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I’ve had a lot on my mind this week. I have so many ideas (for new stories, poems, and plays) that I can’t even sleep properly. I end up waking up by 5am–after a horribly fragmented sleep–and writing, or reading, and then going down to Lake Ramsey to walk my dog. It’s only when I get down in amidst the trees and alongside the shoreline that I feel I can breathe again and sort out what’s happening in my mind. I have been doing Zumba with excessive force, too. I know this about myself: when my brain is too busy, because I’m an introvert, a creative, and a cerebral kind of person, I need to be more physically active. I lose my appetite, can’t sleep, and just need to move physically. (It’s busy in my head. Always has been. That can be a blessing if you’re a writer, but also a curse, I think. These last few weeks, it’s been a bit of both, depending on the day or the situation.) It’s funny enough that, when I speak to my principal at work, suggesting new ideas, I often finish (as I did today) with “Um, so yeah…I think that’s all I have to talk with you about…what’s in my head right now, anyway.” And then he laughs (as he did today) and asks, “Are you sure there’s nothing else in there, Kim?” And then I just shake my head and say, “Um, yeah, you know…it’s busy in there. I have a lot of thoughts.” I think, sometimes, they seem to build up and come out all at once and then, well, I don’t have a filter (never have!) so I’m sure being on the receiving end of one of my chats can overwhelm the most well rounded and intelligent of souls.

These past couple of months, at school, my students have wanted to talk about what’s happening in American politics. I took American history way back in high school. That was a long time ago. I do read a lot, though, so I try my best. Usually, I steer them towards trying to define and identify what makes us ‘Canadian’ and which values we espouse as a nation. They are, at times, different philosophies than American ones…even if we share a physical continent with our neighbours to the south. (Just think of different philosophies on gun control and violence, as well as education and health care. I’m sure that’s only just the surface, but enough of an example to start you thinking.)

Teaching a Grade 11 First Nations, Metis and Inuit Contemporary Voices in Literature course this semester at work, for the first time, has made me more aware of the overarching ideas of identity, relationships, challenges, and sovereignty, as they are embedded in literature written by First Nations writers in Canada. We’ve spent four and a half months talking about how we choose to define ourselves, and how others view and define us. Then we’ve talked, in class, about how these notions and ideas arise in the literature we study together. One of the most helpful pieces that has anchored the course has been a TEDTalk that I found via a teaching colleague. “The Danger of A Single Story” speaks to the idea of how listening to just one interpretation of history, or of any story, really, is damning in so many ways. You can watch it here. (Trust me when I say it’s worth the time it will take.)

It’s been the touchstone piece that I’ve used to anchor my interpretation of the course. My students are all girls (as I teach at Marymount Academy, which is the only all-girls’ school north of Toronto). When the American election occurred, so many of my students wanted to react with fear. I spoke to them, though, about the choices we have as humans. “We can,” I said, “either choose to act out of fear or love. Which is most beneficial, for us, as individuals, and as a society?” If you avoid things in life, because you’re afraid, then you end up not growing and changing. If you take some risks, with the idea of being open and living with a loving heart, then you’ll be hopeful and positive in your approach to life. It’s more of a risk, to speak and act out of love, but it seems to me that there is no other choice if you want to grow and develop. (How boring would life be, otherwise, if we all just stayed inside our respective homes and avoided things that might challenge our views and previous life experiences? We may get hurt by walking through life with open hearts, but I think it’s worth it. I hope my kids think so, too, at the end of the five months I spend with them.)

This week has been hard on them, and it’s been hard on me to see them struggling. I worry about them. I don’t have kids of my own, so these girls are my kids. I deal mostly with Grade 11 and 12 students, all ranging from 15-17 years old. They are under such pressure in the senior grades, especially at this time of the year, trying to figure out what they want to do with the rest of their lives. (I’m in my forties and I still don’t know what I want to do with my life….other than just write my heart out!)

One student this week came to talk to me during my Student Success period and she just wanted to talk about courses and where she was heading after high school. I just listened and asked questions. (This is, as you’ll know if you’ve read my blog before, a skill my dad had…and which has, somehow, miraculously even, been passed on to me. It comes in handy in teaching, let me tell you!) After hearing her out, I just stopped and said, “Well, it seems as if you have already made your decision. You know the pros and the cons, and you’ve just talked them through while I listened.” So she looked at me, with a sort of wistful smile, and said, “But, Miss, I just want someone to tell me that I’m making the right decision.” I laughed. “What’s the ‘right’ decision? I wish I could have someone help me with my decisions, too, sister, and I’m an adult. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ when it comes to your life, is there? Nothing is a final decision, and you can always go back and change it, or just start off on a new path. A decision that was right three months ago might not be the right one now. It’s a journey, and the road isn’t always straight. You can’t always see where you’re going.” She asked me how I make decisions in life. “I worry it out, and overthink it, probably more intensely than I should. When you live alone with two dogs, you do a lot of thinking and deciding on your own, so you hone the skill. Mostly, though, I think it out and reason it through. Then, after all is said and done, though, I follow my heart. After all, you carry your heart with you through life.” She smiled and said, “Right, Miss, but that applies to you, too, with your writing?” My breath caught a bit, then. “Yes, absolutely. I’ve been practicing with following my heart. It takes work.” Some days, I find, these kids are wiser than the wisest elders. They teach me.

Today, after a discussion about the Joseph Boyden controversy, and an examination of news articles on the subject from different points of view, the girls moved to talking about issues of cultural identity and one student raised her hand. She was frustrated. “But, Miss….I don’t understand. We know better, right, as humans? We know about residential schools now, and we want things to be more equal for all races and genders, but racism and segregation still happens.” She sighed. “I don’t get it. Why is that still happening, when we know better? We all bleed the same colour of blood.” Then we had a class discussion about how we manage in a world that can seem–this week, especially–a bit scary and overwhelming and racist. We talked about what happens at inaugurations, and what that means historically for Americans, and also what it means for Canadians and other people around the world this time around. I brought them back to the ‘fear vs. love’ question and that helped. The Trump thing has been hovering in class for a while. They’re all bright girls. They worry, too, because they’re bright and well read. They know life, the world, isn’t simple.

I was thinking, tonight, about the role that poetry plays in American inaugurations. I loved Maya Angelou’s “On the Pulse of Morning” (for Clinton’s inauguration), and I’m also terribly fond of Richard Blanco’s “One Day” (for Obama’s swearing in at the beginning of his second term). I love poets. That sounds weird, because I am one, but I mean to say (and convey) that poets have a role in the history of the world. The bardic tradition goes back farther than we probably even know.

Maya Angelou has always been someone whose work I admire. There is so much scope for positivity in her words. She saw that, even in the darkest parts of the world, there was good…and then somehow she was so incredibly gifted that she could convey that good, that hope, that potential for positive change, in the majority of her pieces. I love, love, love, the rhythm of her poems. She was pure music and magic, especially in the way that she read. She spoke of how all races and religions are one. (I still miss her being on the planet…cried when she died.) You can listen to the beauty and hope that is conveyed in her poem here:

In the face of the worry and fear, there’s still something beautiful about America, too, though. When we speak of change, it’s too easy to say that things are “bad” and “good,” or “white” and “black,” or “right” and “wrong.” These are all polar opposites, or binary opposites. It’s reductionist, I think, to imagine that we can interpret the world, and human beings, in such a basic and simple way. There’s something beautiful about America, despite the fear that surrounds the new president who will be sworn in on Friday. It’s a country that has survived through difficult times before, and it will do so again.

In class today, when someone asked me what I thought about Friday, I took a minute: “I think that life will go on. I think that democracy is a blessing. And, I think that we have a choice….whether to move forward while thinking, speaking, and acting…out of love, or out of fear.”

I’m hoping that most of us, even those of us who aren’t American, but who have American friends and relatives, can be mindful and set the intention to move forward with love and not fear. After all, what are our alternatives?

peace, friends.
k.

There’s something truly glorious about having a music that speaks to you, from a history that forms you. For as long as I can remember, there has been Irish music in my life. My parents loved listening to it when I was little. Then, it was as simple as The Irish Rovers. We used to sing “The Unicorn Song” in the van coming home from trips, especially after I had surgery at Sick Kids in Toronto when I was eleven. Dad, whose father was pure German (and very scary, I might add), but whose mother was Irish, Scottish, and English, loved singing Irish songs. I remember he talked about dating Mum back in the 60s and going to see a folk group out at a hotel in Lively. It was, apparently, from what he told me, key to their courtship. (Who knows? I actually probably didn’t want to hear too much about their courtship, to be honest…who does?!…so I may have blocked part of that story out!) I think he said they were called The Travellers. For Dad, Irish music was that little group and The Irish Rovers. (Heck, for most of Canadians, I think that was what Irish music was for the longest time.)

For me, well, I was drawn to traditional Irish music in my twenties. I went to Carleton University in Ottawa to do my Master’s in Literature, with a focus on modern Irish poetry (my nickname in the graduating class was, yup, you guessed it, “Modern Irish,” just because I was studying poets like Yeats, Kavanagh, Muldoon, Boland, and — sigh — Heaney. My thesis, in undergrad, focused on W.B. Yeats and the weaving of traditional Irish legends into his earlier poetry. It was (too flowery) titled “Perpetual Poetic Gyres: A Study of Recurrent Images and Themes in Selected Poems of W.B. Yeats.”

Then, in my Master’s degree, I focused on Seamus Heaney’s stunning collection, North. The title for that thesis was more concise, perhaps because I had begun to fine tune my writing as a graduate student. Who knows? I called the thing “Ancestors of NORTH: The Bog Poems of Seamus Heaney.” In that Master’s thesis, I looked at the connections between poetry and art, something that would foreshadow my own love of ekphrastic poetry and my (seemingly lifelong!) happy addiction to art galleries. Even then, I guess, I was pulled to visual art like a magnet.

My thesis supervisor was Jack Healy, the professor I learned the most from in all my time as a student at university. We would meet every Friday at 3pm. “Just like Good Friday,” he would say and then smile. “You’re Irish Catholic. You get it, right?!” We had the most stimulating conversations every Friday at 3pm. I will never forget them. Then, trying to find something to connect with Heaney’s bog poems, he suggested I study Ben Shahn’s The Shape of Content. I was, to put it simply, transfixed by that suggested book, and the way in which it sort of wove itself into Heaney’s view of creativity and politics. These weren’t just bog bodies found in Ireland and across Europe, but indications of the political and historical struggle between the North and the Republic of Ireland. Heaney and Shahn’s works paralleled one another, too, in that they both used vivid imagery to evoke worlds in both visual art and poetry. The doors of my world opened that year, as I dug around in Irish legends, symbolism, song, poetry and story. It’s where, too, I began to truly know and believe that imagery roots all poetry (and art). 🙂

Living in Ottawa, too, meant that I often stumbled upon my beloved Irish pubs. I spent nights in The Celtic Cross on Bank Street (with Dan Laxer, Jamie Russell, Carolyn Salomons, Eric Stewart, and Leanne Patterson) and later at The Arrow and Loon in the Glebe. We were a fine bunch, all Master’s students hooked on deep philosophical and poetic questions. Give us an Irish pub, a live band, a late night, and a pint or three…and we could talk and debate about poetry forever. Those are conversations and times I’ll remember for the rest of my life. That’s where I began to listen to live traditional Irish music with a kind of fervour that I didn’t know was possible. (Listen: put me in any city and I will want to go and listen to live Irish music. Nothing thrills me more. It’s a visceral kind of thing, I guess…and it so parallels the history of the bardic tradition that I so love.)

So, twenty years later and I am still attracted and addicted to good traditional Irish music. Parking the car in the -25 Celsius night cold, I walked my dancing boots up the steps of the Moose Hall and opened the door to the sound of a beautiful tin whistle streaming out onto Frood Road. It was entrancing. Tonight, the Wild Geese (Pat McGuire, Wally Kealy, Pat Ryan, Tom Ryan, Duncan Cameron, Dianne Cameron, and Karly Schofield) played their hearts out at the Moose Lodge on Frood Road while a bunch of us danced like mad people. It was what I hope heaven is like. Yup. There better be a live Irish band, and a dance caller like Maureen Mulvey in heaven, so I know where I’m going next, and which person I should “dump” before I go “around the house” in a set dance.

And, I hope, there will be more men to dance with. Here’s why: I love dancing “The Haymaker’s Jig” and “The Siege of Ennis,” but there is often a shortage of men who dance at ceilis. What happens is that you have women dancing in men’s roles, so then, if you’re a woman, you’re always sort of thinking “Oh, damn it….am I man or a woman?” Then, well, you need to see if you’re on the right hand side or the left of your pair, and that positioning will help you figure out your borrowed gender. (It’s very Shakespearean, really, with women having to take on men’s roles, so I suppose I ought to be pleased, but sometimes you just need a strong man to spin around with…because, with the right man, someone who knows what they’re doing in a dance, a swing on the dance floor can have your feet lifting off, and that, my friends, is akin to pure joy. If you can lean back into a proper swing, with a man who is confident in leading you in the dance, if you can trust him not to let you fall, then it’s all centrifugal force…and there’s something to be said for that…what with the tin whistle, accordion, and bodhran all going at once. You can, sometimes, feel as if you’ve left the year you’re in…as if you’re dancing at a hidden cross roads in an Irish field. That’s kind of magical, to be honest…)

Tonight, I had the real pleasure of dancing with a 7-year old girl named Taliah. She was “the man” and I was the woman. This meant that, in a particular dance, I had to squish myself down to knee height just to be turned under her arm in a twirl. It was quite comical, to be honest, and she and I had quite a bit of a giggle fit together. “It’s okay, Kim! We did it!” She was lovely! 🙂 Later, when we met up again, she said “I remember you! You’re Kim!” See, I don’t mind dancing with a small person as charming as that, I will say…because she was a grand teacher for the more complicated set dances, and I appreciated her confidence and teaching skill.

So…what is the draw of the ceili dance? These are, traditionally, the dances that the rural Irish would have danced while in hiding. In the 1600s and 1700s, the Penal Laws outlawed any sort of traditional Irish culture: you couldn’t speak Irish Gaelic, or practice Mass, or even dance. So, people would dance in the cross roads, behind hedgerows.

Here’s one of my favourite dances. It’s called “The Haymaker’s Jig” and I love it so much. You get all caught up in it, and you’re breathless before you know it. It really makes me laugh and you can only think about how the music drives your body to move in brilliantly joyful ways. Here is what it looks like!

Here’s “The Siege of Ennis,” which is another of my favourites. I like it, too, to be honest, because my mum’s maiden name was Ennis…and I’ve been to Ennis — the town — twice in my life…so I’m fond to it because of that simple (maybe too simple? even daft?) and definitely nostalgic reason!

So, tonight, I danced and danced. I laughed and laughed. And then I thought how blessed I am to have a cultural tradition that has brought me so many friends, and that brings me a warm and welcoming community wherever I go in the world. One of my dearest memories of traveling has included dancing at a Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann set dance night in a hall in Westport, Ireland in the summer of 2012. It was such a night! There were enough men for the women, thankfully, and it made such a difference in the speed and accuracy of the dance. It was so beautiful.

I know I don’t write about my culture very much, and maybe I should do so more…because it’s so key to who I am, and probably explains part of why I think (and live) the way I do. I feel connected to my mother’s Irish heritage. My dad’s side of our family was so strict and almost abusive, that I’m thankful that my maternal grandmother and my great-aunts at 160 Kingsmount knew to gather my sister and me into their hearts so completely. It’s there where I learned about the stories, the legends, the music, and the history. It’s there, on Kingsmount, where I dug around in old Irish paperback books, and asked Norah, Maureen, and Clare a whole slew of questions about what they knew about family history. And, it’s there, at some point, where I heard the family story that would weave itself into what would become my first novel. So, I’m grateful to them all, even though they’ve all gone now.

When I was dancing tonight, I thought of them, the ten Kelly kids who were my great-aunts and uncles, including my Gram Ennis. I wondered, and hoped, that they had such a night in heaven. I hope that they have all learned to ceili dance, and that they haven’t forgotten the stories of Ireland, and the family legend of how the governess and the gardener at Bunratty Castle outside of Limerick ran off because they were in love, and of how the Famine sent them over the sea, to Canada and then Pembroke, and then north to work in a mining town called Creighton. I thought of them all, with each dance step I took, and with each ripple of a tin whistle or violin, or bodhran, or accordion, or guitar…and I wished them a good dance in some other place.

I just really, really hope that I can ceili dance forever when I go to heaven. I do. Give me an Irish band, a good, strong (and taller than me!) man who can spin me around so that I don’t worry about falling, so that I can lean back and feel that centrifugal pull, so that I can trust he won’t let me fall or trip, and I’ll be grand for eons and eons to come.

Of all the things in my life that never changes, you see, I know I can count on traditional Irish music to lift me up when I’m down. I know it won’t bruise or break my heart (as humans sometimes do). There’s such comfort in that; I can look back on my life and remember dancing with the same joy at the age of twenty-eight as I do now in my mid-forties. There’s something magical about that. The music may break your heart with its sometimes plaintive call, but it will never hurt or leave you. There’s something to be said for that, I sort of think. Bless.

peace,
k.

Most days, I wake up at 5:30 and then take the dogs down to the lake for a walk before work. This morning, pondering the weather, and knowing I wouldn’t be walking, I listened to an interview about overcrowding at Health Sciences North (HSN) here in Sudbury. The piece focused on alternate level of care (ALC) patients. This is just another way to refer to the frail elderly in our city who are thoughtlessly bounced between home, hospital, and nursing home facilities in the last few years of their lives. You can listen to the interview here, before you read the rest of this blog entry.

http://www.cbc.ca/player/play/852391491542/

There’s always a story on the ALC issue here in town. For a while, a few years ago, I remember hearing the phrase “bed blockers” and felt sick to my stomach because my mum and dad would have been considered to be “bed blockers,” and they were both classified as ALC patients at the ends of their lives. Being labelled as an ALC patient means that your world gets a hell of a lot more messy, at the very time when it’s already shrinking because you might be isolated, and either living alone or with an ailing spouse—especially if you don’t have children to help care and advocate for you. The health care system in Ontario is big and scary, and I speak from experience. If you get stuck inside of it, without a guide, you can get spun around and around again.

If you take on an advocacy role, you immediately put a target on your back. If you speak up, because your parents don’t feel comfortable speaking up, or if you question doctors or the processes of transfers between institutions or health care campuses, or if you complain about the poor quality of care, then you really do make yourself vulnerable. Still, what is the alternative? There isn’t one. When you need to advocate for someone in your family who is a patient, especially if they are frail elderly, you do it out of love. There are no choices. That’s why the state of the system is so upsetting. The people who are most vulnerable, those who are frail elderly—and some of whom have been abandoned by their ‘families’—are the ones who are most at risk.

In the interview, David MacNeil said that “the demographic profile of our city is pretty clear…it’s aging.” This isn’t a surprise, as he said this morning. Those of us who have advocated for ALC patients have known this for years. We know there aren’t enough nursing home beds and that the CCAC and various contracted, independent nursing companies can’t manage with the numbers and case loads of those people who do manage to live at home on their own. We know that, if a person is discharged haphazardly on a Friday afternoon or evening, there is a risk of them not getting the proper continuum of care from hospital to home. Then, too, we know there is a higher rate of readmission that needs to be considered. Just sending older folks home, without support and proper care, doesn’t mean that the number of ALC patients will decrease in the hospital. It may briefly, I suppose, but there is a wretched ping-pong sort of effect that happens if you don’t have proper support at home. In the midst of it all, the person who is ill just gets weaker and weaker, fading before you know it.

MacNeil talked, too, about the ‘surge’ that tends to happen between December and March each year. Yes, it’s flu season, so it would make sense that older people are more easily affected by influenza. Then you need to consider that our hospital has morphed in the last ten years, after the three hospitals merged into a one-site hospital. Now, it’s become a regional hospital, drawing patients from smaller centres in northeastern Ontario. There are 101 ALC patients at HSN (as of today’s interview on the CBC). The stories in media this week are about how patients are being housed in hallways and lounges. There are questions of patient privacy and issues of dignity.

There is a problem with Ontario’s health care system. I’m not saying that it’s just a Sudbury and HSN issue. What I find most upsetting is that the people who are most often affected, and negatively at that, are our frail elderly. People who read this blog will know I’m quite passionate about this because I had to care and advocate for my parents when they were caught up in the health care system here in their last few years of their lives. It was, and I’m not exaggerating, sheer hell. I could tell you stories that would make your toes curl up in disgust. The thing is, when I hear these horror stories, over and over again, year after year (and even after my two year term as an active member of the HSN Patient and Family Advisory Council from 2012-14), not much seems to be improving. Some of the same problems I had when Dad was in the hospital system from 2009-2011 are ones that still echo in the family stories I hear from friends and colleagues now, five years later. If the whole move to patient-centred care (as it’s purported to be) has been in place since 2013/14, then I fail to see why things have not improved.

Beyond that, it is so disturbing to think that our health care system, both provincially and locally, so easily pins problems on our frail elderly. You know what I think: these people helped build this city, raised us, taught us how to speak up when things went awry, and we owe them a debt of gratitude, at the very least. To see this, to hear of their being so easily cast off, by the system and sometimes even by their families, is heartbreaking.

Here’s the thing, friends: You can’t wait until someone you love is stuck in the system. Better to get involved in some way now. Educate yourself about the issues, join a committee or board that advocates for the frail elderly and demands accountability within the system itself. You can’t just sit in the place of heartbreak. There’s a time and place to be there, in despair and heartbreak, but then there is the time and place when you learn to be more active…because, let’s face it, we’re all headed in the same direction, and we need to fix the issues in the system now, for the good of our elders, of ourselves, and the generations to follow us.

If you’re interested in this issue and want to learn more, you can also visit the site for the Northeast Family Councils Network (NEFCN) here:

http://www.nefcn.org/who-we-are

Some of the amazing and giving people whom I worked with on the PFAC at HSN a few years back are working here now, from outside the hospital structure, to try and make inroads into making important changes to long term care in this part of the province.

A few years ago I gave this speech to talk about my parents’ experiences in the health care system at the Seniors Summit, which was organized by Health Sciences North. You can listen to my mum and dad’s stories here:

None of this is easy work, but it’s most definitely necessary work. Rather than let the heartbreak of it all overwhelm us, I think it’s incumbent upon us to take a more active, volunteer role in making change from the inside out. I have to believe, I just have to, that it will get better…but it requires more people taking more active roles, demanding that our health care system is accountable to our social expectations. Our frail elderly deserve kindness, compassion, dignity, and respect. I really don’t think this is too much to expect.

peace,
k.

It’s no secret that I’m a wee bit addicted to art. I think, when you’re a bit cerebral, socially awkward, an introvert, and a creative person, it’s a perfect storm for eccentricity. I remember, as a teenager, always being drawn to the big art books at Coles. They were always very expensive, so my parents couldn’t really afford them, but I would linger over the piles of them and touch the covers longingly. I so wanted to bring them home, so I wouldn’t be rushed in sitting with the images and taking them in. You know the ones I’m talking about, I’m sure…they were coffee table books, as some people used to call them. Now that I’m an adult, and I visit galleries like an addicted woman, I always buy books in gallery shops. (My latest is from the Art Gallery of Sudbury and is a beautiful collection of Daphne Odjig’s gorgeous paintings. It hurts my heart to think she’s gone.) Anyway, I also remember spending way too much time in my bedroom, listening to CDs and wishing I could be in a musical on Broadway, singing my heart out; or, reading really big books and then trying to write my own stories. I was a smart, fat kid who was terribly shy. It’s hard to believe now, if you know me, but it’s true. The shy kid is still inside of me. I always need to nudge her out of the way, especially if I’m nervous. No one else knows that, but I do.

When I was a teenager, my parents used to buy calendars as Christmas presents. (My parents weren’t wealthy at all. They were working middle class. In Sudbury, back then, what they made–combined–wasn’t a lot of money. We lived in Minnow Lake, for goodness sake, which wasn’t a very ‘safe’ or well respected part of town in those days.) Christmas presents were things that were practical: calendars, socks, pyjamas, and books. They never, ever skimped on money for books, and I know this is why I love reading and writing with such a passion now. I only ever asked for books, when I think back now to those years. Mum would ask, “What would you like for your birthday?” and I would have one or two books that I was longing for, and they would be my gifts. Not having money then, as a young person, and seeing my parents struggle to manage bills without worrying us as kids, made me value the worth of hard work and I learned that I didn’t really need to have everything I always desired. There’s something to be said for that, now, I think. I don’t need stuff. I’m not impressed by brands or logos. They weren’t things we could ever afford as I was growing up, so they don’t impress me now. I do, though, need books. That will never change.

Anyway, why would calendars be important? Well, I loved art, so…if I couldn’t get my parents to buy the big fat coffee table art books, then it was easier to sort of say that I would love to have an Emily Carr calendar or a calendar with beautiful Celtic knots that had been copied from the Book of Kells. That way, I could have art in my room every month of the year. Still, today, I buy at least one ‘art calendar’ a year, for either my bedroom or my office at work. I love beautiful things that are created from people’s imaginations. The whole process of creativity fascinates me, and I love how that process can transcend genre…moving from music, to art, to film, to dance, to theatre, to writing. It’s so amazing, to think of how it all spirals or ‘vines itself’ together. (Sort of reminds me of those fabulous Irish Celtic knots where the fish’s tail is in its mouth, or the dolphins loop together in a circle around some other image.)

One year, I must have been in my mid-teens, I found a calendar of Heather Cooper’s work. I remember it seemed magical to me. I was reading teen fiction at the time…all novels about knights and quests and things. Of course, that’s when I first read The Lord of the Rings and fell in love with fantasy and Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and the Narnia series…the whole thing, not just The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (!), and Orla Melling’s The Singing Stone. Never mind the Arthurian legends, which left me absolutely spellbound…and still do. It was so much easier to slip into a world that was so magical and legendary than to live in the real one, I often thought…and sometimes still do. 🙂

So, one of the months on the calendar was Cooper’s beautiful piece, “The Lion and the Lamb.” It’s all about two sides of the same coin, I think, and the notion of perception. There’s the beautiful lion, standing above the surface of a pool, and the smaller figure of the lamb is reflected in the water. When I see it, I always think of the myth of Narcissus, but there is so much more inside the piece that speaks to me. I think of my great-aunt, Maureen Kelly, who always used to say to me, when I went up to visit my great-aunts (we all called them “The Girls”) at 160 Kingsmount, “Ah, it’s herself, isn’t it?” I loved that about her. She was unabashedly Irish. She also was the person, along with my great-aunt Norah, who introduced me to the Irish legends and faery tales. They still draw me in with a tidal pull I can’t ignore, those lovely big books of stories. 🙂 I also think of how Maureen used to say, at the end of February usually, “Ah, March! In like a lion, out like a lamb.” Every year, I remember her saying that. (She was grand for that, for knowing phrases that had interesting origins, and I always used to call her when I had grammar and spelling questions while I was doing my undergrad and graduate work at university. She was so brilliant.)

Cooper’s piece of art reminds me of times I spent with Maureen, and Norah, and Clare, up at 160. That’s Maureen’s phrase, or one of them, anyway. “In like a lion, out like a lamb.” She was also terribly fond of “Red sky at night, a sailor’s delight.” My favourite thing about her, though, was that she gave great hugs and her eyes always sparkled. If you drove with her at night in the The Girls’ car, she would always, always, always, see a car with just one headlight working. It was sort of like ‘her thing.’ She would be driving, and we’d be in the back seat, and she would shout out, laughing as she did, “Aha! One eye! There’s a one eye, girls!” (Funny…the things you remember about the people who were such a big part of your life so many years after they’ve left. I’m glad for my memory’s accuracy sometimes…it’s like a movie plays in my head…)

Funny, how a piece of art can have so many memories linked to it…how it can make me remember my family members and the stories they told me when I was little and growing up. I even know where that calendar was on my wall in my bedroom. It was right above my bedside table, above a little antique lamp I had found somewhere. The light from the lamp sort of glowed upwards, I remember, bathing the calendar page itself in gold light. It seemed magical to me. It still does.

That’s why, when I arrived in Bobcaygeon at the little cottage I’d rented on December 27th, and when I saw the image of Cooper’s “The Lion and the Lamb” hanging above the kitchen sink, I exclaimed, like a crazy woman, “Oh my God! That’s a Heather Cooper painting!” to the fellow who owns the place. He just smiled. “Yes. You know her work?” I reached out to touch it. “Oh, God. Sorry. I didn’t mean to touch it. It’s just…it’s been in my heart forever, you know?” Then he told me that she was a friend of his father’s and that he had prints of her pieces in the little cottage space. There was another Cooper print in the bedroom above the bed, but it just didn’t strike me as the other had.

I knew, when I saw that print, when I walked into that cottage space that day, that I was meant to have found this particular space to write in. Somewhere, in my head, I could hear Maureen’s voice saying to me, “In like a lion, out like a lamb…or the other way round, Kimmy Ruth, depending on how the month goes!” Then I thought, somehow, that I am now both the lion and the lamb. I used to just be the lamb, all sort of fragile and wounded, but now I’m letting the lion sit in my heart more often. It doesn’t have to be one or the other anymore, I’ve learned this past year; I can be both the lion and lamb, strong and vulnerable at the same time. Such a lesson! The universe amazes me, how it links and swirls and dances around you, sending out tendrils of green memory that pull you backwards, all so that you can move forward with more certainty.

It’s funny; I remember being entranced by that old Heather Cooper calendar all those years ago…and now it’s come back to me to guide me into more writing that needed to be revised, edited, and finished. So circular, so Celtic knotted, so magical and transformative. This is why I love art, and always will. Colour and texture and image pull me in, and then I imagine stories…and everything is right with the world, even when it may not always be. 🙂

peace,
k.

I get lost. Very, very often. Mostly, it’s a physical and geographical happening, but other times it has more to do with my metaphorical journey in life. My sister, Stacy, just shakes her head when I tell her how often I’ve gotten lost on the way to other places. This year, she gave me a GPS for my birthday, two months in advance of the date, so that I would (maybe) “get less lost.” Trying to find Stratford, for instance, can sometimes have me wandering along poorly marked county lines and concession roads for hours. Still, I love the idea and exciting actuality of getting lost, only to find yourself in new and unexpected, almost divinely-inspired ways. There’s nothing like getting yourself lost. It’s when I’ve met the most interesting people, and when I’ve found the loveliest little antique shops.

In August, driving down towards Kingsville through a bunch of beautiful wide, open fields outside of London, I searched out Park Hill, the place where my paternal grandmother’s parents had settled, all English and Scottish and longing for new lives in Canada. I went into a little antique store, looking for a teapot that would remind me of the one I’d seen on Pelee Island in May. That one had been crafted in the shape of a little cottage. Anyway, I went in there, waited for something to speak to me, and found an almost identical little teapot. Yesterday, on the way out of Bobcaygeon, I stopped at an antique shop and found a wobbly, narrow little bookcase. I live in a small hobbit-like cottage of a red brick house and it lacks space for the one thing I love most in my life: books. I always look for little bookcases that will tuck into corners, or sit on the edge of a stair. I’m here on my own, so I know I won’t bump into them! I’ve actually created a number of quirky, makeshift bookcases, mostly out of my parents’ old antique pieces. I stuff books into antique apple crates, or turn a telephone table my grandfather made upside down and stack books in there. He wouldn’t be impressed, I don’t think, but I don’t mind. What’s he going to do, anyway? Haunt me? (Bring it on!)

So. Getting lost:

Yesterday, leaving Bobcaygeon, I drove to Cannington. It’s a place I hadn’t driven through or visited until December 27th. It’s lived in my imagination for much longer because my first writing mentor, the late Timothy Findley, lived there in a house called Stone Orchard, with his partner, Bill Whitehead, for years. When I worked with Mr. Findley through the Humber School for Writers while I was in my mid to late twenties, I would get envelopes postmarked from Cannington, and then later, from Stratford, and then finally, from France. He was my mentor for about a year, but we stayed in touch after meeting in the Sault one night after a reading he did up there, and I have a wonderfully vivid stack of letters from him. I re-read them sometimes, but it makes me sad, so I don’t do it too often. (No one likes a sad poet, I’ve heard!) I drove through Cannington on the 27th, but I was on my way to Bobcaygeon, so I figured in the time it would take for me to get lost in getting to my destination. Yesterday, on the way home to Sudbury, though, I built in a few hours to wander and explore. There’s nothing better (I can’t think of anything anyway) than driving through the backroads of Ontario and letting yourself get lost…all to find yourself in the process. There’s magic in that, and I’m all about noticing serendipity and cultivating magic in my daily life these days. Life is boring otherwise.

I searched out Concession 11, where I knew Stone Orchard would be. At first, I missed it. Then, down near a tiny graveyard, I let the two dogs out of the car and they wandered up and down the shoulder of the road for a bit. In the meantime, I stood there, eyes to the sky, breathing deeply and letting myself steep in the early afternoon winter sun. Then, I turned the car around and found Stone Orchard. I parked on the edge of the road and got a bit weepy. Here’s why:

Sometimes, I’ve found in my life, you meet a person who speaks to you on a soulful level. They don’t come along very often, and I wish I’d been brave enough to tell him what he’d meant to me, as a new, young writer from Northern Ontario in her late twenties. He believed in my short stories even though, at the time, I only ever imagined and defined myself as a poet. Our letters, in the beginning, were all business. Then, half way through our time together as ‘pen pals,’ the tone shifted and we became friendly. He started signing them “Tiff” instead of “Timothy Findley” and I remember thinking, “Oh, this poor man…having to read my rambling words.” I remember telling him once about a man I fancied, (well he was really more of a man-child, I guess you could say, looking back now), and how he had inspired a character in a story I’d written. I also recall that he gave me a wee bit of passing advice about love. I remember thinking, “Jesus…how surreal is this? One of my favourite writers, Timothy Findley, is giving me advice about love.” I wrote more stories, and heard back about what he thought of them. I went through a romance or two. Neither was fruitful or helpful. They bruised my heart so that I was fearful of sharing it for a decade afterwards. Anyway, Tiff was kind to me, and made me feel that having encountered not-so-nice men was likely less about me than I’d initially imagined, and more reflective of their character, or lack thereof. I felt blessed to have known him, and for him to have given me the gift of having a bit more faith in myself as a writer –and as person — back then. It has carried me through for the last eighteen years or so, in a light-giving, soul-saving kind of way. He walks with me, somehow, in my heart. I don’t know that most writers are very confident souls, to be honest, so having someone who had succeeded at making a life in the literary world, and who was kind and not at all egotistical–as well as being a great teacher of writing for a writer–was a blessing I’ll always be thankful for.

The second ‘getting lost’ episode yesterday took place outside of Orillia, somewhere between Hwy 12 and Hwy 69 North. Yup. I always know how to get home once I’m on Hwy 69. It’s a tunnel of trees, especially past Parry Sound, so you can’t really screw it up. But, if you put me in the Kawarthas, and then turn me west in a vehicle, things just don’t go very well. The dogs slept on the front heated seat, and I sang my heart out. Lost, naturally (!), I pulled over and used the GPS to get directions. Satisfied, I pulled onto a side road and hit a patch of black ice. Before I knew it, I hit a snowbank that was really a bank of plowed ice. There were horrible crunching noises. Snow flew across the windshield and all I could think was…what the hell do I do? When it ended, my RAV was lodged into a bank at the side of the road and on a steep angle so that I couldn’t open the driver’s door. I had to crawl over the dogs and exit the passenger door. It was terrifying, if I’m honest, and it’s one of the times when I didn’t like being alone while driving.

I trudged up to the nearest house and asked the woman if I could borrow a shovel. In my head, I thought I could just shovel myself out. I’m delusional, likely, in some aspects of my life: this was one of them, definitely. She just looked at the car, shook her head, and went into the giant garage next to the house and grabbed her husband. Before I knew it, he was driving a little green tractor out to my car. After about ten tries, he dislodged the RAV (and I didn’t kill him by accelerating), and I pulled it into his driveway. “I’ve got to get my hands warmed up before I go back out to put that running board panel back on your car. Come on back here. Bring your dogs.” (I had just read Colleen Murphy’s brutally scary “Pig Girl,” so I felt a bit nervous about it all.) Still, this man named Mr. Fraser had saved me and seemed quite ready for a chat. I needed a chat after that, and I think he knew I was shaken up and probably needed a bit of time to gather myself. He used his cold hands as an excuse to make me feel less freaked out about what had just happened. And then he distracted me with conversation. It worked.

The garage was a mess. Cigarette butts all over the floor, a mix of tools on greasy and marked up tables and workbenches. There was a dog bed for Dougall, the dog that he said often visited from the neighbours’ place while he worked. He had two tractors in there, and then I noticed the half-made plane. “Um, is that a plane? Do you really have a plane in your garage?!” I was incredulous. He laughed and told me the story of how he used to fly, and how he wanted to build this one from the ground up, so that he could fly again. How amazing, I thought, to be so talented as to be able to build a plane! He was quite the inventor and builder. He reminded me of both my father and grandfather, in the way in which he had this space filled with things. Everything seemed to have a place. “I’ve been trying to clean up. I’m not what you’d call really tidy, as you can see.” We sat there together, for twenty minutes, with him smoking up a storm, the dogs sitting at our feet, and had quite the chat.

“You’re Scottish! Fraser!” I shook my head. “Of course a Celt would save me. It’s cosmic!” And then we talked about my trip to Scotland last summer and how I’d stayed in a place that was on Fraser land. Soon enough, he told me the story of his family ancestry, and of the ancient crumbled castle that he has yet to see, but wants to some day visit before he dies. Then he asked me what I was doing in Oro-Medonte, in the middle of nowhere, so I explained my tendency to get lost, and I talked about having been in Bobcaygeon to write. “What are you writing, Kim? Stories, like?” I nodded and told him the idea behind my novel. “Sounds good. What do you do up there in Sudbury, then? Just writing?” Then we talked about teaching, and how his friend down the road has a wife who’s a schoolteacher. By the end of the cigarette’s burning, and for about five minutes after that, he told me about having worked for Molson’s in Barrie. That made me think of Dad, too, and of how he had worked for Labatt’s. These are salt of the earth men, you know? They worked their entire lives, day by day, and then dabbled in garages on evenings and weekends, finding comfort in making things.

“You got any kids? A fella?” He was a bit blunt, but I just laughed. “No, just dogs!” He shook his head, butted out the cigarette on the floor at his feet. “Jesus, girl, what are you doing single? How’s that even possible?! Shouldn’t be on your own.” I just shook my head and laughed. “Well, I imagine it’s because I’m a bit difficult. I keep getting lost and running into snowbanks. Those aren’t necessarily marketable qualities on the dating scene.” He just laughed and shook his head.

We wandered back out to the car, he put on the running board panel thingy (which had become detached in the snowbank accident/episode), and then I turned and asked, “Can I give you a hug? You saved me today.” So he laughed and gave me a big hug and off I went with new directions from a Scotsman who was the true definition of chivalry and support.

I sent Mr. Fraser of Oro-Medonte a thank you note with a little gift card today. Yesterday, I told him I would and he didn’t want me to. I don’t care. I like giving people gifts. Sometimes you just need to thank a person for a kindness, for the gift of giving you twenty minutes so that you can stop shaking after a startling episode. Sometimes, I think, you need to know which people are angels in disguise and give them a little hug in thanks.

peace,
k.

Here’s the thing about the act of ‘retreating:’ it makes you live inside yourself, at the quietest place you know within yourself, so that you can’t possibly ignore what you most need to do. The act of truly retreating–especially to create and write—is intense. You face your own thoughts, questions, self-doubts—even your demons—and then you sit down to do the work. For me, though, I have found over the last few years that I need to be in the midst of some kind of landscape, away from a lot of other people, to do the work I need to do. I need to be able to pull on a coat and hiking boots and go outside. I need to be able to walk. I even need to shiver and feel cold while I walk, so that I’m more grounded in the writing I’m about to do. It’s almost as if my body needs to create a link to my mind and imagination in a visceral, physical way. Once I’ve done that, things start to happen!

For me, walking is a form of meditation. It’s exercise, obviously, but it helps me sort through what’s going in on my mind (and in my heart). For me, the two go together, without question. For the ideas to come, for the words to come, I need to get into what’s haunting me in my heart and head, have a conversation with it all, and then allow it to pass through me. That’s when the newer stuff ‘comes in’ creatively. It’s just how I work. I need to minimalize things. Paring it all down, getting away from distractions, is what I need in my life to work best as a writer. I also know now, too, that water is key to almost anything I do creatively. If I can’t have water, then I need hills that shapeshift into mountains, or fields that stretch out almost endlessly beneath big skies. I need to feel small and insignificant so that I can let the words and stories move through me and then try to help craft them, I guess. (I know, it’s druidic, a bit fey, and very ancient Celtic. What do you expect when you touch trees and gather up stones when you travel the world?! I’m an elemental at heart. No apologies.)

So. Ten days in the bush outside of Bobcaygeon have taught me this: patience, with myself, and especially with my heart, my head, and my work as a writer; patience with the words themselves; the ability to take time to breathe, not wear a watch, and just let the time of day lose itself in the words I’m reading and writing; the trust in myself to let go and not try to control how I feel or what I’m thinking, but to let it all shift through me…not unlike the way in which the clouds cross the sky here in the Kawarthas when the wind shifts them in front of the sun or moon; the gift of being away from people for a while, to be honest; and, still fighting aspects of my imagined fears in order to walk through them, trusting my body and soul to take me where I need to be, when I most need to be there, for my highest good.

I’ve spent a lot of time walking here—about two hours a day—on long winding gravel roads in the bush. It’s been so beautiful, walking through clear, bright sunshine on snow and next to little streams that feed into the nearby bay. The rest of the time, I’ve done a lot of reading—of plays and poems, mostly—and I’ve revised a lot of my novel and written entirely new (and kind of surprising) pieces for what may be the last draft of the thing.

I’ve listened to music—from Ella Fitzgerald, to Bach, to the Chieftains, to The Once, Glen Hansard, Dala, The Skydiggers, Amelia Curran, The Civil Wars, The Decemberists, and The Tragically Hip. I like words, and people who can sing them. I’ve also spent time burning my essential oils and beeswax candles, all to help with the ritual of how I write. The coolest thing I’ve done, I think, is that I built my first fire! It may sound silly, but I have so loved it—being able to crunch up paper, tent up little bits of kindling, and putting a massive log in there that just shapeshifts itself into nothingness after a couple of hours of me watching the flames dance in front of me. I’ve learned that—along with wind chimes, a garden, and a swing under a tree somewhere—my next house will need to have a wood burning fireplace. I know it’s the romantic and poet in me; simply can’t (and shouldn’t!) be helped.

Here’s what I haven’t missed at all: television and seeing people everywhere on cell phones. I’m cancelling my television package when I get home. I’d rather listen to music, or read, or write. There’s much more time in the day and, somehow, less ‘noise’ in my head without television. I love the quiet, too. I mean, I knew that I loved the quiet because I’m single and I live alone with two dogs. (You talk to yourself, of course, and to your dogs, and to people at work, but there’s a comforting kind of silence in the middle of the bush that I quite like now.)

I didn’t miss people with cell phones. My day job is teaching English at an all-girls school in Sudbury. They’re all great girls, but there’s something sad about how cell phones have taken over the world and media. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the whole selfie culture that’s emerged in the last couple of years; you can especially see it in a secondary school, where it’s a bit like a petri dish, or a strange terrarium. (Pick your chosen metaphor! ) I think it’s fair to say, too, that the “sexy selfie” phenomenon has shifted up into the young women who are now in their 20s, but I could be wrong. I do know that I often see girls taking, and then comparing, weird duck-faced selfies, pouting and wearing revealing things. I don’t get it. It seems more attention-getting and insecure than anything else, which is sad, really.

If this is the newest group of young women in our culture, influenced by ‘celebrities’ like the Kardashians or Beyonce (in all their materialism, superficiality, and plasticity) then I think we’re in trouble as a society. There’s a lack of depth there which can be frightening to think about, especially when you teach and you see it shifting into popular culture as your past students grow older. It bothers me, too, that it has so much to do with the sexual objectification of women and women’s bodies. That girls and young women feel they need to post provocative selfies often seems empty to me. So much of it, too, links up to the idea of the ‘male gaze’ and how young women might feel that’s the only way to get a man’s attention. I’ve had chats with my students about it in my classes—and about the almost insane drive to buy things with logos on them for extremely ridiculous amounts of money—but it’s something that’s already entered our culture. They need to, as young women, begin to think more critically about how they are influenced (sometimes just because they aren’t thinking critically enough, or aren’t yet aware) by sexualized images in media.

Being here, in the middle of nowhere—with wind in the trees and sun on the surface of a winter lake—just makes me realize that entering back into ‘society’ will be hard for me. I’m an empath and a creative, so I often feel that I sense too much of the energy around me. I know it’s why I’m drawn more often to nature and to quiet time alone than to other people sometimes. I’ve been reading Mary Oliver a lot down here in Bobcaygeon. My friend, Marnie, suggested that I read Oliver’s essay collection, Long Life: Essays and Other Writings. Now, I will be the first one to tell you that I love, love, love Mary Oliver’s poems, but that I’ve not spent time with her essays. That was a mistake that I’m now bent on rectifying.

This week was my first exposure to her prose reflections and I’ve fallen in love with her writing all over again, in a new way. In one essay, titled “Home,” Oliver speaks poetically and philosophically about nature being “our manifest exemplar.” One whole paragraph sang to me before I started writing this morning. I’ll include it here, because it so beautifully and adeptly says what I think and feel about how soul and landscape resonate on a deep level in my life: “It is one of the perils of our so-called civilized age that we do not yet acknowledge enough, or cherish enough, this connection between soul and landscape—between our best possibilities, and the view from our windows. We need the world as much as it needs us, and we need it in privacy, intimacy, and surety. We need the field from which the lark rises—bird that is more than itself, that is the voice of the universe: vigorous, godly joy.” She goes on to speak about the vibrancy of the natural world, the landscape, saying that we can “become buoyant” in a more intense way if we connect with things that aren’t ‘civilized’ and superficial. Just another reason for me to admire and love Mary Oliver’s work, and to love the bush and wild landscape outside of Bobcaygeon. (Now…if we could just have some of the girls and young women see that a photograph of landscape might be more persuasive, moving and inspiring than a selfie with so called ‘sexy’ duck lips…then maybe the world would be in better shape!)

I know: I’m so Downton Abbey…an anachronism of the highest order. I do love technology, though. I use my laptop to write and post my blogs. I use my iPhone to take photos of new places and images, and then to post them to Facebook. I use Twitter to let people know about what I’m doing as a writer and as Greater Sudbury’s poet laureate. But, despite all this, I want to use social media in a way that makes people think and engage in the world. You won’t be seeing any weird duck faced selfies or breasts from me in 2017. I’m all Lady Edith over here (all of Mary Oliver’s “privacy, intimacy, and surety”), but in the last couple of months I think I’m beginning to embrace my inner Lady Mary. She would never take a selfie of herself, though, so I’m okay with that. 🙂 We’ll see where that part of myself leads me! (I was so born in the wrong time…)

peace, friends…and don’t forget to go out and hug a tree in the New Year!
k.

Some of you who know me really well, and who have for a couple of years or more now, will know that I don’t do resolutions at this time of year. I do, however, do ‘intentions.’ This is my first year of intending things, or even putting purposeful stepping stones in place so that my future dreams can come true, or manifest. Whatever language you want to use is fine by me. I know what it means to me, and I know what I’m doing, slowly but surely, patiently but with some human sense of impatience. For a while, I felt a bit delusional about it all, but now I know I’m a strong enough person to do what I want to, so that’s a relief in so many ways. This year was, as I put it to myself, my “year of no fear.” (One of my dearest friends told me that it wasn’t that fear had disappeared for me, but that I still launched myself forward, despite my imagined fears. That, for me, was a huge sea change in my life, and it’s rippling in amazing ways as I move into 2017.)

Fear is probably the worst thing you can face, I think. It’s a paralyzing quotient, or it has been in my life, for most of my life. My parents, I know, had some weird role in it all. I’ve worried too much about what people have thought of me, or of how I seem to others. This year, I’ve made a conscious effort to not give a shit, and it’s been–honestly–the best thing I could have done for myself. Self-growth isn’t a simple road. It’s one of internal journeying. I do a lot of that when I’m away from home, out of my comfort and complacency zone. I’m doing it now, in a tiny space on the edge of a beautiful Kawartha lake, on a peninsula where you really can’t get lost–except in your own thoughts, words, and heart.

For most people, fear isn’t an issue. Maybe they’ve dealt with it earlier in their lives. I haven’t, mostly because my thirties were too busy with minding other people’s care, and with my own battle with depression. To lose a decade like that, a decade that really is a formative one, isn’t the best scenario for any person’s life. Still, it’s the decade that, looking back, taught me the most about how much I actually feared living. I think, too, my fears just intensified when people disappeared from my life through their physical deaths. It happens, but maybe it’s harder when you’re single and trying hard to be strong. You aren’t allowed to be vulnerable when you’re on your own. You have to be strong for yourself. I’m not sure. I need to think more about that one. This past year, 2016, wasn’t simple, but it was the least fearful year I’ve had on the planet. That’s something tremendous.

So, how have I battled (and conquered) fears? I’ve travelled, reminded of my dad’s advice five years ago, to see the world and meet new people, even to places I’ve not really cared to go. This year, I took a semester off from teaching and realized that I’m more a writer than a teacher at heart. That’s a fear, to let go of labels that you put on yourself, through your daily occupation. It’s a fear, too, to let go of that tight noose of complacency and apathy that can come when you’ve found yourself inside a structure, organization, or institution, for too long, especially when you’re a creative. You forget that there are amazing things outside the walls of your ‘label,’ and then you are amazed by the brilliance of possibilities. And then you realize that the walls were illusions, anyway, and that you really can create your own possibilities in new and creative ways. It’s a fear, too, to let go and leap, and to trust my writing, to try to complete my novel (which I’ve been working on for two years now), to work on writing new stage plays, and to write my first radio play for the CBC.

I’ve done things that might seem stupid to some: I was afraid of spending time with my novel on my own, in solitary retreat, but I’ve done it twice during this calendar year and, in so doing, I’ve come face to face with the core of myself somehow. I’ve learned more about myself, through the crafting of this novel, than in the writing of the thing itself. How cool is that? I’ve sat in theatres by myself, driving myself to Stratford to see a play or listen to a playwrights’ forum to learn more about my new craft of writing plays. I’ve driven across from Windsor into Detroit by myself, when I could have just said ‘no, I’m fearful of doing that on my own.’ I was terrified, but it was either that or not see the Detroit Institute of Art, so I was even empowered by getting lost in my rental car, on my own, in a run down part of town. Because, let’s face it, if you wait for someone else to say ‘hey, I’d like to come along, too’ then you might be waiting forever. I can’t wait anymore. The art is too beautiful to miss out on! The life experience is too terrifying, and empowering, to miss out on, too. 🙂

It’s a fear, to take off (and keep off) the layers of physical fat that have shielded me for too long, to reveal a strong, healthy, and yes–sexy–body that matches my strong, healthy, creative mind and spirit. It’s a lot of work, too, to walk and Zumba your way to good health in a ‘year of no fear,’ and to learn how to listen to what your body needs, and not necessarily what it wants. There’s a sense of strength in that, in paring things down physically to make the inside stuff stronger, more elegant and purposeful. The two go together beautifully, I’ve found, so that I don’t feel addicted to exercise, but that I feel freed by it, by what it offers me physically and spiritually. The fat was a thing to hide behind, I know now. It’s an easy way to excuse yourself from being around other people sometimes, from making connections because you don’t feel attractive, but once it’s gone, well, you are more yourself and that light is what draws people to you anyway. Sounds like a cliche, but it’s really proved itself true to me this year. No more hiding behind layers, not even physical ones that I’ve put up (unconsciously) to protect myself.

I’ve feared making soulful friendships and connections with other people for a long time, fearful of being hurt, but now I’m more open to sensing those souls that resonate with me. It doesn’t mean, though, that I’m being stupid about it. I’ve had a couple of instances this year where I’ve doubted my sense of judgement with people I thought I knew, and I’ve had to be careful of learning how to better discern who I let into my life’s space, into my light. I believe in serendipity, but not in stupidity. If someone wounds me, well, I don’t have time for that and I’m mindful of how best to use my soul’s energy for my own higher good, which ends up also being for the higher good of those who are closest to me, too. My dearest friends have told me this lately, and I’m glad for their honesty in sharing that. It’s helped in my evolution.

I was thinking of Maya Angelou this morning. I love her work, and I truly love her saying “When someone shows you who they are, believe them, the first time.” That’s a lesson I’m learning this year, too. I tend to see the best in people, because I’m trusting and naive, and then get disappointed when they reveal something else to me. It’s okay; it’s where they’re at. I just can’t be where they’re at, especially if it stops me from moving forward. I thank them for having been in my life, because everyone comes into your life for a reason–whether to learn from you, or to help teach you a lesson–and for that I’m thankful. I don’t ever wish anyone I care about any sort of ill will, but I also care enough about myself to discern who should be at the table of my life, and who should maybe also no longer have the invitation to be there. That discernment is a skill that this ‘year of no fear’ has taught me, and I’m grateful for it. (Maybe, in 2017, I’ll get better at my discernment…with practice.)

I used to be fearful of love, I think, but I’m not anymore. I see it in many places now, and not just in traditional ones. If you’re in my life, you know that I radiate love and light. I didn’t used to think I did, but I know I do now. I know life is too short. I radiate it, I know, but I also deserve to receive it in return. I didn’t used to think I deserved it, which is sad, but I do know I deserve it now. It can’t just be a one-way street, exchanging soul’s energy and light, in any type of relationship. I’ve seen it at work in my classroom, in how I work with my students, and in how they light up when we work together, with focus and curiosity, exchanging thoughts, ideas and even difficult questions. That’s a big lesson I’ve learned from my girls this fall, as I’ve been discerning in my own personal life. They show me that they love my light, by radiating it back and blossoming as thinkers and learners. That’s been one of the most rewarding things from these fall months, being back at school, finding my voice and light more as a writer-who-teaches, more than as a teacher-who-just-happens-to-write. I hope they sense that, too…that we’re on the path together, sharing the journey and light.

I used to be fearful of being too judgemental, but now I know that discernment isn’t the same as (too quickly) judging someone. I am so not impressed by fake people, by ‘plastic’ people who only live on the surface of things, or people who are driven by their ego. Sometimes it takes me a while to see it, to sense it, but once I do, well, I have to distance myself. If people are more into purchasing things, or buying ‘logo’ wear, or just seem more comfortable with living on the surface, in a superficial or self-absorbed way, then I can’t resonate with that energy anymore. There’s too much rich diversity in the world to fiddle with that nonsense. There isn’t that time that can or should be wasted. I can’t waste it, anyway.

One of my girls asked me last Friday, intuitively giving me the gift of a book I’d been longing for but hadn’t yet bought, “Miss, you know how you say it’s your ‘year of no fear’?” so I said, “Yup. I’ve tried. It hasn’t been absolutely perfect, but nothing ever is…” She continued on, smiling at me, “You know how you said you wanted to learn how to skate? And go to New York City? And get a tattoo? You didn’t do those things, did you?” I shook my head, “Nope, but I will. Somehow, though, I think I’ll get to it all in 2017. What I did in 2016 was much more amazing than just standing up on skates on a northern lake, or getting a tiny tattoo in memory of my parents. It’s what I did with my life, with my soul and heart, it’s that what made the difference, you know?” And then she nodded, smiled, and wished me a Merry Christmas.

So, I wish you all, all of you who read this little blog of mine, who find some comfort in my musings, a very blessed New Year. Here’s to new experiences, more love that is openly given and received, and more light in a world that seems, I think, to need more and more of it every day.

And thanks for reading these scratchy ponderings. I’m glad they resonate with some of you…I like the idea of ripples moving outwards in a universal and poetic way. It comforts me, makes me feel less solitary in the middle of the bush this afternoon.

blessings and peace, friends.
always,
k.