I can draw your face

I can summon the smell of you in the frigid night,
sniffing the air like a winter wolf; cedar, snow, and smoke, and the smell of your skin.
I can hear your voice in silence, the words I can’t understand singing at my ears.
I can draw your face with my eyes closed. I can taste your skin.
I can send protective love on crow’s wing,
whether you think you deserve it
or not.

Tiny Herod

Grand River Unitarian Universalist Congregation Sanctuary, Christmas Eve

    This is where I work but tonight I was not working. I got to sing carols, light candles, and listen to stories. Look how whimsical and warm this space was. I needed some of that.
    The thought we left with was how each character in the story of the birth of Jesus lives in the world today, and a small version of each lives within us. Tiny, jealous Herods writhing within us, desperate to control everything to retain power. Angels, singing joy and praising the good. Magi, our inner wisdom skating the line between science and magic to discover truth. How does your Tax Collector show up? What is your Innkeeper like? Can you sense the simple gifts your inner Shepherd offers?
    The sermon didn’t get psychodynamic but that doesn’t mean I can’t. Maybe Christmas is as good a time as any to remember the Child within you and somehow feel again the miracle of their birth. Know that inside you is a Mother and a Father that is yours to be in relationship with. You can tell the story of that relationship the way you want, in your own words, and by whatever new rules you choose. 
    I think I better stop there before I start looking for my inner Donkey and Cow.
Merry Christmas to everyone who believes that, rejoice the return of the light if you’re on the hemisphere experiencing that, and Happy New Year to all who mark time in this way.         Conjure your blessings as you best fathom, and welcome to them. 

 

Puppies!


A friend’s dog had puppies. Oh! I said. Puppies! I want a puppy!
OK, he said. You can have a puppy.
Now for weeks every day I debate getting a puppy.

I tried thinking logically about it but getting a puppy or owning another creature isn’t really a logical choice in my mind. Likewise, I think having children is not a logical choice, unless your income is derived in such a way that creating your own work force makes sense. Most of the reasons to not get a dog are very logical: you need to change your schedule to accommodate a dog, they cost money in vet bills and food, you need to pick up their excrement, you can no longer go away or stay away unexpectedly, they’re an incredible amount of work as puppies and still actually a fair bit of work as dogs.

On the plus side, puppies. Dogs.

I can’t assign a weight to “puppies, dogs” so I can’t choose logically.
I do live alone and the company would be amazing. And having an alert dog would make me feel much safer. Of course, I’d have to work out some kind of puppy-sitting arrangement with family and friends for when I’m in class or on placement. I don’t know where I’m going to be living in 18 months. I don’t know where I’ll be working or how much I’ll be making.

OTOH life is so damned short and I miss having a dog.

And, wait, logically here now, I could train this dog to be a therapy dog, and when I have my practice, I would have a dog at the office that is trained as a therapy dog. And we would visit hospitals and care homes and universities! Yes, yes, this makes sense. By the time I’m done being trained as a therapist, the dog would be trained in therapy too!

Does that actually make sense? Am I inventing an impossible dream to rationalize doing something I’m almost certainly going to do even though it’s not sensible?

Yesterday at work at the Unitarian congregation, a congregant arrived with a fluffy, white puppy that was wearing a service-dog-in-training harness. After receiving permission, I commenced petting said puppy. It’s like joy in a harness! I exclaimed. The Puppy Owner agreed. I’d love to have a dog as a therapy dog for when I’m done school and open a practice, I said. She nodded.

Yeah, she says. That’s what this little guy is being trained for. I’m part of a private practice and we’re setting up a mindfulness group for trauma victims. This guy is going to be part of the group. He’ll be working in the practice once his training is complete, kind of an office dog.

I just need to decide on a name now, really.

I’ve been away

Not really away, but doing a graduate degree. Hey, didja know? That’s really hard!
So I’ve been doing just and only that.

I wrote a Facebook post this morning that could be a blog post. Good thing Google remembers my sign in credentials for this blog!

THE FACEBOOK POST

I woke up (kind of late and on the couch) this morning with the weirdest thought. “Maybe I no longer am a person who stays to the end of the party and then brings the party home.” I mean, I’m moving through the behaviours but it no longer rings true. Maybe I’m (and this is weird, bizarre) someone who’s actually ok with the party ending now. Or even (what even is this) ok with the party going on without me. Like, what is that? I still love to dance, I so love to dance. But I also really like waking up early all well rested and getting shit done. Is this because I’m 50 now? Is it because I’m studying psychotherapy and I overthink every behaviour of every being, myself most of all?
This is basically a blog post I’m not blogging. Maybe I’ll cut and paste to my blog. I should stop paying for that blog because I’m starting a new one soon.
Everything I write or say, I feel like adding the addendum ‘and I want a dog’. You know how some women (not all women) get baby hunger? I’ve got massive puppy hunger. Is puppy hunger what happens when baby hunger is no longer feasible?
Friends, this is what my head sounds like all the time. If you ask me “what are you thinking” the answer is, “so much”. So goddamned much.

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.