Margin Notes

blank notebookFor a writer, a blank piece of paper can be both thrilling and terrifying. The crisp expanse of a new notebook. The open-ended  promise of launching a clean, new Word Document. Anything is possible on a blank page.

There’s such a temptation to treat the new year as a blank page. When we reflect on the changing of the year (and boy, do we ever feel called upon to reflect!) we either enumerate the highlights of the year that is ending or list the ways that the next year will be better.

The ways we will be better.

I think the reason New Year’s resolutions have such a woeful track record is that they are so often made on the assumption that wanting badly enough to change will make it so. When we resolve that the flipping of a calendar page will trigger a transformation, we are acting as though the new year is a blank page– a new notebook without a mark.

There are no blank pages. The notebooks of our lives are dog-eared and full of ink scratches and smudgy bits where we tried, not quite successfully, to erase our mistakes. They are smeared with tea-stains and tear-stains, and some of the pages are irredeemably stuck together with chewing gum and determination. There are pages that look like they have been crumpled and smoothed and crumpled again, and there are pages torn in anger and frustration. The closest we get to a blank page is the day we are born, but even then we are each handed a notebook already marked up with pencil sketches of the circumstances of our birth and a trail of notes on our family of origin.

Imagining that the new year offers a blank page on which to write a new story is folly. But that doesn’t mean we can’t write a new story.

It means that our resolutions for change are always margin notes. We fit them in around the edges and between the lines of what has gone before. We write them up the sides of the page if we have to. Or on the inside cover. As long as there is still a scrap of that notebook yet to be filled, we have the opportunity to rewrite the ending. But we don’t get to throw away the beginning. Or the middle. If we are going to change, we must change from where we are–not by magically transforming, but by taking a step. And another. And another. We only get one notebook, and the parts of the story we don’t like don’t go away. We just turn the page and write a better ending.

Wishing you the courage and creativity to edit your own story with the kind of margin notes that will make 2015 a year to bookmark and highlight.

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Hot potatoes and Christmas kisses

Grinch_3I started the day channelling my inner Grinch, due in large part to a phenomenon that can be counted on to happen in my workplace immediately before any holiday period. It’s very noticeable just before school breaks for the summer and vacation season starts in earnest. It happens in a small way before long weekends. And, since we’re gearing up to be closed for 2.5 days over Christmas, and since a lot of people are taking additional holidays between Christmas and New Year’s day, the phenomenon was in full force today.

I have dubbed this phenomenon “To-do List Hot Potato.”

Here’s how you play. You decide that, regardless of how far behind you have been for weeks months, it is absolutely imperative that you clear everything off your desk and do SOMETHING about every single item on your to-do list before you walk out the door. And so you send a flurry of hasty emails, leave a cluster of phone messages, and stack up the days immediately after the break with all the meetings you didn’t have time for beforehand. The objective is to relocate all the items onto other people’s to-do lists, and then head for the exit before you have to deal with their responses. By mid afternoon I had caught more than my share of To-do List Hot Potatoes, and had given up and relocated most of my own catch-up list to another spot on my calendar.

The weather has been unseasonably mild, so I was able to shake off some of my grinchiness by walking part of the way home. But the day’s real redemption came with a kiss.

No, not that kind of kiss.

I sat down on the bus next to a small boy. Across from us, his smaller sister in a pink snowsuit played peek-a-boo from her stroller. The boy clutched a green cloth shopping bag in his lap. Before I realized what was happening, he had reached into the bag and pulled out a single chocolate kiss, which he thrust in my direction in his chubby hand. kiss“This is for you.”

“Oh!” I said. “That’s very generous, but you should keep it.”

“It’s for you.”

“But I haven’t had my supper.”

“You can save it and eat if after supper!” He was very persistent. Wouldn’t take no for an answer, in fact. And finally it dawned on me that you have to be willing to receive a gift so that another may give, so I accepted.

“How old are you?” I felt that, having established a relationship, some effort at conversation was in order. My benefactor held up three fingers. “And what’s your name?”

“Cade.”

Another woman got on the bus, and sat across the aisle from us. In the blink of an eye, Cade reached into his bag a second time, fished out a second kiss, and once again reached his hand out to me. His mother grinned from over the little sister’s stroller.

“Could you pass this on to that lady?” “You can put it in your purse,” Cade suggested to her when she gently protested.

“It seems to be very important to him,” I whispered.

In the end, she was just as incapable of saying no as I had been.

The bus’s automated voice signalled my stop approaching. I exchanged a final smile with my new friend.

“You’ve certainly got wonderful Christmas spirit, Cade.”

And by the time I got off the bus, so did I.

Looking for the light

The solstice is making sense to me in a new way this year. I’ve always noted it in passing– always felt some sense of quiet relief that the days would now begin to lengthen. But it’s always been subsumed by the hectic chaos of Christmas.

I’m trying to slow down the season, along with everything else in my life. Trying to be where I am, and see where I am. Trying to pare away some of the clutter of the season and only keep the parts that are truly of value.

Today is, admittedly, one of the hectic days. But it is hectic in the service of a family tradition that is part of the valued core of the season for me.

Today is also winter solstice. The day the earth’s march into darkness stops, and the light begins to return. I’ve been so aware of the darkness this fall. So many things have happened in my inner  circle and in the wider circles of my world that have made me feel the darkness more acutely. I can scarcely stand to listen to the news, not sure that I can listen to another tale of injustice or brutality. I can’t walk past a Christmas display in a shopping mall without wondering about the lives of the sweatshop workers that produced the glitter and tinsel. As I tally and re-tally my carefully budgeted Christmas expenditures, I can’t help but think of those for whom Christmas will be another cold day on the street. I hold in my hands and my heart the family, friends and acquaintances for whom this holiday season is coloured by loss and sadness.

The solstice comes not a moment too soon. We all need the light to return.