Whatever you do don’t stand still

Lately, and I guess it’s totally related to aging, its becoming a little too clear to me that we really are all just lined up like airplanes on a runway waiting for take-off, except we have these invisible expiry dates stamped onto each one of us and we don’t find out our own Best Before date until it’s game over. Thank you ma’am. Boom. Done. Next.

I know what you’re thinking. Oh oh. This is a tad morbid. 

Lately too many people I have known are flying off into the big airport waiting room in the sky. They’re like missing luggage from United Airlines. It’s never coming back. And that is causing me an existential crisis that’s actually a little more disturbing than all the other crises I’ve already overcome in the past 20 years.  

Clawing my way back from depressions? Been there. Done that. Overcoming heartbreak as a result of bad choices in men? Ack. Whatever! Unemployment? But would you look at all that free time I had?

Now that I’m older and wiser, I actually find it amusing when people refer to a mid-life crisis, as if there is just a single crisis and once you get that baby under your belt you’re home free. Not true.

The mid-life crisis is like the beginning of the Bible. One crisis begets another crisis begets another crisis and so on and so forth until the ultimate end of life crisis. That’s how it feels to me these days.

My crises right now, at least, are a little less drama filled than in the past. No sex, drugs or rock and roll. In this phase of the crises, which is a total drag for sure because it’s so boring, albeit easier on the mental health and the blood pressure.

Maybe because of my birth order as youngest in a family of people who were a lot older, or because I’ve always befriended people that are older than me, aging is constantly on my mind these days. It’s like a third character shadowing my monologue.

I can no longer make any decisions without thinking about the fact that I have X number of years, barring early onset dementia, to work at a “real” job, before I have to give up that real job and become a greeter at Walmart for which I’d surely last maybe half a day before being fired.

I try to think of the kinds of jobs I might do, when I have to give up my “real” job, and it’s as if I have no useful skills at all. I’m like one of those people who can’t use common sense to get around the corner to the 7-Eleven because their GPS has led them astray even though they’ve lived in the same neighborhood for 35 years.

I used to quit jobs I didn’t like on a dime and worry about it later. And in a blink of an eye, over the last 10 years, later IS now. So, even if I don’t like the job, I could quit, like my younger self surely would right this second,  except experience has taught me that impulsivity can lead to even bigger crises.

As a result, the ugly reality of aging is beginning to turn me into the kind of person I used to disdain. That is, the kind of person, who at 30 years old is factoring pension into any equation. In my former world, if you were thinking about your pension at 30, you were leading the kind of life that surely must have made it feel as if you’d already died before you were dead. I had nothing to say to you.

Trying to make decisions along the time versus longevity continuum is like one of those mathematical word problems in Grade 3 I could never solve correctly and would now  have a totally different twist. 

My new mathematical word problem would go something like… If you get to be 60 years old and you don’t have cancer and you quit your job to go to the Ashram in India where you could theoretically live out your days working harder than you’ve ever worked doing some form of selfless service, how many fewer regrets might you have? Answer _____!

If you sold everything you owned and bought an RV and just drove in the direction of a hot beach, stopping on a whim, would you really be happier? Freedom being just another word and all that…  Wherever you go, there you be.

Except, that statement isn’t totally accurate because sometimes wherever you go, if it’s the right place, really shakes things up and changes life for the better. Of course, leaving can do the exact opposite as well. 

We’re supposed to live in the moment. Be present. Breathe. And that sounds good except when you begin to wonder what happens if your choices based on living in the moment mean you’ll be lining up at the food bank in 10 years? What then?

Does life really work that way? You might not even be here in 10 months. And then all the decisions you never made, the adventure you opted not to take, means you didn’t meet the love of your life or end up, through a detour, doing the best thing you’ll ever do, meeting your tribe or having experiences that create the kinds of memories that will overflow from your heart and fill it up until your very last sentient breath.

When I worked in Computer Science at UBC, I recall interviewing a prof whose research revolved around something called game theory or decision theory or something like that. I remember I couldn’t believe such a thing existed. I still can’t. It was like having a fortune teller in a machine except smarter.

You mean I can put all my questions into a computer with a special fairy godmother algorithm and have it spit out my next course of action knowing that something way more logical than me has done a risk assessment for me and then it has decided I should head that way? Over there. Keep going. A little to the left. Don’t look back. Don’t look too far ahead. And whatever you do, read my lips, definitely don’t stand still.

Talking the walking: one foot in front of the other & health

I guess I come by my love of walking honestly.

Infamously, I once took my father, who was in his 90th year at the time, on a walk around the Stanley Park seawall and we made it from my apartment at the bottom of Robson Street to a good chunk of the wall (about 6K) and finally dropping into our seats for lunch at the classic old Sylvia Hotel on English Bay.

After that day, every time I suggested he come downtown from Surrey for a visit, he’d immediately inquire with palpable consternation, “We’re not going to walk around the park, are we?” I may have traumatized him for life.  To set the record straight, I had given him more than one opportunity to do a shorter route, my concern present right from the start, but being the stubborn Scot he was, he had declined and past a certain point, there’s no turning back, no quick exit, no hailing a taxi.

Most of my father’s walking took place in the army during World War II and then later on, I gather, he did a lot of walking as part of his job as an electrician on the Rayonier site in New Westminster where, as an aside, in the 1960s, a huge fire broke out on August 20, 1966 in the grasses between the Scott Paper Company and Rayonier. That enormous blaze eventually ended up requiring the Mars Bomber to be deployed with that massive aircraft gathering tons of water from Sproat Lake near Port Alberni to drop on the fire in New West. I was five years old then, and I vaguely recall my brother and I being taken by my mother to watch the spectacle from a safe distance, awed by that huge aircraft flying so low overhead and dropping a veritable waterfall on the site.

In fact, it was my father’s good health and his Forrest Gump style of walks that eventually led to his decline. One day, he miscalculated the steepness of a hill, having taken a detour on some construction site, and ended up in Emergency thanks to whomever, some construction workers possibly, who found him.  In spite of his advanced age and having to stitch up gashes on his head, the ER folks never bothered to do a cat scan which then required, a second trip to Emergency later that day, a proper diagnosis of two hematomas and a six week hospital stay. This is a warning against walking down steep inclines, especially should you make it into your nineties. He was more fragile and cautious after his recovery, having to finally resort to using a dreaded walker on future outings.

Some of my favourite walks have taken place on B.C.’s Southern Gulf Islands. I loved my almost daily meandering jaunts down Walker Hook Road in the North End when I lived there. I’d leave the old cottage I’d rented off Hedger and take my time heading towards the Fernwood Dock admiring the view towards Trincomali Channel and the arbutus trees canvassing above the road, the wild flowers in the ditches. Surely, I thought, heaven must look and feel like the peace on that stretch of geography.

I’ve walked a fair amount on Mayne Island as well. From Miner’s Bay to the Lighthouse and back again and then down to Bennett Bay and I really believe that everyone should experience the absolute freedom and ability to be alone with their thoughts, as the breeze blows their hair, noting scents and scenes that would have been missed while riding in a car as their own two legs provide the only mobility.

I think about a long walk I did on the Isle of Mull in Scotland passing those hairy Highland cattle and inhaling the whiff of the salt off the Firth of Forth with Duart Castle being the daytrip’s destination.

I remember the beautiful city of Bath  and walking back to an Italianate mansion turned hostel on a hill through grassy fields that allowed an expansive view of the town and the weir below as the sun was setting.

Closer to home, my friend Dave Brent organized his friends to do some major walks and I recall the last steps of one of those that started near Value Village in Coquitlam, passed the Boulevard Casino, onto the area under the Port Mann Bridge, carrying on, and on the homestretch over the Pitt River Bridge where some cars had been parked to take the overheated back to the Gillnetter Pub on the Mary Hill Bypass because the pub at the end was always the point really. Two bridges in a single walk is one bridge too many for me.  He’s since ditched the walks for mega hikes all over the North Shore mountains and beyond.

When I saw this article posted by a friend on Facebook about an Irish neuroscientist named Shane O’ Mara, who has proven how good walking is, not just for the body but for the brain, he put into words, what every walker already knows and can now feel a little bit smug about.

Making time for the benefits of doing nothing

This will sound strange to anyone who is currently raising children but when I reflect back on my childhood, in spite of being surrounded by adults, very few of those people consistently intersected in my daily reality in a way that felt as instructive or as memorable in the same positive way as the kids I interacted with back then.

Now that might be directly related to my own personal experience or it might actually be related to all children’s degree of freedom back in the 1960s.

Because of my birth order, later than the rest of my siblings, by more than a decade, what I recall most about my childhood has to do with my own time: how I spent that time, the time I spent with other kids and especially the time I spent with my best friend then. We were like a world unto ourselves, the most important humans in each others lives. That realization surprises me as I write it down and I question myself. Is my memory accurate? I think a little harder about important people: my parents, my twin brother, my older sisters, and yes, I think my memory is painting the hierarchy of their priority accurately.  

I remember having a lot of time to myself, especially in the summer, to do whatever I wanted. We made our own decisions when to come and go, when to play tennis across the street or go to the playground at the other end of the park, or to peer into our empty classroom windows across the park. We would go to Woodward’s a few blocks away, to the library a few blocks over, to the vacant lot where big kids would tease us about the mythical spotting of Big Foot. Our circumference of exploring in a city the size of New Westminster was relatively small but still allowed for ample freedom.

Other than eating meals with my family, the occasional special outing, and camping in Osoyoos for a few weeks in August, I was a free agent. I could and was expected to amuse myself. To read. To play the piano away from the rest of the family in our basement “rumpus room.” It felt in some way like there was an understanding that adults were not to be bothered because they were too busy with their own lives and had no time to waste, or at least that’s how it seemed to me as a child.

As a result, I seemed, like all kids then, to spend a lot of time in my own company or the company of other kids.  We’d explore their basements. We’d climb backyard willow trees. We’d play tag with all the neighborhood kids spreading out like the enemy across yards. We often played board games or sat and did nothing on the couch, to daydream, to negotiate what to do next, to think of ways to amuse ourselves in those endless stretches of summer days.

When we took off from the house in the morning there was no consideration of adult interventions due to cellphones or any of the compelling feelings of urgency we now have around checking e-mail. Technology’s advancement had been paused in our lives and was stuck then at the good old rotary dial phone or the Walkie Talkies we got for Christmas that only really worked between very short distances.

I’ve been reading this book, Solitude, In Pursuit of a Singular Life in a Crowded World, by Michael Harris. The author refers to UBC researcher, Kalina Christoff, Ph.D., who studies spontaneous thought and mind wandering.

“Given enough solitude and enough time, the mind shifts into default mode and begins to pan through connections that at first seem wholly random,” she says, adding that the “randomness is crucial.” “The power lies in the fact that in this state the brain censors nothing. And it then makes connections that it would never otherwise make. Mind wandering is managing much more than personal memories and a sense of self. The wandering mind is also solving problems in the real world.”

Think of how little time, if any, most of now spend just sitting and staring out the window or being without our cell phones in hand or very nearby. We have no time in our day for mind wandering as a health conscious, creativity-boosting decision.

And certainly, it seems that most children have almost no down time. Every minute is filled with video games, scheduled activities, organized playdates, parents checking in on their whereabouts or directly by their sides.

When I compare my childhood experience to that new reality, it brings me such feelings of absolute claustrophobia on behalf of today’s children. Luckily, they don’t know what they’re missing.

On my recent trip to Quebec, I sat on the plane, a seat apart from a little girl from Salt Spring Island who was traveling on her own. Her relatives would be waiting for her in Toronto.

She was such a self-assured child. Calm. Confident. Able to meet a stranger and engage. Able to use her time and remain okay. In chatting with her, I learned she is a young student at a special school on Salt Spring called Wolfkids an outdoor education school. At her young age, she said she’d even participated in an overnight in the woods, as part of the school’s experiential learning.

I wondered if that is what made the difference in her maturity levels and independence or if it was just related to her own family? I was sure she had spent time daydreaming for extended periods of time even though she was mostly glued to her IPad during the flight.

Christoff speaks to daydreaming as an inherently creative process because the daydreamer is then open to bizarre new thoughts and options. The book refers to some of the greatest inventors: Einstein, Isaac Newton and how retreat and solitude can and have led to intellectual advancement.

It made me wonder how such lack of downtime might be impacting the creative thinking of today’s children. Or has the advancement of technologies merely shaped it in more sophisticated ways? More importantly, how has the lack of solitude, away from the influence of adults, impacted their ability to shape a truly unique self, to create boundaries that prevent some pathological merging of parent and child to such a degree that the child might take even longer to define a unique sense of self.

When was the last time you allowed yourself to just sit and observe, to notice the scents in the air, to pay attention to your random thoughts, cumulus cloud ideas, that inevitably drift by, the occasional one stopping you in your mental tracks with that feeling of an epiphany found?

And then I wondered, would it be philosophically wrong to add such unproductive time use to a weekly To-Do list?

Destinations de l’intuitif

Travel and deciding upon a destination has always been an intuitive exercise for me. I don’t so much as choose the place as it chooses me.

The first time that happened I was 19 years old, reading the Vancouver Sun newspaper, and I noticed a call to adventure appropriately named Youth on the Go. It was an exchange program with a difference — it was basically a one way adventure.  Nobody else was returning to my hometown with me when my time in the chosen place was over.

Youth from all over the world could go to another country and be hosted by a family for a few months. I ended up going to Finland to stay with the Kuisma family. Aspects of that trip are as clear in my memory now (as if the 38 years that have passed since) were just five or so years ago. It was a formative experience.

Many other trips since have unfolded that way as well.  I went to visit Ghost Ranch in Abiquiú, New Mexico, because I was intending to go to Santa Fe for the art and had never even heard of Ghost Ranch until it popped up in Google.  I poured over the words that shared the ranch’s history on my computer screen. The romanticism of how the late artist Georgia O’Keeffe first came to the ranch in 1929 or the early 1930s was so enchanting, as it has been to women the world over, that the more I read, the more I knew I must visit. And so I did. I went the first time in 2006, and loved the ranch so much, I went back the very next year taking the same photography course a second time.

My friends and family are often surprised. They won’t have even heard me refer to taking a trip and the next thing they know, I’m telling them “next week I’m going to __________ ” — insert name of place.

“Why there? Why now?” is how they react.

Sometimes it’s hard to answer.  It can seem on the surface like I’m Mary Poppins, the wind just seemingly blowing in the right direction to aid in whimsical decision-making. But what actually happens is the thought of a specific place may have been lingering just below the surface for a while being mulled about. Then that feeling in my chest grows stronger until I decide that I could, I know, I should, I must, I will, I am doing it and the ticket gets bought buoyed from a feeling of rightness.  Maybe that’s how it works for everyone.

I just returned from Quebec City and loved it. Five days seemed the perfect amount of time to learn more about the early history of Canada and to really understand better the uniqueness of Quebec and why they have so clung to their culture, their language, their history in the way they have, fighting for it every step of the way since Wolfe outwitted and overpowered Montcalm and all the political moves that have protected it since.

Visiting Quebec allows a Canadian (especially a life-long West Coaster) to better understand and be grateful for Quebec’s refusal to be anything but who they are, in their delicious food, in their language, their charming historic buildings and boulevards and outdoor cafes, the breeze and the scent of lilacs soothing on a hot day on the Plains of Abraham.

And you understand more about the power of the Roman Catholic Church in shaping almost everything historically in Quebec and building the infrastructure. You are awestruck by the monolithic Chateau Frontenac Hotel and its  significance to the city, its enterprise and beauty as it continued to evolve over decades right up to its last addition in 1993 (spa, pool, fitness room).

You learn about nuns like Marie de L ’Incarnation, founder of the Ursuline Order in Canada, in developing and educating the local young women, Indigenous girls and the King’s daughters, referencing the approximately 800 French women who immigrated to New France between 1663 and 1673.

And how these days, Quebecers, at least in Quebec City, are not interested in churches anymore which leave boards of directors scrambling for ways to make the beautiful old buildings financially viable, as the Monastery of Augustine nuns did, by transforming their monastery into a wellness centre complete with spa treatments, guest rooms and yoga and mindfulness retreats. https://monastere.ca/en

Before I went to Quebec City, I didn’t even realize it was a designated UNESCO World Heritage Centre because of the fortification walls around the old city and the gates still standing (with some having to be recreated).

And when I toured the Assembleé Nationale du Quebec on Saturday June 15th, I didn’t realize they were debating Bill 21, when the tour guide said “the Assembleé is in session today because there are two very important bills being debated.” She didn’t mention the nature of those bills. I believe the way she phrased it was, “Quebec wants to be sure that church and state are now separate.” Too bad, if that means a racist bill that prohibits someone who is Sikh or Muslim from wearing what should be a religious and cultural right and in the end will lessen the quality of life for everyone in that city whether they see that or not.

Whenever I travel, away from routine, get a taste of freedom and new sights to revel in,  I still dream of leaving it all and journeying the way many 20 years old do, for months at a time. If you have a twenty year old, and they are so inclined, don’t ever change their mind about travelling in favour of a job. There is time for routine. The twenties are the right time to explore and learn through seeing the world because as I age, I realize, there are few things (love being one of them) more important than the memories that have been made. Travel memories are happy and soothing companions.

Travel is also confidence re-affirming. When I’m able to find a destination that I wasn’t sure of or when I communicate ever so briefly in a language that isn’t English and I’m understood (with help from Google Translate) I feel so much personal mastery that the words of that old Helen Reddy song, ‘I am woman, hear me roar!’ ring through my head and bring a small smile to my heart.

I love being able to do exactly what I want or to choose not to do something in the tourist guide because I don’t care. I don’t have to wait for someone to keep up with me. I can stop to eat when I’m hungry or walk 22,000 step in one day.  I can have conversations with the cute 20-something waiter who makes enough money in Quebec City in the summer to travel the rest of the year or the couple from Spain at the next table. In that way, the experience comes to life and brings me back to the liveliness of my non workday self. I become who I truly am in curiosity and energy.

And that’s another thing that travel brings to the forefront: clarity. A streamlined clearness about what is and isn’t working in my  life, about what really matters to me now, and about what needs to change.

To use a phrase from 1967 uttered (some said inappropriately given his position and that he was a guest in our country) by past French President Charles de Gaulle: Vive le Quebec! And I definitely want to add to that: Vive le voyage!

The emotion of Art

I was at the Jane Siberry concert in Victoria last night. And she was singing Calling All Angels.

In the row in front of me,  there were what I guessed to be three generations of women in a family. A grandma. A mother. A daughter. And when Jane Siberry started singing her song, Calling all Angels, the daughter in her late 30s started to cry.

She was wiping tears away from first the right side of her face and then the left side with the fatty palm of her hand and she made those motions for quite a long time. Had she not been doing that, I wouldn’t have noticed that she was crying. I was wondering what had caused her feelings to push to the light. I noticed her mom didn’t even turn her head. Was that because she didn’t notice? Or was it precisely because she had? And when I found myself mesmerized by this young woman’s emotion, I realized how much it made me feel better to experience her crying.

Just seeing her response quickened something in my own chest. I closed my eyes and reached for it. I wished I could take that journey right alongside her. I was envious. It was like a memory I’d lived so many times before but have now pushed so far down, again.

Earlier in the day, I went to Chelene Knight’s presentation about home related to her book, Dear Current Occupant. She was speaking about what home means and how do you know when you’re there? Do you feel at home because of a physical place or what factors make somewhere feel like home? Afterwards, a woman in the small audience couldn’t get through her comments to Chelene without her voice quivering and the tears pouring out. Chelene’s book and the thoughts about home she’d evoked were able to touch this woman so deeply that she couldn’t help but be there in that moment fully, emotionally, in feeling.

So to that woman and to the young woman last night at the Jane Siberry concert, I bless you for your tears.

You’re alive and you can still feel it.

Here’s the beautiful song in case you’re not familiar with it:

Where books and shoulds may never meet

I’m sure there are extremely logical and disciplined individuals who happen also to be big readers, who tackle the long list of books they want to read and cross off books once they’re done like they’re crossing off their weekly shopping list.

For some people, regardless of what’s in their bookcase at home, they are as straightforward with their reading choices as they are with the weekly menus they surely must plan.

And now, I have a horrible confession to make. In the past year, I seem to have turned into a non-reader. Don’t get me wrong. I want to read. I love reading when I’m in the middle of the kind of book that takes me on a mini vacation inside my mind and when I get to the last page, I just don’t want to get back on the reality plane.

I still have the enthusiasm for hearing about books, to listen to Shelagh Rogers and others discuss books. Lately, I just don’t seem to ever get around to reading books the way I used to. And I’m trying to figure out what has led to this worrying state.

Is it too much scrolling on Twitter and Instagram? Is it aging and being tired after a day of brain work in front of a screen which is making me vegetative and making it all too easy to turn absentmindedly to another screen when I get home, where I begin pushing the remote as if I’m pushing the button for more morphine on my deathbed?

I’ve decided recently that everything I need in terms of reading materials is right in my own living room in my old bookcase so I’ve made a pact with myself not to buy any more books and not to take any books out of the library until I read what I have. I have at least 20 books in my bookcase that I’ve purchased at some time in the past or picked up from those little community book houses or have been given as gifts that I’ve yet to read.

I’ve always found it interesting that you can buy books and when it’s the right time for you to read a particular book, you will intuitively find your way to it. It will call to you as if you are the clairvoyant and it is one of your dead relatives saying, “May I come to you?” And you will say, “Yes, of course!” and you will sit down and read, leaving this reality for a more interesting or completely foreign one.  At least that’s how it used to work for me.

Part of my problem, I think, is falling into the trap of believing that I should be reading a certain type of book. I feel that fiction is the cut above so I tell myself that I really should like to read fiction but too often, too many fiction books bore me and I can’t get through them without being distracted in the first 10 pages.

I believe the last book of fiction I read was Brother by David Chariandy and I did enjoy that book and I finished it. Yay! I also finished Chelene Knight’s memoir: Dear Current Occupant. When it came to David Chariandy, what drew me in is that I could picture him in real life having seen him up close at an SFU reading that Dionne Brand was at and so I was curious about the real person, because he has such an interesting look to him, and simultaneously while I might be daydreaming questions about him and his life, I could, let the story he created on the page flow over me.

And isn’t that what we all really love about reading? The seemingly infinite layers, the dimensions and the conversations that are going on inside our own heads while our eyes decipher the words on the page delivering them like take-out for the brain?

I read Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet mainly because I was fascinated by the real hotel in Seattle called the Panama Hotel and enjoyed relaxing there during happy hours at the end of my days last September on a short getaway.

I have been reading Embers by the late Richard Wagamese in the morning as a meditation. During my favourite time of day, the quiet of a new morning at 6 am seems like the perfect time of day to read that book because you can imagine him writing it in those same type of quiet hours that bookend a day.

Books, in this way, are like different types of friends. A friend for the movies. A friend for entertainment. A friend to go to concerts with. A friend for advice and on and on; a reason, a season, a lifetime.

I subscribe to literary journals, The New Quarterly and the Malahat Review and I do read them but not completely. Like a finicky eater, I pick and choose, testing them out, either going the distance devouring the uniqueness of the stories and poems or turning away, unsatisfied and often confused about what’s being said, seeking something if only I could put my finger on what that something was.

So, it would seem I do have a list after all, if I could just sit down and get at it, pencil sharpened, crossing off the list except I don’t believe you should ever approach reading as a should. It’s a passion and like all passions, love and shoulds are inappropriate bedtime companions.

Here’s a list of the books in my bookshelf that I’ve purchased with enthusiasm at the time and have yet to get around to reading. Avid readers among you will review these and think to yourselves, been there, read that. In no particular order:

  • Milkman – Anna Burns
    Mammaskatch – Darrell McLeod
    Birdie – Tracey Lindberg
    For Today I am a Boy – Kim Fu
    The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore –Kim Fu
    Heart Songs – E. Annie Proulx
    The Parcel – Anosh Irani
    The Break – Katerina Vermette
    Dharma Bums – Jack Kerouac
    The House of All Sorts – Emily Carr
    The Vision – Tom Brown Jr.
    The Conjoined – Jen Sook fung lee
    Rudy Wiebe –Come Back
    Ruth Ozeki – A Tale for the Time Being
    Small Ceremonies – Carol Shields (read it in university, want to read it again)
    Alistair McLeod – No Great Mischief
    Thomas King – Green Grass, Running Water
    Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami
    My Family and other Animals – Gerald Durrell
    A Room of One’s Own – Virginia Woolf
    The Space Between Us –Thrity Umrigar
    High Clear Bell of Morning – Ann Eriksson
    Travels with Charley in Search of America – John Steinbeck
    Malibar Farm – Louis Bromfield
    Island – J. Edward Chamberlin
    Dogs at the Perimeter – Madeleine Thien
    Outline – Rachel Cusk
  • Add to these books above, books that I’ve heard about recently that I want to read: The Art of Leaving by Ayelet Tsabari, My father, fortune tellers and me, by Eufemia Fantetti, Chop Suey Nation, Vancouver Noir, Fishing with John by Edith Iglauer (who just died at 101 years of age on the Sunshine Coast) and the list goes on and on.

I wonder what’s foremost on your reading list today?

Re-introducing yourself to yourself once a week

photo of Dale Chihuly sculpture, Seattle exhibit

The high point of my year so far has been an hour and a half on Sunday mornings at James Bay Community Centre. For the past five weeks I’ve been taking a course on reducing stress through yoga and learning about Ayurveda.

It’s taught by a lovely woman named Donna Miller, who lives on Mayne Island and comes over to Victoria to offer it. She teaches yoga, Ayurveda yoga and somatic movement and mindfulness.

There’s something so great about easing into Sunday by doing a little luxurious visit with yourself, your physical self especially, to check in on it and do a body scan which is how the class often starts.

She’s fantastic at talking the class through that moving from the toes to the crown and really tuning into to what’s going on. Is there pain? Where is it? Are there colours arising? What are you feeling at the belly, at the pit of the stomach? If you’re like me, too often scattered and overwhelmed by vatta in a pitta body, out of balance, not even paying attention to the physical body except when, it reminds you, through a pain in the knee or hips or ankle that your spirit has a container and lo and behold it’s aging and stiff.

I recently got an e-mail from a cousin who lives in downtown Toronto but does a lot better job of keeping in touch with me than vice versa and she said to me when she heard about my job that she hoped I was doing something for my spirit, my creative spirit, and it was a bit of a wake-up call. No. No actually. I’m bloody well not doing a single thing for that little amorphous creature and it’s showing. I’m feeling it. And winter is never my best time, mentally,  to begin with.

I was wondering the other day why it has always been so hard for me to maintain. Why five steps forward, 7 steps back? When I lived on Salt Spring it was pretty easy to live a life that felt in tune – with oneself, with nature, with other people who were part of a community that mattered and organically connected because of proximity and like-mindedness about the importance of connecting.

I look back at that time and think, wow, how far from that reality I’ve now strayed, again, which is what prompted the signing up to this class. And what I’ve noticed is that just taking that baby step, taking time to tune into the body, leads to all sorts of other thoughts about other changes one might make to counterbalance the inordinate amount of psychic energy required to go to a job five days a week.

Ideally, none of us would have to compartmentalize to that degree but too many of us have to and so we do, at least for periods of time.  Carving out time on the weekend, or whenever it works, is a bit of a spirit-saving necessity.