Rebuilding

Today’s Daily Prompt says, “We all know someone who could use a pep talk… so write them one!”

I thought about any number of pep talks I could write: for my friend who is on the verge of becoming a mother, for my friend who is in a difficult situation at work, for my friend who is struggling to help someone close confront an addiction. But when I opened up WordPress to craft this post, a new post from a blog I have been following popped up, and I knew who the recipient of my “pep talk” had to be. So Matt, this is for you, and for anyone else reading this who is navigating the murky and tumultuous waters of divorce.

ruins 3To borrow a phrase from another universe of famous social media pep talks: It gets better.

There is such a thing a “normal” life after divorce. But it will take longer than you think. Longer than you want. Longer than you might hope. But you will get there.

The journey will not be smooth.

You will hear things you wish you could forget. You will say things you regret. You will think that you are losing your mind. You will feel like you have lost the will to be kind.

You will rage at the small injustices and crumple under the force of the big ones.

You will cry. Even if you’re not really a crier, you will cry.  And if you ARE a crier, your neighbours might want to head for higher ground.

You will find it utterly impossible to imagine a state where you do not feel as awful as you feel right now.

But it will get better. Someone told me it would take two years for me to feel “normal” again. I’d say that was a conservative estimate. It took me two years to feel relatively “together.” “Normal” was a longer time coming. But it did come.

If you haven’t already done so, make a beeline to your closest bookstore and invest in a copy of Rebuilding: When your relationship ends by Dr. Bruce Fisher and Dr. Robert E. Alberti. Or see if there is an agency somewhere in your neck of the woods that offers the “Rebuilding” course that is based on Fisher and Alberti’s work. It will make a difference.

IMG-20130912-00348 (2)Eventually you will build a new life that doesn’t revolve around this enormous hurt. So will your ex. It will take one of you longer than the other to move on in this way, especially if one of you wanted the divorce more than the other. But eventually you will both find new ground to stand on.

The kids will get older and grow into their own lives. So will you.

One day you will find yourself in a conversation with your ex and realize that you are not clenching your jaw that way any more.

One day you will discover that you have let go of  something you thought would anger you for all eternity.

One day your ex will surprise you with a phone call just to wish you well before a big event like an important job interview. Or surgery.

hairOne day you will listen to someone in the throes of new-divorce angst and rage and self doubt, and you will catch yourself thinking “was that me?” And you will appreciate the learning that you did along the journey from there to here.

And you will be grateful for the person you have become along the way.

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Winter is coming

bare treeThe wind was blowing from the north this afternoon with enough force to raise whitecaps on the river. I opted to walk northward, partly because the river trails to the north are more sheltered than many of my other walking routes, and partly so that I would have the wind at my back on the way home.

Winter is coming. I know it’s a cliché, but you really can feel it in the air. The wind bites through all my layers of clothing. The trees are skeletons of their summer selves. The leaves that made soft shushing sounds when they first began to fall a few weeks ago are now dry and curled, and rattle erratically as the wind sends them tumbling across the pavement.

bag leavesFor a person who likes change, I live in the perfect climate. Four very distinct seasons mean that there is always a transition about to happen. The signs of winter preparation are all around me. Leaves have been raked and bagged. Barbeques and boats have been covered. My patio pots have been harvested. I decide that it’s time to bring in the patio furniture.

On my northward walking route one of the river-side restaurants offers its clientele the option of arriving by boat. Now, though, the dock  has been dismantled and the sections hauled up onto the shore, where they are stacked like building blocks, far enough up the bank, one hopes, to be out of reach of the spring high water level and the crushing force of the ice.

potsRegardless of what the calendar says, around here winter starts when the snow arrives. We’ve already had a few flurries, but those don’t count. Winter is measured by the snow that blankets the ground and stays. And that can happen any day now. Or it can mess with our expectations and hold off until late December. I recall a few years when we waded through snow banks to go trick-or-treating on Halloween. I can also recall the odd year when the snow came so late that we wondered whether we would have a white Christmas.

But it will come. Because as much as the cycle of the seasons is about constant change, it is also about predictability. Fall always turns into winter, which eventually give way to spring, which is guaranteed to be a precursor to summer. And then around we go again.

riverbankThere’s a certain comfort in the cyclical. The river will freeze and thaw, rise and fall. Every spring the weather warms up just as I am growing sick to death of my winter wardrobe. Every fall I thrill to pull out my sweaters because I am so relieved at the arrival of cooler days. Each season has its routines– its rituals and traditions. Before you know it we’ll be clearing away the pumpkins and pulling the Christmas stuff out of storage.

Somehow the slow, familiar rhythm of the seasons provides an anchor for my life. I know where I am in the universe by where I am in the seasonal cycle. “Winter is coming” is not a dire threat of cold and hardship. Rather, it is a promise that the seasons will keep turning on their majestic wheel in spite of the small tragedies and petty dramas that clutter my days.

Impact

Today’s Daily Prompt: Tell us about a habit you’d like to break. Is there any way it can play a positive role in your life?

I like meteors.

The Perseid meteor shower peaks around August 9-14 every year. Like most events in the night sky, it is best viewed far away from the ubiquitous light pollution of urban areas. I’ve often been fortunate to be at the family cottage where we can lie on the dock, away from even the obscuring effect of the cottage lights, and listen to the lapping of the water and the distant cry of a loon while we watch for “shooting stars.”

Lying next to that particular body of water to observe bits of space rock burst into flame as they enter the earth’s atmosphere is made extra exotic by the fact that West Hawk Lake is actually a meteor impact crater. It is, therefore, hard not to contemplate the reality that once upon a time one of those pretty lights shooting through the night sky fell all the way and hit the earth right where you are lying–with enough impact to make a hole in the ancient granite of the Canadian Shield that is approximately 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) in diameter and 115 metres (377 feet) deep. It’s enough to make one go rooting around in the shed for dad’s old hard-hat.

Shooting stars are a beautiful sight when you are privileged to catch a glimpse of one. Perhaps because they are so ephemeral, they have throughout history acquired near-mystical significance. People once saw them as divine omens. We make wishes on them. But in reality all that magical beauty is just the long-distance view of something crashing into the upper atmosphere and being destroyed by the resulting conflagration.

That’s a less lovely image. In fact, it sound kind of messy.

Pretty nice for a hole in the ground...
Pretty nice for a hole in the ground…

Judging from the way the rocks are jumbled along the shoreline, I assume that, when the meteorite (which is what you call a meteor that actually lands) landed in the middle of the stretch of Canadian Shield that is now West Hawk Lake, it was extremely messy. Today,  the outcome of that catastrophic impact is an exquisite, spring-fed lake that has been my family’s summer destination for three generations.

We may wish on shooting starts, but it’s the meteorite landing that has the biggest impact.

I had my own crash-and-burn moment this week. In spite of my best efforts to ease myself back in gently, my first few days back at work after my leave left me feeling very much like I was hurtling into the atmosphere with enough force to ignite.

For one thing, there were some organizational changes announced just prior to my first day back, so I walked straight into the predictable tizzy that results from any such announcement. On top of that, this is a super busy time of year in my office. We are currently short-staffed. And of course, there was the shock of the overall pace and complexity of it all after so many leisurely days of doing, and thinking about, one thing at a time. But all that wasn’t really enough to explain why my head exploded.

Then about halfway through the week something shifted. I realized that I had fallen into an old habit that never serves me well: the habit of believing that I’m stuck in a rut, when in reality the tools to pull myself out of it have been in my hands all along. I realized that the greatest gift of my three month break from the familiar wasn’t all the fun I had while I was away, but rather a renewed clarity about things when I came back. I saw that for the umpteenth time in my life I had slipped into convincing myself that my work was something that happened to me, rather than something that was mine to create.

I remembered what I liked about my job: I have the great good fortune to be in a position to make an impact.

Marilyn Monroe is reputed to have said, “Sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.”

I may be a little singed by the time I hit the ground, but when I do, I intend to leave a mark.

The needs of the many

I got thinking about Star Trek on the walk home from the bus stop yesterday. To be specific, I got thinking about a single line uttered by Spock in The Wrath of Khan. Chances are, even the non-trekkies will recognize this one (make sure your speakers are on!):

I haven’t come across many Spocks in my lifetime. That is, I haven’t come across many people who are genuinely able to set aside their own self-interest and sacrifice themselves completely for the sake of the “many.” I’m not saying that people can’t be altruistic, but I think there is a lot of pseudo-self-sacrifice–a  lot of “doing for others” that, if we really dug down deeply and honestly into our underlying motivations, we would have to admit was serving a personal need as much as, and sometimes even more than, it was helping others.

Because we want to feel that we are doing good, it’s easy to get caught up in busily doing what we think is needed, without stepping back to figure out whether the real needs are actually something quite different. I’ve seen this phenomenon in every organization I’ve belonged to. At some point in time, someone comes up with a solution to a genuine problem. The solution becomes codified into policies and procedures. And eventually it becomes that mighty monolith: THE WAY WE DO THINGS HERE. And no one considers that maybe there are new problems to be solved– different needs to be met–  emerging realities that warrant different actions.

manyPart of the problem is that the “many” are a rather abstract lot, and they are notoriously bad at coming to any sort of consensus about what exactly their needs are. It’s difficult for a faceless and nebulous set of communal needs to compete with the compelling and concrete needs that I truck around with me daily.  The logic goes something like this: I know what I need, because I need it, and therefore everyone must need the same thing. So I’m going to assume that I know what you need and knock myself out giving it to you, whether you all need it or not.

But as Spock would be quick to point out, that logic is faulty. I’m not you, and if I really want to “do good” in the world, I need to look outside of myself long enough to see what “the many” really need.  And that’s hard, because as soon as I do that, I find myself in all sorts of uncomfortable territory. It might mean that I have to do something new. It might mean that I have to let go of something I like. It might be risky. Perhaps not quite as risky as locking myself in a room with a melting down reactor core. Perhaps it just feels that way.

oneI want to believe that in the moment of truth I can set aside my own self interest and do the right thing, even when I know the right thing might cause me, or someone else, some short term pain. Even when doing it violates my own singular need for comfort and safety. Even when it would be so much easier to seek refuge in the status quo.

Because when you get right down to it, the status quo only seems easier because it’s familiar. The truth is, the one (or the few) stubbornly clinging to the status quo in the face of inevitable change is expending a lot of effort to stand still.

Many is the new Domestic

Note sure what the folks over at the Daily Prompt were smoking this morning! Today’s suggestion is: Click over to your favorite blog, and pick out the 4th and 14th words (that aren’t “the” or “an”). Drop them into this phrase:

“_____ is the new _____.”

There’s your post title. Now write!

Some days I think it would be nice to come home and curl up in a box.
Some days I think it would be nice to come home and curl up in a box.

I’ve had a long day. First day back at work after three months leave. No easing back in. I decided the only way to quit the quiet DOMESTIC life of my leave of absence was cold turkey. It’s not as though my job is physically taxing like, say, hanging drywall. But it can be mentally exhausting. Today it was that in spades. You know those days when you aren’t sure you really want to be a grownup? Then I made a dash after work to visit an elderly friend who is in hospital recovering from major surgery. Then another dash to pick up my daughter. And, well, I’m tired.

And now the flying devil creatures in Daily Promptland are asking me to choose my favourite (stubbornly spelled the Canadian way) blog! What next? Are you going to ask me which of my children I love the most? What kind of loser do you take me for?

My “favourite” blog is a moving target. My taste is very eclectic. Maybe I’m fickle.  But seriously, I’m hard pressed to choose which was my favourite blog of the last 24 hours, let along my favourite blog period! The options are too luscious, the well too deep!

But in spite of my fatigue, and in spite of my pique over today’s prompt, I won’t put off my next blog post until Saturday. I refuse to be beaten by this devilish prompt! So I cheated. I seeded my post with links to MANY of my favourites-of-the-moment. Not an exhaustive list by any means, but as good a representative smattering as you’re going to get on the few brain cells left at my disposal this evening.

I tend to prefer to write my titles at the conclusion of the writing process, after I’ve figured out what it was I had to say. So yes, I cheated again. I found the title in another of my current favourites, after writing out most of my little snit, and couldn’t believe my good fortune at how apt it was.

Feeling at home in the vast and varied blogosphere. Many is the new domestic.

Setting me free

Today the Daily Prompt asks: Tell us about the blog post you were most nervous to publish — and what it was like to set it free.

In my short history as a blogger, without question the scariest post I have published was the first one. Not because it was deeply revealing or personally challenging. Just because it was the first.

I’ve thought about doing something like this for a long time, but there were always lots of good excuses. Not enough time, I didn’t know how, anxiety about putting my work out there for the world to read and comment on, and a good strong dose of imposter syndrome (as in, “what on earth would I have to write that anyone would care to read on a regular basis?”)

The irony is that I fancy myself as someone who loves change and embraces new things. But the truth is I’m really more of a closet coward. And I can spin “not enough time” and “I don’t know how” into an escape hatch for just about any adventure. “I don’t have enough money” is also an enduring excuse, although I am learning that, like most excuses, it can generally be bested by a little bit of creativity. I have a sign that hangs in my bedroom where I will see it first thing when I wake up each morning:

imagine

It’s there to remind me daily that if I can imagine something I can make it happen. I really believe that we create many of our own limitations in life by failing to believe that things could be any different.

One by one, the Blog Avoidance excuses started to crumble:

“Not enough time”: Three months leave to recover from hip surgery. And you honestly can’t do leg exercises all day. Suddenly I had time to write. And all that hip-strengthening walking was giving me lots of time to think, which was further fuelling my desire to write.

“I don’t know how”:  Actually, everything I have ever done on a computer I have taught myself, so I don’t know why I would ever think this was an issue. But I did. Enter user-friendly WordPress, care of my friend’s awesome blog.

“Anxiety about putting my work out there”: The other major writing project I undertook while on leave was to finish a book-length manuscript  that I have been working on for two years. It’s a memoir, of sorts, of a time when I nearly died of a difficult-to-diagnose illness. In the process of preparing a query to send to a publisher, I took some time to prepare a resume of my past publications. It reminded me that I actually had past publications. Get over yourself, Anna. Your work is already “out there.”

“Impostor Syndrome”: The best antidote for thinking that I had nothing to say was reading what other bloggers were saying. Before I hit “publish” I spent some time reading through the blog posts featured in “Freshly Pressed.” I clicked around some of the blogs that I particularly liked. And I said to myself, “You can do that!”

So I waded in. I’m still really only up to my ankles, but the water is warm and welcoming, and I think I’m going to enjoy the swim. It wasn’t really the blog post I set free. It was me.

And while I’m busy busting excuses, I am going to tackle that YA novel that exists half in roughly written scenes and half in my head. Even if I do have to go back to my day job tomorrow.

My faithful editorial assistant
My faithful editorial assistant

Happy Hip Day

Today’s Daily Prompt posed the question: You get some incredibly, amazingly, wonderfully fantastic news. What’s the first thing you do?

My “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” news was not a single moment in time. Rather, it unfolded gradually over the past year.  Last October my doctor sent a referral letter to an orthopaedic surgeon. In March I met the surgeon. And three months ago today I traded in my left hip for a newer model.

Unemployed
Unemployed

My cane still sits in the front hall, but I haven’t used it for weeks. The scar from my incision has flattened out, and feels just like a mild bruise if I poke it. I can climb the three flights of stairs to my daughter’s apartment.

I went to hear Margaret Atwood (!) speak at a local mall a couple of days ago. There were no chairs left when I arrived, so I stood. For over an hour. Before the surgery, I might have lasted 15 minutes. On a good day.

Now that I’ve reached the three-month mark, I can officially dispense with the “hip precautions” and work on increasing my range of motion. But already it’s easier to pick things up off the floor. Easier to get in and out of the car. Easier to get things out of the bottom of the fridge.

Everything is a little easier when you are not in constant pain.

It really is incredible.

Me, now. (sort of)
Me, now. (sort of)