You’ve watched me grow and learn, seek and attempt, win and lose. You’ve listened to my rambling observations, and been patient with my scattershot insights. You’ve held everything I handed you. You’ve been a beautiful photo album of these past 15 years, and a container for comical anecdotes, especially during the years of parenting young children. You’ve given me an outlet for my creativity, and allowed me to publish during stretches when no one else did. You were my experiment. You’ve been a home, in a way, a place to come to, to mark moments in time.
I think our relationship, as it has been, is ending. I think that’s okay, the way my relationships with my babies changed as they weaned, or learned how to fall asleep on their own, as we took off the training wheels and watched them whirl away from us.
I needed you for a long time—for connection with the wider world, and I confess, for validation. Appreciation.
I’ve been finding other ways to fill those needs. So I’ve needed you less and less. You’ve probably noticed. This isn’t goodbye, but it is an acknowledgement of change. A change in direction that’s been happening subtly and meaningfully, over a long span of months, of years. I keep saying to myself: It’s okay. It’s okay.
It’s okay to grieve change, it’s okay to be excited about change, it’s okay to feel both emotions at the same time—grief and excitement.
I haven’t stopped being myself, at core.
But I am different now, deep into my forties. I don’t feel as comfortable here, in blogland, as I once did. I come to this medium and feel constrained. That’s not the way to write. Some constraint is useful of course, some structure is absolutely necessary; but a sense of self-obstruction, of caution, of carefulness, fear of judgement—that is not useful to writing and creating.
It never will be. I didn’t used to feel that here, dear blog, but now I do. It’s not you, it’s me. I mean that sincerely. I didn’t used to feel that, dear blog, because my need for affirmation, for being seen, was so great that it outweighed all caution. This is not meant as a critique on blogging or writing publicly or sharing from the heart. This is meant to mark a moment, that is all. The moment is shifting all the time and can’t really be pinned down, but I think where I find myself is gently, tenderly choosing to protect my heart.
I wrote a book once (it never got published) titled “Why Give Yourself Away?” It’s a question that’s returned and returned over many years of writing; it first appeared in a poem I wrote in my mid-teens. So let’s just say it’s been a preoccupying force. I don’t have the answer today, but the question seems both more complicated and more simple.
Why give yourself away?
Well, because you want to. Because you must. Because you feel compelled to. Because of what you’re hoping for in return (whether you know this or not).
But maybe the you that you’re giving is substantively different now, in your current itineration. Maybe what you’re giving away isn’t pieces of your life, recalibrated and reconstituted for consumption; maybe it’s experience itself rendered through the body and mind and words and actions, experience made manifest as compassion and kindness.
Why give yourself away?
What are you giving—that’s my question for myself now. What exactly are you giving away?
It’s attention. It’s presence. And I’m not giving it away, I’m giving and receiving; I’m discovering its generative properties, how attention given blooms into connection, and warmth, how listening with care is the basis for conflict resolution, how care and caring can only happen freely when no strings are attached, nothing is being asked of the other because you know you are already loved and cared for, because you honour your needs truly. You don’t need to ask for anything in return when you have known and know grace yourself. (It’s idealistic, I’ll confess, but I hope to move toward this way of being in the world.)
Where my writing fits into this, I don’t know at present.
I don’t know whether I’ll need it in the same way; nor what new or changed goals it may meet or fulfill. I don’t know. I do know that I still love to write in order to find order in the dissonance of experiences. I still love to write to untangle the muddle of my mind. I still love to write to record and reflect and come closer to understanding the world. But it’s just one way of knowing and doing and being. I’m discovering other ways now, too.
All for now.
I come here to write.
This past weekend, I spent three days at my brother and sister-in-law’s farm, working on finishing the draft of a novel. There, I could write. It was bliss, absorbing; my thinking mind untroubled as I stepped into creative flow.
But here on the screen, this blog page, I’m coming up blank. I keep coming here, and coming up blank. It’s why you haven’t heard from me in a while. Maybe it’s the forum, the public nature of this forum? That used to not stop me or cause me pause; but lately, it does. I do not want to do harm to others, or to myself. Writing can be a dangerous craft.
My imagination was my protector when I was a child. It’s a strange thing to consider, but I’m beginning to wonder: maybe I spun that talent for fixing my wounds into a career. Oh it was powerful, oh it gave me powerful healing.
But maybe I’ve changed, maybe my needs have changed, my hopes, my values, my goals. I find myself content to work a mostly invisible job, with practical tasks that I essentially have the capacity to solve. I love that! It’s revelatory to arrive home feeling happy, to feel my hours have been purposeful, I’ve been able to make the day easier or more pleasant for those I’ve served.
Still, I wrote into and out of my imagination this weekend, and I’m glad for that too. That time was a gift.
What comes next? I’m sitting with it.
On April 1st, I started a 30-day journaling project (inspired by Suleika Jaouad’s Isolation Journals). What I’ve noticed so far is that prompts really help. On days when I try to jot down random thoughts, not much comes squeezing out. I’m preoccupied by surface tasks and must-dos, and a feeling of emptiness prevails. This is a most unpleasant feeling. So, today I said to myself, what advice would you give your students, if they were feeling stuck? You’d say, Stop trying to “journal” and do a daily diary (a la Lynda Barry), or an X Page prompt (ditto). Get out of your own head. Come alive by entering the world.
Other prompts have worked well too. My word-of-the-year group is spending April responding to each other’s words (we were each assigned someone else’s word to reflect on). My assignment was to reflect on the word ROOT. One of the associations that jumped out was “long-standing friendship.” A long-standing friendship, like a long-standing tree, has deep roots, has weathered many storms, and has had good fortune.
Reflecting on this imagery, related to ROOTS, and separate from the word-of-the year assignment, I landed on a journaling prompt: What roots in your own life are long-standing? And also, what roots are tender and new? It’s spring, after all! People are planting seedlings, tiny buds are opening. Feel free to use this prompt if it sparks something in you, too.
Words unfurling across a page, a screen, scrawled in the margins and end pages, marking time, holding ambition, bright with rage, lyrical, lyrical, lyrical
Born family, brothers and sister, all of us rooted in time, in blood and DNA
Music, song, rhythm, pulse
My feet walking, running, my body in motion, powerful, strong
Friendships that hold, light in the window, light at the door, and bread, and wine, and laughter and forgive me
Performance, putting on a show
Reading, imagination’s flow
The trees themselves, and water, mud, grass under bare feet
A big appetite, hoarding, cheapness, knowing best
A quietness amidst chaotic flow
The impulse to make places home
Loneliness, fear of not belonging
Thrift against decadence, earnestness
Wanting to make people laugh, to entertain, to put at ease, and yet aloof, sharp edges
Horses, dogs, children
Memory, curiosity, mystery, questions without answers
Tender new roots
Medication to lift the load
Healing estrangements, more trust, talking about tough stuff, tender stuff too
Kids moving home and away, vegetarian meals
Big job interview, looking for work that satisfies my need to earn a living and to feel/be purposeful
Transitioning X Page workshop to a sustainable long-term project
Parenting teenagers and young adults
Spending time with little kids again, delighting in their presence
Getting reacquainted with teaching
Practicing social skills and conflict resolution
Expanding my skill set, seeing my skills as having other applications, exploring outlets for my desire to connect, create, be fruitful, self-sufficient, purposeful, to serve
Doing “the work” to counter harmful patterns and habits
Yoga and meditation—soaking it up!
Body awareness, body love, healing
Caring for elders, patience, tenderness, listening to the wisdom of elders
Honouring needs, resting, relaxing, spontaneity
Need to pack up for class and head to campus, but also wanted to write about … well … a list of things too long for one post, so to boil it down, I’ve landed on an image that’s making me grin.
Saturday morning, woke to a smell of someone cooking something in the kitchen. Went downstairs in my pjs and found three teenage boys, none belonging to me, making pancakes by committee, no lights on but the stove’s fan was going. An avid discussion was underway on when exactly to flip, were there enough bubbles, and was this first pancake cooked all the way through, turning to me to ask, what did I think? The pancake in question was definitely not cooked all the way through.
My son, their host, they told me, was still asleep. We laughed about that.
They didn’t need my help or advice, I could see, so I assured them that the pancake that wasn’t quite done wouldn’t kill anyone if eaten with maple syrup, and I continued on to the living room to do some yoga.
This image might represent the peak of my parenting joy, the pinnacle of any parenting success I dare claim. My children’s friends feel at home in our house! The pandemic temporarily robbed us of this rare and fleeting delight. My youngest is about to turn 15. I know this too shall pass, but I won’t grieve it while it’s happening, I’ll just make a note of its existence — here, and in my mind’s eye.
There are moments when one’s actual happening life feels fully integrated and aligned with one’s intentions and beliefs. This was that. (And other moments this past week, too, but this is the easiest to write about in a compressed snippet of time.)
On the soundtrack, right now: Everything is Everything by Lauryn Hill.
I’ve spent March break catching up on course-related work and preparing for a couple of presentations next week. I also worked on my taxes. But you know, the pace has been forgiving. I’ve cooked some excellent meals, walked as much as possible, rested more. I even got a haircut.
Next week, Thursday, March 23, 4PM, I’ll be giving a public lecture at Western University in London (Ontario). If you’re interested in attending, it will also be live streamed; register here. The remarks I’ve prepared feel like the culmination of all my years of experiencing life as a writer — aspiring writer, struggling writer, published writer, uncertain writer, obscure writer, hopeful writer, thankful writer. This is an opportunity to express my deep appreciation and love for the act of writing itself, which is magical, healing, and so very alive.
But I’m currently distracted by the young people passing on my sidewalk whooping and shouting and wearing tiny green hats. St Patrick’s day is here, blowing through our city despite the rain and melting shit-speckled piles of snow. Everything is everything. It really and truly is.
And after winter must come spring.
My word of the year group met last night, despite the thundersnow storm, and we did a meditative exercise — we asked our hearts a question. First, we needed to find a question. Do you really want the answer to this question? our gentle leader asked. As instructed, each of us tried to clarify our own question. And then we closed our eyes and lowered our questions down to our hearts, and let them go.
We sat in silence, meditating as we wished, for 15 minutes. At first my mind was jumping all around, trying to get the wording just right on my question. But the right wording never quite materialized, so I dropped down a plea: What do I value? What matters to me, heart? Then I tried to follow the instructions and let the question go. Goodbye question. Off you go.
I began breathing in for a count of four, retaining breath for a count of four, breathing out for a count of four, holding at the bottom of the breath for a count of four — box breath, I’ve heard this called; I’ve been practicing it off and on for over a decade. This breathing pattern helps my body to relax, which helps my mind to relax. I’ve even tried it in the middle of the night for insomnia. And it does seem to stall a spiralling of 3AM thoughts — or any version of busy-mind thoughts, relentlessly turning around and around, scrabbling for answers in the walls of the mind. Breath is powerful.
After some minutes in box breath, I saw in my mind’s eye the library where I’ve been working regularly for a few months, the desk behind which I sit. A memory from the day unfolded, and I saw a child standing at the desk. I heard our conversation. Tears flowed down my cheeks through closed eyelids. That was all. Outside my friend’s house, a neighbour with a snowblower was clearing the sidewalk; I felt comfortable and relaxed, warm, calm. When the timer chimed, I took off my glasses and wiped my face, and we wrote in our journals for a little while.
Do you trust your heart? Do I trust mine? When something unexpected invites an emotional response, do I pay attention to the cues? Does my response say more about how I’ve been socialized, my unconscious biases, my hangups and desires than about some pure and true core of self singing? I am sentimental about things that do not make me proud. For example, I habitually prefer to see myself in the role of “helper.” Is this why the library image moved me? Or was it something else — or that, but also something else?
I do like to help people. I especially like solving small problems. That’s not what this image showed me, however. I wasn’t solving a small problem, I was listening to a little story. Brief window. Glimpse. Delight and joy animating a child’s face.
I like considering that there is a “wise watcher” within me, paying attention, ever-present, not judging, not criticizing, just watching. I think this wise watcher’s calm presence supercedes my interior critic, if given the chance. With practice, I hear her voice more clearly than the clamouring cruel critic who also takes an observer’s role (the voice I connect to shame, to roiling stomach, closed-up throat). Maybe this wise watcher is connected to my heart. I would like to imagine that. The wise watcher is the calm presence in the room of the self. I would like to imagine that everyone has a wise watcher within themselves. Everyone has a quiet place of respite that belongs only to them.
In writing this out, I sense what matters to me — that I nurture the capacity to embody the wise watcher, to be a calm presence in the room. Not directing, not manipulating, not telling, not wanting, just requesting permission to be present, and to be with.
Work that invites me closer to this possibility? My heart overflows with thanks.