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Archive for April, 2017

April has been National Poetry Month. I say “has been” because it’s the last day. Am hiding in my tiny little brick house two blocks up from the shores of beautiful Lake Ramsey. My head has been spinning for the past four weeks, and I’m thankful to a small group of friends who have kept me grounded and breathing. (This includes my yoga teacher and dear friend, Willa Paterson. There’s something about someone who says, as you are in a particularly difficult upside down yoga pose: “I don’t hear you breathing! I need to hear you breathing! Breathe!” Those words have helped me get through April’s tornado of classroom visits and poetic appearances. Her words echo through whirlwind hours and days.)

Difficult days recently…the loss of dear, dear friend who’s been in my life for over twenty years; the loss of an important local Francophone poet who mentored and encouraged many poets in town; and, the anniversary of my dad’s birthday last week.

But grand days, too…a new book of poems coming out from Black Moss Press in Windsor this fall; a walk on Point Pelee to gather up more stones and sea glass bits; a reading of my inaugural poem from last year at City Council to celebrate National Poetry Month; confirmation of poetry in the palliative care wing at Health Sciences North, with thoughts of my dad wandering through my head and heart.

So….here’s the lovely little chat that Markus Schwabe and I had about a week ago. It tells you what else is coming up.

http://www.cbc.ca/listen/shows/morning-north/segment/12368916

May will be ‘lighter’ and I have plans to finish revisions on my novel. June 1st will be the date when I start sending it out to a couple of publishers. I’m not delusional. I know all good things take time. I’m patient and persistent. It’s part of my charm. 😉

This Wednesday afternoon, on May 3rd, I’ll be visiting Ms. Duguay’s class at Immaculate Conception in the Valley. Reading Town Sudbury runs from May 1 – 7th, so I’ll be taking part in this. I am a fairly vocal advocate, as a reader, writer, and teacher, of parents reading to their children and modelling reading for them as they grow up.

On the afternoon of Sunday, May 7th, at 1pm, I’ll be walking with my ‘laureate men’ at the Laurentian Conservation Area trails for a poetry hike. On the evening of Tuesday, May 9th, I’ll be reading a commissioned poem to celebrate PlaySmelter, Pat the Dog Theatre Creation’s grand series of plays. Local writers and dear friends, Matt Heiti, Sarah Gartshore, and Lara Bradley will have work performed. And then, on the evening of May 17th, I’ll be reading another commissioned poem at the Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts at the Sudbury Theatre Centre.

If you’re out in the streets of Sudbury, and you see one of the Sudbury Street Poetry Project poetry posters, please do take a photo and then Tweet it and tag me at @SudburyPoet. We’ll be having an urban poetry hike sometime in May, thinking of Jane Jacobs and her reflections of how we live, as humans, in cities. 🙂 In my mind, poetry and art make city living more palatable.

There you are, friends. An update from the poet laureate side of things. Keep an eye on the library website, and the poet laureate page, for new calls for work as we head into summer and fall. There’s an exciting project coming up! (I would tell you, and I want to, but I’ll hold myself back!)

Wishing you good reading, and (as always!) good writing!

peace,
k.
🙂

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There are so many “I shoulds” in my head tonight: I should be marking a stack of essays (I’ve marked some of them, but my head is tired of the same story over and over again). I should be at Zumba (but I’ve run around all day putting up poetry posters and I’m physically spent). I should not feel sad (but I’ve lost a dear friend and his loss weighs heavy on my heart, and has for a week, as a dear friend’s loss should weigh heavily). I should be thankful…and I am, even though it’s a molasses kind of night, the kind of night when you sit, working away at marking, and then trying to jot down ideas for a newly commissioned poem on a piece of paper, and hoping that tomorrow’s reading at the library has a number of new poets who are brave enough to read their work in public. I should worry less about my students, but I can’t stop from wondering how one or two (in particular) are managing through difficult times in their lives. They are dealing with the loss of parents, or depression, or anxiety, or first-time broken hearts, and I feel it all when they tell me about it in the smallest of conversations on their way out of the classroom before lunch or between bells.

I should feel more rested, but I know I’m run down because I’ve started coughing and sneezing, so I rise early to walk near the lake, gaining energy and strength from the trees, the water, breathing deeply, and the sunrise. I drink cedar tea, hoping to bolster my immune system, and then wonder if I will be able to slow down any time soon. Summer, maybe. A week or two of writing time and quiet in the bush generously offered in Bobcaygeon, in the middle of nowhere, in a place where I can bring the dogs along with me and be myself, and maybe a trip out to St. John’s to write for a bit in July. Summer, then. Maybe. For now, a poem read in bed next to a cup of Earl Grey, or a swing under stars late at night, and a few hours of sleep because my mind is too busy…and a quick wonder how my lost ones are these days, because I miss them.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I’ve come through things. D. H. Lawrence once wrote something, I remember, about ‘coming through’ difficult times in life. I know I’ve had my darkest dark night of the soul, and it was something that lasted through my thirties and into my early forties. It’s only now that I’ve emerged, or even arrived, inside my own body. I guess you compartmentalize things when you’re in the midst of chaos and pain. I’ve been thinking about this, not because I want to marinate in memories of sadness, but because I want to recall it when I speak to a student who suffers. I want my students to know that you can battle through the darkest of places, to pull yourself up through medication, therapy, exercise, writing, art, music, and persistence, even though the journey is the hardest one you’ll ever make while you’re in this physical body, in this lifetime.

I have one student who reminds me too much of myself. She is bright, looks ‘normal’ on the surface of things, but underneath, just a wee bit under the surface, she aches with sadness. You can feel it. Her grades are good, her parents love her, but I can see how she pushes away, pulls in, gathers herself in into a tiny ball and protects herself, builds walls, only making herself worse without knowing. She ‘turtles.’ I know. I know because I’ve done that. At the time, I thought it was a survival technique, and it might have been, but now I can spot it a mile away, especially in the young women I teach. A hard worker, a ‘pleaser,’ a perfectionist, a kind soul. These are the qualities that lead you into darkness, if you aren’t sure of how to find the light.

Here’s the other thing I’ve been thinking. I’ve read a lot about girls and anxiety. My go-to book is Leonard Sax’s “Girls on the Edge: The Four Factors Driving the New Crisis for Girls.” Yup. They are what you’d think they might be: sexual identity, the cyberbubble (selfies included), obsessions, and environmental toxins. In recent years, teachers have been trained in how to spot students who struggle with mental health issues. The most recent thing has been to watch for various versions of self-harm, with one being cutting. Girls tend to cut or ‘score’ themselves. They do it on their arms, the backs of their knees, and now on the inside of their thighs, so people won’t see. Before, you could spot a ‘cutter’ by watching wrists and lower arms. They would avoid your eyes, pull down their sleeves, curl into themselves like turtles retreating into their shells. It was painful to watch, but you did, and you do still, because you want to be sure your students are as well off as possible, in terms of mental health.

….but….I know what it’s like to suffer through mental health issues in dark times, and I know the ones who suffer most may actually be the ones who don’t look like they’re suffering. They may not cut. They may not do drugs or they may not be obviously promiscuous, looking for what they think is love in an endless line of faceless boys’ arms. I never did cut. I just kept acting. It’s the acting that takes it all out of you, leaves you without energy. At my worst, I could have won an Oscar for best actress, working full time, going home to take care of my sick parents at the end of the week, and then sleeping through the next forty-eight hours, paralyzed and almost unconscious under a pile of heavy quilts, only emerging to say that ‘Yeah, I have the flu’ or (even more effective) ‘It’s a migraine. It’s the weather.’ So, when someone says a kid is cutting I often think, ‘okay, it’s a cry for help, but maybe we should still keep an eye on the girl who doesn’t seem to cut…’ That’s because she’s the girl who often reminds me of me, at my worst, about eight years ago…a moment ago, and a lifetime ago, all in a flash.

You see, I think it’s the teenage girls who seem to be all right, all together, keen on grades and taking part in eighteen different extracurriculars who we really need to watch out for. They seem too put together, too perfectly in control. They are. They’re controlling the public image of themselves, like a ‘slight of hand’ trick to distract the other people around them. I know because I remember doing this. It’s probably why I’m too honest now. I was too much of a compartmentalizer (is that even a word?!) before. Then, when you break apart into pieces, well, it just won’t work any more. Truth is now the only way out, the only path to healing yourself from the inside out. It’s not pretty, by any means. It’s messy. You go from having suicidal ideation and being in a place where there is no emotion, a void, a dark that you can’t even imagine, to having to claw your own way out. No easy path. Lots of work.

A month or so ago, I spoke to a girl who said she had a flu, and that was why she was away from class. I stopped her and asked her if that was true. She crumbled. I had a colleague with me, thankfully. We sat on a set of stairs, me on my knees with one hand on her shoulder and the other on her knee, rooting her down as she worked through hyperventilation, telling her my muttered story of survival and asking her to believe that she could be well, too, if she tried. She isn’t the kind of kid who says ‘Look at me, I’m sad.’ She isn’t an after school special. She’s real. I can see her. She can see me. Maybe she just got the ‘wrong kind of teacher,’ someone who could see what she was doing, all chameleon and compartmentalized, someone who would call her on it and make her face the dragon so that she could slay it. I wish I’d had that. I was in my thirties, and so many of my friends just disappeared. Some have returned, but they’ll never really be close again. They abandoned me when I most needed them. Only one or two stayed the course, through the bloodiest part of it all, through both of my parents’ deaths, through my weight gain of something like eighty pounds, and then through my healing. Those one or two know who they are. The others hover now that I’m a poet laureate, but I can see them, too. I know they are surface dwellers…and I can’t live there anymore. I’m awake. Sleepwalking, and waking up, will do that for you. You lose friends and then you gain kindreds who really understand you. I told this to the girl I sat with last month, too. “You will lose people. They will say you are ‘too much.’ You may be. For them. They don’t deserve you. Your survival is your focus. For now, that is really all that matters.”

What bothers me most is how some people, young girls and even young women in their twenties, make jokes about anti-depressants or depression. It isn’t that simple. If it is the deepest kind of depression, the one in the psychiatrist’s big blue book of defined mental illnesses, the one that makes you go to a mental health wing of a hospital and sit between people who are much more ill than you will be, it isn’t ‘sexy.’ It’s hell. People who make it seem ‘sexy’ or something to use as an excuse for poor behaviour…well…I don’t have much time or care for them. They think they know what mental health struggles are about, but only serve to malign them and cause the stigma to deepen in society. There’s nothing funny about suicidal ideation, not when you go for a walk with your dogs because you might otherwise step in front of traffic. There is, trust me, nothing ‘sexy’ about that.

So…trees. I have loved them since I was little. I know it’s the Celt in me. My mother’s side is pure Irish, with a bunch of Scottish blood mixed in there. (Those Irish and Scottish folks often travelled across the sea, so it makes sense they’d be attracted to one another and kick start my mum’s ancestral side of the family.) When my mum was dying, the big tree in our front yard on Bancroft Drive was rotting. My dad called a tree removal company to take it down. Mum was bedridden, having had part of her foot amputated, so she didn’t see the tree come down, but I watched it from the front window of the house, in between checking on her. I watched them cut it, limb by limb, bringing down its canopy slowly but surely. My dad sat in the big chair, watching TV with the volume turned up too loud. I remember standing there, trapped in a house with two sick people, weeping silently, watching that big tree come down, and feeling as if it was so symbolic of my mother’s dying, my father’s gathering storm of frailty, and my major depressive disorder. That tree came down in the fall of 2008 and Mum died in December. The months that stretched between were empty and stark.

The big tree that sits between my house and the neighbour’s house is so reminiscent of that one on Bancroft. I’ve watched it for the almost four years since I’ve settled in this little house, how it gives shade to my little hobbit house cottage in summer and then offers me too many leaves to rake in fall. 🙂 My arborist comes every fall, trimming limbs in the back yard and telling me I really shouldn’t trust the tree swing. (Whatever. That’s where he and I part ways. He knows now that I’m a poet, and a unique sort of woman, so he just doesn’t mention it anymore.) So, after this hard winter, after the snow had all melted, I wandered out to the side of the house to see the state of its trunk. Last fall, there was a hole in the trunk, but this last week, the hole had stretched further down to the base of the tree. I sighed. I had just lost my friend, Tom Ryan. I couldn’t bear to lose a tree in the same week, too.

The arborist, Alex, came yesterday. He asked me what was wrong, and I said, “Look, we talked about having to monitor this tree’s health last fall, and the spring before that, because of that wound in the trunk.” (We use the word ‘wound’ whenever we speak of this tree, as if it is palliative or ancient, time sensitive.) He nodded, dressed in his comforting flannel shirt and brown work boots. (I like that he looks like a woodsman. I find it attractive and comforting at the same damn time. The fact that he ‘talks trees’ with me just makes for a perfect conversation, really.) So, the next twenty minutes were ones with me holding my breath while he circled the tree, head tilted up, eyes squinting, as he reached into the hole and tried to pull out rotten wood. He sighed. Finally, he spoke. “Listen, Kim. I know you love this tree. I think we can lessen the weight on the top of the canopy, reduce the sail effect, and it won’t topple.” I sighed. “Seriously? We don’t need to take it down yet?” He shook his head. “No. Not yet. We’ll lighten the canopy and watch it. The canopy is still healthy, though, so the tree isn’t dying.” I must’ve looked puzzled. “So, why is the hole there?” He smiled, touching the trunk. “You know, with wounds like this…it’s all about scar tissue. You know how we have scar tissue after we are wounded, and then we heal?” I nodded, liking the metaphor of it all. “Well, the tree creates a bandage on the inside, stronger than the tree itself. The fact that it’s survived the wound, and sort of healed itself, is what makes it stronger than it was before even.” I couldn’t speak. Yes. I know all about wounds, and scar tissue, and having to be strong, and even stronger. Then he talked about watching the ‘unions,’ the places where the branches meet the trunks, and warned me to look for any mushrooms that might sprout up there. “If they start showing up in the unions, then we’re looking at a problem. For now, it’s okay. It’s stronger than it seems.” An afternoon conversation, with rain spitting, and words like ‘unions,’ and ‘sail effect,’ and ‘canopy’ made me start to write a poem afterwards.

I’m also reading Peter Wohlleben’s “The Hidden Life of Trees” and am in love with each and every page. This is my favourite book right now. I have always loved the metaphors of trees, the symbology behind them, the Celtic aura of them that draws me in like a magnet. Sometimes, when I touch a tree, I wish I could enter into the landscape. For me, they are spirits, talisman spirits who walk with me and prove to me that I can exist, survive, and conquer simply because I have done so before. Now that I know about the tree’s scar tissue, and that I want to guard the tree until it’s time to do otherwise, I feel I can breathe a bit more freely again.

You can have these wounds, I think, and you can heal them, with a lot of hard work. You can imagine you will never be well after being mentally broken, but then you can find a bit of light in a few shared words and a hug and things can shift. You can lose a part of a limb, sometimes, in a physical amputation, and it won’t heal, as my mother knew. You can lose a dear friend, and nothing will bring them back, but you can always look up to the canopy of a tree and imagine those you have loved somewhere similar, in a place with trees, in fields, and with birds dipping through the sky in murmurations next to some big blue and weathered canvas that might be a lake or a sea, or the memory of a heart beat shared.

You can survive, and then flourish.

peace, friends.
k.

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Sometimes, life shocks you, leaves you swaying a bit, wondering how things have happened when they’ve happened, and making you realize that you are right to live in the moment, being mindful and thankful at the same time. This past weekend, I went to visit my friend, Lena, in Amherstburg, just outside of Windsor. We met nine years ago when we both started our PhD in Education. Neither of us finished that degree, but we stayed friends, communicating over long distances, from Northern Ontario to Southwestern Ontario. Last year, on the morning I got on the ferry to cross over to Pelee Island for a writing retreat, we reconnected for breakfast and we’ve stayed in touch ever since. It was a grand weekend of catching up, and walks, and hanging out with her two amazing kids, Alex and Athena. Then, on Monday, I got a Facebook message from home, from my friend, Mel. “I wanted to let you know before you saw it on social media…that Tom Ryan died yesterday.” My heart felt like it stopped…and here is why:

My time with Tom as a friend goes back over twenty years. I was in my mid-twenties when we met. I’d just come home from living in Ottawa, where I’d finished an M.A. in English Literature at Carleton University. My focus was modern Irish poetry, mostly Yeats and Heaney. I’d managed to connect a bit with the Irish community there, so I could find places to listen to live traditional Irish music or take part in an occasional ceili dance. When I came home, I wanted to find a group to hang out with, so I tried the Irish Heritage Club, and joined a little choir, and then I found Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann (CCE), which translates roughly from the Irish Gaelic to the Sudbury Irish Arts Association. That’s where I met a whole slew of friends who have been in my life since then: Pat McGuire, Tom Ryan, Duncan Cameron, and Wally Kealy. Along with the late Ernie St. Jean, they formed The Friends of Erin, and then later, The Wild Geese. (Tom’s son, Patrick, also plays with the Wild Geese now, so it’s nice to think that tradition continues.) There were others who came and went over the years, people who played instruments and sang while the rest of us danced in the officers’ mess in the old Irish Regiment armoury on Riverside Drive, or in the Moose Hall on Frood Road. It didn’t matter where the ceilis happened; it just mattered that all of those people, my friends, were there.

I remember meeting Tom because he was tall, bald, and had a wonderful smile. He was welcoming and kind. Once he and Pat figured out I could sing, they included me at the annual Irish Celtic Fair each March for a song or two. Then, for years afterwards, whenever we were at a ceili, sitting in a circle, Tom was the one who would lean over, catch my eye over his concertina or tin whistle, and say “Let’s have a song, Kim. I’ll sing with you. What about The Fields of Athenry?” And we would sing. He and Pat knew, I think, that I was a bit shy about singing on my own. I loved Tom’s voice. I remember going to a ceili at his place, with Mary and the boys there, years ago. Now those boys are all grown up and missing both their mum and dad this week. It’s a loss. I could, I still remember, see the love within the fabric of that little family from the first day I met them all together in the house out on Long Lake. It was something to see…but even more beautiful to feel.

For all three of my book launches, in 1997, 2001, and 2012, the guys all came to play traditional Irish music. At the last launch, I even sang between readings of my poems. We spent time down at the old tapas place on Durham Street, practicing the songs so I would have the right key and know when to jump in after the intro. I often sat wedged in between Tom and Pat because they made me feel safe, somehow.

The thing I’ll miss most about Tom, though, and it makes me so sad to think of him not being here anymore, really, is that he would always make his way over to me to say hello when I came to a ceili. I always go on my own, knowing I’ll find someone to sit with and chat up, or someone to dance next to during The Haymaker’s Jig or the Siege of Ennis (which was my mum’s maiden name). He and I both had a great love of poetry, so we had some grand chats over the years in times when the band had breaks.

At the last ceili I was at, the pattern was the same as ever. Tom, walking across the Moose Hall floor, towards the back where I was standing with a styrofoam cup of tea, crying out: “Kim! How are you?” And then, the tallest man I ever knew would throw open his arms and give me a hug. We would have our chat, with his asking about my writing, and me asking about his soda bread recipes, and then he would go back to the stage for the next set. Before the night was out, he’d come and give me another big hug. It was a thing we did, and I will always miss it now for the rest of my life. He was, for me, a friend who was sturdy, steadfast, and always there. When I was sick, and when my parents were ill and dying, he always seemed to turn up in a small, quiet way, usually through a little email. Steadfast friend.

This week, that last ceili we were at together is playing over and over in my head. We stood off to the side of the wide wood floor of the hall, having our regular chat. “What are you working on now, for your writing?” I told him that my novel was nearly done and I was giving it to a few friends to read it over. “I would love to read it, if you’d want me to…” He tilted his head then, I remember, a small smile playing on his lips. He always looked a bit impish, I thought. “Really?” I said. “You’d want to read my novel? Give me feedback?” His smile got wider. “Yeah, of course! I’d be honoured.” I gave him a big hug then. “Okay! Listen, if you do that, I’ll make you a loaf of my Irish soda bread.” He laughed at me. “I make my own soda bread, too, you know!” And then we talked about whose soda bread would be better, and we promised to speak soon, and gave each other our traditional good-bye hug. He went back to the stage, to play some grand jig or reel, and I went back to dance a set.

Last week, someone I know just a little bit said that I was very giving, that I tend to say what I think and feel quite honestly, that I give gifts and cards often, and that I’m rare in that sort of approach to life. I just tilted my head in a quizzical way, “And what’s wrong with that? It’s who I am. If someone can’t handle that, then that’s all right. I think, you know, that we need to say what we feel and think. We need to appreciate people in our lives. People need to know they’re cared for, and about. You could get hit by an ore truck tomorrow and then you’d never have said what you most needed to.” The thing is, and I believe this totally, especially this week now, with Tom having gone so suddenly, that words are so important. Words and actions combined, really, are gifts of spirit. A few kind words and a hug are worth more than a fortune, in my mind.

Here’s the thing: I know that Tom knew I loved him as a friend. Having a friend for over twenty years makes it almost seamless, somehow. He knew when I most needed a hug or a kind word. We shared a sensibility for poetry, reading and writing. When I most wanted to tease him, I’d ask for a Scottish song, and he’d make a face at me, scrunch up his face, and say, scoldingly. “Kim, that’s Scottish, not Irish!” And I would laugh loudly and he would laugh loudly, and the world lit up a little bit even during my darkest days. He was that kind of magic. He was that kind of friend.

My heart is so sad this week. To think I won’t see him again, or hear him sing, or joke with him at another ceili…breaks my heart. My friend Wally recorded a CD a few years ago, so I can play a track or two and hear Tom singing as if he were right here in my little living room. I’ve been playing that CD all week, listening for Tom’s voice. I wish I could imagine and conjure him alive again, just so I could say thank you for his friendship over the years. I’ll never forget him. How could you? He was Tom Ryan. A fine man. A fine friend. A good soul.

So…I would wish him Slan abhaile this week, a good wish on his journey, but I know he’s grand where he is, with Mary again. I know I’ll see him again some day. I imagine, somehow, I’ll get to heaven and there will be Tom Ryan, his arms wide open, a smile that will reach up to his bright eyes, saying “Kim! Come on! Give us a song!” And we’ll sing again together. Of that, I am more than sure.

I miss you, friend.
Slan abhaile (safe home). Always.
With so much love,
k.

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It’s no secret that I love handwritten cards and letters. I send them. A lot. I love getting them, too, and am always thrilled when someone sends a real envelope, with pen and paper. I’m a poet, a romantic at heart, so I like things that speak of past days, and of simple etiquette and elegance. (I used to be a stationery freak when I was younger, but that’s thankfully dissipated. Now, well, now I’m into beautiful art cards…so they serve to fill my addiction in a small way.) When I was in Banff last spring, I found a little paper store that set my soul on fire. The poor woman, Nicola, didn’t know what hit her and then offered me a tiny, glittery purple bird to thank me for my (slightly excessive) purchases of handmade journals and hand painted, decorative Chinese and Japanese papers. Sigh. I know; I’m in therapy. No need to worry. 🙂

My maternal grandmother, Gram Ennis, always taught me that one should send thank you notes. It was not, she said firmly to me once in my early twenties, something worth discussing or questioning: thank you notes, gifts, and sympathy cards were not archaic and certainly not negotiable. Now, well, I think I freak a lot of people out with my notes and gifts, but it’s all because of her…and our time together in that old house on Wembley Drive. Blame her. I’m the best of her, really, and I’m glad to say that with much love in my heart. She was so dear to me…and I miss her like mad every day. (This makes me think I need to make her oatmeal and raisin scones soon, something my mum used to do, too, when she was missing her mum.)

So. A week ago, I asked my sister to come over to my house and go through old ‘funeral home envelopes.’ There were three: one for my paternal grandparents, one for my mum, and one for my dad. They were all vinyl, either gold or burgundy, and had sat in my front vestibule closet since I’d moved in here three and a half years ago. Time to go through and sort out what needed saving, and release what needed letting go. We did it fairly quickly, saving a few photos and a prayer card or two, re-reading sympathy cards one last time, and then tossing what needed to be tossed. In the middle of my grandfather’s envelope, a stack of little yellowed envelopes, all scattered…from Chapleau, to Crediton, to Espanola, to Sudbury.

The gist of the letters: in the autumn of 1935, my paternal great-grandfather was up in Chapleau, working in a lumber camp I think, but I never really knew the details of the accident from my dad. My grandfather would never speak of it, only just ever showing me the wicker plant stands that my great-grandfather made in some CNIB shop. Until today, I just knew something horrible had happened, and that there were photos of him as an older man, with little round black glasses like the ones James Joyce used to wear. I knew he had been blinded in some accident, but there were no details until I opened those tiny yellow envelopes this afternoon, sitting in a beam of sun in the middle of my big bed with the dogs snuggled next to me. I just shook my head as I read, feeling as if I were eavesdropping and almost thinking that I shouldn’t really read any more. It felt intrusive, especially because no one writing the letters seemed able to say what they actually felt.

There was the one from my great-grandfather, beautifully written in cursive script, where he explained the details of his accident. It was understated, obvious that he didn’t want to upset his wife, Emma: “I was in a little accident while at work. Some lime powder blew in my eyes so they brought me here to the hospital for treatments.” He tells my great-grandmother and great-aunt not to worry, but the other letters sound dire. A pastor from Chapleau writes to tell my great-grandmother, Emma: “I expect you have heard all about his condition. As you know, his face and eyes were burned with lime in the camp in from Nicholson. I am sorry to say that he has lost the use of at least one of his eyes.” Then the pastor goes on to say, offering it up to God, “The accident is very unfortunate, but we cannot understand the reason for these things.” They talk of him being taken from Chapleau down to a hospital in either London or Toronto, hoping (possibly) for some recovery of his sight. Some nun wrote my great-grandmother a note, saying that her husband was “a nice patient,” despite his being blind. It all seems rather odd, until I read the letter he sent himself, to his wife, Emma, and daughter, Irene.

“Dear Em and Irene:

You don’t know what happened, do you? The foreman asked me to slack some lime and white wash the office. We had a little lime in a pail, slacking it, and I thought it was all done working, when all at once it seemed to explode and blew up into my face. This was on the eleventh of October, between seven and eight in the morning, and it was the next evening before we reached the hospital in Chapleau. We travelled by boat for miles and slept in another camp on the way out and next day travelled over a rough road in a wagon. It was a terrible trip with the burning in my eyes and face the whole time.”

God. What’s worse is how my grandfather, my dad’s father, handled the news. He was somewhere else, up near Espanola, working in another lumber camp, when he heard of his dad’s accident. My grandfather, Lloyd, the man who terrified me when I was little, standing in the open doorway of a bedroom –listening to us breathe to be sure we were asleep–had been emotionally broken by his dad’s accident.

He wrote to his mother and sister: “I would like to write to Dad, but just can’t do it. I hope he will understand. I just can’t write because I could not write what I would like to, so you just let him know that I am well as can be expected. I guess he is a whole lot braver than the rest of us…I mean myself in particular. I have a nothing to say, but a lot to think about and it keeps me busy too. I am glad that I work 9 hrs a day because it keeps me from thinking too much.” He goes on to say how upset he is to hear of his father’s loss of sight. He says he’s deeply affected, not sleeping and not eating. This is so not like the big, tall scary man whom I knew to be my grandfather while I was growing up.

There were other letters in the packet of envelopes, but none of them were as odd. One was from my dad to his grandparents in Crediton, where Charlie and Emma lived later in life, where he talked about toboggans and flying off a big rock into a snow drift in Minnow Lake. This is typical of northern Ontario kids. 🙂 Another letter was from someone out in Saskatchewan, a Cousin Violet, who says she’s sorry to hear about Charlie’s eyes, but then goes on to speak about her sad appendix and how the cows aren’t milking very well this year. Another envelope has the layout or blueprint of the old family farm in Killarney, Manitoba, laid out on it. (This last envelope makes me think maybe I have an affection for farms because of family history that was first rooted in the prairies and then in southwestern Ontario.) Time travel happens when you stumble upon letters like this.

I often wondered why my dad wasn’t good at expressing emotions. He never said he thought we were pretty or smart when we were little. He wasn’t openly affectionate. He could be scary when we were little. It took him until he was in the palliative care ward at the hospital five years ago to talk about how he wished he’d been more open with us, encouraging us to blossom more. I always knew that he did the best he could, in terms of parenting us. He was an older father, in his late 30s when I was born, and he was old when I was in high school. My friends all had fathers who were about ten years younger. He wasn’t a ‘fun’ dad. He had been raised by a strict German father and a repressed woman of British descent who really wasn’t very intelligent. When I read my grandfather’s reaction to his father’s accident, I thought, “Oh, God. Why didn’t they just say they loved each other? It would’ve saved them so much pain and grief in life, and we all would have been better for it.” But you can’t change what earlier generations did, and you can only read these letters with an open and forgiving heart, looking for glimpses of what people were like.

To me, as I read those letters this afternoon, I kept thinking of how it’s better to have said things with words, written or spoken, than to have not said them. Imagine feeling so much, and then saying you couldn’t tell your own father that you felt his loss and pain. Imagine that their emotions were so deep, but so quickly denied and stuffed down. It made me sad inside. If only he had written to his dad, saying he loved him…maybe he would’ve been a different kind of dad to my dad. Maybe my dad would have learned how to express emotions a bit more openly. Maybe he wouldn’t have died trying to make amends with me and my sister, for not having been more expressive. The circles…the patterns…made me sad.

I spent part of the late afternoon with my dear friend, Trish. We talked for two hours. She and I are soul sisters. Some people know the path I’ve been on, but she is one who has walked with me. At some point in the conversation, she looked over at me and said, “God. It’s like you’re a whole new person, like you shed your skin and stepped out, into yourself. You’re here; you’re finally here.” It made me want to cry. You see, the fact that she can see that, and say that to me, makes me so grateful. When you haven’t been taught how to emote or express yourself, it’s sheer hell, trying to lead an open hearted life. When you finally do step into yourself, you realize what you haven’t said over the years, and how it’s only wounded and stunted your progress. Reading those letters today made me realize it all over again. I somehow have managed to break my paternal family’s pattern of closing down, shrinking inwards, and erasing their emotions.

I may not have a family network anymore, because all of the good Irish ones have gone onwards, but I have a few very good friends who are so dear to me. Walking today with Trish and her daughter, Elsie, made me think, again, about how blessed I am. Elsie is a unicorn child, all magic and imagination. She’s a writer, too. At the end of our walk, I gave her a big flying hug and told her that I love her. I told her mum that I love her, too. Then, as they were leaving me with the dogs in the driveway, Elsie turned and said, “I wish you would come and live next door to us, Kim. Why don’t you move closer to our house?” And my heart broke open, amazed. See…and here’s the magic…I’ve broken the pattern of my dad’s family in a simple way. I open my arms up, whereas they all must’ve crossed theirs over their chests, shrinking inwards, terrified of what their hearts really felt. Their lives were so much more sad because of their fear that their hearts would take them down the wrong paths, I think. I can never do that now.

I wish, against all wishes, because he’s gone, that my dad would’ve learned all of this just a wee bit earlier—how to open his arms wider, earlier in his life. Our lives would have been so much different if he had…but at least I’ve learned from the mistakes he and his dad made, so I’m grateful, even in feeling that ache of sadness.

peace,
k.

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I am “conspicuously old fashioned,” as so many dictionary definitions tell me. If you know me, it’s pretty obvious. I’m a poet and a romantic at heart. My feeble attempts at online dating have always failed miserably, mostly because I call ‘bullshit’ and just can’t stand people who are one dimensional. My closest friends are good with it all, but those who hover between ‘close’ and ‘acquaintances’ are often (I think) curious and slightly transfixed by my quirks and then — eventually and often — bugger off because I can be a bit too unique for most people.

So, when I went out to dinner with my friend, Sheryl, the other night, she said “Um, so Dan and I were wondering if you were serious when you tweeted that you were giving up your TV.” I laughed, so that I nearly spit out ginger tea on my Thai noodles. “Yup. Why? Do you think it’s weird?” She just laughed, loudly, and said, “Um, fuck yeah! Of course I think it’s weird. Everyone else is buying more stuff, and getting more than one TV, and you are over there giving yours away for free! Of course that’s weird.” Sheryl knows, though, that I’m not your normal, everyday woman. I dislike plastic people, would rather be on my own than try to be around people who aren’t genuine, and I feel like we’re on the planet for a purpose. We can get with that program, or we can be distracted. In the last year, in particular, I’ve decided to wake up, to get with the program that is about being mindful of the work I feel called to do, to cultivate the gift I have, and to use it for good. (Yeah, I probably need a cape…but there’s no way I’m wearing a bikini with my wonky legs. Hip surgery and a staple will do that to you when you’re twelve…so you have one leg that’s shorter than the other…and then you’re wonky for life. Yeah, maybe a cape, but no weird bikini with stars on it. Please don’t tip me over if we walk together…I will fall hard and then won’t be able to get up. Stupid staple.)

If you’d told me a year ago that I would give away my television, I would have told you that you were crazy. I was a committed fan of “Game of Thrones” and “The Walking Dead,” even to the point where I would text friends in real time to talk about plot issues on some of the most disturbing episodes. I can’t believe the time I wasted. I want to go backwards in time and shake myself. Then, I took a semester off to write and my life changed. It sounds silly, maybe, and people will think “Oh, how strange…she’s playing the writer. So conceited and full of herself. Elitist intellectual who doesn’t watch television.” Hmmm…no…I don’t think so. I sort of think I was “playing the writer” before last February, when I wasn’t committing myself to the work that I feel I need to do with my words. Going to Banff to work with a friend and mentor like Lawrence Hill, and meeting some good writing friends out there in the midst of the mountains, where the energy courses through you like a lightning bolt if you’re intuitive, well, that’ll change who you are in the world. Now, I can know, deep down, that I am a writer. Instead of being a teacher first, I feel more a writer. It’s even shifted the way I teach each day, which is interesting if you like to think about pedagogy, and I do…because I’m a geek.

So. Giving up the television. Here’s why: I just found the noise of it all was bothersome. I’m an introvert, even though it doesn’t look like it when I’m out at events reading poetry and speaking with people. Those events take the energy right out of me, because I feel like an actress who should win an Oscar, which is probably why I like to go off into the woods near Bobcaygeon on my own with the dogs, to write, read, and walk. For the longest time, with my TV, I had a PVR option, so I began to notice that I would PVR shows I loved (I will miss the BBC real estate shows, mostly because I love historic and character homes), and then never watch them. By the time they pulled the plug on my cable last week, I had something like thirty episodes of “Location, Location, Location” saved, but no time or need to even watch them.

There was a time, too, when I thought that being a good teacher meant keeping my finger on the pulse of this millennial culture. You know, I tried watching the damn Kardashians and their show, and I knew about Sister Wives and The Duggars. I knew about Katy Perry, Beyonce, and everything you could know (and not need to know) about Justin Bieber. Mostly, I think I watched them because I mistakenly thought it was something to connect with teenage girls about, but then I remember thinking, late in 2015 even, “Jesus. Why I am bringing myself down to a basic pop culture level and not trying to raise these young women up to a richer cultural level, by exposing them to good literature, music, theatre, cinema and art?” It all started to shift inside my head. I also, though, found that the people in the reality TV shows were so vapid and vacant, all caught up with what they were wearing and not considering others. It seemed too superficial for what I needed as I evolved into a woman.

There’s something, too, that’s surreal about watching an episode of the Kardashians and realizing that they are complaining about things that are ridiculous when the rest of the world is dealing with massively difficult challenges that deal with underlying issues like poverty and the environment. I also just hated seeing how they would buy brand names at the drop of a hat, not even seeming to realize that a simple purse could actually be equivalent to a ‘regular’ person’s rent for four or five months. It made me feel sick inside. I suppose, on some level, it was like junk food…or gossip….how you can get sucked in to being part of what everyone else is doing, or watching, or thinking, and then realizing that it’s more hurtful to yourself than anything else. It won’t make you grow and evolve, but will actually stunt you so that you end up less yourself than ever. So, I cast it off, and began to step into myself.

Sometimes, I’ve found over this past year, I began to realize what I can and cannot tolerate. Knowing this is a good thing as you begin to define and redefine yourself as a constantly thinking and creating person. When my friend’s mum needed a television this past weekend, I knew it was a sign. (I’m all about looking for the ‘signs,’ as a Celtic intuitive poet woman! I’m the lady who hugs trees in early dawn mist, so this shouldn’t come as a shock!) Within an hour or two, the massive TV was gone and I felt I could breathe again. Since then, the space in my little house is just bigger somehow, more full of possibility. I stopped watching TV last year, really, after I came home from the Banff Centre and a writing retreat. After that, I was knee-deep in my novel, and trying to put together a poetry manuscript, and trying to complete a few new plays. Reading, too, became a more crucial part of the whole process. You need to read, widely and beyond your comfort zone, to be a better writer.

I was also thinking about selfies. Again. I know I rant about them. I think I’ve begun to see them as something really detrimental to anyone trying to form genuine connections with other people. After I took my girls down to see a photography exhibit at the McEwen School for Architecture last week, we had a conversation about what makes a healthy relationship between two people. (You can read about what the exhibit’s goals were, in terms of capturing what healthy relationships look like in First Nations communities, in my previous entry). One of the things they told me in our post-exhibit visit discussion, and I guess it came from seeing a photography exhibition, was that sexually charged and revealing selfies are common to their age range. I’d even say it’s spread into women in their mid-twenties, if you look at social media and popular culture. Anyway, one of the girls was saying how a friend of hers had used Instagram or Twitter or Snapchat (which I don’t have or understand) to post pictures of herself in a revealing dress to get back at her boyfriend because they had had a fight, or one of them had cheated on the other one. I couldn’t believe it. “Why,” I asked, “would she do that?” I know I’m not smart when it comes to manipulating men, which is mostly because I’ve been on my own forever and a day, and also mostly because I don’t like head games at the best of times. I don’t think it’s kind. I can’t lie. If I try, you’ll know it, so I just don’t do it. I think I tried it once in high school and a teacher caught me, and that was it. Over. So, I can’t manipulate. I know. I’m an anachronism, a weirdo. And I think relationships should be about people being genuine, and decent, to one another. “Miss, you can purposely hurt a person by posting photos of yourself, if you dress a certain way. Girls do it all the time.”

Jesus. These are sixteen year old girls, and this is the world they’re having to navigate. They accept it as being acceptable, to demean and objectify themselves for everyone to see? I just shook my head. “I don’t get it. Why wouldn’t they just break up?! Why try to make someone hurt more? If they’re cheating on one another, why even stay together?” They agreed that it wasn’t nice, but they also said that it was normal these days. If that’s normal, then I’m going off into the woods again very soon, and maybe never returning. Working at an all-girls school, I think of things a lot. I want to be able to be a role model to young women in my classes, but I imagine they see me as the eccentric poet laureate who can’t understand sexually charged selfies. Their views of what a healthy relationship consists of are scary ones, I think, but maybe I’m out of touch. Cripes.

Some years are more evolutionary than others. This last one has been a doozy for me. I could list the reasons why, but they are so many and so varied that, when I try to think about it, I get overwhelmed and can’t figure out why it’s happening now. Anyway, I’ve become less about surface and superficial things. I want conversations with people who will challenge me and make me laugh at the same time. I want friendships with people who will tell me the truth, and who will go on road trips with me when I just feel like going, without knowing why. I want people who will not laugh at me when I walk in the rain, or when I stop to put a hand on the trunk of a tree, to feel its energy and spirit. I want depth. If depth isn’t there, then there isn’t space for me there anymore.

I do tend to take photos of my feet, both bare and in shoes, and sometimes they show up when I’m reading a book I love and have it propped up against my knees. This is likely the closest I’ll ever come to taking selfies. Why? Because I rely on my feet to get me places, and because I think of them as my metaphorical tree ‘roots,’ anchoring me to the earth when I most need to be grounded. They help me with tree pose, too, when I put the dogs out late at night, after I swing under the big maple tree in the backyard. I think, too, so often when I struggle with a question or worry in my head, of what my dad used to say: “Put your head down and work hard; keep plugging, Kimber. Put one foot in front of the other. That a girl. That a girl.”

This anachronism is just fine with being that archaic these days….walking through worlds, and (happily) of a different age and dimension. The veils between worlds are thin these days…and dimensions are closer together. 🙂

peace,
k.

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