Winter Reflections

I know winter.

I wish I didn’t but I do.

One of the most cliché advice people tell writers is “write about what you know”.

 It’s a tired rule that nobody uses to measure up their work anymore but there’s something different about writing on what we wish we didn’t know.

The things we stare in the face everyday unwillingly always teach us something valuable. I wrote about using winter’s stillness to find silence within ourselves a few months ago. Ever since I wrote Winter Stillness and the Magic Bush, I’ve made it a point to look at winter with no prejudice. I want to find peace within myself and accept its presence.

It’s not easy. Every half-year of my life I struggle with winter’s harshness. Winter lasts about 6 months out of the year. That’s 13 years of my life spent getting to know it. That’s also a lot of time spent hating it.

As I type this my dry hands hurt and I remember I hated winter today too. I will also hate it tomorrow with the 5 inches of snow that awaits us.

Going from inside to outside and to inside back again everyday I get reminded of the extremes our human life is ruled by.

We have day and night, light and darkness and winter gives us even more to balance.

They say you can’t appreciate happiness if you’ve never known sadness.

Snow reflects the light that surrounds us and we have to walk in the cold and dirt.

It forces us to seek light within ourselves to re-establish the balance.

Winter teaches us commitment.

We have to find our own sun and warmth and do it daily.

Mine is cuddling with my cat at the end of the day and sipping endless amounts of tea.

What is yours?

*Photo Credit: Cindy B. flickr Creative Commons 2.0

Advertisements

Christmas Songs and Emotional Hangovers

We can officially say goodbye to Jingle Bells and Silent Night this morning.

‘Tis the day after Christmas. Santa’s not coming to town anymore.

I got my last earful last night before going to bed.

I’m not a fan of holiday-themed songs in general but there’s one I listen to every year at least once.

I was 9 the first time I heard it. It’s not popular by any means. Odds are you’ve never heard it and not just because it’s originally a French song.

It doesn’t really matter.

Think of a song that brings you back to the first time you’ve heard it every time the melody comes to your ears.

Think of a song that makes you shed a tear every time it comes on.

Think of a song whose words resonate in your head no matter how many times you listen to them.

Now, combine all three and you get what kind of song I’m talking about.

Besides the promise of gifts, Christmas growing up held little other anticipation. There were no big family gathering to look forward to. I didn’t have to prepare myself to answer all the burning questions about my life that well-meaning aunts and uncles inevitably seem to have. At least that’s what I imagined normal family gatherings to be like. It was something that people with real families had.

Every year, we went to church on Christmas Eve  and I got to listen to my best friend sing in the choir. It was the only tradition other than gift unwrapping that made the holidays festive for me.

She had a soft soprano voice (she still does!) and sang a solo that year.

It was this song about a sad flower left in the snow getting picked up and befriended by the narrator/singer.

I remember sitting in the back on the left side with my mom. The small church was packed with families but it was quiet as she sang.

I knew it was silly even in that exact moment but I felt it anyway; I couldn’t help but picture myself as that delicate paper flower.

My friend was singing for me.

I was embarrassed for crying in the middle of all those happy families with a cold wooden bench beneath me and the sweet smell of incense floating around but I still did.

On a day about happiness I didn’t like to be weak and admit to myself that I cared so much about her choosing me as a friend. I knew I wasn’t an unloved flower but I still felt deeply moved.

I’ve never told her this to this day but I was jealous of all the people that cared about her. She had the real family I wanted with the gatherings and games.

But that day it felt ok. Even if I was a sad paper flower left in the snow, she chose me.

I will forever be grateful for that.


This year I celebrated Christmas in the way I dreamed of back then.

When I came home I told my cat I loved him.

Then it dawned on me, I didn’t tell anyone else.

I still don’t like admitting to myself how much I care about being loved but I’m not a paper flower anymore so I can tell you all,

I love you.

Even though I don’t drink I feel like I have an emotional hangover today.

 

*Photo Credit: jbarreiros flickr Creative Commons 2.0

Openness and Vulnerability

I take the same bus everyday. I pass by the same houses and street corners.

Seasons change and make the experience different.

In winter the windows get dirty and grey, there’s not much to see. Spring and summer are more interesting.

When fresh air can enter through the open windows, we get a plethora of sounds that is otherwise inaudible.

Street chatter, cars passing by, honking and music. There’s this man on the corner of the busiest street that plays the violin everyday during the warmest months. He always stands barefoot on the sidewalk.

I realized today that I missed him.

I would be sad if he wasn’t there next spring.

As a city dweller, I’m lucky.

I get to hear all sorts of music everyday.

There’s the nice older gentlemen with his guitar on the metro around 5pm. He plays Beatles songs and Christmas melodies these days.

There’s the young guy with his flute in the underground tunnel downtown.

Sometimes I wonder why they show up day in and day out.

People pay little attention to them. A handful of change, a couple of smiles and nods is all they do it for.

The kids often ask me if the musicians are poor. Why do people play in the metro?

I always tell them that audiences are hard to come by. Artists don’t want to stay home and play for themselves.

An artist creates an experience that is meant for an audience.

Without a public, readers, listeners, eyes to contemplate, our work is meaningless.

It is impossible to be an artist without a willingness to be open and vulnerable. Every piece, every performance in its very existence says to the recipient “I made this for you”, “I’m creating this experience, this present moment, for you”.

In extending this gift to others, the artist is making a statement of his willingness to reach people no matter who they are, where they are in time and in life.

It’s putting a hand out into the world and telling everyone “I am here if you need me. I am here even if you don’t know you do yet”.

I think back to the sweet sounds of violin carried by last summer’s breeze and I say thank you for providing me with something I didn’t know I needed.

Even if he’s not there on the corner next spring, I can say that the notes he played still haunt the space.

Their echo resonates in me every time I pass by, reminding me how important it is to be open and vulnerable.

Just like him.

An artist, standing barefoot, among the crowd of passersby.

*Photo Credit: Kunal Shah flickr Creative Commons 2.0

Believing In Magic

This is the best time of the year. The only point in time where we make it our duty to encourage children to suspend their disbelief.

While it’s true that most kids have an imaginary friend and like to partake in pretend play, they are a lot more rational than we give them credit for.

When in doubt or uncertainty, they turn to the person who they know to be the most knowledgeable and critical about the world. Grown-ups.

Honestly, it’s not a laughable strategy. We look up to doctors, lawyers, professionals of all types.

I was made to believe in all sorts of magical things as a child. Santa Claus was not the most prominent figure by any means.

I was.

I made a potion when I was 6 that changed my life forever. It was a sub par version of the green slimy bubbling mixture from a real witch’s cauldron. For one, I had no grimoire. Secondly, the only green came from my dad’s mint flavored toothpaste.

I knew deep down that my bowl of water with bits of condiments and personal hygiene products was a total sham.

However my dad disappeared in the shower after tasting it. My mom freaked out. He came back and told me he was sent back to his previous life.

I had powers.

I truly believed I did for years.

I couldn’t explain why my parents would go out of their way to create such a charade for no reason that I could see.

It was easier to see myself as a witch then to fathom the idea that my parents could invent such a lie.

I continued on in my belief in magical things for a while after I found out the truth about Santa. He wasn’t real but I sure was.

It all came crashing down on me a few Christmases later.

I was in my bedroom when my mom stormed in.

I was 10 years old if I remember correctly.

She opened my closet and proceeded to throw all my unorganized mess all over the place.

Clothes and toys were flying and I was being put on the stake.

My own witch trial.

I was the mean old witch that ruined Christmas forever in our house.

Except I wasn’t.

My younger brother found Santa’s gift stash unbeknownst to me.

I was being accused of luring him into the secret hiding place.

I was indignant of being wrongly held responsible but mostly I was stunned.

Why was it so bad if nobody in our house believed in Santa anymore?

I didn’t understand.

However I saw clearly for the first time how important it was to my mom that we held on to believing in magic.

I had no witchy powers at all except those she wanted me to believe I had.

The following year I invented that Cupid came every year for Valentine’s Day and hid gifts with clues all over people’s houses. I made my brother believe in it with a surprising facility.

The Valentine’s Day treasure Hunt was my mom’s new way of creating magic for us.

Maybe I didn’t have powers but I helped create magic for years.

Maybe this is what the large scale deceiving is about; finding the bit of magic in ourselves and judging it important enough to spread it.

*Photo Credit: Javcon117* flickr Creative Commons 2.0

Don’t Step Down From Your Fortress

Montreal is a total winter wonderland right now.

Well it’s more of a “I wonder where the land is” and “I wonder how to step over this mountain of snow to get on the bus”.

Either way it’s not fun. Except for kids.

They find entertainment everywhere, don’t they?

Even in the coldest of places.

I wasn’t a big fan of snow even as a kid but I did enjoy it a lot more than I do today.

Why?

Forts.

I’ve always liked building fort and fortresses. Inside and outside. That’s not really unusual.

I think most people can relate to that.

However, once they were nice and tall and people started coveting them, I gave them up.

I surrendered my fortresses at any slight provocation.

I liked building a space for myself but I didn’t want the responsibility of protecting it against intruders.

 We may have forged the best defenses around our fortress but if we’re not willing to stand by while we’re being attacked, they’re useless.

Even though I haven’t been constructing fortresses out of snow lately, I’ve realized that I am still attempting to make one.

I like to stay alone in my own fort, stating all sorts of projects, trying to build myself up.

And you guessed it, I want to give it up anytime something comes up.

Today I want to tell myself, and that kid I was back then:

Don’t ever step down from your fortress again!

 

*Photo Credit: Eden, Janine and Jim flickr Creative Commons 2.0

Glass Half-Full or Half-Empty?

I ate veal once in my life.

It was at this fancy restaurant that I could only afford with the help of a site like Groupon. You know the type.

I don’t remember much of that meal except that I filled myself up with the far too delicious bread rolls and butter.

I don’t remember feeling anything besides being stuffed and happy.

That’s a sad, hard truth that I like to remind myself of from time to time.

Humans, we do things that are mind-boggling.

Both good and bad.

I always wonder which way it goes however.

Is it more good than bad?

More bad than good?

Glass half-full or half-empty, it doesn’t matter.

There’s still a glass on far too many tables.

*Photo Credit: Martin Abegglen flickr Creative Commons 2.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Growing Up, Not Apart

I liked her room better than mine. She hated the red floor with its weird mosaic but I found it original and nice to look at.

I can still picture the two-toned blue walls and the bird tapestry.

We spent so much time in there together, dreaming, talking, envisioning the lives we would have as grown-ups.

I don’t remember what we imagined so I can’t say if any of it came true. Except for one thing.

We saw our friendship existing outside of the confines of our young naive years.

If we planted a tree the day we met, it would be tall. Old and solid.

People say that relationships are like plants, they must be tended to and given regular attention to make them grow.

We never really talk about what we’re supposed to do once the plant gets enormous. Once its foliage is rich and vibrant, its flowers blossoming.

Childhood friends are special. Not only are we rooting ourselves in this life on earth as we grow up to discover it but we go through it together. We chose to plant our feet on this soil with this other person. We come to share a common grounding in life. We support each other for years and one day we realize the roots we made for ourselves on this planet are interwoven.

If our friendship is a plant, then its roots are definitely tangled up together deep in the earth.

What we see above the rich soil is nothing compared to what lies below.

Our roots may be intermingled but it doesn’t mean the tree will flourish forever. Leaves turned brown overtime, some fell to the ground. Over the years we’ve trimmed some branches. Others grew out.

 It’s crooked and an undisciplined mess of greenery but it’s alive and standing.

Somehow we made it happen.

Sometimes I wonder if I’ll have the courage to take care of it as long as I live but when I look at it, tall and majestic, I know I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It’s one of those trees that always provides you with shade when you need it, whose leaves swishing in the wind make you feel peaceful and quiet inside.

And most importantly, if you climb on its branches you can see the stars up close.

 

*Photo Credit: Bruno Cordioli flickr Creative Commons 2.0