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. Remembering her stealing donuts off the counter at my in-laws?
She died in 2015.

Stella loved having her picture taken. And her fawn colouring worked well; it stood out against any colour.
Abby, on the other hand, hates having her picture taken, 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 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.

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.

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.