Friendship is on my mind.
Long-lived friendship, enduring friendship, friendship that gets through and past some hard stuff, including conflict.
It’s not a subject that we talk about much. Maybe it can seem like talking about friends is a kind of a flex, like my friends are better than your friends, or something like that. Friendship can also be a place many of us have experienced loss we don’t know how to talk about, friendships that ended or faded, and we’re not sure why. Personally, I hold a fair bit of insecurity around friendship. I was very lonely some of those high school years, and that feeling of being an outsider burrowed deep into my brain. Am I good friend or a bad friend? What’s the rule book, and am I not understanding something that I should? People won’t like me if I’m too [fill in the blank]; or if I [fill in the blank].
But that’s a limited way to frame friendship, I think (note: I’m still figuring out friendship, even though high school was a long long time ago). Friendship isn’t about getting people to like you. It’s not a popularity contest, or a competition.
It’s about finding and connecting with people whose company you enjoy, people you admire and trust and love, people you want to be with and learn from, and to whom you can offer the same in return. There’s also some mystery in friendship: timing, chemistry, mutuality. It doesn’t always click or work out. Maybe part of being a friend is being okay with the relationship changing without feeling (or, more accurately, reacting to feelings of) resentment or jealousy or hurt. (I don’t know, as I said, I’m still figuring this out.) It can help if both people have similar expectations for the friendship (this seems really important, actually, but I’ve literally never discussed this with a friend — have you?)
Do you have role models for friendship? Older people in your life who have maintained and nurtured friendships you aspire to?
A few things I’ve noticed about myself and friendship: I’m most comfortable one-on-one. I like doing an activity with a friend, rather than sitting and chatting (like going for a walk, or making food together). I like hosting parties (this has not been a viable outlet during the pandemic!). In groups, I prefer meeting with a purpose or theme (and friend groups are even harder to talk about than individual friendship). I consider my siblings my friends.
I’ve been reflecting on this subject in part because I’ve been texting with a friend’s mother, who just lost one of her closest friends, quite suddenly. She sent me this poem from Rilke, which was part of a text thread between herself and her friend. (I aspire to send poems to my friends by text.)
Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer. -Rilke
A friendship is like any other relationship that is full of love and care. It is a most dangerous thing. If you love someone, losing them will break your heart. But these relationships, no matter how dangerous, are vital, life-giving, affirming, enriching. Each of us is like a locked room, or a book written in a very foreign tongue. In friendship, we walk the questions together. We feel less alone. Every one who has been your friend, at one time or another in your life, has walked the questions with you. And there are a few we may be fortunate enough to walk with till the end.
Today I started a two-week tea-drinking ritual with my word of the year group.
Call it Word Tea. In our own homes, we make ourselves a pot of tea (or three), pour a cup, and reflect on each other’s words (and our own). It’s a way to be together, while being unable to be together (or not easily; not right now).
Today’s activity was to stand with feet firmly planted on the ground while pouring the water over the tea. I forgot. Then, later, when I remembered, I tried standing still for about a minute while the water was boiling. Instantly my mind filled up with lists of productive and useful things I could be doing. The plants on the windowsill looked dry. There was laundry in the washing machine. One minute of stillness, one minute of standing with feet solidly on the ground: how hard could it be?
Try it. Maybe it’s easy for you! I need to practice again tomorrow.
My word of the year is FEEL.
It wasn’t my first choice or really a choice at all. It was the word that showed up and kept tapping me on the shoulder. On a head-level, I wasn’t super-happy about its appearance, but my body appreciated it, I could tell. Now here it is. Do I have the courage to become more attuned to what I’m feeling? To feel what I’m feeling? The easiest place to begin is to focus on the physical sensations in the body. Often, I find, they’re offering helpful information, if only I’d pay attention. After all, emotions manifest in physical form too, so if I can learn to be attuned to what I’m feeling, I’ll be better prepared to assess and understand and respond to the emotions that arise, and come and go, ebb and flow, wanted or unwanted.
It could be hard.
I’ll start by standing for a moment with my feet on the ground.
What am I feeling? Impatience? Relief? Irritation? Restlessness? Confidence? Calm? Thirsty? Achy? Anxious? Many things all at once?
The body is where I live. It’s feeling all the time, sending out messages, causing me to react, interacting with and affecting my thoughts; I would like to recognize and respond with more clarity (and kindness, to self and to others). Here I begin: at the basics, pausing to pay attention.
The last day of the month. The last day of the year. Can I orient myself right here?
What felt good this month? Focus, Carrie, focus. I’ve just typed and erased several attempts at an opening sentence here — because they contained nothing good! Answer the question. Just answer the question. Okay, here goes. What felt good this month was a long walk and rant that started with me feeling like I was breaking down, and ended with laughter and understanding. All the walks felt good. Yoga in the morning: good. My Christmas morning sticky buns turned out. Good! Definitely taking a few small gifts and cards and offerings of food around to friends and family felt good. Hey, getting my new author photo taken felt good too, as an exercise in acceptance and maybe even celebration of aging. I also was happy with the gifts I gave and received.
What did you struggle with? Um, everything? Our Christmas plans were interrupted by friends and family testing positive for covid. I’m feeling the strain of multiple daily decisions that need to be made, as if it were on me to ascertain what’s safe for my loved ones to do or not to do. And I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I’ve been tuning out the news more; maybe that helps? It isn’t that I want to be ignorant, it’s that no one seems to know what to do, and we’re in the middle of something incomplete, with not enough data, and whether or not I pay attention right now, I’m confused, I’m perplexed, I’m baffled; as mentioned, I don’t know. Anyway, it’s freeing to pay less attention to the noise outside. I’ve got piles of books to read, and an upstairs bathroom to paint, and I’ve been drawing every day. I even wrote two new stories.
Where are you now compared to the beginning of the month? I accomplished several goals set at the beginning of December, including cleaning and organizing the whole house (or most of it!); and finishing half of a major writing project, though the other half remains in limbo; but I never did spend an entire day lying on the couch and reading. The difference from the beginning of the month to now seems largely to do with the pandemic, and how that affects my ability to plan ahead. I just can’t. It’s a funny way to stand on the cusp of a new year, but I also feel strangely at peace with it. My writing projects can continue. Loving my family can continue. Connecting with my friends can continue. For now, for today, and tomorrow, that’s enough.
How did you take care of yourself? This is always a trickier question over the holidays, when routines fall off. I haven’t been running much this month. Walks, yoga, texting friends, a few more phone calls than usual. I blissed out on the feeling of gratitude and thankfulness: I’ve felt it so powerfully this year, and it seems to be growing stronger and stronger. I played the piano and sang. I listened to music and drew a daily cartoon. When I reached my breaking point(s), some wonderful safety measures kicked in, and I took care of myself, instinctively. Sometimes the mind wants to enjoy wallowing — like, it feels good to feel bad — but the body knows better. Go for a walk. Stretch. Let yourself feel. I’m grateful for all the groundwork laid that helped me to stand when some part of me wanted to sink, sulk, and drown in self-pity.
What would you most like to remember? Keep kneading and all the butter will get incorporated into the dough, even though it seems impossible! Also, I’d like to keep feeling my feelings. Even the ones that make me feel just a bit out of control. Calm is good, and it makes me feel good about myself; but other emotions are welcome here, too. Can I let myself feel excitement, for example? One other thing I’ve noticed: I love crying over a good story. Almost nothing makes me happier.
My birthday dinner: Angus made veggie lasagna and Flora baked two pumpkin pies (not pictured). What could be better?
What do you need to let go of? Last month, in answer to this question, I wrote: Control, control, control. This month, I think: hey, I’ve definitely let go of that, at least right now. I feel as if I’ve surrendered to the moment, which is a moment in time I can’t make sense nor get ahold of, and I’m just letting things be as they are. How about this: I need to let go of saying yes when I really mean no. Bring on the whole-hearted yes, the full-of-gratitude yes; and when I know it’s a no, let me stand whole and complete and trust that someone else will be able to fill whatever space I’m leaving. I need to let go of performing, and pay attention to what’s calling from deep inside.
May your new year be blessed! Thank you, ever so much, for reading along.
The last time I did this exercise was at the end of April (I’d just gotten my first dose of vaccine, and we were in full lockdown in Ontario, kids home from school, nowhere to go, almost all connections happening online). Anyway, at the end of May, I just forgot to check in, and by the time I’d remembered, it was the middle of summer. And now summer is over. Seems like a good time to take the temperature.
What felt good this month? At the beginning of September, we were still at the cottage. I was blissed out and unconnected from the “real world”; the re-entry back to school, children moving out, work commitments was steep, brisk, and sometimes brutal. But I’ve kept some important habits from the cottage days, especially habits of mind and routine. I do yoga every morning. And I’ve been establishing boundaries around my working hours, recognizing how important it is to say “this is a day for catching up on reading,” or “this is a writing week,” or “Sunday is for resting.” So it’s been a productive month. Best of all, I’ve been able to run regularly, and without pain. I do not take this for granted! I savour every stride. (Blog post on this to come!)
What did you struggle with? Changes, changes, changes. Kids growing up. How to be a supportive parent to teenagers. Plus the usual ever-needed inner work to address self-doubt, anxiety, fears. But I’ve been more deliberate about talking to a counsellor, journaling, and saying the hard parts out loud, and that’s helping. It also helped to listen to several recent On Being podcasts, including one with Stephen Batchelor called “Finding Ease in Aloneness,” where he talked about never being finished. That idea was oddly comforting to me. If I don’t have to worry about getting to some imaginary finish line, I’m free to enjoy the scenery.
Where are you now compared to the beginning of the month? I’m not at the cottage, but even here at home, I’ve been careful not to overload my plate, and I’m feeling relaxed. I have time to do the things that matter to me. I’m meeting deadlines. I’m taking concrete, practical steps to make certain dreams a reality. I’m cooking excellent homemade meals using fresh veggies from our CSA boxes. I’m reaching out to people who matter to me. Cases here in Ontario, and locally, remain low. I’m cautiously optimistic that vaccines and other measures are helping, a lot, and my outlook is: let’s enjoy what we’ve got while we’ve got it.
How did you take care of yourself? In so many ways! A highlight this month has been early morning back yard yoga with my friend Kasia (check out her in-person and online offerings this fall!). Am I binging on self-care? So be it. I’m calmer, kinder, more compassionate, and I see that daily in my interactions with my kids and others. I’ve been thinking that care / self-care really is a practice. It has the potential to extend into everything you do. For example, on this morning’s run, I passed a woman who was smoking, and my first thought was judgemental, pretty harsh and self-righteous if I’m being perfectly honest, something along the lines of you’d be much happier and healthier if you’d just quit smoking and try running; and then I thought, what if instead of this judgement, I poured out care onto this stranger, even just in my thoughts? What if I thought toward her, this stranger, you are worthy, exactly as you are. Oddly, it boomeranged back, and I felt kinder toward myself too. You are worthy echoed through my thoughts, for her, for myself.
What would you most like to remember? That I live in an imperfect country, on stolen land, where for 150+ years it was government policy to forcibly remove Indigenous children from their families to live in residential “schools” under the pretence of education, and with the aim of destroying family connections, and eradicating Indigenous cultures and languages (thankfully, these cultures and languages survived, which speaks to their resilience, to the depths of their roots). But the abuse, the cruelty, the deliberate ignorance, the greed, the evil … this is Canada’s legacy, too, as much as we want to imagine ourselves tolerant, prosperous, peaceful, and open-minded. Let’s be honest about who we are! The reverberations are ongoing. There’s too much to say here, and I’m not the one to be saying it, but it’s what I want to remember, every day, and especially today: the first time Canada is marking a National Day of Truth and Reconciliation. I’m home alone, thinking about what Canadians could learn, and how our country could be changed, even healed, if we listened.
What do you need to let go of? I need to let go of my fear of being judged. Of being wrong. Of getting something wrong. I need to accept that I will definitely, absolutely, guaranteed get some things wrong, especially when stepping outside my comfort zone. Okay. Exhale. I don’t want to live in my comfort zone. I want to be broken open, to see the world through others’ eyes, to connect, to learn, to care more not less. Oh how I hate doing something, anything wrong. But if I give in to self-loathing and perfectionism, I’m paralyzed. I’d rather try than hide.
PS I highly recommend taking the virtual tour at the Mohawk Institute Indian Residential School, which is facilitated by the Woodland Cultural Centre. It’s an eye-opening walk through the longest-running residential school in Canada’s history, located in Brantford, Ontario. (Or donate to them; the educational work they’re doing is heart-rending and invaluable.)
CBC Radio is also running programming all day today, so listening to Indigenous voices and stories is as easy as turning on your radio, or you can stream it online through the link.
artwork by Tarunima Mittal
For the past three years, I’ve been a part of a storytelling project that aims to foster connections between immigrant and refugee women in our region and the local arts community. The multidisciplinary workshop is named after the Lynda Barry writing exercise we use to find our way into the writing process: The X Page. Over twelve weeks, a group of women meets to write and revise original stories, collaborate on animating these stories through performance and artwork, and finally, to perform the stories for an audience.
This season, we’ve been transported by necessity into a virtual space, which has nevertheless felt like shared space, with room to explore, make connections, to listen, laugh, cry. For me, that’s the key to the whole project: to get to be taken inside someone else’s world, to hear what matters to them, the “little things” they’ve kept or lost along the way, and the themes to which they find themselves returning.
Lynda Barry’s exercise opens many pathways to the heart.
The trust involved in this process is immense. Each workshop session, I’m filled with gratitude for everyone’s efforts, kindness, generosity, and presence. This year, I’m working as the project’s coordinator, which involves me in almost every aspect of behind-the-scenes planning. We are in the homestretch now!!!! The performance will be live on the evening of Wednesday, July 7th, 7PM. Mark your calendars, register to attend (tickets are free, but registration is required), please come and please share news of this workshop with your friends.
The stories are beautiful. The art is beautiful. The connections are beautiful.
We chose the title “Little Things” for this season’s performance because the stories revolve around seemingly small moments, singular scenes, objects that have been kept and carried across borders, or lost along the way; and because even a little thing — held, cherished, and shared — is imbued with depth, meaning, promise, truth.
A story is a little thing. An offering. It is an invitation. Listen. Here I am. Here is something I’ve kept all this time, that matters to me, that I’ve carried all this way; do you see, do you understand? A story is a powerful little thing. Powerful good.
- What felt good this month? This month has been a haze. What’s felt good in the past week or so is getting outside to run in the park, early in the morning. Delighting in the capacity of my body to run, to take deep breaths, to move. And yesterday, I got my first dose of vaccine. That felt nerve-wracking but real: a dose of hope. I’m loving the X Page workshop sessions: it feels like such a gift right now, when our province is locked down, being part of these intimate, meaningful conversations as new stories get discovered, told and shaped. Sometimes I think that’s my life’s calling — it’s not writing after all, but witnessing, creating structures that invite deep listening and telling, discovery and connection: sharing storytelling skills. Other things that felt good: Friday night games night (online) with my sibs and their partners; and, just in the past week, reconnecting with friends, after some weeks of feeling too down and inward even to try.
- What did you struggle with? Everything? We are locked down in Ontario, and will be for the next month or so. My mood swings daily, hourly. I feel like I’m possibly going crazy and a few minutes later, I feel fine. Sometimes I can’t bear to open email or problem-solve a single thing. But usually if I push past the feeling and just attempt the task, I can do it, I can manage just fine. The word “languishing” is floating around right now. Yup. That’s about right.
- Where are you now compared to the beginning of the month? At the beginning of the month, dread was in the air: the signs of a disastrous rise in cases were all around us, but somehow, the kids were still going to school and we were able to visit friends outdoors in what felt like relatively normal social situations. By mid-month, that ended. I channelled my rage toward decision-makers into making a bunch of phone calls to politicians to argue for a sufficient safety net and protections for those people most affected by the pandemic’s surge. That felt cathartic. I won a small grant to research a project I’m working on. But, but, but … I’m struggling with changes, combined with a sense of stagnancy amidst the onrush of passing time. It was hard to say goodbye to my eldest, who moved out to a new apartment. His room looks really empty at the end of the hallway.
- How did you take care of yourself? The usual. Meditation, yoga, writing, drawing, X Page meetings, texting friends, journaling, getting outside, exercise, stretching, preparing and eating good food. Not stressing over the messy state of the house. Watching shows with Kevin: Call My Agent; Le Bureau; and right now, Shtisel. My daily routine can feel a bit stale at times, but it keeps me going: the alarm goes off early, and I get up and the day begins, and that is good. “Why am I doing this?” I asked myself one early morning this week. “Because you can!” I replied. Gratitude. Loving engagement.
- What would you most like to remember? That I am blessed. That my resources run deep. That I can ask for help, if I need it. That not everything can be fixed, but brokenness isn’t a flaw; can even deepen compassion, and understanding.
- What do you need to let go of? Fear of failure. This hampers me almost more than I bear to admit. My answer to this question last month was so wise, I want to hold onto it: “Outcomes,” I wrote. “Process is so much more valuable than outcomes.” When my fear of failure rises, I get stuck on the holy grail of outcomes, which invites judgement, comparison, and demands quantifiables. Is it possible to live more freely? Maybe I need to let go of my idea of myself as a writer, or my idea of what that looks like, and how my experience compares. I’m attracted to the idea of a calling; maybe I need to let go of that too. What does a purposeful life look like? I long to be a “good” person, but what does that mean? Does fear of judgement, of getting things wrong, stop me from responding with my full heart — stop me from being a person who listens deeply, who responds with care, and who can laugh at herself because she loves herself, flaws, failures, and all?
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