Category: Sleep

Changing the script

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Walking home from yoga this morning, I was thinking about my body. I’ve been thinking about my body a lot lately, too often negatively. There is a script from deep in my past, fostered by messages absorbed throughout a lifetime, that says: control your body or you’re worthless. It’s fat-phobic, yes, but it shames on multiple levels, given how little a person controls how she is seen and perceived in this world; given how little she controls the effects of hormonal swings, physical ailments and illness, and the general fragility and fungibility of the human body.

Walking home, someone (a man) started shouting out of the window of his vehicle—I didn’t think he was shouting at me, but it reminded me of being shouted at as a younger woman, even as a young teenager. Words that treated my body as an object, not part of a whole person, and words that told me that attention was to be valued, and also, paradoxically, feared. I remember the relief of suddenly (it seemed to happen quite suddenly) being “too old” to attract the attention of men shouting from car windows. But I wonder whether wanting to be invisible is ultimately damaging to the spirit too. Why should I want to hide myself away, as if in shame of being in this body, here and now?

I do not want this script rolling inside my head, telling me to be ashamed of my body, while also telling me that I need to work harder to change it, somehow. It’s a script that will never be satisfied with my body, no matter its shape, strength, and power. One of my parenting goals has been to break the multi-generational narrative that something is wrong with our bodies—I’ve wanted my children to be free from that internal/eternal script, or at least not to receive it from me. But they might receive it from me, by proxy, if I am speaking it to myself. To break the chain, I need to break it wholly. Or I want to!

Can I change the voice in my head?

Last night after obsessing over a photo of myself as radiantly happy and yet objectively (wait—subjectively??) unflattering, I decided to start an experiment. Every time I notice the voice in my head saying something cruel or self-deprecating or dissatisfied or despairing about my body, I will counter with the words, “I love you, body.” Spoken out loud (or whispered): voiced. The magic will be in the noticing—using the moment, when deep subconscious self-loathing rises to the surface, to turn instead toward love. When I hear that voice, I will be reminded that it is not my voice, and that it has no power that love cannot shift.

I love, respect, and admire people who live in bodies that are all shapes and sizes, and I believe them to be amazing, wonderful, interesting human beings with wisdom and insight; their bodies carry their spirits and personalities and that’s what comes through when I’m with other people, known or yet-to-be-known to me. I want to love, respect and admire my own body in the same way: as a vessel that’s carried me nearly five decades, that’s adapted to enormous changes, like adolescence and pregnancy and peri-menopause, and that radiates with my spirit.

So, to summarize, here’s my plan: Whenever that voice speaks in my head, I will counter with “I love you, body.” I will shout it or whisper it, say it seriously or half in jest, believing the words or not believing them; I will say these words no matter what. I will also seek to give my body what it enjoys—like riding my bike to work, and stretching in yoga, walking, getting enough rest and sleep, eating tasty food, laughing, rubbing minty lotion into my feet, wearing clothes that flatter my shape and feel comfortable, and etc. Whatever I can think of that my body will enjoy, I will try to do.

Walking home this morning, I asked myself: have I been able to shift in-born beliefs or deeply grooved habits? Do I think differently now, have I been able to affect change within myself? And while it feels like discovery is more accurately re-discovery, circular rather than linear, yes, there have been significant changes to my thinking patterns. Most feel too private to discuss here, in a public forum, but suffice it to say, some of my fears have softened or even melted away, and my ambitions have shifted significantly too.

So, body, I love you, I love you, I love you. I’ll keep saying it till it’s the new script, the ongoing and true story.

xo, Carrie

Softer, fuller, rounder

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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.

Dive in.

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.

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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.

xo, Carrie

One human, seeking balance

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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. 

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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.

xo, Carrie

Lyrics in my head right now: “Life is a balance, you lose your grip, you can slip into an abyss…” J. Cole, “False Prophets”

Summer Carrie, progress report

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Summer Carrie is here. Summer Carrie is traveling, swimming, reading, hanging laundry on the line, doing copious amounts of yoga, walking with friends, hosting family, eating entire cucumbers, picking backyard berries, and soaking in the sunshine (and rain).

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Will I finish my summer writing project? Will I learn how to watercolour flowers? Will I eat enough cherries to last me all year? When will I see the Barbie movie? Can anyone slice a watermelon better than my dad? Why are so many people from my past visiting in my dreams? Do the ones I love know that I love them, do I tell them often enough, and in languages that speak directly to their hearts? Should I aim for more sleep and rest, or more play and fun? Am I brave enough to do all the things I’ve said yes to?

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Oh goodness.

xo, Carrie

Roots, old and new

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On April 1st, I started a 30-day journaling project (inspired by Suleika Jaouad’s Isolation Journals). What I’ve noticed so far is that prompts really help. On days when I try to jot down random thoughts, not much comes squeezing out. I’m preoccupied by surface tasks and must-dos, and a feeling of emptiness prevails. This is a most unpleasant feeling. So, today I said to myself, what advice would you give your students, if they were feeling stuck? You’d say, Stop trying to “journal” and do a daily diary (a la Lynda Barry), or an X Page prompt (ditto). Get out of your own head. Come alive by entering the world.

Other prompts have worked well too. My word-of-the-year group is spending April responding to each other’s words (we were each assigned someone else’s word to reflect on). My assignment was to reflect on the word ROOT. One of the associations that jumped out was “long-standing friendship.” A long-standing friendship, like a long-standing tree, has deep roots, has weathered many storms, and has had good fortune.

Reflecting on this imagery, related to ROOTS, and separate from the word-of-the year assignment, I landed on a journaling prompt: What roots in your own life are long-standing? And also, what roots are tender and new? It’s spring, after all! People are planting seedlings, tiny buds are opening. Feel free to use this prompt if it sparks something in you, too.

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Long-standing roots

Words unfurling across a page, a screen, scrawled in the margins and end pages, marking time, holding ambition, bright with rage, lyrical, lyrical, lyrical

Born family, brothers and sister, all of us rooted in time, in blood and DNA

Music, song, rhythm, pulse

My feet walking, running, my body in motion, powerful, strong

Friendships that hold, light in the window, light at the door, and bread, and wine, and laughter and forgive me

Performance, putting on a show

Reading, imagination’s flow

The trees themselves, and water, mud, grass under bare feet

A big appetite, hoarding, cheapness, knowing best

A quietness amidst chaotic flow

The impulse to make places home

Loneliness, fear of not belonging

Thrift against decadence, earnestness

Wanting to make people laugh, to entertain, to put at ease, and yet aloof, sharp edges

Horses, dogs, children

Memory, curiosity, mystery, questions without answers

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Tender new roots

Medication to lift the load

Healing estrangements, more trust, talking about tough stuff, tender stuff too

Kids moving home and away, vegetarian meals

Big job interview, looking for work that satisfies my need to earn a living and to feel/be purposeful

Transitioning X Page workshop to a sustainable long-term project

Parenting teenagers and young adults

Spending time with little kids again, delighting in their presence

Library skills

Getting reacquainted with teaching

Practicing social skills and conflict resolution

Expanding my skill set, seeing my skills as having other applications, exploring outlets for my desire to connect, create, be fruitful, self-sufficient, purposeful, to serve

Doing “the work” to counter harmful patterns and habits

Yoga and meditation—soaking it up!

Body awareness, body love, healing

Caring for elders, patience, tenderness, listening to the wisdom of elders

Honouring needs, resting, relaxing, spontaneity

xo, Carrie

Good morning, new season

20220909_071113What 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.

20220912_192419The 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!

xo, Carrie

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.