I’m in between, right now.
In between tasks, in between seasons. Maybe it’s always this way? Maybe I’m always in liminal space, in flux, free-floating. I do set goals and meet them. But I also set daily practices, which don’t necessarily develop into full-fledged goals other than hoping to experience discoveries that slowly accrue and weave themselves into my way of being in the world.
I don’t set a goal unless I believe it’s something I have the will, time, energy, drive and desire to accomplish. A practice is lighter: it’s exploration, experiment, play; it’s something that draws my interest, that feeds my body, soothes my mind.
Writing can be either, for me: goal or practice; and these get tangled up and confused.
I set goals for my writing; but it’s really more fundamentally a basic practice, a constant companion and comfort. I’ve earned money from my writing; but in a nonsensical way, or impractically, unpredictable and sometimes completely disconnected from time and effort expended. Writing has opened other doors — to teaching and participating as an artist in the community, for example; but I don’t come to writing from a logical place, nor as a transaction. I don’t often exchange my writing for a tangible reward; mostly, I can’t, even if I wanted to. Anyway, that’s not how a practice works —
And I know that’s what my writing actually is.
It’s a practice. It’s not a vocation, it’s not a career, it’s not a way to get ahead or succeed, it’s not a means to an end. It’s how I function in the world, it’s kept me whole, it gives me clarity and release and it helps me — especially fiction — to organize my panicked, irrational, awestruck, mysterious, and otherwise unknown and unseen underworld.
The practice of writing radiates back so many life-giving things. Friendship. Connection. Challenge. Adventure. Doors open and doors close. Writing continues the conversation.
Like how … I needed to write this, this morning.
How it’s helped me refocus on what matters; on the real goal that pulls me onward. That goal is to connect. It’s not my word of the year (that’s “feel”), but the principle of connection is guiding most every decision that I make right now, as a parent, a friend, a community member. It helps me make moral choices, too. When I boil down what I believe and what guides my every action, it’s to build, strengthen, and maintain connections. The starting place is to feel — connecting to others is rooted in connecting to self, by knowing what’s inside of me, what I truly want to do.
Feel = Connect = Enjoy
Maybe that’s true? It feels true.
I started this post by writing: I’m in between, right now.
I meant: I don’t know what to do next. My big project for these past many years, my overwhelming goal, has been to publish another novel. It’s coming soon. I don’t really have much left to do, to prepare. It’s out of my hands now.
It’s not that I’m not writing fiction. I am, in volume and with great enjoyment. Yet, I don’t seem to have that combo right now of will, drive, energy and desire, or not directed toward the goal of publishing another novel. I’m not even sure anymore that it’s a healthy goal to take on; to be frank with you, the publishing part of the equation was, is, and will always be out of my hands. And that’s scary, honestly. What am I doing, trying to forge a career on such unstable earth? That’s a question asked by fear. I ask it, because I am that person, I have such fear. But I’m also a person with a practice. A career is a thing outside myself; a practice dwells within.
The practice asks: What’s drawing your attention? The practices reminds me: Follow the energy, write toward that. Trust this time, be in between. Feel, connect. Feel, connect. Be where you are. What’s enjoyable, here, right now? (Oh, so much! Plenty! Enough, and more! Maybe I’ll write about that next time?)
Friday morning. Waiting to cross at the border beside what appears to be the best dog ever. Maybe this will be Kevin and Rose 10 years from now?
Saturday morning. Posing with the birthday girl on her 100th.
Saturday evening. At the birthday banquet. It happens that our eldest shares a birthday with his great-grandma, and this was a big one — 21. He was a good sport about everything.
Sunday afternoon. Packed up to go drive home. What looks like a picnic stop. But is not.
Nope. It’s a Walmart parking lot. Tire damaged on Michigan highway needs replacing before we drive home. Walmart the only repair shop open. When I took this photo we were still optimistic about travelling home as a group.
This is a wetland, apparently, fenced off and beside the Walmart parking lot. I closed my eyes for a moment, seeking peace, and heard a lot of birdsong. Still feeling optimistic.
Optimism diminishing. Can’t drive home on donut tire. Can’t replace tire today. Will we all stay or will some get to drive home with Grandpa? Quick decisions made. One kid left behind with parents.
Somehow I neglected to take any photos of the lovely campus and guesthouse where we spent the weekend, including an extra night — with the one child who was left behind with his parents.
Sunday evening. I was feeling pretty grim after the kids drove off for Canada. I was worrying about … well, everything. But good company, and a walk to Ricky’s Taqueria for supper was soul-reviving.
A lot happened this weekend, more than is suitable for a blog post. I think I could write a novella.
During a brief visit to the land of self-pity, I thought, this is a nightmare! And then I heard what I’d just told myself, and I gave my head a shake — c’mon, Carrie, this is hardly a nightmare, it’s a minor inconvenience! You’re not feeling great right now because you’re anxious and you don’t know what will happen next, but you’ve got somewhere safe to stay, good food, the resources to fix your damaged car, and if all goes well, you’ll be reunited with your family within a day.
My brain tends toward disaster thinking. What is it good for, disaster thinking? I’d love to learn how to prevent it altogether, but my sense is that instead I’ll have to keep noticing my personal tendency to imagine the worst (in vivid detail) and find ways to turn away from indulging that tendency, over and over. (It helps to have a partner who counters my fears with, “Okay, but what if everything works out?”)
Monday evening. Everything worked out. Called a bunch of repair shops, early, found a friendly voice with the tires in stock. Tire fixed. Car survived return trip on Michigan highways. Miraculously home in time to host a birthday dinner for our 21-year-old. While we were still en route, the cake was baked by one of the children who’d gotten to go home early.
You know what else I’ve got? Great role models. Happy birthday to this exceptional woman, who is always looking up, and looking forward to what comes next.
I’ve been doing art therapy for about a year now. At my most recent appointment, the therapist recognized the work I’ve been doing and said that she had seen changes over this past year. She observed that when we started I was struggling to find space for myself, to make space, give myself space, feel deserving or worthy of space. And she thinks that’s changed. I agree. That feeling of worthiness might be the root of other changes I’ve observed, which feel profound; even while I know myself to be the very same person, plagued by the same anxieties and tics and inclinations. I can change and still be familiar to myself; I find this comforting and funny. It’s revelatory and delightful to discover (again and again?) that the self is so sturdy. Being mindful is just a way to observe more closely what I’m feeling and thinking in any given moment, and then I can decide what to do with that information. Mindfulness springs from worthiness: I trust that what I’m thinking and feeling is worthy of my attention. No judgement, no self-castigation, just observation.
It is as simple as that.
Here’s an example. I’m feeling impatient sitting in traffic. I’m going to be late, I think! I can feel my heart rate rising. I’m hitting every red light! I drop an f-bomb. At some point during this mini-escalation, I notice what I’m thinking and feeling. I say (maybe even out loud!), kindly, to myself, hey you seem pretty stressed out. That simple kindness is helpful. Yes, I am stressed out! Now I can assess whether my feelings and thoughts are attached to reality — to what’s actually happening. Am I actually running late? Even if I am running late, is this actually a crisis? (Usually the answer is no, everything is okay.) But there’s an even deeper and more profound question available here, too: Even if this really is a crisis, is this how I want to respond?
Of course not.
Do I have a choice in how I respond?
I believe that I do. I believe that I can laugh (lovingly) at my frailties and weaknesses, I can appreciate the vulnerable anxious impulsive human I am — the impatience, the rising heart rate, the swearing — and I can speak kindly to myself, and notice that everything is okay, right now. It’s always the right now in which I’m living. It’s amazing how this frees me to settle in and appreciate what’s happening, right now. I’m at a red light, but I can sing along to the radio, I can look out the window and see what’s there to be seen. There’s always something there to be seen, heard, felt, wondered about. The world is an amazing mystery that’s always present, available to be experienced, observed, cherished.
Thankfulness just wells up naturally when this shift in perspective happens — and I can be thankful and surprised and renewed by the world’s wonders, over and over again. It never gets old.
A few more changes I’ve observed:
I’ve stopped enforcing rules I don’t believe in.
If I don’t want to do something, I say so. Often someone else can do it instead. If not, I figure out how to make the task more enjoyable. By taking on less of the things I don’t want to do, I’m able to give more freely. A paradox. The way that being kinder to myself makes me inclined to be kinder to others.
I pay attention to a feeling I call “the shame sandwich.” Sometimes I wake up feeling like I’ve eaten a shame sandwich. What I know about shame: it’s attached to deeply rooted fears, specific to my life experiences. If I can identify the trigger, this helps me be kind to myself and the feeling tends to resolve. Shame makes it harder to be kind to myself, so it’s important to notice when I’ve eaten the sandwich.
I am kinder to myself. I know that I can’t do everything, and also that I’m not responsible to solve most things. I can help you find your lost book, and pick you up from piano lessons, but I can’t tell you how to be the person you want to be. I shouldn’t be trying to tell you that anyway. I’ll just love you, and care about you, for being who you are. I’ll pay attention to what interests you. I’ll ask questions and listen. I’ll find ways to connect that meet you where you’re at, wherever that may be. I won’t ask you to change, because I think you are sacred and amazing, exactly as you are.
I’ll hold you lightly. As lightly as I hold myself.
One last change I’ve observed: I let myself feel happiness. I know that I’ve been afraid in my life to feel happiness, to fully experience it, that I tamped the sensation down, afraid of being up too high and floating away, or afraid of what would happen when the feeling went away. I’m not letting those fears stop me from feeling happiness anymore. I think that by feeling happiness, I will feel it more often, in more situations: this glorious sensation of wellness and wholeness, and lightness. I’m willing to test this theory out.
What felt good this month?
Taking the train to Toronto for vocal cord physio, and seeing my sister: this was the best day all month, because it felt like an awakening. The day landed out of the blue, following a couple of weeks of recovering from covid, wearing a mask all day long to avoid getting family members sick, and missing out on fun activities. I was in a bit of a self-pity slump. Pushing myself out of my comfort zone felt amazing, important, necessary, medicinal. We had an open house for the X Page workshop; family came for Easter; I went on a weekend writing retreat; I’ve been driving to Stratford to record my audiobook. The 100 day creativity project has been an anchor too. I’ve been writing a lot, and playing the piano too. I love when the house is full of people, especially the kids’ friends. I’ve missed that so much.
What did you struggle with?
The first couple of weeks of April were lost to covid. I got it, Kevin got it, the kids seemed to escape. We ate so much take-out. I was tired for several weeks, and hoarse. Right now, at the end of the month, I’m struggling to meet all of my commitments. I’m most productive when focused on just one thing. I don’t want to let anyone down. I would love to be running more often. I ran two mornings this week and felt amazing — endorphins. But I was too tired the other mornings; so that’s a struggle. Trying to calibrate my biological limitations with my duties and responsibilities. The weather has also been very cold!! ARGH!
Where are you now compared to the beginning of the month?
My life has opened up, almost miraculously. I’m feeling relaxed and accepting. I’ve got things to do and places to go; I feel purposeful. I’m letting myself say what I need, more often, more easily. I’m patient with the things I can’t control (most of the things, honestly). I’ve had a few experiences this month that made me think maybe my calling is to be an emotional support person. Just be there, when someone else is going through something, not trying to change things or giving advice, just be there. I keep seeing how strange the world is, how out of my grasp.
How did you take care of yourself?
Sticking with the 100 day creativity project, even when I wasn’t feeling remotely creative (today was day 30). Organizing a writing retreat. Being with friends. Asking others to help out. Looking for clothes that fit. Letting myself be where I’m at. Getting my glasses fixed. Mediative puzzling (I’m doing them slowly these days, taking my time). Opening the house to friends and family. Recording the audiobook has been a gift to myself too: not easy, but a jolt of something new, different, creative, that taps into my acting self from long ago.
What would you most like to remember?
See above. How I took care of myself this month is also what I would like to remember. Stopping at the plant shop up the street with my sister-in-law was fun, delightful, even. Parking practice with my sixteen-year-old. An unexpected reunion with high school friends. Doing voice exercises while listening to my favourite playlist, driving through countryside.
What do you need to let go of?
This practice of letting go of a need for control is revolutionary. I’ll just keep doing that. Because every time I remind myself of what I can’t control by worrying or holding on or dictating or insisting upon or fretting over or demanding or clutching or clinging to, I’m able to stop doing those things. I can stop and just be. More than that — I can be thankful. Being thankful also comes from knowing my own boundaries are firm, and my needs are being clearly articulated (to myself, to those around me who are affected when I’m filled with resentment or fear). It helps to say: I’m okay, right now. That’s quite grounding. It also helps to place my feet solidly on the ground and breathe deeply.
Life. It’s bigger. It’s bigger than you and you are not me. The lengths that I will go to. The distance in your eyes. Oh no I’ve said too much. I haven’t said enough.
Fellow Gen Xers probably recognize that song (REM’s “Losing My Religion”). I don’t know why exactly it came to me as I sat down to write about Life. Maybe because it’s bigger. It’s bigger than it’s been, anyway, even after weeks of recovery (or maybe especially after that). I’m making plans, though they may change last-minute. My plans are mere sketches, a few chords on which to improvise; they delight me.
Last week, I took a spontaneous trip to Toronto on the train. Got me some vocal cord physio and an intensive on how to use my voice, in preparation for reading the audiobook version of my new novel (!!!!). Reading the audiobook goes on my bucket list (I don’t have a bucket list, but if I did …). Recording in studio is set to start next week. While in Toronto, I also visited my sister and her delightful pup (pictured below). I saw a man dance with a pigeon on the subway (not pictured). My eyes were overwhelmed by the sights out the train window. I was in bliss. It was exactly what I needed. Good medicine.
This weekend we hosted family. I didn’t feel like cooking, so I asked my eldest to make the scalloped potatoes — and he did! On Monday our second-eldest kid moved back home from residence, so the house was fuller when we woke up this morning. And our Open House for the 2022 X Page Workshop is tomorrow evening. In person! I feel myself buzzing with energy and new life. It’s not anxiety, it’s excitement. It’s a desire for connection that’s leaping out of me, off my skin, I can almost see it flashing from me in pinging waves, or like antennae reaching out. I don’t think I’ve turned into an extrovert during the pandemic, but I’ve clearly built up some extra space for social interaction.
Something I’m noticing about myself, as I return to life, bigger, is that I love being the still centre of a whirl — the ringmaster at the circus. Does this mean I enjoy stirring things up? I don’t know. I hope not. It isn’t conflict I’m after, but contact, connection, a performance that’s almost entirely improvised and feels natural because it relies on mutual trust, and self-trust.
This reflection came from a recent 100-day creativity prompt …
A list of things that are true about me.
I’m on day 2 of listing things. Here’s day 1 —
1 I love being the still centre of a whirl — the ringmaster at the circus
2 I am happiest when I am with people
3 I am trying to become less controlling
4 I love relating to teenagers — I think it’s an especially beautiful, searching, changing, vulnerable time of life
5 I experience big swings of emotion
6 Writing fiction is a form of therapy, for me
7 I love the feeling of trusting myself, it feels like a safety net into which I can fall
8 Discovering I’ve hurt someone is incredibly painful news and I resist hearing it, and/or respond defensively, and/or torture myself for it
9 I can be very self-pitying
10 I am oddly comfortable at the front of the room
11 I love learning new things and challenging myself to leave my comfort zone
12 My first instinct isn’t always right
13 I value strong relationships built on mutual trust, and care
14 I am not perfect at all
Spring is in the air!
After driving through a blizzard on the weekend to see family, this is very welcome news. I sat in a patch of sunshine around noon today, and soaked it in. Snowbanks grizzled and melting. The smell of mud. Spring, I’ve been waiting for you.
A dear friend has decided to make a list of “50 fun things” to celebrate her birthday this year. I have to say, the idea of even identifying what “fun” is has felt almost out of reach at times this winter, and I was intrigued and inspired to try to discover fun again. So I’ve started my own list. Not related to my birthday, just related to tapping into the world again, connecting myself with emotions and experiences and possibilities that have felt remote at many times during the past two years. (Happy 2-year pandemic anniversary, by the way.)
I’ve gotten up to #35. Planning events
#1 is Barefoot in grass
What’s fun for me may not be what’s fun for you.
Fun for me has an element of surprise, or opportunities for improvisation. The unknown. Spontaneity, even impulsivity. Something that feels special. A bit different. Out of the ordinary routine. Often when I’m having fun, I’m out of my comfort zone.
How does this connect to The X Page Storytelling Workshop? Meeting new people, being brave, learning new things, hearing new stories, responding from the heart, being part of a cooperative creative project, exciting discoveries, supporting others, the time flying by: all deeply embedded into my idea of what’s fun, as it turns out.
Please spread the word, if you live locally. We are planning to meet in-person this season, which is incredibly exciting.
Interested in making your own list of fun things? Please let me know if you do!
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