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Archive for October, 2017

I have come to love canoeing this year. Losing weight has helped, I think. You go from a size 14 to a 10 in about a year and a half of hard work, and you learn that you are much physically stronger than you ever imagined. You can suddenly heft up a heavy canoe off the top of an SUV, and help your friend carry it down a hill to a lake, or yank it up onto a rock so that you can perch there for an hour, chat, and have lunch. On top of that new strength, though, you end up feeling much more graceful than you ever have before. You feel that you’re finally in your body, rather than just in your head. It’s been a journey, that’s for sure.

My dear friend, Jen, lives in the community of Atikameksheng Anishnawbek, just beyond the town of Lively. It’s a half hour drive out from where I live, near downtown Sudbury. The drive itself is really lovely, but once you get out there, well, your heart melts at the beauty of the land. Jen and her husband, John, have a canoe. We’ve gone out about a few times this summer and, each time, I am reminded of what the act of canoeing offers a person–from the inside out.

Until about two years ago, I was constantly worried and anxious. (It’s a bit like a vestigial tick that is left over from the major depression I suffered when my parents were dying and I was the main caregiver). In the last two years, I’ve made a conscious decision to not be fearful, to take risks when I otherwise would have just curled up into a fetal position. Coming into yourself is an amazing journey. I don’t care what other people think, I feel calm in my thoughts and words, and certain where I was always so uncertain before. It’s allowed me to envision a life where I’m not bound by a specific place or town or job. It’s allowing me to imagine a life that might bloom into something new, especially in terms of career and where I might live. (My leave from teaching in February will hopefully help me to sort these things out. I want to write in a different place, somewhere not in the north, to see how geography and place influence and shift the content and style of my writing. I have faith the leave will help me to redirect myself because I intend to enter into that experience of exploration fully.)

The canoeing this summer has taught me a few things that relate to life lessons:

A) You can learn and practice skills, even if you think you might not be as capable as someone else, or if you think you are uncoordinated. I had rowed on Ramsey Lake back in my 20s, so I knew I was comfortable being on the water, but I had had one bad canoeing experience about ten years ago, with a friend who just didn’t seem to enjoy canoeing. It felt arduous and not at all joyful. This reintroduction to canoeing, with Jen’s help, has caused me to become quite addicted to it. Tell me that you want to go canoeing with me and I’ll jump up and down a little bit. I can’t think of a nicer way to spend a day, unless it’s a hike in the bush somewhere.

B) You can learn to work with another person, to trust another person, rather than to feel that so much of everything is up to you alone. When you’re an introvert, as I am, and a fairly quiet and creative person, as I am, you sometimes forget how to trust that others will help (and not hurt) you. I trust Jen to steer, but now I know –almost intuitively– when she needs a hand or what I should do to help out from the bow. I like that I don’t have to think as much now, when we go out together, that I can trust my sense of intuition and balance to know what I should do to help steer…especially when we go deep into cattails and try to see if there is a way between lakes. I like that I know I can trust someone else now, that I can use my personal strength to work collaboratively with a friend to move a canoe through the water. I think I’ve transferred that lesson to my own life, too, but that’s a work in progress…as always.

C) You can learn to relax and float a bit. (Historically, I have not been a floater. I have always worked hard, a lesson my father taught me, and I have always had goals, and I am stubborn in too many ways.) Canoeing has taught me to trust the water. If you learn and practice the skills of paddling, you can trust that the water will hold that canoe, that it will cradle the canoe (and you!) and take you to places you hadn’t ever imagined. Yesterday, for example, we paddled right up to a beaver lodge. I was ecstatic! You can’t imagine how it feels to be four feet away from a beaver lodge when you’ve only ever seen them from the roadside next to a northern lake. They are beautiful, so well made and bigger up close.

D) You can learn that sometimes you don’t need to know where you’re going in life. This is a big, big lesson for me. My parents were always too strict and over-protective, so it’s taken me some time to grieve their deaths, but also to overthrow their fearful philosophies of life. I know, for now, that I teach in a formal high school structure, but I feel that I’ll shift from that sooner rather than later. If you’d told me I’d have thought this even three years ago, I would have shaken my head vehemently. I was still too rooted in fear, then. I had grand plans of moving into Guidance and Administration, but now my writing is more important. Before, I was too linear and cerebral. I was fearful of exploration. I’ve come to a place where I can realize that, if you find yourself ‘stuck,’ you can simple readjust your canoe and take a new route. You can start off having a plan to move from one lake to another, looking for wolves, moose, and elk as you paddle along shorelines, but you may not see them.  You may also find, when you finally get to the place where you should be able to move between two lakes, that the local beavers have built a dam there, to fiddle with water levels and make their homes safer.  So, you can shift life plans and routes: it takes time to adjust, of course, but it’s all very possible. Being open to possibilities is a new thing for me. It’s exciting.

E) You can learn, too, from disappointment. This past week has been a hard one for me. I’ve learned, again, that people can’t always be depended upon, and that you can’t always trust as openly as I do. I always think that they will be dependable, but I know now that that’s because I am dependable. (You can’t always assume or expect that someone operates from the same sort of moral and ethical place as you do…or that they share similar philosophies of life…even if you’ve known them for decades. And you can’t believe that, just because you’ve known them for years, they will be there for you. I’ve learned that this week, from someone I’ve known for ages, and it’s caused me great pain. But I’m learning from that pain, so I know I was meant to have that experience…again.)

The thing, then, is for me to discern whether or not a person like that can be trusted, can be depended upon to be a supportive person in my life. How do you decide whether you can trust, or whether you can be vulnerable with a person, or whether they will hurt you without a single passing thought? I’m working through that right now, and it’s painful because it’s someone I’ve known for years and years…so I’m wobbly…and I’m turtling…and my heart is sore and a bit shocked. I am fighting against pulling in and turtling, but it’s rippled out into other parts of my life…in seeing what roles other people play…and the lesson feels like a big one. Figure it’ll take some time…but the canoeing helps me to remember that I can trust landscape, and nature, sometimes, more than I can trust humans with my heart.

F) You can learn that it’s all right to be full of wonder when you see a fish jump to the surface of a lake, creating ripples in a concentric way; or when you shout out with joy when you see a “V” of geese sweeping across an afternoon sky while you’re out on the water; or when you watch a dragonfly sweep across in front of you and land on a nearby rock. Finding images of wonder is a way to bring light into your life, I think. It’s just being mindful, being poetic (maybe), and for me, being myself. It roots me firmly into myself, as I connect to something greater, something that speaks to me through landscape and the natural world.

This new love of canoeing, then, has taught me a great deal this year. I’m stronger than I thought, more in love with the wilderness of water, rocks, trees, and sky, than I ever thought possible. I love canoeing out to little islands and then swimming off the edges of them, so I feel as if I’m entering a painting. If I could reincarnate right now, I’d choose to be a tree, perched on the edge of a rock overlooking some waterway in this country.  I’d be the poem of the wilderness, giving and receiving energy from some greater creative force. But, for now, I’m just me, so I’ll root down like a tree, take up the space I’m meant to, breathe in and out, and be centred, calm, and creative, knowing it’s all for my soul’s growth, even if it can be a bit sharp sometimes.

Here are some photos from yesterday’s trip…IMG_5900.JPGIMG_5926 (1).JPGIMG_5933.JPGIMG_5942 (2).JPG

peace, friends.

k.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I am always so thankful to Markus Schwabe (at CBC Morning North) for the times he’s had me on the morning show to speak about the things I’m most passionate about…mostly poetry, literacy initiatives, and why we should encourage parents and kids to read and write poetry.

Here’s the link to that interview, if you’d like to listen.  You can also order a copy of the new book via my website, by going to the Books page and clicking on the cover image.  🙂  The website URL is simple…it’s just  http://www.kimfahner.com

http://www.cbc.ca/listen/shows/morning-north/segment/14353522

 

 

 

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For most people, Thanksgiving must conjure up all sorts of glorious red and gold leafy images of family gatherings, hugs and pie. I remember them, I do, but only vaguely now. These days, I remember them as if I am looking at them from the outside of a really thick glass snow globe, one that someone has shaken too fiercely, so that I can’t see the images clearly anymore. If anyone inside the globe speaks, or a memory rises up, I can only hear muffled voices. So, as I do for Christmas, I try to rent a place where no one knows me, and where I don’t know anyone, and I pull in like a little turtle.

My heart hurts, and I’m a turtle-r when I’m hurting. I pull in, avoid anyone or thing that hurts me, and just try to stay strong. I’m sure some people would view it as my being distant or even cold, but it’s not that. It’s a hedgehog kind of thing, too, a prickly outside that protects you when you’re a bit raw. (When you’re the only one in your life to pick up your own broken pieces, well, you tend to gather yourself to yourself on the hardest days…because it’s a mess to try and pick up your own pieces after grief has broken you up again from the inside out when there’s no one else around to hold you in a hug, or give you a hand.)

For me, Thanksgiving and Christmas make me feel sick inside. I try not to think of the people who’ve died, but I always do. In my head and heart, I refer to them as ‘my lost ones.’ There are more of them there now than here, and it’s hard. I have no shortage of more than kind friends who offer me a place at their dinner tables, even a second cousin who makes me feel loved when she drops off little containers of stew or chili. I’m blessed that people are so kind to me. I appreciate invitations to other people’s family dinners, but it’s just that it actually even hurts more when you are with someone else’s family. I end up feeling jealous, and then I put myself down internally for being jealous (because how silly is that, anyway, to be jealous of someone else’s family?!), and then I get just so unbelievably sad inside. Being with other people at Thanksgiving and Christmas makes the two or three days even worse. If you’re ‘borrowing’ a family for the day, then it feels like you’ve invaded a Norman Rockwell print, elbowed someone aside, been a bit of a bother, and just feel it’d be best to go home and hop into bed with a book. On such days, then, it is better to go off and pull into my little turtle shell.

Sitting here, in a tiny cottage on the edge of Lake Simcoe, I’m thinking about my parents and my grandmother. I think, always, of my dad and maternal grandmother every day. My mum, well, she’s there, but sort of like a strange bird that sits behind me on a tree branch, watching, maybe even tilting her head, judging me, curious about the person I’ve become since she’s left, but distant and not really as interested in my life somehow. Funny how these relationships with my loved ones have changed since their deaths, I often think, just as real-life ones with friends will. I have tried to write this weekend, and I have, but I’ve had more luck in the last two days with marking journals for my classes, planning the agenda for my book launch, and reading next to Sable, who snores very loudly now that she’s mostly deaf. There have been lots of long walks with the dogs, and that’s helped. Sitting by the edge of the water across the road, at sunset and sunrise, has been good, too. Just being able to breathe a bit helps.

An article about grief popped up on Facebook this morning. I clicked on it, shaking my head, skeptical. Typical article: grief is like a wave; it doesn’t have a time frame or schedule; it can be tied to days, or seasons, or to a difficult day or week at work. For me, it doesn’t have edges, and it wobbles evasively like a tomato aspic jelly salad, defiant and not easy to cut into. It can have you weeping when you hear a certain piece of music, or see light slicing beautifully through fall leaves in an outside tree, or when you just wish you could have a decent chat with your dad. It can be as ache-inducing and relentless as a sore back tooth, or as sharp as a knife that has fallen from a counter to bounce off the floor, and down onto the soft upper surface and slope of a bare foot. It can make you lose your breath, when you least expect it. It can make you flash back to a last moment or breath, to the departure of a parent’s life in a hospital, or to the last words you said to a mother or father, not knowing that they were actually the very last words. It’s that much of a shapeshifter, a trickster, a pain-creator, this thing called grief.

So.  What to do? Nothing. You push through these few days—maybe in a new spot in the province—so that the different types of light distract or transfix you, so that the sounds and smells of fall are different from the ones up north, so that the sound of a train whistle in the distance makes you think of how your dad liked Gordon Lightfoot songs, but still often sang “The Black Velvet Band” loudly on road trips, and loved passing cars at high speeds when he really didn’t need to on Highway 69. Some people will say, “No, don’t run away from the pain of grief. Face it. Or sit with other people over their turkeys and pretend that your heart isn’t sad.” Here’s the thing: you can’t escape it, even if you try. You can’t run away from it because it sits in your heart. You carry it with you.

It’s more that you try to distract yourself from the days, usually in a clutch of two or three. You take the days as you would swimming in large waves in a Great Lake like Huron or Erie, bracing yourself and gulping at air before you go under and then emerging again, over a series of nights and days, somehow beginning to trust the motion of those waves again.  If you trust them, actually take a deep breath and enter into the memory and grief, then it lets you in, gathers you up, acknowledges the pain and ache of love lost to death. The more you struggle against your feelings, though, the more you are likely to drown. A weekend or clutch of days like this…can exhaust a person. More often than not, on Tuesday morning at work, the person will look tired, but they will also be triumphant (in small ways) at having survived the tsunami of both good and bad memories.

My parents’ voices have both gone now. While I used to be able to hear them in my head, I can’t anymore. This, this year, has been the most difficult adjustment, in losing the sound of their voices from my mind. Their faces remain, but not their voices. And then I think to myself, “List what you are grateful for, Kim. List it. Write it. Make it true, a daily list of what you find to be beautiful, all magic and gratitude to fight against any empty spaces they’ve left behind in your heart.” And these turned into my gratitude posts on Twitter and Facebook, and my photos on Instagram, as reminders to stay in the light, be grateful for each breath, and live life fully in tribute to the people I’ve lost:

A pre-dawn walk on the edge of a lake, ducks having breakfast, tail feathers up above the ripples, ass over tea kettle (as my Gram Ennis might say), water ballet birds in avian tutus; a star high up in the branches of a pre-dawn tree, and a full moon that hangs like a marbled beacon in the sky; the sound of a loon once in a blue moon, echoing across the water’s surface; a cup of Earl Grey, bare feet and legs tucked up under me on the chesterfield, reading Mary Oliver or Wendell Berry poems; the sound of Bach in a little house or cottage, notes soaring up around me, lifting me when I’m on my heart’s own metaphorical knees; the friends who have kids, who generously let me take on the role of eccentric aunt; my deep love of trees, birds, and shifting skies and weather systems; the few souls who know and understand how deeply a person can ache inside, especially in the times around family holidays, and who text or message not to ask for or demand something, but to offer a warm, welcoming and kind heart, a listening ear, and pure unconditional love instead. These are the friends who love me as I am, not just as a passing poet laureate or published writer. They take me as I am, these few dear friends whom I can count on one hand, and that is all I’ve ever wanted or needed since my dad died.

While you might not enjoy your family all the time, friends, trust me when I say you will miss it—and them—once they’ve gone. It’s very true what they say…that you only really notice what it is you’ve lost after it’s left your life.

This weekend, all full of love and grief (the very two things that C.S. Lewis says go together in his work, “A Grief Observed”), I am grateful for having known them, and for having loved them, and for having been so well loved for at least a bit of my life time.

I was blessed; for that time, I was blessed, and I didn’t even know the half of it…

peace,

k.

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