Life feels softer, fuller, rounder. Sometimes this feels just right—for my age, my ambitions. Sometimes my eyes ache behind my glasses. I am softer, fuller, rounder. I don’t like this so much. It’s partly body dysmorphia and partly not—I am larger than I used to be, objectively speaking. I have had to upsize my pants. There are days when I don’t even go for a walk, because I can’t squeeze it in, let alone one of those hard runs I used to rely on to keep me sane, and fit, and possibly also fitting in those pants of the past. My body has fluctuated and changed over these nearly five full decades on planet earth. Pregnancies will change a person’s body. And endurance training. But so will mid-life hormones, and aging, and a myriad of other factors that are beyond my control. Out of control is what I feel sometimes, when squeezing into my upsized pants. Yet, since when am I in control?
Control is an illusion, a fable told to comfort myself—that I am choosing for my body to be the way that it is, at any given stage in my life and development. Our bodies, ourselves—caught in time, turning and turning.
But my head, my outlook, my mind—softer, fuller, rounder? Yes. And how do I feel about that? I don’t entirely know. I’ve had practice accepting change, loosening my hold on expectations, letting go, you might say, or holding lightly (parenting gives a person practice; being a writer, too). But practice doesn’t necessarily ease the challenge, in real life situations. It is easier to breathe when there’s breathing room. It is easier to accept what’s happening when it’s pleasant or hoped for.
I try to go into new situations without writing the script beforehand; but how does that fit with my love of plotting and planning and dreaming big? Maybe it’s both/and, not either/or.
Which brings me around to the softness in the structure of my life right now, its curves and rounded edges. There is time for all things, but not all at once. This new year, I’ve completed two workshops in conflict management, and I’m considering working toward certification as a mediator. But I don’t know where it might lead, in truth, nor how these skills might be applied. At the library, I pad around in my “librarian sandals,” and enjoy creating moments of surprise and delight and welcome for the students (and maybe for the teachers too, at least some of them!). I’m building relationships there; but also trying to apply boundaries, and keep the job easy and light, as it should be. I’m on board for another season of the X Page workshop, starting very soon; I’ll be an editor and lead some of the writing exercises, but others are taking on the more substantial leadership roles; I felt a lightness at our recent planning meeting. This has given me room to take on more of a leadership role at my church, which is small and relies on volunteers; this Sunday I’ll be preaching—a new genre for me. It took me weeks to write a 15-minute sermon, but I enjoyed the layers of exploration that came from a close reading of text.
Where in this is my fiction writing? Still very present; just not occupying my mind as an identity that I should be fulfilling at all times, lest it slip from my grip. Hold lightly. I’m approaching writing no differently from these other facets of commitment, responsibility—I want to enjoy myself while doing all these things, even committee meetings! And the quickest path to enjoyment (in my experience) is full immersion.
Basically, I put my phone away. Often it is out of sight, especially when I’m in a meeting or at work or writing. That limits distractions. Any task on which I’m fully focused is a task I’ll genuinely enjoy, or find interesting in some way—my brain is hungry for the details, for sensory information, for connection. Often, this actually feels like I’m leaning back in a comfy chair, taking everything in, hyper-aware of the nuances, the emotional tones; or my mind in its relaxation will see big-picture structures as clearly as if they were architectural drawings.
I love structure so much. Design. Sequence. Noticing how these things work in practice, or do not work, and investigating changes to systems. I like figuring out the pacing and rhythm; how these ephemeral/practical/felt structures support the why of what is being made—its desired outcome—whether it’s a worship service, or a novel; there’s not a single or “right” answer, of course, which is what makes it so fascinating. Endlessly fascinating.
How does writing fit into the systems and structures of my life? Like any task, I need to make room for it, make practical plans, and I need to seize the moments. Occasionally, I’ve been able to write with focus after work, or into the evening, but that requires a) being well-rested, b) someone else cooking supper, c) no evening meetings or obligations. It’s rare. So mostly, I’m setting aside chunks of time—like last weekend at the farm with my writing friends. Nothing on the schedule except writing, eating, talking, sharing our writing. I love when we read to each other in the evenings. Our times together are so cozy, so warm and peaceful; conducive to writing, but also to fostering a relaxed state of mind in which creativity thrives. I might not get to do this very often, but it’s a wonderful state in which to write. As proof, each of us has finished at least one major book-length project during our several years of writing together that we’ve either published, or will be publishing soon. Amazing!
Blogging, when it happens, fits into the in-between times. Like this post, written almost entirely on a Friday afternoon, sitting overlooking an indoor soccer field, feet up, travel mug of tea nearby, and my laptop open; but finished the following afternoon, because the previous sentence is where my writing stopped, when I turned to chat with a parent—a dad who was open to talking soccer with a woman, which is not, I must tell you, always the case. So I relished the opening, and went with it.
What’s on my mind?
Being able to read, being able to write; the gift and the struggle.
With my word for this year, CONTRAST, I am exploring the balance—what my life needs, what elements it contains to support my overarching goals and themes—
“Please prepare me to be a sanctuary”
“What if the purpose of life is to seek beauty?”
“Discipline feeds curiosity”
“Everyone deserves to be known, cherished, lifted up”
“You belong here”
“How can I create spaces of welcome?”
“Follow the energy”
“Listen to your body”
—my life itself is like a structure being built as I live it, like a story whose ending isn’t known, nor even its middle or beginning. In flux. I live like my body is an experiment, my mind a mystery to be explored, my relationships threads that weave together, fray, are repaired.
When I think of noticing CONTRAST, I think of playing with balance. I remember a set of questions that I taped to the fridge years ago, with hopes that everyone in the family might reference them—questions that asked: what have you done today?—for yourself, for someone else, for play, for friendship, for rest, for exercise, what have you learned, what have you made…? It was a way to try to consciously notice life’s balance, within the structure of a day—an arbitrary measure of time, but easiest to grasp. Big picture is impressionistic—what has this year held? Or even this month? A day has items in it. Moments that can be recalled and noted, written down, like the notes to a simple melody. What melody have I composed today? What line of song have I built from my hours, today?
I love my job at the library because on those days it is easy to do things for others. But my fridge list of hoped-for balance items is perhaps too long to be ticked every day. When I choose to do something (like work in the library), I choose implicitly not to do other things. My energy is limited. My time is limited.
The idea of a Sabbath day—day of rest. Day of nature, connecting with loved ones, reflection, salve for the soul. Every day I want to build these notes of Sabbath into my melody. I am a soul and a body. Am I living inside my soul, too? I work toward this discovery. What happens when I follow my breath, pay attention to an automatic and unnoticed function or sensation, like the ambient sounds around me, like the patterns and colours and contrasts observed on a quiet walk, or the sensations that are ever-present inside my body, on my skin? Like the breath, of course, where meditation might begin, over and over again. Paying attention brings me into a different relationship with time. I relax. I am calmer, soothed by the ever-rhythm of the universe. I can carry this “neutral” mind back into the world. I know it exists and that I have access to it, even in times of stress, or under duress. There is peace in the underlying rhythms and patterns of the world surrounding me—within me. Knowing this, I come closer to trust.
To trust that my life is a form of art or meditation, a series of creative acts, my life is expansive, it is being built and newly built within the structure of these universal patterns and rhythms—the song being sung within and beyond my self. The song that is time itself, that belongs to the patience of eternity.
I’ve been sick. The new year is off to a slow and hacking start. But— I’ve also been dreaming of my projects for this coming year, and making paper crafts of favourite book characters for my library bulletin boards (see below), and revising a manuscript, with what feels like contentment rather than panic.
Okay, so I haven’t been well enough to go for a run, or even very man walks, but yoga is on all but the most fevered of days. And the house has been wonderfully full of children and friends of children, visiting or hanging out or needing a temporary home base for rest and recovery (our two sons currently live here full-time). I am content in a full house. It gives me great pleasure to come downstairs and discover several teenage boys making breakfast in my kitchen. I’m happiest when visitors feel comfortable enough to make their own food, and come and go as they please. I don’t try to “host” and that’s probably why sharing space doesn’t feel onerous or invasive. I grew up in a crowded house, with five siblings and many visitors coming and going, including guests who lived with our family for months at a time. I prefer the bustle. I also know how go to my own space and unwind.
I’ve been thinking about the word “livelihood.” It’s not my word of the year (still to come!), but it reflects, more than other words related to money-earning, my relationship to working and to sharing resources. A livelihood is enough to get by on. It isn’t focused on earning riches or accumulating wealth, rather it represents the comfort of enough. A livelihood also seems quite flexible: it doesn’t have to be a vocation or even a career. It’s a means to an end—a livelihood helps support yourself and your family and those you share your resources with. Others in your family circle or economic community can share in your livelihood, and contribute to a shared livelihood. What constitutes a livelihood changes as you change.
I begin this new year thinking about sharing resources.
I think about the ways in which sharing makes all aspects of life easier.
I want to live with ease. I’m beginning to understand that living with ease involves both support from within and support from without. An overarching theme in my own life has been the creation of structures and practices that strengthen and feed my inner resources (and my posture, my lungs and heart, my muscles!), but I’ve experienced this in collaboration with others. I’m not doing this alone—as vital to my inner strength are the friendships and relationships that hold me up, as I hope to hold others up in return.
Sometimes it’s my turn to be held. Sometimes I have the privilege of holding. And sometimes I’m part of a fun and hilarious dance, no holding or lifting required.
All for now. Thank you for reading along.
1. Two Women – finish and send. Yes, I achieved this, sort of; Two Women is my “Grandma” project. She died this fall. It’s a project too close to my heart and spirit to be let go lightly, so I’m still holding it. Holding lightly.
2. Summer writing – unknown; clean studio/office. The summer writing project on which I landed was to finish revising the 16th century novel. But I didn’t feel like writing much, and instead had a summer of travel and adventure and caring for others and deeply wonderful restorative time in nature and with family and friends, none of which I regret. I’ve moved that summer writing project to this coming year—I plan to spend the next week working on revisions, and I have two farm writing retreats planned for this winter too. I also did clean my studio/office, and cleaned it again today (once every 6 months seems sensible!).
3. Farm writing retreat(s) – often! I “retreated” to my brother and sister-in-law’s farm three times this past year. Each time was wonderful, memorable, fun, meaningful, energizing, and productive. I was at my best last winter and spring, in terms of getting writing work done; this fall, I was in a bad space, too exhausted to do much thinking, and kind of crusty and brittle, as a person. I love my friends who come along, and I love that they come along and share this time and space and their creative energy (and kindness) with me.
4. Girl Runner film. I just received the option payment from a production company that hopes to make Girl Runner into a film. The director is a woman from Spain and we’ve met over Zoom to discuss her vision. So that happened! Contract signed, option out for the next 18 months (or so!).
5. Blog – ?? Well, I haven’t blogged much, the proof being in the posts. But I haven’t much felt like blogging, maybe because I haven’t had much that yearns to be said (in a public forum, that is) pouring forth from my brain. Is this healthy? I don’t know! But I do feel calmer and more content, generally speaking. Less agonizing, more doing. I like doing. The job-job give me a sense of purpose and usefulness, which seems to matter to me. (Side note: I have stopped trying to change what matters to me, instead recognizing and embracing it—and putting those values into action. Usefulness. Boundaries. Clarity.)
6. Marinate – all the feelings! It’s funny, but when I read this, I thought, wait, what? Marinate in my feelings? That sounds very goopy; but maybe the marinating has been softening me up! And maybe I haven’t marinated so much as acknowledged. I’ve acknowledged my feelings (emotions and/or physical sensations) in order to identify what I need to do—to help direct my actions. Instead of doing what I think I should do, I’ve been doing what I trust I should do. Trusting my gut. Trusting that my emotions are giving me valuable information. Trusting my decision-making. And giving myself permission to try something out and change as needed if it doesn’t feel right. I’ve found much more enjoyment in my emotional range through this experiment. Pride can feel pretty great. Crying in fury can be cathartic. Being loved is wonderful. Radiating care is joyful. Flatness is protective and sometimes necessary, and shouldn’t be ignored—numbness has emotional weight too. Etc.
7. WRDSB – experiment, experience, earn. This intention holds up nicely! I’m still here, on the job, learning and earning, experimenting, experiencing.
I haven’t written out “Carrie’s Projects – 2024 [insert word-of-the-year here]” … stay tuned.
Wishing you a wonderful new year of projects and feelings. Marinate!
I have been drawing and writing again: four weeks in my new position at a school library and creative energy has returned — it isn’t all being used on the job. In fact, working in the library seems to energize and soothe me in equal measure. The space is mine to play with, building on themes, displaying books, decorating with paper crafts (bulletin boards and such, see example above — not my forte, but I’ll learn!), reading stories to classes, and finding tasks for the many many library helpers (close to 30 grade 5/6 students) who the previous library clerk had brought in. The space has a wall of windows, and when I unlock the door and walk in every morning, I feel a sense of excitement and gratitude.
I love to put things in order. A library that is being used properly will forever give me things to put in order. And I LOVE reading to children and interacting with children.
Yet I also recognize and honour that the decision to change course took courage and did not feel straightforward or easy — it was painful to leave the students and staff and those fulfilling relationships at my previous school. I miss them.
There are situations and experiences that may not be healthy for us, or suited to true needs, long-term, but may nevertheless be valuable and wonderful in the moment. To leave something is not to diminish its worth.
Last year (2022), I focused on what I was feeling, trying to understand better the underlying sensations and emotions that were fuelling my decision-making and moods and interactions (often without my awareness), and this year (2023) I’ve focused on identifying my needs—so that I am better able to meet those needs, and not expect others to meet them for me. It’s a bit counterintuitive, but when I know what I need, I become less needy.
But I don’t always know what I need. Or I think I need a particular something, when really, what would satisfy and fill me is something else quite different.
I didn’t write much this fall; my creative spark vanished. I couldn’t find it, and didn’t even want to, particularly, or care much. All my creative energy went into problem solving at work—and I liked it, in many ways, because it made me feel useful and mildly heroic, which writing and drawing never really does, to be perfectly honest; but it was a sacrifice that ultimately was making me very sad, on some fundamental level. My rational mind didn’t notice or care, but my body did, my heart did, my guts did, my intuition noticed: and Sad Carrie was not really helping anyone.
What I was missing more than anything, what I needed, was my creative spark. I didn’t consciously know this till the spark reappeared.
Every morning before going to my new library job, I have time (and energy and the desire) to draw and write—and so I do. And the pleasure it gives me is without measure. There’s no purpose to it other than joy. No use. No rational worth or monetary value.
I’ve been reunited with this joyful part of myself.
To be joyful in the world is such a gift. Joy isn’t blind or ignorant, and joy doesn’t ignore suffering; it bubbles out of ordinary encounters, it is born of gratitude and grace, and interior space, which allows a person the bandwidth to be attuned outwardly, or open somehow, sensing and knowing the sacredness of every interaction and experience — that is what I mean by joy.
Joy can’t be manufactured, but it can be quietly drained from the body and mind by overwhelm and exhaustion. You can’t meditate yourself into a place of joy when you are drowning. The collective message to people in overwhelm and exhaustion and burnout and grief, drowning under a weight of responsibilities and impossible tasks, is: save yourselves! Do some yoga, or be more mindful, or whatever “wellness” trend is being pushed at the moment. I love yoga, and I appreciate the value of mindfulness; but when drowning in overwhelm, there isn’t a person on planet earth who can meditate themselves back to joy. Maybe to temporary relief of symptoms; maybe to a hope for a different path, or a glimpse at possibilities; but when the light goes out, it’s dark.
What lights your creative spark?
What are you feeling?
What are your feelings telling you about your needs?
What do you need?
Food, shelter, health, safety. What about ease? What brings you ease, and how does your ease express itself? How do you live when life is not such a struggle? How does your joy appear? How do you know when you are joyful?
My ease bubbles out in laughter. My ease fills a page with colour and lines. My ease delights in reading a book to a group of children and listening to their comments and questions.
May you be be safe. May you be healthy. May you be happy. May you live with ease.
Where am I? Where do I place myself? How much say do I have in where I’m placed?
In church on Sunday, we sang a hymn titled “Longing for Light,” that has the line: “Make us your bread, broken for others, shared until all our fed.” It feels like a very Mennonite sentiment. It rings true, it compels me: this desire to use one’s energy and work for a purpose that helps others, or serves others. But, I wonder, do I need to be broken to be of service? If I’m broken like bread, turned to crumbs, what then?
It’s an old puzzle, I think, trying to figure out how to give without depletion. I’d hoped and believed that I had the tools and skills necessary to make the job in the office sustainable. But I did not. This has left me feeling like a failure. What I’ve failed to do is to work within my means, at a job that I truly loved doing; instead, I kept burning all available fuel, day after day, till it was becoming harder to be kind, especially to myself.
I’m in a school library now, as of this week. It’s quieter, but students will come and fill it with noise. It’s a different job, easier. It’s only day two, but I’m not a zombie when I walk out of the building. “I didn’t rescue anyone today!” I texted to Kevin after work on Monday. His reply: “Just yourself.”
What will I do with more energy, again? Do I have the self-control not to get myself into trouble, the patience not to sign myself up for other jobs and volunteer positions till I’ve got no space to think again? I’ve missed having the bandwidth to write. I’ve missed writing. My thoughts are clearer on the page. Contradictory impulses: I don’t want this spare energy to go to waste; I don’t want to be used up till I’m nothing but crumbs.
I want to do no harm. I want to serve others. I want to live with ease. I want to share joy.
What I learned in the office job is how to ask questions. Ask and ask till I could be sure I understood what the other person wanted or needed. What is being asked of me? It isn’t always so clear. I learned that I’m steady in a crisis—focused, calm, decisive, very present. I’m a good listener, when very present. I would like to combine these skills with training that would place me in a job or occupation that calls on them, regularly, while giving me some power to solve or resolve the problems being presented.
It’s quite possible that no job or occupation has the power to solve or resolve problems—or not to satisfaction, not the problems that are unfixable. But I’d like to try. Not to demand perfect or ideas solutions, but to move in practical ways toward wholeness, support, improved states of mind, healthier relationships.
Where will I place myself?
So much depends upon that. I feel it very strongly. Where I place myself—where I’m placed, physically, in the world—changes the possibilities that open (or close).
As a writer, it has seemed there are fewer opportunities to be placed, to find a place, especially in the company of others. My kids are growing up, and out of the house. I need to be placed with people, with strangers, with colleagues, with a crowd, children or teens or adults, young and older and old, or a mixture; friction, conflict, noise, laughter, issues raised, questions, needs to be met, time to be managed, hands held, stories heard.
My job-job has given me that—a place. Many places, in fact. Many different people to interact with. I’m currently placing myself part-time in a school library. That leaves space to be placed somewhere else, too, or to work/train toward a different kind of placement. I would like to explore working in a context that involves conflict—defusing it, specifically, and helping those caught up in conflict to move toward resolution.
Longing for light. Longing to be light—lighter in spirit, light-hearted, light on the path.