Nothin’ but the Big Beats (Getting Better)*

I recently had the chance to meet up with Kate Vermette in Banff. Her book, The Break has been receiving award nominations and great press, and I am so happy for her. It’s very cool to see how short stories she started so long ago became a novel with a Greek chorus of narrators.
Kate has always been able to see things from an elevated point of view, and a conversation we had about trauma has really stuck with me over the past few weeks.

We spoke about Reconciliation and this idea of “getting over it.” We spoke of trauma we’ve both suffered personally, and how often we’ve heard “get over it.”

It’s not my intent now to discuss our Indigenous Peoples’ timeline or process in healing, and I am not here to share Kate’s oricess. But I can tell you that “getting over it” is not as simple as people think.

There has been so much coverage on sexual assault, and pussy-grabbing, and general gaslighting these past few weeks that I feel like I’m drowning in the same black sludge that was dumped on me last year.

The one thing I have really struggled with, is that it happened more than once. What kind of idiot puts herself in that position more than once?

But reading the stories on Twitter and Facebook made me realize that nearly every woman has a story of unsolicited contact, and most women have more than one.

It’s taken over a year of work to even get me to say out loud that no matter what, it wasn’t my fault. Either time. Any of the times.

I am working on a novel with sexualized violence at its core. I am working on three short stories where sexualized violence snuck its way in. And I am working, very slowly, on a series of essays that detail exactly what I went through over the past two years.
Do I want to get over it? Of course. It’s like running with a weight belt on. It’s a shadow on the landscape. It’s a wraith in the corner of my eye.

But even if there were no media repeating the racist, sexist, words I heard so often. (And the blame – “I didn’t get the job cause the women are taking the jobs. The white man is under attack!”). Even if my soul-destroying meeting with his girlfriend didn’t haunt me. (“What were the circumstances where he hit you?”)  Even if I weren’t writing about the hitting, the holding down, the silencing, the blocking I did and phone numbers and emails I changed, the gaslighting, the racism and the utter faith I had that I could make a difference – even then, I don’t think I could let go of what happened.

In setting up my most recent essay, I finally went back and looked at the dates of the two “events.” February 14, 1987 was a Saturday. February 12, 2015 was a Thursday. The calendars are identical.

I have not celebrated Valentines’ Day since that first time. My husband is more than willing to forego that Hallmark holiday.
But this last time was trickier. Convention was difficult. I had just posted my Gomeshi post which resulted in a word-salad filled email of threats about what would happen if I didn’t take it down. I was facing my third breast scan – increasingly invasive – for some questionable results.  On my way to the appointment, I was regaled at once by a live phone call from his girlfriend at the exact same time as fielding the buzzes  nasty, abusive texts from him, right up until I turned my phone off and locked it in my cubby before my scan.

Every step on the walk down the hall from the change room to the waiting room was freighted. There was no hope for an apology. There was no hope for a friendship. There was no hope that I had made any difference at all. I had tried everything. And failed.

When I came out, I blocked everything and everyone to do with him.
And began to heal.

I can tell you all I accomplished after 1987, but it would take so long. I persevered.

Post 2015, I have been blessed. I’ve won awards, written stories and essays that have shortlisted in contests. I have helped put on the production of Annie. I have run writing clubs. I have gone full time and changed schools, committing myself to teaching. I’ve moved houses. I have mentored writing students, and edited three med school applications for applicants who are worthy and kind, and brilliantly doing the work it takes to succeed. I joined the WGA board. I have taught classes. I have helped work on a new teen writer class with amazing women. I tutor. I started yoga. I write. I write. I write.

I’ve made many new friends, though I am more careful with who I am open with.

I’ve learned to play piano – even a piece in the grade 6 syllabus. I’ve started guitar lessons. I’ve kicked ass in piano theory and am aiming to teach it at some point.

I do more now than ever, but I do it with the intention of being absolutely present. No one will ever use me like that again. No one will play me like that again. And you know, there are very, very few people in this world that would even consider it.

I am not over 1987. I am not over 2015. They are the trauma rocks I push up hill. They are trauma weights that sometimes hang heavy like overcoats, and sometimes a little lighter like sweaters. I did all this, while carrying the weight of what happened. But I still did it. So don’t for a second think I’ve been sitting here bemoaning this terrible event. I am angry as hell about it, for many reasons. It is a part of every day. I can never set it down. So I carry it but it hasn’t stopped me yet.

I look forward to the end of this election. It makes me angry. It calls to mind how I felt throughout this “friendship” and it makes me furious. It’s hard to set down that weight when the words never stop.
There will still be daily reminders of misogyny and racism, but not to the level that we’re seeing now. I don’t feel so alone, much as connecting with the Gomeshi survivors made me feel less alone.

*The song from whence the title came.

Clearwater and the Perseids

This past year, I have realized just how well a person can get to know the things that are important to a writer from what they write. I’ve discussed these deep connections and obsessions with many authors, including Peter Oliva, Lawrence Hill, Alissa York. In a way, people seeing so deep into me is why writing has been such a struggle lately.

When people ask if any of the events in Clearwater happened to me, I tell them no, but the truth is, there are bits and pieces of events and places and people that absolutely coalesced into scenes on the page.

Every August, this same week, my thoughts shift back to a certain time and place and person – the young man who explained the difference between shooting stars and meteor showers to me when I was a fifteen-year-old, boy-crazy, city-girl who came back up north to visit her friend.

His name was Jason. He was a couple years older than I was, and my friend liked him, too, but I was the one he kissed the night the stars fell. (I insisted on calling them shooting stars, even after he explained how meteor showers really worked.) He was tall — taller than my husband is — and strong. Big. He liked to lift me up. We did a lot of walking that summer, and he was always scooping me up, or piggy-backing me, or just coming up behind me and lifting me off my feet. He had crazy curly hair and a big smile and huge hands. I remember how silly my little hand looked in his when he held it. I was nervous, not being one who’d been kissed a whole lot, and I knew my friend liked him, and I knew I was only there a few days…it was a big deal.

I think that moment sitting on the concrete base of the The Pas Airport sign, counting “stars” with Jason and carving our names into the wood, stands out because I had never seen anything like that. Wish on a star, then another and they drop and drop and drop – sixteen, seventeen, twenty four, thirty-eight, and hey, Kim, they aren’t stars at all, but oh, the beauty of all those wishes, falling through clear black and salt-speckled space.

Or it stands out because of the way he took my face in his hands and kissed me until the Northern Lights came out. Maybe that’s more likely. Or maybe that was the next night. Maybe that’s a different story.

Either way.

The Perseids are predictable as a sunrise, always in the same place, same time of year. Every year.

Predictable like August. August is the worst month – extended Sunday Night Syndrome for a teacher, ugly birthstone colour, the un-poetry of its name (both the month and the birthstone!) – but for a few days every year in the eighth month, placetimeperson converge into a kind of meditation, or memorial, of a kind young man, taken too soon.

That fall, back in Regina, I started at a new school, met my first serious boyfriend, and stopped replying to Jason’s letters. His notes still came, always written in block-lettered green pen on graph paper.  We talked on the phone one night — no small thing with long distance pricing the way it was back then. I’d got myself into a tough situation where I needed advice. I called him in tears and he was a rock, steady in the space and time between us. He explained how guys think, gave me gentle answers to “why? why?” and I got through it. Then we never spoke again.

I wrote to him once more — I can’t remember why — I probably felt bad for being a flake, or maybe I wanted to know if he would be back in The Pas the next time I went. I received a letter back, written in blue ink, from his mom.

Jason was killed by a drunk driver before graduating that year. I hadn’t known — I’d lost touch with everyone from The Pas, and his family never knew anything about me. Just a summer crush that turned into a penpal friendship, then faded.

I never did write his mom back. I was a stupid teenager, I guess. I didn’t know what to say. I know what I’d say now. Above all, I’d want her to know he is remembered.

I often think about the ways we are touched and affected by those who pass through our lives — a kind word of support here, the gift of a smile there. A hug. A kiss. We are reflected in the wonder of the people we connect with. I have little stories like this about so many people who probably have no clue they’ve made a difference.

I’m grateful–blessed– to have witnessed that meteor shower. City girls don’t always have the clearest views of the night skies — sometimes they need to spend time with people who do.

In Clearwater, Claire’s sister is the one with the clear vision, the one who tells Claire about the meteors, but it’s Jeff who holds her hand. Leah talks about what is really happening, Claire just wants to believe wishes can come true.

People live on even when they’re gone. The Perseids are my time to stop and remember my friend, and others I’ve lost, and reflect on how lucky I am to have had so many lights (stars!) in my life, and how, every 365 turns, or so, of the earth, they come back.

Just because we can’t see them all the time, doesn’t mean they aren’t there.
They are.


Sage Hill and Full Circle



Tick – Tock – The Labyrinth at Sage Hill – St. Michael’s Retreat. Photo by Lisa Kuzma, Queen of the Plastic Wine Glass

Four days later, and I still can’t put into words what going to Sage Hill this year meant to me.
Conferences and retreats and residencies have always been a little bit magical for me, for the most part because of the people I meet. I have done enough of them to know that as time goes by, relationships will settle and solidify, or will become more fluid, but no less close.

This time, I was more nervous because of all the months of criticism I had been taking for so long just for being me. Luckily, as I did three years ago on my last (first?) visit, I quickly found my way to friendship with really great writers. From evening Singalongs With Steve, to storm-watching; from quiet reflection in the non-chapel, to late-night dancing “Home” on the pews; from the sadness and dark connection of other rape and abuse stories, to the laughing-till-we-cried discussion about nipple tattoos at another “carb-up-to-write” lunch–I was surrounded by my people.

But my big win as a writer was the round-a-bout discovery I made that I need to finish my prequel to Clearwater. I’d submitted three short stories to Alissa York, and it wasn’t until we had our first meeting that I realized that all three of them were overtly and tangentially about some form of emotional or physical violence.
Alissa gave me some very wise advice in such a lovely, gentle way —  “Just when you get to the hard stuff, you make a turn. Write into the dark.” “Write the dark.” “Go deep into the dark.” She has this way of moving her hand that both signifies pushing the crap away, and allowing space for the dark.

I’ve been afraid to write Rita’s story. It’ll force me to face a lot of questions I need to answer for myself. Preconceived notions about women who stick it out. THIS TIME will be different.

Writing it won’t be easy, but then neither was the utter fear and confusion I lived in. If I could do that, I can do anything. The things I can’t tell, Rita can. She’s been trying, in every short story, every essay, every blog post and email and text message I’ve sent for over two-and-a-half years. I silenced her, as I was silenced.

I’m still thinking about this – and women who hold out hope for the smallest kindness, and men who have such low self-esteem they have to break the ones that care the most. The ones that see the potential underneath the self-sabotage and cruelty. I am afraid to access the empathy necessary to write these characters.

I am just now realizing how far into shutdown mode I’d gone to stop the bombardment of confusion of daily verbal and emotional beat-downs, inadvertently cutting off my access to that place where the writing comes from.

Sage Hill allowed me to find that way in again. The support of my beer-in-plastic-cup-pals, meal-mates, brilliant workshop group, and my new songwriting partner (lol, LisaG) and most especially Alissa York — thank you. I feel like a writer again.

I am a writer.

And so I write.



Book of the week: Lisa Guenther’s Friendly Fire
Song of the week: Home by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes


“Believing in” is as important as “believing”


It’s been a while since I’ve updated the blog. Things have been busy with a new house, and a new life. For the first time since moving to Calgary, I’ve felt at home in a community. Everything that surrounds me is different and new; it has profoundly affected not just what I see out my window, but the way I see things out that window.

From where I was last fall – my lowest point ever – I’ve done a complete 180. I’ve made some huge changes in my life. The biggest is that I’ve decided to go back to work full time. I needed a shake up, and so I shook, and everything has come down in a different place.

Going to school full time, and raising a family, and teaching half time (which isn’t really half time at all) I was at a dead run all the time. Coming out of UBC, the run stopped abruptly and I slammed into a massive wall. At the same time, I’d just come off a very busy time finishing, editing, releasing and promoting a book.

I was in a very, very fragile state. I don’t need to go through how that fragility was taken advantage of – there are many posts dealing with it.

On a personal level, change really took hold starting last November when, after a particularly abusive string of texts sent me into tears at school. My assistant principal happened to catch me, and asked me to talk. And so I did. As the harassment extended into emails and random screen caps, she kept checking in on me. She showed a lot of leadership and support and professionalism in dealing with that issue, and has continued to be a support who I can access when I need reminders to keep moving forward.

Because I was dealing with someone who refused to take no for an answer – someone who had no problem showing up or texting or emailing even after being explicitly asked to stay away – my principal eased my mind by talking me through a system where I wouldn’t be alone at school or in the parking lot.

My vice principal was very no-nonsense. She had been peripherally aware of some of the issues I was facing for about 6 months already. With the addition of my concern for my safety, she made it very clear that I needed to engage my family. Talking to my husband made all the difference. He never understood my compulsion to change the door combination, or double check that the door was locked, or the changing of the phone numbers. Now he does. She also reminded me, in the midst of the rumourous crap that was being spread about me, that I have a lot of respect in the district, and people who know me, KNOW me, and anyone who believed gossip was unworthy.

All this said, working on a personal level with this admin team was eclipsed by how amazing they are as role models and mentors on a professional level.

My vice-principal is making a name for herself as a go-getter, and someone who gets shit done. She is a huge support of arts programs, and I don’t think she missed a sporting event, either. She is no-nonsense in all areas. Own your shit. Do your job. Ask for help if you need it. You can see how on a personal level this really helped. Professionally, she impresses me as a woman who is raising a family at home, and at school, all while somehow still finding time to laugh and joke around.

My principal has long been a man I’ve admired for the way he engages students, and treats them like human beings. His expectations are high, but not outrageous. I knew when I worked with him years ago that he would be in a leadership position one day, and I am so grateful for the chance to work with him again. He is validating. He makes me feel like a good teacher. A great teacher. He supported me through one of my worst years professionally, and he let me try new strategies and plans when I came through it all. He is someone who shows great trust in his teachers, in their strengths and abilities, and is not judgmental or dismissive of their areas of need.
My assistant principal is probably the one who most influenced me to take a hard look at my professional goals. Yes, I am a writer. Yes, I like to mentor. But watching her take on committee after committee, and the respect she has gained from teachers trying new things in technology right up to the work she does at the government level, made me see that the skills I’ve gained working with all three of these amazing administrators need to be used. I do have something to offer.

We tend to get stuck in what’s easy. What doesn’t scare us. I could go on forever at half time, using my time off to check how many likes I have on Facebook. I could stick to what I know – staying in the same school, the same situation where I am comfortable and I know what comes next.

But staying comfortable changes nothing. Not personally, not professionally. I had what was probably the greatest year I’ve ever had teaching, I had the support of one of the best admin teams around, I had great success in working on a musical, and trying new reading strategies that actually helped my students engage with learning. (Well, most of them.)

It’s time to reach more kids, get more experience, so I can start having an impact on the curricular and governmental areas of learning. Too often we as teachers take the easy way out, but our students are changing, our world is changing, and there is a swing to the importance of not only the humanities, but humanity. I was stuck in a situation where I saw very little humanity, and I see that reflected in society.

Taking a full time position is a way for my writing life, my mentoring life, and my teaching life to come together. It’s a way to make my voice heard in the classroom, and out. I took a “Lead Teacher” position, which means I have a responsibility to mentor.

I’m looking forward to the challenges. I’m sad to be leaving my school – it’s a wonderful school, I love the kids and the staff. But the very people who made my experience so fulfilling, were also instrumental in my desire to move forward in my career. I know I will work with many of them again. This district is small. Everyone knows everyone else. Our paths will cross. I am happy to be focusing on more of a leadership role. All three of those administrators made me believe that I have the respect of my peers (except those two fisher-dudes – ha) and have a lot to offer.

Remind me of this when am going crazy this fall with all my new responsibilities. Wine dates will be very much welcomed. (Now if I start asking for tequila dates, that could be a sign…)

(And yes, I am still writing! That’s a different update. Stay tuned.)

The River


Funny how quickly you realize a house isn’t what makes a home.
I don’t miss my old house. (I do still miss the floor – probably always will.)

What I do miss already, though, are my old running routes. Before I even moved into the area, I drove over and sought out different paths to run – the ravine in Scenic Acres, the loop, Blood and Guts hill in Silver Springs. And in a way, the stories and people that are attached to those runs are what makes me miss them.

My dad and I ran so many different routes there – he used to push Delaney in the jogger while I struggled to keep up. The Tuscany ravine had no connection to Scenic Acres then (that’s only been there since the overpass went in) so we would have to go off-road, cross a creek, and do some bouldering to get back home.

The Tuscany ravine was my second-favourite run. I know every downhill, every small uphill – I watched as new houses went up, and, more recently, as older ones were renovated. I knew where the shade was going to be. Sometimes, I would go down into the ravine and run along the dirt path, but not often – there were coyotes and bears and once, a moose, down there.

I ran that run – in shorts – the first Christmas we decided to have in Calgary. It was warm with no wind, and there was a calm to the few people I met on the path that day that I didn’t see on normal weekend mornings. It was the last Christmas we spent with my father-in-law.

Glenbow Ranch, the Silver Springs waterfalls, the train bridge. The new dog park, the new overlooks, and the big long hill down to the river. The big long run up Nose Hill Drive. All these places I’ve been to so often, and shared with so many.

My very favourite place, though, is Baker Park. Before the tunnel went in, it was a 17 minute run to the river, and, until the 2013 flood, Baker was always deserted. While people swarmed Bowness across the river, I would finish my run and sit on the low wall at the Sunbowl. It was the closest I came to meditating.

I have run the Tuscany-Old Growth forest-Bowness-Baker loop so many times, and I’ve seen the river in so many seasons, at so many levels, it feels like home, no matter the change. I wrote terrible poetry resting on that low wall, I made myself  resolutions and promises, and I threw more than one token into the waters to symbolize an ending, or a new beginning.

The flow of the Bow completely changed after the flood. The dirt path on the south side of the pedestrian bridge was washed out, and flood mitigation has resulted in a complete, manicured reno of the area. But go a little further – the old growth forest is still an untouched oasis of tangled roots and fallen trees.

I wrote many scenes in my head, there – whole sections from Clearwater and my essays while watching the sparkling life of that water – ducks fighting the current, dogs fetching sticks, water beetles scurrying in that willy-nilly way that looks like utter chaos. And oh, that feeling of listening to “Levon” by Elton John at the end of a run when that whole  “leave on” scene in Clearwater was born. A bloody Jeff and Claire at their rock, talking about her dad deserting her family- it just came to me, fully formed and so clear it was like I was there.

Baker Park, that river – magic.

We had many picnics and barbecues there as a family, mostly in fall. The kids and I biked there in the summer. They hung out with me on the “boring side” before heading across to the playgrounds at Bowness.

Now, I live just a three minute run to the river. The old growth forest at Edworthy is even closer than the one further to the west. There are so many places I can sit and write bad poetry, or find the magic to write (hopefully) good novel scenes.

It’s the same river. And yet it’s a completely different river. And that’s the beauty of it. Something familiar, yet different each day.
“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” Heraclitus, paraphrased.

I’ve been thinking about that quote a lot. I’ve found a lot of peace in the thought that we are ever-changing. That the water renews us, that it brings hope.

I have always been drawn to water (I think it’s maybe the earth sign thing – but that leads naturally to some kind of reference to playing in the mud…) and I feel like moving has nothing to do with the new house – which I do love – even the floor. I wanted to be closer to the water.

Maybe it’s the river that represents home to me – it’s always in the back of my mind, the single reason I can say I feel a connection to this city.

The river.

It kind of makes sense when you think about where the river flows – east, to Saskatchewan.


And Patty, of course.

Song: See Above
Book: Where’d You Go Bernadette. Funny. Sad. Good.


Now You Know

Well, that’s that. The answer I’ve been looking for – what it means to be Gomeshied.

I understand the legalities of the thing. I understand innocent until proven etc. etc. That’s not what this is about.
Gomeshied means status quo. Gomeshied means sit down and be quiet.

It means someone can hit/punch/pull hair/sexually assault/threaten/force himself on another person (I’m a person!) with no legal consequences.

It means “May I ask what the circumstances were of him hitting you?” It means shutting down and not telling the rest, because why would you? Who’s brave enough for that kind of reaction?

It means talking to the police/a lawyer/a girlfriend/your partner/a priest and getting the same reaction. How can that be? He’s a well-known radio host/TV star/musician/teacher/church leader. Are you sure you want to put this out there?

Telling means losing friends.

Still sorting through all this, but I find it impossible not to extend all I’ve learned to teaching – what do I tell my students? What do I tell my daughter? I honestly don’t know if I could counsel them to tell. To trust in a process that is still stuck in a time where Jodie Foster made everyone rethink consent in The Accused. (How many years ago was that? Twenty-Five?)

Yeah, I understand the legalities of it all. It’s still a knockdown.
And micro vs macro, it’s why I didn’t report. Not then, and not now.

And the apology? There was a time that would have made a huge difference, to me, anyway. “Well, sorry…” and “Sorry, but…” are not apologies but excuses for awful treatment.

I’m sure Ghomeshi will have someone vet his apology. For what it’s worth.



Addendum to Endings…um…

So – yesterday’s post caused a bit of concern amongst my friends and family.
Don’t be. Please. The time time for concern was when I was in, as Anne of Green Gables would say, “The Depths of Despair.” And we all know what Marilla said about that. (If you don’t know, you need to re-read the book.)
I am fine as sand. Or, fine as paint, a girl I used to work with used to say.

I don’t know if it’s Brené Brown, or my counsellor I’m quoting anymore, but “asking why gets you nowhere.” Why would someone behave that way? Why would I allow it?
It’s boring. I am bored with it. I have reached critical mass on trying to figure it out. Peak care.
I am coming out of that WTF WHY stage. And that’s what I was saying yesterday. All of this has been me packing away the big and little hurts and the lies. (Having just moved, I have ample packing metaphors I can use here.)

95% of the time, I just don’t care anymore. Someone was mean to me. Someone knocked me on my ass. Boo hoo. Yeah, I’ve been grieving the loss of myself. For months. As for him, it was all fake and lies, a big, giant, manipulative PUA-inspired game. It’s all for show, there’s no depth. It’s impossible to mourn something that wasn’t real.

Everyone knows by now I haven’t been writing. Rather, I haven’t been finishing anything. I thought I needed to cough up the hairball to write about other stuff again, but my workshop group has given me some better advice. DON’T write what I’m good at – forget the novel and the essays. Try something new – (I’ve started writing a mystery – nothing like a little murderous mayhem to cleanse the palate). DON’T read craft books or take courses. READ (Where’d You Go Bernadette? is pretty great, and my friend Marc’s ms which is going to be so much fun to work on.)


It’s easy to lose yourself when someone you have put your trust in is inconsistent and mean. “I know how to hit people where it hurts most.” Indeed. This was confirmed by someone else he did it to after I started telling. The thing is, we ALL know how to do it. The majority of us choose not to, though, because it kills the soul.

Oh well. I’m not the first and I won’t be the last. I was told I wasn’t strong, and that hurt – because trust me, carrying and pushing that weight nearly broke me. I am not Atlas. I am not Sisyphus. But I am stronger than I look. Don’t judge what you don’t know. (This is where the dinner scene in Ellen in Pieces by Caroline Adderson comes to mind – and I quote loosely – Don’t compare my real accomplishments to your imagined ones.)
I stayed too long. I can write post after post blaming myself. I probably always will. I looked for grace in the wrong place.

One of the last things he said to me was “Moving isn’t going to do what you want it to.” What’s that? “It won’t make you happy.”

He was wrong. This move is exactly what I’ve needed. I stayed too long there, too. Change is good.

I’ve got this, guys. I’ve got it all in hand. Spending money like a sheik, staying on top of school stuff, and  playing piano. Piano is pure joy. (Yes, even theory- compound duple time? Oh yeah, easy.) I’ve learned two of the three pieces that could always make me cry:  Hallelujah (up to the key change, damn black keys!) and She’s Got a Way. I recently took the third, Night of Silence, to my teacher with a request to learn it before Christmas. “This is easy. You know all of this stuff,” he said. “You can learn it now.”  A far cry from “old people always have trouble learning to play.”

All is well, and all will be well…
I am surrounded by people who tell me what I can do, not what I can’t. Imagine.

I have a massive and unbelievable compendium of right wing millennial, patriarchal, Trump-loving, feminist-gay-trans hating quotes and lines.

I have a cautionary tale.

When looked at a certain way (thank you, Sonal), the whole thing is hilarious – and I am getting my sense of humour back.

Years and years ago, in my second short story class, I started a tale about a woman on a bad blind date that started with the line: He was so right wing, he flew in circles.

I guess now I have the ending.
And endings are what I need.



I have written and rewritten this post so many times – that’s why such a long delay. I start with the intention of not allowing the hurt I’ve felt drive my words, but it’s clear that it still does. I fear if I don’t write them, they will clog my creativity so much I won’t ever write anything again.
I am still all over the place. I know what I want to say, then the words come on their own. I received an angry email saying I “misunderstood” the Gomeshi comment – and maybe I did, but for months every time I tried to clarify something I “misunderstood”, I was shut down with a “I don’t want to talk about that – it makes me feel bad. You make me feel like a terrible person.”

I don’t know what to say about that. When you tell someone how their actions make you feel, it’s an opportunity to clear up misunderstandings, or at least apologize. At least, that’s the way I was taught. If they choose to allow those misunderstandings to stand, then they become truth. And if that’s the truth, maybe a person should feel terrible.

Two years ago, I had a bout of pneumonia. The infection itself was treated, but the after effects – shortness of breath, exhaustion, a stupid cough that wouldn’t quit – lasted for months. I started running again way too soon. I wanted to be better, so I behaved as if I were healthy.

But some things can’t be controlled. They can’t be fixed on my timeline. Sometimes the effort to keep things under control is too much and sickness comes around again, as it did last year with another lung infection. This one, I let run its course.

I’ve spent a lot of time these past two years imagining, thinking, planning. Waking up in the morning, plotting ways to make myself heard and understood. There was always a sense of urgency – today I have to make things okay. And I couldn’t. I nearly killed myself trying.

Brené Brown, in speaking of truth, talks about the stories we tell ourselves. I think this is doubly or triply dangerous for a writer. Motivation is paramount. Resolution. Controlling the narrative, and building an ending that is perhaps not happy, but is satisfying.

I think about my vice-principal’s advice earlier this year, in the midst of an online harassment and gossip campaign, one orchestrated to look like it was another teacher hurting me.  “You can’t control what people say and think about you. The people who matter know the truth.”
I think about my husband, telling me after my last blog that the “friendship” was never about mentorship. “I was there when you made the deal. It was an exchange – you help him, and he helps you with your music writing project, your stories, and your website.” I remember telling people this, now. As part of the valuation phase, he’d peppered me with questions about my novel, my characters, the setting. Why? How? Emails thousands of words long. He read at a different depth than anyone else had. I know now this is part of the game, but at the time, I felt seen. I felt valued.

I felt like I’d found a friend who had similar interests – but the fact is, they were all similar. I never realized how much of myself I put into my writing until it was catalogued for the valuation stage. Birds? Trees? Math? Piano? All my obsessions were right there, in everything I’d ever written. Ripe to be used.
The time for quid pro quo never came, though – my husband is right. People started asking questions. Why are you helping him? How can you give a reference to someone like that? (The impromptu Facebook poll on this was an eye-opener for me. But I did give a reference – by the fall, I was being blamed for all the non-successes and I couldn’t bear to be blamed for a rejected application.)
That disconnect is when controlling the story became even more important. It’s hard to admit you’ve been played. So “he’s busy, but he’s going to help” became my mantra. Controlling what other people saw. Making sure no one judged him. Making excuses for missed deadlines and late arrivals and forgotten commitments. Yet, finding out later he’d spent hours on an email to a neighbour telling her how university would be, or working on two other websites. He was not too busy at all, and made me question the time I’d invested in him.

Right from the start, I was hooked. It started with a sad tale of him all alone in an ambulance, no one around to take his call after a spectacular allergic reaction to satay. Later, he must have forgotten he told me that story, because in another version, his parents were there, they had raced to get there before the ambulance came.
That was only the first instance. I’ve deleted from this post six other instances where I found out he lied about the support he was getting. The point is – none of it was real.

You think a friendship is safe. “Am I safe?” Perfectly, he said. “I’m your friend.” But then came the truth: “Probably not.” And still, he came to me for help and advice.

It’s taken a long time to work things out – and I’m not done yet.

But I am tired of being angry. I’m tired of thinking about the responses he gave to how hard I tried to get it right- yogurt spit in my face, belittled and mocked and shoved. Pushed into bushes and stucco walls, tripped on paved pathways. Yelled at. Called names, told I was an embarrassment and a chore and stupid and annoying. Pushed and pulled. Hidden like some kind of ugly troll, but one with the power to make him feel better when he needed it. So much advice requested, and given.

I want to think about the way things seemed to be in the beginning. I want the friendship to have been real, I want an apology. I want him to see I never made fun of the things he told me, that I never told him all the little things that drove me crazy – grandfatherly complaints about back pain, and other (stupid) people, slurping coffee, the baby act. I just accepted things until I could no longer bear it.

But I know none of this even matters. I know I never could have been kind enough, supportive enough, helpful enough. I never could have given enough time, been patient enough.

I was his Supply. And in the end, knowing this has made it easier to put anything good that ever happened in a box, stick it with big red caution labels, tape it up and jam it on the back of that shelf where he always shoved me when I wasn’t perfect. The difference is, my box will stay there – there will be no dragging it down and sifting through it, picking and choosing the things that I cared about – he did that way too much  – a box ripped open and taped closed over and over eventually loses its ability to hold anything.

I’ve been working with an intuitive healer – she talks about me being strong-willed but in a gentle way. I had forgotten the strong-willed part. The more I found the strength in myself to push back, the angrier he became, and the more he devalued my worth. The more he believed he could say and do anything and I would be there.
“You won’t go away.” Until I did.
“You aren’t going anywhere.” Until I did.
“You are my friend.” Until I couldn’t be anymore.
“You have my back.” Until I caved under the weight.

I’m not the only one who “misunderstood.”

I am strong-willed. My husband says I was born with a golden horseshoe firmly implanted – this is true, but at the same time, I work hard to make things happen. And if they aren’t perfect, I make them workable.

I have tried, as I did when I ran too soon after pneumonia, to push this healing. To be better.
But I need to let this run its course.

The deep disappointment I’ve felt is fading. The anger flares – there is more to the story, you can be sure of that. But there are too many good people and good things to focus on.

It’s time to finish all the stories and essays I’ve started over the past few years. Figuring out this ending has helped me see my way through to all of the endings.]


Hearing me – Teaching Part 1b

Beware: Herein lies a clumsy comparison between gardening and teaching.

To write about these past two years is supposed to be freeing and healing. And it is. To go unheard for that long left a lot of unsaid words stuck in my throat.
It’s been a difficult thing to talk about, for sure. But I feel a new awareness of things this spring – teaching is only the first thing I’ve taken back. (Next up? Faith)

I sit here this morning and look out on the green space behind my house. The city workers are out there, trimming branches off the few trees that grow near the baseball diamond. I noticed yesterday that our MayDay tree has buds, and through my office window, now, I can see buds on the ornamental crabapple tree. I wonder if it will bloom before I leave.

Every year I think – what if this is my last spring here? I pay attention in spring, look for the green, for the re-awakening. I’ve worked hard on this yard, and as I’ve mentioned, I’m sad to give it up. There is a dwarf lilac tree that shares my name, the daylily given to me the year we moved in by a student, a Mountain Ash that never found its roots – it still bends in the wind – from the bottom. There’s my empty window box, where every year I plant pansies for my grandma. And don’t even mention my clematis.

Not far from here is a tiny tree I stole from near the river and re-planted to honour a life lost.

I’m glad I can’t see my front yard, where I finally, after 12 years, found the perfect perennials that thrive in shade.

A garden, growth, spring – all common metaphors used by so many authors in various pieces of writing, but for good reason. It occurs to me (and this is by no means an original thought, but it’s an important one) that teaching is that – planting seeds, tending their growth. A good gardener revels in the success of helping  the process move forward. What starts as a tight, dried, hard knot (not?) of a thing, can, with the right care, break out of itself and grow towards light.

The gardener matches her plants to the conditions – soil, shade, water, clay content, acidity. I’ve tried growing roses for years. I can’t. I can’t get them to last. And there is a place, on the corner of my front flower bed, where nothing grows. I’ve tried vines, shrubs, flowers. Nothing. There is always a yellowed husk of a plant corpse there by July.

It’s too obvious to say sometimes there are bad seeds, or invasive weeds. I’m losing interest in that part of things. Yeah, we all have failures in the garden. The beautiful thing about teaching is that those failures are so few and far between. And I learn from them. (Sometimes it’s a very expensive lesson.) And there are always other gardeners that can help with advice.

I didn’t listen to my fellow garden tenders this time, and it was a mistake. The seeds I planted as a mentor did not sprout anything other than contempt and disdain. The seeds I’d planted hundreds of times to great success, in many people, drained resources and bore strange fruit.

I question my skill as a gardener.

But now, my son has decided what he wants to do when he is done school. He, too, faces a lot of challenges in his choice of career. In the same way I researched what med schools want, and how to interview, and how to write applications – hours and hours of preparation before I even gave one word of advice – I have now begun the process to help my son with his dream. And in the same way, he needs to volunteer, he needs to get out into the world and see what it looks like beyond the confines of his privileged, suburban upbringing. He needs to get off his computer, and down to the river to see nature – birds, deer, tiny bugs in the water. He needs to stop talking and start listening.

I have gone to people I respect – gardeners themselves, with kids who’ve become doctors, lawyers, and social workers – and damn it, my advice was sound. I know what I’m doing. And as with anyone I teach or mentor, it’s only advice. I can only offer knowledge, and a way of seeing things in a way that inspires curiosity of self, and self-awareness. And that work is not mine. I can’t force my son, or students, or mentees to hear me, to respect my knowledge and experience, any more than I can force that cranberry bush out front to grow, or the crabapple tree to bloom before I’m gone. All I can do is prepare the soil, and plant the seeds.

These things take their own time. And sometimes, the shoot doesn’t reach the light until the gardener is long gone.

Hearing me – Teaching (part 1)

Lately I’ve found there are events and words that I can’t seem to shake. And they must be shaken so I can write fiction and non-fiction that will amplify my voice in a positive way. This post is about being told I should “quit teaching.”


Silver Springs – The view at the end of the path.

One thing I’ve learned since I fell down this pothole of uncertainty, is that I have a fundamental need to be heard. Having a voice is clearly part of my drive to be a writer, and finding the way to say things, or share things, is important to my calling as a teacher.

I can get psychoanalytic about it and say that obviously some time in the past I was not heard when I needed to be. I think about that a lot and wonder if I had been, would I have become something else? Still, I believe that we all want to be heard in our own way, whether as lawyers, artists, musicians, parents, friends…

My goal for the next few months is to really listen to myself and appreciate the gifts I have; to not let outside negation of those strengths keep me from sharing and improving them.

When asked what possible good came out of the past few years, I have to dig deep to find something positive. If there’s one thing, I’ve realized how much teaching means to me. It’s a vocation. No matter how many years I treated it as a means to an end, it was never just a job, but part of who I am.

I joke to my students that there is not a teacher in the world who would choose to teach junior high if it were only for the paycheck and summers off. So it’s obvious we must do it for the love of the students. They laugh, but for me, it’s true.

From the start, teaching and mentoring has always been about what I can do to move a student forward along his or her continuum of learning, no matter their abilities or skills. I take each student as they come to me. I work hard to help them improve what they know, to help them acquire new skills, or interests, or give them tools to address weaknesses. I’m not always successful, but sometimes, it’s about valuing and hearing another human, no matter their age or ability.

As a teacher, I’ve also learned. I have taught hundreds of students from kindergarten to adults. I have interacted and collaborated with thousands of parents, grandparents, and siblings. I have differentiated my instruction based on the learner’s needs, not mine. I have had fifteen years at this school board alone where I have learned so much about human nature and learning styles, and learning challenges. I have seen kids with social issues, reading issues, family issues. I have planned and researched and learned all I can to help all my students be successful.

And I am good at it.

I have built relationships with students and parents and colleagues that are still strong years later. I have had a lot of success with various mentorships, whether tutoring, writing, or as a personal support. Collaboration is a strength of mine. And frankly, it’s fun. No two days are the same. I’m not stuck behind a desk.

So mentoring someone through a difficult interview process seemed like something I could do.

A collaboration takes two committed partners. To ask for help is to be open to suggestions, to have faith in what the more experienced person has learned. In this particular mentorship, I mapped out a plan that I know would have been successful if I’d been listened to. I was not. I was not valued or heard.

I know what I’m doing. I say it now, so I hear it.

When someone says “You should quit teaching” – especially when they know how hard the teaching year has been – it scrapes the soul in a way that an apology, even if I’d received one, can’t heal. Why would someone say that? I don’t know. Why feels like the wrong question, but I’m still working on that. Sometimes it’s easier to blame someone else when failure comes knocking. I don’t know the answer, and in the end, it doesn’t matter anymore.

I have since mentored others, with a lot of success. The basis for teaching and mentoring is good two-way communication. As the learner, it’s knowing that you are believed in and heard, and that your teacher is doing everything she can, just for you. It’s being open to discovery. As the teacher, it’s allowing the student to process lessons and advice; it’s showing, not telling. It’s leading the student to their own truths, their own discoveries. It’s investing time, care, and energy in someone, in their dreams.
I don’t need the affirmation of a thank you, or some kind of prize. I can see the changes in my students. I see how comfortable they are in my classes – they talk to me, they tell me things. We laugh, a lot. They fail, and they succeed. They celebrate their uniqueness. I tell them every day how amazing they are, and how much they teach me. I challenge them, and those I mentor, to think beyond the limits of what they know. Or what they think they know.

They don’t always take what I have to offer, but they always engage me in a discussion or debate so I understand better who they are, what they need. It’s a give and take. To learn is to be open to hearing hard things, turning them over to find the pieces that make sense, and to find the beauty in overcoming the challenges in the pieces that don’t.

My students know I hear them, and they know they’re valued.

Now I need to work on hearing me. Learning how is a challenge.

But as with any lesson, it’s an opportunity – always opportunity.

For the first time in a very long time, I posted a story in my workshop group. It was a banner day – the writing is coming easier. I am once again going to bed at night thinking about characters and waking up ready to explore new ways to torment them. 🙂 These posts help focus me. 


Run route: Tuscany Ravine

Song: The Load Out – Jackson Browne

Book: How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de Botton – gifted to me by my friend Marc, who is pretty smart about these things.