Sunday, January 31, 2010

This site is moving to its own domain!

At the ripe old age of 5, I thought it was high time this blog grew up and moved out on its own. So I staked my corner of the web and set up camp.

Introducing... http://www.fumblingforwords.com/

Please be sure to change your bookmarks, bloglines, favourites, rss feeds - whatever - so that you don't miss anything. I've got a fun little video up there today to celebrate the move.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Pity party cut short

Sometimes just a snippet of conversation is enough to turn your day around. Sometimes you don't even need to be part of that conversation for it to take effect.

I was having a grumpy, no-good, very bad day. There was really nothing significantly wrong - it was just one of those days when the gremlins were winning. You know the ones... "you're not talented enough, you shouldn't bother trying, you're wasting too much time, you're not focused enough, nobody will listen to you, you might as well forget about the proposal you sent in yesterday - it'll never happen."

I was walking through the skywalk at lunch time, heading for the far-away food court where I could feel sorry for myself and eat unhealthy food without any colleagues finding me. Didn't I deserve to eat fast food crap, after all? Hadn't I earned the right for a little pity party with extra calories?

"He lit himself on fire when he was 2 years old." That was the first snippet I caught from the woman on the cell phone power-walking past me. It was enough for me to quicken my pace to keep up with her.

"He had burns all over his body, one of his hands fell off and all of the fingers on the other hand fell off."

"With only one thumb, he learned to tie his shoes at 12 years old and he said that changed his future."

"Now he's a famous drummer. If he can do that, there is NOTHING that I can't do."

That was all I heard, but that was enough to shift something inside of me. What the heck was I doing, moping around with this "poor me, I'm a failure" attitude?

I ate my lunch, but it was curry instead of mac-crap. When I got back to my desk, I googled "drummer with no hands". Sure enough, the story was true.

And if he can live without excuses, why can't I?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Art of the body

How does one prepare for the day when a surgeon will cut off a piece of what makes one a woman?

I've been thinking a lot about bodies lately. Christine intrigued me with her choice of "embody" as her word for the year. And then Leah invited us to focus on the body as our creative muse this month. So since the beginning of the month I've been contemplating how I wanted to incorporate "body" into my creativity. I was full of ideas and just needed the time to play with them.

Then the envelope came in the mail. The envelope that held the letter that says in simple Times New Roman font, as though it were no more important than my daughter's next soccer practice, that my breast reduction surgery has been booked for March. Gulp. Suddenly all creative ideas were blocked and all I could think of was "I'm going to lose a piece of what makes me a woman."

Don't get me wrong - I really want this surgery. I chose it. I'm so tired of the aching back, the carvings in my shoulders, the sore ribs from impossible under-wires, the impossibility of finding double H bras for less than my mortgage payment, the shirts that never fit, the near earthquake that's caused when I try to jog - all of it. I want it to be over.

But that doesn't mean it's not complicated. It took me a long, long time to come to this decision, and I won't back down now, but there are so many mixed emotions that play tricks with one's mind. All of those memories of the babies I've nursed, the pleasure I've shared with my husband, the aching fullness of unused milk when the baby who was meant to nurse has left this earth - they're all wrapped up in my identity, my shape as a woman.

And then there is the message I'm sending to my daughters. Is it okay for me to have plastic surgery, when I want to encourage them to value their bodies and not let media images dictate how they view what they see in the mirror? I would be lying if I didn't admit to myself that at least part of the reason for this decision is about my own complicated body image.

Tonight I finally had time to disappear into my studio for awhile to play with paint, ideas, memories, heartache... and breasts.

I started with a few of those images that surround us - the perfect bodies with the perfect breasts. No, those aren't the only reasons for this choice, but I have to at least acknowledge them and let them be a part of the picture. And the truth is, not even those women in the magazine ads are completely content when they look in the mirror.

As I prepare for this journey, I will try to acknowledge the hope and the hurt, the beauty and the ugly, the truth and the lies I tell myself. I know that I will be changed in more ways than one.

P.S. I had thought I'd be a little more private about this journey, but for some reason, I feel compelled to share it here. I know that you, my kind readers, will hold these words gently in your hearts as you have so often done when I've been vulnerable. If you're interested, I first wrote about it here, when I went for my original consultation with the surgeon.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Drawing Class (so far)

Week #2 - perspective...

Week #3 - still life with charcoal...

And I am a happy, happy girl!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Getting through the week

First it was the weariness from five days away (some of which included a fairly intense staff retreat). Then it was the scrambling energy it took to start filling a small role in response to the Haiti disaster (communicating, responding to donors & media, issuing appeals, looking for appropriate images, writing web text and ad copy, etc., etc.). Add the ups and downs of the ongoing drama of motherhood and management. Throw in two very different (mostly good) pieces of news that are potentially life-changing and that carried me into an odd introspective space. (No, I'm not prepared to talk about them here yet - maybe later.) Add a few complicated relationships. Top it all off with a major screw-up in which I totally overlooked a presentation I was supposed to give (ugh). And there you have it - the week that was.

Now you know why I was mostly silent last week and will probably continue to be much of this week. There are only so many balls a woman can keep in the air without dropping a few of the rubber ones.

But then there was last night. Last night, for a few precious moments, I managed to put all the balls away on a shelf and walk away. The house was fairly quiet, and other than the laundry that needed to be shifted from washer to dryer to folding table, and a mostly-content seven-year-old who flitted in and out for a little mommy-love now and then, I didn't have a lot of demands on my time. So I disappeared into my little studio and soon I was lost in a drawing that had begun to emerge at last week's class.

It's a row of small fishing sheds lined up on a dock with a couple of fishing boats in the foreground - meant to teach about perspective. Follow the lines to the vanishing point to determine the angle of rooflines, dock edges, etc. Lots of little details and extensive use of a ruler for all those doors, roofs, windows, and wooden siding. It's not the kind of art work I would normally be drawn into (I get a little bored with symmetry), but oh my, was it zen-like! Soon those heavy thoughts were disappearing right along with those lines on the way to the vanishing point.

Though I recognize the value of meditation, and I've tried it several times in various iterations, it just hasn't been something I've been able to fully adopt into my life. Too many monkeys playing around in my mind, I suppose.

That was before I discovered the meditative quality of art.  A paintbrush or pencil in my hand, and suddenly I'm a zen master!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Sometimes parenting wrenches your heart right out of your chest,
tosses it on the floor and stomps on it.
Sometimes you have to sit in the bathroom holding your daughter
and listening to her sob for half an hour
all the while knowing you can't do a damn thing to FIX IT.
Sometimes those beautiful children who own a big piece of your heart
bottle stuff up forever and then one day it's released
in a sudden outburst that results in a hotdog flying across the room.
Sometimes you have to live through the cruelties of life vicariously through your children
and sometimes that second-hand pain is almost worse
than if it were happening to you directly.
Sometimes you feel the weight of realization that you are the only safe place
where their deepest fears and troubled emotions can be unleashed.

And then sometimes you go to bed worrying about your beautiful daughter,
and through the basement floor you hear her humming along with her ipod,
a sure sign that the tears in the bathroom were just right for helping her carry on.
And sometimes you know that the best you can hope for is "carrying on".

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Sometimes you just have to find a tree and lean on it

It was day one of the staff retreat. The day that my team was meeting under my leadership. Staff and volunteers had come from across the country and I had to lead them, inspire them, and encourage them. The trouble was, I wasn't feeling very inspired myself. I was just feeling.... well, kinda blah. Low energy and low motivation.

Halfway through the day we took a break. It was a beautiful day and we were close to the woods and the river, so I went for a walk. Near the Red River, in the middle of a small wooded area, I spotted the largest tree I have ever seen in this province. It would have taken about 4 people with their arms fully spread to make a circle around that tree.

I spread my arms as far as I could reach and leaned against that big solid tree, my face pressed up against the rough bark. I stayed there for a few minutes, just leaning. Borrowing energy from a tree that had stood through more than a hundred prairie winters and a myriad of floods, storms, and pestulance. Soaking up inspiration from a life-force that had born witness to endless human and animal stories. Finding encouragement in this remarkable source of oxygen, shade and beauty. All the while, thanking the Creator for this love-song shaped like a tree.

Refreshed, I returned to my meeting.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Haiti on my mind

Today, after 5 days away from my computer, I came back to an in-box packed full of inquiries about Haiti. Many wanted to know if we will be doing any food programming there (the answer is yes - feel free to support), but most wanted to know if M & J are safe.

This past summer, two of my staff resigned from their positions, and for completely different reasons, both moved to Haiti. J is working in a fairly remote area, providing administrative support for a clinic. M is doing contract work with NGOs in Port-au-Prince.

J reports that, though they felt the quake, they were not significantly impacted. They will, however, be providing some medical support from their clinic, so she will be working hard in the coming weeks.

I haven't heard anything directly from M, but through the NGO grapevine, I've heard that she is safe and that her home was not destroyed.

Though I've never been to Haiti, I feel quite connected to it through many friends and colleagues who have lived there or are currently living there. This disaster seems so unfathomable that there really are no words to express it.

That's about all I have to say right now, because at this time, this is one of the only things on my mind.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Learning to draw

Last night I started my drawing class. At the Winnipeg Art Gallery, no less - a place for SERIOUS artists. (My last class was through the local community centre, so this is me "kickin' it up a notch!") I'm so excited. My teacher is just the right mix of down-to-earth, approachable, relaxed, wise, and seriously talented. I know I'm going to enjoy soaking in her wisdom. We spent last night learning about shading with cross-hatching and smudged charcoal - playing with light.

This is what I wrote in my journal on the bus ride home. "My first drawing class is over. Loved it! Oh yes I did! Teacher, looking over my shoulder, said 'you have a great sense of light!' Woohoo! Light! I am elated! Let the light shine on me! And may I recognize the value of the shadows for the way they bring out the light."

Yup, I was just like Maddie coming home from her art class - silly and imaginative and just plain giddy. I didn't tell goofy stories like she does (not sure my bus-mates would have appreciated it), but I'm sure I was grinning all the way home.

This morning, in honour of my desire to "bask in pleasure" just like a kid, I want to share a blessing from one of my favourite books:

For the Artist at the Start of Day

May morning be astir with the harvest of night;
Your mind quickening to the eros of a new question,
Your eyes seduced by some unintended glimpse
That cut right through the surface to a source.

May this be a morning of innocent beginning,
When the gift within you slips clear
Of the sticky web of the personal
With its hurt and its hauntings,
And fixed fortress corners,

A Morning when you become a pure vessel
For what wants to ascend from silence,

May your imagination know
The grace of perfect danger,

To reach beyond imitation,
And the wheel of repetition,

Deep into the call of all
The unfinished and unsolved

Until the veil of the unknown yields
And something original begins
To stir toward your senses
And grow stronger in your heart

In order to come to birth
In a clean line of form,
That claims from time
A rhythm not yet heard,
That calls space to
A different shape.

May it be its own force field
And dwell uniquely
Between the heart and the light

To surprise the hungry eye
By how deftly it fits
About its secret loss.

~ John O'Donohue ~

Monday, January 11, 2010

Random Monday morning

1. My oldest daughter is insane. She LOVES to go to the gym, LOVES to run on the treadmill, and WILLINGLY got up at 5:45 this morning to drag me out of bed and drag me to the gym. She finally has the doctor's okay to start running again (since her knee surgery in September), and is doing everything in her power to convince me running is FUN. Yeesh.

2. I may have to admit that my eye-sight is not quite what it used to be. Gulp. Everybody warned me that it would start to deteriorate after 40, but I refused to believe them since I've happily lived without glasses all of my life. But last night... darn it all... I could barely focus on those nearly invisible stitches I was trying to rip out to replace a zipper. I have the injuries on my finger to prove it. Aargh.

3. Tonight I start a drawing class at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. I've got a healthy mix of excitement and nervousness. More excited than nervous this time around, but this feels like SERIOUS art instruction instead of just the community centre stuff I did last time around. Yikes! Who am I trying to kid?

4. Speaking of art classes, Maddie started hers on Saturday, and oh my gosh that girl is fun to have in the car on the way home from art classes. (And swimming classes too, for that matter.) She gets really silly when she's happy and her imagination goes wild when she's gotten positive energy from something she loves. I think we grown-ups have gotten a little too good at stifling that kind of thing to the point where we often don't even recognize what gives us true pleasure. We can learn some things from Maddie about basking in pleasure.

5. Since I mentioned the other two daughters, I should mention Julie too. It appears she has inherited two of my characteristics - perfectionism (when it comes to projects, anyway), and procrastination. Not a great combination when you have a big creative project due on Monday and want to get some actual sleep on Sunday night, but boy-oh-boy does she have a nice project to hand in this morning!

6. I'll be spending most of this week at a staff retreat.  If you've been here for awhile, you might remember last year's retreat. This year will be significantly different, because we have a lot of new staff on the team. None-the-less, I've got some fairly big challenges that make me feel a little queasy about the whole thing. I may have to wear my colourful jacket again for fortification.

7. After the retreat comes the fun stuff - a weekend at a soccer tournament in the States. I wish I could just jump to the fun stuff where I get to hang out with my family in a hotel and help my daughters spend the money they've been earning by trudging through the neighbourhood delivering flyers.

8. I have one of those plants in my office that I only know of as a "mother-in-law's tongue". A rather horrible name, I know (especially since my mother-in-law's tongue is anything but sharp), but I don't know the proper name. (I just looked it up on wikipedia and it's also known as the "snake plant".) It has one really tall leaf that is shooting toward the sky. It seems like it's trying to serve as a metaphor similar to the "tall poppy" where people dare to stand above the crowd even when they might be shot down for it.

9. I have a grinning plastic monkey on my desk by my computer (from my friend Kelly from back in the days when we were trying to avoid using the word "monkey" in communications plans because the lab we were working at was beginning to do experiments on "non-human-primates" - ah yes, we were spin doctors!). For some reason, that monkey is making me smile this morning. Thanks Kelly.

10. Nine doesn't seem like the right number to end on, so I'm adding this point just so I can end on an even number. I have nothing more to say.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Still burning

A few days ago, I let Maddie drag me out of the house to see the Olympic flame as it passed through our city. It was my first day back to work and I really didn't relish the thought of leaving my warm cocoon again in the evening, but I just didn't think it was right to extinquish the enthusiasm of a 7 year old child who'll probably only have one chance to see the flame in her lifetime.

In the end, I was glad we went. We didn't get there in time to see it arrive at the Forks, but it was burning brightly in a fairly large torch on the stage where performers were putting on a concert.

At the end of the festivities, the flame was passed from the large torch to a very small enclosed lantern where they keep it burning through the night. It was just a tiny flame, but it was still THE Olympic flame. The next day, it would burn brightly again as it continued its journey toward the coast.

As I stood there watching them shrink the flame and then extinquish the large torch, a sudden epiphany visited me. That flame is just like me. Sometimes I'm burning brightly for everyone around to see, and then sometimes I have just a tiny flame burning inside me, nearly invisible to the naked eye. The beauty of the moment was the recognition that that small flame still holds within it the capacity to burn fiercely and powerfully.

Lately I've been going through one of those "tiny flame" periods. There are moments when there seems to be no more passion, no more inspiration, and no more energy. No more fuel for my fire. It's not just a "January blahs" thing this time around. It's a "something happened that makes the future seem dark again" kind of thing.

But seeing that flame reminded me that it's still burning deep inside me. I just have to wait for it to be refueled and then it will shine again.

This morning, after having a conversation with a good friend over a chai latte, and then reading the article that my friend Darrah passed on, I had another epiphany. I am letting the shadow of this difficult situation cloud the future and I am forgetting to focus on that tiny speck of light that still burns within me (and within the people around me). I am also forgetthing that I have some control over what fuels my flame and do not have to wait for external forces to fuel it for me. But at the same time... I don't NEED to burn brightly all the time - some times low flame times are crucial for helping me refuel and prepare for the times when I am called on to burn brightly.

As Pema Chodron says in the article linked above, sometimes we take the shifts of our emotional weather too personally. Sometimes we let ourselves believe that our current experience is how it IS instead of remembering that things are always shifting and changing.

A few days ago, I wrote this on Twitter: "I'm in one of those moods where I can flip-flop between 'life is beautiful' and 'life sucks' in mere seconds."

Today I wrote: "Every day gives us another opportunity to rise above the things that dragged us down the day before."

What about you? Where is YOUR olympic flame these days?

Thursday, January 07, 2010

A picture is worth a thousand words

Today I am posting this picture simply because it made me smile yesterday when I came across it in one of our work publications.

It makes me smile and it helps me to remember that I've lived a good life. I have been privileged to walk on foreign soil many times. And I will do it again and again. This was taken almost exactly 5 years ago in Kenya, and yes, that's me with a little less hair, a little less weight, and a fly on my cheek. And a huge grin on my face because I was doing what I love most in the world - going on a journey. And meeting fascinating people. And letting the world change me.

This is what I wrote on my very first post on this blog, when I was preparing for my first trip to Africa:
I won’t expect that my English words are somehow endued with greater wisdom than theirs. I will listen and let them teach me. I will open my heart to the hope and the hurt. I will tread lightly on their soil and let the colours wash over me. I will allow the journey to stretch me and I will come back larger than before.
I believe I did what I set out to do - allowed the journey to stretch me. And I've done that on every journey since.

I'm looking forward to seeing what journeys will stretch me this year.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Just one glimpse

Do you ever stop and stare at the art on your window pane?

The endless variety?

The symmetry? The precision?

The delicate brush strokes mixed with bold connecting lines?

The way the sunlight changes each piece at different times of the day?

The bold and unorthodox lines? Sometimes balanced, sometimes not?

The soft edges mixed with dazzling sparkle?

The playfulness of the artist's dancing brush strokes?

Some days, the best you can hope for is just one glimpse of beauty in the middle of the messiness.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Pregnant with words

Okay, here's the thing - I really need to write a book. Well, more to the point - I need to write ANOTHER book. I've been down this road before.

I've carried this dream with me for almost as long as I've been able to string together words. After my first publishing success in high school (a poem in the high school yearbook), I had a taste of what it's like to see my words in print and I've been a little like a drug addict, craving it ever since.

I've seen my words in print fairly regularly since then. I've had probably about 20 things published in various publications (poems, articles, essays), and hundreds more in publications related to the various places I've worked. I've even seen my words on stage, with three of my plays produced on either a University or Fringe Festival stage.

But the book is the golden prize that still alludes me. I want it. Badly.

My first book was a novel I wrote when I was on maternity leave with Julie, my second child. It was called "In My Mother's Words" and was about a young woman who returns to her childhood home to clean it out after her mom dies and she discovers some surprises about herself when she finds her mom's journals. I know it sounds rather incredible (it still freaks me out a bit), but with a new baby and a toddler just 16 months older, I managed to write a 300 page book in less than 6 months. For about 2 hours every afternoon, they both took a nap, and I wrote like a mad woman.

I came close to getting that book published. I sent out close to 20 proposals and had about 4 or 5 requests to see the full manuscript. One publishing company said they were pretty sure they'd publish it but they just had to get their board to put the final rubber stamp on it. Sadly though, that never happened.

I still think the book was good, even though I know there are some flaws that need some fairly serious re-writes, but with a few too many rejections under my belt, and real life (diapers, a career, etc.) getting in the way, I put that book up on a shelf and left it there.

It was when I was in the hospital for three weeks waiting for our third child (Matthew, our stillborn son) to be born that I began to dream of writing a different kind of book - a memoir. The problem is, since then, I've been cursed with the debilitating disease of "too many ideas".

First there was the "Journey of a Woman" idea that came to me in the hospital.(See how that word keeps popping up?) That was a general memoir that would focus primarily on some of the tough spots I'd been through in my life - rape, a stillborn son, etc.

Then there was "The Mango Principles", a book about leadership and community building that had at its core the story of an amazing mango a friend gave me when I was in the hospital. I sent that proposal out a few times but never even got a single response. Since then, I've had too many rocky points in my leadership career to truly believe I have a right to give out leadership advice, so I didn't pursue it too much further. (I might revisit it though, because I still think it has potential)

More recently, there was "Fumbling for Faith", a memoir about how my stumbling faith has changed over the years and how it has changed me.  I sent out a proposal for that one too, but again - no response. I lost interest in that one too because I'm really not sure I have a solid enough faith or any real expertise to write about it.

There have been other ideas - like "Matthew's story" about how my stillborn son continues to impact me nine years after he died. And another honest leadership book about how hard it is to be an effective leader when you're surrounded by flawed human beings (a bit of an antidote to all of the leadership books out there that just make you feel like you're failing because you can't attain their standards that are based on hypothetical teams and not real, human, flawed teams). And something about the connection between beauty and justice - an idea that I keep wanting to explore after a couple of amazing experiences in India and Africa.

And now... well, now I have another idea cooking in my brain that's about art and life and personal growth and how shadows play an important role in deepening the beauty of all of them. It kind of brings together some of the ideas from the past. 

But the fact of the matter is, I feel a little deflated right now because even though I think it's a good idea, it sort of feels like "just another idea" that will eventually land on that pile of unattained dreams.  And all of those little gremlins - fear, self-doubt, not enough time, not a good enough writer - they're all getting me down in one way or another these days. (Not enought time/energy is a big one right now, since my career has been draining so much from me lately.)

Why am I telling you all of this?  Well, I kind of feel like I need to figure out how to get this thing done (or finally give it up for good), and this blog has been an important place for me to process stuff in my life in the last 5 years. Maybe if I share it, it will have a better chance of being realized. Maybe if I'm honest about it, I'll feel like I need to be accountable to this dream and put some serious energy into it.

So here I am, telling you my biggest dream, hoping that you will hold it gently in your hands. 

No, I'm not going to make a New Year's resolution or big goal about this, since this is the year I'm determined to enjoy the "journey". But... here's the thing... a few years ago, I started a file on my computer called "The Journey toward the Book" and I filled it with little snippets of stories and ideas that I thought might eventually find their way into a book.  So - when the word "journey" came to me on that plane ride and became my word for the year, I couldn't help but think a book might be part of that journey.