Archive for the ‘The Author’ Category

The cure for perfectionism

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

Hello, friends. Yesterday, my four-year-old was on the brink of tears because the picture he was drawing failed to live up to the picture in his head. I watched him and thought, “Oh, my darling. You too?”

Don’t get me wrong: I am very glad and grateful to live in a world filled with perfectionists. I wouldn’t have the courage to drive a car or heat my house or, generally, live my life, if the world were maintained by the casual and the feckless. Still, I feel for the boy.

We had a chat about how even talented artists can’t always create what they see in their heads, how professional musicians can’t always play what they hear inside. And I mentioned, casually, that I can’t always write what I want, either.

It was oddly liberating, admitting that to a child. It was useful, too, articulating what’s been bogging me down with Rivals in the City. And because I was talking to a child, I had to frame it gently. And that was perhaps most useful of all: the quiet, matter-of-fact acknowledgement that even a finished work will be imperfect, will not quite attain the vision I had for it. And that’s acceptable, too.

I offered my son a parent’s clichés: effort counts; practice equals progress; if you give up, you’ll never find out what you’re capable of. Banal as I sounded to my own ears, I thought the clichés were right, too.

How about you, friends? Are you perfectionists, or happy-go-lucky approximators? How do you deal with perfectionism?

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A little hiccup

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

Hello friends, and apologies for the lack of blog post this week. We’ve undergone a small obstacle course of lesser ailments for the past week, which culminated in an impromptu urgent-care visit this morning (we thought the 4yo might get appendicitis for Christmas, but it’s just gastro – oh joy!). Today is my second-last day of childcare before the holidays start, so if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to dive into Scrivener now.

2 thoughts, before I pretend that the internet does not exist:

1. I love publicly funded healthcare. Love. It.

2. Blissful Holidays!

I’ll see you here next week, on Boxing Day, with my favourite books of 2012.

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Negotiating with tradition

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

Hello friends! We celebrate Christmas in our house, and we’re still figuring out our traditions. I come from a family whose only tradition is to not have any traditions (even the Christmas tree was hit-and-miss throughout my childhood, and I doubt we’ve ever eaten the same Christmas dinner twice), and my spouse, Nick, is from a family with very strong, sentimental rituals. He and I have talked about what kinds of traditions we want to cultivate. The problem? Our lives are so hectic right now that it seems as though every year, we crash-land in the middle of December with no fruitcake, no lights, and the vaguest of plans to get a tree “soon”.

We have to get our act together.

So this morning I was thinking, what are the most important Christmas traditions for our family? Clearly, we’re going to have to be selective, this year. For me, it’s about a special family meal that we look forward to each year. There will be small menu changes, but it’s not going to be Chinese food one year, followed by Italian the next. For Nick, it’s about the tree and the excitement of Father Christmas for little kids. Following in his dad’s tradition, Nick will create tiny reindeer hoofprints for the kids to find on Christmas morning, as evidence of Santa’s visit. For our four-year-old, it’s all about the gingerbread house, aka an excuse to eat unlimited amounts of Smarties and buttercream icing. And our littlest one is just learning about Christmas, which means she’ll be very forgiving of any amount of last-minute holiday anarchy.

As the kids grow, become more independent, and develop interests of their own, our traditions will evolve. We’ll get to the Christmas baking, the crafty ornaments, the homemade Advent calendar, the big Christmas party – one day. In the meantime, we’ll focus on our dearest rituals and enjoy them to the fullest.

What are your favourite, most-loved holiday traditions?

P.S. There’s a nearby family farm that raises heritage-breed bronze turkeys. The birds roam outdoors, get lots of sunshine, eat organic food (and bugs), and generally have happy turkey lives. We’re all set – for 2013, that is. Yes, we’re waiting on a turkey that hasn’t even been born yet. We are going to be SO ready next year!

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Writing a book is not like having a baby

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

That’s stating the obvious, isn’t it? Yet for the last few weeks, I’ve noticed a lot of references to “labour” and “birth”, to “midwives” and “newborns” – and these people aren’t talking about tiny humans.

This complaint may sound grumpy and petty; it’s not intended that way. I’m not disparaging the thousands of hours of hard work that go into either enterprise. Having chosen to engage in both, it’s only reasonable that I also love them both. But when we overuse this analogy, it deflates the delicate, consuming, enormously frustrating, and endlessly rewarding disciplines of both writing and child-rearing.

Writing is both easier and more difficult than having a baby because:

1. It fits into your schedule. If you don’t create time to write, you don’t write! (Try putting your colicky infant on hold that way…)

2. It hones skills you were already good at. I’m a voracious reader and I excelled in English all through school – a thoroughly typical profile for a writer. The things you learn daily as a writer tend to be subtle and they make you a slightly better craftsman in small but satisfying ways. The first diaper I ever changed, though? On my newborn son’s tiny, flailing, slippery bum, while I was stunned by opiates, full of stitches, and tethered to an IV pole. Why hello, learning curve.

3. Babies grow, develop, and become ever-more-interesting individuals. Your published book will always contain that typo you missed on p. 187.

4. A published book never grows less beautiful. Children become adolescents.

5. When writing, you are the boss. When parenting, you are a teacher/social worker/butler/wallet.

6. When writing, I am recognizably and consistently myself. When parenting, I am sometimes my own enemy, but more often I feel inspired to be a better human being.

What do you think of the book/baby analogy? Did I miss anything?

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Monsters of entitlement

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

Hello, friends. I’ve been reading a light, slick, funny book of cultural observation and enjoying it very much. And it’s a – gasp! – parenting book. Doesn’t that seem like a contradiction in terms?

It’s Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman (in the UK, it’s called French Children Don’t Throw Food). It was published earlier this year, to a predictable squawk of gossip, defensiveness, and some reluctant concessions that Anglo-American parenting is imperfect. (This review is somewhat typical – much more about the reviewer’s own experience than about the book.) It seems that we don’t like to think about a parenting culture that’s not “child-centred”.

What I loved about this book (and which I haven’t yet seen mentioned in a review) is Druckerman’s distillation of what seems to underlie what she calls French parenting. It is the assumption that babies are small people with an immense capacity to learn, right from the beginning. Amazing! Druckerman traces this attitude all the way back to Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s 1762 book Emile, or On Education.

In practice, this means that instead of reorganizing their lives around children’s desires, French parents start to teach children how to be rational members of a society from a very early age. Instead of “discipline”, they talk about “education”; instead of “development”, they use the term “awakening”. They take pride in being strict. They allow children immense freedom within a strong framework of rules. They speak politely to babies, because babies are individuals, too.

To me, this doesn’t sound uniquely French. As my friend S at Waldorf Yarns observes, it’s familiar to Waldorf parents (S gives a sample list). S also theorizes, “I can’t help but wonder if some of what is presented as ‘the French’ way of parenting may be European and may have infused into Waldorf education before it was transplanted into our corner of North America.” I’d just add that Druckerman’s “French” parenting also sounds a lot like Maria Montessori’s philosophy of education. It’s no accident: both Waldorf and Montessori education  are founded upon the idea of respect for the child.

As you can tell, I’m a believer. Do I think French parenting (or any single method or ideal) is perfect? Mais non, pas du tout! But it’s a beautiful, rational, and sane starting position that gives me hope that we can raise thoughtful, compassionate citizens, not monsters of entitlement.

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A Bear in the House

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

Hello friends, and Happy Hallowe’en day! It’s cool and raining here in Kingston, and we’re all very grateful that Hurricane Sandy lost momentum before getting here. It’s strange to think of so many communities still without power, still scrabbling for basic needs, while we here contemplate costumes and candy. It’ll be a bittersweet Hallowe’en, for sure.

I thought I’d show you what I’m up to this morning: finishing up a costume for a four-year-old who wants to be “a big brown bear”.

The ears are still waiting to be attached. Then all we need is brown pants, some black eyeliner for a nose and whiskers, and the roaring can begin!

I hope you have a Hallowe’en that’s memorable for all the best reasons.

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Scenes from a suburban adolescence

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

Hello, friends. Yesterday, I read Amusingly Horrible Things Moms Have Said at The Hairpin. It’s fairly amusing; certainly not the best thing I’ve read on the internet, but it must have stirred something in my Brain Soup, because early this morning, I remembered two things I’ve not thought of in many, many years:

1. From age 14 to 18, every time I went to the corner store (only a couple of times a year, since I was raised to believe that Buying Things at Convenience Stories is Wrong Because Said Things are Overpriced and Probably Stale. Occasionally, I went to get cigarettes for my uncle – but let’s not mention that to my parents, okay?), the owner stared at me for several seconds too long, then asked if I wanted to meet his son.

Questions to self: Does he ask that of every teenaged girl who comes into the store? Does he realize he’s asked me this before? Many times? And if so, does he think his 5 years of persistence will eventually pay off?

Closure: Never. I went away to university, and then my parents moved house. I really should have just asked him all those questions, shouldn’t I?

2. One summer, I worked at a coffee shop. One day, my boss said to a regular, “Has anyone ever told you that you look just like Karla Homolka [a convicted serial killer]? I mean, you guys could be twins!” When I registered horror, my boss said, “What? What? It’s a compliment! She’s really hot!”

Questions to self: Why didn’t I quit my job? This was a sign of things to come, with that boss. Also, why didn’t I say to the customer, “I don’t think you look like a serial killer”?

Closure: The customer came back a couple of weeks later (I guess she was less appalled than I was? Or was really desperate for this indie coffee shop to thrive?), and I got a chance to tell her that she didn’t look like a serial killer, to me. Then I gave her a free drink. Also, the coffee shop folded a couple of months later. Literal closure!

Why am I bringing up all this now? As Victorian novelist Frances Trollope once said, “Of course I draw from life – but I always pulp my acquaintances before serving them up. You would never recognize a pig in a sausage.” One day, both these incidents will probably make it into my fiction. If you spot them then, you’ll know just where they came from.

What bizarre or uncomfortable teenaged memories are rattling around in your brains? Have you fictionalized them, yet?

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A reading streak

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012

Hello! I’m just popping in to say that I’m on a Hilary Mantel streak. After finishing Bring Up the Bodies again (I started with Bring Up the Bodies, went back to Wolf Hall, then was impelled to re-read Bring Up the Bodies), I moped and pined for a while. Do you ever feel suspended between books? It’s a strangely unanchored feeling, for me, and I’m never quite settled until I’ve found my next book. I may start one or two novels or long works, or pick through a collection of poetry or essays, but I only really feel at home once established in a new book.

My husband finally ended my misery by giving me Beyond Black.

I eyed it suspiciously for a few days. After all, I was carrying Thomas Cromwell around with me, and Beyond Black is not about Tudor politics. It’s set in contemporary England (well, 1997). It’s about ghosts. Hmph, I thought.

I didn’t love the first, very short, chapter. It was heavily descriptive, with some sharp and compelling images, but it seemed to hover.

And then I turned the page and was completely sucked in.It’s nasty and hilarious and ruthless. It’s about some extremely unpleasant people. And it’s genuinely frightening.

You guys, I love it.

What are you reading, this week?

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Thursday, September 27th, 2012

Hello friends, and apologies for being late with this post. There’s no good reason, except that my son had a PD Day at school on Monday, so I didn’t realize that yesterday was Blogging Day until, well, this morning.

But I’m here to make it up to you! My spouse recently mentioned two utterly awesome videos, which I have to share with you. (Nick detests online videos, so when he gets enthusiastic about one, I pay attention.) The first is of an 86-year-old gymnast named Johanna Quaas performing a routine on the parallel bars. Watch and be humbled and awestruck:

The second is of tiny-home author and activist Lloyd Kahn, who took up skateboarding in his 70s. Yes, indeed. This video is very wobbly in bits, and it’s too long, but sometimes you just need ocular proof:

Courage, focus, persistence.

Smashing stereotypes.

Embracing the new.

Loving learning.

I don’t think I need to spell out how much I admire these two people, and how much I want to learn from them. My new goal is to try something completely new and scary in each decade of my life. Maybe even gymnastics or skateboarding.

What do you think? Have Johanna Quaas and Lloyd Kahn inspired you?

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Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

Hello there, friends. This post is going to be about Twitter and its (mis)uses, so if you’re anti-Twit, you may want to look away now.

So. I am on Twitter. I am a very, shall we say, casual Tweeter. I log on a couple of times a week, I stay for an hour or so, and then I’m off. I am aware that this is not How You Tweet Big Time and Create an Army of Followers. For me, that’s fine. I have a very limited amount of time for social networking, I can think of better ways to procrastinate (making my delighted way through the collected works of Hilary Mantel springs to mind), and – I think this is the key – I don’t have a smartphone.

My cellphone is older than my firstborn child. Put differently: it’s so old that I have to text using the number pad. Yes, I press “1” seven times, just to get an exclamation point. So to use Twitter, I have to be sitting in front of my (only slightly less ancient) laptop. And I am not one of the gifted few who can Tweet and write fiction at the same time, so when I sit down to work, I only log on to Twitter when I’m stuck.

I do enjoy Twitter, when it’s good. I follow some fascinating and funny people. I have terrific conversations, from time to time. I’ve found a couple of new favourite blogs and news sites because of Twitter links. But when Twitter is bad, it’s like a collection of the most boring and self-regarding pub-ranters in the universe, mounted on soapboxes, braying through megaphones about their special interests. And increasingly, I find myself wondering, “What am I doing here?”

So, I’m turning to you, dear readers, for advice: how do you use Twitter? Do you love it (or at least really, really like it)? What’s the best thing you’ve found about Twitter? What one thing you avoid doing on or about Twitter? Any other words of wisdom?

Thank you!

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