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Nicole Arnold's Adventures

My impressions as I boldly go where I have not gone before.

Saying Kaddish for my Nana

Today is the day that my maternal grandmother died seven years ago. I still feel the loss of her in my life like a swift wave of pain that fills my chest and takes over my head until the tears start streaming down my face, which seems to release the tightness valve in my chest. My mouth opens automatically, breathing out the large gusts of air that had been trapped inside me for a few moments, reminding me once again that I am still alive and that I have survived the pain of losing her love once again. Throughout the year, these moments of breathless pain arrive quickly on the heels of aching to have a conversation with my Nana. It happens when my kids do something wonderful and I want to pick up the phone and share the joy with her. I feel it when I’m reading about Ancient Mesopotamia and I ache to tap her knowledge of Sumer.  When I took my kids to New York City this past December, I wanted to share dozens of our moments with her and ask her about dozens of her moments in New York. The desire to be with her is quick to produce an ache, which moves quickly to breathless pain and there I am – gasping and crying.

Given how often find myself in this challenged state, it might seem odd that I deliberately place myself in this headspace once a year. Yet, I do.

Every year, to mark the anniversary of my grandmother’s death, I stand in synagogue and chant the Mourner’s Kaddish. Every year, as Aleinu approaches and I know that Mourner’s Kaddish will swiftly follow, a picture of my grandmother’s smiling face enters my head and I am flooded with the sadness of not having my grandmother on this earth. I stand with tears streaming down my face and weep my way through Kaddish – often gulping for air as I go. In the moments that follow, I have always been joined by someone standing near. An arm, sometimes two, will move around my shoulders and usually someone will offer me a tissue. This sweet comfort encircles me through announcements and kiddush and then when we stand together, holding hands to say hamotzi, I feel the warmth and support in the hands on either of side of me, as they grasp mine firmly, reminding me that I am not alone in my pain.

I rely on that circle to make it through those hard moments of remembering. Through the warm physical contact, I receive the message that we’re in this together. That knowledge guides me through the intensity of longing and gently moves me to a place where I feel loved and comforted. It is only then that I feel how much my grandmother is with me, how much I carry her within me and see her around me. This knowledge doesn’t erase the pain, but it comforts me nonetheless and through it I always feel my grandmother’s love for me.

I won’t be in the company of others when I chant Mourners Kaddish this year, at least not in the ways that I have become accustomed. This doesn’t feel right. I don’t want to go without my annual cathartic experience. I think it heals me – gives me what I need to make my way through the pain of loss for another year. I’m longing to bring my love for her and her love for me to the surface and then feel supportive arms around me, so I can get through the most intense parts of the pain of missing her. I’m longing to tell some of my favourite stories about my grandmother.

This time of physical isolation is teaching me that there are many ways to get what we need and that it’s worth making the effort to find them. I’d love to share a few stories about my Nana with you. I want to share how her fierceness, her curiosity and her incredible capacity to love has lit up my life from the very beginning and continues to now. It’s mostly selfish of me to ‘share’ these stories with you.  I’d like to spend some time in these memories, and I don’t want to do it alone. My grandmother taught me long ago about the magical connection between a reader and words. I have felt that connection for so long when I read delicious books – the feelings and images lift off the page and enter my mind and body, connecting me to the writer in intense and visceral ways. I’ve started to feel those same interactions as a writer. I can almost feel you, the reader, reaching through the page and grasping my hand warmly and asking me to tell you about my grandmother.

I always remember my Nana as a force to be reckoned with. My memories of laughing the hardest as a child involve her telling me, my sisters and my brother the story of her day, when she would arrive to babysit the four of us. She was far and away our favourite babysitter. The four of us would have our ear out for the bus turning the corner that marked her arrival. As soon as she would come in the door, we would surround her, begging for stories about her day. She must have herded us into the living room, so she could sit comfortably in the red chair (which is still there, forty years later) and the four of us would gather around her, 3, 5, 7 and 9 years respectively. How did she hold our attention and have us rolling on the floor laughing until our faces and stomach hurt? By telling us about her day – specifically about the people who had given her a hard time and how she had responded to their rudeness, ineptitude or misplaced anger. The subjects of many of her stories worked for the Toronto Transit Commission. There was the bus driver who didn’t accept her transfer and asked her to pay another fare. My Nana told him he could take his transfer and shove it. There were the drivers that closed the bus door right in her face and drove on, ignoring her waving arms and loud voice calling for him to wait. When we stopped rolling around on the ground and howling with laughter, we would look up into her face and see the sheer joy of being with us.

During those years, before she lived with us, she refused to tell us how old she was. I can’t remember how old we were before we realized we could ask my parents. She applied Oil of Olay faithfully every night and with her short wavy reddish blond hair, green eyes and tastefully lipsticked mouth, she was as beautiful and young looking a grandmother as you can imagine. It boggles my mind that I am now within a decade of how old she was in my little girl memories.

In my memories, my grandmother is always in school. While working full-time and caring for my grandfather, who had a debilitating stroke a few years before I was born, my grandmother started pursuing a university degree part-time. I don’t know how she managed it all – working, classes, homework, running her home with my grandfather and taking care of us – her grandchildren – at least once a month on a Saturday night. After two philosophy and one history degree, she stopped pursuing post-secondary education, but she never stopped learning. We shared the basement, my grandmother, my older sister and I, for my high school years. My grandmother’s apartment was at the front of the basement and was separate from the rest of the house. I needed to walk by her door to get to our bedroom at the back. When I was on my way to bed, I would knock on her door and move through the dark kitchen/dining room area to her bedroom. The door was always open and the light was always on. I had learned during the months that we shared a bed after my grandfather died, that she slept with the light on, so the light wasn’t a good indicator as to whether she was still awake. I would tread quietly into her room and see whether she was sleeping or absorbed in a book. Half her bed served as a bookcase for her favourites – the tomes that she didn’t want to be far from – a full collection of Shakespeare, Gilgamesh, Dante’s Inferno and maybe Chaucer. I don’t remember the titles as well as the sight of the piles of the books in the dim light. They were stacked against the periwinkle blue walls and would sometimes fall behind the bed at which points she would call on me to retrieve them. If she was asleep, I would kiss her soft forehead and tell her I loved her. If she was awake, I would clear some of the books and settle in so we could talk about our days. I was always so excited to share who I had learned about in my Ancient and then Modern Western History courses, eager to hear her opinion – which was sure to be well constructed and a little angry. I gobbled it all up and offered many of her views as my own in high school and later in university.

My last memory of my Nana alive is also in bed. I was sitting with her during the afternoon, the day before she died. She was 89 and had been living in a long-term care facility for what felt like years but was actually months. Her lungs were weak and she had never regained mobility after breaking her hip the previous year. Most of her days in the long-term care facility were spent sleeping, doing the crosswords and reading the books that my mother and uncle brought for her and probably waiting for our visits. I would bring my three kids – 12, 10 and 7 – and with tears streaming down my face, I would watch Sophie, my 7-year-old, and my Nana write notes back and forth to each other, “No, I love YOU more.” “Impossible – I love YOU more.” Oblivious to my tears, they giggled away, happy to play their game for ages. That last afternoon, I was on my own. It was a Saturday, so the kids could have been with me, but they were not. By that time, my grandmother was barely conscious, so maybe they stayed home because they found that hard. I was sure that every time I visited her would be my last hours with her. I remember sitting and holding her hand feeling the preciousness of the moments. I brushed her hair away from her forehead, the way I did with the kids when they were sleeping and listened to her breathe. Her breathing was very slow and I would often wonder if the breath I had heard was her last. In those moments, I was aware of very little in the world, except for my grandmother. The pungent urine-tinged, sweet, bleachy smell of the facility faded in those moments, as did the starkness of the pea green walls and the scratchy polyester blanket. It was just me and my Nana, sharing these last moments together. Her eyelids barely fluttered for the entire visit, but when I made a motion to get up and leave, her hand squeezed mine and her eyes opened. It was the first time in days I had seen her look even a little awake. She looked into my eyes and said, “I love you Nicola” – a pet name that only she has ever called me. I don’t remember what happened next or how I drove home with so many tears running down my face. All I remember is my grandmother’s eyes locked into mine and the feeling of her fierce love.

This fierce love that she gave me is so powerful. I feel it in my love of learning and my endless curiosity to discover more. I feel it in the way I love my children, a love so deep and wide, that I learned from her.

I think that it is not just our love for those who we have lost that we are charged to remember when we mourn, it is also the love that we received. Remembering that love can feel painful, because all we feel at the beginning of the memory is the loss. Yet. I find if I hang on to the warm arms around me and find my way through the intense feelings, then the pain ebbs and the love remains. I believe we all need that love – now more than ever. Thank you for being my warm arms and for letting me share these stories with you. The pain has eased, the comfort arrived and the space has been made to feel great love.

 

 

 

 

When Change is Uncovering What is the Same

I stuck to the Artist’s Way program this week. I did the Chapter Five exercises (for those doing the math, I’m two weeks behind), I wrote Morning Pages every day (even though one of those sets of Morning Pages were written right before I went to sleep) and I took myself out on an Artist’s Date that mostly involved people watching on Queen Street. That was the best.

I had a conflicting feeling all last week of changing and staying the same. This feeling makes sense in a lot of ways. I am a month away from separating homes from the father of my children and my children for half the time going forward. That might be the biggest change that I’ve ever gone through, maybe even the biggest change that I will ever go through. Yet, many fundamental aspects remain the same: I remain my children’s mother, no matter where we all are; I remain my ex-husband’s parenting partner and sharer of 23 years. Last, but not least, I remain myself. I remain the curious, loving, creative and energetic woman that I have been my entire life.

The conflicting feeling of changing and staying the same has been particularly strong in relation to my writing. The volume of writing I am doing seems to be catalyzing a tremendous change in me. In this case, the change involves being more aware of parts of me that have likely existed for as long as I can remember. Part of the newness involves the uncovering of a hungry writer. A writer that has stories to tell. A writer that wants to spend time with other writers. A writer that wants to write and write and write. I think this writer has been in me the whole time. When I think back in time, I realize that I have always been writing and thinking about my written communication as an area of strength. Yet, I had such a conflict with thinking about myself as a writer – so much so that any time I said the words, ‘I am a writer” out loud, just 13 months ago, I cried.  Before then, I imagined writers were other people. Published people. Talented people. Driven people. I couldn’t relate. I have changed how I think about being a writer. Now, I think that as long as I write, that I am a writer and that the more I write, the more likely I am to grow in talent and become published. Those thoughts are new. I suspect the hungry writer has been here all along and was struck mute by my limiting beliefs about writers.

Uncovering this hungry writer is akin to uncovering the desire to write. A lot. The hungry writer whispers tantalizing in my ear,

“You have stories to tell.”

“You feel so good when you write.”

“Sit down and start, once you start writing, the words will come – it’s that simple.”

If only it was so simple. In addition to uncovering the hungry writer, I have also uncovered the sharpened teeth of the critic. Like the hungry writer, this critic feels like it has been with me all along, in scornful, demeaning fashion. The feeling I have when I hear/say the words is familiar, it’s 46-year-old shame and fear, yet I don’t think I ever heard the words as clearly as I do now – “You have nothing to say.” “No one wants to read your writing.” “You’re boring and annoying.”

The Artist’s Way program has helped me hear the critic’s words, loud and clear. Of course, that sucks in some ways – but it also helps me use words as a weapon in response. If you’ve never done the affirmation/blurt exercise before (and even if you have), grab a pen and paper now and I’ll walk you through it. It has been one of the most impactful activities that I’ve ever done. Here it is (in my words, but this is Julia Cameron’s design): Say to yourself,

“I am a talented a prolific writer.”

(Feel free to replace this with “I am a loving and supportive mother/father”, “I am an effective and successful lawyer” or whatever role you want to experience more satisfaction and growth.)

Say it slowly and repeatedly. Write down the thoughts that arise in response to saying this phrase. Julia Cameron calls them blurts. I think Brene Brown would call them “Fear Gremlins”.  Some of mine include,

“I never finish any projects.”

“I don’t have any stories to tell.”

“No one will want to read my writing.”

Once you are out of blurts do this next: reword each phrase to create an affirmation. Mine include:

“I have many stories to tell.”

“I finish many projects.”

Once you have your list, choose two affirmations and write them both out, 10 times each, every day for a week. Two times a day will help you even more.

I have done this activity on three different occasions and it has resulted in a significant shift in my thinking. I still have the ‘blurts’ – last week they often felt like they were my dominant thoughts. I can’t imagine they can ever be eliminated – I think they’re imprinted, somehow. The change lies I now have new affirming, inspirational thoughts to co-mingle with the old soul sucking, self-defeating thoughts. Sometimes the affirming thoughts appear on their own – as a pat on the back or a gentle reminder. They arise when I finish a project. Or brainstorm story ideas. These thoughts drive me to a finish line and offer a comforting hug once I cross it.

When I sat down to write this blog, I thought it would be my shortest piece ever. I couldn’t think of anything interesting to share. But, the newly uncovered hungry writer begged, “Just start writing – the rest will come.” And here we are. I’ll be back next week with the impact of Week of the Artist’s Way program.

 

Life with my Finger Shaking Self (or My Continuing Adventures of Trying to Feel Successful Some of the Time Without Feeling Like a Failure the Rest of the Time)

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to see when other people are being perfectionists? Like when my daughters give me a withering look for suggesting that their high eighties mark is great. Or listening to members of my writing workshop be incredibly critical of their own efforts. In these moments, it is crystal clear to me that others are doing the best they can do and that they’re not appreciating their own efforts and current limitations.

Amazingly,  I can quickly wander mentally from these thoughts stepped in compassion and a sense of how we learn, to dark cranial spaces of feeling disappointed in myself that I haven’t:

spent enough time on my business this week

paid enough attention to my children and their lives

worked out enough

eaten in the healthy ways I had planned…etc. etc. etc.

I imagine you know the drill. When I went to bed on Sunday night, I was feeling this way about the Artist’s Way program reflecting that this week I hadn’t:

Written every day

Gone on an Artist’s Date

Read the Week Five chapter

Done any of the Week Five activities. (This is, of course, most likely when the chapter hasn’t been read.

“I did write five days out of seven”, I plaintively pointed out to my finger shaking self. Defences are a waste of time with my finger shaking self. She’s barely even paying attention to the defence, she’s already reviewing the week, listing out all of my other failures as well: Didn’t do the planned website updates, didn’t book the appointment to bring my car in for the passenger airbag recall, only went to yoga once, didn’t finish the book I’ve been reading for the past two weeks.

To back up the sense of failure, on Monday morning, I went through each item on last week’s To Do list and marked almost all of them forward to the current week. I wanted to go back upstairs to my bed, curl up and either go back to sleep or read a book. Moreover, I wanted to be a different kind of person. The kind of person that does the tasks on their list. The kind of person who wants to do the things that they planned. I berated myself for a little longer, and then I turned to write my Morning Pages.

It was a little slow starting, but then the words started coming and the ink flowed across the page, airing as many feelings as I could think about and then examining them from multiple angles. Three pages is a lot to write – it gives me a good deal of time and space to reflect. Like so much writing, as I write, I am experiencing thoughts for the very first time. This is in stark contrast to the loops that often run in my head. Among other things, I found compassion for myself, my motivation to keep following the Artist’s Way program and an appreciation that I am learning as I go along. I felt amazing for the rest of the day and I was so productive.

When I was walking with my dog Lily, much later that evening, I thought about how I had tied success in the Artist Way’s Program to: writing Morning Pages every day, going on an Artist’s Date each week and doing some of the weekly activities. Since I hadn’t done all of those things, I didn’t feel successful. I felt confused – setting the goal of doing each of those tasks weekly seemed like a good bar to set that would stretch my limits a little bit but also give me the rich writing experience that I was seeking. What if the goal-setting is just a self-sabotaging set up, if I don’t meet the goal? Then I’ll just lose my motivation for even MORE things in the despair that often follows feeling like a failure.

Then I realized the problem: I FEEL like a failure. I FEEL successful. These feelings make success and failure seem like more than they are – events. Success and failure are the events of meeting goals or not meeting goals. Period. I want to remember this more often. So that the next time I am feeling disappointed in myself for not reaching a goal, I can remember that success and failure events are feedback systems: they are events that signal to me whether I have reached a goal or not and it is up to me to evaluate the information available to me when moving forward with more goal setting.

I like getting to the part after the feeling of failure, when I understand that it is an event. Then, I spend time evaluating the worthiness of the goal and the resources I am willing to allocate to reach it. I usually do this by lining up the smaller goal with my larger goal. I kept my goal of following the Artist’s Way. It fits into my broader goal of writing daily. Which fits into my even broader goal of spending a significant time writing. I kept the specific goals of doing my Morning Pages every day, having an Artist’s Date weekly and choosing at least two activities to do each week (one that I want to do and one that I don’t want to do). Following the Artist’s Way helps me reach beyond feelings of success and failure to feeling more whole, human and creative. That makes the time spent with my finger-shaking self, much more palatable.

`Til next week!

 

Finding the Most Magic

I am in search of the magical combination of factors that will lead to me writing the most. Not the most of all people — a different kind of most. The most that I can, given the various priorities and obligations in my life. Of course, it is not a simple solution. That’s why it’s a magical COMBINATION of factors. Writing is hard. I have so many things in my head that I want to put on paper (or screen). But, often enough, there is a blockage between my head and my fingertips leading me to do just about everything else except write. I worry about what people will think when they read my writing (fiction or nonfiction). I worry about the other things that I need to get done. These worries aren’t always conscious, I just surmise them from my behaviour of scheduling writing time and then looking up ex boyfriends on the Internet instead. Or searching MLS. Or petting the dog. Wiping the counters. Making tea. Many, many, many other things.

Happily, I think I’ve found the magical combination of factors. For me. Right now. (That’s my disclaimer. It might not work for you – but really, it probably will. That’s why Julia Cameron has sold tons of books. Thank you, Julia Cameron!)

Here it is:

  • Write 3 pages longhand every day.
  • Read the corresponding chapter for each week of the Artist’s Way Program
  • Set aside at least 2 (consecutive) hours each week to do anything that feels like artist development. I’ve interpreted it really widely.  During this Artist’s Date, I have almost no contact with anyone one else (that’s not an interpretation, it’s part of the criteria of Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Date).
  • Commit, in social media, to write about my experience each week.

The challenge, of course, is that the same forces that move me away from writing the rest of the time will act when I’m about to write my Morning Pages or set aside time for the Artist’s Date or write this blog. I think about all the other things I have to do. I think about how this isn’t income generating. I remember the dishwasher needs to be emptied.  You know the drill. But, somehow, I still sit down and do my Morning Pages. I’ve done them every day for 4 weeks now. I make time each week for my Artist’s Date. I faithfully turn off my phone and then enjoy my time people watching or poetry writing or window shopping on the Danforth.

What’s the magical combination that’s so effective? Commitment? Daily practice? A framework to guide me? Public accountability? I think all those factors work well together. The super ingredient in all of it is writing. All of these practices keep taking me to writing. Every day. The more days that pass, the more evidence I build that once I get on the other side of delay, I feel good writing. I’m remembering that more and more mid-write as well, so when I get stuck, I stay committed to writing, don’t get distracted and then take a few breaths and ask myself questions until I know the next word to write.

Don’t get me wrong – I haven’t written a novel in the past month. But, I have written a ton. I’ve worked on a novel. I’ve written several articles and I’ve journaled my heart out. I feel like I’m building the muscle to stick to my writing and that feels amazing.

I know that it’s not really magic – that I do the work of planning, committing and what sometimes feels like forcing myself into a chair. At the same time, having this structure is making it feel easier – to get from procrastination to action and to worry less about outcome/product and more about practicing. In other words, the magic lies in practicing a growth mindset. It’s possible that the hard work of practice makes way for the magic of creation.

I love those magical moments.

 

Unleashing my dog, my children and myself

I’m not so much about leashes. Literally and figuratively. Does everyone else have behaviours that you’re proud of but also worry they might be signs you don’t fit in with the rest of humanity and that they know something that you don’t? I have a few of them (okay, I have a mountain of them – but I only plan to address a few areas in this particular post). These behaviours include: letting my dog run off leash when we’re not walking on a street; letting my teenagers decide whether or not to attend their high school classes and regularly putting my needs in front of my kids’ needs. You can see how these are all both controversial and liberating.

Don’t worry – this post will get to Week #4 of the Artist’s Way program, in fact, this IS about the Artist’s Way program, because the crux of my pride and doubt conflict is the tension between choosing security and choosing openness. Following the Artist’s Way keeps teaching me that focusing on openness will lead to creativity AND security, but that focusing on security, most of the time, doesn’t lead to either creativity OR security. When I prioritize security issues, I usually feel scared and weak.

Back to leashes.

I have a valley behind my house that I take walks in daily. I currently take them with my dog Lily, but before I had Lily, I took them on my own. It was my first experience seeing dogs running around off leash. At first, the sight of dogs running freely, not always beside their adult companion, was a little unsettling. There were times I got nervous during a run, when approaching a dog running freely, scared that the dog would chase me or snap at me. That never happened, so over time I became more comfortable. When Lily joined our family almost two years ago, I did some research on training a dog to be off-leash. I wanted her to have opportunities to run freely. I didn’t want to hold her back. Accepted dog training wisdom directed me to wait until she was about 10 months before letting her run freely without fences. In the meantime, I took her to a large cemetery, minutes from my house. It’s fenced and gated. I loved releasing her from her leash and watching her take off, running after squirrels, birds or sometimes appearing to run for the sheer joy of stretching her legs and moving quickly.  When she was around 10 months, I started letting her off her leash down in the valley. It felt really risky at first. It’s a huge place – if she ran from me and didn’t turn around it’s possible, I would never be able to retrieve her. In the same way that when my children started going to daycare, I quickly learned that they would emerge from the day, whole beings, and in fact, fuller than they were at the beginning of the day, because they had learned and experienced so much, Lily would explore the offerings of our ravine – checking out the bushes, trees and hills and always returned, albeit sometimes with burrs or flowers knotted in her fur.

Once I started, I couldn’t stop. I wanted Lily to have these incredible experiences every day. It was also selfish. Watching Lily move in and out of the brush, running after squirrels and taking dips into the river to grab some water or go for a quick swim filled me with joy. It’s amazing to watch how much she learns. She’s learned how to approach people (mostly) with caution, watching their signals and also how to approach dogs. She’s learned when to go into the river and when it’s running too high and too fast. I’ve participated in some of this education by providing direction and encouragement, but Lily has done the lion’s share. Even though she’s a dog : ) I think these daily walks are so positive for Lily’s health and my own. I also worry I’m weird for prioritizing my dog’s freedom and opportunity to learn and grow over other people’s comfort and the rules of the ravine.

My kids would not be surprised to learn that Lily just got the majority of focus in my blog and they’re going to get three paragraphs. Favourite child issues are at least as old as the Bible : ) The thing that I’m proud of and worry about is that I’m not so inclined to leash my kids either – and less and less as they get older. I identify so much this way that I was surprised last week to hear my 17-year-old nephew say that he remembers our house as having more rules than he had ever experienced before. Those were my rules. I don’t even remember what they were, except for pretty strict bedtimes. I was so tired then – three children 5 years of age and younger. Bedtimes were really crucial. For me.

My parenting style has changed quite a bit. I believe that some of the changes can be attributed to the fact that my youngest child is now practically 13. The change also stems from the growing desire to not have my kids on a leash. Some of this motivation is borne out of a similar sentiment to walking Lily which is simply: I don’t want to ruin my walk by playing tug of war with Lily the whole time. I like walking. Equally, I don’t want so much of my life (or at least the child rearing part of it) to be characterized by playing tug of war with my children about what they can do or not do. When, as the Silician in The Princess Bridge would say, “Death is (not) on the line”, I’m not inclined to employ a leash. I’m happy to leave my kids to explore and learn and grow without a whole lot of interference on my part.

That’s why I don’t get very involved  with my kids’ school attendance. I used to more – I would want to make sure if they were REALLY sick or had a REALLY legitimate reason to miss class. Now, I’m happy to let them choose. Missing classes has natural consequences. I think practicing staying home to feel better is something that many people in Western society would benefit from practicing more since stress levels are hitting new high levels all the time. Most of all, I’m happy for my kids to figure it out. They have the capacity. It’s not that there aren’t risks – it’s more that the benefits are tremendous. The kids own their experience at school. They’re not there to please me or even to make me proud. They’re there to learn and develop. I think that I’m largely here to provide some direction and a lot of encouragement.

What does it mean to let myself off a leash?  More than anything, that means to put my needs before anyone else’s. I don’t want to feel controlled by my kids’ wants/needs (or anyone else’s, for that matter). This might be my greatest area of pride and worry. The Mother’s/Women’s Anthem is frequently one of sacrifice and selflessness. This is such a hard proposition for me. I need to rest. I need to read books. I need to write. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg – my need/want list, is pretty extensive. I like how I feel when I’m rested and learning and writing. It feels hard sometimes to have the kids know that I’ve chosen something different than their needs. I worry that they’ll feel less loved than other kids. Then, I usually remember that my capacity to offer love to my kids is usually rooted in how much rested and happy I feel.

Which brings me back to the Artist’s Way. One of the weekly components of the program is an Artist’s Date. This is time when the phone goes off. No one but the artist is invited on the date. Those are the only criteria. The activity is whatever might nurture/develop that artist. On Artist’s Dates, I have coloured, wandered markets, read fiction, read non-fiction, written stories, eaten very yummy cheesecake and drunk a few cocktails. During this weekly time (a two-hour block), I practice putting myself first. Like going to a yoga class or going to (my new obsession) Orange Theory Fitness classes, I find setting the time aside hard and then actually DOING IT, just as hard, but the payoff is huge. The experience is tremendous – I get fully engaged in whatever I’m doing with deliberately reduced distractions. The feeling after is just as tremendous – I carry it into my next activities – often for days.  Putting myself first and doing what is best for me helps me feel connected and purposeful. It’s like motivation rocket fuel. Julia Cameron might characterize Artist Date’s as creativity rocket fuel. I think she would also encourage me to keep letting the kids, Lily and myself run off leash as much as I can bear.

 

 

 

 

A Love Letter to Firefly

Hug your artist. Listen to your artist. LOOOVE your artist. That’s the voice of Week Two of the Artist’s Way in my head. “What would your artist want?” the voice keeps asking me. I think my artist has enjoyed being consulted, because I had one of the most amazing weeks on record. I’ve been singing, dancing and regularly walking around smiling to myself.

*******COMPLETE DIGRESSION*******

Have you ever noticed that indicators of joy and indicators of having lost one’s mind are the same?  Spontaneous singing and/or dancing, hearing voices. Who ever decided those were signs of insanity? Doesn’t everyone have a bunch of voices in their head on a regular basis and sing/dance when they feel happy? Why does joy get undermined with fears of seeming crazy? Just wondering.

****END OF DIGRESSION********

As I blissfully made my way through the week, paying attention to details more often than usual and writing A TON, I realized I’ve felt this way before. The desire to sing and dance. The reassuring voices in my head. The smiling. The high volume of writing.

I’ve felt it on Firefly retreats. Firefly clearly knew how to take care of the artist inside of me before I did. In gratitude for Firefly’s sweet love, I decided to dedicate the rest of my Week Two post as a love letter to them.

Dear Firefly,

This is nothing short of a love letter. Learning of your existence was one of the most romantic things that has ever happened to me. I wished for a community of writers and then my fairy godmother must have waved her magic fountain pen and took me through the Facebook labyrinth that landed me on your webpage. It is no exaggeration to say that I cried as I read through it. (Okay, I cry a lot – but still.)

You were just shy of playing hard to get. Workshops and retreats seemed to fill up just before I registered. This didn’t really discourage me. It meant that there were a whole bunch of people like me out there looking for similar experiences and support.

(A few full classes and retreats weren’t going to deter me – I’m a three time veteran of child camp and swim registration.)

You sent me letters that touched my heart by being genuine, earnest and loving writing as a craft.

On my way to my first retreat, last May, I felt butterflies in my stomach. A whole weekend of writing. A whole weekend with writers. It was like a first date with someone that I was already in love with. That night, the warm glow of the sun setting behind us and the lovely sweetness of the women around the table gave me the freedom to be creative and passionate. It’s such a nurturing experience: beautiful surroundings; delicious, nourishing food; opportunities to write that are low barrier and reassuring.

I believe that creativity emerges when people feel safe and inspired. That is how I feel in Firefly spaces – safe and inspired.

Thank you for teaching me some of my best conditions for writing: pastoral settings, delicious food, beginnings, openness and lots of encouragement.

You are everything I could have dreamed of and more.

Love,

Nicole

 

The Journey from “I can’t!” to “I haven’t…yet”

Taking time to write every day about ANYTHING AT ALL is nothing short of magical for me. By magical, I mean transformative and by transformative, I mean that my thinking transforms. As a mindset coach, thinking transformation is my bread and butter, so I get really excited when it happens. The thing about doing Artist’s Way activities is that they are done alone, by design, to protect my ‘fragile’ artist against outside noise and influence. This means that when I get excited about how my thinking is changing, I’m left to cheer very quietly (since when I write my Morning Pages everyone in the house, including our dog is sleeping). Or not EVEN quiet cheering, since some of the transformative work happened on public transit. I wonder what would happen if I started some celebratory dancing and singing at the bus stop or on the subway. Stay tuned – who knows what will happen in the coming weeks, particularly since I am FULLY embracing the mindset of “I haven’t…yet.”.

I believe the whole structure of The Artist’s Way program is to encourage and develop this very thinking – a sense of my own potential and possibility. The very act of writing three pages about ANYTHING AT ALL each morning, is the foundation of this orientation. Each morning when I sit down to write, I have no idea what I will write. Then I just write whatever is on my mind. (For those who have engaged in conversations with me, you know that there’s plenty.) Writing in this way, just for myself, for no one else to read EVER, is incredibly liberating. I’m liberated from the worries of what others might think about me. Or whether my ideas are ‘good enough’ or if what I’m writing is interesting to anyone else.  All those concerns are off the table, because this writing is just for me. I have practiced this every day for the past week. It takes about thirty minutes each day to write three pages – so that makes 210 minutes (3.5 hours) and 21 pages of writing and not worrying about what anyone else is thinking about my writing (except what I’m thinking about my writing). Reading the numbers gives me an amazing feeling of pride. Morning pages are definitely the gift that keeps on giving.

In addition to my Morning Pages, I picked several of the activities that are listed for Week One. I listed some “old enemies” of my creative self-worth. The activity encourages three – I came up with two. I’ve had trouble with this activity the last two times I’ve done the Artist’s Way program. I couldn’t remember anyone, besides myself, as hindering my creative self-worth. This time, I thought of two. They didn’t have anything to do with writing, they both had impacted my creative self-worth when I was singing. When I started thinking about both experiences, I realized how much I think about singing as a fixed talent. This was interesting for me to discover, because I’m not aware of many areas I think about as fixed. I orient towards believing that everything is matter of practice and learning. But, not singing. Not for me. Until now. This doesn’t mean that I’m going to go out and get singing lessons. It DOES mean that I now believe that if (when??) I do take singing lessons that my singing will become better. I cannot express how transformational this is for me. It shifts over three decades worth of belief. I’m so excited about it that I’m taking a short break from writing to do a celebratory dance.

Alright, I’m back from dancing. Even though I know that writing regularly has this tremendous impact on how I feel – about myself AND the world, I am always amazed at the actual feelings when they come up.  This is very motivating for making time in this very busy upcoming week for more Artist’s Way activities. Tune in next week for what Week 3 brings.

Writers Write

Writing is one of the hardest and one of the most joyous activities for me. If you relate, this blog is for you.

Sometimes, the words just flow out of me – fiction, website content, sales and marketing materials, journal entries and all the writing that I do that I can’t even think of right now. Other times, each word that comes to my mind feels ‘wrong’. Really, what it feels is unworthy, not good enough for the page or the prospective reader. I’m not sure what all the factors are that contribute to the joyful flow writing – although I know they include rest, playfulness, and a clear sense of purpose. I’m also not sure what all the factors are that activate my mean, critical voice – although I know they include fatigue and loneliness.

What I know for sure is that I want to write. I want to write A LOT. Novels, articles, non-fiction books about motivation, Jewish practice, parenting and who knows what else. I know that sometimes the joy from writing stands alone – the joy is the pure result from putting pen to paper or tapping away on my keyboard and watching my thoughts appear in front of me. I also know that sometimes the joy follows the struggle, that, in fact, persevering through struggle is one of the birthplaces of joy.

I am a writer

I have been writing for the past year more than I ever have in my whole life. I have written for work, for pleasure, for therapy, for friendship and relationship building. The more I write, the more I want to write. There is something truly delicious to me about the pairing of the words ‘writers write’. I write because I am writer. I write because I want to grow as a writer. More and more, I write because I feel compelled to put words around my ideas and then share them with the world.

I am writing a ton to build my mindset coaching business – articles, website content, marketing materials, workshop curriculum, and more. This kind of writing has me putting on a philosopher hat and then exchanging it for a teaching hat, then a student’s hat, then a mother’s hat and then an advocate’s hat. It’s like being Bartholomew Cubbins in one of my favourite stories by Dr. Seuss.

None of this writing is fictional (at least not intentionally…). The fictional works that I’ve started in the past year feel like books that I’ve begun to read and put down, but whose stories haunt me. I want to know what happens. I want to know the characters better. I want to feel what they feel, taste what they taste.

So. Despite the fact that I’m in the process of building my business. And despite the fact that I’m in the process of ending my marriage, which also means selling my house and moving. Despite the fact that I have three children who I want to pay attention to and spend time together. Despite the fact that I have A LOT GOING ON, I have decided to also focus on writing fiction. Writers write.

Writers write and planners plan.  I am a dedicated planner, goal setter, motivation generator. Here’s my plan: I’m going to follow Julia Cameron’s Artist Way’s program for the next 12 weeks. I started this morning. Want to join me? Want to cheer me on? I would love either! I’m going to check in, through my blog, weekly and let you know how it’s going, what I’ve been doing and how following the Artist’s Way program is impacting my writing. I have followed this program twice before, both times to the 6 week point, and both times have been astonished with how much writing three pages every morning, making time for a 2 hour “Artist Date” each week as well as following the various weekly assignments have impacted how I think about myself – both as a writer and as a person.

Artist's Way

The Artist’s Dates set the stage for turning off my phone for Shabbat (if I can do it for 2 hours, why not 25?)

The Morning Pages helped me find my writing voice and got me in the habit of writing daily.

The Affirmations demolished the pervasive thought “I have nothing to write about”.

I’m so excited about what is to come in the next twelve weeks. The beauty of growth and change for me is that I don’t always know what’s coming, but I know that it will be wonderful. Literally – full of wonder – of what I can offer to the world and what the world is offering to me.

Tune in next week for the second instalment.

Jerusalem. Kensington Market. High Holy Days. Do you feel the connection too?

Kensington Market. Jerusalem. High Holy Days. They all evoke similar feelings in me. Is that the weirdest thing? It actually seemed like the most natural thing as I walked through Kensington last Sunday.

The Sesame Street song, “One of these things just doesn’t belong here” just began playing in my head – reminding me that the High Holy Days are NOT a place – so they don’t belong in a grouping with Jerusalem and Kensington Market. But the thing is that all three are a magnet and a conductor for me. Regardless of their physical (and non-physical) properties.

It’s pretty bold, I know, for someone who hasn’t taken physics since Grade 10 Science (which I don’t remember doing so very well in) to throw around terms like ‘magnet’ and ‘conductor’. I mean that when I walk through Kensington, Jerusalem and the High Holy Days I feel like a magnet for excited feelings of belonging and that they feel so electric that I radiate them out like sparks.

Kensington

When I walk through Kensington I feel a sense of electricity. Not the shocking kind. The kind where I feel particularly alert and awake. I love how everything looks – stores, streets and people. It feels old world and one of the best versions of our current world that I know. I sat at the front of Jimmy’s Coffee on Baldwin, enjoying very yummy coffee and closed my eyes and imagined (with little effort) what it might have looked like out that window a hundred years ago. I imagined Jews who looked like a picture of that I have of my great grandparents and our cousins that was taken when my great grandmother was pregnant with my grandmother Bernie. My Jewish family was in New Jersey and New York in the 1920s, not in Kensington Market – but in my imagination it all bonds together. As I sat and imagined, I felt the emotions wash over me – I missed my grandmother and wanted to be there with her. I wondered if others feel the same in Kensington. I felt like a citizen of the world and a citizen of time. I felt like a Jew. I felt like I belonged.

Jerusalem is the same for me. When I walked the streets of Jerusalem – old and new – I felt many moments in time converging in one as I looked around and felt a sense of wonder, awe and being grounded – all at the same time. Even as I sit typing this in my living room, I only need to close my eyes to feel the cool Jerusalem stone pressing against my forehead as I leaned into the Wall and felt connected to all the people who were around me and came before me. They felt related to me – in body and also in some other way that I don’t yet have words for. When I walked the streets of Jerusalem, I loved the sound of Hebrew, Arabic, English and languages I didn’t recognize. I felt like a citizen of the world and a citizen of time. I felt like a Jew. I felt like I belonged.

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When I was growing up, I don’t remember thinking about myself as Jewish every day. But, I do remember thinking about myself as Jewish when the Holidays would arrive each fall. For starters, I needed to be Jewish to miss school. Then, there was the shared Jewish experience that my few Jewish friends and I would compare notes on when we returned to school. Mostly about fasting. (Sorry to my rabbi friends – we weren’t talking about the sermons.) That was the beginning of linking feeling Jewish to this time of year.

Rosh Hashanah

In August, when I heard the words and melody of Achat Shaalti (Psalm 27:4), I felt something stir inside of me. Like my sensations in Kensington and Jerusalem, it is a feeling of standing in time and having a torrent of what has come before and what lies in front of me awaken within me. It is a feeling that I also associate with Avinu Malkeinu and many moments of standing together through the Holidays. I think about my family who have come before me and said the same words. I think about the people all over the world swaying in unison. I feel like a citizen of the world and a citizen of the world. I feel like a Jew. I feel like I belong.

Magnets. Conductors. Sparks. I know it couldn’t be ‘punnier’, but these words all send feelings of electricity up and down my body. I think that’s what belonging does. Makes me feel awake and excited. The more I seek and become aware of feeling like this, the more I want it. It’s returning and looking forward at the same time.  Mental and physical pilgrimages.

I look forward to seeing you all: in Kensington. In Jerusalem. At Kol Ami for High Holy Days – or wherever we meet next on our pilgrimages : )

 

 

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