New Year Plans, er . . .

I was on a mission at Walmart the other day, with my aunt who is only two years older than me. Our search for whatever-it-was (I can’t remember the item now) was hijacked, however—though I didn’t realize it until my aunt burst out laughing.

“You really can’t help yourself, can you?” she exclaimed.

“What?” I asked, genuinely confused.

“You are totally ogling those spiral bound notebooks. You’re obsessed.”

Oops! Caught. What could I say? She was right. Even now, at the ripe young age of 46, I can’t help myself. Every fall, I am lured by the seductive cry of the wild—if “wild” can be used to describe the seasonal overflow of pre-sharpened pencils, whimsical erasers, bags of pens, fluorescent sticky notes, sketchpads, notebooks (yep, with spiral bindings being especially alluring), and other crucial necessities.

We shared a chuckle at my expense and like the mature adult I am, I refrained from putting even one super fun notebook in my cart, and got back on task. (Just what that task was still alludes me because I spent the rest of the time in the store wondering if the notebook I had my eye on would still be there by the time I could get back to it.*)

Anyway, I’m not actually writing to reveal my weirdly intense penchant for spiral bound notebooks. Instead I want to explain why I so earnestly seek them out. I blame it on the school system. No, seriously. All those formative years spent shopping for school supplies, reviewing class schedules, and marking up day planners, created monster-Ev—a completely non-mythical beast, who craves nothing more than purple ink and a year-at-a-glance calendar once the leaves start to change.

September always seems like the “official” start of a new year for me, and while I spend time in January reflecting back and looking ahead, fall is where my obsessive self really goes to town. (Only figuratively, of course. Literally, I’m on the couch, coffee close by, shiny new notebook in hand.)

And this year, taking stock of where I am and what I’m doing—and carving out time to do some planning and mapping—seems especially important. I have goals and re-envisioned dreams on every front, it seems: Home. Family. Friends. Health. Work. Community. I kind of feel the way I did when I moved from elementary school to junior high—like I’m on the cusp of a big change or a new stage of development. Dang it, that definitely calls for neon highlighters!

I’m being light-hearted and silly about it, but part of me feels anything but (kind of like how in the week or two before starting a new job or taking a class, you’re simultaneously fidgety with giddy excitement and gut-sickening dread).

Some seasons call for pulling back, to rest, restore, rejuvenate. Other seasons we need to push, to grow, to go, go, go! (I suspect I’ve given away which one I’m experiencing.)

Most of all, I regularly plan and prioritize, evaluate and possibly restructure, consider and recommit to—or dump—things because I’m keenly conscious of quickly time passes—and in the words of Annie Dillard, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” I hope I have decades ahead of me, but if I only have years, or months, or even weeks . . . I want to make sure I’m doing what I want or need to be doing—and life isn’t static. Different phases and stages call for different focuses.

Happy New Year—I mean, autumn. I hope your plans and schedules have you filled with excitement, optimism, and renewed energy—and if they don’t? Well, maybe you need a rest or a change . . . Either way, you definitely need to splurge on a new notebook and get to work.

*P.S. You can rest easy tonight, with no need to lie awake in tortured suspense. My dream spiral bound notebook was not gone! I returned to the store later that week, and—phew!—got the one my heart desired. It was a close call, though. There had been tons of the style I wanted, and I got the last one!

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“New Year Plans, er . . . ” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, October 4, 2018 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.”

Circles

So, after fourteen years or so where we are now, we’re moving. The house we bought used to be my dad’s—well, actually, my whole family’s. And they say you can’t go home again!

My new office is my old bedroom. Bizarre. And as I pulled out its carpet and built-in closet, then proceeded to paint the room a deep golden yellow called Bengalese Cream, I thought about circles—ones I want to continue and bring back to full strength (the gardens and flowerbeds, the yard!), and ones I want to break entirely, once and for all (for example, a genetic propensity for . . . collecting).

Memories crouch in every corner and sit on every shelf in my new-old house, and as in any life, some are wonderful . . . others not so much.

My little nephew visited one day while I was emptying out the kitchen, and found a smiley-faced toy carrot on a coffee table in the living room. “Hey, I remember this!” he exclaimed with delight—then his tone grew suspicious. “Wait, you’re not throwing it away are you?”

I assured him that no, I wasn’t throwing it away. It was a keeper. And it is. I think, literally, every child and grandchild of Simon and Susanne Higginson has chewed on that rubbery, squeaking toy. It’s practically an institution.

But I am recycling, gifting, selling, or scrap-yarding almost everything else. I have my own stuff, literally and metaphorically, to put into the house now.

At first I felt bad clearing things out, but time moves on and life constantly changes, regardless of the physical items we cling on to, trying to pretend nothing’s different. The task then is to carefully choose a few things that have special significance and pass on everything else to people who can use it better than you. Or that’s my aim anyway.

An antique doughboy in the entrance way will take its place in the living room once more. How can it not? Every time I see it, my sister’s a laughing toddler again, magazines strewn about her, waving, wildly proud, from the compartment she’s standing in.

A wardrobe from the 1800s reminds me of times spent in antique shops and second-hand stores with my mom.

A child-sized workbench, handmade by my dad, will remain in the garage. I can’t wait to outfit it with new tools (The labels for what should hang where are still there!) and restock it with miscellaneous lengths of wood for visiting kids to create with.

I’ve found a number of things we’d all thought lost forever, most notably a whole collection of pictures of one of my brothers. They’d been carefully pilfered out of the collection and mounted on poster board for his wedding. We all just forgot. It was profoundly sweet to look at this lifetime of childhood photos, chosen and arranged by my mom’s hand. You can feel the love—and the fun—she had in putting it together.

Other discoveries are as surprising and painful as a slip of a knife. A card from my husband’s mom (now deceased) to my mom when she was dying. Old letters from my parents to each other when they were fighting. Syringes, long outdated prescriptions, and other paraphernalia related to disease.

I wonder sometimes if I’m up to the task of taking on my family home, with all that concept entails—and while the verdict’s not in (It’s sort of a multi-year project), so far I’m pleasantly surprised and get a little more excited, a little more confident, about our decision every day.

The work is cathartic. I feel my parents smile at me occasionally. My mom shakes her head. “You’re not really going to keep that old thing are you, Ev?” My dad’s voice booms as I heft junk down the stairs: “Yep, you’ve always been a big strong girl.” (You can just imagine how I loved hearing that as a teen!) And in the kitchen, memories of my stepmom’s meals and baked treats inspire daydreams about future family events at the home I’ve circled back to . . .

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“Circles” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, June 26, 2013 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.”

While I was away . . .

I’m still in the process of Organizing My Office (note the capital letters, please). It’s a convoluted task. While I was away this summer, messmaker elves (a breed similar to the shoemaker’s elves in the old fairy tale, but nowhere near as helpful or benign) were hard at work. Or at least I’m pretty sure they were involved–I have no idea who else would’ve left stacks of notes jotted on crumpled scraps of paper, piles of mail (opened, but not dealt with), and mountains of miscallanea across the region called (in fond remembrance) my desk.

While other writers are in full fall mode and have already written inspiring posts about new energy to pursue goals and freshly scrutinized, revamped plans, I’m pulling out another trash bin. However, there’s been some progress. My keyboard is cleared (I do have my priorities), my year-at-a-glance calendar is updated (yes, I consider September the first month in a new year), and I’ve pulled down my corkboard (not sure that was a good decision) to replace with two new ones . . .

Before digging into my day’s work though (editing and writing a column, then organizing if I get to it ;-)), I wanted to share two exciting things that happened while I was away (no elves are involved this time): (1) I had a story accepted by AlienSkin Magazine. “Red Bird” will appear in their December 2009/January 2010 issue. (2) I got an e-mail about how well Cleavage – Breakaway Fiction For Real Girls is doing. It’s gone into a second printing and is listed in the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s Best Books for Kids & Teens 2009, as well as in Resource Links Best of 2008 for Grades 7 – 12. The editors Deb Loughead and Jocelyn Shipley continue to promote it and the book now has a trailer. I know my story is just one small part of the anthology, but I’m very excited about how the whole book has been received!

Autumn is re-energizing, but even more inspiring than new post-it-notes, colour-keyed schedules, and the like, is the fact that bit-by-bit I’m starting to amass a body of fiction. I’ve published non-fiction for awhile, but I’m eager to share my stories. Slowly, slowly it’s happening. It’s happening! And I don’t want to rush my year, but I’m already wondering what nice surprises I’ll look back at next September.

Do What You Want Day

One of the disadvantages (or advantages, depending on your type-A, work obsessive personality ☺) of working at home is that you can always work. I try to have set work hours, and adhered to play, family and “normal” person hours, but I confess that whenever I have a few spare moments, especially if the house is empty, I find myself working overtime. And why not? My office is right here…. I’ll just catch up on that one more thing, write that one line, get that one idea jotted down so it doesn’t slip my mind.  And I’m happy with that. As I wrote in a recent e-mail to a good friend, “I don’t feel horribly busy. I’m still playing games at night with the kids, reading, etc…  I guess I don’t really socialize a lot—but I do a bit, so yeah…. my schedule is do-able and good. :)”

Yesterday though, I kind of played hooky (another advantage/disadvantage, depending on your viewpoint—I’m my own boss. I may be unhappy with my work habits, but am I gonna get canned?  No way.). I’d come home from the gym and every muscle felt delicious—that good tired where everything’s been stretched and pulled and worked, but it’s the day before it hurts. Crispy-pretty blue-with-cold late autumn had turned into white, wonderful winter and everything was muted and made dreamy by a quickly thickening blanket. I had my double-cream coffee in hand, the woodstove was crackling away, and the animals were in various positions of complete sloth—cat sprawled belly up on back of chair, old dog curled up in a ball behind big plant, small dog sleeping on my feet.

Sitting in my office chair, I lifted my arms as high as I could stretch them and just felt good. I considered my long to-do list and hesitated. I have a big project with an open- ended deadline (ugh, the worst kind!), an editing job, and a column due soon. Plus, my latest WIP sits fresh and deserted from its first edit, ready for me to really put some teeth into it. I like each job, and I had an industrious day planned, but still I stalled…. And then I said, “It’s too good a day for a to-do list; it’s do what you want day!”

I spent some time on the Internet, browsing writing sites and boards that I don’t frequent as much as some others. I researched a few markets for articles I’ve let rest for too long—and then, feeling very motivated, I pitched two of them.  I finished two novels. Good stuff!  I split up my full day with an hour-long tub…. All in all, it was wonderful.  And productive.

It makes me laugh that even when I do exactly what I want, I end up doing exactly the same type of stuff I do on days that I’m sticking to a schedule. How lucky am I?  My real job is also my dream job.

If you work from home and the odd day calls, “Do you what you want, do what you want!”  I recommend listening to it.  Worse case scenario, you have to pull a few longer days later in the week or work Saturday morning (but come on, you do that anyway!).  Best case, you remember exactly why you work at home, alone, in the first place.