The River

Screen-Shot-2016-05-13-at-8.13.15-AM

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.

Home.

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.

 

Endings

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.”

12932582_10153352285036930_944674755233087358_n

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.

 

 

Plus ça change…

Since the school musical wrapped up in January, things have been such a whirlwind, I’ve barely had time to process the changes that are coming.
We are on the final countdown to our new home. It’s energized our family, allowing us to clean – no, to scour – every corner of this place. After one weekend, we have a truckload of garbage, a truckload of donations and a truckload of recycling ready to go.

I’ve been obsessively looking at pictures of the new place, trying to decide what furniture will go where, and how I’ll possibly fit all the junk we couldn’t part with into a smaller place. The only thing I know for sure is where my piano will go – front room, centred on the wall.

I find I’m sad about strange things – the perennials I finally got to grow last year, but that I can’t take with me. My Jackmanii clematis– it was always a goal to get it to grow as full as my grandpa’s. It went crazy last year, growing right up onto our deck.

My hardwood floor – the new one, while installed on the bias (beautiful) is not as dark and swirled as mine. I remember my son, right after we had the floor installed, say to a friend who’d come over on a playdate “Be careful – don’t scratch my mom’s floor. She really loves her floor.”

Rooms we never got around to renovating. Bathrooms. Kitchen.

And my office that my dad and husband built. While my new room has a lovely bow window where my curved desk will fit perfectly, I loved my little office. Of course, my new writing space also has a killer three-sided fireplace in it, so there’s something to look forward to.

I’ve moved often in my life, and this one is way overdue. Every move I’ve made (I think it was six times by the time I was ten, seven since) has brought new people and experiences into my life – getting stuck in the mud in my rain boots, walking to kindergarten with my mom, surviving The Pas, raising four Newfies in the city, Prince George, Quebec, Calgary – I’ve never regretted a move. It would be nice, however, to do renovations on a place and stay to enjoy them, rather than letting the next owners reap the benefits. Just once…
Soon, I’ll be less than a five-minute run to the river. I’ll be able to walk to the coffee shop and bookstore. My kids will get out of the suburbs and be able to spend more time at their activities, at festivals, and volunteering. There is a great church close by. Downtown is within walking distance.

This whole move has completely consumed me over the past few weeks, and yet, it’s come so fast. So much left to do.

I’m happy with all the culling we’ve done. So much junk, so much dead weight to jettison.
I’m proud to have a family that embraces change as I do. (Though not without sadness – the little one is really struggling with leaving the only home she can remember.) And not so little, I guess, as she’ll be a teenager in two days. (More change…)

Our real estate agent mentioned that the people moving into our place said it was their dream home. I’m more than happy to pass it on to them – it’s a lovely house, with great additions and upgrades, and I think they’ll be happy here. I hope they can build memories like we have – it was the perfect house for young kids. It was our dream house, too.

But, dreams change, and now we have new ones. The older one has decided what he wants to take in university. The little one has decided where she wants to go for high school. They both have definite musical goals, and each has athletic and work goals they are looking to achieve. It’s as though we’ve all been hibernating, building up our stores for the challenges and changes that are coming. Turn and face the strange…

One of which is getting started on next year’s musical…here we go…

Song on repeat: Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home) by Paul Young  (That voice…)
Running route: Red-Winged Blackbird Pond in Tuscany (No blackbirds yet, it’s a slough not a pond, and it’s not the Tuscany in Italy, but Harper’s neighbourhood – yeah, I’m a romantic.)

Book: The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr

 

 

Thoughts on International Women’s Day

So here’s the thing. You want to post something uplifting and empowering for IWD.  A list of women who’ve influenced you. But things have been so hard. You have no faith left in yourself. You can’t mention your mom and grandma – hard workers outside the home most of their lives – without thinking of being told that women were meant to stay in, take care of families.

You can’t mention those experienced, open, and helpful teachers from way back at the beginning of your career, because A) having meaningful mentorships and friendships with people older than you is something to be embarrassed about and B) teaching is not something you should be doing, anyway, and certainly not in the Catholic school board.

You can’t list a sister who teaches yoga and preaches patience and staying in the moment, because yoga? Mindfulness and self-awareness? For morons.

Your friends can’t be mentioned because they are A) crazy B) mean C) loudmouths D) wrong.

You can’t list women writers you admire because they are women, and therefore not worthy of mention – they don’t write about the economy or politicians and are not MRA’s and are not old (mostly dead) white men.

You’ve lost the right to write about being a woman at all. You lost the card your mom handed you back when you were thirteen and she said “never let a man control you.” And “take care of yourself.” And “you can do anything you want to.”

*

Your IWD card was cut up when you made yourself open and vulnerable to the wrong person. The one who called you friend.
Your IWD card was cut up when you allowed someone to stay in your life after he spit yogurt in your face.
And when he called you after your award loss to say he was too embarrassed to keep talking to you,  you forgave and tried to forget. Because of course, he needed you after that.
And when he told you to take your blog post down.
And when he yelled at you because you didn’t do what he said.
And when he went from idealization to devaluation minute by minute.
And when you kept it quiet.

Being kind and patient only took you so far. Standing back, being an educator, not a nag, showing and not telling, got you nowhere. More and more and more was expected of you. You did not listen to what your mom said about control, and taking care of yourself, and doing what you want to. You did anything you could to just stop the constant shoving and yanking.
*
In November, a man walked into the lab where you waited for your turn to be stuck with another needle (this time to check why the bruises came so easily and never went away) and to have a test for chest pains. The man proceeded to shout at the receptionist, slowly, like she was an imbecile. The way you were shouted at.

There you were,  right back in that car with that friend. On the phone.

Your heart rate increased, your chest ached, and you couldn’t breathe. What gave him the right to treat another human like that? And if the receptionist were male, would he have been so rude?
You make it through the blood work and into the private room before you can finally breathe again and the tears come. You undress, wrap yourself in a paper gown and cry all the way through the ECG. The tech says nothing to you. She hands you a Kleenex and tells you how her daughter is never called by the right name, how it’s common, and everyone mixes it up. Then she’s gone, and you’re alone. The angry man is gone when you leave.

Or today, when two boys walk into school late, and your principal calls them out for their disrespect. Reiterates his expectations. Firmly. You can hear him – everyone can – the room echoes, and he has a strong voice – and you get that same breathless I-need-to-run feeling. Then it fades. And what is left is anger. Anger that on this day of empowerment for women, every time you turn around, you’re reminded that you gave that power to someone else.

You can look at it like this – it took many years for you to run into someone who could yell like that, could belittle, and crush. It will take time for these physical reactions to fade. You find yourself casting about searching for other women like you – strong women who’ve made it through. Women who understand the push and pull of wanting so bad to to have an ending where everyone wins.

But you didn’t win. You handed over the most vulnerable part of yourself (take care of me!) and it was stomped on.

Still.
To have it stomped simply because you demanded respect for doing what you want to is worth it.
Because you won’t be controlled by the expectations of any man – and you’re grateful that this is one of the very few times in your life one has even tried to control you. It speaks not only to the amazing women who’ve influenced you, but the men, too – men who are comfortable with a woman being herself.

You did take care of yourself.

*

And so here’s to my mom who worked her way up from a telco operator to the head of human resources, and my grandma, who worked at Sears and raised a family, and my auntie Brenda, who is one of the kindest people I know. To Darlene and Anne, two amazing women who took a young, naive and very inexperienced teacher under their wings and gave me confidence not to quit what was a very overwhelming job. To my mother-in-law Jean, who found a love of management in middle age. (Raising three boys probably prepared her pretty well for this!)

My sister is a source of quiet strength. She once said she looked up to me (only once that I can remember!) but I sure look up to her. “You’re here. You’re breathing. How can anything be wrong?”

My daughter – one of my greatest sources of joy and inspiration. “Happy International Women’s Day, Mom. Get out there and break some rules!”

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s the value of friendships – true friends. Friends that stuck by me even when I was clearly being an imbecile. (TALK LOUDLY AND SLOWLY)

I have so many to list that I am afraid of missing someone.
Monica, Sonal, Carolyn, Diana, Ali, Jennifer, Deborah, Coby.
Caroline, Brenda, Adriana, JulieAnn, Amanda, Rita.
Rea, Amanda, Darcie, Michelle, Kate, Patti, Tara, Kimmy.
All my writing and reading and teaching friends.
My students – amazing, brave young women who have so much ahead of them –  especially Jamie and Genevieve.

So IWD card or no, those are the places I go back to, over and over, for solace. For strength.

I’m sure I’ll be back on here at some point to revise and add more.

I am grateful for the men in my life, too – father, grandfather, husband, son, friends, and a principal with very high standards – 🙂 but they get all the other days of the year, no?

Spring is near, in so many ways…

New learnings, new living, new life…

I’ve spoken of my piano lessons more on Facebook, than here. I have had a vision of a music project for years – long before I agreed to help someone out in exchange for musical insight and wisdom.
When that didn’t pan out – there was never time for a quid pro quo – I started my own training – taking an online course deconstructing Beethoven’s sonatas as a first step. That’s right – starting with the “easy” stuff.

Then I decided that to really learn, I’d have to learn from the inside. So I went back and took lessons.

Like many of my other obsessions (writing, running, teaching) over the years, this one just exploded into a million questions. Why does it work like this? Why do I like that sound, or that progression of notes? Why does tension resolution resonate as it does? How do you decide what sounds work? How does cadence and rhythm figure into things?

To watch a talented pianist play is to be enthralled. My family’s piano teacher has small hands – smaller than my daughter’s – so to watch him play is something special. His hands move differently depending on genre, but it’s the certainty and economy of that movement that is so spectacular. He’s played jazz, ragtime, blues, classical, and his own compositions for me, always showing me HOW he makes things work.

Something interesting and new besides the music always comes out of a lesson. I’ve learned that my learning style is closer to my son’s (more loose, intuitive, try-based) than my daughter’s (she knows all the rules and applies them).

It’s been a long time since anyone watched how I learn something new. My teacher watches how I work out intervals, or time, or time, or melodic minors, in theory and knows exactly how to transfer that to the practical.

All this to say – playing by ear has been demystified for me. I always thought it was something that only really talented people could do. My teacher tells me that while it’s not something everyone can do, I do have the ability to hear the melody and re-create it. This is a huge confidence builder – to be able to apply the theory I’ve been learning (I can sing better, now as well – a few well-placed hints, and my work with intervals has been invaluable) and see that I am capable, that there’s a reason I experience music as I do. My teacher is synesthesic, (synesthetic?) and I read recently that this is something that can be trained as well. (This, however, does not fall on my obsession list.)

For now I’m going to concentrate on putting melodies with chords – and, yes, I’ve learned to stack chords in a way that doesn’t offer a dull clang tone, but allows the notes to sing. For a former barbershop chorus singer, this is as close to heaven as I’ll probably ever get.

I was afraid to take piano, having been told that I was too old to really excel at it. There is no question I can do it – my teacher keeps telling me I can. But, with playing, as in writing, or running, I didn’t believe it until I actually did. And no, I’ll never be a prodigy, but that’s ok.

Learning to play has made me a better teacher. It’s made me appreciate the different kinds of learning my grade eights do – it’s impossible to have everyone learn from one teaching style. A good teacher is able to read his or her student, and adjust the teaching to match the learner.

I am more aware now of the effect self-confidence has on the outcome of my students’ efforts. I want to be the kind of teacher that inspires my students to at least try something new, or scary. I want to show that I support those efforts, even if they end in failure at first. I want to be able to read my students like my piano teacher can, and say – “hey, you should try this – it’s definitely something you can do.” Confidence in them, above all.

That kind of faith is what has allowed my daughter to play songs two grades above her RCM level, and to push her toward improvisation – something that is very difficult for her perfectionist soul. My son, once ready to quit, has found an affinity for blues. Of all of us, he has the best natural rhythm. And I’ve been able to figure out Greensleeves – still working on playing the left hand. (The fact that the first song* I will learn to play by ear is at times a song about Mary gives me great joy.)

“Just try different things, Kim. Play. Play around. Trust what you hear. You’ll know when it sounds right.”

And all of this, all of this, applies to writing.

And life itself, really.

*PIECE (okay, okay, Jen)

 

 

For Kelly

Good Things – Trust, Bravery, and Friendship

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 12.38.50 PMIt’s amazing how much space keeping secrets takes up.
It’s mysterious and kind of miraculous how letting go of hurt and anger, and being honest creates space for good.

Writing the Gomeshied post two weeks ago forced me to confront a lot of issues I’d pushed down and avoided, and opened up my understanding of other hurts that I had compartmentalized and excused. By exposing and examining the feelings that one event pushed up, the weight I’d been carrying for so long needed to be offloaded. It’s like bad Spiderman – the black eventually seeped into everything, and something needed to give.
It was an emotional week for many reasons – we put our house up for sale, report card time has come, one check-up turned into a flurry of specialist appointments. (Everything is fine so far!) I fielded angry emails and texts about my posts. Two months of gossip was taking its toll on me.
BUT.
It’s as though the moment I made the decision to stop caring about what people think, the rest of the weight I’ve been carrying eased. There is sadness now, but the stress and anger and disappointment I felt is so much less.
A big part of that is how supportive my family – husband, kids, parents, sister, brother-in-law and brother have been. Being honest with them has opened doors that I’d closed – so that’s one positive thing to come out of all of this.
And now so many more good things are pouring in – a shortlisting for a writing contest, a new home, the opportunity to work on another musical, and I have the emotional space I need to write.
Elizabeth Gilbert says in Big Magic that Creativity is always there, waiting for us. I have come to realize that positivity is always there, too. And yes, things have been difficult, but I had worried so much about being perfect – a perfect friend, mentor, what have you – that I’d lost sight of what actually makes me, me.
Brene Brown talks about being enough. My vice-principal addressed the same thing in a meeting the other day. People who know me, know I am good and kind, and good and kind enough. Gossip is meaningless, no matter who is spreading it.
Brene Brown also has a way of defining trust in friendship that I like. Her acronym BRAVING, pictured above, was an eye-opener for me in many ways. At the time, I used it as a measurement tool for the friendship that was causing me so much grief, but over the past few months, I’ve used it to test my self-trust, my friendship with me, and that’s what has made me grab onto the broken bootstraps of my self-respect and stand up for myself.
I have such a fantastic and demanding support system. Friends far and wide have been so patient and ass-kicking and annoyed and wonderful while I’ve worked through this failure – and boy, have I failed. I failed spectacularly. I thought I could make a difference, and I was wrong. I did my best to make things right, and I couldn’t.
I stopped trusting myself, and starting trusting what others thought. I don’t need to worry about that anymore. I’ve got this.
I leave you with two brief poems by https://twitter.com/nayyirahwaheed

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 1.36.31 PM Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 1.37.25 PM
These are from her book, Salt, and posted to her Twitter.