Whirlwinds

I spent last weekend with approximately a billion lovely Edmonton relatives, including my 94-year-old grandma. I’ve been home for just long enough to do laundry and see Rachelle Delaney at the Vancouver Writers Festival, and now I’m off to the Surrey International Writers Conference.

It’s going to be a whirlwind. I teach a workshop on conflict and one on voice in children’s books, I speak on a children’s book panel, I meet individually with writers, and I try to remain socially appropriate for an entire weekend. (Possible? Probably not.)

I spoke at this same conference about five years ago, and it was fabulous. They do an amazing job of creating a welcoming, inclusive, exciting atmosphere, even when hundreds of us are introverts.

Plus: hotel room by myself for three days! (Not to imply that I didn’t love sharing those adjoining rooms with my sister and our four children over the Edmonton weekend, of course. But “room of one’s own” and all…)

This weekend’s writing conference is sold out, but if you feel inspired, there’s a cruise. Just saying.

After the conference, I’m home in time to create a haunted house at my son’s school, because somehow I’ve been put in charge of that. (Occupational hazard.)

Hope your own October weeks are fun, productive, and pumpkin-ish.

The whole existential thing

  1. A few weeks ago, my 14-year-old daughter said, “my generation is the most depressed one, because all the other generations until now have at least had hope.” Of course I reassured her that there was still hope for the world. “When humanity gets its act in order, things can change quickly,” I told her.
  2. I read yesterday’s UN warning that we have twelve years to reverse climate change or face catastrophe, and that’s really quick. It doesn’t seem as if government leaders can change their socks that quickly, let alone change humanity.
  3. Last night, we watched an episode of The Good Place. I won’t spoil the show here in case you haven’t watched it (you really should), but let’s just say an immortal being was asked to confront the reality of death, after which he had an existential crisis and curled up in a catatonic state. He had to find a way to live without ignoring reality, but without focussing on it exclusively. It’s hard not to curl up in a catatonic state when reading about climate change.
  4. In a couple weeks I’m speaking on a children’s literature panel at the Surrey International Writer’s Conference, and one of the questions on my preparation list is: “What’s the difference between middle-grade and young-adult fiction?” In middle-grade fiction, we’re still sheltering readers from some of the atrocities of the world. When you reach high school, though, you’re confronted with the whole stinking mess — in fiction and in reality.

THE GOOD PLACE — “What We Owe To Each Other” Episode 105 — Pictured: (l-r) Kristen Bell as Eleanor, Ted Danson as Michael — (Photo by: Justin Lubin/NBC)

We’d better get our act in order within the next decade, so I won’t have lied to my daughter about hope. And I find a spot of brightness in this quote from former NASA scientist James Hansen: “1.5C gives young people and the next generation a fighting chance of getting back to the Holocene or close to it.”

I find a bright spot, too, in the sight of my daughter curled up this morning with an emotionally difficult book (Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree, by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani and Viviana Mazza), still brushing her teeth and eager to face the day. James Hansen said 1.5°C gives young people a “fighting change” and that’s all they’ll need, really. They’re pretty amazing.

(Meanwhile, my son is practicing the accent of the Swedish chef, because at 11 he hasn’t had to face any existential crises yet.)

As I re-read what I’ve written here, I realize the key words are both “hope” and “fighting.” They’re sort of mutually dependant, aren’t they?

Breakfast-table Beckett

I went with a friend on Saturday to see a collection of Samuel Beckett plays. I hadn’t read any Beckett since university, and I remembered only that he was unintelligible.

He remains unintelligible.

The first play featured a woman walking nine steps up a board, then nine steps down a board, stopping occasionally to say a few words, or hear a few words from offstage. My friend and I decided she was trapped in her own mind? Maybe?

In the second play, there was a boat and a moon. The women in the boat did some snoring, awoke for a nonsensical conversation, played some cards, then fell back asleep.

As I was describing these plays at the breakfast table on Sunday morning, Violence said, “I could easily write plays like that. I could make millions!”

Which led to this:

Husband: Let’s go swimming.

Violence: I can take the stairs back and forth.

Husband: It’s sunny outside.

Violence: And the Earth is round.

They are now awaiting their Nobel prize.

Lake daze

We had a lovely week-long vacation in Penticton, with daily lake swims, several rounds of mini-golf, and much ice cream.

There was also a visit to the Wibit, a floating obstacle course with a rock wall, a slide, and a trampoline. When the kids did it the first time, it looked fun. Easy, even. So Min and I allowed ourselves to be tempted out.

Oh my goodness. First of all, a floating plastic obstacle course is slippery! (Who could have guessed?) And when the floating, plastic, slippery obstacle course wobbles, and one frantically flails one’s arms, one is likely to take out a small child or two.


It looks harmless, doesn’t it?

We made it up the rope and down the giant slide. We made it up the rock wall and I replaced my bathing suit over the parts it was supposed to cover. We made it over the slanted balance obstacle. I tried and failed to find my goggles on the lake bottom. We did all of this while the kids ran back and forth in front of us like some new species of water-mountain-goat.

And then, in the distance… a floating bench.

Min and I wobbled and flailed our way toward it and collapsed, clinging to one another.

“We’ve done all the major obstacles,” I said.

“I think my knee ligaments are intact,” Min said.

“We should get off this thing.”

Which is when we abandoned our children and swam with the remaining shreds of our dignity back to shore.

For ice cream.

Clackity clack

I hereby present my one marketable job skill:

At dinner the other night, Silence was bragging about the 50 words a minute she’d logged in business class, while Violence argued that his hunt-and-peck method was impressively fast. Neither of them seemed to believe me when I said I could type more than 80 words per minute.

And I still might not have bothered to take an actual test EXCEPT that I have a rather blank resume. A few years ago, I made a friend in human resources promise to get me a real job if I ever needed one.

“Sure. You’ll just have to pass a typing test,” she said.

“No problem.”

The kids’ typing efforts (or lack thereof) reminded me of my future job prospects, and I decided to see if I’d survive in the job market.

Whew.

Now that my future is safe, I’m going back to writing. And, um… professional-grade procrastinating.

Drama in Real Life

Waiting in the optometrist’s office with my son, I picked up a Reader’s Digest.

Drama In Real Life: Buried Alive by a Blizzard!

As a kid, I read whatever I could get my hands on. That included trashy romances, dragon adventures from the school library, my grandfather’s Time-Life series about aliens, my other grandfather’s James Herriot Yorkshire vet collection, my parent’s school leftovers, boxes of randomness that my dad brought home from auctions, and the entire rack of kids-with-rare-illnesses books at the public library.

But sitting in the optometrist’s office and holding this Reader’s Digest in my hands, I realized these were what I read most. They came home from the grocery store with the milk and eggs and were just as much a staple in our house.

There’s probably a direct connection between Drama in Real Life stories and this:

Or this:

Or this:

It seems I’m all about the drama, even decades later.

Recharge

Do you think if you lived with a scene like this for long enough, you’d forget it was there? You’d stumble to your coffee maker in the morning and ignore the windows?

I spent a few days on the Sunshine Coast last week, recharging and sneaking some writing time. After six days, I was definitely not done with the view. Not even my tepid photography skills could ruin it.

I hope you all had an equally relaxing Easter. I’ve been reading Startle and Illuminate and, as the juggling of real life begins again, I’ve resolved to take some advice from Carol Shields:

Time is not cruel. Given the good luck of a long healthy life, as most of us have, we have plenty. Plenty of time. We have time to try our new selves. Time to experiment. Time to dream and drift. Time even to waste. Fallow time. Shallow time.

We’ll have good years and bad years. And we can afford both. Every hour will not be filled with meaning and accomplishment as the world measures such things but there will be compensating hours so rich, so full, so humanly satisfying that we will become partners with time and not victims of it.

As it happens, Carol Shields didn’t have a particularly long life, but she did raise five children and win the Pulitzer Prize and a Governor General’s Award. I think she did alright with the time she had.

Quotes and Kleenex

My daughter’s been home sick for the last two days, so she’s been reading up a storm. She’s come out with some pithy comments along the way, including:

About John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars: “Why would you write a romantic novel, and give your character a completely romantic name like Augustus, and then have people call him Gus? Gus is NOT romantic at all.”

About parents: “Writers have to be really creative to get rid of parents. Either they kill them, or they make the main characters sixteen or seventeen and super independent. In this book I’m reading [Since You’ve Been Gone, by Morgan Matson], the parents are screenwriters and they get really into new projects and then only leave the living room every forty-eight hours to see if their kids are alive.”

About embossed covers: “I love textured books. I wish they were a person, so I could marry them.”

And that’s the word from the sickbed. You’re welcome.

Ouch

Ah, Family Day. When you bond with your offspring and discover what they really think of you. And your career choices.

I was sitting at one end of a restaurant table last weekend, happily sipping my drink, while my daughter and her auntie chatted at the other end of the table. This is what I overheard:

Silence: Auntie Moe, there’s a Take Your Child to Work Day when I’m in grade nine. Can I come to work with you?

Auntie Moe: Sure.

Silence: Oh, good! Because Daddy’s work has confidentiality issues, and I don’t want to stay home and watch Grey’s Anatomy all day with Mommy.

That’s when my drink went up my nose.

Going up?

For her business class, Silence had to prepare an elevator pitch.

“Practice on me,” I suggested.

She launched into her product description. And she went on. And on.

“I think an elevator pitch is supposed to be short,” I said. “You imagine you’ve met a potential investor in an elevator, and you have only a few minutes to describe your idea.”

“Oh, I know,” she said. “But my elevator’s going to the 22nd floor.”