As promised, November has been busy — so busy that I’ve hardly noticed or mourned the shrinking of the light, or the encroachment of the cold and snow.
I’ve mentioned here before that I’ve been doing therapy regularly since the summer. It’s been, if I dare say so, essentially transformational. I wish therapy were affordable and accessible for everyone, anytime. I’ve definitely gone without therapy due to cost (for years and years), and it feels like a complete splurge even now; but it’s getting me through some challenging times, so it’s become a priority. Another priority is twice-weekly kundalini classes. These, combined with walks / runs with friends, solo runs, yoga and stretching are my go-to sustainers for body and mind.
Yesterday’s prompt from my art therapist was this: When do you feel your inner light shine brightest?
At first, I couldn’t feel my inner light shining at all. Then, I saw myself with eyes closed in my studio space right here, in the dark, with the moon shining through my window, practicing kundalini yoga. Here in the dark, inside myself, I can come and sit no matter my energy level (tired, anxious, jittery, exhausted); here, no matter what’s happening in the rest of my life, I can sense my inner light flowing forth: a restorative activity, a practice that renews, comforts, meets me wherever I’m at. Gradually, other moments of inner light shining brightly emerged, and I drew them, one by one, smaller figures embedded in the world being conjured and held by the brightly shining meditative central figure in the drawing.
I saw an inner light communicating with the page, through words, as I worked on a manuscript: such a deep radiant concentrated focus.
I saw myself speaking in front of an audience, in the spotlight, being seen, but also radiating outward in connection with the energy and attention I was receiving: magnetic energy.
I saw myself having fun with my kids on a road trip, a loose goofy say-anything lightness: riffing off each other, appreciative, a curious attention, relaxed yet attuned to adventure.
And I saw myself with a raggedy light that was a bit of a blaze, honestly, an energy of determined persistence that engulfed me and pushed me toward a goal and wouldn’t quit till I got there: usually in service of someone else’s needs.
What I recognized through this work was that my inner light has the capacity to shine brightly in many situations; but there is payment afterward (or before) when that energy burns. Or, it’s simply not always accessible. Inhabiting fun isn’t always an option (but could it be more often, if I recognized my capacity to invent it?). Speaking in front of people, or managing within a larger group can be affirming and exciting and energizing; but I have trouble coming down, turning down the temperature afterward, which means I tend toward of a crash on the other side (could I learn better how to manage these fluctuations in attention?). I love my writing days, I love being pulled deeply into other worlds and bodies and times and spaces; but it’s hard to drag myself out, I struggle to return, to re-engage with the real needs of those around me (there may not be a solution to this, rather more of an acceptance, and a structuring of the writing times to acknowledge this reality). Finally, the energy of determination gets shit done; but I risk burn-out in this mode. I’ve seen it happen again and again.
The final thing we talked about in our session yesterday was how I envisioned my ordinary, every day inner light. An image came to me immediately: as a pilot light, patiently burning, not noticeable but ever-present, steady, reliable.
When I turn down the other flames, the pilot light remains. I’d like to learn more about how my body functions in these heightened environments and relationships, as I seek to support both my children and my elders, to serve my writing and career, and to prepare for publicity work in support of the new novel. I don’t want to dread any of these tasks I’m being called to do. It’s occurred to me that what I dread isn’t the tasks themselves, but how my body responds to them — in preparation, in the moment, or afterwards. Being drained is a real feeling. So is being burnt-out. So is being eaten up by anxiety. So is frustration, impatience, grief at what you’re not able to accomplish when you’re focusing on a necessary task. Being amped up and super-high and hyper-distracted is also a real feeling, which doesn’t fit with early morning responsibilities and regular life.
What felt good this month? I got stuff done! I focused on my writing. I sent the final revisions for my new novel to my editor, and she’s very happy with what was accomplished. I’ve been easier on myself, too, trying to subtly change my patterns of thought, so that my knee-jerk response when things go awry or feel uncomfortable is not to beat myself up, or talk down to myself, but to quietly acknowledge: you’re human, Carrie, and you make mistakes, and that’s okay. You’re still a worthy being, like every other human who makes mistakes, needs rest, has off days, and puts her foot in her mouth regularly. I also got my hair cut for the first time since the pandemic started (see photo above, taken on a sibs night). And I’ve booked a photo shoot for a new headshot. Update with glasses needed! What did you struggle with? Being done. Finishing a big project. I know it sounds strange, but completing those revisions threw me for a loop. After working with such purpose and intention for these past few months (and with great joy, I must add!), I knew that the after-effects of finishing would challenge my action-oriented tendencies; but knowing it in advance didn’t prevent it from happening. Thankfully, I had friends and routines to steady me — and to help me celebrate a genuinely monumental accomplishment. I let myself rest (a bit!). And I let myself set some new goals (writing-related). I read a bunch of books, too. I didn’t revise my resume, or take online quizzes about careers suited to my personality type, or apply for any master’s programs, or scroll through job ads for “real” jobs. (Yes, this is what I would usually do when falling into a brief period of inactivity after accomplishing a big project.) Where are you now compared to the beginning of the month? I’m looking for ways to ground more deeply into accepting, supporting and celebrating this writing career I’ve chosen to pursue, come hell or high water. This means building community. This means saying yes to some things, and no to others: thoughtfully, taking care. This means supporting and celebrating others. And, like last month, my outlook remains: let’s enjoy what we’ve got while we’ve got it. How did you take care of yourself? I went on an actual gd writing retreat with my writing group!!! That experience is still taking care of me, as I sink back into grateful memories of our weekend in paradise. There is harmony in caring for the self and caring for others. For example, I’ve noticed that by giving myself substantial writing time throughout the work week, I’m able to be more fully present with friends and family. My fantasy for the future (and the present!) is to offer safe haven, retreat, peaceful attention, relaxation, hospitality and safe harbour to friends and family, by whatever means are available to me; while also writing books. That’s it. That sums up my brand-new Artist’s Statement! What would you most like to remember? That there is ease within the effort, and that effort is easier when one’s circumstances are aligned to support the goals. This is not always possible. I have to live the life that’s coming at me, and that includes the parts that are challenging, deeply sad, irritating, wearying, not chosen. On those days and in those hours when the circumstances align with the goals, I need to give thanks and do the work. I would also like to remember that I won’t run out of ideas for books to write! Somehow that’s been a persistent underlying fear — that I’ll write myself out of stories if I write too much. Impossible! The context is ever-changing, as am I, and stories reflecting those changes just keep flowing in. It isn’t stories I’ll run out 0f, it’s time! Plus, I write better the more I write. It’s the only way to get really good (confident, comfortable, at ease) doing anything: practice, practice, practice. What do you need to let go of? It would be lovely to worry less. My mind would like to think that its worries protect me, somehow; and they don’t. A worry worn smooth in the mind is not a protective talisman, it’s a rut. Maybe a persistent worry points to patterns that hold strong, and resist change. Maybe I can look at a persistent worry and ask: do I want to keep holding this? I’ll be very kind to my worrying self: you worry because you care, and that’s okay. And then I’ll ask my worrying self: what would happen if you set this worry aside, even for a breath? That’s where I’ll start. I’ll go from there. xo, Carrie
Checking in here with an update on the revisions for Francie’s Got A Gun.
My editor replied back last Friday on my “revisions of the revisions” and as I type this out, I realize this may be why it’s so challenging to reflect on the revision process, or try to answer a common question: How long did it take you to write that book, or a variation of that question, How did you write that book? The answer to the latter question is: Magic? Witchcraft? I’ve totally forgotten and have no idea and fear I’ll never be able to do it again? The answer to the former question is: Years? But also: An hour every morning, from 6-7AM for several months. And then bursts of intense days, as my life allowed. But also intense weeks. Waiting, setting it aside, attempting other projects. And then more weeks, intense and wonderful. And now a trickle of back and forth, a week, days, hours. At various points in this process, I have felt energized, confused, worn down, hopeless, thrilled, manic, exhausted, possessed.
I wrote a first draft of this book, by hand in my notebook, after my second concussion when I couldn’t look at screens at all, in 2017. It bears little resemblance to the tightly crafted draft I worked on this past week, on-screen, marked up with queries and comments back and forth about details that are getting (mercifully!) finer and finer.
It’s getting close.
So, here’s my update on my latest efforts to revise: This past week, I worked on the revisions of the revisions of the revisions. Aaaand … we still have a round or two to go, to tighten and respond to some challenging bits. Deadline next Friday.
Here’s what I’ve been reflecting on this week: I love doing this work. It’s all I really want to do. I seem to have a bottomless appetite and energy for it, every part; I want to learn, and the urge to learn, that sense that I still have more to learn, feeds me. Some elements come more naturally (grammar, use of language, experimenting with structure); others require enormous effort (timelines and plot, to name two). It’s been such a joy to get to pour my energy and my admittedly somewhat obsessive personality fully into pursuing this work: writing fiction. Full-time. I’m gobsmacked and amazed that I get to do it. I walk the dog around the block after dinner, letting myself soak in the novelty and surprise of getting to do this work that I love.
This isn’t to say that I don’t have bleak moments, or guilty ashamed moments, caught up in treacherous ego and attachment to outcomes; I spent most of the “revisions of the revisions” wading through exactly that ugly, tiresome swamp. Berating myself for my efforts. Bleak with a feeling of worthlessness. I’m sorry to say it. I wish those feelings and thoughts never came. But they do, as I’m sure they come for most of us. So I kept on doing the work that was before me, despite being consumed with self-doubt. I rejigged the timeline (excruciating!) and revised and revised and revised and sent the draft back for more comments. I also talked to a therapist (art therapy, in fact). I’m telling you this because it’s important to name the supports that keep me afloat. Continuing to work kept me afloat, my little writing group kept me afloat, early morning exercise kept me afloat.
And the joy returned, the gratitude returned. Instead of you suck and you’ll always be a mediocre writer, I heard: This is your work, and you’re able to do it; what more do you need? And the answer is, honestly, nothing. This is my work and I’m able to do it. Whether it’s good or bad or middling, well, that’s not for me to decide. It’s none of your business, as Lynda Barry would say.
It’s Thanksgiving in Canada this weekend. Sending out heaps of gratitude, with a side of mashed potatoes and gravy, and stuffing, and pie for dessert.
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.
(and one last thank-you on the Monday morning thank-you list)
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.
"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.
On Monday, I’ll start another “writing sabbatical” spell, two weeks devoted to further revision (and maybe to writing another grant application, if there’s time). Meanwhile, I’m tidying up my interior life, sweeping cobwebs, sorting and organizing, ticking boxes on a to-do list. Seeking courage! There’s been some volunteer work, appointments, I voted early, and morning exercise continues, including several runs with my university kids, who live near enough that our running routes can overlap.
Today, I’ve devoted my hours of quiet to stepping toward that liminal space that is revision, stepping toward the unknown. In preparation, I’ve been reading a print-out of the most recent version of the manuscript, which includes my editor’s notes. I’m marking up the pages with a black pen, responding to her questions and comments. My intention is to finish this preliminary work before Monday. Here’s hoping I can read my scrawl when I head back to working on-screen next week…
Also in preparation, I’ve been doing some free writing, at the suggestion of a therapist.
And yesterday evening, I led a Lynda Barry “X Page” exercise at the inaugural meeting of a writing club we’ve begun at the X Page, with the intention of creating continuing connection and community for those (participants and team members alike) who seek it. Anyone involved in any of our past three seasons is welcome to join. The idea is simple: an hour-long meeting, monthly, to write a story together and then read to each other. Overcoming the limitations of Zoom, that’s exactly what we did yesterday evening, and it was … incredibly moving. Those who shared their brand-new precious stories gifted us with images that were by turns tender, vulnerable, personal, unique, relatable. I remember: two hands almost touching; arms flung out wide to feel the ocean breeze; being knocked down by a wave, fully-clothed; paddling toward sunset; skin burning under a hot sun; the beauty of a remembered city; sand, wind, sun.
The prompt was “ocean” or “lake.” We wrote for 8 minutes. No editing afterward, and no critique from the listeners; a brand-new story is truly a gift, it’s come from somewhere mysterious, and if we’re lucky enough to witness its beginning, all we need to express is thanks.
I often find the X Page exercise to be revealing of one’s state of mind (I’ve observed this in my own writing, in any case). When I analyze the story that popped up for me, what I notice is my desire to be in two places at once, and a resentment that I cannot be. I notice, too, that I’m upset to have missed an opportunity to soak in a unique sensory experience, I long to have that experience in my physical vocabulary (even now, oddly enough, I feel the pull of missing out).
I am in Grandma’s sedan, we are driving from her house in a tidy town in New Jersey to the Jersey shore — the ocean. I have just gotten to spend the night at Grandma’s, which is very special, just me! My younger brothers (I have three, and one is a new baby) were not invited. Grandma made my favourite food (mashed potatoes with hamburger gravy and peas) and she took me to see the movie “Annie” with my cousin, and she bought us candy. Now Grandma is driving me back to the tiny cottage on the Jersey shore where my family is staying — Mom, Dad, brothers. The cottage belongs to Grandma and her husband, and they let us stay there every summer. I sleep in the attic with my brothers, sometimes my cousins too, crowded together. There is an outdoor shower with the floor covered in sand. To walk to the beach you pass big houses with smooth white stones or shells in their front yards.
Grandma is talking. She is telling me about a sandstorm that blew in to the beach yesterday, while I was in town with her. I am feeling a bit upset, though I don’t want her to know. I missed the sandstorm! My brothers have had an adventure that I can’t quite imagine. “Oh, you don’t want sand in your eyes,” says Grandma; but I do. I want sand in my eyes, wind whipping, the ocean wild and exciting.
For the past five weeks, I set-up an automatic response on my email that went something like this: “I’m on a writing sabbatical.” I was tempted to keep it forever, but on Tuesday of this week, I turned it off, at least temporarily. This is the week between writing sabbatical and actual holiday (but how to tell the difference between those two amazing and lovely states of being?!). My writing sabbatical felt like a holiday except possibly even better, because it felt so purposeful. I felt so purposeful within it, doing the work. This week of errands and catch-up and to-do lists has been distinctly unsatisfying, by comparison.
To update you on my current project, I spent five weeks working daily (with the exception of most weekends), revising this novel called Francie’s Got a Gun, which is scheduled for publication next summer (2022). Some days got a bit chaotic and I couldn’t stop, working deep into the evening hours, while others had a more orderly rhythm and pace. But overall, I kept returning to the idea of patience, and inviting patience into the process. It’s hard to explain, maybe, but once I get rolling it’s very difficult to stop. My challenge, once working, is to find a way to stop, to detach myself from the work at the appropriate hour: to rest, to relax, to let the thing be.
So I practiced. I stopped to eat supper with my family almost every evening. I went for walks. If my 13-year-old knocked on my door for a dog walk mid-afternoon, I always said yes, no matter where I was at. And I forced myself to take real breaks on weekends, to see friends and family, to take a few (small) trips, to socialize, unwind, or simply just to remove myself from the work.
I practiced taking breaks away because I knew it would benefit the work. Toward the end of the process, I was hugely tempted to pull an all-nighter to finish everything all in one fell swoop, but I stopped myself. Patience, patience. My eyes were tired, it was already late, my brain was addled. The writing would be better in the morning, after a rest. (And I’m sure that it was.)
One of the places I worked, at my youngest’s swim lessons, sitting outside under a tree near the pool.
I’m not a big believer in balance (seems like a concept designed to torment the person attempting and failing to achieve it); but I do believe in focus. I believe that to go deep and be present, I need to set up the conditions that allow me to focus on one thing at a time. Dog walk with son. In-depth revisions. Backyard picnic with friends. This is easier when I have sufficient time to focus on the things that matter deeply to me. What made it possible to ease away from the book on the weekends was knowing I’d be able to focus full-tilt the following week. And this all falls apart when my week-days are split between a bunch of must-dos, errands, meetings and external responsibilities, the disruptions and lack of sustained time prevent focus from ever happening in the first place. Disappointment, disillusionment, derangement is the result. That’s why the conditions need to be deliberately set up, revisited often, and maintained; that’s why I might actually need “I’m on a writing sabbatical” as my automatic email response in perpetuity.
During this week in-between, this liminal week, I’m reflecting on what life will be like with fewer children living at home this fall (only two!!!!); and I’m daring to look ahead a few years and invite some dreaming about what I may want, as the house empties out. (So far the biggest issue has been that I can’t calibrate my cooking for a smaller group; the leftovers my meals create is a legit problem!)
What’s next for Francie’s Got a Gun? Within the next few weeks, I expect to hear back from my editor with comments and notes, and I’ll set up the conditions to get further revisions completed before the manuscript goes to copy editing. There’s a timeline, and it’s a real pleasure to work within it. Comforting. When that work is done, I’ve got more work planned, more projects underway, more reasons to protect many hours of each day to write (and research, and revise).
I almost wrote “just” to write. But no. Why tamp down the fire? Why minimize the desire, the joy, the pleasure I take from this discipline? It’s enough. It’s enough. It’s enough to fill to the brim this one small and precious life.
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My name is Carrie Snyder. I'm a writer of fiction and non-, reader, planner, dreamer, arts organizer, workshop leader, mentor/coach, forever curious. I'm interested in the intersection between art and spirituality. What if the purpose of life is to seek beauty? What if everyone could make art?