I present to you the chaos in which we are currently living. We are having the house re-treated for bed bugs this coming week, which means moving all of the furniture away from the walls, so Kevin decided to finish the painting project in the living-room. Praise be! I’d resigned myself to the likelihood that we’d be looking at empty walls blotted with holes pretty much indefinitely. And now we’ll enjoy a freshly brightened space instead.
As it is, it feels like we’re living with uncertainty pretty much indefinitely.
this morning, in process, two walls done
I keep getting messages from friends concerned about my ability to take it easy and rest. I would like to assure you that this is not actually a problem. In fact, I’m finding it alarmingly easy to rest, for the simple reason that my head hurts when I don’t. I can see why you’d think it hard for me, given the pace at which I prefer to live my life, but what’s perhaps more distressing is how easy it is for me to shut down, lie down, close my eyes, and not do anything at all. The only problem, I suppose, is of identity. I prefer the Carrie who operates at high efficiency and can be relied on to squeeze the marrow out of her days and hours. The-meditational-Carrie-on-the-couch-whose-head-hurts-when-faced-with-effortful-tasks seems a foreigner, a stranger, from whom I may learn something, someday, but whose presence is, it must be said, a bit of a drag. It reminds me of the six weeks, or so, post-partum when everything would feel off-kilter and I would long for life to return to normal; and eventually, it did, or rather to a new normal. I imagine, at some small distance from now, writing an essay reflecting on this slightly bizarre time in my life.
A friend on FB recently posted a status that went roughly like this: “I’m thinking of all those times when I thought ‘I’m barely holding on.’ Perhaps it’s those moments that are conspiring to help me let go.”
I like that. The positives of this experience seem to relate to letting go. Maybe that’s why I’ve been playing the piano more often, and singing: my head likes it, and I feel very free as my fingers and voice improvise and play with rhythm and melody. I’m shifting plans to make life easier, too. On Friday, I realized that there was no way I could drive myself to and from Toronto for a reading; so Kevin drove me, and we got to spend an unexpected evening together. Hardest of all is not limiting physical activities, but cognitive ones, as I’m healing. This includes limiting writing time, reading time, and time conversing with friends, all of which I find surprisingly taxing. I trust that my friendships and books will wait for my return; my anxiety circles instead around a fear that I won’t be able to write with clarity and depth, given this injury seems to affect most strongly my ability to focus for long periods of time: that’s why I’m continuing to blog. It gives me hope.
Here’s how Kevin and I are living right now: like grad students. It’s like we’re camping inside of our ordinary lives. It changes the perspective. There is comfort in simplicity, in a bed on the floor and not much more, the entire family crowding in on a Saturday morning to laugh and talk and snuggle.
What happens when we’re shaken up? What happens when we can’t be our best selves? What happens when we’re asked to live in flux? What happens when we let go of all that we can’t control?
ALBUS Started yesterday. Grade seven. Junior high. New school, starts earlier, ends earlier. Walking with friends. Returned home excited, likes the idea of moving around from classroom to classroom, subject to subject, having a variety of teachers. Likes his locker’s colour and location. Did not jump on my idea of decorating it. His main worry: that he might be late for class and get detention due to being unable to open his lock. Not reassured by parents telling him this is not, generally speaking, a leading reason students get detention. Practiced piano as soon as he got home. Had no homework.
APPLE-APPLE Started yesterday. Grade six. Same school as last year, same classroom, same teacher, same classmates her age. There are new grade five classmates added to the mix, so that’s the only real difference. One of the new students is a soccer-loving girl! So that’s different too. They played soccer together during recess, and today she took her own ball to school, as the school’s ball is flat. Did her homework as soon as she got home. Also, I brushed her hair in the morning while she was practicing piano. She didn’t object in the least. (But I didn’t have time to brush it again this morning.)
FOOEY Started yesterday. Grade three. Same school, same wake time (7:25!), same exit time. Walking with friends and brother. Returned home satisfied with first day, reporting that she’s in her former kindergarten classroom (there is a new wing of brand-new classrooms for the all-day, every-day kindergartners). Went directly to a friend’s house after school to play. I did not, therefore, get a full and immediate report. But she did play the piano after supper: she didn’t want to practice, just noodle on a particular song that we could play together. That was nice. (And I just had to show her carefully chosen outfit in full!)
CJ Look at this guy! He started this morning. Senior kindergarten. Will get to school using a combination of bus and walking. Gave me lots of hugs and kisses and waves as we waited outside the new kindergarten wing. There were six kindergarten classes going in, a huge crowd. His best friend is with him. He said he was excited. I came home and cried my eyes out. Can I admit that?
Now, here are some out-takes from this morning’s shoot.
I am making them hold hands. Ha!
We’re holding hands, we’re smiling. Are we done yet?
Seriously, Mom. Are we done?
Wait! How did that one look? Let me see, let me see!
And the school year begins again. And here I sit alone (save for my doggie companions, who think this office actually belongs to them), in quiet, if not at peace. Too much happening, too much to prep for, too much I can’t prep for, can only plunge into. The good news is, I’ve been able to get up early-ish to run these past two mornings, and my head doesn’t hurt. The bad news is, even during these happy running moments my mind is turning over and over in restless sifting of must-dos and worries. I think of running as a curative for my restless mind, but sometimes the mind doesn’t want its rest, or refuses to take it. I’m not fighting it because there must some purpose to it, some need it is meeting. I’m not fighting it because life has its rhythm of cycles, of tides, of pull, and rest will come again, I know.
photo credit: Nancy Forde
So, this fall is shaping up to be very writerly and literary, with plenty of events and launches to look forward to, in addition to which I’m excited about a few other things too and I’ve decided to tell you about the whole kit and kaboodle.
Thursday, Sept. 5: Mark your calendars and come if you can. I’ll be reading at the Starlight in Waterloo for the Eden Mills Writers Festival, and here’s the lineup, musical and otherwise: Jim Guthrie, Bidiniband, and I Am Robot And Proud, with readings by Dave Bidini and me. Tickets $14, doors open at 8pm.
Thursday, Sept. 12: Think me good thoughts from 6-9pm! I’ll be teaching my first official creative writing class.
Friday, Sept. 13: It’s the launch of Have Milk, Will Travel: Adventures in Breastfeeding, at 323 Richmond St. E., Toronto. I’ve got an essay in this anthology, and will be presenting my comical/tragical breastfeeding stories along with Sarah Campbell, Rachel Epp Buller, and Kerry Clare of Pickle Me This. Tickets $20, 8-11pm, with book included, plus wine and munchies.
Satuday, Sept. 21: I’m tentatively booked to read at Word on the Street in Kitchener from my essay published in this summer’s New Quarterly (and also in the brand-new anthology How to Expect What You’re Not Expecting, which will be hot off the presses). 4-5pm at the Walper Hotel. Free.
Sometime in late September/early October: I’ve been invited to doula (offer labour support) for my brother and sister-in-law, who are expecting their first baby. I’m so excited. Anyone else giving birth and wanting support? Consider me. For real. I also take excellent birth photos.
Thursday, Oct. 3: It’s the launch party for How to Expect What You’re Not Expecting: Stories of Pregnancy, Parenting, and Loss. I’ll be reading from my essay in the collection, but you can also get a sneak preview of it in this summer’s edition of The New Quarterly. The launch is being held in conjunction with The New Quarterly, at their own launch of this year’s Wild Writers Festival. Clay and Glass Gallery, Waterloo. Free! Doors open at 7:30pm.
Saturday, Oct. 5: Run for the Toad! This will be my third year racing the 25km trail run. I’ve nursed several soccer injuries this summer, first the ankle, now the head injury, which have cut into training time, so I think this time around I’ll simply celebrate being there and doing my best to complete the course.
Saturday, Nov. 9: Wild Writers Festival! Do mark your calendars for this event, held right here in Waterloo, and now in its seccond year. Last year’s festival was wonderful, and this year I’ve been asked to lead a panel of amazing fiction writers. Visit the website for more details (the festival runs from Nov. 8-10).
And that’s all for now, folks.
Hi there. For some reason this old blog post, titled “Where mom-at-home meets working-mom” has gotten a ton of hits this week, so I went back to re-read it, and found myself entirely drawn in to the conversation (if you go to read it, too, definitely read through the comments).
It was originally written in October, 2011: nearly two years ago.
I was asking myself some tough questions.
**When I unpeel myself from them [my kids], who am I? **Who am I outside this home? And the question I’m most scared of, the one I really want to ask: **How do I begin to develop my working self, now, after a decade of being mom-at-home?
It’s funny how these questions have answered themselves. The good fortune of having The Juliet Stories recognized danced me outside of the house, and unpeeled me from them. And it turns out that the answer to those questions is: I’m pretty much exactly the same person, except in nicer clothes (maybe: ask my stylish daughter).
What about this question: How do I begin to develop my working self, now, after a decade of being mom-at home?
Now there’s a tougher one. Clearly, my career has developed in the past two years. I have publishing contracts for two new books, essays in three upcoming anthologies, and a new teaching job. I field regular invitations to do readings and host literary events. That said, it’s not a career that involves full-time hours and the corresponding full-time pay. It’s a pretty insecure career, built around a constant flow of push and energy that must be generated by me alone. Funny, kind of sounds like parenting. Turns out that my working self is not all that removed from my mom-at-home self. Both roles have developed and changed, but it’s not like one cancels out the other. Maybe my original question framed it wrong: it’s not either/or. How could it be?
What’s gotten cancelled out is other things I didn’t expect. I miss my playgroup, meeting up with other women once a week — the regular, routine warmth and connection that I have yet to replace. I rarely bake anymore, and haven’t canned a thing this summer; probably won’t. I don’t have the energy, even if I had the time. We now have a dishwasher and I drive much more than I’d like to, ferrying older children to extra-curriculars. I’m alone a lot, which I relish and appreciate (it is essential to my work), even while missing contact that can’t be replaced by social media. Oddly, the thing I thought I’d miss — full-on time with my children — I don’t, because, as it turns out, we still share a ton of activities, scheduled and unscheduled. You never stop being a parent, no matter what else you might be doing.
But here’s a confession: this past winter, I tried to find a traditional job. You know, a job-job. This is an insurance town, so most of the openings were inside insurance companies. We were going through a tough financial spell, and my writing career had never seemed more risky and indulgent. I sent out a dozen resumes. I received one reply. ONE. It was a no-thank-you, but I was grateful even for that. The worst thing about the experience was discovering that I wasn’t even qualified for jobs I didn’t want, let alone jobs I did. Thankfully, we got through the very bad month and the slightly-less-bad next month, and our fortunes steadily improved again. But the fear lingers: that if my family were to need me to find a job-job, to keep us afloat, I would be useless as tits on a bull, as my mother-in-law would say.
It’s been a decade since the famous (infamous?) “Opt-out revolution” article was published, interviewing women who’d given up promising careers to become stay-at-home moms. I’m not sure I gave up a promising career when I became a stay-at-home mom at the age of 26, but I had recently been promoted, and the opportunity to advance and develop within my chosen field of media / publishing / editing / journalism was there. I can’t remember whether I related to the women in the original article, but I remember thinking it was annoying, setting up this dichotomy between women, making it so either/or. Aren’t we all in this together, I thought?
I also thought, secretly, quietly, that there would be time for everything, and I didn’t appreciate being told that one choice might disadvantage me in another area of my life.
Recently, a follow-up article was published on those same “opt-out” women interviewed a decade ago: what had happened to them? (“The opt-out generation wants back in.”) Well, the economy had happened to them (all were American). Most had gone back to work, whether they wanted to or not; most had found it difficult to re-start their careers, and many had taken jobs that were below where they had been or could have been. Those whose marriages had ended were particularly disadvantaged and struggling. Few, however, expressed regret about their original choice. One woman struck me particularly — she had been in a traditional media job (like me), and found it virtually impossible to find work in a much-changed industry. The article ends with her landing an exciting job, after searching for several years, but at much less pay than she would have earned a decade before, only to have the project shut down six weeks later, and everyone let go. She was back to square one.
Let me tell you, I sure related to that article with a pang of recognition. Yet, I can’t feel regret, either. Because there are other interesting questions posed in my post, two years ago, questions that seem at least as significant, and more mysterious. I can’t answer them, especially the last one, but that’s why they’re so fascinating.
**Where am I heading, at my breakneck pace? **What am I failing to stop for? **What if I can’t squeeze every fascinating everything in? **What matters? **Will I always be so impatient? So goal-oriented? **Can I be both ambitious and content, or do those two states of mind cancel each other out?
Because it isn’t all about money, is it? If I look directly into my fear, and stare over the precipice of what would happen to my family were we thrown into financial crisis, and it were suddenly up to me alone to support us, I see many possibilities beyond disaster. I see family and friends. I see lifestyle changes and probably a lot of creative improvisation. I see a web of connections. We’re not without resources — I’m not without resources. That’s what I see, two years on, despite my recent experience of hunting for jobs I didn’t want and for which I was not qualified.
Because, I see, too, that I am already qualified for other jobs — ones I do want. This work might not offer the same security and stability, but maybe that just keeps me a step closer to reality. Stability is an illusion anyway, as we all secretly know.
It’s a gift to be doing what I love. I love being a mother. I love writing. I love thinking things through. My hope for myself, now and future, is that every time I doubt or question, I return to this: gratitude.
I sent this pair off to buy something for lunch, for the second time this week. They went to Vincenzo’s and got sushi and soda pop. CJ ate a blue frosted cupcake before they were even home. “We tried the free samples!” (On Monday, I let them go to the grocery store to get something for lunch and they returned with: Corn Pops, Cap’n Crunch, mini chocolate chip cookies, and three cheese buns. I think I see improvement?)
Fooey is doing tennis camp this week, which is why she’s not been involved. (Side note: she’s been working on filling in a journal all about herself, and had this to say on the page with prompts about her parents. “The one thing I hope I never inherit from my mom is the way she … HAS NO STYLE.” And: “The one thing I hope I never inherit from my dad is the way he … HAS NO HAIR.” My attempts to defend myself were met with scorn. Well, justified perhaps, because that kid has style.)
It feels like a day for black and white.
Here is my desk, right now. On the left, see the syllabus I’m working on. In the middle, my BlackBerry, which flashes whenever I get a message (very distracting, but I must like being distracted; text me, please!). On the right, this week’s calendar full of to-do lists and daily events not to be forgotten. And on the computer screen, a message to my editor with the revised version of Girl Runner attached. Yup! She’s gone off. I’ve sent her on her way.
Kevin, who has been my first reader for as long as I’ve had a writing career, stayed up past midnight reading the new draft, and told me this morning that he couldn’t put it down. He offers the following blurbs: “I felt like I was running in Aggie’s shoes over a 100-year race.” And “The book had the perfect combination of pace and depth, just like the 800 metres.” And: “Normally I can read only a few pages at a time. I read half the book in one sitting.” As he’s obliged only to say good things, for the sake of our marriage, you might think this input is highly suspect, but I’m going with it. It’s been a summer of intense and sometimes crazy-making labour, and I can’t do more without a serious break from the material. And my editor is pleased to have it back on her desk again.
And now I give myself the respite of a week or so, before the madness of the fall schedule begins, to be quiet, peaceful, breathing, playing, and not working. Tall order.
One last thing. My next post is going to be about everything I’m excited for this fall. It really and truly is. Because there is so much coming in and now that I’ve sent the manuscript I can breathe and sit back and look at it all. And rest my head. And say thank you.
Family news: On Friday, Fooey’s five-hour friend party came off without a hitch, and on Sunday, AppleApple left for a week at summer camp. She refused to take along a comb, saying she didn’t expect much showering to happen at camp, but agreed to bathe and brush through her (matted) hair immediately before departure. Hm. Still looks matted.
Book news: I’ve finished this round of revisions on Girl Runner. I printed a version yesterday and then tried to edit it while simultaneously playing board games with CJ. This worked better than expected, though only because CJ is very very creative with the rules (so I didn’t have to follow them precisely).
I’m not lacking for blog topics, but the topics that keep cropping up seem a bit grim. Ya’ll don’t want to hear about me being levelled in Sunday’s soccer game by a ball kicked with force at close range directly into my face, dropping me like a rag doll to the field, am I right? Teammates nearby were convinced I was knocked out, and I honestly don’t know. I lay there hearing voices, curiously removed, and trying to figure out how to open my eyes. I’ve never been hit like that before. It was like running into a wall at top speed.
It’s been that kind of a summer, spotted with the odd misfortune. Yet, I hasten to add, there’s been so much goodness to these months, all mingled in.
When I read old blog posts, say, from the era of toddler CJ and preschooler Fooey, I’m struck by how funny the scenes were, as I described them. Chaos was transformed into hilarity. I’m afraid the current iteration of my blog lacks for humour. It’s followed me where I’ve gone, and I’m so much less with the kids, so much more with my own pursuits. Maybe I take myself too seriously. On Sunday morning’s longish run, I began to think about this somberness I’m carrying around with me. I can feel it dragging on behind me, and I’m not sure what to attach it to. I think it has something to do with not starting midwifery school this fall, with instead sticking to the familiar script of mother, cheerleader, organizer, writer, with readings to prep for and grant deadlines to contend with and rejections to face down. Yes, I’ll be teaching a course this fall (and it’s already filled and I’ve received my first messages from prospective students addressing me as “Professor Snyder”), but, really, life looks much the same as always.
Whatever its cause, there is a sense of weight with me right now, and I find myself entertaining fantasies of moving, selling our house, going on sabbatical, travelling, buying a horse farm — you know, transporting myself somewhere else. Being someone else?
As I ran, on Sunday, I thought about how the things we imagine to be permanent in our lives are so often temporary, while the things that we imagine to be temporary may in fact be more permanent than we’d like to admit. I wondered: is this heaviness my new permanent? I keep expecting it to pass, yet despite moments of levity and relaxation, it continues to hang around.
A friend and mentor, to whom I confided my struggle this spring to choose between midwifery and writing, said this: “Understand that attention is a fickle thing, and will be visited on you in ways that are only partially connected with being deserved. If it’s coming your way, honour it with stepping into the warmth. But always also realize that your ultimate responsibility is to the light on the inside of you, not the light being directed toward you. Listen to those inside voices, they’ll get more jagged if you’re going in the wrong direction.”
I keep returning to her wisdom. Your ultimate responsibility is to the light on the inside of you.
I feel calm, I feel stable, I feel hard-working and organized and capable. But I don’t feel light. I miss that. I hope it’s temporary.