Doing it Anyway

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I wasn’t sure if I’d write today. I’ve started a new course with Rachel Thompson, Lit Mag Love, which focuses on refining your approach to publishing in literary magazines. I’ve been working on that this morning, with this blog post nagging at the back of my mind.

In the last two weeks, I’ve felt my seasonal depression creeping in. The sun takes a little longer to rise, now; the leaves have all dropped and the hillsides are bare and grey. Some mornings, there is ice on the pond near our house and the woodstove is going almost all the time. I find the days are more work. It is work just to maintain some equanimity: I feel sadness out of nowhere. I acknowledge it and I try not to let it take over my day. I focus hard on engaging with the kids, on coming to the page and writing each day, on going to the yoga class I signed up for, on reading and on stepping away from social media when it’s too much. It is real work to do each of these things.

It helps to have a name for the thing, and a box to put it in. This is seasonal. This is because there is a lack of sunlight. This is not my fault. I will do all of the things that I know might help me: vitamin D, exercise, light box therapy, maybe talk therapy.

I’ll continue to focus on my writing life. Tomorrow I have a FaceTime appointment with someone who is editing my chapbook manuscript. We’ll talk about her suggestions and my hopes for the work. Next week we’re doing another spoken word open mic at the Westminster, and I’ll read some of my new poems. Last week, in Whitehorse, I went to an art opening and poetry reading and connected a little with the very active writing community there. I’ve decided to do that as much as I’m able. Each of these things gives me a bubble of anxiety, a flutter in my tummy that suggests I don’t belong, I’m not good enough, I’m a big faker. I take a few breaths and do the thing anyway.

It’s a strange place for me to be in, and feels quite new: to be fully conscious of what’s happening internally but not to be swept up in its tide. I’m curious but also apprehensive about this new place. Can I let these feelings exist in me and still continue to do the work of living? So far, I am.

For now, the early morning fog has lifted. The sun is shining through my window, warming me. I’m off to get something to eat before the live video portion of my course begins. I hope you’re doing well with whatever life has sent your way.

 

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Resistance

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I feel it when I sit down to meditate each morning (something I’ve been able to maintain for almost a month now!) My mind does anything it can to get away from just being still for 20 minutes. I think about the things I have to do that day or the things I did yesterday. I have imaginary conversations, sometimes over and over. I nod off. I glance down at the timer on my phone, wondering how much longer I’ve got to go.

I realized I do the same thing with writing, and how strange that is. These two things that I love, that I have struggled to make a regular part of my life, and when I sit down to do them: my mind runs.

I currently have 5 different tabs open on my laptop. There is a grader sitting outside on the street, idling, and it’s bothering me. I check Instagram on my phone to see if anyone liked the picture I just posted. I text my partner. Even this blog post feels like avoidance of the chapbook manuscript I intend to edit this morning.

We all do this, I know. Maybe it’s that the distractions are safe and easy. Like I’m not going to fuck up my internet browsing, right? But I could really do some damage with that manuscript…and then there’s all the rejection I might face when I try to put it out there.

Moving through it, through the fear and the resistance, is hard. But my morning meditation sessions, where I just sit on the cushion through all of it and stubbornly keep coming back to my breath, help prepare me for all the pushing away I do through the rest of the day. I know this feeling, so strong it’s a physical skin crawl, shoulders shudder feeling. I know I won’t die if I just sit it out, just keep coming back to the page, over and over.

What are you resisting these days, and how do you manage to come back?

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.

 

Off Track

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We’ve had a hot, dry summer so far, and my pots are suffering for it. I’m great with houseplants, but I tend to let my outdoor plants languish in the sun. I see the flowers drop, the foliage hanging limp over the side of the pot, and I’m guilted into watering. I’m not sure why I can’t manage to pour a little water in each day, but that’s how it is. A few days ago, as I was watering two pots that I was pretty sure were past saving (they came back, though!) I realized this is an accurate metaphor for my writing practice.

As much as I want to make writing a daily practice, I neglect it. I go through regular periods of drought that are not so much writer’s block as they are my own refusal to just come to the page and write. These days, I’m caught between being too busy and feeling like I need dedicated time to draft or polish poems. Once again, I’ve forgotten the simplicity of journaling and freewriting, and I’m telling myself the same old story of “if I can’t have it just right, I won’t have it at all.” That is not how to build a daily writing practice.

Going too long between watering causes plants to go into distress. Most plants can’t thrive if they are constantly going through that kind of stress every few days. This is the same for my writing practice: the longer I go between writing, even writing just a few minutes a day, the harder it feels to come back to it. I start to doubt myself, even if it’s just been a few days. If I don’t keep up some kind of daily putting-words-on-page regimen, I go into survival mode. The new blooms of words in my mind close up in self-preservation and then when I finally tend to them, it’s too late.

A week ago, I was telling myself that this new job was the problem. I’ve started serving in a restaurant 2 or 3 nights a week, and though the kitchen closes at 10, it can be 11 before I’m on the road home. Tack on a 30 minute drive and some time to decompress before bed, and my nights are pretty late. The next day I’m trying to stay engaged with the kids while keeping myself going on a steady stream of caffeine and carbs (which I think cancel each other out but whatever, it gets me through). It can be hard to focus my brain on writing. Or that’s what I tell myself. I tell myself that maybe the job has to go.

But the job makes me feel good. Having work outside of the house is another piece of the puzzle that is my mental well-being. Since starting back to work, I find myself more patient with the kids. I don’t feel so trapped. I like working as part of a team, I enjoy getting feedback for the work I do, and I love food service. The job is not the problem.

The problem is my always waiting for conditions to be perfect before I can let myself write, which, at its heart, is just a load of self-sabotaging b.s.  Thankfully, I’m getting quicker and quicker at wising up to this fact, and maybe someday, I’ll just live it, without any slips.

The problem is also in my hands right now: my smartphone, on which I am finishing this post because the wifi in my office isn’t working. If I approached my writing practice with the same devotion I do stalking social media and news blogs, well, I would probably have a book length collection of poems ready to publish. Or, at the very least, a steady, thriving writing practice.

So here’s to getting back on track, and watering the damn pots before they all die.

 

Putting Myself in the Way

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When I first came to Dawson City twelve (!) years ago, I was struck by the different birds I saw. A sparrow wasn’t just a plain old sparrow anymore: it had a bold black and white striped head, and a beautiful song belted out from tree tops. Ducks were more than just mallards. Tiny, bright yellow birds flitted among the willows. I felt a desire to know them, to name them, and so my love of bird watching began. I got myself a field guide and a better pair of binoculars, and over the following five or six years, I became a bit of a bird lady.

I used to spend an afternoon sitting on a sandy spot of riverbank, my binoculars in hand. I watched the bank swallows skim bugs; watched a common merganser teach her ducklings how to dive; once saw a bald eagle defend its catch from gulls. Hikes to the Moosehide Slide, or on the trails in Tombstone Park, always included my binoculars, swinging around my neck. I started writing a bird column for The Klondike Sun, and friends would come to me with their bird queries: “What’s this little brown bird I see at my feeder? The one with the stripes?” Bird watching was a part of how I came to define myself; when people saw an interesting bird, they thought of me.

On a trip to Mexico, weeks pregnant with Aedan, my friends and I went on a bird watching tour. We rose at dawn to be collected by our guide, and went out on a boat in a mangrove swamp. We saw something like fifty different species of bird that morning. Four or five different herons, frigate birds, cormorants, ibis, scarlet tanager, vermilion flycatcher, to name just a few. It was one of my last great bird outings, before having kids.

After having kids, birdwatching was one of the first things to go.

It’s hard to wear binoculars with a sleeping infant carried on your chest. And toddlers are not known for being quiet, or sitting in one spot for hours so mama can watch the birds. I let it go, like I did writing, reading, and hiking. I wasn’t sure if or when I’d pick it up again; a casualty of the intense early years of parenting, I suppose.

Lately though, like the other passions I let fall by the wayside, I feel an eagerness to get back to it. These past few weeks, with the spring migrants making their way through, I’ve had some exciting incidental sightings: a sharp tailed grouse displaying in our yard, its wings held out to the sides, thrumming; a bald eagle gliding over the driveway where we were playing; ducks, so many and varied ducks in the ponds we pass on our drive to town. The ducks were the tipping point for me. I just could not stand that I didn’t know them, that I couldn’t name them. I decided then and there to put myself in the way of bird watching again.

I’ve been putting myself in the way of poetry again, too, looking for poems just as I look for birds. Making sure to read some poetry every day. Committing to working on new poems, to writing down the ideas and lines that come to me, following different threads like I follow a bird sighted in my binoculars. In the past month or so, I’ve organized a poetry reading with Whitehorse poet Joanna Lilley. I’ve read at an open mic and have committed to read at two more in the coming months. I’m working on some poems to complete the chapbook manuscript I’ve been thinking of for the last year. If I let my vision go soft-focus, if I leap just a second before thinking, I find that I’m pulled in the direction of poetry, of a writing life.

Two days ago, out for a walk in the woods with Colm and Charlotte, what I think was a boreal owl flew over head, a pair of robins in pursuit. I wanted a closer look, but of course, I didn’t have my binoculars with me. The following day, as we got ready for our walk, I took my binocs off the hook by the door. I dusted off the glass, and slung them around my neck. Where we rested, while the kids threw rocks, I watched a yellow rumped warbler move from tree to tree, spotted a say’s phoebe (a bird I’d never seen before). It was exhilarating! It struck me how easy it is to pick up again. How easy it is, now that I don’t have to wear all the babies, to take the binoculars with me. How easy it is to sit and observe not just my kids, but the birds, too. I just have to open myself to it, to the birds all around me, the inspiration all around me.

To practice birdwatching, poetry, running, whatever it is, requires effort and discipline, yes. It is a choosing, every time, to do that thing over not doing it. But I’m also learning that it’s a matter of repositioning, if that makes sense, like an adjustment a chiropractor would make, so that things align again. The more I do this, choose these things, the more I put myself in the way of my passions, the easier it will be to get swept away by them.