Thursday, April 20, 2017

the #bestlife backlash

I read a piece on CBC this week that articulated fully something that's been bouncing around in my brain for a while. Given the post's popularity on Facebook, I'm guessing I'm not the only person it spoke to. There's really two parts - the surging trend of quasi-inspiring #bestlife fitness, travel, dream job social media streams, blogs etc. and the self-editing nature of social media (Facebook in particular) that ensures we only ever see each other's highlight reels and never the struggles, drudgery or pedestrian magic of the rest of life.

I wrote about one edge of the problem in 2015, but it's continued to deepen and shift and fester since then. Let's be honest. I'm part of the problem. My home is a gallery of pinsta-gramish fauxspiration seasonally available at HomeSense: my hallway is lined with photos and art collected on my journeys (and a stunning mask my son brought me from Costa Rica), my dining room yells inspiration to grow, even my new shower curtain drips with #BESTLIFE urgency - adventure, explore, dare, freedom, wander .... 

My other blog is peserved for sun-drenched moments far from my Westcoast home, and posts pining for the same. On Instagram and Pinterest I like, pin and share cutely designed mojo-boosting mottos. I am a part of the #BestLife social media pressure squad. I've attempted to paint on a smile and ended up creating a creepy clown nightmare.  

Some of it makes me smile. Sometimes it has the intended effect of reminding me to choose what I want my life to be instead of letting my life happen by default. Sometimes, but honestly not that often.

I follow endless twitter feeds and Instagram accounts by people who have made the leap to full-time travel and berate myself that I'm not doing the same. I look at my quest list and pick only the low-hanging fruit, then chastise myself for not 'really going for it.'

My #dreamlife goals have turned into pressure and robbed me of joy in my current life. Which, truth be told, is pretty dreamy itself. Yet for months I've acted as though there's something wrong with all of it because I'm living it here and not under palm trees. because I'm not as fit as I was a year ago, because ... because ... because. Basically I've operated as though the only life that matters is an idealized #bestlife.

This exhausting striving has also tarnished the joyful memories of my time in Jamaica. I have been telling myself that those 6 months were the best my life was going to get - the best I was going to get - and it's all downhill now. Or that I can do that again but only at the cost of this life - this love, this home, this work.

Honestly, I'm over it. Which is not to stay I don't still have those goals, but they are not the ONLY acceptable life. I'm ready at last to be grateful for this life. 

Thursday, April 6, 2017

for miss lady

I went to my first writing group this week. For the last month I've been actively letting go of things that no longer serve me and being curious about things that might move me in the direction I want to go. And, since it's been more than 14 months since I was gainfully employed, moving forward is getting to be a bit of an urgent matter. So, I attended a writing group. 

It was interesting. I'm not sure that I'll go back regularly, but for $20 it was a nice evening out with other creative women. The reason I wasn't over-awed was just because most of the evening was free-writing from prompts, which is something I already do a lot of on my own. That said, it was neat to hear what some of the other women wrote and to share a little of what I came up with. 

As it happens, I was chatting before the group with Miss Lady and she was even more excited about the writing group than I was. And, as is her tendency, she said "maybe the homework will be for you to blog every day!" Hope springs eternal for Miss Lady. In fact, my goal was to get writing in a more profitable medium, but ... baby steps. 

So, with a couple of great Miss Lady conversations running through my head, and my on-the-spot mantra for the night of "Looking forward. Letting go. Cutting anchor ties. Sailboats. Hot air balloons. I am not a stone," here's one shareable thing I wrote: 

When I grow up ... 
When I grow up I'm going to stop needing you so much. Look forward more than back. Stop caring what certain women think or what the gossips say. 

When I grow up I'm going to be less mad/sad/angry/suppressed. I'm going to say what there is to say without malice but also without censorship. They said I'd start doing that when I turned 40 and now I'm almost 50 and finally see the light. 

Not caring is the greatest gift I can give myself. Or perhaps it's more caring about the right things - joy, my own voice, what I know to be true for me. Caring less who likes me and my words. 

Apparently words scare the boys away. That's okay. I don't want a boy. I want a man. 

When I grow up I'll know that growing up is not so much doing what I want but being who I want. 

Strong
Tall
Vibrant
Delphinium 
Me

There are no shrinking violets in this garden. 

When I grow up I hope you'll grow with me. I hope you'll challenge my fear and celebrate my honesty. When I grow up I'd like to grow old with you. Scratch that - let's never grow old. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

of bosom friends and concrete beds

Not everyone is blessed to meet their Diana Barry before even starting grade school. Not everyone is blessed to have their bosom friend grow with them through learning to write and to ride horses, through mean girls and school bus crushes, through divorces and motherhood and unspeakable joys and inarticulable losses. Not everyone has a Shiney. But I am so blessed. And I do.

Today I received from Shiney a bag of the most perfect presents (the best part of which was an afternoon doing basically nothing with her and her family), and tucked amongst the treasures was this excerpt.

I wish I'd written it. The words ring in my head and heart like hammers. On tomorrow's list of things to do is finding the book these words come from:
So I am not a broken heart.

I am not the weight I lost or miles or ran and I am not the way I slept on my doorstep under the bare sky in smell of tears and whiskey because my apartment was empty and if I were to be this empty I wanted something solid to sleep on. Like concrete.

I am not this year and I am not your fault.
I am muscles building cells, a little every day, because they broke that day,
but bones are stronger once they heal and I am smiling to the bus driver and replacing my groceries once a week and I am not sitting for hours in the shower anymore.

I am the way a life unfolds and blooms and seasons come and go and I am the way the spring always finds a way to turn even the coldest winter into a field of green and flowers and new life.

I am not your fault.

By Charlotte Eriksson, from Empty Roads & Broken Bottles; in search for The Great Perhaps

Thursday, December 15, 2016

to be honest, it's not okay

This morning Clara Hughes, Canadian hero for her dual-sport Olympic success and commitment to changing the conversation about mental health, posted this brilliant, brave, honest picture and caption on her social media streams:

Click to enlarge
It broke my heart. I like to see the broad, open smile Clara is famous for, even though the reason she is an advocate for mental health is because of her chronic battle with depression, even when she was one of the most elite athletes in the world (go ahead - tell me I'd finally get better if I exercised more). I want her to be well. I want to think that being well is possible, and that if I try hard enough maybe I can get (and stay) there myself. 

And then I read this. And I realised that even if I were 100% sparkling today, there's no way to guarantee I'd stay there. Clara's post also reminded me of something that Freckles said to me last week - that it doesn't help anyone, certainly not myself, when I pretend to be doing better than I am, when I post only happiness on Facebook, when I turn my phone off on days when I can't talk without crying. In short, when I lie. It doesn't help me, it feeds the stigma of mental illness, and it doesn't create a clean path for other people to be honest about their struggle. I said nobody wants to hear it. She said that wasn't the point. 

So, here's the thing. I'm better, but I'm not well. Some days I think I am, or that it's close enough that maybe I will be. I'm well aware of the good in life and how blessed I am - being loved, having adventures, having (at least in this moment) a home I love and food that nourishes. I know that. Knowing makes no difference. 

I see you, Clara. I see you. 
There are still days, like today, when the homeless man outside my favourite bookstore took one look at my face when I apologized for not being able to help and said "stay strong, Sister." 

There are days like today when just getting out of bed was touch and go but the shame of cancelling another meeting outweighed the desire to hide. 

There are days like today when trying to find something to give my sons for Christmas sent me down a rabbit hole of hopelessness and loss thinking of past Christmases, the years between that are littered with dead and dying traditions, the lack of connection, the reality of a Christmas after 11 months on medical leave, and the gaping void between the mom I want to be and the mom they got. 

There are days like today when trying on much-needed winter clothes left me heaving with self-loathing. 

There are days like today when I can't make words string themselves into logical sentences in a meeting or follow the conversation with a girlfriend at lunch. 

There are days like today when just seeing my sweetheart's incoming phone call is enough to make me cry throughout the entire call, and the vicious circle of his sadness at my tears. 

Tomorrow will be different. I suppose it's worth noting that 10 months ago I couldn't have faked my way through a meeting and lunch. So, there's that. That's the way it is right now. Better - sometimes much better - but not well, and sometimes worse. I truly love Christmas. It's extra disappointing (and unusual) to have my unruly brain tarnish this season. And, this year, or at least this night, that's just the way it is. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

on Christ, Christmas, and peace on earth

Earlier this week the sign went up - the official 'no real/live Holiday trees in the building' sign that dashed my hopes but also solved my issue of "where to put the Christmas tree in an already too small living room." The notice was professional, as such a piece from a property management company should be. A tad Grinchy, perhaps, but ending with what was no doubt a sincere wish for "Happy Holidays."

It took a day before the first defacement of the sign crossed off "Happy Holidays" and scrawled "Merry Christmas." I was going to respond then and there about pharisees, and loving thy neighbour, and including others not negating you, but I, oddly, didn't have a pen in my purse. The next time I took the elevator the Merry Christmas had been scratched out (angrily enough to tear the paper) and Happy Holidays written back in with exclamation marks. This morning I stepped in the elevator to find the bottom third of the notice torn off and a note "such anger. Why?" in the margin of what remained.

I am a Christian*. I believe in all the tenets of the evangelical Christian faith. I don't say it often because my faith is a private thing, and, increasingly, because there is a vocal minority of Christians that make me cringe at claiming my faith. I want another term - I want to be differentiated from the legalistic, petty, angry, threatened mass that gets so much air time but represents so little of Christ.

But this trifling, indignant, cowardly "war on Christmas" rhetoric really ticks me off. Keeping Christ in Christmas doesn't begin with excluding others, or with being threatened by language choice, or with imposing your beliefs on everyone around you. If you can't be loving and inclusive at Christmas, what earthly good are you? 

I am going to go decorate my home now, listen to my holiday CDs, make some sorrel, and try to restore myself to the peace, love, joy and wonder of the season. In the words of Pentatonix "Merry Christmas Happy Holidays."



* My faith is not a simple thing - I sit in a sparsely populated place between those like my family and friends who are pillars of their churches and the agnostic/atheist/Jewish/Muslim/Jehovah's Witness/Mormon/Buddhist/Hindu/etc majority. Having been kicked by my church when I was down, my belief is not unthinking. I worked through my hurt and disappointment in people to return to the God of love, grace and justice I was raised to believe in. But I won't be returning to the church. I have had people ask me "how can you, an intelligent woman trained in critical thinking, believe in a virgin birth, Christ's death and resurrection, angels, heaven, hell, the ultimate divinity of God, etc" (actually, it's never asked that respectfully) and my answer is always the same: "If I could explain it it wouldn't be faith."
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