Where you are

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Yesterday was my birthday. But I did not feel contemplative; I have avoided contemplation for this entire holiday. I’ve given myself a solid break from my office, from email, from planning, from organizing. Instead, I’ve read books, watched movies in the theatre (with popcorn), done some yoga and walking, hung out with family, worked on puzzles, listened obsessively to Joni Mitchell’s Blue. As soon as thoughts of duties and responsibilities approach, or anything to do with the future, both near and far, I’ve turned away.

The next four months of this new year resemble quite closely the past four months of this old year, with changes only minimally implemented or inched toward. Is change so important? And if so, why?

Because you can’t leave a fire untended. It will burn out or burn out of control.

Because some fuel burns bright and quick, while other fuel lasts a long time.

How many fires can one person tend? What fuels me, long and slow, sustaining? Are there fires I could let burn out, or would I grow cold?

(Do I just need more sleep, maybe? I’ve slept so much this holiday. It’s been blissful.)

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What is it I want from this coming year?

What did I want from this past year? I can’t recall.

But I can tell you what I got. This past year, I recognized and accepted my own grief (and shame) for all the ways in which my writing career has not been what I’d hoped and perhaps even expected it would be. This was the fire untended, burning out. Without even noticing, I’d been setting other fires, here and there, and this was the year I became a pyromaniac, when the flames from all these fires rose so high, so hot, the smoke so thick I couldn’t see myself, or breathe. Now the question hangs: Which fires? Which fires, Carrie, will you continue to tend?

I seem to vacillate between wanting to lead a big bold busy demanding life, and seeking the small peace a spirit can aspire to embrace. The former requires support and agreement from others, attention that must be earned and commanded (and that feels good and affirming); but the latter hangs only on the self allowing the self to live without any notice at all (and that feels hard and awfully quiet).

Both are possible, in theory. But in practice, the balance isn’t so easy to calibrate.

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Begin with the honest admission that one person cannot do all the things, all at once, all the time. Acknowledge that some things take up more space than other things. (A career, for example; becoming an expert in anything, for example.) Come January, as before, I’ll still be teaching, coaching, coordinating The Shoe Project KW. I’ll still be mother of four, wife, friend, daughter, sister, puppy trainer, laundry-doer, meal-maker, chauffeur, occasional bathroom cleaner. I’ll still go to the gym, practice yoga, try to run, meditate. And then there’s my writing. And all of the things that support it: grant-writing, story submissions, revising, research, reading, speaking, relationships with peers.

Yet here it is — writing — at the end of the list, because it’s one of those things that takes up a lot of space, if done with devotion and cause for hope. And I’ve not been willing or able (which is it? is it important to know?) to give writing that kind of space. I’ve squeezed it into an ever-smaller corner of the room, in truth, as if this part of myself only deserves attention if there’s proof of validity, permission, signs pointing toward success. And there hasn’t been, not for a long while. This is the year, 2018, I’ve come to recognize: there may not be. And with that the reckoning: what now?

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What if it turns out I’m not a very good writer? What if I can’t earn (more) money as a writer? Are these the same things? What if I’m not very good and I can’t earn money, but I still want to make space — lots of space — to keep trying? Is that okay? Especially if it means not doing other more worthy, more admirable, more noticeable, more helpful things?

How can I convince myself that it’s okay?

You step onto a treadmill because it is a guarantee that you will move (paradoxically, it is also a guarantee that you will stay in one place). What is the desire to press ever-forward? To progress? You want new experiences and challenges, but you want, too, to build a big roaring fire around which to gather — the fire itself ever-changing, as the mind is ever-changing, and this body. It is time that keeps turning, or that is the sensation — that time churns forward, with or without you. Maybe you feel obliged to run in order to keep up with time itself. But isn’t time always with you, wherever you are, whether you are running or sitting, paused in thought or too busy to stop and think, or feel? There is no need to run, to catch up. You aren’t behind, no more than you could ever be ahead. You’re exactly where you are.

xo, Carrie

This season, I've noticed the lights
Word of the year, 2019

5 Comments

  1. Carrie, I think all women writers, at least those with children, struggle to fit the hard, solitary work into their very busy lives. For a long time, there were almost no women writer with kids, marriage, and career; Carol Shields was one of the first I noted. (Most, like Alice Munro or Margaret Laurence, left their marriages to write, or had a supportive husband, like Virginia Woolf, but no children.) You have had great early success as a writer, which may be part of the problem for you – perhaps you expect much more of yourself than someone who has not been acclaimed. But you’ve also kept everything else going – teaching, coaching, running, a big family. I think you have achieved enormous success. I hope you can celebrate your own accomplishments the way others celebrate you.

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  2. It is New Year’s Eve and I am in Quebec City and there is a big party I just took a break from. I came here to read your lovely words. I want to say —-even though maybe you do not want or need a response -what my father used to say: All will unfold as it will. I would smile and nod but used to get so mad.I was a busy single parent trying to be a writer the best way I knew how. Which was slow. I channel.. hahaha.. I can’t just write like those other writers I know. I write 32 page books most of the time and they take me years. Besides, I have to go my sons’ basketball games. Besides, I have no money. What did my father know — he was “old “. 62 or so! The same age I am now. My father, as it turns out, was so very right and wise and so were you when you wrote about that man with his hair hat who lost his child.
    So I send you words I love for this New Year—“Unfurl yourself into the grace of your beginning/ that is at one with your desire.” from poem FOR A NEW BEGINNING, John O’Donohue You always have, you always will. We begin every day. We have many desires, but they are all one. I know this in a way I never knew before. Just keep telling me stories and being beautiful you. love love love xoxoxo

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  3. I just began reading Girl Runner and saw at the back of your book your blog info.
    I just read your December 31st post. I’m not trying to elate your ego but you’re a beautiful writer and your writing communicates your beautiful soul.
    Just be. That’s what I got from your latest post.
    Thank you for writing—you got it going on—the whole “we write to understand, not to be understood.”
    Cheers

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  4. For what it’s worth, I think you’re a very good writer. Here, and in your fiction. And just asking these questions, well that’s an inescapably writerly thing. It’s always there, even if it’s running in the background.

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  5. You are a wonderful writer, and I hope these comments have buoyed you. Also: it is okay if you don’t want to write right now. There will be time. xo

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