Freedom to create

Freedom to create

Lately I have been reading works by people who are finding the courage and the space in their lives to follow their interests, passions and dreams.

The other day a piece popped into my inbox from Jon Chiang, a freelance film maker. In addition to his film work, Jon creates a weekly newsletter with links to interesting content and musings on his freelance journey. This week, Jon’s newsletter talked about chasing freedom.

What struck me is that Jon never talks about making money; instead he prioritizes spending time fully engaged in his life and relationships, then making work decisions based on those priorities. His work, the outcome of his work/life balance philosophy, is exceptional.  

I have spent time with Jon; he is a thoughtful and kind human. He is present and humble and sincere. His intentionality around his move into freelancing is part and parcel of who he is. 

What stuck with me as I finished the article was that Jon’s vision is where my head space is or at least where it is headed.  I too am deeply breathing in this moment, where I actively control the act of prioritizing. 

It is an unfamiliar state of being. 

I have turned my focus inward of late in hopes that it will help me be more effective when I am facing and acting ‘outward’ – in the volunteer and work roles that I am engaging in. I am re-evaluating long held values and beliefs, a process that began as my children were growing up and questioning our world. That process has now become second nature after my university adventure caused my brain to explode daily due to the fracturing and destruction of many past ways of thinking. 

I am fully cognizant of the gift of time I have been afforded to ‘work on myself’. This privilege was striking the other night. 

I was at an event with former co-workers, exceptional women working in special education. I spoke to people who have spent the fall being kicked and bitten, who have more students to support and educate than ever and who sometimes feel incapable of doing what is expected and needed from them daily in the way that they want to. 

There are no moments for themselves, self reflection or choosing daily priorities. 

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Yesterday on CBC I was listening to Out in the Open. The episode was called Double-Edged and was an exploration of why people find it difficult to feel happy in a sustained way: why it feels so bad to feel good. I thought about my exchanges with my former coworkers and the concept of owning my happiness; where does guilt fit in? 

The tight wire act of drinking in joy without drowning others. 

•••••••••••

Going to university taught me to be open to the world and ideas; drawing all the threads together is the purpose of this blog. 

Thanks for wandering through the process with me. 

One last note: Jon Chiang has an exceptional short film, Lion, which is a both a Short Film Festival Selection and Best Canadian Short Award nominee at the Vancouver Asian Film Festival for 2017. Check it out along with other films by Jon  (available on his blog). 

Choosing your hashtag. Or not. 

Choosing your hashtag. Or not. 

There are once again several high profile sexual assault cases grabbing headlines these past few weeks. For some people, it is a “watershed moment” – a time of hope that in this #metoo moment, opening up a dialogue will give affected women strength and others the knowledge to support all women.

If someone chose to utilize the hashtag #metoo, they were making a brave personal choice. For those who chose not to utilize the hashtag, they were also making a brave personal choice; as some on social media have pointed out – no victim owes the world her story.

••••••••••

The question is surfacing, as always, about why women did not speak out before now. One part of the answer is the wider public: consider your social media networks and see possible weapons of revictimization – from those spaces can come opinions and comments and accusations. People commenting – on this latest round of sexualized power abuses or the hashtags or previous stories – may not be speaking directly to specific women but the words can affect all women.

This detracts from the perpetrators and focuses blame back on the victims. 

Deciding to talk about your experience is like standing on a cliff, with dark and unknown depths in the waters below.

Personally, I hate to swim without full knowledge of what’s in the water.

The seemingly inherent belief that everyone has a right to an opinion about other people’s lives is one of the reasons that a victim may not come forward. The details of your assault may lead people to know who you are. You fear you will be talked about. You fear you will be judged.

It’s like having an IED inside your mind, waiting for that thing, that trigger, knowing that an explosion of memories and pain will follow.

Given the volume of statements out there, it’s amazing it took this long but my tipping point was a comment (made by a woman): if the women didn’t want to come forward for themselves they should have done it to ensure that no one else was victimized.

Really?? You think that’s a helpful thing to say?

Okay. Lesson #2 – to become a victim sometimes means that everything else stands still. You go into survival mode.

And once other people are known to have become subsequent victims, the initial victims often do blame themselves. If you are questioning why they never came forward, you definitely will never be able to understand how the guilt of subsequent abuse preys on the minds and hearts of the first victims.

No one has the right to add to that guilt.

••••••••••

When I was finally able to stand up in court and tell my story, more than 20 years after the fact, I was relieved. I was proud of my strength.

As I left the courthouse, with three other victims, I was confronted on the steps of the courthouse by a man who had sat through my testimony. He asked: why didn’t you just tell someone?

I was 12 years old when the assaults started. But I am not certain that if I had been 22 or 52, I would have been any better prepared to step up and speak out.

I could barely breathe or eat or sleep; how could I do the thing you – some stranger – think I should have done.

#screwyou

••••••••••

It should be an inherent belief that, as a community of people who care for others, we not judge or second guess why people make specific choices about disclosure. The road from victim to survivor is a harrowing one and outsiders’ judgments further impede the healing process. 

One way to be an advocate is to support women’s choices – disclosure/non-disclosure/#metoo/silence – all are her choice. 

••••••••••

I withheld publishing this post for a long time.

“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.” Thich Nhat Hahn. 

Shame and fear of judgment: #mystory.

 

The view from here 

The view from here 

I have never dreaded the “big” birthdays ending in a zero. The “big” 5s were my demons. 

At 25, I had thought I’d have my first child, a marker that would make me a “grown up”. The fact that I had a mortgage apparently didn’t seem sufficient proof of adulthood. 

At 35, my children were 8 and 5. I was wracked with self doubt and questions – Am I a good mom? Am I smart enough, active enough, patient enough to launch these humans into the world? I didn’t even know who I was – how could I help them figure out who they were? 

At 45, one child was in university and the other was deep into her high school life. Although they were healthy and kind humans, I felt like they had raised themselves. At that birthday, the question on my mind – and seemingly everyone else’s – was what would I do when my children were fully launched?

Each of those birthdays left me bereft. 

What a difference a decade makes. Fifty-five is not even a blip on the “how can I be that old” radar. Age is a number that has little meaning these days (except perhaps to drugstores where, as of today, I qualify for a senior’s discount). 

Perhaps this mental shift is due to the lesson most deeply learned from university: I have nothing to worry (or complain) about. I have everything I need: food, shelter, health, safety and family. 

“You’re only as old as you feel.” Yup. I’m living that cliche every day. 

Today I feel – all me. 

Listen. That is me.

Listen. That is me.

Thirteen years ago today, I received news that my dad had died. His cancer, aggressive and painful, had been diagnosed the year before. I spent more time with him during his treatment phase and palliative care than in the 40 years prior. 

My dad shaped me in his lifetime, more by his absence than his presence. I did not really know him well before his diagnosis. Long phone conversations and visits during treatments helped me learn that he did his best. Does it matter in the end if it was enough? Their best is all anyone can give. 

He did leave me with something valuable; a secret weapon. “Whenever someone asks you about yourself, in an interview or any time, pretend I’m on your shoulder. What would I say about you?” It works every time. 

And when the wind whistles and the rain drops softly; when the leaves brush the ground and the snow softly blankets your world, listen. That is me. I am reminding you that, whatever lies ahead, you will be not just be okay; you will soar. 

I hear you.

World Mental Health Day

World Mental Health Day

I have this sweater. It’s not really that old, but it is well worn. I admit that, even when I bought it, brand new, it looked that way. I liked that it resembled something I could have inherited from my dad. Or more likely my father-in-law.

The thing about this sweater is that it brings me comfort, beyond the comfort of warmth I mean. It is familiar.

That sweater stands in contrast to another familiar thing I wear, my anxiety. Perhaps the recent ‘state of the world’, the constant onslaught of bad news, is a big part of my public acknowledgement of my anxiety. I don’t know. What I do know is that anxiety has always been a part of my makeup.

My first memory of an anxiety-induced behaviour was, at age seven, crawling into my mother’s bed, and placing my hand on her back to make sure she was still breathing. I did not do this just once but for weeks and weeks.

In between that first memory and today have been years of churning stomachs and over-reactions.

I need to clarify that I am not talking about debilitating anxiety, nor am I significantly impaired in my day to day life. On the spectrum of anxiety and panic, I have ‘symptoms that would indicate anxiety’ and a ‘well managed panic disorder’.

One thing I learned is that as an anxious person, your body is always in a heightened response mode so when some new event or thought occurs, you quickly move to ‘overload’. I have also learned that once you have an anxiety or panic episode, this in turn makes you more anxious, fearing the intense physical reaction will reoccur.

I keep returning to meditation. Within moments of the start of a session, I realize that, like my sweater, this is a form of comfort that I want to wear more often. A form of comfort to replace that ever present heightened response mode that triggers anxiety. The practice of meditation can, given time, move my churning stomach and racing heart to a peaceful place.

A monk who has practiced meditation for decades, and is a leader in the field of mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh, had a stroke last year along with other health complications. Doctors have been amazed at the peaceful response of his body to the traumas. The doctors feel it has helped his healing process, but more importantly it has helped Thich accept and work with the changes to his health.

Anxiety and fear are very familiar to me. And sometimes, one returns to the familiar simply due to that familiarity. Not because it makes you happy, or brings you peace. But because you recognize it. You know what to expect.

“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.” Thích Nhất Hạnh

 

I was struck a while back when someone called me brave.

I want to be brave. I want to be the strong one, someone people turn to when they need help. I want to continue to live my life from beyond the safety of my couch. I am motivated to make the calm feelings of meditation, like my sweater, the familiar. To see the world with joy and full of opportunity.

On this day of Mental Health Awareness, we need to recognize mental health as a key component to well being. If we can remove the stigma of mental health and openly speak about our experiences, we can support each other in our daily lives and in our journeys of health, both mental and physical.

The wall of abuse

Amidst the news of catastrophic earthquakes, hurricanes and attacks on innocent people, the announcement of Bill Cosby’s retrial date being set has understandably slipped under the radar. The recent revelations about Harvey Weinstein may refocus attention on influential people and their abuse of power through sexual assault.

Cosby’s retrial will undoubtedly find its place in the headlines when it is held in April, 2018. The female complainant will again be questioned about her relationship with Cosby ‘before’, ‘during’ and ‘after’ the assault.

It will be another sensationalized nightmare.

I have been deeply troubled by the Jian Ghomeshi and Bill Cosby trials, specifically about the witnesses who have been dragged over the coals, both in the courtroom and in the public sphere. I recognize the confusion people feel over why women waited to speak out and continued to have contact with their abusers. It seems baffling to some that the women appeared to have interactions with these men that could be considered “non-fearful” or contrary to the expected reactions the abusive actions invoked. The women might not know their own motivations. They were in a state of trauma, in unfamiliar and shaky territory.

There is no manual, no “victim behaviour for the recently sexually assaulted” handbook.

I wish these women had not been in contact with their abusers after their assaults but they were. I wish that for their own sake, not because it was wrong. I cannot explain their reasons. Most importantly, I cannot judge them. We do not know what they went through at the time of their assaults or before or after.

Everyone views the evidence presented in trials through the lens of their societal norms – yet, what is the ‘norm’ for a traumatized person in a post-assault situation? What is the ‘right’ or reasonable way for a person to act when their right and reasonable expectations of normalcy are distorted by violence?

Does the fact the women reached out to their abusers, in some way – even some way which seems inconceivable to outsiders – does it mean the abuse didn’t happen, that it wasn’t “that bad”?

The way I see it, once you are assaulted, your life has a line. A clear, indelible line. The pre- and post-assault lives. You can want to be on the ‘before’ side of the line, desperately. You may behave in a way that, for a moment, is like ‘before’ in hopes that you can figure out what the hell happened, why it happened, how it happened. But you cannot be there. Because, it’s not really a line.

It’s a wall.

These women were thrown over that wall into a disorienting, foreign place.

From person to victim. From subject to object.

I want these women to be believed, listened to and understood because of what happened, what bricks and mortar built their wall. That is what they deserve.

I want them to be believed because they have spent so much time and energy trying to be believed. They have been questioned and doubted. They have doubted and questioned themselves. They have thought and wondered and worried that they did something to deserve their abuse. That they are somehow responsible for something that they had no control over.

When these women went to trial, they knew that they would be questioned as to why they kept in contact with their abusers. They were aware they would be judged, possibly more harshly than the person accused.

Ultimately, though, they had to move forward: they knew that they were victimized. They knew that a person in power overpowered them, mentally, emotionally and physically.

The women had come to a place where the knowledge that the abuse was wrong was stronger than the fear of taking the stand. The cost of staying quiet was too high.

The women took the stand and they said what needed to be said. They bravely stood on the wall and looked back at the past. And the system, the process, tried to Humpty Dumpty them. They were broken, never to be put back together again in quite the same way.

You can explain everything and still not be understood. Still be blamed for your victimization.

So, yes, to many, the actions seem out of place with what these women say they are feeling and what they have experienced at the hands of their abusers.

I see things differently: these women were trying to work with the cards they were dealt, even when no one explained the ‘game’ or the ‘rules’ and no one explained the hundred new ways they could lose.

I cannot imagine what having to disclose both their abuse and their subsequent actions has done to these women.

Retraumatization is a word that comes to mind.

The gift of curiosity 

The gift of curiosity 

My son has taught me the beauty of curiosity. Before “google” was a thing, he followed his interests by working through huge piles of library books, watching PBS, CBC, or videos and by engaging in elaborate hands-on learning. Kyle has always shared his acquired knowledge in a way that makes you want to go on his journeys with him.

This past weekend, as we took a mini road trip together, I asked for his perspective and understandings on a variety of topics. “Do you have any more questions?” Kyle asked at one point, in an open hearted way, showing he was keen to encourage my curiosity.

This skill, of listening deeply to people, translates into other parts of his life. Kyle has a knack for giving the most meaningful gifts, the ones related to a random comment you made or a story you don’t remember telling. As with everything, he goes below the surface and discovers what matters. 

And man, can he tell entertaining and engaging stories about his many travels and daily adventures! 

Last month I got to hang out with my youngest during her birthday week on the West Coast. Today I able to celebrate in person with my kind, caring, inquisitive son in his part of the world. My heart is full. 

Happiest of birthdays Kyle!  

Gravitas

Gravitas – high seriousness (as in a person’s bearing or in the treatment of a subject); a person who is a deep thinker

In the world of words I do not know, this one happened into my life at an interesting moment. My previous blog post, What Everybody Echoestalked about how, for much of my life, I was influenced by advertising and television because I did not engage with critical thinking. Gravitas is the remedy for that. Actually, gravitas is the remedy for much of what ails the world.

Today I listened to a podcast about the movement behind the idea Nature needs halfThe thinking is that neoliberalism has done severe damage to the world and the environment. The current world political and economic climates have made some people begin to take stock of those effects and are looking for a new way of being. Indigenous rights, scientific research on climate change and a society where nothing is certain are coming together in this perfect storm and generating interest in changing the world to be inclusive of everything and everyone. There is acknowledgement that progress is going to happen but it needs to be done in a way that considers all the players – in northern BC for example, where Indigenous interests have always been to maintain more for Mother Earth than for capitalism (read: pipelines). This is a template that can be utilized around the province, the country and the world. A template for securing at least half of land, water and air ‘for nature’.

The podcast today, The Sunday Editiongave an interesting example of people and commercialism working alongside nature. In Banff National Park, there are underpasses and bridges dotting Park highways with the intent of allowing animals to safely move from one area to another – no animals or humans are harmed and traffic continues to flow. This idea, around for more than two decades, is being utilized in various places around the world, from California to Argentina – in place there to help keep jaguars safe. Although this is an exemplary Canadian practice, in truth our nation is not meeting global targets for land protection; many less ‘developed’ countries have better policies and adherence to environmental protection.

So, what the heck does this have to do with gravitas? This is an issue that requires it – serious thought, serious action. As I said, gravitas can help to solve world issues. We can do much in our day to day by way of action: I am sitting in a house with solar panels covering most of the roof, we have an electric car. We use limited energy except at off peak times, we try hard to cycle or walk whenever we can. Part of this is to compensate for the ways in which we are not kind to our environment: we fly frequently for instance. Yet, we all need to do some serious thinking about local, regional and global issues and support changes that will make it possible to return to the idea of giving nature its due.

Gravitas, that ability to think and act seriously, are important when it comes to the environment, when it comes to figuring out ways to live in a world that is in trouble, both environmentally, politically and economically.

Yet, to enjoy life also takes a form of gravitas: serious effort.  We need to find ways to get out into the world and enjoy and care for nature, be appreciative for what is still safe. We need to give serious thought to finding ways to lower the rhetoric and reach out to those people, places and aspects of societies which have been marginalized by the way the world has been operating.

 

What everybody echoes

What everybody echoes or in silence passes by as true today may turn out to be falsehood tomorrow, mere smoke of opinion, which some had trusted for a cloud that would sprinkle fertilizing rain on their fields – Thoreau

I recently was listening to the CBC podcast about advertising Under the Influence and I was struck by the amount of beliefs that I absorbed in my formative years due to advertising. The stereotypes – gender, ‘race’, religion, etc. – which I was exposed to and never questioned.

This lead me to consider television and advertising today – I do not know any young adults who own a television – or at least who use their television as we did. A screen that we passively engaged with, that fed us what network and advertising executives wanted us to see and hear. We rarely questioned or protested. How often did I see a commercial and absorbed the message behind the product even when I had no interest in the product itself?

Today people are still inundated with messages, but I feel that there is a more active engagement. That does not square with the idea being floated that people (including me) are more involved with their screens than with the ‘real’ world. Yet, we are choosing to be engaged – I see an ad or a video or a social media post and I click to go deeper into the story or I move on.

Those messages I was raised on were challenged daily while at university. That experience highlighted how I had not questioned and took it all at face value. It was a matter of not thinking deeply, of simply accepting what was fed to me as ‘true’.

Life really was simpler when there was not a 24 hour news cycle and so much information coming at you – but it was also simpler because critical thinking was not an expectation television and advertising executives (or governments) had of the consuming public.

 

moving forward

This blog has been inactive of late, so there may be no one needing an explanation but here goes: I have changed the title of this blog from (mom)ents to writing in the (mom)ent due to the shift from a photography focus to one about writing. 

My university adventure – that lifelong dream – is complete. I had that huge goal in front of me for so long, and now it is achieved. So what’s next? That is a question I am wrestling with on a regular basis.

Why this blog shift? While I await a thunderbolt of clarity, I want to give a strong interest some regular attention. When one’s mother spent her whole life creating and making a living from writing/editing/broadcasting and your children can impact, educate and delight with words, it points to the possibility that creativity runs in your family.

And as my mama says, there’s only way one to improve on any skill: practice.

There’s no theme – hence ‘in the moment’. I’m hoping to work through thoughts and ideas I have by ‘writing out loud’. That title is also a homage to the grounding practice in my life – mindfulness meditation. I continue to develop mindfulness as it has proven to be a vital life skill for me.

So, here’s to practicing writing, in the (mom)ent.