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.
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.
What felt good this month?
Taking the train to Toronto for vocal cord physio, and seeing my sister: this was the best day all month, because it felt like an awakening. The day landed out of the blue, following a couple of weeks of recovering from covid, wearing a mask all day long to avoid getting family members sick, and missing out on fun activities. I was in a bit of a self-pity slump. Pushing myself out of my comfort zone felt amazing, important, necessary, medicinal. We had an open house for the X Page workshop; family came for Easter; I went on a weekend writing retreat; I’ve been driving to Stratford to record my audiobook. The 100 day creativity project has been an anchor too. I’ve been writing a lot, and playing the piano too. I love when the house is full of people, especially the kids’ friends. I’ve missed that so much.
What did you struggle with?
The first couple of weeks of April were lost to covid. I got it, Kevin got it, the kids seemed to escape. We ate so much take-out. I was tired for several weeks, and hoarse. Right now, at the end of the month, I’m struggling to meet all of my commitments. I’m most productive when focused on just one thing. I don’t want to let anyone down. I would love to be running more often. I ran two mornings this week and felt amazing — endorphins. But I was too tired the other mornings; so that’s a struggle. Trying to calibrate my biological limitations with my duties and responsibilities. The weather has also been very cold!! ARGH!
Where are you now compared to the beginning of the month?
My life has opened up, almost miraculously. I’m feeling relaxed and accepting. I’ve got things to do and places to go; I feel purposeful. I’m letting myself say what I need, more often, more easily. I’m patient with the things I can’t control (most of the things, honestly). I’ve had a few experiences this month that made me think maybe my calling is to be an emotional support person. Just be there, when someone else is going through something, not trying to change things or giving advice, just be there. I keep seeing how strange the world is, how out of my grasp.
How did you take care of yourself?
Sticking with the 100 day creativity project, even when I wasn’t feeling remotely creative (today was day 30). Organizing a writing retreat. Being with friends. Asking others to help out. Looking for clothes that fit. Letting myself be where I’m at. Getting my glasses fixed. Mediative puzzling (I’m doing them slowly these days, taking my time). Opening the house to friends and family. Recording the audiobook has been a gift to myself too: not easy, but a jolt of something new, different, creative, that taps into my acting self from long ago.
What would you most like to remember?
See above. How I took care of myself this month is also what I would like to remember. Stopping at the plant shop up the street with my sister-in-law was fun, delightful, even. Parking practice with my sixteen-year-old. An unexpected reunion with high school friends. Doing voice exercises while listening to my favourite playlist, driving through countryside.
What do you need to let go of?
This practice of letting go of a need for control is revolutionary. I’ll just keep doing that. Because every time I remind myself of what I can’t control by worrying or holding on or dictating or insisting upon or fretting over or demanding or clutching or clinging to, I’m able to stop doing those things. I can stop and just be. More than that — I can be thankful. Being thankful also comes from knowing my own boundaries are firm, and my needs are being clearly articulated (to myself, to those around me who are affected when I’m filled with resentment or fear). It helps to say: I’m okay, right now. That’s quite grounding. It also helps to place my feet solidly on the ground and breathe deeply.
For some reason, it’s snowing and stormy today in Southern Ontario, which sums up my experience of a typical March day in this part of the world. It’s a mess, the weather veers wildly from hope to disappointment, and yet somehow I’m always surprised by this!
I would like you to know that life here in my house, in my family, in my little writing studio, in my imagination, as a parent, as a daughter, a friend, a partner, a neighbour, a writer is much the same: messy, with its ups and downs, both predictable and somehow wildly not. I’m repeatedly surprised by this!
Here is something I find to be true yet surprising right now: When I write a book, it takes a very long time. Years at best. I usually have to write a half-dozen versions of the same project before landing on a container for the material that feels like it halfway meets up with the book that lives in my mind. Sometimes I am very patient about this process, and patient with myself for my limitations. Sometimes I am not.
Also true yet surprising: When I’m not patient with myself, I tend to question not just my choice of this as a career, but everything else about my life, both in my control and out of it. It’s panic-thinking, spiralling, and I am convinced, at least for an hour or a day, that I will never get my shit together. What tends to calm me is realizing that my shit is not something I can actually get together. It’s a messy cycle.
This week, what pulled me out of the spin was a) walking and talking with a friend while in the middle of the spin, acknowledging what I was feeling; b) laughter; c) accepting that this was the weather, today; d) not trying to fix it; e) realizing that I am not afraid of hard work; f) accepting that I probably can’t know what’s worth my while or whether I’m wasting my life no matter what I’m doing; g) realizing that I’m not going to give up on a book just because it requires more effort and work; h) sitting down at my keyboard and following the energy.
That day, I wrote steadily for hours, with excitement and delight and wonder. I wrote despite knowing it might take me years to write another book that I am satisfied with. In fact, I wrote because I knew it.
Here is another thing that I find to be true yet surprising right now: I’ve forgotten how to organize things — and also, it doesn’t seem to matter, people still have fun, including me. This past week, I organized a bowling party for a kid and I did so in the most lackadaisical manner, quite unlike my pre-pandemic self. In fact, I was so lackadaisical, I didn’t even recognize how many details I was leaving to chance — details that in the past I would have tried to control through advance preparation. Calm and unstressed in the hours leading up the party, I actually did all that writing I described, above, without a thought of what was coming next.
Details that I had not thought through: whether or not to wear masks at the bowling alley; what we were going to eat and when; whether we had pop and snacks in the house in sufficient quantity; how we were going to fit everyone into our two vehicles; what time the party might end; and on and on. The revelation was that none of this ultimately mattered in the least. The fun did not rest on my advance planning. Choices could be made in the moment. Alternatives existed. Not everything was perfect. And it didn’t matter, it just didn’t matter. The party was fun, it sprawled into its own rhythm.
Here is one last thing that I find to be surprisingly / unsurprisingly true right now, in the midst of this storm in the middle of my life: I am an imperfect parent, a writer who sometimes completely forgets how to write, and a woman whose responsibilities are changing rapidly as her children grow up. I am not always adapting as effortlessly and beautifully as I might wish. I’m not going to fix my shit. I’m not going to get it all together. I’m just not. I’m not even going to say: but I’ll keep trying to fix it. I’m just not going to.
What I’ll do instead, I hope, is stay open to experimenting, trying new things, letting myself become different and be changed by my connections, my experiences. I’m not going to let my messiness stop me from loving this wild and precious life. Actually, I think that I’ll love it all the more for being an unpredictable, stormy, beautiful mess.
Summer holiday was sweet. I spent more than two weeks at a boat-access-only cottage, where I saw only a few (very dear) people, slept soundly, did yoga twice a day, swam, kayaked, cooked meals, read, napped, showered outside, tried to watch every sunset.
Fear and anxiety also visited. There was so much space to notice. I noticed what a variety of fears my mind entertains, how many worst-case scenarios play out in vivid detail, flashing through my brain, even as I seek to soothe myself, or try to control outcomes. This is going on a list to discuss with my therapist.
My fears did not stop me from driving the boat, kayaking in rough waters, swimming in the lake, or staying as the lone adult at the cottage. My fears did not stop me. But I wonder: could I change the habits and patterns of my brain? Could the fears diminish in intensity? I don’t want to transfer my fears to my children (another fear!); parenting is an ongoing practice of attempts, improvisations, chance encounters with sorrow and appreciation, raw emotion, apologies for what could have been, letting go, embracing.
Today, I am alone in the house for the first time in a very long time. I can’t seem to settle. The house feels too big for the people who remain here (two children have moved out, graduating to university studies, one living in residence, one living in an apartment with a partner). Less laundry, yes, less grocery shopping, less chaos; less.
Who am I in the quiet? What’s my purpose, again? (Another item on the to-be-discussed-with-therapist list.)
I am not restless, exactly. But I seem always to be seeking, seeking. Expecting more of myself: to be kinder, better, more generous, softer, funnier, sharper, more confident, humbler, less demanding, firmer, more grounded, freer. Do you sense the contradictions? Do you feel the same desire to live amply, comfortably amidst contradiction?