Yesterday morning, walking the dog, I noticed the absence of a particular feeling that is usually with me, almost all the time: anxiety. It was just … gone. It’s absence was astonishing. I have become so accustomed to making it through my days while pushing against its tide. To tell the truth, it had come to seem entirely feasible that my anxiety has been integral to my personality and character, and that what I’ve accomplished in my writing career in particular was thanks to this undercurrent, almost ever-present, of anxious driving energy.
What did its absence mean? Would I still be myself, without a lingering certainty that something was going to wrong, that I was going to make a mistake? It’s what I’ve been pushing against, for years, I think. Its nervous buzz has motivated me to devote myself to yoga, meditation, journaling, running, and all the other lovely activities I enjoy so very much, and which feed me. There is not doubt they feed me. And, I realize, they feed me with or without anxiety’s hum running through my body.
I did a slow flow yoga on Tuesday night that was positively blissful, and in which I felt no pressure (interior or exterior) to do anything in any particular way, except to follow what felt good.
Here’s the funny part about this absence of anxiety: I have lots going on right now that could legitimately cause me to fret, stew, and otherwise send me into a spiral. And instead, I’m diving headlong into unknown territory, feeling a strange and unexpected delight. It reminds me of the change I experienced this summer, when the cold water of the lake seemed to call to me, come in, come in, this is quite wonderful! And it was! I’ve gone years avoiding lake swimming altogether because the water was too cold, and I “hate” being cold.
Except, I don’t. Or not anymore. I think it’s wise to check in from time to time with those stories we’re telling ourselves, about who we are. I “hate” talking on the phone. Except I don’t. I like not knowing who will be on the other end when I pick up, and what they might need, and how I might be able to help them in some small way.
I’m working a new job (started last week), and I’ve thrown myself into the deep end. It’s been oddly soothing to see myself differently, again. To find comfort with discomfort, joy with challenge, discovery with each new environment explored.
I’d forgotten my adventuring self. She was there all along.
Super thrilled to discover this review of Francie’s Got a Gun, on Kerry Clare’s blog, Pickle Me This. I respect Kerry’s keen reader’s eye immensely, and I’m overflowing with gratitude for her deep and layered reading of the novel. As book-coverage shrinks in traditional media outlets, reviews like Kerry’s are ever-more meaningful and important (as are reader reviews on sites like Goodreads, Amazon and Indigo). Kerry’s long been a terrific booster of Canadian writers and writing, not to mention she’s a talented novelist herself (Waiting for a Star to Fall).
Here’s an excerpt.
I loved Francie’s Got a Gun, a new novel by Carrie Snyder…. It’s a taut, tension-filled story of a young girl who’s running with a gun in her hand, the question of “where did she come from” taking precedent over “where is she going?” because maybe the ending it inevitable. But is it? … I started reading this book and found it hard to put it down, but refrained from posting about it until I’d reached the very end, so I’d be able to tell you with certainty that Carrie Snyder has pulled off, with flawless execution, a rich and sprawling story, and she really, really has.
Yesterday: second-to-last appointment with my art therapist; she directed me to make an altar, a place I could look to, or sit beside, in order to remind myself of … whatever I wanted to remind myself of! Pick a theme, she said, suggesting themes like protection, inspiration, healing, peace, calm. At first I said, NO, don’t want to do this, it sounds a bit too pagan. But then my mind filled up with ideas, and I said, YES, and I made a small altar using the “artist’s statement” I created for that creativity course I taught in 2019, which is framed and already sits propped on a small side table in the my studio.
“What if the purpose of life is the seek beauty?”
I placed a candle and incense and a book of matches on the table, and set my most recent publications underneath, along with the notebooks containing my daily cartooning project (which I’ve done during the month of December in 2020 and 2021, and wanted to remind myself to do again this year).
I tidied up.
I declared that my theme would be beauty!
The universe heard (as it does).
Yesterday: on the mat, eyes closed in Kasia’s kundalini class, she talked about beauty, about the pursuit of beauty being a worthy human occupation, building on all the creativity of artists past, creating communion with the future. “The world will be saved by beauty,” she quoted from Fyodor Dostoevsky, and in that moment, I believed it.
How do you know something is beautiful?
Because you love it, you are drawn to it, you want to protect it and keep it whole because you recognize it as being sacred (and some may want to destroy it, for the same reason); you can build on it, it changes, it takes on different meaning for different people; it is tangible, you know beauty with your senses, with your body, it is fleeting, ephemeral, it is of its moment, its time, it has the capacity to speak across generations and cultures and years, but not always; it is a way to communicate with the world and to receive from the world around you; it is not always natural, it can be composed and articulated and sung and made, or it might be found, stumbled over; it might stop you in awe, or stop you in pain, it might remind you of something you already knew or believed and loved long ago, or it might light a way to the future, it might be a path you’ve yet to walk, an invitation, it might inspire other creations and compositions; it communicates; it can be raw or refined, it sweetens the day, it penetrates to the mind, it quickens the heart; it can repulse, and it can draw in; it can intimidate, drop you to your knees, and it can be accessible to anyone passing by; it can be holy, it can be profane; it speaks ever and always, it speaks in fractional moments; it can be a gesture, it can leave no trace, and it can be monumental; it speaks to one or to many, in many voices or just one; it can be symphonic, collective, communal, or it can be private, silent; it is all of these things, of course, which makes its pursuit such an adventure, a mind-opening, mind-bending journey–
I am a seeker of beauty
And I seek to share what I find
Yesterday, while working at the end of my dining room table, I looked up and saw this (above).
I saw that a room can be a composition of light, colour, shadow. Even the corner of a room can be a poem. Or the end of a table. A windowsill. I am curious about performance art, about sculpture, about creating ritual and integrating it into the every day. A few years ago, I drew an artist’s statement for a course I was leading, centred around these words: What if the purpose of life is to seek beauty?
Well, what if?
What if that’s what I’m attempting to pull off, in the whole of my messy not-always-well-planned life? What if I’m already on this path? What if I already have a job to do, and I’m doing it (even if it doesn’t pay much, except in connections).
What are we here for if not to be held, at least for a moment now and again, in beauty, in the pursuit of beauty. What does beauty mean to you? For me, it is ease, delight, sometimes it is a shock to the system, it is new, original, wholly formed, or it is raw and unplanned, rising from seemingly nothing at all, unexpected, it is a moment of recognition, a moment of pause. It leaves a trace even after the glimpse is gone.
Welcome to my newly titled website, wherein, with the help of my dear friend Tasneem Jamal and my brother Clifford, I am declaring more fully that this is who I am: writer. Writer is a capacious carry-all for my spirit. It’s big enough to hold all the parts of me. I write for purposes both private and public, pen to page, keyboard to screen, words scrawled or printed, arrows pointing, words circled, underlined, crossed out and written again; words in response to; lists, poems, prayers, pleas, letters, dreams, captions, formulations; words reaching out to connect … with you and you and you.
Thanks for reading along, and for writing too.
PS More to come, more to unfold, in the weeks and months ahead. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, look up: is there a corner in your space waiting to give you a moment of pause, of delight, of relief, of release into beauty? Please share (here or elsewhere).
Some minor but symbolically significant changes are underway here at Ye Olde Blog. I’m excited for a reveal … soon(ish).
Today’s to-do list looks like this (as scribbled into my notebook): flu shot; Two Women; email replies; “FREE” [the word on which I meditated this morning] — what should I do re job???; take kids to Clay and Glass Gallery to see Beaver; blog; sibs convo?
So far, I’ve done almost none of these things. Email replies, check. Laundry (not on list), check. Now I’ve skipped over a number of items in order to blog.
I wanted to write about a very specific subject: practical communication tips for managing conflict. Not necessarily solving or resolving conflict, but finding ways to keep working with people with whom you have disagreements, which may be irreconcilable. (These tips are taken from a recent episode of the podcast “Hidden Brain.”) The technique is called “Conversational receptiveness,” wherein you use words and phrases to demonstrate to your counterpart that you’re engaged, listening, and curious about their point of view. I love this. As I listened to the podcast, patting myself on the back, I thought, maybe I’m someone who doesn’t mind conflict; after all, as a writer I have to be comfortable with discomfort in order to stick with my work. But as it turns out, there are actually many conflicts that many of us find quite agreeable and even fun — like debating ideas, or cheering for different sports teams. We can agree to disagree. The place where I get stuck (where we pretty much all do) is when a disagreement hinges on a belief — when we want the other person to believe what we believe, and to say so. This belief could be about a moral position, or an interpretation of a shared experience, or the memory of something that happened long ago. If you’re like me, you can think of plenty of occasions when this kind of core disagreement led to heart-ache (or at the very least to late-night rumination, running versions of conversations over and over, arguing points in your head, or fantasizing about the other person coming around to your point of view, and saying: you know what, Carrie, you were absolutely right!). Sigh. Truth is, I’ve done a lot of mindfulness training on this very stuff. Maybe I’m not a conflict-resolution genius after all!
Okay. So is there a way to be heard, when in serious disagreement with someone else? Good news (according to this podcast): The answer is yes, at least some of the time. The secret sauce may sound counterintuitive (but makes so much sense!): to be heard, you have to hear.
We love feeling heard. We love being heard. Dr. Julia Minson, the expert being interviewed, recommends a conversational strategy called: HEAR. (It’s an acronym.) Conversational receptiveness moves us away from “naive realism,” which is the assumption that we’re all experiencing things in the same way. (This is actually the basis of most of my fiction — a narrative’s conflict and interest and humour and tragedy, to my mind, comes about because no one experiences any situation in the same way. No wonder this all resonated so deeply — it’s my recurring theme.)
Here are Dr. Minson’s tips on how to HEAR better, and have better conversations (saving for later, in hopes that I shall put them to use).
H – Hedge. Respond with phrases that include words like perhaps … sometimes … maybe …
E – Emphasize agreement. Name a common cause or common goal, as in, we both think … or we both hope …
A – Acknowledge. Spend some of your airtime restating your counterpart’s argument. It sounds like you’re saying …
R – Reframe to the positive. Instead of saying, I hate not being heard, you could say, I love when someone takes time to really listen to me.
The other key to better conversations is to ask questions rather than make statements. This just plain makes sense. Questions open space. Statements put up walls. Oh boy is this a tough one for me. Just ask my kids. I’m overflowing with unsolicited advice! It’s probably all brilliant, right? It spills from me in these monologic torrents that are ultimately kind of meaningless, and ineffectual. So I’m working on it. What a difference it can make to ask a question that’s open-ended, that doesn’t have my answer waiting on the other side; not a leading question, but a question that expresses curiosity, interest, genuine wondering.
And this next bit was not in the podcast, but all of the above fits into my theory about CONTROL, and the problems it causes. In my own life, in my own character, I see that my desire to control can be ruinous to relationships (and to my own mental health). I can hardly think of a time when my impulse to control a situation, or a person, or a behaviour, or an experience led to a positive outcome. When I release my impulse to control, I’m inevitably more content, more accepting of situations that truly are not under my control, and, most importantly, I give the message to those around me that I trust them, and that they are trustworthy.
And when you send a message to the people around you that you value and trust them, when people feel heard, when people are heard, when you are listening and hearing those around you, you become someone who is also more trustworthy, who others will come to when they have hard things to talk about, and who, in turn, will be heard and listened to, too. That is my hope and my goal, as a parent, and as a friend, and as a writer. I am a work-in-progress! I’m under construction!
Do any of these tips resonate for you?