Tuesday, December 30, 2014

the golden updraft

There are times in life when I feel dissociated from the reality around me. I have a surreal experience that echoes as 'is this really my life?' It is a question that I always experience as wonder. I know what I am experiencing is accurate, and yet ... 

As I write this I am sitting in Miami International Airport mid-way in a long day of travel between my temporary home of Kingston Jamaica and my excursion destination of Bridgetown, Barbados. This is my unrecognizable life. 

How did an awkward teenager turned frumpy housewife from northern British Columbia end up here? Was I always destined to be here, or did I make it happen? Is the answer somewhere in between? I know this was long the life I dreamed of - even as a teenager in the hinterland I dreamt of being cosmopolitan, a jet-setter. It's the adventure I always wanted, but the leap from then to now is mind-bending. 

As Sidney Poitier says in his autobiography The Measure of a Man
Daydreams were guaranteed to please. They had it all over facts & reality when it came to getting groundwork done and foundations laid. However, daydreams were burdened with what in years to come would be revealed as their major weakness. Every ounce of the hard grueling work necessary in the conversion from promises made to dreams fulfilled was the sole responsibility of the dreamer.
I can, with neither false vanity not false modesty, say I've done the work. I earned the education. I put in the hours of work at jobs that varied between an expression of myself and just paying the bills. I did without when doing without was necessary, and I did with when it was possible. I went with the flow, and then I swam against it. I am also clear I haven't arrived - maybe there is no arriving. Maybe each summit reveals a new peak ahead. But in this moment, life is surreal and perfect.

It's also unequivocally true that I have had the great privilege not just of being allowed to dream but of being allowed to believe in my dreams. My sisters and I were encouraged to test and develop talents in various fields - sports, school, the arts - and so to learn about ourselves. We were encouraged to learn about and visit other places and people. And, we lived in a culture and society that said in myriad ways 'the white middle-class will inherit the earth' - it was the water we swam in. 

I see the street children in Kingston and I know they too dream. But I wonder if it ever occurs to them that they are worthy of their dreams, that they have as much right to do the hard work that has dreams come true as anyone. In an environment of constant lack and need, how do dreams grow?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

turning FOMO into love

November was an odd month. The elastic tethering my heart to home was stretched taut, life in Kingston had some unusual and unexpected challenges, and I longed both for the freedom to be fully here and for the comfort of being home. 

In the midst of that one thing that kept me going, as they have for the past year, was the ladies of my book club (before anyone corrects my odd grammar, I'm speaking of the collective ladies :)). Skype dates. Facebook chats. Emails. Little lovebombs sprinkled throughout my days. And, of course, reading the book they were reading - it's the literary equivalent of laying under the stars and knowing someone you love is looking at those same stars. 

I also reflect, every time I think about them, that it is because of those amazing women (and three amazing men) that I am here in Jamaica living a life I dreamed of. It is challenging some days, it is imperfect, but it is still the most amazing, life-affirming, growing experience I've had. It is because of the unbridled encouragement and support of those ladies that I've not had a moment of doubt since May when I didn't hear one or another of them whispering - or sometimes yelling - to me "you've got this! Dream! Live! Go!"

I am missing our 2nd Annual Christmas Potluck on Monday, and for me the missing will be very real. I have experienced a lot of joy and a lot of 'fear of missing out' (FOMO) in watching them all go on without me. I can't begrudge them their fun, so this is my way of joining in the Christmas revelry. Last year I gave everyone little gifts - this year they get the e-gifts below. You're welcome to take from it what you need as well:

Our ladies, it's hard for me to articulate what you all mean to me without resorting to cliché. Since this is the season of giving, let me instead try to say what you've given me & what I'd give you if it was in my power: 
  • B - the happiest book club news I've had is that you are joining our happy bunch and bringing your gifts of caring, nourishing, and sass. I am sending you a clean shiny slate on which to create a limitless life - no past, no shoulds, no other voices, just you and your brilliant creative heart expressed in the world
  • - you make your living being clever, witty and hilarious, but for me you are also the gift of quiet observation and deep insight. For you, busy mama, I wish sleeping in, peaceful connections, and a graceful expansion of your life over the next few months and as you welcome your newest love
  • D - there aren't words enough for who you are to me, but beauty and freedom are your gifts that come most to mind. I wish you bold, passionate, lasting love and a life that is worthy of your giant heart and talent.
  • EL - you sparkle in a way that makes people around you sparkle too. The love you have for your family & friends and your commitment to taking care of the community are an honour to witness. I wish you nothing more than quiet sleepy mornings in your lovely home with Mr. L and Baby L, and time and space to reflect on how amazing you really are. (And maybe a table to dance on).
  • ES - I have so enjoyed getting to know you. While you are out in the world creating total wellness for others, that is what I most wish for you. Ever-expanding peace in your body ... and bucketloads of Vitamin D by the ocean!
  • EW - You are the embodiment of courage and commitment to knowing what you want in life and going for it. As you prepare to return to work I wish you a graceful transition, peace with the arrangements, and space to still sit and play and cuddle with your little Flower as she grows to be a powerful, beautiful woman like her mom.
  • H - I can think of no one who has taught me more about metamorphosis than you over the past 6 years. I love watching you recreate your life with skill, humour and grace. I wish you boundless prosperity, trees to walk under, and adventures that make you smile that stunning smile of yours.
  • J - our quiet, smiling Mona Lisa who always has the perfect comment at the perfect moment. As you and your family move into a new house and a new year I am sending you ease, joy, and a whole new world in which to create amazing memories.
  • K - the boundless joy and energy that burst from you into life is what I most wanted to get to know when you joined our club. Your passion for a better world is inspiring and infectious. I wish for you bold freedom to have that positivity expressed in the world in a way that gives back to you ten-times what you give to our community.
  • M - you simply are warmth, quiet strength, and generosity. You have also been a consistent blessing to me in reaching out, encouraging, and following through, and I can't thank you enough for that. With a full heart I am sending you peace, a year of calm, healing and joy, and time to just sit, write and be blessed.
  • N - your friendship is such a gift to me. Every conversation we have I leave more centred, calm, and at peace with myself and the world. I wish that for you - have peace in the grieving that will be unavoidable for you this season; know you are blessed, loved, and surrounded with care even in your quiet. And, when it's time, bring back your brilliant laugh that fills the room with sunshine. 
And a gentle reminder, ladies, that everything I'd give you is actually in your power, as you've so consistently taught me.

BTW - November's book was Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay. It was fine, but painfully predictable. That is all. 
Amazon link
This post is a 3-fer:
Reverb Prompt 18: In the busyness of the everyday, taking time to nourish the soul doesn't reach the top of the 'to do' list as often as it should. What nourishes your soul? How would you like to incorporate more of this into your life in 2015?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

the plank in my eye

Sometimes I want to share about insights I've had or lessons I'm learning but I fear that people will assume they know who has helped me learn that lesson or that I'm thinking/writing about someone in particular. I suppose I always am, but that someone is me. I just wanted to make clear that what I'm about to say is about me alone.

I've had a lot of opportunity of late to reflect on some patterns that have run my life and some traits or tendencies that work for me in some areas and not at all in others. One of those things that sounds good but gets twisted into something unhelpful is being compassionate. In both micro and macro ways, I want to make a difference for those who are hurting. It's why I am in Jamaica. It's why I volunteer when I'm at home. It's why most of my pets have been rescues or had some injury they needed nursing back from (that quirk has become somewhat of a running joke with my parents, particularly when I had a menagerie of needs - a scaredy-dog with a kinked tail, a cat with food allergies [and "developmental delays"] and a bunny that was blind in one eye). 

This morning I had the realization that the extension/bastardization of this drive in me is that sometimes my 'type' in relationships has less to do with particular physical attributes and more to do with wanting to rescue someone. When the rescuing is mutual it's worked out okay (though obviously not that okay or we'd be having a different conversation) - then it's not so much rescuing as mutual care and support, and I fully acknowledge the men who have tried to rescue me. However, far too often instead of a partner I go looking for a project. While there have been times that's put me in danger, generally it's less dangerous than it is a sad dishonouring of them and me.

On the receiving end, who wants to be chosen for a relationship because of their perceived weaknesses? And who am I to say someone else needs fixing or that I have any power to affect that change? As for me, what was new information this morning is that when my confidence has been shaken and I'm doubting my own worth it occurs to me that 'fixing' someone is what I need to do in order to compensate for the high price of admission for being with me. If I make your life better maybe you won't mind my soft belly or my height; maybe you'll have more grace for me when I'm snarky; maybe you won't mind that you'll always rank behind two other men in my life.

I pondered this while I made my way to work this morning - the walk, the bus, and the route taxi were all filled with my ruminations. When I got to work, I went on YouTube to look up a particular Christmas song and instead this video was the first one in the "recommended videos for you" list. Oh Googlebots, you know me too well. Listen all the way to the end - there's a question there worth thinking about.

And here's a new agreement from me: you do your work and I'll do mine. Now excuse me, I need to go deal with this plank in my eye. 


Reverb Prompt 16: (When I received this prompt I read it in relation to my writing projects and didn't see the fit. I see it now)  Like many folks, I picture myself as a modern day Wonder Woman, trying to use my superpowers, to do lists and pure force to get what I want.
- In 2014, I found that my effort wasn’t often tied to my desired outcomes -- except when it was.
- In 2015, is there something you’d like to try harder at because you believe it would make all the difference?
- Conversely, what is something you could stop trying so hard at that might actually help you manifest what you’d like

Sunday, December 14, 2014

as though I had wings

I claim no rights to this aside from the right to hold it as my fervent prayer.

Photo by the incredible Julia Margaret Cameron.
Lines from "Starlings in Winter" by Mary Oliver

Friday, December 12, 2014

love = courage. courage = love.

Reverb Prompt 13: Step one: set the timer for 5 minutes and write down as many answers as you can think of to the question: 'When and how was I brave in 2014?' Note: remember the private, intimate and small ways in which you were brave as well as the big public ways.

Step two: Choose one or more of those moments of bravery and write a letter to yourself back at the beginning of 2014, letting you know how brave you are going to be that year.
(instructions are for wussies ;-) )

Step three: Write yourself a short reminder to tuck into your wallet or post above your desk of just how brave you can and will be in 2015. (Tomorrow - I can do that tomorrow) 

As I mentioned earlier in the Reverb process, this has been a year of daring greatly. Of saying what really needed to be said no matter how much I didn't want to say it. Of stepping out in big ways and small - really really big. And really very small. 

It was a year of quiet, courageous questions that needed answers whispered in the dark. Of standing on mountaintops and shaking the world until my voice felt heart and my life realigned. Of letting my baby boys find their adult roads without me. Of letting love go - not die, but go. Of stepping out without a net. Of saying yes when the answer was yes and no when the answer was no. 

There are too many moments to list them all. And as many moments when I let the fear silence me. There is room for more - more honesty, more courage, more loving, more me.

But I can clearly and confidently say that the boldest action I took this year is to continue loving. Yes, I ended a relationship I believed would last for ever - that I wanted to have last forever. But ending the relationship didn't end the love. STG continues to be someone I stand for, someone who stands for me, someone who amazes me, someone whose happiness matters to me more than I can say, someone I turn to for a reminder of who I am and what I'm up to, someone whose existence in my world makes it better and happier. 

It hasn't been easy - for either of us. It has demanded that we be extra-ordinary. It continues to demand so of us. There have been moments we weren't up to it. And then the courage to do so anyway. For both of us. 

And, I love STG. I know he knows it as clearly as I know he loves me. However close or wide the distance between our paths, we have the courage to keep that truth alive, and to choose it whether we want to in the moment or not. Saying good-bye was hard. Continuing to say "I love you" was harder. 

Love doesn't die, though it does sometimes change shape. Courage keeps it alive. 

XO - our first of many 'us-ies'

generous hearts

Reverb Prompt 10: Look back at the last year and consider: how did generosity open your heart? How can you cultivate generosity in the coming year?

I wouldn't say the Rolling Stones are particularly skilled philosopher poets, but there are some truths universal that can be found in song. This is one of them:

You can't always get what you want.
You can't always get what you want.
You can't always get what you want.
But if you try
You just might find.
You get what you need.

In the preview to this prompt, Kira differentiates between "giving" and "generosity" with the observation that generosity "is free of obligations; it opens the heart, and creates warmth and connection between the giver and receiver."

This week I had the rare gift of an escape to a 5-star resort on Jamaica's north coast. I went with no expectations except for some great company and a relaxing luxurious respite after a very hectic and exhausting couple of weeks. I got the respite. I got brilliant conversation. And - perhaps even unbeknownst to the giver - I also left with an expanded heart, increased sense of myself, and the beginnings of an important shift in the nastiness I fling at myself.

As my tears washed into the ocean I began to create a space for someone/something new - a 'me' that lives and loves and gives of herself without the cloying and off-putting need for endless external affirmations I can never truly hear anyway. Or who, at the very least, can see the power that would come from being that woman.

The gift of that awareness is far more than the giver could ever know. Maybe I would have come to it in the hubbub of Kingston, but it was far more accessible in the quiet waters of Runaway Bay. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

being me

Reverb Prompt 9: As you enter into the new year, what would you like to do/make/have/be more often? How will you bear witness and celebrate the tiny milestones? How will you respond on the occasions when your intentions do not come to pass?

I am dancing on the warm sand. My face is full of light and peace. My heart is full of knowing. I am living the life that has been waiting for me. I trust in myself to know what is right, and forgive myself when I mis-hear that small voice. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

express your self(ie)

Reverb Prompt 7: Please post your favourite picture of yourself from 2014, self-portrait or otherwise! 

At some point, a light turned on. Perhaps inside me. Perhaps it's all the sunshine. It may have happened suddenly, or it may have been a process. All I know is that I'm at a point where I like photos of myself. Not just the one or two that I've always trotted out - me on the Cliffs of Moher, me on Moberly Ridge, the one in the blue ball gown - but actually many of the pictures I have been in of late. For much of 2014 I felt and looked grey, frumpy, worn-out, and as though I had given up, and then - light. It's an odd thing to like your own reflection. And really, a reflection is all we ever see of ourselves. 

This picture was taken today and reflects something else that has shifted. I am not, generally, a big fan of children. I find them demanding and exhausting - not mine, of course, but most of the ones I didn't give birth to. At the event I worked today they clung to me, and I enjoyed it. The little girl in my lap grabbed my hand anytime she saw me. Normally I would have been exasperated, wondered (with judgement) where her parents were, gently shaken her off, and gotten back to 'more important things.' 

Today when she and her sister found me and asked how they could get lunch (we were at a homeless shelter with about 400 people, and the lunch line was long, adult, and restless), I asked where their mom was. The little one said "no mom." I don't know if she meant today or always. I asked who was taking care of them, and the bigger sister - who may have been all of 8 - said "mi ah take care for she." 

Right then. Keep smiling, Shan. 

Together we skirted the long line-up of adults to get their lunch. That's the benefit of befriending an event organizer, I suppose. I sat with them on the ground out of the crowd and the sun, helped them open their bag juice, made sure they ate the coleslaw. We sat with the young boys in this picture, and a bigger girl who was probably 12. As it was happening - as I scooped the little one up on my hip to navigate the throng and felt her relax into me, I realised I am not who I was - frantic, absorbed in my worries, always doing and never being. And I like it. 

That's who is in this picture. I like her too. 

PS - the boys look a little sullen in this one because they've just been told off by the photographer for flipping the bird and throwing 'gang signs.' Snips and snails and rude gestures - that's what little boys are made of. :) 

Friday, December 5, 2014

my snark is worse than my spite

Reverb Day 6: Despite our usually sunny dispositions and dedication to the practice of “assuming positive intent,” we all occasionally find ourselves having to deal with an incredibly unpleasant individual. While I’m sure you always handle it with the tact and finesse for which you’ve become so well known, I’m going to ask you to step outside yourself for just a moment. Think back to such a situation: if the gloves were off, how would you really have liked to have dealt with them?

I have one of those faces - you know, the one that betrays my every emotion. The one that can mask neither my glee nor my annoyance nor my disgust. It is irrelevant, generally, for me to say what I'm thinking since my face yells it loudly (though it's pretty open to interpretation, so asking what's up is still encouraged). 

And yet, sometimes what I think also sneaks out in words. I am not so practiced, in fact, at not taking things personally. I have not built a strong muscle in 'assuming positive intent.' I have been accused of using my power with words as a weapon. And, I have inherited a heritage of sarcasm that is, frankly, not all that becoming. 

So I have to say that I do not aspire to this. I do not wish to rant, or bite, or lash out. I wish to have my face, my tone, and my words reflect another me - one that rises above; one that takes the high road without feeling wounded in the process. I aspire to that. I am not yet there. 

I once has a co-worker who, it seemed, actively disliked me and tried to undercut me. I may be wrong. Maybe for 4 years she accidentally lost my emails, mis-understood my communications, and misrepresented my words. Maybe it was less intentional than the pattern of behaviour came to look over time. Maybe other people warning me about her was coincidental. Maybe her screaming at me in front of colleagues was a learning moment. Maybe saying the organization was 'just fine before I got there and would be just fine after I left' wasn't personal. 

Regardless, I wouldn't change my reaction of shaking my head, shrugging my shoulders, glaring, and walking away. I wouldn't go back and lash out. I wouldn't call her the descriptor I think best fits. She was the conduit for my leaving, for my pursuing the thing I had long dreamt of doing.

If I saw her today I would thank her* - for teaching me that you don't have to like everyone; for teaching me that you don't have to tolerate bad behaviour; and for giving me one last shove out the door right when I was wavering. Even (insert descriptor)s have their purpose. 

*That's a lie - if I saw her today I'd pretend not to see her and walk on by. Who needs the pretense? 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

do you hear?

Reverb Day 5: What is the sound of your own voice?

I like talking. One on one, To a crowded room. From a podium. To another face resting beside mine on the pillow. I also like singing. In the shower, In church. On a stage before hundreds. With my sisters. To my sons when they would let me. To a lover if he'll let me. 

What I don't like is listening to my own voice. People tell me I'm a compelling speaker, a pleasant singer, but I don't hear it. Sometimes when I'm otherwise occupied and have an idea about a story or a blog post I will record that thought as a voice memo. and invariably when I listen to it later it makes me cringe - I sound whiney and somehow fake. When I used to sing publicly I would record rehearsals for reference when I practiced at home. I could rarely listen to the playback. 

The same holds true with the small voice inside my head, which is sometimes not that small - sometimes it booms. It can yell, whisper, sing, and state unequivocally, but without an audience and agreement, I find it so hard to listen to. I hear it. I know it's a fine voice. I just have trouble listening to it. 

So, I though I'd do something a little crazy here and post the only recording I have of me singing. It just happens to be "Do You Hear What I Hear?" - oh irony, you are so fun. I'm singing alto (although I'm a soprano) - and I start with the first verse - and my friend Esa is singing tenor (although she's an alto) - maybe you can pick it out, maybe not - it's okay. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

a stable centre

Reverb Day 4: We are all lightning rods, conduits for that which the Universe wants born into this world. What energies did you channel this year?

We may all be lightning rods, as my eloquent friend Noël suggests in today's prompt. In fact, I don't argue that point at all. But when I look back on 2014, I see so many things going on. I channeled somethings that weren't good for me or the people around me. 

And then, in May my book club read Daring Greatly for our retreat weekend, something stuck, and things started moving, vibrating, coalescing. I think I can safely say that being bold has been the energy I've channeled since then, and I hope it's the energy I've inspired in others. Perhaps bold is the wrong word; bold is a little harsh, a little in your face. My experience of daring greatly is gentler than that. 

For me daring greatly has meant a couple things that look pretty dramatic from the outside, I'm sure, but on the inside it's all been baby steps and discovering my line in the sand, then asking the question - what do you really need here? The tricky part is then putting the fear aside and going for whatever that answer is. Sometimes it's quitting a job or ending a relationship or doing something that takes you far from your people. Sometimes it's making a phone call you're not sure will be answered. At the centre of it all, what might look like bright flashes of daring out there feels like a slow-growing peace. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

loving what is

Reverb Day 3: It’s all too easy to put off loving where we are until everything is perfect. What can you love about where you are now?

When I first saw this prompt on twitter earlier today I jokingly replied "aw, do I have to?" In that particular moment, what was on my mind was a specific lingering something that I sometimes can accept but can't quite go far enough to love.

For me this is the epitome of 'loving
where I'm at.'
But if we are talking where I am now in literal terms, well ... what's not to love? I am living and working in Kingston Jamaica. I am told the weather has turned Christmassy, but it has turned from 32 degrees celsius for weeks on end to 27-31 degrees, with some more rain thrown in (aside: the rain is a good thing; a months long drought had decimated the agriculture industry, and they need help bouncing back. It's essential to the economy, and to my blossoming watermelon & coconut addictions). 

Every day I learn something new, have an opportunity to challenge something in myself - sometimes something small like trying a new food. Sometimes something larger like my prejudices, presumptions and privilege. I laugh and am laughed at. 

I am witness to more vivid colourful full-volume sensory-overload life after 2.5 months in Kingston than in 13 years back home in staid Victoria. Some days I miss the quiet of Victoria, but more often I enjoy the spectacle.

On weekends, I try to make my way to the ocean. Sometimes I plunge in, sometimes I touch my toes at the edge of the water and let the waves break against my legs. The ocean is restorative for me - it washes away all the mayhem. 

So when it comes to the broader, big picture, all of life, and some of the particular details and loving what is - I'm working on that.

Loving where I actually am now - I have that covered. :)

Monday, December 1, 2014


Reverb Prompt 2: What unfinished projects from 2014 are you willing to release now? (Regret not required.)

Earlier today when I first read this prompt but didn't have time to respond it didn't speak to me. Now it sings to me, one of the most irritating earworms of 2014. I'm not even going to name that tune just in case any of you are free from it for the moment.

I don't know so much about having lingering projects from this year, but that's not to say I don't still have things to release. Sadness is one I'm working on. Expectations (though it would also be appropriate to say that releasing expectations has been an ongoing project for a few years and with little forward motion). I think that in tidying up my life in order to leave it for 5 months, I also completed a lot of releasing. 

I suppose there are a couple things that fall in the "I wish" category that I could release. It would be worth it to arrive in 2015 without the weight of old concerns tied to one leg. I wonder though, do I release that weight by taking firm actions or by metaphysically turning it into a helium balloon and letting go of the string.
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