Tag Archives: growing

Shamelessly borrowed from Ebaumsworld.com.

What I’ve Learned Slowly in Life & Writing

They don’t tell you that knowing who you are isn’t enough.

They don’t teach you that having a sense of identity doesn’t equal understanding how that identity fits into society.

They don’t say that loving what you’re gifted in doesn’t mean you’ll ever be able to make a living at it, or even that you’ll ever be guaranteed access to doing it.

No. They don’t.

That’s the way the reality dice roll.

Shamelessly borrowed from Ebaumsworld.com.


I remember a day in early May, 1994, sitting on a rocky shore in Oregon, as waves crested and broke below me, a notepad wobbling on my knees, wanting more than anything for the ability to break through the writing-blahs I’d been wallowing in, and wishing I knew how to do what I wanted for a living. I remember staring into the waves and thinking the only thing I ever really cared about was being able to just explore writing in my own way, and to do it for myself first, always.

I had no idea then, but that was the start of a very long,  strange ride for me — within 4 months I’d be living in the Yukon, within 5 years my mother would die, within 10 years I almost died, and then came the struggle through the Weird after, much of which I’ve written about at length.

I had no idea what would loom, where I’d go, and just how goddamned far from my dreams my road would lead.

Ironically, the further from my dreams I’ve been led, the better my writing has become… and somehow, I’ve come full circle, closer to the ‘writing life’ I’ve always wanted to live. It’s like an existential whirligig, one that takes some 20 years to come ’round to its start again.

Experience is the best teacher, and this is true also of writing.

You’ll always be a shit writer until life dunks you in the tank a few times. All the Sufi mystics would tell ya we’re only as broad as what we’ve lived through, right?

I guess the gift of Aging is that we start to realize we’re shaped by our pains as well as our joys, loves as well as hates, and we’ve learned through repeated exposure that we are built for survival, not perishing.

Look at what we can endure. Look at the Chilean miners rescued this week, and those who overcame the most ridiculous of engineering feats to manage that rescue.

And, yet… Life isn’t an engineering challenge.

It isn’t something one can solve with a drafting program, some applied physics, and a ruler.

Life’s a cosmic dodgeball game — played in a big-but-small room, where more balls than you can imagine are bouncing and ricocheting wildly, with no discernible pattern, and no reason for who or what they take out in their bouncy-travels.

Knowing who you are and what you can do doesn’t ever guarantee your efforts will be made of win, it doesn’t mean life won’t hit you in that game of dodgeball, sidelining you instead of sending you sailing successfully into the next game series.

I don’t think it’s a “Work hard enough and you can get it” scenario for everything in life. Methink that’s idealistic and what Random House et al want you to believe so you keep buying self-help-guru books when The World somehow shuts the big door on you.

In life, I think luck is as much a factor as work. Some folks are the pigeon, some folks are the statue — shit or be shat upon.

For what it’s worth, I don’t feel life’s posed enough of an obstacle to keep me out of the game. Some of us don’t come into who we’re supposed to be until later in life, and I’ve always suspected my 40s would be when I mastered the whole “world domination” thing.

The mentality of “you gotta be someone by 30” is the biggest piece-of-shit fallacy in the world.

It doesn’t happen that way. The school of life doesn’t run in semesters and grades, not everyone gets a pass at 18. Life lessons come and they go, but never fear — they’ll be back. The lessons will always be back.

The great dame of acting, the fabulous Ellen Burstyn, wrote an autobiography called Lessons in Becoming Myself, published in 2006, when she was 74. She was asked if she had “become” herself, and she answered no, that even as 80 loomed, she was still constantly learning about herself, forever becoming someone new, better, and more evolved than the woman she was, even a year, month, or week ago.

I remember watching her delivering this slow, well-thought answer, and smiling. I smiled too. I could do with getting old if it meant I’d always keep improving, and wasn’t relegated to becoming a lesser version of that which I once was.

And that’s another thing they don’t tell you.

They don’t let you know that you may think you know yourself, but ya don’t know jack, Jack.

You don’t know yourself until you’ve faced demons and betrayal, loss and hopelessness. You don’t know yourself until you’ve hit bottom and gotten back up.

The trouble is: “Bottom” is relative. Every time you hit what you think is bottom, don’t worry — you’re not bottomed-out. You can always go lower.

Believe that. Know it. Respect it.

Just don’t fear it. It’s a teacher, and you’re built for survival, remember?

When you’re young, they also fail to share that life ain’t about perceived successes — it’s not about who you become at the office, or the cachet you carry with you at meet-n-greet events, or the hot babe on your arm. They don’t teach you that life ain’t about money, glam, swag, beauty, or praise.

Life’s really about being able to like what’s in your head when the lights go out at night. Like Grandma Death in Donnie Darko says, “Every living creature dies alone.”

I think, ultimately, just getting to that side of life (death) and being able to die alone, but die truly knowing who you are, what you’ve had in life, must be the greatest departing gift one can have.

They don’t talk about that.  Or just how hard it is to get that place of knowing.

You can’t teach people in advance about the pain that comes from a life lived, or how much any one person can endure. No one can know endurance till they’ve had it, any of it. And some just can’t go there, be that; they’re not built Ford-tough.

But I am.

Somehow, I wish I knew that 20 years ago. I wish I knew long ago that protecting myself was just foolishness, and I’d get hurt often and deeply regardless of safety measures. I wish I was taught to just go, do it, fail, and do it again.

But I wasn’t.

Yet I’ve begun to learn it.

Like I say: Some of us don’t come into who we’re supposed to be until much later. Perhaps it means we’ll be better at who we’re supposed to be because we’ve had more practice with the bump-in-the-night of it all.

I have a feeling I’ll be finding out myself, soon.

Older, wiser… this shit ain’t so bad.

Getting Schooled by Miles Davis

Music is powerfully emotive.

The right piece at the right time can be a spiritual moment like no other, for some of us.

There are specific times I can remember some songs that blew my mind — songs I’d heard in the background time and time again, but a moment presents itself and the head explodes in all the aural rightness.

Like when it’d been a 14-hour day of stupidity in Whitehorse, Yukon, and The Tragically Hip’s “Cordelia” began playing as I pulled my car into my driveway, me ready to snap or sigh, whatever came first. Suddenly slow rising guitars just matched the coursing muted anger and frustration I felt after such a futile day. I sat there and listened to it twice.

Then I turned the car over, and drove the fuck out of town for an hour, listening to that song over and over.

I’d probably heard it 20 times before that night, but just never when it mattered.

Same deal with The Doors’s “The End.” Until I heard it play in Apocalypse Now, it never really registered on my radar. But a midnight viewing of the Vietnam classic in a dusty old theatre with that track bleeding out of crackling speakers, it just blew my fucking mind.

The creative process, for me, is all about timing, so it’s not really a surprise, then, that ingesting creativity should also require good timing.

Miles Davis is giving me an old-school edumacation today about how foolishly exclusive our tastes can be sometimes, and how much our narrow-mindedness can deny us when we wrongfully judge a genre via a single example of it.

For years and years and years, I was decidedly Not A Jazz Fan. And I ain’t talkin’ Utah, okay? Although…

But I mean jazz-jazz. Crazy trombones, pounding pianos, all that jazz-jazz, man.

It’s really the Story of Two Matriarchs. My aunt tried to get me into jazz when I was 8 and spending the summer with her in Toronto. I sort of got it, but let’s face it — I was eight. I wrote stories about pretend animals on “Garfield” note paper and slept with a teddy bear. What’s there to get? Are The Muppet Babies on TV yet? Miles who?

My mother, though, laughed at this fledgling interest in jazz when I returned to Vancouver. It was just noise, she opined. Aunt Pat was pretty nutty and sure liked to get silly with alcohol, what with that wobbly-walk of hers’n’all, so maybe Mom was right.

I slowly got the whole “it’s just noise” opinion myself from hearing the really experimental stuff, and just wrote the rest off.

Over the years, as I got older, I tried Miles Davis in a not-really-trying-because-I-secretly-know-it’s-just-crap kind of way, and stuck to my taste guns: Jazz was crap.

So, a few weeks ago, I finally got around to playing Miles’s A Kind of Blue, which had been in my iPhone for a while, under the thinking that one day the mood might strike. Well, nothing else was making my musical heart respond as I toggled through artist after artist on my phone, and then I saw Miles.

Hmm. Hey, you know, I’m kind of blue. Maybe I should listen to A Kind of Blue.

So, I did. And I liked it, and this feeling niggled its way into me while I scrubbed my dirty dishes at the kitchen sink. A jazzy kind of blue, kind of niggling thing.

Today I’m diving into The Cellar Door Sessions. And it’s working all too well. A half-hour ago or so, my feet were cold and socks loomed. I’ve been toe-tapping since and flip-flops remain in place with warm-blooded happy feets.

I’m glad I’ve tried again and again to get that appreciation of jazz working for me. I know better than most people, I guess, how quickly we can grow and change. I’m all about change.

It all comes back to the adage, “there’s a time and a place.”

It’s true of tastes, too.

From food to sex to music, it’s too easy to sample something once and think it’s representative of the whole. Maybe it’s THAT salmon you don’t like, not all salmon. Maybe they were a lousy lover and you should rethink your thoughts on sex in X-position with X-prop. And, hey, maybe you were listening to the wrong jazz.

Know who I learned that from?

A two-year-old boy named Jack.

He’d try every food a minimum — seriously, EVERY food — of three times. Three times! It could be rancid but he’d take three bites before he decided his opinion. THEN, he knew passionately which side of the opinion he sat on.

Here I was, 35, and always lived on old opinions, and opinions taken in a single sampling. A bite, a listen, a trial of some sort.

“No, I didn’t like that kind of seafood when I tried it 18 years ago, therefore…”

Now I accept that I’m narrow-minded and given to stupidity with a tendency to default my most obsolete opinions.

Everything’s worth trying again. I now make sure it’s a good example of that thing before I judge it. I’ll talk to others, rethink things. It’s a big world of experiences.

Methinks it’d be terrible to miss out on any because of foolishness and poor decisions.

So, here I am. Tapping my toes as the first disc fades out in applause and disc two of Miles Davis’s Cellar Door Sessions swings into a new groove.

Liking what I thought for 25-plus years I could never like.

This growing-up thing’s all right, man.

How about you? What’s something you did a total 180 on, and why? How’d opening your mind to trying it again change you?

A Fondness for Figments

I’m feeling a little blue. I’m getting a stiff back, so I know my mattress needs flipping. I’ve just done that, and have changed my sheets besides. If anything reminds you you’re single, it’s changing the sheets.

You’re changing them because it’s been long enough. It’s time. Not because you got hot’n’sweaty and did wrong-but-so-right things.

It’s sorta sad, but not because I can’t handle being single. Been here, done this.

What makes me sad is having to remind myself that I’ve made the right move. We both decided to end the relationship, for somewhat different reasons. My reasons are not really ones I wanted to express to him, but that I’m sure he’s aware of. It’s kind of hard for me to admit it, though. I’m getting a little chokey just thinking of putting it down, because it feels like casting judgment, but the judgment’s long been done, so I might as well.

See, the guy I’ve broken up with isn’t good for me. In fact, he’s somewhat bad for me. He’s depressed, he’s self-obsessed, constantly distracted, and inattentive. It’s not good. It’s also not who he really is. But it’s who he is today. And I can’t begrudge it as I know what’s preceded it.

The trouble is, I’m trying to keep alive a memory of who he was before all that shit. A guy who was an upbeat skeptic with weird quirks and a cute smile, who won my trust and a bit of my faith for a while there.

The latter guy’s still around in ever-so-brief flashes, but they’re not the present. They’re animated flashbacks, maybe (hopefully) flash-forwards.

Keeping that memory alive is fucking with my resolve that the right choice has been made. The guy I just broke up with, well, he’s not really good enough for me. I’m a caring, attentive, loving woman, and I need that back. For his own reasons, he couldn’t provide that. I may understand, but I can’t live with that. No one really ought to have to.

I really, really hate having to choose between who a person is versus who they once were, but we all have to make those choices. I don’t believe in staying in a relationship longer than I have to, because if I do, it eats away at me. I’me constantly reminded I’m less attractive to them, for one reason or another, than I used to be. I’m forever wishing we could talk like we did in the old days. A whole lot of thoughts run rampant, all the time. I find when I’m unhappy in a relationship, I don’t live in the present. I get analytical and think of anything but that moment.

At this moment, I hope that old guy makes a return and when we revisit things, it’s a hit. That’s what I hope today. Do I expect it? Um. Hope ain’t faith, ‘nuff said. Get it?

Six months from now, who knows where the fuck I am. Six months from now, what if I’ve landed the job of a lifetime after what is, inarguably, the most challenging time I’ve ever faced? Who is THAT woman, huh? Who’s she? How’d she get there from here? That’s what I wanna know. I ain’t got no answers, and they’re a damned long time in coming.

I just don’t think this shit’s going to keep me down. Nothing’s ever done so before, but I’ve never stood all the way up after a fall-down, you know? I’ve never WANTED it this bad before.

How do I go from who I am today to who I am then, to wanting someone I was with a year before? I don’t know. I don’t know the path to take for that journey, and I don’t know what my life holds.

I know that I feel sad. I mourn for what mighta been, and what now might never be. At the moment, I hope I feel like I can go there again. It was a comfortable relationship when it worked. It was funny, irreverent, open, playful, and good. Then it changed. Sigh. I digress.

Now I’ve gone way off point, so let’s just get out that big ol’ hammer and nail this one down.

If your relationship is shit, and you spend more time thinking about then than you do of tomorrow, then maybe it’s time to admit that the person you’re with isn’t the person you fell for. Put on them boots and walk the fuck on. Life’s too short to live in the past. Don’t be scared of your future. Respect it, cherish it, ‘cos soon it’s gonna be your past. Futures, you can change. Pasts, well, they become baggage or cocktail-party stories. If you’re in love with a memory, you’re making a mistake.

Simple.

I saw my mom die at 57, and the last thing I need to forget is just how short life is. Why spend it doing the wrong things, right? That’s my motto. (I’m also opposed to doing the right things wrong.)

So, this I need to remind myself every time I’m sad I’m alone again: Beats the shit out of hanging out with an almost-boyfriend who’s depressed and can’t let me in. As a friend, I’ll cherish him. As a boyfriend, I was sometimes wanting to smack him good. And the future, well, who knows. I think, either way, some good stuff’s on the road and is headed to me. I’m just gonna keep up the good fight and hang on to the faith. Cogito ergo sum.