Writing Life

I started May’s blog post several times. Got nowhere. The long post I eventually arrived at by June 3rd has been saved to files and deleted here.

7:30am June 6th and I’m starting fresh, though that’s a strange word for the circumstances and my now chronic lack of sleep. I passed out sometime shortly after 6pm and retrieved laundry from the dryer down the hallway around midnight when I awoke. Today, I have an essay to tidy and send off to a magazine whose current theme of ‘ancestors’ finally got coherent words from my tired and broken heart.

That said, this will be short. Off the cuff.

I emailed a note to a local councilor, telling her that I’d like to talk about a request to name or re-name several local streets in honour of persons with indigenous heritage. I have never put such a request forward before. This one flows out of grief, in honour of someone to whom it mattered greatly, and who was still pursuing a request made several years ago.

The past five years (or nearly) I have had the joy of being in a relationship with a man named Jack who died over the May long weekend pursuing another love of his life, whitewater paddling.

Jack was away teaching in a Cree community in northern Quebec. We spoke every day by text or in Facebook. I started to share my loss here, but found it becoming too poetic. I have written actual poems to Jack these last few years and may write a few more. He was an amazing man, the kindest, most gentle and generous man I know. Honest. Full of compassion and integrity. He brushed it off when I told him so, “Then you’re the only person who knows. Most people think I’m a pain.” I don’t believe that, and would reply, “If so then they aren’t listening.”

It’s still too soon after hearing you died, Jack. I wake shaking some days in shock. I read back through conversations shared and look at how many video calls show up on your side of the conversation thread. I’m glad you wanted so much to talk to me, to share your hopes and joys. To let me know how surprised you are it took you so long to say you love me. I shared it with one of your sons last week, and continue to grieve with him that it wasn’t your way to say it more. I understand why it was so hard for you, and why I said it too much. We shared places in our pasts I’m finally digging deep to understand.

I’m listening now, as I write, to Gabor Mate; a recommended listen from someone I volunteer with in mental health. Wisdom I’ll come back to more this year.

I wish we had more time to enjoy each other’s laughter, the gentleness we shared, ways we gave each other space and were discovering some of the things this man describes that need to heal. Not complicating them with demands, just offering understanding and giving each other permission to ‘not fix’. You said that to me early on, ‘don’t fix’. One of the reasons I told you I thought you were wise. So much of my life was responsibility and demands to fix things not mine to touch. You healed me in a way, just giving me space and telling me I need to respect myself and follow my dreams. Then showing me how, letting me watch you and admire your bravery.

I wonder if we messed that up just a bit at the end. You pushed yourself too hard at times. Your wrist was hurting from last time out. I was afraid you were going again too soon.

We had just four weeks to wait until you were home. You told me every day, soon, and let me know how excited you were coming back me. But the short time pressed against your list of things you wished you’d done last fall when the weather allowed you out on the waters. I understood it from the rush of photos you shared, the video rides you took me on coming back from the land. Waiting for open water. “I wish you could come up.” But the borders had been closed. “I wanted you to see.” I wanted that too. You did your best.

And now, I have to wait a little longer still. I love you, Jack.

Imperfections

February’s been a rough month. March too. I ping between okay and ‘oh so over it’. I’ve hit the wall. All I have left is to write about it.

On one hand, I have a small box called apartment. It’s crammed full of left over bits of past life and the one I’m trying to live now. Creativity wages war with it daily; art and writing supplies, music all fight for space.

I write regularly, paint occasionally. Mostly my keyboard and guitar cower against one wall, asking me to practice. I paid for a month of guitar lessons, tossed a penny into the well of expectation and hope it brings good things. Last week, encouraging words from my teacher assured me that regardless of my frustration with ‘only’ practicing one song and one scale, I have done a good job. Okay. I’ll bite. I’ve done well. Now believe it.

I want to improve my art. Create paintings I love and learn to part with them. To do that, I need a better grip on money and budgets both for home and sales. Even if it’s just for fun, I’d like enough to replenish supplies, I need to let myself learn the basics of give and take, hobby or business.

I want to release things I’ve written. Send them further out. Not just the one or two places I know who are open to it. I want to push past the barriers and broaden my reach.

What scares me about writing? People tell me I’m good, I have a raw way of writing. It draws people. They see it in pieces I’m doing for a memoir. Say, I have a strong, staccato style to my poetry. I read a list of possible literary magazines suggested to me. I probed their online offerings and re-read. Decided to write a cover letter and choose some poems to send.

But then, a tangible restraint on my arms. typing has weight. sleep falls upon me, passing out like with a migraine. and less obvious shut down, internal, my body folds in on itself, origami folding into invisibility. impossible. i need to move. i need to …. submit …. ringing past intentions, rules that bind. breathe swallowed up within lungs that strain hesitation.

Words. They lean towards poetry. They leap at opportunity, but cringe at expectation. Dear words, can you help? I want you to know full expression. I hope this year to let you fly.

Is it Over yet?

The end of a year is time for reflection. Like tradition, we all do it, size up the year past and wonder what the next one brings.

It’s not quite official. There are a few hours to go, but I’ve been wondering the last few weeks what I’d think and feel as the year draws to a close. I’ve heard others say for months now they will be glad to see this year go, but if I’m honest I’m not sure how I feel about it. I wouldn’t choose to do it again, but I’m proud of getting through and oddly a little guilty.

We go blindly into each year with resolutions, making ourselves promises. I came into 2020 telling myself ‘this year, I’ll do all the hard stuff.’ I thought about that all year as Covid demanded more and more. I wanted to face some fears, improve my writing, follow through on goals for submitting to magazines or other opportunities. I wanted to write songs, to practice guitar more, do more painting; maybe even sell some. I met some of the goals, not others. I feel an odd regret in the out of synch places my life reversed that of friends stuck home during the lockdowns. Those who wrote whole books, learned online skills, or like many of my customers cleaned out whole areas of retail lugging home storage systems. Those are still on my wish list and may live there for a time. Like I said, go slow. The real challenge is learn to live with it.

Some things I wanted to do because they addressed self- esteem areas, places of grief where I live with a longer sense of missed opportunities. I wanted to be brave and maybe look at other jobs, see if I could find something that pushed me back to using skills for teaching or the social aspects of autism. I applied a few places and scared myself receiving one response at almost year end asking me to reapply to an alternate position. I did think about it seriously. Still think about it. Self-worth and self-esteem are areas still healing after years struggling to love myself in the places I didn’t step up to things – like the other half of teacher’s college I never went back to complete, an art career I was afraid to start. The book I may or may not write?

I don’t switch gears easily. I have it on good authority that I over think things. I research possibilities I’m afraid to try. I take on too many things at once and don’t see it coming. I stare at boxes still littering my living space and don’t want to let go of them because it took so much out of me paring down 35 years of life to the little that fit into 500 sq.ft. of space.

March and April threw me into coping mode. Extra hours at work (one of two people who stayed). End of the winter snow, plows and stress throwing sleep out the window. Work demands and Covid rules changed weekly. I learned to speak up, about cleaning products, personal needs, physical distance, how to handle the challenges and face my fears. Work asked and I assured them I was okay. Crisis is a known place to me, ask when it’s over. I anticipated a few months, this long dragged out season reminds me too often of life before leaving. Abuse and things I haven’t quite solved in real time yet.

I’m starting to believe, or maybe understand, those who told me I am tough. I’ve had to face things in myself I don’t like and haven’t let go. I don’t like feeling afraid and I don’t like not being in control of it. In December, I kept saying to myself ten months. It was hard to believe it has been that long or that I did so well. I am tired. I need to admit that or the next round will hurt worse than the last.

I didn’t anticipate losing one job, pushing through the year on just retail and repeating ‘nose above water’ feeling lucky to have something. I’m more than lucky, I’m resilient. I’ve been told that a time or two (maybe more) the last few years and this year has challenged me to show it. I begged all year for hours to try to make up the ones I lost, then struggled with the challenge of taking physically exhausting hours in place of office hours that allowed me space and opportunity to recoup. My balanced life of retail, physio and mental health volunteering fell apart. It wasn’t until summer that I had conversations to get back on track with the volunteer role, and not until then or early fall that I saw my former workplace while attending a personal physio appointment.

I started begging for full-time retail as the company took on its promised thousands of new workers. Some stayed, some went, some just didn’t show up. Those with other jobs suspended wanted something to do that felt like it helped. Students home from school took on their normal summer hours, though none of it was really normal. All of us faced the confusion of open/closed, safely distanced unreality. I was desperate for anything besides the concrete walls and floors of work and home, my personal determination to limit exposure (mine or others) gave way to a desperate need for green and blue. Walks around the block or on local trails, carefully avoiding others, carrying mask to don when needed yet dropping it to taste the fresh smells of air and earth. Sitting beside the river, watching the ripples of water and life in the plants and animals thriving. I needed this look at life. I watched others grasping at it too.  

Inside too much of the grasping felt like strands of greed twisted between layers of generosity. The angry, selfish people yelling about limits, empty shelves, other shoppers, the masks and rules the stores tried to impose in polite ways while staying in line with confusing expectations I and coworkers tried to follow. I felt out of sorts with myself at times, angry at mistreatment by some customers, not ever sure (besides my regulars) who was local and who wasn’t. Only the ones who identified as out of town while demanding that I give them rights beyond what was allowed.

There were the angry ones. Like a lady who lashed out at me for saying she couldn’t have a second case of water and then heaved one of them at me. A quick jump and it missed me, a shock, but not a major event. People yelling about masks or refusing to distance. Some who wanted to tell me it was all a hoax or blown out of proportion. A few got angry, and pulled off their masks, yelling at me about rules and restrictions outside my control. People telling me they drove from Toronto, Orangeville, Brampton, Owen Sound, Milton, Cambridge, London looking for things they wanted to buy. I couldn’t understand why. Some who struggled all year buying multiple orders as they shopped for themselves, older family and neighbours. Kind people, going out of their way and bearing up under shifting restrictions, who felt they needed to explain themselves again and again. I loved those people and tried to balance rules and kindness.  

We got through. We held up. We still are as we head into 2021.

Resilience I suppose is keeping going when you want to stop, picking up the phone when you need to talk, listening to others and seeing need, advocating for resources, laughing even when it hurts, smiling and speaking kindly as often as possible.

This year reminds me of the people who believe in me, those who encourage me. Some of them family or friends, some known through work or community, some offering support in meals, conversations, occasional walks. I am grateful for every one. I’ve been blessed to have many people willing to tell me the good things they see in me and encourage me to continue being my best self.

As we go into next year, I hope I remember the things I’ve learned in the one just past. I can do more than I believed. I am kind to others. I need to be kind to myself. I have pushed through difficult places and will again. I’ll enter into next year with humility and hope. Resilience will be there when I need it. Friends will have my back.

I won’t ask a lot of myself in resolutions. I’ve written down ‘go slow’ and ‘allow failure’. I’ve been afraid of both and faced both this past year. I’m tired but good for another round.

Heading into 2021 will be interesting. Welcome New Year. Let’s see what you have to offer.