all of these photos look even better viewed in full: click on them to see
I ran on Tuesday evening: 10 kilometres. I ran again on Wednesday morning with a friend: 8.8 kilometres. I ran again on Thursday evening, in a light rain: 10.5 kilometres. I ran again on Friday evening, in a wind that took the breath away, cursing with fury the weather: 7 kilometres. On that run, fist at sky, a grin broke across my face somewhere in the second kilometre. Running makes me happy, no matter how irritable my mood, no matter the weather. That’s when it came to me. I had run every day since the explosions at the Boston marathon. I hadn’t chosen to do it consciously.
I have six more kilometres to run, and then I will have completed the marathon distance, spread over six days rather than an afternoon.
It is Sunday afternoon. I have one more indoor soccer game today. I’d like to shut the computer down and run those last six kilometres, but I also want to take time to process photos and to write. I am trying to train myself to be disciplined with my time. On Friday, for example, I had an hour alone in my office, the kids being home on a PD day. I forced myself to turn the hour toward my new manuscript, a children’s novel.
Kevin is playing top forty dance music while he does the dishes.
I took my camera with me this morning when I drove to pick up AppleApple from her swim practice. It was my third trip out already this morning, and I thought, let’s document where I spend so much of my time: inside a vehicle, driving these familiar roads. Seen through the lens, the landscape looks bleak, somehow, empty, under construction. I like the resulting photos. Processing them, with Kevin’s music in the background, has given me a curiously crushing happiness this noon, a demolished happiness, like the happiness I associate with being young, with being alive to a potential and possibility not quite defined but present, a streak of light, a flare of anticipation, excitement mingled with melancholy, premature nostalgia. Nostalgia for a moment already happening.
This is the mood I’m in when I want to play the piano and sing.
This is the mood I’m in when I want to write a new story.
Or create photographs. It’s a happy mood. It’s a split-the-world-open mood. It doesn’t happen every day. I am thankful.
P.S. Just ran those last six kilometres. With love to all the long distance runners out there.
Heavy subjects on my mind, but no clarity. As I don’t feel I have anything to add to the conversation, I won’t talk specifically about what happened at the Boston marathon on Monday afternoon. What felt so very strange was watching the raw photos and eyewitness accounts on Twitter only minutes after the explosions happened, with no context, no analysis, no filter — much like being a witness to something rather than being given a story, or told a story. In the evenings I am reading the Little House on the Prairie books to the kids, and when Pa has to go away to work he walks hundreds of miles, and his family waits for him to come home, with only one letter, months into his absence, to assure them that he is well and alive and will be returning to them.
I wonder if people used to be better at waiting, more practiced at patience.
Now we want to see and know instantly. I can text my husband from the grocery store to ask what’s missing from my list. I can text him a play-by-play description of the swim race my daughter is swimming in, even though we are 100 kilometres apart, and send him photos of the event. I like this. I’m comforted by it.
But I also recognize that I expect it, almost. I feel like I need to know. I also feel like I need to express, immediately, whatever it is I’m thinking. What are we recording in our blogs, in our Facebook statuses, our tweets? It’s the minutiae of where we’re at, in this moment. It’s the stuff of life, the stuff that does not keep, no matter how we mark it, and broadcast it to our friends. This too shall pass.
In the end, I’m not sure our narratives, the ones that are being written now, the stories that matter to us and stick with us, are all that different from the books that Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote. She wrote her childhood experiences first as a memoir, but that version was rejected by publishers. Finally, she shaped her memories into something different, going from first person to third, eliding experiences, leaving great swathes out, altering the tone, turning the minutiae, the scraps, into a whole arcing storyline. I feel like I’m telling my story in real-time, here on the blog, but that it’s not the same story I would tell if I decided to write a book about my life. Do you know what I mean? And yet, in both mediums, I am hoping to land on something universal, something lasting, some deeper human connection.
This blog plays the part of witness, I think.
Right now, today, I am suspended. I’m waiting. It feels like I’m waiting to find out about EVERYTHING. No amount of texting and twittering and Facebooking can tell me what’s going to happen. In this way, I’m not so unlike Ma, and Mary, and Laura, and Carrie, waiting to find out what’s happened to Pa, going about their daily routines, keeping busy, keeping their spirits up, hoping for the best. No matter how immediate our access to information, Life remains largely mysterious. The shape of our lives remains mysterious, as it is happening to us. And so we pluck out the scraps and offer them for examination. We photograph our meals and our cups of coffee. We record the kilometres we ran today. But it doesn’t really tell us, does it, where we’re at, and what is happening to us, or, more precisely, what is going to happen.
I suspect that the instantaneous nature of contemporary communication only distracts me from this truth. Patience remains an art that needs to be practiced, and appreciated. And so I wait as best I can.
This morning, at the very moment this blog publishes (9:30 AM), I will be in Hamilton, Ontario at McMaster University starting an interview process known as MMI (multiple-mini-interview) in the hopes of earning a place in their midwifery program this fall. (Unless my carshare car has broken down by the side of the road en route, or I’ve developed a violent stomach flu, or any number of other worst-case scenarios occur that have been plaguing my dreams all week.)
The MMI is an interviewing process that involves, as I understand it, the applicant visiting ten different rooms in rapid succession, and being asked in each room to respond to a new question or scenario. Each room has a different assessor present, and the conversation/scenario ends after ten minutes. And then it’s on to the next room. I wonder whether I’ll agree with this statement afterward, but I’m actually looking forward to the process — to getting in there, digging in, presenting myself, being myself, experiencing something new and different.
I’ve done some groundwork, as best I can. I’ve grilled my friend who graduated from the program two years ago. I’ve read a book of essays on midwifery in Ontario that she recommended. And I’ve written down my thoughts and wandered around the house answering imaginary questions in long rambling mutters.
So here’s what I’m planning to say if asked: “Why do you want to be a midwife?” Which seems like a question I ought to expect and know the answer to.
I want to be a midwife because I want to do work that is practical, hands-on, and meaningful.
I want to work with women, and their families, during moments of profound transition and change, and assist in the process. I want to learn and practice new skills. I want to empower women to make choices about their bodies that bring them health, confidence, and strength.
I would be privileged to become a midwife. I think birth is a life-altering physical experience that has the power to be spiritually meaningful, too.
I have been drawn to midwifery since witnessing (and helping, a bit!) my mother labour and give birth, at home, to my sister, with amazing midwives in attendance. I was twelve-and-a-half and have been fascinated by birth and midwifery ever since. In my early teens I pored over Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin. Two of my favourite subjects in high school were biology and chemistry. At nineteen, while a university arts major, I picked up a flier for the then-brand-new midwifery education program in Ontario, but didn’t work up the courage to apply (wisely, I think, as it wouldn’t have been the right moment in my life). I chose midwifery care for my own pregnancies, and was fortunate to give birth at home three out of four times (the hospital birth being due to complications). In the past four years, I’ve been invited to support friends and family through labour and birth, both at home and in hospital.
[Note: my daughter advises me to edit the above paragraph heavily, and not mention why I didn’t become a midwife before — “You’re never going to fit all of this into ten minutes, Mom! And you just have to tell them why you want to be a midwife now.” Excellent point. Glad I rehearsed it with her.]
I want to be a midwife because I believe it combines physical and spiritual work. I want to work directly with people in a way that seems to me quite unique: midwifery care, as I’ve experienced it, is intimate, personal, compassionate, supportive, celebratory, active, at times requiring intense involvement and attention, and at other times requiring deep listening and attention. I see it as a job that is in service to the health and well-being of others. In that way, it’s very much like my writing work, but with an outward pull rather than an inward pull. I see the two being quite connected. Both work requires intuition grounded in knowledge, trust, and a good ear.
I also want to be a midwife because it is my goal, eventually, when my children are grown, to volunteer and serve in areas of the world, or here in Canada, where health care is less accessible, and there is a need for perinatal care.
Why midwifery rather than another health care profession? It could be due to my formative and positive experiences with midwives. It could be because midwifery’s long history and tradition is of women helping women, and I would love to join that tradition. It could be because I’ve got a bit of the counter-cultural in me, as well as an interest in being a medical professional. A midwife, to me, is someone who believes in the fundamental power of a woman’s body, and that ties in to my interest in overall health, fitness, and strength.
I would bring to my practice a belief that we can all live inside our bodies with respect and care. I would also bring the understanding that not everything can be planned. I would bring the ability to be flexible, to be open to what may be rapidly-changing situations, and to be responsive to shifting choices and needs. I know myself to be calm, focused, and decisive when that is called for, but I also have a light touch in weighty matters. I try to read the situation and respond as needed.
Am I totally off-topic? What was the question? [Insert anxiety dream scenario here …]
Please … wish me luck!
I walked CJ to the school bus this morning, and noticed our paired footprints on the way home. And that’s my teeny-tiny attempt at positivity regarding this January-in-April weather we’ve been “enjoying.” I run outdoors all winter long, and this morning’s run was one of the coldest all year, thanks to a bitter wind and sharp flecks of snow. I’ve also got a hole in my running tights, and I’d really like to retire them for the season. Yes, that’s a first-world-white-woman problem, right there.
What was I going to blog about? I had ideas.
A blog is a nice place to gather one’s thoughts, I find. Maybe that’s why I don’t really want to stop. There’s a scrapbook mentality to this blog: every day is different, but every day is also focused and structured by the necessity of being and expressing where I’m at right now.
I read a piece in Maclean’s this morning about meditation, about using our minds to come to terms with ourselves. That is totally not the quote. I’ll go get the magazine. Here it is: Meditation is “a dignified attempt to come to grips with being human with the resources you have right there. Not depending on some guru, or some drug, or some psychotherapy. Just a very simple technique that, repeated again and again and again, will eventually change the way you relate to the world at the deepest level.” The person being quoted is Jeff Warren, a Toronto meditation teacher and journalist, who sounds like he could be guru-like, but who doesn’t like gurus. I, too, distrust the guru figure, even while acknowledging that I can learn much from mentors and teachers … I think it’s a fear of idolatry, but maybe it’s a fear of dependence, too, because I also dislike self-help books, or anyone claiming to be able to fix anyone else’s life. And yet I feel myself drawn to writing a self-help-like book — collecting and distilling all of the bits and pieces of discovery that keep me going and keep me digging — which seems super-hypocritical. I’m simultaneously pulled toward looking for ways to find and express a more meaningful life, and resistant to latching on to a single path or expression. As an individual, my path is singular, my voice is singular, there’s no way around that. Maybe that’s why I like fiction: it allows me to embody and express a wide variety of opinions and beliefs, none of which may be exactly my own.
Back to Maclean’s magazine (awkward segue), I’ve discovered a new (unpaid) talent: writing letters to the editor. I rattled off a critique of their deliberately inflammatory headline a few weeks back, in which a screaming toddler was labelled with the question: “Is she a brat or is she sick?” Ugh, I thought. Stop it with the name-calling! She’s neither, of course: she’s a normal toddler. That’s the gist of my letter and they printed it.
As I put in a load of laundry this morning, I thought, I often write from a position of response rather than call. I react to what exists with emotion and opinion. The non-fiction essays I’ve written have almost all been assigned rather than originated and pitched by me. This has been a stumbling block to my freelance writing career. When I write an essay on an assigned subject, I never know where I’m going to end up, but I know it’s going to be a fascinating exploration of unexpected territory. I know also that these thoughts and discoveries wouldn’t exist without someone else inviting me to make them exist. It burns a lot of energy to come up with an idea and spin it into existence, all on my own steam. This may be my downfall, as a writer, my Achilles’ heel, the personality flaw impossible to overcome.
But that’s okay.
Because my goal is to make writing my comfort zone, my place of meditation and peace, and not my bread and butter. I’d like to stop complaining about not making money as a writer. (I’m sure you’d appreciate that too.)
I’d like to free my writing from the burden of earning.
I have a feeling that particular complaint will never vanish, no matter how long I work at writing. The tension between creativity and a comfortable lifestyle is built right into the artistic enterprise. I, personally, can’t imagine how to change the system so that creative energies are compensated in a steady and reliable way. I’ve tried! I just can’t imagine it. And while I’m appreciative of the important role grants have played in supporting my work, I really hate asking for money. Just hate it. I want to earn my living, plain and simple.
the view from my keyboard
Life is unsteady. It doesn’t hold still.
That’s why I get up early and hold to a practice.
I will have to find a way to do this no matter what comes, no matter how busy and disrupted my days. I need to run. Or swing weights. Or cycle. Or push myself physically in some way. My joy and my productivity is directly connected to my body. I can’t think myself content, but I sure as hell can feel it.
My thought today as I ran on the indoor track was that I was running myself into submission. But wait, I thought, I’m running myself free, not into submission. Because even on the indoor track, I could feel wind in my hair, and my heart beating, and my breath coming deep and fast and sure. And then I realized that it was my mind that needed to submit to my body, so that my body could experience freedom. The further I run, the faster I run. This is probably backward to most people’s experience of running (or maybe it’s not!?). I think it’s because it takes time for my mind to empty and hush and stop doubting or worrying. And then comes focus and clarity of effort.
Do you remember the REM song, “Losing My Religion”? A tiny snippet from that song is stuck in my head.
“Life is bigger …”
I keep hearing it. I pay attention when a song lyric is stuck in my head, because it often tells me where I’m at. (Except for when it’s telling me that in spin class this morning the instructor played “Hangover” by Taio Cruz and, no, I don’t have a hangover, and if I did, I wouldn’t have been in spin class, Taio!)
Life is bigger. It fits where I’m at. It means, for me, this constant effort to make space for more. More emotion, more spirit, more connections, more newness, while also opening myself and my imagination to the possibilities of what I can learn and make and do. It can feel disorienting to ask others to give you the chance to try the things you want to try, and to step toward the things you want to do, but aren’t yet expert in. It’s like being asked to play a new position on the soccer field. It’s like learning how to swim as an adult. If you believe you can, you will trust your ability to build on everything you’ve experienced that’s brought you to this point, and you will simply and willingly do your best.
You won’t be the best goalie. And you won’t be the best swimmer. At least not immediately. But you’ll be on the field, or in the water, and that is the only way to learn.
Life is bigger.
Finally, this. I’m an inveterate writer of letters (not unlike Juliet, who writes to Ronald Reagan in one of my favourite stories in The Juliet Stories). Here is the letter I felt inspired to write and send today, to the editors of The Globe and Mail newspaper, who somehow managed not to highlight on the front page the most inspiring news story I’ve heard in a long time (note: they did print a story and photo several pages into the front page section.)
To the editors,
The Globe and Mail newspaper’s front page editors would like to show me that Tiger Woods, who cheated famously and serially on his former wife, and who is not a Canadian citizen at least to my knowledge, is back on top again. Oh, and that the Prime Minister of Canada met with what looks like a Fed Ex-ed panda yesterday.
Meanwhile, a group of young people from Northern Quebec completed an epic 1,500 km walk during which they hiked and snowshoed and camped through weather more extreme than most Canadians have ever experienced, ending their journey yesterday in Ottawa, at Parliament Hill, in hopes that their efforts might bring attention to the needs of their communities.
But, you know, I can totally see how Tiger Woods and pandas would make a better illustration to sum up yesterday’s news. Especially when Canadians are so bombarded with positive images and stories of native youth. And besides, such a photo on the front page of a national newspaper might remind us of our collective agreements and responsibilities toward all the people who live in Canada, including those who were here first, and put us off at breakfast, and make us feel guilty. And that would be sad for Globe and Mail readers.
Or maybe we would have felt inspired, who knows. Maybe you should try a whole lot harder, dig a whole lot deeper, and show us what really matters to Canadians.
Yours, Carrie Snyder
What is practice?
It is daily. It is intentional. It can change. It needs to meet you where you are.
Practice is work. You do it even when you don’t feel like it.
Practice is patient, even if you are not.
Pratice adds up, it builds on its own forceful persistence. It cannot but change you, for doing it, so be sure that you are practicing what you wish to practice.