Enslaved and Empowered

I was speaking with my mother-in-law Judy over the weekend about mediums and the concept of an afterlife. To picture this conversation you have to understand that I was in the backseat with my crutches and my Air Cast and wondering how I was going to cope with the buffet-style meal my youngest chose for his birthday dinner. It was also the second time I’ve left the house for anything other than medical appointments or work since December 4.

One of the comments she made was along the lines of where does all our energy go when it’s no longer constrained by our bodies. The assumption kind of was (or at least I took it as) — we’re bigger on the inside than the outside.

I was brought up short by my own reaction. My hastily written note:

Gifted with body

I spent most of my time in my 20s trying to get out of my body. My body, especially as it had been used by others, was a pretty shitty place. I played PernMUSH back in the day, which was kind of a proto-World of Warcraft game, except you didn’t kill things, you just pretended to be someone else, on some other planet. Dragons were involved. One of the best parts of it, for me, was that I could interact with other people without having to deal with fingers, toes, clumsy actions, too-loud laughter, ugly smells.

There’s no question that if you had asked me about my beliefs at the time that I would have insisted that my body was one of the smallest parts of me. A regrettable necessity.

Being knocked on my ass by my broken leg, though, I realize how much that’s changed. Since getting going on my martial arts journey (and really several years before I knew I was on it), I work out to grow and feel my strength. I stretch out to feel the earth and the hum of the world around me. I breathe to connect with, yes, the energy that comes from some wellspring I can only touch and never describe.* I move because I love going ahead. I’ve been really frustrated with my limitations. But nowhere in the last 7 weeks have I wanted out of my body. (Except maybe the period between shock wearing off and painkillers, before my leg was set – I will give anyone that!)

The idea that I would be bigger after death doesn’t sound so right any more. I’ve held my daughter as she died, so I know something changes that isn’t just about breathing or heart rate, but about – for lack of a better word – soul. But I’m no longer sure that’s larger than life. Life is pretty big.

Years ago I cried in the bathroom because I had to go to a PR event that involved a pedicure, which meant baring my feet in front of colleagues and having a stranger touch me, and I did not think there was any way I could make it through that experience in one piece. (I survived, even though it made me feel like I’d lived on the wrong planet forever, and the icily polite person dealing with my unpampered heels clearly agreed.)

Yesterday I went to physiotherapy for the first time, and people touched my feet and poked and prodded, and we talked about what I can do and what I can’t do, and what I should do…and what I want to do. I felt great. Also my leg was all hairy. And I didn’t care.

I feel pretty lucky I came to this in my 40s, because I can see how the hill crests here somewhere and then it’s back downhill. Good thing there will be so many awesome books in the world.

* Being of Gen-X, you can pretty much substitute The Force for energy.


No Man’s Land (1)

Sometimes when we lose our heroes we lose ourselves. And the corollary holds.

Growing up I frequently got through the day (hour…minute) by fantasizing constantly. My mind was full of The Bionic Woman, Star Wars, Star Trek, Arthurian legend, V, Pern…pretty much anything other than the there and then. I could call it fandom, or I could call it fantasy-prone personality, or I could call it a creative connection to archetypal myth and legend.

But mostly for the last two decades I have tried not to call it anything at all and focus instead on being an ordinary human being.

I suppose it’s either understandable or cliche then that my midlife turning point came in the middle of watching Wonder Woman. I have been waiting for a decent female superhero movie for literally my whole life, The Incredibles notwithstanding. Lots of people wrote about this movie last summer, but I didn’t. I did talk about it with my friends but I didn’t invest too much money in themed merchandise or start writing fanfic.

I just quit my very nice arts-related job and became the operations manager at The Academy.

My adolescence spent hanging out at the Silver Snail and spending money on Alien trading cards is apparently nothing when weighed against the amount of perimenopausal havoc I can wreak.

I particularly blame the No Man’s Land scene. I cried through it every time I watched it in the theatre, and I found clips on YouTube and watched them, and now I have the movie via iTunes and I watch it still about once a week.

It wasn’t that it was Diana’s first steps towards becoming a warrior for humanity, although that will also do. And it wasn’t watching a female-directed movie allow a flock of men to support a woman’s vision, although that will do as well.

It was the moment Diana turns away from Steve with an absolute commitment to her own vision.

Steve: We can’t save everyone in this war. This is not what we came here to do.
Diana: No, but it’s what I’m going to do.

I’m turning 47 next week. I was raised in the days of Free to Be, You and Me and I grew up believing William Wants a Doll and Parents are People and all those things. And I gradually took fewer STEM classes, and came to hate trigonometry, and I studied literature instead, and I got several jobs and got promotions and got new jobs and got promotions. I spent 8 years working for mainstream women’s magazines, in time for geekery to become cool.

I have worked with many amazing women. And for many years I believed the time would come when the women that were a decade or two ahead of me, the stellar and ambitious ones, would be the CEOs and I would follow in their wake.

Instead, I have watched women I highly respect get worn down. Worn down by sexism and the old boys’ club. Worn down by harassment. Worn down by life-work balance that still meant they were responsible for the second shift at home, or caregiving for elderly parents. Worn down by the low-grade drip of having their ideas continually put down because they had breasts, or had taken maternity leave, or any number of reasons.

But worn down mostly by watching mediocre men get promoted past themselves.

And that is why I cried. Because Diana is – unbowed. And she did not wait for approval, or try to argue her team into listening to her or changing their mission. She just climbed the ladder and walked into the hail of bullets. Because that’s what she was going to do.

(And then, the men followed her.  Which will be another post some day.)

I didn’t leave my job to train Amazons exactly, although I have said on Facebook that a part of that decision was that I kind of did want to at least be able to say that. (My job is not instructional, and martial artists are not Amazons. But we do have swords and bo-staffs and perhaps even want to change the world.) It’s because that’s what my gut was telling me to do, and I listened to it, and then I got off the corporate ladder.

This is either one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done in my life or one of the smartest, the jury’s out. But it was a recommitment to…my own quirky freak flag.

My job is still new enough that I feel a bit like I’m at the phase where Diana is under her shield. I know I can hold my own. I’m not quite sure, yet, how best to move forward. (Also Diana heals super-fast and I am still sitting here with my broken leg elevated.)

I still watch that scene and cry.

Luke Skywalker, losing his religion

That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don’t know if I can do it
Oh no I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough


I did manage to get Darth Boot (my ‘walking’ cast I’m not allow to walk in yet) into a movie theatre to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I think it will surprise no one that it’s the one holiday event I absolutely could not bear to miss. I’m going to have to see the movie again to decide what I Really Think about it but what stands out to me right now is Luke Skywalker, man.

Spoilers ahead, of course

This piece about Depressed Asshole Luke appeared on my Facebook feed is a great take on it. In summary: Luke as a character is kind of astonishing because in the middle of the epic Star Wars universe, he’s allowed to have what is a very non-epic reaction to loss and screw ups. And in this writer’s view, “The failure crushes what’s left of him and then Luke Skywalker surrenders to depression and fucks off forever, just like you or I would.”

But as I’m in the middle of a midlife crisis involving a career switch, I have a different view from basically the same road. I suspect this line is generational. So I’ll just put it out there: Luke is maybe one of the most Gen-X characters ever.

From his whiny unwillingness to invest in Leia and Ben’s Rebellion until his own family is killed, to his commitment to his absent father’s essential goodness with a little soupçon of “but I can do it better,” Luke definitely had that vibe. He didn’t take Yoda too seriously. He created his own little rebel family, and found his own sister to boot. Then he signed up for Jedi Master and set to work building his career.

And then, of course, the corporate world goes to shit. Turns out senior management i.e. the Jedi Order was a bunch of idiots. Who does Ben Solo take for a mentor? The self-obsessed, culture-defining, Boomeresque Darth Vader. Luke is essentially middle management, trying to create balance in the force, caught between the colossal screw up of the generation before him and the untrained, kind of whiny generation after him. (Kylo Ren, Millennial Sith.)  And what does Luke have to pass on to Ren? That the Jedi represent a string of failure and bad choices. He’s invested everything, including his own failure, in a religion and organization that…means nothing.

All that work to get to the top and it turns out the top is really just about eating the young. The only way to win is not to play.

Yoda confirms this, with the kind of smarmy self-assurance only those already dead, or those who actually got union-powered pensions, can deliver. Or as my favourite Despair.com would say:


(I might point out that Luke’s retirement plan involves milking creatures and fishing on a remote and stony island. This is pretty much the backup plan I have repeated to myself at stressful career moments, although mine is more like “cash out my real estate and run away to Thailand.”)

So how does Luke resolve this?

Well we all see myths through our personal lenses but I’m going to say…he realizes it’s all narrative. Luke becomes the hero the Resistance needs – but through the power of story alone. It’s not the Jedi religion or whoever owns the best blasters who saves the day but one guy, meditating on a rock, who understands that the human story is both ethereal and powerful — and creates one for others.

The Boomers thought that they would change the world, but instead they drove it into the ground. The Millennials are probably going to save it. But it’s the detached and ironic Gen-X who keep the tradition and tell you what it all means. (At least according to Vanity Fair which, what-ever.) It’s just a laser sword, dude. All right, fine, at least think about where you’re pointing it.

I have a feeling that the next film will deliver on Rose Tico’s promise that “That’s how we’re gonna win. Not fighting what we hate, saving what we love.” Which is all well and good, if you love the right things.

A few other notes:

  • Love that it’s midlife battle-axe women who come up with all the plans, even if theirs suck just as much as the men’s.
  • I wasn’t blogging when I saw Justice League but one day I might have to write about the use of “Everybody Knows” in both Pump up the Volume and JL.
  • Miss you, Carrie Fisher.

Saved in the edit

Someday I will write a book about Christmas. I may start it today, in fact, since I’ve been threatening to for the last dozen years. But like most things I say I’m going to do around Christmas time, it either doesn’t get done or I half-ass it. April is really my month for stretch goals.

For me, the Christmas season always feels like being a beginning swimmer at a swim meet. Everyone else is diving and turning and passing me, and I’m just trying to stay out of their way and not drown. Since having kids, things have improved because it’s so much easier to make miracles for small innocent offspring than it is to make them for one’s self. But let’s just say before that, my goal was to minimize the number of hours between Dec 1 and Dec 26 spent sobbing in the bathroom.

This year Carl mostly made Official Christmas happen, helped by my mother-in-law, and I slept and tried to grow bone. He did a great job. It was one of the best.

And I don’t think my kids noticed that one of the Christmas engines was not firing off. I think this is of course because Carl is amazing, but also because as a family we have edited Christmas to the point that it is manageable. We don’t come close to doing it all. But we try to do enough to carry the through-line — peace, goodwill, and caring — forward.

So it’s in that spirit that I thought I would share this video around the importance of editing in the creation of my generation’s central epic.

End of the peace process

Last year I entered a writing contest.

It was a flash fiction competition. The deal for the first round was you were assigned a genre and a few things to include in your story, and then two weeks later you had to submit your piece. Since I have been ruining my chance at a literary career by not writing my own things for about a decade — to illustrate this specifically, I did not finish a book while a Canadian literary giant who was championing it was still alive — I thought a two week timeframe was about right so that I didn’t collapse in a pile of goo.

The genre I got was fairy tale and I wrote a story that wasn’t very good about a young woman who learns she’s a fairy princess and kicks ass. But I wrote it.

I got the feedback from the reviewer, and had it focused on my lack of detail or somewhat stilted prose or that two of the characters’ dialogue sounded the same, I’d’ve agreed. But the feedback I got instead was that the story was unbelievable because in one day the fairy princess was able to complete three tasks and save the kingdom, the last being that she had a duel.

I had opened the story with her sword and martial arts achievements visible on her wall. Also, in the fairy tales I read growing up, it seems like the prince was able to complete his three tasks fairly expeditiously without it being a character flaw.

I was enraged and started working on My Own Stuff again for about three entire days, and then fizzled out.

Since then I have been working to make peace with the idea that I am not really a writer. Not because I got bad feedback — as a editor and a writer I know that is a necessary part of the process, even though I still am bad at the emotional part of it. But because the rage didn’t motivate me for very long. Because I don’t write. Because I have defined myself as “someday-a-writer-but-it-never-works-out” for 30 years and so obviously I just…am not.

I have said many more times in the last year that I am a martial artist than I have said anything about being a writer, not just out loud, but deep down. In the continued mental construction of my self, I had taken writer out of the building plans. I even told my writing partner I am not a writer any more, several times. (I think I was ignored.)

But right now I feel like I was building a nice modern restaurant, and I was about to launch it when the pipes burst. And when I took a sledgehammer to the wall to get a better look, I found a venerable old pub back there, with all my old drinking buddies at the bar…Anne Lamott, Julia Cameron, Natalie Goldberg, Stephen King, John Gardner, Ralph Keyes. I’m not sure yet whether I’m having one drink for old times or creating a practice but…it’s so there.

I also feel like I can’t hold my liquor any more — well that’s torturing this metaphor. It’s stiff, writing these posts, and I feel like I’m hobbling around a dance competition. But here I am writing them.

Falling on the Floor

I attended a PIAC conference this fall. The keynote speaker was Dr. Stuart Shanker, who outlined some of the differences between misbehaviour and stress behaviour. He also pointed the audience towards Dr. Mel Levine’s The Myth of Laziness. It was eye-opening as a parent to recognize how easy it’s been for me to forget my original parenting position which basically comes down to “kids will do good if they can and have the right support and guidance.” I’d fallen into some patterns of assuming laziness in my children for sure.

And myself.

The premise shared by both Dr. Shanker and Dr. Levine’s books are that if a child isn’t succeeding, there’s probably something in their way. Dr. Shanker looks at stress and anxiety in particular, and how that kicks children into “red brain” — a stressed, anxious response as if a tiger were chasing them through the woods. And people who are trapped in their red brains can’t access the parts of their brain that help them to learn and perform at a higher level.

Ding, ding, ding. I know allll about the red brain, trust me. As a person with PTSD, I’ve spent a lot of time learning to (somewhat) manage my broad-strokes fight-or-flight response, sometimes better, and sometimes not so well.

I often (not always) do some of the right things for the “big” PTSD-related issues- deep breaths, calm down, get centred, “fake it ’til you make it,” etc. Five years of therapy helped. And in some ways I feel like I’ve mastered some of that to the point that I can turn around in my journey and start to more openly share some successes with other people to see if that helps.

My martial arts journey has been a big part of that, since learning to get grounded in my body and be in a place where I can learn skills, physically, that are completely foreign to me, and work through any triggers and upset, physically, has been huge.  I spent decades of my life becoming an expert at not being in my body, so the idea of being expert at using my body is…ridiculous.

When I start a class, I’m always ready to be at the bottom of it. But I go anyway.

And because it’s martial arts, and that was just brand new to me when I started, I come to it without expectation. If this were a movie maybe that would make me really skilled at the martial arts part of it, but unfortunately, it doesn’t – I mean I even broke my leg doing it! But I am willing to fail 99 times out of 100, because I don’t confuse my beginner status with my own value as a human being. I don’t have a sense that I should do this better or that better. I identify as a martial artist not by my achievements but by my effort. (Technically, I guess, I have a growth mindset.)

And what’s more, I recognize that some weeks, my capacity to risk myself on the floor is more limited. And I’m okay with protecting myself that way and seeing it as part of the journey.

But…here’s the realization as I grapple with having a broken leg while starting a new job in a new field, which involves a lot of walking around and I can’t walk yet…I don’t always apply the same principles to other ares of my life.

I let my critical inner voice mistake inexperience for incompetence. I let the frustration of those around me impact me. I judge myself as not enough.

And to some degree, what I am always going for is what I’ll label supreme competence. I like to be good at my job, to be the expert, to be the one who can be relied on to think things through and do things right. I don’t think these are bad goals.  I don’t want to be a lousy martial artist, and I don’t want to be lousy at other things that I do. I want to excel.

The problem is that in one case, I let myself really experience my incompetence, and work to get better, and it adds to my day immeasurably. In the second case, I experience my incompetence, and work to get better, while beating myself up and feeling like shit about myself, and stressing out and eating chips and being cranky about chores, and it eats away at my days. And it makes it harder because that tiger of anxiety that says “you suck, you’re ruining things, you need to be better” is actually contributing to lack of success.

I learn and perform way better when I am not generating a field of anxiety. Like…really.

So simple, and so not.



Giddy up

20171204_225355It’s been a while! Quick summary: I loved my job at The Royal Conservatory for two years, but with Noah growing up sooo fast and Liam fast on his heels, as well as having fallen in love with martial arts, I took a job at what I will now refer to as The Academy as their operations manager in September. Anyone who thinks small business is calmer is crazy but being close to home and in the middle of the action has been really great. I still miss the RCM crew a lot.

Everyone asks, so I will say: I have a green belt which is not very close to black belt. 🙂

However in great irony, I broke my leg about two weeks ago!

Blessings of a broken leg
I have only been injured doing martial arts twice. Both times, I was pretending to be someone else. The first time, I was learning zero kicks (where you go right down on the ground as you kick) and I was imagining myself being Wonder Woman and ended up on my elbow. Later I realized the scene I was picturing was not a zero kick. Also, I am not Wonder Woman.

The second time was two weeks ago. I was learning jumping side kick, which looks like this although…lower, less spectacular. One of my fellow students, who is a young man, was inspiring me and so as I took my steps towards the target I was picturing the way he had done it. It was a perfectly decent kick from all accounts, but the landing was a little rough. I heard a snap, went down, and sure enough, I broke my fibula in two places and have new hardware.

My brain seeks patterns in all things, and so here’s lesson #1: Stop trying to do martial arts as someone else.

Or, you know, life.

I’ve been on a quiet path of renewed self-discovery over the past few years, but one part of my identity I haven’t plugged back into at all is storyteller. And so I’ve been stumbling around a bit. So here we go, back on the horse.

Here’s a moment. Everyone is out of the house on various errands this morning and I got myself coffee. I got a bag, filled a Contigo travel mug with coffee at the pot, put the mug in the bag and hobbled to the fridge, put milk in the mug, put the mug back in my back and hobbled back to bed with it. (My leg is still stuck on elevation, having it down even for 10 minutes makes it swell.)

This felt a bit like getting the keys to the car. It’s nice to know you’re never too old to take adolescent joy in independence.