I’m about to start week four of my new job. It’s intense and lively and challenging for brain and body and spirit — and I love that. It is also consuming of energy and focus. And it’s what I wanted and needed, I feel that deeply. I thrive on friction and have sought it out in various ways, from kundalini yoga classes to filling my house with four children to taking on volunteer roles that threw me into situations with high learning curves and the reward of appreciation and adventure (think — soccer coaching, or co-founding and running the storytelling workshop).
Now I’ve found myself a job where I get paid to enter into a swirl of friction: activity, human interaction, conflict and attempts at resolution. Everything I’ve learned in my life leading up to this moment feeds my ability to thrive and respond with integrity and kindness (while setting firm boundaries) in a constantly changing, constantly interrupted environment of constant problem-solving. But it’s early days! I recognize that such jobs can also, over time, create calluses for protection and self-preservation, which outwardly can look like cynicism, burnout, detachment, depression.
So I’m testing out ways to build in channels for release, for rest, to make space for ongoing enjoyment.
NEED is my word of the year. Attuning to my needs has been such a helpful guide! What do I need to set myself up for success? Each one of us will need something a bit different — or a lot different. I’m relishing the opportunity to test out my needs and my ability to meet those needs, with the focus of the job as an anchoring point.
I need: healthy food and hydration; cardio; yoga and meditation; time with Kevin; balanced connection with my kids (meeting them where they’re at); the give and take of strong friendships; sleep and rest; friction and challenge; to learn new things; creative outlets; appreciation for my work; compensation for my work; a sense of adventure and discovery; to feel purposeful and useful; joy and humour; spiritual connection.
My new job meets the following needs (just by showing up, these needs are met! Amazing!): friction and challenge; to learn new things; appreciation for my work; compensation for my work; a sense of adventure and discovery; to feel purposeful and useful; joy and humour. I sense that friendships may develop through this job as well.
So what’s left out? What needs are not being met at my job and can I find ways to meet these needs in other ways?
Well, I’ve been biking to work — there’s cardio, and I’m planning to get up extra-early to fit in a 30-min run a few times a week on days when I don’t feel like biking. Packing myself good lunches and keeping a water bottle at my desk; plus cooking as therapy when I get home for work — there’s healthy food and hydration. Kevin and I do yoga and meditation together almost every day, first thing in the morning, last thing before bed, and we walk the dog most evenings — there’s time with Kevin, and yoga and meditation, and spiritual connection (at least to some degree). I reach out to friends by text (it’s a great way to stay in touch, especially from afar, and with kids too), and arrange times to meet in person, like a Friday after-work drink, or an early morning walk. Our family eats most suppers together (those living at home, that is). So a lot of the bases are being covered.
Rest and sleep — working on it! I’m aiming to leave most weekends and evenings relatively open and free. This means cutting back on almost all volunteer work. Cutting out activities that drain my energy, or that I simply don’t have time to complete.
I’m missing creative outlets.
I have two writing weekends at the farm planned for this fall — so that’s something. But what about daily creative connection? Connection to my writing self? What’s happening in that part of my self? I haven’t felt the urge to write, to start something new, or even to finish the novel project that’s underway. I’ve got a completed manuscript waiting for an editor to read it and reject or accept; touching that part of my life hurts, sometimes. Or I anticipate that it will be painful. Too hard. Unnecessary pain.
But writing and drawing bring me joy — I know that!
So I’m going to test out writing/drawing for 15 mins during my lunch break (first I have to take a lunch break, but this will be motivation!). Rest and restoration — much-needed to avoid burn-out. I’d like to make myself a list of 20 or so prompts that I can cycle through, for days when I’m not feeling inspired to get started (which is most days, these days!).
I’ll post some prompts here too (next time). Maybe you have a favourite prompt you return to? Let me know, please.
Yesterday, whilst braving the mall in search of nice jeans for work (you have to try on jeans, you cannot order them online), I stopped by the Indigo bookstore and signed new paperback copies of Francie’s Got a Gun. And then this morning, I biked down to the CBC-KW studio for a live interview on our local morning radio show. It was fun; in fact, both experiences felt easier and lighter than promotional work has in the past.
Biking home, I was bursting with gratitude. Gratitude to all my wise counsellors, therapists (official and otherwise) and friends. Gratitude to an ongoing meditation and movement practice that reminds me to breathe and be inside my body. I would not wish to suggest that I am content with my life all of the time. But I am ever more at peace with what I can and cannot give and receive from being a writer. Let my writing be ever more integrated into the fullness of the ordinary; integrated, not elevated. Integrated and enjoyed and appreciated.
Getting to be alive, to breathe and move and help and hug and hold and care and learn and grow and fall and be held—what I hope for is the chance to say THANK YOU for all of this through writing; but there are other ways to say thank you, too, which I’m getting to know and appreciate all the more, through every day ordinary experiences. “Ordinary Wonder Tales,” as per the title of my friend Emily Urquhart’s wonder-filled book of folklore mingled with memoir.
My sense of purpose and gratitude is activated through my job-job, and elsewhere in other points of connection, the little confluences and bumps and unexpected interactions that come along the way, especially as I’ve been willing to be in the world. Listening. Asking questions. Acts of service and kindness. Kindness to myself radiating outward. Paying attention. Solving small problems. Lowering the bar. Prayer. “Joy snacks.” Presence.
I know caring isn’t super-cool. But when have I ever been cool?? (If you want to feel very old and very not-cool, go to the mall, go into a store selling jeans, and try on a bunch while asking for sizing advice from a genuinely kind young man who is approximately the age of your own children, and you will actively achieve humility.) In any case … the truth is that I really do care about the people I’m with and the energy I exude.
And I’m thankful, heart-deep, for the wonders of getting to be alive in this broken, challenged, grieving, complicated and beautiful world. I’m in awe of what we get to do here on planet earth, in the little scrap of time we’re given. It’s kind of amazing, isn’t it?
With this new job, I now have summer holidays. Today I’ll be visiting the school where I’ll be running the library this fall (and I’m ridiculously excited about this). I’m going to count the bulletin boards and start making plans for displays, and visualize the layout, and check on the supply of book tape, and who knows what else. Maybe I’ll aim to get some plants if there are nice windows.
Re this blog: I will be stopping in to post whenever the spirit moves me, and maybe it will move me a bit more in the summer. I’ll have time, and that makes a difference.
Also in the time department: I won’t be teaching creative writing this coming year. There is a freeze on hiring Arts sessionals at the University of Waterloo, so I’m out. I’ve never climbed above the level of sessional lecturer here. I will miss the students (and spending time with young people), but will be busy with my new job (and spending time with even younger people).
I wonder whether I’ll want to pursue something else on the side, if I’m not teaching—say, a library tech degree (?!) or a watercolour class just for fun, or yoga teacher training, or … no idea really, just curious to discover whether some other interest will bubble up and fill in the spaces that remain. Something creative or academic to stimulate other parts of myself? Or will I leave the spaces as spaces and just breathe?
In the meanwhile, I’ve been making a summer to-do list.
The first three items:
Aren’t rest and sleep the same thing? I wondered, writing them down.
My kids tell me I’m not good at relaxing. They might be onto something. Except at the cottage, where relaxing is all that I do. So I’m trying to figure out why that time feels so different—why I’m able to rest, sleep, read and relax, without feeling guilt or a nagging sense that I should be doing something else (cleaning something, most likely). Cottage Carrie sleeps for the first few days upon arrival. I sleep in, I take naps, I sleep and sleep and sleep till I’m filled up and fully rested. Only then might I do a little bit more—kayak, swim, read without instantly falling asleep (this is an every day problem!).
So maybe that’s the key: rest and sleep as a way to get into the summer groove. Rest, sleep, read.
After that, my to-do list says: yoga, bike everywhere, nail polish, eye doctor and dentist, shop for “mom jeans” and work tops, shop for child who is moving into university residence this fall, hang out with friends, time with kids, dog walks, park walks, lunch with Dad, occasional run.
I’m not in the summer groove quite yet. Today, the idea of summer holidays almost terrifies me, this emptiness; I want somewhere to go when I wake up in the morning, I want tasks to do, the security of a routine.
But tomorrow I’ll try. Tomorrow is the official start to my holidays. Tomorrow I’ll sleep, rest, read. Or something like that. I’ll make an attempt. Who knows, by the end of this summer, maybe I’ll have mastered the art of relaxing. I’ll be the best relaxer ever! A meditating puddle of zen bliss. Hey, a person can dream.
You’ve watched me grow and learn, seek and attempt, win and lose. You’ve listened to my rambling observations, and been patient with my scattershot insights. You’ve held everything I handed you. You’ve been a beautiful photo album of these past 15 years, and a container for comical anecdotes, especially during the years of parenting young children. You’ve given me an outlet for my creativity, and allowed me to publish during stretches when no one else did. You were my experiment. You’ve been a home, in a way, a place to come to, to mark moments in time.
I think our relationship, as it has been, is ending. I think that’s okay, the way my relationships with my babies changed as they weaned, or learned how to fall asleep on their own, as we took off the training wheels and watched them whirl away from us.
I needed you for a long time—for connection with the wider world, and I confess, for validation. Appreciation.
I’ve been finding other ways to fill those needs. So I’ve needed you less and less. You’ve probably noticed. This isn’t goodbye, but it is an acknowledgement of change. A change in direction that’s been happening subtly and meaningfully, over a long span of months, of years. I keep saying to myself: It’s okay. It’s okay.
It’s okay to grieve change, it’s okay to be excited about change, it’s okay to feel both emotions at the same time—grief and excitement.
I haven’t stopped being myself, at core.
But I am different now, deep into my forties. I don’t feel as comfortable here, in blogland, as I once did. I come to this medium and feel constrained. That’s not the way to write. Some constraint is useful of course, some structure is absolutely necessary; but a sense of self-obstruction, of caution, of carefulness, fear of judgement—that is not useful to writing and creating.
It never will be. I didn’t used to feel that here, dear blog, but now I do. It’s not you, it’s me. I mean that sincerely. I didn’t used to feel that, dear blog, because my need for affirmation, for being seen, was so great that it outweighed all caution. This is not meant as a critique on blogging or writing publicly or sharing from the heart. This is meant to mark a moment, that is all. The moment is shifting all the time and can’t really be pinned down, but I think where I find myself is gently, tenderly choosing to protect my heart.
I wrote a book once (it never got published) titled “Why Give Yourself Away?” It’s a question that’s returned and returned over many years of writing; it first appeared in a poem I wrote in my mid-teens. So let’s just say it’s been a preoccupying force. I don’t have the answer today, but the question seems both more complicated and more simple.
Why give yourself away?
Well, because you want to. Because you must. Because you feel compelled to. Because of what you’re hoping for in return (whether you know this or not).
But maybe the you that you’re giving is substantively different now, in your current itineration. Maybe what you’re giving away isn’t pieces of your life, recalibrated and reconstituted for consumption; maybe it’s experience itself rendered through the body and mind and words and actions, experience made manifest as compassion and kindness.
Why give yourself away?
What are you giving—that’s my question for myself now. What exactly are you giving away?
It’s attention. It’s presence. And I’m not giving it away, I’m giving and receiving; I’m discovering its generative properties, how attention given blooms into connection, and warmth, how listening with care is the basis for conflict resolution, how care and caring can only happen freely when no strings are attached, nothing is being asked of the other because you know you are already loved and cared for, because you honour your needs truly. You don’t need to ask for anything in return when you have known and know grace yourself. (It’s idealistic, I’ll confess, but I hope to move toward this way of being in the world.)
Where my writing fits into this, I don’t know at present.
I don’t know whether I’ll need it in the same way; nor what new or changed goals it may meet or fulfill. I don’t know. I do know that I still love to write in order to find order in the dissonance of experiences. I still love to write to untangle the muddle of my mind. I still love to write to record and reflect and come closer to understanding the world. But it’s just one way of knowing and doing and being. I’m discovering other ways now, too.
This box arrived during an overall challenging week. The paperback version of Francie will be in stores July 4th. The back cover is adorned with generous blurbs from Tasneem Jamal and Emily Urquhart, and I’m so so appreciative of them and of everyone who helped support and bring forth this novel. Thank you a thousand times over.
In other news, Kevin is travelling to England and Iceland with our eldest (partly for work; partly for fun) and I’m holding down the fort in his absence. Lots of solo late-evening dog walks, lots of solo yoga, plus work, plus cooking way too much food for the number of people currently in the house. I cannot calibrate on food prep. I cook for a crowd. But there is no crowd in this house right now. I’ve also been watching the weather obsessively. It’s been raining off and on for days, and our drier is broken, so I need to hang everything outside on the line. Whew. The things that occupy a person when she’s missing her person.
This past weekend, I spent three days at my brother and sister-in-law’s farm, working on finishing the draft of a novel. There, I could write. It was bliss, absorbing; my thinking mind untroubled as I stepped into creative flow.
But here on the screen, this blog page, I’m coming up blank. I keep coming here, and coming up blank. It’s why you haven’t heard from me in a while. Maybe it’s the forum, the public nature of this forum? That used to not stop me or cause me pause; but lately, it does. I do not want to do harm to others, or to myself. Writing can be a dangerous craft.
My imagination was my protector when I was a child. It’s a strange thing to consider, but I’m beginning to wonder: maybe I spun that talent for fixing my wounds into a career. Oh it was powerful, oh it gave me powerful healing.
But maybe I’ve changed, maybe my needs have changed, my hopes, my values, my goals. I find myself content to work a mostly invisible job, with practical tasks that I essentially have the capacity to solve. I love that! It’s revelatory to arrive home feeling happy, to feel my hours have been purposeful, I’ve been able to make the day easier or more pleasant for those I’ve served.
Still, I wrote into and out of my imagination this weekend, and I’m glad for that too. That time was a gift.
Wherever you've come from, wherever you're going, consider this space a place for reflection and pause. Thank you for stopping by. Your comments are welcome.
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My name is Carrie Snyder. I'm a fiction writer, reader, editor, dreamer, arts organizer, workshop leader, forever curious. I believe words are powerful, storytelling is healing, and art is for everyone.