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Archive for February, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

peace,
k.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wish the same for all of you.

peace,
k.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

here’s to wishing you all forward movement….

peace,
k.

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