Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Here's where I'm spending this week. My favourite part of the photo, above, is CJ's tiger overseeing the situation (ironically, it's the part that gets cut out of the photo when this blog is posted online; I'm sure that's a metaphor for something). I'm marking. That's what I'm doing. By the end of this evening, I expect to be more than halfway done. (That's the sound of me knocking on wood.) If all goes as planned, I will finish on Friday. (The knocking is getting louder.)
Maybe then I can fold that basket of clean laundry at the end of the table, which will no doubt have expanded into two wildly overflowing baskets of clean laundry if left until then.
Anyway, if you don't hear from me between now and the weekend, you'll know what I'm up to. And why my posture is deteriorating by the hour. And why I suddenly have the urge to write. In broken. Oddly, punctuated, sentences. Grumpy oldster comment ahead, but I don't think anyone's teaching kids grammar anymore (did anyone, ever, come to think of it?). It's like they're on their own, trying to negotiate a sea of inexplicable commas. I want to help them!
Here's an awkward transition. I'll just throw it in like this.
Can you spot the common theme in the following two photos?
new art area
I'm signing off. Pencil in hand, freshly sharpened, back to the table, back to the tiger. I can see it, even if you can't.
Monday, December 2, 2013
coming from behind in the 200-metre BR
This wasn't my whole weekend, but it was part of it: another swim meet, a warm-up for the big meet in two weeks, which takes place near Ottawa, and to which my girl will be going without me. She will travel with her team, stay in a hotel with teammates, and race without me there to cheer her on in the stands. "I'll be fine!" she told me this morning, when I was fretting over it. "You'll be fine," Kevin told her, "but I'm not so sure about your mother."
And here I thought I was prepared to send her off. I was being all grown-up about it and practical (it would be expensive; I'd have to drive myself and stay in my own hotel room), especially knowing how excited she is to be going on an adventure all her own (well-chaperoned by coaches, of course).
I think I can do it. I think I can.
This is what I did in the stands on Saturday, while trying to practice good posture. I'm really enjoying this book, which I'd purchased awhile back before it won the Giller, because I love short stories. Looking down at my little pile, I realized how reliant my afternoon was on electronic devices. The phone to text updates to Kevin and my mom. The Kobo reader. The camera to take photographs. And then the meet sheet print-out, old-school, for keeping track of events.
The late afternoon sun on the water was striking. Sometimes it's the littlest things that make me feel satisfied, creatively. Even with only a point-and-shoot camera at my disposal, there are moments of beauty to notice and to capture.
She was pleased with her races, but especially with her 200 metre back, where she took 16 seconds off her previous personal best, swum only three weeks ago. This despite thinking she was done with a lap still to go, and stopping at the end; her coach had to yell at her to keep going. (She still won her heat). She loses count during the long races, she says. A similar thing happened in the first race, the 200 metre breast, when she thought she had a lap left to go, and held back a bit rather than sprinting as she usually would in her final lap. She was quite disappointed with that race because she got the same time as her previous best. She's just moved up to the 11-12 age group, which means no more medals till she grows a bit. Luckily, she doesn't seem to race for the medals, but for the personal bests.
The sky was beautiful when we stepped out into the parking lot. We were both famished. Kevin made burgers and fried potatoes on the barbeque, and we were home in time to eat together as a family. The conversation was all about dreams. There was also some gentle mockery of my lousy advent calendar activities last year. So I surprised them with chocolate advent calendars yesterday morning, which felt extravagant, I'll admit.
Also yesterday, we put up the Christmas tree and decorated it. Fooey cleaned up the art area, a massive task, to make room for the tree. That kid can organize! Advent feels unexpectedly real and important to me this year: waiting through the darkest days for the light to come again. The kids interpret this time as anticipatory, and I love that, and would love to grab a bit of that emotion for myself, rather than worrying about all that needs to be brought about, and whether I'll have the energy to do it. Looking forward to, rather than waiting it out.
I didn't run this weekend, not at all. On Friday night, feeling flattened by the week, I hung out with the soccer parents at the bar instead (drinking tea). Aha! So this is what they do while I'm out racing around in the dark, thought I. Saturday, I chose not to wake early for a run, and my day was otherwise occupied with the meet. Sunday, the girl had an early soccer game. I'd planned to run when we got home, but instead went to bed and slept for nearly two hours. And then staggered up to make buttermilk biscuits and turkey gravy for supper (a huge hit!), folded laundry, read the kids their bedtime story, and returned to bed early despite that long nap. I do feel better today. So maybe going for a run isn't always the answer. What do I know?
Friday, November 29, 2013
We ended with a "poetry slam," and the students got to read/perform something they'd written for the course. I brought snacks. It was fun.
At the very end of class, I handed back an assignment and said, "And I'd like to give you all a copy of my first book." Was I ever surprised when the class erupted in cheers. "Really? Wow, I'm so relieved," I said. "I thought maybe it was kind of lame on my part, like, hey, guys, here's my book ..." "It feels like we're on Oprah," someone said (of course with irony). "Like we should be checking under our chairs." "Yes, there's a publishing contract for everyone under your chairs," I said. That was a joke. But I did give them all a copy of HAIR HAT, which isn't obtainable anyway by other means, since it's out of print, a fact I'd shared with them in an earlier class during my inspirational lecture on "Being a Writer is All About Rejection and Disappointment"; though I had to revise my lecture somewhat after selling GIRL RUNNER the very next week. "Being a Writer is All About Rejection and Disappointment, Except When It's Also About Your Dreams Actually Coming True!"
A few students were curious to know whether I'd teach again. I got the general impression that they hoped I would, and that they hoped I'd enjoyed teaching them. I know it will/would be easier next time, having laid out a curriculum that worked quite well, and would work better with a few minor tinkerings and adjustments. But I can only do it if I have the time. And that remains to be seen.
I do think it was good and useful work, and I'm glad to have been given the opportunity to do it. It felt, I'll admit, like a major responsibility for which I have no training; in other words, a fairly daunting task, now undertaken, and accomplished. Except for the final marking. Oh, right. The marking.
I'll miss the room, above.
I'll miss the warm, comfortable atmosphere that developed in the room as the term progressed and we all got to know each other. I'll miss hearing the students' stories, too.
I won't have to miss my office quite yet, however, as I'll be back to visit regularly over the next week or two in order to plough through that aforementioned marking. I like marking there. It's quiet and I'm not distracted, and it feels like it's what I'm there to do, so I do it. Also, I work hard because I want to get done and go home. There's food at home.
Wish me luck.
Thursday, November 28, 2013
the box, in its early stages
I made a mistake last night.
AppleApple's completed project on "the history of women in the Olympics" sat on our dining-room table, ready to be hauled in to school today. I saw an empty spot on the box (she designed the visual project using a large cardboard box with doors that open to reveal photos of athletes, with blurbs about their accomplishments). I thought to myself, wouldn't it be the perfect tribute to fill that empty spot with a photo of the project's author, on the soccer field, with a little blurb in the style of the blurbs she'd written about the other athletes? So I took it upon myself to do this, even though it was really late at night, and I was really tired, and in no way had the child herself asked me to.
She walked in from swimming this morning, 7:30AM, saw her box in the dim light of day, and freaked out. "What did you do to my project?" she wailed. To say that she didn't like my addition would be a serious understatement. She was in tears. She couldn't explain why. (Was it because I was putting undue pressure on her to become an Olympic athlete -- not my intention? No! It wasn't that! she told me in a very irritated tone.) Carefully, I peeled off the photo and blurb, apologizing sincerely, and sincerely wondering at myself for trying so hard and getting it so wrong.
"Realism and kindness are your hallmarks," my mom texted me this morning, on a separate subject altogether. I appreciate her encouragement.
It seems not to apply in this instance at all. That probably makes me doubly appreciative.
I would like to think that some of the time it's true to my character.
This morning, I was re-reading blog posts from this time last year. Much sounds the same: swim meets, soccer, busy, busy, busy. But there's one main difference. I was writing. I was writing a draft of Girl Runner, in fact. Happiness shone out of my words. This is what those blog posts told me: I am happiest when I'm writing.
This fall has been hard because I've been missing my writing. It's as simple as that. I'll get back to it soon. It's as simple as that, too.
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Last week I blogged about fiction versus non-fiction, and a friend posted a link to an article titled "Based on a True Story. Or Not." If you've got time to ponder the subject, go off now and read it. If you're in a hurry, here's my brisk summary:
The essay is about the use of autobiography in poetry. We, the reader, tend to assume that a personal-sounding poem is autobiographical. So what happens when we, the reader, discover that a personal-sounding poem is in fact fictional? Do we have a sense of being cheated out of something "real," or of having been fooled or tricked by the poet? Why do we want so badly to know that the poet wrote out of experience rather than imagination? Why does it matter to us?
Because it does matter, at least to many of us.
I've visited quite a few book clubs for The Juliet Stories. There is one question asked every time, usually immediately, a variation of: "Is this story something that really happened to you?" How I answer the question probably depends on my mood, and I often feel rather weary as I try to explain my creative process. But even if I don't welcome the question, exactly, I don't disdain it. I've come to believe the question must tap into something fundamental within us, something held in common, as readers. That we come to a story looking for truth. We come looking for the connections between author and subject. We want to believe in the veracity of what's being told. (Maybe we want to be part of the story or become closer to it, by being witnesses rather than "mere" readers.)
The closer a story appears to be to autobiography, the more jarring it is to be told: this is fiction. We're not comfortable with something we suspect to be full of half-truths, which are also, of course, half-falsehoods. I find it very difficult to wrestle with these distinctions. I'd rather say, "None of this happened" than "Bits of this happened"; while the thought of saying "This all happened" makes my skin crawl. I've got no desire to be a memoirist, clearly.
But every story I've ever written has been inspired by a glimpse of something actual, whether it be a house I once lived in, or the memory of an emotion that washed over me in a specific situation, or an amulet from childhood, or by knowledge I've personally gained cooking or horseback riding or running. I get my ideas from life. But an idea isn't a story, an emotion isn't a story, a glimpse isn't a story. To make a story, I imagine what might have been if life were different. I seek alternative explanations for those things I can't explain. I go off the trail. I wonder. I make it up.
As a fiction writer, I'm not asking my readers to be witnesses, to paraphrase the conclusion of the essay cited above. I'm asking my readers to imagine.
Curious, though. What am I asking of readers here on the blog? This isn't fiction, obviously. This is it. Here, perhaps, I'm asking you to be witnesses.
Yesterday at 9AM I wanted to write a post that listed in fine detail every damn thing I'd already accomplished since waking four hours previously; but I was too tired to do it, and instead went upstairs and fell into the oblivion of a nap. It will sound like bragging. Maybe it is. I don't mean it to be. I myself am astonished and only want to record it because I doubt I'll believe it years from now, the pace at which I'm currently pushing myself, wondering whether it's too much, whether I'll stumble, and badly. (Note: Kevin was working in Toronto yesterday, and usually shares half these duties.)
5:04 - Alarm. Brush teeth, dress.
5:11 - Daughter's alarm. Help her get ready for swimming.
5:19 - See daughter off with carpooling friend.
5:33 - In darkness, leave house for a run on snowy roads.
6:29 - Home after 10.2km (slow; muscles never warmed up in the cold).
6:33 - Dash out with whining dogs for walk, chilled.
6:47 - Feed dogs. Shower. Dress. Scarf toast with PB.
7:00 - Wake eldest son to watch dogs and be on alert for rising children. Leave for pool. Listen to news on the radio, blast the heat.
7:15 - Pick up daughter and friend at pool. Feed them bananas. Chat.
7:25 - Drop off friend.
7:35 - Home. Feed myself and daughter poached eggs on toast.
7:55 - See friends waiting for elder son to walk to school, run out and tell them go; he's sick. Call school to report his impending absence.
8:00 - Send daughter to bed.
8:03 - Wake small children. Dress smallest.
8:15 - Feed small children vanilla yogurt with cut-up pears. Empty dishwasher, begin filling again.
8:19 - Check lunch boxes, add desserts, make snack to put into smallest's coat pocket for field trip, as per instructions on form sent home by teachers, lost, and then after much searching, found. Start load of laundry. Wash beans for supper.
8:29 - Get small children into outdoor clothes. Not quickly enough.
8:37 - Wake eldest daughter. Drive small children to meet friends for their walk to school (they usually walk there).
8:47 - Wake eldest daughter again. Pack her school bag.
9:01 - Drive eldest daughter to her school (she usually walks there, too).
9:10 - Check on sick eldest son, returned to bed. Make him a cup of tea.
9:20 - Crate dogs. Nap.
9:50 - Woken by whining dogs. Get up. Feel grumpy. Get on with it.
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Picture this guy, minus the helmet, in pajamas, tucked into my bed to read stories, which we've just finished. Here is the conversation that follows.
"What can we talk about now, Mommy?"
"How about bedtime?"
"Let's talk about your face."
"My face? It's a pretty ordinary face. It's got two eyes, a nose, a mouth, a chin ..."
"And! It has stripes."
"Here, on your forehead. And here, on your neck."
"Stripes, huh."(Can't stop laughing.)
"Now let's talk about your head."
"Do we have to?"
"You have a very fat head."
"I don't think that's accurate."
"I mean, it's round."
"Now let's talk about your pillow."
"Let's talk about your pillow. Your pillow is soft, and cozy, and warm, and you can lay your head down and go right to sleep."
"Carry me." (Arms out.)
Monday, November 25, 2013
It went and got cold.
AppleApple had an outdoor practice in a snowstorm on Saturday morning, at which I could have chosen to go for a run in solidarity. Instead, I stayed in the car letting the sunshine warm me while starting Hell Going, by Lynn Coady, which I'd purchased on my Kobo awhile back. We passed three car accidents on the way to the soccer field, all fender-benders caused by drivers who had forgotten how to drive in winter conditions. As in: slow the heck down, people! It was a white-knuckle trip, and we were most terrified that someone, travelling too fast, would simply slide into us.
Other activities this weekend included a date night out with friends (no children) on Friday evening, three soccer games and two more practices, one gigantic homework project (still unfinished), and a birthday dinner at a sushi restaurant that was appallingly, and ultimately comically, dreadful. "The only logical way this can end is in food poisoning," observed one of my brothers. He was hungry -- we all were, as wait staff appeared to "lose" our orders in a potted plant near the cash register -- but was hesitating to eat what looked like leftover stir-fry rice fashioned into a maki roll, battered, and deep-fried.
I squeezed in a run yesterday afternoon, double-layered, and relished the wind and snow flashing into my face. All was well and good.
But then I crashed. I left Kevin with the supper dishes and crawled into bed early. This turned out to be the perfect medicine. Three of the kids (including my very biggest) snuggled with me and I read them several chapters in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, which is the book we've chosen post-Little-House. They're loving it. CJ almost couldn't get to bed he was so caught up in wondering when the Lion would come in to the story, and would it be a real lion?
Then I read for pure pleasure for another hour, and then two, and then, finally, slept. Up early for kettlebell class. Dithered a bit, considered skipping, but couldn't sleep anyway. I've trained my body to wake like clockwork around 5AM. I knew class would be hard, but worth it, and it was, and it was. I so appreciate having a comforting, familiar place to go to in the early morning, and a friend to go with.
Fooey's Christmas wish list, my copy; also on desk right now: inspirational "go!" artwork, also by Fooey; and a much-scribbled-in calendar
I can't believe it's almost advent.
Will I put up the advent activity calendar that so disappointed my children last year? Can I slow down even the slightest in order to prepare for the season? So many things I would like to do: bake cookies, put up a tree, take a family photo for Christmas cards, buy something special for each of the kids, dream up delicious menus for dinners ...