Ethan's Kiss

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Ethan's Kiss

Sharing my creative writing is terrifying for me. When it comes to business and academic writing, I am confident, self-assured. But when it comes to creative writing, fiction or non-fiction (but especially fiction), I have to breathe deeply and will myself to jump off that cliff. So, today, I am sharing the first story I ever wrote, way back in 2002. My dear friend, Matt, who is a brilliant writer, used to send me his stories to edit and I always called myself "the writer who doesn't write." Until one day, after editing a story of his, I took my journal and just sat down and wrote. I didn't think about it, I didn't create an outline, I just wrote, and this is what came out. Please be gentle with me.

It's raining today, as it has for the past several days. It suits me I guess – indifference, bleakness. It's cold. But I'm not uncomfortable. I see nothing before me. The day has nothing to bring. The future, immediate and distant, appears dank. I have no reason for thinking this way, and I do so more as an observation, an understanding, than because of any feeling. I do not know what it is to feel. I wait, and I am patient, but no feeling, no emotion, comes to my being. I am empty, just a husk tossed aside and forgotten. But do not pity me, for there is nothing to pity. I do not seek sympathy for I do not need it. One without heart seeks nothing.

I have, as far as I can remember, always been this way. And I tell you this because I know you wonder how it can be. How I can be. I understand how you think, although I do not see the reason. It is illogical to display such behaviour. Feelings? I know what they are, but I do not know why you have them and I don't. It is a curious thing.

Perhaps, it is best to start at the beginning. I was born 14 years before this day, my birthday you would call it (why that is cause for celebration, I speculate). I was raised by my father, a big, burly man with dark, shaggy hair and perpetual whiskers. He was in construction. He framed houses during the day and I would stay next door with Mimi while he worked to shelter, clothe, and feed us. My mother I do not know, she left the day I was born.

Mimi was a large woman with a red face and shiny, orange hair that stuck out in all directions. She smelled like cheap perfume: old and tangy-bitter. She smiled at me a lot; fake smiles, for she was like her perfume, bitter. But she fed me and watched me, and I did not complain, for those without feelings are incapable of complaining.

I never played as a child and Mimi was afraid of me.

"What sort of child just sits there all day staring at nothing?" she would sneer, "What are you plotting, boy?" Mimi was paranoid, and my silence unnerved her. But I did not judge, I do not know how. Like all those around me, Mimi just was.

My father loved me. I know this because I learned on television and in books how one shows such feelings, hugs and kisses and taking care of people. I could see the affection and wonder in his eyes every time he looked at me; there is wonder in the eyes of all those who enter my life.

Unlike others I have encountered, though, Father never feared me (I can see these things, or sense them rather, the way animals smell fear). He was curious about my disposition, my character, I know, but he loved me regardless of doubt or the influence of others – like Grandmother.

Grandmother was nit-picky, judgmental, and given to impressing others. She hated me since I was a baby. Some people hate what they fear or cannot comprehend. She could not comprehend me, and so she feared me, and so she hated me.

"An abomination!" she screamed once to Father, "God could not create a boy with no emotion! Ethan doesn't even cry when he's hurt, for Pete's sake, he just stops and looks and asks me to bandage it. He never plays, he never smiles, he just watches! What is wrong with him? A demon, I say, he is not from God!" My father looked at me, and then at his mother, took my hand, and we left. That was the last time I saw Grandmother. I was three years old.

I started school when I was five, same as other children, because Father couldn't afford to start me earlier. I could already read and write, but Father felt I needed to socialize with other children.

I excelled in class and was quickly moved up to second grade. My teachers were astonished by my progress and praised my intellect. Apparently, they never stopped to ponder me, as others have, too wrapped up in my intelligence, I suppose.

I never played with the children and I rarely spoke to them; they were too difficult to converse with and called me names. It didn't bother me, but it made me interested in our differences. They were not like Father or Mimi or Grandmother. They were cruel to each other and openly told me that I was weird and defective. But I have no handicap. I can walk and run just like you do. I speak clearly and concisely, and I look like any other boy. My ears, eyes, and nose are in the right places. To me, they are strange: people. But I have come to realize that it is I who is different, it is I who is strange.

By the time I was alive for eight years, I completed grade six. My teacher, Miss Litz, told Father that I should attend a special school for bright children. So, I moved on. The special school was in a different city, so Father found a new job and we moved. We never said goodbye to Mimi or Grandmother or the children.

At the new school, I once again moved up quickly: by age ten I started grade ten. In my new class, I met Annabelle. She was, by your terms, beautiful: she had red hair and green eyes, she was tall and slender. She was stimulating to speak with. She was three years my senior and, like Father, there was no fear or ridicule in her eyes, just warmth.

Annabelle wondered about me, as I her. She would ask me a relentless amount of questions about a variety of things. Most of which concerned my nature.

Annabelle accepted me. Annabelle wanted to learn about me. She didn't understand how I could be the way I am, in her words, "feeling but unfeeling." She strove to understand me. I strove to understand her. We were friends, as I understand it. We challenged each other. Much that I know of people, of emotions, I learned from her.

Father liked Annabelle. He liked that she accepted me and encouraged our "friendship," although there was no need to. I thrived on Annabelle's spirit, and I wanted, I finally wanted, to know what it was to feel.

Annabelle often came over to our house after school. Father would cook dinner, usually Shake N’ Bake chicken and noodles, and we would sit at the table and talk. Annabelle would ask about our lives, where we'd lived and what we'd done. But mostly she would ask about my mother. Father and I had never talked about my mother, I never asked, she didn't exist to me. Father would try to avoid answering Annabelle's questions, but she was persistent. She said that maybe if she knew about my mother she would know more about me. So, Father would talk.

"Ethan's mother was....well....different," he said once, "Oh, she was beautiful…in the way she spoke, in the way she moved, but she never showed her feelings. She would hide them from me. She never cried, and she never got angry, at least as far as I could tell. But, she would laugh. Catherine loved to laugh." And that was all he would say. Annabelle would probe for more information, but Father always said the same thing.

Out of the blue one day, Annabelle asked why my mother left us. Father looked from me to Annabelle and back again until his eyes rested on my face. He shrugged, a tired gesture, "I don't know," then he left the room. Annabelle turned to me with uncertainty and apologized. Father was obviously upset, but I didn't know how to comfort him. I felt nothing. I knew I should, but I didn't.

Time moved forward, as it always does, slow but fast, and Annabelle and I graduated. I was twelve and she was fifteen. By societal standards we were both too young to enter the work force so we continued on to university studies. Annabelle took up psychology, as did I. Determined, she was, to figure me out. She thought that perhaps some sort of trauma had made me the way I am. Although she had run me with dry with questions of my life and researched voraciously, she found no trauma, no reason, and explanation. We were always together, studying and asking questions. I think, mostly, she was fascinated by me, which is why she was always around. I didn't mind, like all others Annabelle just was.

Father took us to the beach one day. I remember the sky was a vision reflected in the waves of the ocean, so blue and clear. We spent time looking for seashells (Annabelle loved them) and we basked in the warmth of the sun. While Father was off getting lunch, Annabelle turned to look at me. Her fiery red hair floated about her face and her eyes misted with tears. "Ethan," she whispered, in her soft angelic voice, "I want to make you feel." And she kissed me. Her lips were warm and soft and moist, her hair smelled like sweet lilies at dawn. She pulled back to look at me again, tears streaming down her face, apprehension in her eyes. And I contemplated this Annabelle, this creature with such passion, and I felt something. I thought she was beautiful; it dawned on me then that her hair was not red but the colour of blood, and her eyes were not green, but the colour of spruce trees at sunset. And she had an exquisite array of freckles that contrasted to the pale luminescence of her skin. Inside and out, she was magnificent.

For the first time in my 13 years, I smiled. I felt longing, as it's called, longing for her emotion, longing for her grace, longing for her to kiss me again. But she didn't, and that was okay.

Father came back with hot dogs and we ate in silence as we watched the sky darken and the clouds gather. Despite the coming storm, Annabelle and I beamed.

The rain started as we packed up our lawn chairs and blankets and books and ran to Father's car.

I listened as the raindrops beat heavily down upon the car's roof.

And I watched as Father battled to keep the car on the road.

I listened to Annabelle’s sharp intake of breath.

And I watched as we hurtled towards oncoming traffic.

I listened to the screetch of rubber skidding on pavement.

And I watched as we collided head-on with a semi truck.

I listened, cramped between the back of Annabelle's seat and the back end of the car, to Annabelle's whimpering and Father's groans.

And I watched as onlookers peered into the windows with distorted faces.

I listened to firefighters pull the car apart to get us out.

And I watched as Father and Annabelle were carried to an ambulance.

I listened to paramedics frantically trying to help them.

And I watched as Father and Annabelle died.

For one day, I felt what you feel. My fondest memory and my worst nightmare, you would say.

My Grandmother didn't want me. I have been passed from foster home to foster home for the last year. I have not spoken a word since that day, and by people's terms, I am strange. No one wants me and that's all right. I need no one, my needs are basic.

I see nothing before me. The day has nothing to bring. The future, immediate and distant, appears dank.

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Contemplating Motherhood

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Contemplating Motherhood

I'm writing a book called Becoming; it's a collection of memoir-style essays about mothers paired with intimate portraits by Kelly Marleau of Fiddle Leaf Photography. And in today's literary world, social media engagement is a big part of the marketing machine. But we're not just looking for followers, we're building a community. Since I'm a writer and I believe in being authentic, the content I write for Becoming's Facebook and Instagram accounts is vulnerable, reflective, and honest. I know the most productive way to manage social media is to write ahead and schedule posts, but I write the posts for both my business and Becoming the same day I post them. Not only does it make them genuine, but it also gives me the opportunity to think, to meditate, to ruminate, and to explore my feelings about my everyday life and work. When so much of my time is spent writing for clients and writing the essays for Becoming, I don't have much time to write just for me. So while I share these reflections on social media, they're the writing I do for myself. That said, today I compiled them all here, in one place, spanning March 2017 to April 2018. Together, they offer an earnest and unguarded look at the changing landscape of motherhood.

“When I was pregnant, I can’t count the number of times I was told to enjoy my freedom while it lasted, to say goodbye to my social life, to deal with the 'fact' that I would love my child more than my husband, that motherhood would be all-consuming, and that everything else would cease to matter to me. I hated these comments, I rebelled against these supposed certainties, I balked at the audacity of these mothers’ assertions: ‘Did they even know me at all?!’”  - From, The Why

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When I was pregnant, I wanted so badly to have my body back, to feel like myself. But after my son was born, my body was still so foreign. It didn’t feel like me, it didn’t look like me, and I hated it. I still struggle with the changes to my body, especially with breastfeeding and feeling sexy or attractive. I don’t feel beautiful anymore. I just don’t see myself when I look in the mirror.

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Judgement is such a tricky thing. None of us wants to be judged, but we can easily be swept away in the act of judging others. For me, it's a tie between people finding out that my son is in daycare and the fact that he is nearly 21 months old and still breastfeeding. 

When they learn that I could probably work around him, they ask why I would let someone else raise my child. This response is so hurtful because, to me, it's obvious that the lovely teachers at the daycare are not usurping my role as mother. I am Fitz's mom and nothing will change that. I am giving him a life of his own, independence and friendships, by putting him in our amazing daycare. 

And the breastfeeding thing, well, people apparently think it's weird to keep nursing after a baby has teeth or when they can ask for it, like those things somehow negate the benefits of breastfeeding. Both are personal choices that we make for our family. They are the right choices for us. Every family is different and we're all just doing the best we can, aren't we?

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With motherhood comes a tortured ambivalence: a desire to be alone, to have just one precious moment to yourself, and a fervent, almost jealous need to be everything to your child. We count the minutes until bedtime and then we peer in on our little ones, replay the day's videos of them, and ache for the moment that they need us once again. Becoming lost in that endless cycle of exhaustion and obsession, of impatience and temperance, of utter joy and pernicious grief - motherhood is a tangled mess of wild possession, its fist firmly gripping us eternally. And yet, in this reverent state, we somehow find ourselves, discover what we're made of, and finally feel rooted in our predictably unpredictable lives.

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“Don’t you dare shrink yourself for someone else’s comfort – do not become small for people who refuse to grow.” – Masha Velickovic

As I grow into my role as a mother, I find that I am more rooted in my convictions, more confident in my choices, and more me than I've ever been. For most of my adult life, I swung back and forth like a pendulum between wanting and not wanting a child. 

Knowing how much we're up against as women, knowing how much harder we already have to work for what we achieve, knowing that "having it all" often means half-assing it, multitasking to the point of overwhelming ourselves, or becoming small enough to fit into the box of what mothers are allowed to be (certainly not sexy or accomplished by society's standards), I couldn't bear the thought of sacrificing pieces of myself for a child. 

But one day, I was struck with this visceral, biological compulsion to be pregnant. I couldn't stop thinking about how I have so much love in me, so much that it's overflowing, so much that I feared it going to waste, so much that I needed a child. Suddenly, I just couldn't imagine a life where I didn't experience loving and being loved by my own child. 

And now, I am changed, forever altered - not just physically, but emotionally, completely - by this little life I grew inside of me. My son makes me bolder, stronger, and bigger. 

So don't, just don't, shrink yourselves mothers, remember that you are not small and you don't have to be, because in your child's eyes, you're larger than life.

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“A mother’s love for her child is like nothing else in the world. It knows no law, no pity, it dares all things and crushes down remorselessly all that stands in its path.” – Agatha Christie

I knew that loving a child would be wholly different from any other love I've experienced, though I couldn't quite grasp its power before my son came along. Some people say they love their children more than their partners (and I think this is because they don't quite know how to articulate the sheer force of it any other way), but for me, love is not finite or hierarchical, it's infinitely divisible, it's boundless, endless, and plentiful. But still, the power of my love for Fitz is profound and I often don't know its strength until I need to protect him.

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“Being a mother is learning about strengths you didn’t know you had and dealing with fears you never knew existed.” – Linda Wooten

Something about loving a child intensely allows you to empathize with them in a way that doesn't come naturally in our other relationships, like I exercise a seemingly boundless well of patience with my son that I never knew I had in me. But motherhood has also triggered fears I'd never even imagined I'd have, so much so that I had to stop following news outlets and stop googling every issue that arises because it just increases my anxieties! 

I worry so much more now: Is he healthy? Will someone hurt him? Will he be bullied? Will he bully someone else? How do I teach him empathy? What's that bump? Is he too pale? Is he reaching ________ milestone on time? How come he's not doing _______ yet? Is his car seat installed correctly? What if he can open doors? How do I teach him that the world is dangerous without scaring the fearlessness right out of him?

It's a nonstop ride of ups and downs, confidence and insecurity and the accessibility of information online seems to make it worse, not better, so I'm spending a lot less time online these days.

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My biggest struggle is putting my own desires to comfort, to help, to hold my child aside so that other people in my son's life can connect with him that way. It's hard because as his mom, I instinctively want to be the one holding and comforting Fitz, but when I take him away from his Grama, my mom, for instance, I hurt her, I interfere with her chance to strengthen her bond with him. I don't have a problem letting him go with other people, but when I am there, it's really hard not be number one. It's hard on my heart and my ego, but I need to work on letting go that way, so that I can continue to have strong relationship with my family and friends and so that Fitz can build them.

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My son has taught me that I can handle so much more than I give myself credit for and he's also taught me to see the wonder in everyday life. I honestly look at the world differently than I used to since having him and there is joy in the smallest, most seemingly insignificant moments. It's pretty incredible.

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“Your ability to adapt to failure, and navigate your way out of it, absolutely, 100 percent makes you who you are.” – Viola Davis

This month, we made the unbelievable hard decision to pull our son out of an AMAZING daycare that he loves and thrives at because we can't afford it. For some moms daycare is the worst, but for me, daycare is the best. And everyday this week, he's asked for his best friend ('Miah aka Jeremiah) and his teacher (Sawah aka Sarah) and it breaks my heart. I'm choking back tears all the time because I feel like I failed him. As moms, we tend to feel like failures ALL THE TIME. We feel like failures for abandoning breastfeeding, for putting our kids in daycare (or taking them out), for co-sleeping or not co-sleeping, for losing our cool and yelling, for not preventing that stumble or that fall, for "letting" our kids be mean to another kid, for wanting time to ourselves. Whether or not these really are failures is irrelevant because they FEEL like failures. But, like Viola Davis (one of my idols) says, our ability to find our way through it defines us. So today, accept those failures, find your way through him, survive them, and remember YOU ARE ENOUGH.

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I'm a one and done mom. My partner and I have chosen to only have one child because we're saddled with enormous student debt and we want to eventually do family vacations and pay for our son's university (though both seem like distant dreams right now). While we know it's a privilege to even be able to make a choice about children based on what we want to give them, it's still a hard decision. Weare working poor right now, but we also have the privilege of a strong support network who would never let us experience real hardship. But sometimes, I struggle with this choice, to only have one kid. I want him to have a best friend in a sibling like I do, I want to see and experience their love for each other and our love for them. Dealing with everyone else's pressure to have more kids just makes it that much harder. We try to be firm about our choice, but the pressure from our families and friends (and even strangers) is really intense! Interestingly, it seems that that pressure to have more ends after two and when you have three or more you're subject to a whole other set of pressures and microaggressions.

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As moms we often carry a heavy mental load managing our children's lives: baths, haircuts, doctor appointments, nail clipping, laundry, play dates, reading, homework, sports, food (that's a headache all by itself), sleep (will they ever?), sleepovers, family visits, sibling squabbles, birthdays, holidays, religion, discipline, potty training, diapering, crafts, and on and on and on. 

Sometimes dads aren't even cognizant of everything we do (even the most feminist dads like my husband) and so much of what we do is unacknowledged if not unappreciated (except perhaps for my toddler's recent obsession with telling me I am doing a good job at diaper changes). 

Each new parenting stage brings new and unexpected challenges (along with so much joy and happiness) - some we take in stride, others we fumble with, but no matter what, there are days where we all just want to lock ourselves in our bedrooms alone for an entire day (something we don't often get to do or only do in snippets). We long for the days of singledom and teenage sleep ins (clearly forgetting about the drama and acne).

And sometimes, there are days or weeks where it takes everything in us to just throw a meal together and we let our kids watch too much TV just so we don't have to move or think. Momming is not for the faint of heart, as we all know.

At the end of July, we had to pull our son out of daycare for financial reasons. I am a freelance writer working from home and my husband works shift work, so we now juggle my workload on his days off and while he works with some help from family and friends, but let me tell you this transition has been hell. I have no routine, everything is in flux, I'm distracted, and my motivation has been elusive at best. In the fall, I managed to worm my way out of an all-encompassing apathy that drifted dangerously toward depression (and still hangs around in the shadows), but I'm still struggling to do things I normally WANT to do. And it sucks. I worry that my business will fail, my relationships will fail, Becoming will fail, and that I'll just be a failure overall. I find myself wondering where my gumption, my passion, my ambition went... do I still have it? Do I still want it? Do I still care? What's happened to me. I feel weird and tired, and tired and weird. And so, so alone.

But then I reach out to someone who loves me and I am assured this is just a season, it's part of being an entrepreneur, part of being an artist, part of being a mom... it's just burnout. 

“Motherhood is the greatest thing and the hardest thing.” – Ricki Lake

I don't know if it's because January is cold or lonely but damn, January is a hard month to get through. Every year. And so, after the struggle that's been the last few months for me, a struggle I'm still fighting, these words have never resonated so deeply. I love being Fitzgerald's mom, it's everything I didn't know I wanted or needed. His little smile, his goofy personality, his sweetness and affection make my whole body warm and soft, my soul gooey and sugary... he makes everything somehow so much more important, you know? What I say and do matters now in a way that it didn't before. But man, oh, man, being his mom can also be so freaking hard. The exhaustion I feel is in my bones, not just my muscles, and in my thoughts, not just my heart. But I wouldn't trade it, I wouldn't go back. So I'll just keep on keeping on, trudging through the tiredness and the loneliness, taking souvenirs along the way, and loving him as hard as I can.

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Marla, whose session we're sharing right now, isn't the only mom who deals with stigma and shaming (for her it was being a young, single, tattooed mom). Unfortunately, entering the motherhood circle comes with a boatload of judgment and a truckload of shaming. And it comes from all angles. Seems like there's a stigma to every possible choice a mom can make (epidural/no drugs, C-section/vaginal, breastfeeding/bottle feeding, CIO/Co-sleeping, SAHM/working moms, too many kids/not enough kids and on and on and on). And if it's not enough to suffer the unsolicited commentary, shaming, or attacks from other moms, we're steadily shaming ourselves! For instance, the last several months have been so hard for me having my son home full time and working around him, but I often belittle my own stress and exhaustion because I only have one kid. Before I even vent to someone else, I'm already telling myself that I'm a bad mom.

Thing is, we're all just doing our best to be good moms and to raise our kids without damaging them or losing ourselves. So Kelly and I created this project to support and unite ALL
mothers from all backgrounds, all situations, all spectrums. Because Becoming is about unity. Becoming is about listening, seeing, and validating mothers' choices and experiences and struggles and triumphs.

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My husband works shift work and I work from home, so the days he works, if i don't have anyone to aid with child care, I parent solo all day (and work at night if necessary), and the days he's home, I usually hole up in my office working (if I am not too distracted by my toddler, that is). I know being able to do this is a gift, but sometimes I worry I am not cut out for full time momming. Lately, I've found solo parenting isolating and exhausting and by the time Craig gets home, I'm ready to come undone. And I feel guilty for it. Guilty for the frustration and the loneliness I feel, guilty for wanting a break from my son (even though I miss him the moment he's not around), guilty for not doing enough. It seems I am always on my own case about not doing enough: not getting enough done, not nurturing my relationships enough, not working enough, not eating healthy enough, not exercising enough, not caring enough. It's like all the things I think should be doing are screaming at me: "IT'S NOT ENOUGH! YOU'RE NOT ENOUGH!" These last few months, I've let this voice bully the shit out of me. I've been wallowing in my not-enoughness, feeling like shit, feeling like trying is just too damn hard, wishing someone would rescue me, wishing someone would just ask me if I'm okay. You see, I'm a giver and a doer, by nature, but motherhood requires a kind of giving that, right now in the midst of toddlerdom, can be overwhelming. I'm giving so much of myself to my son and my work that there's not much left for my husband, my family, my friends, or even myself. Often, I feel lonely, I feel forgotten, I feel left out, I feel unimportant, I feel insignificant. Some days I hope that people in my life will notice my absence, will notice that I'm overwhelmed, and ask if I'm okay, ask how they can help, offer their support and understanding... But this week, in therapy, I realized that I have to snap out of it and show up for myself. I am enough, dammit.

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Since becoming a mother, I seriously cannot believe how patient I am. In every other realm, I am ridiculously impatient. Not only do I hate waiting (sometimes I like it if I've got a good book with me) but my threshold for shenanigans and bullshit can be fairly easy to break. Admittedly, I'm a passionate and intense person and that extends to my responses to things - typically frustration. But somehow, 90% of the time, Fitz's impulse control problem (he's two, he can't help it yet) or his attempts to negotiate cuddles and bedtime, and in the early days cluster feeding and night feeding and poop explosions rarely trigger my frustration. Instead, I am often calm and understanding and empathetic and it shocks the hell out of me (mostly because this is not always how I respond to my husband when he irritates or frustrates me). Obviously, I need to tap into that mindset more outside of parenting, but I never knew I had it in me until I became a mom. And it's kind of amazing. 

Also, and this one is cliche (for a good reason), but I never knew just how deeply I could love someone. One of the reasons I chose to have a child (when I didn't want kids for a long time) was because I know I have a lot of love in me to give and, for me, I felt like my life would be incomplete if I didn't experience loving my own child. I'm elated to know what this feels like, but sometimes it's really scary! Before Fitz, I could never fully grasp just how utterly vulnerable babies and little kids are and sometimes I worry and get anxious about the possibility of someone hurting my kid (hard not to when news feeds on and off Facebook are rife with child abuse and bullying stories).

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I did something yesterday that I am not proud of. I judged other women's, other mother's, choices. Luckily, when I vocalized my incredibly assumptive thoughts on these women's choices (women I know and care about, by the way), I was gently but properly schooled. I was reminded that you never know the whole story. When you look at their Instagram profile or Facebook posts, you don't why they posted, you don't know what they're going through, you don't know anything, really. I apologized, admitted my folly, and inwardly felt ashamed of myself.

In retrospect, I realize that my judgement was 100% projection. It had nothing to with them and everything to do with me. It stemmed from my insecurities about my body and my choices and where I concentrate my efforts (yep, the good 'ol NOT ENOUGH rearing its ugly head). If I am completely honest with myself, when I take a moment to recognize that I was being a bad friend and a bad feminist, I know it came from jealousy. 

You see, these moms I was judging are remarkable: they are powerhouses, they are disciplined, they are confident, they are intelligent, they are conscientious, and they are incredibly kind. And yes, they are beautiful. When I step away from my jealousy, my insecurity, I know who these women are and I respect them. And I hate that I let such ugliness seep out of me. But I have to own it, acknowledge it, and change it. 

I know that however perfect their lives look, they're really not. I know that they struggle too and maybe they look at me and my life and feel similarly. But the bottom line is that I know they make different choices - not better, not worse - than the choices I make. And those choices literally have zero impact on my life. It's my choices that matter.

So, today I am sharing a photo Kelly took of me when we started this project. A photo she loves and that I don't. I don't love how I look in it, it's not how I see myself in my mind's eye, all I can see are the flaws I hate. But I am sharing it and looking at it and confronting it because I need to stop being jealous of other women and start loving myself. I need to start with me.

“You go through big chunks of time where you’re just thinking, ‘This is impossible – Oh, this is impossible.’ And then you just keep going and keep going, and you sort of do the impossible.” – Tina Fey

I want to say the past few months have been a roller coaster, but a) that's cliche, and b) it's not accurate. Rather, the last few months I feel like I'm stuck in quicksand: just when I think I've managed to pull myself out, I'm sucked back in. From full time parenting to trying to run a freelance writing business, I've somehow stopped being Hermione and turned into Neville. Trouble is around every corner and despite my resolve, my intentions, or my passion, I'm fumbling miserably. And the obstacles staring me in the face right now are intimidating AF. They feel impossible. I'm clinging to hope and the last vestiges of confidence to get me through this stage in my life and my business, I'm doing the work, I'm slugging through it, but it's hard. Really fucking hard. I know that failure is part of the path to success. I know I'll survive this - I am a survivor if nothing else - so I'm letting Tina's words sink in and guide me. I'm just going to keep going and keep going and hope that I can do the impossible. Who knew becoming a mother could be this beautiful and this challenging? But the best things usually are.

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Yesterday, in Marla's sneak peek, we shared her feelings on losing three pregnancies and how people often pointed out that she already had four children. Unfortunately, when faced with grief, we can often be thoughtless or spout platitudes in an effort to soothe, mostly because when confronted with darkness, we feel awkward and uncertain, we don't know how to connect. But when we redirect away from hard feelings (whether grief, depression, anxiety, or even apathy), we effectively dismiss and diminish instead of comfort and console. I haven't experienced pregnancy loss, but I am no stranger to grief and darkness, and for me, empathy is always the way to go. Listen, express sympathy, ask how you can help. Everyone deals with darkness differently. Some want to be alone, some want to be held, some want to be fed, some want to laugh. But the mindset shouldn't be "Uhhh this is awkward, how do I avoid dealing this person?" It should be, "What does this person need from me? How can I help?" 

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Speaking of darkness, my birth story, "The Tsunami," was recently published in Birth Issues magazine' birth trauma issue, here in Alberta. A version of this essay was originally posted on Edmomton, but I worked with an amazing editor at Birth Issues to flesh out the essay and expand up on it, which made it more impactful. It's a raw and honest glimpse into my pregnancy and birth experience - and the number of women who've messaged me with similar stories is utterly heartbreaking.

 
The first year after my son was born, I often wondered if I had postpartum depression. I didn't feel like myself and I couldn't explain or understand it. I would take quizzes online (and the ones at the public health centre) and I was never at risk for PPD. But something was wrong. I was traumatized. If you feel similarly after a difficult birth, birth trauma is real and you can get help through programs like Jennifer Summerfeldt's Healing After Birth. You don't have to suffer and you're not alone.

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In this day and age, where parenting advice and gurus are everywhere (making you question everything you do and feel guilty about everything you don't), it's easy to lose sight of your goals or what you want to be intentional about modelling to your kids. I'm the mom who's constantly reading parenting books and articles, but we pick and choose what works best for our family and try to narrow it down to a few things that are important. As far as intention goes, for us we are committed to modelling empathy to our toddler. We are determined to raise a son who's kind, who's considerate, who's thoughtful. We want Fitz to notice other people's emotions and feelings and relate to them. We want him to understand the privileges he has and to use those privileges to lift others and we think that starts with empathy. 

I read something a while back about how forcing kids to say sorry inevitably teaches them that the word is cure-all band-aid for hurting someone (whether intentional or unintentional) and that lots of kids say sorry and don't mean it or truly acknowledge people's feelings. So when Fitz hurts one of us (or anyone else or someone around us is upset), we immediately turn to the person and say, "Are you okay?" and then we ask them if they want a hug. Our hope is that this will teach him to be conscious of people's feelings, to look at their faces, to see their pain and ask how he can help. And so far, it seems to be working. When I cry, he always asks what's wrong, if I'm okay, and offers to hug me.

The trickier part of modelling empathy though is through my relationship with my partner. And that's where our son is really paying attention to the nuances in our relationship. It's so much harder to ditch our pent up aggression or frustrations with each other and actively choose to empathize. SO MUCH WORK. But we have one rule in our house and that's if we fight in front of Fitz, we make up in front of Fitz. He needs to see that anger and frustration are okay and don't magically dissipate, that it takes work and compromise to resolve conflict and to empathize. Obviously, we're not executing this perfectly (who is?) but the intent is central to our parenting philosophy.

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Yesterday we talked about what we want to model as parents, the things that we are desperate to instill in our children. Which is basically about the kind of people we want our children to be (and to become). As parents today, we're immersed in a slew of media giving us so much unsolicited advice - which is why I prefer to get my parenting advice from books. There are parenting books that cover the full spectrum of choices and challenges, many of which are backed by science and research. When I was pregnant and just after my son was born, I was reading Bringing Up Bebe, which was a wonderful book, but my favourites are Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne, Brain Rules for Baby by John Medina, and Zero to Five: Positive Parenting Based on Science by Tracy Cutchlow. I just finished reading Simplicity Parenting, which I picked up for the research behind reducing your children's toys, but it is so much more than that! Simplicity Parenting is a style of parenting that reduces physical and mental clutter in your life (not just your child's) and helps you to form the necessary foundations to promote engagement in your family. The piece on rituals/routines was really wonderful and I love the concept of taking your child out of their regular routine (school/extracurriculars) when they're strugging emotionally (what Payne calls "soul fever.").

“Before you say something, ask yourself these three questions: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?” – Kim John Payne

Couldn't help sharing a quote from the end of Simplicity Parenting that Payne applies to what we say to our children, but which I think applies to what we say PERIOD. When I read this part of the book, I was blown away by the poignancy (and the simplicity) of this concept. Sometimes, as a mom, it's so hard not to get sucked into the comparison trap. There's this competitiveness between parents that puts us in opposition to one another, that makes us judge each other, that makes us gossip about each other, that brings out the worst in us. Instead of asking how we can help, we offer unsolicited advice, scorn, or judgement. So, I'm taking it on as my mom mantra to make sure that the things I say and share with my son, my friends, my family, and the world, are productive, generous, and empathetic rather than judgmental. Of course, I won't always be successful, but trying is the point, right? 

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Before Fitz was born, my husband and I were all about our dogs. They were the centre of our universe. So much so, that I cried when I saw this photo Kelly took of Trick while I was pregnant. But things have changed. Now, I find myself raging with frustration at Trick almost daily - his barking is out of control. While both of our dogs are wonderful with Fitz (at the toddler stage, this means they tend to stay out of reach!), they're stressing me out almost constantly - particularly Trick, our younger one. And I hate feeling like that about him. Since I came home on maternity leave in 2015 and started working from home, Trick has become incredibly needy and anxious. He anticipates everything I do and gets frenetic and aggressive when he thinks I am going somewhere. If I put socks on, he thinks I am leaving. If I put antiperspirant on, he thinks I'm leaving. He's begun melting down when the toaster pops. He chases me and tries to steal poopy diapers when I am walking them to the outdoor trash. He sneaks outside when I am leaving and throws himself at me, aggressively barking at me in our backyard. And I've tried everything: more attention, more affection, more walks, more boundaries. I don't know what to do with him anymore. Sometimes, I think life would be easier without Trick. And then I cry thinking about life without my high energy, talkative, cuddly, exuberant Sheltie. I love my dog. I'm the kind of dog owner who commits to that dog for his whole life, no matter how hard it is. I'm passionate about my dogs, but I am just at a loss with him. 

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Self-care often seems like an elusive, distant dream. We shower with our kids to save time, we run around chasing them or caring for them, we work from or outside the home, we have relationships to nurture, we schedule play dates instead of coffee dates with our mom friends to "kill two birds with one stone," but when are we actually taking time to care for ourselves (instead of everyone else in our lives)? My son is 2.5 years old now, and I'm finally, just now, prioritizing my own health and sanity. The first year was survival mode (never mind that I became a new mom and a business owner at the same time!) and the second year was a sea of changes with constant tidal waves of demands. I was drowning. I am an ambitious, busy woman at my core, but I bit off way more than I could chew. And I flailed in that sea of change, commitments, obligations, and uncertainty well into this third year until I finally just had to stop. Between apathy, depression, overwhelm, and exhaustion, I finally took my life into my own hand and put me first. I'm working out three times a week, I'm doing yoga weekly, I'm playing racquetball weekly with my Dad, I'm meditating daily, I'm reading more for pleasure, and I'm eating healthy. And while these added commitments certainly add to my list of things to do, by putting me at the forefront, I finally feel like I CAN do all the things. I am feeling so good (physically and emotionally) - better than I can ever remember - and that positivity and can-do attitude is trickling down into everything else: creativity, work, friendships, parenting, and my marriage. Thank god, too, because my poor marriage was wilting. 

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I just read an article that really resonated with me (and my love of simplicity parenting) that proves that experiences are the best gifts to give kids. Vacations, even as simple as a day spent out at Elk Island, are more prosocial and solidify familial bonds. We all have more emotional connections to experiences than things. I'd rather spend a day hiking in the woods with my family than buy a new pair of expensive shoes. The memories I make with them are going to last me a lifetime, but the shoes... well, the shoes will eventually find their way to Goodwill or the trash. Which brings me to another interesting point, the happiness we feel when we experience things with our family extends beyond that excursion - they become anchors that ground us to our families and to what matters in life. For example, my sister got my toddler a groupon for a jump place for Christmas. My husband took him there two weeks ago and he has not stopped talking about it or asking to watch the videos of him jumping! 

For me, I LOVE knowing this, even just two days spent at my mom's beautiful, treed trailer lot with my dogs, hubby, and child helped us to cope with some major stress and reconnect. So even though we don't have much money for vacations, the world is rife with opportunities for exploration and connection.

Faith: 
- allegiance to duty or a person
- fidelity to one's promises; sincerity of intentions acted in good faith
- belief and trust in and loyalty to God; belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion
- firm belief in something for which there is no proof; complete trust
- something that is believed especially with strong conviction

I grew up in a relatively secular home. My mom was raised Lutheran and I don't know what my step-dad believed, but we didn't go to church or practice any religious traditions. My dad wanted us raised Catholic, so we were baptized, had our First Communion, and went to Catholic schools. But I never really connected with Catholicism - I didn't have faith. After my step-dad passed away when I was 15, I desperately sought to believe in SOMETHING. I needed to know there was a better place for him, I needed to know that I would see him again some day, so I tried to believe in an afterlife - despite my anger at God. As I grew up, I suffered more losses, more grief. I broke my neck in a car accident and within six months, I lost my beloved dog, Talli, and both of my grandpas. Again, I wanted to believe, but I didn't know to believe. Fast forward two more years and I gave birth to my son, Fitz. Becoming a mother made that lack of faith in my life even more obvious - a gaping hole, a nagging worry, a need to believe. I used to think because I didn't know what I believed that I was agnostic, but now I know I am a theist: I believe in a creator, I just don't have a religion. I meet women like Salima, whose faith defines her, guides her, fills her with love, and I wish I had that, but I struggle to find a religion or practice that I can have genuine faith in. I listen to spiritual podcasts (On Being and Super Soul Conversations), learning, digesting, seeking... but all I know right now is that my religion, my faith, is love.

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“The miracle of gratitude is it shifts your perception to such an extent that it changes the world you see.” – Dr. Robert Holden

Right now, I am learning the value of subtle shifts in mindset. And gratitude is a small mindfulness practice with a massive impact. Now, on the days I am solo parenting my son, I approach them only with the goal of connecting with him and feeling grateful for the chance to explore the world together. One-on-one time with my son, whether it's playing together, cooking together, dancing together, or just being in the same room together has almost become a spiritual practice for me - an exercise in being present. Six weeks ago, I would spend a day caring for my son, frantically trying to get things done, feeling overwhelmed, and longing for a break. Changing the way I look at childcare days, re-framing them as opportunities to just be with Fitz, has made me a more intentional and patient mother, while also enabling me to be more productive and efficient in my working. I never thought of motherhood as a spiritual practice in itself until now - it's not always easy and I still get frustrated and overwhelmed, but it's not called "practice" because it's easy, right? 

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As moms, we're constantly immersed in doing - nursing, cooking, cleaning, hugging, organizing, planning, driving, running, bathing, laundering, ordering, scheduling, worrying - it's almost like we don't stop. We carry around such heavy mental loads (She needs, he needs, we need, the dog needs...) and most of them time, we're pretty adept at project managing our children's lives - we just get it done. But, inevitably, whether we're new moms recovering from c-sections, beginner moms going through potty training, intermediate moms scheduling dance class and hockey games, or seasoned moms helping our kids with university applications, we all get overwhelmed. Sometimes it happens off the hop and we're drowning in postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety. Sometimes it happens when our babies turn into toddlers and we sink into depression. Sometimes it happens when our kids go to school and we're overcome with new, scary anxieties. But no matter when or how it happens, or what form it takes, we've got to ask for help. WE MUST. The world has women convinced that being a mom is natural, that we should know how to do it, and we should be able to do it effortlessly - but that's bullshit. Being a mom is hard and needing help is normal.

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"look down at your body / whisper / there is no home like you" - thank you, Rupi Kaur

I'm working on feeling at home in my body. I think as women, as girls, we're conditioned to feel anxious about our bodies, to want to change them constantly, to hate parts of them instead of love them. I haven't felt at home in my body since before I hit puberty. I've always felt this nagging displeasure, this friction between what I think my body should look like and what it does. Pregnancy took my ratty old jacket of a body, not always attractive but comfortable, and threw it away, replacing it with an ill-fitting dress that chafed and restrained, but had a lovely swirl to the skirt. And motherhood tore that dress off me, leaving me exposed and stretched and puffed and sore. I longed to put on that ratty old jacket, but it never fit again, not the way it used to. But I'm sewing my own clothes now, I'm making something lovely, something new, something that's mine - and mine alone. I'm claiming this body not just as my home, but as my companion.

All images by Fiddle Leaf Photography

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POETRY ROUNDUP: VOLUME 2

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POETRY ROUNDUP: VOLUME 2

A dear friend of mine has gone back to school (to my beloved MacEwan University) to study creative writing (yes, I am definitely jealous), and she’s been sending me some of her poetry. And wow, these words, this woman (I'll share some of her poems in a later post). The more she shares, the more I’m seeking poems to read. The more I read, the more I want to wrap myself in poems, soak in them indefinitely, tattoo their meanings to my heart. But I'm especially loving women's poetry at the moment, the papable, tangible messages, messages we all need right now. So, as I mentioned in Poetry Roundup: Volume 1, poetry (even in long form) uses fistfuls, mouthfuls, of words to summon our hearts, to make us keenly aware of, well, everything. See for yourself.

“PHENOMENAL WOMAN” BY MAYA ANGELOU FROM AND STILL I RISE

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size  
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,  
The stride of my step, 
The curl of my lips.  
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,  
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,  
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.  
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.  
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,  
And the flash of my teeth,  
The swing in my waist,  
And the joy in my feet.  
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,  
They say they still can’t see.  
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,  
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.  
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.  
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,  
The bend of my hair,  
the palm of my hand,  
The need for my care.  
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

My first meeting with this poem was hearing Maya Angelou’s recitation of it – which has so much resonance. Along with “Still I Rise,” it’s one of her most well-known poems, and for good reason. If you’ve read any of Angelou’s work, or listened to Oprah talk with and about her, you know just how remarkable a life she led, what a truly remarkable, resilient woman she was. Originally appearing in Cosmopolitan magazine in 1978, the poem is both political and personal – a woman claiming her own body, her own mind, her own worth.

FROM “THE OPENING INTERLUDE” IN I LOVE MY LOVE BY REYNA BIDDY

the beauty of being a writer and connecting with someone’s soul is,
no matter where the relationship leads,
the love never dies when pen meets paper.

Along with my renewed interest in poetry, I found Reyna Biddy’s collection on the shelf at Indigo and was interested. When you open the book, this little poem/inscription adorns the page facing the first poem. If it’s not already obvious, it gets to the core of what writing means for me, why I do it. Because writing is an act of love, the words, once written, endure. You can listen to Reyna read her poetry here.

FROM “FALLING” IN THE SUN AND HER FLOWERS BY RUPI KAUR

the irony of loneliness
is we all feel it
at the same time

- together

I shared a Rupi Kaur poem in the last edition, but her poetry is worth sharing again and again and again. Her words speak the truths of millions of women, of all the women – especially in the midst of the #metoo movement and a mass awakening to the realities women face. But Kaur’s work isn’t just about women’s experiences, it’s about the grace, beauty, and nuance of vulnerability. It’s about tearing down the walls between us and uniting. We are more the same than we are different.

“HURRY” BY MARIE HOWE FROM THE KINGDOM OF ORDINARY TIME

 We stop at the dry cleaners and the grocery store
and the gas station and the green market and
Hurry up honey, I say, hurry hurry,
as she runs along two or three steps behind me
her blue jacket unzipped and her socks rolled down.

Where do I want her to hurry to? To her grave?
To mine? Where one day she might stand all grown?

Today, when all the errands are finally done, I say to her,
Honey I’m sorry I keep saying Hurry –
you walk ahead of me. You be the mother.

And, Hurry up, she says, over her shoulder, looking
back at me, laughing. Hurry up now darling, she says,
hurry, hurry, taking the house keys from my hands.

Like the John O’Donohue poem in the last round up, I first heard this poem on On Being. I cried. The simplicity, the honesty, the authenticity of it made my heart ache and my eyes burn with raw, unexpected tears. Marie Howe's work ponders and ruminates on ordinary life, with this poem reminding us that our children are only little for such a short time. A reminder that even the most mundane moments are worth savouring. A reminder to live in the present, to engage, to slow down.

WHAT POETRY AM I READING RIGHT NOW?

In the next volume of Poetry Roundup, I'll be sharing some work from Paul Laurence Dunbar, Gord Downie, and Mary Oliver. And hopefully, one of my friend Marjorie's poems. 

Share your favourite poems in the comments!

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A Conversation with Michelle Obama

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A Conversation with Michelle Obama

“Be impatient but don’t let the struggle discourage you.  Because it’s hard and it’s supposed to be hard.” – Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama is a force. Behind her warm smile, calm and collected demeanour, and sharp wit is a woman who perseveres, prevails, and persists. With an unparalleled grace, she deftly and delicately faced the prejudice and hate hurled her way by fortifying her self-perception, by refusing to let them break her. Over her eight years as FLOTUS, Obama let her personality and passions flourish and blossom amidst the painfully intimate scrutiny her family endured. But Michelle Obama isn’t just a former First Lady, her story doesn’t begin and end with the eight years she spent in the White House – you only need to look at her official portrait to grasp the impact and stature this remarkable woman has.

Today, I had the rare gift and absolute pleasure of seeing Michelle Obama in conversation with Canadian Olympian and Hockey Night in Canada broadcaster, Cassie Campbell-Pascall. I wasn’t sure what to expect as far as format, but I’d assumed it would be part conversation/part Ted Talk. Seated together in cozy armchairs flanked by massive florals, the stage was set for an informal conversation, though Campbell-Pascall’s contributions were sparse (justifiably, considering we were all there to hear and see Obama).

 Image Kamil Krzaczynski/REUTERS

Image Kamil Krzaczynski/REUTERS

As an attendee outside the media world, I don’t know how these things work – did Obama’s team prepare questions, select her conversation partner, and prep her on what to ask? Did Campbell-Pascall create the questions? Either way, Campbell-Pascall's questions touched on Obama’s key talking points, but they sometimes felt scripted and a little too shallow, a little too careful. However, Obama's charisma, wit, intelligence, compassion, and grace came through in every single response. At times, I felt like the questions focused too much on her experiences living in the White House and less on who she is as a person. But again, Obama was able to articulate her values, experiences, and thoughts with an honesty and humour that went beyond the questions asked of her - which is what made the event so poignant and impactful. (As a writer and interviewer myself, though, I would’ve liked the questions to dig deeper, to be more challenging, to allow Obama to share a bit more of that authenticity she’s known for. But despite my desire for more meaningful dialogue, Obama did not disappoint).

The talk began with humourous tales of Michelle and Barack’s early days and their road to the White House. Her resistance and hesitancy: she initially didn’t want Barack to run for president. Her anxieties and concerns: she worried constantly about her daughters growing up in the surreal world of intense scrutiny and secret service escorts. But where Obama’s talk really resonated was when she spoke of success and struggle – particularly for women.

“Success is a combination of failures that you overcome,” she said, adding that how we overcome struggle leads us to success. She touched on the negative impact of media (especially social media) in how it provides instant gratification, a false sense of importance, and the opportunity for people to instantly (and thoughtlessly) hurl their (often hateful) opinions at you. “Other people’s opinions skew you,” she said, “You have to protect yourself from the adversity that comes at you.”

Obama then moved on to girls and women. As a feminist, I found her thoughts on women’s realities precise and poignant: “Women are not safe in this world,” she said, relating this struggle to her own daughters, who she wants to “fail as hard as a man can fail.”

“Men fail all the time,” she said, “They fail up. They fail up the ladder. And we don’t even put our foot on the rung because we’re afraid we’re not good enough.” Obama implored men to step up, to use their power and privilege to lift women up, to give them voice, to make room for them: “Men, you can't just treat your daughters a certain way at home, then come to work and treat the women you work with another way."

Honestly, she spoke a truth I’ve known for a long time, so listening to her was affirming and validating but not life-changing. But something else she said hit home for me and with a gut-wrenching punch. When Campbell-Pascall asked when Obama thinks the world will see a female President of the United States, her response was, “When women are ready for it. When women believe a woman can do the job.”

We are in our own way. We are so conditioned to think women are incapable that we struggle to believe women are capable even as they prove it. Ultimately, Obama urges girls and women to believe in themselves and each other.

As I sit here now, contemplating today’s talk, I’m reminded of Krista Tippett’s recent interview with Brené Brown for On Being where Brown talks about “collective effervescence” and “the coming together in shared emotion” and how that’s what the world needs right now. Brown says that collective struggle and collective joy unite us across all divides – politics, religion, ideology – and that we need that union, that belief in our shared inherent goodness, to see that those on the other side of the divide are human too. Obama’s words today, throughout her talk, exemplified this idea – she’s reminding us that we are all in this together. We are stronger together.

Banner photo: Paul Sancya/Associated Press

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To Our Children: Guidelines for Living

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To Our Children: Guidelines for Living

There's a social media post going around right now called "Rules for Sons" that I'm seeing over and over again. But each time, I'm struck but its inherent sexism, its archaic notions of masculinity, and its heteronormativity. Since it's bugging me and I keep seeing it, I've rewritten it (and renamed it).

TO OUR CHILDREN: GUIDELINES FOR LIVING

1. Always stand up to greet people and greet them warmly.

2. Don’t be afraid to jump in, to let go, and to love fully.

3. Learn how to cook, bake, and prepare meals – there is joy and peace in the kitchen.

4. Stand up for yourself and stand up for others.

5. Don’t rush through life, savour and relish each moment. Practice mindfulness.

6. Secrets can be dangerous. If you don’t know which to keep and which to share, ask for help.

7. Remember that your heroes are people too and they will makes mistakes. So seek out heroes that aren’t just successful but are also good people.

8. Treat borrowed items with more respect and reverence than your own things and always show gratitude.

9. Play with passion, but most of all, try hard and keep trying even when you think you’ll fail.

10. Offer to shake hands warmly and smile while you do it.

11. Dreams don’t work unless you do. Work hard, try hard.

12. Revel in nature’s beauty and offerings. And if you want to lie on the beach listening to Bob Marley, go for it.

13. Carry tissues (or if you’re old school, hankies). Be sure to have enough for yourself and for others.

14. Everyone has a family. When you date or marry, treat the person you love’s family with respect and kindness (even when it’s hard).

15. Don’t hide your emotions. Don’t bury them. It’s okay to cry (whether happy, sad, angry, or frustrated). But in professional environments, communicate those feelings with composure.

16. Love yourself, you’re the only person you’ll spend your whole life with. Explore, play, meditate, and travel by yourself.

17. Don’t fear rejection. Go for the job, relationship, or friendship you want. But stand down respectfully if your exuberance isn’t reciprocated. You want the job, partner, or friend who sees you and values you – not the ones that don’t.

18. Take what’s offered in kindness whether it’s a breath mint, tea, coffee, or hug.

19. Dress how you want and for what you want.

20. Be mindful of the legacy you want to leave and how people will remember you – set your own standard and live up to it.

21. Be thankful for those serve and treat them with respect. Not just the military but also hospitality professionals, housekeepers and janitors, emergency responders, health care workers, teachers, professors, builders, makers, mental health professionals, aides, and politicians.

22. Reach out to newcomers and underdogs – be kind to them, help them.

23. Practice empathy – especially when you’re angry. Don’t do hurtful things you can’t take back.

24. Get to know your parents. Even after you grow up, they just want to be in your life, they just want to know you. Engage with them: play games and sports, travel, cook, watch movies, even just walk together.

25. Always be gracious and polite.

26. Be accountable for your actions. Admit when you’re wrong and make amends. And always acknowledge and recognize the accomplishments and actions of others.

27. Don’t be a bully.

28. Journal. Write down your dreams, your fears, your anxieties, and your gratitude. Try doing it before bed or when you’re feeling stressed out.

29. Be a team player.

30. Be confident but not cocky.

31. Stay connected to your loved ones. And not via the internet. Call and visit. Have game nights and dinner parties. Have coffee and brunch. Plan trips and parties.

32. The healthiest relationships are built on a foundation of trust, empathy, and respect. But relationships take work, they’re not always easy, fight for them.

Banner image by Lorraine-Marie.

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Black Cadillac

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Black Cadillac

He looks in the mirror, his expression blank, yet searching. He examines his eyes, green with flecks of gold, hoping for some realization of who he is. A ritual, an obsession. Kyle is terrified. Everyone, he thinks, has an idea of who they are... so who am I? How can I not know? His face just looks back at him.

First light everyday Kyle practices this ritual and then continues on with his daily life. Showers, eats, and goes to work. Laughs, smiles, yells, and gets frustrated right along with everyone around him.

Today is Sunday. Kyle has just finished his morning ritual and sits at the kitchen table eating Cap N' Crunch. It is eleven o'clock and the sun casts dust streaked rays through the window surrounding the breakfast nook. As he eats, Kyle listens to the cereal crunch between his teeth, contemplating how long he'll have to work out to burn the calories he's digesting, trying not to think of her.

The phone rings. He looks around for the cordless, spots it on the island and gets up to answer it.

"Hello."

"What's shakin' KY?" It's Tommy. He and Kyle have been friends since junior high, when he acquired the infamous nickname, his last name is Yakovich.

"Fuck all, you?"

"Hung over like a motherfucker man. Saw Shelby last night."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah man, she misses you." Shelby is Kyle's recent ex-girlfriend. After six months, he cut ties with no explanations. Tommy thinks Kyle's an idiot; Shelby was the best thing to ever happen to him (and she's smoking hot too).

"You didn't call me just to talk about her did you? 'Cause if you did, I gotta go," Kyle says. He refuses to talk to anyone about Shelby.

"Come on KY, what's your problem? She loves you," Tommy says, exasperation sneaking into his voice.

"I'm not getting into this with you, Tommy." Irritation. Kyle bites his fingertips, trying to grab with his teeth at nails that have already been chewed to the quick.

"Alright, alright," Tommy relents, "You coming to Josh's tonight for beers? It's his last night in town."

"Yeah, you bet. I'll call you later." Kyle hangs up.

Silence rushes upon him. He looks down at his hands, studying the chewed fingernails, the callused palms. Shelby, he thinks.

The first time he saw her she was dancing. Her long, chocolate brown hair cascading down her back, completely straight, shiny and begging to be touched. While she danced, laughing and smiling with her friends, she turned and met his stare. Her deep-set eyes looked back at him, completely disarmed and exposed, and then she turned away. He didn't talk to her that night, but he thought of her as he lay awake in his bed, and he dreamed of her.

Shelby and her soft silky hair, her dark brown eyes, her supple tender skin, Kyle shakes his head to clear these thoughts, what's done is done. He walks to the fridge, opens it, peers inside, not really registering what's there. He's not hungry, just acting out of habit.

Her voice speaks in his mind. Why can't you see in yourself what I see in you? She asks him this over and over. These words replay in his head about a million times a day. He tries to drown them out with hockey, calories, and astronomy books, but she perseveres, she persists, she plagues him.

He leaves the kitchen, his bare feet padding across the linoleum. In the living room, he stretches out on the couch with the remote, turns the on the stereo. Immediately, he is overwhelmed. Usher croons out at him. "Let it burn," he sings.

Shelby again. She loved that damn song, played it repeatedly. And the words ring so ironically true now. Before, he just wanted to shut that shit off and put on the Rolling Stones.

So many moments taken for granted. So many idiosyncrasies overlooked and thought trivial. And yet, he appreciated every passing second in her presence. Her intensity, her thoughtfulness, her laughter. How she could see through peoples' facades, how incredibly fucking perceptive she was.

Is, he reminds himself, how perceptive she is.

What was his problem? Why did he end it when he really loves her so fully, so completely? Fear. Shelby's ability to see who people really are, her intuition for what lies in someone's soul, when that person themselves does not even know terrifies him... that someone can know you when you don't even know yourself. How is that possible? he thinks.

Kyle shuts off the stereo, suddenly and violently throws the remote across the room. His body trembles with hurt and frustration. He gets up and stands in the middle of the room, not knowing what to do, not knowing how to let go, not knowing who he fucking is.

He takes the stairs up to his room, walks in, and glances at himself in the mirror. Tears are streaming down his face, quiet raindrops slipping out of the sky on a sunny day. Weighed down with his ambivalence, he dresses in shorts and a tee shirt, and leaves.

Jogging at first, Kyle passes the field where he and Shelby first made love on a blanket under the stars, their bodies intertwined. He remembers how she looked naked in the moonlight, sweat glistening on her chest, gazing over at him. Her chocolate hair strewn out behind her, her legs shivering, trembling, her chest rising, falling. He knew in that instant that he loved her, that she loved him.

Running now, he flies by the lake he and Shelby liked to picnic by. On summer days she'd pack a lunch, and they would settle down in the shade under a maple tree. Kyle would stretch out with his head in her lap and she would read to him.

Memories flood his consciousness, drowning his resolve, killing his anger, slaughtering his fear. He knows though that if he stops, his resolve will come back, chasing his fear, allowing his weakness to return. He runs.

I am weak, he thinks, so pathetically weak.

Kyle will run until the tears cease and the memories fade, leaving him with utter exhaustion to ease his mind, stop his thoughts.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *  

She wakes up thinking of Kyle. Instead of the sadness, Shelby holds these thoughts, almost greedily, near her heart. Welcoming the pain, the hurt, the gut-wrenching yearning, and letting it be what it is.

Climbing out of bed she pauses to consider the photo of them on her night table. With a yawn she gets up and walks into the bathroom.

At eleven o'clock she sits at her kitchen table, eating her English muffin, sipping her glass of milk, wondering if today is the day. If Kyle will wake up, surface from beneath the layer of ice he's suffocating his true self under. Admiring the way the suns casts dust streaked rays through the windows onto her skin, she smiles. Shelby knows, she has the comfort of knowing, that Kyle will realize. How she knows, she doesn't question, she just does.

The phone rings.

Shelby ignores it; she doesn't feel like talking to anyone just yet. She enjoys the serenity and clarity quiet mornings bring. Especially Sundays when no one is around and only the birds talk to each other.

Breakfast is done. Shelby wanders into the living room and turns on the stereo. Usher croons out at her. "Let it burn," he sings.

Turning up the volume, Shelby stretches out on the couch singing along. She laughs out loud. Kyle hates this song, she thinks.

Besieged by this thought, her chest  heaves, a sob catching, and the reluctant acceptance she's been trying to maintain falters.

Shelby shuts off the stereo, suddenly and violently throws the remote across the room. She starts to stand, then sits back down heavily. She knows he loves her, knows it with every aching inch of her being. It's been six weeks and still thoughts of Kyle eat away at her soul like turpentine on paint, destroying her.

There is no escape from him, no release from the nostalgia every waking moment brings. Kyle is everywhere. Her room, her music, her car, her favourite movies; she shared it all with him. Gave herself to him. Kyle, she thinks.

The first time she saw him she was dancing. There in the bar, smoke filled and noisy, to her, he stood alone. He was with his friends drinking, talking, laughing, but somehow separate from them. He stared at her, amidst the loud confusion of the bar, as though he knew her, as though he'd been waiting for her. She felt she'd been waiting for him. So tough, so confident, so cool he appeared, but she saw his desire, his vulnerability. Like lightning it flashed in her mind the minute their eyes met. Not yet, she told herself and turned away. She didn't talk to him that night, but oh how she dreamed.

Kyle and his bristly face, his deep green eyes, his callused hands, she remembers. Holding onto his image instead of letting go, tears form first in her heart, then her eyes, dropping one by one from her face to her lap.

Enough, no more, I can't think anymore.

Shelby runs out of the house, full sprint with no destination in mind. She's trying to run away from herself, to run away from Kyle, to run away from the gaping hole in her heart.

Thoughts, memories, and hopes flutter about in her mind like startled birds. Kyle's laughter, his words, and her hopes of a future leading the onslaught. Through physical fatigue she hopes to ignore these startled birds, to focus on her breathing, and her feet thudding the pavement. Escape.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     * 

Kyle reaches downtown, both his intense feelings and footfalls slowing. Now at an easy jog, he becomes aware, for the first time, of his surroundings. Almost there, his subconscious destination lies ahead.

The museum stands on the corner, an ancient building with its own story and mysteriousness. Proud, it awaits the curiosity of children and knowledge seekers. Kyle and Shelby often walked the museum's grounds holding hands and talking, or wandering its halls, discussing new exhibits and anthropology. The first time they ever spoke was within its walls, at the sixties' photography display. Both were drawn to Linda McCartney's photos: solid, tangible evidence of art, liberation, and history. An era where music was a statement, a lifestyle that seemed to live and breathe on its own.

Kyle found Shelby considering a photo of The Beatles called "The Four Strangers." He quietly approached, stopping to stand beside her, saying nothing. When she turned to him, recognition flickered and she smiled.

"Hello," she said.

Kyle smiled, "Hi."

"Walk with me?" she asked. Kyle nodded, still smiling, and took her hand.

Smiling now, Kyle remembers that day and every day that followed. Full of nostalgia, he looks at the museum grounds across the busy street, and there amidst the orange, yellow, and brown leaves, he sees a figure with long chocolate silky hair blowing in the breeze, walking away from him towards the museum.

Normally, Kyle would walk the other direction. To see her is to want her, to talk to her is to need her - but in his current mental state, intuition pushes him toward her.

Kyle, watching her walk towards the place where it all began, steps into the street.

Too late, he turns to check for traffic, and sees a black Cadillac heading straight at him. Mesmerized by the speed with which this sudden death approaches, Kyle is frozen.

Shelby is his first thought. Chocolate hair, brown eyes, the taste of her lips, the way she smells like fresh sunshine, the feel of her skin, the peal of her laughter, and her love for him. How she knows him, knew him from the moment their eyes met. Her vulnerable strength radiating from his memory of her, he feels the intensity of their love.

His family and friends are next. He somehow, within seconds, remembers his childhood, his adolescence, and the beginnings of adulthood. He can remember every move he's ever made, every thought he's had. Every person that ever meant something to him - they each have their place in his heart, and so in this movie-like image.

Clarity comes last; his whole life just rolled through his mind, showing him what he was and who he is. An epiphany, the knowing engulfs him. For what feels like an eternity, he has looked in the mirror at his reflection, searching, waiting, and wanting this moment so fervently.

Has time stopped?

Now he hears the black Cadillac approaching, brakes squealing, horn blaring. He smells the rubber burn, tastes the fear of dying, and feels his heart pounding. His breath stops and all he can think of is Shelby walking away, unaware, oblivious. How he knows now and what this knowledge could mean for them, if only he could move!

Her name forms in his mouth but before he can speak it, hands grip his waist, yanking him back onto the sidewalk. Her name turns into a startled cry. The black Cadillac releases its brake and drifts past. His stunned reflection looks back at him from the car's tinted window and for the first time he really sees himself.

Breathing again, Kyle turns toward his rescuer, and his heart stops. He stares wide eyed, feeling like he's going to pass out, into the most beautiful brown eyes he's ever seen.

"Shelby," he cries and kisses her, wetting her face with his tears.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

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The Problem with Horcruxes

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The Problem with Horcruxes

In July I shared an essay I wrote on Harry Potter and masculinity from my days as an undergraduate student at MacEwan University and since it was so popular, today I am sharing a seminar presentation I wrote on it.

Back in late 2009, I was one of the lucky few (chosen ones, perhaps?) to take Prof. Bill Thompson's coveted Harry Potter seminar class. Unlike my fellow classmates, I was the only student in the seminar who hadn't read the series already (probably because I was five+ years older than everyone else, so they'd read them as kids). But I had read the first book back in 2001 on the long drive from Utah home to Alberta (yep, it was the audio book, wonderfully read by Stephen Fry). Needless to say, I had no emotional attachment (read: obsession) to the series and I proceeded to spend most of the term dissecting it.

I drove my classmates mad with my nitpicking over plot inconsistencies, but to be fair, they filled me with an unparalleled frustration. Nevertheless, by the time we finished the course and I wrote my essay on masculinity, Rowling's series won me over despite its inconsistencies (which I really think must be the editor's fault). I'm telling you all this to preface the tone of this seminar presentation I wrote on Horcruxes, which is pretty sassy and scathing. Don't get too angry with me... remember, I am a devoted fan and part of loving literature (and film) is scrutinizing and criticizing it. You can still love problematic stories (obviously, since HP is still a massive success two decades later).

As I reflect upon the Harry Potter series, I find myself more and more frustrated with inconsistencies that are prevalent throughout it. And those with regard to Horcruxes especially antagonize me. While Rowling frequently contradicts her own information (portkeys, apparition, and Thestrals, to name a few), her delay in introducing and explaining the Horcruxes is infuriating because of its significance to the series. To begin, Horcruxes, as we all know, are “objects in which a person has concealed part of their soul” (HBP 464); these objects immortalize Voldemort but are also the key to his destruction. That said, I find it rather odd that such pivotal information is not disclosed until the sixth book. However, Rowling manages to account for this folly by making Tom Riddle’s diary, which was destroyed in The Chamber of Secrets, a Horcrux. What a nice way for her to tie it all in. But regardless of this irksome tidbit, Rowling’s timing, and her failure to provide adequate and consistent qualities for each Horcrux, render the whole plot twist too improbable to believe, even within its genre.

Before I actually get into the Horcruxes, I think it best to discuss Dumbledore. Rowling has bestowed Dumbledore, our beloved manipulator, greedy keeper of knowledge, with suspiciously poor foresight: he really takes his time contemplating and planning Voldemort’s annihilation, never asking for assistance or sharing his ideas with anyone. In The Half-Blood Prince, Dumbledore says to Harry, “Four years ago, I received what I considered certain proof that Voldemort had split his soul” (469). Now, is it just me, or is that an exceptionally long time to mull things over? With his brilliant, unsurpassed powers and intelligence, why is it that Dumbledore is only able to find and destroy one Horcrux in four years? His inability to find and destroy more Horcruxes is especially suspect when one considers that A) Dumbledore is the greatest wizard of all time, B) Dumbledore has suspected Voldemort’s creation of Horcruxes for at least four years, C) Dumbledore has long known of Voldemort’s penchant for collecting ‘trophies,’ D) Dumbledore has already seen the memories revealing Voldemort’s lust for Hogwarts’ artifacts and concluded that they are likely Horcruxes, and E) Dumbledore suspects that the snake Nagini has been made a Horcrux. Surely a wizard as powerful as he does not need 16-year-old Harry’s opinion to develop and act on his theories. Remarkably, he also needs Harry to procure Slughorn’s true memory of Tom Riddle’s clever inquiry about Horcruxes; apparently because Slughorn “is an extremely able wizard who will be expecting both” Legilimency and Veritaserum (HBP 348). Again, this is a weak rationale for expecting a relatively inexperienced teenage wizard to obtain such crucial information when Dumbledore is perfectly capable himself.  Furthermore, Dumbledore fails to mention to Harry, at any point, how to destroy a Horcrux. Clearly, Rowling’s timing greatly impacts the Horcruxes’ believability as the path, and means, to smite Voldemort for good. Not only does Dumbledore’s incredibly long delay in searching for Horcruxes cease to make sense, but Harry and his friends manage to find and destroy four Horcruxes in less than one year!

HORCRUX #1: TOM RIDDLE'S DIARY

In The Chamber of Secrets, Tom Riddle’s diary possesses Ginny Weasley and performs countless malicious acts under the Horcrux’s influence. Later, Tom Riddle
(the memory) comes out of the diary and interacts with Harry. He is so real that he summons and hold Harry’s wand, yet he doesn’t defend the source of his existence. After killing the Basilisk, Harry stabs the diary with its fang, blood comes spurting out, and Tom disappears. Oddly enough, in his debriefing with Harry, Dumbledore never provides an explanation for the memory coming to life, and knowledge of the diary’s actual origins remains unknown for four more years. And, instead of divulging the mystery of how this Horcrux was a memory, Rowling directs our attention to the idea that Voldemort was so careless with it. Apparently, Dumbledore is more concerned about Voldemort being “blasé” about this Horcrux than he is with trying to figure out how the young, uninformed Tom Riddle, a portion of Voldemort’s soul, sprung from the diary unaware how it came to be, without so much as an attempt to save the source of his existence. No evidence within the text explains how this Horcrux could take form as a memory.

As far as memories go, only in The Half-Blood Prince are they addressed, and only through the pensieve can they be viewed, not interacted with. How then, does it make sense that Tom Riddle possesses Ginny, forcing her to do things without her knowledge or awareness? How does it make sense that this portion of Voldemort’s soul does not try to save itself, and is unaware of what Horcruxes are? It doesn’t. Evidently Rowling, unlike Dumbledore who spends years contemplating before disclosing information, didn’t really think it through. She needed to connect the newly developed Horcruxes to the previous texts and the diary was the only thing that (sort of) fit.  Finally, I find it remarkably convenient that when Harry does finally learn about the Horcruxes, he also discovers that, unbeknownst to him, he obliterated one four years prior.

HORCRUX #2: MARVOLO GAUNT'S RING

After Harry obtains Slughorn’s true memory, confirming the number of Horcruxes that Voldemort made, Dumbledore says to Harry, “you have already destroyed one of them. And I have destroyed another” (HBP 470) and “he raised his blackened, burned-looking hand. ‘The ring, Harry. Marvolo’s ring. And a terrible curse there was upon it too” (470). Dumbledore later admits (when is he dead in The Deathly Hallows), “I quite forgot it was now a Horcrux, that the ring was sure to carry a curse” (576). And here the discrepancy lies: no other Horcruxes have curses upon them, so how exactly is that a given? Dumbledore also says that he “made it [his] business for many years to discover as much as [he could] about Voldemort’s past life” (HBP 471), an off-putting revelation because Dumbledore has had decades to learn about it. Not only has Dumbledore always suspected that Voldemort was never dead, he had confirmation of it in book one, which gave him five years to figure it all out! And yet, he does not find another Horcrux until Harry’s sixth year. Moreover, he neglects to inform Harry how he managed to ruin the Horcrux. Nevertheless, after viewing memories in the pensieve, and with Dumbledore’s gentle prodding, Harry sums up the situation: “the diary’s gone, the ring’s gone. The cup, the locket and the snake are still intact and you think there might be a Horcrux that was once Ravenclaw’s or Griffindor’s?” Looks like Dumbledore had it all figured out, so why wait for Harry to pursue these objects? Oh yeah, Harry’s the hero, not Dumbledore.

HORCRUX #3: SLYTHERIN'S LOCKET

With such minimal information on Horcruxes and their properties, Harry accompanies Dumbledore on his mission to obtain Horcrux number three: Slytherin’s Locket. Dumbledore tells Harry that he thinks he has found the location of another Horcrux, though he cannot be certain which one. He has apparently been searching for “the cave in which Tom Riddle once terrorized two children from his orphanage on their annual trip” (HBP 511). Again, Dumbledore has known about the cave since Voldemort was a child, so why wouln’t he have explored that option ages ago? Of all the Horcruxes, the locket is the most difficult to obtain and destroy; it wreaks utter devastation on Harry because acquiring it leads to Dumbledore’s death.

If that is not enough, Rowling then reveals that the locket is a fake, left there by R.A.B, who turns out to be Sirius’ brother, Regulus. (Just an aside…we never learn how Regulus discovered Voldemort’s secret). Once Harry and his friends track down the locket’s current whereabouts via Kreacher, they must sneak into the Ministry to steal it from Umbridge. Of course they are successful, but once they have it, they’re at a loss as to how to extinguish it, being that they only know that it “has to be something so destructive that the Horcrux can’t repair itself,” as Hermione read in Secrets of the Darkest Art (DH 90). Can anyone explain to me how exactly souls or objects can repair themselves?

Anyway, for unknown reasons, Dumbledore never told Harry how he dispatched the ring. Instead, he left Harry the Griffindor sword in his will, and Hermione, with the help of Phineas Nigellus, eventually figures out that “Goblin-made blades imbibe only that which strengthens them…that sword’s impregnated with Basilisk venom!” In the meantime, Harry, Ron, and Hermione take turns wearing the locket to ensure its safety but find themselves negatively impacted by its contents (not possessed), which causes Ron to angrily abandon them.

Fortunately, Rowling gives them a reprieve; Harry finds the sword by following a doe patronus that leads him to a pond. Without question he removes all his clothing, in the middle of winter, and dives into the pond, nearly drowning, to retrieve the sword. But, what luck! The estranged Ron suddenly appears to save Harry. Afterwards Harry tells Ron to stab the Horcrux with Griffindor’s sword. Let’s just ignore the blatantly unrealistic turn of events and look now to the locket’s attempt to save itself. Unlike the diary and the ring, the locket tries to protect itself by preying on Ron’s fears. First, I would think the cruel images it showed him would encourage Ron to stab the locket not save it, and second, no other Horcrux in the series tries to save itself.

HORCRUX #4: HUFFLEPUFF CUP

 On a hunch that Voldemort has a Horcrux hidden in the Lestrange vault at Gringotts, Harry, Ron, and Hermione, with the help of Griphook, plan a heist and break into Gringotts. Their plan is successful except for being locked in the vault, which has curses on all its contents. Unlike the ring, which was apparently cursed for its protection because it’s a Horcrux, the curses in the Lestrange vault aren’t specific to the Hufflepuff Cup (DH 433-34). As per Harry Potter tradition, everyone escapes to safety, but Griphook has stolen the Griffindor sword, preventing Harry and friends from destroying the cup. Before I continue on to its eventual demise, I’d like to point out how ridiculous it is that Rowling made such a big deal of figuring out the importance of the sword and obtaining it, only to have it stolen by Griphook. But back to the cup, which is destroyed in the midst of the frenzied battle at Hogwarts by none other than Ron and Hermione. What would appear to be Ron’s most shining moment is actually Rowling’s pathetic attempt to propel the plot because it happens without Harry and is only shared after the fact. And while I concede that Ron’s idea to go down to the Chamber of Secrets in hopes of finding another venomous fang to use on the Cup is quite clever, the assertion that Ron imitated Harry speaking Parseltongue to open the chamber is just absurd (DH 501).

HORCRUX #5: RAVENCLAW'S DIADEM

Ravenclaw’s Diadem is the only unknown Horcrux. Funny, it seemed kind of obvious to me after they see Lovegood’s attempt to re-make the Ravenclaw diadem (DH 327). Anyhow, Harry runs around trying find clues while outside a battle rages, and naturally, he ascertains Helena Ravenclaw’s ghost told a young Tom Riddle of the diadem’s whereabouts, which verifies its existence as a Horcrux. Putting two and two together, Harry figures that it’s somewhere at Hogwarts and recalls seeing it in the Room of Requirement the previous year, “He hid it exactly where I hid my old Potions book, where everyone’s been hiding stuff for centuries. He thought he was the only one to find it” (DH 501). In comparison to the locket and the cup, this revelation is far too easy, as is Crabbe inadvertently destroying it when he conjures “Fiendfyre- cursed fire- it’s one of the substances that destroy Horcruxes, but [Hermione] would never have dared use it, it’s so dangerous” (DH 510-11).  Fiendfyre is never mentioned or discussed as a method of destroying Horcruxes until this point (only Basilisk venom). At the beginning of The Deathly Hallows, Hermione explains that the means to destroy Horcruxes are “all dangerous to carry around with you” (DH 90), which Rowling relies on to explain the sudden appearance of a new method. Yet never, at any point, does Hermione disclose any of these substances, nor suggest harnessing them.

HORCRUX #6: HARRY POTTER

The most controversial of the supposed Horcruxes is number six, Harry Potter. After Harry goes to Voldemort, sacrificing himself, he finds himself in King’s Cross speaking with the deceased Dumbledore who assures him that because he didn’t fight back, he isn’t really dead (DH 567). It’s all a bit hokey really, but it’s at this point that Rowling asserts, via dead Dumbledore, that Harry is the seventh Horcrux (sixth really, since Nagini is technically made one after Harry):

"You were the seventh Horcrux, Harry, the Horcrux he never meant to make. He had rendered his soul so unstable that it broke apart when he committed those acts of unspeakable evil, the murder of your parents, the attempted killing of a child. But what escaped from that room was even less than he knew. He left more than his body behind. He left part of himself latched to you, the would-be victim who had survived." (DH 568).

Rowling further reinforces this claim through Dumbledore’s statement that Harry “and Lord Voldemort have journeyed together into realms of magic hitherto unknown and untested” (DH 569). According to Rowling’s own text, The Half-Blood Prince, one must murder someone to enable the soul to split, and Slughorn confirms that there is a spell to encase the torn portion of the soul into an object, which demonstrates the need for intention to create a Horcrux (HBP 465). But, because Rowling alleges that Harry and Voldemort have moved beyond the conventions of known magic, she frees herself from conforming to her own rules. I, however, am not convinced.

HORCRUX #7: NAGINI

            Nagini, Voldemort’s beloved snake, is the seventh Horcrux and the last to die, before Voldemort himself. In The Deathly Hallows, when Voldemort realizes his secret has been discovered, he keeps Nagini close and under protection, making her unattainable to Harry (DH 524). Before confronting Voldemort in the forest, Harry ensures Neville knows the snake must be killed, but he does not indicate the importance of the tool used to kill the snake (DH 557-558). But, not to worry, Rowling has a solution for everything! Voldemort, in a demonstration of his power and new regime, aims to make an example of Neville Longbottom. He places the Sorting Hat on Neville’s head and, with his wand, lights it on fire. In the commotion that follows:

"Neville broke free of the Body-Bind Curse upon him; the flaming Hat fell off him and he drew from its depths something silver, with a glittering, rubied handle-

            The slash of the silver blade could not be heard over the roar of the oncoming crowd, or the sounds of the clashing giants, or of the stampeding centaurs, and yet it seemed to draw every eye. With a single stroke, Neville sliced off the great snake’s head, which spun high into the air, gleaming in the light flooding from the Entrance Hall, and Voldemort’s mouth was open in a scream of fury that nobody could hear, and the snake’s body thudded to the ground at his feet." (DH 587)

By far, that is the longest description of slaying a Horcrux, likely because it is the last, and yet, I find it weak. It’s all too coincidental that Voldemort would use the Sorting Hat as a part of Neville’s punishment, and that the stolen sword would reappear via the hat to a true Griffindor in need. Again, I am unconvinced.

Consequently, an analytical assessment of the series exposes some major issues and inconsistencies with the plot, eliminating the suspension of disbelief necessary to accept the conclusion. To be fair, I love this series, it's full of adventure and feelings (I cried a lot),  but its believability deteriorates upon closer reading.

 

 

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Empathy is Everything

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Empathy is Everything

Unlike sympathy or compassion, which inevitably place distance between two people – you feel sorry for her loss, you feel compassion for his pain – empathy requires that you understand and share another’s feelings and respond in kind. It compels us to disengage from our own thoughts and feelings in order to engage in another’s; which can be extremely difficult, particularly during a disagreement. But when we willingly enter another’s emotional space with empathy – be it frustration, grief, or elation – we find genuine connection.

As a mother, raising an empathetic child is my primary goal. More than anything, I want my son to approach and engage others with sensitivity and kindness. When he sees someone struggling, I want him to respond with empathy. I want him to be supportive, helpful, genuine, and gentle with others, because when we allow ourselves to view a situation from another’s perspective, we truly hear them. And being heard, being understood, is paramount to creating trusting relationships, happy people, and a better world. Empathy is healing. Empathy is understanding. Empathy is everything.

 Photo by  Lorraine Marie

John Medina, author of Brain Rules for Baby, dubs empathy “the glue of relationships” because it binds us to each other. Medina argues that the seeds of empathy are planted in parenthood. Through parents’ conscious choice to practice empathy with each other, they not only mitigate and reduce marital conflict, but they also positively affect their baby’s development. Medina notes that “Infants younger than 6 months old can usually detect that something is wrong [when parents are in conflict]. They can experience physiological changes – such as increases in blood pressure, heart rate, and stress hormones – just like adults. Some researchers claim they can assess the amount of fighting in a marriage simply by taking a 24-hour urine sample of the baby.” Stress hormones are detrimental to babies and can increase risk of anxiety disorders, depression, lower the immune system, inhibit focus, decrease emotional regulation, and lower IQs. Thus, raising an empathetic child starts by practicing empathy ourselves – with our partners, our families, and our children.

For anyone, but particularly babies, empathy has a calming effect. When your baby is teething and in pain, respond with affection and verbalize what you imagine your baby is feeling, “I know, honey, your mouth is hurting you.” Medina says, “Your ability to move from you to them, which is what empathy forces anyone to do, makes all the difference to your child’s brain.” As hard as it is to catch yourself when you’re frustrated, the more you practice empathy, the more you model it for your child.

Even as young as six months old, babies look to their parents for how to respond to and interpret the world around them. How we engage and speak to our babies and children matters, we must empathize with them, especially when we feel frustrated by their behavior. We must talk about other people’s feelings (ours, theirs, their friends, their siblings, and even their pets). We must give them examples of how to show empathy (i.e. Sarah’s upset, let’s offer her a hug). And we must model empathy for them in our interactions with others. As Medina says, “The more empathy your child sees, the more socially competent he’ll become, and the happier he’ll be.” And what parents universally want most is a happy child whose existence brightens the world.

Originally published in Inspired's Fall 2016 issue.

 

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The Tsunami: A Birth Story

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The Tsunami: A Birth Story

"Birth trauma is isolating. Devastating. Real." - birthtalk.org

By the end of pregnancy, any fears that I had about labour pains had subsided and I was completely overtaken with an urgent, pressing desire to get the baby out. From camping in the rain at 34 weeks, shuffling through the muck to the bathrooms two to three times a night, to lying all alone in the trailer whimpering, crying, feeling uncomfortable and useless; from the sweaty sleep and terrifying night terrors, to the swollen, aching feet and persistent, steady leaking between my thighs; from the suddenly dark, expanding areolas to the surprising, clumsy largeness that became my breasts – never mind the pus seeping out of my ingrown toenails, the persistent savage migraines, or the constant shortness of breath – I was done, just frickin’ done with pregnancy.

Between massive, painful hemorrhoids; deep, searing round ligament pain; and a sharp, agonizing pull in my groin with even the slightest movement, I was a week past my due date and praying for the thrill and pain of labour to just hurry up. Craig even recorded me stating that I would, never, ever do this again. Pregnancy was excruciating, terrifying, and completely outside my control. Already a migraine sufferer, I experience more than enough pain and discomfort at my body’s whim – with pregnancy, it was exponentially worse. While I relished the undulating flutters and kicks of Fitz moving in my womb, it was the only part of pregnancy that I enjoyed. I actually miss being curled on my side cuddling my full belly, just feeling him move or, as I reached full term, just watching my belly rise and rumble with his movements. Even with my relentless research and preparation, I was not equipped for the toll that growing another human takes on a mother and, despite reading countless pregnancy books, there was so much happening to my body, in my body, that I did not learn and that no one warned me about, and I hated it.

With both frequent migraines and post trauma daily headaches (I broke my neck in a car accident in 2004), I am no stranger to pain. In fact, I have a high tolerance for it. Most days, I get through my chronic pain with barely a complaint, trudging through it, knowing that I am lucky to be alive and not a quadriplegic; that this pain is simply the price I pay for that gift, for a relatively unencumbered life. I take a multitude of pills on a daily basis for pain management, including T3s. I take a maximum of two per day presently, but with my specialist OB/GYN’s leave, I only took one a day while pregnant, if that. Despite reassurances that it would not negatively impact my baby, I was nervous about it and only took one when I absolutely needed something to take the edge off: and that is all the T3s do – even now – just file off those sharp edges, dulling the pain just enough so that it is tolerable. They do not take the pain away, so I deal with a fair amount of pain every day of my life; an admission that is necessary to understanding my birth story, to understanding how much pain I am capable of enduring and, therefore, to understanding how much pain I was in during my extremely abnormal labour.

In my OB/GYN’s office, a week past my due date, my doctor did a cervical exam (which hurt like hell – I had joked that she needed to be gentle since nothing had been up there in months). As with every other exam, my cervix was shut up as tight as a bank vault holding the world’s most precious commodity. My doctor said I would have to be induced the following week. I was asked to sign a consent form, but she did not explain any risks to the induction and never told me about any other options, it seemed like the only next step.  

Eager as I was to return to my old body, my old self (little did I know, I would never be my old self again), I signed off on an induction without hesitation. I trusted my doctor, trusted that the risks of waiting for my baby to come on his own outweighed the risks of an induction. She said that the induction would be gentle: that Cervidil is a gel inserted vaginally via a tiny tampon-like device, and is placed at the cervix’s opening (or where it is supposed to open, in my case). Cervidil (the generic name is dinoprostone – the dino part seems telling in retrospect because of the monstrous response my body had to it) stays in and is usually removed 12-24 hours later or if regular labour starts. I would be monitored for two hours following the insertion and then sent home to wait and see what happened. Typically, she said, nothing happens and it is re-inserted the next day. The Cervidil’s job is to soften the cervix, encouraging it to open and start labour. Considered a mild induction, it is often followed by inserting a balloon catheter that forcibly opens the cervix. At no point was I advised of the risks or the benefits of waiting for Fitz to come on his own; waiting for him to come on his own was not even given as an option. I was also not forewarned of any potential side effects or risks of a Cervidil induction. Looking back, I should have asked these questions, but I was beyond uncomfortable, beyond ready for my baby to get here, so I trusted my doctor and signed the induction release without another thought.

A week later, at nine days overdue, while Craig was at work, Mom took me to the hospital for my induction. My body was being so stubborn, and so I fully expected nothing to happen and figured I would be back home within a few hours. When I arrived, the nurse did a cervical exam and my cervix had not budged (and it was beginning to seem the women on my birth ‘team’ were even rougher with my vagina than the men). I was feeling fine, if a bit anxious for Fitz’s arrival. The on-call OB/GYN came in to check me himself and commented that I have a very narrow pelvis and would be a candidate for a caesarean section. I felt frustrated and confused by this statement. What did he mean I was a candidate for a C-section? Did he believe I needed one? Why was he proceeding with the Cervadil induction anyway? I wanted to give up and have the surgery right then, but because I trusted the medical community, I did not question him when he inserted the Cervidil.

The nurses strapped my belly with a fetal monitor to listen to Fitz’s heartbeat and to detect and track any contractions. After an hour, I started to feel menstrual-type cramping which registered as contractions on the monitor. A half hour later, Fitz’s heart rate dropped, bouncing back up quickly, but it was enough for them to admit me to keep an eye on him – to Mom’s relief (she had driven my labouring sister to the hospital and was not eager to repeat the harrowing, helpless, experience).

After about an hour, the cramps transformed into full-on, intense contractions that were coming quicker and quicker, lasting about 45 seconds in length with about 40 seconds to two minutes in between. I took a selfie when the cramping began to get really uncomfortable and, to monitor my own progress, I tracked each contraction with an app, which immediately advised me to go to the hospital (I found it funny that I was in the hospital and no one seemed to care that things had so swiftly progressed). Shortly after that, I texted Craig to come to the hospital because I was in too much agony to track contractions, take selfies, talk, or text updates to family and friends. The contractions were coming on hard and fast; I could barely catch my breath before another one started, signaling to us that I must be in active labour. Everything I read about childbirth and what I learned in the prenatal class said that when you get to the point where you say, “I cannot do this anymore!” you are about ready to push, and I definitely could not take any more pain. I could not remember ever being in this much agony, even when I broke my neck.

Following another painful cervical exam, the doctor announced that I was only a half centimeter dilated and that my contractions were not real because I was not dilating. From that moment on, my memory is foggy: I was trapped in the throes of labour, each contraction not at all like a wave, as Ina May Gaskin describes in Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, but more like a tsunami. You can ride a wave, you can move with it, or let it wash over you, but a tsunami – a tsunami destroys you, leaves you broken, incoherent, gasping, and begging for rescue. As I fought my way through this labour, trying not to drown in it, my Mom and Craig stood by, helplessly watching me, attempting support, but ultimately being unable to soothe or calm me. To be fair, I was miserable, I was bitter, and I was angry so I was not the easiest person to empathize with, but the nurses met my suffering with unabashed criticism. When it all became too much and I was losing my resolve, I began to whimper and cry. One of the nurses turned to me and said stonily, “Get your crying out now because you are not helping yourself.”

Never had I felt so alone, so isolated, so judged, and so completely helpless. The nursing staff did little to hide their impatience or lack of empathy. They thought I was weak, that I should be able to take the pain. Eventually, when I was trying to alleviate my anguish in the shower, my mom convinced them to get me something for pain. First they tried laughing gas, which did nothing, it did not even make me buzzed let alone touch the pain. As I writhed around the bed, in utter torment, Craig turned to Mom, eyes full of heartache and whispered to her, “Is this normal?” “No,” she whispered back. Next, they tried a shot of Demerol. Again, no effect. A half hour later, they gave me another dose of Demerol and still nothing. I was told that my daily T3s had created a tolerance to the Demerol.

Amidst my furious efforts to grapple with the worst pain I have ever experienced, I was lost, and despite my cries for help, I was not heard. Powerless against what my OB/GYN later called, Tetanic contractions ("contractions coming so frequently that they merge into one sustained contraction”) and with zero control over my situation, I begged for them to, “Just cut the baby out, please, just cut him out of me!” The charge nurse’s response: “If you cannot handle this, what makes you think you can handle a post-operative incision?” Not only was I stripped of any agency whatsoever, but I was also deemed unfit and irrational – incapable of making decisions about my own healthcare. Since the reaction I was having to the Cervidil was uncommon, they treated me like the pain was not real. Experiencing this pain was beyond terrible, but to be told it was non-existent, to feel alone and irrational in the midst of it, was unbearable.

We said over and over again that my body was not reacting well to the Cervidil. We asked them to take it out, but the on-call OB/GYN wanted to wait it out. He wanted me to dilate to at least 2 cm before giving me an epidural. Finally, at 1.75 cm dilated, he called the anesthesiologist. Along with his arrival, came a nurse who understood how to help me. She assured me that my pain was real and told me not to listen to anyone who said otherwise. She validated me, supported me, truly empathized with me, and was able to calm me enough to get me through the epidural. One of the nurses commented to the anesthesiologist that I did not respond to the Demerol because of my T3 use and he laughed and said, “No. This woman is in serious pain and needs an epidural right now.” Between him and the new nurse, I was finally able to cope with my situation. Their empathy and validation alone made it easier.

Once the OB/GYN removed the Cervidil, I felt instant relief, although the contractions were still coming on strong and I was throwing up. The nurse talked me through the epidural, encouraging me, holding me (both physically and emotionally). My crazy onslaught of contractions made the anesthesiologist’s job difficult, but he was able to give me the epidural and once I had it, my temperament changed considerably and I said, “Wow, I think I can actually do this now…. I can really feel the Demerol now, I am pretty buzzed.” I was so good-natured and smiley. The anesthesiologist teased me and we discussed Milton’s Paradise Lost. I told him the contractions made me feel like Sin: the hounds of hell chained to her waist, running in and out of her vagina as though it were a kennel (I am an English major, by the way).

Minutes after the epidural was complete, the nurses were concerned about the fetal monitor1. Fitz’s heart rate had dropped again and was not rising. The atmosphere became charged with urgency as the OB/GYN did a lengthy internal examination, seemingly waiting for something, then declaring that I needed an emergency C-section. I had just received the epidural, and there was not enough time for it to set in for me to be conscious for the birth; they had to put me under to perform the surgery. I was transferred from the bed to a table and wheeled away to the OR. Craig was given scrubs to put on for the operation, but when he was ready, they turned him away saying there was no room for him. Meanwhile, in the OR, the familiar anesthesiologist stayed at my head, speaking calmly to me, reassuring me that he was taking care of me and all would be well. The nurses and surgical staff rapidly prepared both me and the room as I drifted off to sleep.

While I was operated on, Mom and Craig gathered my things and went to the waiting room. Both were shaken up, scared, worried. Craig reached out and took my mother’s hand, kissing it, grateful that she was there to share his concern. When the surgery was over, Craig was allowed into the OR to meet Fitz; there, he saw them putting me back together, stitching me up, and there he noticed a bloody, infant intubation tube. The doctor described my son as being like, “A limp dish rag,” when he was born, he was not taking his first breath and the amniotic sac was full of meconium2 (his first APGAR score was 1). In order to get him breathing, Fitz was intubated; however, he recovered quickly, his second APGAR score jumping to a 9. After Craig met him and held him skin to skin, Fitz was whisked away to the nursery for glucose and formula. I was still unconscious and did not wake until two hours after Fitz was born.

Craig was by my side when I awoke in recovery, and the first glimpse I received of my newborn son, was a photograph he had taken. Let me just say that again, I first saw my newborn baby in a picture on my husband’s phone. I cried. Craig proudly told me he had seen my uterus as they stitched me up, and then he brought Mom in to see me. Freezing from the anesthetic, they covered me in heated blankets. Still frozen from the epidural, my legs were shrouded in a machine that increased circulation. My throat was scratchy and tender, and I could barely talk. As they wheeled me to my shared room, they paused at the nursery. I met my son for the first time in a hallway. I held him for what was only a brief moment. I cried as I held him saying, “Hi Fitz, you were inside me, you are really real.” After a few minutes a nurse took him back and transported me to my room, where Craig and I waited for his arrival. I felt bereft, confused, still foggy from the anesthetic and my throat hurt badly. I wanted my child, but I assumed there was a good reason they were not bringing him to me yet. I knew he was receiving glucose for low blood sugar, but no one told me why I had to wait two more hours to have him. Finally I held him, skin-to-skin, nursing for the next six hours.

At the time, I was relieved that I was okay, that Fitz was okay, and thankful that the doctor had saved his life and that he was healthy. As the days progressed, I became more and more emotional thinking about Fitz’s birth. I was traumatized by the treatment I received prior to the epidural, the utter disregard for my pain and wellbeing. I felt angry and upset that I had no agency, that I had no voice when it came to my own body. I felt that if they had done a c-section when they determined I was a candidate, when the OB/GYN actually said out-loud that I was a candidate, instead of putting me through the atrocity that was the induction, I would have been the first person to meet Fitz: the first to hold him, to touch him, to gaze upon his perfection. I could have handled an unexpected course towards birth, but I was not prepared to lose those first moments with my son. While I am grateful that Craig held Fitz skin-to-skin in the nursery while I was unconscious, and instantly connected with our son, I mourn the loss of that monumental, once in a life time, moment of greeting my son immediately after he left my womb: of being first to welcome him into the world. After everything I went through to give him life, I was robbed of that satisfying, “It was all worth it,” hour after his birth. I cannot help but mourn the loss of that experience. I am a mother, and yet the most significant moment of becoming a mother was taken from me; I missed the beginning of my son’s life.

A week after his birth, once we were home from the hospital, I came emotionally undone: fearing that there was no picture of me and Fitz the day he was born. My husband showed me a shot he took in the hospital hallway, of me holding him, and while I was relieved to have the image it also broke my heart. I am in a bed, shrouded in blankets because I woke up shivering, puffy from the IV and anesthetic. I only held him for a few moments before they took him from me, so I cannot look at that picture without crying.

It has been two years since my son, Fitzgerald Morris Raypold, was born (September 8, 2015, at 7:27 p.m.) and I still have not resolved these feelings: the traumatic emotional pain of the birth; the isolation of not being believed; the powerlessness of not being heard or respected; the shock of being whisked off to surgery and placed under general anesthesia only to wake hours later to no baby, only a picture on a phone; the magnitude of losing those first moments of life; and an unceasing  anger toward my course of care and why the Cervadil had been started, and continued, for so long.

I am still suffering and I do not know if the sadness will ever fade. Fitz and I have connected well – breastfeeding and skin-to-skin afforded us the opportunity to bond – and he is a happy, healthy toddler, but I doubt I will ever get over missing the beginning of his story. Most days I do not think about it; it is far from my mind, until it is not. Then I cry.

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A version of this essay was originally posted on Edmomton and this version was published in the December 2017 issue of Birth Issues Magazine

If you had a difficult birthing experience but don't meet the postpartum depression or anxiety criteria, you might be suffering from birth trauma and there is help! Learn more at Birth Talk and Birth Trauma Canada. You can also get one-on-one or group counselling here

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On Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip

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On Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip

"Words are blanks. Words are ghosts. Words are God. Words don't make the rain go." – The Tragically Hip

Canada, the world really, lost a legend today.

And as much as I knew it was coming – we all knew it was coming – the grief was immediate, intense, and infinite. Sobs engulfed me, tumbling out unexpectedly and completely, as though they were piling up inside me since news broke of his cancer, ready to flow like an avalanche in the wake of his death. I wasn’t just sucker-punched by the news of his passing, I was sucker-punched by my own grief. But I was driving. So I listened to Trudeau’s tearful acknowledgement and Tom Power’s emotional broadcast, and let the tears flow down my face, down my neck, down the road. Memories were flooding me too. Many from high school where The Tragically Hip’s presence was constant, resolute, an institution.

“Wheat Kings” and “Grace, too” and “Long Time Running” and “Blow at High Dough” and “Little Bones” and “Fully Completely” and “Scared” and “Springtime in Vienna” and “Bobcaygeon” and, of course, The Killer Whale Tank version of “New Orleans is Sinking.”

When we all skipped class to smoke, chill, and play hack at the back doors, someone’s car blasted The Hip. When we sat on the ETS bus, sharing headphones and singing along, it was to The Hip. When we drank ourselves stupid and passed around joints at parties, it was to The Hip. When we danced our hearts out at grad or in the bar, it was to The Hip. The Tragically Hip was this thread that wove us all together. It united us. It mellowed out our teen angst. It spoke to our souls, to the parts of us we’d tried so valiantly to keep hidden, and it connected us to each other.

“Music brings people together. So my function in anything I do is to help bring people closer in.” – Gord Downie

The best times, the worst times, all of the times, Gord was there, with his voice, his charisma, his hope, his words, his vision, his thoughtfulness, his empathy. When I saw all of that extend to Canada’s Indigenous community, when I saw Gord use his platform, his voice, to lift other voices, voices of the marginalized, voices that need amplifying, I wept with gratitude and admiration and awe. Here is a man who knows what matters. Here is a man who uses his power to help people. Here is a man who sees the truth and who speaks it.

As a writer, I’ve always admired and loved and pondered and wrestled with and connected to Gord’s lyrics and poetry. Few songwriters tell stories so explicitly, so eloquently, and nearly every one of The Tragically Hip’s songs aren’t just obscure poetry, but true, unabashed storytelling. And in that way, he will forever by my teacher:

“When I write, I give people access to their own emotions.” – Gord Downie

I don’t know that Canada will ever have another artist, another icon, that will represent us as well. Gord is the epitome, for me, of what it means to be Canadian. Without trying to, he wrote beautifully and honestly about everyday Canadian experiences and his work will forever be at the centre of our collective cultural identity. Today, I weep, but for tomorrow, I’ll just heed Gord’s words and ready myself for whatever comes.

“I have no illusions of the future. Or maybe it’s all illusion. I don’t know. I’ve always been ready for it.” — Gord Downie

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Harry Potter and the Triumph of Contemporary Masculinity

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Harry Potter and the Triumph of Contemporary Masculinity

Since my most popular post so far was an English essay, today I am sharing another from my seminar class on JK Rowling's Harry Potter series with Prof. Bill Thompson in the fall/winter of 2009. I'm sharing this one because Emilie asked me to, and because it's an essay I'm proud of. As you may already know, I'm a feminist and being a feminist means that I have a penchant for analyzing gender construction in media - particularly literature (especially young adult and children's literature; I wrote my thesis on Tamora Pierce's Song of the Lioness Quartet and Suzanne CollinsHunger Games trilogy). As an intersectional feminist, I'm not just concerned with representations of women and girls, but also of men and boys. Now that I have a son myself, I'm passionate about deconstructing masculinity and exposing him to a contemporary masculinity that allows boys and men to exhibit and freely display a full range of human emotion and interests. If you're interested in this topic, or in issues of gender, check out The Representation Project who did a poignant and powerful documentary called The Mask You Live In that explores the damaging impact of the restrictions we impose upon men and boys in the name of masculinity. You can also read two stellar articles about parenting boys here and here; in fact, I just bought Judy Y. Chu's book, When Boys Become Boys which is based on a two-year study that explores boys' development (I'll write about here soon). 

Interestingly, nearly eight years after writing this essay, I've learned that Rowling herself is also a feminist, which further illustrates the points I make in this essay. Check out her twitter feed for her scathing and sarcastic take down of gendered stereotypes and inequality. So without further ado, here is the essay:

J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is undeniably male-dominated; women hold subordinate positions of power and are confined to stereotypes (Molly and Minerva) or restricted by their gender roles (Hermione). Similarly, the males in the series are often held to stereotypes (Arthur and Sirius) or ridiculed for not being masculine enough (Neville). Consequently, Rowling has received plenty of criticism about gendered representation, mostly feminist perspectives attacking the series for further perpetuating demeaning stereotypes and limiting female characters (Billone, Cherland, Heilman). Others fault the books for encouraging hegemonic masculinity by way of its male-dominated world and through discouraging inferior or subordinate masculinities (Heilman, Billone). However, under closer scrutiny, it becomes apparent that Rowling’s series is not only a reflection of the patriarchal, male-dominated society of the Western world, but the books also applaud a new, unconventional masculinity over traditional, hegemonic masculinity. Rowling illustrates the flaws of traditional masculinity through her villain and exemplifies the advantages, and thus, superiority, of contemporary masculinity through her hero. A thorough discussion and contrast of both Voldemort’s and Harry’s gendered identities will reveal the absolute triumph of contemporary masculinity; a triumph made possible by the power of love.

To begin, the Oxford English Dictionary defines masculinity as: “The state or fact of being masculine; the assemblage of qualities regarded as characteristic of men; maleness, manliness.” Clearly, ideas of masculinity fluctuate, growing and changing as society grows and changes as well as varying between individuals. However, traditionally, hegemonic masculinity has been the ideal. In her book Gender Harriet Bradley paraphrases Robert (Raewyn) Connell’s definition of hegemonic masculinity:

…the form of masculinity we refer to as ‘macho’: tough, competitive, self-reliant, controlling, aggressive and fiercely heterosexual. Connell states that ‘hegemonic masculinity is always constructed in relation to various subordinated masculinities as well as in relation to women.’ (47)

Because the Harry Potter series is considered children’s literature, and the text does not deal with issues of homosexuality, the emphasis on being “fiercely heterosexual” does not specifically apply (although Rowling did announce that Dumbledore was gay after the full series was published), but both Voldemort and Harry will be discussed using Connell’s definition as a guide. Moreover, Michael S. Kimmel, in his book The Gendered Society, asserts that “we learn the ‘appropriate’ behaviours and traits that are associated with hegemonic masculinity…. and then we each, individually, negotiate our own path in a way that feels right to us” (15); Voldemort and Harry, thus, are largely responsible for the masculinities they have chosen to perform.

Lord Voldemort is the epitome of evil within the Potter books, and the first introduction to a resurrected, self-reliant, and fully formed Voldemort is given in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire:

The thin man stepped out of the cauldron, staring at Harry … and Harry stared back into the face that had haunted his nightmares for three years. Whiter than a skull, with wide, livid scarlet eyes, and a nose that was as flat as a snake’s, with slits for nostrils … (558)

In appearance, Voldemort is frightening rather than attractive, as hegemonic masculinity typically dictates, even so, his image emanates power, especially in contrast with his subordinate, Wormtail, who cut off his arm to revive his master (556-557) and who “sobbing and moaning, still cradling his mutilated arm, scrambled to pick up the black robes from the ground” (558). In her article “Blue Wizards and Pink Witches: Representations of Gender Identity and Power,” Elizabeth E. Heilman agrees, stating that “Hegemonic masculinity is straight, strong, and domineering and it oppresses not only women but also the many men excluded from it” (231). Voldemort fits this gender ideology perfectly: his Death Eaters are mostly inferior men who call him “Lord” or “Master.” Furthermore, Heilman says of Quirrel and Wormtail, Voldemort’s pawns: “Their physical possession by Lord Voldemort emphasizes their lack of masculinity” (233), in effect, stressing Voldemort’s dominating hegemonic masculinity. The relationship between superior and subordinate masculinity is clearly evident in Goblet of Fire when Voldemort torments Wormtail, making him wait to be rewarded for sacrificing his arm (559-563), and when the rest of the Death Eaters “[approached] Voldemort on [their] knees, and [kissed] his robes, before backing away and standing up, forming a silent circle” (561).

Not only are men inferior to Voldemort but women are as well. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, when his most loyal Death Eater, Bellatrix Lestrange, expresses her pleasure at having him in the family home, he replies with flattery, puffing her up, making her flush, and then proceeding to mock and humiliate her by mentioning the marriage of Tonks, her niece, to Remus Lupin, the werewolf (16). After the laughter ceases, Voldemort manipulates her again by easing the blow, ensuring her continued admiration and devoted loyalty (17). In this manner of holding his power, regard, and unpredictable violence over his subordinates, Voldemort displays the strength, power, and domineering control of a hegemonic male. His relationship, or lack thereof, with Bellatrix also demonstrates self-reliance as a component of Voldemort’s hegemonic masculinity; she is clearly in love with him, but he keeps her at a distance, alternately praising and humiliating her. Annette Wannamaker’s article “Men in Cloaks and High-Heeled Boots, Men Wielding Pink Umbrellas: Witchy Masculinities in the Harry Potter Novels” states that “Voldemort is portrayed as evil precisely because he is a loner” (142). Moreover, self-reliance is also exhibited in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince through Dumbledore, who intimates that the Death Eaters are unaware of Voldemort’s Horcruxes (469), and speculates: “Voldemort likes to operate alone, remember. I believe that he would have found the thought of being dependent, even on the Elixir, intolerable” (469).

The two attributes of hegemonic masculinity that are most vigorously present in Voldemort are competition and aggression, specifically violence. First, Voldemort is extremely competitive and prides himself in being the most powerful wizard, as he says of himself: “the immensity of my power” (Goblet 562); “mightier than any wizard living” (Goblet 562); and “I, who have gone further than anybody along the path that leads to immortality” (Goblet 566). His blindly competitive nature is most obvious in his obsession with destroying Harry Potter:

‘You see, I think, how foolish it was to suppose that this boy could ever have been stronger than me,’ said Voldemort. ‘But I want there to be no mistake in anybody’s mind. Harry Potter escaped me by a lucky chance. And I am now going to prove my power by killing him, here and now, in front of you all, when there is no Dumbledore to help him, and no mother to die for him. I will give him his chance. He will be allowed to fight, and you will be left in no doubt which of us is the stronger.’ (Goblet 571)

Yet the most powerful evidence of Voldemort’s hegemonic masculine nature is his penchant for violence, specifically torture. Kimmel asserts that “male violence is a way to prove successful masculinity” (316) and points out that “violence is a form of masculine emotional expressiveness, as if the only legitimate emotion a man could express was rage” (316-317). Voldemort uses violence to express both joy and rage; he tortures his minions simply for the pleasure it brings him:

One of the men suddenly flung himself forwards, breaking the circle. Trembling from head to foot, he collapsed at Voldemort’s feet.

‘Master!’ he shrieked. ‘Master, forgive me! Forgive us all!’

Voldemort began to laugh. He raised his wand. ‘Crucio!’

The Death Eater on the ground writhed and shrieked; Harry was sure the sound must carry to the houses around…let the police come, he thought desperately…anyone…anything… (Goblet 562)

Voldemort kills to demonstrate his power, as when he kills Muggle Studies teacher, Charity Burbage (Hallows 18), and he kills casually when someone has served his or her purpose as with Bertha Jorkins (Goblet 569) and Severus Snape (Hallows 527). Mostly, though, he kills and tortures when he is enraged, to punish those who have wronged or disobeyed him, as when Ollivander’s advice fails him (Hallows 75), and when both Gregorovitch (Hallows 232) and Grindelwald do not have the Elder Wand (Hallows 382). His ability to kill casually and without remorse reveals a hegemonic male that is clearly detached, aggressive, self-reliant, controlling, and competitive. Undeniably, Voldemort embodies a gendered identity that epitomizes traditional hegemonic masculinity, a masculinity that Rowling clearly vilifies.

Most feminist criticism centres on Harry’s masculinity, mentioning his “feminist” tendencies, but ultimately disregarding any unconventional traits. Wannamaker says, “These unconventional forms of masculinity are masculine characteristics, not feminine, even if they do not fit the mold of hegemonic masculinity” (144). Yet this idea of males performing femininities persists; for example, Amy Billone’s article “The Boy Who Lived: From Carroll’s Alice and Barrie’s Peter Pan to Rowling’s Harry Potter” dismisses Harry’s “feminine traits”:

True, although Harry is a boy, he does have some conventionally feminine traits…He has his mother’s eyes, her gentleness, her sensitivity, her carefulness not to hurt other people’s feelings. Significantly, however, Harry Potter is a boy, and in every respect (with the exception of his eyes) he remarkably resembles his father. Therefore, even though Harry’s personality contains both traditionally masculine and feminine qualities, masculinity still surpasses femininity in his makeup, forcing him not only to take on the literal shape of a boy, but also grounding him in a universe dominated by men. (179)

Billone’s argument, however, fails to accurately display Harry’s character or the unconventionality of his gendered identity, merely faulting him for being a boy, as though his masculinity determined his sex. Heilman, too, displays aspects uncommon to traditional masculinity and then dismisses them:

Harry’s status is interesting. At first he appears to be an outsider and thus is neither dominant nor powerful. He is a skinny boy with tousled hair who is trying to find his place. And yet, as the stories progress, he obtains significant status. He becomes rich and famous. He has some of the best stuff such as a top quality broom and an Invisibility Cloak. He is also a school sports star able to get a date with one of the prettiest girl in the school. I think that part of Harry’s appeal comes from the fact that he is introduced to us as a skinny, orphaned outsider and yet he goes on to have success in every important venue of masculinity. (231-232)

Heilman’s argument, while accurate to a degree, focuses on the material and superficial. While Harry may have “some of the best stuff” or get dates, he does not have a real home, his parents are dead, and neither money or fame mean anything to him, as displayed when he gives away his Triwizard winnings (Goblet 635) and in his embarrassment at being idolized by Colin Creevey (Chamber 75-77). While Harry may encompass some traditionally valued aspects of masculinity, those, in combination with unconventional masculinities, reveal Harry to be far from the traditional, hegemonic male.

A large part of Harry’s appeal is that his gendered identity is an amalgamation of various behaviours, some traditionally considered masculine and some traditionally considered feminine, which is an accurate representation of today’s young males who, according to Wannamaker, struggle with trying to conform to the hegemonic ideal (122). To begin, Harry does embody some traditional masculinities. First, he becomes the Seeker, the key player, of his house’s Quidditch team in his first year at Hogwarts (Stone 112-113), a clear display of stereotypical interests and hegemonic prowess and competitiveness. Further, as Wannamaker notes, he often suffers injuries playing Quidditch which he brushes off (139) – another sign of traditional, tough, masculinity. Stereotypically, boys tend to be disinterested in studies, which Harry exhibits for the most part, often leaning on Hermione to correct papers or to supply answers. However, Harry does show interest and talent in Defence Against the Dark Arts, even teaching it to fellow students in his fifth year, and he does receive seven out of nine O.W.L.s (Half-Blood Prince 100). Harry’s most dominant aspect of traditional masculinity is a desire to be self-reliant: in The Philosopher’s Stone he intends to seek out the stone on his own (197); in The Chamber of Secrets he goes alone in search of Ginny (225); in The Order of the Phoenix he intends to head off alone to the Ministry to save Sirius (670-671); in The Half-Blood Prince he breaks up with Ginny because he says, “I’ve got things to do alone now” (602), he tries to deter Ron and Hermione from helping him to seek out the Horcruxes (607), and, lastly, in The Deathly Hallows, he alone enters the forest to face Voldemort (554). Yet Harry’s desire to be self-reliant is continually thwarted by his friends, Ron and Hermione, who are “with [him] whatever happens” (Prince 607). Harry’s ability to accept the support and assistance of his friends negates his desire to be self-reliant, contradicting the traditionally masculine trait and enabling him to succeed.

In contrast to his traditional masculinities, Harry contradicts the hegemonic ideal in myriad ways. The first major indicator of Harry’s unconventional masculinity is his heart’s desire. Unlike other boys who long for new broomsticks, dress robes, or popularity, what Harry desires most is a loving family. In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone Harry finds the Mirror of Erised and sees, for the first time, his parents and extended family (153). Later, Dumbledore explains to him that the mirror, “shows us nothing more or less than the deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts” (157). Harry’s desire for familial love and connection is further demonstrated through his relationship with his godfather, Sirius Black, who he loves fiercely. His devastation over losing Sirius, his capacity to feel that devastation, is shown as a strength when Voldemort possesses him in the Ministry of Magic:

Blinded and dying, every part of him screaming for release, Harry felt the creature use him again …

If death is nothing, Dumbledore, kill the boy …’

Let the pain stop, thought Harry … let him kill us .. end it, Dumbledore … death is nothing compared to this …

And I’ll see Sirius again …

And as Harry’s heart filled with emotion, the creature’s coils loosened, the pain was gone; Harry was lying face down on the floor, his glasses gone, shivering as though he lay upon ice, not wood … (Phoenix 720)

Clearly, Harry’s desire for family and love is a demonstration of contemporary masculinity that prevails over Voldemort’s hegemonic masculinity. Karen E. Westman’s article “The Weapon We Have Is Love” confirms Harry’s strength, a “goodness that is ‘agony’ for one so evil as Voldemort to touch” (194).

While Harry is competitive, unlike Voldemort, he does not need to be the best or the most powerful. Instead, he strives to be fair, which is most distinct throughout the Triwizard Tournament in The Goblet of Fire. In an effort to be fair, Harry shares imperative information with fellow Hogwart’s competitor Cedric Diggory (298). Furthermore, rather than triumph at the second task, Harry chooses to rescue his opponent’s sister as well as Ron (435-436). Lastly, in the third task, both he and Cedric aid each other and Harry suggests that they both grasp the cup simultaneously since they could not have made it to the finish without each other (550-551).

Next, unlike Voldemort who oppresses those considered subordinate, Harry aligns himself with them. Ron Weasley, for instance, his best friend, comes from a poor family that is subjected to emasculating ridicule from arrogant bullies like Draco Malfoy who says things like, “My father told me all the Weasleys have red hair, freckles and more children than they can afford” (Stone 81). Harry’s other best friend is a girl, Hermione, which Kim Becnel comments on in her article “Literary Contexts in Novels: J.K. Rowling’s ‘Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone”:

While Harry is in some sense a traditionally masculine hero, Rowling makes him, and her novels, more modern by having Harry regard Hermione as an equal and by making the ability to nurture relationships with Hermione and others a big part of Harry’s strength. (5)

Wannamaker agrees: “[Harry’s] heterosocial relationships with Hermione, Luna, and Ginny set him apart from the traditional heroic male with his male sidekick(s)” (143). Another friend of Harry’s that is considered subordinate (because of his heritage and poor wizarding skills) is Hagrid, who Wannamaker describes as both “manly and motherly” (137). Hagrid is a massive man, half-giant, who can be extremely aggressive, especially when those he cares for are threatened. For example, Hagrid assaults Karkaroff in Goblet of Fire when he accuses Dumbledore of treachery (487-488). But in contrast, Hagrid is an extremely emotional man who cries at the loss of his dragon Norbert (Stone 175), cries at the pending death of Buckbeak (Azkaban 161), and cries at the death of the spider Aragog (Prince 451).

Not only does Harry align himself with supposed subordinates, but he exhibits a genuine concern and care for them, especially Dobby, Neville, and Luna. Unlike Voldemort, Harry sees house elves as equals, not inferiors, so much so that he frees Dobby (Chamber 248) and maintains a friendship with him throughout the series, a friendship so valuable to Dobby that he sacrifices himself for Harry (Hallows 385). Harry confirms his friendships with both Neville and Luna on the Hogwart’s Express in The Half-Blood Prince when Romilda Vane says:

‘Why don’t you join us in our compartment? You don’t have to sit with them,’ she added in a stage whisper, indicating Neville’s bottom, which was sticking out from under the seat again as he groped around for Trevor, and Luna, who was now wearing her free Spectrespecs, which gave her the look of a demented, multicoloured owl.

‘They’re friends of mine,’ said Harry coldly.

‘Oh,’ said the girl, looking very surprised. ‘Oh. OK.’

And she withdrew, sliding the door closed behind her.

‘People expect you to have cooler friends than us,’ said Luna, once again displaying her knack for embarrassing honesty.

‘You are cool,’ said Harry shortly. ‘None of them was at the Ministry. They didn’t fight with me.’ (132-133)

This exchange is only one of many examples of Harry’s loyalty and sensitivity to his unusual friends. Harry, being unconventionally masculine himself, a bit of an oddball with his perpetually messy hair, round glasses, and clothes that are always too big for him, is a champion for the people, always defending those under attack by the hegemonically superior.

All of the combined masculinities that make up Harry’s gendered identity also make him a leader. Unlike Voldemort, who coerces, forces, and imposes himself on his followers and enemies, Harry collects friends, supporters, followers, and admirers because he embodies a masculinity that encourages love, respect, and belonging. Harry’s unique leadership cultivates the last and most important facet of his unconventional masculinity which reinforces his desire, his capacity to love, and his role as champion: his self-sacrifice. While his friends and supporters fight the Battle of Hogwart’s, Harry realizes that in order to defeat Voldemort he must die, he must sacrifice himself for the greater good; he does so quietly, wandering alone into the forbidden forest to face Voldemort (Hallows 560). But again, Harry is not alone; through the Resurrection Stone, he is accompanied by his lost loves: his mother and father, Sirius, and Lupin who stay with him until he addresses Voldemort (Hallows 563). Not only does Harry’s sacrifice demonstrate his unconventional masculinity, so very different from Voldemort’s, but it is exactly what saves him from absolute death, enabling him to truly defeat Voldemort. And even in that final battle, Voldemort’s own curse is what kills him (Hallows 596); Harry never gave into the violence of hegemonic masculinity, never uttered a killing curse (Hallows 595), even offered Voldemort the opportunity to express remorse (Hallows 594). Undeniably, Rowling’s series displays the triumph of unconventional, contemporary masculinity over traditional, hegemonic masculinity.

Despite claims that Rowling’s work is sexist or anti-feminist, the text itself reveals a progressive depiction of gendered identities. Wannamaker agrees:

Rowling’s novels open up more possibilities for boys, portray broader definitions of what it means to be masculine, acknowledge a readership able to grapple with contradictions, and give readers characters and situations that test and contest the constructed borders of gender. (145)

Because Rowling depicts Voldemort as a traditional, hegemonic male, and Harry as the opposite, she asserts the value of a new, unconventional masculinity. Furthermore, Rowling’s novels provide readers with that new vision of masculinity, one that promotes sensitivity, teamwork, and affection in combination with bravery, competitiveness, and leadership. Through Harry and his unconventional masculinity, Rowling gives her readers a genuine and imperfect character to whom they can truly relate.


Works Cited

Becnel, Kim. “Literary Contexts in Novels: J.K. Rowling’s ‘Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone.’” Literary Reference Centre. EBSCO. Web. 6 Nov. 2009.

Billone, Amy Christine, 1972-. "The Boy Who Lived: From Carroll's Alice and Barrie's Peter Pan to Rowling's Harry Potter." Children's Literature 32 (2004): 178-202. Project MUSE.

Bradley, Harriet. Gender. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007.

Heilman, Elizabeth E. “Blue Wizards and Pink Witches: Representations of Gender, Identity and Power.” Harry Potter’s World: Multidisciplinary Critical Perspectives. Ed. Elizabeth E. Heilman. New York: RoutledgeFalmer, 2003.

Kimmel, Michael S. The Gendered Society. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Vancouver: Raincoast Books, 1998.

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Vancouver: Raincoast Books, 2007.

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Vancouver: Raincoast Books, 2000.

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Vancouver: Raincoast Books, 2005.

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Vancouver: Raincoast Books, 2003.

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Vancouver: Raincoast Books, 1997.

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Vancouver: Raincoast Books, 1999.

Wannamaker, Annette. “Men in Cloaks and High-Heeled Boots, Men Wielding Pink Umbrellas: Witchy Masculinities in the Harry Potter Novels.” Boys in Children’s Literature and Popular Culture: Masculinity, Abjection, and the Fictional Child. New York: Routledge, 2008.

Westman, Karin E. ""The Weapon We Have Is Love"." Children's Literature Association Quarterly 33.2 (2008): 193-199. Project MUSE

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Tuesdays Together

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Tuesdays Together

My whole life, I’ve been an avid reader, and my whole life, I’ve wanted to be a writer. I attempted journalism school at 19 and failed miserably. I wasn’t motivated. I had no idea who I was. I had no ideals, no convictions, and only a little life experience. I called myself “The Writer Who Doesn’t Write.” At 26, after working clerical jobs for almost ten years, I went back to school and came out with an Honours degree in English literature. In that program, I woke up. I became an academic writer, a critic, an advocate, and part of a community I loved: a community that supported me and bolstered me and encouraged me. I got into grad school in Saskatoon, but due to being a 31 year old woman with a husband that also just graduated from university, and both of us being crippled with a mortgage and student debt, I permanently deferred. At that time, I fell into proposal writing for construction companies. I was good at it, I tried to make a career of it, but it wasn't fulfilling and my migraines made optics a continual issue and a major stressor for me.

When I was pregnant with Fitz and off early on maternity leave (those dreaded migraines again), we decided that instead of going back to proposal writing, I’d return to school to be an English teacher (instead of a professor as I’d originally planned). I longed for the sense of community I felt at MacEwan, I longed for the intellectual stimulation, the critical debate, the purpose. I wanted to impact people’s lives and I wanted to write. But then, after Fitz was born, we realized that we couldn’t afford to pay for school and pay for childcare, so I abandoned that dream as well. Amidst this ongoing struggle, probably three years ago, my mentor, Prof. Thompson, suggested I write about food. “You’re always talking about it,” he said, “Why not write about it?” That seed took a long time to grow roots, but eventually, after agonizing over a name and a concept, I started The Salty Almond. That was two years ago.

At first, it was simply a creative outlet for me. I’d gotten a lot of compliments on my food photos, I was always raving about the local food scene, and this was my chance to share that passion and to begin writing creatively. While the response had been overwhelmingly positive, I was still low in the page views/followers department. I had over 200 email subscribers and my most popular post had just fewer than 700 views. But I  made some small waves in the local food scene, forged some friendships, I guest posted and did recipe testing for Eat This Poem, and I have written almost daily for the first time in my life.

In August 2015, because I’m a food blogger, my former Yellow Pages editor, Sydnee Bryant,  approached me and asked if I’d write Smart Lists for them (e.g where to eat in YEG on a restricted diet, best places to get pie). I was stoked that someone wanted to pay me to do something I was pretty much already doing. In January 2016, after I had eased into motherhood and needed more of a creative challenge, I asked Sydnee if Yellow Pages had any other writing opportunities and she told me about the Neighbourhood Business Story project. My first story was on Hillaby’s Tools for Cooks. I was so nervous to interview the owner, Lynn Hillaby, but the interview was so interesting, so invigorating, so inspiring. I loved learning about Lynn and her life, her passions, her business. I left that interview wondering why I was so turned off journalism 16 years ago, because I love talking to people. Sydnee praised my first story, and has continually praised my writing and interviewing prowess since.

That same month, my newborn photographer, Kelly Marleau of Fiddle Leaf Photography, posted an invitation for creatives to join the Edmonton Tuesdays Together meetup of The Rising Tide Society that she was starting up. I had never heard of The Rising Tide Society, but wanting to find a way to make my blog more successful, I hopped on board. In February 2016, we had our first Tuesdays Together meeting. I was nervous about it. I felt like I didn’t really belong there. I wasn’t a business owner and I felt like an imposter. Even while I talked and shared my views and experiences, my body betrayed my anxiety, sweating up a storm, filled with self-doubt. But following the meeting Melissa and Carla asked for my business card, Lindsay proclaimed her love of my outspoken honesty, and I thought, “Maybe I do belong here.” As I drove home that night, I felt revived. I hadn’t realized it, but creatively and professionally I was like a small houseplant, tucked away in the shade and forgotten. I’d dried up; I was fading away, barely making it from one day to the next. My Tuesdays Together group is the water that animated me, the sun whose glow I now bask in. I’d found my community. I’d found my kin. I’d found my people, damn it. The next day, as a gesture to myself, a declaration of my own validity and worth, I added The Salty Almond and Freelance Writer to my Linked In profile and I updated my CV.

Jump ahead almost six months and I had written over 15 Neighbourhood Business Stories for members of Tuesdays Together, with still more scheduled in the next month. With each interview I’ve not only told their stories, but I’ve made genuine connections with them. I’ve forged friendships and I’ve made money doing it. As I wrote Kelly’s story, I felt, for the first time, like my writing was making a real, tangible difference. I was helping a woman I admired: a talented, beautiful, genuine, passionate woman who is compelled to tell people’s stories too – albeit visually – but just as honestly and with beauty and grace; a woman whose purpose in life is to show people that their lives are perfect in their imperfections, and that they are worthwhile; a woman who started this group in Edmonton, with the aim of lifting up other creatives, of supporting and caring and inspiring. Kelly will never know how much I appreciate her. Not only as this brilliant, talented photographer who has documented the most important days in my life and done it with authenticity, creativity, and empathy, but who has lifted me up and given me something I’ve craved desperately: belonging and self worth. And with every story I write, with every new connection I make, I try to tell stories that resonate, that truly illustrate who these people are and what compels them, what drives them to do what they do. I’ve never felt more fulfilled, more driven, more hopeful, or more motivated. I’ve never felt so bloody happy.

In June 2016, I was interviewed for a freelancing job with Social Lite Communications who found me on Linked In, and I owned that interview, I nailed it completely, and I left there with a sense of pride and hope and success that I have never felt before. Between that writing gig and the Yellow Pages gig, I had enough work to start my own business. And the work just keeps rolling in. Because of my blog and because of The Rising Tide Society, I am now a creative entrepreneur. I am not an imposter, I am a real writer, and I am successfully working doing something I am good at, something I love, and something that is giving me both freedom and fulfillment - something that I’d never even dared to dream of achieving.

This experience, this fear of being an imposter, a hesitancy to rightfully claim our careers as legit, this new feeling of belonging and being understood, isn’t just my experience, it’s happening to everyone in our Tuesdays Together group. In the first six months of its existence, our group has become a tightly knit, and yet wholly welcoming, group of people who genuinely care about each other, who applaud each other’s successes. We’re close but not cliquey, always eager to bring new entrepreneurs into our loving fold. Every member I’ve spoken to has been positively impacted by being a part of this group, whether it was a small piece of advice, a bit of brainstorming that made something click and come together, or whether it was a major “Aha!” moment triggered by an interaction with the group, we’ve all benefited by being in this remarkable community.

For example, while we were all nervous and apprehensive about pulling off a styled shoot, we beautifully collaborated together on a pineapple themed party and had a blast doing it. Watching everyone pitch ideas and unite our work was so satisfying: everyone brought a talent to the table, and we all celebrated our unique creativity in a photoshoot that truly reflected our family-oriented group. From that event, other collaborations between members were born, including my jumping on board with Lorraine Stephanyshyn of Lorraine Marie Fotography to create and publish two issues of Inspired, a local magazine for parents, and a partnership with Kelly Marleau of Fiddle Leaf Photography on Becoming, an explorative art project about mothers that we plan to publish in a book  – both endeavours creating something beautiful and purposeful for other moms. Plus I hired the talented Kendra Allen Design + Photography to brand my business and I've written for Emilie Iggiotti, Maven Brow and Beauty, Ruby Thursday Collective, Lindsay Mills PhotographyShe Cuts Vinyl, Hair by Faffs, and Wood and Co Creative.

Because so many of us have young families, we put our meetups on hiatus for the summers. But to give us a chance to get together, I planned a backyard pool party last year for everyone and their families. Being able to give back, even just a little, to the community that has markedly shaped and guided my new freelancing career was so amazing. Seeing Kelly’s daughters with perpetually sticky fingers sneaking donuts, and Shauna’s boys splashing around in the pool, and to see Mélanie, holding Melissa’s son the first time meeting all of us – all the smiles, all the laughter, all the fun – was such a gift. As time goes by, we become more of a unit, a stronger community. While we aren’t all parents, I often call our Tuesdays Together meetup my women's group: so many of us are women and moms who work from home, building our own careers.

Needless to say, Tuesdays Together is unlike any other professional group out there. We aren’t using each other to get ahead, we’re lifting each other up, we’re building real relationships, we’re connecting in real and meaningful ways, and all with such profound results. We are all benefiting, not only as businesses, but also as people, from being members of The Rising Tide Society, and I know I’m not the only one who is eternally grateful.

Originally published on The Rising Tide Society, updated and edited July 6, 2017. Banner image by Fiddle Leaf Photography.

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Poetry Roundup: Volume 1

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Poetry Roundup: Volume 1

In my early teen years, when I was obsessed to the point of torment with Kurt Cobain and Nirvana, I wrote poetry almost endlessly. I still have a hard back journal packed with teenage angst, yearning, and melodrama. But back then, the only poetry I consumed was lyrical. And I don't remember studying poetry until I was in the midst of my English degree, and even then, I never took a poetry class. Instead, poetry was only sometimes woven through the period classes I took: Milton and American Literature, Canadian Literature. Interestingly, I never thought of myself as a fan of poetry (I've always gravitated toward prose), but looking back, in nearly every class that included poetry, I almost always wrote an essay on it. Poetry is the epitome of conciseness. Of using a mere handful of words to evoke sentiment and imagery. It has the power to awaken us to injustice, to beauty, to our inner lives. 

As a frequent listener of Krista Tippet's podcast On Being, I've become almost dependent upon poetry; it's become my sanctuary, a path to inner stillness and awareness. Poetry allows me to access parts of myself that are far beneath the surface. And so, today, I offer you a brief collection of poems that bypasses my intellectual mind, traveling straight to my heart.

A BLESSING FOR A FRIEND ON THE ARRIVAL OF ILLNESS by JOHN O'DONOHUE

Now is the time of dark invitation
beyond a frontier that you did not expect.
Abruptly your old life seems distant.
You barely noticed how each day opened
a path through fields never questioned
yet expected deep down to hold treasure.

Now your time on earth becomes full of threat.
Before your eyes your future shrinks.
You lived absorbed in the day to day so continuous
with everything around you that you could forget
you were separate.

Now this dark companion has come between you.
Distances have opened in your eyes.
You feel that against your will
A stranger has married your heart. 
Nothing before has made you feel so isolated
and lost.

When the reverberations of shock subside in you,
may grace come to restore you to balance.
May it shape a new space in your heart
to embrace this illness as a teacher
who has come to open your life to new worlds.
May you find in yourself a courageous hospitality
towards what is difficult, painful and unknown.

May you use this illness as a lantern
to illuminate the new qualities that will emerge in you.
May your fragile harvesting of this slow light help you
release whatever has become false in you.
May you trust this light to clear a path
through all the fog of old unease and anxiety
until you feel a rising within you,
a tranquility profound enough to call the storm to stillness.

May you find the wisdom to listen to your illness, 
ask it why it came,
why it chose your friendship,
where it wants to take you,
what it wants you to know,
what quality of space it wants to create in you,
what you need to learn to become more fully yourself,
that your presence may shine in the world.

May you keep faith with your body,
learning to see it as a holy sanctuary
which can bring this night wound
gradually towards the healing and freedom of dawn.

 

I first heard this John O'Donohue poem on and episode of On Being called "The Inner Landscape of Beauty" (if you'd like to listen to O'Donohue read it in his beautiful, Irish lilt, you can listen here). A captivating man, O'Donohue was a poet, philosopher, and priest who passed away in 2008. He often wrote about finding gifts in darkness (grief and illness), and this poem is nothing if not empathetic, it made me weep. Someone very close to me has recently been diagnosed with an incurable illness and I often find myself wondering why something so painful and awful had to happen to someone so good and kind. When I think about this person, I often find myself choking on my sobs, the tears forming rivulets down my cheeks. I am completely taken aback by my own inability to cope with an illness that isn't mine. In 2004, I broke my neck in a car crash and I remember my friends and family crying and struggling with my injury - I was often comforting them in the midst of my own struggle. While soothing and reassuring them was second-nature to me, I remember my confusion over it: this wasn't happening to them, how could they possibly be so emotionally wrecked by it? But now I understand. I sent this poem to my loved one in hopes that it would be salve, that it would guide and comfort, because it's helped me to re-frame it in my mind, to change my attitude about the impact of illness, and to soothe my wounded soul.

WIDENING CIRCLES by RAINER MARIA RILKE

translation by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows

I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one
but I give myself to it.

I circle around God, around the primordial tower.
I’ve been circling for thousands of years
and I still don’t know: am I a falcon,
a storm, or a great song?

Book of Hours, I 2

Rainer Maria Rilke was a late 19th/early 20th century German poet and novelist lauded for his lyricism, imagery, and existentialism. I first heard this poem on an episode of On Being called "A Wild Love for the World". In this episode, Tippet interviews Rilke translator and ecologist Joanna Macy (who is utterly fascinating) and to listen to her reading it is utter transcendence. "Widening Circles" speaks to my own confused relationship with God and spirituality, which I'll be writing about soon, but it also reminded me of my favourite book series, The Dark Tower by Stephen King. I don't want to give away why it makes me think of The Dark Tower (but maybe other fans can attest to this sentiment) as I wouldn't want to ruin the series for anyone, but I will tell you that the story revolves around a tower that is basically the centre of the universe, the place where all worlds and realities meet, and the gunslinger has been seeking it for a very long time. I like the idea of circling around God, about not knowing what we are, about the endless, spiritual search, the yearning at the heart of the human experience. I think I've always had an introspective nature, a longing for answers, an eternal questioning, that's been surfacing more and more since I became a mother.

FROM "THE HURTING" IN MILK AND HONEY by RUPI KAUR

you tell me to quiet down cause
my opinions make me less beautiful
but i was not made with a fire in my belly
so i could be put out
i was not made with a lightness on my tongue
i was made heavy
half blade and half silk
difficult to forget and not easy
for the mind to follow

I bought Milk and Honey on a curious impulse. After listening to so many episodes of On Being that included poetry, I was suddenly hooked and longing for more. Craving a distinctly feminine, Canadian experience of poetry, I found Rupi Kaur. An Indo-Canadian, Kaur was born in Punjab and many of her poems speak to her experience as a woman of colour born in one country and raised in another. And yet, I find her poetry (much like Carrie Fisher's book) pulls at my twenty-something heart strings. Her brutal honesty, her vivid imagery, and her emotional poignancy mirror my own experiences so choosing just one to share was quite a challenge. I chose this one in the first quarter of the book called "The Hurting" because it reminded me of a handful of boyfriends I've had who seemed to love my femininity (the stereotypical stuff - you know, typical girlishness) but loathe my actual personality, my passion. One ex-boyfriend loved my delicate calves in a skirt, the nape of my neck, my dainty hands, and my forehead hidden beneath bangs, but he was pretty vocal in his distaste for my loud laugh, my strong opinions, and my stubborn independence (needless to say, that relationship did not last). I've always been quite the talker, eager to engage in discussions, debates, and disagreements, ruthlessly defending my stance. Vulnerability is my default setting; I've always been an unabashed sharer believing that our journeys, however complicated or ugly, have guided us to this moment. As a woman, I've often struggled to squeeze myself out from under a man's thumb (be he family, friend, or foe) and, as a result, I've sought male companions who value my voice, my opinions, and the heaviness of my tongue. I think every man should read Milk and Honey since it gives an honest, raw glimpse into life as a woman in the Western world. And while not every poem speaks to my personal experience, every poem hits an intense note. Kaur is audacious in her unwavering dedication to the truth and she will not be shamed.

WHAT POETRY AM I READING RIGHT NOW?

In the next volume of Poetry Roundup, I'll be sharing some work from Reyna Biddy, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and Marie Howe. 

Share your favourite poems in the comments!

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Recently Read

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Recently Read

Back in 2014, my friend Falynn (of Outinon) and I started a book club called Re(a)d Wine Only. We originally met once a month and rotated between hosting at her place and hosting at mine. At our meetings both Falynn and I flexed our foodie muscles by preparing glorious, abundant spreads of appetizers and desserts and our guests all brought a bottle of wine each. Back then, we were living lives of luxury (your definition of luxury changes once you have kids), and we reveled in our shared love of good food, good wine, good friends, and good books. Sadly, our momentum slowed down considerably between our soaring ambitions and the arrival of motherhood (our kids are about a year apart). Between running a freelance business full time and working on Becoming, I was finding it hard to cook a nice meal for my family let alone run book club (never mind hosting it) and Falynn was juggling twin babies, so we changed the frequency to bimonthly and eventually passed the book, so-to-speak, to our friends Andrea and Kimberly, who do a beautiful job running and hosting it.

But now that my son is nearly two, and I've carved out a little more "me time" (reading), I'm devouring books like I gobbled up Frickin' Delights Donuts during pregnancy. And since I spend far too much time alone and not nearly enough time thinking about the books I'm reading, I've created this feature, Recently Read, a book club of sorts. In these posts, I'll give you the scoop on what I'm reading and what I think about what I'm reading with an invitation to share your thoughts, and a final note on what books are in the queue.

THE PRINCESS DIARIST by CARRIE FISHER

First up, is The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher. I may be a science fiction/supernatural junkie (think Battlestar Galactica, Buffy, Orphan Black, The Leftovers, Arrival), but I've never been a Star Wars fan; so for me, Carrie Fisher is the writer of Postcards from the Edge, which I read (and loved) in high school, and Meg Ryan's best friend in When Harry Met Sally. I mean, of course I'd heard of Princess Leia, there isn't a kid from the 80s who hasn't heard of her, but the first time I saw a Star Wars film, I was in high school. I saw Empire Strikes Back during it's re-release in the late 1990s and I wasn't into it (probably didn't help that I'd missed the first film). With that said, The Princess Diarist isn't a book I would've chosen to read on my own - but that's one of the great things about book clubs, they inevitably force you out of your comfort zone. In book club, we rate books on scale of one to 10 and this one landed a pretty solid 7/10 from all of us.

The Princess Diarist

A memoir (sort of) the book opens with an overview of events that marked 1976, the year Star Wars was made: from the founding of Apple Computers to Anne Rice publishing Interview with a Vampire, from the first Ebola outbreak in Africa to the formation of U2, and from America's bicentennial to the birth of Ryan Reynolds, Benedict Cumberbatch, Rashida Jones, and Ja Rule. Having set the stage, Fisher dives into a recollection of her life on the cusp of becoming the ubiquitous, immortal Princess Leia with affection and self-consciousness. There's an overarching sadness and self-deprecation to Fisher's tone as she reflects upon the insecurities and anxieties of her 19 year old self, but her approach is honest and compassionate. It's ridiculous, but I was struck by Fisher's humanity and her complexity on the cusp of her venture into omnipresent notoriety. Having read Postcards from the Edge, I knew of her struggles with addiction, but I suppose it never really struck me how young she was when fame blew her up and slammed her down. We expect so much of celebrities, especially of legends. We assume that because they are famous and desired and everywhere, that they are confident and unbreakable, when they are obviously as fallible and fragile as anyone else (and I think this applies to women in particular). One need only look at so many celebrities' struggles with depression and addiction to understand both the drawbacks of fame and their humanity (e.g. Christina Ricci, Winona Ryder, Demi Lovato). 

Once Fisher settles into her narrative, the reading quickens, especially when she begins the "Carrison" chapter which gave me flashbacks to my tumultuous twenties and my pitiable efforts to be desirable, to earn the affection and admiration of men (and I wasn't always discerning about which ones). While I typically look back upon those days with a mix of scorn and embarrassment - days when I flailed aimlessly about self-destructively, desperately seeking someone to love me, to rescue me from the grips of PTSD (I broke my neck in a car wreck when I was 22) - Fisher's tenderness toward her younger, inexperienced and troubled self invites me to be kinder to the sad, young woman I used to be.

The way she describes Ford, as intimidating, stoic, unattainable, and even a bit boring, made me chuckle with knowing. I knew those guys, the ones whose silence made me squirm, made me self-conscious, made me feel like it was my job to entertain them. I remember never quite knowing where I stood, what they thought, or how well I succeeded in donning the manic, pixie, dream girl persona while inside I churned with self-loathing and rampant insecurity. I overshared and overacted in a lonely, misguided attempt to be wanted, to be loved, and my own foolish bravado and intensity held their interest only momentarily before they grew tired of me, though they often came back for a taste when it suited them. Fisher was much the same way. In one of her diary excerpts she says, "I am closer to who I want to be when I am alone lately. With people, I hear my voice and I just wonder who or what I'm doing all this for. Spreading myself out in front of people. Devaluing my ostensible worth by being so readily available to almost any random pedestrian who wanders into the crosswalk of my focus. If someone is within earshot I shoot off at the mouth."

Like Fisher, I feigned fearlessness and self-possession, when inside I withered with an insatiable and unfathomable desire to be wanted. I acted like I didn't care when I did and I acted in love when I wasn't. Reading Fisher's diaries and poems was like reading my own thoughts in the midst of my destructive behaviour; my internal dialogue was as useless and self-defeating as hers: "I would like to not be able to hear myself think. I constantly hear my mind chattering and jabbering away up there all by itself. I wish it would give me a fucking break." The foray into her three month, deeply intense, and utterly consuming affair with Ford ends with a poem, one that summarizes that same stage in my life and nearly knocked the wind out of me: "Of course I'm playing a losing hand / A hand on which I invite you to tread / If only I could love someone / But I've chosen to love / Anyone / Instead."

After this, Fisher reflects on the affair and gives some insight into why actors on location for long stints tend to cheat on their partners: the world they enter is immersive and lonely. And while Fisher claims the story is only interesting because it involves two people who became incredibly famous, for me, it's so much more than voyeuristic because it's honest, it's raw, it's unapologetic, and because she remembers it not with a fondness, but with a distinct sense of sorrow and sympathy for who she once was and what she went through. However brief, the affair - or her choices, rather - left her with scars.

What remains of the book is a love/hate glimpse into the world of fandoms, the intimacy fans both bestow upon and expect from their beloved heroes, and the cheapness she felt relying on fan expos for money. It's both tragic and privileged actually, and I suspect if her circumstances were different, her relationship with Princess Leia fans would be too. Although I felt sickened by the sense of ownership some fans (particularly men) claim of her. I'm a huge fan of Buffy, which has a cult following too, but I understand that there's a distinct difference between the characters and the people playing them. Every stalkery, dodgy fan story I hear where people speak to the actors as though they are actually the characters (and there are lot of these stories), stuns me. I just can't wrap my head around that, and I'd never want that kind of fame.

All in all, I liked this book. I like Fisher. She was a brilliant, hilarious, intense, and deeply complex woman who should really be celebrated for her wit, her talent, and her honesty more than for playing Princess Leia. And I think that's sort of what this book is about.

AMERICAN GODS by NEIL GAIMAN

American Gods

I'm a compulsive book collector. It's unbelievably difficult for me to leave a bookstore empty handed. Even when I go into Chapters for Moleskines for my clients or diapers for Fitz (they are one of the few places that carry Honest Company's diapers), I take the time to wander through the stacks, the features, and the sale sections. Sometimes I leave with a steal of a deal (I got some good books for as little as $2 not long ago), sometimes a decent deal, and sometimes no deal at all. Since I'm a big Stephen King fan (his books are my comfort food), I always check out the two for $15 shelves to see if there are any on sale that I don't have yet. On one such exploration, I came across American Gods by Neil Gaiman, a book I bought my dad for Christmas a few years ago. I vaguely recall him telling me about Bilquis (I'll spare you her story) and that he both liked it and didn't like, but with the new show coming out, my interest was piqued.

The version I picked up is hefty, a 750 page updated and expanded text. Dubbed "a modern masterpiece," this award winning fantasy/supernatural novel tells the story of Shadow Moon, an ex-con and recent widower who is pulled into a dark and mysterious world by Mr. Wednesday, a cryptic, shifty, and distinctly untrustworthy fellow who wants Shadow to work for him. Woven throughout Shadow's narrative are interludes that venture into the midst of gods in the past and the present, who are now struggling to compete with the new gods (media and technology). The story follows Shadow and it's not first person, so it's hard to figure out why exactly Shadow is loyal to Wednesday and what's driving him throughout the story. I found myself wishing it were first person so that I could at least be privy to his thoughts rather than the mere crumbs the narrator feeds its readers. 

Shadow's journey is full of violence, mystery, intrigue, and even connection, but I finished the novel feeling somewhat disappointed. While I like that the mysteries remain relatively unexplained, and I found the story mostly compelling (there were lulls for me on this journey), I don't feel I really knew or understood any of the characters. I'm used to King, whose character development is unrivaled (his endings are often weak but the journey and the characters are unforgettable - I remember almost every character from every book rather distinctly), so perhaps I'm harsh in my judgement. Soon after finishing the book, Craig and I began watching the Starz adaptation, which is doing a stellar job of developing both Shadow and the other characters more fully. The show's creator, Bryan Fuller also did Hannibal, and he's an expert at creating a dark, macabre ambiance. The colours are deep, rich, and heavily saturated, the music resonates with every scene, creating anticipation and anxiety. The humour is dark and abundant. The show is making me like the book more, it's helping me to see the book's strengths and its beauty. With books like this one, I long to debate and discuss the themes, the plot, the characters in an English class where the opinions of others both enlighten and infuriate me, where the history and allusions become clear, and where the overall impact becomes more apparent. Ultimately, this is a book that has sat with me in the last month since finishing it, and it will continue to marinate over time as I process, consider, and revisit it. Overall, I'd give it an 8/10.

THE GIFTS OF IMPERFECTION by BRENE BROWN

The Gifts of Imperfection

As you can see, my reading isn't limited to any one genre. I'm a bit of a polymath, I like to know a little about a lot. When I began writing daily, I was turned on to the work of Elizabeth Gilbert and Krista Tippet, namely their podcasts but also their books. In listening to On Being with Krista Tippet and Magic Lessons with Elizabeth Gilbert, I was introduced to Brene Brown, a social worker and researcher in the realm of shame and vulnerability. One of my dear friends, Alysha, is a social worker and a loyal fan of Brown's (she's been a fan since the very beginning) so once my interest was piqued, I asked to borrow one of her books. Alysha recommended I start with The Gifts of Imperfection which is a book about abandoning damaging ideas about how we should be and embracing who we actually are, what Brown calls "Wholehearted Living." She describes this as a process, "a path of consciousness and choice."

Brown calls for us to stop trying to fit in and to see our own worthiness - that this is the way toward true connection and belonging. We need to abandon shame and share our stories: through vulnerability, "cultivate the courage to be imperfect, to set boundaries." Brown's research reveals the pitfalls of pursuing perfection and the damage we do when we seek to numb our pain. Her journey to wholehearted living touts exercising self-compassion and cultivating resilience, gratitude, joy, intuition, rest, play, creativity, calm, stillness, laughter, song, dance, and meaningful work. Listing it off like this makes it sounds sort of hokey, but the research, the evidence, supports all of her assertions. More than anything, this book seems to be about the disease of being busy  and how shame and perfection impede our ability to fully appreciate, recognize, and realize our lives. The Gifts of Imperfection is a quick read, it's not long, and it's well-written, an easy read, really, but it's incredibly impactful. I already feel like a re-read is in order to sink her words in a little deeper, to tattoo them into my memory so that i can go back to and reflect upon them regularly. At its core, this book uncovers what's really stopping us from being happy: ourselves. I loved it so a definite 9/10.

Have you ready any of these books? Share your thoughts in the comments.

WHAT AM I READING RIGHT NOW?

The next installment of Recently Read will feature Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living by Krista Tippet, Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi, The Appetites of Girls by Pamela Moses, and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.

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Relentless Songbirds

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Relentless Songbirds

Today, I'm reminiscing about my days as an Honours English student at MacEwan University. While most may think missing essay writing is completely bonkers, I always felt such a profound sense of accomplishment and productivity after spending hours writing an essay - pride knowing that I nailed it with my argument and my style (although a friend once told me my essays were too poetic for academia). I worry, now, that I don't spend enough time critically analyzing and assessing what I read - be it poetry, prose, or non-fiction - and I fear that I've lost my touch, so I'm beginning to read with a pencil in hand, underlining and making notes in the margins. At any rate, today I offer you some poetry and a stylistic comparison of these two poems, "Hope is the Thing with Feathers" by Emily Dickinson and "Bluebird" by Charles Bukowski. It's been six years since I wrote this essay, but I still think it's quite lovely, especially since I adore these two poems. (Note: The slashes indicate a line break).


.Hope is the thing with feathers / That perches in the soul, / And sings the tune without the words, And never stops at all, /And sweetest in the gale is heard; / And sore must be the storm / That could abash the little bird / That kept so many warm. /I've heard it in the chillest land, / And on the strangest sea; / Yet, never, in extremity, / It asked a crumb of me. - Emily Dickinson


"The bluebird"

there’s a bluebird in my heart that / wants to get out / but I’m too tough for him, / I say, stay in there, I’m not going / to let anybody see / you.

there’s a bluebird in my heart that / wants to get out / but I pour whiskey on him and inhale / cigarette smoke / and the whores and the bartenders /and the grocery clerks / never know that / he’s / in there.

there’s a bluebird in my heart that / wants to get out / but I’m too tough for him, / I say, / stay down, do you want to mess / me up? / you want to screw up the / works? / you want to blow my books sales in / Europe?

there’s a bluebird in my heart that / wants to get out / but I’m too clever, I only let him out / at night sometimes / when everybody’s asleep. / I say, I know that you’re there, / so don’t be sad.

then I put him back, / but he’s singing a little / in there, I haven’t quite let him / die / and we sleep together like / that / with our / secret pact / and it’s nice enough to / make a man / weep, but I don’t / weep, do / you?         - Charles Bukowski


Birds are part of a long tradition of literary symbolism, as demonstrated by Emily Dickinson and Charles Bukowski, vastly different American poets from different literary periods, who employ birds metaphorically in their poems, “Hope is the Thing with Feathers” and “The Bluebird,” respectively. Dickinson is a 19th century poet known for the prolific volume of poems she wrote, as well as her obscure lyrical style and penchant for introspective and dark themes. Also known for dark themes, Bukowski is a 20th century poet and writer known for his alcoholism, womanizing, and bitterness. While their approaches, tones, and overall styles differ immensely, both Dickinson and Bukowski employ songbirds to ultimately assert the same theme: the relentless perseverance of hope.  Through a stylistic analysis and comparison of Dickinson and Bukowski’s poems that explores each poet’s use of diction, style, and overall tone, the similarity in depth of meaning between the two poems is revealed.

Dickinson’s poem is short, with only three stanzas. The first two construct a metaphorical image of hope, narrated in what appears to be third person unpersonified:

            Hope is the thing with feathers

            That perches in the soul,

            And sings the tune without the words,

            And never stops at all,

            And sweetest in the gale is heard;

            And sore must be the storm

            That could abash the little bird

            That kept so many warm. (1-8)

She begins her poem with evocation: “a thing with feathers” (1) that “perches” (2) and “sings the tune without the words” (3). Dickinson cleverly selects words that are automatically associated with birds in order to indirectly conjure up the image of a bird. Before she even uses the word “bird,” Dickinson has already created a sympathetic personification of hope as being fragile and precious, but also eternal because it “never stops at all” (4). The idea of a “little bird” (7) perched and singing suggests vulnerability, especially when juxtaposed with a “gale” (5) and a “storm” (6), both of which are fierce and destructive: strong words in which to frame a “little bird.” Dickinson presents this bird, hope, as being treasured through the use of words like “sweetness” (5), to refer to its song, and the phrase “that kept so many warm” (8), to refer to its nature. Furthermore, her diction reveals the eternalness of the bird because it “sings the tune without the words,/ And never stops at all/ And sweetest in the gale is heard” (3-5), demonstrating the bird’s perseverance against all forces, even the wind. Interestingly, Dickinson’s tone begins melodically, seemingly light, until the second stanza, when she introduces the storm: “And sore must be the storm/ That could abash the little bird” (6 -7). Her use of the word “sore” implies anger and offense, which is further illustrated in its juxtaposition with “abash” which connotes shame and disconcertment; Dickinson asserts that only a severe and vehement force could quiet the sweet and delicate bird, changing the tone from light to dark.

The last stanza introduces a change in narrative voice through the introduction of first person, making the subject of hope suddenly personal:

                        I’ve heard it in the chillest land,

                        And on the strangest sea;

                        Yet, never, in extremity,

                        It asked a crumb of me. (9-12)

Again, her word choice constructs a powerful image of hope’s far-reaching song, expanding from being eternal, to being perseverant, almost relentless. Not only does hope continue to sing, to exist, in powerful winds and storms, but “in the chillest land” (9) and “on the strangest sea” (10). The utter relentlessness of hope is most strongly displayed in the last two lines in which hope continues to give its song against extreme adversity, without seeking recompense: “Yet, never, in extremity,/ It asked a crumb of me” (11-12). Dickinson holds to the bird metaphor in the last line with “crumb,” a word that evokes a sense of desperation (reaching for crumbs, begging for scraps), which, even under the direst of circumstances, hope does not require. Essentially, Dickinson’s short, concise and melodic style is laden with poignant imagery that undeniably asserts the continuous persistence of the human capacity to hope.

In contrast, Charles Bukowski’s poem, “The Bluebird,” has a personified first person narrative, which instills it instantly with intimacy, whereas Dickinson’s narration gradually becomes personal. Also, Bukowski’s poem is long, with five stanzas and an abundance of repetition: the first four stanzas begin with “there’s a bluebird in my heart that/wants to get out/but” (1-3). Moreover, he immediately introduces the bluebird, in both the title and the first line, which is also a songbird similarly encased in a human cage of sorts: ensconced in the “heart” whereas Dickson’s is “perche[d] in the soul” (2). Bukowski’s use of repetition parallels the bird’s desire to escape, in effect, revealing its persistence from the start. So, unlike Dickinson, who builds up to the songbird and its relentless charity, Bukowski’s approach kicks off with that relentlessness, setting the bluebird up as the narrator’s prisoner because it wants out, but the narrator is “too tough” (3, 18) and “too clever” (28) for him. He “pour[s] whiskey on [the bluebird] and inhale[s]/ cigarette smoke” (9-10), suffocating it, trapping it. The repetition itself also demonstrates the narrator’s repeated suppression of the bluebird, which could be interpreted as hope because the narrator relies on hopelessness to get by and to be successful:

                        I say,

                        stay down, do you want to mess

                        me up?

                        you want to screw up the

                        works?

                        you want to blow my books sales in

                        Europe? (19-25)

By keeping the bluebird a secret, “stay in there, I’m not going/ to let anybody see/you” (4-6), Bukowski presents its revelation as catastrophic, hazardous, to a narrator who copes with his life through alcohol, cigarettes and meaningless sex (9-11). Allowing hope to infiltrate his “tough” and calloused exterior would mean the destruction of his sense of self, the image he presents to the world and to himself (19-25). Like Dickinson, Bukowski’s diction is the tool he uses to construct this image of a hardened man suppressing his sense of hope. Harsh, clipped words with debase connotations like “tough,” (3, 18) “whores,”(11) “screw” (22) and “blow” (24), aid Bukowski in creating such a powerful image. Bukowski’s narrator is the sore storm that abashes the bluebird, that aims to quell hope, as Dickinson’s poem illustrates. Nevertheless, the narrator does not completely neglect his imprisoned hope. He releases it from captivity “at night sometimes/when everybody’s asleep” (29-30), reassuring it, nurturing it, by saying, “I know that you’re there,/so don’t be/ sad” (31-33). By soothing the bluebird, by letting it out, the narrator encourages it to keep trying, to remain persistent, to persevere. Again, his word choice produces intimacy; the language is simple and direct without fancy adjectives or big words, it lacks pretense or pretension: it tries to be honest. In the last stanza, Bukowski’s narrator exposes his own vulnerability, his reliance on the tenacious bluebird, but quickly regains his fierce façade:

                        Then I put him back,

                        But he’s singing a little

                        In there, I haven’t quite let him

                        Die

                        And we sleep together like

                        That

                        With our

                        Secret pact

                        And it’s nice enough to

                        Make a man

                        Weep, but I don’t

                        Weep, do

                        You? (34-46)

The bluebird’s resilience and the narrator’s reliance on it are shown through the bird’s lingering song and the narrator’s admission, “I haven’t quite let him/die” (36-37), a phrase that indicates the narrator’s reluctance to let go of the bird completely. Furthermore, the admission, “and we sleep together like/that/with our/secret pact” (38-41), betrays the narrator’s intimate relationship and “secret” reliance on the bluebird, on maintaining some crumb of hope. Again, the simple rawness of the words gives them power and poignancy, making Bukowski’s tone one of sadness, and his theme the utter tenacity of hope in the face of utter hopelessness. Like Dickinson, then, Bukowski insists upon the human inclination to garner hope, and how even a crumb of hope remains relentless.

Ultimately, both Dickinson and Bukowski succeed in creating metaphors of hope, using birds symbolically to display its contradicting qualities of fragility and tenacity. While their diction, style, tones, and approach differ immensely, both poets accurately and poignantly achieve the same effect, the same theme, the same end: hope is eternal.
                                                           

 

Works Cited

Bukowski, Charles. “The Bluebird.” Last Night of the Earth Poems. New York, NY: Ecco/Harper Collins, 2002. 120-121. Print.

Dickinson, Emily. “Hope is the Thing with Feathers (254).” Academy of American Poets, 2011. Web. <http://www.poets.org/printmedia.php/prmMediaID/19729>

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Tangible Childhood

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Tangible Childhood

Light blue, curious eyes glance up at me from the kids’ watch display at the Swatch store, checking to see if I’m seeing what he’s seeing. Utterly enthralled by not just the colours and shapes, but also the way the watches are attached to the wall, Fitz is so engaged that I just let him play there for 10 minutes. We go to West Edmonton Mall to get out of the house in the cold, winter months so that Fitz can explore – and West Ed offers a wealth of stimulation for a toddler, never mind for older kids. From the rows upon rows of books at Chapters where toys are set up for kids to play, to the pirate ship and the steering wheel boat game; from the rides at Galaxy Land to the endless places to run and roam, Fitz has a blast whenever we go. At 18 months old, the world is fresh, thrilling, wholly intoxicating.

From books to backscratchers, toilet paper rolls to toothbrushes, Fitz examines and experiments with (what seems to me) the most mundane objects, things I wouldn’t even give a first glance, let alone a second one. But I’m desensitized to the colours, sounds, textures, smells, and tastes of everyday life. While I’ve lost that sense of awe and wonder and that fervent desire to investigate constantly, Fitz is enamoured with life – and I don’t want him to lose that. As new parents to an only child (we’re one and done), Craig and I are endlessly entertained by Fitz’s curiosity. So much so, that we spend less time on our phones than we used to and more time watching our kid trying to vacuum, climbing his highchair to reach the light switch, using a wooden backscratcher as a golf club, and opening the spatula drawer to extract whisks, potato mashers, and turkey basters. Fitz is forever running, climbing, squirming, dancing, crawling, and wiggling, all while testing us and his environment.

I look at my son and I desperately don’t want him to spend his life in front of a TV, iPhone, or tablet. I want him to engage with the world around him, to always see the potential in the mundane. I want to nurture his imagination, and I want curiosity to be an inherent part of his being – which is why I let him touch everything, look at everything, and play with anything. It’s also why Craig and I work so hard to afford daycare. In the whole scheme of what your life is “supposed” to look like in your mid-thirties, we worry that we come up short. We live in an old, unrenovated house, we drive old cars, and because of student debt, our budget is strict (we don’t have much in the way of discretionary spending). Plus, I work from home and barely make more than what EI paid me while I was on maternity leave, so choosing to put Fitz in daycare was a conscious choice to provide him with an environment that we can’t always give him at home – especially the interaction with other kids.

When Fitz was two months old, I toyed with the idea of becoming a stay at home mom, but as he grew, I realized I’m just not stay at home mom material. If I’m completely honest, I like to sleep in, I don’t play with my son for very long, I don’t go for walks, I don’t elaborately plan fun activities for him to do at home, and in the winter, we never play outside. On weekends, we spend one day lounging around the house (he plays while I read or watch TV) and one day where we go out and run errands or visit friends. I think I’m a fun mom, I’m spontaneous and I like to be silly and dance and entertain, but I don’t do it all day long. I don’t know how stay at home moms do it all, full time momming is exhausting! It’s a lot of work to be with your kids 24/7. I have infinite respect for those that do it, but I know my limitations so even though I work from home, Fitz goes to daycare. Mind you, if he were at home with me working, I’d never get anything done and I’d be exhausted trying to teach him everything he learns at daycare. I’m sure I could manage it, so many amazing moms do, but I don’t want to (and sometimes I worry that it makes me a terrible mother).

Because we voraciously read Brain Rules for Baby, Zero to Five, and Bringing Up Bebe, our parenting goals are steep and we knew that to achieve those goals, we’d need help. All of these books emphasize limited screen time, play-focused learning, empathy, and friendship. Between our disinterest in being Fitz’s playmates and the fact that we aren’t giving Fitz any siblings, we chose a daycare that shares our values. At daycare, there are no TVs or computers – no electronic gadgets to play with. Instead, there are endless toys to explore: babies and blocks, light tables and sensory bins, and books, books, books. Every day, the kids play outside (morning and afternoon), where they jump in puddles, fall in the snow, roll around in the leaves, or play in the mud kitchen. Inside, their teachers engage them in play-based learning that enhances their skill development and introduces them to new ideas and concepts. Not only does my son get to play all day, but he also learns healthy habits and socialization: how to play well with other children, how to sit nicely at a table and eat lunch, how to brush his teeth, how to wash his hands, how to use the toilet, how to dress himself, and how to feed himself like a grown up. Since these habits are established and encouraged at daycare where it’s their job to be patient and consistent, we just have to support them at home. Daycare teaches Fitz everything that I don’t want to, which makes my job easier. For example, I’m terrified of potty training, so I’m grateful that daycare does this and will tell us what to do! The skills and development alone are worth the money, but ultimately, for me and Craig, daycare makes us better parents.

Whenever I start to feel that old mom guilt creeping in (which is often when other moms shame me for “letting someone else raise my kid”), I remind myself that we want an independent child who has his own life. Brain Rules for Baby says that the most important element in ensuring that children are happy is friendship. By putting Fitz in daycare, we’ve given him that: he has friends, he has confidence, and he has a daily environment that is ripe for learning. If he were home with me all day while I work on a computer, neither Fitz nor my work would be getting a fair deal. At daycare, he spends his days with people who adore him, people who share our values of empathy, community, imagination, and gender equality (socializing boys and girls the same way) and I get to focus on growing my business and pursuing my passion. I’m sure I could attempt to do both with him at home, but I don’t want to. I like having the time to myself and Fitz loves being at daycare, so it’s a win-win. He’s a better kid for it and I’m a better mom for it.

Like any mom, I want to feel good about my choices and I want to make the best decisions for my family – every family is different, every mom is different, and every child is different – what works for us might not work for another family and that’s okay. For me, I love that I have time to miss my son, it forces me to be more present when we’re together. That doesn’t mean that I am constantly engaging with him or playing with him –  we’re firm believers that a child should know how to be bored, how to entertain himself – but I’m always present for him, aware of him, sneaking peeks at him while he plays and explores our home.

As spring begins melting the snow and the sun starts warming our faces once again, Craig and I eagerly anticipate the summer. We cannot wait to show him the world, to fill his days with new experiences, to build our collection of family memories. Things that were boring, everyday activities before we had Fitz are suddenly magical now that he’s a toddler, and we’re eager spend our summer outside exploring, swimming, running, biking, and playing. When we think about what we want to give Fitz, it’s always experiences; we want to give him something real, we want him to engage with life, to experience a tangible childhood.

To us, this also means protecting Fitz from excessive demands on his time and freedom – right now, we’re planning to put him in only one extracurricular activity at a time because we want him to just be a kid, because we don’t want to spend our evenings driving him around (selfish, I know), and because we want to save our money for family vacations. Tangible childhood is a movement that emphasizes preserving childhood, allowing children the space and time to discover the world for themselves, to engage with their surroundings joyfully, to grow and learn and develop without the hindrances of strict scheduling or technology. Because I grew up without much money (I never had the brand name clothes and didn’t have dance classes or soccer teams to play on), there’s a part of me that wants to give him everything, but there’s also part of me that sees how spending so much time inventing games and playing outside was great for my creativity and imagination growing up.   

We’re not the kind of people who want to “Keep up with the Joneses,” so as a family, we focus on activities and making memories, not buying Fitz the latest toy or gadget. We’re troubled by how often we see kids engrossed in technology, sitting in one spot for hours staring at screens and seeking constant stimulation, we don’t want that for our kid. Mostly, as parents, Craig and I want Fitz to value experiences, not things, we want him to hold on to his innocent wonder and reverence for the world as long as possible, so we’ve made choices and sacrifices to support that goal. We’re not always successful, but we try and that’s the best any parent can do.

First published in the Spring 2017 Toddler issue of Inspired

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Write Where You Are

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Write Where You Are

As I mentioned in my last post, On Fear and Creativity, my journey towards freelance writing began with my Literary City Guide for Eat This Poem and the corresponding start of The Salty Almond in June 2015. Since then, I've developed an online friendship with the lovely writer, Nicole Gulotta, who invited me to beta test her online writing course, Write Where You Are this summer. I was flattered to be invited, and even though I was busier than I've ever been between looking after Fitz and trying to start up my freelance writing business, I was curious to see what she'd created and how it might help me. 

Write Where You Are is not just a course, but a community, and Nicole has designed it to be both supportive and immersive, a guide towards creating a sustainable writing practice. I knew this, but what I didn't know was how empowering this course would be, or how deeply it would impact me emotionally. For me, the first module alone was worth investing in this course. As I worked through the video and the worksheets, I found myself crying as realizations washed over me: 1) I'd been subscribing to this myth that I had to write fiction to be a writer; 2) Even though for years I'd called myself "The Writer Who Doesn't Write" I was writing! I've always processed my emotions through writing (whether journalling, writing eulogies, poetry, speeches, blog posts, or even academic essays); and, 3) My parents, each in their own way, have been on the sidelines supporting me and encouraging me all my life (somehow without me really noticing until now - which made me cry happy tears).

After processing all my emotions from that first module, I did the remaining three modules which helped me discover that creative non-fiction is my genre, that I want to write a memoir, and that I need to create a creative space for myself (both mentally and physically). Write Where You Are gave me the tools I needed to build a workable schedule for taking care of paid writing commitments and nurturing my creativity through personal projects.

Since doing the course, I wrote an essay that I submitted for publication (still waiting for that rejection letter) and I started on two new collaborative projects: Inspired, a motherhood magazine for Edmontonians (I am the editor, page designer, and a contributor) and Becoming, a collection of essays about mothers paired with intimate portraits of them. So since finishing the course, I've completely immersed myself in writing and it's remarkably freeing and satisfying, like I'm reacquainted with my core self. 

The fourth module got me thinking about professional development and coincided with my podcast obsession, so I bought two more online course: The Art of Conversation with Krista Tippet and Elizabeth Gilbert's Creativity Workshop. I just finished Krista Tippet's course, which beautifully complements my work for Becoming, by enabling me to ask generous, thoughtful questions while also making me a better listener and interviewer. I have yet to do Elizabeth Gilbert's course, but regardless, I wouldn't have even considered professional development without Nicole's beautifully designed course. Write Where You Are also encouraged me to begin immersing myself in the writing community in Edmonton: I bought an all access pass to LitFest, Edmonton's Nonfiction Festival, and I went to the Writer's Guild kick off event with my lovely writer friend, Chelsey Krause, where we met the inspirational CJ Schneider, writer of Mothers of the Village. By the final module, I felt empowered and eager to design my writing practice and start achieving my goals, which the module guided me in doing using Nicole's "Margins Method." 

Ultimately, even though I was already writing regularly before starting Write Where You Are, it was exactly what I needed. I can only imagine how much this course will benefit writers who aren't writing and need to find their way back to it, because it gave me so much: clarity, confidence, and counsel. 

If you're struggling with your calling as a writer, feeling like you've abandoned it, or if you're a writer that needs help focusing and finding direction, this course is for you. If you're a writer, this course is for you, its value is infinite. Next week, the course opens for registration, sign up here.

 

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On Fear and Creativity

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On Fear and Creativity

As I started up my freelance writing business this summer, I also wrote two creative non-fiction pieces: an essay called "My Grandmother's Kitchen" for submission to Room Magazine (I was aiming for their upcoming food issue, but it might be selected for publication in a different issue - here's hoping it's selected, period), and an essay called "The Tsunami," which is Fitz's birth story. This year I also wrote two essays about breastfeeding - Feeding Fitz, Part 1: Breastfeeding and Feeding Fitz, Part 2: The Milk Supply Scare - but aside from those personal forays, the majority of my writing has been business stories for Yellow Pages Canada or food content for The Salty Almond. When I wrote and published my first intensely personal essay about breastfeeding I was utterly terrified about how it would be received. It wasn't my typical foodie fare and it made me feel insanely vulnerable. However, I received more feedback on that post, more comments and dialogue about it, than anything else I had written which inspired me to continue delving into the realm of creative non-fiction. 

When my mentor, Prof. Bill Thompson sent me a call for submissions for Room Magazine's food issue, I was almost immediately struck with this idea to write about my grandma's kitchen. You see, Craig and I live in my grandparents' house. In 2013, a year after my grandpa passed away, my grandma was accepted into a seniors' dormitory and was going to sell the house. Having spent countless days, nights, and weekends at this house, in the pool, in my grandmother's kitchen, I couldn't bear the thought of someone else living here. Thinking that with our student debt load there was no way we'd be approved for a mortgage, we tried anyway, and much to our surprise we were able to buy the house.

When I considered writing an essay for Room (a feminist, literary, women's magazine), my idea materialized in my mind effortlessly. While not completely fleshed out, I knew I wanted to write about my memories, juxtaposed with my present life, but I was so afraid to get started. I put it off continually to the point that I thought I missed the submission deadline. Serendipitously, I checked and learned it wasn't until July 31st. And again, I procrastinated writing this piece. Instead, I focused my efforts on paid and blog writing, telling myself that I didn't have time to do it (when really, I was just afraid to make the time). Finally, the deadline came. It was July 31st and I sat down to write at about 2:00pm.

To my credit, at my website photo session with Lorraine Marie, I wanted to actually be writing something, so I jotted down a beautiful paragraph that ended up forming the beginning of my essay. But from there, writing on my computer, my words spiralled into a nonsensical narrative about my grandmother's life. A complete detour from me and the kitchen, I found myself trying to write a biography without any material other than a spotty outline of my grandma's life story - a story she's only told vaguely, forever saying that she can't remember. Instead of writing the story that was in me, I was poorly writing the story I thought Room would want to hear.

Too focused on what I decided was certain rejection, I let my fear take over and I was floundering. In agony and frustration, I reached out to my online writing community, the Wild Words Collective, asking for advice. Nicole asked what draft I was on, and I was incredulous, "Draft? What draft? I only write in one draft (that is continually edited as I go)?" Even though Nicole was just trying to get a handle on how bad my situation was, I began questioning my process, doubting myself more. But as we chatted through it, I realized that my barrier was fear, and fear alone. I powered through it, re-centred myself, and through discussion with Nicole and my fellow writers, I was able to write the piece I'd originally imagined. And I wrote something I am fiercely proud of (please publish it, Room). 

In a later conversation about writing and creativity with my new friend, author Chelsey Krause, she asked me if I'd ever read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert or listened to her podcast, "Magic Lessons." 

magic lessons

I'd heard of Elizabeth Gilbert's book Eat Pray Love and I'd actually seen the movie, but that was as far as my knowledge of her went. Chelsey raved about her and the work she does with creativity, so I immediately downloaded the podcast and began listening to it the next day on my drive out to the lake. I am utterly infatuated with this podcast. What Liz Gilbert is doing for and giving to creatives is unbelievably valuable. In the first episode, she speaks to a writer (who is also a mother) about her desire to write a memoir and her fears that she is not giving enough to her children, that she should be available for them 100% of the time, and her fears about the responses of others to her work. Between Liz Gilbert's sage advice, and Cheryl Strayed's wisdom (that no one should give 100% to their families), this woman overcame her fear and started writing. I quickly binged on the entire first season of "Magic Lessons" and have been eagerly devouring each new episode of season two as they are released. Every episode, whether about writers, photographers, musicians, poets, painters, or comedians, resonates with me. I particularly enjoyed the season one finale with Brene Brown, in which they discuss creative scars and how despite what people think, it's human to be creative; we are all creative in different ways, it just manifests differently and is often discouraged or shamed. Since the podcast is so brilliant and so inspiring, I've also got the book, though it's third on my list of books to read (must finish H is for Hawk by Saturday for book club, and then I am onto The Whole Brained Child before Big Magic is even on my radar). 

Finishing "Magic Lessons" so quickly (I listen while I drive), I found myself bereft, in a vehicular void, I was quickly and frantically missing a creative, inspirational podcast, so I, again, reached out to the Wild Words Collective for recommendations. After trying out a couple that didn't do it for me ("The Portfolio Life" and "Beautiful Writers Podcast"), I found "On Being with Krista Tippet." This podcast, while incredibly different from Liz Gilbert's has blown my mind wide open: "On Being opens up the animating questions at the center of human life: What does it mean to be human, and how do we want to live? We explore these questions in their richness and complexity in 21st-century lives and endeavors. We pursue wisdom and moral imagination as much as knowledge; we esteem nuance and poetry as much as fact." Plus, she interviewed Liz Gilbert for one of the recent episodes (and it was feminist perfection).

Krista's voice and manner of speaking is pleasant, soothing, and inquisitive. She asks interesting questions and engages in conversations that have me pondering a side of myself that is all too often unexplored; every episode has me finding not only inspiration, but deeply appreciating the life I am lucky enough to live and how I can be better. I even quoted Joe Henry in my anniversary card to Craig. It's a beautiful show that is sure to enlighten, if not to inspire, I can't get enough.

on being

I am so grateful to Chelsey for recommending Liz Gilbert's book and podcast, it's already changed my perspective in so many ways and, in combination with the Write Where You Are course that I did this summer, has me actually pursing creative writing alongside my paid professional writing. Once Fitz is in daycare and I'm free to work full time, 90% of my work week will be invested in paid writing, and 10% on personal projects like Inspired magazine, a memoir, and another collaboration I'm starting up with Kelly at Fiddle Leaf Photography. I've never felt more in tune with my creative side, more successful creatively, and more true to myself than I do right now. And damn, if it doesn't feel good.

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Literary City Guide

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Literary City Guide

Edmonton

I am seriously in love with my city, Edmonton. Not only is it gorgeous all year round between the lush summer greens and the crisp winter whites, but it's full of creative, friendly people who lift each other up and cheer each other on. Edmonton, known around the world for its festivals, has become a cultural mecca in Alberta. We celebrate the arts here: particularly literary arts, theatre, music, and handmade goods. We celebrate food here: from upscale organic to pub food, from food trucks to farmers' markets, and from artisanal caramels to gourmet cookies. We celebrate each other here: we help each other, we promote each other, we support each other. It's become so ingrained in our city culture that that support, that community, is Edmonton's beating heart, its soul, and it's bloody beautiful. I'm lucky enough to be a part of both Edmonton's food community and an amazing group of creative entrepreneurs with my Tuesdays Together meetup through The Rising Tide Society

Just over a year ago, I wrote a a Literary City Guide for Eat This Poem (a literary food blog - hell yes). To do this, I reached out to Edmontonians in the literary community: Matt Prins of You're a Naked Booby Star and Instant Books are Your Future, Omar Mouallem of The Yards, and Jason Lee Norman of Words with Friends and 40 Below. When I first put this guide together, I was new to the literary community, so I turned to these literary superstars to get their input on what to include and what Edmonton offers its writing community. Lucky for me, I am now a freelance writer who is part of this very community. Not to mention that I've joined Nicole, of Eat This Poem's, online writing community, the Wild Words Collective, and taken her Write Where You Are Course (which was outstanding, by the way, absolutely life changing, but more on that later).

Needless to say, I did a lot of research to put this guide together (and I just recently updated it to add some new discoveries and to honour a chef I adore, Doreen Prei). Make your way over to Nicole's site to check out the city guide here. Please share it; spread the love.

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