It’s me! I don’t create the space.

It’s ME!!

I don’t create the space.

I let other things/repeat thoughts/stress creep in.

Each time I walk into a room, thoughts of what needs to be done in that room barge into my mind to plague me.

Kitchen – dirty cupboards, inside and out, purging required

Bathroom(s) – regular cleaning, cupboard cleaning, purging required

Basement – furnace room & storage space, purging required

Bedroom – clean, reorganize closet, purging required

Windows – need cleaning

Paint – all main areas could use paint

Kitty litter – ugh

I think of the people I would like/need to see or call. The seminars I would like to attend.

 Guilt arrives thick as a cloud of gnats. Little squirmy bugs that sidle into the crevices of my psyche. Good old-fashioned overwhelming guilt sucks the life blood right out of me. I have developed a habit of blaming myself for whatever isn’t perfect. I blame me for not being able to keep all my stuff up to snuff. I shouldn’t have sat that extra hour or two enjoying my coffee playing solitaire. I shouldn’t have watched TV. I am weighted down by a million imperfections from streaks on the bathroom mirror to not having good meals ready each night for supper. I cannot seem to hold back this slippery trajectory of thought. Inwardly I project my anger/frustration on myself and others.Tried and judged without trial. If only I and everyone in my life magically took off all my invented and real responsibilities, I could do what I really want to do. These thoughts orbit my mind.

 I pause in my writing. I am feeling horribly uncomfortable confessing my illogical thinking process out loud. I check Facebook, Instagram,text messages. A bit of sweat rises on my face. I turn back to my computer determined to continue.

Shame & vulnerability researcher Brene Brown says, “projecting your stuff, making it someone else’s accentuates your thoughts of being unlovable or uncreative”. In my case I could say, if I was loved, then all of those items listed above would be done. If my list was done then I could create. Therefore, the fact I cannot create is because I am on my own. NOT true.

 I put pressure on myself. I struggle with creating structure which would allow me space to accomplish what I really want to do. Structure is hard because it is boring and hems in my thinking. Not having structure means I can’t suss out time for what I am driven to do. Write. Write a book. Write articles.

 My neck gets stiffer and stiffer. I feel the tense mess in my jaw and temples as I write. I feel a pop in my neck and have some relief. I can’t relax. I become more and more tired. I don’t walk outside. I don’t get fresh air. I work on a cycle of “to do” lists that never end. I also barely accomplish anything on the list = guilt guilt guilt. Sleep becomes harder. Mind races more. Each morning I open my eyes and my list ticker tapes it’s way across my eyeballs. I plan what I will do and in what order. At the end of the day I lay in bed and the unaccomplished list ticker tapes it’s way across my eyeballs. No relief. Not yet.

What is it you want my niece asked? I have no problem popping off the answer. Quiet. Be a hermit. Write. Have less things in my life.Have energy to do the things I love. I put together a mind map of my week. I put it aside. I ignore it.

I know that when I do things on my never-ending list, I feel less burdened, freer until the list once again begins to grow. Throw out the damn list my younger brother said to me once. Because my mind is so crazy,busy, beautiful in its imagination, I need the list to ensure regular responsibilities get done on a systematic basis.

Balance.

If I don’t vacuum each week or only clean the bathrooms every other week, I am burdened because it’s not as clean as I would like. Perfectionism.A little.

Balance.

To do the things I love and am good at.

Spending time with people.

 I consider how I feel when I can make other lives a bit better, even if it’s only for a moment.

I want to save the world and the hurting people in it.

I still feel the sting because I didn’t have change or a hat or gloves or shoes to offer a young man begging at a corner on a particularly cold day last week. Walking up and down between the stopped vehicles in running shoes, a head band and no gloves. I was warm and toasty in my vehicle on my way to a warm and toasty office to return to my warm and toasty house. It was American Thanksgiving Day. I wondered what he had to be thankful for. I wondered about who loved him. I wondered about where he found belonging. I have change in my jeep now. In a bag I will put hats, gloves and some protein bars. This young man did not appear to be starving…as in food. But to be out on a street corner in the cold seemed to indicate a starving of the soul.

Perspective.

 “Why do you talk so much?” My daughter asked me last week. “To drive everyone around me nuts.” I responded. Not true. My talking is an extension of my non-stop thoughts. Addicted to one’s thoughts. That is me. An overflow of thoughts in themselves are not a problem. An overflow of thoughts without action are a problem. For me. Clarifying what actions to do, at what time, at what rate is my formidable task.

War.

There is a war fought ferociously inside my mind. A battle between what I really want to do for me and what I really want to do for other sand what I really don’t want to do for both. It is a hard war. Throughout my life I honed the skills of diversion through laughter so I needn’t deal with the uncomfortable. Living in the uncomfortable and facing up to myself and what I want or don’t want sometimes makes people around me uncomfortable. I don’t like uncomfortable. I love peace the most. I have loved peace at great cost to myself. I have loved peace at the cost of honesty. I have created peace spaces at a great cost to myself and the people I love. Being allowed to be honest about what I wanted was knocked out of me a long time ago. I stockpiled my emotions. As Brene Brown says, “you stockpile until your body turns on you. Depression. Anxiety.The body always wins”. It was recently pointed out to me that as a child I was both overstimulated and ignored. I reflected on this. I still spend time in that pattern. I still cannot manage either.

Balance                =             Tight Rope Walker

My to do list only has the power to haunt me when I allow myself to believe I am in this alone. I am not. I have peeled back so many layers of junk I am convinced I am at the centre, my core, only to find out I am not. I pray that at my core I will find contentment. Contentment will be my jewel.

My dream is to be content everywhere I find myself. Inside and out.

My dream is to contribute with my creativity everywhere I find myself.

My list of life’s mundane things like cleaning (cat and human toilets-really tired of those) do not define who I am or what my life’s accomplishments are. I was in a space of emotional pain last week. I thought it was physical pain, tired. I attempted to off load my pain as I am wont to do instead of feel it. Instead of figuring out what was going on, I projected. I projected onto myself and onto others while keeping my words and thoughts to myself, floor draining my energy. I needed to learn to feel my pain instead or eat cookies, read a book, or watch TV. I needed to turn my feelings of “I am not enough” and “who do you think you are” into “being me is enough”.

 I created a story last week about unaccomplished lists and deprivation that cut me out at the knees. It was a confabulation. Made up. I let it cut into my dreams of contentment, contribution and creativity. Last weeks story was a shitty first draft. Inside the shitty first draft I learned more about myself. Last week I took my eye off of being kind and courageous, of living life outside myself, instead I turned inward. This week I started a revision of that story.

My shitty second draft says I take responsibility for my emotions. They belong to me. I do not need to fit my emotions into my perception of what I think other people expect of me. I choose to be me with my own feelings, wants and thoughts.

Advertisements

Pruning – Brown Beans – Coal

photocollage_201811161114064

My husband and I have pruned shrubs on 3 separate occasions in the last several weeks. Prepping for winter at some of his maintenance jobs. Fall clean-up. I don’t usually work with him. But he asked me and I said yes. I love pruning. There is something about taking out dead branches and cutting back that makes way for new growth that reinvigorates me. I love to be outside. Breathing the fresh air and moving. Bending, kneeling, sometimes crawling and sometimes practicing the yoga move, downward dog, when working on a slope.

Our pruning pattern has been for my husband to trim and prune the bigger shrubs and cut back the overgrown ones. My task was to follow behind him pulling out the dead twigs and branches, prune back as required and rake the whole mess up.

On this particular Wednesday in November the weather man had promised us a rain free day with relatively mild temperatures. The day of, sporadic rain showers were predicted. We arrived on site and decided to tackle 2 out of control False Spirea Hedges. One overhung the city sidewalk. My husband had cut it back earlier in the summer, not that you could tell by looking at it. It was a long and wide hedge full of weeds. A big daunting mess. We started to clear out the dead wood in preparation for cutting it back with the hedge trimmer. Too many weeds. Huge weeds 3’ tall, clumps of grass, other various miscellaneous brush and burrs had made a home in the hedge. The job was growing by the minute. We weeded. We dragged out dead branches, tugged at and tossed upright branches loosening them at the plant’s base, along with weeds and other junk. Large long lines of debris grew on the sidewalk. My husband raked the mess onto the grass to give the public access. I felt a wee bit sorry for the hedge as I am wont to do. Neglect of living things usually makes my heart hurt a little. Those feelings took a back seat when the rain clouds rolled in and started pelting us with cold pellets. 3 such rain episodes in a 7-hour day occurred. The rain frustrated us. We just wanted to get the job done.

Toward mid afternoon our daughter arrived with a truck and trailer to collect the jumble of branches. The branches were so dry they snap crackled and popped as we moved them. The trailer filled up quickly so my daughter climbed in and began to stomp on the branches making room for the rest. “I’m crushing grapes and making wine,” she laughed. She jumped down and we loaded more brush. My husband’s turn to crush branches into wine. The branches were in and the day was over. We headed for home.

The sound of the crackling branches and laughter nudged at a childhood memory.

Crackling branches…laughter.

A memory niggled at the outer edges of my mind.

Crackling branches and brown beans.

Then the memory became clearer, coming through the mist of my mind.

In my childhood we had a massive garden where we grew beans. Green beans, French Cut beans and Brown beans. Crackling made me think of Brown beans. I didn’t like some of my mom’s cooking. Brown beans was not on that list.  I liked my mom’s brown beans.

We grew them. We dried them. We stored them. We ate them in the winter.

I couldn’t remember how we dried them when I was little in the 60’s. I wrestled, searching for the memory. I thought we had a drying rack sitting in the garden where the beans dried out in the sun. Somehow, we crushed those dried out pods sending the brown bean with its wee white spot through the mesh into some kind of collecting bin. Maybe that happened.

I went to two of eight historian’s we have in the family, my siblings. My sister either didn’t remember the drying process or we got off topic as we often do. There is always so much to talk about. I texted my older brother. He fired a text back. Concise. Direct. To the point. The beans were set up on a tripod in the garden to dry. The memory came clear. I remember the tripod made of three saplings tied together with string. The beans were hung off this contraption and left to dry in the garden. When the bean shells were dried, they were brought into the kitchen to be husked. The husks crumbled making a terrible dusty mess of chaff and bits of shell. We did not own a vacuum cleaner sooo the husks and dust were swept billowing through the air catching in our eyes, nose and mouth.

I forgot to ask how and where they were stored for the winter. It doesn’t matter.

I loved those brown beans as much as one of my sisters hated them. They balled up in her cheeks until she looked like a chipmunk. Surreptitiously she would dig them out with her finger and place them on a ledge just under the table top where she sat. At supper cleanup time with the same kind of stealth she took them out and likely fed them to the family dog. Those beans are likely a memory for her too, just not the same warm fuzzy memory as mine.

My mom made those Brown beans until they were just the right soft. She must have boiled them. She fried up bacon to go with the beans. The beans were served in a heap on my plate with a dollop of bacon grease, bacon and some good Dutch syrup. (Dutch syrup is a cross between molasses and regular syrup.) My sister said our mom watered down the syrup. Half water half syrup. I never noticed. I loved it. A winter meal well suited for cold days and nights. It is a memory of warmth and good food for me as we sat around that big old table together eating brown beans.

There is more. For me there is always more to a story.

At the old stone farmhouse, we had a dirt floor basement. Down in that dank dark place was a low table with dirt on it. That’s where the root vegetables like potatoes, carrots, turnips and beets were stored. Maybe the beans were there too. I am not sure. I remember that basement. I remember the little old dusty cob webbed window with its wooden frame where the coal came through to heat our house in winter. We only used coal when we ran out of wood. My sister told me it was her job to pick the embedded pieces of coal out of the dirt. I can envision her there with her long braid on her little hands and knees in the dusky damp creepy basement picking out coal pieces. Not one piece of coal wasted. I remember the coal coming through the basement window and landing on the dirt floor. I can hear it swoosh in with a big rush pattering onto the dirt floor. Our dad was supposed to build a wood platform for the coal. He never got around to it. He could never get caught up with his work.

He was caught in a world of weariness and compassion. An immigrant working in Canadian winters with insufficient clothing for the cold, trying to emotionally and financially support a large family (9 children) and his wife. He struggled to find time to cut enough wood for it to cured before burning, often burning green wood. Green wood struggles to burn, smokes and gives off poor heat.

His arrival at home at the end of the day brought immediate calmness to my mom’s spirit. I remember him touching my mom’s shoulder as she was cooking supper and gently saying her name a few times and then “calmness, calmness, I am here”. As if to say, you are not alone. She stirred the pot less intensely. Maybe she was stirring the brown beans into a slurry and he saved them and us.

After supper, he put us to bed, heard our prayers, listened to our stories and each evening ended laying on one of our beds until mom called him to have coffee with her. He often had a little nap on the bed with us before he went down. He was the parent that got up in the night when we had nightmares or were sick.

Before he turned in for the night, he went out to the barn to cuddle the cow. Have a little chat with her. If her water was frozen, he brought her bucket into the house to melt the ice on the stove and then brought it back out to the barn. Time that cut into his sleep.

A compassionate man.

Maybe cutting wood on time wasn’t about procrastination. Maybe it was about a man at his limit. Nothing left in his tank.

We did have brown beans, wood and coal.

In this environment I learned not to waste. It is in this environment I learned the value of living beings, of time, and fear of not having enough. This climate taught me to value everything. Every brown bean, every piece of coal, every memory, every sibling, every sibling’s spouse, my husband, every one of my children, every one of my children’s spouses, every grandchild, every person I love. It taught me compassion for people. This week my sister reminisced about how important peace was to our father. it is deeply important to me too. She spoke about how much she loved to cuddle on his lap. I remember it too. It felt like a peaceful safe space to spend a bit of time. I don’t remember him being fed up with my wiggles. Perhaps like my sister and my mom I responded to the inner peace he exuded. Perhaps this is his legacy to me. To dwell on the little things like the taste of brown beans with bacon grease, bacon and Dutch syrup, a piece of coal. To prune out all the extra I have accumulated in my life that takes away my peace. To sit quietly. To love. To accept. To make my home a space for belonging that is reminiscent of my dad’s lap.

I remember. November 11, 2018.

181112_164642_COLLAGE-1

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month when the guns fell silent…..100 years ago yesterday.

It’s early Sunday morning, November 11, 2018. I start a Facebook post looking for words to express what I feel/think about/am affected by…and I put my phone down part way through. I never posted that post. I deleted it several hours later. I did not publicly acknowledge wars affect on my family on November 11.

100 years since the end of World War I.

War is multifaceted and complex, I think. Many wars have been fought and continue to be fought.

There is nothing new under the sun.

Remembrance – the action of remembering something.

“a flash of understanding or remembrance passed between them” Merriam-Webster

I few hours later I find myself in church listening to a litany about Remembrance Day that I cannot connect with. It seems distant. My entire church experience yesterday was a morning of disconnection…though not entirely.

There were flashes of connection. Flashes like a light being turned off and then on. Off and then on. Off and then on.

There in church, in the middle of my disconnection, I rooted in my purse for my pen and began to write:

My son. A member of the Canadian Forces. I see his face. A man who is a lover of peace. His father and I cried when we dropped him off to Basic Training. We could not make sense out of his career choice. We cried as we drove back home on the highway. And yet I think, perhaps no other person would be better suited for this job. He serves his country.

I remember.

My nephew. A past member of the Canadian Forces. I see his face. One tour in Afghanistan under his belt and a willingness to serve again if called. I am convinced there is a piece(s) of his soul buried in the hot sands of Afghanistan. He served his country.

I remember.

A friend’s son. A past member of the Canadian Forces. I see his face. A man I knew well when he was a child. One tour in Afghanistan. Injured. Served. Broken. Healed. I am sure bits of his soul remain in Afghanistan as well. He served his country.

I remember.

A friend. Her grandfather served in the Canadian Forces in World War II. Life events happened while he was there. Events that forever changed him and his family. My friend remembers him jumping at loud noises and her grandmother reprimanding them for being noisy children. Shell shock, PTSD. Nothing was as it was before. I remember her stories. He served his country.

I remember.

A daughter’s friend. Serves in the Canadian Forces. I see her face. She flies rescue missions. She is funny and kind and compassionate and fierce. Her love for babies and animals shines out of her body. She serves her country.

I remember.

My dad. Born in Holland during World War I. Was an adult during World War II. I see his face. Forced to keep an unspeakable war secret relating to an act of violence committed by two of his brothers. My dad. My kind compassionate dad. My peace-loving dad. My dad with a deep sense of wrong and right. Forced with his brothers to act against their nature. My heart hurts for him, even now long after his death. My brother and my uncle told me this story.

I remember.

My mom. Born in Holland during World War I. Was an adult during World War II. I see her face. She had a life long battle with hatred. Hatred against the Nazi regime particularly the SS (Nazi Protection Squadron) and everything they represented and did. The Nazi regime ripped apart her world. The destruction in the wake of  World War II was part of the reason my parents immigrated to Canada  because Holland was still struggling to heal eight years after the war had ended. My parents wanted their children to prosper. She gave up her country and her family. I can still hear her spit out the letters “SS” only to immediately follow up with how she did not hate German people. Explaining they are people like you and me. Her life torn in two. Parents, brothers, sisters and extended family in Holland, husband and children in Canada.

I remember.

My nephew. His birthday is on November 11. I see his face. I wonder what he thinks about having a November 11th birthday. I wonder what he thought about it when he was little. “A moment of silence…for me.” He is a thoughtful man. I am sure he has given it some reflection. Each year Facebook reminds me November 11th is his birthday. Each year I wonder what it would be like to have your birthday on Remembrance Day. I never have asked him.

I am forced to remember.

My flashes of remembrance written here. Imprinted in me.

On the window frame in my kitchen I have written a Winston Churchill quote from World War II.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

I have been pondering these words for several weeks now and figuring out how they apply to my life. A good quote can assist me in focusing on the things that really matter. Churchill spoke these words to bolster people to have courage to continue to fight against Nazism. Today I think about the people I reflected on yesterday and how they were affected by war. I do not know exactly why those particular people came to mind. Likely because they are connected to people I love and are people I love. Each person’s story has affected me. Sometimes through personal contact and sometimes through the stories I have been told about them.

I promise to remember them today.

And tomorrow I will remember them.

I will remember them intermittently through the year until November 11, 2019 appears. It is my choice to remember them.

It is the courage to continue to remember them that counts.

little annoying creature of discontent

Screenshot_2018-11-02-16-54-15-1-2

I hung up the phone and stood staring through the window at our Maple Tree in the backyard.

I had just been asked a question. A question which hung in the air somewhere between me and the Maple Tree.

A question to be answered by me…me alone. No one else had the answer to this question.

Shortly before I made the call, perhaps hours or a day, I had been standing in the exact same spot doing the exact same thing. I hung up from that phone call and also stared out the window at our Maple Tree. I had been called a squirrel. It was a statement, like a factual statement. The comment stung. It stung so hard I almost did not make the second phone call which prompted my latest staring bout. The voice on the other end of the second phone call asked me…

What can you not give up?

Almost 3 years ago now my father- in-law died suddenly.

A seemingly healthy 79-year-old man gone in minutes.

Life turned on a dime.

This life incident sparked something in me. It elicited a query.

“Is this all there is for me?” A cart full of unfulfilled hopes, dreams, expectations, debt and unmitigated brokenness. A presentiment somewhere inside me whispering, “there must be more. there must be more”. I had managed over the years to fulfill many many of my hopes and dreams.

And yet…I yearned.

And yet…I grieved.

No amount of advice or support I received could reach the special spot in me reserved for contentment.

I reviewed my life goals.

Life Goals

Move away from home. Check.

Married. Check.

Raised 3 children. Check.

Undergraduate degree. Check.

Master’s degree. Check.

Do what I really wanted to do when I grow up – undecided. Blank.

2 years after my Master’s degree I was still floundering. Floundering is not a met life goal.

Contemplate, contemplate and then reflect and then contemplate and reflect some more.

Where is my niche?

Why am I yearning and grieving and yearning and grieving and yearning and grieving…albeit often in silence? I had no words for this.

I felt inadequate, unconfident and unskilled. I had accomplished a lot and I still felt the same as I had in the past.

Where was Me? What was I crying out for with my soundless, dry tears?

It was time to reach inside myself and dig around in there until I could find my voice and sort out where and how I lost it. Why and how had I managed to nail my foot to the ground. Nailed my foot in such a way that I could leap forward with my unbound foot but was always hauled back to ‘that place’ by my tethered other foot.

Forty years ago, when I was dating my husband, I heard people were shocked I was dating him. ‘He was so much fun and I was so serious.’

Really. I’m not fun?

It threw me then. It threw me for a long time.

My husband is fun.

I am fun.

I am dreadfully serious.

He is dreadfully serious.

All of this is true.

There was nothing funny about being perceived as a squirrel or this question. The little annoying green creature of discontent sitting on my shoulder whispered, “Accept it. You are destined to be a squirrel. You cannot and will not be content with your life.”

Fortunately, I accepted the fact the little green creature was there to stay and I was not going to stop my quest to figure out where my voice was.

The question.

What can I not give up? My husband, my kids. My first thoughts.

Not the right answer to this question. Why can I never just come up with a quick answer the way others seem to, I thought at the time.

It was a complicated difficult question for me. I do not recall anyone asking me this question at a time when I was prepared to soul search for an answer. Timing is everything it is said and this was one of those moments.

I stared at our beautiful leafless Maple Tree that day for a long time before an answer came to me.

My imagination. I cannot live without my imagination.

It was a Tuesday.

We met on Saturday.

“Why can you not give up your imagination,” my life coach asked. I could almost sense an underlying question of, how can someone’s imagination be taken away from them? Isn’t your imagination something that is yours and lives in your mind. It is that. In my case it was also connected to my creativity. That place in me that makes me, well me.  Your imagination can be taken away from you piece by piece, intentionally or unintentionally. It got eaten up by comments that I let affect me. It got devoured by life, by complete and sheer exhaustion. Murdered by expectations that did not fit who or what I was or am. Squished until it was tiny. I had forgotten what it was like to imagine swinging and swinging until I could jump onto a cloud and then jump from cloud to cloud right into heaven. I imagined this imagine often when my brother and I swung on our swing set until the posts jumped out of the ground. My imagination was as flat as Sylvester after he had been hit by a door in the cartoon I watched as a kid. Glimmers appeared here and there particularly when I was with my kids and we were playing but mostly it was quiet. Locked up in a trunk in my mind.  My childhood dreams of being a journalist or psychologist pushed aside to address what a welfare kid could realistically expect to accomplish. I lost my voice, my imagination before I understood how to keep it healthy.

“I can’t give up my imagination because in my imagination I am free.” Free to be me. Free to think whatever thoughts come to my mind. Free of judgement for my thoughts. Free to just “be” – ME. Free to be too big for the room. Too big. I could be free to dream my dreams. To fly in the clouds. To do things that make me gloriously happy without regret or guilt or duty. Free to do what I do because it is how I was created.

Instead I used my imagination to make it through church, school, meetings, to get to sleep, to play with my kids or with family and friends. Or to do a mental disappearing act when I was being yelled at or when I believed I wasn’t being heard. When I was poo pooed for giving the wrong answers.  Then I used my imagination to survive the onslaught of verbiage thrown at me or feelings of being alone in how I put the pieces together. Should, have to, structure and rules are often red flags for me. My whole person rebels against the confinement, the control. My only desire is to wiggle my way out either verbally or physically. I want to be free.

When I stretched up as high as I could, I still sensed something just beyond the reach of my finger tips. I just couldn’t seem to quite grasp what it was.

One of my dear university friends described my mind as bits of somethings spread out over my head where I constantly searched and looked for a myriad of possibilities to sew together into brand new thoughts or ideas. I like that image. I enjoy taking different experiences from different parts of my life and marrying them up into a different way of approaching something. My mind constantly works at putting together the pieces, so I can understand and perhaps others can understand a new way of thinking too.

“When you look 20 years into the future,” my life coach asked, “what do you see?”

I close my eyes letting my mind go free. Peace comes. My inherent restlessness is still. My mind settles.

I see a bungalow. There is a long lane to get to the front door. It is set far back from the road. The doorbell rings and I open the door. I am alone. It is quiet, serene. The house is surrounded by nature. I look serene. I cannot hear traffic, see stores and there is no white noise. I am not frazzled with too much to do or financial security. I am not worried about emotional or physical security or the future. I am not worried about retirement savings, my health or how I will manage when I am old or what I will do when people I love die or people I love are in trouble. I am not afraid of facing anything.

I am free.

In this imagined place I could think my thoughts. Let ME out. The one I have been supressing for so long. The one who needs quiet space.

I was not yearning or grieving.

“At the moment I can only note that the past is beautiful because one never realises an emotion at the time. It expands later and thus we don’t have complete emotions about the present, only about the past.”
― Virginia Woolf, The Diary of Virginia Woolf, Volume Three: 1925-1930

I like what Virginia Woolf has to say. But I also like what my imagination shows me for my future. My imagination gives me hope. It helps me move past what tethers me to the ground. Being me is a gift I am embracing for my future. I have lived my past and do not wish to relive it. I learned from it. Now the present and future holds me and my imagination.

My imagination was hiding out for a long time but is back healthy and alive. I had an amazing life coach who listened and helped me see me. She coached me on how to recognize my voice, to acknowledge how unique it is. She coached me on how to speak without squishing myself. She was and is an amazing person. I will always be grateful for her helping to take those last few screws out of the container that had bottled me up. She would not let me call myself a butterfly even though I really wanted to. You are more than that she said. I am. Because, I am me.

I love shoes and old comfy clothes best.

20181026_112619-1

I like new clothes but I like old clothes better.

I went shopping recently for new tops. I had a wedding to go to and it just won’t do to wear something everyone has seen me in before. Besides my better togs were starting to show a bit of wear and even I was getting tired of cycling them through the good occasions. I like wearing new styles…something out of the ordinary if possible.

However, funds don’t usually permit too much of this “fun” pairing of clothes so I often settle for something that’s…well…practical. Attire that can be worn to all kinds of occasions. Plus being on the overweight side of things, adds challenges to dress in fun ways. Likely in my head because I have fallen for my culture’s idea of what acceptable attire should be for an overweight person. I tell myself that what is on the inside far outweighs what is on the out but still sometimes……that small still saboteur sitting on my shoulder whispers into my ear. ‘Overweight middle-aged women don’t wear that.’ Appearance in my western culture means a lot. We judge. I make judgements by what I see or think I see other people wearing even though I know nothing about what makes ‘the other’ tick.

I used to tell my kids that I knew them inside and out. Hadn’t I carried them for 9 months and then stayed home to raise them? Spent copious hours each day, week, year and then years with them. I drove them to school 1 way for 10 years. I spent a ton of time with my kids. I am pretty sure it isn’t possible to love other human beings more than I love my kids.

And then the inevitable comment came. It shook my confidence in what I know and don’t know about other people. A shock when they said…’you don’t know everything about us’. Turns out in some incidents I knew very little about them at all. I had to fall back on my promises to love them always no matter what “even if you go to jail” I said, as I held their little faces and then bigger faces in the palms of my hands. If I don’t know my kids as well as I thought, who do I know inside and out.

After some I thought I realized I don’t even know me inside and out.

Instead of fighting with new clothes decisions, what I really wish is that I could have as many pairs of shoes as Imelda Marcos had. My kind of overweight doesn’t affect my feet much. Shoes are my favourite. My broad size 10 foot attached to my 5’3 ½” body can be hard to fit but…fit them I do when I get the opportunity. Shoes are the only article of clothing I do not feel guilty about owning. I love the 4 pairs of Converse sneakers I own. They put a spring in my step. When I put them on, I feel like 20 years at the very least have dropped off my body. I feel younger and more hip. More hip is how I usually feel on the inside. They make me smile and perhaps that’s the best reason of all to put them on.

When I was a kid I only wore hand-me downs or clothing my mom made. We didn’t have a lot of disposable income. In the early 50’s shortly after immigrating to Canada, my mom used to unravel woolen undershirts when they got too small, added more wool and made a bigger one. My sister’s and brother really did walk miles in deep snow to get to school and needed those undershirts to stay warm. My mom even made underwear out of cloth Robin Hood flour bags for my sisters. One of my sisters remembers working at a bank and all she could think about was Robin Hood’s image on her backside. Her outer clothes were appropriate for the bank but if people only knew what lay beneath. It used to make her smile a little. The image of it. Above all she was grateful to have underwear.

I even wore hand me down bras (I have 5 older sisters’ so you can imagine the shape they were in by the time they got to me. Not sure if the bras made it through ALL the sister’s but I did end up with some rag tag bras.) I didn’t care about wearing hand me down rag tag bras because I did not want to wear them in the first place. I wanted to be like the boys and just put on some clothes and play outside. Street hockey was my favourite in those days and a bra’s band was nothing more than an itchy sweat collector. An annoying article of clothing. Recently I looked up whose idea bras were. A woman invented it. Hmmmm. Another busted myth, I was sure it must have been a man.

I don’t remember the hand me downs bothering me much. I am not a clothes horse though I do like to look decent. As I got older, after my dad died, our financial circumstances eased and bought clothes became more normal, the regular. We lived on welfare, (Ontario Works now. Bizarre name for it) that’s what it was called in those days. Life on welfare was better. Steady income. My older brother and sister had part time jobs. Most of the time my sister was generous sharing clothes her part time allowed her to buy, with me. She became annoyed when my chest left bumps in her sweaters or when I ironed her dress pants to my leg length instead of hers. She is 5’8” and I am 5’3 ½”. The pants thing…that was a bad day. I had hung them neatly in the closet we shared, in their shortened state. She put them on and voila pants half way up her calf…floods. FYI once a hem has been ironed into a pair of dress pants…well…not so easy to get that line out. Not my brightest move.

When I was 15, I got a part time job babysitting three evenings a week. Now I could afford to buy my own clothes because though finances were better after welfare we still had to be super careful. Only 1 glass of milk at supper was allowed and every item we wanted from the fridge was carefully monitored by my mom. She must have had a running tab in her head of what could be eaten and what not and when. Only so many $$$. My mom was frugal. She took in mending and babysat part time to pay for extra’s like our clothes. Even then, sometimes there were hand me downs. My older sister gave me many clothes in those years. She was always generous. My favourite was a purple ratty old sweat shirt with frayed sleeves. She appeared somewhat appalled that I wanted it and then dared wear the thing. I loved that sweat shirt. It was soft and hugged me as only an old ratty sweatshirt could.

The thing is, I love shoes and old comfy clothes best. Shoes make me happy and comfy clothes, well they just feel great against my skin. Texture thing. I have time tested old clothes and I know what they can and cannot do for me. I’ve already done the work for whether they look good or not and where I can acceptably wear them. I don’t need to waste additional time shopping for new clothes if I already have a slate of acceptable clothes to wear.

All of this brings me to the tale by Hans Christian Anderson. “The Emperor’s New Clothes”.

Clothes tell a story. By looking at just clothes we only see one layer of a person and make a corresponding judgement. The next layer is what clothes hide, like a muffin top, big thighs, surgeries scars, accidents or stuff we have done to ourselves, like cutting or bad tattoos. The next layer might hide our vanity, insecurity, our fun side, our pain, our grief. I believe when I dress, it is because I am hiding and feeding all of the above. I dress each day accordingly. What am I hiding today or not hiding today? Like the emperor I am often afraid to say what is going on inside of me. Afraid to be made a fool of, afraid that I am inadequate for the task.

I am not a fake it ‘til you make it person.

I don’t always know myself from the inside out or even the outside in.

I know I prefer old clothes because they bring me a feeling of comfort and safety in knowing what to expect from them. But they will not do for special events. Then I must get to the nearest store frantically trying to find the right item to fit the occasion. Inevitably someone will comment about my new clothes and I will not know how to respond.

Like the child in The Emperor’s new clothes says “he is not wearing any clothes” I ask what am I hiding under my clothes, what are my neighbour’s hiding, my friends, my family.

As in the fable I mostly pretend there is nothing hidden there under the clothing, not in me and not in them.

‘that’s not who she is’

181018_172454_COLLAGE-1

I recently heard a comment similar to this one, ‘that’s not who she is’. It has been rumbling around in my mind ever since, periodically rising to the surface forcing me to give it more thought. As I write publicly uncovering bits and pieces of my well-hidden self I ruminate on secrets and skeletons. Years ago, my younger brother told me everyone has secrets and secret thoughts. His noted it’s a good thing we aren’t privy to them. Even before my younger brother’s comments, my husband noted everyone has skeletons in their closets and sometimes when the closet is opened, the skeletons fall out.

Those images set my imagination to work. I mean, what would it look like if I opened my closet full of skeletons and let the skeletons fall out. I imagine it would be like groceries that have slid up against the tail gate and when I open it, groceries come tumbling out. It’s hard to know which item to grab for first, the eggs, the glass pickle jar…..decisions made in a split second. One or none of the items makes it out intact.

I surely did not/do not want skeletons in my closet. When they sneak out, as they sometimes do, other people find them and commence with advice giving, or pretending the skeleton doesn’t exist, or shutting me out of their lives. These things have happened to me. More than once. Sometimes I was unaware the skeleton escaped in the first place and I was/am gob smacked by how I was/am treated. Sometimes I am vulnerable and show someone one or more of my skeletons and they show someone else my skeleton without permission. Backlash. Ouch.

I never wanted skeleton’s in my closet. Too creepy. They try too hard to get out.

When I was around 12 or so my older brother gave me a life lesson. “Don’t tell Mom what she doesn’t need to know.” I thought of myself as a pretty honest upfront kid with little to hide, blurting out whatever my perception of truth was at the time. It’s lying I told him. He told me it wasn’t. A juxtaposition. How to decide what to say when, to who and how much to say or not say. This thought process led me to consider what should I say and when should I say it and more importantly to whom should I say what. I didn’t want someone else’s judgement raining down on my head powering over what is wrong or right for me. I have spent much of my life sorting through what is a lie, what is truth and what is bullshit (BS). So much is wrapped up in perception. Who is the decider of truth, lies or BS. How do I choose the parameters necessary for me to make decisions?

While I was busy trying to be what I thought I should be, a good wife, mother, sister, friend, Christian, I developed my own skeletons. I made skeletons to put into my closet every time something popped up in my life that I didn’t have the tools or will to handle. I filled a closet to the brim. I filled another closet and then some more. Until……one day the door blew open because I couldn’t add a particular skeleton to my collection. One of my kids bravely revealed a big secret, a skeleton of their own. A life changing secret struggle that affected them and me. Because I loved my child, I had to stop hiding behind my many roles. My skeletons were jumping over top of each other to get out, to get to the light. I was flattened beneath them. My body, my mind was fractured. I was 51 years old and the one person I wanted, was my mom. I wept in sheer agony for my child, our family and for me. I tried to stand up under the weight of broken dreams, numerous prayers for my children’s safety, safe spaces and I could not do it. I let the skeletons come crashing out in the most violent life storm I had ever experienced. I lay on my child’s bed one night, wailing in deep guttural pain. It was a very dark night for my soul. Everything I had strived to attain, an intact family, the white picket fence kind, was finally ripped apart.

For about a year after that day I lied to most of my family, friends, neighbours, and church folks about what was going on in my life. I did the thing I hate to do most. Lie. Lie hard. Lie big. I have lied over the years to spare others and sometimes myself. I spent a lot of years lying to myself about myself.  This was different. I have tried to be in good relationship with everyone. I have tried hard. I have often sacrificed myself to make it happen. It was often worth it because I genuinely like most people. It is easy for me to build friendships and relationships. My husband was convinced for years that I had a big sign stuck to my forehead that said, ‘tell me all your secrets’. He thought I grilled people for information. I did not and do not. I ask questions and I think the sign on my forehead says, ‘your pain, your secrets, your feelings are safe with me. I will not betray you. I will not judge you’.

But now…..I had choices to make. For the love of my family, I had to figure out a way to combat the word barbs, the nasty looks, the confused looks, the lack of visits to my home, lack of inclusion at family events. I had to feel, feelings for myself, my child, my other children and my husband. I cannot begin to explain the pain each one of those barbs and actions caused me, caused our family. In our darkest times, we discovered the people who cared for us. All I needed was for people to show up. Look me in the eye. Make eye contact. To set their religious and cultural beliefs aside and…. just show up. Grieve with me, not at me. Don’t judge me. Don’t judge my kid. Don’t judge my family.

The next years consisted of me first burying myself in additional tasks, school, committees, look after people, animals, alleviate others pain and so heal mine. I made big mistakes in the process almost ripping my family apart further. I caused more pain for my husband and kids as I struggled and they struggled with ‘the things’ that were coming at us. I feared suicide for my child. I wondered daily if today would be the day. I floundered looking for a way through, a way to use the right words. I was angry at the many betrayals by others and I was angry at how I had betrayed myself. How I had collected skeletons instead of just following my inherent nature, to be kind, forgiving and gentle. Following my nature is always what I want to do first. But somehow as the years had passed, though the sentiment remained I lost my ability to speak up when others hurt me or when unjust judgements were made. ‘Water off a duck’s back’, I told my husband early on in our marriage. I am pretty sure he thought there was nothing he could say or do that could hurt me. It was an expression I used to protect myself. My marshmallow self is acutely aware of emotion and nuance alive in a room almost before I enter it. Marshmallow me, so sensitive to raised angry voices, furious eyes, injustice, hid to be safe.

For just over 8 years I have peeled back the layers of my heart to find what I had hidden. I have felt like Rip van Winkle waking from a long dark sleep. I work through each issue as it arises. Going back and revisiting what I still haven’t gotten right. I have more to go. I am not done. It is exhausting work. I have felt emotions acutely and focus on not stuffing them down. I let feelings hurt or let them laugh out loud…loud. I laugh loud. I am learning to step forward with less fear and trembling into the world. The family I tried to create, the Norman Rockwell one, is not a true replica of what my family is. My family is so much better as themselves than what I was trying to portray. My family is wonderful. Unique.  Weird. We care deeply for each other. We have each other’s back…..when it counts. My husband and I started with 3 kids but now have 5 kids and 2 grandkids. We have lots of room for them and plenty of safe spaces for others. We have room for people like me who have stored up their own unique supply of skeletons.

The cool part is that I am becoming more me. I am letting that kid who loved being a clown, making people laugh and be happy, out to play. The one who blurted out crazy things. The one with the weird mind traveling to strange places. A glitchy mind that observes and remembers tit bits and isn’t afraid to share them. Like the different footwear classmates wore in one of my classes. It told me a little about each of them. A mind that looks through a different lens and then is brave enough to share the results. I rarely spoke in class in university, afraid because my thoughts seemed so off base. In class I learned I wasn’t wrong, I had a different perspective is all. I learned that my thoughts were sometimes mind boggling for others and for me but that they still had validity. I think vividly, in living colour. I am spontaneous. I still imagine myself skipping down the road or running along touching bushes and whatever there is to touch. I did run along a sidewalk recently on my way to a football game doing just that. Made me laugh. Fun. I still want to swing around poles like I used to even though my body is a lot more awkward now.

I am tossing off the mantel of conventionality.

I don’t know how long it would have taken for me to break through the strata I had put myself in, like a fossil before I was a fossil, if it hadn’t been for my kid. My kid’s bravery made me brave. A very big gift.

I still grieve. I grieved a lot and often. There is much in my life to be sad about. I let myself feel it now.

I have more pure joy now. The crazy joy of doing ridiculous things is making more regular appearances.

I let it happen.

The millstone has been lightened from around my neck.

Grief and joy are conjoined in my mind, my body. The results are a more whole me. Less fractures.

Peace visits more often.

Hiding and creating skeletons taught me how to negotiate between my beliefs and the beliefs of others. Years of practice on how to say stuff while watching the impact my words had/have made me good at it. I am intuitive by nature. It only takes a moment for me to realize when I have missed the mark, have hurt someone. Another honed gift from my skeleton hoarding days. I learned to keep my big mouth shut when I was in the skeleton creating business. I learned to think before responding. To become curious instead of defensive. I learned resilience. I learned the promise I made to my kids as I held their faces in my hands ‘to love them no matter what, even if you go to prison’ meant way more than words.

It meant showing up.

It meant showing up even when I was hurting, even when I didn’t have a single answer.

I learned again the importance of belonging as the number 1 human need. Belonging underpins my resilience. Safe spaces and acceptance underpin my resilience. When I belong, I am free.

 

Ps

The picture is of me at my daughters wedding fooling around and trying out to see if I fit into a gun safe.

Wedding Stories

Screenshot_2018-10-10-22-13-48-1

It’s Thanksgiving Day in Canada. Where I live it has been a gloomy drizzly damp kind of day. A good day to reflect. I reflect on the act of thanksgiving. Once again, my mind wanders back to my daughter’s wedding day, September 22. One day post tornado. (see last weeks post for other wedding details) There are lots of stories still untold. Stories I believe are meant for others to enjoy and contemplate.

Story

Pay the Caterer

After having my hair and make-up done at the hotel where the bridal party stayed (no power at the hairdresser’s shop; many many stop lights without power, reduced to 4-way stop situations), I drove to the head server’s house to drop off payment owed the pig roaster, corn on the cob guy. No pig carving until payment has arrived. This payment was important. I arrive at the house and am given a hug by dad/husband. “How are you guys,” he asks? “We are fine.” I said. A simple kind meaningful gesture. A brief pause in a day begun with chaos. His wife begins to recite a checklist of what may still be required and what she will be borrowing from church. The daughter once again reiterates that the serving team wishes to do what it takes to make this day a perfect day for the bride and groom.

Story 2

Make-up Artist

To add to an already stressful bride’s morning, the make-up artist locked her keys in her car. One matron of honour drove her to her house to collect a second set of keys also through many powerless traffic lights.

Story 3

The Servers.

Later, I learned 3 of the servers were amazed at how polite the wedding guests were. I am amazed that they were amazed. The servers loved the DJ. The choice of music. They danced in the kitchen. They danced while they served food. They worked that kitchen like nobody’s business. The kitchen was tiny. Small. Cramped. Their humble service and upbeat spirit added to the celebration. Their desire to contribute towards making my daughter’s day special was wonderful.

Story 4

Hall #1

The lady from hall #1 was very helpful during the initial planning stage. She continued to be so even after hall #1 could not be used. She was heart broken that the hall couldn’t be used. No power, no running water no toilets. The hall was on a well. Hall #1 took 8 hours to decorate.

Many hands decorated the first hall. One of the groom’s brothers hung lanterns like a fiend while his wife and kids held down the fort in a powerless house.

There was stress.

Hall#1 had members of my family, the groom’s family and bridal party when the tornado blew through. It missed them by about a ½ kilometre. There was plenty of worry to go around.

Story 5

Liquor Licence

Getting a liquor licence changed to a new venue on the day of, was not to be. The dinner wine was a gift from an aunt and uncle. 120 bottles of red and white wine beautifully labeled by the groom, bride, aunt and uncle sat in unopened boxes and crates. A disappointment. The 4 of them made the wine, bottled it and labeled it. People must have wondered where the dinner wine was.

Story 6

Time Schedule

Saturday’s wedding day schedule was tossed. Everything was done on a wing and a prayer. Best man promised the bride he would ensure the hall was beautiful. It happened, in 4 hours with many hands, trucks and trailers. Little bits of irritation rose here and there. So much to do in a seriously reduced period of time with….well obstacles. All kinds. Timing of pictures and videographers were adjusted on the fly. The groom, groomsmen and friends were busy manning the ‘big move’ from hall #1 to hall#2. Some pictures were missed. This carefully planned wedding had been waylaid by a tornado.

Story 7

The Children

Heart swellingly cute beyond belief. The wee girls threw their petals on the path and promptly picked them up again to put back into the baskets. The guests tittered. One little girl went back down the aisle towards the oncoming bride picking up petals as she went. Dad to the rescue. He swept his wee daughter up against his chest and began throwing petals into the air. The smiles grew wider. The Father of the Year Award goes to the groom’s brother.

Story 8

No Power

No power at the groom’s brothers house meant finding a place to shower and get ready for the wedding. A boss’s house became the spot. Organizing the ‘get ready for a wedding’ change of venue with 4 kids must have had its challenges. I don’t know what happened. I do know a van with 2 sisters-in-laws and 4 kids arrived at the wedding venue needing help getting a few things done. I fastened a couple of necklaces while they tied ribbon belts. Their husbands rolled in shortly after, in a pickup truck that had been used to move venues, trailer still attached. The brother who owned the truck jumped out and showed his wife his new GT Boutique shoes. Complete with a white band running along the upper edge of the shoe. His wife was slightly horrified. What happened to your dress shoes. He promptly showed her the zippered-up sides. Best he could do on short notice. In the craziness of the day he had remembered all of his wedding clothes, except the shoes.

Story 9

Father Cut-Out

The bride told her father over and over again that he was not to take pictures on her wedding day. He laughingly threatened her with a stand in to walk her down the aisle so he could…..take pictures. Her father arrived at the wedding venue with a stand-up cardboard cut-out of himself. She bent double with laughter when she saw it. We’ve gotten some miles out of his cut-out. Our neighbours brought the cut-out home for us on the wedding night and for a lark placed it just inside the front door. Our son and his family were the first to arrive home. Our daughter-in-law opened the front door and screamed when she saw the father-in-law she had left at the party standing there. When we got home my husband opened the door and came face to face with himself. 2:30 am he was laughing so loud I thought the whole neighbourhood would hear him.

Story 10

Slide Show

We were without power Friday evening before the wedding until 2am Saturday morning. My husband sat in his truck until 2am working to complete a slide show he wouldn’t get to show. The change of venue meant different media. He showed a very reduced version. The complete slide show was shown at the gift opening the next day. The guests did not get to see the many faces of the bride and groom as they grew up.

Story 11

Wedding Dress

On Friday evening, neighbour #1, who had been keeper of the wedding dress was frantically wondering where we were. We had been delayed coming home because of the tornado. She ran into a neighbour’s daughter outside that evening and explained her plight. Neighbour #2 was telling me the story a week later. Her daughter told her mom, neighbour #2, she was worried that the dress was not going to make it to the bride in time for the wedding. It did. My son picked it up later that evening.

Story 12

Gun Safe

The groom’s gift was a gun safe. I discovered I can fit into a gun safe. “Why would you do something like that?” I was asked. “Because I can”. I laughed a lot getting into the gun safe. Reminded me of getting put into lockers at high school. Never as a bullying act. My friends thought it was funny that I fit in a locker. I needed a little help getting into the safe parked on my front lawn. I was all in except for 1 foot. “Kick your shoe off,” my sister (in her mid seventies) said and “I’ll lift your foot in”. We are indeed family.

It was my daughter-in-law’s job to get the safe out of its cardboard box and put a big bow on it before the bride and groom arrived. While she was busy doing this she almost stepped on a dead mouse. So what would you do if this was you…….put a ribbon on it of course as present #2. Her humour rarely fails to shine through.

Story 13

Rented and Borrowed

Getting all rented and borrowed items back to their rightful places was challenging. The water jugs, chair covers and grey bins have a story to tell. Not only did they arrive at hall #1 and hall #2 they were also picked up by a rental company, taken to one location and then another before I picked them up and finished their journeys to their respective places. The ripple affect a tornado or two can have on a minutiae details is rather astounding.

Story 14

Tuxedoes

 

The day before the wedding, the groom had a car accident. The accident was distressing. Adding to the distress was realizing the wedding tuxedos were in the damaged car which had been towed away. Phone calls and a rescue trip located the wedding attire.

Story 15

The Friends Skit

Their friends put on an amazing skit depicting how they met. It was ridiculous and entertaining and mostly very normal.

There are more wedding stories I’m sure. These are but a sampling. We will speak of this wedding for years. We will play a little here and there with the details. Some might call it embellishment. Everyone likes a good story. This one may not need as much embellishment to make it exciting as some others. For sure what shone through strong and pure was the wonderful kind and generous people the bride and groom have supporting them. Family and friends. Strong connections do you a solid.

They are the same people as before they got married and yet I feel there has been a wee shift. I will still see them often. Likely most days. Just like before. So that piece of our relationship remains the same. The shift I sense is slight yet there. I find this interesting. I don’t think it’s the wee piece of paper making the difference. Perhaps I have a bit of support for something I have believed for some time now when it comes to marriage. What seems to solidify the commitment is making it public before God, family and friends.  In some mysterious way this public proclamation cements the relationship a little bit more. I believed they were completely committed to each other before their wedding day and yet now……there is a slight shift. A further shift away from us, her parents, to her new #1 person, her husband, her new family. Freshly minted. This is a strange and wonderful feeling for me all rolled into one. This is the second time I have experienced it with one of my kids. My son committed to his person in a public way too.

Finally

Finally, our in-town kids are owners of house keys. Don’t think about it. They have never needed them. There has always been a lot of activity at our house. As the kids have moved away it has become necessary to lock the house more often. My son-in law brandishing his house key, said, “now I am really part of the family.” I guess our kids are part of the family now too. They own keys as well. Bahaha. Life is good.