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I haven’t been getting enough sleep and it may be due to my late-night reading material. I just finished Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, which should not be dismissed merely because it has an Oprah book club sticker on it. I really loved this memoir. It was everything I hope for in a book: I was entertained, I was moved, I learned new things, I met fascinating characters, it touched me, it felt relevant to my own experience without being preachy, it expressed a deeper human truth while remaining particular and individual, and it had a compassionate moral outlook. And it was written by a woman. Hurray! I’ve been mildly troubled by my male-author-heavy recent reading trend. Not that there’s anything wrong with reading books by both men and women, but I kept waiting for the female-authored book that would speak to me with authority. And Wild did.
I won’t give a detailed plot synopsis, because you’ve probably already heard about the book or even read it yourself, but the narrator is hiking 1100 miles of wilderness trail, by herself, age 26, several years after the death of her mother, as a way to recover her life from a seriously scary downward spiral. Because I read it as an ebook, I can’t easily thumb through to find favourite bits, but I loved when this troubled spirit recognized that her efforts to get out of herself, to escape, had been not actually what she longed for. What she longed for was to get in. It was such a simple and profound way of expressing the paradox of the human mind and spirit: how the easy way out is always a trap, because it prevents us from finding what we really crave, which is a way into ourselves — and the way in is hard. And yet, it’s also not hard because it’s so right, because it lines up who we want to be with who we are, I think. Peace. Grace. Stillness.
So, two things I loved about the book. One, it was about hard physical effort. I related to that as a path to entering into one’s life and self. Two, the acknowledgements. I read the whole book with pleasure and ease, and it almost came as a shock to see the author thanking mentors, grant-giving institutions, writers’ festivals, and writing retreat centres. Right! I thought. This effortless-seeming book was written by a writer. Obvious, I know. But it gave me a feeling of kinship to recognize the work behind the scenes, to remember that every wonderful piece of writing began as an idea, and was supported by an invisible web, and brought to being by the same hard yet right process of steady work. That it didn’t just emerge whole. Cheryl Strayed wrote this book the same way she walked the trail: with help, alone, in doubt, and in hope. Sure, there are some ecstatic moments along the way, but writing a polished and complete book is kind of like walking 1100 miles of wilderness trail (or so I imagine): it’s a grind. You’re going to hate that you’re doing it some days, and think you might actually be crazy. You’ll be afraid and have to tell yourself that you’re not. You’ll be humbled by all you’re not, and also by all you are.
It’s the grind that yields.
In other news …
Most of the fallen tree is now piled in our front yard.
I spent yesterday afternoon deliberating with other members of The New Quarterly’s story jury, as we picked out a winner and runners-up for their emerging writer story contest. I learned a few things that I hope to apply in my creative writing class this fall. One is a total ban on sex scenes — I mean in their stories, not in the classroom; well, actually, I mean both, but the latter does not generally require mentioning. Only well into one’s writing career should one should attempt to write a sex scene, and even then … which reminds me, Cheryl Strayed wrote a really good sex scene. So it’s not that it can’t be done well, it’s just not a promising place to begin. Everything I type right now seems to be loaded with double-entendres. Which is probably part of the problem.
Anyway, that was yesterday, and I also zoomed all over town on my bike. My muscles are aching from lifting weights yesterday morning, and they’re still aching from a push-up extravaganza on Friday morning, not to mention the general battered and bruised feeling I carry following my evening soccer games (now on Thursdays and Sundays), and Saturday’s long run. I’m taking today off except for yoga stretches.
I scored a replay-worthy goal in Sunday’s game. It’s the goal I’ve been envisioning for months. I believing in envisioning, by the way. I believe if you can’t imagine it, you can’t do it in real life. The goal came off of a beautiful cross on a strong run up the left wing. I was on right forward, and running hard. The ball crossed ahead of our centre forward and I caught it on my right foot at the top of the box, controlled it like I knew what I was doing. The centre forward, behind me, told me I had time, take my time, and I did, somehow calmly positioning the ball and as the defender rushed me, I shot it over the goalie’s fingertips, skimming an inch under the bar, and swishing the back of the net.
I get to describe it in detail because it may never happen again. But it happened once. I could not stop grinning for about ten minutes. It was one of those magical sporting moments that keep a person coming back to a game–when it feels like the moment is unfolding separate from thought, purely on instinct, and you know in advance you’re going to do exactly the right thing. You have utter confidence in yourself, and it seems like it’s suddenly so easy. (Of course, it’s not). Everyone who’s played a sport knows what I’m talking about it. Come to think of it, it’s another example of grace.
AppleApple got a goal of her own in last night’s game. CJ and Kevin and I all came along to watch.
And now it’s back to work. The younger kids are at daycamp. Albus will be home from camp in two more sleeps. AppleApple is watching the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice, which she read this spring. And I’m writing scenes that are kind of like candy. They are so fun to read, and to write, it’s weirding me out.
Me to him – Do you ever think: hey, maybe Carrie will be happy being a writer? I get flashes of that sometimes. I’ve been pretty happy these past few weeks working on Girl Runner, running, being with the kids.
Him – It sounds like a good life. Not sure you can cure the restless feeling.
Me – I’m oddly buoyed by this stranger writing me this kind letter urging me to keep my focus.
Him – You have to think about the amount of effort that letter took.
To the stranger who wrote me a letter: thank you.
To all readers who have read a book they love: consider writing the author a letter. We read alone, and we write alone, which is a paradox, because we read and we write to experience connection. Who knows, your letter may be a sweet spark.
hot and grumpy
Inevitably, having said I was doing a lot of training, along came a random stomach bug (food poisoning?) to lay me low early yesterday morning and now I’ve missed two planned runs. But I prioritized rest and recovery, and am feeling back to normal today, if normal includes being covered in a sheen of perspiration. We don’t have air conditioning. The upstairs thermostat reads 89 degrees (why Fahrenheit? I don’t know).
hot but less grumpy
Kevin gets to go off to his air conditioned office every day, but the rest of us are here, making do with a few fans and running low on popsicles. I’m wearing clothes I’d wear to hot yoga (see photo above), and brainstorming cool foods for supper: gazpacho and fattoush!
even the dogs are grumpy
I don’t envy AppleApple her babysitting duties
On Monday evening, I took the kids to the pool for two hours (two hours!), and discovered that CJ swims far better than I thought he could, given his general sinky-ness in swim lessons, while Fooey swims rather worse (she needs to learn the flutter kick, mainly, and become more efficient at breathing between strokes). CJ wanted to practice, but Fooey was annoyed by my instruction. It’s funny how my kids break down along these lines: Albus and Fooey are similar in many ways, while AppleApple and CJ are similar in others. The latter two accept my instruction as helpful, while the former two loathe it.
I’m more like the latter two. But I try to work with what works for each kid. So Fooey played and splashed, while CJ played and practiced and splashed, and AppleApple did laps and dolphin dives and dove to the bottom of the deep end and found $2.50 in change. When we clambered out two hours later, we were actually, wonderfully, briefly, COLD.
This morning I received a letter from a reader, through my publisher. She’d read both of my books, going so far as to track down Hair Hat, which is out of print, at U of T’s Robarts Library, and she wanted to tell me that she foresaw a bright career developing for me, if I could keep my focus.
Because I do wonder about that: are my chances for success, for a long and happy career, all wrapped up in the focus, in the drive, in the setting of high expectations? At this stage in my life, I’ve come to think the answer to that is No. There’s luck, too, and striking the geyser of zeitgeist, which is beyond unpredictable. And yet, I’ll tell you too, that I keep operating as if the answer is Yes. Because it’s what I’ve got, and I seem to have lots of it. (It being focus, drive, high expectations, etc.)
I operate with the knowledge that failure is ever-present and ever-possible, and that it can only harm me if I let it get in the way of trying. Knowing failure keeps me oddly serene, oddly comforted.
I just keep writing. Like Dory hums in Finding Nemo (yes, I’m quoting a kids’ movie): “Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming,” only I hum writing instead of swimming. I’m nearly midway through my revisions of Girl Runner, or at least midway through the manuscript. I’m writing lots of new scenes and loving my main character ever so much. I think you’ll love her too. My editor said she thought readers would Google the character’s name, believing her to be real, and I almost feel that way about her too. What a strange job I have, making people up from scratch. I can’t explain why it makes the slightest bit of sense to do it.
Am I keeping my focus in order to have a bright career?
Probably not, though I’d welcome it if it landed on my doorstep. I keep my focus because I love telling stories. I love digging into the lives of others. I love having them say and feel and do things I could never say or feel or do. I love asking enormous questions. I love being allowed to wonder.
I love the summer photos. Bright skies, bright colours, squinting eyes.
This past Thursday evening illustrates our family’s collective obsession with soccer. With surprising ease, between the hours of 5:30-8:30pm, five out of six of us were involved on soccer fields in multiple locations. Kev and Albus scarfed down hot quiche and were at their practice at 5:30. Using the carshare car, I dropped AppleApple at her practice at 6:45, then drove CJ and Fooey up to another field where Fooey had a game at 7:15 (Kevin coaching). We met Kevin and Albus in the parking lot with a picnic snack, and I zoomed over to Cambridge to play a 7:30 game with my indoor team. Kevin and kids picked up AppleApple on their way home, and serendipitously saw me, just after I’d returned the carshare car, walking home with my gear. Talk about coordination. It felt effortless.
Of course, Thursday also marked the end of regular season play for Fooey — we’ll have to find a new groove, all over again.
On Saturday, Kevin and Fooey had an end-of-season “festival,” and we all came along to cheer. In the afternoon, AppleApple had a goalkeeping clinic, and I brought my yoga mat to stretch. Afterward, we biked to a nearby pool for a cooling dip.
On Sunday, I drove around southwestern Ontario, retrieving one child from a friend’s cottage and dropping two at overnight camp (one not my own): Albus will be gone for two weeks. CJ is already bereft. I arrived home in time to drag my well-numbed butt off to my evening soccer game (we won!).
I’ve been doing a lot of training. Training for what? Not sure, exactly. I’ve signed up for the Toad (25km trail run), and that seems to have given me the drive to follow a regular training schedule. I’ve gone steadily, from weight classes to soccer games to runs, for over two weeks now, without missing a day. Thankfully, I’ve got time for long runs again. I’ve gone out the past two Saturdays, aiming to run approximately an hour and a half to begin. I made it 15km the first week, 16km this past week (in the same amount of time). Sloooow.
It feels different to train myself back up, having done this before. The first time I trained to run long distances (two years ago), I was doing something I’d never imagined I could. So it was a pretty amazing process. Every extra kilometre felt like a miracle. But now I know what I’ve been capable of, and I’m so far from it. It could be discouraging — and I’m grateful that I don’t feel discouraged. I do feel slow. But I recognize that long runs are about reminding yourself that you’ve always got more than you think you do. That’s another way of saying: you have to learn to trust your body. That’s what endurance is actually about, as much as it’s about putting on mileage (though mileage is critical, too).
(And maybe, too, it’s harder to trust your body after injury. I am running on an ankle that is improved, but still not perfectly healed.)
Training for what? On reflection, I think the what doesn’t matter, it’s the why. Training is just a way for me to keep going. I’m in the midst of some very challenging work. I could get discouraged or weary, and I need, somehow, to remain calm, focused, and strong. Training seems to remind me of my own capacity to work hard. It gives me a parallel (and easier) kind of work to counterbalance the extremely quiet interior efforts required here in my office. Training every single day toward an end that isn’t obvious doesn’t feel frivolous or extreme, though it may look that way. I couldn’t sit still — hold so still — without some sense of being in motion. I’d go crazy, I think.
I’ll admit this is not an easy time in my professional life. It’s a lovely time in my personal life. I’m a truly fulfilled mother of wonderful kids. But professionally I feel a constant low-level anxiety. I wonder about the choices I’m making. I question my direction. I’m unsettled.
This may be a function of being a creative person. I wonder: am I by nature an unsettled and restless woman? Then I need a firm, sound body to carry me through. My mind settles when my body is working hard. It gives me peace.
A few things. If you don’t hear from me, assume I’m writing. Or summering.
So far, this holiday has made a lot of sense. The kids are swimming in the mornings, and I write (working on revisions) all afternoon. We’re travelling by bicycle as much as we can. I’m back to running and soccer, so life it is good. It is filled with goodness.
I took my yoga mat and stretched on the grass, Saturday afternoon, while watching my daughter practice her keeper skills. Rain was lightly falling. It’s been hot, humid. It was just about the perfect afternoon.
No photos of my younger daughter, but you never know, she might step in and make a claim for the title “soccer girl,” too. On Thursday evening, Kevin and I watched in amazement as our sturdy and determined seven-year-old carried the ball up the field, beating out player after player, and calmly fired it into the net. Five times. Seriously. We know she’s got the skills, but this was the first we’d seen the fire-in-the-belly. Our jaws were dropping. We were so curious to know what had inspired her, but all Fooey said afterward when we asked how did you just do that??? was, “It was a different goalie, so it was easy.” Um, okay.
(I wish I could say that. And I wish I had even half her foot skills. I mean, she dominated. That is not a word Kevin and I tend to associate with sweet Fooey.)
I love the very different personalities that pour out of these fascinating individuals I get to claim as my kids. I love trying to figure them out. What makes you tick? What gets you excited? What brings you to life?
It’s berry season in our backyard.
And it looks like rain, again.
We’ve got more soccer coming up this evening, I’ve got laundry to drag off the line, and another half an hour to direct toward Girl Runner. I love when life makes sense like this. It doesn’t always. I spend a lot of time flailing around worrying about direction, although I don’t love to blog about those parts. (Maybe I should? So life doesn’t look too perfect?)
I’m super-thankful when everything seems to fit together.
This morning I got on my bike and went to the “county” track meet (ie. a bunch of schools competing, including both of my two older children’s).
The 800 metre start, girls, ages 9-12.
She ran most of the race in lane two. Oops. “Did you know it’s shorter if you run on the inside lane?” “What? Really?!” A real-life math problem.
A hard-run race. I think she was a little disappointed with her end result, but every race is a learning experience. And she ran her heart out! Proud mama.
Tug-of-war. Not so many photos of this child. I was picking up a please-don’t-embarrass-me-mom vibe. Which I get. I’m so sympathetic and can totally feel it, too. Of course I’m going to say something dorky in front of his friends! I remember this age so clearly myself and instinctively want to give him space. Then I wonder: am I giving him too much space and he won’t know that I care? You know?
Then I got on my bike and went to the kindergarten picnic.
We shared our sandwiches (his idea).
The kids performed songs. When it was time to say goodbye, I got so many kisses, so many hugs; it was hard parting. Such a different stage.
And I got on my bike and went back to the track. (My ankle doesn’t hurt on my bike. Yay! Plus I’d forgotten how fun it is to cycle around the city.) Kevin had arrived in my absence, live-texting me results of events I was missing. We both got to watch the relays.
Then I got on my bike and went home.
Found, yesterday, amongst the masses of work brought home from school.
“Who? Carrie Snyder: Author of the GG nominated Juliet Stories and, my mom.
“What? I can learn alot from mom including work hard and you can acheive anything, follow your dreams, or whims depending on which you have. Nothing is really that impossible if you really want it. And are willing to pour your life into it.
“Where/when? At the book launch in 2012, when the story became a book.
“Why? Writing a book with four kids is not easy. The Juliet Stories took seven years to write. It takes an amazing woman with great patience to do that. She sets goals and acheives them. Aside from that she is a very happy person with a big family and a big heart. She is also a runner and marathonist and triathlete. If you don’t think she is successful, I would like to hear what is.”
I don’t know what life is all about, except that it’s for living. Yesterday was a down day. The puffy ankle wasn’t helping. I was feeling pessimistic. I was remembering that the nature of being a writer is being dissatisfied. That’s what gives you the push to keep creating. It’s a sense of needing to do more. I was remembering that I write out of a painful mixture of confidence and doubt, and that it never seems to become easy (not the writing itself, which is frequently joyful, but everything surrounding it). And then I found this. My child was mirroring back to me things I couldn’t see or appreciate for myself. I hope to mirror to my children the same: love and belief and admiration.