Self-care is still needed, I think at this time of year, more than ever. As moms move about making their lists and checking them thrice, making sure there is holiday joy for all and holiday magic a plenty, we can get a little run down. For me, the forced staycation actually feels like a blessing. I can just stay home. I don’t have to gear up the crew for anyone at any time. I don’t need to entertain. I can just breathe. We all get a break. I didn’t realize how much I actually needed this until all other options were taken off the table. All that to say, I was re-reading The Secret Life of Bees, and I came across a passage that reminded me of a realization I came to earlier this year, and one I’d apparently forgotten. The time to regroup, revamp and reaffirm is now.
A year ago I decided to write my first book. I’ve always been dedicated to the art of writing, I’ve always been drawn to words, but as a multi-passionate personality, my writing has crossed many genres. I’ve written poems and song lyrics, I’ve published essays and opinion pieces, I’ve written short stories and blogged on the not-very-regular. But, I’d never written a book.
When it came to choosing a genre for my book, no one was more surprised than I when I decided to write a love story. I love a good romance, I’ve always been a sucker for a true love story, but I never pictured myself as somone who would write one. But write one I did.
Setting out, I decided to avoid being too mainstream. I didn’t want to write about young love with barely-of-age characters. I wanted maturity, I wanted depth, I wanted the characters to reflect my own age group (that is, the over 40 club). I hope I’ve achieved everything I set out to achieve. For a first novel, I’m excited about it.
Set in the fictional town of Came to Stay, Newfoundland (based loosely on a town I vacationed in one summer, Duntara, Newfoundland), this is a love story for Newfoundland as much as it is about its characters, Chiara and Mike, two adults who must work through their personal challenges if they are ever going to find their way to each other.
I hope you enjoy.
Labels get a bad rap. This happens due to the tendency people have to use labels as neat and tidy boxes within which we can make sense of the world and our fellow humanity. Like a mother trying to keep order in a toddler’s playroom, it can feel good and uncomplicated to be able to place blocks in the block bin and stuffies in the stuffie bin. The order helps us make sense of the chaos — when we can see things as black or white it removes complication from our mind. The problem with this is that life exists in the gray areas, people exist outside of the neat and tidy boxes in our minds, and the labels can be limiting. As such, those labels can be harmful as they lead us to feel trapped and pinned down rather than free to jump around from box to box.
And it is not only others that put labels on us, we often put labels on ourselves. Sometimes, when we find a label that makes sense to us, we grab it and put it on like it’s a new favorite sweater discovered when rummaging through a department store. We’ll wear that sweater proudly, daily, and refuse to take it off, even when it starts to smell. The sweater, as a label, makes us feel comfortable and protected. It gives us something by which to define ourselves when other words don’t seem to work. A label can feel like home.
The problem arises when we get so comfortable in our labels, when others get so insistent in hanging on to the labels they’ve created for us, that change and growth can no longer happen freely. We as people are meant to learn and grow, daily, yearly, and whether it is us keeping ourselves in boxes, or whether we are being held down by others, any hindrance to our personal growth and development is an injustice to our very reason for being.
However, that being said, I don’t believe that labels are all that bad, in and of themselves. Labels, when used wisely and judiciously, are actually quite beneficial. Labels can help us make sense of ourselves in a given period of time. As we try on the label, as we fit it to size, we have the opportunity to see what we like or don’t like about it. We can keep the parts we like, we can do away with the parts that don’t work, and eventually, we can even do away with the label altogether. Maybe you like the arms of one sweater, the trunk of another, and the neckline of yet another. We forget that labels can be cut up and pieced back together in a way that makes sense for ourselves, in a way that makes us comfortable while existing in those gray areas.
Throughout my entire life I have felt like a black sheep. This was the label I gave myself within the context of family and friends. Sometimes this label was used to bolster my independence, and sometimes it made me sad. My family and friends didn’t think of me as an outsider, as I did, but to make sense of me they labelled me shy. I wasn’t shy, I was misunderstood. I didn’t have the words to explain myself, and when the words came, they didn’t come quickly enough. Much later in life I came to feel a sense of peace when I tried on the label introvert, because it made me feel safe and protected. As an introvert, I could understand why my brain works as it does, and why being around other people exhausts me so much. The label of introvert allows me to breathe a sigh of relief. However, I recognize that if I allowed it to, this label could easily have me living as a hermit, well secluded from society. If I allowed it to, I could say no to every opportunity precisely because I am an introvert. In the interest of personal growth, I have to wear this sweater consciously.
More recently I decided to dive deeper. I came across a meme about INFJs and knew intuitively that this label defined me. Indeed, INFJs are notoriously intuitive. Taking the test was a mere practicality in confirming something I already knew. I spent days learning all that I could about INFJs — reading articles, listening to podcasts, watching videos on the web. The more I learned, the more I recognized myself in this particular personality box; the more I realized that by acknowledging the INFJ in me, I was giving myself the gift of living in the gray. By owning this label that describes me so wholly, I can actually allow myself the flexibility, the fluidity, of existing between boxes. In fact, it’s between the boxes where INFJs are most ourselves.
We are, in fact, the opposite of black sheep. We are insiders, able to see and move between the lines — we are stealthy visionaries.
And now that I have owned the label, worn the sweater until it was well and smelly, I know I don’t need to hold onto it anymore. It is me already, like my DNA or my lifelong love affair with pasta, not there to keep me contained, but, definitely to make life more comfortable.
I remember walking into an HMV as a high school student, past all the disc covers of Goo Goo Dolls and Gin Blossoms, and asking an employee for help. He took me to a back wall, and after some minutes of flipping through CD covers, pulled up their sole copy of what I was looking for. Staring back at me, with her strong face before a red background, was Helen Reddy and I Am Woman. I planned to use this iconic song during a class presentation, allowing verse after verse to support the hypothesis of whatever point I was trying to make. I was probably reading The Handmaid’s Tale at the time.
But I also remember, around the same time, a friend declaring to me that she was not a feminisit, and me thinking, Sure, I’m probably not, either. Except that my friend, at the time, was an adolescent discovering the art of sexual prowess. And I was just naive. I didn’t know that you could be both sexually appealing and a feminist. I really didn’t know anything. If you’d asked me, I would have said that I had never, ever experienced misogyny in my life.
But, then there was that time, on the day of my grandfather’s funeral, that I got a call from a man telling me that he was holding my parents at gunpoint, and that the only way to save them was to undress over the telephone. There was that time, when walking to work, that a gust of wind blew up my skirt and a car screeched to a halt behind me. That time, when finishing my shift at work, that a client (who considered himself a suitor) sat parked in a car beside my own, waiting for me, and followed me home in the dark.
No, I probably wasn’t a feminist, except that I knew, as I was researching universities, that I didn’t agree with my mom’s opinion that it was more important for me to learn how to cook; probably wasn’t a feminist when, at university, I distinctly understood that the speeches about not walking alone on campus after dark were directed especially at the girls.
I was naive, you see. Because I was small, I was shy, I wasn’t a knockout looker or even all that confident. I didn’t have a large chest and, despite that, went out of my way to avoid attention. By hiding myself, it was easy to remain naive.
But there was that time I went dancing with friends, and that guy who wanted to buy me a drink… and that house party, and that guy that kept trying to kiss me… and my friend saw what was happening, and came to get me… and that other guy, my roommate’s friend, who wouldn’t leave my bedroom…
Maya Angelou called me a Phenomenal Woman, it’s true, but the paradox came too. The more I displayed my feathers, the more attention I got. The more attention I got, the less naive I could be.
So even as I found my voice as a woman, as I grew into my confidence; even as I came to learn the depth of my own feminine strength, I knew, also, that I had to pay attention. There was still that time a male friend, someone I considered a brother, tried to seduce me. Or that time that I was set up on a date, my friend knowing that he was setting me up with someone who expected to be let in at the end of the night. That this expectation even existed, that all a guy should have to do to get into my pants was buy me a bowl of poutine — yeah, I had to learn to not be naive anymore.
And then came the boss story. Don’t we all have a boss story? The boss that told me that I couldn’t do certain things “because I’m a woman.” The boss that liked me well and good until he realized how capable I was. The boss that wanted me to stay in my lane and mind my place. The boss that got fired for being sexist. That boss, he made me a feminist.
Motherhood made me a feminist.
Having learned my own strength, I could handle stupid comments. Like from the truck driver who saw me pulling a pallet jack at work and felt it was his place to tell me that I should be at home making babies… Shut up, guy. And fuck off while you’re at it.
But that I had a daughter that I’d have to teach to stand up for herself, that I’d have to teach to not be naive, that I’d have to warn about how she might be treated out there in the world — that pissed me right off. That pisses me right off, daily.
That truck driver, he made me a feminist.
Donald Trump, he’s made me a feminist.
Anyone who feels like they have the right to comment on choices I make for my own body, they’ve made me a feminist.
Anyone who feels like they have the right to comment on how I should be raising my children have made me feminist.
Anyone who has tried to keep me small, tried to keep me quiet, tried to make assumptions on my behalf has made me feminist.
This is not a victim post. I am not a victim of womanhood. And I am not interested in rhetoric. This is about how enough is enough. This post is about education. Malala education. Greta education. RBG education. Power education. Strength education. Feminism education.
When the suffragettes were striking at the gates, with their children being torn from their arms as they asked for the merest of requests — to be treated as equals — did they envision that 100 years later, the very essence of their fight would still need to be fought?
The thing about gates, however, is that sometimes they keep people out, but sometimes they let people in. Whether they are opened, climbed over, or broken the fuck down, they are not impenetrable. It only takes one “angry woman” to invoke change. Imagine what could happen to the gates when we are many,
I’m not a victim of womanhood. But I’m done being treated as one. And I’m here. I’m here at the gates.
Recently, I came to understand that there is a vast difference between being defensive and defending oneself. One comes from a position of lack; it says, in your body language and the tone of your voice, that you feel like less. The other comes from a position of power—not power over others, but power within yourself. Defending yourself is sometimes about the words you choose, but it can also be about the words you choose to let slide off your back. Defending yourself is about taking the offence—whether that means putting someone in their place immediately, or modeling for them the type of behaviour that you expect when they are around you. When you are defending yourself, you are demonstrating your boundaries and expectations in a big and strong way. When you behave defensively, those boundaries become very, very weak.
Having made this distinction, it became easy for me to pivot into an offensive position. Awareness is half the battle, as I like to say. And as generally happens, this pivot exposed me to a plethora of perspectives I hadn’t been aware of before. Most notably—most relevant to me and my life—came this one surprising, yet also related, realization: I had been living from the position of victim, rather than the position of owner of my life. I didn’t even know I was behaving in this way, going about my life as though I was victimized by it. Once I realized it, however, it was so easy to see how stupid I was behaving, how far from a victim I actually am, and how to better take control over myself and my attitude. It was another pivot, and one that made all the sense in the world. As I made this pivot I literally felt like I was shedding skin, becoming lighter and more free in the process.
I have been leading up to these lessons and realizations for years. I have been gradually climbing a stepladder to my own personal mountaintop for as long as I can remember. I know, cognitively, what is at the top—that is to say, I know what I am aspiring to. But while climbing, it can be hard to maintain perspective. Every time a rung breaks, every time you take a fall, whenever your limbs are too tired to continue, it can feel like a major hurtle to overcome. I always keep my mind’s eye on the prize, what Dr. Wayne Dyer referred to as “the shift,” the thing that makes your entire sense of purpose and awareness wake up as if from a heavy slumber, but when my actual eyes can’t see anything other than the rungs before me, it can lead to moments of self-doubt and even depression. Perhaps I’m a slow learner. And I do tend to overthink things. But there are lessons to be learned from needing to persevere, from needing to learn how to be patient with life. From relying on your own personal strength to see you through, to building your own endurance.
The thing about pivots is that you never know when they will come or what will spawn them. You climb and struggle and struggle and climb and then one day, a fly starts buzzing around you in an exceptionally annoying way, and whoosh out of nowhere you begin to understand from the depths of your belly that you are no longer willing to take crap from anybody, and a clear path for your life emerges. Ownership emerges. Just like that. And suddenly, after climbing all those rungs with no end in sight, you shoot straight to the top of the mountain. And the panorama is breathtaking. The ground beneath your feet is solid. The air is clear and the breathing easy.
Except, once there, you realize that you’re not at the mountaintop at all. There is a lot more mountain to go. Except, now, the paths are greener and gently sloping. The climb is pleasant rather than arduous. You can see that there are several forks in the road ahead of you, you know that there are dark corners ahead, and more pivots to be made, but when you take an offensive position in your life, when you make the choice to not be weak before the naysayers, to not be weak before yourself, and still, to be humble before the Universe, the path, however long, becomes much more pleasant to journey.
There is a great misconception in society today, a divide between honouring our individual needs, and respecting our community. The message to go after your goals, to say ‘fuck you’ to people who are standing in your way, or to “the man” trying to keep you down—that message is good, that message is necessary: Learn who you are as an individual, have confidence in that person, and work diligently to bring forth into the world the you you were always meant to be. There are people who try to change us, and we need to resist. There are voices that try to contain us, and we need to avoid containment. The message “put your individual needs first” is about taking care of yourself in a kind and gentle way, taking care of your soul, so that you can then go out and take care of the world. Give to yourself so that you can then give back to the world (the world in your home, in your town, in your community, and globally).
I feel like people are only hearing half of the message. They hear the “take care of yourself,” and they begin to approach the world with an individual entitlement, like they should be served rather than serve, are owed rather than owe. This kind of individualism is selfish and self-centered, it says “the world owes me” rather than “how can I help the world.” They hear, “the world is my oyster” and respond with “gimme, gimme, gimme,” rather than, “the world is my oyster, I can harvest and reap and still have more to give.” We’ve become a society of people that only want to think about our own needs and comfort. We don’t want our feelings hurt, we don’t want to be made to do things we don’t want to do, even if it is for the betterment of the whole (see: wearing a goddamn mask during a global pandemic). We feel entitled to having every last one of our wants and needs met, whether or not we’ve worked for it, whether or not we’ve earned it, whether or not we’re good people trying our best.
The real truth is that by honouring yourself you are actually setting yourself up to serve others in a true and conscious way. By individuating yourself, by separating your self from the whole of our collective selves in a narcissistic way, nobody gets what they want or need, not even yourself (see: the story of Narcissus).
Know this: You are entitled to nothing. You are owed nothing. You have the absolute right to go after your goals and have your voice heard, you do not have the right to bring others down to whatever level you’re on. You have a responsibility to give back to the world, to keep it moving round for future generations. Nobody lies on their death bed saying, “I’m glad I won that battle over not wearing a mask at Walmart, bitches.” But they can on their death bed say, I lived the best self I could, I accomplished as many goals as I could, and I left something good for the world to come.
Be yourself. Fulfill your needs. So that you can go on to respect and fulfill the needs of others. That’s called humanity. We all have to do our part.
I went for a walk with my nonno one day. I must have been eight or nine. He kept repeating the same word over and over again as we hunted in nooks and crevices. Wash-a-room. Wash-a-room. I couldn’t understand why we had left my grandparents home, containing two full bathrooms, in search for an alternate washroom. It was only after some time and by the power of observation that I realized that my nonno was actually hunting for mushrooms. Wild mushrooms. He was foraging, and I’d almost missed it.
This is what happens in the gap between Italian and Canadian. Language gets lost. I’ve tried all my life to keep one foot on either side of the hyphen, standing proudly as a first-generation Canadian, yet not wanting to do disservice to my thoroughly Italian roots. But things tend to get a little mixed up in the hyphen.
Growing up, whenever my dad would come home I’d say Hi!, and he would reply with “Chipolla, no aglio.” Onion, not garlic. Chi-po-la, no hai-li-o. It was his favourite inter-lingual play on words, and pretty much sums everything up. The juggling, the limbo, the living in both worlds. It’s like how most people swear in their mother tongue, but I swear in Italian; or how as a kid I knew my mom was really mad if I heard her swear in English. Everything is just a little mixed up.
And it makes me sad, that hyphen. Because there is so much meat to the old-school Italian culture that I don’t want to see lost. My dad’s stories of post-war Italy, having nothing but an army blanket on his bed to keep him warm. Or how his first time intoxicated he was seven years old, playing with a friend in the cantina on a summer day, taking sips from the spout of the wine barrel whenever they were thirsty. Eventually they fell asleep on top of the wine barrel, forgetting to shut the spout, and emptying Nonno’s entire supply of wine in the process. My nonna’s homemade pasta, and her biscotti and latte before bed. My mom’s lasagna—my version of comfort food, which has already been lost in the hyphen between me and my kids.
My kids, Italian-Scottish-Cornish-Ontarian-Quebecer-Anglo-Gaspesian-Montrealer-Canadian, are so riddled with hyphens that they are effectively now just simply, Canadian. Canadian, in three generations. Three generations to remove lasagna as a comfort food (my son doesn’t even like pasta at all, something I refuse to speak about openly), to no longer refer to veal cutlets as fettine, to refer to wine as alcohol rather than just another beverage belonging with every meal, to live in a house without two kitchens and a cantina. Three generations, and I know my kids’ kids won’t refer to their aunt and uncle as Zia and Zio, that I will be the last Nonna down our line. Three generations of hyphens forming a stepladder up our family tree, a stepladder that carried our family across an ocean and between continents, but that with each step our ancestral memories grow a little fuzzier, our traditions get a little less traditional, and we forget what things were supposed to mean, and so make up new meanings for the future generations.
I think of my nonna. On the day she gave birth to my mother she was on the family farm in Italy. She turned to my nonno and said, “I think the baby is coming today,” to which he replied, “So get everything ready then meet me in the fields, there’s work to do.” So, she prepared the bedroom for a home delivery, then went outside to work the fields. The fields are exactly where she went into labour. And I think, looking into her newest daughter’s eyes, did she ever consider it a possibility that this daughter’s daughter would barely be able to carry on a conversation in Italian at all? My phone calls with my nonna always went something like this:
That being about the part where she would begin to take pity on me.
But I also can’t help but think, as I put some weight on my right foot, that there’s something kind of fun about the mix. In the same way that everyone loves a mutt, we get to choose the best of all worlds. I know way more couples in my generation that are culturally mixed than not, and their kids are mutts like mine are, and I think that’s fun, too. Because on one side of my hyphen, culture was not a choice, and on the other, it is. And whereas with my Italian family I am often more concerned with what is culturally acceptable or not acceptable, with my kids we focus more on the choices they make as individuals.
I can’t help but wonder whether the more hyphens there are, the more choices that will arise. We had to lose a sense of culture in order to build a new one, close a door to open a window and all that. Because ultimately, we will never remember more than three generations that precede us, such is life’s way of forcing us to focus on the present. But we do get to choose what traits get carried over the hyphens and up each new rung of the ladder.
Let it be the food, please, let it be the food.
I’ve been having a hard time focusing lately. I’ll sit down at my computer in the morning, prepared to get to work, and I’ll just stare at the screen, unable to process my next steps. There are too many balls in the air, too many things requiring my attention.
The kids have been pushed to being relatively independent since March, but they’ll still forget to eat, or “forget” their chores. Ball.
The puppy can’t be trusted for more than 45 mins before impending doom by way of an accident on my carpet. Ball.
Back to school is around the corner, and like most parents, sending our kids into an unventilated cesspool of germs is proving stressful. Our lack of options is stressful. Ball.
I have work to do, a set number of tasks that need to get done each day, a set number of hours I am paid to work each week, I don’t have a choice but to get it done. Ball.
The kids still need their mama. Several times a day. Pointe finale. Ball.
Everybody has a schedule. I’m in charge of knowing everyone’s schedule. Ball.
I need to start labelling school supplies. Ball.
We need groceries. Ball.
Those groceries need to be turned into meals. Ball.
The house…. the house… Ball. Ball. Ball.
I’m managing my own self-care, making sure to give myself more of what I need. But, these days I don’t even know what that is. I need sleep. I need to not be stressed. I need to hide my stress from my kids. I need to focus. What I need more than anything right now is focus. My brain feels like it is splintering.
This morning I sat down at my computer, and after clicking from screen to screen to screen, unable to decide on which one I should land, unable to bring any of them into focus, I decided to step away. I went outside. I got on my bike. I gave myself something concrete to focus on. Even if just for half an hour. Even if just for 5 minutes. Sometimes stepping away is the best kind of self-care.
This pandemic parenting isn’t over. One way or another we need to keep it together.
It was on a popular mommy blog’s post about the upcoming US elections that I read the comment (and I’m paraphrasing), “I thought this was a mom blog. Don’t make it political,” and I was incensed. Or, annoyed at the very least. The mere idea that a mom blog should not be political upset me to my very core. It led me to ask the question, Why not? Why shouldn’t a mom blog be political?
Whereas I’ve always had a firepit burning in the core of my belly when it came to social justice, I believe that motherhood and politics merged back in 2016. I was hired at a job that I labelled my dream job. My boss seemed cool, relaxed, and understanding about things like work-life balance. This was particularly important to me as a mother. But, then the US elections happened, and the ripple effect of that outcome permeated even beyond the US borders. Suddenly it was okay to be sexist, racist, and homophobic. Suddenly there were so many more of these uglies, as I see them, feeling free to roam the streets. My boss, much to my surprise, was one of them. Slowly the comments came out—the gays this, the immigrants that—each day becoming more and more ugly. I was naïve and slow to come around to my new reality, but a turning point came for me the day that Alyssa Milano began the massive wave that would become the #metoo. I was pumped. I was excited. I went into the staff kitchen to pour myself a cup of coffee and my boss and his cronies were in there, talking US politics. In my energetic state—feeling as I was that a monumental change was on the horizon of human rights and equality—I said, You know, I believe that if and when the day comes that Trump gets ousted, it will be at the hands of a woman. I expected some form of agreement, even if it was only in the form of a nod or uh-huh. I expected that I wasn’t speaking to a room of uglies. But I was. I really, really was. I was not speaking to a room of males that believed women are equals, I was not speaking to a room of men that saw the validity of #metoo, I was not speaking to a room of men that thought women had any place in politics. I had obviously not read the room at all. But once I did, I was legitimately incensed.
Four years later, not enough has changed in the world of uglies. If anything, they’ve become that much more fervent. But, so have the voices of the other side, the ones that do believe in equality is a basic human right that should be available to all citizens and inhabitants of each town, city, county, state or province, country, continent and planet. Whether it’s about #blacklivesmatter, LGBTQ rights, or a woman’s ability to make decisions about her own body, the voices have gotten stronger, firmer, filled with resolve and backbone.Which is what made me particularly exasperated when I read that comment, amongst other similar sentiments. Because when there are people out there who still question the validity of any of the above, and who go entirely out of their way to denounce the most basic rights of another human, how can it not be political? And not only that, but shouldn’t the mothers be the ones to get the most political? The mothers, who are raising the next generation of black youth, gay youth, straight youth, white youth; the mothers who want all the hating to stop and who teach that love is love; the mothers who want to raise strong women who don’t need hashtags like #metoo, should be okay with getting political. 2020 is political. 2020 is all kinds of political. Get. The. Fuck. Political. You don’t have to take to the streets and wave flags but, have the conversations and make them count. Don’t shy away. It’s okay if it makes you uncomfortable. Get political.
That same boss and I had a face-to-face confrontation at one point where he suggested that he be allowed his opinions and I be allowed mine. He thought it was a reasonable approach. However, I did not agree. When one person’s opinions hinder the human rights of another, they are no longer entitled to their opinions. This is the realization we’ve come to in 2020. This is the truth that needs to be taught to future generations. Change is actually possible and women can be the leaders of change.
The suffragettes had a slogan that read, The young are at the gates. The young are at the gates of change. The young must be led by their mothers.
I was feeling a bit blue today. One thing about being an #introvert personality, and specifically an #INFJ personality, is that feelings come in a big, often overwhelming way. It can be hard to process… often that makes me seem aloof, because I’m so caught up in my head, but on the inside there are whirlwinds to contend with. Today I was spiraling, caught up in the funnel. I tried to sit quietly with a cup of tea, to attempt a meditation, but ultimately I needed to get out and work the feelings out of me through physical activity. I went for a ride. At first I thought I didn’t have it in me, I wasn’t sure I could make 10k, wasn’t sure I could make it up that big hill that challenges me every time, wasn’t sure I had the energy to focus on more than pushing one pedal at a time. In truth I was praying as I went, venting maybe, pleading. Spewing my spiral out into the universe. And then I saw these guys. Deer have forever been my happy animal, just the sight of them brings me joy. They are so graceful and peaceful. We just stood there, looking at each other for a while, and then I got back on my bike and kept going. As I rode I realized that my spiral was over. I was thinking, but my thoughts had turned to more productive things. I also noticed that my body was moving faster. Without even trying I was riding the fastest I’ve ridden since forever, and I powered up that hill with energy I didn’t even know I had in me today. I don’t know… I know not everyone believes that the universe communicates with us. For me, it does. For me it always has. I’m very grateful for it.