Purpose and Clarity

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Hello, friends. It’s been a few weeks; the past month has been a marathon for me and my family, but we’ve crossed the finish line and now we’re trying to regain our footing and establish some routine. The farmer’s market is winding down and the brilliant golden leaves are beginning to fall from the birch and aspen. Last night I saw an arctic hare in our yard, its ears and paws already snowy white; the season is changing fast.

School is back in and I’m back to my weekly writing dates with myself. I realized, though, that I wasn’t protecting this time firmly enough before. When I was doing this back in the late winter and spring, I would schedule appointments for hair cuts or a massage, or long, leisurely lunch dates with my girlfriends. I feel a clearer sense of purpose, now, and I realize that those things, while important, have to be scheduled outside of this writing time. This writing time is mine, and it is sacred and precious and if I want to take myself seriously as a writer and poet–and I do–then I have to treat this like my job.

It’s good to feel this clarity, and also scary. I still struggle to tell people I write; even harder to tell them I write *gulp* poetry! But I turned 34 earlier this week, and I’ve decided it’s time to stop dancing around the edges of this thing. I am so grateful to be in a position to be able to really focus on my poetry: my partner is incredibly supportive and keeps telling me “if you want to write, then just write!”; our business makes it possible for me to choose not to work outside of the home; my kids are gaining independence.

It all comes down to me. That’s the hard part, I suppose.

I’m currently doing a revision course called Polish Your Poetry and Prose, with a wonderful editor from Room Magazine, Rachel Thompson, via her site We Are Lit Writers. I recently learned that one of my poems will be published in an anthology about sexual assault, through the University of Regina Press, and that my work has been shortlisted for publication at The Maynard. These things add up, and convince me that I can do this. That I am doing this.

This year I want to finish my chapbook about mothering and PPD in the bush, and begin trying to get it published. This year, I want to write regularly, no excuses. This year, I want to attend a writer’s conference. This year, I want to do more public readings. This year, I will get a proper author photo and print business cards that say “poet” next to my name.

Mostly, though, I will do the work of writing. Showing up to the page, writing new poems, revising old ones, reading, reading, reading, and submitting.

 

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Imperfect Impermanence

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I think Aedan is really struggling with his dad being gone right now, and it manifests in him treating the rest of us like crap. Lots of name calling, hitting, toy throwing…it’s a challenge for me to keep in mind that it’s because he’s having a hard time. Yesterday morning, after unending insults and fighting, I loaded everyone up in the truck with the plan to drive out to Tombstone Territorial Park.

The drive wasn’t any better than the morning at home. Lately, whenever I get the kids into the truck, they do nothing but bicker. Is this a thing siblings do on car rides? Someone always complaining loudly that someone else is bothering them, touching them, took their thing, bit them…I have, on more than one occasion, threatened to “pull this truck over right now” or “turn around and go right back home”, even though we all know full well I’m not going to do that. Who have I become?

I’ve become a woman doing her best to keep her shit together, I guess. We arrived at the Interpretive Center and hit the trail to the beaver pond. It was overcast, the sky low and moody over mountains just on the verge of fall brilliance. The dog wouldn’t stop pulling on the leash. The kids alternated by running ahead on the path and running up to hug the dog, and then we’d all get tripped up. I’d step on the dog’s paw and he’d yelp and then I’d stumble over a kid and they’d yelp and then I’d yelp at everyone to get out of my way. Fun times, right?

We got to the bench by the beaver pond and immediately everyone asked for a snack. The snacks I bring are never what they want and there is never enough. Still, I tried to relax and take in the surroundings, tried to be present even if that meant fully existing in a moment of kids and dog tugging at my limbs. It was not relaxing, but sometimes that’s just the way it goes. At least we were out of the house.

On the walk back to the Interpretive Center, where the path skirted the highway, I could see three young women hitch hiking together further north. They had big packs on their backs, the hoods of their Gortex jackets drawn tight over their heads. They chatted and laughed, the one in the middle clutching a cardboard sign with their destination written on it. I thought of all the adventures I never had, will never have. Slipped out of the moment and into longing for a life that is not mine. Charlotte tripped over a root and fell, and I went to comfort her. The dog, forever tugging on the leash.

We arrived back at the truck and I loaded Winston into the back before we went into the center. It was relatively busy in there. The boys went to play with the animal puppets; Charlotte sat down to colour. I poured myself a cup of tea (labrador tea leaves, yarrow and cranberries) and sat in front of the blazing woodstove. Here. I’m here. This is my family, this is my life.

The irritation I’d felt on the path subsided. It was cozy inside, the kids were happy. As we left, it started to rain a little. I passed those women on the highway, silently wishing them a ride soon. I felt grateful to be dry and heading home.

Lest you think the day was perfect after that: I yelled at the kids to be quiet on the drive home. While I was changing the oil in the generator, the dog decided to become a car chaser and not come when I called him. I cried. I wanted very much to drink the bottle of wine my friend left here in case of emergency.  But I also didn’t want to drink the bottle of wine. I made tea instead. Aedan saw me crying and told me he cared about me. And then I texted with P about how I was feeling and he just listened and didn’t try to fix it and that felt good. And then our friends came to visit and had dinner with us and by the time they left, things were better.

As I headed up to bed with the kids, I was reminded that it all passes. The moods, mine and the kids’, rise and fall like waves, drift like clouds in the sky, whatever metaphor you prefer. Nothing lasts forever. This difficult moment in my life, the bad mornings, the bad days, the sadness: they pass. I don’t have to be the uncomfortable feelings. I don’t have to believe the shitty things my mind tells me, or act on them.

This morning we all woke up in a better mood. We’ll go to the pool, we’ll visit our friends, I’ll make pizza for dinner. I may or may not yell at everyone to be quiet when we drive to town. It can’t all be perfect.

Flying Solo

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I’m going to be solo-parenting for the next little while, and so far the experience has brought a few things forward for me. First is a deep appreciation for all that my partner does in the running of our household. I sometimes feel resentment because the childcare falls primarily to me. But now that I also must monitor our water and fill the water tank weekly, keep the generator fueled and its oil changed, clean up the kitchen after I cook, find someone to buck up a cord of firewood, find more firewood…I really see just how much he does. Even the little things, like starting a fire in the early, chill hours of the morning, putting on the birch because I love how it smells: I see them and appreciate them now more than ever.

Last night, when I came home late from work, I got the fire going again so it would be warm when we woke up today. Crouched in front of the stove, breathing life into the flames, watching them lick up the kindling that I’d split in the yard a few days earlier, I felt so grateful to the friends helping me through. Who not only babysit my children but clean my house, too. Who take my kids to the park so I can write (or, you know, run some errands unaccompanied), or who give up their weekend so I can go to work.

I felt grateful for this whole experience. In the last week, I’ve learned skills that I never made time for before. I feel empowered and independent again, something I have missed since getting married and starting a family. It was easy to give over all these running-of-the-home tasks to him. But I would also feel frustrated if they needed to be done, and I had time but lacked the knowledge. I used to worry: what if something happened to my partner and I had to keep this place going on my own? It’s hard for me to ask for help. It’s hard for me to be dependant on another. And this experience has challenged both of those things. Leaning on my friends for help with the kids, while gaining a measure of independence at home. I can now do almost all of the things that I’d previously boxed up as “blue jobs.” (I know, super sexist.) The only thing I’d like to learn is how to run the chainsaw. That will have to wait, for now.

I’m grateful for all the hard work I’ve done in the last two years to learn how to better take care of myself. I know those skills will be essential in the coming weeks. I’m down to bare-bones self-care, but I try to savour it. Making time for meditation when I can. Not worrying about writing and polishing poems, but instead focusing on 10 minute freewrites, just to keep my hand moving across the page. Taking some extra time in the shower, even. I’m grateful we have a dog that forces us out for a walk, and that there’s no cell signal in the woods. It’s an hour where I’m far away from my phone.

The season is turning abruptly here. We had a week of uncomfortable, dry heat. Each afternoon, it would reach 35 degrees celcius in the sun. Then: cool mornings and the leaves of the birch and aspen turning golden and brown. One night, strong winds blew much of the leaves down, at least around our place. Geese gather, ready for the long flight south. My thoughts turn to the woodpile, to soups and stews and home-baked bread; to checking which kid needs new boots this winter, or a new coat, and actually trying to be prepared for that (because I’m never prepared for that). I pulled the big duvet out last night and put it on the bed. It’s cozy with the kids in there, too, and for once, I’m glad we still co-sleep.

I’m going to try and keep up with my weekly posting here, but if I miss a week or two, please know life is busy right now and I’m okay! You can find me sporadically on Twitter, and more frequently on Instagram (my account is private, so if you want to follow and we don’t know each other IRL, just send me a DM) and Facebook. Take care, friends!

Reclaiming My Time

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Did you guys see that clip of U.S. Congresswoman Maxine Waters? In it, she asks a direct question of a colleague. His non-response is an attempt to flatter and distract her from the serious issue at hand. She speaks over him, repeating: “reclaiming my time. Reclaiming my time. Reclaiming my time.” It’s awesome.

Across the internet, her words are being held up as a rally point for women and other minority folks to reclaim their time and power from those who would keep them oppressed. The phrase “reclaiming my time” has been stuck in my head since I watched the video, too, and it’s come to have significance for me in a slightly different way (though I’m pretty sure I could make an argument for the overarching forces of capitalism controlling my time.)

I’ve got a smartphone addiction. Who doesn’t, right? How is it that a thing that wasn’t a part of my life four years ago has since become such an enormous part of it? Five years ago, I was proud that I didn’t have a smartphone. When I visited “the big city”, I would shake my head at folks who kept checking their phones. I grumbled under my breath at family gatherings when phones would slip out of pockets, when loved ones would send a quick text in the middle of a conversation or check sports scores or Facebook. And now, I’m that person. And if I’m not actively checking my phone, I’m thinking about it. It’s ridiculous and I’m tired of it.

But in the four years that I’ve had this thing, it’s become indispensable to me. How else would I let my sister know that one of the kids just pooped their pants? How else would I let a friend know I saw a thing that made me think of them? How would I let everyone know I’m sitting on the riverbank in the sun? Is life even happening if I can’t simultaneously document and share it?

An addiction is a behaviour you persist in even though you are aware of the negative consequences. When I’m glued to my phone, I’m less patient with my children. How dare you interrupt my reading this Buzzfeed list of 25 Things Only Kids Who Grew Up in the 90’s Will Understand?! I’ve said it before but when I’m paying attention to my phone and not my kids, they have to try even harder to get my attention, leading to “bad” behaviour, leading to me yelling at them, leading to me getting frustrated and overwhelmed and checking out even more on my phone. Repeat forever.

I also wonder, and think I’ve wondered this here in the past, how much more I’d get done if it weren’t for my smartphone. Yesterday morning I woke up way too early with a sore back, but instead of sitting on the couch scrolling through my Facebook feed, which is what I would usually do, I stretched my back with a few yoga poses, meditated for 15 minutes, wrote in my journal and started reading a new book of poetry. All in an hour! And when I did eventually check Facebook, it was still mostly full of boring and useless information that I don’t actually need.

How many minutes in a day do I spend tending to my phone? What do I miss, what inspiration, what opportunity to just sit quietly and let my brain mull things over? A big part of writing and creativity is just having mental downtime. With my smartphone, I am constantly engaged in something, whether it’s the news cycle or the lives of my friends, acquaintances and favourite internet personalities. I’m missing that critical downtime my mind needs to wander and dream.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t just put my phone down once I’ve accomplished what I first picked it up to do. I can’t just send a text or read one article. Eventually, I find myself seeking out more things to keep myself occupied, visiting blog sites I rarely visit, or checking Instagram’s explore tab. Some days I have so much screen time that I feel, oddly, like the only way to fix it is with more screen time. Like that archaic punishment where your mom catches you smoking and she makes you smoke a whole pack, the idea being it makes you so sick you’ll never do it again. Except I keep doing it. I feel powerless to this fucking thing and I’m so tired of it.

It might be a watering down of the original intent of the message, but I want to reclaim my time and my power from this flashy, sleek, fits-in-my-hand-so-well device. I want to be in control of it, not the other way around. It’s going to mean a lot of self-discipline (not my strong suit). It’s going to mean a pause before I reach for it, and it’s going to mean staying connected to my original intent when I do use it.

What’s your smartphone usage like? Have you got a magic formula for not letting it be the boss of you? Please, tell us your secret in the comments!

 

Quilled

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We’ve recently fostered and adopted a 5 year old Husky named Winston. He’s a big baby who just wants to be around his people. We all love him; it’s really nice to have a dog again. But having a dog and living in the bush comes with its share of hazards, porcupines being one of them.

Earlier this week, I took Winston and the kids out for a trail walk. Now that he’s familiar with us and knows where home is, we leave him off leash. This particular day, he hung back, barking at something I hoped was squirrels. Eventually, he caught up to us and we finished our walk. When we got home, he went right back to the same spot, barking and sniffing around. I went to check it out: down towards the back of our clearing is a bunch of old rotting stuff–building materials, truck tires, and windows. He had something trapped in a big jumble of plywood. I looked around but couldn’t see anything, so I left him there and headed back up to the house to see what the kids were up to and get to some yard work that needed to be done. The barking intensified though, so I grabbed his leash and headed back down, figuring I’d bring him up to the house and secure him so that whatever was trapped could leave peacefully.

I was too late.

By the time I got to him, he was rolling around on the ground, yelping. Poor baby had a mouthful of porcupine quills. I took him back up to the house, put him on his line in the yard, and went inside to figure out what to do. I put a show on for the kids to keep them occupied, found a pair of needle nose pliers, and went out to see if I could do this myself. There weren’t too many, maybe fifteen to twenty quills, mostly in his lips and gums, with a few under his tongue. I held him between my legs, pried his mouth open with one hand, and got to work. With a few breaks, I managed to pull nine quills myself before he’d had enough. He wouldn’t hold still long enough for me to get at the rest of them, especially the ones under his tongue. I needed help.

I sent a text to Paul, who was in town, asking him to call the vet and find out if he was available. Our vet here is what I would call a “country vet”. He can immunize dogs and perform simple surgeries. He doesn’t have an x-ray machine and he works out of the front of his home. Paul got back to me to say that John was in town and heading home to meet me in thirty minutes. I loaded up the kids and the dog, and away we went.

John was waiting for us when we got there. I left the kids in their car seats with books and toys, and brought Winston into the cramped and cluttered front office. After weighing him, I heaved him up onto the metal exam table. John sedated him and he fell heavy against me. I lay him down on the table and held his mouth open so the vet could remove the remainder of the quills, only five or six. Before long I was carrying my dopey pup out to the truck to head back home, with instructions to keep him on leash for the rest of the day.

John said he figures there are two kinds of dogs: the first kind gets quilled and thinks, “that hurt! I won’t ever touch that animal again!” and the second kind gets quilled and thinks, “ouch, he got me this time, but I’m gonna get him next time!”

Let’s all cross our fingers that Winston is the first kind of dog.