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?

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.

Daily Practice Revisited

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Yesterday, I was thinking about my word for 2017: Practice. I was thinking about how, like so many things in my life, I figured that I could just set it and forget it. Practice! I’m going to practice. Every day. Writing, being a writer, mindfulness. Poof! Done.

I feel like I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again because apparently I’m not getting it: it’s not that easy. It seems funny to me that I chose such an active word. The word itself exhorts me to do something, and yet, I don’t. I just sort of expect it to come, I’m just magically writing every day and it flows like water, easy. What I am coming to realize is that practice is hard (how embarrassing! I’m just coming to this realization?!) Developing any kind of daily practice takes a lot of effort. It feels really awful, in the beginning. Each day, I have to drag myself to the thing I want to do and basically force myself to do it. After the doing, I might feel better, but not usually. Often, I feel disappointed. Like, is that it? That’s what daily practice looks like?

This may be a function of social media and the sharing of carefully selected moments of life. I scroll through Instagram and see a lovely photo of someone doing a headstand, or sitting in a peaceful spot writing, or their running shoes on the ground. What these pictures don’t show is everything that led to that moment. I’m realizing that what goes into those moments is a lot of push, a lot of preparation. A lot of choosing to be there. That is the rub of it, for me. I have to choose to practice.

This week I have: gone for a run that was mostly a walk; gone to a yoga class; not purchased a big bag of chips to inhale; meditated once; sat down to write this blog post; gotten out of bed to work on a poem. All of these things took monumental effort. Took me getting outside of myself for a moment, acknowledging what I reflexively wanted, recalling what I wanted ideally, and taking a step in that direction. So much of my life is just reacting, reacting, reacting. Thinking “I want to eat a whole big bag of chips” happens in a fraction of a second, and in that sliver of time my hand reaches for the bag and puts it on the belt at the grocery store and then opens it in the truck and eats it on the drive home. If I don’t stop and check myself, before you know it, it’s gone.

I am realizing that I will take the path of least resistance, always and forever. If I don’t push myself a little, I’ll never make any changes. I’ll sit and stare at my phone and let my kids binge-watch The Wiggles until they’re ready to move out of the house. I’ll never write another poem, climb another mountain, or drink a glass of water if I don’t make myself do it. Practice is a series of choices, every single day. I choose and choose and choose again. Sometimes, I choose the easy thing: the whole bag of chips, the staying on the couch, the not-writing. And often, I think, “that’s it. This is me, forever and ever. I’ll never be different.” But that’s not true. The beauty is that there will always be another choice to make, right around the corner, and I can choose differently. The hard part is remembering that. The hard part is not listening to the nasty voice in my head that tells me no, never, not good enough, give up.

I did not want to write a blog post today. I do not want to work on some poems. I don’t want to read a book, or go for a walk. Today, I am mentally and emotionally exhausted. But I will do some or all of these things, because I know that this is how I build a practice. I just fucking do it.

What will you do today?

A Word for 2017

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This morning as I browsed some favourite bloggers, I noticed that Lindseay Mead of A Design So Vast had written a post about her word for 2017.. She writes that sometimes, if a particular word presents itself in the days and weeks leading up to the new year, she’ll choose it as something to guide her in the coming year. I like this idea because it seems simpler and more general than listing resolutions and trying to stick to them all. I like to think of choosing a word as a touchstone, something to come back to again and again. A way of checking in with yourself.

Last year, I chose the word “connect”. I’m not sure how I did at connecting, overall. It was meant to encompass my self, my children, my partner, the present moment. In looking back through my blog, I see there were days where I absolutely chose to connect with those around me, and also days when I made a very concious choice to disconnect. I don’t feel like I’ve succeeded or failed. Rather, I set an intention and came back to it when I needed to.

In the final weeks of 2016, there was a word that popped into my mind over and over. An idea that intrigued me. I wrote about it here and here: daily practice. Or, for the purpose of this exercise, just “practice” will do.

This has to do with my writing, first of all. I’ve wondered how a daily writing practice would change me. I’ve been inspired by Sarah Bousquet of One Blue Sail and her daily blogging, as well as blogger Elan Morgan and their daily poetry practice. I’ve toyed with the idea of doing either of those things, but in the end, I feel like life with three kids is a little too hectic for me to commit to any one specific form. So instead I would like to practice my craft, somehow, every day for the next year. Just practice coming to the page every day, even if it’s just a 10 minute freewrite in my journal.

I’d also like to practice showing up for myself. Practice coming back to the present moment as many times as I have to in a day. Practice self-care. There are so many things that I wish I just had perfect right out of the gate, and it’s my nature to give up when they’re not. So I’d like to let this word remind me to be gentle with myself and to keep at it, whatever it may be, doggedly, even when it feels messy or lame.

What about you? Have you ever chosen a word for your year? What word would you choose for 2017?

P.S. I had to Google how to spell “practice”. The internet says that as a Canadian, should be using “practice” for the noun and “practise” for the verb. It also notes that Americans use “practice” for both noun and verb and so I’m going to stick with that for ease!