Eating My Words

When my oldest daughter was a toddler she was always impeccably dressed. Her wardrobe, full of cute shoes, colourful tights, adorable tunics and matching vests, was the result of our family and friends’ generosity. When Stan and I returned from years of volunteer service in Bolivia, expecting a child, we were showered with more clothes than we knew what to do with. And Belén wore them all.

As I paraded Belén around I felt sorry for other mothers who didn’t have the wherewithal or resources to properly clothe their children. One friend, in particular, puzzled me in this regard. Although they had enough money, her youngest daughter always looked disheveled. Unkempt, even. I wondered why she wouldn’t take a little more care with her child. Did she know how sloppy she looked? How haphazard her daughter’s outfits were; sweatpants stuffed into scuffed cowboy boots, scrappy t-shirts layered with gauze blouses, and most of it faded, stained or ripped? Was there no one in charge of dressing her?

I remember getting Belén ready, before an outing with this family, thinking the parents might take note of my daughter’s coordinated outfits and be inspired to try a little harder…

Wince.

That was over a decade ago.

Things have changed.

I now eat my (unsaid) words daily, one crazy ensemble at a time.

Yesterday my three-year-old wore a pair of pants, sized at 6 months, with holes all over them. “I’m just like Belén,” she said, comparing herself to her 13-year-old sister whose brand new jeans are perfectly ripped and torn. To a birthday party last weekend she wore a summer dress (this, in December) with mud stains and a pair of dirty tights. And I let her.

When Vivian wears her pink-stripped sundress with the too-big sparkly skirt and ripped tights with mismatching socks I look at her and wonder how it happened. Did my older daughters put up such a fight when it came to getting dressed? Did they have the same sensitivities and opinions on fabric and design? And if so, did I simply plow ahead to get them into appropriate clothing? All I know is that whatever energy and resolve it took to get the job done then is gone now.

One morning before we head out–after Vivian is finally dressed, after our daily fight and her daily victory–she looks at me and smiles.

“Mommy, am I perfect?” she asks, showing her little teeth and gums, while she twirls around.

I eye her warily. I’m annoyed and still sweaty from trying to get the brand new jeans on her that she hasn’t ever worn. Is this a test? How do I answer and still hold on to any shred of power?

“Yes,” I sigh. “Yes, you are perfect.” Then I think of the other mom, the one I didn’t understand years ago, the one I pitied and hoped to enlighten with my own fashion sense. I send my silent apology for all my ignorance out to the universe and tremble. What ridiculous ideas do I have now that will be laughable in 10 years?

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Waiting and Watching; Advent 2017

It feels like we’ve been celebrating advent for awhile around here. The waiting part, that is. Susanna has been battling a lung infection for the last two weeks and we’ve all spent many hours rubbing her back, wiping her brow, giving her medicine, serving her orange juice, and waiting, waiting, waiting for her to get better.

A friend stopped by yesterday and when she saw Susie laying on the couch she exclaimed, “I knew something was wrong! I barely recognized her voice on the phone because it sounded so normal!” Instead of the usual fake accent and you’ve-reached-the-pizza-parlour, or some other crazy response, it was only a weak “Hello” that threw our friend off.

Waiting for Susanna to return to her exuberant self is a little like the waiting we do before Christmas. During advent we are waiting for Jesus, waiting for the Light to pierce the darkness, waiting for brokenness to be made whole, waiting for the restoration promised us by a baby born centuries ago. But advent (meaning a coming or approach)  is also about celebrating the arrival; that Divinity, indeed, has already come and is here with us.

I draw up a new chalkboard sign to remind me of all this, but I’m not sure it helps. I’m still trying to figure out presents and am worried I don’t have enough. I stress about coordinating holiday plans and dates and traveling. But I see a glimmer of hope. I don’t worry about the baking (we all know I’ve given up on that one) and I notice things. Like this…

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I’m washing dishes when I overhear Vivian playing “refugees” for a second time this week. I dry my hands on a towel and walk over to watch her where she can’t see me.

“We have to go. Pack up every-fing” she says herding plastic figurines into a toy van. Ernie, Bert, Polly-Pocket and a pony, or two, are fleeing together. “It’s a new country,” she murmurs to herself and her toys. “You’ll be safe here,” she reassures them.

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I’ve had a bad day and feel like crying. I call Stan to see when he’ll be home and if I have time to go for a walk. “I’ll be there in 15 minutes,” he says.  I decide to stay home so we can eat as soon as he arrives. A moment later he calls me back. “Don’t wait,” he says. “Go for a walk now. The sun is setting and you’ll like it.”

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I take Belén home after a midnight pool party with the youth group. Instead of going straight to bed, we plug in the kettle and brew some tea. She looks at my literary magazine on the table, the one with the weird poetry that neither of us understand, and makes fun of it. Then she tells me about an image from her day that she wishes she could capture.

“Why don’t you write about it in your journal?” I suggest.

“Ugh! No way! That’s too much work. Besides, it’s frustrating. It’s like I’ve got all these words, but when I put them together they don’t hold anything. Like an empty box.”

“Mmm,” I say while sipping my tea, glad she’s not journaling after all. Glad she’s talking to me.

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The Cree drummer and pow-wow singer invites everyone from the bleachers onto the gymnasium floor. He tells us to hold hands and dance in a circle. Slowly people get out of their seats and reach for other hands. The singer beats his drum and wails his foreign melody while we step in time. I see the Nigerian obstetrician, whose clinic is just down the street, and the Jamaican lady who works at McDonald’s. The politicians, who came to deliver their obligatory speeches, are now holding hands with mothers who have babies on their hips. The Indian dancers, dressed in white turbans and tunics, slide along beside old men with stiff legs and cowboy boots.

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I’m not sure how, or why, but in these moments I feel Advent. I feel His coming. These random, mostly-normal moments in my mostly-normal week are reminders for me. God is here… in my three-year-old’s empathy, in my husband’s prompt to watch the sunset, in late-night conversations with my teenager, in a round dance, and in the waiting for Susanna to get better.

Let’s keep waiting and watching together.

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Resources: We watched this 2-minute video in church this last week and it got me thinking about advent again. Also, this post by Rachel Held Evans gave me some ideas that we will use this season.

 

Does Anyone Know Carla Funk?*

I find her online by accident. Who knows what I was researching, but when her website loads onto my screen I think I found it: Carla Funk…writer, reader, glutton for joy. Suddenly I feel like I am staring at exactly who I want to be. Every click leads to something beautiful and funny and real and satiating and lyrical. I pause just long enough to open another window and order Gloryland, her latest poetry book, from the library.

I message Carla right away and tell her how much I love her. It’s forward of me, I know, and perhaps even a little annoying (barging in through Facebook’s back-door), but I have an ulterior motive. Wonderscape 2017 is approaching and I wonder if maybe, just maybe, she’ll be in Saskatchewan that weekend, and might she possibly consider attending the retreat? For free, of course! I type out my awkward flattery and wait.

Surprisingly, she replies. She is kind and courteous but happens to be busy that weekend. Flying off to New York for some writerly thing.

Ah, yes. Of course. New York.

I now feel silly that I thought she might come to Wonderscape and we would meet and she would share all her writing secrets and we would be best friends forever.

Gloryland arrives a few days later. My intuition about her is confirmed. Usually poetry volumes like this leave me disoriented and confused. Hers is different. It’s full of earthy, grounded writing. Humble in a fleshy, joyful sort of way. I keep it on  my lamp-stand and nibble on a poem or two, every night, as a bed-time snack.

Image result for gloryland image carla funk poetry images

*Note: If you know Carla, can you put in a good word for me? Or convince her to come to Wonderscape next year? Canada isn’t that big… she lives on Vancouver Island and her last name is Funk. Which is practically Friesen, for goodness’ sake.

This post should have been a part of wordy-things I’m loving but I forgot. Which is okay. Carla deserves a post of her own.

Failure #22: Being unprepared

This post is dedicated to Bonnie, who has looked for lost earrings with me since we were children.

I’m running down the street in my green dress boats, heading to the park a block away from my house, where I’ve got an appointment with a professional photographer. When I arrive panting, she’s waiting for me in the parking lot and I tap her car window to let her know I’m here.

“Can you give me just a minute?” I say after introducing myself. “I’m looking for my earrings.” I yank my bag off my shoulder and dig frantically for the pair I hope are in there. The ones Stan made from the handle of our old barbeque before we took it to the dump.

“Oh no!” I say. “I can only find one! Well, it’s all I’ve got. I’ll just wear it and hope my hair covers the other side.”

Lori, the photographer, has only just met me and doesn’t say much. Perhaps she doesn’t want to criticize her client’s fashion sense, or maybe she’s trying to figure a way to calm the woman she has to capture on camera.

Last week, after I got a cheque in the mail for a published piece of writing, I googled Lori Trost Photography and decided to invest the cash in some professional photos. I needed a decent head shot to go along with my bio when submitting articles and was tired of making my kids work a miracle with our cheap camera. But despite my business rational, I am still self-conscious about the whole thing. I feel silly posing by myself  and hope no one else sees us. Surely they will wonder at such a frivolous and self-indulgent woman.

The sun isn’t out like I hoped it would be. I know these trails well, know how the setting sun makes the dogwood willows shine and warms everything with its buttery light. But not today. Lori smiles and says it will be okay. I touch my hand to my hair and tell her that I’d been skiing, moments before our session, and was hoping the sweaty toque hadn’t wrecked my style. She laughs. I laugh too, and hear the click of the camera. She asks me to spin around and let my blue poncho fly in the wind. I do and she snaps some more.

“What’s your favourite subject to photograph?” I ask Lori.

“Women,” she responds right away. I can tell she is speaking from her heart and not the persona of a salesperson. I understand, now, at the end of our session how she might feel this way. How rewarding it might be to see a woman who is always behind the camera, or posing with children at their celebrations (birthdays, graduations, weddings…), bloom in a moment of her own. In the last 20 minutes Lori has taken me from I-can’t-believe-I’m-doing-this to I-feel-pretty-twirling-around-in-the-snow. In fact, I start to make a list of all the mothers and women I know who definitely need a professional shoot.  Whose families need pictures of the woman in their life before the obituary shot. And how I want to gift them with 20 minutes of Lori and her camera.

Two days later Lori drops off the USB stick with the pictures. My stomach knots up, as I dread the upcoming images, but when they appear on screen I am somewhat relieved. Despite the fact the pictures look just like me (was I hoping for a magical transformation?) I am happy. Mostly. Except for the missing earring. The rest of my family circles around the monitor, as if watching breaking news, and ooh and aah while Vivi laughs. I suspect it’s the very idea of her mother being all alone that she finds so hilarious.

“Why…” Stan trails off while clicking through the files. “Why didn’t you wear…”

“Two earrings?” I finish for him. “I was rushed, I thought it wouldn’t matter.”

And then I groan at myself. What was I thinking? Why couldn’t I have prepared a little better. Can a person photo-shop in an earring? And my hair. It looks like I just skied a few miles in a toque, which I did, but now I’m chagrined. I should have done what other people would do before spending money on photos. I should’ve attempted to style my hair or used machines or tools or rollers or spray or something.

“Maybe you could play a game with people? Like, What’s Missing in This Picture?” someone suggests.

“Well, it makes the selection process easier. There are plenty you can use where it’s not noticeable,” says another.

After scrolling through them 2 or 3 times I decide not to investigate photo-shopping. Perhaps no one will notice. Or perhaps they will. Maybe I will write about it and realize this is simply my real life. That lost earrings and toque hair are me. And that they show who I am better than matching jewellery and a coiffed hairdo. Every time I look at these pictures I will remind myself about authenticity and accepting imperfection. And maybe I will laugh.

Thank you Lori for your work and sharing your creative gifts!

*I’m curious about failure. This post is written in the spirit of my 30-day blog experiment in which I observed moments of failure and recorded scenes without adding further commentary.  Read more in the introduction to the series here.

Writing Coaches and Wordy-things

I open my laptop and click on Skype so I’m ready. The snow-blower in my neighbour’s driveway whirs just outside my window and shoots a cloud of flakes onto the glass. I sit down and answer the incoming call. First I appear on screen, wearing a bulky knit scarf around my neck. Then Kirsten’s photo pops up. She’s sporting spaghetti straps and big hoop earrings that almost touch her bare shoulders. It’s obvious we inhabit different seasons and hemispheres–she’s in Kenya, I’m in Canada–but there’s no time to comment on that now.

We don’t start with the conversational niceties of a regular coffee date, don’t ask about each other’s husbands or how the kids are doing, and don’t explain our daily lives. We’ve got other things on our mind. Right now I open my black book from our last session and scan the notes.

I met Kirsten my first year of university. She came over to the apartment I shared with Bonnie and Michelle, and after our first visit I knew we were kindred spirits. The clincher was the way she drank our rice milk. I had purchased a carton simply because I was curious. (I’d never seen or heard of rice milk before and was thrilled to add it to my cart full of experiments.) When we poured that milk into our glasses someone started narrating (was it me?) the history of the beverage so we might all enjoy it more. We closed our eyes and imagined the women working in the rice paddies, felt the mud squishing between their toes and the sun on their back. Kirsten took all this in stride and we’ve been friends ever since.

For years, though, our communication was limited to the occasional Christmas card or letter. But now, I’m not sure what I’d do without her. She’s my writing coach, which means she reads through my rough drafts, helps prioritize projects and works through things like structure and purpose. I aspire to do the same for her and every month we take turns being the talker and listener. It’s a mutual relationship but I feel like I got the better end of the deal. Kirsten speaks poetry when she’s not even trying, listens hard and asks the right questions. She says what I need to hear, what I can already hear my heart saying. She tells me things like: Be generous with your writing and This piece will work if you care about it, if you think it matters enough.

Relationships are slippery things though, and they’re always changing. I’m not sure how long this will last, how long we’ll be able to make space in our lives to talk about commas and word choice and literary dreams. But for now, the way this friendship works is a gift.

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Find out more about Kirsten here and check out her soon-to-be released memoir, gorgeous poetry and other good stuff.

Tricia

Ps. Also, these books on creativity, failure and more…

Image result for ish peter reynoldsLove his poem-ish poems…

Image result for Rosie the revere imageDon’t buy this before Christmas if your daughters are related to us…

Image result for million little ways emilyInteresting if you like creating and Jesus

Image result for the right to write I’m reading this slowly because I don’t want it to end. It may be my favourite book on writing!

Image result for messy harford imagesI agree with Malcom Gladwell. This book is a cause for celebration.

 

Debrief on the Failure Experiment

027Whew! Well, that was fun. I mean, fun in a way that sharing your shortcomings with the world can be fun. If you’ve been reading along for the last month, thanks for checking in and being a part of this. Thanks for commenting, giving me feedback and relating your own stories of failure; connecting and swapping ideas with you on this theme was definitely the best thing that came out of the experiment.

Like this, for example. Remember when I compared myself to Anne Lueneburger? When I googled her, then observed my feelings as I scrolled through her site, I knew I had to share about it here. I ended up writing a note to Anne, feeling sheepish, but still wanting her to know that I featured her in my blog. She responded with this.

Connection.

Other people who I hadn’t heard from in years also got in touch along the way. In emails, phone calls and conversations I was gifted with some of your most hilarious stories. Thank you.

More connection.

I even got out of bringing baking to church after a friend read my blog and offered 2 dozen dainties in my place. Now that’s connection and generosity!

Though my inner pendulum naturally swings towards the positive (like relating the anecdotes above), it’s been intriguing to train myself towards the negative. When I started I assumed I would be immune to any “blue” feelings because of the blog. I was wrong. While I found it mostly entertaining, there were times when I felt extra self-conscious, extra vulnerable, and extra low while concentrating on all the things I do wrong.

My older children, on the other-hand, thoroughly enjoyed it. “So what’s your failure today, Mom?” they asked regularly. And, “I think you are definitely failing at so-and-so. Maybe you should write about it?” They jumped on the bandwagon and offered up a wealth of content for this series in a way that only 11 and 13-year-old children could.

Lastly, I failed at blogging about failure. I didn’t do it everyday like I thought I would, for one. But more importantly, I haven’t been completely honest. Had I not filtered my stories, these pieces would’ve read much differently. For the sake of my children and husband I didn’t publish my bigger, more real, failures. And for the sake of my readers I tried not to drivel on about constantly feeling inadequate when I write, even though that motivated me to begin this series in the first place. I wanted to know: How is failing part of making stuff? How do we define failure? When is failure “worth it”? But who wants to sound like a broken record? So I admit, I curated this series in order to save face, just as you knew all along.

Thank you for understanding. For your generosity and grace. For connection.

Tricia

 

Ps. Success and Failure in Art is the theme of Wonderscape 2018. If you come across any books, articles or thoughts of your own on this topic, please let me know. I’d love to hear your suggestions!

 

Failure #21: Not knowing how to say “No”

My answering machine light is blinking red. I press play and listen to the message: Just wondering if you’ll be able to donate some baking for the sale coming up…

My heart sinks. Baking? Sale? I can’t do it-I can’t do it-I can’t do it, immediately runs through my mind. And then, I should do it-I should do it-I should do it, follows as if I’m playing a game of mental tag.

How can I tell them “No”? How can I explain that bringing baking is harder for me than almost any other job at church. That I would rather clean toilets, hold crying babies, connect with sullen teenagers, and even sing and dance than offer up a few dozen cookies.

It’s not just that I’m celiac and don’t want to work with wheat. There are plenty of gluten-free recipes I could whip up, and maybe that’s what they’re looking for. Still, it feels like I’ve been asked to jump a 10-foot wall. I will visit the sick, I will host people in my home, I will preach a sermon, but please, please don’t make me bring baking to church.

The next morning I fire up the computer. It’s another day with another failure to record. Perhaps writing about the situation will clarify how I should respond to the message left on my machine. But here I am, still tottering on the edge of “shoulds” and “nos” and “can’ts” and “I’ll do it.” I don’t even know how I’ll define this failure. Is it saying “No” and my refusal to help? Is it my inability to say “no”? Is it my poor baking skills? Or is it making a big deal out of nothing?

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*I’m curious about failure. This post is part of an experiment where I observe moments I experience failure (in a broad sense) and record scenes without adding further explanation or perspective.  Read more in the introduction to the series here.