Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Different Kind of Daughter

I wrote a short story once in which the narrator said of her mother, "She was ready for a different kind of daughter, I think."

That line came back to haunt me this week.

We regularly paint our nails together, and she likes to bake and cook with me, but she mumbles when she speaks in public, would happily play nurse to someone else's doctor, and loves math more than any other subject. A few years ago, we were at the Nutcracker. Right before the curtain fell on the first act, snow began to fall from the sky and onto the stage. I was sitting there, enraptured, filled with wonder, and my daughter turned to me and whispered, "That is so fake."

One of my big parenting goals is to help my children be the best them they can be. To give up on my own plans for them, and help them be themselves.

But this week, the note came home from school that there would be a Pioneer Day and the children could dress up as pioneer children and they would play pioneer games. I love pioneers. I love dressing up. I got excited.

"I'll braid your hair," I said. "Do we still have the sunbonnets? Maybe we can borrow a dress."
"I'm going as a pioneer boy," she said.

I tried hard to persuade her, but to no avail. So, I gave up and helped her find suspenders, plaid shirt, work pants and straw hat.

And then, her brother needed the straw hat to be a slave in a play at school. We found two straw hats. Only one would fit her brother, but she refused to wear the other one, even though it actually looked better on her.

"I'm not going to dress up," she announced and she stuck to her resolution, going to school in jeans and a sweatshirt.

I was frustrated. I let her be her nearly all the time. I work with who she is. Just this once, I thought, can't she just play along? Just bring the clothes in case she changes her mind? But no.

Last night, I was getting ready for bed, when I suddenly thought about being God's daughter, and I wondered how often I thwart the plans of my Father, when I refuse to play along, when I set my jaw and say no.

I wonder if God is ready for a different kind of daughter.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Then send my brussel sprouts to those starving kids!

Would you do this?

I keep hearing people saying that they rebelled against Earth Hour by turning on all their lights, that token deprivation is pointless, but I'm not sure they really understand. In my mind, some of the value of such activities is to understand a different relationship with stuff or electricity and to identify with people who live with this on a daily basis. It can also be a bit of a vote or a poll, to demonstrate public will.

What are you willing to do either on a one-time basis or on an ongoing basis? Do you beat yourself up for the things you don't do? Do you feel competitive with others who share your sensibilities? Do you consider yourself hypocritical if you do some good deeds and not others?

Monday, March 29, 2010


I used to take the bus, then the subway, then the bus home from work. It would take about 75 minutes each way. Now I work from home.

On the bus, in those good old days, there used to be signs detailing the symptoms of lupus. Now, I have a friend who suffers significantly from lupus, and I am not belittling the actual illness, but the symptom list started with fatigue, and I remember a number of days, sitting on the bus, bleary-eyed, wondering if I might possibly have lupus.

Last spring we went to Italy and one of our guide books acquainted us with Stendhal Syndrome. Basically, you can overdose on fine art as much as you can on fine wine and then, you go a bit loco. So, the entire time - the entire time! - we spent at the Accademia and the Uffizi galleries, I was monitoring my mental health.

Now today, I read this.

Here's what I want to know: is it even helpful in the least to publicize these conditions? Is it really?


Last fall I hired a freelance editor to help hone my manuscript. Really and truly, aside from the $150 dishwasher we bought when expecting child #3 in 3 years, this was the best money I have every spent in my entire life. This editor - Andrew Meisenheimer his name is - got what I was trying to do, loved my characters and style and then wrote five pages of everything I was doing wrong. It was like getting a rearview mirror that helped me see my blind spots. It was a graduate course in self-editing. My prose suddenly looked flabby and I wondered how on earth I had ever gotten an agent or had any publishers willing to look at the book before. Truly.

So, I put my little head down and wrote and renovated and revised. I finished the final draft on February 12 at 3:22 pm, just before the kids were due home from school. As I wrote the last sentence, something clunked into place in a good way, and an electric shock ran down my back, again in a good way. I was finished with it. If it doesn't sell now, so be it. I've done the best I can with it and I'm essentially happy. I have always told the joke - How many people does it take to write a novel? Two: one to write and another to shoot him when it's done. Because when is a novel ever done? Except it is.

(There is one scene that needs some help still, but it won't be a showstopper for any editor, I'm sure, and I really need more help with it.)

What I feel proudest of is sticking with this story. Ten years ago, I was part of a drama workshop. We all wrote and workshopped one-act plays. My play was largely autobiographical, with a fictional premise. The autobiography was what stumped me - I didn't know what I would actually do if the situation were to present itself in my life, but I couldn't get away from myself enough for my character to figure out what she would do. So, despite diligently writing 40 drafts, the only parts of the play that lived were peripheral characters. To make matters worse, I had added extra pressure to myself: some of the plays were to be acted out by real actors on the night of my 30th birthday. I decided what I wanted most for my birthday was to invite all my friends to watch my play and then to come back to my place afterwards for champagne. Only, the play was really awful. Even I knew that. My 30th birthday was fairly miserable as a result.

Now, at 40, I celebrated just because (how's that for wisdom coming with age?) but I also persevered and, what's more, threw caution to the wind and wrote with abandon - and with Andy's incisive, brilliant help.

And today, I'm working on revisions to the sequel. The story of the sequel is nowhere near as strong as the original - they never are, are they? - and once finished the first one, I've had a hard time being willing to tackle this one.

But today, I'm asking myself What Would Andy Do, and I'm hearing his advice as I edit and write and cut and paste. And I want to push through that inevitable block that says it stinks, and the inevitable self that stands in the way. Whether or not it gets published.

* What Would Andy Do?

And then the homeless guy broke my bike

That's the subtitle of today so far. I read a quote last week that said "People like us exactly as much as we like them." Basically, you get back what you give out. Well, I must be giving out something different and unpleasant the last few days, because, oh baby.

After I was called Grandma on Friday, I had not one but two men butt in front of me while in line at Vincenzo's. I spoke to each one - "excuse me. I'm waiting here." but somehow they interpreted my remarks in a different way.

The weekend was relatively harmless, but today I ventured out in to the world alone again, and that may have been my mistake. After a delightful coffee meeting with friends, I was unlocking my bicycle when I was approached by a homeless man on a bicycle asking for change. I declined and then he moved on, and had a small collision with another homeless man. The second man also asked me for change. I declined again. He thanked me. I was reaching down for my bag when I heard a mighty crash. I looked up to see that the man had fallen into my bicycle, severing the kickstand in half. I helped him up, and took his arm and walked him to a good place to sit. I offered him my coffee - he declined.

I had one last errand to do - had to pick up three quick items from the drug store. But I had no kickstand now, so I decided I would lean my bike on the wall outside the mall. However, there was a bike there already, so instead I leaned mine against the window. Somehow it nudged the other bike, tipping it slightly. I decided it was all a house of cards and would fix it when I returned one minute later. I went into the store, found what I was looking for and was headed for the cash register when the Mall Security guy approached and told me my bike against the window would break the glass. "Break the glass?" I repeated. "Yes." "Well, let me move it then," I said. I paid for my items and joined him outside. "I hope you don't go to the newspapers on this one," he said (because I did when mall management had this same fellow put a lock on my bike for parking illegally outside Starbucks last winter.)"I watched you leave your bike here and knock the other bike over." "I'm sorry," I said, because really I was at fault. "I'll pick it up now." "No, it's his," he said, pointing at a teenager nearby who claimed his bike and rode off.

I may need to wear my helmet all day, even when I'm not biking. Sheesh.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The End of the Furnace Man

So, this morning, our alarm failed to go off, so we jumped out of bed very late. I was showered and dressed but still making lunches and getting the first wave of kids and husband off to school when the furnace inspector dude arrived. He needed to see the thermostat and so walked into our family room, aka LEGO CENTRAL, where the two younger kids were building towers.

"Huh," he said, smiling. "So the grandchildren are here."

Gentle Reader, I killed him.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

May I just say

that grief is exhausting at a cellular level. Also, that it is not conducive to sleep to have a plotting mind that tries to understand what happened. On the plus side, I am no longer angry and have plenty of new insights. But not enough peaceful sleep.

By plotting mind, I do mean fiction, by the way, and not crime.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What will you do

The Summer Day
by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Writing Mad

I can't talk about it - except to say it doesn't involve Dave or my family - but I am deeply deeply disappointed and fiercely mad and I'm writing some sort of angry poem/letter that makes me think of Alannis and her "You Oughtta Know".

Did they mention how cathartic it is to write? How very helpful it is to be able to express oneself? How satisfying it would be to send it out into the world?

Friday, March 19, 2010

It's so warm

So says the dwarf in Narnia when at long last the witch's reign is over and winter transforms to spring before our eyes. It's been just about as fast here in the last two weeks. I know cold weather is forecast again, but right now, I don't believe it. We have ducks in our pool, crocuses blooming, kids in shorts playing a version of curling on the driveway, laundry on the line and salmon on the barbecue tonight.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Our week of celebrating Italy has come to an end and I am giving it no further thought at all. Good celebrating and good grieving work like that, I find. If you go into them, you come back out again.

We are tree-sitting a friend's maple trees this week, and have been very anxious about the warm nights, which are Very Bad for sap production. But now we have had two nights of below freezing and I have a large vat of sap boiling away on the stove.

Dave and the kids are at the zoo and the CN Tower today and I begged off. I feel more than moderately guilty but I have great need of a day to work and think, and a very good family who are happy to do their own thing. We will have the next four days together. For my penance, I have bleached the school lunch bags. So yes, my kitchen smells like bleach and maple. Mmmmm mmmmm.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Great Quote

“Travel does what good novelists also do to the life of everyday, placing it like a picture in a frame or a gem in its setting, so that the intrinsic qualities are made more clear. Travel does this with the very stuff that everyday life is made of, giving to it the sharp contour and meaning of art.”

~ freya stark

The Quality of Light

The quality of light these days may kill me with its beauty. And that's exactly how I'd like to go.

I'm not sure what it is about March but this is my favourite time of year - other than May, which is obviously wonderful. The difference is, in March every good thing is a gift and not an expectation or a right. I started dating Dave in March, my daughter was born in March. March is a month of promise and surprise. March is filled with new fresh smells and cool winds. Everything good in the year is ahead and about to open up. I think it's kind of like how Thursday is my favourite day of the week: because there is a sense of anticipation about the weekend. You can stay up late on Thursday night because if you're tired on Friday, you can shrug and realize it's only a few hours until the weekend. That's March. When I tell people it's my favourite month, they shake their heads and say, "Oh, it's still winter. It can still snow." Of course it can, but it's the kind of winter you can shrug off usually. In March, people re-emerge from hibernation to walk and talk in the neighbourhood. People stop looking askance at me for riding my bicycle. We pull out and refill the basketball net. We set up the clothes line again. We barbecue. We leave windows open.

What's not to love about March?

Yesterday I walked on the golf course I've skied all winter. In a warm week, it has transformed from ski course to golf green and puddles. I must love March if I'm willing to say goodbye to skiing. Last night, I put away the rows of skis, shovels and hockey sticks on our front porch and brought out the box of basketballs and skipping ropes.

But it's the quality of light most of all - the thin, bright, strengthening sunlight that starts before I wake up and lasts until well after supper. That's what is killing me most. In such a good way.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Oh that's good. Oh that's bad.

Discovered a knuckle of rhubarb in the garden this morning.

Was told secrets by both sides. I asked one about the secret and they assumed the other had talked. Which they had, but I had not revealed that in my question. Have since vented my spleen and promised discretion no more.

Made plates and plates of spinach-ricotta-ravioli for dinner tonight.

Has back-to-back duty calls coming up soon.

Finished good work on a major project today.

Spent minimal time outside in the glorious spring.

Has a book going out into the world today. My character is charming. He will make friends, I hope.


I don't get out much.

To travel that is. I didn't get on a single plane between 1996 and 2005. I had three kids in that period of time, mind you, but no flights.

Part of me wishes I had traveled more before I had my kids because I don't like leaving them, but part of me thinks that traveling less has given me more of an opportunity than more frequent flyers to both anticipate and afterticipate travel. Because, oh baby, do I ever.

Anticipating a trip is a fun challenge. Choosing a location, scouting out information about the destination, planning an itinerary. There are many travel guides and books to help you do just that.

Afterticipating a trip is something I've never heard anyone talk about at all. (And not just because I coined the term!)I'm glad I don't travel often because I have the opportunity to savour a trip afterwards, for days, weeks, months and yes, years.

A year ago today, for instance, I was in Florence, Italy. Or, more accurately, in the countryside outside Florence, being driven by a woman my age who inherited a castle and returned to Italy to run cooking classes. We traded maple syrup for olive oil. We learned to make ravioli, we drank fresh, lip-puckering, throat-warming red vino. We took the bus home and were asked by tourists if we were locals.

So, what am I doing today? Making ravioli and afterticipating.

Afterticipating means a number of things to me. In 1992, we were given free flights to Australia where my husband and I spent a month, staying in every level of accommodation imaginable and having a terrific adventure. For months afterwards, when we were bored or driving somewhere, I would suddenly say, "I'm thinking of somewhere in Australia," and he would gamely guess where.

I've seen and heard friends go through photos from a trip with different people, giving the exact same travelogue every single time. I wonder whether they realize they have reduced their trip to the few sentences they always say, remember only the places they have photos of. Playing the Australia game, remembering the obscure moments and details of a place, secures its place in your memory in a visceral way.

Afterticipating is also the ravioli. We spent 10 days in Italy. These ten days I am trying to recreate, just briefly. I sent flowers to my husband - the yellow mimosas I was given at a restaurant on International Women's Day in Italy. I bought a tub of lemon gelato, as cold and frosty white as snow, but warming to remember when we first had some, our first sunny morning in the Santa Croce Piazza. I considered buying incense to remember the church we visited - but we didn't like it then either.

The risk of afterticipating is failing to savour the present. My son said to me last night, "if I dwell on the past, I will have nothing good to dwell on in the future." Smart kid. But I'm not stuck in Florence or anywhere else. One of the remarkable things that occurred to me in my nostalgia this week was that last year I missed the glory that is late winter here in Waterloo and that this year I get a chance to enjoy it fully.

So, even though a little bit of me wishes I could hold the moments of a good trip in time, I'm not stuck at a point in the past. But neither have I dismissed it to go on to more and more new trips. I'm just taking a few moments to reflect, to raise a glass of wine, to remember, to afterticipate.