Sunday, July 26, 2020

A Wave

Guys, we're half-way through 2020 and it's been a shitty year. We lost Mike's brother to liver failure, we lost preschool to COVID-19, my sister lost her job, my parents are trying—and so far failing—to sell their house, Sauble Beach has been washed away, and my boss started ignoring my emails. Globally, we've had America's continued descent into fascism, global pandemic, accelerating climate change, the Australian bush fires (remember those?), Jeff Bezos, race riots in many countries, and a host of other political, economic, and environmental issues.

I usually traffic in a delicate mix of glib and raw-wound vulnerability on the blog (and in my life), an unlikely mixture that can act like a potting soil for good writing, but sometimes misses the mark entirely if it's not calibrated right. In times of great stress, I struggle to find words: to write about The Thing is to dive, screaming, into the flow of lava; to write about other stuff is to whistle past the graveyard in an inauthentic way. I struggled with this in 2018, when family and personal traumas were fresh and so painful. That year, I could barely write a word. This year, both the global struggles and the weird work of staying home have not been a juicy source of inspiration.

Writing about anything other that The Big News feels like I'm ignoring something painful; maybe the truth of it is, 2020 has been my smallest year yet. I've been at home, with my family, trying to breathe through the ways my/the world has been upset. I've undertaken some interesting projects and made some new friends, but without the fascia of daily routine and alone time, I feel shitty. This wasn't downgrading from Italian vacations or high-powered work; I had a weekly yoga class at the YMCA and a matcha latte. My life was already pretty teeny.

So let me say this: I'm tired. I'm tired of my child, whom I love with my whole heart, because his need for me is constant. I miss preschool, those nine hours a week that were strictly mine. I miss naptime, gone since last fall, when I could snatch 90 minutes of midday focus. I miss playdates, where he could socialize and I could work on a cooking project as two young boys interrogated a line of Hot Wheels cars. I'm tired of begging for a bit of time to myself, an hour here or there, because my husband's work has been stressful for him (usual) and the transition to work-from-home has compounded it (unusual). I'm tired of going to bed after 11 PM, because I need an extra hour to unwind, and when I get under the covers I'm actually nauseous with fatigue. I don't do anything except normal things—cook, hang out with a four year old, Instagram—and my brain is always buzzing with things I should be doing or could be doing. I miss flow state, where I could slip into work or making or walking for an hour or two, and at the end, I was calm. I don't feel calm. I miss calm. I miss privacy.

I don't know how to plan for the future. For the past few years, my goal has been getting my kid to kindergarten, and then I could reassess. I could go back to school, make lists, research, and I could figure out who I'm meant to be. I have struggled to find this sense of self and purpose for such a long time, and kindergarten shone like a beacon—a bit of time to sit with myself and figure out, at the age of 36, what I wanted as an adult. My question swirls around space and place, friendship and community, celebration and love, dance and food, creation and impermanence. Do I want to be a wedding planner? A community events expert? A ritual-maker? A writer? A cook? Do I want to work in climate change, local food, design, housing? How do I harness this herd of cats that are my interests, hobbies, passions, and skills, into something coherent and salable that also puts food on the table? What do I have to do to invent my realest self? And how does that work fit into a world that seems to be gasping for air as we live in it?

And yeah, I know how self-indulgent that sounds, how woo. I know that to sitting and staring into space and thinking, "shit, what am I?" is the work of someone is fundamentally probably pretty okay, or at least isn't currently worried about where rent money will come from. But even still, I feel a bit unmoored. Doing meaningful work is something that makes people feel, you know, meaningful. And hanging out with a preschooler, largely without adult company, is lonely work. There's a reason that wine-mom culture is a real thing.

Everyone is suffering and I feel awful asking for care, but I want it. I want someone to bring me food, to offer to take my kid for an afternoon, to tuck me into bed. I've been getting such nice cards from my far-away friends, and seeing one in my mailbox is a literal jolt: good feelings, delivered! And I do my best to return the favour. Sending a card out feels a bit like putting a seed into the earth. I don't know if anything will grow, but I can do the work and hope for the best.

I miss being with people who really know me, who can interrupt and say, "You know, I've always seen you as _____" and offer some bit of insight. I think this is why astrology apps and memes are on the rise: we want someone else to see who we are, know us, and then lead us. What we need is guidance counselors for the middle-aged; what we get is an Instagram account. It's also why I mourn old friendships so deeply: losing someone with ten or fifteen years of knowing who we are is losing a bit of our own history. Some people relish this reinvention, pushing towards more authentic versions of self and relationship; me, I just feel sad.

Lately I've been thinking about shadow work and trauma, about the Death Mother (thanks, Toko-pa!), but also about envisioning the kind of place that I would like to be. I've been summing it up thusly: I want a closed door but with laughter coming from the other side. I want to be alone, but also with. I know it's contradictory! I need time apart to recharge, but without feeling like I've been abandoned. 2018 was abandonment on a personal level, a painful reckoning. 2020 was great upheaving loss on a global scale, but I do see that we didn't abandon each other. We're learning this new way, and it's hard work. It's all new. But I didn't abandon the long-term search for meaning, even in the cracks of time I get between begging my child to eat a peanut butter sandwich and begging him to each some chicken nuggets. I don't think anyone else did, either.

We open the mail. We dial our phones. We write long, indulgent, maybe-helpful blog posts. We read the headlines and then put down the newspaper. We tend to our children and to what is on the stove. We grieve what we've lost in small moments, as the rest of the year washes over us like a wave.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Your Summer Horoscopes


It's nearly the Solstice, which means it's time to put on your best primal screaming sack dresses and break out the flower crowns and schnapps. Here are your 100% made-up horoscopes for the next season. If you don't like yours, simply choose another one—they are all equally true.

******

Aries: Perhaps I can convince you to put down the phone and step outside for a while? Do you have access to some dirt and/or seeds? If you don't, think about acquiring some. If not, get thee to a natural area. Run your hands along the bark of a tree. Allow the sun dappling through the canopy to play across your face. Watch out for wasps. Enjoy the sensation of being in the arms of mother nature; if you are balcony gardening, enjoy the sensation of actual growth between your fingers. It is good to see things grow, yeah?
Kid's Book: Music Is... by Brandon Stosuy


Taurus: You, my friend, are the mellow pot-smoker, the grounded-out earthship designer, the person who can low-key assemble a salad or smoothie out of any old fridge mess. I want you to tune your vibration just a bit higher in the coming months, and focus on action instead of emotion. Mend your sweaters. Sign up for that course. Email the friend you've been thinking about for ages. Do your self-care, of course, but balance it with action.
Kid's Book: The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad

Gemini: I'm learning French and Japanese on Duolingo right now, and as a plague activity, I really recommend it. The French and I are old pals, so the sense of competency I feel as I blow through all the "je m'appelle"s is a great tonic for when the Japanese, with its whole other alphabet, is a PROCESS. This quarter, I challenge you to find something that is both old hat and new blood, preferably in the same moment.
Kid's Book: Ho'onani: Hula Warrior by Heather Gale

Cancer: In a moment of great optimism, I bought a yard of double-sided knit fabric with the intention of making a tank top. Sounds simple, right? But it turns out that knits require different tools and techniques than woven fabrics. You need new sewing needles, sometimes whole other machines, in order to make it look "right." So now I have a choice to make: get the right, albeit expensive, tools? Or live with something that is imperfectly done? Stay tuned, Cancer! 
Kid's Book: Happy In Our Skin by Fran Manushkin


Leo: Right now I'm reading Akata Witch, which has been described as "the Nigerian Harry Potter" (it's not), and the concept of the "spirit face" has emerged: how your hidden spirit-self physically presents itself you and the world. The face is hidden even from you until you discover your identity and abilities, and it is both a mask and the truest version of yourself. Have you discovered your own spirit face yet? Have you learned to love her?
Kid's Book: Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor


Virgo: Since the spring equinox, we've experienced infectious disease, racial unrest and uprising, global protest, an unforeseen flour shortage, and a general atmosphere of chaos and uncertainty. And then I think about 1919—when the Great War had just ended, American first-wave feminism was a still a year away from the Nineteen Amendment, and the Spanish Flu was in full swing—and I think, well, at least we have memes now. We are living in a history, book, Virgo. It's okay to feel overwhelmed. But also: we're living in a history book, Virgo. What will they write about us?
Kid's Book: It's Not All Rainbows by Jessika Von Innerebner

Libra: I recently had a long conversation with my mom about feeling left out of groups. I've always wanted to be firmly embedded in a really solid friend group, like the Babysitters Club but for grown-ups, and I was for a long time, but in the last few years, my friendships with two central members of that group ended, and it's made group dynamics weird! It's made 'em weird. I no longer feel as comfortable with the rest of the group. I love them deeply and fiercely, but it's just not as cozy-sweater comfy. Some topics feel prickly or edgy or just sad. I have grieved those friendships for a long time, and grieved the shift in group dynamics as well. But after that conversation with my mom, I'm going to try to focus more on those individual relationships, and pay less attention to the groups that I may or not be a part of. I am my own cozy sweater, as we all must be. 
Kid's Book: One Family by George Shannon

Scorpio: Ah, my Samhaim babies in a Litha world! Are you feeling ready for crisp evenings and hot drinks? Are you ready to hang up your gauzy summer tops in exchange for slouchy long sleeves? Are you ready to trade neon for black, again? One of the most irritating features of the human experience is that we can't just skip to the parts that we like; we have to experience it all, highs and lows, strikes and gutters, and sometimes it's grievous, hard, or just not to our taste. Asking ourselves to see joy and beauty in the long unbearable stretches is like strength training for our emotions. Get lifting. 
Kid's Book: With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

Sagittarius: Are we luxuriating in pleasure at this moment? Sag buddies, we are not! It's been stressful! We have had precious few opportunities to sink into beautiful bodily sensations: we've been encouraged to keep our distance; touching has equaled sickness or callousness; and stressors like money/work/health have a way of blunting our pleasure receptors. I've been looking at nudes more frequently: lusciously illustrated pictures of people, together, alone, sensual, sexy. When my favourite Taurus asked for birthday nudes, I sent her one (tasteful! nudes don't equal porn, yes?), and it was fizzy and empowering. Send platonic nudes! Send consensual sexy ones! Send one to your partner, who is one room over, when you're both too overwhelmed to actually do anything about the nude, and it's nice to just have sent it! 
Kid's Book: From the Stars In The Sky To the Fish In The Sea by Kai Cheng Thom

Capricorn: There's a meme going around, featuring a unicorn with a skeleton face, that proclaims "Gay Pride is Cancelled, Now It's Gay Wrath," and frankly, I'm here for it. When I lived in a student co-op house, people joined the board of directors for one of two reasons: they were seasoned participants in leadership (think of your student-body leaders and GSA organizers), or they were pissed off about some issue. I was of the pissed-off school (something about the change to the dining hall had really riled me up), but I stayed on for eight years, learning and growing. My message to you is this: get angry. Stay angry. Learn. Use it for change. 
Kid's Book: Counting on Community by Innosanto Nagara

Aquarius: We're in a complicated moment for faith and ritual. Us Millennials are one of the first generations raised without church-as-default (although plenty of us went, and plenty of Gen X and Boomers didn't), but the human craving for spiritual life hasn't disappeared. Instead, a cottage industry of witchery has emerged, but it's murky—Black and Latinx people with a cultural history of bruja work have been displaced by white women who buy a crystal off Etsy and proclaim themselves witches. My Polish heritage means literally centuries of Catholicism, so I feel you: it's easier to template from another practice, even one that isn't yours, than engage meaningfully in what it means to confront ones' ancestors, acknowledge the divine feminine, love on the earth mother, or whatever else I feel called to do. But friends: leave those crystals unbought and figure it out. There is enough magic in the world that we don't have to steal it. 
Kid's Book: The Girl and the Wolf by Katherena Vermett

Pisces: JK Rowling is a trash fire transphobe who used to be a single mother on welfare, and I have complicated feelings about her role in the Harry Potter world: she is the creator, yes, but not the final word. If you've read the His Dark Materials trilogy, you can know that old gods sometimes turn to dust and their world continues on without them; maybe improved, because there is no overlording Authority that must be centralized. I don't think the wizarding world is a perfect place—there is racism, sexism, and homophobia doesn't exist only because gay people are as mythical as unicorns, even there—but it is a place with a lot of space, and into that space, the fandom has stuffed a Black Hermione, a Desi Harry, a non-binary Tonks, a bisexual Lupin, an autistic Luna, and a bunch of other non-canonical changes to the characters that enrich our readings of them and their world. Leaving space for a more-true version of a story to come to light is a gift, and Rowling, perhaps unintentionally, has given it. Let us be greedy with it. 
Kid's Book: How Mamas Love Their Babies by Juniper Fitzgerald

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Ten Albums: The Second Five


    There's a meme on Facebook right now, which asks people to share ten albums they loved, and give no explanation. I am obviously not that person—my explanations cannot just live inside me!—so, having been nominated nearly a month ago, here are the first five albums, in the order in which they became essential to me. The first five are here.

    Hidden In Buildings: Draw Your Sword and I Am Not Afraid (I forget what year)

    Graham Van Pelt and I shared a music stand in grade eleven strings class, and we were sort-of friends: we cracked each other up and he made me a mix tape, and then we floated back to our respective friend groups when the bell rang. This music, released sometime in the early 2000, was the first time someone I knew personally had MADE AN ALBUM, with samples and instruments and that had a case and played on a CD player. I loved it, not only because it spoke to me sonically—lots of spoken-word snippets, loops, and drum machines—but because it offered me a portal into a world where making things like music and art was possible for civilians like me. Graham has since gone on to do such ho-hum things as being nominated for the goddamn Polaris Prize—the hipster music Canadian Emmys—and participate in art collectives.

    *

    Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins: Rabbit Fur Coat (2006)

    In 2006 or 2007, I had a BAD breakup. Like, breathtaking in how fucking terrible it was. It was so bad that I can remember exactly where I was standing when it happened, that chest-punch feeling, the room swimming around me. It was awful enough that I have completely black-boxed what year it was (in my defense, it was a very bad year: my best friend moved back to the US against her will, and my sister was diagnosed with lymphoma. Not a great time!), and I just think of it as That Summer. In the aftermath of That Summer, I decided to reclaim my status as a music person: like many women in relationships, this was a role that had defaulted to my male partner, who was, like many male partners, unwilling to listen to the music I liked because...it wasn't cool enough? Too boring? Other reasons? I digress. Anyway, I started taking late-night walks down to Bloor Street, where the new-and-used record store Sonic Boom was located. I would walk the aisles, under the overbright florescent lights, choosing albums based on half-remembered reviews on websites, cover art, and general buzz. I bought Alexisonfire's Watch Out! this way—selected in part because my ex had liked them but we never listened to them together—and I chose Midlake and Basia Bulat and Jenny Lewis this way too. Half-random grabbing. Take them home. Listen on repeat to the ones that landed. This album landed, friends. It was twangy and angry, pretty and low-end, glamorous and dusty. It was also feminine, which was a relief in an emotional landscape that was so dominated by my ex. Even now, listening to the song Rise Up (With Fists!!), I get a surge of power. I feel like myself when I listen to this album.

    *

    Fever Ray: Fever Ray (2009)

    I love the way this album sounds. I listened to it a lot when it came out, and still keep it in rotation: it's witchy and deeply aesthetic, with a throughline about motherhood and femme identity that only surfaced for me when my own identities shifted. I like their subsequent work less, but this album—the sonic embodiment of a black taper candle on an altar—holds a special place for me.

    *

    Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros - Global A-Go-Go (2001)

    This album is a summer day, a road trip, a paid of headphones and a long walk under bright-green leaves in a small town or along the waterfront in a big city. This album is rock and folk and global and punk and twang. This album is drinks with my dad at the cottage, cooking with Liz at the dining hall, dancing with my boyfriend (now husband) as we get ready to go out. This album is warm and crisp—a salad roll full of vermicelli and avocado, a burger on the grill, an ice-cold lager next to a bowl of curry. I love that Joe Strummer took all his experience with The Clash, and then several years of casting about in a well-financed but directionless way, and then produced this crazy-quilt masterpiece. This is the album that I listen to when summer emerges again, and when this kind of joy feels possible.

    *

    GusGus: Arabian Horse (2011)

    In 2012, we went to Iceland for ten days. Iceland is known for its music scene, and it was the summer of Of Monsters And Men and their absolute dominance on the radio (you definitely know this song), but when we went to one of the record stores on Reykjavik's main drag, I was like, "Okay, we all know about them and Bjork, but what do you like?" and the clerk, relieved not to have to pull out another copy of that album, handed me this one. We listened to as we drove through otherworldly landscapes of volcanic rock and dusty plains and thunderous waterfalls and lupin-covered glens. (Iceland is amazing, you should definitely go.) I love eerie beep-boop dance music a lot, as evidenced by several other entries on this list, but this is the one that I'd put on for parties and for when my mom and I had had too many glasses of pink wine and did impromptu Nia classes in the cottage living room.

    Bonus albums:
    * Stan Rogers: From Fresh Water (1984)
    * The Roots: Phrenology (2002)
    * Robyn: Body Talk (2010)
    * Carly Rae Jepson: Emotion (2015)

    Saturday, April 25, 2020

    Ten Albums: The First Five


      There's a meme on Facebook right now, which asks people to share ten albums they loved, and give no explanation. I am obviously not that person—my explanations cannot just live inside me!—so, having been nominated nearly a month ago, here are the first five albums, in chronological order. 

      ***

      Paul Simon: Graceland (1986)

      This is the car-trip and dinner-party album of my youth, and the god-I-miss-my-parents album of my adulthood. It's the first album I remember listening to that was explicitly for adults, not rhyme-joke kids' music. I remember my dad, in the early 2000s, buying Paul Simon's live album Concert in the Park and putting it on in the Costco parking lot, pumping his fist and smashing an imaginary cymbal on "The Boxer." I still love Paul Simon's lyrics and musicality, his approachableness, his silliness, both sweet and sour. I love the romance of a Paul Simon song, the way he tells a story in a few short verses, the way characters slump in and out of their own lives. Graceland is a great set of stories.

      *

      Romeo + Juliet OST (1996)

      Was there a better soundtrack than this? Perfect blend of indie rock and mega-bands, and some who crossed the divide based on the success of this compilation.  This movie was definitely an aesthetic touchstone for me: even though I never adopted the look of the film, the vibe of barely-controlled teenage hormones, moneyed neglect, and glamorous mayhem was definitely central to my high school yearnings. Hearing Everclear lead singer Art Alexakis lick away his own furious spittle on "Local God," or the soft croons of Stina Nordenstam, and the absolutely juggernaut of "Lovefool," set a mood of chaos and beauty I look back on fondly. God, teenagers are so terrible and so wonderful.

      *

      Chemical Brothers: Dig Your Own Hole (1997)

      This was the first electronica/rave music I was exposed to, and the first time I remember feeling really sexy when I listened to music, right before I really knew what feeling sexy meant.

      *

      Jurassic 5: EP (1997)

      When I was 14, mixtapes were a huge part of my personal vibe. Grabbing songs off the radio, transferring songs from CDs to tapes, whatever. It was musical collage and identity-making and it great fun. Anyway, at my first job, one of the other, slightly older teenagers offered to make me a tape, and because she was cool, I was thrilled. I was slightly disappointed with the result: instead of a pastiche, it was just a straight rip: side A = Belle and Sebastien's If You're Feeling Sinister, and side B was Jurassic 5's 1997 debut EP. I liked B+S well enough, but Jurassic 5 changed my life: it was lo-fi hip-hop, the kind of thing you listen to on your walkman, or in your kitchen, or on a sunny summer day. It was so different from the hip-hop that was on the radio at the time, which was glossy East Coast v West Coast beef and Puff Daddy, and instead of rapping about hoes and coke deals, it was about basketball and Chali 2Na's basso profundo voice. Instant love.

      *


      Beastie Boys: Hello Nasty (1998)

      Okay, this was THE ONE for me. I was not expecting this album at all, but it came out and it was fucking life-changing. "Intergalactic" was HUGE in Canada, with the video playing on loop on MuchMusic, and then the Fatboy Slim remix of "Body Movin'" came out, and it was crystal-clear that these three maniacs made my heart sing in a way that I had never experienced before. They were cute! They were funny! They were different from me, but also kind of not, because they seemed less interested in most of the hip-hop tropes that were around at the time (drug-dealing, women, expensive necklaces, large white fur coats), and more into, like, bossa nova and basketball and Japanese sanitation uniforms and just hanging out and being friends. I got really into their discography: Licensed to Ill and The Sounds of Science, the twin stars of Check Your Head and Ill Communication. I showed up at 10 AM at Video + Books on the Tuesday that To the 5 Boroughs came out. I read about Buddhism because MCA was Buddhist. I bought expensive import magazines because they were on the cover. I was a fan, pure and simple, in a way that I hadn't been a fan of something before. In 2018, they put out Beastie Boys Book,  a memoir in pictures and stories, and it made my heart feel about 500 times bigger. Watching these guys, I really felt—feel—that anything is possible if you approach it with enough confidence and friendship.


      To be continued....

      Friday, March 27, 2020

      A Small Collection of Terror


      Things I'm afraid of, in the beginning of the North American COVID-19 pandemic:
      • I will die
      • my son will die
      • my spouse will die
      • my siblings will die
      • my parents will die
      • my extended family will die
      • my friends will die
      • any of the above will get sick sick sick with this disease
      • any of the above will get sick with this disease and be alone and suffering
      • any of the above will get sick and try to call for help and help will not come
      • any of the above will get sick with something unrelated—a big old lump under the armpit, say—and the health system will have to shrug and say "we just don't have the resources"
      • any of the above will get sick with something unrelated, like allergies or a cold, and people will come after them with pitchforks
      • any of the above will get sick with something unrelated, like allergies or a cold, and it will weaken the immune system enough for C19 to sneak in and make life awful
      • I am infected and asymptomatic and therefor merrily spreading this virus among people doing important work, like grocery store cashiers and pharmacy workers, who will infect others, and we will all die in 21 days
      • we will run out of food
      • the grocery store will run out of food
      • garden we are halfheartedly planting will be a total failure
      • people take a crazed mindset at the grocery store and start stabbing each other for Lysol wipes and chicken
      • the grocery store will start price-gouging and we will have to spend $40 on a bag of flour
      • the produce supply chain will collapse without migrant workers and we will have nothing to eat except very expensive Ontario peaches, which I do not care for
      • our electricity will be cut off and we will have no way to cook the shit in my freezer
      • we have no firewood for any kind of camping fire for cooking
      • all three of the propane tanks in our shed are empty
      • the water will be shut off, and our tub is insufficiently clean to store water
      • the kombucha I'm brewing will give everyone the runs
      • I will lose my job
      • my husband will lose his job
      • my husband's boss will be like, "I hear children in the background!" and we'll have to stay mouse-quiet during business hours, aka the daytime, when human children are the noisiest
      • We will have no money for $40 flour or rent
      • we will be evicted in the middle of this
      • we will have to live in a tent in the middle of the Central flats
      • we don't even own a tent—should we buy a tent? In case? Maybe a yurt?
      • my anxiety will flare to the point where everything feels like it's underwater and it's hard to tell what's real, which makes living in a time of deep unreality even tricksier
      • all the therapists will be laid off or furloughed to work as ICU nurses
      • I will become crazed for interactions with people I'm not related to by blood or marriage
      • I will start drinking in the morning
      • I will become agoraphobic and very fat
      • my anxiety will eat my body and I'll become very skinny
      • my sense of boundaries will become totally uncalibrated and I'll behave inappropriately after we're allowed to shake hands again, like a cat with a scratching post
      • my son will never go back to preschool and see Miss Heather
      • my son will not start kindergarten in the fall
      • the library will never reopen
      • I will have to learn how to homeschool, which I emphatically did not sign up for
      • I will do a terrible job at educating my child, and he will enter the post-pandemic workforce stupid and illiterate
      • we're heading towards some post-plague Dark Age, towards a loss of knowledge and an embrace of cultish leaders and demagogues
      • we are all collectively traumatized by even this lite version of social distance and loss and grief and when it actually hits us where we live, we will be totally unable to cope
      • our children will be traumatized by growing up under the shadow of this virus and become socialized to never touch, which will make middle-school hormones especially difficult to work through
      • we will forget who we are and become our worst selves
      • we will forget each other and how to be together in love and community

      Friday, February 28, 2020

      Werk


      The five-year plan is something that looms mythic in my mind. I love a good to-do list, and I love thinking about the versions of myself that I could become, and yet: writing a truly captivating, follow-able life plan has, so far, eluded me. Who should I be? What should I do? These are questions that usually obsess people in their early 20s; I am rounding the corner on 37 and I'm still foggy on this. How do people decide? How do people know?

      It's not even the details—I don't love my role but hate my company; I don't feel called to a certain profession but have no clear path there; I don't yearn for a job that I know I'd be bad at. I have things that I do in my day-to-day that I love, like making art or writing or cooking; I have things I'm good at, like staying organized and tracking information and figuring out big-picture issues; I things that I'd like to be better at, like facilitating workshops or creating community out of thin air; I have things I chafe at, like being micromanaged or never getting any feedback on my work; and I have things I avoid, like nine-to-fives with a strict butts-in-seats approach to participation. I have big, vague dreams (open a B and B! start an event space!), but those seem like fantasies, little escape pods when my day job or motherhood is overwhelming and unfun. No one really opens and B and B! No one really starts an event space! Or if they do, they aren't me.

      This sense of angst has haunted me since high school, when we were encouraged to pick our career paths at the advanced age of seventeen; all through university, which I took eight years to complete because I didn't know what I was working towards; my working life, when about half my jobs have fallen into my lap (which I've gladly accepted, since I really do believe that people can sometimes see skills and potential that would never occur to you); and now, when I feel like I want to take a leap towards something meaningful, big, and interesting. I want to set up the back half of my life in a deliberate, thoughtful, strengths-based way; the challenge is that I've always been a tich too deliberate and thoughtful, to the point of total decision paralysis.

      My friends, bless them, do not seem to struggle with this crisis. One has told me that she takes jobs based on how much she will learn, and she has the most marvelously interesting career. Another told me that he pursued his work after enjoying a trial run one summer and being told he was good at it. Others wanted to own businesses like the ones they worked in, or get paid for skills they had honed in volunteer work, or feel called, vocation-style, to the work they do. For a while, after sitting on the board of a housing co-op, I wanted to work in non-profit housing; six months at a particularly wretched company cured me of that, and I feel like I've been casting about for the right thing ever since. I'm motivated by the social mission of non-profits, the coming-together aspect of community events, the beauty of interiour and graphic design, the wide-open calendar of stay-at-home parenting. Assembling those pieces into a meaningful whole, though...

      If it matters, in some areas of my life, I do have a genuine sense of some internal drive or timeline. When I was 26, I had an ovary removed, and I spent the next five years obsessing over marriage and/or children (mostly children), because my biological clock was suddenly one minute to midnight and I was convinced (by myself, sure, but also by a number of not-very-thoughtful GPs and fertility doctors who made concerned "mmmmmm" faces every time I showed up on their paper-covered benches) that it would be A Process. Or, in the prime of this blog, I made a commitment to writing here once a week, and I did exactly that for seven years, only slowing down when I had a baby.

      This feeling comes in waves; I can be fine with something for a long time and then suddenly hit a wall, desperately scrambling away from a job that hasn't worked for a while but whose warning bells were a mere tinkle in the background amidst the chaos of other life. Or it can be a decisive day, a single email, that throws the need to move on into bright relief.

      What I'm thinking about now is a combination of many things I love: community programs, beautiful spaces, organized calendars, festivities and fun. I dream about opening a space that would be good for yoga retreats and intimate weddings, for craft fairs and community theatre. I want to run Fermentation Fridays and coffee clubs and youth circles, and if not run them, then make space for them in my community. My barrier there is money: the idea of finding a space and giving over actual money runs backwards to the idea of "income," at least at the start. It's terrifying! I'm terrified! How do people do this? Should I create a non-profit? Should I take out a loan? How do I write a business plan, and do I need it? (I think yes?) What happens when I hit a bump, or, you know, actually fail? How do I come back from that

      But I feel, for the first time, like it might be My Thing To Do, and I have to figure out how to make it go.

      Sunday, January 12, 2020

      The Creative Life


      This is the year where I start thinking of myself as an artist. It's a grand statement, I know, and to be honest, I don't know even know if it's accurate (does art include design and/or writing and/or noodling?) and I don't know if it will stick (the year is only twelve days old, after all). But already in 2020, I have designed and made a necklace and drawn a self-portrait, and my to-do list includes a wide variety of projects in a number of different media. So artish, pah, who really knows? But a maker, a creative type, a person who dreams of being an artist? Sure.

      When I was a kid, I used to make my own paper and cloth dolls, and act out fairy stories in the front garden. We had a strict television diet (no more than an hour a day), and my brain, starved for stuff to do, would spend hours designing magazines for kids—one issue, produced in the sixth grade, centred around pigs—or trying to memorize song lyrics, or drawing pictures of clothes I'd one day wear. I liked things to do with paper and words, with fantastical stories, with pretty things, with ideas that made me feel light and adult and in charge. I was a serious kid, and not often liked by my classmates, and sometimes, making things was an escape into a world where I could just flow.

      And, like many kids people, perfectionism looms large: sometimes, projects just didn't work out. I didn't have the vision, or the skills, or the patience, and sometimes, I just threw the whole shebang in the garbage. There's is nothing quite as frustrating as seeing something in your mind's eye and not being able to figure out how to execute it. There were a number of sewing projects in high school that embarrassed what used to be perfectly good tea towels and button-down shirts by transforming them into thready, ill-fitting garments. Did I wear them? Oh, I did. But the perfectionist part of my brain was like, "This is really...not good...at all." (Sewing, to this day, remains a bit of an irritant.)

      As an adult, I've gone through waves of making and creativity that are sometimes flood-like and sometimes, y'know, parched. In university, I took a year off and decided that, instead of returning to my boring old English degree, I would start fresh by applying to OCAD; immediately after that, I could not think a single interesting thought. (Actually, not true: I had the idea of making a bunch of paper mache hearts, dropping them inside fishnet stockings, and then suspending the whole works from the ceiling. I don't know what I was trying to say or do, except the concept seemed sufficiently "art school," and was also a tedious mess to try to assemble. I glopped together one lumpy heart and then abandoned the whole project.) But my eight (sigh) years of university also saw the creation of this blog, of a bunch of beading projects, block printing, collage, knitting, and interiour design. All of this was hobby-level, of course, but all of it brought me back to that same child-like level of flow and focus. After I graduated, I wrote a book (unpublished), designed a wedding (it was rad), and never once learned Photoshop, despite it being an actual skill that could have been useful if I wanted to be a professional creative.

      There was a huge spike of creativity after my son was born; for the first six weeks, all I could think about was Projects! I! Had! To! Do! But I was so busy nursing and not sleeping that the idea of actually building a small collection of cabins in the woods was nuts, never mind the cost, never mind the fact that I've never actually built a cabin, never mind that one of the cabins was a ball pit. (Postpartum brains can really throw some stuff at the wall.) And then there was a several-year-long period where my life went so far off the rails that knitting and cooking were my only real creative outlets—making, still, but everything with a recipe or pattern. Just following orders, ma'am. Training my hands in the motions, and giving my brain a ledge to stand on.

      But lately—and I don't know if it's working through past trauma, or the slight amount of free time, or just the arrangement of my genes—I've been feeling pulled into real creativity once more. Interestingly, the part of the process that I find the most enjoyable and fulfilling these days is the planning portion. I don't have a lot of time for doing projects—a bit of daytime, some evenings and weekends—but I do have quite a lot of walking-around time. I often use that time to listen to podcasts or plan meals, but I also use it to think about upcoming projects. What details to include? What process to use? How to make it work? Even questions like, "do I have enough magazine cuttings to do a fashion inspiration collage?" or "what am I going to use that colour of yarn for?" or "that empty frame needs something interesting in it."

      Example: When I started working on the family cookbook last summer, I realized that I had been mulling it over in my mind for over a year, thinking about how I wanted it to look. And, of course, when I sat down to actually do it, I hated the initial version. I am not actually a great drawer, so illustrating 30+ recipes was going to be a nightmare. It required a quick pivot to another media, replacing illustration with papercutting, replacing hand-written recipes with typed versions, but the end result is so cool and I'm so proud of it. But without that planning period, that mulling-it-over time, there would have been no pivot: it would have been a sigh and heave and into the garbage the whole project goes.

      That planning process gives me time to hype myself up for a project. I am a ruminator, a person who loves to sink her teeth into a question and then attack it from every angle. When I'm not doing so hot, this takes the form of crippling anxiety about, you know, climate change / my health / if there are ghosts in my house / if/when my friends get together and talk meanly about me / eviction / death. But when I'm able to set those topics aside, gently, like a baby bird, and pick up something else, well, let me tell you: it's a goddamn joy. Thinking about the placement of words on the page or the next knitting experience or what colour to paint my walls is actually way more fun than chewing over all the ways to feel pain and heartache, and in the end, I get to sit down and make something beautiful.

      And there is the other end of the stick: a chance to bring more beauty, more of myself, into the world? What an honour. What a privilege. What a joyful thing to be able to enact, even if the end result is a little off-kilter or unpolished or untrained. Making art, or design, or just creative play, is such a mitzvah for so many. It's often the time and place where my brain and body feel most integrated, when my self-consciousness disappears, and I can just be in the world.

      Here, now, especially, I want to shout out my fellow-mothers, the people who are so often tasked with all the mundane day-to-day house and life administration (the appointments, the consent forms, the calendar, the thank-you notes, the donation bin, the shopping list, the gas gauge, the expiry dates, the always and forever, amen). I know that sometimes, carving out creative time is akin to carving out a pound of bloodless flesh, and I see you and that struggle to sit down with your clay, fabric, sketchbook, paints, cuttings, whatever. I see your dreamy eyes as you push the stroller and scheme on your next half-hour chunk of time, to be spent during naptime or after bedtime, when you can finally put down what you've been making in your mind.

      I hesitate to truly call myself an artist because I'm a generalist, a person who uses multiple media to experiment and play, and because I'm a hobbyist, with no interest in monetizing these things. The closest I might come would be to draw up some knitting patterns for sale on Ravelry, but even that would be some time away. For the most part, I like to create because I like to create. There's something inside me that uses what I do as an emotional, expressive language; when words won't do, a pair of knitting needles can pinch-hit. Or some scissors. Or a stack of clippings. Because truly, there is something magic about organizing thoughts into actions, actions into art.