Category: Big Thoughts
On this morning’s run, my friend and I were talking about exercising. About how exercise keeps us balanced, mentally. Yet when we most need to move, to sweat, to feel alive in our bodies is often when we are least in the mood for it. Mental strength underpins physical strength; and we don’t always feel strong or motivated or inspired. I still find it unpleasant, every morning, when the alarm goes off early. I feel resistant to leaving my warm bed and the sweet state of sleep. Every single morning. There hasn’t been one morning when I’ve greeted the alarm by leaping up with joy in my heart. But I do it. And within minutes I’ve gathered my clothes, I’m brushing my teeth, and I’m already beyond the yucky feeling of I don’t want to. I’m ready to go.
What’s the lesson here? Establish a habit. Make a routine that runs counter to your immediate instinct. I’ve never once regretted getting up early to exercise. Yet somehow my mind forgets that every morning. But that’s okay. Because my habits and routine remind me. Other tips for exercising regularly, even when you don’t feel like it: Meet someone — makes it harder to change your plan last-minute. Set out your clothes the night before. Get up and go. Don’t think about it, just do it.
Okay, enough with the motivational messaging.
Today is the day I dreamed of yesterday. The kids left for school with minimal complaining. Lots of kisses from the two youngest. Hugs from the two oldest. Quick nap. Cup of coffee. Finishing the last of the interviews for this article. Sitting and dreaming. Quiet house.
Have I told you that next week is a writing week? It will be my first writing week in this new office space. It will be my first attempt to dig into the new book. I may not update here on the blog quite as often; then again, I may need to blog more often, who knows.
Here are four things that are making me happy this morning.
One is the status update of a writer friend I know only on Facebook: “A must read. I simply can’t stop underlining this book!” with a link to The Juliet Stories. (Wish I could peek in her copy to see what she’s been drawn to.)
Two is a book review by my friend Nath, who didn’t tell me she’d decided to blog about The Juliet Stories. I love hearing her thoughts. Maybe we’ll even talk about it someday while we’re driving to spin class together (or biking outside together–soon!).
Three is an invitation from the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival to do a writing workshop with high school students, and to meet students, on two different occasions.
Four is doing interviews for this freelance piece. I think of myself as shy, but I’ve been really enjoying interviewing people. Maybe this relates back to my original thought o’ the day: don’t automatically trust your immediate instinct. Why would I think of myself as shy? I enjoy talking to be people, and do it regularly. In high school, I was genuinely shy. But that’s more than half my life ago. Time to update the mental self-image.
Before her recital yesterday, she displayed all of the emotions so familiar to anyone who has ever been asked to get up and perform. Why had she signed up? Why had I made her sign up? (I hadn’t.) She wasn’t going to do it. No one could make her.
I quickly deduced that the growls and howls were nerve-induced, and did my best not to be too peeved (even while dressing her, which she insisted I do, and which set my teeth on edge having just read a piece in the newspaper about my generation’s ridiculous parenting methods that cater to our children’s every need). Anxiety does unpleasant things to most of us, and when it’s a new feeling, of course we don’t know how to cope.
So my goal was to keep her going, get her there, reassure her (even while wondering, gee, has she actually practiced enough??).
And then she played with complete confidence. She smiled, she introduced herself, her fingers met the keys firmly, and she bowed afterward grinning from ear to ear. Had I been another parent watching, I might have envied having such an apparently confident and well-prepared child. I would have been wrong, of course; she was as roiling with nerves as any of the others, and she rose to the occasion, playing better than I’d ever heard her play at home. Mysterious things, performances. It’s fascinating to see what gets drawn out of us when we’re called on. My heart was pounding with pride.
She was not amused by our April Fool’s joke this morning, however. I told her that she’d been asked to come back and play again today. Only the best performers had been asked, Kevin added. What? No way, nuh uh! Not going! She missed the compliment altogether.
An odd thing happened on Friday afternoon, after I’d posted about feeling aimless and wanting to bring good into the world. I went out for lunch with a friend, then stopped in to say hello to Kevin at his office, then stepped outside again and saw, directly in front of me, not three feet away, an elderly woman struggling with a walker. It took me half a second to reach her, and help her sit and rest. She’d had a fall and was rattled, confused. She’d walked a long way. She could not remember the name of her destination, but could describe it and knew what she was going there to do. Together, after some rest, we set out to find it together, and we did. It cost some time, and little else. She thanked me, but it was I who wanted to thank her. It was a pleasure to be able to help.
Later, reflecting on it at home, I thought about how grateful I was that I’d had the time to stop and help. When I’m rushed (which is often), it is harder to see, to stop, to take time. I also thought about how much I love helping; and I thought, this is what I would like to do with my life. But of course, how often do such situations present themselves, such simple one-to-one equations of need to ability to help? When I think about helping in more formal/institutional settings, it feels more complicated. I question my motives; I question my helpfulness. For example, when I helped this woman find where she was going, that was all I did. I did not delve deeper. I did not get to the root causes or make an attempt to prevent the situation from occurring again. I asked whether she’d been hurt in her fall, and she told me that she was fine, and I accepted that. She said she had family in town (I asked), and I accepted that they would be looking out for her in the future. I sensed that she valued her dignity. At what point does help become meddling? These are boundary questions. I tend to err on the side of caution. Because I don’t know the answers. Not all of them. Not even most of them. All I know is be kind.
There is much need in the world. Patterns recur. Pain fragments. Hurt multiplies. Some problems go deep, deep, deep.
How easy it is to take soup to a sick friend. How easy it is to quietly hug one of my children when he or she is sad. How easy it is to help a lost stranger find her destination. Is helping as simple as that? Or does it — should it — go deeper?
Drifted off to sleep last night meditating on my new character, thinking about what I would write today. Yesterday was a tough day. My baby turned four. I had a sense of aimlessness all day, despite discovering this terrific review from Halifax’s The Coast, and, later in the day, this. Nice, right? But the aimless feeling prevailed.
Finally, I left my office and walked uptown to buy my four-year-old a gift. A book, of course! Everywhere I looked it seemed women were out walking their babies. But not me. Just a short while ago, being out and about mid-day unemcumbered by small children would have seemed incredibly novel, and thrilling. Suddenly, it’s every day.
My book is gone too, off to see the world. I was having a now-what feeling?
Somehow, I’ve gotten into the habit of thinking that change is propelled by unhappiness. Certainly, unhappiness can be a powerful motivator to kick us out of negative habits. But it occurred to me this morning that of course there are many other triggers for change. And the instinct to make wholesale changes in a moment of doubt isn’t necessarily positive. If I were even five years younger, I would probably be seriously considering adding another child to the family. That is the kind of change that I could so easily understand and embrace. But I know that’s not the right change anymore. I know in my heart that it’s not even change I really want.
Guess I don’t know what changes are calling me. I just know that seeing my babies grow up, buying more time for myself during the day … well, it’s not as straightforward as I thought it would be. It doesn’t equal direction or ease. The big questions remain. Am I spending my time wisely? Am I doing what I love? Also, a question that never lets me go: am I adding something good into the world, by my actions, by my choices, with my life?
Spring. Spring! The last day of March break. My children occupied elsewhere. A quiet and completely empty house (just now). Not-so-deep thoughts. But persistent ones. I’m tired. My body hasn’t made a very successful switch to the time change. I’m listening to classical music, while wearing ear plugs; an odd but necessary combination. Ear plugs signal work-time. Classical music signals calm. This is ramble.
I am feeling, well, drained, rather. The big publicity push seems to be resolving itself, slowing, and I can stand back and breathe. And as I breathe, I think about that phrase “feeling drained.” And it seems to express an almost literal sensation. Because I’ve been pouring myself out, pouring myself into the effort of spreading the word about Juliet. At some point, I will have to stop pouring and start replenishing the well. Which, though not dry, seems to be creaking with complaints.
Patterns. Habits. When something isn’t working anymore, it becomes steadily more apparent, harder to ignore. And then the question is: what to change? and how?
One change would be to break myself of the BlackBerry habit. I’ve become accustomed to receiving new! urgent! exciting! messages throughout the day, and it’s changed my brain — I expect and anticipate the little ping. It’s like a hit of affirmation. I’m not alone! Connect, connect! Trouble is I’m starting to crave the ping even when I’m in the midst of seemingly interesting Life. Worst of all, the ping itself has almost become more meaningful and exciting than the message received. I am Pavlov’s dog.
A second change. I think it’s time to shift gears. To stop writing about Juliet, and start writing on/into/toward a new project. Even if the new project doesn’t take shape immediately. Even if I feel uncertain. If this is what I want to do, go on and do it. It’s been a real pleasure this week to shape a new poem, to see that I can make something with the kind of accessible tone I’d want to read. More of that! Please.
There is a third change, but I have nothing to pin to it. I want to pursue another goal (not writing-related) like the triathlon challenge. I want a particular reason to be outdoors. To run or bike or swim or yoga even when I don’t really feel like it. I am lacking in meditative space right now. I feel almost incapable of sitting quietly and resting my mind. It seems the only time that happens is when I’m working really hard, physically. Some writers turn to alcohol. I understand the impulse. One needs to turn to something. One longs for a mind at rest, at ease. I crave the spiritual rootedness that comes from discipline — and I find discipline in physical effort. It connects me to some part of myself that knows endurance and ambition and suffering, and is rewarded by it. Which probably sounds weird. And isn’t exactly the path of least resistance. I’m only half-heartedly committed to that work at present (partly due to being in rehab for the running injury), and I want to reconnect with whole-hearted commitment again. Stay tuned.
People are starting to read The Juliet Stories. I know this because of the odd unexpected message appearing in my inbox, arriving in out-of-the-blue moments, an old friend saying, Hello! with excitement. Part of me wants to share the messages with you. Part of me feels awkward and reticent. Is this what Alice Munro would do? (She is the height of writerly grace, in my opinion.) Um, no, is the obvious answer. But then, publishing is such an altered world, altered even since Hair Hat came out eight years ago. Eight years ago, who had heard of “social media”? I’m a writer who works in an old-fashioned medium: the Book. But I’m also a blog-writer. Occasionally I’ve wondered whether blog-writing itself is my accidental calling — this brisk, confessional, and immediate form of communication.
The writing of a book requires such different mental mechanisms than the writing of a blog. It requires patience to somehow co-exist with impatience. There are intricate pieces to be held inside the mind, waiting for a chance to be written out, puzzled out, put together. Blog-writing, for me, is freeing. It’s like opening a window. Book-writing is exhausting. It’s like mining underground with a trowel.
However, the reading of either book or blog should not be exhausting. It should be compelling, thought-provoking. Perhaps in different ways, and on different levels. A blog is more like a snapshot. A book is more like a movie.
And this writer is awful fond of ye ole simile.
In conclusion (she pontificates), I’m glad both mediums are available. I love blogging. And I think, yes I do, that the book is nevertheless my form, too. And I hope you will read The Juliet Stories and agree. Therefore, I will do as Obscure CanLit Mama would do, and share some of this out-of-the-blue love with you. It’s too sweet not to.
It was approximately 5:30am this morning, and I was wearing bike shorts and eating peanut butter on toast in preparation for a spin/weight class, when I opened this message from a friend, sent at midnight:
I’ve just finished [Juliet] and my head is reeling. It’s marvellous. I could not put it down. It’s the best book I’ve read in a very long time. I read 150 books last year, and this stands out above all of them.
You know what the best thing is? I feel like it was written just for me, like it’s bespoke fiction. It’s all the things I love, Munro’s Del and Gallant’s Linnet among them.
Glorious, Carrie. Just glorious. I can’t wait to tell people about this book.
And I was in the whirl of supper prep, taking a quick breather in my office, when I discovered this message yesterday evening:
Good lord, Carrie. I know I should wait until I’m done, but I’ve just finished the first part of the book, and am exploding to tell you how splendid it is! I guess when I start a book by someone I know & care about I am always a bit nervous. What if I don’t like it, what if I think it could be better. But THIS book is a revelation. Carrie, it is just so damn good. Each story is vivid and gripping, and filled with tension and wonderfully flawed and alive characters. The prose is smart and crafty and clear and evocative …
And I was sitting down at the computer with my cherished morning coffee, today, when I read this tweet from Sheree Fitch, an accomplished writer for children and adults, about whom I blogged not long ago:
Finished #TheJulietStories. Rhapsodic,original,heart-piercing,luminous #novel. #brotherlylove in allways #Thankyou.
How does this make me feel? I don’t even know, honestly. Relieved. On the verge of tears. That feeling of it was worth it. I’ve got to confess, I was feeling nervous about the launch party on Saturday, but with these messages fluttering in my mind, I’m feeling the excitement. I’m feeling it!
Oh! And at the party, we may even debut the new song!*
*not live; my voice is not up to that
One more thing before I sign off today. The New Quarterly has a lovely post today about The Juliet Stories. As you may know, four Juliet stories debuted in TNQ, in somewhat altered earlier forms, and the magazine has packaged them together in digital format. It’s like Juliet memorabilia. (!)
They also have three writing contests on right now, one for Occasional Verse (ie. a poem written for an occasion, like a birthday, or a book launch …), one for Personal Essay, and one for the Short Story (hm, maybe I should enter?). Each prize will bestow upon the winner $1000. Details here. Spread the word.