Pandemic Day 7 – A Devastating First Blow

Day 7: The first of many big blows.

I woke up this morning to find that my beloved yoga studio, Semperviva Yoga, has closed its doors permanently as a result of the financial devastation brought on by the coronavirus.

This is a crush to my psyche, as no place in my daily life provided me more relief and more growth as an individual on a spiritual journey. It was my temple, my community. On the mat, I dealt with a crippling major depression, recovered (it actually saved my life) from a devastating work situation and guided me on the path to founding my own writing academy. It was there where I met and cultivated some of the most important relationships in my life. And it is now gone.

What do I do?

I’m sobbing. I’m panicked. I’m rushing to reach out to the lovely women who are an intimate part of my circle, light bringers, spiritual guides who give all they have to bring us together on the mat. How do I recreate that community? How do I find my space? How do I do this on my own? How do I support them, make sure they can pay rent, feed their families?

I am stricken with devastation, immobilized, petrified that the landslide of loss has hit in real time.

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When I was a child, I had a recurring dream of me as a little blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl who stood in the mirror. There, I lingered, fascinated by the single sparkling diamond of light that hung on a delicate chain around my neck.

For a moment, all was peaceful.

Then, from nowhere, a brown mass would flood in from the darkness and engulf me, smothering me until all of the light vanished and I could no longer speak.

I was silenced by a force beyond my control and left at the very edge of death, gasping for life but never fully dying.

I had it for years and years and only after my time on the mat did I begin to understand that it is the dream that represents my greatest fear, that I might end up voiceless and left to die without anyone knowing.

It was, in fact, my childhood fear of abandonment and inability to provide for my own security while the people around me struggled to provide there own.

I know it as my metaphorical landslide of loss and that little girl has risen up in me this morning, screaming to save her from the unknown.

I want to banish her, to get her the hell away from me because I can barely actually breathe right now, but I cannot. Her voice is my own. If I silence her, I deny myself.

I hear the voices from Beyond calling me to action right now, right here, to bolster a space that brings us the breath of life, to lift the voices growing quiet as the losses of the world flood in and overtake us.

If our temples, our churches, our synagogues were forced to close, we’d move to preserve them. Now is the time to fling the doors open and in the midst of loss let the light flood in, let the voices rise up.

For me, right now, it is about honouring that terrified little girl inside who cannot breathe, who believes herself to be at the edge of death with no hope.

In this moment, I am taking her hand and saying to her, “I see you, sweet girl. I feel all that you feel. I honour all that you fear. Now, as crone and babe, we walk together into this absolutely uncharted place in our lives. I cannot promise we will be safe from others. I cannot promise we will not face so much more in the wake of the world we once knew dropping away, calcifying, and re-emerging anew. However, I can promise you, sweet girl, that you are nowhere near death and the malignant mass threatening you from the darkness has no power over either of us. Baby girl, you are loved and never ever alone. Take my hand and let’s walk into this frontier as warriors together.”

(this spectacular piece of art is by Eva Campbell at https://evitaworks.com/)

Pandemic Day 6 – The Introvert’s Guide to Self-Isolation

Day 6: The teenager at our house ripped my face off yesterday.

Nearly a week into our quarantine, she is ready to slay dragons—and not in the way I prefer her to approach beast slaying.

Don’t get me wrong, lockdown in a small Vancouver apartment with four people who are cranky, scared, and not sure how bored bored can get is, well, slightly limiting.

However, when I say things to her like, “There are, legitimately, hundreds of books for you to choose in this house. Pick one and read it” I can confirm it results in outbursts that provoke horrors such as taking a teenager’s phone away for a few hours (God, no!), coping with the muttering irritation, and avoiding all contact with said teenager for at least an hour in order to keep from experiencing the Wrath of Khan.

Okay, I get it, I am not funny. So, I will stop trying to be. Here’s my point:

My big kid, she’s an extrovert. Her life revolves around her social activities and her tight friend group.

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Me, well, my social activities tend to involve building worlds and crying over the losses of characters who live in other universes. Not to mention, when it comes time to slay dragons, I make sure I’m only out dealing with the ones who have it in for the human race. Dragons are cool. We should proceed in the slayer department with prudence. If you need a cool weapon, though, I got you.

This lock-down is challenging her beyond all comprehension.

We’ve all seen the jokes and memes that are now slightly tired. Introverts have been preparing for the moment when they rise as superior self-isolators. We are, I will tell you, superstars at it. I’ve worked from home for most of the last 14 years. I feel like what I am about to share with you qualifies as Ph.D.-level introvert advice to those of you who actually like to interact with other people.

1. It is okay to find yourself batshit crazy one day and in need of extreme amounts of human contact.

Even introverts (gasp) require some amount of stretching out into the world. So, we see you and know your pain.

How we do it: SKYPE, Zoom, Discord, FaceTime. Yes, that’s right, we don’t actually go see people. We clip our hair back, wash our face, put on a socially acceptable shirt, and jump on a call to talk about whatever.

I’ve seen Maggie Tai Tucker do a virtual waffle-off with a friend.

Matthew Ramadan and Danny Ramadan did a video on how to make self-isolation margaritas.

My sweet friend Lee Ann Mordecai Steyns is hosting FB Live sign-language classes for kids.

I hook up with my writing partner every week to share pages, talk about our novels, and keep each other motivated to keep telling stories.

2. DO NOT sit on the couch or at your desk the whole time.

Oh mah ghad, people. If there is one thing introverts know, it is that your body will begin to ache and cry out for you to get up off of that couch at about hour 24. Yes, I realize that is a lot of hours and I’m making poor attempts at humor again. However, watching every episode of The Man In The High Castle, Witcher, Outlander, The Walking Dead, Westworld, maaaaay actually result in you wishing you’d made much better choices when your ass is killing you and your back has staged a full revolt.

Introverts know this because, well, we regularly repeat this regretful mistake and then HAVE to spend every day at the yoga studio for a month to repair a 60-episode TV or three-book series reading binge. EVERY DAY. I hope you understand how much human contact that is for an introvert.

There is this thing called YouTube. It has exercise videos, dance videos, music videos. We introverts strongly recommend you find the one you like and hop around in your underwear for a while. We do it all the time (no one knows this because we don’t see anyone). Every third show, take a break and move.

3. Beware of the snacking monster.

One of the strange, unexplainable consequences of modern boredom is that we get all food crazy. When people who move a lot start to get into quiet spaces, snacking comes into play big-time.

Not all introverts are snacking experts. However, I can attest to many a day where I’ve not left my desk other than to gather the pretzels or the cheese or mix drinks. Oh the list goes on.

I can also attest that you will not spot how this is impacting you until you peel the pajamas you’ve been wearing for three weeks straight off of your body and try to put your cute jeans back on. You get my drift, right?

Solution: Consider why you are eating. Also, consider that if you eat all of your snacks now, you are snackless for many weeks to come unless you have the great urge to go to Safeway in the middle of all of this. This could play in your favor, I realize, in that a lack of self-moderation means you HAVE to not snack later. Your choice though. No judgement.

4. I mean this with all sorts of love, don’t be aimless.

Aimless introverting has resulted in many a solitary human not dealing with life well. We all need goals, and if your aim is to watch as much TV as you can for the next few weeks, excellent. Just set that goal for yourself and give it your best go.

There’s a whole lot of talk out there about exploring the quiet and letting yourself be bored and giving yourself a chance to slow down.

I am all for that.

However, I also know that five days into letting myself freeform through life is also a personal recipe for slipping into major depression. Once there in the midst of a psychiatric episode, it is much harder to cope with everyday life, much less a pandemic.

Solution: Know yourself well enough to know what you need every day to keep upright.

For me, I follow this strict routine:
1. GET DRESSED. I do not linger in my pajamas because it makes me feel like I’ve accomplished nothing. This comes from YEARS of working at home and finding that a morning routine helps me focus and center myself. Fresh clothes and looking in the mirror at a put-together human is personally very soothing.

2. MAKE LISTS. Even if it is a list that involves basic daily chores, I write them down and check them off. Again, I accomplished something even if it was just doing laundry.

3. MAKE YOUR BED. This is a big one for me. I make it every day, sometimes it is the only thing I get done around the house. It’s a psychological trick that works.

4. DRINK WATER. I know, this sounds like every other post, but I swear this matters more than you can imagine. If I didn’t alternate my coffee with water, I’d be out slaying more than dragons.

5. OPEN THE CURTAINS. We are not cave-bound. Let the light in. You need it right now.

Okay, that is my speech.

Go rise, extroverts. We introverts have your back.

Pandemic Day 5 – Self-Compassion

Day 5 – I cant. I just can’t today.

My dreams all night last night were about losing our house, our livelihood, our children. One was sick and we were hiding the news. One was defying us and making all kinds of other people sick. Our car fell into a bog. Our house was in the car. Our lives had disintegrated with nothing but our own grit remaining.

IRL: Q woke up in the middle of the night, frantic. Shouting. Terrified that she’d poured a virus onto our couch.

M cried herself to sleep, worried that her friends would forget her and she’d return to school, someday, alone.

Ken and I grapple with the news coming out of every corner, our own potential exposure. We waffle between dark and light, doom, smart preparation, and trying to create some sense of ease.

We high-fived ourselves for taking a walk in the dark last night and surviving our first adventure in the Zombie Apocalypse. It seemed funny, but my head instantly went to infected zombies forcing their way through our front door. I hate zombies. Have always seriously feared them without any reason.

Now . . .

Deep breaths, I see you. May each moment I choose to pause and breath offer space and ease. Thank you for the blessing.

Morning tea, I see you. I feel you comfort and routine. Thank you for the blessing.

The sun. I see you and find myself basking in your loyalty. Thank you for the blessing.

Comfortable home and health of my wee tribe, I see you. I set the wards and make the bread we break. Thank you for the blessing.

My work, that I can do from home. I see you. Let me be of service to all who need it. Thank you for the blessing.

Fear, I see you. I acknowledge you from a place of love for the people around me. That love creates worry for their well-being. That worry creates whatever I allow it to. Let it not be the paralysis with which I contend this morning. Thank you for the blessing.

The need to provide solutions, and the panic of being unable to control things, I see you. I ask myself where I can be of service, and work to place my efforts there. I am one being who can serve best in one way. Thank you for the blessing.

Nightmares, I see you. May you be the way my mind rids itself of its own irrationality. Thank you for the blessing.

I can. I just can, today, hold compassion for myself and others.

Go rise, beauties. Take it easy on yourselves. It’s really scary out there.

Pandemic, Day 3 – Manifesting Happiness

woman-with-sad-unhappy-face-holding-mask-fake-smile_88813-245Day 3: What is it with all the “your attitude needs to be gratitude” being shoveled at us by the be-happy crowd these days?

I have to tell you, I find this whole find-the-good-in-everything jibber-jabber is really irritating when everything has gone into the sewage pit of a crap day or a crap series of days—or in the case of 2020 so far, a crap year.

We’ve all had them, this brutal, soul-squelching run of nothing but negative. Getting out of the hole is nothing short of miraculous.

Or is it?

Like I said yesterday, I’m big into manifestation. The curious part is, it goes both ways. We joke around our house that it turns out I AM the center of the universe (ha). However, the reality is that when I am focused on human flaws or my own insecurities when I worry about things I cannot control or am running around the house stomping my feet, things get ugly fast in my little pod of peeps. I actually create more negativity. It’s like, well, a virus.

Does that mean I have the power to offer a mending sensibility when it comes to this already crap year? Hmmm, that seems like a lot of pressure.

No time for wallowing, because the answer is yes.

I’ve always known this. For whatever reason, the energy of the family is mine to maintain. I can send others to war or negotiate peace.

Again with the pressure. Can’t I just wallow without being nagged about these kinds of responsibilities?

I complain, yet, when I step into thoughtful dialogue and compassionate contact, hmmm, amazing, everyone is chill. When I lose my shit, well, you can imagine the tsunami.

The other morning, I read this article on the art of being grateful on the hardest of days. It got me right where I needed it because, well, these last few weeks have been a whopper at our house well beyond the coronavirus.

I’d started to descend into the fear and anger of it all—snarky, distant, demanding.

War was brewing.

Waking up proved harder and harder. Those be-happy people became incredibly irritating once again. I tore up my lists of all the things I love and ripped down all of my little post-it notes with “go slay this day” sort of quotes that dot spaces in the house where I regularly go.

I am, on the good days, one of those be-happy people. I stretch into it and slather myself with a dig-in mentality about keeping in the flow of goodness. When it gets hard, the mask gets ripped off. Be gone, easy happy tasks. Life was pissing me off and being grateful proved stupid.

Then, I watched what was happening around me while I was on fire. Kids=snarky. Husband=distant. Friendships=quiet. The bigger my flames grew, the bigger the pile of crazy that manifested.

“Um, dude, are you like seriously this sadistic?” I asked myself. “Change your approach, woman. See what happens.”

The observation, after I chilled the hell out, reconnected with several of my most favourite people, and focused on my house full of beautiful humans proved, dare I say it, that I could single-handedly manifest happiness.

The wee one started making movies, the big kid reconnected with old friends who have been out of her life for ages, Ken started a new personal project that he’s been delaying for a year.

Well, dammit, it would seem that the art of gratitude on the hardest of days is all about the choices we make in the midst of those challenges.

It’s not for me to say to you, “Go make a list of what you are grateful for” or anything like that because gratitude and that satisfaction with life is manifested in so many different, beautiful, and impactful ways.

My challenge to you is to simply go manifest something beautiful during these really hard days.

I see it in people such as Robin Blackburn who posts gorgeous architecture and photos of the majesty of the human body every day.

I’m in love with the topics Kate Schofield Beem is having that bring forth prescient issues that require contemplation and conversation.

Elisabeth Rae Collett took us all on a tour through her Italy yesterday that brought me to tears with its beauty and personal connection.

We don’t have to fake happy. This time in our lives is hard. However, we can be the center of our universe and raise the energy of that universe up, giving others a bit of relief.

I’m going to go celebrate the fact that everyone in my house is still asleep and I can go work on the novel for another hour or so.

Go rise, my friends. We got this.

In The Writer’s Studio – August, The Dead Month

Just about every writer who submits their work to agents knows that there is one month every year when nothing happens.

Don’t prep a manuscript, write a query letter, reach out on Twitter, or check in with an agent who has your partial. It’s not gonna work out for you because everyone is at least pretending to lounge on a New England beach.

The rest of the year is stupid crazy busy. August means time for a bit of radio silence.

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For me, it has traditionally proven the month to hunker down and log big hours in the writer’s studio, plotting and crafting.

This year, however, my brain took a break along with everyone else. You can read about my angst surrounding this unplanned standstill HERE.

Today, after a long chat with an editor who just returned from vacation herself, I found myself breathing a bit easier. The conversation revealed her own startling loss of an entire month and her shock at how often lately this similar chat has played out. Apparently, August was a wash for at least half the known universe, and we are all scrambling to realign priorities, carve out time, and make tangible progress on writing projects.

For me, this is all about removal of external distractions.

I’ve planned the hell out of my research trip to France and refuse to plan even a minute more.

Classes and curriculum, mapped out.

Coaching training, done.

Schedules, made.

Now, to snuggle in and get the love letters between Francesco and Aesmeh mapped out.

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Then, to make sure my modern-era antagonist is fully formed and well-rounded. I actually quite love him, such a provocative character motivated by what he is convinced is the only possible road to truth.

Finally, before I get on the plane to start the research and writing marathon in France, I’m going to nail the sequence of the story down and finish the plotting. That way I can move through my time there with exceptionally focused purpose instead of scrambling to figure out story foundations.

I’m coming out of the Augustine black hole, people.

Finally.

The Writing Classroom – Summer Reading Story Quilts

It may still be 15C out in the middle of August here in Vancouver (we’ve had what amounts to five days of truly hot weather this season), but the kids are out of school, the pool is open, and we are in full summer mode for a few more weeks.

That also means that my creative writing classes were PACKED (and I mean packed) with young authors who knew they need to keep reading and writing during the long break but also didn’t really want comma worksheets and book summaries.

My secret plan to keep them going was to bribe them with pizza. They received long reading lists and daily writing tasks at the beginning of the term. The pizza at the end of the Summer Reading Challenge Rainbow proved the key to getting them to read more than 100 novels this summer.

The way we kept track of it all was a bit sentimental, a bit creative, and a bit old-school community building.

We made a Summer Reading Story Quilt.

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Over the course of eight weeks, the kids got to make a quilt square every time the read a new book. Around the edges, they had to come up with symbols that stood for the theme, the characters, or a literary device used in the novel. Then, in the middle, they drew their favourite scene and captioned it.

Admittedly, there was a wide range of engagement, but they had fun using their brains in a different way, setting reading goals, and achieving them.

For me, this was also a demonstration of how much can be accomplished by taking learning one step at a time. When we started, the wall looked pretty sorry and everyone wondered if we could ever fill it.

Within a couple of weeks, the quilt started to take shape.

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Kids would pile in to see what others had read. They named their teams in order to identify which squares belonged to them and counted to make sure they were in the race for the pizza at the end.

Yesterday, the final square made it up onto the wall.

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The kids couldn’t believe how much they accomplished and we all marveled at the 100+ books read over the course of the Summer.

Now, time for the celebration!

Young Author Spotlight – Bonnie Xu on Shadows

Good morning. I haven’t posted much writing from my young authors this summer, as we have been heads-down working on the Summer Reading Challenge and discovering literary elements through the close reading of fiction.

However, this piece by Grade 6 young author Bonnie Xu needed to be shared with the world.

In class this week, I asked her to write a story about being someone’s shadow. Her take on it gave us a startling and moving peek into the shadow world.

English is Bonnie’s second language, yet her ability to transform ideas into provocative stories blossoms with every assignment.

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Exploring Vancouver – Spanish Banks Bike Routes

I would like to begin by acknowledging that the land on which I live and that I write about here is the unceded territory of the Coast Salish Peoples, including the territories of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.

For the last month or so, I have started at least a few mornings a week with 10k worth of walk or bike riding.

It is a Summertime ritual for Vancouverites who know that the rain and darkness will settle in all too soon.

This morning, I rode out to the tip of the UBC Endowment Lands.

On the way back, I stopped at the beach to enjoy the gorgeous light.

There, I received a message . . .

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I am lucky enough to live on the West Side of Vancouver in a gorgeous neighbourhood called Kitsilano, which runs along the waterfront. So, accessing this incredible beachfront trail is pretty much just getting on my wee Schwinn and hitting the road.

I love cycling around town, and believe me when I say I am no athlete.

Vancouver is an absolutely magical city for cyclists, with routes literally from end-to-end, protected lanes, and for all sorts of levels.

The city even has a public bike share system that is used by thousands of people every day.

People visiting or wanting to bike the beachfront, but are not familiar with the route, the City of Vancouver has paper or downloadable Cycling Route maps.

However, I wanted to share a short map of this route from Tatlow Park, which is at the edge of Point Grey Road. Despite the controversy around it, the road is for pedestrians and cyclists only other than traffic from residents along the street, and it is a stunning location to start your ride.

The rest of the route is along the water and very accessible for people of all fitness levels.

The trail is quiet before about 9 a.m., with the occasional jogger or walker to pass. Mid-day and on the weekends, it gets quite busy. However, because Vancouver is so cycling friendly, most people are quite courteous as long as you are courteous to them.  There is the random hot dogger who likes to fly down the path with their headphones and no clue about the rest of humanity. So, keep your wits. Otherwise, enjoy this sweet route and even take a quick ride through the forest in Jericho Park to cool down.

The Summer Reading Challenge Quilt

I am totally loving the Summer Reading Challenge quilt my writing group students are making right now.

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Each student has a list of books they have to read this Summer, and the way they log them is to create a square illustrating their favourite moment in that book.

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Six teams.

28 students.

There will be more than 300 squares on that wall by the end of the Summer.

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My favourite part is how it reveals how everyone interprets a piece of literature differently. Every book shapes the individual in its own way.

When A Student Paints Your Portrait

One of my Grade 8 creative writing students painted my portrait and delivered it to me before our session today.

It may be one of the sweetest gifts I’ve ever received from one of my budding authors (and, apparently, illustrators).

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by Joanna Fu