Coming out of my funk and I’ve been doing (mostly!) just fine

It’s been a weird few weeks. Maybe even months.

I have gone to work and I have been participating in family things, but there has honestly just been a lot of what can best be described as straight up nothing. A lot of sitting and staring into the middle distance or beyond when I should have been doing anything else.

I’ve done much less reading than is normal for me, and certainly not entire novels. Even my beloved short story collections have been neglected. I’ve been focusing—when I can—on books I can pick up at random and read a section and then put them down again. Katherine May’s Wintering is one such book, a balm in tough times. And speaking of tough times, Pema Chödrön’s When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times is another book that seems to fit the bill right now. Little bits of wisdom, small ideas to help. Both books have been precisely what I’ve needed.

I’ve also done a lot less writing, too, and in fact I had to scrounge around in my Google docs for something to submit to my writing group last month because I had nothing new to offer, nothing that I’d been working on. So the beginning of a mostly forgotten story from 2018 it was. And it’s fine, and I know it’s fine, and I also know that I need to be able to give myself the same level of grace and patience I would give to a friend who was struggling with these kinds of issues. Take your time. Do what feels right for you, what feels best for you. Be kind to yourself, be gentle with yourself.

And I’m trying.

There has been a hell of a lot of stuff happening lately, and while I try to balance my news and social media intake to remain informed without becoming obsessed, the balance has tipped more than once, and I’ve found myself in a pure news cycle spiral that continued unabated until I just couldn’t handle it. And then I shut down.

But I am seeing some signs of returning to myself. On Saturday and Sunday I did a deep clean of our dining room that involved washing walls and baseboards, pulling out tchotchkes from our china cabinet, boxing up the ones I didn’t want to look at anymore and organizing the rest so that the space is actually usable. It involved vacuuming cobwebs off the ceiling and washing the the inside of the bay windows and the thirty small panes of glass in the french doors that separate the front room from the dining room. It involved organizing my plants and alphabetizing our vinyl and so, so much more.

Delightfully decluttered.

It was exhausting but it was just what I needed. I know that when I allow the clutter to spread and the floors and windows to remain unwashed that I am not in a great place. And it’s not something I can force, this deep dive into cleaning and organizing, but when it arrives organically and enthusiastically, I know I’m back, baby.

And maybe it’s because the light is returning to this part of the world and maybe it’s because Ottawa is back to being boring again (sorry!) Maybe it’s because we have tickets to see our older son’s band Saturday night and we haven’t seen him play in over two years, and maybe it’s because we have plans to host a dinner party with friends in a few weeks. It is probably all of this and more, and I am slowly coming back. I’m shaking off the spiral and embracing what’s ahead with less apprehension than I’ve felt in a long time. More of this, please.

It’s been a very long road, friends. I hope you’re taking care and treating yourself with the gentleness you deserve.

Old friends (don’t @ me)

In January I turned 55. As I said in a previous post, “I know that isn’t old age, but I think I’m starting to be able to see it from here.” Looking back at that post, I thought it was a funny way to phrase it, that advancing towards old age. As if I am standing on a hilltop or a bridge, shielding my eyes from bright sunlight, squinting into the distance, pointing out to my companions, “Just there, do you see it? No, a little to the right, come and look where I’m pointing. Just coming into view. Do you see it now?” And I suppose in some ways, that’s kind of how it’s happening. Me, pointing out to my friends how old age is less far away than it used to be, and them not necessarily seeing it straight away, pointing out a lot of other things about me that aren’t old age, that perhaps I am mistaken. And it’s not that I want to point it out to them, but in a lot of ways it’s essential.

Years ago at an annual physical appointment my doctor who is just a year older than me told me that she had to remind herself to consistently look at her patients’ ages because outwardly, no one seems to change. She used me as an example (which is only fair) saying that I look good, my skin still seems youthful, my dark hair the same colour as when she met me in 1993 (thank you, Willow Salon.) Going by the surface, she told me, most of her adult patients are in great shape.

Now, because she is a doctor it’s her job to look beneath the surface, way WAY beneath the surface at bone health and bloodwork and all those things that deeply matter in the realms of human health. And of course she does that with all her patients, but the comment stuck with me because that’s kind of the way we view our friends, isn’t it?

If you’re someone who has children or someone who is child-adjacent, you’re used to watching humans grow up and hit those childhood milestones of walking and talking and going to school and finding hobbies and all those things that make us people. You might say to your friend’s kid, “Hol-eeee are you ever getting tall!” or “Are those your shoes in the hallway or your dad’s?!” because it is expected that kids grow. They expand, their voices change, they might require braces or eyeglasses…and we notice. And even if we don’t point it out to them or to their parents, we notice. Because it makes sense to us. Kids grow and change. That’s the way it is.

But with our friends, it’s different. There are lots of milestones you can hit as an adult, but most of us don’t really like to talk about them. (First pair of reading glasses! First colonoscopy!) Once you turn fifty, the government ensures you don’t miss the milestones like mammograms and other cancer screenings, but that’s not nearly as exciting as your five-year old learning to ride a bike, is it?

I think it’s because to us, our friends are always constant. If not exactly the same age as when we met, at least the same general stage of life. Our memories of them can be poised at a certain time and place. Obviously if you and your friend met when you were ten, you likely don’t think of them as a ten-year old now (should you be reading this as an adult) but it seems to me there is a way of thinking about our friends that renders them ageless. And I think that’s wonderful. But it’s tricky, too.

I had some bloodwork done recently and when I got a call from my doctor to discuss my results, I knew something was up. And it was my cholesterol. (See what I did there?) We discussed a strategy to hopefully help reduce it, although she knows my family history of high cholesterol could mean that there is not a lot I can do, but it’s worth a try, of course. Between that and my (also partially inherited) high blood pressure, my risk for cardiovascular disease is especially high. And, as my doctor informed me in the nicest way possible, I am 55 years old. In case I’d forgotten. Some lifestyle changes need to be made.

And so I told my friends. And they were sympathetic, of course. And most of them aren’t “there” yet. I am the oldest of my friend group, so I am hitting these somewhat hidden milestones first. And I feel it’s my role as the Capricorn in the group to let them know the straight dope. (Big Grandpa Simpson “It’ll happen to you” energy right there.)

And along with that sympathy and understanding I also saw the disbelief in their eyes, because they too see me as I was when they first knew me twenty, twenty-five years ago. Which is lovely, of course. And with the disbelief also comes that realization and that acknowledgement that, to use a common phrase, we’re none of us getting any younger. Ageing is a betrayal, more or less. And yet there is also great privilege in ageing in a relatively healthy body and mind and I love that for me and for my friends. And it’s weird to think of us maneuvering into this next stage of life, too because wasn’t it just last year we were partnering up and having babies and finishing degrees and making bad choices and recovering from too-late nights at the bar with too many tequila shots? Spoiler: it turns out it was much longer ago than that.

My friends and I, we’re not ageless, but we are definitely timeless. And you are too. And wherever you are on the ageing path it’s good to remember that. That and your annual check-up at your doctor. You owe it to yourself. And to your friends.

Silver (hour) linings

I had a thought during my morning yoga practice the other day about how, as the mornings get lighter (sunrise is starting to come a little earlier and sunset is coming later) the days themselves seem to stretch, to elongate, lengthen, and settle in to their routine. The amount of this time stretch right now is practically imperceptible—only about a minute or so on either side—but it’s enough. For example, the other day sunrise arrived at 7:51 am, and today it was 7:49 am. Contrarily, sunset, until quite recently occurred at 5:02 pm, and as of today we have nearly a full five minutes more daylight, with sunset clocking in at 5:07 pm.

I’m a little obsessed.

I know these things because I have a watch that tells me. Well, at least, I have taken the option of having it tell me. I received an Apple watch for Christmas and I’m not mentioning this to flex, it’s just that this watch does, as they say, it ALL. For instance, you can choose from dozens of watch faces, depending on your interests and/or aesthetic. I have, as you can maybe imagine given what I’ve been talking about so far, chosen the one that lets me know all the details about the sun’s current placement in the sky overhead. I like watching it make its moves across the sky, I love the countdown to sunset, to sunrise. I love how it changes colour as the sun—a small, white disc on my wrist—moves away from or toward the horizon. It’s constant and comforting, and I didn’t realize how much I needed to see it.

In the fall and the early part of winter, the days seem to contract. The sun is later to rise, earlier to set, and it’s the same with us. When possible we contract, too. We cocoon in our homes, we light lamps mid-afternoon to offset the growing darkness. We hesitate to venture out again—global pandemic notwithstanding—once we’re securely in. We transfer ourselves into night clothes earlier and earlier (I think my record is 5:02 pm, once my work laptop is shut for the night) and some of us may even head to bed earlier with books or podcasts or streaming services. We settle in, curling in on ourselves, making ourselves and our worlds smaller as if preparing for hibernation. It’s as close as we get, we humans, to the state of hibernation, I think.

But after the solstice you can, if you too are obsessed with the sun and its travels, feel the days slowly relaxing, drawing themselves out like a cat luxuriously stretching in a sunbeam. It’s still cold, don’t get me wrong! -12C when I woke up the other day! But the promise is there.

We dare not say the “S” word just yet, we have a lot of cold and winter left in this part of the country, this part of the world. But the sunlight, the daylight…well, it’s inching back toward us.

The specificity and accuracy makes me so happy.

Now when I walk the dog after work (when I’m not racing upstairs to get into my pjs) the darkness of November and December is gone. Now the sky remains light for at least the first half of our walk and it is so, so lovely to be out, once again in the twilight, the gloaming, that magical time when it feels like anything and everything is possible. Twilight is such a lovely term and there are, I learned recently, three distinct types of twilight: civil, (not just a song by The Weakerthans) nautical, and astronomical. Twilight also occurs in the mornings, just before the sun is up, which is something I also learned and which makes a lot of senseit’s just in reverse, that’s all.

I love the term “golden hour” for this time of day, too, just after the sun goes down, yet to me golden hour evokes warmth and sun and long, languid summer days, and so I’m not sure it’s completely appropriate in the depths of January. But maybe it’s “silver hour” this time of year? A glint of icy metal, a cool, reflective surface. The blade of a skate. Silvery frost on windows. Ice on bare branches.

The days are getting longer, one or two minutes at a time, and silver hour will once again give way to golden hour. I will miss, as I always do, the semi-hibernation of the winter months, but I will (also as I always do) welcome back the light.

And if you find you need the comfort of knowing exactly when the sun will be going down and when you can expect it to come up again so you can perceive the lengthening of the days minute by minute…well, just know you’re not alone.

Books, baby

Books did a lot of heavy lifting in getting me through this past year, I’ll tell you what. In Year One of the pandemic I didn’t read as much as I thought I would, but by 2021, I felt I was in the zone. I, like a lot of people, was better prepared in 2021 to deal. I mean, we’d already done almost a year, right? And, it’s true that some things did kind of get back to a type of normal, and even though my anxiety was still high, it wasn’t as high as it had been…especially if I made the decision to put down my phone, to log off the news sites. Which I did. Or at least tried to do. For the most part.

So, books. I managed to read quite a few and, in no particular order, here are the ones that stuck with me most, the ones that I still think about.

I suppose it isn’t shocking that all these books are by women; I don’t typically read a lot of men’s fiction. But what is surprising is the nonfiction representation here, because I think this might be the first time that not one, not two but THREE nonfiction titles appear on my best of list! Really love that journey for me.

As well, two collections of short stories made the list, and two novels. The bulk of my reading was novels, of course, and there is definitely something to be said for consistency, but I’m happy to have branched out just a little this year, too.

There’s not a real theme running through these top seven titles, except maybe the theme of “making me feel a lot of different feelings at the same time”.

I laughed and cried and spent time thinking “yikes” during All’s Well. Speak, Silence was overwhelmingly sad, and breathtakingly beautiful. I held my breath and peeked through my fingers while reading In The Dream House, and marveled at the beauty that can be found in trauma. And, The Most Precious Substance on Earth made me laugh and cringe and feel all the nostalgia, while stories in You Are Not What We Expected were startling and sad and fierce.

Crying in H Mart evoked laughter and heartbreak and feelings of loss, and Wintering made me wistful and pensive, with a desire to turn inward and spend time reflecting.

I’m not sure if my emotional response to what I read was heightened this past year, but I do know there were some books I had been anticipating that I was unable to read. At first I was beating myself up about it; “they’re books, you love all books, you’ve read harder books” but I eventually clued in to what my heart needed, and if I found a book’s subject matter ultra challenging, I gently closed it and told myself “Not yet” and moved on.

For the books I did read, I am so grateful to each of them for what they allowed me to feel this year, and if I had the time and inclination I would write small sentences for the other 44, too. Because when you don’t know what to do with your big, big feelings, it’s so nice to have stories as an outlet.

Best of, question mark?

The year that was was a weird one, friends. I know you likely feel the same, how could you not? We’ve been bandied about like balloons in a strange will we or won’t we kind of atmosphere when it comes to all parts of our lives. I’m exhausted. We’re all exhausted. It’s hardly even worth saying anymore, really. So few answers to the question “How are you?” other than “oh, you know” or that old chestnut, *gesturing vaguely to everything*.

We just learned today that we’re taking a step (a few steps? I can’t keep track) back in Ontario but as usual it’s a real lights are on but nobody’s home kind of vibe which, well…fuck. Typical.

And sure, I’m bummed because I won’t be able to go out for my birthday but more than that, I’m also bummed for my friends and neighbours who won’t be able to get their much-needed surgeries. I’m bummed for my parent friends who are staring down another virtual school term while also trying to work and not lose their minds. I’m bummed for their kids who are also staring down another virtual semester, who may struggle with virtual school. I’m worried for friends in healthcare who are pushed to the brink, and I’m worried about my in-laws locked down once again in their residence which is virus free for now, but for how long?

I can get takeout, have a cake delivered; I will be fine. It’s not the point.

And I could spill a lot of laptop ink going on and on about the incompetence, the sheer cruelty of our government. But you know that. If you live in Ontario you very much know that. If you live elsewhere, well, I hope your leaders are treating you better. But I watch the news. I’m skeptical. It’s all pretty bleak.

And yet, there were bright spots, weren’t there? Here are a few of mine.

In 2021 I read 49 books, and I loved them all. That is one of the good things about carefully curating your reads, you rarely end up with ones you don’t like. I tried to do a “Top 5” but it came out at 7, and later this week I will try to do a recap here.

My writing group has been the most wonderful balm in a trying year, honestly. Since the beginning of the pandemic writing has been a struggle for me, but having this group to offer support and to be inspired by their incredible work has helped so much. Forever grateful to them.

One of my short stories, Dog Walkers and Murderers won the Hamilton Arts & Letters Magazine Short Works Prize for fiction (for unpublished authors) and I am still not over that, to be honest. There was a cash prize AND I will be mailed a certificate! I got the news on an evening when I was dealing with a pretty severe UTI, so you know, it’s all glamour over here.

Our older son moved home at the beginning of the year and I really think that having the four of us together under one roof again has helped me make it through. I think the kids *mostly* feel the same way.

And as an aside, shout out to the 20-somethings (my kids and others) who have, contrary to what you might read, been EXTREMELY responsible throughout this whole ordeal. Lining up to get vaccinated, remaining masked when out for walks with friends early on, taking all precautions as things started to open up, being respectful of the rules, the whole deal. We love, as they say, to see it.

I know there were other bright moments in 2021, and I’ll probably think of them later, but those are the ones that jumped out. I hope you had your fair share too, friends, I’d love to hear about them!

And you know, it’s ok if you didn’t, or if maybe you did, but for now they are hidden in the murkiness of how hard it all was. If that’s the case, here’s to a much, much brighter 2022.

Acting Your Age

One night two weeks ago I woke from a deep sleep around midnight coughing and sputtering and with an awful burning in my throat, my chest. Sitting upright in bed I struggled to catch my breath, swallowing hard and fighting through the pain it caused me, trying not to cough to wake the entire upstairs of my house.

Ah, acid reflux, we meet again. My crime? Consuming two meatballs and one small glass of red wine after 8:00pm.

This episode was particularly rough. Typically I can come downstairs and sit in my chair, dozing until the worst of it is over. I can crunch a couple of Tums and take some small sips of water and eventually fall asleep again. But this night was very different in that I couldn’t even sit down. I walked the main floor of our house wrapped in a blanket, coughing weakly like a Victorian consumptive desperately trying not to disturb the acid that was staying put for now. It was precarious at best and one false move could force another eruption and my body was not willing to experience that.

And so I walked and walked, and every so often attempted to sit down, but then within seconds I was back to walking, and when eventually my body calmed itself down and I was able to go back up to bed, to lie down and sleep, it was nearly 5:00am. Our alarm goes off at 6.

I take medication for acid reflux and it has been a true lifesaver for the past several years, but not even it can handle some of the more serious transgressions, sadly. I need to be more careful, of course. But I sometimes forget.

I think it’s the forgetting that is making me hyper aware of my aging self, my aging body. Not forgetting as in losing memory, but forgetting that there are just things that aren’t possible anymore. Eating late, unless I’m planning on staying up past midnight, is definitely one of them. And that night of lost sleep took its toll, and it honestly took me several days to recover from that, so there’s something else that I forget. That a bad night’s sleep can ruin your week. A mantra of sorts, but a kind of depressing one if you ask me.

I am about halfway through You Look Good for Your Age: An Anthology, edited by Rona Altrows, and so the theme of aging—body and mind and soul—is clearly on my mind.

In this book of essays, stories, and poetry, the writers—all women—confront the inevitable. Some stories are crushingly sad, some are funny as hell, and they are all brutally honest looks at not only aging, but the ageism woman face as they age and how that can and does shape our perspective of it.

More than once during the reading of this collection, I have closed the book and stage whispered, “TOO REAL!” And, much like the “I’m in this photo/tweet and I don’t like it” meme, I have seen myself in several stories and have related to so many, and that is the appeal of this book. Relatable? For a woman of a certain age, indeed.

I will be 55 in January. I know that isn’t old age, but I think I’m starting to be able to see it from here. I’m looking to the future and it is reflux. And bad joints. And a shorter temper. But I’m planning on getting even older though, in spite of it all, so there’s that I guess.

And it’s not all terrible, as the women of You Look Good for Your Age will tell you. Some of aging is about power, about reclamation and about growing into yourself. And who doesn’t want that at any age?

I am really enjoying this book and I am grateful for the opportunity to read it, and so very grateful to the contributors for their incredible stories.

The Purge (No, not that one)

Last weekend, because it was the beginning of October, I asked my partner if he would bring down from the attic the storage bin that holds my fall and winter clothes. I realize as I’m writing this that it makes me sound a lot like a fancy person who has a lot of clothes that I have to sort and store by season but the truth is less glamourous: we just don’t have a lot of storage/closet space.

Like most older homes, ours is lacking in closets. There are no closets on the main floor at all. There are two in the bedrooms on the second floor. Both of these are built under the stairs that lead to the attic, so these so-called closets are oddly shaped and extremely small, almost unusable. We have added wardrobes to hold clothes in those rooms. The third bedroom has no closet at all and no room for a wardrobe.

So, every “season” (I use season loosely here, honestly) I box up the clothes I won’t be wearing for several months and take them to the attic.

And while I don’t seem to have a lot of clothes, this storage bin has been getting heavier each time I empty and fill it. It’s your standard sized Rubbermaid tote, you probably know the one, and it’s always kind of exciting to be reunited with the clothes that I haven’t seen for some time, like old friends.

“Oh, there’s that dress that I love, you’re looking great!” Or, “I forgot I bought you, lovely sweater, just at the end of the season, and we had so little time together! How nice to see you again!” And it’s so nice to wash and dry them and hang them up and anticipate wearing them once the weather turns cooler.

But then, inevitably, there are those few items that return to me via the Rubbermaid bin that are less like old lovely friends and more like the toxic relatives at family gatherings. The ones that make things awkward and make you uncomfortable but you can’t escape them. These items, well, they are a bit more complicated.

And maybe if you’ve read this far you know what I’m talking about, your head might be nodding right along because you too have these items of clothing that present challenges to you, to your wellbeing. And if so, this is for you.

In the past when I’ve done the seasonal switcheroo with my clothes, I’ve pulled things out and made decisions based on qualitative data. Saying things like, “Oh I love this dress” or “Yes, this is still so cute” or using anecdotes like, “I wore this to that concert and had the BEST time!” But what I wasn’t doing was looking at the quantitative data, the measurable data, the data that can be used for statistical analysis. So my research was flawed. (I work in a medical academic library, I’m so sorry.)

Basically I was going by feelings. And in other non-research language: I was not trying things on.

And this was a HUGE error on my part. And really WHY on earth would I take the time to wash, dry, and hang clothes that didn’t fit me? Because the plan used to be that one day they WILL fit me, that they are the INSPIRATIONAL items of clothing and they will REMIND me daily that they don’t fit but that they SHOULD fit. If only I could be better.

And if you read my last blog post, you’ll know that I’ve been on a journey for the past several years to avoid this kind of thinking in a lot of areas of my life. But for whatever reason, when it came to the clothes in my wardrobe, my brain just didn’t get the memo.

And so these dresses and jackets and things would hang there, and when I would go to get dressed for work or for an event I would see them, just hanging there. Unwearable for me today. But maybe next week or next month they would see the light of day. If I could just be better.

And it’s madness, isn’t it?

And so this time when John carried the bin downstairs and put it in our bedroom for me, I attacked it with a plan and an evidence-based plan at that. (Again, sorry.)

This time I brought a large garbage bag with me and every item I took out of the box, I tried on. And if it didn’t fit on Saturday, it went into the bag for donation.

It was probably the WORST day to try on clothes because it was hot and muggy and if you’ve ever spent an hour or more trying on clothes in a mall or a department store you KNOW how awfully sweaty you can get. My lighting was better, but that’s really the only difference. Nevertheless, I continued until I had tried on everything in that bin. And I was ruthless.

At the end, I had about five or six dresses, tunics, etc. that I was keeping and nearly three-quarters of a bag of things to donate. And eliminating some of those things made me sad, I’m not going to lie. Clothing can be tied to so many memories, and it can be hard to let go. The dress I wore to a good friend’s wedding; the one I wore when I presented at my first conference. Both had to go.

It also might feel wasteful or fiscally irresponsible. “I bought these things with actual money, now it’s down the drain!” But the reality is a dress that hangs in a closet unworn for season after season after season is already money down the drain, isn’t it.

After the bin, I attacked my current clothes, my warm weather clothes, and did the same thing. That exercise filled the garbage bag to the top and then some.

And how overwhelmingly freeing to see not a wardrobe bursting with clothing that makes me say “Maybe one day…” but to instead see a neat row of STUFF I WILL ACTUALLY WEAR on a regular basis. And how much better for my mental health to not look at all those clothes and then judge myself for reaching for the same four items because they are the only things that truly fit.

It’s a task I should have done years ago, of course, but I wasn’t ready for it then. Then, it felt like admitting failure, admitting defeat. I was ready for it Saturday. On Saturday it felt like a triumph.

And, it turns out, I don’t have too many clothes. What I had was a wardrobe overstuffed with dreams and sadness. And now I don’t. And my mood, my mental health, everything, is better for it.

So, if you can, I encourage you all to fill your closets with loving friends and purge them of toxic relatives. You deserve to be free. And comfortable.

I eliminated SEVERAL ill-fitting party dresses during The Purge, so I bought a new one that fits perfectly. It is from Desserts & Skirts and I absolutely LOVE it.

Baby, look at me and tell me what you see

On a whim, on Saturday afternoon, I pulled out a photo album my mum made years ago. She was a very organized person, and I remember when she decided to make a bunch of these themed photo albums. She sifted through boxes and boxes of photos to create them, and they are honestly pretty great. We have one called Pets, another called Cottage…you get the idea. The boys love them, have always loved going through them, turning the pages to reveal the dogs and cats of my childhood (there were so many) and the photos of parties and events at the cottage (ALSO so many) and asking questions about who the people are, what was that dog like, you had how many cats at one time??? (that answer would be five.)

I am not really a photo album kind of person, but decided to pull out the one labelled Dance and take a look at it because I couldn’t remember the last time I had. In fact I may have never looked at it, although some of the photos felt very familiar so I had either seen the album before or I had seen the photos at one time in their natural habitat: a large suitcase under my parents’ bed.

I started taking dance lessons in 1975 at the age of eight and continued until around 1992 when I was 25. I loved it and I was good at it and as I advanced the teachers challenged me with complex steps and routines and accelerated me within the school. By the time I was 12 I was an assistant teacher and at 14 I started teaching my own classes to the littlest kids with prescribed choreography. Then I was allowed to develop my own choreography which I started teaching to the bigger kids, and then, finally, to the adults. I loved everything about it, and looking at the photos brought back so many amazing memories. And so, I decided to share some of these photos with the internet.

Dorothy Hammill was the inspiration for this haircut, I’m pretty sure.

The response was overwhelming, honestly. People left the loveliest comments about how cute I was, how great the photos were, how they evoked a real time and place (the Dorothy Hammill-esque ‘short and sassy’ hairdo got a LOT of love) and it was fun to see how much people were enjoying these snaps from the past, from a life that not a lot of people know about (I usually don’t drop the “Oh yes, that time I was a tap dancer…” in polite conversation, you know?)

And for me it was interesting to look back on myself, to that body that I have always felt was so incredibly flawed and realize that it was, in fact, just fine. And yet, even the tiniest iteration of myself on those pages—eight year old me, ten year old me—already knew that she was a chubby kid, a chunky kid, the kind of kid who was destined to shop in the Misses Plus department at The Right House and Eaton’s. And she knew that back then not because she felt it, or understood anything about bodies in general, but because she was told those things. And so she shrunk, literally and figuratively. And she apologized. And she tried to make herself different, better.

And what a waste to think like that, to think that my body was too much or not enough. But now? Now it is so overwhelmingly wonderful to look at that girl and tell her,

“Look at you go, look how happy you are there. To be dancing. To be performing. To be onstage. I know how self-conscious you were in every other aspect of your life, but onstage, you owned it. You were confident, you were so good. People watched you and said you’re a natural. Teachers accelerated you because you picked it up – all of it – so quickly.”

And I’m getting there again, I can feel it. Trying so hard to eliminate the critical self-talk, treating myself, my body, the entirety of me with kindness, with respect, with the words I should have been using for more than 40 years.

How lovely it is to say to myself “You’ve done a good job, here” instead of picking the job apart, looking for its flaws.

How affirming to make a mistake and gently remind myself that I’m human, I’m not ‘an idiot’ for forgetting, that I don’t have to jump so quickly to anger with myself.

What a gift to find and wear clothes that make me feel good, that make me say to my reflection “You look so nice” instead of wishing away the parts of me that don’t seem to measure up to what others want to see, what others expect to see.

How wonderful to exclaim “I exist like this and I’m actually quite ok with it!” Such a simple sentence and yet for so long, so impossible to utter.

Yes, that is sequined ricrac on that leotard. Thank you 1978.

I spent a lot of years trying to fix myself, to make myself different, better. But when I entered my 50s I said I was done with that and nearly five years in, I’m getting there.

Do I wish I’d started earlier? Of course. But on Saturday I was so immensely happy to be able to look at those dance photos and smile. To reminisce without judgement, without cringing, without apologizing for how my thighs look, for my double chin. To see that girl and know she’s still inside me, dancing her heart out.

Give us a stage and stand back. Watch us soar.

Baby, remember my name.

As Luck Would Have It

I’ve been thinking a lot about luck lately.

Last Wednesday, in the midst of our cottage vacation, I had a fall. I was stepping off the deck, a deck I have stepped off multiple times in the past 40-something years, didn’t place my foot fully on the concrete step, causing it to slip off and causing me to soar twisting and windmilling in a—as we now know, futile—attempt to right myself.

I think I would have been ok—lucky, even—if I’d landed on the grass, but the final spin took me over to an exposed tree root that met my left elbow with surprising force. The wet-sounding “thunk” I felt more than heard. The pain was immediate and searing and I knew that I was in trouble. Unlucky, then.

When my brother and I were young and running around at the lake, climbing trees and launching ourselves into the water from large rocks, the common refrain from our parents was something to the effect of “If you break a leg, you’ll have to hop to Hagersville!” Hagersville being the closest hospital, of course. I was never sure why they wanted us to hop, and as I got older I took it to mean either, if you’re dumb enough to hurt yourself in a dumb way,well you’re on your own, or that cocktail hour with the neighbours was in full swing and none of the adults were in any shape to drive in case of emergencies.

Whatever the reasoning, neither my brother or I or any of the other kids to my knowledge needed the local ER. Lucky. We did a lot of dumb stuff.

As John buckled me into my seatbelt while I clutched my injured elbow in a death grip with my other hand, I was very glad to have a ride to the hospital. Lucky John was there. Lucky I wasn’t on my own. Lucky to not have to hop to Hagersville.

The ER was quiet at 7:30 on a Wednesday morning. Lucky for me I was seen and given a sling almost immediately. There were xrays and a diagnosis: your elbow is in a very wrong place, the doctor told me. Look, here is what it’s supposed to look like! Lucky it isn’t broken then. Just dislocated. Lucky me.

The doctor told me they would do a relocation and I prepared myself for the worst. Where would they send me? To Hamilton, I hoped.

Fixing a dislocated elbow is called a relocation, I learned.

The L is for left. Or, perhaps, lucky.

I waited and the nurse came back with an IV for me. When they relocate your elbow they give you drugs. So no bullet to bite, no length of dowling shoved in my mouth, that’s nice. I don’t think he was impressed by that.

The nurse asked me how are you doing? Ok, I said. You’ll be groggy but it’s done. What’s done? Your elbow. I missed it all, out like a light. Lucky for me.

Can you walk to another room? I think so. Drawers and drawers of splints and bandages and plaster of paris awaited. What’s happening here? I’m giving you a cast, the doctor said. I had hoped for just being wrapped up and taking it easy. Not lucky enough for that.

When I tell the story now I always talk about how lucky I was. How it could have been so much worse. How lucky to have only dislocated it! It’s not broken, right? Whew, so lucky!

And I am and it is, but why the need to explain away a pretty serious injury? Why minimize the trauma just because, well shit it could have been worse?

I have some thoughts and most of them have to do with not wanting to complain. And, if you explain to people “Oh it’s just dislocated haha nothing to worry about!” there’s no room for less-generous people to tell you you’re overreacting.

The truth is that the pain from this injury was the worst pain I have ever experienced. It’s my dominant arm, too, so rarely have I felt more helpless. I can’t drive. Can’t walk the dog. Can’t write or type. (This draft is in a phone note and it’s taking me forever) Can barely shower unassisted. Getting dressed is a challenge so sometimes I just don’t bother. It’s so frustrating and yet there is that voice that continues to remind me how lucky I am, that it’s a temporary situation, remember; that I should be so grateful.

Decades of putting myself in others’ shoes and looking on the bright side and being thankful, so very thankful for everything I have, means that wallowing in self-pity or even just acknowledging that hey, this is really awful right now feels impossible.

And I know that this is, as they say, a “me thing” but I also suspect I’m not alone in these feelings of guilt for wanting to wallow, to complain, to be sad. Even just for a little while.

A lot of us come from long lines of people who regularly thanked their lucky stars, who didn’t want to be seen as a complainers, to whom “grin and bear it” was a constant mantra. And please trust me when I say I do want to be one of those people! I always want to be the person who thinks of others before themselves! It’s who I am and I am very, very good at it! I just wish there was some sort of middle ground. For me. For all of us.

On Friday I will see a specialist who will determine the next steps for my elbow. With luck, it’s healing well under its cast. Perhaps the cast can even come off.

There are other scenarios, of course: potential for surgery if fractures are found; maybe it’s not healing well and more casting is required. I try not to think about those.

Whatever happens I will bear it, of course. And, with a little bit of luck I may learn to grin only part of the time.

Wish me luck.

Trust in the Process, 1000 Words at a Time

From May 31 to June 13 I took part in 1000 Words of Summer. This is a two-week period where you (voluntarily) add 1000 words to a project – a current project, something brand new, or even a couple of projects – daily. The goal is, of course, to add a significant number of words (ideally 14,000 or so) in a fairly quick timeframe, giving you that impetus, that drive and that desire to keep going, to push through, to realize that hey, there really is something there, something tangible that can be built upon, that might even turn into a book, a screenplay, a whatever it is you’re writing.

It is, of course, the brainchild of author Jami Attenberg who had the idea for the 1000 words writing sprint four years ago. I can’t remember if I participated in the very first one, but I have done it a few times, and it’s always a fantastic exercise in perseverance. Attenberg is an extremely gracious host who sends daily newsletters to the participants’ collective inboxes to inspire us. Sometimes there is also advice penned by other authors, sometimes Attenberg herself is our cheerleader, but no matter who is doing the writing, I think I have saved every single one of them. These emails are meant to keep us focused, grounded, and believing in ourselves as we push through to write 1000 words every. single. day.

I love these two weeks every summer and look forward to them even if by about day nine I’m thinking oh my god whyyyyy. I love the community 1000 words brings to my writing. I love scrolling through the hashtag and celebrating milestones with people, reading about their triumphs, and of course commenting with support and cheerleading for those who are struggling to find the words, for those who have to cut more words than they write, for those who are just not sure they belong.

But the great thing is that each time I participate I learn something about myself and about my writing. My writing self has definitely evolved since I decide to try my hand at writing fiction and creative non-fiction a few years back, of course, but each 1000 Words session I learn a little bit more about who I am.

This year in things I learned doing 1000 Words, I learned that I am an early morning writer after all. I kind of hate myself for morphing into a morning person, as morning people have always been my nemeses. But, when I realized that I was setting my alarm a half hour or even an hour earlier to get up to write, I was secretly thrilled. Look at me go, isn’t this what real writers do? I mean, some, sure. Lots write late into the night and lots write in chunks throughout the day, there is no *real* way to write, all writing time is valid writing time. But there was something about being up not just early but before the sunrise early (which is VERY early in the late spring in this part of the world, just saying) that was beyond motivating for me and so I’m going with it.

And in these early morning sessions, the 1000 words just flowed out of me and onto the page. It might be a coincidence, or it might be *a thing*, but and I have a couple of theories as to why it seemed easier than ever this time.

When I pre-ordered Jami Attenberg’s All This Could Be Yours a couple of years ago, she included a cool postcard from New Orleans and this rad sticker of her dog, Sid. I put him on my notebook for inspiration.

The first is that I’m getting someplace with this project of mine. It feels real now and I’m figuring it out. I’m understanding my characters, learning about who they are and what they need, and having them do things that make sense for them now.

I’m also taking full advantage of all the writing workshops and author talks and readings and everything I’ve been to regarding writing, and I’m just… writing things down, putting words on the page. I’m no longer backspacing through entire sentences because they “just don’t look right.” I’m leaving shitty grammar and sentence structure in there for now and I’m writing small notes for myself like “you need to fix this” and “what the hell does this even mean???” so that when I go back to slash my way through, I can figure those things out.

And finally, I’m trusting myself to get this done. Trusting the process: the write, delete, write again, revise, write… Because it is a process and there is truly no other way to get it done. That old saying, something like “If you’re going through hell, keep going” really applies here. Getting the words on the page, trusting that eventually, after much hell (likely) but not the worst sort of hell (probably) something beautiful will be formed, that all those creative hours will lead to something good, eventually.

As always, I was sad to see the end of 1000 Words of Summer, but the motivation to continue on, to write more, to see this project through to the end, to set a stupidly early alarm and write stupidly early in the day, has remained. And that in itself is a beautiful thing.