Wednesday, April 1, 2020


Early in our containment, I injured my hands and wrists and forearms. Let's just say I'm clumsy at the best of times, and ice can be sneaky under a fresh coating of fluffy new snow.

They're not hurt badly, and they're improving. But they're not back to "normal."

Yesterday I was changing sheets. I tried to put on the new pillowcase in the way I enjoy most--holding the pillow briefly under my chin(s) while I worry on the case at the bottom, and then holding case and pillow out from my body, giving it a jerk, and watching the pillow fall-slide into the case with a satisfying "snap" of fabric on fabric. *

Yeah, that didn't happen. My left hand and arm don't yet have quite the strength and dexterity for the snap.

So I did it another way: a more gentle way. I held the case and dragged the bottom corner of the pillow into it. I pushed and pulled and plumped and poofed, and the pillow eventually looked normal in its case.

"Gentle," I told myself as I worked. As, I recognized, I have been telling myself for several weeks.

Gentle. As I have allowed myself time to heal (one benefit about this physical injury, it's given me more deep and restful sleep). As I have noticed returning ability, like wearing pants vs. a robe, pants with buttons instead of elastic-waist pants. As I have experimented, and learned that I do indeed again have the ability to cut up that head of cauliflower and roast it.

And I've been gentle with myself in the rest of life during this lockdown, too. I have cut many many things from my to-do list. Instead, gently, I do one task--just one thing in a day, beyond the business of living. When that's done, I might do another, but I might instead spend time with my book friends, which is another form of healing.

I suspect (yet another) new normal is in my future. Less careless, I hope. More grateful for all the little and not-so-little tasks that hands and arms do during the day.

And in the world outside-beyond this pandemic wave, I hope to keep gentleness as part of my new normal. As I walk gently into the spring, I'll notice good spirits, nest-building, and scolding squirrels. I'll be aware when I feel cheerful, reasonable or not. I will notice returning skills, and growth of new ones.

And, I hope, I'll remember to be grateful.

* Let's take a moment to notice that I have a preferred way to put pillowcases on pillows. Who knew? If you'd asked me about it last week, I'd have given you a blank stare.
Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Stay(ing) Home

We finally finished our last bit of important business yesterday.

Not "last" as in forever, we hope. But it was the last thing we needed to do, to be responsible citizens, before hunkering down to wait until it's time to develop a new long-term "normal."

Meanwhile, our days are following an interim "normal." I continue my usual morning: a brief reading, a short log of the natural world around me (mostly, lately: "it's snowing AGAIN" or "the snow is visibly melting!" but sometimes "ravens are nest-building" or "gulls!!"), an effort to be nice to someone(s) on social media, a morning "art project" card (discussed here), and a brief written check-in.

And then there are tasks: working on taxes, paying bills, writing here, etc. And select, limited times to check the news.

Beyond that, though, it's been tough to focus on larger, long-term projects. I haven't edited my husband's spec-fic novel, let alone my own. I can't even revise short pieces.

Worst of all, I've found reading difficult. Even with the plethora of interesting new-to-me books in this house, it's been tough to settle down with one. My normal, beloved go-to re-read authors (let's be real, there's one primary one, Jane Austen) weren't even absorbing enough to distract me.

Yes. It had come to that.

So I punted. I went to my childhood bedroom's bookshelf and pulled out a much-beloved boxed set.

Yep. The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, The Last Enchantment, all by Mary Stewart. Her Merlin trilogy from the early 1970s.

I think this was the first boxed set I owned. I'm not sure how many times, or how often, I've read it. I can't remember the last time I did--I didn't live in this country, though, which means at least 15 years. I always enjoyed it, enough to have, decades ago, declared a personal moratorium on reading anything Arthur/Camelot related because I always preferred this trilogy.

In recent years, I've been slowly trying to clear the house of things we no longer use. More than once I've stood in front of the bookshelf holding this and tons of other books from my childhood and said, "Am I really going to read any of these again?"

Every time, I've turned aside to deal with something else.

So now seemed as good a time as any to revisit this set. Even if it means, once I'm done, that it stays in the house. (And not just because of self-isolation.) Which is going to be the outcome of this reading spree--because this experience is exactly what I need now.

Yes, the story's engaging, the writing's good, etc. Reading this is also an act of hope--a personal reminder of the value of art and storytelling. Our work can outlive us and be good company for people in circumstances we can't even imagine.

And some day, I'll be ready to begin my own work again. Not yet--not today. But soon. And until then, I'll visit with  old friends.
Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Oh, You Know

Looking out the window. (The sun is rising farther north, or left, along the horizon every day! Even when we're having another snowstorm and can't see it.)


Reading. (This is one of several multi-voice novels I've read in 2020. I love them in general, especially this one.)

Also: sorting tax receipts, deleting old email, cancelling events, and doing other things that don't lend themselves to pictures. Worrying at pre-set times, in an effort to keep a lid on it.

Thinking fondly of my parents, both young adults during World War II. My father spent the years in uniform in Hawaii, and my mother did nuclear mathematics in Montreal. Apart for 27 months, they were reunited in July of 1945, grateful ever after that they were spared.

I try to apply I learned from them: Count blessings. Practice gratitude. Do your part, however small it feels.

In short: We're leaning into a sense of calm as the world changes so rapidly. So, staying home. The usual.

Hope you are the same.
Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Can't Let Go

So today, I spent the day listening to smart people talk about creativity and art programs for special populations--namely, people with dementia and/or frailty. It was fascinating. Also exhausting.

Earlier this week, I revised an essay from a few years back. I'd received some good feedback, sent it a couple of places that weren't impressed, and let it ripen in a drawer while I worked on my novel and the essay collection that became my book.

So now I have a revision. It's not 100% beautifully ripe, but it's within a draft or two of expressing what I want it to express.


It suffers from a whole lot of "who cares?" I mean, I care. But why would someone else? I had no answer.

So I figured, oh well. It's going to be one of those essays that needed to be written (and written well, if I say so myself), but doesn't necessarily need to be published. I have a couple of short stories in that state, too.

So, today. As I sat in presentations and workshops, a little voice in my ear kept saying, "But YOU care. It's meaningful to YOU. WHY is it so meaningful to you? What about this essay called you back after several years of not thinking about it? Why can't you let it go?"

And then, home after the presentations/workshops, I read this article on Jane Friedman's site: A Good Memoir is an Act of Service, by Julie Lythcott-Haims. Which has given me more food for thought, especially the bullet point that suggests, "Press on what hurts in order to understand what you fear."

Well, OK then. I guess I will. Even if I never send it out again. I really WOULD like to know why I can't let it go. I really WOULD like another crack at expressing that urgency and importance in a way someone else would understand.

(The presentations and workshops were good, too.)
Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Ethics and Stories

Last week, I had the great good fortune to speak briefly at a panel discussion about ethical issues in storytelling in health care settings.

Here are some of the things I heard, all of which I'm pondering:

* People carry with them a lifetime of stories--some cultural that stretch back generations, and some unique to them.

* People may be wary of sharing personal stories without knowing who they're talking to.

* People's stories are gifts, and those hearing them should listen with gratitude and respect.

* People's stories represent their reality--their truth.

* People seeking health care are always vulnerable, because in our health care system, the power (of knowledge, not to mention intangibles like community prestige and social class) rests with the practitioner. Vulnerable people may or may not be willing to share a story that makes them even more vulnerable.

* People who share stories may be especially vulnerable in the moment of sharing them, and anyone who asks them to share their stories should be ready to care for that vulnerability.

* People and communities are more likely to work with those who have taken the time and put in the energy to form long-term, mutually beneficial relationships.

* People may mean different things by the term "healing."

* People can tell their own stories.

* People can say "no" when you ask them to share a story, and we should hear them.


* that research projects in a community should be led by the community's questions and initiative,
* that "informed consent" may or may not really communicate the real vulnerability of sharing a story in public,
* that different people hear the same story in different ways,
* that it's important to wrestle with ethics around stories and ownership and respect.

Because, see above, stories are gifts. Which it's always good to be reminded of.
Wednesday, February 26, 2020
All Lit Up, a resource all about Canadian publishing, has a Writer's Block column, and a week ago, I was the featured author!

Go here to read about REVERBERATIONS, my office, my rituals and routines, and my lifelong quest. (Hint: it relates to notebooks.)

My advice for dealing with writer's block

While you're there, check out all the other treasures of All Lit Up, which serves as a hub for readers interested in Canadian writers, a bookstore for those who don't have one in their own town, and a community for those interested in Canadian writers.

Many thanks to Signature Editions, a Canadian publisher who makes things happen for their authors.

I'll just be over here preparing for the Centre for Health Care Ethics panel presentation this evening, which I'm so looking forward to!
Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Who Owns the Stories?

In a week, I'll be part of a panel, sponsored by the Lakehead University Centre for Health Care Ethics, that considers the ethics of storytelling in health care settings. It will also be webcast! Here's a link to all that info.

The featured speaker is Dr. Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, Lakehead's Chair on Truth and Reconciliation. I'm sure her insights as a researcher, and an indigenous researcher, will generate a lot of discussion.

After she speaks, those of us on the panel (Dr. Elaine WiersmaDr. Vicki Kristman, and I) will respond, discuss, and take off on tangents (oh wait, that's me), with Kristen Jones-Bonofiglio, Director of the Centre for Health Care Ethics, moderating.

One might wonder what I'm doing up there, with distinguished and experienced researchers and storytellers.

First, I'm there to represent those non-experts who write about tender and touchy subjects that relate to health care. Choosing to navigate, on the page, my mother's illness, my father's conflicted care, and my own guilt was challenging and rewarding.

Every step toward sharing my writing also exposed actual information about me, and about my family members. My siblings, all of whom write in some capacity, also had their own stories about that time and the years since their deaths. I had to navigate the line between writing "all about me me me" and ensuring I spoke only from my own experience--the story I "owned."

Writers share their work. Or at least that's part of writing for me. Over time, I became used to sending out work in general, and such personal essays in particular. Still, when Signature Editions offered to publish the collection as a book, I had another "OMG gulp" moment--what would my parents think about my story/their stories being shared in this form? (My husband and I agreed that that horse had already left that barn.)

Second, in my view I'm there to represent the conversation about "story ownership" in the wider writing world. People who write fiction and creative nonfiction always ask themselves questions like "What is the story?" "How do I get it right?"

For most writers I know, the past decade's emphasis on supporting underrepresented voices in telling their own stories has added other questions: "Am I the right person to tell this story?" "Am I the best person to tell this story?" "Is this story mine to tell?"I'm also interested in helping others tell their own stories--how can I facilitate their voices and stay out of the way?

I've attended a few other sessions of the Centre for Health Care Ethics, all of which gave me new perspectives. I'm really looking forward to the presentation, the discussion, and the questions that the audience will raise.

And most of all, I'm so grateful to be included in this ongoing, important conversation.