Creative Sage-ing

“For years I had felt some kind of internal pressure to get going…However I had come to a point where I realized this intention was ego based and not what I wanted my creativity to be about. Letting go of old beliefs was painful and I grieved deeply, but I decided to let my dreams go. I let my ambitions go.”

Julie Elliot in Creative Aging: Stories from the pages of the journal Sage-ing with Creative Spirit, Grace and Gratitude, 2015

Every now and then, I feel the need to let go and release the trappings of what had been an earlier identity, pastime, or life experiment. A couple of decades ago I found a counselling agency that gladly received my collection of clinical social work texts and kindly gave me in exchange a charitable donation income tax receipt. Several years ago, under the guise of being the “librarian” for our community of practice, I passed on to a colleague the then iteration of my professional life, volumes dedicated to leadership, community development, conversation process, and group facilitation. A few summers ago, I gathered up the art supplies used for the intuitive painting sessions I had hosted and took them to our local “Hodge Podge” upcycle hut. My timing was perfect as there was an art teacher looking for supplies for her classroom in Fort McMurray, ravaged during the spring fires when the entire community had been evacuated. In the meantime, I regularly cull files, both paper and electronic, the former being easier to “erase” as I see them in the filing cabinet. Every time the act of letting go is guided by the maxim of making space for and trusting that something new is emerging.

Last week again the mood struck. Learning that a friend is intent to shift the focus of her consulting, I asked if she’d like my facilitator “tool kit” consisting of all those items that helped me engage groups in meaningful dialogue and purposeful activity. As she sorted and asked me questions about how I’d used the bits and pieces, it was a way of looking back over a skill set and expertise I’d cultivated for several decades. It became an opportunity to “pass it forward” and do a bit of mentoring. While she offered me a bottle of wine in exchange for the lot she took, what I really need are opportunities to share the stories, the bits and pieces of that skill set and my life that were meaningful, valued, where I’d been of use and in service.

For nearly two years I have been letting go of old beliefs, ways of being, professional identity. It has been painful, and I have grieved deeply, albeit a grief that ebbs and flows. I’ve come to realize that what I particularly miss are the connections and relationships I had because of my work. I cherished those people and the work we did. In a way it was effortless, the result of my own inner work and integration, and of the trust we shared. Of course, the pandemic with lockdowns, physical distancing, social isolation has exacerbated this loss and loneliness, accentuated the grief.

And so, in letting my dreams and ambitions go, my intention is now about learning to listen into what is being asked of me from someplace and someone other than me.

“This world needs us more than ever. It needs our skills, our caring, our perseverance. We still want to contribute. We still want our contribution to be meaningful. But who gets to define meaning? It is the world, not us. Meaning is defined by the situation, the person, the moment. To discover what is meaningful, we need only ask this simple question:

What is needed here?
Am I the right person to contribute to this need?

This is a huge shift. We stop asking the world to give us opportunities to fulfill our purpose.
Instead, we look to the world to tell us what it needs from us. Such a profound shift requires our deep attention. This Contemplative Journey offers you the time to go deeply into yourself—past, present and future—to discern where you are needed. And then determine where you can best contribute.”

Margaret J. Wheatley

A few months ago, I sent a story off to Sage-ing: The Journal of Creative Aging. A writer friend shared she’d had a poem and some of her photography published by them. I felt my story, one that had been invited by another online journal and then rejected, might be suitable. Not only did I receive a wonderfully affirming “YES” from the founder, Karen Close, but it sparked what has now become a meaningful new relationship as I accepted her invitation to meander together in conversation, to help her co-imagine the journal’s next decade, and to eventually land as her co-editor. Having given a decade to this labour of love, a manifestation of her commitment to honour the transformational power of creativity, especially as we age, Karen sees in me someone while a decade younger, kindred in valuing the journal’s motto: Know Yourself. Be Yourself. Love Yourself. Share Yourself. And I recognize in Karen a deeply self-aware, elder creative who lives life to the brim with unabashed curiosity and compassion, someone to inspire in me the same.

While the journal offers me a place to write, as importantly I am seeking out and inviting stories that depict how the creative process shows up in, informs, and enhances one’s life – not merely in the typical ways of making art – but in how we live our lives fully, meaningfully. By encouraging first person anecdotes, insights, questions, wonderings, experiences these stories illustrate a principle and value of Sage-ing – that of how we grow into and feel more comfortable sharing our personal vulnerabilities. It becomes more about how we “show up” in our lives as told through our stories – and less about the “wisdom” we directly impart – that inspires others, cultivates wisdom, and nurtures our inner sage.

This is a shift – looking to the world and listening to what it needs from me. I asked and Karen said yes. She asked and I said yes. I recognize this is an opportunity where my past and present are coming together to be of use, in meaningful service, where I am needed. And I trust the future will take care of itself.

“It is from this place that one can allow the magic of creative spirit to indeed create you. Allowing creative spirit to expand your wisdom invites deep personal scrutiny and challenges one to act from a place of honouring and sharing one’s self.”

Karen Close in Creative Aging: Stories from the pages of the journal Sage-ing with Creative Spirit, Grace and Gratitude, 2015

We’d love to receive your stories. Please contact me via comments, including your email, so I can send you our submission invitation and guidelines. And here’s the link to our September issue – we publish quarterly, on the solstices and equinoxes – where my story – “Aging with Grit and Grace” – was published. It was a lovely way for me to celebrate the arrival of autumn, and this new life direction.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Thanksgiving

Last week I received a friend’s monthly newsletter update. GG and I met at my first ever writer’s retreat. She is also an artist who made the umber clay rattle stamped with the dragonfly I received at my first ever quest. If I lived closer, in the same country, I’d regularly visit her in her studio to partake of her wise and soulful classes, to bask in her warm and joyful spirit.

In preparation for her upcoming SoulCollage class, she’ll use this video of Joanna Macy as inspiration. As I watched and listened, I was struck by Joanna’s description our gladness for being alive – our thanks for life – as a politically subversive act. Too, for using our gratitude as the ground for being present with our suffering, our mourning, and our grief.

JOANNA MACY: Climate Crisis as a Spiritual Path from Old Dog Documentaries on Vimeo.

So from my country of Canada, where we celebrate Thanksgiving today – again under a pandemic public health state of emergency – I share Joanna’s words, and those she has translated from the poet Rilke’s Book of Hours – with gratitude to GG. May we love it all, and let life through in the biggest doorway of our being.

With much love, kindest regards, and gratitude for your presence in my life, dear friends.

A Perfect Day

A PERFECT DAY

I wonder if some language
has a word for it – the elation
of a perfect fall day, crisp and
gilt-edged and glowing,
mixed with melancholy
of wondering whether this might
be the peak, the moment when
the fruit is perfectly sweet
before it tips to decay.
I mean not just the coming winter,
but the dropping shoe of it all-
flood and drought and
the cruelty of the terrified and in denial.

And what if another perfect day
does come, and I fail to notice?
What if I wake up as if from a dream
in which I’ve opened a room full
of opulent gifts, and then neglected
to thank the giver? It happens.
The ground is littered with
bright leaves and sturdy acorns.
I carefully select a few to bring inside,
when I could lie down and roll
in the brittle beauty of it all.

– Lynn Ungar –
October 2, 2021

“Gosh, I could gush every day over the golden, glorious gorgeousness of these autumn days,” I wrote to a friend in response to the photos we were both posting. And then I read Lynn Ungar’s most recent poem, and knew that before these perfect fall days pass, I will lie down and roll in their brittle beauty and thank the giver.

Purple Asters and Goldenrod

my beloved Niagara River

The last time I posted we were on our way to Niagara to visit our families, the first time in two years. Packing was straightforward, though after forgetting my must-take-daily medication when we drove the few hours west to Jasper in June, I was particularly attentive realizing I was out of practice, that my systems honed with packing a dozen times a year for the last decade needed dusting off. The airport parking lot was full, evidence that while this was our first flight in ages, many were travelling. I’d bought breakfast sandwiches the day before, unsure what, if anything would be open at 6:00 am. While quiet, I was delighted that my favourite Italian food counter was open to get the best coffee in the airport. Piping hot, I sipped while eating my sandwich, looking forward to leisurely drinking the rest once seated on the plane. That proved foolish. Face masks, enhanced with shields made near impossible drinking coffee, let alone anything else. So those Italian deli sandwiches I’d also bought the day before would have to wait for the car ride.

While Ontario and eastern Canada are renowned for spectacular autumn colours, our arrival was several weeks early, so only the sumac and occasional maple blushed red. But the purple asters partnered with goldenrod were abundant in ditches and fields and on the banks of the creek, each siting evoking Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass.

As I’d anticipated, changes were apparent in our families, both young and old. Children who were infants and toddlers when we’d last visited were naturally wary, needing time to warm up to their “come from away” aunt and uncle. But time with the young adult nieces and nephews and their partners, and our parents felt like yesterday, as we fell into easy conversation and catching up.

sunrise on the Niagara

That Saturday I missed my weekly Camino de Edmonton, a repeat of last year’s multi-stage, multi kilometer walk along Edmonton’s North Saskatchewan River. The weather finally cleared so I dressed to make my ritual walk along my beloved Niagara River, a Camino de Niagara. A chance conversation with my high school friend and her husband, a walk through the cemetery to “visit” my Oma and chosen namesake aunt and notice who in my absence had since passed. Years ago, when my Oma died, and her ashes were put in the granite columbarium, I purchased the slot beside her, with room enough for two, and while not quite a river view, close enough. Funny thing how that purchase always brings a smile, it being one of my best investments, bringing peace of mind knowing I have my final resting place. Hmmmm, whatever that actually means…

the old pine on the river bank at sunrise

Driving away from my parents’ home to follow the river north to the falls, I wondered, as I do more often now that I and they are older, “Will we see each other again?” “When will I next return, to whom, and under what circumstances?” I don’t belabor it. I can’t. It’s as pragmatic as my mother wondering will she live to see the us and the world through to the other side of Covid. It simply is what it is, a truth of our lives. Like the curious affinity of purple asters for goldenrod.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

How To Be Alone

It all begins with knowing
nothing lasts forever.
So you might as well start packing now.
But, in the meantime,
practice being alive.

There will be a party
where you’ll feel like
nobody’s paying you attention.
And there will be a party
where attention’s all you’ll get.
What you need to do
is know how to talk to
yourself
between these parties.

And,
again,
there will be a day,
— a decade —
where you won’t
fit in with your body
even though you’re in
the only body you’re in.

You need to control
your habit of forgetting
to breathe.

Remember when you were younger
and you practiced kissing on your arm?
You were on to something then.
Sometimes harm knows its own healing
comfort its own intelligence.
Kindness too.
It needs no reason.

There is a you
telling you a story of you.
Listen to her.

Where do you feel
anxiety in your body?
The chest? The fist? The dream before waking?
The head that feels like it’s at the top of the swing
or the clutch of gut like falling
& falling & falling and falling
It knows something: you’re dying.
Try to stay alive.

For now, touch yourself.
I’m serious.

Touch yourself.
Take your hand
and place your hand
some place
upon your body.
And listen
to the community of madness
that
you are.

You are
such an
interesting conversation.

You belong
here.

-Pádraig Ó Tuama –

“I’m OK Drinking Alone”

I copped this line from a friend’s recent blog. It was how she closed her essay on the impacts of living for eighteen months with a pandemic. When it arrived in my inbox last week, a quick glance told me – and I emailed her – this was one post I’d need to take slowly. That her candor deserved my time and reflection. And while I didn’t read it with the glass of wine I’d suggested, or our mutually enjoyed prosecco, sitting here on a cool fall afternoon, with Annie napping beside me, the space heater on, and a mug of now cold tea within reach, I was right. “So poignantly on point. Evoking what’s both deep inside and right on the surface,” is how I ended my reply to her.

Yes, I am OK with drinking alone and yet after cancelling another dinner with friends as our “best summer ever” descends into the hell of a “WTF” fall I’m not so sure I should be – drinking alone, or even drinking, that is.

Alberta is a mess. Last week our premier – absent for the better part of August – finally made a public appearance to announce – guess what – we’re re-instating a fourth wave public health state of emergency and imposing another round of restrictions. While his $100 a jab incentive announced a few weeks ago didn’t get much uptake, this week’s commencement of a vaccine “passport” resulted in vaccination rates soaring 300% in 24 hours. We have the highest numbers of hospitalizations and ICU admissions across the country and since the pandemic was officially announced eighteen months ago. And this didn’t just happen. We the people made this mess with decisions and choices made, or not made, and actions taken, or not taken.

This past week I was politically vocal every day on social media, angered by the impacts on our beleaguered health care professionals, people I know and don’t having medical interventions and surgeries cancelled, protests happening outside our hospitals. Atypical in that I am purposeful in using social media to uplift the good, the true, and the beautiful, believing, akin to John O’Donohue and others, that beauty is an antidote to the tragic, terror, and destructive in our world. After a few days, I deleted those posts, my outrage tempered by my intent and vision.

In response to a recent Facebook friend’s plight while travelling, we sensing a kinship, I offered:

“…with covid and all that stuff, I feel I have lost myself – the woman I knew myself to be – pretty confident, kind but fierce, irreverent at times…now I can hardly make a decision, and the anxiety, free floating and homed in – so much I am not doing. Many days any pretense of discipline and commitment gives way to ennui. …I think covid has messed with many of us in very insidious ways, and it’s not until we attempt “re-entry” that we feel how significant the impacts….

And what I have a very strong hunch about, that no one is talking about, is that all the virtual stuff – Zoom and such – while it has been very helpful and necessary, I think it is activating deep attachment trauma anxiety – seeing you and yet, not feeling you…that confusing abandonment. I once wrote after a women’s circle that I hosted – for myself and 4 others – “I miss you in my bones and by my body” – that ZOOM just didn’t do it for me, though better than not, or was it???”

Tomorrow we fly. Our first flight since returning from Spain two weeks before the world as we knew it changed. We’re taking one flight into a little airport, renting a car, and driving down the highway to visit our families. It’s been nearly two years. I’m anticipating change – in my elderly parents, blessedly healthy and still living in their own home; in great nephews growing from infancy to daycare, from toddler to kindergarten. And while we won’t be socializing away from home, I’ll enjoy toasting to life – as we know it now -together with family, in my bones and by my body.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Wave to Wake

walking for water on Morocco’s Sahara

Prologue: Last winter in the midst of another Covid lockdown, Vancouver poet Samantha Reynolds, writing as bentlily, invited her readers to notice life around them. This is, after all, the basis of most good poetry. So successful was the reception that she re-issued her invitation for May. Each morning my inbox welcomed her prompt. I’d read and file each one in a folder for the time when less distracted by who knows what – oh I know, the coming of summer and all that great outdoor stuff – I could focus my noticing in response. That day came September first. And while I don’t do every activity every day, more than not I do, this prose poem being one such entry.

You invite me to notice, for thirty days.

From gazing at the sky, to taking a mundane moment and making it sacred;
eulogizing a favourite food, then eating it back to life;
listening to a piece of music while conjuring the images it evokes.

Today it’s WATER.
To take in – in a holy way – the everyday banal which for me,
for so many of us in this so called civilized western world,
comes so freely, without effort or a moment’s thought.
We turn on the tap to take a drink, a bath, or a shower;
cook our food, wash our clothes, cars, and dishes; soak the dried grass and limp flowers.
Mindless motions and maneuverings. 
Yet drought, wildfires, insufficient snowfall, contamination – even here we are running out of water, and several of our reserves, home of our First Nations peoples, to this day, have no clean drinking water. So much for treaty terms and promises.

When you wrote that women and girls around the world collectively spend 200 million hours daily finding and collecting water, that many are raped on their long walks to distant sources,
I shamefully admit, I mindlessly took a sip from my SWELL bottle and went on to tackle the next thing on my list, sitting safely in my office, in my home.

When I read your invitation to drink a glass of water slowly, as though I had dedicated my entire day – my life even –
to finding it, getting it, carrying it home, still,
the enormity of that reality skipped across the surface of my consciousness.

What does it take
for a stone to break the water’s surface,
drop down deep inside me,
ripple out across my cells,
create a resonant wave of comprehension and compassion?

for your telling of this fact to
fracture the façade of indifference,
flood me with understanding the impacts of privilege?

to remember once long ago, water turned to wine turned to blood,
an alchemy of the sacred,
a miracle to quench my thirst?

water collage

Epilogue:
A dozen or so years ago, I wrote a “nested” poem and made a card collage of words and images to acknowledge a young friend who, at four years of age, asked “How can it be that clean water is not a given for all those alive in the world?” He went on to organize local benefit concerts and community fund raising events to support well building in Uganda. The collage design became a promotional image helping him raise over $25,000 in the four years since first asking that question.

“Well…

Well, water is very important.

Well, water is very important,

       for LIFE especially.

Well water is very important

       for LIFE, especially when there is no rain.”

“So that’s why we’re making some.”

The truth of miles walked by women to gather water for their families came home when I travelled to Morocco in 2019, where I saw Berber women with plastic jugs, walking to wells to get the day’s supply for cooking and washing.

Last month, someone posted three photos of the same view of Lake Oroville in California’s Sonoma valley taken first in 2017, then in spring of 2021, and finally in July showing the devastation of repeated and prolonged drought. From lush green hillsides and a mighty flow of blue water, to sand parched hills and reduced flow, to merely a creek bordered by muddy banks and hills devoid of vegetation. A picture – or three – telling a powerful story.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Falling Apart

“Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing.
We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem,
but the truth is that things don’t really get solved.
They come together and they fall apart.
Then they come together again and fall apart again.
It’s just like that.
The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen:
room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”

– Pema Chödrön –

Not so much a poem, but words that bring solace from its simple, utter truthfulness. In many places around the world, we are riding another covid wave – the fourth, perhaps even the fifth. Variants and vaccinations, closures, masks, crowded ICUs…
Several months ago my mother wondered if she’d live through to the other side of this virus. I thought it was a wise observation, to which I had no answer. To which there is no solving. Things come together, fall apart, come together again and fall apart again. And so it goes. And so we let there be room. For it al
l.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Cornering the Light

CORNERING THE LIGHT

A burst of the stove’s blue flame.

Sun hidden inside thunder’s heavy coat.

Candles flickering their soft invitation to dusk.

Stars’ ancient arrangements guiding you home.

Moon’s face a monthly show of mystic moods.

Eyes shining with tears not yet wept.

Your laughter pouring from the playground swing.

Apology humbly given, heartfully received.

Still pond and puddle reflecting a cloud swept sky.

Our hard-earned love.

– KW –

My honorably mentioned submission to the monthly Canadian Off Topic writing contest. The requirements included using the word “corner” in some form or fashion; ten lines maximum; and acknowledging-referencing the inspiration, which was using the first line of Mark S. Burrows, “Nine Forms of Light,” in The Chance of Home, 2018. An added benefit was receiving feedback from the two judges. And upon posting it in social media, the congratulations, support, and encouragement from friends and family.

Thank you and much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Woman Standing On The Edge

Last week I received an email from a dear friend who has recently relocated cross country. A new life chapter marked by finding a new home and community with her husband. After weeks of nest-making they did some day tripping, ending up at an enchanting spot that, when she mentioned its name, I knew it was familiar. In fact, I knew where I’d confirm my hunch – in one of the two dream journals I’ve been making since 2002. Sure enough, within minutes I found the magazine pictures I’d clipped and pasted, the impressions I wrote, the founder’s quotes that inspired. Remarkably, the entry was dated August 20, 2004 – seventeen years almost to the day of receiving my friend’s email, maybe even the day she visited.

Last week, too, I hosted my women’s circle, one that I “called” a year ago, where we met virtually every two weeks to help us navigate life in covid. So good to be with each other in real bodies, in real time – “to feel them in my bones and by my body” – to feel the energy of the circle, to see and share a common centre and talking piece.

And I realized it continues to be liminal time for so many of us. The uncertainties, the unsteadiness…feeling on the brink of …what??? Rilke reminding us now is the time to sit in the questions…the answers not yet here, and perhaps, even if they were, we might not be ready to live ourselves into them. I replied to my friend’s email that it was time to dust off what had originally drew me in to that enchanting place and so today, sitting in the dog days of summer sunshine, I gazed at the images and read the words of my

“collection of ideas, wonderings, snippets and snaps
that speak to the wondrous and whimsical,
from dreams to destiny,
musings to manifestations,
to satisfy my Soul.”

I wondered if by looking through those hand-written, painted, and collaged pages I might get a glimmer of… what? Within moments, on the third page:

“Woman standing on a hillside peering,
peering into the blue space…
…what will woman be?
…not yet fully seen
…not yet fully revealed
…but coming
…coming.”

Judith Duerk, Circle of Stones: Woman’s Journey to Herself, 1989
woman standing on the edge

This, too:

“A dreamer – you know – it’s a mind that looks over the edges of things.”

Mary O’Hara, OPRAH, September 2002

So I jotted down in my current journal – the gift from the recent Creator’s Retreat – those page numbers from 2002 to 2013 (making a retrospective path, footsteps in the sands of time) the words and images that shimmered, some even transposed onto those pages from the mid 90’s. With the bold “Chaos is the Soul of Creation” and Florida Scott-Maxwell’s clarion call “I grow more intense with age,” as preamble, Robert Henri unabashedly advised in his classic The Art Spirit (1984):

“You can do anything you want to do. What is rare is that actual wanting to do a certain thing: wanting it so much that you are practically blind to all other things, that nothing else will satisfy you…
I know I have said a lot when I say ‘You can do anything you want to do.’ But I mean it…blunder ahead with your personal view…The real work of art is the result of a magnificent struggle.”

Coming through her own “magnificent struggle” Agatha Christie claimed:

“I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all, I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.”

Imagined colour palettes for home renovations; menu notes, invitations, photos, and keepsakes from hosted dinners; timeless poems; captivating cards; business ideas and creative ventures; splashes and blazes of colour and I arrive at a page on PASSION, where half hidden behind a vibrant bouquet of parrot tulips, amaryllis buds, and lilies, my green handwritten quote from Toni Morrison:

“You’ve got to keep asserting the complexity and originality of life, and the multiplicity of it, and the facets of it. This is about being a complex human being in this world, not about finding a victim. This is no time for anything than the best you’ve got to give.”

And then the page CONFIDENCE, where again I’m taken in by Florida Scott-Maxwell:

“You need only claim the events of your life to make yourself yours. When you truly possess all you have been and done, which may take some time, you are fierce with reality.”

This echoes a premise of creative expression – that of meeting yourself – outlined in Life, Paint and Passion (2002), Michele Cassou’s guide to intuitive process painting, my field of play sparked by its reading in 2004.

“Painting for process…you listen to the magic of the inner voices, you flow with the basic human urge to experiment with the new, the unknown, the mysterious, the hidden…to be yourself.”

Picking up the threads from my last blog post, When Women Create, Cassou reminds us:

“…creative process is a living thing; it breathes and its heartbeat is in your soul. Done for its own sake, it is an act of love, part of the movement of the Universe, merging with it. It is a gift to life, a prayer, a song that disappears in the wind. Why gather yourself when you are already so heavy with inner and outer possessions? Why invest in something impermanent, something that in an instant will become the past? Spontaneous process touches what lasts, which is out of time.”

Finally, I arrive at the pages that invited this meandering…photos of Tangled Garden founder, artist Beverly McClare pouring a local wine, another with sun shining through the window shelf of jellies and vinegars crafted from their herb gardens and locally sourced fruits; the shed; a welcome sign.

“I want to keep it hands-on and small enough that it doesn’t lose its magic. As corny as it may sound, this business is something that we grow and harvest, and at the core if it all is an essential love of gardening.”

Beverly McClare

From all accounts, two decades later the magic remains, so much so, that when named in an email from a friend,
it summoned me to look,
invited me to wander through dreamscapes,
to stand on edges peering into pasts.
Not yet fully revealed,
but coming,
coming.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.