Life. It’s bigger. It’s bigger than you and you are not me. The lengths that I will go to. The distance in your eyes. Oh no I’ve said too much. I haven’t said enough.
Fellow Gen Xers probably recognize that song (REM’s “Losing My Religion”). I don’t know why exactly it came to me as I sat down to write about Life. Maybe because it’s bigger. It’s bigger than it’s been, anyway, even after weeks of recovery (or maybe especially after that). I’m making plans, though they may change last-minute. My plans are mere sketches, a few chords on which to improvise; they delight me.
Last week, I took a spontaneous trip to Toronto on the train. Got me some vocal cord physio and an intensive on how to use my voice, in preparation for reading the audiobook version of my new novel (!!!!). Reading the audiobook goes on my bucket list (I don’t have a bucket list, but if I did …). Recording in studio is set to start next week. While in Toronto, I also visited my sister and her delightful pup (pictured below). I saw a man dance with a pigeon on the subway (not pictured). My eyes were overwhelmed by the sights out the train window. I was in bliss. It was exactly what I needed. Good medicine.
This weekend we hosted family. I didn’t feel like cooking, so I asked my eldest to make the scalloped potatoes — and he did! On Monday our second-eldest kid moved back home from residence, so the house was fuller when we woke up this morning. And our Open House for the 2022 X Page Workshop is tomorrow evening. In person! I feel myself buzzing with energy and new life. It’s not anxiety, it’s excitement. It’s a desire for connection that’s leaping out of me, off my skin, I can almost see it flashing from me in pinging waves, or like antennae reaching out. I don’t think I’ve turned into an extrovert during the pandemic, but I’ve clearly built up some extra space for social interaction.
Something I’m noticing about myself, as I return to life, bigger, is that I love being the still centre of a whirl — the ringmaster at the circus. Does this mean I enjoy stirring things up? I don’t know. I hope not. It isn’t conflict I’m after, but contact, connection, a performance that’s almost entirely improvised and feels natural because it relies on mutual trust, and self-trust.
This reflection came from a recent 100-day creativity prompt …
A list of things that are true about me.
I’m on day 2 of listing things. Here’s day 1 —
1 I love being the still centre of a whirl — the ringmaster at the circus
2 I am happiest when I am with people
3 I am trying to become less controlling
4 I love relating to teenagers — I think it’s an especially beautiful, searching, changing, vulnerable time of life
5 I experience big swings of emotion
6 Writing fiction is a form of therapy, for me
7 I love the feeling of trusting myself, it feels like a safety net into which I can fall
8 Discovering I’ve hurt someone is incredibly painful news and I resist hearing it, and/or respond defensively, and/or torture myself for it
9 I can be very self-pitying
10 I am oddly comfortable at the front of the room
11 I love learning new things and challenging myself to leave my comfort zone
12 My first instinct isn’t always right
13 I value strong relationships built on mutual trust, and care
14 I am not perfect at all
Spring is in the air!
After driving through a blizzard on the weekend to see family, this is very welcome news. I sat in a patch of sunshine around noon today, and soaked it in. Snowbanks grizzled and melting. The smell of mud. Spring, I’ve been waiting for you.
A dear friend has decided to make a list of “50 fun things” to celebrate her birthday this year. I have to say, the idea of even identifying what “fun” is has felt almost out of reach at times this winter, and I was intrigued and inspired to try to discover fun again. So I’ve started my own list. Not related to my birthday, just related to tapping into the world again, connecting myself with emotions and experiences and possibilities that have felt remote at many times during the past two years. (Happy 2-year pandemic anniversary, by the way.)
I’ve gotten up to #35. Planning events
#1 is Barefoot in grass
What’s fun for me may not be what’s fun for you.
Fun for me has an element of surprise, or opportunities for improvisation. The unknown. Spontaneity, even impulsivity. Something that feels special. A bit different. Out of the ordinary routine. Often when I’m having fun, I’m out of my comfort zone.
How does this connect to The X Page Storytelling Workshop? Meeting new people, being brave, learning new things, hearing new stories, responding from the heart, being part of a cooperative creative project, exciting discoveries, supporting others, the time flying by: all deeply embedded into my idea of what’s fun, as it turns out.
Please spread the word, if you live locally. We are planning to meet in-person this season, which is incredibly exciting.
Interested in making your own list of fun things? Please let me know if you do!
My general rule for writing posts here is to do it for fun, or when the spirit moves me, to paraphrase something my mother said a lot when I was a kid. Today I’m breaking that rule a bit. Nothing seems to be particularly fun just now, and the spirit is moving me only insofar as it’s saying, give it a shot, Carrie. Try to write something and see what comes up.
There are many things I don’t want to write about. I don’t want to write about war, or political instability, or pain or suffering or fear or anxiety. This isn’t a politically minded blog and I’m no expert, nor pundit, nor do I aspire to be.
I was thinking that it would be funny to write a post called “Five Bad Things Right Now”; but then I decided that might not be that funny. But I don’t have “Five Good Things” to report on, particularly; or maybe those things feel a bit superficial or artificial under the circumstances. How about “Five Things Right Now” and no judgment as to their quality or worth? Here goes.
Page proofs for Francie
My editor sent me a hard copy of typeset page proofs for review. I opened the package three days ago. This should be a most wonderful thing, but I’ll confess that I’ve yet to work up the courage to begin to read through. It’s a last pass. Last chance to catch typos. What comes next? I don’t know, exactly, which is why, I think, it will take courage to put this stage to bed. Next means new projects, publicity work, and whatever that requires of me (different skills from reading proofs, that’s all I know for sure).
Reading a library copy of Moonglow, by Michael Chabon
This was super-pleasurable, a big sprawling novel loosely based on the life of the author’s grandfather (which is why I wanted to read it, to get clues about how such a project might unfold). In the end, I was convinced this was more novel than biography, and I admired the apparent ease and ruthlessness with which the author muddied the waters; but part of me resented it too. I spent most of the book trusting in the author’s voice, and felt a bit cheated at the end. I wonder what this impulse is to believe that something is true, or to want to believe it, even when the writer is reminding me over and over that he’s a novelist, for heaven’s sake. He makes shit up for a living! (Isn’t that what I do too?) Anyway … an excellent read, highly recommended.
Drawing a cartoon
I stopped doing my daily cartoon late last month. I was following the same basic principle as I do for this blog: do it as long as it’s fun, and the spirit moves you. It was feeling less fun, more of a chore. But I picked up the habit again this week because I needed a different way to express my emotions, and drawing to music, colouring with crayons, is legit a fun way to journal, to record a tiny reminder of hey, here’s what happened today. A cartoon makes all the emotions more bearable. Drawing has lightened my load this week. (not pictured because I don’t have a photo on hand, and I love this one, above, taken around sunrise on an excruciatingly cold morning, recently)
Making pancakes for dinner
I don’t even like pancakes. But my kids do! Yesterday, that’s all I wanted: to give someone else something to enjoy. The gesture didn’t need to be grand, the recipients didn’t even need to know my intentions. Recipe here; I quadrupled it. (also not pictured; above is from a less-lauded meal involving squash, beets, turnips and sweet potatoes)
I might go so far as to say, admittedly hyperbolically, that my friend Kasia’s kundalini yoga classes have been saving me this week. They’ve definitely been lighting a fire, and making me feel alive and whole and present in my body in a positive way. Music, movement, breath work: breaks me open, sparks creativity, and openness, and belief that there are wonderful things in this world. And I need that reminder, especially right now. (photo above represents the feeling rather than the activity itself)
I’ve been running. The running is an on-again, off-again pursuit, a reflection, mainly, of the state of my aging, injury-prone body; but as the weather begins to turn and November looms, the challenge to continue running may come, too, from a waning willingness to lace up and head out in the cold, windy darkness.
Part of me loves the darkness (see above, photo taken around 7AM!). I run on trails that are reasonably well-populated and reasonably well-lit, but the early morning, right now, could be the middle of the night. I’m comforted by the darkness — part of me is comforted, that is. The other part is alert to danger, alert to any anomalies in my surroundings, any hints that something is off, alert in the way that women have been trained to be alert to danger our entire conscious lives. I run in a bright jacket. Sometimes I run with a friend or one of my kids. I run with no headphones, so as to have no distractions from my environment. And the darkness that could be the middle of the night folds over me, protective, expansive, infinite, closed, lovely.
The reason I can run is thanks to a rather effortful ongoing regime of stretching and strengthening. My goal is to run without pain. For now, I’m achieving that goal. I recognize it’s tenuous and not entirely under my control. So I’m thankful for each step that I take, pain-free.
At the bottom of this post, you’ll find the regimen that supports my running (no doubt, of limited interest to many readers, but something I wanted to record, in case I forget what it takes).
The X Page Writing Club met last week, and the personal memory that surfaced from our prompt “leaf or leaves” was about running. In fact, it seems to be a meditation about everything running represents for me, and why I keep doing it, even though it requires so much effort.
I am out in the country, on long empty hilly roads, mostly paved, running further than I ever have before. I’m training for a marathon. I’ve marked out a course that is about 38 to 40 kilometres, and my husband is with me, on a bicycle he found in his parents’ garage, which, it turns out, doesn’t work very well. It has no seat, so he has to ride it standing up, but the pace is slow — my running pace. His mother is looking after our kids, who are quite young, at the farmhouse where she lives alone, now. We’ve come for Thanksgiving — but I had to do this run. I had to figure it out, plan it out, make it happen. I am driven, focused, determined to train to my limits in preparation for the race, in a few weeks’ time. The landscape is beautiful and stark, the leaves changing on the trees, rocks cutting through the surface of the earth, a long winding river that we cross, on a long, newly built bridge. Going up. Up, up, up. My steps are measured, calm. I can do this. I’m wearing my ball cap, black clothing, it is a warmish fall day, and I am in my body like a plant is solid — no, like a bird is free, like the leaves are rustling. I am in my body like I will never leave it, like I am blood and heart and muscles and guts. I am in my body and I have a long way yet to run, but I feel certain that I will get there.
Carrie’s 2021 running routine
Wake up, drink two glasses of water, brush teeth, put on weather-appropriate gear, and do a vigorous dynamic warm-up in the living-room (5 minutes or more) that includes side-to-side movement, squats, lunges, and the dreaded burpee; I do 10, they almost kill me every time.
Then I run. I’m working on extending my distance, while being cautious about pushing it, because as my core muscles tire, my stride and posture are affected, and I’m more likely to injure myself. I’ve nearly worked back up to 10km, but most of my runs are in the 7km range. I’ve focused on keeping a steady pace over speed. I aim for three runs a week, four on a good week. I mostly take the weekends off, and go for walks instead.
After my run, I stretch immediately, in front of my house. This is a bit embarrassing and public, but I find that if I go inside, I get distracted and forget. Hi neighbours! These are more static and include an abductor stretch, standing pigeon, and side body, quad, psoas, and hamstring stretches.
I finish off this morning routine with yoga. Yoga with Adriene is my go-to. My favourite post-run Adriene video is called Yoga for Equestrians, because the stretches and core-work are perfect for runners, but it’s a bit long at 33 minutes; usually I choose something around 20 minutes.
And that sums up my morning run regimen … but there’s more! I also try to stretch in the evening after a run, doing a series of pelvic floor exercises, core-strength-work, and (the best part) positions that promote muscle relaxation, especially in the hips and hamstrings. Ahh … this takes 15 minutes, but can last longer, especially if I’m super-tired and doze off during the relaxation part …
When I first started running seriously, more than a decade ago, I didn’t do any of this. I just laced up my shoes and ran; there wasn’t time for anything extra. But the kids are older now and my schedule is less tied to theirs. Good timing, as my body has become less accommodating; if I want to run, I have to support my running with all this extra stuff. It may not be practical under many circumstances, but right now it’s how I enjoy spending my free time.
On Monday, I’ll start another “writing sabbatical” spell, two weeks devoted to further revision (and maybe to writing another grant application, if there’s time). Meanwhile, I’m tidying up my interior life, sweeping cobwebs, sorting and organizing, ticking boxes on a to-do list. Seeking courage! There’s been some volunteer work, appointments, I voted early, and morning exercise continues, including several runs with my university kids, who live near enough that our running routes can overlap.
Today, I’ve devoted my hours of quiet to stepping toward that liminal space that is revision, stepping toward the unknown. In preparation, I’ve been reading a print-out of the most recent version of the manuscript, which includes my editor’s notes. I’m marking up the pages with a black pen, responding to her questions and comments. My intention is to finish this preliminary work before Monday. Here’s hoping I can read my scrawl when I head back to working on-screen next week…
Also in preparation, I’ve been doing some free writing, at the suggestion of a therapist.
And yesterday evening, I led a Lynda Barry “X Page” exercise at the inaugural meeting of a writing club we’ve begun at the X Page, with the intention of creating continuing connection and community for those (participants and team members alike) who seek it. Anyone involved in any of our past three seasons is welcome to join. The idea is simple: an hour-long meeting, monthly, to write a story together and then read to each other. Overcoming the limitations of Zoom, that’s exactly what we did yesterday evening, and it was … incredibly moving. Those who shared their brand-new precious stories gifted us with images that were by turns tender, vulnerable, personal, unique, relatable. I remember: two hands almost touching; arms flung out wide to feel the ocean breeze; being knocked down by a wave, fully-clothed; paddling toward sunset; skin burning under a hot sun; the beauty of a remembered city; sand, wind, sun.
The prompt was “ocean” or “lake.” We wrote for 8 minutes. No editing afterward, and no critique from the listeners; a brand-new story is truly a gift, it’s come from somewhere mysterious, and if we’re lucky enough to witness its beginning, all we need to express is thanks.
I often find the X Page exercise to be revealing of one’s state of mind (I’ve observed this in my own writing, in any case). When I analyze the story that popped up for me, what I notice is my desire to be in two places at once, and a resentment that I cannot be. I notice, too, that I’m upset to have missed an opportunity to soak in a unique sensory experience, I long to have that experience in my physical vocabulary (even now, oddly enough, I feel the pull of missing out).
If you’re interested in writing your own X Page, here’s Lynda Barry, in fabulous mirrored sunglasses, leading the exercise herself.
My ocean story, below.
I am in Grandma’s sedan, we are driving from her house in a tidy town in New Jersey to the Jersey shore — the ocean. I have just gotten to spend the night at Grandma’s, which is very special, just me! My younger brothers (I have three, and one is a new baby) were not invited. Grandma made my favourite food (mashed potatoes with hamburger gravy and peas) and she took me to see the movie “Annie” with my cousin, and she bought us candy. Now Grandma is driving me back to the tiny cottage on the Jersey shore where my family is staying — Mom, Dad, brothers. The cottage belongs to Grandma and her husband, and they let us stay there every summer. I sleep in the attic with my brothers, sometimes my cousins too, crowded together. There is an outdoor shower with the floor covered in sand. To walk to the beach you pass big houses with smooth white stones or shells in their front yards.
Grandma is talking. She is telling me about a sandstorm that blew in to the beach yesterday, while I was in town with her. I am feeling a bit upset, though I don’t want her to know. I missed the sandstorm! My brothers have had an adventure that I can’t quite imagine. “Oh, you don’t want sand in your eyes,” says Grandma; but I do. I want sand in my eyes, wind whipping, the ocean wild and exciting.
Summer holiday was sweet. I spent more than two weeks at a boat-access-only cottage, where I saw only a few (very dear) people, slept soundly, did yoga twice a day, swam, kayaked, cooked meals, read, napped, showered outside, tried to watch every sunset.
Fear and anxiety also visited. There was so much space to notice. I noticed what a variety of fears my mind entertains, how many worst-case scenarios play out in vivid detail, flashing through my brain, even as I seek to soothe myself, or try to control outcomes. This is going on a list to discuss with my therapist.
My fears did not stop me from driving the boat, kayaking in rough waters, swimming in the lake, or staying as the lone adult at the cottage. My fears did not stop me. But I wonder: could I change the habits and patterns of my brain? Could the fears diminish in intensity? I don’t want to transfer my fears to my children (another fear!); parenting is an ongoing practice of attempts, improvisations, chance encounters with sorrow and appreciation, raw emotion, apologies for what could have been, letting go, embracing.
Today, I am alone in the house for the first time in a very long time. I can’t seem to settle. The house feels too big for the people who remain here (two children have moved out, graduating to university studies, one living in residence, one living in an apartment with a partner). Less laundry, yes, less grocery shopping, less chaos; less.
Who am I in the quiet? What’s my purpose, again? (Another item on the to-be-discussed-with-therapist list.)
I am not restless, exactly. But I seem always to be seeking, seeking. Expecting more of myself: to be kinder, better, more generous, softer, funnier, sharper, more confident, humbler, less demanding, firmer, more grounded, freer. Do you sense the contradictions? Do you feel the same desire to live amply, comfortably amidst contradiction?
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