Saturday, June 30, 2018

In a Cabin in the Woods

My friend Erin moved away last year, out of my neighbourhood and out of the city. She bought an acreage with this gorgeous old farmhouse on it, and a barn, and a little guest cabin. Her three children will get to grow up like I did—running around unconfined by city blocks and busy roads and other people's pesky property. They seem pretty happy about all that, so far.

Another friend, who happens to be Erin's sister-in-law and whose name is Kate, also moved last year—to a small town just outside of Regina. She's still close enough to maintain the illusion for most of her other friends that she didn't actually "leave," but I am not fooled. Because she, like Erin, used to live within walking distance of my place, and now I have to get into a car and go on the highway to get to her house. That absolutely counts as leaving.

I stayed here. (I will probably always stay here.)

(Also, a funny, completely unrelated thing is that these two women married brothers who grew up in the same small town as me, four hours from here, and their mother-in-law is tight with my mom, but that's not even how I know them. Isn't that a funny thing? And so completely unrelated?)

On to the point of it all:

After she left, Erin kept reminding Kate and me that they had a little cabin on their property that would make a great writing space, and that she wanted us to come use it.

And we said, well, we'd love to come, but we'll just want to sit and visit with you.

And she said, no, you should come write in my cabin.

And we said, but we want to have coffee with you.

And she said, yes, come for coffee.

So yesterday, at last, Kate and I arranged our children into two neat rows in her minivan, threw food, toys, and an iPhone at them (literally, and I hit Kate's four-year-old son in the eye with a plastic Cavendish potato), and travelled to Erin's new home.

We set out from here at 8 am and got there at 10 am. Our kids ran off, revelling in the open spaces both in and outside of the farmhouse. Erin fed us well and gave us coffee. And then, after lunch, we put the younger kids down for their naps and shuffled the older ones into the playroom for joint quiet time (which worked much better than solo quiet time ever has), and Kate and Erin said to me, "Okay. You're going to the cabin to write." Erin had packed a bag with cake and coffee and cream and water bottles and Werther's Originals.

I said, "What's all this? How long am I going to be in there?"

And they said, "As long as it takes."

(To anyone reading this who is not a writer, this sounds kind of mean, maybe? You should know that anyone reading this who is a writer and also a mother at the same time is salivating on their keyboard right now.)

So, obediently, I followed Erin out to the cabin. It was small, an open-concept-with-a-loft-type deal. There were books in all the window sills and a great yellow couch and a table with one chair.

Erin got the coffee going, said, "Haaaaave fuuuuuun..." and shut the front door behind her. The house filled up instantaneously with the kind of quiet I haven't heard in a very long time. Country-quiet. There-is-no-noise-in-the-house-and-not-outside-of-it-either quiet. I took a picture with my laptop, because that is what one does in the absence of a cell phone. Right? CAN'T NOT DOCUMENT.

Then, I sat down in the one chair and started writing, because that was the only thing there was to do. I hadn't grabbed my phone on the way out, so I had no Instagram or Facebook to distract me, no Internet hotspot for my computer, even. I had cake and a whole pot of coffee all to myself. It was incredible! I wrote and wrote and wrote and then, suddenly, inexplicably, I was done writing. Because, I guess, that's how writing works.

I picked up my laptop and went back to the house.

I found Kate in Erin's office, also writing, and Erin in the kitchen with her laptop. Everyone was happy and had gotten something done and the kids were still loving each other and we reconvened and ate more food and discussed our various works and writer's blocks and questions while the kids ran through the sprinkler and jumped on the trampoline.

So that was that. The writing retreat/coffee date was a complete and total success. How nice to be locked in a cabin in the woods by one's friends. How nice to have the kind of friends who know you want to be locked in a cabin in the woods even when you say they shouldn't lock you in a cabin in the woods.

Erin called herself bossy yesterday, and, in this case, she was a little bossy, but she was only being bossy because she wanted to do this super nice thing for me and I wasn't really letting her, so she had to be bossy. And I was kind of proud of her for being bossy too, because I think she had to try pretty hard at it. You can't help but love a person who is only ever bossy when it benefits someone other than them.

Erin and Kate, if you're reading this: next time, I will take the kitchen and you two can duke it out for the delicious cabin-writing experience. We're onto something real good here.

Thursday, June 21, 2018


As of yesterday, I'm 31. Feels okay. It's funny how 30 felt so old to me, because 31 feels young. It's funny that a number can "feel" anything, but it does. 

A friend asked me yesterday what I learned this past year (she phrased it better than that though because everything that ever comes out of her mouth is careful and eloquent) and I stared at her and didn't answer right away (because nothing that ever comes out of my mouth is careful or eloquent; my spoken words just kind of barge out like a middle-aged lady at Costco on a Saturday afternoon). 

(There's a thing that I've tried to learn this past year, to be more careful and eloquent with my speech. But I'm pretty far from being able to say that it's a learned thing rather than a learning thing.)

I thought about that question on the drive home. What did I learn this past year? An easier question would be, what changed in your life this past year? or what did you accomplish this past year? or what new wrinkles or recurring physical pains or attitude glitches have you acquired this past year? What things do you wish you'd learned this year or what things did you work on this year or what was your favorite color this year or where did you live this year or how old are you, Suzy? Do you like spaghetti? Sorry for making you think so deeply; would you like to take a nap?

I just kept thinking of that old Albert Einstein quote: "The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don't know." Because I feel like this year, I just learned that I don't know very much, or that I have a lot of things I need to learn. 


I'm sure there's some kind of peripheral wisdom you gain when you learn that you don't know something. And surely sometimes you learn the thing you've learned you didn't know—sometimes that's how you learn you didn't know it before. But sometimes you just learn that you don't know something and then you go on trying to figure out that thing. And you think, "Man, there must be a lot of things I don't know, if I don't know this." 

Growing up is a blast.

But, okay, now I'm going to actually try to answer the question instead of annoyingly talking around it: 

One thing I've learned is that envy and jealousy are not the same thing(!!). Jealous is vigilant (the dragon jealously guards its treasure) and envy is covetous (the adventurer is envious of the dragon's treasure). I learned this on Twitter, courtesy of someone named 'chillmage.' Fascinating.

I've learned other things about envy and jealousy too, less to do with their definitions and more to do with their impact on my life and relationships. 

What else...

I've learned patience, in many areas, because I've done a lot of waiting this year, on a lot of things and people and situations. 

I've learned a thing or two about empathy, about what it really means to care about someone enough to feel their pain and to let that effect the way that you treat them and think about them. 

I've learned a bit about friendship. About how it comes and how it goes and how to deal with it when it goes. Oh, and the importance of the friends that stay year after year. It's harder to be a good friend when you're an adult, when your kids aren't sleeping well or you're in different life stages from each other or when you both have super busy schedules. One of the things I'm still trying to learn is how to be a good friend.

I've learned to say no. It's been an overwhelming year—maybe the most overwhelming year of my life, to be honest—and I've felt guilty at times about how little of myself I have to give to people outside of the few big things we've had going on around here. But I'm doing what I can do, taking care of the things on my list in the right order (I hope), and cutting the list off when I've reached my full capacity. I've learned that I have a smaller capacity than some of the people around me, and that that's okay too. 

Okay, so maybe that's not such a hard question after all, because now that I've started I feel like I could keep going. But also, I have work to do and places to go. So this will have to be an introspective activity from here on—which is okay and probably even better. 

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Search Party

It's Barclay's busy season at work. For him, "busy season" means lots of six day work weeks, putting in extra time at the end of most days, fielding phone calls even when he's not on the clock, and two days in all of June that we get to be home as a family with no plans or obligations, work-related or otherwise.

I definitely can't complain; I know loads of people whose husbands are gone way more than mine, or who don't have someone to help them with their children at all, ever. But I'd also be lying if I said this summer wasn't kind of kicking my butt. I just feel like there's never any quiet. It's Barclay's busy season, and it's my loud season. And it's all okay, because it's just that: a season. I'm not worried about it lasting forever or anything.

Thankfully, though, it's also another season: summer. Which means that when the four walls of our little house start closing in on me and the kids, I can point at the front door and we can all march right outside. It's not necessarily quiet out there, either, but there's more room for our noise. At least it doesn't bounce off the walls out there.

So this morning, as usual, we went for a walk. Down Winnipeg to Scenic Drive, onto Broad and up to Trafalgar Lookout, where we, you know, looked out. Across Wascana Lake at the Leg.

Sullivan and Scarlett were throwing rocks into the water and I was hanging back, watching them, when from behind me I heard pounding feet and a woman screaming someone's name, over and over and over. She sounded desperate and I knew instantly that she'd lost her daughter.

She was there and gone so fast I couldn't talk to her, but it was obvious what was going on. I wished I could've flagged her down and asked if I could help. I wished I'd been quicker on my feet. The thought of losing a child at Wascana is an awful one—there's so much open water, so many people, such busy roads all around the perimeter...

I got a second chance just two minutes later. Another woman ran past, but she was screaming a different name.

It was the weirdest kind of deja vu.

I called to her as she sped past: "Have you lost someone?"

She looked at me, surprised. "YES!" She slowed enough to shout out a description; I was able to work out that hers was with the little girl belonging to the first woman. She looked terrified and my heart hurt, imagining how panicked I'd be if I were her.

"I'll look this way!" I yelled, pointing down another path and waving her on.

"Thank you so much! Thank you!" she called back. She sprinted off again and I plunked Sully and Scarlett in their wagon and we set off. I made the mistake of telling Sully he needed to keep his eyes peeled for some lost kids and we had to discuss for the next thirty minutes the fact that I didn't actually want him to peel his eyeballs.

As we walked, I thought about the two mothers and how scared they must be and prayed they and the kids would be okay. Every time we passed people who looked like they might be trustworthy mother-types (or grandmother-types) themselves, I told them about the lost children, and they also hurried off, saying stuff like, "I can't imagine; those poor women. We'll look over there." I wished I could somehow find the two mothers with the missing kids and tell them, "See, all these women are looking out for your kids and if any of us find them, we'll take care of them until we can find you again. They're going to be okay."

We walked all the way around the lake, and were almost back at our starting place when we passed a couple of older women I'd talked to earlier. "They're found!" they yelled gleefully, as excited as if they'd lost and found their own grandchildren.

So, a happy ending.

And one of those weird things, too, where the original two women will probably never know how many people were concerned for them and their kids and actively trying to help them, watching out for them. Maybe they felt, in that moment when they turned a corner and suddenly their kids were just gone, a little like they were suddenly standing on a tightrope over a terrifyingly open space, with no idea of the community working to build a safety net beneath them.

I wonder how often that happens in life. I love the idea that we're often not half as alone as we think we are.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Writer's Block Again

Writer's block is here. It is belligerently and heavily and annoyingly here (gesturing to brain area). I'm trying to work on book #2 and I have no words to put into it. I tried to jolt my mind into action by adding ridiculous characters and some equally ridiculous situations but it didn't work. All these characters are piling up inside of these situations, doing absolutely nothing. It's like someone threw a Halloween party in a broom closet and then turned off the lights and shut the door and everyone's just standing there, feeling dumb in their stupid costumes, blinking a lot.

So I left the party and came here, to my neglected blog.

Book #2 is not due to my publisher until February. Which means, sometimes I think to myself, that I have lots of time.  I have eight months.


Not to mention, book #1 is still not finished going through edits (I know! I know. Editing is a whole thiiiing). So I don't have eight actual months of book #2 writing time. I have about six weeks of book #1 editing time, and a week or two of freelance writing time, and need to allow a month or two for "breathing time" (the period after you finish writing a book where you don't look at it or think about it before you jump into editing it). Plus, there are, you know, kids to raise and a husband in his busy season at work and a house to clean and sleep to be had and maybe a social life (negotiable). All that on the table, and I feel like I'm looking at a solid minus five minutes to write this thing.

Yet here I am, blogging, while my ridiculous characters sit in a darkened closet and blink a lot.

But the thing about writer's block is that you can't just decide you don't have it anymore. It's like a dragon, you know? If you have a dragon, you can't just decide you don't have a dragon; you have to conquer it.

...or wait until it wanders away to torture someone else. Which is, generally, my method of dealing with both writer's block and anything that breathes fire.

However, if anyone has a good tip on how to speed this particular proverbial dragon on its way, I would love to hear it.

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Sully's Cellphone

"Sully, I need you to put your raincoat on."

Sullivan is hunched over his train set. "I don't need it," he says.

"No, you do," I say. "It's going to rain."

He sits back and pulls out his imaginary phone. This is a thing he does now. He taps away on the palm of his hand for a few seconds and then smiles up at me. "Mario just texted me. He says it's not supposed to rain today."

"Well, Mario doesn't know everything," I say.

He taps on his palm again. "Mario just texted me," he says. "He says he knows everything."

"Well, he doesn't know everything," I say, "because he apparently doesn't know he doesn't know everything. Go put your jacket on."

He does.

Two hours later, we return home from a morning of errand running. Sully slips out of his raincoat and runs to his room to resume his train thing. I sit Scarlett on the couch and start untying her shoelaces. She flaps her arms and babbles at me and points out the window at I don't know what. I make the usual one-sided small-talk with her. "Yeah," I say, "look at that! The sun's out! That's nice. Looks like it's not going to rain today after all."

Without missing a beat, Sully calls from the next room, "I guess Mario does know everything!"