Natural Friends

Work has been more than a little intense lately – a good thing, of course – but the rare free moments are spent with friends or scribbling at the studio or, as spring springs and the weather gets nice, seeking to carve out wee moments that allow a few breaths of connection with nature.
In the mornings, if I hover at home for long enough, I can hear the coo of the turtle doves – maybe my most favourite sound ever – their gentle melancholy coos so delicious I just can’t rush myself out to the bus and begin the descent into the city, moving through the increasing urbanization into downtown, the sea of condo-building cranes and growing gridlock, to sit perched alone in a room with a computer.
If I opt to bike or walk a ways before hitching up with some form of public transit, there’s the kind of long short cut through the park.
And well, look who’s here – the rough croaks from the ponds and puddles all along the flooded walkway freeze time and I squat to take a closer look. Who cares if I’m late? I mean really – let’s talk priorities. There is a rarely seen friend here, the moment suddently so exquisite, it’s impossible to rush.

All the times with frogs come back to me – the streams filled with tadpoles when we were kids, the rims of ponds and lakes, long slippery legs swimming amongst the lilypads…

One of the jobs that’s had me busy is with one of my most beloved friends, Nicky – making a film of the play she did – a kind of hybrid of documentary meets play on film. Oh, her breathtaking performance – gives me goosebumps still after so many viewings. But the lines also follow me through the city, their poetry –

Love is love, and hard enough to find.

Oh indeed. It comes how it comes.
So when the cat, the center of our little home universe, gets diagnosed with something that will cost an extra $60 / month in medication for the rest of her life and griping about it to Nicky in the afternoon at her kitchen table she shrugs in a way to suggest maybe it’s time to rethink…
Oh but no.

Love is love, and hard enough to find.

Heading home at the end of the day, I’ve a bit of a long, elaborate route involving 3 buses, all to be able to watch the evening skies and shifting neighbourhoods and avoid the bad air and dank dark underground of the subways.
The streetcars on Queen have been replaced with buses and by about Carlaw at 8:30 or 9 on a Friday, heading east from the studio after work it occurs to me, Hey, I wonder if I should text Tom & Bea…? Cause they live somewhere along the route here in the east end and it’s Friday…
Tom & Bea arrived in my life in the strangest way – when my husband arrived from Cuba, the 2nd day he was in the country we went down to Harbourfront to catch a free concert with Femi Kuti.
Like, just soak that in for a moment – a free concert with Femi Kuti –

Sometimes Canada just rocks.
Anyways there we were, milling around in the crowds in the beer tent, my husband fresh off the plane from Cuba, and a woman stops and says to him: Hey! I know you!
That was Bea. With her husband Tom. They’d been tourists in Cuba, and well, whadyaknow, small world.
Right away there was something so familiar about them – Tom lanky with a sideways smile and a glass of beer, Bea vibrant and beautiful and laughing and always moving – there was almost a kind of deja vu, like I KNOW these people.
Several years and a divorce later here I am on the Queen St bus wondering if I should drop Tom & Bea a line.
Even just saying their names makes me happy, makes me think of the kids books, Ant & Bee –

But no, no, it’s late already, too late to be starting evening plans.
Until the bus passes the patio of that Cottage joint on the south side just after Leslie, and I glance over and could swear that’s Tom stretching to make a point to the fellow beside him at a table right there in the middle in the thick of things.
Without thinking, I scramble to jump off the bus.
What’s the worst that could happen? Maybe it’s not them?
I can always catch the next bus.
Totally worth the risk…

Love is love and hard enough to find.

Weekly Photo Challenge – Friend

March wishes

Oh I wish, how I wish I were a flying fish.

Oh I wish I wish I were the spray from an ocean wave
the wind in the trees
the stretch of a cat
the sparkle of a star in the night sky
a floating colourful anemone in the warm Caribbean sea
a coasting bird, soaring, casual as I move through the clouds…

* * *

We are in my dad’s house in Philadelphia – he has recently inherited it from his parents.
It still has old lady wall paper and old fashioned furniture and such, but some areas, by the staircase for example, there are some bare brick walls and boards.
I know I’m going to inherit this house soon, very soon, and so I look around with eyes to renovation – imagine it with the old lady wallpaper gone, and clean modern lines…Oh, it is exciting, the possibilities ahead!
And I start to pull away more of the old boards at the bottom of the staircase thinking of opening up more space, but I discover curled under the stairs in the crawl space the corpse of a fox terrier.
This is rather disturbing.
Creepy, and there’s going to be a smell problem.
It’ll have to be cleaned up.
But suddenly it gets up, now it’s glowing a rich blue colour, and is a real fox fox, a wild fox.
Away it trots, glowing blue.
I am relieved that this corner of the house is now clean and clear, blessed by this magic glowing ghost-fox.
Outside I am driving, and I realize this is going to be whole new phase of my life – I will move back to the States, to this house in Philly, and I will finally be driving again!
My sister and I are by a kind of river, streaming over rocks, with many many people. But there is a bad man who is a problem.
We drown him, the two of us, holding him down in the river in the midst of the rush of people – visceral, his red throat, bulging veins and tongue – and then finally, the bad man is dead.

* * *

Last night I sat down in the studio for a wee break from painting the latest fox – lots of foxes these days – and the angle from the chair to the patiently waiting half-finished or half-started crow on the wall with the Dollarama flowers on the table in front made it look as though the wing of the crow was decorated, almost tattooed with a gorgeous string of pink flowers…

And I wished, how I wished I was THAT kind of artist.
An artist who makes pretty pink decorative things or beautiful tattoos or things you might want to use as wallpaper in your kid’s room…

Moments, just fleeting moments where the desire to be other, to be more, to be different, to be something else, to be someone else bubbles up.

It’s not so terrible in a way, as it’s all clustered into what has become a fairly conscious process of change I’ve been working on for some time now, deep thinking about the things that are not working, the things that need to be better, the places I need to step up, become a better human being…
But here’s the thing… change is HARD!!!!

Maybe you already knew that.

So one thing I always find myself doing in these moments, is reading.

Have a seat by the fireside and enjoy some Joseph Campbell:

The basic story of the hero journey involves giving up where you are, going into the realm of adventure, coming to some kind of symbolically rendered realization…
If the call is heeded…the individual is invoked to engage in a dangerous adventure. It’s always a dangerous adventure because you’re moving out of the familiar sphere of your community. In myths, this is represented as moving out of the known sphere altogether into the great beyond. I call this crossing the threshold. This is the crossing from the conscious into the unconscious world, but the unconscious world is represented in many many many different images, depending on the cultural surrounds of the mythos. It may be a getting lost in a dark forest, it may be finding yourself in a strange city. It maybe be depicted as an ascent or as a descent or a going beyond the horizon, but this is the adventure – it’s always the path into the unknown, through the gateway or the cave or the clashing rocks…

Weekly Photo Challenge – Wish

Relax into colour

The desk is piled high with homework and projects past due.
Lists of Christmas gifts are scribbled on post-it notes around the computer.
The vacuum cleaner is plugged in and ready to go.
Recycling sits by the door ready to be taken out.
The chicken bubbles on the back burner. The rice is poured but unrinsed.
And yet, and yet…
The faint bling and winks of brilliant colour call…
abalone-hillscape

abalone-moonscape

abalone-rivuletAn abalone shell, sitting hidden for weeks in a scrunched up paper bag on a shelf, was rediscovered this morning.
And, oh, but what worlds it holds within…
abalone-nebula

abalone-kali

abalone-snout-and-hoofs

abalone-tunnel

Weekly Photo Challenge – Relax

Tiny Steps

tiny-clouds-can-flagIs it the dark of November, that flu I just couldn’t kick, or the malignant gloom of the American election?
There are days when it feels like nothing gets done.
Days when doing the laundry is a big accomplishment.
Days when I think it’s the perfect day, free of obligations, to go down to the studio and paint – smudging and scribbling and sharpening the image, listening to music for hours – and yet somehow I never get there.
Days when I get up with last night’s promise of a morning run ringing in my ears and I flop on the couch and flake out on facebook on my phone.
Days when I’ve told myself it’s really time to finally sit down at my little corner writing desk and enter the zone – the zone of happy struggles, of exploring interior worlds, scaling memories and imaginings and sensations and the secrets of the human heart, searching for all the right words… and instead I spend hours glumly in front of the computer catching up on email.

Do you know these kind of days?
Switch out the particulars for your own personal Important Goals list that never quite happens?

Well, I’ve been pushing against the dark slide of lethargy with some new tools…
Chief among them the concept of Tiny Steps.

kaizen-book

Tiny Steps comes from the Japanese tradition of Kaizen, elaborated on in this book by Robert Maurer: One Small Step Can Change Your Life.
He says,

Kaizen is an effective, enjoyable way to achieve a specific goal, but it also extends a more profound challenge: to meet life’s constand demands for change by seeking out continual – but always small – improvement.

The key is to start small.
The key is to make it SO small you can’t NOT do it.
Reading some of the bios and creative practices of the greats can be totally intimidating – they seem to be on their game ALL the time, productive all the time – so much so that it’s a world away, unreachable.
Twyla Tharp describes her mornings –

I begin each day of my life with a ritual: I wake up at 5:30 a.m., put on my workout clothes…walk outside my Manhattan home, hail a taxi, and tell the driver to take me to the Pumping Iron gym at 91st Street and First Avenue where I work out for two hours. The ritual is not the stretching and weight training I put my body through each morning at the gym; the ritual is the cab.

Well, this is amazing, I love the sound of it, can just see the dark of the Manhattan morning and the surliness of the cab driver and the sweaty two hours at the gym, and gosh I sure wish that were my life too, but ummmmmmmm…
I can tell you right now I’m not gonna be doing that tomorrow morning. And not just cause I don’t live in Manhattan.
I mean even just thinking about how far all of that is from my life brings up all kinds of neurotic garbage and the harpies of self-flagellation begin to loom and the whole thing makes me feel like, well, if I can’t be like that, then I might as well just give up now.
But…
This is precisely where the small steps of Kaizen come in.
Maurer says –

Don’t let these common roadblocks to change make you feel so guilty or frustrated that you give up your attempts to improve.
Instead, use times of difficulty to remember that fear is the body’s gift, alerting us to a challenge. The more we care about something, the more we dream, the more fear shows up.
During the rough patches, understanding that fear is normal, and a natural sign of ambition, makes us more likely to hold onto hope and optimism – qualities that increase our willingness to take the kinds of small steps that slip right past the fear.

Did you get that last bit?
…small steps that slip right past the fear.
Okay! Now we’re talking!
A step that is so tiny it will neatly sidestep the harpies in my head. Perfect.
So, for me, a small step would be NOT to say I’m going to write a novel before the end of 2016, but to say I’m going to write for 10 minutes each morning.
10 minutes of sitting down to write is something small enough that it’s really really really easy to do.
(and if there’s a morning when even so, even though it’s a tiny step, if it doesn’t happen and I don’t show up, I’m going to remind myself that FEAR IS NORMAL, and try again the next morning)

Going back to Twyla Tharp’s story about the cab – the point that she’s making and the point that really speaks to me is the idea of creating a Ritual.
Creating a Ritual sounds to me partly like a way to make the whole thing more FUN.
But Twyla takes it even further –

Turning something into a ritual eliminates the question, Why am I doing this? By the time I give the taxi driver directions, it’s too late to wonder why I’m going to the gym and not snoozing under the warm covers of my bed…
It’s vital to establish some rituals – automatic but decisive patterns of behavior – at the beginning of the creative process, when you are most at peril of turning back, chickening out, giving up, or going the wrong way.

So for me, for my 10 minutes of writing, I’ve found this one piece of ritual I can bring in to the goal of sitting down at the little writing desk in the corner…
I light a candle.
The beautiful little glass candle holder makes me happy. The action of striking the match marks the beginning, the dancing of the flame keeps me company, and the whole thing signals to my brain that a hallowed space has been created to sit down and hold a tiny 10 minutes of writing.
corner-desk

And you, Dear Reader? Are there Rituals, Practices, Habits, Methods that have worked for you?

Please Note: All this comes from a training program I’m doing currently, called Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coaching. You might want to check it out. 🙂

Weekly Photo Challenge – Tiny

Chaos in the hallways

golden-collageI am in an insane asylum. It is large and labyrinthine with many hallways and rooms and rooms within rooms.
It seems I am a doctor of sorts, a healer.
There are many sweet sweet patients – interesting artists and creative types – lovely people.
But there are also many angry people walking the hallways. Angry men especially.
On closer observation, some of the angriest figures turn out to be animals walking on their hind legs.
There is a lion walking upright in one hallway with a sign around his neck, “You will die if you get too close”.
lion-covers-face-oil-and-grahite-on-terraskinIt’s difficult to figure out how to manoeuvre within this dangerous place.
One room is a large blue-hued glowing-glass high-tech sci-fi X-ray kinda room.
A young man is in there – he is my patient. His head sits above what is like a skin sack – a shapeless sheet of a body.
I tell him to remember to feel his bones.
Feel the bones – remember the feeling of bones.
As I speak, his bones are wheeled in from where they’ve been kept in storage.
His whole skeleton will be reassembled.
skeletal-armBut while this is happening, the angry people and animals in the hallways are becoming more agitated – it is getting increasingly violent and dangerous.
I run through hallways and through rooms into even tinier rooms until I find mine, a small, well-hidden room where I dive under the cot bed against the wall, trembling like a coward, to wait out the violence.
Am I perhaps a patient after all?
standing-stag

Weekly Photo Challenge – Chaos

Call of The Fox

She turned to me, her blue eyes faintly distant, mysterious and said:
I had a dream of a fox.
But when I asked the fox what he wanted, he said:

I am here for Kat.
I have a message for Kat.

We were sitting at the breakfast table, the three of us.
A few days together and we’d taken up the habit of sharing dreams while we figured out coffee and food, it feeling a natural, rich way to begin the day.
But this was different – this was A Message.
And the thing was – I hadn’t even told them the story about the fox.

car in barrie

There’d been too much going on – there was that crazy night in Barrie with the lousy car, being saved by our angel Hedy, then appeasing the Goddesses of crossroads out by the car rental joint on the highway and the drive to our place, and days with the urgency to get outside, get hot and get in the water and swim, have a real summer, make great food, drink wine and sit in the dark on the porch looking at stars and watching the bats dive for bugs.

trees blur
So I hadn’t told them the story of the fox.
I mean I’d told them about the place I’d been the weekend before – about the little cabins in the woods, the amazing locally-sourced food, the moon rising over the lake, and singing in the dark of the sauna and diving in the cold night lake, rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat, camp songs and show songs and snippets of Tragically Hip songs, all of us trying to remember the words cause it was the night of their final concert and all of Canada was said to be tuning in.

lake wide

Courage, my word
It didn’t come, it doesn’t matter
Courage, your word
It didn’t come, it doesn’t matter
Courage, my word
It didn’t come, it doesn’t matter
Courage, it couldn’t come at a worse time

The people were wonderful and strange: the core co-facilitators of the shamanic circle, a bunch of us newbies from various Ontario towns, and a young, fascinating First Nations fellow who, despite his youth, brought what felt like lifetimes of ceremonial experience.
It was the Saturday morning when I overheard him talking to my cabin-mate about a fox. Apparently on her drive up she’d gotten lost and ended up wandering on some back road where she saw a dead fox. For some reason she couldn’t explain, she stopped the car and gathered up the fox and brought it with her.
“I mean I don’t make a habit of picking up roadkill”, she said, still mystified.
That afternoon, the First Nations fellow led us in a ceremony to reactivate a labyrinth on the land, using a massive quartz crystal, tobacco leaves, water from lake Atitlan, and fur from the tip of the dead fox’s tail.
Most of the group circled into the center of the labyrinth, but 4 of us stood menhir-like in the 4 directions.
I stood in the West, my eyes closed while we sang as they danced their way to the middle point of the labyrinth to plant tobacco, quartz, water and fox. As I stood, I felt, saw, experienced the entire event as a spinning, galactic vortex of energy churning up and out into the sky – it felt so powerful, so forceful, I felt I might fall over.

vortex fern

The weekend was full of these kind of Experiences – this one with the fox’s tail at the labyrinth particularly intense.
But I hadn’t told my friends all these particulars before that morning at the breakfast table, before my blue-eyed friend said:
“I dreamt of a fox and he said he’d come for you”.
It all seemed too personal in a way.
Or maybe it was that such a powerful internal experience will never really translate into words, words will always seem dry and inadequate.
Or maybe I thought even to talk about it would dissipate the power in some way, cause it’ll all just sound hokey.
But as the impact of the whole thing began to sink in – that a fox had come to her in a dream to say: “I have a message for Kat” – the three of us looked at each other and wondered…
What message?
What did the fox want?
Why like this?
Why not just come to me directly?

fox drawing bluish

While I can’t speak for the fox, while I wonder if there was more to the message I should be able to fathom somehow, I’ve begun to think that the simplicity of his apparition to her was a message in itself.
It was a way to really REALLY get my attention.
Because it would be so easy for me to say to myself, “Oh, the things I felt that weekend were just my imagination”.
Or, “This whole idea of spirits is all very well, but…”
Repeatedly I’ve heard various teachers on my path say they’d spent months, even years on the path of shamanism, of ceremony and journeying and so on, but STILL they doubted this whole business of “spirits”…
Until something happens that hits them over the head and makes it all so very plain.

Details of the Squash Takeover

Mornings on the patio…
Last year, in the borders out here on the patio, I planted a few tomatoes, some peppers, perennials.
This year, not so much, but our new-ish neighbour to the left, after a few tentative tomatoes last year, suddenly decided to go all in.
She has a much larger section of dirt and less patio, so rows were created in the earth, sections for various kinds of tomatoes, beans, herbs, squash, and the tall corn…
For weeks she’s been out there watering her plants every morning, though when you ask her there is a shrug of doubt – she’s an urban girl from Nigeria, she tells me, and her friends back home tease her that she’s come to Canada to become a farmer.
It’s all so new, she says, she herself doesn’t believe the plants will grow.

corn over the fence

June and so far July have been full of long dry sunny days.
Mornings have the rustle of people in pyjamas out watering and tending the flowers, the vegetables – weeks ago the grass dwindled to a shrivelled pale yellow.
But then after so many dry hot days, for a glorious 24 hours it rains…

dark morning after rain

weird blue flower tall

fly and raindrops

And the next day I am out again in the morning sun, and am a bit confused at the huge leaves over on the left.
A massive plant has started growing through the fence from my neighbour’s side…

the squash plant

dragonskin

It has already crowded out the little instalments of parsley and coriander I had growing over in that corner.

parsley gone to seed

parsley and squash flower

She comes around to see it – she can’t believe it!
That her gardening has been so successful the plants are bursting through the fence, seeking out more space to blossom and flourish!

green chaos

curly cues

I lift up a leaf to show her one squash that’s already an astonishing size.
Her eyes widen – the miracle of it!
She tells me I must use not only what is growing on my side, but help myself to her side as well, as she has more vegetables than she knows what to do with. That I must show her how I cook it, as she doesn’t even know anything about this kind of squash.

a squash

tiny squash flower

So, practicing my recipes, this morning for breakfast, I had flor de calabaza with salsa verde… yummmm…

flowers and fence

Weekly Photo Challenge – Details