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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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Unable to Connect

bad connection

There are few moments that stand out as pivotal when it comes to my developing self. Today I experienced a disconnect clearly, and it was extremely unsettling.

How many special people change?
How many lives are living strange?
Where were you while we were getting high?

My go-to for writing is usually a Starbucks. Not original, I know, but it has worked for me for a long time; the chill music at just the right volume, people sauntering in cooly giving orders for extra-hot-no-whip-soy-double-shot beverages, while trying to look like they’re not checking out who looks more saucv than them while dredging out their phones to connect to the free wifi and talk at a volume just loud enough to feel important, about their co-workers’ annoying habits to their pal with the great hair who just ran through the door, out of breath and ready to talk about just how damn busy their life is.

Slowly walking down the hall
Faster than a cannonball
Where were you while we were getting high?

So, today I walked into the Starbucks in Unionville, which offered all of the above.  A special beverage juste pour moi, and enough noise to give me something to work against.

I wasn’t aware of why, but I felt it. At the the counter, I suddenly felt dumb (as in gobsmacked). The atmosphere around me buzzed with an energy that made me totally uncomfortable.  I fumbled to figure out what I wanted (normally a latte or a tall, full-bodied brew in a grande cup with lots of room for cream, or maybe even an iced chai latte with very light ice and non-fat milk), so I just ordered English breakfast tea, my simple go-to-comfort drink.

I juggled my laptop and milky tea to the middle of the shop and looked for a seat. I chose the one next to the Spanish looking fellow who was plugged into his phone, singing Oasis at the top of his lungs and making everyone else feel more than slightly uncomfortable. It was either him, some guy in a button-down and tie trying to look like he was working, and an  Asian lady looking anxiously at the guy singing, like he might suddenly jump up and mug her right there in the middle of an upper-middle-class afternoon.

The crazy guy seemed like the only reasonable, and sane choice. Everyone else was wearing a mask – you know what I mean, looking but trying not to. Caring what everyone else thinks, but enjoying being on show. They hugged their paper cups like cocktails in a 1940’s thriller. The crazy guy was more my speed.

Someday you will find me
Caught beneath the landslide
In a champagne supernova in the sky
Someday you will find me
Caught beneath the landslide
In a champagne supernova
A champagne supernova in the sky

He turned his head and looked right at me. We were just inches apart. I looked right back and stared into his eyes, “Hello” I said. He turned away  and kept on singing.

Wake up the dawn and ask her why
A dreamer dreams she never dies
Wipe that tear away now from your eye

For some reason I could not connect. My laptop froze in the ether of this moment of self-discovery.  I’d connected at Starbucks a zillion times all over the world without a problem, but today it just wasn’t happening.

Realizing that I was just wasting my time trying to plug in to the rest of the world via my 12″ screen,  I decided to spread out at the bar if front of the floor to ceiling window that lines Main Street.  A plastic-enhanced woman in a white jacket swooned that she could not believe that I was leaving a corner seat as she slid over and let me know that she was expecting an important client (the crazy dude had already left).

Important clients deserve more than in indiscreet conversation in a public, brand-name coffee shop, but for some reason they settle for it. I moved and let her have the corner office.

Having just come back from a vacation where there is an overtly open relationship regarding the energy exchange of buying and selling, engaging or disengaging from those around you, I suddenly realized that this aloof, dare I say, apathetic environment no longer serves me.  It’s just more distilled in places like Starbucks where everyone thinks they’re special because they’re not at the Tim Horton’s Drive Thru.

I wrote, people came and went, and I missed  simple, authentic interaction with other human beings.

This was not the environment I wanted or needed. I packed up my kit, and strode back to my car, hair blowing in the wind, yellow jacket shining against the overcast skies of a colder than usual spring.

Zipping past the boutiques that line this picturesque little part of my community, I noticed another cafe – Chee Organic Cafe, and I made an note to drop in tomorrow. Maybe I can connect there.

How many special people change?
How many lives are living strange?

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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.

 

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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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Autumn-Show Me Your Hoodies & Pumpkin Spice

I woke up this morning to a plethora of “WELCOME OCTOBER” posts such as this gem.

Thank God! Had so many people not posted pics of sweaters, fall leaves, and well-manicured hands wrapped around steaming mugs of pumpkin-spice flavoured everything, I may have been stuck in the dreaded September-Time-Warp!

Autumn has always been my favourite season. It’s a do-over for me. I was a school supply nut, and loved the smell of fresh pencil crayons and the feel of a new pen. Ok, I was a book-nerd. I was also a little chunky, which meant that I could layer on a sweater and pants, and finally not feel naked.

Now that I’m into my 40’s, chunky fall sweaters just make me look like an exceptionally well-fed homeless person. And all of those pumpkin spice lattes – yah, I love the half-sweet version, but I can’t handle the sugar anymore (hence looking like a well-fed homeless person). Give me a strong Irish tea with some skim milk, and I’m  autumn AF.

( I pause now to put on the kettle…)

pumpkin spice

Autumn requires some serious planning  if you’re going to create all of those Instagram-photo-worthy pics for family and friends. After all, isn’t that what it’s all about???

The reality of my fall season is getting back to work after a beautiful and romantic holiday, and getting to as many of my son’s football games as I can. There’s also Thanksgiving (two adults and 7 young adult children around the table-one vegetarian), and Hallowe’en to get ready for. Since I don’t have to work this Hallowe’en, there shall be costumes and a dinner party, complete with a meat-wrapped-skull charcuterie board and brain-mold jelly dessert.

This all leaves (no pun intended) very little time for curling up with that over-sized mug of pumpkin spice goodness, frolicking on beautifully amber-and-red-leaved-lined trails and posing for that perfect shot with my pumpkin-spice beverage of the day.

At this stage what I need is a daily-high-fiber-digestive aid that comes in pumpkin spice version, and a sinewy house-lad who looks good in a cable-knit and knows how to brew a perfect pot of tea. Note to self: buy my honey a new cable knit and ask him to make my apres-dinner tea in his tighty-whities and the new sweater.

Hmmm…perhaps this could be a season of autumn romance after all – you wouldn’t make me a cup of tea would you darling?

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Paris-It’s a Love/Hate Kind of City-Part 2

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As you read in Paris Part 1, I have a bias toward Paris, so let me start there;

The French, like any nation/culture have their own way of doing things. A way of eating, drinking and socializing that has earned them a place in history as gracious host to a generation of writers and artists who shaped the western cultural world. I can respect that.

Merci pour la petite cafe.

What I cannot respect, regardless of where I am, or who I’m interacting with, is rudeness.

As much as I love, love, love Paris, my most recent visit was a much different experience than that of years ago.

In general I find that human interaction during our day-to-day interactions lacks patience, empathy and kindness. More often than not, whether I am the client or the professional, people tend to express an inflated sense of entitlement and lack basic manners. The elements of civilization have been lost, and it shows in Paris.

Wait staff,  famous for snooty service throughout recent history, were stretched too thin, and much less charmingly rude as they were flat out over-worked.

This is a global phenomenon rather than a French one in my opinion. The world is becoming more economically divided, with access to security much less attainable. Consumer appetite for more, more, more has replaced any sense of spirituality, and everything is expected at the speed of our mobile browsers. We have lost our appetite for connection as our appetite as consumers has grown.

moveable feastParis is a city locked into a nostalgic identity. That’s why we flock there. We are there to see the places where great artists and writers were inspired, lived, worked, and sacrificed for their art. We are not there for the reality of out modern world.

Like any tourist destination the line-ups, pick-pocketing and general collection of human grime is inevitable. The airbrushed photos of the modern city set us up to try to create an unattainable reality, kind of like the airbrushed photos of Beyonce’s thighs.

We like the image of people relaxing on patio cafes, sipping coffee or wine, talking about ideas and art and sensual pleasures, but we find it almost impossible to embody this lifestyle. Addiction to our mobile phones and giant paper-cups full of coffee is a cultural phenomenon unto itself, but it is not compatible with our nostalgic idealism of Paris.  And this is why some people hate it there.

My partner described the city as Disney for Adults. Travel has become a collection of passport stamps rather than an experience. Line-up upon line-up of people at historical sites were more concerned with trying to take instagram-worthy photos than enjoying the actual experience. Watching this, I thought that handing out Valium and wine at the ticket booth would likely make the whole experience a lot more enjoyable for everyone. Even I got tired of my own posts with classic images of the city strategically placed in the background.

The idea of a person or place is often not the same as the reality.

The romance of Paris is like a real romance. Quite often we delight in the potential of our partner, but can’t acknowledge the reality; they’re a shitty person. With regard to Paris, we love it, but personalities don’t always mesh with a city so romanticized by history.

Personally, I can linger over a tiny coffee or scrumptious glass of wine all afternoon while writing or daydreaming, or being engaged in discussions about what matters to me in life; happiness, love, the creative process. For others, slowing down and living the ideal is a much harder thing to do.

 

 

 

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What To Do?

fallkittenI’ve been known to publish some really great seasonal To-Do Lists.  Except this year.

I didn’t do that.

Not for you and not for me.

But I’m ready for one. You see, I have a Protestant work ethic, and am a firm believer in work first, and rest when the work is done.  Which, of course, often leaves me desiring, but exhausted and out of time.

Alas, the really hard work of this year is pretty much complete, and I am left with time to rediscover more leisure pursuits.  Instead of providing you and I wish a seasonal to-do-list-on-a-time-line  of such tomfoolery that we think is Instagram-worthy, such as pumpkin patch visits, applie-pie baking and haunted house touring, I am going to provide you with a list of things that I want to do.

And I hope it inspires you to make a list of your own. Even if you don’t get to it, you’ll be reminded of what it is that makes you happy, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll take a little time for yourself to make your soul smile.

 

Here’s my list;

 

1. Successfully complete NaNoWriMo. Yah, I officially registered to write 50,000 words during the month of November. Why not? After all, I want to finish my damn novel, and I work well with a time-line. This may very well should  be the only thing on my list, but should’s have no place in my life right now.

onceupon

2. I want to go back  to wander the Guillermo Del Torro exhibit again at the AGO. It was so inspiring; a look at the inner mechanisms of a creative genius. Going back is a desperate attempt to have some of that genius-energy rub off on me.

deltoro

3.  A road trip to see the beautiful fall landscape (I’m thinking Collingwood with a side trip to a pal’s place in Thornbury, and the outdoor spa).

Hockleyfall

 

4. A visit to Hinterland Winery. In my opinion a hidden gem that deserves more of my attention. Here I come Les Etoiles!

hinterland

5. Chistmas shopping. Yes,  you heard it. I want to go Christmas shopping. That’s only because I avoid shopping in December like the plague. It sucks, people’s attitudes suck, and all of that makes me cranky. Make it a December to remember (create some memories with your loved ones – do not spend the month craving valium and flipping people the bird in parking lots).

decembertoremember

 

 

6. Cross Stitch. Oh yah. I want the luxury of  enough time to curl up with a hot cup of tea and a few hours of nothing but some needle and thread.

bring me tea

 

7. I would also very much like to make my super-duper-Hallowe’en-popcorn. I make it for my colleagues and my kiddo because even though we’re all grown up, on October 31st, we’re all still little kids just waiting for a treat.

Halloween-Caramel-Corn4-600x400