Archive for June, 2014

For some reason, for the last few hours, this Cat Stevens song has been running through my head. I remember driving in my mum’s old vintage orange VW Beetle. She would smoke like a fiend, fiddling with the stick shift with one hand, manoeuvering the cigarette with the other, and then somehow try to shove a cassette tape into the minimalist stereo system in between this Cirque de Soleil act. (I loved that car so much. Mum called it “navel,” because it was orange. It had come from Saskatchewan and was in excellent condition for the 1980s/90s. . .something about them not using salt out there on the winter roads. Somehow, the darn car lived and lived and lived, but it did often slip backwards down Van Horne hill in the middle of winter.) 🙂

Anyway, one year Mum was on a Cat Stevens kick. She played those three cassette tapes everywhere, in the car, at camp, on the ‘ghetto blaster’ that sat on the dishwasher in the kitchen. She hummed along, sang along when she thought no one was listening. For some reason, that song’s been in my head today. Weird. So, I went to listen to it again on YouTube, to check out the lyrics, to see if there was a message in there for me. (Yes, poets and intuitive souls look for signs….deal with it!)

In case you want to hear it, check this out:

It’s the idea of being followed by things….shadows….of perhaps thinking of past events or people who have been part of your life. Timely, this week, given that I’ve had two clutches of old friends magically reappear. One such pairing includes two old university friends, Robin, who now lives in Korea, and Kim, who still lives here in Sudbury. The other clutch includes three dear friends whom I met on the Sudbury LEAF Person’s Day Breakfast committee back in the 1990s. We were all so much younger then. Now, all of these people have families and children….but not me. In both cases, I found myself wondering how I might have lived alternate lives if I’d taken different paths in my 20s….if I had not stayed here in Sudbury, but left to go do my PhD in English at Memorial in Newfoundland; if I had not dated a certain person; or, even, if I had not taken a certain job. It got me thinking about that Gwyneth Paltrow movie, “Sliding Doors,” where she sees different variations of what her life might alternately have been.

While I enjoyed seeing all of these people, I found myself nostalgic and a bit melancholy afterwards. How had I lost touch with them? What had happened? Was it something that I had neglected to do or say? Had I offended anyone, or been standoffish? (Sometimes, when I’m depressed, I push people away….I think it’s a way to protect myself. It doesn’t seem to be conscious, but rather a survival technique of some sort.) Some of these old friends had moved away, that’s true, and there is always a ‘falling away’ that occurs naturally as we grow and mature. It’s like erosion or something, I guess….We go our separate ways, find new friends (or not), and find that we have less in common (with new and old friends) than we thought. Otherwise, surely we would stay more closely connected, more aware of our respective joys and struggles.

The words of the song ringing in my head today had me humming in the car after I picked up dog food at the vet’s. Where had it come from? Mum’s old song, yes, but the words seemed important….Part of it seems to be about being hopeful in all situations. I like that. A lot. The other part of it seems to speak about the power of faith, in whatever god or source/force that resonates with your heart and soul. The idea of surrendering to the universe strikes me now, too. I’ve been reading Adyashanti’s wonderful book, Falling into Grace: Insights on the End of Suffering. He speaks of letting go of struggling to understand, and also of being open to seeking, but not for any specific end goal. Both the Adyashanti book, and the Cat Stevens song, speak of the idea of letting go to find something that is meant for you….brought to you through the universe. Cool.

I miss those old friends. Sitting with them, I could recall scents, sounds, conversations, laughter, shared drinks, late nights, early mornings, all of the wonderful things that seemed to populate my 20s. I lost a lot of them in my 30s, when I dealt with major depressive disorder, and took care of my ailing parents. Some days, I sit and think of how my 30s just disappeared because of duty, but more importantly because of love. I don’t regret those days, but it does sadden me to think I missed out on things other friends now have because I was busy trying to get healthy and trying to help my parents. I’m not bitter….just a bit puzzled some days. (I think I would’ve made a good wife and mother, but that wasn’t the path for me. Poet and seeker, instead, certainly.)

What I’m learning from Adyashanti, though, is that I can’t look backwards too often, even fondly in memory. The mind plays tricks with memory, anyway, and often gilds it in emotional hyperbole. Getting healthy over the last few years has an ongoing (and often slogging sort of) process. One thing I’ve really gotten good at, I think, is being more mindful of my present. Digging in the garden, walking the dogs, loading the dishwasher, writing down a line or stanza of a poem….all of these things I try to do with mindfulness….and it has brought me some great measure of contentment.

So, yes, I’m always likely going to be followed by someone’s moonshadows, and I’m going to keep those memories deep and dear to my heart, but my focus is on the present now (after so long in the shadows of the past). I send those past friends, loves, memories all the best, all my love…as I fall into grace.

Breathe in, breathe out. Again.

peace, friends.

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A person who is close to me this week said that, to her, “the past” encompasses the last six or seven months. It made me laugh a bit because my idea of the past stretches much farther back in time and space. When I think of the past, I think of twenty or twenty-five years ago, especially lately. It’s that time of year when, as a teacher, you watch the Grade 12s ‘leave the nest’ of high school. It gets you nostalgic, if you’re at all human. For me, it just pulls me back in time. You see, I teach at the very same school where I went to high school. I graduated in June 1989, so this is the 25th anniversary of my time spent at Marymount as a student. A bit Whovian, I know….

Anyway, graduation was last week. It took place in the very same church where I graduated. I remember, too, trudging down “The Green Stairs” every month or so to celebrate Mass. We wore grey skirts, white blouses, and heavy woollen cardigans with two white strips on the arm. The school’s crest was massive and covered (pretty much!) the whole of our left chest. You couldn’t miss us snaking our way down the stairs and then across the road to Christ the King Church. It also happens to be the church that my grandmother and great-aunts attended, so I spent a lot of time there, at Mass, as I was growing up. (I remember being bored, but I also remember being able to scam a peppermint Life Saver from my Gram Ennis if I got a bit restless….)

Graduation last Thursday night pulled at me. Part of it is the weird space/time continuum thing that happens in my heart. I still remember hearing my name called, winning the History award, and also going out on the front lawn to take photos with friends and family. That part really hasn’t changed. The other part that hasn’t changed, and hasn’t since I’ve started teaching at the school in September 2004, is the sad clutch of memorial awards. They always kill my heart.

One award in particular makes me very sad. First, though, I need to contextualize my first year at Marymount. To be honest, my Grade 9 year wasn’t easy. I was overweight, too smart for my own good, had Brillo pad hair, and wore crappy black orthopedic shoes because of a nasty hip surgery that I’d had as a child. I was bullied, no questions about it. (I figure this is partially why I’m so adamant about stopping bullying or anything that even slightly resembles it when it even seems to rear its head.) Anyway, my Grade 9 year was horrible. Most of my time at Marymount wasn’t easy, until I found a little group of outcasts who were a lot more like me than not. They made me feel included, rather than excluded, and that’s when I began to love Marymount. It snuck up on me, and that love sits firmly in my heart and soul to this day.

My great-aunt, Helen Kelly, was a Sister of St. Joseph, so she lived in the residence tower attached to the school. Some afternoons, we would meet behind the grand chapel, in the sacristy, and talk about family, or family history, or just about how school was going. She always made tea and had Peak Freans on a little plate, and she tended the flowers in the front flower beds around the white statue of Mary. Somehow, I think Aunt Helen knew what it was to feel a bit out of sorts, or not included. She did her best to make me feel at home. It helped.

So…back to Grade 9. I always think of the Bare Naked Ladies song, “Grade 9.” It wasn’t stellar. I remember thinking, “Oh my God, those Grade 13s are soooo cool.” (They even seemed to make the grey skirts stylish somehow, but I can’t imagine how now…) It’s funny that I didn’t know many of their names. I knew the older sister of a friend who also lived in the Minnow Lake area, so I always thought she was the greatest. She seemed to swoop up the bus stairs and down the aisle to the back, where the big girls sat. (It was so much a caste system then, even though I don’t think I fully realized it.)

Another girl who stuck out in my memory, even now, was a girl named Brinda Pada. She was in Grade 13, graduating in June 1985, and seemed so much of an ideal to aspire to…I guess we Grade 9s were always trying to impress the older girls. What I remember about Brinda is that, while other Grade 13s weren’t always friendly or even kind to the younger girls, she was. She smiled when you passed her in the hall and I remember thinking that she seemed almost, from a distance, serene. For someone who was bullied and an outcast, it mattered that someone was nice. Her sister, Arti, was in Grade 10. She was full of life, with a fabulous smile and infectious laugh. In contrast to Brinda, Arti seemed a bit of a fire cracker in spirit.

Was I their friend? No. Do I remember them? Yes. How could I not? They were kind to me, in passing, but in a way that marked my poor little Grade 9 battered heart.

I remember it being exam time, in late June, likely the 24th, and I remember coming to school and there were people crying. Sister Shirley Anderson, our principal, spoke to us on the announcements, telling us that something horrible had happened….we had lost two of our students. Our homeroom was silent. The school was silent. Into the space of the silence, the news of the Air India explosion over Ireland entered into our sacred space. The world never seemed the same after that. Brinda had just graduated and now she was gone. Arti would have been going into Grade 11, but she would never get there. They had been on their way to India with their dad, to meet their mum, who had gone on ahead.

Each year at graduation, the vice-principal calls out the Brinda and Arti Pada award, and my heart cracks, breaks a little bit more. It’s just short of thirty years, and I can’t stop thinking of the two of them. Their deaths, so unnecessary, stole a bit of innocence from all of us, I think. (I can’t speak for the other girls who were at the school that year, but I know it affected me. I learned that death could come without warning, regardless of age or gender. I learned that people could be evil in the world, and that there was no figuring out a reason why so many lives were lost. It was a rude awakening…)

So it’s funny when someone says “the past” is only just a few months gone. For me, the past haunts the building in which I now work. Good (and bad) high school memories hide around corners of the cinder block walls every day. Mostly, now, they’re fondly gilded in memory. The loss of those two girls, though, is a bad memory that can’t be banished….and probably shouldn’t be.

I think of them both every June…when the award is given…and when the CBC reminds me of the horror of the events of June 23, 1985 on an annual basis. There’s no forgetting them.

All this to say that we can’t always know what will happen in our lives, how they will change in a split second, how we will be severed from those we love so dearly without warning. All this to say that we need to value one another, in the face of greater evils that impinge on goodness around the world. By valuing one another, by treating one another with sheer kindness and compassion, we press up against any darknesses that are unnamed. We exist, and I think we do them some honour by living as they would live…with great spirit, compassion, and kindness.

I think of them still. I will never forget.


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On Thursday night, I went to a workshop at Charmaine Kennedy’s wonderful shop, Tree of Life North, here in Sudbury. Charmaine is a good friend, a guru, and a spiritual guide. The workshop was titled “The Art of Letting Go: Stress Release through the Medium of Mandala Art.” Now, I do have a few mandala colouring books. An artist friend of mine gave them to me when I went through a dark period of depression back in January. I had experienced a body and soul crushing episode of bronchitis that left me breathless, and homebound, for about three weeks solid. (Sometimes, I learned, the universe has a way of slowing us down even when we least expect it, or when we least think we need or want it to happen.) Anyway, Trish brought me mandala colouring books, which I found were intriguing. A student from school had told me in the fall that she often colours to relieve stress. “Miss,” she said, “You should try it. All you need to worry about is picking the next colour!” When Trish brought me the colouring books in the deep grunge of January, with their beautifully intertwined and intricate mandalas of Celtic origin, well, I figured it was a sign. Colouring them in was hard as they had tiny lines intersecting in all sorts of odd ways. I felt that my fingers were all a-jumble. 🙂

I had also heard of mandalas as a form of meditation when I began studying yoga, reiki, and Buddhism back in 2007. I remember watching some Buddhist monks build mandalas on sand, finishing them, only to erase them again and start over. It reminded me of the mystery of labyrinths, somehow, and I’d always been intrigued by them from the time I was a little girl. They were all ancient and mystical.

The mandala making workshop was something new for me. I rarely just jump into a group of strangers and try to “make art.” For me, the idea of creating visual art, though seductive, seemed intimidating. I don’t think you can be good at everything. I know words are my thing, but I often find myself ‘blocked’ or longing for something creative that might get my juices going in a different direction. I let two friends know about the workshop and they joined in.

In total, there were eight of us, not counting the instructor, Lizanne Leclair. We began by sitting around a series of tables that were shaped into a horseshoe of sorts. Lizanne gave us a brief talk about “sacred geometry.” The idea of sacred geometry is that it’s ancient and is made up of patterns that have been around for over 2500 years. Some of the holiest places in the world — churches, temples, Stonehenge, the pyramids at Giza — all have some aspects of sacred geometry within their architecture. We can even look to patterns in the natural world to see how sacred geometry infuses everything around us. Think of cells, pine cones, shells on the seashore, flower blooms, spider webs, snowflakes, the structure of a leaf, and even branching trees that reach out above our heads. When you get to looking for it, sacred geometry is just about everywhere.

The bigger idea behind it all, from what I understood of Lizanne’s talk, is that there is always a relationship between the parts of something, and the greater whole. It’s about the cosmos, and life. Deep, I know, and I will hardly pretend to know everything about sacred geometry, or the spheres that make up the various mandala patterns that have strung themselves throughout history, around the world. The sphere is a perfect shape, in many ways, and Lizanne told us that spheres represent unity, completeness, and integrity. It’s the way in which the spheres interact, interlace themselves, that leads us to see a variety of other shapes within the outside guiding circular line of the mandala form.

Once the talk was over, Lizanne handed out construction paper, compasses, pencils, and coloured pens, markers, and pastel sticks. What, I thought, is going on? “Aren’t we going to get more information before we begin to create mandalas? How do we know what we’re doing?” I asked. “No”, she smiled and laughed. “It’s an intuitive process…what needs to emerge through the mandala, what your soul needs to express, will emerge.”

The first half hour was excruciating for me. I kept trying to draw the ‘perfect circle’ with my compass and pencil. I focused on that, rather than trying to imagine what would fill in that space. The empty space frightened me, intimidated me, freaked me out. Rather than being a stress releasing sort of workshop, it was, for me, stress inducing. 🙂 I soon figured out what my head was doing: I was trying to focus on what the end product would be, rather than just being in the moment and feeling out the experience of creating a mandala. It wasn’t just ‘art,’ but it was a spiritual form of art and creativity.

This was my Type A personality emerging from the darkness. Now, I got a sense of how my students feel when I give them the rough outlines of an assignment or task, asking them to fill in the blanks with their creativity. “Aha,” I thought, “this is how they feel….”

Before I knew it, though, I had stopped sighing quietly, stopped being frustrated, and put my faith in the process, as Lizanne had asked us to. It worked. My pencil swirled around the page, dividing things up with a ruler, or just free handing a design that struck me as important. There was no mindful presence, no sense of having a set destination. Instead, it was about trusting that my soul would guide me. Before I knew it, we were an hour or more into the workshop. The time had flown by.

What I learned is that sometimes I need to get out of my own way. My preconceived notions of what I thought the workshop would be like stopped me, at first, from entering into the spirit and process of the thing. Once my ego stepped aside, my soul stepped up and I got to it. It’s kind of like life, I think. I was listening to Eckhart Tolle, on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday, and heard him talking about how we often look too far ahead and miss the most important thing — the moment within which we are living. We think ahead too much, not being mindful of the blessings of this moment in time. I think that’s why I like meditating or praying. It pulls me to a quiet place where my brain stops spinning.

Part of the reason I went to the workshop is that I suffer from anxiety. I know my triggers, so I avoid them, and I know how to use tools to diffuse panic when I’m in groups with lots of people. (I’m personable and good with people, but in large groups, well, I feel like hightailing it out of whatever room I’ve entered.) The ironic thing is that I often do poetry readings in front of large groups of people. I do get the jitters before those events, but it’s almost like a different part of my personality takes over when I read my work. I am certain of my words, of their meaning, so that lends me peace.

My goal this year is to be more mindful, to be more present within each moment. The mandala making workshop taught me that I still have a ways to go yet….but we are all companions on the journey, so I know that I will work away on it for a while to come.

Here’s hoping you have peace within yourself….and contentment. In my opinion, it’s worth way more than the frantic and almost unattainable happiness people talk about in pop culture. 🙂


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The last week or so has been one of peaks and valleys, I guess you could say.  The peak of the week was my traveling to Rutherglen, Ontario (just east of North Bay) for a Writers’ Union of Canada reading, and the valley would definitely be the death of the great Maya Angelou.  Let’s start with the peak, go down into the valley, and then begin a new ascent again….as I imagine Dr. Angelou would want us to do. 

Last Saturday, my friend Melanie Marttila and I took a poetic roadtrip to Rutherglen.  I’d be asked to read my work alongside some great Writers’ Union of Canada colleagues. The event was laughingly titled “Fools on Stools,” even though we rarely used the aforementioned stools!  🙂  Mel and I left a bit late (my fault!), as I  had wrongly envisioned the space between North Bay and Rutherglen as being less than it was in actuality.  (Things on my maps always look closer than they are in reality….like that saying at the bottom of your car’s rearview mirror!)  We were meant to arrive in time to start the reading at 2pm, but we got there around 2:15 or 2:20pm.  It was embarrassing, and I apologized…not my finest hour as I’m always in time for my poetry readings.  I’m a dork, though, when it comes to time and space continuums, it seems, which may very well explain my obsession with Dr. Who. 

The next two hours, though, were inspiring.  I read alongside Ken Stange (a great North Bay poet), Barry Grills (who has a wonderful book about his relationship with his dog, titled Every Wolf’s Howl:  A Memoir), Steve Pitt (whose diversity of subjects and genres amazes me), and Ric de Meulles (a fellow Sudbury writer whose latest novel is called Hickey’s Dead).  It was interesting for me to be the only woman writer in the crew.  There is a distinction in topics and style that seemed obvious to me last Saturday afternoon.  It made me ponder the role of gender, again, in terms of creative process, final product, and voice. 

All in all, it was a stellar afternoon.  I sold a few books, left a few more on consignment in the amazing little La-Tea-Da Café in Rutherglen, and met some fellow WUC’ers in person!  I’m so proud to be a member of the Writers’ Union of Canada, but this was really my first opportunity to hang out with real, three dimensional members.  All of us are members of a smaller regional group called the Northern Ontario Literary Lights (NOLL).  Spending a few hours with fellow writers always leaves me feeling more myself than usual.  Being with writers makes me feel like I’ve come home.  It’s hard to explain.  I tried to explain this feeling at my writing circle this week, but I really don’t know that people truly understood.  The ones who do get it, writers who feel the difference when they’re not with writers, know what I’m talking about.  Most of the time, I make my way through the world fairly efficiently, but I never feel I’m fully living my purpose.  When I’m writing, though, or reading my own work, or conversing with writers, I feel like I’m more myself.  There is no need to explain my eccentricities, my wonderings and ponderings; I can freely share them with other writer types and this makes my brain explode into a state of sheer happiness and creativity.  The community of writers is an important thing to a writer’s own creative life, I think….and, in Northern Ontario, it’s not always an easy concept as we are all divided by so very many rock cuts, pine trees, lakes, and highways.  Last Saturday made the geographic challenges disappear and made me feel more connected again.  Plus, being with Mel always makes me happy as we’ve been writer friends for about 25 years now.  She’s my oldest and dearest friend.  A weekend with Mel is a weekend of laughter, great conversation, and shared history.  She’s my soul sister.  🙂

The valley this week was, quite obviously, the death of Dr. Maya Angelou.  Anyone who reads my blog knows that I think highly of Angelou’s work.  She was (how awful to write about her in past tense!) such a great poet and prophet-soul.  At times like these, when we lose fellow writers, I often spend hours on YouTube, searching out readings and listening to them read their work.  Technology has brought us forward so that we never truly lose our poets and writers anymore….their voices and images will live on in ways that T.S. Eliot or Tennyson could never have imagined.

I will miss knowing that Maya Angelou isn’t on the planet anymore….but I am so thankful for all of the words (and great wisdom) she shared with us.  When I first heard the news, I gasped and my hands literally flew to my mouth.  It was as if someone had kicked me in the gut, so that I’d been winded.  I was shocked.  I knew she had been ill.  I followed her on Twitter and Facebook, along with hundreds of thousands of other fans.    You see, when I hear of a poet or writer’s death, it feels as if I’ve lost a family member.  It really does.  For me, they are my greatest teachers. What Maya had going on was that she knew how to share her love of poetry with millions of people around the world…to show people that poetry does have a power that cannot be denied or oppressed.  That is why I think of her as a poet-prophet.  She perceived the act of writing poetry as being a creative act, but she also saw it as a way in which to inspire people to be better human beings, to make the world a better place. 

I think of Seamus Heaney, too, as I write this…and I am sure that he has at least had Maya over for a pint of good Irish beer with Yeats.  She’s probably met up with Nelson Mandela again, too.  (It’s obvious that I have a strong belief in the afterlife.  While I fear the pain of what death might bring my physical body some day in the future, I do not fear crossing over to meet the people I’ve loved….and the poets, artists, musicians, and writers I’ve been inspired by over the years.)

I know that Maya has her wings.  She had them here, on this earth plane, but now she is another poetic angel in the firmament….her voice ringing in my ears, and in my heart.  Bless her. 





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