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!