A friend has offered to redesign the banner on my website to remove the title “Obscure CanLit Mama,” which no longer fits so well. On a hot August morning in 2008, I titled the blog on a whim, and began sending out posts to the universe. My youngest was newborn. He’s now in high school. In those early days, I wrote a lot about the kids. I posted recipes and meal plans. I wrote about juggling constant stay-at-home childcare with attempts to steal even a smidgen of writing time. I’d published one collection of short stories, four years earlier. It seemed presumptuous to attach myself to CanLit as a participant (even an Obscure one). The Mama was the ascending identifying force in my life at that time.
I haven’t posted a recipe in a very long time.
I don’t write about my kids, except glancingly.
These days, I come here, to this familiar space, to reflect mostly on writing, but also on what seem to me to be ephemeral, spiritual matters: aging, artistic discipline, setting routines, learning new things, re-learning old things, the repetition of the seasons, creative practices, play, emotional weather / weathering emotions. Etc.
In the 14 years that this blog has existed, I’ve poured energy into being a writer, laying claim to that identity, earning grants, publishing three more books, teaching creative writing, organizing writing workshops, serving as a consulting editor with The New Quarterly, speaking, travelling, practicing the craft, seeking to keep my connection to my writing alive and thriving.
Obscurity is a self-effacing mindset (erasing? shrinking? minimizing? hiding?). I know that. But it was necessary protection as I tried to become / be a writer. I’ve been afraid of being a writer, of laying claim to this identity and its shifting cultural responsibilities. Since childhood, I’ve wanted to perform magic tricks with language, to conjure imaginary landscapes, converse with imaginary people, finding solace in their losses and successes. I did not aspire beyond that — that was a big-enough dream. I knew my writing wouldn’t be activist in nature, because I am not an activist by nature. I’m a ventriloquist, an observer, a performer, agnostic, hungry to learn, curious about the questions, less-so the answers, the mystery, not the proof.
It’s a rather exalted view of being a writer. Or maybe I mean ecstatic. Or impractical. But I admire it, I love what my former self was attempting.
I dipped into The Juliet Stories this morning, a book now ten years old, and the writing sang off the page, just like magic. I couldn’t remember the person who’d written it. It was like reading a stranger’s words. Did I know then what I’d made? No. I didn’t trust its worth. I didn’t need to. I just kept trying, year after year, focused on the writing, and eventually made something.
I want very much to be that same writer, to write with confidence, believing in the magic of language. “You know it’s not the same as it was”: this song came on my “Run Fast” playlist this morning (oh Harry! so nostalgic); maybe “As It Was” especially resonates in These Times, when we’re trying to remember who we were Before. But life is lived in the present, and time carries us onward. We change; and experiences change us. It’s not the same as it was. That’s a neutral statement, at heart. It doesn’t have to weigh heavily, though it’s tempting to roll around in those deliciously bittersweet emotions.
What’s next? What path am I running, where does it lead? I can’t see very far ahead of my feet. Whose hands am I holding? What’s pulling me onward?
What kind of a writer am I now? What kind of a writer do I aspire to be? Do I need to know? No. As Lynda Barry would remind me: it’s none of your business. Follow the energy, get comfortable in the not-knowing.
I don’t have a new title for this blog, just my name. Enough? Enough. Yes.
What a beautiful day. What a beautiful week it’s been. Each day has a slightly different rhythm, but throughout there have been conversations with friends, bike rides, walks, and several runs in the park.
How has your morning routine changed, as the new season begins?
For me, it’s meant waking up earlier, though I’m still figuring out how to get to sleep earlier to compensate. I’m prioritizing daily morning yoga. We are also walking Rose more regularly. After a close encounter with a skunk last month, Rose now has a curfew: she’s not allowed out after dark on her own. Ergo, more dog walks. Kevin and I like to end our evening with a walk around the block with Rose. We often walk together in the morning too, just around the block.
The first two hours of every day are devoted to exercise, yoga, and, often, connecting with friends. The house empties out by 8AM.
As this new season begins, the house feels so much quieter. Our two eldest are at university, and do not live at home. Our two youngest are now both in high school, and growing ever-more independent. So …
What am I to do? I’ve spent 21 years of my life devoted to looking after my children. Their needs are changing rapidly. In the midst of all this quiet, I’ve begun look around and consider what comes next. There is writing, of course, and there always will be. But I’d like to find a job, now, that offers stability and routine, preferably not writing-related, preferably with people. I really love being with people; I love writing solo in my little home studio, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve loved doing that all these years with a bit of cacophony in the background, a swirl of impending chaos. Maybe the disruption and interruptions have been as important to my writing process as the ear plugs.
Your thoughts, suggestions, advice, leads, encouragement would be very welcome, as I begin opening to this new direction, with some nervousness and hope.
In the meantime, on the book front, I’m keeping occupied with some readings, book clubs, and workshops. Links posted below!
Friday, Sept. 16, 7PM (tonight!) Bestival Reads with Wild Writers Literary Festival, tickets include snacks and a drink, with Emily Urquhart, Kimia Eslah, and Tanis Macdonald
Saturday, Sept. 17, 2PM (tomorrow!) The Village Bookshop, 24 Main Street North, Bayfield ON, reading and book-signing
Tuesday, Sept. 20, 6:30-8:30 WPL Eastside branch, The X Page Storytelling Workshop, with me and Anandi Carroll-Woolery, a mini-version of the workshop, open to all! Free, but you need to register at this link.
Book launch is less than a week away. Pub date too. It’s a time of intense vulnerability woven together with this great desire to celebrate, and let go of. The ego is dancing for attention, wants to run the show, and I reflect on how to …
accept what’s happening, no matter what may come
gently, kindly, lovingly release expectations (internal / external)
Truth is, I’ve been attempting to prepare for this day for quite some time. I knew it would be hard, because it pushes a lot of my buttons. Fear of rejection; feelings of unworthiness; imposter syndrome; fear of things spiralling out of my control. I’m guessing this is a common experience for many (most?!) who present their work publicly. Something about being in the spotlight, even the idea of it, kind of messes with the head. I wanted to shift that experience, if possible, so I’ve been working toward the goals (above) through therapy, reflection, and by seeking role models and support.
Confession: at times, I didn’t love who I was when I was promoting Girl Runner. I felt as if all my weaknesses, my negative tendencies and patterns, some bottomless un-fillable attention-seeking void in my soul were being exposed; and that was probably true! In retrospect, I appreciate this as a necessary, if painful, growing experience. UGH. Why are there no shortcuts to growing and learning? (Parenting is a constant reminder that no matter how dearly we wish to spare those we love most from the pain of “learning the hard way” … that’s not how it goes.)
So what did I learn the hard way? I saw some things: those weaknesses, those tendencies and patterns, some ways I’m most likely to cause suffering in myself and in others. Seeing, knowing, is a door or a window. It’s an opening, an invitation to shift habits and behaviours, to live inside my body more fully. How can I change what I can’t see, or don’t want to acknowledge?
An opening, no matter how painful, is an opportunity to shift experiences in ways that may be small, yet profoundly affecting.
Last October, I wrote: What would happen if I gave up trying to control outcomes, trying to control how people feel about me, trying to reassure myself that I could figure out the perfect approach that would persuade everyone of my greatness?
I cringe to read that word “greatness.” ACK! It’s so embarrassing! But what I wrote was true and honest. The grinding self that has accomplished much is also a fearful, grasping self that doesn’t want to be good, but great; that sets standards that are impossible to meet; that engages in external comparisons, and feels envy, jealousy. If I pay attention to the ugliness — the shadow side of my self — what can I learn?
Here’s what I wrote next, last October: Now that I’ve recognized my need to control others, control outcomes, and seek external praise and acknowledgement, in the form of respect and admiration from others (and to be known as a helper! Altruistic! Giving! A good person! That’s been especially key to my sense of identity), can I change how I see myself, and operate from a different place of inspiration? Can I find meaning in something other external praise? Can I fill that hole that needs reassurance — you are good, you are worthy?
Can I become someone who knows more and more deeply that I am worthy, because everyone is?
I think knowing this would allow me to see others with greater compassion and clarity, to be less reactive, less judgemental, and less controlling.
Yes, Carrie of last October. YES! What a terrific goal. And what a bloody hard test it is and has been to love the self that is ugly and fearful and defensive. How incredibly hard to be kind to myself when I am disappointed in my responses to situations, when I’ve done wrong, especially painful and difficult when I’ve hurt someone else. It’s a stretch to say that in these moments I’m quick to give myself grace, kindness, compassion. But if I notice what’s happening, I try — that’s how I try to respond. It’s a practice that I’ll be practicing for the rest of my life.
Here’s how I’m practicing it right now.
The book launch is Tuesday. In the past few weeks, I’ve felt all of the following and more: vulnerable, exposed, silly, craven, mixed-up, excitable, restless, bubbling over, unable to write anything new or to focus beyond cleaning the house and cooking meals. In response, I say: Hey, you, human being, it’s okay to feel all of these things! And I also say: Look at all the ways you’re caring for yourself.
Maybe even further: Look at your delight in being human! In being vulnerable and ridiculous and comical and expressive, and giddy, and hopeful and needy! You are capable of seeing and appreciating all this imperfection as a potential gift! Look at you asking for help when you need it. Look at this kindness you’re offering yourself — imagine it spilling outward into every interaction you have, now and into the future.
Imagine that this kindness, this grace, this delight is what you are capable of offering to everyone around you.
Now that would be the gift. There’s the true goal I’m seeking, the goal of my chosen vocation.
Here’s what I’m learning. When I started on this path, wanting to be a writer, I thought the goal was to be the best writer I could possibly be — grind away, publish books. But maybe that’s itself a practice, a way of walking a path toward a different dream, one that I could not imagine or conceive of when I first knew that I wanted to be a writer. Something I’ve begun to glimpse is how much lightness there is on this path. Lightness and laughter, and love, which is mixed up with grief sometimes too. Look at us, being alive here together.
Where is this path leading? I don’t know. But it’s been a mind-bending, heart-opening adventure so far. Why not trust where it’s going? Reading that word “trust” invites breath deep into my lungs. AHHHHH.
Ahhh, amazing — I find myself, right now, looking forward to this launch party no matter what happens. I’ve given myself a real break all this week, to do the things that feed my spirit and body, that feel good. No expectations. How is that possible? It feels miraculous, and I’ll swim in it gratefully, for however long it lasts.
Summer so far …
New things. Wandering around in this time and place, stumbling a bit. Travelling to the countryside. Trying to stay organized inside my mind even for a few moments. Answering “emotional emails” (not necessarily bad; just responses that require emotional energy, as I seek to connect with another human being through text and screen). Texts, texts, texts. Fun texts with friends, family. Emojis. Organizational texts. A few calls here and there. Outsourcing tasks that are overwhelming (like figuring out how to order more copies of my new novel from a warehouse in the United States; thank you, Kevin!).
Two big events coming up in the next week and a bit. Logistics. Planning. Invitations sent, vulnerable soft belly exposed.
It’s been a lot.
No wonder I’ve felt overwhelmed at moments. The cure seems always to be to find a friend. Connect. Share (and receive). This morning: meeting for a walk that happened to pass by City Cafe, leading to coffee and a donut on the patio under an umbrella. Mood boosted (sugar + caffeine + good conversation).
To mark the moment of publication, and also because I finally felt ready to create permanent art on my body, I got a tattoo this week. (I could delve into this subject more, I think, about why now, and how my relationship to my body has changed; food for another time.) The artist modified a branch-like ornament that breaks up sections in chapters, in Francie. I love it. I’m already thinking about getting a second one. I think trees are my theme.
What else is new? Oh, Kevin, who thinks I’m a natural comedian, suggested I try out TikTok, which so far has been a genuinely weird experiment. I can’t figure out how to use it as a consumer in a satisfying way, but it sure is easy to post brief little videos. I don’t know whether I’ll stick around, but for now, it’s been like producing a visual diary entry, and I like that. I suspect finding a personal tone and style might take some time … as it has here.
I’m so comfortable when I open this page and write into the empty space. Arrange photos. Press “publish.”
I feel like a good version of myself, here.
How many versions of self are there? Quite a few, don’t you think? I know I’m a little bit different in different settings and relationships; never not me, but also, not quite the same. I like some versions of self more than others. I’m sure those who share space with me would agree. But all versions are part of my self, the good, the funny, the ridiculous, the trying, and the occasionally overwhelmed. The tinkering continues.
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?)