Tag Archives: love

Art Vs Dark

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Why is it when you fall out of a habit, it’s so damned hard to get back into it? I was shocked to see how long I let this blog lay fallow. But it’s a new year, and I’m determined to try to dust off this habit and write something useful—well that is to be determined by you—but after a year like 2016, let’s try and do this together. Meet here once in a while? Sure. If you’re willing, I’m willing.

I’ve been on a zero news diet for the past week and lo and behold I find myself spontaneously dancing to Spotify, whistling through hallways and making small joyous pirouettes across my floors. What is going on? What is this feeling? So unusual after months of clenched worry, tightened throat and disbelief at the daily news cycle that obliterated logic and ushered in a new era of post-truth. I realized that the constant streaming of bad news from all media channels was creating a kind of tension fog in my brain. Once cleared, I was able to feel and sense the world around me and voila! The immediate world was a beautiful place I had forgotten still existed.

Look, as a Canadian I won’t lie, the situation south of the border is unnerving. Disturbing. Nightmarish in fact. But what use are we if we’re addled with worry and crouched in a position of terrorized protection?

Having to not go to the day job certainly plays a part in this newfound joyous feeling as does sleeping lots and reading essays by Joan Didion in the middle of the day. Also, how do we forget the healing power of snacks? Triscuits and Baba Ganoush are an old time favourite set on my grandma’s china beside my lap as I thumb through the soft feathery pages of a novel. The wide openness of these days feels like a tide that is not relentless as it comes in but rather like a pool being filled for summer. Inside, I clap and dive in with the joy of having time to just swim to where I want to go and not to where someone tells me.

But with a year passing behind, there’s no denying that I’m getting older. Well, we all are I’m afraid. I know some of you with tighter skin and dazzlingly impervious triceps may not yet know this, but mortality is the polite person at our elevator waiting for the cue to close the doors. As the ice obstinately circles my apartment sidewalks and coats the street with defiance that it can, yes it can, bring us West Coast wusses to our proverbial knees, there is a blue sky above, food in my fridge and a warm radiator. My son has grown a thicker beard and is, like me, gearing up for January courses that will have us pulling our hair our by mid-term. But luckily we have marvelously thick hair so I know we’ll survive.

The point is, instead of going back to the daily news museum of horrors, I’m going to strengthen my outpost here on earth. I am going to shore up supplies like compassion and empathy. I’m going to stock the larder with patience, contemplation, and a tich of keep-my-mouth-shut. I will fortify my defenses with sweet, rational boundaries that are forgiving but infinitely healthy. I will let family in and welcome them with soup and honesty. They can come or go if they don’t find the recipe to their liking. At night I will imagine throwing fistfuls of star light to children dying from the darkness, in whatever form, by bomb, by slap, by word, by starvation, by humiliation. I will love the child I was given, and try to stop from telling, do more showing and be there if he falls off whatever log he’s using to cross the river.

I’m going to dance on my slippery floors in the face of annihilating headlines and ALL CAPS tweets from a deranged president. Because my defiant joy is better than my coiled, quiet fear.

Our creativity needs to stay sharp in 2017. I hope you will join me and create art against the dark.

Here’s to your healthy happy love-filled 2017. I will see you here more often, I promise.

*I will be using the hashtag #artvsdark to tag my writing, collaborations and artwork this year. Feel free to use this to strengthen our collective light in the world.

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Mother’s Day Isn’t For Everyone

ScanA week after my son was born my mother called me and said, “Where have I been for the last week?”

It was the beginning of a long letting go.

Now, my son is 21 years old and has no memory of his grandma but knows, I think, that she was one of the greats. As in mothers. I tell him stories about her, try to bring her alive for him so he has a faint outline of her in his mind that can serve as a proxy for a grandma.

The fact is, Mother’s Day isn’t for everyone. I well up in tears a lot during May because I lost my mother when my son was not yet three years old. I mourn the loss of him never having heard her gut laugh, or been fed by her or been able to turn to her with secrets that would be kept from me. He was born on the cusp of a mind slipping away, but during the months she was still present, she loved him fiercely. She wanted to hold him though her hands didn’t have much strength left in them. She tried to balance him on her hip and I crossed the room just in time to catch him before he hit the hardwood floor. It broke my heart. It broke hers. We just tried to love as much as we could before the fog crept in and muted everything.

I have failed in so many ways as a mother, countless really, and have spent thousands of moments asking myself, what would she do in this moment?

If you are like me and have scar tissue that gets pulled in painful ways today, just focus on the lessons you’ve been given —by men, children, animals, nature, art — and feel blessed you’re learning and being taught, and mothered in some way by life. And extend this back to your circle. Maybe that is to someone who needs help in a lineup or a tourist who needs directions or is a younger co-worker lost in a miasma of twenty-something angst. No matter. Just be mothering. Be loving. This might make Mother’s Day less specific and hopefully, a little less Hallmark hell full of should’s and thickly sweet Facebook posts of intact families.

To all of you without mother’s today, be overly kind to yourselves. Forget calories. Eat something you love. Wear something soft and enveloping. Write something loving with no expectation of hearing anything in return. Listen to a piano concerto. Or birds. Lie down and watch sparrows. Find some innocence— the world will come back tomorrow and ask you to be a grown-up. Love the minor note you feel playing inside you today. Whistle it out loud, even if no one is around to hear it. And of course, be a good mother to your self.

 

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Memories and Melancholia

It’s been a long time since I’ve written here and I’m sorry for that readers—I was working on a major writing project that took up all my spare time outside my day job.

But today I have a fever and am home sick. And what comes with fevers are always those strange hyper-real dreams, you know the ones where you think you are awake they are so tangible? I had one of those today about my mom and it brought me back to the years I was looking after her while slowly losing her to dementia.

Also woven into these dreams were the poems of Ulrikka S. Gernes, a Danish poet, who read at the Vancouver Writers Festival this past Saturday. Her poems have been singing in my head ever since. They surfaced in my fevered dreams like ocean glass and I wasn’t so sad to be sick if you want to know the truth.

She writes in her book, Frayed Opus for Strings & Wind Instruments,  that “Melancholia has a wide spectrum of nuances and tones and it often evokes a heightened sensitivity.” I felt these nuances today, the curtains drawn, quilt pulled up, dreaming of my mother, her small dog Max, her brittle collarbone against me as I held her towards the end. Don’t think ‘depression’, it’s just a daughter missing her mother when she’s sick. People like to make more of these things than they are—just human moments we all experience and sometimes the way into them, to really feel them, is through a fevered dream.

Ulrikka’s says she will “forever defend melancholia; it has an inherent power to sharpen certain senses that are beneficial to art, to life.” I couldn’t agree more. Herewith, a little poem that came from my memory dream with my mom and her little dog Max and myself towards the end when she was slipping in and out of the now and I was trying to pretend everything was just fine and hold onto her.

Moustache 

I look at your dark moustache as your coffee cup dangles

From your bony fingers, smoke curling into the air

through the dust as it floats

Through a shaft of morning light.

The hairs move like cheerful whiskers,

black and wiry, poking down into your cup

as we talk about the dog , how he likes to bark especially hard

at the man in the motorized wheelchair.

You tell me you sometimes duck your head

under the window to avoid him

or let the dog out to attack his wheels.

This was some time ago but I don’t bring it up.

I help you walk to the bathroom, undo your pants,

let you down slowly onto the toilet

then slip out for a second so you can be alone.

Okay? I say then come back, place your hands on my shoulders

And pull you up. We laugh a little as your pants drop

To the floor and I have to balance you and pull them up in one motion.

I close the lid on the toilet and sit you gently back down.

I’m going to dye your moustache okay?

You seem a bit embarassed but not sure why and

cluck at the dog to come and he circles then sits down at your feet.

I mix the Jolen powder and cream together and apply

the white paste to your wiry scruff.

I set a small kitchen timer for five minutes.

I lean back against the sink and tell you about my son.

He’s four months old now. You exclaim oh oh—

Most of the time you forget he’s been born.

Sometimes you remember and admonish me,

saying  of course, of course.

I take the face cloth and gently wipe the paste off then

take you to the mirror. You’re not sure

what you should be looking at but smile at me as though

I have just given you the news we were going on a holiday.

You will have no memory of this tomorrow.

I will hold it inside long after you are gone

like a snowglobe

shaking it whenever I need you.

 

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Filed under Memoir, Non-fiction, Poetry

Before it’s too late…

DSCF0672I’ve been transformed. There I’ve said it—it may feel like I’ve just dumped an overblown heap of pseudo wellness speak or new age bullshit on you but this isn’t like that. It is the actual thing of transformation, before the word started being used in mission statements, yoga studio bathrooms or political ads.

What I’m talking about is the sense of slipping out of  your life and into another, only you are in the same body, driving the same car, with mail addressed to where you still live. But suddenly the old gimmick you used for so long to enter into the world is no longer needed, that half-truth you were telling yourself and others, about your life, about moment after moment when your heart’s subliminal, traitorous subtext was screaming at you: I don’t care. I don’t care. 

Gone. All those discouraging voices have disappeared like magic, and what is left is the actual thing you trying to discover, so easily seen now in the outline of buildings , textured and contrasted against the sky; people’s intentions appear undiluted and transparent, like veins you never noticed before. Their agenda so obviously void of you. Agree to disagree? Yes, probably a good idea at this point.

My former life, the one before the transformation, is like a nice but slow patient I must put my arm around and through the crook of its arm and walk to a bench, any old bench in a park say, at dusk. I put my hands on its shoulders and shift it onto the wood, see it firmly seated then say adieu in as cheerful a manner as I can muster.

Walking away, I remind myself change doesn’t come without something—someone— making room for its fruition, and that real transformation is a long haul, only fully complete after it is considered in reflection, a death having occurred of some kind or another.

But I’m talking around the facts. The truth is I went to an intense writing residency for ten days and it changed my life. Or rather, it reminded me of life, the one I used to live, when I wrote and performed my writing all the time. Something so important to my happiness yet year by year I let it go; sometimes on purpose, to prove I could what? Sacrifice? Not be selfish? Be a good mother. Oh, maybe it was to survive. That was it. A lot of it. For years. Like a fog bank that moves in, I could see no other way. And then I spent 10 days with poets and Susan Musgrave. Yeah, if you know of Susan then you’re nodding right now. You get it.

In the book Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott talks about just showing up at the blank page to write, chipping away at it, she urges writers to just keep staying in motion, moving towards the moment when you give your attention completely to the doing, even if it feels like you can’t wrap your arms around all you have to, the immensity of the task, its blinding and potentially life threatening call to truth, insurmountable. You write anyway.

You write anyway.

I want the habit, of writing anyway. I want to live a life that calls me to the page each day. That’s what I know now that I didn’t know then. As in a month ago.

The latin roots of transformation are trans meaning “across” and  formare meaning “to form” so I take this to mean that it affects every part of your life, the very nature of your chemical makeup is somehow altered, and a new form comes into being.

I am so grateful for the wakening to go across and to form. To have the just-in-time love affair with my own life again, my poems, before it was too late.

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Your Life: Sit Up and Take Notice

When I was five, my mother took me for a test at the school near our house. I remember it was a sunny day and I wore a dress, hoping to add to the impression that I was capable of going into grade one instead of kindergarten. Why I was taking the test in the first place remains a mystery but I suspect my mother wanted me to start grade one early because after eleven children she simply needed her days alone and silent. I remember walking across the black asphalt of the playground afterwards and my mother beaming as she told me I had passed with ‘flying colours’.

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So, at the age of five I entered grade one. Unfortunately, the night before my father cut off all my hair and I was crestfallen when I walked to school with a boy’s hairstyle. I’d had high hopes for my debut in grade one. Instead, I slinked along the back wall, furtively searching for my name on a desk and secretly hoping there’d been a mistake and that I hadn’t gained entry into this new and bewildering world and could go home and help my mom with washing the floor or laundry or sorting socks. And yet, there was my name, second row in, two desks from the end. MARGARET spelled neatly on an index card.

Behind me sat a boisterous girl with shiny thick black hair and luminous brown skin and mischievous eyes. She didn’t hesitate to speak up and raise her hand, unlike me who prayed I wasn’t singled out by the teacher for anything and hung my head low behind the student ahead of me. She quickly surmised I could be teased and with tremendous entertaining results. Her name was Sharon. She spoke fast and had a sharp wit and wielded it confidently like an adult; she noticed everything including my crappy shoes and the fact I’d forgotten the belt on my uniform. I longed to be her friend, mostly to avoid any deeper insights into my character becoming known to the rest of the class. Thankfully, she seemed to sense my desperation and let me into her safe zone as an ally despite my shortcomings.

Forty-three years later: we are sitting and drinking in the middle of the afternoon on a sunny day beside the ocean. I find myself once again admiring her way with words, just as I had at age five, the sure and confident manner as she speaks to the waitress, her still beautiful brown eyes that are full of life, intelligence and humour. I notice they have more ‘life’ behind them now though, one that I am hearing as we, at first cautiously then with abandon, pull threads out of the stories of our lives and stitch together our past into a new shared story.

We had gone to school together until grade nine, during which time we’d shared dozens of sleepless sleepovers, elementary school dramas, walkathons, endless hours of Catholic prayers and the uncertainty of hormones and fears of growing from little girls into young women. Our friendship had started to wane just before we both left to go to the all-girl private school our mothers sent us to for grade eight. But I got caught up with ‘public school kids’, which was seen by my mother as the surest way to hell and, looking back, in some ways it was true.

My childhood seemed to have suddenly vanished and I was lost in a world without boys and the seemingly endless unspoken politics of daughters from the wealthy elite of Vancouver where my non-working-widow-mom and less-than clothes and accessories were wincingly noticed and graded as a fail. Eventually the wagons circled with me on the outside. By the second term of grade eight, I was defiantly taking off my uniform and dressing into jeans and a jean jacket in the bushes after school so I wouldn’t have to be ‘seen’ by my public school friends in the telltale uniform of Little Flower Academy. The fact was, I never could quite fit in and didn’t know how to but Sharon managed to find community and a place at the academy and made a success of her high school years there.

As we sat across from one another in the busy restaurant and slowly unravelled our lives I felt like almost no time had passed while simultaneously trying to take in the enormity of all that had happened to us over the many decades.

With more scar tissue than either one of us would liked to have acquired, we shared one story after another after another with ease and a frankness that was unexpected. The afternoon light changed, food plates were stacked and taken and replaced by drinks. A one-hour lunch stretched into three as our lives and the people in them were introduced or re-visited. Deaths, break-ups, love, children, parents—all got covered off in a matter-of-fact way but it was the small details, the understanding between us of the hopes and dreams we had as young children set against the tableaux of where we were now, sitting across from one another as women in the middle of our lives that kept me thinking for days after about the past.

In fact, the past had been calling me to pay attention all week, nudging me to listen, just as I was trying to let it go. Only the day before my lunch with Sharon, I had re-connected with my boyfriend I had been madly in love with in university. We met for lunch and appraised one another with smiles and delight, me noticing more crows feet and gray hair and the gestures I used to be so smitten with, he well, hopefully not noticing the crows feet so much. There’s a sweetness to seeing an old love, a tinge of melancholy mixed with joy and remembrance accentuated by oh fuck’s and awww’s and sighs and long looks of remembering what was and a quiet listening for what is.

My sister-in-law is always telling me to stop living in the past and I’ve come to see that not dwelling in the past makes the present so much more lived and full of potential. To be present is to edit your life with ferocity. Staying present is like working on the ab muscles of the soul. You have to practice it daily to have any strength in resisting maudlin moments.

Yet this week the past found me in my present and the movie of my life suddenly enlarged, went wide-screen, became richer with more characters and synapses and discoveries that didn’t pull me back into sadness or regret but instead, opened up like a new canvas. After all, I was alive wasn’t I? And my old friends were too. How lucky are we to get to share a meal with one another! This is the sweet grace of the past coming to revisit you. Life itself winks and you finally get it. Oh right, time is passing—forty five years just went by like that—so I’d better get on with it and do the absolute best I can with what remains.

I’d better sit up and take notice. What story do I want to tell forty years from now? This is the work at hand. Now.

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A Gift Just in Time

It was in yoga just a few weeks ago when I stopped hating my body. There was no great ah-ha-a-la-Oprah-esque moment, no mid-forties screech and halt, no drum roll or tears of joy. There was only silence and the thrum of heat in my ears as I poured myself into a downward dog, grumbling at my sore elbows, wrists and ankles as I asked them to release. Then I suddenly thought, Hey this body is doing its best, lay off it already!

And just like that, I became its friend.

For decades I’ve acted like my body was my enemy, something to be vigilant about, hard on, like I was its personal drill sergeant marching it to a cacophony of jeers from an imaginary audience, whose voices hovered above me like comic captions: ‘c’mon, you can do better than that, just look at those thighs, my god, what is happening with your hair? To a point where my body was in fear of my mind, always trying valiantly to contort to the must’s and the should’s and the early morning prods. Like some kind of vaguely Russian Olympic gymnast coach from the seventies, my mind asked my body to be things it could never be and wondered why it failed me year after year? When in fact it was I that was failing my dear, imperfect hard-working, slightly pale and in parts doughy but sincerely loving body.

My body eventually caved in with all that unkindness surrounding it. This year was the year my body gave up and said fuck it. Or more to the point: Fuck you. It rose up in all its pale five foot glory and said, you know, I’m not serving you anymore. I’m tired.

I got very sick and stayed sick for a long time. I still have an immune system that is misfiring, like a spaceship that has righted itself but can’t communicate with NASA anymore. This is what happens when your body goes off the rails with a lonely, bereft wail of its unlovable nature.

Recently, while reading Anne Lamott’s brilliant book on writing, Bird by Bird,  I was struck by her recounting of what a friend told her about ’emotional acreage’. Her friend said that “every one of us is given an emotional acre all our own.” Lamott explained that we own it and can do with it as we wish; it has a fence and a gate. As a child, I didn’t live in a home that recognized I had a defined acre of emotional land. Mine was more like a closet with gaping holes in the door and hinges that wouldn’t allow it to close properly. My acre was never my acre.

Later, because I didn’t know I had a whole acre, people camped out in it, leaving refuse and anger and leftover half-hearted love that I was never sure what to do with. Recycle? Bury? Burn? Publish? Who knows. And in my body I felt it was wrong–knew it was wrong– but couldn’t say it out loud. They were squatting on my life but I didn’t really own it so it was okay. I apologized and stayed indoors.

When your body doesn’t belong to you, you don’t notice when it is hurt. Sometimes I would tell someone something that happened to me and they would look shocked and I’d wonder why? Because I hadn’t felt the pain; it had only happened to my body. But I knew, by looking at their faces, that something wasn’t right and there was more to this picture than I was seeing. Or feeling.

It finally came together in, of all places, an upside down pose in a hot yoga studio just before Christmas. What I came to–among many other things that slipped into place like a Rubik’s Cube–was this: the moment you befriend your own body is the moment you defend it. You put your arm around it and say, you’re actually trying very hard and you are actually doing quite a good job. In fact, you are so beautiful it hurts my heart a little. Your hardworking toes, your delicate clavicle, haunting veins, and persevering breath. All elegantly formed and intentionally unique.

Your mind stops ordering your body under the stairs. You say instead: sit with me, breathe deeply, don’t rush, I’m here with you for the whole day and night–take your time.

You get the acreage thing. You see your boundaries. You feel your whole space and the abundance of beauty within it. Fragile beauty, broken beauty, learned beauty, another day beauty. Wisdom.

And when someone rushes onto your acreage, demanding this or that–or confessing, loitering, bartering, intimidating, or worse, telling you what is really happening–you can pause and consider it and say yes or no. You can say Get on out of here if the spirits are dark and hold no love for you. You can hold up your imaginary rifle and fire a warning shot. You own your body and its acreage is sacred.

When you finally, at long last, love your body with all its peccadilloes and late night habits, its public crying at movies, its soreness in the morning, its drying eyes and swelled knees, elbow or neck, you begin to really see the edges of that acre, the beautiful waving grass that has grown wild over the years, the small shrubs with hints of new white blossoms, and the tall Oak trees in dignified repose, as though they had been patiently waiting all along for your awakening.

When you sit on your deck (I imagine now my body like a graceful, simply designed modernist house in the middle of a field) and look out over your land you will realize what a gift it is to have it. And when someone comes along and just tosses open the gate and starts camping out or dumping garbage and saying your acreage is kind of messy and disorganized and doesn’t have any proper landscaping, you can say, Well, that’s just fine, here’s the exit.

But if someone raps gently on your gate and says, I have some homemade soup to share, interested? You say, Yes, I’ll get the bowls, come on in. Pretty sure I have some crusty bread we can break together. You sit together, with your old or young bodies or brown or white skin, your green or gray or brown eyes alight with life, with friendship and sharing that comes from a deep place of security, safety and love.

Because you love your body. And you are grateful for it.

640px-Coastal_prairie

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Mother

Scan 5

Mother

Let me tell you how I felt

how I felt when you used to talk

about the Prairies & your busy hands

paused and your eyes went somewhere else–

to the open sky it was always the endless open sky

there in your face–a beloved thing,

a Prairie prayer like a fragile origami

you had folded deep within your heart.

 

It called to you and so it called to me

and yet–

we were surrounded by fences that went on forever

ordered behind you like a legion

my brothers the laundry the bills

the Catholic Charity League the slowing heart of

my father the sounds of dishes and diapers and laundry

row upon row upon row.

 

I wanted to run away with you

into the wide open blue our hands out behind us

as our heads leaned toward the harvest the rolling

land for as far as we could run

for as long as we could live.

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