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.

pink tulips on my dining room table, the piano and keyboard in the background

I’m on hiatus from novel-writing these days. I’m struggling a lot with the system of publishing; it seems like there are so many people trying to get in that there is no room for people like me with no connections and no previous distinction. I write okay short stories but not award-winning ones, so I can’t really pad my query with accomplishments. And they don’t care that I’ve been writing since I could hold a pencil, and that this is really important to me, and that I feel like I have so many stories I want to tell. There are hundreds of people like me. And it’s discouraging.

So rather than follow the standard advice of “keep writing! It takes time!” I have just stopped.

It’s been interesting. I feel at loose ends a lot of the time. I keep having ideas bubble up, and I’m not really doing anything with them. I’m just letting them hang out. Maybe I’ll do something with them at some point.

I feel like I’m missing something. Should I just give up on writing since we’re probably not far from the climate wars ravaging the earth, or some catastrophe wiping out NYC and thus most of the publishing industry? What’s the point of writing fiction for kids if we’re all going to die slowly by our own idiotic desire to avoid carbon taxes and wealth redistribution? Or should I try to self-publish? Or keep banging my head against the locked doors of the publishing industry? I could release my books as audiobooks via podcast, or as a serial on my blog. I could just print a copy of my book to have on my shelf and call it a day.

I keep going back to my favourite mantra, only move into available space. It hasn’t let me down; forcing something will just break it. Physically, emotionally, mentally, life-wise; if there is space for my hard work to make a difference, I should move towards that. And publishing is giving me absolutely no available space. So here I am. And that’s okay.

annemarie holding a tiny newborn baby. her gaze is soft.

I drove down Academy in our ready-for-baby four-door beige sedan listening to Peter Gabriel as loud as I could stand it, crying. I thought, this will be the last time I can do this. Ever.

I remember laughing when the tall ristretto hazelnut latte kicked in and we could see it kick in for the baby, too, because I was 24 hours into my “labour” and hooked up to the fetal monitors and the heart rate jumped 10 beats per minute across all the accels and decels.

I remember the tornado of hormones and exhaustion when the baby wouldn’t sleep because she was hungry, so hungry, and tired, and I was hungry and tired and gross and overwhelmed, except I’m retconning that, because what I actually remember is feeling that horrible mix of I will die if this goes on and this is so desperately important to me that I will die if it does not work. It was not me who called my aunt to come help us overnight, because I couldn’t. I was just dying.

All three births were moments of my life that have a pin stuck in them; they have been highlighted in neon and stand out from the mundane. They are the midpoint of the boring awfulness of gestation and the boring desperation of sleep-poop-eat.

I take a moment on my children’s birthdays to remember how I felt, on those highlighted days; the over-the-top drama of the events around the first one, the silent, abject horror that I was not going to survive the second, the grim knowledge that I only had one chance to get through the third.

I used to write a mommy blog. I wrote it for myself, and for my parents, but also because I secretly hoped to become a little bit internet famous. Then I realized that monetizing children is pretty gross and I deleted the whole thing. But I miss writing about parenting, and motherhood, because those things are a part of me. I am a far, far better mother because I read other people’s oversharing about their kids.

I still don’t think it’s okay to exploit my children’s lives for clicks. But I do find it valuable to document my life online, because writing for a public lens (even though no one reads this blog) changes my tone. It’s not the same as my journal, which is mostly yelling and swears. I want to write more about being a mother, so I’m going to.

Writing is how I remember what matters. And being a mother matters to me. My children matter to me. So I write.

walkin’ off my first rejection letter

I’ve received my first rejection for this novel! My goal is to try and think of it as an important part of the process, rather than a discouraging slap to the face. It’s so difficult, because in order to do any of this – write a novel, revise it, and query it – I have to live with the astronomical hope that someone will read my query and think “that sounds so great! I want more!” and what an audacious, ridiculous thing to think! And yet, here I am. Putting my book baby in the hands of other people to discard at will.

I’m trying to stay distracted by doing too many other things, as usual. My Shitty First Draft of my next novel is crapping along merrily. I just finished performing Verdi’s Requiem in a choir of 150 with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, and that was a pretty magnificent experience. I’m going to the gym, baking lots of bread and other carbs to make up for going to the gym, and working, parenting, folding laundry, and snuggling the cat. I’ve slumped a bit in reading since I finished my Lord of the Rings reread, but my son is really into the Moomintroll books, so that is high on the priorities list. I’m knitting a sweater. So you know, just a few things to distract me.

The polar vortex has finally buggered off, and with any luck Winnipeg will thaw out soon. It’ll be a muddy, slushy mess for a while, but soon I can drink tea on the deck and then I’ll be in heaven, even if I do get dozens more rejection letters. Onwards!