My word this year has been FEEL. On Friday evening my word group chose photos that represented our word, and cut them apart and put them back together again. I chose two: one showed a young girl standing in a creek, exploring, and the other a group of people dancing at a party.
FEEL has been a complicated word to explore. Do I trust my feelings? Shove them down? Give them too much prominence? Misinterpret them? Feelings are transitory, embodied experiences. What are my feelings telling me? A revelatory moment came this fall when I told a friend (who is also a life coach) that I was trying not to be angry, even though that was the main feeling that kept emerging; she said, oh no, bring that anger, feel it, it’s got a message for you. Our feelings, she said, tell us what our needs are.
So I learned: If I’m angry, a need is not being met. It might not be a terribly obvious need. It might be a need I don’t even recognize as valuable. It might be a need I’ve been trained not to pay attention to. It might be a need that traces all the way back to childhood. You know? It’s messy in here. It’s a jumble.
So both photos seemed to capture FEEL — ever-shifting. I felt wild at times this year, out of control, swinging to emotional heights, careering to dangerous lows (more the former than the latter–but still unsettling). The people dancing freely represented this wildness. Yes, I’ve felt unsettled. No amount of advance preparation or knowledge or planning could shift what came at me, poured through me, but as the year progressed, I got more comfortable with that. Comfortable with being unsettled. Or, perhaps more accurately, comfortable exploring the sensation.
What is my body telling me?
I’ve been jumping into the stream, getting wet, getting muddy. That’s the childlike aspect of this past year: I’m exploring more like a child would, in terms that could seem simplistic or naive, not necessarily in an organized or well-planned way, just doing it. Doing what comes naturally, doing what feels right. It’s active. I wouldn’t say I’ve been impulsive, but I have let myself do things I didn’t, before. I’ve let myself do things that I enjoy, just because. No explanation needed.
One of my needs is recognition. (I don’t like this need, but ignoring it won’t make it disappear.) This year, I’ve discovered that the recognition I crave doesn’t need to be elaborate, or large-scale, or noticeable to anyone else. Recognition could be a kid excited to discover a soccer book I’ve placed prominently on a library shelf. I’ve realized, too, that the people who care about me don’t need me to achieve “great” things, they’re delighted when I’m happy, that’s all, as I am for them. I’ve put too much emphasis on achievement, is what I’ve recognized. External recognition has been a hole to be filled, affecting my life choices; it’s still there, but now I know it’s there, and I can find different ways to satisfy that need.
I have loved this year, in all its messiness.
I have loved feeling my feelings, listening, giving them freedom to wing loose. What is this feeling telling me? I pause to wonder, rather than judging it for being negative or ugly or inappropriate. Is it an old feeling, rising from an old pattern? Is this feeling my own, or am I confusing it with someone else’s?
One last discovery this year: my voice. That one session with the vocal cord physio last spring was unexpectedly revelatory. I discovered that my voice can be loud and strong! But at the very same moment, I realized that I hated hearing my voice speak loudly — I felt my feelings: embarrassed, guilty, ashamed, uncomfortable. What on earth? Think about what those feelings were telling me, and how deep they must go: I actually find it painful to put into words.You have nothing to say. You will embarrass yourself if anyone hears you. It’s safer this way: Keep quiet.
I had no idea my body believed this. Once I had this valuable information, I could address it, actively. My feelings were trying to tell me: pay attention! For your voice to be strong, dig down into the roots of this belief. Is it true? Do you really believe that it’s true? And if not, counter it by practicing those vocal cord exercises, practice walking around the house speaking loudly, even if you feel silly. Practice till it feels natural and right.
And that’s what I did. And there was a shift. And that’s what this year has been.
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.
A friend has offered to redesign the banner on my website to remove the title “Obscure CanLit Mama,” which no longer fits so well. On a hot August morning in 2008, I titled the blog on a whim, and began sending out posts to the universe. My youngest was newborn. He’s now in high school. In those early days, I wrote a lot about the kids. I posted recipes and meal plans. I wrote about juggling constant stay-at-home childcare with attempts to steal even a smidgen of writing time. I’d published one collection of short stories, four years earlier. It seemed presumptuous to attach myself to CanLit as a participant (even an Obscure one). The Mama was the ascending identifying force in my life at that time.
I haven’t posted a recipe in a very long time.
I don’t write about my kids, except glancingly.
These days, I come here, to this familiar space, to reflect mostly on writing, but also on what seem to me to be ephemeral, spiritual matters: aging, artistic discipline, setting routines, learning new things, re-learning old things, the repetition of the seasons, creative practices, play, emotional weather / weathering emotions. Etc.
In the 14 years that this blog has existed, I’ve poured energy into being a writer, laying claim to that identity, earning grants, publishing three more books, teaching creative writing, organizing writing workshops, serving as a consulting editor with The New Quarterly, speaking, travelling, practicing the craft, seeking to keep my connection to my writing alive and thriving.
Obscurity is a self-effacing mindset (erasing? shrinking? minimizing? hiding?). I know that. But it was necessary protection as I tried to become / be a writer. I’ve been afraid of being a writer, of laying claim to this identity and its shifting cultural responsibilities. Since childhood, I’ve wanted to perform magic tricks with language, to conjure imaginary landscapes, converse with imaginary people, finding solace in their losses and successes. I did not aspire beyond that — that was a big-enough dream. I knew my writing wouldn’t be activist in nature, because I am not an activist by nature. I’m a ventriloquist, an observer, a performer, agnostic, hungry to learn, curious about the questions, less-so the answers, the mystery, not the proof.
It’s a rather exalted view of being a writer. Or maybe I mean ecstatic. Or impractical. But I admire it, I love what my former self was attempting.
I dipped into The Juliet Stories this morning, a book now ten years old, and the writing sang off the page, just like magic. I couldn’t remember the person who’d written it. It was like reading a stranger’s words. Did I know then what I’d made? No. I didn’t trust its worth. I didn’t need to. I just kept trying, year after year, focused on the writing, and eventually made something.
I want very much to be that same writer, to write with confidence, believing in the magic of language. “You know it’s not the same as it was”: this song came on my “Run Fast” playlist this morning (oh Harry! so nostalgic); maybe “As It Was” especially resonates in These Times, when we’re trying to remember who we were Before. But life is lived in the present, and time carries us onward. We change; and experiences change us. It’s not the same as it was. That’s a neutral statement, at heart. It doesn’t have to weigh heavily, though it’s tempting to roll around in those deliciously bittersweet emotions.
What’s next? What path am I running, where does it lead? I can’t see very far ahead of my feet. Whose hands am I holding? What’s pulling me onward?
What kind of a writer am I now? What kind of a writer do I aspire to be? Do I need to know? No. As Lynda Barry would remind me: it’s none of your business. Follow the energy, get comfortable in the not-knowing.
I don’t have a new title for this blog, just my name. Enough? Enough. Yes.
What a beautiful day. What a beautiful week it’s been. Each day has a slightly different rhythm, but throughout there have been conversations with friends, bike rides, walks, and several runs in the park.
How has your morning routine changed, as the new season begins?
For me, it’s meant waking up earlier, though I’m still figuring out how to get to sleep earlier to compensate. I’m prioritizing daily morning yoga. We are also walking Rose more regularly. After a close encounter with a skunk last month, Rose now has a curfew: she’s not allowed out after dark on her own. Ergo, more dog walks. Kevin and I like to end our evening with a walk around the block with Rose. We often walk together in the morning too, just around the block.
The first two hours of every day are devoted to exercise, yoga, and, often, connecting with friends. The house empties out by 8AM.
As this new season begins, the house feels so much quieter. Our two eldest are at university, and do not live at home. Our two youngest are now both in high school, and growing ever-more independent. So …
What am I to do? I’ve spent 21 years of my life devoted to looking after my children. Their needs are changing rapidly. In the midst of all this quiet, I’ve begun look around and consider what comes next. There is writing, of course, and there always will be. But I’d like to find a job, now, that offers stability and routine, preferably not writing-related, preferably with people. I really love being with people; I love writing solo in my little home studio, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve loved doing that all these years with a bit of cacophony in the background, a swirl of impending chaos. Maybe the disruption and interruptions have been as important to my writing process as the ear plugs.
Your thoughts, suggestions, advice, leads, encouragement would be very welcome, as I begin opening to this new direction, with some nervousness and hope.
In the meantime, on the book front, I’m keeping occupied with some readings, book clubs, and workshops. Links posted below!
Friday, Sept. 16, 7PM (tonight!) Bestival Reads with Wild Writers Literary Festival, tickets include snacks and a drink, with Emily Urquhart, Kimia Eslah, and Tanis Macdonald
Saturday, Sept. 17, 2PM (tomorrow!) The Village Bookshop, 24 Main Street North, Bayfield ON, reading and book-signing
Tuesday, Sept. 20, 6:30-8:30 WPL Eastside branch, The X Page Storytelling Workshop, with me and Anandi Carroll-Woolery, a mini-version of the workshop, open to all! Free, but you need to register at this link.
This is the lake into which I’ve dunked my full self every day for the past seven days. Some days it has been warm and sunny, even hot. Other days, like today, it is cool and windy, cloudy, rainy, almost cold.
Today, I went kayaking first, to warm up.
I never take my cellphone out kayaking (for obvious reasons), which means I’ve never gotten a photo of those rocks and trees visited only by water. I didn’t kayak the first few days here, because I was waiting to feel rested up and restless, and when that happened, it was bliss to be back out on the lake in the little blue kayak, wearing my baseball cap and favourite blue lifejacket.
I got a very large tattoo this summer (as well as a small one). When I catch a glimpse in the mirror, it gives me pleasure to think: this woman could be an aging rock star, or an aging artist! I still can’t give a particularly good reason for getting the very large tattoo, or even for the chosen image (an owl made of woven ribbons), other than I like it.
I like it. It makes me feel both more myself and more like a different, alternative self, living a much edgier, cooler, artistic life, that probably involves less cooking and cleaning, overall. Fewer challenging parenting decisions.
At the cottage, we mostly unplug and read. I’ve read all the August New Yorkers from cover to cover. I just finished my friend Emily Urquhart’s memoir, Beyond the Pale, which explores folklore and genetics. And I’m currently tearing through a novel called Nightbitch, by Rachel Yoder, a writer with whom I share Mennonite roots (she was raised in Ohio); the book seems to me to be an answer to the question: why is motherhood so confusing and impossible? Or, maybe it’s a theory of motherhood, or an abstract on how to respond to motherhood, including positing motherhood as intensely lived performance art. Whatever it is, it’s deeply weird, hilariously funny, and consoling. I keep reading lines out loud to anyone who will listen.
I recommend pairing Nightbitch with this New York Times opinion piece on the “mothering instinct.”
Bracing. Just like the cool lake water. Some summers I haven’t gone under the water even once. I used to swim no matter what, training and doing lengths back and forth in the deeper water, but after a near-drowning experience a few years ago, I’ve been cautious and nervous in the lake. This summer, I decided to try, at least, to walk in and go under, no matter the weather. I’m fascinated by people who’ve taken up immersing themselves in freezing cold water, hacking holes in icy lakes in the middle of winter. It seems to have become a popular thing during the pandemic. I don’t live close to a body of water that would qualify as a lake, but in truth, even if a handy icy lake existed nearby, I’m not sure I’d have the fortitude for it. My alter-ego with the owl tattoo totally would. But for now, I feel practically heroic for paddling around the shallows of this little bay on an overcast and cool day, limbs tingling and bright, and chasing it with a blissful hot shower, enjoyed outdoors under the pine trees.
Maybe this is where my owl tattoo self lives all the time. I love the sound of the lake water on the rocks at night. I love the isolation. Everything slows, here. My racing mind. Time. Longing. Experience. Expression. It feels like we could always be here, when we are here.
Quietly, quietly, the book slips into the world, into being, and there it is. Here it is. It’s hard to know what to do after that, as the writer. The author of that world. (It sounds so powerful — to author a world — but it’s actually mostly surrender to the forces that rise and compel a person to place words on the page; to go looking for shape and structure in a mess of accidental imagery.)
Just before the book came out, I did an interview with another writer. It’s always terrific to be interviewed by another writer, who is as curious about process as I am. Have a listen if you have time.
James Tennant · GET LIT E297 Carrie Snyder July 28
I’m also told that the audiobook is available everywhere you get those, if that’s your preferred mode of absorbing text. I voiced the audiobook version, and I loved reading for it, just like I loved being at the front of the room on Tuesday evening, in conversation with my dear friend Tasneem Jamal, talking about Francie and especially about the writing process. I think we managed to avoid any spoilers, and didn’t get lost in the weeds (or the labyrinth, as it were).
I’d like to share how I felt during the book launch: Alive. Comfortable. Myself, but as if my self were a source of light and lightness. Ease. Enjoyment. Delight. It was as if I were completely in tune with all the positive energy in the room. That good, deep, loving energy was almost visible to me, it felt so present. Time slowed. I could give and receive, relax, take all the time needed, I was aware of my feet on the ground, and my breath.
Most of all, I felt gratitude. Thankfulness. The warmth radiating from the open, generous faces of everyone who had taken time out of their day to come, in person, to share this moment with me. What a gift!
I’m beginning to understand that these experiences — like the X Page performance on Sunday, and the book launch — they don’t need to be anything else. They don’t need to build to something else, or become something else. They are whole, and wholly fulfilling in and of themselves. I love an experience. I love creating opportunities for flow. And it doesn’t have to be a heightened moment, either. I also love when an ordinary moment, seemingly every day and banal (like waiting in line for an appointment or stuck in the car in traffic), transforms in some way into an experience, a moment of flow.
It’s a way of being, of entering into relationship with the world, of allowing my joy to fly free, to freely express delight in being alive, without fear.
As I orient myself, today, I hope to find new and continuing ways to conjure and appreciate experiences, both ordinary and extraordinary, that make possible profound connection with others. I want to be open, always, to that swirl and whirl of delight in what is, that grounds us in what’s happening with joy, trust, light, and lightness.
That is my measure for success, for myself, now and always.