So, this has not been a productive couple of days. That photo, above, was taken this morning around 11am. It is dark, it is raining, the rain has frozen on all the branches, the sidewalks are treacherous, and, oh! School’s on! Except not for AppleApple (power outage), or CJ (power outage). Albus and Fooey were feeling very cheesed indeed when I dropped them at their very-much-open school.
We woke to no power and a rapidly cooling house. The kitchen was dark. AppleApple lit candles. I lit the gas stove (thank goodness for gas stoves!). But we couldn’t make coffee because we grind the beans every morning in an electric grinder. Hey, remember those old-fashioned coffee grinders with the handle and the little wooden drawer? We needed one of those.
I also may need to trade in my large non-portable computer for a laptop, I realize, on a day such as this. My programs and files are all locked up in iMac silence. But you know, all I can think about is the interview tomorrow, so my brain is basically distracted and inaccessible anyway. I am typing this at Kevin’s office, on a borrowed computer, with AppleApple by my side. There is power and heat here. AppleApple is whispering the many many many stanzas of Poe’s The Raven, which she’s decided to memorize for poetry month. As far as I can gather, this is only loosely a school assignment, and she could have chosen to memorize, say, a sonnet, but, no, she’s gone for an 18-stanza marathon. She has til the end of the month. She’s on stanza 11. The raven has made several appearances, and, she reports, has already spoken his famous line several times. “Nevermore.”
All I can hear is the whispering. I can’t concentrate. I’ve got nothing more, just now.
I walked CJ to the school bus this morning, and noticed our paired footprints on the way home. And that’s my teeny-tiny attempt at positivity regarding this January-in-April weather we’ve been “enjoying.” I run outdoors all winter long, and this morning’s run was one of the coldest all year, thanks to a bitter wind and sharp flecks of snow. I’ve also got a hole in my running tights, and I’d really like to retire them for the season. Yes, that’s a first-world-white-woman problem, right there.
What was I going to blog about? I had ideas.
A blog is a nice place to gather one’s thoughts, I find. Maybe that’s why I don’t really want to stop. There’s a scrapbook mentality to this blog: every day is different, but every day is also focused and structured by the necessity of being and expressing where I’m at right now.
I read a piece in Maclean’s this morning about meditation, about using our minds to come to terms with ourselves. That is totally not the quote. I’ll go get the magazine. Here it is: Meditation is “a dignified attempt to come to grips with being human with the resources you have right there. Not depending on some guru, or some drug, or some psychotherapy. Just a very simple technique that, repeated again and again and again, will eventually change the way you relate to the world at the deepest level.” The person being quoted is Jeff Warren, a Toronto meditation teacher and journalist, who sounds like he could be guru-like, but who doesn’t like gurus. I, too, distrust the guru figure, even while acknowledging that I can learn much from mentors and teachers … I think it’s a fear of idolatry, but maybe it’s a fear of dependence, too, because I also dislike self-help books, or anyone claiming to be able to fix anyone else’s life. And yet I feel myself drawn to writing a self-help-like book — collecting and distilling all of the bits and pieces of discovery that keep me going and keep me digging — which seems super-hypocritical. I’m simultaneously pulled toward looking for ways to find and express a more meaningful life, and resistant to latching on to a single path or expression. As an individual, my path is singular, my voice is singular, there’s no way around that. Maybe that’s why I like fiction: it allows me to embody and express a wide variety of opinions and beliefs, none of which may be exactly my own.
Back to Maclean’s magazine (awkward segue), I’ve discovered a new (unpaid) talent: writing letters to the editor. I rattled off a critique of their deliberately inflammatory headline a few weeks back, in which a screaming toddler was labelled with the question: “Is she a brat or is she sick?” Ugh, I thought. Stop it with the name-calling! She’s neither, of course: she’s a normal toddler. That’s the gist of my letter and they printed it.
As I put in a load of laundry this morning, I thought, I often write from a position of response rather than call. I react to what exists with emotion and opinion. The non-fiction essays I’ve written have almost all been assigned rather than originated and pitched by me. This has been a stumbling block to my freelance writing career. When I write an essay on an assigned subject, I never know where I’m going to end up, but I know it’s going to be a fascinating exploration of unexpected territory. I know also that these thoughts and discoveries wouldn’t exist without someone else inviting me to make them exist. It burns a lot of energy to come up with an idea and spin it into existence, all on my own steam. This may be my downfall, as a writer, my Achilles’ heel, the personality flaw impossible to overcome.
But that’s okay.
Because my goal is to make writing my comfort zone, my place of meditation and peace, and not my bread and butter. I’d like to stop complaining about not making money as a writer. (I’m sure you’d appreciate that too.)
I’d like to free my writing from the burden of earning.
I have a feeling that particular complaint will never vanish, no matter how long I work at writing. The tension between creativity and a comfortable lifestyle is built right into the artistic enterprise. I, personally, can’t imagine how to change the system so that creative energies are compensated in a steady and reliable way. I’ve tried! I just can’t imagine it. And while I’m appreciative of the important role grants have played in supporting my work, I really hate asking for money. Just hate it. I want to earn my living, plain and simple.
the view from my keyboard
Life is unsteady. It doesn’t hold still.
That’s why I get up early and hold to a practice.
I will have to find a way to do this no matter what comes, no matter how busy and disrupted my days. I need to run. Or swing weights. Or cycle. Or push myself physically in some way. My joy and my productivity is directly connected to my body. I can’t think myself content, but I sure as hell can feel it.
My thought today as I ran on the indoor track was that I was running myself into submission. But wait, I thought, I’m running myself free, not into submission. Because even on the indoor track, I could feel wind in my hair, and my heart beating, and my breath coming deep and fast and sure. And then I realized that it was my mind that needed to submit to my body, so that my body could experience freedom. The further I run, the faster I run. This is probably backward to most people’s experience of running (or maybe it’s not!?). I think it’s because it takes time for my mind to empty and hush and stop doubting or worrying. And then comes focus and clarity of effort.
Do you remember the REM song, “Losing My Religion”? A tiny snippet from that song is stuck in my head.
“Life is bigger …”
I keep hearing it. I pay attention when a song lyric is stuck in my head, because it often tells me where I’m at. (Except for when it’s telling me that in spin class this morning the instructor played “Hangover” by Taio Cruz and, no, I don’t have a hangover, and if I did, I wouldn’t have been in spin class, Taio!)
Life is bigger. It fits where I’m at. It means, for me, this constant effort to make space for more. More emotion, more spirit, more connections, more newness, while also opening myself and my imagination to the possibilities of what I can learn and make and do. It can feel disorienting to ask others to give you the chance to try the things you want to try, and to step toward the things you want to do, but aren’t yet expert in. It’s like being asked to play a new position on the soccer field. It’s like learning how to swim as an adult. If you believe you can, you will trust your ability to build on everything you’ve experienced that’s brought you to this point, and you will simply and willingly do your best.
You won’t be the best goalie. And you won’t be the best swimmer. At least not immediately. But you’ll be on the field, or in the water, and that is the only way to learn.
Life is bigger.
Finally, this. I’m an inveterate writer of letters (not unlike Juliet, who writes to Ronald Reagan in one of my favourite stories in The Juliet Stories). Here is the letter I felt inspired to write and send today, to the editors of The Globe and Mail newspaper, who somehow managed not to highlight on the front page the most inspiring news story I’ve heard in a long time (note: they did print a story and photo several pages into the front page section.)
To the editors,
The Globe and Mail newspaper’s front page editors would like to show me that Tiger Woods, who cheated famously and serially on his former wife, and who is not a Canadian citizen at least to my knowledge, is back on top again. Oh, and that the Prime Minister of Canada met with what looks like a Fed Ex-ed panda yesterday.
Meanwhile, a group of young people from Northern Quebec completed an epic 1,500 km walk during which they hiked and snowshoed and camped through weather more extreme than most Canadians have ever experienced, ending their journey yesterday in Ottawa, at Parliament Hill, in hopes that their efforts might bring attention to the needs of their communities.
But, you know, I can totally see how Tiger Woods and pandas would make a better illustration to sum up yesterday’s news. Especially when Canadians are so bombarded with positive images and stories of native youth. And besides, such a photo on the front page of a national newspaper might remind us of our collective agreements and responsibilities toward all the people who live in Canada, including those who were here first, and put us off at breakfast, and make us feel guilty. And that would be sad for Globe and Mail readers.
Or maybe we would have felt inspired, who knows. Maybe you should try a whole lot harder, dig a whole lot deeper, and show us what really matters to Canadians.
Yours, Carrie Snyder
(click on photos to see in full)
Among our many activities this weekend, AppleApple performed at Beckettfest yesterday afternoon. Her little sister came along for moral support, making this an all-girl outing. Kev stayed home and cleaned. It takes a team. AppleApple also spent yesterday morning swimming 5,000 metres (yup, that’s 5 kilometres) in a swim-a-thon to raise money for her swim team. I think she earned her donations. Good grief. I’ve never swum that far, nor that long–have you? She did most of the swim in back crawl, which is her favourite stroke.
In other news, I spent most of yesterday groaning every time I bent down to pick something up. That just meant kundalini class on Friday night was a success.
Also in other news, we were treated to a tacofest supper with friends yesterday evening, who, I’m grateful to report are quite loud themselves and were therefore not overwhelmed by the noise and energy our family generates in these situations. We don’t get a lot of bring-the-whole-family dinner invitations. Just sayin’. So kudos to those brave enough to invite us in. (Come to think of it, Kevin and I used to be more deliberate about inviting friends / family for meals, and that’s fallen off in the past while; I should do something about that. Sharing meals with friends is such a good way to spend an evening).
I capped off the night with poetry book club where a peaty Irish whisky was served and we all laughed a lot. The big kids even got a babysitting gig out of the event.
This morning, Kev took AppleApple to her out-of-town soccer game — the last of the winter season!
I stayed home and did: dishes, laundry, vacuuming, got yogurt going (that’s what’s in the towel-covered cooler in the photo above), and started bread (that’s what’s in the towel-covered bowl on the counter). I did not attempt to clear the breakfast bar, also pictured above. And in the foreground, we see a child holding a dog which has been dressed in a bikini, with several dog-babies stuffed in. So, you know, just the usual morning.
I have a soccer game in an hour. And plots and plans bubbling in my brain. And a book on the history of midwifery in Ontario to read in my spare minutes.
And dust mites to battle. (That’s one to your left. Looks out of this world, doesn’t it? It has recently been discovered that AppleApple suffers from an allergy to said mites. It has also been discovered that she almost certainly has asthma. We’re pretty sad about that. The good news is that she doesn’t appear to be allergic to the dogs. The other good news is that vacuuming apparently has no effect on the presence of dust mites, so I don’t have to feel guilty about how infrequently we manage the task. Even with a team effort).
Can I do it?
All day I’ve been pouring my energies into an alternative non-fiction project, which I shall have to title sooner or later. I’m currently calling it: The Woman Formerly Known As …
Having been so very very good, I’m rewarding myself with ten minutes to blog. Because in ten minutes I will have to leave the house to pick up the kid who rides the bus. Can I offer a small weather-related complaint as an aside? Why is it so cold? Why does the air blow so arctically when spring is, surely, just around the corner? Why is there no sunshine? Why must yet another winter storm approach on the horizon? Why won’t it stop being grey?
That was more than one complaint.
Mildly interesting unrelated tidbit: We’ve had a month of breakdowns. First, the truck (remember that?): transmission. I won’t quote you the fixin’ price, but it hurt. Next, the oven! I had to borrow my dad’s oven a couple of Sundays ago in order to bake bread. Thankfully that was fixed within a week, and for a somewhat smaller fee than the transmission. And now, the boiler that heats our entire house and provides all hot water. On Saturday, suddenly everyone was wandering around shivering and wrapping themselves in blankets and draping themselves with dogs, when I thought to check the thermostat. Falling swiftly. I am thankful to say that has also, now, been fixed.
What else? I’m afraid to ask. I’m afraid it’s some kind of obvious metaphor that I’d rather not apply to my life right now.
I’ve nothing more to add. And look: it’s only been thirteen minutes! Which is admittedly a couple minutes more than ten. I’m going to pop in a photo and press publish, and presto, it’s school bus time.
Shortest break ever, huh.
A few things. If you are a blog subscriber, please don’t unsubscribe. I will continue to post updates from time to time. Like now.
I find myself throwing around two vastly different ideas on how to continue blogging, with the intention of keeping it a healthy outlet and connector, rather than a time-consuming distraction or vanity-feeding outreach. My first idea is to become a weekend poster, or “slacker blogger” as suggested by a friend. As an all-in personality, this suggestion sounds tough, but just might work. I’ve got the notion that I would like to pour my daily blogging energies into the writing of a non-fiction book, so maintaining an irregular, special occasion, weekend blog would fit well with that. My second idea is to form a paid subscriber base that would make blogging a job rather than a hobby. I throw that idea out there, while acknowledging that it’s problematic from a number of angles. One is that I have serious inborn qualms about mixing creative endeavours with monetary ones. Two is that I may not have the time to give paying subscribers what they’re paying for, and that would be stressful.
So many other things to write about!
* March break: over and done, and after a long week home alone with the children I am inspired to find alternative plans for our summer holidays. My half-baked plan to let the kids look after themselves while I put ear plugs in and worked was a total fail. What was I thinking??
* Making tea: I read a little article in Geez magazine on making your own infusions/tea by using ingredients like dried orange peel, ginger root, cinnamon stick, cloves, etc. So I’m drying the peel from the orange my son ate this morning.
* Ingratitude is on my mind. How to help my children express and feel gratitude for the many offerings they receive, rather than sulking or complaining about the things they wish they’d received instead? Hm.
* After my last post, I was grateful to hear from readers who hadn’t commented before. The one-sided nature of blogging can feel lopsided and strangely weighted, like I’m writing to a mirror-self, and that sometimes bothers me. I appreciate when people comment, or tell me in person that they’ve related to something I’ve written. It makes writing feel like less of an isolating, interior occupation — which writing so often does. I would miss that about blogging. I think I would miss it too much to stop altogether. That is my weekend reflection. What other medium allows me to connect, in a genuine and honest and real and perhaps most importantly immediate way, with so many people all at once?
So, thanks for reading. Til next time. xo, Carrie
P.S. In response to my vague idea about blogging for subscribers (above), a reader emailed to say: “It occurs to me that it might be possible to think about a blog not on a subscriber model (which might pressurize a daily post), but on a supporter model, which could be more fluid.” She also sent a link to this TED talk by Amanda Palmer on “The art of asking.” Here’s the link. Here’s a taste: “For most of human history, musicians, artists, they’ve been part of the community, connectors and openers, not untouchable stars. Celebrity is about a lot of people loving you from a distance, but the internet … is taking us back. It’s about a few people loving you up close and about those people being enough.”