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When to Retreat

This is itSpiritual care retreats aren’t for everyone. The longer I go between breaks, the more I wonder if they’re for me, if I’ve got anything left in me to nurture and to bring to the world other than a curmudgeonly attitude requisite for being a veteran mortician.

Today, I plowed my way through the two-lane-traffic-corridor from hell that takes you out of the GTA and to Kingston. It’s an exercise in patience and dreaming of creative ways to free our highways of transport trucks and drivers who do not obey the left-lane-is-for-passing rule.

I muttered through traffic, rolled my eyes at the lack of parking signage at the retreat location, and cursed the universe in general for having the rain start just as I was wrestling my basket of yoga mat, meditation cushion and blanket for deep relaxation out of my trunk.  I have under-packed for retreats before, and I was determined that based on the wet forecast, this was not going to be one of those soggy times. I looked like a 44 year old-yoga-pant-and-pink-sweater-wearing-mule trying to get all three bags  inside on one trip.

I was appalled at the woman who let me struggle with the door to the registration lounge without helping me, and the lack of smile on the face of the registrar. This is not Buddhism! Buddhism smiles for crying out loud! I could not get to my little room fast enough so I could dump my suitcase, prep for the mediation hall and ensure my precious bottle of South Australian plonk was safely stored next to the second draft of my novel.

This is how I entered my retreat space; frustrated, exhausted, and ready to give the world not a single, but a double salute using my middle fingers.

And then I entered the retreat space. I hastily set out my mat and cushion in the middle of the room and plopped myself down to breathe. Ha! To breathe…think about that one. Just taking a single, deep, focussed breath can do so much. For a veteran with this particular group, my entrance was anything but mindful. I did not bow. I did not do all of the small, but mindful ritual requirements of coming into such a sacred space. That was my first wake-up call. I needed to be exactly where I was.

I changed course, focussed on the minutiae of what I was doing, and in doing so,  I found myself at home. In observing my breath, the bell, the noble silence at the dinner hour, nourished by lip-smacking vegetarian food, in the dharma group listening, and finally back in my room (with a glass of contraband wine), alone with my thoughts.

Again I am reminded how precious these times are. I’m reminded how they crystallize my intentions, and help me manifest the kind of person I try to be.

I raise a glass to that…after all, nobody is perfect!

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February is For Love Stories – Not Just Fairytales

Aggie the cat was stretched out on the roof, just past the glass of the window that was tipped open to allow her coming and going. Taped to the glass was the vintage orange, cover of Tennessee Williams’, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. You would have had to be a complete idiot to have missed the pun.

It was tucked up in the reading room of Shakespeare and Company that I read, in its’ entirety, Neil Gaiman’s, Art Matters. Amongst all of the old, hard cover, well-bound books that had possibly been in the hands of James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway or even Gertrude Stein, I soaked up the love of storytelling written by one of our contemporary masters.

 

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Valentine’s day is the one day a year that we set aside to tell our love stories. There are very few of us who have lifetime love stories to tell, about meeting, marrying, raising children, and living into our twilight years hand in hand with our soul mate.  But this isn’t the only love story. Love does not follow a script. It follows the heart, and hopefully, if you are lucky enough, you have, by mid-life ,a small collection of stories that continue to inspire you.

Spending time in Paris, tucked up on the old daybeds of Shakespeare and Company will always be one of those stories. The syncronicity of how I met my late, angel-to-artists friend Nick Beat is another.

Stories are the thread that binds the fabric of our collective experience. Sharing them should be treated as a sacred honour, worthy of our full attention. Worthy of dedicated time to gather and share.

February is mostly past. Valentine’s day is over. Our love stories involve more than romance and fairy tales. Don’t forget that. Celebrate all of those things that make you vibrant; tell your stories.

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Wonder: As a Verb

wonderEven if it’s just holding space while you let yourself remember what it feels like to actively wonder, I hope this post is a gift to you…to reignite your sense of wonder.

The first time I went to Paris, I spent an entire afternoon, from lunch time to the beginning of the dinner rush, sitting at a cafe table at Les Deux Magots in wonder.

 

wonder.won·der
/ˈwəndər/Submit
noun
1.
a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable.
“he had stood in front of it, observing the intricacy of the ironwork with the wonder of a child”
synonyms: awe, admiration, wonderment, fascination

I marvelled at St. Germain Church across the street, and the way that the french could grow such perfect red geraniums in those iron window enclosures.  How did they water them? Dead head them?

My intention that day was to treat myself to a piece of cake and a cup of coffee and do a little bit of writing like Hemingway and the great writers of the last century.  There were so many things to see from that little cafe chair though! I felt like I needed to stay, to observe, to figure out how the French made everything so, well, French. After the cake I ordered an entree. The waiter, in his black clothes and calf length crisp, white apron, was not impressed. It just made the entire experience that much more enjoyable for me. For kicks, I had him pose for a picture with me…and then I ordered an hors d’heurve and a glass of wine. The second shift of waiters came on, and the new waiter was lovely. He took great joy from my own, and we had a few laughs at the expense of my mediocre, but very enthusiastic french vocabulary.

That afternoon, and many others while I was in my 20’s, I wondered.

won·der
/ˈwəndər/Submitverb
1.
desire or be curious to know something.
“how many times have I written that, I wonder?”
synonyms: ponder, think about, meditate on, reflect on, muse on, puzzle over, speculate about, conjecture; be curious about
“I wondered what was on her mind”

I love that we have a  verb in the English language such as wonder.  Speculate, think, conjecture, disbelieve, inquire, meditate, puzzle, query, question; all synonyms, and yet none have the positive connotation of wonder.

To wonder is to stay young at heart. It does not judge like disbelieve, query or question. It is not out to unveil deliberately hidden truths like inquire or disbelieve.

Wonder is innocent. It is about wonder as a noun carrying over into developing an understanding of; no judgement or tinkering. Just wonder.

This year I hope to exercise my wonder. I think there is a dangerous den to be avoided at mid-life and in old age that looks comfortable, warm and safe. It has a radius of what is familiar.  I’m not attracted to that den at all, or the people in it.

This year I am wondering about;

img_0143-1.jpgFun, new, wine reviewers. For years I followed Billy’s Best Bottles, bought the annual book that reviewed primarily LCBO wines, and sought out the bottles that were highly recommended. Especially the bargain wines. I wondered at his knowledge and the way he incorporated fun and wonder into his work.  I admired him for it. It inspired me. I am loyal if nothing else, and I still follow Billy, and I want to add something new as well.

Writing meet-ups, new restaurants, travel destinations, new friends of every age, these are all things that I will actively wonder about in 2019.

Most of all I’m wondering about what I don’t already wonder about. Those are the things that will be the most important for all of us.  Those are the things that will keep us young at heart.

 

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The Longest Night: How To

First of all, let go of all expectations.

The theme is the Longest Night: Finding Light in the Darkness, and is always, always, always held on the eve of winter solstice (December 21).

1)Send out invitations however you like – I use social media and the occasional email.

Given the theme, invite friends whom you feel you can be spiritually naked with.  The more the merrier, or not. It’s up to you. Personally I love having an eclectic group of friends who are intelligent and kind.

2)Each person is encouraged to bring a piece of writing, poetry, artwork, music or visual art to share with the group.  Have them bring copies to give out if they can.

3) Pot-freaking-luck – this not only takes the pressure off of the host, but it offers everyone a chance to bring a special dish that honours the spirit of the evening. Sharing food is an intimate act of friendship.

4)Offer a place to sleep should anyone be enjoying a few beverages or, if you’re in Canada, cannabis.

5)Offer all of the seating you can; couches, chairs, cushions, stools. Basically, form a cozy circle where people can relax.

6) Draw numbers to see who shares first, second and so forth.

7)Begin the evening with a toast, or reading appropriate to the theme. Light a candle as a symbol of the season of mystery and hope.  The joy of the evening is to share, discuss and share some more, taking everything at a leisurely pace.

8)Enjoy one another’s company.

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The Hottest Date

writingdateLike sand through my fingers, it just seemed to slip away. Almost like that’s how it was always meant to be. Withered up alongside all of the tidy, check-marked boxes of my responsible, adult life.

It was part of my life that I cherished dearly. It was something that belonged to me and only me. It was the reason I stayed sane and productive and didn’t just get in my car one day and never come back. Don’t get me wrong, I would have taken my kid with me, and I’m sure we would have had an awesome playlist, but you get where I’m going with this.

That little scrap of sanity was my weekly writing date. More often than not, I would find myself at the AGO, or at one of my favourite Starbucks in Mississauga. At the museum it was poetic verse in a small Moleskine, with a glass of wine and lunch. At Starbucks I usually had my laptop and a latte, maybe a scone if I felt indulgent.

It sounds very simple, and not like much of an oasis of luxury, but it was luxurious solitude during a busy time of my life.

Now I have a beautiful writing room with windows and an altar, and enough of my precious book collection lining the walls that I feel justified in my efforts to write something of significance.

But my writing dates have stopped. I’ve stopped taking myself out, and being inspired by other people’s art, or even the regulars at my local Starbucks. And I miss it.

One of my resolutions (I hate resolutions) leading up to (so as not to be an official new year’s resolution) the new year is to take myself out on weekly writing dates again.

I can already picture myself at the McMichael gallery, swallowed up by the beauty of the gallery and the grounds, completely blissful in my solitude. I’m excited to slowly become a regular at my local cafe, where they wonder what I’m writing, but they know exactly how I like my coffee…steaming hot. The hottest of dates are always the ones that kept me creative, interested & engaged. I hope to see you out there fanning the flames of your own creative fire.

 

 

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What did you win? ~ What didn’t I?

do what you loveYah, last year I jumped on the speeding wagon of NaNoWriMo and fell off almost immediately.

This year I won. I won!!!

What did you win?

I actually completed the first draft of my novel. Which leaves me with over 200 pages of crap to edit during the next few months.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I’m going to be the next J.K. Rowling. But I do think I’ll be a hell of a lot more interesting, joyful and fulfilled than a lot of people my age who have no other hobbies than gossiping, bitching and the occasional hangover.

Hobbies, interests, and stepping out into the world to be exposed to new ideas and different people helps to make us better people, or at the very least more engaged.  Apathy after all is really not just the biggest sin against humanity, but it’s boring as hell. I daresay it’s even found lingering as the cord that connects the seven deadliest of sins.

So I met the goal of NaNoWriMo, got out to meet other writers in my community, and managed to inspire myself to think more intensely about the art and craft of storytelling. Which in turn turned me toward book reviews, essays and text books. And of course that led me to reading  new books, articles and interviews by authors of very different ilks.

The win of NaNoWriMo is not simply the word count or the first draft, it’s actually keeping people engaged with a world bigger than just themselves.  A world that ever more seems to be frightening, contentious and less likely to change just because we care.

If you’re not a writer, this definitely won’t be your thing, but you may find it via a few words on the page. If not, I beg of you to find it somewhere. Find something that makes you happy, interact with other people even more knowledgeable and passionate as you are, and  make a difference in your little corner of the planet. Create your pocket of joy and goodness so that it spreads and connects to another. The world will thank you.

 

 

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NaNoWriMo Eve

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It’s official. I’m a NaNoWriMo Geek.

I’m into it for my second year, and I’m trying to find new and exciting ways to both be at my keyboard, and avoiding it all at the same time. There’s something about banging out a novel that heightens that feeling of being alive. You know, living on the edge of greatness.

The edge is as close as I’ve ever gotten.

Today, on a self-proclaimed writing day, as I drove through the city to run the time-sucking errands that every amateur writer fitfully completes so that they can feel less guilty about sitting down to write, I thought that maybe, just maybe, I have always been afraid of my own success. I mean, after all, I’m good at a lot of things, I just fizzle out half way through. I get bored.

Novel writing can be much the same. Momentum is key.

Finishing a chapter with nothing else to write, or no ideas is like seeing your partner naked for the first time in the harsh, full light of day. Not so great when you’re over 40. With no ideas to spur you on, your novel becomes the anatomical equivalent of a mottled, slightly hairy, saggy scrotum and a flat ass bent over trying to pull up it’s pants.

As Hemingway once said, always leave something unwritten. It’s easier to get up in the morning and start writing if you have left something unsaid.

And so it is with me; less writing until I’m drained, and more writing, leaving something unsaid for the next day.

Wish me luck folks. May this novel be the equivalent of a young lover as seen through  the bottom of a glass of champers and the haze of candlelight.