"IMG_4111" by Cat Sidh is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

On Dreams

Observing

These dreams have become so vivid. I struggle to remember them when I awake. They are plump with symbols I don’t understand: a world flooded with giant goldfish that need to be rescued as floodwaters recede, a heart transplant and a love story. Last night I awoke to someone at my door, twice. The first time, I was aware, in the dream, that someone was trying to reach me.

“I am occupied with other things,” I thought, “I don’t have space to answer that call.”

The second time, I awoke to the sound of tentative knocking. I was so convinced of the sound, that I went to answer the door (at 3 am). Predictably, there was no one there.

I have loved my dreams and struggled to remember them; I have tried to read them like tarot cards, filled as they are with such surreal imagery. In high school, I had a friend whose mother interpreted dreams; she told us that dreams are rife with puns: once you spoke their language, they were a parade of the obvious. But like a new language, I struggle with context: I can see that my dream of the (literal) heart transplant is an illustration of a (figurative) change of heart, but by whom, and to what end?

And what about the other dreams: the ones about places I don’t recognize, and places that can’t possibly exist? Those dreams about dessert, and sex, and the times I became a smoker again? What about the dozens of nights I have spent losing my teeth? Or eating paint? What about those nights that the dream folds in on itself, so that I dream of waking, only to be taken away by another story that appears more real than the one before?

In mythology, dreams are ruled by Neptune, along with fantasy, drugs, and hallucinations. I think of him as the patron saint of things that can’t be grasped, he who gives no fucks. I’m trying to befriend him (metaphorically): he controls divine inspiration, too, and visions and probably daydreams. I spend half of my waking hours with one foot inside visions and daydreams, moving between the worlds of what is and what I would like to be. I think most artists move this way, finding the cracks in reality where creation drips through.

It is probably too late, for all of us, to outgrow it now. Even if we did, what is there that could possibly feed those of us who feed off of stories and possibilities?

On Strawberries

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On the second day of summer, we gorged ourselves on strawberries: filling our faces, filling our bowl, and digging among the leaves and runners in search of more. We ate strawberries until we thought that an explosion might actually be possible, and kept eating until the curious cats that circled us gave up hope for something tastier – a bird, perhaps –  and wandered away.

I tried to pay attention to this feeling: my world has been lean on celebration and ritual these last years – solstices and cross quarter days have passed without any significant marking of occasion. I am slowly learning how much I need this sense of occasion: it makes me more of a participant, less an observer.
Even though our festivity was a day late and deeply modest, I could feel the difference: a moment of being awake. Ankle-deep in overgrown grass and hunched over a raised bed we found these berries, sweet and nourishing and jewel-hued, made only from dirt and sunshine. How is such magic wrought from only dirt and sunshine? It is. Everywhere, it is – not just in this strawberry patch, but in my garden all around: in these asparagus plumes enveloped by bees, in the gentle shade of a maple canopy, in these roses that bloom until they collapse upon themselves and then bloom some more. These are all products of dirt and sunshine, all glorious growths that, in turn, feed us.
Here are some questions for you: what nourishes you, and where do you bring nourishment to the world? What a you crafting out of your figurative dirt and sunshine? Who gets to see your magnificent blooms, share your fruit?

Growing Things

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I didn’t understand gardens until my daughter was born. My mother and father had both been gardeners, and my grandparents all around, on all sides. Motivated by beauty and an escape from poverty, my entire lineage has had their hands in the soil. Although I  appreciated surreptitious raspberries taken from the back of Gran’s wee plot,  enthusiasm for the dirty endeavour generally escaped me. But then, I gave birth. I recognized what it felt like to welcome living things into being, and I could not stop.
I began by planting fruit trees, hoping that they would feed my child into adulthood. I also began by sprinkling wildflower seeds in the lawn and just waiting for the bouquets to emerge (they never materialized).
It was shortly thereafter, when my mother died, that I truly understood my garden. It was May, but I remember little of that summer, or the few after that. What I do remember is a montage of plunging my arms into the soil, using mud and leaves to patch the great, gaping loss that had torn through me. I remember so slowly realizing that even in the face of death, I could usher things to life. I could surrender to the cycle; I could participate in it. I could destroy slugs and pull buttercups by their roots. I learned that everything has a time to die.
And if I had watched at the doorway while my two most precious people had passed through – my daughter into life and my mother into death – I could also try to map out the route they took, in tiny rows of carrots and tangles of Wisteria. Every one of us has, at some point, searched for reason amidst chaos – in religious text, astrology, self-help books. I had dirt beneath my nails and close encounters with a hundred thousand growing things all around me, grasses and hoverflies. I could use them to divine some meaningful patterns, I could craft a sense of order and purpose, even on a minuscule scale.
Over the last 13 years, my garden has grown, and where some things have flourished,  others have faded away. It keeps a few secrets – the falling-down fence and chains of blackberry struggling for domination hide the most fragrant roses you could imagine, and some honeysuckle besides. It is untidy and it is romantic, in the broadest sense of the world.
I have returned to this garden after a two year absence. It is still my favourite salve for restlessness, confusion. I really feel like I am making magic, when I am out there – wresting control and being overcome, resurrecting plants I thought were lost, getting drunk on the smell of springtime (there is nothing more intoxicating).
This year, for the first time, I am recognizing that this land does not truly belong to me – this is unceded K’omox territory, and my ownership, my order, is a beautiful illusion. The relationship I have with the land is a gift (albeit one that comes at the expense of others), and “my” garden is as temporary as I am.

 

On Letting Go

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I have been paying attention to my people, watching the process of letting go, and I notice patterns emerging. I want you to imagine that these patterns are beautiful, like shadows cast through wrought iron on a sunny day. They are mutable and consistent at the same time. These past few years, I have been releasing my own treasures: physically, emotionally, mentally. There has been a downsizing of beloved people, pets, and material things. So many material things – costumes and props from past lives, pieces of history.

Some things were surprisingly easy to let go of, and some I still half-heatedly cling to. By some standards, a few of the items I have chosen to keep feel bizarre – there is a jug of probably-vinegar-by-now-kombucha (complete with scoby) on my counter top. It is laughable how difficult I find it to discard, but really, my reluctance isn’t about the kombucha. It’s about surrendering the idea that I will one day be the kind of superhuman person that not only lovingly tends to their own self-care by drinking probiotic rich beverages, but also single-handedly crafts those same beverages in an artisan, cost-effective manner. So, I stare at it, and it stares back at me. This humble bacterial soup is as rich in symbolism as it is in beneficial microorganisms, and it makes me think about the reasons we grasp some things so tightly: not because of the function they offer, but because of the implications they provide.
Think, for a moment, of the unused badminton rackets, sewing machines, tools hiding in workshops, garden sheds, and kitchens; imagine that, in addition to these things, we also carry the weight of the unlikely hope that we will one day play/cook/garden again, because we are unable to let go of the possibility.
Think further, to the elastic space that exists between possibility and security, in the context of relationships. These are opposite ends of a spectrum- the known and the unknown. They are threads of promise and stronger bonds of familiarity, and they can each bind us firmly to places, people, and things that don’t serve us at all.
While it is true that we all connect with and detach from each with different degrees of depth and ease, I would bet money that every one of us has had a relationship as useless and difficult to let go of as my rancid kombucha.
The point to all of this is simply to invite you to look at what and who anchors you, and be sure this is a place you wish to be anchored to. If “nature abhors a vacuum”, what do you suppose might fill the void when you leave your most challenging luggage behind?

Capacity for Kindness

Observing

About eight years ago, I was out of town, attending to a truly dreadful business. I won’t go into detail, because it is not my story to share, but it was a thick, wrenching business involving nastiness and lawyers and vulnerable children. It was multi-layered: some of the “good guys” weren’t all that good, and the family I was attending to was perforated by grief and stress coming from many, many angles. It was basically a hell lasagna. I don’t know if any of the other participants remember it this way, but I do.

My daughter was at home during this time. This was good: I would not wish that experience on anyone. But she was my talisman, and I was alone without her.

I went to return home after my day in court, before hearing the outcome. I didn’t have my driver’s licence, yet (late bloomer), so I made my way down to the station. When I went to pay for my ticket, it was $7 more than I had anticipated, because I had neglected to book a day in advance. I didn’t have that $7.

In retrospect, this was not a crisis: there are a hundred ways I could have traveled the next day, or the day after that. No one would have died. But at the time, I was so desperate to get home. I needed to remove myself from the days of ugliness I had just waded through, and I needed my island and my family as much as I have ever needed anything.

All of this must have shown on my face, because the woman behind the counter got her purse out and rang in the ticket, paying the extra $7 herself.

She did not know me, and
she did not have any idea what my week had been, and
she did not know why I needed to catch that bus, but
she handed me my ticket.

I tried to make an offer of repayment, but she shrugged, and just said, “just pay it forward.”

I was halfway out the door when I thanked her, but my voice was already breaking. I cried all the way to fucking Nanaimo. I cried again when I got home.

I still can’t actually tell this story without crying: I have cried just typing it out. And then I cried again, when I had to explain why I was crying to the concerned person who accidentally walked in on my typing.

I tell this story a lot for a lot of reasons. I tell it because it is my own reminder that this gentle debt is never repaid – it is something I have the privilege of paying forward every time my circumstances allow.

I also tell this story to let you know that although there will be times when your generosity is taken for granted, there will also be times when you elevate someone who is so desperately struggling – and you will simply never know how you helped them cross a chasm. Please don’t be discouraged. Kindness is easy: find fundraisers for people unable to make their rent, and always seek out the most marginalized. If your own cupboards are bare, you still have the capacity to be generous with your words and deeds. Throw them like seeds in the most barren soil, even though you will never know what might take root. Throw these seeds sincerely, knowing that whatever grows will never be yours to harvest.

If there are times when you have nothing left for anyone else, that’s OK, too. I hope that there will be hands to lift you up.

I didn’t even send that woman at the station a thank you card. It is something I regret, but I try to let that be part of my lesson. I hope I do justice to her gift to me.

Self-Compassion

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So I saw this article on self-compassion, and I want to talk about it.

I want to talk about it, because self-compassion is a practice that has absolutely and unequivocally changed the way I move through the world.

However, I can’t talk about it honestly without talking about my drinking, so this is going to get a little personal, y’all. Even if you don’t relate to my story of addiction, stay with me.

Some of you may or may not know that I used to drink. Lots! I started on peach pastel “champagne” at around 15, moved over to espresso martinis and lemon drops in my early 20’s, and settled into a steady routine of various shades of wine around 25. Occasionally, when the massive quantities of bottles stacked up for recycling, I would tell myself, “I’m not alcoholic, I just have European sensibilities.” It was never, ever, less than a half bottle at dinner.  Most often it was more. Sometimes much more. Once, it was five bottles of Chardonnay (a “tasting”) over the course of an afternoon with a friend. One afternoon. One friend. I used to wake up, like clockwork, at 2 in the morning, and lie awake for almost exactly two hours. I would dedicate this time to a special practice I call “self-loathing”.

I really did. Dear friends, I would itemize all of the ways I knew better and could do better, and how I was just a little extra trash, because I knew better but DIDN’T do better. I knew in surgical detail what this consumption was costing me financially, emotionally, physically.

This happened nightly, because there was never a night without alcohol. Fourteen hours a week of concentrated self-loathing. Fifty-six hours a month.  I became an expert.

I would take penance: run to the gym, clean the house. Fortunately, I did not loathe myself during other hours – not audibly.

I had the good fortune to work in a terrible job with a wonderful woman. I don’t remember if I was engaged in a full-fledged confessional (it’s possible), but she started talking about the concept of self-compassion. She used words that struck me as distinctly old-school woo-woo, like “inner child”.

But listen: the “inner child” is an absolutely apt metaphor, because we are all on a fundamental level, soft-bodied, comfort-craving creatures who lack meaningful lifetime experience and are driven by base desires. On some level, we are all fumbling as toddlers, bundles of feelings and impulse, and inescapable bodily functions.

At those two o’clock in the mornings, I gave time to the idea that I could forgive myself a litany of fuckups, just as one would forgive a puppy for pissing on the carpet or chewing a precious family photograph. Ideal? No. Deserving of compassion and understanding? Yes and yes.

At two in the morning, I started to silence that voice that spewed vitriol in my own direction. I started to regard myself as that kind of fucked-up little mammal who meant well, but who kept pissing on the carpet (Metaphorically, you guys. Metaphorically). I began to respond to myself in same the way I would respond to my loved ones: with gentle forgiveness, and encouragement to do better.

Do you know what? It was transformative.

It cleared the space so that I could really learn to love this incarnation.

My world is much more richly textured, now. Some days I am given to delusions of grandeur – I won’t go into detail, because it’s embarrassing, but let me tell you: those days are fun. Other days, I am convinced that I move through the world with all the social grace and sexiness of a high-pitched Mr. Bean. Some days, I am basically a rocket scientist; other days, it takes me ½ an hour to realize that if the office kettle is broken, I can still make tea in the microwave (true story). I let myself have all those moments: moments of being amazing and moments of being a little weird and kinda gross, because frankly, we all are all of those things, and none of them affect our ultimate value.

I did, ultimately, learn to moderate my drinking. I still need to be careful: if alcoholism is a riptide and sobriety is the shore, I still stand in the inter-tidal zone. I am vigilant about portions, and about balance: marking my sober days on a calendar, and paying attention to the contents of the recycling.

The self-compassion allows me to still love myself when I fuck up (and fuck up I do). It also lets me see honestly where I am, and allow me to adapt my behaviour accordingly.

Even more, the self-compassion also allows me to spend time painting, even though I will never achieve perfection in paint. It gives me permission to write when I should be cleaning out the sentient beings that may have spawned in my fridge. It lets me take responsibility for my failings, and move forward.

All of this is easier without the weight of untempered shame.

I am imploring you to try it. I promise it will feel profoundly ridiculous and embarrassing, but so does everything. It is like the lifting of a heavy blanket that you didn’t know was suffocating you.

On love

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This Valentine’s Day, I am holding space for all of my brothers, sisters, and gender-fluid siblings, who have fallen in love with someone inappropriate, or unavailable. I am holding space for every person who has ever watched love back quietly out the door, for everyone who has ever been held captive by their own hearts. I am thinking about those for whom romantic love has been ruined, and those who exist on the starvation diet of active imaginations and acceptance.

We are told, over and over, that this is a world for THAT kind of love. That for love to be real it must be singular and intensely sexual, that it must be a happily ever after, and that anything else is beneath consideration.

None of this is true. Love IS a thread that stitches us together and rips us apart, but it also is also a light that illuminates everything, whether we want it to or not. 

Tomorrow morning, when you wake up, take a moment to adore your own body, in all the places you are free from pain. Take a moment to remember a kindness that you have done for someone else, and a kindness someone has done for you. Commit to paying the latter forward, because love is not static: sometimes it is steeped in joy, and sometimes it demands sacrifice.  You have probably experienced both.

Tomorrow morning, take a breath in gratitude for the loved ones you have had to release into the world to continue their travels without you: lovers, children, parents, pets. Take another for those who have loved you, and let you go (there are more of these than you probably realize). Take a breath in gratitude for the love that still permeates your life, and one more, in faith, for the love that you haven’t learned how to see (it is massive).

There is no question that Valentine’s Day is a commercial construct with dubious origins. That is the truth. But it is also a day we can choose to be reminded that love is expansive, not singular; it does not require chocolate or diamonds, or expensive dinners. 

I am choosing to celebrate Valentine’s Day in this way – not because I haven’t yet figured out how to swim the murky waters of romantic love, but because romantic partnership is just one slice of a very large, delicious pie that we all deserve to dine from.