Category: Manifest

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

Why give yourself away?

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I’ve been thinking about a book of linked stories that I wrote around 2014-2015, immediately before and after publishing Girl Runner, the novel that at this point in my career seems likely to be my biggest hit, as it were. Girl Runner sold internationally, was translated into a number of languages, and people still invite me to come to their book clubs to discuss it (which means it’s being read, which is quite remarkable, honestly, for a book that celebrates its tenth birthday this year). In short, that book changed my life; but not in ways that I could have predicted, and I’m curious to re-read stories written in the aftermath of success, because what I remember from that time is that I did not feel successful. I felt estranged from myself. I was stressed and under pressure. I fully expected to build on the success of Girl Runner to publish more and bigger; but nothing came. It wasn’t that I was blocked—I wrote a lot—novel drafts, short stories. It’s that what I wrote wasn’t … well, it’s hard to say this out loud, but it wasn’t what was wanted.

I don’t know if I have a gift for writing, but I have a love for it, and a desire to do it—and so I write. For a little blip of time, a decade ago, I could imagine that the foundation was set, and I could spend the rest of my life writing and publishing books, and, crucially, making a living from that work. This hasn’t been the story, though; this hasn’t been the arc of the plot. I’m no longer grieving this as a loss; but I did, and I think a version of that grief is contained in that short story collection (which I titled Why Give Yourself Away?). Why Give Yourself Away was so unwanted, perhaps so unlikeable, that an editor made the assumption I’d submitted the manuscript in order to break a two-book contract. Yikes. When I heard that, a few years after the fact, it was real blow. Because I’d been serious—that book of stories was exactly what I wanted to write and to publish at that moment in my career. I’m not commenting one way or the other from this perspective—was it better for my career that those stories remain in my attic, or would they have been a worthy contribution to my overall published work? I have no idea. Francie’s Got A Gun probably wouldn’t have existed had that project been published, for the plain and simple reason that I wouldn’t have needed to write Francie—I walked through fire for Francie, and that’s something you only do when the need is obsessive and otherwise insurmountable. Writing Francie was a feat of endurance and single-minded optimism. Not hope—hope is softer and more organic, elegant. Francie exists because I was irrational in my need for her to exist.

(And perhaps I love Francie all the more for it.)

Nevertheless, those old stories intrigue me. I wonder what’s captured there—a mortifying self-pity? A Karen-like whine that the world isn’t bending to my will? Something’s in that collection that made an editor cringe. Yet I recall the stories in my mind as almost magical; maybe writing them was medicinal. It got me through. As writing always seems to. It gets me through.

What fascinates me about structuring a narrative is how crucial the unravelling is—the when and the shape of the viewpoint. Am I more ruthless when following a linear structure? I suspect so. Those stories were linear. The project began as an attempt to record in immense detail a single day, on the day that it was happening. The narrator (a version of myself) was unsparing to the point of cruelty to herself. But if I were to return to that narrator now, wouldn’t I see her actions differently? In returning—in recasting the structure as circular—forgiveness, gentleness, curiosity can’t help but creep into the perspective. I have kind feelings toward my younger self. Sometimes, I pause to thank my younger self for her courage, her wild leaps of imagination, her insistence on becoming, and for her mistakes. 

If I am fortunate, I will grow old, I will become elderly, and I will thank all my younger versions of self for their persistence and doggedness and belief that everything they did mattered. No matter how small. No matter the visible result.

Think of everything you’ll do in your day that is unseen or unnoticed or unrecognized. Hold a few of these in your mind for a moment, cup your hands around the small actions, gifts and gestures. I did not know the answer to the question Why give yourself away? when I was writing those stories, but the question itself landed differently in my ear at that time. I thought I was giving away pieces of my life to fiction or poetry, or flaying myself open as a means of creating art, and you know, maybe I was, and maybe that’s exactly what it meant at that moment to give myself away.

I won’t rewrite those stories. They stand, as they were, of that time. But I might write a new book with that title. Maybe. Honestly, who knows? I circle, I alight, I take flight.

Why give yourself away? The question lands differently in my ear now—I hear giving as ongoing life-affirming generosity that returns to you a thousand fold, because now I believe that my self is formed of a deep well, a source that is infinite, and that source is love. Unconditional ocean-like, star-like love. “Not the sad edge of surf, but the sound of no shore.” I can’t always access this love, nor am I always in tune with it, but that’s okay. I’m moving in that direction; I’m circling it, in fact. The tree in Francie represents that circling motion—accumulation of experiences, young/ancient core protected and held by rings of capacity.

Why give yourself away? What choice do you have? What you keep, what you hold tightly and cling to, will wither and harden, or pain you for being unspent. The hours are brief, and what you give will be returned to you in another form that you likely won’t be able to see, but you’ll feel and know because those around you will respond to it. If what you give is harmful, you’ll know that. (And by the way, I believe that even if what you’ve given is harmful, by giving it, you’ve opened yourself to the possibility of change—to give is to transform.) If what you give is greater than yourself, you’ll know that too.

This is not about giving everything to everyone, spilling your guts or breaking boundaries: Love the self you are giving away, meet yourself in unconditional love, begin there and expand ever-outward.

Why give yourself away? Because it’s how you find your way back to your source. But that answer is a bit too long. 

Because, love.

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

The year in projects

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1. Two Women – finish and send. Yes, I achieved this, sort of; Two Women is my “Grandma” project. She died this fall. It’s a project too close to my heart and spirit to be let go lightly, so I’m still holding it. Holding lightly.

2. Summer writing – unknown; clean studio/office. The summer writing project on which I landed was to finish revising the 16th century novel. But I didn’t feel like writing much, and instead had a summer of travel and adventure and caring for others and deeply wonderful restorative time in nature and with family and friends, none of which I regret. I’ve moved that summer writing project to this coming year—I plan to spend the next week working on revisions, and I have two farm writing retreats planned for this winter too. I also did clean my studio/office, and cleaned it again today (once every 6 months seems sensible!).

3. Farm writing retreat(s) – often! I “retreated” to my brother and sister-in-law’s farm three times this past year. Each time was wonderful, memorable, fun, meaningful, energizing, and productive. I was at my best last winter and spring, in terms of getting writing work done; this fall, I was in a bad space, too exhausted to do much thinking, and kind of crusty and brittle, as a person. I love my friends who come along, and I love that they come along and share this time and space and their creative energy (and kindness) with me.

4. Girl Runner film. I just received the option payment from a production company that hopes to make Girl Runner into a film. The director is a woman from Spain and we’ve met over Zoom to discuss her vision. So that happened! Contract signed, option out for the next 18 months (or so!).

5. Blog – ?? Well, I haven’t blogged much, the proof being in the posts. But I haven’t much felt like blogging, maybe because I haven’t had much that yearns to be said (in a public forum, that is) pouring forth from my brain. Is this healthy? I don’t know! But I do feel calmer and more content, generally speaking. Less agonizing, more doing. I like doing. The job-job give me a sense of purpose and usefulness, which seems to matter to me. (Side note: I have stopped trying to change what matters to me, instead recognizing and embracing it—and putting those values into action. Usefulness. Boundaries. Clarity.)

6. Marinate – all the feelings! It’s funny, but when I read this, I thought, wait, what? Marinate in my feelings? That sounds very goopy; but maybe the marinating has been softening me up! And maybe I haven’t marinated so much as acknowledged. I’ve acknowledged my feelings (emotions and/or physical sensations) in order to identify what I need to do—to help direct my actions. Instead of doing what I think I should do, I’ve been doing what I trust I should do. Trusting my gut. Trusting that my emotions are giving me valuable information. Trusting my decision-making. And giving myself permission to try something out and change as needed if it doesn’t feel right. I’ve found much more enjoyment in my emotional range through this experiment. Pride can feel pretty great. Crying in fury can be cathartic. Being loved is wonderful. Radiating care is joyful. Flatness is protective and sometimes necessary, and shouldn’t be ignored—numbness has emotional weight too. Etc.

7. WRDSB – experiment, experience, earn. This intention holds up nicely! I’m still here, on the job, learning and earning, experimenting, experiencing. 

I haven’t written out “Carrie’s Projects – 2024 [insert word-of-the-year here]” … stay tuned.

Wishing you a wonderful new year of projects and feelings. Marinate!

xo, Carrie