Category: Big Thoughts
Before her recital yesterday, she displayed all of the emotions so familiar to anyone who has ever been asked to get up and perform. Why had she signed up? Why had I made her sign up? (I hadn’t.) She wasn’t going to do it. No one could make her.
I quickly deduced that the growls and howls were nerve-induced, and did my best not to be too peeved (even while dressing her, which she insisted I do, and which set my teeth on edge having just read a piece in the newspaper about my generation’s ridiculous parenting methods that cater to our children’s every need). Anxiety does unpleasant things to most of us, and when it’s a new feeling, of course we don’t know how to cope.
So my goal was to keep her going, get her there, reassure her (even while wondering, gee, has she actually practiced enough??).
And then she played with complete confidence. She smiled, she introduced herself, her fingers met the keys firmly, and she bowed afterward grinning from ear to ear. Had I been another parent watching, I might have envied having such an apparently confident and well-prepared child. I would have been wrong, of course; she was as roiling with nerves as any of the others, and she rose to the occasion, playing better than I’d ever heard her play at home. Mysterious things, performances. It’s fascinating to see what gets drawn out of us when we’re called on. My heart was pounding with pride.
She was not amused by our April Fool’s joke this morning, however. I told her that she’d been asked to come back and play again today. Only the best performers had been asked, Kevin added. What? No way, nuh uh! Not going! She missed the compliment altogether.
An odd thing happened on Friday afternoon, after I’d posted about feeling aimless and wanting to bring good into the world. I went out for lunch with a friend, then stopped in to say hello to Kevin at his office, then stepped outside again and saw, directly in front of me, not three feet away, an elderly woman struggling with a walker. It took me half a second to reach her, and help her sit and rest. She’d had a fall and was rattled, confused. She’d walked a long way. She could not remember the name of her destination, but could describe it and knew what she was going there to do. Together, after some rest, we set out to find it together, and we did. It cost some time, and little else. She thanked me, but it was I who wanted to thank her. It was a pleasure to be able to help.
Later, reflecting on it at home, I thought about how grateful I was that I’d had the time to stop and help. When I’m rushed (which is often), it is harder to see, to stop, to take time. I also thought about how much I love helping; and I thought, this is what I would like to do with my life. But of course, how often do such situations present themselves, such simple one-to-one equations of need to ability to help? When I think about helping in more formal/institutional settings, it feels more complicated. I question my motives; I question my helpfulness. For example, when I helped this woman find where she was going, that was all I did. I did not delve deeper. I did not get to the root causes or make an attempt to prevent the situation from occurring again. I asked whether she’d been hurt in her fall, and she told me that she was fine, and I accepted that. She said she had family in town (I asked), and I accepted that they would be looking out for her in the future. I sensed that she valued her dignity. At what point does help become meddling? These are boundary questions. I tend to err on the side of caution. Because I don’t know the answers. Not all of them. Not even most of them. All I know is be kind.
There is much need in the world. Patterns recur. Pain fragments. Hurt multiplies. Some problems go deep, deep, deep.
How easy it is to take soup to a sick friend. How easy it is to quietly hug one of my children when he or she is sad. How easy it is to help a lost stranger find her destination. Is helping as simple as that? Or does it — should it — go deeper?
Drifted off to sleep last night meditating on my new character, thinking about what I would write today. Yesterday was a tough day. My baby turned four. I had a sense of aimlessness all day, despite discovering this terrific review from Halifax’s The Coast, and, later in the day, this. Nice, right? But the aimless feeling prevailed.
Finally, I left my office and walked uptown to buy my four-year-old a gift. A book, of course! Everywhere I looked it seemed women were out walking their babies. But not me. Just a short while ago, being out and about mid-day unemcumbered by small children would have seemed incredibly novel, and thrilling. Suddenly, it’s every day.
My book is gone too, off to see the world. I was having a now-what feeling?
Somehow, I’ve gotten into the habit of thinking that change is propelled by unhappiness. Certainly, unhappiness can be a powerful motivator to kick us out of negative habits. But it occurred to me this morning that of course there are many other triggers for change. And the instinct to make wholesale changes in a moment of doubt isn’t necessarily positive. If I were even five years younger, I would probably be seriously considering adding another child to the family. That is the kind of change that I could so easily understand and embrace. But I know that’s not the right change anymore. I know in my heart that it’s not even change I really want.
Guess I don’t know what changes are calling me. I just know that seeing my babies grow up, buying more time for myself during the day … well, it’s not as straightforward as I thought it would be. It doesn’t equal direction or ease. The big questions remain. Am I spending my time wisely? Am I doing what I love? Also, a question that never lets me go: am I adding something good into the world, by my actions, by my choices, with my life?
a bird in the bush
Spring. Spring! The last day of March break. My children occupied elsewhere. A quiet and completely empty house (just now). Not-so-deep thoughts. But persistent ones. I’m tired. My body hasn’t made a very successful switch to the time change. I’m listening to classical music, while wearing ear plugs; an odd but necessary combination. Ear plugs signal work-time. Classical music signals calm. This is ramble.
I am feeling, well, drained, rather. The big publicity push seems to be resolving itself, slowing, and I can stand back and breathe. And as I breathe, I think about that phrase “feeling drained.” And it seems to express an almost literal sensation. Because I’ve been pouring myself out, pouring myself into the effort of spreading the word about Juliet. At some point, I will have to stop pouring and start replenishing the well. Which, though not dry, seems to be creaking with complaints.
Patterns. Habits. When something isn’t working anymore, it becomes steadily more apparent, harder to ignore. And then the question is: what to change? and how?
One change would be to break myself of the BlackBerry habit. I’ve become accustomed to receiving new! urgent! exciting! messages throughout the day, and it’s changed my brain — I expect and anticipate the little ping. It’s like a hit of affirmation. I’m not alone! Connect, connect! Trouble is I’m starting to crave the ping even when I’m in the midst of seemingly interesting Life. Worst of all, the ping itself has almost become more meaningful and exciting than the message received. I am Pavlov’s dog.
A second change. I think it’s time to shift gears. To stop writing about Juliet, and start writing on/into/toward a new project. Even if the new project doesn’t take shape immediately. Even if I feel uncertain. If this is what I want to do, go on and do it. It’s been a real pleasure this week to shape a new poem, to see that I can make something with the kind of accessible tone I’d want to read. More of that! Please.
There is a third change, but I have nothing to pin to it. I want to pursue another goal (not writing-related) like the triathlon challenge. I want a particular reason to be outdoors. To run or bike or swim or yoga even when I don’t really feel like it. I am lacking in meditative space right now. I feel almost incapable of sitting quietly and resting my mind. It seems the only time that happens is when I’m working really hard, physically. Some writers turn to alcohol. I understand the impulse. One needs to turn to something. One longs for a mind at rest, at ease. I crave the spiritual rootedness that comes from discipline — and I find discipline in physical effort. It connects me to some part of myself that knows endurance and ambition and suffering, and is rewarded by it. Which probably sounds weird. And isn’t exactly the path of least resistance. I’m only half-heartedly committed to that work at present (partly due to being in rehab for the running injury), and I want to reconnect with whole-hearted commitment again. Stay tuned.
People are starting to read The Juliet Stories. I know this because of the odd unexpected message appearing in my inbox, arriving in out-of-the-blue moments, an old friend saying, Hello! with excitement. Part of me wants to share the messages with you. Part of me feels awkward and reticent. Is this what Alice Munro would do? (She is the height of writerly grace, in my opinion.) Um, no, is the obvious answer. But then, publishing is such an altered world, altered even since Hair Hat came out eight years ago. Eight years ago, who had heard of “social media”? I’m a writer who works in an old-fashioned medium: the Book. But I’m also a blog-writer. Occasionally I’ve wondered whether blog-writing itself is my accidental calling — this brisk, confessional, and immediate form of communication.
The writing of a book requires such different mental mechanisms than the writing of a blog. It requires patience to somehow co-exist with impatience. There are intricate pieces to be held inside the mind, waiting for a chance to be written out, puzzled out, put together. Blog-writing, for me, is freeing. It’s like opening a window. Book-writing is exhausting. It’s like mining underground with a trowel.
However, the reading of either book or blog should not be exhausting. It should be compelling, thought-provoking. Perhaps in different ways, and on different levels. A blog is more like a snapshot. A book is more like a movie.
And this writer is awful fond of ye ole simile.
In conclusion (she pontificates), I’m glad both mediums are available. I love blogging. And I think, yes I do, that the book is nevertheless my form, too. And I hope you will read The Juliet Stories and agree. Therefore, I will do as Obscure CanLit Mama would do, and share some of this out-of-the-blue love with you. It’s too sweet not to.
It was approximately 5:30am this morning, and I was wearing bike shorts and eating peanut butter on toast in preparation for a spin/weight class, when I opened this message from a friend, sent at midnight:
I’ve just finished [Juliet] and my head is reeling. It’s marvellous. I could not put it down. It’s the best book I’ve read in a very long time. I read 150 books last year, and this stands out above all of them.
You know what the best thing is? I feel like it was written just for me, like it’s bespoke fiction. It’s all the things I love, Munro’s Del and Gallant’s Linnet among them.
Glorious, Carrie. Just glorious. I can’t wait to tell people about this book.
And I was in the whirl of supper prep, taking a quick breather in my office, when I discovered this message yesterday evening:
Good lord, Carrie. I know I should wait until I’m done, but I’ve just finished the first part of the book, and am exploding to tell you how splendid it is! I guess when I start a book by someone I know & care about I am always a bit nervous. What if I don’t like it, what if I think it could be better. But THIS book is a revelation. Carrie, it is just so damn good. Each story is vivid and gripping, and filled with tension and wonderfully flawed and alive characters. The prose is smart and crafty and clear and evocative …
And I was sitting down at the computer with my cherished morning coffee, today, when I read this tweet from Sheree Fitch, an accomplished writer for children and adults, about whom I blogged not long ago:
Finished #TheJulietStories. Rhapsodic,original,heart-piercing,luminous #novel. #brotherlylove in allways #Thankyou.
How does this make me feel? I don’t even know, honestly. Relieved. On the verge of tears. That feeling of it was worth it. I’ve got to confess, I was feeling nervous about the launch party on Saturday, but with these messages fluttering in my mind, I’m feeling the excitement. I’m feeling it!
Oh! And at the party, we may even debut the new song!*
*not live; my voice is not up to that
One more thing before I sign off today. The New Quarterly has a lovely post today about The Juliet Stories. As you may know, four Juliet stories debuted in TNQ, in somewhat altered earlier forms, and the magazine has packaged them together in digital format. It’s like Juliet memorabilia. (!)
They also have three writing contests on right now, one for Occasional Verse (ie. a poem written for an occasion, like a birthday, or a book launch …), one for Personal Essay, and one for the Short Story (hm, maybe I should enter?). Each prize will bestow upon the winner $1000. Details here. Spread the word.
I’ve been reading other people’s blogs. I’ve been reading and wondering and wandering. My mind is impatient this morning, and more than a bit weary. Up early for a swim. Second swim in three days. I am fit, but I don’t feel strong, not running. Which makes me wonder: what am I seeking in my quest to stay fit, if it isn’t to be fit? My routine is fairly grinding, but I hardly missing a planned work-out. Why? I don’t have an answer. I wonder if I will find one, and whether I will like it, or not.
Here’s what I’m doing tonight. I tried to post the poster, but it didn’t work: my siblings’ band Kidstreet is playing in town. I am staying up late to go dancing!
More napping needed.
I’m trying not to think about the dentist appointment booked for tomorrow morning at 7:30 (who does that to herself?). Or the dr’s appointment the next day. Or plans to go out Friday night, and to throw a scotch party here on Saturday night. Which will mean cleaning this whole disastrous kid-friendly house. Which means I’m trying not to think about the living-room, either, strewn end to end with the tiniest toys the children could find to strew about. I’m not thinking about the missing library book, due Friday, already renewed to the allowable limit of times, and nowhere to be blinking found. While I’m at, I’ll try not to think about the half hour I already spent on my hands and knees this morning looking under things for this book while cursing the tiny toys strewn about everywhere.
Instead, I will think about lunch. And coffee. And napping. And blogging. I found some great posts out there this morning. My friend Rebecca blogs about taking a week off from blogging due to feelings of inadequacy. She ends with a quote from Marianne Williamson, which coincidentally my yoga teacher read out to our class on Saturday evening, and which I meant to share here, but it slipped away in my shavasana daydream: “It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.” And yet. My virtual friend Kerry blogs about Gabrielle Giffords, and how the miracle of her very survival is yet somehow not enough for the narrative of redemption that has been foisted upon it. How we crave the light of redemption and recovery, we want that story. “The narrative of her ‘recovery’ has been so remarkable for its falseness, for its abject denial of the realities of brain injury,” writes Kerry; the piece is worth reading in full.
I have to tell you. My darkness frightens me. But maybe it’s true that my light does too. Marianne Williamson’s quote goes on: “We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world.”
Can we play big, be our better selves, and be truthful about the darkness in each of us, the inadequacies, the mysteries, the wondering and wandering, the good luck and the bad? Well, yes. I think so. I think that might be why I blog.
Found this German saying in the newspaper this morning: “Who begins too much accomplishes little.”
Uh oh. Is that me? As I woke at 5am, churned away at spin class, got home, ate breakfast, threw laundry in washer, thought about working on the writing project I’m developing, checked email instead, received message on how to use my camera better, spent next hour and a half playing with camera settings and taking random photos around the house, finally sat down at desk to work and started a new blog post. This one.
All the while, this is my morning to work while Kev hangs out with the kids. ie. my time is limited! And what have I done? Is it my habit to dart from project to project, from activity to activity, never fully developing the potential of any?
Maybe my word of the year should be focus. Or choose. Or limits.
Ugh. I don’t want a word like that. I want to do too many things. Not just do them, but master them, become expert at them. IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK?
(Yes it is, at least all at once, if experience is any guide.)
But everything in me wants to deny it. Wants to embrace the opportunities, chase all interests, learn with a hungry and curious mind.
Look at it this way:
**This morning I challenged my body and put in time and effort toward racing goals this summer.
**This morning I ate breakfast with my kids.
**This morning I learned something new and useful: how to adjust the aperture and shutter speed settings on my camera manually, and what effect these previously mysterious numbers have on the outcome of the photos I take every day.
**This morning I recorded, briefly, where my mind is at.
**This morning I connected with friends in person and via email.
And now I am going to open a word processing file and spend an hour, **this morning, working on The Big Fat Juicy Belly Worm. Yup. My project in development is a story for children. I read the first chapter to my kids last night, and I think they’d like to hear another one. What could be more motivating?
Sorry, German saying. You’re probably right, but I’m going with my manic energy this morning.
On a completely different note, this blog post titled “Read and Loved in 2011” by The Keepin’ It Real Book Club reached out of the blue and touched me **this morning. Read it and see for yourself.