Sometimes All it Takes is a Jar of Mint Jelly

My Religion is Kindness CU

I witnessed a lovely “Random Act of Kindness” today. I passed a younger woman handing a jar of mint jelly to an elderly woman with a walker. The elderly woman was saying that she (the younger woman) “couldn’t do that.” As I passed by, the younger woman told the elderly woman, “I just did” and, after a bit more of a chat between the two of them, started walking away in my direction.

We got chatting and she explained that the elderly woman hadn’t been able to get up the stairs into the shop and had asked the younger woman if she could check to see if the shop carried mint jelly. The younger woman simply bought the jelly for her.

We walked and talked, ever so briefly, about Random Acts of Kindness and how what “goes around” usually does “come around”, but that it’s more about how good it feels to do something kind like that for someone else. So why wouldn’t you if you could?

We all walked away from the experience, even me as a simple witness to it, with an overall good feeling and smiles on our faces. And, of course, those smiles and good vibes were then shared with the rest of the world.

Hooray! for Mint Jelly and for Random Acts of Kindness.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Que Seurat Seurat

masterpiece

Have you ever been asked the question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Or been asked to provide an explanation for something that you simply can’t explain?

I moved to Victoria from Toronto nine years ago to start my life over again.  I needed to make some positive changes so, at 31, I sold and donated most of my belongings, packed my car with the rest, and headed west.  Along the way, I made a quick stop in Chicago.

Someone there suggested I check out the exhibit at the Art Institute. The exhibit was “The Making of Seurat’s ‘La Grande Jatte'”.  I had no idea what I was going to see but was open to a new experience.

For those unfamiliar with this painting, some might recall seeing it featured in the film “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” when the three main characters visit the same Art Institute. It’s the pointillist painting that Ferris’ best friend Cameron Fry is mesmerized by, the camera jump cutting in on the little girl until all we see are the dots that she is comprised of. It’s one of my favourite scenes in that film.

As I entered the exhibit I was led through a series of hallways with different pieces of artwork, at various stages in its development, hanging on the walls.  There was a charcoal sketch drawing of a monkey, a half painted umbrella, a little girl’s hat – some paintings were small others large. It just seemed like a collection of small pieces of art created by the same artist.

There were nine stages to the exhibit with certain artworks repeating themselves as they changed form or colour, while others were joined together bit by bit – the little girl’s hat appearing on a little girl’s head, the monkey appearing with a woman holding the umbrella and so on.

I still had no idea what I was experiencing until I turned the corner to the final stage and in front of me was this massive painting of a picnic by the lake – it was nearly the size of a billboard along a highway – created using all of the images I had seen along the way.  Not only this, but it was painted entirely in points – tiny dots that made up every image.  The little girl, the monkey, the trees, the grass, everything was comprised of dots!

What I had just experienced was a journey through Seurat’s creative process, the small parts of his process that eventually became a masterpiece.  It was truly inspiring.

You see, at that time, I was very disheartened.  I was working in office jobs that didn’t suit me and had been trying so many things creatively to get me ‘out of the box’ with no real idea of how to make any of them fit together as a whole. I had written endless short pieces of prose and poetry, attempted to write some short stories and screenplays, some so similar to the next that it had always felt so pointless, so unfinished, like I had failed somehow.

But in that moment, staring at that colourful picnic by the lake, I realized that my writing attempts were just tiny ‘sketches’ from my life that could become part of a larger piece – my very own masterpiece.

This is what can be so challenging and yet so wonderful about the creative process. The fact that it takes time to build and create something, to put all the pieces together, and that sometimes it isn’t clear what the end result will be until you get there.

“Where do you see yourself in five years?” is a question we so often hear in job interviews or from family members or friends who worry or get frustrated when they can’t see clear results, only the odd sketch here and there. And many of us have ideas about where it is we want to be, sure.

I once answered that question with, “I don’t even know where I’m going to be tomorrow!” which didn’t do me any favours when it came to landing that job or relieving the stress my parents so often feel about my life. But at the time, it was an honest answer.

I was chatting with some fellow artists yesterday about this very topic, about the creative process. They asked me if I worked better alone or in collaboration. I told them about how I used to make videos by myself and that people kept telling me that if I wanted to make movies I would have to start working with other people.

At one point I was filming with no clear direction and within a matter of days had created a promotional video for a theatre festival. I honestly had no idea that’s what I was doing when I was doing it. I just did it. And this project led me into another documentary project about the performing arts which has ultimately led me to performing my own words.

I said to the guys yesterday, “Perhaps if I had known, I could have arranged for some compensation” or at the very least worked with some local broadcasters.

But that wasn’t my process.

Seurat clearly seemed to have a vision for his masterpiece and, in many ways, I do too. It’s just not a vision that I find easy to describe or explain. And I’m still not clear on how it will generate an income for me. I’m still trying to sort through all the pieces and determine how they best fit together.

I just have to continue to do the work, to trust in the process, and to believe that it will all come together even when I can’t honestly answer that question about where I will be in five years. It’s all still a mystery to me.

I just know that whatever will be will be. And whatever that is, it will be MY masterpiece.

And in the meantime – as my lovely friend Aspen Switzer sings about at the end of that video I made – I’m going to continue to remind myself that “there ain’t no way to ever know what way this life will go”, to “fall in love with the mystery”, and to “let it lead me to walking free.”

Seurat

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Personal Development

Calvin & Hobbes - Personal Development

Image | Posted on by

Creativity, Integrity, and Living in the Moment

Inspiration-forYou1

Have you ever been struck by an idea but unable to write it down? Found yourself saying one thing but doing another? Become inspired by some unknown force? Read something you wrote years before and suddenly gone, “Aaah. Now I get it.”

I’ve been struggling a bit lately with the idea of living in integrity, of walking the talk so to speak.

I find, and have often found, that when I write about something, it doesn’t always resonate with me right away. It comes to me as more of a realization, a lesson that I still need to learn, a bit of prophecy that I still need to self-actualize, an intellectual idea that hasn’t quite reached my heart yet.

And then there are those things that I write that I want to achieve and maintain but find am not able to for one reason or another, like following my passion rather than taking a job just for the money it provides, something I still can’t quite seem to manifest in its entirety.

This can be quite frustrating. As can having inspiration strike at an inopportune moment.

Before I made the decision to move across the country to change my life 9 years ago, I wrote a poem called “The Moment”. I’d been walking through Union Station in Toronto. It was rush hour. I was on my way to work the hockey game at the ACC.

As I fought my way through the crowd of people rushing to catch this train or that bus, scrambling in every direction, bumping and pushing their own way through the clustered crowd, I got inspired to write.

Luckily, during most hockey games, the guests in my private suite were so enthralled with the game that I had whole periods to sit at the little bar in the back and work on my personal projects. One regular guest even said to me, “You’re going to be famous one day. You’re always working on something.”

It’s true, I usually did have my pen and notebook or printed papers sprawled out on the bar during my shifts. In fact, I’ve done some of my best writing to the sound of a hockey game: the swooshing of skates and clacking of sticks on the ice; the commentator’s muffled voice resonating in the background; pucks bouncing and dinging off goal posts and the sideboards.

And during this one particular hockey game, I wrote “The Moment”.

“The Moment” basically foreshadows my decision to move out West, an idea that had not yet reached my consciousness when I wrote it. I knew I was unhappy with my life as it was in Toronto and that some sort of change was needed, but the thought of moving hadn’t occurred to me. Then I wrote this: 

The Moment

People Walking

Rush Hour

Cell Phones Ringing

People Talking

Jay Walking

Paths Crossing

Bumping in

And up against

Bags & Backpacks

The Urgency

The Angst

To Miss the Bus

To Catch the Train

To do this tomorrow

All Over Again

A Nameless Name

A Faceless Face

Of Mice and Men

It’s a true Rat Race

Scurrying Here

Scampering There

Looking Ahead

But so Unaware

Could you imagine

What it might be like

To have wide open spaces

And mountains to hike

To stare at the Stars

To sail out to sea

To catch a big fish

And then set it free

To feel sand through your toes

Breathe fresh air up your nose

Dance with a whale

While you slowly exhale

Take a walk in the park

Snuggle a bear in the dark

So many things

So easily forgotten

Like sweet candied fruit

That’s suddenly gone rotten

Eat while it’s ripe

But don’t miss the boat

Watch out for the deep end

Learn how to float

Life is too short

To lose sight of the now

Live in the moment

Let us show you how.

 

Looking back on it, this poem is a call to action, an invitation from a source beyond my immediate consciousness to learn to live in the present moment, something I have been dedicating much of my life to these past 9 years, thanks to the time I spent out West with its “open spaces”, “mountains”, and “fresh air”.

This happens quite often with my writing. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, a means to self-actualize, and where the inspiration comes from is still a mystery to me.

In her TED Talk about nurturing creativity, Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Eat Pray Love”, talks about the ‘elusive creative genius’ that we all have access to. She speaks of the “utter maddening capriciousness of the creative process… which does not always behave rationally and can sometimes be downright paranormal.”

One of my favourite clips from this talk is when she tells us about her interview with musician Tom Waits. He tells her that inspiration once came to him while he was driving and that he didn’t have the means to write it down. Instead he stopped, looked up at the sky, and said,

“Excuse me, can you not see that I’m driving? Do I look like I can write down a song right now? If you really want to exist, come back at a more opportune moment.”

I like this analogy, this idea that inspiration and creative genius come from an unknown, outside source and can strike at any moment. It makes sense to me, especially in light of my poem.

 

I’ve also recognized that, when inspiration comes from a life event or another person, which has often happened for me, what is written is not necessarily for or about that event or person. In fact, more often than not, what I have written about is a message for me, and the person or event that inspired it was merely a catalyst for that message.

To think of all the poems I once shared with boyfriends and lovers, family and friends, poems that were meant for me and me alone. Poems that could have been misconstrued by the reader and taken very personally when, in fact, those readers were merely muses and had absolutely nothing to do with it otherwise.

It takes me back to when I made my decision to move West and the many responses I heard in response, namely the negative ones:

“You can’t do that.”

“You can’t run away from your problems, you know.”

“What are you thinking?”

I was seeing a counselor at the time and when I told her about this she said something I’ll never forget:

“When people say these things it has nothing to do with you. It is a direct reflection of what they would say to themselves in a similar situation.”

I loved this and also recognized this to be true when it came to much of my own writing. Even if it took me years to recognize it, the message was meant for me and I was merely projecting it onto that other person.

That’s not to say that the message can’t be shared, especially if it’s a universal one, just that sometimes it can take a little while to catch up, to match up what we inherently know or are being guided towards with actually DOING and LIVING it.

I have no doubt I’ll get there with a little patience and a lot of perseverance, and as my one friend so gently reminded me, “You’re doing just fine. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Change comes gradually and integrity takes time.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A Pile of Dry Shit: A Buddhist Story

Do No Harm But Take No Shit

One day a famous government officer met a highly respected elderly master. Being conceited, he wanted to prove that he was the superior person.

As their conversation drew on, he asked the master, “Old monk, do you know what I think of you and the things you said?”

The master replied, “I don’t care what you think of me. You are entitled to have your own opinion.”

The officer snorted, “Well, I will tell you what I think anyway. In my eyes, you are just like a pile of dry shit!”

The master simply smiled and stayed quiet.

Seeing that his insult had fallen on deaf ears, he asked curiously, “And what do you think of me?”

The master said, “In my eyes, you are just like the Buddha.”

Hearing this remark, the officer left happily and bragged to his wife about the incident.

His wife said to him, “You conceited fool! When a person has a heart like a pile of dry shit, he sees everyone in that light. The elderly master has a heart like that of the Buddha, and that is why in his eyes, everyone, including you, is like the Buddha.”

the way people treat you

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , ,

What I Learned from Mr. Tall, a Man Named Gary, and Cab No. 549

Mr

I was sitting on a patio at a pub in Toronto the other night. It was nearly 1 am. I’d just been babysitting a friend’s kids and afterwards hopped in a cab with some other friends and headed to the pub. I got out of the cab and foolishly left one of my bags in the back seat.

When I discovered what I had done I was a bit upset by it. I’m usually very good about stuff like this so when it happens it surprises me. The bag contained a favourite pair of sandals, a water bottle (one of those $25 glass ones with the rubber casing), a copy of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory on dvd, an apple, an apple slicer (one of those cool ones that slices the entire apple in one swift move), some strawberries, and a few books.

The books had sentimental value. I had had them since I was a kid. One of them had been given to me when I turned 5, the same age as Alexander, one of the kids I was babysitting. It was called Ant & Bee. Then there were three Mr. Men books: Mr. Mean, Mr. Silly, and Mr. Tall.

We’d read three of them: Ant & Bee, Mr. Mean, and Mr. Tall. William, the 3-year old, insisted we read Mr. Tall even though I promised to read it to him the next time I came over. But no, he was adamant that we read it. So we did.

Sitting across from me on the bed, he suddenly drew very close to me and even looped his finger under the green hair elastic I had around my right wrist as I read them the story.

It was the best story of the three because it taught a lesson about learning to appreciate what you have, like legs that are too long, as was the case for poor old Mr. Tall. And the best part? Mr. Tickle, with his extra long arms, makes multiple appearances throughout the story, which, of course, meant fits of giggles every few pages as I “tickle, tickle” tickled the two boys.

Best kind of story that.

Mr Tickles

I wonder if William sensed that the book would get lost and that’s why he was so insistent on having me read it? I even left the books on the dresser in the boys’ bedroom and thought I’d better go back to get them so I could be sure they were safe in my bag with me. Books! Granted they were books from my childhood, but they were just books. If I left them there at the house, I’d get them back eventually.

So my friends got home, I hung out with the group of them for a bit and then some of us decided to hop in that cab and go to a pub for a drink.

As we sat down on the patio, that’s when I realized I’d forgotten the bag in the back seat. I got a bit panicky but calmed down pretty quickly, recognizing it was only “stuff” while one of my friends and I called a couple of cab companies in hopes it might turn up.

I looked up to the sky and called out to the universe or my spirit guides to help me, recognizing that perhaps there was a lesson for me in it somewhere and trusting that if it were meant to, the bag or the books would come back to me somehow.

I noticed a bit of a tight feeling in my chest and heart, which I noticed had disappeared while I was busy writing this sitting beside my two friends who were deep in conversation. My heart no longer hurt.

If I started to think about it again, perhaps got home and lay in bed ruminating a bit about all the things I could have done to avoid this happening – like gone straight home, insisted we go to a bar within walking distance, left the books on the dresser where they would still be if I hadn’t been so hell bent on keeping them safe – if I started to think all of these thoughts, I would feel pain again and the more I thought about what I’d lost, the more pain I would feel.

So I decided to just let it go.

And just as I did, just as I was writing that very sentence in my notebook, a man approached our table from the sidewalk beside us. As he did, I thought it was another homeless man. We’d met three so far that night.

When the first man approached, my one girlfriend insisted he go away, that we did not have any money, and as he turned to walk away he and I made eye contact. As I stared at his face I knew straight away that I knew him.

“Hello,” he said. “My name is Gary.”

I knew Gary. I’d met him in 1998 when I was working downtown Toronto, near the old Hummingbird Centre. I was sitting in a park reading a book and there he was, wandering around, singing loudly. He had a bushy brown beard and a thick mop-top of brown hair. And he had a wonderful singing voice.

He wandered around that fountain in the concrete park that day a bit spastically, suddenly yelling, “Sunny side up!” and proclaiming, “My name is Gary. It means ‘Great Man’ and is pronounced gear-ee”. Then he took his shirt off and started doing push-ups on the ledge of the water fountain. I noticed he had good upper body definition.

As he approached me that day 15 years ago, I remember getting nervous. I didn’t want to engage with him but didn’t want to be rude and ignore him either. I was a 25 year old female sitting alone in a park and his unpredictable behaviour was a bit intimidating.

I even wrote a little story about this encounter in the front cover of the hardcover book I was reading that afternoon. That’s how I can remember all of these little details about that day.

He approached and said, “Good day ma’am. Are you looking for the cat in the hat on a mat? Have you found the cat?”

“Not yet,” I replied timidly.

“Oh. I’m sorry. That’s a personal question. Have a nice day.”

And then he walked away.

I saw Gary a number of times over those next 5 years in various locations around the downtown core: the concrete park near the Hummingbird Centre, while sitting on patios at restaurants on King St W., once when he tried to sell me a rose and another when he tried to sell me a disposable camera.

So here, now, 15 years later, was Gary, standing before me on the other side of a patio rail on King St W. asking me for $19. He was clearly older now, his greying hair cut short, a greyish-brown, closely shaved scruff of a beard framing his thinning face. As he turned to me, my friend kept insisting that he go away but suddenly I took his hand in mine and as he said, “Hi, my name is…” I exclaimed excitedly,

“Gary! Yes, I know you. How are you? It’s been a long time.”

He calmly said, “Yes, my love, it has been. Can you help me out?”

“Oh Gary”, I replied, “I can’t even pay my rent right now. But it’s really great to see you.”

“You too”, he said and then he moved on.

I felt so happy hearted. Gary’s face was always so warm and welcoming, a familiar kind of face, and his voice was this gruff yet high-pitched sort of voice, his piercing dark eyes so sad and yet soft and friendly.

“Wow”, I said, as my friends sat in amazement that I actually knew this man. “That was Gary. I haven’t seen him in over 10 years. And here he is, still making his living on the streets of Toronto all these years later.”

We had two more visits from older homeless men asking for a lighter which led to them asking for change, but also to my friend engaging a bit with them as she offered them a cigarette.

I thought about Gary, about my missing bag of stuff and how he and these other men clearly didn’t have much of anything. It became easier to let it go.

And as I wrote down this realization, the fourth man approached us. He wasn’t a homeless man but the taxi driver. He approached us from the sidewalk and said, “Did I just bring you here in my cab? Did you leave a bag in the back seat?”

“Yes!” I said excitedly. “Thank you.”

How wonderful to think that just as I had let it go, there it was coming back to me.

My one friend had been inside and when he returned and I told him the story, he couldn’t believe it. He’d been a little skeptical, feeling we had a lot of faith in cab companies if we thought we would ever see that bag again. He kept asking:

“So, the guy just showed up at the table and gave you your bag back?”

“Yep,” I replied. “Isn’t that so cool?”

And then I took a sip of my water and returned to writing this story feeling blessed and happy and ten feet tall.

The world is my mirror and it’s a magical, magical place.

Mr Tall

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How I Learned to Love, Let Go, and Never Say Never

IMAG0072

Have you ever thought someone was making a poor decision? Projected your own beliefs onto them? Passed judgment on them saying something to the extent of, “I could or would never do that!”

I have learned some valuable lessons about judgment over the years. Judging is so easy to do. When we form a judgment about something or someone it’s a way for us to feel in control or to feel superior in some way, and we all do it. It can be really hard not to.

When I adopted my cat Diva 10 years ago, she was 7 years old. Her owner had adopted her when she was a kitten but now had to choose between his fiancée and his cat. I couldn’t believe or understand how anyone could make that choice. This cat, this pet, this soul was what I would consider to be his baby, his family, so how could he just trade in his child for a future wife?

I held such an opinion, such a judgment about this whole situation for a very long time. I was so grateful to have Diva. She was pretty awesome so I found it hard to understand how someone could let her go like that.

Diva and I lived together for 8 years and moved across the country and to 6 different apartments during our time together. While I loved Diva, she wasn’t the easiest cat in that she really didn’t like outsiders very much. She was very much a one-person cat, a man’s cat even, and a bit possessive at times.

I learned a lot from my relationship with Diva. I learned about building relationships, practicing patience and how love grows over time. The affection she showed towards me, the level of comfort she felt and exhibited, didn’t come straight away, it developed gradually over those 8 years so when it came time to part ways, it was incredibly difficult.

Diva was nearly 16 when I was given the opportunity to pursue a long time dream of mine – a dream to live in Spain. I had wanted to do this when I graduated from university nearly 15 years earlier but never did. So, after 8 years with little Diva, I decided to leave her in Victoria and travel to Spain.

Initially I left for 2 months so hired someone to care for Diva in my absence, but as time progressed I soon discovered I wanted to stay in Spain indefinitely. The woman I left Diva with eventually found a home for her with a single man who had a bumper sticker on his car that read, “I love cats”. Diva needed a real cat lover so I felt good about making the decision from such a distance.

As it turns out, I returned to Victoria 6 months later but wasn’t in a position to take Diva back nor did her new owner want to give her up. He had grown very attached, so I left her there where she seemed quite happy too.

I went to visit her briefly before leaving Victoria for good. She growled, hissed and swatted at me. While her new owner insisted that he’d never seen her do that before, I laughed and said to her, “Well, it’s nice to see that nothing’s changed with you”. That’s when I knew she was just fine.

It certainly wasn’t easy for me to leave her there that day but I learned another valuable lesson from that little soul friend of mine with such a fitting name, a name that was the reason we met in the first place. “My cat ‘Diva’ needs a new home”, was the ad I’d seen passed on from a friend those 8 or 9 years earlier. “I need to meet that cat,” was my immediate response.

In leaving her there that day, in a city her previous owner had once thought about moving to with her in tow, I realized that I was wrong in my initial judgment, that, while Diva was more of a friend than a child to me, I too was letting her go to pursue a new life. It’s true, that saying, “Never say never”. I once said I could never have done what her first owner did and yet here I was passing her on to someone else.

I like to think that this was all a part of Diva’s soul journey too, that perhaps she needed these different people and experiences in her life in order to grow. I certainly needed her in my life and know that – no matter how far the physical distance between us – we will be forever connected energetically. Our spirits came together for a greater purpose and for that I am so grateful.

She could be completely insensitive and a royal pain in the arse, but was the coolest cat I ever met. She prepared me for so many of my relationships, giving me patience and compassion when dealing with a few people in my life, women who were certainly Divas in their own right, and who I felt honoured to come to know.

I love you, Diva D.  To me, you will always be a special soul, a valued friend, and the best cat ever. Thanks for the unconditional love, the laughter, and the lessons; for teaching me how to love, how to let go, and that one must never say never.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,