The worst has happened—in terms of your literary life in Canada, that is, which are terms admittedly insular, and insignificant, perhaps, to all but those who’ve published a book of literary fiction in this calendar year. But there it is. Within this specific framework, at this specific moment in your publishing life, the worst has happened. You’re not on the long-list of the premier Canadian fiction prize.
This has just happened.
You’re surprised (and relieved) not to feel envy for those upon whom the light is shining. But you don’t. They need the light too. You don’t begrudge them a single spark.
What you feel, immediately, perhaps inexplicably, is shame and very little else. You feel like vanishing. You feel as raw as if you’d been sliced open, as vulnerable as a scurrying animal exposed in an alien environment. Shame is the most powerful emotion right now. You can’t imagine going outside of your house ever again.
So what are you going to do?
So you sit here writing. You sit and write because what else could you possibly do, especially if you can’t go outside ever again, even though it is a beautiful sunny day? You sit here writing, laughing at yourself, saying, you’re right here, breathing and alive, and you aren’t going to die from this. Your family is beautiful and funny and active, and they love you no less for this. You haven’t done anything wrong or evil. You haven’t hurt anybody. You haven’t actually failed, because there was nothing you could have done differently to pass. You are the same woman you were this morning, and you will be the same woman tomorrow. You will find your footing.
You are not made for the sprint distance, but for the long hard lonely run.
It isn’t meant to be easy, because if it were, it would count for nothing in your mind.
It’s meant to be hard. You learn most when it’s hard. You learn how to access reserves of strength and humour you did not know you had. You learn how to feel things deeply. You learn compassion for the deep, painful feelings of others. You learn repair. You learn self-governance and self-control. You learn discipline. Maybe, after you’re through writing this post, you’ll learn perspective, too, letting go, you’ll go eat some lunch. So, this is the worst that could happen? So, your reward is not going to be a bright prize and audience applause? You don’t know what your reward is going to be. It doesn’t matter. You aren’t doing this for the reward, you never were, and you never will. You’re doing this for life. You’re doing this to pattern words into story, to carry a reader into another world, to share your ideas in ways that can be taken in deeply and felt.
You want readers to find your book, so this is a disappointment. You know disappointment. It’s a totally non-lethal side effect, a condition of being who you are, someone with high hopes, dreamy and possibly delusional optimism, joyful dogged effort. And joyful dogged effort can’t be stopped by disappointment, only paused briefly, stalled briefly, here in this little rut of a moment that must be walked through to be gotten through.
It’s going to hurt, yes. It hurts, yes. This too is life. This too shall pass. Already it occurs to you that you may, in fact, be able to leave your house and go outside again. Perhaps even later this afternoon. It’s going to be okay.
And tomorrow you’ll write something else because tomorrow this will look different to you again. This is of the moment. This a record of what is happening now.
We don’t always have a ton of luck with the vegetables we plant in our raised beds, but every spring we give it another go. One year we scored with a broccoli plant that was still producing in November, but that never happened again. Cherry tomatoes work best, and herbs grow well, but any squash or zucchini that’s sprung forth has been quickly gnawed by our ravenous population of squirrels, which even the dogs can’t keep away all the time, though they relish the battle.
Fooey brought home a very healthy bean plant from school, which she planted with the beans that we’d started for AppleApple’s science fair project. Fooey’s teacher told her she had a green thumb, and it seemed that Fooey took that idea to heart. She’s planting two eggplants in the photos above. Good luck, eggplants! And beans! (I’m already stir-frying you in my imagination.)
This morning I am more tired than I’d like to be, and perhaps slightly more emotional too. I’m in the kind of mood where I’m practically weeping over a story in the newspaper (this one — about a kindergarten teacher in Toronto, who died tragically young). I’m hoping no one turns up at the door. I love stories about people who live outside the box. And I love stories about people who care deeply for the well-being and dignity of children; my son’s kindergarten teachers are amazing, and we’re constantly impressed at the ambitious yet simple events and outings being planned on the kids’ behalf. Life is so much richer when it’s blessed by people who care.
I’ve been to Toronto and back two days in a row, contributing to the tiredness of today.
Last night, I went in for the National Magazine Awards gala, and did not win in my category (the prize went to Liz Windhorst Harmer, who was radiant in her excitement). I went mostly to be a fly on the wall, having never been before, and to celebrate the career of Kim Jernigan of The New Quarterly, who was being honoured with a special prize. It was an odd experience, made pleasant by the company; but in truth I’m not sure I entirely understand award galas. I understand the value of awards themselves, to those whose careers are lifted by recognition, but I don’t understand the gala part. These must be expensive to produce, and as a writer, were I to win an award, I’d much prefer a cheque to a flashy ceremony. This is probably an heretical opinion to express, and I will now be karmically banned from ever being nominated ever again, but I guess I would wish for a celebration of writing to be more, well, celebratory, less American Idol, less winner v losers. What is our mania for making winners and losers out of individual creative efforts? I can honestly say that being nominated was a gift and a complete surprise, but that “losing” last night had an equally surprising effect of making me feel, well, like a loser, at least temporarily. That may say more about me than it does about award ceremonies, but it did get me thinking about the double-edged sword of recognition. One wants recognition, as a writer, and if one wants a viable career, one may in fact need it, but it comes at a cost we’re not so willing to discuss, attached as it is to corrosive emotions of envy and greed. Shake hands with the devil.
I can think of only one response to counteract corrosive emotions: get grounded.
Like Fooey’s doing in the photos above: Get into the earth. Dig in. Get dirty. Plant. Hope for harvest.
So, on this bright fresh beautiful morning in June, I’m going to be thankful for this bright fresh beautiful morning in June, for being here and alive, and for the way things have worked out to bring me right here, right now. I’m going to think about the short life of a teacher who did what he seemed born to do. And I’m going to keep doing what I am so very fortunate to get to do, too.
publicity planning for Girl Runner, Anansi offices, Toronto, May 8th
Bryan Prince Bookseller, Hamilton, with Kerry Clare and others from The M Word, May 7th
with daughter at Kiwanis Festival, Waterloo, May 7th & 4th
first prize! (piano)
waiting for spring to spring forth
run, Kevin, run
This week has been run, Carrie, run. Next up we have shine, Carrie, shine, as I’ve got a variety of upcoming work-related events and appearances.
Tonight, I’m visiting a friend’s book club to talk about The Juliet Stories.
On Tuesday, I’ll be at DVLB in uptown Waterloo @ 7PM as a “special guest” (that’s what the invite says) at the book launch for new story collections from Greg Bechtel and Tom Cho. I think I’m going to read a Juliet story I haven’t before.
On Wednesday, I’ll be in Hamilton at Bryan Prince Bookseller @ 7PM with The M Word’s editor Kerry Clare, and others. I’ll be reading from my essay in The M Word, but of course.
On Thursday, I’m headed to Toronto to meet with my publicist at Anansi to make plans for launch of Girl Runner here in Canada (Sept. 6th).
On Saturday, I’ve been invited to be a guest bookseller at Words Worth Books in uptown Waterloo. Words Worth is celebrating its 30th year in the business. (!!) I’ll be there around 11AM, if you want to drop by. (Apparently, working the cash register is not a requirement, for which we can all be truly grateful. I hope no one ever asks me to work as a guest waitress. Or guest latte-maker. Both jobs which I tried and at which I failed spectacularly. I would make a pretty decent guest stable-girl, or guest copy-editor, or guest babysitter, however.)
Finally, yesterday I found out that an essay of mine, “Delivery,” which was published last year in The New Quarterly, and also in the anthology How to Expect What You’re Not Expecting, has been nominated for a National Magazine Award. The New Quarterly has invited me to be their guest at the gala, which happens in June. The word gala kind of paralyzes me, I confess. But I’ve never been nominated before, and I would like to go and be a fly on the wall. Maybe in a nice dress? Maybe not. We’ll see.
I think that covers it for now in the shine, Carrie, shine category. But it’s more than enough to keep me running.
Forgive the giddiness. There’s a whole boatload of giddy-making news today.
Let’s start with Alice Munro. You’ve already heard, of course, but she earns top billing, because NOBEL PRIZE! Awarded today to a woman from a small town in Ontario who has spent her career here in Canada quietly writing short stories. She rarely makes public appearances. She is the opposite of someone who seeks the spotlight. And yet the light seeks her out. I’ve seen her read and speak twice, rare occasions that remain vivid in my memory. A year ago, I was asked by the National Post’s books editor to review her last book, Dear Life, and I accepted, in fear and trembling and excitement, because it seemed the opportunity of a lifetime: to write a tribute (hardly a review) to an author whose work I’ve admired, loved, and read and re-read for comfort and pleasure for the better part of my life. (Who Do You Think You Are? whispered to me as I worked on the piece, and whispers to me now as I re-post it, but there it is. I’m a fan. If Alice Munro were a hockey team, I would know all the stats.)
Now, I’m going to share some other news in entirely un-Munrovian fashion (first of all, by sharing it) with a tweet I saw this morning:
“@HouseofAnansi at #fbf13 hit it out of the park w / 3 sales of @carrieasnyder new bk #GirlRunner in Holland, France & Italy on same day. Wow!”
To interpret for you: House of Anansi is my Canadian publisher, currently attending the Frankfurt Book Fair, and, yes, they’ve sold the rights to Girl Runner in three more territories: more translations! Wow, indeed. My family is looking forward to celebratory meals of Italian, Dutch, and French specialities. Suggestions welcome. Spaghetti, gouda, and baguette with stinky cheese? (I said no to Albus’s request for pizza, unless it’s a non-north-Americanized version.) We’re going to start preparing and eating these meals at home, however.
And now, back to work. Revisions, revisions, and prepping for class tonight where I’ll be talking about … revisions!
Yesterday evening I remembered that someone from The Cord (the WLU newspaper) had emailed with a few questions a couple of weeks ago. I kind of forgot about it, what with everything I’m forgetting about these days, but when I was answering some other interview questions last night for a CBC site on blogging, it must have twigged my memory. Hey, I thought, I wonder what that other interview was about. A quick search, and I found the paper’s “Best of Waterloo Region” poll, clicked on “Best Local Author,” and there was my own half-smiling face. What the? I had to call my kids in to check it out. The ones who were still awake and should have been in bed. I’d been helping with homework, which has been a nagging theme for these past couple of evenings.
“Mom, could you just proofread this for me?”
I like to help, but less so at 9:30 at night, and even less so when a project is not truly at the proofreading stage, but rather at the “I’ve made up a few facts that I think sound cool” stage. I am currently conducting late-night mini-tutorials on proper research and use of a bibliography, in between lectures on capitalization, the differences between there, their, and they’re, and have you ever heard of a comma? I’m a really patient teacher.
No, I’m really not.
Here’s what I wanted to show you. I’ve got essays in two new anthologies out this fall, plus in the summer issue of The New Quarterly. I’ll be reading from The New Quarterly piece on Saturday at Word on the Street. Find me at the Walper, 4pm. The Waterloo launch for How to Expect What You’re Not Expecting is on Oct. 3 at the Clay and Glass Gallery, 7:30pm (get in touch if you’d like to attend that one, please!). If I had the energy or wherewithal, I’d also organize a local launch for Have Milk, Will Travel, an anthology of comic stories about breastfeeding, but right now I’m overwhelmed by the every day stuff. Like vacuuming the bedroom, cleaning paint off a dog, supervising piano practice, and picking up my swim girl who is home now and eating supper, which I left on the table for her and therefore still needs to be cleared when she’s done. (Supper = fish tacos! Fish tacos = zero complaints!) I’m just pleased to be squeezing in a little necessary, happy-making blogging and book-styling before bedtime.