Monday, February 28, 2011

The Academy Awards

When we decided not to host our annual Oscar party this year, I felt conflicted about it, as the power of tradition holds strong for me, and we've always hosted this party. I just knew that I wanted to take a year off, and last night I settled in to the experience of watching it with the kids for the very first time, and sharing some of my future dreams with them. We all filled out a ballot and checked off each award as it was handed out, the same as we would do with our friends. The kids loved that friendly competition and it kept them interested in the proceedings.

Each time someone would walk out to present, William would ask, "What movies are they in?" and we would get to tell him a little about each person. Ava pinches my People and Entertainment Weekly magazines from the library each week, so she was up to speed on most of the movies and performers nominated, even if she'd only seen the animated movies. We feasted on Chinese food, ice cream, chocolate bars and iced tea, and I had fun sharing my love for the Oscars with our kids.

Ever since I was a little girl, I've watched and dreamed of attending and winning Oscar gold. That dream hasn't lost any of its power, and now that I'm re-working my screenplay yet again for two upcoming competitions, and have more movie ideas than time to capture them, the dream feels close enough to touch. I still long for it, but I also finally understand that these things take years, even decades to accomplish. It's a step-by-step process to get there, and each of those steps must be taken in turn. I'm now walking that path, and have expanded my dreams to include publishing my memoir and novel alongside selling a screenplay.

There is time. I used to feel competitive with the greats of screenwriting, like Aaron Sorkin who won for The Social Network last night. Now I feel inspired to do better instead. I'm not remotely near where he is when it comes to my writing, but I could be someday. A script like The Social Network could be a once-in-a-career achievement. That is something you build up to, not start out with. I finally understand this, and the knowledge has settled peacefully in my soul, and encouraged me instead of serving as a measuring stick to show me how far I still have to go.

I feel satisfied after watching the show last night, the way you feel after a delicious and leisurely meal. I enjoyed sharing it with my kids, and they were as excited as I was about the show, which meant it was the right time to try watching it as a family. Listening to the still, small voice never lets me down, and gives me hope for my future. All I can do is walk this path, step by step with my goals in front of me, lighting the way.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Fighter

Jason and I went on a date afternoon yesterday to see The Fighter before the Oscars this evening. It was the last nominated film that I really wanted to see before the awards are handed out. I have always been a Mark Wahlberg fan, and there were so many rave reviews for Christian Bale's performance as a crack addicted ex-boxer that I wanted to check it out for myself.

I loved the film. Christian Bale is astonishing in his ability to utterly inhabit a character; to live in someone else's skin and merge who he is into another person. If he doesn't get the Best Supporting Actor statue tonight for his portrayal of Dickie Eklund, I will be shocked. He deserves it, and then some. The movie touched something personal for me in the family issues it tackled, and clarified a few things in a crystal clear manner for me.

The first is that all families are dysfunctional on some level. Everyone places expectations on everyone else, and falls into roles, and then spends a lifetime trying to untangle some of the knots in their own personal ropes based on childhood. This recognition both comforted and terrified me when I think of my two small children, and what they are learning in our home, and I wonder what their particular struggles will be when they become adults.

The second is that family is important, but there are lines that should not be crossed, and sometimes we have to make hard choices in an effort to change patterns which are not healthy. These decisions have big consequences, and hopefully the hard times are short lived in the context of the overall length of the relationships, and that improvements occur which eventually help everyone.

The third is that long relationships count for something. There are exceptions made for bad behaviour in the name of family, and we will often extend that olive branch again and again for family in a way that we might not do for friends, and hopefully grace and mercy is at play to help smooth over the rough parts. It is true that family is forever, and it's a good thing when you can improve the quality of the interaction so that the forever part of the equation becomes a more satisfying relationship.

I was emotionally invested and involved in this film from the first frame. It felt personal to me, and provided a glimpse into a family which felt familiar to me. It was honest and gritty and real. There were no pat answers or quick fixes in the film, just like life, but there were a group of people who loved each other at the core, and wanted to be loyal to each other, even when that bond came at a high personal price.

It's always easier to resolve situations in a movie setting, but I found hope in the idea that it can be messy to find our own way as adults within our families, particularly when the childhood manner in which you related to one another could use some renovation. It's good to find a better way of relating to each another, but not simple or easy to change the way you functioned before. Change usually involves a fight, in one way or another, and the film beautifully represented this experience for me.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Opening My Hand

I just wrote about how I need to learn to open my clenched fist, and let go of things I can't control, particularly complicated relationships. It seemed like I was far away from being able to do that when I wrote that post, but something miraculous happened yesterday, and it all felt a little easier. There was nothing monumental, no trumpets or fanfare, just a quiet feeling inside, and a peace came that I've been longing for and have found to be unreachable.

The ebbs and flows of our lives are endlessly fascinating to me. It's either hard or it's easy, or somewhere in between, but there are so many variables to our daily existence that you can't predict how you are going to feel from any moment to moment. I'm slowly learning to go with the flow of what is happening, for there is always something to learn. When it's good, I can enjoy being happy and peaceful, and when it's hard, I can look at what I have to change in order to get back to the state I would prefer to live in.

There are always areas under our control, but it's equally true that many things happen to us that we can't control, except for our response to them. To everything there is a season, and reasons for why circumstances bend and turn either with us or against us. I worked so hard to manufacture peace and joy when I wasn't genuinely experiencing them, and when I finally relaxed into the hurt and the pain, I found I was able to unclench my hand and surrender, and that was where the peace was all along.

Surrender is an important part of the human experience. We all find a gap between what we want and what happens to us, because we can control our own reactions but not the other person's. I'm discovering that it's okay to feel the negative spectrum emotions like anger and grief. If I feel them, I can eventually let them go. I'm not afraid of them any more, and moving past that fear has been extremely liberating.

Letting go feels much better than hanging on. For anything, like resentments and grievances and irritations and even the best and happiest things. We don't own anything in this life, only our experiences and memories, and they can turn from good to bad and back to good again in an instant. We don't take anything with us when we die except for who we are, and I want to be as fully developed in myself as I can, cultivating the best of my personality qualities and trying to let go of what I don't like about myself. I want to leave behind encouragement and laughter, not bitterness and complaining.

I'm all ready to send my blog book for 2010 to the printer, and while it's printing, I'll be adding a shopping cart button to my website so that books can ordered. The printed version will be soft cover with 320 pages for $45 and the pdf version will be available for $10. I'm also giving one printed book away to my readers, so if you read regularly but haven't created a Google account to follow, please do before March 15th so you'll be included in the draw. I'm excited about this first printed book, and I'm so grateful for all of your support for me as a writer by reading daily and participating actively in my dream to write.

Friday, February 25, 2011

No Hospital Corners

I am trying to forgive some people, and it's hard going. I know I don't want to hold on to resentment and anger any longer, but I want to genuinely find my way in these sticky situations. This year has been about drawing boundary lines, around my own heart and my immediate family, and bolstering up my own confidence to stand up for those dividing lines. Sometimes it's easy to do, and I'm clear on what I'm doing and why, and other times the road is filled with potholes and land mines, and I'm completely unsure of where I'm going.

I do know it's a process, and there are no quick fixes. When we are hurt, by people or bad timing, or situations which spiral out of control and the outcome we hoped for is not going to happen, we have to walk through our feelings and emerge on the other side with as much of our dignity as possible. I want to be myself, in each situation I'm in, and stop giving up pieces of my personality to the highest bidder.

The worst part is that no one is pressuring me to do anything, and I am my own worst enemy. I am beating myself up mercilessly, and giving up too much, and blundering around like an ox in a china shop too much of the time. I think I have forgotten to listen to the still, small voice, which has never failed to guide me if I will only stop to listen, and I've been responsible for more than just myself.

There is an element of emotional mess which we all must live with. I can't have hospital corners all of the time, much as I would like everything to be neat and orderly. Life does not work that way, and it's not up to me to fix it all, and make it easier for others. We must all do our own share, and if it's messy, I have to find a way to live with that.

I wish we walked a linear path in this life, with A leading to B which leads to C and all the way to Z. But that is not what I see. It's more like a zigzag road, moving forward and then sideways and then backwards, and with a lot of hard work, we can inch forward again. God works in spite of all of the brokenness that lives inside of us, and that is a marvel in itself.

I have to stop yearning for order and peace, especially when the ball is not solely in my court. I can't force solutions to big problems. I can only play my part, and improve my side of the interaction, little by little, and work on myself outside of the bigger relationship pictures. I feel raw on the inside, and while it's uncomfortable, it means something is happening, and I'm glad for that budding growth.

Forgiveness is not a light process. It is hard physical work, looking at painful events and deciding to learn what you can from the interaction and to intentionally let go of the hurt you feel. And it's a fluid thing, ongoing, not done once and then over with. That's the hardest part of all for me. It's not neat and tidy, because when you see the people involved and have to face it again and again, you must decide how to respond in each circumstance. I want to be intentional and genuine, and not fake and on the surface, and that never stops being difficult.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Parenting Goal

Yesterday I dropped Ava off at our Community Centre for a three hour craft class. She went to a card class a few weeks ago, and was excited about the chance to go to this one, where they were making an accordion photo album. There was a girl from her Grade Two class in the first one she went to, but when I dropped her off for this longer class, every girl was at least three years older than Ava.

She didn't pause or hesitate when we walked in, but after scanning the room we both knew that there wasn't anyone her age, and only one girl in Grade Five that she really knew. Ava chose a seat by her, and took her coat off, and began sorting her photos (predominantly of the kittens) while I hung around for a few minutes, hesitant to leave my daughter in a room full of older girls who were giggling and talking to each other.

It's hard to let go of our school-age kids. When they are preschoolers, and home with us, we are the centre of their world and can control most of what happens to them. This is not the case when they go to school, and lessons, and craft classes where they have to find their way without you to guide them.

I know in my head that it's important for our kids to find their way socially. For the rest of their lives, they need these skills to make it in any new setting. That head knowledge doesn't always help when my heart squeezes because I don't want my beloved child to be hurt, or feel ostracized, or left out for any reason. I have to believe that she will be fine, and that it's important for her to find ways to fit in and feel comfortable, and she won't learn anything if I smooth the way for her every time.

The world is a big and frightening place, and as parents we must keep the main goal front and centre as our priority, and that is to take a dependent child and turn them into an independent adult. This is my plan, and my ambition, and my dream for my kids: to see them transformed into healthy, giving, functional adults who don't need me to be able to make it in the world. To get there they need to feel uncomfortable, and unsure, and experience pain from time to time. I cannot intervene in that process, or I run the risk of taking something critical away from them.

It's just easier said than done. As philosophies go, I agree wholeheartedly, but the challenge comes in walking it out in real life. When I picked her up, after feeling low-grade anxiety for the duration of the class, I was relieved and thrilled to hear her glowing report. She made new friends, and shared laughs and memories with girls who are no longer strangers to her. She was worried and unsure when she walked in the room, and confident and happy when she walked out. That's the goal, and it was achieved yesterday, even if we both had to grow a little to get there.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Preconceived Notions

The gap between anticipation and result is where most of our human frustration lies. At least for me, anyway. I have a series of preconceived ideas about how I want a situation to go, or a person to act, and when it doesn't turn out the way I hope it will, I become disappointed. Managing these expectations takes up a lot of my precious time and energy, and often I set myself up for failure by expecting what others cannot provide.

Life would be much easier if we didn't expect anything from anyone. We are all human, and we all fail, so you would think this knowledge would help, but often it becomes lost in the shuffle. As a culture, entitlement is at an all-time high, and I chafe against the idea that my children should feel owed anything at all, so why do I often get caught up in this mistaken belief?

As I get older, I like to think I'm getting wiser, and in some areas I can say with certainty that I am improving. Not so the case in other areas. The bar for myself is set impossibly high, and I neglect to lower it for others. Hell, I can't reach it for myself, so I have no idea why I would hold other people to those same standards.

I can only do what I can do, and for others the same principle applies. I know this, somewhere in the murky recesses of my mind, but my soul often hangs on to the preconceived notion, when I should be opening my tightly clenched fist and letting it all go. Holding on to hurt and anger doesn't hurt the other person nearly as much as it hurts me.

We all need, and we all hurt, and we must all own what belongs to us. No one else will be inspired by our stoic stiff-upper-lip. If we hurt, we must talk about it, and share, and ask for what we cannot provide for ourselves. I would sooner lose a limb than admit I need help, and this is a problem for me, one that I am slowly working through and trying to find a solution. I can't hold this shortcoming of mine against other people.

It's easier to reach out to those who we know will not wound us. The problem is that we have all been hurt, even by those we love and trust most, and sometimes those scars run deep, and form who we are at our core, and we need to learn to break out of our shells and trust again. Life is hard, but it is hard for everyone, and I do find that it's better to expect less from others, and try to provide what I need for myself, or look to a more perfect being for ways to fix the gaping holes in my psyche (i.e. God).

Accepting that all human progress is bumpy and messy and awe-droppingly beautiful all at the same time is the only starting place I know of. There are no quick fixes, particularly for long-held problems, and understanding that the road is long and dark helps to bring peace to the trouble I see all around me. We are meant to hold the light for each other when our energy flags out and we can no longer see. That's what encouragement and community is for. If we don't build into others they won't build into us, and we won't have anyone to help us share the load.

Working to lower my expectations on others and myself is a life-long process. Being aware that it's an issue is the first step, and after that comes a lot of emotional mess, but sorting through it bit by bit offers the chance to grow at every turn. It's better to offer as much love and grace as we can, to ourselves and to others, and hope for the same in return. Where it doesn't come back to us, we have choices. We can stay and try to improve the give and take of the relationship, or we can leave, and forgive to let go of any lingering resentment. Life is too important to waste being angry and feeling let down. I am not perfect, and I make mistakes, and I must remember this when it's easier to look at the shortcomings of others.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

To Everything a Season

We took the kids to a film festival in south Calgary yesterday, where they turned the lobby of the theatre into a working film set and encouraged children of all ages to fill key positions to shoot scenes. Ava chose acting, which didn't surprise me in the slightest (the apple doesn't fall far from the tree), and went to makeup as Puss In Boots and then shot a short scene with a boy made up and costumed as Shrek. William was supposed to be Donkey, but at the last minute buried his face and refused to walk on the set, which also didn't surprise me.

Ava rehearsed her dialogue while they had other kids work the camera, the dolly, and the boom mike, and set up a director and a producer at the monitors. She didn't appear at all nervous, and when the director called "action!" in the cutest little voice, I got goosebumps watching her perform. There is something about seeing your dreams reflected in the eyes of your child which brings inspiration on an entirely new level.

I dreamed of making movies and performing in movies since the time I was Ava's age, but the opportunity and the encouragement was in short supply. My family and friends told me that working in the movies wasn't a real job, and as I didn't live in Los Angeles, I should forget it. I never did forget it, but it became a flame which burned at a low level as I grew into adulthood.

Working on a feature set at Tri-Star Pictures in 1993 was the realization of all of my filmmaking dreams, but when it came time to fill out my paperwork and get paid, it became tricky with my Canadian citizenship and US student visa but no work permit. I was asked by several department heads to come with them on their next films, as I threw myself into my office assistant job with an enthusiasm that knew no limits at all. I was as happy as any person has ever been, but I couldn't continue without a valid work permit.

I moved to Vancouver after that, where the film industry was in its infancy, but stronger than anything happening in Alberta at that time. I starved for six months looking for work, knocking on every door, doing the same things I did to get work in LA, but the doors just didn't open for me. Eventually I temped in a forestry office, and then my car died and I needed a new one, and I took a full-time position to be able to afford it. The rest is history.

I look back on those six days on the lot in Culver City, California as one of the best times of my life, but I know I want to write my way back in this time, and not work as a PA for eighteen hour workdays anymore. Those days are behind me now, and I'm finally satisfied with that. But to see a light go on in my daughter's eyes yesterday brought it all back to me in force, not with longing but with a deep sense of joy. What goes around comes around, and I can encourage her to the skies to pursue her dreams with reckless abandon, and offer all of the support she could ever want or need. My kids can do anything they want. There is no "approved" occupational list for them. I want them to dream, and to build foundations under those dreams.

Anything is possible at any time for any of us, but there are seasons for everything, and reasons for why certain things come to us at specific times, and why certain things pass us by. I used to ride such an emotional roller coaster when it came to my dreams, but now I'm settled into myself in a way I couldn't conceive of before, and I look back at the winding, twisty road which got me from childhood to here, and I love where I'm at and who I am, and wouldn't change anything even if it were possible to.

Monday, February 21, 2011


I spent the day yesterday editing my screenplay. As most writers will tell you, it's hard to edit. Cutting out our gems of dialogue and carefully constructed set-ups hurts like you are shaving off a section of yourself, or at least it used to until I saw a different side of the equation yesterday. With each unnecessary line I cut, I felt lighter and could feel the scene zipping along faster.

About halfway through my edit, I began to really enjoy trimming out anything and everything that I could. I felt grateful for the friend of a friend (a living, breathing screenplay writer living in LA) who took the time to read my script as a favour and gave me extremely valuable feedback. He offered a few specific technical hints which have helped me to shave precious pages from my movie when it was becoming too bloated and lengthy.

I began this long-overdue revision with a sense of trepidation. I found many reasons to procrastinate, fearing that more change would simply weaken the spine of the story and dilute down any impact it may have once had. So I waited, and yesterday I realized how great it was to have had these months off so that the story seemed fresh to me again, and I could see where it was dragging and where it was building tension the way it was supposed to.

Those fresh eyes are critical, and as I'm in that beautiful stage of writing only for myself, with no stressful deadlines, I can benefit from my own delays by getting reacquinted with my characters and finding that I still like them. My new screenwriter friend gave me incredibly valuable advice, paired with a recent read of the excellent screenwriting manual Story by Robert McKee, and suddenly issues I was blind to before jumped off the page at me. I didn't expect to have fun in this seventh re-write of a story I initially conceived at fifteen years of age, but yesterday I did find pure joy in the art of playfully creating on the page.

It's possible that working on my memoir and my novel over the past few months has strengthened my abilities as a screenwriter in ways I didn't perceive or expect. Scripts are a medium of brevity: action and focused dialogue move a script from beat to beat, through scene to scene, and eventually from act to act, until the precipitating event has culminated in a satisfying and yet somewhat unexpected conclusion.

You don't have room to grandstand or pontificate in a screenplay. You may only write what can be seen, not what is felt or thought. Moving into a novel allowed me such freedom to delve into the inner state of a person, in a way that I've never been able to do in a script, and I found the lifting of this stricture to be exhilarating. But moving back to my script, I could see where I had many unnecessary words, for film is about the image, and the power of that image must be the first consideration. Subtext trumps actual dialogue and action. The scene should be about what is churning beneath what is said and done, and I can bring that understanding to my screenplay now in a way that was absent before.

This will strengthen my writing, for all mediums, as it's critical to be ruthless with what we have written. William Faulkner said, "Kill all your darlings," and he was right. It might be exactly what you want to say, but utterly wrong for the piece you are working on, and must be cut in order for that scene to break free and move. I understood this in an intellectual way but not a practical way until yesterday's edit. Making progress in anything we do feels wonderful. It means we are on the right road, and we are getting a little better at what we do every single day.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


I'm not good at being angry. I would prefer sadness or fear or any other emotion instead of cold-blooded rage. I get stalled out when I experience anger, because I usually rush through it to a more comfortable emotion, and don't give it the reins to move at its own pace and finish what is going on. I think I fear what anger can do, because I only tend to observe it destroying people and situations, but it is part of the human spectrum, and I don't want to shy away from it anymore.

Learning to experience my own anger without censoring or explaining it is unbelievably hard for me. I shut it down, and squeeze it out through tears instead, but as I learned in a group counselling class many years ago, anger is not the same as sadness, and should not be treated the same way. I understand that in my brain, but not in my heart where I think the lesson needs to play itself out.

Anger has a specific job to accomplish if we will release our death grip on it and let it go. It brings those sharp feelings from the dark into the light, and offers the benefits of a summer storm if we don't halt it midway through. We can't stay there, and we aren't meant to, but it's like a red flag alerting us to something we might not be aware of otherwise. We've all seen repressed anger in action, and often I've wished the person would let loose and let me have it, instead of working so hard to suppress those emotions, but then when it's my turn I end up doing exactly the same thing.

What do I fear so much about anger? Is it not being accepted if I say something unacceptable while I'm angry? Is it worry that I'll go out of control and not be able to reign myself in? Those with perfectionistic tendencies fear a loss of control over anything else, and this may be at the root of my panic in this area. It's another reason I don't drink to be tipsy or drunk (growing up with an alcoholic father ties in there too, but losing control and embarrassing myself is a huge factor as well).

I've worked so hard to exorcise my perfectionism, but perhaps now I need to look at what is underneath of it, and what contributes to the facade I've tried to create of order and calm, when there is often this anger churning in the dark waters deep below. I don't let anyone see these things, myself included, and coming to terms with this emotion is a big part of my ability to move through this dark place and emerge into the light.

I think I'm rapidly approaching the place where I would rather look at the scary stuff than remain stuck. It's critical to my development as a person to let go of these areas which have held power over me for far too long. I want to own myself, and that includes looking one by one at the claws which reach out from my childhood to drag me down. We all have these areas, even in the most blissful childhoods, and my childhood was not of the Norman Rockwell postcard variety.

Doing some work on ourselves moves us forward, but it also serves to show us how far we have yet to go. It's okay to feel trepidation as we uncover these mossy rocks and see what is festering in the mud of our souls. There is no shortage of garbage there, and all I can do is turn them over one by one, and bravely face and experience what I find there, and keep walking my individual path toward growth. I want to be in the light, and that requires looking at what lurks in the darkness.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Social Media

We watched this fabulous four minute video called Social Media Revolution 2 at a school division meeting I attended earlier this week, and it cemented the knowledge I already possessed that social media is not going away. It's not a passing fad. Facebook and Twitter and possibly blogging will change forms many times in the future, but they will continue to exist in some form, and it is counterproductive to bury our older heads in the sand and hope that these forms simply disappear into the night.

Social media is here to stay. The video is based on the book Socialnomics by Erik Qualman, and it makes points which are very hard to ignore about the power of social media. The world I grew up in, where we bought products based on print and television advertising, no longer exists. Now we want to hear word of mouth (or "world of mouth" as Qualman calls it) before we pay hard-earned money for anything.

Radio took 58 years to reach 50 million users, television took 13 years, the internet took 4, and Facebook added 200 million users in less than a year. The world is changing at the speed of light, and social media is the delivery system for this information. It is the future of our children. There was a lot of discussion at our table about the negative aspects of social media, and very few positives were highlighted.

Some of the concerns raised included the etiquette of teens using smartphones instead of communicating in person with actual human beings, kids inappropriately using Facebook and Twitter to air grievances and share too many personal things, and the frightening decline of the proper use of the English language through ridiculous abbreviations for texting and social media. I could not argue with any of these. I agree wholeheartedly, but I made the point that these concerns are not limited to teenagers. Many adults struggle with the same problems.

As I see it, the learning curve for social media is steep, and is to blame for a lot of the negative associations people have for Facebook and Twitter in particular. None of us know how to use them properly, and we are all making mistakes. Anything new requires all users to feel their way blindly through the maze for a period of time, until you find your groove and feel more sure of yourself.

It's easy to blame teenagers for what is wrong with social media, but we must also look at ourselves. Do we use our status updates to engender sympathy for our various sicknesses or to complain about how awful our lives are so that people will make the appropriate caring noises? Do we brag about what used to be hidden good deeds so we will be lauded for them? Do we share when we are weeping and so lonely we can't stand it on our Facebook status instead of picking up the phone to call someone who could actually help us?

There are so many positives to all forms of social media, and the same amount of negatives. Learning how to use them effectively is primarily an exercise in trial and error. For the promotion of business and products you want to sell, there is no parallel sales tool as efficient as social media. Positive word of mouth will get you more sales than any costly advertising campaign, and Facebook and Twitter connects people and provides a conduit for instant information, both good and bad.

None of us can ignore it. It's here and will always be here in some form. For those of us who are over 35, it can be challenging to stay current, but if you want to thrive in the world our kids are growing up in, you are better off jumping on board sooner rather than later. Someone has to light the way so the path is not so dark and uncertain for the kids we are raising. Social media is not our enemy; it is simply new and requires a willingness on our part to learn and change as it evolves. The same things which were debated when the internet was birthed are at play again when we consider the dawn of social media.

The etiquette side of the equation has yet to be determined, but I want to be in there helping to negotiate a better solution than what I'm currently witnessing. I want my kids to put personal interaction ahead of staring at a screen. This is easier said than done, I'm more than aware of that, but if I'm glued to my iPhone and my husband to his BlackBerry when the kids are talking to us, they will learn that it's okay to tune people out. They will then do the same thing, and it's not fair for me to complain about their lack of respect when I showed them the behaviour in the first place.

We are all living in an exciting time. Everything is changing, and instead of focusing on the negative, we have a chance to make it work for us and for our kids in the most positive sense. But we have to be aware of it, and invested in using technology to suit our needs and not being overtaken by it. I don't want to be left behind when my kids are in school and leap-frogging over me with what they can do when it comes to technology and social media. I want to be there with them. They can teach me, and I can teach them, but I cannot pretend that it will eventually go away.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Black & White to Colour

I feel aware of a peaceful feeling, the kind of emotion which can precede a flurry of activity. I'm calmly writing my memoir and novel, both of which are flowing well and progressing at a reasonable rate toward eventual completion. I'm re-working my screenplay, for the seventh time, which might have been a daunting prospect a number of years ago, but now seems entirely reasonable to me. I'm trying to enter it in a few contests with deadlines in the middle of March, and I know I'll get it in a better condition by the time the deadline arrives.

I recently bought my own name as my eventual URL for my author website ( - no point in going there yet since it's an empty space, but eventually it will be a site with content on it) and I'm almost ready to send my blog book to print. I have my author photos done, both my headshot and a good family photo to include on the dedication page, and my photographer friend is hoping to finalize the cover illustration photo we've discussed next week. My book of blog posts from 2010 will be a dream come true when it arrives and I'm able to actually hold it in my hand, and feel its weight, and read through its pages.

This dream to write is very slowly turning into a reality. Day by day, step by step, I can see it taking shape, in ways I've dreamed of and many directions I couldn't begin to conceive of when I dared to let my mind drift ahead down this road. I have stopped hurrying, and worrying, and trying to force things which were not ready to occur yet. I have settled in for the long haul, and developed a long range plan, and I am moving forward in the direction I want to go, and that is all that matters.

I think there was only one way for me to learn to settle down within myself, and that was the hard way. This past year has been one of the most difficult I have ever lived through, with conflict on all sides, everywhere I looked, and many personal issues to work through, one by one, and I'm still in the middle of this process. But I can glimpse where all of this soul-searching and change is leading me, and I like how authentic and true it feels, versus the many false ways I had previously constructed and lived within.

It's painful to go from fake to real. From false to true. I'm not remotely where I want to be, but I know for sure that I won't go back to the old ways which helped me make it through but stopped me from flourishing and growing in a recognizable way. It really does feel like that moment in The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy opens the door and everything changes from black and white to full colour. That's what this year has been.

I didn't understand that I was living in shades of grey until I experienced the fullness of colour. I kept my feelings buried deep under the surface before, and now I've brought them to the light, little by little, and found that by exposing them, I could free myself from the power they held over me. I wanted to be in control of my life and my feelings, instead of being at their mercy. I wanted to own myself, and develop my confidence and profession, and feel that I was worthy of what I was pursuing.

It's been a long and windy road, but worth every tear and fear and insecurity. I have slowed down within myself, and that has changed the pace of how I live my life, and helped me learn to enjoy each day instead of tallying up what I haven't accomplished and going to bed disappointed with myself. Now I look at what I am doing, bit by bit, and valuing my relationships and leisure higher on the priority scale. If it's all blinding ambition, you miss the rest of the joys that life can provide.

I have time. I am alive, and healthy, and have a future in which to make my dreams a reality. Step by step is the only real way to build something. I've shed the mistaken idea that I should find overnight success without working for it. I wouldn't want that now, even if it was offered to me. I want to build it, see it grow, and keep discovering new layers of colour in my daily landscape.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Authority Figures

I'm slowly realizing that I have a hard time standing up to authority figures, whether they are real or imagined. I seem to lose all of my confidence when I perceive I'm being pressured to do something, and would prefer to take on extra stress for myself than to push back and say no. I did not see this before, and it's been a strange surprise to find it rearing up this week and look at possible root causes.

I have always told myself that I'm uncomfortable around older men because my relationship with my dad was so difficult, but it turns out these concerns are not limited to men. The women I perceive to be in authority over me cause stress when I disagree with something they tell me, or I want to make my voice heard. I don't think any of them actually hold any real authority over me, but if I have given them that place of honour in my mind, it doesn't matter whether or not its anchored in reality.

Seeing this for the first time is extremely interesting and I believe this understanding will help me in the future. I don't want to upset or offend anyone for any reason, particularly people older than me. By nature I want to get along, and keep the peace, but as I get older I am not willing to pay the personal price when it gets too high.

I can't be all things to all people, and no one really expects this of me. It's in my own mind. I am giving myself far too much credit when I worry that people will be crushed if I can't help them out or I don't do what they've asked me to do. Finding and holding boundaries is a critical exercise in learning to live as an adult in our busy and stressful world, and we have to teach our children how to do this respectfully as they grow up.

Most of our problems are rooted deep within ourselves. When I am upset, and stressed out, and can't seem to find a reason, it's worth the time to sit down and think about it until I find a reasonable answer. This week, the answer seemed so shockingly silly and trivial that I glossed right over it. But in my mind, I went back to it again and again, asking myself what I wanted to do, instead of what I felt I was being asked to do, and I found my answer.

There are many reasons for my issues with authority figures, but the reasons aren't as important as the discovery itself. Now that I'm aware of it, I feel a little less nuts than I did before this awareness dawned, and I can see the pattern repeating itself again and again in my past. Now hopefully I can stop it from holding any power over my future.

I want to help others, and respond positively to the authority figures in my life (and look at removing them as authority figures to create a more even playing field), but I also have a say. I need to put my own state of mind and the needs of my family higher on my priority scale, and I don't have to apologize for that.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


In 2010 I wrote a few posts about walking uphill with a backpack full of rocks, and eventually setting the pack down and trying to walk away from it. It was a metaphor, but one which came back to me in force when I was talking with a photographer friend about the cover illustration for my blog book. My blog is about a lot of different things, from identity to personal growth to freedom, all of which are lofty ideas and therefore difficult to capture in a single image.

I like the backpack full of rocks because it's an ongoing struggle to remove it and leave it by the side of the road. Our stress is mainly caused by our own decisions and attitudes, and if we remember to shed our burdens we can walk a lot easier than if we schlep them around with us. The problem is the remembering. Most people hold on tight to what causes them discomfort, myself included, because it's what we know, and we are afraid of what we don't know.

For me, putting other people's problems and feelings into my backpack is an area I struggle with. I forget that I'm not supposed to do that. Each person must be responsible for their own stuff. I only need to be concerned about what is under my direct control, and wasting time and energy stressing over problems I can't affect the outcome of is utterly useless and exhausting. I wasted a lot of time living like that, and it's hard to change course, even though I know in my mind that it's better for me to dump out this backpack and remove what doesn't belong in there.

I wish it was easier to change the parts of ourself that require ongoing maintenance. The old stuff tends to come back, again and again, to weigh us down and increase our anxiety when we should be looking for ways to lower it. I want to live with peace and joy as my companions, not fear and frustration. I know that I have the right to choose what my attitude will be, I just hate that I forget to be proactive about it, and end up falling back into my old ways so easily.

Life is an uphill climb. But when we stop, take off the backpack full of rocks, and look around, often the view is inspiring enough to encourage us to keep walking. We are alive, and we have today to improve ourselves, and to minimize stress and panic, and find new ways to manage the hardest parts of our existence. I want to move forward, not stay in one place or slide backwards. There is more to learn, to experience and to discover. I have another chance, and I want to walk my path without the weight of a hundred rocks which don't belong in my backpack.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


In an interview, author Alice Walker said, "In fact, in hard times, we are advised by all wise people to look to the margins of a culture, not the center." This sentence struck me in its simplicity and truth, and I think it says something about our society. The center is where the masses are, with homogenous ideas, and the margins are where the free thinkers tend to reside.

Having spent most of my life firmly in the middle (well, more to the right of the middle, but definitely "inside of the box" as opposed to outside of it) it is very freeing to move to the side and see what that view is like. Everything looks different when you open your mind to one thing, because it stretches like an elastic band to make room for many new ideas and perspectives.

Initially, these changes terrified me, and I thought for sure I was sliding off some theological cliff into no man's land where people become liberal and start wearing flowered muu-muu's and holding enormous placards. I have always steered clear of activists and was afraid to become a person obsessed with justice, poverty or other social issues, but thinking in the margins doesn't mean taking up a cause, it just means I have the freedom to bend my thinking.

I don't want to believe something simply because I always have, or because my parents did, or because it's easier to accept what I've been told instead of thinking through it myself. I find the process of wrestling through my own ideas and beliefs to be rewarding in itself, even if none of my ideas change. I enjoy possessing the confidence to know I can change if that seems to make more sense to me.

Looking to the margins of society offers us the chance to take on a perspective radically different from our own, especially if we have lived our life in mainstream society with all of its acceptable norms and practices. When times are hard, in the economy or in the social aspects of mainstream culture, I think that the people on the outside looking in have what it takes to lead a revolution which will provide solid change. I love that idea; that there is room for everyone to play and make a difference, regardless of where you have been or are going. We all have the possibility to create change, in our lives and in the lives of others, but we must stop living in the shadows and come out into the light in order to make a difference.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day

On this Valentine's Day, the predominant emotion I feel is gratitude. I'm thankful for my husband, who gives more and more of himself with each passing year, to me and to our children. He makes me laugh, and gives me a place of safety to return to, and colours our entire family life with his steadfast goodness.

My two children are also blessings of the highest order. They are healthy, and happy, and wickedly hilarious. They give love and receive it effortlessly, and inspire me with their imaginations and hopeful dreams. They are the next generation, and they fill my heart with pride and optimism. Even when I'm counting down the seconds until they go to bed because they are driving me nuts with requests and colour commentary, I love them with a feeling that is as deep and wide as any ocean.

My friends are also an important part of my life on Valentine's Day. Each one of them offers something different to me, and the love and support of my closest friends is like oxygen to get me through my days. I hope I am able to offer a fraction of what they give me back to them. Life without friendship is too lonely to even contemplate, and making time and space for people in our lives is an important piece of feeling satisfied and rich in this world. Community is a gift which must be regularly appreciated and noticed.

Extended family can also be a port in a storm; a refuge when you need safety and assistance. I've spent a good portion of the last year working through some big family issues. It's been one of the hardest things I've ever done, but also one of the best. There are a lot of roots to examine in our families to try and find a better way of relating to each other, one that isn't so fraught with subtext and buried emotions. Bringing things into the light, and trying to find healthier ways of existing in the relationships, has been a beautiful and worthwhile experiment for me, and I'm grateful for both sides of my family on this day.

Life is equally hard and beautiful. It's like a coin we hold in our hands, and one side is inspiring and joyful, and the other is painful and frustrating. We get both at any given time, and must learn to walk the tight rope between pleasure and hurt. Getting older is good in this case, because you learn that everything is a season and will eventually pass. Change is inevitable, and comes to everyone, usually when we least expect it.

The best way I know to practice happiness is to access gratitude. To meditate for a few moments on all of the things I have, and let go of what causes me stress. Developing the courage to stand up for myself and the ability to draw and hold my boundaries has been one of the best discoveries of my life. It saved me, and added a new level of joy to my daily existence. I love my life, and on this day where it's customary to tell those special people how we feel about them, I find my gratitude bubbling up and overflowing.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Beneath the Surface

"Are you able to look beneath the surface? Go to the deep dark places and explore what is there. Ask what's beneath that? And what's beneath that? Look for what is underneath your assumptions of life. That's where you find something that will touch the soul." This quote, from Barnet Bain in What Dreams May Come, was in my daily e-mail script tip from Screenwriting U this week, and it jumped off the page at me.

This is what I have been doing in my personal life since the summer, looking deep beneath the surface at many of the ugly traits and fears which linger there. It's never easy to turn over this dirt in our soul which has laid undisturbed for decades, but much of the subtext of our lives comes from these dark places, and I'm trying to stop living in the shadows and start living in the light.

Fear is a big part of why we don't bother with these cellars in our subconscious. We worry that we will be overwhelmed with what we find buried there, but when I began to dig, I found that the fear subsided the deeper I got, because the anxiety was worse than what I actually found there. It hurts, there is no avoiding that, but when we see what we've been hiding, and decide to change the patterns which are unhealthy and not helping us at all, we move forward, and what is lurking in the darkness loses its hold on us.

This quote was given in the context of writing, of digging deep for your characters to find what is driving them, and what is under the surface of any given interaction, but I found it to carry meaning for my personal life as well. We all have assumptions that we don't even think about, and when we do stop to look at them, we may be surprised at what we find there.

It's not easy to look honestly at ourselves. Many people go from birth to death without ever really accessing the courage to be honest about who they are. We all fail, and no one is perfect, but the goal isn't perfection. It's growth, and progress, and becoming a little bit kinder and more loving with each day we are alive.

At least those are my goals. And I know I can't get there without looking unflinchingly at what is hiding in the shadows. It's not easy, but I believe that it is worth every tear I've cried and every shock I've uncovered. Honesty is much harder than lying to yourself, but it gets you much further down the road to being authentic and truly who you were meant to be, with no disguises. For better or for worse, that's the only life I want to live from now on.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


Today is the first Write-In, an idea I had after participating in the National Novel Writing Month challenge in November, and seeing on the chat boards that people assembled on weekends at local restaurants for Write-Ins to progress on their novels. It seemed as though solid writing communities were emerging from these sessions, in addition to people moving closer to achieving their word count goals by setting aside time to write.

Making writing time a priority is a challenge for me, and I know it to be a universal issue for most writers. Even if you don't have small children at home like I do, there are always distractions when you work from home. The dishes need to be washed, the laundry needs to be changed from washer to dryer, the phone rings, a knock is heard at the door, or your e-mail chimes. I wanted to escape those interruptions, even for a day, and see how motivating it could be to get out of my house and write.

I've been to scrapbooking days and retreats, and I found it enjoyable to get into the creative flow, and not be interrupted. There is an energy which develops from a group of people in the same place, pursuing creative accomplishments, and a hum of connectedness which I'm hoping will translate to us as writers.

Writing is a lonely occupation, and I'm looking forward to working on my own projects while in the company of other like-minded individuals. I'm hoping today's Write-In is the first of many, and that they spool out from my small town to other communities. I had a call from a writer in Milwaukee, WI who saw the newspaper article about the Write-In, and wanted more information to organize something similar for her local writer's group. My dream would be to see these kinds of events spread far and wide to connect more writers and provide a chance to avoid distractions and progress in their writing projects.

Another great thing which has come from this event is the chance for me to speak to middle school kids about writing. A school librarian saw the newspaper article and called me to ask if I have spoken in schools. I said, "No, but I'm willing to come, as I might have been further ahead in my writing career if I had been encouraged from an early age." I love the idea of inspiring kids that writing is a valid career path, and speaking about writing is one of my favourite things to do because I feel so passionate about it, so I am excited about this future possibility.

I took a step of faith this week and bought my own name for my URL when I'm ready to develop an author website. First I need some products to discuss on the site, but every day that I write in my novel or memoir, or revise my screenplay, is a day closer to that dream being a reality. I'm working with a local photographer right now for the front and back cover of my blog book, and soon that will be printed and shipped to me, so I can hold my very first book in my hands. It's all ahead of me, and I can see it. I don't need to rush it, but knowing it's there gives me a thrill of excitement.

We all need dreams. They motivate and inspire us to keep going. When we have setbacks, we stop for awhile, but then pick ourselves back up and carry on. The future is brighter when we have something to look forward to, and when we understand that baby steps, one after the other, is what gets us there. Trying new things, like this Write-In, is all part of the process. I can't wait to get to work today, to invest eight hours in myself, and to meet other writers who I might not have met if this day didn't happen. I am looking days, months and years ahead, and I love what I see.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Nothing Left to Give

Yesterday was a long day, filled with frustration and worry and little things going wrong, and by the time the kids went to bed I felt that I had nothing left to give to anyone. When we are feeling weak and damaged inside of ourselves, each day can feel a hundred hours long, with tasks too big and demanding for what we actually have in resources to meet the challenges.

One of the best things about the growth and change I've experienced this year is the grace I'm willing to extend to myself. I used to offer it to my family and friends, but rarely to myself, and I've relaxed in my rigid expectations on what I can do. Sometimes I simply cannot manage the stress, and I am learning to admit that, to myself and to others, and there is immense freedom in not expecting myself to pretend I'm fine when I'm not.

I think we give what we can give, and then when we are buckling under the strain, we communicate this and withdraw to find energy to carry on. It was foreign for me to say to my family after dinner, "I can't do anymore for you right now. I still have laundry to do, and I'm exhausted from my day, and Daddy can help you because I need some time to myself."

I holed up to fold laundry and re-make my bed in silence, and explored why I was feeling so low, and when it was time to read stories to my kids at bedtime I was better able to concentrate on them. I don't know that I've ever done that before. Usually I would push through, getting my work done and focusing on the kids, but it would be clear in my words and attitude that I was burnt-out and frustrated.

Communicating and then withdrawing seemed like a better option. The cats went in for spaying and neutering yesterday, and Ava was worried about them, so I gave extra to her to help her through, even though I too was concerned about our littlest family members. Then the motor on our garburator fried out, and the sink began to back up, and when I called the plumber I hoped for a quick fix but discovered we needed a new disposal. Then the van gear shift stuck in park and it was really hard to get it to move to drive, and an intermittently annoying problem became more urgent.

Any one of those things on their own could have been handled individually and not defeated me, but the combination effect was too much, and it was freeing to admit that it was overwhelming. I didn't panic about the money we hemorrhaged out, which in itself is another sign of growth, because I used to worry about money almost all of the time. Now I recognize that we are healthy, and we love each other, and we have a good life together, and money is not as important as all of those things.

We have to take growth where we find it, and also accept our limitations where they exist. We can't do it all, and be everything to everyone, and sometimes as women and moms we must put our hand up, and say, "I need to recharge before I can continue." That's what yesterday was about for me, and I'm glad that in spite of frustration and difficulties, I am slowly learning to take care of myself, and not feel guilty about it.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Different Kids

I have to treat my kids as different people, not as one set of children. I often forget to do this, and I only have two, so I can't imagine how challenging it is for people with three, four, five or more children. Each of them is completely separate, with their own fears and dreams and values, and I must look at them as such.

For a long time, I had in my mind that William was the difficult child, and I responded to him accordingly, and Ava was the easy one. These kinds of labels are dangerous, because we make room for them in our minds, and begin to see everything in the light of those preconceived ideas. No child or person is "difficult" or "easy" or any one over-simplified thing. We are all complex individuals, with the possibility for change always present, and it's important to recognize this when interacting with others.

My kids need different things at different times. If I'm not responding to what they need, I'm missing out on ways to see them and help them. Children don't have the skills or the words to describe what they need at any given moment. Adults are responsible to usher them through complicated emotional situations. Simply asking, "What's wrong?" isn't enough to isolate the problem most of the time.

I made an appointment this week to get the kittens "pregnancy-proofed" (after I learned that a male cat will think nothing of knocking up his own sister) and when I told the kids, Ava acted like it was no big deal. I know she loves the kittens above all else, so I tried to explain the surgeries to her, and told her we could dote on them when they come home and they will be fine in a few days.

At bedtime, she burst into tears, and cried uncontrollably for a few minutes. When the torrent of emotion had passed, and I asked her what was wrong, she said, "I don't know." I asked if it was school, or friends, and finally asked if she was worried about the cats, and that was the golden ticket. We often have to work at the root cause of the worry, and when we find it and can talk about it, honestly and openly, the worry becomes manageable.

The appointment day has arrived, and the cats must go to the vet, and Ava needs extra reassurance and attention today. As a result, I'm going to bring her home from school for a special lunch with me while William is at preschool, and wait to pick up the cats from the vet until she is out of school for the day. She will want to be there when we get them so she can be part of the process.

Because I had it in my mind that Ava is "the easy one", I have in the past overlooked what she needs from me, and I don't want to do that anymore. She is not any easier or harder than William, but they are different from each other, with separate strengths and areas of weakness to identify and improve on. It's a lifelong process, but I understand now how important it is to get to know myself, so I can see my kids for who they are, and help them come into their own identities.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

They're In Love Again

Almost fifteen years after we fell in love the first time, Jason and I appear to be falling in love all over again. It's an interesting phenomenon, particularly since it has come out of nowhere with the force of a mack truck. It really does remind me of how I felt the first time around, where I thought of him every moment we were apart, and also the times we were together.

Writing my novel about marriage has brought me back to the beginning of my own relationship with Jason, where the butterflies flit around in your tummy, causing you to feel deliciously off-kilter, as though you are falling. The world seems brighter and happier, with your vision sharper than it has ever been before, which is part of the universal experience of falling head over heels in love with someone.

This time around it's even better, because of the history between us, and our children, and every experience we've had, both good and not-so-good, which has brought us to this day where we are still together, and would choose each other all over again.

I don't know why I'm feeling so satisfied and happy with my decision made so long ago to spend my life with this man. Possibly because so many other things are difficult and painful right now, but my primary relationship is rock solid, and that gives me a sense of safety that I can't find anywhere else.

Whenever we kiss or hug in front of the kids, Ava shouts out, "They're in love again!" We always laugh and carry on, but this time, it really does feel true. Sometimes when you are together with someone for a long time, you cease to notice them in your day to day existence, and it's important to shake your head and clear your vision so you understand in a fresh way how much that person matters to you.

I shook my head recently, and saw Jason as he is, a man who loves me and his kids and would do anything for us. He is good to his core, and somehow I had forgotten how loving he is when we had to work through some issues between us in the fall. But now we are in a different place, and we've come through some hard and hurtful things with honesty and care and grace, and we can love each other in a deeper, truer way.

As I change and grow, I am more and more open to being loved on a different level. Loving wasn't my problem, as I can love with reckless abandon, but being loved was my hang-up. I had walls up that are slowly coming down, and I can feel and see the difference in my primary relationships. I can appreciate the beauty nestled among the rubble, and feeling like a young girl falling in love for the first time is an unexpected bonus, and I'm going to enjoy it while it's here to be embraced.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

And Yet

I feel like I’m on autopilot, just barely hanging on most days, and yet there are also so many good things. When our emotions are raw and we feel like we can’t take any more pain in one area, we are often closely attuned to other emotional experiences which we might otherwise ignore. I call this “and yet”, because when I’m broken and hurting in one spot, I have the chance to find places to grow and be inspired if I will open my eyes to look for them.

I spoke to someone at Ava’s school who can help her with her recent bout of anxiety during the lock down last week. Recognizing that my daughter needs help that someone else can provide better than I can came much easier to me this time around. I sought out this person’s help at the beginning of Ava’s Grade One school year, when she was feeling unsafe during the lunch hour when her teacher would step out to eat.

At that time it felt like a personal failure for me to ask someone else to help my child. After a few visits to this counselor, Ava was back to herself again and she found new skills to help her manage her fears. This time around, I didn’t hesitate to ask for help because I could see Ava needed it, and the entire process was simpler. I’m confident she will get the help she needs.

I have also come to the end of my own abilities when it comes to managing the memories and emotions I am trying to walk through. The grass has simply grown up too high, and too fast around me, and I can no longer see where I am going. I too am afraid. And so I have made several appointments with the same psychologist who helped me see what was happening in my relationship with William this fall. After one session with her, my mother-son relationship was transformed, and I am still amazed at the difference it has made.

I want to find my way out of this scary place, and I know I need help to do it. I wish I could go today instead of early March, but knowing that the appointments are made is the first step to navigating my way with confidence again, and I can be kind to myself in the meantime. I don’t mind pain when I know it’s taking me somewhere, and I believe that it will all be worth it in the end. We can’t run from our past, or ourselves, for very long before it catches up and tries to overrun us. I want to be one step ahead, and not scrambling to catch up, and I need help to get there.

It’s always been torturous to admit that I’m not strong enough to make it on my own. It doesn’t mesh well with my personality, or my carefully constructed fiction that I can manage anything. Embracing the need and the cry for help is a completely new experience for me, and with it comes this flailing fear of embarrassment, and yet there is beauty in the ashes. I see things differently now. Vulnerability is part of strength, and it’s okay to make it visible.

I want to show my kids this puzzle piece of who I am, so they are not afraid of their own feelings of weakness and doubt. It’s acceptable not to have all of the answers, and to stumble from time to time. I don’t want them to pretend that they are okay when they are bleeding inside. I did that for most of my life and eventually you have to pay the piper, and I can tell them from personal experience that it’s better not to wait until you are thirty-eight to do it.

Sometimes it’s hard. We walk uphill and we need to rest but the world continues to move forward and we have no choice but to move with it. It hurts, but there is also beauty and moments of joy that will fill you with hope and excitement. Pain, and yet happiness, where you least expect it and when you need it most. Pleasure and pain are hopelessly intermingled in this life, and when one is with you so is the other one, if you will watch for it to visit you. This provides hope when it seems dark at the edge of the horizon. And yet. And yet. And yet.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Do the Right as We See the Right

We saw The King's Speech on the weekend, and discovered for ourselves why it's worthy of 12 Oscar nominations. This was Jason's pick for our date movie, as to say he is a history buff is the world's largest understatement, and to say that I don't enjoy historical films as a rule is dead on the money. In spite of those two things, we both loved this movie. Colin Firth makes anything better, and he was born to play King George VI, the insecure younger brother forced onto the throne and struggling to overcome a lifelong stammer and fear of speaking in public.

The story builds beautifully, developing the relationship between the King and his speech therapist as England hurtles faster toward the outbreak of World War II. The stakes are high when he delivers his first big radio speech, inspiring his people to be brave with war on their doorstep. One of the lines in his speech stood out to me, and gave me goosebumps. He said, "We can only do the right as we see the right."

In a year of immense personal change and upheaval, this simple statement, framed in the context of a global crisis, provided comfort to me. I can't worry about all of the things that are not under my control, and I can only do so much at any given time. I'm only responsible to make the decisions that I can see and understand at any particular moment. It's far too overwhelming to look beyond that.

It reminds me of the fantastic Maya Angelou quote, “You did then what you knew how to do, and when you knew better, you did better.” Step by step we can create change, which gives us forward momentum to improve day by day. We can't do it all at once, and that's okay. When we see something which needs to be changed, we can take action. Until we see it or recognize it, we can't fix it.

This thought relieved some of the pressure I put on myself to turn things around in my life. I can only do what is in front of me, and worrying about the rest simply drains my energy and divides my focus. I'm not expected to have it all figured out at this moment. That's what the rest of my life is for. But when I see what should be done or changed or fixed in front of me, I can work on that. I can only do the right as I see the right.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

What Love Is

I have been hurting, and asked God why I was feeling everything so deeply right now, and I heard that still, small voice whisper, "You are learning what love is." This phrase meant no sense to me at all, until I began to think about it more, and realized that I have always fought for the right to be loved.

I believed that love was tied into my behaviour. If I conformed and pleased the other person, I felt worthy of love. If I messed up, I felt the love dry up and go away, and I would do anything at all to get it back. The more I get to know myself, and learn to live as myself in the world, the clearer I am becoming on what I'm willing to do to be loved, and where I can relax and accept that love isn't meant to work that way.

We all have knots in our own ropes to untie, and the process of working through each knot is difficult and pinches when it's unfamiliar. When you do things one way for so many years, it's challenging to change your patterns, even if the change you are making is positive. All change is hard, and strange, and takes a long time to properly implement so it feels as normal as the old way used to.

I don't think I've experienced love in the way we are really meant to. I've traveled a certain distance in my relationships, and then closed a door somewhere inside of myself, and haven't been able to go deeper. I think God is gently showing me, in a way that doesn't feel gentle at all to me, that there are much deeper levels to being loved.

I want to be loved in the carefree way I love my own kids. I would give them everything I had, and then dig down deep for more, and then lay down in front of a moving car to be sure they were safe and cherished. I've simply never been able to experience that for myself, and this idea is revelatory for me. We can always heal, as long as we are alive, if we are willing to walk through the pain required to get to the other side of the healing. It hurts badly before it gets better, and I think I've turned a corner and can see things clearer than I could before.

I see how much Jason gives to me, and how little has actually fallen on the hard, protected soil of my heart. I want to open up this dry ground, and let myself believe that I am worthy of this kind of love. I don't have to earn it. It exists because he loves me as I am, with my flaws and my strengths, and I am enough for him in a way that I didn't understand until just now.

God is perfect, in a way no human is, and I look forward to discovering ways to learn more about how I don't have to strive to earn his favour and affection. He loves me simply because I exist, similar to how I love my children, and now I have to look at him differently because this idea didn't make sense to me before now. I couldn't see how it would be true for me, but I can glimpse it now. It's been a long road to get here, but love is worth it, and I want to know what love really is, not what I've made it out to be.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Fear & Relief

Yesterday I pulled up to the school to get Ava, the same as I do everyday, but this wasn't the same as every other day. The bell rang, and the doors didn't open. A minute went by. The parents hovering near Ava's door vanished. Not a single child came outside to the buses, waiting behind me, lined up in their neat row.

I felt the tingle start in my scalp and move down my back toward my feet; the kind of goosebumps which develop when you know something is wrong. I stepped out of my van, noticing that it was now three minutes past dismissal, and not a single elementary or high school child was outside.

A parent, not anyone I know, approached me and said, "Did you not get a call about what happened?" In that moment my blood ran cold. The temperature literally changed in my body, and I knew the kind of fear that one hopes never to experience. I shook my head, unable to form a reasonable thought, and he continued, "Some guy tried to grab a kid, and they locked down both schools. You'll have to go in the front doors to your kid's classroom."

He continued talking, something about how his kid had called on his cell phone to tell him, but I was hurrying to hustle William out of his booster seat. I needed to be in my daughter's school, to see her with my own eyes and know that she was safe, and to get to her as fast as possible. I needed proof that it was all going to be okay.

It seemed like the longest walk from my van to the front door of the school. I was wearing slip-on runners, and my socks were soaked from the melting snow, and I was dragging William by the hand, cursing how slow his little legs move. There was a throng of parents now, moving as one to the front doors of the school, and I felt marginally better being in the company of others instead of alone on the back side of the school.

We finally made it inside, and felt the chill which accompanies that hush of lowered voices, calm that is not calm at all, much like the moments in a funeral home before the service begins. I saw teachers and the principal and the school secretary, all at the front doors, providing information to parents who needed direction or had questions. I moved past them, as fast as I could, wanting to get to my girl.

I knew she would be upset, because I was late one day just before Christmas and she was in tears outside of her door waiting for me to pull up, and since then she has developed an anxiety about being left at the school. When I rounded the corner to her classroom, I heard her crying but didn't see her as all of the remaining students were with the teacher in the class.

When I got there she clung to me, relief all over her sodden face, and her body was trembling as I hugged her close. Her teacher had been holding her, and I was initially embarrassed that Ava was the only kid crying, but then grateful for the care and concern of her teacher. There was a general tension hovering in the air, and although I had no grasp of the details at that point, I could sense that it had been a tough day for everyone.

I calmed Ava down, reassuring her that I would always come for her, walking through fire if that's what was required to reach her. When her shuddering gasps slowed down, we walked out of the school, the three of us holding hands, and we were all shaken up. In the van, I pulled out the letter from the school and read about the lockdown procedures in both schools after the attempted abduction of a junior high student at 12:30 pm on the way back to the school from lunch.

We tend to feel safe in our small town, and we moved here because we didn't like the noise, traffic and violence of the big city. We wanted to know our neighbours and feel more involved in our community, and we got all of those things by living here. This kind of terror was not expected, by any of us, but thankfully our school has lockdown procedures in place, and had practiced them, and they were ready for such a crisis.

The child got away, unharmed, gave a physical description of the person and the vehicle, and reported it as soon as it happened. There was a happy ending for everyone, but I don't know if I've ever experienced that kind of fear in my life to this point, or the sheer volume of relief when I held Ava and saw that she was safe, and realized that all of the other kids were safe too.

Our world is a dangerous place. All we can do is the best that we can to provide for our own safety and for our loved ones, and leave the rest to God. Some days I have plenty of faith in this process, and other days I have very little. It's my job to shepherd my kids through their fears, and to help them live in the world with as little fear as possible. All we can do is our best. I was grateful yesterday, for safety, and for community, and for the fact that we are all in this together.

Friday, February 4, 2011

I'm Alive

Right after my dad died in the spring of 2002, Celine Dion released an album called A New Day Has Come, and one of the hit songs was called "I'm Alive." The song took on a whole new meaning after my dad's funeral, as I realized how fragile life can be, and found myself appreciating the gift of life in a way I was not capable of before.

I heard the song yesterday, for the first time in years, and in my memory I was brought back to my bedroom in the first house Jason and I bought in Langley, BC on a hot summer day. I was newly pregnant with Ava, and through the initial grief and shock of my dad's death, and I remember dancing to the song with the kind of riotous joy which visits us infrequently but makes an impact that lasts forever. I experienced the sheer delight of being alive, and glimpsing my future and feeling excited by what it would bring, and possessing the unshakeable certainty that everything was going to work out in the end.

Looking back, I see how far I have come, but also that I was right to feel that kind of optimism. So many good things have happened to me in life, and they were easy for me where they have been so hard for others. Getting pregnant, for one, and carrying two babies to term. Having the privilege of steady employment, for myself and for Jason, which led to owning our own homes, and eventually financial stability. Our two children have been healthy, and so have we, and we have not done anything specific to deserve these kinds of blessings.

These reflections remind me to be more appreciative of what I have been given. It takes a lot of time and energy to be negative, and I've wasted a lot of those resources over the years complaining about minor inconveniences instead of focusing on the wonderful things which are right in front me. Life is good, and most importantly, we are alive and healthy enough to enjoy it. The rest must be forgotten. I don't want to dwell on what I'm missing, but rather on what I possess, and the material things are the least important possessions I have.

Getting older helps with this sense of gratitude. My vision has sharpened up over the last few years (metaphorically if not physically), and hitting my mid-thirties made me understand how fast time passes us, and how important it is to make our moments, days and years count for something. Doing what I've always dreamed of doing with my life helps me in that quest for joy, but I also recognize how important my family and friends are, and how investing in them is something which will last forever.

For today, I am alive. I have the present to embrace, the future to anticipate, and the past to remember. I am not starving, or homeless, or sick. I am not friendless or alone. I have so much, and would prefer to be overwhelmed with gratitude and love instead of negativity and fear. Step by step, I am moving toward the person I want to be and the life I want to live, and it feels so good to enjoy this life while I am here to live it.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Cats and My House

Cats are hard on a house. There are scratches on the walls, claw marks in the furniture, and some days I worry that I'm literally going insane trying to spray them with water when they repeatedly jump onto the table or counter. Cats and food surfaces simply don't mix well in my mind, and I am endlessly paranoid about drinking from my water cup in case one of them had their face in it to drink, or throwing away food which may or may not have been tampered with by the cats.

I'm amazed at how much more relaxed I am about the destruction to my house this time around. I thought it would be the opposite - that as I got older, my house would be more important to me, and not less. But it appears that I have changed, because I love these kittens so much, and I love watching my kids love them, that a few wall scratches and a bit of table sleeping pales in comparison to what they bring to our lives.

I like that the hold my possessions have on me is lessening. Things don't matter as much as people or living creatures, and I can say that and honestly mean it now, so a personal transformation has already happened for me. Those who knew me in my twenties would have described me as a rigid perfectionistic control freak, and those were my kindest friends. I have changed, and recognizing that means something to me.

Worrying about things that I can't take with me when I die is a useless exercise. I want to invest in what lasts forever, and that includes relationships, and love, and grace. Those intangibles will live on long after I am gone, and be remembered. Not how perfect my walls were, or how pristine my furniture looked, or how trendy my vehicle was. Those things don't matter to me like they once did. My happiness and satisfaction in life is found elsewhere.

Kids taught me this lesson before the cats came along, but it's been cemented for me by these feline buddies. We are much more than we possess, and life is meant to be lived and not admired from a distance with protective plastic wrap around it. The cats are messy, and hard on my house, but they fill me with joy and love, and those are the qualities I want to invest in from this point forward.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Simple Joys

So often I complicate everything in my life, and simply forget to just be. To live in the moment I'm in, and have that be sufficient, instead of peering around the next bend and trying to think ten steps ahead of myself. When I read stories to William last night and tucked his blankets around his armpits while singing to him, I took a quick moment to really look at him and feel the love I have for him, and in that simple realization I found peace.

Then I went to Ava's room, since Jason was at a council meeting and unable to read with her as he usually would. I listened to her read her book from school with so much expression and passion, and I almost couldn't read when it was my turn because of the lump in my throat. Life can be so simple, and also so complicated, but last night I understood again how much I prefer things to be simple.

There are the things that really matter, and then there is everything else, and I hate losing perspective on the important stuff. My kids are turning out well, and the time and energy I put into them reflects this. It adds up, and it's important, and I wish I understood this on a molecular level instead of having to remind myself of it on such a regular basis.

There is time to do many of the things I want to do in life, but there is only this time with them. In six weeks Ava will turn eight, and in two months, William will be five. The children they are now, at these ages and stages, will be gone forever, and I want to be able to visit them in my memory. I took them to see Despicable Me at our community hall on Monday when there was no school, and we munched popcorn and ate chocolate and giggled together at the movie, and I had the sense that one day I would look back on that experience and feel warm inside, and I think they will too.

These things matter, and I can't miss out on what is right in front of me, because it won't be here forever. These are some really good times I'm living in, with my husband and my kids and my family and friends. There is so much joy and possibility, but I must embrace it and gently tug the reins on my ambition when it begins to take over.

The simple joys should not be underestimated. There is a balance which must be struck, and it helps to recognize how fleeting these years are with my precious children, and to stand back once in awhile and marvel at what is right in front of my eyes. I did that last night, and it changed me, somewhere deep inside where I hide away from others and even myself, and I'm grateful for the reminder to stop and notice where we are all at, and realize that personal sacrifice has its own sweet rewards.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Beautiful the Mess we Are

Amy Grant has a new song called Better Than a Hallelujah with the lyric, "Beautiful the mess we are." I find that short phrase ringing around my mind these days, and I draw comfort from the idea that we don't have to maintain perfect order all of the time. It's simply not possible. Sometimes we are a mess, emotionally, physically, mentally or spiritually.

There are seasons for everything in our lives. Sometimes we are so happy that the joy bubbles up inside like carbonation, spilling over to touch everyone with our laughter and enthusiasm. Other times the opposite is true, and the tiniest things bring us to tears, and the frustration is enough to utterly defeat us.

For me, a storm will come and knock me off my feet with its force. I feel frightened, alone, isolated. I wonder why people don't notice that I'm bleeding on the inside. We all have our disguises so we can function in the world when we are hurting. Kids still need to be fed, appointments must be kept, and commitments met. The world doesn't stop because we have a gaping hole in our psyche.

I know that I am responsible to get the kind of help I need, at the moment I need it. This responsibility is mine alone. I'm understanding that my reticence to reach out for help when I need it most goes all the way back to childhood, as most things do, and trying to fix it requires looking at why the behaviour developed in the first place, and addressing the emotions that surround it.

When personal work is going on inside of us, other things need to take a backseat so we can address what's happening. We can't stop everything, but I'm learning to slow down and pay attention, so that I don't gloss over it, because if I do, it will come back again and again until I properly face it. There is so much personal work to be done in each of us, and a lifetime is a reasonably short period of time, so I don't want to miss these opportunities when they come to me.

Life is beautiful, even at its messiest. This morning, I heard that still, small voice whisper to me after the latest storm which has blown through my soul, and it said, "There is enough time." Time to write, to heal, to improve myself so that I am a kinder mom, wife, daughter, sister and friend. There will be storms, and then there will be the peace which follows them, and I'm trying to embrace the mess as well as the order.