Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Moving Forward

I wanted to round out my year of postings at the number 24, as this is my ‘lucky’ number, but, after thinking about it, I realized 23 seemed to be my lucky number this year, based on a number of timely events. In a naively superstitious way, I somehow cling to things like numerology, astrology, and remembering key dates (for years at a time) as methods to help me explain the sometimes random-chaos that seems to find me in my life.
But here it is—I’m back to number 24, whether I want to be or not.

I talked about reflections in my last post about Christmas spirit. About change, and learning, and growth. Something I notice that I didn’t reflect on was beliefs.
And the spirit of beliefs. And why we have them. And what they mean to us.
I’m not talking about how I ‘believe’ (again, naively) in playing number games to soothe my overactive imagination; I’m talking about that scary word that gets people all worked up at the best of times: Faith.

I have a belief in Faith, and how it can restore you, and how it can make life more bearable, if you can learn to let it. It doesn’t have to be the “scary” kind of faith, that makes people all over the world do incredibly odd, sometimes frightening, often un-understandable things, but rather that inner part of yourself, one that you probably don’t unveil too often, of things that you believe, no matter what anyone says, no matter what proof you may be given that they are not true, things that you FEEL are true. These feelings may sway sometimes in the face of unexpected circumstance, but once you regain your footing, it seems unshakable.

What I believe.
I believe in life after death. I believe this despite having no hard evidence to “prove” this belief of mine, this ‘theory’, other than attending many masses at the Catholic church; I mean that this is a belief I have that is separate from my religious background, although I’m sure it certainly is influenced in part by this background.
I can’t really define this concept though, when talking about life after death. This concept is strictly something I FEEL. Is that what faith is? I feel that you are given the gift of life, to live out here on the revolving-door planet called earth. I feel that you are to make the most of the life you are given, design yourself a place within the framework of family, talent, and circumstance. I believe in being a good person, in good behaviour. I believe, (naïve, superstitious Catholic belief # 173) that you will, at some point, either by God, or Karmic law—be rewarded for said good behaviour. However, I ALSO believe that doing the right thing is, in itself, the only reward needed, even if it sometimes thankless. Meaning; you contribute to an overall, universal feeling of “wellness” when you manage to do the right thing. Whether or not you know it.

I believe, when the time is up for you, meaning, you arrive at your death date, one that I also believe is pre-determined way ahead of time; you die, physically, and your physical ‘earth’ presence is finished. However, all of those things that you perfected about yourself throughout your life, those qualities that make you You, the memories that you constructed with those you loved, who loved you; all of those things do not simply vanish. They can’t. I can’t believe that could ever be the case. I constantly run into people who say things like “I don’t believe in all of that”. All of that? ALL OF WHAT? That’s ALL THERE IS, when you get right down to it.
To me, anyway.

All of the things that make you You.

to be continued….

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Spirit

What is Christmas Spirit and how do we get it?

It’s not like the H1N1 virus, it doesn’t seem to spread at random. As far as my own beliefs go, Christmas is not a “Hallmark holiday”; it’s an important milestone in the Christian calendar, and other religious events (Kwaanza and Channukah for example) also occur around this time of year. Along with the winter solstice, and the general foreboding of more “Canadian” weather, it allows us to slide into more months of cold weather with a clear outlook; a resolve to do better, be better, and live better than the previous year. For me, Christmas spirit is a kind of optimism to believe that bad times can be overcome, a kind of calm blanket that comes over me, when I would rarely describe myself as calm.

I’ve heard a number of friends talking about how, this year, they have had trouble finding ‘the spirit’. What/where/who is this ‘spirit’ and how do we harness him/her/it?
For some it’s the comfort of familiar rituals—card-sending, baking, endless shopping, visiting friends and family, travel, going home. For others it’s about their children, and creating happy memories for them. For some Christmas is a bittersweet time, one where they remember the past, thinking of people who are no longer with them to enjoy this time, and from there run straight into the mysterious gamut of emotions that come into play at this time of year. Regret, reflection, restoration. Nostalgia, wistfulness, refreshment.

For me, it allows me to reflect on the year gone by, the good times, the tougher times, the level of personal growth I’ve endeavoured to achieve; what I want to achieve in the coming year, a where-do-I-want-to-go-from-here? kind of taking stock.

This year seemed to zig and zag in a peculiar, extraordinary way, and I found myself often unable to keep up with the range of emotions I needed to psychologically deal with the situations I was facing.

There were some amazing highs, and also some very sad lows, and it is the contrasts between the happy events (the wedding of a dear friend, re-uniting and ultimately, moving in with, my current boyfriend, another dear friend giving birth to her first child); and the very sad events (the loss of some very special people and the effect of that on me and on those around me, my sister’s closure of a very difficult time, people around me losing jobs and hope). Through the yo-yo up-and-down of it all I tried my best to not allow panic to seep in, because as I've dwelled on before: you are challenged to handle the difficult events in life with character and face them with bravery, but for me, I often like to self-sabotage the good events, fuelling the fire and belief that everything and anything will go wrong if it can.

I reflect on what I’ve Learned: what have I learned this year? That no amount of good behaviour can offset bad events. That it's simply not possible to control fate. That we are making our way through a city, on whatever street/subway line/sidewalk we choose, but we will end up at a destination that has already been planned. I think if ever there was a year that this has been proven to me, this was it. I've always suspected that this was the case, and I think that I have mentioned it in previous postings.

I reflect on what I would like to Change: thinking before reacting, forgiving before writing off, listening more than speaking. Being more tolerant of everyone in my life, and being tolerant of those who aren't. Being less afraid of Change itself. Which sometimes means jumping in with both feet, straight into the puddle, and maybe getting a bit wet.

I reflect on Relationships. Where can I do better? How can I be more understanding, kinder, a better friend, a better listener, what else can I give to those I love to add dimensions to how we connect and interact?

I reflect on what I've Read: what did I read this year that has stayed inside my head? What do I want to read more about? ( I promise another entry that will deal with this very subject).

Perhaps Christmas allows us all to kick off the old year, with all it’s nuances and burdens (real and imagined), and, despite what may have happened throughout , we somehow summon up the strength and sanguinity to really believe in the future, despite the past. At least I do anyway, perhaps in the naïve belief that positive thinking really does work. In some respects, it has to.
So visit people. Open your home to those who haven't been there before.

Renew your spirit.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


I've come to a number of realizations over the past week or so, none of them are necessarily carved in stone, and a great many of them are strictly my own opinion, based on repeated experience, and on the experiences of others around me.

One has been that I have never been, and never will be, like most people, try as I may.

When I see people laughing and talking in a restaurant I wonder if they are the type of people who are like that all the time. I know they can't be, but still--I feel removed from the basic experience, even though I have laughed and talked in many restaurants in my time, and will continue to, I suppose, for a long time to come. I've had the fortuitous good luck to manage to meet and surround myself with people who are the same way--who look at life in a real way, who have had to make their own way in life, often without the benefit of the guidance of a mentor or adviser.

Another realization I have had is about love. You have love in your life almost all the time, even if there are times when it doesn't feel like it. You often yearn for love you HAD more than love you HAVE. You often don't get to stay put with the 'love of your life' if there is such a thing, if you're lucky enough to have such an event occur. You might marry the life of your love, as I have re-arranged it in my head. Meaning, you marry someone you love, that much is true, but on the other hand, you also may marry this love because you can LIVE with them, ie, create a LIFE.

The "love of your life" on the other hand, sometimes has the side effect of there being so much love, you can't live life with them. It's just too much. Maybe you're too much the same person, or maybe you want them to be a certain way, and it can't happen. So you love the life you create with another, simpler love. The realization I have come to about this is that it is not nearly as depressing as it sounds. The attainment of more love with your life person is a constant dangling carrot, and it motivates you to try harder.

Years ago I read an amazing article about 'the human condition' for lack of a better turn of phrase. It was written by a woman whose husband had sustained a brain injury, and she was living out the last few months, weeks, days of having her husband cognitive and aware of himself. He was, as a result of the injury, going to lose this ability. She talked of wanting more time with his aware-self, and her longing of the past times they had had together, that simple, routine life they had built as a twosome, without giving a thought to how special it was. She came to the conclusion that it is that "longing" that makes us what we are. The longing for something more, someone more, another goal, something we can work toward, attain, and triumph over. She defined it as part of being human. It was a thought that had never in my entire life occurred to me, and I have to say, it left me wondrous.

I see the parallel between the love of your life and your actual life, the one you live everyday with everyone else, parking the car crooked, the heal of your shoe breaking at a key moment, your temper flaring, impatience rearing its' ugly head, your missing someone far away, your frustration with people who are determined to make life (more) difficult, because it already is difficult. In your head, you can create a perfect conversation with this missing person, whom you long for, whom you idealize, whom you idolize. But the reality is there at home, on the couch, being his very im-perfect self, but still being THERE, not out there, launched from your heart and head into a deity-like form, which, as we age and hurtle forward on what I always refer to as this revolving-door planet, we know doesn't exist. However, as I pointed out at the beginning of this posting these are MY realizations, based, for the most part, on my opinion, with a little bit of experience thrown in there for good measure.

It's not disappointing, it truly isn't. Life is full of failure, of mis-steps, of guilt, of regrets, of all those broken-shoe days that conspire to make you miss the little packages of hope that show up.
I read another article very recently that talked about this very thing; little packages. It summed it up thusly: In life, those big packages we wait for show up few and far between. It is those little packages that we are to take note of, to sit up straight for, to use as motivation for that endless longing that is to be human.

Makes sense.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Poem from the New Yorker, September 24, 2001

Try to Praise the Mutilated World

Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June`s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You`ve seen the refugees heading nowhere,
you`ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth`s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.

--Adam Zagajewski (translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh.)

Friday, December 11, 2009


This week I've spent some time visiting my twenty-something self. She was quite the girl. I don't mean that in a completely negative connotation.

I kept a series of journals, one after the other after the other, in various notebooks with artistic covers, and as I started going through them I noticed how I would continue in the same vein of thinking from one notebook to the other, starting with a new date, not even a cover page, I would just dive right into the next one. I took them down off of a high shelf to start leafing through them, mostly to go back through some old, long-buried memories of someone whom, at one time, was very special to me.

The first thing that struck me about my journals as I began to read through them was how detailed they were, how descriptive, how utterly emotive, and in some cases, how desparate the entries were--my desparation in trying to understand MYself, the person I would grow into, grow up to be, maybe the WOMAN I am today--so different from that very innocent girl, with no veneer, no protection, no savvy, and very little insight into human nature, not even her own.

It struck me as odd, because on the surface, I was technically a very put-together twenty-something; I had a job that I was continually advancing in, I had my own apartment where I lived alone and paid all the bills for myself, with no help; I went to a gym on a regular basis, I cooked dinner alone every night, and I had a huge friend base with a very active social life.

But inside, from ages 25 to I'd say, about 31, I suffered from a long, debilitating depression, which affected my view of my interior life, my perception of myself, and my hopefulness for any kind of future, let alone a positive one.

Back to the journals--the second thing that struck me was how memory really and truly does gloss over all the detailed memories of your life. And I have an amazing memory. But even I have forgotten multitudes of things in the last 6 years I've been "recovered" from my depression. I have forgotten things and situations in all detail until I started reading through them over the last few days. Conversations, songs I listened to that formed a soundtrack for me to live along to, places I went, things I ate, what my view was like outside my Bathurst apartment window, and how I felt about my job at the time--it was like reading something written by someone else. Looking back on my writings as a healthy person is sort of terrifying. I had no idea, at the time, what kind of shape I really was in. I just went along day by day, accepting my constant crying, my unbelievable misery, and my pain as normal.

During this time, I was lucky enough to be under the care and supervision of a very skilled psychotherapist, who guided me through cognitive therapy, with the right balance of kindness and candor, to help me recognize the behaviour patterns and pitfalls I continually fell back into.

I also had a very close friend, with his own demonic depression, who hid it, I realize now, much the way I so cleverly hid mine. He was several years older than me, too, so he had the benefit of living that much more and refining how he let the world see him.

On the outside, he was a gregarious, endlessly patient and forgiving person, who never complained, and who could always, no matter how futile the situation, see the humour in it, without making the joke at someone elses' expense. Inside, I suspect, and I can only suspect, I can't ask him directly, as I haven't seen him in six years, that he suffered much the way I did, possibly in an even bleaker fashion. In true twenty-something, like-seeking-like fashion, I did exactly what my now thirty-something self knows would have been the absolute worst thing to do: I fell in love with him. Consequences be damned. And boy, was I ever damned.

Sometime in 2004 I stopped writing in those journals. I had stopped all dating, I had stopped all fantasies about someone rescuing me from myself, and I finally, after so long, started to see who I could be if I could only just LET myself. I've always been a late bloomer in every respect of the word, in every stage of life, and thus it took me to 31 to get to a place most people are in when they are in their early twenties. No bother, it was just the way it was. It still is.

Also sometime in 2004 I stopped being in love with my friend. I hadn't seen him in a long time (he had moved away), and we no longer communicated. I would hear about him from mutual friends, and I would file any information away quietly, and think about it when I was alone. I was glad he seemed to be living his life the fashion he wanted--freely, unfettered, a vagabond-like existence that he seemed to be perfectly suited for.
When I learned of his death this week, nothing could have prepared me. It was too much of a shock, even now, years on, time gone by, life running along like a train on a track.

As it said in the paper today.

Rest in peace my love.