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Big Magic – Two-Minute Book Review

Title: Big Magic – Creative Living Beyond Fear

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Author: Elizabeth Gilbert

Other works: Eat, Pray, Love, The Signature of All Things, etc.

Recommended by: Glennon at Momastery (again). I’ll pretty much try anything she says. Also, I’d already read Eat, Pray, Love, and although it wasn’t dramatically life-changing for me, it was fascinating and memorable and contained a few moments that really moved me.

Genre: Self-Actualization/Art/Philosophy/Nonfiction/Psychology

Main Characters: Mostly you, the reader. And Liz. And a few other creative people with profound things to say.

Opinions: It was a pretty quick and relatively light read. It could incite soul-searching, but also it could just be read as a go-get-’em pick-me-up. I found it comforting on many levels, and funny too.

A quotation I liked: “Creativity is sacred, and it is not sacred. What we make matters enormously, and it doesn’t matter at all. We toil alone, and we are accompanied by spirits. We are terrified, and we are brave. Art is a crushing chore and a wonderful privilege. Only when we are at our most playful can divinity finally get serious with us. Make space for all these paradoxes to be equally true inside your soul, and I promise—you can make anything. So please calm down now and get back to work, okay? The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes.”

What sticks with me: 1) All people possess creativity; 2) Ideas are active and animate and will go about knocking on people’s doors until they get someone to bring them to life; 3) The suffering artist thing does not have to be a thing – if it makes you suffer that much, it’s really not what you should be doing; 4) folks need to give themselves permission to feel entitled to the time it takes to make their art – yes, it is worth doing. (Even if you’re a blogger with a very small audience, or a composer who only composes something every 5 years. 😉 )

Recommended to: People who have ideas stewing but never feel validated enough to make them happen; people who think they’re not creative; people who know they ARE creative.

To sum up: I liked it a lot! And I’ve already lent it to someone, but you can borrow it if you want, when I get it back.

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Barely Managing + Constant Guilt = Modern Parenting??

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When you’re a parent, discussing parenting is what you do: the easiest way to find out what you have in common – and also to gauge how you’re doing at the parenting gig, and whether you/your kids are normal.

I can’t help but notice a trend among the parents I talk to with young kids – one that contradicts most of social media. If you’re to believe Facebook and Instagram, parenting is about going to the beach, making kick-ass birthday cakes, watching your kids frolic happily, dressing them up all cute, witnessing their endearingly messy faces, and recording their most hilarious soundbites.

In reality, for many of us, parenting is about the little things that are never done and seem to take up ALL THE TIME. Wakeup routines and bedtime routines, endless meals and snacks, potty breaks and body breaks and tantrum-soothing and squabble-mediating and dropping off and picking up and tidying up and laundering and reminding and re-reminding and outright nagging. Somehow, most of the time, Barely Keeping Up feels like all there is.

I don’t believe our social media masks are necessarily disingenuous. If you were to look at my Facebook profile, you’d think my life is all dancing and ukuleles and cute children and animals. Because who really wants to post about their ordinary-but-hectic schedule? More to the point, who makes time for that? We’d all rather look at cakes.

Sometimes I feel like we get that empty jar every day, and for some reason we can only fill it with pebbles, even though we know what the big rocks are, and we want them – and we’re sure everyone else must be fitting in their big rocks, like you’re supposed to.

Now, I’m wondering how many of us are getting any big rocks on a daily basis. There are parents I see as life experts who’ve got it all together… and often, they actually don’t. They are just as frazzled as I am. We all signed up for this parenting gig, and we knew the baby days would be hard, but we sorta thought it would get easier sooner.  As in, it’ll be easier when they’re sleeping better… when I go back to work and there’s more routine… when they’re out of diapers… when they get to school… And you’re waiting for the moment when things fall into place. And you’re still waiting… and waiting.

I know there must exist families who are fine, who don’t feel like they’re struggling to keep their heads above water all the time… but I don’t know how this phenomenon is achieved.

Sean and I were talking about this recently, asking ourselves, Does everyone feel this way? Why are so many of us struggling to manage life? Shouldn’t we be able to handle this better? Is it really as hard as it feels?

Banal as it sounds, I think it’s partly “the times.” As a society, we’re in this moment where women having jobs outside the family is normal – which really has not been true for very long. Also, it did not happen that the patriarchs stepped in and switched places to take over the household-running – at least, not in many cases.

Also, in the space of one generation, the cost of housing in Canada has gone from reasonable to… frankly unreasonable. Back when my parents were originally in the housing market, a home was a big expense, but it could be paid off in the foreseeable future, like five to ten years, especially if you had the luxury of two incomes for any of that time. Nowadays, it’s common to be paying off your house for two to three decades – possibly more, if you want to do other things like, for example, send your kids to university. (Which is another expense that has skyrocketed, by the way.)

Of course this means that, for many families, a mortgage is simply not affordable on one salary – especially when so many jobs are unstable, temporary, or just under-compensated. But households still need just as much running as before.

And expectations of parenting are out-of-whack with this scenario. Right now, it’s de rigueur to actually play with your kids (wha??), read to them, snuggle them, do crafts with them, run around with them… unlike the days when you had a gaggle of offspring, let the big ones take care of the little ones, and put them to work as soon as they could carry a hay bale.

Child-rearing in the era of mommy-blogs and Pinterest is now a hobby, an occupation, a science, and an art form. For families with a stay-at-home parent, it’s all the more intense: society seems to accept, and even expect, that the parent will give her whole life to the kids, the household, and the community.

I’m all for playing, snuggling, and reading with your children. I love the kind of direct engagement that lets me get to know my kids as people. But other than family dinners and bedtime stories (which are sacred), these things don’t happen as much as I’d like. (You’ve probably noticed I don’t blog about my beautiful kid-crafts very much. Since I don’t do them.) That’s because the expectations of running a household – making good meals for your family, paying the bills, getting everybody where they need to go on time with the stuff they need, and making sure the house isn’t a constant fracking mess – still apply. And I always feel bad when I fail to keep up with those.

This is another problematic factor. The guilt.

If my kids ask me to play with them and I say no for the sake of housework, I feel guilty. When I do play with them, I feel guilty for “shirking” all the other things that need doing. When I come home from school right away to get some housework done, I feel guilty for not being more on top of my marking at school. When I am doing schoolwork, I feel guilty for the household slack that falls to my husband. When I spend time on email, I feel guilty because it’s such a time-suck – but if I neglect it, I feel guilty because I invariably let someone down. And when I go to the gym, ALL the guilt applies – except for the guilt I feel about wasted money when I don’t go to the gym.

Other things I tend to feel guilty about: letting my kids eat sugar, eating sugar myself, spending money on non-necessities, not taking good enough care of my plants, neglecting my cats, not seeing my friends often enough, forgetting things people I care about have told me… etc. You see how it is.

It’s true for many of us, with kids or not, that “catching up” with life is this mythical thing we never achieve, like getting to Solla Sollew. The tangled cycle of obligations and unease seems neverending.

Now, I’m pretty sure my personal sense of guilt is more finely-honed than many – for myriad reasons. I’m also aware that it’s unhelpful and borderline ridiculous. I certainly hope most people’s brains are less apologetic than mine. Intellectually, I know I shouldn’t reproach myself, because I’m doing my best. (But… am I?? my inner guilt-monitor pipes up.) Unfortunately, guilt is like mosquitoes. You can’t just ask it to go away, and if you swat it, there’s always more where that came from.

I have found that I can fend it off somewhat, as long as I’m doing one of the top three things (parenting, housework, schoolwork) needing immediate attention. But really, I know that neglecting the rest of life isn’t a good idea. Especially when my wishes for 2016 include being more fit and doing more writing. I simply can’t do those things… if I’m not doing them.

So! This month, I devised an approach that I think will motivate me (because I love lists and check boxes and points systems) to make the life I imagine but haven’t managed to prioritize. Sean hammered out a beautiful spreadsheet for each of us that will assign points for things like getting to bed on time, taking vitamins, walking, working out, etc. We can also get points for checking a small job off the to-do list – those annoying little jobs that would only take 10-15 minutes but never get done because they’re never quite urgent enough. And we’ve also assigned points to Writing (in 20-minute slots) and Making Music (in 20-minute slots).

Voilà! INSTANT LEGITIMACY, baby. It’s the key, I know it.

The only trouble is, so far we haven’t managed to get “checking off points chart” on the daily to-do list. But I’m sure it’ll be awesome once we get to it.

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Days of Saints and Souls

Dear Sebastian,

I haven’t written to you as much as I’ve wanted to lately. I didn’t write to you at Thanksgiving, even though I always wish for you at family gatherings. I didn’t write to you on October 15th – Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day – since it was one of those weeks I was barely keeping my head above water. But at such times, I feel that hollow of your absence more deeply, and I wish I could take more time just to think of you.

Today is the first day of November. It’s a day when a lot of people think about their lost loved ones, and celebrate their lives. Your Great-Gramma Sue was born on this date – and now she’s free soul like you. (You probably even hang out with her.)

November is also the time when, for the past two years, I have written a blog post for every day of the month, to challenge myself. This year, I’m going to try a different challenge. Even though life is busier than ever, I’m going to try to carve out a little bit of time every day to work on a project I’ve wanted to do for a long time.

It’s a story about you, a story to read to your brother and sister. Your big brother misses you. I know your sister will wish for you too, when she’s old enough to understand. I want them to have something that helps them think of you and remember that you’re still their brother.

I don’t know how far I’ll be able to get with this project in one month, but I’m hoping to build enough momentum that I can keep going.

So far, it’s in the planning stages, and it looks like this:

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It felt good today, to do something all about you, something that’s a little bit like celebrating.

I wish I could squeeze you, sweet boy. I’m sending you hugs from my heart.

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Celebrating the Beth Day Ever!

I’d like to tell you about my baby sister. It was her birthday last Friday, but for some reasons (namely, busy Labour Day weekend and then going back to work, ack) this birthday post is very, very late.

Mini-Di shared a room with Mini-Beth (3 years her/my junior) for about 8 years. I have lots of memories of filling our room with My Little Pony villages, drawing and colouring at our wall-length desk, making forts with our corner bunk beds, “talking” to each other using our own made-up sign language, and listening to our audio tapes of The Rescuers and Sleeping Beauty while grooming our stuffed animals.

I also have plenty of memories of bickering, coming to standoffs while cleaning our room, vowing NEVER TO SPEAK TO HER AGAIN, EVER until 37 minutes later when I had to succumb because you really can’t go that long without talking to someone you live with who also if you’re honest is actually one of your very best friends.

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She’s the cute one, with the dress and the curly hair. I’m the one with the giant feet and delusions of fashionableness.

It’s been a long time since we’ve lived together (and there’s very little bickering these days). My annoying, precocious, fun little sister has grown into an extraordinary, brilliant (and still fun) woman, and is still one of my best friends.

She is the kind of person who makes and brings people soup when they’re sick – and it’s the best damn soup you’ve ever tasted. She is principled, passionate, disciplined, smart, creative, with an unparalleled ability to work hard. Her laugh is contagious. She has a penchant for jokes that are dumb, but funny. She is well-known for falling asleep during movies, even really exciting ones. Also for being gorgeous. She’s one of those girls that basically all the guys she knows (and undoubtedly some girls too) have been in love with at one time or another. Even at that age where you’re supposed to awkward and pimply, she was a knockout. {Sigh.}

She is also brimming with love, herself. Lucky are those of us who receive it. For those she loves, she has been known to:

  • write amazing rhyming poems full of exuberant imagery, silliness, and profundity,
  • make checkered birthday cake from scratch,
  • hand-cut impossibly cool paper doll chains,
  • give excellent massages and/or pedicures,
  • cook and bring delicious picnics,
  • create personalized works of art, and/or
  • make desserts that can be legitimately lit on fire.

Those are just a few of the things. She’s one seriously creative chica, to the point that she solves problems with sheer artistic innovation. For example, one day I’d brought a two-year-old E to her house for the day, and for some unknown reason we had NOT BROUGHT ANY CARS for my car-obsessed son to play with. How many people do you know who could have whipped up something as wicked-awesome (or SICK, as the kids would say) as this?? Auntie Beth can do it.

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I know. COME ON, right??

And then there was that time – wait, it was just last week! – when we were having a fiesta for the birthday in question, so of course Beth and her main man (sometimes referred to as Uncle D) created a piñata that looked like THIS:

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So, you see what I mean. This gal is SOMETHING ELSE – that is to say, something else AWESOME.

Dear Berty, I’m sorry this “birthday” post is almost a week late. It doesn’t mean I don’t love you ferociously; I do. And I know my kids love you too. You’re amazing. I hope this year is full of fulfilled potential and stimulating challenges and uncontrollable laughter and dreams coming true… and lots of visits with us. xoxox

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