Category: Job

Extra lives

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If all your dreams came true, what that look like, can you even imagine it? I recently had fun ruminating on this question with one of my children, hearing what their dreams would be. They wanted to do more things; I was thinking about doing fewer…. Because if all my dreams came true, I’d need several extra lives.

This is a perennial issue for me. Come to think of it, it’s how I approach a buffet — I spoon a little bit from every tray onto my plate till its overflowing and incoherent, as a meal. And that’s how my life feels, sometimes, too. Incoherent, as a life. I get it on a micro level — I’m going to taste all the things! Yay! — but on a macro level, it’s exhausting. So many things to taste.

Projects have coherence (and I love them for it!).

But life doesn’t, really. Life is a series of overlapping layers that can’t be peeled apart. I’m playing all these roles, different roles in different locations and spaces and relationships; but am I not always myself? To be sure, it’s a changing self. Hopefully a learning self. Why then, do I need to learn the same lessons over and over?

What values shape my dreams and goals, and my beliefs and choices?

Maybe I don’t even recognize these values as my own, much of the time. Maybe these are beliefs that run through my DNA or that I’ve accumulated through being a human in the world. Here’s a theory, or framework, I’m considering: that there are (at least) three pools of values from which I draw, and they don’t necessarily agree or support each other (or my decision-making).

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One pool is represented by my Grandma Doris, and her lifelong belief that a person’s purpose is to serve, no matter who they are, or what their skills and gifts may be. She served the church, and God; and I might have warped this value into a more secular iteration, but there’s a big part of me that believes whatever I do must be in service to something larger than myself — serving the well-being of others, preferably humbly, quietly, and invisibly, in order to strengthen the community.

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A second pool of values is represented by the somewhat amorphous but powerful North American cultural fever-dream of self-reliance, earning a living, and being rewarded monetarily for one’s labours. Though I’m less attached to this pool of values, it’s a bit inescapable — also inescapable (at least so far) is my fear of being unable to earn money, of not being qualified or capable of earning a living. It’s the fear of being unable to provide for my family and for myself. Come to think of it, this is more of a DNA-level value system too. Our beliefs about abundance and scarcity (represented through money) are passed down generationally. In any case, I harbour a fear-filled desire for security and independence. (Note: a life of service does not provide either security or independence, so this value is in direct conflict with the previous one; and also with the next.)

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Which brings me to the third pool of values: my devotion to and trust in art and the arts. My relationship to this one is super-complicated by my fidelity to those other values, above. I’m filled with shame at my own attempts at art-making. I know that sounds terrible, and maybe judgemental. It doesn’t apply, however, to anyone else’s art-making; just my own. I value and admire those who devote themselves to a life of artistic pursuit. I envy them too. (Maybe I envy anyone who gives themselves unabashed permission to devote themselves to their art.) Truth is, I’m probably also romanticizing this life in a way that is childish because it is child-like—because it’s a value rooted in my own childhood, when I devoured books and had the nascent notion that I would be a writer too. I believed, as a child, that being a writer would mean, well, writing and writing and writing—I imagined that devotion would lead to reward, and that reward would simply be to become very fluent in the art of making beautiful things. Beautiful books, I guess.

In some strange way, I think the imagery has remained in my mind’s eye, stubbornly unchanged. I admired (and continue to admire) the element of the mystical, in any artistic pursuit. How it couldn’t really be explained to anyone else. It would be a calling. The thought of questioning it as a calling didn’t even occur to me, as a young person. Yet I’ve spent the bulk of my adult life questioning it as a calling. That’s been the ratty old tired old thread that’s woven its grey little self through my life as a writer—a question of faith, maybe. A lack of faith?

Or, a question of where I should be placing my faith, and what values to trust, and on which to build the foundation for this incoherent slurry of experiences I call life? Do I place my trust in serving a higher purpose, like God, or a church, or community well-being? Or do I place my trust in the ethics of earning a living, being independent, and not being a burden to anyone else? Or do I place my trust in devotion to the utter mystery of trying to shape beauty from fragments of experience?

Can and do these values fit together? The joy in building community connections with the necessity of earning a living with the inexplicable need (compulsion?) to make things up, to live these other lives through invention, imagination—imagery.

How does it all fit together?

In practical terms? 

In the choices I’m making and the things I’m doing (and not doing)?

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My obligations and my joys are mingled: the activities that I long to balance, the people I want to nurture and not to neglect, the beauty I seek to perform and hold in my hands. If I try to untangle the threads, or even to count all the points of connection to others and to the world—which are my labour and my love—I am overwhelmed.

Yet, it does make sense, too. I just take one step and another. I text one friend and another. I cook one meal and another. I read one book and another. I write one sentence and another. I hang one item of laundry on the line and another.

I’m seeking coherence to this grand brief project called life.

I may not achieve it.

But I hope at the end of it, my mind will remember and relive on repeat not fear, despair, shame, but goodness and love and a great deal of laughter.

xo, Carrie

The creative life, blooming

I post a lot about the solitary writing life, but when surveying the overall trajectory of my hours and days, I see far more connection and overlap with the lives of others, doing and seeking out and creating and organizing activities that are meant to be shared collectively. I need alone time, surely. It’s also practical to avoid interruption when working deeply, whether it’s writing scenes in a novel, reading a book, or organizing a library space. But mostly, I’m actually with people. Not alone. (It helps to have 4 children, 4 siblings, a close set of families, to work in an elementary school where 250 kids troop through my library each week, a church community, an open-door/open-kitchen policy for our kids’ friends, and etc.)

2024-04-19_01-33-19A goal I often consider, when organizing group projects, is how to keep the experience / activities sustainable. It takes energy to make things happen. Pouring out creative energy to serve others’ creativity can be equal parts exhilarating and exhausting — I  love it, I absolutely love it, and I need more sleep when in the midst of it. So I savour it when it’s happening, and know how special the moment is.

2024-04-19_01-32-58I try to be thoughtful when committing to projects; I’m willing to test the waters and step back or rejig if it isn’t working (especially if it doesn’t feel sustainable). Projects with endurance are most often structurally cohesive, clear in their goals, and invitational to community-building. Sometimes, I can even think about my novel projects like this—or at least the structures I’ve built around my writing in order to make it sustainable and enduring. Looked at in this way, it’s not just about what I’m writing or about practicing the craft of writing—it’s about the relationships developed and strengthened and linked by writing; but made deeper by other experiences together too.

2024-04-19_01-33-58The X Page workshop is rolling, now in its fifth season: what a gift. I would describe the structure as highly collaborative, creative, spacious. During a recent workshop session, I felt transported to a more generous vision of relationships, and brought into intimacy with people who, though not strangers, were not known to me or to each other (many of them) just a few weeks ago. Magic. Human-made, transformative energized magic. Under the expert direction of our performance coach (who works with MT Space Theatre company), we watched and took part in the “sculpting” of a story. It came to life before our eyes. Or—it was already alive, but with each telling, each gesture played with, the story deepened before our eyes, layered with emotional weight, but also lightness. I felt transformed by the beautiful gift of the collective. Collective experience, collective effort, collective appreciation. And individual bravery, risk-taking. 

Arriving at this moment was not an easy or instant process. It has taken time, preparation, flexibility, expertise and creativity, trial and error, the generosity of many many leaders and participants and peers and mentors, over many years. Impossible to calculate the effort, and as impossible to measure the reward in terms useful for things like grant proposals. In those moments, watching this story form and deepen and bloom this week, I felt so gratified. I felt like this was the point of everything I’ve ever done. It was the very opposite of being alone. Or solitary.

It was special.

2024-04-19_01-33-26I also see that a moment like this is ephemeral. Art, experienced. Community, experienced. The creative life: blooming, brief, precious. I savoured it. I savour it.

xo, Carrie

What inspires you to create?

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Spending time with children is a fabulous fortune. It’s pure gold. 

A friend and I were talking recently about older people whom we love and care about, whose lives have been robbed of dignity by ailments and illnesses, and we wondered what could be done for those we love, when the options for care are so limited? Long-term care: the place where nobody wants to go, nor enters willingly. Could multi-generational living situations be a solution, my friend wondered? But that would require women (most likely) in their prime earning years to become full-time caregivers; our North American culture and norms and the economy itself is not geared toward this, even if it were something women in their prime earning years would wish to do.

What about a dorm-like set-up where university students or young adults lived alongside elderly people, sharing common space and meals? And animals or pets were part of the picture too? Maybe even a nursery school? Personally, I can imagine moving more willingly into a care situation like that. (Yes, even with the germs!)

In the dominant North American culture, we tend to hive ourselves off into age groups. Think of university students who have a tiny window when they can live in dorms communally, then it’s over. We think of independence as living solo or with immediate family. There aren’t many opportunities to experience life as part of a multi-generational whole, and that’s challenging, I think. It’s alienating.

My children are now young adults, and soon they will be quite grown. I don’t want to relive those years again—caring for young children—but I’ve missed the generative energy of children. I’ve missed their naturalness and ease in conversation. I’ve missed their seriousness, too, and the way children pay attention. So it’s been good medicine to be working in an elementary school library. Not only do I get to be in a big quiet (sometimes!) room full of books, but I also get to open those books and read them out loud. Story time is a highly participatory experience (and I need to work on my pacing, to speed this part up a bit, for the teachers’ sake!). But I’m just about nearly as curious as the kids are to explore the effect of words and imagery on the pages. As I read the same book over and over to different mini-audiences, I gain deepening insight into what draws their interest and attention. What matters to them.

The details they notice in the illustrations are fantastic—they’re putting together narrative on a visual level. And they listen carefully to the words, making connections to their own experiences, wondering out loud. Trying to understand.

Working with children, being in their presence again, is like looking into a mirror of how I want to be (on a spirit-level). I hope I’ll always get to be with children, one way or another; or at least I hope I’ll feel free to approach everyone, no matter their age, the way I approach children—with openness and trust, attention, curiosity. It’s in this mind-space (spirit-space) that I am inspired to make things, to write, to draw, to create. It seems to me that the only way to survive being alive, surrounded by inequality, imbalance, suffering and pain—and as a participant in these pain-filled structures and systems too—is to make, to create, to mediate experiences through imagery. To go searching for beauty. And sometimes, to find it.

xo, Carrie

PS That’s me and my brother in Waterloo Park, when we were very young.

May you live with ease

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I have been drawing and writing again: four weeks in my new position at a school library and creative energy has returned — it isn’t all being used on the job. In fact, working in the library seems to energize and soothe me in equal measure. The space is mine to play with, building on themes, displaying books, decorating with paper crafts (bulletin boards and such, see example above — not my forte, but I’ll learn!), reading stories to classes, and finding tasks for the many many library helpers (close to 30 grade 5/6 students) who the previous library clerk had brought in. The space has a wall of windows, and when I unlock the door and walk in every morning, I feel a sense of excitement and gratitude. 

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I love to put things in order. A library that is being used properly will forever give me things to put in order. And I LOVE reading to children and interacting with children.

Yet I also recognize and honour that the decision to change course took courage and did not feel straightforward or easy — it was painful to leave the students and staff and those fulfilling relationships at my previous school. I miss them. 

There are situations and experiences that may not be healthy for us, or suited to true needs, long-term, but may nevertheless be valuable and wonderful in the moment. To leave something is not to diminish its worth.

Last year (2022), I focused on what I was feeling, trying to understand better the underlying sensations and emotions that were fuelling my decision-making and moods and interactions (often without my awareness), and this year (2023) I’ve focused on identifying my needs—so that I am better able to meet those needs, and not expect others to meet them for me. It’s a bit counterintuitive, but when I know what I need, I become less needy. 

But I don’t always know what I need. Or I think I need a particular something, when really, what would satisfy and fill me is something else quite different.

I didn’t write much this fall; my creative spark vanished. I couldn’t find it, and didn’t even want to, particularly, or care much. All my creative energy went into problem solving at work—and I liked it, in many ways, because it made me feel useful and mildly heroic, which writing and drawing never really does, to be perfectly honest; but it was a sacrifice that ultimately was making me very sad, on some fundamental level. My rational mind didn’t notice or care, but my body did, my heart did, my guts did, my intuition noticed: and Sad Carrie was not really helping anyone.

What I was missing more than anything, what I needed, was my creative spark. I didn’t consciously know this till the spark reappeared. 

Every morning before going to my new library job, I have time (and energy and the desire) to draw and write—and so I do. And the pleasure it gives me is without measure. There’s no purpose to it other than joy. No use. No rational worth or monetary value.

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I’ve been reunited with this joyful part of myself.

To be joyful in the world is such a gift. Joy isn’t blind or ignorant, and joy doesn’t ignore suffering; it bubbles out of ordinary encounters, it is born of gratitude and grace, and interior space, which allows a person the bandwidth to be attuned outwardly, or open somehow, sensing and knowing the sacredness of every interaction and experience — that is what I mean by joy. 

Joy can’t be manufactured, but it can be quietly drained from the body and mind by overwhelm and exhaustion. You can’t meditate yourself into a place of joy when you are drowning. The collective message to people in overwhelm and exhaustion and burnout and grief, drowning under a weight of responsibilities and impossible tasks, is: save yourselves! Do some yoga, or be more mindful, or whatever “wellness” trend is being pushed at the moment. I love yoga, and I appreciate the value of mindfulness; but when drowning in overwhelm, there isn’t a person on planet earth who can meditate themselves back to joy. Maybe to temporary relief of symptoms; maybe to a hope for a different path, or a glimpse at possibilities; but when the light goes out, it’s dark.

What lights your creative spark? 

What are you feeling?

What are your feelings telling you about your needs?

What do you need?

Food, shelter, health, safety. What about ease? What brings you ease, and how does your ease express itself? How do you live when life is not such a struggle? How does your joy appear? How do you know when you are joyful? 

My ease bubbles out in laughter. My ease fills a page with colour and lines. My ease delights in reading a book to a group of children and listening to their comments and questions.

May you be be safe. May you be healthy. May you be happy. May you live with ease.

xo, Carrie

One human, seeking balance

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I’m about to start week four of my new job. It’s intense and lively and challenging for brain and body and spirit — and I love that. It is also consuming of energy and focus. And it’s what I wanted and needed, I feel that deeply. I thrive on friction and have sought it out in various ways, from kundalini yoga classes to filling my house with four children to taking on volunteer roles that threw me into situations with high learning curves and the reward of appreciation and adventure (think — soccer coaching, or co-founding and running the storytelling workshop).

Now I’ve found myself a job where I get paid to enter into a swirl of friction: activity, human interaction, conflict and attempts at resolution. Everything I’ve learned in my life leading up to this moment feeds my ability to thrive and respond with integrity and kindness (while setting firm boundaries) in a constantly changing, constantly interrupted environment of constant problem-solving. But it’s early days! I recognize that such jobs can also, over time, create calluses for protection and self-preservation, which outwardly can look like cynicism, burnout, detachment, depression.

So I’m testing out ways to build in channels for release, for rest, to make space for ongoing enjoyment. 

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NEED is my word of the year. Attuning to my needs has been such a helpful guide! What do I need to set myself up for success? Each one of us will need something a bit different — or a lot different. I’m relishing the opportunity to test out my needs and my ability to meet those needs, with the focus of the job as an anchoring point. 

I need: healthy food and hydration; cardio; yoga and meditation; time with Kevin; balanced connection with my kids (meeting them where they’re at); the give and take of strong friendships; sleep and rest; friction and challenge; to learn new things; creative outlets; appreciation for my work; compensation for my work; a sense of adventure and discovery; to feel purposeful and useful; joy and humour; spiritual connection.

My new job meets the following needs (just by showing up, these needs are met! Amazing!): friction and challenge; to learn new things; appreciation for my work; compensation for my work; a sense of adventure and discovery; to feel purposeful and useful; joy and humour. I sense that friendships may develop through this job as well.

So what’s left out? What needs are not being met at my job and can I find ways to meet these needs in other ways?

Well, I’ve been biking to work — there’s cardio, and I’m planning to get up extra-early to fit in a 30-min run a few times a week on days when I don’t feel like biking. Packing myself good lunches and keeping a water bottle at my desk; plus cooking as therapy when I get home for work — there’s healthy food and hydration. Kevin and I do yoga and meditation together almost every day, first thing in the morning, last thing before bed, and we walk the dog most evenings — there’s time with Kevin, and yoga and meditation, and spiritual connection (at least to some degree). I reach out to friends by text (it’s a great way to stay in touch, especially from afar, and with kids too), and arrange times to meet in person, like a Friday after-work drink, or an early morning walk. Our family eats most suppers together (those living at home, that is). So a lot of the bases are being covered. 

Rest and sleep — working on it! I’m aiming to leave most weekends and evenings relatively open and free. This means cutting back on almost all volunteer work. Cutting out activities that drain my energy, or that I simply don’t have time to complete.

I’m missing creative outlets. 

I have two writing weekends at the farm planned for this fall — so that’s something. But what about daily creative connection? Connection to my writing self? What’s happening in that part of my self? I haven’t felt the urge to write, to start something new, or even to finish the novel project that’s underway. I’ve got a completed manuscript waiting for an editor to read it and reject or accept; touching that part of my life hurts, sometimes. Or I anticipate that it will be painful. Too hard. Unnecessary pain.

But writing and drawing bring me joy — I know that!

So I’m going to test out writing/drawing for 15 mins during my lunch break (first I have to take a lunch break, but this will be motivation!). Rest and restoration — much-needed to avoid burn-out. I’d like to make myself a list of 20 or so prompts that I can cycle through, for days when I’m not feeling inspired to get started (which is most days, these days!). 

I’ll post some prompts here too (next time). Maybe you have a favourite prompt you return to? Let me know, please.

xo, Carrie

Lyrics in my head right now: “Life is a balance, you lose your grip, you can slip into an abyss…” J. Cole, “False Prophets”

A changing horizon

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I’ve started my new job. It is in fact a different position than I’d anticipated holding; but a (nearly) full-time secretary position opened up at one of my favourite schools, and I applied, got an interview, and was hired in a matter of days. Like, just last week. So this is all very fresh and I’m knee deep in learning approximately a thousand new systems and codes and protocols, all while helping to get the school ready for teachers and students to return next week. Today, in the supply room, I purged a multi-coloured mash of plasticine that was full of toothpicks, for example.

My job has nothing to do with my career as a writer, in that it’s not a spin-off that builds on any specific skills or connections that come from being a writer (like my teaching did, and my work with the storytelling project, or even as a school librarian would); this is a different path, different trajectory. There’s very little overlap in tasks and duties. It’s freeing.

Back in June, I set a few goals that pointed toward a changing horizon. Softer, maybe, and calmer and gentler and as beautiful as the view across the lake from the sunset deck at my stepsisters’ cottage. The sky at sunset is always different but familiar, different but known, different if you take time to sit and savour it each evening. Otherwise, you might believe you’d see the same sunset and sky over and over again, and you might be bored by what you think of as repetition. But it’s not repetition, it’s texture and nuance and depth. It’s a groove, not a rut, as my friend Lisa says. 

I’m coming to know (not just believe, but know) that enjoyment is in the moment, in living in each moment, your senses absorbing the beauty, resting in the moment, marinating in the feelings. Going with the flow. Getting into it. Like revelling in the colours and patterns and shifting light and sounds all around you, when you’re out for a walk around the block, or floating in a cold lake, or riding a bike.

Here’s what I wrote in my notebook, dated June 10:

If I want new goals, what might they be??

  • To bike to work — to find a job that allows me to bike
  • Permanent hours in a school I want to be in
  • Regular massages
  • Visits to the farm (writing retreats)
  • Yoga
  • Eating good food
  • Travel experiences with friends and family

I am still in awe that I can bike to work now! The route is almost entirely on paths and separated bike lanes. I’m there in under 20 minutes. Pure bliss. And permanent hours—yes. At a school I know and care about, with people I know and care about—yes!

The massages are yet to be regular, but will be made possible by benefits.

Every item on this list is within reach, it’s within the realm of possibility (whether occasionally like travel or everyday like yoga and good food). Every item was chosen because it brings me pleasure. And I can do the things that make these goals possible. I’m just now noticing that on this list, success is measured differently (differently than I often measure it, anyway). I wonder whether I could set goals for my writing that are closer to these goals, above, more in line with a changing horizon. I need to sleep on it, let these experiences settle into my bones, know them inside out.

Always learning!

xo, Carrie