Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Don’t Think About it All at Once

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Here’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. A friend recently advised me what a friend had advised her: don’t think about it all at once. She was referring to the world after having a baby. She’s just gone back to work, to a job that she hates at the moment, probably because she spends whole days yearning after her child. And she knows that many of her daycare providers have babies in yet another daycare, and so they spend their whole days thinking about their own children. We find ourselves in Paul Murray’s twinned spirals of yearning and desire, each thinking about someone else. We’re none of us closed loops anymore. She’s right. Her friend is right. Don’t think about it all at once.

Here’s another thing that I’ve been thinking about. Malcolm Gladwell wrote in an essay that it takes 10,000 hours to master anything. People have been working on debunking this theory. I still think that the thought behind it is interesting. I like the idea of dedicated practice. I think that writers should probably read, architects should probably study, and everyone should probably wipe out a little bit, especially as they’re starting out. In a master class, A.L. Kennedy once talked about feeding your art, and I like this broad idea of practice too, the idea that the 10,000 hours should involve living a full and reasonable life, to getting an accumulation of experience. I’m also fairly dedicated to the idea of failure being important. I have a few novels that live in probably defunct USBs, or in the murky world of cloud storage somewhere. I picture them as deformed little creatures with giant blinking eyes, eighteen arms and no legs at all. I didn’t write them thinking that they were just practice. I try not to think too much about it. The detractors of the 10,000 hours studies write about eureka moments and natural ability. I don’t know. I’m quite sure that I’ve read about some of the greatest writers and their monstrously good editors. That could be consolation. I do know that. I try not to think about it all at once.

Another thing I’ve been reading about and worrying about lately is grit. A big parenting question is: should you leave your baby in a situation that makes him wildly unhappy (a daycare that isn’t working out, for instance). The theory is that if you do, he or she might develop a character trait known popularly now as grit. I finally looked up the word, and it’s got an interesting definition, but I think that a word that comes closer to what the parenting books and bloggers want is resilience. My answer to the question is this: oh god, I don’t know. I know that I want my son to be resilient, but I don’t know if the particular brand of resilience that I want him to have is the knowledge that the world can be a slightly unsafe or worryingly uncomfortable place, at least not quite yet. And what does grit mean for grownups? I can sometimes keep myself in uncomfortable situations because I know that I can just go home at the end of the day, and I’ve always thought that stick-to-itiveness is something to be admired . And it adds experience and emotion to the palette. And, let’s be honest, the alternative is scary. I consoled myself that putting up with stuff shows grit. At the same time, I want my little boy to know that he should only be in situations in which he’s respected and valued. I know that he watches me. And he’s smart. He picks up on so much, even when I’d prefer for him not to, and I know that he’s watching how I live my life. I also worry about my failed novel creatures twitching away in the clouds of the google universe. Did I abandon them because someone made a comment, or did someone look at me funny when I was trying to describe them? Did I throw them away too early? What does grit mean, to a writer? Again, I try not to think about it all at once.

Here’s the thing. I’ve written failed novels, and I’ll write more, I have no doubt. I never know whether a project will succeed when I’m starting, and I would never want that uncertainty to stop me from trying. I’ve spent easily 10,000 hours just on the writing part, and I’ll spend 10,00 more, even though I have very little time to be alone, and I do it because I love it. Here’s another thing: it’s hard to figure out how to live a life. My solution has been to stay home with my son during the day and to teach online at night. I hope that maybe grit can wait, and that maybe resilience can be a shared thing: maybe I can teach him first that we can count on each other. This configuration has meant giving things up (for the moment anyway), things that I used to really love, like yoga, TV, movies, classroom teaching, etc. And nights can be rough. And it also gives me very little time to devote to writing. I have about twenty minutes a night that I can justify, often a lot less, so many nights no time at all. I love that writing time, however much I can get. I can be alone inside my head, yet connected to something, and it’s a great feeling. Here’s one more thing: even though I love the time that I spend writing, the feeling of the world opening up, I miss my son when I’m doing it. Part of me wishes that he could be there with me too. I wasn’t prepared for so much love. Nothing can prepare you for this much love. Don’t think about it all at once.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Alexis von Konigslow

Alexis von Konigslow has degrees in mathematics from Queen's and creative writing from Guelph. Her debut novel, The Capacity for Infinite Happiness, was recently called Arcadia for the connected age. She lives in Toronto.

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