Journal

My younger sister gifted me with The Five Minute Journal not long ago, a concept created by Alex Ikonn and UJ Ramdas. The book arrived on my doorstep by surprise, and I was so delighted to receive a package that wasn’t kids’ clothes, or kids’ shoes, or a fridge filter, that I foolishly agreed to give it a try.

I committed to writing in The Five Minute Journal for five days. There is even a page in the journal called “My Commitment,” where you create a contract with yourself. I started the process, which (as the title literally says) requires just five minutes each day to journal, reflect, improve: “The simplest, most effective thing you can do every day to be happier.“

My first few thoughts were about my professional life — what I’ve done (so little), what I want to do (so much), the disproportionate amount of time that I give these goals. This is the corner of my life where I need to take inventory.

What would make today great?

Making time.
Staying focused.
Finding that overdue library book.

What are three major obstacles?

Time.
Distractions.
Where haven’t I looked for that library book?
Also I need to make that appointment. And that appointment.
And what is our schedule for this weekend and next month and who needs what when and what tasks to tackle first and are my kids ok and ding, ding, ding group text threads about our next get together, thank God.

My sister’s intent in giving me this journal was so sweet and so pure that it pains me to say that I failed. My journaling started Monday morning. And ended Monday morning. I didn’t even realize that I forgot to journal Monday night until Wednesday afternoon. I lasted two and a half minutes. I also didn’t complete my self-imposed consequence (cleaning the basement floors, which is a long-overdue chore that I should be doing anyway.) AND I also gave myself the reward (a high-end beauty product) even though I fell short on my commitment on the very first day. (Although I have to say, the goopy clay face mask DID make me happier.)

On the first page of the journal, the authors provided a helpful (and obviously intentional) quote by Meister Eckhart: “Be willing to be a beginner every single morning.”

So today’s new day — a great day to start over. Tomorrow is also a new day. As is Sunday. So that’s settled, Monday of next week it is.

Tackle

The day that many stay-at-home parents long for has arrived — my youngest child has started school. And while Kindergarten in Alberta is only half a day, I have half a day all to myself, Monday to Friday, to… do… what. Or, more accurately, what first?

Tidy, laundry, groceries, errands, organize, meditate, hibernate?

Pitch those features, polish that short story, finish the fourth attempt at a solid first draft of my manuscript?

Walk the puppy? Cuddle the cat? Spend quality time with our 12-year-old dog whose slip into senility has been hard to ignore?

Retail therapy? (Better not.)

Exercise? (Probably should.)

Coffee? (Start here.)

Despite imagining this moment for months, even years, its arrival has been surprisingly anti-climatic. Maybe that means I’m ready to manage my time, maybe that means it hasn’t quite hit me yet. Either way, the kids are at school, husband’s at work, and my growing to-do list remains relatively unchanged (and largely unchecked.)

Life. Moves. Forward. So, without much choice, will I.

imposteur!

A few weekends ago, I was dropping my middle girl off at a Bowl-A-Rama birthday party in the basement of a mall. My plan was to abandon my daughter at the party, hope that her carefully selected gift elicited the “oohs” and “ahhs” she was expecting (gift giving is very important to her) and then to head to Starbucks to work. I would sip coffee and squat at a table near an outlet until my writing task was done, goddammit.

As I was subtly backing away from the shoe rental counter and the cloud of anti-bacterial spray, the birthday girl’s wonderful parents said something adorable. They let me know I was “welcome to stay.” (Ha!) Thanks, I said, but I have to work.

Why I was brave enough to say that, I don’t know, because it’s not often that I admit that I “work.” It invites too many questions. What do you do? Write? What do you write? Books? The truth is, I hardly admit it to myself, let alone other humans, that writing is my “job.” Diminishing my legitimacy is far more comfortable than attempting to embrace it. In fact, despite the mentorships and manuscripts and publications, I still think I’m faking it. Calling it a hobby lowers the stakes. Especially when it comes to fiction, which is what I was working on that day. I couldn’t summon the courage to say, “I have to write,” because it felt misleading and pretentious and … wrong. So I corrected my excuse.

“I have to run errands,” I said.

Ah, yes, understood. No further questions. (In the language of parents, “errands” means, “You have my kid for the next two hours, I have things to do, thank you, goodbye.”)

I planted a kiss on my daughter’s forehead of got the hell out of there, trying to pump myself up for a productive two-hour writing sessions that was absolutely critical thanks to a looming deadline and my penchant for procrastination.

On my way out of the bowling alley, I spotted a magazine rack. Funny, I thought, I have an article in one of those magazines. Then I spotted a second publication that featured my by-line, and then a third — three different local magazines, three new issues, three separate stories for which I was commissioned and paid.

Saying, “I have to work” felt like a lie, even though it wasn’t, and it occurs to me that that probably isn’t normal. There I was, standing in front of a stack of evidence that literally had my name on it, and I still wasn’t comfortable claiming them as my accomplishments. (Even writing this post was hard — I considered saying I had one magazine article on the rack, because it seemed less boastful, but the truth is there were three.)

I don’t have an answer for imposter syndrome, any more than I have an answer for procrastination. Both present roadblocks. Both operate outside of the realm of reason. Both a rearing their ugly head this week as I scramble to meet another cluster of deadlines. So, no neat wrap-up here — no revolutionary reflection that cures my deep-seeded anxieties and self-doubt. I don’t have the answers, and today, I don’t have the time. I have “errands” to do.

Mommy and Me

Years ago, when I was a recent master’s graduate searching for my first “real” job, my husband (then boyfriend) provided this helpful theory: the only thing you need to get a job is another job. Translation: when you’re jobless, there are no jobs. When you’re working, poof! Suddenly there’s a world of opportunities.

My partner, as he often does, proved correct. My yet-to-be-paid-for journalism degrees and I accepted a job entering time sheets in the bowels of an engineering firm’s accounts payable. (Or accounts receivable? I’m still not sure…) The company needed someone who could type and file, and I needed a job to get a job. It worked. Shortly after, I applied and was hired for a dream job, programming study abroad for the local community college, while freelancing for a local magazine on the side.

Fast forward a few years, a few moves, and a few kids, and I find myself in a familiar position. In freelance life, it seems that the only thing you need to get a writing assignment is another writing assignment. I’ve only been freelancing (moonlighting) again for a year, and my busiest times are clumped together in one big bunch, when I’m happily under the gun to file several stories at a time. Sometimes I take on too much, partly because I work best under pressure, partly because I can’t say no, but mostly because it feels good. (Is that why I have three kids so close in age?)

During the slow times, when I’m tinkering rather than toiling, I have the unfortunate luxury to consider my life choices—the personal, the professional, the pixie cut of 2011 (disaster). Parenting is still my favourite full-time assignment, but my duties are shifting—not lessening, but evolving—which leaves more room for the other parts of my identity to emerge from hibernation. As the kids become more independant, it’s easier and arguably essential to revive and embrace those dormant parts. (The personal and the professional parts, not the pixie cut.) Perhaps Mother’s Day is the wrong time to think about my identity other than “mom.” Or maybe it’s the perfect time. Besides, maybe all you need for an identity… is another identity?

In Print: A Christmas in Calgary

One of the greatest joys of being an adult is cherry-picking the traditions of your childhood to suit your current tastes. Right? My husband and I have carried forward some of our favourite family Christmas traditions, including choosing the perfect real tree together and re-creating each delicious holiday recipe from our mothers and grandmothers. (Overeating can be a tradition, no?)

Other traditions, we’ve adjusted. My family opened all our gifts on Christmas Eve, while my husband’s family joyfully tore them open on Christmas morning. Now, we do one gift each on Christmas Eve and the rest in the morning (in orderly fashion—change is hard).

We’ve also added some new traditions. The Nutcracker Ballet on December 23, outdoor skating on Christmas Eve, stomach flu some time around Boxing Day. (Please, let this be the year that we break that tradition.)

For Vern. Magazine, I was able to write about finding the perfect real tree in Calgary (and yes, we’ve already picked ours out together, a lovely 8-footer from Eastern Nova Scotia) and some of Calgary’s best holiday traditions to enjoy as a family. I hope they bring you joy!

7 Holiday Traditions Your Family Will Love To Keep, Vern Magazine, November 2017

3 Ways to Find a Real Christmas Tree in Calgary, Vern Magazine, November 2017

 

In Print: Eat, Drink and be Maritime

When my husband and I moved to Calgary almost a decade ago, one of the first things we (he) did was begin the search for the beloved food of our homeland: donairs. If I’m being truthful, the donair is not really one of my staple cravings (gasp!) but it’s definitely an emblem of home. And I crave all things Nova Scotia, all the time. So, I wrote this story for Vern. Magazine about finding East Coast comfort in cow town. Cheers!

Eat, Drink and be Maritime, Vern Magazine, October 2017

In Print: Empty Net

Writing this story for Calgary Hockey Magazine on Calgary’s female goalie shortage had some net benefits (sorry). First, I love writing for this publication. It’s full of great stories, great writing and is available for free at every rink in the city. Second, I love writing about Calgary’s amazing female minor hockey community. Our family fell into the hockey world, somewhat reluctantly, a few years ago and have happily adopted it as our own ever since. (There are literally matching jackets). And third, I love interviewing kids. I’ve been lucky enough to interview some amazing kids for this publication and for LEAP Magazine, and it’s quickly becoming one of my favourite things to do. I hope you enjoy!

Empty Net, Calgary Hockey Magazine, Fall 2017