Jennifer Neri's Blog

Back of every creation, supporting it like an arch, is faith. Enthusiasm is nothing: it comes and goes. But if one believes, then miracles occur. Henry Miller


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Hey, there’s some sap on your back.

Okay, let’s get sappy for a moment. It’s Olympic season—let’s put a little sap into all that muscle. For two weeks most people around me are glued to whatever device they have access to, holding their breaths, and hoping their favorites take gold. Stories are being told of how these Olympians do it—how they defeat the limits of the body to perform in this unreached way. And to me these stories are the most important take-away. They tell us what it takes to succeed, to overcome.

olympic rings 2012 (8)

When I was a kid I was an avid skier. In my mid-teens I discovered ballet, and threw myself into it, giving up just about every other physical activity. After a couple of years I joined a troupe and did what we here call sports-etudes, which meant the major part of my day was spent in the studio and I was exempt from most school classes. I danced for 8-10 hours a day. I’d be in the studio when no one else was, I’d be in my dorm practicing, I would even practice in my dreams. As my studies came to an end and opportunities began opening up, my knees gave out. All that skiing, they said, followed by intense dance training. I was given a choice: give up dancing, or undergo a surgery that may leave me worse, possible with difficulties even walking. I gave up dancing.

That was my choice. I didn’t have it in me to take the risk. To these Olympians a choice like that would be a no-brainer: they’d choose surgery. If there was any chance they could continue doing what they like best they’d take it, risks be damned. Insane, some of us would think.

Now, too many years later to name, I’m a writer. I’ve been working on the same novel for too many years to name as well. I’m coming to an end of this novel, a true end. What I’ve learnt in all this process of countless years of writing is that I need the insane. I need the OCD. I need the brutality of perfectionism. I need to push and push, and loose hair and teeth. I need to cry in the dark. And more than that I need the will to keep at it.

The thing all these Olympians have in common is a belief in self. They know they can do it. They don’t care how long it will take, how much practice it will require, how much they have to give up. They can do it. A when they fall, when they injure themselves repeatedly, it’s fine, because they will heal and they will continue until they get there.

And they have one more thing. They have support. They don’t do it alone. They have family, friends, coaches, teams, who believe it them. And eventually they have a country backing them up.

At my kids’ elementary school, they’ve been going nuts with Sochi. Watching the events on Smartboards in classes. All their schoolwork has been Olympic geared for the last two months. They’ve done many written and oral projects. And the phys-ed department posted a YouTube video supporting the Canadian team.

After I watched it with my kids I told them to re-watch it, and imagine that all this was done for them—that they had all this support behind them. That they could do whatever they wanted in life, if only they have the right attitude.

I tell you the same thing: watch the video and imagine that all this is to support you and what you want to do. At the end of the video, all that screaming is to cheer you on. All the banners have your name on it. And when you’re done watching, then go, and do it, whatever it is. Because you can.


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9 New Year’s resolutions for a writer, ie. me

1. Get dressed every day of the week. Okay, 5 days out of 7. Fine, 4 days. NB: Pants with coat covering pajama top and hat covering head does not count as getting dressed.

2. Speak to people who are not my children or my children’s teachers at least three times a week.

3. Do not live inside my head so much so that said people can actually speak to me.

4. Do not turn every incident into opening scene of a story. See note no. 3.

5. Remember that children need to eat on a regular basis.

6. Remember that children should be picked up on time from school, otherwise kids gets ushered into office and exasperated staff from school call with snarky voice.

7. Periodically leave the house for something other than driving children and buying food. ie. Go for walk, or do yoga, or have lunch with a friend. See note 3 and 4.

8. This is the most important. It will help when New Year’s Resolutions are not kept:

Remember the power of introverts.

9. When have broken all resolutions and am proudly basking in power of introverts, must remember am not hermit or will become stinky crazy cat lady. Already one cat lurks by my windows and door meowing to get in. He has even snuck into house and helped himself to my wine (I caught him with his paw inside my glass). Repeat: Am not hermit.

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Happy New Year! 

 

How about you: any resolutions this year?


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Dead Things

For most of the summer, every time we opened our front door to make our way down the treacherous path, we held our breath, crossed our fingers, and did rock paper scissors to see who would be first.

We live on a hill, with a steep sloppy cobbled path, and although many visitors complain and wonder how on earth we go and up and down multiple times a day, especially when bags are involved, that wasn’t the issue. We love that part of it. The problem was the Dead Things. Legs, heads, gutted torsos. Wings, beaks, a carpet of feathers. And depending on how long they’d been there (hours or overnight) all the crawlies that accompany dismembered bodies.

You see, we had a pair of falcons (although one neighbour is not convinced that’s what they are–if you look at the photo and recognize the bird, please, leave a comment and let me know!) move in, and nest. Three hatchlings added to that pair, meant five predatory birds hunting in my ancient oak tree on my front lawn.

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My husband took this photo in early spring when they first arrived. The birds screech so loudly, all of the neighbours in the vicinity were opening the doors and scanning the skies to find out what was going on. At first it was fantastical, we’d all stand around dumbfounded with our cameras and binoculars, watching these soaring birds. But then bodies started piling up, two, three a day, and all the wildlife disappeared. Our noisy, busy, neighbourhood was abandoned. And yet, still the bodies piled up. Passer-byers I could only suppose. And once the hatchlings were out and learning to hunt, but were still ever so clumsy in their kills, it was horrifying. I had to go out ahead of the kids, armed with bags and a scooper and Lysol. And I, I admit without shame, and oh so squeamish, I have even a hard time cooking chicken (no red meat in my house). Let’s just say we ate our fair share of fruit and veggies and beans this summer, appreciating the vegans.

And then, just like that, I opened my door and did not find any Dead Things (as my family came to call this debris). And the next day, neither. And then we opened the window and heard the chattering of birds. Not the shrill of the hunters. And we all ran to look outside and cried, “Look! It’s birds!!” After a week, the red cardinals came back. And then the ravens. And the squirrels are back in full force. (have you ever seen a predatory bird go after a squirrel??!!!). Still no finches, or blue jays, or grackles, or robins, or or or. But things are flying around, and calling out to each other. And it feels like summer is here. Too bad it’s actually just ending.


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Always buy batteries!

How many times have you been told to make sure your fire alarms are working and have batteries in them? Countless, I’m sure. But, if you’re anything like me, you take this warning half to heart. Yah, yah, I know, but I just keep forgetting to stop for batteries. It’s OK. I’ll get to it. Plus, when the batteries die the smoke detectors make that awful noise, inevitably in the middle of the night. So maybe it’s a subconscious thing that I keep putting off.

smokealarmcartoon

 

As it happens, yesterday I went to bed with the toaster oven on. I didn’t know this of course. My husband, who has been traveling, came home a few days early around midnight. He happened to be in the kitchen looking at some mail and hearing a ticking sound. He finally investigated and found the toaster oven at 400 degrees. The toaster oven is in a nook, separate from our kitchen.

We live in 1914 Arts and Crafts house. It’s a very typical house from that period, which means unusual, and given the layout, my bedroom is on the second floor, and the three kids happened to all be having a sleep over in Older Brother’s room on the first floor. There’s also an original oak butler’s pantry. Which is where we keep our toaster oven. Some papers had fallen behind the toaster oven and they had turned brown and began curling from the heat. The old wood was too hot to touch. Had my husband not come–as was planned–there would have been a fire. And I didn’t have any fire alarms with working batteries.

Luck, fate, who knows. But I can tell you this, I’m going to buy batteries today!


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A birthday and a first time at budokon yoga

I’ve been bogged down by edits this last while, and I’m feeling a little expressive this morning, so here goes a little free flow:

 

mom baby yoga

Today I lay flat on my belly and wiggle myself across the wooden floor like a caterpillar.

My muscles strain, my lungs expand, and I giggle as I finish the movement, feeling like a child. Feeling like you.

Seven years ago you came and have inhabited my focus ever since, imprinted on my soul. Today, I take the day to contemplate me. For a birthdate is as important for the bearer as to the one being born. I wonder —  what metamorphosis have I undergone in this time?

Seven years ago I walked until me feet bled, readying my body to release you, and two hours later you were here.

Today, I wiggle, ready to release myself. What will I be? Will my wings be red, emerald, turquoise, fuchsia? Perhaps they will never settle into one colour, but will shift and tremble with each passing mood.

My metamorphosis would have been very different had you not come into my life. Your smile, laughter, they are contagious, seeds scattered in the wind, spreading wide. Your endless thrive for experience, for life, your desire to share, your interpretations and wonder. You. All of you. Thank you for you teaching me, for showing me, how full of joy life can be, how much fun it can be.

Happy birthday, daughter.


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The sign says, “Quiet! Writer at work!”

I don’t have an office. I don’t have a room that I call my own, that I can go in and be in left in peace while I work.

at work

For a few months now I’ve been trying to decide if I want to put two of my kids together and turn one of their rooms into an office. For me–and me alone!!!

At the moment I’m working on my second floor landing where we have a desk set-up. It’s situated right at the top of the stairs so I hear the vacuum going, my daughter practicing her violin, and my two boys chasing each and screaming “Aaaaghhhhhhh” with swords playing pirates. All at the same time.

My focus?

Non-existent.

I’m tempted to go down and say, “That’s it–today we’re switching the house around, and giving mommy an office!”

But, I’ve gotta ask–would it make a difference? Would a closed door help?

I used to be able to tune the family out. I could literally sit at a full kitchen table, and if my laptop was in front of me, I was gone. Lately, this just isn’t happening. Even when I’m alone I have trouble concentrating for extended periods of time. Partly due to the fact that I’m working on final edits and my brain is being used in an intense way, but also partly just because. Because it’s that time of year when we get antsy for spring (even though it was SNOWING YESTERDAY and today we are BELOW ZERO temperatures), and because sometimes it’s just hard to sit and concentrate.

For today, I’ve turned the radio up full blast and try to ignore all the activity underfoot. And I long for an office. But then I think, if I close the door, will it stay closed, or will those little feet barrel straight through? Most likely, but it sure does seem like paradise.

How about you: Do you have  a working space?


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Spring Resolution

 

Champagne

 

New Year’s eve is supposed to be the day we declare a life changing resolution. We’re supposed to raise our glass of creamy bubbly champagne, smile, and reveal a promise to do something–something momentous, something we need to do that will change us for the better–that we’ve been waiting for just the right moment to endure. And in return, those who we share New Year’s Eve with us will reveal their own resolutions.

Or catastrophes.

Who decided that January 1 was the best date to begin that resolution? Who??? Well, whoever it was certainly doesn’t live in the northern hemisphere, where it’s windy and cold and for many of us snowy. Where the day light hours are reduced to a bare minimum. And all we want to do is hibernate and eat carbs. And it certainly wasn’t someone in the southern hemisphere who is perspiring from the peak of heat, and who just wants to sit indoors and be cool eating watermelon and drinking lemon water. Whoever it was certainly didn’t take any of this into consideration!

Now spring–the time of rebirth, regeneration–wouldn’t that be perfect time for a resolution? We’re coming out of our cubby, stretching, yawning, looking around, and seeing things fresh, including ourselves.

Outside are bikers, joggers, skaters, even though they have to wear a coat and hat, they’re out there. And loving it. People are walking around eating apples, talking to each other, laughing–and yes, this is city life I’m talking about, not commune.

Everyone wants to do something new, something fresh–not because they have to, but because they want to feel good.

Including me: I became a member of a gym and a yoga studio because I’m becoming too inactive and I want to get moving before it catches up to me. I’ve been buying more fresh produce, especially greens, and me and my family are devouring them. And I’ve been experimenting more with super foods, remembering what it means to eat for energy.

I’ve also been more positive towards my work–sitting down to write and giving myself a little inner speech, about what I want to accomplish and that I will accomplish it. And do you know what? It’s working! :)

Am I sounding a little hokey? I think I am–but I’ll allow it.

It’s spring!

So, come on, raise a glass of green smoothie, and declare your resolution!

green smoothie

 PS. My in-laws are preparing for winter in South Africa, as are some of you way down there–happy hibernating. That feeling of slowing down, getting out the thick sweaters, it’s one of my favourites :)

 


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Snow day

snowday1

Believe it or not yesterday there was grass in my backyard. Sure, it was yellow dead grass, but it was grass. And it meant that spring was almost here. Ha ha. Not so! Overnight winter came and reclaimed Montreal–and this photo was taken hour ago, it’s a few inches higher now! Yes, inches! If you look closely at the above picture you will see a bird feeder on a post, and you will see the black tip of the post sticking out. Well, right now–about three hours later–the snow on the bird feeder is higher than the black tip!

snowday2

The school board called a snow day, because, you know, it doesn’t snow very often in Montreal (yes, you are detecting irony in my tone today!). I think someone woke up, looked out their window, and said “No way!” and called a snow day. The kids are now labouring through it, up to their knees, building a fort with all the  kids in our immediate vicinity–now that is fun to watch, from indoors, with a mug of steaming tea–but my toddler is screaming to go out–so out we will go. Wish me luck.

Hope you’re enjoying the weather–and if it’s not snowy and cold, enjoy it even more for ME!


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Did I write that? Well, I certainly can’t read it!

Not so long ago, someone asked me an unusual question: Since I spent so many hours a week writing on the computer, did I not miss seeing my own handwriting?

“I write by hand all the time,” I replied. “The trick is being able to read back what I wrote.”

I do write by hand all the time. Every day. Some days pass that I do more writing by hand than on the computer. Every note, every thought, every nuance–big and small, every detail, and every time I need to figure something out (which, trust me, is on a continuous basis) I handle by writing on paper. The only thing I do on the computer is the actual writing of the novel, which for me, is a small fraction of the whole process.

I have notebooks, spiral bound books, loose leaf papers, index cards, multi-colored index cards, sticky notes of almost every colour found in the rainbow, and a giant roll of plain paper that I use to map out time frames that I stick to my wall as needed. To top that off, I have a variety of coloured pens, highlighters, and pencils.

Unfortunately for my family, I tend to work in the dining room. It has great lighting, good acoustics (for my blaring music), is kinda on its own so the through-traffic is not that bad, and looks onto the backyard (with a window bench were I can sit and ruminate–yes, I do a lot of that too). This just means that I’m the only one who gets to enjoy this room, as most of the time it’s taken up with all the said paperwork, plus much more, including reference books, cups of water, a multitude of mugs holding tea and coffee at various stages, a tissue box, and the occasional remnant of a snack.

Before anyone asks, no, I won’t take a picture. Maybe one day when it’s cleaned out.

I don’t miss seeing my handwriting. In fact, sometimes the sight of it drives me mad! Especially when I have no inkling as to what in the world my scribbling means.

How about you: Do you every write by hand? Or do you do all your thinking in your head or on the computer? And most importantly, if you do write by hand–can you read your own writing? 


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A lucky coin

I’ll share a little story I found unexpectedly in a book that Santa delivered to my daughter this year:

 

Our story began over a century ago when seventeen-year-old Egmont Harald Peterson found a coin in the street. 

coin

 

He was on his way to buy a flyswatter, a small hand-operated printing machine that he then set up in his tiny apartment.

The coin brought him such good luck that today Egmont has offices in over 30 countries around the world. And that lucky coin in still kept at the company’s head office in Denmark.

 

This little success story was stuck in among the publication credits of a gorgeous children’s book entitled, A Flower in the Snow, a story about the joys of discovery, its loss, and re-discovery.

 

Sometimes it pays to read publication credits :).a flower in the snow

 

A flower in the snow.

A lucky coin.

I wish you each find your own in the New Year, and always.

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