Last day of June. I’m on day 91 of my 100-day creativity project. Mostly I’ve drawn cartoon versions of myself, capturing transitory moods-of-the-moment, and I’ve written lists, based on a prompt called “Things that are true about me.”
I like these lists. They’re a simple way to gauge what I’m feeling, and often they’re ruthlessly honest. Also: sometimes things that are true in the moment don’t hold, and that’s useful to record and recognize too.
Here are some true items from recent lists.
1 I used to run long distances and call it fun — and it was fun for me. Now I seem to want to suffer less, I accept the easier paths to altered reality.
2 Change the state of my mind — it’s what I long to do, to be transported from pain into ease — and the gentlest, least harmful way to do so is not always obvious or easy.
3 I am more confused than ever.
4 I see myself in the world as this intransigent lump behind glasses, but glowing and appealing and maybe even dangerous; I see that everyone is lonely.
5 Started the day with a run and felt like a different person. Felt strong. Magnificent posture. Powerful. Beautiful. Alive.
6 The songs on my playlist were all my favourites. I listened to music even after my run, walking Rose, then walking uptown to get my errands done early. Having a soundtrack changes things up.
7 Doing yoga every day for more than two years has changed me — I have better posture, stronger core, I can drop into key moments smoothly; but I wonder whether it’s given me anything else? I don’t need it to — to be clear, excellent posture is a genuine gift — but I think I thought it would change me more fundamentally.
Here are my reflection questions for the month, answered in brief.
What felt good this month? Running pain-free and smooth and fast. How is this even possible, when I ran less than usual this month? Reading terrifically fun and engaging books. Going to parties in my skintight, not flowy, possibly age-inappropriate brightly patterned dress paired with Birkenstocks and blue toenail polish.
What did you struggle with? My inner life. My purpose. My usefulness and worth; or maybe I mainly struggled with my compulsion to tie usefulness to worth.
Where are you now compared to at the beginning of the month? Four people in this house have had covid this month (two have it right now). So that’s been a rather endless, slow-moving parade of care-giving and mild worry. I feel somewhat aimless. But also more celebratory.
How did you take care of yourself? Friendship. Journaling. Daily yoga. Being outside. Letting my hair down. Doing things I enjoy, like cooking and riding my bike. Letting myself feel what I was feeling, even when it wasn’t great. Letting myself off the hook. Being part of the X Page workshop.
What would you most like to remember? I loved seeing my youngest dressed up for his grade 8 grad, and I loved debriefing with him the next day, when we drove to pick up pizza together. I loved walking uptown with Kevin and listening to an outdoor concert on a warm Friday night; spontaneous and relaxed, and pretty much perfect. My mood went from blah to wow what a beautiful world.
What do you need to let go of? I’m holding on to some stuff really tightly right now, I can feel it. That makes it hard to imagine letting go. I need to let go of a childhood version of my dreamed-of life. I need to let go of imagining there’s a perfect version of me out there, a perfect version of what I can and should accomplish. But also: I need to let myself hold on if that’s where I’m at. I’ll let go when I can, it can’t be forced, or willed, just observed, noticed. (Yoga has taught me that.)
Let me leave you with this very on-the-nose cartoon. I laughed.
This tangential post is brought to you by an x page exercise, written during last week’s workshop (week 2 of 12), in the company of other women, in response to the prompt word: PARTY. It must have tapped some essential emotion, because I came home and kept writing till it felt done. I’d like to call this fiction, but maybe more accurately it’s a version of poetry, instead. (Where were you at age 20, and what were you doing, and hoping, and dreaming of?)
Phil’s $1.50 drinks
I am at Phil’s, an underground bar where the pipes overhead are wrapped in asbestos and the drinks are $1.50 on Wednesdays, but they must really water them down because I need to drink at least four to feel anywhere near tipsy. I’ve invited everyone I can think of, I’ve telephoned, left messages all over town. Friends are here, some have come, but no one is happy. The bar is too empty, the friends have no money either. Wet salt patches melt from our boots on the floor.
I had forgotten, or wanted to forget, why I used to love this place—because I’d come here during the day when I was a first year student, with a friend, Rich. (Now I’m in third year.) I had a car and he did not, even though I was no more than 17 or 18, and he was 21 or so. I would pick him up in my red Honda Civic, and I’d do my laundry (maybe he would too, but I don’t remember that now), and we’d sit by the pool tables and play cards in the middle of the day, drinking coffee. Gin rummy was our favourite game. It felt like we were the only people there and maybe we were. The good feeling I had on those afternoons seems irreplaceable, now. A feeling of possibility, excitement, tenderness, desire, amiable companionship. Rich was funny and he made me laugh, he never made me feel like I was wrong to be a goofy silly earnest person.
I’d forgotten all of this till exactly now, and now the friends I’m with don’t satisfy me—we’re too much the same in our longings and dissatisfaction—I want different, other, more, but Rich doesn’t live here anymore, and anyway, he never loved me like I loved him, if obsession counts as love, which I seem to think it does. What do I know about it? About love? I’ve mixed it all up with other things. Obsession feels like I think love should—dangerous, exciting.
I’m 20 now and feel so old when I look in the mirror. I finish my diluted drink and go to the gross damp women’s washroom, where one time I saw the lead singer of the Cowboy Junkies washing her hands, and I stand in front of the mirror and check my own eyes—not drunk enough, not interesting enough (as if these were the same thing). I see fine wrinkles around my eyes—could it be? “I’m getting so old!” I go back out and shout to my friends over the music. But they are too. We are so old! And we maybe hardly know each other really at all, we’re just proximate to each other, accidentally revolving around each other. We are so lost. Lonely. Alone.
In this mood, I take my misery to the little raised dance floor, even though no one is dancing, and I dance holding onto a fresh drink, gin and tonic in a flimsy plastic cup with a slice of lime floating in the bubbly mixture. I’ll promise anyone anything to get them to join me at this party that is not a real party. I’ll promise, but I won’t follow through. I can’t drink enough to get myself drunk, so I throw it down on the dance floor, metaphorically, to make myself feel something, anything, in my lungs. I’m smoking, at that time. You can smoke, at that time, indoors. Soon, this will end too, like everything else. I can see all of us dispersing, shot wide into the rest of our lives, fanning out in different directions, toward the parts of our other selves that are drawing us like magnets, while we, we, we, a mere two decades into inhabiting our bodies, prepare to part from whatever this era is, a time of loss, and exploration, poverty, and unrecognized riches.
My coat is ugly and it slips to the floor and gets stepped on, spilled on, but I’ll have to wear it home at the end of the night. I’ve spent my money on drinks, tomorrow I will eat a packet of Mr Noodles and lie on my mattress on the floor of the basement apartment I share with my brother (it will flood come spring), and I’ll read all of Pride and Prejudice, cover to cover, just for fun, laughing and crying and yearning and dreaming. I haven’t met the man who will become my husband yet. I don’t have an email account. I can’t imagine a cellphone and we have no tv. I have my books, a telephone with an answering machine, and enough money in savings to get myself partway to drunk on Wednesdays at Phil’s (I’ll buy cigarettes but can’t afford cheese; I have these priorities).
But every night, even on this night, after brushing my teeth and before going to bed, I sit at my desk and write poetry. I write about the things that happen to me, and the things that I wish would happen to me, and the language, words, images entrance me, as if they were magical forms, and I were a witch casting spells on myself, I were a person from another time come to bring myself back to earth, inside my body, filling all of it with the silly goofy earnestness that is actually my version of joy (though I don’t know it yet), whispering you are enough, you are sufficient, you are alive, you are not alone.
You are a whole person, or you will be; no—you are, you already are.
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)
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?
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.
I’ve been running. The running is an on-again, off-again pursuit, a reflection, mainly, of the state of my aging, injury-prone body; but as the weather begins to turn and November looms, the challenge to continue running may come, too, from a waning willingness to lace up and head out in the cold, windy darkness.
Part of me loves the darkness (see above, photo taken around 7AM!). I run on trails that are reasonably well-populated and reasonably well-lit, but the early morning, right now, could be the middle of the night. I’m comforted by the darkness — part of me is comforted, that is. The other part is alert to danger, alert to any anomalies in my surroundings, any hints that something is off, alert in the way that women have been trained to be alert to danger our entire conscious lives. I run in a bright jacket. Sometimes I run with a friend or one of my kids. I run with no headphones, so as to have no distractions from my environment. And the darkness that could be the middle of the night folds over me, protective, expansive, infinite, closed, lovely.
The reason I can run is thanks to a rather effortful ongoing regime of stretching and strengthening. My goal is to run without pain. For now, I’m achieving that goal. I recognize it’s tenuous and not entirely under my control. So I’m thankful for each step that I take, pain-free.
At the bottom of this post, you’ll find the regimen that supports my running (no doubt, of limited interest to many readers, but something I wanted to record, in case I forget what it takes).
The X Page Writing Club met last week, and the personal memory that surfaced from our prompt “leaf or leaves” was about running. In fact, it seems to be a meditation about everything running represents for me, and why I keep doing it, even though it requires so much effort.
I am out in the country, on long empty hilly roads, mostly paved, running further than I ever have before. I’m training for a marathon. I’ve marked out a course that is about 38 to 40 kilometres, and my husband is with me, on a bicycle he found in his parents’ garage, which, it turns out, doesn’t work very well. It has no seat, so he has to ride it standing up, but the pace is slow — my running pace. His mother is looking after our kids, who are quite young, at the farmhouse where she lives alone, now. We’ve come for Thanksgiving — but I had to do this run. I had to figure it out, plan it out, make it happen. I am driven, focused, determined to train to my limits in preparation for the race, in a few weeks’ time. The landscape is beautiful and stark, the leaves changing on the trees, rocks cutting through the surface of the earth, a long winding river that we cross, on a long, newly built bridge. Going up. Up, up, up. My steps are measured, calm. I can do this. I’m wearing my ball cap, black clothing, it is a warmish fall day, and I am in my body like a plant is solid — no, like a bird is free, like the leaves are rustling. I am in my body like I will never leave it, like I am blood and heart and muscles and guts. I am in my body and I have a long way yet to run, but I feel certain that I will get there.
Carrie’s 2021 running routine
Wake up, drink two glasses of water, brush teeth, put on weather-appropriate gear, and do a vigorous dynamic warm-up in the living-room (5 minutes or more) that includes side-to-side movement, squats, lunges, and the dreaded burpee; I do 10, they almost kill me every time.
Then I run. I’m working on extending my distance, while being cautious about pushing it, because as my core muscles tire, my stride and posture are affected, and I’m more likely to injure myself. I’ve nearly worked back up to 10km, but most of my runs are in the 7km range. I’ve focused on keeping a steady pace over speed. I aim for three runs a week, four on a good week. I mostly take the weekends off, and go for walks instead.
After my run, I stretch immediately, in front of my house. This is a bit embarrassing and public, but I find that if I go inside, I get distracted and forget. Hi neighbours! These are more static and include an abductor stretch, standing pigeon, and side body, quad, psoas, and hamstring stretches.
I finish off this morning routine with yoga. Yoga with Adriene is my go-to. My favourite post-run Adriene video is called Yoga for Equestrians, because the stretches and core-work are perfect for runners, but it’s a bit long at 33 minutes; usually I choose something around 20 minutes.
And that sums up my morning run regimen … but there’s more! I also try to stretch in the evening after a run, doing a series of pelvic floor exercises, core-strength-work, and (the best part) positions that promote muscle relaxation, especially in the hips and hamstrings. Ahh … this takes 15 minutes, but can last longer, especially if I’m super-tired and doze off during the relaxation part …
When I first started running seriously, more than a decade ago, I didn’t do any of this. I just laced up my shoes and ran; there wasn’t time for anything extra. But the kids are older now and my schedule is less tied to theirs. Good timing, as my body has become less accommodating; if I want to run, I have to support my running with all this extra stuff. It may not be practical under many circumstances, but right now it’s how I enjoy spending my free time.
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