Saturday, November 30, 2013

Some good news for a change

The blog has been pretty bleak lately -- for good reason, sure -- but still. And as a writer friend told me it's good to give readers hope, give them a sense of why I'm still here, why I'm still breathing. Wise words indeed.

So at the risk of tooting my own horn, I'm going to share a comment from my last post. Said Mama Pea: "Holy moly, you are such a fantastic writer!! The sky's the limit regarding this talent of yours. Write like crazy during this period of your life. It will pass quickly, and looking back you'll realize you have heaps of fodder for an awesome book that will help others."

Well, guess what? That book is in the works. Right now.

University of King's College, Halifax, NS
 My marriage imploded in late April and a few weeks later I was accepted into the inaugural Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program in creative nonfiction at the University of King's College in Halifax, Nova Scotia. (At moments like this it's hard not to condescend into hacknied cliches about 'as one door closes, another one opens.' But I digress.)

It's a two-year low residency program, so I spend six weeks in intensive residencies (two weeks in Halifax last August, one in Toronto in January, another two weeks in Halifax next August and a week in new York in January 2015) and graduate with a degree, polished book proposal and a large chunk of manuscript.

I'd been thinking about getting a post-grad degree for a few years now. I looked into other writing programs, but none of them were quite right. I consume fiction -- novels, stories, poems --  but I wanted to write nonfiction. True life. That which is stranger than fiction. I've been a freelance writer for 12 years but I've plateaued, become static and stuck. I wanted to push the edges of my words.

I wanted to write a book. About food, farming, family. My delicious and messy life.

And I'm scared shitless. Writing doesn't come easy to me. I've heard people talk about their fingers or pens being guided by an unknown force, many call it their muse, and I've been blessed by that visit maybe a handful of times. When I reread work that I've written when I'm in that space and time, I'm touched by the visceral power of my own words and images. And the rest of the time -- well, I struggle to find the words to adequately capture the way I feel, the vastness of my experience in this crazy life. I've tried to quit writing before but I can't. And so, a book.

Writing this book demands that I dig deep, pull back the veil from my memory, wipe away the crud and the bullshit, the constructions and the myths, and just write true. Whatever that is. It means letting go of what's past and clearing the way for what's to come. It means cracking myself -- my heart, my mind -- wide open. But that's how the light gets in. It means writing about a failed dream, but also exploring the wonder and possibility of a new one.

So I'm doing it. Under the tutelage of smart and storied professors, a gifted and generous mentor and with the love and support of a cohort of new friends on their own writerly journey. One page at a time. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

First snow

Yesterday was the first "big" snowfall of the year. Later than some years, earlier than others. But the chronology doesn't matter. Just that it's here now. It was only about 6" of accumulation but enough to cause the school board to cancel buses. Enough to coat the land with white frosting and dust the trees with icing sugar. Enough.

The kids were thrilled -- snow day! Sledding and hot chocolate and warming cold toes by the fire. And me -- rumbles of dread and panic began burbling inside my chest. Winter is no long coming, it's here. While the snow absolves me from many farm responsibilities and covers a multitude of sins and unfinished projects, winter also makes other day-to-day tasks harder. But it's not the practicalities that fill me with anxiety -- it's the unexpected, the unknown, the whats, the when. Will the power go out this year and if so how will I get the generator out of the garage? What if the barn pipes freeze like last year? What if the winch on the plow breaks again or if it stops running all together? When will I run out of wood/hay/money?

How will I manage the darkness?

I tell my kids there are no such things are monsters, but that's not entirely true. Those are the monsters that haunt my mind and leave me tense, short tempered and fearful. The monsters that fill my thoughts with their disparaging words, their put downs, their judgements, their 'you don't deserve this' and 'you can't handle it.'  

And yet.

Today I walked to the barn under a canopy of peacock blue sky, sunlight captured in the snow. Dancing. Like fairylights. I breathed in the cold air tinged with a tease of woodsmoke. The taking of breath. Breathtaking. I could hear the goats and sheep bleating, the pigs barking (more incessant than oinking), the chickens clucking for their breakfast. In this morning my chest ached with beauty. And possibility. And purpose.

Sometimes I wish my soul was drawn towards an easier path. Living on a farm can be hard; doing it alone can be terrifying.

And yet.

I recently found photos from before the move, when we lived in suburbia in a small semi-detached house that we bought because it was in the right neighbourhood with a small shady garden that grew hostas and patchy grass. I recognized the place but it was like looking at a stranger. I am so different from that woman who went to bed at night gazing out at the neighbour's rooftop wondering, is this all there is?

Stronger. Tougher. Harder. Smaller. Fuller.

The seeds of growing self-reliance, of finding meaning, of realizing a purpose, were there, but dormant. It took moving to the farm for the seeds to grow. Not all seeds flourish; some fail to germinate, others grow weak and spindly, and there are those that die from disease or neglect or for no reason at all.  

I grieve for the woman in the photos who thought that moving to the farm would be a dream come true. In many ways it was, still is. But that dream came at a cost. Fairy tales never talk about what happens when happily ever after ends. But I never wanted to be like Cinderella anyway.

So for now, this day, I think of the healing power of winter. A time for rejuvenation, reflection, next steps. Author and poet Brian Brett wrote that farming is a profession of hope. There is always next season. Forgiveness for last year's mistakes. Another chance. A fresh start.

The seeds are waiting.

Monday, November 11, 2013


Blomidon, Nova Scotia. August 2011.

Believe. Believe in love, in second chances. Believe in forgiveness and fresh starts. Believe in tears and belly laughs, in words that move and words that stop you in your tracks. Believe in the breath and in the release. Believe in humility and open hearts. Believe in life and in living, in holding hands and letting go. Believe in digging deep and standing tall, in flying high and lying low. Believe in hope and dreams, connection and creation; in fear and transformation, in darkness and in finding light. Believe in you. Believe in me.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Still here

Hello, world. It's me. I know it's been six months since I last checked in -- a record, yes -- but I'm still here.

I'm still on the farm, but tonight my children are not. They're at their dad's place, his small apartment in the village, their new second home.

Instead of reading them stories and tucking them into bed tonight with never enough 'I love yous,' I snatch a hug, glance a peck on each cheek, and watch them rush out the door towards the headlights of his waiting car, moths drawn to a flame.

Instead of strolling down the driveway tomorrow morning and waiting for the bus amidst knock-knock jokes and who-gets-on-the-bus-firsts, he'll send them off from his streetscape doorway with hugs and kisses and reminders about street safety before they walk to school with their friends.

Instead of bracing for after-school bursts through the front door, a flurry of backpacks and artwork and dogs barking and calls of, "Mum, what's to eat?" peppered with stories of schoolyard drama and how many goals, the dogs will still be sleeping in front of the fire at 4:05 pm as their young charges walk to the park or the library or home. His home.

It's exciting, this new second home, and I want to be excited, even happy, for them. For him. And yet, right now, I'm just sad and scared and empty.

But I'm still here.

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