Wednesday, November 15, 2017


"I don't remember my jeans."

I stood in front of the credenza where a stack of denim lies folded on the top shelf. My husband, poor man, happened to pick that moment to pass within earshot.

His raised eyebrow told me that he didn't quite know what I meant. Whatever. I did.

It happens every year--at some point in April or so, I quit wearing jeans so much and start wearing shorter versions of jeans, or more lightweight workout pants, or (gasp) dresses. And at some point in the fall, I go back to the long pants.

In the interim, I forget my jeans--the individual quirks I used to know about each pair. That one, the most comfortable pair, has a small rip near the zipper. I remember now, vaguely, that I decided in April I'd think about later.

Later is now, and now is later, and I can't worry about the times I've worn them recently without remembering that rip. I can only hope whatever else I was wearing covered it up.

Because I realized I didn't remember, I tried on all the pairs. And information came back to me. The legs on this one will fit into boots; the legs on that other pair also will but only if I take extra time to wrap them. This pair I can wear all day; this one is itchy against my skin after a morning.

I've bought new pairs, too, and am learning their strengths and limitations.

Is there a metaphor for writing in this? How well you know me! Many metaphors are possible: getting to know characters again, the ones you needed space from before you can really tell their story. Returning to a different phase in the "writing process," like drafting new work vs. revising existing drafts. Even allowing yourself to return to the yin of winter, after a yang-y summer.

As for me--I'm not quite ready to wear the flannel-lined jeans, but otherwise, I can do autumn.
Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Blank Square

Sometimes, there's no more beautiful sight than a blank square.

Like this one.

That's today on the desk calendar my husband and I share. It's the first blank space on the calendar in several days. You can even see some of yesterday lapping over the edge to today.

The events that have filled the past several days have been great--lots of celebrations and fun events, a few meetings, some generic errands, much that has been entirely pleasant.

And yet--it's been a lot of interaction for me.

I really enjoy this blank square. There's another one, tomorrow. Errands will fill up one or the other of these days. But for now, I'm enjoying that sense of possibility stretching ahead.

Maybe I'll even find the internal space to face a blank page. It's high time.
Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Autumn Leaves

This time of year I'm still walking outdoors, and enjoying it, for as long as I can. Soon, the snow on the roads won't melt during the day, and the ice will force me to the treadmill. But not yet.

Monday, I picked up two leaves--one a bright orange birch-type with a dark streak down the middle, another with lobes (like a maple or white poplar) that was a tasteful pink-and-yellow. They were lovely, a really eye-catching moment of brightness on a grey day when autumn has nearly-but-not-quite lost its glory.

There they are, below:

No, really. 

See, it started raining while I was out, and an unpleasant encounter with workers in my neighbourhood had left me rattled, so when I got home I put my dripping waterproof jacket and pants into the dryer without emptying the pockets. 

And then I had to race through the shower and get to town for a work date, and on the way, two different cars apparently didn't see mine (though I was driving with my lights on, even) and they nearly hit me. I was late for the meeting (which itself went fine except for the meter that ate my toonie) and then I had a frazzling wait at the pharmacy, and then several main roads were blocked off and the rush-hour traffic was even more hellish than usual, and my car was low on gas. 

However, I gritted my teeth and survived it all. 

When I got home, I retrieved my jacket and pants from the dryer but didn't think even then to look for those beautiful leaves. It finally occurred to me in the evening, as I reviewed my day.

I'd completely forgotten the lovely moments early in the walk, before the initial unpleasantness with the workers. I didn't have any control over their behavior, and I am in no way excusing it. 

I do wish, though, I had remembered the leaves when I got home from walking, before they had their fifteen minutes in the dryer. I could have participated in the beauty of that moment again. 

Would it have changed the other factors that made Monday so stressful?

Nope. But if I'd remembered the leaves, I could have thought of them as I settled into my work spot after losing $2 in a parking meter. I could have remembered them as I sat in backed-up traffic. I could have pictured them while I shivered through gassing up my car.

I try to notice those small moments for stressful situations just like those on Monday. This time, that strategy didn't work as I'd planned. 

At least I remember them now. And that's not nothing.
Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Setting Down the Backpack

My sister and I recently finished a long-term family project: we published my mother's memoir, the compilation of family stories our mother wrote for the five of "us kids" in the early days of her retirement.

We gave it a new name, CRADLE OF THE DEEP: MEMOIR OF A FAMILY COTTAGE. We took advantage of technology available today to publish it. And now we can be sure that our brothers' grandchildren can know their great-grandmother, just a little.

It's been a joy to spend time with my mother again, to hear her voice in my head. I write quite a bit about my mother, mostly about times that weren't so happy for either of us. I have had to work to be sure that's that impaired woman isn't the mother I think of all the time--because that wouldn't be fair. That's not who she was for most of her life.

Family business can sometimes like feel like a burden. Settling estates, meetings with lawyers, transferring assets or accepting the lack thereof. Many of those tasks don't have a definite end. An estate may be officially "settled," but YOU still have a billion boxes in the basement.

"Doing something with Mom's memoir" was a responsibility, but never a burden. It wasn't that heavy. Publishing it wasn't outside the realm of my own experience, or my sister's--not that we didn't have a learning curve, of course. Still, it wasn't as if we we were taking up brain surgery.

Finally making available this memoir feels like setting down a backpack. This book, too, is a project without a fixed ending date. People who never knew my mother are buying copies. And my relationship with her won't end--I will continue to write about her, eventually collecting my own essays someday, somehow.

But for now: Ahhh.
Thursday, October 19, 2017

Now Available: Cradle of the Deep

Available now: my mother's memoir, CRADLE OF THE DEEP: MEMOIR OF A LAKE SUPERIOR COTTAGE.

 It's really real!

My sister, Sue Agnew, and I have been working for months to make make her family stories available for the next generation, and for her extended "family."

This project has been a real labour of love: first for my mother and now for my sister and me.

Mom would be saying, "They're just family stories!" But if you're interested in life in northwestern Ontario in the 1920s and 30s, early cottage life (my mother had to train herself not to call it "the camp"), mathematicians, history and memoir in general, or (eventually) juggling kids and a beloved summer spot 1200 miles from home, you might enjoy reading it.

Hooray for publication day!
Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Challenge: Taking a Moment

Recently a friend was posting a black-and-white photography challenge, and added my name to her challenge list.

I don't always do challenges, but this one was fun and came at a good time. I'm moving a lot of projects ahead but in teeny tiny increments, and it can get frustrating.

Looking for a good black-and-white photo on my near-daily walk forced me to take a moment.

And here they are.


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Enjoy the Process

My work has found a few new readers in the past six months, and I'm grateful for that. I enjoy sharing my thoughts and hearing others respond.

Recently I've switched focus from sending work out. I'm spending more time at the page, scribbling, creating and revising and editing, and finishing commitments to others.

It's so easy to focus on the product--the publication. "Where have you been published?" "My work has appeared in x, y, and z." It's how you connect with the outside world.

But I'm ready to be back at the page. So I'm telling myself, "Enjoy the process."

Recently, my husband and I were driving home from town at the time of the evening when a large, near-full moon was rising. Even though I knew better, I couldn't resist trying to get a picture of it.

Here's what I got.

Yup, not only TRYING TO TAKE A PHOTO FROM A MOVING CAR, but impeccable timing: behind the road sign.

More impeccable timing: behind the roadhouse.

At least in this one you can kind of see the moon, though also: hydro tower.

You can see another hydro tower looming on the left, but this one also exposes (haha get it?) the sheer folly of trying at all to 1. get a great shot of a rising moon 2. from a moving car 3. with a cellphone camera.

I'm sure "real" photographers could achieve results that are SO MUCH better than this, even with the same parameters.

But, as it turned out, the results weren't the point.

Just trying, even though I knew all the layers of folly, was worth doing. It let the two of us share a project--on a drive home that we've made a million times, at the end of a long day, in the brief respite between spending money at the grocery store and stocking the kitchen shelves.

The process was fun. 

And I've been enjoying, somewhat, the process of creating new work, sculpting new visions of existing work, idly dreaming new dreams of different kinds of work.

The results may well be the writing equivalent of blurry, ill-timed photos of a rising moon. But that's okay. It's challenging and rewarding. And that's sometimes fun, and sometimes even better.