Category: Library

Spring burst

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As much as I long to find just a little more rhythm to my writing life, damn but it’s taken the pressure off to work in a school library. Childhood is bursting with magic. To be with kids is to be in the presence of pure creativity. When I was a child, we would visit the Nashville public library for their puppet shows. I remember being utterly entranced by the puppets. How were they speaking? Who was making them move? They seemed real — in some fundamental way, they were real to my imagination.

Now, on a very small scale, I get to participate in magic-making with the children who come into my library — it’s homemade, it’s improvised, it’s nothing fancy, but even the smallest surprise is sufficient to spark delight, curiosity, questions. Children are not fussy; the youngest of them pay the closest attention to the tiniest details. If you’ve ever read a picture book to a group of kindergarteners, you’ve been blessed by the deepest attention you’ll ever hope to receive. “Oh, those aren’t raindrops, those are tadpoles!” “How did Curious George jump higher?” “Why did he let go of the balloons?”

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On my story time bulletin board, I add characters or objects from books we’ve read. The seasons change. Nothing is static — things move around. Somehow, it’s more magical because it’s tactile. It isn’t digital. It isn’t online, or on a screen. It’s present with us, to be experienced and observed by all, as we gather in the same moment and place in time and space. We experience it collectively, from our different positions around the room, our different heights and ages. Like the magic of the puppet theatre, I don’t think this is repeatable, really, online. We don’t live solely in our minds; we live in our bodies, as sensory creatures.

In truth, however, my main job in the library is to maintain the collection — a tactile mode of interacting with this most beloved of mediums (beloved to me!): text and illustration bound up in pages. The sensation of handling books affects me similarly to doing a puzzle; it’s soothing and peaceful to create order.

As for the other hours in my days and weeks, I’m currently on a “spring burst.” I’m going to gym regularly to spin, sweat, lift weights, stretch, and take good care of this deep-into-midlife body (and mind). The X Page is entering its final month of preparation (!!): mark your calendars if you’re local. We’ll be performing this season’s stories on Sunday, June 16th at the Registry theatre in downtown Kitchener (more info coming soon). And my writing life is bursting with beautiful blooms too: seeing a dear friend’s book project come to fruition, editing stories, dreaming up a new novel, and more that I’ll share when the time is right.

Come summer, I’ll have a two-month break from the library — writing sabbatical??? And time to repair, restore, relax, too. It’s been very non-stop. I keep thinking I’ll catch up, but there’s no up to be caught. The routine swings round and round.

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My instinct is to maximize efficiency on tasks. But more and more, I’m focused on making space to maximize enjoyment, no matter the tasks. What do I love doing? Mostly, really simple things that are easy to call forth, that don’t require a lot of extra planning or resources. I love sweating and the rush of endorphins. I love meeting new people and diving in deep. I love collaborating, learning new skills, appreciating the strengths and techniques and wisdom that others bring. I love grappling with text, creating narrative sequences on both the macro and micro scale that maximize pleasure for an audience. I love eating supper with my family and hearing about their days. I love stopping to smell blossoms on trees. I love blasting songs on the radio when I’m driving alone. I love making magic — out-of-time experiences, opportunities for surprise — through the simplest means possible: a drawing, a story, a group exercise. I love taking care of people. I love cooking (but only when I’m not rushing). I love being outdoors, walking, biking, running. I love creating order out of chaos. I love living in my imagination, in my many imaginary worlds. I love to dream.

Nothing is ideal. I love that too, the reassurance of it. I mutter this phrase to myself a lot — “This is not ideal!” —- and not negatively, but encouragingly. I mean it as a form of freedom. Nothing about this is ideal. (And it does not need to be.) This thing you’re doing, this thing you’re creating, this solution, this story, this hard conversation — whatever it may be — you’re doing it to the best of your abilities; be reassured. There are many possibilities, many directions, many discoveries, of which you will try one and then another and another, testing things out forever and ever, amen.

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

the Grandma project

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My Grandma, who died in October, gave me a wonderful gift—a project whose resonances continue to unfold. Over many months (years, actually), she gave me her story. She thought it might make good material for a novel, and we had a lot of fun together, exploring, talking through ideas, and trying to dig down into what it meant to write fiction using biography.

But.

I’m coming around to believing that what Grandma was trying to teach me, or tell me, was something maybe greater, definitely more subtle. Yes, there was the gift of her story; and there was the gift of trust—that told me implicitly that she believed I could make something of the material. But through the time we spent together, in our roles—me as listener, she as storyteller—she offered something different, too, valuable and profound. I did not see it at the time. I was focused on trying to map out her story, to imagine it into a fictional form, to gather imagery, to play with structure, and to dig into what mattered to her. 

So many wonderful clues. 

So many wonderful conversations on Zoom.

The novel exists now. It has been deemed by an important editor to be “too quiet.” But I don’t want to dwell on failure, or rejection, because I don’t see this project in those terms, or even on a particular timeline of known outcome or goal. 

Grandma gave me her story and her trust, and I believe she trusted me to find the gold at the centre of our conversations—the conversations themselves.

Grandma reminded me that other people are the gold in my life. She reminded me of the gifts within that I had been overlooking—the capacity to listen deeply, for example. The capacity to give my time and attention to others. To create welcoming spaces. To invite response. The joy in that exchange.

My writing life has represented a longing for meaning and purpose.  I wanted it to be a calling, I think—a universal longing, no doubt. Meaning and purpose is an answer to pain of all kinds: loneliness, fear, stasis. Grandma reminded me, over and over, in words and in deeds, that meaning and purpose isn’t found in rumination, but in participation. What I learned during our conversations was to notice my own desire, perhaps a very primal need, to share time with others. 

My writing life alone has not been the answer to this longing for meaning and purpose. This has been hard for me to accept, or even to see.

Grandma’s mantra, her life’s focus, was helping others—she advised me pretty constantly to practice this too. When in doubt, when down and out, do something for someone else. Take your mind off your own troubles and busy yourself trying to ease someone else’s. This could hold negative connotations: distracting oneself or meddling or avoiding personal reflection. But I don’t think the one cancels out the other. In fact, deeper personal reflection is facilitated within relationships. And reflection deepens the capacity to walk with others in times of need.

And there is need! People have cares and troubles!

And we all, each one of us, have valuable gifts to share.

I believe that Grandma was trying to teach me this: find ways to share your life and share your gifts. The act of sharing helps you see that you do have gifts to share that are appreciated (and maybe not the ones you’d thought), and this lifts you into an ease within your own bones and bdy that others experience in your presence—a state of welcoming.

When I spent those mornings “interviewing” Grandma, I was learning how to listen deeply, with honour and care—and her appreciation fed me, in return. Ultimately, our interactions nudged me to get out of my own head, and go exploring in the world.

Would I be working in a school library if I hadn’t spent that time with Grandma? Something about our conversations, and her example, gave me permission to not be so precious about my writing life. What was I trying to protect, by wrapping my hands around its specialness? Writing is a durable craft to be held lightly. So many of the things I told myself about my writing wasn’t true: that it required sacrifice, that if I wasn’t doing it every day, I wasn’t a writer, that I would squander my purpose if I did not bow down before this apparent gift that I had been given.

It wasn’t writing I was (have been, am) wrapping my hands around. It was (has been, is) ego, fragile and important, surely, but painfully self-involved, performative. 

I’m settling into a new perspective on projects themselves, a delightful sense of give and trust to the time they take in their unfolding. I love a project, it must be said. I love a goal; but the path to discovery is not direct. I’m aware, now more than ever, of the gentle unfurling of projects, letting them become inside my mind before I attempt to bring them forward—or just the pieces or parts that come to the fore, and mix with available materials and the response of others. I relish responses. In this way, a project becomes, it lives. This is the opposite of creating in a panic, or with anxiety, or focused on outcome—a project can be like a magnet, pulling in ideas. A project is of its moment, too, its time, its place, its surroundings, dependent on its context and relationships. A project is responsive.

It is not a lonely undertaking. Grandma knew that, surely.

Oh beautiful improvisation. Beautiful congregation.

xo, Carrie

Contrast

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What’s on my mind?

Being able to read, being able to write; the gift and the struggle. 

With my word for this year, CONTRAST, I am exploring the balance—what my life needs, what elements it contains to support my overarching goals and themes—

“Please prepare me to be a sanctuary”

“What if the purpose of life is to seek beauty?”

“Discipline feeds curiosity”

“Everyone deserves to be known, cherished, lifted up”

“You belong here”

“How can I create spaces of welcome?”

“Follow the energy”

“Listen to your body”

“Hold lightly…”

—my life itself is like a structure being built as I live it, like a story whose ending isn’t known, nor even its middle or beginning. In flux. I live like my body is an experiment, my mind a mystery to be explored, my relationships threads that weave together, fray, are repaired.

When I think of noticing CONTRAST, I think of playing with balance. I remember a set of questions that I taped to the fridge years ago, with hopes that everyone in the family might reference them—questions that asked: what have you done today?—for yourself, for someone else, for play, for friendship, for rest, for exercise, what have you learned, what have you made…? It was a way to try to consciously notice life’s balance, within the structure of a day—an arbitrary measure of time, but easiest to grasp. Big picture is impressionistic—what has this year held? Or even this month? A day has items in it. Moments that can be recalled and noted, written down, like the notes to a simple melody. What melody have I composed today? What line of song have I built from my hours, today? 

I love my job at the library because on those days it is easy to do things for others. But my fridge list of hoped-for balance items is perhaps too long to be ticked every day. When I choose to do something (like work in the library), I choose implicitly not to do other things. My energy is limited. My time is limited.

The idea of a Sabbath day—day of rest. Day of nature, connecting with loved ones, reflection, salve for the soul. Every day I want to build these notes of Sabbath into my melody. I am a soul and a body. Am I living inside my soul, too? I work toward this discovery. What happens when I follow my breath, pay attention to an automatic and unnoticed function or sensation, like the ambient sounds around me, like the patterns and colours and contrasts observed on a quiet walk, or the sensations that are ever-present inside my body, on my skin? Like the breath, of course, where meditation might begin, over and over again. Paying attention brings me into a different relationship with time. I relax. I am calmer, soothed by the ever-rhythm of the universe. I can carry this “neutral” mind back into the world. I know it exists and that I have access to it, even in times of stress, or under duress. There is peace in the underlying rhythms and patterns of the world surrounding me—within me. Knowing this, I come closer to trust.

To trust that my life is a form of art or meditation, a series of creative acts, my life is expansive, it is being built and newly built within the structure of these universal patterns and rhythms—the song being sung within and beyond my self. The song that is time itself, that belongs to the patience of eternity.

xo, Carrie

To live with ease

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I’ve been sick. The new year is off to a slow and hacking start. But— I’ve also been dreaming of my projects for this coming year, and making paper crafts of favourite book characters for my library bulletin boards (see below), and revising a manuscript, with what feels like contentment rather than panic.

Okay, so I haven’t been well enough to go for a run, or even very man walks, but yoga is on all but the most fevered of days. And the house has been wonderfully full of children and friends of children, visiting or hanging out or needing a temporary home base for rest and recovery (our two sons currently live here full-time). I am content in a full house. It gives me great pleasure to come downstairs and discover several teenage boys making breakfast in my kitchen. I’m happiest when visitors feel comfortable enough to make their own food, and come and go as they please. I don’t try to “host” and that’s probably why sharing space doesn’t feel onerous or invasive. I grew up in a crowded house, with five siblings and many visitors coming and going, including guests who lived with our family for months at a time. I prefer the bustle. I also know how go to my own space and unwind.

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I’ve been thinking about the word “livelihood.” It’s not my word of the year (still to come!), but it reflects, more than other words related to money-earning, my relationship to working and to sharing resources. A livelihood is enough to get by on. It isn’t focused on earning riches or accumulating wealth, rather it represents the comfort of enough. A livelihood also seems quite flexible: it doesn’t have to be a vocation or even a career. It’s a means to an end—a livelihood helps support yourself and your family and those you share your resources with. Others in your family circle or economic community can share in your livelihood, and contribute to a shared livelihood. What constitutes a livelihood changes as you change.

I begin this new year thinking about sharing resources.

I think about the ways in which sharing makes all aspects of life easier.

I want to live with ease. I’m beginning to understand that living with ease involves both support from within and support from without. An overarching theme in my own life has been the creation of structures and practices that strengthen and feed my inner resources (and my posture, my lungs and heart, my muscles!), but I’ve experienced this in collaboration with others. I’m not doing this alone—as vital to my inner strength are the friendships and relationships that hold me up, as I hope to hold others up in return.

As needed.

Sometimes it’s my turn to be held. Sometimes I have the privilege of holding. And sometimes I’m part of a fun and hilarious dance, no holding or lifting required.

All for now. Thank you for reading along.

xo, Carrie

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