A friend has offered to redesign the banner on my website to remove the title “Obscure CanLit Mama,” which no longer fits so well. On a hot August morning in 2008, I titled the blog on a whim, and began sending out posts to the universe. My youngest was newborn. He’s now in high school. In those early days, I wrote a lot about the kids. I posted recipes and meal plans. I wrote about juggling constant stay-at-home childcare with attempts to steal even a smidgen of writing time. I’d published one collection of short stories, four years earlier. It seemed presumptuous to attach myself to CanLit as a participant (even an Obscure one). The Mama was the ascending identifying force in my life at that time.
I haven’t posted a recipe in a very long time.
I don’t write about my kids, except glancingly.
These days, I come here, to this familiar space, to reflect mostly on writing, but also on what seem to me to be ephemeral, spiritual matters: aging, artistic discipline, setting routines, learning new things, re-learning old things, the repetition of the seasons, creative practices, play, emotional weather / weathering emotions. Etc.
In the 14 years that this blog has existed, I’ve poured energy into being a writer, laying claim to that identity, earning grants, publishing three more books, teaching creative writing, organizing writing workshops, serving as a consulting editor with The New Quarterly, speaking, travelling, practicing the craft, seeking to keep my connection to my writing alive and thriving.
Obscurity is a self-effacing mindset (erasing? shrinking? minimizing? hiding?). I know that. But it was necessary protection as I tried to become / be a writer. I’ve been afraid of being a writer, of laying claim to this identity and its shifting cultural responsibilities. Since childhood, I’ve wanted to perform magic tricks with language, to conjure imaginary landscapes, converse with imaginary people, finding solace in their losses and successes. I did not aspire beyond that — that was a big-enough dream. I knew my writing wouldn’t be activist in nature, because I am not an activist by nature. I’m a ventriloquist, an observer, a performer, agnostic, hungry to learn, curious about the questions, less-so the answers, the mystery, not the proof.
It’s a rather exalted view of being a writer. Or maybe I mean ecstatic. Or impractical. But I admire it, I love what my former self was attempting.
I dipped into The Juliet Stories this morning, a book now ten years old, and the writing sang off the page, just like magic. I couldn’t remember the person who’d written it. It was like reading a stranger’s words. Did I know then what I’d made? No. I didn’t trust its worth. I didn’t need to. I just kept trying, year after year, focused on the writing, and eventually made something.
I want very much to be that same writer, to write with confidence, believing in the magic of language. “You know it’s not the same as it was”: this song came on my “Run Fast” playlist this morning (oh Harry! so nostalgic); maybe “As It Was” especially resonates in These Times, when we’re trying to remember who we were Before. But life is lived in the present, and time carries us onward. We change; and experiences change us. It’s not the same as it was. That’s a neutral statement, at heart. It doesn’t have to weigh heavily, though it’s tempting to roll around in those deliciously bittersweet emotions.
What’s next? What path am I running, where does it lead? I can’t see very far ahead of my feet. Whose hands am I holding? What’s pulling me onward?
What kind of a writer am I now? What kind of a writer do I aspire to be? Do I need to know? No. As Lynda Barry would remind me: it’s none of your business. Follow the energy, get comfortable in the not-knowing.
I don’t have a new title for this blog, just my name. Enough? Enough. Yes.
What a beautiful day. What a beautiful week it’s been. Each day has a slightly different rhythm, but throughout there have been conversations with friends, bike rides, walks, and several runs in the park.
How has your morning routine changed, as the new season begins?
For me, it’s meant waking up earlier, though I’m still figuring out how to get to sleep earlier to compensate. I’m prioritizing daily morning yoga. We are also walking Rose more regularly. After a close encounter with a skunk last month, Rose now has a curfew: she’s not allowed out after dark on her own. Ergo, more dog walks. Kevin and I like to end our evening with a walk around the block with Rose. We often walk together in the morning too, just around the block.
The first two hours of every day are devoted to exercise, yoga, and, often, connecting with friends. The house empties out by 8AM.
As this new season begins, the house feels so much quieter. Our two eldest are at university, and do not live at home. Our two youngest are now both in high school, and growing ever-more independent. So …
What am I to do? I’ve spent 21 years of my life devoted to looking after my children. Their needs are changing rapidly. In the midst of all this quiet, I’ve begun look around and consider what comes next. There is writing, of course, and there always will be. But I’d like to find a job, now, that offers stability and routine, preferably not writing-related, preferably with people. I really love being with people; I love writing solo in my little home studio, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve loved doing that all these years with a bit of cacophony in the background, a swirl of impending chaos. Maybe the disruption and interruptions have been as important to my writing process as the ear plugs.
Your thoughts, suggestions, advice, leads, encouragement would be very welcome, as I begin opening to this new direction, with some nervousness and hope.
In the meantime, on the book front, I’m keeping occupied with some readings, book clubs, and workshops. Links posted below!
Friday, Sept. 16, 7PM (tonight!) Bestival Reads with Wild Writers Literary Festival, tickets include snacks and a drink, with Emily Urquhart, Kimia Eslah, and Tanis Macdonald
Saturday, Sept. 17, 2PM (tomorrow!) The Village Bookshop, 24 Main Street North, Bayfield ON, reading and book-signing
Tuesday, Sept. 20, 6:30-8:30 WPL Eastside branch, The X Page Storytelling Workshop, with me and Anandi Carroll-Woolery, a mini-version of the workshop, open to all! Free, but you need to register at this link.
First park run this morning after spending several weeks away, resting legs and lungs: instead of feeling out of shape, out of breath, I feel strong, my stride free and easy. The rest has done my body so much good.
Rest. It’s such a gift.
Every year it’s the same. I come home and want to replicate that feeling of being away, especially being somewhere with limited access to the internet and email, isolated, quiet. Trying to pin down what feels hard about coming home — it’s the restlessness. At the cottage, I don’t feel restless. I accomplish very little, but I feel content. Here at home, it’s the opposite. I accomplish more, and yet feel anxious and unproductive. I can see the world hurrying by, and time seems like a leaking bucket; maybe I’m more likely to fall into the trap of comparison.
One of my favourite cookbooks is called “More with Less.” It’s a Mennonite cookbook from the 1970s. I’ve always appreciated that ethos: more with less.
At the cottage, away, I’m content with less. Can I carry that concept home?
What’s precious, in a life? In an hour? In a season? What matters to me? I’m the only one who can answer that question for myself. Each of us would have a different answer; and maybe our answers change at different times in our lives, at different ages.
Right now, my wish is to tread lightly on this earth, and in other people’s lives. Do as little harm as possible. Share the joy. Be generous with what I have on hand.
PS Thankful for a beautiful review of Francie in The Miramachi Reader. The reviewer summarizes the plot brilliantly without giving anything away (not an easy feat).
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?
This week, I participated in two Zoom book events, as a moderator at the Wild Writers Festival for a panel on the short story, and at the Calgary Library as one of a number of writers published in a new anthology on concussion.
I’m out of practice for book events, but I’ve got this Zoom thing down.
On Monday, I put on a peach-coloured shirt with buttons that I pretended had been ironed (do we own an iron?), my lucky hummingbird earrings, and applied some mascara, discovering in the process of application that I can’t see without my glasses, which limited my already limited competence in the make-up department. Sticking with my comfy pants (leggings with holes), I dragged in a yoga mat and block to sit on, and set up in front of a big bookshelf backdrop in the living-room, as close as I could get to the wifi router. My set-up includes a ring-light which makes me feel like a pro, even if the glowing ring sometimes reflects off one’s glasses.
And then we talked books!
Though we’d never met, I decided to ask questions I’d want to chew over with book-writing friends, big ones with no real answers, and to just settle in and enjoy the conversation (while aiming to keep within the parameters of the given time-frame). I love short stories. I love writing them, reading them, wondering about them, deciphering them. How often do we get to talk about the subjects we care about most? Especially with people who feel the same way?
And in the end, it felt like we’d connected for real (despite the screens), to pool knowledge and think out loud. Our conversation continued after the panel proper had ended, and it felt like we were meeting in the green room over coffee cake, as happens at those in-person Wild-Writers-Festivals-past that I’ve loved and cherished so much. Turned out there was still a small, faithful audience on the zoom link, which we hadn’t realized, so those folks got a bonus round. But so did we!
Can I hope we will meet in person someday, coffee cake or no coffee cake, to continue the conversation? GAH. Sometimes I miss people. In person. A lot. And I’m an introvert who loves being at home in her comfy pants!
Yesterday evening, I put on the same peach-coloured shirt with buttons, washed and hung to dry in between events, which I pretended counted as ironing (still can’t find the iron), forgot the earrings, and applied more mascara, this time creating a spiky effect that looked pretty okay, even if it happened by accident. I was wearing a different pair of comfy pants (leggings with stripes). Same set-up. I try to vet the books that will be directly on the shelf behind me, which meant taking the Good Vibrations Guide to Sex and Our Bodies Ourselves down and using them to lift up my laptop to a flattering height (one imagines, not being able to see so well, even with the glasses).
And then we talked about our concussion experiences!
It’s a hard subject, I’ll be honest. Everyone in the anthology was a writer before their concussion. And we’re still writing, as evidenced by our participation in this book. But that doesn’t mean we’re writing exactly like we were writing before.
“Did the writing help you with the healing?”
I wasn’t asked this question, but reflected on it as I listened to others read their heart-wrenching, personal, insightful poems and stories.
Yes, writing and publishing this particular story (about the immediate aftermath of my first concussion) was healing. It was healing because I was very afraid of what had happened to me, I didn’t want it to affect my life, especially my writing life, my chosen career, and I was afraid of what it would mean to say these things out loud: that I wasn’t the same as before. So it was healing to my heart and my spirit to write about the experience and as importantly to share it publicly.
What helped you heal post-concussion?
I was asked this question, and my on-the-spot answer wasn’t great; here’s my do-over:
- staying off screens
- writing by hand
- learning to draw
- resting on “off” days, as much as possible
- learning to be kinder to myself
- coaching soccer, because it forced me to develop and practice new spatial skills (a good challenge for my brain)
- turning toward different goals and ambitions
- practicing meditation and yoga
- accepting that some stuff comes our way that we can’t change only learn how to adapt to
- enjoying the good days
Today I was tired (the event happened on Calgary time, so I was up past my bedtime).
Luckily, Thursdays are my reading days, when I give myself permission to sink into the green couch and read with abandon and zero guilt* (*why would a writer feel guilty about reading? I don’t know, ask my subconscious). Today’s book was A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet, which I recommend most highly. Apocalyptic and funny? How is this possible? It will also get you thinking about NOW. Because the failings of humanity depicted in this book feel close at hand (and my generation comes in for the harshest critique).
Thanks for tuning in. I hope you’re enjoying a good day, too.
Wait, October is over? That happened fast.
What felt good this month? I got stuff done! I focused on my writing. I sent the final revisions for my new novel to my editor, and she’s very happy with what was accomplished. I’ve been easier on myself, too, trying to subtly change my patterns of thought, so that my knee-jerk response when things go awry or feel uncomfortable is not to beat myself up, or talk down to myself, but to quietly acknowledge: you’re human, Carrie, and you make mistakes, and that’s okay. You’re still a worthy being, like every other human who makes mistakes, needs rest, has off days, and puts her foot in her mouth regularly. I also got my hair cut for the first time since the pandemic started (see photo above, taken on a sibs night). And I’ve booked a photo shoot for a new headshot. Update with glasses needed!
What did you struggle with? Being done. Finishing a big project. I know it sounds strange, but completing those revisions threw me for a loop. After working with such purpose and intention for these past few months (and with great joy, I must add!), I knew that the after-effects of finishing would challenge my action-oriented tendencies; but knowing it in advance didn’t prevent it from happening. Thankfully, I had friends and routines to steady me — and to help me celebrate a genuinely monumental accomplishment. I let myself rest (a bit!). And I let myself set some new goals (writing-related). I read a bunch of books, too. I didn’t revise my resume, or take online quizzes about careers suited to my personality type, or apply for any master’s programs, or scroll through job ads for “real” jobs. (Yes, this is what I would usually do when falling into a brief period of inactivity after accomplishing a big project.)
Where are you now compared to the beginning of the month? I’m looking for ways to ground more deeply into accepting, supporting and celebrating this writing career I’ve chosen to pursue, come hell or high water. This means building community. This means saying yes to some things, and no to others: thoughtfully, taking care. This means supporting and celebrating others. And, like last month, my outlook remains: let’s enjoy what we’ve got while we’ve got it.
How did you take care of yourself? I went on an actual gd writing retreat with my writing group!!! That experience is still taking care of me, as I sink back into grateful memories of our weekend in paradise. There is harmony in caring for the self and caring for others. For example, I’ve noticed that by giving myself substantial writing time throughout the work week, I’m able to be more fully present with friends and family. My fantasy for the future (and the present!) is to offer safe haven, retreat, peaceful attention, relaxation, hospitality and safe harbour to friends and family, by whatever means are available to me; while also writing books. That’s it. That sums up my brand-new Artist’s Statement!
What would you most like to remember? That there is ease within the effort, and that effort is easier when one’s circumstances are aligned to support the goals. This is not always possible. I have to live the life that’s coming at me, and that includes the parts that are challenging, deeply sad, irritating, wearying, not chosen. On those days and in those hours when the circumstances align with the goals, I need to give thanks and do the work. I would also like to remember that I won’t run out of ideas for books to write! Somehow that’s been a persistent underlying fear — that I’ll write myself out of stories if I write too much. Impossible! The context is ever-changing, as am I, and stories reflecting those changes just keep flowing in. It isn’t stories I’ll run out 0f, it’s time! Plus, I write better the more I write. It’s the only way to get really good (confident, comfortable, at ease) doing anything: practice, practice, practice.
What do you need to let go of? It would be lovely to worry less. My mind would like to think that its worries protect me, somehow; and they don’t. A worry worn smooth in the mind is not a protective talisman, it’s a rut. Maybe a persistent worry points to patterns that hold strong, and resist change. Maybe I can look at a persistent worry and ask: do I want to keep holding this? I’ll be very kind to my worrying self: you worry because you care, and that’s okay. And then I’ll ask my worrying self: what would happen if you set this worry aside, even for a breath? That’s where I’ll start. I’ll go from there.