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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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Unable to Connect

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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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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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Tacos with John Mayer

taco truckI was in New York City last night with John Mayer. I adore his music. This summer I’m headed out to my very first Dead and Company show, all the way south of our beautiful Canadian border.

Anyway, about last night. John, myself and a bunch of pals were at a buddy’s place in the city, and we were all jonesing for some tacos. I suggested a taco truck that I remembered was a short walk away from the apartment- kinda close to Times Square, but far enough away that it wasn’t right in the mix. It was this funky little truck, painted high gloss black with a scrolling white logo that took up the entire side. It looked neat, tidy, and clean; all good things when it comes to street food.

We all got a little side tracked just before we were going to head out. Someone handed me the most pudgy, little, white, kitten, and it was all I could do to put it down. I just had to have a cuddle, so I sat down, right where I was standing, and let the little guy stretch out on my lap for a belly rub.

The guys couldn’t resist. They all gathered around and bent down to give the little guy a pet. Some of the guys were  naked, (if the kitten weren’t so cute, I would have been distracted by their junk wiggling in my face). Whatever. I had a roly kitten to snuggle. Once you’ve seen a dude’s wiggler, there’s not much else you can be distracted by…except kittens. Hey, I’m over 40, I only wanna see the junk of men I adore, thank you very much.

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Wait, where was I? The kitten…??? What happened to the naked guys? Where did John Mayer go during this whole kitten and men’s pubic hair fiasco? Why on earth was I bothering to go get tacos when just last week I vowed I’d had my fill of tacos for life? What I really wanted was a couple of really yummy authentic pork tamales. Oh, and that damn noise to stop….

…my alarm…

Turns out I wasn’t with a  kitten and a bunch of well-hung naked men. John Mayer was defo not just at the door putting his sneakers on to go find a taco truck with me in New York City.  Waking up to reality can really suck, especially when you’ve just been in NYC with your musical fave, fat kittens, naked men, and the promise of a really good taco.

Ah well….a lady can dream.

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Flake? I’ll Be The Judge of That.

flake

I’m typing this in a dark corner of the living room, having been stirred to wakefulness again by a 2018 article about pairing champagne (one of my faves) with french fries. Yummmmm! This my friends, is what keeps me up at night.

After having slipped my love a valium, and being irritated from sleepiness to being wide awake by his snoring, I got up to find some ear plugs. Which took me to the living room, so I could  record notes for a to-do list tomorrow. You know, follow up on doctor’s appointments, what I need to buy at Ikea, reserving my space at yoga classes, and how I’m going to rearrange the spare room and my writing area.  Inevitably I checked my phone, and voila….the social media vortex had me.

Left wing aside here…he knew he was taking the Valium. It’s like an unspoken compromise. Silently it says, “Yes, I will shut up so we no longer have to engage today.”

Tapping out my to do list for tomorrow kinda worked up an appetite, or maybe it was just the  knowledge that there was a Costco sized bag of fully-loaded-nacho-flavoured Doritos in the cupboard. And a mini Flake bar (another personal favourite, this time in the chocolate bar category). All tempting leftovers from when the kiddo was home. Nachos and a piece of butter bread…and the flake. Oh, sweet, sweet, middle of the night carb cravings, have you not had enough of me? Apparently not.

This morning during  CBC interview, it was noted that people with bad short-term memories are actually smarter, because somehow this lack of short term memory makes more room to learn more things and improve long-term memory. My short term memory is absolute shit.

This little radio spot vindicated me. I am not a flake. I am a genius. According to a childhood assessment, I actually am. But that’s a story for another time.

giphy-3It is during these wee hours of the morning when my mind is whirring and I’m trying to capture my lists and ideas that I am at my most creative. I have the most energy for things that really excite me at a soul level (and I’m not talking about the Doritos).  As I take a giant swig of what I thought was iced tea (I’m colour blind – turns out it was some kind of blue jungle juice leftover from the kiddo today), I begin to wonder if I’m the only woman who does this? This middle of the night, burning the candle at both ends life?

I wonder, and every once in a while, I get an answer back from out of the still, middle-of-the-night darkness. It usually comes in the form of a message, or text or a few beautiful lines of poetry. Tonight it was a message from an author whom I admire for more than just their writing style. I admire what they stand for. These are the signs that reassure me I am not alone in my hope, my dreaming, and my creative genius.

Costo. Doritos. Leftover something-juice.  It works. Oh,and so does the valium.

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Coffee Shops – Getting Your Money’s Worth

balzac guelphToday I got to visit my Mumster.

Visits with my Mumster usually are bittersweet because it means that I’ve just dropped of my kiddo again. Hey, you win some, you lose some, but I’m grateful for my time with both.

This year I want to experience new places in the cities that I frequent the most.

Increasing  my repertoire of coffee shops is a sure fire way to do just that. It will also lend itself to more visits with friends, and more laid back writing time.

I finally got to Balzac’s in Guelph . I sent the address to Mumster, and she and her manster met me there. As with all new places, finding parking can be an adventure, but today it was a grand adventure.

It was as if I found a whole new nerd world. The best parking was across the road from The Round Table, what appeared to me to be a completely geeked out bar. I have absolutely no clue what any of the board games are that they offer, but it looks so cool that I may recruit a geek friend to take me and train me.

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Also, there was the Medieval Gaming Academy. You know, with axe throwing and the like, but aptly named for a university town. I was admiring the confident, postured pace of two gamers (I’m not sure which establishment they were coming from). The two of them moved with the masculine grace of knights, they carried themselves with a kind of ancient chivalry. Any onlooker could assume they were serious about being part of the round table and medieval gaming community. Fine specimens of men they were; fit, firm, with long flowing hair that only the most masculine of men can carry off. It’s the kind of hair that women fantasize about tumbling onto their neck while making love…  That’s as far as the illusion went. It was shattered quickly when they loaded themselves into a brand new grey, four-door Mazda. There endeth my brief infatuation with Mr. Stand-Erect-Long-Haired-Gaming-Geek.

My muster missed this part. She was already on her way home, but I wished we could have shared the moment together. It’s one of those moments you either get one another’s sense of humour or you don’t. It’s these brief moments of connection that make all relationships memorable. The simple ones that happen at coffee shops all over the world.

These are the same moments my son and I share with a quick glance when we know what one another  is thinking before  anyone else could even guess.

These extraordinary moments…all for the price of a coffee and a google map.