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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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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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How Being a Gen-Xer Benefits Janu-Edit

Janu-Edit is a month long edit-fest, and I’m totally into it. Hell, my generation of 90’s coffee slurping pseudo-BA-educated, blazer and scarf wearing peers practically set us all up with the perfect place to write and edit.

I’m into Janu-Edit  because I have a brand spanking new first draft of a novel that needs some…tweaking before I send it out for real editing.  By someone who hasn’t lived through the hundreds of pages agonizingly trying to squeeze out an outline without getting lost in the novelists world that characters create in their head.

My favourite place to write has always, hands down, been a busy corner of one of many Starbucks locations tucked safely inside of a Chapters or Indigo. With so much condescending talk about Millennials, we’ve forgotten about my generation – the Gen-Xers. We are the reason that pretentious, over-priced coffee houses who allow you to sit and use their space for free (other than buying the coffee and mass produced pastry), exist.

For the past number of weeks I have been bound to the house, hours out are a precious commodity, and as my time as a caregiver comes to an end, I feel the need for a change of scenery, for a uplifting events, and kindred exchanges of friendship.

Today I escaped to begin the arduous process of picking through my first draft. During a ‘happy new year’ phone call to a jaded pal, she proclaimed that her new year’s eve inspired  the conclusion that, as she so delicately phrased it, “all men are shit.” Quite a conclusion to clear the path for a fresh, new year.

Don’t worry darlings, I didn’t forget where I was going with this post. I wrote the last two paragraphs to tell you this;

My coffee shop escapes are a rich resource for character development.

Once I settle in connected to power, wifi, and caffeine, I generally can sit for hours, only getting up and purchasing the obligatory coffee every hour or so in order not to become a parasite. While perched at my window seat (my favourite place to write, sip and observe), my gaze followed a middle-aged man who strolled in through Starbucks and went straight for the magazine rack.

Would this man be aware of my friend let’s say, eyeballing him with abject hatred, because he was a man? The grey hair on his head was balding. He sported  undone work boots, blue jeans (clean, and in a traditional dad cut that left all manner of physique to the imagination), and an orange construction coat with the reflective yellow X on the back.

This isn’t the kind of guy who buys six dollar coffee. And he certainly wasn’t the type of man who automatically strolls over to the copy of Birds and Blooms on the magazine rack. Not if you’re thinking in stereotypes. Stereotypes alone can only get a writer so far, and then you need real character. You see, real people (just like characters) have all sorts of quirks and habits that need to be worked out, and often times these quirks come out only as authors write them into situations where they are interacting with other characters, or even more interestingly, with only themselves.

Pausing to look up at the world that’s going on in that little microcosm of a literary coffee shop inspires character, and the coffee caffeinates. Coffee culture has always been alive and well throughout the world, bringing friends together and demanding space to generate ideas. In my little corner of Canada, Gen-Xers breathed new life into the coffee shops that are home to so many artists and writers.

sweater and scarfThis month I’m on a roll, feeling right at home curled up in my stereotypical cozy sweater and scarf, sipping a latte, or herbal tea, and looking very serious about what I’m working on.  Janu-Edit doesn’t stand a chance against this stereotype, I just hope my quirks don’t get in the way.

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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 Longest Night: Your Invitation

Like most adults, the magic of Christmas wanes with each passing year. This year I’m struggling to grasp that spirit at all, even a tiny shred of it.

I absolutely love getting out for Christmas dinners with my friends, I enjoy strolling the markets, and listening to Christmas music.  I realized just how un-Christmasy my life is this year after reading an update from my cousin this morning about having his first Christmas dinner in the books.

This after waking up and staring at the ceiling of what used to be my writing room, and thinking just that…this does not feel like Christmas.

When I was a young mother, doting on my son, baking, cooking and inviting friends into our home made the season so very special. Long past having a big wish list, I have always used Christmas as an excuse to connect with the people in my life whom I don’t get to spend time with often enough. It’s a special part of the year that carries me through, having reinforced the bonds of these precious friendships.

the longest night

But not this  year. This year I am bound to the house, run off my feet, and honestly, feeling lonesome for those friends.

Loneliness and isolation can make a pathetic woman, and I am anything but that. So this year, albeit late in the season, I’m going to begin my efforts to connect with the special people in my life. The sustenance of kindred spirits during times like this is essential to anyone’s well-being.

In years past, I used to host an event on the eve of winter solstice called, “The Longest Night”, where my friends would gather, bringing a piece of art (writing, music, visual art) to share with the group. The theme was always sharing light in the darkness. Celebrating the darkness where mystery was waiting to be revealed, ideas were ruminating, and reminding everyone that there is beauty even in the mystery of the dark.

So this year, once again, I’m hoping more selfishly than ever that my friends arrive in the darkness, to be received into the warmth of a circle of friends.

 

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Making Room in My Jeans for Enchantment

distractionBecause of my inability to focus, my jeans are getting snug.

As in, I’ve gone beyond muffin-top to mid-section-souffle. I’ve been home a lot lately, and although I’m busy as stink caregiving, I have lots of time on my hands while I stay up way too late and overthink everything.

Today, while having a meltdown (likely a bloodsugar low), I ate another of my beautifully decorated sugar cookies, gave myself a tummy-ache and got to thinking while I laid down to sweat it out. Perhaps I should just really focus on what makes me feel good.

And what is that?

Well, it’s my writing, my inspiration, or ‘enchantment’ as Elizabeth Gilbert refers to it in her book, Big Magic, (a book every creative soul needs).  Given that my nervous baking habit has made me pack on pounds and feel like crap since I’ve been at home for the past number of weeks, I couldn’t help but listen when my nauseous tummy and tight waistband went from a whisper to a scream; “QUIT BAKING THIS SHIT!!!”…and in a much more kind, caring voice, “Do what you love sweetheart.”

One idea from Big Magic that stuck with me the first time I read the book is,

However, I’ve always had the sense that the muse of the tormented artist – while the artist himself is throwing temper tantrums – is sitting quietly in a corner of the studio, buffing its fingernails, patiently waiting for the guy to calm down and sober up so everyone can get back to work.”

I have a lot of interests; baking, cooking, reading, writing, yoga, gardening, being an enthusiastic sports mom…and the list goes on. These are the equivalent of my temper tantrums. Convincing myself that I don’t have enough time to write is akin to a temper tantrum.

I’m so funny.

I have time to do most of my hobbies, except write.  Why??? the only explanation I can come up with is that my upbringing as a hard-working-protestant-country-girl saves the best for last. “I’ll write after I…..” And then the day is finished. I have no energy left for the good stuff.

It’s hard to think of a tortured artist baking and decorating cookies, but it’s my very civilized-flirting-with-diabetes form of torment. But it is no more. No more half-hearted attempts at making slippers, meringues, paintings, blankets or any other whim I get snagged on while cruising Pinterest.  No more tummy aches and sugar lows. No more cursing myself for my jeans getting even smaller.

In Big Magic, Ms. Gilbert talks about enchantment, and whether you meet it with the resistance of the stereotypical tortured artist or like gracious host who makes room for it.

I’m going to try and be the gracious host. And that includes not wearing pants that are way too tight.