Friday, August 24, 2018

I have writer's block again, and that's fine. I only come here anymore when it hits. Usually blogging at least distracts me, if not totally cures me—maybe being distracted from writer's block is the cure for it.

It's kind of the perfect day for writer's block anyway. Life has been nonstop around here. Maybe I should look at it less like, "Ugh, my brain is being blocked from getting important stuff done," and more like, "I have hit a natural barrier within myself to doing anything more today because that's what's good for me." It's probably accurate.

But! Writers gotta write, even if it's just for fun. So, in the spirit of butt-in-seat, in the spirit of getting words down, in the spirit of all that good advice other writers give you that they probably don't completely follow themselves, here is a list of the things keeping me & my household busy lately:

1. Barclay is starting his own landscape construction business. I don't mean, like, someday, Barclay is starting his own landscape construction business. I mean today is last day at his current workplace. 

It's, you know, on.

He had some great years at The Shovel (and will still be around there a lot, considering he's staying in that field), but this is something he's wanted to do for a long time. It's been fun watching him get ready for his first few jobs, even being able to help a little. It's especially significant to me that he's chasing this dream at the same time as I'm chasing mine; we're in a really cool season of life that way, being able to cheer each other on and daydream out loud back and forth. I don't take it for granted at all, and I'm so excited for/with him.

Also, check out his name and logo:
(The peregrine falcon is his favourite bird. A thing I love about Barclay is that he has a favourite bird.) 

I'm making his website right now, but I'll probably link to it later on in case you need someone to build you a really sweet patio. Barclay makes amazing things.


2. I finished yet another round of edits on my book. This editorial letter was much shorter than the last, and I think we're nearing the end, which is exciting and terrifying. There's a certain sense of comfort in sending my manuscript away but knowing it'll come back to me for another pass. The day I send it off for good, I'll probably crumple up like a piece of paper and spontaneously combust. But. I had a great phone call the other day with my editor and my agent and they're both so lovely and optimistic and always saying good things to me, so maybe I'll survive. 

Also, I'm almost done the first draft of book #2! A good, polished-up draft is due to Lake Union in February, and I think I'm gonna make it. I feel...quite proud of that, actually. When I finished the first one, the thought of doing all that again felt impossible. But here we are. And then I guess I'll start on #3? Momentum is great.


3. The LPGA's in town (I'm second-guessing myself on the order of those letters), so Tourism Regina sent us out to a bunch of stuff this month to highlight the city for visitors. This week alone has been pretty full: we went to a Nazareth concert last night, a movie in Vic Park and supper downtown at Famoso on Wednesday, the RCMP Heritage Centre on Tuesday, and the CP Women's Open...oh, also on Wednesday. I really do love this gig.  


There could probably be numbers 4-10 on this list, but but it's all pretty obvious stuff like housekeeping and making supper. Reading books. Having friends. Raising children. Running errands. Building a little office space in our bedroom (it's really functional and cute and I'll show you later). Life right now is a mix of mundane and sensational, and that's the way (uh huh, uh huh) I like it.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Unconventional Writing Career Goals

In my first telephone conversation with my agent, she asked me a very hard question: "What are your goals for your writing career?"

This sounds like an easy question, and maybe it would be for you, but for me it was hard because at that point, I only had one goal: get published. Like, once. Like, here is a book I wrote; if someone saw potential in it and slapped a cover on it and tried to sell it to someone other than my friends—there. That's my goal.

When she said career, the skin on my arms bubbled up. A career? What a lovely, impossible thought. It wasn't that I didn't daydream about a writing career; it was that it literally seemed unattainable. It was like someone had come to me and said, "Where do you plan on going when you're granted the superpower of flight?" I could only answer that question hypothetically, jokingly, wistfully.

"Like, everywhere," I'd say.

In the year since, I've been thinking about that first question more seriously. It's not as hypothetical anymore, which is fun. But it's still hard, even if it's hard in a fun way.

The typical writer career goal list might look something like this:

1. Get a book deal

2. Win the __________ Award/Prize

3. Sell film rights & star in your own movie

4. Private jet

5. Blue checkmark on Twitter

6. Have people actually care about your opinion because you've "made it"

7. New York Times Bestseller List

8. Amazon Charts #1 spot

And, I mean, I would be straight up lying if I said I didn't want to be on a list or win the kind of award you have to accept in a ball gown. However, I have recently begun to daydream about a few other, more unconventional writing career goals.

That list, so far, is as follows:

1. Have my book cover painted on Jennie Shaw's fingernails.

Okay. Go to Instagram, right now, and search @jennieshaw, or click here to read the article about her on Goodreads. She reviews books and gives herself manicures of the books' covers. And they are INCREDIBLE. I found her through Andrea Dunlop, when Jennie did She Regrets Nothing. I have scrolled all the way back. All of my writer friends agree: this is the coolest ever. We must achieve this.

2. Another Instagram-related one: There's an account called @subwaybookreview. They go into the subways of New York, London, Mexico City, Delhi, Milan, etc, see people reading, and ask for their thoughts and opinions. The idea of this is so wonderful: no one's paying these people to read these books. Publishers aren't sending the books out, saying, "Here's a free copy, tell us what you think." These people aren't 'influencers' or 'book bloggers.' For those reasons, I feel like it would be the hugest compliment to see my book on there someday. Like, someone chose to read my book on the subway, all by themselves. Cool.

3. Have an old teacher email me and be like, "I never thought you'd amount to much, but look at you! You published a book!" I don't know. I just think that would be kind of satisfying.

4. Alternately, have an old teacher email me and be like, "I always knew you had this in you! Yay!" or something.

5. Have my book made into a movie and be an extra in every single scene, but in DISGUISE. So, like, I'd be a mailman in one scene (there are no mailmen in my book, but for example), and then in the next scene, I'd be a lady walking down the street, glimpsed very briefly, and then in the next scene, I'd be, like, in a mascot costume or something. And so on and so forth.

6. Be a guest on the Print Run Podcast.

(This kind of actually happened recently; I sent in a letter and they read part of it, and talked about it for a solid thirty minutes. I was driving and I literally had to pull over.)


I'm sure I'll think of more, but I really wish I had these at the ready for that first conversation with Victoria. She would've been so impressed at my forethought. Querying writers: be more on it than me. You may borrow any of these when your time comes.

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

31

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. 

(Again.) 

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.