Beyond the beyond

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I have a list in my head entitled: Jobs That Kids Can Do Themselves! I can see the title written out in perky brightly coloured bubble letters on a piece of paper and I can see the children discovering the list, glancing at it, and sighing, Oh Mom. (On the imaginary list: pick up dog poo in back yard; clean shoes after stepping in dog poo in back yard; feed and water dogs; put away clean laundry; put dirty laundry into hamper; hang wet towels; empty dishwasher; put dirty dishes in sink; empty recycling and compost bins; make breakfast and lunch; clean up after breakfast and lunch; find friends to play with…)

I have driven many many kilometres this weekend. I have driven them in my new little car. On Tuesday we gave in to the ongoing overlapping scheduling puzzle that has been our reality, as a one-car six-person family, these past few years, and we bought a second vehicle, a little pod that can efficiently travel from the mothership.

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Sunset over salt mine, Goderich, Ontario.

On Friday night I was with friends in Goderich — old friends. I was reminded that even within a larger group, I look for moments of intimacy amidst the noise. I like to listen. I like to hear.

On Saturday afternoon I read at a festival in Bayfield, in a space that had been the town hall, with four other writers, and the stories they told were essential and moving and spiritual, somehow, and as the last reader of the eventful first half, I felt myself pulled into the flow in the room, and saw how there was space and focus for what I was about to offer and I was so glad and grateful to the other writers for opening up that spiritual river. How I loved stepping into the water. How I loved Aganetha, speaking through me. On the way home, driving my new little car through the rain, I didn’t want to listen to the radio, I didn’t want talk or music, I wanted to hear my own thoughts, I needed space to let the emotions of the afternoon work their way through my system. I heard myself saying, Aggie Smart is a wonderful character. Give yourself that. Let yourself know it.

One of the writers at Saturday’s event told me afterward that they were embarrassed by the organizer’s introduction of me, which was particularly awkward—title of my last book wrong, said she couldn’t find any information about me online, except some weird site called Obscure CanLit Mama, which perhaps she didn’t realize was mine—and when I got up to speak, I tried to riff off her intro and said that I didn’t mind being obscure, and wrote for the words on the page and the stories I wanted to tell, which perhaps just made everything all the more awkward. And then I read. I dove right into those words on the page. I wasn’t upset by the intro at all, actually, even if the other writer thought it was infuriatingly dismissive of my career and experience. Oddly, I’d thought it was accurate and reassuring. How nice that she couldn’t find much about me online, I thought. Maybe I can do this writing thing and remain obscure. (Although, is that really true? I’m not going to Google myself to find out.)

An author at the event told a story about Alice Munro writing while her kids were at school, and covering her typewriter when they arrived home again; I like that un-precious approach to the work. It fits with how I see myself, as a very ordinary person living a very ordinary life, who happens to enjoy an imaginative extra-life, like a room in the attic full of dress-up clothes stuffed into old-fashioned trunks or with secret passageways that I can visit and escape to, but I’ll still be back downstairs in time to help make supper and coach a soccer game. Life has many rooms. I want to live fully in all of them, whichever room I’m in.

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Yesterday, I delivered my youngest child to overnight camp, and he is away from me until tomorrow. This picture breaks my heart just a little. He looks so anxious, but also like he’s trying to reassure me that he will be okay.

The writing work that I’ve submitted recently sits out there waiting for responses and there is no guarantee that anyone will like it or want it. I want other writers to know this, especially writers beginning their careers: know that even the writers you think of as more established, or as having had some success, receive rejection, sometimes, or have to begin projects over again, or abandon them altogether, sometimes. In fact, I think it’s good for a person never to get so comfortable in her abilities that her work can’t be critiqued by thoughtful professionals. It’s good never to become so precious, so valuable commercially, that no one holds you to account. (Even though that sounds awfully tempting and a person can dream!)

The best things in life are never the easiest, even if the experience of them feels easy. Getting to ease is hard.

Maybe I exercise because it is a form of extremity, it removes barriers, can push the self beyond the beyond to a purer place that doesn’t traffic in the ordinary obstacles that come between people, that we use to keep ourselves safe and protected and apart.

Behind me, a daughter inhales her asthma puffer. I can hear her breathe out slowly, then pull the medication into her lungs.

Behind me, my other daughter and her friend practice what I think are dance steps, her friend instructing her, one-two-push. But when my older daughter joins their conversation, I realize that a soccer ball is involved, and the friend is teaching my younger daughter a fancy soccer move, in our living-room. Maybe she will use it in her game tonight.

The nervous little dog comes into this office and lies down near my feet. She is distressed by change and change is constant in our house, in the summertime.

If I were to write a poem today what would be my subject?

If I were to write a short story today what would be my subject?

Here is the blog post I’ve written today. What is its subject?

The American writer, James Salter, died recently, aged 90. His output, said the obituary, was modest: six novels, two short story collections, a memoir. I think that output sounds quite fantastic. Nine books in total, not much more than a book a decade. I think it must have meant he cared deeply about what he published and rejected a lot of his own ideas and attempts. This is just a guess.

Enjoying this room I’m in. Hope you are too, wherever you are.

xo, Carrie

A list of interruptions
Happy Canada Day!

2 Comments

  1. I once heard Prime Minister Lester Pearson reply to a very brief and thin intro by saying, “I don’t think I’ve ever had a nicer introduction because I don’t think I’ve ever had to sit through a shorter one!” I wonder if he always kept that reply at the ready for occasions like that.
    You were so right in your response: it’s not about intros or websites or Google searches. It’s about the words on the page and the stories they form. And I imagine that to your introducer you are now much less obscure than you were before.
    Bayfield Town Hall is a lovely space. I had the pleasure of hauling my voice out of its own obscurity to sing there last summer.

    Reply
    • What a perfect response!

      And in fact, I’ve made it sound like I was singled out for the awkward intro, but the organizer introduced a much much much less obscure author than I with something along the lines of, “I’ve lost my notes but you all know who this is and they’ll tell you all about what they’ve done.”

      The literary publicity tour is a series of small humiliations, one might say, about which one must have a sense of humour and humility, both. I don’t know whether other tours are more glamorous — what about singing, Chris?

      Reply

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