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.
Today is the pub date for Francie’s Got a Gun. I’m so happy that I decided to hold the launch party on the same day. It feels festive and celebratory and just exactly what should be happening.
I decided to let myself sleep in a bit. Walk the dog around the block. Do some yoga. Breakfast. My youngest is volunteering at swim lessons, and we bike to the pool around noon. Stop for a butter tart on the way home.
There’s not much left for me to do.
Pick up our Tuesday CSA veggies on my bike. Maybe a small nap. Be sure to eat. Figure out what to wear, how dressed-up to be. What shoes to put on my feet. Earrings?
And then … just … show up!
And like Sunday’s X Page performance of “Voices,” I’m going to let it all roll, all the emotions, everything that’s happening, just jump into the flow and experience it. No worrying, no hurrying, no fear, no wishing to be in a different river. Just this one, where I am, letting it all happen as it happens.
My word for today is ENJOY.
PS I had a funny thought about what I wrote in my last post, remembering how I didn’t love who I was at times, when doing publicity for Girl Runner — that what needed to change was just one thing: to love who I was, and be kind; everything else falls into place when that happens.
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!
Friday morning. Waiting to cross at the border beside what appears to be the best dog ever. Maybe this will be Kevin and Rose 10 years from now?
Saturday morning. Posing with the birthday girl on her 100th.
Saturday evening. At the birthday banquet. It happens that our eldest shares a birthday with his great-grandma, and this was a big one — 21. He was a good sport about everything.
Sunday afternoon. Packed up to go drive home. What looks like a picnic stop. But is not.
Nope. It’s a Walmart parking lot. Tire damaged on Michigan highway needs replacing before we drive home. Walmart the only repair shop open. When I took this photo we were still optimistic about travelling home as a group.
This is a wetland, apparently, fenced off and beside the Walmart parking lot. I closed my eyes for a moment, seeking peace, and heard a lot of birdsong. Still feeling optimistic.
Optimism diminishing. Can’t drive home on donut tire. Can’t replace tire today. Will we all stay or will some get to drive home with Grandpa? Quick decisions made. One kid left behind with parents.
Somehow I neglected to take any photos of the lovely campus and guesthouse where we spent the weekend, including an extra night — with the one child who was left behind with his parents.
Sunday evening. I was feeling pretty grim after the kids drove off for Canada. I was worrying about … well, everything. But good company, and a walk to Ricky’s Taqueria for supper was soul-reviving.
A lot happened this weekend, more than is suitable for a blog post. I think I could write a novella.
During a brief visit to the land of self-pity, I thought, this is a nightmare! And then I heard what I’d just told myself, and I gave my head a shake — c’mon, Carrie, this is hardly a nightmare, it’s a minor inconvenience! You’re not feeling great right now because you’re anxious and you don’t know what will happen next, but you’ve got somewhere safe to stay, good food, the resources to fix your damaged car, and if all goes well, you’ll be reunited with your family within a day.
My brain tends toward disaster thinking. What is it good for, disaster thinking? I’d love to learn how to prevent it altogether, but my sense is that instead I’ll have to keep noticing my personal tendency to imagine the worst (in vivid detail) and find ways to turn away from indulging that tendency, over and over. (It helps to have a partner who counters my fears with, “Okay, but what if everything works out?”)
Monday evening. Everything worked out. Called a bunch of repair shops, early, found a friendly voice with the tires in stock. Tire fixed. Car survived return trip on Michigan highways. Miraculously home in time to host a birthday dinner for our 21-year-old. While we were still en route, the cake was baked by one of the children who’d gotten to go home early.
You know what else I’ve got? Great role models. Happy birthday to this exceptional woman, who is always looking up, and looking forward to what comes next.
I’ve been doing art therapy for about a year now. At my most recent appointment, the therapist recognized the work I’ve been doing and said that she had seen changes over this past year. She observed that when we started I was struggling to find space for myself, to make space, give myself space, feel deserving or worthy of space. And she thinks that’s changed. I agree. That feeling of worthiness might be the root of other changes I’ve observed, which feel profound; even while I know myself to be the very same person, plagued by the same anxieties and tics and inclinations. I can change and still be familiar to myself; I find this comforting and funny. It’s revelatory and delightful to discover (again and again?) that the self is so sturdy. Being mindful is just a way to observe more closely what I’m feeling and thinking in any given moment, and then I can decide what to do with that information. Mindfulness springs from worthiness: I trust that what I’m thinking and feeling is worthy of my attention. No judgement, no self-castigation, just observation.
It is as simple as that.
Here’s an example. I’m feeling impatient sitting in traffic. I’m going to be late, I think! I can feel my heart rate rising. I’m hitting every red light! I drop an f-bomb. At some point during this mini-escalation, I notice what I’m thinking and feeling. I say (maybe even out loud!), kindly, to myself, hey you seem pretty stressed out. That simple kindness is helpful. Yes, I am stressed out! Now I can assess whether my feelings and thoughts are attached to reality — to what’s actually happening. Am I actually running late? Even if I am running late, is this actually a crisis? (Usually the answer is no, everything is okay.) But there’s an even deeper and more profound question available here, too: Even if this really is a crisis, is this how I want to respond?
Of course not.
Do I have a choice in how I respond?
I believe that I do. I believe that I can laugh (lovingly) at my frailties and weaknesses, I can appreciate the vulnerable anxious impulsive human I am — the impatience, the rising heart rate, the swearing — and I can speak kindly to myself, and notice that everything is okay, right now. It’s always the right now in which I’m living. It’s amazing how this frees me to settle in and appreciate what’s happening, right now. I’m at a red light, but I can sing along to the radio, I can look out the window and see what’s there to be seen. There’s always something there to be seen, heard, felt, wondered about. The world is an amazing mystery that’s always present, available to be experienced, observed, cherished.
Thankfulness just wells up naturally when this shift in perspective happens — and I can be thankful and surprised and renewed by the world’s wonders, over and over again. It never gets old.
A few more changes I’ve observed:
I’ve stopped enforcing rules I don’t believe in.
If I don’t want to do something, I say so. Often someone else can do it instead. If not, I figure out how to make the task more enjoyable. By taking on less of the things I don’t want to do, I’m able to give more freely. A paradox. The way that being kinder to myself makes me inclined to be kinder to others.
I pay attention to a feeling I call “the shame sandwich.” Sometimes I wake up feeling like I’ve eaten a shame sandwich. What I know about shame: it’s attached to deeply rooted fears, specific to my life experiences. If I can identify the trigger, this helps me be kind to myself and the feeling tends to resolve. Shame makes it harder to be kind to myself, so it’s important to notice when I’ve eaten the sandwich.
I am kinder to myself. I know that I can’t do everything, and also that I’m not responsible to solve most things. I can help you find your lost book, and pick you up from piano lessons, but I can’t tell you how to be the person you want to be. I shouldn’t be trying to tell you that anyway. I’ll just love you, and care about you, for being who you are. I’ll pay attention to what interests you. I’ll ask questions and listen. I’ll find ways to connect that meet you where you’re at, wherever that may be. I won’t ask you to change, because I think you are sacred and amazing, exactly as you are.
I’ll hold you lightly. As lightly as I hold myself.
One last change I’ve observed: I let myself feel happiness. I know that I’ve been afraid in my life to feel happiness, to fully experience it, that I tamped the sensation down, afraid of being up too high and floating away, or afraid of what would happen when the feeling went away. I’m not letting those fears stop me from feeling happiness anymore. I think that by feeling happiness, I will feel it more often, in more situations: this glorious sensation of wellness and wholeness, and lightness. I’m willing to test this theory out.