I’m doing it again: losing track of time. It’s been a month since I posted, despite my more-than-daily writing for myself, despite waking up and writing first thing every morning, despite never going anywhere without a notebook. I am in awe of people who share their writing regularly, weekly, daily, but I don’t think that is where I’m heading.

There is an ever-shifting balance that I am noting in my life between being accountable and being accepting of my own patterns and needs. Between setting goals and moving towards them, and living fully in the sensory and emotional experiences of my daily life. Between recognizing the truth that showing up and doing the work is what creates the road to move forward on, and constantly being tempted to go off-trail and explore the woods all around and simply forgetting about the road altogether in the joy of wandering.

This fall there was a lot of (figurative) wandering. I finished up a second-year plants apprenticeship with Earth Tracks  – the fourth year in which I have been learning and working with this organization – and spent a weekend wrapping up by making salves, balms, tinctures, teas and other goodies with our group. I made some beautiful snowshoe moccasins in a weekend workshop with Lure of the North, which I am planning to use on future winter tracking adventures. I participated in a peacemaking workshop in Peterborough with some amazing people, and absorbed tools and stories which I am using in my family and community. I did some bird drawing classes with Alan Li and remembered once again how drawing something is such a beautiful form of close attention. I knit myself another sweater, a red one.

I cleared as much space as I could to simply be and to delve into some inner patterns and habits. I spent lots of time alone. I read and wrote and walked. I had many hours of conversation with friends, around fires, in cars, on the phone, on walks, drinking tea, drinking wine.

I made a personal altar in my home as a space for grounding and meditation. I claimed a work area, a “room of my own”, and piled it high with my books and notebooks and pictures, my sewing machine, my yarns and fabrics, my sketchbooks: the essentials. Then I started clearing away the clutter, editing the rest of my house and my life.

(But not excessively, because my life is full of small beautiful things that I love, both tangible and intangible.)

Most of all, I stayed present in my daily life. The kids and I spent way more time actually at home than we have in the past few years of homeschooling, more time sitting at the dining room table doing focused work – writing, math – more time drawing and making art, more time working on random projects, more time writing letters and drawing pictures to send to friends, more time having those enlightening and entertaining conversations one has with kids. Also more time walking and biking around our urban neighbourhood.

Our rhythms are slow, and right now everyone seems the happier for it.  I’m aiming for a quiet winter, a pause, time for integration.

Last spring I broke down at a weekend gathering about “all the things I need to work on.” Looking back, I see that the thing I most needed to work on was letting go of that critical voice that told me I was never doing enough, that there was always an external standard that I was failing to meet. And by extension, that other people often weren’t meeting this standard either. I’m seeing the truth that the more patience and compassion I have for myself, the more I have for others.

Since the summer I’ve started to get up early to journal and write down my dreams. It’s the first morning practice ever that I’ve held fast to and know that I will continue. Yoga, meditation, exercise, morning walks – none of those things can consistently drag me out of bed before my family on a cold winter morning. Writing can. Because it feels like a gift; because it feels like play; because it feels like my soul is being listened to in the most beautiful way; because it feels like how I want to spend every morning of my life. That’s what matters.

Assembling the pieces of a life

These days, when people ask me what I do, I stumble through an answer.

“Well… right now I homeschool my kids… and for the past five years I’ve been working intensely on learning naturalist skills… and I’m involved in community-building and mentoring… and sometimes organizing events… and I write a lot… although, you know, mostly a blog.  And I feel very busy, all of the time.” It never comes out smoothly.

Recently, I was thrilled when a friend referred to me in a group as a naturalist. I was equally happy – and surprised – when another friend, in response to my comment that before my mid-teens I would have identified myself as an artist, replied, “I still think of you as an artist.”

I reported these two conversations to a third friend, who asked “Well, how DO you identify yourself?”  I couldn’t come up with a satisfactory answer.

Another young friend once said that he never found career counseling useful because it was always trying to narrow him down, and he felt that becoming an adult was an ongoing processed of broadening, of expansion. I admired his maturity in recognizing that, so many years before I did.

When I was working on my Master’s in Education, seven or so years ago, I wrote a paper that was initially about my learning, but became in many ways about my identity in the world. Recently I thought back to it, and it helped me to realize that what I have now – what is emerging now – is what I asked for then. And to see that uncertainty and self-doubt are the flip side of having the freedom to step back and re-design these parts of my life.

The paper was for a course on adult learning, which was different from any course I had taken before, and possibly the academic course that has had the deepest influence on me, in my own life and in my vision for educating my kids.

We started the course diving into sensory experiences. For the first month, we were asked to conduct an “inquiry” or experiment each week, journal on it, and share our reflections with the class: literary inquiry, musical/sound inquiry, performance/movement inquiry, and visual art inquiry. The goal was to experiment with whatever each of these themes meant to us. Out of this, we committed to choosing an area of inquiry, learning something new – anything – and documenting that learning. And only after we had reflected on our own processes and started working on our own project, did we layer in readings on adult learning theory, much of which is about learning through life events, relationship, community, and personal transformation.

I decided to pursue a visual art project, and after considering art classes of various kinds (oh, the joy!), I came upon a weekend workshop on creating shadow boxes or “mixed media assemblages”, which are something like three-dimensional collages framed inside a small shallow box, often using found objects and images. My first small shadow-box I completed that weekend; I started a second; and as I completed that one and also created a third, I realized that my three pieces could be put together to represent stages in my learning cycle. I decided one stage was missing and created one more piece. Together these little pieces spoke to my experiences of inspiration, influence, community, reflection, introspection, transformation.

A few years later, when I was learning about natural cycles and cycles of learning in another context, it was interesting to look back at my own earlier reflections on this and wonder how I would now reconsider and re-order the stages I came up with then. But what also strikes me now, looking back at the very personal paper I wrote, which was about learning, but also about identity, was how much it helps me now to remember one of my conclusions:

“I think the medium – assemblage – I used for my project aptly represents what I am moving towards. What I want is not a single profession, or title, or job, but a hybrid identity, something assembled or brought together out of the many parts of my previous and current experiences: “writer/ educator/ editor/ artist/ activist/ counselor.”

I might change some of the parts now; in fact, I would add even more of them. But assembling them all together in the same frame is what this picture is about.

And every time someone tells me that in order to pursue what I want I need to commit myself to it fully, I wonder: “Which part?”

Can I break it down into percentages?  Can I give each identity its own day of the week? Take on a different one each month?

No. Life does not work that way at all.

These parts have meaning in relation to each other; together they form a picture of my life. The picture is being assembled, being created, emerging.

It helps me to remember that, whatever our primary occupation(s), we can resist these pressures to narrow ourselves; we can embrace constant learning, multiplicity, and expansion. We can continue to assemble and reassemble all the pieces of ourselves together to create our own particular works of art.


Why I keep choosing my journal over my blog and what I mean to do about it

I suspect that I am underusing this blog. From posting once a week when I started last summer, I’m down to posting once a month. I wait for inspiration; I get through the rest of my to-do list first; I edit things slowly. It takes me up to a week of loitering to post anything after I’ve written it. The process seems full of obstacles, real and imaginary.

And in the meantime – in my real, everyday life – I write copious amounts in my notebook/journal every week. I love writing for myself – it’s like speaking to a dear friend. Unconditional listening with no judgement. Some occasional heartfelt advice. Words of wisdom gleaned from greater writers and thinkers than myself. To-do lists and notes from meetings and conference calls. Intricate doodles from those same long calls. And then moments of poetry. DSC06359

Rereading my journals sustains me through challenging moments – I can step away and recognize my emotions and processes as waves that pass over me, clouds moving across the sky. When I am absorbed in feeling I am often surprised at how differently I felt a week ago, a month ago, a year ago. I start to see the patterns and cycles, and know that this too shall pass.

If I could save one thing in my house from a fire – apart from the people – it would be my stack of notebooks. Even the thought of that loss clenches a knot in my stomach.

A public forum is not a natural fit for me. A deep conversation with a friend or two or three is. But I’m learning that the trick to being a highly relational, sociable introvert – which I am – is to make every relationship  as personal, particular, and intimate as possible, and then gather all of those beloved people together often.

I want to keep stretching myself to share writing with people who are not yet in that safe space with me. Because as I keep telling my kids, as I encourage them into new situations, every dear friend, everyone I now love, was once someone I didn’t know. And I had to take a risk to welcome them into my life. And so I will choose to continue to take those risks both privately and publicly. Because the potential rewards are huge.

But to write anything to public consumption requires me to give myself a big push, every time.

And so perhaps it is time for some quicker sketches. Conversations starters. Experiments. I am inspired by Rozanne’s and Brooke’s 100 Scribbles. I am not committing myself to a daily post right now (perhaps never!) – I’m away from internet contact intermittently at various times of year, and I like it that way. But I will up the volume, and focus on economy of words. Loosen up. Reduce the stakes. Let go of the curse of professionalism. Just create and share something. And so I believe this is the perfect time to experiment with poetry, which I have been doing the past couple of months. Because why write an essay when it’s so often one simple image that I am trying to carve out. I will start with this one.

A map of the world

I learned once in a dream

That the answer is to dance

To dance across the intricate

Patterns of life

Its forms and permutations

Lift off



In my dream

My body caught celebration

Radiated into wholeness

Hummed with the hum of the spinning universe

Every creature, every tree and plant and micro-organism

Was mapped

Under the loving rhythms of my feet.


This weekend, I looked at a sweater I was knitting for myself, one that I’d been picking away at for a month but had started avoiding. I knew it wasn’t going to work out. I took a deep breath, took it off the needles and unraveled, all the way back.

It was painful, but also exhilarating.

I could have kept going, knowing that I hadn’t figured out the pattern; knowing that what I was making wouldn’t fit. I could have kept working at it, and maybe found a way to make it come out right. Tugging and pulling. Trying to resize, reshape. Trying to fix it somehow.

I’ve done that before. Kept going. Looked back and thought: THAT was the moment where I saw something was wrong. And with each stitch, I was further committed. I had more to lose.

Now I know that sometimes you need to tear everything apart and start again.

And now, a few days later, I’m almost as far along as I was in that month of work. I’m singing through it, stitch by stitch. My fingers are flying. I like what’s taking shape.

Metaphors are all around me, and knitting is full of them.

Nine years ago, when Lachlan was born, I was working full-time at a university. It was a good job in many ways, a series of good jobs, one after another, but they never felt like me. I kept looking for a better fit. Each time I moved, I made small alterations – a tug here, a pull there – trying to resize, reshape. But it was the wrong pattern all along. I never could figure out how to make it come out right.

And then, in a mess of love and hormones and sleeplessness, but also with great clarity, I decided to unravel the whole damn thing and start again. I took a deep breath and pulled on the thread.

It was painful, but also exhilarating.

At first, I looked back and mourned all the work that had gone into creating what I’d unraveled. Degrees. Work experience. What was it for? Was it all wasted? What had I done? What pattern would I follow now? Maybe it was too late to start again.

But I did. I was impatient at first: rushed, misread the pattern, dropped stitches, made mistakes.

Now, I think I’ve found a flow. Slowly, stitch by stitch, something new is emerging. I don’t know what it will look like yet, but I like what’s taking shape – the fibre, the outline, the colours, the texture, the fit. I’m trying it on as I go, adjusting when needed. I’m taking my time. I’m trusting the process. This project could take a lifetime to finish. But my heart is singing, stitch by stitch, joyful in the act of creation.

Unraveling was worth it.