Friday, March 27, 2020

Remembering To Breathe

Looking upriver as the tide goes out.
I like grocery shopping. I take my time and find it relaxing. I like to look at products, sometimes for an embarrassing long time. Sometimes I have a hard time deciding what I want. It’s a process and I enjoy it, as it works as a relaxation technique for my brain.
I’m even able to tune out the blaring music that bounces off the high, steel ceiling, and ignore the other shoppers. I’m not there to socialize, I’m there to select my groceries (who you calling an  introvert?!).

My first foray into the grocery store since Nova Scotia went into a State of Emergency happened earlier this week, and it taught me something about myself.
I already know that “panic” is my default setting, but there’s a big difference between panicking the first time you find a tick on your leg and panicking because THERE ARE OTHER PEOPLE IN THE STORE during a viral pandemic.

When I pushed my cart through the automatic doors and entered the store, my plan was simple: Get in and get out as quickly as possible. Pick up all the items on my large list as quickly as possible. Stay away from people as much as possible.
Unfortunately, I had to go in the afternoon rather than the morning so there were more people shopping than I was comfortable with.

All of a sudden, I realized how little space there is for “physical distancing” inside a grocery store. The aisles aren’t wide enough for two people to keep two meters apart if we are passing. I tried to hold back, to let others get their stuff and get going,
but right away, in produce,
there was a woman who was TAKING HER TIME.
Just grab the peppers, lady, and keep moving.
I couldn’t stay still. I had to power by – holding my breath, averting my eyes.

Two shoppers wore masks. At least four employees were shopping for phoned-in orders.
I turned around and left an aisle because I couldn’t go past a woman gazing at the cans of soup. The coolers holding the milk products were the busiest spot.

I kept holding my breath – to keep my moist breath in, to keep others’ droplets out. Not sure if it helps, but holding my breath also served to mute the instinct to chit-chat.

There was an older woman, with a small cart, walking around slowly and I now regret I didn’t speak to her. I sort of smiled, but I wish I’d spoken with her. She seemed lonely.

Reflecting on my experience now, I realize my panic default snapped into high gear when I went into the store and I had tunnel vision. I was in “speed” mode and not really considering my distancing. I’ve NEVER shopped so quickly or with such intensity.
What brought this home to me, in reflecting, was that I didn’t read the signs at the checkout that explained where to stand and when to unload your cart – and I read everything. I just couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t read the words, I couldn’t stop moving.
GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT
That’s all I wanted to do. Get my groceries and get out of there.

It was the barrier on the way out that almost undid me. For someone raised white and middle class in central Canada, who has never travelled or worked in a third world country, who does not have a family history with segregation or assimilation or genocide in it, seeing the barricade of dry goods separating the out from the in suddenly made me want to cry.
And it was only guiding my direction, it wasn’t truly a wall.
But it marked that we are no longer in the Time Before. It reminded me that everything has changed, and will continue to change, and will remain changed when we reach the Time After.

When I returned home, and washed my hands, and unloaded the groceries, and washed my hands, and put away some of the groceries, and washed my hands, I put on my outside gear and took the dog for a walk by the river.
And I stopped holding my breath.
The wind cleansed my mind of anxiety.
The sunshine disinfected my spirit.
The moving water washed away the heartache.

In times of human catastrophe, we find our peace in nature.
With air and fire and earth and water.
With wind and sun and trees and river.

As long as we can step outside and breathe, feel the sun on our face, smell the dirt and grass, we are never truly isolated.

Looking downriver as the ice flows towards Port Howe.


NOTE added an hour later: Just saw on Facebook that a local grocery store has "flow markings" now - arrows pointing in one direction in each aisle. Hallelujah! While no one else will race around the grocery store like I do, at least we'll all be going in the same direction -- and I can just bump them along with my cart.



Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Out Standing In My Field Again

From this angle, my office looks lovely - you can't see my messy desk!

What a week it's turned out to be!
Nimbus (my publisher) and Vagrant Press (the fiction imprint) decided last week to start an online book club for the weeks/months we are in quarantine. They held a vote between four books, one of which was mine, and on Sunday, it was announced that Field Notes was chosen as the first book of the club.

My role in all this is to post once a day for seven days about something related to the book, including a video of me reading from one of the essays.
That 5 minute video took THREE HOURS to upload to the discussion group today! All hail rural satellite internet that is even slower than usual because of the increased volume of users stuck at home.
It was ridiculous (although I used the time to do two loads of laundry and read) but hopefully the effort was worthwhile for those watching me read from "Starry, Starry Night".

It's been wonderful to talk and think about Field Notes, the book, again, and to come up with ways to interact with readers. I still love my sweet little book - my first book - and wish there could be a follow up. Rural life is special, and disappearing, but if there's one thing this pandemic and quarantine has shown me, it's how lucky I am to live in the country.
If I ever had to choose between truly high-speed broadband and food... I certainly feel fortunate we have a big property where we can grow our own veggies.




Saturday, March 21, 2020

Hope Shines, and Sings, and Breathes

Lighting up the chicken coop as a sign of  hope and solidarity.

There are moments when I feel very scared.
The news: the growing numbers, the overwhelmed hospitals, the caskets in Italy.
The weeks: one down for us in Nova Scotia, two more to go…and then two more…and two more…until weeks become months.
The work: disappearing, and no one knows when it will be business as usual.
The future: it’s na├»ve, and selfish, and hopeful to think about when we will get back to normal.

Business as usual. Back to normal.
To even use those phrases: A radical act of hope or an exercise in futility? This is going to get worse before it gets better, and out of that, I worry about domestic violence and suicide, food security and prescriptions, looting and home invasions. I am safe, I am well, and I know I will remain so – which frees up space in my mind and heart for those who are not, or will not be.
It seems foolish not to worry, it seems pointless to worry.
The news will get worse before it gets better.

These are the moments when I feel very scared.

I can’t allow those thoughts to overwhelm me. I work in my office, I watch the news – and then I go for a walk. A cleansing walk. I breathe in fresh air, I stand with the sun on my face, I listen to the birds.
As I took that photo this morning, at ten to seven, the birds were singing in the treetops, waiting for the feeders to arrive.
Feed the birds. Walk the dog. Scramble eggs. Watch a movie. Do yoga. Call a friend. Have a bath.
Breathe.
Hope.
Pray.

All we can do it take this one day, one week at a time, and not make plans for or assumptions about the future. The future is uncertain; in today, there is hope.
Which is why I turned on the Christmas lights hanging off the chicken coop. I saw a report on the Nova Scotia news the other night, and then a tweet out of Newfoundland: People are putting out and turning on their Christmas lights again.
Lights on for hope. Lights on for solidarity.
We’re not in the city, not many people will see our lights shining in the night, but they are there, connected to a power source so why not?
Why am I turning on my Christmas lights in March?
Why not?
The coloured lights shining in the dark actually shine into our bedroom so they were the last thing I saw before I closed my eyes to sleep, and the first thing I saw when I woke up in the pre-dawn dark.
Hope shining.
And there were cars on the road after dark last night, and cars on the road before the sun came up over the river this morning. Drivers thinking, “Why?”
And hopefully realizing, “Why not?”

With a smile on their face. 

We'll get through this. I hold onto that thought whenever I get scared. We'll get through this. 


Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Self-Isolation: A Writer's Life

Saying hello to the two maple trees back in the woods.  

The other day, someone on Twitter reminded us we should start a "Covid-19" diary, apparently like many people did after the 9-11 terror attacks in 2001, so that we remember the details of what this global pandemic experience was like.
That's a great idea; I know from experience that we don't remember details like we think we will, that the further away from an event we get, the less we remember it clearly and precisely.
(I need to write down my experience with Dwayne's stroke in August 2018 before all those details fall away; now that I'm not talking about that first night and day as much, I know my sense of fear and urgency are fading.)

But for me, self-isolation is a way of life! I don't know how long it will be before I really feel the impact of this pandemic shutdown. Mondays are always church service day, and I have an interview to transcribe and an article due April 1. I have to write a message for church this Sunday, and there are little things to write up for my Facebook page.
Yes, we're still meeting for church this Sunday; it's a big sanctuary and there will be 20 people or less there. What has always bugged me -- how spread out people are in that huge space -- is now a bonus! We've been "social distancing" for years.
Perhaps when we move online for church, it will feel different, but since I intend to present those services from the empty sanctuary in town, I will have a "normal" Sunday routine.
I intend to carry on with message on the Alphabet of Faith, posting it on Facebook, regardless of whether we hold worship or not. I expect people will "attend" online; doing a Facebook group for our church will be a new way of creating and maintaining community.

Once the article is written and submitted, I start another round of editing on my memoir about my father, the funeral director. My "early version reader" liked it, and didn't suggest any major revisions, so I can take my time with the work and really make sure I'm saying exactly what I need to say.
Who knows what's happening to publishing? Who knows where we will be in two months or six months? Everything is slowing down. There is stress -- watching the news creates anxiety and fears about the future -- but I can turn that off and return to my work.

And of course, I'll walk in the woods with the dog for companionship, as always. Nothing different there either. What has always been my space for peace and quiet and contemplation is even more essential now.
"Ordinarily, I go to the woods alone," as Mary Oliver started her poem, How I Go Into the Woods.
Of course, spring is coming, our wet and muddy season here in this river valley, so I must order a new pair of boots online -- my current ones have worn through with holes.

The only contact I'm craving is the city in its shutdown.
When I see reporters standing on empty sidewalks alongside empty downtowns in cities, I think, "How lovely. And only the dog walkers will appreciate that."
I wonder if people realize they can still go outside, can still walk their dogs all over, can still walk on sidewalks and through parks?
And it makes me remember my first Christmas in Vancouver, in 1996. It was early Christmas Day and I took my dog, Maggie, for a walk, alone, as I always did first thing in the morning. But it was my first experience with a holiday morning, with empty city streets, with only the occasional cab driving by. My memory seems to think it was snowy, but memory can be faulty so I won't say that it was.
It was just cool and dark and quiet. It was wonderful. It's a feeling -- of expansiveness in the midst of the quiet and aloneness -- that I have never forgotten. I even crave it, that special time in the city before it wakes up, before it gets noisy and crowded, when it feels like it belongs only to you.
I hope the dog walkers, at the very least, in every city gets the chance to explore their city in its emptiness, in its social isolation.

A chance to breathe, a chance to be curious, a chance to hope, a chance to believe things will get busy again.




Sunday, March 15, 2020

K is for Kingdom & Kommunity

For my friend Shelagh, and others, who aren't on Facebook, where I'm publishing a condensed version of my messages, like this one, from The Alphabet of Faith every Sunday afternoon.

Detail of a larger, student-created painting that hangs in the foyer of the
Oxford Regional Education Centre in Cumberland County, Nova Scotia. 

The KINGDOM of God was the message of Jesus. He proclaimed it, he taught it, and he lived it. He walked the talk – that the kingdom is here. It was the reason he would die on a cross, rather than sit on a throne: to bring about the kingdom of God for all humanity. For all who believed in him and followed his way.

This is where the focus and faith of the church needs to be. Creating the kingdom of God. Here. Now. At all times. This is the work of the church – “The work I’ve come to do” as Jesus said at the start of his ministry.

Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is among you”. In his time, those in the crowd who questioned him were thinking of a kingdom that would bring material and political benefits but in saying that, Jesus shifted the emphasis from future expectations to the observable presence of the kingdom in his ministry.

On earth as it is in heaven.
Among you, right here, right now.
Watch the news and read the newspapers, and you’ll think we have a long way to go in creating the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. It’s the 21st century, and we’re still reminding people that the kingdom of God is meant to happen here on earth.
And yet, the Kingdom of God is already an observable presence; we just need to see with new eyes because if you watch the news and read the newspapers – you will see the Kingdom of God is here.

So, what does the kingdom of God look like?

It looks like a people who are taking care of each other.
It looks like a people who are laying down their lives for each other.
It looks like a people who are living as an extended family.
It looks like a close-knit, functioning body where each member is affected by what happens to the other members.                                                                      

It looks like what we heard last week, when talking about justice, and hearing what Jesus called the work he’d come to do:
​- feeding the hungry
- clothing the naked
- blessing the poor
- giving sight to the blind
- caring for the sick

In an online article published at patheos.com last week, author Herb Montgomery, who is the director of Renewed Hearts Ministry, a faith and social justice non-profit organization based in West Virginia, said, “When Jesus says, ‘the Kingdom is not coming with signs to be observed,’ he is rejecting the specific way in which prophets had led masses of Jewish people to their deaths at the hands of Roman soldiers. Jesus instead offered a new vision for human society in the form of a community that practiced nonviolent resistance, liberation, and reparation, with the hope of both personal and societal transformation. This kingdom was within their grasp. Where other approaches were revolutionary suicide, Jesus gave them a A NEW WAY [my edit] that they had the ability to accomplish.” 

There’s what word again: community

So what does the "KOMMUNITY" of God look like…when we are dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic?

Well, let me repeat:
It looks like a people who are taking care of each other.
It looks like a people who are laying down their lives for each other (we see you, nurses and doctors).
It looks like a people who are living as an extended family.
It looks like a close-knit, functioning body where each member is affected by what happens to the other members.   

It looks like a guy named Shea Serrano, who I came across on Twitter on Friday PAYING PEOPLE’S BILLS.
“Who needs help?” he asked.
That’s it. “Who needs help?”
So he – and others who hopped on board – paid phone bills, medication, a student loan payment, a monthly insurance payment, a car payment. He gave money to a woman expecting her first baby just because she’s worried.

No questions asked. No judgement. No conditions. Just “We got you.”
WE got you.

That’s what the KOMMUNITY of God looks like. And that community is growing – expanding and spreading as if love – kindness and compassion – was a highly-contagious virus!

Jesus’ vision of life was communal rather than individualistic. It places each of us – with our personal needs – in the context of a larger community. The kingdom of God is the community of God.
Just changing that word brings it right down to earth. Right down to our space. Right down to our laps – and our living. In community – with God, with Jesus, and with each other.

Right here, right now. Even during, or especially during, the anxiety and uncertainty of a global pandemic. As Dr. Amit Patel, an author who lives in the UK and is visually-impaired, wrote on Twitter just this morning: “Now, more than ever, community matters.”



~ by Sara Jewell, for Trinity United Church, Oxford, NS

Monday, March 09, 2020

My Messy Magnificent Life

Leonard says I need to chill. "Be like me. Totally relaxed." 

I screwed up at church last week, on the first Sunday of Lent, and then I screwed up some more, but a little less, this past Sunday, the second Sunday of Lent.
They weren't big mistakes, just mistakes of inattention, of rushing, of doing too much.
Lent is a season of contemplation, of taking a good, hard look at ourselves to see what's out of alignment with our values, of doing some serious strolling through the "wilderness" or the "desert" areas of our life -- those uncontrollable and untamed spaces we usually avoid because there are truths there we don't want to face or deal with.

My wilderness, apparently, is falling into the trap of "juggling too much". That's how I put it when I explained to the congregation my very wrong choice of scripture last week. In my defense, doing The Alphabet of Faith is a narrative style of preaching; the topic comes first then the appropriate scriptures are chosen. I had a phrase to search for, but I don't just like to do a line or two of scripture; I think there needs to be more provided for context.
Well, hearing one of the scriptures I chose spoken out loud in church was horrifying! It was one of those passages that people use to exclude women from leadership roles, to oppress them in relationships with men, and to generally diminish them in every way. All I wanted was the line about "made in the likeness of God".
Big oops.

So I took a good, hard look at myself, and the way I'm living these days, to see how I could have made that mistake, and I realized I'm doing too much. I'm rushing my church work in order to get writing work done, in order to get back to the book, in order to get those books read for that program...in order to...

Stop.
Inhale slowly.
Exhale slowly.
Do it again.

Here's the thing: March came in like a lion for me. The first two weeks of this month are madly busy, busier than I've ever been (how is that possible for a lazy writer like me?!). It's like I stepped outside the door and said, "Wow, there's the month of March coming and there's hardly anything to do in it. I'll be able to focus on my church work and do some creative writing."
And then,
WHOOOOMP
A big snowbank slid off the roof and landed on top of me. Just like in the cartoons! There I was, my big head sticking out of the top of the snowbank, buried in all the work of March.
I don't feel

Now, where were we?
First of all, I sent off my manuscript to my "early version reader" and didn't expect it to be returned until after Easter. It was back three days later. She loved it; no major problems, no rewrite needed. But now I want to get to work on it; I feel I should be working on it. Yet there is all this other work to be done -- a two-day workshop in Halifax to attend, an interview to transcribe and an article to write (I didn't even have time to post a story about getting to snuggle a day-old baby goat), weekly church work, an essay to write and submit, an Order of Nova Scotia nomination to put together (which is really important to me), a box of books to read for an awards program, and I should be substitute teaching...
Stop.
Breathe.
Chill.

Truth: You didn't expect to be working on that manuscript until the end of April, maybe even May, so forget about it for now.
Truth: You are looking forward to the workshop.
Truth: You have been waiting to write that article about your friend for seven years (!), and it was great to get to visit with her even if you had to drive 500 kilometres.
Truth: You feel out of your comfort zone with the church work but you are good at writing those messages.
Truth: You are missing your ordinary, messy, wonderful, lovely little life.

In her wonderfully-titled book, This Messy Magnificent Life: A Field Guide to Mind, Body and Soul, Geneen Roth talks about those three a.m. worry-fests, and says once she realized she could just get out of bed and "meet up with friends", she started going outside and looking up at the night sky.
Wait, what? Why didn't I think of that? I mean, that's what I do: I look up at the stars.

This is what happens when you get "too busy" and you are "juggling too much" -- you stop doing what you normally, ordinarily do. You stop stopping. You stop looking up. You stop breathing.
"After so many years of many practices, I have only one left," Roth wrote. "Let me remember to pay attention to the ordinary, not just to the extraordinary."

So today, as I worked on the next church service, I thought of my ordinary and lovely, supportive and encouraging and forgiving congregation who take me in every week even though I'm utterly out of my comfort zone.
And this week, as I'm in Halifax for the workshop, I'm going to focus on the ordinary moments of light and breath, of listening and responding No, just listening -- I'm just going to BE present for two days and not feel the need or the want to say anything. I'm going to absorb and think, but not speak.
I'm going to sit and breathe. I'm going to stand up and breathe. I'm going to look at the water, I'm going to look at the sidewalk, I'm going to look at the sky -- even though it will be cloudy.

And after that, when I get home and get back to work, I'm going to slow down. I'm going to stop rushing. I'm going to try a practice that Geneen Roth picked up from author Eckhart Tolle: Stop complaining.
I automatically want to say "I don't complain. I'm a very positive person" but I'll bet when I become aware of what I am about to say, that a lot of what comes out of my mouth is some kind of complaint. Including, "I'm so busy."
Not complaining, just noticing.
Every ordinary thing. 

My house is messier than my life, and my life is full of magnificent love and laughter and warm hugs, and I'm fortunate and blessed by the people who uphold me, and I have this cat who flops around, absorbing all the sunshine into that hot, white, furry body of his. Every time I look at him, I think, "Gosh, if only I could learn to relax like that."
So the next time Leonard rolls over on his back and closes his eyes, I'm going to lie on the floor with him and soak up the sunshine for five minutes. for as long as I want.

I rushed right by this window and didn't even notice the icicles -- or the sky.
Mother pointed them out.



Tuesday, March 03, 2020

Thought for the Day


"Hope is not about proving anything. It's about choosing to believe this one thing: that love is bigger than any grim, bleak shit anyone can throw at us."

Anne Lamott is the second writing guide I found through her book about writing, and the first Christian writer I started reading. She's still writing, and I'm still reading - and quoting - her, but this is one quote I can't share in church!

The photo is mine, and our front yard. Just happened to be doing yoga early one morning when this gorgeous girl showed up scrounging on the ground under our lilac bush for sunflower chips and peanuts.




Saturday, February 29, 2020

The Purple Bowl


As I prepare for the first Sunday of Lent – this season of reflection on our lives and our habits, on our temptations and our struggles that comes with the hope we will find redemption in a leap of faith, and in the grace of making changes – I dug out this bowl given to us as a wedding present. I need it for the liturgy we’ll use starting Sunday to mark the season each week until Easter.
The liturgical colour of Lent is purple and I knew I had a purple bowl; what I’d forgotten was the sun-like image on the inside.
And placing the ceramic bowl on the wooden table in the sunlight, shadows and reflections come into play. What are our lives but the movement between places of light and places of dark? What are our lives but the weaving of sparkles and shadows? Joy and grief, celebration and mourning, laughing and crying, holding on and letting go.
While always at the edges, thin yet bright, is love. 

It reminds me of the significance of our rituals, how we do certain things at certain times as a way of making a connection with something or someone – like energy or spirit. By placing this bowl in the sunlight, it becomes infused with the strength of the sun but also the strength of the shadows.
When I first embarked on that long-ago journey of divorce and caregiving, when I felt like I would live in the shadows of brokenness for longer than I could bear, I came across a quote that became a beacon of peace in those difficult years: Ruth Renkel said, “Do not fear shadows. They simply mean there’s a light is shining somewhere nearby.”
Let’s remember to turn our eyes away from the deepest gloom towards the light. It may take some time for our journey to take us close to that light, for that light to strengthen and those shadows shrink, for us to find rebirth and renewal, but it’s important to remember what the shadows mean.

There will be times of struggle, of loss, of lament. There will be times when we are forced to take a hard look at our living and find the courage to make a change. There will be times when our bowl is empty…
…yet even along the edges, there will be sparkles. A glint of hope. A twinkle of joy. A glimmer of something yet to come.

Even if it’s just oranges.

I filled the empty bowl with plump, round oranges and placed it in the centre of the table. On Sunday, the bowl with its sunburst will go to church and be filled with dull sand, and a stick, and later, a stone, then other symbols of our journey. It will begin a ritual marking this season of darkness and deep reflection, of mystery and creativity, a ritual reminding us that even as we sit with the shadows, with the fear, with the uncertainty, there is a light shining nearby, allowing us to journey deeply and honestly into ourselves then find our way home on a path lit sparkles of grace.


Friday, February 21, 2020

This Is Where You Belong


The chores get done in reverse in the evening, usually after supper and after the evening news so it's dark when I bring in the bird feeders and empty the water from the dish in the chicken coop (rather than have to smash out a frozen block of water in the morning).

Last night, in the freezing cold temperatures, as I turned away from the coop after locking the door (and hearing my little mouse friend skittering around inside very close by), I paused to look at my house.
My house. Our house.
Around it, silence. Cold, cracking silence.
Above it, a black sky sprinkled with stars.
And I took a deep breath in and listened to this universe remind me, "This is where you belong."

For all the uncertainty I feel about the future of my writing career, whether that's magazine work or church work or book work, for all that I have no idea what I'll be doing this time next year, I know -- for certain -- that I love where I live. That in this space, on this property, under that vast sky is where I am meant to be.

Perhaps I'm not selling another book because I don't live in Toronto; no one wants an obscure writer from a small market like Nova Scotia. But this is where I live, love and write best, and I don't want to move back to Toronto, I don't want to live in the city. I want the sky -- in the morning and at night -- because it makes me believe in 'infinite possibilities'. As long as I can see the sky, I will believe.

People are complaining about the cold -- it's minus 24 when I get out of bed at six o'clock in the morning -- but these frigid nights are a result of the clear skies. Forget about staying inside under warm covers watching TV. Get outside and LOOK UP! The cold makes the stars glitter. The cold reminds us we are alive, lucky to be alive, "on the right side of the sod" as my husband says. Breathing in that cold air, filling my eyes with that sparkling black sky. Nothing is more life-affirming and more hopeful, nothing makes me more curious about the future. When I look at the cloudless night sky next February, who will I be? I would like to be even more grateful than I am right now.

I can't take the kind of night photos that would adequately illustrate what I experienced last night so I took a photo of the same view early this morning. Really not was awe-inspiring, and reassuring, and breathtaking, but still, my home.





Monday, February 17, 2020

This Is Your Groundhog Speaking



PUSSY WILLOWS!
It's going to be an early spring, my friends. It was three degrees at four o'clock yesterday afternoon when Dwayne spotted these from the tractor as he plowed a path for me up the old road.
I love winter, and yesterday was a perfect winter day, but it's not wrong to be excited about an early spring, either.
Because I love daffodils as much as I love pussy willows.

Happy Monday, darlings! Hope your week is fuzzy and hope-filled!

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Feeding the Wild Birds

The staging area in the garage where I fill all the bird feeders every morning. 

"You know, birds are tough," my husband said this morning, when it was minus 28, as he watched the wild birds clamouring at the bird feeders I'd just hung in tree branches around our front yard. "They are here all summer and then all winter -- wearing the same feathers the whole time."

I suppose he's thinking of how the cattle he grew up tending thickened their coats every fall in anticipation of winter.
"You'd be amazed at the insulating power of feathers," I told him.
Those little downy feathers close to the body keep the cold from reaching them. In the summer, well, they need cool breezes as much as we do.

We've been feeding the wild birds since our first winter together, in 2007. Every year, the kinds of birds changes. We used to get a lot of evening and pine grosbeaks and blue jays; this winter, we are inundated with finches. Four dozen of them, I'm sure. So many. Plus starlings, and always mourning doves. Chickadees but not as many as in the past. The little ground feeders: juncos. They arrive early in the morning.

Ah, mornings.
My morning routine:
6 am - get up, turn on the kettle and get the fire going in the furnace
6:15 - make chai tea and do yoga
7:00 - feed the cats and make coffee (but don't turn it on yet)
7:20 - fill up all the bird feeders, get dressed and take the feeders outside
7:40 - turn on the coffee, let the dog out, feed the dog
8:00 - drink first cup of coffee and watch the new

My mornings are very busy and keep to a tight schedule. This is why I don't get upstairs to my office until 9 am, or even later.
But having the wild birds around our home is important to us. Why else would we have two huge picture windows and sliding glass doors across the front of our house if we didn't want to see what's outside?!

"Good morning, birdies," I say every morning. I can't always see them but they are there.

Do the birds know me? Do they recognize me in the long black jacket with its faux-furry hood, my blue hat, the hot pink cuff of my heavy polyurethane boots? Do they recognize me because I walk the same worn-down paths in the snow? The route to the maple tree then the birch tree, each with one large bird feeder, then the far lilac with two smaller feeders. The route to the near lilac where four feeders hang. The route to the pine trees down front where the crows and the pheasant feed on cracked corn and peanuts.
In the tops of the trees, the finches chirp. They sing for their breakfast. They tell me I'm late, that they've been waiting.

The birds show up after dawn breaks but before the sun appears over the trees on the far side of the river. And it's getting lighter earlier, but I'm not changing my morning routine. Not getting up at 5 o'clock just to feed the birds!
I do toss out a few cupfuls onto the front and back deck for those early birds, the ground feeders, who like to get there before the big birds show up and take over.

Two early birds (juncos) getting the seeds on the back deck. 
In the evenings, just after the sun sets, the only birds left flitting through the spriggy branches of the near lilac are the chickadees. They are very talkative, using several sounds.
I don't know what they're saying. 'More peanuts', perhaps; 'more sunflower chips, please'. 'Don't take the feeders yet!'
I bring all the bird feeders in every evening, otherwise the raccoons will demolish them as they try to feed. On these very cold winter nights, the raccoons don't venture out; the tracks I see belong to two young foxes. They may be the two siblings who survived last spring's doomed family (the father was shot by our neighbours, one baby I found dead on the side of the road, don't know what happened to Mother).

I'm sure I should be writing about the meditation of my morning, how how I stop to admire the vibrant colours of the morning sky as the sun rises above the river, how I breathe and the birds breathe and our breath mingles, and how their song fills my heart, and how they do know me and sing to me...
...but all I think about when I'm outside trudging my paths, shaking corn on the ground, is that first cup of hot coffee waiting for me in the kitchen...


Friday, February 14, 2020

Saying I Love You

A frozen deer hoof print heart. 

I had just told my best friend Kim that my husband and I were separated. That I would be moving away from Vancouver. And it hurt more to think about leaving her than leaving him.
“Oh, honey,” she said and held out her arms. I took one step towards her and she wrapped her arms around me. This woman started out as a mentor for my career in radio then became my boss and is now a very, very good friend. Kim is the older sister I didn’t have. She is twelve years older than me with long blonde hair and two children. It is because of her that my bellybutton is pierced.
“I love you,” she said.
“I didn’t realize you were so tall,” I replied. Apparently, this was the first time in our two year friendship that we had hugged. “I love you too.” And it was the first time I’d said that to her even though she tells me all the time.

Kim tells everybody that she loves them. At least, the everybody that she does love. Like her kids. Her husband. Her sister. Her friends.  Me. I tell my dog and my husband. If I try and tell my parents, I start to cry.

We are weird that way in my family. All my life, love was shown, not spoken. We expressed our love through eating meals together and taking drives together and by giving two or three cards – at a time, to the same person, for the same occasion – signed always with “Love”. We also gave gifts. Lots and lots of gifts. Not big expensive buy-your-love gifts but little plentiful thinking-about-you gifts. That’s how I knew I was loved without ever being told.

When someone says I love you, it’s very hard to not say it back. It seems rude. It implies you don’t feel the same. To say those words out loud to Kim, “I love you”, while standing in her kitchen wrapped in her arms with my nose pressed to her shoulder, felt very, very good. A little crack appeared in my heart. That crack wasn’t merely letting love in; it was letting love out.
Love can take us to some pretty strange places. Some pretty, some strange but most of the time, entirely unexpected. It’s like love suddenly has to pee really, really badly and jerks the car over to the side of the road then dashes into the woods without leaving any markers to find the way back.
I was quite content to hold my pee until I reached a washroom even if it was nearly impossible to press the gas pedal with my leg bouncing up and down while trying to squeeze all those down-there muscles together. But love has a way of leaking out.

After I said goodbye to Kim and her family, my dog and I drove all the way back across the country to my parents’ home. I thought I was going to hang out at the summer house in Nova Scotia for a few months and figure things out, but shortly after arriving my mother told me that Dad had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. This pretty much answered the question that had been dogging me for a couple of thousand miles: “What do I do now?”  I would help care for Dad.

Alzheimer’s changes the way you love someone. Alzheimer’s makes you say things you could never bring yourself to say before. In my father’s case, Alzheimer’s took away his ability to say anything. The plaques and tangles attacked his language and visual-spacial abilities first.  But in the early days, we didn’t see the significance of this. To us, he just needed an extra moment – sometimes a little help – figuring out what he was trying to say. I couldn’t see that this would mean some day he couldn’t talk at all.

One evening during that first summer in Nova Scotia, my father and I were sitting side by side on the couch watching TV and I had this sudden urge to say “I love you, Dad”. It was right there on my tongue; all I had to do was open my mouth and say the words. There was no reason why I shouldn’t tell my father that I loved him, especially since one day he wouldn’t understand the words, but I hesitated, I thought, “I will cry if I say it,” and the words remained unspoken.
That’s the problem with thinking. It takes the place of acting, of speaking. But a disease like dementia has a way of forcing an issue. First, you move your father into a nursing home but that awfulness compels you to tell him that you love him. Once you start, you cannot stop. You tell him over and over because it is what he understands best.

A few months after Dad had become a resident in the secure unit of the nursing home, I arrived after lunch to find him pacing the hallway as was his habit. When he saw me, he put his arms up in greeting and walked towards me. I kissed him on the cheek then walked to his room to lay my coat on a chair. My father followed me in and indicated he wanted me to sit next to him on the bed. He took my forearm and my hand in his and started to tell me something. By this time, he was increasingly unable to speak his thoughts clearly; what was in his brain came out his mouth as gibberish. I could tell by the way he was patting the back of my hand and by the words he was trying to form what he was trying to say and my eyes filled up with tears.
“Dad?”  He looked directly at me when he heard my voice crack.  “Are you trying to tell me that you love me?”
“Yes, yes, yes!” he exclaimed and I laid my forehead against his cheek.
“I love you too,” I squeaked.

Almost two years after we’d moved Dad into the nursing home, shortly after I’d met the man who would become my second husband, I picked up the phone in the kitchen even though my mother was there preparing supper. The conversation was short and then I said, “I love you, too. Bye.”
After I hung up, my mother looked at me and I was embarrassed. I had known Dwayne only a few months yet it was serious; expressing our love for each other had come easily after a few dates and, with a thousand miles between us for the time being, an important part of our conversations. Yet when it came to saying “I love you” in front of my mother, I had hesitated before responding.
“I wish we were a family that said that more,” my mother said to me.

Dwayne and I have been married for 12 and a half years, and my mother has lived with us for almost nine years. I’d like to tell you that I learned my lesson, that I say "I love you" as easily to my mother as I do to Dwayne and the dog and my friends. I'd like to tell you that I say “I love you” to my mother every day – because I do and I should – but I can’t.
I will cry if I say it.





Sunday, February 02, 2020

Deep Into the Woods

If I want a long walk, the destination is the top of the hill you see in the distance.
Here's the thing: (Part One)
I'm not an ambitious person, or possessing a single-minded focus. I'm not seeking fame, just a bit of name recognition (in a good way) and the fortune I need is merely financial reliability, but I don't need to win awards and sell books in airports all over the world (those are nice surprises, but not goals, you know?) I know what I like to do, and I work hard, and I love a deadline; that's why radio was a great fit for me - a deadline every fifteen minutes!
That's also why writing is a good fit; I'm good at self-directed work, and with deadlines.

I am a simple person, and my wants are simple: I want to walk and I want to write books (or, because the universe likes us to be specific, write and publish books).
That's what I remembered during my long walk this afternoon.

It didn't start out as a long walk; I just got tired of the dog staring at me so I put down the novel I was reading as part of my Sunday afternoon non-work time, and said, "Okay, let's go for a walk."
I figured it would be a quick one but once I got out there into the cold air, once we reached the beaver brook too soon, I just kept going because I needed to keep moving. The snow isn't deep, just enough to feel the calf muscles engage. I could feel all my muscles engage as we went deeper into the woods (what is left of them, I must add, as always). It felt so good. It felt like physical work, and my body loved the feeling of its heart pumping and the blood flowing.

And as I walked, and looked at deer and partridge and mouse and porcupine tracks criss-crossing the snow, I realized that this is all what I want to do.
Walk and write.
It's that simple. I love walking and I love writing.
This is why I love living in rural Nova Scotia, why I still believe I'm meant to live here.
Which reminded me of what my heart told me in January, early one morning on the yoga mat: Believe in your skills.
That's my mantra, that's what's getting me through these days and weeks and months of uncertainty, of waiting and wondering, of not knowing -- all territories I am profoundly uncomfortable to be walking through. Believe in my skills: writing and editing, speaking and presenting. It's what I do best, and what I enjoy doing. So I'm trying to stay focused on that, since I'm doing it all the time, and letting the future unfold by itself, deep in the woods where I can't see, because, you know, the forest for the trees and all that.

Here's the thing: (Part Two)
SOLVITUR AMBULANDO: It is solved by walking.
I figured something out about myself today, something that's been bugging me since the memory resurfaced 18 months ago. After that supervising teacher told me, during my final teaching practicum, that I shouldn't be a teacher, why didn't I tell anyone? I TOLD NO ONE. Now that I've remembered this, I can't believe I said nothing to anyone - not my mother or father, not my best friend, not even the guy I ended up marrying.

Turns out, that's simply my MODIS OPERANDI. (Thank goodness for Latin, right?!)

There's all this angst and worry in my brain, a constant thrum of anxiety at the back of my mind all the time. But no one knows. I haven't told anyone the true depth of my fear that I will never publish another book, that after June, I will no longer be a writer, that the church work isn't my real work, that teaching isn't my real work either. That I have no idea what I'm going to do if I'm not doing any of that.
Et cetera.
I have friends at church who likely think I'm ignoring them because I don't call, I don't drop in, but I don't want to tell them what's going on because they won't get it; most people won't get how I feel.
Because I act like someone who had her shit together. How else am I supposed to act? I put my head down and I keep working and I keep hoping for the best. Talking about it is the last thing I want to do; I want to be distracted from what's bothering me.
Today, during my walk, I realized this is what I do, have done always: I don't talk about it, and obviously, the deeper it cuts, the less I talk. As in, someone told me I shouldn't be a teacher -- and I never told anyone.
I don't seek advice, and I don't ask for help.

This isn't as bad as that time -- when my entire future was simply smashed into bits -- because there is a different little hum at the back of my mind -- a quiet little hum of hope. I don't fully trust it any more but it's still there. I can hear it; I so desperately want it to turn symphonic,
but then again,
I like things simple
so right now,
a quiet little hum of hope
is enough.



Wednesday, January 29, 2020

C is for Comfort

This seemed like a good idea at the time, way back in December when I was looking ahead to a church work schedule that would accommodate my goal to have the book about my father done in six months, but let me tell you, the Alphabet of Faith is really working my brain.

Here's my idea: There are 26 letters in the alphabet. There are 26 Sundays between January 5 and June 28. Ta da! Six months of work guaranteed (with a three Sundays off).
So far, out of four Sunday, I've presented two letters: A and D. Snow kiboshed the other two (and now it looks like a huge snowstorm is on its way for this Sunday!). All I can say is the amount of thinking required with this worship plan means I'm earning my pay cheques whether I present on Sunday or not.

I decided I would post a condensed version of my Sunday message each week on my Facebook author page, but I realized my friend Shelagh, oft-mentioned here and who is mentioned in the message about Comfort, is not on Facebook so she doesn't get to read these messages. It's a shame for her not to experience more of my brilliance.

This is a long-winded way of saying I'm going to post my favourite messages here, 1) for Shelagh to read and 2) so that not every post is a Life Sucks post. They are not a typical "field notes" post but I do a lot of tromping through the field as I try to figure out what I'm going to say, and to clear my overworked brain at the end of the day.

The photo is of Shelagh and I at our church in Cobourg, Ontario, taken in May 2017 when I did a sermon the day after my Ontario book launch of Field Notes.


C is for Comfort: A condensed version of my Alphabet of Faith message for January 19.

In the summer of 2006, my mother was diagnosed with colon cancer.
It was most unwelcome, as most diagnoses are, but especially since we were six months into my father’s residency in the dementia unit at a nursing home, and our days revolved around taking care of him.

The first step of her treatment was surgery to remove the offending tumour in her colon. It happened on the Friday before the long weekend of July, and I was scheduled to read the scripture at church that Sunday. I went ahead with it, and beforehand, I said to my friend Shelagh, Wait till you hear it! It’s the perfect scripture for me to read.

I don’t remember now what it was in that scripture I was referring to, that I knew Shelagh would appreciate – because something completely different tripped me up during my reading.
And I mean, tripped me up.

Three days after my mother had surgery to remove a cancerous polyp, I had to read the words, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be healed of your disease.”

Now, you all know that I can get choked up with some of the things I say, but I have never sobbed my way through a message or prayer! But that’s what I did that Sunday in July 2006– as soon as my brain saw that line and connected it with what was going on in my life, and with my mother, I started to cry.
And I had to keep reading to verse 43. I didn’t know what else to do – I’m sure no one else did either! No one came to rescue me so I kept going.

Later, during the prayers of the people, when a friend of my mother’s called out her name, a ripple of awareness passed through the congregation.

And afterwards, people came up to me and thanked me for bringing such raw and honest emotion to the reading.
I was mortified – Shelagh was laughing – and people were thanking me.

We forget that church is, and should be, a place where we can ‘let go and let God’.
Where we can get emotional, where we can open our minds and our hearts, and express whatever raw and honest emotions come to us.

We call this a sanctuary.
A place of refuge, of safety, of solace.
This is a place of COMFORT. A place where we come to worship God, sure, but where we come to find God in the midst of our lives – in the midst of our joys – but more importantly, in the midst of our sorrows and sufferings, our heartache and grief.
In the midst of our letting go.

We come here to find COMFORT – when we are letting go of burden we carry: the guilt, the shame, the regret – when we are letting go of the negative emotions we cling to: anger and resentment and bitterness – when we are letting go of love, through the end of a relationship because of distance, or divorce, or death.

We come here to find COMFORT – because this is supposed to be our COMMUNITY of faith, our faith family – where we are CONNECTED to each other based on our beliefs and values, on our history and friendships – based on what we have in common through Jesus: the assurance of love, acceptance, welcome.

Yet church is often the last place we come when we are suffering, when we are waiting, when we are lost and lonely, when we are afraid, when we are mourning…because we don’t want to get upset. We don’t want to upset others. We don’t want to make a fool of ourselves.

Let me tell you, as someone who bawled through an entire scripture reading, I’m totally over worrying about making a fool of myself by showing raw and honest emotion in the pulpit.

It’s okay to cry through a hymn. It’s okay to cry during a Christmas Eve service.
Hey, most of get all teary-eyed during a baptism – so tears of joy and tears of sorrow: every kind of raw and honest emotion is welcomed and encouraged here.

But we deny ourselves that healthy release. We deny ourselves our uniquely human response. We hold in our emotions, we deny our need to cry – often by pretending to be strong and in control, or by avoiding church all together.
Thereby denying ourselves the comfort that comes from this place, and from our faith.

“I can do all things through God who strengthens me.”

And we can do all things, get through all things, endure all things through our faith friends who strengthen us.  
“Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

You know how we take a moment at the start of our worship to breathe? To relax the muscles of our backs and chest and shoulders?
That’s is how I live out that verse: You carry your weariness and burdens, your worries and responsibilities in your body – so when you come here, and sit inside this sanctuary, I help you find some rest – a way to put down those burdens, set aside the worries by reminding you to find connection to holy spirit through your breath, through breathing deeply into every cell of your body.

So this is what I want to say to you, at whatever level of comfort – and need to cry – you are at:

Have faith. Have faith in yourself.
Because everything you have endured so far in life, you have survived.
Because having endured the worst thing you, you were transformed into a better, stronger, wiser version of you.
You became more you because of what you went through.

The same goes for those of you who have come feeling weary and burdened: Everything you are enduring now – you will survive. And because of what you are going through, you will be stronger, wiser, and more at peace because of it.

Everything we fear – crying, dying, hurting, suffering, waiting, wondering – becomes something we appreciate and understand once we’ve survived it, and perhaps thrived because of it.
We don’t fear what we know,
so…  Trust in your experience. Trust in your strength. Trust in your own heart’s voice to guide you.

Remember what Jesus said:

“My friend, by your faith, you are healed. Go in peace.”


by Sara Jewell

Monday, January 27, 2020

Cleaning Up After Animals



In July of 2018, I wandered outside in the warm day to sit next to my husband on a pile of milled lumber he was going to use for a small structure to house two horses.
"Are you sure we should be doing this?" I said to him. "I mean, can we really afford to build a kind-of barn and keep two horses?"
He looked at me, and answered, "I've been thinking the same thing."

Less than a month later, he had a stroke, and I was glad we had cancelled that build before we started. It would have been hard for both of us to look at a half-finished structure; me seeing the end of my dreams of having a horse, and him feeling frustrated that he couldn't make that dream come true.

On Sunday afternoon, with a mild spell bringing temperatures up to plus six (Celsius), I cleaned out the chicken coop. I love doing this. I get such a feeling of accomplishment by scooping up all the dirty shavings and piles of poop and dumping everything into the wheelbarrow, then spreading fresh, dry shavings all over the floor.
I also like hearing them talk to me while I'm working; chickens being a skittish bird, it's mostly in protest when I get too close. They walk around saying "berk-berk-berk", or when I shovel right under their spot on the roost, they raise their voice, "bok-bok-bok". They are funny birds, and I enjoy caring for them. It's good for my soul.

For an hour, it's a time to focus on their needs, on the work, on the muscles in my back and arms, on getting the job done the way I want it done. It's a time to be part of their space, a welcome break from being in my own office space too much. For an hour, I don't think about what I'm working on, or need to work on, or won't get the chance to work on. It's a time of peace and quiet for my brain.

So now I wish I had horses or donkeys or goats to take care of, to be able to be in their space and be entirely focused on them, to take my mind off my worries. I'm really struggling these days, feeling adrift, sometimes even lost, wondering what meaning my work has (not only as a writer but as a worship leader and as a teacher) and what my future work will be -- because right now, I simply don't see it. I don't deal well with uncertainty, with waiting and wondering, with not knowing.  Having a couple of horses or a pair of goats to take care of would help alleviate that feeling of not having any purpose anymore.

In my first job in radio, when I lived in a new community where I knew no one and worked the morning shift which meant I was home all afternoon but went to bed at eight p.m., the cure for my loneliness was to get a dog. It changed my life. Suddenly, there was a purpose to my hours outside of work: walking twice a day, getting to know this other creature, restructuring my life to include her.
Having Maggie in my life meant I spent a lot less time focused on myself -- and that was a good thing. It's something I need now, desperately. I know it can't happen, it's simply not feasible (we don't have a building, for one thing), but it would be nice.

Having responsibility for an animal is a healing practice, a way of getting out of one's own head, and remembering there is purpose in serving others. It's the therapy of hard work, and the symbolism of heaving one's own crap out the door into the wheelbarrow.




Friday, January 17, 2020

Walk And Talk



Silence is essential. We need silence, 
just as much as we need air, just as much
as plants need light. If our minds are crowded with
words and thoughts, there is no place for us. 
~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Every so often I'll call my best friend in Ontario and say, "Wanna go for a long walk and talk? I could use about six hours!"
And she laughs and says she'll meet me at the corner.
Then we sigh and wish it were so.

This is what I miss about living so far away from my very best friends: doing the Walk-and-Talk. I'd started this with my then-new friend Shelagh just before I moved to Nova Scotia, and now a morning Walk-and-Talk is one of the reasons I like to stay at her house when I visit Ontario.

Walking alone over the field and up the road and through the woods doesn't stop me from having a Walk-and-Talk, however; I simply talk to myself. That is just as effective, albeit without the good advice. But hearing myself speak the problems that are dogging me, and hearing the one-sided conversations I'm having with other people helps me realize what I want to do, and what I shouldn't be doing -- and also how brilliant and eloquent I am when I am walking alone in the woods.

Also: this helps me sleep.

I came up with this theory this past week when, after the day of ice pellets on Sunday, there was a great base for walking. During the dark days of winter, I hit the treadmill almost every day because, without sidewalks and streetlights and our wonky weather, it's simply not as easy just to head outside for a walk. Honestly, I get tired of walking in mud.
So it's been a treat this past week to walk every day, twice a day, taking full advantage of the concrete-like walking base under a light covering of snow to go for long walks into the woods.

Since Monday, I've been sleeping through the night. I haven't been waking up at two o'clock in the morning to worry about giving up writing and getting a job, to think back over all the bad decisions I made in my 20s, to berate myself for not planning better, being braver, going back to school sooner.

That's because I'm doing all that while I walk. Because I've provided time during the day to do that kind of thinking.
When I'm on the treadmill, I'm watching TV, and wearing headphones so other people's voices are close and loud. I can't think.  But when I walk outside by myself, I'm walking in silence. I'm able to think because there are no voices in my head. And that thinking is kinder and more productive than the middle-of-the-night thinking; I'm not as hard on myself, and can pull out of the negative spiral with plans and reminders -- finish this project THEN worry -- you have six months THEN you can deal with that -- The gut-clenching worries dissipate in the daylight, thank goodness. The work seems possible, the goals seem achievable.

The best part is by the time I turn around to head home, I'm done thinking. I'm doing yacking. The Walk-and-Talk becomes just a walk, and it's quiet inside my head as well as all around me.

Funny, so often we don't want to walk in silence, we don't want to fill that space with our thoughts but now I know how essential it is -- we need to face our worries, we need to talk ourselves down from the DEFCON 1 of fretting about the future. We need the cold fresh air and the distraction of snowflakes and the beauty of bare tree limbs against a slate grey sky.
Sleeping through the night makes facing the work (and the worries, let's be honest, they're always there) much easier. Tossing and turning solves nothing; doing the work gets me closer to my goals.

I am grateful to have experienced this -- to have been reminded of something I didn't realize I was missing. Grateful to have had several good night's sleep. Grateful to have completed another draft of the manuscript about my father's life and sent it off to the printer to be ready for another go-around next week.
Grateful to have had a week of breathing in the silence and breathing out the thoughts. Grateful for lungs full of snowflakes and a mind empty of useless information.






Thursday, January 09, 2020

Throwback Thursday

Stella and I in January 2010

Ah, Stella. My girl. And the world's most annoying dog. I wonder if I'll ever get the chance to write a book about her? At least she got a couple of essays in Field Notes. Remember her stealing my father-in-law's donuts off the counter during a visit?
She died in 2015.

Stella loved having her picture taken. And her fawn colouring worked well; it stood out against any backdrop, grass or snow.
Abby, on the other hand, hates having her picture taken; she always looks like it's painful or a punishment. Between her facial expression and her colouring, she takes a terrible photo! She's a darker brindle, and the camera compensates by lightening the rest of the shot, so taking a photo of Abby in snow means she turns into a black blob (unless of course she's wearing her coat). My best photos of Abby are in the spring and fall when everything is either green or light brown.

Miss you, la bella Stella xo

Abby and I in January 2020





Saturday, January 04, 2020

New Year, New Decade


Now that the new year has begun, it seems as if the doldrums of the last six months have slipped off me like a loose, ragged sweater. Yesterday, walking up the old road and into the woods with the dog, I realized I was feeling like myself again.
What does that feel like? Optimistic. Energized. Ready to create. Ready to be brilliant! 
In an email exchange with a friend who wanted some editing advice, she said she was feeling good about this new year, that she'd received some boosts creatively and business-wise that excited her.
"But for what felt like an eternity, I had to drudge through a hazy-fog before the clarity came," she wrote. I totally got that. I feel like my hazy-fog has lifted, and even if I still don't know what my writing future looks like after the end of June, I am revitalized and looking forward to getting into winter writing mode next week.
Cheers!

Without my usual hope and expectation this time. For the first time in my life, I am working on a writing project without any attachment to an outcome (as in, getting it published). I am writing it for the sake of writing it; I'm writing it simply for my father. If it never gets published, so be it. In this case, at this point, it really is the journey that is more important than the destination. I've learned so much about my father, that makes it all worthwhile. But I've had the hope and expectation of publication pummeled out of me.

My mother, an avid reader, says most of the recently published books she reads mention climate change somehow, so how my novel about a girl who can communicate with animals and who hears the thoughts of the people around her, or a memoir about a father who was a funeral director can fit into the current publishing market is beyond me.
I no longer care. That's what it means to let go of expectations, not have no attachment to an outcome. That's a weird place for me to be in, yet at the same time, it's incredibly liberating. I have accepted that in six months, I may give up writing and find different work. And I'm fine with that; in fact, part of me thinks it would be very relaxing to have a regular job with a regular pay cheque. Acceptance is a powerful thing, my friends. It frees you to do what you want in the way you want to. My future is a void, a complete uncertainty, so I can't worry about it. I had to slog through a thick, hazy fog -- of hopelessness, of uncertainty, of depression -- to get to this place of letting go and not worrying about the future but that's how it happens.
Rock bottom has a basement, right?

But in the spirit of NEVER GIVING UP, in the spirit of putting it all on the table for the next six months, Dwayne and I rang in the new year with dinner, dancing and a champagne toast at midnight. It's like that quote I found shortly after I left Vancouver in 2002 -- if you want to stop a downward spiral, you only have to change one thing.
So we changed up how we acknowledged the new year. Instead of ignoring it, going to bed at 10 pm, treating it like any other day, we intentionally kissed the old (and rather shitty) year goodbye and welcomed the new year, and the new decade, with open arms.
Open to all the creativity and courage and possibility a new year and a new decade offers. We are ready for the good stuff, whatever that may be, and we wanted the universe to know we are ready.
Cheers!

I had this first part of this Wendell Berry quote handwritten and stuck to the wall next to my desk so it was lovely to find a longer version in this lovely graphic. This could be it -- my real work, the work of telling my father's story.
When none of the books I pitched in 2019 were picked up, my mother said, "Maybe a path is being cleared." For this writing project. There's no way to know if she's right, and if Mr. Berry is right, unless I see this final book project through to the end.

A new year is a chance to believe again in all the possibilities. Because you never know. Epiphanies happen in the weirdest places -- like the card, book and magazine aisle of the grocery store, and clarity can come when you least expect it. And maybe it helps to wear a funny hat.
May it be so for you as well.
Cheers!