September: sweater weather and sharpened pencils. I think I’ve written everywhere I write about the magic of early fall and the back to school feeling that goes with it, the vibrance of the changing leaves that signify the coming chill, the relief that comes with routine.

This year is the same as ever. The leaves are yellow and gold and red around the edges, but still mostly green. The grass still needs cutting and the temperatures are still downright balmy, at least today. The school routine was exciting for a couple of days, then exhausting. My youngest daughter is in all-day school for the first time and she is tired. Life is an ongoing litany of get dressed, put on a sweater, where are your rubber boots, pack your lunch, feed the cat, unpack your lunchbox, sign this form, do your home reading, practice piano, make supper, clean up, go to bed, start again.

And this year I’ve returned to school as well, so I need to remind myself to pack my books and do my reading and leave for school on time. I started with one plan, heavy on the science and stressful, and suddenly did an about-face and returned to the humanities, where I am comfortable. I am going to go to library school, I hope, but the plan is still open. For now I’m readjusting to school. Everyone here is so young, so convinced of their own rightness, so similar to my children. If I think of myself through their eyes I know I’m the weird old person who takes everything in class so seriously and then disappears until the next one. I’m old, I’m different, I’m not like them. But I was them, once. I half-assed my classes but was confident in my rightness.

I am still myself, of course. I’m going to try to keep writing my novels on top of my coursework, and my job, and the kids, and everything. This year, like every year, I’m convinced that I will get it right, I will find the magic routine, become the ideal human. Of course I won’t. I will scramble and flail and screw up like I always do. But I’ll grow a bit, and learn a bit, and keep persevering. I’ve come to learn that I have a hard time giving up, and I’m fairly certain that’s not a bad thing.

my writing desk

I was working on another YA fantasy novel, my third. I like it a lot. I like the characters, I like the setting, I like the plot. It’s fun. But I got an itch to try something else, something different, because I was having a tough time actually getting words out.

Then I saw the #1000wordsofsummer hashtag on Twitter and was like, hey, why not? So I have dumped out a thousand terrible words every day this week, bringing my new project to 6000 words so far.

It’s literary fiction. I’m writing in first person present tense. It has A Structure and A Theme. This is so far out of my comfort zone that I can’t see my comfort zone with a telescope. I like to write plot-driven third person past tense teenager books. I have no idea if this one will be better or worse or worth pursuing or what, but it’s neat that it’s going somewhere.

It’s also interesting that when I have a goal that is even a little bit external, I am far, far better at achieving it. 1000 words a day is my usual style, but now that there’s an official challenge, I am pulling a Nike and Just Doing It. Butt in chair, water bottle/teacup full, study music on, words out. I am writing in uncharted waters so I don’t care if it flows, if it’s good, if it’s readable, if it makes sense. I’m just dumping words. My plan is to double my intended word count for the first chapter so that hopefully I can pull out a few paragraphs to actually get this novel underway, that’s how bad I think it is right now. But I’m writing. And that’s the point.

1000 words of summer, you’re the best.

I finally heard back from the queries I sent out for my finished novel, and they’re all form rejections. Every single one thanks me for considering them but my work isn’t a good fit and they wish me luck in finding representation.

My first novel at least got two requests for more pages, but this one seems dead in the water. I really like it, I’m really proud of it, and I think it’s good enough, but apparently the agents I’m querying disagree. It’s really hard to feel like the gulf between me and a book on the shelf is so vast. I understand why agents are the way they are, I really do, but I am really frustrated with the system. It seems broken to me.

It used to be that an author wrote a manuscript and sent it to a publisher. Then the publishers were swamped, so agents popped up. Agents took manuscripts and polished them a little and used snazzy buzzwords to get publishers interested, and publishers liked that, so they stopped taking submissions from authors and agents became the standard. But now it seems like getting an agent requires several manuscripts, going to conferences, having a substantial twitter presence, and I don’t know, a pact with the devil?

I write because I can’t stop. When I don’t write, I feel broken. But there are so, so many people who feel the same way – writing is what they have wanted to do their whole lives, writing is life, and they’re all frantically doing all the things I’m doing and more in order to get noticed and published. I can’t go to cons. I’m not that great at Twitter. I’m trying to get myself noticed through the slush pile and it’s just really depressing.

I don’t know what to do about it. Someone out there must be waiting for a book about a girl who’s really struggling to cope after an accident almost kills her dad and her sister. A book about a girl who really just loves the snow so much that she’s willing to sacrifice everything for it. A book about a girl with a really complicated relationship with her mother. A book about a girl who kissed her best friend but he doesn’t understand her love for either the snow or her family. Someone must want to read about a girl who tries her best but is just so overwhelmed when she has to act like the adult she really isn’t. But I don’t know how to find that person.

I’m going to give my book a little break for now. But I’ll try again. Because I really think this book is good enough.

A non-exhaustive list of things I’ve enjoyed lately.

Books:

Brazen by Pénélope Bagieu – a graphic (as in, novel, not as in content, although a little) non fiction book about rad women. I didn’t know a lot of them. I got it for Bookmas and loved it.

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin – four siblings find out when they’re going to die. They each get a turn having their stories told, and the writing is lovely.

NeuroTribes by Steve Silberman – the history of autism and its impact on society. Fascinating and sad, but hopeful, too. Neurodiversity is a really important thing to consider.

TV:

Sex Education, She-Ra, and Tuca and Bertie. All on Netflix. I watched Sex Education with my partner, and Eric steals the show if you ask me. I’m watching She-Ra on Fridays with my eldest, and we are both totally hooked. Tuca and Bertie is really weird and I watch it by myself, but it’s sweet and fun.

Projects:

Still making sourdough, though with slightly less frequency. It’s delicious.

I finished knitting another sweater, and it’s the perfect basic sweatshirt. So cozy and the fit is great. I love it. The pattern is Mossbank and the yarn is Brooklyn Tweed Shelter.

No picture for the last thing because no, but my final item is weightlifting. I joined the gym in November and have been steadily working on my strength. I can deadlift 125 pounds for reps and bench 65. My squats are ok but still need work. It’s all but solved my back pain, and it’s thrilling to see myself making progress.

a knitting project in progress. white trees on a green background.

A thing I’ve known about myself for a long time is that I am a limited resource.

I love to do lists, categorizing things, and thinking about process, so I’ve got a solid working theory on how to do stuff. A lot of people look at my life – real or social media – and are baffled by how much I do. Because it is a lot! I write entire novels and query them. (STILL no responses – am I fucking invisible?) I knit sweaters. I bake sourdough. I go to the gym and run. I sew, draw, garden, and cook. I read over a book a week. Plus I have three kids, a partner, a cat, and a house.

I’m an enneagram devotée: I’m a 7. Sevens are, depending on who you talk to, gourmands, hedonists, thrill-seekers, party animals, or shallow, flighty, pain avoiders. I really hate those descriptors. Sevens do struggle to feel their feelings, not because we’re selfish, but because the well is so deep we’re not sure we can come up. Sevens often have attachment trauma and seek new stimuli in order to survive, because if we tune into the pain we’ll know that we’ve been abandoned and nobody loves us. But if you are a seven’s best friend, you know you’re loved. I like to think of a well-integrated seven as what Madeleine L’Engle called a Namer; someone who brings people out and helps them know who they are.

Being a seven means that I have to do all this stuff. It is not optional for me. If I am not doing a ton of different things, I will drown.

But, as I said at the start, I’m still a limited resource. If I do too many things I collapse. So I have categories, and I make sure I always have something going on in each category to keep busy, but I oscillate between options to keep from burning out. Some things are more all-encompassing than others, like writing a book. If I’m writing, I can’t sew. I don’t keep the house very clean. But now, since I’ve put writing on the back burner for a while, all this space has opened up and I’m reading voraciously. I finished five books in a week. I’m doing a bit of sewing. But I know that even if I want to, I shouldn’t start baking, or take up calligraphy, or work on drawing, unless I want to give up the things that have moved into prominence. It’s a balancing act.

I’ve also noticed that Twitter ruins my creative brain. Just demolishes it. I’ve learned a lot on there, and I’ve curated my feed to be interesting and challenging, but it also means that it’s intense and stressful whenever stuff happens, and stuff is always happening. I want to know what’s going on and what new awful thing is going to kill us, but I am a more grounded person without it. I can’t figure out how to get that information without being derailed by anxiety. For now, I’m taking a breather, and spending some time recuperating through creativity.

Oh, and cleaning up barf, because parenting is a joy at all times. No matter how much I tweak my other columns, the mom category always asserts itself in invigorating ways.

where the ocean meets the sky

Twitter reminded me yesterday that one of the worst things to do is fall prey to despair. I’m really good at it, though; I usually freeze and give up in the face of danger, as opposed to fight or flee. But in the case of this particular catastrophe of ecological destruction, that isn’t helpful.

I think the key to finding a way forward is to utterly reject the cis-hetero-patriarchal (aka kyriarchal) approach and look elsewhere for a way to address the interwoven issues before us. We’ve tried looking at things in a way that prioritizes power over things. That’s what the kyriarchy does. Men are over women, whites are over POC, ableds over disability, individuals over groups, and those at the top are rewarded with wealth, which is just power converted into currency that can be wielded to garner further power. It’s all about power. And power is a greedy motherfucker, and demands that it be demonstrated, so powerful people find it nearly impossible not to turn off their empathy and execute power to prove that they deserve to be at the top. Hence, abuse of all kinds.

There’s no winning when some people are on top and others are beneath them. So what does it look like when that system is rightly thrown out?

It looks like a world where the health of the community matters. Where we stop assuming white ways are the right ways. We could, I don’t know, actually listen to the people who lived in North America before we got here, the people whose ways of live have been built on a codependent connection to the health of the land for millenia. And yeah, we’d probably have to give them their land back. We should do that.

Maybe we should look at people around the world who haven’t built their lives around extracting as much as possible from the land, the animals, and the humans around them in order to further their personal gain. Maybe we should try conceiving of an earth-based economy, rather than a financial one, where value is attached to the health of the land, animals, and people together.

Just spitballing here. I am not an economist. I am not anything but a sad, angry woman who wants to DO SOMETHING. I want to see new ideas for drastically upending this garbage system that has traumatized so many. I want those ideas to be taken and run with. I want one trillion trees planted. I want the world leaders to agree to cancel fossil fuels. I want guns controlled, domestic violence condemned, gender and sexual expression embraced, disabled and neurodiverse people treated as equal humans, and people of colour to have the freedom to exist that they are asking for. And honestly, I don’t understand why the hell you all don’t want that too.

I am so afraid, all of the time. I have three kids and I don’t think they’re going to get to have anything resembling the life I have. Definitely not a life like my parents’. We are all fucked.

I have this little fantasy of my old age that I can’t bring myself to write down because it is never going to happen. I don’t have any right to that future, because if I get to have it, it will be because we did not do the things we need to do to save our life on earth.

It’s not a matter of becoming vegetarian or composting or not driving or whatever. I don’t know how I can influence the people at the top of the ladder to give a fuck about the people who are already dying. I don’t know how to get people to understand that this is the natural progression of white supremacy and the patriarchy. They’re all linked to each other – if white people are better than everyone else, and if men are the God-created leaders, then white men don’t have to listen to anyone else while they amass as much wealth as they possibly can. But wealth is a construct, built by white men, to prop up their position of power over everyone else, including the earth.

The earth is ultimately in charge here – we have set systems in motion that will destroy life until we’re all gone and the earth can reset. Possibly, in a few millenia, there will be new intelligent life, or some strange evolution of humanity that will keep going. But seven billion human beings is too many when the people who believe in the mythology of wealth are running the show and letting people die.

I don’t know what to do. I can’t do anything by myself that will make any sort of difference. I don’t know how you make people care. When the myth of wealth has been propped up for so long, and the people who win at it don’t see or care about the people they’re killing, I don’t know how you fix that. I think they ought to be tried for murder, but given that the judiciary system is part of the myth, that isn’t going to work.

On a planetary scale, I think we’re all on trial for murder of the environment. And I think we’re sentenced to death.

a large rock jutting out of a grassy field
a rock, for comparison

My neck has been a real jerk since my birthday six weeks ago. I’ve been trying to keep doing all my usual stuff in spite of it, because I know from my back issues that not using it just makes it worse, but it’s not getting better either. So I went to physio yesterday.

It was illuminating. My physiotherapist spent half an hour trying to loosen up my left trapezius muscle and could not budge it. So I have some exercises to do (of course) and a follow up appointment (naturally), and she told me that essentially the muscle is so tight that it has pulled my upper rib out of place and that’s what’s causing all this garbage pain.

I put my tension into my shoulders, and always have. I don’t remember a time when my traps haven’t been completely solid rocks at the top of my shoulders. If it lingers there for too long, it travels down my spine in a nifty zigzag, creating a network of rib misplacement, causing me to hunch away from the pain, thereby disengaging my glutes and sending my lower back into spasms. Neat! It’s been very interesting, as I practice lifting heavy-ass weights, to see how my body wants to use my neck and back muscles (small, made for stabilizing) instead of my glutes and core (big, made for power). I have always tried to pretend I’m not a giant person – 6’2 is really tall, and there’s nothing I can do about it but try to make myself smaller. A great way to do that is to not have negative feelings. Except I do have them. I hide them. In my shoulders and back.

I’ve been in counselling for most of the past 15 years, taking breaks here and there. I decided in the fall to take a break again – maybe I’ll blog about that whole thing one day – and get a gym membership instead. I had a suspicion that really getting into my body might be therapeutic, and lo, it is. Lifting heavy weights has all but eliminated my back pain, because I am very careful about my form and I’m getting really strong, which is brilliant. It’s also been interesting and elucidating to see what feelings have come up. I have to be assertive enough to walk over to the squat racks and claim one amongst the grunting bros (luckily, there aren’t that many at 9am). I have to take up space to do the movements effectively. I’m anxious when I arrive but tired and proud when I leave. I have to carve out space for myself, and I have to push back against everyone who wants to know why I’m lifting, whether I’m being careful, whether it’s safe. I’ve always tended to err on the side of safety, so it’s a big deal that I’m pushing myself to the edge of what my body is capable of.

And now I have to confront the tension in my shoulders, because it’s getting in the way. It’s safe to put my feelings there, but it’s not healthy. So here’s to finding a way to turn my shoulders from rocks to powerhouses.

I’m on a cozy mystery kick lately. My top three: Agatha Christie (the master), Miss Fisher, and Flavia de Luce. I like them because I can read them really quickly, and they tick one of my favourite boxes: “wasting” a big chunk of time on a book.

Since I learned to read I have loved to dive into a book like its a swimming pool and stay in it until I’m exhausted and shivering (i.e., the book is finished). I have several memories of doing this.

  • When I was about 11, I spent an entire rainy afternoon curled up in a wing chair in the living room reading A Wrinkle in Time and A Swiftly Tilting Planet back to back, over and over. I read them each 3 times.
  • I challenged myself to read Narnia in three days (did it) and Lord of the Rings in the same (it took four, because my mom made me do stuff, ugh).
  • When the seventh Harry Potter book came out, I stood in line to get it at midnight, then read it until it was finished (at 6am).
  • I often go on Terry Pratchett benders and reread five or six of them in a row.

I’ve had this practice written off as being “just easy books” and not “real” reading – i.e., non-fiction or intensity books. That’s really annoying to me. I read a lot of meaty stuff, too, but I’m a sensitive flower and I like having a good immersive book available so I can check out sometimes. Lots of people have talked about the value of escapism in books, so I don’t need to cite a bunch of reasons, but I do want to say that that attitude persists and it’s annoying.

I will always love a book that feels like cozy jammies. I also love books that move me, change me, teach me, and shock me; I’ve learned so much from books, and I have a long list of “serious” books that I’ve found invaluable in shaking my privileged, sheltered self. But it’s really hard not to feel like I should read and write something serious, when it’s pretty clear that I gravitate towards the cozy end of the literary spectrum.

Maybe one day I’ll write a serious book. For now, swimming pool/pyjama/cozy stories it is.

a lake reflecting pine trees, mountains, and a clear blue sky in Jasper National Park

It’s a deep breath, this time between the never ending impossible frost and the scorching oven. I inhale it deeply, and it makes me sneeze, the uncovered rotten leaves, the new pollen, the smell of wet dirt. The frozen air hurt my lungs and made me cough. The baking air will make me sweat. But now, now I can breathe (thank you, Claritin).

I am afraid of what is coming. How much of the land will burn this year? How many days will the weather be lovely but too smoky to play outside? We are not flooding, here, but others are. Others aren’t feeling the joyful relief of spring, but instead the dread of inexorable rising water.

Our planet will be okay. It’s a planet; we’re only here for a second. Sometimes it gets infected with a disease, and its immune system spikes a fever to make the environment inhospitable, so that the germs die and leave the body alone. So we’re being cooked out. We didn’t show ourselves to be symbiotic, though we think of ourselves that way. I like to say I’m a steward, as I mow my lawn and drive my minivan and worry about the state of things. I’m a parasite.

The rhetoric has taught me that this fever is my own fault, that I should have recycled more, driven less, used more cloth shopping bags. Is it, though? Those things are not great, but what about the mountains, heaps, acres of garbage and waste water and off-gassing and fossil fuels and energy used by business and government and large-scale operations? That’s the issue. If I say “I brought my own bag,” that will not stop the pipelines from breaking and the landfills from overflowing and the pollutants from rising.

Earth day: a day to remember how badly we’ve fucked it up. A day to remember that we’re germs. One day every day will be earth day, once the earth is rid of us.