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.
Quietly, quietly, the book slips into the world, into being, and there it is. Here it is. It’s hard to know what to do after that, as the writer. The author of that world. (It sounds so powerful — to author a world — but it’s actually mostly surrender to the forces that rise and compel a person to place words on the page; to go looking for shape and structure in a mess of accidental imagery.)
Just before the book came out, I did an interview with another writer. It’s always terrific to be interviewed by another writer, who is as curious about process as I am. Have a listen if you have time.
James Tennant · GET LIT E297 Carrie Snyder July 28
I’m also told that the audiobook is available everywhere you get those, if that’s your preferred mode of absorbing text. I voiced the audiobook version, and I loved reading for it, just like I loved being at the front of the room on Tuesday evening, in conversation with my dear friend Tasneem Jamal, talking about Francie and especially about the writing process. I think we managed to avoid any spoilers, and didn’t get lost in the weeds (or the labyrinth, as it were).
I’d like to share how I felt during the book launch: Alive. Comfortable. Myself, but as if my self were a source of light and lightness. Ease. Enjoyment. Delight. It was as if I were completely in tune with all the positive energy in the room. That good, deep, loving energy was almost visible to me, it felt so present. Time slowed. I could give and receive, relax, take all the time needed, I was aware of my feet on the ground, and my breath.
Most of all, I felt gratitude. Thankfulness. The warmth radiating from the open, generous faces of everyone who had taken time out of their day to come, in person, to share this moment with me. What a gift!
I’m beginning to understand that these experiences — like the X Page performance on Sunday, and the book launch — they don’t need to be anything else. They don’t need to build to something else, or become something else. They are whole, and wholly fulfilling in and of themselves. I love an experience. I love creating opportunities for flow. And it doesn’t have to be a heightened moment, either. I also love when an ordinary moment, seemingly every day and banal (like waiting in line for an appointment or stuck in the car in traffic), transforms in some way into an experience, a moment of flow.
It’s a way of being, of entering into relationship with the world, of allowing my joy to fly free, to freely express delight in being alive, without fear.
As I orient myself, today, I hope to find new and continuing ways to conjure and appreciate experiences, both ordinary and extraordinary, that make possible profound connection with others. I want to be open, always, to that swirl and whirl of delight in what is, that grounds us in what’s happening with joy, trust, light, and lightness.
That is my measure for success, for myself, now and always.
Book launch is less than a week away. Pub date too. It’s a time of intense vulnerability woven together with this great desire to celebrate, and let go of. The ego is dancing for attention, wants to run the show, and I reflect on how to …
accept what’s happening, no matter what may come
gently, kindly, lovingly release expectations (internal / external)
Truth is, I’ve been attempting to prepare for this day for quite some time. I knew it would be hard, because it pushes a lot of my buttons. Fear of rejection; feelings of unworthiness; imposter syndrome; fear of things spiralling out of my control. I’m guessing this is a common experience for many (most?!) who present their work publicly. Something about being in the spotlight, even the idea of it, kind of messes with the head. I wanted to shift that experience, if possible, so I’ve been working toward the goals (above) through therapy, reflection, and by seeking role models and support.
Confession: at times, I didn’t love who I was when I was promoting Girl Runner. I felt as if all my weaknesses, my negative tendencies and patterns, some bottomless un-fillable attention-seeking void in my soul were being exposed; and that was probably true! In retrospect, I appreciate this as a necessary, if painful, growing experience. UGH. Why are there no shortcuts to growing and learning? (Parenting is a constant reminder that no matter how dearly we wish to spare those we love most from the pain of “learning the hard way” … that’s not how it goes.)
So what did I learn the hard way? I saw some things: those weaknesses, those tendencies and patterns, some ways I’m most likely to cause suffering in myself and in others. Seeing, knowing, is a door or a window. It’s an opening, an invitation to shift habits and behaviours, to live inside my body more fully. How can I change what I can’t see, or don’t want to acknowledge?
An opening, no matter how painful, is an opportunity to shift experiences in ways that may be small, yet profoundly affecting.
Last October, I wrote: What would happen if I gave up trying to control outcomes, trying to control how people feel about me, trying to reassure myself that I could figure out the perfect approach that would persuade everyone of my greatness?
I cringe to read that word “greatness.” ACK! It’s so embarrassing! But what I wrote was true and honest. The grinding self that has accomplished much is also a fearful, grasping self that doesn’t want to be good, but great; that sets standards that are impossible to meet; that engages in external comparisons, and feels envy, jealousy. If I pay attention to the ugliness — the shadow side of my self — what can I learn?
Here’s what I wrote next, last October: Now that I’ve recognized my need to control others, control outcomes, and seek external praise and acknowledgement, in the form of respect and admiration from others (and to be known as a helper! Altruistic! Giving! A good person! That’s been especially key to my sense of identity), can I change how I see myself, and operate from a different place of inspiration? Can I find meaning in something other external praise? Can I fill that hole that needs reassurance — you are good, you are worthy?
Can I become someone who knows more and more deeply that I am worthy, because everyone is?
I think knowing this would allow me to see others with greater compassion and clarity, to be less reactive, less judgemental, and less controlling.
Yes, Carrie of last October. YES! What a terrific goal. And what a bloody hard test it is and has been to love the self that is ugly and fearful and defensive. How incredibly hard to be kind to myself when I am disappointed in my responses to situations, when I’ve done wrong, especially painful and difficult when I’ve hurt someone else. It’s a stretch to say that in these moments I’m quick to give myself grace, kindness, compassion. But if I notice what’s happening, I try — that’s how I try to respond. It’s a practice that I’ll be practicing for the rest of my life.
Here’s how I’m practicing it right now.
The book launch is Tuesday. In the past few weeks, I’ve felt all of the following and more: vulnerable, exposed, silly, craven, mixed-up, excitable, restless, bubbling over, unable to write anything new or to focus beyond cleaning the house and cooking meals. In response, I say: Hey, you, human being, it’s okay to feel all of these things! And I also say: Look at all the ways you’re caring for yourself.
Maybe even further: Look at your delight in being human! In being vulnerable and ridiculous and comical and expressive, and giddy, and hopeful and needy! You are capable of seeing and appreciating all this imperfection as a potential gift! Look at you asking for help when you need it. Look at this kindness you’re offering yourself — imagine it spilling outward into every interaction you have, now and into the future.
Imagine that this kindness, this grace, this delight is what you are capable of offering to everyone around you.
Now that would be the gift. There’s the true goal I’m seeking, the goal of my chosen vocation.
Here’s what I’m learning. When I started on this path, wanting to be a writer, I thought the goal was to be the best writer I could possibly be — grind away, publish books. But maybe that’s itself a practice, a way of walking a path toward a different dream, one that I could not imagine or conceive of when I first knew that I wanted to be a writer. Something I’ve begun to glimpse is how much lightness there is on this path. Lightness and laughter, and love, which is mixed up with grief sometimes too. Look at us, being alive here together.
Where is this path leading? I don’t know. But it’s been a mind-bending, heart-opening adventure so far. Why not trust where it’s going? Reading that word “trust” invites breath deep into my lungs. AHHHHH.
Ahhh, amazing — I find myself, right now, looking forward to this launch party no matter what happens. I’ve given myself a real break all this week, to do the things that feed my spirit and body, that feel good. No expectations. How is that possible? It feels miraculous, and I’ll swim in it gratefully, for however long it lasts.
- barefoot in grass
- climbing a tree
- riding a horse
- playing piano (and singing)
- running (when nothing hurts)
- writing retreat (organized by me)
- fancy meal out with drinks and appetizers and coffee and dessert
- road trip
- live music, concerts
- getting dressed up
- a massage
- exploring on my bicycle
- standing around a campfire
- camping with friends
- sibs nights
- floating in a lake (preferably warm)
- seeing the ocean again
- Omega getaway (preferably Lynda Barry)
- acting, performing, being onstage
- throwing a party
- writing things I find funny and energizing
- one-on-one conversations with friends
- sabbatical in beach town, anywhere
- cooking what I want to eat
- being impulsive
- yoga outside (or anywhere, daily)
- going to the movies
- drawing (cartoons or otherwise)
- trying new things
- date night with Kevin
- a good night’s sleep (sleep sabbatical)
- surprising friends with small gifts
- planning events
- making TikTok videos for my own amusement
- driving late at night, listening to the radio
- playing games with family
- walking to city cafe for a treat
- memorizing a poem
- talking with my kids
- backyard drinks with friends
- dreaming, brainstorming, envisioning, imagining
- going with the flow
- reading for fun
- achievable adventures (like going to Nina’s farm / train to Toronto)
- shooting the shit
- inviting people in, keeping a welcoming house
- being entertained by podcasts, shows, music
I did it! I finished making my list of 50 fun things! (Although it’s the kind of list that should be infinitely added to, right?) Most of the things on my list are within reach, or pleasant just to dream about. It’s also a list of things I want to do more of, or as often as possible, like a map, or a way to stay oriented to what matters, which is really personal and would be different for everyone. (51. making lists of fun things). With thanks to my friend Marnie for the inspiration.
What’s on your list?
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. I see myself more consistently as observer than participant.
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.