Monday, November 30, 2009

Woman Cycles

A woman cycles constantly. If you are in touch with your cycle, you meet its ups and downs instead of struggling to control, contain, remove, deny, fight it.

What does it take to get to know your cycle? a willingness to know, a moment or two in your day to chart where you are, a curiousity about your body, your emotions.

It also helps to get aware of the moon in the sky - is it half moon, in decline, on the wane, or nearing fullness? is it a new moon, or the dark of the moon? and how does that make you feel?

If you are on the pill, chances are you have a cycle but it's covered over with the artificial hormones you are taking. Some women notice their moods and patterns change when they go off the pill. The following is an excerpt from the book, The Pill, are you sure it's for you? by Jane Bennett and Alexandra Pope. (see sidebar for link to Wild Genie website)

"Are cycles inherently important? ...appreciating the inherent logic and power of cycles for sustaining life - your body's and the planet's - might help you to get clearer on whether the Pill is really a good thing for you." (think tides, seasons, circling planets, flow....)

"A cycle is a system of generation and regeneration - of birth, growth, peaking, falling away and ending to be followed again by birth. It's a process of expansion and contraction, of activity and rest. ...your body is in constant rhythmic change, much of which is happening beneath your awareness. ...It's your changing nature that's keeping you alive, lively, responsive and creative."

Some women on the Pill suffer through bad moods, hysterical crying bouts, anxiety and depression. One woman quoted in the book, came off the Pill after taking it for 2 years. "'The pill is a pattern but it's not your pattern.' Her extreme moods cleared up and learning about her body through fertility awareness made her realise how much more in tune with her life she can be. At certain times of the month she knows she can expect certain things - when she's fertile and infertile and when her period is due - and knowing this puts other aspects of her life in context as well. For instance, knowing that she's fertile helps her understand why she feels so sexy and horny, joyuous when she sees a newborn baby and generally in a good mood. knowing that her period is due helps her accept her feelings of ill ease with her body and a general edginess and anxiety. Connecting to the rhythm of her body has been really empowering."

As cyclical beings, we have times of high energy and productiveness, and we also have down times of rest and retreat. Sometimes to find our creative energy we need quiet reflective times. Stress and busyness are stimulating, but too much of a good thing wears us down. In each day even, we have cycles of on and off, high energy and low energy. If we don't listen to the subtle signals from the body, for when we are needing a break or needing nourishment, we get cranky, anxious, we rush too fast and make mistakes and get into accidents. Try going with the flow of your cycles, and cooperate with your body's ebb and flow, as Alexander Pope puts it in this marvelous book.

You are made of flesh and blood, circling in your body, pumping in and out of your heart. Get into the rhythm of life. Be in synch with your self. Get vital energy from good food, from exercise, from rest. And listen to your woman's cycles for a deeper sense of groundedness.

You are worth knowing about! Learn more about this finely tuned instrument.
I highly recommend this book, for any woman on the Pill or considering going on it. There are upsides and downsides, and definitely you will learn more about the woman's body and cycles in this book, as well as alternative methods of contraception.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Body Never Lies

Who is the girl hiding behind the rock? and why are my shoulders hurting so much?

The girl was left in charge of seven younger siblings. She was maybe ten or elevent at most, her mother had left the house before supper (where was the father?), probably to cross the street for a drink with Doroth and Al, the couple who were also kind enough to let the girl play dress up and give her real grown-up tea, and who she helped out by stacking logs for their fireplace in winter.

She was a good girl. She got lots of praise for helping others. It made her feel important and loved. But that night, her sister was fighting her, pulling her hair, scratching her cheek, her brothers were wrestling, the house was in chaos, seemingly out of control.

No one would listen to her. It was dark outside. She was trying to instill order but it felt hopeless, no use. So she decided to run away. She took a bag of cookies and some slices of bread in a paper bag, and left a short note for her mother, sticking it in her sheared lamb's wool coat pocket, where it hung in the vestibule. She ran outside, up the hill behind the house through the trees, and found a big rock, solid and house-like to sit behind, waiting for the car headlights to come up the long winding driveway below.

After a while (was it only 15 minutes?) she began to feel cold. She didn't like being outside in the woods in the dark. She had stopped crying and sniffling, and decided to go back down inside. She sheepishly removed the note from her mother's coat pocket. She hadn't eaten the cookies or bread so left them in the kitchen. Her mother does not remember leaving her alone with a one-year-old, a two year old, a three or four year old, a five year old and a six and seven year old. Oh and one eight year old. How could she have done that, even for an hour? "I must have just stepped out for ten minutes to go to the store," she said, trying to recall.

But the girl, now a woman, remembers feeling time slipping by slowly like an eternity. It was too much to handle. It was too long. It was a feeling of abnadonment and of betrayal of trust. It was too much responsiblity for one small girl trying to be good. Who had no choice and could not speak up or say no, I am too young. Don't leave me alone with them. She had tried to leave but the world was too big, too scary, she had no where else to go to, no other adult or friend of the family, or aunts and uncles to ask for help. They had no one to help them. Isolated and alone, with the overwhelmed mother and absent, hardworking father.

I found this in my journal, written a few weeks ago, and I think I know who the little girl is, and why my shoulders have been so sore.

The body never lies.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Mothering the Muse

-musings on finding creative space for mothers (first published in Q-Write, Quebec Writers' Federation newsletter).

"All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy." Orsen Wells

All mothers are selfless, hardworking and compassionate would be my corollary statement. Although far from selfless, I admit the mother side has taken precedence over the writer these past few months. I wish I could leave the dishes unwashed, let moldy t-shirts lie on the floor, leave the teens to fend for supper by themselves when a deadline is approaching. In fact, the central conflict in my life right now is how to leave the mother side behind and nurture the writer. How to mother the muse?

Shehazerade told her stories at nightfall to avoid having her head chopped off. Mothers know a lot about sleepless nights and endless stories, and little tyrants demanding, “just one more” or off with your head. Maybe night feedings are conducive to listening to the Muse. I wrote some of best poems at 4 a.m. Once the young fledglings get more mobile, the invocation of the muse can be done while trimming the hedges or preferably behind a locked bathroom door.

Inherent in mothering and writing is this conflict of schedules, this conflict of roles that resist merging with each other. In my mind, I can be either a good mother, or a good poet. The poet in me hates schedules, discipline and regular habits. She is moody and rebellious and gets grumpty when she is disturbed. She equates creativity with messiness. Sometimes the Muse is hard to grab onto, so I spend days writing myself reminders to write in my notebook, and sometimes I actually do.

Maybe the trouble I have is with my image of writers and mothers: mothers are supposed to love their offspring unconditionally, drop their own projects to sew elastics on ballet shoes or drive someone to the video store. Mothers don’t say ‘go away’, when their daughters come bugging them for help with French homework. They don’t put up signs on their office that say DO NOT DISTURB. In my mind, a ‘real’ writer is a cranky old man with a pipe and beard who works in his study and never lets any children or noise in. Children tiptoe around him and never dare hug him. A wife is at the door, ready to shoo them away and answer the phone, deal with plumbers and repair men. Ah, the wife, well, that would be me.

It feels like the ‘real’ writers are cooped up like hermits behind closed doors or in mountain retreats communing with the ‘muse’. And the ‘real mothers’ are baking brownies, washing floors and carpooling hockey teams. But I am a hybrid: a writing mother, and I manage to do both, with some compromise.

If I don’t mother the muse, i.e. make time to do some creative loafing so I can write, my inner Hemingway comes alive. Then watch out! Cranky Ogre sets in. Mothering the muse could mean listening to her call (or the itch in my veins that leaves me sleepless) in the middle of the night, or mining the tiny cracks in the day’s schedule where inspiration wafts up, in between breakfast dishes and homework and chauffeur service to after school activities. It may also mean leaving the house to write in a café, waking up 15 minutes earlier to write morning pages, or spending a day at a friend’s cottage to have Quiet Space where the octopus of household tasks does not live. You’ll have to check “mother guilt” at the door, however; it’s only one more creative block.

Self-discipline and the courage to value my work above all other tasks are part of the challenge. Like any writer, the trick for me is the doing of it, not the thinking about it. Maybe I can’t lock myself away in a cabin in absolute stillness and silence. But in the past 10 years I have somehow managed to publish a book, a chapbook, and teach courses in journal writing, as well as raising two kids. My first book, “Little Mother”, explored in prose and poetry my first pregnancy, childbirth, and nursing, as well as the earlier drama of living with an alcoholic mother.

Ideally, with a little help to manage household duties –cleaning ladies are angels – and a little help from the muse, a manuscript will soon be in the mail to publishing houses. On the way, mothering has become my theme, a puzzle I am trying to figure out in my writing. Mothering the muse, musing on mothering, it has all become one. My latest creative project is a play about Eve’s mother. So muse, I am making an appointment with you for 9:00 a.m. tomorrow morning – whoops, I forgot, school is out tomorrow. Next week?

Mothering the muse ideas: take yourself on an artist’s date (from The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron). Get outside and walk in the woods, let nature inspire you to make room for sun and snow shadows. Play! Read whatever style of writing you want to be writing, i.e. read poetry! Get together with another writer for coffee and writing in a café. Write morning pages, before the kids wake up, set your alarm 15 minutes early. Don’t be hard on yourself. Even if you only write one sentence a day, that’s 365 sentences at the end of a year. Just imagine if you wrote 3 sentences? I met a writer at the Maritime Writer’s Workshop who worked full-time for the government in Ottawa, and had 3 kids (and a wife) who managed to write for one hour every morning before breakfast! Without waking up his wife! His lecture was called Perseverance.

Snuggle with your kids in the morning, and try to turn off the flow of creativity before they come home; give yourself time to land, back on earth, and greet them happily. It takes flexibility to live in both worlds.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Mother Daughter Stuff

Ok usually it's me being impatient with my 17 yr old girl, but this week my husband hit his limit.

"I told her she could have the money from all those beer bottles in the garage if she took them's been 3 weeks!"

"I'm going to sell that 2nd-hand mini we bought her - she never drives it!" (battery went dead as it sat in the driveway for 2 months)

He took her driving one day a few weeks ago, and apparently grew impatient (understatement) when she tried to shift into 5th gear (it's a standard) and ground the gears instead....on the highway.

So a few meltdowns later, and many stalls at busy intersections, with cars are beeping their horns and yelling at the poor girl, (a good samaritan helped push the car off the road and got it started for her), she was petrified of driving the 'new' car.

Yesterday, I insisted we take the mini to the physiotherapist appointment she had. She was doing great at all the stop signs, starting it with hardly a catch, until we got to a busier street with traffic lights. Stopped at a red light, we went through 2 more red lights until she could get it going again, and then we whipped into a parking lot while she had melt down # 35.

I took over the wheel, and started noticing what I was doing with the clutch, how fast the engine was revving when I put my foot on the gas, the exact sequence of events, so I could explain it to her. She was still too shaken to drive. But she listened and watched.

On the way back, I was late for my osteo appointment (yes, we're all in need of therapy), so I drove straight to my appointment instead of dropping her off at home. She would drive the last few blocks into the town, and I pulled over so she could do this. I told her to give it more gas and see if that helped, but mostly I talked to her about the mind over matter, the fear of stalling, the mental block she had created.

Lo and behold, she drove me into town with no stalling. Took off, and came back to get me an hour later, in the same car! (she could have gone home and switched to an automatic). She also loaded up the car with beer bottles (258!) and we took them back to the store.

It was her night to cook supper, burgers on the menu, so after she had done that too, I gave her a big hug and told her I would tell Dad all about her good day.

"I'm so proud of her", he said later, amazed that beer bottles and car driving fears had been taken care of in one day.

I am so proud of Caitie too! She faced her fears, and even drove the car to her dance class later that night. It's not about the fear, it's about getting it right enough times that you build a little confidence, and have a least one success to convince yourself 'I can do it!'

If Caitie only knew what a life lesson that is for me, in mid-life....

ps I am also writing a blog at owning pink, there's a link on this blog
if you're curious

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Sabbath and Resting

The idea of Sabbath is a very old one, and recently a book on the subject revealed how important a rest day is for our mental sanity and health.

Wayne Muller, in Sabbath, Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest, shows how our relentless pursuit of progress and success is a form of violence we do to ourselves. In the passage I opened up this morning, he explains that our putting paradise or heaven off into the after life means that we only get to rest once we get to heaven. Heaven is where the green pastures are, the place we can lie down and be taken care of, but that we have to work work work until we get there.

"This then is the theology of progress. Only when we get to the end can we lie down in green pastures, be led beside still waters, and allow our soul to be restored. this is the psalm we sing when people have died. This is the psalm we save for death, because in the world of progress, you do not rest in green pastures, you do not lie beside still waters, there is no time. Never in this life, only in the next. ...

But we must ask this question: What if we are not going anywhere? what if we are simply living and growing within an ever-deepening cycle of rhythms, perhaps getting wiser, perhaps learning to be kind, and hopefully passing whatever we have learned to our children? what if our life, rough-hewn from the stuff of creation, orbits around a God who never ceases to create new beginnings? what if our life is simply a time when we are blessed with both sadness and joy, health and disease, courage and fear --and all the while we work, pray and love, knowing that the promised land we seek is already present in the very gift of life itself, the inestimable privilege of a human birth? what if this single human life is itself the jewel in the lotus, the treasure hidden in the field, the pearl of great price? what if all the way to heaven is heaven?

"Sabbath challenges the theology of progress by reminding us that we are already and always on sacred ground....the time to lie and love and give thanks and rest and delight is now, this moment, this day. Feel what heaven is like; have a taste of eternity. Rest in the arms of the divine...The time to sleep, to rest, is now. We are already home."

I am taking his mesage to heart this morning; lying here in the sun with Mollie, soaking up the warmth of an unusally warm November day. Recuperating after an osteopathic treatment on my shoulders yesterday, and following her advice to rest more today, drink more water, let the body readjust.

It is difficult to just lie here and do nothing. But I can feel the energy flowing inside my body, feel the stillness nourish me. "Heaven's in our hearts" sings Tracy Chapman on the CD playing right now, as if in synchronicity with the moment and what I am writing.

It is too easy to always be 'too busy' to give ourselves the gift of rest.

Sabbath used to be a law, a day imposed on us to rest, reflect, do nothing 'useful' or productive, experience the gift of receiving. In its origins, it was a day when it was illegal to work.

You can reinstate it in your life, make it a habit, even if there is no church to attend. Spirit can touch you in nature, spirit can call you to prayer right in your bedroom. Heaven could be right here on earth. If you allow, permit, surrender to the possibility :)


Thursday, November 05, 2009

The battle within

For anyone interested in the creative arts, whether writing, drawing, music, dance, theatre, there is always the dilemna between doing what's easy and makes money, and doing what one loves, even if it doesn't come without a struggle,or demands too much of our time.

For me, I decided to not write poetry for a while, and stopped even opening my journal for a long time. People ask me what I do, and I tell them I lead retreats. But recently, I realized my heart is entwined around a love affair with poems, not really a love affair, but a passionate embrace that won't let go. And it surprised me becuase I thought I had let go of it, of feeding that passion, that it had died.

I read this on a blog post from Meredith Winn, that my friend and photographer Suzy sent me a link for, and it absolutely brought tears to my eyes to see this struggle defined. She begins with talking about Elizabeth Gilbert (of EAT PRAY LOVE fame and hearing her talk about writer's block, and how doing something else for a while can be the answer, not forcing oneself to write, but gardening for example, until the Muse graces your path again. For Meredith, the other thing is photography.

" i thought i had to juggle. to hold both parts of what i am (what i’ve become most surprisingly) and figure out how to make them get along without competition. figure out how to give them both time when they dance awkwardly together (and strangely do not compliment each other as one should think they would). they fight over time. they fight over energy and emotion and brain space and blood sugar and sunlight.

"photography is easy. easy in the sense of instant gratification. easy in the sense of aesthetically pleasing. easy in the sense that it actually pays me money. it is lighthearted and beautiful and easy to be around. photography is everyone’s best friend. i have fallen quite surprisingly into this role of photographer because it comes easily.

"all the while my mind, this other side of me, the wicked darkness whispers ‘traitor’ and ‘fake’! because i know that at my most inner core, i am a writer.

"writing is not easy. it has never paid me, nor have i asked it to. it is painful and exhausting and requires so much of my time that i have been suppressing it, kicking it away with disregard. i love it and yet it itches me, mocks me, drives me forward, and is all my soul wants to do simply for the process of doing it. yet here i am, i’ve been denying it water in hopes that it just shuts the hell up and withers away. (this thing i love! this thing that is deeply a part of me. how could i be so cruel?!) i don’t want it to wither entirely. but just for now, please, because life is too full, too emotional, too much, too much. there are words i want to say, but i deny myself them. because photography is easy. and writing is not, it is something that makes me human. and most often feeling human (for me) is a momentarily painful experience." by Meredith Winn at

There is much wisdom here for me to digest. Writing is painful for me, in that, there is always a certain amount of rewriting, once the project is done, or you think it's done, then you have to go back and kill your darlings, the most precious things you've said that are just redundant, or don't fit anywhere and bog the thing down. I am working on a final draft of The Tao of Turning Fifty, and dreading cutting anymore. Dreading finding the right voice, the common tone, the unique individual 'way' of saying things that will define the book - cause it is fragmented right now, a bunch of blog posts and meandering thoughts culled together.

But I do believe there are millions of women who will thank me for it, if they can get to read it!

Onwards and upwards, my soul. Courage to retreat, and listen inwards for inspiration. The blocks are moved only inches at a time, one breath at a time, one word, one sentence, one paragraph.....courage to continue.



Monday, November 02, 2009


The lake is rippling westward this morning. Six ducks fly low to the water in formation. The trees blew off their leaves on Saturday int he wind and rain. A few spots of yellow and rust on the island across from me.

I am so grateful for the chance to retreat yesterday, on the first day of November, my birth month and the day we turn back the clocks - a signal that winter is approaching.

I am grateful for the women who participated, who came and sat, and wrote and listened to poems that heal the woman's soul, who shared their wholeness and wept a little at a new discovery.

I am grateful for the peace and tranquillity that emanates from the human heart, that is so contagious and wonderful.

I am grateful for the chance to be a witness.

I am grateful for the soothing music and for the spirit of peace that music brings.

This morning I am a little stiff, but grateful to have spent the afternoon in the company of women who seek a deeper listening.

Next time, I'm looking for a room with tables and chairs to work on, to do our creative artwork, colouring, collage, mandalas and writing - we're getting too old to sit on the floor :)

May the sacred space of retreat remain with you, today,

honour the light within you,