Time is a social construct

My friend Stacey sent me an email the other day. I know this is late, she wrote, but time is a social construct.

So true, especially these days! I always tease my husband for planning his life in eight-minute increments. Suddenly, he’s home for hours at a time. (At this moment, he’s practicing with his speedbag in the garage. Let’s blame any typos on the fact the house is shaking, shall we?)

My kids actually seem happier without the daily routine of school. Yesterday, my daughter wrote an essay, finished a project, made lemon tarts, sewed some masks, and trounced us in Settlers of Catan. My son has been doing 3D modelling tutorials. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know he turned my Me and Banksy cover into this squirrel…

… which James McCann then 3D printed for us, creating this…

I love the layers of creativity happening!

I always think I’m going to be more productive when I have acres of undistributed time, but often — as is now proving the case — I get more accomplished when my writing hours are limited. I’ve been working on a picture book, I’m almost finished a proposal, and I have a manuscript due in a couple months.

I’m assuming everything will get done, somehow. Because work, like time, is a social concept. Right? It’s just all happening a bit differently these days!

My new writing schedule

8:30 am
My daughter is still fast asleep. My son heads off to do his homework. My husband sets up in the family room to work from home. I begin writing.

9:15 am
My son drapes himself around my neck. I tell him to pour himself a water, then read a chapter of his novel. My husband continues working, undisturbed.

9:30 am
My daughter emerges, hungry. I make breakfast suggestions. My husband continues working, undisturbed.

9:45 am
My son announces that he will die of boredom unless he’s able to use the main computer. I switch to the laptop and retreat to my bedroom. Inexplicably, my husband is now on the living room couch, conducting meetings ON SPEAKERPHONE.

10:30 am
My son is frustrated because his animation files won’t upload. It may work if he can switch computers. He takes my laptop. I continue working, on my phone. At least the conference call downstairs appears to be over.

11 am
My husband announces he’s finished his work. My son says his brain has died. My daughter needs help finding a sponge. (Why? I don’t even ask.) 

I am privileged to have a home with multiple rooms, and blessed to have my family members close. I make myself repeat this sentence five times, slowly. 

Words written today, not including blog rant: 245.

The pandemic pause

What a strange time. We’ve all pushed the pause button, and we don’t know when we’ll be allowed to press play.

In some ways, we writers are better prepared than most. I could spend hours a day alone at my desk, researching and scribbling, reading and thinking. Except…

I’m not alone.

There’s usually a child draped around my shoulders, wondering what to do next. And a husband calling from down the hall. And an extra-loud Facebook conversation echoing from my daughter’s room. I am the lone introvert in a family of extroverts.

But, really, I’m grateful to have them around me. As someone who does, in regular life, often spend hours alone, I recognize the value of connection. And even in this new state, I’m usually the one gathering my family for a walk, or a bike along silent streets, or a disc toss in the empty park.

It’s difficult to imagine quite how we’ll return to normal, or what a new sort of normal might be.

I hope my daughter’s gym teacher is amazed when Silence suddenly hammers out a hundred push-ups. I hope Violence’s grandkids one day wonder how he became such a card shark. I hope that a decade from now, we look back at the pandemic and think how close our kids grew during their enforced isolation. And that no matter what happens, I hope we continue to see our home as a refuge from the world.

Ciao, bella!

Photo by Violence.

I’m just back from three weeks in Italy with the family. We started in Rome, where Violence, on the taxi ride from the airport, shouted, “Wait… Rome has RUINS!?” as if we’d been hiding this from him. (Thank you, Rick Riordan, for making ruins interesting to twelve-year-olds.)

From Rome, we went to Siena, then Venice, and finally to Lake Garda.

Travelling reminds me that even when the surroundings are different — shopkeepers are speaking another language and I can’t figure out the street signs and I may have just eaten a mushroom or it could have been pork and it’s rather disconcerting not to know which — people are in many ways the same.

When two little boys are poking at one another in the restaurant, and their mother raises her eyebrows, I know exactly what she’s thinking. When they keep going, and she scolds them in Italian, I know exactly what she’s saying. Because people are people are people.

This particular people is a little jet lagged at the moment, but slowly easing back into the writing routine!

I hope your own summers have been fabulous so far!

School days

My son goes to an elementary school that’s more than a hundred years old. There was an open house this week, and I was helping at a table of memorabilia. We had Parent-Teacher Association notes from 1916, class photos from the 1940s, and — most popular with our visitors — a principal’s record of punishments, displayed alongside the strap.

Visitors found names in the punishment book of someone who’d gone to prison, someone who’d become head of maintenance at the Vancouver School Board (in the book for “repeated misbehaviour”), and a lot of little boys who couldn’t sit still. Some seniors remembered very clearly what it felt like to get the strap!

Here are a few other scenes my fellow volunteers and I witnessed…

“Johnny”

One man, dressed in a suit and tie, came along and looked at the punishment book. “I’m on this page four times, and I was only nine,” he said.

A few minutes later, a group of three men looked at the same page. “There’s Johnny,” one of them said. “Most likely to become a criminal.”

The suit-and-tie man wandered back over. The group of three looked up.

“JOHNNY!” they said.

Eleanor and Daphne

Eleanor was signing in at the guest book when she noticed the name above hers.

“I know Daphne,” she said. “We were in school at the same time. Is she still here?”

The volunteer looked around the room and spotted Daphne.

“Daphne!” the first woman called. “It’s Eleanor!”

And they had their own mini-reunion in front of the guest book.

The Strap

A older woman wandered by and glanced at the principal’s punishment records.

“Are you in there?” we asked.

“No, not me,” she said.

A few minutes later, she was back. This time, she was with a middle-aged woman who was scanning the pages carefully.

“This is my daughter,” the older woman said. “She refuses to believe me.”

Off to Ontario

I’m heading to Ontario in May, as part of the annual TD Canadian Children’s Book Week tour. Each year, the Canadian Children’s Book Centre chooses thirty authors, illustrators, and storytellers and sends them to a province outside their own for a tour of schools and libraries.

This year, I’m one of the thirty!

I fly into Ottawa on May 5th, then spend a week winding my way toward Toronto, via Nepean, Sharbot Lake, Tweed, Marmora, Dunsford, and Buckhorn.

I have to admit, my grasp of Ontario geography is a little fuzzy. Last time I was there, I had to use Google Maps to figure out which Great Lake I was standing beside. But my world view’s going to be bigger and better by May 11th.

A big thank you to TD Canadian Children’s Book Week for the opportunity. And Ontario readers, I can’t wait to meet you!

Plot twist… or not

I went with my son to see Bumblebee over the holidays. As we waited for the movie to start, he said: “Here’s what’s going to happen. It’s going to be a lot like Pete’s Dragon. First, a kid will meet a scary monster. The kid and the monster will become friends. Then other people will find them, and the new people will be scared of the monster. The kid and the monster will have to fight to survive.”

“If you know what’s going to happen, why are we here watching the movie?”

“Because it’s going to be awesome.”

For the record, I did not think it was particularly awesome. But my son did. Even though it played out EXACTLY as he predicted.

Maybe I should adopt this plot for all future books?

The happy mistake

In my defence, I had a cold, I’d just gone skiing for the first time in 25 years (and survived), and I was tired.

I was baking a pineapple upside-down cake for our New Year’s Eve dinner. I’d already melted the butter in the pan and sprinkled on the brown sugar, the coconut, and the pineapple. I’d mixed the dry ingredients in one bowl and the wet in another. I poured the batter over the pineapple toppings, put the pan in the over, turned around…

… and found the bowl of dry ingredients sitting on the counter.

It’s true that I’m famous for forgetting ingredients. I often serve a curry, then look in the fridge later to find the cilantro garnish sitting on a shelf. Or I open the oven in the morning to find the dinner rolls that were supposed to be served the night before.

But forgetting to mix the dry ingredients into a cake batter… this was a new low.

I removed the pan from the oven and tried to scape the wet batter off the pineapple, which of course worked NOT AT ALL. So I ended up pouring everything — toppings, pineapple pieces, wet, dry — into a bowl and mixing the whole darned thing together.

And it was delicious. No one had any idea I’d planned an upside-down cake. My daughter asked if the cake had been difficult to make, and if we could eat it again soon. (It’s possible this question prompted snorts from my husband, who had joined me in the kitchen to witness the batter-scraping fiasco.)

Let’s hope 2019 continues as it’s begun… with mistakes that turn into delicious new creations.

Happy new year, everyone!

It’s always good to have goals…

In grade nine or ten, in a class called Consumer Education, we all took a computerized aptitude test. About half of us, including me, were told we should pursue careers in air traffic control.

I’m terrible in crisis situations, so you should all be happy I didn’t take that computer’s advice.

And surely those programs must have improved by now.

Right?

Well, my 14-year-old daughter, known on this site as Silence, took her own computer aptitude test in health class yesterday. My tiny, book-loving daughter who most recently dreams of becoming a paediatrician. And what did the computer recommend?

A career in professional hunting and trapping.

Happy hunting, Silence.

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.