What Would Happen?

What would happen if you followed your dreams?

 What would happen if you followed not just your dreams, but that little voice in your head, the one you want to ignore because it completely throws the balance of your life into chaos; that voice with the cord that attaches itself all the way down to your heart.  And when that heartstring is pulled, there is no ignoring its song because it’s playing your tune, the tune of who you truly are.

What would happen if your baby was born with Down syndrome and that caused you to question many long-held beliefs that had you standing on shaky ground.  Would you then look around at the people standing next to you anew, with a startling clarity?  Would you live your life differently, follow a different path?  Maybe.

What would happen next?  Well, your baby would be born and you would be a mother or father, of course.  Personally, I have never really embraced the term ‘special needs mom’, but if that floats your boat, you do you.

You would research the proper use of language to be able to use it correctly with your own child.  Was it ‘Down syndrome’ or ‘Down’s syndrome’?  A person with Down syndrome (lower case ‘s’) is the correctly spelling and usage in North America, while in the UK, Down’s syndrome spelled with an apostrophe is the norm.  You would read and you would learn and, something new – or perhaps, not new, just reimagined – you would write.  You would write a blog and one day – today! – you would have been writing that blog for almost nine years, because you started when your first born came along as a way to keep in touch with family far away.

Then what if that blog became something more to you?  What if that blog became a story you needed to tell the world?  What if you wrote a newspaper article, just one.  Just one measly article – what could it hurt?  And what if the rush from that one published measly article and your hope to help create a more just society for your daughter would then inspire you to write more, to keep going, to dig deeper, to settle right into advocacy work.  And what if then, you joined a board of a local Down syndrome association and you met families, many wonderful families, who have children with Down syndrome, families you may never have been fortunate enough to have met otherwise, but they didn’t really have a regular place to meet – so what if you set that up?  What if you coordinated a meeting place and what if you showed up there, who else might you meet?  And what other stories would be told?  Many.  And what if those stories filled your head and some danced for joy and others sank with sorrow into a sea of tears that needed to overflow onto the page?  What if you could write about…all of this.

What would happen if you looked for a memoir on the bookstore shelf written by a mother who had a child with Down syndrome…but there were none, well, when you dug deeper, there were a few, but none quite as young or Canadian or as uniquely…you.  None with your story to tell.  Well then.

What if, scene by scene, chapter by chapter, you began to write your story down.  What if your story were to unfold before your very eyes as you devoured books on disability and memoir.  What if you read one hundred books a year, for three years in a row, mostly memoir – would you know how to write your own then?

What if you could receive an education by doing, by living, and by reading voraciously?  What would happen if you threw in every ounce of emotion you ever felt (leaving room for the emotions of the reader: pro tip), and let it simmer for a while, for a few years and then when you were in the exact right place in your life, which is to say, pregnant and planning to move, which is to say – right in the middle of it – you were to write that book, the story of receiving a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome with your daughter?

And during the process of writing a memoir, what if you were to learn something?  About storytelling, and time management, and publication, and copy editing, and narrative arc and plot and weaving in themes and cutting out crap.  What if you were to learn something that could be useful to others beyond the obvious of getting that book about Down syndrome out into the word?  What if you could find your voice.

What if, in the process of writing your memoir, you dreamed up a whole new career for yourself.  What would happen if writing became more than therapy, if it became your lifeblood?

Just what might happen if you decided to take writing seriously?  You couldn’t do that, could you.  That might be too selfish, play too directly into your deepest desires – or could you?  Well, if you keep writing, if you work hard at it, you might just face a whole lot of rejection, and then you might get published in a magazine or two, and you might see more of your name online and in print, and one day, (hopefully soon), you will see your book published, the one that took you three years to write.  And by that point you may very well think of yourself as a writer.

You might decide that while writing is writing and writing is everything, that money and making a living is important too.  You might become an editor on the side and of course, given your background and inclinations, you might consider furthering your qualifications and continuing your education to better be able to teach writing.  You might then consider getting your Master of Fine Arts in creative nonfiction, because you’ve always wanted to do your Masters, you love education, and while you’re waiting to do that, because your children are still growing up, why not travel the world with them?  You never know what could happen, so better plan that trip fast.  What if your travel agent should tragically pass away, would that thrust you into action?  It did for me.

And what would happen, if you decided that you love to write so much you’d like to attend a writer’s retreat?  Let me rephrase that with the truth.  You want to go to a writer’s retreat so that you can learn how to run your own.  Then what would happen if you just went ahead and ran your own writer’s retreat anyway?  Would anybody come?  Would anybody care?  In other words, if you build it, would they come?  And would you come into contact with more wonderful writers?  Would you have a chance to share new viewpoints and explore the world through the eyes of these dazzling women?  You would.

Then what would happen if you wanted to keep your retreat going.  If running a writer’s retreat became an important way to connect with others and use your skills as a teacher and a learner and a writer.  What would happen if you one day envisioned hosting retreats of your own, in your very own special place?

Then one day, what would happen if the world as you knew it fell apart.  If all sense of normalcy was erased.  Would you crumple to the floor and refuse to get up?  That would be understandable, if that’s where you needed to lie.  And some days you do.  You lay there motionless, watching the world pass you by.

But what if you held onto hope, and let the heartstring pull and listened hard to your own inner music?  Might you remember your retreat, and the second book you are going to write and the MFA program you got accepted into and the people who are counting on you?  Even if no one is counting on you, what would happen if you rooted for yourself?  Became your own biggest fan?  You’re #1 – go me!  What would happen if the cheers in your head became louder than all the noise of the outside world?  Not in denial, but in defiance and with reverence to all that you are and can be.

What if you thought about buying your family a pool with the money from all the cancelled plans of the summer, but then instead you thought, no, I want to buy a cottage. What if that would cost you everything you had, but would bring you closer to the people you loved?  To the nature and the water you worshipped?  To following your dreams and dancing to the tune of your heartstring.

Would you listen?

I think I just did.

 

Loss: Tending to the Rose Garden

Loss.  The idea came to me in hazy form one afternoon, but I had no time to jot down notes, to ease into the topic and now it’s five a.m. and while my body needs time to boot up, so too is my brain sluggish at this time of day.  I’m becoming accustomed to early mornings; I’ve been rising early all week and attempting to make the change both mentally and physically.  It’s the time I have, so I will use it well.  And that is the idea of this blog: that what has been lost, will be found, though often regained in some other form.  We are here to talk about roses.

For every loss I’ve experienced in my life there has been something I have gained from the experience.  I can’t say this is true for everyone, but for me, this has been the case.  The key to accepting my losses and moving forward to find the good has been perspective – finding the roses.  There is no doubt gaining perspective has cost me dearly.

There are the losses I’ve experienced lately:

The loss of time; I’ve learned to appreciate the time I do have and be more flexible.

The loss of routine; we have had to reconstruct our new normal and in the process are able to appreciate the relative ease of life before when casually picking up a few items from the grocery store was no big deal.

The loss of peace; we are working on nurturing each member of our family and ourselves.  On addressing each of our needs.

The loss of space; this one is a hard one for me.  I’m still working this one out.

In the past, I’ve dealt with the loss of a loved one.  While loss isn’t easy, and even when we do gain something from that loss, that does not mean to say the pain is diminished.  Since losing my maternal grandmother, I have found new ways to connect with her after she is gone.  Through cross-stitching – an art she taught me – and thinking of her, to sensing her spirit in the rabbit outside my window.  Though she is gone, and while her loss is real and felt, our relationship has not been broken, it has been transformed.

Loss is relative.  While it is true, we will all lose our lives eventually, we have today to gain in the meantime.  Focus on what you can do today.

I once thought I had lost the child I was expecting.  I experienced a loss of normalcy and I was devastated.  Down syndrome was not what I had planned.  But over time I was able to see I had more to gain than I had ever lost.  The power of that perceived loss transformed me in ways unimaginable, has pushed me to travel and see the world, to be more accepting of those around me and to become an advocate for those of differing abilities; to be a writer and become the person I was meant to be.  I can’t say I saw all that coming when I was pregnant though.  I can’t say I saw any of it coming.  I can’t promise you that your losses will bring you great things.  But hold it in your heart that it is possible that what you perceive as a loss today, may one day be your greatest blessing.

I’m thinking about loss after finishing listening to Still: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Motherhood by Emma Hansen.  In Still, Emma Hansen relives for us the painful experience of losing her son Reid who is stillborn at 40 weeks.  A body, a life, so fully formed, to never experience the light of day or the feel of the breeze on his skin.  There is no reconciling this loss, but Emma does survive it.  She goes on to have another baby, after much difficulty, and then at two days old this second baby turns blue and is rushed to hospital.  If you want to know what happens keep reading, if not, and you think you’d like to read the book, skip to the * below.  Because of losing Reid the way she did (he was born with a true knot in his umbilical cord) Emma and her husband had felt helpless and they were determined to be prepared for this next baby.  They had taken an infant CPR course and once home from the hospital after giving birth, Emma had been watching her baby like a hawk.  She acknowledges that the experience of losing her first child enabled her to act quickly and save the life of her second.  The beauty of Everett’s big brother Reid looking out for him from above and beyond is not lost on me here.

*Oh, hello.  We’re back together.  Loss seems irreparable, and likely the pain will dwell with you for a long time, perhaps forever.  There is no promise that the pain will recede, just that there will be more to come; there will be an after.  There is no replacing the pain, just as there is no replacing the loss of a loved one, but over time, and perhaps with a shift of perspective, there will be beauty once more; there will be new hope and transformation.

Ariel and I finished reading The Secret Garden together last night.  As two forgotten children learn to care for a forbidden garden, they form a connection, with one another and nature, that nurtures their souls.  The act of being in nature heals their broken spirits and slowly their surly dispositions turn golden as the sun they play under, and as fair as the flowers they tend to.

There is a line that stuck with me, that reminded me of loss and perspective.

“Two things cannot be in one place. “Where you tend a rose, my lad, A thistle cannot grow.””

Where you tend a rose, a thistle cannot grow.  We must, deliberately then, sprout and give rise to those thoughts which bloom into delicate ornaments.  Those are the flowers we must tend to.  Pull out the weeds, and in times of difficulty, look for the rose buds to appear.  Someone or something may come along and cut the head off those roses – that’s life – and eventually, we know the last petal will fall and we will lay to rest alongside our roses, but while we are here, why not put everything we have into minding and making our gardens bloom?

As I stare out my window right now, I see buds on the trees.  Because I got up so early, I saw the sun rise into the cloudless blue sky I’m now witnessing, and into the promise of a new day.  And I smile, having tended to my roses, and feel grateful.

Keeping the Peace

My husband and I have agreed on a common goal for our family during this time of pandemic, which is to keep everyone happy, healthy and above all else:  keep the peace.  Keeping the peace is not as easy as it sounds.  KEEP THE PEACE.  I want to shout it out loud, but that feels counterproductive.  The challenge is to keep the peace when there is just so much each member of our family could be arguing about.  It’s your turn to take the dog out.  Don’t let the dog out!  Don’t run away from him.  Stop biting me!  It’s my turn to work!  Whose socks are these?  Who didn’t flush the toilet and WHY IS THERE A FULL ROLL OF PAPER TOWEL IN THE TOILET?  Who’s fault is that?  Why does it matter?  Who’s in charge here?  Why are the kids on their ipads?  Why aren’t the kids on their ipads?  Get them outside – bring them in!  What’s for lunch?  What’s for dinner?  I don’t want this!  I don’t want that!  It’s my turn.  It’s NOT my turn.  I wanted THAT.  Here, take it – no!  Who’s doing the dishes? Who’s watching the kids?  Who’s watching the dog?  What’s he eating now?  Have they eaten?  Who’s looking after the house?  Where did this literal pile of dirt come from?  Who’s making plans?  What are the plans?  I don’t like those plans.  Who’s sleeping? Who’s awake? No one?  BE QUIET.

The noise, these days.  There is an abundance of noise in our house and in my head.  The temptation is to S-CREAM…then everything goes quiet, momentarily, but that only leaves you feeling worse.

In the past week, I’ve begun my Master’s work.  I am now officially a full-time student of creative nonfiction for the next two years, during which time I will produce my second book-length work of nonfiction, a collection of essays with a disability theme.  I’m bursting with excitement over my course work and about my project.  The challenge is finding the hours in the day to focus and let out that creative energy and get to work.  I’ve got my eye on the wee hours of the morning.  A writer’s life is truly one of solitude, and while as a mother and primary caregiver I’ve always had to balance my need for alone time to create with caring for a family – now, even more so.

I’ve been drawing strength from a remembered line of Brene Brown’s:  we’re doing the best we can.  Brene Brown eventually comes to this conclusion after being hired for a speaking engagement out of town, and then asked to share a room with what ends up being the world’s worst roommate.  Her roommate smokes INSIDE the non-smoking hotel room in the face of Brene’s protest and manages to burn a hole in the curtains; then she pulls out her snacks and after getting chip crumbs all over the couch, she wipes her greasy, chocolate-coated, hands down the armrests to tidy herself up, to name a few of her unseemly transgressions.  Yet even she is doing the best that she can, Brene Brown comes to realize.  We must allow each other grace.  Not be a pushover, but allow grace.  Brene Brown comes to understand that the way to allow others grace is to set boundaries for herself.  She no longer accepts speaking engagements where she has to share a room; that is her boundary to set.

When I want to throttle the being who put a full roll of paper towel in the toilet or the being who walked through the house with their muddy boots on after the floor’s just been mopped, or the being who sucked up all of my time to work, or who sunk their teeth into my calf or whatever it may be; I’m trying to remember my own deep breaths, while balancing the deep sighs of those around me.  Each living creature in my home has needs, every day – surprise! – not surprised – and the responsibility of these needs boils down to two people, which actually then boils down to me as manager/CEO of household affairs.  The temptation is to drop the weight so I no longer have to bear it; allow our lives to crumple at my feet.  Fend for yourselves, I’M WRITING!  I would snarl, but that isn’t really who I am or aspire to be, so instead, I pick my moments when and where I can.  I will turn to dawn for solitude.  On the day Dan and Louie have a day-long errand to run, I just let the kids be without the snarl, and they’re okay, and they learn absolutely nothing from me, other than that I have needs too, and I am completely, 100% okay with that.  Nobody died.  And nobody yelled.  We each revelled in the here and now and the ‘just be’.  We were quite content to leave each other alone for a day.

I found myself raising my voice a few too many times this past week, and not just at my own family.  We are owed an exorbitant amount of money for a cottage rental cancelled this summer and by the time I’d reach my fourth phone call with the company, after waiting an unreasonable four weeks for a clear-cut reimbursement owed to us, I lost my composure.  My argument essentially boiled down to, “Not my problem.  You do what you have to do to GET ME MY MONEY.”  This woman had no power to do any such thing, and I knew this.  We both knew it.  Even as I raised my voice to express my frustrations, I knew this.  The woman on the other end stammered her apologies and then finally transferred me to someone higher up who was able to tell me exactly what is going on with our money.  I took a deep breath and would later recoil at my own ugliness.  To be rude or emotional over the phone with a complete stranger was totally unlike me, completely out of character.  Though I can be pushy, this was beyond pushy.  This was an emotional outburst.  Well it worked.  I’m getting my money back – but in exchange for what?  I lost my inner peace.

There have been signs around me to slow down, take stock, find my way back to our mantra for peace.

In searching for publishers, I came across a promising one named Guernica.  Intrigued by the name, I looked it up, and there was the painting, Picasso’s Guernica, named after the town in Northern Spain that was destroyed by German bombers in 1937 during the war.  The painting has become a monument, a constant reminder of the tragedies of war, an anti-war symbol, and an embodiment of peace that has been dubbed ‘a plea for peace’.  I also came across the book title Are We Done Fighting?  Building Understanding in a World of Hate and Division by Matthew Legge, and I thought I could truly relate.

The feeling of peace being disrupted comes from the greater scenario at play in the background, but it also comes from my lack of solitude and the feeling that something is missing.  Sometimes an odd sensation will come over me, that feeling of looking for something misplaced, like I’ve lost something important to me.  The feeling comes over me most strongly when I’m online or scrolling through social media, trying to find what it is that I’ve lost; the irony is that it’s time and solitude, at a time when the others are sleeping and I am alone; I’m wasting what precious time I do have.

Where is it?  Where is it?” my scrolling finger and senseless wandering seem to demand.  But I never find what I’m looking for.

I allow for one last sign to catch my attention beyond battles with the world and Picasso’s Guernica, my plea for peace.  The sign appears in my day planner, of all places.  I flop open its pages and there, staring back at me, is a simple inscription for the month of May.  Five little words: Bloom where you are planted.

And here I am.  Both feet planted firmly on the ground amid five other beings.  There is plenty of love on which to grow here, it just needs to be cultivated and harvested.  That takes grit and hard work.  Our garden needs plenty of attention, and I’m not the sun, I’m just one measly watering can trying to cover as much ground as possible, watering our patch of earth to the best of my abilities, doing the best I can.  Others are stepping in here and there, doing what they can, but I miss my full gardening crew and I bet you do too.  Many hands make light work.  We’re in a bit of a draught, but we’ll get by.  I still hear the robins chirping; I know the gardener that holds me, and he’s okay.  He’s better than okay.  Our flowers will bloom, we will tend to one another.  And the sun will shine high above us.

The Last Sweet Bite

Working, parenting, and teaching are three different jobs that cannot be done at the same time, says Dr. Emily W. King, a family psychologist.  When I saw these words, I thought about how perfectly they summed up my life at the moment and the lives of so many parents.  Caregivers are being asked to perform the impossible.  Or – if not impossible, then – the highly undesirable.

We all have our particular brand of misery to dwell on – if we must.  Friends of ours were in the middle of an around-the-world trip when Coronavirus swept in and terminated their plans.  They planned to travel for an entire year, while he took a sabbatical and she worked from the road.  Their trip was five years in the making, and in the end it was cut abruptly short by several months because of Covid.  Is this the end of the world?  No, but it really sucks.  If their trip was a fine meal, then they missed out on those last few savory bites.  There are many aspects of life that really suck right now (i.e. as alluded to above, trying to perform three jobs at once), but we also know there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  We must strive for that light.

Our travel friends, the Irwins, a Canadian family of four comprised of mom, dad and two awesome daughters, adopted a family motto during their travels for when times got tough.  And times inevitably did get tough:  from questionable food, to disappointing – even dangerous – highly-anticipated experiences, to a police raid of their accommodation (I need to ask you guys more about that one…)  The family kept it together by repeating these simple words: we can do hard things.  That’s it.  I believe I know where these words come from.  When we caught up with the Irwins in Thailand this past November, I asked Amy, the mom, if she was a reader (as I’m wont to do) and if so, was there a memoir she recommended?  She suggested I read Glennon Doyle’s highly acclaimed debut memoir Love Warrior.  Glennon Doyle embodies and speaks to the words, we can do hard things, in Love Warrior, as well as in her most recent book Untamed.  We can do hard things.  I love this simple statement so much, which for me encompasses hope, confidence and resolve, that I want to write it on my wall; on the blank white space I stare into when I’m running on the treadmill.  There are things happening beyond our control and life is hard right now.  Really hard.  But we can do hard things.  Thanks to the Irwins for reminding me of that.

I’m reading another memoir right now as part of my Masters work called Highway of Tears by Jessica McDiarmid, a true story of racism, indifference and the pursuit of justice for missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.  The book reads like an investigative report, and I’m enjoying it so far.  While books serve an instructional purpose for me, I also mine them for material, reading along waiting to spot diamonds in the rough with their sparkling light.  I call these gems inspiration.  Well, I was inspired, fully inspired, by a run of the mill description of a town and a place with one significant detail: totem poles.  Erected in 1850, these totem poles were the oldest remaining in the world.  Found in the town of Gitanyou (previously called Kitwankool) in British Columbia, said totem poles were made famous when painted by Emily Carr in her painting Kitseukla.  One of the totem poles depicted is known as ‘Hole-in-the-Ice’ and it was this piece of history, mentioned in the book, that intrigued me the most.  The Totem pole literally has a giant hole in it.  Why the hole?  I felt I was that totem pole, my exterior carved by my life story with a hole in the middle.  There is so much passing through me right now, and I have no way to take it all in, to digest.  We are all walking totem poles, losing those we know and love through holes in the ice.  There is no salvaging the damage done by the frigid icy waters below, we just know that it needs to get a bit colder before the hole will close and the ice will heal.  We must brave the cold and we must survive it.

I have been unable to determine why there is a hole carved in the ‘hole-in-the-ice’ totem pole. What I do know, is that totem poles are monuments created to represent and commemorate ancestry, histories, people, or events.  According to a site devoted to Indigenous art in UBC’s Natives Studies program, “Most totem poles display beings, or crest animals, marking a family’s lineage and validating the powerful rights and privileges that the family held.  Totem poles would not necessarily tell a story so much as it would serve to document stories and histories familiar to community members or particular family or clan members.”  Perhaps someone knows the secret to why there is a hole in the ice, but the information is not readily available.  The question of ‘why’ remains one of the great mysteries of life.

We can do hard things.

I just finished listening to Charlie Engle’s Running Man.  I love listening to books written by triathletes with inspiring tales while I’m working out, and Charlie’s story did not disappoint.  A former drug addict, he found his way into running as a means and lifeblood to his recovery.  His life was going relatively well – at least from an outsider’s perspective – when he was pegged for a crime he was innocent of committing (he took the fall for a ‘liar loan’ on a house he owned).  Not long after having completed the longest run across a dessert, and adventure racing through the Amazon, he found himself behind bars.  To no avail, even when uncovering new evidence to suggest he was unjustly treated and tried, Charlie was forced to serve his full sentence of twenty-one months in prison.  Upon his release, he relished being a free man, and began inspiring others with his story.  In a talk he delivered to college students the epiphany came to him that, “Adaptation is the key to happiness.  Anything can be overcome with the right attitude.”  Right now all of us are being forced to adapt, and if we can, if we will try to, then I agree with Charlie Engle, we have a chance at being happy.  This hole we are feeling right now will not do us in.  As far as adopting the right attitude, we can do hard things seems just about right.

I want to end this post with a gift to you, a poem that fits the spirit of this post.  This poem is from a delicious little cookbook, Eat This Poem, by Nicole Gulotta, whose recipes are inspired by its poems.  I hope you will savour every last sweet bite.

Perhaps the World Ends Here, by Joy Harjo

The world begins at a kitchen table.  No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table.  So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it.  Babies teethe at the corners.  They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human.  We make men at it, we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children.  They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table.  It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror.  A place to celebrate the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow.  We pray for suffering and remorse.  We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

You have to Go Slow to Go Fast

As the Chinese proverb goes: a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  Having just finished listening to ultrarunner Scott Jurek’s second book, North, where he ran the entirety of the Appalachian trail for forty-six days straight, a total of over 2,000 miles – upwards of fifty-mile running days – these words ring true.  But it isn’t just Scott’s incredible trek that has got me thinking about how to achieve an end goal, it’s the life that’s playing its music, ringing out all around me.

I’m standing at our kitchen sink washing dishes.  In the next room over, Ariel is sitting at her piano bench practising a new song alongside her piano teacher.  When her teacher asks her to slow down, Ariel, unmoved, continues to play to her own beat.  This has been a repeating theme in the past weeks of her lessons.

“Slow down, Ariel.  You need to slow down.”  Her piano teacher is patient and kind, but firm when she needs to be.

“Why am I here, Ariel?”  The keys plunk to a stop.  Point taken.  Ariel attempts to slow down her pace as I commence chopping veggies for dinner.  I know all too well that slowing down isn’t easy.  We all want to get there.

“Do you know what the great masters do when they’re learning a new piece of music?” her piano teacher continues, “They practice it at an unbelievably slow tempo, like thirty beats per minute or something like that.”  To gain an appreciation for the intricacies and precision of the piece, great musicians take their time when learning, even though they can go faster, especially because they can go faster.  Those masters are on to something.  The musical term attributed to this tempo speed is ‘grave’, meaning slow and solemn.  There is a sense of reverence, of devotion, in the art of going slow; arguably, this is, or should be, the pattern of our daily lives.  We only have a finite number of days until the end, then as quickly as we arrived, it’s over.  Going slow is a metaphor for life.  We must each decide the music we want to make.

As the master pianist slows his tempo, the same is true in running, and arguably in any sport.  One of the hardest lessons I am still learning as a runner is you have to run slow to run fast.  And you have to run slow to enable your body to run far.  In ultrarunner Rich Roll’s book Finding Ultra, once he feels he has built up his level of fitness after a few years of mega races he begins working with a coach.  His base fitness level tests reveal a different story.

“Rich,” his coach chastises, “you’re going to have to slow down, way down.”  The numbers don’t lie, and Rich’s heartrate was skyrocketing.  By slowing his running pace to almost a walking speed, he was able to train and lower his heartrate that would later help him achieve incredible feats.

When Dan and I trained for our marathon, we didn’t train to a time.  What that means is, we didn’t try to run at a certain pace, we just ran.  This drove Dan CRAZY, but I was adamant that we run only listening to our body’s cues.  When we trained together on those long Sunday runs, we purposely kept the pace slow – slow enough to be able to talk to one another comfortably into the second hour of running.  It’s worth noting neither of us got any injuries.  Marathon training was a huge lesson in you have to go slow to go fast.  Slow was the four months of training.  Fast was race day.

Writing a book.  Completing my memoir was a painstakingly slow process.  Just when I’d think I was getting close to finishing the job, there was another person to contact or days and months worth of editing and revising to wrap my head around.  To give you a sense, at one point where I thought I was nearing completion, another whole year went by before the manuscript was actually completed.

Writing a book will break you.  There were times when I wanted to give up, several times.  At one point, I took almost two months off from writing my memoir.  And oh, the shame!  Whatever book you decide to write, you had better know in your heart of hearts that it’s the one that needs to be written by you, because when the going inevitably gets tough – and it will – you need something to hang on to.  For me, it was simple.  An image of my daughter would materialize in my head, and I could easily justify pushing on.  I could review that one more section for the fourth or fifth time.  I could question not just every sentence, but every word, every comma, every period.  Like I said, the process was – still is – slow, but I can’t give up now.  With my ultimate goal of traditional publishing, I’m in the midst of the going slow process.  The publishing industry is infamously sluggish, with wait times of up to a year to hear back.  But I’m not going to pin this all on them.  I have been humming to my own tune lately, pushing ahead with other projects instead of focusing on finding a publisher.  Why?  I’ve been distracted by other writing.  How easy it is to get swept up in the goings on of the world, of glittery projects and new ideas.  I am queen of big new ideas.  Just ask my husband how he found himself traveling around-the-world with three kids in tow.  And, because creating is more fun than hunting down a publisher!  There, I said it.

My book is written, the manuscript complete, but this baby needs a home, and then I’ll be able to get it out into the world.

The truth remains, you have to go slow to go fast.  I can’t skip ahead to the part where my finished book lay bound in my hand like a trophy.  Not without putting in the work, the monumental effort.  Not without putting one foot down in front of the other for what feels like a thousand miles.

I’m going to have to slow down, plunk away at those keys, keep the tempo steady, even.  The world isn’t going to care if my book never gets published, not really; so I have to care.  I do care.  I need to slow down enough to make my beautiful music play, and then the world will hear it.  And then the world will hear it.

Fully Submerged: sometimes you just do things

Our habits are strong, so completely ingrained in us, it’s hard to break free.  I rounded my usual corner at the library and came face-to-face with this crimpy-haired bug-eyed woman sitting at my regular table in my spot.  How ridiculous a claim, my spot; like kindergarteners fighting over a chair who need Xs on the carpet to denote their personal space.  I was carrying a heavy load and made like I was going to dump it off there on her table, my table, but I caught myself – I’m sure the bug-eyed woman noticed – and scanned for another place to set up camp.  We are creatures of habit and breaking out of the mould is difficult – the opposite of commonplace – but there lies adventure and its rewards that await.  Fortune favours the bold.

When I think about stepping outside of the everyday, travel comes to mind.  Several weeks ago, I attended a talk at our local library, by homegrown author Kate Harris, who was there to discuss her incredible and applauded book, Lands of Lost Borders.  An inspiring modern-day adventurer, who very much looks like and is a kind Canadian based in B.C., Kate described her experience of cycling across Tibet with a friend disguised as Chinese tourists.  At one point during her talk, she made an offhand remark that struck me immediately and so I did what writers do and I wrote it down.  That night on my laptop, I typed her words into a blank document, which remained untitled as Document24.  Each time I set to work on my computer, I encountered her words staring back at me and I wondered when I might need them.  That moment is now.

“Travel,” she said, “is about changing our internal maps.”  Next to her phrase, I typed: Writing is about changing our internal maps.  When I write, I travel all over the place.

Now here’s the thing.  Reading has certainly taken me all over the place.  To distant times and magical lands, and into grief and through struggles of insurmountable pain.  To the peak of human endurance; to the outstretched wing of a bird and the tip of a friendly octopus’ tentacle.  To Hollywood and surgery, fat shaming and into the shapelessness of water that shifts forms and remembers where we’ve been, strips us bare.  I have physically, with my body, travelled long distances as well.  Around-the-freakin’-world.  Twice.  I did so for the first time when I flew to India in 2014, then again recently with my family.  And I didn’t just fly the distance; we touched down and experienced the world.  We lived it.  But have I yet travelled great distances in my own writing?  I fear not.

During a one-hour stationary bike ride this morning, I finished listening to the audiobook Eat & Run, by Scott Jurek.  This isn’t just a book every athlete – ultrarunner or not – should take in, but one every human should devour.  “Sometimes, you just do things,” became Scott’s mantra for living life, a viewpoint that evolved from his father, who had said the words to him harshly, repeatedly, as a child when Scott questioned the hard labour he was forced to undertake.  Sometimes, you just do things.  Scott took those words to heart, repeated them throughout his life like a mantra. As an ultramarathoner, he ran and then ran some more past the limits the body can take you.  Nearing the book’s end, Scott realizes the answer he has been seeking out his whole life; his true purpose.  He is running to get back to simplicity.  The notion of ‘Doing without doing’, known by the Japanese as Wu Wei.

The book crescendos near the end, and there comes a moment, as Scott is racing for twenty-four hours, when everything else falls away, and he has a monumental epiphany:

“But on this snaking French course, the future didn’t matter.  The past was gone.  There was only the trail.  Only movement.  There was only now, and now was enough. It was more than enough. It was everything.  I ran.  I ran and I ran.”

Now is enough, now is everything.  That day Scott Jurek set a new American record, running 165.7 miles in twenty-four hours.  This is what you came for.  Those words came to him while he was running, but not in the context you would expect, not in the context of winning a record.  This is what you came for sounded a lot to him like, Sometimes, you just do things, the words of his father that he had come to shape as his own.  And to that beautiful rhythm, his feet continued to pound against the pavement carving their way through to the next moment.  “There is no finish line,” Scott admits.  Now would have to be enough.

His words spoke directly to my core.  Sometimes, you just do things.  I am no stranger to pain.  But being here, now, can be so difficult.  Even as I try to sit still, the questions come flying at me: which way to go?  What to do next?

How does this all pertain to my writing?  I received an email from a fellow writer with his latest piece attached – the currency of friendship and comradery amongst writers.  I was instantly drawn to how far from his other pieces of writing I had read this current piece was and I knew with certainty that I wanted that creative flexibility, to expand my own creative writing horizons.  The truth is, beyond my blog, most pieces of writing I’ve sought to publish revolve around one topic:  Down syndrome.  This isn’t a surprising piece of information; beyond being a creature of habit, I also hold fierce feelings of loyalty to the topic that lead me down this creative path.  And never disregard matters of the heart.  Down syndrome isn’t even a ‘topic’ I write about; it’s a way I advocate for people with Down syndrome.  There are human beings behind my words, and I never forget that.  And I’m not going to stop writing about Down syndrome, I can’t!  Way too much passion on the subject, YET I need to immerse myself in other waters.  I’ve dipped a toe, here and there, but painted nails do not a diversified writer make.  There is more world, more story, to explore beyond my front door.  And I’m realizing I need to step past that threshold.  I confessed this sin of single-mindedness to my friend, and he said it was cool, that he was glad I noticed I was pigeonholing myself because he was going to gently encourage me to branch out.  This is what you came for.

He wrote to me about the two key factors in making something a story: change and jeopardy and now I’m feeling inspired to take the plunge and write until I’m blue in the face.  He encouraged me to think about our family’s around-the-world trip as a source of inspiration, and a line for a story floated into my consciousness:  Mothers are supposed to play it safe.  We’ll see where that line takes me.  Right now, I’m holding onto an image of breaking waves, my toes curling downward, hiding in the sand.  My hand cupped over my eyes, shielding out the blinding sun.  A scene of dark waters and violent currents in contrast to the florescent pink bathing suits of my children being towed out to sea.

I feel like I am bursting with stories, bursting with life, the question is: which one to write first?  Where do I want to go?  What is it that I came for.

There are no easy answers.  Sometimes, you just do things.

 

 

 

 

Sentient Beings

What do you get when you cross sex trafficking with an octopus? Wait – hear me out, this is not a terrible joke; this is an honest look at the world around me and the decisions that go into writing about it.  A local article posted to Facebook from Toronto Life about sex trafficking in our region caught my eye – would a line from the piece resonate with me?  Would I find myself writing about this topic?  Before the article took me by surprise, I was intent on sharing my recent interest in a book I’m reading about The Octopus, The Sea, and The Deep Origins of Consciousness called Other Minds, by Peter Godfrey-Smith.

Life is a tapestry, a smorgasbord of content, and my pen is my needle and with each colourful thread I weave into sentences my ideas are brought into being.

Additional topics floating through my mind:  the weather, the absolute dull greyness of the season; the February blahs and a need to escape, or maybe that was less of an idea and more of a feeling.  Winter weighs heavily on my mind.  One minute (last week) you’re up; the next, the sky is grey and meaningless, a piece of your life’s work gets rejected, your husband abandons you for work (insert melodramatic violin playing here) and you’re looking after your parents’ dog who gives you this look of constant disappointment.  You can’t measure up.  You receive that rejection and think ha! this next piece is going to sell.  That next piece, which you feel like it has taken you five years to get to this place of pitching it; you achieve the impossible and pare down your thoughts into one simplified beautiful email.  You take your time on the email pitch, spend the best hour of the morning on it then send it to its intended destination with bated breath.  You receive the universe’s reply before lunch, “I’m going to pass.”  Hopes dashed right out of the gate, before noon.  But there’s more hope!  They’ve passed your piece onto a colleague!  “They’re going to pass, too.”  Alas, you sigh deeply, failure.

Life is just like that!  Write it down.

I’m waiting to hear about a big project, a story I want to write, but waiting, waiting is so painful.  I’m not a very patient person or perhaps (refer to last week’s post) my type A personality leanings mean I have a hard time relinquishing control.  But you know what helps?  To bide my time, I read.  Whenever I’m in a bit of a rut, I turn to books.  I create a new world around me.  Books hardly ever fail me, and when they do, I put that one away and pick up another.  There are loads of lives to choose from when our own lacks luster.  I keep stacks of books at my bedside and ready to go on my phone.  On the brain and in my ear.  I listen to books when I work out:  on the bike, on the treadmill, out for a run on dry earth and icy sidewalks.  I listen to books when my husband’s away and I need fifteen minutes to do the dishes and clean up.

“Go play,” I tell the kids, and in go my earplugs as the tap whooshes on and now Jessica Simpson is telling me about her latest tummy tuck (yes, I listened to Open Book – don’t judge me – I fully intend to offset said trashy Hollywood star drama memoir by next reading Les Misérables in French, a 19th century hefty literary classic, to give my brain a stretch.  Also, I’m going to stick up for Jessica and say I have to hand it to her for putting herself out there, whether she did really write most of that book like she says she did or not. Though spoiler, I think she skipped over some of the juicy bits, to tell you the truth).

Stories are fodder for the fire that burns within me.  Here’s where sex trafficking comes in:  I see an article where a person is telling their story in a format referred to as memoir or narrative nonfiction – the kind of writing that I write.  From there, I think of selling one of my stories to that same media outlet.  A new pitch is born.  This is the act of paying attention, salvaging what is useful.  A website.  The name of a magazine.  A particular detail.  Illegal sex trade, you name it.  The writer in me also seeks out how does this woman go about telling her story?  I’m curious.  I’m leaning in and I’m learning.

And my connection to octopuses, you ask? Why did I even mention that book in the first paragraph of this blog post?  Well, because there’s a story there.  I feel like I could write a whole essay about octopuses, and maybe I will, but for the time being I’ll imprint upon you a few contrasting images from real-life.

I met with a woman who told me her baby was born with their intestines outside of their body.  This happened to her, twice.  Once with her first child; they told her it would never happen again.  Then again, with her second child.  The first time she laid eyes on her baby’s intestines strung up in a pile overtop of her baby’s body in a clear plastic bag, she thought, well those intestines look like an octopus.  That’s one of those lines and images that stays with you.  After my meeting with this woman, I walked through the library and there was a book with an octopus on the cover and I had to feel it in my hands, take a closer look.  There was something drawing me to the octopus; I couldn’t tear my eyes away.  Life is like that – unpredictable, seemingly random – and so are the connections we make.  But they mean something.

Our youngest daughter, Penelope, is obsessed with octopuses since our around-the-world trip.  While traveling, we visited three different aquariums (two in Japan, one in Portugal), and saw many octopuses, and then she began to ask for one.  A real one.  We aren’t in the habit of picking up gifts for the kids, especially live creatures, like cephalopods; nor do we treat Valentine’s day as a gilded affair, but I walked into Chapters and there was the most perfect plush pink giant octopus with life-like tentacles that a girl could ever want, and so I bought it for Penelope under the guise of a Valentine’s day gift.  Now picture a three-year-old decked out in her favourite magenta dress with sequined stars, and a magnificent mop of golden-brown curls on top, squeezing her beloved new plucky pink octopus stuffy tight in an embrace of pure adoration.  “I love you, octa-pus!” she declares, then proceeds to introduce him to the other stuffies in town.  “This is bunny…”. In ten years, when she’s thirteen, twenty-three, thirty-three, can I hold onto this memory?  Of a girl and her octa-pus.

I signed out the octopus book, Other Minds, on a hunch and took it home with me.  I should note I am not averse to signing books out and taking them right back (you’ve been warned, crappy books).  I make it a habit to swing by the library – a great free location to write, undisturbed, and a great place to stumble across random books about octopuses.  The octopus book opens with a narrative, which is immediately more interesting than just biological or psychological or philosophical babble, which is hopefully not where the rest of the book is headed.

The opening scene takes place off the coast of Australia; a diver descends into the depths of the ocean and comes across an unusual scene:  a large group of octopuses hanging out on a pile of thousands of empty scallop shells with a handful of baby sharks.  What hooked me though, was the diver’s encounter with an octopus.

Octopuses don’t shy away from human touch; they are highly tactile.  The diver explains, “If you sit in front of their den and reach out a hand, they’ll often send out an arm or two, first to explore you, and then – absurdly – to try to haul you into their lair.”  The octopus does this initially for gastronomic purposes, but realizing it can’t eat you, out of curiosity, an octopus will still pull you in for a closer look, if you let it.  In case you were worried for the diver’s safety, the octopus he’s referring to is about the size of a cat.  We aren’t the only ones searching for meaning.

From the time she was born, we have jokingly referred to Penelope as our Genius Baby.  Imagine my surprise at the end of the first chapter of the octopus book when I find this paragraph:

“Cephalopods are an island of mental complexity in the sea of invertebrate animals.  Because our most recent common ancestor was so simple and lies so far back, cephalopods are an independent experiment in the evolution of large brains and complex behaviour.  If we can make contact with cephalopods as sentient beings, it is not because of a shared history, not because of kinship, but because evolution built minds twice over.  This is probably the closest we will come to meeting an intelligent alien.”

I had to laugh then, that Penelope, our Genius Baby, latched onto the octopus, the “intelligent alien” of the ocean as her invertebrate of choice and object of affection.

Interesting cephalopod fact: the eyes of an octopus work like ours.  They zoom in and out like a camera, and it was these eyes that developed through evolution, in addition to more complex brains, to help protect us from predation that similarly evolved over time.  Jelly fish never used to have poisonous barbs.

Another interesting fact.  Never turn your back on an octopus in captivity, as that is when they will make their escape and you’ll turn around to find your octopus, once neatly contained in a bucket, is now crawling along the floor (think Hank from Finding Dory); and even when you are observing them, watch out for their spray.  Octopuses can and will selectively shoot water out at people they don’t like.  What fascinating creatures, right?  I know.  This book was a great find.

The world at large and the world of books are equally as fascinating to me.  If we stay attuned, we learn and grow from both making our way through the world and skimming our finger across the page.  A writer’s job is to then translate that knowledge onto their own page, weave the tapestry, in the form of an interesting story. Make every stitch count.

Do octopuses hold a special meaning for me, now that I’ve given them a narrative in my life, even in relation to others?  Of course.  I will never look at an octopus similarly again.  But whether I imagine a baby’s intestines dangling in a plastic bag, or a friendly cephalopod handshake with a pull, or my three-year-old daughter squeezing her stuffy tight, will depend on the day and the story I want to tell.  The meaning I want to make.

The life of a writer is just like that.

 

The Rise and The Fall

Our lives move in waves.  People come swimming in and out of them.  Projects ebb and flow.  Relationships crest and crash, smooth out and can eventually flatten completely if we let them, while life continues until the next dip, the following rise, the next encounter with the sway of the currents.

My life has taken some pretty interesting rises and falls, let me tell you.

I recently read a beautiful essay about how most stories are like sine waves – whether the telling begins in the dip or the crest, the end on a high or a low, and what happens in between those curves is up to the storyteller – but the basic form of our collective narrative is the rise and the fall.  Again and again.  Throughout history.  We rise and we fall, and we get back up and do it again.

I’m telling you this because I sat on a friend’s couch today.  I sat and I listened as she told me a part of her story.  I sat with a notebook on my lap and as she described a sliver of the events in her life, a pattern began to emerge and a sine wave took shape in my mind, which translated into my pen moving in waves along the page.  A story snake.  I saw clearly the rise and fall, the rise and the fall, her rise and her fall.  Over and over, again.  This woman is resilient beyond belief.  She struck me as heroic and she is brave, but I bet she wouldn’t want me to tell you that.  Because she is also every woman.  She is you and she is me.  Hers is a story I badly want to tell.  And the thing is, the thing is, her story has become part of my story.  Our stories are intertwining as we strive to build a relationship, a partnership, ride the waves together.  Our sine waves overlapping, our story snakes becoming friends, acquainting themselves with one another.  She wants me to be the teller of her story.  What happens next will either be the rise, or the fall.  This is the pattern, on repeat, of our lives.

And I couldn’t help but reflect on my own life, on my own story snake, as I drove away from her house and made my way to the library to get to work.  My life has similarly had its troughs and peaks, its highs and its lows, and I realized that at this moment, right now, TODAY, this is a high point.  And in reflecting, I see there are really only two truths to reaching that high, to loving your life and being happy and fulfilled.  If I had to simplify, yes, I’d say there are only two.  I know you know what they are in your heart but humour me.

  1. Do what you love.  2. Persevere.  That is it.

Life is hard, incredibly hard.  And UNFAIR.  So unfair.  You’ll never get what you deserve.  Unless you work for it.  And I’m not talking about I’m going to work on this thing I want for a day or two.  If you want something, and I mean really want something, you have to be in it for the long haul.  I’m not talking about I’m going to hope this happens.  A friend of mine posted this quotation from Antoine de Saint-Exupery the other day, and oh how it resonated within me,

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

I would add, a goal without a plan and the perseverance to see that plan through is just a wish.  Hold onto hope and faith.  They have their place.  But believe, most of all, believe in yourself.  Believe in your goals.  And make a plan.  Then push through it.  Ignore the naysayers, there will be plenty.  Ignore the naysayers in your own head.

I met with a friend the other day who once was a competitive swimmer and knew about my former life as a competitive gymnast.  “You must have body issues from being in gymnastics,” she surmised.  Au contraire.  My coaches never talked negatively about our young bodies, instead they marvelled and praised us for what our amazing bodies could do once we earned it.

I almost quit gymnastics at age nine – the year I became a competitive athlete.  This was a major low point for me.  I had to learn to do a back handspring (popularly referred to as a backflip).  If I didn’t do it, there would be no moving forward.  Go backwards to move forward, I see the irony.  I was terrified.  My mom took me out for lunch one school day after mysterious stomach aches had materialized.  She was rightfully worried about me.  She asked me frankly what I wanted to do about gymnastics, if I would continue.  There was no judgement, only love and support in her voice.  I made the decision then to push on.  This was a conscious decision and it was mine to make.

By the time I was twelve, I could do a roundoff back handspring with a layout full twist in the air.  Floor became my strongest event and I loved it.  That year my floor routine, with all its back (and front) flips, placed second in the province for my age and level.  Was it because I had been given the choice, didn’t give up, and then succeeded that I loved tumbling all-the-more?  Maybe.  Couldn’t hurt.

I didn’t learn to loath my body through gymnastics, I learned to respect it.  My body sent me soaring through the air, flipping around a bar high above the ground, turning backwards on a balance beam and dismounting off the side in a back tuck with a perfectly stuck landing.  My body felt strong and well and could do amazing things and I’ve never forgotten that feeling.  My stint as a competitive gymnast brought me confidence that I have carried with me throughout my entire life.

Gymnastics practices were grueling, and they were long.  I learned how to be tough.  How to survive five-hour training sessions that ended with runs outside on the burning gravel in the summer heat.  How to fall on my head and get back up and try again.  How to turn my body into one huge muscle, then how to make those muscles ache; the balance between strength and graceful beauty.  Gymnastics gave me grit.  I learned how to handle pain and stick it out, when it is worth it.  You don’t put yourself through hell for things that aren’t worth it.  Children, worth it.  Athletic pursuits, worth it.  Family and friends, worth it.  Writing a book, worth it.  Building a career, worth it.  Passion projects, worth it.

Some things that aren’t worth it: toxic friendships, money for the wrong reasons, a bad marriage, situations that invoke guilt, doing things out of shame or a feeling that you ‘have to’, letting others take advantage of you, crutches or quick-fixes, abusive partners…the list goes on.  Not all of these things I’ve experienced first-hand, but certainly I’ve been duped into my fair share of bad ideas.  I’ve lead myself down some not-so-good roads, to some not-so-good places.  But today’s my day.

Life is too short not to ride the high of the waves, and lately, I feel like I’ve been surfing.  Literally, I have been surfing, and that’s part of it, but there’s more.

There was a time I had a handful of blog posts and one measly article to my name.  The piece was the story of my daughter Elyse and my love for her.  The piece was about what people with Down syndrome can do if we believe they are capable.  I’m still telling that same story, my message has not changed, but my platform has grown, and so have I.  Elyse is set to be on the cover of a national magazine, with my article as the feature piece.  I did not see that coming, I did not prepare for that high, but maybe I did.  I have a book ready for publication, another on the way.  I’m set to start my MFA in creative writing this spring.  Everything I have done up to this point has brought me here.  Not one thing goes to waste, even those times I was duped, those perceived failures.  Those not-so-good roads to go down; I learned from them.

Was it my teenage years of being a competitive gymnast that gave me the strength and determination to write and keep on writing the past eight years until I would arrive at a book and a new career? Until my writing would appear in newspapers and magazines and that my message would be heard?  You tell me.

“You’re Type A,” my husband says, meaning it as a compliment, in that I am driven, competitive, ambitious, highly-organized and aware of time management (but as psychology is one of my majors, I need to point out Type As are also widely known as being impatient, aggressive, more stressed and a slew of other not-so-nice words, like psychopaths – all of which I reject completely).   But I’m not so sure that’s it.  I don’t think my life has arrived within me innately.  I’m a person who’s always had to work her ass off to get what she wants, and where she wants to go.  I have trained myself hard to ride those waves, and I have no doubt it was the training that got me to where I am today, and the many, many, many, many, MANY times my face has slammed down hard against the waves as I fell off my board.  But I’m in training for the long haul, and I’m not going to quit.  As far as I have come with my writing and my story, there are so many places left to go, pages to fill.  I want to make waves around the world.

My husband, who pokes fun at my psychology degree – but exclusively reads books about psychology – calls this attitude of mine a “growth mindset.”  His eyes get wet when he says it, like the psychological term holds great reverence, and I suppose it does.  There is something to be said for believing that with determination and hard work you’ll get there, no matter your innate abilities.

Whatever comes next, the rise or the fall, and historically speaking, I may be headed for the fall, I’m going to hold on tight and ride my board while this wave of good feelings and good fortune lasts.

Rise and fall.  Rise and fall.  Our chests heave.  In and out, like breath.  Our very lifeforce.  Breathe.

And when the swell returns; I’ll be ready to catch that next wave.

Rage & Rising Up

I am debating with myself whether I am really going to go from a post about my dog dying to seething rage.  I’m going to do it.  Angry Adelle says fuck it.

Angry Adelle is a real person, a part of me, though only a select few have met her.  My husband, my children, my parents, my brother, and likely my in-laws have caught the cusp of her.  In her element, at full appearance, she is a beast to behold.

I felt a storm brewing this morning, that old combination of not enough time, too much to do and take care of, too little support.  This may be the war cry of women everywhere.  Angry Adelle’s appearance this morning was in relation to wanting to work and be free of childcare responsibilities in direct contrast with my current reality.  Whoa, whoa, whoa, let’s back up a minute and dissect what I just said.

I want to work.  I want the time and luxury that my husband has in his career to immerse myself in my art, in my passions, in my writing so I can build a career.  I should be clear that I have some of this already; I likely have more of this than a lot of people, but Angry Adelle doesn’t give a fig about other people – emotionally extreme versions of ourselves are selfish like that.  My husband is totally supportive in regard to my building a career as a writer, but truthfully our society isn’t.  People who love me, friends and family, struggle with the idea that I need time to write.  When it comes to what we value as a society, money talks.  If I were a gainfully employed, full-time hours, read: paid creative writer, there would be no question that I should, for example, receive moral support in finding childcare when school is not an option.  That I should not have to squeeze my work day into a six hour frame on the days when I do have support.  But, to become a paid and published author, and more important still, a better writer, imagine that I need to practice.  Daily.  Imagine this required time, which it most certainly does.  Ten thousand hours plus to become an expert, to be exact – where is society’s support then?  The idea of supporting oneself through one’s art alone is ludicrous to the point of being a farce in Canada.  The top one percent of writers will potentially do this, but even their roadway is not paved in gold.  Many award-winning Canadian authors hold down regular paying jobs to support their art, and here’s the catch-22 for the emerging writer: to qualify for any grants or bursaries in Canada, you need to have at least one book published.  My first book took me over three years to write, and I’m still seeking publication with response times from publishers that can be obscenely long, a process that is pushing four years, soon to be five.  That’s a long time to go without a paycheck.

The struggle to become an established writer is real and alike for men and women writers, but there is the added stigma that women should be managing their families and their homes, an added responsibility that takes time away from their writing.  This is what’s grating at me lately.  The obligations of my sex.  Men at large seem to be released from this particular association of women and house.

Now I’m not trying to play the victim.  You’ve made your bed, now lie in it.  I built this life I’m living and I am an active participant in the choices that have gotten me where I am, master of the house and all.  I mean, ladies, could we really leave it up to the men?  Come on.  Yes! Yes we can.  And we should!  I do when I can.  You should!  If you ever want any time to yourself to get some work done.  I love my kids, but there has to be a balance.  Now let’s get into this building a new career and having kids thing.

I am starting anew, and building a career in writing after having three girls.  Let’s dissect having three girls.  First of all, I chose my life with my girls.  I loved being home with them – mostly.  The ability to stay home was a gift for which I can thank my husband’s career.  Not to sell myself short, before there was his career, there was my career that carried us into our first home.  For me to stay on at home with each of our babies, there would not have been another way without my husband’s salary.  He thanks me in return, for the time I have invested in our family.  Eight years have come and gone.  I nursed each of those babies to completion.  I fed them, walked them, watered them.  They grew tall, strong and narrow toward the light.  I have guided them to the best of my abilities and sacrificed myself many times to do so.  And I’m done.  I don’t want to be the one to do all the sacrificing anymore.  And this is where Angry Adelle and the rage comes in.  I think this is a collective rage of women of old, of days gone by.  Felt by women since there was a man to look down on her and keep her in the home.  Felt by the Austens and the Brontes and the Woolfs.  None of these women writers had children though I’d take my freedoms over theirs any day.  Two hundred years ago women needed permission and an escort to leave the hearth.  And there was no time to write and what decent woman would?  Women could write letters, say in their idle time, if they were attending to an ailing father’s bedside, but Writing was a man’s domain.  Sadly the only writing about women from that time is by men.

The rage that bubbled forth inside of me was not directed at my children, for they are innocent; or for my absent husband who’s earning a living for our family.  The rage that boiled forth was a resentment of circumstance; circumstances that make it hard for me to write.  Maybe this post is about not getting in my way, not getting in the way of any female who knows what she wants and is ready to earn it.  Maybe it’s about acknowledging the brunt of the work women have taken on for centuries, millennia even, that goes unpaid and therefore unvalued and unappreciated, or maybe it’s about a writer struggling to find her way and make a living in exchange for creativity.  Do we still care about passion and creativity?  Do we value artists who make art in its various forms as a society?  Do we value the unpaid work of (mostly) women?  I think we can do better.  Maybe this post is about all those things combined, the underlying seething rage, the entrapment of domestic life and the monotony of the daily grind.  Maybe this is a way for me to push back, as a woman and a mother, and say, “hey!  I’m still here.”  Maybe I’m just taking a hard look at myself and not liking everything I see.

But here’s what I do know.  Angry Adelle comes and goes.  She was here before lunch, I fed her well and was joined by good company, a fellow female creative, and regular Adelle, also known as me, Adelle, is back now and in good cheer.  Kinship and companionship have a way of doing that, lightening and elevating the mood.  Fellow creatives unite!  That soothes the soul, too.  So does doing a good deed.

On my way to lunch, working through my snit, a man stood waiting for me as I parked my car.  What did this asshole want? He better not try and mess with me.  Grrr…Angry Adelle.

Turns out he needed a boost for his wife’s car, which he was quick to point out was a bit of a junker and he could hardly squeeze himself into it.  I saw the car right across the street and immediately agreed to help him, texted my friend to say I’d be a few minutes late, and left with a different perspective than the one I came out with.

“You sure have a nice car,” he said, “really good motor too.”  My shiny red van happens to be brand new.  I am not a starving artist.  My husband supports me.  When he called his car a junker, I told him we had a junker, too.  The car my husband drives used to be mine when I bought it fifteen years ago for work.  That car could go and at any moment it might.  My husband makes sacrifices for our family too; I think most modern, forward-thinking men do.  These men are invested in raising their families and raising up their wives.  I’m incredibly fortunate to be married to such a wonderful man.  Also, I know when our car breaks down, we have the financial security to replace it.

With his car hooked up to mine, the gentleman’s car started right away (notice how he’s a gentleman now?  That’s the power of a change in perspective)

“That’s it? I asked.  His needs were simple.

“That’s it, thank you so much!”  and he repaid me with a kind smile.

This man did not look down on me one bit.  Ironic how good helping can feel when it’s not forced or ritual or expected.  When it’s just a person helping a person in need.

My rage subsided; it usually does.  But there’s a history there.  Back to work.

 

Love Liberates

I like to tuck tiny words into the pockets of my soul.  You never know when you’re going to need them. 

To writers and non-writers alike, there’s a practice I’ve been doing off and on since the time I could write that has served me well.  When you’re reading, if there’s a line or a poem in a book that speaks to you, jot it down in a journal (include the source).  If I’m lying in bed and too tired to hunt down my journal or a pen, I set a reminder on my phone with the page number and brief description for the next day.  Your journal can be a spiral notebook or whatever you wish.  I’ve come to favour five-sectioned spiral notebooks for their ability to section off writing projects.  They cost a fraction of what fancy notebooks do, have substantially more room, and provide a better writing surface.  Use the words, phrases, song lyrics, lines or poems that you collect as inspiration in life, in your work, and most definitely, in the case of the writer, in what you create.

In reading local author Jeff Sutherland’s memoir Still Life, I came across two beautiful words by Dr. Maya Angelou.  Love Liberates.  Love liberates.  Dr. Sutherland’s memoir relays his story of receiving a diagnosis of ALS (a disease that attacks the motor neurons of voluntary muscles) while in his forties as a flourishing family physician, followed by the subsequent loss of his eldest son in a freak water accident.  When Dr. Sutherland lost his son, he also lost his son’s girlfriend who had become like family.  The young couple had been kayaking in behind the family’s home on a serene, sunny day.  Just months before the accident, his son’s girlfriend had the words ‘love liberates’ tattooed on her arm and so did her mother.  Love liberates.  What did it mean?

Certain lines trigger my writer senses and I knew this was one of them I had to explore further.  A quick google search revealed a video of Dr. Maya Angelou talking about how love liberates, using story as only she can.  You can watch the amazing video here.

Love Liberates

“I am grateful to have been loved and to be loved now and to be able to love because that liberates.  Love liberates.  It doesn’t just hold – that’s ego.  Love liberates.  It doesn’t bind.  Love says, ‘I love you.  I love you if you’re in China.  I love you if you’re across town.  I love you if you’re in Harlem.  I love you.  I would like to be near you.  I’d like to have your arms around me.  I’d like to hear your voice in my ear.  But that’s not possible now, so I love you.  Go.’”

~Dr. Maya Angelou

Dr. Angelou’s poem applies to loved ones who have moved on, as in the case of Dr. Sutherland’s son and his son’s girlfriend, and it applies to those whose love we might take for granted in our daily lives.  Our husbands.  Our wives.  Our parents.  Our children.  Upon hearing her words, I immediately thought of my husband.  I instantly knew what ‘love liberates’ meant.  I remembered how in 2014, when we had two little kids and I told him I wanted to travel to India for ten days on my own for the World Down Syndrome Congress, he said go.  And how when that same Congress came to Scotland four years later, and we now had three babies, and I proposed another ten days away, he said again, to go.

In both cases, he knew he couldn’t be with me, but he sent me anyway.  He would have liked to have his arms around me.  We like to be near each other.  We spent forty-five days travelling the world as a family. We are close. He told me, I love you, go.

Before we had kids, almost fifteen years ago, I wanted to go on a trip abroad with friends.  He supported my leaving, though he would have rather I stuck around so he could hear my voice in his ear.  We had been dating four months.  We talked nonstop during our dog walks those months.  “Go,” he said.  But my exam schedule conflicted with my friends’ travel date, and so, dejected, I resigned myself to staying.  When I told him the news, my husband smiled and pulled me close, “Good, now I get to go with you.”  And he did.  I didn’t know I could do something like that, just plan a trip and up and leave.  We travelled to Cuba, the first of many adventures to come.

I want to write a book, I want to speak in schools, I want to travel the world, I want to go back to school to do my Master’s, I want to train for an Ironman.  “I love you.  Go.” he says every time.  Love does not hold.  Love does not bind.  Love liberates.

And my life is infinitely richer with him – and the words to express what he means to me – in it.  Pull your loved ones close, and when they ask of you to love them, let them go.