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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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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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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When it’s just that good

One of things I rarely talk about on this blog is my love for baking. This is a writer’s blog, after all, not a food blog. But writers need to eat, or more importantly snack. Snacks are a writer’s best friend.

I am a wanna-be baker. Every time I walk into a patisserie shop I think, “I want this.”

I like to cook, but baking is just my thing. The butter, the gooey dough, the spices, the scents….ahhhh…yuuummmm

After a long hot summer when we keep the oven off as much as possible, I relish the arrival of autumn. It’s September, so pumpkins are abound, and yesterday me and my three wee ones (who are not all so wee any more) made pumpkin muffins. They are not only the best pumpkin muffin I’ve ever had, but quite possible the best muffins I’ve ever had!

So, I just had to share this recipe with you! Click here to get it over at the Fresh Loaf, which I got via the The Kitchn (a terrific site I refer to often!). It’s a basic recipe of pumpkin puree, butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, eggs, chocolate chips. I used mini dark chocolate chips, and we made mini muffins, cause my kids are still mini, and they fit perfectly into snack boxes for school. Plus, they’re small enough that I can keeping snacking all day without feeling guilty. This one recipe made three trays of mini muffins and 6 small loaves.

These turned out to be the perfect balance of spice and sweet, fluff and substance. And the house still smelled terrific this morning! Made it easy to begin the day!

I hope these will keep your writer tummies full and warm so you can work during the season!

(Oh, and by the way, there’s a gluten-free version on the website. )

Update: I was surprised by the number of personal of e-mails I received with this post. As I stated in the post, I am not a professional baker, I am only a hungry mommy who loves to bake! But, I’ll answer any baking questions to the best of my ability with pleasure.  :)

One of the main questions I got asked was does this recipe really require chocolate. I’d say no, it doesn’t, but the flavours and textures go hand in hand, and now that I’ve had them with the chips I don’t think I’d go without (if you asked the kids they’d say absolutely, chocolate is necessary!). I put less than the recipe asked, and by using good quality dark chocolate I didn’t feel like any health choices were being compromised.

For those of you wanting a classic pumpking muffins, I’d recommend this one. Just made it last night, and if you let the muffins sit overnight the flavours really pull through and come out for a delicious moist muffin. Enjoy!


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An empty crowd

We are surrounded by a crowd. I have always thought a team would huddle prior to a match–but there is no huddling here. There is a cheering, roaring, mass of people, singing for themselves and each other. There is an energy in the air that sparkles like lighting, fierce, determined to strike. There is an announcer who breaks in on the loudspeaker, and a hush descends. But it’s not a true silence, there can be no stillness here.

The swimmers line up, the youngest girls first; heat one begins with a shrill. And the yelling resumes. The cheering. I am shocked when it’s my son’s turn and I’m kneeling at the feet of the timekeepers shouting his name as loudly as I can. He reaches the edge of the pool and knows he’s not first–he came second and he’s unhappy, but he’s clapped on the back too many times to count, given high fives, and told what a good job he did. A minute later he’s smiling, already eager for the following swim meet a week later.

This is new for me: This is the first summer any of my children have joined a team. I was never part of a team for long; I played right forward in inter-city soccer when I was a kid, but I don’t remember it being long-lived–and more importantly I don’t remember this type of team spirit. When I trained professionally with a dance troupe there was no cheering, no unification among us. As an adult when I began to play a musical instrument there was no team.

Today a professional violinist who just came back from touring in Poland expressed how unified the orchestra is over there. How they cheer each other on before each show, how the crowd surrounds them at the end of each concert demanding autographs. She expressed to me how gratifying it is, how encouraging it is, to know that others treasure your art.

Writers, painters, illustrators, musicians, we do it alone. We have no crowd, no one cheering us. Most of our work is solitary, often times behind a closed a door, always behind a metaphorical one.

And yet, we need this gratification do we not?

Last week, Linda posted about this very topic in her post, Writing in a Bubble. When a few days later I was at my son’s swim meet and I saw the effect such cheerleading had on all the kids I was stunned. And I thought–how we do it all alone? How do we keep writing if we don’t have anyone behind us, cheering us on.

Yes, there is the gratification in the release, the voices that don’t stop shouting until we write them down, the stories that become so real to us we want to inhabit them all the time. But, it’s not always like that. There is work. Years of it. And most of us do it alone.

A few weeks back I was at a local coffee shop and a painter was hanging up her work. She told me she’d never had a vernissage, never joined a group, never put her work on display anywhere. And she’d been painting for her greater than thirty years. I wondered how in all that time she didn’t have a need to share what she created.

I know that as a writer, I am encouraged when others read my work, when I’m caught totally off guard by someone approaching me and saying they read X by me and loved it, or totally related to it. It feels good. It feels like I’ve connected with the universe in some small way, but in a way big enough to satisfy me. But most of the time that doesn’t happen. Most of what I write will never be read at all.

I’m left wondering, how do we as writers and artists, keep going at all alone, with only ourselves as our very own cheerleader?


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Fighting Elmo

I was going to write another post about the writing craft. But, I’ve spent the evening wrestling with my kids for the computer, and well, I lost. I gave up.

My kids rarely watch TV. I have to coax them, literally bribe them to sit down and watch a whole movie. They can’t. They want to play, move, paint, build, anything. We have Wii games that are still in the package because they don’t care about them.

Do you know what got them locked onto the computer for the evening? Elmo. Yup, Elmo. From the 11/2 year-old to the 8-year-old – they were watching Elmo on YouTube – I’m Elmo and I know It. And my kids have never ever watched Elmo.

I’m fighting Elmo. Fighting him off my computer so that I can write.

If you watch the video, I’d love to know of you laughed or not. I’ve been chuckling all night, Kids look at these crayons. Make art! I wasn’t writing, but at least I was laughing.

:)


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I’m an adult, I can have a Christmas list too, right?

My kids have been planning their Christmas wish list since October. Actually, if I’m really honest, they’ve been planning it since December 25th, 2010.

In mid-November I was presented with a list by each of them. My 8-year old wrote one for my 5-year-old, at her request. And they both made up one for the 1 and a half year-old. The list is huge and endless, and is updated daily.

When my son asked me the other day, “What’s on your list, mommy”, I nearly teared up. Oh, they’re not so selfish after all. They think of others. They think of me!!!

But, wait, what was on my list? Did I even have a list?

I have come up with three things for my list since that day: Fluffy slippers, chocolate (yummy, dark, and nutty!), and the third is still on debate: an e-reader.

It’s taken me a few years to even consider wanting one of these e-readers, never mind buying one. Recently, I’m beginning to have a change of heart. Why? There are certain things that are becoming only available in e-format. I’ve been using my iPhone for the last year to download and read on, but the screen is so small, and it’s not very comfortable for longer pieces.

I was thinking of gifting an iPad to the our family, could I use the iPad in the same way as an e-reader, or is the experience still very electronic? I’ve been told numerous times that an e-reader is a very comfortable read.  But, it’s not a book! And I love my books. Yet, I’m missing out on some things I really want to read that only available electronically.

I have a little bit of time left to fill up my Christmas wish list, and figure out if an e-reader will be on it. And at this point, there are various brands and models available, and I would to de research to know which one is the best value and gives the closest possible to real book effect. In the meantime I’ll keep shopping for everyone else, scratching off the list, one by one.

Any thoughts: how is reading on an e-reader versus an iPhone or iPad?

And another question for writers: Can you download your own work in progress onto an e-reader?


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what books mean to me.

My son’s elementary school is holding a bookmark designing contest. One child in each cycle will win a 10$ gift certificate from our local Babar Books.

There are two rules: 1. the design can only be in black and white. 2. That the design be somehow related to books, libraries, reading, etc.

My 7-year-old was lost. Seeing he was just getting frustrated, I decided to draw my own, hoping to inspire. Here’s what came:

An open book, with wiggles that looked like waves across the page for text. Out of the book was a creature jumping. Under the open book was a bed, and under the bed at the very bottom of the page was a setting sun with rays penetrating upwards. On top of the book I drew a heart, a cloud, and some sort of mythical creature. Then I drew a moon and some stars. At the very top corner in the left I drew a swing with a stick child swinging through the cloud and heart and creature. Then I added branches that descended and falling leaves that landed under the bed. The leaves turned into music notes and floated away.

It’s all about the imagination, I told my kids, the imagination books draw out of us. When we read a story, we each see it differently.

What this? I asked pointing to the creature jumping out of the book / water.

A mermaid, said the 4-year-old.

A dolphin, said the 7-year-old.

The baby did not answer :)

That is why I drew things that can look like one thing, or another, depending on who’s looking, I said. And it can change each time we look at it as well.

My 7-year-old drew monsters and people, of all sorts and shapes and sizes. He didn’t use this as his final product, he went with something much more cautious (the word BOOKS, and stick figures around it). My 4 year old drew exactly what I drew.

Books give imagination life, and let it loose. Writing, to me, is just and extension of that. When I am editing, I can get caught up in the logistics of things. I can forget that a line is perfect when it ignites one of our 5 (or 6) senses, not when everything is in it’s place. Sometimes everything has to be out of place to turn an idea into something tangible. Something that we can each hold in our own unique way.

Note: Cathryn Grant, will be visiting this blog Friday January 18th, followed by Teresa Frohock on Friday January 25th.


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The Power of Words

I was on an evening walk the other day when I saw a sign pinned up on a telephone pole. I thought it was a lost pet, and I crossed the road to read it, because you never know, I just might come across a lost kitty (it wouldn’t be the first time.) Instead I found this:

It reads:

HI! I am ten years old and I was very disappointed to know it rained on December 31st and January 1st. But we could stop all that from happening. We could walk to places more. We could pick-up peoples garbage. I know that one day, if we work together, we could make the world a better place.

Ways to me the world a better place:
-we could recycle
-we could walk to more places (drive less)
-we could reuse plastic bags and water bottles
-we could close the lights when we get out of a room
-we could take showers instead of baths
-we could close the water when we brush our teeth

Good luck!

One of the most impressive things about this note to me was that she ends with “Good luck!”. By doing so, this ten-year old gives us the power to accomplish was she proposes.

I think this phenomenal!

All writing should give us this power, it doesn’t have to be on such a grand level, but a story that gives us the possibility to empathize, or relate, or giggle, or laugh, or taste, or smile, or cry, has succeeded. It is the power of words that can be life altering at times, and at others a much-needed moment of relief.

As a writer, this gives me a thrill, to know that my words are given away in a sense, for others to use in their own moment of power (to experience). As a reader, well this is one the of the greatest gifts I can receive. While engrossed in a novel I wonder if part of me knows that this was created by someone else, and that many others have experienced it in their own way, much as I have. My writing is not life altering (as the note created by the ten-year old can be), but if it can share emotions and experience, well then I say that I have contributed.

To that end, I say Good Luck with your writing

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