Wednesday, November 14, 2018


This morning I noticed that our outdoor thermometer showed very little red. The temperature has been dropping recently, and it got cold last night: near 0F/-18C.

Although I'm still limiting my social media exposure, I do cross-post a photo to Facebook and Instagram, usually daily but sometimes not. Taking and sharing photos is partly an act of attention and partly an act of caring for my extended family. They enjoy seeing random day-in-the-life moments from this lovely place I live, which has meant so much to our family.* 

So: the thermometer. I considered taking a picture of it. I considered what I'd say: "Soon, this temperature will lose its shock value, but today? Yikes."

I didn't actually take the picture, though. I thought maybe something else interesting would turn up. The lake looked interesting, and I was up early enough to watch the light change.

So I started my morning social media/email check-in. Facebook showed me a memory from this date four years ago. The thermometer, at nearly the same temperature. Nearly word-for-word the "shock value" quote above. Predictable much?

Every year, I try to embrace winter as it appears. I really do enjoy winter. After I have mitts in all the jacket pockets, after I remember the rules for scarves (fleece go with coats that have velcro closings; zipper-closed coats are safe for knits), after I have zipped the warm lining into the shell, I'm happy to bundle up and get out in it.

However. I sometimes find transitions difficult. Well. Given that post from four years ago, apparently I always/usually/often find this particular transition difficult. So I'm right on schedule for this cycle. Which is reassuring, I suppose.

And as I continue thinking about attention--mine and the attention of others--I wonder what other cycles I'll find. One thing's for sure: it's time to re-acquaint myself with my sweaters.

* Or perhaps my family is just being nice. But it's still a lovely place and I still enjoy taking the photos.
Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Paying Attention

Here are a couple of quotes from What Light Can Do, collected essays by American poet, translator, and critic Robert Hass (2012).

"One of the things I love about the essay as a form--both as a reader and a writer--is that it is an act of attention. An essay, like a photograph, is an inquiry, a search....There are a lot of different ways to write essays, a lot of different ways to say thing, so the pleasure and frustration of writing essays is that you are often discovering the object of inquiry and the shape of the search at the same time...."

And later: "The deepest response to a work of art is, in fact, another work of art."

I've been thinking a lot about attention. Times when giving attention to something grants it power. And other times, when something gains power through our inattention, when we deliberately ignore it or maintain ignorance about it.

For the past few months, the Thunder Bay Art Gallery has hosted a national touring exhibition of Uprising: The Power of Mother Earth, images by celebrated Métis artist Christi Belcourt with artist and storyteller Isaac Murdoch.

The exhibition is important for many reasons, and it's worth reading the museum's page about the exhibit (linked above) if you can't experience it first-hand.

The images are breathtaking. The number of images allows you, wandering through a space, to see how her work has changed. You can see where she has placed her attention and how she directs your attention. How backgrounds, even away from "the action" of a piece, can reward your attention. How she considers elements many times in different forms, saying something (or allowing you to see or hear something) different every time.

I've been thinking about the quotes and the exhibit in relation to attention. Specifically, where I put my attention.

Where do I direct my attention? Where should I? 
Wednesday, October 31, 2018

When Questions Aren't and Neither Are Requests

A long time ago, in a country that feels increasingly far, far away, I learned something important:

Many sentences with a ? at the end are NOT actually questions.

(I was probably watching Dr. Phil. Don't @ me.)

Here are a couple of sentences that read as questions that aren't actually questions:
* How could you do this to me?
* What were you thinking?

Recently I've (re-)discovered a corollary:

Many requests for input/feedback/thoughts are NOT sincere requests.

Silly me, I keep forgetting this corollary. So if someone asks what I think, I forget my lines. 

Here are some things I'm supposed to say instead of giving my opinion, even in a setting when we are all ostensibly encouraged to give input, even when I'm not taking the space of someone whose voice is traditionally underrepresented, even when I've been asked:
* Gosh, I don't know. What do you think?
* It's perfect as it is--no changes needed!
* Oh, I'm sure you're right!

Remembering these lines would save me time.

I wouldn't need to inform myself. I wouldn't need to do the work and actually listen to the podcast, read the article, read and analyze the book and its sources, read the conference program, consider the program guidelines, read the sample work, read the background, or ground myself in the context around the larger conversation.

I could allow my previous experience to dissipate--whether it's experience in writing, studying qualitative and quantitative research methods, reading in public policy, communicating science, performing service to the community, editing and publishing, completing grunt-level bureaucratic tasks, or evaluating programs.

I could allow (even more) people to tell me things they don't actually know. Loudly. Insistently. Sometimes, listening might be my actual work in this world. But sometimes, I'm not willing to let people yell opinions as if they were facts. I'm not interested in giving people time and space in my vicinity in which to speak with willful ignorance.

I could say instead, "Would you look at the time. See you!" And then leave. After all, waves crash on the shore. Trees lose their leaves. The moon rises. On a clear night, a shooting star might say hello. I would like to serve as witness to these things. I am welcome there.

To be fair, many people don't know what they're asking. (Especially in the past few years--many of us are wondering about the validity of our experiences.)

Full disclosure: I am not always clear on this myself. Sometimes I ask for input when I'm really asking whether this thing I'm doing is worth working on at all, whether it holds even the slightest speck of potential value. I ask for "honest feedback" when what I really want to know is whether this I'm just a horrible, suspicious, boring human being (with undernotes of tediousness and smug irritability).

So, maybe, THERE is my actual work: listening to the statements that are behind the questions-that-aren't-questions and the requests-that-aren't-requests.

Perhaps responding to those. Perhaps with questions, or perhaps with statements:
* Why are you asking?
* There may be other resources out there on this. 
* Why do you feel so strongly about this?
* You seem to feel very strongly about this.
* What kind of input are you looking for?
* Your work is thoughtful, even in rough form.
* You're the only person who can gauge whether you're finished, whether this is ready, whether you need more information.
* What's the worst that could happen?
* You seem hesitant to take action.

In other words, sometimes my work is to listen. Really listen.

But more often--especially lately--my work is to leave. With a smile.

Would you look at the time! The buck's in the back yard, foraging at the lilac bush. I must go watch.
Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Good Writing by Women

Good reading recently!

1. Tanis MacDonald, Out of Line. Thoughts on being an artist outside of The Big City (as you define it). Addresses lots of issues of class. Contains lots of truths, both hard and inspiring.

* "What is there to say about not winning, or even not being nominated? This is the state in which most writers live their lives" (p. 163).

* "Artists need to be sensitive, but they also need to be tough" (p.  169).

* "Don't worry about a grand plan. Produce work. Make stuff" (p. 174).

2. The simply lovely blog by Alberta writer Shawna Lemay, Transactions with Beauty A photographer and writer, she shares words AND images AND bits of poetry from others. It's a treat to dip in, and she updates often. Here's just one recent thought, from a few months that have felt especially difficult (although perhaps most times feel especially difficult).

* "But there's something about good writing by women that makes me feel less despondent" (August 17, 2018: "Maybe The World Isn't Such a Bad Place").

Yes, there is.
Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Swirling Leaves

A quintessential October image: coloured leaves. Lighting a tree. Swirling through the air. Chasing other leaves down a rivulet. Lying on the ground in splendid repose.

After an intense and busy season--"season of life," not specifically this summer, though that too--all my focus, attention, intensity, whatever you call it, seems to be devoted to sleeping and goofing around.

I'm trying to listen to myself, which includes listening to my body. Because who knows, really, how long this turn will last--the turn toward fallow, toward rest, toward yin from yang. Yang in the weather will re-approach in the spring, with the sun, but other outward-facing projects might appear regardless of weather.

A couple of leaves I've been chasing around:

1. The unique satisfaction of a reading wonderful library book that turns out to be every bit as wonderful as was claimed.

I feel this especially keenly because the previous library book turned out to be a dud--though that's unfair, really. It was a dud because I was reading it with a friend, and I had to reserve it in July, and it just came last week, and it was the kind of book that, had I seen it somewhere in real life, I wouldn't have read. I tried to read it. I didn't like it. And I took it back instead of slogging through it (go me).

Which makes the more recent book all the more wonderful. It's Ann Patchett's This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, which is a lot about writing and life and love in all its forms and only a little about marriage.

2. The dawning realization that it might be time to cull the fleece. We're just coming into the Season of Cold, so maybe now isn't the best time to cull all those sweatshirts/hoodies/jackets/layers-that-aren't-sweaters-but-aren't-coats.

The thing is, that clothing category in my closet comes with lots of rules for appropriate wear. For example, this one is OK only to get the mail and run into the convenience store an emergency grocery purchase. This one really can't leave the house except under a coat that will never be unzipped. This one can't leave even then. This one I could wear to coffee or for a work day in town but only with people I know well. Hey, here's one I actually work out in. Etc.

Also: that this is even a "thing" indicates that my life a. consists mostly of days working from home, b. in the north (though if you look at the whole continent, this isn't so north, but still).

Some leaves I catch on paper and toss into the bag behind my desk where I  keep random bits of things I might find interesting someday. Some leaves I allow to simply swirl away to find their repose and combine with others as they contribute to the next fertile season.

Are leaves swirling around in your head these days? It's a glorious season, inside and out.
Friday, October 5, 2018


It's Thanksgiving weekend in Canada.

I'm grateful for women who speak up at great personal cost. I'm grateful for the opportunity to vote, even when it is the very definition of an exercise in futility. I'm grateful for people who wield their power to make life just a little easier for those around them.

Today, for example, I read a tweet from a teacher who talked openly with his students about navigating higher education. He told them that they were welcome to ask him for help with assignments, how to schedule an appointment to talk with him or other professors, that deadlines could be altered for some situations, that it's always better to be upfront about struggling than pretend you're on top of things or know what's happening.

He's using his power and position to help level the playing field for students who are the first in their families to access higher education. He's making explicit those norms and unwritten rules that those familiar with campuses already understand.

For what he is doing to allow students to create a better future for all of us. For her courage in speaking truth to power. For the system that allows me to show my elected officials how I wish they treated people.

I'm grateful.
Wednesday, October 3, 2018


Words to describe North America: worried, tumultuous, fevered, agonized, enraged, weary. *

Some weeks are like that.

Last week. For example.

Probably this week, too.

* 0 *

Some weeks, you know you're fragile. Cracks appear.

Some weeks, you can hold it together.

Like this.

Some weeks, you can't. And that's OK, too.

* 0 *

*Are we in North America lucky? Or perhaps, "lucky"?
We're still here.
We have not yet been swept away in flash floods, mudslides, wars.
Our homes aren't flooded or crumbled.
I acknowledge our affluence.