Accoutrement

I leave things around the house in the places I inhabit. Dioramas of of my day strewn in the living room: two empty glasses, one with a few more sips of water. A yoga mat, medicine ball, and book in the bedroom.

They’re for the archeologists who will come after these end times become beginning times again. I tidy them up anyway, mentally navigate Costco runs in my mind, think to write almond milk on the list, and then forget. And then remember again.

Today the breeze blows firmly off the sea. It brings the voices of the painters outside, the ones because of whom I’ve shut the bamboo blinds. I do not want to be seen. I am lying on the floor, trying to coax my spine back into place after another uncomfortable and sleepless night on an insufficient mattress. I am looking at myself in the mirror, wondering what it means to have a body and be a person that walks and breaths and moves through time. I am reconciling all the parts of me that contradict.

I used to keep a mental list of things that make me laugh. Thoughts and memories that were so vividly humorous that they still elicit a smile or an involuntary spasm of my diaphragm.

One of the entries on the list took place in the desert. And one of the entries on the list took place on the sea. One of the entries involves a tea bag and a rear-view mirror. I have given up trying to share them with people. Invariably, all it does is confirm that my sense of humour borders on the absurd and is perhaps my favourite part of myself that I share with my mother.

The pinned emails at the top of my inbox are from the Canadian Embassy in San Fransisco providing information for those traveling in America right now, a law firm indicating I am part of a class-action suit against Facebook (did you get one, too?), a swami whom I still haven’t replied to, and the latest from my visa card regarding the fraudulent Airbnb charges that still aren’t cleared up. Can these mostly official missives legitimize a life in which I am still attempting to derive a singular cohesive meaning. Can life be reduced to a singularity?

The waves are big today. Sometimes they shake the house.

Yesterday’s startling thought was that I can no longer blame a childhood of poverty for the fact that I am lazy and unambitious. I missed out on so much I would whine. Middle-class children got social skills and the means to make and achieve goals in their respective fields of interest. They got conversation around nightly dinner tables, internships and opportunities from friends of friends. Vacations to far-away places that exposed them to different ways of being that helped inform their own identities at impressionable ages. Just look at the resentment I hold. How much longer can I cling to this? Not much, apparently.

In the last conversation I had with my grandmother, she told me that I was trying too hard. I wanted to have the perfect job and life and I wanted everything tied up with a neat little bow.

“But if I don’t try then what if I don’t get what I want?” I asked.

“What if you do?” She said. I don’t remember if she actually said that. I just remember the gist of the conversation, the “you’re trying too hard” part. The striving and the strain. Why not slow down and allow things to come to me. Why not pay attention to the signs and follow the natural flow instead is asserting my will so strongly. I’m trying to apply that wisdom to my life.

I also remember her saying, “We have to keep living.” We were talking about the shutdown and about the virus and about the way life seemed to be nonexistent. This was before she got diagnosed with it, before all I could do was leave messages on her answering machine that I hoped she could hear.

We have to keep living.

Okay, grandma. I’ll keep being present in each moment the way you taught me. I’ll keep feeling into my body. I’ll keep creating and connecting.

I randomly redesign my website. I try to focus on projects and plans I feel drawn to. I cannot blame my childhood for anything that is challenging about my current life situation. I need to update. I decide to instead blame my mental health.

I guess it’s a step.

Reasons I Don’t Do Hatha Every Day

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  • My current mat is too slippery. It slides around on the tile floor, which is very dangerous when I’m walking around and step on it. Also, my hands and feet can’t find their grip when I’m using it for it’s actual purpose. Also very dangerous.
  • I’d rather sleep in. And I just feel better when I do yoga first thing in the morning, rather than later in the day.
  • I’d like to do hatha outdoors. But I always get distracted when I move my body into a pose with the natural world around me. On my deck there’s the rustling of the palm fronds (delightful!), the crash of each ocean wave (oh, I will never tire of you, sweet ocean), the innocence of birdsong (so piercing, so uplifting, so unexpected), and of course the bugs.Don’t forget about the bugs.
    Ants crawling too close to my ears in window stretch, mosquitos attacking every piece of flesh they can find. Unknown beetles getting precariously close. Too. Many. Bugs.
  • I just had a snack. Can’t do asana with a full stomach, that’s for sure.
  • I’ll be in my heart centre more. I wouldn’t want to verbally spar about each and every topic imaginable with anyone within listening distance. I wouldn’t come up with endless “what-ifs” about the state of the world and what’s going on in it.I wouldn’t conjecture about why a thing is the way it is. Everything would simple be. That judging, analytical, measuring voice inside my head would be quieted, shushed by the deep hum of my precious heart.
  • ….

Read the rest on Elephant Journal.

The Art of Being Alone

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Summertime is for reading Octavio Paz. For trees deep-rooted yet dancing still. For a river that turns, moves on, doubles back, and comes full circle, forever arriving.

Summertime is for listening to the palm fronds chatter with one another, pressing close to whisper secrets in the wind. For glimpses of a family of francolins — a ground bird and the herd of tiny babies that waddle after her. The father stands guard nearby. He ruffles and shifts. He watches. I am lost in the sound of wave after wave hitting the shore. I have forgotten how to be alone.

                                   the calm course
of the stars or an unhurried spring,
water with eyes closed welling over
with oracles all night long,
a single presence in a surge of waves,
wave after wave till it covers all,
a reign of green that knows no decline,
like the flash of wings unfolding in the sky,

                                               *  ~ Octavio Paz Sunstone

Wintertime nine years ago in a large dining room full of warm-coloured oak tables. Windows line two walls of the room — large windows with pine trees, clouds, and eagles on the other sides. I am on a mountain overlooking a lake.

Breakfast is just finished. I bring a warm beverage to an empty oval table in the silent room. The sun catches hold of the tips of mountains across the water. I see the reflection of the crystalline chandelier above me on the flat surface of the liquid in my cup.

“How are you doing?” I ask myself. And then I sit in the silence and answer. I follow the conversation in my head, as if I were with a friend. I am present, engaged. I have half an hour before my next commitment. I am taking myself out for tea, a months-long daily ritual in that dining room on that mountain overlooking a lake with just myself and my beating heart. With all the magic held therein.

I am remembering how to be alone.

                                 life is never
truly ours, it always belongs to the others,
life is no one’s, we all
are life—
bread of the sun for the others,
the others that we all are—
when I am another, my acts
are more mine when they are the acts
of others, in order to be I must be another,

leave myself, search for myself
in the others, the others that don’t exist
if I don’t exist, the others that give me
total existence,*

Suddenly awake. It is the middle of the night. Mantra starts up in my mind, floods my brain as automatically as breath fills my lungs. I try to rest in its power. How I create its vibration inside of me and then watch it arise externally, too, like I’m calling it to me and suddenly the inside and the outside meld. How I latch on to this union and become it. A cloud of mantra. A sea of mantra. I am a drop of water. A wave. But why isn’t it working? Why can’t I hold onto that vibration like I usually do? All I know is agitation. Choppy water and whirling wind. I cannot reach its cloud. I cannot leap into its sea.

There is a dull haze of light above the Pacific out my window. I have been dreaming about bombs. I readjust my blanket, let the mantra slip out of my awareness. I am wide awake. I feel far from the magic of my heart.

                           I am not,
there is no I, we are always us,
life is other, always there,
further off, beyond you and
beyond me, always on the horizon,*

 


 

My fragile heart continues to balk at today’s confluence of destruction. At the world revealed in the documentaries we stream at home on artificial intelligence, climate change, plastic, info tech, and surveillance capitalism. On the books we read aloud to each other about the future of work, late-stage capitalism, and our shifting society. We’re huddled on the couch eating dairy-free chocolate ice cream with big, sugary chunks of fudge. I lick my spoon clean and try to savour the flavour, a moment of reprieve in a world my childhood self doesn’t recognize. I balk and shiver at the mess while facing it all.

And isn’t that the solution? To stride forward into the collective unknown with our eyes as wide open as our hearts? This is how I want to live. Open and aware. It takes strength and a fortitude we are not often taught. It requires being able to be alone in one’s heart.

Swami Radha tells us to be alone when we worship in the temple of our hearts. I’ve been unpacking that sentence for over a decade now. I think it holds clues for how to move forward. I use it as my road map through this storm.

The heart: the here and now, the total acceptance of what presently is, a calmness and a sense of focus. Complete intentional presence.

But alone? What does it even mean to be alone?

To me, it’s those mornings with just myself and my thoughts and my tea after breakfast. Or it’s sitting by my altar, it’s my single-pointed focus on the sensations in my body as I move it through asana, or the repetition of a mantra as I lay my head down on the bed.

Aloneness becomes a verb. An active rather than a passive process. It is learned and not to be taken for granted.

It’s being able to follow the thoughts in my head and relying on only myself to create them. 

It’s being able to worship in the temple of my heart.

I didn’t learn to be alone until I understood how my head was being infiltrated by other lines from other stories. I wondered what my in-laws thought, or how my actions would impact others.

I was compelled by infinitesimal comments from childhood that had lodged into my brain: my brother says I’m acting too much like a girl. My junior high social studies teacher says my mother’s not a real Buddhist. A classmate I work with at Dairy Queen asks if my family is poor. I deny it, horrified at being found out.

Without a solid base inside of myself for these words to bounce off of, they coalesce and form a lumpy version of me. All the pieces of life I graze against rub off and implant feelings of shame and false identity.

Slowly, at those oval dining room tables in the quiet morning, I extricate myself from all of these thoughts. I learn how to be present with myself. I learn how to be present in my heart while facing what arises around me.

I still forget sometimes. And then I feel awkward and lonely. I forget there is a still small voice within me and I get overly distraught at all the suffering in the world until I’m unable to do my part to affect change.

The antidote to my grief will always be to make space inside myself to confront it, not hide away. I use the power of the heart to worship what I find, exactly as it is, knowing any response to this current madness is complex.

Connecting to my heart will always be something I do alone. I am surrounded by a slew of people. I am having an intimate conversation with a beloved. Yet I am alone because there’s only one heart.

I slough off my separate identities and tune into the cosmos. I am alone when I am in my heart centre because the heart exists right now, that precious moment where all time and all space is one. All one. Alone.


Sometimes everything in life stops completely. Becomes like gossamer and silk and all I do is follow threads that are freely falling from the sky. And then sometimes it’s hard like stone and I’m tumbling between it all with heavy shoes.

Sometimes I remember that in my heart is a solitary place and I find peace amidst the turmoil.

Sometimes I take myself out to tea. Slowly and deliberately, I bring my mind back again and again when it wanders or gets stuck in games, decades of thoughts, what-ifs, fears, desires. I come back to the moment. And there I am, waiting.

                                                     they crumble
for one enormous moment and we glimpse
the unity that we lost, the desolation
of being man, and all its glories,
sharing bread and sun and death,
the forgotten astonishment of being alive;*

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How can we see if we’re not looking.

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Just outside my window is the flat, wet sea. I watch it at all hours of the day. Even from my office, I can hear the water turning to waves. Submerging bubbles call me. The sound keeps me on alert. I want to be out there, watching. I want to see the ocean.

I’m out in late afternoon and I see a small dark fin. Suddenly a sleek body is propelling upward, spinning through the air. Dolphins. I haven’t seen any in months. I call inside to Phoenix before my mind tells me to. This requires to be witnessed. This is something to share. This is wonder and presence all encompassed in bodies and waves.

An entire world is out there. I get close and feel the spray on my body as a wave collides with the wall of lava I sit on. I keep my gaze on it, watching. But I can’t watch it all the time. How many sea turtles have swum past without me knowing? How many dolphins have surged through the air? How can I see unless I’m looking?


I am feeling hopeless. I’m looking under all the rugs we’ve been sweeping our collective debris. I’m watching people murdered for the colour of their skin, authoritarian rulers detain and disfigure journalists and peaceful gatherers. I’m watching the way our ugliness twists and turns when exposed to the light of awareness and how it doesn’t want to be seen.

Closing my eyes is not an option. My sleepless nights in a warm, soft bed are an inconvenience. Sleeping while Black is a death sentence. Walking while Black. Playing video games while Black, running while Black, living while Black. Being scared of an unexpected visitor knocking on your door late at night can kill an Indigenous person.

All this looking breaks me. And yet. And yet systemic racism will not stop if I simply stop looking at it. We’re being called to witness it, to share the burden, and to root out our own moral inconsistencies that lurk under the water, surging forward in unexpected moments. The only way change is possible is to know where we are. And how can we see unless we’re looking?


My eyes dart to that band of water. It starts turquoise in the morning and melts to the brightest blue I can imagine. When the clouds drift in, it turns to shades of blue, purple, and grey. It changes while I’m watching it. I can see because I’m looking.

The Warmth of Other Suns Isabel Wilkerson
I’m Not Dying with You Tonight Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal
Such a Fun Age Kiley Reid
Days of Distraction Alexandra Chang
These Ghosts Are Family Maisy Card
Your House Will Pay Steph Cha
Hapa Girl May-lee Chai

remembering to breathe: reflections on the last 10 years

Ten years ago this winter, I’d set a solid footing, grasped my life firmly at the root with each hand, and pulled myself out of my marriage. The momentum from the strain will bring me to Yasodhara Ashram. I quit my job and, on May 10, 2010, stepped into the unknown.


Nine years ago and I have graduated from the Yoga Development Course and the Hatha Teacher Certification. I am saturated with love and gratitude. I have wrung myself through thousands of hours of spiritual practice. I did not think that this depth of happiness was possible, borne out of the degree I understand and release my detrimental conditioning, my self-created pain. The deepest call of my heart is answered; I have found my spiritual home.

Eight years ago I have lived at the Ashram for two years. I expand my capabilities, write down my dreams every morning, awake before six to walk, chant mantra at lunch, and sing bhajans with Cy, where I experience an intimacy that goes beyond touch or vibration. I facilitate the program I first enrolled in and teach in the YDC. I am the most current version of my best self.

Seven years ago and I am leaving the Ashram, full with deeper understanding and a network of support. I will go to Maine and live on a sailboat in the Atlantic with Cy. My first trip to a grocery store has me overstimulated. This will be an adjustment.


Six years ago, I move to Montreal from Maine. Boxes packed, shipped, and labelled. My first few days with only the essentials I bring on the plane: guitar, yoga mat, and altar items. My antique Saraswati, Maine’s parting gift to me found in a ramshackle flea market, blesses an empty apartment. Red tape trim now fills the space with the promise of a home. I glue a life together from pieces.

“Where are you from?” they ask. The ocean had just swept away shards of my heart from Camden’s inner harbour into Penobscot Bay and out into the Atlantic; the boxes themselves had travelled east from land so dwarfed by sky it bows flat in reverence; a Temple on a mountain cliff overlooking a lake holds the feeling of home, but a month later even that would change, as flames that were fought all night burned Yasodhara’s Temple roof. Where am I from? It is too complicated a question; then and always.

I take the shuttle to the downtown campus and shop at the organic co-op, trawl thrift stores for curtains, and walk through this gaping metropolis. I play bhajans on my guitar and cry. I fall asleep with french words I do not know on repeat in my head, snippets of conversations I’ve heard that day, a glimpse into other realities.

2014


Five years ago, my favourite East Coast Contra Dance band, Perpetual e-Motion, comes to Montreal. They fill the hall with lines of bodies, swirling in perfect rhythmic time, sustained by the notes of the didgeridoo.

Contra dance makes me feel alive. I am a dervish spinning wildly to the beat. This is a place not wrought with the social politics I experience as an Anglophone in a Francophone culture, this is a place where I can feel free. We switch partners seamlessly through each dance in the same way I see my colleagues change languages. I can lose myself in the dance in a different way that I am lost in conversation.

I bike home, my entire being cooled by sticky sweat meeting Montreal’s spring air to the Maison de l’amitié, a community house where I share three fridges and two wings with my eight roommates.

Freshly graduated, I start working downtown at the magazine. My office doesn’t have a window, but I can still see my hair blowing in the wind as I commute to work on the boulevard De Maisonneuve bike path.

I play the piano every day, cycle through the record collection, and interview and write about Olympians, award-winners, and artists. I am thrilled when my freelance pitches are accepted in national publications. I am too busy to become fluent in French. The burden of city life wears on me.

2015


Four years ago, my home is my precious tent. Carried on my back, it is with me as I hitchhike across New Zealand. I love the nights when it is where I sleep, thin porous screens the only boundary between me and the outside. I want to breath New Zealand in. I want to lay my body on its earth. I always forget to bring enough drinking water to these makeshift solitary roadside camps of mine.

I stay for a month at Wilderland. My heart sings in this community as I forage the gardens for meals. My life is music, dirty bare feet, flowing clothing, and possibility.

Late at night we bring shovels to the beach for low-tide and dig a shallow tub in volcanic-heated springs. I pull myself out again and again to step into the ocean’s wet. In midnight’s dark I see outlines of walls push forward. Waves crash their coolness onto me. I hear the voices and laughter of my friends through the sea mist somewhere on the shore. I am naked and alone in the ocean. I am free.

I walk the grassy path back to my tent each night, stopping at my favourite natural bathroom spots alongside the trail. I am made for this open-air life. For these heaps of feijoas, a sweet and sour fruit that is everywhere. For this river that rises and falls with the sea. For early morning moon gazing through ferns and pink.

2016


It’s springtime in the Northern Hemisphere and Rob has died. I’m home at Yasodhara in the mountains and we’re rebuilding the Temple of Light. More pieces of it are assembled each day. I stand in the centre of arcing lines and meet him there. He knew how much it meant to me. He watched from across an ocean bulging at the equator as it rose from its own ashes.

My own dark has been overpowering me. I’m struggling under its weight and I can’t get air. I want to feel the light again. I do not do much teaching.

His death is my catalyst and now I have small white pills with every breakfast and dinner. I start to feel the fog lift as bees buzz in fresh cherry blossoms. My brain transforms itself and new synapses grow. Thoughts of joy and creativity return. I’d been gone and now I am returning.

The Temple has windows now to keep out the cold. The fragile candle on the altar of my heart is safe from the breeze. We are being rebuilt together.

May 2017


Two years ago I’m on the ferry crossing Portsmouth Harbour. I’m meeting Swami Sukhananda for dinner before we each take a train to different parts of the country. She’s been doing her yearly European tour and we’ve just had a weekend workshop at Lisa’s studio. My blissful and bleary state matches the incoming fog.

I’d met Lisa at 23. Despite the years gone past and our different life stages, my soul still feels stitched together in seeing her. Another human scattered across the globe that feels like home.

I take the evening train back to my new Brighton home and text with Phoenix, this man I still want to connect with. He’s 13 hours and two oceans away, our nights and mornings exchanged like confused moths frantically flying in daylight.

I work 14-hour shifts and wear my shoes through their soles. They fall apart on ancient barnyard stone that’s been converted to this wedding venue. It’s like every English fairy tale I’ve ever read.

My family decides to spread my grandfather’s ashes in the arctic in the summer. I’ve been waiting over ten years for this trip. I cancel my interview with the NHS for a communications job, and spend the remaining weeks before my return to Canada going to hot yoga, sleeping entire days away after weddings, and walking through cemeteries. England is cold. England is far away. England is not where I want to be.

2018


I’m on a beach in Hawaii. I’m fighting a fever and have taken enough over-the-counter medicine to convince myself I can make something of this vacation.

The American government has let me into their country for exactly ten days maximum. I took a stack of paperwork proving my ties to Canada: job, house, commitments, and reference letters. After enough hours at the border to almost miss my flight, they let me through. When I’d tried to come in October, I was not successful.

I’m still in touch with Phoenix. I’m here to celebrate his birthday and to see in-person this man I attempted to spend another winter with before being thwarted by border control.

Our monogamously casual, mostly long-distance relationship has weathered a year-and-a-half. He’s come to Canada at least four times, each visit wildly different, their only consistencies the fraught first days while we get used to one another again and always get through to the other side.

I wonder what I’m doing on a lava rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. I fly away, back to my precious mountain town where I walk the same path every day at lunch. I clutch my phone to text this man who is so far away. I wonder what I’m doing on this lake shore in the middle of a mountain range.

Elephant Mountain rises behind me as I walk up the sidewalk of steps slowly to not lose my breath. Kootenay Lake glimmers in the sunshine. Horse chestnut flowers bloom, their petals falling at my feet. I do not see any of this. I see his face on the screen of our video call. I see our persistence. My own grasping, a hollow, faltered reaching to connect.

beach


The world changed and everything in my life is uncertain. He holds me as I sob. “I don’t exactly know why I’m crying,” I say, muffled into his neck. Vibrations of sadness wrest out of my heart, finally given their chance to move through me.

We’d spent another winter together in Hawaii, but this time I can’t pretend to want the life he lives that he is not ready to say goodbye to. We left his communal home that I cannot accept for a vacation rental in the rainforest, a decision bathed in a pool of love that threatens to dry up. I measure my goals against the current world crises and re-valuate our two-and-a-half-year game of relationship chicken.

The sobbing shifts boulders inside of me. I watch the ocean pull itself back and reveal the same. Underneath, I find a familiar pea, one I know well and thought I’d fully digested and discarded years ago, I don’t believe I am worthy of love. The wave crashes onto newly exposed rock.

I’ve been running on auto-pilot. My heart has atrophied with neglect. I have forgotten how to connect with myself, anything else, him. I miss my grandmother.

My visa for this country expires in one month. I do not know where I will go, what I will do, how I will get there, or if there will be a “we”.

I’ve been rededicating myself to spiritual practice, upping the amount of time I spend in contemplation, adding and re-adding moments of the sacred to my day. All this light shows me the dark places. I sweep out the dust it reveals with my left hand, while my right tries to reach into a bin of engrained patterns of codependency to scatter more. I do not quite know how to stop spreading the dust.

I keep praying. I keep asking. I keep crying with my heart alight, revelling in the massage these sobs give her. She vibrates with a deeper joy than this upturned world can provide. She reminds me that I know what love is, that I know the pathway back.

2020


I want to wipe away the past and rebuild. I want to watch these polarizing societal structures crumble. I want to see what Siva leaves in His wake.

Reflected light filters into my eyes and I imagine I can differentiate between each photon as it passes information to my brain. How can it be a particle and a wave? How can it alter depending on the way we look at it? My imagination shows me light’s true nature as my lived reality tries to make sense of love’s true nature.

I am still here, suspended among both of them, remembering to breathe.

Reta Litwiller May 20, 1931 – April 9, 2020

“You wouldn’t think so, but sometimes you have to darken the light in order to see it.”
~ Reta Litwiller on mixing colours in oil painting, but really on life, too.

I’m looking for you. In every bird that flies past, I’m looking for it to land impossibly close to me. I’m waiting for it to turn its head and look at me, really look at me. It will tell me that everything will be just fine. It will be you.

In every paper that flutters to the floor, I’m looking for a word to catch my eye that I can say you sent me. A whole sentence. A flurry of words. I want them to wash over me in a torrent so I can be sure you are still here with me. So that I can be sure you’re really gone.

In every dream I’m looking for a hint of you, for a message that you’ve sent me. For words upon words; I am looking for the words.

We’re in your kitchen and I’m helping with supper. This is foreign land for me, this intentional process of making a meal, every aspect considered — and being invited to participate. Meals at home are haphazard and bare-bones. Any participation is controlled and my every action criticised.

Here, I prepare the three-bean salad on my own at your urging: open the cans with the electric can-opener, drain the liquid, look for a bowl. Should I slice the large ones? How should I cut them? Do I keep any of the liquid from the cans? What kind of bowl should I use? I am full of questions. I am full of uncertainty. I am a child with no confidence or sense of self, no trust in my own decisions, a mirror of what I see at home.

You look at me when I speak. You ask questions and listen for the answers. Do it the way you think is best, you tell me. You have a place in this world, is what I hear. Your ideas matter. You are valuable.

It takes over a decade for these seeds to fully take root in my unconscious. You do the dutiful work of watering them year after year without fail. You weed out the other messages until I understand this is a task I can take over.

Half of my beginnings were formed in her, my mother’s ovaries complete when she struggled out of my grandmother’s womb. We lost her then, too, my grandmother. As she floated above her body in a mysterious and indescribable peace, she wanted nothing more than to be back with her new baby and child already at home. She came back. She came back for all of us and she came back for me.

What is your experience of being a woman? I ask. I want to mine the legacy of my female line. I want to understand what’s been passed down — her own hysterectomy, my mother’s monthly incapacitation in my youth, my own malformed womb and cyst-riddled ovaries. I want the wisdom of my grandmother.

I hold her pain-filled answers that have never before been spoken into the world. I hear the strength in her voice and see the steadiness of her eyes. I hear her stories and we cry.

Grandma and I are like school girls. We giggle when we should be quiet and we laugh at the same unspoken jokes. We are each other’s confidants. I send her the Divine Light Invocation Mantra and she tapes it to the inside of her nightstand drawer in her nursing home room turned art gallery. She says it every night she tells me.

We lie on her bed with our hands clasped in comforting silence and we breath together, soft and gentle. I sing and tears slip out of her eyes. A healing voice, she says, and my heart surges, full. She says she is tired and I know what she means. I do not think that I will see her again.

I buy Honey Nut Cheerios to eat before I go to bed and imagine I hear the grandfather clock chiming. Even if I rush to Calgary for the 15-person-maximum burial, I wouldn’t be allowed to go. A legally-mandated quarantine awaits any return to Canada.

I wake craving waffles with whipped cream and home-canned peaches, heart-shaped chocolate cakes, eating everyday meals on the fancy Royal Albert China, brain massages, cherishing the moment.

I lie in my bed in the rainforest in Hawaii, but I’m not there. I’m at 59 Maryvale Crescent watching a storm come in. Isaac and I are standing at the kitchen window and the sky is dark. We’re no more than 8 and 10. Trees shake. No rain is yet falling.

It’s impossible that this approach be so swiftly definite, but we see it coming from the left and now there is water in the air between the neighbour’s house and their fence. In one more gust, a column of it begins to fall on top of the swing and fire pit in your yard. Now it’s raining so thick I can’t see clearly.

That’s what this leaving of yours is like. Blowing tree limbs heralding change. It was dry. It was dark with eventual inevitability. And then suddenly, in one instant, you’re gone, another victim of this pandemic. The world remains, sodden and heavy.

My grandmother was an artist and showed me what commitment to creativity looks like. My grandmother taught me to never draw a horizon in the centre of a painting, to group items in odd numbers, and the relationship between balance and beauty. My grandmother was kind to everyone she met. I never heard her say a negative or dismissive word about anyone. She taught me how to make a roast and use the drippings for gravy. She asked me to set the table only once, and then trusted that it would get done. She gave her full attention to the moment and to whom she was with. She had an encouraging word for everyone. She never stopped learning. She used years of challenge and struggle to turn her heart into diamonds. She shared those diamonds generously. Her light will forever shine in their facets.

Reta passed away at McKenzie Towne Continuing Care on April 9, 2020 at the age of 88. She is lovingly remembered by her husband of 70 years, Art; son Robert; daughter Peggy Ann; son David (Cheyenne); son Mark (Bridget); daughter Judy (Perry). She will also be dearly missed by her 13 grandchildren and 17 great grandchildren. She was predeceased by her great grandchild Dylan.

Reta (Wagler) was born in St. Agatha Ontario. She loved going to school and was an excellent student. In 1949 she married Arthur Litwiller, and while living in Ontario, they had 4 children. Then in 1962 they moved their family to Calgary Alberta, where they had their 5th child. The majority of Reta’s working career was as a receptionist for the Biswanger Health Clinic, a job she loved.

After retirement Reta and Art spent many years as vendors at Millarville and other markets, selling their train whistles and wood puzzles. They met lifelong friends in the Parkdale Promenaders square dance club. These friends became an important part of their lives, sharing square dancing, camping, monthly card nights, and hosting parties to celebrate Halloween and other occasions.

Reta loved painting and joined various art classes including the Parkdale Art club. She became an accomplished artist, and her paintings are displayed in many homes across Canada. Her passion for painting continued for her entire life. She had 3 paintings in progress and her room was like an art gallery.

Reta was incredibly important to her family and friends; she had an abundance of love for everyone and we are blessed to have had her in our lives. She was always a lady but still had a heart for humor and fun, and always had time to “Enjoy the Moment”. Ever the optimist, often saying, “Everything will be just fine”, she made people feel good about themselves and life in general.

Thank you to all the staff at McKenzie Towne Continuing Care for taking care of this special lady for 9-1/2 years, especially during this recent pandemic. Knowing she was loved and cared for during her last days is comforting to the family.

There will be a celebration of life when circumstances permit and an invitation will be sent to all friends and family.

 

in pink

Grandma with me and my cousin Laura. Our new matching sweaters.

Judy, Grandma and Me

Aunt Judy, Grandma, and me.

Holding a random baby

Visiting my cousin Bobby’s store in Okotoks. A woman with a baby enters. “Can I hold your baby!?”

Apricot Brandy

Grandma kept a bottle of apricot brandy hidden at the bottom of her laundry hamper in the nursing home. The staff knew. They looked the other way. They loved her. Everyone loved her. 

Last Photo

Thanksgiving, 2019. Notice the paintings in all these photos. All hers.

On Prosecco and Parties

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In February a housesitting opportunity comes to us and Phoenix and I pack our bags to stay down the road for ten days.

It’s a grandmother’s house, with pictures of children and their art scattered throughout the high-ceilinged rooms. I usually love house sitting, but something feels off here. There is an outdoor cat that we let in for thick and aggressive strokes. He’s handsome and male and cautious, turning toward every noise with flexed legs, crouching close toward the floor.

Phoenix and I are still not used to one another, or to spending so much time with another person in our personal space. Perhaps the “offness” is our own inability to reconcile these facts. Relationship forces me to confront elements of myself.

I want both more space and more closeness. I want him to absently reach for me when we walk past one another, the separate aspects of our days intermingling through a random intersection of the house. I want to know in every moment that he cares for me, that he read my subtle features and pledges to offer me comfort or hope or a wink or anything. My insecurity and neediness confound me.

I tell him Valentine’s Day is his responsibility this year and to come up with something for us. Our inspiration is the bottle of prosecco and blanket I brought to the beach two years ago, delineating our regular afternoon routine of a water bottle and a park bench from something special and out of the ordinary.

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The 14th falls on the first day of our housesit. He follows precedent and packs a light picnic before we head to the beach. Only, we can’t decide which beach to go to and end up going to our regular one, where all our friends are.

Suddenly I feel silly for having changed into a cotton dress and put on a hint of mascara for this regular event in our lives that we are turning into something special.

A version of panic hits and is followed by shame. Shame that I ask that a random Thursday mark this day just because society told me to. Shame that my friends see the darkened colour along my eyelashes and judge the simplicity of our romantic gesture. Shame that we act with a hesitation, a second-guessing of sitting, as usual, with them, or taking our picnic basket, already commented on, and stroll further. Stroll to the lava rocks closer to the water for the privacy a roaring ocean gives us in a public place.

We take the bag and walk. The panic recedes, though still manages to confuse me. I am tense in the way that this bottle of prosecco cannot fix. Water fills the crevices of eroded rock, dramatic shelves that fill and empty at regular intervals like the bubbles in my glass.

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Days later, we have a dinner party at the house. A vision of the preparation for the evening unfolds in my head: a set table, a nourishing menu, relaxation. I make a cake during a break from work in order to fill the external world with these images I see. I go back to my computer to work and am swept into distraction. I open another browser window for some “online shopping”, placing holds on more library books written by women of colour. I reserve too many. More than I can read, yet I know I’ll somehow end up reading them all.

I finish my work and go to the kitchen to continue putting form to the previously formless plans for the evening. I make a salad, place the bowl in the fridge, and gently wash the dishes.

I am a caricature of myself, absently grabbing the towel to dry my hands as I turn to survey the counter top with a furrowed brow, thinking of what need be done next.

As I glance sidelong out the window at the betel palm tree.

As I anticipate the arrival of friends and question aloud if there’s time to gather flowers for a centrepiece.

As I live in this house in this body doing things that people with houses and bodies do.

Love of the Fight

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I love to fight with Phoenix.

I love how it starts low and gentle, like a deep bass drum advancing across a tract of space. How the hum winds around and up and over and into me. How it builds. Our words missing each other until misunderstanding takes root. I love how free and open such a simple emotion as anger can come pouring out of me.

In the past, I’ve struggled with expressing my anger. The first time I encountered Dr. Christiane Northrup’s Women’s Bodies Women’s Wisdom, I had to intermittently stop reading while tears sped down my cheeks and my body racked with sobs. It wasn’t a sadness that made me cry. I couldn’t even put my finger on it. It was the simplicity of being understood.

In the section on polycystic ovaries, she spoke about unexpressed anger. I accessed the truth of her words as if looking into my cells with a microscope. Years of accumulated anger compressed into tiny balls in my consciousness just like the tiny cysts dotting my ovaries. I didn’t let it out because I didn’t feel safe enough to express anger.  

Now I love it. I love watching it rise and directing it out into my life in productive ways. I love the wide and strong base inside myself that can handle if it sometimes gets the better of me. I love the life I’ve built upon that base that can withstand its humble wrath.

I move the extension cord out of the way and step forward, bracing up against the new counter. The measured birch rests on its support beams. I hold it in place as I anticipate which section Phoenix will next fasten on. Something isn’t working. He hesitates, grabs another section of the soon-to-be counter. “Move this part here,” he says.

More words upon words. And then the meanings of the words start to annoy me. Slowly they crash upon themselves into a tsunami of I can’t believe he thinks that I can understand the difference between when he says “this is the problem, not this,” punctuating each “this” with the exact same gesture and intonation, pointing toward the board trim.

It is unfathomable that he thinks I would understand what he means. And even more unfathomable that he not understand what I’m trying to explain, that this is where the board should go in order to line up at a 90 degree angle, perpendicular to the counter top with the half round edging. 

Home renovations become exhilarating. My patience withers to the delicate point of a pinprick and I get So. Very. Angry.

It’s an anger that flows through me. That raises my voice and probably throws in a few ‘fucking’s. That escalates into a concentration of fury that crosses an invisible line in my mind. A point of no return. I am furious.

And then, suddenly, it’s gone. Like a wave crashing on a lava rock. It recedes and is an entirely deflatable anger. This fight becomes so mundane. So ordinary in its construction. It’s the most mainstream suburban thing we do — fight with one another like this. During home renovations no less.

 We breathe. We look at each other. All anger fades. I ask him what he means, he tells me, and I explain what I am saying. Turns out we’re talking about a different section of the board. We’re both right.

We continue to affix the counter to the wall. It looks so beautiful. Phoenix has dreamed up an elegant and simple kitchen for our tiny jungle shack.

 I once fought with Mark over home renovations. True to our style, the fight had zero raised voices and angry words. It was a conflict full of silence and deflection, standing in the curtain rod aisle of Canadian Tire. There was very little anger on my part and much more genuine confusion and incomprehension, our disagreement turning into a silence-match. We returned home from the store empty-handed. It wasn’t long before I left him.

Each instance of anger is now a passing wave in a life encapsulated by so much more. Not sequestered into a cage, never to be expressed, it walks alongside me, secure. It has a place and a purpose, teaching me what boundaries and value are, what safety is. Teaching me all the ways in which I am no longer afraid.

Letters to Devin

IMG_20191208_081735.jpgSubject: I’m in the calm before the storm

For weeks now, any thought I had about this day and crossing US immigration immediately dumped a shot of adrenaline into my veins. Do you ever get that thing when you’re really hungry and you’re about to eat something and then as you put it into your mouth a huge deluge of saliva come out of your salivary glands? It’s almost painful. I had this happen to me the other day. I have been staying at Eva’s in Vancouver, being generally relaxed and hyping up for today’s adventure. We had a late dinner one night and gooosh, my mouth filled with saliva at the first bite. It’s like my entire mouth aches when it happens. She said she’d never experienced that before. I thought it was a normal thing. That’s how my adrenals feel — like they’re pumping out juice and the stress of it is putting undo pressure on the gateways. Adrenal secretion fatigue. It’s time for a new paragraph.

I’m at a cafe near Gordon’s work downtown. We had brunch and then I stored my rolling bag at his office while I wander the city, waiting for my flight. There are women speaking stilted, accented English, talking about the exam they just took. There are giant plastic Christmas trees with LED lights smattered around the streets. There are people walking briskly.

I went to a contemporary art gallery, but it was a little too close to my reality: one of the exhibits was commenting on migration. There were foam figures leaning on chain link fences, slumped over the edges, straddling two worlds. The other exhibit was an exploration of a changing climate with rudimentary nature scenes burned into thin wooden panelling that hung from the ceiling to the floor. It was beautiful. Accents of the scenes were sparsely beaded adding hollow hints of colour — those squirrels and birds that won’t be around for long. The last panel had a red-winged blackbird on it. My favourite.

I think it would be hard to be a barista. It’s one of those things in society that we all take for granted but yet the entire structure of our organization is based on it. Like free wifi. What would these bankers do if they had to make their own coffee at home? The entire system would collapse.

After the art gallery I sat on the steps for a moment staring at the looming abyss before me. Really though the abyss is always there, we just get to ignore it, lulled unto the false sense of security our routines and patterns offer us.

We went for brunch at the Fairmont. It was fancy and delicious. They put us in a table near the back, tucked into a booth that can close off to the rest of the floor with a thick curtain. Only later did I realize I have been wearing the same mountain town clothing for four days and that breakfast at a fancy hotel in downtown Vancouver usually means people are dressed accordingly. My hair is frizzy with humidity and I’m wearing runners. Thin sheaths of shame part as I walk through Nordstroms, trying to keep my head down and make it look like I belong. I talk too much during brunch. I am holding onto the vestiges of a shared history with Gordon, but can’t get to the level of familiarity that living in a spiritual community with him brought when we used to know each other. I am doing the wrong thing, suggesting the wrong activities. The thin sheaths cloud my vision. I brush them aside and watch women with straight blonde hair and high-waisted pants stride confidently out the correct doorway. When did I start slouching so much?

I have been avoiding caffeine but ordered a soy London Fog in a fit of fuck-it-all-ness. It was not a wise decision.

Alex and I went for Ethiopian last night. There are two Ethiopian restaurants near Eva’s, but one is between her and Alex’s place. I’d never been to this one. It was large and boldly decorated: dark paint, large canvases full of colour, even Christmas decorations. We sat down at a table for two. The booths were full and the other section of the restaurant was half hidden behind a partial wall. It seemed busy. The table next to me had a man and a woman. It was one of those tables that are five inches away from the ones next to, like we’re actually sitting at the same table. The woman’s name was Jessica and she and her boyfriend were leaving the next day for a trip to Indonesia. She’d packed up her belongings, sold her furniture and was going on an adventure. I didn’t find this out last night, though. I found this out on Sunday because we were in the same ride-share from Nelson. In the car, when she’d told me she was flying out on Wednesday, I said that I was, too, and jokingly said that I’d see her at the airport. A part of me knew the world is crazy enough that we really would see each other at the airport. Turns out we didn’t. We saw each other last night instead.

Maybe I’ll just write emails to you and then post them to my blog.
Love,
Guenevere

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Subject: Another instalment

Devin,

I am volatile and emotive on the Big Island, utterly caught off guard by my groundlessness during this transition. I paint my toenails my first day in Maui but go somewhere before they dry and they smear in my closed-toed shoes. I tell myself I’ll fix them later. I don’t.

When spring came in Montreal, the melting snow revealed dozens of mangled abandoned bikes along my walking commute. All winter tiny motorized plows rode the sidewalks, the driver’s of which couldn’t really see in front of them. When I saw them coming I learned to quickly get out of the way. One year four pedestrians were killed by plows; three in one day. They were mostly elderly.

The plow drivers didn’t watch for things like abandoned bikes shackled to rails and poles. What was only a mess of parts and pieces sticking out of the snow in deep winter become bicycles in gradations from full to partial as the sun heats up. I want to take photos of them all and create a series. I assume most of them were stolen. Many are missing wheels or their seat. They are covered with the dirt the plows threw off to provide traction in the receding snow.

Here there are lines of cars on the side of the road by the post office on an empty section of space. They are missing doors or tires. They are covered in vines. The jungle is growing over and around them, taking what is left. Some of them have items inside the cabs or truck boxes. A large orange gatorade water thermos. A blanket.

Today Phoenix and I get takeout and bring it to a beach in town to watch the sunset. It’s the beach we went to one of the first days we met when we were furtively flirtatious and playful. Today we are testy and hesitant. His anxiety mixes uneasily with my volatility. We haven’t yet found our thread of togetherness, the one that we lose with our frequent months of separation. The breeze lifts off the sea, the heavy air brings memories.

I am a Venn diagram of memories. My consciousness is the central, unchanging factor as past experiences surround me in cascading spirals. Walking in Vancouver, I see a pawn shop and suddenly I’m in Napier, New Zealand at a curio shop with Kate looking at endless British antiques. The trucks pulls to a stop at the grocery store and I’m watching Cy eat frozen yoghurt from the newly opened store on Bay View Street in Camden, Maine. I watch the sunset at the Old Airport Park in Kona and suddenly I’m in Tel Aviv. Someone is leaning against the broad pillar of the pier, meditating in the sand. A restaurant nearby sells amazing falafel, says a man with brown dreads. He’s reading “The Tenth Insight” by James Redfield in Hebrew — a book I just finished — but in English so I recognize the cover. I watch two ends of a cresting wave meet. Phoenix rests his head in my lap. There are rocks in a glass-flat pool that the raucous waves don’t reach.

It’s early, but I’m so tired. I’ve been getting up at 6, which still feels like 8 so is actually luxurious. I play Spelling Bee throughout the day, long enough to get the highest score, and then I stop. I make plans to plant flowers along the pathway to our room. I take my supplements and try to make myself remember to check if I can buy the same brand here. I think about all the things of which I am afraid.

Love,
Guenevere

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Subject: All Together Now

I begin to get used to the roosters. Not at night — not at 3:00 am when they start calling to each other from across the neighbourhoods and for which there are earplugs — just randomly. When I’m on the phone with a colleague or my boss, but not a client and so I don’t need to go into the bus-turned-office, the roosters crow. They fade into the blur of life. Like my sticky skin and rain that follows sunshine that follows rain.

I empty the dishwasher every day. It’s a politically motivated action. It’s mundane and boring and in the middle of the kitchen so everyone can see that I do it, that I’m helpful and contributing.

With effort, this jungle shack eventually becomes more of a home. We paint the ceiling. There are still spots of white on my glasses, which I’ll scrape off eventually, and my shoes, which will always bear the remembrance of this time. White dotted on black. I take lamps from the basement storage. I pull out matching rugs for in front of the couch, the sink, each side of the bed. I wash the curtains and lose momentum to rehang them properly so they remain bunched on their nail hooks, waiting. Wrinkled.

Actions, thoughts, and speech stack around me. My own and those of others. I fall into an old habit of weighing each into piles, and often sift through the leave pile, wondering if there’s enough ballast for critical mass. I do so love to leave. And then as soon as I do this — this categorizing and shifting and rethinking of things that are said and done and expressed — I become free of all my ideas of what belongs in what pile and suddenly it’s just life again, piled up around me. Then I go for a walk or watch the sunset or feel the cool breeze on my sticky skin and I breathe as a butterfly flits past.

I trawl over lava rocks to watch tide pools near the waves. Water pours in, filling a pool through a narrow valley of rock, then collectively recedes and the flow switches to the opposite. At a class in the Beach Prayer Room with Swami Matananda she had us go off and shoot short videos to analyze in reflection. I took one of a piece of wood floating in the rhythm of Kootenay Lake’s waves. The wood was trapped by a couple of large rocks. When I looked at it, I saw something that was stuck. “What else do you see?” asked Matananda. I was adamant. The video showed me only constriction. Later, I realized the broader symbolism. The screen was filled with the fluidity of the waves, movement and flow. Why could I only see the stuckness? The earth turns the horizon closer to the sun. The waves rush into the tide pool with a ferocity that seems unending. And then the water leaves with equal persistence.

We sit on the couch and do word games together on my phone. Or Phoenix pulls out his guitar and plays folk hymns from long ago, perfect for harmonizing with. I want to spend every evening in creativity. I want to be showered in attention, as only a youngest child of many is. I want to be surrounded by kindness and compassion. I want my action, thought, and speech piles to be consistent and orderly. I want a cohesion that is inescapable, but really is only a fear of movement. Phoenix works through a new song repeatedly “One, two, three, four. Can I have a little more? Five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, I love you,” his voice catching over the words. “All together now.”

“All together now,” I sing out in reply.

Further Evidence That I Exist

20181212_120955.jpgAcknowledgements:

Acknowledgements are usually a paragraph that comes at the end of a novel rather than the beginning of an internet article. Nevertheless, there are things for which I must give thanks. Thank you to anxiety. Without you I would not know the bliss of your absence. Thank you to friends that teach me what unconditional love and acceptance are. Thank you to art, to a wall of originals behind me, to an altar in the corner, guitars strewn around the house, and a fresh cup of hand-delivered tea. Thank you.

Further Evidence That I Exist

  • Leaving the bathtub plug dismantled after investigating the source of the clog during a shower.
  • Using reflection cards that are not my own. Without permission.
  • Asking for an extra blanket even after I’ve ascertained there are no extra blankets in the hall closet, nor bedroom closet.
  • Not immediately returning a book I’ve pilfered off the shelf.
  • In fact, keeping said book on the couch armrest where it might get in the way of others’ living.
  • Repeating not one, but two things that had either been said to me, or had happened in the presence of others to the person they were either said about, or in whose presence the events occurred.
  • Drinking tea.
  • Not being excited to use something that I have no idea how to use.
  • Having the same conversation with everyone I talk to in a certain period of time because, clearly, this topic is on my mind a lot. Continuing to wonder how many of my decisions I make on my own, and how many I make at the mercy of big data.
  • Quickly clicking back to this word document when the bathroom door opens so others think I am being productive instead of getting distracted on the internet.
  • Remembering back to a time when ‘internet’ was capitalized. How young we all were. How full of fresh innocence.
  • Going around in circles at the grocery store. Dodging the same woman with her cart full of organized goods. There she is again referencing her shopping list. I wish I would have thought to bring a shopping list. What am I going to get? Oh golly, why has the procurement and preparation of food always been so difficult for me?
  • Refining what it means to be feminine.
  • Refining what it means to be in relationship.
  • Drinking more tea.
  • Waking up from a dream in which I was surrounded by a sea of people — some I knew, some I didn’t know — and being struck by hearing a friend’s voice calling to me, but not seeing him in the dream. Thinking about how fascinating sense perceptions are.
  • Creating a mess in the kitchen.
  • Cleaning up the kitchen.
  • The deliciousness of relief upon getting a subluxation in my spine removed.
  • Feeling like I’m home.
  • Wanting to stay here.
  • Knowing that I can.
  • And being content.