This tangential post is brought to you by an x page exercise, written during last week’s workshop (week 2 of 12), in the company of other women, in response to the prompt word: PARTY. It must have tapped some essential emotion, because I came home and kept writing till it felt done. I’d like to call this fiction, but maybe more accurately it’s a version of poetry, instead. (Where were you at age 20, and what were you doing, and hoping, and dreaming of?)
Phil’s $1.50 drinks
I am at Phil’s, an underground bar where the pipes overhead are wrapped in asbestos and the drinks are $1.50 on Wednesdays, but they must really water them down because I need to drink at least four to feel anywhere near tipsy. I’ve invited everyone I can think of, I’ve telephoned, left messages all over town. Friends are here, some have come, but no one is happy. The bar is too empty, the friends have no money either. Wet salt patches melt from our boots on the floor.
I had forgotten, or wanted to forget, why I used to love this place—because I’d come here during the day when I was a first year student, with a friend, Rich. (Now I’m in third year.) I had a car and he did not, even though I was no more than 17 or 18, and he was 21 or so. I would pick him up in my red Honda Civic, and I’d do my laundry (maybe he would too, but I don’t remember that now), and we’d sit by the pool tables and play cards in the middle of the day, drinking coffee. Gin rummy was our favourite game. It felt like we were the only people there and maybe we were. The good feeling I had on those afternoons seems irreplaceable, now. A feeling of possibility, excitement, tenderness, desire, amiable companionship. Rich was funny and he made me laugh, he never made me feel like I was wrong to be a goofy silly earnest person.
I’d forgotten all of this till exactly now, and now the friends I’m with don’t satisfy me—we’re too much the same in our longings and dissatisfaction—I want different, other, more, but Rich doesn’t live here anymore, and anyway, he never loved me like I loved him, if obsession counts as love, which I seem to think it does. What do I know about it? About love? I’ve mixed it all up with other things. Obsession feels like I think love should—dangerous, exciting.
I’m 20 now and feel so old when I look in the mirror. I finish my diluted drink and go to the gross damp women’s washroom, where one time I saw the lead singer of the Cowboy Junkies washing her hands, and I stand in front of the mirror and check my own eyes—not drunk enough, not interesting enough (as if these were the same thing). I see fine wrinkles around my eyes—could it be? “I’m getting so old!” I go back out and shout to my friends over the music. But they are too. We are so old! And we maybe hardly know each other really at all, we’re just proximate to each other, accidentally revolving around each other. We are so lost. Lonely. Alone.
In this mood, I take my misery to the little raised dance floor, even though no one is dancing, and I dance holding onto a fresh drink, gin and tonic in a flimsy plastic cup with a slice of lime floating in the bubbly mixture. I’ll promise anyone anything to get them to join me at this party that is not a real party. I’ll promise, but I won’t follow through. I can’t drink enough to get myself drunk, so I throw it down on the dance floor, metaphorically, to make myself feel something, anything, in my lungs. I’m smoking, at that time. You can smoke, at that time, indoors. Soon, this will end too, like everything else. I can see all of us dispersing, shot wide into the rest of our lives, fanning out in different directions, toward the parts of our other selves that are drawing us like magnets, while we, we, we, a mere two decades into inhabiting our bodies, prepare to part from whatever this era is, a time of loss, and exploration, poverty, and unrecognized riches.
My coat is ugly and it slips to the floor and gets stepped on, spilled on, but I’ll have to wear it home at the end of the night. I’ve spent my money on drinks, tomorrow I will eat a packet of Mr Noodles and lie on my mattress on the floor of the basement apartment I share with my brother (it will flood come spring), and I’ll read all of Pride and Prejudice, cover to cover, just for fun, laughing and crying and yearning and dreaming. I haven’t met the man who will become my husband yet. I don’t have an email account. I can’t imagine a cellphone and we have no tv. I have my books, a telephone with an answering machine, and enough money in savings to get myself partway to drunk on Wednesdays at Phil’s (I’ll buy cigarettes but can’t afford cheese; I have these priorities).
But every night, even on this night, after brushing my teeth and before going to bed, I sit at my desk and write poetry. I write about the things that happen to me, and the things that I wish would happen to me, and the language, words, images entrance me, as if they were magical forms, and I were a witch casting spells on myself, I were a person from another time come to bring myself back to earth, inside my body, filling all of it with the silly goofy earnestness that is actually my version of joy (though I don’t know it yet), whispering you are enough, you are sufficient, you are alive, you are not alone.
You are a whole person, or you will be; no—you are, you already are.
Today, I’m attempting my routine. I got up early, went for a run, slow and short, around the park. It felt amazing. It was chilly and there weren’t many people up and about, but the sky was already light. Spring is coming.
April is half-done and I can’t remember much about the past two weeks. Not much to keep. We ate a lot of take-out and the kids went grocery shopping for us. I did two puzzles. I also wrote a fair bit, and started a 100-day creativity project, inspired by The Isolation Journals with Suleika Jaouad. I appreciate the length — not too long, but long enough to test a person’s discipline. You really get to know yourself when you practice something creative every day; I’m keeping it simple, writing briefly and then drawing / watercoloring to music. The point is not to get “good” at the thing, the point is to do it and through doing to discover yourself, your daily fluctuations, where your mind is at. I also find it helps me escape the ordinary, and focus my mind and body in a different way.
I like that it isn’t about achievement, it’s about discovery.
One day at a time.
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)
The secret to writing books is to give yourself a ridiculous expanse of luxurious empty time and space to dream, play, and not do anything that taxes the mind with external cares.
Is this true? Well, I’ve found it to be true.
It means you might not do much else with your day, your hours. You might cook dinner. You might go for a walk, or a run. You might see a friend. You might do a puzzle. You might scroll through Netflix watching the intros to thirty shows as entertainment before bed.
I struggle justifying how much time is spent on staring out the window. Or writing things that don’t turn out, writing draft after draft after draft. So many words assembled tenderly, hopefully, excitedly, only to be discarded.
If this is what it takes to write books, is it worth it? Who am I serving? Just myself?
Well, what if the answer is yes? Yes, I’m serving my writing, at the expense of many other things I could be doing with this one precious life.
What makes you feel purposeful, as you go about your day? What tells you, gut-deep: you are worthy? I don’t know. I’m asking.
It’s a funny thing to be a human, to want to be purposeful, to want to make decisions independently, freely, but to be inextricably embedded in a culture, context, generation, family structure, biology, language(s), place.
I notice that I easily accept the value of tasks or actions that measurably help someone else, like donating blood; concrete chores also have value, and doing them feels valuable, like laundry and cooking; it’s also easy to measure worth by monetary reward, doing X and receiving Y in return. In my experience, writing is generally untethered from any of these logical measurements. But I don’t believe anyone’s worth rests on external evaluation; or on evaluation, period.
You are worthy because you are fighting it out here on planet earth.
You are worthy because you are worthy.
I drew that cartoon a few days ago. I keep returning to look at it. There’s something there that’s whispering to me: peace, and calm, and acceptance, and worthiness. I’ve been drawing daily cartoons again, as a way of journaling. I draw a moment I want to remember, and on this particular day, the moment I wanted to remember was being asleep and dreaming about my new book, which has a tree on its cover — the dream vibe was contentment.
The last day of the month. Snow on the ground. A blank wintry sky.
What felt good this month? Okay, real talk: this month was hard. What felt good was connecting with other people, in a variety of contexts and locations. I zoomed into literary events, and visited a local book club in person. Most recently, I travelled with my dad and sister across the border for the first time in over two years to visit my grandma, aunt, uncle, and cousins in Indiana. I’ve been interviewing Grandma about her life (99 years and counting), and it was an emotional moment to see her again in person, and feel her arms around me, holding me tight. At the beginning of the month, we also made a family trip to see Kevin’s family, which yielded many giddy, silly moments, needed conversation, and much laughter on the road. Often, this past month, I’ve felt purposeful and cherished, and it’s been meaningful to be able to offer my attention and care.
What did you struggle with? Very little writing time. I did my best with the time I had, but it was a struggle to string together more than a few hours at a time; nevertheless, I finished the first draft of half of a new fiction project. I also did my best to meet, with equanimity and acceptance, the challenges that were calling me. I overcame anxieties and fears about travel, public events, and covid risks, so despite struggling with all of the above, my fears did not dictate my choices. I’m proud of that.
Where are you now compared to the beginning of the month? This month has been so long! To be honest, I’m feeling pretty wiped out and drained. I’m glad to find myself still running, still able to run. I knew in advance this month would be hard, and I did my level best to prepare for what came by taking each day as it arrived — and my preparation and flexible mindset stood me in good stead. I just need a) a day to clean and organize the whole house; b) a day to lie on the couch and read, and c) a week of uninterrupted writing time to finish out the year … or even just a week of half-days for uninterrupted writing time.
How did you take care of yourself? Yoga, stretching, reaching out to friends, going on walks, running: any activity that invites me more fully into my body. Mostly, I practiced bringing myself back to the present moment, not resisting being exactly where I was. Sometimes this was uncomfortable. In moments of great stress, I listened to a Tara Brach podcast (meditation) or got outside, or took a power nap. I’ve got tools in my toolbox! I set boundaries in ways that felt natural, and genuinely helpful. I let myself be myself. Even if that meant letting the tears flow. I acknowledged and tried to forgive my own missteps and errors, with as much humour as I could muster. (Not always possible to laugh at oneself, but always a relief when it is possible.)
What would you most like to remember? That I don’t have to be defined by my past responses to similar situations, but have the capacity to learn and grow. That I can surprise myself (in good ways or for in more challenging ways!). That it’s possible to feel lonely, even when you’re deeply loved; and that the feeling won’t last. That it’s possible to improve one’s mood by going for a walk with a friend. That I don’t mind conflict, because it’s an opportunity to forge a deeper connection with someone else.
What do you need to let go of? Control, control, control. It’s a manifestation of fear: trying to control how I’m seen or perceived, trying to control how people feel about me, trying to control choices others make in their own lives, trying to plan what will happen. Guess what, Carrie, you’re not the boss of anyone else, and a lot will happen that you’d never guess in advance! Besides, attempts at control are not only futile, they make it much harder to enjoy one’s every day experiences. I want to stay open to the moment that’s here and calling me, rather than arguing with what’s happening. Without a desire for control, perhaps I could inhabit myself in the world more wholly, sensitive to those around me, attuned to the human selfness of everyone I encounter, and fully alive to the ways in which connection is possible; while also recognizing where connection would be forced, unwanted; secure in my boundaries; with no desire to take over someone else’s life, to step in, assume, or project (okay, those last two are next to impossible goals, but still worth trying!). Let go of control; welcome, instead, awareness.
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