We had Christmas in February! Two family get-togethers in one weekend, Flora and I made Christmas cookies, we sang through the carolling songbook. It all happened. There was even an adorable kitten in a tree, delightfully destroying the ornaments. Other things that felt good this month: yoga, puzzles, walks with friends, couch-time with Kevin.
What did you struggle with?
Depression, anxiety, fears. I’ve been listening to the news, first obsessed with the “freedom” occupation in Ottawa and now with Russia’s attack on Ukraine. The lightbox has its limits. I didn’t do enough cardio this month. And as always, I’m struggling to turn down my inner critic, who would like to inform me at all hours that my efforts are falling short. What’s useful; what’s useless? I’ve noticed that I use those words a lot, applied to myself and my work. It’s like a poison pill in my brain, self-sabotage. You aren’t doing anything useful, says the voice. Even writing here about this tendency feels like it could be self-sabotage. Useful in terms of what, I wonder, on what scale, how is this usefulness measured, who is adding this up? The antidote to comparison and judgement may be gratitude. Or it may be something even more fundamental, habit-altering, changing the grooves in the brain: doing the work, putting one foot in front of the other, facing the sun.
Where are you now compared to the beginning of the month?
More worried. I want to see friends, I want to go places and do things, I want the world to open up. I want the luxury of making plans. Transitions are hard. I wonder how the pandemic has changed us. Are we coping? Are we okay, collectively? Do I remember how to interact, do I still have a social filter or have I kind of jumped off the deep-end? In yoga this morning, I bent my head to the floor in grief over this endless cycle of war, and people fleeing from war, from the madness and greed of leaders, from rape and destruction and hunger and terror (stretching back through the years, not fresh and new, just seemingly forever and ever and ever). And I thought: writing is the only response I’ve got. A few words. I’ll keep trying. It’s not useless effort!
How did you take care of yourself?
I tried. I appreciated the gift of cooking healthy delicious meals for my family. I appreciated this roof over my head. I listened to the birds, stared at the moon, sloshed through puddles, hugged my children, did pushups while waiting for the kettle to boil. I kept up supportive habits and routines.
What would you most like to remember?
Hmmm… February already seems like a forgotten month. One fresh memory is singing carols with my sibs; it was also fun crowding around a cellphone to watch the end of a soccer game on Sunday (all the way to penalty kicks). Another is going for a walk on family day, ordering take-out and watching a movie with the kids. And for a third, I’ll say, talking to Grandma on Thursday mornings.
What do you need to let go of?
Measures of success that don’t come from some place deep inside, or from a deeper source. I need to let go of external validation, even while giving myself permission to be critical of my own work when it’s coming from a place that makes sense — it makes sense to want to push to the edges of my talents and abilities, to test my own limits, it makes sense to be curious about what’s possible, to want to share some measure of beauty and truth, whatever I can muster. But it doesn’t make sense to stop or quit because I can’t make the beautiful thing that I long to, no matter my efforts. I need to let go of wanting to feel finished or satisfied or done. I want to learn to live in liminal space, in between, in process, flowing along in the flow. Right now, I’m finding this space to be crowded with discomfort and self-doubt. So it isn’t easy. Why do I keep thinking it will be easy? I need to let go of that too.
The ease I’ve experienced doesn’t come from things being non-stressful or super-relaxing, the ease comes from feeling purposeful and directed. The copyedits have arrived for FRANCIE’S GOT A GUN, and I’m working my way through them. This is the last chance to make changes (small ones only, really), and then the book will be off on its own adventures. On Monday, I felt overwhelmed by the final-ness of this task: I want to get everything perfect! A kind voice in my head replied:
Your book is not going to be perfect, Carrie.
It can be moving without being perfect.
As it turns out, it can be funny without being perfect too. I’d forgotten how funny this book is. Allowing myself to let go of heavy, imaginary expectations allowed me to read and enjoy, and appreciate, more fully, the work already completed. This kind voice brought me ease.
I hope to hear this kind voice more and more often.
This week, I participated in two Zoom book events, as a moderator at the Wild Writers Festival for a panel on the short story, and at the Calgary Library as one of a number of writers published in a new anthology on concussion.
I’m out of practice for book events, but I’ve got this Zoom thing down.
On Monday, I put on a peach-coloured shirt with buttons that I pretended had been ironed (do we own an iron?), my lucky hummingbird earrings, and applied some mascara, discovering in the process of application that I can’t see without my glasses, which limited my already limited competence in the make-up department. Sticking with my comfy pants (leggings with holes), I dragged in a yoga mat and block to sit on, and set up in front of a big bookshelf backdrop in the living-room, as close as I could get to the wifi router. My set-up includes a ring-light which makes me feel like a pro, even if the glowing ring sometimes reflects off one’s glasses.
And then we talked books!
Though we’d never met, I decided to ask questions I’d want to chew over with book-writing friends, big ones with no real answers, and to just settle in and enjoy the conversation (while aiming to keep within the parameters of the given time-frame). I love short stories. I love writing them, reading them, wondering about them, deciphering them. How often do we get to talk about the subjects we care about most? Especially with people who feel the same way?
And in the end, it felt like we’d connected for real (despite the screens), to pool knowledge and think out loud. Our conversation continued after the panel proper had ended, and it felt like we were meeting in the green room over coffee cake, as happens at those in-person Wild-Writers-Festivals-past that I’ve loved and cherished so much. Turned out there was still a small, faithful audience on the zoom link, which we hadn’t realized, so those folks got a bonus round. But so did we!
Can I hope we will meet in person someday, coffee cake or no coffee cake, to continue the conversation? GAH. Sometimes I miss people. In person. A lot. And I’m an introvert who loves being at home in her comfy pants!
Yesterday evening, I put on the same peach-coloured shirt with buttons, washed and hung to dry in between events, which I pretended counted as ironing (still can’t find the iron), forgot the earrings, and applied more mascara, this time creating a spiky effect that looked pretty okay, even if it happened by accident. I was wearing a different pair of comfy pants (leggings with stripes). Same set-up. I try to vet the books that will be directly on the shelf behind me, which meant taking the Good Vibrations Guide to Sex and Our Bodies Ourselves down and using them to lift up my laptop to a flattering height (one imagines, not being able to see so well, even with the glasses).
And then we talked about our concussion experiences!
It’s a hard subject, I’ll be honest. Everyone in the anthology was a writer before their concussion. And we’re still writing, as evidenced by our participation in this book. But that doesn’t mean we’re writing exactly like we were writing before.
“Did the writing help you with the healing?”
I wasn’t asked this question, but reflected on it as I listened to others read their heart-wrenching, personal, insightful poems and stories.
Yes, writing and publishing this particular story (about the immediate aftermath of my first concussion) was healing. It was healing because I was very afraid of what had happened to me, I didn’t want it to affect my life, especially my writing life, my chosen career, and I was afraid of what it would mean to say these things out loud: that I wasn’t the same as before. So it was healing to my heart and my spirit to write about the experience and as importantly to share it publicly.
What helped you heal post-concussion?
I was asked this question, and my on-the-spot answer wasn’t great; here’s my do-over:
staying off screens
writing by hand
learning to draw
resting on “off” days, as much as possible
learning to be kinder to myself
coaching soccer, because it forced me to develop and practice new spatial skills (a good challenge for my brain)
turning toward different goals and ambitions
practicing meditation and yoga
accepting that some stuff comes our way that we can’t change only learn how to adapt to
enjoying the good days
Today I was tired (the event happened on Calgary time, so I was up past my bedtime).
Luckily, Thursdays are my reading days, when I give myself permission to sink into the green couch and read with abandon and zero guilt* (*why would a writer feel guilty about reading? I don’t know, ask my subconscious). Today’s book was A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet, which I recommend most highly. Apocalyptic and funny? How is this possible? It will also get you thinking about NOW. Because the failings of humanity depicted in this book feel close at hand (and my generation comes in for the harshest critique).
Thanks for tuning in. I hope you’re enjoying a good day, too.
Today, this month, I turn and return to gratitude. I’ve been looking for poems about thanks and thanksgiving for a church service I’m helping to plan, and I’ve noticed the poems that draw me are tempered with grief, there are many colours woven into the fabric of the experience of thanks they describe. I’ll post one, by Jane Hirschfield, below.
Monday morning thank-you list:
1. Kasia’s yoga class this morning, and her invitation to greet the day by saying, “Good morning, I love you,” to ourselves. (Wow! That changes the wake-up script!)
2. Enough time to work on revisions. Solitude.
3. Invitations to speak. Connection.
4. New projects, old projects, ongoing projects.
On the “new projects” front, in addition to the novel, I’ve got a couple of creative non-fiction pieces being published in anthologies, this year and next. Both are very personal, and a bit raw — “In This River” has just been published in an anthology called Impact: Women Writing After Concussion. Here’s me talking about my concussion (oh, soccer!) and reading an excerpt from my piece. I also “composed” and played the music that accompanies this video (“composed” in quotation marks because it’s just pure improv). A strange after-effect of the concussion: I was able to improvise very freely on the piano; more to do with rhythm than melody, almost as if some interior barrier had been breached.
video edited by Jun Kim
(Monday morning thank-you list, cont.)
5. Stretching myself, learning new skills … like the opportunity to make the recordings, above.
As I think about my relationship to my writing life, I am aware that publishing is a piece of it, and that means a different kind of work and effort and engagement with the world: presenting, public speaking, sharing. Looked at from one perspective, publicity work terrifies me, I’ll be honest. I’m terrified of feeling exposed, of being drained, of being judged wanting, of feeling ashamed. But looked at through the perspective of thanks, everything changes. Good morning, I love you! What if THANKS were the baseline I returned to many times each day?
Thanks brings me closer to wonder and admiration. Thanks brings me closer to patience, calm, the ability to pause. Thanks brings me closer to others. It’s a lens of perspective that gives me a different relationship to time and to self.
(and one last thank-you on the Monday morning thank-you list)
I love these things because they make possible my engagement with everything else. I don’t want to live an entirely interior life — I love that part, it comes easily for me; but I want to be in the world, I want to connect, share, respond, serve, workshop, teach, coach, relate, cradle, hold, feed, nurture, offer of what I’ve been given. You know? It’s a short life. I want to live in it.
"When Your Life Looks Back," by Jane Hirshfield
When your life looks back —
As it will, at itself, at you — what will it say?
Inch of colored ribbon cut from the spool.Flame curl, blue-consuming the log it flares from.Bay leaf. Oak leaf. Cricket. One among many.
Your life will carry you as it did always,
With ten fingers and both palms,
With horizontal ribs and upright spine,
With its filling and emptying heart,
That wanted only your own heart, emptying, filled, in return.
You gave it. What else could you do?
Immersed in air or in water.
Immersed in hunger or anger.
Curious even when bored.
Longing even when running away.
“What will happen next?” —
the question hinged in your knees, your ankles,
in the in-breaths even of weeping.
Strongest of magnets, the future impartial drew you in.
Whatever direction you turned toward was face to face.
No back of the world existed,
No unseen corner, no test. No other earth to prepare for.
This, your life had said, its only pronoun.
Here, your life had said, its only house.
Let, your life had said, its only order.
And did you have a choice in this? You did —
Sleeping and waking,
the horses around you, the mountains around you,
The buildings with their tall, hydraulic shafts.
Those of your own kind around you —
A few times, you stood on your head.
A few times, you chose not to be frightened.
A few times, you held another beyond any measure.
A few times, you found yourself held beyond any measure.
Mortal, your life will say,
As if tasting something delicious, as if in envy.
Your immortal life will say this, as it is leaving.
A few years ago, after returning from a three-week writing residency in France, I put an idea out into the universe: hey, universe, could you send more cross-disciplinary collaboration my way? I’d worked with a wonderful actor / writer / translator as part of the residency, and both of us hoped to find a way to create together again. The universe didn’t align for the two of us to reconnect, though we tried; however, as so often happens, another door opened. In fact, a few different doors, one leading to the next. The first was that I began spending several mornings a week with a young woman who had recently come to Canada with her husband and children; she couldn’t get into a language program, so I volunteered to help her with some English studies. Really, what I remember most about those mornings are our conversations. I realized that my neighbourhood, my work, my friend group, even my church was its own bubble, a comfort zone, and pretty homogenous; and that I had a strong desire to connect with people across the possible barriers of language, religion and culture. The idea for The X Page storytelling workshop grew out of this friendship.
And lo and behold, The X Page became a forum for cross-disciplinary artistic collaboration, as well as new friendships and connections. Our third season starts this week, and will happen entirely online. We’ve adapted, but the goals remain the same: artistic collaboration and exploration, and cross-cultural conversations and connections. It genuinely feels like I sent an idea out to the universe, and the universe answered.
Today, I’ve woken with another kernel of an idea: Hey universe, could I expand on the X Page workshop somehow, to make its goals available more broadly, to many more people? Here’s the spark: Before drifting off to sleep last night, I read a New York Times article about an Australian community-building concept called “The Shed.” Apparently, these “sheds” began as retreats for retired and out-of-work men, and only recently have women started their own “sheds.” The story is about women taking over part of an unused school building; their shed is run by volunteers who are also participants, and it’s a mix of socializing (playing games, eating together) and crafts/ skills, like sewing, painting, gardening, cooking, singing in a choir. It’s a mix.
When I woke up, I was still mulling over the idea of “the shed,” which sounds a bit like a community centre, but which also seems more ground-up, or holistically invented and sustained.
It’s also all very post-pandemic, and impossible right now: gathering together, in person. But hey, universe: is there something here? What do you think? Maybe it’s the idea of a shared project, like “the shed.” Maybe it’s the fact that it’s free for all. Maybe it’s the concept of having space for a variety of activities, which I’ve found makes connections across barriers easier. I’m feeling this rather urgently right now: somehow we have to find ways to make more connections, especially outside of our bubbles, in order to nurture our sense of collective care. We’ve got big urgent crises to cope with. We need to find ways to have difficult conversations, and common ground. Social media does not work for these purposes; it seems almost designed to push us to greater and greater extremes. Belonging comes from something else, I’m convinced of it—outside of algorithms that fail to surprise us, that try to sell us more stuff, and that compete for our attention by exploiting our emotional weak points.
My attention is invaluable. So is yours. It is our time here on earth. It’s what we’ve got to give.
So if you’ve spent a few minutes of your attention reading this post, I send you immense thanks. And to the universe, I send this flicker of an idea: in what ways can I deepen my involvement in building community and connection on the ground, in the real world, both now and whenever we can meet in person again?
Last week I attended live webinar sessions on publicity and marketing, hosted by Penguin Random House, and open to any PRH author. (Please don’t stop reading just because I said “webinar”!) My only expectation was that this would be outside my comfort zone; and that I needed to attempt to engage on this subject, and at least acknowledge the truth that to publish a book is to be called to champion that book. And let’s be frank: the call to personally champion and publicize one’s own book feels overwhelming. (A stat dropped during one of the sessions: over 200 books are published each week — that may be a US-specific stat, but the point remains. It’s a crowded marketplace. What’s a writer to do?)
First, I want to confess that I enjoyed the webinars a lot. (This may be a sign that a) I’m starved of peer-to-peer contact and b) must start inviting friends over again to the back yard shack — it’s been a long, cold winter!)
Second, the most practical advice I gleaned is to tailor your approach to your own interests, abilities, affinities. Also useful: if you’re using social media for publicity purposes do it like this: get on, post, get off. At one point, someone said “You’re looking at branding yourself for a clear trajectory long-term,” and I wrote in my notes (oh god, I have not done this well at all!), by which I meant having “a clear trajectory.” I won’t even touch the subject of branding, but the question that kept humming around my brain was: Is anyone going to ask what happens when you make yourself into a brand? (No one did, me included; honestly, it wasn’t the right forum for that question, if there is a right forum.)
Third, the sessions made clear that most successful writers get good at a bunch of things (podcasting, publishing a newsletter, posting videos on TikTok or streaming on Instagram Live, or teaching, speaking, etc.), and the books they publish are just one thread in a web of activities, built around their interests and expertise. Okay. But does this apply more aptly to writers of non-fiction: academics, public figures, chefs or doctors? Maybe; I observed that most of the best-selling authors profiled in these sessions were writing non-fiction. However, I think this approach can make sense for fiction writers too — if it builds and develops naturally.
Confession: I’m resistant to the idea of self-promotion. It feels self-serving, and I’m uncomfortable with that; further, it’s the part of the job that in the past drained my energy and ambition, filled me with dread and fear. Even writing this post is giving me twitches of shame. I sense myself needing to explain: everyone does it, it has to be done, they’re telling me I need to be good at this, I’m just trying to figure out how. Please forgive me, please don’t hate me.
That desire to be liked goes deep, but it’s not just that; I’ve been conditioned to believe, way down deep, that women who stand up and demand an audience aren’t just unlikeable, they’re vulnerable. These are deep fears. Drawing attention to myself, becoming a target, getting mired in ego, serving self not others, making claims that maybe can’t be met, over-stepping, saying the wrong thing, getting too comfortable and getting knocked down … so many fears. But here’s what I know: anytime I approach a problem or a goal from a place of fear, I get knotted up, confused, entangled, and overwhelmed.
There is another way, a different approach: to come from a place of clarity, grounded, focused on the goal, attuned to changing contexts, curious, open to learning, and connected to the source of my own values and purpose. Picture a tree with deep roots, branches moving, changing with the seasons. (There’s my vision for a clear long-term trajectory!)
Here’s what I’ve decided to do. I’m going to accept my own challenge, and begin this marketing/publicity exploration from a place of curiosity, by asking:
What resources are already available to me? What am I already practiced at doing? What do I already know?
What would I like to learn or try out? What am I curious about?
Who is with me on this path? Who are my collaborators, mentors, friends and peers? Where do we meet?
What compelled me to write this book, and why does it matter so much to me? What themes and interests are woven into this book that connect with my world and perhaps also with yours?
Answers (musings, reflections, wonderings, and likely more questions), coming soon.
PS I’ve been signing up for more live online events, and I’ve noticed that it’s the live part that works. Has anyone else found this too? Even with my microphone and camera off, it feels like I’m part of something — an audience member, a participant, engaged, ever so slightly necessary to the proceedings; pre-recorded doesn’t compare. (Then again, neither does live in-person, but we take what we can get right now!)
Wherever you've come from, wherever you're going, consider this space a place for reflection and pause. Thank you for stopping by. Your comments are welcome.
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My name is Carrie Snyder. I'm a fiction writer, reader, editor, dreamer, arts organizer, workshop leader, forever curious. I believe words are powerful, storytelling is healing, and art is for everyone.