On my Ongoing Journey to Dismantle my Own Racism

I just finished reading a book called White Fragility: Why it’s so Hard for White People to Talk about Racism when all hell broke loose last week. I was reading this as part of an Indigenous Reads book club at work, where each month I get together with some of my colleagues and try to deconstruct our own privilege and move forward on our own journeys of reconciliation by reading the stories and listening to the voices of Indigenous writers that have gone so long unheard. It is uncomfortable but necessary inner work.

I have been trying to write about this journey for a while now mostly in the context of forgiveness and reconciliation, but I am having a hard time putting it into words. Mostly I struggle with the fear that I am going to say something wrong and offend someone. That I am going to inadvertently expose some hidden biases I didn’t even know I had and be called out on them.

In these tumultuous times, I do not want to showcase my own privilege but actively work to dismantle it. I don’t want to be adding my own voice to maintain the status quo; I want to offer it up in service as an ally.

I know my voice is not the important one right now. But I also can’t just say nothing. Because that’s the exact problem—liberal thinking, polite white people like me are too afraid to talk about their privilege and thus end up perpetuating it.

I don’t want to perpetuate my own privilege. I am not okay with a world where I can walk safely down the streets without harassment but another person can’t. Where I am taking seriously simply because of the colour of my skin and another person is not simply because the colour of theirs. I don’t want this privilege. The first step in dismantling it is to acknowledge that it exists and permeates my whole life.

As cities in America burn and justifiably angry people take to the streets and risk their lives (both due to police violence and an actual fucking pandemic which makes gathering even that much more dangerous), I want to do the one thing that is the most important thing to do which is acknowledge my own privilege and actively seek to deconstruct it. Here is what I have learned so far on this ongoing, lifelong journey to actively, consciously educate myself so I am not causing more harm than good in this world.

  1. I am a racist. I really don’t want to be one, I hate that I am, but I am. We all are, because we have grown up in a racist society. The more we admit this to ourselves, the more we can unearth our hidden biases and dismantle them.
  2. We live in a white supremacist state. I am a white person in a world ruled by white people. I have power and privilege just by being white that people of colour simply do not have. Though I may not have personally enslaved people or stolen people’s lands, I am the direct beneficiary of a system set up by those who did. This is unacceptable to me.
  3. It is up to me to dismantle this privilege. I can do this by actively seeking to deprogram myself by exposing myself to other voices, to alternative views than the one I grew up with where Indigenous peoples and people of colour were only a footnote in our white colonist history.

I have so much more to learn about my own biases, about how I can dismantle my own privilege. If I have said something that was offensive or wrong, I would be grateful for feedback. When I get it, I promise to not burst into tears (at least not in front of the person giving the critique), get defensive, or make it in anyway about me. I will thank you from the bottom of my heart for helping me uncover my own biases and work to incorporate that new found knowledge into everything I do.

In the face of all that is going on in the world, I just wanted to do my very small part by acknowledging my own racism and own inadvertent complicity in a system that has for centuries only benefitted white people. And for whatever it is worth, loudly and for the record profess my wish to be an ally in building a more equitable world.

 

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Why all the Bloody Selfies? An Explanation

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Age 46: Day 34 Selfie of me writing about taking selfies

 

Some of you may have noticed that I have been bombarding my social media with daily pictures of myself, after many years of rarely posting anything, let alone my own face. Why? Why am I doing this deeply uncomfortable thing?

Here is my best attempt at an explanation. On a whim—seriously, the thought popped into my head and the next moment day 1 was posted on Instagram—I decided that I needed to get more comfortable with the camera and the way I would do it was by posting one photo a day for my 46th year.

It has been 33 days and I have regretted my decision for about 30 of them.

I’ve hated getting my photo taken my whole life. I am very, very bad at it. I am awkward.  I make faces that apparently do not resemble my normal face. For that reason, there are times in my life where I have very little photos of me. A glaring example is my own wedding, where there was one—count them— one of me in my wedding dress (not that it matters anymore, but still).

It comes down to my complicated relationship with visibility. I have mostly felt like I am invisible my whole life, that people do not see me. Invisibility has been a great excuse to not join clubs, sports teams, conversations—if nobody is going to see me, why join? It also gave me a license to think that my actions did not matter, that because I was invisible and unimportant, I could not hurt anybody.

But cameras and getting my picture taken exposes the lie. I can’t get away from the fact that not only is someone seeing me, they are focussed on me. That makes me deeply, deeply uncomfortable. It means I am not as invisible as I thought, that perhaps I do matter.

The complicated part is this: though I feel invisible, there is a part of my that wishes to feel visible, for people to see me. And as uncomfortable as I am with getting my photo taken, I am even less comfortable with this need. You see, invisibility (or at least pretending I am invisible and do not matter) has been my greatest protection mechanism. It is what has allowed me to try new things and go forward. Conceived by my young brain in order to allow me to go out in the world with less fear of fucking up, the idea that people did not see me meant freedom to make mistakes, to try new things, to be me without anybody caring.

Fully owning my own visibility means giving up this rusty old protection mechanism and embracing that I do indeed exist, my actions have consequences and, yes, for better or worse, that is indeed my face. Taking selfies means not only am I owning my own visibility, I am thrusting it willy nilly on the world. See? I am taking a photo of my face and making you look at it! I exist, bitches!

And man, I can’t tell you the existential dread that comes from seeing my face. Is that really me? Do I really look like that? What does that face even mean? I wonder if this dread is the reason why artists make self-portraits? This questioning of one’s own face?

So. My challenge to myself: 365 days of one selfie a day. Hopefully by the end of it I will be able to smile in a way that doesn’t make me look perpetually mildly concerned or constipated. Wish me luck.

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Honouring: An Exploration in Five Parts

I

During my morning commute in Montreal, a homeless man regularly stood sentry at the bottom of the escalators in the metro station. Technically I guess he was begging, but he had such a genteel air about him, it felt more like he was graciously inviting us to donate. Whether I had change or not, every morning we would make eye contact and he would nod to me in the manner of a gentleman tipping his hat to a lady of his acquaintance and murmur a greeting that was not words exactly, more like the musical humming of a bird.

Then one day he was not there. Weeks went by before I saw him again. When he did finally re-appear, his face was distorted with bruises and swellings. He leaned precariously on a crutch while he stretched out one of his hands, like a branch whose weight was too heavy for its trunk. Alcohol and fecal fumes emanating from him were heartbreaking. Still he stood and managed a twisted smile and nod for every commuter.

He did not hum though.

When it was my turn to pass him, he met my eyes. He was a little unsteady, his eyes glazed from pain and alcohol, yet still he managed his Dalai lama smile and graceful bow. I paused against the surge of distracted, time-challenged bodies to bow back, regretting I had no change in my pocket.

The next morning, I made my commute with pockets jangling. But he was not at the bottom of the escalator, nor the next day or the next. I never saw him again.

II

When my nephew died, my daughters were inconsolable. I did not try to console them.

III

Going for a run during the pandemic is like being in a video game. Or a metaphor for moral living—how do I navigate all these people while trying my best to not be an asshole?  How do I serve my needs while remaining ever vigilant of others? Because let’s face it, I am a viral sprinkler when I run, my drops spraying out of me, heedless of others.

I run on the streets when I can. Cede the right of way always. Plan my means of egress from the sidewalk for blocks ahead. Even if there is little to no chance I have the virus, I do not want to be a Typhoid Mary. I do not want to be that asshole.

Some people nod to me and thank me for moving. Some take it as their due. Some do not make it easy to not be an asshole, and stake out their route in the middle of the sidewalk as if the sidewalk was their property and the rest of us were squatting.

The other day, an older couple saw me coming and shifted to the side to wait on the grass. As I passed, they made eye contact, smiled. The lady said, “It is much easier for us to move than you. Running is easier on the pavement.” I smiled back and said thank you.

It is nice to know others are trying not to be assholes too.

IV

Sometimes I honour myself with a glass of wine. Sometimes I dishonour myself with four.

V

The hardest decision I’ve ever had to make was moving to Victoria. Not because it meant leaving my job, my home, my friends and community, though those things were very hard too. It was hard because I had to make the decision against my former identity as a “we”, the “we” that had just been shattered into a million irreconcilable shards. The “we” identity had been in place for twenty years. Decisions were to be made in consideration of everyone who made up that we—my husband, my daughters and last and definitely least, me.

The “we” had changed when my husband amputated himself from us. He was making decisions about his life that did not take into us consideration. I had to do the same if I was to not disappear from myself. I had to make decisions that were right for me and my girls. It was like trying to learn how to walk all over again.

It took me months. I agonized over it. Wrote in my journal, meditated, went for long walks. Talked at length about moving with my daughters. Let my ex know several times I was thinking about it (he ignored me). Moving did not just mean the need to make a decision that deliberately excluded him. It meant giving up on the idea that our family would ever heal itself, in whatever form. That he was really gone.

It was not until I went to visit my sister who set me up with her craniosacral person that I gained some clarity. During that session, she asked me to imagine myself as a child. I described me at my father’s funeral, the only me I really remember, the lost and lonely child trapped inside herself. Always in a corner, always with an expression of a trapped mouse. Constantly surrounded by people but always alone.

What did that child need? Craniosacral lady asked. “What did I need?”

The answer came immediately. I needed time and space and help. The only way I could get those things was in Victoria, where I could lean, for a little while, on the support of my family. Where my daughters would be surrounded by other adults who loved them dearly and who had the capacity to show up for them.

I hated making this decision. It meant letting go of the notion that we could still be a family even though we were not together anymore. Deep down, it also meant letting go of the toxic hope that he would come back to me, that we could heal together and embark on a different kind of marriage. It meant I was making it harder for him to heal the wounds his leaving had caused, because now their emotional distance would be matched by a geographical one.

I knew this. I did not like it. I am still uncomfortable with it. And yet I would do it again, because it was the right thing for me and my girls. For the first time ever, I let my own needs matter as much as those of others, let them have a louder voice.

I listened.

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On the 38th Anniversary of my Father’s Death

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My Dad and me

Today is the anniversary of my dad’s death.  He died at the age of 38 which means he has been dead as long as he was alive. A whole lifetime has gone by and yet somehow it seems like yesterday.

That’s grief for you though—it refuses to obey the dictates of time. Here’s a piece I wrote recently on my 8-year old response to his death.

 

 

 

Criminal

We commit crimes when we are children. We don’t mean to but we do. Our childhood certainties become suddenly uncertain and we panic. React. Do something we don’t understand and therefore cannot undo.

We then bury these crimes inside of us and forget about them until time, with its constant cascade of loss, erodes the dusty soil of our hearts and exposes the edges of our shame.

Time to face the facts: I am a criminal. Here is my crime.

Suspect: 8-Year Old Girl

With the exception of my mother, who teaches kindergarten in the large, bright classroom near the foyer, my teacher, Madame Lise, is the youngest, most beautiful, and also the kindest of all the teachers at the school. We are in a Grade One/Two split class. When Madame Lise needs to test us, she takes us out of our regular classroom away from the Grade Ones, and into another, smaller one around the corner. Today is a dictée day. We are in the small classroom writing down random words Madame Lise pronounces slowly and clearly. Bibliothèque. Armoire. Pommier. I know all the words. I am pleased with myself.

She finishes quizzing us. We are to follow her back into the regular classroom, where the babies are waiting. I am in Grade Two.

We turn the corner and immediately know something’s wrong. The teachers are outside their classes, leaning against the walls like broken ladders. Their heads are buried in their hands. They are crying.

This shocks me. Adults are not supposed to cry.

Mme Lise shuffles us into the class and rushes to investigate.  A few minutes later she reappears at the door and beckons me. I feel special to have been singled out and follow her. I am curious. That is all. It does not occur to me to be nervous. I am a good girl. Top of my class. I never hit when I’m angry or steal someone’s cookie. I am even nice to Maurice, who picks his nose and eats his boogers.

Nothing bad can happen to me because I follow the rules.

I get up from my desk and act like it’s no big deal. My friend Jody is watching me. I feel important.

In the hall, we first pass Mme Simpson, my First Grade teacher from last year. She had no patience for my shyness and would not let me go to the bathroom without asking in French. I could not ask. Every day that year I ran home after school, my bladder heaving like a dam after the storm. Often the dam overflowed and I arrived at my doorstep, cheeks and underpants wet.

She peeks her bulldog face through her thick, slug-like fingers and spots me. Her face contorts and a sob belches from her. I look away, embarrassed.

Why is such a mean woman crying? Mean people can’t cry. Adults don’t cry!

Except in this bad dream they do. All the teachers. I concentrate on the scene at the end of the hallway. There’s a man in his fancy dress uniform talking to my mother. They are backlit by the glass doors, the late morning April sun spotlighting them.

My mother’s hands also cover her face. Her body shakes. The man in the uniform is straight and stiff as a ruler. His arm rests on my mother’s hunched shoulders. I can see the doors between their bodies.

The hallway stretches out like a bad Alice dream. The clack clack clack of my teacher’s heels echo off the linoleum floor.

Panic flutters in my chest, the way it does when things do not make sense.

My teacher leads me towards my mother. Her grip on my hand is a little too tight. She keeps making these little sounds like she’s trying not to cry. She is scaring me. They are all scaring me. I wish they would stop it.

Mme Lise brings me directly to my mom, lays a hand on her shoulder to let her know I’m there, then abruptly turns away and moves down the hall to huddle with the other crying teachers.

I face my mother and the uniform man. They’re outside my mother’s classroom. She is popular, my mother. In March she shows her students how to make tire by pouring hot syrup on the snow. I wish I could have been in her class.

Maman?

My mother lowers her hands. Her face is not her face. It is the face of a pain I do not recognize, something deeper and untouchable than the hurt of all the scratched knee caps, bee stings, best friend fights, sisters breaking your favourite Sean Cassidy record, mean boys hitting you, combined.

This pain is a chasm and my mother has been swallowed. She is not my mother but something else now.

Her words are pebbles down a well; they land like a faint echo. Ton pèreavionaccidentmort.

I see it now. How the me that was before jolted out of my body, a faint ghost hovering like an echo behind me. The inner wooshing sound as I pulled her back into me and locked her up, that stupid girl who felt safe and confident that she belonged.

I hated that girl instantly for being so naïve, so sure of herself. I hated her for not knowing the world could turn on you at any moment. That your parents could one day cease to be your parents and what you thought was real and solid was actually just a big, nasty pretend game.

I panicked.

She had to go.

So I shoved her away, locked her up in a remote region of my heart and left her there to rot.

I told myself it was self-defence. She was too dangerous. Deliberately ignored the banging on the walls, the pleas to open the door. I tried very hard to forget her, tried to convince myself that the chasm left by her absence had always been there, that I was simply born this way. Some people have dark hair. Some people are psychopaths. Some people are simply missing the piece that makes them worthy of love, that allows them to trust. I could almost believe it was not my fault, not something I did to myself.

Almost.

But I did. And I have spent a lifetime paying for it.

The Sentence

The sentence for forcible confinement of yourself is simple: hard labour.

Work. Work your ass off and then work some more, bitch.

Oh, you can do your time but you’ll never really make up for it. You are a criminelle. A monstre. Your crime is perpetual therefore so is your punishment.

First: Arrêtes de rêver. Don’t fucking dare dream. Who the hell gave you permission to have those anyways? You locked them up, stifled them with your stinking fear and putrid shame. Your dreams are now a heaping pile of fertilizer. Might as well use it to grow other people’s dreams, because you ruined any chance of your own.

Second: Love. There will be people who think they can fix the trou inside you. They will think they can love you. The only way you can keep them around, pretend for a moment that you might deserve love (you don’t) is by working harder than everybody else.

You have to earn the air you breathe, the ground you stand on, every bite of food you stuff into your monster mouth. You must earn love and earn it constantly.

If the people you love with that amputee heart of yours are not happy, it’s your fault. If you don’t work your ass off to meet their every need, they will find out your dirty little secret, your gaping hole instead of a soul. Is that what you want? Is it?

If the person consents to marry you, feel grateful, bitch. They don’t realize yet you’re unlovable. Joke’s on them. Hide your trou through work and then more work. Make sure you do not need anything ever.

Ever. Tu m’écoutes? 

Third: Time. It’s not yours. It’s for other people.

When kids arrive, make sure your spouse does not feel overwhelmed. Small kids are hard. They’ll take a toll on those who are whole. But for you, avec un trou, it doesn’t matter. You don’t need time to yourself. You have no self worthy of time. Do not take time away ever. How many times do I have to tell you this? Stop wanting more than you can have. You made your choice. Live with the consequences.

So you’re unhappy. So you’re angry. Who cares? Bury it. You’re not allowed to feel these things. Who the hell said you could feel anything but grovelling gratitude?

Try harder, damn it. Get up at five am. Go running. Lose the weight. If you’re going to mimic worthy, at least look the part, fat ass.

Always be willing to have sex even though you’re dead tired. Do not think of the alarm clock or how near 5 a.m. is looming. You’re lucky he even wants to have sex with you. Don’t blow it.

Work hard and then harder to prove yourself in your new career. Keep your kids happy and thriving. You’re lucky to have them (you don’t deserve them).

Try to find time to write. Because even though you broke rule number one of your sentence, the dream still gasps out of you like the need to breathe. But this comes last do you hear me? Last. Dishes come before dreams. Everything comes before your dreams. Do I have to make you write lines to get it through your thick head?

Turn yourself inside out to keep everyone happy. Bury your unhappiness. Clench your jaw when the anger surges. Do not feel sad or lonely. What the hell is that? This is what you chose, this is what you wanted.

Don’t make a mistake ever. You can’t afford it. The people will find your trou and they will leave you like you deserve.

You buried me inside you, the part that was allowed to want more. You have done this to yourself.

You are a criminal. This is your sentence.

Time Served: 36 years

It was all for nothing.

All those decades of frenetic activity, of a prison routine devoid of compassion or space. Of clenching my jaw and then swallowing my hurt and disappointment as if it were bitter but necessary medicine to cure me from myself.

He discovered the trou and he left.

His leaving did not happen over night. The erosion began a long time ago. The walls around my trou were showing signs of age and I did not have the energy to repair them. He caught a glimpse and told me it was too much. I was a burden he could not carry anymore. How could he love me when I was so broken?

So he left and the walls crumbled to dust. No more illusions of being the good, supportive wife. No more pretending that I do not have a hole instead of a heart. No more walls, no more flesh, no more hiding. This is me.

I am so tired.

I might just sit a moment. Enjoy the view that opened up when the walls went down. A large plain stretches out to an old cabin on the horizon. It is vaguely familiar. If I’m quiet, I can hear the howling escaping the cracks of its clapboard sides.

She is still alive. Still screaming. My own tornado of rage. She would tear down the world to be heard, this creature I kept locked up in me for so long, this feral, closet girl. She will scream until I come and get her.

Parole

I took a trip inside my heart the other day, to the unknown places I had neglected for so long. There was a ruin of a house, a ramshackle, once beautiful thing in the midst of an overgrown garden.

First, I had to find the key. I got my hands dirty sifting through the mud around the door, through the overgrown weeds.

Luckily it is my own heart; if I take the time to look, the lost objects inside it will take the time to be found.

There it was, canopied under some rogue fireweed, a worm slithering across its rusted metal surface.

I grabbed it and wiped the dirt from its grooves.

A skeleton key.

Of course.

My heart has a sense of humour.

The house and the garden contracted with every beat. As I got closer, it beat louder and faster. My heart was nervous. Fluttering. I took a moment to stand still and let it flutter, coaxing it into calmness the way I do with my daughters when they are sick with flu or heartbreak.

I climbed up the stairs to the porch. The third stair was rotten through and required stepping over. At the door, I hesitated. Took a nervous breath and gathered my small courage.

This is it. I am doing this.

I fit the key into the lock. Even after all these years it turned easily. It’s like it wanted to be unlocked, like it was waiting for me.

I let the door swing open. The morning light shone through the dirty windows. It was only one large room, a rustic cabin that could be beautiful if I had tried.

If I try.

I squinted in the half darkness and searched the corners. There she was, exactly where I left her. The fierce, eight-year old me. Knees squeezed close to her chest, her dark, angry eyes staring at me. Her hair had grown long and her clothes ragged. She looked like she could use a sandwich.

I took a few steps towards her. She shrunk into herself.

I’m sorry, I said.

A heartbeat pause.

She opened her mouth and a scream cycloned out. It ripped the roof off the house and toppled the walls.

She will be screaming for a long time, I think.

That’s ok. It is a start.

I’ll wait with a cup of hot chocolate and a package of cookies. Keep on saying sorry until she stops.

 

 

 

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Notes from the Pandemic: There is only the present

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Photo credit: Sylvie Gordaneer

Time has expanded into an eternal present, engulfing the past and the future like a large two-way tsunami. I guess that’s how it always is, really, but mostly, when I’m bustling about going from work to more work to making dinner to worrying about bills/upcoming taxes/my disengaged daughter [insert frantic worry here] it seems like I’m always living in a waiting room of a possible future, a perpetual purgatory.

Paradoxically, I have also been living a lot in the past in these last few years, trying to forensically piece together the ruins of my marriage to determine what the hell went wrong and why I find myself here in this new life.

Essentially, I’ve been living on an existential teeter totter vacillating between past and future, rarely finding the balance to hover in the present.

Except for now, during this pandemic, where it feels like the teeter totter has been frozen in the middle, and it’s stable enough to stand up and walk around.

Here is what I discovered in this new territory of the present.

That given some space, I hardly think of J at all. That the anvil on my chest has gotten lighter without me knowing it, the anger less. I always noticed my pain and hurt got more pronounced the more stressed out I was —about making ends meet, about my daughters—mostly feeling panicked and disoriented because I did not sign up to do this alone, but with him. His absence is most notable when I am overwhelmed and scared.

But with a break from these stresses (I know they are still there, they have just been paused like everything else in the world) comes a break from feeling cratered. It has been nice—surreal— but nice to remember how it feels to be me again without the heaviness, like a pleasant dream where I’m playing myself.

I know these times are very hard for most people. Hell, if I let myself think about it, they are going to be very hard for me to get by without my supplementary incomes. But because there is nothing I can do about it right now, I just can’t get myself to worry about it. Instead, I find myself healing in a deeper sense than I have in the last five years, which has been all trauma and tragedy and work and survival. I feel like a wound that has finally been un-bandaged and finally allowed to breathe.

I haven’t been doing a lot of thinking, just a lot of being. I sleep eight hours a night (I think it has been more than twenty years since I have been able to accomplish that). I am not drinking very much—except for when my daughter makes me a delicious Aperol spritz! I am learning how to take a weekend day to sit and read and do nothing else. This is a big accomplishment, as I have not been able to concentrate on fiction very well in since J left. I am retraining my brain to be able to immerse in story again. It is wonderful.

The life I want to live, the one I make vision boards about, the image I have had in my mind that has kept me going through this half decade, looks a lot like this life (sans, the social distancing and people dying of course).  It is about working from home, about having the time and space to go for walks, read a book, write as much as I want, sit in the sun. It turns out it was a lot more in my reach than I thought it was. As we flatten the curve and begin to contemplate life returning to normal, I find myself wondering how I can sustain it. What can I cut out of my life? What is non-essential? How can I continue living in this strange, double-edged gift of a perpetual present?

Because I for one, don’t want to go back to the way it was.

 

 

 

 

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Silver Lining: Productive Isn’t Always What We Think It Is

Transcript

A whole lot of time and space have suddenly been dumped on my lap as if all my backorders for my entire life have been filled all at once and honestly, I don’t quite know what to do with it. No, that’s not quite right. It is not that I don’t know what to do with it. There are a million things I could be doing. I just don’t really feel like doing them.

Now, a few years ago, this would stress me out completely. If I didn’t know how I was going to be occupying every hour of every day, guilt for wasting precious time, for not being my most productive self would settle in and I would panic. If I was not doing something, then I was taking up space I had not earned.

But, oddly, during these times where life has been pared down significantly, I find myself perfectly content to sit here and just be.

Now don’t get me wrong. I still have a full-time job that takes up most of my days. What is different is that I no longer have freelance work, or Airbnb guests or, well, a social life that fills up the rest of the time.  This has freed up a lot of mental space that was hitherto cluttered with an endless to do list.

It took me writing this down to realize what the difference was—I am no longer living by my to do list. Apparently a constant litany of tasks to check off takes up a lot of mental energy. Taking it away is like turning off the radio or the television that’s been blaring in the background all day. At some point in the day I turned it on and was enjoying it, but then I got distracted and left it on. I’m not listening to it anymore, but the noise is still there. It’s only when I turn it off that I realize how much the white noise had been stressing me out.

Maybe productive doesn’t always look the way we think it looks.

At some point in the last five years, I’ve gotten over the intense fear of being alone with myself. I wrote about this a few years back, how my reading habits changed after what I like to call the J bomb. How I couldn’t read fiction anymore. How any book I did read had to be digested slowly for its ideas, written in the margins. Taken one little chunk at a time. This meant I was no longer burying my head in a book on the bus or waiting for a friend at a café (oh those distant days when one frequented pubs and cafes!). I was just sitting there. By myself. With only my thoughts to keep my company.

It turns out that constantly doing is not the only way to be productive.

Sitting alone with myself has brought along some pretty deep changes to the way I function in the world. In many ways, being lighter and more compassionate toward myself and then consequently to others has been the most productive thing I could have done, because I am no longer wasting so much of my mental space and energy on self-loathing on frantically always trying to earn the space I take up in the world.

So my silver lining this week is that I am content to do nothing. To not feel the acute pressure of always having to be productive. All I feel is the need to sit in the sun for a few minutes of the day, close my eyes, feel the warmth on my face and think and do nothing.

During these very stressful and anxious times, I hope you find some space to rediscover your own company, and, in the silence heal the parts of your relationship that may need some extra attention. You don’t have to do anything. All you have to do is find a patch of sunlight, close your eyes and soak up the warmth.

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#TBT: My 16 year old journal

To amuse during these very weird times, I offer you a glimpse into my 16-year old soul. And yes, it is as embarrassing as it sounds. You are welcome.

And to sweeten the pot, here is a visual to go with it…unnamed

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Podcast #1: How Our Limiting Beliefs Can Hurt the World

Audio

Transcript

I firmly believe the next stage of evolution for humanity is self-awareness. As the world shuts down because of the Coronavirus and the stakes for taking responsibility for our actions are at a critical high, it is more important than ever that we learn how to communicate and cooperate better. The crucial first step in this is self-awareness.

It is really hard to conceive of how our actions impact others. The pandemic is forcing us to all come to terms with the fact that we come in direct and indirect contact with many, many people in one given day, all of whom will be positively or negatively affected by how we choose to conduct ourselves.

Now the way we behave has a lot to do with the stories we tell ourselves. For example, most of my life I have suffered from a crippling belief that I don’t matter, that I am invisible. This belief more than any others, has shaped who and how I am in the world.

I suspect I developed this particular belief when I was young as a way of protecting myself, a perverse, counter-intuitive ward against vulnerability. If I don’t matter, then it doesn’t matter if I fuck up.

It is only in the last few years that I have had to truly confront this belief, to try and deconstruct it. Part of that deconstructing is having to confront the fact that not only does this belief hurt me, it negatively impacts others as well.

This is a really hard, uncomfortable thing to do.

When I was a teenager I screwed up my first love relationship by kissing someone else. Boyfriend was away for the summer and I ended up hanging out with one of his best friends. Now, the moment we kissed we knew it was wrong. It was a little blip that was so clearly a mistake it didn’t even feel like cheating. Best friend felt differently however, and confessed to boyfriend.

Turns out, boyfriend felt like it was a lot like cheating (it was) and was very hurt. He said he could not trust me anymore and broke up with me. And with his nations, went most of my friends.

I was truly and honestly shocked. I didn’t mean to hurt him. In fact, it never even occurred to me that I could hurt him. I honestly didn’t think I mattered that much to him.

That was my first experience with how my negative belief affected others. If my actions could hurt someone I loved, then it followed that maybe I wasn’t as invisible as I thought. Maybe, just maybe, it mattered what I did in the world.

Responsibility has been a big theme in my life. Taking responsibility for myself, being a citizen of the world are concepts that guide my life, that are part of my moral code and values. I spend a lot of time thinking about it, writing about it, reading about it, and yes, beating myself and others over the head with it.

Confronting how I have inadvertently been living against that code because of a limiting belief in myself is devastating.

Though I’ve been working hard to rewire my brain with a healthier belief system, old habits die hard.

I haven’t really talked about it a lot, but I was diagnosed with MS in early 2018 when I went temporarily blind in one eye. It is a mild case (you know—just a titch of the ol’ multiple sclerosis). Mostly I don’t think about it. Except for the fact that my right hand has been tingling since August like it is permanently asleep it doesn’t really affect me that much. Also, I have been coughing and having trouble breathing for a couple of months now. I am pretty sure it is because of allergies—we had a flood in our house at the beginning of February and have had to rip out all the floors and some of the walls which means my house is constantly dusty.

Though I have been following the news about the pandemic obsessively, though I have been admonishing my children to social distance and trying hard to be as responsible as possible, it never occurred to me that I could either be a carrier or among the immune-compromised. That this dry cough of mine could have an impact on anyone else. It’s just me and my inferior lung capacity. Don’t mind me.

On Tuesday morning, I was going to go into work because that is what I do on Tuesdays. I wasn’t that sick, I told myself. I couldn’t possibly be one of those people they are trying to keep home. I am not that important.

Until my sister not so gently reminded me of all the above and that I should stay the fuck home.

It never once occurred to me to take my own symptoms seriously because I am so used to ignoring myself. Never has this limiting belief been so dangerous.

Don’t worry—I have been working at home all week now and practising as much social distancing as possible. I will not be going into work for the near future. I am not writing this to worry anyone— my health is better than most, despite the above stuff.

But here is my hope: that we take this forced downtime to deepen our relationship with ourselves, to practice courage and compassion and confront some limiting beliefs that are not only impacting ourselves but others. That we do this so we can truly understand and feel how we are all connected to each other (and not just in a viral way) and maybe, maybe come out of this better people ready to remake a better world based on empathy, compassion and a better understanding of how our actions affect others.

Let’s take this time to heal our own wounds so we can apply ourselves to the task of healing the larger ones. Never has there been a better opportunity or reason to do so.

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Hellish Years: Five Years Later

It has been five years. Five. Half a decade since my husband told me in one breath he was having an affair and didn’t know if he wanted to be married anymore. (Turns out he did want to be married, just not to me. But whatever. Why split hairs at this late date?)

Five years is a quarter of the time we were together. In the first five years of our relationship, we moved in together, both finished our undergrad, went on an epic trip to Europe where we got engaged. We got married. Had our first child. We witnessed the violent dissolution of our arts collective —a group of friends and mentors who got together each Sunday to talk about art and review the work of the week—and buried one of the mentors. I made the important discovery that if I treated all creative writing as an exercise, I could get over the fear of failing and actually write. I even got published.

All that to say, five years is a long time. Many things can and have happened. Since J left I have accomplished many tangible things. I moved the girls and I back to the West Coast. I found a new career that even if it isn’t writing, is still pretty meaningful and interesting. Most of all it is stable enough to pay most of the bills. My girls are thriving. I have my very own car that I don’t share with anyone else (ok, the girls borrow it sometimes). I am blessed with amazing friends and family and am seeing a lovely man. Hell, I even have the cutest puppy ever. My house is a place where people feel safe and welcome, where there is a lot of laughter and love. I built that. I did.

I have a lot to be grateful for, a lot to be proud of. And I am, daily, on both counts.

Yet what I am most proud of are the intangibles, the way I confronted some old patterns and beliefs that weren’t serving me and changed them. By far my greatest feat is learning compassion for myself. Learning how to be in the world where I am not constantly beating myself up for not doing better, trying harder, being more or being less.

And though it sounds silly, I am also in the process of healing my relationship with time. I practice reminding myself daily that I am not on the clock, that time is not my enemy and that everything will get done. I am learning how to trust myself. This has helped reduce my stress exponentially.

These are big things. I have come a long way in these last five years.

And yet.

Now the dust has settled and the work has shifted from the less labour-intensive building of a life to the daily practice of maintaining it, what is left for me is a crater where love and trust used to be. The worst is,  I am ashamed of it, because I, as well as most of the people around me, feel like I should be over this by now.

It was only when I read this article entitled How a PTSD Expert Developed a Viable Cure for Heartbreak—where a psychologist specializing in PTSD studied the effects of reconsolidation therapy on people who have experienced romantic betrayal—that I felt I might not be crazy. It was validating to see in writing that the kind of break up I experienced had another layer of pain to it, which, after a little more research, I found out is called betrayal trauma. Here is how this article put it:

You cannot experience betrayal where there is not a deep sense of safety and trust. But when there is a deep sense of safety and trust and you uncover an unknown addiction or infidelity, it can be the most debilitating moment in your life. These forms of betrayal are extremely traumatic, and you can experience devastating mental, physical, and emotional consequences.”

When my husband left so suddenly, among the many beliefs he shattered was the belief that I was loved unconditionally. That particular loss has snowballed into an inability to trust that I was ever loved in the first place and that I ever will be loved or love again. There is a part of me that feels permanently shut down to the world, though my best intentions were to face the unknown with an open heart.

The grief is big. It is It is even bigger because the doors I have closed in my heart are very hard to pry open again. Because, you see, I actually believed I was loved. I trusted that he loved me. I mean full-on, unconditional trust that this man would do right by me even if romantic love faded like red pigment in sunlight.

I may never forgive myself for that.

Let me be very clear. I am not stuck. I am not idealizing him, nor do I wish a return to my marriage which is now tainted with his initial betrayal, as well as the complete lack of consideration and support of the last five years. I don’t want him back. I don’t feel like a victim. And I really don’t mean to spend as much energy thinking about him.

And yet I do. I am constantly thinking of him. Constantly having the same, looping imaginary conversation with him inside my head where I try to get him to see me, to see the pain he’s caused. Constantly being blindsided by the anvil that will suddenly drop on my heart. It’s exhausting.

People rarely talk about how long healing takes, even when you’re actively committed to it. They rarely mention how goddamn boring trauma is, how much drudgery there is in carrying it. It is like being forced to watch the same bad movie with the same ineffective script every day. You can’t turn it off, however much you want to. All you can do is sit with it. Let it play out. 

It has been five years. I am doing great. I really, really am.

And I am still heart broken. A memory will flash through my mind or I will have a dream. Or I will simply be at work, looking over a spreadsheet and the betrayal will come over me like a wave and I will be right back in his studio, looking at the two portraits of his lover (now his wife) while he is telling me about their affair and how he doesn’t think he wants to be married anymore.  At these moments it is like a gong rings out in my heart and for a few seconds all I am is reverberation. I have learned to withdraw into my internal bomb shelter and wait it out.

It probably happens when I am talking to you. You probably won’t notice unless you are really paying attention. When it’s done, I will likely have to ask you to repeat yourself, as I can’t hear anything over the din of my broken heart. But don’t worry, that’s all I will ask of you. After all, I am just as tired of talking about it as you are of hearing it.

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My Abortion: A Story of Privilege and Un-Shame

Embryo_at_14_weeks_profileWhen I was 20 years old I was a total mess of a human being.

The snowballing of bad choices began in my 18th year at around graduation. The end of high school coincided with the end of my first real love relationship. I was to blame for that, and because I was to blame, all my friends—who were his first—were no longer my friends.

I took a gap year and  did nothing but work at a donut shop. No travel, no nothing. Just a dead-end job and a lot of self-hatred. I drank heavily, smoked. Partied.

The drinking was necessary for the partying as it was the only way I could start to get comfortable in a crowd. The smoking gave me something to do when I was feeling awkward.

Many nights during that year ended up with me drunk and having gone home with some stranger.

I hated my life. Hated myself. Felt fat, gross and worthless. During a bout of excess-induced illness, I decided that enough was enough, that I wanted to go back to school. I applied to Concordia and was accepted.

But habits are easily formed and very difficult to break.

When I moved to Montreal at the age of 19 I had a ready-made community. They were my cousin’s friends, from my mom’s small hometown in the Saguenay. They were not going to school. They worked in factories, and cafes during the day, went to the bar at night. Their lives consisted of dead-end jobs, hot kniving in the kitchen and drinking king cans in front of hockey games.

Because I was hanging out with them, I made no attempt to meet anybody at school. In fact, I don’t think I made a single friend at Concordia during the year and half I studied there. Instead, I attended classes and headed straight home to my one bedroom apartment where I would smoke and eat grilled cheeses and wait for my other friends to tell me which bar to meet them that night.

Some days I felt so disgusted with myself I could hardly get out of bed. In the second semester, I started dating a nice fellow from my cousin’s hometown. He was working at a café and looked like an intellectual though he really wasn’t. He had nice, tight curly hair he kept in a pony tail. He was gentle, shy and kind and as much of an alcoholic and smoker as I was. We got a long pretty well.

I would go to university during the week and then, starting on Thursday nights, would party with him all weekend. If I remember correctly, he did a lot of coke. Though now that I think about it, I might have made that up to make myself feel better about what came next. But I think that’s true.

Sigh.

Truth is such a hard thing to pin down, especially after 25 years. Looking back now, I bet he was just going through a similar thing I was —scared of growing up, not sure of himself or his own potential, not sure where he fit in. But in my head, I made him out to be way worse than he was because I was so ashamed of myself. I wasn’t so much to blame for the shitty place I found myself in if I could make him out to be a dick, right?

Yeah, right. Uh huh. Oh, projection and all the other distorted ways we try to escape responsibility for our choices and actions.

Double sigh.

The semester ended and I gave up my apartment to go back home to Victoria and work. This was never really discussed with boy, nor was the break up. We just simply went our separate ways, which was a testament to how lukewarm our romance was.

I can’t remember if I knew I was pregnant before leaving Montreal, or if I took the test in Victoria. I think I might have gave boy a courtesy phone call regarding the pregnancy and subsequent abortion, but I am not positive. I do know he did not have a say nor did it enter my mind to give him one. Either way, that is how my first year of university ended—with middling grades, a pack a day smoking habit, a bit of a drinking problem and a bun in the oven.

I have never really talked about my abortion. Not because I am ashamed of it. Not because it was a difficult decision. Not because it haunts me and I have lingering trauma.

No. I don’t talk about it because it wasn’t a difficult decision. I did not hesitate. And it does not haunt me. I knew in my heart and especially my brain that it was the right thing to do.

But I felt like it should have been difficult and hard. I felt I was missing a piece of me, that piece that made people agonize over their unborn babies. I did not feel anything close to remorse or grief over the loss of a baby that was just a small kernel in my belly, abstract and not quite real. All I felt was relief.

Because I did not feel that grief, I felt ashamed.

I felt ashamed for not feeling ashamed.

Triple sigh.

That isn’t to say I didn’t feel shame— I did. Mostly, my shame was reserved for the circumstances that led to the abortion. I was not treating myself with any sort of honour or respect. The life I was leading made me feel dirty and worthless. Having to get an abortion symbolized a very low point in my life, a kick in the ass, so to speak. I knew that things had to change, that this could not happen again.

I also knew in every fibre of my being that I was going to have children someday, that this just wasn’t the right person to have them with, nor was it the right time. I was barely able to take care of myself, let alone a small human being.

Now this isn’t the case with every woman. Some women know they do not want to have kids. Others are ambivalent. Some decide that even if it was a mistake, it is a mistake they are prepared to live with. Those are all valid life choices. Keyword being choice, of course.

A few months later I met the person who became my husband and a few years later we were married with two beautiful daughters. But, ahem, that is another story….

Most importantly though, I didn’t want to be a mother yet. And how do you responsibly bring life into this world, if from the very moment of conception you are resisting it?

How is that fair to the life?

I am very, very privileged. Because of where and when I live, a solution to my young and stupid mistake was easily accessible. I had an abortion in a controlled, regulated, non-judgemental environment. I did not have to frequent a back alley butcher armed with a dirty clothes hanger or  go through a wall of angry protesters hurling insults at me to access my abortion. There was no damage to my insides.

When I finally chose to have children, I had the easiest two home births imaginable. Two healthy babies that came at a time when I had the capacity to take care of them.

I am thinking of this now, as you can probably imagine, because of the political events occurring in the States. I am deeply disturbed by the focus of the conversation, as if the only consideration is whether a fetus has a heartbeat. This feels so deeply irresponsible to me, to ignore the consequences of bringing life into this world because of one fuck-up (pardon the pun). In my mind, it is not so much a question of whether or not that seed of life has a right to exist, but whether or not we are ready to take on the lifelong stewardship and nurturing of it so it can grow and blossom.

If a state or a country is going to ban abortion, are they also prepared to legislate more support for single mothers? Will there be free daycare and education opportunities and subsidized housing for them? Will there be more stringent laws about child support for the men who are also responsible for the pregnancy?

(It is hard not to see the Strindberg-level absurdity of this debate for what it really is— a very thinly veiled attack on women’s sexual freedom. It isn’t really about babies and their heartbeats at all. It is about a draconian view of women’s sexuality, the fear it engenders and the panicked attempt to control it. But that’s a bigger conversation, for another day.)

*

I just attended my youngest daughter’s graduation ceremony this week. I have been a mother for over 20 years, a single one for the last 4 (or 5 unofficially). As much as I have shaped my children, they have shaped me. They taught me what it means to love someone so deeply it sometimes hurts as much as grief, the enormity of what it means to be truly responsible for someone else, to have two people wholly depend on you.

They taught me how to own my shit, how to be a better person so I could be a better mother to them. Mostly they taught me that whatever decisions I make in the future, that I am not making them only for myself. That they will always be affected by what I do, where I go, how I decide to be in the world.

Having children is a lifetime commitment. Raising them is the most rewarding and most difficult task I have ever faced. It demands a continuous re-evaluation of myself and my motives, a reckoning with my pre-conceived notions of who I think they are and who I think I am.

And yes, it takes sacrifice. To create a stable nest for them to someday fly out of, you have to be stable. You need a steady income, to pay the bills on time and have food on the table. All this costs money. More importantly, you have to be willing and have the capacity to put their needs for a while before your own. You are not on your own anymore—you have decided to make living beings who require your attention even if sometimes you don’t feel like giving it.

If you want to properly shepherd your kids into adulthood, you have to make sure you’re present to deal with anything that comes up.

You are basically on call for the rest of your life.

Having kids is so much more than getting laid and creating a heartbeat. It is a lifelong, all-encompassing endeavour that requires your full attention and willingness. If we are going to talk about the ethics of abortion, then we have to widen the conversation to talk about the ethics of child poverty, abuse, abandonment and everything that comes with bringing children into the world when a woman is not ready, able, or has the support (family, institutional, societal) to care for them. To not talk about everything that comes after the heartbeat is, in my mind, deeply immoral and unethical.

 

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