I sit down to write here, on the blog, and my mind goes round and round the purpose of this blog. I wonder why people are reading, perhaps, and why they may not be reading. I wonder why I am writing. Do I have something to say? Is my purpose to amuse, to inform, to muse, to form? Do I call out in hopes of a response? Am I launching quirky missives from an insular and isolated place? Am I writing as a writer, as a mother, as a seeker, as a knower? Am I writing to you? Or to me? Or to no one at all, to the ether?
I’ve come a long way on this path of being a writer. When I was a child, I wanted to be a writer like L.M. Montgomery or Lois Lenski. I wanted to be a writer like Emily of New Moon. I wanted create imaginary romantic worlds of adventure and mystery. As a teen, I was in love with language, and saw in it a violent risky potential. I wanted to write like Michael Ondaatje. I wanted to write barely coherent poetic scenes of romance and mystery and adventure. I didn’t care whether or not my stories or poems made sense, only that they burst with emotion and the fullness of self, perhaps. As an older teen and into my twenties, I wanted to write like Mavis Gallant and Alice Munro. I wanted to craft brilliant sentences that both hid and displayed meaning, sentences that were as rich and big and complex as a whole story, characters whose motives were murky. I wanted to conjure worlds at a tilt from my own, veined and layered and dark.
And so I wrote and I read and I wrote and I read.
In some fundamental way, I refused to believe that I might not be a writer, someday. I willed myself to continue through years of small steps forward, and crushing rejections. I determined to improve. I determined to learn and to master the craft of storytelling. How to do this particular thing and do it well: how to tell a compelling story, not neglecting plot for style, not neglecting sentence structure for pace. I got better.
I got to where I am right now, here, sitting before this laptop, wondering, wondering. Do I still want to be a writer, so fiercely, so absolutely, so determinedly? Who do I wish to write like, now? Or, more importantly, perhaps, than I originally understood: what stories do I long to tell? And if I have no story that I long to tell, why craft the structure, why lovingly build the sentences? If the house is empty? (Is the house empty?)
Engagement is a key word of our era. That seems to me the purpose of social media. Anyone who wishes to earn attention, to market her work, must learn to engage with her audience, to maintain a call-and-response relationship, the bigger the better. It comes naturally to some, and less naturally to others. I put myself in the latter camp. Yet this blog is a form of engagement, whether or not I choose to see it that way. And when I recognize this and admit it, I become more and more uncomfortable as purveyor and publisher of posts. I cannot understand what I am doing, nor what my purpose may be. Is it, as originally intended when I started the blog in 2008, to narrate my every day life, to keep it in some form, and if so, for whom? For my children? For myself when I am older? Am I marketing my books? Practicing my craft? Indulging in cheap philosophy? Is this a publicly-kept journal?
Could I live without engagement? This specific form of engagement? (Silly question. Of course I could.)
Less, is the message that’s been coming my way. Not more, more, more, but less, less, less. For so long, I’ve fought to become more, to achieve more, to do more. I’ve worked toward big, specific goals and dreams. Now I’m confronted with this strange glimpse of myself, something I was afraid to see: I see that I will never write as wonderfully as I’d hoped to. I’m not possessed of a special gift. I’m a hard-working woman, that’s all, and I had a dream.
I’ve written that in the past tense without even noticing: and I had a dream. Strange. Isn’t it? Maybe the dream is shifting, deepening, altering course, becoming something else.
What now? What next?
Now: Life is strangely lovely at present. It is unexpectedly wonderful to hear less, less, less calling me. I feel myself relaxing into moments in a way that feels almost unfamiliar, unknown. I feel the pace changing. I feel myself at peace with what I have, right now.
Next? Being a writer isn’t something you quit. Writing is how I process the world around me; I’d be impaired without it. I continue to write, as always, but right now it’s a form of listening; without shape. I think my purpose is to listen, right now. I feel quiet. I feel a great deal of affection–of love–for those around me. The days are full, vivid, layered and veined and rich. I feel human. I feel flawed. I can’t think of anything I need or long for or crave, not even direction, right now. I feel present.
What I don’t feel is at an end with this blog. But I want to be honest about my ambivalence toward its purpose, and my use of it, at present. Thank you for listening.
PS Photos are from this past weekend at my brother and sister-in-law’s farm, taken after the sun went down, on the longest day of the year. Homework got burned, marshmallows got roasted and mushed between graham crackers, and the mosquitos almost won. Almost.
Twenty minutes can feel like no time at all, when I’ve fallen down the rabbit-hole of the internet, reading truly fascinating but perhaps not necessarily useful stories on … well, see, there’s the problem. I must have read at least five truly fascinating but not necessarily useful stories in the past twenty-four hours, following links from Twitter and Facebook—to genuine news stories or long-form articles, not top-ten lists—but I can’t recall the contents of a single one. Poof. The minutes vanish.
But twenty minutes can feel like a very long time when I’m sitting in silence listening to the sound of my thoughts skittering, seemingly randomly. Oh, there’s my mind trying to make a plan for later on today, and a list of things I can’t forget to remember to do. There’s my mind slipping sideways into what seems to be a dream. Bring it back, follow the breath. Breathe, breathe, meditate. Oh, there’s my mind dashing off to wonder how much longer. And under it all, there’s my body, trying to hold fast, remain still and calm but strong. What this exercise seems to be, at its core, is a daily weather report: here’s what you’re feeling today. Here’s how your body and mind is coping with challenge. Bring an umbrella.
Today’s weather report of my body and mind: very tired, wandering, a bit directionless, with a chilly breeze of underlying anxiety about upcoming events.
I’ve been struggling to write, here. Not elsewhere, but specifically here, in Blogland. I was at a book club on Monday evening, a friendly thoughtful group, and they asked interesting questions, including one I found difficult to answer: How do you manage the attention? My gut instinct? To reply: uh, what attention? The truth is that I’ve been managing attention by pretending there’s a solid wall between my public life and my private life, and that the two don’t intersect. It’s a mental trick I sustain when blogging, too. I pretend no one’s reading. It’s like I’m writing this in a special private journal that oddly ends every time with me pushing “Publish.” It’s a trick that doesn’t work terribly well, I’m beginning to understand, not just in Blogland where readers respond to posts (which I love), but also in the real world. (I can hear you thinking: you’re just grasping this now?). For example, on Monday afternoon, my 9-year-old had a new friend over, and when the dad came to pick her up, and I was making small-talk in the front hall, he said, “I saw you in the newspaper.” Private Carrie fought with Public Carrie, confused. He’d seen me in the newspaper? Had I been charged with some crime? Oh, right, I’m a writer. I actually had to say it out loud, as if explaining it to myself, “Oh, yes, I’m a writer.” “I know,” he said. Oh, right.
So the separation is illusory at best, and delusional at worst.
Further, the whole pretence breaks down completely when I admit, both to myself and to you and to the lovely women at Monday night’s book club and likely to that dad in the front hall, that I want people to read what I’m writing. Of course I do! The sustainability of a writer’s career depends on readers. If I were operating a retail business, it would be counterproductive, not to mention just plain ridiculous, to open a shop only to pretend the shop doesn’t exist. A customer walks in. Carrie pretends she’s in her living-room, in yoga pants, looking after sick kid. Customer is confused, feels like an intruder, apologizes for wishing to purchase something from shop Carrie continues to pretend does not exist. (Why doesn’t anyone come to my shop, Carrie wonders? Maybe I’m not very good at making _____. Maybe I should quit trying and become a midwife.)
In other words, ambivalence isn’t actually ambivalent. It’s pretty damning. Like my dad would say, shit or get off the pot. (I really like that saying, actually; I use it a lot, when giving myself advice.)
But here’s the thing. What I’m selling in my shop is not me—it’s my writing. And that does feel genuinely separate. I’m in my living-room, in my yoga pants, with my sick kid, holding out a book. Holding out a blog post. This is the thing, I’m trying to say, Forget about me. So it’s confusing. I write in hopes that people will read what I write, not to attract attention to myself. I read Nick Hornby and Bill Bryson and Miriam Toews and Ruth Ozeki and Karl Ove Knausgaard and Kim Thuy because I really like their writing. I wouldn’t need to know anything about them to like their writing. I may feel I know them, because they are all somewhat autobiographical writers, but knowing them is not my motivation for reading their work: I read because I love what they do with story, with language, with structure and form, and because I’m moved and entertained by their writing.
I guess my overarching question is: Is seeking attention critical to finding readers? Is it a job requirement? What if I focus instead on being the best writer I can possibly be and stop sweating everything else? What if I simply support a project at every stage of development, including talking about it after it’s been published–and let go my attachment to the attention, personally. Then the transition between public and private might be much less jarring, much less important.
During today’s meditation, I had a sudden vision of seeking balance between interior and exterior. Between maintaining a quiet private interior focus, which is what I need in order to write, and an accepting reflective public exterior focus, which is what I need in order to be in the world as a writer. How can I be as authentic and free in my public life as I am in my private life? I breathe in, and I breathe out. Breath itself is a balance between interior and exterior.
So, how do I manage the attention? Maybe I’ll figure it out someday, twenty minutes at a time.
PS I’ll be at the Kitchener Public Library this evening, presenting the prose awards for the Dorothy Shoemaker prize, which I adjudicated this year. And I’ll be in Fort Erie on Friday evening as part of the Ridgeway Reads reading series.
And here’s what she’ll look like — a proud Canadian! And yes, although the maple leaf had not yet been chosen as our flag in 1928, a maple leaf did indeed adorn the shirts of the Canadian athletes at those Olympic Games. (Note: Girl Runner isn’t quite yet available in Sweden; I’ll keep you posted on the upcoming pub dates there and elsewhere. The book is newly available in the US and the UK & Australia — and looks super-pretty in both those places too; click on the link to see all the different book covers.)
If you’re in Waterloo, please note that I’ll be reading at Conrad Grebel College as part of the Mennonite Writers’ Series on March 4, and at Wilfrid Laurier University on March 5. Both events (and others upcoming) can be found on the Events page on this web site.
Sorry to be so business-like today. My mind is bustling with ideas and I’m scarce on time, but I really wanted to share that lovely book cover. Thanks for checking in.
PS One last thing: a link to a story about Mavis Gallant, the Canadian writer known for her short stories, who died last spring in Paris. I’ve read and re-read her work as often as Alice Munro’s; so that’s a lot. I was lucky enough to take a grad course on Munro and Gallant, just the two of them, many years ago. Lucky because I got to read their stories for eight months straight. Mavis Gallant died penniless in Paris at the age of 91. She’d made a living as a writer for the better part of her life. A story that interests me particularly about her is how she tried and failed to write a novel on a particular subject, not for years, but for decades. She tried for decades to write this novel, and failed. You could say that was a tragedy, and you could say too that dying penniless was a tragedy; but you could also say that she appears to have lived her life quite as she wanted to, and that she remains an enormously admired writer. I would have wished for her greater financial success during her lifetime, mostly because it would have eased her life, especially in old age. But I’m glad she stuck to her chosen course, and drank good wine sometimes, and had good friends, and wrote such stories. They’re such stories. Read her, if you haven’t. “The Ice-Wagon Going Down the Street” is a story that’s stayed with me over the years, and “When We Were Nearly Young,” but if you’re starting from scratch try her Linnet Muir stories, which are loosely autobiographical.
… in a real kind of way, that my book is coming out in the US and the UK in February. The finished book arrived yesterday, in hardcover, from the US. The day before, my UK publisher sent word of a thrilling endorsement from Sara Gruen (Water for Elephants):
Carrie Snyder has written an extraordinary, accomplished debut novel of love and family: a wonderful story of a free spirit forced to make difficult choices. Aggie Smart is a truly memorable heroine: she grabbed my hand on page one and never let go.
So I guess it’s happening, elsewhere: the book is coming into existence, again.
I laid out all three English-language Girl Runners on the counter and the little kids admired the differences. Both were quite taken by the tiny child leaping or flying over the barn in the UK version.
A lot is happening, elsewhere. I’m thinking of the news from Paris of murder and hostage-taking, which is immediate, and news of missing and murdered aboriginal women, which is on-going, and “domestic violence gone awry,” also on-going, and the myriad of stories happening in our world that are, at core, messages of violence and annihilation, and hatred. And here I am, cocooned in warmth, snowed in, a dog snoring at my feet; the world looks beautiful and bright and wind-swept from my window. Here I am. With all this going on, out there. But it’s in here too, in me, as I think about a world of many wrongs and griefs.
What I’m going to do right now is write.
I just received the cover art for the Polish version of Girl Runner (titled “Biegaczka”; any Polish-speakers out there? does it translate as Girl Runner?), and thought it might be fun to line up the covers so far, and see all these versions of Aganetha Smart running, flying, leaping, winning, or standing pensive and strong, as in the Dutch version, which will have the title “The Rosebud Athletics Club for Women.”
Because the images appear on the screen in a different order depending on your browser, it doesn’t work to tell you what cover comes from where by going around clockwise, but included here are covers from: Poland, the United States, the UK & Australia, Spain & Latin America, Canada, and the Netherlands. (I should run a contest–which cover comes from where!)
I also just got off the phone with Owlkids, the publisher of my first children’s book, The Candy Conspiracy, and will take this opportunity to note that although the official pub date isn’t until April, 2015, it’s already available for pre-order on various book-selling websites in Canada and the US. Here’s what it looks like.
Will it be different to be a children’s author than an adult author? I guess I’ll find out soon enough. And I will let you know, but of course … One difference will be the launch party: way more gummy worms. (This launch party basically plans itself.)
The gilt mirror makes this room, I think.
I’ve moved north and west, just a bit, walking distance from the previous hotel. This hotel wins at bathrooms. The last hotel won at laundry prevention. Let me explain. This morning I set my alarm and got up and ran on the treadmill before checking out. I did this almost entirely to take advantage of the hotel’s offer to provide guests with athletic gear, so you don’t have to schlep your sweaty mouldering running clothes home in a plastic bag, after several days of increasingly disgusting re-use. Nice touch, anonymous hotel. Plus, the offer goaded me to exercise.
Anything to shame me into the semblance of a routine, I tell you.
I did something fun today (aside from take selfies in yet another hotel room). I popped in on my brother and sister recording a video for their new song. Yes, Kidstreet fans, the band is alive and well! I think it’s still fairly hush-hush, so consider yourselves in on the ground floor with this intel. When I walked into the theatre space they’re using for the video shoot, I didn’t even recognize them. Rock stars! Also it was dark. (And I might be almost old enough to need glasses, suddenly.)
I can’t wait to share this video when it’s done. They’ll be there for many hours more, so I didn’t stay. In fact, I’m not typing this from my anonymous hotel room at all. I’m typing this from my lovely Canadian publisher’s office at Adelaide and Spadina: thank you for the company, the coffee, and the wifi, House of Anansi!
We’re going to the Writers Trust dinner soon; this is not where the winner is revealed, but the celebration the night beforehand, when we’re all still winners. I may change into a dress. Or I may show up in the identical nice black sweater I’ve worn all weekend (refer to previous post). It’s nice. Presentable. Rather like me. Or so I hope.
PS I have to tell you that I’m itching to get home to conquer the laundry. It’s mundane. But the thought of all those clothes in the hallway hamper waiting to be sorted, washed, dried, folded, and put away into their respective drawers makes me almost giddy with excitement. As I type that, it sounds weird. But it’s true.
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