Getting Over Myself

Overcoming fear of rejection and finding community

The fear of human opinion disables; trusting in God protects you from that. – Proverbs 29:25, MSG

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. – Proverbs 3:5 ESV

Like most people, I crave meaningful connection with others. I’ve been searching for a church to belong to for years. I long for a feeling of safety where I am accepted for who I am. For a long time I blamed my feelings of rejection on the people of the church, looking to things like yoga and Buddhism for guidance. It’s too bad it took so long for me to see the truth: I am the problem. I’ve been aloof, reluctant to get involved. Over the years I’ve built up walls of protection to keep others out, and become accustomed to going it alone. It is difficult to let people in, to trust people who might see me in a state of spiritual vulnerability and judge me for that. You see, when I allow myself to be unguarded, worship brings on a flood of intense emotions for me: I cry during worship, prayer, and sermons. I know this from my first experiences of the Holy Spirit as an adult. My life opened up and the light came in when I found St. Thomas church in Fort McMurray. I felt real connection there, with a young congregation and lively worship music. I was pregnant with my first child and felt the joy of life growing inside me, and that joy was expressed through crying in church. During that time, I felt truly free to be part of something bigger than myself. But it faded as the stresses of motherhood closed in.

I had to stop going to St. Thomas when we moved away two years later. Since then, two other attempts to reach out and become part of a church congregation fizzled. The problem was, after a while I would look for any excuse to avoid going to church. My mind spins a silly story in my head: I’m too tired. I don’t feel presentable today. There is no-one else my age. There are no other children for my daughters to connect with. The pastor is an arrogant man. The pastor is an unfriendly woman. There are no women in leadership positions. The pastor said things I don’t agree with. I used to work with that person, and I don’t like them. That person looked at me funny. Those people won’t like me. That person said something mean to me. They don’t think I’m a real Christian because I’m a working woman. They think I’m a single mom because my husband doesn’t attend church. They think I’m an adulteress because I’ve been divorced and remarried. All the insecurities and judgments of a scared child’s mind trying to keep me safe and comfortable. Rather than admit I was wrong, I clung to this passage from Matthew to justify my lack of public involvement:

“When you do something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve seen them in action, I’m sure – ‘playactors’ I call them – treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that’s all they get. When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it – quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out. And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat?” – Matthew 6:2-5, MSG

Crying is not a public activity for me. Nor is any kind of emotional display, for that matter, for a number of reasons. I’m a private person. After many bad experiences in childhood with shame, I learned to keep myself small and unnoticed to avoid negative consequences. If there were any strong feelings, I would deal with them alone, going deeper inward. On top of that, I come from a family of hard-working introverts. They consider modesty and a humble attitude the pinnacle of good character. They help others but do not brag about it. Popularity is looked on with suspicion. Displaying uncontrolled emotion is considered inauthentic and attention-seeking. For years I’ve hidden my meditation and prayer in private, finding a quiet moment to bring my troubles and triumphs to God. My built-in sense of what I thought was modesty led me to consider faith a deeply personal and private affair. My reluctance to allow others to know me had many consequences, positive and negative. On the positive side, it has allowed me to remain calm and impartial through many difficult situations. This is a professional advantage: I am often praised for being so calm and gentle. The downside is I sometimes struggle to express my true feelings, especially around other women. This inability to open up around other people has led me to avoid worshiping with others.

I justified my avoidance of “churchiness” by thinking I was avoiding attention-seeking behaviour. But my interpretation of Matthew’s message was way off the mark. Participating in church and authentically worshiping, allowing the Holy Spirit to flow through us, is not the same as seeking attention. My so-called modesty turned out to be fear of opening up to new people, insecurity, unfair judgment of others, pride, and laziness. I was expecting to be judged, so I judged them first to protect my ego. How unfair! I should have also read this passage:

“Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.” – Matthew 7:1 (MSG)

And this one, from the July 19th message at Life.Church:

It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom. If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then? – Galatians 5:13 (MSG)

While Jesus has brought me through many hardships in secret, there’s only so much I can accomplish on my own. The Bible can easily be misinterpreted when our bias distorts its message (like I did with Matthew 6). The Bible will not reveal all its wisdom without guidance from others. The end result has been a lack of connection and lack of service to others. As a result of my self-protection, I’ve struggled to build the kind of safety that comes with a real-life social network. Belonging to and participating in a church is essential, if you want to be a practicing Christian! The social network of a church is one of God’s gifts to us, where people have opportunity to give and receive and achieve wholeness within a spiritual family. Even if my husband never attends church, he can benefit from my safety and connection within the community of Christ. Even more than that, the community can benefit from our God-given gifts. Focusing inward on just my family and myself, and keeping myself “safe” now feels like a selfish and even self-sabotaging act. I don’t have all the answers, and the truth is not inside me as the yoga studio or self-help gurus would have me believe. Refusing to trust or get too involved may have denied others the help they need, because I haven’t been there to help.

I now attend the Castlegar United Church, and have registered to volunteer at Life.Church online. At recent United Church coffee-time over Zoom, a friend told the group “It’s not about what you get from the church. It’s about community and what you give to others.” She’s right. When we focus inward all the time, we neglect the community around us and God’s call to serve. We also lose the opportunity for personal growth. If I want to grow in Christ, I can and should be doing more for my community. Looking outward and being open to serving is the key to building healthy friendships and community. I refuse to fear crying in public any more, because I need to get over myself. I know there will be others crying and celebrating with me. We are not that different from each other!

Time Made Tangible

My days are filled with the ephemera of spreadsheets, memos, emails, phone calls and presentations, all so easily lost and forgotten with the flick of a switch. All transitory. With evening comes balance and recovery. Most evenings after all my work and teaching and chores are done and the kids are in bed, I sit down on the couch, put my feet up, and choose a knitting project to work on. Knitting transforms spare time into a tangible, useful object, solidifying the ideas and effort expended. There are several on the go; a quick dishcloth, a shawl, a sweater. Small, medium, large; easy, intermediate, advanced. Which one wins depends on my mood and how much time is left before bed. The texture and colours matter. Maybe a bright pick-me-up, or a soothing neutral shimmer, or minimalist monochrome. Instant gratification of quick completion usually wins. After that, the satisfaction of finishing touches.

Meanwhile, on go my headphones with the latest audiobook, (this week it is Fierce Conversations by Susan Craig Scott M.D.), or the classical playlist of the month from Year of Wonder by Clemency Burton-Hill. Perhaps some moody piano by Chilly Gonzales or a sacred mass from the Renaissance, or a guided meditation. Washing away the arguments and egos of the day. Recovering a sense of capability and accomplishment.

A winter labyrinth walk

A winter labyrinth walk

There is a lovely lady in Castlegar who is a spiritual director. She is the reason we have a stone labryinth on Zuckerberg Island. Thank you Joan!

I come here to walk in the peace and quiet of the island as often as I can. Located at the confluence of the Kootenay and Columbia rivers, the sounds of the rushing river are all around.

Today I brought my two daughters along with me for the walk. They’re both so full of fun and silliness that it wasn’t exactly a contemplative experience, but that is fine. I wasn’t expecting that with them. We had so much fun, like we always do on our girls’ days.

What a lovely addition to the centre of the labryrinth!

Other labyrinth walkers have decorated the whole area with Christmas and inspirational decorations. It’s a magical place.

A yew tree – one of many on the island

A fairy seat in another yew grove.

When we got home, it was time for coffee and snacks, and crafts. The girls worked on art projects, and I did a meditation using the Calm app and then made a Himmelsbrief protection blessing for our home.

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According to Arin Murphy-Hiscock in her book Protection Spells: Clear Negative Energy, Banish Unhealthy Influences, and Embrace Your Power, a Himmelsbrief is a written letter of prayer for protection. It may be hung in the home, built into a wall, or even carried on your person. Here is the prayer I used, which is adapted from the book and also incorporates some of the prayers in the Hearth Keeper’s Way published by ADF:

By the power of the three kindreds around me,

The sky above me,

 The earth below me,

Let no ill will or distress breach these walls.

Let this house be a place of safety and comfort,

In the names of the gods, the nature spirits, and my ancestors,

Awen.

Peckham’s Lake and Old Ugly

Peckham’s Lake and Old Ugly

A brief memoir of my childhood in the 1970’s and early 1980’s.

family at peckhams

All of us with Dad at Peckham’s Lake, around 1986 or 1987. Photo by Mom. This must have been taken in early spring, judging from the snow pants and K-Ways.

 

When I think about my early childhood I remember the long, sunny days spent adventuring with my dad in Old Ugly, his 1965 Mercury pickup lovingly restored and painted two-tone green with a matching canopy. Red accents. Restored by dad, who was always tinkering with something mechanical. Motorbikes, the moonstone-painted Duster that he repainted in Mr. McConnachie’s garage, a black Camaro with a blower sticking out of its hood and Bondo holding it together, the Oldsmobile Delta 88 that he put a diesel engine into to replace the V8 gas engine. Painted deep sparkle purple with a beige Naugahyde roof. Old Ugly was our favourite though, with its big old-fashioned steering wheel, analogue gauges, and single cab. We all had to pile in, with the dog on the floor. Mom refused to go with us. She might follow us in the red K-Car, or just come out later.

Old Ugly was a 1965 Mercury restored by my Dad

Basil, our fat beagle, travelled on the floor, farting and getting in the way of our feet. Once he laid down on the gas pedal, causing alarm as dad approached a 50-km/hr sharp corner at full speed. When Basil lay down it took a crane to move him, unless you were panicking at the thought of a crash. His full name was Sir Basil Bigfoot, a purebred beagle, ruined by life with an average family that never set foot at a dog show. Mom chose his name and we all loved it. She also made a lot of our clothes. She was a good seamstress.

Dad drove too fast all the way past Fort Steele, turned at the gas station then along the back road out to Peckham’s Lake, our favourite picnic spot. Taking out a bottle of beer as we got close, getting me to pop off the top, and then telling me to hold the wheel along a straight stretch while he hung out his window and waved with both arms to Mom in the car behind us. Knowing it would cause her to have a fit. She usually stayed home for this reason.

Now they call it “Norbury Lake Provincial Park”, but we still call it Peckham’s. The water was like ice, straight from the glacier back behind in the Steeples Rocky Mountains looming above us. No chance of leeches in that cold water. We hated leeches.

There was a big farmer’s field at Peckham’s Lake, stretching for ages, golden and dry in the late summer. Green and brown in late spring. Basil would immediately run away into the field, following his nose, coming back much later covered in the cow pies he so loved to roll in. Dad would throw him into the lake, cursing. Damn stinking dog, you can ride in the back. We arrived early to get the best spot, staked our claim around the picnic table in the sun with the bit of lawn for our towels. Swim for hours, not noticing the cold, then sleeping in the sun, no sunscreen, no hats, until we were baked and had to jump back in the lake to cool off again.

fat basil

Sir Basil Bigfoot

The field was the best place to launch our model rockets, by far. No-one came out there in spring or fall, no-one to interfere or say we shouldn’t be doing that. The rockets blasted higher than we could see, their B- and C-engines flaming, pieces falling off as they flew. Sometimes the parachutes didn’t work and the remaining rocket crumpled back to earth. Sometimes they did but the wind caught them and they sailed into the trees at the far end of the field. Dad always had more, more pieces, more parts, let’s build a few more. It’s a miracle our rockets didn’t cause a grass fire or loss of an eye.

Dad told stories of his own childhood, of making gunpowder with saltpetre and fertilizer from the hardware store, pouring a line of it across the road in Cranbrook, waiting for a car to come, then lighting it. Terrifying the driver, mumbled something about a shit-swearing from his dad. My dad’s pranks are probably one of the reasons for all the warnings and restrictions that ruin childhood today. Back then it was all fun and games until someone lost an eye – literally. Firecrackers, gunpowder, bonfires, racing cars, wrecking things. Those were the days, he said, when things didn’t come with warning labels, and you had to use your brain to survive.

35 years later, dad restores Kawasaki motorcycles and turns wooden bowls in his workshop, with his two small dogs for company. His new wife keeps all in order. They are happy, living life.

Recently, I drove my daughters and my sister along the same route during summer, past Fort Steele, to the Kootenay Trout Hatchery for a tour and to feed the giant rainbow trout, back to Peckham’s Lake for a chilly swim. How could we ever stand the cold? My sister and I laugh, escaping from the water. We’ve become soft and spoiled. Seat belts mandatory, no bottles of beer, no rockets, but many memories and much laughter.

Dad in Old Ugly

Dad in Old Ugly

 

Planning a Writing Year, 2018

Updated May 16, 2018…

Lifelong learning is one of my core values. Every year, I budget for courses, conferences, and books on subjects I’m passionate about: writing, knitting & crochet, and music. Then I map out my year. Lately, I’ve been burning out, working a lot of overtime, and neglecting myself. Today it was time to re-visit my goals and work on my plan.

By design, I live in a creatively fertile area, the West Kootenays of BC. There are all kinds of local events to take in. If you want to see spectacular mountain scenery and soak in some culture, this is the place to be. I’ve posted links to each event or resource for you.

Here is a partial map of my year:

January

Intensive knitting and crochet, exploring historical patterns and modern techniques. Writing for my blog, Blueberry Creek Crafts: https://blueberrycreekcrochet.com/

 

February

DIY MFA Book Club series: https://diymfa.com/

 

March

FREE, online creative journaling course, through my local library: https://castlegar.bc.libraries.coop/

-Update: I tried this course, but it was terrible, full of outdated information and with course notes that read like a collection of plagiarized websites. Not recommended.

April

Flash Memoir Writing, Selkirk College, Nelson BC, starting April 7th, 2018: http://selkirk.ca/ce/courses/arts-culture/writing

-Update: the course was cancelled. I was the only person registered! What a shame.

May

Vortext at Hedgebrook, May 4-6th, Washington, USA: http://www.hedgebrook.org/vortext/

(I really hope to attend Vortext, but may not be able to due to other events happening in May.)

-Update: I didn’t attend Vortext because I found a local conference sponsored by the Federation of BC Writers: the St. Eugene Writers Conference, May 10-13th. I participated in Keith Liggett’s “Find Your Voice” workshop and loved it! This week (May 16th) I’m working on some homework Keith assigned.

This month I’m also working on polishing a writing sample for my June event (Convergence). It’s due by the end of the week.

June

Convergence Writer’s Weekend: Keeping a Civil Tongue, June 15-16, 2018, Silverton, BC:  http://widespot.ca/event/convergence-writers-weekend-keeping-a-civil-tongue/

 

July

Elephant Mountain Literary Festival, July 12-15th, 2018, Nelson, BC: http://emlfestival.com/

 

August

Kaslo Jazz Festival, August 3-5, 2018: https://kaslojazzfest.com/the-festival/

 

September to December: yet to be mapped.

 

What are your plans this year?

Celebrate!

Today’s book club prompt is: Celebrate!

I am celebrating the kind rejection letter I received last Saturday from a literary journal. They didn’t find a place for my submission in their upcoming issue but they enjoyed reading my work, and encouraged me to submit again. Rejection letters signify that I wrote and submitted something! This burst of inspiration was the direct result of participating in the DIY MFA book club.

Other things I’m celebrating, because my writing joy spills over into my life and vice versa:

The optimism that comes with longer days and returning birdsong.

Progress in my family’s quest for health and happiness, and our successes so far.

All the writing I’ve been doing, online and off, using book club prompts and DIY MFA prompts, and also the other craft books in my collection.

A renewed sense of determination to complete my memoir, which is in its first draft.

A renewed desire to submit personal essays for publication – to put myself out there, in spite of the inevitable rejection.

All the opportunities and possibilities of life.

Zero Moment

My zero moment was caused by cabin fever in Fort McMurray, Alberta about 15 winters ago. I felt isolated from family and friends and was trapped inside by the cold. That’s when I started blogging, to find community. Now offline, my blog was called Frontier Follies.

We left McMurray a few years later, but the city left an indelible mark on my life. I continued to follow its growth and struggles, and plan to take my daughters there one day. I had hoped to show them our first house, but it’s no longer there. The house, in fact the entire neighborhood we lived in, burned down during the massive forest fire that destroyed much of the city in 2016.

One day I will go back. The city plays a role in multiple generations of my family. It’s the city my mother’s family moved to from England in the 1970’s. It’s the place my parents met, where my eldest daughter was born, and my first marriage began to fall apart.

 

 

Making Space for Writing

Making Space for Writing

Yesterday I blogged about my goal of creating an idea bank and an Oracle, and how my office is cluttered and needs work. After posting that entry, I spent the evening organizing and cleaning up my space.

My Idea Bank

I organized all of my favourite writing and inspirational books and personal journals in the side bookcases. The top two shelves are the idea bank. My daughters also use some of these books: you’ll notice two copies of the “Steal Like an Artist” journal. We actually own three, mine and one each for my daughters.

My Oracle

I’ve dedicated one shelf as my shrine to creativity, my Oracle. There’s a family photo at our favourite place, a photo of my great-grandfather, a lace jar cover I designed, the Geez Magazine issue that my first “real” writing was published in (a tiny blurb), a fancy thermometer, an old metronome, a rose quartz skull, my NaNoWriMo 2017 pin, and two collections of index cards I’ve written ideas onto over the years. It needs more work, but here it is:

The rest of the shelves are not exciting – they hold reference books for my professional work.

My Home Office

I work from home a lot for my day job, which requires a dedicated, secure office space. That means I’m lucky enough to have an entire office room just to myself. It’s small but I love it. This is also my primary writing space during the school year.

I keep some inspirational items around my desk, like a beautiful file folder, a pottery mug for my pens, and a crocheted mug coaster. Above the desk is a shelf of artwork I love: a Matisse drawing, my kids’ creations, and photos. My degrees used to live on that shelf, but I moved them to the wall behind my chair this morning, because I would rather see something beautiful when I look up from my work.

The only problem is, our house is also small, and there’s never enough room for all our stuff. My office tends to become a storage room, with bins of yarn, an exercise bike, those damn old curtains, and even my husband’s crossbow. The exercise bike and curtains moved out this morning.

Here is the “corner of shame”, where all that stuff is piled, all the mystery electronics cords live, and the outdated textbooks went to die:

The corner of shame looks much better today. At least I’ve gotten the chaos down to a dull roar. It’s workable now. I spend many hours in this office, so cleaning it up was worth the effort.

My Summer Office and Outdoor Writing Space

Come summer, my family spends a lot of time at our lake place. That’s where my husband feels most at home, and my kids can spend most of their time outdoors instead of glued to a screen. At first it was off-grid (there are no power, cable, water, or gas services available), but my husband installed an independent power system, a cell phone antenna, and satellite tv, so now it’s only off-grid if the power kicks out. My husband is not a reader, and he loves his TV shows. Marriage is all about compromise…he’s a genius in so many other ways. I can live with a TV.

If the weather is nice, and it usually is, I write outside on the deck, overlooking the lake.

If I need to escape from the TV, I retreat to the “bridal suite”:

So that’s it – my writing spaces. They’ve evolved over the years from a lapdesk on the couch to actual, dedicated, beautiful spaces that I love. I can’t wait to see the photos from everyone else posted on the WordNerds Unite page!

DIY MFA Book Club #9: Try a new technique from the DIY MFA book

DIY MFA Book Club #9: Try a new technique from the DIY MFA book

The techniques I chose are the Idea Bank and the Oracle, in Chapter 6.

The Idea Bank

I already keep an electronic notebook where all the webpages, photos, files, and emails that inspire me are stashed. It’s in Microsoft OneNote. The only problem is, I can’t always access this notebook because it usually requires wifi. I need a physical idea bank that can’t die with the iPad battery. I have a few hard-copy books of writing prompts, and they are a start. I’ll organize them on the top shelf of my writing bookcase.

The Oracle

What a romantic idea, the Oracle. A shrine, filled with mementos, photos, and other inspirational items, it is meant to be an evolving collection. Mine will take up some room so it will need a whole shelf to itself. The first things to go in mine will be a photo of my Dad’s old green truck, the rose quartz skull sculpture from my stepmom, a trilobite fossil, a metronome, and my great-grandfather’s WW1 service photo (Private, Canadian army, 8th Battalion).

There’s a shelf in my office, full of outdated textbooks. I think this shelf would be the perfect location for my Oracle. The question is, what to do with the textbooks? No one will want them. It seems a shame to throw them away, but that leads me to my first task: cleaning house.

Cleaning House

My office space is clogged with stuff: binders upon binders full of seminar handouts and training manuals that I’ll never look at again, those outdated textbooks, a pile of stamping and paper crafting supplies that I don’t use any more, and some old curtains that my husband refuses to throw away. (Those are on top of a pile of yarn in a bin.) Why am I allowing all this old, useless stuff to take up valuable space and energy? It drains me just looking at it. Especially the binders, a zillion binders full of memories of boring corporate cubicles and toxic workplace cultures. It will feel amazing to purge it from my house and from my life. I’m sure I’ll find a few inspiring mementoes along the way, to keep, because there’s another bookshelf hidden behind all that junk.