August 16, 2011

In the Meantime

I am on a ferry boat, metaphorically speaking. The comfort of an established routine has been replaced by a propulsion of instability. I have maps, guidebooks, a vague idea of my destination, and short term plans for food and shelter. Beyond that, I'm a traveller in this transition period.

If there's one thing I know about travelling in unfamiliar territory--literally and metaphorically--it's that spontaneity and open-mindedness are just as (if not more) important than preparation and planning. If you fill up every hour of the day with a logistical plan of where to be at what time, you might miss the afternoon street dance battle between a group of young men in London, or the slide show of photos projected against the side of a building at dusk in Berlin. You would miss the alchemy of spontaneous assembly in the service of creativity, a cause, or some form of festivity. The popularity of flash mobs, and the various forms in which they come, is a testament to our need to stir up the daily monotony of our lives.

Being in transition is both uncomfortable and liberating. Part of me needs something I can count on--a routine to assist in the business of organizing and maximizing my time. On the other hand, it's been awhile since I've been so attuned to the world around me. I'm inundated with imaginary scenes of the future that lies ahead of me. Although I'm in a bit of a pickle financially, I have found a healthy perspective on the ebb and flow of wealth (beyond money) and the laws of giving and receiving.

When this ferry finally docks, I will see the destination in 3D. I will disembark and use my maps to guide me. At some point, no doubt, my navigational abilities will fail me. I may sustain some injuries, but instinct and intuition will steer me clear of cliff drops.

In the meantime, I pay close attention to life in suspension. What a rare place to be.

December 6, 2010

Calling All Non-fiction Writers

A post on behalf of PRISM ... we're looking for non-fiction!

PRISM international has extended their Non-fiction Contest deadline to December 15, 2010 (post-marked).

That's right, friends! You've got just over one week to send in your memoir, literary journalism, rhetoric, personal essay, etc.

The Non-fiction Contest has an exciting $1500 Grand Prize. The entry fee is $28 for one story, and $7 for each additional story. All entrants receive a one-year subscription to PRISM international.

Check out the contest page for more details, and get that entry in the mail!

August 1, 2010

Emergence

I'm the seasonal opposite of a bear. I seem to hibernate in summer (at least until my birthday comes around, at which time I emerge and demand attention). After years of judging myself for these periodic bouts of seclusion, I've decided that it's natural and necessary. Granted, I am one of the fortunate members of society that actually has the privilege of having the essentials for survival taken care of. That being the case, I struggle with falling into extremes (consumption, information overload, unhealthy food and lifestyle choices). I'm often out of balance, and these occasional periods of hibernation give me the space and time to find some equilibrium, or at least make a plan to move in that direction.

I'm currently housesitting at my sister and brother-in-law's place; their backyard is literally a forest and the house is built of cedar, brick, and glass. Despite my best intentions to use this time as a writing retreat, I have instead been wiling away my time on the Internet, baking sweets, and staying up until 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. watching movies or old Sex and the City episodes. It's as if I've translated "summer off from work and MFA program" to mean "I have permission to overindulge in all that requires the least effort for the most pleasure."

As with all bad habits and addictions, "the first step is admitting that you have a problem." So here I am, admitting it. I will also make a public vow to work on one writing project for at least two hours today. Small, attainable goals, right? A disoriented, hungry bear should not be provoked.

Resistance, I will beat you down one small, daily decision at a time. Talk to the hand, buddy!

February 16, 2010

To Procreate, or Not to Procreate?

I recently read a controversial article by Anne Kingston in Maclean's called, The case against having kids. The question of whether or not to have children is pretty prevalent in my life lately. I currently have six friends who are pregnant, one who recently had a miscarriage, and a couple who are trying to conceive. I am 32 and have a partner, but I am still negotiating through my thoughts, emotions, and fears surrounding procreation. I know that deciding not to have children is a valid option for any woman or couple nowadays, but there is still a social stigma associated with this decision, or moreover, the potential reasons behind such a decision.

In the Maclean's article, Kingston refers to a growing collection of essays, literature, and cultural movements aimed at helping "child-free" individuals and couples feel validated and supported in their choice not to have children. British Columbia poet, Lorna Crozier, asserts: "Children were not a way of ensuring happiness or endowing my days with meaning. That hard task was mine alone." In a similar vein, author and analyst Corinne Maier writes: "Children are often used as an excuse for giving up on life without really trying. It takes real courage to say 'Me first.'" (from No Kids: 40 Good Reasons Not to Have Children). Maier's statement could easily be taken the wrong way, but I believe she is referring to those people who choose to sacrifice their personal goals in life for those of their children. I don't believe this ever has to be the case (at least I hope not, or I am definitely not cut out to be a mother).

There is also the issue of overpopulation and sustainability. The world's current growth rate of approximately 1.14% represents a doubling time of approximately 60 years. This is simply not sustainable for the human species. It's not sustainable as it is. When I listen to these kinds of statistics, it seems as though (if I decide that I want to raise a child) exploring the option of adoption would be the most responsible and ecologically sound decision. But adoption has it's own minefield of bureaucratic hoops to jump through and considerations of the child's racial and cultural background and the most sensitive way in which to handle the inevitable questions that will arise with regards to their origin.

All of this being said, I have also witnessed the miracle of motherhood, and this is something that Kingston's article does not discuss. I have seen my friends discover a form of love they didn't know was possible until this being passed through their bodies into the world. I have held my cousin's baby in my arms while she slept and was reluctant to let her go, and I have experienced the awe of watching her grow into a tall, spirited child that has no conscious recollection of her first year on earth--being breastfed, comforted, cooed at, loved, and protected. But none of this is enough--I need to feel the desire to be a mother in my bones, my cells, my heart. I need to know what the ticking "biological clock" feels like. I haven't felt it yet, and this is not a decision that I trust to be made with my head, or social and cultural expectations, or the pressure of an extended family that is ready to embrace grandparenthood.

No, this is my choice. I wholeheartedly agree with Kingston's assertion near the end of her Maclean's article, which concludes: "what any happiness appears to stem from is not children or their absence but rather the ability to make the choice." In order to be at peace with any decision I make in my life, I need feel that I had the freedom to make that choice. Ideally, I would also live in a cultural climate in which that choice was respected.

Are we there yet?

January 15, 2010

Ready to Leap

I have heard this maxim from various sources over the years, and while I comprehend its wisdom, I can't seem to get up the cajones to enact the command: leap. The years accumulate and I don't get any closer to the goal.

So what is the goal? There's the rub. I don't think it's any one accomplishment (not that I don't have daydreams of winning the Griffin Poetry Prize, or accepting an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay). No, it's not about that. I want to live an interesting life. To be bold. To genuinely connect with people and contribute something valuable to the conversation. To live with a general sense of well-being, and when it's knocked off kilter, to call upon a deep well of inner strength in order to put myself right again. I want to find a location and a vocation that is in line with my calling.

I would love to feel (and truly believe) that the hours I spend alone writing, typing, deleting, retyping, researching, agonizing over, and loving words is something that I do to serve something greater than myself. The thing is, if I'm really honest, I do believe in the value of my potential contribution. It's my awareness of the diligence and self-discipline it will take to get me there that summons the demons of self-sabotage. Humility taken too far, like ego, can be a force of distortion and destruction.

I feel as though I have been on the precipice of leaping for some time now, but it will either take a momentous act of self-will or a gentle nudge from behind to push me over. I have to forget about the net. There is no net. There is no treacherous abyss of no return, either. It's endless space, endless possibility.

Leap.

December 18, 2009

Temporal Homes

As winter settles in every year, I often think about the homeless. In particular, I am thinking about a homeless couple who settled into my neighbourhood for a week or so last spring. The woman was always reading a book as they asked for spare change outside of the liquor store, and they had an adorable dog that was always snuggled up beside them. Wherever they are staying this winter, I hope they are warm, healthy, and that their dog is still with them. Below is a snapshot of my impressions while they were sleeping across the street from my rental suite:

A homeless couple and their dog emerge from under their tarp and slowly begin to pack their blankets, pillows, books, and empty bottles into a shopping cart. The woman shakes the dust out of their blankets and fluffs the pillows before piling them on top of the loaded cart. She places a glass vase on top of the concrete wall that frames their sleeping quarters and inserts three red tulips, which emerged from somewhere inside the dismantled bedroom. As the man and woman make their way towards Cambie Street, they temporarily park their portable home near a colourful mural on 18th Avenue.

I stare at the vase full of tulips and wonder about the woman’s intention. Perhaps it is a thank you gift to the space for giving them shelter for the night. Maybe it is a claim of home. The couple only manages to sleep in the concrete nook for a week or so before someone in the neighbourhood calls to have them evicted from their makeshift home. Not long after, I witness an altercation between a resident and one of the regular bottle collectors, each defending their territory and butting heads over their mutual right to exist in the same space in their own way. It is like watching two worthy opponents in the boxing ring, throwing harsh words instead of jabs and hooks.

But the couple disappeared quietly. They left the transitory scent of tulips to waft over the smell of urine and garbage that permeates the liquor store parking lot.

November 29, 2009

Now

"I will only drive down last week's road once in my life." --Carmen Joy King

Lately, I have been missing it. The moment. In fact, I have probably been missing it for most of my life. I know how it feels though, to be in it: a tickle up the length of my spine, a lightheaded sensation of giddiness, a sudden realization of fleeting happiness. It is an accumulation of all that was and all that will be, distilled down to the moment.

It's been awhile though. I was recently chatting with an old roommate of mine via Facebook and we spontaneously hacked out a plot line for a Reality Bites style film, but focusing instead on a bunch of friends fumbling through their early thirties: unexpected layoffs and financial crises; the isolation of single life; sexless marriages; the humbling responsibility of parenthood; passions relegated to hobbies; unstable mental and physical health. My friend and I were indirectly discussing our own group of friends and acquaintances, but we were also exploring the dangers of succumbing to the voice within that chides and discourages us from enacting real change in our lives when it is required. Too often, we resign ourselves to living out an "existence" rather than a "life."

I know that I have the ability to reinvent myself; I am my own agent, whether I believe it or not. At some point in the last few years, I forgot this reality and hit a concrete wall of lost opportunity. For a moment, I felt as though those opportunities were irretrievable. I lost a sense of the largeness of life--something that was second nature to me as a child, and again as a young adult. I put myself in a box.

As my dear friend Carmen Joy King points out, we can only drive down last week's road once. I like the immediacy of last week; it keeps me from looking too far behind. Last week just passed. This week is here. What am I doing right now that is not serving me? What part of my spirit, or my mind, or my body is stalled and needs a jump start?

I'm here, with a persistent heartbeat, fuelled with blood that propels me forward. I will only be here once.

November 21, 2009

Written in Skin

"Lord my body has been a good friend / but I won't need it when I reach the end."
--Cat Stevens

We cannot shed our bodies, like clothes, at the end of the day. They're always with us ... until they're not. However, those of us who have been fortunate enough to enjoy relative good health and physical ability often take our bodies for granted. We assume they will always be there, like Stevens' "good friend."

I've been thinking a lot about death lately. Having attended several funerals over the past few years, some of them the result of tragic, untimely deaths of friends and relatives, I have become more and more aware of a spiritual void in my life. When someone close to me dies, I find myself flailing without a filter, dodging a lot of thoughts and emotions that I can avoid facing on a normal day. I envy those who have some form of faith to turn to during these times. Words and rituals that offer solace.

Funerals rarely do this for me--at least traditional North American memorial services. We tend to wear primarily black and opt for summary, anecdotes, silence, a somber song, choked tears. I always feel the inappropriate urge to laugh, or scream, or chant, or dance, or moan. I desire a ritual around death that doesn't appear to exist in my immediate surroundings. I want to sing a dirge, but I don't know the words. I feel the need for something more authentic and of the earth than stark funeral homes, rows of mourners, caskets, and one-dimensional photos of the deceased.

The deceased. Passed away. I desire a new language for the dead. Something less gentle and polite, more in tune with the raw, heaving experience of loss. At the same time, there is also a place for silence. Something like the practice of the Liberal Friends of Quakerism, who gather in silent worship and speak only if/when they are moved to do so. I want to negotiate and understand quantum physics, the nature of energy transformation and the deceptive nature of solid material forms.

I believe I had a fleeting encounter with my grandmother after she died. I have had psychic readings and genuinely believed in them. I talk to the dead as if they can hear me. I talk to my own spirit (for lack of a better word) as if it exists outside of my body, an older and wiser entity than I. I realize that all of this could be a lie I tell myself. My own construction of comfort in the face of all that is unknowable.

In our chaotic and conflict-ridden world, I am grateful to have this freedom: to write these words without censorship, and to seek, articulate, and practice my own beliefs without persecution. Much like my body, this is something I have taken for granted most of my life.

Let this be an acknowledgement of gratitude, written in my skin.

October 31, 2009

Tales from the Dark Side

Halloween, like so many other cultural celebrations, has emerged from ancient rituals associated with several different historical eras. According to History.com, the Celtic festival of Samhain (a celebration that acknowledged the blurring of worlds between the living and the dead) and the later Roman festival of Feralia (a commemoration of the passing of the dead), both took place at the end of October and serve as the origins of what is currently referred to as Halloween. Due to later Christian influences, November 1st was dubbed "All Saints' Day," a time to honour saints and martyrs. In Middle English "Alholowmesse" means All Saints' Day, and over time the Celtic Samhain festival began to be referred to as "All-hallows Eve" and eventually, Halloween.

We are tapping into a rich cultural tapestry each year on October 31st. It is a time when people, young and old, are permitted to transform and become something "other" than what they are. I believe this to be a fascinating and important ritual. As adults, we are given the rare opportunity to become anything from ridiculous, to cute, to bawdy, to grotesque, and for one day, friends and strangers alike laugh and nod and allow us this transgression. It is a day to inhabit our own personal angels and demons; we can be that which we wish we were, or that which we could never imagine being. What a gift it is to experience the "other," both within and without.

Tonight, I am going to be a Pink Lady from Grease fame. Past costumes include a gypsy, a forest nymph (one of my personal favs), a garbage bag (I had confidence issues in elementary school), a gigantic sock, a hippie (another fav), Cleopatra, Barbra Streisand in Hello, Dolly!, and the list goes on.

I have, of course, seen many versions of Michael Jackson wandering around this year. The cultural phenomenon of Thriller and the legacy of his life are acting as a resurrection of sorts. And is this not the heart of this ancient ritual? To blur the lines between the living and the dead and honour their contributions and their sacrifices?

I am eager to see what the inhabitants of Vancouver bring out of their closets, costume stores, and Value Village pillages on this ancient night of the dead. My black cat, Cleo, will sit in silhouette on the window ledge, watching numerous souls haunt the streets, perhaps perceiving more than me.

October 20, 2009

3 Questions for Steven Pressfield (part 3 of 3)

Welcome to the final instalment of my Q&A with Steven Pressfield. He discusses the process of revision and how sitting down to do the work is really just a matter of will power, commitment and the strength to conquer RESISTANCE ...

MS: I always have trouble finding the motivation to revise my work (although I know this is just as important as the initial creative output). Do you have any tools or tips for approaching the revision process?

SP: Just will power, Melissa. Someone once said (and I agree): "There's no such thing as writing, only re-writing." To me, the revision process is not only very important, but fun. I'll do twelve or thirteen drafts on a book--and each one changes the original significantly. When I read someone's work that hasn't been strenuously edited and revised, I can see it. It's not good.

I read an article once, where the reporter was watching Barbra Streisand record a song. She did it over and over. The reporter was rolling his eyes. But he said in the end, "I couldn't tell the difference between Take Six and Take Seven, but I could tell the difference between Take One and Take Thirteen."

If you're having trouble finding the motivation to revise your work, my advice would be to regard that trouble as Resistance. In other words, it's internal self-sabotage. Thus you have to regard those thoughts as "not your own" and dismiss them. No matter how subtle or convincing those thoughts may be, recognize them at once as Resistance and don't give them credence for a second. Put on your professional writer hat and make yourself sit down and revise. The pool is icy when you first plunge in, but after a minute or two you'll be swimming with ease.

Pressfield explores these ideas further in his blog post: Writing Wednesdays #12: Self-Talk and Self-Sabotage. He offers an in-depth analysis of how Resistance manifests itself through the voices in our heads. Stop listening and change the channel! Fill up the static with your creative energy, in whatever way it manifests itself.

Thank you for these invaluable insights, Steven!