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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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Just Say No

grocery storeI’ve spent the better part of my 40’s scouring the grocery store for Shake’n Bake and marjoram, figuring out that flannel jimmies stick like velcro to flannel sheets, and annoyed at how closely hostility boils at the surface of every-single-freaking retail transaction I make. Hey sweetheart, I’ve worked retail too, so please, save me the passive aggressive bullshit and bag my groceries already.

By all accounts, I’ve achieved an acceptable definition of success; I have had a career most people find fascinating, I married, produced offspring, and divorced. I am in a socially acceptable relationship. Despite the lively shenanigans in my second and third decades of existence, I have remained alive and don’t have a prison record. Success!

I now have nothing to prove to anyone but myself. So I  can finally work on my own definition of success, writing, creating, and spending my time off imparting my hard won wisdom onto my child whilst sipping copious amounts of gin and wearing the grooviest muumuus I can find.

Oh, and I need to shed some of this joy-weight. You know, the kind that comes from trying to be the best mom, gal-pal out for drinks, and stress eating (because a lot of people are selfish assholes). The rest of the people are cool, and should be considered kindred spirits. Good luck figuring out which are which.

If you are a young woman reading this, skip directly to where middle age has positioned me emotionally.  Do not give a shit what others think.  Speed immediately past GO and tear up your Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free Cards. Screw it…just keep doing what you feel you must do, and save yourself a tidy little nest egg while you’re at it. If you can’t save, cultivate your charm. You’ll need it.

This rant comes courtesy of telling myself not to take my own self care seriously, giving up my yoga and writing time until my routine at home becomes somewhat normal again.

As I wandered down a grocery store aisle (for the second time) in search of Shake’n Bake, I realized that what I was feeling was not frustration. Just an aside, Shake’n Bake should be sold above the meat cooler like the wise old grocer did in my childhood village. What I was feeling was not frustration, but resentment. Resentment that it was my precious time being wasted searching for the solution to someone else’s craving for baked chicken.

But the thing is ladies, no one holds a gun to our heads while we frantically search grocery store aisles for 1970’s chicken coating. No. We take it on all by ourselves, and wear our tidy, well-stocked homes as a badge of honour.  I am the only one in my house who ventures to Costco because they know what a colossal time-sucking-black-hole the entire expedition is, same goes for restocking grocery trips and big-box store runs.

As I was finishing my errands today ( on my day off when I should have just ran away with my laptop to some wonderful cafe for four hours) I received a text;

Hey, can you stop by Costco and pick up a couple of boxes?

 

Which begs the question; Seriousfuckingly???

Seriousfuckingly ladies. Just say no.

 

 

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Always Say YES!

lovesomeone

During a quick lunch with my Mumster the topic of keeping oneself vibrant while in the midst of feeling stuck became a theme. I like to think that our conversation was inspiring to us both. Just having a quick visit with a kindred spirit, helped my sense of well being.

As some of you may know, my day-to-day life has changed recently. I now find myself in the position of stay-at-home-caregiver. It’s the longest time I’ve ever been away from work, and frankly, it’s like living in a thick fog.

Anxiety has its’ natural place during times of transition and healing. I wish I had someone here to give me a hug, offer me a passionate escape, or a giddy drunken Christmas date night.  But that is not so.  What I have is myself; the stalwart, courageous, positive, kick-you-in-the-ass-just-enough-to-keep-you-going-all-day fabulous woman that I am.

The first thing I reluctantly gave up being here doing what I’m doing, was my sleep pattern. I’m a natural night owl, and later nights are always the first thing to come galloping back into my life  when I’m not on my work-home routine. If  I could force away the anxiety of wondering how I’ll adjust when I do go back to work, late nights aren’t a bad thing.  Mostly because just last night, head on the pillow, I was lulling myself to sleep, silently re-telling the stories of my literally ‘shitty’ day,  and it came to me! Novel number 3! Late nights are a breading ground for creativity, and that’s heady stuff.

Quietly, I got up in the darkness, crept past the orange-pink glow of the salt lamp, and made my way to my notebook, scrounging a pen from the medication log on the nursing cart in the makeshift hospital room that is now the living/dining room.

I curled up under my favourite wool blanket from Ireland, and wrote a basic outline, including main characters, and a handful of their personality quirks. I then pounded back a piece of lemon cake, the crumbs at the bottom of a bag of dill pickle chips, swigged back a hot cup of tea, and then went back to bed. Inspired.

That’s the same way I woke up.

Not only do I have a full novel to edit, I have another one ready to be born, and butter softening on the counter for a batch of sugar cookies which I will decorate in layers over the next two days for the sole purpose of doing something other than letting my brain rot. I have a list of books to read, and have managed to finish 3 of them, and I”m slowly grinding my way through the fourth (  a dense book of essays).  I also have wine. And whiskey. And tea.

These things are enough.

Enough to keep me motivated, creative and vibrant (under the circumstances).

Yes, I miss my yoga classes. I miss taking my time and poking about my favourite shops. I miss even going for a flipping walk! But these are not things I have control over right now. I can control what I manage to do while I’m limited to the house with brief periods of respite and so can you.

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As I’ve written many times, the spirit of Advent (waiting with wonder in the darkness) is one that resonates deeply with me. It reassures me of an idea that I believe in; out of the darkness and the muck of life, sprout the most fruitful of ideas and experiences.

If you are feeling stuck, take a few minutes to yourself. Grab a notebook and pen; jot down unfinished projects you’d really like to finish. Maybe it’s a new skill you’d like to learn  or  a book you would love to tuck in to read from start to finish.  Just let yourself relax into some kind of stillness of mind that will accompany you on a journey of wonder and discovery.

Most importantly if you have friends out there who offer a different perspective, a couple hours of respite, a moment of escape, always, always, always say YES!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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Caregiving & Not Caring At All

twofacedI found him on the floor.

And that’s how our little cozy home changed, for better or worse this year.

I’ve deleted three posts about how awful people are with their criticism and how deep down in my human soul, I hope that karma slaps them in the face. Le sigh….this is where not caring at all becomes spiritual practice, oh, and also letting go of all of that karma’s-gonna-get-you-bullshit.

My home has always been my sanctuary, filled in every nook and cranny with something meaningful, inspiring or fun (including the people in it).

As a writer, caregiving is rife with stories to tell, lessons to be learned and emotion.

One thing I’ve learned is that organized living helps reduce stress during times of crisis. Having some financial wiggle room is essential to being able to stay home and provide care, and self-care is golden. Also, the quality of the company I keep has been revealed as well. That’s right, I’ve heard how you’ve said I don’t need to be here right now. It stung, but I’m over it. Mostly because it says everything about your lack of character and nothing about mine.

Not only have I been indoctrinated into the lack of modesty of my partner, introduced to body fluids that are not my own, and run my chubby little ass off, I have also come to cherish two things dearly; my hours alone after my love has been tucked in and medicated to sleep, and the escape I get with my writing.

I would be lying if I told you that I’m not scared to death about how we’re going to get through this, with complicated issues including fever and infection that I never really thought about. But I would also be lying if I said I’d have it any other way. I belong here right now for the safety of my sweetie, and that is caregiving. Truly not giving a shit about those people who have no empathy, well, that’s going to take some practice…but I”m up for the challenge.

As a writer, I like to think that this experience is enhancing my craft. As a partner, I wish I could trade places and take the pain away. As a friend, frankly I’m relieved to have revealed to me who is true and who is not. My nature is a caregiver…not giving a shit, not so much.

 

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Book Anxiety – It’s a Thing

bookofjoyUnless you’re suffering from the worst case of Montezuma’s revenge, coming home from a holiday mostly always sucks.

Besides going back to w-o-r-k, there’s the unpacking, and answering emails, and getting back to all the shit you wanted a rest from in the first place. Responsibility is overrated.

On top of my already raging general anxiety about everything, I now have book anxiety. Wonderful.

crawdads

This time I thought I was smart. I prepared for the back-to-work crash. Prior to leaving for my holiday I purchased a brand-spanking-new book and placed it next to my bedside. Ah, yes, a little escapism.

However, while in Ireland and France, I loaded up on…yah, you got it – books.

You’ve heard people use the saying, “My eyes are bigger than my stomach.” If you haven’t, I’m not sure where you hang out.

There has also got to be a saying for bookworms who indulge in purchasing books but have tiny amounts of time in which  to consume them.

I am guilty of disobeying my doctor’s orders and having a decluttered bedside. It is cluttered with books and magazines and more books. So many books and such little time…

Since the grand unpack, I have added;

Book of Kells by Bernard Meehan

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Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation,

 

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Stamped with the precious Shakespeare & Co ink, I might add! So very exciting for a bookworm! Eeek!

Imaginary Journey by Elvire De Brissac

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These have all been added to my bedside pile which already includes a Historical Herbal Medicinal Guide, two books by Caroline Myss, a Kurt Vonnegut novel, a trashy romance, and a book of Irish fairytales all on a lovely bed  of seasonal magazines.

I’m also on the cusp of losing my e-copy of The Book of Joy that I borrowed to read on the airplane.

Oh, the stress! The incredible stress of being a bookish woman!

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Change the Pronoun – Change the Outcome

A child was raped and assaulted over and over. He was terrified to tell anyone, and so remained silent his entire childhood, growing into a young man wounded so deeply that he would bear the scars the rest of his life.

As an adult he could no longer stand the guilt of thinking that other children would suffer the same horror.  He spoke up. It was emotional, he felt ashamed for something he did not provoke, and at the end of it all, because he was believed, he began the real work of healing.

Does anyone remember the Penn State sexual abuse scandal? If not, refresh your memory.  Young men came forward reporting  sexual abuse, resulting in the prosecution of the perpetrator.

You’d have to have had your head buried in the sand if you haven’t heard of the reports of child abuse (overwhelmingly of boys)  reported in the Catholic Church and the  incredibly powerful conspiracy to cover that up. Overwhelmingly these young men came forward because they trusted that they would be believed.

Now read my first paragraph again with a different pronoun;

A child was raped and assaulted over and over. She was terrified to tell anyone, and so remained silent her entire childhood, growing into a young woman wounded so deeply that she would bear the scars the rest of her life. 

I was one of those girls. When I wanted to come forward (years later after much counselling and thought), to help other children who were exposed to this man’s reign of terror, I was told (by professional lawyers and psychologists) that despite my record of years of counselling ,  that it would be my word against his. Without any real physical proof (all those years later), he would not be prosecuted. Not only would he walk away without any repercussion for being a rapist and abuser, getting away with it would only reinforce his perversion.

I was told that should I break my silence in order to help the other kids at risk,  he would become bolder and continue to abuse and rape. This is the kind of support women of my generation had; none.  Not likely what those Penn State men were told.

men speak

The ‘Me Too’ movement has exposed the dirty underbelly of western misogyny. It has highlighted the history of fear-mongering and abuse of power. The frustrating and sad reality of it all is that because these victims are women, they are being poo-pooed, and condescended to by the very systems and people in power who have orchestrated silence of the vulnerable for centuries.

The common opposition about coming forward after years and years, and false accusations are non-arguments. Coming forward years later often happens after much difficult and heart-wrenching work, and with the hope of stopping the horror.

As for false accusations, I take that seriously. After all, I’m the mother of a son. It would break my heart to see his name dragged through the mud if he did not hurt someone.

Most women that you know have been sexually abused and raped. It’s a fact of life that we all know, yet our global culture shrugs it off. As North American women we set a standard for the rest of the women in the world.

In my own sphere, men often shrug it off by saying, I don’t know. It never happened to me. Well, lads, imagine being sexually assaulted and raped and then emotionally abused into being humiliated and shamed by the man or woman who did it. Would you think that they were capable of doing it again to someone else?

Remember that women (and men) report not out of vindictiveness, they report because they want to stop the cycle of abuse.

The problem is that society rallies behind sexually abused men and boys, while, by silence, apathy and blatant denial of the female voice, condoning the continued abuse of women and girls.

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Finally our voices are uniting, and are becoming stronger and louder than the din of the historical patriarchy.