Second grade, creative writing folder

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Isaac is reclaiming the closet in his bedroom, which means that I am unearthing all kinds of juvenilia/memorabilia I stashed in there long ago. (Related: this Pandora’s Box.) Inside this folder are the following stories:

  • “Lolipop [sic] Land Wins Again” (about a war between the Lollipops and the Suckers; includes my first pun: “The suckers were licked.”)
  • “The Noofy Noofy” (no idea, but here is the accompanying illustration),

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  • “Snow-White” (written from the point of view of the evil stepmother, written posthumously “in hell” – this one is dated May 15, 1980; my teacher’s comments are, “Good thinking! You followed the instructions well and you used a different way of telling the story,” which to me seems like damning with faint praise, but hey — this hardly seems like one of my best efforts.
  • “The incredible owl”
  • an untitled story about a girl named Janice whose parents put her in gymnastics but what she really wants is to play baseball. I remember clearly trying to write from a  point of view different from my own. I remember my father reading this one and sighing and shaking his head and saying, “What you know about baseball could fit on the head of a pin.”

Frog

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It’s hard to write about feeling like a fraud.

(Freudian slip: I originally dictated “frog” up there instead of “fraud,” like I’m just sitting around, waiting to be kissed and recognized for what I truly am: a goddam prince. Maybe that’s a start.)

Frog, prince, frog, prince, frog … my voice-dictation software insists upon capitalizing “prince,” as though I must be writing about The Artist Formerly Known As and not some generic fairytale character/metaphor. Maybe I should take that as a sign as well. My computer, at least, thinks that I’m a sexy mofo.

But, frog. Fraud. Because I am struggling with a healthy case of imposter syndrome. And — especially because it involves writing, and blogging — I’m thinking that the best way to begin to move through is to write and blog about it.

I’m on a panel at the 2014 Mom 2.0 Summit. The panel, loosely, is on issue-based blogging and being a “true agent of change.” Which, at first glance, makes me feel like a deer caught in the headlights: what are my issues? What, really, have I changed? Is there any “truth” to my “agency”?

And then there are my co-panelists. My co-panelists are people who have worked directly with Hillary Clinton. They are people who have had Jeopardy questions written about their blogs. They are people who lobby Congress and speak to senators and found nonprofits. They are people with millions of readers and Facebook fans and Twitter followers.

And they are on a panel with me.

And yesterday morning, I got off a teleconference call with all of them as we plan for our panel, and they are all lovely, lovely women. And I’ve been to their blogs, and many of them write candidly and openly about their own vulnerabilities: their anxieties, their depression, their fraudulent feelings.

And yet my immediate response was still: Aren’t they all wondering why I’m on a panel with them?

Because I don’t feel like an agent of change. I don’t feel like a known voice in the blogosphere. I feel like I have some piddly little site with its few hundred Facebook fans and I haven’t cracked 1000 Twitter followers and barely anyone comments and so yes I put out a book but that was nearly five years ago and then I decided to stop writing my novel and how can someone as insignificant as me pretend to be a true agent of change?

And on what issue? Being a queer parent? This, too, feels fraudulent: I don’t queer parent all day; I parent. (And I barely parent all day —what with school and day care and working, sometimes it feels like I barely see my children.) And it’s hard to give myself credit for being an agent of change for something that I just do every day because the kids, well, they won’t parent themselves, now, will they? In any case, I write about so many other things — writing, cooking, my mom my mom my mom. Just being who I am, while a laudable goal, doesn’t really seem worthy of being set up as “an agent.”

God, sometimes I feel so Canadian.

I struggle with this sometimes. Usually I comfort myself by focusing on the quality of the writing. I’m here, I tell myself, because I’m a writer and this is my online notebook. I’m not here to make friends and cultivate fans — although it’s nice if and when that happens — but rather because what I need more than anything is a regular writing practice. I’m here primarily to hone this craft, to keep in shape, and only secondarily to win friends or influence people.

(Of course, that stance is also a convenient fallback when one doesn’t  I don’t win friends or influence people to the extent that one I might wish to. And as much as I don’t want to fetishize numbers and “likes” or prioritize them ahead of craft, there’s the uncomfortable possibility that — as cockily confident as I am about the quality of my own writing — I’m doing something wrong, or that I could be doing things differently or better and gaining the recognition that I truly merit deserve other people have.

You see how this is a slippery slope.)

So I got off the conference call and I lay across my bed with my forearm covering my eyes and I told all of this to Rachel, who nodded said: “Small-scale cultural work is still real, and important for social change.”

And I texted Vikki, who said, “You are there [on that panel ] for a reason. Also because you’re queer. You have a voice and create change in your own way. Remember — we still live in a time when it is radical to be out and visible as parents. It doesn’t always feel that way to us because we are desensitized to it all but to others we appear radical and brave and are a visible representation for others. We push the dialogue about families forward!”

(And she also said, in a related discussion about WTF to wear to the conference, “You have nice cleavage and know how to use it.”)

And then I updated my “About” page and added in a bunch of stuff that I actually have achieved. It’s not so shabby.

And then the May issue of Today’s Parent arrived in the mail, with this in it:

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And then I thought about all the blogs that I read and don’t comment on, and the comments and private messages I’ve received over the years, thanking me for putting my voice out there, whether it’s about grief, or parenting, or queer parenting, or something else altogether. And I thought about the way that this blog has been an online portal to some fantastic friendships and opportunities.

And you know? It helped. But I won’t pretend to be over my imposter syndrome. What I will do is continue to process it, and figure out a way to talk about it as honestly and openly as I can without trying to hide behind false modesty or exaggerated expressions of inadequacy. Or, for that matter, adequacy. (Can one exaggerate their own adequacy? That sounds super-Canadian, too: “She has an exaggerated sense of her own adequacy.”)

(God, I love words.)

So: today I am a frog. And maybe, also a Prince/prince. And holding both of those things in the same hand requires believing in two simultaneous, if somewhat contradictory, truths:

First, the only person has any real power to transform me from one to the other is me.

And second: sometimes, I yearn to be kissed.


Lucky

I found a quarter and a beer bottle on yesterday’s head-clearing walk around the block. Not only did I get a bit of exercise, but I also made 35 cents to boot. Win, all around.

[Yes, I tend to collect (and then return to the beer store) the random liquor and beer bottles that fairly regularly show up on my walks around the neighbourhood, because I’m 70 years old and classy like that. And cheap. It’s just hard for me not to pick them up. It feels like a waste to pass by what could so easily be turned into money, what would otherwise end up smashed and twisted in the gutters.]

For a while, when I was a kid, I saved all my lucky coins. I stored them — pennies, dimes, nickels, quarters — in a small tin container in my bottom desk drawer, just in case I ever needed to cash in on some huge wish.

Looking back, it seems simultaneously like a brilliant and pitiful idea — a 10-year-old girl, hoarding wishes, wondering how to spend them. I should write a novel about that. I knew enough to know that the wishes weren’t literal, but somehow, the idea of a pile of “lucky” coins was potent. I should have bought a lottery ticket. That would’ve made a good story.

I don’t know what I finally wished on, or even if I wished at all. I don’t know what happened to the money. Do you have to spend lucky pennies for the wishes to apply? Are they lucky for someone else right now?

At least the snow is melting, ushering us into spring. I’ve become one of those Thunder Bay people I used to make fun of, the kind who redistributes the snow on the front lawn in order for it to melt faster, more evenly. But at least, the snow is melting, uncovering garbage and dog shit and beer bottles and lucky quarters.

These days, I pay Isaac a penny for each Rainbow Loom elastic that he collects from the floors and puts back in his case — it occupies him, tidies the house, gets him a bit of spending money (for more elastics) and uses up some of the change in my pocket. Win, all around.


On Magpies and Things We Thought We Didn’t Want to Do: Stuff I wrote other places this week

IMG_0352[1]Just in case you’re not feeling full from yesterday’s photo-filled post on shallots and butter, here’s more stuff I’ve written other places this week: Over at VillageQ, I write about the challenges and rewards of forcing kids to do stuff that they think they won’t like that you know they will:

I’m not just talking about run-of-the-mill things like eating and sleeping and going to the bathroom, although of course most children at some point or another will swear up and down that they under no circumstances want or need to eat or sleep or poop even though you can tell — say, by the subtle hint of the series of massive meltdowns punctuated by alternate fits of giggling and sobbing and poking of siblings — that they desperately need to. I’m talking about things like going for hikes out in nature. Or going to see a really cool exhibit at the art gallery. These are both, coincidentally, things that I forced my children to do this past weekend. Things that they both swore up and down they would rather die than do. “You’re making me waste my weekend!” Rowan snarled at the prospect of a beautiful country hike with our good friends and four dogs. “I’m not going inside! I’ll just wait in the lobby the whole time!” Isaac whined in the parking lot at the art gallery.

At Today’s Parent, I write about Isaac’s propensity to — shall we say — “borrow” shiny things, like my new meat thermometer:

I wouldn’t say outright that Isaac steals shiny things. But he does borrow them, squirreling them away in several different hiding places. Yesterday, as I ransacked the house for the meat thermometre (perfect bait for my son with its shiny silver cord and pokey bit to stick into the meat, so much like a sword), I found one of my rings in his closet. Under his bed, I found, not one but two, pairs of shiny silver fingernail clippers. He takes fancy spiral paperclips from my desk drawers. A month or so ago, I found my engraved silver business card holder, a gift from a good friend when I started freelancing, tucked behind Isaac’s bookshelf. I put it in my pocket, and pulled it out when he got home from school. “Isaac,” I said, “guess where I found this?” And he looked at me and a grin spread slowly across his face and he began to giggle and then we laughed and laughed and laughed.

Have a great weekend! Go force your kids to do things!


Dinner and Angels

I made dinner last night.

You can say that so many different ways, can’t you? Dinner is a million different things, its possibilities renewable every day. Could be fish sticks from the box, popcorn, a casserole from the freezer, nothing at all. Dinner is evocative, laden. (Sidebar: In the mid 1990s, I auditioned for the National Theatre School in Montreal with a monologue from Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. I cobbled together dialogue from the character Harper’s fight with her husband, Joe, and my opening line was, “I burned dinner last night.” God, I loved that play. I saw on it Broadway, with MARCIA GAY HARDEN playing Harper, and that pretty much sealed the deal.)

But last night, I did not burn dinner. Last night, I decided to try out Rishia Zimmern’s recipe for “Chicken with Shallots,” from the March 23 edition of the New York Times magazine

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Just something about all those ingredients — chicken, shallots, white wine, tomatoes, butter — merging together in a single pan appealed. I don’t really need to explain why, do I?

You sprinkle the chicken thighs with flour and salt and pepper, and then brown them well in butter, and the aroma that rises from the pan is the reason that we are not vegetarians and do not keep kosher.

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Then, you set the meat aside and caramelize, oh, a dozen-plus shallots in the butter and the chicken fat, all the while inhaling. I once heard that the difference between amateur and professional chefs comes down to shallots and butter. Makes sense.

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(“Not my dinner,” says Harper to Joe, whom she suspects of being a homosexual. “My dinner was fine.”)

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If you’re so inclined, you pour yourself a glass of white wine from the bottle that you’ve opened in order to deglaze the pan.

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And when the shallots are good and caramelized, you refrain from eating more than a few from the pan before adding the wine, some Dijon mustard, and tarragon.

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And the chicken.

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(“Your dinner. I put it back in the oven and I turned everything up as high as it could go and I watched it until it burned black. It’s still hot.” She’s pissed. And also a little high.)

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(“Very hot.”)

You’re supposed to let that all simmer, covered, for half an hour, but I mistimed the meal slightly and we were all hungry, so I skipped to the next step, which was to let it simmer, uncovered for 15 or 20 minutes. in order to reduce the sauce. Nobody noticed.

Then, you add the tomatoes.

 

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The tomatoes!

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Then, you compare your version with the version in the magazine and find it satisfactory.

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Mark Bittman suggests serving this dish with fresh crusty bread from the bakery, and I have to say that sounds like a fantastic idea, but we didn’t have that, so we went for brown rice, with a side of broccoli.

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And it was divine.

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(“Want it?” says Harper. When I did the monologue, I played that line straight up, sincere, like maybe Joe might actually really want his blackened dinner and she would go get it for him and take a few more pills while she was in the kitchen.)

Yes. Yes I do.


The other side

I was going through my bookshelves the other day, trying to make space. I weeded out of bunch of books to donate: novels I’ll never read again, academic texts that will be better loved on university library shelves.

It’s getting easier to give away books — I console myself with the idea that they’re still mine, just on other people’s shelves. I like to think that maybe someone will read a book that would’ve otherwise died a lonely death on my shelf and maybe it will make that person’s life a little bit different. In a good way.

And then I found this on the floor after my purge:

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It’s a vintage label from a Vaseline jar. It must’ve been used as a bookmark. When I picked it up and turned it over, this is what was on the back:

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That’s my mother’s handwriting. She used to do that: doodle little shapes and connecting lines. I started to do that too, to copy her, and now it’s my own habit. She was obviously writing down a telephone number, likely taking it down from a friend on the telephone, writing it over and over. The number 71 in the bottom left-hand corner: that’s the year I was born. Could the Vaseline have been from my babyhood? My brother’s?

Do you dare me to call that phone number? I won’t, but it’s fun to contemplate.

I’m not so macabre and inconsolable these days. Now, I come across these physical scraps of my mom, tiny things that she touched, and I’m far enough past grief to be rather chuffed about them, to grin rather than gasp. I’ve no idea which book this fell out of, and now that the books have already been dropped off to their new homes, I never will. But somehow, this scrap of paper wormed its way out to find me: a little hello, a reminder from the other side.

Do you dare me to call the phone number? If this were a novel, I would, and it would be the beginning of some great adventure, some passionate romance. But it’s just a bookmark, holding space in a story that simultaneously finished much too soon and still never quite ends.


Drifting childhood

This.

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This is, almost literally, the flotsam of last night’s kid baths. This is what I get to look at, circa 11:13 PM as I sit on the toilet before heading off to bed, except that I delay sleep a few minutes more to find my camera and document the Pokémon figurines lined up on the side of the tub. To document what may be some of the last vestiges of pure childhood.

We’re in what all the parenting books and magazines call the Golden Age: when your kids sleep through the night and no longer need you to accompany them to the bathroom, but they still want to talk to you. They still want to read you every joke from their Big Book of Jokes and Laffs. They still tell you everything — consequential or not — that happens at school, converse freely with their friends in front of you, make up silly songs in the back seat of the car. This is the age when they still sit in the back seat of the car, climb in automatically. It’s just occurring to them that they won’t always sit there.

This is the age where they are still completely happy to carry stuffed animals and security blankets through airports, where their pajamas still have trucks and space aliens on them (actually, that’s only Isaac now — already, Rowan has the logos of sports teams emblazoned across his sleepwear). There’s very little that they declare themselves “too old” for, but it also never occurs to me to, say, pack up a Tupperware container of Cheerios for a car ride.

One day soon, my nine-year-old will take showers instead of baths, will no longer wage sincere imaginary battles between Pokémon figures in the tub and then line them up before saying goodnight. One day, he’ll floss his own teeth. Or maybe he won’t. One day soon, he’ll lock the door to the bathroom.


Threeform

Hey! So, British Columbia has become the first province to allow three parents on a child’s birth certificate. And since, I’ve been mulling a bit over what that might have meant have the option available when my kids were born. At the time, I don’t know that we would have chosen it. I think it might’ve seemed a bit scary to all of us: for me and Rachel to hand over what seemed like equal power to Rob, who had no intention of taking on any major parenting role; for Rob to have that responsibility, on paper or in real life.

But now, knowing what I know, I think I might see things a bit differently. I think I get know that parenting isn’t some kind of zero-sum game, where everyone has to have the exact same amount of involvement. I think about how families might just benefit from some form of legal recognition to the varying adults who might be parents. Here’s my take on it over at Today’s Parent.

And, segueing nicely into a discussion of what it means to be “equally involved,” here’s why I never clean up the barf at our house but am always on hand for vaccinations. Or, why I am the muffin mom while Rachel is the mitten mom.


Bedtime rant

Why must you lock me in the basement each night?

Why must you lock me in the basement each night?

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Fewer things in the world cause me more resentment than the fact that I have to get ready for bed EVERY SINGLE NIGHT.

Like, every night. It’s the same thing every night: pajamas, flossing, brushing, face washing and moisturizing, finding the cats and locking them in the basement (we have to, otherwise they like to come in at 5 AM and poke at my face with their pokey little paws). I hate all of it, especially in winter, with the cold air on my bare skin as I change from my thousand layers of daytime clothing to pajamas. Perhaps it would help if I remembered to put my pajamas on the radiator, but then that would be just one more thing to do. I hate it when my clothes lie in a big heap on my dresser, but I also hate putting them away each night, hate having to decide whether something is clean enough to be worn again or whether it merits being thrown into the laundry. I hate hangers and navigating the creaky doors of my wardrobe. I hate the fact of the cold water in the pipes and that each day I waste countless litres waiting for the hot water to arrive so I can wash my face. And even with warm water, I hate actually getting my face wet, the inevitable drips down my neck to my collarbone.

I hate all these STEPS to the routine when all I want to do is be safely and cozily ensconced under a duvet, my phone on airplane mode, kids’ lunches tidily made for the morning. I hate the time it takes , how it never takes the 10 minutes it should, tasks always bleeding out into other tasks so that, inevitably, 45 minutes after I begin the hellish process I’m still not asleep or at the very least binge-watching Breaking Bad in bed.

Every night.

It’s amazing to me that I resent so one of the most basic tasks of daily life. The energy alone I spend seething about a few minutes before bedtime probably pushes me over the edge of my own fatigue. And yet, there I am, gritting my teeth, doing very little to make the best of a bad situation except just getting through it every night. I don’t think there’s anything I can cut out: I’m too superstitious to give up daily flossing, and if I don’t wash my face I feel like bugs are crawling on it. Sometimes I try to trick myself into a better bedtime by dealing with my teeth immediately after dinner — one less step in the whole production and with the added bonus that I’m less likely to mindlessly graze through the kitchen before bed. Sometimes, I change into pajamas when the kids change into pajamas, and that makes it slightly better, too. Even so, though, there’s still the stupid face washing and the stupid cats. Stupid. Pipes.

The hatred isn’t rational. I get that. It’s not rational to be put so out of joint, to get so absolutely irked, by the mere task of cleaning one’s own face. Daily. The resentment wells up from some deep, guttural pit in my insides, one that is ruled by my inner toddler. I worked hard all day. Inevitably, I’ve met a whole bunch of other people’s needs not to mention my own, and I’m just done. And yet, that’s not good enough — not until it’s all done. So I do it.

But I hate it. Hate it all. Until I sleep.


Forward, sideways

I went snowshoeing yesterday morning. Of course I did, because first there was Vic, who said, Of course you can borrow Helen’s snowshoes — take them for as long as you’d like. (Along with these books, which I think the kids would like. They do.)

And then Martha mentioned something about snowshoeing in a message to me about meditation, and I said, Well I have this pair. And so we went out with another friend through the trails on Martha’s property and an eagle flew above us and I fantasized about buying the 35 acres just next door.

And that’s how things seem to be going these days in terms of creative life, pleasurable life.

Like this: Kirsten and Chris have both lent me guitars, and then someone on Facebook posted a link to this site and so now that’s what I’m doing, strumming away so hard that I can no longer feel the tips of my fretting fingers.

Like this: chatting with Heather during after-school pick up on Thursday, and we end up talking about quilting. She mentions that she’s just been gifted bags and bags of material, gorgeous stuff. Maybe I want some? Of course I want some, and the next day, Rowan comes home from school with yards of cloth for me. It’s beautiful. Not necessarily the colours I’d have chosen on my own, but that just means I can whip up something quick and dirty and have some fun without thinking too much. And now the ping-pong table is covered with strips of cloth in lights and darks and Isaac’s special job is to remove the pins once they’re sewn together. He is sometimes more and sometimes less enthusiastic about this task, and so I just go with the flow.

Like this: back in December, I said What the hell and pulled together a writing grant application for a collection of short stories. Because at fairly regular intervals these days, ideas for short stories pop into my head and I jot them down. And the grant, like any grant, is a long shot, but not impossible. And if I get it — and maybe even if I don’t — I will write them all down, because that will be my job.

And so on. What I’m saying is this: gifts appear, and I am saying yes to them. Tasks appear, and I take them on. And this is so much easier than the model to which I had (wittingly or not) subscribed before – you know, the one where I took everything so seriously. The one where I was going to write A Novel, because it was my Life’s Work and My Story. The one where everything hinged on that one project, and its success or failure determined everything.

It’s so much easier to cede control. I mean, of course I play an active role in all these projects, but I may be doing a better job of getting of getting out of my own way, of letting myself be taken rather than assuming that I know the way forward. Like yesterday, out in the snow and the trees, tromping along behind Martha, occasionally breaking my own trail, but always trusting she’d take me exactly where I needed to go.