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.

New Year’s Intentions: Filling The Box

The date is January 1st, 2020. What could be more promising than that? The start of a new year. A fresh day and calendar, like the first page of a crisp journal says the writer trembling in anticipation. A blank page in front of us. An open space to mould and shape into whatever we will it to be.

I’ve been giving quite a bit of thought to the upcoming year. My youngest will start Kindergarten in September and then I will be officially kid-free. This was our master plan, Dan and I, that he would work to earn an income for our family, and I would leave my career behind and stay home to raise our children until they reached Kindergarten age and went off to school. Check and check. Wave a magic wand and the time has disappeared. Penelope’s infancy and toddlerhood, gone, in a heartbeat. At the blink of an eye. I think I’m prepared for this, but I am not. I’m bracing myself eight months out. Eight years. Eight years of being home with my three children. Three lifetimes. Along the way of being a mother, I became a writer, or rather, I came into myself as a writer. I shed other skins behind. Now, an important task lies ahead of me, that of building a career and filling the box.

Here’s my problem. First of all, my box is already full. I have a healthy portion of life already spread out on my plate, thank you very much. You didn’t think I’d stay home and twiddle my thumbs with my kids, did you? I did my time settling into motherhood. In the beginning, I made a plan to try and get out once a day for a walk and to have a shower and be fed and feed my children. In the beginning, those were lofty goals. Never more than one outing per day. I was exhausted. By the time Penelope, number three, came around the game had changed; I had changed. We jogged and hiked everywhere together; I found time to write a book, my memoir, during her naps, with the support of my husband and, let’s be real here, some paid daycare. I’m into triathlons now, I write mostly for pleasure and keep our family’s schedule and life in balance. I plan our trips and schedule appointments. Sign the kids up for extracurricular activities and get them there. I make sure meals and lunches are organized and made, that we have groceries all with the help of my amazing husband, to be sure. None of these tasks are going to earn me Woman of the Year, but my point being, they take up my time, and if my time is spent doing other things, like say, paid employment, then something’s got to give.

I’m staring into the theoretical empty box for the year ahead and the problem is that I want my life to fit neatly into that box, like picking the right sized container for leftovers. But life doesn’t work that way. I’m building as I go; the box is of an inestimable size. I want the box to be big, but too big for its contents and I’m going to feel inadequate. Too small a box, and my life will fall apart, unsupported. As Shonda Rhimes says in her memoir, Year of Yes, I’m laying track for the story of my life, every day I’m putting down the rails, but time is speeding ahead, and I’m scrambling to cobble together a career and get myself together. I have a vision for the future, a place I want to go, but the specifics are hazy.

If I take on too much, how will that affect my family life, my personal time to exercise that I so covet? But if I don’t take on enough, the risk is much greater, the bitter taste of regret. What could I have done, if only…I never want to utter those words. I’m finally ready to dive headlong into a career in writing, but what that looks like is…laying track. Lots of it. Picking up pieces here and there and paving the way. There is no pre-set ‘Adelle’s writing career, this way’ sign pointing up ahead. Just a whole lot of track to lay and the hard work of building a path worth traveling.

There is the fear of failure. Not only am I hesitant to pick the size of the box when it comes to my career, but I’m afraid to fill it. What if all I need is a tiny box? Can I handle a mediocre life?

Mediocracy is like boredom. The bored are often boring. Mediocracy by definition is the middling, commonplace. Ordinary. Logic dictates that most of us fall into the middle. We average out. As long as that middle place involves book deals, I’m good. Though I find it highly unlikely I will ever be content to sit in one place for long. I’ve grown accustom to a certain insatiability, to biggering the box. I think we should all aspire to bigger our boxes, no matter the parameters. Mediocracy is for the mediocre.

In an unconventional sense, this is the year I push to launch my career as a writer. I started laying track about eight years ago, in earnest; arguably, before that. I’m putting it all out there this year, more blog posts, more pitches and published pieces, reaching to sign and secure that elusive book deal, and beginning my Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. This year, I will write the introductory chapters of my second book – are you ready for it? – I’ve already started. This year, I’m going to pick up the pace of my track-laying, fill that box, take myself to somewhere new, never forgetting to enjoy the scenery along the way and be grateful for the hard work it took to get me there.

Body Talk: The Truth Hurts

I’m seeking courage for the New Year to write my truth. Maybe that is my resolution? Write my truth. This isn’t a ‘one day you have it, one day you don’t’ goal; truth-telling is an incremental improvement type deal. Each time I set out to write, it’s an attempt to grow bolder, be braver with my pen against the page. To go against that voice in my head warning me to shut up. Who is that voice? Where does it come from?

Truth telling is painful for a writer, when the truth you’re telling is your own – but it’s the only way. Readers aren’t interested in reading that which rings false, even if it’s made up, especially if it’s made up. And if what you’re writing is a page from the script of real life, then you had better get it right, get to the emotional truth of the scene, our human-ness, our inter-connectedness and the complexity of our relationships; you had better write that truth to the bone (note for writers: read Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down The Bones) But, pop culture Lizzo says it best, the truth hurts. She ain’t lying. Even the truth, sometimes, can be too much.

I’m reading Roxane Gay’s memoir, Hunger, a history of her body and eating. Women have such complicated neurosis related to their bodies, society expects as much. I grew up being taught to love and respect my body for what it can do, mostly through sports and respectable coaches, but also through a fostered self-awareness of the amazing things my body can do and being surrounded by men who did me no harm. My father is the gentlest man, my mother fierce, thankfully. They provided for me, gave me space, let me make my own decisions, accrue failures, and enabled me to grow healthily into my own body. My brother and I were valued equally.

I learned my body can do things. I can flip high in the air, score a goal. I can run a marathon, hike up a mountain, surf in the ocean. Athleticism is in my genes. I can carry to term and birth babies, then feed them with milk from my own incredible body, so on and so forth. My body is amazing, and I’m not going to let anyone tell me otherwise. As an adult talking to other women, I realize how rare my confidence is, how often women put themselves down, especially their bodies. We fault our bodies for what they are not, and for what they are. Too fat, too thin, too tall, too small, too light, too dark. You are beautiful, each and every one of you, and if you have lost that love and appreciation for your body, I hope you will find it back, love the body you have and treat it well. I don’t always treat my body well. I just stuck a second white Lindor chocolate in my mouth, but I have a soul too, and chocolate nourishes my soul. I also understand there are many reasons why women don’t like their bodies, and why bodies are abused. It’s complicated.

Are there things I don’t like about my body? Yes. But I don’t hear my husband or my brother or brother-in-law, none of the men in my life are sitting down and picking apart their physical flaws as defined by the media, so why should I? Why do this to ourselves, ladies? Let’s stop. You’re seriously beautiful and sexy and funny and smart. Flaunt what you’ve got, or don’t, you be you, shy girl – you do you – and let’s teach our sons and daughters to do the same, and place value on the whole person.

The truth is brave. Roxane Gay is courageous. She wouldn’t want me writing that, she flat out says she’s not an inspiration, or writing to share some miracle story of going from fat to thin, her now standing in one pant leg of her old pants on the front cover of her book. That’s not what happens. But her writing is courageous because she shares her truth. Hers is a story of victimhood and surviving her truth. Her truth is that at twelve years old, a boy she thought was her friend leads her into the woods to an abandoned shack where a group of his friends are waiting. They take turns raping her. I know, this is too much. This truth is too big for any one of us to hold. She put on weight to hide the truth under layers of fat. She put on weight because she believed it would make herself disgusting toward men, to keep herself safe and keep men away. She put on weight because she was ashamed that she had let that happen to herself. That is a truth right there, that we live in a world where women are ashamed for the wrongs of boys and men.

Women are ashamed of their bodies for a litany of reasons. It is complicated.

I’m reeling from Roxane Gay’s memoir, eyeing my own little girls across the room. What would I do if someone hurt them? What wouldn’t I do. We live in a world where a woman’s greatest fear is that of being harmed, of losing her life, while a man’s is that of being ridiculed. As mothers, fathers, men, women, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, how can we make this right? I’ve heard a few good places to start. Complimenting women and girls on more than just their appearance. Keeping your hands to yourself. Watching movies with strong female characters and reading books, such as the Rebel Girls Stories of Extraordinary Women series, that highlight accomplished women of various backgrounds. Paying women equal salaries and supporting both men and women in raising families. We can demand that mainstream media shows a more just representation, a broader slice of humanity, if you will, of women and support businesses that do so. We can support, instead of judging, pitying or AGREEING, with women who put themselves down by listening. What I want most as a woman is what most men take for granted: just to be listened to. Women often feel unheard. We live in a world where seen, but not heard, is still the norm for many women. These women deserve to be heard.

Women need to be told it’s okay to take up space in the world. It’s okay to take up space in the world. It’s also okay to love your body, do something you love, and be a presence. You are a gift to this world.

The truth is throughout my life my body has been a gateway to my greatest pleasure as well as my most devastating pain and I must respect it as such. My body brings me immense joy and the truth is there are men and women who would want to murder me for saying that. For talking about my body like it belonged to me at all, for using this voice my parents paid and I worked hard to educate, for living this life freely and taking up space in the world. The truth is too much, and it’s not enough to sit idly by. Thank god for the Beyonce, Malala, Roxane Gay and Gretas of this world. The truth hurts, but there are so many women, and the men and women who support them, who inspire hope.

The Write Retreat

I hosted my first Writing and Wellness Retreat over the weekend. How to explain the writer’s retreat? In a word…I can’t do it. Life-changing? That’s two words. A dream come true? That’s a phrase, overused and too saccharine. Teachable moments? There were many. Exhausting? Emotionally draining? Challenging? Hard work? That just sounds like I’m complaining about an experience that was truly incredible, but in truth, all of those words are true to the experience.

Perhaps a word won’t do the writer’s retreat justice, but I can capture the retreat in the moments that stood out for me; in the moments that are mine to share.

So much of what happened is not mine to share because the stories are simply not mine. When you are the host, or the teacher, you are there to give of yourself and to take in and try and improve what others have to offer. I was there as a guide, not primarily as a creator. So that will be my story.

The themes we touched on were heavy, I can tell you that much: cancer, loss, abuse, grief, violence, trauma, love. I have read memoir of unspeakable things: children dying, rape, gruesome murder, tragic deaths, devastating disease and deformities and yet I didn’t know the authors. They weren’t standing facing me, looking me in the eye. I didn’t care about the authors whose books I read the way I cared about the participants at my retreat. Their stories will haunt me always, but not in a way that I want to forget, but in a way I will hold with me and want to remember.

There were tears. Of course there were tears. I cried when I wrote my memoir, but I hadn’t anticipated the tears would be mine this time; that I would be blubbering. In the seemingly most unlikely scenario, a writer took me by surprise, she sideswiped me and I was carried away by a sea of tears. I don’t think she would mind me sharing that it was motherhood that did me in. I held it together through the abuse and the trauma and the unspeakable violence, but tell me about the chair you nursed your babes in, the cheap one from Sears with the stains on it; the one you stuffed granola bars into the side pockets for the late night feedings when you got the munchies (nice detail, I might add). Then tell me that nine years after you purchased that rocking chair, the time has come to let it go, and I will come undone. The flood gates will open and I won’t be able to stop my tears. The tears find their way back even now, thinking about it again. It’s the mundane everyday things, a rocking chair, that can really get ya. My friend believed her piece wouldn’t have the same emotional punch as some of the darker subjects, but it’s all in how you tell the story and man, she knocked me right out.

She shared her story, as we all did, during the Saturday night Writer’s Circle I organized. This evening event, which proceeded our Chef-created dinner and scrumptious dessert, was one of my favourite times of the whole weekend. Everyone shared a piece of writing, one to two pages, and then we discussed it. As my friend read her piece about the rocking chair, she hit a nerve – I realized I will be in the exact same position as her next year, sending my last baby off to school. I was sitting next to her, and as she read her piece aloud, at one point she needed a comforting gesture, a hand on her shoulder to help her get through it, but instead of leaning in, I threw my hands in the air, sobbing, “Don’t look at me. I can’t help you!” Some facilitator I am. Whatever happened that night, I know I’m not the only one who felt the energy in the room, it was magic. There was talent, raw talent, and though sadness and loss and grief and pain and tragedy wove their way through many of the pieces shared, there was also so much hope sitting in that room. Love, hope, acceptance and peace. Resilience. Perhaps, in allowing ourselves to connect with others, we open ourselves up to moving forward in our grief and in letting the good flow into and out of our hearts.

While the writer’s retreat was never specifically geared to narrative non-fiction, primarily that is what participants wrote and therefore the weekend shifted to a more personal focus. I therefore played the dual role of writing coach/ therapist.

Creating this weekend, for me, was about bringing writers together, feeling inspired by each other, but also to see if I wanted to teach creative writing. I begin my Master in Fine Arts for creative writing, narrative nonfiction, this spring and at its completion I will be officially qualified to teach writing at the college level – did that even interest me? As it turns out, it does! I was privileged to spend some one-on-one time conferencing with two of the participants and to work through their stories with them, and – as hard as that was, emotionally – I loved it!

I am so grateful to the six women who took a chance on me and for putting themselves out there. Grateful to myself for putting away my fears of who do you think you are? and just going for it. Grateful to my husband, as always, for his support and care of our children. Grateful to our wonderful Chef, Sheila Ward from LOCA foods, and yoga instructor, Erica Forbes, and to the cottage owner and my friend Randi with all the connections and to the universe for conspiring to bring it all together. And, I am especially grateful for the opportunity to do it all again in May, and for the writers whose names are already on the waiting list.

There’s Only One Way To Eat Kale

Life is nuanced and random. Today, I dressed up as a fairy with fluorescent green hair, I made my toddler cry before picture day by shooting saline spray up her nose, and my husband is flying home. At 11:05 a.m. exactly, I got my first manuscript rejection and that filled me with hope. Yesterday, I lifted weights in a gym; one of the weights fell off but no one was hurt. I saw a man pushing a young girl with purple hair in a grocery cart curse another man out, and when I asked him if he was okay, he said no, he wasn’t, then he told me why. I bought a denim jacket. I received a loaf of bread. Ariel screamed, “SHE NEVER LISTENS!” I looked at the kale in my grocery cart and I thought, there’s only one way to eat kale.

Taken at random, these events I’ve described on their own don’t make a whole lot of sense, but when you add story to these points of intrigue, you add dimension and layers of meaning. You add heart. Sit with me a while, gather round the fire, let me tell you what happened.

Kale seems like the most logical place to start.

Yesterday was a workday for me, meaning no kids, and it also happens to be the day I lift weights at the gym first thing. I was loathe to have to pick up groceries after the gym and cut that much into my work day, but after school Ariel had Taekwondo and I wouldn’t have the time or energy for a full grocery shop with all the girls in tow – and with Dan away – it was simpler to go after the gym. At the end of my weight class, after sixty minutes of exerting myself and conditioning every muscle group in my body and flinging that bar around, as I walked back to put my weights away the clip quit and the weight suddenly slipped off, all casual, like it wouldn’t have bashed in my face had I been doing bench presses. I took this as a sign to keep my eyes open.

From the gym, I strolled up the hill and over to grab a few supplies from Dollarama for my writer’s retreat this weekend. On my way out of Dollarama, I saw a man, yelling at another man, pushing a grocery cart. He was furious and I saw the small child in his cart with the purple hair and something in my heart pulled at me to speak to him.

“Are you okay?”

“No, I’m not!” then he went on the long diatribe that followed:

“My daughter here has been at Sick Kids for seven and a half years. Cancer. See, she’s got her bags and everything,” the girl looks up at me with sad eyes. I see she isn’t so little; she’s only made herself small. The man continues.

“That van blocked the only entrance ramp where I could get up onto the sidewalk with my daughter and when I told the guy she has cancer, he said he didn’t care!”

The man is shaking. I tell him I am sorry for his trouble and smile at his lovely daughter. He has been heard and I can see I have helped him to calm down by some small measure in listening. His breathing is returning to normal as I leave them. I wish them well.

I drive to the grocery store and shop as fast as I can. Afterwards, I arrive home and put my car into park as the girl’s piano teacher pulls in beside me with a loaf of bread her husband baked for me. The bread is a thank you for editing and making suggestions on a piece of his writing. In the scope of the universe, this act of kindness, the baking of the bread, may very well have cancelled out the wrongdoings of the man in the van who said he didn’t care about a little girl with cancer. I am overjoyed by this token of gratitude. In an email, the piano teacher’s husband wrote to thank me, “I like to pay people in bread.” He is a musician as well, a drummer, and he comes from a long line of Italian bakers. As a maker of a variety of art, he comes by his gifts honestly. The dough rose for eighteen hours before he baked it to perfection. Later, the girls and I enjoy slices of this magnificent fresh loaf as a bedtime snack. I slather on butter and strawberry jam and watch Elyse devour her slice. Kindness reverberates; there was more than enough bread leftover to find its way to my lunch plate the next day and probably the day after that, too. With kindness there is somewhere to go, and kindness means to go on.

I write all afternoon, but not on the piece I planned to work on. After an enlightening phone call with a friend, I end up working on her suggested edits to a piece I’m submitting to a magazine. I would I were a bread maker for her sake. I later text her to thank her for lighting my brain on fire. I pick the girls up from school, and while I’m making them a snack, utilizing the new groceries, I ask Ariel, eight years old, to please walk Oreo who is begging to go out. As I chop strawberries, I hear Ariel’s impatience mounting in the inflection of her voice, the rising whine. She calls to Oreo with no success. She melts down. In a pouty voice, yelling to no one in particular, she screams “SHE NEVER LISTENS!” referring to our deaf dog, which I think, makes the scenario funny. Oreo is fourteen years old and going blind and deaf. I remind Ariel she has to walk up the stairs to get her and to show some compassion.

I load the girls in the car for Ariel’s Taekwondo lesson and make the decision then and there that I have been coveting a denim jacket for long enough. I would make the drive to the outlet mall in the time between Ariel’s forty-five-minute class, buy a denim jacket with two young kids in tow, and get back in time to pick Ariel up. The mall scene could have gone down two ways. The girls could decide to cooperate, or they could make my life a living hell. Magically, they cooperate. Penelope sits contentedly barefooted in her stroller. Elyse runs through the mall shouting, “We’re at the mall! We’re at the mall!” She’s elated and joyful and when I miss the store and we have to walk through the entire massive outdoor mall and then double back, she doesn’t even mind or act tired. This is a huge win. And score, I find the perfect denim jacket.

On my way leaving the mall, I check the time. Exactly fifteen minutes to get back to Ariel at taekwondo lessons. I text my husband and tell him what I just did, “I am A-FUCKING-MAZING!” I brag of my feats, as we jokingly like to do. I miss him. It feels like he’s been gone for weeks. Subsequently, I am six minutes late picking up Ariel, but damn, my denim jacket looks good.

But we’ve gotten this far, if, you’ve gotten this far, and you might be wondering, yeah, but what about the kale?

With a full cart of groceries paid for, as I made my way out of the grocery store earlier in the day, I looked down at my bursting bins of produce and product and it was the kale that caught my eye. Innocuous enough, perhaps, but when I looked at that kale, it dawned on me that other people might notice the kale in my cart, as some have before, and they might wonder what I do with it? Raw kale is unappealing, as it’s quite bitter-tasting and coarse on its own, so you have to dress it up in some way. I’ve tried kale as a dessert, as a baked chip, sautéed and as the base of a salad, and in that moment pushing my cart, I knew the truth as it stood for me, there’s only one way to eat kale. There’s only one way to eat kale, and that is the way that my family chooses to eat it every morning, blended in a smoothie. Then I thought, well, isn’t that just an analogy for life? What one person does with kale is not the same as what another person would do, and it’s just the same with the moments and events and choices in our lives. We each make our own decisions, but there’s only one right way for you to do things, and that’s the way that you choose for yourself. How I like my kale may not be the way you like your kale, heck, you may not like kale at all! But it’s the only way for me. I liked that thought. That there are right ways for each of us. There are right ways for each of us, and room for each of our right ways. And it occurred to me, I’m going to write about that.

You’re still here? Oh okay, I’ll tell you the story of the green fairy princess. It’s me, this morning. I dress up, wearing a neon green wig and a forest green dress with green socks and green fairy wings to celebrate French culture and language in Ontario at my daughters’ school. I call myself La Fée de la Francophonie, which I like to translate as The French Fairy. The students dress in green and white and walk around the block in honour of Terry Fox, combining two events into one. The garbage man looks twice and laughs as I pass him by. A mother pushing a stroller exclaims “Look! It’s a fairy!” to her baby. When I arrive at the school, the children stare at me in disbelief. Smiles creep across their faces.

I had to give Penelope’s nose a saline spray because she’s been coughing, and I want to whisk away any bad germs before our big trip coming up in TWO WEEKS.

I walked home through the streets, dressed as a fairy, feeling full and humbled by my time with the girls at the school. I decided to check my phone and that is when I saw the subject line with the title of my book. I raced home, tore off my wig and wings and settled myself on our steps. I knew the email would be a rejection. I figured the publisher who accepts my manuscript might give me a call. But I didn’t yet know the nature of the rejection. This editor held my timid little heart in their hand. The rejection was a boon; I was bolstered by their words detailing my writing as accurate, vivid and “quite reader friendly”. They liked my book; they just didn’t have a spot for it on their roster at the moment. I was told to check back. I could not have asked for a better rejection and was filled with hope.

The story of the rejection letter is kind of like the story of the kale. There is only one right way and that is the way that you are doing it. This rejection is part of my path, and though not everyone may choose to see it that way, forward is the way I choose. For that man and his daughter and for anyone else out there who needs it: I choose hope.