I’m still in Vancouver.
Today is it 14 degrees, feels like 13, and there was sun, briefly, though it looks overcast again. That’s okay. I brought red rain boots, which are squashable and therefore transportable across the country in a very small carry-on bag. I wore them to a party on Wednesday night, because my other red shoes, the ones I’d worn to a fundraising event hosted by Joseph Boyden earlier in the evening, the fancy retro heels, had rendered my toes completely numb. Plus, they’re a bit big and I had to stuff them with tissues in order not to fall over whilst walking in them. (Sounds glamorous, I know. Busted.)
The rain boots felt so good. It was like wearing slippers to a party.
Party, party, party. It’s not all I’m doing. What am I doing? I’m living in another world, a parallel universe, one which feels like a rather long performance piece being written on the fly, with a wheeling cast of characters, and the utter absence of a working interior clock. The moderator on my panel this morning, Timothy Taylor, kept saying “tonight,” in his introductions, as in “Tonight, we welcome Carrie Snyder, Russell Wangersky, Ian Weir, and Herman Koch ….” And while I could have sworn it was mid-morning when we left the hotel to walk to the theatre, I almost started to believe that it had somehow, during our passage there, become tonight.
But it is not tonight, not yet. It is late afternoon in Vancouver and I haven’t gone for a walk, as intended, let alone a run. I have eaten a giant honey crisp apple bought at the Granville market this morning. That may be the single most healthy choice I’ve made all day.
I skyped with my children yesterday afternoon, but it only made me feel further away.
I’m living in a bubble. It’s a brief span of time, and I will look back on it fondly, but it’s a bubble nevertheless, an unreality, a fantasy, even, of hotel rooms and little shampoos and hospitality suites and rain boots paired with Little Black Dresses. There’s a haggard glamour to it all. I’ve got more grey hairs today than I did a week ago, I’m quite certain. I myself am a bubble, I think, too. Afloat. Not a adrift, but afloat.
Home on Sunday.
I’m in Vancouver.
The Weather Network tells me it’s 14 degrees, feels like 13, with 20-30 mm of rain expected to begin at 5:50PM, which coincidentally is around the time I’ll be taxiing to tonight’s event, a fundraiser at Vancouver House with Joseph Boyden.
Today may go down in my memory as one of the more surreal; if, that is, I can remember any of it. I’ve been having trouble sleeping on this trip. It was well after 1AM when my body finally shut down, and my alarm went off at 4:15AM. I roused myself, finished stuffing things into my bag (didn’t think it was all going to fit for a moment there), and caught a shuttle from the Banff Centre to the Calgary airport. It was too dark to say a proper goodbye to the mountains.
I slept on the shuttle, like someone who had been drugged rather than like a normal dozing human being. Off the shuttle, I felt delusional from exhaustion, wandering the airport, trying to behave like a responsible adult who understood self-check-in machines and how to attach luggage stickers and where to stand in line. I was randomly selected for the full-body pat-down, which, frankly, bothered me not at all. On the plane I slept that drugged sleep again, surfacing to see on the TV screen in the seat-back next to mine, live footage from Ottawa, where shots had been fired inside the Parliament buildings. A reservist killed at the war memorial for the unknown soldier. A gunman killed too. Baffled Canadians taking cellphone footage. Streets shut down.
There is nothing to be said about this that I feel qualified to say.
I can’t really connect with my emotions on the subject. It sounds trite to express sadness. But I am sad.
When we landed in Vancouver, I realized it was only 9AM here. The hotel generously found me a room. I slept the drugged sleep, roused myself, ate a burger for lunch and watched soccer in a sports bar. I texted with my family while eating, which made me feel less lonely. And then I went for a run on the seawall. Running is hard, it’s always hard, but it works. I feel better.
Kevin is sending me texts and photos from home: right now, my kids are playing music together in our living-room. My brother Karl is recording them. CJ is singing into a mic. The girls are playing ukuleles. And Albus is tapping out chords on the piano. It’s like my dream family come to life. Only I wish I were there to see it.
But I have seen Karl Ove Knausgaard–twice. First when checking in, and then when getting off the elevator in my running gear. Neither time did I fangirl him. It took some restraint.
I feel like I’ve been awake for days.
I need a short nap before putting my Little Black Dress and heading out to a party. Nothing about this day feels concrete, feels like I can dig my fingers into it and find the pulse. I’m oddly removed. I was running on the seawall an hour ago. I flew over the mountains this morning. I’m here now. I’m here, now.
PS This is the photo Kevin sent me of the kids, playing music together. Sorry. It’s very very tiny. It seems fitting: this is as close as I can get. Home feels far away, right now.
I’m in Banff.
The Weather Networks says it’s 17, feels like 16, which could also be described as “perfect.” I’ve been here since Saturday, late afternoon. I probably should have mentioned it sooner. But I’ve been stunned into silence by the mountains. There are mountains everywhere. It would be no exaggeration to claim that the first evening I was here, I was pulling out my phone to take photos of mountains every few steps.
It was like, hey, wow, holy crap that’s an awesome mountain right there!
Take photo. Text to husband.
Turn head an inch and begin walking. Stop. Holy crap, another freaking mountain! Like, right there!
Take photo. Text to husband.
When it seemed my husband had received enough mountain photos, I widened my range of recipients. If you haven’t gotten one yet, don’t worry, it’s on its way.
For example, I texted the mountain that’s out my bedroom window to my 13-year-old. Let me rephrase that. I texted a mere photo of said mountain, not mountain itself.
“You should climb that, Mom,” he texts back.
It’s steeper than you think, I reply.
I mean, it’s sheer bloody rock, so far as I can tell. And I have a wobbly kneed fear of heights issue. I also read, with over-much attention and avidity, the section in my Banff Centre guide, provided for me in my room, on local wildlife. It’s a long section with many useful details that set my imagination into overdrive. Walking between buildings after dark, I find myself on the lookout for cougars. I know it’s irrational. But cougars. Mountain lions. What’s not to fear? I’ve noted, too, the signs posted around campus reminding us to keep “three bus lengths” between ourselves and any elk we might see. “Do not approach.” “Was not planning to, thanks.” Apparently there was a grizzly on the other side of Tunnel Mountain, blocking the path today. A grizzly. Tunnel Mountain? The one recommended as a nice stroll with a great view at the top? I might have to pass. Who knew I was such a wimp? Well, now we all do.
The thing is, I don’t need to trespass on Grizzly land to get a great view. Let me text you a photo of the great view I get just by turning my head.
In fact, it’s a bit unnerving, all the great views. I ate lunch with the writer Kim Thuy today, and she was saying there’s such as thing as suffering from too much beauty, and your head explodes; metaphorically, I presume. I tried looking up the syndrome back in my room. The search led me to a Tumblr site called “Too Much Beauty,” which mainly featured young male actors I didn’t recognize because I’m not a young female teenager. So that seems a dead end.
I wonder, could there be such a thing? Could one suffer from too much beauty, staggered by the immensity, the vast non-human scale of these complex rock creations towering over us, former seabeds embedded with ancient tropical coral reefs? How to write anything of consequence while looking at something so old, so immense, so austerely implacably beautiful?
I am therefore typing this in my room, facing a blank wall. It’s peaceful. I’m working well in here. I’m sipping a healthful beet/carrot/ginger concoction that I pray will dislodge my nasty cough so I can sleep through the night, once again. Truth be told, the free drinks, which seem to abound wherever writers crop up, have not been helping, either with the cough or the sleep.
But the beauty. It’s out there, waiting for me, whenever I’m ready to face it.
P.S. Never take a selfie with a mountain. There is no point. Mountain wins.
I’m still in Calgary.
The Weather Network says that it’s 8 degrees, feels like 6. It also tells me that there was a small earthquake yesterday in Banff. Coincidentally, I’m going to Banff this afternoon. This reminds of the time I was going to Calgary and they had an underground electrical fire and all the power went out downtown for a few days. Oh wait. I’ve only been to Calgary twice. That was this time. And the power was all back on by the time I arrived.
But the mayor of Calgary, the most awesome mayor in the world, Naheed Nenshi, was unable, due to the electrical fire, to attend a Wordfest event last night called a Literary Death Match. He was going to be one of the judges. (Literary Death Match is a thing. Look it up. Adrian Todd Zuniga, the fellow in the electric blue suit with the pomaded hair, who appears to have invented the event wholesale, runs an excellent circus.)
I got called in very very last minute to fill in for Mayor Nenshi. My biggest moment, possibly ever, let’s be honest. Not necessarily the best news for the audience, however, let’s also be honest. But because Mayor Nenshi was such big shoes to fill, I was only one half of his replacement. The other half was a comedian named Chris, whose last name I can’t find on the internet anywhere*. But he also had long red hair, so we kind of matched. Only he had a beard and was funnier. We were judging “intangibles.” The other judges were Johanna Skibsrud on “literary merit,” and Mark Tewksbury on “performance.” (I was sitting by Mark Tewksbury! I was offering moral support to Mark Tewskbury! I was hamming it up with Mark Tewksbury! And Johanna Skibsrud!)
It was, hands-down, the most entertaining literary event I’ve ever attended. I woke up this morning, imagining myself killing it at the “Gals and Good Times” panel I’m on this morning (because that’s what you do at a Literary Death Match; or you try to, anyway.) I imagined myself saying, in my allotted 2 minutes to speak about my book, I was here in this same theatre last night for a Literary Death Match, and I’m afraid it’s going to affect today’s performance. First, I’m a bit hungover. Second, I’m going to swear and mention body parts in an effort to get laughs. Third, I’m going to think I’m actually funny.
So, yeah. Let’s not do that, shall we. Let’s drink several bottles of water, take our vitamins, and stop blogging. Now.
I’m off to shower, eat, and attempt to look presentable. Wish me luck, please. And also with the earthquakes and underground electrical fires.
PS I’m calling the photo above Woman Prepares for Literary Death Match by Donning Very Sparkly Shirt and Taking a Selfie.
*Found it. Chris Gordon. He swears and mentions body parts a lot. In person, he is hilarious.
I’m in Calgary.
The Weather Network tells me it is 6 degrees, feels like 3. Thankfully, I brought along fall jacket, hat, and scarf. And four pairs of shoes, though I find myself wishing for a fifth. Do you know how hard it is to bring shoes for all occasions!? All stuffed into the tiniest carry-on bag you can imagine. It might be that the four pairs of shoes have replaced essential clothing, and I’ll be wearing this same shirt/jeans combo for the next ten days.
Reading on the plane: an advance copy of Elisabeth de Mariaffi’s thriller, The Devil You Know, due out in January, which also kept me up late last night. You’ll want to read this.
Have been rehydrating from airplane trip all morning. Went for a run on the treadmill. Meeting a friend for lunch. Workshop this afternoon, Literary Death Match this evening, panel discussion tomorrow morning, then on to Banff.
Photos while travelling will be cellphone-produced.
I’m calling the one above Woman In Anonymous Hotel Room. Actually, it looks like Very Short Woman with Unnatural Half-Smile and Flat Wet Hair in Anonymous Hotel Room.
Wish me luck. And send sociable, friendly vibes. Please, and thank you.
I had my students write about home yesterday evening. I joined them on the writing exercise, as always, and found myself feeling prematurely homesick. I imagined walking through our front door into the hall strewn with shoes and school bags and discarded socks and dead leaves and muddy patches, the living-room to my right strewn with musical instruments and sheet music and toys and books, the dining-room table ahead strewn with newspaper sections and homework, the breakfast counter beyond strewn with home folders and asthma inhalers and hairbands. I mentally picked up abandoned cereal bowls and cups of tea and carried them to the kitchen, where the counter was strewn with several apples going soft and permission forms and butter knives slathered in peanut butter and honey. There were towels and more socks on the bathroom floor. I could imagine the sound of a French horn being played in the backyard (Star Wars theme song), and footsteps thumping down the stairs, “Hey, Mom, what’s for supper?,” and the phone ringing (a child’s friend on the other end). I could hear the sound of a piano being practiced by a 6-year-old. Kevin coming in the door carrying a grocery bag with milk and eggs and checking his email on his phone, the dogs dashing to greet him excitedly.
And I won’t be here for any of this for the next ten days. What will they do without me to pick up their socks and sign their permission forms and carry their cereal bowls to the kitchen? Well, that’s just the surface stuff. What I’ll really miss is the music and the reading and the chaos and the hugs-in-passing and the many requests.
The feeling of being both surrounded and needed.
Where I’m going, I’m not quite so necessary. I’ll miss the active mothering stuff I’m so accustomed to managing all day, every day. That said, I hope to be useful and to make good use of my time away.
And I also hope to have fun. All work and no play makes Carrie a dull woman, to steal an old proverb. Damn, but it feels true right now. Lighten up, I remind myself, shoulders scrunched, hurrying off to something or other, always a few minutes late and therefore rush, rush, rush.
This, I must change. That is my goal for this trip. Lighten up.
I’m heading out West. First to Wordfest in Calgary, then the Summit Series in Banff, then to the Vancouver Writers’ Fest. Click here to find my events listings. When I’m home again, I’ll be back and forth to Toronto, and other places in Southern Ontario. I’m entering my personal literary marathon-season.
CJ told me yesterday that they were talking about Making Healthy Choices in Health class. (He’s six.) “I said, EXERCISE. And FRIENDS.” Wow, I replied, thinking, this is wise advice, young guru, which I shall take to heart.
Right now, I’ll admit that I’m missing my friends. If there’s one element absent from my fall schedule it’s time for friends. (And, to a lesser degree, for exercise.) So I’m hoping to connect with people on this tour out West, to make new friends and see old friends, to push myself out of my introspective shell, be brave, and in this way to alleviate or even prevent the homesickness from setting in. But also to lighten up.
To lighten. As in to brighten, hearten, gladden, illuminate, restore.
Today is Thanksgiving in Canada. We ate our Thanksgiving dinner yesterday, a feast that always gives me enormous pleasure to prepare. A day of cooking is a really good day, especially when it ends with pie. But with all the cooking and eating and pie, I never got out my camera. Family visiting, cousins playing, dogs underfoot and whining at the door, a table loaded with bounty, an impromptu evening concert, babies and grandmas and wine and dishes being washed up in the kitchen by hand.
Photographs never taken.
It’s a bit ironic that I’ve gotten this fancy new blog location, on which to display my photographs, just when I find myself taking fewer and fewer. Less time to process them. More in the moment moments, forgetting to pull myself out and act as official recorder. This fall is passing in a blur. I may keep little of it, only fragments, perhaps jotted down here.
Today, our chalkboard became a mess of scheduling, as Kevin and I planned for the coming weeks month. I’m leaving on Thursday for Calgary, Banff, and Vancouver. When I get home, I’ll be off to Burlington, Toronto (several times), Hamilton, Uxbridge, zooming and darting like a bird searching for a landing spot, an anxious flitting creature unable to settle, quite.
When I’m out west, and missing my family like crazy, I’m going to think of last night, after the dishes were done and the pie eaten, and some of us were singing old songs while strumming on ukuleles, sunk into soft cushions, reclining, unwilling to say goodnight, not quite, not yet, as our eyes grew heavy. We were sleepy, tired out from a day lived fully, but we didn’t want to stop playing and singing. Not yet. Not yet. Not quite yet.
I’m reading and marking my students’ poetry assignments today. And tomorrow. In hopes of being done before Thanksgiving weekend, when I’m looking forward to hosting family, and cooking up at least one enormous feast.
I was going to treat myself to croissants … or something similar … to help sustain and encourage me through the marking. Instead, I’ve found myself rigidly plunked at the dining-room table with a glass of water as accompaniment. Currently stopping to eat a bowl of leftover soup for lunch. I need to get better at this “treating myself” thing. Instead, I fantasize about croissants magically appearing before me, or husbands delivering sustaining take-out lattes. Lazy. But true.
Back at it. Dreaming on.
A friend said to me this morning, as we were running together in the damp, dark pre-dawn, This book is not your whole identity, you know. You are much more than this book.
I needed to hear that. Thanks, friend.
I hadn’t recognized, quite, how Girl Runner has subsumed not just my hours, my focus, my working life right now, but also my identity. I am wearing, almost as a costume, almost full-time, the cloak of person-who-wrote-Girl-Runner. It’s not an invisibility cloak; it might be the opposite, a visibility cloak. But what’s visible is author-of-Girl-Runner, and invisible is everything else. Which is why completing that race felt so very good, perhaps.
My professional life is caught up in this identity: I would not be a teacher or a guest speaker if I were not, first and foremost, the author of Girl Runner. If I shrugged off that visibility cloak, an enormous section of my money-earning life would vanish in a poof of dust.
So it’s scary, I guess, to imagine not pouring my all into inhabiting my writer self. Carrie who writes books earns a living, whether by writing books or by spinning off the writing of books into related enterprises. Earning a living has long been my goal. It’s a worthy goal, I believe.
But maybe that goal feels a little one-dimensional as I pursue it with greater success and therefore greater effort, greater demands on my time. And on my identity.
If the writer cloak were balled up and chucked into a dusty corner, or even just hung up in a closet for awhile, what identity would emerge? Would I be fearful and lost? Free-roaming? Empty? Or would I find friend, mother, baker, caregiver rising up to fill the space? Or something else I can’t guess or imagine? But I can’t imagine it, because in truth being a writer isn’t a cloak, it’s more like tough thread woven right through the skin.
Yet I sense that other parts of me are being shadowed, right now. It’s like I planted a seed that’s grown, quite suddenly, to become a tall leafy tree, shading out all else. It’s like I’ve become that tree. But I’m not. The tree is of me, but separate from me. Can I climb its branches and catch some light? Should I wait patiently for the season to change, the leaves to fall, to crunch around in them, to see them turn to compost, wait for other seeds to grow, a forested tangle of identity, creeping on the ground and digging in roots and reaching for the sky? Can I be many different parts all at once, or can I only do/be one thing at a time fruitfully, fully, well?
It might not be good for my body to run a race every day.
But maybe it would be better for my mind and my spirit to run a race every day.
I did not feel like running this race. I wasn’t even sure my training was sufficient, despite some hard work over the summer. As predicted, my ability to train on the weekends dropped off as soon as September arrived, and with it the book. I ran that half-marathon three weeks ago as a training run. Because otherwise, I’d dropped down to three runs a week, none of them over 12.5 kilometres. Yesterday’s race was double that at 25 kilometres, and on steep winding trails, very hilly, while the half-marathon route had been a gently rolling road with no real hill challenges.
But I went. I set my alarm for early, slept poorly, woke and forced myself to eat and to drink and to prepare, and drove to Pinehurst Conservation area, and picked up my race kit, and stood in line at the bathrooms, and sat in the truck trying to stay warm and eating almonds and reading toward the ending of A Tale for the Time Being and then it was time to lace up my shoes, pin on my number, and go to the start line. And then it was time to run.
So I ran.
I didn’t know whether or not I was up for this particular challenge. In fact, I feared that I was not up for it; certainly knew that I would not be choosing to do it, had I not signed up months ago. But that’s a good enough reason to do something, I believe: sign up, show up, offer what you have in you to offer on the day it is required of you.
It might not be as much as you could offer under ideal circumstances, or at a different time in your life. That is okay.
A race is more about marking the moment with the offering of your effort than it is about finishing or competing or putting up race times. In fact, that last one is just a number and is worth something to you alone, and you get decide, therefore, its value.
I decided yesterday that the numbers didn’t matter.
I ran without a watch. I ran on gut instinct, following my body’s ebbs and flows of energy, without judging or critiquing my body’s efforts, sometimes stronger, sometimes weaker, but then stronger again, always with a mind to the effort needed and the desire and pleasure of speed and forward-motion. On some of the downhills, it felt like I was flying. On some of the uphills, I was bent double and slowed to a walking pace. I tuned a lot out. In fact, the experience had an otherworldly quality, or the quality of a dream I did not control, but only moved through.
For long stretches, I thought of nothing, saw little, only was aware of motion itself, the path immediately ahead, the tree roots, the leaves, the colours, the sticks and stones under my feet. I remember the sun shone for awhile, its brightness on the fallen, wet poplar leaves so strong that it hurt my eyes to focus on the ground and yet I knew that I needed to focus lest I lose my footing or trip. So much of my mind’s work went into the path immediately ahead.
When my energy flagged, I practiced staying in the moment. I thought of old Jiko in A Tale for the Time Being practicing zazen (though this was moving meditation). I used a few mantras, chosen at random from the flotsam and jetsam of information that had passed through my mind either right before race time or during the race itself.
A phrase on the back of a t-shirt that I saw while waiting in line in the women’s bathroom: “The mind leads the body.” For a while, I was saying it backward: “The body follows the mind,” which worked too, but then I ran behind the woman with the t-shirt for a stretch and saw the words as they were, so I switched to that. I tried to thank her when I passed her, but instead said, “I like your shirt.” Which wasn’t quite the right message, but there was very little oxygen available for communication.
Communication was rudimentary. I felt myself pulled deep inside my body, my eyes tools only, unable or unwilling to connect, almost a blank of observable emotion.
The flying mantra came from a comment posted on Facebook by a friend in Ottawa, encouraging my race effort: she said the damp would keep me cool and I would feel like I was flying. And I did, sometimes.
There was one more mantra, from Elizabeth Gilbert, the author, who I follow on Facebook, who said that your fear is the most boring thing about you. So, whenever I felt the trickle of fear approaching, or questioned whether I was running too well, too easily, too strong, and would therefore shortly most definitely crash, I told myself: your fear is the most boring thing about you!
I knew the second lap would be difficult, and was not prepared for it to be as manageable as it became. I’d lost all fear by that point, and the kilometres seemed to melt rather than be counted, as I wasn’t paying much attention, and would miss kilometre markers altogether, so it seemed like before I knew it there were only 5 kilometres left.
I drank coke and water. I sucked on an energy gel pack that my friend Heather, who I run with on Thursday mornings, had given me along with a new pair of socks as a surprise gift for race day. I wore the socks, too. I thought of Heather during that last 10 kilometres because we run that distance together and we run it far faster than I’m used to covering 10 kilometres, so I told myself that if I could keep up with Heather, I could easily complete these last 10 kilometres. In fact, when I realized I had only five kilometres left, it seemed as if the race had happened too quickly.
Not that I wanted it to go on longer.
Just that I was shocked to realize how quickly the time had passed, how deeply inside of it my focus was and would remain, with little ticks and breaks here and there, until I crossed the finish line.
In fact, I sped up significantly when I realized I was completing the last kilometre, and sprinted the last 600 metres, passing many runners, none of them choosing to challenge me, although I kept listening for the sound of footfalls chasing behind me. None came. I knew I could carry myself over the last stretch, and the sprint felt easy at the end, strong.
I don’t know what time I got. I was too totally inside the focus to look at the clock as I crossed the line. I do know it was faster than I’d hoped for, but slower than previous races.
As I drove home, it came to me that a race is an opportunity to prove to yourself that you’re stronger than you think. That’s what it felt like. During the race, I felt so much stronger than I’d thought I was, only hours earlier, so much braver, so much calmer. I’m doing this, I told myself; you’re doing this. It was exhilarating and fun and joyful. I will do it again. I will approach it with the same spirit, with optimism, with training to underpin the approaching effort, and without giving in to fear. It isn’t that the fears won’t rise, but I don’t have to bend to them.
This is life, too.
For example, I can’t not write another book for fear that it won’t match my previous books. I can’t let fear guide my choices or shape my decisions. I need to show up for the challenge, whatever that challenge may be, with the best effort I can offer, right now. I’m stronger than I think; you’re stronger than you think.
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My name is Carrie Snyder. I'm mother of four, writer of fiction and non-, dreamer, planner, mid-life runner, teacher, photographer, taking time for a cup of coffee in front of this computer screen. My days are full, yet I keep asking: how can I fill them just a little bit more, with depth, with care, with light.
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