This will be a rather obvious window into the thrilling state of my evenings, but I am getting through February on puzzles and podcasts. Puzzles, podcasts, and pots of herbal tea.
Last night’s Puzzle ‘n Podcast podcast was on how often we misinterpret how others perceive us: apparently, a lot. It’s a show called The Hidden Brain, and the episode is “Mind Reading 2.0: How Others See You.” Listening to this I was thinking about friendship, and wondering what prevents us (sometimes? often?) from saying what we really mean. Politeness? Fear of rejection? False assumptions about what may happen? Or maybe assumptions based past experience? Maybe we don’t always know what we really mean. Or maybe we get mixed up due to the social setting, confused by the extra information we’re taking in (and quite possibly misinterpreting!). Anyway, it’s fascinating.
I keep puzzling over why it’s not common practice to set out boundaries or expectations or even state hopes for our friendships (it really isn’t, though). Why are friendships more tenuous, undefined things, when other relationships carry expectations, stated and otherwise? Maybe in friendship there’s both more at stake and less. Friendship enriches life. But we don’t usually buy a house with a friend, or share a pet with a friend, or move to another city if our friend moves to another city. We might go months without seeing a friend and then fall back into closeness in an instant. We know in advance that we may lose friends in a way that’s more baked in than in other relationships. We probably also expect to have many friends in different contexts over a lifetime. I’m riffing here.
and yet, and yet, and yet … I acknowledge that big emotions get stirred up in friendships, fears get tapped, there can be jealousy, envy, comparison, grasping, insecurity … and love, caring, commitment, thoughtfulness, kindness, spontaneity, fun … friendship is a spacious concept, elastic, flexible … that’s a good thing, but it also means there’s more uncertainty … maybe friendship is an almost liminal space where we have the opportunity to become comfortable with not-knowing, not-clinging, letting go?
A friendship is a relationship that can change as we change; and/or it can offer the familiarity of someone who knew us when. There’s insecurity in the uncertainty of what being a friend means and demands of us. I feel it as I try to write about my experience(s) of friendship.
For myself, I think friendship is always and forever an opportunity to learn, to be challenged, to get to know myself more honestly (weaknesses, strengths, boundaries, sense of humour). If I’m feeling down or low the cure ALWAYS is to reach out to a friend. ALWAYS. Paradoxically, this is also the moment it’s hardest to reach out. (This is what texting is for!)
The other thing on my mind (unrelated to friendship) is how people seem really angry right now. People are struggling with their emotions, looking for easy targets of blame. Positions are getting entrenched (which always seems dangerous to me). The pandemic years have been a good reminder that I can’t assume I know what anyone else is thinking or feeling. Maybe in friendships we dance around this, maybe it’s one of friendship’s most important gifts — maybe within the uncertain structure of a friendship there’s an implicit understanding that we aren’t always on the same page, and we’re trying to listen and be curious about our differences, we’re paying attention to another’s experiences.
In friendship, there’s so much room for exchange. Generous exchange. Friendship is a practice in curiosity, attention, lightness, vulnerability, caring, holding and letting go.
P.S. Please send podcast recommendations. I’m addicted to the puzzling (the puzzles shown above are just from the past week!!!! True confession). And winter continues.
Practically everyone who studies friendship says this in some form or another: What makes friendship so fragile is also exactly what makes it so special. You have to continually opt in. That you choose it is what gives it its value.
What felt good this month? Mid-month, I started walking every single morning, despite the extreme cold. It brought me back to life, especially on the morning there was a huge snowstorm. Just remembering that walk gives me a child-like delight. January is a hard month, and this year we were locked down for most of it. Getting outside was imperative. I also started using a light box in the mornings for half an hour, while doing a puzzle. My daughter and I are now working on separate puzzles simultaneously (she wisely decided not to participate in my attempt to become a better person through puzzle-sharing, as it was clear to all that I was not particularly improving). Other good feelings: backyard fire with friends; eating fermented foods; tea and meditation; and finishing the copy edits for FRANCIE with my editor!!! YESS!
What did you struggle with? Exhaustion, lassitude, a general lack of motivation. But I’m going to turn this question around and explain that I’ve actually experienced less struggle this month. I think I’ve lowered my expectations. Or maybe my expectations are in line with what’s possible for me to achieve on any given day. Whatever’s happening, I’ll take it. Some part of my brain has settled into accepting that I don’t have the answers to many of the questions. I’m letting myself off the hook: it isn’t my job to craft perfect responses in this imperfect world. It is my job to be truthful about how I’m feeling, to speak from a place of thoughtful vulnerability rather than apprehensive face-saving, and to have the courage to say No if it’s what I mean. (As mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve discovered that saying NO is HUGELY DIFFICULT for me. I like to please. I’m going to try to get comfortable with the discomfort of not pleasing.)
Where are you now compared to the beginning of the month? I finished the major textual work on FRANCIE. So that’s done. Good. Other than that, I’m working on another writing project, while considering what other activities may be calling. It’s important to keep space cleared for writing. The more writing I do, the more it’s part of my every day routine, the easier it is to step into the flow. Also, my focus is pretty limited I’ve realized. In any given day, week, month, I can maybe focus deeply on one project and stay present for my family and friends — and that’s it! Luckily, I think that constitutes a pretty good life. As pandemic guidelines change again, and things open up, I need to think carefully before piling on new projects, activities or responsibilities. What matters? What matters most?
How did you take care of yourself? I listened to a kind voice in my head. Somehow, this kind voice gave me permission not to take myself too seriously. I laughed at my foibles and missteps rather than fearing them, or wanting to hide them away. Try it: Talk to yourself like you’re talking to a very dear friend (I heard this advice on the “We Can Do Hard Things” podcast — and it worked for me!). I also did 30 days of yoga with Adriene (and Kevin). And I initiated a two-week tea ritual with my word of the year group again, which is bringing me new ideas for meditative practices, and much wise reflection. What enriches your life? I think it’s worth asking. I think it’s worth acting on, too. Trust yourself, trust your body, the kind voice tells me (she sounds a lot like Adriene, at least in this example). You have everything you need, right here.
What would you most like to remember? Walking in a snowstorm is the best! If it’s snowing, go outside and play! Dress for the weather and have an adventure.
What do you need to let go of? Any sense of self-importance. What do I mean by this? There’s a part of the self that wants to be admired. It’s the same part of the self, strangely enough, that fears being exposed as not worthy of admiration. It’s the part that’s really scared of dying too, and not being here in the world anymore, being forgotten, not doing enough with the time remaining, not leaving something valuable behind. I see this part of myself. I feel compassion toward its fear, and all the pressure that fear can bring. What alleviates my fear, makes it irrelevant? This: To do the work I see before me, no matter the outcome. If I can name a want, that’s it. In this vision, the work of grammar and imagery and structure and ideas holds my attention, and I can laugh gently and appreciate the humour of this funny, foolish, wishful, hopeful, grasping flurry of imperfect human beingness attempting to do this work. It’s gonna be a mess. I think that’s what we get.
And hey, we made it through January! Thank you for reading along.
Today I started a two-week tea-drinking ritual with my word of the year group.
Call it Word Tea. In our own homes, we make ourselves a pot of tea (or three), pour a cup, and reflect on each other’s words (and our own). It’s a way to be together, while being unable to be together (or not easily; not right now).
Today’s activity was to stand with feet firmly planted on the ground while pouring the water over the tea. I forgot. Then, later, when I remembered, I tried standing still for about a minute while the water was boiling. Instantly my mind filled up with lists of productive and useful things I could be doing. The plants on the windowsill looked dry. There was laundry in the washing machine. One minute of stillness, one minute of standing with feet solidly on the ground: how hard could it be?
Try it. Maybe it’s easy for you! I need to practice again tomorrow.
My word of the year is FEEL.
It wasn’t my first choice or really a choice at all. It was the word that showed up and kept tapping me on the shoulder. On a head-level, I wasn’t super-happy about its appearance, but my body appreciated it, I could tell. Now here it is. Do I have the courage to become more attuned to what I’m feeling? To feel what I’m feeling? The easiest place to begin is to focus on the physical sensations in the body. Often, I find, they’re offering helpful information, if only I’d pay attention. After all, emotions manifest in physical form too, so if I can learn to be attuned to what I’m feeling, I’ll be better prepared to assess and understand and respond to the emotions that arise, and come and go, ebb and flow, wanted or unwanted.
It could be hard.
I’ll start by standing for a moment with my feet on the ground.
What am I feeling? Impatience? Relief? Irritation? Restlessness? Confidence? Calm? Thirsty? Achy? Anxious? Many things all at once?
The body is where I live. It’s feeling all the time, sending out messages, causing me to react, interacting with and affecting my thoughts; I would like to recognize and respond with more clarity (and kindness, to self and to others). Here I begin: at the basics, pausing to pay attention.
Bookseller is haunted by irritating former customer during pandemic, in Minneapolis-Saint Paul where George Floyd was murdered. It stirred stuff up in me that I wanted stirred. I want to be stirred. Plus Louise puts herself as a character into the book — and I learned that she owns a bookstore in real life, called Birchbark Books + Native Arts.
WatchingReservation Dogs (Disney+ in Canada)
I want this show to go on and on. More stirring, good stirring. Damn, this show is good, the young actors are so so good. Set on a reservation in Oklahoma and shot on the Muskogee nation, this comedy tears my heart out and gives me hope and appreciation for what art and artists and dreamers can pull off, over and over again.
Listening to “Good Times” by The Persuasions
This song popped up on my Lynda Barry playlist on Spotify, when I was cartooning yesterday. It’s actually about times that are not so good, but they’re coming, and we’ve got each other. So, you know, like right now.
Eating two poached eggs on anything
My go-to breakfast. This morning, I put two poached eggs on corn tortillas (which I keep frozen and steam in the microwave to heat up) — I eat eggs on tortillas often, with avocado, spinach, feta, crema, hot pepper rings, leftover black beans if I’m lucky, or whatever else we happen to have around. Yesterday, I put two poached eggs on half of a leftover falafel sandwich (it worked!!). Earlier in the week, I poached two eggs in leftover turkey noodle soup. Yeah, for breakfast. I like a savoury breakfast.
Doing thirty days of yoga with Adriene
Her new series is called “Move.” Kevin and I are moving the couches in the living-room so we can do this together every morning. We are on Day 6. We actually both have a daily yoga practice already, but it’s fun to follow a series, and to do it together.
The last day of the month. The last day of the year. Can I orient myself right here?
What felt good this month? Focus, Carrie, focus. I’ve just typed and erased several attempts at an opening sentence here — because they contained nothing good! Answer the question. Just answer the question. Okay, here goes. What felt good this month was a long walk and rant that started with me feeling like I was breaking down, and ended with laughter and understanding. All the walks felt good. Yoga in the morning: good. My Christmas morning sticky buns turned out. Good! Definitely taking a few small gifts and cards and offerings of food around to friends and family felt good. Hey, getting my new author photo taken felt good too, as an exercise in acceptance and maybe even celebration of aging. I also was happy with the gifts I gave and received.
What did you struggle with? Um, everything? Our Christmas plans were interrupted by friends and family testing positive for covid. I’m feeling the strain of multiple daily decisions that need to be made, as if it were on me to ascertain what’s safe for my loved ones to do or not to do. And I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I’ve been tuning out the news more; maybe that helps? It isn’t that I want to be ignorant, it’s that no one seems to know what to do, and we’re in the middle of something incomplete, with not enough data, and whether or not I pay attention right now, I’m confused, I’m perplexed, I’m baffled; as mentioned, I don’t know. Anyway, it’s freeing to pay less attention to the noise outside. I’ve got piles of books to read, and an upstairs bathroom to paint, and I’ve been drawing every day. I even wrote two new stories.
Where are you now compared to the beginning of the month? I accomplished several goals set at the beginning of December, including cleaning and organizing the whole house (or most of it!); and finishing half of a major writing project, though the other half remains in limbo; but I never did spend an entire day lying on the couch and reading. The difference from the beginning of the month to now seems largely to do with the pandemic, and how that affects my ability to plan ahead. I just can’t. It’s a funny way to stand on the cusp of a new year, but I also feel strangely at peace with it. My writing projects can continue. Loving my family can continue. Connecting with my friends can continue. For now, for today, and tomorrow, that’s enough.
How did you take care of yourself? This is always a trickier question over the holidays, when routines fall off. I haven’t been running much this month. Walks, yoga, texting friends, a few more phone calls than usual. I blissed out on the feeling of gratitude and thankfulness: I’ve felt it so powerfully this year, and it seems to be growing stronger and stronger. I played the piano and sang. I listened to music and drew a daily cartoon. When I reached my breaking point(s), some wonderful safety measures kicked in, and I took care of myself, instinctively. Sometimes the mind wants to enjoy wallowing — like, it feels good to feel bad — but the body knows better. Go for a walk. Stretch. Let yourself feel. I’m grateful for all the groundwork laid that helped me to stand when some part of me wanted to sink, sulk, and drown in self-pity.
What would you most like to remember? Keep kneading and all the butter will get incorporated into the dough, even though it seems impossible! Also, I’d like to keep feeling my feelings. Even the ones that make me feel just a bit out of control. Calm is good, and it makes me feel good about myself; but other emotions are welcome here, too. Can I let myself feel excitement, for example? One other thing I’ve noticed: I love crying over a good story. Almost nothing makes me happier.
My birthday dinner: Angus made veggie lasagna and Flora baked two pumpkin pies (not pictured). What could be better?
What do you need to let go of? Last month, in answer to this question, I wrote: Control, control, control. This month, I think: hey, I’ve definitely let go of that, at least right now. I feel as if I’ve surrendered to the moment, which is a moment in time I can’t make sense nor get ahold of, and I’m just letting things be as they are. How about this: I need to let go of saying yes when I really mean no. Bring on the whole-hearted yes, the full-of-gratitude yes; and when I know it’s a no, let me stand whole and complete and trust that someone else will be able to fill whatever space I’m leaving. I need to let go of performing, and pay attention to what’s calling from deep inside.
May your new year be blessed! Thank you, ever so much, for reading along.
Way back when, before I had kids, before I was married, when I was kind of a kid myself, I started a tradition of staying up on “birthday eve” till midnight, writing in my journal, reflecting on the year that had been and the one to come. It’s fitting for the season. I like that my birthday lands on the cusp of things, in liminal time, in between.
Yesterday, I spent some time reflecting on perennial fears and worries, and trying to corral them into sense. This is what it looked like (a mess!):
Mostly, I was worrying about money. It’s my go-to worry. First in line. A stand-in for all the other worries. It’s like a short-form for will we be okay? But a more practical question is: Are we okay right now? Am I okay, right now? Because no amount of money (or stuff!) will guarantee future okay-ness. So this was where I needed to start, with this messy colour-map; and then reflection led elsewhere.
I noticed how significant people were on my messy map.
I wrote: The people around you seem to appreciate what you’re able to give. And they tolerate your whims.
Images and scenes bubbled up: I remembered driving three girls around the Bruce Peninsula, listening to music, playing cards together till late. I remembered biking with Calvin to swim lessons and sitting on a picnic blanket outside the pool with my laptop, during my intensive writing time. I remembering hosting friends at the cottage; picking late-season tomatoes from my brother and sister-in-law’s garden during a writing retreat with friends; taking my mom to the doctor; reading letters to my Grandma in Indiana; a funny night spent in a roadside motel with my daughters, laughing and hardly sleeping a wink. Big emotions. I remembered some hard conversations, some tears.
I wrote: And these were really good and memorable things to do. Maybe they were even wonderful.
Of this year to come, I think: Who the heck knows? That’s a gift of living in pandemic times, for those of us who’d imagined we had more control over things — we get to see and feel and know how precarious our plans were all along. I’ve been lucky. I’ve gotten to hunker down with those I love most. We’ve adapted. We’ve had spells of respite and sweetness when gathering is safer, and we’re freer to meet and mingle; those times will come again. This Christmas, we ate scalloped potatoes and ham sandwiches off paper plates in the snow around a fire. It’s easier under these circumstances to know what matters most. We know it because we miss it; we know it because when we get it again, we hold it close.
I wrote: You have enough to do if you just do it. You don’t need to look for new and shiny opportunities. You really just need to focus on deepening your connections to (and faith in) what you’ve already got.
You have a small gift you’ve been fortunate enough to develop — you can write books. So go on and keep doing that and enjoy everything else that surrounds you — your precious friendships; your sibs and their families; your Mom; your Dad; your children and their friends; your life partner and his family; your neighbourhood; your peers, your teachers; your dog; the women who farm your food; your body; your paths; your writing group and your word of the year group; your church; your studio; your work — your work, for heaven’s sake, just do it and do your best and accept what lands and what doesn’t.
That’s my birthday pep talk.
One final thought: I’ve discovered (re-discovered?) how joyful and fun it is to do things for people who aren’t expecting anything at all — to surprise others (friends, family, acquaintances, strangers) with small gifts or offerings or even just a kind gesture, some tiny act of attention and caring that says: I see you. I’m glad we’re on the planet together at the same time. It’s okay. The truth is, thinking about someone else and how I might lighten a moment in their day gives me more than I can possibly offer. It’s a direct line to hope.
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.