May Rambling

The blossoms and bulbs in my garden insist that Spring is here, but the temperature has yet to get on board with this plan. I’m itching to get out there to weed and tidy up, but at the moment I’ve got a giant, gauze-wrapped foot preventing me from doing more things than I care to think about. My days in this idyllic country setting are numbered, and I’m watching Mother Nature weave her magic through a dirty bedroom window. At least she’s kind enough to send rain all week so I don’t feel trapped.

We’re moving in June. Staying here in the Niagara region, heading closer to the school. We’ve traded this huge, rambling old home with it’s eighties country decor and massive yard for a brand new build in a subdivision. The new house is very clean. It has beautiful fixtures and simple, neutral colors. There’s space enough for all of us, and the yard is an easy-to-maintain postage stamp. No pool here, but a community pool a short walk away, with a huge playground and soccer field. Best of all, a distant relationship with the property management company that is leasing the place. If my current landlord/tenant situation wasn’t so toxic, we would have stayed here indefinitely. I’ve never lived in a brand new home. The gleaming kitchen on the open concept first floor has me giddy.

Meanwhile, I’m dipping my toes into the waters of packing and purging. The healthy toes, that is. I’ve just had bunion surgery on my left foot, and let’s face it, I’m a baby when it comes to physical pain. I’m healing well, but I’m slowed by this process at a time when all I want to do is exert control over my environment. We need to get organized, but I’m operating at 3/4 speed. I keep telling myself that it’s for the best. That maybe I’d burn out and feel even more stressed if I could take on everything I want to tackle right now. I feel like an easier, more relaxed version of myself.

None of my pants fit over my bandaged foot, so I’m forced to wear skirts and dresses, which leaves me feeling softer, more maternal, like the magnolia blossoms unfurling in the front yard. Little details make a world of difference sometimes.

My week-long writing retreat happened, thanks to the wonderful support I received from friends and family. I chose Stratford, off season. Initially, I wanted a cottage in the middle of nowhere but I thought that might be too isolated and too lonely. Next time, that’s exactly what I’ll do. I’d never gone somewhere by myself to write. I spent so much time drowning in self-doubt and wading through feelings of futility, that it was all-too-tempting to go for a walk or visit a cafe to try to distract myself. Despite this, I was able to make a mountain of notes and structure the huge rewrites I knew the novel needed to take it to the next level. I came home with a composition book full of directions and dozens of index cards with scene outlines and character sketches. Three days before the trip was over, I sat down to write and this felt like magic. My goal was to have another draft written, but I think that would have required a miracle, even with laser focus. Next time, I’ll do the homework first and save the time away for writing. I’d like to do this every year, possibly twice a year. Beyond the actual writing, the time to myself was a soul balm. I learned a lot about what I want, what I need, and what feels good. What amazed me the most is how I never felt homesick. I was able to miss my family, yet completely enjoy my time alone.

When this round of rewrites is complete, I’m sending the manuscript off to an editor. Then, I’ll start querying agents and see where that goes. I’m realizing that I can’t rush this process, no matter how much I’d like to. Things like foot surgery, moving, making money, and life demand my attention first. Fortunately, I love my work and the things that prevent writing are mostly pleasurable. If you asked me what I do for a living, I’d say ‘strive for balance’.

Is it selfish to devote time and energy to a creative pursuit that may never yield a profit? Is it wrong for a mother to allow that time to come between her and her children? Am I grossly self-indulgent for leaving my family for a week to dally with my novel? Should I look for a conventional job with benefits instead of structuring my work life around my writing?

What if I’m doing this wrong?

How to Call Yourself An Artist

One of the hardest struggles I’ve faced in my professional life was having the courage to call myself an artist. I spent many years surrounding myself with artists, working for artists, and pursuing romantic relationships with artists, yet all the while, I felt like I was too scared to claim the title for myself. When I finally took the first tentative steps towards standing tall in my own artsy shoes, I realized that all along, I was looking to others for the very thing I needed to embrace in myself.

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Chrysalis Life, Day One (Morning)

Bailey's Winter Coat

I drifted in and out of sleep, waking only once with the panic of feeling like I was having a bad dream (and that dream was in fact my own reality). Instead of being woken by my step-children, I was greeted with a tiny dog that looks like Samuel L. Jackson crash-landing on my sternum. In a flurry of slimy dog kisses and the faint aroma of corn chips I regained my bearings and rubbed the sleep from my eyes.

I quickly realized that my low-carb, high protein lifestyle does not match my parent’s peanut butter and jam toast for breakfast routine. At least coffee is universal and the grocery store is on the corner.

As I woke up slowly, instead of packing tiny lunches, I opened email after email from concerned friends. Some who I’ve known for years and who really are my family, some who I barely know at all who wanted me to know that I was loved. This made it possible to imagine the next few steps in my day with some measure of lightness in my heart.

My parents insist on keeping their home like a meat locker. Thankfully, it’s a cozy home, despite this sub-zero climate. I donned my fingerless mitts to hunch over my computer like some red-headed lady Bob Cratchet.

Cooking is path that leads to happiness. There will be cooking in my future, and I’ll be diligent about sharing recipes here. We can call it the “Broken Hearted Feast”. Then I’ll publish it like a cookbook and make millions of dollars. Don’t steal that.

(LATER MORNING)

I’ve just done some actual Coquettes work to set a client up with everything she needs to convince her board to let us show our tatas in Owen Sound. Fingers crossed.

Before that, I took my mom’s ridiculous little dog for a walk around my old hood. He has a new winter coat which he seems to be terrified of. I think with firm patience I’ve broken him of this paralyzing fear, because his little legs finally got moving and he was able to make a poop. Tiny victories.

This simple stroll around the block was a snapshot of my entire life in The Hammer. My parents have had the same house since 1975. I think their refusal to move had less to do with economics and more to do with their desire to give my brother and I the stable home that neither of them really had as children. They live in a complex of townhouses, and I think they are one of three original homeowners who remain here from the glory days.

When they bought the house it was a promising little suburb surrounded by orchards and farm fields. Now, it’s The Hood. Two clusters of low-income apartment buildings sprung up, and the neighbourhood deteriorated accordingly. This place went from a sea of kids who were similar in age to a land with few children who could speak the same language, blue collar workers, and immigrants who are trying to get a foothold in their new life.

As I grew older, the parks and playgrounds got meaner. Used condoms, hypodermic needles, shifty, greasy men in dark corners, strangers with slow-moving cars, crack dealing public school thugs and angry girls with babies in their tummies became more and more common.

The family-minded neighbourhood die-hards stood their ground. There is a handful of home owners who insist on maintaining pristine gardens that they tend with love (my mother is one of these). One of the low-income housing buildings even takes up a tenant fund to create a glorious landscape of hollyhocks and snapdragons each summer. Some of the people in this neighbourhood have real pride in where they live, and a great number of our neighbours are one welfare cheque away from having nowhere to live at all.

Welfare cheque days were the most dangerous in this neighbourhood growing up. From what my parents have told me, the new immigrant population has now outnumbered the white trash conglomerate, so things aren’t as exciting as they used to be. I clearly recall Friday evenings spent dodging beer bottles soaring from balconies across the street, parties that lasted two days with the strains of Waylon Jennings floating from open screenless windows, and the police here, in multiples of three from 9pm until way past my bed time.

And yet, my mom and dad managed to carve out a little oasis.

Now, my old school is an adult learning centre. The public school next door to where my school was shares it’s massive field with a recreation centre and fully-loaded playground, and there’s a cricket field, soccer field, and cluster of benches under a group of trees where the Sikh gentlemen sit conversing and sharing food year-round when the weather permits.

Bailey wore his powder blue and silver coat, and I floated along my route to school and my usual trick or treat route in a cream-coloured Calvin Klein coat, a brown Valentino scarf, my Coach sunglasses and a vintage fur hat. The men I encountered were ruddy-faced middle aged white men who seemed to have nowhere to go, and the women I saw were scale tipping ladies and girls who poured themselves into jogging pants with words written across the bum. And of course the Sikh gentlemen.

My point here is not to establish status. My designer articles are things I loved that are the product of my extraordinary ability to source mad bargains. I don’t spend insane amounts of money on clothes and accessories. My point is to illustrate that in this place, since I was six, I have always felt like a stranger in a strange land. How many other twelve year olds have had a collection of signature scarves?

As has always been the case, I felt everyone I encountered eyeballing me. Perhaps that’s why I’ve grown so comfortable in the spotlight in my adulthood? Embracing the attention has certainly been useful in my life.

Our therapist made a very astute observation yesterday that I hadn’t even arrived at yet. My experience of the relationship I was trying so hard at was that no matter what, I would always be the outsider. I’ve felt like an outsider for my entire life and have experienced some real pain and feelings of inadequacy as a result. My struggle to belong has shaped me as an individual, and the pain of struggling for acceptance in the context of my relationship was simply too great.

I regret deeply all the hurt my honesty has  caused. There are so many people who, when faced with their own difficult truths, can brush these aside and exist in a place of denial and trying to maintain status quo. I did this once, for four years, and I promised myself to never, ever do it again. It pains me to think of my loved ones feeling so sad. We tried to do something quite unique, and we discovered some amazing things about ourselves, the complexities of love and relationship dynamics, and each other as individuals. I don’t feel like it was a failure, but rather a very necessary journey for us all. I hope that through the pain we now face each of us can hold on to that. I hope that we can hang on to the love we’ve found, in the way that mature, open-hearted, self-aware individuals can do. I also hope we can shelter our children from the complicated nature of adult relationships and cushion them through these transitions with all of the love and security they deserve.

Sadness is like a deep well right now. I have to make sure to hang on to the bucket.

I’m making dinner tonight for my parents and my brother. Here’s the menu:

Roasted Sweet Potato

Sauteed Green Beans

Braised Red Cabbage

Pork Tenderloin with Pears and Shallots

Perhaps some time in the kitchen will make me feel a little bit better.

Updates to follow.

 

Country Schnoo, City Schnoo

This is day three in the country, and the first full day of work I’ve had since we’ve arrived. Of course, it is also the day when the sun is gloriously shining, so I’m sure at some point my work flow will be interrupted by a brisk walk in my rubber boots.

It’s beautiful here. If I could drive a car, I could spend a lot of time in a place like this. I feel so much more relaxed, and I’m incredibly inspired and focused. In a dream life, I’d have a place like this on a lake, and a modest place in the city. I’d spend more time at the lake, knowing me, and there would have to be a dog.

Things are humming along with my writing project. I’m enjoying it so much, and it’s really changing the way I look at myself and my own potential. I can DO this. This is something I could be really great at, and something that feels entirely natural to me. I’m also piecing together this romantic picture about who Schnoo the writer is. I have writing outfits, and I’ve imagined my ideal writing space down to the most minute detail. I can really picture this kind of life.

How lucky I am to have the love and support that I have. Every morning I wake up grateful for this, and don’t take it for granted for even one instant. Its amazing how I feel like I am finding my voice all over again, and that every moment of my life has pointed to this time and place, and this new experience of self.

The nature of my new work requires that I create an alter-ego, a nom de plume. Breathing life into her has been so much fun. I hope to discreetly introduce her through these pages when the time is right, so that any of you who are interested can help support this project, because a great deal of our marketing efforts will be viral.

Life is sweet like the country air, filled with hope and promise and the lilting sigh of the burgeoning spring breeze.

American Splendor

I watched a movie called ‘American Splendor’ last night after the kids went to bed, from my pile of pillows and blankets on the sofa.

This movie is an incredible bio pic about Harvey Pekar, who is the author of a comic book series by the same name. The film starred Paul Giamatti, who I think is brilliant, and mixed dramatic and documentary styles in a very clever way with Harvey Pekar appearing as himself, commenting on the movie, and on the various points in his life depicted there.

American Splendor was revolutionary because it was simply about Harvey’s life. Each new volume was like a snapshot of his day-to-day, and was brilliantly illustrated by some of the very best underground comic book artists, including Robert Crumb, of Fritz the Cat fame. The series touched on some very deeply personal experiences, including Pekar’s struggle with cancer, and involved his co-workers and friends as really vibrant characters, as our colleagues and loved ones are in our own daily existence.

It occurred to me that the reasons why this series is so appealing are the same reasons why we now enjoy blogs so much. We can cast ourselves as the hero in our own stories, and we can move people through the ways we articulate the mundane, everyday realities of our world.

Harvey Pekar was a file clerk in a veteran’s hospital in Cleveland. In fact, he worked at this job until he retired. He was more than a little somber, most definitely cynical, and at least a little crusty, but people love his work. He appeared as a regular guest on the David Letterman show, until he blasted NBC and GE on air. He even won an American Book Award for the series.

We all have stories to tell, but not all of us know how to tell them with such simple grace and poignancy. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I plucked this DVD off the shelf last night, as I start to embark on a whole new relationship with my writing. How would you tell your own stories if given the chance?