On burning things

Taking a short break from my recent daily writing prompts this month, I find myself rereading things I wrote prior to starting up that daily practice. Longer pieces, poems, essays. Sometimes I am moved, sometimes confused. A year or two passes and it’s easy to forget the intensities of any one moment, and also the wisdom that comes out of those intensities. Some things I read make me wince a little, or smile wryly: “Who is this person? Maybe I should listen to what she says.”

There’s an expansiveness in what I read that is not part of how I feel right now.

This past winter, a winter of daily practice, of discipline, of retreat, I wondered where my fire had gone. I missed it, but also didn’t. I missed the connectivity and expansiveness and energy of a few years ago. I missed the vision. But it no longer nourished me. I could finally articulate it plainly to myself and others: I was burnt out.

A few days ago, I said some of this to a friend, with nostalgia but also with an emerging gratitude. She reminded me that when we met two or three years ago, I told her I wished I could write more, but I couldn’t find the time. I was organizing, collaborating, learning, scheduling, planning, supporting others, driving here and there, expending emotional energy and labour. My labour was rewarded in intangible ways, but certainly not renumerated. I was saying yes to everything, on an energy high, not mindful of the costs.

Now, she pointed out, I am no longer doing all those things, but I am writing every day. I am tending much that I neglected then. I’ve found the time.

Earlier this week I said no to something, as I so often do right now, and I wrote to my closest friend, my constant witness: “I feel like I am going around burning things and then being sad that they are gone, but needing to keep on burning anyways.” This is not a new feeling. It’s been with me since at least since last summer, when I stepped away from a big group commitment that I had worked towards for years. It had been creeping up for some time before that, in departures and unravellings of various kinds. I’ve written before about spirals. But it’s only in the last few months that I’ve been able to fully name the sense of ending. Slowly, gently, to lose my paralyzing fear of it and find the freedom instead.

What confused me for a long time was that I thought I’d already done this, when my kids were born, when I left my job, when I turned away from who I had always expected myself to be. But perhaps I simply found new expectations to impose upon myself.

Or perhaps it’s those cycles again, the cycles I keep finding everywhere I look.

Waldorf educators write a lot about seven year cycles. In adulthood as well as childhood. Clarissa Pinkola Estes does the same in Women Who Run with the Wolves. Death and rebirth is a constant in our lives, if we look at them with awareness. Not linear progress. Cycles of death and rebirth. Seasons. Non-linear, non-Western, non-modern time. Last year, at forty-two, I realized that perhaps a cycle was ending.

Cycles of course don’t need to mean full severance. I have been with the same partner for close to twenty-five years now. Our relationship has moved through many cycles. Encompassed joy and grief. Falling in love, taking each other for granted, periods of disconnection, falling in love again, deepening. It has been several different relationships already, and will be several more before we are done. Like an organism bigger than the sum of our two selves, it’s something we need to tend and feed regularly. I am reminded of this often, of how easy it is to disconnect in small ways, to go our separate ways, to not talk about difficult things, to find emotional sustenance elsewhere. Connection is easy to find, but this big project of a marriage of almost two decades, of co-creating a family, of co-creating a home, it’s hard but deeply satisfying. It nourishes my soul and teaches me the biggest lessons.

In the same way, everything I’ve learned and experienced in every part of my life is still mine to keep. As is each connection, each collaboration. It’s all absorbed into the whole, one thread of many, one piece of a puzzle which some day I may be able to see more clearly than I do now, although at each new turn of the wheel it already becomes a little clearer.

I read a book last month called The Joy of Missing Out. It was mainly about technology, and about the exhausting connectivity of the online world. It was about fasting, taking breaks, learning how to moderate our constant contact. But I imagine it also as a bigger choice. At some point in life, we discover we can’t Do All the Things. The cost is too big. Right now, as I have sometimes in the past, I find myself closing doors to make space in myself for whatever needs to happen next. I find myself curious again.

Or as my friend replied, when I spoke – tired, but certain – of burning: “Burning makes fertile ground. Just remember that.” Another kind of fire, with another purpose.

Ancient: words in brief

Ninety years is not ancient for a tree, but it seems to be the lifespan of the tall maples on our street. Now that half of our neighbours’ tree has cracked and fallen, the rest is under suspicion, marked with an orange slash of paint for removal. Today the wind is wild and violent, swirling garbage in the air, tearing away shingles, knocking off tree branches. My children agonize that the second half of the tree will fall, this time on our house. Our streetscape has changed. A handful of the tallest maples have been removed in little more than the same number of years. The arch of green over our short street, the cooling summer shade, the racoon sleeping pads and squirrel dreys, we’re losing those. The street looks lopsided, denuded. I rant to myself: “If only someone had had the foresight to plant more trees fifty years ago!” But now we must be patient, place our hopes in the future. The spindly ten-year-old maple in our front yard has a lot of growing to do.

From last Friday. Word prompt: ancient. Fortunately, the maple in front of our neighbours’ house stayed up, but for days afterwards I have been seeing giant trees that were downed by that day’s violent winds. After a 100 day stretch of daily writing, my small group is taking a break for part of May. Now every day I wonder what it is that I’ve forgotten to do…

Thievery: words in brief

This morning, I woke early, considered getting up to write, then got back into bed and curled up cozily, mind drifting. I thought, maybe it’s more important to lie my head on my husband’s chest, listen to his heart beating, take in his warmth, than follow whatever wants to drag me out into the world. I wondered how many years we have left together. I wondered which of us will be left mourning the other, which one’s last days will be untended. It’s all thievery at the end, I’m starting to suspect, all bits and pieces dropping away. The happy ending, if you get it, is the middle part, when you might not even notice because of life pulling every which way. After that, who’s willing to tell the rest of the story? The truth is, I’m no longer skimming ahead to find out what’s next. I’m going to linger here for a while, savouring each word.

From my current daily writing practice with three women across the continent. Word prompt: thievery. From one day last week.

 

Hospitality: words in brief

Most of today we spent on the Leslie Spit, a human-made piece of land jutting out into Lake Ontario. Built mid-last-century for vague harbour-related purposes out of sand, silt and stone, it’s now a hybrid of ongoing filling operations, wildlife conservation, and educational programs. Thousands of migrating birds stop here in the spring and fall, are caught by careful means, weighed, banded and recorded. It’s an odd bit of hospitality: a mist net, a small cloth bag, upside-down weighing in a narrow tube, a tiny metal band clipped to one thin leg.

Each child in turn is shown how to put out their hand, how to gently contain a bird with the other, how to release it into startled flight. Warblers, thrushes, red-winged blackbirds, a cowbird, a grackle. There’s one left for me, a tiny yellow-rumped warbler, a small bright bit of fluff and feathers nestled in my palm. The sky is blue and clear, white birches rise pale against red dogwood stems and spindly green horsetails. The city skyline looms across the water, airplane traffic bustles overhead. I love these stark contrasts, this complex urban co-existence.

From my current daily writing practice with three women across the continent. Word prompt: hospitality.

Transparent: words in brief

My thoughts keep coming back to the beach at Lake Huron this week, like they did to Ragged Falls the week before. This visit was perhaps the first time I have seen the lake so flat, so purely transparent, the stones beneath the surface glistening and smooth. I know that beyond the stones there are sandbanks, normally impossible to see because of high waves and strong currents, normally something found only through touch, through trial and error and trust. Many times I’ve walked out in this lake into wild waves and crawled painfully back along the stones, unable to keep upright in the fierce pull of the water, feet and knees bruised. This time, the water is smooth, deep, accepting: both a mirror and a revelation. I am humbled and instructed by the lake’s vast integrity, the space it gives me for both rage and calm.

From my current daily writing practice with three women across the continent. Word prompt: transparent.

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Gnarly: words in brief

The beach, when we reached it down the slippery stone path, was mostly underwater, all stones, no sand. Lake Huron was startlingly calm, a clear blue flatness mirroring the sky, demarcated by a thin line at the horizon. We were inside a globe of blue and white, the round world holding us in its sphere. The sky held long wispy clouds, like strands of wool pulled apart by giant hands, delicately stretched thin. A couple of tall trees with gnarly twisted roots were strewn across the stones, pulled up by another passing giant, this one careless. I picked my way over stones and driftwood of all sizes, watched from a distance as Conan taught the boys to skip stones, the ripples reverberating neatly on the glassy lake. They were tiny people at the corner of my sight, specks. I stood still and breathed in the strange comfort of our smallness.

From my current daily writing practice with three women across the continent. Word prompt: gnarly.

 

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Decipher: words in brief

I have been asking my soul the past weeks what it needs from me. On Friday, I sat by a creek in the city, still in my warm down coat, listening to the rush of water, feeling the earth and sun again. I asked my soul what it needs. I tried to decipher what came to me in return. I think about the Tarot suit of Swords. The cards seem to get bleaker as the numbers rise. But it’s a progressive journey, a necessary one. I have heard it described as the death of the ego. Swords cut away. Does the soul need the death of the ego to find its truest, deepest form? In my life I’ve collected some skills, knowledge and experience, but again I find myself in an eddy, swirling, confused. Everything is endings, untidy endings. One meanders into another. They drift. When external adornment is stripped away, I am left looking for the parts of me that abide. And what I hear from my soul is “I need you to trust me.” Why is that so hard?

From my current daily writing practice with three women across the continent. Word prompt: decipher.