Today, I’m attempting my routine. I got up early, went for a run, slow and short, around the park. It felt amazing. It was chilly and there weren’t many people up and about, but the sky was already light. Spring is coming.
April is half-done and I can’t remember much about the past two weeks. Not much to keep. We ate a lot of take-out and the kids went grocery shopping for us. I did two puzzles. I also wrote a fair bit, and started a 100-day creativity project, inspired by The Isolation Journals with Suleika Jaouad. I appreciate the length — not too long, but long enough to test a person’s discipline. You really get to know yourself when you practice something creative every day; I’m keeping it simple, writing briefly and then drawing / watercoloring to music. The point is not to get “good” at the thing, the point is to do it and through doing to discover yourself, your daily fluctuations, where your mind is at. I also find it helps me escape the ordinary, and focus my mind and body in a different way.
I like that it isn’t about achievement, it’s about discovery.
One day at a time.
My general rule for writing posts here is to do it for fun, or when the spirit moves me, to paraphrase something my mother said a lot when I was a kid. Today I’m breaking that rule a bit. Nothing seems to be particularly fun just now, and the spirit is moving me only insofar as it’s saying, give it a shot, Carrie. Try to write something and see what comes up.
There are many things I don’t want to write about. I don’t want to write about war, or political instability, or pain or suffering or fear or anxiety. This isn’t a politically minded blog and I’m no expert, nor pundit, nor do I aspire to be.
I was thinking that it would be funny to write a post called “Five Bad Things Right Now”; but then I decided that might not be that funny. But I don’t have “Five Good Things” to report on, particularly; or maybe those things feel a bit superficial or artificial under the circumstances. How about “Five Things Right Now” and no judgment as to their quality or worth? Here goes.
Page proofs for Francie
My editor sent me a hard copy of typeset page proofs for review. I opened the package three days ago. This should be a most wonderful thing, but I’ll confess that I’ve yet to work up the courage to begin to read through. It’s a last pass. Last chance to catch typos. What comes next? I don’t know, exactly, which is why, I think, it will take courage to put this stage to bed. Next means new projects, publicity work, and whatever that requires of me (different skills from reading proofs, that’s all I know for sure).
Reading a library copy of Moonglow, by Michael Chabon
This was super-pleasurable, a big sprawling novel loosely based on the life of the author’s grandfather (which is why I wanted to read it, to get clues about how such a project might unfold). In the end, I was convinced this was more novel than biography, and I admired the apparent ease and ruthlessness with which the author muddied the waters; but part of me resented it too. I spent most of the book trusting in the author’s voice, and felt a bit cheated at the end. I wonder what this impulse is to believe that something is true, or to want to believe it, even when the writer is reminding me over and over that he’s a novelist, for heaven’s sake. He makes shit up for a living! (Isn’t that what I do too?) Anyway … an excellent read, highly recommended.
Drawing a cartoon
I stopped doing my daily cartoon late last month. I was following the same basic principle as I do for this blog: do it as long as it’s fun, and the spirit moves you. It was feeling less fun, more of a chore. But I picked up the habit again this week because I needed a different way to express my emotions, and drawing to music, colouring with crayons, is legit a fun way to journal, to record a tiny reminder of hey, here’s what happened today. A cartoon makes all the emotions more bearable. Drawing has lightened my load this week. (not pictured because I don’t have a photo on hand, and I love this one, above, taken around sunrise on an excruciatingly cold morning, recently)
Making pancakes for dinner
I don’t even like pancakes. But my kids do! Yesterday, that’s all I wanted: to give someone else something to enjoy. The gesture didn’t need to be grand, the recipients didn’t even need to know my intentions. Recipe here; I quadrupled it. (also not pictured; above is from a less-lauded meal involving squash, beets, turnips and sweet potatoes)
I might go so far as to say, admittedly hyperbolically, that my friend Kasia’s kundalini yoga classes have been saving me this week. They’ve definitely been lighting a fire, and making me feel alive and whole and present in my body in a positive way. Music, movement, breath work: breaks me open, sparks creativity, and openness, and belief that there are wonderful things in this world. And I need that reminder, especially right now. (photo above represents the feeling rather than the activity itself)
Reading Fight Night by Miriam Toews
Immersive, hilarious, deeply worthwhile, like living with Elvira (Grandma) would be. An ambitious book about the heroism of an elderly person who’s lost a lot and just keeps giving, doing, being right to the end.
Watching Tick Tick Boom, directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda
The best part of watching this movie (available on Netflix in Canada) was snuggling with my daughter. The depiction of the creative process was a bit off, though; where is the joy? You know there’s joy in all of this, right?
Listening to We Can Do Hard Things podcast, with Glennon Doyle (and her wife Abby Wambach, the former US soccer player; and Glennon’s sister)
The chemistry between these three is magical, like listening in on a deeply meaningful continuing conversation about how to be in the world, how to look after yourself, how to love others … and yourself.
Drawing a daily cartoon as a way of journaling
I did this a year ago too, and I like looking back to compare then and now. I try to draw a moment that’s interesting in some way (harder on some days — but there’s always something!). I put on music and draw on an index card with black pen, then colour it in with crayons, glue it into a notebook, and write six lines of text in block letters below.
Eating black beans all week, baby!
I’m signed up to the Washington Post’s daily recipe newsletter, called Eat Voraciously, which I highly recommend. This week we started by cooking a pot of black beans. We had a black bean chili on Monday (wth cornmeal-cheese scones), burritos on Tuesday, Wednesday was black beans fried with rice and veggies, with toppings and optional tortillas (and two small marinated, bbqued steaks sliced thin on the side), and tonight (Thursday) I’m making nachos with black bean dip. Friday is take-out (probably not beans … though I’d eat ’em again!).
The secret to writing books is to give yourself a ridiculous expanse of luxurious empty time and space to dream, play, and not do anything that taxes the mind with external cares.
Is this true? Well, I’ve found it to be true.
It means you might not do much else with your day, your hours. You might cook dinner. You might go for a walk, or a run. You might see a friend. You might do a puzzle. You might scroll through Netflix watching the intros to thirty shows as entertainment before bed.
I struggle justifying how much time is spent on staring out the window. Or writing things that don’t turn out, writing draft after draft after draft. So many words assembled tenderly, hopefully, excitedly, only to be discarded.
If this is what it takes to write books, is it worth it? Who am I serving? Just myself?
Well, what if the answer is yes? Yes, I’m serving my writing, at the expense of many other things I could be doing with this one precious life.
What makes you feel purposeful, as you go about your day? What tells you, gut-deep: you are worthy? I don’t know. I’m asking.
It’s a funny thing to be a human, to want to be purposeful, to want to make decisions independently, freely, but to be inextricably embedded in a culture, context, generation, family structure, biology, language(s), place.
I notice that I easily accept the value of tasks or actions that measurably help someone else, like donating blood; concrete chores also have value, and doing them feels valuable, like laundry and cooking; it’s also easy to measure worth by monetary reward, doing X and receiving Y in return. In my experience, writing is generally untethered from any of these logical measurements. But I don’t believe anyone’s worth rests on external evaluation; or on evaluation, period.
You are worthy because you are fighting it out here on planet earth.
You are worthy because you are worthy.
I drew that cartoon a few days ago. I keep returning to look at it. There’s something there that’s whispering to me: peace, and calm, and acceptance, and worthiness. I’ve been drawing daily cartoons again, as a way of journaling. I draw a moment I want to remember, and on this particular day, the moment I wanted to remember was being asleep and dreaming about my new book, which has a tree on its cover — the dream vibe was contentment.
As promised, November has been busy — so busy that I’ve hardly noticed or mourned the shrinking of the light, or the encroachment of the cold and snow.
I’ve mentioned here before that I’ve been doing therapy regularly since the summer. It’s been, if I dare say so, essentially transformational. I wish therapy were affordable and accessible for everyone, anytime. I’ve definitely gone without therapy due to cost (for years and years), and it feels like a complete splurge even now; but it’s getting me through some challenging times, so it’s become a priority. Another priority is twice-weekly kundalini classes. These, combined with walks / runs with friends, solo runs, yoga and stretching are my go-to sustainers for body and mind.
Yesterday’s prompt from my art therapist was this: When do you feel your inner light shine brightest?
At first, I couldn’t feel my inner light shining at all. Then, I saw myself with eyes closed in my studio space right here, in the dark, with the moon shining through my window, practicing kundalini yoga. Here in the dark, inside myself, I can come and sit no matter my energy level (tired, anxious, jittery, exhausted); here, no matter what’s happening in the rest of my life, I can sense my inner light flowing forth: a restorative activity, a practice that renews, comforts, meets me wherever I’m at. Gradually, other moments of inner light shining brightly emerged, and I drew them, one by one, smaller figures embedded in the world being conjured and held by the brightly shining meditative central figure in the drawing.
I saw an inner light communicating with the page, through words, as I worked on a manuscript: such a deep radiant concentrated focus.
I saw myself speaking in front of an audience, in the spotlight, being seen, but also radiating outward in connection with the energy and attention I was receiving: magnetic energy.
I saw myself having fun with my kids on a road trip, a loose goofy say-anything lightness: riffing off each other, appreciative, a curious attention, relaxed yet attuned to adventure.
And I saw myself with a raggedy light that was a bit of a blaze, honestly, an energy of determined persistence that engulfed me and pushed me toward a goal and wouldn’t quit till I got there: usually in service of someone else’s needs.
What I recognized through this work was that my inner light has the capacity to shine brightly in many situations; but there is payment afterward (or before) when that energy burns. Or, it’s simply not always accessible. Inhabiting fun isn’t always an option (but could it be more often, if I recognized my capacity to invent it?). Speaking in front of people, or managing within a larger group can be affirming and exciting and energizing; but I have trouble coming down, turning down the temperature afterward, which means I tend toward of a crash on the other side (could I learn better how to manage these fluctuations in attention?). I love my writing days, I love being pulled deeply into other worlds and bodies and times and spaces; but it’s hard to drag myself out, I struggle to return, to re-engage with the real needs of those around me (there may not be a solution to this, rather more of an acceptance, and a structuring of the writing times to acknowledge this reality). Finally, the energy of determination gets shit done; but I risk burn-out in this mode. I’ve seen it happen again and again.
The final thing we talked about in our session yesterday was how I envisioned my ordinary, every day inner light. An image came to me immediately: as a pilot light, patiently burning, not noticeable but ever-present, steady, reliable.
When I turn down the other flames, the pilot light remains. I’d like to learn more about how my body functions in these heightened environments and relationships, as I seek to support both my children and my elders, to serve my writing and career, and to prepare for publicity work in support of the new novel. I don’t want to dread any of these tasks I’m being called to do. It’s occurred to me that what I dread isn’t the tasks themselves, but how my body responds to them — in preparation, in the moment, or afterwards. Being drained is a real feeling. So is being burnt-out. So is being eaten up by anxiety. So is frustration, impatience, grief at what you’re not able to accomplish when you’re focusing on a necessary task. Being amped up and super-high and hyper-distracted is also a real feeling, which doesn’t fit with early morning responsibilities and regular life.
That’s my November, summed up in inner light.
When does your inner light shine brightest?
Checking in here with an update on the revisions for Francie’s Got A Gun.
My editor replied back last Friday on my “revisions of the revisions” and as I type this out, I realize this may be why it’s so challenging to reflect on the revision process, or try to answer a common question: How long did it take you to write that book, or a variation of that question, How did you write that book? The answer to the latter question is: Magic? Witchcraft? I’ve totally forgotten and have no idea and fear I’ll never be able to do it again? The answer to the former question is: Years? But also: An hour every morning, from 6-7AM for several months. And then bursts of intense days, as my life allowed. But also intense weeks. Waiting, setting it aside, attempting other projects. And then more weeks, intense and wonderful. And now a trickle of back and forth, a week, days, hours. At various points in this process, I have felt energized, confused, worn down, hopeless, thrilled, manic, exhausted, possessed.
I wrote a first draft of this book, by hand in my notebook, after my second concussion when I couldn’t look at screens at all, in 2017. It bears little resemblance to the tightly crafted draft I worked on this past week, on-screen, marked up with queries and comments back and forth about details that are getting (mercifully!) finer and finer.
It’s getting close.
So, here’s my update on my latest efforts to revise: This past week, I worked on the revisions of the revisions of the revisions. Aaaand … we still have a round or two to go, to tighten and respond to some challenging bits. Deadline next Friday.
Here’s what I’ve been reflecting on this week: I love doing this work. It’s all I really want to do. I seem to have a bottomless appetite and energy for it, every part; I want to learn, and the urge to learn, that sense that I still have more to learn, feeds me. Some elements come more naturally (grammar, use of language, experimenting with structure); others require enormous effort (timelines and plot, to name two). It’s been such a joy to get to pour my energy and my admittedly somewhat obsessive personality fully into pursuing this work: writing fiction. Full-time. I’m gobsmacked and amazed that I get to do it. I walk the dog around the block after dinner, letting myself soak in the novelty and surprise of getting to do this work that I love.
This isn’t to say that I don’t have bleak moments, or guilty ashamed moments, caught up in treacherous ego and attachment to outcomes; I spent most of the “revisions of the revisions” wading through exactly that ugly, tiresome swamp. Berating myself for my efforts. Bleak with a feeling of worthlessness. I’m sorry to say it. I wish those feelings and thoughts never came. But they do, as I’m sure they come for most of us. So I kept on doing the work that was before me, despite being consumed with self-doubt. I rejigged the timeline (excruciating!) and revised and revised and revised and sent the draft back for more comments. I also talked to a therapist (art therapy, in fact). I’m telling you this because it’s important to name the supports that keep me afloat. Continuing to work kept me afloat, my little writing group kept me afloat, early morning exercise kept me afloat.
And the joy returned, the gratitude returned. Instead of you suck and you’ll always be a mediocre writer, I heard: This is your work, and you’re able to do it; what more do you need? And the answer is, honestly, nothing. This is my work and I’m able to do it. Whether it’s good or bad or middling, well, that’s not for me to decide. It’s none of your business, as Lynda Barry would say.
It’s Thanksgiving in Canada this weekend. Sending out heaps of gratitude, with a side of mashed potatoes and gravy, and stuffing, and pie for dessert.
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