Random Thoughts: Desperately Seeking

I’ve always been bothered by the “desperately seeking” posts that I often see online.
Desperately seeking mother of pearl lace-trimmed curtains.
Desperately seeking mahogany-coloured bar stools.
Desperately seeking stuff and more stuff.
But I find that it bothers me more than ever, now.
Maybe it’s because so many have lost jobs.
Maybe it’s because so many lost lives.
Maybe it’s because the fight for personal freedoms is still needed in 2020. In 2020 especially.
Maybe it’s because of all it.
If I’ve learned anything at all this year it’s that there’s so much more of value in the world than what we can buy with a credit card.
If you need a chair, seek a chair, but desperately seek a place for your loved ones to rest.
If you need an umbrella, seek an umbrella, but desperately seek a way to keep yourself warm and dry.
If you want a play set, seek a play set, but desperately seek a chance for your kids to play freely and without reservation.
If you need help, seek help, desperately.
If you need friendship, seek friendship.
If you need space, seek space.
If you need food, seek food, desperately.
Seek harmony, desperately.
Seek to share your love.
Seek play.
Seek calm.
Seek health.
Seek the stuff that you need in your life, but,
if you’re desperately seeking,
seek life.

-mtg

Random Thoughts: Strong Girls

Last night my almost-nine year old daughter was curled up in bed–pajamas on, cuddling a pillow, holding her favourite mug filled with her favourite herbal tea, and reading The Bridge to Terabithia. She was the epitome of cozy. As I passed by she called out and said, “Look, mom. I’m your perfect picture.”

I felt a queasy squeeze in my belly over the word perfect. I don’t like it, I feel too much pressure when I hear it. I redirected her words by responding with, “That’s definitely one of my favourite activities.”

She continued. “I just felt like curling up with a book and a cup of tea, so I did it.”

“Good girl,” I said. But then the queasy returned.

I always feel the queasy when I hear myself say “good girl” or “good boy.” Not because of the gendered part, but because of the good part. I always feel like I’m telling her who to be and how to behave by labeling something good or perfect. My daughter is a fireball, as I was a fireball at her age. I often feel like that was trained out of me, and, difficult as it can be, I don’t want to be the one to subdue her fire.

So I said, “You know, when I say “good girl” I don’t mean that because it’s an activity that I like to do. I mean it because you listened to yourself and went for it.”

She looked at me with a duh expression and said, “Yeah, I know.”

But I persisted. “I mean, it’s not because you’re being quiet and calm in this moment that you’re good.”

At that point she looked at me with an expression resembling something like pity mixed with annoyance over my ineptitude. She actually slowed down her speech when she responded. “Yeah, mom. I know.”

And that’s when I realized that it’s me that has the problem.

-mtg

Random Thoughts: When one person’s opinions hinder the human rights of another, they’re no longer entitled to their opinions.

Every time a movement happens that gives me hope for the future of my kids, I always make the mistake of reading comments sections. Then I lose hope all over again. Why people work so hard to resist the idea of human rights for all boggles my mind. I once worked for someone who embodied the racist/sexist/homophobic white male, and after countless episodes where he felt the absolute freedom to speak whatever nonsense he was in the mood to speak that day, I confronted him. In that confrontation he said that he has the right to his opinions, and that we could agree to disagree. But no, I didn’t agree with that. When one person’s opinions hinder the human rights of another, they’re no longer entitled to their opinions. If you were seeing a therapist, they would tell you from the outset that anything you say will be kept confidential, unless what you say infers harm to another. At that point the therapist would raise the alarm. Right now there are a lot of alarms being raised, because there’s a lot of harm being done. As I tell my kids, it’s not ok to harm each other, we are not allowed that right.

I have this banner hanging on the wall outside my kids’ rooms. It’s the Suffragette slogan, and I keep it there to remind them and myself that they are the young, and they can break the gates down.

-mtg


Lavinia Dock, “The Young Are At The Gates,” June 30, 1917.

If any one says to me: “Why the picketing for Suffrage?” I should say in reply, “Why the fearless spirit of youth? Why does it exist and make itself manifest?” Is it not really that our whole social world would be likely to harden and toughen into a dreary mass of conventional negations and forbiddances–into hopeless layers of conformity and caste, did not the irrepressible energy and animation of youth, when joined to the clear-eyed sham-hating intelligence of the young, break up the dull masses and set a new pace for laggards to follow?

What is the potent spirit of youth? Is it not the spirit of revolt, of rebellion against senseless and useless and deadening things? Most of all, against injustice, which is of all stupid things the stupidest?

Such thoughts come to one in looking over the field of the Suffrage campaign and watching the pickets at the White House and at the Capitol, where sit the men who complacently enjoy the rights they deny to the women at their gates. Surely, nothing but the creeping paralysis of mental old age can account for the phenomenon of American men, law-makers, officials, administrators, and guardians of the peace, who can see nothing in the intrepid young pickets with their banners, asking for bare justice but common obstructors of traffic, nagger’-nuisances that are to be abolished by passing stupid laws forbidding and repressing to add to the old junk-heap of laws which forbid and repress? Can it be possible that any brain cells not totally crystallized could imagine that giving a stone instead of bread would answer conclusively the demand of the women who, because they are young, fearless, eager, and rebellious, are fighting and winning a cause for all women–even for those who are timid, conventional, and inert?

A fatal error–a losing fight. The old stiff minds must give way. The old selfish minds must go. Obstructive reactionaries must move on. The young are at the gates!

Credit: Lavinia Dock, “The Young Are At The Gates,” The Suffragist, June 30, 1917.

We Are Born the People We’re Meant to Be

I believe we are born the people we were always meant to be. Whether or not we remain that person over the course of our lifetime, that’s another thing. But I believe our true self is always the same. 

When I was five years old I was a flower girl, along with another little girl my age. There is a picture of the two of us as we started our trip down the aisle. In the photo the other girl wore a perfect smile, she was poised and proper, she was holding her basket of petals with grace and she was not at all daunted by the ogling eyes of the crowd. Standing beside her was me, the exact opposite of the put-together image she exuded. I was a scraggly mess, my hair was already unkempt and my dress looked like I had been doing cartwheels while wearing it. I was dragging my basket behind me, and in my eyes was the unmistakable look of someone who wanted out from that crowd. Looking at that photo, even as a young child, I could easily see that there was a difference between us. No one had to say it but the message was clear: Maria equalled mess. 

I was always the one with the hair sticking out in all directions. Clothes went onto my body clean and pressed, but were lopsided and dirty before I even left my room. Whenever someone in my family tells a story about me as a kid, undoubtedly I’m being someone they shake their heads at. I was wild, had crazy ideas, and an artistic flair that my practical family didn’t know what to do with. Maria equalled confusion.

I tried, at various points in my teenage years, to dress with style or learn about makeup, but I was always more comfortable wearing cargo pants and hoodies. On the soul level I always felt like I was swaggering between what was normal and what was me; what felt acceptable generally, and what felt acceptable for myself. Maria equalled limbo.

For me, life is a series of paths put together in various intertwining shapes and forms. Sometimes we go off path, and when we do, the question always remains,–somewhere, ringing deep in our bones–Will we find our way back to the path where we belong?

In my early twenties, I worked at an art gallery. We had a volunteer that would come every Sunday afternoon and take ownership of the jewellery counter in the gallery’s shop. She was in her seventies, always wore a skirt and heels, and was never without her hair pinned and her makeup on. Her name was Margaret, and she was a sophisticated old broad. 

I grew to love Margaret. She had outlived both her husband and son and had kept on living, with spunk and determination. She was always regaling us young girls with stories about her bus rides up to the casino and weekend vacation tours. She was a free and proud woman.

Around the time when I left the art gallery for other adventures, she invited me out for lunch. Over roasted chicken she told me about her many pursuers, and about how little she was interested in any of them. She listed off her upcoming trips, the extent of which put my own social life to shame. She spoke about her life, she spoke about the future, she reminded me to fully be myself.

That was the last time I would ever see Margaret, but as I left her that day I was filled with a goal, a lifelong determination, to heed Margaret’s message. To shine, to be okay with my crazy, to show my wild, to not give a shit about the opinions of others. I knew that I could never be as elegant as Margaret, but I could grow into a Red Hat Society kind of old lady and that was good enough for me.

If we were each a tree, the branches would be the complications, the distractions, the judgments and the pressures that can alter the course of our lives. The older we get, the more forks we find in our branches. But all branches lead back to the tree’s base, the core of the tree, the centre of its strength. I think that the older women get, the more they align with that core. The more they align, the more they want to align. Also, the less they care about dropping a branch or two along the way. While I was mixed up in the branches, Margaret was standing solidly at the base of her own tree. 

The path where we belong is not about the what we do. It’s about the who we are. It’s the little girl you wrote to in your first-ever journal. It’s the teenager who went against her parents’ wishes when choosing her university major. It’s how you feel when you find your step and walk with purpose.The who you are is the person you say good-bye to each night, once the kids are asleep and the lights have gone out, and you’re free to breathe.

The who I am has stayed consistent throughout my life. There were certainly times when I chose a wrong path, a path that moved me away from my core. Maybe it was that time I didn’t speak up, or that friend I stood by when I shouldn’t have, or that feeling I got from my family about my choices, or how I felt judged when I was at my most vulnerable. Maybe it was that boyfriend or not trusting my instincts or that choice I made that I now regret. But, ultimately, I always come back to me. I try hard to listen to the inner voice that calls me forward. I try hard to pay attention to how I feel along the way. I try hard to remember Margaret and how she taught me what it feels like to be free. I try hard to remember myself, my wild, my artsy, my crazy, my messy, my scraggly, and all of the me that’s been there since day one. When I remember that person, it becomes easier to get back to her. 

Maria equals the sum of all my parts. Unequivocally, entirely, undeniably. Like Margaret, when I stand at the base of my tree–strong, proud, firm and unwavering–I am also my most free. Although I may still buy myself a red hat when I’m fifty.

All About Self-Care

About four years back I put together this little workbook for moms. I had just emerged from what I call the mom-fog, that period of time when our kids are young and needy and we as moms are still new enough in our role to sweat the small stuff. It’s that period of perpetual exhaustion, when, I think, we kind of lose pieces of our essence. I was feeling really grateful for having emerged from this fog and wanted to do something, anything, that could potentially assist other moms to do the same. I gathered thoughts, techniques, and outside inspiration, and put them together into one actionable set of resources.

I had a goal, at the time, to turn the workbook into an online course of sorts, something visual that could be followed along. This felt like a huge undertaking, and something that would take me well out of my comfort zone. It took a few years, but I finally did it. Om is now available as a free download and a free online course.

Could I have done better? Probably. But did I accomplish a goal? Definitely. My hope, as always, is that it bring value to the people that follow it. Self-care matters.

Below is an excerpt from the workbook, the Introduction:

Introduction

I always knew I wanted to be a mom, there was never any question. My kids are and have always been my number one priority in life. Being a mom isn’t something you can shut off—once you are a mom, you’re a mom for life.

But I wasn’t prepared for how the early years of motherhood would change me. That I would no longer be able to view my beloved crime dramas out of paranoia, that my previously adventurous spirit would be tamed into concern at every turn, that I would forget that there were things I was good at other than diaper changing and expressing Good job!, this was a surprise to me. I didn’t see it as it was happening, but slowly my life swirled more and more out of balance to the point that I had forgotten myself. Every day was about the kids, and only about the kids.  

Everyone has turning points in their lives, events that force you to see things a different way. In my life, in this case, it was a series of miscarriages that turned me around. The miscarriages forced me to take care of myself, to heal my wounds, to be temporarily selfish and to add myself to my priority list. I was (and am) no less grateful at the opportunity given to me in life to be a mother, my children are my heart. But, just as I want to raise them to be strong individuals, I was forced into remembering that I, also, am a strong individual. We are bound together, but we are also separate. And that’s not only OK, but necessary.  

When my first child was born I had this overwhelming feeling that I had found my life’s purpose, that being a mom was truly my calling. Since then, I’ve realized that a person can have many callings, be multi­talented, and that not all my goodies need to cook in one pot. It’s OK to do things for myself only, it’s OK to take care of me as much as I take care of my family. My personal interests are critical to my personal development. If I am not paying attention to all my interests, I am not developing.  

I consider the act of caring for our kids but forgetting to care for ourselves to be a bad habit we moms fall into. As studies say it takes  only 21 days to break a habit, let this be the place you begin. 

After writing a mom blog for four years—which was really an online diary of personal struggle and development—I came to recognize that as moms, in general, we need to keep our sights on ourselves. This is the purpose this workbook is meant to serve.  

If you are a mom who, like me, struggles to remember the person you were before motherhood, and struggles to remain aligned with the person you always strived to become, this workbook is for you. If you feel you have all your ducks lined up—great! That’s something to be truly proud of. Perhaps this workbook won’t serve any purpose other than defining the way you choose to spend your “you” time for the next three weeks. Either way, this journey is meant to quiet your mind, take you away from your task­driven selves, uncover more time and meaning in your lives, and inspire a generally more positive shift in perspective. The goal is to reconnect yourself with yourself, to remember some of the deepest parts if you, forgotten in the chaos of caring for your tiny humans.

My hope is that you get as much value out of this workbook as I got putting it together. Value—receiving and experiencing value that is equal to or greater than the value we give each and every day—is what we’re aiming for. 

https://mariagiuliani.ca/books-etc/keeping-the-om-in-mom/

Repost: Remembering How to be Bien Dans Ma Peau

The French have an expression, Je suis bien dans ma peau. It means, “I am comfortable in my own skin.”

It speaks to confidence, but not only confidence. It speaks to comfort, especially. How comfortable a person is being alone with themselves, sitting with themselves, hearing their own thoughts, or, not hearing any thoughts at all; how comfortable a person is sitting in their own silence. It doesn’t matter if you are an extrovert or an introvert. It matters only if you are able to enjoy your own company, entertain yourself, amuse yourself, listen to yourself at both surface and deeper levels.

But this isn’t something that comes naturally to most people. In fact, I consider it to be a learned skill, something that comes with time, age, and experience.

When I was in my early twenties, I took myself on a solo road trip. It was great and wonderful in many ways, and I liked that I was on my own, but as the trip stretched from days to weeks, I stopped knowing how to be alone with myself. There was a lot of silence, and rather than push through it, I sought to fill it with exterior noise. This isn’t what I actually needed, not in the long run, but I went for the temporary relief. I started calling home and emailing friends, spending time indoors on a computer that could have been spent out exploring more of my new and temporary surroundings. I could have pushed through until I was comfortable, which is a life-long skill, but I gave up too soon.

Perhaps a decade later, I had two maternity leaves that were fairly back to back. My first one was filled with all the newness of being a first-time mom, all the figuring-things-out-ness, as well as a move to a new house, a couple of family holidays, and other things to make my year feel very full. But my second child was a winter baby, and there weren’t many new or interesting tidbits to break up the monotony of a long winter spent indoors with an infant. I am an introvert, so I didn’t get that much enjoyment from group mom and baby classes, etc. The time felt long, but, mostly because I stopped being comfortable. My family was going through a dark period, my health had taken a bit of a tumble, I had two kids in diapers and a husband who was always away, and, perhaps worst of all, I felt like I wasn’t contributing anything to my home, to my family, or to the world at large. I started to try and fill my time with ways to validate myself and my maternity leave, as though raising our kids wasn’t a good enough way to fill my time. I began to fixate on keeping our home clean as though that was my solution, but I was always angry and grumpy. I had everything I had always wanted, but I was unhappy. I wasn’t allowing myself to settle into a rhythm. I wasn’t allowing myself the chance to simply enjoy my time. I was pressuring myself to fill my time, and in doing so, stopped feeling comfortable with my life. This presented itself in various, mostly negative ways, and impacted my family in much the same way.

In both circumstances, had I only slowed down, had I only taken time to breathe through my anxieties, through any haunting thoughts or daunting challenges, I would have come out on the other side stronger than I went in. Or, much the same, but, with a few less bruises. But in both circumstances, I stopped being comfortable, I stopped allowing myself to just be, to just experience, and so, in both circumstances, I kind of lost my way.

I was thinking about this recently, given that most people are home under quarantine. Some people are home alone, or with their partner or spouse. Some people, like my husband and I, are home with kids and are alternating between loving it and losing their grip on reality. At first, it felt like a vacation. The whole family was home and we all used the opportunity to relax and unwind as one does during spring break or summer vacation. But as time went on, and as it became obvious that this “holiday” was the new norm, we all went through a period of mental adjustment. Speaking for myself, I hit a wall, and it was something I needed to work my way through.

Quarantine removes some of the choices we are used to being faced with. As someone who does not enjoy speaking out loud or communicating in person (or communicating by phone or any form of video messenger), you would think I would be okay with all this. But I dislike not having the choice and the opportunity to speak with people when a little conversation is needed. It can feel lonely without options, and even though I’m with my family, I find myself needing to reach out to the world beyond our four walls.

Quarantine also removes purpose. I had a job I was good at, now I don’t. Being faced with this reality is a bit of a mind trip. Similarly to how I felt on my second year of maternity leave, even though I am home taking care of my kids, even though I am their primary caregiver and they will be home with me for months (while my husband works from the basement, which is a more bum deal if you think about it), I feel as though I’m not contributing enough, doing enough for my family, supporting them enough, because I’m not operating at the same speed as before. I am putting this pressure on myself, like I have a duty to use this time effectively and purposefully. I saw people homeschooling with vigor or housecleaning with rigor, and yet I was stuck in a mental fog brought on by this self-inflicted feeling of pressure.

Quarantine gives us a chance to get comfortable in our own skin, if we choose to accept it. I had to come to the realization, again, that I needed to find a way to become comfortable. I needed to find a way to push through. Sometimes I need to give the loneliness and the brain fog and the insecurities a great big hug, then take them by the hand and walk together through the field of emotions that make up my inner landscape. Sometimes the only way to get to the other side is to take myself there, however long or short the journey may be.

And on the other side, there is a silence that I am comfortable with. On the other side, there is no need for outside validation, because I am valid enough. On the other side, I can reinvent my purpose. On the other side, I understand that some things are within my control, and some things are utterly beyond it.

On the other side of the ups and downs and inner conflict and rush of emotions, is a chance to be bien dans ma peau once more. Getting there is worth the work it takes to get there, although the journey itself can be a bumpy ride.

Originally published on BLUNTmoms, May 22, 2020.

In the Face of Failure, Be Fearless

A few months ago, I was walking down the street with my family. It was an unusually warm day for March. I love going for family walks around town, and I love the end of winter—the feeling of freedom I get from being able to return to nature. Yet on this day, I was fairly miserable. In truth, I was having a pity party with myself, which was making it difficult to enjoy our family walk.

I felt like a failure at life that day, and I was really bummed out about it. As I complained to my husband, he kept trying to turn it around.

“But I’m about to lose my job!”

“Yeah but, through no fault of your own.”

“But every time I try to start my own endeavor it never works out!”

“Like what?”

“Like when I tried to sell make-up so I could be a stay at home mom.”

“Yeah but, you don’t even wear makeup…you don’t even know how to apply it.”

“That’s not the point!” I argued. “And when I tried to work from home doing logistics…”

“Yeah but, again, it wasn’t the right job for you. You liked logistics, but you hate sales. And you hate marketing yourself. So, I think it’s just the choices you made…”

“I tried to do the crafting business…”

“Yeah but, you hated creating on demand. There’s a job opening at my company…?”

“Gawd no, I hate computers.”

“Okay, so… Is it really that you’re a failure, or just that there are very few things that you actually like?”

And that was the question. I wasn’t lucky enough to have a particular calling early in life. I always struggled with knowing “what I wanted to be,” but mostly because there are so many things I like, and, equally, so many things I dislike.

The point is, I had tried and have tried so many different things over the years. I’ll get an idea in my mind and I’ll say, Hey, I wonder what it would be like to do that? I’ll do a bit of research, take the necessary steps, set myself up, and then step over the cliff, expecting, each time, to fly. I tend to believe that “the Lord helps those who help themselves.” Or, that if you have the courage to take the first step, the universe will carry you the rest of the way. I believe in this concept so much that I expected to be carried each and every time. Which made it all the more painful every time I fell right on my face.

The key to success is not expectation. Who knew? My first failure was believing that, and my first success was letting it go. You can take yourself to the edge of the cliff and you can jump. Sometimes you will fly, and sometimes you will crash land. But that’s all a part of the experience of this beautiful thing called life.

Luckily, I am also someone who learns through direct experience, and this is what experience has taught me: I learn when I fail. I get an idea, I try it out, and in doing so learn what I do and don’t like about the experience. This is a lifelong process of honing myself down, learning what to cut out, what isn’t worthy of my energy, and what to add more of. All my failed experiences kind of sucked, and some of them were a little embarrassing, but they didn’t stop me from getting back up with my next new idea, trying it on like a pair of pants, deciding whether I liked the fit or whether it had enough pockets before tossing it aside. I needed these experiences in order to learn about myself, truthfully and concretely, and when all is said and done, I’m always left with a more precise idea of who me is.

I’ve learned that sometimes “helping myself” means accepting failure rather than expecting success. In fact, I’d go so far as to suggest that it’s best to face it, fearlessly and despite yourself. Because if you work hard, if you persevere, if you continue to whittle away the Gawd-no’s so that all that’s left are the yes-pleases, eventually, all that will remain is the most rock star version of you. That matters way more than tripping over a few stones along the way.

My life has been peppered with tiny little successes, and with huge flops thrown in now and again. But that’s just life, isn’t it? And we are meant to learn from the failures as much as the successes; from the hurt as much as the love. So long as you’re willing to pay attention to the lesson.

Protecting My Inner Introvert During a Pandemic

I am an introvert. I wear this label like a brand because it offers me a shield of protection, as though just saying it helps others to understand why I am as awkward as I am, or why it may take me a few minutes to formulate a response, or why I just need to separate myself from cacophony. This label bears no weight at all with my family, however, which makes these interesting times.

Being in the middle of a global pandemic, with all of us at home sharing the same walls and breathing the same air, day in and day out, has offered a unique opportunity for me as an introvert to figure things out.

My husband is a very on, very extroverted individual. My daughter is the apple that didn’t fall far from his side of the tree. My son is a Velcro kid. I am a bubble person, the one that bought a hula hoop when the kids were younger to demonstrate how much space mamma needs around her, the one that loves having my kids be all over me, but in small doses with long breaks in between.

I’ve found the keys to relatively a peaceful household to be mutual respect and self-care in the form of scheduled separation.

Mutual respect goes in all directions. Parents have to respect kids and each other. Kids have to respect parents and each other. We’re teaching the kids that if they give us some of what we need, i.e. being helpful and positive behavior, we’ll give them some of what they want, i.e. more free time. My kids, who are seven and eight years old, so close in age and competitive as a result, have actually decided to move in together. Sharing a room is teaching them about the necessity of respecting each other’s personal space, and also self-awareness about how and when they need alone time. It’s a work in progress, but it’s progressing. I lost my job due to COVID-19, but my husband’s work is very busy, so I find it necessary to respect the boundaries of his workday, as well as making space for opportunities to recharge his batteries. In return, he doesn’t inflect any opinions or expectations on my time or the schedule I’ve devised, trusting that I’m doing the best I can for myself, for the kids, and for our family. Basically, when I’m at my desk, my personal cocoon, he doesn’t interrupt me. On the whole, what all of us seem to need to succeed this quarantine is freedom, within the confines of our homes, and we’re finding ways to achieve it.

My freedom comes in free time, isolation within the isolation. I have always been an advocate of self-care, and this is no less needed now. Let’s be honest, school won’t be back in session anytime soon. My kids are not going back in two weeks, or four weeks, and maybe not even until September. Who knows, there may not even be summer camp. It’s just us, and we’re in it for the long haul. This is not the life that they’re used to, mom and dad have always worked, and I know I need to keep it fresh and engaging as much as is decently possible, but I also know that in order to succeed there, I need to do some things for me, too.

Making a schedule that allows me to be present as a mom, but is kind to the whole family, was my primary goal. For example, I know that my kids prefer languid mornings, they despise being rushed. And seriously, we aren’t going anywhere so who am I to refuse them? So, I allow them free time, which does mean screen time, until ten each morning. I, on the other hand, am an early riser. I always got up at 5am to allow myself some personal time before school and work and I haven’t dropped the habit. What this does is provide me with five beautiful hours at the start of each day, five hours when I can read a book, binge a show, catch up on essential tasks or work on personal projects and goals—such as writing this post. By the end of this time I have enjoyed a few silent cups of coffee, I have checked several items off my personal to-do list, and I feel ready to conquer the day.

I don’t have the kids on a structured hourly schedule as it doesn’t suit our temperaments. Rather, they are on a points system. Earning 100 points through activities such as homework, reading, going outdoors, crafting, household chores and science experiments allows them more free time in the afternoons. This is win-win, because more free time for them also means more free time for mom, providing me with an hour or so to regroup before Round Two. I often use this second break to go for a long walk by myself. This gives me a chance to move my body freely, to clear my mind, and to sort out any pent-up feelings I may be having at the time. We all have a lot of feelings going on right now; because I don’t wear mine on my sleeve means I need to provide myself with the means to resolve them, privately, before they have a chance to inflict themselves on my family’s day.

This circles back to respect. Respect for my family, but also respect for myself. Awareness and self-awareness. Scheduling in time for me to go inside is as important as scheduling in time for schooling and physical exercise. It keeps me healthy, which in turn keeps us healthy. We’ve been at this for weeks now, and we’ll likely be at it for months overall. I believe that to get through it, in this household, we need to operate by our own three R’s: Relax, Regroup, Respect. At the end of the day, what we have is each other. 

To the Gates!

 

gates

Not long ago my husband and I were having a [discussion/argument, tomayto/tomahto]. He said to me, you may take up a small physical space [all 5’0 of me], but you take up a lot of energetic space. You’re big, bigger than you realize. When he said this, I had taken up the majority of the room with my “space.”

I realized in that moment the truth in what he was saying.

I have always been shy and reserved to the outside world, because I am, as I will often and readily admit, a bona fide introvert. I don’t have the ability to voice in person what I can easily voice in the written word because I require the extra time, the extra space that verbal conversations don’t allow for. By the time I finish processing the exact correct response I wish for, the moment is long gone. Put me on the spot and I freeze, able only to communicate some nonsensical gibberish that can label the moment nothing but awkward.

I have had a difficult time in my life reckoning these two opposing sides of myself, the bigger than big, with the socially small. My need to identify has always left me in conflict with myself.

I recall quite clearly that as a young child I was extremely self-assured. I was born with purpose, I had a strong mind and I knew it. Everyone knew it. You could feel it, practically see it. It was all the difference between how I was treated compared to my much better-behaved older sister. I was born owning the space I occupied.

But over time that feeling disappeared. As I naturally became more socially aware, grew to learn of the world’s expectations of me, grew to understand politics in its various forms, and as the introvert in me solidified into the core of my being, that large space I occupied felt, to me, to be very, very small. Tiny even. I didn’t understand or even recognize its existence. I denied it entirely.

This went on through my teens, through my twenties. On the outside the quiet one, the wallflower, the cute one, the shy one. On the inside full of spunk, angst, confusion, and fight. Conflicted. There were moments when my inner strength barreled through and in those moments I felt undeniably free, viscerally elevated. And yet I never recognized that this could be a permanent state, always reverting back to my small, introverted self.

In my thirties this inner conflict crumbled. Between the cloudy fatigue of motherhood and the onset of some health complications, I didn’t always recognize myself. I was searching. I often turned to writing as my own personal therapy, looking for clues in my own written word, processing information every time I sat at my computer.

You see I knew one thing for certain, that same thing I knew right from the time I was born. I am on this earth for a reason, just like all of us. I know I am meant to be here, I just don’t always understand the why. I could not see through the mental, emotional and energetic haze, to whatever is meant to be on the other side. Big personality me and small introvert me did not understand how to coexist, and did not understand this as their life’s mission. They only understood that something had to give.

But, somewhere inside of me, resting in the shadow of ego, I was afraid of what would happen, could happen, if it did.

Tangent story: Not too many years ago I began working for a company that really felt in line with my core values. I was excited beyond measure for this opportunity. I knew it was where I was meant to be at that time in my life, I just knew I needed to work there and I was so grateful that everything had aligned as it did. For the first time in many years, I loved going to work.

But.

There was a very large but that grew to exist. It turned out that although the company seemed to be aligned with my values, my boss most certainly was not. He was what I could only comfortably refer to as “a bad man.”

While I don’t want to allow him too much space in my story, in the vein of everything happens for a reason, I have to acknowledge that my time working with him was a climactic chapter at the end of my thirties, and because of it I am able to close this decade with purpose if not grace.

To put it quite simply, he was that annoying type of conservative who, after the election of Trump, thought it was safe to uncloset himself as the racist, sexist, homophobic person he was. He felt he could spew his opinions freely without reprimand, and so did. He was incredibly arrogant.

Working in that environment triggered a very deep and burning anger inside me. I was compelled to speak out every time he opened his mouth. I can’t count the number of times I kicked him out of my office. I could easily tell him to his face what I thought of him, going against introvert me and taking up that extra-large space surrounding petite me. I called it like I saw it and then some.

Despite my anger I made efforts to be mature. I offered insights, requested reason, and was completely honest in my bluntness, but none of it mattered. I saw in him something that he did not see in himself: that he was weak, that he needed this carefully constructed persona in order to feel important, that his ego was so fragile that even a hint of negativity towards him would cause him to fall to pieces, and so he could only strengthen the conceits and deceits with which he surrounded himself to prevent this from happening. I was the one person that threatened this construct.

I almost felt sorry for him, really. As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t bring myself to hate him because I could see the truth of what he really was, a truly lost human, and one who will likely never find his way home.

Yet still, I burned. I burned on behalf of those he spoke out against. Most especially, I burned on behalf of all women, any woman who ever had to deal with this level of [stupid]. I burned because it was the first time in my life I ever experienced sexism against the smart, strong and wholly capable person I know myself to be, and I burned because I couldn’t passively allow such sexism to still exist in the world where my smart, strong and wholly capable daughter will grow to occupy. I felt called to resist.

The aftermath of this story, after the dust settled and the deep burning had subsided to slow and steady embers, what was left behind was the strongest, most conviction-filled version of me my life had known thus far.

Tangents converge: This week in Quebec, with the passing of Bill 21 and all the legalized racism that goes with it, I found myself boiling with anger, the same kind of dark anger I felt working under [old stupid boss], and I wanted to react. But I’m almost-40 now, I’ve experienced a few things, I learned from my experiences. I’ve taken the time to listen.

In the same week Oprah came to town and spoke about being a light during times of darkness. My husband reminded me of the Obama’s expression, When they go low, we go high. And reading some words from the Dalai Lama reminded me that anger is futile, and that only clear and conscious communication in the name of love and peace can make any real difference.

So in the face of small-minded racism, and in the spirit of knowing my own strength, I’ve taken a stance of peaceful activism. I could just ignore it. I mean, we can’t change the law, now can we? But I would rather have been the kind of person that hid Jews during the Nazi regime rather than held the letter of the law. I would rather have been the kind of person working the underground railroad. Of all the instances of racism against a people throughout the past century, even just in Canada [the aboriginals, the Japanese…], I cannot just sit down and drink my coffee and live my life saying nothing, with another people being targeted in such an unconstitutional way. Anger may be futile, but I do still hold a burning drive deep in my belly that refuses to allow me to remain silent.

The suffragettes had a slogan, The young are at the gates. It was an expression representing activism and change derived from this quote from Lavinia Dock: “The old stiff minds must give way. The old selfish minds must go. Obstructive reactionaries must move on. The young are at the gates!”  I refer to this slogan often, within myself, as a reminder that I too can make a difference. That I will show up to the gates, and I will do my part to have them be opened to one and all. As a woman, especially, this is important to me. With Bill 21 targeting women, especially, this is important to me.

And as a woman, especially, I can’t help but think about my strength, and the strength of all the women I know. I can’t help but think that “it is the neck that moves the head.”* I can’t help but think, “Men, They thought they ruled the world but couldn’t so much as take a step without, that very night, seeking the opinions of their partners, lovers, girlfriends, mothers.”** I can’t help but remember that in times of darkness I have already been a light for myself, and that I have a responsibility to be a light for others. I can’t help but recall, “I’ve always heard that women are more courageous and intelligent that men…”** I can’t help but look way down the line of our ancestry, before these past 2000 plus years, to societies past, and understand how women once led with grace and balance, and how it was widely recognized that the masculine, without the feminine, did not a balanced society make.

And I can’t help but know that women learn from their experiences, as I am professing to doing now. Women grow, mature, and bring that maturity to the table. Women have sense, and in this current society where sense there is none, sense is what is needed.

I guess what I am getting at, in a very long-winded sort of way, is that women have the power to set things straight in this world. We have the strength and we have the staying power to get the job done. We are fierce, brave, smart, determined, reasonable and strong. We burn, but as beacons of light that are never extinguished. Women are capable instigators of change. I am an instigator of change.

When a pendulum is too far in one direction for too long, it sometimes takes a great big push before it can find equilibrium. As a woman I feel the need to push, because it’s 2019***, because my daughter already thinks being mayor is a woman’s job [Mom, are men allowed to be mayor too?], and because she feels being a doctor is a woman’s job [Mom, are there places in the world where men can be doctors too?], I sense the pendulum moving. But it needs the young at the gates, it needs the great big push, it needs to hear the feminine in all of us give a great big roar.

Because listen, equilibrium is all we are truly seeing at the end of the day. The rest of us, outside of our current governments and small-c conservatives [and those some may refer to as “the man”], we all just want to live our lives peacefully, from the comfort of our homes, wherever we choose for those homes to be. I don’t care about Bill 21 or Bill 101 or English or French or Cantonese or white or brown or red or green or male or female or religious or not religious. I care about human. We are each of us a citizen of this earth, born unto whatever deity we choose to believe in. We are each here for a reason. But that reason, at no point, involves infringing on the peaceful rights of another. And you can take that to the gates.

 

*My Big Fat Greek Wedding

**Paulo Coelho, Hippie

***Throwback to Justin Trudeau’s “Because it’s 2015.”

YOLO

yolo pic

There are times in your life when you are given something, a message to heed or advice to hear, or a sign of sorts, and you’re meant to pay attention. And when you ignore it, as undoubtedly we all do, the messages tend to get louder.

I remember when I was a pre-teen, I received the book The Blue Castle as a gift. I read it repeatedly, and in the 30 or so years since, have thought about it often. As much as I adore Anne of Green Gables it has always been, for me, the L.M. Montgomery story which most touched my heart.

It’s the story of Valancy, an old maid by 1920s standards, living with her dreary family, destined for a dreary life, until the day she is issued a terminal diagnosis. This sudden news was her get out of jail card. It liberated her from having to worry about what people thought, what her family would say about this or that, and of all things, her propriety. She began acting on whim and literally changed her life, one spontaneous decision at a time. She got married, moved to a cabin in the woods and found love, in that order. And she became herself, her true self, the self that had previously been hidden away unseen. She learned happy.

As an angsty pre-teen, one who hated being kept on a leash, this story offered me a path, an escape into beauty, a way of living. I understood it’s truth and appreciated it.

But that doesn’t mean I was ready to hear and heed. It was way too easy to stew in feelings, brooding against the oppression I felt having protective parents. I honestly felt like my life couldn’t start yet, not until I moved away from home.

So I moved away for university, but my life couldn’t start yet until school was done.

And then…

And then…

Bills, mortgage, kids, school, work, hating this work, needing new work, more bills, that reno to do, homework, this bathroom is disgusting, so much work to do, so many things to plan for, and anyway, what’s for dinner?

There is always something going on ahead of me, just out of reach, that I need to take care of and plan for. Something that stops me from committing fully to living.

It’s that quote you hear about being on a train and waiting to arrive at your destination for the journey to begin. The destination is death. The journey is the train ride. We never get that. I didn’t. On a cerebral level maybe, but I never let it sink in.

There have been times in my life when it should have. I had a depression at 25 that I bounced back from, but rather than grabbing life by the horns I kind of sat back with the attitude that I got myself out of the hole, life needed to do the rest. Didn’t happen. There was that near car accident. And that other actual accident. There was that time I was standing at the edge of a cliff in Newfoundland and the ocean jumped up and threw a wave over my head, knocking me off balance. There are my thyroid flares, which are a constant reminder that I’m holding on to too much shit. My miscarriages. That time in my 20s when I had severe leg pains, and the doctor tested me for cancer, that was scary. And there’s that time a few months ago, when an unknown mass was found in my uterus. There was that “c” word again.

When you don’t listen to life knocking on your door, it will just knock harder the next time.

In life I have learned the value of humility, the deception of ego, the impact of karma. I don’t like to harp too much on anything concrete—I don’t like to say that I know anything for sure. But I do actually know one thing for sure, and it’s that I am responsible for this life of mine. Just me. Not the kid who teased me on the bus when I was a kid, not my mom for not letting me go to that party, not the boss who micromanaged me to insanity, not my kid for throwing that epic tantrum in public. Just. Me. This life is mine to live, or mine to waste. That choice it mine. That’s what free will means, I have the freedom and responsibility to make that choice.

And it is a choice. There is a light switch inside all of us that gets flicked, or not flicked, with every decision we make. Flicking the switch is not always easy, it’s actually often quite hard. There can be anxiety in your chest, your breath caught in your throat. It can require bravery and conviction. It requires a fair amount of surrender—also known as not giving a shit about the outcome. There are tools out there to help us.  Aisles of self-help books, yoga classes, vitamins, psychologists, and crystals. Mediation, exercise, diets and adult colouring books. But these are just tools, they can do no more than assist.

If you want to remove a screw from a wall you use a screwdriver. If you don’t have a screwdriver, you’re going to try a knife, a coin, your fingernails, a credit card, or even get in the car and go to the store to buy a screwdriver. But one way or another, you’re getting that baby out. You have conviction. You’re taking action. This is not a passive activity. That screw comes out not because of the tools used, but because of your conviction.

And it’s the same with life.

I know this. I have always known this.

The past few months have awakened this awareness within me. That switch has a glowing neon arrow pointed right at it. It beckons me. It says, you can keep giving a shit about meaningless shit, or you can come this way and focus on what’s actually real. What’s your choice? Are you brave enough to flick? Or are you too busy cleaning the bathroom?

Make. Your. Choice.

But, it reminds me, the next time I’ll just have to knock even louder.

 

In my life I have constantly sought moments of freedom via experiences I have chosen. Whether it be ziplining or skydiving or scuba diving, or simply long hikes or sojourns by the sea, these experiences have offered me temporary relief from caring about inconsequentials. They also have been tools, providing me nothing more than a few minutes of insight. It’s enough to know that more is possible, not enough to push me over the edge. Only I can do that.

Make. Your. Choice.

 

People use YOLO as an excuse to allow them to do stupid things. Selfish things even. Mid-life crises because YOLO. No. You only live once means be smart. Use your heart. Don’t take love for granted. Be a kind person. It means, you will die, so how do you want to live?

Make. Your. Choice.

 

It’s all the idioms and axioms and euphemisms you’ve ever heard of in your life. It’s the barrage of quotations and the advice you give to others that you never give to yourself. It’s much ado about nothing.

Flick the switch. Or not. It’s actually quite simple.

Live life, or not. Totally your call.

My call.

Am I brave enough?

Are you?

 

As for Valancy in The Blue Castle, it turns out she wasn’t dying after all. But man, did she live.

 

-mtg

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