Archive for January, 2011

No Walls

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

I have been spending a lot of time by myself. I’ve said this before, working on my mojo. Studying books about the mind and heart, reading about people who live lives with the expansiveness I long for. I’m moving into new territory and the leaps I’m taking are not into darkness but along a well-lit path. There are visionaries that have come before us, and mystics and wise ones amongst us. We only have to watch what it is that happy people do, to learn great lessons on how to live a good life. If we are only willing. It’s the peace in every step. Yes, I want excitement and surprises and every high emotion. It’s the little dramas that no longer appeal, mine and everybody else’s. A part of me is stepping back and yawning really loudly when I hear myself going into my own dance; spinning the tales, blowing smoke and tilting the mirrors a certain way to prop up my position on the way it is. Because I’m not interested in the way it is anymore. I’m interested in the way it’s going to be.

I want to feel the ground give way as I jump. Being grounded in reality has just ground me down for far too much of my life. When the spirit in me, this wondrous joyous bubbling irrepressible life force has waited so patiently for me to pay attention…to me.

I have been under-employed for a long time. And much of my writing has been about faith. Watching my dwindling resources, but reveling in the life I have now of simplicity and far less compromise than at any other time in my life. It has not been hard to make these choices. But I have become aware of the huge difference between knowing what you don’t want, and knowing what you want. It is the same difference as concentrating only on what you have, rather than looking towards what you want. The different perspective makes all the difference in what happens next.

A huge hand has reached down and tapped me on the shoulder. I feel it still. In my little notebook where I am configuring my plans I have a page of lists that I am constantly adding to, and gleefully check marking when I have achieved my goals. It started out very basic…food, money, a computer, a vehicle, body care. But it’s important to fine tune exactly what it is we want and my non-grocery list looks like this:
running shoes
a new toothbrush
heater for the Shed
bath bubbles
visit to the dentist
essential oils
lap top
a road worthy vehicle
printer ink
a Maggie Woycenko
hand cream
road atlas
passport renewed
Bach Flower Remedies
new glasses
a pot with a lid

I have celebrated every check mark with elation and pride. Undeterred that it is the smaller things on my list that have been the first and easiest to attain. Until now.

The Fort Gallery on Glover Road here in Fort Langley is a place I have been visiting for a few years. At first I’d only stop and look in the windows at night when I walked this town in the dark. Every few weeks two more artists in the collective would mount their work on the walls. Eventually I started dropping by for an hour at the Friday night opening party, going in for the colour and warmth. One such night last year, I stepped into the smaller back room where there was more art and the food, and spied a painting that hung behind the desk. A blue night sky, dark water, a small boat seen across the way, were those stars?…Venus in Transit. I loved it! I asked the secretary, “Who did that!” and she said, a little non-plussed by my enthusiasm, “I did. I don’t belong to the collective but they said I could hang one.”

Maggie’s Venus In Transit has floated in and out of my mind since last year. Something, something about it. And one late night in September I looked through the window again and saw great heaps of clouds and movement, and sensed right away, aha, these were Maggie’s too. I am a sky watcher and when the gallery opened I went in to take a closer look. Yes! The title of the show was MESSAGES. Maggie and I greeted each other and then I stood before her paintings, marveling at the beauty and mystery in them. But then something happened. I turned and saw a painting that I had not been able to see from the window. Standing before it I experienced something that I have heard tell of, but it has never happened to me. I felt a sensation in my chest and started to cry. That painting moved me. I felt it move inside me.

I had walked into the gallery so cheerily and now I felt undone. It was words. Snatches, arrows pointing this way and that, blues, reds, browns. Feeling myself tumbled in a sea of passion, swept by words, the power, the call, the call of the words…longing. The sentences themselves indistinct and yet individual words…hear, roar, draw back, pebbles, the sigh, yield, all that is lost, the sea, faith…listen. These were my words, and the call was unmistakable. It was a call to my self.

I turned to Maggie. What? What was behind this painting? What was her inspiration? How did this happen? She told me that a poem had always stayed with her since high school, by an eighteenth century English poet. He’d written Dover Beach. My mind flew to a poem I’d printed off the internet. I just knew it was the same poet, Mathew Arnold. I had looked him up because of the impact he’d had on four young men in Victoria who’d studied his poem The Buried Life in their English class. They’d made a pact to make their dreams come true, make a list, and make a difference too. For every dream they realized, they would help someone they met with a dream they had too.

I took myself to the river in wonderment at Maggie’s painting and what it had touched in me. The name of the painting…Listen to the Poets. It brought up a sadness, but not the kind you choke on. It made me feel alive, and re-minded. I remembered all I wanted to say.

When I saw Maggie at the next gallery party, I told her that I was still affected by her painting, still felt energized, and that I vowed some day, some day I would own a Maggie Woycenko.

I live in a stand alone room, the Shed, there by the grace of friends on whose property I live. I am working to pay off my bills and all debt. This will be finished soon. I am going on a road trip. I will be in the dream of bigger sky all the way to Texas. And I could not stop thinking about that painting. There had to be a reason for this, something more I needed to pay attention to. In a moment of fervour and optimism I had written 1 Maggie Woycenko on my wish list, just as I joyously crossed off pens and stamps and a heater. Just as I continue to believe that I will have an atlas in the glove compartment of the vehicle for the road trip in the Spring.

But if we listen to our hearts, and my heart yearned so loudly for that painting, well, what of that? There is spartan (always leaning towards frugality) as opposed to simplicity, and bare subsistence compared to the feeling of abundance. I had never, ever put an art work on my list of sustenance.

There was an art show coming up on the Friday, a party that I was not going to attend. I wondered if Maggie’s painting was going there and would leave with someone else. Every ticket buyer was guaranteed a piece of art. I had to know, I emailed Maggie. Yes, she replied. Her painting was still available and did I want her to include it in the Blue Plate Special? In a rush of words I said no, no, no. I said that I was working on a Plan, and had been under-employed quite a bit, and had to really pick and choose where I went, what I did, what I bought. That I was the kind of person that would go see Leonard and then gladly eat eggs for weeks. Or keep the same things for years in exchange for time to wander without a schedule. I said I did not consider myself hard done by at all, but extremely fortunate. My choices are my own, but I had never wanted oh wanted a painting like I wanted her painting. I don’t even own a wall to put it on! But then I did it, I asked if she would consider me a secret buyer (because Lordy I did not want my friends and family to know of this “extravagance”). I asked how much it was, and if she would let me pay in installments. I would take it when it was paid in full.

It’s taken me a long time to tell this story. To tell you that the painting, Listen to the Poets, lies on my bed by day and is propped against two chairs at night. I can see it from my bed. Maggie wrote back. She said that she was giving it to me. That she had seen the effect it had on me and wanted me to have it. No cost. She said that she often painted over paintings, but this one could go to a home where it was really wanted.

My initial reaction? Joy! And then came the feeling of shirking unworthiness. And a cringing horror that Maggie may think I was being manipulative, and writing in a “poor me” way, coercing her into making this incredibly grand gesture. I felt desolate that I could never have that first feeling and believe that it was the true feeling. That I immediately go into an argument with myself over what is the right thing to do. I knew, I knew deep down that I was not honouring myself or Maggie now by second-guessing. Staying small. I knew she was a smart woman, intuitive, deeply gifted, and I was sorry that my fears now cast shadows on her decision and what was taking place. That unloving yammering voice in my head was trying to shame me into silence once again.

My daughter Sarah was with me that night and bless her she was lovely, she was clear. She said, say Yes. And so I did. I shook the dirt off my feet and said yes. Yes to me, to Maggie, to her art that spoke so loudly, to the radiant response of my heart to that call. I embraced believing that there is more that is food than food on the table, and there is nothing frivolous about feeding a hungry heart the beauty that it needs.

My table has always held the overflow of books. They run the length of it where it meets the wall. In the Shed there is one wall only that will hold the size of the painting, above that table. Today I walked to the hardware store and spent 25 cents on nails. I will dismantle the collages, the sticky notes, the piles of books stacked up the wall, and I will put my Maggie Woycenko in its place of honour. I have never, ever expected to own a painting so wondrous to love, and now I do. There are layers and layers of meaning in the lesson I’ve learned in this give and take.

Rumi always helps me with the last word, and the child in me is smiling yes, listen to the poets indeed.

Children Running Through

I used to be shy.
You made me sing.

I used to refuse things at table.
Now I shout for more wine.

In sombre dignity, I used to sit
on my mat and pray.

Now children run through
and make faces at me.


I am learning about abundance and the beauty that I have yearned for so secretly, so quietly all my life. I am learning that there is more than just enough. There is more than enough. You’ve seen those teddy bears and garden gnomes in people’s travel photos. They are posed before the Eiffel Tower, and on the Great Wall of China. I am taking my painting with me when I go. No walls. If I need company on a side road in Wyoming, or leaned against a picnic table under the skies of the Dakotas, what a reminder. To listen, and to live, out loud.

Good Life

For Maggie, in gratitude, for your many leveled gift.


Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

A hot day. So restless. Hawks circled slowly, high above the manicured back yards, perhaps eying the lap dogs sprinkled on the lawns. My life felt too small and I needed to break out. Solvitur ambulando. I set off walking mid-afternoon towards the familiar touchstones of library and post office, with a sense that something could happen would happen if I went out to meet it. Terry! Terry was just coming out of the PO and we had a happy and exuberant reunion on the sidewalk. All these years of living in the village and I had not met Terry until last winter when we both worked at Chapters in Langley. I liked this woman and had been shocked to discover that we both lived in town. Hers was the beautiful old wood house on Church Street, barely visible behind a latticework of greenery, aptly named Wildwood.

A short time after I’d left the bookstore Terry posted a jubilant comment on my blog site, saying that I had inspired her to quit Chapters, too. She had done the math and figured out that she could earn the same amount of money, no, a bit more, by teaching two art classes in the time it took to work four shifts at Chapters. Duh! Well pshaw, it was no credit to me. Terry is an educator, a children’s book author and illustrator, and one of the most creative, artistic people ever! Chapters has a very high turnover and eventually if a door doesn’t open you kick out a window or the cliff beckons.

Our conversation continued down the street, there was so much to catch up on, and neither one of us had a schedule to keep. We went for tea, and then still talking we stood here and there in the hot July sun. I told Terry that I didn’t know where but that I had decided to move by the end of the summer. Without hesitation she said, “Move into my shed.” I’ve got to admit my first reaction was, “What the…?” I thought she was being flippant but one look at her face showed otherwise. She was sincere and she was smiling. “Terry, Terry, what do you mean by that?”

Terry said that years ago when she had needed some space, she’d moved into the shed in her yard. It had helped her. Then the shed became the hang out for her daughters and daughters’ friends to have privacy. I was intrigued and getting excited. “Show me,” I said.

With much apology Terry explained that it was currently full of junk. With her frozen shoulder and the pain she was plagued with she was unable to do anything about it. But if I was willing to clean it out, it could be mine. By this time we had reached her yard and inside I was thrumming and clicking. There stood my future home. And yes, the shed was crammed from floor to ceiling with microwaves, boxes of papers spilling everywhere, old TVs, the assorted flotsam and jetsam of kids that had grown up and left a few things behind. I never felt an ounce of dismay at the work ahead. I knew it was doable. We would make piles, I would do the grunt work. One pile for the kids to come and retrieve, one garbage, one give away.

Over the next few days I contacted Terry by email quite a bit. I told her that I was sure, but if she wanted to change her mind there would be no hard feelings on my part at all. Each and every time she cheerily replied that she did not.

Something happened before we even looked at the shed. There we were still talking, standing in the IGA parking lot, and Terry had just invited me to move on to her property. I was quizzing her on why she would do that. I didn’t know Terry that well, and couldn’t believe that she really meant it. She said she liked the idea of helping me with my plan to go to Texas. (The going rates for living in a shed are really, really affordable.) That day I was wearing my old Chapters’ work pants, and I stuck my hand into the depths of the pocket and felt a little bit of paper. I pulled it out. It was one of the many rotating talismans that I’d carried last winter to keep up my strength. Unfolding the tattered little note I read, “Believe in magic. Expect the unexpected and be prepared to be amazed.” Dazzled, my head reeling I handed it to Terry and said, “Now this is yours.”

We did it. The plan grew. I still thought to myself that if nothing came of this at least I would have helped Terry move some very old energy around. It was okay for Terry to change her mind, but she never did. When I started telling my friends that I was moving…to a shed, I gleefully watched their faces. Yep, horror and dismay. But once they saw the vision (they already knew my plan), how quickly they knew that it was right. The capital S Shed is me. But how they wanted me to change the name. Couldn’t I puleeze call it a cabin? Or romanticize the name just a little? They were squirming and I was not. I proudly announce that I live in a Shed. And it took me a while to get it, I was in my bed one night grinning in the dark, envisioning life in the shed, when I finally really heard the word. I got it. I got it! And started laughing. SHED! I am still shedding! So of course, the Shed is perfect.

The ceiling was pale blue and the walls a sunshine yellow. Though I loathe to paint and it bores me silly, with donations of leftover paint from Eliza and Laurel the Shed’s interior became an austere white and the floor sage green. It was worth the effort. I did not want to feel that I was living in a cast off playroom. The shedding began with furniture dispersed and more and more possessions given away. My books were boxed and sent down the highway for storage at Roslyn’s. Living in the Shed was going to exemplify living simply to an even greater degree. One table, two chairs, one bed. Only one bookcase, space is limited. Music, my eight plants, and only the personal treasures I need to keep close by.

The Shed is 11 feet by 17. Blue curtains hang at five little windows. One door. I have a small kitchen area and pantry with toaster oven, hot plate and mini fridge. There is no running water. I take my water jug across the yard and up the porch steps into the big house where there is a bathroom just inside the back door. The Shed sits under an old fir tree that rises a hundred feet above me. The yard has been left wild and untended. Two sister dogs, Georgia and Lily, plummet out the back door, racing down the steps to chase the plentiful squirrels back up the trees. Five luxuriant cats roam the house and yard, taking turns at my door, waiting to be let in.

In the night when I need water, or the bathroom, I make my way to the house in whatever clothes I throw on to keep warm or dry. On the way back I loiter until the darkness lets me in. It is so quiet and still. A dim light glows warmly behind the curtains in my windows. I look up up up to the sky above, see the moon and stars, sense the trees, feel the rain and wind, and know my connection to all that is. This is where I live. I moved in September 1st, and feel grateful to have found the perfect fit. For now.

Good Life

Saying grace…Jack and Terry and Harvey and Virginia, you are lovely.

Creature Comforts

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

It takes time for all the hundreds of faces to fall away and begin receding in memory. No longer riding the bus into Langley to work at the mega bookstore in the strip mall put me back in the village for the summer. I felt that I was reclaiming it again, settling in after seven months of leaving town. Oh the luxury of the post office and library, my two best pillars of society. Heading towards them was my familiar daily ritual, done at my leisure now, rather than sandwiched in between a hectic schedule. I regained the expansiveness of time again in which time cannot be measured and good times elongate and expand in deliciousness.

I needed to empty out. Live with my decision. I’d toughed out the hardest part of the year and trekked back and forth in wind, rain and snow. May is a good month to run free. And June. And July. But I was walking again, walking for my life.

It is a funny thing to defiantly reclaim your day for yourself. I am not retired, and my joke is that not only am I not out to pasture yet, I will be cutting through pastures for the rest of my life, on my way to earning my daily bread. But not right now. I am still young and foolish enough to know and relish the necessity of living in the now. And I insist on discovering the beauty of now.

At the intersection of Mavis Street and River Road there is a roundabout in the middle of the road, Spirit Square, with three regal carved panels on display; one each of wolf, beaver, and salmon. They are the artistry of Drew Atkins and with his permission I am reproducing the information about his carvings that is written on the plaque at the roadside.

Wolf – Inspiration for the first panel comes from the richness of Kwantlen history and traditions thousands of years before contact in the time of transformation. Kwantlen translates to “tireless runner.” Oral tradition tells of a great Chief whose daughter gives birth to wolf puppies that transform themselves to human form and become descendants of the first Kwantlen families. It has been said that the wolf blood gave the Kwantlen messengers stamina whose task was to run and deliver messages throughout and beyond the vast Kwantlen territory. Today, the Kwantlen government and Kwantlen community members continue in their efforts to work tirelessly in all that they do for their families and Nation.

Beaver – The Colonial History is represented by a beaver, an integral part of the fur trade. The fur trade brought the Hudson’s Bay Company fur trader fort and the signing of the proclamation in 1858 to Fort Langley. The beaver is also nature’s engineer and builder, symbolically building the foundation from which the colony grew.

Salmon – The Post Colonial period is represented by a salmon. The salmon industry is the original industry of the Fraser Valley and has always been the economic base that helped First Nations and other communities along the Fraser River thrive. It is also a reminder to us all that if we do not honour and respect the river and the environment, we will lose our precious dwindling resources.

Dedicated to the Kwantlen people; Past, Present and Future. Design and carving by Drew Atkins and Xwa-lack-tun. (2008)

When one walks, or sits, when one has time, it is amazing how the little faces come into focus. The sudden sideways iridescent glancing of hummingbirds on red flowers. Timid brown bunnies tucked beneath the wild blackberry bushes along the railway tracks. To blend in, to become a part of the life of trees where birds chatter and swoop. I walk across the Jacob Haldi Bridge down the road to the river to stand on that dock. Out of the corner of my eye the splash of the salmon jump, a sandhill crane steps daintily in the shallows and lifts off. Today I watched a lone duck paddle towards a one log boom and dive neatly under the water. I watched and waited for it to emerge, and it did yards and yards past it on the other side, to join its mate.

I am on Kwantlen territory when I walk past the bridge. There is an area of the woods that has been cleared ready for building. The long Spring rains left deep pools and ruts between tree stumps where frogs accumulate to sing their song. It seemed that every time I walked past this clearing the frogs were calling, louder, insistently, and I started to pay attention, began to read up on the significance and symbolism of the animal kingdom.

The Frog says, “It’s time to release all things no longer appropriate to bring on your journey. Then you can hop to the next lily pad, light and free. (Colette Baron-Reid).

I heard the frog’s song in places where I had never thought a frog could be. Where I stepped off the bus at night I was greeted by ribet. In the shrubs at the corner where I turned onto my street the chorus would continue. Frog speaks of new life and harmony through its rain song. The deep tones of Frog’s “ribet” are said to be a call to the Thunder Beings: thunder, lightning, and rain. The “ribet” is the heartbeat that comes into harmony with Father Sky and calls for the replenishment needed.

Frog sings the songs that bring the rain.

Frog teaches us to honour our tears, for they cleanse the soul. (Jamie Sams and David Carson – Medicine Cards).

I’m reading about the twin hemispheres of our brains that have different personalities. The left side dominates critical and analytical thinking, while the right side is all about creativity and intuition. The right side of the brain which controls the left hand will say things you don’t know that you know. There are exercises one can do to have a bilateral conversation. I picked up a pencil with my right hand and wrote a question, How’s it going? then switched to my left hand and wrote the answer, Like a tree frog in a burning forest.

Well holy shit and let the rains come! Leap, frog, leap!


On a sunny day a walk to the river in companionship with my dear friend. Roslyn and I stood on the dock, elbows resting on the railing, looking this way then that up the channel. Dusty barked, Bob called up from his boat, “Do you want a fish? Do you like salmon?” Would I! He chopped and sliced the long body, tipping the head and guts into the river and slid the great fish into a bag for me. I carried my catch home. We climbed the steps to my house sit where Roslyn sat at the counter reading the paper, golden sun falling from skylights. She would take home half for her household, to feed herself and her students. I stood at the sink, the tap running cold. The water poured across its sleek sides, cleansing the body of blood. My finger traced the silver scales over and over down its powerful body. Water flowed. I stood staring, hot sun on my shoulders. Through my finger I felt the cold wet strength of the fish and knew its journey. Felt its twists and turns through the shallows and the rapids. Began remembering. Knew myself nosing deeper and deeper into the gray green depths of the river, my powerful tail twisting and turning, disappearing into story.

Good Life