipient of news, ideas, stories, and proud dictee results. Where was I?) Driving costumed children to school to avoid the rain. Stopping to get a coffee and croissant at our local French bakery. Falling into a coma of a nap. Wondering why I’m so tired.
Rain on Halloween, for trick-or-treating. Plus high winds, apparently, yet to come.
But we’re ready. The pumpkins have been carved. Kevin even got out the drill, which all the kids heard from their beds last night. “Oh, that’s what you were doing!” I saw the trick somewhere online. It does result in a really pretty lantern-like effect. I affect an effect. That’s what I say every time I try to remember whether it’s affect or effect.
Yeah, I’m tired.
I raced to my office last night to finish prepping for today’s class. I still haven’t found any scary stories to share. The problem is, mainly, that I don’t read scary stories. I hate being scared! So does CJ. When I returned home from campus last night, the pumpkins were being carved and he was watching a “Halloween playlist” on YouTube. Guess what happened the instant I walked in the door. He hopped off his stool and came running to me, his eyes popping out of his head: “There are dead people coming out of the ground!”
See what I mean: I’d only just got home. How long had the dead people been coming out of the ground, exactly? “What the hell is he watching?” Yes, this will be a little exercise in dialogue, just like I’m going to have my students do tonight.
“Dead people coming out of the ground!”
“You’ve got to be kidding me! You’re letting him watch this?”
How to convey silence within dialogue: The pumpkin continued to be carved.
“At first it was funny, it was my favourite song from Just Dance! But then dead people came out of the ground!” “You need to stop thinking about it.” Clutching my leg: “Dead people coming out of the ground.” “Think about something happy! Like Daddy getting to sleep in your bed tonight!” Actually, I didn’t say that. But I thought it.
And CJ slept fine, so he must have not been permanently scarred.
But he was back at my elbow when I was repairing his clown costume a little while later, so that he could go to school today as a line from his current favourite song, not featuring anyone coming out of the ground: Baby, be the class clown, I’ll be the beauty queen. “Mommy,” he whispered, pulling my arm as I stitched impatiently. “Dead people. Coming out of the ground.” “It is time to think about something else. Hey, Grandma’s coming over! She’s here!” “Can we play?” “You can play until I finish this. It should take about ten minutes.”
It took about half an hour. I’m bad at sewing. And apparently also at estimates.
Meanwhile, we put that half hour to further use and discovered a costume for our eldest, who was hesitating about even going trick-or-treating. I think twelve is too young to quit the candy game. You’ll be forced out in a few years anyway. Enjoy it while you can! You’re only young once! Etc. “But I can’t think of anything. And it’s going to rain anyway.” (He was right about the latter, as it turns out, if not the former.) We brainstormed possibilities. He’d just been given a hand-me-down dress shirt and tie. Stuff it with a pillow? Rob Ford? But AppleApple had a slicker, higher-concept idea: “Nigel Wright!”
She even fashioned her brother a special prop, of her own design. I won’t get into it if you’re not a fan of obscure Canadian politics, but I think a few parents might appreciate the costume when he arrives on their doorstep, with Monopoly money spilling out of his pockets, and the over-sized cheque. Kevin and I have a new inside joke; when discovering ourselves in trouble of any kind, we just ask: “What Would Duffy Do?”
But better to ask, at this point in the sluggish grey day, larded with high-level obscure Canadian political gossip, for which I seem to have a boundless appetite: What Would Carrie Do?
Carrie had better turn off the internet, finish her class prep, make an early supper, and keep working on the intro for the panel discussion at next Saturday’s Wild Writers Festival, which deserves a more comprehensive plug, don’t you think? Here’s my attempt:
Writers and readers in Waterloo, the Wild Writers Festival is coming to town next weekend (Nov. 8-10), and promises to be a rollicking and inspiring event. Many events are free, and intensive workshops with amazing writers are $20/each. The festival is in its second year, and if its first was anything to go by, this one will be warm, welcoming, thought-provoking, and unique. I’ll be there, soaking it all up (and leading a panel discussion (free!) that includes the fabulous Elisabeth de Mariaffi, coming all the way from Newfoundland!). Please pass on the word, and come if you can.
Tickets here, and registration for the free events, too.
A few things. If you don’t hear from me, assume I’m writing. Or summering.
So far, this holiday has made a lot of sense. The kids are swimming in the mornings, and I write (working on revisions) all afternoon. We’re travelling by bicycle as much as we can. I’m back to running and soccer, so life it is good. It is filled with goodness.
I took my yoga mat and stretched on the grass, Saturday afternoon, while watching my daughter practice her keeper skills. Rain was lightly falling. It’s been hot, humid. It was just about the perfect afternoon.
No photos of my younger daughter, but you never know, she might step in and make a claim for the title “soccer girl,” too. On Thursday evening, Kevin and I watched in amazement as our sturdy and determined seven-year-old carried the ball up the field, beating out player after player, and calmly fired it into the net. Five times. Seriously. We know she’s got the skills, but this was the first we’d seen the fire-in-the-belly. Our jaws were dropping. We were so curious to know what had inspired her, but all Fooey said afterward when we asked how did you just do that??? was, “It was a different goalie, so it was easy.” Um, okay.
(I wish I could say that. And I wish I had even half her foot skills. I mean, she dominated. That is not a word Kevin and I tend to associate with sweet Fooey.)
I love the very different personalities that pour out of these fascinating individuals I get to claim as my kids. I love trying to figure them out. What makes you tick? What gets you excited? What brings you to life?
It’s berry season in our backyard.
And it looks like rain, again.
We’ve got more soccer coming up this evening, I’ve got laundry to drag off the line, and another half an hour to direct toward Girl Runner. I love when life makes sense like this. It doesn’t always. I spend a lot of time flailing around worrying about direction, although I don’t love to blog about those parts. (Maybe I should? So life doesn’t look too perfect?)
I’m super-thankful when everything seems to fit together.
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