This is how I roll (off my rocker)

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This is how I roll (off my rocker)

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Category : Daily Life

on getting a wedgie straddling the fence between doing too much and missing out on cool stuff…

 

This week got a bit mad. The calendar assures me it is only Wednesday but I do not actually believe it.

Sunday afternoon, my lovely Mum and Dad offered to take the kids for a few hours and dropped them off around tea time, so Luuk cooked enough chips and sausages for everyone. While the kids were in the bath, we put our feet up in the lounge with a glass of port, and marveled at the madness that is American elections… and heard a dripping.

It wasn’t the kids.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t our flat at all.

Upstairs was leaking.

And it continued to leak until a locksmith let us in so we could turn off the tap and mop up the worst of the mess. Oy vey.

Downstairs at our place, the lights were flickering, so the electricity mains had to go off. The kids were asleep, totally unaware – and blissfully dry because the leak was all in the other end of the flat. Our room was also un-dripped-on. Whew. So we went to bed.

Monday began with the kids SUPER excited because OH MY GOSH THE LIGHTS DON’T WORK. Luuk worked from home for the day so he could be there for any visitors of the fix-the-wet-walls variety. I managed to get the NZSA newsletter drafted, checked, and sent off – small miracle. Mum came over with a maHOOSIVE load of laundry – washed and dried! – because the leak had gone through half the linen cupboard before we noticed…

I wrote a few poems – because it’s National Poetry Writing Month and a poem is a nice bite-sized piece of writing so I felt up-to-it.

poem

Monday night I had my theatre studies class – which is going so well. Love it. Came home so energised, I did a whole ER episode-worth of exercycling.

Tuesday, I had my usual write-in (all welcome, by the way) at the South Library, all morning. I FINISHED a rewrite but it’s had so many rewrites now, I find it hard to celebrate finishing one. I find it hard to believe it’ll be the last one.

I was relief teaching in the afternoon. Sports studies.

Oy, quiet in the cheep seats. I was excellent.

Mum picked up the kids and hung out all afternoon – and all evening because I wanted to go to a poetry open mic and Luuk had a meeting. Bit hectic… well, yeah, but totally worth it. Somehow, I’ve been back in Christchurch for a year, poking my antennae every which way, looking for writing communities, and I missed Catalyst. They meet once a month at The Twisted Hop and remind me so much of the crazy crowd at Spoken Word Paris. I loved it. I read two poems. They sang to me! They sing to all the first-timers. There was also a sing-along of David Bowie songs to kick things off… because why not? All in all, a great evening.

Again, I came home, pumped and ready to cycle my way through a thrilling 40 minutes of ER, but I flaked out half way through. Had a second helping of dinner, and wine.

Today was the real clincher: I hiked down the hill to a doctors appointment, then hiked on from there and met a friend to go op-shopping. MaHOOSIVE haul of gorgeous goodies… and then quick! Off to lunch-meeting with a couple of NZSA folk, and then quick! Off home to pack a picnic afternoon tea, and collect the kids and race off to a catch-up with an old friend.

Damn! Forgot my phone. Quick! Dash home, up the stairs, find the phone, and the rest of afternoon tea, and lock the wide-open balcony door (oops), and trot back down to the car carrying too many things…

Now, you have to understand, our driveway is particularly steep. I mean, check-out-my-thighs steep. So I’m getting in the driver’s side door, trying to keep from smashing the bananas in my left hand or the phone in my right… and the door falls shut ON MY HEAD.

I was SO close to tears. Damn, it hurt. Caught the top of my ear. This is how those cauliflower ears the rugby players have begin. One good smack… and no ice.

While I’m breathing deep and ignoring the kids’ “Mummy, why aren’t we driving?”, my phone buzzes. So I check in with the friend I’m meeting, just to make sure she got my last message about when/where… and she’s sick. She can’t make it.

Afternoon tea is already packed. Coffee in a flask and everything. I’ve told the kids we’re going to a playground.

So we go anyway. To a closer playground.

They play, eat, play, hide (and freak me out because it’s every parent’s nightmare, losing a kid…) basically it’s a lovely afternoon. I realise I’ve double-booked myself for tomorrow, so I make a call and fix that. I realise I missed an important phone call earlier, and send a few texts, make a time, get it sorted…

I drink all the coffee even though I brought enough for two.

And then we go home.

Tomorrow, I’m relieving half a day, I have a meeting after that, then a gap before picking up the kids, then in the evening I’m going to the dress rehearsal for ‘Matthew, Mark, Luke and Joanne’ at The Court Theatre.

Friday, a flu jab and a play date.

Saturday a poetry writing class and in the evening a dinner-and-show thing the Hagley Theatre Company and Cuisine School are putting on.

It’s a rip-roaring week full of mostly good things (flu jabs and bruised cartilage aside)… but it might be too much.

I sat out on the balcony this evening, after I’d served up the kids’ dinner but before I was ready to eat, before Luuk had left work… I took my glass of wine out into the dusk, pulled up my socks against the cold, and watched the sky all pinky over the mountains. It wasn’t  silent: the wind and the trees, cars, neighbours, distant horns and sirens… but it was so peaceful.

stillness

I guess, those are the moments that make the madness manageable.

The occasional early night might help too.

Thing is… what I really want to do right now is pop in an episode of ER and sort out my wardrobe.

where would Corday go?

 


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that doesn’t seem right

I’ve been aware lately of a few wonderful paradoxes, and I thought I’d share them here because it’s been a while. I’ve been doing nanowrimo (writing. A lot. That is all.) and now that’s done, so I’m back in the world of the living, just in time to put up the Christmas decorations.

Leo says,

What’s a paradox? some might ask. A seeming contradiction. Two things that don’t go together, but SO DO.

For instance: happily listening to an Adele song.

Now, that’s a bit mean. There is a happy song on her new album. The last track. I know this because I went out and bought it (so strange for me) and I’ve been listening to it on loop, obsessively (less strange). And very happily. So there you have it.

adele is awesome
Another example of paradox: you want something done, ask a busy person.

So you get it. Paradoxes everywhere actually. The one I’m most aware of at the moment is less pithy. It’s about being certain of uncertainty, about being happy but not entirely content. I’ve been looking for part time teaching work and, at the same time, looking at my writing – my nine complete manuscripts, a couple of which are pretty close to being finished, so far as I can tell – and where to take it next, how to publish and publish well.

writing and tea

In both cases, there are things I can do to improve my chances and then there’s just a tonne of stuff beyond my control. I’m impatient to be in the classroom again, and I’m impatient to be published, but at the same time, I’m loving writing, and I know what I need to be working on, and I’ve enjoyed relief teaching much more than I expected. In some ways relief is a good fit with writing. And if I do suddenly get a big break and have to do a world book tour, I won’t have to take time off and mess anyone around…

But seriously, that’s only slightly less likely than finding a teaching job in Christchurch.

Maybe. Hard to say for sure.

Louis started school a couple of weeks ago and he’s so happy there. Elena’s still loving kindy and they’re both becoming more independent.

starting school

They’re happy, healthy, adorable, and relatively low-maintenance kids. I’m not dreading the summer holidays the way I was dreading school hols earlier in the year. I’ll still be able to write and find some time by myself.

happy kids boating

What I’m saying is, life is good – it’s great. But I’m still wanting more, wanting things to change.

Here’s another paradox for you: holidays. Is it just me who’s always tired at the end of them? I really am so much better at work, in my routine. I can write in a quiet house, by myself, for hours and at the end feel energised and rested.

nanowrimoing

Maybe I’m weird.

Okay, definitely.

Here’s another one: if you want to do something really well, you have to make it a priority, focus… get going toward those 10k hours we supposedly need to put in if we want to be brilliant at a thing. Any thing. But, that said, if you reduce yourself to one thing, one defining interest, especially in the arts, then you can’t do it in a way that’s relevant to the world around you. I recently started playing basketball. Now, I’m no sportswoman. I mean, I have zero interest in sport-watching, and it’s fun to play, but I’m not very committed to winning. I won’t push myself so hard that I get injured or asthmatic. If I’m stuffed, I sub-off. If someone shoves me, I back-off. But I’ve been LOVING basketball. I did not see that coming. Now, if I’m not open to trying new things, then I’ll quickly run out of things to write about. If I limit my characters to my experiences and interests and point-of-view then my stories will be so narrow.

Plus, life is more fun if you try new things.

such fun

And the next one isn’t so much a paradox, as just an unfortunate truth that I’m grappling with: you can’t do everything. You have to choose what matters and what matters less and what doesn’t matter. But there are too many wonderful things, and too many important things. You can’t even do the majority of them, to be frank. If you try to do all the wonderful and important things then you’ll be miserable: there’s simply too much to do and not enough time. And so there are some hard decisions to be made. Finish writing on deadline or go to the climate march, for instance. Both are important, but doing both would be stressful and unnecessary. I think I might come back to this in a future blog: the saying ‘no’ to things subject. It’s a big one. Tricky and important.

Here’s a tricky paradox: missing a place and being glad to be somewhere else. Ah, Paris, how you mess me around. Paris is EVERYWHERE, can I just say? I mean even when it’s not being shot up by nut-jobs, it is everywhere. I’ve been supervising NCEA exams and we confiscated a pencil case so it was sitting up the front, and it’s got the Eiffel Tower on it – of course! Paris is a hard place to leave behind anyway but seriously enough with papering the world in Eiffel Towers.

And then there’s an awful act of terrorism, so you have my permission again (not that you need it), and these past few weeks people keep saying to me, ‘you must be glad not to be there’, and I am. We were there in January for all the Charlie Hebdo palaver, and I am glad to miss out on all that stress and chaos and merde.

me and invalides

(Elena took this photo on the day that the Charlie Hebdo situation was shut down. We had an appointment in Paris and arrived early. We were waiting and she was playing with my phone. That’s Invalides in the background. I think it captures how tired, stressed, and overwhelmed I was feeling.)

But I also really want to be there. I want to hug my friends so, SO tight. Especially, but not limited to, those who lost friends at the Bataclan. I’m heartsick for them. One friend, a poet, has been posting little details of her day on facebook – about getting her bag checked at every shop, and not minding, but thinking the cursory glance in her purse wouldn’t likely catch anything dangerous if it were hidden in among the flotsam; about saying bonjour and merci to the guards outside the mosque – people she walks past every day and has never spoken to before. This is the stuff that makes me want to be there, and also so glad to be here.

But Christmas is coming, and being here in the sun wins.

summer wins

I am glad to be home and for summer coming, and pohutakawa blossoming up the road.

pohutakawa

Brandy snaps and pavlova and lots of bubbly and long evenings on the deck, with the barbecue and Adele crooning away in the background (probably just in my head because everyone else will be sick of her and her album will be banned in our house… it’s only a matter of time.)

in my head

Oh, I won’t.


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wrong side of midnight

We keep staying up far too late for people whose children like the wrong side of seven in the morning. I could blame the football but that would be reductionist and dishonest.

I’ve been writing a new novel, a first draft, a rip-roaring tale that has whipped me into a frenzy. Everything and everyone have been an eensy bit neglected because I’ve been doing this:

mad cap typing

I drop Louis at school then take Elena to the playground so that I can sit there with my journal and get down the next paragraph while she stands at the top of the slide and says ‘coucou’ to me and anyone else who looks at her.

words at the playground

When she’s done, we go home and play for a little while then I give her her lunch and I write. And then I put her down for her nap, and I write. I eat my lunch and click on things I mean to read later, but instead, I write.

typing like a crazy lady

I take Elena to halte garderie, and then I write until I have to pick Louis up from school. We eat afternoon tea at the park and talk about what he ate for lunch and which kids were mean and who he loves (his choice of words is perhaps a little influenced by his using french all day). And then I coax him into going to play with the other kids. I write a bit. I look around and can’t see Louis and panic for two seconds, and then he throws a stick up in the air, it gets stuck in a tree and needs my help throwing other sticks at it in order to get it down…

cafe dates with the wee man

The last few days he’s been asking if we can go to the cafe. Unfortunately, the closest cafe makes a lousy coffee, but they know how to do Louis’ not-hot chocolate and 4.30 isn’t too early for a glass of wine. Or ice cream. Louis will do drawings and eat his not-hot chocolate off his spoon… which takes forever.

In the evenings, if there’s a french or dutch or interesting football game on, then I tend to type up all those playground words and then type-on.

writing like a machine

Yeah, 50k in 2 weeks. That’s a first.

It’s a miracle we’re not half-buried in dirty laundry, basically. The weather has been good. I’m strangely on top of Laundry. In fact, not for the first time it strikes me that I’m am most productive words-wise when I am actually pretty busy. Creativity energizes me, and busyness kicks me in the bum a bit – any minute I get to write, I write. If there’s time to spare then… no, wait, that never happens.

So, I don’t know what the magic ingredient is. Maybe a strong story. No dull bits in this one, baby. Plenty of vitamin D doesn’t hurt. The knowledge that we’ll be here for another whole year. In fact, I even know what we’re doing after that. For the first time in a long time, I can see the future (sort of). Luuk is signing on to return to Christchurch FOR CERTAIN in August of next year. Not only do I know we’ll be in France for another year but I know where we will be after that. We have been sitting on uncertainty fence for so long I forgot it was kinda uncomfortable.

Plus, we’re going on holiday in six weeks, or so, and that works a bit like a deadline. There’s more than writing to do in the meantime. We got Louis and Elena all signed on for next year for school and halte garderie. We had Louis’ school end of year do last weekend. Sunday school finished up too.

sunday school certificates

Sunday school certificates!

Elena’s nursery doesn’t wrap up for another month, but some people go on holiday in July so they’re doing things like photos now:

Elena with teachers and friends

 

There were options. She wasn’t smiling in any of them. But her buddy on the bottom right has moved to another city, so I picked the one with him in it. He also does a fantastic photo-grump-face. Kudos Josua.

My french class finished already (Josua’s Dad is off to play for another rugby team, and our Tutor had to go to Brazil with a whole lot of other people for something or other.) I need to get organised to sign up for classes starting in September. Inscriptions have already been and gone for some things. It’s all a bit mad here at the moment, if I’m honest.

This weekend we’re off to the Netherlands for Luuk’s family reunion. If the kids are chilled and the roads are straight (they basically are if you don’t mind the tolls) then I might be writing on the road. Perhaps I’ll finish this draft in long-hand.

Better take an extra journal.


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vivre libre ou mourir

Live free or die. That’s what it says, front and center, at the Paris Pantheon. Elena would agree. Our little lady has embarked on the terrible before the twos, and boy can that kid run.

writers tombs at the paris pantheon

All around the crypt of this incredible building, in fact. She teased her big brother and giggled inappropriately, careening past the tombs of Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo, the Curies, and many more dead french men whose great achievements won them a place here. Marie Curie is, so far, the only woman. Luuk had a good look; her resting place does not glow.

The above-ground parts of the building were pretty cool too. The roof and dome are under construction, but we could still see all the artwork, much of it depicting the life of St Geneviéve

the pantheon, paris Luuk and Louis, out front.

inside the pantheon, paris

‘Vivre Libre ou Mourir’ is written beneath the central figure of that statue, center left.

pantheon facade, paris

The facade out front.

view of eiffel tower, from pantheon

The view from the steps, toward the Luxembourg gardens and a familiar tower beyond.

We found some lunch and then walked to the nearby gardens, enjoying this premature spring day.

Jardin de Luxembourg

We weren’t the only ones. The place was abuzz!

There weren’t many sailboats on the pond, but lots of ducks, and the kids had a ball throwing stones into the water.

sunny sunday at luxembourg gardens

“He ate my rock!” – Louis, talking about a duck.

We went into the big pay-to-enter playground for the first time. The kids are old enough to get our money’s worth now and the weather was perfect.

ready to climb the eiffel tower, at luxembourg gardens

Elena was keen to have a go on this Eiffel-tower-like climbing thing.

riding ambiguous creaturesShe was big enough to ride this though – dinosaur or Kea? Hard to say.

So we had a great day in Paris. Didn’t try to squeeze too much in, though it is tempting. We are on a deadline, realistically. Come the end of June, Luuk’s contract ends and we’re unlikely to be able to stay on in France. There are a couple of vaguely possible options in Europe, but they’re far from certain, and the most likely path is back to New Zealand.

The temptation, with only four more months in this location, is to jam-pack our weekends with sight-seeing. We’ve done lots but there’s plenty more. We could easily wear ourselves out, for the sake of ‘making the most’ and doing all the ‘essential’ things people say you have to do when you’re in Paris. Or further afield.

But four months is a long time to keep that up. We aren’t visitors. We have a life here. We have some tough choices to make.

Taking advantage of being in Europe, I am off to London on Friday morning for the London Author Fair. There, I will learn lots and meet people and – here’s the nervous-making bit – pitch to a real live literary agent! So I’ve been snatching time, whenever the kids nap in-sync, to polish up my written synopsis and cover letter and go over those first three chapters for the millionth time. And I’ve been talking to myself, more than usual, practicing talking about my book. It’s school holidays, so there hasn’t been much time this past week, but Elena’s back to halte garderie this week, so hopefully it’ll be a bit easier to get stuff done.

I’m excited – about the book, about the opportunity, and also about the weekend in London. I haven’t had a night off, away from the kids, since Louis was born – which sounds crazy. Perhaps it’s not true. But I really can’t think of a single night away. In three years and three months. On the Saturday my friend and I will probably visit Jane Austen’s home town. I’m going to snort inspiration till I overdose, methinks.

elena, ready to box

Bring it!


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self determination pep

The concept of self-determination first impressed me at university, in a fascinating 400-level history course. I’m sure I had social studies and history teachers who touched on the subject at school, but my brain engaged a little later…

Self-determination comes up in NZ history particularly because of the conflicts surrounding the Maori and English texts of the Treaty of Waitangi. Self determination, to quote wikipedia,

“…states that nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and fair equality of opportunity have the right to freely choose their sovereignty and international political status with no external compulsion or interference which can be traced back to the Atlantic Charter…”

And to make a long story short, the Maori people of New Zealand didn’t mean to cede the highest sovereignty of the islands to the British crown, but woops, the British thought they did.

freedom camping east coast, new zealandFreedom camping on the east coast of the North Island.
(Perhaps similar to what the Maori chiefs meant to let the Brits do…)

And why am I rabbiting on about it on a cold Tuesday morning in France some hundred and fifty years later? The Treaty of Waitangi was, until the 1970s, largely ignored. A movement for ‘self determination’ rose up and while there are still huge inequalities and problems in NZ, I for one am rather proud of how the Maori language has been saved, how Maori culture is celebrated and respected by people throughout the country (and the world, in fact).

At several points in history, people predicted that the entire race would die out, the language was certainly expected to become extinct. The culture was at risk of being reduced to dolls in headbands and ‘grass’ skirts, green plastic tiki necklaces and Goldie paintings in museums. But people stepped up and said ‘No. This is worth saving.’ And they kept it alive. And now it’s a vibrant, living, growing, changing thing, not a relic.

pania by the seaPania by the sea, for all her charms, a relic.

I love this progress. Call me a sappy romantic, a naive optimist, but I think the story applies widely. What we are, what we were, is not the end but a chapter in the ongoing narrative. It’s easy to feel stuck, to think the path is set and perhaps not going anywhere great.

I got a rejection letter yesterday, from an agent who was actually interested in one of my novels. Ouch. She says it’s a great story, she sees potential but she’s not willing to sign me on. It needs work, and she goes on to tell me how.

Helpful, but still sore. I’m not jumping into more rewrites and edits just yet, but probably soon. (Hopefully, with the aid and advice of a literary agent who sees the potential and believes in me/the book enough to get on board.)

What my manuscript is, in its current form, is unfinished. Novels, unlike cultures, do get finished eventually. They get published and all the little errors are set in stone unless there’s a second, third, forth edition. But until it’s published that first time, it can still change and grow. Which is exciting and scary.

I could give up, self-publish it as is, say it’ll do. Perhaps it would. Or I can be patient, work hard, keep hope. Either path, to be fair, might be an example of self-determination.

Kids are constantly changing and growing. They are a great reminder of individual self-determination. Just when they get into a habit of doing things one way, a week later they want to try it differently. They question why we act in certain ways. They want to try marmite by the spoonful, and playing chess, and doing vacuuming… ready or not, here we come.

marmite, by the spoonful

Louis would not let me put on his second glove this morning. He managed the first but the second (using the first-gloved hand) was just plain difficult. He was determined to do it himself. Elena insists on feeding herself, even if that means pesto and pasta and orange juice all over the kid, the chair, the floor… laundry, laundry, laundry.

Louis has been doing half-days at school, coming home for lunch and napping at home in the afternoons. He did full days for the first two weeks of term and it was too much, too stressful. He wasn’t eating and he was getting upset every morning. But half-days weren’t a problem. He was happy and engaged, speaking french, playing and excited and all that jazz.

Last week he told me he wanted to stay for lunch. In fact, he threw a fit on the way home, determined to stay at school for the afternoon. Yesterday we tried it: he ate the fish, the potatoes, the lettuce. He slept on the mezzanine with all the other kids and didn’t wet the bed.

I was so damn excited when the teacher told me, “Il mange bien, il dort bien, c’est très bien!” This morning he was reluctant and a little teary, but bravely marched on and cuddled the teacher on arrival… and it’s rice on the menu, so I think he’ll be fine. He wasn’t ready two months ago, but perhaps he’s ready now. We’ll see. It’s probably to do with whether or not he wants to be ready, believes he’s ready.

My big boy.

Ready to go!

My whole life I’ve felt like my health and fitness were out of my control. At some point, just after Elena was born, I felt ready, and believed I could take control, and I did. I don’t know what the formula is, but from that point on I’ve been able to manage losing weight, keeping it off, eating healthy, exercising regularly.

This is all vaguely related to the concept of self-determination, see? I can’t bite off too many things at once. Louis couldn’t hack school and lunch and nap time all in one go, but just morning class was fine. When I learned to drive I used Mum’s easy automatic car. A couple of years later I mastered a manual gear shift and it was relatively easy because I’d already figured out mirrors and the give-way rules, indicating and parallel parking… One thing at a time, but determined, and taking responsibility for self.

We can do it!

And pep talk finished. In my next installment, at least one pretty pic of Paris. Promise.


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enough

I never realised how much I overuse the word enough until I started trying to translate myself into French. C’est suffit means That’s enough. But it’s unusual (or just doesn’t work) to say enough in other contexts, ie. ‘there are enough cheerios in Elena’s hair.’ You need to use the word suffisement and it just gets clunky. I don’t know if this tells us something about the culture of attainment in New Zealand or France. I don’t pretend to be an expert in either.

But I do have something to say about having/doing/being enough.

I really admire people who say ‘no’ to things because they’ve got enough going on. I think it takes guts and wisdom and an admirable amount of self-knowledge. It’s tempting to think that an event/cause/the whole wide world won’t get on without us, but it will. There are things we need to do and there are a bunch of other things we say are necessary, but aren’t. That’s not to say those things aren’t good to do.

I used to teach 14 year olds about poverty and social action – two separate social studies units, one on the back of the other. In the social action unit they learned about different types of social action, petition, protest, etc., and then had to choose a cause and take action. They’d get quickly overwhelmed and flabbergasted at the choosing-a-cause stage of the game. There are so many good causes out there. I support nearly all of them on some (I mean philosophical) level. But there are some I’m passionate about and many, many others which I hope get on well without my involvement. I told the 14 year olds to pick the one that got them the most pissed off and go with that. Most of them did animal rights. I talked some of the boys out of dressing like chickens and harassing KFC customers. In the end they rallied sponsorship and took turns trapped in crates like pigs. PETA and the SPCA took tiny donations for all our hard work.

It’s tough, but we have to choose. One of the options, of course, is to do nothing. But NONE of the options is to do everything.

Much of the time I feel a little bit background-guilty for not doing enough. Perhaps we all do. Perhaps that’s just how effective the advertising campaigns are for all those good causes we can’t or won’t support. But the guilt isn’t just about human rights and animal rights and the environment; it’s so much bigger than that.

The house is a mess. I haven’t written a blog post in a week. I haven’t caught up with friends x, y and z in months. I keep meaning to write an article for this particular magazine. I need to print out Elena’s photos and finish her 1st year album (the only one I intend to do…). I should make something healthy/interesting for the kids’ lunches. I should clean out the fridge. I should do my French homework. I should put all the laundry away. I should make Louis’ 3rd birthday cake worthy of instagram/pinterest/etc. I should… blah blah blah guilt.

Well, I still intend to make the robot cake.. In fact, I intend to do all those things (except the fridge) at some point. I could probably tick a lot of it off the list in the next week/ten days if I didn’t do anything else. But I’m saying NO.

I am a writer. I want to be an author. Now we’re getting down and dirty with semantics, but that distinction is important to me.

The POINT is that I have to say NO, or at least WAIT, to the things on my potential and perpetual to-do list in order to

a) one day become a published author,

b) not lose my mind, and

c) not alienate all my friends and family.

(This order does not indicate importance. It’s not a ranking. Just saying.)

Yesterday morning I queried literary agents. In the afternoon I wrote a few hundred words and blew my nose a thousand times. I put on Pingu and wrote a shopping list for a kid’s birthday party.

This morning I have done the gratitude survey (not essential. A nice thing to do, but probably a good thing to say no to) and written this blog post and in a minute I’ll put on the laundry. I will write for half an hour then pick up Louis from school. We will come home via the pharmacy and I will buy potent cold&flu drugs (now that I’m not breastfeeding – yippee!) We will have a mediocre lunch. I won’t have to strong-arm the kids to eat any of it. I will have leftover chicken korma and we’ll watch the Michael J. Fox show.

I might read the kids a few stories. I might play Candy Crush and tell them to read stories to each other. Then Louis will nap and Elena will follow me around while I do a shoddy job of cleaning/tidying the house (so that there’s less to do tomorrow morning in preparation for Louis’ birthday party). And then Elena will nap and I will write. There is a girls night out tonight and I am not going. I am going to make cake (from a box) and watch sitcoms.

That is enough.

ps. I should find an image to make this blog post “pop”, but it aint gonna happen.


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worn out

In an unlikely turn of events, my ironing board cover has worn out… talk about things I never expected to say. My freshly ironed clothes have criss-crosses in places, but they’re crinkle free, and I’m all up to date on ‘Once Upon a Time’. If I have to iron I might as well watch/listen to something and Luuk gave up on that particular show a whole season ago.

But the ironing pile, in this instance, outlasted the tv series and so I turned to the live feed – this afternoon’s offering of ‘ER’, or ‘Urgences’ en français. The imminent demise of Mark Green still gets me teary, even when it’s all in French.

urgences, en francais

I can follow a lot more of the dialogue than I could a year ago, but there’s definitely room for improvement. Sometimes I feel like my progress in the language is painfully slow.

I’m determined to find opportunities for more listening to French and perhaps this is it: familiar television. But I’m always out of time. Too much to do, that’s the problem really, but I can’t decide what to cut. Louis starts school in September (holy cow!) and Elena will have two or three half days at the halte garderie, so in a few months time I’ll have a few more hours a week in which I can write novels and study french. But there will still be laundry.

I don’t know if it’s the indefatigable pile of laundry, or this lousy grey spring, or what, but I’m feeling rather worn out. When I’m running low like this I tend to snack, and waste time, and get grumpy, impatient, reactive…

So what am I going to do about it? More sleep. Early nights. And I need to offload all the lollies in this place; there are too many chocolates lying around, murmuring ‘eat me’. And I need to keep the fruit bowl stacked.

But right now an apple compote will have to do, perhaps with a greek yoghurt  and then I’ll get on with re-reading my novel. I won’t be finishing today. Tomorrow evening Louis and Luuk are off to the circus (to watch, not to join… not yet) and it’s not baby-friendly, so Elena and I will stay home. Maybe tomorrow evening, while my dream baby dreams I can finish re-reading and then, come Monday, I’ll be ready to begin (again) re-writing!


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slow start

Monday was another May holiday, here in grey France. Spring is being particularly dumb actually. Summer is just a couple of weeks away but it must be hiding around a corner. The weekend was ideal for… board games. So Luuk and I spent quite a lot of it battling over A Few Acres of Snow in our very own version of Canadian/American history.

Versailles with the fountains on

Versailles – the first time we’ve been while the fountains are going.

We visited Versailles while it was sunny on Saturday, and we popped out to church on Sunday evening, so we weren’t hiding inside the entire weekend. On Monday we might have stayed in our PJs but in a nice turn of events, got a call from a friend inviting us to an impromptu afternoon tea and play-date. So that got us out of the house for a few hours. And wore the kids out nicely.

louis and jerome's discordant duet

Louis and his buddy, making music at our impromptu play-date.

Of course, with a day off the week starts pretty slow, in a nice leisurely kind of way… so long as you don’t need to get anything done. I had grand plans to start rewriting my ‘rugby romance’ (not the title on the book jacket, I predict) but have adjusted my expectations. I will REREAD it this week, and take some notes, but the rewriting will start next week.

Starting can be frustratingly slow but sometimes it’s the best way. And there’s more to life than writing (gasp!) – I had a bunch of other mums with 2-3 year old boys over for coffee and cake this afternoon, which was lovely.

The kitchen’s a bomb-site and nowhere else is really and truly clean, but there’s more to life than cleanliness (nobody gasps when I say that, any more…) but I might read chapter three – or not. Elena’s awake. Better sort the kids’ dinners as Luuk might be late (what with rain and traffic and not getting in early this morning – it was a slow start all around).

Better go.


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new waistline

breadless

In france and breadless? Shut the front door.

Well, yes. In the interest of keeping the door shut, keeping us inside and warm for as much of the day as possible, I am not going out to get bread today. The bread here is amazing when fresh and better used as weaponry when it’s stale, so we never stock up. And it’s Thursday so our closest baker is shut anyway.

sick kids cuddling

Between the cold weather and the cold virus, the couch is the best place to be.

I have Louis, feverish and teething, on the sofa, watching Veggietales, and Elena squealing at her banana happily, making a mess and lots of adorable facial expressions, and I am quite happy to stay home… if a little hungry. Yesterday’s soup is reheating in the microwave.

Creamy mushroom mmm.

Since I haven’t gone anywhere in days there isn’t much to talk about – except food. It’s been a baking week. And Louis won’t eat any of it. Visitors are my only hope, or there goes the newly discovered waistline.

new waistline

Therein lies the newly discovered waistline (not a new jacket though… I’m waiting for the third wave of price cuts in the sales – 80% off some stuff!)

toddler helps cook cupcakes

Lots of helpers for the chocolate cream cheese cupcakes.

On the plus side, I’ve been making soup nearly every day. But soup without bread..? It’s a hard knock life.

This happens rather regularly – a day when I’m out of bread and don’t want to go out to get some – and I’ve noticed a few things:

– bread attracts bad company. Principally: cheese. Not that cheese is bad but, oh alright, if you’re counting calories it is bad.

– bread jumps the queue. If I have bread, ready and waiting to be toasted or turned into a sandwich, then I use it. I don’t even consider other breakfast or lunch options.

– bread is filling, but not for long. I need to have some protein or loads of veggies with it in order to stay full all afternoon.

So, in theory, going without bread for a day or two occasionally is probably an excellent idea. But in practise, the kitchen is a mess and I’m living on apple, yogurt and coffee rather than cleaning a space to make something substantial.

Fortunately someone else is cooking tonight. We are going to friends’ place for dinner! This has happened maybe thrice in the last year, hence the exclamation point. Hopefully the kids eat and then sleep (we’re taking our handy dandy porta-cots for this very purpose). Louis seems better than he was earlier and his temperature has gone down. Fingers crossed they’ll sleep through my French lesson this afternoon as well!

ps. Louis did both. And Elena neither, but she slept while we were getting ready to go out. It was go-go-go, but on the train I managed to do the day’s ‘small stone’ on a memo on my phone:

The RER B train rattling south of a Thursday evening is cozy rather than busy – warmer and lighter inside than beyond its scratched windows. People read or talk or watch the half light racing past, the street lamps and unshuttered windows, silhouetted offices and shadowy station platforms. A woman, with fur hood thrown back and giant white headphones crowning tight braids, glares at her cellphone. A baby dwarfed by snowsuit studies the stripy scarfed man reading ‘le parisien’.

We had a lovely evening with our friends – a delicious peruvian meal and great conversation! And Luuk drove directly from work so he drove us all home. Much as the train surprised me with its very civilized and almost library-like atmosphere, the car suited the sleeping babies and dozy-me even better.


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worth bothering

My weeks are feeling rather full. I have two french lessons, at least one playgroup, Louis goes to Halte Garderie three times, and then the gaps fill up with other friends, visitors and errands… It feels managable, and then all of a sudden it doesn’t. Or that’s the way it usually goes:

under control, under control, under control, YIKES!

Yikes comes along faster as soon as I get sick or can’t sleep. Fortunately, this week, I’m on the improve. The weather is miserable (picturesque but miserable) and at least one, possibly both, of the kids are teething, and not particularly well along with it.

We did venture out today – to take Louis to halte garderie. It’s not a long walk but a bit of a workout with the double stroller. We were first to arrive, except for the teachers, but we were also first to leave. I was phoned in the middle of french lesson and had to go pick up Louis, who had a fever… oops.

The plan for the week now: lots of naps and movies and avoiding going out in the snow.

Sometimes I feel like I’m mad, trying to write novels as well as everything else. This morning I read a blog post by someone else who does something similar, which made me feel less uniquely bonkers.

Laura Joyce Davis, writing on Megan Ward’s ‘Writerland‘ blog:

“But being a writer makes me a better mother, because even when the words come like weeds from the ground, writing nourishes me for the rest of life. It gives me the grace to allow my son to find a voice of his own.

“Most days, I manage to make time for the whisper of words on the page. I say no to a lot that other moms embrace: play dates, timely returned emails, a vibrant social life. (Yiyun Li once said you only need one friend; she is a writer and mother, too.) I’ve banished the goal of the woman who has it all together. There isn’t time for her anymore. But that’s just as well…”

’tis. The woman who has it all together has left the building, if indeed she ever was here, and the woman who is editing two novels at once is left behind. I am, in theory, editing ONE manuscript at the moment, but I took along the first chapter of another to writers’ group on Saturday evening and all the critique is fresh in my head, so rather than being distracted (and distressed, if I’m honest) by all that was said, I’ve decided to get on and make the revisions to chapter one of that book. And then, tomorrow, I’ll get back to ‘grandma’s house’ – which definitely needs a better working title.

But titles are one of those things publishers mess with and I don’t want to waste a bunch of time on that at the moment. A decent title will certainly help to get interest in the book – from agents or publishers – so it is important, but for now I’m editing.

Editing editing editing.

Ick.

I read another blog post this morning, on just how difficult editing can be.

Behler Blog‘s advice on editing:

“Do this slowly. Reason being, you need to make sure that your “now” voice blends in with the “you” who wrote this story ages ago. It’s a strange thing, but I’ve seen a number of cases where the writer has evolved, and the rewrites stand out from the old work.”

I suppose that’s a good problem to have, but it’s a problem all the same. I’ve written a whole nother novel since I finished the one I’m editing now. My writing has changed (improved, fingers crossed) and so editing, if I do it as best I can, might in fact turn out to be a full rewrite.

And some days it feels like an overwhelmingly huge job and I wonder why I bother.

But, on the whole, I’m glad I do.

To finish: today’s small stone.

A glorious crunch, gives this stolen chip, from my kid’s bowl, full of calories that don’t count unless he catches me thieving, and then there’s trouble. We go to the bag, top shelf in the kitchen, hidden and pegged shut, and retrieve ONE for a replacement. Fair is fair.