Category: Uncategorized

Joy snacks and shame sandwiches


How do you feel about critique? Is it useful to you, at least some of the time, or do you find it painful, even unsettling? (That should be the other way round — unsettling, even painful.) Yes! And that’s the kind of critique I give myself regularly, and which I’m reasonably comfortable receiving — critique on language, syntax, effectiveness of words packed together to create a particular kind of experience and meaning.

I wonder if it’s a confidence factor. Maybe? I’m comfortable with my own facility with language, I know what I like, what effect I’m aiming for, and I’m willing to try and try and try again to test out possibilities. I’m familiar with my limitations and I like what I can do with words. There’s an intrinsic pleasure to playing with language, and critique is necessary — if it’s provided in a spirit of kindness, of support, of interest, of acceptance. What matters to me may not be what matters to someone else, when it comes to writing. I admire so many different genres and styles, voices and techniques. Critique works when we’re playing together, when we like and admire each other’s unique gifts, when there is an equal exchange of energies. (A phrase I only recently learned, and which seems to speak to a core need within me.)


I just opened and read the student evaluations from the course I taught this winter. I’ve been putting it off. This is critique that I believe is necessary and important and valuable. So I read it. And now I feel like I’ve eaten a shame sandwich. The silly thing is that the bulk of the comments and assessments (all anonymous) were extremely positive. Of course not everyone clicked with what I was offering — that’s understandable, reasonable. Not everything is for everyone. There were some suggestions for improvements, almost all of which I do not disagree with. But here’s the thing: I feel like a total failure. That’s my gut response. The shame sandwich bloats me with self-pity and fear. Why would I ever dream of teaching again? Cut and run, pull the parachute, jump ship — that’s my gut instinct.

I don’t always know what will send me spiralling.

I have not found a way to solve this particular problem. Is it a character flaw, a bug in the system, the way that I’m wired? I’ve tried therapy, I’ve tried journalling. I put myself out in public again and again, and almost ask for it — for critique. And then I don’t know what to do when it arrives.

Even good news.

Even compliments, I reject, I wobble on the inside. This can’t be right, I think.

But here’s something curious and unexpected: I’ve found a job that I can do without eating a shame sandwich every day that I do it. At this job, I feel competent, capable. I like myself when I do this job. I’m busy and useful, and sometimes even a little bit bored, but I feel surprisingly joyful.

Do you need joy in your work? I do. Nibbling on a joy snack is way more nourishing than eating a shame sandwich. Every day that I do this job, I experience joy. I’m not sure what that means, I’ll be honest. This wasn’t a job that I set out to do, ever. I never once dreamed of or even considered doing this job, till I started doing it, and every day I am glad that I gave myself permission to try something so different from what I’d expected to do, unhitched from ambition, out of the spotlight, the kind of job that should pay better, but because it’s caring work, it isn’t honoured or rewarded in that way. Reminds me of coaching soccer or looking after small children. And I just love doing it.

I love being the calm grounded centre in a storm of activity. I love being surrounded by noise and bustle and in the midst of all this tending to a stream of needs. I do this work and I never ever eat a shame sandwich while doing it because I know deep down that I’ve done my best, and I forgive myself instinctively for lapses or forgetting or dropping a ball somewhere. I love doing work for which there is no way — exactly — to prepare, you just need to dive in. I don’t have to be an expert. (I don’t want to be an expert, and have never ever felt like one, which may factor into why those critiques of my teaching strike home; why would I dare to teach if I’m not an expert? Shame sandwich, here I come.)


At this job-job, this work I’ve been doing since November, critique is almost an irrelevant term. Talking things through, debriefing, considering alternative routes or responses, sharing tips and resources — that’s useful, and it doesn’t feel like critique because it comes from a place of support and mutuality. I’ve never had a job like this before; I’ve mostly worked solo, self-employed or contract by contract. I hadn’t appreciated before now how much harder it is to work like that — alone. Working solo, any support system has been of my own devising; debriefing is scattered and requires explaining the situation to others who weren’t directly involved; there’s less direction, less of a sense of belonging. You know? If you work solo, contract to contract, self-employed, I’m guessing you know.

Okay, my blog platform is kind of dying here, on my dying ancient laptop, so I’m going to sign off without a proper ending. Just know that joy snacks are out there. And you might just find joy in something you’ve never considered trying before.

xo, Carrie

A wonderful review


Super thrilled to discover this review of Francie’s Got a Gun, on Kerry Clare’s blog, Pickle Me This. I respect Kerry’s keen reader’s eye immensely, and I’m overflowing with gratitude for her deep and layered reading of the novel. As book-coverage shrinks in traditional media outlets, reviews like Kerry’s are ever-more meaningful and important (as are reader reviews on sites like Goodreads, Amazon and Indigo). Kerry’s long been a terrific booster of Canadian writers and writing, not to mention she’s a talented novelist herself (Waiting for a Star to Fall).

Here’s an excerpt.

I loved Francie’s Got a Gun, a new novel by Carrie Snyder…. It’s a taut, tension-filled story of a young girl who’s running with a gun in her hand, the question of “where did she come from” taking precedent over “where is she going?” because maybe the ending it inevitable. But is it? … I started reading this book and found it hard to put it down, but refrained from posting about it until I’d reached the very end, so I’d be able to tell you with certainty that Carrie Snyder has pulled off, with flawless execution, a rich and sprawling story, and she really, really has.

Click here to read the full review.

xo, Carrie

Seeker of beauty, begin


Yesterday: second-to-last appointment with my art therapist; she directed me to make an altar, a place I could look to, or sit beside, in order to remind myself of … whatever I wanted to remind myself of! Pick a theme, she said, suggesting themes like protection, inspiration, healing, peace, calm. At first I said, NO, don’t want to do this, it sounds a bit too pagan. But then my mind filled up with ideas, and I said, YES, and I made a small altar using the “artist’s statement” I created for that creativity course I taught in 2019, which is framed and already sits propped on a small side table in the my studio. 

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


I placed a candle and incense and a book of matches on the table, and set my most recent publications underneath, along with the notebooks containing my daily cartooning project (which I’ve done during the month of December in 2020 and 2021, and wanted to remind myself to do again this year).

I tidied up.

I declared that my theme would be beauty!

The universe heard (as it does).

Yesterday: on the mat, eyes closed in Kasia’s kundalini class, she talked about beauty, about the pursuit of beauty being a worthy human occupation, building on all the creativity of artists past, creating communion with the future. “The world will be saved by beauty,” she quoted from Fyodor Dostoevsky, and in that moment, I believed it.


How do you know something is beautiful?

Because you love it, you are drawn to it, you want to protect it and keep it whole because you recognize it as being sacred (and some may want to destroy it, for the same reason); you can build on it, it changes, it takes on different meaning for different people; it is tangible, you know beauty with your senses, with your body, it is fleeting, ephemeral, it is of its moment, its time, it has the capacity to speak across generations and cultures and years, but not always; it is a way to communicate with the world and to receive from the world around you; it is not always natural, it can be composed and articulated and sung and made, or it might be found, stumbled over; it might stop you in awe, or stop you in pain, it might remind you of something you already knew or believed and loved long ago, or it might light a way to the future, it might be a path you’ve yet to walk, an invitation, it might inspire other creations and compositions; it communicates; it can be raw or refined, it sweetens the day, it penetrates to the mind, it quickens the heart; it can repulse, and it can draw in; it can intimidate, drop you to your knees, and it can be accessible to anyone passing by; it can be holy, it can be profane; it speaks ever and always, it speaks in fractional moments; it can be a gesture, it can leave no trace, and it can be monumental; it speaks to one or to many, in many voices or just one; it can be symphonic, collective, communal, or it can be private, silent; it is all of these things, of course, which makes its pursuit such an adventure, a mind-opening, mind-bending journey–

I am a seeker of beauty

And I seek to share what I find 

xo, Carrie

Under construction


Some minor but symbolically significant changes are underway here at Ye Olde Blog. I’m excited for a reveal … soon(ish).

Today’s to-do list looks like this (as scribbled into my notebook): flu shot; Two Women; email replies; “FREE” [the word on which I meditated this morning] — what should I do re job???; take kids to Clay and Glass Gallery to see Beaver; blog; sibs convo?

So far, I’ve done almost none of these things. Email replies, check. Laundry (not on list), check. Now I’ve skipped over a number of items in order to blog.

I wanted to write about a very specific subject: practical communication tips for managing conflict. Not necessarily solving or resolving conflict, but finding ways to keep working with people with whom you have disagreements, which may be irreconcilable. (These tips are taken from a recent episode of the podcast “Hidden Brain.”) The technique is called “Conversational receptiveness,” wherein you use words and phrases to demonstrate to your counterpart that you’re engaged, listening, and curious about their point of view. I love this. As I listened to the podcast, patting myself on the back, I thought, maybe I’m someone who doesn’t mind conflict; after all, as a writer I have to be comfortable with discomfort in order to stick with my work. But as it turns out, there are actually many conflicts that many of us find quite agreeable and even fun — like debating ideas, or cheering for different sports teams. We can agree to disagree. The place where I get stuck (where we pretty much all do) is when a disagreement hinges on a belief — when we want the other person to believe what we believe, and to say so. This belief could be about a moral position, or an interpretation of a shared experience, or the memory of something that happened long ago. If you’re like me, you can think of plenty of occasions when this kind of core disagreement led to heart-ache (or at the very least to late-night rumination, running versions of conversations over and over, arguing points in your head, or fantasizing about the other person coming around to your point of view, and saying: you know what, Carrie, you were absolutely right!). Sigh. Truth is, I’ve done a lot of mindfulness training on this very stuff. Maybe I’m not a conflict-resolution genius after all!


Okay. So is there a way to be heard, when in serious disagreement with someone else? Good news (according to this podcast): The answer is yes, at least some of the time. The secret sauce may sound counterintuitive (but makes so much sense!): to be heard, you have to hear.

We love feeling heard. We love being heard. Dr. Julia Minson, the expert being interviewed, recommends a conversational strategy called: HEAR. (It’s an acronym.) Conversational receptiveness moves us away from “naive realism,” which is the assumption that we’re all experiencing things in the same way. (This is actually the basis of most of my fiction — a narrative’s conflict and interest and humour and tragedy, to my mind, comes about because no one experiences any situation in the same way. No wonder this all resonated so deeply — it’s my recurring theme.)

Here are Dr. Minson’s tips on how to HEAR better, and have better conversations (saving for later, in hopes that I shall put them to use).

H – Hedge. Respond with phrases that include words like perhaps … sometimes … maybe

E – Emphasize agreement. Name a common cause or common goal, as in, we both think … or we both hope …

A – Acknowledge. Spend some of your airtime restating your counterpart’s argument. It sounds like you’re saying …

R – Reframe to the positive. Instead of saying, I hate not being heard, you could say, I love when someone takes time to really listen to me.


The other key to better conversations is to ask questions rather than make statements. This just plain makes sense. Questions open space. Statements put up walls. Oh boy is this a tough one for me. Just ask my kids. I’m overflowing with unsolicited advice! It’s probably all brilliant, right? It spills from me in these monologic torrents that are ultimately kind of meaningless, and ineffectual. So I’m working on it. What a difference it can make to ask a question that’s open-ended, that doesn’t have my answer waiting on the other side; not a leading question, but a question that expresses curiosity, interest, genuine wondering.

And this next bit was not in the podcast, but all of the above fits into my theory about CONTROL, and the problems it causes. In my own life, in my own character, I see that my desire to control can be ruinous to relationships (and to my own mental health). I can hardly think of a time when my impulse to control a situation, or a person, or a behaviour, or an experience led to a positive outcome. When I release my impulse to control, I’m inevitably more content, more accepting of situations that truly are not under my control, and, most importantly, I give the message to those around me that I trust them, and that they are trustworthy.

And when you send a message to the people around you that you value and trust them, when people feel heard, when people are heard, when you are listening and hearing those around you, you become someone who is also more trustworthy, who others will come to when they have hard things to talk about, and who, in turn, will be heard and listened to, too. That is my hope and my goal, as a parent, and as a friend, and as a writer. I am a work-in-progress! I’m under construction!

Do any of these tips resonate for you?

xo, Carrie

when things fall apart


Some things that have happened in the past few month or so. My mom had a health crisis requiring emergency surgery and was sent home too soon as it is clear our hospital system is under intense stress and they needed her bed for someone else asap. I scheduled multiple appointments, took notes at multiple appointments. Somewhere in there I got hired at a new job that I’d applied for in a haze of fear and self-doubt after Francie didn’t make the Canadian literary prize lists. I kept getting up early and going for runs, walks. I did yoga every single morning. Our home hosted multiple teen sleepovers. I cooked excellent meals, sourced veggies from two CSAs. I completed two puzzles. I biked to church. I got a booster shot. I agreed to sit on another committee. I agreed to take part in a mentorship program. I sent and received many emails related to the other new job I’m starting (again) this winter, teaching creative writing at UW. Kevin went to England for a week with our youngest and got to have lots of nice lattes and go to soccer games. I crushed two tires on our car while turning into a parking lot (don’t ask). I played “writer” on a few occasions, including at the Wild Writers Festival this past weekend. I had a meltdown over the phone with a bureaucratic person who was obstructing my mom’s care. I sent many desperate texts to friends who replied with kindness and humour and met me for walks. I dashed over to mom’s house often. I almost stopped drinking alcohol completely. I lost weight from stress-not-eating. I started a low-dose anti-anxiety medication. I called my therapist for an emergency appointment and asked, Is life overwhelming right now, or is it just me being overwhelmed by life? How can I tell the difference? I decided I still love writing, storytelling, fiction, books. I revamped my resume. I wrote several poems. I consulted with many kind people, who offered guidance, listened, and gave me different perspectives on things. All these things.


Things fall apart. But they also hold, strangely. At times, often while doing yoga or running or biking, I feel strong, flexible, confident, present in my body in that moment. Things fall apart, but I am still laughing, dreaming, planning, being alive, savouring being alive. Things fall apart, but the purpose of life becomes clearer in the debris: be where you are right now. Do what makes you feel good. Find ways to do good and serve others while feeding yourself. Look for beauty. It’s everywhere.


And … seek help when overwhelmed, when in the overwhelm. Doesn’t matter whether the overwhelm is within or without. No point in pointing fingers, or blaming yourself for not being sufficient to the cause. There are many hands reaching to pull you up and remind you: care for yourself as you care for others. Protect yourself.

And thank your wise past self for setting good habits in good times that will see you through the hard times. Notice, appreciate, celebrate your own capacity to make this all possible: this life in pieces, this whole life.

xo, Carrie

PS I’m beginning to wonder whether my gift to my future self should be learning how to say “no.” How to prioritize needs / demands, self / others. How to protect my time and energy. I thought I’d learned how during the pandemic, but maybe it’s just one of those (many) things that needs to be learned over and over again.

The writer fantasy

My agent just compared the emotional aftermath of publishing a book to the postpartum experience, and the accuracy blew my mind. I’ve given birth 4 times. I remember. Unsettling emotions that feel socially inappropriate; fear of expressing doubt or grief or anxiety; head-level recognition of how lucky you are combined with gut-level anxiety or blankness, and confusion about the disconnect between what you’re being told the experience should feel like, and how you’re experiencing the experience in your own body.

I remember a brilliant debut writer saying to me, a few years ago, something like: I thought it was going to be so different. I thought I’d be having all these profound meaningful conversations with other people who love literature. I thought I’d be entering a bigger community, a world of ideas. Now that isn’t to say this can’t happen. I would love to imagine that it does happen. But as far as I can tell, there’s no secret world of ideas, the passcode to which is publishing a book. And yet, I’ve found myself wishing for the same things: for connection, community, exciting exchanges of ideas. I just read a personal essay in The New Yorker by a writer (Darryl Pinckney) who was mentored as a young man by the writer Elizabeth Hardwick (late 1970s, early 1980s), and, oh, his description of her apartment in NYC, her stacks of manuscripts, her writing life and books, her red velvet couch, her country home, her housekeeper, the intensity of her focus on writing, writers, words and ideas! Exquisite! And I thought: oh dear, I recognize this fantasy, I long for this fantasy, this fantasy goes deep for me! It’s overflowing with nostalgia and comfort and wealth and the right amount of solitude, the luxury of being cared for; and like all fantasies it has the potential to wreck the loveliness of what could actually be.

As a new mother, a young mother, I instinctively got through the difficult days and hours by settling into them, accepting what was happening, sleeping as much as I possibly could, paring back the expectations of what I could manage to do, and just doing what I could manage. (To be clear, I didn’t suffer from postpartum depression; and I might have needed different treatment and intervention if so.) Rest, shifting expectations, settling in, accepting where you’re at … in a way, this is how all life gets lived. It’s what’s worked for me, anyway, and I’m applying the same knowledge to my current experiences with my fourth book of fiction, feeling my way forward. Paring down my expectations to meet what’s possible, what’s doable, what’s practical, what matters most to me.

I’m speaking too about caregiving, generally; and how to be kind to yourself; and how to approach with surrender and acceptance the vicissitudes and unexpected crises, and the need to recalibrate, to turn attention to the priority of the moment, even if it’s not the priority you’d planned for. All of this is possible, if you feel at peace with the choices you’re making. If you know that your choices match up with your values, with the things you hold most dear.

Knowing that, I can recognize the writing fantasy, and let go of much in it: the red velvet couch, the wealth, the housekeeper, the country home. And I can focus in on the desire to connect, to mentor and be mentored, to participate in a creative community, to support and be supported, to be nourished by a life that includes art and ideas. That’s possible. That’s doable. That’s worth building toward.

xo, Carrie