Day 21 for me of Effy Wild's blog along through facebook: write a blog a day, share it in the group, visit three other blogs and comment on them. But the last day for the actual blog along.
I came to it late after getting tangled in the site set up which often changes once it's published anyway and looks completely different on the phone. But I'm LOVING blogging. The whole concept of it--choosing topics to write about, taking pictures or choosing links or quotes or YouTube videos to upload to create a theme. Or coming at it blind with no real direction, not even the words yet, just emotions. And of course the richest times are the ones that swerve unexpectedly and take me on a journey to a memory or place I wasn't expecting.
Of course it takes time. And commitment. A certain amount of vulnerability. I've found it's like the dens I used to make on the hills when I was a child. I would spend all day finding a good safe place to make a den, usually starting with a natural alcove, preferably across a ditch (of course it became an impassable moat in my mind, sometimes with hungry crocodiles). Then I would disguise the front with a 'door' of old branches or foliage. Next, bracken and moss (my imagination likes to think I could find soft moss but my bare legs remember prickly bracken) to make a place to sit. Hidden from the world I could relax. And watch the world go by through a barricade of leaves and branches. Shoo any dogs that came by to sniff. Hide safely from bullies although if they walked past I still held my breath and stayed motionless until my legs cramped. If I saw a friend pass (usually Maggie--still dear friends to this day we call each other 'Souley') I could whistle them over, open my door and let them in if they promised to never ever share knowledge of my den with anyone else.
I see my blog as a little like that. A refuge. A safe place. Yet a little like showing someone your den, taking that risk, and trusting that they'll treat it with respect. A tentative puppy roll show of soft underbelly.
So, will I continue to blog daily? I found my new moon vow for April last night.
Until the next new moon (15th May), I will blog daily. After that, who knows. Possibly not daily. Maybe I'll try to expand my readership. You can do that somehow through the virtual world. Lol. Learning new tools is never wasted. Sometimes I feel like I'm typing into a void but always I'm meeting myself on the page. Writing a blog underscores how I feel about writing in general, especially when I'm feeling discouraged: keep writing, keep saying your truth to the world, keep spinning your yarns to the stars, you never know when someone will stumble across your words. And you may never know how those words lift, touch or entertain them. It's okay not to know. Perhaps it's not for you to know. And of course it's not only written words that this pertains to, but your presence, how you show up. Because of that, you have to keep going through this world, one step in front of another, one word at a time.
Pick a room, any room, in our home and you'll discover my friend Linda's presence. Linda and I met at Simon Fraser University in B.C. over 38 years ago and quickly became close friends. A friendship that remains constant and connected to this day despite the physical distance between us. So it's natural that her presence would be so strong in our home. Add to that, she's one of the most generous people I know. On top of that, she's also THE most creative person I have ever met. I could write about Linda and about the strength our friendship until the cows come home, but for this blog today, I really want to concentrate on her beautiful fabric creations.
Again, pick a room, any room, in our home and you'll find at least one of her gorgeous wall hangings. Many parts of our house need attention. The floors aren't finished, some walls need to be repainted, trim needs to be put up and we won't mention the clutter, but so long as I have inspiring, comforting, lovely things on the walls, our home is complete.
The following quilted wall hangings from Linda in this blog are a few of the many I have from her (some of my favourites). Please enjoy them.
By far the biggest thing Linda has ever made for me is a full sized quilt for my double bed. It took her ages to match my room colours (purple and teal) and on one visit to see her, she had me sort through a pile of fabric and pick out every piece that I considered to be teal. A year or two later, she sent me the gorgeous quilt. And told me, with some glee and satisfaction, that some of the teal wasn't necessarily what I had chosen as teal. But you can see how stunning the end result is.
Every fabric creation Linda has made for me has a little square on the back with its title and date. Similarly with the quilt. So every night, I fall asleep "Beneath Winter Stars" no matter what season it is. And I fall asleep feeling loved, comforted and cherished from one of the dearest people in my life.
Sometimes you hear what you need to hear at the exact time you need to hear it. Aka an 'aha!' moment. I had one of those with my son Dane recently. Dane was listening to me vent about a particular situation with someone where my feelings didn't feel validated--I didn't feel heard. Dane listened and understood then simply said:
"Some people listen to reply.
Some people listen to understand."
Aha! How true! It was all I needed to hear to let the feelings go. And to understand that the other person was simply cueing up their response. It still hurt that they seemed to talk over me or gloss over my feelings but it made sense. Knowing that, almost expecting that, allowed me to change my expectations, gave me more power and more choice.
May you hear what you need to hear at the exact time you need to hear it today. And may you be receptive to the changes it brings.
Tai chi and qigong are two of the major grounding sources in my life. I've been practising tai chi for well over a decade now. That's what it's called: tai chi practice. Always something more to learn, always something more to explore whether in honing the physical movements or in the inner journey of sensations or emotional states.
Our instructor Hu tells newcomers to think of it as 'Chinese yoga.'
Tai chi and qigong promote health, strength and balance yet are easily adaptable for everyone and can be done in a chair, for instance. The series of hand exercises alone benefit the whole body by stimulating meridians (pathways) to enhance the flow of qi (energy) throughout the body. And that is the bottom line of practising tai chi and qigong, for me at least and especially in our western culture, to increase and positively direct the flow of qi.
Tai chi refers to a sequence of movements generated to move qi whereas qigong is a repetitive movement more designed to cultivate qi. I find both meditative and extremely beneficial. Originally I turned to tai chi when I thought I was losing my memory. I thought having to remember a set of movements would help. Whenever I tried to learn by video, I ended up falling over or contorting myself into a pretzel so turned to a local community hall group. No mirrors. Hu was our mirror. I'm very grateful to have learned this way as I had to truly internalise the movements. Plus I didn't have to face the other-worldliness sensation of adjusting to seeing myself moving around in front of a full length mirror. I could concentrate only on the postures.
I soon realised that tai chi worked for me.
I could feel the energy, see it in the increased blood flow to my hands and enjoyed the challenge of remembering the postures and the sequence. Qigong soothed me. The combination became increasingly meditative and grounding.
In 2009, my husband had a sudden massive heart attack at work. I was a wreck as they worked on him at the hospital and tried to stablise his heart. I couldn't stop crying. Finally they were able to stabilise him enough to put three stents in his arteries. Part of the procedure involved 'chilling' him for at least several hours, almost to the point of hypothermia. (I'm sure there's a technical term for this but I have no idea what it is) This allowed his heart to not work as hard as it didn't have to pump blood all through his body.
As you can imagine, the day had been extremely traumatic. Eventually all the family left. One of my step daughters was coming back to stay overnight with me. Alone in the empty waiting room late at night, I dimmed the lights and practised tai chi and qigong. Their familiarity and the steady rocking rhythm of one qigong in particular, comforted and calmed me like nothing else could that day. At one point, a janitor came in to clean the garbage. He apologised for disturbing me then when he saw what I was doing gave me a thumbs up.
I practise tai chi anytime and anywhere. Sometimes at work on my midnight shift, I tai chi walk down the hallway. Off view of the security camera!
Despite knowing how much tai chi and qigong benefit me, I sometimes find it difficult to get myself moving, to make myself practise even though my body may be craving it. It doesn't have to take very long. Three cycles of International Eight Form takes about 9 minutes. But I feel better, more centred, more grounded and simply healthier every single time. And stronger, physically and mentally. As such, tai chi and qigong are indispensable tools for me. Worth pushing through resistance.
Running out of time to blog today, so this is a previously published blog I wrote for the NOWW (Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop) website:
Old Friend from Far Away : The Practice of Writing Memoir
by Natalie Goldberg
Book review by Sue Blott
I recall a jump rope chant. I’m six again in the alley beside my house, rope slapping against cobblestones; my red leather shoes with perforated edges tapping the slippery stones; the stones themselves, steely blue grey at their best like ice cubes from a North Sea storm. Aloud I chant as I skip:
Sausage in the pan
sausage in the pan
sizzly sizzly sizzly
sausage in the pan
Something spectacular happens at the ‘sizzly sizzly’ part, something which sets this verse apart from the other verses of the chant. Perhaps a sideways jump, feet to the left, feet to the right, to emulate the zeds in sizzle. I forget. No matter. The memory is what counts...a memory captured by this book, Old Friend From Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir by Natalie Goldberg. The memory is as rich as the rhyme itself, unearthing sounds and smells and the rhythm of life. I’m glad to have uncovered it because it can take me places in my writing, any form of writing, not necessarily only creative non-fiction.
Such is the beauty of Goldberg’s book—her explanations and exercises act like fish hooks snagging unsuspecting memories and dragging them to the surface. I bought the book last fall at Banyen Books in Vancouver along with some Tibetan hand-rolled incense and a deep red glass heart. Before I had finished the book’s introduction (entitled “Read This Introduction”) I knew it would fast become another writing book staple.
I read it as a bedtime book first, anxious to bask in her words, skipping from mood to mood, exercise to exercise, perhaps cautious of murky memories. If I merely read the book instead of working through it, all those circling shark-like feelings would remain below the calm surface of my consciousness, right? Not so! Several times after I put the book down and began to drift to sleep, a fresh insistent memory or a powerful emotion stirred by the book made me drag myself back from sleep to quickly write it down and snatch its essence. Not necessarily a relaxing bedtime read!
Imagine the magic of working through the book, committing to her exercises, absorbing her words. Already I have several poems inspired by a simple read through.
Old Friend From Far Away is divided into ten sections. Each section contains an eclectic mixture of short explanations or anecdotes, often from Goldberg’s own life, and exercises.
Dip into any section, let her words ignite: “Writing has to move us. Writing is alive, a living process...Whatever is hidden or secretive will look for a way out. You’ll write about a grilled cheese sandwich and bubbling up in the middle of the cheese will be incest, deception, and adultery.”
Do any exercise, prepare for surprise:
“When did you pretend not to care? Go. Ten minutes.”
“Write a last letter to someone...Allow truth, like an open bowl—don’t try to put a lid on it or a bow.”
Natalie Goldberg’s first writing book, Writing Down the Bones, is one of my all time favourites, one I refer back to time and time again, one I regularly recommend to other writers. Old Friend From Far Away is now another steadfast favourite. As I read it, I find one hand turning the skipping rope all those years ago and the other hand holding a pen:
Pen across the page
pen across the page
sizzly sizzly sizzly sizzly
pen across the page
Something spectacular has happened. I’ve touched the raw nerve of an old memory and ignited it, if only for a book review. But don’t just take my word for it. Read the book and, in Goldberg’s own words, “...let’s pick up the pen, and kick some ass.” Go. I double dog dare you!
Today seems like a good day to write a short blog on the joy of pets. Dad's little dog, Tally, had an ultrasound and x-ray yesterday. She has a growth/mass inside her, close to her anal glands, that needs monitoring. But she is happy and active and eating and drinking as usual and has responded well to antibiotics and anti-inflammatories. A good time to remember the joy, happiness and comfort that pets bring us. As well as the worry sometimes.
My elderly dog, Rogue, had had diarrhea overnight last night. Several times across the kitchen floor. This morning I stepped in it before I noticed it. He's fine now. Just something he ate. I give him dog biscuits later to help his digestion. He licks my hand in his characteristic thank you whether it's treats, din-din or water that I'm giving him. Another good time to remember the joy, happiness and comfort that pets bring us. As well as the occasional, accidental mess.
Last night while I was on the computer, my big grey cat, Kaden, sat beside me on my painting table making it vibrate with his heartfelt purrs. He headbutted my shoulder, lowered his head for kisses and rested his paw on my arm as I worked. Wonderful company. Of course he really wanted the nice warm chair I was sitting in. He finally gave up and went to sleep on my bed instead. But I take his loving any way I can get it.
My tortoiseshell cat, Spook, 'little cat' in my haiku although she's getting bigger daily, is a bundle of affection. My heart sings when I feed her and she pprrrtts at me. My world is a happy place when a cat pprrrtts. Maybe only other cat lovers know the sound of a true pprrrtt but it transcends all deciphering and just lands as a ping! in my heart.
Following is a poem I wrote about the comfort of pets. Although it's a Christmas poem, the sentiment seems appropriate today. It was part of a cycle of my poetry which won first place in the annual NOWW contest in 2015.
So many things to do today
but my cat climbed in my lap.
She stretched and kneaded,
snuggled and snoozed,
wrapped her paw around my arm;
I hugged her right back.
Christmas cards to write and mail,
presents to sort and wrap;
the house to dust and clean,
and pets to feed after that.
A gauzy scrap of sunshine
slipped through snow-dense clouds
and draped across the stairs;
warmth trickled out.
With a sigh, my dog sank in a heap,
his head heavy across my feet.
As my cat purred deeply,
I drifted off to sleep.
So many things to do today
but my cat climbed in my lap.
~Sue Blott, 2015
Spring might have finally sprung here. Yay! At the same time, spring makes me restless, squirmy in my skin, forcing me to look to outside at things to do. So I need to do something. Move forward. Anything but practical, I decide to dust off the three 'word' rocks on my front deck. These rocks materialised at a time of change and transition in my life over 18 years ago. Every so often the words fade and I have to refresh them with a Sharpie.
Which words would you choose to print on rocks by your door?
Dream is a no-brainer for a triple Pisces like myself. But as I dust off 'dream', ready it for the marker, I realise that I still have my dreams but that I've let them get dusty, shoved them aside on high-up shelves to gather dust.
Believe is another go-to power word for me. I think it's important to believe in something, not necessarily anything spiritual. It could simply be that tomorrow is a new day, that spring will follow winter, that growth is happening deep in the soil, even when and, perhaps especially when, we are least aware of it. Believe and hope are good chums but for me, believe is a step more solid.
The other rock is chunkier, more angular and less symmetrical than the other rocks and I wanted it to be a word that challenged me. Dream and believe are beautiful, inspirational words and reminders but they are also second nature to me. So I chose 'dare'. It makes me a little edgy, a bit uncomfortable to come home or leave the house with 'dare' staring me in the face, forcing me to ask, what risks did I take today? What chances will I take? Can I step out of my comfort zone? Ironically, 'dare' is the word that fades first. Could it be the kind of rock? Or the colour? I can't pretend that this doesn't relieve me or please me to see it fading away. But it doesn't help anything either.
So I clean off my 'dare' rock. I can't even see that there once was writing on there! I make the letters bold as I always do. Bold and angular. But today I trace them with silver glitter nail polish. I doubt it will stay. But I know in my heart that if I need to refresh it often throughout the year, then that's a good way to do it, a good way to really grab my attention and push its way into my subconscious until daring becomes as second nature as dreaming and believing.
What is daring for you? What is one step you can take towards that dare today?
Inspired by Effy Wild's Moonshine group, I've been pulling a daily tarot card for a couple of months now. A fun way to enter the day. And to embrace it or brace myself depending on what cards I pull! I'm very familiar with the Rider Waite cards and, although I'm using the Wildwood Tarot and a version of the Celtic Tarot for Moonshine, I still find myself referring back to the corresponding Rider Waite cards. To follow up, I use an oracle deck, The Gentle Wisdom of the Faerie Realm. Below is my reading for today, taken this morning after a midnight shift and before a couple of hours of sleep on what I call my 'turn-around day'.
A strong reading. A positive one. I had mistakenly mixed the Seer with the Shaman on occasion when 'translating' to the Rider Waite deck so thought of the Seer as the Magician when she is in fact the High Priestess. Oh! Of course. For me, the Seer represents a secret revealed. A knowledge and power, a balance to be obtained by looking within and trusting myself and the process. All the elements and suits of the minor arcana are present and she stands in front of the tree of knowledge. She scries using the water in the stone vessel before her, but her eyes are closed showing she trusts herself to intuit its meanings and messages. Along with the delightfully grounding Queen of Pentacles whose throne is a tree and the beautiful Faerie card of Confidence, today promises to be a day of entering into and claiming my own power, perhaps some good news financially (pentacles represent money although more broadly for me, simply riches), but basically a message to trust myself and my intuition, to trust in a process that is revealing itself to me.
The cards seem dramatic. Especially when the day dawns ordinary and nothing monumental seems to happen.
But today is a gentle day for me, one I can mould to suit myself. After a solid sleep, I had homemade turkey soup with my husband, caught up on 'Coronation Street', fed the birds and cleaned and filled the bird bath for the first time this year, chatted with Dad over the phone a couple of times, Now I'm writing this blog. Later I'll finish some ATCs and edit a chapter in my novel. Maybe, if time allows, I can squeeze in some painting. Another phone chat with my son. He called while I was writing this. I helped with some family information.
Nothing huge or life-altering on the horizon for my today. Or at least nothing that I forsee. :-)
But I believe these days of gently moving forward in the life we've chosen and moulded are the most magical and self-affirming of all. They represent a solid grounding and a slow reveal of our true selves. What do we choose to do with our more malleable time? Perhaps it is on these days, these seemingly ordinary days, that we strengthen the self trust and self knowledge we need for more challenging times.
Dirty dishes clutter the sink. My kitchen floor needs sweeping. The dust bunnies have formed armies. But the pink geranium blooms in the window. Entranced, I'm drawn towards it, fully open in morning sunlight. Beyond, in the yard, melting snow has uncovered a myriad of messes to deal with. But at the moment all I can see is the geranium in all its pink beauty. As I turn the plant so the bloom faces the kitchen, I notice that the African violet beneath has also flowered. A delicate white flower. I rotate that too. So pretty in its delicacy.
A red flower placed in a window may expand its influence over all the area of your sight. -- Robert Henri, The Art Spirit
This particular geranium grows spindly and all to one side. Many people might have thrown it out already but I love it. It's well over 5 years old and was the centrepiece from a friend's birthday celebration. And it just keeps right on blooming and growing in its meandering way. Lighting up my kitchen window. Lighting up my world. Making the chores of cleaning dishes, sweeping floors and tidying the yard much more manageable and tolerable.
A catchy song often played on the radio these days is "Hey Ya!" by Outkast. One of the lines in the song, "Shake it, shake it, shake it like a Polaroid picture," reminds me of one of the most precious and thoughtful gifts I ever received. It was a Christmas gift from my boyfriend, John, when I was 17. I had emigrated to Canada from Britain 18 months previously and the Christmas I was 17, I was heading back to England for a holiday with my parents. John gave me my gift and insisted that I open it early so I could take it with me. It was a Kodak instant camera which, like its Polaroid competitor, developed photos immediately so you could tell straight away if the picture hadn't come out properly. Then you could retake it. Today, with our digital cameras and phones, we take this for granted but back in the late 70s this was revolutionary. It saved much disappointment when the photos were finally developed and you discovered they were blurry or too dark. Especially when retakes involved expensive and lengthy trips across an ocean!
What a sweetheart John was. And how thoughtful. I got lots of great shots with the camera and did have to do a couple of retakes but could take them immediately. The film was expensive but I much preferred the glossy, smooth finish to the papery Polaroid ones. And no shaking involved with the Kodak photos. Just set it down and watch the picture develop in front of your eyes like magic!
But my camera was recalled. I can't remember exactly when or what I got in return for sending it back. Something about a patent issue with Polaroid. I remember being very disappointed, especially as I loved the camera and thought it the better of the two. However, I still had all the treasured pictures it took. A visual portal to my treasured memories and people thanks to a kind and thoughtful young man all those years ago.
Think back, what were your first cameras like? And what was one of the most thoughtful gifts you ever received?
Do you have an attitude of gratitude? I think we all do. From time to time at least. Someone wrote that beautiful phrase in one of my blog comments yesterday and it spurred me into writing about one of my daily practices, perhaps the ONLY daily practice that I actually do practice daily--that of gratitude journalling.
The idea came from reading Sarah Ban Breathnach's wonderful mood-shifting, life-changing (for me) book, Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy. Sarah encourages starting a gratitude journal and writing 3 things/ people/ events we're grateful for each day. I've been doing this daily for at least 9 years (the number astounds me but it could even be longer than that).
As a writer, I'm often given blank journals as gifts...one of my absolute favourite things to receive, especially pretty ones with decorative inner pages. I use these books as my gratitude journals.
Paraphrasing Sarah, there is always something to be thankful for even if it is as basic as a piece of paper, a pen and a hand with which to write. Those are my thoughts...hers went along the lines of a shelter, health, love etc. She warns that there are days where it may be hard to find something that we could be thankful for. We all have them. Those tough days. It's good to have a few basics to fall back on...a toothbrush, toothpaste, this breath, the next, a warm blanket, soap, running water...
But this practice shifts your mindset.
When I first started it, I found myself taking little notes, either mental or physical, about things I could be thankful for, that I could use to write down before I went to sleep each night. I began to realize how rich my life is. Even on the toughest days.
I want to write so much more and will return to this topic another day with examples of how my practice has shifted over time. For example, I write 5 things/events/people I'm grateful for that day, then 3 FTD(from this day) things which distinguish this day from any other then finally a starred something which represents a big win that day (this latter idea from Mary Morrissey. Sometimes, like yesterday, my big win is simply someone whose birthday it is and the big win represents them being in my life....yesterday my favourite aunt who died several years ago but whose birthday it was and I heard her favourite song...a big win twice).
But right now I have to get ready to meet Dad at the vets. He has to take his little dog, Tally, his faithful, ever-present companion, to the vets as she seems to be having some issues. For sure, I know that Tally and the knowledge of vets will be noted in my gratitude journal tonight.
What are you grateful for today?
I worked a midnight shift last night. A lone one in the middle of the week which is not unusual in my job, a psw assisting people with disabilities. My schedule is one I picked from available shifts about six weeks ago. It varies from week to week and includes 10 hour day or midnight shifts, 4 hour morning shifts or 5 hours evening shifts. Generally, I love the variance and feel I would wither with a more regimented timetable although both have their pros and cons.
This morning, at 7am, I finished my last routine and walked back into the office ready to give a shift report to my coworker and drive home to climb into bed for a couple of hours sleep. No one there. Only 3 messages and a text on the cell phone. On call. My replacement had phoned in sick and they were trying to find someone else. No luck so far. Could I stay another hour at least? Of course. What else to do? No young family to get off to school, no husband waiting on the car to get to work. So I started on the morning routines hoping someone would show up to relieve me soon.
In the middle of giving someone a shower, a coworker knocked on the bathroom door.
"Sue? I'm here. It's okay. You go home now. I'll take over. Run! Be free!"
I could have kissed her! And I practically did run! Fortunately only an hour extra. I drove home in bright sunlight and, as usual, found it hard to relax straight into sleep so it was after 9:30 before I fell asleep for a few hours. Getting up on what i call a turn-around day can be tricky. When I do fall asleep, it can be deep, my body craves what it's missed but I don't want to sleep too long or too late otherwise I'll become nocturnal and will find it hard to swing back to a regular daytime schedule. Today I pressed snooze 4 times before I dragged myself out of bed at 1:30 feeling disoriented. Again, I'm fortunate: nothing planned outside the home today so I can wrap what I want to do around how I'm feeling from hour to hour.
As I got up and opened my blinds, I noticed that my shamrock plant was fully open, already anticipating the day, already responding. At night time it folds its leaves and during the day opens them like umbrellas. I wonder what would happen to it if I was on a more regular schedule of midnights. But it's impossible to keep the house completely dark. Likely it would respond to whatever daylight it could find. When my shifts are all over the place, the shamrock's quiet folding and unfolding rhythm, no drama, no fuss, is wonderfully reassuring.
My ventures into working midnights happened the September my 6 year-old son started school full time. The spring and summer of that year, I was working part time at Zellers in the clothing department. My shifts were generally evenings and weekends. My marriage had been rocky--my husband was struggling with severe depression--but we were trying. In the spring, unsure of many things, I visited a psychic.
"You'll hear of a job offer," she told me, "something you'd never have considered otherwise, but when you hear of it you'll know instantly that it's right for you. And you'll get it."
I forgot about her words for months, fairly content with my job, until we had a special all staff meeting at work one day. Management had decided to offer regular midnight shifts, Sunday to Thursday, stocking shelves. Who was interested? I worked out the logistics of the job in my mind. It could work out well for me. The extra money and regular shifts would help us and i could sleep while my son was in school. I got goosebumps. Then remembered the physic's words. I got the job.
I loved the crew I worked with. We filled the store with music and worked hard but mostly independently which appealed to me. Months later, my husband and I split up. For the first year I had full custody of my son while his dad was hospitalized in an attempt to stabilize the depression meds. So our weekdays became a familiar routine: I got off work at 6am, got home, helped my son get ready for school, saw him on the school bus, slept for several hours, got up just before he arrived home, made dinner, spent time with him, put him to bed, greeted the lovely shy neighbourhood girl who slept over, then I went to work.
What I remember mostly about that time is forcing myself awake just before the school bus came, my first thoughts on waking being when I could next sleep. But when I look back, I realise what a blessing the shifts were, how beautifully they dovetailed into my life at that time.
To this day, midnights hold a special place in my heart. In my present job, the shift itself isn't too physically demanding and it offers the opportunity of 10 straight hours work. What I cherish most about midnights though is the reminder that there are 24 hours in a day, each with its own charm. And that life happens at all hours, even when most of the town is asleep. A quiet folding and unfolding rhythm all of its own.
I watched the movie, Indian Horse, at the theatre last night. As powerful and moving as the book, the intent to remain true to the book evident from the very beginning in a tribute to Richard Wagamese. For me, the tribute itself was enough to feel tears pricking my eyes. Richard Wagamese died in March 2017 of pneumonia at the age of 61. In May 2016, he visited Thunder Bay and gave a workshop on writing (offered by NOWW: Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop) and presented prizes and spoke at NOWW's annual writing contest. A humble man but when he spoke everyone listened. When he finished, everyone stood and applauded. We were so fortunate to see and hear him, to have him among us for a little while. All of us are fortunate to have his books and now this movie, Indian Horse.
Following is a piece I wrote for NOWW's magazine about the creative workshop on writing that Richard presented. A workshop packed with solid advice from a master storyteller.
“Galloping Herds of Words”
Notes from Richard Wagamese’s Writing Workshop
One Saturday morning in early May about twenty people sat in a circle in a room in Mary JL Black library and participated in an illuminating writing workshop run by Richard Wagamese.
“Go to the energy,” he told us. “Let that be your mantra.”
In a delightful display of enthusiastic “little kid energy”, he told us a story, seemingly without thought or preamble and urged us to do the same by writing a list of random words then passing it to our neighbour who then had to create a sentence out loud, in front of everyone else, without thinking, using three then five of the words.
Uncomfortable? I thought so. But Richard liked that, saying that we have to get out of our heads and into our hearts to be writers. He also believes in the physiological power of saying the story aloud; he ‘wrote’ Indian Horse this way, for instance, telling the story to his dog Molly on morning walks in the mountains. He reminded us all that we are storytellers at heart simply because we’re human and have all evolved from sharing stories around the fire in the night.
We created word maps, springboarding from one main word to different words, and shared a spontaneous sentence or story with the group using these words. As he had stated in various talks throughout the week, Richard reiterated that there are five repetitive principles of oral storytelling:
1. Telling—going to the energy and telling the story
2. Listening—purely physiological, no action needed
3. Hearing—some physiological processes involved to create at least one of four reactions:
4. Incorporating—identifying with the story
5. Sharing and retelling
Richard left us with a 21 day challenge: to write a run on sentence (“Write galloping herds of words,” he implored us) for as long as we could without thinking. Once we realize that we’ve started to think, stop and write ‘…’ which serves as a reminder to ourselves that we voluntarily stopped at that point. Repeat this two or three times a day at any time. After 21 days, he assures us that we’ll have done at least two things:
1. formed a new habit which shows that we don’t need huge blocks of time to write
2. enriched and empowered ourselves with our words and our ability to access the energy whenever and wherever we want.
Try it. I chose a spiral ringed binder for my 21 day challenge and plastered the cover with vibrant pink flowers. But beware if you open it. Stand well back. It contains galloping herds of words.
Have you ever known the moment that you see or meet someone that they're going to be a terrific friend? That they'll be in your life for the long haul? Or maybe that they'll be in it for a short time but a profound time? Somehow you just know?
My friendship with Brenda is like that. She's on my mind today because we're meeting later for dinner and a movie. I still remember meeting her over 35 years ago. She was the sister of someone who was interested in me and who kept writing me letters and poems and leaving them on the windshield of my car. This man and I had met but I wasn't interested at first. So he continued to write me long heartfelt letters during the downtime on his midnight shift at a full serve gas station. Then he'd leave the letters on my car secured by the windshield wipers. (he lived in an apartment overlooking the local shopping mall so would look for my car parked there or outside at work) As I write that, it sounds creepy and like stalking. But I was about 20 and flattered and it didn't seem creepy or like stalking behaviour to me at the time and well, he picked the right way to my heart...through written words. I later married him, so Brenda became my sister-in-law, then divorced him, and Brenda became a chosen sister.
But I digress. I could write lots and lots about heartwarming moments which deepened the friendship between Brenda and myself, but I want to concentrate on our first meeting.
"We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindnesses there is at last one which makes the heart run over." ~ Dr. Samuel Johnson or James Boswell (equally acclaimed to both of them as far as I can tell)
I love the above quote. It's very true. On first meeting someone, you don't always know that you'll be friends. But sometimes there's something that immediately opens your heart to them and you just know.
All the other kindnesses cement that first instinct.
I knew that Brenda worked in the local library as her brother and a mutual friend had told me so. But I had never met her. One day in the library I had to stand in line and watched a lovely young woman working behind the desk, smiling and laughing with patrons. Everyone left smiling. I knew this had to be Brenda. Did she have a nametag that I noticed when it was my time? I'm not sure. She stamped my books, was super friendly and I was suddenly too shy to say anything even though I knew that she knew about me according to her brother's letters. So I hid my face behind my long hair but smiled, wished her a good day in return and skulked away. Before I reached the door, she called out, "Oh! You're Sue!" No escaping now.
I turned around to look at the desk. Brenda stood behind it with her arms open wide. "I'm Brenda!" she said. She melted my heart with her immediate embrace and acceptance and I knew, I just knew at that instance, that we would be friends, solid friends, no matter what.
I love everything about artist trading cards: their size (regular playing card size...3.5 x 2.5 inches), their idea of sharing art examples as a business card, their limitless creative possibilities, their way of reaching out to others and how they can spark the imagination. My super creative and crafty dear friend Linda who lives 3,000 km away in BC, suggested that we swap ATCs once a month. I can't remember how many years ago that was but we've kept up the tradition of mailing two to each other every month. Sometimes one of us (usually me!) falls behind in sending them. But we always make it up. We make two cards the same of each design: one to keep and one to send.
In addition to the creative aspect, Linda had thought that it would be refreshing to have something other than bills in the mailbox each month. It IS exciting to receive her brown padded envelopes full of 'stash' and ATCs each month.
A couple of years after Linda and I began to swap ATCs, I joined Life Book 2016, an online art course, and discovered that Life Book also ran a monthly ATC swap. I was in! Life Book's swap gave a prompt for each month which helped me with ideas. Life Book pairs people interested in the month's swap so each month I have someone different to swap with (as well as Linda). I love it and continue with Life Book's ATC swaps to this day. Receiving an envelope from someone somewhere else in the world each month is fun! It reminds me of all the penpals I had when I was a teenager.
As an icebreaker in a recent theatre course, we had to anonymously provide three items which represented ourselves. I chose the ATC on the right, one of my all-time favourites. I had to explain what it was but it garnered lots of attention. Last year I offered a year's worth of ATCs, one a month, as a charity auction item. The person who won the bidding requested that her friend and her friend's parents receive the gift. She felt that they needed something uplifting in their lives. They had no idea what ATCs were or why they were receiving them! She explained to them what Linda had said to me many moons ago: ATCs provide something cheerful and creative to look forward to in the mail each month. And indeed they do. Did I mention that I love ATCs?
My son Dane and I are both addicted to the TV reality show, Survivor. It's one of my guilty pleasures which surprises people. What a term 'guilty pleasure.' I feel no guilt watching Survivor. I enjoy it fully.
Dane's dad and I split up when Dane was almost 7. We had shared custody so sometimes Dane would come back from his dad's with different habits or wanting to watch different TV shows. That was the case with Survivor. I asked him what he was watching and he explained about this show where people had to vote each other off an island and how it was really good because it involved lots of scheming and back-stabbing. Horrified, I decided to sit and watch the show with him so I could point out how awful the concept was and how everyone should be trying to get along instead. Since then, I haven't missed a single episode although Dane has missed entire seasons!
Since being back in his hometown last summer, Dane has watched Survivor with me weekly. My way of securing time together on a regular basis before he moves away again. Our schedules make it a challenge sometimes but we usually manage something although it's not usually when Survivor is aired live.
Today was supposed to be Survivor time for us before Dane goes to work out of town for the week. My plans changed the night before and opened up an extra time slot for us so I texted Dane and we agreed that he'd pop over in the late morning. So I arranged my day around our new plans. Half an hour after he was supposed to be here, I texted him to see if he was on his way. He'd forgotten about the changed time. And could we make it later? Ggggrrrrr! One of my pet peeves is people not following through on plans that affect me. He also said he was sorry. But I was pissed off. And sent back a snippy reply. He snipped back. He really wanted to go to yoga later. So go do that then, I texted back, overlooking his suggestions that I could watch Survivor on my own or we could watch two shows at once when he got back.
Before he was supposed to come over, I had been working through a pdf from Effy Wild's Moonshine which focused on the ripple affects of our thoughts and actions towards others. And on maintaining boundaries but also being more kindly towards each other. Feeling hypocritical, I took a step back and examined my emotions more deeply. Of course, underlying that was the feeling that I came very low in Dane's priority of things to do and people to see and spend time with. Somehow I felt better realising that, seeing that clarity. Dane and I met up later to help my dad look around an open house and I apologized for being snippy and explained that it was because I felt this low (pointing to my knees) on his priority list. He shook his head saying that he didn't know what was wrong with him this weekend, he had messed up the times on getting together with others too.
Turns out, he is stressing about his travel plans for work tomorrow due to an ice storm in Toronto and a crazy snowstorm here with winds of 50 km/hr. Plus other stressful situations that he'll have to deal with on the road. At this point maternal instincts kick in and all petty squabbles mean nothing. Survivor can wait for another week. We'll both be careful to avoid finding out who got voted off in the following week. And we'll look forward to a double blast of Survivor and extra time together next weekend.
,Hats fascinate me. To see people in hats that really suit them, gives my heart a little lift. And makes me wish I was a little braver. You get noticed in a hat. Well, not a baseball cap in my hometown as people wear them like second skins, ditto with toques, a winter necessity but people notice people in dressier hats. Straw hats or cotton wide brimmed hats are more common place now in summer due to increased knowledge about the sun's damage and heat stroke etc. So maybe I can start my hat wearing adventures in summer.
When I was 14 and 15 in Britain, I went through a distinct hippy phase with long skirts (my mam made them for me as they weren't really in fashion) and a couple of floppy hats--a sky blue gauzy one decorated with silk daisies and a wide brimmed, pink felt one. I wore them proudly all around town and loved how free they made me feel.
Ah and I also remember when I was 11 wearing a Scottish tam, mainly to hide the knots and tangles in the back of my long hair.
But I also loved everything Scottish after having just had my heart stolen by Scotland on holidays that summer. The next summer we holidayed in Wales. I had a crush on a boy a year older staying in our same B&B and he had a tilley-like hat covered in badges of places he'd been. Of course the next day, so did I. But we were still too shy to talk to each other and had to take our hats off for meals anyway so it was difficult to compare badges .
The hat I remember most was an ugly hand-knit beige-ish one that I was supposed to wear as a little girl. It had long straps that had to be tied under my chin. But all they did was itch. I probably squirmed and screamed when I was forced to wear it in winter or whenever there was a wind (I had ear trouble as child) because it felt so restrictive. Perhaps I knew how ugly it looked too. I love having long hair, always have, but when I was about 4 I had my hair cut, very much against my will. My long hair often tangled and I would only let my dad brush it then as he took great care with it and got the knots out gently. Mam and Nanna were far too impatient and rough. So likely they were the ones behind me getting my hair cut. I remember people saying it looked cute. But oh how I missed my hair swirling around my shoulders. I used to jump on the bed and dance whenever I felt happy or whenever I needed to get myself feeling happy. When jumping on the bed, especially, I missed the feeling of my hair flouncing around my face. So I took to wearing the ugly knit hat with the straps hanging loose.
Those straps became my long hair as I repeatedly flipped them over my shoulders. I just pretended I had long braids. Not a perfect solution, but tolerable.
I wore that hat all the time in the house waiting for my hair to grow. I wasn't allowed to wear it outside for a couple of reasons. Firstly I refused to let anyone tie the straps. Secondly it was summer and this was a winter hat. But I didn't care. Nor did I care that the hat was ugly any more. My spirit was so starved for my long hair. I admire now, how that little girl, me!, knew instinctively how she felt with short hair, no matter what anyone else said. And how creatively she solved the problem.
Perhaps that same spirit isn't buried too deep inside me. Perhaps she'll take me off hat shopping. Sooner rather than later.
I love fortune cookies, not necessarily to eat, more so for the joy and fun they represent. How they cushion the sting of the bill at the end of an Oriental restaurant meal. How their fortunes, sometimes profound, sometimes cheesy, can make us laugh and give us something else to talk about at the end of dinner when conversation may have started to lag. They lighten the mood and add a little magic to a gathering. Who hasn't tucked away a particularly positive fortune? I had several taped to the screen of my last computer to uplift my flagging spirit during tedious tasks.
I still find coveted fortunes in random places: books, my wallet, my journal, the bathroom cabinet, coat pockets. Each time I find one, it makes me smile, lifts my spirits a little.
Once when I went out for lunch at a Chinese restaurant with a friend, she told me how she didn't get a fortune in her cookie the last time she'd eaten there. At the end of the meal, we each chose a cookie...and of course hers had no fortune again! "No bad news," I told her trying to cheer her up while also wondering how unsettled and superstitious I'd feel if I was her. No fortune! Twice in a row! Yikes!
As party favours for his 7th birthday, I encouraged my son to give homemade fortune cookies, complete with fortunes which he wrote for each guest. I'd found the idea in a book and the whole process sounded so much simpler than it actually was. I was terrified that the paper would catch on fire when the cookies were baking. They ended up so undercooked that the kids had to scrape raw dough off the fortunes to read them and I had to warn the parents not to let them eat the cookies. But it was such a personal touch that no one minded. My son wrote simple valentine-like captions/fortunes ie "I'm glad you're my friend" and "I like you". A party favour my almost 30 year old son still recalls.
Certainly a time when intention outshone outcome.
My step children (all half-Asian and very familiar with fortune cookies) add "in bed" to the end of everyone's fortune. An often embarrassing albeit humorous habit that I imagine originated during their teenage years.
At Chinese New Year this year, I brought a box of fortune cookies from a restaurant to a public reading by local authors, en event I helped coordinate for NOWW (Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshops). The cookies were a big hit, helping to break the ice, encourage conversation and add levity to the occasion.
I'm itching to create a painting using fortunes as a layer or as a jumping off point.
Similarly a bowl of fortunes would create inviting daily writing prompts.
They would be cool to enclose in birthday cards. Or to use as a focal point in ATCs. Or as a lead-in to a journal exploration. Or affirmations to personalise a calendar. Photo captions? Perhaps. So much possibility from a humble piece of paper. So next time you're tempted to leave your fortune on the table of a restaurant, think twice--where can you let it take you?
Thanks to Effy's group, Moonshine, I pull a couple of tarot cards each day then check in later with how they related to the day. Today is my hubby's birthday and to celebrate and do something different, we left Canada yesterday to stay overnight in the States at Grand Portage, Minnesota, a casino beside Lake Superior. My card pull for yesterday was The World Tree from the Wildwood Tarot and the King of Chalices from the Celtic Tarot. Both positive cards. But as we were at the casino, it occurred to me that cards full of pentacles (representing money, wealth and earthly goods...the suit of stones in Wildwood) might have helped us more! But the view from our hotel room was a treat and we had a good time together.
Today we drove further south, alongside the lake, to have lunch in Grand Marais. I LOVE Grand Marais, Minnesota! It is such a pretty place with a pebbly shoreline and lighthouse. The town itself sits scattered on a hill above the small downtown area. Grand Marais is crammed with artists and art galleries and gift shops full of local work. Heaven. Before lunch, we walked beside the lake and, despite a chilly wind, searched for heart shaped stones. My husband filled his jacket pocket with stones we chose but only two really seemed like they qualified as being heart-shaped. Back at home on my painting table, the reddish one looks distinctly more like a strawberry but not to worry. All interesting stones are welcome in our home.
So we didn't go home with money in our pockets, only rocks. But in a soft sunset which brushed the birches pink, we drove back together refreshed from our time away, inspired by the creativity and beauty of Grand Marais. Perhaps the World Tree and the King of Chalices whose chalice is brim-full of liquid gold were accurate predictors of our mini vacation after all.
My son has been back with us in his hometown for several months now after living 1400 km away for over 5 years. Yay! I'm thrilled but the irony isn't lost on me that now, when we can actually physically celebrate our birthdays together, he has a job that takes him out of town half of the time. And that half of the time just happens to fall on his birthday next week. So tonight we celebrated his birthday together and went out for dinner then to see a show. His choice for dinner: Shoeless Joe's, a new chain in town. My son enjoyed his meal and I enjoyed our shared appetizer (buffalo cauliflower) but was disappointed with the actual dinner I ordered--fish and chips--even though I had doused it in malt vinegar (yum! I used to drink it straight from the bottle as a young girl in Britain!). Chips? Hardly. The skinniest shoestring fries I've ever seen. No match for the onslaught of malt vinegar. Oh well, it's just food, just a restaurant (noisy and full of huge TV screens all on different sports channels, one of the TVs right beside us in our half booth), I reminded myself, focusing instead on being with my son and the absolute normality of this these past few months yet still that knowledge of the preciousness of our time together too.
We chatted about all kinds of things. Our talk turned to the recent tragedy of the Humboldt Broncos hockey players, especially a horrific mistaken identity which occurred. For a couple of days, one family thought their son had been killed while another family thought their son had lived when in reality, the reverse was true. It moved us both to tears. Some things are unimaginable.
Luckily the show we were going to see, Kinky Boots, promised to be upbeat although its message about being true to oneself is serious. My son had seen the show years ago and we had both watched the movie. I was ridiculously excited to be able to see it with him. Despite a technical difficulty about 15 minutes in where the show was interrupted for 10 to 15 minutes and we heard a drill hard at work behind the curtain, the show was excellent, the singing and dancing superb. I can't get enough of the show's final song, Raise You Up/Just Be with its catchy uplifting tune and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper. It had the entire audience on its feet, dancing and clapping.
The perfect seal on what is now, a memory to treasure.
Welcome! I'm Sue Blott: a writer of all things, a poet at heart, mom, wife, daughter, step-mom, grandma, tea drinker, tai chi-er, mystic, artist, dreamer...and now a blogger! This is my world.