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I love yoga. I’ve written this before, in much earlier postings on this blog. Just when I think I’ve sorted it out, in terms of how yoga has changed my life, I’m surprised to see how it makes me learn new things about myself.

Tonight, my favourite yoga teacher and guru, Willa, had us start by pairing off with someone. We had to sit back to back and then be focused on our breathing. It wasn’t as bad as I initially thought it would be, which was good, but it made me think about things…. You see….I’m used to being solitary. I don’t have a big family, don’t very often get hugs, and I’m used to being strong and independent. Put me back-to-back with a fellow yogi and I’m like “Oooohhhh, crap. I have to support someone and they have to support me.” This ia a hard thing to do when you are only ever used to supporting yourself if you live a solitary life. Sometimes, you ask people for help, which takes a lot of you being vulnerable, and they try their best….or maybe they say ‘no’….or maybe they convey ‘no’ in their actions. As an intuitive person, I get it, whichever way it comes to me. So, leaning up against someone, or leaning forward and then supporting their back on your back, is a bit unsettling for someone who has to be strong for themselves all the time. It’s tiring, being strong. I’m not used to having that physical support….so feeling it, tangibly, makes me sad. I started getting weepy in yoga class. How weird is that?! I’ve had strange, out-of-body experiences during yoga before, but none of this weepy stuff. It surprised me, but it also interested me on an intellectual level.

I’ve been doing some research on hip openers, which I think is what we were also doing tonight. It sure as hell felt like that to me, and I have a wonky left hip with a staple in there somewhere. (Thanks, Sick Kids, circa 1982!) Anyway, apparently it has to do with the mind-body connection, which is why I love yoga in the first place. It helped me navigate my way through depression about four and a half years ago….and has been my companion ever since. Put back-to-back-with-a-stranger yoga moves, and hip openers together….and well….you have a perfect emotional storm.

I also find that the same thing happens when people try to hug me. I like hugs. Always have. :) It’s just weird that a hug can garner such a visceral, physical response….that you can feel as if you are less strong somehow. It’s as if you are okay, all together and solid, if you build up your walls and can manage to be independent. Tonight’s yoga class made me realize that we are meant to be co-dependent. Yes, we can manage if we’re on our own. We can flourish. We can have rich lives. I do! :) (But…..we must also recognize that we are souls meeting with other souls. Willa said that tonight: “Feel your partner’s back supporting you. Feel your partner’s breath. This is soul to soul connection.”)

The other thing it made me think about is how, when you’ve been depressed in the past and are well now, you can be stigmatized much too often. (People say stigma is reduced, but I haven’t seen it yet, either in my personal or professional spheres of existence.) Anyway, when you’ve been ill with depression, and you’ve struggled to get well, and you are well, it still amazes me that people will say, when you speak up for yourself, or stand your ground, that it’s (hushed voices) “because she’s sick.” No, she is not sick. She is a stronger, newer, more vocal person. People may not be used to the new, healthier person. It’s easier for them to brand you as still being ‘sick’….even when you aren’t. It’s a brutal, hopeless battle….so I have given up fighting it. If a person is that daft, then why is it my role to educate and try to make them see that recovery from mental illness is possible….even if it means that you’ve evolved into someone they don’t recognize any more?)

This all leads, strangely, and very tangentially, to my raccoon mess. I have two in my garage roof. I’m hoping they are siblings….and not mates. I am praying that they don’t have babies. I’ve been in denial about having raccoons…until last week…when I saw them. My neighbour kept telling me I had them, as they scale the fence between our two yards, and I trust him, but I was also in denial. After all, denial is an easier thing, isn’t it?! :) This week, I had to ask someone for help. I felt guilty having to ask, feeling as if I was bothering someone….it’s ridiculous and it makes no logical sense…and it probably has to do something with how I was raised by my parents, who are now both dead. It’s funny how your parents imprint themselves on your life, in ways you hardly ever could imagine, both positive and negative.) So, now I have help dealing with the raccoons (in a fine, legal, kind way, I might add) but it took me a lot to ask for that help, perhaps because I have asked for help many times before and been let down. I’m pretty sure that is it….but what do I know. I’m just a writer….not a psychologist. I do know, though, that these raccoons of mine look a lot like a re-play of the old “Gremlins” movie. Next up: swinging from the crab apple tree in the front yard and terrorizing the neighbourhood dogs. :)

So….what have we learned here? Back-to-back yoga is key. It makes me feel unsettled. That’s not a bad thing; being out of your comfort zone during this life time is a good thing, even if you feel you haven’t got your sea legs. :) The other thing I’ve learned is that hip openers are killer for cracking you open emotionally, especially if you’re overtired or exhausted by trying to get raccoons to leave your garage! So….the lesson is….do the back-to-back yoga and hip opening poses at home, where it doesn’t matter if you leak tears for no apparent reason. It’s a release of some sort, for sure….and that can’t be a bad thing. :)

peace out, yogi friends. k.

Today is a National Day of Mourning here in Canada. I live in Sudbury, Ontario, a place that is built on nickel mines. There is a lineage of pain in this town, of men lost to the mines. Digging deep into the earth always carries with it the risk of injury or life lost. Sometimes, though, we forget we live in a city that is above an underground city or two. Thousands of feet below me, miners work in shifts, doing work that is terribly risky. Sometimes, we forget all they do. Today is a day to remind ourselves that we need to remember those people who have died while at work. The National Day of Mourning began here, in Sudbury, twenty-eight years ago, brought forward by the United Steelworkers and launched by the Canadian Labour Congress, and now it’s recognized around the world. (I find union history interesting. Sudbury is, after all, a union town. Although a lot of people may say negative things about unions, I can’t see how you can fault their taking care of their own, especially when you consider health and safety, as well as workers’ rights…but that’s another post as Hammy Hamster might say!)

Growing up in Sudbury back in the 1970s and 80s was quite an adventure. I remember going to my grandmother’s house, on Wembley Drive, gathering around her back kitchen window in the evening, turning off the lights, and watching the slag dump over a ridge of earth with my sister and cousins. It lit up the sky. You could set your watch by it back then. I also recall going up the hill to 160 Kingsmount, the house my great-grandfather built back in the late 1930s, to visit my great-aunts. They, too, had a key vantage point for slag dumping, out in the sun room. Again, we would turn out the lights, gather kneeling on the couch, and breathe on the glass, waiting with anticipation to see the sky turn red. This was the prettier side of the mining industry, especially when you were in the range of seven to ten years old. :)

On the other side of things, I remember once, in elementary school at Pius XII, having one of my teachers ask the whole class of kids which of our dads worked in the mines. Almost every single hand in that classroom was raised and I remember being surprised. We also all had dads who carried the old metal lunch pails to work, and then home again, each day. (I remember we weren’t really allowed to play with my dad’s lunch pail, but I do recall I used to like to sit on it. Not sure why, but I think I was amazed that his lunch pail was so sturdy, unlike my plastic Holly Hobbie one with the tiny thermos.) Sometimes, I remember, there were newscasts on the radio of accidents in the mines. You’d hear about it in passing, over the car radio or on television, but I never had a friend who lost a father, so I guess I was lucky. I also recall my dad’s story of some strike or another in the 1970s at the Copper Cliff Refinery and how mine managers were flown over the line in a helicopter. I didn’t really understand it all as I was little then….but I had a sense that my town was a mining town. There was no escaping it.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about mine safety right now as I’ve been working on my first novel, which is set in Creighton. It’s no longer there, but it was a mining town on the edge of Sudbury, past Copper Cliff and around Lively, in rather generalized terms for those of you who have no idea of the geography of this place. :) My maternal great-grandparents owned a general store out in Creighton. Anyway, my novel is set in Creighton, at least to start off, and I’ve been spending time reading old issues of the INCO Triangle, searching out references to family and specifically to my grandfather, Len Ennis. He was a mine superintendent for part of his career and some of the story of his life is that he was “let go” from his INCO job because he pressed for an increase in mining safety. I don’t know enough about his life yet, mostly because I only met him once, when I was seven and he was in a nursing home in Garson, at the end of his life. I remember that my mum and my aunt, Gail, took my cousin Liam and I out to Garson to meet him. I remember he had longer hair and seemed nice. I only met him once. Now, in my early forties, I’m trying to figure out more about him, especially in terms of his role in Northern Ontario mining history. It’s a pretty interesting journey, to be honest, but I know I’ll be spending part of my summer holidays doing more research on Creighton and mining safety. I may not have known him personally, but I can respect the fact that he was willing to be fired because he so dearly believed in mine safety for the men who worked under him. I know that much about him. I want to know more.

This week has been very difficult for Sudburians. On June 8, 2011, there was a terrible event at Stobie Mine that caused the deaths of two men, Jason Chenier and Jordan Fram. I have no need to re-hash the details of that day. It’s all in the local media right now and it’s been hard to read it in so much detail this week. You see, I remember Jordan Fram from when I started teaching at St. Charles College. He was in an English class I taught. I remember that he and his friends were a bit goofy, but that they were all really nice boys. They were young when I taught them, all of them sort of in that “in between” space in time when boys are becoming young men, as if their bodies had grown too tall, too quickly over summer holidays. Their voices were all crackly and they loved practical jokes. One of my favourite memories of my time teaching at St. Charles was that a particularly feisty group of boys in one class rearranged my entire classroom on April 1st, trying to see how I would respond when I entered the room. I also remember one boy who hid behind a curtain, on top of a heating unit, for most of one class, giggling, with his friends trying to see how long it would take me to figure out he was there. (It took too long, I’ll admit that, but I was a newbie teacher then and I think they enjoyed tormenting me a bit on a daily and weekly basis!) Jordan was a part of that group of boys, all full of gumption and all very, very funny. They knew it, too, and I think they continually tried to crack me up…and it usually worked. They were good boys. They grew up into good men. I know this because I often run into them around town and they’ll remind me of some of the pranks they pulled back then. But then they tell me that they are happy, that they have great jobs, fine wives and young families. Usually, I want to cry. It’s always so nice to see your students grown up. It’s a gift to be able to see how they’ve grown and flourished. It’s one of the best parts of being a teacher, I think.

The inquest this week has made me think of Jordan and his crew at SCC. Those were good days. They must all have cherished memories of their time there as students, and of the lifelong friendships they made. I feel so horrible for those boys, those men, this week. I know how I felt when I first heard Jordan had died in that accident in 2011, but the inquest details in the paper this week has made me think of those young men each and every day. I hope and pray they’re all okay. I know they’re likely thinking of Jordan, and missing him. I think of his family, too, and of how their lives have changed. It is, quite simply, heart breaking. I hope they know that there are a lot of people praying for them….including me.

We forget, too often I think, where we come from….or maybe we try to forget it. I’m not sure which it is. We shouldn’t think Sudbury is “just a mining town”, as so many have tried for so long to diversify its economy and market it to the world beyond the mining sphere. Still, I don’t think we should ever forget that, at its heart, Sudbury will always be a mining town. We owe our miners, and our mining families, a great debt of gratitude. I know that much. Every time I feel the earth shake with a rock burst, so that the foundation of my house shakes and my dogs bark, well, I am reminded that I am living on earth that is mined each and every day, in mines that are often over one hundred years old. That is an amazing thing, when you really think about it. We live in an amazing place, with amazing people. Jordan Fram was one of those people, so we can’t ever forget him.

On this National Day of Mourning, I think of Jordan, but of so many other miners we may not know personally….and not just here, but also out east, in Springhill and Westray. They all just went to work one day, thinking it was just another day, not knowing it would be their last. You see, this week in particular, reading all of these inquest details, I will never forget where I’m from, or what people here have sacrificed. Our miners deserve our support, our prayers, our love….and our promise to remember and honour all of their lost ones…for they are all ours as well.

peace and prayers,
k.

Well, yesterday was World Poetry Day. It always strikes me as funny when I see it posted on Facebook because I often see April as the most divine month of the year. None of this T.S. Eliot-y “April is the cruellest month” stuff. It’s National Poetry Month in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. For poets, it’s an important month. I think of it as a creative month, time to celebrate the richness and diversity that is poetry, historically and presently, looking forward to the future of younger poets, too. The other thing that strikes me is that, for me, every day is a poetry day. Sounds cliché and corny, I know, but it’s true. If you’re a poet at heart, you know what I’m talking about, how you see light in new ways at different points in the day, how a shadow shifts, how freezing rain sounds itself out when wind pushes at it in new directions. It’s like non-stop sensory awareness and (sometimes) overload. Maybe that’s why quiet and solitude is such a part of writing….

So, here’s the thing: I have mostly always thought of myself as only a poet. I’m proud to be a poet, am certainly sure now in my craft and study. I love reading it, thinking about it, writing it, and then performing it in public. It’s intrinsic to who I am. I’ve always written short stories, too, and was blessed to have worked with Timothy Findley as my mentor back in the late 1990s through the Humber School for Writers. We worked on my stories. I was uncertain, he was supportive and kind. As with Seamus Heaney, I miss knowing he’s no longer on this planet. He’s around, as is Heaney, I’m sure, in some etheric realm. These two are my guiding stars in poetry and prose. I feel them with me whenever I write. Mr. Findley always encouraged me to continue with my prose work, but I’ve let it slide into the background for the past fourteen or fifteen years. Lately, though, it’s re-emerged. He’s sort of re-emerged, too, in my mind and heart, in new ways. (Funny how that works…as we get older).

I’ve begun a novel, set in Creighton Mine, near to Sudbury, and born of a family story that I’m completely changing and fictionalizing. I’m imagining people and conversations….it’s all very exciting and new for me as a writer. It’s also very different from writing poetry; with poems, I can focus on the kernel of an idea and twist it round, as if I’m looking at the sky through a prism of crystal. This novel writing thing is more of a flowing river of ideas and images. When I sit to write, I may not rise for a few hours, so that my two dogs look at me impatiently for a walk. I know where I’m going, but I don’t map it out too closely. I use the GPS, I guess you could say, when I feel like I’m a bit lost, referring to my novel premise notes and brief point-form outline. But, mostly, I like to let the story tell itself to me. It’s pretty amazing. If I stop to think too closely about the process, as with writing poems, well, it sort of freaks me out. Where does all of this come from? Muses? The ether? A mixture of mind and spirit? Who knows….all I know is that it is all a wondrous melange of language and that I’ll marinate in it for a while, keeping the reality of a sometimes harsh world at bay for a few more hours.

I was also really privileged to have worked with Matthew Heiti at the Sudbury Theatre Centre in the fall, through a four-week intro to writing plays in Playwrights Junction 2. I met other local writers and thought a lot about my creative process as a writer. It was an attempt to see if I could create life-like dialogues between characters. I learned a lot, and it’s helping me to actually write through my novel right now. The play sits there, and I fiddle with it, feeling out of my element, just as I do with this novel writing wave. I also have a novel-writing guide in the person of Marnie Woodrow, who is an excellent mentor. She sees my strengths when I often do not. That, too, is something that Tiff did for me, and I’m thankful yet again to be working with great teachers and writers. I think back to my time at Sage Hill last summer, working with Ken Babstock as my poetry mentor, and then getting to have great and inspiring conversations about writing (and ticks!) with Larry Hill and Helen Humphreys. I was also blessed to meet so many writers, of different ilks, and have stayed in touch with them via Facebook. They are my friends and ‘family’ now….and I kind of hope they feel the same way, too. That’s how deeply that experience in Saskatchewan touched me, changed me as a writer.

My self-as-poet is evolving, becoming a writer self, broader, stronger, more aware of different dimensions of creativity. The world of words is bigger than I ever imagined and my creative self is on fire. It’s life affirming, joyous, and divinely inspired. I feel blessed and I thank God, the universe, and whomever else might be involved in this writerly evolution of mine. It’s pretty amazing to be ‘awake’ and aware of the growth in creative process….and to learn more and more about yourself as a writer, and as a person. My year has been one filled with words, new friends, and thought provoking teachers. I’m feeling blessed.

While I sometimes feel I’m cheating on poetry, I want also to say that the love affair continues. I’m one of the judges in the Northern Intiative for Social Action (NISA) Brainstorm Poetry Contest for the Open Minds Quarterly journal this month and I’ve spent a day or two of my March Break sifting through some amazing poems. The journal is an important one in my mind, as someone who has survived depression, and as a writer, as its mandate is “built on the premise that consumer/survivors of the mental health services are intelligent, creative, and can make valuable contributions to society if given the opportunity to do so.” It’s also got a fabulous editor in the person of Dinah Laprairie, a leader in our local community who cultivates creativity. The work she does is so important, and I’m reminded again, reading all of these poems, that poetry can express so much, and that it can lift up spirit and heal. It has a wonder and power about it. If you’re interested in reading some wonderful work, and in seeing a fantastic journal, you should check out the website at: http://www.openmindsquarterly.com You may even want to submit work! I’m honoured to have been asked to be a judge. :)

Finally for today, with sun shining in windows and dogs asleep and snoring at my feet, just a little note to ‘save the date’ for what will be an amazing evening of poetry. The (W)rites of Spring last took place here in Sudbury in the late 1990s, shepherded by local poet Roger Nash. I sussed out the notion of reviving it this year, to celebrate National Poetry Month, and it is being revived! There will be five poets reading, thanks to sponsorship from the League of Canadian Poets and the Canada Council for the Arts. I’ll be reading, alongside Roger, who was the first official Poet Laureate of Sudbury, Tom Leduc (current Poet Laureate), Susan McMaster (a brilliant poet from Ottawa) and Tanya Neumeyer (a fantastic performance poet friend of mine from Toronto). It’ll be held on Friday, April 17th at 7pm at Marymount Academy. CBC’s Morning North host, Markus Schwabe, will be there as our Master of Ceremonies, so we’re all pretty (and poetically) excited! There’s plenty of free parking, so we’re hoping that we see a lot of people come out to hear our poems. Why not celebrate National Poetry Month in true poetic fashion?! If you follow me on Facebook, I’ll put more notices up to remind you! :) Hope to see some of you there! :)

So, perhaps I’m not cheating on poetry. I’m still in love with poetry, after all is said and done. In fact, upon reflection, if poetry were a man, I’d marry him! :)

peace, friends. k.

I’m not married and I don’t have kids of my own. Someone rudely asked me a few years ago whether or not I regretted not having kids. To be honest, it wasn’t a choice. I haven’t met the right man yet, I guess, and I have never really felt a deep need to have children. I often wonder if that is partially because I’m a teacher and I see “my kids” every day at work. I’ve been working in secondary schools for fourteen years now, so I’ve taught lots and lots of students. Some of them have blurred in my memory, but a number have stayed with me, lodged deeply in my heart and mind.

This past week has been hard. The school I teach at is a fantastic all-girls school that was built in the 1950s. It’s rooted in tradition and history. I started working at Marymount in 2004, three years after I began teaching. I got my B.Ed. at the age of thirty, which is a bit late for starting in a career. A lot of teachers began in teaching, jumping right in after university. Not me. I took the long route, taking an M.A. in English, and then working at the Art Gallery of Sudbury and then the Cancer Centre. :) I graduated from Marymount in 1989. It’s been twenty-six years since I graduated! Hard to believe!

I’ve met lots of great kids over the fourteen years I’ve been teaching, both at St. Charles College and at Marymount Academy. My first year at Marymount, though, is imprinted on my memory with great clarity. I remember, on the first day, lugging too many book bags and new binders, and then falling *up* the main stairwell. It was unbelievably embarrassing! I also remember meeting a group of girls who seemed to be so well matched, like soul sisters. A number (but not all!) of them played volleyball. They were in my Grade 12 English class. Here is what I remember of them, as a group: they were spirited, extremely funny and very brilliant. They weren’t afraid of taking risks in their lives, didn’t have parents who helicoptered in every five minutes, and had the biggest hearts I’ve ever encountered. There are so many excellent stories I could tell you, but there are almost too many, and I kind of want to keep those memories to myself.

This past weekend, I lost my first student. Other teacher friends who have lost past students have told me how those losses have affected them, but I couldn’t understand until it happened. The news came over Facebook, in a message from another former student. I was shocked, and couldn’t stop shaking for two hours. Deidre was one of the first girls I taught all of those years ago at Marymount. They cluster together in my heart….and I have the sincere pleasure of working alongside one of them, Brittany, as a colleague now. To hear that Deidre had died, and in a shocking snowmobile accident, seemed surreal. Even now, as I write this, tears rise up and I shake without warning.

My memories of Deidre are many. I will always hold them dear. I remember her bright smile, her laugh, and her kind heart. That first year at Marymount, she created a small book of poems for me, with a cover made of Christmas paper and a note thanking me for being her teacher. She and I shared Irish heritage, so we often talked about that in conversations before or after classes. We stayed in touch via Facebook over the last decade, and I watched her marry and have two little boys. She went to school and then became an ECE with our Board. She was living her life with great joy, reveling in the wonder of what her boys said or did, posting it all on Facebook and letting us all take part in her spirited life. In every photo, she smiled. In every photo, others smiled with her. She was that kind of girl…a girl who became a grand woman, and a woman who pulled you into her presence of joy and love of life. On the last day of school that year, as she was graduating, she began to cry in the gym. I’ll never forget that day. I was standing next to her, so I offered her a hug. “I don’t want to leave,” she told me. “I love it here.” I hugged her tight and told her what I so often tell our girls: “Once a Regal, always a Regal.” I, after all, had gone to school at Marymount and then returned to teach there. It’s in my blood. The values I learned at Marymount, through the Sisters of St. Joseph and my teachers, well, they are a large part of what makes me who I am today.

Two weeks ago, Deidre posted a beautiful photo of herself on Facebook. I messaged her and told her that she had grown up beautifully, inside and out. Within a brief period of time, she messaged me back and told me that I had made a big impact in her life. Reading that, two weeks ago, well, it made me get weepy. Sometimes, as a teacher, you don’t really know the impact you’ve made, so, when a student you resonated with tells you so, years later, well, it hits you in the heart. Hearing of her death last Sunday morning left me listless, shoveling the driveway with tears in my eyes, mopping the floor, making supper. She just never left me on that first day.

This week has been hard. I hope to never lose another student of mine. They don’t stop being ‘my kids’ even if they’ve grown up and married and had kids of their own. They stay in my heart. I watch them grow, post photos of their families, hear news of joys and sorrows, and pray for them all. I even get Christmas cards, mailed from far off places. So, while I don’t have kids of my own, my kids, especially my girls from Marymount, are my own. Even if they don’t know it, I keep them in my prayers while I teach them, and afterwards, as they move forward in their lives. I love to see how they blossom and grow.

Tonight, I’m wondering where the purpose is in all of this….as I often do when awful things happen. I wonder why this has happened. It so hurts my heart to think of her husband and two little boys. It hurts my heart to think of her family, especially her mum, and of her dearest friends, who loved her so very deeply. The pain in that funeral home, and in the church, was palpable. I’ve been thinking a lot about The Little Prince, and of how much of that story speaks to the power of the spirit and of the unseen world. Antoine de Saint Exupery wrote: “In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night.” I can’t imagine anything other than this for Deidre. She deserves the very joy that she embodied in life. I know God walks with her, as always, and I know that she will never leave my heart for as long as I live.

Teaching, it seems I’ve learned more painfully this week, isn’t just about having a career; it’s a vocation, a calling to help guide kids so they evolve and grow, so that they question and think, so that they love themselves and others, and so that they give all of themselves to the world by living fully. Deidre did all this and more. In her message to me two weeks ago, I was reminded that, even though they go off into the world, and even if I don’t see them all very often in person, they are part of me, and of who I’ve become in the last fourteen years. They have become my teachers in so many ways….and how blessed I feel to have encountered them all.

I’m keeping Deidre, her family and her friends so close to me in my heart and in my prayers these days. It is all I can do.

peace,
k.

In case you weren’t aware, February 1st is St. Brigid’s Day. She’s an Irish saint, the patron saint of poetry, and is known for having founded a number of convents in Ireland. She actually started the first double monastery, where monks and nuns studied together. Brigid has a number of names, including Mary of the Gael, which always strikes me as interesting. A lot of saints in Ireland have roots in a druidic and Celtic past. The Catholic stuff is always built on top of (or very near) holy wells. One thing I love about Ireland is how, as you’re driving down the twisty roadways, you’ll come across a statue of Mary, with fresh flowers at her feet, snuggled in amidst a tuft of wild green grass or tucked into a little cluster of rocks. Mary happens to be my home girl and one of the reasons I like being Catholic. It may not be “hip” for most people my age, but I pray to Mary a lot. I love saying the rosary before I go to sleep at night and I often ask her for help when I’m in dire straits.

So, when I had to chance to attend an event that would celebrate Brigid’s spirit and essence, I was all in for it. I wasn’t sure completely what I was in for, but I was willing to honour the woman with whom I have always felt connected. In my 20s, when I lived in Ottawa, I found a copy of Danta Ban: Poems of Irish Women in one of those quirky bookshops in the Glebe. I come from a family of strong Irish women. It was all matriarchal magic, storytelling, and no nonsense Irish Catholic, on my mum’s side. Really, it sort of makes sense that I’d be drawn to Irish goddesses and saints. My own great aunts, the Kelly Girls, were strong and feisty. My grandmother and my mum had both been women to reckon with if you ticked them off, or if you crossed them. For both of them, well, family was everything. I miss that a lot these days. My grandma, in particular, was the glue that kept everyone together. Her going was a loss and I think of her almost every day, even though she died over seventeen years ago.

When I first started teaching, the art teacher in my school had an art show. I looked at a variety of paintings, but found one that spoke to me. I knew right away it was a likeness of a goddess, all female fire and fury. I bought it from the artist and it’s still a cherished piece. Then, later in life, a friend gifted me with Bridget Mary Meehan and Regina Madonna’s book, Praying with Celtic Holy Women. I’ve read about Irish legends and lore, know a lot about traditional Irish music, and just generally love storytelling of all sorts (but especially poetry).

Anne Kathleen McLaughlin has written and now performs her one-woman play, “Wooing of the Soul,” which is set on Tara Hill, in Ireland. I’ve been to Tara Hill, so seeing a play that was set there appealed to me on a basic level of curiosity that needed to be satisfied. When I visited there in the summer of 2012, I had just lost my dad a few months earlier, was climbing up out of a depression, and was searching for some kind of origin so that I could move forward in my life. I’d spent years being dutiful and loving, taking care of ill parents, but leaving myself aside too thoughtlessly. Now I had begun to reclaim my true self. Tara Hill resonated with me. It shivered. And then I shivered. (I know it sounds nuts, but if you go to these ancient sacred sites in Ireland, well, tell me you don’t feel that the land and air shivers!) The faery tree off to the base of the hill had ribbons that rippled in the wind, offerings left by local people asking for the faeries’ intervention. It’s a space in place where the veil is thin, and I love how the soul shivers in a such a place. That same day I visited Newgrange and, as I journeyed into the dark centre of that passage tomb, I felt I’d been there before. None of it is logical, but a lot of it is intense. I’m still working out that day in my head and heart, using memory and mind to make sense of it all.

Anne Kathleen’s play is about one woman’s journey to Tara Hill, but it really speaks to how a woman finds herself while she journeys. I often find that traveling, the physical journey, cracks me open in a creative and soulful way. The woman in the play journeys to Tara and ends up finding out that the old Irish female storyteller is likely the sacred feminine part of herself, as represented by (I think) the essence of Brigid herself. What struck me most about the play was that, in the morning introduction, when Anne Kathleen spoke of Irish history and lore, she also spoke about how we might feel we are at a juncture in our own lives as women. There were many different women in attendance that day, of a variety of faiths, philosophies, ages, and experiences. We all, though, were journeying inwards. Anne Kathleen said that, when we are growing and evolving, we feel uncomfortable. It is as if we are inside a womb, as if we are growing, ready to be born in a new way. That spoke to me. These days, I’m more and more dedicated to my path as a writer, but my day job is demanding and draining. It pulls energy away from the reading and writing that I need to do for myself, as I strengthen my own writing skills. She spoke about us pressing up against the womb, of the discomfort, and of the need to end one kind of existence to begin another. That resonated with me. It does still a week and a half later.  It isn’t easy being a creative person in this too busy world, trying to balance what you are called to do, through your art, with what you do in society, to work in a field that may not be solely creative.  (There are always creative aspects that you can bring to your work each day, but it differs from the time you spend in your passion, whether that be writing or painting or dancing or playing an instrument or singing….)

It doesn’t matter, I thought, as I listened that day in honour of Brigid, which country or continent you speak of… there are examples of the sacred feminine in all world cultures. Whether you think of Mary in Catholicism, or Brigid in Celtic lore, or of the First Nations peoples of Canada, or of New Zealand’s Maori people…it doesn’t matter. We are all rooted, as women, in a strong matrilineal lineage that we cannot deny or ignore. Anne Kathleen’s story of searching inside ourselves, in finding out how to woo our own souls, is to learn how to find our own goddesses within.

I’m still searching for her, but I’m getting a better and clearer sense of my higher self. I know there’s a goddess in here somewhere….I catch glimpses of her soul fire on occasion and am impressed by her passion. She’s rising up now, so I’m looking forward to meeting her, to meeting myself, as I evolve.

I wish the same for all of you.

peace,
k.

Yup. That’s quite the mouthful, that there title. I feel like I ought to have a lasso, wrangle it to the ground, dust rising in clouds of chaos, and then try to keep said title quiet, but that wasn’t how the week went, so I’ll stay true to the initial impetus for the title, and this posting.

It all started a week ago Sunday, on the evening of January 18th. I had been writing all afternoon, after having marked English exams for most of the weekend. I needed an escape, and my novel provided me with the ability to slip into another time period and sensibility. So, as I’m saving on my usb stick, and then trying to go back into a document to revise again, a little tiny box appears near the top of my Word document. Some documents still seem to open, while others don’t, leaving me with a sense of impending doom as I try to save things. I am sure I looked like a kid trying to swim without her water wings for the very first time. In other words, I was a bit frantic. A cold, damp fear swept over me, from top of hobbit head to soles of feet, and as it swept through me, well, I knew it was a done deal. Something had been lost, without a doubt. Still frantic, I tried to do a system recover, setting the date of the computer back two weeks, but that didn’t work….and things fell apart.

I must admit that I wept. Out loud and lustily. I also cursed. My dogs looked worried. My sister kept saying, “Are you okay? Are you losing your mind?” I was, losing my mind I mean, but it was more my heart that I was worried about. You see, I’ve been thinking about my writing lately. I’ve just sort of re-committed to being a serious writer (even though I have a demanding day job as a teacher of teen girls), to seeing myself with new eyes, and so to have my computer crash was a wake-up call. I’ve started writing my first novel in earnest (how else can you do it, I wonder?), and am in the process of completing my next book of poems. I’ve always written, since I was a wee girl, but now I feel an internal nudge to get at it with more intensity and honour. I’m sure I may have lost one story, but I also have a sneaking suspicion that it’s printed out on paper somewhere. If it is gone into the ether, then I will re-write it, as it still lives on in my head. I may have lost a few poems. I haven’t lost much else.

After the weeping (which actually sounds like a great book title!), my sister reminded me that there was absolutely nothing I could do about the loss of some of my pieces. My heart aches, still, but there is nothing more to do. When the computer place called three days ago to say it was all lost, well, I had already sort of felt it in my soul. (Yup, I’m an empathic and a sensitive soul, so usually my body tells me when something has gone awry. I’ll either get headaches, or feel exhausted and empty, or even dry heave if I’m totally upset about something but can’t figure out what. It’s so not attractive, but what can you do?!).

Picking up the laptop yesterday was weird. It has been stripped down naked, with basic programming put back on, but I can still write on it, like this blog entry right now! When I spoke to the technician, he said “It’s not your fault. It’s the Koreans.” I was stumped, a bit taken aback, thinking him racist. “What?” He chuckled. “Yup. It’s a Korean cryptovirus…they’re playing around now…” So, after the chaos of the Sony conundrum in the States just before Christmas break, and the release of “The Interview” on Netflix, I guess a bunch of Sheldon Cooper-ish hackers in Korea are out to get my small ghazal or sonnet. Sigh.

This brings me to my consideration of Elizabeth Bishop’s wonderful poem, “One Art.” No doubt I’ve written about this before, but the reason why this particular Bishop poem is one of my top ten favourite poems of all time is that the words are clear and precise. She speaks of learning how to lose so that it isn’t too traumatic, so that we can gather ourselves and our power. Bishop writes:

“The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.”

Yes, indeed. She goes on to mention tangible, every day things like door keys and her mother’s watch. Then, she goes all metaphorical on us, bringing in the ‘big guns’, to have us consider how we can lose things like
cities. It means that you can never be completely ‘safe’ in a community setting or workplace. You need to trust and let go. I know. It sounds like hooey. Still, when that final stanza rolls around, well, there is no more gorgeous place to be than in that little pocket of the world’s space. Bishop writes, profoundly, I think:

“—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.”

In my mind, in my world, my writing is my love. It haunts me on a daily basis, urging me to jot down notes on envelopes. Creative people will get what I mean, while others might think they know what it means. It is hard to even explain it. More than anything else, really, it is a relationship that speaks to freedom, creativity, and kindness. Seems to me that I ought to be putting more effort into the most dear relationship that exists in my world. Maybe the universe set me up for a computer crash, so that I’d realize I don’t just write “little poems or stories” (as I sometimes say).

We learn in the strangest of ways. I’ve learned that….well…that I need to take myself and my writing more seriously, that I need to just be in the moment, and that I can’t cry over all of that proverbial spilled milk. I’ve been looking backwards for too long…my neck has an ancient crick! :P The Korean hackers may be laughing, but I’ve beaten them in a weird way, by moving forward instead of getting stuck.

here’s to wishing you all forward movement….

peace,
k.

Waking up to deep, bone chilling cold in Northern Ontario this week has been trying, but waking up to turn on the news on CBC radio this morning was devastating. Again, writers and journalists were slaughtered. Why? Because they had strong views, because they spoke their minds, using satire and well chosen language? That it happened in France, where revolution is historically rooted, seems even more horrible. Long ago, under the reigns of opulent kings and queens, people questioned hierarchical and oppressive social structures, challenging previously established ideas and norms. Individualism and freedom were key tenets of that earlier revolution. People lost their heads. People gained new ideas and thoughts, learning to question.

As a writer, and as a teacher of young people, I believe questioning is key to learning. When you stop being curious, you stop learning. It doesn’t bode well for the future of this world if people follow along like sheep. (That reminds me of the song, “Sheep,” by The Housemartins. The lyrics speak of not following blindly, whether you follow politics, religion, or even a specific ideal or philosophy. It doesn’t mean you can’t be committed to an ideal, but it does suggest that you ought to be thinking more critically about our world, in an analytical way that questions why things happen the way they do.)

What breaks my heart about what happened today in Paris is that ten writers and two police officers died senselessly. What lifts my heart, though, is watching the trends on social media tonight. The #jesuischarlie hash tag, and the photos of people defiantly holding candles and pens high in the air, in huge groups, shows that terrorism cannot defeat freedom of speech. Too many lives were lost today. Of that, there is no doubt in my mind. Too many thoughts, too many words, too many ideas and lives were slaughtered. But the ripple effect, the aftermath, speaks of the strength of the human spirit, and of the love of freedom of speech, thought, word, and life. Why don’t we value it more, I wonder? Maybe we get too caught up in our own daily rhythms when, half a world away, life is stopped violently, creativity and voice silenced.

The thing the terrorists forget, though, is that silencing one voice does not silence others. In fact, as proven by the vigils in France tonight, the pen is mightier than the sword, and the pen can inspire and motivate humanity to find a better way.

I only hope we find it soon. There have been enough killings in the name of religion and politics, and too many writers and journalists have died in the pursuit of truth.

peace,
k.

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