Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Worth Reading: City of Girls

Image result for city of girls 
I stayed up way too late finishing Elizabeth Gilbert's City of Girls before I went to sleep last night.

Mulling it over as I climbed the stairs to bed, I realized I found most of the characters and much of the plot completely improbable. Why then did I stay up so late to finish it?

To begin with, because it contains an assortment of wise and insightful passages like this one:
"When we are young, Angela, we may fall victim to the misconception that time will heal all wounds and that eventually everything will shake itself out. But as we get older, we learn this sad truth: some things can never be fixed. Some mistakes can never be put right -- not by the passage of time, and not by our most fervent wishes, either.

In my experience, this is the hardest lesson of them all.

After a certain age, we are all walking around this world in bodies made of secrets and shame and sorrow and old, unhealed injuries. Our hearts grow sore and misshapen around all this pain -- yet somehow, still, we carry on."
And this:
"This is what I've found about life, as I've gotten older: you start to lose people, Angela. It's not that there is ever a shortage of people -- oh, heavens, no. It is merely that -- as the years pass -- there comes to be a terrible shortage of your people. The ones you loved. The ones who knew the people that you both loved. The ones who know your whole history."
And I couldn't help but fall in love with the main characters, who, despite their many flaws -- or perhaps because of them -- radiated love and compassion for those around them. It seemed to me the story was one long lesson in the giving and receiving of grace - something the world could surely use more of.

Of course, since it's a Liz Gilbert book, all the earnest stuff is packaged in a rollicking good story, set in a intriguing time and place, lyrically told, which makes it perfect reading for a long winter's night by the fire, or lazy day on the beach. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Happy New Year - 2020!

I haven't blogged much in the past year, despite the fact I'm retired now and should have more time for writing. I'd like to think 2020 will be different but, honestly, I'm doubtful it will.

Still, I've decided to try writing something to kick the year off. After all, I used to enjoy blogging and it's a good way to exercise my writing muscles.

Over the past couple of weeks, I've spent a lot of time thinking about what I've been up to since I retired the end of January. In some ways, retirement's exactly what I expected. My retired friends told me I'd feel a bit lost and confused for a few months at least, and that's certainly been true.

It's also true that I've been far busier than I expected. I've picked up a larger share of household tasks, spent more time with the dog, completed a couple of short consulting gigs, tackled some long-postponed projects (such as sorting photos and other memorabilia, started a couple of new ones (including the Nanny Project), joined a local choir and a photography club, began swimming again, read a bunch of books, and volunteered time to work on environmental justice projects - all things I hoped to do when I retired from working full-time.

But there are a few things I really wanted to do that just haven't happened - for example, running and blogging regularly, editing the novels I drafted a few years back, playing my guitar, knitting, quilting and getting back in shape.

Running has been a challenge because my body got really cranky last winter and it's taken awhile to figure out what it needed to feel better. I haven't figured it out totally yet but regular chiropractic treatments, gentle yoga, and closer attention to my diet seems to help, so I'm hoping I'll feel up to running more regularly in the year ahead.

When I stopped to think about why I haven't written much, I was surprised to realize it wasn't that I had too little to write about, but rather that I had too much! I think about writing nearly every day and compose countless stories and articles in my head, but somehow I never get round to writing them down - mostly because I have no idea where to start.

There's another issue around writing for me these days, which is that many of the topics that interest me are damned depressing. I desperately want to participate in ongoing conversations about climate change, political populism, democracy, and inter-generational tensions, for example, but I'm only rarely able to summon the necessary emotional and psychological energy to do so. 

So, then... where to go from here?

I'm not starting this new year feeling especially optimistic or upbeat. It's hard to feel good about the future with so much bad news coming out of Australia, the Middle East and elsewhere.

That said, I don't see much point in despair. It won't get us to be where we need to be to overcome the environmental and other challenges we face. As George Monbiot noted in a recent piece published in the Guardian, those already dealing with the impacts of climate change haven't the luxury of despair and soon we won't either. The same is true of cynicism.

Given all that, I've decided to adopt "lift" as my word for 2020. Lift as in "raise up", "brighten", "improve", "move to a higher/better place". My intention is to try lifting my own spirits and those of others so that we feel more hopeful about the future.

I'm still figuring out what I mean by that but I think it includes sharing good news about efforts underway to tackle climate change, being patient and supportive with those who are - consciously or unconsciously - dealing with their own environmental grief, finding things to celebrate amidst the deluge of bad news, taking and inspiring action, and filling my own cup so that I don't run out of energy before the job is done.

Here's a little doodle I made while meditating on the word "lift".  I don't think it's finished yet, but it highlights many of the activities, interests and attitudes I intend to make a bigger part of my life in the coming year.

What about you, dear readers? What are your intentions for 2020? How are you coping with environmental grief? Have you adopted a "word of the year"? If so, what is it? Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Retirement Lessons: Harder than it looks

Nearly 5 months in, I'm just starting to get my head around what it means to be retired.  It's harder than it looked before I took the plunge - mostly because the days aren't anywhere near long enough to do all I want to do, but also because things haven't unfolded exactly as I expected.

To begin with, I spend much more time doing household chores than I imagined - which is only fair, given that Husband did the bulk of them during my last few years of work. Still, I didn't anticipate how much time chores and puppy care would consume each week.

Then there were the all the long-postponed projects to contend with - clearing out the attic, disposing of unwanted items, planning renovations, organizing photos and memorabilia, researching my grandmother's life, etc. Each of them has taken far more time that I thought it would. I've made a good amount of progress on most things but I'm still a long way from finished.

Then there were the psychological and emotional challenges of my new status - glad to be retired but anxious to make positive contributions to family, friends and community and struggling to nurture good mental health in the face of seemingly insurmountable environmental, political and economic injustices.

And finally there were a number of physical issues to contend with. I'd presumed the aches and pains that had plagued me for years would disappear immediately once work was behind me, but of course that hasn't happened. In fact, some issues became more troublesome when I returned to regular exercise. As a result, I'm nowhere near as fit as I hoped to be at this stage - though I managed to run a 5 mile race in a respectable time this morning - and the arthritis in my hands, feet and knees is making everything more difficult.

Don't get me wrong. I wholeheartedly recommend retirement, and am deeply grateful I'm able to do this. It's just that I don't feel completely comfortable with it yet. Retirement feels a bit like early adulthood, in as much as the possibilities feel endless, but that there's a greater sense of urgency too - urgency that stems from realizing I have only a few years left and wanting to be selective about what I do with them.

Whatever the future holds, I hope I continue to appreciate the beauty, love and kindness that remains in this world. After all, it's the stuff that makes life worth living.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Five Questions for New Year's

Another new year and this one promises to be more interesting and fun than the last few given that, as of January 31st, I'll be embarking on new adventures as a retired person. I haven't quite figured out what I mean by "retired" but, with a bit of luck, I'll have plenty of time to do that.

On New Year's Eve, my friend Janet sent an email with five questions to reflect on as the year drew to a close, and I thought it would be fun to answer them here, then ask you to do the same.

1. Best moment of 2018?
There were plenty of great moments - seeing Mamma Mia at Neptune Theatre with my mom, sisters, nieces and friends, sleepovers with my sister's daughters, touring Ireland, hiking with another sister and her daughter in Canmore, visiting with good friends, enjoying beach suppers with my folks, and attending the King's Chapel Choir Christmas concert, to name just a few. But the moment that stands out is the moment when, driving down the highway just outside St. John's, Newfoundland, we received a text from our realtor telling us we had a firm deal to sell the city house.We were totally over-the-moon! It changed everything because it was the first step towards restructuring our lives so I could give up my day job and we could live in the country full-time.

2. Best book?
I had a hard time with this question because I haven't read much outside of work the past few months. However, looking back, I realized there were two books that really affected me - Jann Arden's Feeding My Mother and Nora Ephron's I Feel Bad about My Neck. Jann's book is a moving account of her efforts to care for her mother, who was suffering from Alzheimer's Disease, interspersed with recipes and photographs. I found it especially moving because I witnessed my father-in-law's struggle with the same disease. Nora's book was recommended by a friend. It too is an intimate little book,  though much more light-hearted, filled with laugh-out-loud observations on what it means to be a woman of a certain age - of any age really. It especially affected me I only realized after I read it that Ephron had passed away 2012, which was hard to fathom. How could a person with so many advantages, and such humour, insight, and zest for life be gone so soon?

3. Best lesson?
This year was chock-a-clock with lessons -  many of which weren't particularly pleasant. For example, I realized how vain I was when I got bizarrely stressed about having surgery to remove a small skin cancer from my cheek. And that age was winning when I suddenly developed arthritis in my hands and feet. Fortunately, there were happier lessons too - like how much fun it is to play theatre games, and how good Guinness tastes when it's properly stored, served in a fancy glass and enjoyed with friends in a small Irish pub. Overall, though, I'd have to say the best lesson this year was that the time has come to free up more time in my life for the people and things that matter most.

4. Best buy?
The truth is I bought very little stuff this year - not even running gear. Ever since we sold the city house, our focus has been on disposing of stuff rather than accumulating more. Given that, I'd have to say my best buy was our air tickets to Ireland. Those tickets provided months of joyful anticipation and heaps of happy memories that will last a lifetime.

5. Wish for 2019?
I have two. The first is that I'm able to create the new life I'm dreaming of - one that enables me to be more active, engaged, creative, and compassionate. The second is that, in the face of the environmental crisis, people around the world come together to take action before it's too late. Yes, I know the second seems a bit unrealistic. But - hey - we have to be able to imagine a better future in order to build it.

And what about you, gentle reader? How would answer these five questions? What books should I put on my reading list? What lessons did you learn? What are your wishes for 2019?

Monday, August 6, 2018

A long, hot weekend

The boardwalk at Risser's Beach
It's been an especially hot long weekend on the south shore (30+ degrees with high humidity making it feel even warmer), which made it hard to accomplish much. I did manage a short run into town and back early yesterday when it was cloudy but I was dripping with sweat by the time I got home so didn't attempt the same feat today in full sun. We also got some sorting and unpacking done yesterday while it rained. We've spent the rest of the weekend resting at the beach or on the back deck, cooking, reading, watching Netflix and playing with Jackie Blue.

I'd hoped to spend a few hours playing with my camera this weekend but ended up taking just a few shots when we took Jackie to the beach for a long walk Saturday morning. The rest of the time, it's been either too hot and sunny to be outside for long, or I was busy doing other things. The great thing about our walk on Saturday morning was that we had the beach pretty much to ourselves. Apparently, other people don't like the fog as much as we do.

The old wharf at the end of the beach is a favourite spot for stalking snails
The remnants of the wharf
Petite Riviere from the back beach at Risser's
I had a really hard time taking good photos of Jackie in the foggy conditions. She moves so quickly, most were out of focus, and she looked far too serious in many others. It made me realize just how difficult it is to capture her joy when she's doing something she loves. Here are few that almost do it. In the last two, she's waiting for Husband to throw her favourite toy (a rubber ring) so she can chase it down the beach.

After our walk, we popped up the road for a bite of lunch at the Ploughman's Lunch, before returning to the beach for a couple of hours of reading (Husband and me) and snoozing (Jackie Blue). The fog never lifted entirely but that was okay because it helped moderate the air temperature.

We spent most of yesterday at home but did a quick run to Mahone Bay for a bit of shopping in the afternoon. En route back, we popped in for a pint of excellent micro-brew and some live Celtic music (including a bagpipe) on the patio at Saltbox Brewery. It's a puppy-friendly place, so we took Jackie along and, as you can tell, she loved it!

Today, we headed back to the beach in an effort to escape the stifling temperatures at the house. Unfortunately, it was nearly as warm there and the beach was packed so we didn't enjoy it as much as we hoped to. On the upside, Jackie got some exercise, we squeezed in a short visit with my folks (who were camping nearby), and I got to take Patti for a spin. I have to admit it felt good to be back on my motorcycle - so long as I didn't think about too hard. I'm far too aware of my mortality to enjoy riding as much as I once did - especially in the heat!

I mentioned we watched Netflix this weekend. That's new for us. We're not big TV watchers and gave up cable years ago so have had limited options since. Very occasionally, we'd rent a movie on iTunes, break out an old DVD, or watch a TV show online, but mostly we just read books instead. Now that we have a Netflix account, that may change. There are heaps of movies and TV programs I've been wanting to see, and, as part of our big move, we've just set up a cozy den that will make watching them a lot more comfortable.

Speaking of our move, I have to say I've been a bit horrified to realize just how much stuff we've accumulated over the past decade. For much of that time, we had two or more "homes" and our belongings were spread out amongst them so we didn't really notice how much stuff we had. Consolidating everything to one house has been eye-opening, to say the least. We'll be months disposing of things we no longer need, and it will be challenging to find good homes for some of it, but we're determined to be ruthless so we can return to living in a relatively uncluttered space.

And that was our long weekend. It's back to the coalface for me tomorrow. Hope your long weekend was good, wherever you are!