I’ve been simultaneously stalling on and anticipating reflecting on 2019, this rocky, unsettled beach of a year. I’m the same way with writing– approaching it with trepidation while knowing how satisfying it’ll feel to unblock thoughts.
Whenever I stay with my parents in BC for the holidays, I find it difficult to reflect and to write. It’s a beautiful but small apartment, part shop, part studio, and part living area, and since I only see my parents once or twice a year, we pack in the conversations and activities. My mom and I just got back from two days in Victoria, and the ferry rides, gallery visits, dinners out, and long seaside walks were simply extended excuses for talking. When the weather allows, we take the bus up to Lynn Valley or the salmon fishery, or the UBC Endowment Lands, and walk trails until our boots are muddy and our minds tumbled with memory and future plans.
The theme of this year has been one of healing, consolidating, and collaborating. 2017 was a launching and culmination of many years of labour, leaving me feeling extremely thankful but also dissociated from myself and my body, while in 2018 I continued to receive attention for my writing and editing while working full-time, and eased up on doubting myself. Yet the years preceding these were just as hectic and hard on my body, and with each passing year into my 30s I could feel the slowdown– headaches, alcohol intolerance, increase of anxiety, erratic weight loss and gain, iron and vitamin deficiencies, and simply, a lower tolerance to social interaction with longer times needed for my immune system to restore itself. In other words, clear signs of borderline burnout.
It’s a familiar story, and most of my symptoms aren’t chronic or permanent. They appeared as a warning sign, a reminder that at 38, I can’t take my psychic or physical health for granted. In some ways they have been freeing. They freed me from the sense of obligation of heading out to another book launch after I’d already had a full day of work tutoring students and navigating meetings. Or from spending time with people who only drained me with gossip and negativity, or from signing myself up for another unpaid or underpaid teaching, mentoring, reading, reviewing gig. I still want to give away my labour, and sometimes tricked myself I was still able to do them, and while I paralyzed myself with indecision like a raven with too much glitter, my body would make its refusal clear, muscles already tight with anxiety, my skull throbbing.
Thanks to the privilege of having health benefits for the first time in my adult life, I first visited a naturopath, who diagnosed me with adrenal fatigue and vitamin deficiency and sent me to get blood work done, and I’ve since made use of a massage therapist and osteopath, as well as an acupuncturist (this last is not covered by my insurance, but worth every pin-struck minute). I spent a lot of time on my back, staring at ceilings, feeling like a prone salmon. Strangely, healing my body eased my spirit, as I turned my attention from what I think everyone else needs from me, to what it is I truly want to be doing.
This year, I’ve incorporated long walks and hikes into my routine as a way to let my spirit and thoughts stretch out. I had a craving to visit Gatineau Park and finally, after a hectic summer, I booked a tiny house cabin in Chelsea, Quebec, and spent two days going on 4 hour hikes through the park, surprisingly getting more writing done in the morning and evening than I had in weeks. As long as the weather held out, I went on long walks along the Humber, and went it didn’t, sweated out tensions at hot yoga.
To balance out the many hours of solitude I spend each week because of my writing, I began dating again, as another means of inviting new energy into my life and of renewing myself. I put a lot of things ‘on hold’ for my career, and extended an old relationship long past its due date because it was familiar, because I felt needed and spoken for, but I used it as an excuse to not have to be attractive again, to not have to flirt and be charming, things I had forgotten how to do. I postponed them as a means to not have to speak up for myself. Dating has been an terrifying exercise of discovering pleasure and articulating boundaries, and at the very least, gets me away from my desk and wandering neighbourhoods in the company of men my own age, each on their own pitched journeys.
I know I owe myself more thoughts on this topic of expectations, particularly those that women of colour put on themselves, as an extension of acculturation and modelling from our mothers, grandmothers, aunties, sisters, and other female figures. Prioritizing my own well-being and my creative work has felt like a radical act, at times like a guilty pleasure, at times an act of survival. I need this year to continue these acts (a dance class, perhaps) to have the energy and focus and ability to be able to do the many acts of service I want to offer.
In 2019, I reached new audiences for my work, while promoting my book wound down. I began and nearly completed the manuscript for my second collection, which contains, at its core, the two chapbook manuscripts I previously published, along with series of aubades and elegies. I also returned to fiction, completing a short story draft and an outline for a collection of linked stories about, of course, a family. I became an official mentor of a MA student in the Creative Writing program at the U of T, my alma mater, and the experience has been such a guiding one, because in emphasizing to Caroline to follow her intuition and to see one’s work as an extension of a life-long creative practice, I can’t help but reaffirm these beliefs for myself. A writing life is difficult enough without the additional burdens of guilt and shame that we so willingly heap upon ourselves, with shovels.
After a long break, I returned to reading, particularly prose, fiction by writers of colour, Indigenous writers and work on decolonizing education. Through OCAD U and the founder of the Creative Writing program, Lillian Allen, I connected with other BIPOC poets, participated in the first Groundings event, and continue to gather with the organizers and meet poets from the spoken word community to create connections. I can’t express how grounded I felt when meeting other artists of colour who are willing to give their time to lead, organize, create and collaborate. In early December, I facilitated on behalf of OCAD U and TIA House, a gathering of BIPOC writers and creative writing instructors, and I look forward to what future alightings will take place as a result of our sharing space.
So many projects and schemes, perhaps to name them here would give them the shape that would call them into being. The anthology, the essay collection, the retreat, the podcast, the teaching resource, the publishing audit, the chapbook press… each as ethereal as a thin lace curtain that barely catches the breeze, but that under the right conditions, lifts up like a wing, as if it could take the window with it, and all the views of yourself that you never thought you’d enter. Here’s to 2020, and to pinning down the insubstantial.