When Self-Care Slips


These are my tells:

A glass of wine with dinner becomes two, becomes a bottle. I spend more and more time on social media. I eat until my stomach hurts, then I eat some more. I snap at the kids; I hear myself snap; I tell myself to stop; I don't stop.

I've been through this before. The difference is that now I recognize it happening. I pull myself out of the nosedive before I crash. This morning, as soon as P had the water boiled for his coffee, I put on my running shoes and went for a run. I check myself on social media: before I fall down the rabbit hole of reading about two more black men murdered by cops in the States, I shut it down (but do I also have an obligation to look? I have the luxury of not reading, of not being personally affected, of knowing that cops will keep me safe. This is a whole other post. I have to take care of myself, too.)

Tonight, I won't have even one glass of wine, because it opens a door I'm not able to shut right now. After the kids go to sleep, I might meditate. I might work on some poems. Even though I've lost my daily writing practice, I haven't lost the poems. They come out of me, the words a migraine pulse in my head. The only difference between now and two years ago is that now, I listen. I stop and I write those words down. So even though writing isn't a part of my daily routine, it is there. I won't ignore that part of myself any longer. I've got three poems on the go that I'm almost ready to send out. I'm waiting to hear back from three other publications, too. I keep at it, doggedly.

I see these patterns in myself, when I'm not taking care of me. I overdo it on other things. Sometimes it seems like an effort to feel something: that's the overeating. Eating until I'm uncomfortable, until I feel sick, until I have no choice but to feel my body. And sometimes it seems like an effort to numb out all of the overwhelm I feel every day, to check out. I've written about that before. It's the social media, primarily. But now that I'm a year postpartum and the baby doesn't nurse so much anymore, it's the drinking, too.

So here I am, clawing my way back before it goes too far. And if I'm being grateful as a way to self-care, then I am grateful that I now recognize when things are slipping. I'm grateful that I don't need someone else to point it out for me. I sometimes feel that I need someone to hold me accountable; something I loved about therapy is that it was hard for me to sit down across from my therapist week after week, complaining about the same thing and never making a change. I don't have that checkpoint anymore: I have to provide it for myself. And maybe being honest about it on the internet, and with my partner and with my friends, can be that check, too.  But mostly it's me. Nobody else is going to tell me to go for a run or sit down and meditate or write. I have to take care of myself first. It's the hardest lesson to learn, and I'm learning it still.


Thoughts on the Orlando Massacre


Sunday morning I woke up a little before everyone else. While I waited for the kettle to boil, I checked Facebook (like I'm trying not to do) and one of the very first items in my news feed was an article about the Orlando massacre. I read it quickly. I fought back tears. I flipped the cover closed on my tablet and I busied myself with the day. We unpacked boxes of books and toys, I placed pictures and candles and nic-nacs about the house. In the afternoon we planted out some flowers and tomatoes and peppers we'd bought at the market. I kept my mind away from the hurt.

But by late afternoon, I couldn't stay away any longer. I read that the death toll was now more like 50. I read the first snippets of information about the shooter. I felt numb, until I started texting with a close friend who is a lesbian. She told me how hard of a time she was having. She said "they're shooting us." And at that, I remembered that I am in that "us". I identify as queer, though I'm read as straight. I hate how that part of myself is so easily erased, every day. How I forget it, too. It's something I struggle with. You don't have to be queer to feel the pain of this tragedy, of course, but her words brought me back to myself and I finally started to feel it.

I feel it as a queer woman. I feel it as a mother. I feel it as a human being. Like so many, I wonder how many more people have to die for something to change. I am appalled that this man was able to legally acquire the guns he used, even though he was on a government watch list. What is the purpose of these lists, then? Why do so many people insist they have a right to possess these weapons of mass destruction? I'm sure there are those saying that if only someone else in the club had been carrying a gun, the death toll would be much lower. I'm sure that's complete and utter bullshit. It's a part of the lies that gun-enthusiasts tell themselves to make it okay for people to keep dying. It's shifting the blame, it's burying your head so fucking far in the sand that you can't hear the rest of us crying for it to stop.

If this man hadn't been able to purchase a gun, he'd just be a lonely homophobe, quietly hating gays and all of those people who were just celebrating love and community and BEING, would not now be dead.

Though perhaps even bigger than the gun issue is the issue of the hate. If that man hadn't been so triggered by the sight of two men kissing, this wouldn't have happened. If we are all surrounded by love and acceptance, if we are taught these things right from the beginning, if we're taught to live and let live, then there'd be no need for the guns. There would be no fear of this happening. I hope to raise my kids to know this, deep in their core. To know only love, to feel only love for others. I hope they never have to face the agony of "coming out," because they'll know that they can love whomever they choose. And that they never have to face such hatred for that.

I know I'm not adding anything new to the conversation. But I hope that the more people who make their voices heard, the closer we'll come to some kind of reform. There has to be a tipping point. How is this not it? How was the last one not it? And the one before that?

For a several days now I've had the beginnings of a poem in the Notes section of my phone. It's a bit dark, and I knew that generally, it was about parenting and children and sending them out into the world, I didn't know where it was going, really, or what was coming next, which is a bit unusual for me. But I trusted it would come. And last night, this morning, it did. I'm saddened it was this event that gave me the words to finish the poem. I'm grateful I have poetry to help me work it out.

Me, just before the Dawson City Pride Parade, 2007.

On Gord Downie and Being Present


A week ago, Tuesday morning. I'm sitting in the rocking chair, watching the kids destroy the sun room and wishing I was somewhere else when my cell pings, calling me back to the present. I pick it up and read the text my mom has just sent me: it's a link to an article about the lead singer of the Tragically Hip, Gord Downie. He has terminal brain cancer. Around me, a pair of pants sail through the air as Aedan runs past, naked. I feel like I've been gut-punched.

The Tragically Hip are "that band" for me. The first band of which I became an ardent fan. My older cousins, in Ingersoll, loved them. They'd play their music at the parties we all went to together, and it didn't take long for my interest in the band to grow beyond my adoration for my cousins. I think Fully Completely was the first album of theirs I owned. But it's Day for Night and Trouble at the Henhouse that were the soundtracks to my early teens. A little bit bluesy, a little bit raw, a little bit moody, with a couple of ballad-type songs thrown in for good measure, those two albums were everything to me. And when Gord Downie released his first solo album and collection of poetry, I devoured it. Gord Downie's writing was my introduction to contemporary poetry. His writing sparked my love of poetry, and led me to one of my favourite Canadian poets, Al Purdy. I'm sure I'm not the only poet in this country who owes their beginnings to Gord.

After my first Hip concert, I vowed to see them whenever they were playing in the area. I've seen them seven times in concert, now. Gord Downie is the consummate artist. He is electric to watch on stage; he seems to have a direct line to the Muse, to his creative source, fully open at all times.

When I read that he'd been handed a death sentence, I was crushed. I don't mean to eulogize him here, though, because life rolls on. His life, his art, rolls on. They're releasing a new album, they're about to embark on an eleven date tour. In their statement about Gord's cancer, they had this to say:

"What we in The Hip receive, each time we play together, is a connection; with each other; with music and it’s magic; and during the shows, a special connection with all of you, our incredible fans."

It's this connection, the magic that they speak of, that draws me to them, that draws so many of us to them. And it's what draws me to writing, too. To take part in that magic, either directly by creating your own art, or indirectly, by experiencing it through another's art, is something special. And it's Gord Downie's dedication to this, not just now but all through his artistic career, that inspires me. He seems to be ever present for his art, for whatever comes through, be it on the page or the stage.

I hope I can learn to be so present for my own art, for whatever comes through. Not questioning it, but just being there, being a witness to it. Letting it rest on the page, and then, later, coaxing it out and pushing it just a little bit further.

I hope I can learn to be present like this for my life, too. For my self, for my family, for each moment of the day. In the tumult of the last few weeks, the roller coaster of emotions that accompany this impending cross-country move, what has helped me through has been to focus on the present moment, to really be IN it. To bear witness to whatever is happening, to whatever feelings are there. To be there for my sadness, my fear, my anger, and my excitement, too. To be there with my kids, with my parents, my grandmothers. To hold still in those moments, instead of letting my mind wander to thoughts of what we're about to lose. Because once I let those thoughts in, I'm no longer there.

In that same vein, I think seeing the Hip on this upcoming tour will be an exercise in staying present. In feeling that deep connection to the band and the music without thinking things like "this will be the last time..." I wish that peace of mind to Gord and the rest of the band; that they can just drink in each of those eleven concerts, connect with each of the thousands of Hip fans who will no doubt raise their lighters (or their cell phone flashlights, I guess) in those darkened arenas and stadiums across the country this summer, singing themselves hoarse in a shared celebration of life and art and magic.

Gord Downie Hillside 2001 by Ryan Merkley CC BY
Image via Flickr user Ryan Merkley

Coming Out of Survival Mode


On Sunday, P came home from what was supposed to be a month away from us. I must have been out of my mind when I said "Yeah, I can handle a month with the kids. This is a good plan!" In reality, I lasted approximately 8 days before texting him this message: "I don't know how I'll last another 3 weeks." Shortly after that S.O.S. he changed his flights and a month became 2 weeks.

But in those two weeks, and in the stressful, making-huge-life-decisions weeks preceding, I'd all but lost my hard-won new habits. The daily writing practice, the nightly meditation, the reduced social media time, the "I'm gonna learn to run!" resolve (in fairness to myself, I hurt my ankle)...all of that stopped. I was in crisis-survival mode. After we decided we needed to return to Dawson, to pack up and move once again across the country, away from the support system we'd built in the last 18 months, my brain had had enough. Comfort food, comfort interneting, all of the familiar escapes became large again.

And that's okay. As my dear friend reminded me one day: "It's not like you're shooting heroin. Go on Facebook!" Sometimes we just need to get through it, right?

But here I am, my partner downstairs with the kids (minus one who is playing with a basket of rocks on the bed behind me). I'm not working on any poems because that's a little much, but I'm blogging. And in the hour before dinner prep begins tonight, I'll go out for a walk, test out my ankle and hopefully get back to my learn to run program. And maybe just before the bedtime rush, I'll slip away to sit in quiet meditation for 10 minutes.

And I'll try to check myself each time I feel the urge to pop in to social media. I'll try to bring myself back into the present moment, the only thing that's real, the only thing that matters.

Outside my window it's beautiful: a few clouds high in the sky, the leaves swelling on the maple trees, sunlight and shadow patterning the lawns and spring gardens. This fills me up. It buoys me in the present.

Even though I've let the good things slide in the past month, those foundations are still there. The roots are still healthy. I just need to water them and revive the wilting leaves.


Big Things, Little Things, All the Things


I've been quiet in this space for weeks, now. I've got a few draft posts saved, but each one I've sort of given up on with my hands thrown in the air. Truthfully, I've felt unclear on the purpose of this blog, on where I want it to go, what I want it to do. I started it because I just needed to write. But over the last year, that need has turned into a (fairly) regular poetry practice.  In fact, I think I could safely say I'm working on a chapbook length collection of poems focusing on my experience of motherhood. When I have time to write, I want to be working on that, because, let's face it...I don't actually have all that much time to write.  So all of that being said, I've decided to use this space as a place for me to announce upcoming publications and to give my readers regular life and writing updates. Ideally I'd like to get back to publishing once a week, but realistically I'm shooting for twice a month.

I've got two more poems forthcoming online in June and August, and I'm still sending my best work out as it's polished. Recently I've decided to try submitting to some of my "dream" markets: they're print (as opposed to online) publications, they have a wide readership, and they pay. They also have very small acceptance rates, but I've got nothing to lose. And in a further effort to get paid to write poems, I've submitted a poem to Room's annual poetry competition. I'm working on a batch of three poems right now, and I think two of them are good enough to send out. It's tricky, learning to critique my own work. Over the winter I met with the University of Western Ontario Writer-in-Residence several times during her office hours at the public library. It helped me to hone my inner editor: by the last time we met, she didn't have much to suggest--in a good way. Writing continues to be the keystone to my mental health. It is so hard to drag myself to the page some days, but I keep doing it.

If you've read this far, you might be wondering about the "big things" promised in the title of this post. It's truly very big. Are you sitting down? Good. Make sure you don't have a mouthful of coffee (or wine.) Ready? Okay. We're moving back to Dawson. I know, right? It's pretty huge. I am at once excited and heartbroken about this. But the reality is that we have a business there. And it needs our attention, more than we can give it from here. Thankfully we've still got our log home (with our outhouse and our limited running water) so we'll live there for the summer with a plan to move into town by the fall/winter. My parents have very generously offered to do some needed repairs on our home here in London, and then we'll likely list it at the end of the summer. P is in Dawson now, and he'll come back in the first week of June so we can all travel up together.

It all seems a bit surreal, at the moment. Two cross country moves in less than two years. It's exhausting to think about. But we're taking it one day at a time, and it really is the only thing that makes sense right now. I look forward to seeing my dearest friends again. I look forward to the fresh air, the mountains, and the river. Northern themes abound in my writing so I'm curious to see what sort of inspiration pops up once I'm living there again. I try not to think about how much we'll miss our family here. It's going to be really hard.

So there you go: all the things. What kinds of things are happening in your world these days? Have you ever moved across the country? Twice? Did you survive? Tell me all about it in the comments!


Two Poems in Rat's Ass Review


I've got two poems up in Rat's Ass Reviews on going "Love and Ensuing Madness" series, "Parents' Aphrodisiac" and "The Girl from St. Eustache."

The first of these, "Parents' Aphrodisiac" went through many drafts. There are 7 different drafts saved on my computer, and there were countless smaller changes made along the way. I really believed in this poem; loved the tension between being a mother and being a partner and lover. I think it's important to view mothers/parents as the multifaceted, many-hats-wearing people they are. This poem was rejected a half a dozen times before finding its home at Rat's Ass Review. I got lucky: I think that's actually not that high of a number, but I was close to giving up. After some encouragement from other writers, I submitted it one more time, and it was accepted almost immediately.  I hope you enjoy it.

Two Poems in Mused Literary Review


I am so thrilled to have two of my poems appearing in the Spring Equinox issue of Mused Literary Review! It's available in three formats: an HTML version, a downloadable PDF file and a full colour, glossy print magazine.

Though I've been out of the darkness for months now, much of my poetry seems to be processing some of the saddest, darkest times in my postpartum experience. These two poems take me right back there, both emotionally and geographically. I'm grateful to be in lighter place now; however, I think it's so important to share these experiences, so we know we're not alone.

Thanks for reading, friends.