Category: Space

Spring burst

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As much as I long to find just a little more rhythm to my writing life, damn but it’s taken the pressure off to work in a school library. Childhood is bursting with magic. To be with kids is to be in the presence of pure creativity. When I was a child, we would visit the Nashville public library for their puppet shows. I remember being utterly entranced by the puppets. How were they speaking? Who was making them move? They seemed real — in some fundamental way, they were real to my imagination.

Now, on a very small scale, I get to participate in magic-making with the children who come into my library — it’s homemade, it’s improvised, it’s nothing fancy, but even the smallest surprise is sufficient to spark delight, curiosity, questions. Children are not fussy; the youngest of them pay the closest attention to the tiniest details. If you’ve ever read a picture book to a group of kindergarteners, you’ve been blessed by the deepest attention you’ll ever hope to receive. “Oh, those aren’t raindrops, those are tadpoles!” “How did Curious George jump higher?” “Why did he let go of the balloons?”

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On my story time bulletin board, I add characters or objects from books we’ve read. The seasons change. Nothing is static — things move around. Somehow, it’s more magical because it’s tactile. It isn’t digital. It isn’t online, or on a screen. It’s present with us, to be experienced and observed by all, as we gather in the same moment and place in time and space. We experience it collectively, from our different positions around the room, our different heights and ages. Like the magic of the puppet theatre, I don’t think this is repeatable, really, online. We don’t live solely in our minds; we live in our bodies, as sensory creatures.

In truth, however, my main job in the library is to maintain the collection — a tactile mode of interacting with this most beloved of mediums (beloved to me!): text and illustration bound up in pages. The sensation of handling books affects me similarly to doing a puzzle; it’s soothing and peaceful to create order.

As for the other hours in my days and weeks, I’m currently on a “spring burst.” I’m going to gym regularly to spin, sweat, lift weights, stretch, and take good care of this deep-into-midlife body (and mind). The X Page is entering its final month of preparation (!!): mark your calendars if you’re local. We’ll be performing this season’s stories on Sunday, June 16th at the Registry theatre in downtown Kitchener (more info coming soon). And my writing life is bursting with beautiful blooms too: seeing a dear friend’s book project come to fruition, editing stories, dreaming up a new novel, and more that I’ll share when the time is right.

Come summer, I’ll have a two-month break from the library — writing sabbatical??? And time to repair, restore, relax, too. It’s been very non-stop. I keep thinking I’ll catch up, but there’s no up to be caught. The routine swings round and round.

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My instinct is to maximize efficiency on tasks. But more and more, I’m focused on making space to maximize enjoyment, no matter the tasks. What do I love doing? Mostly, really simple things that are easy to call forth, that don’t require a lot of extra planning or resources. I love sweating and the rush of endorphins. I love meeting new people and diving in deep. I love collaborating, learning new skills, appreciating the strengths and techniques and wisdom that others bring. I love grappling with text, creating narrative sequences on both the macro and micro scale that maximize pleasure for an audience. I love eating supper with my family and hearing about their days. I love stopping to smell blossoms on trees. I love blasting songs on the radio when I’m driving alone. I love making magic — out-of-time experiences, opportunities for surprise — through the simplest means possible: a drawing, a story, a group exercise. I love taking care of people. I love cooking (but only when I’m not rushing). I love being outdoors, walking, biking, running. I love creating order out of chaos. I love living in my imagination, in my many imaginary worlds. I love to dream.

Nothing is ideal. I love that too, the reassurance of it. I mutter this phrase to myself a lot — “This is not ideal!” —- and not negatively, but encouragingly. I mean it as a form of freedom. Nothing about this is ideal. (And it does not need to be.) This thing you’re doing, this thing you’re creating, this solution, this story, this hard conversation — whatever it may be — you’re doing it to the best of your abilities; be reassured. There are many possibilities, many directions, many discoveries, of which you will try one and then another and another, testing things out forever and ever, amen.

xo, Carrie

The creative life, blooming

I post a lot about the solitary writing life, but when surveying the overall trajectory of my hours and days, I see far more connection and overlap with the lives of others, doing and seeking out and creating and organizing activities that are meant to be shared collectively. I need alone time, surely. It’s also practical to avoid interruption when working deeply, whether it’s writing scenes in a novel, reading a book, or organizing a library space. But mostly, I’m actually with people. Not alone. (It helps to have 4 children, 4 siblings, a close set of families, to work in an elementary school where 250 kids troop through my library each week, a church community, an open-door/open-kitchen policy for our kids’ friends, and etc.)

2024-04-19_01-33-19A goal I often consider, when organizing group projects, is how to keep the experience / activities sustainable. It takes energy to make things happen. Pouring out creative energy to serve others’ creativity can be equal parts exhilarating and exhausting — I  love it, I absolutely love it, and I need more sleep when in the midst of it. So I savour it when it’s happening, and know how special the moment is.

2024-04-19_01-32-58I try to be thoughtful when committing to projects; I’m willing to test the waters and step back or rejig if it isn’t working (especially if it doesn’t feel sustainable). Projects with endurance are most often structurally cohesive, clear in their goals, and invitational to community-building. Sometimes, I can even think about my novel projects like this—or at least the structures I’ve built around my writing in order to make it sustainable and enduring. Looked at in this way, it’s not just about what I’m writing or about practicing the craft of writing—it’s about the relationships developed and strengthened and linked by writing; but made deeper by other experiences together too.

2024-04-19_01-33-58The X Page workshop is rolling, now in its fifth season: what a gift. I would describe the structure as highly collaborative, creative, spacious. During a recent workshop session, I felt transported to a more generous vision of relationships, and brought into intimacy with people who, though not strangers, were not known to me or to each other (many of them) just a few weeks ago. Magic. Human-made, transformative energized magic. Under the expert direction of our performance coach (who works with MT Space Theatre company), we watched and took part in the “sculpting” of a story. It came to life before our eyes. Or—it was already alive, but with each telling, each gesture played with, the story deepened before our eyes, layered with emotional weight, but also lightness. I felt transformed by the beautiful gift of the collective. Collective experience, collective effort, collective appreciation. And individual bravery, risk-taking. 

Arriving at this moment was not an easy or instant process. It has taken time, preparation, flexibility, expertise and creativity, trial and error, the generosity of many many leaders and participants and peers and mentors, over many years. Impossible to calculate the effort, and as impossible to measure the reward in terms useful for things like grant proposals. In those moments, watching this story form and deepen and bloom this week, I felt so gratified. I felt like this was the point of everything I’ve ever done. It was the very opposite of being alone. Or solitary.

It was special.

2024-04-19_01-33-26I also see that a moment like this is ephemeral. Art, experienced. Community, experienced. The creative life: blooming, brief, precious. I savoured it. I savour it.

xo, Carrie

The joy of contrast

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Contrast. What joy this word brings me. 

Contrast isn’t about what’s better or worse, or right or wrong, it’s not about comparing one thing to another — instead, I think about vibrancy, colours, shadow, texture, depth and height, the common structures of my everyday, and how routines and patterns might be shifted to bring even more enjoyment, pleasure, delight to my mind.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Contrast too. My own taste matters in this exercise. What’s delicious for me, attractive, appealing may be off-putting, strange, and discomfiting to you. Maybe I’m not seeking a universal aesthetic. But I confess to wanting to communicate clearly with everyone I meet.

I’m thinking about writing, of course. All the more so, having spent the past four days writing, solo, at my brother and sister-in-law’s farmhouse. Unimpeded, I got a glimpse into my own eccentricities, and let’s just say, I vacuumed obsessively in between focused spells of writing and revision. I ate nothing but cornmeal porridge for the better part of one day. I read what I’d written out loud in wildly dramatic tones, and I talked to myself pretty much non-stop. Muttering about word choices, testing out dialogue, reassuring myself that the scrabbling break-in noise I’d heard was just a squirrel (a manic and possessed squirrel, hanging upside down and staring in at me from a window, sure, but still just a squirrel), that I could do this, I could finish this book, and that at a certain point a person should really take a small break and make herself a cup of tea.

It was delightful, in short.

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And it was terrifically fun, and I found myself overwhelmed with gratitude and joy, that my “hobby” or “life’s-calling” (either work, quite honestly!) allows me to retreat from everyday circumstances and escape into an imagined world that seems to live and breathe and dance and shout and bend and twirl purely to bring me delight. I feel very connected to my child-self when playing in my imagination. And yet I appreciate the skills gained over years of practice that facilitate the ease with which timelines unfold, and structure ascends, and characters enter and exit and become.

The hope, as always, is that what pleases me will also please others.

It’s a pretty grand hope, when stated bluntly—maybe even grandiose. Delusions of connection—the belief that the contrasts that soothe my fears, break my heart, speak to my spirit, raise my blood, and make me laugh might do the same for you. That’s a writer dream, to be perfectly frank.

But if it doesn’t happen? Well, I suppose it’s hardly a tragedy, nor cause for giving up the craft! Surely, surely, my optimism assures me that I’ve made a thing that others will enjoy, but way down here at the foot of another yet-climbed mountain (let’s call it Publishing), I’m wrapped up beside a little fire of my own stoking, whistling a happy tune, because I’ve had the pleasure of making something. I’m laughing just to think of it! Such great joy in invention. And come Monday, I’ll be back in the library with the children, soaking up their energy, and being reminded (by them!) of how to live my happiest life: ask lots of questions, be where you are, give your attention to what’s before you, and keep puzzling it out and trying your best to make connections, and understand.

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Home again, I’m carrying the residue of concentrated delight and invention, I’m fresh with the contrast—having been away, writing and, yes, finishing the book, and having returned, every hour seems, just now, precious and lit up with all different colours and emotions, aching to be enjoyed. It’s just so darn interesting to be in the world.

xo, Carrie

What inspires you to create?

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Spending time with children is a fabulous fortune. It’s pure gold. 

A friend and I were talking recently about older people whom we love and care about, whose lives have been robbed of dignity by ailments and illnesses, and we wondered what could be done for those we love, when the options for care are so limited? Long-term care: the place where nobody wants to go, nor enters willingly. Could multi-generational living situations be a solution, my friend wondered? But that would require women (most likely) in their prime earning years to become full-time caregivers; our North American culture and norms and the economy itself is not geared toward this, even if it were something women in their prime earning years would wish to do.

What about a dorm-like set-up where university students or young adults lived alongside elderly people, sharing common space and meals? And animals or pets were part of the picture too? Maybe even a nursery school? Personally, I can imagine moving more willingly into a care situation like that. (Yes, even with the germs!)

In the dominant North American culture, we tend to hive ourselves off into age groups. Think of university students who have a tiny window when they can live in dorms communally, then it’s over. We think of independence as living solo or with immediate family. There aren’t many opportunities to experience life as part of a multi-generational whole, and that’s challenging, I think. It’s alienating.

My children are now young adults, and soon they will be quite grown. I don’t want to relive those years again—caring for young children—but I’ve missed the generative energy of children. I’ve missed their naturalness and ease in conversation. I’ve missed their seriousness, too, and the way children pay attention. So it’s been good medicine to be working in an elementary school library. Not only do I get to be in a big quiet (sometimes!) room full of books, but I also get to open those books and read them out loud. Story time is a highly participatory experience (and I need to work on my pacing, to speed this part up a bit, for the teachers’ sake!). But I’m just about nearly as curious as the kids are to explore the effect of words and imagery on the pages. As I read the same book over and over to different mini-audiences, I gain deepening insight into what draws their interest and attention. What matters to them.

The details they notice in the illustrations are fantastic—they’re putting together narrative on a visual level. And they listen carefully to the words, making connections to their own experiences, wondering out loud. Trying to understand.

Working with children, being in their presence again, is like looking into a mirror of how I want to be (on a spirit-level). I hope I’ll always get to be with children, one way or another; or at least I hope I’ll feel free to approach everyone, no matter their age, the way I approach children—with openness and trust, attention, curiosity. It’s in this mind-space (spirit-space) that I am inspired to make things, to write, to draw, to create. It seems to me that the only way to survive being alive, surrounded by inequality, imbalance, suffering and pain—and as a participant in these pain-filled structures and systems too—is to make, to create, to mediate experiences through imagery. To go searching for beauty. And sometimes, to find it.

xo, Carrie

PS That’s me and my brother in Waterloo Park, when we were very young.

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

Contrast

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What’s on my mind?

Being able to read, being able to write; the gift and the struggle. 

With my word for this year, CONTRAST, I am exploring the balance—what my life needs, what elements it contains to support my overarching goals and themes—

“Please prepare me to be a sanctuary”

“What if the purpose of life is to seek beauty?”

“Discipline feeds curiosity”

“Everyone deserves to be known, cherished, lifted up”

“You belong here”

“How can I create spaces of welcome?”

“Follow the energy”

“Listen to your body”

“Hold lightly…”

—my life itself is like a structure being built as I live it, like a story whose ending isn’t known, nor even its middle or beginning. In flux. I live like my body is an experiment, my mind a mystery to be explored, my relationships threads that weave together, fray, are repaired.

When I think of noticing CONTRAST, I think of playing with balance. I remember a set of questions that I taped to the fridge years ago, with hopes that everyone in the family might reference them—questions that asked: what have you done today?—for yourself, for someone else, for play, for friendship, for rest, for exercise, what have you learned, what have you made…? It was a way to try to consciously notice life’s balance, within the structure of a day—an arbitrary measure of time, but easiest to grasp. Big picture is impressionistic—what has this year held? Or even this month? A day has items in it. Moments that can be recalled and noted, written down, like the notes to a simple melody. What melody have I composed today? What line of song have I built from my hours, today? 

I love my job at the library because on those days it is easy to do things for others. But my fridge list of hoped-for balance items is perhaps too long to be ticked every day. When I choose to do something (like work in the library), I choose implicitly not to do other things. My energy is limited. My time is limited.

The idea of a Sabbath day—day of rest. Day of nature, connecting with loved ones, reflection, salve for the soul. Every day I want to build these notes of Sabbath into my melody. I am a soul and a body. Am I living inside my soul, too? I work toward this discovery. What happens when I follow my breath, pay attention to an automatic and unnoticed function or sensation, like the ambient sounds around me, like the patterns and colours and contrasts observed on a quiet walk, or the sensations that are ever-present inside my body, on my skin? Like the breath, of course, where meditation might begin, over and over again. Paying attention brings me into a different relationship with time. I relax. I am calmer, soothed by the ever-rhythm of the universe. I can carry this “neutral” mind back into the world. I know it exists and that I have access to it, even in times of stress, or under duress. There is peace in the underlying rhythms and patterns of the world surrounding me—within me. Knowing this, I come closer to trust.

To trust that my life is a form of art or meditation, a series of creative acts, my life is expansive, it is being built and newly built within the structure of these universal patterns and rhythms—the song being sung within and beyond my self. The song that is time itself, that belongs to the patience of eternity.

xo, Carrie