This is what my son, 5, told his sister, 7, in the car this afternoon on the way to karate…

“Do you know what’s happenin’
in New York right now?”

“No.”

“A statue breaked. It fell on the road.
And they glued it. And it’s fixed.”

When I asked him where he heard about the statue, he shrugged and said, I dreamed it.

I wish we could fix what’s broken.

All my love…,

Haley

 


Right now, I’m sitting on my couch. My cat, Minden, is on my lap trying his best to stick his tongue down my throat, but I position my head so I’m just out of its gooey, raspy reach. Even though he has no teeth, except for one fang (upper left), his breath is pungent — and I start to think that, though it’s cheap, this isn’t the best way to exfoliate my skin. A layer of dead skin cells successfully removed from my chin nonetheless, he lies down on my arm as I type, purring like a lawn mower, noxious fumes and all.

I work at home a couple of days a week now. It’s great because I can finally get the solitude I need to nurture my neglected introverted self without indulging my inner hermit too, too much — since I work at the office the other three days a week. And it’s great because I can take the kids for lunch, manage my time better, and wear Lululemons even more often (whether you think they’re actual pants or not).

While I’d love to write here at Cheaty Monkey more often — in case you haven’t noticed, every post I write here is vexed with apology, guilt, regret for not blogging as much as I used to — I’ve come to see my absence from this space not as a failure but as part of my personal evolution. The urge to write here just isn’t there very often. The urge to share in this way just isn’t there. Sad, but true.

So I release you, Self-Inflicted Pressure.

These days, I find myself exploring other writing urges that require a lot of time, silence and solitude — all of which are hard to come by when you have a five- and seven-year-old, and a bizarre little Maltese who has just made me lose my train of thought.

She’s barking at a human and his dog outside. If she came face-to-face with them on the sidewalk, she’d hide between my legs, shaking, curly tail tucked straight down. She’s like an Internet troll: she’d never say it to their faces; but place a screen in front of her, and she’s fierce as a lion. Thankfully, I just discovered that if I say, “Want to go for a walk?” she’ll stop barking immediately, curl up in a ball on the couch and cower. “Canine Walkophobia.” It’s not a real condition because the animal psychiatrists haven’t discovered it yet, until right now.

I’m not sure where these new writing urges have come from, but I’m giving them time. Maybe they came from my kids, who are bursting with creativity at every turn. Just last night, before bed, the Monkey designed an “Indian Princess” gown out of my scarves and a necklace. I kid you not: this was Project Runway material. And at seven years old, she’s the Editor-in-Chief of her own magazine, Today’s Kids, which, among other things, cautions kids not to swing on chandeliers.

The Rascal bowls me over all the time with his boisterous imaginary play. Put him in a room with two little cars, and he’ll be shouting in minutes, absorbed in the most intense race the world has ever seen.

***

I remember one class in particular when I was a student in the Visual Arts Program at York University. It was a class that focused on alternative arts, like Found and Performance art. I thought it was the silliest class ever at the time, but it’s the one that seems to have resonated the most with me over the years. One of the assignments we had to do was a “found art” project: we were asked to put together a piece made up of found objects. I wasn’t prepared at all for the assignment, for some reason, so I said, “WTF, I’ll just put a bunch of stuff from around the studio in a pile and see what the class comes up with.”

I ran around room in my flannel button-down, tight black tank and ripped jeans, piling chairs on top of one another, adorning them with paper weights, twigs, art supplies, cups, anything that I could find — the more baffling, the better — as the class watched. I stayed perfectly silent, insisting that the building of the piece was a fundamental part of the piece itself, and I made them guess. Everyone was, indeed, baffled. “What is it?” the professor asked. “You tell me.”

So maybe that’s where I go from here. I don’t have a message, a theme, a place to start. But I have an urge to write fiction (this has surprised me too, believe me) — short fiction, to be precise, because it’s the midpoint between my two favourite literary genres, poetry and the novel. I carry this urge with me wherever I go: a burning satchel on my hip, multicoloured like the rogue hacky sack that’s taken up residence in my purse.

I’m not sure exactly when I’ll be back here. Probably in a month, because that seems to be the pattern with my “Cheaty Monkey urge.” Until then, I’ll be figuring out what this “writing short fiction urge” is about by handwriting a lot in my notebook, going back to yoga (yes!) for that integral silence and solitude, and getting inspired by my kids’ awesome creative bursts, my odd dog and toothless cat. And of course, I’ll be writing up a storm at Todaysparent.com, and sharing little sparks and photos on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Love!

xo Haley-O


I learned my first major writing lesson when I was in graduate school studying English literature. I was a straight A+ student (nerd!) across the board, and the pressure was mounting with every assignment my professors gave me. One day, it came to a head.

I was taking a course called “American Minority Literature,” and the professor asked me to prepare a seminar on a new Asian American novel (the name of which I can’t remember now). As usual, I waited until the night before to pull the seminar together, and I had nothing. Nothing. The annoying A+ student was about to sit in front of a room of expectant eyes and FAIL.

I was stuck. Sitting at my little desk by the wall, all I could think about was the classroom full of eyes I was about to face, the disappointed professor at the head of the large table, shaking his head. I sat there staring at the novel and then back at my blank screen, blinking cursor, ticking minutes. I had nothing.

Finally, I decided that I couldn’t show up to my seminar with nothing, and that I’d better just write something. So I choked back my tears and wrote. I skimmed through the book for the fifteenth time, and I started simply writing crap. This is pretty much what it looked like:

The protagonist has black hair. She wears a yellow shirt. She is in a race. There is some wax. Corn in the fields…. Why is there all that wax?

WAIT!

Wax, corn, ears of corn. Ears. Labyrinth. Ears look like a labyrinth. Search. Identity. Asian American girl. Search for identity. YES! YES! YES! YES! YES!

Just from writing what I like to call “CRAP,” I completely solved the intricate symbolic puzzle that was this novel. I got an A+ on my presentation and its accompanying essay, and the professor suggested I submit the work for publication.

Fundamentally, though, in order to write crap in the first place, something very difficult and humbling had to shift for my perfectionist, high-achieving self: I had to dash all my high expectations, and I had to accept and be OK with the possibility of failure.

So here’s what I advised in my session, “Get into the Habit: Developing a Writing Practice,” at this year’s Blissdom Canada Conference:

WRITE CRAP: Just write. It doesn’t matter what you write; just do it. Preferably every day.

PICK THE GEMS OUT OF THE CRAP: Isn’t this gorgeous? It usually takes up to two paragraphs, but sometimes as little as two sentences, of writing crap for the gems to emerge. When you feel stuck writing a blog post (about any subject), just start writing crap around it, and the gems will come.

THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS WRITER’S BLOCK: If you feel blocked, just write — even if you’re writing “I suck I suck I hate myself I can’t write this is crap.” If you feel extra blocked, check and see what you’re actually physically looking at. Are you looking at the floor? A blank screen? Your thumbs? Not good if you’re feeling stuck. GO OUTSIDE. Look at the sky, the moon. There’s a universe of ideas out there.

BE OK WITH FAILING: You seriously can’t be perfect all the time. Even I am not that amazing. (HA! Bygones.) Sometimes you’re going to have to put out what you think is crap, especially if you blog a lot, like I do. And that’s OK. It’ll humble you. And that humbling is part of your writing process: it opens you up so that the good stuff is free to blossom — beyond the bounds of your typically critical, confidence-blocking ego. If what you write actually is total crap, then wait a while, get some distance, and revisit it before you publish. Sometimes all your crap needs is a good edit.

DASH YOUR EXPECTATIONS: If you approach your keyboard thinking, “I’m going to write the next great Canadian novel,” you will most likely freeze. Or you’ll wait, and you’ll read everything you can on writing the next great Canadian novel. And then you’ll never do it. So dash that expectation, dash the how-to books, and just write.

Developing Your Writing Practice

This blog, Cheaty Monkey, is a record of my writing practice. My mother often says I should turn it into a book. “I just know some publisher is going to snatch it up and make a book out of it,” she often tells me. But I don’t really think of it that way. This blog isn’t a finished product by any means; it’s very much a process.

I specifically started this blog to cultivate my writing practice. I had read enough Julia Cameron to know that if I wanted to be a writer, I needed to write every day. So I adopted her practice of “morning pages”: I hand wrote three stream-of-consciousness pages every day. I later evolved that practice into publishing a blog post every weekday. Through that rigorous writing practice, I was able to find and develop my own voice, and to observe the crap-to-gem process (the same process I learned in that epiphanic graduate seminar) over and over again.

Based on these experiences, this is what I suggest all aspiring writers do:

WRITE EVERY DAY: Write at least three pages about anything and everything that comes to your mind. And don’t underestimate the handwritten word! When I faced the task of writing about our family emergency last May, I knew I couldn’t face a blank computer screen; my expectations for myself (to do justice to the event) were too great. So I sat in my car one day during my daughter’s dance class, rolled the windows down, looked at the sky, took a deep breath, and I hand wrote the whole blog post on some blank pages at the back of a novel I had with me. Later, I was able to type it into my blog with some much-needed distance from it, and productively edit out the parts I felt were too personal, etc.

BLOG YOUR PRACTICE: If you put your practice online, you not only get all the benefits from your writing practice, but you also develop your online presence, and most importantly, you build a public portfolio. So, when you come face-to-face with, say…, the General Manager of a national parenting magazine, she knows your work, and your name. And she may just hire you!

In 2006, I started blogging my writing practice. I wrote every day, even if it meant writing at 3 a.m. between baby feedings. One day, in April 2010, I happened to meet the General Manager of Today’s Parent Magazine‘s website at a Marks Work Warehouse blogger/media event. A few weeks later, I was hired as Writer/Editor. Look for me on the magazine masthead (yes, that still excites me)!

It’s funny, around the time the book The Secret came out, I started writing down my career aspirations as part of my practice. I knew I wanted to be a writer, but I hadn’t really articulated what I wanted to write. Until one day, and I believe I actually posted this somewhere in this blog, I wrote: “I want to write for a magazine like Chatelaine or Flare.” And, what do you know? Down one hall from my desk at the Today’s Parent office is Flare. And down the other hall is Chatelaine.

As the great yoga guru, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (and my inspiring yoga teacher after him) famously said, Do your practice, and all is coming.” Do your writing practice, and all is coming.

Suggested resources:

1. Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way.

2. Stephen King, On Writing.

3. Sarah Selecky’s writing prompts on Twitter, @SarahSelecky.

4. Natalie Rosenberg, Writing Down the Bones.

5. Lynne Truss, Eats, Shoots & Leaves.

6. Twitter: Build blog posts out of (or around) your tweets. They’re yours, so use them!

7. Instagram: Build blog posts out of your pretty, filtered pictures! It’s a great visual record of your ideas.

8. Novels, short stories, poems, plays, blogs, articles. Read what you want to write!

Next week I’ll share what my own writing practice is like now that I write all day at Today’s Parent!

 


When I’m not writing at Today’s Parent, I’m taking much-needed time off all writing, and living life — playing with the kids, cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, driving the kids around, helping them with homework, drinking tea, watching karate, watching soccer, watching dancing, reading, tweeting, Facebooking, Instagramming.

I’m telling you this because something was brought to my attention the other day. Well, it was really a few weeks ago, but it seems to take a few weeks for this piper to actually sit thee down and write* here these days, in case you haven’t noticed.

I bumped into my old friend Ryan, who’s also a Cheaty Monkey reader, and she said something like, “I miss you now that you’re not online anymore.”

Not online? ME? You miss me? Not online?

Eager to know if other friends “missed” me online, I went up to some more old Cheaty Monkey readers in the schoolyard, and asked them if they thought I’d totally deserted them too.

“You know, Angela,” I said to one of the lovely moms, “I may not write at Cheaty Monkey that much anymore, but I’m all over Todaysparent.com all the time.”

Like Ryan, she had no idea.

“I write a bunch of blogs every day there,” I explained, “Mostly about celebrity families, but also on tough parenting topics like bullying and dealing with tragedy. If you’d like, please check it out!” (I am shameless.)

I said this to Ryan and Ang, and I’m going to say it to you now too: If you miss me (and I miss you too, believe me!), please friend me on Facebook. I keep it pretty well updated with some of my celebrity posts, ALL of my weekly celebrity galleries (UPPAbaby stroller contest in this one, hollaaa!), ALL of my more personal writing both at Cheaty Monkey and at Today’s Parent, and of course, with lots of photos.

Speaking of which….

Yes, another great reason you need to friend me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter NOW. Betty White was sleeping beside me when I took that picture (that’s what they call need-to-know information).

Please don’t “miss” me! Let’s stay connected on Facebook, Twitter, and a little more often here (I’ll definitely try).

In other news:

- I have successfully lost seven pounds.

– People who write comments without reading articles properly are, as the Rascal used to say, “vewy fustifating” (trans.: very frustrating).

– I’m giving a talk (well three talks…three sessions) on developing a daily writing practice at this month’s Blissdom Conference.

– I’m going to talk about why a daily writing practice is important, what to write about, why to use a blog as your platform, and a bit about my own writing practice.

– I’m also going to talk about how sometimes a writing practice may actually involve not writing. But that’s only really if you do NOTHING but write and edit all day long. *cough*

– Otherwise, write.

– Every day.

– After the session, I’ll share all my secrets here.

– Or…, maybe three weeks after the session.

– But NO! I will write here more often.

– I officially suck at going to yoga.

– Instead of going to yoga, I’ve been riding my stationary bike while watching The Voice, The Real Housewives of New Jersey, or Pokemon.

– Yeah, it doesn’t get much worse than that.

– I’m just still too self-conscious in the yoga room.

– I was going to title this post “An Open Letter to My Yoga Teacher.”

– Hmm, maybe I will anyway.

– But next week, I’ll be closer than I’ve been in the last five years to my goal weight, so I may just show up at the shala.

– Oh, wait, but Josh is away.

– So maybe sooner.

– In my microsession, I will also talk about using Instagram and Twitter/Facebook photos to build your blog posts.

– You won’t want to miss that.

– I could also do a whole other session on how to blog with a massive cat on your lap…

– …who wants nothing more out of life than to stick his tongue down your throat.

– OH! I know.

– Maybe next year.

I miss you and will try to write here more often. I may have a full writing practice at Today’s Parent, but I can’t really post photos of my pets there, now can I?

LOVE!

xo Haley-O

* From William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience — one of my fave literary works of all time. Tiger, Tiger burning bright / In the forests of the night, / What immortal hand or eye / Could frame thy fearful symmetry?


Ohh, now I know why I’ve been avoiding writing this post. I’m crying again. It’s been two weeks since she died, on the kids’ first day of school, and it’s so hard for me to sit and think about her because tears start steaming and my ears start to ache. I can’t do it anymore.

When I calm down I feel a gentle wave across my chest and arms. She’s been a part of my soul, another limb, my wispy shadow for 16 years.

I haven’t wanted to write this post because it took me a week to stop crying, and then I was physically exhausted. When a pet dies, it’s not simply the loss of an animal friend. It’s the loss of a family member, a part of you, of time, an era. She was a living relic in my house who was always there. She was with me when I lived alone in university, when I met Josh, when I moved back to Toronto and into my own humble apartment. She moved with me to my first house with Josh. He and I got engaged, married, had kids. She was there.

She was sweet, beautiful, quiet, playful, aloof. She only had eyes for me, and there was something very special for me about that. Her purr was soft; you had to put your ear to her to hear it. And I once caught her hanging from the window ledge in my university apartment — from her claws. That made me laugh just now….

When she first came to me, her name was “Maggy.” But her meow was so raspy it reminded me of Marge Simpson, so I named her “Marge.” And then I spelled it “Maaarge!” because “Marge” is such a bizarre name for a kitty, so why not.

In the last year of her life, she meowed a lot. I hear it now, echoing in the silence here. She was so hungry; I couldn’t feed her enough. Then she started having the seizures, and I started having to medicate her twice a day. So every night and every morning, I feel that urgency still to give Maaarge her meds. But she’s not here.

We got seven more months with her — since the seizures started — and I’m grateful, but a little more time…….

Then two weeks ago we found her paralyzed from the waist down on our dining room table. And she still wanted to eat. As long as they want to eat they want to live, they say. But by the time we got her to the vet, after I kissed my kids and wished them an awesome first day of school, she was fading away.

We don’t really know what happened. The vet suspects a clot, or maybe the brain tumour that (we suspect) caused the seizures.

This hasn’t been the greatest year for me. I think that’s partly why I haven’t been wanting to blog so much. I’m feeling sad, and private and closed. When I’m not working with my wonderful friends at Today’s Parent Magazine, I just want to get offline and be still, quiet and with my family. I haven’t wanted to go to yoga either because I hate crying there.

A lot of things are changing. Maaarge’s death was a blow.

The day she died, Betty White spent most of the day curled up in a ball on my bed. “See, Betty,” I found myself telling her, “I’ll never let you suffer.”

Thank you, Maaarge, for loving me, for teaching me how limitless my care can be, for teaching me patience and acceptance, for playing with me.

We hated that you lived on our dining room table. But we loved you so much that we let you….

Two days before she died, I dreamed of Simba. His image was very vivid, and he was big before me. I looked at him. We were face to face, and he said, “Hi.”

The other day I was putting the dishes away, and a plastic lid spontaneously fell down on me from one of the kitchen shelves. It felt like it was her. I could imagine her sitting on the shelf, batting the lid with her little paw. It’s something her spirit would do — tease me, play tricks on me. I’ll watch for that. I still can’t imagine her not here….

I love you, my Maaarge. See you in my dreams.

Love…

xo Haley-O

P.S. Many thanks to the amazing vets, technicians, assistants at the Laird-Eglinton Pet Hospital. Maaarged loved it at the vet because you all loved her too. I’ll always be grateful.

 

 


Everyone’s been noticing the time. It’s flying. I don’t know if it’s a cosmic thing or because we’re all older now. The ratio of my 37 years to a day is obviously much vaster than the Monkey’s 7 years to a day — so, as some have theorized, a day for me is much shorter than it is for my kids.

But there are other factors too. Because of our iPhones and Twitter, Facebook, endless emails, so much entertainment and information, we’re never bored. Time flies when you’re having fun, right? And there’s never a dull moment with so much activity at our fingertips.

When I look around at the parents at camp pickup, and when I take a look at myself as I usher the kids from camp, to the grocery store, home, dinner, bath, bed, we’re always rushing. “Jack, let’s go! We’re going to be late!” “Hurry up, Ella! You can play with that in the car.” “Why are you so slow, Monkey?”

No wonder time’s going so fast.

I don’t want it to go this fast….

So I’ve been watching my kids lately, taking their lead when it comes to time. I’ve been waiting a little more patiently, breathing and observing as my son picks his favourite rock out of a pile on our way to camp. I’ve been letting him take his sweet time climbing onto his massive car seat (he’s not 40 pounds yet, and I’m in no rush…) and proudly fumbling with the seat belt. And I’m consciously being more patient when my kids don’t respond right away — because they’re simply in a different time zone than I am.

And with this realization that there is another time zone — there is more time — I’m losing some of my urgency. Trying to. There’s no need to lose weight tomorrow, or live the perfect lifestyle (us Virgos crave) right now, because life is a process. It’s not a finished product — not until we die, anyway. And it’s so fast-paced these days that so much simply has to be left unfinished. My work will never be done, the 1,068 emails sitting in my inbox will never be fully answered (even read), the house will never be clean, this post will never be perfectly finished. And I won’t ever feel rested. Not at the impossible pace I try to keep.

As my yoga teacher once told me when I was trying to accomplish a difficult pose, “We’ve got time.” We do.

Everything is endless, a process, ongoing, fluctuation. So I’m letting things be, still trying my best, and learning from my kids to watch, not wait, but stop.

Love…

xo Haley-O


Chin high. Face filthy. Shoulders square and teeny. Oy. He was very proud to be wearing his mama’s favourite t-shirt. For some unidentified reason, I beam whenever he puts it on. And the neon bracelets (aka scary chemical bangles he got in a loot bag and that I hate and hid as soon as he put them down and looked the other way) add the perfect touch, don’t they? He comes in peace — this bizarre, uncannily cute being of mine.

“Mama! Mama! I am 35-point-zero pounds today, Mama!”

Look at him riding my stationary bike (and singing). He’s actually pedaling….

I am crazy about this child. So much that I can’t deal. And, after what we went through last May, I thank God every day for his health and contagious enthusiasm for life. Though I wish he’d drink his lemon water, eat more greens, clean up his Ninjago spinners, spare me that ringing in my ears from extra-high-pitched pleadings to watch Star Wars (again), and sleep in his own bed.

Of course, I am also crazy about his big sister.

I took her to “the crystal store” (as she likes to call it) this evening — a little mom-and-daughter outing. She’s turning seven (SEVEN) on Saturday, so this was a special pre-birthday gift. You see, she loves fairies. And she sparkles in these spiritual shops, which incidentally attract others who also believe in fairies. Her favourite is a charming store called “Odyssey,” which is worth the drive all the way out to Pickering. So that’s where we went.

She bought a necklace with a charm full of “pixie dust,” a miniature blue bird — “for happiness,” the lady behind the counter said — a little blue cluster of crystals, a coin with a saying on it that she liked, and a mini “fresh picked rainbow,” which I’m still not quite sure how she’s going to use.

I love being eccentric and imaginative with her. And if you know me well enough, you know I often have a crystal hanging on my neck.

“Mama, d’you know what? Selena Gomez is Justin Beaver’s girlfriend.” Did you learn that in school, Monkey? “No, Grandma told me.”

I’m also crazy about our magnificent Betty White….

…our little lover, Minden…

…and our beautiful MAAARGE! (who, alas, isn’t doing so well, I learned at the vet just today)….

(If you want to see ALL the things I’m crazy about, by the way, check me out on Instagram — love love love! And if you’re on Instagram, tell me your username in the comments, and I’ll follow you back.)

Also, big news: I finally got a wedding ring that I’ll actually wear. Strangely enough, I loathe conventional jewellery, and my original rings have been tight ever since I had kids. But this ring’s very light, simple and symbolic for me. Josh is thrilled, of course — I guess because he’s crazy about me. And I guess I’m crazy about him too, enough to wear a piece of jewellery…that doesn’t contain crystals.

Love!

xo Haley-O

P.S. I’ve been up to a lot, as usual, at Today’s Parent. Check out my most recent blog posts and galleries (every week I do a fun celebrity gallery) over at Celebrity Candy! And some other fascinating stuff my fellow editors and I have written over at On Our Minds.

« Previous PageNext Page »