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MayBE 2019: Day Twenty-Eight

MayBE 2019: Day 28

I had an inheritance from my father,

It was the moon and the sun.

And though I roam all over the world,

The spending of it’s never done.”

― Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls

Sometimes I bribe my kids in an unusual and on closer thought, maybe even in a slightly disturbing way.

The conversation usually goes something like this:

In our house, everyone washes their own dishes and all the kids take turns washing up the pots and pans.

When my dinner plate needs to be washed, I whisper to the closest kid, “Can you wash my plate? I will move you up on the Will.”

They roll their eyes, take my plate, and say, “Mom, you alwayssay that…but can you put me down for the Christmas quilt you made? My siblings would definitely fight over that.”

What will I leave behind? What will I pass down?

Sometimes it feels very tangible. I look at one daughter with curly hair and who, with back turned, looks exactly like me and who loves words like I do. Sometimes it is less tangible. Will they inherit my optimism and my sense of humour or my less favourable aspects of petulance and impatience?

Or is this a product of nurture and they are not prisoners to an inheritance they can’t refuse?

Evolution is an interesting topic in our house and in the class I teach. We talk about genetic traits that are inherited. You know, those fun physical ones like tongue rolling, a widow’s peak, and attached ear lobes.

We also talk about genetic expression in the new field of epigenetics. Can we use our thoughts and beliefs and actions to up-regulate or down-regulate certain genes? More specifically, can the lifestyle we choose completely change the biology of our body and therefore, what we pass down to our children?

Where does the power of culture come into play in adjusting our biology? We are re-adjusting the ways in which we live and interact with the earth after 10000 years of agrarian civilization. The impact on relationships, community, food choices, and resource dependence can’t be ignored. Limitations are dissolving and new and urgent questions emerge on what legacy will we currently leave for the next 100 years.

We have to begin understanding what matters to us and where we need to redefine and possibly confront long-standing concepts and structures that are perhaps obsolete and no longer serve us.

Part of my own evolution and changing beliefs are centered around success and its definition. Growing up as a child of immigrants, excellent performance in school, attending university, and getting a high-paying job were ingredients for a successful life. When I worked hard to accomplish all that, with a child in tow, and after almost losing or destroying every relationship in my life, I was at my most unhappiest.

I listened to a poignant On Being podcast Abraham Verghese and Denise Pope — How Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up? In this podcast, they challenge the pervasive cultural view of success that is tied to external rewards: money, power, celebrity. They highlight a broken education system that continues to promote this lie that achieving these external rewards will make you happy and that there is one path to get there. The research is clear. For many, the focus and pressure to get the grades to get into university do not lead to a lifetime love of learning or long-term happiness.

I want my children to inherit a feeling of success that only failure can give and only through a resilience of getting back up. To be already successful having the willingness to learn and to give and to connect. I want them to inherit a love for the world and a longing, as Mary Oliver says, to live this one wild and precious life.

TODAY’S PROMPT

  • What do we want our children to inherit?
  • What do you want to leave behind? Your legacy?
  • How shall future generations inherit the earth?
  • Draw something that you inherited or hope to.
  • Copy poem below.

The Summer Day

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver

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MayBE 2019: Day Twenty-Seven

mayBE 2019: Day 27

Steal Like An Artist.

(I stole that from Austin Kleon.)

“Nobody is born with a style or a voice. We don’t come out of the womb knowing who we are. In the beginning, we learn by pretending to be our heroes. We learn by copying.”

– Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative

Copying. I touched on it yesterday at the end of post. This has been the one thing that my kids do everyday. They copy poetry, quotes, artwork, passages, songs, and anything else that inspires them.

Right now, my 16 year old is exploring the theme of cities based on the prompt I created on Day 14. She loves the book by Italo Calvino and has been searching for quotes and passages on cities and copying them. Her favourites are from Jane Jacobs and from Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust: A History of Walking.

My son is always copying superheroes and anime faces. My daughter copies patterns to sew. My other daughter is currently copying quotes from Emerson and her latest book Well-Read Black Girl.

“You start when you’re young and you copy. You straight up copy.”

  • Shel Silverstein

I am constantly copying quotes and artwork in my daily practice. What we have found is that we start to infuse our own experience and interpretation. We start to make off-shoots which lead to original projects.

My paining for mayBE Day 23: Gifts.

This creation was inspired by this illustration by Brothers Hilts in the book Velocity of Being:

It’s like we collaborate with our mentors to create our art, our writing, our ideas. We pay homage and ALWAYS give credit that inspire us to connect dots in other ways.

Steal, copy, imitate. REPEAT.

”Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.”

  • Salvador Dali

TODAY’S PROMPT:

  • Copy the above quote.
  • Copy a passage from a book that makes your heart sing.
  • Copy a piece of art.

    -Copy any of my art on the blog.

(But always give credit.)

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MayBE 2019: Day Twenty-Six

MayBE 2019: Day 26

To some people, this empty room symbolizes something profound, mysterious, and terrifying: the task of starting with nothing and working your way toward creating something whole and beautiful and satisfying.

It’s no different for a writer rolling a fresh sheet of paper into his typewriter (or more likely firing up the blank screen on his computer), or a painter confronting a virginal canvas, a sculptor staring at a raw chunk of stone, a composer at the piano with his fingers hovering just above the keys.

Some people find this moment — the moment before creativity begins — so painful that they simply cannot deal with it. They get up and walk away from the computer, the canvas, the keyboard; they take a nap or go shopping or fix lunch or do chores around the house. They procrastinate. In its most extreme form, this terror totally paralyzes people.

The blank space can be humbling. But I’ve faced it my whole professional life. It’s my job. It’s also my calling. Bottom line: Filling this empty space constitutes my identity.”

  • Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life
My daily blank writing space.

Every day I write for at least one hour on my iPad using the Ulysses app. Lately, this is all I need to show up for myself for my mayBE project.

I have shown up here for 26 days straight but the last few days, I have only been able to show up to write and haven’t been able to do my art. In previous years, I would have been harsh with myself. I am a little kinder today. I have a clearer view and a better habit of stepping back to look at the big picture. While art has taken a back seat, other blank pages needed to be filled.

My blank pages change depending on what is in front of me. Some blank spaces are easier for me to fill than others.

I am better at facing an empty page on the computer screen to write than an empty house that I need to decorate.

My blank canvas to paint was easier to face than a blank canvas of starting over in a marriage.

Blank lesson plans are easier to fill when my children write the first sentence.

It’s not as easy to see my body as a blank space with which to re-mold and sculpt as I age.

I have had many blank slates in my life: choosing a new place, a new community, and a new country to call home. And at other times, the blank slate was invisible to everyone outside of me. It only came from aggressively stripping away old beliefs, impatient with the old coat of bull shit chipping slowly.

But no matter what the blank page looks like, I show up for it.

”A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.” – E.B. White

If I waited for my kids to grow up, to have a room of my own, to have the perfect routine, to have the art supplies all set up and organized, to be completely rested, to be happy and know what I wanted to create, I never would have fulfilled my creative callings.

I remember teaching 6-10 workshops per month and at one point, half of them were original classes that I had to create with 1-2 weeks notice. I worked with the art of story and paper at the time. I had four kids with one of them as a new baby. After the kids would go to bed, I would put the baby to sleep on the couch in the basement and spread out all of my art supplies on the floor and work until the baby woke up for the next feed.

I remember writing on this blog in the wee hours of the morning and in the middle of the night because I had to write something down.

I remember waking up at 4:30am to draw on the chalkboard hoping the kids wouldn’t wake up or I would do my Book of Hours in the car if the kids fell asleep on the way home.

But wait, you say. What about those Goldilocks Conditions that we mayBE’d about on Day Four? Yes but you have to find the balance, like the old serenity prayer, accept the things you cannot change while changing the things you can. If you have been following along for the month, what conditions absolutely need to be met and what conditions actually aren’t that necessary?

Maybe through this journey, you were able to prioritize and create conditions. But maybe not. Maybe it’s been a futile and frustrating effort. Maybe you have to lower your standard. Maybe your ideal conditions can’t happen for a few years because your kids are too young or you have to focus on one thing at a time like getting more sleep or helping your kids adjust to an emotional transition.

For me, I need my iPad and 1 hour because my creative juices have been building for 26 days. When I started the month, there were more conditions that needed to be met so I could get over the inertia.

Sometimes we need to face the blank page even if we are missing those conditions. Sometimes our sanity depends on it. Sometimes we are called to even if the rest of our life is falling apart because maybe it will be the only thing that will give us the energy to put it back together.

And if you missed some days, that’s cool because at least you show up.

Because as Picasso said,

“To know what you’re going to draw, you have to begin drawing.”

TODAY’S PROMPT:

  • Fill a blank page with words or images.

OR…

Whenever I face a particular blank space without inspiration, I copy. I copy a poem. I copy a drawing. I copy house decor. I copy a person who inspires me. It takes the pressure off and is the perfect way to begin without so much responsibility.

  • Copy one thing onto a blank page.

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MayBE 2019: Day Twenty-Five

Questions, Dinner Parties, and Conversation (again).

Be patient with all that is unresolved in your heart. Love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

  • Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Certain milestones creep up on me. One day I notice a child can tie their own shoes or one is ready for a job or to stay home alone.

Then we are invited to a dinner party.

I asked Chris, “The kids too?”

He nodded and shrugged. “What do you think?”

I paused for a moment because I tried to remember the last time I went to a dinner party. I had flashes of meeting new people and having interesting conversations. But I didn’t remember children at these dinner parties.

We accepted the invitation and we told the kids that we were going to a dinner party. They were a little confused.

“Mama, what’s a dinner party? I mean, we go to dinner at people’s houses sometimes but you keep saying that this is a dinner party. Why is that different? And who is going to be there?”

I said, “I don’t know. Dinner parties are normally made up of many different people. Some people you’ve never met before. This is also a Shabbat dinner.”

We explained the religious and cultural tradition and they were intrigued. They wondered if they have to dress up and if they would know which fork to use.

I laughed.

“I don’t think it’s a formal dinner party.”

They looked at me with eyes wide open.

“Wait a minute. There are different types of dinner parties? Whoa.”

Fast forward a few days.

At the dinner party, I was amazed to hear my children engage with the rest of the attendees. They speak clearly and smile and are courteous. They listened closely to our hosts explaining Shabbat. They listened to stories and different perspectives. And at the end of the meal, they took turns with other adults helping wash the dishes.

Most of all, I am grateful for the gracious and kind adults that asked my children questions and were interested in what they had to say. I am grateful for the adults who don’t mind my kids listening to our conversations and feeling also ok to speak in private if necessary also teaching my kids how to set boundaries with grace.

Sometimes I am asked how hard it is to homeschool my kids, to be with them all day. It’s a popular myth. Part of “homeschooling” is actually the opportunity to include the community in their lessons like accepting an invitation to a dinner party.

The art of conversation, in-person conversation, is the lesson at dinner parties. I don’t think people are born as natural conversationalists. I think it’s a skill that anyone can learn through practice and through watching people that are good at it. My kids love hearing real stories told by real people.

Beautiful stories of people from different backgrounds and different beliefs and different walks of life are excavated after a few minutes in a dinner party. We see each other when we listen to each other.

When we purposefully put ourselves in the place of not knowing another person and artfully getting to know them through conversation, we participate in the most basic aspect of humanity – connection.

This is what my children learn through conversation. I asked them what they learned at the dinner party. One child spent the time translating between a Spanish speaker and non-Spanish speakers and she loved it because she could fully be involved in the conversation without having to be in the conversation because it was another way to observe interactions. One child simply loved being asked an interesting question.

They are eager to learn because they have questions themselves. Questions that they have asked me at our own dinner parties at home. The dinners where the seven of us shared everything. We shared our meals, our fears, our exciting news (“We’re having another baby!”). The place where feelings were aired out and confessions heard. The table where my children learned what tension and forgiveness taste like. The conversations that always started with a question.

In this world, we are having a tougher time having conversation. We are losing the ability to listen with curiosity instead of turning away because it’s uncomfortable to be in disagreement. We are also losing the ability to speak with compassion and a lightness of being in the face of dividing issues.

So let’s start with the timeless dinner party. The first step in getting to know our neighbours. Our community. If you listen closely, you will notice we are all the same – as one of my daughters observe with small talk: “Everyone has their defaults, their safe spaces of conversation but then when someone asks an interesting question, it gets good.”

It’s how we love the question that leads us to live it.

TODAY’S PROMPT:

  • Choose one or more…
  • Copy the Rilke quote above.
    • Draw a question.
      • Write questions that you are living with that may never be answered.
      • Have or go to a dinner party.
      • Have an interesting conversation with a child.

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MayBE 2019: Day Twenty-Four.

MayBE 2019: Day 24

On Woman.

There is no good answer to how to be a woman; the art may instead lie in how we refuse the question.

― Rebecca Solnit, The Mother of All Questions

I was on the phone with my eldest yesterday and I had to hold back the tears. We had the most honest conversation about naming ourselves and more specifically, naming our dual natures, and all the ways the outside world and other people distract us from this work of seeing ourselves.

But how can I want my independence and feel taken care of? How can I want to stay small and safe while yearning to be big and courageous? How can I be vulnerable but never want to be hurt? How did I want this yesterday and not want this today?

I nod because I still ask these questions today.

Before self-love, before acceptance, we have to name.

I am a 40 year old woman with four daughters. I looked in the mirror in my twenties and thirties and thought, “Good God, I barely know how to be a woman myself, how am I going to prepare them for this?”

I did a lesson block on “Power” with one of my daughters when she was fifteen. We read Mary Beard’s book, Women and Power and Rebecca Solnit’s collection of essays, The Mother of All Questions.

I also bought these books for my eldest to read when she turned nineteen.

We started the block with a lesson in anatomy on the spine and how we stand. Are our feet completely on the floor? Can we feel the ground giving us energy to stand upright? How do we carry ourselves? We looked at the angle of our hips to our knees, and due to the wider hips, I told her how we have to have a wider stance to feel more stable than men.

We talked about our voice. The subtle ways we are silenced.

There are different standards that have been established by a system that had nothing to do with what we really wanted: what a woman should look like, how she should dress, “the message” she is sending, what is appropriate behavior, how to walk in the world and when and where we can walk without “getting ourselves” into trouble.

We are all given that “extra” advice from this system that has even turned our own against us so that it also comes from our own grandmothers, mothers, and aunts. Don’t scream, don’t fight, don’t make eye contact, dress appropriately, don’t make a fuss, don’t disagree, don’t speak up.

Silence is what allows people to suffer without recourse, what allows hypocrisies and lies to grow and flourish, crimes to go unpunished. If our voices are essential aspects of our humanity, to be rendered voiceless is to be dehumanized or excluded from one’s humanity. And the history of silence is central to women’s history.

― Rebecca Solnit, The Mother of All Questions

Silence is a language that has been imposed upon us whether we are conscious of it or not.

Needless to say, I messed up a lot trying to project my own shame and insecurity onto my own daughters.

I will never forget the day my eldest called me out on my bull shit and told me that I had made her feel ashamed about her body for the first time in her life when I made a comment about her clothing choices. I said I was concerned for her safety (which was a lie). And she saw right through it and named the thing that I was ashamed of – that I cared what people thought of me as a mother, that her choices reflected my abilities as a mother. What if people knew I really didn’t have control? What if they all figured out that I wasn’t the woman everyone thought I was – this peaceful mama who packed perfect lunches? What if they knew I was a raging banshee half the time because I was just so tired of this bull shit to be everything to everyone? What if everyone knew we had problems and issues and tears and late-night conversations where I cursed and fucked up over and over again?

That was a huge fail for me because I knew it had nothing to do with her but my own confusion about what it means to be a woman and a sovereign woman at that.

I am not perfect. I am a hypocrite. We all are. We all have had moments when we have had to choose to speak or to stay silent and weigh the costs involved. That is the nature of being a woman today. I am not proud of the times I have chosen stability over speaking out. I am not proud of the times when I have shamed my daughters. I am not proud of the moments I rolled my eyes at other women’s struggles or belittled their progress because they weren’t moving at the patriarchal pace expected of us. I am not proud of the way I have judged other women and their choices. I am not proud of competing with and betraying women instead of collaborating and celebrating with women.

But to say that I haven’t done any of those things would mean that I can’t name myself – my whole and the pieces of it – so that I can love all of it and give permission for my own daughters to give a name to these things that we remain silent on. This is what’s going to change the course for all of us and our commitment to each other.

In Toronto and here in my little community of Costa Rica, I have been able to sit and do this work alongside some of the most courageous women who tell the truth daily. My daughters and son witness the way we communicate, the way we support each other, the way we are vulnerable enough to be honest when we disagree and still show up for one another.

Yesterday I had the most honest and amazing conversation with a group of women at our community space about something I disagreed with and they met me with compassion and held that space to listen to my concerns. Later in the afternoon, I was at the beach with another group of women because all of our kids were playing together. These are the women who I have depended on and needed and who never once hesitated to support me when I made the call.

We totally fuck up with each other too but talk it out and ask how we can do better again the next day. We are women who are also mothers telling the truth about our lives and our frailties and our missteps and all the ways we feel we come up short because we are still measuring ourselves again a standard we never created in a structure, as Mary Beard says, that is “already coded as male.”

I agree with Solnit. There really isn’t a good answer to how to be a woman. The question itself is the problem. Maybe all there that has to be done is to reclaim the name for ourselves to help our daughters do the same.

TODAY’S PROMPT:

  • What does it mean to be powerful? In what ways have you been silenced?
    • Draw/paint your name.
      • Copy any quote above.
      • List all the aspects of your dual nature.
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MayBE 2019: Day Twenty-Three

MayBE 2019: Day 23

GIFTS.

My fourth daughter stopped me in our outdoor hallway on the way to pee.

“Mama, should I wear sporty clothes today? I mean, are we doing anything active today?”

I looked at her confused and said, “What do you mean by active?”

“You know, like running and jumping,” she said while acting out the actual movements in case I really didn’t understand.

“I don’t know. Why are you asking me? Let’s review something for a moment. I am the artistic parent and your father is the active parent. If it were up to me, and if the laws of biology and muscle atrophy did not apply, I would sit and create things all day and never move the lower part of my body. However, I canbe active although I am not naturally inclined like your dad. Your dad can be artistic like when he draws the ‘cylinder’ of the body or stick figures to show what joints are connected to what and he can sing great car karaoke, but let’s be real, I am the artsy one.”

She thinks for a moment and then yells downstairs, “DAD!!!! ARE WE DOING SOMETHING ACTIVE TODAY?”

Chris yells back, “YOU MEAN LIKE RUNNING OR JUMPING? OF COURSE SILLY!!! EVERY DAY!”

She looks at me, gives me a kiss, and changes to activewear.

It’s not that I am not an active person. I have played sports, run half-marathons, rock climbed, and hiked the West Coast Trail. It’s not my first choice. Any physical thing that I have done was to push my comfort zone.

There are seven people in my family with very different gifts to offer the world. In our house, we celebrate the gifts and contributions rather than focus on what’s missing.

I have two daughters that used to work side by side at the dining room table when they were little. One loved math practice and struggled with grammar and spelling. The other loved grammar and spelling practice and struggled with math. The one who struggled with math would get frustrated and compare herself to her sister.

I read her a story about this mama rabbit that had many bunny children who used their different talents to help the mama around the house.

I tell her in the end that the world doesn’t need to be full of mathematicians and engineers. We also need the poets and writers who tell stories like this.

From that moment on, I refused to associate their learning with anything other than joy. I would not focus on what they were “lacking.” Nope. My job would be to feed the passion.

When my eldest was interested in art history as a teenager, I pushed her to apply for the youth council of one of the largest art galleries in Canada. She collaborated with artists-in-residence, installations, and had the opportunity to ask curators questions about the latest exhibits. This led to her applying for a university program in Barcelona when she was 18 to study 20th Century Spanish artists.

And math? She quit math after Grade 10. But she worked for a small business and in a restaurant.

And grammar? She hated writing. She wrote her first essay ever in her first university course. She googled how to do it and taught herself. She averaged an ‘A’ in all her courses. I asked her why she loved writing now and she said it was because she loved the content she was writing about.

My son isn’t a proficient reader yet. He will tell you that he doesn’t practice his reading because he spends all his time drawing.

My daughter, who taught herself to read at 10 for the simple reason that she really wanted to read a book about Harriet Tubman, only wants to sew right now. I asked her if she was continuing doing questions from her math book. She looks at me with a know-it-all face, as if I didn’t get the memo, and says, “Mama, I have been doing math all week, trying to figure out how to make this bag!”

When they show an interest or passion or aptitude for a subject, we go full steam but I do provide a feast of possibilities for them to taste.

Today, the math and grammar sisters are still the same. One does Khan Academy math problems for fun and the other reads Dickens for fun.

What would the world look like if we did things we loved? What if we were allowed the time to discover the gifts we were meant to share with the world and have the opportunity to “make a living” sharing them?

TODAY’S PROMPT:

  • Copy the Holstee Manifesto.
    • List your gifts. (Think of what people have appreciated about you.)
    • Draw your gift.
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MayBE 2019: Day Twenty-Two

MayBE 2019: Day 22

Plate Tectonics and a sixteenth birthday.

We have experienced more than a few earthquakes since moving here. A few weeks ago, my daughters were sitting on the beach while the rest of us were bouncing around in the waves of the ocean. They run to the water and ask if we felt it and of course, no we didn’t because we were afloat. We did feel the one that shook the car while it was parked. I was about to scold the kids for jumping around in the back and then I turned and saw everyone sitting still with eyes wide open.

I covered a unit on Plate Tectonics with my teen group.

The driving question that set the tone for the unit was

“How do theories become generally accepted?”

Plate Tectonics to Geology is what the Theory of Evolution is to Biology but it was initially proposed by Alfred Wegener. Although he had evidence, this theory was only accepted after fifty years when others could corroborate it.

He wasn’t a geologist which is why it took so long to become accepted. He was an astronomer and a meteorologist who loved to fly hot-air balloons. He also refused to see boundaries between disciplines.

His natural curiosity for the world allowed him to look at a map one day and

noticed the east coast of South America fits exactly against the west coast of Africa, as if they had once been joined. He looked for further evidence, found it, and, in 1915, published The Origin of Continents and Oceans. In it, he claimed that about 300 million years ago, the continents formed a single mass that he labeled ‘Pangaea,’a Greek word meaning ‘whole Earth.’

  • Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything

He also used other types of evidence – the fossil record, similar geographic features of land masses that were in different parts of the world that may have been part of one mass at another point in time, and he even proposed that’s how mountains were formed – when the edges of continents drifted together and collided and folded instead of the prevailing theory that the land simply wrinkled like a rotting apple.

Wegener announced his findings at a Geology Conference and was promptly ridiculed. He sat smoking his pipe and listened to his critics. He died before Harry Hammond Hess, a geologist who found himself commandeering a submarine in WWII, was able to use the sub’s sounding gear to “see” what the ocean floor actually looked like. His theory of “seafloor spreading,” easily proven through ocean-core samples, completed matched with the Wegener’s theory of plate tectonics.

Now plate tectonics is an accepted theory and the history of earth and its movements can be written more clearly.

The world, literally, does not stop shifting. “We are all Lava Surfers,” an article written by Peter Stark, a travel adventurer, tells of earth’s violent history and its continuing volatility beneath the surface. Our brain “floats” in cerebral fluid under a protective skull just like our earth’s plates move due to mantle currents in hot lava beneath the crust.

Stability is an illusion. The teens loved the article. We talked about the relevance of political borders in terms of the longer timeline of our earth’s rock records. One thing is certain, the geography of the land will change.

My daughter turns sixteen today. Adolescence is all about movement and volatility (which is why I teach plate tectonics at 15-16.) As she took notes while I lectured about the Earth’s movements above and beneath the surface, she turned the pages furiously in another notebook, obviously searching for something.

She says, “Mama, I have the perfect quote.”

She reads it out loud. It is from one of her favourite books that she wrote down a year ago.

Earthquakes are the consequences of tensions built up over long spans of time, imperceptibly, incrementally. You don’t notice the build up just the release. – Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

Happy birthday my sweet girl. You are surfing the ocean of adolescence with grace and with just the right amount of fire.

TODAY’S PROMPT:

  • Copy the above quote or the poem below.
    • Draw a map that moves.
    • What if feeling “grounded” is an illusion because the land shifts? Are there more places that allow feeling relatively more grounded than others? (The Canadian Shield is roughly 4 billion years old and the land beneath my feet in Costa Rica is roughly 3 million years old.)
    • What theories in your life have shifted with new evidence?
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MayBE 2019: Day Twenty-One

MayBE 2019: Day 21

SMELL.

On our drive back from the airport, as we approach the road to our house, we turn of the air-conditioning, and open the windows.

It has just stopped raining and the leaves are many shades of green with a a shine on each of them, as if each one were made of plastic. I take a deep breath in and the air is thick yet rich with freshness.

My daughter speaks the words I am trying to formulate, “Oh yeah, this smells like home. Like earth.”

Smells like earth.

Smells are one of those phenomena that are difficult to describe with words, especially if the person you are describing a smell to has never smelled that particular scent before.

Imagine describing how a rose smells or the smell of cookies baking in an oven.

In A Natural History of the Senses, Diane Ackerman describes this challenge of smell:

When we see something, we can describe it in gushing detail, in a cascade of images. We can crawl along its surface like an ant, mapping each feature, feeling each texture, and describing it with visual adjectives like red, blue, bright, big, and so on. But who can map the features of a smell? When we use words such as smoky, sulfurous, floral, fruity, sweet, we are describing smells in terms of other things (smoke, sulfur, flowers, fruit, sugar). Smells are our dearest kin, but we cannot remember their names. Instead we tend to describe how they make us feel. Something smells “disgusting,” “intoxicating,” “sickening,” “pleasurable,” “delightful,” “pulse-revving,” “hypnotic,” or “revolting.”

Do you remember the first time you smelled a newborn baby or your child after a day outside in the sun? What about that smell of a ripe melon? Or a car full of adolescent teens after playing beach volleyball all afternoon?

Some smells evoke repulsion to some and absolute pleasure to others. Take the fruit, Durian, for example. It is both coveted and disdained. The search for it at certain times of year have people using their noses to literally “sniff out” the trees while others dread this time when the scent wafts through the jungle.

Smell can reveal the truth of a situation. When we were hiking in the Redwoods of California, there was a forest fire just north of us that was under control but the smoke filled the forest. When you look at this picture, it seems as though I placed a filter or there’s an elegant mist covering the forest. Nope it’s smoke. I needed to hike to see Cathedral Redwoods. Despite protests, we did it. But I can still smell the smoke.

A fun activity is to ask a young child to describe smells. My son had described the smell of cinnamon buns coming out of the oven as smelling like “happy.” When my third daughter was four, I remember her standing on the porch watching dark clouds roll in and as if to agree with the appearance of the clouds, “It does smells like thunder and lightning.”

I remember my children would shove things under my nose and say with delight, “Mama! Smell this!” And I would hesitantly lean over, having been burned before by rotten items left in the fridge that needed to be verified before eaten. When the first time one of them smelled the root of Queen Anne’s Lace, the recognition spread slowly across their face. “Mama, it’s smells like a carrot!”

Smells also trigger memories unlike any other sense. The smells of cilantro and the jasmine flower trigger memories of my grandmother. The back of my husband’s neck remind me of the moment I fell in love. For my husband, and for most Filipino adults of our generation, Vick’s VapoRub still conjures nostalgic childhood memories.

I wonder what scents and memories exist for my children. I know that cinnamon and ginger signal happy Christmas memories for one daughter. They tell me how certain smells remind them of people – their grandparents, their sister who loves fragrances.

In a number of tribes, “the word for ‘kiss’ means ‘smell’ – a kiss is really a prolonged smelling of one’s beloved, relative, or friend.” – Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses

Ackerman also writes about Helen Keller’s had a gift for smell and how Keller observed that smell was “the fallen angel” of the senses. She was able to recognize “an old-fashioned country house because it had several layers of odors, left by a succession of families, of plants, of perfumes and draperies.”

Did the house we lived in for a decade have “our smell”? Did our family scent overpower the other “layers of odors” of the people that lived there before us? I wonder if we went back today, almost three years later, would I smell a trace of us still there?

Or will the smell of earth, like my daughter’s remarks, remind me now of home?

TODAY’S PROMPT:

  • Describe with detail, using luscious vocabulary, one of your favourite smells and one of your least favourite smells.
  • Journal about one smell that triggers a memory.
  • Paint a smell.
  • Copy a quote on smell or any of the above quotes.

I made this today using only objects found in nature, in my home. It smells exactly the way it looks.

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MayBE 2019: Day Twenty

MayBE 2019: Day 20

This morning my daughter, my second oldest who will turn sixteen in a days, came downstairs at 8:00am. She had just woken up.

A typical morning conversation with my children:

Her: “Good morning, Mama.”

Me: “Good morning. What time did you sleep last night?”

Her: “Right when we got home. 9:00.”

She received 11 hours of sleep.

Me: “Awesome!”

Although I had already been awake since 5:00am, I too, woke up on my own without an alarm clock and received my normal 8 hours of sleep. I rarely use the alarm clock when I am here where the light signals my waking hours.

Sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care,

The death of each day’s life, sore labor’s bath,

Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,

Chief nourisher in life’s feast.”

― William Shakespeare, Macbeth

SLEEP.

(Shouty capitals because this is an important topic.)

On average, I get 8 hours of sleep a night. Sometimes a half hour more sometimes a half hour less. But I try not to veer lower than 7.5 hours.

My younger kids get on average 9-10hours. The teens get roughly 10-11 hours of sleep.

When my kids get sick, the first thing we do is survey the amount of sleep, continuous sleep, they have had. Almost always, sickness coincides with decreased quantity or quality of sleep. (Diet and stress can play a factor but sleep is ALWAYS a factor.)

(Routinely getting an inadequate amount of sleep demolishes the immune system.)

Quality is just as important as quantity. I ask if they dreamt. I ask if they woke up in the middle of the night. They tend to sleep through everything – powerful windstorms, barking dogs, howler monkeys, cicadas, bright full moons.

In Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, a prominent medical sleep researcher, he writes about the last twenty years of research around sleep. A topic we take for granted.

A balanced diet and exercise are of vital importance, yes. But we now see sleep as the preeminent force in the health trinity. The physical and mental impairments caused by one night of bad sleep dwarf those caused by an equivalent absence of food or exercise. It is difficult to imagine any other state – naturally or medically manipulated – that affords a more powerful redressing of physical and mental health at every level of analysis.

Based on a rich, new scientific understanding of sleep, we no longer have to ask what sleep is good for. Instead, we are now forced to wonder whether there are any biological functions that do notbenefit by a good night’s sleep. So far, the results of thousands of studies insist that no, there aren’t.

Emerging from this research renaissance is an unequivocal message: sleep is the single most effective thing we can do to reset our brain and body health each day – Mother Nature’s best effort yet at contra-death.

Let’s repeat that in bold:

Sleep is the single most effective thing we can do to reset our brain and body health each day.

When we began homeschool, I noticed something immediately. In that first week that we were all home together with no where to rush to in the morning, my children slept. And slept. And slept. I slept even with a baby. (And of course, without having to be at school by 8:30am, we were all less stressed.). The later mornings changed my life. I maybe netted an extra half hour but I felt a world of difference and so did the rest of my family.

Without adequate sleep, we accumulate an incredible amount of toxicity in our brains. Sleep allows for our brains to drain the “sewage” that builds up during the day. The brain can only perform this function during sleep. This explains a lot.

Sleep is the symbol of re-birth. In creation myths, souls go to sleep while a transformation of some duration takes place, for in sleep, we are re-created, renewed. – Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With The Wolves

When you consider brains of children and adolescence, the research consistently shows that they require MORE sleep than what we think they need.

There are things that we hold essential in our life where the majority can’t wrapt their heads around. Sleep is one of those things.

Chris and I are very protective of our children’s sleep. Most people assume that our teens are lazy, staying up all night, which explains why they sleep in. They do fall asleep a little later because of something called “sleep phase delay.” There is a natural shift in the circadian rhythm of teens. The need to sleep is delayed about two hours but they still at least 9-10 hours of sleep.

At least.

The judgment feels similar to when I breast-fed on demand and co-slept: people assume we are overindulging them.

No. We just did our research and are interested in the long game – mental and physical health over the course of a lifetime for our entire family, including ourselves as we get older. (For more information and links to studies, read this article.)

As we talk about sleep in our house, the teens ask about the “real world.”

What if we want to go to university and have to work and change our sleep patterns or sacrifice sleep?

I tell them at the end of day, they have to believe that they can dictate the rhythms of their day and night, to craft a life that cherishes sleep. And I also add, “Take comfort, there is a sleep revolution afoot.”

When we shrink our whole reality down to pending projects, when our life becomes our endless to-do list, it’s difficult to put them aside each night and let ourselves fall asleep and connect with something deeper.” ― Arianna Huffington, The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time

Steven Pressfield, in his book Turning Pro, outlines what a “pro” life looks like versus an “amateur” life, and it is a life with more simplicity and in the end, more sovereignty:

It changes what time we get up and it changes what time we go to bed. It changes what we do and what we don’t do. It changes the activities we engage in and with what attitude we engage in them. It changes what we read and what we eat. It changes the shape of our bodies. When we were amateurs, our life was about drama, about denial, and about distraction. Our days were simultaneously full to the bursting point and achingly, heartbreakingly empty.

Lofty goals, I say to my kids. But what is the alternative?

This is why sleep is essential. We start with something small. Something easy to protect in a world that glorifies “being woke” literally. If we manage to make sleep a priority, we are one step closer to opening up a life of more possibility.

TODAY’S PROMPT:

  • Copy a quote.
    • Pay attention to your sleep tonight. Try to sleep when you are tired and wake up without an alarm.
      • Can you remember the last time you dreamt? Look up the importance of REM and non-REM sleep.
      • Paint/Colour/Sketch a starry starry night.
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MayBE 2019: Day Nineteen

MayBE 2019: Day 19

Poetry.

This post is a little long but I dedicate it to all the moms who have walked and continue to walk beside me and who keep me company along the way.

In a letter to Louis Untermeyer, Frost wrote:

A poem…begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness. It is a reaching-out toward expression; an effort to find fulfillment. A complete poem is one where an emotion finds the thought and the thought finds the words.

I discovered poetry late in life. As a teen and as a child, I knew of poems. The “Roses are Red” kind. The ones that rhyme. I remember memorizing “The Messy Room” by Shel Silverstein for school and became enamored with his poetry and its strange absurdity mixed with common sense. (Common sense for a kid).

Then I found myself in my early 30s overwhelmed at home. I was underwater and couldn’t breathe as a mom of many little people. Looking back, I was severely sleep deprived for at least a decade, starting in my twenties.

Every day was the same insanity.

Feed, change, put to sleep, clean, repeat. Try not to run away.

And good God, the laundry.

The monotony and repetition of my days felt stifling. I couldn’t breathe. I tried to get into a routine of at least showering first thing in the morning to put a new set of clothes on but the futility of it all felt even worse.

Was it just me that did not find this miracle of motherhood enchanting and magical? Where was the magic in poop smeared on the walls and a never ending spilt bowl of rice on the floor? (RICE?!).

Sure there were cute moments. But there was also drudgery.

In those days, not many moms were brave enough to tell the truth of what we were craving – walks in the woods alone, coffee dates where we could put on a little lipstick and pretend to have important things to talk about, or simply create art all day and make love all night. This semblance of being “a civilized woman” was the stuff of my daydreams.

I used to send a message to my friend at around 4:00pm – the witching hour. She is a mom of five too. I would tell her that I was sitting by the window having my pretend brandy and my pretend cigarette.

One day I was at one of my two favorite places to take the kids where I could wander aimlessly while they preoccupied themselves – the library. (The other place was our favourite grocery store where we would go when it was empty and the kids could run the aisles and no one cared.)

As I roamed the library, carrying the latest child in the wrap, bargaining with the gods of sleep to grant my wish so I could sit for a moment, a book caught my eye. Its spine stood out and so did its title. I picked it off the shelf and turned to the first page and the bottom half of the page contained these words:

I wanted the past to go away, I wanted

to leave it, like another country; I wanted

my life to close, and open

like a hinge, like a wing, like the part of the song

where it falls

down over the rocks: an explosion, a discovery;

I wanted

to hurry into the work of my life; I wanted to know,

whoever I was, I was

alive

for a little while.

I want to say that it took my breath away but it actually gave me my breath back. I gasped and took in a full breath air for the first time in maybe a dozen years. How could this arrangement of words become the balm that I didn’t know existed?

This excerpt is from the poem “Dogfish” by Mary Oliver. It can be found in her selection of poems in the book Dream Work .

Needless to say I borrowed that book from the library. I carried the book around the house, sometimes standing and reading a poem while eating the leftovers I scraped from the kid’s plates.

And THE POEM that brought me to my knees, that shone a light onto the answer ofwhy the fuck I am getting up every morning to do this WORK,why I am standing here right now waiting for the muffins to finish in the oven to pack up for our weekly excursion into the woods in winter with all five of my children, and how can I love any of this?:

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

This. And so many more poems. After I digested Dream Work, I couldn’t wait to go to the library to find more of her poetry books, to name a few:

House of Light

Twelve Moons

Blue Horses

A Thousand Mornings

With Ms. Oliver as my oracle, my witness, my confessional, my reflection, I shifted my view of my life. One line in one of her poems became my mandate for parenting and especially homeschooling.

There is only one question: how to love this world.”

(See below for the poem in its entirety.)

After this journey with Mary Oliver, I went on others with Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, Maya Angelou, David Whyte, John O’Donohue, W.H. Auden, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Walt (mothereffing) Whitman, and more.

It was Rainer Maria Rilke’s collection of poetry in Book of Hours that I randomly found at the library that helped me connect the dots to create my own Book of Hours Project that changed the course of my life.

As I integrated poetry in my life, I noticed that all the moms in my life were poets, including that one who literally was a beautiful poet (my pretend brandy and pretend cigarette friend). Taking the essence and turning into what we could because we couldn’t bear the length or drama of a life of prose. A poetic life was more forgiving. Like Mary Oliver says in her book of essays, Upstream:

“…the poem is a temple – or a green field – a place to enter, and in which to feel…I learned that the poem was made not just to exist, but to speak – to be company. It was everything that was needed, when everything was needed.”

As mothers, we keep each other company as we do everything that is needed when it is needed for our families. We are poems.

TODAY’S PROMPT:

Pick one or more…

  • Copy one or more poems today.
    • Paint with abandon.
      • What is your relationship to poetry?
      • Discover a new poet today and read a poem. (You can pick one of the above poets I have mentioned if you don’t know where to begin.)
      • Share a poem that moves you right now with someone.

Spring

by Mary Oliver

Somewhere

a black bear

has just risen from sleep

and is staring

down the mountain.

All night

in the brisk and shallow restlessness

of early spring

I think of her,

her four black fists

flicking the gravel,

her tongue

like a red fire

touching the grass,

the cold water.

There is only one question:

how to love this world.

I think of her

rising

like a black and leafy ledge

to sharpen her claws against

the silence

of the trees.

Whatever else

my life is

with its poems

and its music

and its cities,

it is also this dazzling darkness

coming

down the mountain,

breathing and tasting;

all day I think of her –

her white teeth,

her wordlessness,

her perfect love.

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