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.
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.
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 suchentry.
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?
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, 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.
“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 all.
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 postingit in social media, the congratulations, support, and encouragement from friends and family.
Thank you and much love and kindest regards, dear friends.
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
“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.”
“…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.”
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.
We knew it would come crashing down, but now we are in the clatter – fire, drought, flood, smoke, heat, the million and one ways that beings cry out. We thought there would be more time. We pretended that we didn’t know. We squandered so much that we might have saved, and for what? Trinkets. Glitter. The pleasures of ignorance and a basket full of Happy Meals.
It’s time to ask the dying what they know. What will you give up to cure what is killing you? What do you pursue when your days are numbered? Gaze into the eyes of a beloved old dog. Bury your face in her neck and engrave the scent on your memory. Let your heart break open. Learn to cherish what remains.
– Lynn Ungar –
Lynn Ungar first came to my attention last year with her “viral” poem, Pandemic. Straight to the point and heart, her words pierce with truthfulness. A week ago, our beloved Annie dog went under for a brief diagnostic procedure. Thankfully an “all OK” diagnosis, she returned home that day woozy and with a package each of probiotics and antacids, hopefully to curb the somedays’ frantic rush to eat grass. But with eleven and a half years under her belt, and a decade this month with us, I know the times we walk together are ever precious. But isn’t it so for each of us – how life changes on a dime? Once again, around the world, we see how precarious, precious, and fragile our circumstances. Reading Radical Regeneration: Birthing the New Human in the Age of Extinction (2020) by Andrew Harvey and Carolyn Baker makes the unequivocal point that we are living in the end times. The posthumous One Drum (2019) by Richard Wagamese cites ancient prophesy of a time “when words would fly like lightning bolts across the sky, and ” when “the human family would move farther apart and that this separation, the break in energy, would cause great stress upon the Earth… floods, titanic storms, famine, earthquakes, the departure of animals, strange diseases, and turmoil among all peoples.” (22)
“There is a juiciness to creativity, a succulence, or a sensuality which both produces and is soothed by creating something. I think that creativity is pleasing to women on a very deep level, whatever form it might take – whether it’s the feel of clay in our hands, the colours that work on us as we knit, the meaning that we find in the words that we write, or the energizing feel of movement as we dance and the music moves through our bodies.”
Lucy Pearce in Sharon Blackie, If Women Rose Rooted (2019)
I had the unexpected pleasure of a working staycation at the Folk Tree Lodge in the foothill town of Bragg Creek, Alberta a few weeks ago. Invited to bring my scribing skills to a women’s creators retreat, I packed a few requisite mountain weather layers of clothing , and with my writing pens, paper pads, and camera, “caught” women’s words as we sat in circle to learn about, talk about, and play about living a creative life, about being creators.
Yes, one of our hosts, Theo Harasymiw, an established mosaic artist, invited us into activities and stations to experience different forms of creative expression – foraging, mosaic, collage, print and stamping, writing. But her constant, consistent message throughout was that of giving value and making time for the creative process as a way of living – a way of life.
So, prepare an area, make it accessible, easy to invite Creativity into. The product is the product. The process is the gift.
“At its most basic level, of course, creativity is about making stuff. Taking something like wool and turning it into a sweater. Or creating less tangible things, like taking the germ of an idea and turning it into reality. But more than all of that, creativity to me is a way of thinking and problem-solving, an imaginative approach to living. Creativity helps us to be more fully alive on every level, asking that we engage with life in a visceral and interactive way.”
Lucy Pearce in Sharon Blackie, If Women Rose Rooted (2019)
Each of us around the circle had plenty of experience creating – both in the traditional ways of making of art and writing, photography, crafting within cultural traditions – and in the less obvious ways of choices made in our professional and personal lives – the work we designed, ways we care for others, and serve our communities.
The healing question of one who cares, to create in the voice of theirs. If I could, I’d ditch this for that, make the changes with my confines choose quality, longer lasting imprints beyond just the task. Aware of children’s Souls and that Souls need attention.
So, the constraints and confines in which Creativity thrives stoke an internal fire that’s unstoppable.
I write. I photograph. I dabble, especially when travelling, in pen and ink, water colour sketches. I collage. I call myself a kindergarten knitter. I stitch and sew, though not so much so. I cook with a self claimed specialization of making one-off silk purses from leftovers. Yet I know the extent to which I question and compartmentalize creativity, asking does sewing count? Or cooking if it’s not gourmet? It’s still something I do – if and when – and not yet always, a way of understanding “this is who I am.”
I “caught” that same struggle in the words of the women sitting in circle:
Not the visual art, but the Soul’s art: Do we see it? Can we be it? Do we show it? Do we value it? Does it have to be just one thing? Can we make our life a collage of it all?
The clarion call of Creativity: I see it outside me. I feel in inside me. The obligation to hear my Soul’s calling to live it out loud.
When our fear becomes our greatest obstacle the offering from one who listens deeply between the words within the spaces brings us all a peace.
“Reclaiming our own particularly female forms of creativity is a critical part of reinstating the undervalued feminine principle in the world, but it’s not as easy as it sounds to do that – the societal conditioning which pushes us in other directions can be so complete.”
Sharon Blackie, If Women Rose Rooted (2019)
How life as we’ve been taught, lived, worked, earned pushed and pulled squashed and beat creativity into submission imagination into flat line
Insists on a blue sky, a yellow sun, green grass, a red wagon. “Stop playing.” “Get real.”
“Consciously or unconsciously we know that to be a creative woman can entail huge risk. And this is what we have to overcome…this is why my driving passion is to empower women and inspire them to get their work out there, so that the world is full of our vibrant voices, creations, dreams. Our world needs all the colour and innovation we can give right now.”
Lucy Pearce in Sharon Blackie, If Women Rose Rooted (2019)
This was the driving force behind the retreat – a response to hearing the yearning in women’s voices to reclaim that which through their lives had been lost. To invite a small group of women into a care-fully designed and lovingly hosted experience to playfully welcome back their vibrant voices, creations and dreams.
We’re in a new future finding the strength being the support to innovate our way to co-create a new space to let our Souls soar.
We lift the veil of our beingness to make the invisible visible. That’s the voice of our Soul when we let our Souls soar.
I never dreamt it could be so good a pivot to a promise the flow into what can be when women pull together.
Such a sweet pleasure for me to witness, to play, to catch our words and weave into poem stories…to be and bring my creative self in service of this gathering.
My love made visible…one of a hundred ways to kneel and kiss the earth.
The rising hills, the slopes, of statistics lie before us. the steep climb of everything, going up, up, as we all go down.
In the next century or the one beyond that, they say, are valleys, pastures, we can meet there in peace if we make it.
To climb these coming crests one word to you, to you and your children:
stay together learn the flowers go light.
– Gary Snyder –
Yes, for the children young and old, inner and outer, near and far, who aresuffering the loss of home, safety, culture, family – too many to list to fires, floods, earthquakes, political oppression, disease, poverty – too many to list
May we stay together. May we pray together. May we play together. In the flowers. In the light.
Thinking of the peoples of Afghanistan, Haiti, Bangladesh, Turkey, Greece, Sicily, France, Canada, United States, Germany, Belgium – too many to list.
1 A moment of pleasure, An hour of pain, A day of sunshine, A week of rain, A fortnight of peace, A month of strife, These taken together Make up life.
2 One real friend To a dozen foes, Two open gates, ’Gainst twenty that’s closed, Prosperity’s chair, Then adversity’s knife; These my friends Make up life.
3 At daybreak a blossom, At noontime a rose, At twilight ’tis withered, At evening ’tis closed. The din of confusion, The strain of the fife, These with other things Make up life.
4 A smile, then a tear, Like a mystic pearl, A pause, then a rush Into the mad whirl, A kiss, then a stab From a traitor’s knife; I think that you’ll agree with me, That this life.
– Carrie Law Morgan Figgs – 1878-1968
Another inbox gift from the Academy of American Poets, I received this poem the same day I wrote Monday’s post, This Beauty. I felt an immediate correspondence and in a curious way, with more reading, its rhythm and theme remind me of “Waters of March,” that famous bossa nova by Brazilian Antonio Carlos Jobim, one that too, speaks of life’s bitter sweet.