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Pickle Me This

January 28, 2019

Can You Tell I’m Turning 40?

I bought a Brené Brown book a couple of weeks ago, in case it wasn’t totally obvious that I’m turning forty in the next six months and am currently experiencing a mild case of the kind of existential crisis that necessitates some reinvention. Although I must confess that I am not finding the book (Daring Greatly) to be such a revelation. As anyone who has read my blog for five minutes can attest, I don’t have a problem with being vulnerable, and perfectionism has never been a force that I’ve had to go to battle with in any part of my life. Instead, it’s with “imperfectionism” that I’ve found my strength as a creative person during the last decade, as a blogger in particular. Which is mostly the art of being a human—and I excel at that. (We all do.)

But what has prompted my mild crisis is the dawning awareness (which I alluded to in my ambivalent post about your stupid bullet journal) that imperfectionism has its limits too, and that it’s possible to be using it as a kind of a cover, a retreat. An excuse to not to bother to be any more ambitious, because that’s just not my brand, man. Because brands are not my brand, man, which is fine, but what if part of the reason I’m so comfortable being merely good-enough/imperfect and not having to make the effort is not so much because effort is distasteful, but because I’m afraid of trying and failing and having everybody see? Because I’m scared of trying to figure out a new path forward, of stumbling and making mistakes in public view. All those things that I’ve been able to counsel writers through with blogging—I’m comfortable showing my process here—but I’ve been hesitant to apply the same lessons in other areas of my life. Now I’m turning forty, however, and I think it’s finally time.

In the last ten years, without deliberateness and mostly due to persistence, luck and a passion for books that is as organic as gut bacteria, I’ve been able to create a unique place for myself as a writer, as a reader, as a reviewer, and a literary critic. It’s a place that I’m amazed by now, by the opportunities and connections I’ve been able to experience, and I’m grateful for all of it. But this place is also a tricky kind of place as well, because I’m not just a reader, I’m not just a writer, I’m not really an editor, I’m not just a blogger, I’m not simply an impartial critic, and I’m not a proper journalist either. And my failure to fit properly into these pigeonholes (in a newspaper/magazine/publishing industry that has fewer and fewer opportunities to offer all the time) has bothered me, and made me feel like I was doing everything wrong sometimes, made me feel like the space I’ve come to inhabit as a writer and a reader is the problem after all.

But it’s only a problem if I’m sitting around waiting for other people to deliver me opportunities, you see? Which is why I’ve decided on a new approach for a new year and a new decade, why I’ve decided to finally begin work on projects I’ve been wanting to do for years, why I am going to start being more deliberate and entrepreneurial in my professional life—because the unique place I’m in also offers opportunities. And my blog will be the centre of that—it’s been the centre of everything. Part of my distance from my blog last fall was because it felt like undervaluing my thoughts and ideas to be publishing them here rather than on a more legitimate publishing outlet. But then why wasn’t I feeling that way about the thoughts and ideas I was posting to Twitter and Facebook? This question clarified so much to me. What if, instead of composing Twitter threads and having Facebook arguments with your weird cousin, I was posting here instead? The back-to-the-blog movement, as I wrote the other week. It all coalesces here. I still love writing for magazines and newspapers, and the opportunity to work with editors, but what if I stopped looking at blogging as a kind of defeat. What if I worked to build my audience here, to build my newsletter, perhaps to have non-annoying advertising and make some revenue there? To build on something that is mine.

I am so excited about blogging right now. Yesterday I said that to my husband, about how on Sunday I look out at the week ahead and all the things I plan to write about—I wasn’t feeling so inspired a few months ago. But I really am now, with a renewed appreciation for the kind of space a blog can be, and a certainty that we need blogs more than we ever have—which makes it advantageous that I’m finally planning to launch an online blogging course in September. The Pickle Me This Blog School is in the works and I look forward to applying what I’ve learned from nearly twenty years of blogging and eight years of teaching blogging to show people how to create a blog that fits their lives and even makes life richer.

I’m also going to be working to engage people to connect with writing and storytelling in other ways, to inspire them to find and make time/space in their lives for books and reading. Partly through what I’ve always done via my blog and other platforms, but with other projects and initiatives as well, plans I’m hatching now. And I hope that you’ll be excited (and inspired!) too as it all starts to come together.

September 4, 2018

New Leaf

But as much as I love summer, I’m not sorry to see September at all. I’m happy to get my workdays back, for life to rediscover balance. My room is tidy for the first time in months, and yesterday I found a little bookshelf on the curb with which to organize the avalanche on my bedside table. I have no doubt that this little shelf will change my life, which is the kind of thought I often have in Septembers. This will be year I get it right, and not least of all because of my cool slouchy Cotton Ginny top. Obviously, of course, those were the September thoughts of a few decades ago. But still, the sentiment is the same.

This September is all about new beginnings, and also (I hope!) endings too, as I finally finish the first draft of my new novel, still untitled. It’s about taking the lessons of summer’s freedom with me into the new school year and making the most of the time I have to work while my children are at school. It’s also about serious reading as the evening belong to books again, and it is my best intention (although it always is) not to fritter it away on internet excess. I want to use my phone less while I am at home, keeping it in a fixed place in the house instead of always within arm’s reach. And I want to be more deliberate about the way I use social media too, visiting these sites just once or twice a day, when I have something to post even, and not just because I’m bored and require a distraction. I already don’t have Twitter and Facebook on my phone, so it’s not the world’s hugest problem, but I want to become more active as a user of these sites, instead of just passively scrolling along. And no phones at dinner. I don’t care what your excuse is. Or that the excuse is always mine.

September 18, 2017

Finally!

My children started school two weeks ago, but they didn’t really, because Iris’s first day wasn’t until Thursday, and I still had two articles due that week, plus two presentations to prepare for in the week following. So back-to-school as not a breath of fresh air and return to routines, because instead it was a scramble, but I did it. Articles finished, presentations presented, and here I am finally with five full workdays before me with only my usual deadlines, and time for creative work. I am going to revise a short story and write a new one that has been brewing for awhile, and then a new draft of my novel begins and there’s going to be lots of digging. So much work ahead, but I am looking forward to it—discovery is the greatest thing about writing anything. Plus, I have a million books to write about (far too few disappointing reads lately means I’ve overwhelmed with things to tell you about) and I want to write about my trip to Edmonton, so let this post serve as official confirmation: this blog is back in business. And if you’ve sent me an email lately, I will probably reply to it soon.

June 8, 2017

An interlude

This week’s radio silence brought to you by fun nights out, lots of busyness, and a string of books that just aren’t taking. As ever, I’ve been instagramming though, so head over there to see what you’re missing—which is mostly hammocks.

February 22, 2017

Where I’m Calling From

My book exists in the world, it does. I haven’t seen it yet, but it’s being couriered to my house this morning and so at some point in the not-distant future I will be holding it in my hands. Which I’m looking forward to, and not, because I much prefer anticipation to the fleetingness of a single moment. When a carton of The M Word anthologies arrived on my doorstep three years ago, I cried and cried, and not necessarily because of happiness. I remember feeling like kind of a fraud, because I’d published this book, but it wasn’t really my book, and while I was proud of it (and I still am) it felt somehow illegitimate. Would I ever be a real writer? And this, of course, is always the question.

And yet somehow I am a real writer, if the definition of the term is that I have deadlines coming up, just so I don’t have a single moment to take a breath before the book’s release. Which I’m not complaining about. The alternative would be no deadlines, and then I wouldn’t be a writer, and so I go forth, making it up as I go, which is the only way I’ve ever gone. In this way, being a blogger has been a tremendous boon to my writing life. Making it up as we go is our raison d’être.

Thankfully, apart from the flurry (and gift) of work, everything else is quiet—knock wood. We spent a long and low-key weekend partaking in the weird Spring-in-February weather, which I refuse to feel bad about because weather is weather. You take what they give you. The children continue to be funny and interesting, and also very very loud, but we know where they got that from. And the books pile up, and so many of them continue to be exceptional, original—there’s no running out of ideas yet. I love to read. I do so love to read, better than I love almost anything.

“Would you choose me or books,” my family asks me, and I always take the former, but not before hesitating. And not without some reluctance.

How fortunate we are to live in a world where both is not necessarily a spoil of riches.

August 22, 2016

Finite

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For a few weeks, I was wondering if this summer would be endless, or at least why it couldn’t be. We had a stellar run of days at the beach and road trips and memorable ice cream cones and stargazing. We’ve had a spectacular mix of GO-GO-GO and also lying around on the grass doing nothing. This summer has hung in a marvellous balance, just enough of everything we ever wanted. The children haven’t been complaining about boredom, or Harriet walking around delivering deep heaving the deep sighs which have always been her summer speciality (and a sign for me that we need to get her back to school). It has been a very good summer, the kind of summer you get when your baby is finally three and the world and the days open up their (figurative) arms so wide—I remember the same feeling during the summer of 2012 when Harriet was three, but it was only temporary as by the end of that summer I was pregnant. By the end of this summer I will not be pregnant (and in fact I will never be pregnant ever again—a fact that, I was telling Stuart the other day, makes me as giddy as the prospect of having a baby once did) but all the same, it starts winding down quite naturally. Summer was never meant to be endless, and if it was, I suppose we would tire of it. Summer winding down now with a fairly ordinary couple of weeks in the city. Harriet is in daycamp at the museum, but only for the afternoons, which means that we don’t need to bother getting out of bed until we feel like it, let alone getting dressed. Each day they’ve watched a movie while I’ve settled down to write my 1000 words. So it’s a fairly undemanding routine, but it’s still a routine, getting us set for back to school in just a few weeks time. I’ll be returning here too to let you know about wonderful books I’ve been reading—the new Louise Penny, and Zoe Whittall’s new novel, and I am reading Mister Nightingale, by Paul Bowdring, now, and it’s wonderful. Anyway, returning to real life The key to transitions like this, I think, is to like your real life, so that a return to it comes with its own rewards. Plus there is the prospect of autumn. Also, I’m semi-down with a stomach bug that has left me stuck on broth and popsicles, and when it’s all done (soon, I hope!), feeling generally well health-wise will seem like a ridiculous pleasure.

January 26, 2016

Funny Faces

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Do you know that I’ve nearly filled up an entire notebook with jottings and quotes from my Mad Men rewatch, and we’re only just beginning Season Three? To what purpose, I don’t know. It’s my new fitness regimen (the Mad Men, not the notebooks) as I ride my exercise bike while we’re watching, and I check the time less and it goes by much faster than when I’m merely reading. (Don’t tell reading I said that; it’s all exercise’s fault anyway.) I might give up on fitness altogether at the end of Season 7. Anyway, it’s a scramble to get the children into bed so we can begin watching and me riding by 9 or so, which means when it’s over, it’s that time of day I’ve spent all day waiting for: time to curl up with Tana French. I am reading her novel, In the Woods, for the first time, and I am in reading heaven. Ostensibly crime fiction but so much more substantial than that, rich and enthralling. I am so busy right now, which was a terrible time to pick the book up, because all I want to read is read it all day and forever. I am looking forward to discovering her other four novels, each of which features a more minor characters from the previous. one Anyway, I’m now in the midst of my second week to finish up my edits on Mitzi Bytes, and things are going well. Getting back to it in a matter of minutes, but in the meantime, wanted to share with you some funny faces from previous days: Harriet and Iris and I making funny faces in the kitchen; evidence that Stuart and I indeed went skating at Harbourfront on Friday night and it was wonderful; and a perfect photo from yesterday when Iris broke into the stampers and rubbed one all over her face, inadvertently channelling David Bowie.

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January 17, 2016

Weekdays and ice rinks

breakfastOur first week back at school went so smoothly, and was such a relief after more than a month of illness and disruption, which meant, of course that week two was determined to thwart all that ease. Iris’s school was closed due to a broken furnace, Harriet’s school called at 9:45 on Monday morning asking her to be picked up because of an earache, and I’ve got all my usual work (49thShelf.com’s Spring previews don’t write themselves, you know!), plus revisions to my novel due in two weeks. Luckily, Iris’s school’s furnace found a temporary fix, Harriet’s earache was a passing fad, and we spent two days at home watching David Bowie on Youtube and playing in the snow—it all settles down. And there still seems to be time enough—perhaps because of all the stuff I’ve not yet got around to doing, but I’ll worry about that tomorrow (ha!). This winter we’ve ruined our lives by signing Harriet up for skating lessons on Saturdays and swimming lessons on Sundays, but there’s really no way around it because she has to learn both, but luckily lessons are close to home and we can walk there, and are either early or late enough in the mornings that we’ll get to do proper morning things (i.e. croissants and reading the paper). Yesterday we took her to her first skating lesson and she was amazing, and inspired us all to venture out skating today, which is the first time we’ve been skating for over two months. I haven’t felt up to it since having pneumonia, but today felt different. It didn’t hurt that all the snow has melted so hauling our stroller down Dufferin Street is no trouble and all, and also that it’s not cold outside so it’s a bit like skating in the spring. Such a pleasure, and of course there are hotdogs post-skate from the cafe, so that part is good too, and we all enjoyed it—except that Iris only enjoyed skating for half a lap, and then decided she’d only lie down on the ice and cry, so I had to drag her the rest of the way, and then the rest of her laps were taken from her stroller.

You can see more of our mundane but colourful adventures over at Instagram: including our descent into pasta-making chaos, and my cranberry beef stew that nobody liked.

August 9, 2015

I wish there was more

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We didn’t need clocks on our vacation, or calendars. The hours of the day were accounted for by the sunshine as it moved across the grass, and we had to move the hammock to keep up and remain in the shade. The days themselves were marked by the the spread of a rash down my arms, which became quite extensive because the weather was great and we were swimming every day and I am actually allergic to lake water. It’s hard out there for a sex-goddess. Anyway, the week progressed as quickly as the rash did. I read seven books, this success jump-started by our rental car pick-up being delayed and so I got to sit for 1.5 hours reading Nora Ephron’s Heartburn before we even hit the road. It was wonderful, and contains the delicious recipe for Potatoes Anna which I have since made twice. I will be writing more about my vacation reads soon.

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Our week away was lunches, cruising down highway to the strains of Taylor Swift, corn on the cob, watching boats, eating butter tarts and creamsicles, playing UNO, digging holes, building castles, making smores in the oven, going out for Kawartha Dairy Ice Cream, and reading Mary Poppins. Iris was impossible and so frustratingly two that sometimes the whole endeavour was too exhausting to be vacation, but it all came together in the end, even if the morning sounds of birds outside woke her up far earlier than we would have liked. I particularly enjoyed reading vintage Archie digests and doing the pie shack shimmy (see photo above).

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We came home a week ago, and spent a fun long weekend in the city hanging out with our friends. I’ve been reading some terrific new books I’m excited to be able to share with you, and trying to get work done on a big project I’m looking forward to sharing with you soon—although Iris wasn’t sleeping well at all, which has put a cramp on my “working in the evening” plans. Further cramping has ensued since my swimming rash morphed into an insane reaction this weekend, colonizing my face, which is now swollen and gross. So I am not only hideous, itchy and uncomfortable, but was prescribed super hardcore antihistamines at a walk-in clinic this morning that have rendered me totally stupid. It is possible that I’ve written this entire post in Latin, and I don’t even realize. Veni. Vidi. Itchi.

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**

CLzrWa8UwAYPPLKDermatological issues aside, my only real complaint about summer is that it’s half-done. A splendid one so far. This weekend well-spent even through the rashy trauma as I compulsively read Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom, which I absolutely had to purchase used after reading Rohan Maitzen’s post about it. She writes, “If you ever read a book, or were a child, or read a book to a child–if your childhood was shaped in any way by the books you read–then you should buy this book and read it immediately.” It’s the best advice I’ve followed in ages, and I’d urge you to do the same. Certainly a window into the mind of the woman behind literary classics such as Where the Wild Things Are, Harriet the Spy, Good Night Moon, Charlotte’s Web, The Carrot Seed, Harold the Purple Crayon, and others. 500 pages and I read it in three days. I wish there was more.

July 18, 2014

En Vacance

irisThis week my website’s server crashed for 3 days, I spent every evening working for 3 hours, my work-in-progress hit 20,000 words, and Iris learned to climb up the slide. Next week, I need to get ready for our holiday, there is no day camp, and I have two deadlines. And so I am calling early vacation on Pickle Me This, though I will probably post a photo of my vacation book stack in the coming days. Stay tuned for that, and otherwise, I will see you in August!

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