Your Love is an Ocean

me and dadShe radiated energy and baptized us in joy. With her voice and her smile, her dancing and drumming, and all the rest. I couldn’t stop smiling. Thank you, Serena Ryder.

In the wake of all this loveliness and joy I had a vision, a memory of one of the many stories that comprise my experience of the world: A beautiful, young, dark-haired man on a bike, riding through European countryside towards the spot where his mother’s body lay buried. He lays his bike down on the ground, and then his body, to spend the night sleeping on her grave.

The man is my father, and today, within the echoes of all that stunning joy such a short time ago, I felt the echoes of his grief. Intensely. I wept for him on that night, and on those countless other nights where he bore the horror of his war-torn country and the uncertainty of his future on a frame reduced to the bare minimum of thin muscle and skin on bone, on a stomach empty but for potato peels found in the garbage. I wept for him, and for my mother, and for their parents, and my aunts and uncles and cousins—an entire tribe that in some ways still remembers and carries the pain and injury and horror of that time.

Many years later, when medical tests showed the record of those lean years in the form of much scar tissue in his stomach, my father simply said it’s a good reminder not to be wasteful or ungrateful for daily bread. It’s a hard reminder. But I am conscious again of how gratitude and pain are so often braided together, and of how these lumpy multi-textured braids make up the fabric of our experience.

I’m also conscious of how, if we are open to the undercurrents of our lives, these braids carry the potential to expand and enrich and strengthen our being. Running headlong into my mortality two years ago altered me, yes, in ways potentially wonderful, but in darker ways also. It has given me a heightened sensitivity to life and love and joy (it sounds trite, but I have never loved my husband more), but the heightened sensitivity is bittersweet, and includes sorrow, fear, and anger in doses I was not conscious of before.

You may at times want to shy away from my honesty about this place I’m in, and that’s fine, shy away if you’re not comfortable. But just as we all needed to talk about the heartbreak of young love many years ago, or the rigorous and relentless challenges of our sleepless babies and, later, our adolescents determined to find their own way in the world, I need words now also, to help me navigate this place of heightened awareness I am in some ways mostly alone with.

As the voice and drums and lyrics of a few short nights ago continue to echo in my body, I am conscious of the anchor writing is for me.  And you, my family and friends and readers, are the ocean into which I throw this anchor, because, as Serena Ryder so beautifully puts it, “Your love is like an ocean that always takes me home; whispering wind is blowing, telling me I’m not alone…I know that I’ll never drown.”

Your love is an ocean, it truly is.

Through the Window; In Search of Morning

Outside the window, except for a few lights on the street below and in the buildings around me, it’s black. Large frosty clouds of exhaust from rooftops and cars passing by break up the blackness just a little. Several bulky-looking pedestrians pass by, walking quickly despite their bulk; one is running. Cars move slowly, as though they’re not quite thawed, and as though their grip on the road can’t be trusted.

Inside, the forced air heating my space wakes the wind chimes in the window, producing the quietest of melodies, and the memory of summer. The brightness of the computer screen tells my brain it is morning, time to leave behind the consciousness of the night. It also tells me that wind-chill values are below minus 40 degrees, and that frostbite can occur in minutes.

It’s a new day. And though we take yesterday with us, like mud on our boots after a muddy trail, it is new. I resolve to stay rooted and present and engaged, through and with and despite the mud on my boots.

The Dance

Maybe it’s the rapidly waxing moon, almost full now. Or maybe it’s estrogen, or rather a shortage of it. Or maybe it’s the over-abundance of stimulation at the music festival on the weekend, or the humidity, or just the fact that it’s been a busy month and it’s back to work and ordinary life now. Maybe it’s because even though the yard is finally gorgeously drenched in flowers and sunshine and lush green grass, we can’t take our supper outside, not unless we’re willing to become supper for the mosquitoes.

Whatever it is, I keep losing my equilibrium today. Not falling-flat loss of equilibrium, just not in possession of sure and easy footing. Stepping on toes, bumping into the words of others, wondering why they’re being contrary. Old-fashioned crankiness, is what it is.

It irritates me that I still, after all these years, respond to strong personalities by wanting to shrink rather than by asserting myself. It takes every ounce of energy I have not to back down and say “silly me, I don’t know why on earth I ever needed/thought/imagined that!”

I don’t like that my values and views on everything from vaccines to politics (though as informed by fact as any), fall well outside the mainstream and are shared by almost nobody in my circle of friends and family, but they’re my views, and I don’t know how to lie.

Maybe my disequilibrium sometimes comes from plain old-fashioned fatigue resulting from the constant tension between positivity and being honest about reality. Bright-siding has not served us well after all—averting our eyes to the truth of history and current powers at work dooms us to the rut of repeating the insanity. But a steady focus on reality is crushing, so we try to balance between the two poles. Will I give my attention to Chris Hedges right now, or chase another of Edmonton’s great summer music festivals? It’s a dance, and it requires a strong sense of balance.

Or maybe my irritability stems from the fact that I haven’t published anything (outside the informal and therapeutic bits on this blog) since my cancer diagnosis over a year ago.

Now that I’ve said it, I see that not publishing is exactly what it is. It’s not only this of course—it’s all of the above—but I’m a writer, and I’ve been busy with infinitely more boring and less gratifying activities for much of the past couple of years. It’s time to change that, though I’m aware that working on changing it is exhausting and irritating in it’s own right. Publishing isn’t exactly a cake-walk these days.

So, in the meantime, note to myself: breathe. Be gentle with yourself, and with those around you—they don’t want to be wrong about disagreements anymore than you do. Extend grace. Don’t be the judge, just be honest about your own truth. Accept that you are once again at a crossroads. The world is full of confusion, joy, conflict, change. Embrace it all. Offer a blanket to those in pain. Smile with those who have reason to smile.

And get to work.

How Not to get Freshly Pressed: Avoid Ten-Step, Be-Happy, How-To lists

I’m a little bored with the ten-steps-to-anything-you-want lists. Ten steps to happiness. Ten steps around your stone-walling partner. Ten steps out of your personality box. Ten steps to keeping your impossible boss happy. Ten steps to being organized. Ten steps to project confidence. Ten foods to avoid. Ten foods to include. Ten steps to a thin and fit you. Ten steps to a beautiful garden. Ten steps to improving your finances. Ten steps to entrepreneurship. Ten steps to successful breastfeeding. Ten steps to making your posts stand out. Ten steps to being Freshly Pressed. On and on.

I’m new to this, so I could be wrong, but I kind of doubt that praising honest and messy writing over tidy little solutions lists will get you Freshly Pressed. It seems that despite the glut of self-help stuff out there, we still value prettily packaged up and simplistically optimistic over reality.

But sometimes some of us just want to know our lives aren’t the only ones that aren’t all neatly tied up. We want to know that others with similar experiences are managing, and we want to learn from them, but we also want to know that they sometimes don’t manage well at all. Some say this not-managing stage ought to be private, that we ought to offer the story only once resolution has been arrived at. I disagree.

Most of us derive comfort from being reminded that we’re not the only ones who live with insecurities and anxieties and sensitivities. We feel less alone when we’re reminded that others too live with pain, and that they sometimes handle them less than graciously, too. We need to present our best faces at work, and in public in general, and sometimes even with family and friends, and it’s true, nobody enjoys the Forever Victim. But nobody likes Ms. Perfect either, so what’s wrong with striking a balance?

I’m not opposed to helpful information. I’m not opposed to organized writing either. But I am opposed to the idea that the writing always most worthy of our attention is shiny, happy, and primarily informative. Sometimes gritty truth and reality are most worth reading.

Because the truth is that ten steps may or may not get us anywhere but depressed. The truth is that it’s not always black and white and simple.

We come with challenges, personalities, and limitations as varied as the jungle. We’re strong and weak, accomplished and frustrated, happy and sad, productive and lazy, generous and selfish, emotional and rational. We’re conscientious and lazy, principled and compromising, caring and self-absorbed, charming and irritating, tolerant and image-conscious. And we’re all these things for a million different reasons. 

Life does not consist of tidy little stairways, and we don’t often grow beyond the constraints of our particular personalities or find the courage or grace to achieve our goals or endure painful situations by way of ten simple steps. These things involve looking at our deepest fears and motivations and the honesty of fellow travelers. We don’t find community and comfort in being surrounded by people wearing their I’ve arrived badges.

Optimism, direction, information, yes. Picture where you want to go and who you want to be, yes. But be present in the moment too, with yourself, with those around you, with realities that may be painful.

I love to read, but not lists, and not only stories that are finished, all loose ends tied up, problems resolved. I read those who honestly and intelligently and bravely and with humour face the realities of being human, of loss and heart-break, and yes, limitations. Sometimes the waters are blue and the sky is the limit, and sometimes our wheelchairs or our ages or decisions others have made on our behalf are the limit, and sometimes no ten step plans are going to help.  And sometimes we just need to hear from others left cold by the bright-siding, just-do-it lists. 

But as much as the world of literature respects the darker realities of human experience, and despite the reality that many bloggers are actually looking not so much for answers as they are for others who might understand, who might be willing to engage in something less amenable to a numbered list, what mostly seems to float to the top in the blogosphere is the perkier, tidier, how-to stuff.

I’ll have to come up with ten steps to change this.

 

I thought this was really, really good, and I liked the Erin Majors quote (A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.) What do you all think? Why are we sometimes so reserved and prone to conserving and hiding, a little resistant to emotional generosity and unreserved engagement?

Brigitte's Banter

I’ve been in the blogging world for almost four months now, so I don’t claim to be an expert at this way we find ourselves communicating in the 21st century.  I do, however, consider myself a gracious and nice human being and try to extend courtesies when someone takes the time to acknowledge my work.

With that in mind, I’ve come up with a few tips that I believe all bloggers should keep in mind when they have something to say, whether that be from their own writing or when they comment on others.

1.  Find other blogs that you like and comment

I’ve found those blogs by exploring, sometimes through Freshly Pressed blogs, friends’ blogs or just by accident.  If I find one that I think is interesting, funny or inspiring, I make a comment.  I figure if they’ve taken the time to write something, I can do…

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Why we blog, and A Taste of Summer

I took this at The Enjoy Centre this morning, on our way in to brunch with an unlikely but wonderful little group of friends we meet with once a month. It’s the most enormous greenhouse I’ve ever been in, gorgeous, and permits Edmontonians little tastes of summer and virtual patio-dining long before summer actually arrives here in Alberta.

I took it because my eyes are hungry for beauty at this time of year. We’re well into spring, by the calendar, but the ice has been off the lake for just a week or so, and the trees are mostly still bare.

Over my Reuben, one of my friends, Millie, suggested my blog functions kind of like a journal for me. She’s right, though of course there’s much I’d put into a journal but not publish. But it got me thinking about why I—why any of us—blog.

Bloggers blog for all kinds of reasons, from what I can see—reasons that range from therapeutic ones, to growing their business, to a generous sharing of ideas and information, to just being addicted to the keyboard. Many of us write just for the sake of writing.

I do write as therapy; Millie’s quite right. I’m in need of all things therapeutic at this post-cancer, menopausal (not-quite-ready-to-work-tons-but-often-lonely-and-not-quite-ready-to-retire) point in my life. I write to organize and clarify my thoughts and feelings, to share with others what I’ve learned or experienced or discovered, to talk to others who may have  had similar thoughts or experiences or points of view, and because I miss the community of readers I had when I was writing a health column a couple of years ago. Those conversations honed my thinking, and expanded it, and gratified me in many ways, and one of my goals is to rebuild a little of that community.

I also write because I’m one of those with itchy fingers; I just need to write. I sometimes write because I need a break from what I’m doing, and have nobody in the next office or cubicle to exchange a hello with. I often write to finish unfinished conversations too, hence the tagline of the site. (I almost always have afterthoughts in the wake of social interactions, and it’s a nice way to tidy up the loose ends.)

So there it is. I’m one of hundreds of thousands out there doing it. I follow bloggers who offer me the kind of information I’m after, fresh insights, and—maybe most important to me—those who offer me their humanity. And, for right now at least, I’m enjoying adding my own little melody to the vast and fascinating symphony of sound out there.

It’s not for everyone of course—some people don’t like to write, most are far too busy with more concretely productive ventures, and many are too private for it. But I’ve found amazing connections through writing in the past—met wonderful people, some of whom have become wonderful friends.

Why do you blog, or not? Chime in, please, it’ll be fun.

Intuition

I love words. They’re essential, and they can be powerful. But the real magic of our lives, the spark of transformation and connection and revitalization, happens not primarily through words, but in how well our communications actually make it across the spaces between us. The power lies in the sensitivity and intuition of the receptor.

I have so much respect for those who have honed this gift of listening and intuition. The world is full of them, all kinds of people—young and old and in all kinds of roles, but often drawn to work as massage therapists, nurses, baby-holders, midwives, doctors, Benedictine Oblates, psychologists, acupuncturists, musicians, artists.

These people somehow, whether innately or by training or both, often have the ability to interpret accurately not only words, but also what the muscles beneath their hands are communicating, what the skin tone, the strength of the pulse, the eyes, the smile, the body movements, and the energy surrounding the other are telling them.

People who accurately intuit meaning against the backdrop of the other’s whole being—my massage therapist does this routinely even when my words are hiding the truth—these people get at what is in that moment necessary, and that’s where healing happens. There, and in gratitude.

The act of bringing our words and pain to another is therapeutic and necessary, but it is in the successful crossing of the spaces between us that the real power lies. It is when the eyes or ears or hands of another human being have registered and accurately interpreted our communications that we are left stronger, richer, happier, healthier.