Sunday #53: December 30, 2012 – The End

When I decided to do 52 Sundays as my “bloject” for 2012, I admit I didn’t actually count the Sundays this year. I assumed 52 weeks in a year would equal 52 Sundays. Perhaps because this year is a leap year or because the year started on a Sunday, it turns out there are 53 Sundays in 2012. Although the original 52 Sundays have passed, I have decided to write Sunday #53 so that I can still say I wrote a blog every Sunday for the year.

As the last entry for 2012, I decided to reflect back on the first one to see how I fared this year with my Wishes Not Resolutions. This quote from that first blog shows why I chose wishes:

Truly, I start out with the best intentions—and then life and responsibilities get in the way and stop me from doing much about my resolutions after the first few weeks. Later in the year, certainly by the end, my unfulfilled resolutions have often become my regrets, and I scold myself for my lack of follow-through.

This coming year, 2012, I have a different plan. I am not making resolutions; I am making wishes. By doing it this way, I hope that if my wishes don’t come true, I will be less hard on myself next December 31.

Let’s see if my personal wishes for 2012 came true.

  • Health

No much really changed for my health this year. My weeks in the pain program came to very little at the end, and my gluten-free diet trial seems to have had little effect on anything but my digestion, my taste buds and my appetite. A long-term decision about that will have to be made in 2013, once I get the appointment with the dietician that I am waiting for.

  • Weight

With little change in my exercise ability and not much improvement from the gluten-free living, my weight loss wishes have not come through either. A few pounds have dropped but nothing significant. To some degree that’s maybe my own fault; I have been eating a great deal of junk food to replace my beloved gluten and the satisfaction I used to get from eating it. If I am going to lose more weight, I am going to need to reduce the junk food habit.

  • Travel

Roland and I have still not managed an out-of-country getaway (I feel like I am in withdrawal from that as well). Once again we are not on the same holidays except for the week after Christmas, which is the most expensive week in the whole year. We decided we didn’t want to pay double or more, so we stayed home again.

We did however have a lovely trip to Vancouver Island in the summer to visit friends. Highlights include a lovely canoe ride in Victoria, being followed in our kayak by a seal at Goose Spit near Courtney/Comox, Cathedral Grove’s old growth forest en route to Port Alberni and watching a young bear dig for his breakfast in the inlets around Tofino.

  • Relaxation

The first part of the year offered little in the way of relaxation or time to write my own projects or to read, but the middle and later parts of the year did. I took only one course this fall, in poetry. It gave me the opportunity to read poetry and write poetry for pleasure, which was truly a delight. For 2013, I wish to continue to find time to relax, to write my own projects and to read for pleasure not just school. With undertaking my work placements before graduation, those things could be tricky, but writing this blog every Sunday for a year has taught me how to prioritize my writing, so I hope not to back slide.

  • Freelance work and publishing

This year, I did find some paid freelance writing and editing projects, so that was one mission accomplished—and something I found quite pleasurable. On the other hand, I did not get any of my work published in a paid venue (newspaper or magazine). That remains a wish for 2013. It’s a focus goal for my work placement homework assignments, so I hope that will help me along.

  • Joy 

I wished for more joy and less sorrow in my life and the lives of those around me. Unfortunately, that was one wish that was unfulfilled in a huge way this year when my best friend’s son was killed in February. All I can do is hope for better this year for all of us.

Here’s an update on some of the general wishes I had for the world around me…

  • Weather

I got the mild winter and hot, dry summer I wished for, which was not only a delight but also a huge surprise. The weather in 2012 in Edmonton was quite to my liking for much of the year, certainly more than any other year before (at least that I can recall).

However, the early start to winter with snow on the ground since early November has been hard and unpleasant; it has left me mentally weary and physically drained. My weather wish now is that the winter from January onwards will ease up and be milder, with more sunshine, less snow and fewer grey days. Once again, I wish for an early and mild spring, a hot summer and a beautiful fall, followed by a mild November and December. I know that in Edmonton that’s asking a lot, but then if you don’t ask, you won’t receive.

  • Edmonton Eskimos

My wish for “an awesome mystery quarterback” did not come true to say the least. I can only reiterate the wish for this year and hope that our new General Manager Ed Hervey can find us one. I can’t take another humiliating, frustrating football season!

  • Others’ Wishes

I wish that all my friends and family and their friends and family (and so on and so on) have all their wishes come true in the coming year.

May 2013 bring you peace, prosperity, health and happiness!

P.S. This will be my last weekly Sunday post. In the future, I will continue to write posts when something strikes me as important or interesting enough to write about. I have learned that if I set aside the time, I can dedicate myself more to my writing. I send my thanks to those who read and followed me this year and to those who left “likes” or comments.

 

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Sunday #52: December 23, 2012 – December Gifts

The weeks before Christmas are always busy. Last minute preparations and shopping take up energy and time. In December, people tend to get obsessed with gifts: who to buy gifts for, what to buy, how much to spend. We focus so much on the things of gift-giving that we become part of the commercialism we claim to hate. So this year I have bought my gifts like everyone else, but I have also thought about the concept of “a gift.” What I have realized is that the December gifts that mean the most to me are not things; they are gifts from the universe for my heart and soul.

Roland

For me, Roland is a December gift. We didn’t meet in December; we met in September. But it was in December of the year we met—1994—that I realized he was not just a colleague (at the school in China where we both worked) or a friend, but someone I was developing romantic feelings for. I clearly remember the moment I realized it…

The Canadian teachers at the school—eight of us, plus the Canadian principal—planned an elaborate series of Christmas celebrations for our Chinese students and the Chinese staff we worked with who’d never experienced Christmas before. We had a traditional school Christmas concert with carols for the students, a party where the kids got to sit on Santa Claus’s (Roland’s) lap and a traditional dinner, complete with turkey and the trimmings, for the Chinese staff. In the weeks before the dinner, Roland spent hours organizing the meal. He ordered groceries through the kitchen, ran around our town (Rong Qi) to get a tree, lights and decorations, and even took a long night-time trip by taxi to Macau to hunt down a dozen turkeys, which were not readily available near where we lived. On party day, he spent hours in the kitchen helping the Chinese cooks to prepare the foreign food to feed us all.

As the staff, Canadian and Chinese, gathered in the cafeteria before dinner, Christmas music played in the background, the room lights were lowered and colored Christmas lights gave the room a warm glow. People laughed and visited. The spirit of excitement and anticipation in the room was magic as they waited for this unique dinner, and we waited to see if they would enjoy it. For us Canadians, it was lovely to see our Chinese colleagues have these new experiences and get a taste of our culture as we had been having of theirs since our arrival in the country months earlier. As dinner was about to be served, Roland came out of the kitchen wearing an apron and carrying a huge turkey on a platter. In the moment that I looked up from my conversation and saw him coming towards the table, I realized what a wonderful, caring man he is and how much other people’s joy brings him joy. I also realized that I was falling in love with him. That I’d fooled myself into believing that he was just my “buddy from work” for all those weeks before suddenly struck me as ridiculous.

In a fairy tale, of course, our eyes would have locked, we would have run into each other’s arms and we would have whispered, “I love you” at the same moment. Things didn’t happen quite that way as they rarely ever do outside of fairy tales (plus I’m no princess—although he is a handsome prince, with flaws perhaps, but a prince nonetheless). Eventually though we did eventually get up the courage to admit our feelings (one December later, but that’s another story…) and create a lovely life together. So every year around this time, I remember that first moment and think how lucky I was to receive this December gift.

Bailey

Almost exactly two years later, my other awesome December gift came into my life, our dog Bailey.

In December 1996, Roland and I were back in Canada and living together. One hectic Saturday afternoon, we went to West Edmonton Mall to do some Christmas shopping. I went into PJ’s Pets “just to look” at the puppies, never intending to get one. At the time, it seemed like no big deal; I used to stop in and look nearly every time I was at the mall. In the store, I strolled past the glass and gazed at the puppies. “That one’s cute.” “Oh, look at this one.” “How sweet.” I was attracted to some and not to others, but none tugged at my heart.

Then I spied these two puppies together in a cage. One was a black and white something or other; the other was a little caramel colored cutie dozing in the corner.

When I was little I had a caramel colored poodle, Misty, and I adored her. When I got older, I decided I wanted another dog the same color. When I saw this little one, half asleep, I didn’t resist the urge to ask to cuddle him, which I had never done in all the dozens of times I’d been in the store. I should have known then that this choice would lead me down a different road… but as is clear from the previous scene, I am not always that in tune with myself.

Anyway, I asked to hold the dog, and Roland and I went into the back room while someone brought me the puppy. I cradled him in my arm with his sweet little face tucked under my chin and his little brownish bum in my arms, and I stroked the soft fur on his head. I was wearing a fleecy with three little buttons up the front. The little dog found the top one, closed his eyes and begun to suck on the button. That was it. My heart was gone.

To be fair, I did give him back to the clerk and try to walk away. I didn’t get very far, though, before I turned around, marched back to the store and told the salesman I would take him home. Thus little Bailey—who is now an old man at 16 years old—became a December gift I gave myself. And he has given me the gift of laughter every single day we have spent together (and many when we were apart).

For many people, including me, the holiday season is about giving and receiving gifts. For me, it’s also about remembering Life’s gifts—and I have been blessed by two amazing ones that came into my life in December.

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

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Sunday #51: December 16, 2012 – I’m Dreaming of a Green Christmas

Today I took a pre-Christmas road trip to visit a friend about an hour away. In the car on the way, bundled in my winter coat, scarf and gloves, I looked out over the land covered in snow and the trees stripped of their leaves. All I could think was how I’d rather be almost anywhere else for Christmas than here in the snow and cold of winter. I thought about how lovely it used to be to have Christmas in Abu Dhabi and sit on the outdoor terrace to eat my turkey and feel the warm breeze off the Arabian Gulf. I am not nostalgic about much of my life in the UAE, but I do miss the loveliness of the winters. I also miss the frequency with which we used to be able to get away and take a trip. Those days are long behind us now, and I feel wistful for them right now, after we have already had 6 weeks of winter, and it’s only mid-December.

So, as I drove back from Wetaskiwin, in the dark at 6 p.m., I thought to myself that, unlike Bing Crosby, I am not dreaming of white Christmas; I’m dreaming of green Christmas. That thought led to this poem about my wishes for the holidays.

I’m dreaming of a green Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know
Where the trees tops sway
And the adults play
With straws in their frosty drinks

I’m dreaming of a green Christmas
With every Christmas wish I dream
May your days be warm and serene
And may all
Your Christmases be green

It’s perhaps not a classic that will catch on, but it is where my heart is today.

 

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Sunday #50: December 9, 2012 – Scary Versus Exciting

This past Tuesday, I completed my last coursework assignment in my Professional Writing program (PROW) at MacEwan University (a book of poetry). In January, I will be doing my workplace learning placements in the field as the last requirements before I graduate. Today, I am on the ledge between being a student and being out in the workforce as a writer/editor. As a result, I am also on the ledge between scary and exciting.

The scary comes in two parts. First, at the moment, I do not yet have a work placement lined up. For about the last month, I have been writing cover letters, revamping my resumé and sending out application packages. These are tasks I don’t particularly enjoy; I feel like a used car salesman hawking his wares. Advertising myself is not something I do very easily, so doing it in a new field is very challenging. The scariest part, though, is that my placement start date is a mere three weeks away, and so far I have no job. That makes me very anxious. So does the idea that I have to compete with real people in the field to get most of the jobs I have applied for. I am essentially competing against people with 2, 5, 7—or even 20—years experience. That is a daunting thought.

The second scary part comes when I do find a placement (I was tempted to say “if” but chose to take the optimistic stance), and I have to prove myself. Excelling at school is one thing—one I am quite proud of—but excelling at work is different. I worry about how I will fare “out there.” Will I be any good in my new field, and even if I am, will I love it the way I imagined I would when I made the decision to give a writing and editing career a try? Again, anxiety reigns.

At the same time, being on the edge of starting my new career is pretty exciting. Maybe I will get a great job, one that engages and inspires me. Maybe that engagement and inspiration will lead me to be awesome at what I do. Maybe I will be able to answer the party question “What do you do?” with “I’m a writer and an editor.”

Now won’t that be exciting?

 

 

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Sunday #49: December 2, 2012 – Haiku, My New Poetic Passion

This semester at MacEwan University in the Professional Writing program (PROW) will be my last semester in classes. Starting in January, I will be doing my workplace learning placements in the field as the last requirements before I graduate. The prospect of getting to work in my new chosen field as a writer or an editor (or hopefully both) is both exciting and scary; I can’t wait, and I’m terrified. That, however, is the future. Today I will write about the present, in both meanings of the word.

Present as in current time

Because this semester is my last one with classes, and because I need only one more course to get all my credits before doing work placements, I was quite choosy about which course I took. As I mentioned in an earlier post (here: Thanksgiving), I decided to do something for fun: poetry.

And I am having fun, more than I even thought I would. Now, I write more of my own poetry than I ever have before, even in the era when I wrote it some of the time (instead of once every few years like became the norm for me for a long time). Now, I read poems by other people almost every night and find aspects that either resonate with me emotionally or find poetic techniques that interest or inspire me. Now I am putting together a poetry chapbook—a small collection of poetry—that is my final course assignment for my class.

Present as in a gift

I saw this class as an opportunity to reconnect with the part of me that once wrote poetry, the part that is emotional and sensitive, the part that wants to express those aspects of who she is instead of trying so hard to bury them. I also saw the class as a challenge to open myself up a little more as a writer by sharing my poetry with others, which was never something I felt secure about before. Writing always involves opening yourself up, and I need to get better at that so my writing can get better (at least the personal writing). In those senses, my decision to do this class was a gift I gave to myself.

And what a great gift it is.

For me a special part of my poetry learning has been my re-introduction to haiku, an ancient Japanese poetry form. Each poem consists of 3 lines, but the main unit of measure is the syllable. The syllable & line structure in a haiku is 5-7-5.

Beyond the classroom, I started playing with haiku for three reasons. First, trying to find words to say what you want to say but with the correct number of syllables is like a word puzzle, which I love! Second, you can write a haiku in a short amount of time, so you can do it anywhere, any time in a way that is not always possible with longer poems. Finally, the focus of haiku is often to capture a singular image of nature or the world around you. I find writing haiku very helpful for polishing my skills at creating sharp, memorable images (another element important to all forms of writing). Haiku writing also allows me to take time to notice nature, which is one of the things I most enjoy about being back in Canada.

In the few weeks since my class studied haiku, I have written nearly twenty of them, and I have read dozens and dozens in little haiku books (translations of the ancient Japanese masters) that I soak up at night.

To round off this post, here are two haiku that I wrote just now.

Poetry: a gift

I gave to my heart and soul

To free my spirit

 

Haiku, new passion

A few words on a white page

Crystal imagery

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Sunday #48: November 25, 2012 – Do What You Fear

Yesterday, I did something I am proud of. It was a small thing by some people’s standards, but by my standards, it was a small victory. Yesterday afternoon, I held my breath (almost literally) and then I did something I was afraid of.

I attended an open-mic poetry event at Café Tiramisu sponsored by the Edmonton Poetry Festival. The last Saturday of every month, the organization hosts a reading. Most months, there are featured readers followed by a few slots to people who sign up to read their work. This month, as a pre-Christmas event, the whole afternoon was open-mic. I invited Shannon, a woman I go to school with at MacEwan University and who is in my poetry class. We both said we’d bring something to read, but we also both said we didn’t think we’d do it because we rarely share our poetry with people we know, much less a room full of complete strangers who are also poets.

Although I taught for fifteen years, public speaking is something I have always hated. In junior high school, I was so terrified to give my grade eight speech that I was “sick” on the day I was supposed to speak. My anxiety was amped up a notch because the speaking order was determined alphabetically by last name; Anderson was, of course, first (as was frequently the case for things like speeches and needles). When I didn’t show up at the class on speech day, I still had to speak the next day… when nobody else had to do a speech because everyone had gotten it over with the day before. My stalling due to fear had not only not saved me from trauma, but it actually intensified and prolonged it! When my speech and I made it into the next round of speeches in the multi-class competition, I was horrified that I’d have to do it all again in front of an even larger group. While I wanted to hide, I did actually get up and give the speech, but it was an awful experience: drumming heartbeat, clammy and shaky hands, quavering voice.

To this day, decades later, speaking in front of crowds still brings on those same feelings. (People might say “yeah, but you were a teacher,” but trust me, it’s not the same thing, even though it might seem like it.) Last semester, I took a speech writing class, and while I learned a great deal, I did not enjoy giving the speeches I wrote. There is something terrifying to me about reading my own work in front of others, and my shyness means I have no dramatic presence, so I feel awkward and uncool (regardless of whether others perceive me that way).

All of those old memories and feelings should have led me to withdraw from reading yesterday, and believe me, I wanted to. But somehow—maybe because I was with a colleague who I don’t know well, and I didn’t want to be a chicken—I found the courage to get up there, in a brightly lit and microphoned venue, and read one of my poems out loud to a room full of strangers.

Did my heartbeat drum? Absolutely. Were my hands clammy and shaky? Certainly. Did my voice quaver? Probably (but I can’t tell how the audience heard it). The amazing thing is, despite all those physical symptoms for those few minutes, I didn’t throw up, pass out or drop dead. I got to the end of the poem, heard the applause (whether genuine or polite, I don’t know, and truly, it doesn’t matter in some ways) and returned to my seat—unharmed by the experience.

I stared down something I was afraid to do then I did it anyway—and it felt great. That doesn’t mean I will no longer be afraid to share my work in public, but it does mean that I will consider doing it again. Because I suspect the more I do it, the less scary it will become, and the less scary it becomes, the more I will do it.

I am afraid of many things, but I also believe you should do what you fear because stretching yourself is how you grow. Facing my fear of public recitation of my poetry is only one of the fears I have faced, and without doubt many of the fears I have pushed past have led to the best parts of my life. So, to everyone I say, “Do what you fear. You might surprise yourself.”

What fear will you overcome this week or this month or this year?

 

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Sunday #47: November 18, 2012 – A Painful Lack of Care

Yesterday, I read an article that broke my heart. The article was about the struggle 18-year-old Dominic Boivin from Calgary had with excruciating chronic pain, one that ended when he took his own life this past June. Before he resorted to suicide, Dominic had endured pain for years.

Before junior high school, he’d been an active, normal boy. Things began to change in 2007 when Dominic was in grade eight. The pain started in his right knee and then spread to the other knee. Soon, the pain spread up his body, to his hips, lower back, shoulders and neck. By 2009, the pain was also in his jaw, which eventually became locked in the open position so that Dominic could no longer speak or eat and had to be fed liquids with assistance from his parents. Throughout this time, Dominic saw many doctors, who could not find a diagnosis, and he tried many treatments, from traditional choices such as heavy pain medications to alternative therapies such as acupuncture and biofeedback. These only offered temporary pain reduction, not elimination and certainly not cure. Dominic also had to endure a long wait to get into a specialized clinic for pain management and treatment, and when his program was finished—it was only ever designed to be short-term—he was sent back to his family doctor for continuing care. Despite some modest temporary improvement, Dominic’s condition eventually worsened until it was so overwhelming that Dominic took his own life on June 6, 2012.

This story is shattering and sad for Dominic and his family, but it is not unique. Thousands of other Canadians like Dominic are out there, children and adults who suffer from debilitating pain every day—back pain, migraine and other headaches, arthritis, nerve pain—and who cannot get help in the medical system. Some of those people will also ultimately turn to suicide when doctors and drugs can no longer help and when they have lost hope of a normal pain-free life. Depending on the studies you read and the source of the data, the suicide risk for chronic pain sufferers is two to four times higher than that of people who do not experience chronic pain, and those who do not end their own lives often suffer from chronic depression to accompany their chronic pain.

While my daily pain is not as severe and unbearable as Dominic’s—and I thank heaven for that—I can relate to the physical pain and the mental frustration that come from hurting somewhere every day. No matter where you go or what you do, it’s always there. Some people, even doctors, don’t believe you or think you are exaggerating and those that do believe you (doctors and laymen alike) often don’t know how to help you. You feel badly about yourself for all the things you miss out on and all the things you can’t do anymore or not as well as you used to. You feel guilty for all the life adjustments your loved ones face because of your health problems. It’s exhausting physically and emotionally. What disheartens me as much as my physical state is the state of pain care—if you can even call it that—in Canada.

Statistics associated with chronic pain in this country are demoralizing. According to a fact sheet prepared by the Canadian Pain Coalition and the Canadian Pain Society, “One in five Canadian adults suffer from chronic pain [and] children are not spared with 15‐30% of children experiencing recurring or chronic pain.” Pain accounts for up to 78% of emergency room visits and is the most common reason people consult health care professionals. The estimated annual cost of chronic pain in Canada is at least $56‐60 billion. I could carry on with similar data, because it’s available in large quantities, but it’s so disheartening that I will leave it there. What is even more distressing is that despite the availability of the information, little is being done in terms of pain research or provision of pain care services in this country.

Is chronic pain hard to research, diagnose and treat? Yes, it is. Are these processes expensive? Yes, they are. Should we quit trying because of the difficulty and expense? No, we shouldn’t!

People who suffer from chronic pain need hope as much as they need relief, and right now there is not enough of either. If Dominic had had some cause for hope in his fight against chronic pain, he might still be here today.

To read more about Dominic, find the original article here: When Hurting Won’t Stop

To read the chronic pain fact sheet, click here: Chronic Pain Fact Sheet

For those interested in more in-depth data, try this: I Live This Life in Pain

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