Earlier this week I went to Moncton to help my in-laws move from the house in which they’ve lived for more than thirty years into a spiffy new condo where they still have lots of space, yet won’t have to shovel the thirty centimetres of snow expected to fall there today. I spent Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday helping them clean, carry, unpack and organize. It was glorious.
Yesterday, I went to a friend’s mother’s funeral at two in the afternoon. It felt so good to be able to support my friend in this way, and to hear all the stories about his mother that were told during the service.
Last week, I went to deep-end water-aerobics, a workout I love and which sadly isn’t taught in Halifax before ten am or after six pm. That’s a middle-of-the-day workout only in this town, for some reason. I go at quarter after twelve on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
And on Wednesday night I filed my application for the Writing Studio at the Banff Centre. This is an experience I’ve long longed for. You spend five weeks in the company of other writers who are engaged in serious projects. You work with an editor. You write all the time while someone else fixes your meals and makes your bed. You live in the glory of Banff, walking the trails, soaking up the culture, being a writer first, last and always. The Writing Studio has always coincided with Spring Ratings. CBC had a really strict policy about hosts having to be present during ratings periods. And anyway, five weeks of annual leave, taken all at once? Nope, not possible for this girl. It’s one of the compromises I made with my writing while I worked at CBC. But I don’t have to make that compromise anymore. There’s no guarantee they’ll accept me, and it’s super expensive to go and I probably won’t get financial aid…but I don’t care. If they take me, I am going.
Another compromise I made while working at CBC was not (for the most part, with one notable exception) stating my opinion in public venues. That was monstrously hard. I failed spectacularly that one time, linked above. (And, I guess, with this follow-up, even if it was more public-service-minded.) In any event. I don’t have that stricture anymore, but it’s taking a long time for me to really realize that. But it occurred to me, while I was thinking of all the other things I can do now that I couldn’t before, like help my in-laws, go to aquafit, go to funerals, go to Banff, it occurred to me that I can also say, as loudly and as often as I want, that I believe Lucy. I believe Lucy and I am sending everything I have her way. I think she’s a hero. She is testifying to a survivor’s truth. A truth we rarely get to hear from a court room, loud and clear across the nation. Still, it hurts to watch the trial unfold, it hurts to hear the kinds of questions Lucy and the others are asked to answer in cross-examination. It hurts to contemplate that the outcome of the trial may indicate that nothing has changed. Except, except…despite that possible outcome, everything has changed, thanks to Lucy. I believe Lucy.
Here’s to doing the things we never could before.
It has been challenging to move from a life that was clearly defined by the clock, with daily and hourly deadlines that were immutable, and an in person team that was constantly communicating what I needed to be doing at any given moment. In that life, I knew everything about the deepest inner workings of the project I was on. I knew it by heart, by muscle memory. Parts of it I could do with my brain tied behind my back. This new life has deadlines, but they are blurry, self-assigned, sometimes moving targets. I have some part-time work, with a publishing company in the Pacific Northwest and it’s a busy, slightly confusing time to have come aboard. Figuring out my job there is a little like writing a novel, which is itself a little like trying to describe an elephant by patting it with your hands while wearing a blindfold. That simile works better in person, because you can see me close my eyes and fumble around with my hands in every direction. Take my word for it, it’s not easy.
So, there are things I’m trying to balance in this new, self-directed life. Figuring out the new job, for sure. Getting back to a daily yoga practise. Rebuilding my gym habit. Making sure I get a daily walk. Dedicating myself to practising piano every day. And, of course, there’s writing the novel.
You should do it first thing, my husband said to me, regarding my piano practise.
I find if I do it first thing, my yoga teacher said about a particular set of stretches, it tends to get done.
You should do it first thing, my writer friends say, about the five hundred words a day I intend to write.
I’d like to do it first thing, I think, about the daily walk. If I do it first thing, it’s more likely to happen, I think, about the gym habit. I need to get at it first thing, my panicky brain says, about the work that goes with my new job.
I suppose if I start the night before, I can fit in all these first things before sunset.
Maybe I can get to each of them first thing once a week. Monday it’s the gym, Tuesday it’s the part-time job, Wednesday it’s the novel, Thursday it’s the yoga, Friday it’s the walk, Saturday it’s the piano. Sunday is a day of rest from it all.
If you have a self-directed life, how do you make sure you’re actually getting to all the things you consider priorities?
And just like that, the final night of the writers’ retreat is upon us. We’ve made our final fire in the fireplace. I made a big pot of veggie curry and it’s simmering on the stove, rice cooking alongside. I have a bit of whiskey and a bit of white wine, and we’re down to our last bag of chips. They’re the “healthy” whole grain kind. We’ll eat them if things get desperate. (Which you can read as: we’ll be eating them before midnight.)
We haven’t been too bothered by ghosts here, though we have each at times utterly freaked ourselves out. Yesterday we didn’t leave the house at all. Today we went out to get firewood and a jug of water. Basic supplies. And a quick trip to Melmerby Beach, just to see it in winter. It’s awesome, in case you were wondering.
We’ve done the Thirty-Day Shred, and the Moksha series of yoga poses. We’ve eaten a lot of licorice and had tarot readings. We weathered an awesome wind and snow storm, and we’re aiming to get on the road tomorrow morning before the next one roars in.
There’s been procrastination, too. I watched three episodes of Gilmore Girls, read the first seventy pages of Dissident Gardens by Jonathan Lethem, had a moment of panic in which I acknowledged to myself that whatever it is he’s doing to make that book so good, I don’t know how to do that, acknowledged further that that’s okay, acknowledged further that the published book is not the first draft, and I played about a hundred games of Ten-Ten.
And, yes, there’s been writing. Not as much as I’d hoped, not as revealing as I’d planned, but there has indeed been writing. Along with an understanding about this new life—it doesn’t end when this retreat does. I can stretch out in this. I can turn my attention to this book without having to stunt write it as per my earlier works. I will not be due back at the office any time at all. This is my office, now. My brain, and this laptop.
This long holiday time is coming to an end. I am happy to leave behind the lounging, the pyjamas, the bags of chips and plates of cookies and endless glasses of wine. I have sidled up to Good Birds Don’t Fly Away and I’m still scared of it, but I’m ready for it. May it go as this retreat has—slow, but fast.
One of my rules for writing a novel is: stay home. Don’t go anywhere interesting to write, because mostly you will just explore the new place and not so much with the writing. And here I am, breaking one of my own rules, on the first Monday of the rest of my life.
The view from my desk is distracting, to say the least.
I am hoping the novelty wears off by tomorrow so I can dig into Good Birds Don’t Fly Away. Here are some other things I am hoping:
• That my protagonist in this novel will have an external antagonist, for once
• That the ankle-deep water of my story will be up to my mid-calf by the time this week is over
• That the ghost that haunts this place will go easy on us
For now, I’m just drinking in the early moments of what promises to be an exquisite winter sunset, and trying not to hyperventilate at the prospect of actually spending the week face to face with a novel I’ve done my best to avoid writing for two years now.
It’s gonna be great.
I can’t say for sure what my “new life” is like, because I’ve mostly been on vacation since my “old life” wrapped up. But I can say with confidence that there’s no way my old life would have afforded me a three-week break at Christmas. So I guess that’s an indication.
I can say I don’t miss that old life. It has been amazing to feel it streaming off my shoulders, receding further into the distance behind me. I feel freer each day.
I can say I have so many offers of work/so much actual work it panics me a little about how I’ll get my writing done. It is a good problem to have, as a freelancer. I know this.
I can say I am cooking up a couple of interesting (to me, at any rate) projects I hope to launch in Halifax before spring.
I can say leaving that old life behind remains among the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Six months ago, I walked to work one morning. It’s a thirty-five minute walk from my house to the CBC. I walked and I thought. The book I am writing was tugging on my sleeve. The view from my garden was playing on my mind. A hundred tasks I’d put aside were nagging my to-do list. The work-out I hadn’t done that morning was waiting impatiently for me to notice it.
I walked and I thought. I had a plan. Plan 2017. By the fall of 2017, according to my plan, my book would be done and ready to launch. I’d be embarking on a book tour, and, the plan was, I’d leave CBC and slide back into my interrupted life as a writer. The work toward that goal was obvious: get finances in order. Figure out an independent health benefits package. Line up some freelance clients. Develop more writing workshop teaching opportunities. Get an agent. Get a publisher. Finish the book. Plan 2017 was a good plan.
Thing was, I realized as I walked, the fall of 2017 was more than two years away. And my footsteps were heavy with dread. I had begun falling out of love with CBC as a workplace a year before. Every show felt like a huge uphill push. Increasing workload, decreasing resources, massive workplace uncertainty. a lack of leadership. My colleagues were still the dedicated, creative, hard-working, amazing, inspiring people they’d always been, but the place itself, the work, was starting to crush me.
By the time I rounded the corner that brought the building’s logos into view I knew: work was no longer working for me. It wasn’t working for my body. It wasn’t working for my mind. It wasn’t working for my spirit. And it definitely wasn’t working for my writing. When I started at CBC, I made a deal with myself that if it started to interfere too much with my writing, I’d choose writing. Even though hosting Mainstreet is a great job. Even though writing doesn’t pay.
And so I made the decision, back in June. I would leave before year’s end. And now here we are. Most of Plan 2017’s items are undone. It doesn’t matter. To be the host of Mainstreet, you’ve gotta be all in. To write books, you’ve gotta be all in. You can’t do both. Well, maybe you can. I couldn’t. Well, I could, for two books’ worth. Anyhow.
I have no regrets. I am not afraid, I am not sad. I wish the best for my colleagues and my show. I have loved talking to you on the radio every day for the last seven years. And I love the idea of not doing it anymore.
Thank you for listening. You gave me a gift the size and shape of which I will wrestle with for some time yet. I hope I gave you something too. Thanks for listening to Mainstreet today. And thanks for letting me go.
That’s how much time I have left as the host of Mainstreet on CBC Radio One.
My encounters at the Farmers’ Market are now solidly with faces that are twisted in a rictus of “I am so SAD you are leaving,” to which I have struggled to find a correct response. I have settled on “thank you for saying so,” which seems to not satisfy any of us involved in the conversation. I am not sad. But I get that you are. And I thank you for feeling so strongly about me and my work. But I will not be changing my mind about this, based on your sadness. So: thank you for saying so. It means a lot to me that my presence on your radio has meant something to you. But I trust the team that makes Mainstreet, and I know you’ll learn to love again. It might take a while, but you’ll get there. The show will still be the show, and the new host, whoever it may be, will bring strengths and talents that will carry you through.
As for me, I keep searching myself for any fear of the future, and it’s just not there. I feel relief. I feel happiness and excitement. I feel deep anticipation about the moment I take my hands off the wheel. I do not feel sad, I do not feel scared.
I am keeping a mental list of Things I Will Miss and Things I Will Not Miss. Guess which one is longer?
I am struggling, a little, with what I will say as the minutes wind down on Thursday, December 17. I will need every minute of the next week and a day to figure it out, I think. Thirteen years at CBC. Eight or nine at this show I have loved. Much, much longer than I imagined I could stay anywhere.
I am so used to asking questions on the air, and so not used to saying what I think and feel (all those who think I talk about myself incessantly, commence rolling your eyes here. Then, do the math on a three-hour show that features at least eight different stories a day, show your work, and tell me what proportion of the day I spend talking about myself on the radio. And then let’s never speak again, shall we?) (I probably will not say that on the radio on Thursday, December 17, but you never know, so you should definitely tune in.).
In any event. I’m open to suggestion. What do YOU think I should say in my final moments behind the mic?