Life feels softer, fuller, rounder. Sometimes this feels just right—for my age, my ambitions. Sometimes my eyes ache behind my glasses. I am softer, fuller, rounder. I don’t like this so much. It’s partly body dysmorphia and partly not—I am larger than I used to be, objectively speaking. I have had to upsize my pants. There are days when I don’t even go for a walk, because I can’t squeeze it in, let alone one of those hard runs I used to rely on to keep me sane, and fit, and possibly also fitting in those pants of the past. My body has fluctuated and changed over these nearly five full decades on planet earth. Pregnancies will change a person’s body. And endurance training. But so will mid-life hormones, and aging, and a myriad of other factors that are beyond my control. Out of control is what I feel sometimes, when squeezing into my upsized pants. Yet, since when am I in control?
Control is an illusion, a fable told to comfort myself—that I am choosing for my body to be the way that it is, at any given stage in my life and development. Our bodies, ourselves—caught in time, turning and turning.
But my head, my outlook, my mind—softer, fuller, rounder? Yes. And how do I feel about that? I don’t entirely know. I’ve had practice accepting change, loosening my hold on expectations, letting go, you might say, or holding lightly (parenting gives a person practice; being a writer, too). But practice doesn’t necessarily ease the challenge, in real life situations. It is easier to breathe when there’s breathing room. It is easier to accept what’s happening when it’s pleasant or hoped for.
I try to go into new situations without writing the script beforehand; but how does that fit with my love of plotting and planning and dreaming big? Maybe it’s both/and, not either/or.
Which brings me around to the softness in the structure of my life right now, its curves and rounded edges. There is time for all things, but not all at once. This new year, I’ve completed two workshops in conflict management, and I’m considering working toward certification as a mediator. But I don’t know where it might lead, in truth, nor how these skills might be applied. At the library, I pad around in my “librarian sandals,” and enjoy creating moments of surprise and delight and welcome for the students (and maybe for the teachers too, at least some of them!). I’m building relationships there; but also trying to apply boundaries, and keep the job easy and light, as it should be. I’m on board for another season of the X Page workshop, starting very soon; I’ll be an editor and lead some of the writing exercises, but others are taking on the more substantial leadership roles; I felt a lightness at our recent planning meeting. This has given me room to take on more of a leadership role at my church, which is small and relies on volunteers; this Sunday I’ll be preaching—a new genre for me. It took me weeks to write a 15-minute sermon, but I enjoyed the layers of exploration that came from a close reading of text.
Where in this is my fiction writing? Still very present; just not occupying my mind as an identity that I should be fulfilling at all times, lest it slip from my grip. Hold lightly. I’m approaching writing no differently from these other facets of commitment, responsibility—I want to enjoy myself while doing all these things, even committee meetings! And the quickest path to enjoyment (in my experience) is full immersion.
Basically, I put my phone away. Often it is out of sight, especially when I’m in a meeting or at work or writing. That limits distractions. Any task on which I’m fully focused is a task I’ll genuinely enjoy, or find interesting in some way—my brain is hungry for the details, for sensory information, for connection. Often, this actually feels like I’m leaning back in a comfy chair, taking everything in, hyper-aware of the nuances, the emotional tones; or my mind in its relaxation will see big-picture structures as clearly as if they were architectural drawings.
I love structure so much. Design. Sequence. Noticing how these things work in practice, or do not work, and investigating changes to systems. I like figuring out the pacing and rhythm; how these ephemeral/practical/felt structures support the why of what is being made—its desired outcome—whether it’s a worship service, or a novel; there’s not a single or “right” answer, of course, which is what makes it so fascinating. Endlessly fascinating.
How does writing fit into the systems and structures of my life? Like any task, I need to make room for it, make practical plans, and I need to seize the moments. Occasionally, I’ve been able to write with focus after work, or into the evening, but that requires a) being well-rested, b) someone else cooking supper, c) no evening meetings or obligations. It’s rare. So mostly, I’m setting aside chunks of time—like last weekend at the farm with my writing friends. Nothing on the schedule except writing, eating, talking, sharing our writing. I love when we read to each other in the evenings. Our times together are so cozy, so warm and peaceful; conducive to writing, but also to fostering a relaxed state of mind in which creativity thrives. I might not get to do this very often, but it’s a wonderful state in which to write. As proof, each of us has finished at least one major book-length project during our several years of writing together that we’ve either published, or will be publishing soon. Amazing!
Blogging, when it happens, fits into the in-between times. Like this post, written almost entirely on a Friday afternoon, sitting overlooking an indoor soccer field, feet up, travel mug of tea nearby, and my laptop open; but finished the following afternoon, because the previous sentence is where my writing stopped, when I turned to chat with a parent—a dad who was open to talking soccer with a woman, which is not, I must tell you, always the case. So I relished the opening, and went with it.
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”
—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.
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.
Yesterday, whilst braving the mall in search of nice jeans for work (you have to try on jeans, you cannot order them online), I stopped by the Indigo bookstore and signed new paperback copies of Francie’s Got a Gun. And then this morning, I biked down to the CBC-KW studio for a live interview on our local morning radio show. It was fun; in fact, both experiences felt easier and lighter than promotional work has in the past.
Biking home, I was bursting with gratitude. Gratitude to all my wise counsellors, therapists (official and otherwise) and friends. Gratitude to an ongoing meditation and movement practice that reminds me to breathe and be inside my body. I would not wish to suggest that I am content with my life all of the time. But I am ever more at peace with what I can and cannot give and receive from being a writer. Let my writing be ever more integrated into the fullness of the ordinary; integrated, not elevated. Integrated and enjoyed and appreciated.
Getting to be alive, to breathe and move and help and hug and hold and care and learn and grow and fall and be held—what I hope for is the chance to say THANK YOU for all of this through writing; but there are other ways to say thank you, too, which I’m getting to know and appreciate all the more, through every day ordinary experiences. “Ordinary Wonder Tales,” as per the title of my friend Emily Urquhart’s wonder-filled book of folklore mingled with memoir.
My sense of purpose and gratitude is activated through my job-job, and elsewhere in other points of connection, the little confluences and bumps and unexpected interactions that come along the way, especially as I’ve been willing to be in the world. Listening. Asking questions. Acts of service and kindness. Kindness to myself radiating outward. Paying attention. Solving small problems. Lowering the bar. Prayer. “Joy snacks.” Presence.
I know caring isn’t super-cool. But when have I ever been cool?? (If you want to feel very old and very not-cool, go to the mall, go into a store selling jeans, and try on a bunch while asking for sizing advice from a genuinely kind young man who is approximately the age of your own children, and you will actively achieve humility.) In any case … the truth is that I really do care about the people I’m with and the energy I exude.
And I’m thankful, heart-deep, for the wonders of getting to be alive in this broken, challenged, grieving, complicated and beautiful world. I’m in awe of what we get to do here on planet earth, in the little scrap of time we’re given. It’s kind of amazing, isn’t it?
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.
With this new job, I now have summer holidays. Today I’ll be visiting the school where I’ll be running the library this fall (and I’m ridiculously excited about this). I’m going to count the bulletin boards and start making plans for displays, and visualize the layout, and check on the supply of book tape, and who knows what else. Maybe I’ll aim to get some plants if there are nice windows.
Re this blog: I will be stopping in to post whenever the spirit moves me, and maybe it will move me a bit more in the summer. I’ll have time, and that makes a difference.
Also in the time department: I won’t be teaching creative writing this coming year. There is a freeze on hiring Arts sessionals at the University of Waterloo, so I’m out. I’ve never climbed above the level of sessional lecturer here. I will miss the students (and spending time with young people), but will be busy with my new job (and spending time with even younger people).
I wonder whether I’ll want to pursue something else on the side, if I’m not teaching—say, a library tech degree (?!) or a watercolour class just for fun, or yoga teacher training, or … no idea really, just curious to discover whether some other interest will bubble up and fill in the spaces that remain. Something creative or academic to stimulate other parts of myself? Or will I leave the spaces as spaces and just breathe?
In the meanwhile, I’ve been making a summer to-do list.
The first three items:
Aren’t rest and sleep the same thing? I wondered, writing them down.
My kids tell me I’m not good at relaxing. They might be onto something. Except at the cottage, where relaxing is all that I do. So I’m trying to figure out why that time feels so different—why I’m able to rest, sleep, read and relax, without feeling guilt or a nagging sense that I should be doing something else (cleaning something, most likely). Cottage Carrie sleeps for the first few days upon arrival. I sleep in, I take naps, I sleep and sleep and sleep till I’m filled up and fully rested. Only then might I do a little bit more—kayak, swim, read without instantly falling asleep (this is an every day problem!).
So maybe that’s the key: rest and sleep as a way to get into the summer groove. Rest, sleep, read.
After that, my to-do list says: yoga, bike everywhere, nail polish, eye doctor and dentist, shop for “mom jeans” and work tops, shop for child who is moving into university residence this fall, hang out with friends, time with kids, dog walks, park walks, lunch with Dad, occasional run.
I’m not in the summer groove quite yet. Today, the idea of summer holidays almost terrifies me, this emptiness; I want somewhere to go when I wake up in the morning, I want tasks to do, the security of a routine.
But tomorrow I’ll try. Tomorrow is the official start to my holidays. Tomorrow I’ll sleep, rest, read. Or something like that. I’ll make an attempt. Who knows, by the end of this summer, maybe I’ll have mastered the art of relaxing. I’ll be the best relaxer ever! A meditating puddle of zen bliss. Hey, a person can dream.
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.