I want to write about how to be, how to get through the days when I’m feeling weak, discouraged, overwrought (or perhaps under-wrought?), weighed down, anxious. I want to know how to be the kind of person who can experience such emotions and somehow surf atop the worries and fears and enjoy the day, nevertheless. There are many things to worry about, after all. The details may change, but there is always a list, available for the mind to scroll through, no matter the season.
Why are some days harder than others? Is it what’s happening externally, or is it how I’m framing things, seeing things, inside my own mind?
I don’t know.
But there is no perfect day, no perfect hour; that I do know. There is no reason to wait.
I lay out the template for survival, for dressing for the weather, for putting one foot in front of the other, over and over again. I step into it.
What am I missing? Can I fill a gap, answer a need? Is there something on my mind that I long to say to someone, a message I long to share that is waiting for the right moment to be spoken out loud … or let go of, maybe? Is the sense of fear or worry based on something real? And, if it is based on something real, is it something over which I have control? Would the problem, whatever it may be, be solved or helped by my immediate attention and focus?
Or, is everything actually okay, right now? Or, is it both? Not okay and okay.
How to clear a pathway for the mind to do its work, with clarity? How to be not okay and okay at once?
Not okay: The house smells like skunk and mothballs, the kitchen is somewhat torn apart, there is an excess of cucumbers and zucchini in the refrigerator, someone I love is in pain, I woke every hour last night.
Okay: The dog doesn’t smell too much of skunk, the neutralizing paste mixed up at midnight was quite effective, there is an excess of cucumbers and zucchini, the stove works, I walked with a friend this morning, yoga felt amazing.
The details of our days matter. It’s where we live, after all. Not in some theoretical place, but here, now, with whatever our bodies are telling us. I haven’t cracked the code for how to enjoy every bit of it; that bar is too high. So I tell myself: bring the bar down a bit lower … lower … lower yet … and appreciate what you’re doing on a small scale, how you broached a tough conversation, or bit your tongue, how you looked up new recipes, got creative, took a nap, did what you needed to be more kind.
How can I be more kind? To myself, to everyone else? This is where I begin, over and over again.
Book launch is less than a week away. Pub date too. It’s a time of intense vulnerability woven together with this great desire to celebrate, and let go of. The ego is dancing for attention, wants to run the show, and I reflect on how to …
accept what’s happening, no matter what may come
gently, kindly, lovingly release expectations (internal / external)
Truth is, I’ve been attempting to prepare for this day for quite some time. I knew it would be hard, because it pushes a lot of my buttons. Fear of rejection; feelings of unworthiness; imposter syndrome; fear of things spiralling out of my control. I’m guessing this is a common experience for many (most?!) who present their work publicly. Something about being in the spotlight, even the idea of it, kind of messes with the head. I wanted to shift that experience, if possible, so I’ve been working toward the goals (above) through therapy, reflection, and by seeking role models and support.
Confession: at times, I didn’t love who I was when I was promoting Girl Runner. I felt as if all my weaknesses, my negative tendencies and patterns, some bottomless un-fillable attention-seeking void in my soul were being exposed; and that was probably true! In retrospect, I appreciate this as a necessary, if painful, growing experience. UGH. Why are there no shortcuts to growing and learning? (Parenting is a constant reminder that no matter how dearly we wish to spare those we love most from the pain of “learning the hard way” … that’s not how it goes.)
So what did I learn the hard way? I saw some things: those weaknesses, those tendencies and patterns, some ways I’m most likely to cause suffering in myself and in others. Seeing, knowing, is a door or a window. It’s an opening, an invitation to shift habits and behaviours, to live inside my body more fully. How can I change what I can’t see, or don’t want to acknowledge?
An opening, no matter how painful, is an opportunity to shift experiences in ways that may be small, yet profoundly affecting.
Last October, I wrote: What would happen if I gave up trying to control outcomes, trying to control how people feel about me, trying to reassure myself that I could figure out the perfect approach that would persuade everyone of my greatness?
I cringe to read that word “greatness.” ACK! It’s so embarrassing! But what I wrote was true and honest. The grinding self that has accomplished much is also a fearful, grasping self that doesn’t want to be good, but great; that sets standards that are impossible to meet; that engages in external comparisons, and feels envy, jealousy. If I pay attention to the ugliness — the shadow side of my self — what can I learn?
Here’s what I wrote next, last October: Now that I’ve recognized my need to control others, control outcomes, and seek external praise and acknowledgement, in the form of respect and admiration from others (and to be known as a helper! Altruistic! Giving! A good person! That’s been especially key to my sense of identity), can I change how I see myself, and operate from a different place of inspiration? Can I find meaning in something other external praise? Can I fill that hole that needs reassurance — you are good, you are worthy?
Can I become someone who knows more and more deeply that I am worthy, because everyone is?
I think knowing this would allow me to see others with greater compassion and clarity, to be less reactive, less judgemental, and less controlling.
Yes, Carrie of last October. YES! What a terrific goal. And what a bloody hard test it is and has been to love the self that is ugly and fearful and defensive. How incredibly hard to be kind to myself when I am disappointed in my responses to situations, when I’ve done wrong, especially painful and difficult when I’ve hurt someone else. It’s a stretch to say that in these moments I’m quick to give myself grace, kindness, compassion. But if I notice what’s happening, I try — that’s how I try to respond. It’s a practice that I’ll be practicing for the rest of my life.
Here’s how I’m practicing it right now.
The book launch is Tuesday. In the past few weeks, I’ve felt all of the following and more: vulnerable, exposed, silly, craven, mixed-up, excitable, restless, bubbling over, unable to write anything new or to focus beyond cleaning the house and cooking meals. In response, I say: Hey, you, human being, it’s okay to feel all of these things! And I also say: Look at all the ways you’re caring for yourself.
Maybe even further: Look at your delight in being human! In being vulnerable and ridiculous and comical and expressive, and giddy, and hopeful and needy! You are capable of seeing and appreciating all this imperfection as a potential gift! Look at you asking for help when you need it. Look at this kindness you’re offering yourself — imagine it spilling outward into every interaction you have, now and into the future.
Imagine that this kindness, this grace, this delight is what you are capable of offering to everyone around you.
Now that would be the gift. There’s the true goal I’m seeking, the goal of my chosen vocation.
Here’s what I’m learning. When I started on this path, wanting to be a writer, I thought the goal was to be the best writer I could possibly be — grind away, publish books. But maybe that’s itself a practice, a way of walking a path toward a different dream, one that I could not imagine or conceive of when I first knew that I wanted to be a writer. Something I’ve begun to glimpse is how much lightness there is on this path. Lightness and laughter, and love, which is mixed up with grief sometimes too. Look at us, being alive here together.
Where is this path leading? I don’t know. But it’s been a mind-bending, heart-opening adventure so far. Why not trust where it’s going? Reading that word “trust” invites breath deep into my lungs. AHHHHH.
Ahhh, amazing — I find myself, right now, looking forward to this launch party no matter what happens. I’ve given myself a real break all this week, to do the things that feed my spirit and body, that feel good. No expectations. How is that possible? It feels miraculous, and I’ll swim in it gratefully, for however long it lasts.
Summer so far …
New things. Wandering around in this time and place, stumbling a bit. Travelling to the countryside. Trying to stay organized inside my mind even for a few moments. Answering “emotional emails” (not necessarily bad; just responses that require emotional energy, as I seek to connect with another human being through text and screen). Texts, texts, texts. Fun texts with friends, family. Emojis. Organizational texts. A few calls here and there. Outsourcing tasks that are overwhelming (like figuring out how to order more copies of my new novel from a warehouse in the United States; thank you, Kevin!).
Two big events coming up in the next week and a bit. Logistics. Planning. Invitations sent, vulnerable soft belly exposed.
It’s been a lot.
No wonder I’ve felt overwhelmed at moments. The cure seems always to be to find a friend. Connect. Share (and receive). This morning: meeting for a walk that happened to pass by City Cafe, leading to coffee and a donut on the patio under an umbrella. Mood boosted (sugar + caffeine + good conversation).
To mark the moment of publication, and also because I finally felt ready to create permanent art on my body, I got a tattoo this week. (I could delve into this subject more, I think, about why now, and how my relationship to my body has changed; food for another time.) The artist modified a branch-like ornament that breaks up sections in chapters, in Francie. I love it. I’m already thinking about getting a second one. I think trees are my theme.
What else is new? Oh, Kevin, who thinks I’m a natural comedian, suggested I try out TikTok, which so far has been a genuinely weird experiment. I can’t figure out how to use it as a consumer in a satisfying way, but it sure is easy to post brief little videos. I don’t know whether I’ll stick around, but for now, it’s been like producing a visual diary entry, and I like that. I suspect finding a personal tone and style might take some time … as it has here.
I’m so comfortable when I open this page and write into the empty space. Arrange photos. Press “publish.”
I feel like a good version of myself, here.
How many versions of self are there? Quite a few, don’t you think? I know I’m a little bit different in different settings and relationships; never not me, but also, not quite the same. I like some versions of self more than others. I’m sure those who share space with me would agree. But all versions are part of my self, the good, the funny, the ridiculous, the trying, and the occasionally overwhelmed. The tinkering continues.
I’m on day 91 of my 100-day creativity project. Mostly I’ve drawn cartoon versions of myself, capturing transitory moods-of-the-moment, and I’ve written lists, based on a prompt called “Things that are true about me.”
I like these lists. They’re a simple way to gauge what I’m feeling, and often they’re ruthlessly honest. Also: sometimes things that are true in the moment don’t hold, and that’s useful to record and recognize too.
Here are some true items from recent lists.
1 I used to run long distances and call it fun — and it was fun for me. Now I seem to want to suffer less, I accept the easier paths to altered reality.
2 Change the state of my mind — it’s what I long to do, to be transported from pain into ease — and the gentlest, least harmful way to do so is not always obvious or easy.
3 I am more confused than ever.
4 I see myself in the world as this intransigent lump behind glasses, but glowing and appealing and maybe even dangerous; I see that everyone is lonely. I see myself more consistently as observer than participant.
5 Started the day with a run and felt like a different person. Felt strong. Magnificent posture. Powerful. Beautiful. Alive.
6 The songs on my playlist were all my favourites. I listened to music even after my run, walking Rose, then walking uptown to get my errands done early. Having a soundtrack changes things up.
7 Doing yoga every day for more than two years has changed me — I have better posture, stronger core, I can drop into key moments smoothly; but I wonder whether it’s given me anything else? I don’t need it to — to be clear, excellent posture is a genuine gift — but I think I thought it would change me more fundamentally.
Here are my reflection questions for the month, answered in brief.
What felt good this month? Running pain-free and smooth and fast. How is this even possible, when I ran less than usual this month? Reading terrifically fun and engaging books. Going to parties in my skintight, not flowy, possibly age-inappropriate brightly patterned dress paired with Birkenstocks and blue toenail polish.
What did you struggle with? My inner life. My purpose. My usefulness and worth; or maybe I mainly struggled with my compulsion to tie usefulness to worth.
Where are you now compared to at the beginning of the month? Four people in this house have had covid this month (two have it right now). So that’s been a rather endless, slow-moving parade of care-giving and mild worry. I feel somewhat aimless. But also more celebratory.
How did you take care of yourself? Friendship. Journaling. Daily yoga. Being outside. Letting my hair down. Doing things I enjoy, like cooking and riding my bike. Letting myself feel what I was feeling, even when it wasn’t great. Letting myself off the hook. Being part of the X Page workshop.
What would you most like to remember? I loved seeing my youngest dressed up for his grade 8 grad, and I loved debriefing with him the next day, when we drove to pick up pizza together. I loved walking uptown with Kevin and listening to an outdoor concert on a warm Friday night; spontaneous and relaxed, and pretty much perfect. My mood went from blah to wow what a beautiful world.
What do you need to let go of? I’m holding on to some stuff really tightly right now, I can feel it. That makes it hard to imagine letting go. I need to let go of a childhood version of my dreamed-of life. I need to let go of imagining there’s a perfect version of me out there, a perfect version of what I can and should accomplish. But also: I need to let myself hold on if that’s where I’m at. I’ll let go when I can, it can’t be forced, or willed, just observed, noticed. (Yoga has taught me that.)
Let me leave you with this very on-the-nose cartoon. I laughed.
I’m in between, right now.
In between tasks, in between seasons. Maybe it’s always this way? Maybe I’m always in liminal space, in flux, free-floating. I do set goals and meet them. But I also set daily practices, which don’t necessarily develop into full-fledged goals other than hoping to experience discoveries that slowly accrue and weave themselves into my way of being in the world.
I don’t set a goal unless I believe it’s something I have the will, time, energy, drive and desire to accomplish. A practice is lighter: it’s exploration, experiment, play; it’s something that draws my interest, that feeds my body, soothes my mind.
Writing can be either, for me: goal or practice; and these get tangled up and confused.
I set goals for my writing; but it’s really more fundamentally a basic practice, a constant companion and comfort. I’ve earned money from my writing; but in a nonsensical way, or impractically, unpredictable and sometimes completely disconnected from time and effort expended. Writing has opened other doors — to teaching and participating as an artist in the community, for example; but I don’t come to writing from a logical place, nor as a transaction. I don’t often exchange my writing for a tangible reward; mostly, I can’t, even if I wanted to. Anyway, that’s not how a practice works —
And I know that’s what my writing actually is.
It’s a practice. It’s not a vocation, it’s not a career, it’s not a way to get ahead or succeed, it’s not a means to an end. It’s how I function in the world, it’s kept me whole, it gives me clarity and release and it helps me — especially fiction — to organize my panicked, irrational, awestruck, mysterious, and otherwise unknown and unseen underworld.
The practice of writing radiates back so many life-giving things. Friendship. Connection. Challenge. Adventure. Doors open and doors close. Writing continues the conversation.
Like how … I needed to write this, this morning.
How it’s helped me refocus on what matters; on the real goal that pulls me onward. That goal is to connect. It’s not my word of the year (that’s “feel”), but the principle of connection is guiding most every decision that I make right now, as a parent, a friend, a community member. It helps me make moral choices, too. When I boil down what I believe and what guides my every action, it’s to build, strengthen, and maintain connections. The starting place is to feel — connecting to others is rooted in connecting to self, by knowing what’s inside of me, what I truly want to do.
Feel = Connect = Enjoy
Maybe that’s true? It feels true.
I started this post by writing: I’m in between, right now.
I meant: I don’t know what to do next. My big project for these past many years, my overwhelming goal, has been to publish another novel. It’s coming soon. I don’t really have much left to do, to prepare. It’s out of my hands now.
It’s not that I’m not writing fiction. I am, in volume and with great enjoyment. Yet, I don’t seem to have that combo right now of will, drive, energy and desire, or not directed toward the goal of publishing another novel. I’m not even sure anymore that it’s a healthy goal to take on; to be frank with you, the publishing part of the equation was, is, and will always be out of my hands. And that’s scary, honestly. What am I doing, trying to forge a career on such unstable earth? That’s a question asked by fear. I ask it, because I am that person, I have such fear. But I’m also a person with a practice. A career is a thing outside myself; a practice dwells within.
The practice asks: What’s drawing your attention? The practices reminds me: Follow the energy, write toward that. Trust this time, be in between. Feel, connect. Feel, connect. Be where you are. What’s enjoyable, here, right now? (Oh, so much! Plenty! Enough, and more! Maybe I’ll write about that next time?)
I have a wise future self, who I consult sometimes through drawing or writing, or meditation. But I also have a wise past self, who reminds me that there is wisdom in that which has already been discovered, and which I’ve lost track of along the way.
From my notebook, April 10, 2016, written on a writing residency in France:
There should be art for all occasions. Sometimes we want to laugh, sometimes we want to be entertained, sometimes we want to cry, sometimes we need to be challenged. Whatever are you make, celebrate its potential to meet someone else in the occasion of their need. Don’t wish you were writing something different. Be at peace with whatever comes from you.
On July 26, I’ll be publishing my new novel, Francie’s Got a Gun, which has a title that’s a little bit terrifying to me, I’ll be honest; but it’s also frank and open about a particular theme that obsessed me when I was writing the very first draft and persisted into the iteration that is coming into existence at the end of next month. The novel is an anti-gun allegory, but the gun also serves as a metaphor for danger, for adult failure, for a problem that’s bigger than a kid can solve. And it asks something else too: Can adults solve these big problems? How do we respond, as a collective, and as individuals, when a child, children, are struggling?
When I wrote the first draft, I had no inkling that a pandemic would disrupt our lives. Even when I wrote the final draft, last summer, I didn’t fully grasp the reverberations and costs of being distanced from each other, so profoundly, for so long. It is only in returning to more normalcy that I can sense my own grief, especially for my children who have had several important years of development stalled or disrupted; I wonder what the consequences are; and I hope for reunion, for occasions at which we can come together, collectively, to celebrate and have fun and be together. Be together. Feel together. Pull together. Thrive together.
Francie’s Got a Gun is about people trying their best, individually, and collectively, to respond to challenges in their midst — within their own families, their closest relationships, their friendships, and their community. They are flawed, or distracted, or struggling, or sheltered, or raw, or imaginative, or hungry, but they’re all hopeful in some way; and they are trying to come together.
This is what I’m thinking about today, on the last day of the month of May, when usually I’d be writing my “May Reflections.”
Here they are, in brief:
What felt good this month? Running in the park. Feeding lots of people around the table. Writing funny scenes in a new novel.
What did you struggle with? How to parent. Setting boundaries. Waking in the middle of the night, mind racing. Disaster thinking.
Where are you now compared to at the beginning of the month? Less certain. More questioning, more worried than I’d like to be. Thankful for my notebook. Thankful for habits that re-set my mind, and direct my focus toward my heart.
How did you take care of yourself? Drawing, writing, attempting to get to bed on time. Good food. Walks with friends. Laughter. Listening to music. Running and yoga. Planting seeds for future social events, big and small. Pouring out my thoughts on paper. Weighing my words and actions. Participating when invited.
What would you most like to remember? What it feels like to soak in the atmosphere at a big, collective event organized for young people: to be specific, yesterday, at my youngest’s junior high track meet — the first meet that’s been held (for my kids anyway) since 2019!
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