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Shock and shift

What happens when we don’t take responsibility for healing our own lives, and instead project our buried trauma out onto other people – our children, our families, our friends, our colleagues? 

What happens when we use all our energy in criticism and complaint, when we use charity and judgement as a way of maintaining privilege and superiority over ‘weaker-thans’?  When we use power like a gun and intelligence only to manipulate?  Is this not a way of describing blight?  Does this not weaken the entire system of life?  Weinstein.  Ghomeshi.  Trump.  Any person of any gender who identifies with embitterment, any person who inflicts their own still-festering injuries on others. 

So, at any point in our lives, each and every one of us, until we choose to do the work and grow up.

Mill Dam, Owen Sound. Fall 2014

What happens instead when we don’t accept diminishment, and instead use our considerable strength to knit together, to hold space for change, to join, to empower and build.  What happens to us.  What happens to the world.

Harriet Tubman.  Georgia O’Keefe.  Emily Carr.  Gord Downey.  Elizabeth Warren, who persists.

What happens when a small, any or multi gendered group gathers in the kitchen to wash, dry, put away dishes from the meal they made for 30 people? What happens when they gather to weed a garden, repair or build a quilt, build a house, make music, block out a play, collaborate on a project, get something done together…  the conversation knits and weaves, joins and clarifies, connects and strengthens.

It’s about the doing, but the doing isn’t the point.  The weaving, the connecting, the building, the sharing and comparing is the point.  The anchor of hearth, the rhythm of ritual, the resources of valued difference.

In this contemporary culture, many-gendered, magnificent embroiderers, quilters, designers and fabric artists have taken the diminuitive notion of ‘women’s work’ and transformed it into empowerment – an actual, functional, powerful approach to healing our homes and our bodies and building the world anew.  Artists and musicians, actors and writers are more and more equally represented by all cultures, all genders, who have empowered themselves to speak from their own power, to openly share their hard-won strength and dignity with us.  Does this not strengthen us all?  Is this not another way to describe nourishment?

Endurance, independence, perception, wisdom.  Strong opinions, well informed by context and shared with humility.  To do something valuable with one’s anger.

Not the pursuit of virtuosity as an identity, but for joy.  Not to claim then fight nasty to maintain one’s trumped-up value .

Instead, always to include, to hold space for. Powerfully.

The We, the Us, without the Them.  We, the ecosystem from which no living being is excluded.

This requires courage.

 

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A reciprocal boat

Sometimes the boat NEEDS to sink, little miss willpower.  Sometimes it’s just time to release Her.

Boats are practical things that keep you afloat on water, carry what you need for a journey, bring back what you harvest.  They are all female.

Boats are dreams, freedoms, passions, yearnings. They are shared, protected, obvious solitudes.  In them you can aim yourself to the far horizon, traverse the foreign deep and sing the sky.  They cradle in a soft wind, scream in heavy weather.

Without exception, boats require maintenance. Care.

A reciprocal boat carries two, each with her baggage, each with his wounds which, if utilized correctly can transform into oars, a sail.  A tiller, a keel even, to stabilize a fragile idea in rough weather.  Ingenuity is required, shared goals, a willingness to do all the work made necessary by journey.  If one refuses to bail while the other catches the wind, forgets to balance the agreement of labour and care, well then there is no crew, and the boat, She knows it. If there’s no crew to attend to the moment, then eventually, inevitably, down She goes, in sad, sorry relief.

That one sank four years ago, on September 3, 2013. In the course of that time I’ve sung her Her to peace in honour of her ten years of service. Despite a poor crew.

There are fair weather boats, full of jolly shout and sun.  These are white white above but deep and heavy below with a labouring few who may never be seen.  These know Her engines, Her faults, Her upper deck requirements and tend them, cursing the dark.  Below the cursings, deeper still in the hull are dungeons where the scapegoats molder, banished for being born out of place.  Light above, heavy below, She knows full well she cannot be sustained, but grinds the tending souls to breaking point in any case, for the sake of Show.

One like that finally sank three years ago, in long, slow stages.  I watched her break apart and go under, still raging.

It was not beautiful, or poignant.

The boats still out there are better made; They need maintenance at dock, newer crew, so in They come, a float of dignity and good lines, for repair and Captains who understand the weather, yearn for the horizon.

Still others wait ready, clean holds full of nourishment and good sense.

Me, I’ve found safe harbour. Deeply grateful for the peace after the storms.  I repair, rebuild and absorb new information here, I check the shore for the next journey.

I’ll know Her when I see Her; we’ll sail when the wind is right.

 

 


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An ethical line

To draw a line.

A simple line can identify both home and trespasser.

Political lines describe differences, places of meeting:  here and there, you and me, us and them.

Natural lines are always clear, but changing.  Shoreline, treeline, river, snake, stick, shadow.

“Snakeroot”, 6×6″, graphite and acrylic on paper, 1999. Sold

Lines can protect the sacred, the private, the personal from the public.  Open, traveling lines explore, closed ones separate, keep safe.

Implied lines blur understanding, strong ones describe structure.  Like ladders, scaffolding.

An ethical line supports both the one and the other.  If drawn with clear intention, such a line can offer a way through conflict to respect, reconciliation.

A good, quiet line, both firm and generous.  Provocatively simple.


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The trembling flowers of spring

A chickadee nests under the inside eave of the porch, which of course gentles the way I open and close my front door.  I hope to make friends with this family so that the anxiousness at comings and goings subsides for all concerned.  In any case, a new series of daily negotiations has begun.  I consider the exclusive use of my back door.

Flowers bloom trembling, huddled close to the April ground in the yard, in the garden that is choked with goutweed.  The garden that is soon to be dug out with great effort, lined with old carpet, and replenished with new soil, sans goutweed root.  The roses, delphiniums, peonies, holly, coneflower, clematis and rose of sharon will all be temporarily potted – bewildered, no doubt, to be sitting in my driveway.  More gentle negotiations.

Mice in my kitchen – alarmingly unafraid of me – all of whom I will need to kill (not gentle).  A cupboard door has come off it’s old hinges, the de-humidifiers now need daily emptying, storm windows will trade places with front porch chairs.  All of this is comforting, in between the soul-searching and the interminable litigious trials that all leave me feeling quite fragile.  I have the day off from school.

I read, I putter, I sleep, wake, read, write…

the flags in february, laid out to be sewn

a 21-line prayer poem, 7 from a child, 7 a young woman, 7 an elder one.  each will be sewn onto an embroidered, hand-printed windhorse prayer flag.  Reds and oranges.  Yellows and greens.  Blues and purples.

 

I glue swarovsky crystals onto hand-made square nails, then bind those onto stretched batik fabric with coloured thread.  I sew my wedding ring there too – pulled by red threads from all directions.  I realize I want to sew it into almost-invisibility.  Add a piece of my old sloppy shirt, stone beads, glass beads to form the shape of a hand out of fairy tale.  Red, blue, yellow and green at the tip of each sparkling finger.

The under-narrative of women’s work runs deep.  I think of this as I find myself counting each stitch aloud.

Familiar

It will all take longer

delays upon delays

upon denial upon fear

upon betrayals that mutter their toxic deep

deep deep in old wounds.

I do not think it’s about me any more.

Was it ever.

It’s about the planets turning

the seasons, the wheel, the fool, who,

blithely unaware of his purpose,

strolls smiling the ever-moment.

Likely a chronic pot-smoker, that fool.

August 18, 2016/April 19, 2017

klm

 


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An epiphany

If you’re not feeling nice, why act nicely?  It just gives people the wrong impression.

I like this.

table of lamps and candles

I’ve been taught something quite different from this idea.  It’s only dawning on me now how niceness can distort.  Being civil and considerate, acting with kindness – I get.  There’s something clean and mutually respectful about those choices in behaviour.

Nice, though, when you’re not feeling it.  When you examine the results, they’re never good.

In a year-old effort to consciously rid my behaviour of anything that even hints at passive aggression I’ve arrived here.  This week alone I’ve observed myself behaving nicely because I was bored in a conversation, another time nice because I was nervous.  Another time nice because I was intimidated and lost my opinion so therefore my real voice.  Curious, I tried several times to be nice as an expression of … niceness, but this always turned into an act of kindness.

Nice is a default for me, then.  Perhaps nice is also a smokescreen.

In any case, it has become apparent that I hide behind my niceness, which is rude.

Last Bell, 2016

My default niceness also gives others the impression that I am nice.

Ew.  Like mezzo piano.  30% grey.  A picket fence.  A hallmark card.

My poetry isn’t nice.

I need to re-think my behaviour.

More

Bitch.

I’ve denied you good purchase longtime

to my detriment

your hard instinct for closure

your abrupt, disruptive

your not-nice.

Witch.

I can feel you

inside my belly,

Drumming your Know.

Your Know Drum more becomes

the weft and warp of my song.

More. More.

Crone.

You grip my neck

like the carnivore you are

twist it in the shake

that will break my love

for the past

for sentiment

for soft truths.

Those won’t do.

These new truths are hard.

these blades samurai-sharp

this warning bell held aloft, ready

I grip the rim, white-knuckled.

Skin.

The outer me erupts

in antagonized boils,

swell to seep

weeping

Skin.

My containment.

The outer package of

muse love, milf-love,

tantalize, mythologize

my untouchable, touchable skin.

Skin as articulate now

as it wasn’t then,

so tuned when I was younger

to a man’s finger

to his hands, his thrust

Only then would it speak

only then could I hear it.

Now it names Sunlight

the brush and cover of hair

the shocking envelope of lake water

a draft of air, a blanket

my Crone skin

hears sound

feels ache

knows exuberance

craves beauty

yearns for peace.

Crone.

You call me home hard.

klm  19 April 2016/March 2017


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The Far Horizon

We are what we imagine in ourselves.

In this moment, though, my imagination is a dull grey. It trudges with jaw set to endurance mode.  Wings furled behind dragging in the mud – too much damned effort to get off the ground.

Pretty River Valley, Simcoe

Is it me that’s too heavy, or the current …vicissitudes?  My experiment in taking extended breaks from technology devices has taught me that at least part of the heaviness is the result of my lack of electronic discernment. I feel numb after I’ve been connected to the internet or to my phone for too long, which for me appears to be any longer than 10 minutes.  If I get sucked in for more than that I become disengaged with the focus and rhythm of the day I’ve taken such pains to design.  Heavy & flightless.

I don’t count journal, blog or poetry writing in this. When I keep my focus on those things I’m entirely engaged with my internal and external environment. I’m an air balloon kept aloft by curiosity.

a particularly compelling drawing in our room at the inn.

I know full well, though, that it’s not just electronic devices that have been leaving me regularly flattened.  In ways that run well below daily radar I’ve been buried by and in stories that are not my own for a full decade. Inch by inch this spring I’ve been crawling out from under bad faith agreements and betrayals of trust that have taught me over and over again the value of standing my ground. I’ve watched my family torn apart by toxicity, lived in self-exile from things and people I love, and have been pressed into the kind of poverty that erodes one’s soul because I chose to point out the elephant in the room.  At no point have I felt like a victim, nor am I blameless, but it’s been a long long haul.  Wings dragging behind in the mud.

We are what we imagine…

As happens when long and taxing engagements near their end, my body begins to release all the intensity I’ve held down all these years in order to function through my days.  Turns out this is a long and unpredictable process.  Some mornings I wake in the grip of recall – living a trauma again so I can finally and firmly put it to rest.  A howling neck, an aching thigh muscle, the distinct sensation of an object buried in the middle of my back, slowly working its way out.  A growing kindness in my self, toward my self.

Slowly so very slowly each contentious issue reveals its nugget of understanding.  I visit regularly with the family I do have contact with, we make a point of sharing the progression of days, thoughts, and changes together, dancing with trust.  I’ve learned to drastically pare back my lifestyle so that I can mostly manage rent, school fees, food and gas while at the same time working smarter, so that my working hours-income ratio is better (so empowering!).  I exult in the mind expanding experience of the masters I’ve one-third finished, the growing conviction that what I’m learning is powerful, game-changing stuff. I know it will lead to work that has value well beyond what I can see from here.

What we imagine 

Allen Gardens, Toronto. March 2017.

…is what we become.


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The scent of change

I’m drinking beer in the solarium of a pub my band used to play in 35 years ago.  More nachos than I can eat, hanging baskets full of boston-themed plastic plants, my old cello safe and warm beside me. A guy with humperdink-voice just started to play a three chord song – now I get why, when I asked if there was a table I could write at, they put me in here the quiet room.

Change, like a subtle draft of air.

img_1614

I’ve just finished the second of two intriguing community music classes, which came right after my excellent cello lesson with body-mapper and fine cellist Amber Ghent.  If any of those three experiences had happened separately they would have been the highlight of my month – but I get them all stacked into my Wednesday this week.  Workshop with Gary Diggins, who has used music as medicine all around the world and runs a very cool space in Guelph called Silence.  In the interdisciplinary arts Masters class my fellow students and I pull together dance, pottery, video, theatre, psychology, music education, history, anthropology and more to explore a more holistic approach to facilitation of music and arts gatherings.  Brave new world, this field, with humans such as these.

Change, like the lifting of one veil.

by way of contrast - this is my very real gardenia at home - blooming happily under the plant light, perfuming the room

by way of contrast – this is my very real gardenia at home – blooming happily under the plant light, perfuming the room

I’m home now, packed inside pillows and blankets on the couch, nursing flu.  Reading about Power versus Force; Leadership and storytelling (Howard Gardner); introversion (Susan Cain) who debunks the largely American myth that those with sparkling personalities are naturally also good at running businesses, countries, projects, programs; From Dictatorship to Democracy (Gene Sharp, 1993, 2012, many translations). This is information therapy, to address my bewilderment and anger at behaviours exhibited these past six months and more.  It’s working.

Change, like the practical, forward-pointed shape of canada geese.

Map for planned return from Ottawa. We ended up at the base of Algonquin Park. Much more beautiful than 401.

Map for planned return from Ottawa. We ended up at the base of Algonquin Park. Much more beautiful than 401.

Bow arm injury as a result of old rotator cuff damage I sustained nine years ago.  For the first time in many many years I need to not play cello, until I can get myself into the hands of a good physiotherapist next week (I read that as not play as much, since I can’t imagine not teaching, gigging or rehearsing with Cello Choir).  It’s the deep practises I miss – two or three hours of rotated 20-minute intense sessions – great incentive to dedicate myself to physio work.

Change. An involuntary lift of the eyebrows.

While in Ottawa we stayed in the Jail Hostel. In a cell one floor below the former skid row. I loved it there - sad to leave

While in Ottawa we stayed in a tiny cell one floor below the former skid row of the Ottawa Jail Hostel.  I was sad to leave my little bunk in the little cell with the iron-barred door.  Imprisoned then released, reluctant.

I did my taxes yesterday and three years worth of my daughter’s.  Every year for 23 years now I’ve taken my added-up receipts in to a gifted accountant and listened to his tales about life, human beings, and money.  He is a philosopher who is quite at home with his need to keep things clear and in proper order.  I left well-informed after he quietly and respectfully applied his philosophy to my particular situation and then to my daughter’s.  It’s quite a thing, to look forward thirty years with a wise and practical human and answer, as best you can, the question “Who will you be?”.

Change, like my body does.

death row. Four cells - the prisoners moved one closer to the noose each time someone was executed. Three men died this way officially, though when the jail was converted to a hostel they found the bodies of 150 more buried in a pit beside the building.

death row. Four cells – the prisoners moved one closer to the noose each time someone was executed. Three men died this way officially, though when the jail was converted to a hostel they found the bodies of 150 more buried in a pit beside the building.

In class this past week we were given fifteen minutes to write a memory (with a pen, onto paper), five minutes to edit, and another fifteen to trade written memories with a classmate.  The one read to me brought tears to my eyes.  Here’s my offering:

A snuffling in the trees wakes me – raccoon.  By the distance the moon has traveled it looks like two a.m.. I’d run around to this side of the hit at sunset, just in time to catch the first star, then moonrise over the sighing filed.  I read myself towards sleep soon after, but found my focus skyward instead and resentful of the candle’s glare, I’d pinched it out, lay back on the deck pillows to gaze up, and in.

Awoke without knowing I’d slipped into sleep.  I think the moon called from her new place in the sky.  I saw that the milky way had risen out of the northeast, an old road of ancient dust.  And there – Orion’s belt.  There Cassiopeia, there Mars, low and hot on the horizon.

Wonder took me back into dreaming until the raccoon’s busy-ness.  I look up; all has changed again. I’m dizzy with it.  In my belly I can feel the planet turn and spin, the moon dance around the earth, the earth around the sun, the galaxy through the dark along with millions of other galaxies…

This is the dizziness of knowing how small – how very small I am.

The Bar/breakfast canteen at the hostel, two floors below us. Australians, brits, teenager groups, tweener school groups, loner types, a hijabbed moslem woman reading a book, poet-looking people. Apparently it's hopping in the summer - and will be full up this year on Canada Day. Great place to stay - and not expensive at all.

The Bar/breakfast canteen at the hostel, two floors below our cell. Australians; Brits; teenager groups; tweener school groups with frazzled-eager teachers; loner types; a moslem woman in hijab reading a book; poet-looking people sipping coffee; me comfortable in pyjamas and bare feet.

We make effort in answer to things we value.  Go to watch the sunset; lean in to smell the flower; greet one another with positive news; wear smiles and show kindness whenever possible, as we hunt our future selves and befriend our demons.  Effort, my wise accountant might say, is a kind of currency which requires good investment.  The return is enrichment that equals the effort, or, if we’re savvy, far surpasses it.  If that’s not the return, then you’ve invested in the wrong place – working against your own efforts and so promoting injury (which is what my arm and shoulder muscles are doing, as it turns out).

Change, like the soft closing of a very good book, one long moment after you’ve finished the last sentence.