Category: Work

In Vancouver, day of surreal

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Hi there.

I’m in Vancouver.

The Weather Network tells me it’s 14 degrees, feels like 13, with 20-30 mm of rain expected to begin at 5:50PM, which coincidentally is around the time I’ll be taxiing to tonight’s event, a fundraiser at Vancouver House with Joseph Boyden.

Today may go down in my memory as one of the more surreal; if, that is, I can remember any of it. I’ve been having trouble sleeping on this trip. It was well after 1AM when my body finally shut down, and my alarm went off at 4:15AM. I roused myself, finished stuffing things into my bag (didn’t think it was all going to fit for a moment there), and caught a shuttle from the Banff Centre to the Calgary airport. It was too dark to say a proper goodbye to the mountains.

I slept on the shuttle, like someone who had been drugged rather than like a normal dozing human being. Off the shuttle, I felt delusional from exhaustion, wandering the airport, trying to behave like a responsible adult who understood self-check-in machines and how to attach luggage stickers and where to stand in line. I was randomly selected for the full-body pat-down, which, frankly, bothered me not at all. On the plane I slept that drugged sleep again, surfacing to see on the TV screen in the seat-back next to mine, live footage from Ottawa, where shots had been fired inside the Parliament buildings. A reservist killed at the war memorial for the unknown soldier. A gunman killed too. Baffled Canadians taking cellphone footage. Streets shut down.

There is nothing to be said about this that I feel qualified to say.

I can’t really connect with my emotions on the subject. It sounds trite to express sadness. But I am sad.

When we landed in Vancouver, I realized it was only 9AM here. The hotel generously found me a room. I slept the drugged sleep, roused myself, ate a burger for lunch and watched soccer in a sports bar. I texted with my family while eating, which made me feel less lonely. And then I went for a run on the seawall. Running is hard, it’s always hard, but it works. I feel better.

Kevin is sending me texts and photos from home: right now, my kids are playing music together in our living-room. My brother Karl is recording them. CJ is singing into a mic. The girls are playing ukuleles. And Albus is tapping out chords on the piano. It’s like my dream family come to life. Only I wish I were there to see it.

But I have seen Karl Ove Knausgaard–twice. First when checking in, and then when getting off the elevator in my running gear. Neither time did I fangirl him. It took some restraint.

I feel like I’ve been awake for days.

I need a short nap before putting my Little Black Dress and heading out to a party. Nothing about this day feels concrete, feels like I can dig my fingers into it and find the pulse. I’m oddly removed. I was running on the seawall an hour ago. I flew over the mountains this morning. I’m here now. I’m here, now.

xo, Carrie

PS This is the photo Kevin sent me of the kids, playing music together. Sorry. It’s very very tiny. It seems fitting: this is as close as I can get. Home feels far away, right now.

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In Calgary, anonymous hotel room

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Hi there.

I’m in Calgary.

The Weather Network tells me it is 6 degrees, feels like 3. Thankfully, I brought along fall jacket, hat, and scarf. And four pairs of shoes, though I find myself wishing for a fifth. Do you know how hard it is to bring shoes for all occasions!? All stuffed into the tiniest carry-on bag you can imagine. It might be that the four pairs of shoes have replaced essential clothing, and I’ll be wearing this same shirt/jeans combo for the next ten days.

Reading on the plane: an advance copy of Elisabeth de Mariaffi’s thriller, The Devil You Know, due out in January, which also kept me up late last night. You’ll want to read this.

Have been rehydrating from airplane trip all morning. Went for a run on the treadmill. Meeting a friend for lunch. Workshop this afternoon, Literary Death Match this evening, panel discussion tomorrow morning, then on to Banff.

Photos while travelling will be cellphone-produced.

I’m calling the one above Woman In Anonymous Hotel Room. Actually, it looks like Very Short Woman with Unnatural Half-Smile and Flat Wet Hair in Anonymous Hotel Room.

Wish me luck. And send sociable, friendly vibes. Please, and thank you.

xo, Carrie

Visibility cloak

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A friend said to me this morning, as we were running together in the damp, dark pre-dawn, This book is not your whole identity, you know. You are much more than this book.

I needed to hear that. Thanks, friend.

I hadn’t recognized, quite, how Girl Runner has subsumed not just my hours, my focus, my working life right now, but also my identity. I am wearing, almost as a costume, almost full-time, the cloak of person-who-wrote-Girl-Runner. It’s not an invisibility cloak; it might be the opposite, a visibility cloak. But what’s visible is author-of-Girl-Runner, and invisible is everything else. Which is why completing that race felt so very good, perhaps.

My professional life is caught up in this identity: I would not be a teacher or a guest speaker if I were not, first and foremost, the author of Girl Runner. If I shrugged off that visibility cloak, an enormous section of my money-earning life would vanish in a poof of dust.

So it’s scary, I guess, to imagine not pouring my all into inhabiting my writer self. Carrie who writes books earns a living, whether by writing books or by spinning off the writing of books into related enterprises. Earning a living has long been my goal. It’s a worthy goal, I believe.

But maybe that goal feels a little one-dimensional as I pursue it with greater success and therefore greater effort, greater demands on my time. And on my identity.

If the writer cloak were balled up and chucked into a dusty corner, or even just hung up in a closet for awhile, what identity would emerge? Would I be fearful and lost? Free-roaming? Empty? Or would I find friend, mother, baker, caregiver rising up to fill the space? Or something else I can’t guess or imagine? But I can’t imagine it, because in truth being a writer isn’t a cloak, it’s more like tough thread woven right through the skin.

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Yet I sense that other parts of me are being shadowed, right now. It’s like I planted a seed that’s grown, quite suddenly, to become a tall leafy tree, shading out all else. It’s like I’ve become that tree. But I’m not. The tree is of me, but separate from me. Can I climb its branches and catch some light? Should I wait patiently for the season to change, the leaves to fall, to crunch around in them, to see them turn to compost, wait for other seeds to grow, a forested tangle of identity, creeping on the ground and digging in roots and reaching for the sky? Can I be many different parts all at once, or can I only do/be one thing at a time fruitfully, fully, well?

xo, Carrie

Stillness & motion, noise & silence

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photo credit: Shari Lovell

This morning began unusually. I woke at 6AM, refreshed after a very very long sleep, having crashed out just after 9PM last night. Teaching takes a lot of energy, at least for someone who would skew toward introverted on the personality continuum, and I had my class on Wednesday night (a happy place to spend three hours, I must tell you, even though our windowless brick room in a hive-like building resembles a bunker, and gets very muggy when packed out with creativity and debate). What a day to go and teach. I think it was a good thing, as it forced me to be focused and to pay attention to something other than the noise.

There was some noise on Wednesday. There was this lovely interview done by the Canadian Press, which ran in various media outlets. There was the phone call from the Writers’ Trust to confirm that Girl Runner was on the list, and various emails to note upcoming appearances and media requests associated with the award. I checked my calendar a lot. And my phone. Twitter and Facebook kept pulling me in. It was a lot of noise, as I say, and I found myself unable to settle and reflect, or even, quite, to feel what was happening.

So I was grateful to my students for occupying my evening. We talked about poetry. There was so much to learn from the discussion, so many reminders of why poetry matters, why words matter.

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photo credit: Shari Lovell

Kevin had gotten take-out ramen for supper, which I reheated in our shiny new microwave when I got home, nearing 10PM. (Yes, we finally got a microwave, and I must confess my leftover lunches are much more enticing than those consumed during our long, cold pre-microwave era.) After eating, all the kids in bed, Kevin dug through his scotch collection (so many bottles, each with an inch or three of liquid, leftover from our years of hosting scotch parties), and pulled out a particularly choice selection. I don’t have the name handy. But he went online to check its current value, were it full and unopened, and announced that we would be celebrating with a $5,000 bottle of scotch. I mean, seriously?! There was just enough for two wee drams.

One of the pleasures of the scotch party is hearing our friend Mike read the tasting notes, so to keep with tradition, I will tell you that this ridiculously pricey scotch tasted heavily of oak barrels, with overtones of straw (or was that the colour?) and undertones of turmeric and cinnamon. Or something like that. Maybe it was nutmeg. And a bit of blue sky.

It was a lovely celebration. I was up five hours later to run with my speedy friend Heather, who kindly slowed down for the occasion; also because that will be my last run before I attempt the Toad, tomorrow morning: 25 kilometres of likely-to-be-muddy trail. God help me.

The book I was reading this morning is called A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki. I’m going to keep talking about it until I’m done, and probably for a long time thereafter, and the next reader I’ve got in mind is my 11-year-old daughter.* We’re both of us possessed of a lot of energy and drive (I hazard to suggest she’s got even more of both than I do), and we both of us need to find ways and reasons to turn down the noise and become still. (And not because we’re crashing!)

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my girl runner

Wednesday, after the prize announcement and before teaching, I dashed over to her school to watch her run a cross-country race. She came second out of a large field of 7th and 8th graders. “I’m so tired! Weirdly tired! Like way too tired!” she told me immediately afterward as she lay prone on the grass. “You just ran three kilometres really fast,” I pointed out. “That’s not it!” “Well, maybe you’re too frail and shouldn’t run more than 200 metres,” I suggested, tongue in cheek. She’s read Girl Runner. She smiled faintly. Then she sat up and took off her shoes. “My feet are too hot!”

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At first, she was quite disappointed in her performance, and it mattered not when I pointed out that the girl who finished first was two heads taller and a grade older. She insisted on expecting better of herself. I kept assuring her that she’d been wonderful, that she’d given her all, that I was very proud, and finally, much later, before bed, she smiled to reassure me that she was happy with the race. Mostly. I can’t argue with her. Her expectations are her own. She isn’t discouraged when she doesn’t meet them. Instead, her expectations seem to fire her with greater focus and renewed intent. Yeah. I get that. There will always be someone faster, smarter, more talented. But I think she already knows: that it’s not about comparisons. It’s about finding one’s own voice, one’s own passion.

But what about stillness? What about releasing expectation? What about rest for the mind and body?

A Tale for the Time Being is the story, in part, of a 104-year-old Buddhist nun who’s offered decades to the practice of meditation, prayer, ritual gratitude for each gift, no matter how small. She bows with her whole body to the world. She is at peace with mortality. The humility of her daily practice gives her SUPAPOWAs! Even her physical frailty is a strength.

So I wake this morning, early, thinking about how whatever I have to offer must come from a grounded place, a place where I sit in stillness and silence, practicing gratitude, bowing with my whole body to this beautiful, difficult, scary, noisy world, with openness and with humility. A gift is a gift. What to do with it? How to give thanks? How to give, no matter how tired, frail, mortal, flawed? How to be still. How to listen.

xo, Carrie

PS I’d like to point you toward a review of Girl Runner by a blog-reader who is an Ironman athlete and writer; he also digs into the history of women’s long distance running.

* Note: after writing this post, I finished A Tale for the Time Being, and discovered that in the final third of the book, there are several extremely dark scenes relating to extreme bullying, attempted rape, and child prostitution, and although my 11-year-old is a mature reader, I don’t think the book is meant for her–not yet. But sections of the book are meant for her! However, I can’t figure out how to carve out the darkness to show her the light. I think this Tale for the Time Being will have to wait, for the time being. Nevertheless I highly recommend it to a mature adult audience. What is light without shadow? (The book also contains the clearest explanation of quantum mechanics that I’ve ever read.)

My book! She is here!

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My book! She is here!

So, this arrived yesterday. It’s the finished book, freshly arrived at the Anansi offices this week, and sent directly on to me, so, no, it’s not quite in stores yet, but will be soon; and for sure by Sept. 6th, the official pub date in Canada (other countries coming next year). This will be my reading copy. I’m going to write that on the inside cover. Actually, I’m going to do that now, while I’m thinking about it, because that is how I’m approaching life, that is my survival strategy: think of it, do it, done.

My motto (for real): I don’t procrastinate. Oddly, this can cause problems.

But it solves more problems than it causes, and it’s been working for me for years, so I’m sticking with it.

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“Reading copy. Aug. 19, 2014.” GIRL RUNNER

See? Thought it, did it, done. (And yes that is yesterday’s date, because yesterday is when I received the book, and that’s what I want to remember.)

This fall is already knocking down my door, and I want to welcome what’s coming, not greet it with anxiety or worry over all that I can’t control. Here is the visual that’s keeping me grounded these days. I am a still point in a fast-moving river. I’m not drowning. I’m not even swimming. I’m simply being pulled along, like a leaf or a branch, floating through all that is happening and trying to take it all in.

It’s going to be busy.

It’s already busy.

My strategy: stay very organized, and don’t get pushed ahead of exactly where I’m at — stay with what’s happening, here, present in the moment.

This morning, walking through the kitchen, I had a flash of memory that made me laugh. I was remembering standing at the counter stirring up a batch of biscuits for supper, a baby strapped to my chest in a sling, a toddler lying at my feet crying that she wanted to “help,” and the older two freshly home from school and in that state of exhausted, hungry, miserable transition. Chaos, noise, demands, needs abounded. The radio was on too. I grabbed the camera and took a video to preserve the moment, because it seemed very comical to me. And I thought to myself this morning: if I could be the still point in that storm, I can be the still point anywhere, anytime, but most especially, most easily, in this storm of my own creation, that I’ve been working toward for years now. It’s here. And I’m being pulled along.

This photo has not been staged

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“Who dumped the clean laundry onto the basement floor? Who? Who?” [Voice of rising rage.]

“I had to find my soccer shorts! If you’d just fold it, I wouldn’t have to dig around.”

If you’d just fold it … [muttered]. Get down here and put it back into the basket.”

“If you’d just fold it …”

“When exactly am I folding this laundry?”

“Yesterday.”

“Last night I was at your soccer game until 9 o’clock.”

“Oh, right.”

“And I was in my office working all day today. Do you know my earning potential?”

“No.”

“Neither do I! But I’ll tell you my earning potential while I’m folding laundry.”

“Nothing.”

“Exactly. Nothing.”

Sigh.

“Someday, you’ll have to all do your own laundry. You could each have your own laundry hamper in your own room that you’re in charge of.”

“Nice. My own hamper.” Pause for thought. “Won’t that waste a lot of water?”

“You wouldn’t do laundry every day. You’d do it maybe once a week.”

“But …”

“You’re right. That’s not going to work. The sports clothes! They stink. You can’t wash those once a week.”

“Maybe we could all fold our own laundry.”

“Maybe. Or maybe you could take turns folding laundry. Everyone could have a laundry night. It’s hard to find your own laundry in the basket when it’s all mixed up.”

“Maybe.”

Fast-forward to 8:30PM, same night, post-soccer practice, post-late supper, post-bedtime snack. Carrie folds two giant baskets of clean laundry at the dining-room table. At the other end of the table, her family enjoys a games night: Settlers of Catan. (Carrie doesn’t enjoy playing games, so this is not quite as unfair a set-up as it sounds.) An hour passes, perhaps more than an hour. The game ends. The laundry is folded, carried to rooms, placed into drawers. Carrie glances into the hamper in the upstairs hallway. It’s already nearly full.

(Solutions, friends? How does your family handle its dirty laundry? Help wanted. xo, Carrie)

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