Today is September 19, 2020. As I went for what will presumably be one of the last swims of the season, I reflected on an upcoming marker in my life: Tomorrow is the ten year anniversary of my partner Shannon's stem cell transplant. As I often do, I left some tears in the safekeeping of the lake water. But today they were all gratitude, those tears. A heartful.
The world we are living in today affords us many reminders of our mortality and perhaps that is why I feel so especially lucky. Everyday is a gift. Even with the challenges and struggles we all face from time to time, every day with my best friend feels like beautiful, bountiful bonus time. 3650 days and counting. Every one of them a gift.
I think there is value in looking back once in a while. And as I look back to September 20, 2010 and see how far we've come, I feel grateful, lucky, and a little bit proud.
Below is a link to a reading of a piece I wrote ten years ago, when we were in the thick of it.
I’m not usually one for true blogging – no editing; just sit down, write, and post. But I need to process and I feel drawn to the page to do it. As always, my Virgo brain, god bless it, wants to sort, categorize and summarize these thoughts into some manageable framework. That’s how I make sense of my world and how I cope, I guess. Believe me, sometimes I wish I could just sit in the middle of the emotional storm and let it rain, but that’s not how I roll.
I have been thinking a lot about my mind and how it manages the vast differences between my logical brain and my illogical heart. In fact, I am going to share a journal entry from March, just before the world changed gears.
I want a mind that . . .
And days later, a time of challenge arrives on my doorstep and I am instantly pulled back into old patterns of thinking by my anxiety. Then, once I have adjusted to my new normal, the house of cards we call our “social structure” starts to wobble and I’m back in my head again.
So, here I sit this morning, watching my mind trying to take charge and reason everything out.
But my heart is bewildered. It mourns, it’s anxious, it’s full of wonder and joy one minute and it’s breaking the next. There is room for the whole planet in there; there is only room for me and my loved ones in there.
My heart is a two-year old child who is experiencing new emotions and has no idea what to do with them.
Well, I wouldn’t yell at a two-year-old and I’m not going to yell at my heart.
Hey soul, step in here and mediate will ya? Quiet my mind and make room for my tumultuous heart.
This kinda sounds like a job for meditation, doesn't it?
I’m off to sit.
Thanks for listening, friends.
I’m sitting on the deck with my morning coffee as I write this. The birds are busting with excitement about something – most likely, the big news is that they are alive for another day.
Welcome to my happy place. This spot is a touchstone for me. I know this view and I know that the only people I might see from this vantage point will be friends. I know that I am safe here. Just me, my partner, my coffee and fifty of my closest bird friends.
This feeling of security is so important right now. I imagine that in households everywhere, we are all – consciously or unconsciously – drawn to the places, people, activities, and maybe even foods that make us feel safe. Some of those things may not be accessible right now, so we find other ways to recreate the feelings associated with them.
It is interesting to me that feelings of personal safety can be created in such a variety of ways. In times of perceived danger, we suddenly become more conscious of what makes us feel safe and so I have been sitting here thinking about the ways I seek that in my own life.
In 1998, my partner’s mother spent the last two months of her life in a coma. My partner and I were both teaching full time and would go to the hospital in the evenings and on the weekends. During that difficult time, our home was certainly our touchstone, but we found we needed something more. Our daily lives needed to go on during those two months; the activities of “normal” life took place in every room in our home – except in The Fort.
I don’t remember precisely when we created it, but I remember how important it became in those two months. It wasn’t really a fort, of course, but rather a designated safe spot. We put futons on the floor in front of the couch, added comfy pillows and soft blankets, moved a side table within reach, and placed there a box of tissue, the remote control, a selection of favourite movies, and favourite snacks we normally wouldn’t indulge in. I remember licorice and potato chips.
When daily life became too overwhelming, we would get into our jammies and head for the fort. We used “fort time” as a way to let each other know when we needed to escape. It was a tiny corner of safety in a very uncertain time.
One of the most difficult times in my life was when my partner had leukemia and needed a stem cell transplant. For this, we had to leave our home and relocate to Vancouver. We had a comfortable place to live for those six months, but it wasn’t my home. I never felt completely safe there, but it wasn’t because I was in someone else’s home, it was because my true home – my partner – was in jeopardy. We were together, which made us feel as safe as was possible in our tenuous situation.
I have included a clip of video today, because it got me thinking about all this in the first place. I went hiking last weekend and visited a lovely set of falls. I climbed out onto a large, flat rock and from there, I took the video below. Everything around me was moving. It was fast, loud and chaotic. Water ran at various speeds and seemingly in different directions. Yet I was completely safe and secure in the midst of all that turmoil. My rock didn’t shift or even wiggle. It was solid and I felt safe from the dangerous swirls all about me. And I thought about COVID 19 and this strange era in our lives. I thought about how we each need to find our rock from which we can observe what is going on around us with curiosity and compassion; where, if necessary, we could safely extend a hand to someone caught in the current.
There is no doubt that for me, my partner is my rock. I love our home – this deck – this safe place. But we survived our toughest time away from our home. As long as we’re together . . . we have said to each other in every scary time over the past 32 years.
No better time than now to reflect on who your rock is.
Have you told them lately?
I generally avoid commenting on anything political because I am usually willfully uninformed. I don’t watch the news every day. Or even every week. I have whole-heartedly embraced the slogan, Ignorance is Bliss. And while I say this lightly, it is essentially true. I honestly don’t know how people can watch the news several times a day. My spirit would be dragging behind me like a bag full of dirt.
Part of my discomfort with listening to the news is the format in which most information moves in this day and age. I remember a time when hearing both sides of an issue was considered a good thing. I remember when people like me could comfortably approach a discussion and ask to be updated, by people with opposing opinions. Anyone else remember that?
I really don’t feel equipped to discuss politics with most people because the new format is a mystery to me. I guess I shouldn’t have tuned out for so long. Anyhow, it would appear that in order to “engage in discussion” in the current climate, you must have already made up your mind, be passionate about it, and try to refute everything said by people who disagree with you. Listening seems to be frowned upon, and admitting that someone else’s point has given you something to think about seems to be as shameful as yelling “uncle” when your brother sat on you as a kid. And the more sarcastic you can be, the better. The only good news I can see is that you don’t have to come up with any ideas of your own to participate in one of these discussions, you just have to have the sharpest tongue in criticizing others in order to win.
So, I am late, and ignorant on a lot of points, but I can’t stop thinking about my country. Even a turtle like me can see we are at a turning point in our history. But I’m not the one to fill you in on the facts. You must do that for yourself. In the meantime, as always, I will resort to a story:
This week I was invited to read to the local school children for I Read Canadian Day.
It was a sweet event and a good time was had by all.
On the surface.
Inside my Canada jersey, beneath my pale skin, in my second-generation immigrant heart, a storm was raging. I looked out at the faces of our future, in a variety of skin tones, and felt the joy and hope I always feel when I look at my students. Even when we are facing such challenges as our climate crisis. But this time, I also felt conflict.
Just before going to the school, I watched a video posted by a young woman from Winnipeg who was verbally abused on a city bus for no other reason than the colour of her skin. I was sick listening to her tell her story. Sick at the incident and sick at the idea that no one on that bus told the abusers to stop. Twenty minutes of verbal abuse and no one said a word.
I am seeing more and more disturbing things in the news and on social media. As if the news isn’t disturbing enough on its own, now I am sitting here listening to coverage of an “economic crisis” caused by the “unlawful actions of a few terrorists.”
Oh Canada! No one was talking about this years ago when I first started following the work of Freda Huson of the Wet'suwet'en. No one was talking when we were dealing with an environmental issue; a call to attention about the ramifications of the pipeline construction tearing through wilderness, let alone the potential dangers of the pipeline itself. No one was talking about it when it was becoming a land title and sovereignty issue. No one was talking about it when a notable portion of our FN countrymen/women started saying that Reconciliation is Dead.
But now that our wallets are involved, look at us all spring into action! I had to go looking for information about this crisis in the earlier stages. But now that businesses are losing money, this story is about the only thing getting coverage.
Oh Canada, I think I can imagine the fear that some of us are facing because of the impact of the demonstrations on various aspects of the economy. Some of us are most definitely in a crisis situation and my heart goes out to all. I can understand why we are focused on getting the railway moving or one of the other specific side-effects of what the nation is suffering. Although, I wonder why the National Farmers Union’s unequivocal support of the Wet'suwet'en was over-looked in the mainstream news.
I’m trying to keep the big picture in my head. When I reroute around a demonstration, I’m grateful to live in a country with free speech. I hope everyone manages to feel heard by the end of this. Funny how some of us can just say our piece and others of us have to erect blockades and camp in the snow to be heard.
That’s my bigger picture. For everyone to be heard, so we can move forward together. Reconciliation received a standing ovation until it got uncomfortable. Some people stopped clapping and sat down on their hands as soon as they found out that the first part of the plan was for non-indigenous Canadians to listen.
Well, we’ve hit the first really uncomfortable and inconvenient growth spurt. We have just begun taking our early baby steps together in this new path, like a couple of wobbly toddlers, and the first time we are required to climb an obstacle, we have stumbled. Of course we have. But what now?
Change hurts. Not just for those trying to hold onto their power, or for those trying to get some power, but for all of us. Change usually costs us something and it is almost always uncomfortable. Even scary.
But when I look back at my life, every change, no matter how painful at the time, has led to growth.
When we look back at our collective past, we have tried to make the changes necessary to ensure all Canadians feel heard. Right back to the Suffragettes, we have made change after change. Often late, but we get there eventually. And we recognize that we have many more changes to make in areas of race, gender, and all the other things that we use to separate ourselves from one another.
Except for when it comes to our racist history. We tend to take a long time to own up to our national mistakes. And apparently, when we say sorry for those mistakes, we mean the kind of sorry that little kids say to get the babysitter off their backs. We don’t apologize, because that means turning away from the behaviour you apologized for. A true apology denotes a desire to change the offending behaviour.
It’s going to be uncomfortable, but somewhere up ahead, we are going to look back and say, Thank god we finally made that change. It was a tough time, but things are so much better now.
If we are serious about Reconciliation, and many millions of us are, then let’s try to support each other. Let’s find some compassion for all those affected by the blockades in all the many ways Canadians are being affected. Let’s commit ourselves to getting through this painful stage without causing more pain than is absolutely necessary. But methinks, some pain is necessary. Maybe this time, the pain doesn’t all land on the First Nations.
Oh Canada, I have always been so proud to wear my maple leaf. But this week, I pulled that jersey over my head with tears in my eyes. For Ms. Baptiste from Winnipeg. For a nation so scarred and blinded by Colonialism, it sometimes feels we will never heal. But I believe in us. I believe we can do better.
I want a government that chooses people over dollars every time. Believe, me I know how naïve that sounds. But I’m okay with you pointing out the weakness of my argument. I welcome it. You can even mock me and ridicule me, if that helps ease your anxiety. But I will hang on to my ridiculous idealism. I will stay here away from the front lines of the blockades or the halls of government while others braver and smarter than I try to deal with the discomfort of the details. I, with nothing but the big picture in my nearly-empty head, will pray for everyone’s safety. I will send my respect and support to all involved and hope that the big picture stays present in every minute negotiation: Who are we as a Nation? Do we really want Reconciliation or don’t we? How do we move forward side by side?
One day, when I am up at my school, I want to be able to look out at those small faces and say to them, that we managed, in the end, to get on the right side of history. That even though it was hard, we put them and their future first.
Look! They let me into a REAL art show!
I am so excited to be part of this project with Janny Thompson and Ester Strijbos in Victoria in December. I will be reading at our opening on December 6. If you don't make the show (but seriously, people, you have a whole month), I will be selling the books on Cortes Island as well.
Island Time is an interactive, multi-disciplinary art show which emphasizes story. Three artists present the theme of time from an islander’s perspective with mono-prints (Janny Thompson), ceramics (Ester Strijbos), and short fiction/poetry (Monica Nawrocki). This artistic exploration speaks to the passage of time and what it means to be an islander. The show also highlights the connections that grow among artists in small communities as the three presenters have drawn direct inspiration from one another’s work to create Island Time.
Show runs from Dec. 6 to 30 at the Cedar Hills Art Gallery, 3220 Cedar Hill Road, Victoria, British Columbia.
It's low tide again.
I am standing on the beach, sinking a bit in the mud, looking longingly at the water, pulled away and out of reach. Gone are the sun's diamonds scattered across the surface, the antics of the Scoters, the curious gaze of the seals. I'm left with sand, rock, broken shells. Everything is laid bare, nowhere to hide, and I comb the shore, a bit desperately, hoping to find some little treasure as a consolation.
That's how it feels, in this place of mourning. Our tiny island community has recently said good-bye to one of our dearest matriarchs, and I feel like I am standing out on the sand flats in a cold wind, longing for the return of the water, the fullness of the high tides of summer, brimming with life.
But low tide has its own beauty, doesn't it? Its own tranquility and spaciousness. It's own treasures, half buried in the sand.
In my sadness, connections with those I love feel stronger and deeper; their value suddenly as clear as a cut gem. The world's gifts are everywhere I look, shining like gold. My own good fortune feels like the fortune that it is.
I think about my dear friend, Ginnie, and I see how much I learned from the way she lived her life. I see how much I have learned from the way she died.
It's low tide again, and I walk quietly along the sand flats, watching for treasure. The tide will return, the fullness and business of life will cover our broken hearts. But for these memories - these treasures - I will find a place of honour, like sea glass on a sunny windowsill.
“I’m feeling anxious about the changes I am currently experiencing and/or anticipating. Your patience is appreciated.”
It’s mid-August, and everywhere we look, these three little words - back to school - scream at us, inspiring a range of emotion from Christmas Day Anticipation to Root Canal Dread.
Teachers will not turn on their televisions, look at newspaper flyers or listen to the radio. They avert their eyes when they see billboards or bus panels. They stick their fingers in their ears and sing la-la-la at the top of their lungs if they hear the S-word. They avoid Staples and Wal-Mart. Social Media is a mine field. Teachers are running around frantically trying to finish (or start) all the things they wanted to do with their glorious summer. When they tire from the running in circles, they lay in the hammock pretending they are not laying out lesson plans in their heads.
Meanwhile, parents are studying their hand-made calendars of August with an interesting tingling sensation. While the bright paper is scuffed, spilled-on, and dog-eared, it is still legible. The kids’ activities are strategically placed every few days to keep time moving quickly. The most prominent feature of this calendar is the Countdown. Parents are planning The Shopping Day. They have a nearly illegible list that spent the summer in the couch cushions, and they are trying to figure out how many colours are necessary in a crayon pack. Eight? Twelve? Twenty? Are there actually 64 different colours??
They may also have re-negotiated their mortgage to finance The Shopping Day.
They are already making fall survival plans with other parents. Most plans include alcohol. They think of their child’s teacher with a strange combination of loathing and longing.
The kids are vacillating wildly between a desperate need to get in as much fun as possible, and complete boredom. They are over-stimulated and over-tired. They are sick of summer and want to go back to school tomorrow. They don’t want the summer to end, ever. They miss their friends. They are so sick of their friends. They have stuff to do. They don’t want to do anything. They are still planning to get in shape this summer. They just spent their allowance on a box of fudgesicles.
Some people in this scenario have a vague idea of what September will look like. Some have no idea. New school. New class. New kids. New teacher. The fall transition is stressful for everyone. There are certainly ways to ease the transition – talking about it, most importantly – and beginning to shift routines gradually. But most of all, being gentle with each other.
Managing our own feelings and stresses as the adults is enough of a job. But understanding that your child or student is acting out because of transition stress, takes real concentration and compassion. Children rarely say, “I’m feeling anxious about the changes I am currently experiencing and/or anticipating.”
But that is probably exactly what they mean with every outburst, tantrum, and rude rejoinder. That’s always the trick: seeing beyond the behavior to the feelings that are fueling it. We all try to do this consistently as parents and as educators, and we all fail. So, we say sorry when necessary and we try again. Be gentle with each other. Be especially gentle with yourself. Have a great autumn, everyone.
Cortes Island book launch
Spring is the best, isn't it? Everything so hopeful and new; when anything is possible.
And just before you launch a new book is like that, too. Anything is possible right now. Cedar Dance is the name of the book as well as the name of the main character. I dare you not to like this guy!
Here's a link to my publisher so you can take a look. It will be out soon, but you can pre-order if you like.
And for a more complete synopsis and review . . .
One last thing: this website is about to get a makeover by Fortune-Made Consulting so it may look different next time you visit. Don't worry, you're not lost! Let me know what you think.
For me, one of the best ways to find uninterrupted periods of immersion writing time is to go house-sitting. I have done it several times. Some of you may remember the sage, one-eyed dachshund-terrier Dougie who assisted me in a previous post.
This time I am in Ucluelet. Yup, you heard me. I am in one of the most beautiful places on the planet with nothing to distract me from my writing.
Well, almost nothing . . .
Cat #1 is Manny: Beautiful green eyes, little white tufts of hair sticking out of his velvety grey ears. He introduces himself to me as my new best friend and a few hours after my arrival, curls up on my stomach to watch Netflix with me.
Cat #2 is Boots: So far, she is a grey tail sticking out from under the bed.
Cat #3 is Callie: Invisible? Imaginary?
Cat #4 is an unnamed feral resident of the garden shed who is getting larger and more frightening by the minute (in my mind). Will visit him/her in the morning.
Writing goes well.
Manny: Proposes marriage.
Boots: Shy period ends abruptly. Inquires 87 times about sitting on the kitchen counter, by sitting on the kitchen counter. Looks shocked and appalled each time I shoo her off.
Callie: Apparently, a figment of the owner’s imagination.
Shed Kitty: Invisible? Not imaginary; there is poop. What kind of feral cat uses a litter box anyway? Perhaps Shed Kitty is a fugitive from the law. I will call him/her Richard Kimble.
On my walk, I attempt to say hello to several dogs and I am snubbed every single time. Coincidence? I think not.
I watch 15 ravens meet at the swimmin’ hole for a bath. A group of them walk toward each other until they are in a little clump, then bob their heads in unison several times and all make the same vocalization. They separate and fly off in various directions.
After a morning of writing and a long walk, my lower back is sore. The construction site next door is deserted and has been since I left for my walk. I think it will be safe to get in the hot tub naked even though it is still daytime. I am incorrect.
The furry kids get me up at 6:00 but I refuse to feed them until 8:00. In response, Boots pretends our counter battle never happened and initiates round two. (Speaking of Boots, how can a four-pound kitty require three quarters of a king size bed?)
Out in the garden shed, Richard Kimble sure poops a lot. Is he/she hosting after-hours poker games for his feral buddies? Or getting rid of the last squirrel consumed in freedom? Who knows? Richard is not talking.
The elusive Callie comes downstairs, but insists on no photos or interviews. By the end of the day, she consents to an audience and I sit quietly on the floor about a meter away from her as she pretends to look at something else. Then she returns to the loft. I will call her Greta Garbo.
My writing is going great. I am asking and attempting to answer a lot of questions. Some things require long periods of uninterrupted thinking time. The walks are great for this process. I’m having fun.
At the end of the day, after lots of work, a walk, a glorious soak in the hot tub, and a grill cheese sandwich, I put on Netflix and settle onto the couch. As soon as the TV comes on, Boots is up on the cabinet, sitting three inches from the screen, watching the action. Her head, whipping back and forth, is blocking part of the screen, so I ask her politely to move. She declines, and after getting bored with my program, starts exploring the top of the cabinet. She promptly falls off the back of it and is trapped between the wall and the cabinet. She swears at me and I help her out.
She spends the rest of the hour tunneling under my yoga mat.
I will call her Crazy.
Apart from waking once to find Crazy walking up my body like she’s hiking the Appalachians, I sleep well. I get up late and decide I better feed the kids first, even before coffee. Callie comes down and eats with the common folk. They are all back to sleep by 9:00.
I find it increasingly disturbing that I never see or even hear Richard Kimble.
I move a whole chapter this morning and come to update you while the new chapter order settles in my mind. Chances are, I will go straight back and change it again. But that’s the fun, isn’t it?
During my morning stretch, I think of the perfect thing for my character to say and yell, “That’s perfect!”
Crazy yells back. Something about catnip.
Not on my watch, I tell her.
Seriously, that would be like giving espresso to a toddler.
Having been warned about the slipperiness of the deck in the frosty mornings, I am very careful as I head out to feed Richard Kimble. Except for one tiny lapse in concentration. As my mother told me when she fell last month, ‘I can fly pretty good, but I have trouble with the landings.’
As I lay on my back catching my breath, I note that it is another clear sky. Good day for a longer hike.
Concerned that my middle-age body might seize up after my fall, I have a morning spa treatment in the hot tub, decide to take the day off of writing since it is Sunday, and plan a hike to the Lighthouse Loop.
These are the most amazing trails I have ever seen. For the first time ever on a solo hike, I do not get lost. Although, I must admit, I am surprised to find the parking lot has been moved to the other side of the road while I’ve been hiking.
I go for coffee and chat with Kevin, the owner. Ucluelet is dealing with low and mid-income housing shortages. Air B&B seems to be a threat to communities everywhere. Kevin tells me that the Eagle’s Nest Pub has cheap burgers on Sundays and I decide to go.
On the way there, I hear sea lions barking not very far away. In the pub that overlooks a dock, I sit between two TV’s and swivel my head happily between a hockey game, the Academy Awards, and the view. I enjoy a local beer, an excellent burger, and a familiar, home-like atmosphere as the patrons greet each other with hugs, play musical chairs at the tables, and gossip with the servers.
Continuing with today’s theme of not heeding the owner’s warnings, I decide not to put Handsome Manny in the sun room where I have deposited him guiltily every night at bedtime, according to my instructions. I have a talk with him about my expectations around his behavior as it pertains to his sister, Crazy, in particular. We strike a deal: he assures me there will be no goofing around, and I leave him to sleep where he is.
I read in bed until I am sleepy, turn out the light, and then . . . the game begins. Crazy and Handsome are chasing each other at breakneck speed through the house; up and down the stairs, spinning out on the corners, sliding across the kitchen. I turn on the light and grumpily join the game - which immediately becomes hide and seek. In the dim light, Greta Garbo and Handsome look quite similar and at one point I almost grab Greta by mistake. She pulls back from me with an expression of utter disgust. I suspect there will be consequences for my blunder. I search each of the seven sleeping spots that Manny uses. Several times. I am beginning to think that maybe cats, like Klingons, have cloaking devices. I give up my search and go back into the throne room to apologize to Greta one more time, and there he is, sitting on the windowsill, smoking a cigarette in a long filter. I tiptoe past Her Highness, and pick him up. He protests loudly all the way to the sun room.
I return to bed at 1:00 am, completely cured of my guilt.
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Monica Nawrocki -