(vulnerable sharings on my very human journey)

on reading piles, writing

It’s chilly outside today. I can feel the bite in the air hinting at what the fallen leaves that have begun to litter the walkways for the last couple of weeks have been soundlessly saying: fall is almost here. It’s my favourite time of year.

Nothing is more appealing on days like today (or yesterday, for that matter) than to cozy up in a quilt and read. I can’t resist a good book, even though I should be writing one instead of diving headlong into my reading pile.

I read through Harry Potter and the Cursed Child yesterday. Since it essentially is a bound version of the play, it consists mostly of dialog and scene set-up.

I loved the story.

I think we often (as we move through our lives) wonder about the choices we make, and how a different one would have changed our circumstances. This story provides a means for us to vicariously travel along with these characters and see different outcomes. It highlights the perfect imperfection of the human condition, and how much of who we become depends upon those we choose to journey with during our lifetime, and how gracefully we accept our own and others’ periodical defeats.

Prior to even receiving the book (which was an unexpected and most appreciated gift from my son and his girlfriend) I had read through many online critiques of the plot line (and the spoilers, because that’s just who I am). They were a bit off-putting, to be honest, and so when I began to read yesterday I was pleasantly surprised that it was an immersive experience and brought me back into the make believe world that I’d come to love so much.

A week ago from last Friday I took a spill while rushing to the train station between jobs. I injured my right shoulder and it’s been slow to recover. I probably should go to the emergency unit and get it x-rayed but I keep putting it off because I have such little spare time and don’t particularly relish spending it in a hospital line up. I set yesterday as my getting better or going to have it looked at limit and ended up resting instead of going to hospital. It’s getting better but I still can’t properly lift my arm from a certain angle.

I plan on working on one of my own stories today. I have a four hour shift late afternoon but until then I want to get to know my characters a bit better, perhaps write some back story. Maybe I’ll even get to start on the next book in my reading pile. And there will be Dutch Babies for breakfast.

What are you reading these days?


from my kitchen 7.9.16

I had a wonderful visit with friends last night. I only just remembered to snap a pic of the main course and unfortunately, the photo is a little fuzzy.

We started off with fresh baguette slices topped with Chevrai honey vanilla goat cheese, smoked salmon slivers, mango salsa and a drizzle of Bees Knees spicy honey.

The salsa was made with 2 mangos, 2 small shallots, 3/4 red bell pepper, all finely diced, a squeeze of 1/2 a lime, salt and pepper to taste (I’ve been using Le Saunier de Camargue fleur de sel and love it fiercely) all tossed together with a few finely chopped cilantro leaves. I personally love cilantro but some don’t seem to appreciate it as much, so I try to curb my enthusiasm a bit. I used maybe six leaves for mine.

The main course was halibut en papilotte. I put the halibut pieces over a layer of leek and fennel slivers (sliced using a mandolin), seasoned with salt and pepper, a drizzle of white wine and olive oil and garnished with lemon slivers which I’d fed through the mandolin as well. It was all wrapped up in parchment paper and cooked in the oven on a baking sheet at 425 for 18 minutes.

I served them with fresh English peas using this recipe and a spring potato salad using this one. They did not disappoint.

We cleansed our palates with some Mario’s gelatti lemon sorbet, and then I served up a rhubarb, Saskatoonberry and raspberry pie fresh from the oven. I cheated on the crust (I used the Pillsbury ready-made package) and the measurements were inexact on the fruit… about 5-7 stalks of rhubarb, cut into 1″ segments, a large tray of raspberries and about half a pound of Saskatoon berries. I grated the rind from 1 lemon and squeezed its juice in, added about 2 tablespoons of Madagascar vanilla bean paste, and about a cup and a half of sugar. Tossed the whole thing together to incorporate and baked it all in a double crust pie shell arrangement.

The warm pie was served with a dollop of vanilla ice cream.

We had some lovely Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand as accompaniment, trying both the Matua from Hawke’s Bay and the Kono from the Marlborogh region. I liked both but the Matua was truly something special.

on being human

Some days I just want to curl up into a cocoon and forget about the world. A man is on the street corner of Beatty and Pender, screaming like the guy from Network, only much less eloquently. I’m sure he’s mad as hell too.

The world is being torn apart by soulless people who believe they are doing the right thing. It’s frightening, really. I wonder why God just doesn’t shout down at us from the heavens like a good parent should and say “Enough! Enough of this nonsense!!”

This morning I stayed on the bus instead of getting off at the train station and rode it all the way into town. For a good chunk of the ride I chatted about writing and books and dreams with the woman I sat down next to. Both middle aged (she was a bit older than I am, even), it’s good to know that we still have dreams, things that we aspire to, and passions that drive us from the inside out. After our initial chat we both sunk into the reading of our books.

I got to my stop by 8:13 and was able to pop in to Nester’s to pick up some breakfast. Outside on the curb there was a man sitting there. He greeted me with a cheerful “good morning” and when I said it back to him, it occurred to me that he might be hungry too. So I asked him “You hungry? Would you like something to eat?” and he said yes. I asked him what he wanted.

I got it for him, with a coffee to boot. He thanked me and told me that I made his day. I think he made mine.

We connect far too infrequently with people. I’m not sure what people are afraid of. They use all kinds of methods to keep from really being themselves, from really being seen, or from really seeing another. I know at times I am absorbed in my thoughts and worries and don’t see people as well as I could, but more often than not I am assailed by everyone’s humanness. I feel the pain and the fear keeping people locked behind their eyes, and also their bravery at attempting to free themselves from that which binds them.

It is a constant struggle for me, too.

I have a hard time communicating with people who are closed off. I don’t know how to reach them. They frighten the parts of me that tend to close off too, because it’s so much easier to live reclusively than to take it all in, the good and its opposite.

I’m tired today. I have a half hour work out in a few minutes and then I want to run over to Meinhardt’s to pick up a bunch of lavender. I am plotting the presentation for gift wrapping books that I got for my lovely friends. I had to share the gorgeous book that was The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George. As book medicine goes, it’s one that would be of service to all of humankind, if only they were willing to read it and hear its messages.

I have friends coming over for dinner tomorrow evening, and I’m trying to meal plan but I’m still undecided. Something with fish and rhubarb pie, I think, with vanilla ice cream.

I’m working tonight until 10:30. And I’m already tired. Hope you are well.

on creativity, intuition and making time


“You should make books and sell them at the Farmer’s market!” said a co-commuter, as we were waiting for the train this morning.

I was bringing in a large unused canvas I had stashed in our shed to give to a coworker, and my commuter friend asked me, “Oh, do you paint?”

I explained what I was doing with the canvas, and how it had been some time since I’d devoted any time to painting on a canvas of this size. I asked her whether she did.

“I used to… in high school. I’d like to get back into it but I just don’t have the time to devote to it.”

This has got to be one of two of the most common phrases I hear in relation to art making. The other is something along the lines of “Oh, I’m not artistic.”

I told her that there were courses she could take online, and sent her a link to Flora Bowley’s website, even offered to lend her Flora’s “Brave Intuitive Painting” book.

Then, when she asked me (the inevitable question) whether I’d sold my work, I told her “Mostly, no.” I told her that I for the most part worked in a book these days, journal-style, so I showed her some photos, which elicited “Oh, you’re really good!” followed by the sentence I started this blog post with.

I am good. I know this. I can always get better, and practice does improve one’s skills. I know this too.

Here’s the thing. Not that many years ago I made a choice. I chose not to make a living through visual art.

I struggled with this for a long, long time. When I was at the top of my young life, it was something that I felt I was meant to do, but after I left art school without completing my degree, I began working in offices. It didn’t take me long to get mired down by debt. Then I married and a whole different lifestyle took center court.

A few years into motherhood, I decided to try to revisit the art-as-a-living thing and struggled for a while longer trying to figure out how to manifest this desire that sat in the pit of my stomach into something more tangible – something that would provide enough income to replace the one I was earning through other means.

I never did figure it out. I flailed – wildly – and in the end those aspirations were left behind, along with the rubble of a failed marriage.

Not the art, though.

When people claim “art saves lives” I can really get behind that phrase. It’s saved mine innumerable times, has been along with me on my life journey and has always provided refuge.

It’s provided a way for me to express the things roiling inside of me that I could not – did not even know how to – bring out in any other way.

The book I’m reading at the moment, A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini and Richard Lannon, (all M.D.’s), had some interesting passages about the complex functioning of the limbic brain, and how human intuition works.

“As we move through the world we tend to presume that success comes from understanding. The brightness of rationality’s narrow beam makes this supposition nearly inescapable. “Reason is the substance of the universe,” Hegel crowed in an age when science still expected to explicate everything. But these memory studies have intuition leading comprehension by a country mile; they reveal our lives lit by the diffuse glow of a second sun we never see. When confronted with repetitive experiences, the brain unconsciously extracts the rules that underlie them. We experience the perceptible portion of this facility as a gathering pressure in the solar plexus, ready for use but defying description. Such knowledge develops with languorous ease and inevitability, stubbornly inexpressible, never destined for translation into words.”

On the following page they speak to how children learn language, but I find this very summative of the creative process as well:

“Every language is intricate, but is not chaotic; the underlying uniformities reveal themselves to the neural systems poised to pluck recurring patterns out of a sea of experience. […] Behind the familiar bright, analytic engine of consciousness is a shadow of silent strength, spinning dazzlingly complicated life into automatic actions, convictions without intellect, and hunches whose reasons follow later or not at all. It is this darker system that guides our choices in love.”

I believe that it is this same system, that when tapped into, provides me with the essence of my creativity. I’m pretty sure that’s where it comes from for all of us.

While I’ve moved from one art form (visual art) to another (writing), I notice that the way in which it comes into being is different, but not the place from which it derives. For me, the drive to create is innate and autonomic… something I must do.

I’ll close this meandering post with this: create (if you want to) if there’s something that crouches in your solar plexus that wants to be outwardly expressed.

If it feels right, sit with your body for a while and make room for the process to unfold in your life.

I have found that it is profoundly enriching, and even at times life-saving. A birthright.

on scars and the transience of memory

I’m reading PAX this morning. I was laying on our adopted brown couch, on its chaise lounge protrusion, reading with my feet tucked into the cat’s underbelly for warmth. When she got up I stayed, until the rain started pelting so hard that it broke my concentration. I got up to look through the window, at the dense streams of rain coming down so hard they bounced back from the pavement in white flashes, like nails. When it rains this hard, our sloped street looks like a rushing creek, the bands of water so deep that they reach to mid-sole level of a pair of regular sneakers. That’s as high as the Santa Ana river runs some days.

My writing mentor from the TWSO program says that she senses that there is a lot of great material to mine from my childhood experiences. I think she must mean the parts about growing up in an immigrant family. When I peer back through the telescope of memory, everything is tangled. The timeline is scarred together like layers of puckered muscle adhered into place onto organ, bone, where it was cross-sectioned, stuck together where it doesn’t belong.

The news since last week has been ripping away at one of these. The Jian Ghomeshi trial has brought up many things I wanted to let rest in the darkness where I’d buried them. I realize now that this exhumation initially began when women started coming out of the woodwork of his past, infiltrating the news with their experiences.

How muddled things become with the passage of time. A lived experience that some of us have denied even ourselves the whole truth about, the details so humiliating that we want to disown them. The ones that made us fear for our lives – the too tight grip, the punches that left no marks, the switchblade that was unsheathed with the push of a thumb on a button – those are embedded with crystal clarity. The rest – how we got into the predicament, how we became compliant, before or after, just so that we can retain some sense of a normal that over the course of our lives has become skewed – those things we push away into forgetfulness. A normal that we have come to accept but that is far from what the definition of it actually means. We want to disown this dissonance.

I stood trial for the “event” – I say this only mildly facetiously, because though I was a witness, I was treated like a defendant, attempting to defend an honour that was up to the most vicious scrutiny – that culminated in what would be a forced sexual act. I feared for my life. I complied. I walked away with only my winter coat and boots (because I grasped onto them as I locked myself into the tiny bathroom of the motel room to which he had brought me for what I thought was a transaction to obtain a gram of blow). I did what I did to stay alive. He took the little that was left of my self-esteem and every other material possession that I had walked into that room with, and left me with a threat to keep my silence.

I was already a bad girl, by societal norms. I smoked pot or hash daily, worked as a nude dancer in a club in a part of town that was considered less than savoury. I was nineteen and excruciatingly naive but thought I was the opposite. I was sheltered against most everything growing up, except for discipline. That was meted out with brutal regularity. It had softened the lines between love, pain, hate, respect. I wanted out from beneath the thumb that pushed down on me, that didn’t care to listen to who I was, didn’t want to understand me or find the best way to reach me across the chasm of culture and generation gap.

I left home on my eighteenth birthday to join an ashram, convinced that in Vedic philosophy I would find explanations. At this juncture, I just wanted to find a way to understand a world that made no sense to me – I was convinced I would find it there. I would leave half a year later to briefly return home and resume college in the fall. There I met the young man with whom I’d leave home a final time, just before my nineteenth birthday. With neither of us working and having a rent to pay, I took the only job I could find – I supported us both. This “career” lasted just short of a year, until that fateful day in early November when I made a poor choice and misjudged someone’s intentions.

This man who violated me, he had violated others before me and would do the same again, over and over, for decades to come. In and out of jail he’d go, for petty crimes and preying on women, always skillful enough to evade the worst penalties, copping lesser sentences for being an informant and a snitch. In a news article I read a few years back, I found out that he was deceased. In some small way, the invisible scar with his name on it finally felt clipped from its source. I read other articles about the havoc he wreaked over the years, one of them a trial that created a legal precedent in Canada. For the many times I’d wished him dead, I was glad that the universe had finally complied with my request.

As for me – no sense can be made of all of this. We can claim it is karma until the cows come home, but I don’t understand (even now) the vagaries of the universe, within the context of our small lives. We are insignificant, when we look at how vast the universe is, and yet each of our experiences is important in their own right. We are each important. We deserve respect, love and to not confuse those things with the pain some feel determined to inflict upon us in their guise.

looking forward • staying focused • finding gratitude

One of my intentions for the new year is to get better organized.

Between working two jobs, and the writing program, I’ve had very little time to create any visual art, and I seldom schedule in some time to simply journal. My days feel like they speed by at light speed – I hardly slow down for long enough to take stock of what I’ve done and where I’m going.

Last year I thought keeping a bullet journal would be a good idea but I never followed through (mostly because I was stuck on the notion that I needed a proper squared journal to do it right). So I got one at some point this summer but it has been sitting on a shelf, patiently awaiting a time when I could focus on it and begin setting it up.

I saw some pretty intimidating bullet journal spreads on the interwebs – very crafty and creative – but I decided to forge on after rewatching the original bullet journal video.

So here is my first little header for December. It’ll be nice to slow down for long enough to take stock of my days and envision where I want to navigate. It’s been a long time…

This week I’m mostly off on vacation. I’ve been so tired lately that I can’t even speak straight. (For example, yesterday morning I started my cashier shift at 8AM but I was sending off the first several customers with “have a great evening”.)

Today will be a PJ Day… taking stock, organizing my schedule for the rest of the week and maybe getting some laundry done. Between naps and daydreams. 🙂

Wishing you all a restful and centred Winter Solstice. ❤

“morning” pages

Decidedly UNmorning pages.

It is a few short minutes before 2PM and yet I sit here at my computer, still in pyjamas. It’s raining and grey outside, and I have no intention of putting any real clothes on today.

I’m tired. I’m recuperating from a very busy week which consisted of two “normal” work days, each evening ending in my attendance to a conference call in my TWSO (writing) program, and then three “normal” work days followed by three evening shifts at my second job at the grocery store. It was a long week, busy yet somehow leaving me feeling unproductive in all of the “important” ways.

I always think that on my single day off I’ll get All Of The Things done. It’s an ambitious hope. Mostly I end up resting in a semi-vegetative state. This morning the cats woke me up at somewhere in the neighbourhood between 5 and 6AM. Little buggers. I did manage to fall back asleep and ended up lounging in bed until around 10AM. Again, an unusual occurrence for me, but clearly a much needed one.

Last week, after a particularly disheartening moment of pulling up freshly washed slacks and having to suck in my gut more than usual to tie them at my obstinately expanding waist, I decided to set up the second of three personal training sessions that I had purchased at this time last year and only went to one of in January.

The first one was a dud – the personal trainer was clearly not enthused to be helping out an extremely out of shape middle-aged overweight woman. He prescribed a few stretches and exercises that I had requested that he email to me, because contrary to my middle-aged spread, my memory has unfortunately been receding and the detailed movements to three exercises (if I was expected to do them on my own) would largely be forgotten. He never followed up with the email and I resentfully never returned.

So yesterday I lugged in my gym bag to work and took an early lunch, showing up at the appointed time to meet with a new trainer. This one was a young woman and she was by far more helpful and motivated to Do Good. We did little but I learned a lot. I discovered how much more out of shape I am than I had at first imagined. It’s not just the excess weight, but also body mechanics due to multiple injuries (and various surgeries) that have never been properly addressed. So I reckon that progress will be slow, but better that with steadiness than attempting things that will injure me further (which would ultimately result in further inactivity and continued distress on my body).

This poor ole body. Holder of so much cellular memory, good, bad and indifferent.

Today I can feel the work we did yesterday. It’s not a bad idea to let me rest the body and the mind and the spirit for one day. I truly am in need of the respite.

I confess that I am not feeling any holiday spirit this year. Things are tight both financially and in space, our space glutted with furniture and stuff that needs to be attended to (which I never seem to have enough time to attend to). We also have two youngish cats that are relatively new to our home but whom I fear will not do well with a big Christmas tree – or rather the Christmas tree will not fare well with them. There is simply too much for a feline to be drawn to, whether as an ornate scratching post, a thing to climb into, or the associated baubles to hunt and bat around, perhaps even to take bits out of, just as a flavour experiment.

So I’ve opted for a tiny little potted Grinch tree and not much else. Christmas arrangements are largely up in the air; guests or no guests; cooking or no cooking; working or no working. I took the week just before Christmas off as vacation from my office job but I’ll still be scheduled to work at the grocery store for several of those evenings and on both Sundays. So a bit of a break but not a nice stretch of nothing-doingness, or doing what I will for a stretch.

After working two jobs for about a year, that year off while unemployed feels surreal in juxtaposition. I appreciated the time SO MUCH as I was experiencing it, cognizant of its transience, but all of the restful zen-like quality to how I felt in its throes (despite a rather high level of stress in regard to our financial situation) has all but dissipated during this year of working too much just to be able to live. It’s crazy that one needs to work this hard at surviving with some level of comfort. No wonder people give up.

There are a few things that keep me afloat – my immense gratitude for being able to participate in the TWSO program, thanks in part to my day time employer, because writing (creating in general, really) has always saved my life, and my son, whom I adore more than life itself.

I love all of the colours of the decorations this time of year. I sense a falling-down-the-Pintrest-rabbit-hole moment this weekend.

I want to get started on some holiday baking, inspired by the various emails I get from baking or cooking newsletter lists that I subscribe to, but just feel the process itself to be too overwhelming. Instead I write, which is what I ought to be doing anyway, and I read, because ditto on that one, too.

I finally finished reading one of the requisite books for my writing program, Breathing the Page: Reading the Act of Writing by Betsy Warland. It was a slow read, for me, imbibed in short bursts from station to station during my morning and afternoon train rides to and from work. The book lends itself well to this sort of reading because of how it is written, minute concept by minute concept expansively building into a holistic unfolding of the act of writing from an inner perspective. It was absolutely wonderful – beautifully written both in form and content. If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading it, I highly recommend it.

And now… I will write a bit on my novel and then I will be off to research recipes for our meal for this evening, and to go do some housekeeping – little and probably not (definitely not) enough, but it will have to suffice. I just don’t have enough time or energy to do more.

certainty, uncertainty, and the gift of words

Yesterday I wrote a particularly plaintive poem. It is a good one, well-written in my opinion (though given the close proximity, I probably have very little perspective on this little darlin’, but still).

I sent it to a friend and this morning I got back a reply. This paragraph made my heart sing, because sometimes you need to hear from the outside what you can’t muster up internally:

“You as a person have so far outstripped, outgrown and outdistanced anything you were or might have been had you stayed with him, any comparison is ludicrous. Yes, you’ve had shitty days, and crappy months. But you evince a strength, depth, talent and purpose that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. So buck the fuck up. You rock. Hard. Even on the shitty days. Mwah. Hugs.”

I am so grateful for that.

Whatever growth I experience, I always think it’s temporary, a trick of the perfect storm that has me dig a bit deeper than I would if the conditions were sunny and clear. I think that I will become complacent and enjoy the good too much, forget about the hard times that carved the places that made me extraordinary when the need arose.

Still. I am alone and I think that it’s a failing.. of personality.. of resourcefulness.. of luck? I don’t know anymore – one of those. At times I do feel isolated, but I contribute to that by being somewhat difficult to reach, to connect with. It isn’t because I don’t want to, I just don’t feel the need to, under less than optimal conditions. Why waddle in the shallows when there is so much richness in the depths, so much more?

My writing has improved because I have come to realize that the way I was doing it before left out the reader. It’s become more powerful because I trim it down to say more with less words. It is in the editing, the power of pithiness – it is incomparable at keeping to the locus of the piece.

I have much to do, still. Review my older work and rewrite until every piece says more with less.

And life will continue to bring me inspiration (in whichever form it chooses to) so that the words come through, because that – I think – is my gift.