I sit down to write here, on the blog, and my mind goes round and round the purpose of this blog. I wonder why people are reading, perhaps, and why they may not be reading. I wonder why I am writing. Do I have something to say? Is my purpose to amuse, to inform, to muse, to form? Do I call out in hopes of a response? Am I launching quirky missives from an insular and isolated place? Am I writing as a writer, as a mother, as a seeker, as a knower? Am I writing to you? Or to me? Or to no one at all, to the ether?
I’ve come a long way on this path of being a writer. When I was a child, I wanted to be a writer like L.M. Montgomery or Lois Lenski. I wanted to be a writer like Emily of New Moon. I wanted create imaginary romantic worlds of adventure and mystery. As a teen, I was in love with language, and saw in it a violent risky potential. I wanted to write like Michael Ondaatje. I wanted to write barely coherent poetic scenes of romance and mystery and adventure. I didn’t care whether or not my stories or poems made sense, only that they burst with emotion and the fullness of self, perhaps. As an older teen and into my twenties, I wanted to write like Mavis Gallant and Alice Munro. I wanted to craft brilliant sentences that both hid and displayed meaning, sentences that were as rich and big and complex as a whole story, characters whose motives were murky. I wanted to conjure worlds at a tilt from my own, veined and layered and dark.
And so I wrote and I read and I wrote and I read.
In some fundamental way, I refused to believe that I might not be a writer, someday. I willed myself to continue through years of small steps forward, and crushing rejections. I determined to improve. I determined to learn and to master the craft of storytelling. How to do this particular thing and do it well: how to tell a compelling story, not neglecting plot for style, not neglecting sentence structure for pace. I got better.
I got to where I am right now, here, sitting before this laptop, wondering, wondering. Do I still want to be a writer, so fiercely, so absolutely, so determinedly? Who do I wish to write like, now? Or, more importantly, perhaps, than I originally understood: what stories do I long to tell? And if I have no story that I long to tell, why craft the structure, why lovingly build the sentences? If the house is empty? (Is the house empty?)
Engagement is a key word of our era. That seems to me the purpose of social media. Anyone who wishes to earn attention, to market her work, must learn to engage with her audience, to maintain a call-and-response relationship, the bigger the better. It comes naturally to some, and less naturally to others. I put myself in the latter camp. Yet this blog is a form of engagement, whether or not I choose to see it that way. And when I recognize this and admit it, I become more and more uncomfortable as purveyor and publisher of posts. I cannot understand what I am doing, nor what my purpose may be. Is it, as originally intended when I started the blog in 2008, to narrate my every day life, to keep it in some form, and if so, for whom? For my children? For myself when I am older? Am I marketing my books? Practicing my craft? Indulging in cheap philosophy? Is this a publicly-kept journal?
Could I live without engagement? This specific form of engagement? (Silly question. Of course I could.)
Less, is the message that’s been coming my way. Not more, more, more, but less, less, less. For so long, I’ve fought to become more, to achieve more, to do more. I’ve worked toward big, specific goals and dreams. Now I’m confronted with this strange glimpse of myself, something I was afraid to see: I see that I will never write as wonderfully as I’d hoped to. I’m not possessed of a special gift. I’m a hard-working woman, that’s all, and I had a dream.
I’ve written that in the past tense without even noticing: and I had a dream. Strange. Isn’t it? Maybe the dream is shifting, deepening, altering course, becoming something else.
What now? What next?
Now: Life is strangely lovely at present. It is unexpectedly wonderful to hear less, less, less calling me. I feel myself relaxing into moments in a way that feels almost unfamiliar, unknown. I feel the pace changing. I feel myself at peace with what I have, right now.
Next? Being a writer isn’t something you quit. Writing is how I process the world around me; I’d be impaired without it. I continue to write, as always, but right now it’s a form of listening; without shape. I think my purpose is to listen, right now. I feel quiet. I feel a great deal of affection–of love–for those around me. The days are full, vivid, layered and veined and rich. I feel human. I feel flawed. I can’t think of anything I need or long for or crave, not even direction, right now. I feel present.
What I don’t feel is at an end with this blog. But I want to be honest about my ambivalence toward its purpose, and my use of it, at present. Thank you for listening.
PS Photos are from this past weekend at my brother and sister-in-law’s farm, taken after the sun went down, on the longest day of the year. Homework got burned, marshmallows got roasted and mushed between graham crackers, and the mosquitos almost won. Almost.
Girl runner, yesterday, school track meet: won her age group in the 1500, 800, and 400.
I’ve got a six sticky notes affixed above this computer, with reminders about where to funnel my writing energies, should I sit down at my desk in the morning at a loss. Four of the notes have been stuck up there for a year; two are new this year.
Here is what they say:
* Blog 3x/week + photos
This reminds me that I rarely take photos with my real camera anymore. There’s a practical reason for this, and it isn’t just because I’m short on time, or prioritizing differently, though that may play into it too. The practical issue is that the computer on which I process my photos is dying a long slow death, and frequently and suddenly conks out, taking with it any work I’m doing. It conks out most often when the work is processing photos. Further, the device I use to connect the camera to the computer is faulty and it takes multiple frustrating attempts to download the photos so that I’m even in a position to process them, at which point the screen inevitably goes black. It’s all rather discouraging, and time consuming … so the quality of photos on this blog, and therefore the quality of photos recording my family’s life, has dropped steeply. Nevertheless I’m still blogging two or three times a week, with images via my cellphone’s camera.
This reminds me that I am not just a novelist, but a short story writer, and that every once in awhile, if inspired, I should write a new one. I try to keep at least one unpublished story in reserve, in case (fantasy!) a literary magazine comes calling with a request. (Actually, this has happened twice in the past year, so it’s not a complete fantasy.) In time, I expect to have enough stories to fill a new collection. How much time? Who knows. It’s not like the world is clamouring for new collections of short stories, so I will give this project as much time as it takes. No rush.
* Poem a day “Light” + write + attention
This refers to my 2015 meditation journal. I aim to write in this journal for 15 minutes every day, often immediately after meditating. Some days, 15 minutes turns into much much much longer. Some days, I save this journaling as a reward for completing other writing. Truth is, I really love writing in this journal, and don’t need the reminder. However … very few poems have emerged. It’s mainly stream-of-consciousness prose. The title “Light” refers to the file name for this year (last year’s file name was “The woman formerly known as”). “Write” is my word of the year (and a very good word it’s been for me, so far), while “attention” is my secondary word. I’ve applied my secondary word mainly through meditation.
* Memoir on learning how to swim
This is a personal essay I’ve been working on, off and on, since last summer.
* Essay on being edited, relationship with editors
This is a personal essay, the idea for which was given to me by the editors of The New Quarterly, which has never developed into more than an idea. Yet I leave it up there, just in case it sparks something.
* Novel Forgiveness in Families
This refers to the novel I’ve been working on. Funny thing is, that isn’t the title, and I have no idea why I ever thought it might be. (But I know exactly where I got it from: it’s the title of an Alice Munro story, one I think about from time to time, from her collection “Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You,” another marvellously evocative title.) (Also, it occurs to me just now that “Forgiveness in Families” would be an excellent title for an essay that perhaps I will write someday.)
I have room for two more sticky notes above my computer.
I’ve decided to add a seventh called * Dispatches, personal essays. In fact, without needing any reminders and completely unprompted, I’ve been steadily working on a collection of personal essays, off and on, using a variety of raw material, some of which has arisen out of daily journaling. It’s interesting to me that most of that journal material is dead wood, yet every once in awhile something blooms from it, or mushrooms up. It’s a reminder of how patient one must be to see a long, deep project through from beginning to end. How do the little fragments cohere? It’s a lovely mystery. Looking back, retrospectively, I sometimes wonder how I’ve had time to do the work that gets done. And yet, I do, and it gets done. Inch by inch, brick by brick, seed by seed, sticky note by sticky note.
I may even add an eighth sticky note. This one will be called * Children’s project, but I’ll leave it undefined for now. My nine-year-old would like me to write a children’s chapter book; and I’ve got plots and plans for more pictures books, too.
Which reminds me, details about our local launch party for The Candy Conspiracy are being finalized as we speak! Here’s the short-point version: Saturday, May 30th, 1PM, Waterloo Public Library, and yes, there will be candy! (How could there not be?) Poster and more details coming soon. And apparently I’ll be on local daytime television talking about this tomorrow. Eek!
Coach and soccer player # 1.
My meditation focus for this month is: anxiety.
I spend way more time not in my office, writing, than sometimes I’d like. But hey. This is Life. For the record, here is what I do when I’m not in my office, writing. This is not a lifestyle endorsement, trust me. After reading this, you may suspect that I need an intervention.
Yesterday. Pack laptop, leave house at 2:30 to pick up AppleApple early from school, drop her at piano lessons; drive back to different school, pick up CJ for piano. There’s a lag between the two pick-ups, so I edit in the car for 25 minutes, shutting down my laptop only with great pain; CJ wonders why I’m late. Drive back across town to music school. Arrive in time for CJ to do his home reading out loud before his lesson, while I attempt to listen and finish the edit I’d abandoned in order to pick him up. Fooey calls around 4 to say she’s home (Albus texted earlier, same message; now I know where everyone is). Fooey has a friend over—is that okay? Okay, so long as dogs are crated. Soon, a text from Fooey: Can another friend come over too? Parenting by text; answer, no. I’m now downstairs at the music store buying an intro to cello book for AppleApple, and discussing the launch party plan for Candy Conspiracy with my friend Zoe who works at the music store. CJ’s lesson done at 4:30, home again, I set out food for supper, start oven to make store-bought french fries, chop veggies to go with hummus. I also telephone my friend Marnie to discuss our coaching plan for the boys’ team and to arrange transportation/child exchange for this evening; while on phone I wash the walls going up the stairs, because I happen to notice they are filthy and my mother-in-law and her new boyfriend are coming to visit this weekend; I’m sure they won’t care, but this is the kind of detail one notices under these circumstances. Kev home at 5:10. I’m changing into soccer gear, urging AppleApple to pack a supper for herself and get ready for rehearsal, and by 5:30, we are back in the car driving across town. I’ve eaten a pita smeared with baba ghanoush and a few red peppers. Traffic is nuts. I’m oddly calm—no, it isn’t odd, actually. I’m calm because just after we pull out of the driveway, I ask AppleApple to entertain me on the drive, to take my mind off the many anxieties about our evening’s schedule; and she tells me cool things her class learned during a lecture on quantum physics from a visiting scholar. And my anxiety melts away.
Drop off AppleApple, enjoy a few minutes alone in the car by listening to pop music on the radio—Chandelier gets stuck in my head; in fact, is still stuck in my head. Windows down. Sweet. Switch station at 6PM to listen to CBC news about NDP win in Alberta. Back home, grab a few fries, locate a watch, briefly talk to Kevin, clear table and help clean up from supper. At 6:40 everyone in the house is back in the vehicle, with a bag of balls in the trunk. Drive up the street and drop off CJ, pick up Fooey’s friend who is also on her team (a fair exchange of children!), visit briefly with Marnie, pick up coaching stuff. Drive across town and drop off Albus and Kevin at their practice field. Continue on to our practice field. Find parking, haul balls to field, talk to a friend whose son is playing in the time slot before ours.
Coach and soccer player #2.
Realize the so-called planned club-led practice is not going to materialize: this practice is going to be Carrie-led. Set up drills and games and try to teach skills and make it fun for nine friendly funny nine-year-old girls for an hour. Make up a team cheer to go with new team name: The Fierce Green Grapes! Wait with child whose parent is late to pick up. Begin to quietly panic. Call parent. Parent arrives. Drive back to pick up Kevin and Albus at their field, discuss practices and strategies for future drills on the drive home. Drop Albus at home. Drop off Fooey’s friend, pick up CJ, chat with Marnie. Home to use the bathroom. Return to truck, drive across town to pick up AppleApple from dress rehearsal for play. Discover dress rehearsal is going late. And later. And later. Sit in parking lot, listening to an interesting program on CBC Radio’s Ideas, by Lynn Coady, on literary snobbery and the future of books. AppleApple finally done, arrives dressed in clown costume.
Drive home. So hungry. Kevin has made tea. I drink tea and scarf the rest of the baba ghanouj (not homemade) with very stale tortilla chips that I find on the counter. And a few leftover carrots.
Bed. Read two pages of Knausgaard. Sleep instantly.
Alarm goes at 5:30, and I’m off for a run, and at it again. More soccer tonight!
“I think I’m going to need therapy to get through the next two and a half months,” I told my friend at the soccer field, only half-kidding. So be it. The quiet during the day is keeping me sane, I think, and the early morning exercise, and the writing. Although the writing also consumes me terribly; or wonderfully. So maybe it’s good to be distracted and occupied by evenings spent outdoors with one’s children, even if it requires a whole lot of driving and elite-level scheduling acuity.
Wish me luck. I need it. Or better yet, wish me calm.
It ain’t pretty. I am consumed.
An unexpected perk of writing a book called Girl Runner was being asked to review running shoes for a running magazine (iRun.ca). In total, twelve pairs of shoes came through my front door this past winter, and I tested and wrote about all of them. The magazine will be running my full piece in their next print edition, which comes out soon, but meanwhile, here’s a link to one of the shoe reviews posted online earlier this week. It’s for the Saucony Triumph ISO, a shoe I liked a lot and continue to wear often. (Side note: I’ve got Triumphs and Boosts and Wave Riders; shoe manufacturers remind me of car manufacturers–it’s all in the aspirational naming.)
I have to say, this is making me ponder subjects for my next book in a totally different way. Just kidding. But seriously: if I wrote about ponies, would someone give me a pony? Please?
PS Random photo of goats. I don’t have any photos of ponies on hand.
“There’s a big white flower behind one of the stumps, Mom, I’ll show you.”
Dream: I am at a long conference table set up in my mother-in-law’s back porch. Two women sit at the other end of the table, conducting an interview about art for live national radio, but I’m just here because it’s a convenient place to work. Earlier in the dream I spent way too much time anxiously trying to figure out why my children missed the school bus; the children are everywhere, all around the house, when I know they should be in school. So I’m sitting here, trying not to be too obvious or interrupt the interview, trying to work. I think that my work is writing, but when I look down, it turns out that my work is chopping potatoes. End of dream.
Things I’ve done since 5:30AM yesterday: ran with a friend, helped children practice violin and piano, made supper in the crockpot, washed three loads of laundry, meditated twice, blogged, edited an essay, answered emails, texted with friends and family, picked up and dropped off kids for piano lessons, worked on novel while sitting in car between pick-ups/drop-offs, visited with a friend while at piano lessons, attended a soccer coaching clinic, had tea with husband (talking soccer, hockey, and Fun Things We Want To Do), read books and newspaper, listened to radio (news and songs), slept, did strength exercises. Waited. Hurried. Tried not to fight with time.
I think of time in blocks and chunks and sections. I think of myself as travelling between these blocks and chunks and sections and trying to negotiate the transitions as smoothly as possible, trying to settle in wherever I’m at and not resist what’s happening. But sometimes it feels like what I’m resisting is time itself. These chunks of time, this careful measuring of hours and minutes, calculating these small openings and anticipating these sudden slammings-shut gives me a sense of urgency. A sense of urgency is very helpful when working to complete a big project. But to enjoy being alive, to relish it, savour it, swim with it, you need to be flexible, you need to let go of the sense of urgency in the moments when urgency would only serve to make you anxious or frustrated.
Because life is full of many many tasks and events and rituals that are long slow dreamy, unrelenting, without obvious beginnings or endings, mundane, repetitive, completely necessary, or completely unnecessary, often lovely — not projects. Not artifacts. Just unmarked rivering moments in the flow of time. If there’s a balance I seek, perhaps it’s between these two states of being: the urgent efficient ambitious project-driven state of creating something new; and the flow of life as it unwinds through its time, through its here and now, and being here, present and without the need to make anything of it.