In Spite Of

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July. This is it, the few brief months of warmth and wild growth and freedom and endless days. We are in the middle of it and tipping ever so slightly towards cold and dark but mostly just sweating in thirty degree heat, hanging out at the river bank or at the edges of tailing ponds, dipping our feet in the icy cold water and letting the delicious chill of it give us goosebumps. These are the days of working two jobs, squeezing in friends and family and maybe even some sleep. These are the days of wildflowers and mountain climbing and new friends and live music and festivals. It’s all happening, as it does every summer, and it should be great. Mostly, it is.

But the last two weeks, since the solstice, I suppose, I’ve been in a real funk. I’ve learned enough by now to know that this doesn’t mean THE END of happy days, but rather that it’s a bump in a very long road. That doesn’t make it any easier, though. For the last two weeks I’ve been saying such mean things to myself. I’ve stopped putting cream on my feet so that deep cracks have opened on my heels and it hurts every time I take a step. I’m so thirsty, and I tell myself to drink some water, and I don’t drink the water. Maybe I have some more tea because I’m so tired because I’m staying up too late and not getting enough sleep so I need caffeine to buoy me.

The fact that all of this was happening while my wonderful parents were visiting, while the wildflowers bloom, while life continues to happen around me, is such an insult. And it feels so shameful. How dare I feel like shit? One more thing to add to the nasty things I would say to myself. Stupid. Fat. Ugly. Talentless. And then: Ungrateful. Ouch.

I let it all build up for a while. I mentioned it to a close friend, and to my husband. But otherwise I smiled my way through it (or maybe not, I’m sure my mom knew something was up. Hi, Mom!) If I’ve learned anything in the last few years, it is to have patience with these things. I could feel tears dammed up inside of me, but I had no time to cry. Work, family, writing and poetry readings and friends and garden…no time for tears.

This morning, home with the kids, Colm threw a toy at Aedan and Aedan exploded, as he does (he gets it from me. We’re both learning how to stop doing this). He picked up a Transformer he got in a toy exchange at school, a hard plastic thing with lots of angles, and chucked it at his brother. And missed. He pinned me instead, right above my lip. Instantly, I burst into tears and I sobbed for a good little while, all three kids just staring at me. Finally, I regained myself and we talked about why that wasn’t okay and what he could do instead. I’m grateful that toy didn’t hit Colm, because it fucking hurt. I’m grateful something broke the dam and I had a good cry. I’m grateful that Aedan got shocked out of himself a little bit, and that it lead to a conversation about how to better handle anger.

I’ve started to come out of my funk. I think I’m on the other side of it. The nasty voice in my head is silent. I’m in my studio writing this, Wednesday night, and below the open window, people sing on the sidewalk. The swallows swoop through the air, gathering up the mosquitoes. One block over, I can see kids on the swings in the schoolyard–it’s ten thirty and the sun is still in the sky. There is still July, and if we’re lucky, August, too. But then it will be brilliant autumn, and then the gorgeous, difficult winter and I will try and remember to take the highs and the lows in stride. And if you’re having a hard time this summer, know that it’s okay. Drink some water. Ask for help. Do what you need to get through.

 

 

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Balance Point

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In a recent personal rejection from The New Quarterly, the editors noted that while they often publish work “engaged with the dark side of the human condition and family” those works typically have a “point of balance.”  It got me thinking about my tendency to gravitate towards that darkness, to the exclusion of the light. It’s something I’ve done for as long as I can remember; there was a time where I was sure I wouldn’t have kids because how could I raise kids in a world I had no hope for? These feelings have been exaggerated lately, to the point where I actually feel paralyzed to write anything at all (I do, though, continue to write daily).

I feel like it’s disingenuous to write pretty things, all light and air, when the world is dark and getting darker. Even in the microcosm of family life, I feel like it’s a disservice to the truth if I don’t talk about my struggles. Parenting is hard. Marriage is hard. If we don’t talk about it, everyone continues to suffer in silence, alone in the dark. But it seems like my devotion to the hard truths of life has become an unhealthy obsession: if I’m not writing about hard, sad things, I’m not writing. I can remember this being a part of my writing life as early as my teens. I wrote in my journal most often when I was going through heartbreak, either romantically or with friends. Writing through the darkness was how I made, how I continue to make, sense of things. That is a part of my depressive nature, I suppose. So maybe a part of my practice must be to continually choose to turn towards the light. To document the neutral times, the happy times. To learn the language of levity.

In the days since Trump’s election, I’ve seen it suggested by a few different artists that to continue to make beautiful things is, in fact, a radical act. I feel this responsibility to the truth; to not look away from all of the horrific things happening in the world. I feel like, as artists, we must witness and document. But people need to rest, too. I write so often about self-care, and for me, self-care is sometimes turning away from the endless feed of news and towards something so beautiful it takes my breath away: a favourite poem, the light on the hillside at sunset, my kids holding hands as they play. This leads me to wonder if my power as a writer might be in creating things of beauty. Safe places to rest the mind for a while. Because we can’t afford to look away. We have to stay engaged in order to fight what is coming, what is already here and has been here beneath our notice for decades. But to look for the beauty in each day, to turn towards the light, is the balance point I need right now. It’s a gift I can offer, first to myself, and then to my kids, and then to the rest of the world.

Turning Towards

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I’ve made a habit of turning away from life, lately. It was a means of survival, at first. Checking out from intense emotions was getting me through. Now it’s just a thing that I do mindlessly, reflexively. And I feel like I’ve been writing this post over and over for a year now. I’m tired of it. Are you tired of it yet?

Today I’m making a concious choice to turn towards life. Limited time on social media. Actually getting out of the house, out of the driveway, out of the neighbourhood. I took the kids to the woods today and although it was a grey day and the path was solid ice, we made our way through the dry brown leaf carpet along the edges. And instead of looking for the exit, as I always do, I chose instead to notice what was around me. The constant hum of distant traffic and the lonely sound of crows. Red berries clinging to a bare, thorny bush. Frozen puddles and how the ice shattered like glass under the kids’ boots. The bright green creep of moss on deeply furrowed tree bark, the texture of it. Coyote scat. My breath, in and out. How impossibly tired I am. The weight of the baby in the carrier on my back, the ache in my shoulders and neck. Noticing all of it. Turning towards. Choosing to stay.

It’s been easier, in some ways. It means less yelling, because I can see the shit before it hits the fan. It means happier kids, because I’m paying attention. And I suppose, grudgingly, I will admit that it means happier me, too. Turning away from life is no way to live life. Even if what you’re turning towards is mind-numbingly boring, or uncomfortable, or cold or whatever. At least it’s mine, right?

Running Towards Fear

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I don’t want to write today, so I’m doing it. I didn’t want to take the kids outside to play, so I did. I’ve spent a few days now running from the present moment, from my reality. Although I suppose my awareness of the fact that I’m doing that: “now I’m going to eat this whole bag of chips; now I’m going to pick up my phone again; now I’m putting the television on to distract the kids;” is something in itself. I’m not sure it counts as true awareness, true mindfulness, but it’s a start. It’s a moment of space around the unconcious acts that take me out of my self.

I’ve been thinking a lot about daily practice, as I’ve written about a few times now in the past month or two. My thought process goes like this: I’ll write a poem every day for a year. No, too hard. I’ll write a blog post every day for a year. No, too hard. I’ll just write something every day for a year. No, too hard. I’ll meditate every day for a year. No. Then the inner critic gets real loud and I tell myself the only thing I’m capable of doing every day for a year (or 5) is surviving. But there is some hopeful little part of me that whispers: you’re worth it. You matter. Your voice matters, if only to you. I am enough.

So, like I’m doing right now, like I did this morning when I suited the kids up to go out in the snow, I am going to do the hard thing I don’t want to do. It feels a bit grim, truth be told. Like running as fast as I can down a slippery dock towards a cold lake. And I’ll launch myself headlong into that lake, I’ll plunge into the icy water and be reborn as I break through the surface for air. Each moment is a chance to be reborn. I can only stay stuck for so long. And that’s what the binge eating, the screen time, really are for me. I think of them as escapes, as I’m indulging in them, if I think of them at all. But they aren’t escapes. They’re not things that move me forward. They’re things that keep me stuck and the present moment just keeps battering against me like waves against a sea wall. What if I let the water do its work? How would it reshape me? I’m drawn by the thought that instead of just surviving, just numbly stumbling through each day, I could be awake and alive to it all.

I think of mindfulness as meaning peaceful and content and calm. But I’m learning that I can be mindful of the turmoil in my brain. I can be mindful through the worst parts, I can be present through the confusion or anger or fear or sadness. And it’s uncomfortable. Being present doesn’t mean it’s going to be more pleasant. It just means I’ll be there for it, whatever it may be. I’m going to run straight at my fears and discomforts, because that’s when the growth happens. I can’t grow if I keep checking out. So I come home to my breath. Come home to the present moment, ever changing moment, ever changing me.

Image via Flickr user Tracy

Dig In

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Four days of intense travel. A total of 10 hours on the road, 4 and a half hours in airplanes, an hour in a taxi. Hours spent in hotel rooms, trying to keep 3 little kids entertained in such a small space.

Taking them to a park in Vancouver where the ground was squishy mud, Aedan getting his boots full of puddle water just 2 hours before his appointment at the diabetes clinic. Me, most unprepared parent ever, even after 5 years of parenting, not having a spare pair of shoes for him. Drying his boots out in the hotel bathroom with the hair dryer.

P and I switching off for the appointments: he and Aedan first while I try to get Charlie to nap, Treehouse keeping Colm quiet, sort of. Then my turn: taking an unhappy 3 year old to his appointment with the allergist. 2 hours in a room at the clinic, giving his history to a resident. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting in that little room to finally have a chat with the Doctor. Forms signed, skin test finally completed, we’re free.

Walking to the Japanese restaurant in the rain, the server not understanding my requests for plain tofu for my allergic son, getting the battered tofu…ordering endless sides of rice, rice dumped on the floor, imagined side-eye from the mom with the calm kids at the table next to us. Impatient husband. Octopus baby in my lap. In the highchair. Back in my lap. Repeat for 4 days.

Crying baby in the truck, she hates the car seat. Puking baby, I don’t know why. Roadside stops to pee. Roadside stops to clean up puke.

The herd of elk just south of Braeburn Lake. Stopping the truck so the boys could get their fill of the animals nosing through the thin layer of snow, tearing at dried grass with teeth, totally unconcerned by our presence.

The two linx P and I saw playing at the side of the road near Tintina Trench. They ducked into the ditch before the boys could spot them, before I could wrestle my phone from the baby to snap a photo. Some things are meant to be experienced fleetingly. All things, maybe.

Tumbling back into our reality, except it’s all our reality, isn’t it? Back to work, back to school. Fighting about school. Wrestling him into his clothes. Mindlessly eating. Pulling myself back. What do I need to do on these days when I Google hopeless things like “how to survive when you hate being a parent”? Google can’t tell me. You can’t tell me. Only I can. Only I know. Come back to the breath. Go easy on myself. Get outside for a moment. Write. Right here, write. Read a poem. Root deeper when you want to run away.

Dig in, because this is it.