Saturday, April 19, 2014

Family time

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(photos look best if clicked on and viewed in full)

Happy Easter, from all of us to all of you.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Art on the driveway: a rebuttal

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After re-reading yesterday's post, let me rebut myself, point by point.

How do you manage to travel, to run to appointments, to make presentations, and dress professionally, and be brushed and unwrinkled and fresh smelling?

You do your best. Sometimes you fake it. You nap when you can, and drink plenty of water. You remember to smile. You find a good deodorant. You carry floss. You gain a few key pieces in your wardrobe that are trustworthy. You apply makeup, if necessary. You give yourself a break.

How do you exercise and eat well and keep a sharp eye on your children's needs, both physical and emotional?

You do your best. You don't get down on yourself if you can't run as fast as you used to. You go as hard as you can, in the moment. You exercise with friends. You pay attention. You listen. You show up.

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How do you clean your house and yard and fold laundry and cook food from scratch, and lovingly tuck your children in at night, and read them bedtime stories?

Forget the house and yard. The dog hair matters less than you think. Do the laundry when you get a chance. Let your husband cook. Make your kids do some chores too. And then you’ll have time to read to them and tuck them into bed most nights. And when you’re not there, they can look after each other, because you’ve taught them well, so be glad about that—plus they relish the freedom of independence, so it’s good for everyone some of the time.

How do you go to the soccer practices and piano lessons and swim lessons and travel tournaments and meets?

You don’t go to them all, and that’s the long and the short of it. You represent as best you can. Sometimes you won’t be able to be there. Support them in other ways. Schedule rides, carpool, ask questions, cheer when you can. This isn’t the end of your world or theirs.

How do you teach classes and welcome students and read essays and comment and mentor and remain open and flexible and funny and never bitter?

You treat this as seasonal work. It isn’t year-round, because you’re not a full-time teacher. If you’re fortunate enough to be asked to teach, it means you’ve reached a stage in your career when you have something to offer. Remember the wonderful teachers who nurtured and inspired you. You’re getting the opportunity to give a bit of that back to others. And you learn a great deal by teaching.
Also, you don’t want to be bitter. So don’t be. Easy as that. 
Journal. Run it off. Don't say yes if you really mean no. This is your life. Don't sleepwalk, don't idly wish or wait for someone else to point the way. Take responsibility.

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you braid your daughter's hair

How do you host meals and go to parties and celebrate birthdays and be a good partner?

You drop some things in order to do others. You compromise. This is seasonal too, in a sense. You accept that you can’t go to everything, and so you prioritize. You spontaneously dash out to a movie on a weeknight with your husband. You decide not to play soccer this summer so you can save your head, and suddenly Sunday evenings open up.

How do you meditate and feed your spirit and do yoga and stay fit and healthy of body and of mind?

You do. Because if you don’t, you won’t be you. You get up early. You pray. You read. You practice breathing. It works.

How do you continue to make art that is worthy of being called art?

This you cannot answer. All you know is that there is mystery in making art, and it’s none of your business as the maker to judge it worthy or not worthy of being called art. What you do is this. You begin. You dream. You research. You prepare yourself in a million different ways. And when you’re ready to write, you’ll know, and you’ll make time and space for it (with help from your husband, who is the person who reminds you that you still know how to do this).
Also, you keep short-term goals present in your mind. You make lists. You check them off. It all adds up.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Art on the driveway

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Change. When you make art on the driveway in winter, here is what happens to it over the course of several months.

I would like to speak today about the idea of being, at least in part, a public person. I wonder how others do it. How do you manage to travel, to run to appointments, to make presentations, and dress professionally, and be brushed and unwrinkled and fresh smelling? How do you exercise and eat well and keep a sharp eye on your children's needs, both physical and emotional? How do you clean your house and yard and fold laundry and cook food from scratch, and lovingly tuck your children in at night, and read them bedtime stories? How do you go to the soccer practices and piano lessons and swim lessons and travel tournaments and meets? How do you teach classes and welcome students and read essays and comment and mentor and remain open and flexible and funny and never bitter? How do you host meals and go to parties and celebrate birthdays and be a good partner? How do you meditate and feed your spirit and do yoga and stay fit and healthy of body and of mind? How do you continue to make art that is worthy of being called art?

I know I set the bar high, and I know it's me doing the setting of the bar. We all have our (tragic) flaws. Mine may be that I want to do it all, big and small.

I want art on the driveway. I want books in translation. I want to run fast. I want singing. I want fun. I want to braid hair and apply bandaids and hold hands and honour all the stories. I want deep still quiet reflection. I want to stir. I want to comfort. I want invention.

And I'm sitting here in my office with the dogs, slumped on my stool rather than walking on my treadmill, with eyes at half mast and emails unanswered, wondering how exactly to do all of this. Because I really don't know.

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advance reading copy, i.e. not for sale, still needs to be proofread, but looks awfully book-like

And then this arrives in the mail. Seeming to say: well, you've done something you wanted to do, woman. Now, enjoy it for a moment. So I sit on the radiator (because I'm cold because it's still winter, this spring), and I read the first chapter out loud to myself (and the dogs).

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mirror, mirror

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

How to host fun stuff when the house is full of dog hair, and other laments

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this morning's run

I've been thinking about readings. Maybe because I read at one last night here in Waterloo, representing Goose Lane Editions, on behalf of their new anthology, in which I'm pleased to have an essay: THE M WORD: CONVERSATIONS ABOUT MOTHERHOOD.

There is a bigger launch party tonight in Toronto for THE M WORD, but while my name is on the poster, I won't be there. This is due to a calendar error. Plans were in place, carshare car rented, chalkboard schedule adjusted, and then, yesterday afternoon, I saw the listed time on the poster -- 6PM. 6PM?! Two hours earlier than I'd thought. Oh no! I emailed the book's editor, Kerry Clare, to double-check. Yes, the launch starts at 6PM (at Ben McNally Books, if you'd like to hear all those other wonderful writers read). So that meant with Kevin at the dentist and me doing swim lessons, I couldn't magical think myself to my destination on time. I'm sending regrets, and they are enormously regretful, because I was planning on hugging a lot of writer friends tonight.

This will have to suffice.

*Hugs*

I don't know about you, but that felt unsatisfactory.

I've been thinking about readings, and how some people just seem to come into themselves more fully when on stage. It's like they're radiant. Like there's no barrier between you and them. You could listen to them all night.

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the Canadian ARC for Girl Runner exists! (I haven't held it yet, but it's on its way)

My fall calendar is filling up with readings: I've got invitations to festivals coming across my desk, and a book launch to plan (Sept. 6th is the official pub date for Girl Runner), and I'm so looking forward to the opportunity to speak and read, again. I really do like being on stage -- more accurately, I appreciate it. Even though I felt rusty last night, after a few months off, it's a remarkable place to get to be, standing behind a microphone, talking to people. Walking home along the dark cold streets, I thought myself a most fortunate woman, and most fortunate writer, to get to share what I'm doing in this way.

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In other news, which is not exactly news, I'm a tired woman, a tired soul, right now. I am not sure how to remedy this (although I'm sure my mother would remind me to get more sleep, and if I were my mother I would be saying exactly the same thing).

The house is full of dog hair. Every flat surface is covered in piles of maddeningly random objects. The taxes are due. The laundry pile has stamina. The fridge is full of leftovers that need to be magically transformed into suppers-everyone-will-agree-to-eat. And I kind of feel like for sanity's sake I need another uke night with friends, or a morning coffee get-together, or to invite friends over for dinner, but I can't figure out how to host fun stuff when the house is full of dog hair and every flat surface is covered in piles of maddeningly random objects. You know?

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so I get up and go, despite the snow

Monday, April 14, 2014

Zonked

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mother bird

I need some "home again" pictures, but forgot to bring a camera to any of this weekend's events. I'm forgetting a lot, just now. I am kinda zonked. I packed my days as full as I could while in London, and arrived home to the reality that these days are also packed, and that's not humble-bragging. That's it-won't-stop-and-I-can't-get-off-starey-eyed-exhaustion talking.

Yesterday, I was up at 6AM to take the soccer child to her last indoor game of the season. In Mississauga. I think all the parents were in high-five mode -- we made it through all those Sunday morning winter drives! After the game, the child and I continued on to London (not that London), where she had a long-course practice in a 50 metre pool, and I sat for two and a half hours and worked, with a small interlude for a nap when I simply couldn't keep my eyes open. Eleven hours after rising, we were home again. I felt like the walking dead, but the kid was feeling manic. She wanted to go for a run. So after a supper of baked potatoes served with a ridiculously ample selection of toppings (thanks, Kevin!) we put on our running shoes and ran to the park, enjoying the light and the warmth. But the quick 5-kilometre run she'd envisioned was hampered by a) a nagging hamstring issue (me) b) too many baked potatoes (both of us) and c) the beginnings of an asthma attack (she'd forgotten her puffer). So we walked, then jogged, then ran, then walked, then jogged, then ran. And then she still couldn't sleep, and stayed up later than me, reading Harry Potter. (I am now officially at the stage where my children stay up later than me sometimes; also, when shoe shopping on Saturday we discovered that her feet are a full size larger than mine.)

I worry about this kid. She does so much. And she doesn't have much time for fun. Yesterday, she dragged along a huge organic chemistry textbook in order to work on her upcoming science project, and as she sat on the turf holding the book she didn't seem embarrassed by her soccer teammates' "why are you reading that??!" questions.

Because I spent so much time with the one kid, I was missing the others. Before supper, I had time to supervise practice for our resident reticent pianist by literally plying her with candy. Great parenting. And on Saturday evening we did hair cuts and hair brushing for all. It took hours!

I'm trying to return to routine, finding it more challenging than anticipated. I wasn't expecting to still be so tired. I will need a shot of caffeine to fire me through this evening's reading. Please come! It's at the Starlight in Waterloo, doors open at 7:30, readings at 8. I've got a poster around here somewhere. But I forget where. Here's a link to the Facebook event page.

I'll be reading from The M Word. The title of my essay is "How to Fall." This could be my motto, today, and on most days, as I attempt to balance atop a shifting pile of responsibilities and desires, arms out wide, knowing I'll fall, and trying to do so with grace and humour, at the very least.

Friday, April 11, 2014

London album

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Westminster Abbey

It's hard to go wrong, when photographing a city like London. Nath and I walked to Westminster from the rebuilt Globe theatre on Wednesday evening, before I left.

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London Eye

Crossing Westminster Bridge, this was the view behind us (above), with the sun shining, as if it never rained in London -- which it almost never did while I was there; I had a running joke with my UK publisher Lisa Highton that she'd arranged the weather especially for my stay.

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And this was the view from the banks of the Thames as we approached Westminster. On the walkway beside the river were crowds of people, some of them tourists, some commuting home from work on foot or bicycle, and a surprising number of runners, many of them training while wearing backpacks, dodging the crowds while trying to keep up a quick pace. It looked moderately hellish, frankly, although in theory I can see the appeal of running along the river. I much preferred my morning runs in Greenwich Park, with green grass everywhere and buds on trees, and the wafting perfume of the flower gardens in the air. (No photos, however, as I was running.)

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London Eye

The queue was enormous, so it's a good thing I hadn't planned to go on the Eye, although it looked much more tempting up close. Each of those pods holds 25 people. Essentially, it's a giant money-generating machine.

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Globe Theatre

Earlier in the evening, Nath and her kids and I met at the recreated Globe Theatre and went on the tour. It was as if I'd planned it: tickets for the last tour of the day were half price. You know I love a bargain.

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Tate museum, with bird

I'm going in reverse, I see, though I'm not sure how that's happened. Perhaps it's because, after my 20-or-so hours in transit yesterday, I'm more tired than expected, so exhausted, in fact, that it feels like I've entered a kind of fugue state. I have no idea if anything I'm writing here is comprehensible, but I sense this will be a longer post than usual. Brace yourselves. I'd arrived early, Bankside, to meet Nath and kids, so I popped in at the Tate, which is beside the Globe theatre. At that point in my day, I was pretty foot-sore and had lugged my laptop all over London and the Tate seemed enormous, so I stood for awhile before this painting by Dorothea Tanning, an artist I'd never heard of before; I was strangely transfixed by it -- it's quite large, and it seemed almost to move or transform, as if it held figures emerging before my eyes.

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views from the Millennium Bridge

I'd come here on my own by the underground; it took me a couple of days to become oriented to the system of overlapping lines and trains, but I had no trouble finding my way around. If I lived in London, I would never drive.

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spring, outside the Victoria & Albert museum

Earlier in the afternoon, I went to the V&A, mainly to visit the gift shop for a specific souvenir for Child-Who-Shall-Remain-Nameless, and also to look at clothing and household items from the Renaissance.

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British Library

That final day in London was crammed to max, but mostly I spent my time here, at the British Library.

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inside the BL

It's a new building (built within the last 20 years), and it's bustling and vibrant. The individual Reading Rooms are packed, yet quiet, and in order to protect the valuable and rare material that can be accessed by anyone with a Reader Card (like me!), people are only allowed to bring in a limited number of items, which one carries into the reading room in a large plastic bag, provided by the library. Pencils only. No drinks, no edibles of any kind. Laptops permitted only in certain areas. I discovered on the first day the importance of arriving early, finding a desk, and staking it out for the rest of the day.

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train, before and after arrival at the Charlton station

On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, I commuted to the BL by train and tube.

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escalator inside London Bridge underground station

I have a fear of heights. It took me the better part of the week to conquer the fear and be able to ride the escalator without clutching the handrail with a death grip, and literally going weak in the knees. Miraculously, I trained myself out of my fear by the end of the stay. Breathing exercises. For serious.

I have no photos from the parties I went to on Monday evening. It rained, but I brought along a little umbrella that fit into my satchel. I did not wear a dress, but tried to look suitably glamourous. This was achieved with mascara, earrings, and my gold shiny top, three things I never wear under ordinary circumstances. I like to go unadorned most of the time, so that when I dress up the difference is measurable; start with a low bar, that's my advice.

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Trafalgar square

On Sunday, I rode the train and tube for the first time all by myself, and met my agent and my US publisher for lunch. Afterwards, Nath met up with us, and we went to the National Portrait Gallery, which is right behind me in the photo above. Having been once, I would go again, and again. I will never tire of faces.

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Tower of London, foreground, by the river

Saturday, Nath and I walked all around the old city of London. We walked at least 8 kilometres, according to Nath's calculations. All of the old buildings are surrounded by new ones. Transposing oneself back in time requires imagination, but that's fine by me. I've got plenty of imagination.

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St. Paul's Cathedral

Take for example, St. Paul's Cathedral. This building is really really old. But it's still not as old as the St. Paul's Cathedral that existed during the time period I've been researching (1530-1660). That St. Paul's Cathedral burned down in the Great Fire of 1666 (which destroyed two-thirds of the city of London). The "new" Cathedral was built in the same location, but not to the same design.

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Nath knocking on the door of St. Paul's Cathedral (as instructed by her photographer)

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creepy cherub detail on St. Paul's Cathedral

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with Lisa Highton, at the Two Roads office

I take a lot of things for granted that I know I shouldn't. For example, when I arrived in London on Friday morning, I went directly to the offices of my London publisher, where I was welcomed with open arms by Lisa Highton and her crew, and Nath and I were fed sandwiches and fruit followed by a sumptuous cake. I'm not saying I took that welcome for granted, exactly, more that I just find myself rolling with these things as they come. I never quite expected to be where I am, but it is where I am, and so I try my best to be here without questioning it or worrying over the transience of the experience. That's what travelling is like, too. You roll with what comes at you. You have to, really. And so, jet-lagged and sleep-deprived, I welcomed the welcome at Two Roads, as you can see from the photo above. And later that same day, with a short nap to bolster me, I welcomed the welcome of dinner out with my fabulous Canadian publisher, Anansi, who were in town for the London Book Fair.

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Friday evening, street in Charlton, looking rather Dickensian here

I welcomed the welcome of my friends, too, who hosted me so generously in their home, and who accompanied me around London, and got me oriented. I wouldn't have gone to London at all if they hadn't been there -- I couldn't have imagined taking the leap on my own. And that's what it comes down to, really, the leap of the imagination, which is the first step to any adventure.

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Westminster Abbey

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Last night in London

Random-ish post as I'm packing up and readying to head home tomorrow.

One of the books I found at the British Library was: THE GOOD HUSWIVES HAND-MAID, FOR COOKERIE IN HER KITCHEN IN DRESSING ALL MANNER OF MEAT, WITH OTHER WHOLSOM DIET, FOR HER AND HER HOUSHOLD, &C. (Note: They went in for the thorough title in 1595). Yes, it was a recipe book.

So, herewith, a recipe from THE GOOD HUSWIVES HAND-MAID, to share with you.

To boile mutton for a sicke bodie.

Put your mutton into a pipkin, seeth it, and scum it clean, and put thereto a cruste of bread, fenell roots, parsly roots, currans, great raisons (the stones taken out), and hearbs, according as the pacient is. If they be cold, hot hearbes may be borne: if they be hot, cold hearbes may be best, as Endive, Sinamon, Violet Leaves, and some Sorell: let them boyle together. Then put in Prunes, and a verie little salt. This is broth for a sick bodie.

So there you have it.

I don't know what a pipkin is, offhand, and haven't had time to look it up. ("Seeth it" means simmer it, if context can be trusted.)

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Here is an actual email message I actually received yesterday from an actual child, who shall remain nameless: "Do not forget about the souvenirs. Love, Child-Who-Shall-Remain-Nameless."

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One more random anecdote before I sign off. I spent yesterday evening with my host's children and we did some very fun activities, like riding the bus to a nearby centre and eating pub food and shopping for souvenirs in the confectionary section of a grocery stores (souvenirs? what souvenirs?), and sitting in the upper deck of the bus on the way home, just because it seems like one should, while in London. After which we were going to have a fun movie night, but the Netflix movie wouldn't work, and the kids were having a hard time picking one from the shelf that they both wanted to watch, and I was wracking my brain for alternate fun things to do, and here is what I said (sadly, in all seriousness, because Fun is truly my middle name): "I could read out loud to you from a book, if you'd like." There was a beat of silence. And, like magic, the kids were suddenly agreeing on a movie both wanted to watch.

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Speaking of Fun According to Carrie: being at the British Library was so fun. It was more than fun. It was soothing, it was peaceful, it rewarded my curiosity richly; it was a happy place to spend three days and if home weren't calling me, I could move right in.

But home is calling me. And I need to go before I buy out all the souvenirs. (Buying souvenirs is also surprisingly fun. I haven't really had occasion before.)