This is 37

It’s getting harder and harder to blog lately. And it has more to do with the eight and ten-year-olds, than the five-month old. I drafted a piece last week that I thought was inspiring, hopeful, and honest; some truly magnificent writing. 🙂 I read it to BelĂ©n right after she got home from school and while she peeled off her parka and finished her snack, her face grew still and sad listening to my words. I knew then, I wouldn’t post it. I thought the salient points were positive enough to justify the honest beginning, but she disagreed.

“Why can’t you write, ‘It was hard at first, but I got over it. Now it’s good? Leave out that stuff at the start and it will be okay.”

I sat for a moment without saying anything. I really wanted to share this piece even though parts of it made me sad, too. I thought it might be worthwhile even if just one other person read it and felt less alone–and isn’t that why we do all of this reading and writing anyway? To feel connected and reassure ourselves we’re not the only ones facing the unpredictable world out there?

“Mmm…” I started slowly. “If I leave out the details, and only share the good stuff, it won’t be very interesting anymore. Telling the hard things makes the good stuff make more sense.”

She resisted, and I left it alone. I thought about a book I’d read recently and how the author, Krista Bremer, took me from mountain trails (where she met her husband) to the dusty villages of Libya (where she met her husband’s family), straight into the heart of her marriage. It’s one of the most well-written books I’ve read in a long time, precisely because she doesn’t say, “It was hard at first, but now it’s good.” Her words are sharp and the images vivid. It’s a beautiful, raw story, but I wonder: what did her husband think of it all? And her children? How do you write any kind of memoir, or even an amateur blog like this one, and respect the ones who are living out the stories with you? It’s dangerous territory, this writing hobby, and I’m not sure one can ever do it well and be safe.

So what do I do now? Turn this into a sewing blog? That would be great if I had more patience for following patterns. A foodie blog? Not likely. I’m very insecure about my kitchen skills lately; the accumulation of complaints from my children over the years is taking its toll. Besides, I’d have to type out recipes and that wouldn’t be fun at all. A photo blog? My camera is too cheap and the thrill of blogging comes from creating pictures with words, not just uploading them.

Maybe I’ll have to make it all about me–I’ve never been one to bother much with privacy anyway. It might be boring, but certainly not as risky. Here, then, is a poem to start with. It was an “assignment” for my writing group. All of us–from our early thirties into our sixties–did a piece explaining what it’s like to be the age we are. It was fun to write and I loved reading the others’ too.

***

This is 37

Unwrapping baby gifts billowed with tissue paper,
opening my front door to a friend trembling with a new diagnosis,
pretending to be the tooth fairy–but failing,
praying and explaining, but never understanding leukemia,
cheering for smiles and poop, coos and farts,
new lines under my eyes,
in between birth and death.
This is 37.

Cradling my baby to my breast,
peeling the fuzz and dust we slough from the lint trap,
dipping fingers into coarse salt and sprinkling it over roasting potatoes,
heaving half-rotten compost from one pile to another,
reaching under sheets, tracing the body pressed next to mine.
My arms are strong.
My hands are full.
This is 37.

Arranging after-school sledding dates,
hoping my college friend will notice my facebook post,
waiting for book-club night,
calling my sister three times a day,
searching, always searching, for community.
Then Friday night comes,
lights are out at 9:30.
This is 37.

Skating on an outdoor rink for an audience of two
listening to my daughters cheer from the snow-banked sidelines,
springing off toe picks, bunny-hopping more like a groggy bear than a limber rabbit,
The crowd jumps to its feet and roars with approval.
“Did you see that?” one daughter gasps to the other.
I sing the last note till it goes flat,
jazz hands still fluttering.
This is 37.

***

What’s it like for you at 28? or 45? or 67? And how honestly could you write about it? Please share.

Tricia

Upcycled Wool Cowl (no knitting required) and some blogging philosophy

I feel like I’m in grade five again, pretending to make a fashion magazine–which is appropriate as the project I’m featuring today is entirely doable for any fifth-grader. Because I’m marginally better at sewing than I am knitting (I can knit and sew anything as long it’s rectangular) I thought I might try a no-knit cowl to partner with my new winter parka.

I’ve had the wool sweater for years and used it as a tea-cozy after it shrunk/felted in the washing machine. It worked nicely to keep my teapot warm, if a bit unsightly with the hoodie and arms occupying more table space than necessary, but after I got my purple coat I decided to re-incarnate the tea cozy as a winter scarf:

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The more felted the wool, the warmer the scarf. Although my sweater didn’t felt 100%, it did shrink substantially and I didn’t need to take it in at all.

I cut the arms and hood off, but left the base wide.

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another almost-rectangular project to show off my sewing finesse

I turned down the cut by the neck and seamed it. Then I sewed the armhole cuts together and made sure the cowl was narrow enough at the top to stay up when I need to keep my nose and cheeks covered.

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After BelĂ©n took that last photo she said, “You’re not going to put this on your blog, are you, Mom?… That scarf looks weird.”

I happen to love my recycled cowl and told BelĂ©n so (I’m used to her comments on my clothes; she’s been critiquing my fashion for years now) but I have to admit, it feels weird posting pictures of myself wearing it. I question why the world needs to see my scarf and why I’m spending time typing out those very questions… which leads me to the bigger question of blogging and why I do it.

Every time I publish a post, WordPress (my blogging engine) flashes a congratulatory message across the screen including a tally of all the entries I’ve written. Once I hit the publish button on this draft I will have reached 100 posts. That’s a lot of hours spent loading pictures, typing, deleting, rewriting, and proofreading. And for what? So family can catch up on our lives? Partly.

So I can practice writing? Yes, that’s one reason. I’m finding that learning to write is a lot like learning another language. The more Spanish or Guarani I spoke when in Bolivia, the more agile my mouth and tongue became at forming new sounds. Similarly, sitting down at the keyboard regularly keeps the pathway from my mind to my fingers a little easier to travel.

So I can share my work with an audience? Definitely. Blogging is an egocentric activity, but it’s also a forum to connect with others. I teach a writing workshop to a grade 2 class and everyday I ask at least one student to read a piece of writing in front of their peers. Once, when a little girl delivered a choppy monologue punctuated by breathy pauses picked up by the microphone, she exploded after her performance. Unable to contain herself, she danced the whole way back to her seat singing, “This is the best day ever!” And then, between twirls she shouted, “I wanted to write a story and read it to the whole class and I did it! I did it! I did it!” I tried to re-focus her energy and speak in a low tones to move the class forward and keep calm, but I totally understood her reaction. It is thrilling to produce something and have other people read, see, or hear it. Blogging might be egocentric but I think it’s even more self-absorbed to pretend that an audience is irrelevant.

And finally, blogging is just another creative attempt to capture some of the curiosities, confusion, and beauty strewn around me. When I consider an ordinary image I might translate to words, it’s like picking up a pebble from a river bed. There are so many and they all look the same under the water, but study one for a moment and it becomes interesting enough to roll around in my hand for awhile. Scripting a scene from our week makes me appreciate the details of it, while it’s still dripping wet in my palm.

And so I guess I’ll keep blogging after all, even if it took me 39 ridiculous tries to get a shot of myself wearing a scarf.

Stay warm and keep creating, however you do it,

Tricia

PS. If you’re interested in creative non-fiction, check out this book I just read. It would be useful for any writer (it’s filled with brilliant essays critiqued by the author) but it’s especially appropriate for mothers. I loved it.

Why do you blog anyway, Mama?

I posted something I shouldn’t have yesterday, and my daughter let me know it. With tears welling in her eyes, she vehemently insisted I delete the post immediately.

The post in question highlighted a few moments of our terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. By the time I was ready to blog about it, the corners of my mouth twisted upwards while tapping on the keys. Several hours after publishing it, I read the post aloud, hoping my daughter would hear the humour in our pathetic mini-drama and even consider it with distant objectivity. Instead, she was more hurt than jolly, and I sensed she felt violated by my re-telling.

Of course, I knew what I had to do. Nursing my bruised ego, I clicked the edit button and removed the post from my site.

Why do you have to blog anyway, mama?” she asked me, hovering around the computer to make sure I made good on my promise.

“Because I want to.” I replied childishly. (She had after all, erased my afternoon’s efforts of linking one sentence to another into a mostly-coherent chain; ‘no small feat at the best of times.)

She poses a good question. Why do I blog? Why does anyone blog? or write? or tell stories?

I want Grandmas, Grandpas, Aunts and Uncles to catch a glimpse of our life. I want people to see what we make and do. I want to show off. I want to confess. I want to make people laugh and think. I want to make myself think. I want to disarm. I want to cover-up. I want to craft words that translate into feelings. I want to be understood, to connect, to be known.

“Why do you have to give so many personal details?” Stan adds. “Maybe you could change a few facts and make sure all the faces are blurred in the photos…”

Another good question: What makes a story worth telling, and how true does it have to be? My knee-jerk response is to retort that expression requires exposure. The more bloody guts spilled onto the paper (or screen), the better. A bandaged story is a lame story. What’s the point of writing something that reads like small talk at a company party? I don’t like wasting my time with meaningless conversations so why would I do it in my writing? (You get the point.)

Film maker Andrew Stanton (Toy Story) claims that any decent narrative has to:
#1 make someone care, and
#2, make a promise.
If the truth doesn’t hold promise or make people care, I’m not sure what will…

And yet, even though I am quick to defend myself in the name of authenticity, I still hear my family’s questions, despite my own rant. I might not hesitate to “undress” in front of a virtual crowd, but can I volunteer them to do the same?

The answer, obviously, is a quiet, embarrassed “no”.

And so, in this weird world of online diaries, and quick-as-a-finger-flash publishing, I am re-posting Friday’s blog. Without the guts.

As BelĂ©n would be quick to point out, you aren’t missing much.

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Our THIRD time eating "tiré"--globs of chilled maple syrup--this season

Our THIRD time eating “tirĂ©”–globs of chilled maple syrup–this season. I think we’re good ’til next year.

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We think we’re pretty hot stuff (see past snow sculpture posts)… until we go to winter festivals and see this kind of snow artistry.

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The above pictures are from last week’s vacation. We made the 13 hour drive to spend a couple days with my sister and her family. Tara and Derek’s house is well worth the trip; I felt as if we were in a cozy alpine lodge, tucked in their 3/4 second story with a comfy duvet…

part of a homemade garland strung between Tara's kitchen and living room

part of a homemade garland strung between Tara’s kitchen and living room

(By the way, if you are interested in being creative, check out my sister’s blog, practically homemade. She has great ideas and is considerably less verbose than I.)

When we hit Winnipeg on our way back I was reminded we are no longer city mice.

Overheard backseat conversation, while waiting in 6 lanes of traffic at a red light:

Susanna (emotional): “I think this is a traffic jam, BelĂ©n. Yup. This is it! A real traffic jam!!”

BelĂ©n (softly, with awe): “All I can see is city. Just buildings and city everywhere.”

‘Wishing you courage and patience as you deal with your own crazy life.
Have a lovely weekend,
Tricia