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Na-mas-ummer-day

 

I woke up with pillow stripes imprinted on my face. Sweat had soaked through the front of my t-shirt, and pooled down the deep, fold of venus between my breasts.

No, I hadn’t been jarred from sleep from one of my recurring nightmares. Nor did I wake up disoriented, wondering where I was. I had boldly carried out a fleece blanket and old pillow from a couch that made an unlikely escape from the 80’s  and landed at the cottage. I carried my blankie down from the deck, across the broad granite that led down to the water, and pulled it across the dock like a ball gown. There are unspoken cottage rules, and this was a ginormous no-no.

I spread out the no-no blanket in a flourish, flopped the pillow just above the finished edge, and fell to my knees in a half-cat-half-collapsed-forty-four-year-old-woman-with-a-white-wine-spritzer-buzz, and collapsed onto my stomach. For two hours.

No, I did not wake up with a sore neck. I did not have a sunburn. I did not care that the neighbours likely thought I was an eyesore of a wildwoman with curly hair that set a bad example for their granddaughter.  Swayed by the rocking motion of the dock, and the clear conscience of a woman who is both tipsy and morally upstanding, I slept the sound sleep of a child. And then I drank more wine.

marshmallowThis weekend, I slept late into the first morning in the bedroom that mercifully faces northwest and is properly dark (as all bedrooms should be). I ate an entire bag of marshmallows roasted over  late night fires. The kind that snaps and crackles and leaves you mesmerized by the flames until there are only coals left, illuminating the deafening silence of the sounds of the forest.

I spent an extra-long weekend just being. I read.  I napped. I wrote. I sipped.  I watched the movie version of one of Roald Dahl’s adult novels, and I did not come anywhere near the minimum ten-thousand steps a day which are supposed to keep all of us supple and clot-free.

And then I came home to my day-to-day habits.

There are no marshmallows in my cupboard, and I’ve rid the house of  secret chocolate stashes. Don’t get me wrong, I raid my adult son’s candy stash left over from little gifties from people who still think of him as a kid. Usually I do that late at night when my anxiety flares and my imagination won’t lay down and go to sleep like a good demon.

There is energy to be nurtured and built up during these precious, lazy days of summer, when you don’t wander anywhere but through the still, muck of your own thoughts until it settles; clear. I believe our bodies recharge like our smartphone batteries when exposed to enough sunlight and very little expectation.

A regular diet of this makes maintaining good habits much easier to abide.

Let me be clear; the marshmallows also help with clarity…the singular focus required to toast it perfectly on every surface without coming too close to the flame is a meditation in itself.

As is the sugar headache I wake up with the next morning.

These are the kind of things that remind me that getting my skinny-dipping-chunking-dunking  buns back to every-day-life and yoga class isn’t so damn bad at all.  Namaste my marshmallow-loving compadres. Na-mas-ummer-day.

 

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#whatchagonnadoaboutit

Cirle of women

Cottage country. Here we are surrounded by vast expanses of nature, spotted like a leper with cottages, out-buildings, and ice-cream shops. The noise of a chainsaw cuts across the lake drowning out the sound of the chirping toads, trilling birds, and quiet lake water kissing the shoreline.

What better place to come and reflect on life in general? What better environment to rest, reflect and focus on the issues that are most important to me at this stage in my life; where to live and what to do? Never before have I had so much freedom to choose.  Too much choice can be overwhelming.

The land, water and air here have been stamped with our nonsense. Even now, as I type out my thoughts on a laptop from the dock, I feed into the madness. My coffee cup rests on the Saturday edition of the Globe and Mail, the traditional ‘top of the fold’ importance given to a full colour photo of Tina Fontaine, “Not in vain” reads the white font against a black backdrop. Under my coffee cup, covering my coveted weekly read of the book section.

Not in vain. Genocide. As a CBC listener, I cringed at our Prime Minister solemnly declaring the atrocities that have been going on for hundreds of years.  Patronizing, distant,distain does nothing to effect change.

I do not identify as an indigenous woman, or a woman of colour, or a woman who comes from a culture where women are not considered to be persons in their own right. I’m afraid to say that I do share a border with one. I identify as a woman; sexually abused, raped, working in a culture which boasts of being a leader when it comes to gender equality, but is still entrenched in a society where misogyny has deep, strong, still thriving roots.

My mind flips like a picture book back to when I attended my first protest. I made a banner (not just a sign), and along with two school friends, we marched, chanted and made known our intolerance for violence against women. The overwhelming emotions were rage, injustice, and anger.

As I sit here, I realize how privileged I have become. I’m a long way from the village (yes, it was technically a village) I grew up in and the single-mother struggle that dominated my adult years. But here I am with all of that rich knowledge of experience, looking down at the headline of another young girl who has been murdered. And what the hell are we really doing about it other than assigning a hashtag?

Meaningful work is where my mind goes when I think about what’s next. I have always done work that has made a difference; reporting news, helping the bereaved, comforting the dying.

As a woman, I take it upon myself to help other women. My joy now comes from giving a hand to younger professionals, sharing my experience and building their confidence. I know that whatever comes next will involve sharing my opportunities, sharing my joy, and showing up for  more marches where my pain, rage and anger have naturally taken a backseat to building a community of resilient, strong, women.

 

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Boundary Breaking Turds: Containing the Stink

toilet-paper-shoeIn my late 30’s I became acutely aware of people who drained my energy. I’m sure you can relate.

As a natural caregiver, I was feeling drained by some of my family and friends. I was the go-to for help, but not the go-to if I needed anything. So I experimented with personal boundaries. I fell in love with them. They are flexible yet firm, and they love me back.

The more you care about someone, the more it hurts when those boundaries are disrespected, and yesterday that happened to me. Not for the first time, but for the last time. Every time I interact with this individual, they tromp all over everyone else’s boundaries like a rhino in a vegetable garden, ruining a lot of good stuff, and leaving destruction and a few turds in their wake.

I’m pretty relaxed, except when it comes to holding a grudge. I can hold onto a grudge forever. Not intentionally, it kind of sticks to me like a piece of dank toilet paper that I can’t kick off my shoe. It’s disgusting. And let’s be clear – it’s not my shit in the first place, it’s theirs.

So yesterday, my garden was tromped, annihilating the plans for someone I love (for the umpteenth time). Metaphorically, I stepped into their shit and it stuck.  It’s hard to shake off, and it tracks it’s stink everywhere.

When you point it out, people are disgusted by it too, but no-one’s going to help get it off because, well, it’s shit. It stinks, and it’s sticky, and they don’t want it stuck to them.

Deal with it. Get that shit outta here!

You know what I’m saying?

The only solution is to vent to good friends who are at enough of a distance not to catch a whiff of the crap. They can empathize and help you cope. The only solution though, is to avoid the shit. To stay away from the doggy park, if you know what I mean?

Whether it’s a bad boss, an annoying social acquaintance, or a family member who bulldozes everyone. Just do not engage.  At all. Or, at the very least expose yourself to their destructive ways as little as possible to avoid being the one with their shit stuck to your shoe.  Also keep your distance from people who have little or no self-awareness with regard to how much of that particular individual’s shit they are tracking through their life. Some people are just covered in it!

Boundaries are there to keep you safe from people who have no regard to how shitty they are. Keep your boundaries firm, and your shoes clean.

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The Frustration of Focus & The Benefit of Flow

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This is the first time in my life that I’m focussed on doing what I love. Being my healthiest self, and focussed on focus.

I’ve never been a believer in having it all, at least not at the same time. Now more than ever I’m sure of that.

Life has stabilized after a handful of years getting settled as a nearly-empty nester, a coupled up singleton, and one of the more experienced of a great group of colleagues.  Life has finally opened up into a chapter of more breathing room to focus on what brings me joy.

I’m not talking about my child or my lovely partner, or the beautiful friendships that I’ve nurtured throughout the years. I’m talking about what brings ME joy; nurturing a healthier, more active body, and carving out time and space (have you seen my awesome little writing space?!), to focus on writing.

I’m SO focussed. I spent an entire afternoon plotting 12 months of writing submissions. I dug out all of my old writing and put it in one of the drawers in the two desks I need to keep all of my scribbling organized. I consulted with a life coach. I became accountable to myself. I took a project on my winter beach vacation. I give a shit about letting my precious, wild, creative ideas get away from me without nurturing them.

“I believe that our planet is inhabited not only by animals and plants and bacteria and viruses, but also by ideas. Ideas are a disembodied, energetic life-form. They are completely separate from us, but capable of interacting with us—albeit strangely. Ideas have no material body, but they do have consciousness, and they most certainly have will. Ideas are driven by a single impulse: to be made manifest. And the only way an idea can be made manifest in our world is through collaboration with a human partner. It is only through a human’s efforts that an idea can be escorted out of the ether and into the realm of the actual.”
― Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

It’s spring, so I had to take a break away to plan and plant my garden, welcome my baby boy home from uni, and spend more time at the yoga studio. All this joyful living has made me jolly. Trying to focus on family, health and the garden has made my writing suffer. So frustrating!

How fortunate am I to be frustrated that I don’t have enough time between my good job, spoiling my adult son, being a loving partner, and keeping up with the people who have buoyed me up all of those tough years, to write all day, every day? Very. I’m very fortunate.

Focus is wonderful, but so is a blessed life. And I don’t want to forget that as I scroll through my insta-feed of minimalist works spaces and uber-achievers.  My big, messy, patchwork life of love and vitality is more than a lot of people ever dream of having. And I intend to go with it. To flow. To savour every second. Nothing lasts forever.

Focus is something I can come back to again and again. So here I am, in a window seat at the coffee shop, keyboard and second draft of my novel ready for a serious workout.

If you haven’t quite made it to this place in life where you can see your blessing manifest and you feel like a suffocated artist, buy yourself  Big Magic . It saved my creative spirit, and kept me plodding away when I had too many bills and not enough time or space to feel justified in spending the extra time to create.  Just keep going. Just keep telling the universe what you need, and somehow you will pass from survival to thriving. I promise.

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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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Air Travel for the Commoner

AirTravel CaribbeanThere are few things better than being cramped in a flying-death-trap with a gaggle of strangers who lack common sense and manners.  A PAP test and  mammogram are much less uncomfortable, and take a fraction of the time.

Most recently I witnessed an individual wearing a, “WORK IS FOR PEOPLE WHO DON’T DIVE”, shirt waltz down the aisle of a package-vacation aircraft with every imaginable piece of kitchen survival clipped to their camo-pants. There was a phone, a travel mug, travel pillow and an assortment of acoutrements jangling. We were all coming from a beach vacation for crying out loud. Chill out MacGyver. Another person followed, travel pillow, purse, iPad, hat and carry on in tow. As she swung around looking for space in the overhead, she clobbered someone in the head with her purse.

This delicate ballet continued as people kept boarding. I was fascinated by the lack of decorum, and complete disregard for other passengers. This has become a typical experience when it comes to package vacation carriers.

As a teenager sitting in my boyfriend’s living room, his very proper Irish father reacted to a belch or some other such masculine roar by calmly telling us that as we aged, we would appreciate small manners that added up to civilized society. I’ve aged. I appreciate it.

During my last experience with a trans-atlantic flight, I experienced the most absurd rushing to board I have ever seen, with a line-up forming an hour prior to boarding. What resulted was an irritated mob of unorganized boarding-a lovely way to begin an eight hour forced confinement. I’m convinced it was because people were vying for overhead compartment space.

airplaneMy most recent experience with air travel have been interesting to say the least. No, I cannot boast surviving a terrifying emergency landing like a friend and colleague.  I have never been privileged enough to witness a mid-flight take down of an irate passenger, and on the other end of the spectrum, I have also have never been graciously upgraded because I’m an obedient, no fuss traveller.

I did however witness the trio of women who swung their luggage around like a cat by the tail, spill red wine on themselves and the passengers behind them while laughing loud enough to keep everyone awake on the plane. Combined with the guy behind us who coughed up snot throughout the entire journey, it was a five hour exercise in patience.

Alas, I have been around long enough to witness the complete decline in etiquette and common sense when it comes to air travel. Perhaps it’s because the real estate inside aircraft has become more valuable. Overhead bins have become kind of like the condo market in Toronto – you know, people throwing money at 400 square feet like it’s an estate home on five acres. It’s all getting smaller and demand is exponentially rising.

Please, I beg of you, the next time you arrive at the gate, leave your ego behind, get in, sit down, and don’t be an asshole.

 

 

 

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When the Community Board is Empty

Most of you know that I have recently moved. I live in a very strange community that has come to make me appreciate the effects of foreign property investment on our ‘communities’.  In effect, all of the empty grand homes in our neighbourhood  are mostly empty, with lights on timers, regular professional landscaping, and someone who clears the local newspaper and flyer delivery from their front porch. There is no neighbourhood here, only bank accounts in the form of houses.

It robs us of community. It robs us of mom and pop shops able to keep their doors open to provide goods and services for the neighbourhood.

Yesterday I popped in to a local  Starbucks for a delightfully refreshing iced drink, and while I was waiting for my sweetie’s pour-over, I turn to the community board as I’m often want to do.

This is what I saw;

A picture is worth a thousand words. Nothing. There is regularly nothing related to community posted on this board. Despite there being a steady stream of people in line to buy their caffeinated bevvies at all hours through the weekdays and on the weekends, there is little if any sense of community.

I’m a writer, and admittedly, I’ve spent way too much time in coffee shops picking away at my keyboard, and I’ve spent way too much money on coffee. I have however honed a keen sense of place while I’m out and about mooching free office space.

I have never (not even once) settled into this location for my hour long writing sessions, arranged for a meeting with friends, or lingered any longer than it takes to make my Sunday-morning-one-bag-in-one-bag-out herbal tea.

This weekend in Toronto while getting settled in to a workshop, I was recommended to a coffee shop just down the street from where we were gathering. And this is what their community board looked like;

 

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Mallo – Located at 785 Bathurst Street. Worth becoming a regular meet-up spot. Definitely make time to try their absolutely delish menu.

I stopped, took off my coat, enjoyed a cup of tea, and ordered one to go. The staff were so friendly, and vibe was so great, that I came back again after my workshop and tried their menu with a pal who was in the neighbourhood. $70.00 later I felt like I had a new place to add to my favourites. Lesson learned; a sense of community translates to profit.

Earlier this week, I was back in my old stomping grounds at my favourite Starbucks in Mississauga, and their community board looked like this;

community board

 

When your community boards are empty at informal meeting spaces like coffee shops, there is a fundamental problem within the local community. There is a disconnect.  People go out to write, to gather, and to get their over-priced half-caf-low-fat-made-exclusively-for-me beverages because they are craving connection as much as they are craving sugar and caffeine.

When your community board is empty, I challenge you to go out and find one that is overflowing with posters for yoga in the park,  poetry readings, amateur nights at the local coffee house. I guarantee you’ll be a happier, healthier person.