Category: Lists

Thursdays are my reading days

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This week, I participated in two Zoom book events, as a moderator at the Wild Writers Festival for a panel on the short story, and at the Calgary Library as one of a number of writers published in a new anthology on concussion.

I’m out of practice for book events, but I’ve got this Zoom thing down.

On Monday, I put on a peach-coloured shirt with buttons that I pretended had been ironed (do we own an iron?), my lucky hummingbird earrings, and applied some mascara, discovering in the process of application that I can’t see without my glasses, which limited my already limited competence in the make-up department. Sticking with my comfy pants (leggings with holes), I dragged in a yoga mat and block to sit on, and set up in front of a big bookshelf backdrop in the living-room, as close as I could get to the wifi router. My set-up includes a ring-light which makes me feel like a pro, even if the glowing ring sometimes reflects off one’s glasses.

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And then we talked books!

Though we’d never met, I decided to ask questions I’d want to chew over with book-writing friends, big ones with no real answers, and to just settle in and enjoy the conversation (while aiming to keep within the parameters of the given time-frame). I love short stories. I love writing them, reading them, wondering about them, deciphering them. How often do we get to talk about the subjects we care about most? Especially with people who feel the same way?

And in the end, it felt like we’d connected for real (despite the screens), to pool knowledge and think out loud. Our conversation continued after the panel proper had ended, and it felt like we were meeting in the green room over coffee cake, as happens at those in-person Wild-Writers-Festivals-past that I’ve loved and cherished so much. Turned out there was still a small, faithful audience on the zoom link, which we hadn’t realized, so those folks got a bonus round. But so did we!

Can I hope we will meet in person someday, coffee cake or no coffee cake, to continue the conversation? GAH. Sometimes I miss people. In person. A lot. And I’m an introvert who loves being at home in her comfy pants!

Yesterday evening, I put on the same peach-coloured shirt with buttons, washed and hung to dry in between events, which I pretended counted as ironing (still can’t find the iron), forgot the earrings, and applied more mascara, this time creating a spiky effect that looked pretty okay, even if it happened by accident. I was wearing a different pair of comfy pants (leggings with stripes). Same set-up. I try to vet the books that will be directly on the shelf behind me, which meant taking the Good Vibrations Guide to Sex and Our Bodies Ourselves down and using them to lift up my laptop to a flattering height (one imagines, not being able to see so well, even with the glasses).

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And then we talked about our concussion experiences!

It’s a hard subject, I’ll be honest. Everyone in the anthology was a writer before their concussion. And we’re still writing, as evidenced by our participation in this book. But that doesn’t mean we’re writing exactly like we were writing before.

“Did the writing help you with the healing?”

I wasn’t asked this question, but reflected on it as I listened to others read their heart-wrenching, personal, insightful poems and stories.

Yes, writing and publishing this particular story (about the immediate aftermath of my first concussion) was healing. It was healing because I was very afraid of what had happened to me, I didn’t want it to affect my life, especially my writing life, my chosen career, and I was afraid of what it would mean to say these things out loud: that I wasn’t the same as before. So it was healing to my heart and my spirit to write about the experience and as importantly to share it publicly.

What helped you heal post-concussion?

I was asked this question, and my on-the-spot answer wasn’t great; here’s my do-over:

  • staying off screens
  • writing by hand
  • learning to draw
  • resting on “off” days, as much as possible
  • learning to be kinder to myself
  • coaching soccer, because it forced me to develop and practice new spatial skills (a good challenge for my brain)
  • turning toward different goals and ambitions
  • practicing meditation and yoga
  • accepting that some stuff comes our way that we can’t change only learn how to adapt to
  • enjoying the good days

Today I was tired (the event happened on Calgary time, so I was up past my bedtime).

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Luckily, Thursdays are my reading days, when I give myself permission to sink into the green couch and read with abandon and zero guilt* (*why would a writer feel guilty about reading? I don’t know, ask my subconscious). Today’s book was A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet, which I recommend most highly. Apocalyptic and funny? How is this possible? It will also get you thinking about NOW. Because the failings of humanity depicted in this book feel close at hand (and my generation comes in for the harshest critique).

Thanks for tuning in. I hope you’re enjoying a good day, too.

xo, Carrie

 

“Thanks” brings me closer

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Today, this month, I turn and return to gratitude. I’ve been looking for poems about thanks and thanksgiving for a church service I’m helping to plan, and I’ve noticed the poems that draw me are tempered with grief, there are many colours woven into the fabric of the experience of thanks they describe. I’ll post one, by Jane Hirschfield, below.

Monday morning thank-you list:

1. Kasia’s yoga class this morning, and her invitation to greet the day by saying, “Good morning, I love you,” to ourselves. (Wow! That changes the wake-up script!)

2. Enough time to work on revisions. Solitude.

3. Invitations to speak. Connection.

4. New projects, old projects, ongoing projects.

On the “new projects” front, in addition to the novel, I’ve got a couple of creative non-fiction pieces being published in anthologies, this year and next. Both are very personal, and a bit raw — “In This River” has just been published in an anthology called Impact: Women Writing After Concussion. Here’s me talking about my concussion (oh, soccer!) and reading an excerpt from my piece. I also “composed” and played the music that accompanies this video (“composed” in quotation marks because it’s just pure improv). A strange after-effect of the concussion: I was able to improvise very freely on the piano; more to do with rhythm than melody, almost as if some interior barrier had been breached.

video edited by Jun Kim

(Monday morning thank-you list, cont.)

5. Stretching myself, learning new skills … like the opportunity to make the recordings, above.

As I think about my relationship to my writing life, I am aware that publishing is a piece of it, and that means a different kind of work and effort and engagement with the world: presenting, public speaking, sharing. Looked at from one perspective, publicity work terrifies me, I’ll be honest. I’m terrified of feeling exposed, of being drained, of being judged wanting, of feeling ashamed. But looked at through the perspective of thanks, everything changes. Good morning, I love you! What if THANKS were the baseline I returned to many times each day?

Thanks brings me closer to wonder and admiration. Thanks brings me closer to patience, calm, the ability to pause. Thanks brings me closer to others. It’s a lens of perspective that gives me a different relationship to time and to self.

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(and one last thank-you on the Monday morning thank-you list)

6. Counselling, meditation, naps, yoga, stretching, running, walking, journalling, this blog, reading poems, writing.

I love these things because they make possible my engagement with everything else. I don’t want to live an entirely interior life — I love that part, it comes easily for me; but I want to be in the world, I want to connect, share, respond, serve, workshop, teach, coach, relate, cradle, hold, feed, nurture, offer of what I’ve been given. You know? It’s a short life. I want to live in it.

xo, Carrie
 

"When Your Life Looks Back," by Jane Hirshfield

When your life looks back —
As it will, at itself, at you — what will it say?

Inch of colored ribbon cut from the spool.
Flame curl, blue-consuming the log it flares from.
Bay leaf. Oak leaf. Cricket. One among many.

Your life will carry you as it did always,
With ten fingers and both palms,
With horizontal ribs and upright spine,
With its filling and emptying heart,
That wanted only your own heart, emptying, filled, in return.
You gave it. What else could you do?

Immersed in air or in water.
Immersed in hunger or anger.
Curious even when bored.
Longing even when running away.

“What will happen next?” —
the question hinged in your knees, your ankles,
in the in-breaths even of weeping.
Strongest of magnets, the future impartial drew you in.
Whatever direction you turned toward was face to face.
No back of the world existed,
No unseen corner, no test. No other earth to prepare for.

This, your life had said, its only pronoun.
Here, your life had said, its only house.
Let, your life had said, its only order.

And did you have a choice in this? You did —

Sleeping and waking,
the horses around you, the mountains around you,
The buildings with their tall, hydraulic shafts.
Those of your own kind around you —

A few times, you stood on your head.
A few times, you chose not to be frightened.
A few times, you held another beyond any measure.
A few times, you found yourself held beyond any measure.

Mortal, your life will say,
As if tasting something delicious, as if in envy.
Your immortal life will say this, as it is leaving.

Very dear, very near, very far

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Who am I in the quiet? What’s my purpose, again? (Another item on the to-be-discussed-with-therapist list.)

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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?

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xo, Carrie

Oh these little things that call us into our lives

“Little Things” with full cast; illustrations by Tarunima Mittal

Well, in truth I can hardly remember what happened yesterday, let alone these past few months, but apparently, during the blur of lockdown and walks around the block and waiting, a few remarkable things have happened, of which I’ve been a part.

The X Page Workshop is completing its season three run TONIGHT (July 7th, 2021) with a live performance on Zoom! Tickets are free and you can register to attend right up till it starts at 7PM. I am truly in awe of what’s been accomplished by this group in 12 short weeks … on a compressed schedule … in a virtual space … Live online means accepting that some unknowns are out of our control (like, should I start worrying about a massive thunderstorm that shuts off the power? Okay, just checked the Weather Network and it’s calling for light rain over that time); but we’ve done everything we can to prepare those elements over which we do have some agency. And I think that’s the key to life, isn’t it? Prepare, and also let go. Let it be what it will be.

And here’s what it already is:

?   Sixteen women from the community, writing, editing, and polishing their own original, personal story.

? Rehearsing it, vocal coaching, staging it, practicing it in small groups and at home.

?  Learning framing, lighting, how to angle the camera, troubleshooting tech issues.

???  Negotiating with children and pets and housemates to create a stage on which to present.

?  Choosing photos, props, outfits, hairstyles.

???  Supporting everyone else on the team and in the cast with collaboration, creative ideas, presence, encouragement, cheers. Such generosity!

Not to mention all the behind-the-scenes work to create a slideshow, program, original artwork, cohesive script, extra rehearsal time, tech support, and clear communication to keep everyone rowing in synch.

Whew.

And on a personal note, there’s more work in the works, for which I am over-flowing with gratitude. As soon as this project ends, I’ll be diving into revisions for my new novel, with a planned pub date of next summer. It’s called Francie’s Got A Gun, and I’m starting to believe it will be a real thing … but you can ask me again in a month or so, when the first round of revisions are due. I plan to dive deep and stay deep till that work is complete.

I’ve also received a second grant toward the project I’m working on with my grandma. Much of the research is complete, and writing has begun; but I will be setting it aside temporarily to finish Francie. One thing at a time. One big project at a time, anyway. (I think I can keep cooking dinner and fetching veggies and doing yoga and other good summer things.) At times, it feels like I’m half-asleep, working in slow-motion, digging my way through deep tunnels, burrowing into what seem like dead ends, and then I surface and wake in wonder at all that is being accomplished, even if the pace seems whimsical, even if I lose some of the good stuff underground. I don’t know how much time I’ll get in this life, but I hope to use it all up, and make (and discover) some beautiful things along the way — ephemeral as a performance, strong as a connection, life-giving as a community, sustaining as a story, well-told.

Hope to see you tonight. And if not there, then somewhere, sometime, virtually or in real life, soon.

xo, Carrie

Approaches to absence

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Do I have a simple Friday message? I do not.

On Monday, I went for a solo run in the park. On Monday mornings, early, no matter the weather, no matter my mood, for weeks, months, years (more than a decade, at least), I’ve run or walked with my friend Nina, who has been our neighbour for 18 years, and my friend since we lived across the hall from each other on campus, our first year of university. This past weekend, she and her family moved away.

I’m still working out how to approach this absence.

I started by hand-writing Nina a letter and sending it in the mail. It felt like it approximated the feeling of the kinds of conversations we’ve had, over the years; the letter wasn’t about anything special, just the particularities of the now, and unlike an email or text, I folded it up and stuck it into the envelope and no copy was kept to remind me of what I’d said, it was of its moment, she was the recipient, no one else, and like our walks, it came and it went.

An observation: when I sat to write the letter, on paper with pen, it felt like Nina was present with me; I don’t get the same sensation when composing an email. (side note: Why is email so awful? I have a few theories …)

On Tuesday, a fox trotted near where I was stretching in the front yard; I feel that we know each other, as we see each other often, early in the morning. She’s very beautiful, her orange fur mottled with greys and blacks. She crossed the road, then sat for a moment, and watched me watching her.

That afternoon, I biked to pick up our first CSA box from Fertile Ground farm: greens, greens, greens! On Saturday, I’ll walk to pick up our first CSA box from Little Fields Farm, because, yes, for the second summer running, I belong to two CSAs; I am a fan of women-who-farm.

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Please send salad recipes!

On Wednesday, everyone was out of the house, active, with friends. I took my mom to get her second dose of vaccine. The workshop session was an easy one for me: I got to watch my friend Melissa in action, vocal coaching. Mark your calendars: the X Page Performance “Little Things” will be live on Zoom, July 7th, at 7PM. Tickets are free, registration opens here on June 23!

On Thursday morning, I met my son in the park for a run. My grown son, who now lives away from home. I ate healthy food all day (greens for lunch, more greens for supper), but my back ached and I didn’t feel fabulous. Napped on the couch, groggy, too late in the day. Walked over to visit neighbours, still groggy. Trying to remember how to be social again. (Trying to remember what exactly I’m doing with my life, that too.)

Today, it rains. I did a longer yoga session this morning (yoga last night, too, with my friend Kasia; look for more offerings from her this summer, some online, some in-person). Started my time in this studio reading and meditating.

After that, email. (Trying so hard not to start my days with email!)

Now this. Then lunch (more greens??). Laundry. Writing, revising. I want to cook lentils with spinach for supper, and braised bok choy on the side. But the kids will want to order in (our Friday ritual). Which of us will prevail?

I neglected to invite anyone over to our backyard this evening, a Friday ritual I’d intended to start again, and managed the past two Fridays in a row. But it’s raining, with a big thunderstorm forecast for this aft. Excuses, reasons: It’s raining. And inertia. And maybe social anxiety. Who knows? I’m trying to remember how to be in the world again, how to host, how to invite, how to converse, how to connect in real life, in ways that make sense and are sustainable. Y’know?

Go easy, my friends. Enjoy your weekend.

xo, Carrie

April reflections

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April Reflections

  1. What felt good this month? This month has been a haze. What’s felt good in the past week or so is getting outside to run in the park, early in the morning. Delighting in the capacity of my body to run, to take deep breaths, to move. And yesterday, I got my first dose of vaccine. That felt nerve-wracking but real: a dose of hope. I’m loving the X Page workshop sessions: it feels like such a gift right now, when our province is locked down, being part of these intimate, meaningful conversations as new stories get discovered, told and shaped. Sometimes I think that’s my life’s calling — it’s not writing after all, but witnessing, creating structures that invite deep listening and telling, discovery and connection: sharing storytelling skills. Other things that felt good: Friday night games night (online) with my sibs and their partners; and, just in the past week, reconnecting with friends, after some weeks of feeling too down and inward even to try.
  2. What did you struggle with? Everything? We are locked down in Ontario, and will be for the next month or so. My mood swings daily, hourly. I feel like I’m possibly going crazy and a few minutes later, I feel fine. Sometimes I can’t bear to open email or problem-solve a single thing. But usually if I push past the feeling and just attempt the task, I can do it, I can manage just fine. The word “languishing” is floating around right now. Yup. That’s about right.
  3. Where are you now compared to the beginning of the month? At the beginning of the month, dread was in the air: the signs of a disastrous rise in cases were all around us, but somehow, the kids were still going to school and we were able to visit friends outdoors in what felt like relatively normal social situations. By mid-month, that ended. I channelled my rage toward decision-makers into making a bunch of phone calls to politicians to argue for a sufficient safety net and protections for those people most affected by the pandemic’s surge. That felt cathartic. I won a small grant to research a project I’m working on. But, but, but … I’m struggling with changes, combined with a sense of stagnancy amidst the onrush of passing time. It was hard to say goodbye to my eldest, who moved out to a new apartment. His room looks really empty at the end of the hallway.
  4. How did you take care of yourself? The usual. Meditation, yoga, writing, drawing, X Page meetings, texting friends, journaling, getting outside, exercise, stretching, preparing and eating good food. Not stressing over the messy state of the house. Watching shows with Kevin: Call My Agent; Le Bureau; and right now, Shtisel. My daily routine can feel a bit stale at times, but it keeps me going: the alarm goes off early, and I get up and the day begins, and that is good. “Why am I doing this?” I asked myself one early morning this week. “Because you can!” I replied. Gratitude. Loving engagement.
  5. What would you most like to remember? That I am blessed. That my resources run deep. That I can ask for help, if I need it. That not everything can be fixed, but brokenness isn’t a flaw; can even deepen compassion, and understanding.
  6. What do you need to let go of? Fear of failure. This hampers me almost more than I bear to admit. My answer to this question last month was so wise, I want to hold onto it: “Outcomes,” I wrote. “Process is so much more valuable than outcomes.” When my fear of failure rises, I get stuck on the holy grail of outcomes, which invites judgement, comparison, and demands quantifiables. Is it possible to live more freely? Maybe I need to let go of my idea of myself as a writer, or my idea of what that looks like, and how my experience compares. I’m attracted to the idea of a calling; maybe I need to let go of that too. What does a purposeful life look like? I long to be a “good” person, but what does that mean? Does fear of judgement, of getting things wrong, stop me from responding with my full heart — stop me from being a person who listens deeply, who responds with care, and who can laugh at herself because she loves herself, flaws, failures, and all?

xo, Carrie