Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Like/Unlike

Things I'm liking this week ...

morning bike rides
outdoor swim lessons
kids helping to clean up
the sound of the vacuum cleaner running (and me not running it)
quiche
getting caught in a downpour
letting the four-year-old ride her bike, with training wheels, to the grocery store (bonus: more room in the bike stroller for groceries)
corn on the cob from Herrles
catching a cat-nap
ceiling fans
bedtime reading: The Hobbit

Things I'm not liking this week ...

feeling more tired, being back with the kids all day
the noise, the noise!
back-talking children
sibling conflict
disorganization
struggling to find time for EVERYTHING
whining
complaints about the service around here

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Climbing Out

Tired. So tired, Kevin and I could have laid in bed with the curtains drawn till suppertime. As it was, we managed to sleep till after 9, with the children (those who were also not sleeping) playing video games on the computer. We've canceled the cable.

Writing week ended with a steady, sure march of writing. Wednesday, hump day, was the least productive outwardly, but led me to switch directions entirely with one story. Thursday and Friday were spent writing this new story from scratch. Monday and Tuesday also brought forth a brand new story. Neither were planned and plotted, but emerged. There is no other way to describe the process. I had planned and plotted two very different stories. Instead, the characters took me where they needed to go. In both, I felt as though I were merely observing and recording, rather than inventing. It allowed me to go places I would never ordinarily let myself go; the first story is deeply sad. Oddly, neither is remotely autobiographical; I say oddly because the early material that began these stories was rooted in autobiography. It's gradually shifted so entirely away from autobiography that it's given me a more confident appreciation for fiction, and for the way that the shape and haunt of fictitious characters can make sense of life in a way that's not accessible to us in real life.

I don't need to experience these things for myself in order to write about characters who do. I just need to be open, and to pay attention.

I have one more story to write. It may take weeks or months, with so much less time to give to it. This writing week made me question whether three hours at a stretch is enough; I do not think I could have written either of these stories in piecemeal fashion. To get there and to live there took going underground, and staying. I've decided that parenting and story-writing don't fit together terribly well. Parenting requires being on the surface, available at any moment--go ahead and write a blog, while simultaneously being the on-call parent, but don't try to dive for the story underneath. The focus itself is exhausting. I would find myself needing to take mini-breaks, not to plot ahead, but to breathe, to rest my mind. Very brief mini-breaks, I might add; just a couple of minutes. Maybe the way some people run/walk a marathon. And by suppertime each day, I felt spent of originality and syntax and emotion.

:::

At the conclusion of writing week, we went directly to Hillside Festival, dragging the kids with us; an annual event for the past three years.
The best year was the first, when CJ was an infant, and I sat in the shade and nursed him and listened to music while Kevin wandered around with the three other kids. We didn't stay long, just as long as the happiness lasted.
Last year, we went for two full days, and it rained almost non-stop, and there was a thunderstorm of epic proportions that shut the place down temporarily. We slogged through but it didn't feel super-fun, and definitely wasn't relaxing.
So this year we decided to go just for one day--Saturday--buying our tickets in advance (as one should; it's a popular festival). As chance would have it, we picked the day that it rained--not dreadful stormy rain like last year, but rain that persisted into the evening. Albus complained that there was nothing to do, though he was free to walk around with a friend--a new independence. As I sat in a puddle and listened to Jason Collette with appreciation, and looked around at all the other parents with kids, I thought, what isn't working about this for our family? And I concluded that none of our kids is remotely interested in sitting and listening to the music. And it is a music festival. Additionally, the festival has lost its novelty for us. It's too familiar.

Well, and then something frightening happened, late in the day, during the last set for which we'd planned to stay--we lost Fooey. Not for long, but for long enough to send us into a frantic panic, our friends hunting the festival grounds, me sprinting in bare feet to the security booth with CJ in my arms and screaming at the security guard who seemed not to be paying attention--apparently, in a crisis I do not turn into a pleasant and patient person. I am mother-who-is-going-to-scream-for-help-until-her-child-is-found. She was found. She was not missing for more than fifteen minutes, at most, and had wandered off on her own (though we did not know that at the time). The crowds are so thick, it is easy to lose sight of one, especially when herding four. Kevin and I were both shaken.
"I don't think I can do this again," said Kevin, as we slogged out in the dark through thick mud to our vehicle. That part went pretty well, all things considered; I'd expected the kids to be beside themselves, and they were quite humourous and in good and willing spirits. In retrospect, it might have been my favourite part of the whole day. CJ walked the entire distance from the festival grounds to the parking area--a good kilometre or more through grass and mud. In the dark. By the time we found our vehicle (it was foggy as well as dark, and there were no lights), we were disgusting. We did not care; isn't that the beauty of spending the day outside, no matter the weather? We found a tap and washed ourselves, climbed into the vehicle and prayed that we'd find a way out of the mud-field.
My first response to Kevin was: well, we could come back next year with no kids. But the terror and shock of losing Fooey, even for such a brief amount of time, is now forefront in my memory of this year's Hillside, and I'm not sure I want to go back next year either.
I'll sit with it.

:::

Today, I've done piles of laundry (the sun is shining). I'm attempting to make kimchi--get a girl fermenting and she won't be stopped. And AppleApple helped me make cheese bread, which will be baking in the oven for supper any minute now. Evening menu: cheese bread, red beets, green salad with fruit, and steak (we grill just one; everyone gets a bit, and no one wants more than that).
After watching Fooey and CJ scrub the garage floor with rags this morning, Kevin concluded that our kids are happy with very little; perhaps even happier with little than more, or much, or too much. Just give them a "job," or let them rearrange the living-room, and the day is a success.
I'm back at full-time parenting tomorrow. Wish me luck.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Warning: This May Cause Side Effects

A couple of morning thoughts.

1. Writing week appears to have had an unexpected effect: it's crippled my ability to do small-talk. This is a serious problem. I like small-talk. It's comfortable and puts others at ease. Living so deep inside my head means I'm surfacing slowly, and find myself blankly waiting for a nice ordinary response to float through my brain in answer to questions like: how are you?

It kinda sucks; not kinda, totally. I'd forgotten about that side effect, or never connected it to the writing portion of myself. And honestly, I miss my small-talking self. I like trusting that I'll know what to say, which is really about being present and listening and having fewer filters--and, frankly, bothering with much much much less reflection.

It's possible, though I haven't thought deeply about it (ha!), that my brain operates in an either/or fashion: either verbal, or written. If I'm operating in writing mode, my brain can't access the words, at least not efficiently, in verbal form. And apparently I can't turn off writing mode with the flick of a switch. Friends, forgive me in the meantime.

2. I continue to long for a practical profession. The friends I met up with last night are women close to me in age, whose children are now off to school, and who have chosen such interesting and practical directions for their post-intense-mothering lives. Midwife. Nurse. Youth counsellor. Hands on, directly affecting the lives of others in need, being physically and emotionally present, interacting, connecting, empathizing. With real people. In real time. In my work, I do an enormous amount of emotional empathizing, but with makebelieve characters. Gah! I am laughing and shaking my head as I write that. It seems like such a bizarre way to connect with other humans.

Kevin's response to my morning whine of "I should be doing something practical!" was "strongly disagree." He suggested I should take my attitude and join Stephen Harper's conservatives and stop funding the arts and go live in a world where everyone wears grey overalls and does nothing but work work work. You can see why I married him.

3. This Globe and Mail article on David Mitchell helped me finish writing a story earlier this week. I have not yet read him, but must; it's on the post-Wolf Hall list, which is growing ever longer as I joyfully wade through the gorgeously written Tudor underworld.

Notes on David Mitchell: a) There is such a thing as literary stardom: he's there. b) His fascination with, and commitment to, obscure and self-imposed rigorous structural limitations really resonated with my writing/creative mind. c) He advocates a strict, disciplined lifestyle: no tv, no distractions, work. "Living this life, 'you acquire the pleasure and the discipline of geekdom,' he says, launching into an animated account of the way 'perhaps' and 'maybe' strike the eye ever so slightly differently, and confessing that 'Oooh, I spend long, luscious, sweaty nights thinking about this kind of stuff.' " Brilliant! I get it. And I love how happy he sounds. d) He lives in a tiny village in Ireland and he sees his wife, two children, and "about three friends." e) I wonder how he does small-talk.

4. Funny how a couple of posts back, I said I wasn't going to write about writing. Have I written about anything but, since?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

On the Soccer Sidelines

The Encirclement | Granta 107 | Magazine | Granta Magazine

A funny thing happened at house league soccer this summer. Kevin took Albus to most of his games, and got to know some of the other parents. During one conversation, late in the season, a dad politely asked Kevin what I do, and Kevin said, "She's a writer," like he always says, bless him, and the other dad said, "No way! I'm a writer, too!" or something to that effect. When Kevin brought this discovery home, I realized how excited I was by the thought of having a sideline soccer chat with another writer. And it turned out that we did get to talk shop during one of the tournament games. Which made me realize how rarely I talk shop. And how lonely this writer journey has been. And how totally I've been responsible for my own isolation.

I've been thinking about the blog, recently, because a friend and new-to-blogging-blogger had questions for me, very interesting questions about maintaining privacy, deciding how much to reveal about the day-to-day major and minor life-changing events that affect our writing, about shaping a blog entry, and choosing a focus, and et cetera. I wish I could claim to have thought deeply about these issues; but the truth is that I've flown by the seat of my pants, and this blog exists and is maintained by instinct. Even the blog's title was not something I spent hours pondering; in fact, it was the first thing that popped to mind. (I had been considering the possibility of blogging for a long time before I began, however; so maybe my subconscious had already worked everything out). I am surprised, now, that I was brave enough to choose a title that would out me as a writer, having spent a good portion of my writing career shrinking from that identity. I was not comfortable claiming to be one. On the other hand, I was extremely happy and comfortable with my identity as a mother. So, I preferred to answer the question, and what do you do?, by saying, I look after my kids.

In retrospect, I think my discomfort came from my exalted view of what it meant to "be a writer." How could I claim to be something so wonderful and mysterious? Well. Sometime during the past decade, I've come to understand that being a writer is like being anything else, that it is a craft to be learned and practiced, and that talent is relative, and that saying "I am a writer," does not mean the same thing as saying, "I am a writer of brilliance, and here are my many proofs and prizes." It means saying, I practice, I keep at it and I haven't given up, I am prone to moments of reverie and calm, I sit my butt in front of the computer and I translate experience through the lens of imagination into a structure that relies on words.

So, I'm a writer. I write.

And let me tell you how much fun it is to talk to someone else who does the same thing. This must sound fairly obvious to all of you who enjoy talking to your colleagues about work. But it's only been very recently, just this spring and summer, that I opened up to the possibility whole-heartedly. Why has it taken me almost a decade to come around to appreciating this? If I'm honest, I'd say my barrier was basic insecurity. I was afraid of not being good enough, of my own competitive instincts to be the best (stupid competitive instincts; though I thank you for making me work hard); of competition itself, quite frankly, because a writer is self-employed and potentially fighting for a spot on limited lists with other writers, who are equally hungry. I can't identify precisely what happened to change my point of view, but I don't see it like that anymore. There is room for many. There is no "the best." There is a good deal of luck involved in success, as well as talent and hard work. Anyone who sticks it out in the arts has my deepest admiration. And I celebrate all writers who break through into literary stardom (if there is such a thing).

All of which makes me a happier writer, and a happier person, too. And excited to talk shop, whenever the opportunity arises, be it on the soccer sidelines, over a bottle of beer, via email, or here in Blogland.

The link above is to a story written by the soccer dad, whose name is Tamas Dobozy. I'll admit straight away that it is quite unlike the kind of story that I write, but it is damned interesting, and plays with ideas of identity and reinvention, of heroism and cowardice, and at the end you may be wondering, like I was, who is telling the truth.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

What I Read This Morning

11 | Lost Cat | Granta 107 | Magazine | Granta Magazine

This morning, I woke with yesterday's story in my mind. I am writing all this week, and Kevin is looking after the kids (they are headed on bicycles to their first summer swim lesson this morning--and the sun is shining).
I did not mean to start my writing morning by reading a long essay by a writer who has lost her cat; but if you have time, consider reading it, too (link above: "Lost Cat," by Mary Gaitskill). It is about much more than losing a cat, of course. It is about how humans attempt to love and to change each other, out of love, or out of what we interpret as being love; and about how we are haunted by our childhoods; how our patterns establish themselves and persist; and about so many other small and moving things: the difference between sentimental and sentiment, and where our real feelings intersect with the feelings we use to hide from ourselves our real feelings.
In a paragraph that made me laugh out loud, the author begins to ask random people, strangers, even, whether they have a psychic feeling about where her lost cat might be, and she writes: "I am still amazed by how many of them claimed they did." Which made me wonder, would I claim to have psychic feelings about a stranger's lost cat, if asked? I probably would. I would probably appreciate being asked, and entirely believe that my feelings on the subject were as legitimate as anyone else's. Wouldn't you?
Well, anyway. The essay is not primarily about the cat, but about other relationships, of the human variety. I won't give it away. The pleasure of this essay--like the pleasure of so many experiences--is letting it unfold without guessing in advance what it will reveal. (Don't get me started on those movie trailers that spoil a good movie by revealing all the best lines).
Now I shall hang laundry in the sunshine, and mull the effect of this essay, and its effect on the story I am writing.
And then, I shall write.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Archeology 101

Fooey (to me): Were you alive 89 years ago? ... Oh right, 89 years ago was when there was dinosaurs.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Soccer Saturday

So, the soccer season is over. Albus's team played hard and performed better than anticipated, but it wasn't quite enough to send them on to the semi-finals tomorrow. Watching from the sidelines kept me happy; Albus is not the strongest player, and I felt less of a sense of responsibility and investment, and could enjoy the ebb and flow of the game more as a result. I was relieved that his performance wouldn't make or break the outcome of the game. No one was counting on him for big goals. Kevin experienced an opposite effect, finding Albus's games harder to watch than AppleApple's, seeing all the missed opportunities that a bolder player would have taken. Maybe I should go to Albus's games, and Kev should go to AppleApple's, and we'll all live happily ever after.
I see more soccer sidelines in our future. The grass is fine, there's a big sky, and the non-playing kids entertain themselves with snacks and play. I'm almost--okay, not even almost, but actually--looking forward to next season.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Meta-Musings

In answer to Krista's comment yesterday, asking why I've decided not to write about writing ... well, I have at least one defensible reason, along with several indefensible ones; and fully expect none will matter anyway, and my vow will prove an entirely temporary whim, because writing about writing, for a writer, is kinda like enjoying several glasses of wine when you know you should stop at one. Sometimes, it's just too damn pleasurable and you don't care about the inevitable hangover.

Here is one good reason not to write about writing: It's a procrastination technique. I fear becoming a writer who neglects her writing while writing about the process of writing. And the process is fascinating--for writers, if for no one else--and the corollary of this is becoming a reader who neglects fiction and poetry and memoir to read essays about writing.

But here is one not-quite-so-good reason not to write about writing: When you've put something down on the page (or into the ether that is the internetten), it stands as if it were truth. But I am the kind of writer more interested in experiment than truth; in flux, in a transitory moment. At the same time, I write with conviction. I am entirely committed to the transitory experiment I'm placing on the page; even while I'm aware, underneath, that this too shall pass. How does one express that duality to a reader without appearing insincere or downright fraudulent? I play with possibilities. I am hyper-aware that everything I write down here, every scene that I paint, is constructed and subjective, even when it points toward an essence that is true. It would be terribly annoying to remind a reader of this at all times; besides, I think we're all aware on some level that this construction is going on, even here in Blogland (or perhaps especially here in Blogland) where we present ourselves and our families and our lives in a very particular way, through the lens of the blog, to the world at large.

It isn't a perfectly accurate picture, in other words. It cannot be. It's impossible to capture the mundanity. We are constantly making choices, conscious or un-, about what to keep and what to forget.

When I write about my writing, especially in the midst of a major project like the one I'm currently hurtling through, all I can see afterward are the flaws in my logic, the mistaken paths down which I enthusiastically trod blindly, and the many ways in which things did not turn out how I'd intended.

In writing about writing, in other words, I create a record of my own failures. It can be, frankly, a little disheartening. I need to believe absolutely in the thing that I am creating, or my courage would fail. If I were reminded, too bleakly, of how often a creative idea does not bloom to fruition, or grow as hoped, I might fear the work ahead. Except, even as I type this out, I think, TOTALLY NOT TRUE!

Because of course I'd do it anyway--I do indeed do it anyway--even knowing the inevitability of failure--failure to realize fully the original vision; rejection letters; a bad review; the variety of opinions and personal tastes and the impossibility of pleasing most; my own wish to be just that inch or two more accomplished at my craft. I am intimately acquainted with all of that knowledge. It does little to impede my attempts.

But, in truth, I'd rather no one else knew. That's the indefensible reason.

Heavens. I'm in a confessional mood. I had a neighbour, an older woman, when she heard that I was a writer, tell me that it had once been her dream to be a writer, too, and that she had in fact written a book for children, sent it to one publisher, and received a letter of rejection. "So I knew I wasn't a writer," she said.

I'd say it's quite the opposite. You know you're a writer when you receive a letter of rejection, and with blissful or dogged or determined optimism, you send out your manuscript again. And again. And you rewrite it. And you edit it line by line. And you seek the opinions of others. And you throw it out. And you write another. And you send it out. And through it all, though you question and doubt and your energy dips from time to time, you are filled with purpose and hope.

But you'd rather no one else knew too much about the naysayers.

And that's why I am not going to write about writing. So help me.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Don't Be Frightened, It Won't Last

This is Kevin's story, not mine. Yesterday evening, while I was out exercising (mental health), Kevin was home with several extraordinarily grumpy children. He set them up with a movie, went outside to water the plants, came back in and sat down with the newspaper thinking he'd grab a minute of calm for himself. He had just read the "thought of the day" in the Globe and Mail.

"There are moments when everything goes well; don't be frightened, it won't last." - Jules Renard

As those words hit his eyeballs, he heard crying from the basement. The movie was over (though he hadn't realized, it was a very very short movie). The older children were complaining vociferously. And CJ was covered from head to toe in permanent marker (his own doing). He was the one crying. Kevin said he just stood there in horror. Then he popped CJ directly into a bath and the permanent marker proved not so permanent after all. He introduced me to the subject by having me read the quote, then showing me the photo (above) and saying the words "permanent marker." Needless to say, all my zen calm went out the window till I'd heard the end of the story.

Seriously. I was imagining that child striped with permanent marker ALL SUMMER LONG.

A couple more things, unrelated to permanence.

1. I've decided (for now) not to write more about writing. It's too risky; I'm too superstitious. Everything that I write about writing has the potential to be a complete lie. In the moment, or immediately afterward, I might feel that something I've written is wonderful--or terrible--and time might prove it to be quite the opposite.

2. However, I will say that writing and yoga/exercise go together extremely well. I was in a muddle over a story that wasn't working (there I go, writing about writing), and instead of giving into anxiety, I thought, hey, I'll take this to yoga. For those of you sick of hearing me blither on about yoga, you can insert the word "meditation" instead. It's where I go to find meditative space. I haven't found a more effective method of removing the self from myself than through guided movement that is challenging to breath and body. So, I took the story to my meditative space. And then I didn't think about it for the entire practice. And at the end, I had a calm reflective observation to take home again: the story wasn't working because it was trying to do too much. And it was expressing something that I didn't want expressed through my character. So I scrapped it, and started over completely afresh. It was a relief not to waste more time muddling.

3. Meditative calm: is it a selfish pursuit? Sometimes, when I leave behind a pile of frantic children and kind generous husband, the impulse to go off on my own feels hideously selfish. But here's what yesterday's practice brought to me, in calm reflection: self-knowledge is not the same as selfishness. If I did not take time to recognize my own motivations and know my own desires, my boundaries would be muddier, my actions murkier; I would risk carrying anger without knowing why, or bitterness, or fear. I would be more likely to blame my circumstances and my loved ones for anxieties of my own creation. There is no perfection. I might come to know things about myself that are uncomfortable and unflattering. It's not a route to happiness or contentment, either. What it brings me is access to calm.

4. I'm still looking for ways to find calm within noisy moments. The other evening, this is what worked: I said, "I am not going to start shouting." No one could hear me saying it, because in order to be heard over the cacophony, I would have had to start shouting. But when I start shouting, whether or not it is in anger, my body interprets it as distress. Even if I am shouting in a calm way, just to be heard, my body hears upset, and emotional escalation is inevitable. So. I just repeated over and over that I would not start shouting--as much to remind myself as to inform the kids. Eventually, I found a break in the sound, and was able to communicate: time to brush your teeth. The evening progressed with remarkable calm (Kevin was at soccer; those evenings on my own are evenings when I really do need to remind myself not to shout).

5. What I like most about meditation is something I resisted strongly at first. Stop telling yourself your stories, my favourite instructor told us. I was like--yah, right, that's my job, that's what I do. I'm not about to stop. Slowly, with practice, I got braver. I realized the stories weren't so fragile that they would get lost; though in truth, they do change. I began to let go of the stories, the interior narration, during the practice. Madeline L'Engle, in one of my favourite books for teens, A Ring of Endless Light, wrote about letting go of "very me," to make room for "very God." In other words, make space for illumination. The mind is a miraculous place. Just because you're not consciously thinking about a problem or a worry or a story doesn't mean your mind isn't sitting with it somewhere deep and low. When I practice emptying my mind, afterward amazing unexpected observations (I hesitate to say solutions) come flooding home. There is space where before there was not. And the space is compassionate and open and loving, so there's room for ideas that I might not accept at other times. How often have I refused an idea out of fear or laziness?

For example, I wanted that story to work and kept muddling over it because it was a story already mostly written (an older story) and it seemed easier to work with something that already existed than to start from scratch. It was a barrier impossible to recognize without calm reflection.

6. I know yoga isn't the only route to calm, though it happens to be mine, right now. Kevin says he finds that kind of quiet, deep, meditative thought while gardening. I wonder where you find yours?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Summer Summer Summer

I want to capture the flavour of our summer holiday so far. It's been busy, but relaxing. We started with a camping trip, and the beach, experienced a couple nights of overnight camp (and for Kevin and me, experienced only having two children around--it was quieter, but the workload was not noticeably different, except that the younger ones missed the entertainment of the older ones). I enjoyed doing a long drive with the kids, and could imagine attempting something like that again--destination as yet unknown. Though it does go against my no-driving summer. Confession: We have done extremely poorly with that plan. Drove to camp, to beach, to camp, to home, to camp, all the while enjoying the air conditioning. For our Friday outing, we walked, but it's not a huge accomplishment--the movie theatre is uptown. We saw Shrek Forever After, which was more entertaining than I anticipated--and the kids were awesome the entire time. Five kids, one parent, and no bathroom breaks, spilled drinks, or even excessive whining. Thank heavens, because I'd had a writing morning, and I am finding the transition between writing and parenting particularly challenging; translation: Mama's been grumpy.
:::
AppleApple had her soccer tournament this past week. We dragged out the whole family (some of them kicking and screaming) to the Saturday matches. I felt like a terrible parent, because honestly, folks, I squirmed the whole time she was playing. It's a peculiar pain--mental anguish. Shouldn't I be enjoying this, as a loving caring parent? Or maybe it's that I care too much? In the second game, the ref called back a penalty kick on which AppleApple had just scored an amazing goal (he apparently had called an indirect penalty kick, but gave the children no direction or explanation about what that meant; he, of course, was just a kid himself, and looked pretty nervous; but it was a sad moment to see her beautiful goal called back). And I muttered to Kevin, I just can't take this, and walked down to where my other three children were wrestling in the grass; but I couldn't go far. I knew if something happened I'd want to be there for it. And sure enough, after a few deep breaths, I returned to the sidelines--and watched my red-haired fleet-footed daughter on a breakaway--and she scored. The only goal of the entire game, for either side. Now that was a moment worth being tortured for. (And it was a merciful high to end an otherwise losing tournament.) AppleApple cannot wait to go to skills camp this fall, and wants to play indoor soccer over the winter--she's seen her own potential, and she's excited to play more.
I must steel myself. How do other parents cope? I imagined being a family member of those young men playing in the World Cup final yesterday--standing on the sidelines, pacing, or unable to look.
:::
That was Saturday. We ended with a marshmallow roast over the fire pit. This was a classic family event, following the classic arc, rising slowly to pleasant heights, and crashing steeply to the depths. That would be the classic tragic arc, but our event did not end in tragedy, just bathtime (which for some of us might just be considered a tragedy). We set up the fire pit, gathered drinks and stools and chairs, and sat around, fooled around, then out came the marshmallows and pointy roasting sticks, and the guitars (that was Albus's idea). Kevin and I tried to coordinate our chording. I have rhythm, and he does not; he can play chords, and I cannot. We make a swell team. The neighbours must have been thrilled. But for a brief spell it felt like such a holiday, such a time away from ordinary: the smell of the campfire, the mellow sound of guitars, making up funny verses to songs. ("CJ is sticky," was a popular line.)
And then CJ wanted to play "Dragon Warrior" and Albus had an itchy back, and the two of them were rolling around the grass, when calamity struck--or more accurately, CJ struck. With two mini-hockey-sticks. Two-year-olds. They don't get boundaries. So that was that. I put down the guitar, plucked up the sticky two-year-old, confiscated the mini-sticks, and headed for the bath. Soon, everyone was in the bath/shower, watering can was applied to the fire, and it was bedtime. But Kevin and I stayed up late after the kids were asleep.
:::
That's been the story of our summer holiday so far. Kevin and I have been staying up late. The kids have been staying up late. We've had some fun; and we've had some abrupt end to the fun; we've been sticky, and we've gotten clean.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Warm-Up

I wrote a scene yesterday. And more. I'm pleased. Since it seemed to warm up my typing/thinking self to blog yesterday, I'll start this writing morning the same way.
Yesterday afternoon, Kevin came home early with a movie for the kids, so we could watch the Germany-Spain game together; I turned down a beer, but then changed my mind. My plan was to go to yoga over the supper hour, and I didn't want to go with beer in my system. Or two, as it turned out (I was thirsty; and Germany lost). But after a restless indoor hot and sticky day, I discovered that despite the two-beer afternoon, I had the unbearable urge to exercise. So I went anyway. And here is my conclusion: beer is less toxic than coffee. It was a great class, and I suffered no ill effects. (Note: this is not a recommendation; nor do I plan to practice under the influence in future).
Today, I'm travelling back in time to the age of nineteen. I've got earplugs in. Having the big kids home all day definitely makes for more of a writing challenge; I'm debating right now whether I should intervene, as AppleApple and Albus are squabbling downstairs .... (Is it crazy to have air conditioning and not to use it? We have air conditioning. But I'm only turning it on at bedtime, to cool the upstairs rooms as the kids fall off to sleep. Is the heat contributing to the short tempers? Would we be happier with cool air falling upon our heads?).
In a week and a half, I'll be taking a writing week--something that Kevin and I haven't arranged for awhile. He looks after the kids, and I write non-stop, sometimes even through meals and past bedtime. That will be the sprint portion of the Juliet marathon. My goal for that week is to frame the three stories. It's the most labour-intensive work, writing a first draft; after that, the work continues, but it's being done on top of something--which I can build on or tear down or rearrange, which I find easier to cope with. I can rewrite and edit till the cows come home. That's my favourite part of writing: reshaping, restructuring. Or, wait. My mind just said, nu-uh, your favourite part is when you're writing something new and you find something you didn't even know you were looking for. True. I love stumbling over something much better than I could have planned on finding. But that takes greater effort, harder labour, deeper focus; and it's rarer. You can't just demand that it occur.
Today. I've got to shut out the noise of the grumpy kids and work my way back towards the beach, the ocean, and, maybe, a grand concert hall.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

I'm Melting

Help! I can't write. I can't think. It's too hot. My butt is sticking to this giant exercise ball that I use as a desk chair. There are four (4) children in the house (Albus came home from camp along with AppleApple, but they both had a great time and are thinking about going back in August). There is also one (1) babysitter here, and one (1) neighbour girl who is reading and/or writing with Fooey and/or Albus. And I am upstairs sweating and unable to think clearly and having the smallest of panic attacks that I may never finish these three stories, that I am without talent or ambition; and then I take a deep breath and think, 'k, but it's hot. All I want to do is sip a shandy and lie under a palm tree and have somebody fan me (Kevin, honey, are you busy?).
Good thing all three of these stories are set in tropical locales. You'd think that would inspire me. Two hours remain. I can do this, right? Small goals: perhaps one paragraph and an outline? Perhaps one small scene? On a beach? By an ocean? With yoga? I want to put yoga into a story. This may be the day that I try.
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Speaking of small goals, I must report that last week I did not quite fulfill my goal of two yoga classes and two runs/week; but I did manage two yoga classes on back-to-back days, plus one run, and felt good and fit. Started this week with one yoga class on Monday (it was packed, despite the heat), and went for one ripping good run yesterday evening after spending most of the day in the truck driving to and from camp, with children in tow. It was a long solo trip--the longest I've ever attempted, actually--and we had fun. Video players are wonderful inventions. But, man, did I need to run when I got home; it was like medicine. I had the words "Unbearable Lightness of Being" looping through my mind. I jogged slowly for the first half, then wondered what it would feel like to push myself faster and faster on the way home, and by the end I was burning it up. It reminded me of being a kid and running heedlessly, experimentally, for fun. It's rare to take that opportunity as an adult. I realized that my usual runs are very light and gentle, pleasantly paced, and my breathing isn't the least bit challenged; and that it feels very different to run hard and breathe hard. I wonder how long I could keep that pace up? (I'd estimate I ran hard for a little over 1 km). People run marathons in a kind of a sprint, don't they? I can't imagine how one would train for such a challenge.
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Onto my own private marathon. It's been a very very slow race. Patiently paced. Maybe what I need is a good hard sprint here at the end.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Overnight Camp

This summer, I've heavily loaded the front end of our summer holiday. Whether this proves to be a good idea or not has yet to be established, but at the very least, it will prevent the early lethargy and cries of boredom that marked the early days of last summer's holiday.
Albus spent his first few days of holiday at home with us, and he was a changed person. He organized a self-monitoring system ("we all have to be honest") to keep track of good and bad behavior. With AppleApple, he set up a stage in the living-room and organized a play that they plan to work on over the summer. He was, in short, a suddenly happy, thoughtful big brother, not the surly child we've seen so frequently in these latter days of the third grade. I think he must have been suffering more than we'd recognized, at school this year. He and I spent some time together, just the two of us, on Friday, and I asked him what he did not like about school, and he said that he didn't like sitting still. Sitting still and doing work, because the work was boring--sometimes it was boring because he already knew how to do it, and sometimes it was boring because he didn't know how to do it. Bit of a catch-22 there.
What most amazed me and Kevin was that these projects that Albus was organizing involved sitting down and writing. We could barely get him to write two sentences for his homework all year, and there it was: evidence of spontaneously occurring, self-motivated, parentally-painless application of literacy skills.
(We see this from AppleApple all the time; in fact, one of our projects last week--hers and mine--was to put together her newspaper, which is now completed! We just need to make copies, and possibly figure out how to post it online and link to it from the blog, to save paper and postage. More info on this soon. If you want a paper copy, send me a message).
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So, was it wise to send Albus off to overnight camp so soon after he was released from the bonds of school? The photos I took of AppleApple at camp yesterday show her busily arranging her bunk with all of her belongings (and she took her journal, so I expect new stories for the next edition of "Family Times" to be forthcoming). The photos of Albus, however, show him attempting to smile, then not even trying. His features and posture are transparent. He looks much younger in photographs. I could hardly stand to look at the photos last night, he looks so lonely and uncertain in them. I hope this was temporary. They were going to go swimming straight away.
I wonder--maybe he's a homebody?
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I will see them both tomorrow, because I'll be picking up AppleApple, who is only staying for two nights. She has a soccer tournament all this week and weekend. Albus has the choice of staying on till Saturday, and I really wonder, now, what he'll choose.
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My two little ones: it's just like a regular school day, on the days when Fooey is at home. Playing at the counter, colouring, writing. We have hired a neighbour girl to tutor Fooey and Albus this summer. Fooey is very close to reading, and eager to work hard on it--and I don't have the time to feed her need as much as she'd like. She just spent a full hour sounding out words with our sweet, patient neighbour.
Albus was less keen to hear about the tutoring plan, but surprisingly accepting--we want him to keep working on his writing and reading this summer (which he may just do all on his own--who knew??); they'll run multiplication tables together, he will read out loud, and work on writing an ongoing adventure story. After seeing Fooey's appetite for learning this morning, I'm wondering whether half an hour, three times a week, will be enough for her.

Camping and Beach

We spent the long weekend at my brother and sister-in-law's farm, where we've gone for a few years now, to camp in comfort on their big lawn. There is always a bonfire, and the beach is nearby. We went into town early on Saturday to watch the Germany-Argentina game (my brother didn't sit down the entire match, even when it was apparent that his team was going to win), and then Kevin and the kids and I vegged at the beach all afternoon. It was so relaxed. Lots of work to pack up and lots of laundry today, but so relaxed in between.

Last Day of School

Goodbye to junior kindergarten, grade two, and grade three. Albus looked like a weight had lifted off his shoulders. "We're going to have a water fight at B's house!" he told me, and headed off down the sidewalk with some friends. AppleApple almost had to cry about her dear teacher, who is leaving the school. The kids had some special teachers this year. I'm deeply appreciative of all the energy and effort that goes into caring for my children all day long.