This is of the moment

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The worst has happened—in terms of your literary life in Canada, that is, which are terms admittedly insular, and insignificant, perhaps, to all but those who’ve published a book of literary fiction in this calendar year. But there it is. Within this specific framework, at this specific moment in your publishing life, the worst has happened. You’re not on the long-list of the premier Canadian fiction prize.

This has just happened.

You’re surprised (and relieved) not to feel envy for those upon whom the light is shining. But you don’t. They need the light too. You don’t begrudge them a single spark.

What you feel, immediately, perhaps inexplicably, is shame and very little else. You feel like vanishing. You feel as raw as if you’d been sliced open, as vulnerable as a scurrying animal exposed in an alien environment. Shame is the most powerful emotion right now. You can’t imagine going outside of your house ever again.

So what are you going to do?

So you sit here writing. You sit and write because what else could you possibly do, especially if you can’t go outside ever again, even though it is a beautiful sunny day? You sit here writing, laughing at yourself, saying, you’re right here, breathing and alive, and you aren’t going to die from this. Your family is beautiful and funny and active, and they love you no less for this. You haven’t done anything wrong or evil. You haven’t hurt anybody. You haven’t actually failed, because there was nothing you could have done differently to pass. You are the same woman you were this morning, and you will be the same woman tomorrow. You will find your footing.

You are not made for the sprint distance, but for the long hard lonely run.

It isn’t meant to be easy, because if it were, it would count for nothing in your mind.

It’s meant to be hard. You learn most when it’s hard. You learn how to access reserves of strength and humour you did not know you had. You learn how to feel things deeply. You learn compassion for the deep, painful feelings of others. You learn repair. You learn self-governance and self-control. You learn discipline. Maybe, after you’re through writing this post, you’ll learn perspective, too, letting go, you’ll go eat some lunch. So, this is the worst that could happen? So, your reward is not going to be a bright prize and audience applause? You don’t know what your reward is going to be. It doesn’t matter. You aren’t doing this for the reward, you never were, and you never will. You’re doing this for life. You’re doing this to pattern words into story, to carry a reader into another world, to share your ideas in ways that can be taken in deeply and felt.

You want readers to find your book, so this is a disappointment. You know disappointment. It’s a totally non-lethal side effect, a condition of being who you are, someone with high hopes, dreamy and possibly delusional optimism, joyful dogged effort. And joyful dogged effort can’t be stopped by disappointment, only paused briefly, stalled briefly, here in this little rut of a moment that must be walked through to be gotten through.

It’s going to hurt, yes. It hurts, yes. This too is life. This too shall pass. Already it occurs to you that you may, in fact, be able to leave your house and go outside again. Perhaps even later this afternoon. It’s going to be okay.

And tomorrow you’ll write something else because tomorrow this will look different to you again. This is of the moment. This a record of what is happening now.

xo, Carrie

On and off, out and about
Lists

14 Comments

  1. I just admire how honest, and in the moment you are! What struck me immediately–and blessed me, if I can use that perhaps old-fashioned word, is that you felt no envy. Goodness, we writers all know envy I think, sometimes like crazy, so I’d say this is a gift for this day, for you and us. — I was writing the books down as they were announced, aware of where they were in the alphabet. Noticing this one and that one, nope, not there, past that name. More than a few surprises, actually. But remember this too, there’s a few more good lists coming, plus lots and lots of people know of your book. I’m looking forward to reading it!

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    • Thank you for commenting, Dora. Yes, I think envy is an emotion known to us writers, and one we tend to struggle with privately. I felt very grateful not to be feeling envy yesterday….

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  2. I admit that I haven’t read your book yet (I’ve been on a book-buying ban due to finances so I have been eagerly awaiting my turn from the library) but I am very excited to do so. I have heard so many good things that I was a little surprised to see that you weren’t on the list but I don’t really know how these things go and how decisions are made. The exposure is great but that doesn’t mean I want to read every book on that list and it won’t stop me from reading your book when my turn finally comes. Your honesty is a beautiful thing.

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    • As my husband reminds me, it’s a jury of three people who all have to agree with each other’s choices. I’ve been on juries and know there can be surprisingly divergent ideas of what’s good, what attracts us, what we strongly dislike. Thanks for commenting. I really appreciate the good vibes (as my mother would say).

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  3. I’ve never admired you more than I do right now.

    And since I’ve broken my commenting inertia, I really like your new look. And I’m very much looking forward to Girl Runner. And, for what it’s worth, I haven’t read a single title from that list.

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    • Thank you for breaking the silence, Jennifer! I’m glad Girl Runner is on your reading list. (And I do hope to read at least some of the books on the list, as I’m sure they’re excellent too. So many books, so little time.)

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  4. If you had your choice of all the lists in all the world to be included on, would you choose this one? I think that you have many, many lists in your future, and I think your book does too. I can’t wait to read it.

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    • Thanks, Rachel. Your comment made me smile, big-time.

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  5. I wanted to see your book, and the books of other friends, on that list, and was disappointed that none of the names I was rooting for were announced. I understand how important those lists, particularly the shortlist for this specific prize, can be. I also fully understand the disappointment of not finding one’s name on a hoped-for list.

    I know it’s different for poetry, but I’m going to tell you a little story about my most recent book. It didn’t get on any prize lists. There were some I didn’t even dare hope for as I knew there was no way (hello, Griffin), but there were others I thought I had a chance (goodbye, BC Book Prize). Glossolalia had a lot of online support and I have been incredible grateful for that. It’s had readers, which for a poet, is incredible. A few months ago, my husband was in Vancouver at social event with scores of theatre folks. One kind person asked after me, then said, “Didn’t her book win an award?” Nope, not even nominated. Acquaintance was puzzled. He was sure it won an award. Later, he told my husband that he realized that he saw my review in the Globe and Mail, and equated that with an award. And it felt like I won an award getting that review.

    I guess this is a long way of saying: yes, I get it. Let yourself feel bad for a day or so. Then I know you’ll dust yourself off, go for a run, and feel much better about the whole thing. The awards matter for a very small circle of people. Trust me when I say that your book will reach far, far beyond the reach of that award. xo

    Reply
    • Marita, your advice is virtually identical to my daughter’s advice … and although I haven’t been for a run yet, I’ve been to early morning yoga instead and that helped so much. I do feel much better about the whole thing. Thanks for your reassurance. xo

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  6. Carrie, I watched the tweets yesterday in hopes of seeing your name and was disappointed not to. I am in the midst of reading your book and I, a lowly reader, judge it to be a beautiful story, beautifully crafted by a gifted writer. When I was beginning my singing career, I entered some vocal competitions because I had the idea that it might be good for my career to win one. In some I did well; in most I barely got out of the starting gate, and there seemed to be no discernible reason for either result. And at the end of it all, after the sting, I found I was still a singer. Thank you for your honesty and eloquence in expressing your reactions to what turns out in the end to be a very narrow and arbitrary process. If the Giller is valuable at all, it is as a celebration of all Canadian writers, and I do believe that we will all ultimately benefit.

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    • You are absolutely right, Chris. The Giller, like all prizes, is meant to be a celebration, and it is valuable to Canadian literature for being that! Thanks for the reminder.

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  7. I am going to remember that disappointment is a nonlethal side effect for the rest of my life. You win today, for that. I know exactly how you feel.

    Reply
    • Woot! Thanks, Rita. I love a win. 🙂

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