When I Said

Ashes to ashes

I intended to go from Summer Solstice 2019 to Autumn Equinox 2020 without consuming alcohol. I believed I could do this on will alone. Perhaps will is sufficient for quitting a habit – but will is not inexhaustible. I wake up and enter the morning and each day is different when it comes to how much available will I seem to have. Each day holds its surprises for how you will be taxed. I cunningly plan out my will allotment across the day’s known challenges and then the day sneaks in unexpected curveballs and suddenly it’s 4PM, I’ve already borrowed into tomorrow’s will supply and a friend is saying “Are you sure you wouldn’t like a drink?” and I am no longer sure at all.

My reasons for trying to not drink keep changing. I always know it causes cancer. That is reason enough on the days when I want to live long and prosper and keep this body as healthy as I can for as long as I can. True too though are the days when I might prefer to not live too overly long, and think years of living later for days of pleasure now is a fine trade. I’m keenly aware of my mortality and limited number of days, moments, experiences remaining to me and I don’t want to miss out on anything because I was drunk or hungover. Neither though do I want to be alive but essentially bored for however many moments I have left.

I’m wary of the times I say -to myself or right outloud – “Oh god I need a drink.” Those are the moments when we need to remember our breathing and our lessons from mindfulness and welcome the feeling and acknowledge it and sit with it, and then move past it. Those are the times when we process the feeling, and the underlying feelings and beliefs and perceptions and yearnings and come to a place where we are OK in ourselves just as we are. That is how those moments are best handled. This is not always how the script plays out.

Occasionally a social vignette presents itself where it’s not even a case where “a drink would augment this moment” but more “not having a drink would take away from this moment.” I suspect this is not actually true as I know people who are loving life and enjoying those moments but not drinking, even though they used to drink. I kind of have to surmise that I’m just not there yet.

There is such a dichotomy in drinking socially! It can bring people together when done in moderation, and drive them apart when taken to excess. When people partake in marijuana or harder drugs, there is usually a point in time where they cross an unseen threshold into a world that the not-stoned cannot access. It can make me sad; it’s like they’ve left the room without saying goodbye. But in these weeks of relative sobriety, I’ve learned that the same is true for alcohol. I didn’t notice before because I slid into the tipsy reality with the others, instead of watching them go and being left behind.

In the six weeks there have been 14 social occasions that prominently featured alcohol, as well as a music festival. I’d say that summer is the wrong time to have tried this but each season brings its own temptations. Of the 15 events, I elected to have a drink at 4 despite wanting to drink at all 15. I’d say that’s gotta count for something, but what would that even mean? None of it really matters, either way, in the longest of long runs.

I think it’s an experiment. I’m learning about why and how I drink or don’t. To be honest, I don’t like everything about what I’ve learned about myself. But there’s learning there, too. If I’m going to be a therapist (and I am), there’s no cringing away from this stuff.
I wrote a poem in Kingston recently about wanting a drink after opening the box of my Mother’s ashes. The box had been mailed to me by the crematorium 11 months prior and had sat, unopened, in my storage closet.

When I Said

When I said I wouldn’t drink from Solstice to Equinox (so dramatic)
I meant I wouldn’t apart from when I did.
“So Libra,” laughs Polly, taking a sip from her lipsticked glass.
But it takes me a couple of shots of lilac gin before I can
invite Polly to my bed.
And there are times when cracking a beer
is akin to breaking bread.

And also! And also and also –
I just finally opened the box from the crematorium and in the box was another box with a certificate bearing my mother’s name and in that box was a plastic box and in that there was a plastic bag tied with a twist tie and in that there was my mother.
I tucked the end of the bag back into the box
and out puffed a very small cloud and I thought:
ohmygodthatismymother.
And then I drank some scotch.
I am sorry I didn’t ask first Greg. You know, it was delicious.

Let’s Do This

Toastmasters Speech

OK Team! We have to get this festival ready! Heather, you and your people get 20 tables and 120 chairs from the storage, and set them up in the pub area according to this diagram. Nitish, take this list of required signage and ensure all the signs get put in place. Frasier, the perimeter and the licensed areas need to be enclosed – I need your group to get the fencing locked in place. The festival is sold out team, and it’s up to us to set up a safe and enjoyable event. Let’s do this!

Fellow Toastmasters, setting up the grounds for a music festival is a project that requires strong leadership, as I’ve recently learned by volunteering to help the set up crew at Mariposa – one of Canada’s longest running folk festivals. I wandered onto the site at Lake Couchiching in Orillia, with my water bottle, sun hat and dollar store work gloves and looked for someone to direct me. After asking around, I found the Crew Chief. The Crew Chief had finished assembling the various teams such as tables and chairs, signage, fencing, and more. Each of these teams was assigned a team leader and a set of tasks.

In issuing his orders, and in managing his crew generally, the Crew Chief used an Authoritative Leadership style. Some hallmarks of this leadership style are: a focus on the end goal, inspiring enthusiasm for the project, and giving clear directions. The Authoritative Leader tends to have more experience and knowledge than those on their team and this held true at Mariposa. Our Crew Chief had been working with the other Crew Chiefs for months and knew what had to be done, in what order and to what standard. He had been involved in setting up the festival for years. Nobody questioned his directions, and instead they got to work on their list of chores to bring the vision of the festival to fruition.

The Crew Chief asked if I had served on the set up crew before and I said that I had not. He looked at my skinny arms and never worn work gloves and told me I’d be on the team handling tables and chairs. He pointed to the woman leading that team and off I trotted to introduce myself.

This leader also had years of experience volunteering on the set up crew. Because of this, she held a vision of the end result. However, every year the plans are somewhat changed, and the directions given are not explicit. To get her team of volunteers to work together towards the end vision, this leader used an Innovative Leadership style. An Innovative Leader shares their vision, invites collaboration, and respects the creativity of their team. It’s an effective style when solving complex problems.

For example, the goal for arranging seating in the pub area is to maximize covered seating that accommodates patrons with mobility devices, patrons who prefer to sit on blankets, and patrons who prefer to stand. Some festival goers will want to eat at tables, and some will want to have tables only to place drinks on. All patrons will want to see and hear the musicians. While there were diagrams provided, they did not match the reality of the physical site. As a team we generated solutions and our team leader chose a suitable one that we could quickly implement to meet the pub tent requirements.

We found a similar mismatch between diagram and reality when we set up the Merchandise tent. The volunteer who had drawn up the diagram most likely didn’t have the dimensions of the tables or shelves to be used and it became apparent that we would have to go by our understanding of the intent of the diagram. As we were coming to this realisation, our Team Leader was asked to begin setting up another area at the same time. I offered to oversee the Merchandise Tent set up and she handed me the diagram.

I had a smaller team of volunteers available to me for the Merchandise Tent set up. They looked to me for direction as to where to place the tables and shelves. I would describe the leadership style I used for this task as the Altruistic Style. The Altruistic Style is personalized to the individual needs of the team, motivates by empowering, and utilises empathy. It’s effective in promoting high morale.

By this point in the day, I had come to know my fellow volunteers. I had noticed strengths and weaknesses in each and I had an understanding of their emotional and physical states after so many hours of working hard on a blisteringly hot day. I felt I knew who wanted to work hard and power through so they could get to the promised cold beer at the end, and who needed to be less active and to cool off a little. By naming their strengths as I explained my choices for who did what, each was empowered, the team cohesion grew, and the Merchandise Tent was completed.

The Altruistic Style is in my wheelhouse, certainly. When I did the Leadership Style quiz provided my Toastmasters, three styles shared equal top scores as preferred: Democratic, Innovative, and Altruistic. In contrast, my very lowest scoring style was Bureaucratic which explains a lot about why I was unhappy managing or being managed in the Bank!

In my opinion, it is best to understand, and to practice using each Leadership Style – even the ones we don’t enjoy. Projects, especially large projects, can require a combination of leaders and leadership styles. In our shared goal of setting up a music festival, many hands did indeed make for lighter work and the respectful and well-chosen leaders helped to keep those hands motivated and happy.

Mariposa Journal Scrawls

You say you don’t dance

You say you gotta learn

Ah baby come take my hands

Won’t you give me a turn

Spin me out, skirt a’swirling

Then bring me in real close

I like everyone when I’m dancing

But I’d like you the most.

I wrote so many pages in my regular journal while I was at Mariposa. I hardly used my phone and I talked to more people than I can recall. We talked and shared stories and almost never connected on social media. We just moved along with our weekends. I like it.

I also saw friends and acquaintances and hugged some favourite people. I kind of miss Mariposa.

I only just got home Monday evening and since then I went to Merry Wives of Windsor in Stratford one night and I’m working a concert at my home theatre tonight. Tomorrow is movie night with friends and then it’s Kultun festival and then swing dancing in Hamilton on Sunday. How even if this my life.

Not complaining.

This Life Is Sweet

Festival set up in the blazing sun
It’s a joy to volunteer.
Turns out hard work can be fun
and plus they give you beer.

This life is sweet.
I’m a big fan.
One thing would make it sweeter, love
I want to hold your hand.

Sunset hues and crescent moon
A man plays guitar on the dock.
The remnants of labor settled by
An evening swim and a walk.

This life is sweet.
I’m a big fan.
One thing would make it sweeter, love
I want to hold your hand.

Guitar and fiddle and banjo
Waves of song wash over me.
Story as lighthouse, the chorus safe harbor
My blanket a raft in this musical sea.

This life is sweet.
I’m a big fan.
One thing would make it sweeter, love
I want to hold your hand.
If you were here by my side, my love And if you would hold my hand.

at the market

At the market the bike lane advocates have
       set up a booth to encourage urban cycling and
       they're giving away silver bells (I got one).
The marketplace din is punctuated 
       by the bright ding ding of bike bells.
Strawberries are in season!
       And the egg lady is smiling and 
       the fair trade coffee in my travel mug
       is finally the perfect temperature.
Sipping the coffee I absorb the colours and sounds
       in small doses. Or try to.
       I never got the hang of microdosing.
Fuck it! Suck it all in, breathe every scent, sweet and foul
       trip on the greens of kale, berries red, golden honey!
Every human here is shining and beautiful
       and I love them all it almost hurts but
       I keep loving them even that one stealing 
       a ripe strawberry and yes even that one
       scowling at the child with the bike bell.

Wishes

I’m doing a community art project called #100notebookwomen where, as suggested, 100 women get notebooks. There’s a month and a half and you just do whatever your artsy heart desires. Mine’ll be poems of course. Songs without music. Lyrics without songs. The words to this one follow the image.

 

Wishes

I always have a wish at the ready
Affirmation, prayer, whatever they are
My desire thrust at the Universe
At 11:11, dandelions, shooting stars.

How lucky am I? My wish box is empty!
My most recent wishes all came true!
Now I’m dreaming in sweet summer breezes
I’m willing up wishes anew.

11:11 comes twice every day
Dandelions seed, stars fall.
The air tastes of hope, love, and magic.
Summer is wishing season after all.

The wish must be something possible
Where luck is handy but not required
A lover’s kiss? A friend’s good health?
Something absent but much desired.

11:11 comes twice every day
Dandelions seed, stars fall.
The air tastes of hope, love, and magic.
Summer is wishing season after all.

An empty wish box is a blessing it’s true
Of unbestowed wishes, I have but a few.
All the same I think I’ll wish up one or two.

Summer Solstice to Autumnal Equinox

I had it in my mind that I would stop drinking on my birthday, for one full year. Not that I drink to any great degree, not that it impedes my living. But my mom did just die from her alcoholism. And it does run down every branch of my family tree.

But it’s more than that. You ever meet people who have heard “the word of god” and they thirst for it, they long for it, they yearn? That’s kind of how I feel about sobriety. I actually really like drinking, though. I don’t like being drunk and I loathe being hungover but otherwise I like everything about drinking. I like smokey scotches and hoppy beers and charcoal porters. I love full bodied red wines and the liquid Christmas tree kiss of gin. I’m into the ceremony of champagne and the ritual of patio beers. I like drinking.

But it is inescapably true that alcohol causes cancer and that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption. It’s a Group One carcinogen – so it’s like saying there is no safe level of asbestos consumption. I mean, obviously. And alcohol robs you of your awareness. It’s also fattening and expensive.

I am loving life so much. I’m having honestly So. Much. Fun. I’m excited for school. I love my job. I’m proud of my kids and am looking forward to watching their adventures. I don’t want to miss a thing. I’m acutely aware of my mortality and of time ticktickticking away. I don’t want to lose anymore time to the fog of drink, or the pain of hangover. And I don’t want to consume something that I know has a proven ability to cause cancer.

So tomorrow – no, later today – I’m drinking my last drinks, for a year and a quarter at least. I said I wanted to quit on my birthday, but the weekend after my birthday I’m attending an event that is marked by copious amounts of free alcohol (I don’t know about you but honestly, free alcohol seems to be everywhere). If I’m going to do a thing, I like to set myself up for success. By my birthday, I want all the effects of alcohol to be gone, so it’s a truly clean year. I read this book called Sober Curious and I like the idea of being sober curious. Not “sober sober” as she calls it. I mean, I’ll be sober sober until Fall 2020 but then, whatever, it’s my life. I expect though I won’t return.

I miss being just naturally weird, you know? I miss sliding along a natural high, blissing out on the colours of the sunset or perfect harmonies or cool lake water. I’m lucky in that my brain naturally likes to take those routes. If I just let it, my brain goes places that some other people use substances to find. If I give it enough fresh food and sunshine, it piques those peaks with no side effects.

I think it’s going to be an interesting summer.