One Week

Knowing what an Outlander fan I am, Richard bought me an Outlander calendar for Christmas. The month of May featured a photo of a striding Stephen Bonnet, one of the series’ villains, but I didn’t want to look at him for a whole month so I flipped it ahead to June.

An innocuous action. But one I later found interesting when it turned out I was delighted to see the back end of May, 2021.

May’s troubles began the first weekend with a gum infection that led to surgery a couple weeks later, then recovery. Most of the month passed in a fog of pain and a sort of inertia, fatigue, and thick-headedness from constant Tylenol and Advil use. This, combined with the crushing new restrictions and the postponement of Katherine’s wedding, was the rain.

I knew it was coming. I knew we needed it. And a few rainy days in a row is good for creativity and indoor tasks and hot coffee and pajamas. But it seemed never-ending. Like the restrictions. Like winter often feels. And then, in typical Alberta-style suddenness, summer arrived. A glorious week of scorching sun and clear skies, and warm, still evenings where we could sit out until dark without need of jackets.

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Thirty-three degrees is too much for some. It’s great for the beach or an air-conditioned office; not so great to work outdoors or sleep at night. But it’s a real mood improver for me.

They say that for every negative comment you hear, you’re supposed to neutralize it with several positive ones. For me, though, one good week can somehow counteract four bad ones. I like those numbers. I like them a lot.

All Out of Wisdom

The first weekend of May, we helped Katherine move; tired from the exertions of the day, we decided to treat ourselves to Thai food when we returned home. As usual, I ordered my favourite: yellow curry with chicken and coconut rice, and dived in.

I’d been feeling a little pain in the top corner of my mouth on and off again but nothing that worried me. But by Sunday night, the pain intensified a hundredfold, shooting all the way up into my temple as far as my eye. The dentist worked me in the next day and the diagnosis was simple—my one remaining wisdom tooth was wreaking havoc, exerting so much pressure that a pocket had opened up in the gum and gotten infected. And curry was like rubbing salt in a wound.

Every time I glanced at my reflection, I saw pain etched all around pinched eyes. The chiropractor and massage therapist had to work out knotted muscles halfway up my back to my temples. Somehow I got through my piano lessons—painful but a distraction, at least—but trying to read was like attempting to pour pudding through a straw.

A couple days in, when the antibiotics did their beautiful thing, I returned to a decent functioning level, and waited for my appointment with the surgeon. I’d heard all sorts of horror stories about wisdom teeth, which made me grateful I was only born with two, both on the top. Years ago, while my daughters were still young, one made an appearance and was easily removed—no cutting, no twisting, no problem. The other remained, doing nothing, just an image on an X-ray. I figured it would stay there for the rest of my life.

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I’m not terribly nervous about most medical procedures but I was nervous about this one. The surgeon didn’t seem worried, telling me local anaesthetic would do just fine and I could drive myself. I’d have a consult and surgery and be on my way within an hour.

But I hadn’t counted on the surgical room. I have a pretty high pain tolerance but am particularly sensitive to environments—hot/cold, lighting, smells, sounds. I met with the surgeon in a normal-looking dentist room. After completing the financial arrangements, they escorted me to a room that reminded me more of the surgical space where I had my hysterectomy. It was large, with lots of stainless steel and all those dental tools spread in a row.

The chair was wide and comfortable, not at all like the cold, hard table in an operating room. But I felt my body tensing, my right hand shaking in my lap. Perhaps I’ve read too many murder mysteries with serial killers, but that was where my mind went. The surgeon and his assistant were lovely, joking about things and talking me through each step, so I have no complaints about them or any doubts about their competence. But I tend to be claustrophobic and as soon as they started pressing and working in that small space deep in the back of my mouth, I really struggled to stay calm.

It was fast. Consult to completion was under forty minutes, the tooth removal itself probably about ten. I walked to my car, consulted my map, and began driving away from downtown.

I’d thought the worst was over. Maybe it was the residual effects of those gloved hands working in my throat, or the room, or the thick ball of gauze in my mouth, but I couldn’t catch my breath. I’ve had bouts of anxiety before and lots of fear. But not panic attacks. As I drove, I was sure this was what was happening.

I could breathe. I could see. But the normal long breaths weren’t cutting it so I switched over to a rhythmic panting, three short inhales, one long exhale. Three short inhales, one long exhale. I made my way on to Memorial, going slow, sitting in traffic but still ahead of rush hour. I thought in terms of roads, one turn after another.

They say that in a moment of crisis, everything slows down. I don’t know if it’s true but it certainly feels that way to me when I’ve experienced things like a near head-on collision or the time Anna got her fingers shut in a screen door. A certain calmness comes over me and I know what to do. I knew I had enough oxygen; I knew if I didn’t, I had to pull over; I knew I had to take shorter breaths; I knew I had to drive slower.

By the time I reached Airport Road I was feeling a lot better; by Airdrie I was normal again. But I remained at a slower speed for quite some time afterward.

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During Zoom church a few days later, a woman shared her ongoing strategy for staying sane and well during these times; this involved participating in regular practises that centered around remaining deeply connected to her body. I could relate. For too many years, I’ve been disconnected from my body, but I’ve been slowly changing that.

What happened to me in that surgical room and on the way home was a pure body reaction. It was telling me something that I just had to listen to. Perhaps if I’d verbalized my reaction more clearly to that room, they would have moved me; perhaps not. I wanted to be brave and soldier on, but I think my body fought that tooth removal by my very tenseness.

And it told me something again on the way home. To listen, to give it what it needed in terms of short breaths, to be willing to discard my desire to evade rush hour and just pull over if it came to that.

I don’t know how people manage having all four of these teeth pulled at the same time. Or why. After this experience, I am even more grateful that God saw fit to only give me two.

Reading!

This time last year, I remember feeling stunned. New information and directions were coming at the speed of light; by the time I halfway absorbed them, there were more.

I couldn’t concentrate on anything. I sat with a book in my hand, unable to read it. Somehow, perhaps because I was deep into a rewrite, I was eventually able to return to my writing but reading, the staple of my life, continued to elude me.

During one of our Zoom church calls later that spring, a couple people started talking about a mystery series they were reading. The main character, Harry Bosch, sounded familiar to me—I later realized I had read a couple of the books before but they hadn’t resonated much with me at the time—and I eventually got around to ordering the first three from the library.

I love mysteries. Not just because of the story. The ones I treasure most have compelling main characters, flawed investigators and police; if I get to follow their personal stories in a series, all the better. For this reason, I have inhaled Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie books as well as Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series.

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Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch is another compelling character. Perhaps I was not interested in the LAPD the first time I picked up the books; perhaps I was not hooked due to the more commercial, plot-driven nature of them or the poorly written female characters. But Connelly has a terrific feel for Bosch, who really starts to develop with each book in the series.

The real key to series enjoyment is reading in order. Not necessarily for the plot but to understand what is happening in the inner world of the main investigator. I really gravitated toward Harry Bosch as I read each book; he’s a loner, self-protective, wounded, self-sabotaging, always in trouble with his superiors, determined, and often abrasive. He’s also very perceptive, able to read people and situations and to go with his gut, qualities I appreciate and understand.

I was completely hooked by the time I read The Last Coyote. At long last, Harry has been pushed to his limit and his carefully controlled feelings are leaking out all over the place. He ends up suspended, unable to return to work until he passes a psych evaluation, which puts him in the office of Carmen Hinojos, an outspoken psychiatrist who manages to press a lot of his buttons—and some of my own. I didn’t write down her exact words at the time of reading, but I remember stopping and thinking a lot when she tells Harry that she suspects his childhood trauma—likely leading to his choice of career in homicide—has left him without a healthy survival instinct, causing him to regularly put himself in places where he is continually wounded. She tells him the pursuit of his mother’s killer while he is suspended will likely bring him more pain than closure, which is probably why he is doing it.

I’ve always been interested in better understanding my own tendency toward self-sabotage. I’ve discovered a lot of answers from many non-fiction sources, but I’ve also hit pay dirt repeatedly from novels. Perhaps this is why I am drawn so often to well-crafted mysteries. Mysteries, after all, address the worst and darkest places deep inside all of us; they reveal what we are capable of, what constant exposure to darkness does, how the line between black and white is not always as clear as we’d like it to be. They also highlight the need for law and order and consequences, as well as understanding and compassion.

To say I’ve been galloping through Michael Connelly’s books would not be an over-statement. I’ve read eleven books so far; along the way I’ve come across other characters like ex-FBI Terry McCaleb, detective Renée Ballard, and journalist Jack McEvoy, and have diverted from the main Bosch series in order to read these characters’ books. Another perk of series reading—characters who cross over into each other’s stories.

But then I ran into a potential snag. Connelly switched narration from third person to first. This jarred me at first when paging through The Poet, the opening book in the Jack McEvoy series, but I was immediately impressed with the quality of the writing.

I was not so forgiving when it came to first person with Bosch. You know you are involved in the fictional lives of characters when you whine to your husband about them. “I can’t believe it! After eight Bosch books, Connelly’s gone and switched to first person in Lost Light! Plus, Bosch retired from the LAPD—what’s that all about?”

Perhaps Connelly writes best in first person—who knows. The point is, I’m reading again. And not just mystery. I’m re-reading Clarissa Pinkola Estés’ Women Who Run with the Wolves as fast as I can digest it, and trying to complete the fourth novel in a series about Naples. And, oh dear, I just discovered Tana French has a new book out and her books are never short . . .

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As far as addictions go, books and shoes are mine. And perhaps good espresso and a slightly smoky Scotch. And I’m enjoying every single one.

Thoughts from The Legend of Bagger Vance

Every once in a while I get an urge to watch an old movie that I loved from the first time I saw it, The Legend of Bagger Vance. It’s not for everyone. Deeply metaphorical, it tells the story of a Savannah golfer whose life was interrupted by WWI; ten years later, during the Depression, he’s invited to play a tournament.

If you’re not a golf fan, don’t worry. It’s not really about golf. While Rannulph Junuh practises his swing in the dark, his life is interrupted once again, this time by caddie Bagger Vance, who injects a lot of lightness and play into the story while also managing to show Junuh how to live again.

Some feel it’s too mythical, Junuh on his journey from darkness to light, and Bagger as an angel or even a God figure. But I find the balance to be just right. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen this movie, and it always manages to make me tear up at certain pivotal moments, like when Bagger shows Junuh how to “see” the field in front of him; when he reminds Junuh that golf/life is a game that can’t be won, only played; when he speaks of the authentic swing inside everyone that’s been buried and forgotten and needs to be remembered; and his reminder that we are never alone.

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It’s a feel-good movie, not shrinking away from the awful aspects of life on earth, but focussing on hope, compassion, and purpose. But there’s another element in this movie I find equally compelling, and that is the value of free will.

At no point does Bagger force anything on Rannulph Junuh; he lets him move at his own pace, offering advice and support but sitting back while Junuh blunders about making bad decisions and sabotaging his changes at winning. Bagger interferes only once near the end when Junuh, entering a dark thicket of trees that puts him mentally back on the battlefield, slowly reaches down to the golf ball as if to pick it up, to cheat, to do something in contrast to who he really is; before he can pick it up, Bagger asks him what club he wants, which leads to an important conversation where Bagger tells him it’s time to choose between staying where he is or coming forward out of the shadows.

This is pivotal because, a few short scenes later, Junuh has another opportunity to cheat but he doesn’t—immediately after, Bagger chooses to leave him, passing the reins over to ten-year-old Hardy Greaves (also the narrator of the movie). This infuriates Judge Neskaloosa, who has spent his time trying to control everybody. But Bagger is giving Junuh and Hardy the bigger gift: confidence. He believes in them; he has all along but they didn’t know it.

The older I get, the more this message speaks to me. We can—we must—influence each other. We all have knowledge and life skills to share. But we cannot force them on anyone. It takes wisdom to know when to speak, when to wait, when to interfere. But always, always, always, we must remember we cannot force.

I think the reason this movie resonates so much with me is that it speaks truth. Don’t let its golf framework or its mythical nature turn you off. Despite all the spoilers I may have given out in this post, I’d highly recommend this movie if you haven’t already had the privilege of watching it. I know I’ll be enjoying it again sometime in the near future.

Moments

A writer not having words is a strange and unusual affair, and yet here I am, sitting with fingers reflecting back to me in my laptop screen, hitting backspace over and over again as I mull over what I want to say.

My life is full, and by full I don’t mean busy in the way I used to be pre-COVID. Far from it. Sometimes I’ve not had a lot to say and have been silent; now I have so much that I don’t know where to begin.

After all the ups and downs of the past twelve months, I’ve been eager for good news. And I received a large dose of it a few weeks ago when my oldest daughter got engaged. Not one for big shows of overt emotion, Katherine calmly hinted they were thinking of getting engaged by telling us Kaleb wanted to talk to Richard; not so subtly, she asked if we had any family rings which led to a conversation with my mother who was happy to share her grandmother’s wedding band. Katherine loves old things and ancestry; she’d traced back both sides of my mother’s family tree and was thrilled to have something belonging to Nellie Slocombe, her maternal great-great grandmother.

I was delighted by the news. At nearly twenty-six, Katherine knows what she wants and who she wants to share her life with, and I am so happy for her. But this is big. Bigger than perhaps I’ve actually processed.

Katherine had a lot of things already figured out—the venue, the month, the bridal party, some thoughts on colours and flowers. She wanted a boho dress, maybe vintage; she wanted elegant but casual. She knew there were a lot of things to do; she also knew she could rely on her sister and mom to get the ball rolling.

First thing: the dress. Anna set to work calling shops in Calgary and I booked appointments in Red Deer. We started with a consignment store, a cute little shop downtown, and dress after dress in a style Katherine thought she wanted was brought in. Finally, I asked the shop owner to bring something different, just to compare. I suggested a tulle skirt instead of all the lace, hoping it would give Katherine an option that might bring the price down and still give her what she had pictured.

Did it ever. By the time the day was done and we were having supper, the decision was made. By late afternoon the next day, the dress was purchased, the hair style decided, and the bridesmaid dresses bought. Boom, boom, boom.

Not usually keen on decision-making, I think Katherine is as surprised as her sister and I by the speed of this. But this is how a big event gets accomplished, breaking it into small parts that start to form a clear line, one leading to the next and the next. The dress helped the hair, the bridesmaid dresses, the date; it helped inform priorities, where she’d like to spend money and what was less important.

Every bride dreams of her wedding day. Now, as the mother of the bride, I’m experiencing a whole hatful of new feelings—joy, excitement, gratefulness. And delight at being invited to be part of these moments.

Wedding dress shopping was one such moment. To watch Katherine parade around in dress after dress, to see her connect her vision with herself—this fabric, this skirt, this detail. To share the day with both my daughters, laughing, interacting with them as adults who know each other well, respectful, honouring each others’ communication styles and decision-processing tendencies.

Not every moment along this road will be smooth. Nerves might fray, things might get forgotten or not go as planned. We are not always at our best, nor do we have to be. This hasn’t always been a truth I’ve modelled but somehow my girls have grasped it, and it’s a good thing. We want our kids to exceed us, to be healthier earlier, to learn lessons quicker than we did.

Can I just say here I am proud of both my daughters? They are excellent humans, true to themselves in a world where artifice is too often applauded. They are strong and kind and empathic. Any part I have had in this is a blessing I have no words for.

From the first, Richard has been more emotional than I about Katherine’s engagement. I felt mostly joy and excitement, easily transitioning into organizational mode and action. But lately, I am increasingly tearful. Not because I feel anything like loss or change or other empty-nest related things that I experienced when the girls left home for college.

I still feel joy. In fact, I think my well is so full that it is spilling over. Sometimes laughter, sometimes tears. The accumulation of a parenting life of gratitude that I get to be here, now, at this moment, with the family I have actively participated in.

February

February is often a very hard month for me. Winter usually has its teeth into everything at this point, impairing normal day-to-day tasks with snow, bone-chilling cold, and storms. If winter lasted only one month, we’d be laughing. But by February, it’s already worn out its welcome, with another couple months still to go.

I’ve come to expect this low feeling at this time of year. As a person well familiar with depression, I find some relief in this knowledge. Feeling blue for a reason means that it is not permanent—it will melt away along with the snow and the slow turning of the earth toward the sun.

This winter has been mild, a lovely gift in a world where plane travel to escape it continues to be out of reach. But this particular February, for personal reasons I won’t go into here, has been one of the hardest I can remember. It came on the heels of a very introspective winter in general, where I’ve been doing a lot of deep personal work and was already rather depleted. I was, however, much clearer about me and my life and how I wanted to live it.

So when this relational crisis came, I saw the way forward fairly quickly. I’m good at taking action. Too much analysis leads to paralysis for me. But I’m also aware that actions have consequences, and some are hard to reverse. I didn’t take this one lightly; I mulled it over for weeks before I had a conversation that I knew might end a relationship permanently.

As February slowly turned to March, I still felt flat, depressed, off. Occasional flashes of joy would spring up and fade as quickly as they came. I found it increasingly difficult to get out of bed in the morning, had to drum up energy and smiles for my piano students, and didn’t have any interest in writing or the guitar or composition. Not even listening to my favourite music would cheer me.

Some emotional experiences can’t be rushed. They need to trickle slowly through us until they’ve run their course. I’ve learned to just wait, rest, and remember to be kind to myself during the waiting.

Finally, it was over. But it ended when I made a choice.

I got up one day in early March and something was different. The feeling had changed. Sadness was slowly trying to morph into a much more dangerous version: self pity. Left to fester, self pity loves to open the door to wallowing, or perhaps wallowing opens the door to self pity. Both are dangerous, contagious, and easily fed.

Sensing the shift inside me, I sat up straighter in my chair and looked at the feeling honestly. I remember thinking, “I choose joy. I choose life.” At that moment, the heavy fog that had been hanging over me for a month lifted.

In no way do I mean to imply that depression can be sent away with a simple snap of the fingers. Like so many other darknesses, they are deep and complicated, and each person’s experience of them as unique as personality and DNA. Somehow, I have managed to find the tricky balance between waiting and action in managing these sorts of afflictions, as well as understanding the importance of listening. Doing my best to hear and follow, and trusting that, somehow, the darkness can continue to be made lighter.

 

Enough

There are times during the current season our world is in that I feel as changeable as the medical advice and rules of the moment. I hear people talk about gratefulness and I feel waspish. Then, sometimes in the same day, I am overwhelmed by some small kindness shown to me.

The truth is, we’re all stressed; some more, some less. I found more gray hair the other day—is this normal after a year, or just another sign of the pall hanging over our world, a sense of accelerated aging?

My world is considerably smaller than it used to be. I’ve found new places to write—Good Earth Coffeehouse and Cocoa Tree Bake Shoppe instead of Starbucks—and used different methods of communication—Zoom, the phone, winter walks—and found new friends in new places as I linger longer in coffee shops and grocery stores, chatting with business owners and staff.

But it’s not enough. As a natural introvert, I am used to enjoying my own company. I am used to creating my own contentedness and gratefulness. But, as a society, I think we are reaching threshold.

I find myself using “enough” more and more these days in many contexts. It’s time—past time, actually—to enter life with all its uncertainties. A good life, a full life, does not come with guarantees. A good life doesn’t equal recklessness, but it’s never been about safety. What it certainly is about, though, is people and connection. And freedom.

 

Depletion

As I sit in my new favourite writing place, Cocoa Tree Bake Shoppe, with my notebook and an excellent cappuccino, I am not sure how to proceed. Since Christmas, I have been in hunker down mode, aided unhappily by social restrictions with no end in sight, winter, and closed coffee shops.

But other things are happening, too. Deep things. After a long season of outpouring—songwriting, polishing two emotionally-difficult novels, and other personal inner work—I am depleted.

Cue winter. Minus forty or more. I stocked up on essentials, made sure my Jeep was plugged in, and only went out when I had to. Misty, our overweight cat, was in heaven. After weeks of me being unavailable, she now had access to my lap as I sat in the sun streaming through the window, a book in my hand.

After having no time or inclination to read, very unusual for me, I was suddenly hungry for other people’s words. I gobbled up mystery after mystery, peppered with a bit of Julia Cameron and C.S. Lewis, and slept long and hard.

Recently, I have felt refreshed enough to return to editing, as well as birth a new song. The song, like many of my thoughts, is thick with dark emotion, which burbles up, settles, and burbles up again.

Something is happening underground as I rest. More pieces of my life are coming together, and this kind of inner work takes energy, patience, and time. And lack of judgment.

Happily Hijacked

It’s been an unusually warm winter in Alberta so far. Normally this would mean a lot more trips to Airdrie or Red Deer, artist dates in bookstores or coffee shops or theatres.

Now, for obvious reasons, not so much.

In the past, when I was tired or the weather made driving considerably less fun, I’d just block off an afternoon for an artist date at home and do something that always felt extravagant on a working day: watching a movie. Last week the weather was great, but I’d been self-quarantining since coming into contact with a COVID-19 positive person and was going nowhere, so I made some microwave popcorn and turned on a DVD that had been top of mind lately, A Star is Born.

The smell in the air made me remember the day I’d seen it in the theatre. Early October, 2018, just a few months after returning from Europe. At this point, I was still flying high from my solo time in Italy and England, feeling like the world was more open and available to me than it had ever been before.

I remember my clothes—new jeans, gray sweater, and gray leather sandals purchased in Germany at a store where the saleswoman offered me espresso served in a glass cup and saucer. I don’t think I ordered popcorn but the theatre smelled of it as theatres always do.

It was fall, it was still warm enough for my favourite footwear, and the theatre wasn’t crowded. I settled in to my seat and, for the next couple hours, was completely immersed in the remake of a story I already knew well. I thought about it a lot over the next few days, and continued enjoying it with the purchase of the soundtrack.

A very good afternoon, then and now. Artist dates tend to do that, improve my mood, fill my creative well for upcoming work down the road. But this was how the day ended, not how it started.

I had planned to write in the morning. Well, edit. I had a series of chapters in a nearly finished manuscript to go over with a fine-tooth comb, and wanted to complete them before I turned on the movie. But a song had begun around five a.m. that morning. Rather than getting up to write it down, I pictured the notes on the piano and where the accompanying chords might be, and returned to sleep.

When I went to the piano later that morning, I started working through it and loved it. But I had a problem. No matter what key I started in, it sounded too familiar, reminding me of a couple classical pieces I knew. When this happens, I usually stop; it’s too difficult to hear a new melodic line with others competing for attention.

I could have ceased composing altogether. I had my day all planned out, after all. But I remained at the piano, keeping the same rhythm but experimenting with other chord progressions, and soon another melody emerged.

I glanced at the clock. Inputting a song into Flat takes time. And then I tinker. Hours can go by and that’s okay. But not today. Today I was committed to my editing and my artist date. So I took a shortcut, recording myself playing it on the piano and quickly jotting down the notes and rhythm like I do when they come in the middle of the night.

Here’s the thing: creativity, in all its forms, can’t be boxed or corralled, and sometimes it’s not convenient. Sometimes I have to drop what I’m doing to catch it. Sometimes I have to trust it will keep until later. Sometimes I have to be honest that one direction is a dead end; sometimes I have to wait until that supposed dead end leads to a new alley. All of these things happened with the birth of this song.

I regret nothing about the day. After getting the broad strokes of the song down, I returned to the editing, the popcorn, the movie; later that evening, after delicious gnocchi, alfredo sauce, and garlicky shrimp, I returned to the piano and finished it.

I don’t consider myself a spontaneous person, nor will I likely ever be. But I have certainly become more flexible. I’ve learned that life is full of more “and” than “or”; this underscores, rather than conflicts with, the value of priorities. With a little flexibility and a little commitment, a lot can get done in a day. Or a week. Or a year.

Poultices and Pioneers

A couple days ago, I discovered a blocked pore on my arm. The usual treatment just left my arm bruised so I decided to leave it alone until I remembered the old but tried-and-true poultice. As I had done for Katherine a few years ago when she was bitten by some unknown bug—we suspected a spider—I applied a gob of wet baking soda to the mark on my arm and covered it; immediately, it started to sting as the poultice began drawing out whatever was there under the skin.

Like so many simple medical solutions, I learned the value of poultices from my mother and grandmother. They can be made of many things—my grandmother favoured onions—but I’ve used baking soda ever since I was bitten by a wasp while in a pool in Toronto and my boyfriend at the time sprinkled the bite with the dry powder. It’s simple and cheap and doesn’t smell!

A lot of things put me in mind of my grandmother these days. One was my brother’s blog post where he said he’d recently bought a box of cereal and watched cartoons, things he’d do at our grandmother’s house as a child. I took my own trip down memory lane by asking my mother to show me to knit, something Granny was famous for before her arthritis made it impossible.

Despite the fact that my mother is a retired home economics teacher, I’ve always been deplorably bad at sewing, and crafts of any other type have just been off my radar. But I’ve been increasingly aware of the fact that my mother won’t be here forever, and neither will I. The reason these sorts of skills and wisdom survive is because they are passed down to the next generation.

As I sat with the baking soda poultice doing its magic on my arm, I opened my notebook and began scrawling down thoughts running through my mind. I felt grateful for such simple medical gifts as the one working under the gauze; I felt grateful I’d learned it from two amazing matriarchs who’d learned it from their mothers, women who’d journeyed on boats across water and jostled over land in covered wagons.

We are a land of immigrants and pioneers, especially in the West. I benefit from all the labour, all the fortitude, endurance, and strength of my ancestors, those whom I was privileged to know and those who were gone long before I was born.

When looking through my old blog posts for something I’d written in 2018, I continued reading through 2019, an intensely dark period where I wrote such lines as “I sat at the table of weakness and stayed awhile.” Weakness feels bad. It’s much less comfortable than confidence and clarity, but it is invaluable. Like so many hard experiences, it increases our capacity for understanding ourselves and others. But perhaps I’ve sat at that table long enough.

As I wrote in my notebook, I listened to Irish singer-songwriter Glen Hansard, and the lyrics of “High Hope” jumped out at me:

“After all we’ve seen
We can do anything . . .
Where your heart is strong
Where we can go on and on . . .
Where your good times gone
Where we are forever young . . .
Where your heart is strong
Where we can go on and on . . .”

The pioneer spirit is alive and well in Alberta in all of us. Now, more than ever, I need these reminders: I have what it takes to thrive and not just survive, and there is a toughness and a strength underneath that isn’t bitter or rigid, but tempered by my times at the table of weakness.