Where am I? Where do I place myself? How much say do I have in where I’m placed?
In church on Sunday, we sang a hymn titled “Longing for Light,” that has the line: “Make us your bread, broken for others, shared until all our fed.” It feels like a very Mennonite sentiment. It rings true, it compels me: this desire to use one’s energy and work for a purpose that helps others, or serves others. But, I wonder, do I need to be broken to be of service? If I’m broken like bread, turned to crumbs, what then?
It’s an old puzzle, I think, trying to figure out how to give without depletion. I’d hoped and believed that I had the tools and skills necessary to make the job in the office sustainable. But I did not. This has left me feeling like a failure. What I’ve failed to do is to work within my means, at a job that I truly loved doing; instead, I kept burning all available fuel, day after day, till it was becoming harder to be kind, especially to myself.
I’m in a school library now, as of this week. It’s quieter, but students will come and fill it with noise. It’s a different job, easier. It’s only day two, but I’m not a zombie when I walk out of the building. “I didn’t rescue anyone today!” I texted to Kevin after work on Monday. His reply: “Just yourself.”
What will I do with more energy, again? Do I have the self-control not to get myself into trouble, the patience not to sign myself up for other jobs and volunteer positions till I’ve got no space to think again? I’ve missed having the bandwidth to write. I’ve missed writing. My thoughts are clearer on the page. Contradictory impulses: I don’t want this spare energy to go to waste; I don’t want to be used up till I’m nothing but crumbs.
I want to do no harm. I want to serve others. I want to live with ease. I want to share joy.
What I learned in the office job is how to ask questions. Ask and ask till I could be sure I understood what the other person wanted or needed. What is being asked of me? It isn’t always so clear. I learned that I’m steady in a crisis—focused, calm, decisive, very present. I’m a good listener, when very present. I would like to combine these skills with training that would place me in a job or occupation that calls on them, regularly, while giving me some power to solve or resolve the problems being presented.
It’s quite possible that no job or occupation has the power to solve or resolve problems—or not to satisfaction, not the problems that are unfixable. But I’d like to try. Not to demand perfect or ideas solutions, but to move in practical ways toward wholeness, support, improved states of mind, healthier relationships.
Where will I place myself?
So much depends upon that. I feel it very strongly. Where I place myself—where I’m placed, physically, in the world—changes the possibilities that open (or close).
As a writer, it has seemed there are fewer opportunities to be placed, to find a place, especially in the company of others. My kids are growing up, and out of the house. I need to be placed with people, with strangers, with colleagues, with a crowd, children or teens or adults, young and older and old, or a mixture; friction, conflict, noise, laughter, issues raised, questions, needs to be met, time to be managed, hands held, stories heard.
My job-job has given me that—a place. Many places, in fact. Many different people to interact with. I’m currently placing myself part-time in a school library. That leaves space to be placed somewhere else, too, or to work/train toward a different kind of placement. I would like to explore working in a context that involves conflict—defusing it, specifically, and helping those caught up in conflict to move toward resolution.
Longing for light. Longing to be light—lighter in spirit, light-hearted, light on the path.
I’m about to start week four of my new job. It’s intense and lively and challenging for brain and body and spirit — and I love that. It is also consuming of energy and focus. And it’s what I wanted and needed, I feel that deeply. I thrive on friction and have sought it out in various ways, from kundalini yoga classes to filling my house with four children to taking on volunteer roles that threw me into situations with high learning curves and the reward of appreciation and adventure (think — soccer coaching, or co-founding and running the storytelling workshop).
Now I’ve found myself a job where I get paid to enter into a swirl of friction: activity, human interaction, conflict and attempts at resolution. Everything I’ve learned in my life leading up to this moment feeds my ability to thrive and respond with integrity and kindness (while setting firm boundaries) in a constantly changing, constantly interrupted environment of constant problem-solving. But it’s early days! I recognize that such jobs can also, over time, create calluses for protection and self-preservation, which outwardly can look like cynicism, burnout, detachment, depression.
So I’m testing out ways to build in channels for release, for rest, to make space for ongoing enjoyment.
NEED is my word of the year. Attuning to my needs has been such a helpful guide! What do I need to set myself up for success? Each one of us will need something a bit different — or a lot different. I’m relishing the opportunity to test out my needs and my ability to meet those needs, with the focus of the job as an anchoring point.
I need: healthy food and hydration; cardio; yoga and meditation; time with Kevin; balanced connection with my kids (meeting them where they’re at); the give and take of strong friendships; sleep and rest; friction and challenge; to learn new things; creative outlets; appreciation for my work; compensation for my work; a sense of adventure and discovery; to feel purposeful and useful; joy and humour; spiritual connection.
My new job meets the following needs (just by showing up, these needs are met! Amazing!): friction and challenge; to learn new things; appreciation for my work; compensation for my work; a sense of adventure and discovery; to feel purposeful and useful; joy and humour. I sense that friendships may develop through this job as well.
So what’s left out? What needs are not being met at my job and can I find ways to meet these needs in other ways?
Well, I’ve been biking to work — there’s cardio, and I’m planning to get up extra-early to fit in a 30-min run a few times a week on days when I don’t feel like biking. Packing myself good lunches and keeping a water bottle at my desk; plus cooking as therapy when I get home for work — there’s healthy food and hydration. Kevin and I do yoga and meditation together almost every day, first thing in the morning, last thing before bed, and we walk the dog most evenings — there’s time with Kevin, and yoga and meditation, and spiritual connection (at least to some degree). I reach out to friends by text (it’s a great way to stay in touch, especially from afar, and with kids too), and arrange times to meet in person, like a Friday after-work drink, or an early morning walk. Our family eats most suppers together (those living at home, that is). So a lot of the bases are being covered.
Rest and sleep — working on it! I’m aiming to leave most weekends and evenings relatively open and free. This means cutting back on almost all volunteer work. Cutting out activities that drain my energy, or that I simply don’t have time to complete.
I’m missing creative outlets.
I have two writing weekends at the farm planned for this fall — so that’s something. But what about daily creative connection? Connection to my writing self? What’s happening in that part of my self? I haven’t felt the urge to write, to start something new, or even to finish the novel project that’s underway. I’ve got a completed manuscript waiting for an editor to read it and reject or accept; touching that part of my life hurts, sometimes. Or I anticipate that it will be painful. Too hard. Unnecessary pain.
But writing and drawing bring me joy — I know that!
So I’m going to test out writing/drawing for 15 mins during my lunch break (first I have to take a lunch break, but this will be motivation!). Rest and restoration — much-needed to avoid burn-out. I’d like to make myself a list of 20 or so prompts that I can cycle through, for days when I’m not feeling inspired to get started (which is most days, these days!).
I’ll post some prompts here too (next time). Maybe you have a favourite prompt you return to? Let me know, please.
Yesterday, whilst braving the mall in search of nice jeans for work (you have to try on jeans, you cannot order them online), I stopped by the Indigo bookstore and signed new paperback copies of Francie’s Got a Gun. And then this morning, I biked down to the CBC-KW studio for a live interview on our local morning radio show. It was fun; in fact, both experiences felt easier and lighter than promotional work has in the past.
Biking home, I was bursting with gratitude. Gratitude to all my wise counsellors, therapists (official and otherwise) and friends. Gratitude to an ongoing meditation and movement practice that reminds me to breathe and be inside my body. I would not wish to suggest that I am content with my life all of the time. But I am ever more at peace with what I can and cannot give and receive from being a writer. Let my writing be ever more integrated into the fullness of the ordinary; integrated, not elevated. Integrated and enjoyed and appreciated.
Getting to be alive, to breathe and move and help and hug and hold and care and learn and grow and fall and be held—what I hope for is the chance to say THANK YOU for all of this through writing; but there are other ways to say thank you, too, which I’m getting to know and appreciate all the more, through every day ordinary experiences. “Ordinary Wonder Tales,” as per the title of my friend Emily Urquhart’s wonder-filled book of folklore mingled with memoir.
My sense of purpose and gratitude is activated through my job-job, and elsewhere in other points of connection, the little confluences and bumps and unexpected interactions that come along the way, especially as I’ve been willing to be in the world. Listening. Asking questions. Acts of service and kindness. Kindness to myself radiating outward. Paying attention. Solving small problems. Lowering the bar. Prayer. “Joy snacks.” Presence.
I know caring isn’t super-cool. But when have I ever been cool?? (If you want to feel very old and very not-cool, go to the mall, go into a store selling jeans, and try on a bunch while asking for sizing advice from a genuinely kind young man who is approximately the age of your own children, and you will actively achieve humility.) In any case … the truth is that I really do care about the people I’m with and the energy I exude.
And I’m thankful, heart-deep, for the wonders of getting to be alive in this broken, challenged, grieving, complicated and beautiful world. I’m in awe of what we get to do here on planet earth, in the little scrap of time we’re given. It’s kind of amazing, isn’t it?
Today is a “stacked” day. Stacked days, as I call them, contain lots of little off-task activities—kind of a hodgepodge; but deliberately organized this way. On “stacked” days, I settle into the activities as they come, and I accept that the writing groove will be shallow at best.
To get into a writing groove, time matters, and space, breathing room. The fewer the distractions the better. I place my phone in a different room.
It’s taken a minute or two to switch gears from the comfort of the job-job routine to the hoped-for summer writing groove—but it’s happened! I’ve found my summer writing project (or it’s found me, more accurately), which means I’ve found my summer bliss. First, I had to remember that I know how to do this—create routine and structure (the bliss of the job-job is not having to create routine and structure, just falling into and going with the flow).
Week one of the summer holiday was all frenetic, distracted seeking. But the first three days of this week have had space for the writing groove. Today is “stacked.” Tomorrow will be writing-focused again. And so it goes.
I am in a groove, I have a project.
The challenge—my particular challenge in this particular mind and body—is to appreciate the bliss of the now. The present. Settle in and enjoy this (because is it ever blissful to be energized and called by a writing project!). Fact is, I’m oriented toward the future. I love making plans, lists, setting up the day. I strongly dislike seeing my plans dislodged in any way. But to enjoy the present, a person has to be prepared to see her plans change.
If a child says, hey Mom, want to go for a walk with me, the answer is yes, no matter the inconvenience to the original plotted line. Plot lines. I like ‘em. I make ‘em. And they work best when I’m willing to break ‘em from time to time.
Summer writing groove; job-job joy; routines and the breaking of them. This is roundabout way of saying that mindfulness has changed, is changing, changes me daily.
Every morning, upon waking, I practice yoga and meditate. Every night before bed, I practice yoga and meditate. I’ve been doing this twice-daily since last fall; before that, daily for the past three years. What does this practice provide? Breath paired with conscious movement, breath paired with conscious stillness: twice daily, I am returned to my body. I close my eyes and feel my body from the inside out. Clarity, grounding, peace, patience, attention.
Mindfulness has attuned me to the possibility in all moments of joy, bliss, connection, love. I listen differently. I hope for different things. You are here, my daily practice reminds me, you are here, you are here. Enjoy this.
You’ve watched me grow and learn, seek and attempt, win and lose. You’ve listened to my rambling observations, and been patient with my scattershot insights. You’ve held everything I handed you. You’ve been a beautiful photo album of these past 15 years, and a container for comical anecdotes, especially during the years of parenting young children. You’ve given me an outlet for my creativity, and allowed me to publish during stretches when no one else did. You were my experiment. You’ve been a home, in a way, a place to come to, to mark moments in time.
I think our relationship, as it has been, is ending. I think that’s okay, the way my relationships with my babies changed as they weaned, or learned how to fall asleep on their own, as we took off the training wheels and watched them whirl away from us.
I needed you for a long time—for connection with the wider world, and I confess, for validation. Appreciation.
I’ve been finding other ways to fill those needs. So I’ve needed you less and less. You’ve probably noticed. This isn’t goodbye, but it is an acknowledgement of change. A change in direction that’s been happening subtly and meaningfully, over a long span of months, of years. I keep saying to myself: It’s okay. It’s okay.
It’s okay to grieve change, it’s okay to be excited about change, it’s okay to feel both emotions at the same time—grief and excitement.
I haven’t stopped being myself, at core.
But I am different now, deep into my forties. I don’t feel as comfortable here, in blogland, as I once did. I come to this medium and feel constrained. That’s not the way to write. Some constraint is useful of course, some structure is absolutely necessary; but a sense of self-obstruction, of caution, of carefulness, fear of judgement—that is not useful to writing and creating.
It never will be. I didn’t used to feel that here, dear blog, but now I do. It’s not you, it’s me. I mean that sincerely. I didn’t used to feel that, dear blog, because my need for affirmation, for being seen, was so great that it outweighed all caution. This is not meant as a critique on blogging or writing publicly or sharing from the heart. This is meant to mark a moment, that is all. The moment is shifting all the time and can’t really be pinned down, but I think where I find myself is gently, tenderly choosing to protect my heart.
I wrote a book once (it never got published) titled “Why Give Yourself Away?” It’s a question that’s returned and returned over many years of writing; it first appeared in a poem I wrote in my mid-teens. So let’s just say it’s been a preoccupying force. I don’t have the answer today, but the question seems both more complicated and more simple.
Why give yourself away?
Well, because you want to. Because you must. Because you feel compelled to. Because of what you’re hoping for in return (whether you know this or not).
But maybe the you that you’re giving is substantively different now, in your current itineration. Maybe what you’re giving away isn’t pieces of your life, recalibrated and reconstituted for consumption; maybe it’s experience itself rendered through the body and mind and words and actions, experience made manifest as compassion and kindness.
Why give yourself away?
What are you giving—that’s my question for myself now. What exactly are you giving away?
It’s attention. It’s presence. And I’m not giving it away, I’m giving and receiving; I’m discovering its generative properties, how attention given blooms into connection, and warmth, how listening with care is the basis for conflict resolution, how care and caring can only happen freely when no strings are attached, nothing is being asked of the other because you know you are already loved and cared for, because you honour your needs truly. You don’t need to ask for anything in return when you have known and know grace yourself. (It’s idealistic, I’ll confess, but I hope to move toward this way of being in the world.)
Where my writing fits into this, I don’t know at present.
I don’t know whether I’ll need it in the same way; nor what new or changed goals it may meet or fulfill. I don’t know. I do know that I still love to write in order to find order in the dissonance of experiences. I still love to write to untangle the muddle of my mind. I still love to write to record and reflect and come closer to understanding the world. But it’s just one way of knowing and doing and being. I’m discovering other ways now, too.
This past weekend, I spent three days at my brother and sister-in-law’s farm, working on finishing the draft of a novel. There, I could write. It was bliss, absorbing; my thinking mind untroubled as I stepped into creative flow.
But here on the screen, this blog page, I’m coming up blank. I keep coming here, and coming up blank. It’s why you haven’t heard from me in a while. Maybe it’s the forum, the public nature of this forum? That used to not stop me or cause me pause; but lately, it does. I do not want to do harm to others, or to myself. Writing can be a dangerous craft.
My imagination was my protector when I was a child. It’s a strange thing to consider, but I’m beginning to wonder: maybe I spun that talent for fixing my wounds into a career. Oh it was powerful, oh it gave me powerful healing.
But maybe I’ve changed, maybe my needs have changed, my hopes, my values, my goals. I find myself content to work a mostly invisible job, with practical tasks that I essentially have the capacity to solve. I love that! It’s revelatory to arrive home feeling happy, to feel my hours have been purposeful, I’ve been able to make the day easier or more pleasant for those I’ve served.
Still, I wrote into and out of my imagination this weekend, and I’m glad for that too. That time was a gift.
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.