Category: Writing

I’ve been doing a lot of training

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I love the summer photos. Bright skies, bright colours, squinting eyes.

This past Thursday evening illustrates our family’s collective obsession with soccer. With surprising ease, between the hours of 5:30-8:30pm, five out of six of us were involved on soccer fields in multiple locations. Kev and Albus scarfed down hot quiche and were at their practice at 5:30. Using the carshare car, I dropped AppleApple at her practice at 6:45, then drove CJ and Fooey up to another field where Fooey had a game at 7:15 (Kevin coaching). We met Kevin and Albus in the parking lot with a picnic snack, and I zoomed over to Cambridge to play a 7:30 game with my indoor team. Kevin and kids picked up AppleApple on their way home, and serendipitously saw me, just after I’d returned the carshare car, walking home with my gear. Talk about coordination. It felt effortless.

Of course, Thursday also marked the end of regular season play for Fooey — we’ll have to find a new groove, all over again.

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On Saturday, Kevin and Fooey had an end-of-season “festival,” and we all came along to cheer. In the afternoon, AppleApple had a goalkeeping clinic, and I brought my yoga mat to stretch. Afterward, we biked to a nearby pool for a cooling dip.

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On Sunday, I drove around southwestern Ontario, retrieving one child from a friend’s cottage and dropping two at overnight camp (one not my own): Albus will be gone for two weeks. CJ is already bereft. I arrived home in time to drag my well-numbed butt off to my evening soccer game (we won!).

I’ve been doing a lot of training. Training for what? Not sure, exactly. I’ve signed up for the Toad (25km trail run), and that seems to have given me the drive to follow a regular training schedule. I’ve gone steadily, from weight classes to soccer games to runs, for over two weeks now, without missing a day. Thankfully, I’ve got time for long runs again. I’ve gone out the past two Saturdays, aiming to run approximately an hour and a half to begin. I made it 15km the first week, 16km this past week (in the same amount of time). Sloooow.

It feels different to train myself back up, having done this before. The first time I trained to run long distances (two years ago), I was doing something I’d never imagined I could. So it was a pretty amazing process. Every extra kilometre felt like a miracle. But now I know what I’ve been capable of, and I’m so far from it. It could be discouraging — and I’m grateful that I don’t feel discouraged. I do feel slow. But I recognize that long runs are about reminding yourself that you’ve always got more than you think you do. That’s another way of saying: you have to learn to trust your body. That’s what endurance is actually about, as much as it’s about putting on mileage (though mileage is critical, too).

(And maybe, too, it’s harder to trust your body after injury. I am running on an ankle that is improved, but still not perfectly healed.)

Training for what? On reflection, I think the what doesn’t matter, it’s the why. Training is just a way for me to keep going. I’m in the midst of some very challenging work. I could get discouraged or weary, and I need, somehow, to remain calm, focused, and strong. Training seems to remind me of my own capacity to work hard. It gives me a parallel (and easier) kind of work to counterbalance the extremely quiet interior efforts required here in my office. Training every single day toward an end that isn’t obvious doesn’t feel frivolous or extreme, though it may look that way. I couldn’t sit still — hold so still — without some sense of being in motion. I’d go crazy, I think.

I’ll admit this is not an easy time in my professional life. It’s a lovely time in my personal life. I’m a truly fulfilled mother of wonderful kids. But professionally I feel a constant low-level anxiety. I wonder about the choices I’m making. I question my direction. I’m unsettled.

This may be a function of being a creative person. I wonder: am I by nature an unsettled and restless woman? Then I need a firm, sound body to carry me through. My mind settles when my body is working hard. It gives me peace.

Stretching by the soccer field

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A few things. If you don’t hear from me, assume I’m writing. Or summering.

So far, this holiday has made a lot of sense. The kids are swimming in the mornings, and I write (working on revisions) all afternoon. We’re travelling by bicycle as much as we can. I’m back to running and soccer, so life it is good. It is filled with goodness.

I took my yoga mat and stretched on the grass, Saturday afternoon, while watching my daughter practice her keeper skills. Rain was lightly falling. It’s been hot, humid. It was just about the perfect afternoon.

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No photos of my younger daughter, but you never know, she might step in and make a claim for the title “soccer girl,” too. On Thursday evening, Kevin and I watched in amazement as our sturdy and determined seven-year-old carried the ball up the field, beating out player after player, and calmly fired it into the net. Five times. Seriously. We know she’s got the skills, but this was the first we’d seen the fire-in-the-belly. Our jaws were dropping. We were so curious to know what had inspired her, but all Fooey said afterward when we asked how did you just do that??? was, “It was a different goalie, so it was easy.” Um, okay.

(I wish I could say that. And I wish I had even half her foot skills. I mean, she dominated. That is not a word Kevin and I tend to associate with sweet Fooey.)

I love the very different personalities that pour out of these fascinating individuals I get to claim as my kids. I love trying to figure them out. What makes you tick? What gets you excited? What brings you to life?

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It’s berry season in our backyard.

And it looks like rain, again.

We’ve got more soccer coming up this evening, I’ve got laundry to drag off the line, and another half an hour to direct toward Girl Runner. I love when life makes sense like this. It doesn’t always. I spend a lot of time flailing around worrying about direction, although I don’t love to blog about those parts. (Maybe I should? So life doesn’t look too perfect?)

I’m super-thankful when everything seems to fit together.

I got on my bike

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This morning I got on my bike and went to the “county” track meet (ie. a bunch of schools competing, including both of my two older children’s).

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The 800 metre start, girls, ages 9-12.

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She ran most of the race in lane two. Oops. “Did you know it’s shorter if you run on the inside lane?” “What? Really?!” A real-life math problem.

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A hard-run race. I think she was a little disappointed with her end result, but every race is a learning experience. And she ran her heart out! Proud mama.

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Tug-of-war. Not so many photos of this child. I was picking up a please-don’t-embarrass-me-mom vibe. Which I get. I’m so sympathetic and can totally feel it, too. Of course I’m going to say something dorky in front of his friends! I remember this age so clearly myself and instinctively want to give him space. Then I wonder: am I giving him too much space and he won’t know that I care? You know?

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Then I got on my bike and went to the kindergarten picnic.

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We shared our sandwiches (his idea).

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The kids performed songs. When it was time to say goodbye, I got so many kisses, so many hugs; it was hard parting. Such a different stage.

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And I got on my bike and went back to the track. (My ankle doesn’t hurt on my bike. Yay! Plus I’d forgotten how fun it is to cycle around the city.) Kevin had arrived in my absence, live-texting me results of events I was missing. We both got to watch the relays.

Then I got on my bike and went home.

:::

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Found, yesterday, amongst the masses of work brought home from school.

“Who? Carrie Snyder: Author of the GG nominated Juliet Stories and, my mom.

“What? I can learn alot from mom including work hard and you can acheive anything, follow your dreams, or whims depending on which you have. Nothing is really that impossible if you really want it. And are willing to pour your life into it.

“Where/when? At the book launch in 2012, when the story became a book.

“Why? Writing a book with four kids is not easy. The Juliet Stories took seven years to write. It takes an amazing woman with great patience to do that. She sets goals and acheives them. Aside from that she is a very happy person with a big family and a big heart. She is also a runner and marathonist and triathlete. If you don’t think she is successful, I would like to hear what is.”

I don’t know what life is all about, except that it’s for living. Yesterday was a down day. The puffy ankle wasn’t helping. I was feeling pessimistic. I was remembering that the nature of being a writer is being dissatisfied. That’s what gives you the push to keep creating. It’s a sense of needing to do more. I was remembering that I write out of a painful mixture of confidence and doubt, and that it never seems to become easy (not the writing itself, which is frequently joyful, but everything surrounding it). And then I found this. My child was mirroring back to me things I couldn’t see or appreciate for myself. I hope to mirror to my children the same: love and belief and admiration.

The ten-minute post

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We’ve entered end-of-school-year madness. I added to the madness by turning my ankle in Sunday evening’s soccer game, which we won short-handed, and so it was worth it. Right? Priorities, Carrie, priorities. I actually heard my ankle make a snapping sound as I landed on the grass, and so did the woman with whom I’d collided, and she looked at me, lying in the grass, and said, “Um, are you okay?” and I said, “Yeah, I don’t know.” In fact, it didn’t hurt, and still doesn’t, just feels stiff and is swollen. I’m taking a few days off to see how it heals, but so far my body seems to know what it’s doing. I’m icing it, resting it, and I promise not to play on it until it’s healed. Promise. Okay? Because I’d like to play all summer, please.

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Yesterday morning, bum ankle and all, I headed off to Toronto to meet with a new editor. We got to work in a pleasant coffee shop and ran all the way through my new novel. I’ve now got tentative deadlines toward which to work on both of my new book projects. Woot, woot! The first of the picture book revisions are due at the end of this week (this will go back and forth a few more times: a couple hundred words is harder to perfect than you might think), and I’ll be revising the novel over the summer. My older kids have been officially hired to babysit their younger siblings, for a fair whack of cash, and both are treating the project with respect. Hopes are high, all around.

Now I’m between appointments: allergist this morning with my asthmatic athlete, and grade six graduation ceremony in a few minutes, for which I volunteered to stay afterward and clean up (why???). And then I’m praying for a few hours in which to work. Please.

I love to sit and work. And be quiet.

And: go!

:::

I must add a P.S.

No one told me to bring tissues to the graduation ceremony. I mean, it’s just grade six, right? Sure, he’s going to a new school next year, and he’s been here for EIGHT YEARS, and oh, wait, this is a big deal. One of the teachers put together a video that had me wiping away tears from the get-go. The grade six graduates were shown in side by side photos, as kindergartners, and as they are now, young people on the cusp of teenage-hood. Something about witnessing their changes turned me wobbly inside, and it wasn’t even about looking at my own kid, or at kids I’ve known all these years — it was all of them, all of these precious lives blooming in what seems like fast-forward. We don’t get to stay the same. We don’t get to keep these kids, either. How caught we are in time.

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Life as a gambler

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Opened the fridge this morning, looking for an egg, and suffered a flicker of regret at turning down a new career path (ie. midwifery; perhaps the egg twigged it). I remember blogging last winter about wanting to escape out from under the expectation that my writing would need to earn a living (even a modest living) — a sweet dream of writing for pleasure, while pursuing work that would be very different indeed. I blogged about the writer’s cycle of survival, which involves filling out many application forms, a cycle that feels like one is perpetually asking for help. How exhausted I felt by the cycle. How I hated asking for help.

And yet here I am, several months on, willingly filling out more application forms.

It doesn’t feel like I’m asking for help, just now. It feels more like an elaborate gamble, which is how my writing life feels, in truth. My maternal grandfather was a gambler. He loved the horses. Like most gamblers, he probably lost more than he won, but he talked a big game. I think of myself as essentially cautious — hey, we’ve lived in the same house for a decade and I never try anything new with my hair — but that may be partly illusion.

When I consider the choices I’ve made in my life, the risks I can stomach, the hope I can generate against slim odds, the faith in the race, I’m not so far removed from my gramps. When it comes right down to it, I’m pretty much a gambler at heart. Or maybe it’s at gut rather than heart, the gut being the location of much of the gambler’s decision-making. It feels right, or it doesn’t. That’s as clear as it gets for me.

I have the gambler’s ability to look forward rather than back. Or elsewhere, rather than here. I separate myself into possibilities, hiving off rejection, stepping free from what isn’t to be with an energy that may flag but oddly doesn’t seem to deplete. I just finished reading Aleksander Hemon’s collection of essays “The Book of My Lives,” and he writes in his final essay something that rings true to my instincts, to what I know about why I write, too: “In my books, fictional characters allowed me to understand what was hard for me to understand (which, so far, has been nearly everything). I’d found myself with an excess of words, the wealth of which far exceeded the pathetic limits of my biography. I’d needed narrative space to extend myself into; I’d needed more lives. I’d cooked up those avatars in the soup of my ever-changing self, but they were not me — they did what I wouldn’t or couldn’t.”

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My agent tells me, gently, that very few fiction writers survive on their writing alone; most have other jobs. I know this is true. I did very much want to develop a different and separate career, especially one with security, but the truth of it is that my writing hours are essentially full-time as it is, and I am also in the thick of it with my four kids, and there isn’t time or space or energy to add a third parallel life into the mix without sacrificing one or both of the other two occupations.

So I’m back to gambling.

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But more precisely, I’m back to the imagination. This is a gamble both literal and figurative. I gamble every time I send a project out to be assessed, in hopes it will find favour and win support, and that process I could take or leave, quite honestly, except that I can’t and I won’t because it’s in support of the larger and more profound gamble to which I see I’m truly bound, and that is the wild, wonderful, risky, ever-creative, potentially illuminating, grace-filled gamble of making something from scratch, of writing more lives than I could ever live. How could I give it up? What wouldn’t I do to keep this gamble going?

It’s unsteady ground, and it has its practical limitations, as Hemon goes on to express heart-rendingly in the same essay, but it’s familiar. It’s known. I know here. I am suddenly reminded that I used to listen rather obsessively to Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler” the summer that I was ten, and we were living with my aunt and uncle in Tennessee, before moving to Canada. “You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run. You never count your money when you’re sitting at the table. There’ll be time enough for counting when the dealing’s done.”

No counting shall I do.

Reading for clues

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I’ve been paying attention to my reading habits more closely this year, and I’ve been surprised by what draws me, by what I find my appetite craving. In children’s literature, it’s the classics that pull me in, even on the millionth read. I’ve also enjoyed without reservation reading fiction by men, this year (which, although I haven’t deliberately avoided in my long reading life, seems anomalous somehow). And I’ve been pulled, relentlessly, to non-fiction, especially memoir.

I enjoy a variety of styles, and often stand back to admire the craft involved in, say, a light and amusing “easy” read, as much as in a book that is complex and innovative. Sometimes I want to be entertained, pure and simple. Sometimes I long to be challenged, or to gaze in awe and wonder. The lightness or darkness of a book’s subject matter or intellectual heft does not matter greatly to me. My taste is broad.

I don’t read idly, however. I read professionally. I really enjoy this aspect of my reading life. It’s hugely energizing and inspiring.

Always, always, as I read, I look for clues. I read to discover how to write better — how to write what I would want to read. And what I want to read is a book that connects.

Here’s another way of putting it: I want to want to keep reading.

The books I love are not a chore. They do not bore.

I’ve observed that certain issues get in the way of my pleasure. Some are fixable, some perhaps not. Lazy copy editing is troubling and very fixable. Laziness in general is troubling. If I’m mentally editing out unnecessary passages, paragraphs, or stray words, it’s going to cause me to stumble in my enjoyment. I can forgive a story an enormous flaw, because I truly believe that sometimes stories are bettered by their flaws. (Consider, for example, Little Women, and Jo never getting together with Laurie, instead marrying that shambling professor who, despite Louisa May Alcott’s valiant attempts to tell the reader how much we should love him too, simply cannot measure up to what might have been — that is a flaw that doesn’t ruin the the reading experience, but keeps it going in the imagination ever after.) But I can’t excuse the lazy flaw, the needed-another-draft, the published-too-soon flaw.

A writer who works, that gives me pleasure.

The evidence of a writer’s work, craft, and practice comes across clearly, to me, in a book’s structural and narrative coherence and imagination. That doesn’t happen by accident. That’s not brought about by the kind of writing people imagine writers to be doing: the fevered, drunken, mad creative flurry whose allure appeals in adolescence and fades sharply thereafter. I outgrew it too many years ago now to remember, without some effort, why I ever found it appealing (which I did, and which many aspiring writers/artists do).

What I admire now is the invisible work behind the seemingly effortless offering. Brilliant, I think. And also, thank you. Thank you for your work!

I’m reading two works of non-fiction right now (yes, simultaneously). One I’m enjoying enormously. The other, not so much. The comparison is not entirely fair, as comparisons never are, but there it is.

The one I’m adoring and rationing out while wanting to devour is The Books of My Lives, by Aleksandar Hemon, a memoir that defies easy description because it is about matters moral, ethical, disturbing, and deeply enlightening. The one I just finished, hurrying because I wanted the essays to end, please, is Traveling Mercies, by Anne Lamott, a memoir on spirituality that felt sloppy, incomplete, and, yes, that dreaded word, lazy. It was a book that seemed to want to give me advice. It told me what to think, rather than opened me to new thoughts. Hemon is telling stories. Lamott distracts with anecdotes. Stories are puzzles that go deep and don’t necessarily tell us what to believe, but instead ask us what we do believe and why, and we wonder how we got to where we are and whether we might change, and how. Where does an anecdote take us? Back to the writer herself, who sure as heck doesn’t want us to forget she’s there. Be brave enough to get out of the way, I wanted to tell Lamott, and let your stories speak for themselves.

I don’t think this necessarily divides along gender lines, although I’ll admit it troubles me slightly that the books I’ve been loving this year have mostly been by men. I don’t know why that is, and there may be no conclusions to be drawn. But here’s what I’m learning from my reading this year: I want to get out of the way when I write, whether it’s non-fiction or fiction. I want, also, to connect. And I do not think those ideas stand in opposition.

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