Tuesday, July 29, 2014

An almost-birthday adventure for two

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Taking the train to Toronto, yesterday morning. "We're going in fast-forward!"

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"I am going to the aquarium with only mom." - Fooey, age eight, almost nine, recording the event for posterity on her train ticket.

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Observation: it's really hard to get good photos at an aquarium. This stops no one from trying repeatedly, including me. There must be thousands of terrible shark photos now in existence that were directly spawned by those who squeezed, squawled, and wandered with giant strollers around the aquarium in Toronto yesterday afternoon. Here are mine.

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Good selfies are even harder than good shark photos. "This one looks eerie." "What's that mean?" "Like this." "Oh."

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It was a very special day, with only us.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

From Alice Munro country

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There is so much in this interview with Alice Munro, from 1994 in The Paris Review, that I want to go on quoting and quoting from it. Here is a sample. I urge you to read the whole thing (pour yourself a cup of tea and enjoy the length, depth, and breadth of the conversation).

MUNRO
I was like a Victorian daughter—the pressure to marry was so great, one felt it was something to get out of the way: Well, I’ll get that done, and they can’t bug me about it, and then I’ll be a real person and my life will begin. I think I married to be able to write, to settle down and give my attention back to the important thing. Sometimes now when I look back at those early years I think, This was a hard-hearted young woman. I’m a far more conventional woman now than I was then.

INTERVIEWER
Doesn’t any young artist, on some level, have to be hard-hearted?

MUNRO
It’s worse if you’re a woman. I want to keep ringing up my children and saying, Are you sure you’re all right? I didn’t mean to be such a . . . Which of course would make them furious because it implies that they’re some kind of damaged goods. Some part of me was absent for those children, and children detect things like that. Not that I neglected them, but I wasn’t wholly absorbed. When my oldest daughter was about two, she’d come to where I was sitting at the typewriter, and I would bat her away with one hand and type with the other. I’ve told her that. This was bad because it made her the adversary to what was most important to me. I feel I’ve done everything backwards: this totally driven writer at the time when the kids were little and desperately needed me. And now, when they don’t need me at all, I love them so much. I moon around the house and think, There used to be a lot more family dinners.

:: And one final anecdote, from the interviewers' introduction...

After a while, Munro took us to Goderich, a bigger town, the county seat, where she installed us in the Bedford Hotel on the square across from the courthouse. The hotel is a nineteenth-century building with comfortable rooms (twin beds and no air-conditioning) that would seem to lodge a librarian or a frontier schoolteacher in one of Munro’s stories. Over the next three days, we talked in her home, but never with the tape recorder on. We conducted the interview in our small room at the hotel, as Munro wanted to keep “the business out of the house.” Both Munro and her husband grew up within twenty miles of where they now live; they knew the history of almost every building we passed, admired, or ate inside. We asked what sort of literary community was available in the immediate area. Although there is a library in Goderich, we were told the nearest good bookstore was in Stratford, some thirty miles away. When we asked whether there were any other local writers, she drove us past a ramshackle house where a man sat bare chested on the back stoop, crouched over a typewriter, surrounded by cats. “He’s out there every day,” she said. “Rain or shine. I don’t know him, but I’m dying of curiosity to find out what he’s up to.”


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

And then we rented a dumpster

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I seem to be happiest when in motion. I can't say why this is, but contentment seems to derive from a sense of continuing, a stream of mostly humble activities rolling one in the next into the next, overlapping, flowing always forward and pulling me along.

I'm wary of inertia.

I ward it off with projects and lists, with the demands of parenting, and the urgency of getting to the right place at the right time.

This sense of urgency can make me feel drawn, tense, running on pure adrenalin. Or, oddly, it can make me feel calm, serene, like I'm being swept along rather than having to propel myself. This summer feels like a bit of both, but mostly, I've been feeling calm about where I'm at. I've been feeling buoyed and buoyant and not overwhelmed, even as I'm whirled from task to task.

Kevin and I accomplished something major on the weekend. We rented a dumpster and cleared eleven years of why-are-we-keeping-this junk from our attic, basement, garage, and many closets and cupboards. We filled it to the top. It felt cathartic and it was a ton of labour, squeezed in around three soccer games on Saturday (only we would think a mere three soccer games on a Saturday is an invitation to rent a dumpster), a long run on Sunday morning (me), and a soccer practice on Sunday evening. The resulting purge of possessions was like preparing for a move, without the necessity of actually moving anywhere.

My conclusion: we should do this at least once a decade. I'll put it on my to-do list for 2024.

And the things we got rid of. I put anything that looked even moderately appealing out on the curb. We may have a hoarder in our neighbourhood because boy, did items go fast. At one point, I set out a miniature crockpot, then realized it was threatening to rain. "I'll just bring that up on the porch for now," thought I, heading back out for the rescue -- but it was already gone. Vanished. It felt quite remarkable, like discovering a black hole or something, a vacancy down which to toss all those things that still seemed useful, not junk, but no longer wanted by us. I imagine it, now, somewhere nearby, stuffed into the corners of someone else's life, while our lives are somehow lightened by the space that's been cleared.

::

On the schedule this week …
one child at musical theatre camp, with performances on Friday
one child at horse camp
several soccer practices + four games
one story contest to help judge (done, this morning!)
one book launch party to plan
many kilometres to run (training for the Run for the Toad in October)
one wedding to celebrate (my little sister Edna is getting married! and I get to call her little because she's twelve and a half years younger than me)

On, on, on we go. Even when I'm really tired, I feel the tidal pull, carrying me along, and I'm glad for it. I'm glad for being at a stage in my career where I'm being invited to participate. You won't catch me complaining about being too busy. It means: wealth of experiences. It means: my cup runneth over. It means, for me, a constant source of replenishment.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Amen, Lorrie Moore

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This is excerpted from a long interview called "The Art of Fiction" with Lorrie Moore in the Paris Review, from 2001. You can read the whole thing here. (With thanks to Anakana Schofield for pointing me to it.)

INTERVIEWER
Could you talk about the moment you decided to become a writer, if there was one that you can put your finger on? Or was it always obvious?

MOORE
It’s never always obvious.

INTERVIEWER
Some writers seem to think it was inevitable—they were writing poems when they were five and never stopped.

MOORE
Does that mean it’s obvious? I’d like to see some of those poems.

INTERVIEWER
So you don’t feel you were destined to it, that you had no other choice but to be a writer?

MOORE
Well, that’s all very romantic, and I can be as romantic as the next person. (I swear.) But the more crucial point is the moment you give yourself permission to do it, which is a decision that is both romantic and bloody-minded—it involves desire and foolish hope, but also a deep involvement with one’s art, some sort of useful self-confidence, and some kind of economic plan. One’s life, especially one’s artistic life, is an interplay of many things and the timing of encouragement—from teachers or parents—is also one of the most important elements. Although both my parents are creative people in their way, I was not especially encouraged by them, which might have been good. I certainly don’t blame them. I think they believed you threw things at your children—lessons, books, music—and then let the children sort it out, that if you were too present or too committed to a child’s accomplishment in any area, the child would run away. This, of course, is not really true. Or rather it’s not extremely true. But I received most of my initial encouragement in college, from professors, and by then I was ready to absorb it. I didn’t have the financial freedom to be a writer and have always struggled with that, but I also knew I didn’t want to find myself sixty-five years old and ruing the moment in my youth when I became prematurely practical. I wasn’t at all sure whether I would be able to survive as a writer for the rest of my life. But I decided to keep going for as long as I could and let someone else lock me up for incurable insanity.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Best of summer

Top ten travel locations so far this summer

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the point at Seeley's Bay, Ontario

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soccer field(s), Fooey's team

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soccer field(s), Albus's team

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soccer field(s), AppleApple's team

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Silver Lake camp

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Kingston, for tournament, with siblings, cousins, aunt and Grandma

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Swimplex, Nepean, with cousins, aunt and Grandma

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Ottawa

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en route, from somewhere to somewhere

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our house; swim lessons; friends' houses; backyard

Top five reasons I'm blogging less this summer.

1. I'm out and about with the kids all the time. And I'm swimming at lunchtime.
2. I'm prioritizing writing work in those spare moments not populated by children and their summer activities (and mine).
3. Blog-time is going largely toward building a new web site to house this slightly long-in-the-tooth blog.
4. Summer. Have I mentioned summer?
5. See above. And below.

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last day of school, June 26, 2014

Monday, July 7, 2014

Summer, you are killing me

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Oh summer. Summer summer. Summer! I love you and you are killing me with your demands, with your late nights and early mornings, your travel time spent in highway traffic going to far-flung soccer tournaments, swim meets, and beaches, and I realize how privileged that sounds -- and is -- but I've been to Toronto (twice), Ancaster, London (twice), Kincardine, Ottawa, Sauble Beach, and Kingston in the last five weeks, and if I have to spend another kilometre on the road I might dissolve into genuine rage. Or tears. I might come undone. Oh wait, summer, you're sending me to Elora tonight for a soccer match in a rainstorm. Okay. I will do it. There's seems no other way but through.

Summer, there's more. I know I'm putting this all on you, but I have to tell you. You are killing me with your lack of school. It's my own fault that I have four children. I take full responsibility for that. But there's no substitute for school. Despite no lack of planning and foresight, summer, these four children, or some combo thereof, have taken over the house all day long. And for large portions of the evening too. I've started going to bed before some of them do. They are right this second making themselves elaborate lunches in the kitchen. I can't even discuss the state of the living-room.

And the laundry. I weep.

I have told my four children to leave me alone for twenty minutes, which, frankly, seems a lot to ask given all the elaborate lunch-making currently underway. I am going to my office, I cried, and you must pretend that I am not here for twenty minutes!

I see my time is nearly up.

I am about to get in the car and drive to another set of swim lessons.

I have a message from a publisher, waiting, regarding a book cover. I have a magazine pitch to work up on a story I'm really excited to dig into -- on women in sports. I have an essay waiting to be finished. Not to mention the book-writing writing that is on-going, and that I try to make an every-day event, but which is suddenly -- summer, this really is on you -- a rare occasion, shoved into corners, typing away in a car at a soccer field behind a high school in Elora. You know? It isn't ideal. I don't think it's conducive to top flight work, summer.

And what of the lounging with gin & tonics, summer? Can you slide that in somewhere, please? Could you give me an evening out with my husband to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary? Could you let me lie around and read a book?

I'm putting this all on you, summer, but I get it, I do. I'm the one setting the course, running the race, putting in the miles. While you while away. So maybe it's not you; maybe it's me. Whatever, as the kids say. What's clear is this: one of us is killing the other.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Life skills

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Summer is here. And I am not, so much, here.

I keep taking photos of everywhere we go, and everything we do, but my photo computer is dying a long slow death (probably caused by the photos), making processing next to impossible. And time is of the essence. I wonder who first expressed that phrase. Time is of the essence. Could it have been Shakespeare? AppleApple and I listened to Bill Bryson's biography of Shakespeare on our long drive this weekend. We both got a kick out of it.

She and I were in Ottawa all weekend for provincials. She won a silver medal with her relay team, and achieved personal bests in all of her swims, making for a happy time at the pool. (I watched World Cup matches on a TV hung on the wall just outside the pool deck doors, which, I won't lie, was an awesome way to see the games -- instant community.) Out of the pool, we walked to Parliament Hill, spent time with family, and I went for early morning runs along the Rideau Canal. "You should have brought your running shoes!" I said on the first evening, picturing a mother-daughter jog beside the still waters, and she said, "Mom, do you remember why we're here? My coach said I'm not supposed to run before races!" Oh, right. Swimming. Not holidaying. I'm glad I forgot for a bit. I'm glad it felt like a holiday.

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While we were away, my baby went off to camp for the first time. Two nights. And I wasn't even there. I miss him in a way that I can't even express so I'm trying instead to suppress. Know what I mean? "Mom, I think he's handling this better than you are."

School is out. It's hot.

I need more alone time. I'm wearing ear plugs. We have a lost library book to deal with and a wrong-sized swim suit to return and swim lessons starting today. I have no idea how I will get any work done this summer; or more specifically, today, or on any day this coming week. I'm feeling slightly afraid; also overwhelmed. With everyone around it seems like there is less time to be writer-me. I can figure this out, right?

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I'm on the cover of the summer edition of Quill & Quire. It may be out, in fact, but I haven't seen it yet, I've only seen this, posted on Twitter by Stacey May Fowles: Wrote about the charming and insightful and Girl Runner for . cc

Kevin mopped the house while we were away. It looks incredibly clean.

He also decided we should teach the kids LIFE SKILLS this summer. How to clip your own nails. How to poach an egg. How to make a smoothie and clean the counter afterwards. Etc. Things they should probably already know, but perhaps don't, that we expect them to know intuitively, but they just don't. He should be in charge more often.