Extra lives

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If all your dreams came true, what that look like, can you even imagine it? I recently had fun ruminating on this question with one of my children, hearing what their dreams would be. They wanted to do more things; I was thinking about doing fewer…. Because if all my dreams came true, I’d need several extra lives.

This is a perennial issue for me. Come to think of it, it’s how I approach a buffet — I spoon a little bit from every tray onto my plate till its overflowing and incoherent, as a meal. And that’s how my life feels, sometimes, too. Incoherent, as a life. I get it on a micro level — I’m going to taste all the things! Yay! — but on a macro level, it’s exhausting. So many things to taste.

Projects have coherence (and I love them for it!).

But life doesn’t, really. Life is a series of overlapping layers that can’t be peeled apart. I’m playing all these roles, different roles in different locations and spaces and relationships; but am I not always myself? To be sure, it’s a changing self. Hopefully a learning self. Why then, do I need to learn the same lessons over and over?

What values shape my dreams and goals, and my beliefs and choices?

Maybe I don’t even recognize these values as my own, much of the time. Maybe these are beliefs that run through my DNA or that I’ve accumulated through being a human in the world. Here’s a theory, or framework, I’m considering: that there are (at least) three pools of values from which I draw, and they don’t necessarily agree or support each other (or my decision-making).

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One pool is represented by my Grandma Doris, and her lifelong belief that a person’s purpose is to serve, no matter who they are, or what their skills and gifts may be. She served the church, and God; and I might have warped this value into a more secular iteration, but there’s a big part of me that believes whatever I do must be in service to something larger than myself — serving the well-being of others, preferably humbly, quietly, and invisibly, in order to strengthen the community.

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A second pool of values is represented by the somewhat amorphous but powerful North American cultural fever-dream of self-reliance, earning a living, and being rewarded monetarily for one’s labours. Though I’m less attached to this pool of values, it’s a bit inescapable — also inescapable (at least so far) is my fear of being unable to earn money, of not being qualified or capable of earning a living. It’s the fear of being unable to provide for my family and for myself. Come to think of it, this is more of a DNA-level value system too. Our beliefs about abundance and scarcity (represented through money) are passed down generationally. In any case, I harbour a fear-filled desire for security and independence. (Note: a life of service does not provide either security or independence, so this value is in direct conflict with the previous one; and also with the next.)

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Which brings me to the third pool of values: my devotion to and trust in art and the arts. My relationship to this one is super-complicated by my fidelity to those other values, above. I’m filled with shame at my own attempts at art-making. I know that sounds terrible, and maybe judgemental. It doesn’t apply, however, to anyone else’s art-making; just my own. I value and admire those who devote themselves to a life of artistic pursuit. I envy them too. (Maybe I envy anyone who gives themselves unabashed permission to devote themselves to their art.) Truth is, I’m probably also romanticizing this life in a way that is childish because it is child-like—because it’s a value rooted in my own childhood, when I devoured books and had the nascent notion that I would be a writer too. I believed, as a child, that being a writer would mean, well, writing and writing and writing—I imagined that devotion would lead to reward, and that reward would simply be to become very fluent in the art of making beautiful things. Beautiful books, I guess.

In some strange way, I think the imagery has remained in my mind’s eye, stubbornly unchanged. I admired (and continue to admire) the element of the mystical, in any artistic pursuit. How it couldn’t really be explained to anyone else. It would be a calling. The thought of questioning it as a calling didn’t even occur to me, as a young person. Yet I’ve spent the bulk of my adult life questioning it as a calling. That’s been the ratty old tired old thread that’s woven its grey little self through my life as a writer—a question of faith, maybe. A lack of faith?

Or, a question of where I should be placing my faith, and what values to trust, and on which to build the foundation for this incoherent slurry of experiences I call life? Do I place my trust in serving a higher purpose, like God, or a church, or community well-being? Or do I place my trust in the ethics of earning a living, being independent, and not being a burden to anyone else? Or do I place my trust in devotion to the utter mystery of trying to shape beauty from fragments of experience?

Can and do these values fit together? The joy in building community connections with the necessity of earning a living with the inexplicable need (compulsion?) to make things up, to live these other lives through invention, imagination—imagery.

How does it all fit together?

In practical terms? 

In the choices I’m making and the things I’m doing (and not doing)?

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My obligations and my joys are mingled: the activities that I long to balance, the people I want to nurture and not to neglect, the beauty I seek to perform and hold in my hands. If I try to untangle the threads, or even to count all the points of connection to others and to the world—which are my labour and my love—I am overwhelmed.

Yet, it does make sense, too. I just take one step and another. I text one friend and another. I cook one meal and another. I read one book and another. I write one sentence and another. I hang one item of laundry on the line and another.

I’m seeking coherence to this grand brief project called life.

I may not achieve it.

But I hope at the end of it, my mind will remember and relive on repeat not fear, despair, shame, but goodness and love and a great deal of laughter.

xo, Carrie

Spring burst

1 Comment

  1. Sheree

    You are amazing . And I am still learning from you. Love xxoo

    Reply

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