Thursday, May 31, 2012

Ominous horoscopes

birdfish

My horoscope has been full of ominous warnings lately. Do you read your horoscope? I don't read mine regularly, and I don't take it seriously. But every once in awhile I take a glance and something rings true. Lately, my horoscope keeps warning me to slow down, to take time, to rest, lest I risk burn-out.

Hm.

As I contemplate the full evenings, tumbling one after another, and the early mornings, and everything sandwiched in between, it can feel not just relentless but insurmountable. An impossible pace. The readings! The soccer! The writing! The meals! The exercise! I am longing for a week away, come August, when we will go to a cottage and do nothing but eat, drink, and swim. And read! (Remember reading? I do it now at bedtime, and it's a battle between my practical self reminding me to put the book down and go to sleep, and my word-fed self refusing and fighting the lowering eyelids until they literally drop, and the book too.)

Still. Full is good, I tell my horoscope. And there's room, in full, for relaxed stretches of simple play. For instance, I spent nearly three hours outdoors at a park on Tuesday evening. Sure, it was a poorly planned outing and supper was rushed beyond all reason (this is due to being a one-car family, and forgetting, on occasion, that we are). But when we got to the park, super-early for soccer girl's game, the two of us had time to walk together, talk together, and practice soccer together. As her teammates trickled in for the game, they joined in our completely informal practice -- a practice I wouldn't have had the confidence to lead without joining that soccer team myself. It was so much fun. We had so much time, and it was so luxurious. When the real practice started, I went for a short run in the cool woods nearby. Then I watched her game; the boys wandered over after Albus's game to join me. Then we walked over to a nearby field and caught the end of Fooey's game.

We arrived home to supper still on the table, lunches to be made, laundry to be hung, and tired children to put to bed. And it was already well past bedtime. But would I trade that evening outdoors with my children for a different version? I can't imagine anything better.

Or more exhausting.

You may be right, horoscope. But I'm hanging on. I'm hanging on for dear life.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Night Sky Wheel Ride, by Sheree Fitch

sheree

Sheree Fitch, the author of Night Sky Wheel Ride, gifted my children with her new book. It is beautiful. Beautiful colours, beautiful lines of poetry, and deeply moving too. My eyes filled with tears as I read it quietly to myself.

What moved me so deeply is Sheree's portrayal of the goodness of a strong sibling relationship. Set at a fair, brightly and magically illustrated, a brother and sister hope to ride on the ferris wheel.

Are we big enough this year, Mama?
Are we brave enough, Brother?
Sister, are you ready to fly?


The repetition and development of these seemingly simple lines struck me with their poignance. Yes, the brother and sister are big enough this year -- a wonderful thing, a moment to celebrate, but also, as all parents know, a sign of change and age. There is always a fragment of mourning in our joy as we watch our children grow.

Yes, they are brave enough. Yes, they are ready to fly. Joy.

I love how the brother and sister are asking each other for support and reassurance. They are testing out their limits and fears together. They are being brave together. They are touching the sky.

Maybe it's because I cherish my own siblings so much. (I posed the book, above, with a photo of me and my brothers, circa 1985.)
Maybe it's because I hope my children will weather the rivalry and jealousy and squabbling, and find in each other real friendship and support.
Maybe it's because Sheree knows what it means to love and to let go.

I don't know. But this book touched me. And I hope you'll take Sheree's night sky wheel ride too.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The weekend in suppers

tuna
date-night dinner

Sorry, folks. I have not got back into doing my "week in suppers" feature. With soccer almost every night, we're eating early, and that means a rushed and thrown-together meal. Quick sides, lately, include asparagus oven-roasted with salt and olive oil, and spinach salads with homemade dressings. Seasonal happiness. But nothing very special.

However, Kevin and I had an at-home date on Saturday. He sourced the ingredients, and I was the chef. And it was really good. Seared tuna steaks served atop smashed, roasted potatoes, topped with a reduced red wine sauce with capers and scallions. Plus the stand-by of the asparagus mentioned above, also roasted with portobello mushrooms.

Seriously yummy. Kevin made us a couple of martinis. And we watched a funny/sweet movie, completely chosen at random, called Adventureland. I'd recommend it.

:::

Yesterday I ate a banana for supper. Not recommended. I played a soccer game from 4-5:30, then raced home to shower and wash the blood off my knee (seriously; I was playing against a rough defender), and pretty myself up in order to bike to another reading. The banana was all I had time for until arriving home, nearly 10pm, when I devoured Saturday night's leftovers. I love leftovers.

I also managed to bake four loaves of bread yesterday, and make and freeze six meal's worth of turkey stock. Productive! Which is good because Saturday was most unproductive. I felt myself melting into a anxious stasis. General exhaustion. On Friday afternoon, racing to squeeze in one last errand, I found myself fantasizing about just stopping. Standing still, refusing to go on with the tasks before me. Of course, that wasn't an option. Instead, I kept up the momentum, and biked off to pick up the kids from school for swim lessons.

Worst outing ever. (Maybe I should have just stopped everything ...)

It was so hot! Everyone was so grumpy! The complaining! The epic whining! And to top it off, we had one kid bleeding from a pedal injury before we'd even reached our destination. And I hadn't brought bandages. Let's just sum up this adventure by stating for the record: Everyone survived!

Parenthood is not the most romantic occupation. If anyone's trying to tell you otherwise.

:::

On the plate for this week ...

:: I'm in Burlington tomorrow morning at Books & Brunch. Readings start at 9:30am.

:: Wednesday evening, I'm looking forward to hearing my former boss, Noah Richler, talk about his new book What We Talk About When We Talk About War. Here's the invite on Facebook. Join me? Starts at 7pm, at the Laurier Centre for Military and Strategic Disarmament Studies (now that's a mouthful).

:::

One last thing to note. Another lovely blog review of The Juliet Stories, this time from a fellow red-headed mama. Read on.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Unexpected messages

SonyNexF3 027

A nice thing has been happening recently. I open my email inbox and discover -- a letter from an unknown person who introduces herself and says she's just read The Juliet Stories, and that she had to write and tell me that the book moved her in some way. (And, yes, so far these messages have all been from women.)

I can't really tell you how bizarre and lovely that feels other than to say that it kind of blows my mind. That people out there are reading the words in my book, and responding to those words. And I'm just here going about my every day work.

Here is someone who read The Juliet Stories and then wrote about it on her blog.

Another reader left a comment on my blog on Mother's Day. She wanted to tell me that her 16-year-old daughter had brought her breakfast in bed that morning -- along with a copy of The Juliet Stories.

:::

This has been a very busy, short week. I've squeezed a lot into four little days, met a few deadlines, made some good contacts, accomplished some research, and even gone for a few runs. And cooked a few meals. And washed a few too many late-night dishes.

And it doesn't stop just because it's Friday. Tonight, I'll be visiting a book club.

:: On Sunday I'm reading at an event called "Un/Certain Words" at the Grad Lounge in the Student Services building at Wilfrid Laurier University, starting at 7pm.

:: On Tuesday morning I will be in Burlington for Books & Brunch, hosted by A Different Drummer Bookstore.

:: And on the following Wednesday, June 6, the Waterloo Public Library has invited me to give a talk about writing, and "green dreams," and The Juliet Stories. More on that last event soon, as details get finalized.

There's more, but that gets us mostly caught up for now, I think. Must squeeze in two more errands before biking to get the kids for swim lessons. Happy Friday!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

What am I missing?

SonyNexF3 007
empty chair

What am I missing? I asked in my last post.

Well, this morning I was missing my sanity, at least briefly. A left-behind lunch box required a hasty drive to a far-away school. And it felt a bit like the straw on the camel's back. What am I missing? Maybe the whole point. Life is good when it is busy, but it can get just that much too busy. So busy that instead of hugging my kids goodbye, I'm racing out the door yelling hurry, hurry, hurry! Because it feels like there isn't a second to waste.

Is there a second to waste? What, exactly, would I be wasting in that second, anyway?

What am I missing?

Yesterday, a friend's wife passed away. Cancer. I never met her, except through her blog. She was the mother of children close to the ages of mine.

That much-repeated bit of advice about holding your kids while you have the chance? Yes. That's all.

Yes.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Weekend report from the soccer/birthday trenches

almost11
almost eleven

I want nothing more than to write a big fat juicy post about our weekend. But I'm on a tight deadline. So here's the quick and dirty version.

soccergirl
tournament

Soccer girl played six games in a tournament this weekend. Kev took the the first two days, and I went yesterday. That way we could manage to run errands, do some gardening, and not have to drag the other kids along. Her team finished with a bronze medal and a lot of happy faces.

Yesterday our eldest turned eleven. It was a good party, from what I hear. My great regret is that I spent virtually the entire day not with my eleven-year-old. AppleApple and I were off early for the tournament, and home later than expected. The party was already in full swing. I had just enough time to download photos from the various cameras I'm testing out before changing into soccer gear myself.

Off to play in the pouring rain! On a weird field with a wide strip of mulch and grass seed sweeping across it! Against a team of 19-year-old girls who had a coach and a full line of subs! (My team is, well, my age-ish, and had two subs.) I was tentative and terrified for the first ten minutes, but finally got my foot on the ball, and then it got better. There's nothing like playing a new sport to make you feel out of shape, but I quickly figured out that I would recover from the sprints; thankfully, I have endurance. I badly need better ball-handling skills. And to hold my body differently against the big contact players. (I felt very very small, let me tell you.) But it was really fun.

eleven
eleven for real

And then I came home and spent some time snuggling my big eleven-year-old boy, who was feeling kind of sad that I'd missed his whole day. Me too. In fact, that feels like most my days right now -- rushed and hurried and squeezed. Am I running on adrenalin? Will I wear myself out? What am I missing???

Onward.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Long long weekend

bells

It's a long weekend here in Canada, and oh, are we ever ready for it. The whole city seems ready for it. Late afternoon it suddenly got hot and everyone was in sandals and t-shirts and planning their escape. We won't be escaping, but that's okay. We've got a soccer tournament, gardens to plant, a big birthday to celebrate, and I'm playing in my first soccer game in twenty-seven years. (re soccer game: If all goes well, I'll report back. If all goes humiliatingly, well, I'll probably report back too.)

Hope to get some good photos of soccer girl and gardens and birthday. I'm borrowing some cameras for a story I'm writing. Curious to see how they perform.

But just now, I'm headed outside to pull laundry off the line. Happy weekend to all!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

On readings, writings, and riding the big (metaphorical) waves

at the Starlight on Tuesday, photo credit Zara Rafferty
photo credit Zara Rafferty
 No, I'm not a real surfer. But life feels a bit ocean-like these days, rolling, never steady. I spent yesterday in Toronto. It turned out that parking was easier to find than anticipated, so that bike never left the back of my vehicle. (Although parallel parking on Queen St. West at rush hour was an exciting opportunity to test my driving skills.)

Some fine moments from my day ...

:: smiling at people passing on the sidewalk, some of whom seemed shocked to be making eye contact with a stranger

:: meeting another Snyder from Kitchener-Waterloo at Book City, and trying to piece together our geneological connection

:: eating Korean stew with my lovely little sister on Bloor street; and hanging out together, not in a rush at all

:: making an it's-a-small-world connection with Daniel Griffin (who also read last night at Type)

:: mingling with the awesome crowd at Type Books before the reading, and putting faces to blog-names

:: being introduced by the lovely Kerry Clare

:: reading a story to a group of people who were really listening

:: getting teaching-creative-writing advice from Heather Birrell (who is a high school English teacher, and who also read last night)

:: finding all the dishes done when I got home

Some less-fine moments ...

:: worrying about my dress

:: the chilly wind that swept Toronto all of yesterday

:: forgetting someone's name during the book signing (AUGH! This happens virtually every time, and every time I curse my name-bank-blank-spot. This is how bad it is: I have literally blanked on the name of a family friend, known for twenty-five years, and seen on a regular basis. I don't know how that's even possible. And I hope it doesn't indicate early onset dementia.)

But this is all to say: Life's good. It's messy and it's good. It's crazy and whirling and I couldn't quite believe that I was up at 5am this morning for a spin/kettlebell class, and there's dirt all over the basement, and I have a basket of laundry waiting to be hung, and no, I will never catch up on my emails -- or, really, on anything at all, ever -- but this is it. I wouldn't want to be doing anything less. I love the doors open policy that brings five boys into my house on a Wednesday after school (and leaves behind sweaters not belonging to my kids; be sure to check our lost and found pile, parents). I love seeing my kids excited about moving dirt into new garden beds (yesterday's major project, overseen by Kevin, bless him). I love lifting kettlebells over my head (is that too weird?). I love getting to read my stories out loud.

Keep the waves coming.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Reminder: reading tonight, Type Books, Toronto!

Just a quickie this morning, as I'm headed to the big city to do some work, meet my sister for coffee (I hope), sign some books, eat some supper, and read at Type, as it's apparently affectionately referred to by those in the know. See poster for details. I'm also looking forward to the Q&A afterward with Kerry Clare.

I'm hoping to park somewhere relatively central and then bike around Toronto. Is that insane?? My bike fits in the back of our truck, and I've got a helmet and a good lock. Last time I went to Toronto, I ended up hiking all over and feeling very sweaty and late; I'm hoping that by cruising, even very slowly and cautiously, on my old junker of a bike, I will at least not be late. It looks like rain, however. Pray for me people.

Hope to see some friendly faces tonight.

(Last night's event here in town was just lovely, met a ton of new people -- lots of writers -- and had some funny interactions with a slowly sinking microphone, which livened up my little set. And Heather B rolled with our family's usual Tuesday afternoon chaos, bless her. And my soccer kids had great games, including a goal for the one who's usually in net!)

Here's a link to the review of Juliet in The Walrus, if you haven't read it (and feel so inclined). I like how they call The Juliet Stories "Carrie Snyder's new novel." Which could be something we end up talking about tonight at the Short Story Shindig. What is this thing I've written anyway?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The morning is fleeing!

bee3
stop and drink the nectar

The morning is fleeing! I'm running out of time. Stop, Carrie, breathe for a moment. Drink the nectar.

Ahhh.

This afternoon, I'm hosting my literary friend Heather Birrell, with whom I will be reading tonight at The Starlight here in Waterloo. She's been forewarned about the fact that somehow we've neglected to vacuum for, like, weeks, and that there are toys and papers and dishes and stuff on pretty much every horizontal surface, floors included, and she assures me that she'll feel right at home amidst the chaos. Well, she's got two young daughters. And a brand-new book. I think we're good.

I want to tell you about her book. It's called Mad Hope, and the title comes from a line in a pitch-perfect story, "Geraldine and Jerome," which is set in the waiting room of a medical clinic and links up two unlikely-to-otherwise-meet-and-interact-characters. I happened to read it in the waiting room of a medical clinic (don't worry, I'm fine). Be warned, if you're planning to pick up this book and read it in public places: these stories will make you cry. Or maybe it's just me.

I'm thrilled to say that Heather invited me to be an early reader of these stories, so I know exactly how damn good they are. And the book has been getting rave reviews all over the place. I'm going to get Heather to sign my copy today. You can too, if you happen to be in Waterloo and come out to the Starlight tonight; or in Toronto tomorrow, where we'll be reading together again at Type Books.

And to add book news upon book news, my many-moons-ago boss, Noah Richler, has a new book out this spring too. It's called What we talk about when we talk about war, and it's about how our current government has been steadily distancing our country from its tradition of peacekeeping, preferring the warring nation metaphors instead. Noah will be in Waterloo on May 30th at the Laurier Centre for Military Strategic and Disarmament Studies. That just happens to be a free evening for me (!!), and I'm looking forward to hearing Noah speak. Join me? I'll post more details closer to the date.

One last thing. Noah's written a really lovely mini-review of The Juliet Stories, published on the 49th Shelf. In it, he talks about hiring me as an intern at the National Post, and his description of who I was then gave me a really lovely "how others see us" moment. Because who knows how others see us? (What I perpetually fear is that maybe I'd rather not know ... it's a personal hang-up. I need to get over that.)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Party night

pizzaparty2
party night

My thoughts are all over the place on this Monday morning. I'm wondering: should I blog our week in suppers? Skip over that and write about my weekend of solo parenting? Share news about upcoming events and unexpected Juliet feedback?

Last night, I set my alarm for swimming. I woke at 2am. I'd been dreaming about sleeping (again!). I decided to turn off the alarm and really sleep. I have three early mornings planned this week; given that I also have two evening readings, self-preservation starts to come into play. It was a little easier to turn off the alarm given that yesterday, late afternoon, I ran 12 pain-free kilometres, keeping up a good pace and plotting my return to distance running. That counts as my first real distance run since my injury in January. It's short, as far as distance runs go, but it was a blast. Next week ... 14 km??

Uh. Where was I? Oh yes, self-preserving.

Tonight, I'm ferrying children from dance to soccer practice while Kevin has an early soccer game. Tomorrow, I'm at the Starlight in Waterloo (come, too!), from 7pm onward. Readings start at 7:45. And on Wednesday I'm headed to Toronto for an event at Type Books called the "Short Story Shindig" with Heather Birrell and Daniel Griffin, and hosted by Kerry Clare; 7pm (come, too!). This is all very exciting, but doesn't go terrifically well with excessive early morning exercise.

As I said to Kevin this morning, "This isn't the year of the triathlon. This is the year of The Juliet Stories." (Which may be the first time I've admitted that, even to myself. I really really liked the year of the triathlon. I felt so hard-core. Sharing my book feels less focused, less goal-oriented. Maybe I need to start thinking of readings as races. They definitely affect me in similar ways -- I'm nervous before, wired and happy during, and it takes me a little while to come down afterward.)

So. Slightly less focus on exercise, slightly more focus on evening events.

Now. Let me tell you all about my weekend with my kids. We had so much fun! Why can't we have this much fun all the time? Is it because I'm usually trying to get too many other things accomplished? That can't be entirely it, because we seemed to accomplish quite a lot, even while finding time to relax. Our weekend included ...

:: watching Modern Family on Friday night while sharing an entire bag of Cheetos (which were utterly disgusting, may I just add)

:: trampoline ninja jumping (everyone!)

:: a bike trip to the grocery store for picnic and party supplies, followed by a picnic in the park

:: reading outside while two girls rode giggling past me on scooters and bikes too small for them

:: hanging laundry on the line, baking bread

:: playing on electronic devices; taking lots of photos

pizza
personal pizzas for party night (the one with the olives, asparagus, and eggplant? yes, that's mine)

:: "Party Night," wherein we had homemade personal pizzas and punch with ginger ale while watching a movie, then gorged on episodes of Modern Family while simultaneously gorging on boxed cereal and utterly disgusting candy; the rules for Party Night go like this: everyone gets to choose one treat from the grocery store (under $4), and we stay up as late as we want; oddly, three of four children chose boxed cereal (Corn Pops, Frosted Flakes, and Froot Loops, for the record). We have never felt so collectively gross. I blame the milk. Maybe the sugar too. It was surprisingly easy to herd the children off to bed at a not entirely unreasonable hour (9:30ish) ...

:: ... though AppleApple and I got distracted searching for my old Grade One piano book in the basement, which we never found, but we did find one of my old and relatively simple classical piano books, and ended up staying up for another hour playing songs. The Wild Horseman. The Happy Farmer. One of Muzio Clemente's simple Sonatinas (she's learning it!). Minuets from the Anna Magdalena Bach notebook). Bliss!

:: sleeping in

::  making and delivering, on bicycle, invitations for an 11th birthday party (a week from today!)

:: more bike riding and trampolining and laundry hanging; hey, whatever makes us happy

Mother's day was capped off by the return of Dad, and supper out at all-you-can-eat sushi with my mom, too.

And that is plenty for one blog post. Never got to the unexpected and lovely Juliet feedback. Well. More tomorrow.

Friday, May 11, 2012

On gift-giving

canopy
canopy

I'm part of the Writers' Union of Canada, and as such receive a trade-type magazine produced by the union called Write.

{confession: I'm not entirely sure why I'm part of the Writers' Union, other than it seemed very exciting to join way back when my first book was published; I've stayed out of principle, despite the annual dues, because I want to be part of a writing community, even though I've yet to feel particularly at one with this community. Hm. Is this something I should be confessing publicly? Do others feel the same way?}

Long aside. My point is that yesterday I read an interesting article in the latest issue of Write. It appears not to be available online, so here is a mini-copy-and-paste of the parts that resonated with me. It's written by Rosemary Sullivan (who was my professor in grad school), and titled: "The gift-giving culture: In defence of creative writing workshops."

We writers were seduced for awhile into believing we could speak of culture as a product. We could speak of cultural industries, adopting the commodity model, and asserting that we contributed to the general monetary economy and should be rewarded. But books are not products that earn a market reward. They are works of art that are essential to our collective human experience, and society, for its mental and spiritual health, should sustain their creation in the sheer principle of self-interest.

{and here I shall skip backwards in her essay, because it makes sense to me}

We need to acknowledge that writers live in a different cultural paradigm: they live in a gift-giving as opposed to a commodity culture. ... We are so deeply inside consumer culture that we cannot imagine a cultural paradigm other than that of private property. ... But in a culture based on the gift (giving without assurance of return) ... giving in itself creates a cycle of return. In a gift-giving culture, when you give, you create a moral debt that will be paid back when the circle of giving completes itself.

{this reminds me of Margaret Atwood's Payback}

Well, what do you think? I'm drawn to the writing-as-gift-giving idea (at least for literary writing). If I bake a loaf of bread and sell it, I can work out a pricing scheme that takes into account labour and cost of materials, and what the market will bear, and I can hope to earn a fairly stable return for my investment. But if I write a book of fiction, there is no way to estimate in advance the cost of my labour (which is essentially time), or whether I will ultimately be producing something that anyone wants to purchase. As Rosemary Sullivan puts it:


There is no relationship, except perhaps that of luck, between the energy and thought put into a book, and the return the writer receives.

She goes on to argue that creative writing workshops and programs are a defence against superficiality, and provide writers with community, with networks of support. She says creative writing programs aren't trying to teach people how to write, but how to be part of a gift-giving paradigm, as writers, readers, editors, publishers, etc.

I like the idea of being part of a larger collective conversation, through my writing. In a sense, that's what this blog has become (for me). I'm still not sure I buy her argument about the larger purpose of creative writing programs -- but then I've never been part of one. Maybe I would feel differently if I were. Anyone out there want to comment on this? I will be leading creative writing workshops for teens this fall, as part of my participation in the Eden Mills Writers Festival. What should I be trying to foster, there?

One more thing on the collective voice. In the past few months, I've been invited to contribute essays to four different proposed anthologies. This is hugely exciting; and it is certainly not monetary excitement I'm feeling. It's excitement about being part of collaborative experiences, being asked to participate, and potentially adding my voice to the mix.

Which brings me around to a final thought on the gift-giving paradigm. Gift-giving is so life-affirming. To be asked to give is in itself a gift; especially when you are being asked to give of a talent, or to give exactly in the way you feel born to give. So when I'm asked to write something creative and literary and thoughtful, I'm thrilled. Really I am. Whoever is asking is recognizing that I (may) have something to offer, and I love giving it, whether or not I receive strictly monetary payment in return.

{note: this does not apply to the freelance writing/editing work that belongs to the commodity culture, and which I am truly grateful also exists}

:::

News: I was interviewed by poet and new mother, Erin Knight, for a piece just published on Open Book Ontario about being a writer and a mother. Take a look, here.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Creative discomfort

photographer
photographer

"Creative discomfort." I know the feeling well, and now I know what it's called! If you have 36 minutes to spend watching John Cleese talk about creativity, click here. (As a multi-tasker, I did physio exercises whilst listening, but even without the exercises I would consider it time well-spent.)

Here are a few points that really clicked with me.

Be open. Be silly, be judgement-free, play. There is also a time to be closed and to apply your ideas, to bring them to fruition and into coherent shape. But without time to play freely there is no creativity. He advocates a beginning and an end to play. It's exactly what we all hated as kids: being told that it's time to come inside and wash up for supper; time to clean up the toys. Playtime isn't all the time. There also needs to be time to build your invention.

But creativity is not just about playtime, and structured time. It's also about sitting with a problem that has yet to be solved. It's about passing by the easy or obvious solutions, and sitting with the problem/subject and giving your mind time to dig into its unconscious and come up with something original. This is a deeply uncomfortable process. I do it instinctively and not without pain -- for me and for everyone around me. When I'm working out a problem, I'm irritable, agitated, distracted. (It's one of the reasons I exercise.) But I can't help myself. I can't accept the easy solution. I have to keep looking until I find something else. I've sometimes thought of it as a kind of obsessive personality flaw. After listening to this talk, however, I think it might be the single-most important quality in my personal creative toolbox.

A few more points. When we play freely, we don't worry about making mistakes; we risk being silly and wrong and ridiculous, because there is no silly or wrong or ridiculous. I think of this in my own parenting. I wonder. Am I too quick to point out problems or flaws? Successful collaboration and communal play comes from building on each other's ideas, not knocking them down. That doesn't mean you have to blanket every idea with "Wonderful!" but that you help build on the ideas that come. "Could you elaborate on that? Could you push it futher? What if ...?" Maybe it's also like riffing. When you're in the middle of a good conversation and everyone is carrying everyone else along, not worrying about taking detours, or getting off-topic.

One final point. Cleese is very much against solemnity. He's not against seriousness -- we can talk deeply about serious subjects while laughing, after all. What gets his goat (and also squashes creativity) is self-important solemnity that refuses humour, that sees it as subversive (well, it is!); the ego that refuses to laugh at itself, that is defensive, that shuts down the house for the sake of propriety.

And on that note ... I'm off to ponder and wonder and sit with some pretty grumpy-making creative discomfort. But with a light heart, friends. With a light heart.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Say it simple, say it best

jimmy'slunch
thanks to my mom for taking this photo of my kids walking to a diner for breakfast

This morning, our littlest piano player was becoming frustrated with her practicing. Slam, slam, slam the fingers on the keys, wrong note, BANG, wrong note, BANG, wrong note, BANG. "This song is too hard!" This was preceded by a ridiculous argument with her sister over the "funnies" in the paper (which no one finds funny, yet everyone insists on reading; which I find funny). And it was followed by a ridiculous argument with said sister over a sunhat -- she wanted to wear her sister's hat, which was apparently much superior to her own. "I only have one hat and she has two!" was the cry of misery.

Suddenly I realized -- she was tired. It had been a late night, her first soccer practice of the season, bedtime pushed back by an hour, and she'd woken early.

Ah. It all made perfect sense.

I'm feeling a little bit the same way myself, frankly. Need more sleep.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A series of entertaining digressions

lake2
this photo is unrelated to this post's content; but I digress

Last night, I was invited to read at The Bookshelf in Guelph, which is not far from where I live. It also happens to be the city where my husband and I bought our first house. (I always drive by and peek at it; yesterday, I thought that it looked like it had been sold again; it was a smallish house, a "starter" home, on a fairly busy street.) Our first two children were born in that house. And I spent many an early morning at The Bookshelf with my eldest. He was an early riser (and I was not). Mid-morning was a foggy slog, for me. It helped to put him in the stroller and walk somewhere. It helped, also, to have a destination. So we often walked to The Bookshelf, which was open early. We would sit in the children's section and read. Our home library is stocked with many board books that came from The Bookshelf.

But I digress. It's what I do.

I was invited to read with Andrew Hood, whom I'd never met. Originally from Guelph, he now lives in Halifax, and he's launching his second collection of stories, The Cloaca, with a tour. Catch him tonight in Toronto at the Gladstone. I read first, and then sat back and enjoyed Andrew's performance of his work. Let's just say I laughed a lot. He has a talent for dark humour. We shared the stage for a Q&A.

Toward the end of the Q&A, a question came from a young man in the audience -- a Nicaraguan doing graduate work at the university. I'll admit that when he introduced himself I felt a twinge of fear; if I worried about anything during the writing of the book, it was whether I could accurately capture a country not my own. (Okay, I might have worried about a few other things too; but that was top of the list.) But what he wanted to say was that he felt there was another character in my book: the character of Nicaragua. And he wanted to know how I had gotten Nicaragua so right. At which point I started breathing again. I didn't have a terribly deep answer for him, but I think he's right, the place is a character too, and if I got it right it's because I wrote about it the same way I write about all my characters: with great affection. Maybe too much. I really love my characters. I know they're flawed, but I love them anyway -- or, not even anyway -- I love them because of their flaws. And so I love Nicaragua for its noise and its smells and its danger and its wild beauty. I mentioned how loud Nicaragua is, and he said that when he first moved to Canada, he thought Canadian cars must not have horns. That's how quiet we are here, by comparison.

I'm going to digress again.

We subscribe to The Walrus, and yesterday the June edition arrived. In it is a really fine review of The Juliet Stories. I can't link to it, because it doesn't appear to be online, but here's a taste: "Snyder's new book is the rare successful execution [of a novel in stories], a stream of sensual imagery that grows more sophisticated with each page." Isn't that lovely? Just as lovely is the reviewer's excellent summary of the book: "The Juliet Stories highlights the lessons we learn in youth and with age, and the conflict between the freedom we value and the security we desperately need." Love that.

One more digression.

Sitting on my desk right now (atop a pile of possibly important papers) is a registration form for a senior recreational women's soccer team. I'm thinking of joining! Agh! That would mean five out of six of us would be playing registered soccer this summer (CJ will join in on practices, since Kevin is coaching two of the kids' teams). It would also put us at soccer fields six out of seven days a week, sometimes at multiple fields on the same day. Is this too crazy? The funny thing is, the kids are totally excited. They want to see me play. I'm still wavering, wondering whether it's too much. Also wondering whether I'll totally suck. I haven't played soccer since the age of TEN. That's a mere twenty-seven years ago.

Wait, I have a final digression. It's short.

Just discovered this amazing new Canadian magazine called Eighteen Bridges. It's got excellent writers, long-form journalism, quirky and interesting subject matter, and I'll give you a link to an article that shows what I mean. Jessica Johnson (an old friend from my National Post days) writing about, ahem, waxing. Girls, you know what I'm talking about. Or maybe you don't. I personally lack any experience with it, and it was comforting to read about another woman in the same position. Um. Okay, it's impossible to write about this without sounding all wink-wink. Forget what I'm saying; read Jessica's piece instead.

And on that note ...

Monday, May 7, 2012

Join the running club

mudpuppy2
after the race

This weekend my big kids ran their first race. Signing up was of their own initiative -- inspired by friends. Albus raised quite a lot of money, also of his own initiative, for the cause (Kidsability). They trained regularly with friends in the weeks leading up to the race, sometimes led by a parent, but also on their own. And on Sunday, they each ran their own very individual race, according to their unique personalities.

Albus stuck with a friend. He finished in good time, with faster splits than we'd been doing our training runs (5:43/km), 162nd of 540 runners. Here is a classic Albus-defining moment: As he approached the finish line, he found Kevin in the crowd and stopped to wave. By contrast, AppleApple was so focused in her sprint for the finish line that she had no idea anyone was yelling her name and cheering her on. She ran entirely on her own, and much faster than we knew she could (4:40/km), finishing 50th of 540 runners.

Both children loved the experience, and want to do it again. I love that they each did it their own way, and that each came away happy and proud. To thine own self be true!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Breathe

myrtle
This is just to say I'll be taking a breather this weekend. Therefore, no blogging planned. Hope you find time to rest and settle in to whatever you're doing this weekend, too. Happy spring!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Risk's potential

flying1

Have I been writing quite often about my dreams? Maybe it's because I'm woken on so many mornings by my alarm, pulled out of dreamland, bringing the dreams with me. My kids are not going to remember the 2.0 version of their mother, the one who for thirty-five years or so was the very opposite of early riser. The 2.0 version thought 7 o'clock in the morning was quite viciously early enough, thank you very much. But the 2.0 version has been obsolete for over a year now. She may already have been forgotten. My kids are going to remember version 2.1, up before dawn, coming in from outside in running gear, or freshly showered after spin class. "Where were you this morning?" they ask sometimes, greeting me from their perch at the breakfast bar.

I'll admit: it wasn't easy to recalibrate my instincts. But I'll admit, too: change has brought about all sorts of good things. I'm friendlier, for one thing. Less prone to the growlies. Less resentful, somehow, of the necessary morning duties, more light-hearted regarding the inevitable complaints. ("This toast is too cold!" "This porridge is too hot!")

This morning, I woke with dreams of my friend's father still in my mind. We attended the memorial service last night. Let me tell you about one small and extraordinary moment. After the more formal proceedings, we all went to the church basement to eat sweets, visit, and share memories. Among the people who got up to say something was a woman I'd never met. She wasn't a family member or someone from the neighbourhood. She said she knew my friend's father from work. She said that she worked as a teller in a bank. My friend's father had been a customer. She spoke about his friendliness, his stories, his interest in her life, about how, as she came to know him, she would wave him over to her line. She regretted that she hadn't gotten the chance to say goodbye. She was glad to be able to come to his memorial service. She came to his memorial service. Isn't that amazing?

This is what it says to me: The potential for meaningful relationships is all around us.

Meaningful relationships don't have to be conventional. They don't necessarily require tons of time. They can be as simple as asking your bank teller a question. Being interested. Being curious. Being, most of all, present.

Today was a day rife with potential challenges. I got up early. I did not nap. I was interviewed on live radio right after the kids left for school. And then I headed off to lead writing workshops for teens. Several fairly major things remain to be checked off my to-do list. But it hasn't been a hard day, not at all. I feel a little foot-weary from standing. I feel a little wired from more than my usual dose of caffeine. But I feel, also, the worth of every interaction, no matter how small. Pay attention. Whatever is happening in your day, look it full in the face. Ask questions. Wonder. Give it your best.

I thought, today, about how new experiences are always around us. How people, if pushed in the friendliest of ways, will embrace something new. How even the most grownup of us crave to feel those moments so common in childhood -- the ones that delight and surprise us. How maybe all of us are waiting to be delighted and surprised. And then I thought, I can do that.

It's as easy -- and as crazy hard -- as stepping outside of my comfort zone.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

May madness

jumper
sending happy vibes

When I woke up this morning, I remembered my dream. It seemed ominous. I'd been dreaming about sleeping. As in, I was sleeping inside my dream. I think that might define tired.

We've entered May, which is a month more packed with events than usual. So let me begin this post by telling you about some of them, in case you're interested in attending/listening in/sending happy vibes. (I was going to say "send advice," but it strikes me that advice is not at all what I want. I want happy vibes. Please.)

May 3 (tomorrow): If you're in Guelph, listen in to a live (gulp) interview I'll be doing with Dan and Peter who host a show called "Books for Breakfast" on CFRU radio. You can stream it live, or listen to the podcast later. You can. I won't. I cringe when I hear my own voice. It sounds so different inside my head. My instructions are to pour myself a cup of tea, have my book handy, and pick up the phone when it rings at 8:30am tomorrow. I've arranged for the kids to be out of the house a wee bit earlier than usual.

Also tomorrow, immediately after the interview, I'm off to represent the Eden Mills Writers' Festival. I'll be leading writing workshops for teens at an enrichment conference here in town. I'm going to call this day: The Day of New Experiences. Which is much better than its alternative and less motivational title: The Day of No Napping.

May 7 (Monday): Guelph, the ebar, 7-9pm! I'll be reading with Andrew Hood, and doing a little Q&A afterward with Dan from The Bookshelf. Look for me at around 7:20, according to the schedule I've got. Any friends from Waterloo interested in coming? I'd love to carpool with someone.

May 15 (Tuesday): Indie Night at the Starlight in Waterloo! Doors open at 7. There will be nine authors, brisk and entertaining readings, and books for sale. Heather Birrell will be there with her new book Mad Hope, and fellow Anansi author, Robert Hough with his new book Dr. Brinkley's Tower. And many more. Should be awesome.

May 16 (Wednesday): Short Story Shindig at Type Books in Toronto! 7-9pm. I'm reading with Heather Birrell and Daniel Griffin, and our host for the evening is the most awesome Kerry Clare (who writes the best book blog on the block, Pickle Me This).

May 27 (Sunday): reading at Wilfrid Laurier University. Details to come. Apparently Congress 2012, a gathering of some 7,000 academics, is coming to Waterloo, and WLU is putting on a literary salon to entertain those so inclined.

May 29 (Tuesday): Books and Brunch at A Different Drummer bookstore in Burlington. Starts at 9:30am. I'll be reading with Jay Ingram and Dennis Lee.

:::

Note to self: find a more efficient method of posting this information on blog.

Meanwhile, onward. I started today with a good run with a dear friend in early morning light that was nothing short of beautiful. Pink sky, fresh light, new day. That's the good thing about not sleeping. Being awake in today.