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Archive for December, 2016

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.

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I’m in the middle of nowhere tonight, literally and metaphorically, I suppose. I’m twenty minutes outside of Bobcaygeon, the town (and not the Tragically Hip song!). I’m thinking of how quickly (and how slowly) five years can pass in a life. It’s five years, tonight, since I lost my dad. I’m here in Bobcaygeon working on my novel. It’s the third draft, and now it sometimes feels a bit like it’s an albatross around my neck. I worked through one hundred pages today, so tomorrow I’ll start again, tediously reading it for errors and thinking through structural fuck-ups, trying to sort out how I can fix them, and wondering (sometimes) if it’s even worth it. I’m a poet, not a novelist or a playwright, so I always feel a bit like a fraud when I venture into those two ‘other’ genres. Or, maybe I’m just more of a ‘writer’ than I thought, as a dear mentor of mine said to me this year. I’m becoming more than what I thought I was, which is always a bit odd…that transformational stuff.

Five years. Here’s what I miss the most about my dad: his smile (it was big and beautiful); his laugh; his spirit (even when it was a horrible time in his life, he showed me how to live gracefully and I hope I’ve learned to embody that in the time since his going); his overdramatic recitations of Robert Service poems and Shakespeare sonnets; his advice (it was good…grounding for me); and his hugs (I can’t tell you how much I miss his hugs…). I even miss our tiffs, our little squabbles that would end with my fiery Irish and poetic piss-and-vinegar-self and his exasperated shaking of his head, as if he couldn’t believe he had created such a daughter. Even that…I miss now.

I hope I didn’t trouble him. I think, sometimes, I might have. I know, at the end, when all was said and done, we both came to rights with our relationship. One night, a week before he died, I sat in a darkened palliative care room and listened to him talk about his life…and he apologized for anything he might have done poorly as a father…as if I could judge that, not being a parent myself, and not knowing how hard a job that must be. When I tried to shush him, to comfort him, he kept going, telling me what he thought I needed to know: Life was a fast moving train, he said, and he told me to do what I loved. He said I should travel, write more poetry, fall in love. He told me not to worry so much, or overthink things, even though he knew I would always do so. He told me to gather people in and not push them away, as my mother sometimes did. He taught me to live bravely, to press back against my imagined fears, and to speak my mind and heart. He was the best teacher, in those last weeks of his life, and I still remember those chats with great fondness and wonder.

Walking on these winter bush roads today, with Sable grumbling (because, let’s face it, she’s old now) and Gully rushing ahead like a mad man, I thought of Dad and how I’ve grown into myself–blossomed, really–since he left.

I’ve bought a house of my own, which I hope he would like the idea of…but which he warned me against while in hospital those last few weeks. (“Get someone to help you, if you buy a house. Contractors will take advantage of single women, you know. Pretend you have a boyfriend or a husband. Don’t let them take you for a ride. Borrow a man friend. Or, Kim, why don’t you just get an apartment?!”) I can still remember how he warned me against a house, even though I told him I wanted a yard for the dogs, and a place to create a garden, to remind me of him. When things go wrong, the first person I want to ask what to do is him, but I can’t…and then I speak out loud to the air and say “See. This is why you shouldn’t have gone. This is why I needed you to stay for just a bit longer.” When I painted the kitchen backsplash with chalk paint last month, I could just hear him in my head, “Oh, God…whatever are you doing? That isn’t going to work!” 🙂

I had my third book of poems published, just eleven months after he left. When he was dying, he said one night, “I really want to be there, at your launch, to see you read, to see that book. But, even if I’m not there, I’ll be there. I’ll be watching.” And I remember that I wept into the crook of my arm, turning so he wouldn’t see me in the dark night of that palliative care room, trying to be brave for him as he moved away from me, further from life and closer to his leaving.

I was named poet laureate this year. It still feels weird to me, that whole thing. (The guy I rented this little cottage space from, when I arrived yesterday with the dogs in tow, said “Wow. You’re a poet laureate? That’s impressive.” And I shook my head and just said, “Yeah, I guess, but I’m just me…and sometimes you just need to be yourself, you know, and read and write and walk down long roads.”) Dad wanted me to be poet laureate; he talked about it before he died. “Some day,” he said, “you’ll be poet laureate.” And I just shook my head and said, “No, I don’t think so.” And he said, “Yeah. You will be. I’m just sorry I won’t be here to see it.” He had more faith in me than I did in myself…but I’m getting better at that these days.

I have travelled. Before he died, I didn’t leave Sudbury very often. I wanted to be there in case he needed someone to advocate for his health care, which was complex in the last few years of his life. I didn’t want him to feel alone, which I knew he felt, being inside a nursing home when he didn’t want to be there. And, on some level, I think, I thought maybe he wouldn’t die if I stayed close to him. It was silly, I know, but the heart is a weird creature. After he died, well, I’ve travelled a lot…more than I have in my whole lifetime…and even to places I didn’t really want to travel. I had no real desire to travel to Scandinavia and Russia, or Australia and New Zealand, but I went, and mostly because I could hear his voice in my head: “You need to travel, to see the world. Life is too short. Don’t wait.” So I went. And I’m glad I did.

And now, well, I miss him terribly. I miss my mum, too, of course, but he was the one who was always encouraging me to be braver, to push against any imagined fears. So, in the last five years, I’ve gotten healthier. I’ve lost a lot of weight, dealt with depression and anxiety, and tried really, really hard to be less guarded in how I live my daily life. I tell people who are important to me that they are important to me. I’ve frightened more than one or two in passing, I know, but I also know that life isn’t guaranteed to us for any particular length of time. That was the most important lesson that my parents taught me before they went…that you can’t wait, or dawdle, or put off your dreams. They put off their dreams, and it didn’t work very well for them. Their health caught up with them and their dreams were dashed. The only thing that is guaranteed in this life, I’ve learned, is that you need to learn to live in the moment as often as possible, and to live in wonder, with a sense that everything has potential and possibility. There’s such beauty in that…

Walking down these gravel roads today, I kept thinking, “Oh, I’d love to live near water…somewhere like this…” but then I passed two monster houses that were obviously just some wealthy people’s summer homes, and I knew that Dad also taught me lessons about wealth: it isn’t about monetary wealth. Not at all. You can have all the money in the world, but you can still be miserable. The greatest riches in this life come from inner peace, contentment, helping others as best you can, and time spent with people you love, and who love you back in return. The moments we live, fully, are the true reflection of our wealth. He taught me that, and I love him for it.

So, since he’s died, I’ve travelled and written, and become more of myself as a writer and as a person. I’ve lost some friends, but I’ve gained ones who resonate more with who I am now. I can’t stand drama, so if I sense someone likes it, I just avoid that person. It’s hard to explain, but I know that life is a gift. Little things aren’t important. Big things are. Time is too short, too precious, to fiddle with drama. Love is all that really matters, and light is the way that love travels. (Can you tell I’m a poet?!) 🙂

I love the north, but I don’t think I’m going to live there for many more years. Sometimes the place you were born in helps you to grow and then nudges you forward to some other place. In the last year, especially, I’ve fallen in love with other places and spaces, with landscapes that speak to me, that have become a part of me. I’ve gathered up bits of stone and trees, drawing spirit of place into me and rooting into ancient spaces–whether it’s Pelee Island, Vancouver Island, Banff, Kingsville, the farms and fields of southwestern Ontario, these long winter winding roads in Bobcaygeon, or even the Highlands of Scotland and the wild and stark beauty of the Inner Hebrides. So, I haven’t fallen in love in the way my dad hoped I would…but I’ve learned to breathe in the spirit of place and find something magical there. And I don’t know that I’ll teach for much longer because, to be honest, my heart has drifted somewhere else…towards the words that seem to want to come out of my mind and spill onto the page. (Don’t worry; I’m not shipping off or quitting my day job any time soon, but I know I’m shifting…and, for the first time in my life, maybe, I’m not fearful of that shift. That, to me, is a revelation.)

I miss him. Five years is a blink, a heart beat, and also forever. I’ll remember what I always said to him, before I left nursing homes and hospitals, knowing that nothing was guaranteed. “‘Night, buddy. I love you. Be good.” It’s what I still say to him, in my heart and head, every night. I can still see him smirk, tilt his head and answer, “I’ll try, Kim. I’ll try.”

peace, friends.
k.

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Project ArmHer, which plays on the strong symbolism of the word ‘armour,’ is a collaborative and multi-media theatre piece organized by the Sex Workers Advisory Network of Sudbury (SWANS) and Myths and Mirrors Community Arts. It was given its first dress rehearsal, to a small and carefully invited audience of supporters, in an undisclosed location here in Sudbury this past Saturday, December 17, to recognize International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. The words, though, the words come from the brilliant local playwright, Sarah Gartshore, who also happens to be a close friend of mine.

Sarah and I met about fourteen months ago in Sudbury Theatre Centre’s “Playwrights’ Junction,” led by local playwright and novelist Matt Heiti, and found out we were ‘kindreds.’ She’s one of the few people in the world whom I’ve met these last couple of years who feels as if I’ve known her forever. That means a lot to me, when I sense a connection of depth. Some people are a bit uncertain of such a connection’s intensity, but I’m not; I know it’s there for a reason for it being there, and I know there’s a reason why I met Sarah, and why she met me. It’s cosmic.

In Sarah’s own words, “ArmHer was written after I was commissioned by Myths and Mirrors Community Arts to capture stories shared by the women of Sex Workers Advisory Network of Sudbury (SWANS). For ten months, Tracy Gregory, Lanna Moon, Cait Mitchell, Sarah King Gold, and myself met with the women of SWANS to share in art creation.” Sarah listened to the women’s stories and crafted them into a series of strong, powerful monologues. When I first was invited to a private staged reading in the early summer this year, I was moved to tears. Sarah’s work, if you know it, has a rhythm and cadence to it that draws you in as an audience member. (If she weren’t a playwright, she’d be a performance poet.) She writes in such a way as to “offer a platform for voices from the margins.” She is, she has also written, “from water and story tellers…from the words of women and writing every day.” Sarah’s work often embodies research amidst groups of people who tend to be disenfranchised. She will spend hours at a bus station, observing people, speaking with them, listening to their stories and the lilt of their voices and life histories. She moves between worlds, I often think, in the way she collects the material for her plays, and then transforms it into something that lifts up off the page and stands up on the stage and then, well, walks into your heart and mind. She is just that good.

Some of my favourite pieces from the first read this year weren’t in this week’s production, but I still loved letting the words flow over me. Sometimes, when I listen to Sarah’s work in a theatre space, I just shut my eyes and let the words wash over me. I leave that space a changed person, I often find, just because her work is some of the most evolutionary I’ve heard in theatre in recent years. I have a few favourite pieces that were performed on Saturday, including “Shoe Whore,” “Complicated,” and “Land of My Body.” The first, a monologue about how the word ‘whore’ is used flippantly in society, strikes me. The voice speaking that monologue is of a woman who is a sex worker. She wonders why she can’t complain about her job, as others in offices might on a daily basis. Why is her work any less qualified as ‘work?’ This is the question that is posed and which sits in your mind long after the monologue is complete. The next, “Complicated,” is about a woman’s relationship with sex. This is never simple, for any woman, but for a sex worker there is a different facet of complexity involved. The voice questions as to when sex last damaged her, and when sex last delighted her. She lists off the number of times she’s engaged in sex, willing and not so willingly. It’s a different dynamic when you are a sex worker, I imagine, as you may not want to have sex with someone but must do so to be paid, to live, pay bills, and feed your children. In ending the monologue in a positive way, with the notion that the woman who is a sex worker can still claim her sexuality and revel in it, that she can feel joy in a genuine orgasm and in being alive, Gartshore has empowered that woman’s voice and story. The final piece that sits with me still is “Land of My Body,” which speaks to the idea of violence and sex workers. Sarah’s tendency to use choral responses adds to its eerie echoes. There is, this piece tells us all, no reason for violence to be done to a woman’s body, or a man’s body, or anyone’s body. The linking of violence to sex makes you realize, not that you’ve forgotten as you watch “ArmHer,” that these stories, of violence against women sex workers are more common than not and need to be stopped.

Sarah’s other work is impressive, too. She will cringe when she reads this, I know, but I can keep my head about me when I write about friends’ work if it’s really good stuff. She recently premiered “Survivance” at Native Earth Theatre in Toronto last month. That piece of writing, too, is chalk full of social justice and activism, and speaks to her awareness of First Nations issues. Coming up in the new year, Sarah will debut “Streethearts” at Thorneloe University, in the Ernie Checkeris Theatre space. I look forward to that piece, as well, knowing full well that her words and rhythms will sweep me away, drawing me into a different world, and making me think differently about how I live in this one.

The work done by “ArmHer,” and by the collaborative group of women who took part, was one of the most moving things I’ve seen in years. The weaving in of traditional First Nations drumming and singing, too, was an honouring of the missing and murdered indigenous women across Canada. The multi-faceted way in which this piece embodied so many important social issues, raising awareness of women’s voices from across society, is what makes it so vibrant and significant in Canadian theatre. I hope it sees other venues and larger audiences. This is what good writing, theatre, and art can do in a world that is more and more fragmented, it often seems to me; art should inspire, transport, transform, unify, and make us question our own beliefs and values, helping us to better form our world in a new and more kind way.

Congratulations to all those involved, and especially to the women who acted for the first time. Being so brave, to use words that were crafted from their own life stories, and acting them out in front of an invited audience, well, it struck me that they are stronger and more powerful than they can even know or imagine.

….and Sarah…well, you are magic. You bring words from the page to the stage, lifting stories up and giving them breath…raising them up so that we all listen and learn. (Besides that, though, I lost my hands in my lap on Saturday afternoon, with tears gathering in my eyes, so I know it’s good writing and good theatre. Yours, my dear friend, is always good writing because it reflects your heart and soul. No ego…just purpose and art. A perfect combination.)

peace,
k.

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Go figure. My Dad was never at a loss for words. Sometimes, he would drive me crazy, trying to fix everything that was going wrong in my life. (Dads do that, I think, for daughters…or at least that’s what he used to do for me. I haven’t asked my sister about how it worked for her, how their relationship differed, but I know that he used to go to watch football with her at a local watering hole. That never happened with me. I was the cerebral, creative one. She likely had more fun with him, I sometimes think, drinking pints and ‘shooting the shit,’ as he would have called it.)

When it came to our conversations, which were many–especially for the three years after my mum died–he’d sit there, listen to whatever I needed to talk about, nodding seriously, and then start asking questions. Usually the questions were of the ‘leading’ sort. He should’ve been a lawyer or something. He was a master storyteller, but he was even better at getting me to think about alternatives when I was up against a big, scary decision or had to deal with a problem at school, work, with friends, or boys…and later men. He liked being the sage oracle. In his last few years, he became even more philosophical, so that I often called him my ‘little Buddha’ or ‘Yoda.’

Christmas. Yeah. December is always the cruelest month for me. It’s bookended by two major death dates–my mum’s on the 18th and my dad’s on the 28th. I used to try to avoid it, I really did, but that just makes it worse. Better to sink into the ‘I miss you’ vibe than fight it. You can’t fight an emotion that is born of love. And you shouldn’t, I don’t think, so I’ve learned, last year and this one especially, to let myself marinate in the lessons I’ve learned over the last few years. I’ve also learned to be aware of serendipitous happenings…because I know Dad is still around, watching over me and giving me a nudge when I most need one.

Dad loved Christmas. He used to play Santa Claus at the old INCO Club on Frood Road for years, for as far back as I can remember. Even after he stopped working at the Copper Refinery in Copper Cliff, he still dragged us out to the Christmas parties for INCO kids every year. We knew it was him dressed as Santa. He was our dad. We were pretty smart girls. Every year, for a long time, he’d pretend that he didn’t know us, to try to trick us into believing he wasn’t the Santa in the big chair, but we knew. You couldn’t hide Dad…he had a lot of light going on in there. 🙂 So, Dad loved Christmas for as long as I can remember. Until my mum died…and then it was harder. I still remember the year he died, how he told me that he was sure he would die on the same date as she had. I thought that was a bit overly cinematic, and when he didn’t manage to synch the date, when he woke up on the 19th, he was actually kind of disappointed. He’d say, “You know, I saw her last night, and she looked like Judy Garland…so gorgeous. Like, Judy Garland, plus, plus, plus. I don’t understand why she doesn’t come and get me. Maybe she found someone else in heaven.” I assured him she wouldn’t do that, that heaven wasn’t a pick-up joint or an internet dating site; he was too unique…so I just kept telling him that it was obvious that he was for her, and she was for him, and that was part of the reason she was hanging around on the palliative care floor, waiting for him to let go. He took ten more days and then he went. Then, well, after that, Christmas just wasn’t the same anymore for me. It lost its shine.

My friend Brenda’s mum started the Christmas food basket campaign at our church years ago and, for the past few years, Brenda always lets me know which night it’s on. It’s the one thing I look forward to…I think because being of service to others at this time of year makes my losses seem less poignant or something. Packing boxes tonight–stacking up bags of potatoes and carrots, boxes of clementines and eggs, loaves of bread, and blue and gold boxes of Danish cookies–I kept thinking of how many people struggle at this time of year. It took about twelve of us an hour and a bit to organize 137 Christmas boxes. Tomorrow, some of the girls from school will go and help deliver them to families in need around the church. So many families…

Yesterday, in a seemingly unrelated event, I got a little package of essential oils that I had ordered in the mail. Yup. I love to burn lavender and patchouli. It’s part of what I do when I write, I guess…a sort of ritual. Seeing little tea lights brighten up a space, and listening to a bit of Bach or traditional Irish music, puts me in a frame of mind to write. Weird, but true. So, when I was unpacking the little box from the essential oils company, a couple of little Christmas tags fell out onto the counter. One, turned up so I could clearly see it, read “You are my sunshine.” I took a deep breath and shook my head. This was something Dad used to say to my sister and me, but he also loved to sing that song to us when we were little. It was sort of like he knew it was a rough month and showed up in a serendipitous way. Now, some people might not see this as a ‘visit,’ but I do. And, maybe, just maybe, some people would see it as a coincidence, but I don’t. I miss him. He knows it. I know it. We’re still connected. And for that I’m so grateful. Love can transcend distances, time and space. And every so often, well, Dad lets me know…and I wish against all wishes that I could have one more chat and hear just one or two more of those ‘leading’ questions that usually began with, “Okay, Kim…I hear what you’re saying…but what about…” I especially miss the southwestern Ontario accent he had, which always seemed weird when he said certain words, and how certain words or phrases sounded ‘off’ to my northeastern Ontario ears…how he let the words stretch out like pull taffy when they really didn’t need all of those syllables or time to create themselves. He just knew it was a way to keep your attention while he was telling a story, I sometimes thought. 🙂 (My voice takes after my mother’s, which was all sing-songy and wove itself with musicality into sound and language.) Still, these days, I’d give anything to hear his voice again…and those little vocal fingerprints of soul.

The universe sends you little gifts, if you are open to seeing them. My friend Sarah, a fellow ‘unicorn’ and playwright, has taken to calling me the “white Oprah.” I don’t know about that. I know I’ve learned a lot through being witness to life and its endings. It keeps teaching me lessons, this life, when I least expect it. Whether those lessons come in packing boxes for Christmas dinners, or in tiny tags with bits of string and words printed on them, I’ll keep my eyes open for them…and leave my heart open. When I’m most missing him, he sends me a little sign, just a tiny one, a ripple in the universal fabric of time and space, and I can almost imagine him sitting in his chair and saying, in the last week of his time here, “You know, life is too short, Kim. You need to travel, write poems, and love. That’s what I’m telling you. It just goes so fast. Too fast.” And then I can hear his voice, singing that song…

Thanks for the note, Dad. Thanks for the note.

peace, friends.
k.

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Some choices you make in your life define you, and help you to discover your own identity, even years after you think you will do so. When I took a minor in Native Studies (as it was then called) at Laurentian University in my undergrad years, I did so because I had always felt drawn to First Nations culture, history, and art. I had spent parts of my summers with my parents on Manitoulin Island, and I still remember going to see an archaeological dig at Providence Bay, listening to the archaeology students explain how people had lived, and why they had chosen that particular place to live. I knew very little about First Nations literature while at Laurentian, but this was in the early 90s and I was young. It takes time to build a body of knowledge from reading literature. You can never read enough, it always seems to me, and if you have a favourite genre or author, you can spend years exploring that genre or person’s body of work. I guess that’s part of why I love reading and writing so much…it really is such a vast country for the mind and spirit.

When I took Native Studies courses at University of Sudbury, I had the most amazing professors, including Barb Riley and Thom Alcoze. I learned a lot from Barb, as she was an elder who had moved north from Walpole Island, and shared a great deal of wisdom. I took more than a couple of classes with her and learned so much. Thom was a popular prof at the university. He was charismatic, extremely handsome, and a born storyteller, and it was this storytelling facet of his teaching that really resonated with me as a student. The one thing I will always remember, and I can still remember it was a night class and everyone was silent, caught up in his lecture, was that he talked to us about living mindfully on the earth. He said, “If you feel stressed,” and I remember he sort of jumped up and down on his feet as if he were antsy inside, “you just need to take off your shoes and your socks. You just need to go out there, out to that front lawn, plant your bare feet on Mother Earth and look up to the stars. Breathe in and then…” he would rock on his feet again, “Breathe out.” I just remember thinking, “Holy man…this guy…who is he?!” But I would carry that teaching of his from my early twenties to the present day. Now, I’m even more routine in my practice of gratitude. When I wake up in the morning, I always go right outside with the dogs, plant my feet on the ground, watch the sun rise, and thank the Creator, or God, or the Universe, or whatever you want to call it, for the gift of a new day. That’s my first thought–to be grateful and to be of best service in what I do, and in how I speak and act. It sets, I think, an intention for the day. So far, it’s working well for me. 🙂

For the past two days, I’ve had the great pleasure of professional development that actually spoke to me on a deep soul level. Our school board indigenous support worker, Carla, brought her uncle, Art, an Ojibway elder, to our sessions. He is a quiet man, but you can see his mind working, and his heart comes through in the words he speaks. He takes his time, choosing his words, thinking of what knowledge he wants to convey, and this wisdom just sort of permeated the two mornings we spent with him. He speaks slowly, he says, so that people who are listening can take the time to listen, can take the time to hear what needs to be heard. So much of what he said resonated with me, and made me feel blessed and glad to be teaching a Grade 11 course in First Nations, Metis and Inuit literature this year. I feel like I’m more of a learner than a teacher this semester, and watching my students learn about traditional practices and true First Nations history has taught me more than I could have imagined.

There’s something wonderful in hearing about how a 16 year old has been so moved by Richard Wagamese’s novel “Indian Horse” that she has asked her mum to read it, so that her mum can learn about residential schools. Here is where the whole ‘truth and reconciliation’ piece can come to fruition, in the ways that our children will teach their parents, the very parents who were not taught the true history of this country because a governmental and educational system wanted to avoid talking about things that were ‘unsavoury’ or that it felt needed to be hidden. There’s something inspiring, too, in hearing a student stop and say to me, “Miss, I can’t believe how horrible this is…how this even happened…how people let it happen…and how no one knows about this. My Dad didn’t know about it when I told him at dinner last night…and now I’m getting him to read this book.” That is why these courses need to be taught, why our teachers need to be trained about the cultural traditions and teachings as best they can be, and how our students will help to heal this nation.

Art spoke about how his parents feared he would be taken away to residential school. He never was, but he also spoke of how he feels that “two cultures” live inside of him. This struck me to the core. I’ve been teaching Richard Wagamese’s “Indian Horse” and Drew Hayden Taylor’s play “Toronto at Dreamer’s Rock” this fall, and both pieces of literature speak of how people are torn between the traditional ways and this modern, Eurocentric world. Art spoke of how the older world is always at risk of being lost, as elders grow older and die, and that there is such a need for stories and true history to be passed down. He spoke poetically, which also resonated with me: “We would like to build a world in which many worlds may exist.” Why, I wonder, is this such a hard thing to do? Our world seems so full of discord right now–filled with violence, excessive materialism, disconnection, lack of simple courtesy and kindness, and crammed full of superficial things. Even when I observe people’s interactions, I see a sort of empty hollowness there. Whereas people used to cultivate a depth of connection in simple interactions, now, I think and feel, everything seems more illusory and shallow. (I think of Internet dating, for instance, and this stumps me completely. My foray into this area this spring wasn’t rewarding simply because it all seemed so false to me. Others will argue the opposite, that there can be depth, but it seems to me that–sometimes–people are afraid of really knowing people on deeper levels. We all seem to be walking through the world, making the motions, but are more likely pale ghosts of what we could actually become…if we trusted ourselves.) What Art said yesterday and today made me realize this is why I am so drawn to First Nations teachings.

He spoke of how we all come from the Creator, how we “enter this world as spirit, and we leave this world as spirit.” I’ve seen this. Watching my parents die taught me this lesson. You come into this world on your own, and you end up leaving on your own. What you take with you is what you’ve learned on the journey. You love well, you gather love, you carry that with you. Always. How open and vulnerable you are to the learning, to the journeying, is what will help you cross over without fear. I saw the differences in this in the way my parents left the world. My mum left with great fear, which still bothers me, while my dad left with love, open to learning even more as he moved on. The difference between the two deaths–physically, spiritually, emotionally–was stark in contrast. The lessons I learned, the last ones they taught me on this earth, changed me completely.

Art talked about dreams, and how we can learn from our dreams. There are symbols and teachings in the dreams we have during sleep, and this is common to a number of cultures around the world, not just our First Nations peoples. He spoke about the Creator as “that one you cannot hide from.” Someone, some force, some essence, knows us to the core. I believe that is true. Otherwise, how could I–or anyone–feel a deep sense of purpose in being here on the planet, right now. It’s a time of shifting energies, I think, a time of great potential, even in the midst of such turmoil. Think of Standing Rock. Think of how that has unveiled itself, how people have felt drawn to that part of the world, to speak out on behalf of protecting the water and land. Art says “the land is living spirit.” It seems that people are waking up to this idea in a new, more serious sort of way these days.

The water protectors are important. The little girl from Wikwemikong, Autumn Peltier, who is just twelve years old, is my new hero. Last fall, Autumn went to GlobeDays, a Children’s Climate Conference in Sweden. She spoke of her worry for the health of the water: “In my own territory there are First Nations families that can’t drink the water. I have any auntie, Josephine Mandarin “Biidasige-kwe”, who prays for the water every day. She understands the importance of water. The women of the world must continue to support her. We need to heal the earth; now is the time for the future of humanity following behind us.” She’s all over social media today, speaking about the water and being honoured by the Assembly of First Nations. She’s twelve. How amazing is that?

This year, I feel I’ve come into myself somehow, and a lot of it has to do with a new closeness with the land. It doesn’t matter if it’s here, in Northern Ontario, or west from here, on the coast of Vancouver Island, or at the base of the beautiful mountains in Banff, or on Manitoulin Island, or on the farthest spit of land on Point Pelee, or even in the Highlands of Scotland. What matters is that I can feel a new, more intimate connection to the land, to that spirit, that I couldn’t feel before. Art spoke about how you can feel lonely in the world. I’ve always said that there’s a difference between feeling lonely and being on your own. I’m on my own, but I’m not lonely. I feel great connection to the spirit of the land, and perhaps that is why I am drawn so strongly to big, wide bodies of water that tug at me, or why I need to put my hands on the trunks of trees, or why I need to reach down and put my hands in earth when everything else seems to be spinning wildly around me. I feel blessed, finally, to find a place where there is such peace inside, and so much of this has come from realizing that the land is spirited, and that I am always learning, that the land is somehow teaching me my greatest lessons. When I can hear the wind in the trees at 6:30 in the morning on the edge of a beautiful northern lake, or when I can walk out on long winding Highland roads in Scotland and hear curlews and eagles calling from tall pines, I know there is something greater than us at work. I like feeling small. I feel held, somehow, cradled within a landscape that is ripe with spirit and teachings.

The greatest gift I learned from Art was what he said today, that we should “learn to walk with a sense of being graceful.” I would add “and grateful” to that sentence. I think I’m getting there. I actually think I’m finally getting there. And for that…well…I am truly grateful. And blessed. So blessed.

Chi-miigwetch and peace, friends.

k.

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