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Archive for February, 2017

Sometimes, you receive a book that someone knows will speak to you, or resonate with your heart and soul. My friend, Cristina, brought along a book for me to my house party a few weeks ago. At first, I thought, “Now, why would I be drawn to this story, and why does she think I need to read it? I sing, but I’m not a musician!” (I always try to figure out why people give me the books they do, to read and then return. I think, perhaps, part of it is because other people can see you better than you can sometimes see yourself and know which authors or artists you might enjoy exploring!) The book Cristina brought me, which was quickly stashed under another stack of ‘books-to-be-read-soon’ next to a few bottles of wine on the kitchen pass-through, was titled From Kitchen to Carnegie Hall: Ethel Stark and the Montreal Women’s Symphony Orchestra, and was written by Maria Noriega Rachwal. It’s published by Second Story Press in Toronto. I finally had a bit of free time on Friday night, so I read in bed before I fell asleep, transfixed by the vibrancy of the story of Ethel Stark. It wasn’t long before I could figure out why Cristina had thought I’d enjoy reading it.

Ethel Stark was a Jewish violinist from Montreal, a woman who went to America — New York City, in particular — to take part in all-womens’ symphony groups during the 1930s, during a time when racism and anti-Semitism was fierce and rampant. She was, by Noriega Rachwal’s account, a feisty, committed feminist who wanted to see more women playing in organized orchestras. Ethel wanted, too, to encourage women from across various socio-economic backgrounds, races, and religions, to gather together to attain a common goal, to play music. When she announced that the orchestra would have its first concert, Ethel was heard to say, enthusiastically, “Let’s get busy!” I love that. How can you not love someone who’s that dedicated to her dream and goal?!

In the early part of the 20th century, most men didn’t believe that women should be part of formal orchestras. If they were present, it was believed that women musicians should only play stringed instruments, to best showcase their ‘smaller, daintier hands’ and ‘hourglass figures.’ Violins and pianos, it seemed, were acceptable, but instruments like the cello and bass, however, were rather too risque. As the author writes: “The cello…was another matter. The possible ‘immodest’ images suggested by the manner of holding the instrument between the legs were enough to dissuade any ‘respectable’ woman from going near it.” One reviewer, when asked about the potential for a women’s orchestra being formed, intimated that “a woman’s lips could serve a better purpose, rather than on wind instruments.” The sexual connotations–the reduction of what a woman musician could be, and the objectification of a woman’s lips as only being purposeful for a man’s sexual gratification–incensed Ethel Stark. She used that anger to fuel her dream, to create an all-female symphony orchestra in Montreal, in 1940.

She and Madge Bowen, a local socialite who helped organize venues and raise money for Stark’s orchestra, created an “eclectic group of female suffragettes: young women, older women, students, grandmothers, a seamstress, a photographer’s model, a stenographer, several teachers, nurses, office clerks, and some factory workers…one woman was head of her household and the other a maid.” Working together, learning to play instruments, they learned that more united them than separated them. The symphony itself was born in 1940, the same year that women in Quebec were first allowed to vote.

While the Montreal Women’s Symphony Orchestra was preparing for its first big concert in the summer of 1940, a young black woman named Violet Louise Grant dreamed of making music her career. Violet played the piano and the clarinet, and soon became the first black Canadian to play in a Canadian symphony orchestra on a permanent basis. The MWSO was the first racially integrated symphony orchestra “devoted to the playing of ‘classical’ or ‘concert’ music in Canada, and quite possibly in North America.” Ethel Stark had helped Violet’s dream come true, despite all of the racism and prejudice that existed in Montreal at the time.

I’ve been working on about three separate writing projects this weekend. Two are done and sent off, but I have another to get at in a bit, after I make a cup of tea. The thing that most pulled me away from my own writing work this weekend, though, was this stunning book by Maria Noriega Rachwal. I’d put it down, make a small pot of fresh coffee, and then pick it up again. I’d take the dogs out in the back yard, crunching around on the snow, and then I’d try to do a bit more of my own writing work, but Noriega Rachwal’s story of how Stark revolutionized music in Canada, even North America, keep drawing me back. Her successful attempt to create an orchestra for women, inclusive in its scope, makes for stimulating reading.

It’s a week and a bit before International Women’s Day (IWD) now, which will be recognized on Wednesday, March 8th. Funny how I’ve come to this book in the days before that day, a day that we still need to celebrate and recognize in order to struggle to promote equality between the genders in North American society. I’ll keep Ethel Stark in my heart and mind as I go through this next week or so, reminding myself that so many women went before us, fighting against prejudice and racism, using the arts as a way in which to highlight the talents of women at the start of a century when they had to fight to even get the right to vote in Canada. We sometimes forget that it all really took place just a short time ago, and this book — of one woman’s struggle to create a safe, creative space in which women musicians could play and create music — reminds me of that.

There’s a grand CBC “Sunday Edition” documentary from 2012 that you can listen to if you want to know more about Ethel Stark and the Montreal Women’s Symphony Orchestra, but I’d also suggest you buy a copy of the book, so that you can support an author and a Canadian small press. The book’s hard to put down, and you feel a bit sad when it’s over being read. Ethel Stark died in February 2012, at the age of 101. I can’t imagine having such a long life, but you can hear all about how brilliant she was here, in this radio documentary.

http://www.cbc.ca/radio/thesundayedition/it-wasn-t-teatime-documentary-1.1734997

All of it, really, reminds me of how the arts can serve as a way to be socially and culturally active. That, for me, is a good lesson and a call to action for so many things. The arts can lift us up–whether theatre, literature, music, or visual–and are a key part of how Canadian society has become so vibrant over time. How wonderful is that, too, to see how Ethel Stark’s life changed the lives of so many others?

And how lucky am I, really, to have friends who lend me such fabulous books?
Brilliant. Just brilliant!

peace,
k.

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If you know me really well, you know I lead a sort of quiet life. I like listening to music, reading, writing, doing yoga and Zumba, lighting tea lights and burning essential oils, and walking the dogs at dawn. Not too exciting. Being the poet laureate of a city is a bit awkward, as I’ve had to be a bit more public. It’s also been weird to meet people who seem to know me, but I don’t know them. That’s a bit surreal. (That’s also probably why I’ve lately taken to going off to Bobcaygeon, to escape, to write in the middle of the bush in the depths of winter!)

I wanted to share this CBC Morning North interview here on my blog because I’m trying to encourage people to write some poems for my Sudbury Street Poetry Project. If you live in the City of Greater Sudbury, you can submit a poem to this project. The deadline date is Monday, March 20th (right after March Break ends) and the poems will be chosen and posted for National Poetry Month in April. You can see the list of participating businesses on the laureate page of the Greater Sudbury Public Library. Here’s the link for that page:

http://www.sudburylibraries.ca/en/booksmuchmore/Poet-Laureate.asp#StreetPoetryProject

Here’s the interview I did with Markus Schwabe the other day.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/sudbury/poet-laurete-visible-project-1.3997595

We had a lovely walk down Durham Street, chatting about poetry and our downtown core. Thanks to him, and to the crew at CBC Sudbury, for always being so darned supportive of my poetic initiatives. It’s been such a great year…and I still have until the end of this one to do more work! 🙂

peace,
k.

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I started teaching poetry in my Grade 11 class this week. To begin, I had the girls brainstorm around their views of poetry, after being in both elementary and secondary panels as they’ve come up through the system. The words and phrases started flying, so that I hardly turned my head from the whiteboard because I was writing so quickly. Here’s the list of some of the phrases: “terrifying,” “too difficult,” “confusing,” “not easy,” “like another language,” and “I hate it.” There were one or two words like “beautiful” and “artistic,” but I kind of think they did that because they know I’m a poet! 🙂

The course I’m teaching, NBE 3U, is centred around contemporary First Nations, Metis, and Inuit literature, but I did the thing I always do…I threw in one of my own poems, so that I could be vulnerable about how I create poems, and how they come to be in my mind and heart, and how I have an intention as an author when I write. I gave them my heart on a piece of paper, so that they could see you can be brave, as a poet and as a reader, with every piece of literature you consider and encounter. I talked about wanting them to understand annotation of a text as ‘having a conversation with the text and its author.’ I talked about how I love writing in the margins of my books and how I see characters as living people in my head. (They were mostly appalled about how I write in my books. “Miss! How can you do that to your books? You’re ruining them!” “Nope.” I answered, “Just having a conversation with the book and its people, or its poems and lines.” They did what they always do, which is mostly to shake their head and laugh because they’re not quite sure what to make of me after only two weeks into the new semester.)

When we were brainstorming preconceived notions of poetry, one student raised her hand to say, “Poetry is complicated.” Then, another student raised her hand and said, “No, Miss. Poetry is DEFINITELY complicated.” I threw back my head and just laughed. “We’ll see. By the end of this semester, I’ll have it as my goal to have converted you to see poetry differently.” She just shook her head.

The poem, “It deepens into love,” is one I wrote on Pelee Island last spring. I love it. I used images of geese flying in formation, individually strong but also part of community; stones on long, thoughtful beaches; water lapping on shelves of shoreline; and, fossils that represent pieces of memory and love. All of this is woven into the poem. So, I read the poem out loud to the girls, and asked them to cite the poetic devices. We talked about how I tend to use internal rhyme to create music in my work, rather than end rhyme. We talked about how images are the building blocks of good poems, how they evoke visual images (like photographs) in a reader’s mind, and we talked bout how metaphor works to create a wider meaning.

“It deepens into love” sounds like a love poem. When I read it, I asked the girls what they thought it was about. One spoke up. “It’s a broken hearted poem, isn’t it, Miss? Your heart is broken.” I just smiled at that. “Well, you’d be hard pressed not to have had a bit of heartbreak when you’re my age, so yes…” They thought it was a break up poem. One girl chimed in: “Well, he wasn’t very nice, was he, if he broke your heart.” What can you say? “No, he was fine…there were a few…and they’re all fine. It happens. Your heart breaks and you move on. We’re made to move forward, and not be vindictive or wish people ill will. What would that serve us, to be mean to other people after you’ve cared enough to love them, and for them to have loved you back?” They are teenagers, though, so that’s typical, to link everything to boyfriends, and to think that everything is so simply dealt with afterwards. “So, Miss, if it wasn’t about a man, then it’s about who?” Another girl answered before I could. “It’s about someone who died, isn’t it?” I just nodded. “My dad, actually.”

Then we talked about how love is linked to loss. All types of love–platonic, romantic, familial–they are all linked to love…having experienced it, even briefly, and losing it at some point. I told them I had written the poem after driving down through southwestern Ontario to get to Pelee Island. It is the country and landscape my dad most loved, through most of his life. In the last year, I’ve been down to Southwestern Ontario about five times, to different towns and places, and for different reasons. Each time, I think I am more and more drawn to its landscape, mostly because I feel him down here when I’m driving in the car. I can almost hear him giving me advice. It’s comforting. Arriving on Pelee Island, last May, I just remember thinking “Oh, I wish I didn’t have to be around all of these writers right now” because I felt raw and vulnerable. It felt like I had lost Dad all over again leading up to getting down to Kingsville. I had to pretend to be ‘normal’ when my heart was aching.

I kept thinking of C.S. Lewis and his A Grief Observed. It’s helped me so much over the past five years, since Dad went. I love the part where Lewis says that grief feels a lot like fear, even if it isn’t actually fear. Lewis also wrote, “I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow. Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process.” He was right about that. Lewis says that death is like an amputation. Make no mistake about it; it is. There’s a phantom pain that my mum used to talk about, after her foot was partially amputated. She felt that her toes were still there, and that they hurt, even if they obviously weren’t. I know, now, that the phantom pain you feel after losing people you’ve loved is just as awful. So. Lewis played a key role in “It deepens into love,” too. Love and loss will always be intertwined, but you can have a broken heart and still feel attached to the person, whether they are living or dead. That happens to me a lot. I think it’s my Irish psychic side. I just accept it. But that’s a whole other blog post and too much for me to feel while I sit on a Victorian settee and look out a bright bay window, in a beautiful yellow room in an 1870 historic house in Mount Forest.

I went on to ask them questions about how the stanzas and lines of the poem were structured, and the girl who had said poetry was “DEFINITELY complicated” chimed in to offer a number of answers and comments. I looked at her and smirked a bit, “Um, so, you think poems are DEFINITELY complicated, but you are giving me more answers than anyone else right now.” She turned bright red and smiled. “So, is it really DEFINITELY complicated now, after studying just one poem?” She shook her head. “No, but this is different. It’s your poem, and you make it easier to understand how it works, how you made it.” It made me happy to hear this because I know I’ll be able to work with this group and get them into the structure and architecture of poetry, but it also made me sad and a bit angry. Something has gone wrong with our education system in Ontario if a major genre of literature is so poorly taught at both the elementary and secondary levels of study.

I started a PhD in Education about ten years ago, but gave it up because I was beginning to deal with my own struggle with depression and then Mum got sick. It was too much to do a PhD on top of teach and take care of Mum, so I left it behind. No regrets there, though, because I had more energy to give my own writing. When I was doing a couple of PhD courses that year, my focus was on how poetry is usually taught in the school system in Canada. I read the work of Carl Leggo and Kieran Egan, both of whom talk about how imagination is key in terms of how we educate our kids. That’s a philosophy I can get behind, both theoretically and practically, in the classroom. Here’s what I know: when I go into the schools to work with kids, as poet laureate, and I talk to teachers, I get a sense that they aren’t sure of how to approach teaching poetry. One teacher this past year said to me, “Wow. That session you just led helped me to realize that I can do more than I thought in my classroom. I can use art to enter into it all…” I think, to be honest, that the League of Canadian Poets’ “Poets in the Schools” program is so key to all educators. As an educator, and as a poet and writer, I know I can use my love of poetry as a doorway into students’ hearts and minds. For me, it’s a key that unlocks a door. Once I unlock it, then I can help them to build a comfort level and actually want to spend time reading and talking about poems.

What needs to happen, if we are to change the way in which teachers and kids perceive poetry as a genre? You shouldn’t, for instance, hear that an entire unit on poetry was just left out of an English course because a teacher feels a bit uncertain of the genre. (You couldn’t get away with that in Biology, say, if you decided you didn’t feel comfortable with teaching about the cell or DNA. You shouldn’t be able to do it in English, either, but it’s happening more often than not, and across all boards.) This means, I think, that Bachelor of Education programs should maybe think about the way in which they have their in-service teachers trained. Yes, veteran English teachers make for good teachers of new English teachers, most times, but not always. Maybe they should also think about integrating actual writers as teachers (poets, playwrights, novelists, short story writers, essayists) in the university classroom as they teach future teachers in Ontario how to talk about poetry and other genres to elementary and high school kids. By all means, have a veteran teacher speak to classroom management and educational theory, but then ask a poet in to teach the piece on how to weave poetry into the senior English classroom, or ask a playwright or actor in to teach the piece about how to work drama into elementary and middle school classrooms. Doesn’t that make more sense?

Why does it matter, even, some of you might be wondering as you read this piece. I’ll tell you why it matters. We need to have some appreciation of art in our education system. This means that, along with the literary arts, the fields of visual art, theatre, and music are also key–in my mind, anyway–to helping future generations grow up to be well rounded people. It’s ironic, and so tragic, that these are the very programs that are often cut first in schools when it’s time for scheduling next year’s courses. Sometimes it’s easier to justify not offering a strings class, or a certain arts class, or an optional creative writing class, or a drama section, because the “numbers just don’t warrant it.” Here’s the thing, though…and I truly believe this…or I wouldn’t write it: when you’re a kid who’s an introvert, and really cerebral, and really creative, and who might not fit in, or who might have been bullied (as I was), then these are the programs that speak most clearly to those types of little souls. They need to find places where they can be themselves and not feel ‘odd’ or ‘left out.’ Imagine what would happen if we put money and well-trained educators into our schools, where they could foster young people’s love of the arts in a way that would help them to be more self-confident and expressive. Imagine how anxiety and depression might decrease, and how children in our society might blossom as they grow up. Just imagine…

Look, I’m not saying I have the answers to everything to do with education and poetry, or education and the arts, but I am saying that–as a practicing artist–I believe that the education system can do a better job. I know. I’m idealistic. It’s likely one more reason why I’m single. 😉 I have to believe, though, that we can do better, and that poetry can somehow be taught within our schools in new and creative ways. I’m tired, to be honest, of hearing kids say that poetry is “like a foreign language” and that they feel it’s a riddle to be solved. It isn’t. Never has been. That perception has to be changed. Soon.

peace,
k

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During my term as poet laureate, I wanted to focus on getting into the local schools, to work on breaking down barriers surrounding poetry for both students and teachers. I have a sense, as a senior high school English teacher, that a lot of kids come to me without having had a very rich diet of poetry in their time in the school system. It used to make me angry, but now I just find it makes me sad. So, based on both of these emotions, I made it part of my portfolio, my goal, to do outreach into schools, especially at the elementary level. To be honest, I wasn’t comfortable at first. I teach secondary level students and they are a different breed of people entirely. I have the greatest respect for elementary school teachers because they are delivering all sorts of curriculum each day, rather than what I do, which is to just teach straight English.

The first time I visited an elementary school, last April, I was a mess. I was visiting five classes of Grade 2s and 3s in one morning. I would focus on the haiku form, given the short bits of time I had to work with, but I was more worried that the kids would sense my fear. They were an unknown variable to me. I knew how to interact and connect with teenagers, but not people who were younger. I thought, by the end of that morning at Walden Public School last spring, that I had failed miserably. Then, as I was leaving the school, I had a whole slew of little people throwing themselves at my knees, wrapping their arms around me and telling me they loved me. It was, to say the least, a little bit overwhelming. It was, too, a bit of sensory overload because, as a single person, you aren’t often touched, so having a whole little crew of people swarm you for hugs, all at once, well, you can figure out that it might be a bit too much. At first I wanted to pull away, because I was confused by why they were all so drawn to me, and then I just thought ‘oh, my goodness…they don’t mind me!’ It was a huge relief. I hadn’t bombed in my haiku writing classes. I had, it seemed, done a good job.

In through the spring last year, I visited classes at Sudbury Secondary School, Lockerby Composite School, and St. Benedict’s. In the fall, I visited Holy Cross Catholic Elementary School and I visited a Grade 12 English class in my own school, Marymount Academy. I’m amazing with secondary level kids, but I always get nervous with smaller kids. Today, too, out in Markstay, I wasn’t sure I was doing the best job of trying to get them all talking about poems. One little boy said that poetry was like art and that it didn’t have to rhyme. They were all so proud to show me the tanka poems they had written at Thanksgiving, going over to the wall to pull down their writing portfolios. I had them read out some of them, which was really quite lovely. I loved seeing how they took pride in their work. We talked about what makes poetry work, and the various poetic forms, but we also talked about how we can use art as a way to make poems. I love ekphrastic poetry, as you know if you read this blog. Heck, if anyone comes into my house, they know I love art. I think, sometimes, I would die without art. I love buying original art when I travel, and I schedule trips around art galleries so that I can see exhibits I have a hankering for. It’s an odd passion, and one that’s only cropped up in the last seven years with a greater fervour. So, I used the laptop and Smartboard, and pulled up one of my favourite Canadian artists, David Blackwood, a wonderful Newfoundland artist who etches out black, white and grey scenes of outport and fishing life. Whales play a key role in his work, along with fishing boats, and the lovely little clapboard houses that were towed across the bays when the resettlement of Newfoundland took place after the fish went. We brainstormed words and phrases that described the painting and then we talked about how we could use the painting to help guide us to structure a poem.

After I was done, we took a class picture, but there was a little girl who hung back and then came over quickly and said, quietly and without fanfare, “You are amazing.” That was a little zap to my heart. I just shook my head and said, “Um, no, I sort of think that you’re the amazing one.” Then, she went away and her friend came back with her a bit later. Her friend said, “Kim, she wants to have a photo with you.” Again, I was a bit shocked. I guess, I thought, I did not bomb the poetry lesson with the Gr 7s and 8s! So, we took a photo, I gave her a hug, and I told her to keep writing, because I remember when I was her age and wrote and wrote and never said anything to anyone about it. I kept it a secret, hidden in my room, reading books and writing long stories and gloomy poems.

I will say that I have learned to love elementary kids for their honesty and genuine nature. I think I get along with them easily because I’m a lot like them. I don’t mince words, I’m honest, and I say what I think and feel. Most people my age don’t understand me. I get it. Most people my age seem to create layers and layers of something that stops a real self from coming out. Deceit, maybe. Protection, perhaps. Me, well, I’m a mid-forties person with no filter. People either find it amusing, offensive, or endearing. Kids, though, seem to recognize that I’m like them, always looking for something amazing or filled with wonder when I go walking. In November, I was going into a building with an acquaintance and a little girl was coming out. She looked up at me and beamed, a great and glorious little smile. I smiled back and said hello. My friend noticed it and said “Did you know her? Did you see her smile at you? It looked like she knew you. It looked like you knew her.” Yeah. I knew what he meant, but what are you going to say? How can you explain it, that notion that you can recognize similar souls in the world is a gift that not everyone understands. The little girl that day was a unicorn, someone who could see that I wasn’t about to put on layers of deception. She knew, somehow, that I was who I was, and that might have been one of the more powerful encounters I’ve had in my whole life. It was two minutes at the front door of a building, but it let me know that I was more connected to people than I’d thought possible.

Driving home from Markstay this afternoon, about thirty minutes outside the city proper, I found myself looking out into the woods, into the thick pines of northern bush, and thinking, “I would have been a good mum.” It’s not something I think about a lot, to be honest. I just know that I would have been, had my life been different. It wasn’t, though, so I’ve missed out on some things: a great love, a husband, a child. What I’ve had in return, though, is the time it takes to write three books of poems, a novel, and a couple of plays-in-progress. The time I lost in my thirties, to illness and care taking duties, well, that time also gave me some time to read when my head wasn’t too bogged down by anti-depressants or grief. The life experiences I’ve had, while not very light and airy, have formed my character. I value things differently now, I’m compassionate, and I’m aware of time passing. I wondered, today, whether or not I’d lost something, not being a wife and mother, but then I thought, well, what can I do to change anything that’s happened in my life up to now? I know that I’ve done my best, maybe even better than a lot of other people might do if given the same situation. I know I did what I needed to do for my parents, so I don’t have regrets there, and that is freeing on many levels. I do, though, get sad to think I might’ve missed out on the love of my life, or the possibility of a child.

This all takes about ten minutes of “I wonder…” and then I think about how I’m mothering in a different way. I have created beautiful pieces of writing, pieces that have moved people in different ways, based on what I hear after a book is released, or after a play is workshopped. I have been creative in a different way. I have taught hundreds of thousands of kids in sixteen years in a classroom, and I think of them all as ‘my kids,’ so maybe I’ve been a mother of sorts after all. Some of the kids I’ve taught are now actually friends and colleagues, which is a gift. I also have friends whose kids are part of my life, so I don’t feel I’ve missed out on that. Still, there are times when I think about how my life might have been different…if only….but then “if only” hurts too much and I just have to put it into a beautiful metaphorical box and store it in the back of my mind and heart. For now. Just for now.

In the meantime, I just focus on the beauty that the world offers me every single day, in each walk I take, or in each conversation I have, with friends and with ‘strangers.’ I focus on how I write, how I craft a piece of poetry and let it marinate in my heart and mind until it emerges, brilliant and bright, and how each moment of each day is steeped in the sacred…if you let it light up your world. Being mindful has been such a grand teacher over the last twelve months. Reiki, yoga, zumba and walking, along with writing and reading, have really allowed me to blossom into myself. I used to think too often of the people I had lost, either to death, or break ups, or just from drifting apart. There are a lot of them…and I miss them. But, I know, too, that they are fine.

In the meantime, I’ll read, write, travel, sing, dance, and teach…opening my heart as wide as it needs to be to let the light out, and in, and to breathe into the presences and absences in my heart. I’ll feel any love, grief, or pain, I’ll breathe through it, and then I’ll thank God/Creator/Universe for letting me feel it so intensely because it means that I’m still here, alive and learning, growing and blooming, moving forward in a new way, and learning to mother myself.

peace, friends.
k.

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It’s been about three years since I went to a yoga class in a proper yoga studio. I love yoga, so I don’t really know why I’ve kept myself absent from it for so long. Well, that’s not totally true. I have my notions, theories of why I stayed away. Tonight, though, I went back. On the way in, I met the woman who was my first yoga teacher back in 2007. Lana Boyuk is a yogi and spiritual guru of the highest order. When I was at my most darkest place in life, in the midst of a full fledged episode of major depressive disorder, back between 2008 and 2010, she was the one whose ‘beginners’ class I took for about two years straight, repeatedly, until, one night, she came over and put her hand on my shoulder and said kindly, but firmly, “I think you can move up to ‘All Levels’ now, Kim.” I had no self-confidence then, and I felt like a blobby creature on the mat. I was obese, puffed out by a high dosage of Remeron that killed the depression but mysteriously seemed to add weight while I slept. (I hated Remeron because it blew me up physically, but it pulled me out of suicidal ideation, so you had to thank it for that.)

When my dad died in December 2011, I weighed about 230 lbs. I don’t say that often, but it’s true. The weight of the world pressed down on my shoulders. Taking care of ill parents isn’t a pleasant experience. Watching them slip away and die is even worse. At my darkest point, I found yoga class at OM Yoga Space and then, later, at Cedar Street Yoga, which then evolved into Myoga. Lana was my first yoga teacher. (I still remember her saying, one night, “Let your bottom blossom like a flower….let your sit bones root into the floor.”) My second teacher was Willa Paterson, a woman who knew how to adjust my overweight body so that I wouldn’t hurt myself. (I have a weird staple in my left hip from a childhood surgery at Sick Kids…so I’m always mindful of the fact that my left leg sort of just ‘sticks’ sometimes during Zumba, or yoga, or even sometimes hitches painfully when I’m walking. At times, it can cripple me and it takes everything not to buckle to the ground. Still, I know that, if I don’t move, it will all seize up and be much worse. I can never wear a dress without a cardigan because of the stupid staple that is lodged in my hip. I look lopsided…it’s the one thing I really don’t like about my body…that and the fact that, when I get tired, I start to limp because of it. Then I feel just a wee bit broken. True story.)

Willa Paterson was my second teacher, and the person who was teaching me again tonight. I went in, thinking that–for the first time ever–this would actually be the very first yoga class in my life that I would take while I was both physically and mentally well. I’ve never been healthier, physically, and I know I’m the healthiest I’ve been mentally in my entire life. I’m more content and physically fit than I was in my 20s. That’s quite an accomplishment. I’m proud of it. It didn’t come easily. I worked hard for it all. I lost 55 lbs between the time my dad died, in December 2011 and 2014. Most of that is due to weekly Zumba sessions and about two years of Weight Watchers weigh ins. Then, I just started walking…and I never really stopped. 🙂

In the last year or so, I stopped weighing myself. I only know that I’ve lost weight because of dropping clothing sizes…and because people mention it to me. It isn’t about sizes or weight, though. To be honest, it’s the ghost of sick parents who didn’t take care of themselves that has motivated me the most. That will haunt you, as it should, and it served as a wake-up call. In the last year, and especially in the last few months, I’ve shrunk again. My confidence has grown. I feel strong and sexy, which I would never have said two years ago. I’ve rooted myself in my writing, which has given me more joy than I’d ever imagined. When you step into yourself, after most of your life trying to please others and be dutiful (even if you wrongly mistake duty for love), well, it’s quite brilliant. 🙂

Tonight, standing on that mat in Myoga, listening to Willa talk about pointing your feet forward, to move forward in life, I thought, “Yes! My feet are finally pointed forward. How fucking brilliant is that?!” It took so much work. Medication, therapy, yoga, walking, singing, Zumba, writing, and a few very good friends. Eight years of work. Hard, hard, slogging work. I’m exhausted now, to be honest. Being strong is hard work. When your family is fairly small–almost non-existent, really–you learn to cultivate a family of friends. I’ve been blessed to find like minded and kindred souls here in Sudbury (and farther afield) who take me as I am. That’s new for me. I’m blessed. Those closest to me, and they know who they are because I talk to them every week on the phone, or in person, or in a conversation via email or texting, don’t just ‘take’ from me, but ‘give’ me more love than I sometimes even feel I deserve…

So…why did I stay away from it so long, when yoga only ever makes me feel freer and more empowered? I think, lately, it’s been my energy. Since my ‘encounter with the wretched snowbank’ outside Oro-Medonte on my way home from Bobcaygeon after Christmas break, my energy has ramped up. I couldn’t figure it out at first. Maybe it was just that I’d finally fully accepted my new ‘self,’ or that I was anxious for exciting new things that seemed to just hover on the edges of my life, teasing me with possibility. Today, I figured it out. (I’m slow sometimes….when it comes to deciphering signs and messages from the Universe!) What I just passed off lightly as an ‘encounter with a wretched snowbank’ was actually–as my friend, Jason, said a couple of weeks ago, with a very concerned look on his face–an actual car accident. I was very shaken by it, but tried to deny it to myself. I was lucky to have not seriously hurt myself, or the dogs. (I know…they’re ‘just dogs’…and people will sort of be reading this saying, “Whatever…get over it…dogs are replaceable.” But they aren’t. Not to me. To me, they’re my family. That I nearly hurt myself, and them, makes me feel sick inside.)

Here’s what I think: I think my energy ramped up in January because I realized, on some level, that I had very nearly died. That sounds dramatic, but it was a terrifying accident. I downplayed it in writing, so as not to scare myself, or my dearest friends. But it was terrifying. Thank God for the Scotsman who took me in and made me sit in his garage while he puffed smoke in my general direction…and talked to me to be sure I wasn’t too shaken to continue on driving home that day. You see…and here it is, really…I think that accident made me realize, yet again, that we really don’t know how much time we have here on the planet. We can’t dawdle. The result of me making it through that accident meant that my soul ‘kicked it up a notch,’ sending energy surging through my physical and spiritual body with an intensity I’ve never felt before.

The result has been excessive Zumba dancing, walking, and (seemingly) overly exuberant shows of poetic and creative fervour. Now, as it levels off, I know what it means…that, maybe, I’m lucky to have found an outlet to exorcise the physical discomfort I feel if I feel bored or ‘stopped’ in my life. It was a wake up call, that ‘little’ accident. January and part of February have served as proof that it changed, again, the way I look at how I live each day. My friend Jen said the other day, “Um, you do get that this energy isn’t normal, right? Like, ‘P.S., it’s a bit too intense and I’m worried about you.'” I just laughed.

Maybe it’s the new me. I’m okay with it. It makes me feel content and confident. I feel it’s a gift…to realize you might have died, to realize that, when snow is flying over your windshield when you hit black ice on a farm road, well, your life doesn’t really flash before you. All I thought was, “Well, if it’s time, it’s time.” I felt calm. Too calm. But I was glad I felt calm. It meant, on some level, that I felt I’ve done a good job with my life thus far. I don’t have any regrets…well, maybe a couple to do with loves from my 20s, but nothing more that would break me. There are times when I wish I’d kissed someone more often, but that’s in the distant past now…and he’s married with kids, so I wish him well. Always.

Tonight’s yoga class…made me realize that I can move more easily now that my belly has shrunk. I can twist more easily. I can stretch into myself, into the spaces inside my rib cage and heart, and open up even more of myself to what will come in the years that haven’t arrived yet. So, yes, my feet are pointing forward. Finally. They are pointed forward…and it’s bloody well about time.

peace,
k.

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