Watching the events that have been unfolding south of the border, has been astonishing and upsetting in equal measures. As a woman, I have grown up in a time and culture where human rights are at times hard to come by. But once enshrined, it seemed inconceivable that the right to make choices could just be erased.
As the world grapples with a war, climate change, roaring inflation, threats to income and food security, it just boggles the mind that we will likely be facing another summer of social discontent. And given the previous power struggles over how to manage the pandemic, one can only hope for a better display of human civility.
The time is now to work with one another collaboratively rather than pulling even further apart on ideological issues that drive self-serving politics. There are simply too many tangible pressing world needs that must be addressed with immediacy.
If only our world could be sprinkled with a modicum of respect, kindness, and care, imagine how far we could go together.
When I think of National Indigenous People’s Day, I think of celebration. I think of laughter. I think of family.
Set against a backdrop of spiralling negative news clips, our country was able to draw a collective breath of fresh air yesterday. The celebrations for National Indigenous People’s Day provided a series of teachings about the power of community, family, connections, and above all else joy. In a good way.
Traditional ceremonies to mark summer solstice, through the lighting of fire, smudging, feasting, dancing, storytelling also opened doors across the country for connection with each other. A day to put aside stories about war, inflation, pandemics, violence, and the rampant anger that seems to have a stranglehold on our communities.
A day of remembrance, recognition, respect and hope for reconciliation. Showcasing a vibrant multi-layered culture. Unveiling memorials to commemorate the dark, dark history of residential schools. But above all, a lesson about the spirit of a people who understand deeply what the concept of freedom is about.
A coming together to honour and celebrate the cycles of nature, of community, of family, and each other. And an open invitation to everyone living in this country to share in some way, this journey of healing through understanding, acknowledgment, and love.
A truly special day shared with all of us, teaching us to suspend worry, fear, and our ever present anger, to simply enjoy what we have, where we live, and who we walk with.
I don’t think you have time to waste not writing because you are afraid you won’t be good at it.
Have you ever finally gotten up enough nerve to send out pieces of your creative writing to literary magazines only to receive a declined notice in Submittable so fast it gives you whiplash?
Or maybe you have a secret list of favoured publications that you dream will one day accept a piece of your best work. So you finally get enough nerve to take the plunge, hit submit but then wait for weeks and weeks. When you are just about to give up, you decide to send a query about the status of your submission. And receive a warp speed response that is a combination apology/rejection note.
Perhaps you have worked hard to complete your edits, have carefully reviewed the submission guidelines, and crossed your fingers (arms and legs) as you hit submit. Then a few days later you take a peak in your Submittable account and discover your work is “In progress”. And you have read somewhere that the longer it takes to be reviewed the better the odds are that you are going to have your work accepted. So having your prized piece of work linger in that state must mean something is going to happen. Right?
You just know that this is it. This has to be your moment.
And then, it happens, the rejection that reads like a form letter. Or worse yet, a hastily written personal email that actually has a typo in it!
So you decide then and there, that you are writing only for yourself, to learn the craft, to honour and express what resides deep in your heart and soul. You will learn to become content to leave the publication racket for those who have more gumption than you have. You know you should have gratitude that you were published some time ago so resign yourself to this uneasy state of acceptance.
And you carry on, writing often but at the same time growing uncertain about what you will do with all of the work that now languishes in draft Word folders.
As time passes by, you forget the sting of rejection and the emotional roller coaster that accompanies the submission process. You have read that all writers go through this and that it should be considered part and parcel of becoming a published writer. A real writer would face the risk of rejection head on, leaning into the idea that this is growth oriented and actually a positive.
So you submit three pieces of flash fiction to a magazine that you respect but you aren’t convinced will result in publication success. But it is part of learning so you treat this as an educational opportunity. You have read that collecting rejections can be an important aspect of the writing process.
Some time passes and then, suddenly in your list of new emails, you receive a notice of acceptance. Unbelievable! Your work will be published in a print literary magazine and you may agree to read your work at the launch. A launch, what!
So you go through a new process, working with an editor to prepare and ready your work to shine in the best possible light in a print publication. Along with the work of so many amazing writers.
And then the day comes, you open the mail and find two complimentary copies of the literary magazine, spring, Volume 13 which contains two of your flash fiction stories. You sit down to flip through the magazine, admiring the beauty of the cover art and the layout, breathing in that new print smell. You close your eyes in order to fully capture this moment. Then you quickly scan through the table of contents and find your name. Twice.
You do that smiling and crying thing at the same time. And a single thought occurs to you – this risk/reward publication thing in the field of writing – it is really worth the journey!
Surround yourself with people who add value to your life. Who challenge you to be greater than you were yesterday. Who sprinkle magic into your existence, just like you do to theirs. Life isn’t to be done alone.
Visits to my dentist are typically low on my list of fun things to do but yesterday I had a bit of an epiphany while I was there. During the past two years, each visit to that office has seemed surreal and somewhat disturbing. Walking into a giant waiting room with only three individuals spaced more than six feet apart, masked, sitting in chairs under signs that declare we will be pre-screened for safety was not just daunting but truly weird. Then a masked health professional would come ask a series of questions, take your temperature, and have you sign a consent that advised your level of risk to develop Covid was higher during dental procedures because of aerosols.
But yesterday all of that had disappeared. The waiting room was full, some people had masks on and some didn’t; the pre-screening event was off the table and an innocuous question about how I was feeling seemed to be the extent of worry about the ever present virus. The dental technician was chatty and full of life and every detail of the visit seemed what I would have expected pre-pandemic.
So it got me reflecting about how I have been living my life during the pandemic, especially for the past six months. And re-examining my understanding of what personal assessment of risk really means. Caring for an ill family member has meant trying to isolate and avoid illness at all costs. But really what are those costs and what is that level of risk?
Research has shown for a number of decades that social connection increases life longevity and as you grow older your risk of death increases even more if you are isolated, see few friends or family members, and spend long periods of time alone.
Prior to the pandemic, I was certainly aware that taking those closest to us for granted is something that is insidious and happens often. Many of us spend our working lives striving for appreciation and recognition. As we age, friendships become more like commodities, time seems to be spend chasing, rushing, working, rather than enjoying those that we love the most.
Having goals and wanting to succeed in life is admirable but at the end of it all what is most important are those closest to us. Friends and family backstop having purpose, focus, and feeling like you matter. The pandemic has highlighted how much value should be placed upon our emotional and social connections. Relying on technology to facilitate interactions with those important in our lives, leaves an understandable void that may introduce negative health consequences that should not be ignored.
Indeed, when thinking about the risks of social interactions in this world we now live in that includes covid, it seems paramount that we also consider the risks of isolation and reduced face to face contact. It seems entirely possible that by trying to avoid a virus we may inadvertently sacrifice the quality of our relationships at the expense of our overall health. That is definitely food for thought!
Creativity researchers have identified an effective strategy, known as priming, which is a way to jump-start our creative thoughts and feelings.
Your mind is truly a fascinating space. The relationship between neuroscience and creativity seems both intriguing and worthy of further exploration. Indeed, becoming more mindful of the role that my brain plays in the creation of art could allow me to create distance from that harsh critical voice that chastises me for not writing well or even worse, anything at all.
Often I find myself wondering why it is that some days words flow like a steady stream from my fingertips to the computer keyboard and on others, they remain stalled in mid pose. And why is it that random things like washing the dishes or pulling weeds can precipitate ideas that are startling in their intensity and vibrance.
How is it possible that the mundane aspects of daily living can precipitate the creation of a piece of artwork?
Really, have you ever wondered why some art projects flow like snow melt in the spring and at other times the whole thing just becomes mired in mud.
Fortunately, neuroscientists have a term for this process. Priming. Just like priming a pump, seemingly innocuous events and activities can push your creative stalls into the right place by the introduction of new stimuli. Simple sensory activities like creating an image journal, or listening to music, and mindfulness meditation have been found to function as primers that increase the connections that the brain makes.
And strangely enough, the content and focus of your priming activities do not need to have any relationship to whatever creative problem you might be struggling with. In fact, research has found that allowing your mind to wander afar is more beneficial than intensifying your focus on what you are stuck on.
So being more unfocused allows your mind to do what it needs to do, to wander and play with new ideas, images and sensory snippets in order to move through any blockages to your creative path. If we can stop our tendency to self-shame or blame when we our creative drive veers off course, it seems important to learn which priming activities may help us move forward.
So the next time I feel stuck or unable to write, I am going to try and discover how this aspect of research from the field of neuroscience might “prime” my next creative block and free my brain to move forward in its own unique way.
Writing is about getting to know more about the world – both the external world around you and the internal world inside you. Don’t let anyone take that away from you.
Robert Lee Brewer
Ever had one of those awkward moments where someone asks you what you have been doing lately and in a moment of excitement you mention that you are writing. Which launches the next question, oh what exactly are you writing? And for many writers who are in mid project, it can be dicey to try and explain succinctly what you are currently working on.
This tough question is often followed by a query about whether or not you are published and if you are, where your work can be found. Small literary journals either online or those still in print, don’t usually lend themselves to brand name recognition. For non-writers at least.
So unless you are discussing aspects of the writing world with a member of your tribe, most well intentioned people politely shift the conversation to something else. Quickly.
Perhaps this type of scenario might cause you to falter for a moment and ponder the question – why am I writing?
Because we all write for different reasons. We might write in order to be published. We might write because we have a need for recognition. We might write to touch the hearts and souls of people. We might be someone who writes for a living. We might write because we have an inner need to express ourselves using this creative vehicle.
But whatever the reason(s) our writing practice is often deeply personal. So to share this path you are on with someone who is not travelling on this journey with you, can leave you in a space where you feel misunderstood or dismissed simply because you know in your heart of hearts that you are a writer.
Writing is about taking risks. It is about having courage to learn to express what resides deep within. It is about having faith in your powers of observation and about being willing to fail when the words don’t line up quite right. Writing is about riding the wave of creative inspiration without knowing where you will end up. It is about a deep and enduring human desire to tell stories.
I am learning as I continue to write stories that this is how I make sense of my life, the world, and the people within it. I recognize that while many of the reasons why I write are fluid over time there is something deeply necessary about expressing myself this way. So for me writing is about growth and discovery and above all else, it is about having hope. Hope that my world will make sense and has meaning.
If uncertainty is unacceptable to you, it turns into fear. If it is perfectly acceptable, it turns into increased aliveness, alertness, and creativity.
Uncertainty often manifests itself in our lives as a primary stressor. The longer we experience it, the more challenging it is to learn to embrace it, accept it, or to thrive in spite of it. And the more frequently it pops up in our lives, the more it becomes subject to our innate negativity bias and fills our emotional spaces with worry and anxiety.
The pandemic has fit this bill like a glove. But any situation that is unknown to us especially one that may bring hardship and chaos into our lives quickly shifts into something we wish to avoid. But summoning inner resources and resolve to face tough situations builds muscles of resilience that can help us become stronger over the long term.
So how do you go about finding a way forward and what kinds of tools do you need to develop?
Having a support network of family and friends to backstop you as you navigate the harder things in life has always been a top priority. Learning to use mindfulness techniques to stay in the moment and avoid ruminating about the past or projecting wishful thinking onto the future is often helpful. And at times easier said than done.
But cultivating a state of being curious about what you are facing can help you stay focused on where you need to be.
And curiosity often creates a sensation of playfulness or lightness, helping you stay out of judgment, and clinging to our unhelpful attachments to things. Using statements like “what other ways can I look at this” or “what if” can be useful when you are teetering on the brink and need balance to face what life is bringing your way.
Research shows that curiosity may help build tolerance for anxiety producing situations and encourages unconventional ideas to solve problems.
Being okay with uncertainty, letting things pass, trying to think about how you have both feet on the ground while you walk helps lighten the load when you are facing difficult circumstances. Reminding myself to be curious, to slow down and observe what I am facing, lets me tap into creative responses to life’s challenges.
And right now, I am going to remain curious about whether I can maintain this mindset when I need it most.
A writer’s voice is the way your personality comes through on the page, via everything from word choice and sentence structure to tone and punctuation.
Have you ever wondered how to find your writer’s voice? It doesn’t seem as simple as the voice you bring to the act of singing or speaking. As a beginning writer, there are times when I feel like I am stumbling around trying to find my voice. When I am stuck I find myself worrying about what writer’s voice really is which will send me searching for the answers in craft books or on the internet.
But the reality is, our writing voice lives deep inside of us. The act of creation calls to us to be exactly as we are. Even if we feel like we are trying on shoes that are the wrong size. When we do our creative work, once we allow ourselves to become immersed in it, we often discover that unconsciously we are bringing our writer’s voice to the page.
If we look closely, we can discern the word choices we make, the tone, and our writing style as a reflection of who we are. And over time, this recognition strengthens and becomes intuitive.
When we bring our writer’s voice to the page, we are writing with emotion, passion, and we bring along all of the positive and negative aspects of ourselves. Our dislikes, attitudes, beliefs, wishes and our fears will all show up in what we write. Worrying about what our voice sounds like or is saying will often inadvertently make our words flat, dull, and perhaps unintentionally disingenuous.
Strangely enough, the act of immersion in a piece of creative writing can take us out of our judgemental minds and the less we try to write in a type of “voice” the easier it is to tap into the voice that is your own. Creative work allows us to express what is in our hearts – the pieces we write speak for us in the world. And the more we practice speaking with our authentic voice, it becomes louder and resonates with clarity.
If there was ever a reason to ensure ego doesn’t show up on your page, this would be it. Everything you create with your whole self, with your passionate self, with your true self – is a self-portrait. An unbridled, unfettered word picture of who we really are. And that is the best aspect of the poems and stories we write.
There is something delicious about writing the first words of a story. You never know quite where they’ll take you.
There is something magical that happens deep within me at the time of spring equinox. My energy levels lift, the piles of snow that remain in my yard no longer matter, and I feel compelled to plant something. Usually only seeds from one type of plant because in this part of the world, it is far too early to anticipate digging in dirt outdoors.
But still, stepping into springtime simply by looking at the calendar and starting a single seedling plants a much needed sense of hope. And so does being able to resurrect a writing routine.
The promise of warmer weather, budding trees, and blooming flowers seems to serve as a springboard for creativity. Ideas flow faster than I can capture them and write them on a page. When I seem to stall, a quick visit to the outdoors where the sun shines brighter and feels warmer, is often enough to shift gears and prompt me to keep on writing.
Earlier worries during the long winter months about not having enough time or inclination to write no longer permeate my days.
Perhaps over time I will learn not to fret about what seem to be the natural ebbs and flows that are part of my writing practice. Circumstances beyond my control put a halt to my progress learning the craft of writing. So faced with ongoing worry about whether I would get back to the page, many days were spent with loops of thought that in hindsight were actually instructive.
It seems that the lesson I needed to pay attention to through this time was learning how to honour the times when words flow easily as well as those times when they don’t.
Creating a first draft always leads to something more. Especially when you have the time and energy to devote to it. In most ways, this seems parallel to the life cycle of growing plants. There are different periods of time where the act of writing unfolds by planting those first words, nourishing, watering and weeding them, and helping them grow until they are ready for harvest.
So I will take the time to honour the new words that are emerging as I move into spring this year and cultivate them just like seeds ready for growth.
Everyday experience suggests that we often don’t experience aging the same way, with many people feeling older or younger than they really are.
Every so often we have those strange moments in life where our experience in some way defies reality. I bumped up against one such an event last week. During a conversation a friend mentioned that someone I have known for years had retired. But I couldn’t believe this because somehow I was locked in prior decades when my mental reference point was from a time when both this person and I were working.
And ever since I have been struck by the fact that the way I perceive my subjective age is quite different than my chronological age.
And when I checked in with other people around me, they echoed similar experiences. What was most fascinating was that the variability in subjective ages most people have also represents their current state of mind. Not only does it vary from person to person but also from circumstance to circumstance.
This gap between a person’s felt age and what is listed on their birth certificate changes as we grow older. Adolescents and young adults often feel older than their true ages while as we start of accrue more and more birthdays, many of us subjectively feel younger. This discrepancy between felt vs. chronological age has been studied for the past five decades.
The expression “you are only as old as you feel” is true for many. Influenced by our inner mental world and the status of our physical health as well current life stressors, “felt” subjective age can be variable throughout our lives.
The phenomenon of one’s subjective or felt age changes the energy that we bring into our day to day lives. I recognize that when I am excited about certain things or people in my life, or when I am high in a creativity cycle that my youthful self seems to be front and center. Conversely, when juggling too many tasks, when life seems overwhelming, or when we experience tragic events, we can feel older than we ever have before.
And healthy sleep has been identified through research to have a huge impact on our subjective sense of age. That resonates – for those among us who have struggled to have a good nights sleep, we often feel weary and older than our years.
When these times emerge, it often signals a time to take rest, to grieve, to simply slow down and pause until our energy levels are restored. So learning to focus attention to these ebbs and flows that may influence our subjective age, seems a skill worth pursuing.
And hopefully the next time I bump up against the commonplace ageisms that are ubiquitous these days, my subjective inner youthful self can quietly chuckle and simply walk away.