On insecurity

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Today I would like to tell you about an article I read in The New Yorker. I would like to tell you, without resorting to cliche, how the article struck a chord in me; but I’ve just used the phrase “struck a chord in me.” (Having spent far too long trying to think of a better phrase.) The article, “Lessons from My Mother,” was written by James Wood, a lovely, reflective piece about, as you’ve guessed, his mother, who passed away not so long ago. His mother was a teacher, beloved by her students, a force to behold in the classroom, charismatic, quirky, entertaining, empathetic; and yet she disliked her job, even hated it, or so James Wood thought, when he was a child. Upon reflection, after her death, he came to believe that his mother strongly disliked teaching, and yet was powerfully, “helplessly,” drawn to the profession, that it was her true vocation, even if she was tormented by nerves and anxiety as she prepared for her classes. It was almost as if she had a form of stage fright, or crippling self-doubt, which she dealt with by preparing relentlessly, obsessively (locking herself in the bathroom to cram before classes). Yet she never quit teaching. She threw herself in.

Deep.

Why did this essay — or more precisely, this tiny tangent within the larger essay — strike a chord? For a chord was struck, strongly, and not just because I read the article standing in the bathroom, as I read most articles (no one bothers you when you’re standing behind a closed bathroom door, as James Wood’s mother could have told you) — it was his mother’s insecurity, her lack of confidence, that drew my attention. I keep returning to this insight, like it’s a revelation: that a person doesn’t have to love or even like what she does to be drawn to doing it; that a person may not love or even like her vocation, the very work she’s meant to do.

I’m drawn to doing work that makes me nervous, anxious, that taps on my insecurities like it’s tapping on rotten roots, especially when I’m preparing for it. I think we have a cultural obsession with loving what we do — as if the ultimate Life goal is to strive for work that only rewards you with good things, in which case, anxiety or nerves are giant red flags — you’re doing the wrong thing! Look elsewhere! Reading about James Wood’s mother gives me peace of mind. A person may fear doing the very thing she is put on this earth to do. A person may fear that which draws her like a magnet. But a person still recognizes her purpose, and her duty, and simply gets on with it.

xo, Carrie

Morning has broken

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The dark is luminous when I walk the dogs, early. I forget to dress the little one in her pink sweater and she shivers and hurries along the paths carved between snowbanks. We slip and skid and crunch over packed ice. Morning has not yet broken. Night is a form of protection. It hides us from ourselves.

We sleep and dream, and we travel in our dreams.

In my dreams I sort out the riddles of my immediate future. I prepare elaborate plans. I wake, convinced these plans have been set in motion, convinced I’ve solved all problems.

When I walk the dogs, early, it is like the dreams are still within me or upon me, as night surrounds me. I am completely myself, the dreamer.

The dreamer has always lived in me, and I in her.

“I feel sorry for you when you read the newspaper, Mom, because you always seem so disappointed and so sad.”

“I’m not disappointed, exactly.”

“It’s like your beliefs get crushed, over and over. You’re too optimistic.”

“I’m hopeful. I think I can have hope without being naive. I’m sad and I have hope.”

“Morning has broken,” I say to the child who is still lying in bed. I sweep open the curtains. There is morning, breaking on our skyline, which is segmented by the roofs of apartment buildings. There is morning, streaks of pink and orange splitting the dark.

Must everything be broken, even morning? What do these words mean?

The day floods the dreams. And so begins the stark, bright march through the hours of consciousness, of schedules, of time marked, and meals prepared and eaten, and chores and errands ticked off the ever-lasting list.

Morning has broken, like an axe splitting the frozen sea inside. Something must do the job. Can my dreams come with me like shadows, attached to my feet, weighing nothing? Can I do everything I want to do, now that I am awake?

xo, Carrie

 

 

Waiting rooms

20161209_065746.jpgA heartfelt shout-out to the Canadian medical system. This has been a week of appointments, unexpectedly, and a week of waiting in waiting rooms while trying to meditate (I always choose the word PEACE on which to focus, and inevitably wander off topic; the ubiquitous holiday music piped through various office settings does not, somehow, bring about the most PEACE-FILLED reflections).

On Sunday evening, in my soccer game, I got hit in the head with the ball. Why were you playing soccer, of ye of formerly-injured brain, you might ask? To which I would reply in a querying tone, I don’t know, it was fun while it lasted? I even had a fan along — my eleven-year-old, who was coming to take notes and offer coaching advice (she had lots, although she was wise enough to keep these tips to herself after the ball-to-head incident). I was having a pretty nice game, in fact; I feel compelled to tell you that I’d scored a goal and set up two others, and that we did go on to win.

But it might be my last game, in truth.

It turns out that this weird shadow in my vision, which burst out the instant the ball hit the head, and did not go away, could have been a retinal tear, a quite serious condition, apparently. But I have good news! All of these appointments culminated in yesterday afternoon’s, when I was told that the injury was a bruise on my retina and not a tear, and I will not need surgery (nor the weeks of bed rest that surgery might have required). It was a good thing I knew almost no details about the surgery option in advance. Kevin did all of the medical googling and kept me blissfully ignorant about the worst-case scenarios.
20161209_065757.jpgI do have some mild concussion symptoms, and yes, I am taking it easy, and yes, I do need to (and will) lay low for the next week or two as my eye and brain recover … I promise … (as I try not to think about the stack of marking, the dog-hair-infested house ahead of the weekend of hosting, the child’s debut as Puck in her play, the impending season of gift-giving … deep breath, meditate, PEACE …)

xo, Carrie

Work is the life

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Yesterday, I taught my last class of the term.

At the end of class, a student asked, “Does every class you teach feel like this one?” And I knew what he meant. I said, yes, it does. Every class, by the end of term, feels like our classroom felt last night: a buzzing, humour-filled, serious, safe space shared by interested thoughtful equals. There’s magic there. Every term progresses in the same way, from nervousness and skepticism and even a bit of boredom and wondering what we’re getting out of this, to a gradually increasing warmth and trust. Trust is the most important ingredient. How to build trust among strangers? It doesn’t happen all at once. We’re hesitant to share. We’re afraid of being judged. We’re dealing with our own private stuff; turmoil, sadness, anger, loss, stress, anxiety. And we’re writing all the while, often deeply personal material, material we weren’t necessarily expecting to discover, material that we want to protect.

So we have to figure out how to share, how to trust, how to listen, together. And every class, every year, it’s been the same, in my experience: by the last class, we reap the rewards of our work. It’s so hard to say goodbye.

For the last class, I like to read from Ann Patchett’s essay, “The Getaway Car,” from her collection This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, especially the section where she talks about studying creative writing with the great short story writer Grace Paley:

“Grace wanted us to be better people than we were, and she knew that the chances of our becoming real writers depended on it. … She taught me that writing must not be compartmentalized. You don’t step out of the stream of your life to do your work. Work was the life, and who you were as a mother, teacher, friend, citizen, activist, and artist was all the same person. People like to ask me if writing can be taught, and I say yes, I can teach you how to write a better sentence, how to write dialogue, maybe even how to construct a plot. But I can’t teach you how to have something to say. I would not begin to know how to teach another person how to have character, which was what Grace Paley did.”

Wow, I love that. I could read it over and over.

When I started teaching, four years ago, I needed money, and I was grateful for work. But it turns out that money was the least of it.

I teach because I love the process, and because I’m excited by possibility and potential in all shapes and sizes, and because it challenges me to be creative and constantly learning, and because I admire my students, each one of them, for being brave enough to go through this process, which isn’t always easy, and which they may not have expected to go through when they first signed up.  There’s magic in the classroom. I’ve witnessed it. And I’m greedy. I want to keep witnessing it.

Should I have gotten that PhD, way back when it was a real possibility? Have I missed my calling? In some ways, I know I’m not a great teacher, and I’m no academic; I’m more of a coach, setting up practices and games, or a trail guide, leading a group into the woods for an adventure, or a host at a rather quiet party. Maybe I should be exploring possibilities outside of academia. Maybe there are other routes, other pathways, to teaching.

Maybe you have brilliant, simple, creative, helpful ideas you could share. Please, and thank you.

xo, Carrie

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About me

My name is Carrie Snyder. I'm mother of four, writer of fiction and non-, dreamer, planner, mid-life runner, soccer coach, teacher, taking time for a cup of coffee in front of this computer screen. My days are full, yet I keep asking: how can I fill them just a little bit more, with depth, with care, with light.

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