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.
Life is about taking care of what you’ve got.
And it’s about making way for new things, too.
I’m pleased to report that our vehicle has been returned to us, after a week in the repair shop. After doing some serious number crunching, we’ve decided to keep it for now, although ideally we’d love to be driving a smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicle. Put it on the wish list. (Speaking of which: we’ve got one of those hanging on the fridge from the fall of 2011, and our wishes now look wildly out of date; most of them didn’t come true, and we find ourselves no longer wishing for those things. Curious, huh.)
I’m also pleased to report that my manuscript has left the house. I’ve put it into the good hands of my agent, whom I trust to tell me yea or nay, or some combination thereof. It will be awhile before she gets a chance to read it, and I’m grateful for the mental break. My writing days were getting obsessional in the extreme toward the end of the editing process, and it’s a relief to have space.
I would like to tell you more about where I’m at, right now.
I am standing in the middle of a wide field. I am looking at everything that surrounds me, and it is filled with possibility and potential, and vivid striations of colour and texture and weather. I could turn and walk to the east, to the west, to the south, to the north, or even to explore in a curving, meandering, curious path that does not follow any one direction. I am waiting. I am weighing. I am listening. I am gathering clues. I am open. I am not afraid of stepping the wrong way. I know there are many ways to explore this field. There are many rich and rewarding destinations. Fortune will call me, one way or another, and I will go.
I’ll tell you when I start moving. But for now, I’m quite still.
Recently, I wrote and delivered an anonymous love letter to a neighbourhood friend; I also received an anonymous love letter from a neighbourhood friend.
Trust me, this was not a project I would have undertaken on my own. And the truth is that I felt a certain amount of resentment over the assignment. And it was an assignment — given to a group of friends by one amongst us who was inspired to have us each pick a name out of a hat and write a love letter, anonymously, to the chosen friend. (She was inspired by the site “The World Needs More Love Letters.”)
It took me a month or more to work up the nerve to try. I just didn’t know where to begin. I’m pretty sure I’ve never actually written a love letter, and I was feeling the pressure, being a writer and all, to perform. I was finally inspired/shamed into attempting it by a friend with whom I’d shared my trepidation and resentment.
Here’s the funny thing. I started writing with these very mixed emotions, but as I shaped out the letter, I began to feel this deep welling of emotion. Let’s just admit it and call it love. The very act of thinking about the person who would receive this letter, and attempting to honour her in some small way, made me feel very deeply. It was almost as if I was briefly possessed of an all-enveloping spirit that seemed to go beyond the recipient, as if through my words I could reach out and embrace the whole muddled and unknowable and beautiful world.
Sounds cheesy. Is cheesy. I know, I know.
When I received my own letter, it really hit the spot, too.
And so I have to say thank you to the friend who instigated this experiment. If you’re feeling particularly grumpy, this might be something to try. Or maybe you know someone who could use a little lift in his or her life. This may seem like an odd undertaking, but trust me, it will feel amazing — for you, the writer, and for the one who receives your offering.
“Hope is the thing with feathers …”
Can you see the crows perched in the branches of the trees, above, so thick they almost look like black leaves? Less hopeful, perhaps, than ominous, but extremely compelling. We stood and watched them for ages last night. (Click on the photo to see in full.)
Two things I needed, this morning:
1. I needed sleep. And sleep was received, sound and deep, all through the night. I chose not to set my alarm and wake early.
2. I also needed this (though I didn’t know it): a hand-delivered card from the book club I visited on Monday evening. “Fortune befriends the bold” – Emily Dickinson, is printed on the front of the card. I opened it and read the handwritten message inside and sat on the floor and almost cried. It’s the little things, isn’t it. The small gestures that go such a long way toward giving a person that necessary spark. I needed a little spark this morning, as I slog through the manuscript one last time, and hope for the best.
“We were grateful for the opportunity to hear you read; to hear how stories are born in the writer’s imagination; and then, the hard work needed to share that creation with the reader.
“We joked about becoming your fan club, but, in fact, a book club is a fan club of sorts. We celebrate words on the page and we appreciate the courageous few who choose writing as their life work.
“How fortunate we are for your willingness to share your gift with us.”
Thanks to all the book clubs who have bravely and warmly welcomed this writer in. You may not know it, but I consider it a gift, too, to be able to share what I’ve got.