NaNoWriMo with a 1-year old

I love National Novel Writing Month. I love it because I met CRH there. I love it because it taught me the kind of consistency I needed to actually get anything done as a writer. I love it because I’ve met a lot of good friends there, and get to see them regularly because of it. I love it because November becomes a time when writing can be the focus, which I don’t get to do often enough. NaNoWriMo isn’t for everyone, but it is for me.

This year will be my thirteenth year of NaNo, and after 10 straight victories, I feel pretty good about my chances of winning. I managed to finish last year, with an 8-week old. I also managed to finish in 2015, the year I had my appendix out right before November started. Those two years presented some new challenges, naturally. I dug into that a bit in this post.

I expect that this year will present its own challenges. After all, I slowly recovered from the appendix thing, and at 8-weeks old KRH didn’t do much other than sleep. This year, he’s a ball of active, mobile baby, who can be relied on to summon trouble from the ether if left unattended for more than five seconds. In other words, he’s probably going to be more distracting than anything I’ve faced before.

Here’s how I plan to get around his presence and still get in my words.

Scheduled times

The formula for NaNoWriMo is simple, Write 1667 words a day, achieve novel(la). I usually aim for around 70-80k, but the formula remains the same even if the numbers change. At this stage as a writer, pumping out that many words on any given day isn’t challenging. What’s challenging is doing it consistently, every day. Stuff happens. KRH wakes up early. There are poopsplosions of a horrifying nature. So in so far as I can, scheduling the time and being consistent, no matter what’s happened, is a huge part of winning. It relies habit-forming and perseverance, but it’s also the way to win.

Big writing days

My big secret to finishing NaNo, though, is knowing that I can’t be consistent every day. There are just some days where words won’t happen. So that means I have to have days where I write a lot more. Weekends and writing events are the two most likely times where I can either get ahead, or catch up. Either can be necessary, given on how things go. Writing events haven’t been all that productive for me as of late, thanks to KRH, but hopefully I can find one or two that will be.

The community

This is the thing I find the best about NaNo; the fact that a bunch of other crazy writers are there with me, all jamming fingers to keyboards in pursuit of the same goal. That energy has carried me through many years, and I expect to feed on it like some bloodthirsty cannibal again this year. However, I anticipate being able to make it to a lot less of the writing events than in years past, so I’m going to have to make sure I get this in when I can. I’m lucky that my region usually offers twice-weekly events, which I usually attend religiously, but now I pick KRH up from day care and he has a bed time, so I don’t imagine I’ll make it to at least half of them. Still, even a few will be sufficient to feel that energy.

That’s it, how I’ll make the magic of November happen.

Election retrospection

We just finished a hard-fought municipal election in Calgary and I wanted to reflect on a couple of things about it. Some relate to me and some to KRH.

Let’s start with KRH, because that’s the least reflective. He’s only 1, but Monday night reinforced for me the importance of being engaged with the political process. I sort of fell into politics as an interest backwards, in that I absorbed a lot of political beliefs from people around me in my early teens, and then went out and figured out what I actually believed in, which fostered a love of the political and democratic process. I don’t expect KRH to go to university for political science (like I did) but I do hope that he’ll share my belief that engagement in politics matters. I hope that’s something I’ll be able to teach him as he grows up. How will I engage him? That’s a good question. I think by example is a good start (he got not one but two “I voted” stickers because he went to the polling station with each parent, despite not actually voting. Cute privilege.). But so is discussion about the issues and characters and ideologies, if he’ll listen. And engagement in election campaigns, when he’s old enough.

What’s important about all this is that my goal isn’t to indoctrinate him to my political beliefs. Instead, I need to equip him to learn about politics and issues, and then draw his own conclusions. I feel pretty confident that if I do this well, he’ll come around to my political beliefs, but I also run the risk that he decides to believe in the opposite side of the political spectrum. I’d be disappointed, but that would be his choice (so long as he doesn’t decide to support things that hurt people around him. We’ll have no Nazis in any household I’m responsible for). But I really don’t think that’s likely.

Speaking of Nazis, that’s a fine time to consider the election itself. What struck me is just how stressful I found it, and how important it felt until it was over. Elections used to be fun for me. I recognize, of course, that in part elections were fun because the result wouldn’t truly hurt me. Part of that comes from privilege, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the stakes 15 years ago were different than today. But this was a municipal elections. Municipalities, especially for cities, have quite broad powers in Canada and in many ways matter more to day-to-day life than other levels of government, but at the end of the day their primary concerns are with things like infrastructure. The issues that dominated the election were increasing property taxes, whether the local sports team should get a new publicly-funded arena, and personality. If the election didn’t the way I wanted, it would change the tone of the city I live in, but it was unlikely to dramatically affect my home. So why did I find this stressful?

Well, it doesn’t help that the Canadian far-right has been quietly agitating against the tolerant muslim mayor that I support (You can see some of the nastiness here). Those same people are also targeting the federal and provincial governments, so naturally I’m against anything that would make them happy. There was also a pretty clear effort by business interests to support candidates who were favourable to their bottom line, not what citizens need, which felt serious. But this was never an election of the sort that would have installed dangerous candidates, merely candidates I disagreed with.

Nonetheless, it felt like it was. With even a few day’s distance, it continues to feel important, but not as critical as it did. Indeed, the amount of time and energy I spent worrying about it was probably out of proportion.

Politics matters. This was an election that could have changed the course of where I live. It mattered, and staying aware of the issues and voting were important ways I participated. But the campaigns took up space in my brain for a while, space that I’d much rather devote to other things. The next election is a provincial contest coming up next year, and that one will likely be even more concerning because it will be a starker choice between people I support and people whose ideas I believe can be dangerous to those most marginalized among us.  Engagement and participation will be critical. But I’m going to have to learn to keep the stress I’ve been feeling about elections in proportion. An election loss next year will be bad for what I believe, but it won’t be a slide toward fascism.  It lies somewhere between catastrophic and irrelevant. I’ve got to find that balance in my brain.

Tough writing times

Two authors who I respect recently  wrote about the difficulty of writing in our current world (John Scalzi in 2017, Word Counts and Writing Process and Kameron Hurley in Ongoing National Horrors Can’t Be Unplugged, But We Go On). And they are so right.

I wanted to throw in my own thoughts about this. I’ve had my own reasons for struggling to write, but they sure do dovetail with the political climate. KRH was born in October, and I must have said to myself and to others at least a dozen times how much I was looking forward to, at least temporarily, un-engaging with politics so I could focus on parenting. I felt I needed to do that because I’d found writing and indeed life difficult with the onslaught of news that hit in 2016, but I figured that after the American election, I could safely limit my focus. With progressive governments in place at all levels in Canada, it seemed as safe a time as any to take a break. I recognize the ability to do that is a sign of privilege, but I judged that I could stay aware of what was going on in areas I could effect, while disengaging from news what was ultimately irrelevant to me and was harming my health and well being.

We all know what happened that November, of course, and has been ongoing since then, and that’s bad enough. I worry hugely about climate disasters, or the collapse of international order (Canada’s foreign minister just called modern times the most uncertain since the end of the Second World War). But it isn’t simply the government that’s the problem. It’s the march of the far-right, of actual Nazis marching in the streets, of white supremacists and racists and fascists. They’re people who want to hurt nonwhites or who hate LGBTQ kids. People who would violently overthrow the government.

I’ve tried to strike a balance between engaging with these threats, and keeping my sanity. I’ve only been moderately successful. It’s definitely cut into my writing time. But why wouldn’t it? I worry about the world KRH is going to grow up into. Will he run the risk of radicalization? What about an international system that makes wars more likely? Will his children face a world where food security is an issue from the changing climate? There are countless threats brewing that could effect him. He’s only 1, but no matter how much I want them to be, it seems clear that by the time he’s able to understand these threats, they won’t have gone away. So my sweet and innocent child is going to have to deal with this shitshow world we’ve left him.

That makes me angry. Like, how did we fuck this up? How did Nazis become a thing again? How did we reach a point where so many things are getting worse, rather than better? But it did, and I have to engage with it, to do what I can to keep the world safe for KRH, for my friends and family and myself. I resent the people who made it possible, forcing me to spend time and energy on it, time that I could spend writing, or with KRH.

Nonetheless, I have to do it. I have to stay aware, and fight for the better world I want KRH to grow up in. And if that takes writing time and focus, then it does. If it effects my health and well being, then that’s what’ll happen too.

Still, I have to find ways to protect myself from the things that are irrelevant. And I have to find ways to survive the torrent of shit that we’re all getting hit with. Seeing that other people are struggling is important. It helps me feel less alone.

Back to work

Well, after four months, it’s finally time. Next week I go back to work, and KRH starts day care.

I don’t know if I have words to describe this summer, but I’ll try. It’s been a wondrous experience. I’ve learned so much about this new and tiny life, even as he continues to become less new and tiny. June, when I left work, seems a very long time away and the month have been marked by countless adventures and experiences. It hasn’t been that long, and yet in that time, KRH has gone from barely sitting to crawling to trying to stand. He’s embraced a love of food and then gotten picky. He’s met a lot of people, seen a lot of things, played with a lot of toys, and had a lot of naps. And I’ve been there for the majority of it.

Being the primary parent, as CRH and I like to call it, has been a totally different experience than just being Dad for a few hours a day. I’ve learned what KRH does when he’s hungry or when he needs a nap. I’ve learned how to judge his moods and emotions. I’ve found things he likes (right now, books, his soother after hating it for 11 months, and larabars) and things he doesn’t (swimming class, not being allowed to eat cat food or play in the cat fountain). And I feel so much closer to him than I did before. For the last four months, I’ve been the one in charge of keeping him alive, happy and healthy, and if I say so myself, I did a pretty good job.

Of course, I’m a big believer that KRH is going to succeed in spite of his parents, rather than because of us. But I want to do what I can to equip him to become a responsible and kind adult. And I’ve learned not just how hard that is, but also how I want to go about it going ahead.

I’m probably never going to have another experience like this summer. I will happily take parental leave again for future kids, but then I’ll be thinking about KRH +, not just one child. There’ll be less of an ability for me to simply learn and more of a requirement to do things on my feet.  I think I’ll always think back to this time fondly.

That said, it wasn’t all easy. I think I now understand so much of what CRH went through. Even though KRH was older, taking care of him all day was a draining task, because so much of it is listening to a baby cry, or fighting naps, or changing diapers, or trying to get him to eat, or struggling to entertain him. It took up far more time and energy than I expected, even expecting that it was going to take up a lot of time and energy. There were times I found myself upset, frustrated and sad, because it was hard.

I don’t know if this is a journey all parents go through. I suspect it is, though I recognize how lucky I am to both have a partner willing to split the parental leave, and to live somewhere with that much parental leave. I’m also intensely lucky to have a lot of support available, from grandparents and friends and even the child-minding at the gym, things that very much helped keep me sane.

When I’ve had moments, I often pause to reflect on this strange situation. Somehow, it still feels unreal that I helped create a life, have helped take care of it and now I’m responsible for guiding it and growing it. It still leaves me feeling gobsmacked. I mean, what fool allowed this? Me, having such an important task? And the more I’ve seen KRH grow and learn, the stronger the gravity of the situation seems. A life. How do I protect and nurture it to ensure that it becomes everything it can? How do I do it in a way that there’s absolute certainty of success, which is exactly what he deserves?

There is no way. Nothing is certain, though I wish there was. And even if I could spend every waking second working toward that, it might actually not be what he needs. It certainly wouldn’t be what I need, or what CRH needs.

A week from today, KRH starts day care. As much as I wish he could stay with me forever, I think this is going to be very good for him. He’s a bit shy, but very social, and full of energy and a desire to go and learn and play. Day care is a place where he’ll meet new people and have new experiences and much more.

Meanwhile, I’ll go back to work and think about how I can make my life more like what I want it to be. That won’t be the worst thing for me either. I’ll have more energy for KRH when we both get home, because we’ll need to get our quality time in a much shorter period. And I’ll need to get back to being focused. In a way, the last four months have been an interlude on the rest of my life, and so very glad I had it. But now it’s time to start working on shaping the way life will be for the coming years. And I look forward to that challenge.