Tag Archives: life lessons

The Unwanted House Guest

I was talking about my constant waking up in the middle of the night with a friend the other day and he said, “Mags, we’re getting old.” I laughed but inside I winced just a little. I don’t like being included in that club.

It seems suddenly—though let’s be honest, it isn’t sudden, not really, you just don’t notice the incremental changes—I am noticing my age.

Thankfully, I’ve been blessed with genes that belie my age. Up until a few years ago I used my son’s age as a kind of party trick to gasps of ‘surely you don’t have a son that old! Did you have him when you were 14?’ which I took as affirmation I was beating the age game.

But lately I have noticed it, particularly in my yoga class as I look over longingly at the taut young girls in  their power poses, their lean long abs with muscle highways running up and down and their dewy skin plump and glowing. I used to look at shoes this way. What is happening to me?

I am aging. It’s a fact. Let’s not be coy about it. What to do about this unwanted house guest? I’m figuring it out. I’m getting into gear. I’m a factory of ideas. I’m all over it. Life, I hear you okay? I won’t fool around. I get it, the time is now. My time. Is mine.  What will I do with it?

Get binary. This or that. This is the gift of age. Suddenly, you’ve built your own personal emotional garbage sorting bin. This is out. This is in. Simple really. Why haven’t I done it before? Lots of reasons. Low self-esteem. Relationship issues. Family issues. Child issues. Financial issues. Yada yada yada.

Forget all of it.

Get binary. Simplify. Yes or no? Want to have in my life or no? The chatter gets quiet, and the age question seems irrelevant.  Just the way it should be.

The Unwanted House Guest

It’s catching up to me

like a slow seeping morning fog

some mornings it catches me

and I wake with sore hips and

eyes so dry they gasp for air

like a dying fish.

 

Am I dying?

 

Suddenly, age is a house guest

worse than any one night stand.

She gives me cruel reasons to wake up—

3, 4, 5 am nudging me awake to

my sleeping bag of worry

where I am zipped up in a tight bind of middle age

as though I were camping in my own night

my own bed my own life my own pajamas

my sleeve of anxiety good till 40 below

or in menopausal flashes of heat.

 

I look askance at my guest in the mirror

she’s fooling around with my face leaving

a pattern of lines and furrows and constellations

of spots that are no longer adorable

When did I stop being adorable? 

Never.

Never!

Fuck aging.

I tell her to stay in

the guest room and not come out

‘till the funeral.

 

 

 

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Let the sun find its way to you

HARRISON LAKE 1I used to always feel nostalgic about love during summer. I think the kisses I had in a little park with my first boyfriend made it that way. I would lay with my head on his chest and he’d lazily draw a blade of grass over my shoulder, then slowly along my neck then gently over my ear, finally making me giggle and turn away. And we’d do that for hours. So innocent. So perfect. So sweet.

Lately, I’ve been hugging summer close to me, stretching out in its warm embrace and letting it romance me like I was fourteen again. It isn’t always easy to move towards the present, to really be in it and let go of the past, but once you have life feels as it was meant to.

It feels like the sun can make its way to me without any need for someone else to improve it or a song to score the sunset so I can enjoy it or a book to describe the feeling for me or lover to whisper in the night and tell me what it really is.

No, it’s just seeping into my skin and heart, fully saturated with ripe possibility.

Sweet Sun

 

The sun bleaches all the bruises–

sweat hard, forgive the sun

she’s a guest here, she’ll be gone.

 

Moon gives you blue light

just blue light with no strings–

hold it in, let it go with your lungs

at ease at last in bed alone.

 

Summer

lazy as a cat on a couch

coy and calling in a bowl of berries

finally

you sit down too

content it’s only you.

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Filed under Non-fiction, Poetry

Surrender to the green prayer

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Setting sun on my left cheek as I stand near the bean stocks that are expectant with summer, tendrils of bursting tender beans twirling in the soft air. Verdant respite of whispering conspirators–the poppy least of all, she’s done her dance and slumps now, out of the chorus of tubers and crawling vines–all vying for space, nudging one another as they race towards the sun each dawn.

Here I am in the unexpected moment: an intervention by root vegetables, dill, chives, cabbage, sweet peas, tomatoes, basil, surrounding me with their green insistence to awake, awake! Swallows swoop past my head and hummingbirds tread air wildly, waiting, waiting, for my decision. Will I let go of it? As in really let go of the weight of it, the life before and be in the life that is? Now?

Yes. Yes.

Waking to abundance, the garden goes on, the trees go on, the birds go on and the green prayer comes in each day like a wave, calling me to answer, surrender to forgetting and live the new.

 

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Lessons from the deep end of Empire Pool

I’m 4 or 5 and sitting in the ‘dog seat’ in the back of my mom’s red Beetle. We’re driving along UBC boulevard and by the blur of trees I think we are going quite fast. No matter. My mother is confident in her abilities to get out of any ticket and had in fact been pulled over on this very road, cried convincingly to the officer, was reprimanded and let go. More likely the officer looked at the 6 or 7 children jammed into her small car and thought, poor thing and let her go.

I'm the little girl at in the bottom, middle of the picture.

I’m the little girl at in the bottom, middle of the picture.

We’re going for swim lessons at Empire Pool. I am nervous because all of my clothes are hand-me-downs and while I do have a new swimsuit for the occasion I have old, brown flip-flops that could have been a brother’s, shorts from the neighbour’s daughter down the street who was by all accounts a super-model by age 9, and a t-shirt that is for certain about to be torn into pieces and used on someone’s car in the garage.

I’m excited all the same. Any opportunity to sit in the sun and swim in a real pool makes me happy. I love the beach but the salt water up my nose makes me stumble out of the ocean like a character from a horror film, blindly searching in the air for my towel and curling up in a heap on some other family’s blanket.

Our class is lined up along the side of the pool when I join. Why am I late? I feel a blush develop. One of my older brother’s had told me, ‘you’ll never be a poker player if you blush like that, shows ’em what you’re thinking.‘ Why I had to prepare for poker playing I did not know but I took his advice and wrangled my embarrassment under control. Our teacher was very tall and slim, some might say gangly, but I could see it was a sporty, professional athlete kind of length to her and it gave me confidence she would be a good teacher.

We slipped into the pool and  just held onto the sides and kicked and did simple movements to get used to the water. Our teacher stood above us in her one piece Speedo and loose, softly faded cotton shorts that were tied with a rough string and slipped down her thin hips as she strode along the edge of the pool shouting out to us, “Good job, keep it up! Yes! That’s it, that’s it, kick, kick, kick!” I knew I was sweating in the cool water trying to do a good job kicking and kicking and kicking.

The following weeks were a series of similar exercises and I grew a little bored. When were we going in the deep end? Growing up with daredevils, I was used to a high-level of adrenaline. I watched in awe as divers plunged into the blue sky above me from the 10 meter board. At home later, my brothers would talk about the various stunts they’d seen or done from the same board. I didn’t admit I was still in the shallow end.

The following Saturday we lined up under the warm sun, not yet hot as it climbed towards its noon zenith. She calmly announced we were going to the deep end to learn how to tread water. This was it. The big time. Sink or swim. We followed her along the wide pool deck towards the end of the pool. Here you could see the daredevils back flipping off the boards, cannonballing and roughly pushing each other into the water. More my kind of world and mostly made of boys which was the norm for me with nine brothers. Our teacher gave them a look of disdain.

“Please stay in this area only as this is a busy pool with lots of divers and we don’t want to be in their way.” Well, neither did we! She announced that we’d be tested today on our treading abilities and timed. A lump formed in my throat. I had to pass. I imagined the scene back home when word got out I couldn’t even tread water, never mind dive off a board.

We swam out from the edge and began to practice our treading. I was treading well she said, shouting over the mayhem of boys behind me, “Hold your head up, that’s it, pretend an invisible string is pulling your head up, up, up!‘ I kicked like crazy but my body felt so heavy, heavier than it could possibly be in real life, pulling me down into the deep end. My legs flailed and searched for respite. I couldn’t touch the bottom. Panicked, I quickly swam towards the side of the pool and reached out for the wet cement.

Our lissome teacher bent over to see if I was okay. I brushed her off and said, ‘just taking a break!’ and smiled optimistically up into her sunny face. Reassured, she went on to another student. But I wasn’t optimistic. I was sure I would drown during the test. I began to think of excuses. Sudden stomach cramps? I was late for an appointment? A doctor? What could I come up with on a Saturday in July? Frantic and irrational, I tried to wave her down though she didn’t see my tiny arm whirling out of its shoulder socket amidst her brood of beginners.

I could see no way out. I pushed away from the edge and joined the other swimmers. She counted down and the test began. I was already exhausted. I longed to lie down on my towel. She yelled out encouragement, pacing up and down the side of the pool like a real coach and I focused on her sandy blonde hair moving from side to side, her long arms clapping and waving to us, her lean legs tensed into tanned muscle as she squatted at the edge and screamed “nearly done, nearly there!” My chin was now touching the water. I was going under. Soon my head would be covered. She likely wouldn’t see me for a while as I dropped to the bottom of the pool where I would lay unconscious.

A loud, shrill whistle sounded and through my wet eyelashes I saw a blurry figure clapping wildly and gesticulating at us to come back to the edge. I used what was left of my limp limbs to make it back. She must have sensed my struggle as she came and firmly took my hand and pulled me right out like I was a foam kicking board. I beamed up at her and she bent down to my face and said ‘good job‘ and briefly put her warm, powdery dry hand on my shoulder.

Later, my mother would pull out the paper octopus shaped award of achievement that said I had passed the course. The teacher had written nice things about me on each leg of the Octopus. My brothers hooted and screamed and made fun of my little octopus but I didn’t care. It was like a gold medal to me and I carefully placed it inside my Babar book next to my bed. I knew I would never grow up to be sporty like my teacher but it felt wonderful that night to lie in bed knowing I could survive in the deep end.

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Resolutions suck.

Resolutions always make me feel like I’m wearing too tight a shirt and I’m sitting in detention. I am pretty sure I’m not alone in this. So to hell with resolutions and their should-ness. Instead, I’m going to re-frame it and say what I learned in 2011 and what I’d like to learn in 2012.

Ten things I learned in 2011:

1. I breathe easier in wide open spaces.

2. Italian made shoes feel like heaven and make you look like a princess.

3. A transmedia relationship isn’t fiction.

4. I’m hardwired for entrepreneurship.

5. Storytelling isn’t just fables in kindergarten; it’s our global emotional transportation.

6. Writing fiction is my new-found bliss I have to attend to in order to be happy.

7. Loving the Canucks can go too far.

8. True love at first sight happens. Really.

9. Digital sharing sucks when it gets competitive. Share to share. Full stop.

10. I love teaching.

10 Things I want to learn in 2012:

1. The deep web, the metrics and analysis of why and how we interact with content.

2. German.

3. How to cook Thai food.

4. How to survive and thrive from my own creativity.

5. How to publish a transmedia novel.

6. Be less reactive and more thoughtful.

7. Host a live story show.

8. Develop meaningful content for clients.

9. Teach meaningful content for students.

10. Love better.

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‘I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.’

The other day I had the pleasure of listening to an amazing lecture on leadership. I marveled how this speaker was truly himself–allowing all his humour, foibles, stories, failures, dreams to be utterly exposed and how he lived his life and chose his career based on whether he was having fun or not. At first, I thought, isn’t that kind of a frivolous measurement? But then as he told his story, I realized what courage that actually took. To stare down complacency. To stand up to the lure of security. To defy reason. To seek, instead, to have fun in his life and in his work and if he wasn’t, then to assert change so that he was experiencing joy. At one point, he quit a job where he was about as high up as you could go, because he wasn’t having fun. How many of us can say the same?

Frivolous? I think not.

Another lesson I took away from this lecture was that most powerful lessons are, in fact, kind of obvious. Over the past few weeks, I’ve really been seeing some staring-in-my-face life lessons that were there all along but I am just starting to truly ‘see’ them now. I was kind of beating myself up about it the other day about getting these lessons so late in life when I realized that was just undermining the learning. Waste of time. Get the lesson. Apply it. No matter that it seems simplistic–apparently, the really big lessons all are. Okay, good to know!

There’s a famous poem I’ve loved my whole life called Invictus, and at various points I’ve thought I ‘got it’ but this poem is truly lifelong learning–you always can apply it in a different way according to where you are, what you are struggling with, or overcoming. It never stops teaching. Where the poet William Henley writes, ‘I thank God for my unconquerable soul‘, I just smile, because if I lost everything, I know I would still have this gift–an unconquerable soul. All too often, however, people just give up, and surrender to hopelessness. I was talking to a friend the other night who had done just that. Given up on life, on relationships, on hope and I had a bleak 20 minutes or so after talking to him where I was kind of empathizing and thinking, is that vision true of the world? No. I won’t allow it to be for me. If there is anything I have passed on to my son, it is this undying belief in one’s self and I am thankful for his endless resilience in the face of terrible odds.

No matter what people may say about you, no matter what they think, no matter your circumstance, you alone say yes or no, you alone choose misery or fun, love or hate, despair or joy. If you resolve you have no choice then indeed you have none. ‘I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.’

Seek fun over ‘work’.

My favourite line however, is when Henley writes,Under the bludgeonings of chance/My head is bloody, but unbowed.’ Ah yes, chance, that hapless destroyer! Of this I can speak with experience: I have had two brothers killed in freak accidents, by minute moments of weird and uncontrolled chance, where had they been one second closer or farther, sooner, or later, they may have lived. And yet, we have to continue, to not let this ‘bludgeoning’ break us. The simple lesson, ‘life is for the living’, comes to mind, that we must deny despair and choose joy and yes, I can tell you it requires tremendous courage and leadership despite the ‘fell clutch of circumstance’.

Here is the poem in its entirety, I hope it brings you as much inspiration as it has to me over the years.It is simply written but I think you’ll find lots of lessons here to apply.

Invictus

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

-By William Ernest Henley


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