Category: The Juliet Stories
A friend has offered to redesign the banner on my website to remove the title “Obscure CanLit Mama,” which no longer fits so well. On a hot August morning in 2008, I titled the blog on a whim, and began sending out posts to the universe. My youngest was newborn. He’s now in high school. In those early days, I wrote a lot about the kids. I posted recipes and meal plans. I wrote about juggling constant stay-at-home childcare with attempts to steal even a smidgen of writing time. I’d published one collection of short stories, four years earlier. It seemed presumptuous to attach myself to CanLit as a participant (even an Obscure one). The Mama was the ascending identifying force in my life at that time.
I haven’t posted a recipe in a very long time.
I don’t write about my kids, except glancingly.
These days, I come here, to this familiar space, to reflect mostly on writing, but also on what seem to me to be ephemeral, spiritual matters: aging, artistic discipline, setting routines, learning new things, re-learning old things, the repetition of the seasons, creative practices, play, emotional weather / weathering emotions. Etc.
In the 14 years that this blog has existed, I’ve poured energy into being a writer, laying claim to that identity, earning grants, publishing three more books, teaching creative writing, organizing writing workshops, serving as a consulting editor with The New Quarterly, speaking, travelling, practicing the craft, seeking to keep my connection to my writing alive and thriving.
Obscurity is a self-effacing mindset (erasing? shrinking? minimizing? hiding?). I know that. But it was necessary protection as I tried to become / be a writer. I’ve been afraid of being a writer, of laying claim to this identity and its shifting cultural responsibilities. Since childhood, I’ve wanted to perform magic tricks with language, to conjure imaginary landscapes, converse with imaginary people, finding solace in their losses and successes. I did not aspire beyond that — that was a big-enough dream. I knew my writing wouldn’t be activist in nature, because I am not an activist by nature. I’m a ventriloquist, an observer, a performer, agnostic, hungry to learn, curious about the questions, less-so the answers, the mystery, not the proof.
It’s a rather exalted view of being a writer. Or maybe I mean ecstatic. Or impractical. But I admire it, I love what my former self was attempting.
I dipped into The Juliet Stories this morning, a book now ten years old, and the writing sang off the page, just like magic. I couldn’t remember the person who’d written it. It was like reading a stranger’s words. Did I know then what I’d made? No. I didn’t trust its worth. I didn’t need to. I just kept trying, year after year, focused on the writing, and eventually made something.
I want very much to be that same writer, to write with confidence, believing in the magic of language. “You know it’s not the same as it was”: this song came on my “Run Fast” playlist this morning (oh Harry! so nostalgic); maybe “As It Was” especially resonates in These Times, when we’re trying to remember who we were Before. But life is lived in the present, and time carries us onward. We change; and experiences change us. It’s not the same as it was. That’s a neutral statement, at heart. It doesn’t have to weigh heavily, though it’s tempting to roll around in those deliciously bittersweet emotions.
What’s next? What path am I running, where does it lead? I can’t see very far ahead of my feet. Whose hands am I holding? What’s pulling me onward?
What kind of a writer am I now? What kind of a writer do I aspire to be? Do I need to know? No. As Lynda Barry would remind me: it’s none of your business. Follow the energy, get comfortable in the not-knowing.
I don’t have a new title for this blog, just my name. Enough? Enough. Yes.
Yesterday, picked up this tired little fellow from camp. Despite looking half-asleep at camp, he was very animated in the car, singing and recounting happy stories all the way home. My favourite was about how he and two cabin-mates had plotted out a three-book series (!!) about the mythical “Evil Octopus” that is said to live under the water trampoline in the camp pond, and a good but luckless character named Tamarack Tom. Could a writer-mother ask for anything more?
On the drive to camp, I listened to an interview with a young British woman, who was on the last leg of a five week North American tour: she’s a hip-hop artist, poet, and novelist — Kate Tempest. Somehow, at least temporarily, she restored my faith in the necessity — the importance — of performance. Her fresh enthusiasm was exactly what I needed to hear. She was so present and so thoughtful, dynamic, inventive, inspiring. I was inspired. Look it up, take a listen.
When we arrived home yesterday, our visitors were just arriving too: cousins for Canada Day!
The three other children had been home alone all day and the house was in a minor state of disaster, despite our newly assigned jobs and chores. How hard is it, really, to carry a dirty dish to the kitchen?
Anyway. Thankfully my sister-in-law is not fussy. But the dogs are also shedding at present. So I just vacuumed.
And I’m getting ready for another road trip yet this week (just me and the elder daughter).
Me and boy and tiger in “The Chub-Chub”
Since last Tuesday I’ve put over 1,000 kilometres on our little pod car, or “The Chub-Chub” as it has been nicknamed by the eldest son. So much car-sitting! My body couldn’t wait to move again. Last night I ran at AppleApple’s soccer practice and kept going and going and going. I knew if I stopped and stood by the field, the mosquitos would get me, and my legs were so happy to be running: I went 14.5 kilometres and it didn’t feel hard, which cheers me greatly, and makes me think I’ll be able to run the half-marathon when I go to Victoria this October (I’m a guest speaker at this fall’s Victoria marathon–have I told you that yet?). (How this fits with less is more, I have no idea, and it probably doesn’t, but there it is, and I’m excited, and excited too about the possibility of even more travel.)
In other exciting news: here is the cover of The Juliet Stories, as it will appear in the UK & Australia. Amazing, hey?
My meditation word right now is change. I’m restless, wondering, working hard, trying to tune in to what matters, my brain firing off in all directions, as I stand here on July 1st, amazed at what we managed in the month of June. It’s been quite the ride, with so many swoops and dives, long distance drives, and more soccer fields than I can count. Hang on, here’s summer.
All for now.
So … it’s been a week of ups and downs.
Our 11-year-old suffered what appears to have been a migraine, sending us to the emergency room rather than to soccer practice on Tuesday evening. She’s already the kid with asthma, and with big athletic ambitions. Thankfully, she seems completely blasé about the whole experience; I’m the one who needs to sort out my anxieties. I tried doing yoga in my office yesterday morning, with this accompanying soundtrack. It helped. At least a bit.
Occasionally I find myself believing in some kind of cosmic scale that insists on balancing things out. Seems superstitious. But when I was writing THE JULIET STORIES, for example, I got this very weird infection on my eyelids that was both ugly and painful, bulbous red bumps that made it difficult to look up or to the side. It lasted for six months. When I was writing GIRL RUNNER, I was covered in a very weird maddeningly itchy rash that doctors thought was an auto-immune disorder, but which turned out to be bedbugs. That lasted for about six months too. I don’t know whether this (i.e. physical payment for creative grace) is a common experience for other writers, but I was fascinated to discover, in Rebecca Mead’s MY LIFE IN MIDDLEMARCH, that George Eliot suffered from debilitating headaches and other health issues while working on her masterpiece, MIDDLEMARCH, which she wrote over a fairly short but intense period of time.
This was not what I sat down to blog about this morning.
Sure there have been some downs this week. But also some terrific ups.
Such as …
* Shopping at the mall with my 13-year-old, who was badly in need of clothing that fit, and it not being a complete embarrassing disaster for him. In fact, we kind of had fun. And we both hate shopping, so that’s saying something.
* A bowling birthday party for the same kid that was super-fun (and that I did not supervise; it’s best to leave the super-fun outings to Kevin, as I can’t help myself from reining in certain kinds of silliness).
* Getting my course curriculum for the fall laid out, and readings chosen. Big item off of my to-do list!
* A reading at a midwifery clinic last night, babies in attendance, funny breastfeeding essay on offer — and all of the timing and planning actually working out.
* Convincing my 8-year-old to play in a piano recital on Sunday. (Though it may be her last, as she’s thinking of retiring.)
* Summer babysitting plans, as detailed last night (the older kids will be babysitting the younger ones, which worked really well last summer): “Mom, I was thinking of having a ‘Shakespeare-themed’ summer. I could tell them the plots of the plays, maybe a few comedies, a few tragedies, skip the histories because they’re boring, and they could choose one they like, and we could perform it. But we might need more kids. And I was also thinking I could teach them some of Shakespeare’s insults….”
* It’s a PD day and we’re practicing for the summer. One babysitter in charge. One kitchen covered in jam and peanut butter. One gigantic Playmobil disaster upstairs. One mother out running errands on her bicycle. File this under “up.”
run, Kevin, run
This week has been run, Carrie, run. Next up we have shine, Carrie, shine, as I’ve got a variety of upcoming work-related events and appearances.
Tonight, I’m visiting a friend’s book club to talk about The Juliet Stories.
On Tuesday, I’ll be at DVLB in uptown Waterloo @ 7PM as a “special guest” (that’s what the invite says) at the book launch for new story collections from Greg Bechtel and Tom Cho. I think I’m going to read a Juliet story I haven’t before.
On Wednesday, I’ll be in Hamilton at Bryan Prince Bookseller @ 7PM with The M Word’s editor Kerry Clare, and others. I’ll be reading from my essay in The M Word, but of course.
On Thursday, I’m headed to Toronto to meet with my publicist at Anansi to make plans for launch of Girl Runner here in Canada (Sept. 6th).
On Saturday, I’ve been invited to be a guest bookseller at Words Worth Books in uptown Waterloo. Words Worth is celebrating its 30th year in the business. (!!) I’ll be there around 11AM, if you want to drop by. (Apparently, working the cash register is not a requirement, for which we can all be truly grateful. I hope no one ever asks me to work as a guest waitress. Or guest latte-maker. Both jobs which I tried and at which I failed spectacularly. I would make a pretty decent guest stable-girl, or guest copy-editor, or guest babysitter, however.)
Finally, yesterday I found out that an essay of mine, “Delivery,” which was published last year in The New Quarterly, and also in the anthology How to Expect What You’re Not Expecting, has been nominated for a National Magazine Award. The New Quarterly has invited me to be their guest at the gala, which happens in June. The word gala kind of paralyzes me, I confess. But I’ve never been nominated before, and I would like to go and be a fly on the wall. Maybe in a nice dress? Maybe not. We’ll see.
I think that covers it for now in the shine, Carrie, shine category. But it’s more than enough to keep me running.
The “best school project ever” continues. AppleApple is studying nature art, and has looked mainly at the work of Andy Goldsworthy, a well-established British artist who works with materials found in nature to create ephemeral installations, mostly outdoors: they aren’t meant to last (though he does photograph them, and they’re definitely worth seeing, if you have time to click on the link).
As AppleApple was working on her project, we discovered that Meghan Harder, a young local artist and recent graduate of the University of Waterloo’s fine arts program has been creating nature art right here in Waterloo. (The Canadian Mennonite featured her on the front cover in January.) So we arranged to meet Meg Harder yesterday afternoon in Waterloo Park, where a year ago, with help from some friends, she’d built a “human nest.” With her teacher’s permission, AppleApple got to skip out of school early, and we trekked through snow banks and found the spot where the nest had been made.
|Here’s what the nest looked like a year ago|
Here’s what the nest looked like yesterday
After our hike, Meg and her boyfriend generously spent another hour with us, drinking tea and answering AppleApple’s questions. (I had a few too: I couldn’t help myself!) I’ve given very little thought to conceptual art, and we talked a lot about art that tries to communicate an idea or generate a conversation. For Meg, the process of creation is more important than the final creation. She also talked about the way in which nature art invites passersby to interact imaginatively with something they may not even realize is art, making it accessible to an audience outside of the traditional gallery setting, where we all know that what we’re seeing, if we go there, is art.
AppleApple took lots of notes. I’m fascinated to see how she’ll synthesize her material. I also need to find a way to print these photos, which she’ll be using for her display. Any ideas? The deadline is fairly tight, and I want to get this bit of the project (the part where I’m helping out) done this weekend.
one of AppleApple’s installations, after the snow fell
A note re health: Antibiotics to the rescue, again. Thankfully, I am feeling much better.
I felt well enough to go to yoga last night, although I struggled at times. The thought that soothed me, as I repeatedly fell out of a balancing pose, was “this is the body I’m in.” I just kept telling myself that, and it made me feel better, calmer, maybe. I want to be like my character Aganetha in Girl Runner, who I think fully and without judgement inhabits her body, born with a talent for awareness of its strengths and limitations. Doing a regular practice like yoga puts me in touch with precisely where my body’s at on any given day or hour; sometimes I feel strong, and sometimes I feel weak. Sometimes my strength comes as a surprise, on a day when I’ve felt discouraged or down; and sometimes it’s my weakness that comes as a surprise, although not last night. I knew I was feeling crummy. I would like to think that success is not limited to the days when I feel strong, rather success is the willingness to continue practicing, and to meet my body where it’s at. These bodies of ours do such amazing things. I don’t believe they’re just vessels for our spirits, they’re the expression of life itself.
Even right now: I’m able to write because my body is stilling itself into quiet focus.
One last thing. My dad forwarded me a review of The Juliet Stories in the MQR (Mennonite Quarterly Review), which is an American journal. The reviewer engages with the book as both a personal and a political work. It moved me to tears. This link is to a PDF file that includes the review (scan down, as it’s toward the end). Here’s the last line: “After reading The Juliet Stories, I’m convinced Snyder should be named one of the top women writers everyone must learn to know, given the power of a text that questions the permanency of borders, and the ways journeying somewhere new might cut each of us wide open.”
Last week I blogged about fiction versus non-fiction, and a friend posted a link to an article titled “Based on a True Story. Or Not.” If you’ve got time to ponder the subject, go off now and read it. If you’re in a hurry, here’s my brisk summary:
The essay is about the use of autobiography in poetry. We, the reader, tend to assume that a personal-sounding poem is autobiographical. So what happens when we, the reader, discover that a personal-sounding poem is in fact fictional? Do we have a sense of being cheated out of something “real,” or of having been fooled or tricked by the poet? Why do we want so badly to know that the poet wrote out of experience rather than imagination? Why does it matter to us?
Because it does matter, at least to many of us.
I’ve visited quite a few book clubs for The Juliet Stories. There is one question asked every time, usually immediately, a variation of: “Is this story something that really happened to you?” How I answer the question probably depends on my mood, and I often feel rather weary as I try to explain my creative process. But even if I don’t welcome the question, exactly, I don’t disdain it. I’ve come to believe the question must tap into something fundamental within us, something held in common, as readers. That we come to a story looking for truth. We come looking for the connections between author and subject. We want to believe in the veracity of what’s being told. (Maybe we want to be part of the story or become closer to it, by being witnesses rather than “mere” readers.)
The closer a story appears to be to autobiography, the more jarring it is to be told: this is fiction. We’re not comfortable with something we suspect to be full of half-truths, which are also, of course, half-falsehoods. I find it very difficult to wrestle with these distinctions. I’d rather say, “None of this happened” than “Bits of this happened”; while the thought of saying “This all happened” makes my skin crawl. I’ve got no desire to be a memoirist, clearly.
But every story I’ve ever written has been inspired by a glimpse of something actual, whether it be a house I once lived in, or the memory of an emotion that washed over me in a specific situation, or an amulet from childhood, or by knowledge I’ve personally gained cooking or horseback riding or running. I get my ideas from life. But an idea isn’t a story, an emotion isn’t a story, a glimpse isn’t a story. To make a story, I imagine what might have been if life were different. I seek alternative explanations for those things I can’t explain. I go off the trail. I wonder. I make it up.
As a fiction writer, I’m not asking my readers to be witnesses, to paraphrase the conclusion of the essay cited above. I’m asking my readers to imagine.
Curious, though. What am I asking of readers here on the blog? This isn’t fiction, obviously. This is it. Here, perhaps, I’m asking you to be witnesses.
Yesterday at 9AM I wanted to write a post that listed in fine detail every damn thing I’d already accomplished since waking four hours previously; but I was too tired to do it, and instead went upstairs and fell into the oblivion of a nap. It will sound like bragging. Maybe it is. I don’t mean it to be. I myself am astonished and only want to record it because I doubt I’ll believe it years from now, the pace at which I’m currently pushing myself, wondering whether it’s too much, whether I’ll stumble, and badly. (Note: Kevin was working in Toronto yesterday, and usually shares half these duties.)
5:04 – Alarm. Brush teeth, dress.
5:11 – Daughter’s alarm. Help her get ready for swimming.
5:19 – See daughter off with carpooling friend.
5:33 – In darkness, leave house for a run on snowy roads.
6:29 – Home after 10.2km (slow; muscles never warmed up in the cold).
6:33 – Dash out with whining dogs for walk, chilled.
6:47 – Feed dogs. Shower. Dress. Scarf toast with PB.
7:00 – Wake eldest son to watch dogs and be on alert for rising children. Leave for pool. Listen to news on the radio, blast the heat.
7:15 – Pick up daughter and friend at pool. Feed them bananas. Chat.
7:25 – Drop off friend.
7:35 – Home. Feed myself and daughter poached eggs on toast.
7:55 – See friends waiting for elder son to walk to school, run out and tell them go; he’s sick. Call school to report his impending absence.
8:00 – Send daughter to bed.
8:03 – Wake small children. Dress smallest.
8:15 – Feed small children vanilla yogurt with cut-up pears. Empty dishwasher, begin filling again.
8:19 – Check lunch boxes, add desserts, make snack to put into smallest’s coat pocket for field trip, as per instructions on form sent home by teachers, lost, and then after much searching, found. Start load of laundry. Wash beans for supper.
8:29 – Get small children into outdoor clothes. Not quickly enough.
8:37 – Wake eldest daughter. Drive small children to meet friends for their walk to school (they usually walk there).
8:47 – Wake eldest daughter again. Pack her school bag.
9:01 – Drive eldest daughter to her school (she usually walks there, too).
9:10 – Check on sick eldest son, returned to bed. Make him a cup of tea.
9:20 – Crate dogs. Nap.
9:50 – Woken by whining dogs. Get up. Feel grumpy. Get on with it.