Jump for Joy: Play

playing.jpg

I’m tired
And some days I need to rest
Cheer you on from the sidelines
Turn when you say “Look mama!”
Give you juice and gentle hugs
But on others
When I can
I’ll be your lift off
Hold you up by my feet so you’re flying
Tumble on the soft grass
Fling these bones into cartwheels and handstands
Chase you into giggles
Do it all again

Jump for Joy is a series on JTTG about small, simple ways to boost the joy in your life.   

All the Small Things

Wish you were here Mural, Kingston’s Inner Harbour

Wish you were here
Mural, Kingston’s Inner Harbour

Hi.

It's been awhile. I'm sorry. I've been away.

I've been both beached and floating, treading water and taking powerful strokes. 

I've been nowhere at all and I've come a long way. But I haven't known what to write to you. I'm not sure how to describe this adventure because I'm still on it. 

I've been doing good, small things, creating gentle motions that barely stir the air but are a hurricane.

One of the good, small things: I've created a ritual of listening to podcasts while I bathe our daily parade of dishes, trying (not quite successfully) to turn this necessary task into a welcome meditation.

One episode I've listened to several times now - hands tumbling rainbow-coloured cups as they multiply on the counter - is an interview of Glennon Doyle by the Good Life Project’s Jonathan Fields, in which she shares these words: 

"When we're ready to present what we've learned to the world as a gift, then we offer it as art...If you want to be an artist...you cannot ask the world to save you. Your job is to serve them. So wait until you have something to serve."

Yes. Yes yes yes, I say to the sink. Another good, small thing: I haven't stopped talking completely. I chat with the bubbly locals.

I think I’m too far in whatever-this-is to write about it. I'm an undercover agent and my investigation is incomplete. I can't write about the big things right now because I can't take in the whole view. I see the toes of the big things. I see the knees. But beyond that, there's just an expanse above and around and inside me that takes up the whole frame. Like those magnified picture games in magazines. What Is It? I don't know quite yet. I'm not ready to present yet. I'm still waiting for something to serve.

What I know is that the big things are good things, too. What I know is that it felt like my muse left me these past two years and I made a radical choice: I decided not to chase it. I decided to have faith that it would return when the time was right. When there were things to say. I felt patience, and I’ve developed a self-compassion that I've never felt before. I've had some low days but my curiosity never left me. My love for myself and this life and for making art never left me. There just aren't any words for the big things yet. The plates are shifting, and I'm waiting for the words to describe the earthquake.

What I know is that I feel more like myself than ever before, and I'm moving closer and closer to the life I want. I know that I feel happy, and it's a slippery sort of happiness but I'm gaining a better grip on it because of the small changes I've been making in my life that are the strokes pulling me through the water to the shore. And my muse seems to be curious about these changes, too. It has been tentatively sidling up to me lately and I've tried to avoid making any sudden moves so I don't scare it off. While I'm laying in this quiet wait for the big things to come into full view, I'm inviting the muse in to write about all the good, small things, because lately...I've been wishing you were here. I like travelling solo but I'm eager to tell you about the scenery.

I'll be writing you some postcards here. Describing the wrinkled toes in detail. The knobby knees. The regional customs. The rare finds. The gargoyles on this new cathedral. Just the gargoyles right now. I can't see the cathedral yet but I have a feeling it's pretty spectacular.

Postcards aren't hard to write, muse. We got this. 

Thank you for your patience, and for being curious enough about me and my absurdly-metaphor-stuffed writing to come back to read more of it, or to give it a go for the first time. I'm looking forward to sharing some good, small things with you. Let's start there. I'd also love to hear about how you've been and what adventures you've been on.

Life sure is wild, isn't it? But life sure is beautiful, isn't it?

See you soon,

Kirsi

Within These Walls

IMG_0302.JPG

My girls and I moved into our home 4 years and 7 months ago, and tomorrow (or later today, I should say) we move out and on to a new life in a new home. I'm too tired to find the words for everything I want to say about what this home has meant to us, but it's too momentous an occasion to let it slip by without some acknowledgment.

When we moved in, I was a wreck.  My relationship of 16 years had ended and for the first time in my adult life, I was alone.  Or not quite.  Alone with my daughters - 2 and 5 years old - who depended on me to figure this new life out, which seemed a tall order when I had no idea who I even was anymore.

The first night I moved in was New Year's Eve and, with the girls at their father's as it was 'his' night (a bizarre concept then and even now), I felt truly alone.  At midnight, I took off my wedding ring and told myself in my bravest voice that I was going to be okay, not really believing it but knowing that those two little girls needed me to try.  I recently came across a piece I wrote a few years ago about that turning point in my life and moving into this home.  In it I wrote: "I found a new, ghost-less home, warm and bright with a playground nearby.  It would do.  The walls looked thick enough to withstand my heartbreak and its alt-folk soundtrack."

I wrote not too long ago about how much has changed for me since that time, so I won't repeat myself here.  I am leaving this home a different woman, and a very grateful one.  I'm grateful for so many blessings in my life, not the least of which has been this home that has been my sanctuary.

IMG_0297.JPG

Tonight at midnight, I took a moment to say thank you.  I even left a note.  Several months, perhaps a year or so, after I moved in, I decided to paint my bedroom and in doing so came across a note that someone had written on the wall inside the closet, up above the closet door.  It is faint and difficult to decipher in the photo.  It reads: "My 2 beautiful babies have blessed this home, and have created so many wonderful memories for me within its walls.  Me. 10/21/03".  I painted around it, and later discovered that there were dates and names - presumably those of her (I'm assuming "her") children - written on the walls inside the closets of the other two bedrooms.  It continues to fill me with such warmth to know that they loved this home, too.

So tonight, before they went to bed, my girls scrawled their names and the date inside their closets, right beside "Sydni" and "Noah".  And at midnight, I climbed up on a chair and added my note to the wall in my closet, soon to belong to someone else.  I didn't have time to think ahead about what to write, to plan things out as I always like to.  I just went with what came from my heart in the moment:  "This has been our home for 4 1/2 years.  It is where I healed, and where my daughters and I have grown.  It has been full of love, and we are leaving with so many happy memories that we made here within these walls.  This is a special place, and it will always hold a special place in my heart.  Kirsi July 29/17".

As I sit here tonight, in this home for the last time, I am thinking about those happy memories.  My girls are now 7 and 9.  They've grown so much here.  And they can't wait for the new bunkbed in the new room they'll be sleeping in tomorrow night and the big back yard and mostly the cat that they think we are getting soon (that yes, we are probably getting soon).  But I know that they will remember this place as fondly as I will, and we will go on to make new memories in our new home.

IMG_0298.JPG

The tenants moving in after us are a mother and child.  I hope some day they come across our notes and the ones from before us, and they add their own and speak of the love and joy they found here, too.  There's plenty of room for more love and joy and gratitude.

Shine

precious-stones

My daughters are rock hounds.  They come home from outdoor outings pockets heavy with their treasures: sparkly mica, smooth pebbles, rocks shaped like hearts, mama!  One afternoon last fall I took them to a gem shop I'd discovered and their jaws dropped at the sight of a room full of polished stones of every colour.
 
They are not terribly discerning in their selections, though, to my eye.  Pale, dull, ordinary granite is as precious as glittering quartz and magical tigereye.
 
Which is how a chunk of concrete that somehow became detached from our front porch - no one knows how, mama! - came to decorate our bathroom shelf alongside an amethyst I purchased for a pretty penny.  "Really?" I asked my daughter when she brought it to me, delighted at her find, before I swiftly shut myself up.  She thinks it's beautiful - all the small stones bound together in shades of steel and mouse and storm - and that's all that matters.
 
Like I have with so many other works of young art and scavenging, I put the concrete on display to appease her.  I don't have a home, to my mind.  Rather, I have the pleasure of living in the home that belongs to my daughters.  This home is the scene of their childhood, in significant part, and I aim to make it warm and safe and a reflection of them and our love.  I'll have plenty of time to have a home of my own - with things 'just so' - when they grow up and leave me, a day that is coming far too quickly (sob).  Until then, our home is their nest and they can weave it with whatever shiny things catch their crow eyes, whichever bits of concrete they pry loose, as far as I'm concerned.
 
But I've found, over these last few months, that my appeasement has slowly given way to appreciation, my eyes seeing beauty through hers.  The stones are both precious - one by birth and one by my child's holy anointing - and they have come to serve as a reminder to look for the beauty in the everyday, to try to see the world as a child does, which is just as it is in all its splendour: wonderful and gorgeous without even trying.  Worth a second glance.
 
The stones have also proven to have healing properties.
 
When the unusual pairing catches my eye, this Lauryn Hill lyric almost always floats to the surface of my mind:
 
 "Don't be a hard rock when you really are a gem."
 

I've been a hard rock, lately.  I've been closed off and shut down by circumstances both within and without.  Depression blew down my door with the cold wind of winter, not as ferocious as in years past but still biting and ambivalent to my corner-cowering.  My foundation has also been rattled by some upsetting interactions - one very personal, one professional, and one with a complete stranger - which all share the common thread of my words being taken by others not as they were intended, or with the benefit of the doubt, but instead, in twisted ways that formed spike strips, busting my tires and the self-belief they were inflated with.
 
Truth, or at least my best attempt to reach it, is the reason I write because it's the reason we're here.  I wear my share of masks and utter pretty cover-ups, too, but the good stuff is always the raw, honest truth underneath what we manufacture. Life is about mining for that truth - for what is honest, for real connection - and vulnerability is truth's necessary companion; it's the rope down that chasm.  It's slippery and knotted at uneven lengths or not at all for a stretch.  It's a long way down and vulnerability is the only way to the bottom where the good stuff is waiting.  But it comes with risk.  The rewards are worth it, but the slip-footed fumbles make me question the expedition, sometimes.
 
Do I keep writing? I've asked myself.  Do I keep telling my truth?  Do I keep entrusting it to ears that may ring with judgments and malformed translations?
 
Do I turn bitter and angry?  Do I turn away from those who have hurt me?  Do I board up my heart?
 
I've been holed up these last few months, quiet with my questions and doubts.  I've been hardening beneath their weight.  The truths I want to tell - which are simple and concomitantly complex -  have compressed smaller and smaller into a thin layer of exhausted meekness formerly known as ferocity.
 
Then, one recent morning, the stones caught my attention and the refrain again belted through my brain: "Don't be a hard rock when you really are a gem."   This time, however, the soloist kept repeating: You're a gem, you're a gem, you're a gem, you're a gem, you're a gem.
 
You're a gem.  And you need to shine.
 
The tectonic plates under my life shifted in that moment and there was a buckling in me.  A new mountain range.  These events are never really as sudden as they seem - they are the culmination of millions of moments - but the feeling that overcame me felt that way.  I felt suddenly done.  Done with ears that don't listen.  Done with thoughtless broken telephone games that lead from careless ears to mistaken judgments on lips.  Done with being a hard rock.
 
I'm going to shine.
 
I'm going to keep dangling on vulnerabilities.  I'm going to load my pockets with the truths I find down the chasm, and I'm going to climb back up and shout, "Hey, guys! Come see what I found!" and speak those truths loud and clear.
 
I'm going to thaw my heart and forgive and give others the benefit of the doubt even when I feel they haven't done the same for me.  I will meet callousness and carelessness with kindness.  I will keep striving for connection.
 
The stones will remain on our bathroom shelf, lining our nest, a priceless art installation on the themes of beauty and strength.  And when my eyes alight upon them, I will hear that familiar refrain and be reminded to shine.

I will feel beautiful in my shades of steel and mouse and storm.  And on days when others see me as concrete, I will anoint myself as precious.

The Girl in the Body

self-harm.jpg

I was interested in volunteering, so we met to talk about the help I could offer.  "I feel strongly about the work that you do," I explained to the volunteer coordinator, who welcomed me kindly and spoke excitedly about opportunities for me to be involved.  I had already completed most of the volunteer training but had missed an important session, the content of which she wished to review with me.

She gave me some handouts.  The organization serves a vulnerable population, many of whom battle depression and suicidal thoughts.  Some of their clients self-harm, she explained, as she indicated a list of ways that people self-harm.

I read through the list and stopped at a word.  One word can change everything, including you.

I sort of knew.  Not at the time, I don't think, but with hindsight I sort of knew that what I'd done probably fit the definition.  It was a thought I'd kept submerged but here it was, now, staring at me.  Confirmation.   

I took a deep breath.  

"I know a little about self-harm," I explained to her, quietly.  "I used to do it." 

Until today, until this post, she is the only person I have ever told. 

***** 

Hitting. 

It was right there on the list, after cutting and burning.   

Seventeen years ago, when I was in the depths of my worst depression, I would sometimes hit myself.

I think it started in a moment of anguish.  I think, in a moment of absolute despair and rage at the lot I'd been cast and the never-ending pain, I hit myself hard on the thigh without thinking about it, a lashing out to release some of my pent-up frustration.  

It worked.  I felt a little better.  In fact, I felt a lot better, at least for a few minutes.  So I kept doing it. Not all the time but often when those moments came up, I'd hit myself hard on the thigh.  Sometimes repeatedly.

To someone who has no experience with self-harm, I imagine it is difficult to understand why anyone would do such a thing to themselves.  I'll do my best to explain what self-harm was for me.  I hasten to add that I can only speak for myself; this may not reflect what self-harm is for others.

Hitting myself made me feel better because it distracted me.  For a few moments, maybe a few minutes, I could focus on physical pain rather than the horrendous emotional pain that was torturing me.  Importantly, the physical pain was a pain that would go away.  It was a pain I could handle.  My emotional pain, I was convinced, would never leave me.

I suppose, in some subconscious way, it also served a secondary purpose: It was a way to punish myself.  I expect that on some level I wanted to hurt myself because I believed I deserved to be hurt.  But the truth is, I don't remember thinking that.  I only remember wanting the escape, however temporary.  Punishment was a bonus.

There were no scars for you to see.  There was no blood.  There were no scratches on my skin.  There were no wounds that needed healing except the ones within me.   The skin on my thigh would blaze red and then, within a few minutes, the redness would fade away as if nothing had ever happened.  My body kept its secrets well.

As I got help for my depression - began therapy, started taking medication - I hit myself less and less often until it was no longer the tool I reached for.  I had collected other tools, healthier coping mechanisms that had me run straight at the emotional pain and tackle it head-on. 

I'm not altogether in the clear.  I have a self-harm souvenir that has stayed with me: Sometimes, when I'm having those moments again, my illness conjures up the image of someone hitting me, pushing me into a wall, violently beating me, throwing me down stairs.  This image flashes through my sick brain unsummoned and however much I reject it and however horrific I know this would be if it actually happened, this image comes to me and I feel...soothed.  Even just thinking about it now, I can feel my body relax.  Even though I have built new, healthy circuits, this faulty wiring remains like a vestigial tail.

Some people believe that self-harm is a pre-cursor to suicide.  Some believe it's a way to get attention.  But self-harm often happens in secret - in fact, I'd say that's a key part of its modus operandi - and although self-harm and suicidal thoughts sometimes stalk in pairs, they are not the same.  I wasn't trying to hit myself to death.  Again, I can't speak for everyone, but I don't believe that people who harm themselves are trying to die.  On the contrary: They are trying to live.  I was trying so hard to live.  Self-harm was a way to keep living when it felt like there was no other way.

 *****

This is illness, like any other, although the invisibility of mental illness makes it particularly brutal and cowardly.  This is the body fighting itself.  But we're not our bodies.  We're the ones within.  The girl in the body is there.  The boy in the body is strong.  The father.  The mother.  The child.  The friend.  The one you love is there inside that battlefield body, whole and fighting.

I no longer hit myself, or harm myself in any way.  My hands are peaceful allies.  My thighs are only red these days from the weight of children on my lap.  I no longer need to keep my body's secrets.

I no longer need to fight pain with pain, fire with fire.  Now, the girl in the body blazes bright.

Our Magic

My youngest daughter commands the ocean to do her bidding (Nova Scotia, July 2016)

My youngest daughter commands the ocean to do her bidding
(Nova Scotia, July 2016)

A few months ago, we celebrated my daughter's 9th birthday with a Harry Potter party.  She's a big Harry Potter fan and I'm a big fan of getting crafty for my kids' birthdays.  I'm no Martha Stewart, by any means, but I like to add a few creative touches and Pinterest is packed with great "Harry Potter party" ideas.  I printed Hogwarts house crests and word searches, crafted Quidditch cake toppers, and made games like Pin-the-Scar-on-Harry, Find the Golden Snitch, and Free Dobby, the latter of which is my own creation and involves throwing as many socks as you can into a laundry basket (loads of fun, pun intended).  I also made each guest a booklet of spells and a magic wand out of a wooden knitting needle.

The party was a hit, in large part because we followed what I believe to be the golden rule of a successful children's birthday party:  Invite very few children.  Three of my daughter's friends joined us and the kids had a great time playing the games and casting spells.  After cake and present time, while the kids were happily playing, I retreated to my bedroom to give them some space and privacy, because no one wants their mom hanging around, as super cool as she may be.

I listened to them running about casting spells upon each other with their wands.  "Expelliarmus!" one would shout, as the others frantically flipped through their booklets to find a counter-spell.  They helped each other decipher pronunciations and definitions.  Then, I overheard this exchange about the "Reparo" spell:

"What does that mean?" my daughter's friend asked her. 

 "It's like to repair something," my daughter explained.  She continued:  "Like repairing split ends."

Her comment gave me pause.  It made my stomach churn a little to realize that her only, or at least immediate, connection to the concept of "repair" has to do with split ends, of all superficial things, as if that is all we repair as women. 

It was a small comment.  It was not heavy with women-as-slaves-to-beauty ideals and it doesn't represent the sum total of her perception of women and who we are in this world.  Of course it doesn't.  But I still want her to know that as women, we repair so much more than split ends. 

We repair ripped jeans and faulty wires and kindergarten crafts gone terribly wrong.

We repair broken dishes and transport trucks and businesses and communities.

We repair little broken hearts with open arms and soft words.  We repair big broken hearts the same way.

We repair families and friendships.  We repair relationships.  And when we can't, we repair ourselves.

We repair ourselves over and over and over again. 

I want my daughters to know that our magic is not in our beauty, although our beauty can be spellbinding.  Our magic is in our compassion.  It's in our curiosity.  It's in our tenacity.  

Our magic can be seen climbing mountains and corporate ladders.  It can be seen standing on stages and standing on guard and standing up for the voiceless and vulnerable.

Our magic can be seen pacing hallways at 2 am soothing babies back to sleep on our shoulders, and it can be seen proudly marching on our streets.

We stupefy with our astounding acts of courage and kindness.  We disarm with our smiles, yes, but also with our measured words and gentle touch.  We conjure up ideas that make history.

 "It's leviOsa, not levioSA," my daughter quotes from the movie, giggling with her coven, as yet unaware that she is a powerful sorceress without her knitting needle wand.  

The "Wingardium Leviosa" spell allows the user to make an object levitate.  But our magic moves more than objects. 

We lighten the room and raise the world.