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.
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.
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
Visits to the farm (writing retreats)
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.
Today is a “stacked” day. Stacked days, as I call them, contain lots of little off-task activities—kind of a hodgepodge; but deliberately organized this way. On “stacked” days, I settle into the activities as they come, and I accept that the writing groove will be shallow at best.
To get into a writing groove, time matters, and space, breathing room. The fewer the distractions the better. I place my phone in a different room.
It’s taken a minute or two to switch gears from the comfort of the job-job routine to the hoped-for summer writing groove—but it’s happened! I’ve found my summer writing project (or it’s found me, more accurately), which means I’ve found my summer bliss. First, I had to remember that I know how to do this—create routine and structure (the bliss of the job-job is not having to create routine and structure, just falling into and going with the flow).
Week one of the summer holiday was all frenetic, distracted seeking. But the first three days of this week have had space for the writing groove. Today is “stacked.” Tomorrow will be writing-focused again. And so it goes.
I am in a groove, I have a project.
The challenge—my particular challenge in this particular mind and body—is to appreciate the bliss of the now. The present. Settle in and enjoy this (because is it ever blissful to be energized and called by a writing project!). Fact is, I’m oriented toward the future. I love making plans, lists, setting up the day. I strongly dislike seeing my plans dislodged in any way. But to enjoy the present, a person has to be prepared to see her plans change.
If a child says, hey Mom, want to go for a walk with me, the answer is yes, no matter the inconvenience to the original plotted line. Plot lines. I like ‘em. I make ‘em. And they work best when I’m willing to break ‘em from time to time.
Summer writing groove; job-job joy; routines and the breaking of them. This is roundabout way of saying that mindfulness has changed, is changing, changes me daily.
Every morning, upon waking, I practice yoga and meditate. Every night before bed, I practice yoga and meditate. I’ve been doing this twice-daily since last fall; before that, daily for the past three years. What does this practice provide? Breath paired with conscious movement, breath paired with conscious stillness: twice daily, I am returned to my body. I close my eyes and feel my body from the inside out. Clarity, grounding, peace, patience, attention.
Mindfulness has attuned me to the possibility in all moments of joy, bliss, connection, love. I listen differently. I hope for different things. You are here, my daily practice reminds me, you are here, you are here. Enjoy this.
On April 1st, I started a 30-day journaling project (inspired by Suleika Jaouad’s Isolation Journals). What I’ve noticed so far is that prompts really help. On days when I try to jot down random thoughts, not much comes squeezing out. I’m preoccupied by surface tasks and must-dos, and a feeling of emptiness prevails. This is a most unpleasant feeling. So, today I said to myself, what advice would you give your students, if they were feeling stuck? You’d say, Stop trying to “journal” and do a daily diary (a la Lynda Barry), or an X Page prompt (ditto). Get out of your own head. Come alive by entering the world.
Other prompts have worked well too. My word-of-the-year group is spending April responding to each other’s words (we were each assigned someone else’s word to reflect on). My assignment was to reflect on the word ROOT. One of the associations that jumped out was “long-standing friendship.” A long-standing friendship, like a long-standing tree, has deep roots, has weathered many storms, and has had good fortune.
Reflecting on this imagery, related to ROOTS, and separate from the word-of-the year assignment, I landed on a journaling prompt: What roots in your own life are long-standing? And also, what roots are tender and new? It’s spring, after all! People are planting seedlings, tiny buds are opening. Feel free to use this prompt if it sparks something in you, too.
Words unfurling across a page, a screen, scrawled in the margins and end pages, marking time, holding ambition, bright with rage, lyrical, lyrical, lyrical
Born family, brothers and sister, all of us rooted in time, in blood and DNA
Music, song, rhythm, pulse
My feet walking, running, my body in motion, powerful, strong
Friendships that hold, light in the window, light at the door, and bread, and wine, and laughter and forgive me
Performance, putting on a show
Reading, imagination’s flow
The trees themselves, and water, mud, grass under bare feet
A big appetite, hoarding, cheapness, knowing best
A quietness amidst chaotic flow
The impulse to make places home
Loneliness, fear of not belonging
Thrift against decadence, earnestness
Wanting to make people laugh, to entertain, to put at ease, and yet aloof, sharp edges
Horses, dogs, children
Memory, curiosity, mystery, questions without answers
Tender new roots
Medication to lift the load
Healing estrangements, more trust, talking about tough stuff, tender stuff too
Kids moving home and away, vegetarian meals
Big job interview, looking for work that satisfies my need to earn a living and to feel/be purposeful
Transitioning X Page workshop to a sustainable long-term project
Parenting teenagers and young adults
Spending time with little kids again, delighting in their presence
Getting reacquainted with teaching
Practicing social skills and conflict resolution
Expanding my skill set, seeing my skills as having other applications, exploring outlets for my desire to connect, create, be fruitful, self-sufficient, purposeful, to serve
Doing “the work” to counter harmful patterns and habits
Yoga and meditation—soaking it up!
Body awareness, body love, healing
Caring for elders, patience, tenderness, listening to the wisdom of elders
Is it vulnerable to confess that I am happy, content, that I feel cherished and full of gratitude? It feels that way sometimes. Or it feels like I’m tempting fate. Shhh. Don’t tell anyone or it will get taken away. I wonder why. I wonder why there is pressure to confess only the misery and pain and missteps, as a signal of vulnerability and openness and being human, rather than the joy? But both are true of being human: we know joy and contentment too. I wonder why I would ever feel guilty for or superstitious about being content? Yet, it’s there. Like I’m bragging, maybe? Like I’m setting up a comparison that might make someone else feel less than? Like I deserve to be taken down a notch.
Be that as it may, I want to spread the word that it’s okay to be okay. It’s okay to be okay with all the feelings. It’s okay to ask for what you want. It’s okay to declare that you need a personal time-out to cool down. It’s okay to look around and say, hey, this is pretty sweet.
This morning, I created a word-storm. I invite you to do the same. The prompt is: WORDS THAT FEED ME.
To each of these words, an image or images attach.
USEFUL: I’ve struggled with this word, yet it comes to mind first. It’s connected to WORTHWHILE, VALUE, SERVE. My Mennonite words. Is spending a year drawing cartoons useful? Well, who is to say it’s not? I’m beginning to learn with my whole body that useful is in the eye of the beholder. Maybe I drew cartoons for a year in order to become the person that I am right now: someone who values PLAY and creativity in others, and knows how to make space for it. It’s okay to be okay — I don’t need to apologize or explain to anyone why something is or has been useful to me. TRUST.
CARE: I love this word. I have a friend who always calls me “Care Bear.” It was my childhood nickname too, bestowed on me by my brother, who is the king of nickname-bestowing (it’s a gift!). CARE is connected to MEANINGFUL, ATTENTION, WONDER, CURIOUS, GENEROSITY, SPIRIT. I’m learning that it’s okay to be okay with caring deeply; but I’m also learning how to set boundaries, so my care doesn’t swamp me, or burn me out. CARE can be expressed in so many ways. I don’t want my care to burden the people about whom I care. That’s where boundaries come in: knowing what’s mine to offer, and what’s mine to leave be.
PURPOSE: Here’s where PURPOSE comes into it. I am beginning to accept that my PURPOSE is most mysterious. It’s not for me to decide or drive toward or push into. What I’m making isn’t CLEAR while I’m making it. This is true of any writing project — I know this is my very bones — but it’s also true of the project of being alive, being human. You don’t know what you’re making while making it. When I’m writing, I lean into the mystery, I let myself be led, I follow what makes me WONDER, what makes me CURIOUS. I chase the energy that’s playing with me. What I’m making is not static, and it doesn’t require me to bring it to life: it’s animating me in return, or animating my imagination. Why not apply this sensation of ADVENTURE, of exploration, of following where you’re being led to real life too? When something brings me energy and delight, when I revel in what I’m doing, then I know: this is my PURPOSE.
It’s funny how we tell ourselves that we need to know our PURPOSE in advance — to set goals, and be useful, and climb the mountain, and use our gifts to the fullest. When no — we need to be comfortable not knowing. As in writing, we don’t get to decide the outcome. Leave that to someone else. Or leave it alone altogether and don’t give it another thought.
GRATITUDE: This is the this. But I don’t want to force it. I can’t really force it. To be in a GENEROUS mindset is to know GRATITUDE. Then it’s impossible not to give thanks for the GRACE that speaks in many voices. I do think this can be a practice, though. I notice myself saying thank you more and more frequently, in funny ways, too. Thank you, plant, for not dying even though I’ve forgotten to water you! Thank you, weary body, for getting me through this day. Thank you, brain, for keeping me safe in busy traffic. Thank you, heart, for beating all these beats. You know? And then this thankfulness spills everywhere, over everything and everyone.
KIND: Hey. It’s also okay to not be okay. That’s the kindest thing you can say to yourself, and to those around you. Let yourself RESPOND to the situation that’s unfolding, and you will be KIND.
FUN: For me it’s so much fun to be CURIOUS, to WONDER, to IMPROVISE, to PLAY, to RESPOND. Your FUN recipe will be totally different from mine. It’s WORTHWHILE experimenting with your own ingredients. You’ll know it when you feel it. It feels easy, light, delightful. You will laugh at yourself a lot. You will be patient and relaxed and gentle. You will be JOYFUL. Those around you may sense your joy and feel freed to respond in kind. It’s possible.
Wherever you've come from, wherever you're going, consider this space a place for reflection and pause. Thank you for stopping by. Your comments are welcome.
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My name is Carrie Snyder. I'm a fiction writer, reader, editor, dreamer, arts organizer, workshop leader, forever curious. I believe words are powerful, storytelling is healing, and art is for everyone.