Category: The Writing Life

Never gonna give you up

People every where are giving up things for Lent (which starts today). Various friends have told me they are giving up chips, chocolate, coffee. Moira asked me what I was giving up and I joked “swearing” which is an f**king lie and probably impossible anyway – although I am quite good at not swearing in front of my children.

My real answer to Moira was this: I feel like cancer has made me give up enough in this life.

I thought this year instead of giving up something for Lent I would add something. Except usually once I set myself a hyper-specific task like “you will blog every day for 40 days” my inner-rebel immediately starts looking for ways to sabotage my efforts. But as I try to build up a writing practice maybe this isn’t such a bad idea? Who says all blogging has to have something illuminating to say anyway? Sometime it can be just a brain dump. And I rarely talk about writing on here but maybe I should as a form of accountability. Maybe what I need for Lent is 40 days of accountability. Of course, it doesn’t have to be for Lent. I’m not even a Christian. But it is -24 degrees out right now and we know it will probably be 40 days before Spring really arrives so maybe this is my waiting-for-Spring project.

I’ve almost got my first children’s story ready for sending out on agent queries. I know that this is going to take a long time and I’m prepared for that, but the agent research is overwhelming. I keep wondering how I can make the story better but at this point I think changes can only come from the outside. It’s that first step that is so terrifying. But I will be happy to get it out there into the world so I can say I have done so and then put it aside for a couple months (waiting for the rejection letter) and move on to my next story – which is almost finished as well. I know rhyming stories are not popular in children’s literature these days but I don’t care. The second story is about a little girl who is a mathematician in a family of witches and I love it even if no one else ever wants to publish it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about inclusivity in my writing lately too. How do I, as a cis-white woman, make my work accessible to all children? I think it is easier (for me) when writing picture books because I just provide the words. In the story that is going out to agents this week it is about a neighbourhood and, in my eyes, the possibilities for representation are endless – just like in a real neighbourhood. For my witch girl the same thing. I have given her a description because that is part of the rhyming scheme but the rest of her family and friends can be anything. My stories are usually about family or community dynamics with a twist – and every one has a family or a community (or they should). Once again I lament my lack of drawing skills because I can’t put my vision down on the page – but I can provide the words.

I find myself noticing that Representation Matters in little ways these days. A couple months ago one of my closest friends was in town visiting with her daughter. My friend is white, her husband’s family is from the Philippines. Their little girl was playing in our basement and found one of my daughters’ dolls that had pale skin and dark hair. She played with it for a while and then lost the doll (because honestly what she loved the most was the giant spider in our basement which she kept kissing and hugging and it was freaking adorable and I love her) . She picked up another doll, this one identical but with red hair – and stared at it for a moment and immediate threw it away and went looking for the dark haired doll – the doll that looked more like her. Subtle, but so important.

My babies (so many years ago) with their babies.

Also, I thought I would mention that Moira has trouble falling asleep a lot but lately I’ve had her listen to the Sleep Stories on the Calm app and it has been super helpful. Instead of going to bed worrying about how she isn’t going to fall asleep (and then keeping me awake because I’m worrying about how she can’t sleep – I never said she didn’t come by this problem honestly/genetically) she now looks forward to bedtime because she knows she gets a relaxing story. (In addition to me reading to them every night because I’m never gonna give that up.)

Thirteen Days

In thirteen days the five of us will be getting on a plane to spend a month in Ireland. But in between today and the 13th of June I feel like we have eleventy billion things to get done. This weekend alone is nuts with the Writer’s Guild of Alberta conference, a birthday party for the girls to attend, a night out of town in the mountains with the Mister’s company, and a quick drive back to the city the next morning because Oonagh has her first violin recital on Sunday afternoon. Maybe this level of activity is normal for a lot of families but it really isn’t for us. A typical weekend for us consists of having zero plans – or maybe one thing planned – and just seeing what happens.

 

Also this is the extent of our luggage for the five of us:

Plus small backpacks for the girls to bring their stuff on the plane for the almost 24 hour journey.

We are all getting really excited. (Oonagh keeps asking if she can pack and, “can’t we just leave right now?”) However, waiting to travel is an exercise in living in an odd sort of limbo. The first time we took off on a long road trip we made the decision and left the next week. Last year’s trip was similar. But this year we are traveling to a different country which requires a lot more planning – and a lot less stuff.

I’m excited to be traveling so lightly and to show the girls just how little stuff we really need to live. (There will be zero f**king Shopkins traveling with us.) But in the mean time I’m trying to make sure we pack all the right stuff and continue to enjoy our life and not just be waiting to leave. I don’t want the girls to miss out on the day to day joys of the end of their school year or all the good things June has to offer in our city. (We really need to plan better and leave town when it is -30 out, not when things are just getting hot.)

I also have: a sweater to finish knitting, a new piano teacher to interview (because we try and have our activities as close to the house as possible), a child with strep throat to keep an eye on so that it is gone before we leave. There is the meeting with the breast surgeon to try and get my surgery nailed down for the latter part of the summer, and other various medical tests.

Plus there is the writing conference starting today which had me stress eating Mexican Chili chips in the kitchen at 8:30 this morning before I realized what I was doing. Today I’m going to a memoir writing workshop with the amazing Sharon Butala even though I don’t think I have the right kind of memory to ever write a memoir. Tomorrow I’m going to a workshop with author/blogger Shawna Lemay from Transactions With Beauty. This year I promised myself I would get out of my comfort zone where writing is concerned and, honestly, I don’t think I have been doing a great job at that. But it is a process, not a destination, right? Much like writing.

And Mexican Chili chips are delicious, even at 8:30 in the morning.

 

My first newsletter will be coming out this Monday. It includes a recipe for super easy & healthy cookies – which are basically like oatmeal in cookie form. I don’t really believe cookies need to be healthy but when you are supposed to avoid sugar AND want a cookie you need to do something, right? If you want the recipe you should sign up for the newsletter.

 

 

What else is there?

Currently we are reading Catch-22 for book club. I think our book club is currently being called People Who Actually Read the Book club but I haven’t been following along with the discussion. In my head I call it Mensa Book Club Drop Outs & Their Spouses (I’m the spouse, not the Mensa person in case there was any doubt) but either way I’m not sure I’m going to be finishing Catch-22 this time around which I feel rather bad about since it was my pick.

 

I’ve slowed down my reading a whole lot lately. I came across this bit this morning and didn’t want to continue until I had ruminated on it for a while. In this chapter Dunbar is talking about how much he loves skeet shooting because it is so boring and makes time pass slowly – to him the slower time passes the longer your life. Dunbar and Clevinger bicker about it for a while (there is a lot of bickering in this book) and then Clevinger concedes:

“Maybe a long life does have to be filled with many unpleasant conditions if it’s to seem long. But in that event, who wants one?”

And as you can see from the photo above Dunbar wants one – as do most of the men in this story because it is set during WWII and all they want is to get out of the war and go home. I think most people facing death would trade it for a long life no matter how boring.

Which comes to the thought that has been circulating in my mind lately: what the hell am I doing with my life these days?

When I was first diagnosed I didn’t want anything to do with thinking about death (or reading about death) but now it seems like it is constantly on my mind (and a lot of my reading is focused on people talking about death). Not in the sense that I am thinking about my death all the time but I am thinking about this culture of living grief that seems to be surrounding us as medical science is able to hand you a terminal diagnosis these days and then keep you alive for an indefinite amount of time.

I remember in high school when we had to put our beloved Dalmatian, Belle, down. My dad was away on a business trip and we were waiting for him to come home so we could do it. At the time I likened it to living with a criminal on death row because we were just in the odd period of limbo while we waited for her death. Every day she was with us but not. Then one day I got off the bus and I knew, I just knew that she was gone. I told myself “if the car is parked the driveway then Mum took her to the vet today.” And so I started running and sure enough, there was the car in the driveway (Mum should have been at work) and when I went in the house Mum just said sadly, “I just couldn’t’ wait anymore” and I understood, I really did. I wasn’t mad, we had been saying goodbye to Belle daily for weeks. I was just sad – we all were (Dad was relieved that he didn’t have to be a part of it, old softy that he is, he hated that dog for years but would never have been able to watch her go) – but at least we didn’t have to watch her deteriorate anymore.

Sometimes I feel like that criminal on death row.

For the past couple months I have been thinking about starting a podcast where I would talk to other people who are also living with a terminal disease. But then my friend Jocelyn told me about how much her friends who have started podcasts ended up hating them because of all the work and now I’m not sure that is the direction I want to go in. I still want to interview people who are facing death – and not just women with Stage IV breast cancer either – but writing has always been my medium of choice and that is probably the direction I will take. I miss interviewing people and writing articles. I miss writing and having purpose but I’m trying to slow down and figure out a good balance. To not worry when I don’t finish a book. To not beat myself up when I am not feeling well enough to go to yoga. To sit down and focus on one task at a time.

Our trip to Ireland is coming up and so there is a lot of little things to get ready for that as well. I’m also attempting to knit a sweater for the first time and trying to get it done to take with me. (And nowhere does my perfectionist nature shine through than when I am knitting because I have cast-on this sweater eleventy billion times and switched yarn so I can get it just right.) Plus I was hoping to finish a story to submit to a contest before we leave.

Slow fashion.

Slow reading.

Slow writing.

Long life?

 

Let’s hope so.