sitting with


If you sit with grief

and hold its hands

in yours, they will be cold,

it’s true, but they won’t

steal you from yourself.

If you sit with sorrow,

and hold it to your heart,

you will ache

but it will not take you with it

when it lets you go.

If you sit with hope

it floats above you

til you choose it

grasping its tail and pulling it

on to your shoulder.

and then it is yours,

for its lifetime, as long as it lasts.

Feed it, scratch it under the chin

and  let it roam free.

It may bring you a pebble,

a treasure, a fruit

and when sorrow and grief

come calling,

it will sit on your shoulder

eating pistachios

looking at them with bright eyes

until they know

it’s  time to go.




Never swim alone

Well, yesterday I went for my first swim in months.  It didn’t feel like it used to. Where I was strong, I am weak.  All the muscles that used to work together are out of tune and awkward sounding. All the movements that used to blend together jar and jangle.  And today I ached all over and slept too much.  But I am still happier than I was the day before yesterday, because yesterday, I went for my first swim in months.

Even before injury and illness and the seasons of body and earth kept me from the pool, I was not a good swimmer. When I am at my best, strongest and most consistent, I am neither fast nor powerful, my  form is bad, I don’t know how to whip kick, I can’t front crawl anymore because I can’t seem to coordinate my breathing– it makes me gag, like going to the dentist does.  So I slowly make my way from one end of the pool to another– breast stroke, side stroke, back stroke without the arms. I just kick, not even using a flutter board. I swim for 40 minutes, if you can call it swimming.

People who don’t know what a good swimmer really can do, think I am a good swimmer. But compared to almost anyone who swims regularly, I am almost ridiculous. I swallow water, end up stopping and coughing and gagging almost every occasion I am in the water, at least once.

One day I was in the lane next to the very slowest lane. A tall young guy got in the slow lane and started swimming. it wasn’t swimming really… it was like he was a living submarine. He kicked once or twice,  and travelled  the length of the pool without coming up for air. I was in awe, because I had never seen anyone swim that way. I imagined he might be an Olympic athlete visiting from some other country because I never saw him there again.

If I compared myself to people who are good swimmers, never mind giants of towering greatness like that guy was, I couldn’t set foot in the pool.  But I don’t, anymore. No matter how uninspired and unaccomplished a swimmer I am, I love the water. I feel at home there, as much as I feel at home anywhere.  Swimming gives order to my body and my mind and my life.  Weirdly, it gives me hope. I think that’s because it strengthens me, and when I feel strong and capable, I feel like  other things don’t matter, because I know I can survive on my own strength if i have to.

I am not sure where desire to feel I can survive came from, because I have been incredibly lucky not to have suffered lack of money or family support or to have been hurt by anyone in a way that would make me preoccupied with survival.  The only person I have had to fight for survival against is my self.

I grew up like so many perfectionistic kids, anxious about a lot of things and tortured, like so many women, by hatred of my own body. But at the same time as I wanted to be a twig and a waif, I wanted to be able to outrun or if necessary outkick, punch and bite  anyone who wanted to do me harm.  It may be because I did a lot of walking by myself, but more likely it was because I had hermetically sealed myself off from almost everyone, psychologically.

I still find it hard to be a human being. When I am ill, I am very, very ill and it always comes down to whether or not I am too afraid to die or not. No question about wanting to live, just fear of the pain of dying and what comes after.  I argue  with myself. I try to think my way out of hopelessness. Nothing works. I make a plan.  I clean up my place, wear the clothes I want to be found in, and go somewhere, but I don’t go through with it. Last time I made it to the hotel desk to rent  a room, so no one would find me for a while. But in the end, I think I have too much fear  in me, at bottom, even at my darkest, to go through with it.

I guess this fear has saved me, and  drives me to do a lot of things, including swimming. But so does love. I love swimming. I am afraid of people but I love them too. I am afraid of writing, but I love it. I am afraid of having nothing but myself to depend on, but I am still aiming for that.

I love the idea of owning nothing but what I can carry on my back, like a turtle and being strong and healthy and capable enough to survive anywhere. But I know somehow I am just trying to get free of myself and the way to do that is not by swimming or writing or any of the other things I do. I know what I have to do. It’s not a secret. And it doesn’t involve running away or kicking and biting.

It doesn’t exclude swimming and writing though. It encompasses them. It smiles when I do things I love in the service of my own health and happiness. It likes joy, it is abundant and forgiving and helpful. It is what I’m swimming in and for and toward.

upright and conscious, not to be confused with uptight and anxious

018Well, that mental health blip turned out to be bigger than i thought. I’ve been out of commission for a couple months, and during that time I decided to move to Antigonish, . Despite all the worry and dire predictions swirling around me when i was most ill, the idea stuck… and now that I am getting healthy again, I am looking forward to the change of place, pace and head space.  Of course all my hang ups, neuroses and vices and vulnerabilities will move with me, but still, sometimes a change is as good as a rest.

In Antigonish, I’ll be subletting a lovely apartment, whose most attractive feature of all is that it has a washer and dryer right in the kitchen. The convenience of being able to do my laundry at home outweighs the inconvenience of not having public transit or a grocery store nearby.

There is a beautiful new public library in Antigonish, called the People’s Place Library which I plan to make my home away  from home. There is a  vibrant arts community, the Lyghtsome Gallery and the Antigonish Review. There is a strong history of social justice and cooperative  movements, Catholicism and the Coady Institute. Any place than is Anti- gonish ( damn those gonishes, damn them) has got to be a place of goodness and light.

I will walk a lot. Hopefully write a lot…and make a temporary, and maybe a more long-term home for myself. And heal. I am looking for healing after banging my head against the wall of the world for too many days.

There are many ways to do most things, when you think about it. Healing is not so different. But the body and mind have their own time, and can’t be rushed… so I try to be patient, and let them do their thing. In the meantime, I have sold, given or turfed most of my furniture, books and belongings, and am slowly trying to shake myself free of he things that have glued me like a barnacle to Halifax.  Some of those are positive things, like friends and family. Others are  negative, like fear and inertia. No matter what kept me here, it’s time to go.

If you’re up my way,look me up… or you may find me at the library, the pool or the bakery at the corner of Main and Hawthorne… whose name I forget, and which I look forward to remembering once I see it again. I’ll be the woman with the purple hat with the green and pink flower on it. Writing away with a smile on my face, I hope.

Summer Comes and Goes

Here we are, almost at the end of summer vacation and I havna touched this blog since summer began. Time travels strangely when you aren’t watching it… like a hummingbird maybe or a butterfly. It gets away from you if you blink once and swear.

It’s been an eventful couple months. My job placement ended, and the swimming and walking began in earnest. The weather has been wonderful, sunny days piled on top of each other, enough rain to make things grow My sister got through chemo and entered radiation- apparently each dose is equal to thousands of xrays.  My parents are healthy and content, my nephews rambunctious and vocal as howlers. If only they would eat as intensely and enthusiastically as they play…
Sad to say goodbye to Summer and to Carrie Smith but looking forward to the Fall, and to new bits of work, a Y membership, and hopefully more writing and painting than I have been doing of late….

God Bless Abilify, Long live our gracious Abilify!

Spring Cleaning

It’s one of those truly beautiful days that we barely deserve… sun shining, warm enough to open a window, snow melt in the street. I imagine college kids walking down Spring Garden Road in t shirts and as for me, I’ve started on a little Spring cleaning.

If I am honest, I clean rarely enough that Spring cleaning could really be  2012 cleaning. And it’s not like the people in my life don’t know that. When they come over they pretty much know they’re going to have to weave around boxes and suitcases and balance their tea cup on a pile of stuff. It looks like I’m constantly in the middle of moving.  Which I am not- I hope either to die here or to one day move one very last time to the home of my dreams, where the floor vacuums itself and the dishes are washed and put away by robotic arms that fold neatly into kitchen drawers when not in use.

They say that the state of one’s home reflects the state of one’s mind. I like to think my thoughts are a creative ferment bubbling away as evidenced by my compost bucket and the dirty dishes that are crossing that mysterious border between the inanimate and the living. However it is more true to say that I am a lazy housekeeper and it reflects a certain intellectual and emotional laziness. I don’t like to admit it but I believe it to be true.

Some of that could be the meds, some of it the illness… but a lot of it I think is an aversion to pain, sharpness, rigour.  When I was a kid, I was a hyper-anxious, hyper-perfectionistic student. I put myself through hell, and then things fell apart in high school and I began to avoid suffering and anything that smacked of depth. As a result I kind of float along the surface of life … but I don’t beat myself up about it, because I’ve been there and done that  and already made myself sick

So today I did a little Spring cleaning, not much, but enough to feel like I did it, and the sun and friends blessed my home over cranberry tea and raspberry squares.  A good afternoon. Back to chaos and mess soon enough, but I have a peaceful feeling about it, like i could easily  have another golden afternoon, anytime I choose. It’s good to know I have a choice.