At some point in the life of a blogger, the question arises: Why? What's the point of all of this, anyway? Isn't this a colossal effort for nothing, really?
For me, the answer has ebbed and flowed to become something altogether different over time. I started at first to invest into that component of myself who is a writer. My husband had been reading a book that said, essentially, that what separates the good from the best in life (in whatever field of endeavor) was about 10,000 hours of practise. I determined then to begin my 10,000 hours and so Joy Is So Yellow was born.
I found that - like most things in life - there is a steep learning curve to be climbed. I go through periods of hating my blog and seriously considering shutting the whole thing down. There have been times when it felt a lot more like work and smacked far less of joy. In those early days, I was loathe to hit the 'publish live' button because I felt I could never be sure the post was quite perfect. Now, I begin to grasp that though these posts are far from that evasive, idyllic state, the perfection part isn't the point. For me, what blogging has mostly done is to help me come to define myself inside my own head as a writer. Writers write, right? And how on earth does one ever cast off the mantle of unpublished without these long, dry early days? I see that I'm wise not to resent these days but instead, to view them as an investment into the Self I hope to grow into being.
I've grown to love the little community that gathers around me here. I'm touched and humbled by the fact that these (for the most part) mysterious people continue to read. The fact that what I've got to say somehow means something to anyone other than my egocentric old self is surprising and lovely and bolstering.
P.S. Can you believe the audacity of me, putting a picture of Jane Austin up to accompany this entry? Me and Jane - we're pretty tight.
My new project is to experiment with writing. It's something that from the beginning of time (or Grade One, anyway), I've thought I'd someday like to do. I remember telling my little best friend that someday we'd be roommates in university and be teachers together and that I'd write a book. She nodded her head in vigorous agreement and we knew we'd rule the Earth. When you're six, there isn't anything you can't do in your bright, shiny future. You can even be a fairy and woe be unto the adult person who tries to tell you otherwise.
What I'm learning about writing today is that the transition to becoming a writer is a lot like switching from the passenger's to the driver's seat, from the perspective of a voracious reader. Even though you've traveled along those same roads hundreds and maybe even thousands of times before, suddenly when it's your turn to make those same turns and to exit off onto those same byways, everything feels different. You have to pay attention now in a way that you never had to before.
While growing up, my parents owned a lake front property. We spent a tremendous amount of time there, but when I turned 14 (goodness; the thought of a 14-year-old me driving around on public streets stills my modern-day heart.) and it was time for me to sit in the driver's seat for the trip, my Dad was endlessly frustrated because I had no idea how to get there. I didn't have even the vaguest sense, in fact. He couldn't believe anyone could be so dense. And a current, more literary version of that dense 14-year-old is emerging a lot around here of late. Sometimes I can't believe how stupid she can be. Hasn't she read books in abundance ever since she's been able? Surely she's picked up on a literary thing or two in all this time? Hasn't she? Isn't this partly how she's defined herself in her own mind? As a very gung ho reader?
All of a sudden, I realize that I'm unclear as to how to handle dialogue. When I research it, I'm befuddled to note that many authors choose to handle it differently. Standardized rules of grammar don't always seem to apply in modern literature. When I note discrepancies like this, I ask myself, what would Carol Shields do in Stone Diaries? I've loved Carol for decades (She wasn't aware of it during her lifetime, but she and I are on a one sided first name basis). Her other books are good, but when I first finished Stone Diaries, I sat stunned. And uncharacteristically quiet. I felt like this, too, when I read Andrew Nicholl's A Good Mayor. I've been eagerly awaiting his second novel ever since. But I digress. My point is, I'm not always sure how to use quotation marks and in fact, see now that maybe they aren't even all that necessary anymore. Or at least to Miriam Toews and her ilk.
I'm working through a lot of frustration these days. I guess I thought writing would be easier than this. I'm finding out - quite emphatically - that it's not. I'll write for days (my baby-steps goal is to complete one page per weekday) and realize at the end of it that I'm in a hazy fog and I don't even really remember the plot line because of all the meanderings filling up the pages between then and now. I frequently have to go back to re-read things so as to keep it relatively linear. I'm struggling with a whole lot of things that I assumed were non-issues. But for the most part, I think I could really get to like this lifestyle. I like it both more and less than I expected to. It's truly a journey and for the time being, I'm happy it's mine.
I think often (obsessively might more accurately describe the true state of things) of what my life will look like next year. The last of my children will enter those anything-but-hallowed halls of full time school and my heart feels like it may break. Just to enter into the melodrama a little more fully for a moment, I feel like my whole raison d'etre for the past thirteen years is coming to a close. A close that, from this vantage point, appears to be awfully abrupt and final. I know. I know. My school-aged kids still need a loving and involved mother, but the reality is that I'll have six full hours a day to fill with activities other than those that have engaged me so happily for the past thirteen years.
I have, to my initial surprise, loved being a stay-at-home mother. Though I expected to continue working outside the home during these pre-school years of parenthood, a couple of unexpected and upsetting daycare situations ended that pipe dream. Lucky for me. I've discovered that I love trimming little child-sized fingernails. Scrubbing their soapy, shampoo-y heads while they languish in the bath with their GI Joes and their ponies feels like therapy. I've found that making healthy, home-made baby food really does it for me. I've realized that taking kids for walks to the park equals fun. I love chatting with tiny people, meandering our way through conversation, peppered with the cutest mispronunciations I've ever heard. I love reading to these perfectly round and warm small Ones, as we snuggle up in bed together, their hot, perfect breath warming my very insides. I've felt very happy, very fulfilled over the course of these last thirteen years. My work has felt very meaningful.
As I imagine the upcoming year, and the countless others stretching out surreally beyond it, it scares me to think that it may be full of things like a perfectly clean home with empty rooms overtaking everything for much of the time. No one will pee the bed any longer, needing me to swoop in to the rescue, comforting and cleaning as I go. Who will leave chaotic, comforting paths of K'Nex and Lego as they go along their merry way? I foresee the beginning of the end of the thousands of pieces of child art that have decorated my life for so long. Who will I teach to read? Who will forget to flush the toilet? Or leave a hundred toothpaste-spattered sinks in their wake? It will be so clean in here that the sheer emptiness of it will underline my sucky-baby grief. For to acknowledge that I am indeed a Suck is probably only fair. And yet, when you're a Suck, caught inside the skin of a Suck, what does one do?
I know I'll get over it in time. I have dear women in my life who have walked this path and lived to tell about it. They say the hurting dulls after a while, that you stop wondering all the day long what your Littles are doing at that very second. Whether or not someone is treating them unkindly just then. Whether or not they're trading the apples and nectarines in their lunches for a junky Dunkaroo or a Pop Tart. Whether or not they're using their classtime well. Or if they're talking the whole way through the way that both their Mother and their Father did. These are the questions that I suspect will haunt me.
Probably right around now would be a wise time to begin to think about what I'm going to do with my life next year when all of the four kids are in full-time school. Usually, though, I don't feel like it. Thinking about it, that is. I'm smack-dab in the middle of the best year of my life. My freedometer is registering a great deal more latitude than I've enjoyed at any other point over the last 13 years and best of all, I still have a little Buddy around with whom to share it. I've discovered that the alone-time I longed over the years isn't nearly as nice as I'd imagined. The solitary grocery shopping trips I fantasized about prove to be just a little lonely. I find it's not the same when someone isn't curving their little body into the nest that they've fashioned out of my discarded parka, asking when we can go to the Cookie Club, 'cause the little birdie is hungry. When aforementioned Little Buddy is along, my role is clear to both myself and to the world. I'm a Mama (capital M, if you please). When he flies off into the World next year, I'll have to work to reinvent myself, which will be odd, to say the least.
I'll have some re-training to do, first off. I've let my teaching certificate lapse for more than ten years and so that means a couple of university courses for me. This is the part I look forward to. I think it'll be fun. I'll be one of those keener Oldies sitting at the front of the class who drives everyone else crazy with her eager, upthrust hand, excited to interact with the Professor. I'll be exempt from all the boy/girl titillation that normally hovers in those classrooms like thick haze. My 37 years (not to mention the stretch marks) will protect me from it all. My safe invisibility will allow for me to really delve into the subject matter, which in my case means English Literature in all its glory. I'm quite excited.
The part that isn't nearly so solidified in my mind is what will happen next. I suppose that I'll apply to the local school district. The truth is that I'm not all that willing to apply elsewhere as a commute seems like too much work and inconvenience just now. I feel the injunction within to make everything jive conveniently with my own children and the consequent pick-up and drop-off times. The truth of the matter is, I'm a bit Fussy-Pants about the whole thing. I've been fortunate to not have to resort to daycare in the last ten or so years, and I'd rather avoid doing so now. (All of this is not to say, of course, that I don't see and heartily acknowledge the essential role these places play in our society. So many parents aren't blessed with the choice I have before me. I see - and am profoundly grateful for - all of this. The fact that it isn't fair occurs to me daily. As I type, I hear myself that this reeks powerfully of the anguished cries of lawyers in love. I know, too, that there are many moms out there who don't view the process of placing your child in care as a "resorting" of any sort. So good. We've assuaged the rising ire of the Politically Correct. For me, though, the choice is clear. I require that it be I who is the primary caregiver to my four. Chalk it up to a controlling nature, or really, whatever you like.) Let's assume the local school district sees its way clear to hiring me, in all my fussiness. I'll need to start from the ground up, which in this profession means being a Teacher-On-Call all over again. I'd feel OK with the process but for the fact that to 'magically' transform from the position of TOC to the position of regular classroom teacher requires some dazzling of the Higher-Ups, or at least it did for me the first time around. The dazzling looked a lot like coaching sports teams (anyone who really knows me recognizes the ridiculousness and laughability of such an idea), the heading-up of afterschool clubs and the general dedication to kids-not-my-own that requires extra time and emotional energy. Just the things that I don't have tons of in reserve these days. So what to do? I'm not all that sure that I'd hire me! If life were only rainbows and roses and I could choose exactly only what strikes my fancy, I'd be a Teacher-On-Call to only a handful of traditional schools where I'd be freed to build relationships with the small, intimate and o-so-whole staffs, resulting, ideally, in many friendly call-backs. I'd probably not lumber onto that treadmill of "Impressing One's Authority Figures" in order to be hired on permanently somewhere. My lovely, freeing hours would smoothly coexist as though best friends with the hours of my own children's two schools. Ahhhhh. Just think of it. A permanent TOC to well-behaved and very lovely children under the age of Grade 5, exclusively. There we have it. I should step off of my spaceship at some point; the real world beckons.
I'm reading Sue Monk Kidd's newest book, "Traveling With Pomegranates," and in doing so, I happened upon this impacting little ditty:
"Many years before this, when I first set out to be a writer, I had entertained a dream of writing fiction, then quickly banished it - I thought forever. In the museum that day, I realized the aspiration had never really left, it had merely gone underground to wait its turn. The dream had been turning up recently dressed as whimsy, hope, impulse, and silly conceit. I'd refused to take it seriously. It felt beyond my power and courage, the sort of thing that made me shrink against my pillow late at night. As I stood before the Rossetti painting, however, my desire to write fiction crystallized into a pursuit that I saw as authentic, necessary, and even sacred. I now understood that writing fiction was a seed implanted in my soul, though I would not be ready to grow that seed for a long time."
Can the readership of 40 say wow (by the way, how on earth did I get a readership of 40? Who are you mysterious people?)? I feel simultaneously humbled and empowered when I read this. I think that perhaps, maybe it's not the most audacious thing in the known world to aspire to be a novelist. I feel like something big is maybe ruminating in my soul. I've always felt the gape. The part of me that didn't feel filled. And maybe now it's finally dawning on me that my small, inconsequential voice might have something meaningful to say to the vast world. The burbling, baby excitement is all I can concentrate on just now.