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The Vault: best of herkind.com/ Solo

Originally published February 8, 2010

A few months ago I went to a concert by myself. I do this a lot, go out alone. Sometimes I prefer it. I really didn’t think it was a big deal until I told a couple of people about the concert. Of course the inevitable question was, who’d you go with? The reactions surprised me.

Apparently it’s courageous to do something social on your own. Or, maybe it’s even anti-social!

I’ve often written about my intermittent loneliness and how I feel that it is something that, although difficult, can be overcome. The key is to learn how to not let it affect big decisions. I’ve let that happen and learned from it – I hope. The biggest one, I believe, was moving back to Toronto from Vancouver before I’d given my life there enough of a chance. I felt indescribably lonely and was susceptible to family and friends saying, just come home. It was a mistake, but one I am trying to make the best of.

These days I’m more willing to wait the lonely feeling out. To let it run its course, because I believe it always will.

I never felt lonely a day on earth while my mother was alive and because I believe my loneliness is attached to her death, I always think of it as situational. That she’s been gone 12 years doesn’t seem to affect my characterization of the feeling. It comes, it goes.

A new book called Lonely by a Canadian writer, Emily White has got me doubting myself and wondering if I’ve caught the bravado bug I sometimes accuse others of having, the ones who are unwilling to admit their loneliness.

White bravely tells of her chronic loneliness which she  felt most of her life, but intensely so for about 3 years in her mid-30s. Three years! Chronic? Oh dear.

I have to admit I read the book with much fear. In fact, in parts my heart was beating so fast I felt sure I was having a full out panic attack. Her early life mirrors my own: feelings of separation, isolation, too much of a gap of age and temperament with siblings, parents at odds with one another, their evident loneliness, a mother who held me a little too close to fill in the spaces for her. Hell, even Emily White’s first boyfriend had the same name as mine. Has my loneliness been with me my whole life? Could feelings of loneliness and isolation be the reason I have so few memories of my young life?

I looked up from the book at the prints decorating my bedroom – it’s not the first time I’ve wondered why every single one of them depicts a woman alone.

Picasso’s Blue Nude, hangs above my bed

Has loneliness so shaped my life that it’s the reason I am middle-aged, single, with no safety net, a tiny social circle and indistinguishable social life and, worst of all, no kids? Did I somehow make this happen? And collect the art to reflect it back to me each day upon waking?

Do people look at me walking down the streets of my neighbourhood and say, there goes that lonely woman. Always alone. (no wonder I feel giddy when I can go into a local coffee shop once in awhile accompanied by a – usually male – friend. Phew, they will know I have friends and maybe even a boyfriend!)

White makes a case for loneliness as an affliction caused by genetics and nurturing. She believes we are wired through DNA to be lonely. And that sometimes our loneliness mirrors that of our parents, in her case mostly her mother. Because she wants it more out in the open, she believes it should be listed in the updated version of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), due to come out in 2012. This, she says, would ensure it gets properly funded for research and treatment, the natural progression of this being medication.

Now, I haven’t done the exhaustive research she has but I disagree.

I think loneliness is a periodic state of being that visits itself upon each and every one of us at various times. Let’s face it, more people live alone now and gone are the days of close knit communities and extended families. The key is learning to understand how it affects you and what to do to work through it. After all, we’re supposed to grow and learn in life. Sometimes my loneliness is acute and it feels like nothing can alleviate it. Since I’m pretty comfortable alone it’s not being alone that triggers it. It’s being alone when I don’t want to be and feeling like I can’t connect with anyone. It’s that feeling that there’s no way to communicate my deepest feelings that makes me the loneliest.

Admittedly, the biggest reason is not having a one and only – which isn’t necessarily a love partner, though that would be nice. And I’m trying to find a way to understand how to make that very neglected part of my life work. But, just one or a few good companionable, compatible, supportive friends would do the trick.

I have friends like this, but they are mostly busy with their lives of husband/wife, active young family connections. Or they’re too far away to connect with very often. I’m a natural sharer and sometimes feel unbelievably bereft, and afraid for my future with no safeties in place. Also, being alone so much means that my nurturing instincts can go numb with disuse, or worse, get misplaced on someone entirely inappropriate. Something that can catch me unawares if I’m not careful.

Emily White thinks this type of dulling of the senses is a result of loneliness. She also offers up plenty of studies, although they are relatively small ones, that show how loneliness affects heart health, and is implicated in dementia. These pieces of information are nothing short of terrifying to me and the surest way to get me to try any outlet at all towards connection.

White says lonely people are reluctant to tell their families and friends that they are lonely. It’s true. Most people end up feeling responsible for how you feel and it only serves to turn them further away, not closer. I prefer to just bare down and get myself through it. But I’m also not afraid to say it’s a pretty big part of my life right now. But that really is my challenge, not anyone else’s.

I do know how to reach out and I enjoy sociability. I welcome it, when I’m feeling up to it. The truth is, through many years of therapy and 5 years of living away from home, I discovered the original me and that person requires more time and space, which usually means plenty of solitude of the chosen variety.

Most lonely people I know -whether they admit to being lonely or whether it’s something I sense – are creative, singular,  and as I like to call it, living outside the much touted “normal” lines. I can’t really complain about feel lonely when I bring it on by leaping out of my life every five years, at least.

My worry is that I will always do this and never settle down and that my innate (not genetic though) loneliness causes me to do this.

Perhaps I will never know. It’s not a worry I really want to take on. I prefer to believe it’s a badge of maturity to learn to live with loneliness. or should I say, live it out.

But I certainly have no intention of taking a pill for it. Nor will I stop my solo, apparently oh so courageous, outings to concerts and social gatherings.

Books and Authors · Feminism · herkind.com · Media · Men · News and current affairs · Televison · TVO: The Agenda · Women

A review of Vagina: A New Biography by Naomi Wolf

American feminist writer Naomi Wolf

Veteran 3rd wave feminist Naomi Wolf‘s new book, Vagina: A New Biography, reveals some new science about female sexual response and the power that good, attentive sex can give women. It’s been receiving scathing reviews, but I think there’s valuable and interesting information contained within.

I went out on a feminist limb and liked the book, then reviewed it for  TVO The Agenda’s blog:

The sexual revolution has not been kind to women or men; our information about the intricate science of female sexual response is at least a half century out of date; history reveals that in many cultures the vagina was once revered but has also been continually under attack as a systemic way to suppress women’s power; the click-of-a-computer-key availability of porn is rewiring our brains and impeding our ability to be intimate; and a woman’s sexual history – especially if it is violent – is held in nerve memory, but can be healed.

Read the full review on The Agenda website.

herkind.com · music · Raw Writing · The Writing Life

Let me be lighter

Music is powerful. It can get right under your skin when you least expect it. I had this experience last night.

Pink’s new album, The Truth About Love

I downloaded the new Pink album, The Truth About Love, and then settled in to listen as I was falling asleep. Well now, Pink’s music is probably a little too lively to fall asleep to and it wasn’t exactly doing the trick. So, when song # 9, Beam Me Up, came on, I was expecting another high energy song. Instead I got a soft guitar intro and Pink’s quieter, more vulnerable voice. Not fully paying attention (to be honest I had begun to play a game on my iPhone while listening) I was surprised to find myself crying after the second verse. Completely unprompted. It was the soaring music, which by this time included a violin, more than the words but then:

There are times I feel the shiver and cold

it only happens when I’m on my own

that’s how you tell me I’m not alone”

(now I’m officially balling, – it’s that word ALONE that always does it)

“Could you beam me up

give me a minute

I don’t know what I’d say in it

I’d probably just stare

happy just to be there, holding your face

could you beam me up

let me be lighter

I’m tired of being a fighter

I think – a minute’s enough

Could you beam me up?”

I admire people who can write  songs that convey, through lyrics and their perfect musical arrangements, so succinctly what is felt so deeply. I’ve been trying to write about my personal feelings about losing my mother (it’s partially because the anniversary is coming up that I feel so emotionally susceptible to a song like this) for the almost 15 years she’s been dead. I feel I’ve never been successful. The feelings are buried so far down by now but they are still so raw and I can never get to the crux of them. I just miss her.

All I can do is thank the musicians for their work – as artists, they quest for perfection and relatability in the songs they send out in the world. I doubt they really know how often they strike us at the exact time we need them.

Books and Authors · Feminism · herkind.com · Media · Men · Women

The Sex Lives of Girls and Women: review of Naomi Wolf’s Promiscuities

Originally written in 1997

Promiscuities by Naomi Wolf, pub. 1997

The Sex Lives of Girls and Women

“We did not know when we felt wild and danced to Patti Smith’s Horses with our hair flying and could not stand ourselves for one more minute and wanted to tear the world open, we were not incipient sluts but normal girls becoming women.”

Women are more carnal than men.  Petting should be taught in schools.  Rituals marking the passage from girlhood into womanhood are necessary in our culture.  Girls need to have a voice with which to tell the stories of their erotic awakenings and experiences.  These are some of the revelations, and recommendations put forth by third-wave feminist, speaker and writer Naomi Wolf in her new book, Promiscuities:  The Secret Struggle for Womanhood.  Wolf is the author of two previous polemical books, The Beauty Myth and Fire with Fire, both of which changed the tide of feminist debate and have since become cemented in current mainstream feminist ideology.  Now Ms. Wolf veers into confessional mode in order to tell what she describes as a “sexual coming of age story for girls,” that is also an inquiry into the nature of female sexual passion.

With ideology firmly entrenched in power feminism Wolf urges girls and women to take the control they already have over their own bodies, emotions, and essences as women.

Wolf’s own sexual awakening story, and those of her girlhood friends are woven in and out of historical and cultural facts about the resilient quality of women’s passion.  The setting is “ground zero of the Sexual Revolution;”  those turbulent years between the Pill and AIDS, in her hometown The Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco.  Wolf outlines the intricacies of dating, hierarchical “partner” selection, drug experimentation, sex struggles, loss of virginity, et al,  against the backdrop of the newly forming  ideas of the “tune in, turn on, drop out” blip in our history.

In the process we discover that our own culture keeps women forever adolescent  by not empowering us to make informed decisions about what to do with our very real feelings of desire.  While in some other cultures, Ancient China for example, men and women celebrated women’s passion as a force strong enough to hold the universe together.  In fact, Wolf tells us, Western culture is the only one that doesn’t exalt female sexuality as an entity quite separate from men.  This, of course, has devastating effects on young women.  Wolf asks us to consider this:  Any trace of “the bases”—petting stages somewhat accepted, or at the very least acknowledged as part of courtship in the ‘50s—has been virtually wiped out.  This is exacerbated by an increased number of confusing media and pop-culture images, in which there is often no clear delineation between sex and violence.  In the ‘60s and ‘70s these images were front and centre for the first time,  perhaps too readily available to the developing pre-sexual teen.  Post-sexual revolution teenagers, Wolf argues, go from “zero to sixty,” with little or no self-knowledge based on healthy exploration, on their own or with partners.

Most girls of her generation couldn’t wait to lose their virginity—to be all grown up—but they had no idea what it meant or would mean.  They did know that if they were good girls they weren’t supposed to want it.  After asking her friends about their “first time” sex experiences, Wolf concludes that many women talk about their “passage” with surprising passivity.  “It just happened,” a chorus of women says.  Consequently, they were unprepared, since preparation meant planning and actively participating in the act.  Possibly even acting as the aggressor.  “’Drawing a blank’—lack of consciousness—absolves you,” Wolf says of this phenomenon.  Which leads to a high percentage of teen pregnancies and STDs  that no amount of safe sex counseling seems to be able to control or change.

Wolf’s ideas about the sexual complexities facing teenagers and women today are a necessary addition to the feminist dialogue.  But they are, at times, disturbing to ponder.   In a section called  “A Short History of the Slut,” Wolf recounts the stories of two schoolmates who were casualties in the secret struggle; one by becoming pregnant, the other by fulfilling the prophecy of “loose” bestowed upon her because of her early physical development.  Wolf then traces female sexuality through two millennia and various cultures, engaging in some intricate discussion about what has been considered the norm for women, what our history can teach us about the true nature of female desire, and how hard it is to decipher all the in-betweens.  Here, women’s history and today’s accepted sexual behaviours collide, shocking us into the sad realization that two hundred years of history and so-called progress has not redeemed women and their desire beyond the label of slut.  Which raises the question:  Will we ever feel healthy about our sexual selves?  Will we ever be able to break our codes of silence, even with each other, to reveal that we are women full of desire, sometimes as much for the pure pleasure of connecting through sex for the sake of sex, as for the development and sustenance of a love relationship.

Thankfully, Wolf injects some comic relief with her search and rescue effort through history to reveal the path to female sexual pleasure:  the clitoris.  “Lost and Found: The Story of the Clitoris” spans 1559—the pleasure spot’s identification—through what Wolf calls The Great Forgetting period at the end of the 18th Century, to a brief 1896 celebration of it, to tiny evidences of its existence in the early 20th Century.  Finally, second-wave feminists of the ‘70s introduced it as a novel discovery.  Women, however, have been first hand witness to its reality all along.

As with all of Wolf’s books, Promiscuities asks more questions than it answers and opens the floodgate to healthy debate about the issues raised.  Not the least of which is always:  how to live in the world and still be feminist.  I find Naomi Wolf a much better speaker than writer.  Her weighty ideas are contained within sentences that are often poorly structured.  Such big, complicated thoughts would be more comprehensible rendered through clean, clear prose.  Her recall of verbatim dialogue from her youth, and the recounting of the stories of her friends seems, at times, contrived.  And her own confessions would have the emotional impact that I’m sure she intended and felt were she a better writer.

That said, I personally loved reading this book simply because it represents the time-frame of my own coming of age–a moment in history that has not been discussed in any meaningful way.  The pop-culture references alone were pleasing to look back upon.  By risking telling her story, Wolf has helped many of us of that generation piece together our own.  Over the years Naomi Wolf has provided a necessary link between the feminism of our mothers and that of a progressive and inclusive new feminism whose theories are less utopian and more achievable in our day-to-day existence as women. To my mind her uniqueness among feminists is that she is a living example for young women—who are often alienated by feminism to the point of rejecting the label even while embracing the ideals and goals—that it is possible to live within an inherited patriarchal construct, to do all we can to make it a better world for women, and also to be whole women.  In other words, she shows us over and over, through her ideologies and prescriptions for change, and her own life as a wife, mother and now a woman with a sexual past, that it’s not necessary to take the feminine out of feminist.

Carla Lucchetta is a Toronto writer who works by day in Communications at Bravo!

herkind.com · Raw Writing · The Writing Life · Uncategorized · Vancouver

Roaming in Vancouver

You know how it is; you break up with someone great because you’re convinced it’s the right thing to do. Maybe the timing is wrong or you think there’s something more suitable out there. Time passes. Nothing better presents itself. You don’t have the self-revelations you thought you might. And so you begin to revisit the decision, flirting with the possibility that, this time, things could be different… and better.

That’s how it is with me and Vancouver.

I came here for a rest and refuel, as I’m inclined to do every couple of years since my 2006 heart-wrenching break up with the city at the end of things. But tonight’s Jericho Beach sunset is the exact lure to get me thinking about staying.

Jericho Beach sunset, Aug 27

How can this sunset, and the blue hour it creates, go on nightly, weekly, monthly, yearly without me! Dusk is my favorite time of day, even without the blue upon blue upon blue of ocean, mountain and sky.

You can’t live somewhere just because you like the weather, can you?

I remember asking myself that when weighing whether to stay or go back to Toronto. But comparing this weather to the 45 degree plus exhausting heat and humidity I’ve experienced most of this summer, the answer is a resounding “yes, you can!”

Okay, maybe I should forget about the sun, Vancouverites are the first to remind me about its rare existence in this rainforest of a city. I must try to be practical and not let idealization creep in.

It is true that I wasn’t always happy here and if I recall correctly I had a fair number of lonely days and nights. I struggled for work and money, for acceptance from new friends who feared getting too close because I might leave. I had a big and then a smaller heartbreak. I dealt with the worry and guilt that comes when tragedy strikes far away back home.

Through it all though, the certainty of a mountain in my view and the ocean surrounding it was usually enough to ground me. And I don’t think I ever took it for granted. When I come to Vancouver now, I’m newly wowed by it, yet I have the luxury of knowing my way around, and feeling at home. The first few days of my 3 week stay felt strange, even confusing, but then I started roaming.

Retracing my steps is a habit I have, not just in Vancouver, but here I roam to remember my early days on the west coast, when my senses were so acute because everything was brand new.

Sunset, English Bay, Sept 7

At English Bay I think of the first time I happened upon a sunset, only to discover a crowded beach of aficionados, picnicking, throwing footballs, playing music, holding hands. From that day forward it was a daily check for sunset time and a rush to watch it, no matter what. I simply had to see the sky change hues with every passing moment.

Only in Vancouver do I fuss about missing the sunset. This visit, I’ve been alternating my viewing locations. Each one has different characteristics, each vantage point is unique. I’m trying to commit every single one to memory.

I suppose it’s natural for Vancouverites to worship the sun, considering its shyness.

A West End roam wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Lost Lagoon and my beloved swans. My first spring in Vancouver I became part of a small but passionate community of Swan Watchers. We were joined in the mind/heart work of making sure their eggs stayed viable and in delight we surrounded the nests during hatching to just love the cygnets out of their eggs.We made sure our schedules allowed us to see their first tentative dip into the lagoon, and their awkward climb on mom’s back for their first twirl around.

One of my beloved Lost Lagoon swans. Aug 24

That spring was equal parts exhilarating and difficult and I pinned all my hopes for a successful Vancouver life on the healthy lives of those wee creatures.

Walking the seawall conjures a 10-day trip I made in November 1999, two years after my mom died, when it rained every single day, which suited my mood and allowed me to cry without detection. At dusk one night, I made my way around the perimeter of Stanley Park, snapping pictures even as the rain fell. The sky was a brooding but hopeful mix of blue/grey/yellow and I made a vow that I would be living in Vancouver within a year. I framed that one photo and hung it in my work office to remind myself of the commitment.

Seawall, Stanley Park, Sept 7 – a recreation of the framed photo in my office, on a much sunnier day!

It was an easy goal to meet.

As I write this, I’m sitting mid-point Stanley Park seawall looking out into the open ocean. Tony West Van is on my right and the historic Siwash Rock on my left. Taking pen to paper at just this spot is so familiar. The first summer I lived here I would walk from my Alberni Street apartment, past Lost Lagoon, across the park to the seawall and along to at least this far. Then I’d double back to either 3rd, 2nd or English Bay beaches – depending on the value of my need for solitude. How many problems did I work out on those walks, on this bench, or laying in the sun listening to the waves?

Siwash Rock, Sept 7

If I had to put my finger on just what this part of the world means to me which, let’s face it, I’m constantly trying to do, it would have something to do with the fact that it’s the place I made peace with the past, started fresh and learned to be my original self.

I was finally able to alleviate the bottomless pit of loss the death of my mother had left, and learned to live without her. I learned how to be alone, and in the process discovered I prefer solitude. I lived for the first time on my own time and began to fully understand I’m a writer. I began to live as one, letting my creativity take me to new places and I followed it without fear. I learned to enjoy and appreciate the outdoor life, which up until then I regularly shunned, saying “I’m a city girl.” Not so, I found out. I became protective of the beauty of this place. I learned to open up my heart again, even if it meant getting it broken.

In recent years, I’ve forgotten that one , and it’s had consequences. In Toronto I live a too static, too insular life. It never occurs to me to chase down a sunset, and though I live minutes away from the lake, I rarely go there.

All this it very difficult to explain casually when asked, “what’s with you and Vancouver.” Easier to point to the beautiful surround of the city, no matter how cliché.

In these last few weeks of summer 2012, I’ve roamed every part of Vancouver that I know and to which I have special memories attached: North and West Van, there on the seabus – which, much to my amazement used to to be my commuter venue to one of my Vancouver jobs – and back by the Lion’s Gate Bridge, and it’s breathtaking view (or, as Doug Coupland says “one last grand gesture of beauty, of charm, and of grace before we enter the hinterlands”). Commercial Drive to Cafe Calabria, my Italian touch-stone in the city, Granville Island, just because it’s there and it’s great. And home of the wonderful Vancouver Writers Festival, where I’ve spent much time listening to – and drinking with – my tribesmen and women a.k.a writers. A walk along Alberni and then Pacific to look in on my first ever and most recent Vancouver apartments. I’ve gone to all the old haunts, and relived a lot of great, and some painful memories.

I should be exhausted from all the walking and remembering. Instead I’m relieved. It scares me when I think I’m forgetting the important time I spent living in Vancouver.

But I’ve also added some new memories and connections. I’ve been staying in Kitsilano, on the opposite side of the bay to where I always lived, so my roaming has included places I’ve never spent a great deal of time. Kits Beach, Jericho Beach, Point Grey, getting to know the small businesses and cute cafes and bars on West Broadway and West 4th. A discovery of a new, growing part of town, Olympic Village.

Seawall towards Olympic Village, a growing part of town.

When I worked at Citytv on West 2nd, there was nothing there: no bus route, no Starbucks or any decent lunch spots, no fun place to go for after work drinks. Now there’s the beginnings of a vibrant community and a gorgeous new seawall walk linking Granville Island to Olympic Village to Yaletown and beyond.

Now, I know there are some problems associated with this area of town, but from the point of view of fresh eyes, it’s good to see Vancouver not only growing, but with a renewed sense of civic pride born of the world’s favourable gaze during the 2010 Olympics. It’s what I hoped would happen.

This luxurious stretch of time here – remembering the old and discovering the new – is maybe my attempt to reconcile my regret about having left, and to begin a process to decide what to do about it. Try again, or stay put. Is it where I should be living, or is it my second place, a place to come for peace and restoration.

Coal Harbour, Sept 7

The one big plus on the side of returning has nothing to do with any place I saw, anyone I spent time with or any landmark I visited. It’s simply this: I like myself better in Vancouver!

Usually the person you feel most comfortable with, the one who can still surprise and inspire you no matter how long you’ve been together, the one you feel your very best self with is the one you return to, saying “I made a mistake, if you’ll have me, I want to come back.”

Maybe Vancouver and I are due for a second chance.

Books and Authors · Feminism · herkind.com · Media · News and current affairs · The Writing Life · Women

Fall Books 2012 / Giller long list

The fall book literary scene is always exciting but never more so than when my fave writer, Alice Munro is on the list. with her new book of stories, Dear Life. An added bonus for me is a new book from second wave feminist icon, Naomi Wolf.

Here’s my annual Ottawa Citizen fall book preview:

From Alice Munro to J.K. Rowling, the fall season for books is a full one

Yesterday, the Giller Prize long list was announced, from which the finalist will be announced on October 1st and winner will chosen at the Gala dinner in early November.  This year’s judges are Roddy Doyle, Gary Shteyngart and Anna Porter.

Happy Reading!

herkind.com · Raw Writing · The Vault: best of Herkind.com · The Writing Life · Vancouver

The Vault: the best of herkind.com / Unrequited

Originally published March 12, 2007

Is it possible to suffer a broken heart because of a failed relationship with the city of your dreams?

Moving home from Vancouver almost a year ago was like saying goodbye to a lover I didn’t want to leave, but with whom I knew there’d only ever be heartache. It’s not surprising then, that I would be filled with a longing that is most times very difficult to put into words.

Funny, how I keep trying…

This whole year has been a reintegration, a re-learning of sorts and I should probably keep the process to myself.  But…

English Bay sunset

If you haven’t lived in a place that doesn’t get ridiculously cold and, worse, barren for 6 months of the year, then it’s hard to understand what you’re missing, or even that there are liveable, viable places like that in the world to conduct your life (that aren’t resorts, I mean).

If you have, then this would be the longest winter of your entire life!!!

Sweet and helpful people tell me that it’s been a good winter, not too many cold snaps or snow, but that’s really besides the point for me. In October when the leaves started changing colour (admittedly pretty), and then falling off (oh dear!), I knew I was in for a long lush-less period of browning grass and cold, dark concrete, dirty, slushy snow that hangs around for eons. But I never would have anticipated the impact of it on my psyche – I guess I thought, well I was born here and survived 39 winters in a kind of desolation I never named, because I didn’t know any damn different! So, what’s the problem?

Well,, I only learned to appreciate nature by waking up to its unrelenting beauty every day. It really does change your whole perspective!

Stanley Park Seawall

Lovely Desiree, my friend in Vancouver, said last night, “well, it’s raining here.” Another well-meaning friend commented, “We have our own weather issues… it’s cloudy” Um… big flippin’ deal!!! My umbrella has been sitting under my work desk for months now, and I would kill to be able to use it over dragging on coat, scarf, hat and boots for the 5th month in a row!!! My dear West Coast friends, you probably don’t know this but RAIN and cloudiness is far better. You see, it means things are green, spring comes early and it never gets all that cold.

There!

Vancouverites love to compare themselves to Toronto and Montreal, feeling they always come up a bit short (oh they deny this, but it is sooo true!) It seems like a pointless effort, since they are really apples and oranges. And here’s why:

Each region of Canada has a way (and means actually) of life that is based purely on geography and climate. A road trip across the country is the best way to understand this. The things that concern us here in the centre of the universe don’t even register on the radar of rural Albertans, prairie folk, Islanders or west coast dwellers. This is the main reason why both sides of the country feel alienated, to one degree or another, by a centrist government and media. Who can blame ’em?

There are differences that are so subtle it’s easy to dismiss them – except that at the moment they are glaringly obvious to me. This morning, for instance, seeing the temperature was finally a balmy 1 degree above zero, I pulled out a top I haven’t worn in ages, but that was a staple in my wardrobe in Vancouver – in any season. Why? It’s a light weight cotton long sleeve, which up until this point would have me freezing both under my winter coat and sitting at my desk. Simple but important difference – you don’t have to invest in four seasons worth of clothing!! (good thing in a city as expensive as my beloved)

Cherry blossom-lined streets

Folks in Vancouver have impeccable shoes, hair and very clean cars. Nothing is weather-beaten. It’s one of the first things I noticed, with pleasure.

By the time I left Toronto 6 years ago, I had grown to hate winter and that fact was a big influence on the decision to live in a part of our country that pretty much skips that season.

I guess I forgot that part!

Last week I spent a day at Canada Blooms, a gardening trade exhibit. We were shooting stories for the tv show I work on and it sure felt strange to have to go inside at this time of year to see trees, waterfalls, streaming rivulets and flowers. It was so out of context for me that some of the displays looked downright funereal. At first struck by the crowd, I soon realized I was one of them, desperate to see green, growing things; willing to drop any amount on whatever it takes to make my 2×4 Toronto garden look lush for as long as possible (AND I DON’T EVEN HAVE ONE).

Here’s the crux of it: I never want to be a person who feels desperate for anything, least of all for want of a pretty flowering tree to gaze upon.

Cherry blossoms

But there’s also a deeper psychological issue at play here. I was brought up in a household full of extremes where I perfected the art of crisis management in order to feel any semblance of normal. To step out of the spiral I figured out that the extremes in weather too closely mirrored my early life.  I had to find moderation in all things – the ubiquitous balance to which everyone here gives lip service. As crazy as it sounds, for me that included weather, maybe even started with it. I thought I had succeeded , so this winter (and the horrific heat and humidity of this past summer) have been as much a test of endurance, as a barometer of personal growth.

I’m serious!

The truth is, as beautiful as Vancouver was and is, I could never quite find a way to make it feel like home. Had I been able to conquer that I would never have left. It was truly the biggest bout of unrequited love I’ve ever experienced. Geesh, you’d think I’d be happy it’s over!

Still… Spring has never been more welcome, and having said that I will rest my fruitless and exhausting comparisons and just find a way to make peace with my decision to live here.

OR…

family life · herkind.com

Imaginary Friend

Today is the birthday of my oldest sister. She would have been 63 years old, which is mighty hard to believe. To me she is frozen at 25, the age she was when she died., or even younger since the very few memories I have of her lie in her teenage life, when she was my favorite babysitter.

Donna and me, circa 1961

And I can’t really say I know that much about her either, just the usual milestone information and a kind of idyllic remembrance of her that happens when the young die.

This is a photo of us – me about one, and her at 12.

I have always imagined that as adults we would be compatible friends.  It’s a thought I like to entertain.

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The Vault: best of herkind.com / Non-Mom

 

(Summer is the time of year I really feel I’ve missed out by not becoming a mother. I think I said it best in this post introducing my TVO essay on the topic. Originally published on Jan. 6, 2011)

Last year I met the writer,  Molly Peacock and began, by chance, to talk to her about a piece I was trying to work out about being childless and how hard it was to a) reconcile that fact, in a world where motherhood is revered, and b) how silent the process is because there’s so little written on it, and it’s rarely discussed. What I didn’t know was that she had written an entire book on her choice to be child-free and how it had defined her life.

I devoured Paradise Piece by Piece and, though my childlessness has happened more from circumstance than choice – it would never be my choice – I still related to a great deal of what she wrote. That’s because to be a “non-mom” is still fairly undefined and misunderstood.

Here’s my TVO The Agenda essay on the topic. It’s Part 2, which began with an essay on how the advent of fertility technology makes us mistakenly believe we can delay motherhood. It struck quite a  nerve and this one is a response to a question posed to me :is it really all that emotionally difficult not to be a mother?

The Invisibility of the “non-moms”

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Message to young writers: Creativity is forever, be willing to experiment

Recently I had the great opportunity to give the keynote speech at the annual Literary Dinner at Ridley College in St. Catherine’s. In the speech, I tried to balance some inspirational words about pursuing creativity with the reality of the writing life. I’ve had some requests to read it so I’m posting it here. (there are a couple of notes of clarification, which are denoted by asterisks and explained below the text)

Good evening Ridley students and congratulations on your accomplishments this year in the literary arts.

I’ve spent a great deal of time in my career reading the work of young writers and I have to say that the stories and poems that I read in “Voices”* are among the best. Writing is hard work, but the reward is sweet, isn’t it? Seeing your name after all those hard won words, phrases and sentences is a thrill, and I hope it always will be. Making your work public is risky business, so, my hat is off to you for your confidence and courage!

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, but I’ve only been making my living at it for the last decade or so. I guess I’m the quintessential late-bloomer, but as the astute essayist Malcolm Gladwell* has pointed out, late-bloomers are only people who don’t dive right in, but rather spend some time experimenting. So it takes us awhile to get where we’re going.

I’m here to share with you a little bit about my creative journey, which started when I was about your age and has culminated, at least this far, in the signing of my first book contract, with many interesting – and sometimes exasperating “experimental” twists and turns.

***

My well-worn high school copy of The Great Gatsby

“In my younger and more vulnerable years…” Recognize those words? Of course, they open that unforgettable novel, The Great Gatsby. Those seven words have been imprinted on my memory since I read them for the first time in Grade 12. That was 1978. Recently, I picked Gatsby up again to read for perhaps the 5th time since then, once for every decade. It’s not that I don’t know the story by heart, it’s that the book – universally thought to be one of the best ever written – reminds me time and again that economical yet evocative writing is always the way to go.

I think I picked it up this time ‘round in anticipation of a new film adaptation set to hit screens in December, where Leonardo DiCaprio plays Jay Gatsby and Carrie Mulligan takes a whirl as Daisy. It’s a flashy, 3D version no less, as if the story isn’t captivating enough!

The copy I’m reading – here it is – is from high school. It’s a 1953 imprint and the beauty of it, besides the writing and ideas contained within, is my marginalia. All the notes I took during class readings and analysis. The very ones I must have used to write an essay on Fitzgerald’s themes.

my high school scribblings in the margins of the last page of The Great Gatsby

Now, I have to tell you, I spent my high school years being pretty lazy about homework and essays. I got away with it with most teachers, probably because I could write and therefore pull off a decent assignment, last minute. But my Grade 12 English teacher, Mr. O’Gorman, recognized the laziness pretty quickly and one day sat me down and told me he knew I was smarter than I let on, he could tell the material we were studying affected me, and there was no doubt I could write. He said the only way I could pass his class was to show him he was right about me.

This conversation was remarkable for a few reasons:

A) I couldn’t fool him with a believable excuse and a good sentence

B) He said things like “Look to the words, they are pools that are very deep,” showing that he loved the literature he taught us and,

C) He saw my natural  writing talent but made me dig deeper.

Not only did this teacher bring out the best in me, his support fostered a love of literature, reading and writing I really didn’t know I possessed.  It could even be the very push I needed in the direction of the career I now have.

Then…I forgot all about it. I quit school and started working fulltime. I kept reading, I kept writing – mostly overwrought romantic poetry and always a journal, but I randomly decided that university wasn’t for me.  Well, I say randomly now…I’m sure at the time I had a perfectly plausible rationale to tell my parents.

Years of full-time retail work does wonders for conjuring up a longing to be back in school.  So at the age of 25, I entered York University in Toronto to study Creative Writing and English Literature.  Not only did I remember what I love to do – read and write, but I began to see writing as a vocation, a compulsion – something I simply had to do as often as possible, maybe even every day.  Writing was pure joy. Some of you are probably already feeling this sensation.  Writing folds time. It carries you away. It’s both a journey and a destination. For four years I dedicated myself to the craft, and still, after graduation, I veered away from it.

Why did I discover such pleasure and then turn my back on it? It’s hard to say, except that creativity is sometimes a difficult thing to accept into your life. Although I knew I had the sensibility of a writer – the tendency to stand back and observe, the need to, as Anais Nin says “taste life twice; in the moment and in retrospect,” the impulse to share my impressions of the world with the world – I also had a fear that the writing life would be a struggling one, and a lonely one. Plus, I finished university at the age of 30. I had some catching up to do and had to earn money!

So I put my skills to work in PR, writing great press releases and marketing copy, and spent ten years being the wind beneath the wings of many creatives – musicians, writers, artists, actors.  I saw, first hand, what that life was like, and as much as I may have been enamored of it, I still wasn’t ready to try it.

During this time I became the publicity manager for the International Festival of Authors at Harbourfront in Toronto.  Mixing and mingling with some of the biggest authors from Canada and around the world became my norm. Weekly, I spent one-on-one time with them, taking them around to their media interviews, having lunch with them, driving them to and from the airport. So, I got to see them on and off-stage.

On stage, they were super stars, no matter what their level of achievement in literature. I was in awe of them AND I felt strongly I could never be one of them. Oh the tenacity, the patience, the confidence and sheer talent they possessed! But off stage, in casual conversation – anything from helping calm Alice Munro’s nerves backstage at a reading, to passing the time with William Golding and his wife on an their first trip to Niagara Falls during a festival, or taking a parallel parking lesson from Ken Kesey (author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) – I felt a kind of affinity with them. No matter if we talked about mundane topics, or engaged in deeper conversations, I slowly began to realize that I shared their lens on the world –  asking questions, analyzing everything, and of course, those deep powers of observation so common to writers and creatives of all stripes.

Many times, one of them would ask me if I was a writer. I always said no, mostly, because during this time I really wasn’t writing that much. I had no inclination in the face of so much genius. Then one day a young poet told me I must be kindred because he felt I had a writer’s personality. Encouraged by what I considered a compliment, I reluctantly confessed that I did write, and in fact had a creative writing degree. “I knew it,” he said!

After that I gave myself permission to openly revel in the company of writers. AND, I began to pound the keys again!

But it wasn’t until I approached my 40th birthday, and the ten year mark in my PR career – the one I’d been growing increasingly tired of because… well, it wasn’t my vocation, no matter how well it paid the bills – that I decided to throw caution to the wind and try to live on my creative brain. In order to do this, I felt I had to move clear across the country! I wanted to start fresh, way outside of my comfort zone and I had the idea that the West Coast Mountains and the Pacific Ocean would ignite my muse.

It was an experiment.

I should tell you that I attribute some of my false starts in a writing career with the desire of both my parents that their children have solid, full-time jobs with benefits and a good pension. If there’s any creativity in this picture, it should be a sidebar only.  You can’t fault them for that; they lived through some hard economic times when good jobs were hard to come by and hang on to. My first ever job was at age 13 in a public library and I’d never been without a job since then, so I was taking quite a chance- as many creatives feel compelled to do.

During the first few months, I remember experienced two competing feelings: one of guilt for not getting up and going to work every day, pulling in a regular pay cheque, and the other pure bliss, for living on my own time for the first time, which gave me the space and freedom to let ideas percolate and words flow. Despite the ups and downs, and the feast or famine that seems to characterize this line of work, I haven’t really looked back.

The thing about the writing life is; you have to love writing. You sure do always have to harken back to the joy you experience when you’re in the thick of it, because much of what surrounds it is hard work. As a freelance writer, a good deal of time is taken up with the business of writing; finding ideas and people with interesting stories to interview, designing the perfect pitch to editors, writing to tight deadlines – forgoing the natural inclination to sit and stare out the window while the story unfolds in the brain – invoicing, waiting for money, waiting for money, waiting for money…

But… on the gorgeous plus side:   After many years of practice, I’ve finally found my truest voice and have begun to be recognized for it.  I’ve reached many goals I never thought I would, I’ve met and interviewed some amazing people with fascinating stories that have enriched my life, and some very unexpected opportunities have come my way.  Speaking to you tonight is one of them. Paying it forward by mentoring young writers and new writers of all ages is another.

As a book reviewer, I actually get paid to read some great books and people are interested in what I have to say about them. I’ve come to know so many accomplished writers, many of whom I’ve admired for years, that I can now call friends. After so many years of feeling on the outside looking in, I’ve finally found my tribe.

Each month I present an essay on one of the most respected current affairs shows on Canadian TV, and though I’ve been doing so for 2 seasons, I still get a thrill when host and veteran journalist, Steve Paikin, a man I greatly respect, introduces my segment and thanks me for it afterwards. I’ve taught university courses, I’ve published short stories and personal essays, and the biggest goal reached to date is my first book which will be published next year.

The night I signed my contract, I didn’t get a wink of sleep. I just couldn’t believe that, after all the hard work – the disappointments and triumphs, the fussing and fretting that I didn’t have enough talent, enough time, enough confidence, I would finally have a book on store shelves (and Kindles, I suppose) that has my blood, sweat, tears and name on it!

I’ll tell you a secret, I’ve already written my acknowledgements for the book. That’s because I can’t wait to officially thank, in print, all the people who’ve encouraged, supported and helped me along the way. That’s a long list since, no matter how solitary the act of writing is, pretty much the most important required constant is care and feeding.

You better believe Mr. O’Gorman, my Grade 12 English teacher, is on that list.

What I’ve learned is, for all my revving up and experimentation, I’ve finally begun to feel like I’m making real the visions I’ve had in my head.  All it takes is belief in YOU, faith in your talent, surrounding yourself with people who believe in you and support your efforts, practice and more practice, good instincts and steady steps forward.

Don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t have time to experiment.

Although you may, at times, have to put your ultimate goals aside when life gets in the way, know that the thing that compels you to pick up a pen, paint brush or musical instrument will probably always be there. Creativity is a forever thing. Keep your eye on the prize, whatever that prize is to you, and try to remember to nurture your creativity in whatever way you can. Keep working towards that final product.

You will get there. You’re already on your way.

Thanks for having me tonight. I wish you the greatest good luck with your creative endeavours and your lives.

# # #

* Voices is a publication the Ridley College English students put together every year to showcase their creative writing; essays, short stories, poetry, photography and art.

* I was referring to Malcolm Gladwell’s excellent essay called Late Bloomers, which changed the way I think about my slow and painstaking approach to writing – as in, I don’t think it’s so bad after all!