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Full Circles

September is upon us.

The humid days of summer are over, evenings are getting cooler, and the leaves are beginning to turn. While many mourn the end of summer, I look forward to the productive days of autumn. The blaze of colours, the busyness of the school season, the crunch of leaves underfoot. It signifies new beginnings and the release of patterns and cycles that have come to fruition.

This September will mark 10 years since my first book, Bleeding Light, was written. When I look back at what I was going through during the process of writing that book, I’m slightly astounded to acknowledge the fact that I’m going through something similar with the current book I’m writing. Sometimes we think we’ve let go of an old way of being or believing, but our minds have just become more tricky at disguising what’s really going on. That’s the power of art, though, to actively and creatively acknowledge what may be too painful to see otherwise.

Speaking of painful, this September will also mark one year since my pacemaker replacement surgery. Truly a time to take stock of what it means to recover, in all its manifestations.

So, here’s to deep breaths and evening fires. Here’s wrapping our worries up in shawls, and standing outside to witness the leaves fall. Here’s to a busy season of creating and teaching.

Here’s to, how ever reluctantly, letting go.

What are you looking forward to this autumn?


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Poetry lives on

All the poet can do today is warn. That is why true poets must be truthful.

-Wilfried Owen

What a month it has been.

We may dedicate one month to celebrating poets and poetry, but for poets, as Mary Oliver puts it, “poetry is a way of life.”

What does it mean for poetry to be a way of life? For me, it is a way of *seeing* into the world around us. A way of reading between the lines, the space between steps, the silences between exchanged glances. The way a leaf twirls to the ground after a windstorm. The way the sun glimmers for a brief second before being obscured by the clouds. The way the rain slants under street lamps. The way anger rises in the throat, like a blunt knife.

This is poetry of every day life.

There is poetry in the extraordinariness of ordinary moments.

There is poetry in frustration, in faltering, in flailing.

So what does it mean to celebrate poetry?

To celebrate life.

April was a month of celebration, contemplation and creation. It was a month filled to the brim with conversations about poetics, negotiations around words and their power, and late nights of flurried writing.

There were many gigs, from kicking off the month with the Rowers Reading Series (and reading new work after a long time) to the Fiddlehead’s Writing with Mother Earth Workshop with the incomparable Mahlikah Aweri, to performing a collaborative poem at MoonVerse (Aga Khan Museum) with Laboni Islam and Lamees El Ethari.

I had purposely taken a break from performing and reading, because I was working on new material, and because it takes a lot out of me to be on stage and recite words that are the product of my own pain.

The default mode for most writers is to be huddled in their rooms and offices, working in the privacy of their homes, spilling their guts onto the page, and tentatively stepping out into the sunlight of the world when we are ready to share. Even then, there is great risk. It feels like life and death, it feels like we are bloodletting on the page, and then preparing ourselves for our words to be discarded like yesterday’s newspaper (yeah, newspapers are still in circulation). It’s not harsh, it’s the nature of the world we live in. A society of disposability, a hashtag-able reality, where if you’re not trending, you’re not relevant.

We write anyway. Because that’s what poets do.

It’s what we’ve always done. It’s what we will continue to do.

And it’s what brings me to the work of mentorship. If there’s anything I can do, it’s to show up for my mentees in ways that people have showed up for me, and in ways they hadn’t. To keep my ego in check by actively supporting and working with writers who write differently than I do, and who teach me in ways I could’ve never imagined– this is the real work.

So as we move into May, I will take new poems and experiences with me, and keep searching for moments to extract poetry from every day life.

A gift for you, for getting this far:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzBF6CFEgKA

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How to Jump

I ask myself: How did you get here?

How, after all these years, have I found myself returning to the centre of a spiral that I thought was a straight path? How is it that my heart turns towards a particular sun, and reflects like the moon on water? How is it that I’ve stitched a galaxy of familiar stars, a veil of sorts– to keep the world just a little bit at bay? Thought patterns scatter like leaves on the forest floor, the past as real as stone, so rigid it can’t be transformed.

There are ways of believing, of surviving, of protecting, that have become so entrenched in my body—deep canals of perceived truth, where no water can be found.

I know this.

And still, I find myself stumbling, searching for water, when it’s right in front of me.

I question the water. Is it sweet enough? Is it pure? Is it truly transparent? Is it what my body needs? Is it what my heart needs? Is it coming from the source? Has it been contaminated? Last time it tasted like poison. Last time, I left thirsty. Last time, I almost drowned. Last time… last time…last time.

An ocean, waiting for me to recognise its waves as my own.

But to investigate, to question, to demand answers provides comfort, certainty. It denies the possibility of drowning. If I know how deep the water is before I jump in, I’ll never drown.

“Khusrau darya prem ka, ulti wa ki dhaar, 
Jo utra so doob gaya, jo dooba so paar. 


Oh Khusrau, the river of love
Runs in strange directions. 
One who jumps into it drowns, 
And one who drowns, gets across.”



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Cataloguing the Heart

There is nothing more magical than the dappled sunlight of a 50+ year old garden. When I visited Kenya in January, I catalogued the plants, flowers, trees and birds in the garden of my mother’s childhood home, and identified over 40 unique species and varieties.

There is so much biodiversity in our little corner of the world. I catalogued everything from the Travelers Palm to White Yarrow. My personal favourites included the sweet scented Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow plant, (Brunfelsia latifolia) and the fuzzy fire of the Dwarf Chennile plant.

I also visited Samich, a magical place 1,000 meters into the Great Rift Valley, where I identified all manner of flora and fauna, including gum trees, sisal trees and the magnificent white necked raven. Just a few miles from Samich, my great great grandfather crossed on horseback, in a place that still bears his name (that is, until the tarmac road is completed, and the sign is removed).

The valley is home to many Indigenous peoples, including the Elgeyo, Tugen, Nandi and Kalenjin, to name a few.

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Another year, another journey

When I was in school, I was the kid all the teachers described as “bright, has potential, but doesn’t apply herself.”  They looked at me in disbelief– they knew I was capable, but I chose to rebel, to fight, to resist, to choose NOT to do the work.

I thought I had moved beyond this behaviour, but this year, I realised that some of it still lingers– this fear of living up to my potential.

And frankly, I’m tired of it.  I’m still working on it, but I’m tired of it.

So how does one write about a year that is full of complexity, grace, fear, joy, stress, inspiration, let-downs, highs, realisations…?

It’s hard to know where to begin. It’s hard to know how to end. All I can think of doing is sharing a few highlights, and a few things to look forward to in 2019. I don’t know if I’ve fully wrapped my mind around this year– that’s the thing with time. It keeps unraveling in our minds and hearts long after it has passed us by.

How to live in the present, but also reflect on the lessons of the past, is something that I’m still learning to do.

 

That fearful process otherwise known as writing a grant…

So, I took a little risk.

It was a risk I felt my community needed, and that’s the thing about risks– somehow we can risk, try and fail when we feel that it will be invaluable for others, but when it comes to ourselves, well that’s another matter.

After having conversations with community stakeholders and educators, we identified that York Region was lacking arts programs for South Asian women. My dream has always been to host and facilitate a South Asian Women’s Writing Circle, and so, I decided to apply for my first OAC Arts Education grant to fund it. And, to my own surprise, I got the grant. We planted the seed, and it’ll take root in 2019 (stay tuned).

 

That little thing called surgery…

I love to be in control. To create magical plans, intentions and ideas. To organise them in images and words. To see them come to fruition. To attempt to accept when they don’t.

I like to know that I can rely on a schedule, a set of dates where I have gigs, workshops, plans in place. Maybe it’s because I freelance, and I’m responsible for my own income. Maybe because I’m human, and let’s face it– we crave being able to control outcomes.

Although I’ve had surgery many times before, it had been 9 years since the last one. My financial situation was less precarious (I was doing my MFA, in a blissful state of writing before being published). I had more security, and less stress. The glory of being 20-something. Not to say that I didn’t have my issues, but they were different than the ones now. Let’s say that I was better at being distracted from my own fears.

This time was different. There was more pressure to recover. There was more pressure to do it “right”. There was more pressure to be “prepared”. While some of this pressure was situational and systemic, it was also mine to own (read more about it here).

I agonised about my pending surgery (THE DAY), and had to keep bringing myself back to the one thing I was in control of:  my thoughts. I worked through this with the help of friends, and my teacher. That’s the thing about having a major life event– you find out who is really present for you. I’m lucky to know who my community of support is, and how I can support them.

 

Take the  flame and run with it…

While recovery was slower than expected (ha! what did I expect? life is life), I had something to look forward to every week: the visit of my mentee, Natasha, who wrote a beautiful and nuanced manuscript of poems. We worked on polishing and arranging these gems, and I felt privileged to be part of the process. Every time I saw the glimmer of potential in Natasha’s eyes, I felt a sense of renewed purpose.  I was reminded of my responsibility to nurture my own gifts so I could nurture the gifts of others.

I could go on and on, but there were so many more highlights and lows, that it’d be impossible to contain them all. From making nature mandalas for Indian Summer Fest (Vancouver) to writing poems for paintings at the Varley Art Gallery, it has been a year of taking small creative risks.

 

 

 

End of year rituals…

Before I let go of the year, I like to take time to record and reflect. Susannah Conway’s Find Your Word course and Unravel Your Year workbook have been my favourite tools for the past three years, allowing me to dive deep before coming up for air in the New Year.

I love the idea of switching out objects and books on my shelves to reflect the mood of the season, as recommended by Robyn Griggs in her book, The Wabi Sabi House: The Japanese Art of Imperfect Beauty.

It’s also a time of purging and donating books, clothes and other things that I’ve been holding on to for no particular reason.

 

Things to look forward to in 2019…

Well, I did it. I launched my PATREON page. If you’ve been enjoying my posts and offerings, please consider supporting my creative work so I can continue to inspire you!

 

Creating through the seasons (2)

 

Join me for this Winter Workshop. I promise it’ll be full of creativity and joy.

Continue to watch this space for online offerings (!!), programs, workshops, gigs and some surprises that are still under wraps!

 

I’ve created a FREE 2019 Intentions downloadable. If you want yours, enter your email address below with the subject line “2019”

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Recover

recover (v.)
c. 1300, “to regain consciousness,” from Anglo-French rekeverer (13c.), Old French recovrer “come back, return; regain health; procure, get again” (11c.)

This September, I underwent pacemaker replacement surgery, approximately my 10th replacement since I was 9 months old. While it is a routine procedure, it felt anything but routine.  The surgery itself was only an hour, but the weeks before it were a lesson in recovering before recovery.

*

There are times I wonder what I’m doing when I’m not producing work. When I’m not publishing, writing, teaching, researching, running from one train to the next.

There are times I wonder who I am when I’m not a writer, arts educator, performer, freelancer, artist, running from one gig to the next.

What am I doing outside of these spaces, who am I outside of these identities?

A friend, a daughter, a sister, a confidante, a student, a woman, a person.

And even these identities have expectations, limitations, ideas of how I should be what I am.  And of course, these identities intersect, overlap, interlay, informing each other and weaving themselves into a tangle of who I am.  I know I am an artist even when I’m not producing work, and a writer even when I’m not writing.

But somehow I got swept away with the guilt I felt at not “being useful” (whatever that means!)

The narrative that we are only who we are when we are DOING something is one I had somehow internalised, and it wasn’t even my own.  This realisation required me to question what I believe to be valuable in myself.

I was forced to slow down, to stop writing, teaching, moving, running and sit with the discomfort of not being in control of the circumstances (like all things in life).  I had to observe how I would, time and time again, expect my experience of recovery to be like the ones before it. I had to observe how I would, time and time again, worry about how I would get back on my feet and still be relevant on the “scene”.

There were moments when I was able to laugh in the face of uncertainty and fear, not out of irreverence, but reverence itself. Laughing with my fear has become one way in to understanding my own story around pain and the avoidance of pain, and worth and the concept of being worthy.

It’s very easy and sometimes preferred to pretend that we’re brave and fearless, especially in an instagrammable world that values perfect squares of perfect lives. There are no squares big enough to encompass this experience.

I had the messy job of confronting my fear.

Confront, not conquer.

I had to show up *while* being afraid.

So now, having made it to the other side, and facing other fears, I have chosen to ask my heart what it needs. What it wants. What it deserves.

And while recovery can be a gentle, painful process, it can also burn through illusions, leaving us with only ashes to decipher.

So here I am, intact, albeit scorched and a little singed.

My scar may have healed, but I’m still choosing to recover.

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Summer Magic

 

The sorting of stones, the sun catching a glint, the piling of rocks that keep collapsing under the weight of each other, starting again, searching for more stones, people watching me at a safe distance, the final pebble placed, the sigh, the walking away.

Summer magic is in capturing imperfect moments and finding their beauty.

The discomfort of sweat clinging to your dress, the sound of waves providing a little relief, the moment of stepping away to silence your inner critic.

I love when I can share my artistic process and approach with students, and how they always find ways of making it more enriched, magical and uniquely their own.

Collaborations are powerful when they’re met with respect, creativity and compassionate listening.

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Return to Spring

Ah, March.

This strange month of snowstorms and snowdrops.

Days that look deceivingly warm.

 Promises of spring.

In winter,  I tend to close myself off and shut off from the world. I turn inward, and find comfort in little joys- whether it’s a cup of tea or a pair of warm socks.  This winter has been a busy one, full of workshops and gigs.

A few highlights: I was commissioned, alongside fellow poets, Whitney French & Pushpa Raj Acharya, to write three poems in response to three paintings for the Varley Art Gallery’s Winter Exhibition: Inscapes.   (Thank you Anik Glaude, Curator Extraordinaire!) I spent a magical Sunday afternoon performing Sufi poems & making a community mandala in a magnificently painted yurt at Aga Khan Museum. I delivered the first of a handful of workshops for the Women’s Writing Circle at Ryerson University, (thanks to the wonderful Toni De Mello). I wrote a feature piece on the brilliant Shannon Webb-Campbell for Quill & Quire’s April issue (stay tuned). I facilitated art workshops for brilliant students and families through Monster Arts for Youth & the Varley Art Gallery, and I teamed up my childhood bestie, Palak Loizides at Embiria to offer a reflective heart-mapping workshop.

 

 

It’s been fun, validating, busy and joyful.

However, after every gig/workshop, I found myself exhausted from the darkness and numbing cold of winter. While I was giving myself 100% to the work I was creating and facilitating, it felt like I was moving through sludge. I’d hurry back home to get warm and snug. Writing was slow at times, and non-existent at others.

When the days were somewhat tolerable and the windchill wasn’t unbearable, I’d venture out with Shiv for winter hikes. But those days were few and far between.

hike

 

During winter months, I find that my friends retreat too. It’s a time that is ridiculously busy or painstakingly slow, and it requires reflection and respite. So, I’d reach out to my network through spirited conversations and debates on social media platforms. And while these can seem impersonal, draining and unwholesome (and at times they can be), they can also be a lifeline to allies and activists who are advocating for change.  I am grateful for that.

But I’ve been feeling this ache.

I ache for the colour GREEN.  I ache for the joy of birdsong, the sound of life returning to rivers. I ache for the robins pecking the grass for worms. I ache for breezy walks with friends, impromptu mandala-making, and open windows.

I’m ready for change.

To gear up for this change, and emerge from hibernation mode, I’ve been exploring and researching projects and possibilities around nature connection and creating from nature.

Sebastian Magnani’s mirror portraits are magical glimpses into natural worlds, and I’m utterly fascinated by them.  I have half the mind to wander around High Park with a concave mirror and create my own nature portraits (if you’re interested, let’s be weird together). I’m watching and re-watching the trailer of a new film documenting the creative exploits of one my favourite artists, Andy Goldsworthy (April can’t come soon enough!) And I recently read an article about a study that correlates one’s well-being with one’s exposure to nature (no surprise there).

I’m letting the seeds of spring is take root in my heart.

How are you preparing your heart for spring?

P.S- Check out the latest feature story at my sister site,  Questions for Ancestors —it will not disappoint.

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Dreaming in January

January.

A frigid winter evening, where the only respite is a glimmer of sunlight clinging to the horizon.

A time to reflect, plan and reconnect.

In some ways it feels exactly the same as it did a few days ago– when it was 2017. The wind is still bitterly cold, the ground is still heaped with snow, the politicians are still in power, and winter is still winter.

Yet, something has shifted. Perhaps it’s our desire to recommit to the visions we entertained in the autumn, or to dream those dreams we had given up on in heat of late summer. There’s a momentum, a drive, a desire to see things change. To make change.

It feels as though 2018 will be a year that demands us to make change. To be kinder. Not because we should, but because we will have no choice. It feels like a year that urges us to be more human and more accountable than we have ever been.

Perhaps 2018 will be a year where we no longer tolerate ignorance, hatred and vile politics because we are too numb or too privileged to care. Perhaps 2018 will be the year that we stand up for each other in real, tangible ways. Perhaps it’ll be a year where we finally do better, and demand better.

The first week of a new year is always hopeful, always full of possibility. Let’s make this one less divisive.

I’m going to start by committing to the projects I have been too afraid to begin.

With a grant to complete my third book, I have nowhere to hide but the page.

I’ll take the leap from “I’m not good enough” to “enough is enough” and start submitting unpublished poems to journals, developing new workshop programs for adults and youth, performing and collaborating, and standing up whenever I witness injustice.

That’s my dream for this year.

Lofty, yes. Optimistic, yes. Possible? Check back in December.

What’s your dream for 2018?

 

 

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Standing on Ice

If there’s one thing October taught me, it’s that I may feel lonely, but I’m never alone.

From wandering through unfamiliar woods in Lynn Canyon to hiking on a bed of litterfall in Algonquin Park,  nature has reminded me that I am not that important, and I am not unimportant either.  I am part of an ecosystem that I can support or harm, based on my actions and interactions.  Performing, teaching and creating with fellow poets reminded me that the secret to the validation I seek lies in how others show up for themselves through their words. Every day. Through their unapologetic, magic-laced words.

 

And as I let go of my favourite month, I hold on to these new memories like wafer-thin leaves, the colour of wine gums (I compare everything to food), and debate when is too early to start sprinkling holiday glitter on everything.

It’s November now, and we are trading in brighter days for darker evenings, ice-cold drinks for mugs of hot chocolate, and light sweaters for heavier jackets.

We are teetering between autumn and winter.

We are moving– no– galloping– towards next year. Half of our minds are already there, leaving behind our failures and fears from this year. Ignoring the inequities and injustices we see too often, because we are focused that golden target of “Next Year”.

Next year will be better.

Next year I’ll have my shit together.

Next year the world will be less pathetic and selfish.

Next year I’ll reach all my goals. 

Next year.

All I have to do is get through the rest of this year. 

Well, hell.

*

I find myself trying to stand.

To stand on the slippery surface of what was once water.

I ask myself if I can truly stand without falling through and surrendering to the frigid darkness of it all.

I peer into the swirled glass I believe to be solid, to see that there is still life and movement underneath the hardness.

*

As we stiffen our bodies against the cold and turn away from this year, we forget that there is blood still moving under the surface.

We still have work to do.

We have to stand on ice.

And if there’s anything I know, it’s that if we don’t want to fall,

we have to link arms.

 

 

 

Notebook

P.S

if you’re in Toronto & need a little community and creativity in your life,  join me for Chaat, Chai & Creativity. 

 

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Embracing the Fall

The summer, while full of little joys, was also challenging. 

In my August blog post, I reflected upon the idea of the “instagrammable” summer, versus the real experience of summer– which can often feel like we were failing at sucking out every sunshiny drop of the season.

While this summer had wonderful highs , my Mom was also going through some health challenges and I was short of work, so I had to be creative with how I (literally) spent my summer.

mandala pelee

Thanks to the astounding kindness of fellow artists/festival organisers, I was able to hitch a ride with my former boss/mentor for an epic road trip to Pelee Island for the Stone & Sky Festival. We stayed in a magical bed & breakfast on a farm with goats, rescue dogs, cats, chickens, guinea fowl and other unidentified critters.

Some of my Pelee Island joys included making a mandala from driftwood and fallen flowers, talking to fellow artists on a long and scenic ferry ride, partaking in more than my fair share of french fries, falling asleep to the sound of crickets, waking up to a sweet dog scratching at the bedroom door,  sipping hot cups of tea and laughing with new friends.

Other joys of the summer included a sunny beach picnic with my partner Shiv, spending an entire stress-free day with my big sister (it’s been a long time) and revisiting childhood haunts like Guild Park and Gardens.

 

 

There were challenges too. Difficult conversations about money, making ends meet, finding work, managing the isolation from my community of artists/friends, dealing with feelings of inadequacy, of not being or feeling enough, of  trying to stand when I all I really wanted to do was crawl back in bed and wish I was someone else or somewhere else.

As summer neared its end,  I was reminded by a dear mentor and fellow artist-educator that the first step of transformation is disorientation.   I’m still processing what this means for me and how it manifests in my life and thoughts, but at least I have a compass.

A compass of knowing what I’m not willing to do, who I’m not willing to be, and which values I’m not willing to compromise or sacrifice on this path. I’m learning to embrace the fall.  To admit vulnerability, to kick the shit out of “perfection” as a brand, to stay present with the discomfort.

So here we go.

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I have always loved this fleeting season, because nature manifests the process of transformation— a reminder to find our footing in uncertainty, to witness the grace of a leaf as it lets go.

As we prepare our hearts and minds (and bodies!) for this shift, I wanted to share a list of prompts that have helped me navigate this time of year.

I hope it helps you too.

  1. List your summer joys & challenges
  2. Update your altar/ space to reflect the colours of the season
  3. Clean your laptop,  organise your workspace, sharpen your pencils (if you still use pencils)
  4. Celebrate the autumnal equinox with a meaningful ritual
  5. Go for fall walks/hikes
  6. Re-read your favourite fall-themed book
  7. Make a list of what you’re ready to let go of and how you intend to lean in to the transience of fall
  8. Take a road trip to observe the fall colours
  9. Dig up your favourite fall sweater
  10. Check in with friends, colleagues and inspiring people you’ve been meaning to reconnect with

If you’re in Toronto,  join me for a gentle, reflective autumnal workshop on October 1st. 

Deep breath, friends.

It’s time to embrace the fall.

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Goodbye, FOMO

The general malaise of summer.

Yes, malaise.

There is a cloud hanging over the golden light of summer, a cloud heavy with expectation and inadequacy.

How is it possible, one might say, to experience malaise in the summer?

The expectation of having an action-packed, bbq-filled, skirt-flouncing summer, where everything is easy and full of joy, where we can picnic with friends and go to the beach, and swim in crystal waters, and sing the summer’s praises.

Financial lack, however, doesn’t disappear with the change in seasons.

This is a reality for many artists, including myself.

How do we sit in the sunshine and not feel the heaviness of debt or doubt clouding our hearts and minds?

How do we sit with the present when the present is sometimes painful?

When everyone *except* us is enjoying themselves?

Or at least that’s what we’re lead to believe when we check our instagram feed.

And when we do go out for summer adventures, we’re so busy attempting to document perfection that we can’t enjoy what we’re experiencing.  Like the sticky sweat dripping down our the backs of our shirts, the real experience is not good enough to be seen.

After sitting with my own feelings and chatting with a few brilliant writerly women, we’ve realised that this feeling is not ours alone.

We share it.

There is a real lack, a deeper lack, of what the summer is supposed to feel like, of what it felt like when we were kids. No school, no responsibilities, no worries. Just the warm breeze, a pitcher full of lemonade, a handful of frozen grapes and the sun gleaming on the handlebars of our bicycles.

As much as we’d like to believe we can recapture that childhood summer, it’s beyond us. It’s the one we feel that we always have to catch up to, and never seem to experience. Maybe we have a day of childhood joy, or even an hour. A sloshy popsicle, a windswept country drive, a few hours to sit in the sun.  But for some of us, there is still that cloud, that cloud of lack, pooling itself over our heads, ready to rain down on our summer-nostaglia-mini-parade.

I don’t have the answers.

All I know is that this FOMO we’re experiencing is dangerous. Dangerous in its expectations of us, dangerous in its utter ungroundedness in reality, dangerous in its picture perfect filters of hipsterized ice cream. Dangerous in its ability to stop us in our tracks and make us feel that we can’t go on. That we’re not enough. That we don’t have enough.

Enough.

For the last month of summer, I’m turning my FOMO meter off.

I’m sitting with the discomfort of financial lack, of knowing it’s still there and no amount of vegan ice cream or iced frappuccinos will take it away. It’s just something to live with, and hopefully with a bit of grace.

I’m not starving. I’m not shelter-less.

I have sunshine.

And that’s enough.

 

Some suggestions from friends (and me) to counteract the FOMO: 

  • Go for early morning walks 
  • Be gentle and cautious of the expectations you put on yourself 
  • Check-in with fellow friends/accountability partners
  • Turn off your cell phone for a block of time each day- disconnect
  • Read more
  • Pay attention to how your body feels, check in with your senses
  • Return to a daily or weekly meditation practice (visit Toronto Mindfulness Community on great resources and guidance on how to do this)
  • Disconnect from social media if you need to

 

Let me know how your last month of summer is going,

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Questions for Ancestors

 

 

At the end of every school year, there is a twinge of bittersweet joy that rises up in my heart.

Through my work as an artist-educator, I have the privilege and honour to witness students explore the creative process and share their artistic projects and ideas.  This year, I encouraged students to explore themes that kept reoccurring in my own journey: ancestry, home, belonging. 

In February, I traveled to Kenya to visit my grandmother and I made it my mission to ask the questions I always wanted to ask her. In speaking to her, I discovered that her mother never went back home after getting married. She never saw her parents or siblings again. She had no idea when or how her parents passed away. Once she boarded that dhow to travel across the sea with her husband, she left all hope of seeing her beloved home again.

To leave for love, for obligation, without the promise of return.

To stand at the shore and say goodbye to everything familiar to you.

I can’t imagine.

But it was a reality of the times.

wage beauty cover

 

Packed in my suitcase was one of my favourite books, In Times of Terror, Wage Beauty, by Mark Gonzales. I’m perpetually astounded by his insights and reflections about ancestry and the inheritance of behaviours, ideas and burdens passed on from one generation to the next.

I lifted a quote from the book and wrote it my journal, plastered it on sticky notes, and committed it to blackboards and whiteboards across the province.

It became a mantra for me, a call for action and response.

 wage beauty quote

Back in Canada, I asked students what this quote meant to them.

What they were training for?

What did they value?

What did they want their legacy to be generations after they are gone?

I asked them to reflect upon the legacies of their ancestors.

A story emerged of a Jewish grandfather who was spared by the Nazis because the week before he was picked up for the concentration camps, he found an SS officer’s wallet and returned it without a penny missing. 

Stories surfaced. Stories that pulled at heartstrings and tugged at tears. Stories that reminded young people of the very reality of their existence being a direct result of the choices and decisions of their ancestors.

It got me thinking about our legacies.

How are we training our hearts, bodies and minds to make decisions that will benefit and support generations ahead of us?

What is the responsibility of being an ancestor-in-training?

In order to ask ourselves what we need to do in the present, we need to reflect upon our collective and individual stories. To ask the hard questions about legacies we didn’t ask for. To ensure that we don’t pass on harmful “traditions” of thinking, being and believing.

Keeping these questions in mind, I’ve launched a new website, Questions for Ancestors.

qs for ancestors logo

Each month, Questions for Ancestors will feature an artist, writer, artist-educator, creator, collaborator or community activist who will respond to the prompts:

If you had one question to ask an ancestor/ancestors, what would it be?

&

If you had one piece of knowledge to share with a descendant what would it be?

Descendants being children, grandchildren, torch-bearers of traditions, mentees, generations of creators. Descendants not limited to the bloodline or the biological.

As one grade 6 student told me, “I just want my descendants to be proud of me.”

And another grade 7 student wrote, “You must be the hero of your own story, you must do something that makes you feel complete.” 

So simple. Yet within their words lies a challenge.

A call to action. A determination. A choice.

I hope that these responses will inspire you ask questions of your ancestors.

Questions that will determine your path and shape your journey.

In solidarity,

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To watch my response to the prompt “if you had one question for your ancestors, what would it be?” Click here. 

 

 

 

 

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Laying the Groundwork

Sometimes it’s necessary to step away.  Far away.  Away from the eyes of social media and the need to engage with people on a constant, consistent basis.  Away from the need to be validated for every post, every photo, every moment of a life.

For the last two months, I have chosen to be inconsistent. Inconsistent with updating my website, inconsistent with posts, inconsistent with where I am.

Where I am.

Where am I?

Where have I been?

In Kenya.

In the place where my roots still run deep in the earth, where stepping into my grandmother’s garden is stepping into history. Where my grandfather’s name still floats around the house, like an unspoken whisper. Where the dog sleeps under my grandmother’s chair as she sings hymns. Where my ancestors lived in the same town. On the same street.

I went home.

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I went home to ask myself where home is. What home means. Why I don’t feel at home when I’m back in Canada, in the place where I was born. In the place where I work, create, socialize, engage.

Maybe it’s because this ‘home’ can also mean complicity, comfort beyond comfort and stagnancy instead of stability. Maybe because this ‘home’ is a place where old habits return and new routines fade away. Maybe it’s because this ‘home’ is a place where I have to hustle to make a living, where my value and salary don’t match up. Maybe because this ‘home’ feels isolating. Alienating. Unwholesome.

Don’t get me wrong. I am grateful. I am grateful to be in a place where my community is fighting to become more inclusive, where allyship and intersectionality are in practice (at least in some spaces). I’m grateful to be in a place where I can get anything, anytime, anywhere.

ANYTHING.

But…

Is it too much? Is it not enough?

Is it not enough heart? wholeness? “home”ness?

The thing about not having everything available is that you become accustomed to be grateful for what you have. You create routine out of what others may consider to be monotony, or ‘lack’. You find your place as a part of something bigger than yourself, as opposed to making yourself bigger than everything around you. You are a piece in a puzzle. You are not puzzled.

In my mother’s hometown, I found routine. The routine of not caring what I looked like because I was so ready to get out into nature, into the garden. To hear the white-browed robin-chat singing, to watch speckled mousebirds eat pomegranate seeds from our tree, to capture the light of the sun piercing through a morning glory. To stand in the middle of the rainforest and know that I know nothing and it’s a glorious feeling. To savour, and finish, a cup of  piping hot tea (I can’t tell you how many cups of tea have gotten cold from my distractions back in Canada).

My routine was simple. Wholesome. Meaningful.

Make art. Document it. Nourish your body. Spend time with family.

Listen. Sit. Run with the dogs.

Eat at mealtimes. Eat on a table. Eat without distractions.

Let the earth provide you with every leaf, flower and seed you need to create a mandala.

Do your prostrations every morning. Light rose incense. Recite the Four Immeasurables.

Put your goddamned phone away. Seriously.

Don’t panic when the internet doesn’t work in your room.

Learn how to live without connection. To be connected.

To reconnect.

And so, here I am, back ‘home’, trying to adopt this way of life. This way of life, in a place where I can’t see trees from my window. Where the birds are further north. Where people (literally) RUN out of the GO train at the end of the day so-they-can-get-in-their-cars-before-anyone-else-so-they-can-avoid-traffic-so-they-can-get-home-so-they-can-eat-sooner-so-they-can-sleep-faster-so-they-can-wake-up-the-next-morning-and-get-to-work-on-time-so-they-can-come-home-on-the-train-and-run-to-their-cars…you get the point.

As my grandmother once told me over tea,  “I struggle, but I manage. Wherever I am, I manage.”

I’m laying the groundwork. To manage. To do more than manage. To create a different life than the one I’ve been expected to lead. I’m not interested in a BIG life. I’m not interested in going viral. I’m not interested in anything else but being whole.

It’ll take courage. It’ll take heart. It’ll take time.

And I’m ok with that.

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Thanks, but Goodbye, 2016.

Let’s be honest. This year has been shitty and uncertain for so many of us.

It’s been a year of heavy hearts, deflated hopes, financial challenges, unrealized dreams.  (tweet this!)

This year was a strange year for me- a year of rare opportunities which I am very grateful for, and challenges I’d rather not experience again.

It was a year of loss:

This was the year we lost many rare, gifted artists. Too many to count. Too many to fathom. A gaping hole waiting to be filled with artists who are still reeling from the loss, who are discouraged by pop packaging and obsession with airbrushed art within the entertainment industry.

I lost one of my favourite poets and one of my first mentors, Rishma Dunlop, to cancer.

I also had to say goodbye to Beit Zatoun House, the community space that housed many  events, including both of my book launches. It was a safe space for many of us, and it will be replaced by a condo complex.

It was a year of upheaval:

This is the year we sold our family home, moving our belongings to a lovely place with less room for old memories.

Racism and xenophobia in Western politics, eruptions of violence around the world (and here at home), the canlit debacle, and the Syria crisis (an understatement) dominated our minds, screens and hearts. It was a tough year to process, and we’re still waiting for the other shoe to drop.

In the midst of this chaos, I found myself difficult questions about my creative path, and whether what I’ve been doing for 10 years still serves and challenges me (stay tuned on that front).

It was a year of missed opportunities: 

This  year, I had to struggle for consistent work.

Opportunities kept slipping out of my fingers, potential partnerships never developed, and gigs that were guaranteed..were..not..so..guaranteed.

I was confident that my relationships with venues and organizations in 2015 would carry through to 2016, but I was sorely mistaken.

This was also the year of my worst workshop experience. ever. Let’s not talk about that.

It was a year of blessings:

This was the year I visited Nova Scotia with my dad and sister, deepened partnerships with organizations I’ve worked for in the past, and learned how to let go and re-evaluate what I do and what I want from life.

It was the year I seized the opportunities I did have.

I worked with dancers, musicians, arts educators and fellow authors, and I am grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to learn, share, grow and collaborate.  It was the year I recited  poetry to welcome new Canadians, had my story and photo in the Globe & Mail, attended almost every day of the International Festival of Authors, reconnected with classmates at my 10 year reunion, sat on an arts grant jury, made mandalas at the Art Gallery of Mississauga,  had my poems tucked into pockets across the country and graduated from with the Mentor Artist-Educator Certificate from the Royal Conservatory of Music.

I taught more than I performed.

I was braver in creating my own content, launching the Ghazal Project in April, experimenting with mixed media and recording my first youtube video.

And to top it all off, I had food, shelter, water, family, and my health.

Indeed, it was a year of blessings.

Looking Ahead…

As we head into 2017, my heart is leaning toward a life of supporting others through their creative journeys, rather than being at centre stage.

I’m no longer interested in being the only one in front of a mic.

I want to stand with other artists, weaving our voices and narratives together to create meaning.

I’m working through Susannah Conway’s “Unravel Your Year” workbook, and encourage you to do it too.

I’m ready.

I’m SO READY TO SAY…YELL…SCREAM…

GOODBYE 2016!!!

Don’t

let

the

door

hit

you

on

the

way

out.

Happy Holidays, friends.

Share your intentions for 2017 in the comments. Let’s be optimistic together.

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Navigating in November

 

October was a blaze of activity and flurry of leaves.

For two weeks, my autumn consisted of frenzied walks through crowds. Of scrawling notes in the dark and tweeting between speeches. Of conversations and interviews. Of hosting authors and sitting on backstage steps to hear them speak. Of signed books and signing books. Of laughter. Of hor’d’oeuvres. Of parties I’d never be invited to under normal circumstances. Of reunions with old friends and teachers. Of coffees with writers and critics. Of finding outlets so I could charge my phone before my battery died. Of sitting at the Harbourfront to watch planes land. Of eating too many cookies. Of standing at bus stops and TTC stations.  Of smiling at strangers who, for the most part, smiled back.

Of listening to Elder Bob speak about how he was told to shut up in the classroom. Of having conversations about Truth and Reconciliation with artists from Six Nations. Of creating webs of meaning and connection. Of walking with a fellow artist: One foot after the other. Of collaborating. Of listening. Of witnessing.

And now, November.

Skeletons of leaves. A gentle, cold sunset through train windows. Twinkling lights. Festive songs. Rose gold ornaments. Icy breath. Geese flying low and heading South.  Early morning frost lacing the windowpanes. Silence as companion.

We are pulling out warmer blankets, cosier pyjamas, woollen hats and mitts.

We huddle at the train station holding cups of tea and coffee.

We are descending into darkness before dinner.

We are descending into winter.

We are descending.

*

I always ask myself at this time of year: Where have I been this year? Where am I going?

All I know is that we are coming closer to the end of what has been a strange, inspiring, complicated year. A year that has burned through illusions. A year that had me standing at the in the middle of the road not knowing where to turn time and time again.

A year that provided me with incredible opportunities and yet also deprived me of opportunities I thought I’d have again. A year that made me question whether this path is still for me. A question that still lingers.

All I know is I’m ready. I’m ready to tackle this question with humour and hopefully some grace. I’m ready to strategize, hibernate, build, become.

What are you ready for?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Do the Work

Do the Work

We, myself included, have been swept away by the possibility of social media becoming our ticket to fame. If we post a stanza, a little gem of meaning, maybe, just maybe, it’ll go viral. Maybe we’ll find the shortcut to the long arduous road to becoming artists who have finally found enough work to sustain ourselves.

I’ve been doing this (whatever the hell this is) for 15 years.

I’m still struggling to find place, meaning, financial security. 

It’s not what some young people want to hear. It’s not what I wanted to hear, to be honest.

I thought by now, I’d be settled in my creative path— but that’s the thing about creativity. If you’re willing to surrender to it, it’ll recreate you. Every time.

So here I am, on the precipice of what I think will be my third book. I thought I could will it into fiction, but it wants to be poetry. It won’t be instafamous. It won’t be tumblr-worthy. It won’t be a bestseller. And I am starting to realize that I don’t give a shit about that. And part of me is scared— does that mean I don’t care about ‘making it’ anymore?

Yes, it does.

I don’t even know what “it” is. And when I arrive at what I think “it” is, I’m pretty sure I’ll be sorely disappointed by what “it’ is not. So basically, “it” doesn’t exist.

I choose the obscure path to write obscure poems in an obscure form (the ghazal). An obscure form made popular by white poets who appropriated it and renamed it. Oh, those literary hipsters— rediscovering something ancient, making it new and claiming it to be a trend they started. The hilarity of it, of me trying to reclaim it in a mother tongue that is all at once foreign and familiar. The only one I know well enough to write in.

How could I possibly be understood by the mainstream? Am I silly? Am I delusional? Maybe I thought the world was ready for ghazals by a South Asian Canadian woman with Kenyan roots who is neither Muslim or Buddhist but not sure if she’s 100% human yet (ok, just writing that allowed the absurdity of it to sink in).  In a time when we are still having debates about cultural appropriation, how could I possibly think the mainstream would be receptive to someone who writes like me? Who can’t, despite my efforts to sabotage my obscurity, make it to the mainstream?

(This is very much a ‘poor me’ ego vs. ‘get your shit together’ post, so if you’re rolling your eyes right about now, good. So am I.)

The dream I dreamt up as a teen is shrivelling up. I don’t want to be the person I thought I wanted to be when I was in my ‘20s.  What was once nourishing and sustaining me is now emptying itself of meaning.

And it scares me. It scares me because somehow I’ve believed, all these years, that the career I want will create the life I want. I’m beginning to realize that the life I have created must shape my career.

The earth sustains me. Being reminded that I’m intimately a part of it sustains me.

Witnessing someone have a breakthrough in the classroom— sustains me.

Abandoning any idea of what I’m going to do the minute I walk on stage— sustains me.

Making mandalas in nature— sustains me.

When I was in Nova Scotia, I met Greg Turner, a man with lasting, local impact.  Observing how generous he is with his knowledge and passion, how he acknowledges his privilege and honours the land— it was beyond inspiring.

He reminded me that it is possible to teach, to live, to create, to share, to work and to love through the land. I’m so grateful for that teaching, and I hope to navigate those waters for myself.

To close the gap between what I do and how I live.

So I had to ask myself what may seem like a very obvious question:

Do you want to have wider impact on social media or real impact in community?

These questions, while obvious in theory, would require two very different business strategies and creative approaches. How I answer them will determine the work I commit to.

The idea that by making my focus local instead of global is somehow diminishing my potential and falling short of who I could be— it’s egotistical bullshit.  It’s an excuse, in some ways, to see what can’t be unseen— that I’m letting go of who I thought I wanted to be.

And that’s ok.

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The Tide Changes

The Tide Changes Quickly

When autumn rolls around, there’s an anticipation in the air. The anticipation of new beginnings and fresh starts– packing away summer memories and embracing (hopefully) the cool evenings and golden afternoons of fall.

I’ve always been drawn to transitional seasons- fall and spring. Perhaps it’s the call to transform, the acknowledgement and acceptance of change. Maybe we don’t always embrace it, but we know it’s coming. It gives us permission to not know, to be prepared for things to fall away and allow new things to take their place. We feel it in the subtle shift of the sun and the yellowing leaves.

*

This summer unravelled with scenic road trips, lazy afternoons, culinary experiments and long hikes. It was a time to reconnect with nature and root myself in places I’ve never been to. I travelled to Nova Scotia with my Dad (who I hadn’t seen in 2 years) and my sister – a reunion and rediscovery of our relationship with each other. We met many kind people, from the baker in Cheticamp who brewed us a fresh pot of coffee even though he was closed, to the vendor who didn’t charge my dad for his ice cream cone. We met people who rise to the tide, who have memorized the cycles of the sea in their blood, who can smell whales before their sleek bodies appear through the mist of the ocean.

In Cape Breton, we stayed at the Maven Gypsy, a lovely yellow house on the Cabot Trail, where the rooster crowed at odd hours and the gentle waves of the ocean lulled us to sleep at night. Despite the rain, we decided to hike the Skyline Trail.  Soaked and silenced by the sudden revelation of rolling hills descending into the sea, our exhaustion transformed into gratitude.

 

 

In Digby,  I met local hero, Greg Turner, of GAEL Tours, who led us to the shoreline at Port Prim and taught us about the incredible biodiversity of The Bay of Fundy. During our tour, he explained the connection between predators, plankton and periwinkles– that even the smallest creatures have the ability to survive against the odds. At one point during the tour, he asked us to be silent and listen. He asked us to listen to the crashing waves and distant song of shorebirds, to become acutely aware of the salt spray on our lips and and the slimy seaweed under our feet– to acknowledge that we are standing on the ocean floor.

 

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Greg Turner of GAEL Tours

 

 

We gasped as the landscape transformed before our eyes- the horizon blurring into the sea, the sea rising into smoke. We followed a ship until it disappeared into the fog. We traced russet lines on rocks and watched barnacles feed.

A day full of magic. A place full of magic.

 

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Reminders from Nova Scotia: 

Fog can lift the spirit. 

 Sit with place. Allow yourself to be humbled by it. 

D0 what you can with what you have, and what you have will be all you need. 

Make a local difference instead of trying to change the entire world.

The tide rises quickly, so pay attention. 

 

So why mourn the end of summer? Why not embrace the changing tides?

My heart has been packed away with sea salt and periwinkles, smooth stones and driftwood– but I’m ready. I’m ready to make a little room for fiery leaves and the golden light of September.

What are you ready for?

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Late Summer Lessons

 

 

August. A month of transition. A month of humid, hazy days, late night thunderstorms,  and the whisper of autumn around the corner.

We’re soaking up every ounce of sunlight we can– dipping our warm bodies into cool lakes and sparkling pools, fanning ourselves on our decks and porches, filling and refilling glasses of lemonade (or something harder, perhaps) brimming with cubes of ice.

It’s a time for deep gratitude. Of listening to cicadas in the dead of night. Of long country drives. Of dining al fresco.

There is beauty and wisdom in August. A gentle reminder to take it all in, and thank summer for its offerings. There’s also a hard lesson to be learned– the lesson of letting go of languid afternoons in exchange for the cooler sunlight of September.

*

On the first weekend of the month, we hiked a trail that was harder than it looked. I had less than adequate shoes for the journey, and had to be cautious with my steps. I knew that I could persevere with what I had, but experience reminded me to be cautious of forest floors: winding roots that jut out of the soil,  sturdy rocks that hide under paths padded with litterfall.

Life.

Last month, I found out that I didn’t get into an artist residency program I had applied for. It seemed perfectly suited for my creative practice of creating mandalas from nature, of listening to silence and sitting in stillness. I convinced myself that I had to get in.

But I didn’t.  I asked myself why it was so imperative that I got in– was it because of the learning, the support, the community of likeminded artists working on their own fascinating projects? Perhaps. Or perhaps it was something else. Perhaps it was validation I was looking for.

Perhaps I needed my wild idea to be validated before I took the risk– before I entered the forest. When I looked up the etymology of the word ‘valid’, I was surprised to read its original meaning: “strong/be strong”.

Be strong indeed.

After the tears, I reminded myself that the idea for my project was fully formed before I knew about the residency. It was born from something more intentional than just a 2-week project proposal.

It is about embodiment, about deepening a practice, deepening a life. It requires bravery, time, courage, space.

I know that it has to be carried, regardless of the circumstances.  So I’ve decided that I will write and create from this idea over the next month, as I travel through the East Coast of Canada. I will sit with sunsets, taste the sea salt on my lips, walk the trails and listen to the trees.

Maybe I won’t have the best shoes for the journey, but all I need to do is put one foot in front of the other.

 

cliff

 

 

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Letting Go in June

 

When one jumps over the edge, one is bound to land somewhere.

-D. H. Lawrence

Earlier this week, I had to say goodbye to my childhood home. We packed boxes of precious books, piled our car with pillows, wrapped heirlooms and crystals, and left some things behind– including our lovely garden. It’s been difficult but liberating to let go. After we finished packing, I cut a segment of blush-tinted flowers from the garden and placed them in a small mason jar on my window sill.  Taking a little bit of ‘home’ home, as it were. In the last few years, I’ve created little corners of reflection/grounding wherever I go. When I stayed at my sister’s place for two weeks, I claimed one of her side tables by placing  a patinaed Green Tara statue and a chunk of quartz on it. When I stayed at my Dad’s place in B.C, I made space on one of his shelves for my tiger’s eye mala and some new stones I had collected.

I realize, through this process of letting go,  that being at “home” is an intentional act. It can be created anywhere, and it goes with us wherever we go. It is an altar in the heart, a memory of scent, a handful of laughter.

I had the gift of working with some incredible students at the end of May and we discussed the very notion of home- and how it is tied to identity, belonging and heritage.

One of my grade 6 students wrote about home as a place where “you can walk through the streets knowing that you are safe ’cause you have family all around-not by blood but by bond.”

And isn’t that what home should be? A safe place that nurtures community, builds relationships, deepens connections and generates a sense of love?

After my last workshop in May, I  let my feet guide me to the lake. I settled into the rhythm of the breeze and watched the sunlight dance on the surface of the water. A duck, emerald feathers shimmering, glided through the ripples.  A white-winged butterfly flitted past me. A teenaged couple placed their bicycles down and laughed into each other’s arms.

I was home.

June

 

Home is a river rock and a sprig of hyacinth.

Home is a worn nautilus shell.

Home is an acorn at your feet.

Home is an exhale, a sigh, a song.

 

 

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Manifesting in May

National Poetry Month was a busy one– filled with writing workshops, performances, collaborations, and new poems.  In my workshop, “Road Maps to the Heart”  I encouraged participants to explore the terrain of their own hearts, and they created their own (stunning!) heart maps.  I also spent quite a bit of time working on ghazals for The Ghazal Project, an ambitious project I set out for myself at the beginning of April. Listen to all my ghazals here.

May is my birthday month, and I like to take time to reflect on my year and the challenges and triumphs the year has brought me. It’s also a time to focus on planning, re-focusing and re-evaluating where I am and how I’d like to move forward. My dear friend, Nadiya Virani of Nadiya V Design, has helped me re-focus with a refreshing rebranding (lots of re’s in that sentence!) of my promotional materials, including new, watercolour seafoamfantastic prompt postcards. If you’d like one, drop me a note!

The word “manifesting” also comes to mind in May, because I believe that having a plan and a vision are critical to manifesting the kind of work I want to create and the life I want to lead. The other word that keeps coming back to me is ’embodiment’. How do I create, live and work in a way that embodies my practice? I find that I can embody a poem on stage, or collaborate with purpose and meaning, but when I am on my own, I slip out of this sense of ‘being in my body’. Sometimes my racing mind gets in the way of my intuition.

The question I’ve been asking myself is:

How do I surrender to my creative practice in a way that engages my entire being, in whatever I do? 

This is the challenge I have given myself. Stay tuned for my discoveries as I embrace the possibility of deepening and expanding my creative practice and finding ways of embodying it.

Have a wonderful month filled with creativity,

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The Ghazal Project: Week Three & Four

The Ghazal Project: Week Three & Four

The Ghazal Project, my ambitious write-one-ghazal-a-week project, was going quite well until the third week. I found out that one of my first poetry mentors, Rishma Dunlop, passed away, and I couldn’t bring myself to write a ghazal. I tried, but the words didn’t hold the weight that I wanted them to. The ghazal is a form that delves into themes of separation, longing, and loss, but in that moment, silence seemed more appropriate.  The unfortunate part of about not writing a ghazal that week was that people submitted so many gorgeous flowers as poetry possibilities. In a strange way, just the prompt of asking people what their favourite spring flowers are seemed fitting for a tribute to Rishma, as her first (and my favourite) book is aptly titled, ‘The Body of My Garden’.

So, in tribute to Rishma and the seeds she planted for many of us, here are the names of all the flowers that were offered that week:

 

word cloud

 

While I fell short of my goal of writing a ghazal that week, I found myself inspired to write in other forms of poetry (which you can read on Facebook and Instagram).

 

My final week’s prompt was, “There’s nothing more comforting than…”.  One of the responses was, “you beside me” (Thank you Alia Pirani!)  I’d like to offer you this ghazal, a parting gift for following me on my #NPM16 journey (p.s- Israh is my pen name):

 

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The Ghazal Project: Week One

 

Well, this was a challenging one folks, seeing as how it’s been snowing on and off this week, and my ghazal  prompts are all about….spring.

My first prompt was a question, “If spring had a colour, it would be…” (Feel free to use this prompt for a writing exercise/journal prompt)

Week 1

I had some unique, stunning responses– from beryl to blush– but citrine won out!

To read/hear my first ghazal of my Ghazal Project challenge, look no further:

 

 

What is the Ghazal Project? 

In celebration of National Poetry Month:  Every Monday in April, I will post a prompt for my facebook & instagram followers, and will choose one of their responses (namely, a word), to create a refrain for an original ghazal— which I will write, record and publish to be read and heard on Friday.  Tune in on Monday for the next prompt! 

 

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Alliterating in April

 

New beginnings, fresh sheets of paper, unused ink, words yet to be written, seeds waiting to be scattered, blooms in the heart.

National Poetry Month is a month for poets to come out of hiding— out of stuffy libraries, out of book-riddled bedrooms, out of tiny offices.  It’s when we gather over cups of coffee (or something stronger), to share poems, read work, attend launches, and bask in the glory of our brokenness.  One could argue that we do this anyway— but there’s something about April. Something about some poet referring to it as the cruellest month, something about it giving us permission to call ourselves poets.

I always look forward to April—from the frost of winter fading away to the shock of crocuses sprouting up through hardened soil.

ghazal project

I’ve decided to write a handful of ghazals this month, ghazals whose refrains will be chosen by ‘the people’ as it were. I’ve dubbed it “The Ghazal Project”, to make it sound more official, and to hold myself accountable for what will undoubtedly reduce me to many “oh shit, I have to write a ghazal” moments. Every Monday in April, I will post a prompt for my facebook & instagram followers, and will choose one of their responses (namely, a word), to create a refrain for an original ghazal— which I will write, record and publish to be read and heard on Friday.

Wish me luck, folks. I’m going to need it.

In addition to this very ambitious project, my poems are also featured for All Lit Up’s “Woven Odes” interactive constellation of poets (how cool does that sound?!) and the League of Canadian Poets/ American Academy of Poets collaborative collection of poetry for Poem in Your Pocket Day (April 21st).

And then, of course, there are the events. The long running poetry series, the art bar, will be closing its doors this year, so I feel particularly lucky to be featured for a second time on April 12th. Then, on April 17th, I’m offering “Road Maps to the Heart”, a free poetry workshop based on this year’s NPM theme, “the road”. It’ll be fun, I promise. Did I mention I’ll be giving away a gorgeous prize pack?  Think notebooks, pens and chocolate.

It’s a packed month– one in which I hope to spend more time reading and writing poems. I encourage you to read poetry from poets you’ve never heard of before— go to your local library and pick up a collection of poems with a title that screams at you to be read. I have no doubt that you’ll find a gem or two.

What are you plans for NPM16? Let me know in the comments!

Happy Reading, folks.

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Magic Returns in March

 

As I write this, I’m laughing at the fact that there is an impending snowstorm on the horizon. March is a month that houses the first day of spring and the last snowstorm of the year.  There’s alchemy in that. Magic, even. The magic of transformation. The magic of possibility, and as someone very aptly pointed out to me, physics.

In March, the sun burns hot enough for us to believe winter is over. Snowflakes flutter down from the sky.  In March, we are in a state of flux, an in-betweenness, a liminality of sorts.  We stand at the threshold of spring and yet the bitter winter wind still blows.

I find that an in-between month like March calls for a letting go and a calling forth. What do we want to remember about winter? what do we want to let go of? What do we hope to plant in spring? What will bloom?

This is a perfect time to clear out the junk of our lives and re-focus our minds and hearts on the work that challenges us,  inspires us, brings us joy and deepens our connection to those around us. For me, it is a time to purge (we are selling my childhood home and I’m trying to let go and not be dragged)  rejuvenate (nature walks, anyone?) and re-connect (building community in person instead of online).

I like to create mood boards and intentions for different seasons, and spring is no different. On the spring equinox, I join my dear friend and collaborator, Nadiya Virani, to offer our “Envision Spring: Mood Board Workshop”.  Nadiya is an astoundingly talented graphic designer who creates beautiful mood boards for her clients and her own creative process. When she shared her winter mood board with me, I was so inspired that I created my own! This is going to be a fun workshop. If you’re in town, join us.

If you’re not,  you can still envision your spring.

Imagine that spring has arrived.

Where are you?  What are you doing? Creating? Who are you with? What do you hear? feel? taste? What colours do you see?

Write down everything that comes to mind (words, symbols, phrases, feelings, goals, ideas). Imagine your spring 2016 as a colour. Is it lavender? grass green? golden yellow?  Choose an object or image of your spring colour ( dried lavender, a photo of an open field, a golden citrine, a paint chip even). Place it somewhere where you can see it every day- on your desk, in your pocket, wallet, or bag.

Let that colour be a reminder of all the things you’d like to achieve and experience this spring.

What colour is your spring?

May your March be magical,

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When does your heart feel full?

 

“Love yourself. Then forget it.
Then, love the world.”
-Mary Oliver

When February rolls around, candy hearts and chocolate boxes come to mind. Romantic love is celebrated, commercially, of course, but it doesn’t give way for loving ourselves. In fact, the pressure of the holiday can be so immense that some people end up feeling unloved. I think that it’s important to celebrate all kinds of love, including love for ourselves.

As a result, I’ve created a list of writing prompts (which you can also respond to with other forms of art- collage, paint, drawing, mixed media, etc).

When does your heart feel full?

What do you love about yourself?

What do you love about your life?

How do you show others love?

How do you like to be given love?

Submit your response here for your chance to win an inspiration package:

Love,

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Flourishing in February

Dear Friends,

Wow. Time is passing by quickly isn’t it? With further arts education training and the commencement of my work as a Mentor-Artist for Royal Conservatory’s Digital Media Arts program, January was busier than I had expected. I was also lucky enough to be featured in the Globe and Mail for ‘Hogtown Stories”. I was interviewed about my love for the Aga Khan Museum and my philosophy as a poet.

Sheniz AKM

Read the Globe article here and see more photos here. 

And now, February is upon us. 

How are you feeling? Be sure to check in with yourself and take stock of how the first month of 2016 has gone for you. Have there been unexpected challenges? opportunities? realizations?

For me, January was a month to commit to my intentions for 2016.

I accepted/declined opportunities based on my guiding questions for 2016. I found that this practice was exceptionally helpful for me– sometimes I have a habit of saying ‘yes’ before understanding the consequences of saying ‘yes’. To have questions that help facilitate my growth and protect me from things that are not in my best interest has been invaluable for me.

My guiding questions are:

 “Does this expand my career horizons?”

“Does this feel grounding for myself and others?”

“Does this deepen my practice?”

If you haven’t developed guiding questions for 2016, I encourage you to do so. My questions arose during the process of completing Susannah Conway’s “Unravelling the Year Ahead” workbook. I highly recommend it!

Now that January is over, I’m feeling less anxious and more accepting of the uncertainties that lie ahead. I’ve tried to stop resisting what I can’t control, and have begun to settle into the joy and excitement of not knowing what lies ahead. I think that this acceptance stems from establishing a strong foundation for myself (with my guiding questions) because I am aware of what I am no longer willing to accept, and opening myself up to new possibilities and connections. This is why I chose the word “flourishing” for February. I know it’s an odd word to choose because it’s associated with blooming (in fact, the etymology of the word is closely related to “flower”), but I do believe we are turning the corner of winter and preparing ourselves for spring.

So let’s take this month to settle in and begin to flourish. This way, when spring comes around, our ideas and projects will be in full bloom.

This month, I invite you to respond to this writing/art-making prompt, in the hopes that it’ll help solidify what fills your heart with meaning and joy:

3 things I love about myself

May you flourish in February,

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The point of the point

Does it feel as though the year started without you and now you’re desperately trying to catch up?

Does it feel like you’re going somewhere fast but  you’re not sure where?

Do you know in your gut that you shouldn’t fight what is unfolding but ride it out instead?

Holy shit, 2016.

I thought you would give me January to settle in and plan for your arrival. Instead, you’ve started running, no, galloping, ahead of me. I’m being dragged along, and I haven’t the faintest clue where we’re going, but for now, I have no choice but to trust you.

And what’s with the snuffing out of bright stars?  The loss of light when you arrived?

It’s made me think about what the heck I’m doing, and why I’m doing it. It’s forced me to ask questions early on about what you should really be about, and why I’m so afraid of taking certain risks, or why things aren’t coming to me as easily as I hoped them to (expectation: the thing that needs to die but never seems to).  The fact that there are artists who will no longer be able to create, share, and experiment with their gifts is devastating to me. It’s also a source of guilt– a wake-up call to act. The only problem is, most of us artists know this feeling and have no idea what to do about it.  We agonize over creating, we spill our hearts onto pages and then crumple them up within minutes of writing. We dance in a prism of sunlight seconds before it disappears between the clouds. We are just as fleeting. Just as fleeting.

And to create, to write, to be, to explore, to not know in our knowing– not in an attempt to defy death but to accept its inevitable arrival– that is the trickiest and most challenging task for an artist. At least it is for me. Legacy is not about defying death but our choice to inspire others because we will die.

It honestly pains me to think about it. I just don’t know. I don’t know why I write, or create, or share, when sometimes it feels like no one is listening. Really listening. With mind, with heart, with spirit. The point of creating, of course, is to create.  It shouldn’t be about validation, but to nurture a sense of community. When we create, we do it in spite of ourselves. In spite of the pain it takes to write, to share, to be rejected, to be ridiculed, to be silenced. We bear ourselves and break ourselves open so others can recognize themselves in us. We are not looking to be placed on pedestals or applauded for our brilliance. We are asking (pleading, calling, shouting, crying) for others to identify themselves in us. To recognize their stories in our stories. To remind us that we are not alone, and to acknowledge that they’re not alone either.

But when no one reads or listens, what is the point?  It’s just an exercise in ego.   Ego is the voice separating the creator from the creation, shouting, “I’ve done this” instead of “this did me”. And sometimes, when you’re alone, unheard, and confused, all you hear is that voice. It’s all you hear, because no one else is echoing. No one else is yelling back, “this did me too!”

And yet, maybe anticipating  a response is ego too.

Anyone else hear me?

*silence*

 

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Here’s to an Inspiring Year…

Dear Friends,

What a year it has been. Highs, lows, joys, and sorrows. A full spectrum of life in the span of one year. I hope you had some time to reflect upon 2015 & your wonderful achievements (personal and professional), magical moments, memories, and challenges that will remind you of what you need to let go of (and hold onto) in 2016. As my dear mentor Paula Wing said,  “Your broken heart is your greatest asset”. People often assume that broken hearts only refer to broken relationships, but I believe brokenness can be a result of many experiences & challenges. It limits the heart to suggest that it can only be broken by a “failed” relationship.  Here’s to acknowledging brokenness in all its forms, and letting the light shine through the fragments.

I want to thank you for your support, encouragement, inspiration and presence in my life over the past year. Thank you for allowing me to be vulnerable, and giving me safe space to experiment with new ideas & ways of creating. I’ve been able to sharpen my focus on what brings joy and magic to my life and the lives of those around me– and it’s because you have shared your advice, passion and talent with me. For this, I am deeply grateful.

Instead of writing paragraphs, I thought I’d make a list of SOME of the wonderful, ordinary and magical highlights of my 2015. We focus so much on the ‘big’ moments that we forget about the simple, delicate ones. Here goes!

– Curating Spoken Word Series at Aga Khan Museum

– Having a dog named Karma pee on my sleeping bag (no joke)

– Facilitating Creative Writing with Mandalas workshops at the University of Toronto, Scarborough

– Receiving a stack of brightly decorated Thank You letters from grade 6 -7 students I taught in February

– Discovering vegan salted caramel chocolate ice cream bars

– Flying from the Toronto Island Airport for the first time in my life

– Figuring out how to make my own posters/social media promo materials

– Joining Soundcloud & figuring out how to record poetry (listen here)

– Completing my Arts Education Certification at the Royal Conservatory (and receiving the Lois Birkenshaw-Fleming Scholarship in Creative Teaching to complete it)

– Getting to colour every day for 2 weeks in June (see above)

– Facilitating my first Community Mandala ever at the Aga Khan Park & watching my dear friend Whitney French busk her heart out (she wrote custom poems on her typewriter and got ambushed)

– Performing with incredibly talented musicians and poets (the list is waaaay too long- I’m lucky that I have too many poets-musician collaborators to name!)

– Having a self-care/creative day with dear friends, including the remarkable Nadiya Virani (who created my custom-made colouring page) and York Region Art Council’s Exec Director Samantha Rodin

– Facilitating a Creative Wellsprings writing workshop/nature walk at Evergreen Brickworks, and bearing the cold with a smile on my face!

– Making new friends & reaching out to old friends

– Watching workshop participants create their own nature mandalas at Trinity Bellwoods Park as part of my role as Teacher-in-Residence at Artscape Youngplace

– Hosting a reading for the International Festival of Authors at Harbourfront

-Giving Pir Zia Inayat Khan my poetry books & hearing him speak about Sufism

– Laying out a gorgeous spread of snacks for my Tasting Poetry Workshop at the Markham Public Library

– Watching one of my dearest friends get married (Anita Majumdar, you were the most stunning bride I’ve ever seen)

– Offering the “Mapping Ourselves” workshop series at the Varley Art Gallery (Fred Varley happened to be the name of my invisible boyfriend, who I named after a street I saw when I was growing up- little did I know that he was an artist and that I’d be teaching in a gallery named after him 20 odd years later)

– Reconnecting with supremely talented/intelligent cousins, having vegan Thanksgiving dinner with family

– Making a nest mandala by the lakeshore and having a friend I’ve never met discover it by accident!

– Having a picnic by the water with Shiv, and making an underwater spiral mandala together.

There are so many more, but enough looking back. Now it’s time to look forward!

What are your highlights, and what do you hope to create in 2016?

I’m excited to offer wonderful creative programs in 2016 including a tailored workshop program inspired by the League of Canadian Poets’ 2016 theme, “The Road”.  Stay tuned for details!

Let’s co-create. Let’s make this year the most magical yet!

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Winter Ritual Workbook

 

Dear Friends,

I hope you are well and warm, and preparing for a wonderful holiday season.

With the Winter Solstice just around the corner and the New Year not too far behind, I wanted to offer you some resources and a workbook to develop a ritual for pivotal transitions during the winter season.

What are you hoping to manifest during the winter season?

How do you hope to honour the transition from darkness to light?

 

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HOLIDAY COLOURING PAGE

There is a reason why I chose this particular greeting this year– because as cliche as it may sounds, it’s something that should not be a cliche greeting.

I believe creating, fostering and developing ‘peace on earth’ is something that requires action. It’s an aspiration. A call. Not a passive greeting. This is a radical call for action.

There’s so much shit piling up in the world and it’s incredibly easy to be cynical, antagonistic and polarized. I know this because I feel cynical, antagonistic and polarized almost every day. It’s a heaviness in my head, a pang in my stomach, a cry in my throat. It’s another news story, another hashtag, another call for arms/war/hate.

But I have to keep asking myself– what we can do to counteract it? What can I do? Maybe it’s as simple as NOT doing what comes easy– but doing the hard work of examining how I create discord in my own life and mind.

Maybe it’s as simple as giving people something to enjoy or be inspired by. It doesn’t have to be something unattainably noble. It can be something simple, something ordinary, something that adds up.

So here’s to peace as a verb.

 

Click on the link below for full size colouring page.

 Holiday Colouring Page- shenizjanmohamed.com


Use the hashtag #colourin2016 and tag me on Instagram!

Gratitude to Nadiya V Design for this beautiful custom-made design.

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Determined in December

December.

One month before 2015 is over.

December is a month of celebration, but it’s also a month of contemplation. It’s a time to take stock of our lives over the past year– our memories, triumphs, challenges and joys. I hope you’re taking some time to reflect and acknowledge all the wonderful and character-building experiences you’ve had in the past year.

Lately, I’ve been asking myself a lot of questions. Am I elevating my creativity or settling into what is safe, comfortable and familiar?

This year, I have taken new risks and established some wonderful partnerships with organizations and institutions including the University of Toronto Scarborough, the Aga Khan Museum, the Markham Public Library and the Varley Art Gallery. These partnerships have been rich and fulfilling, but whenever I start to see the potential of developing a longer program or partnership, my contracts expire.

I’ve gotten used to the idea of going from one gig to another, one job to another, one commitment to another– and while that makes for an exciting career, it’s not a stable one.  It also proves challenging to get comfortable with a routine and a plan for moving forward. Every time I think about what I need to do to create a stronger foundation for myself, I’m too busy trying to balance what I’m already doing.

I often accept gigs because I’ve programmed myself to accept them– I’ve told myself that it’s what I need to do to be in this field. In my early twenties, it was an absolute necessity to network, take every gig I could, and find my ‘creative community’ as it were.

The problem is, I’m still approaching my career in the same way I did when I was just starting out. Well, of course, some things have changed. I feel less guilty saying no to gigs that don’t pay or cover transportation costs.  That said,  a twinge of guilt remains. There are times when I forget to check in with myself before I say ‘yes’ to a gig or opportunity. There are times when I sit on a bus or run through the rain and mutter to myself about why I accepted a gig that pays so little that I’ll barely break even. I’ve done less of those gigs, but it’s a conscious effort to remind myself before I immediately respond with ‘yes’.

And so, my friends, I’ve had to take a hard look at how I’ve been approaching my career and my career choices.  I’ve had to ask myself some tough questions (and still am). Some of the questions I’ve been asking myself are:

•What kind of life do you want to lead?

•What brings you joy and renewal?

•What drains your energy?

•What habits do you need to break?

•What do you need to let go of?

•Who do you need to reach out to?

•What do you need help in doing?

•How can you ask others for help?

The one question that keeps returning to my mind is this one:

To what end? 

Sometimes we just accept life as it is because we don’t stop to question what it could be– because we’re afraid that people won’t see the value in what we’re doing, and we will lose the very few opportunities we have worked hard to obtain.

And so, I have to hold myself accountable. Before I contemplate accepting a gig, or doing a project, I have to ask myself “To what end?” How does doing this project or gig fit into the larger vision for my career, and for the life I want to lead?

In my twenties, my focus was on having a life that supported my career. Now, I want a career that supports my life.

In the words of Basho:

“Real poetry, is to lead a beautiful life. To live poetry is better than to write it.” 

I know that the successful artists are the ones who collaborate outside of rehearsals and stages. They are able to leverage opportunities to make them more viable and fulfilling. I’ve seen friends of mine, like the brilliant Whitney French, exchange creative services for workshop/rehearsal space when payment is not in the cards.

The focus of 2016 will be more about establishing a community of co-creators and collaborators and developing long-term workshop programs and projects. If you want to collaborate, exchange space or creative services, don’t hesitate to reach out to me.

And I encourage you to ask yourself tough questions.

Let’s be brave together.

May your holidays be filled with inspiration, creativity, quiet reflection and joy.  And if you’re in Toronto, join me for my last show of the year.

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P.S:  Here’s something fun to keep you busy:

HOLIDAY COLOURING PAGE

 

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I’ve been waiting for you…

Breaking Bread

Sheniz Janmohamed

I’ve been waiting for you.

Sit with me a while,

dust off the dirt from your shoulders.

Unburden yourself from the weight

of your worries.

Place the compass of your heart

on the table.

You won’t need to know which direction

it points to.

You have arrived.

Come, sit.

Break bread with me.

Re-collect the stones of your journey

and I’ll show you where I’ve been.

Look at my hands. These lines trace themselves back to nameless rivers,

rivers skeined by dragonflies.

Look at my face. These wrinkles curve themselves into forest paths,

paths that vanish into fog.

Sit down.

Break bread with me.

Pour the wine of wanderlust into my cup,

Tonight is not a night to be sober.

Let’s toast to triumphs and troubles,

to tomorrows that will never arrive, to

this very table, for being sturdy enough to

support our stories.

Cheers!

Cheers! to the sun-soaked laughter of your childhood.

Cheers! to the golden-gleamed smiles of your lovers.

Cheers! to the rain-dampened dreams of your past.

Now, let go.

Break the stone of your memory

Let the pieces scatter on the table

and hold each one up to the light.

Opaque, iridescent, tumbled, or faceted,

hand over your most precious one.

I promise to protect it, preserve it, pocket it.

I will turn it over and over

in my hand,

until my fingers memorize it.

Like bone,

Like blood,

Like breath.

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Nestling into November

Stubborn leaves are still clinging to branches. It doesn’t feel as if winter has arrived, but there is a whisper in the air- a reminder that once the leaves fade and fall, snow will hang heavy on these branches. When the weather gets colder, I find myself wanting to retreat into the warmth of my house, finding comfort in writing, reading and reflecting. I enjoy snuggling up by the fire or wrapping myself up in a warm blanket and savouring a hot cup of cider or tea. Taking time to ‘retreat’ is a vital and necessary act, especially when our personal and professional responsibilities are constantly vying for our time, attention and action.

Despite the impulse to stay in bed, we have to wake up in darkness and bundle ourselves up against the cold.  We have to brace ourselves for  the long commute to work or school, and after a full day of work, we return home in the darkness.  While early nightfall can be a source of melancholy for many of us (including myself), I’ve been thinking about how to embrace it instead of fear its arrival.

Here are some of the ideas I came up with:

 A candlelit dinner or board game night:

Invite a few friends over for a game, or enjoy your dinner by candlelight

Create with glow-in-the-dark paint:

See how creative you can get in the dark!

At-home movie nights:

Choose a favourite movie trilogy to watch over the course of the week

Reading by candlelight:

Curl up with a favourite book and read by candlelight

Go for a nature walk:

Observe how different flora & fauna look & sound in the dark

Have a storytelling night:

Choose a topic that interests you (for example: “Grandparents” “Travels” “School”) and invite a few friends to share their stories on the topic of your choice.

Have a listening party:

Take out a few of your instruments (or invite a friend/few friends who play music) and have a jam session. If you don’t have access to musicians, make a playlist of your favourite songs and listen/sing along.

Stargaze:

Drive to the country and marvel at the stars. Or, just bring a thermos out to your backyard and gaze at the moon.

 I’d love for you to share some of your own  “embracing darkness” ideas with me!

There is a reverence that accompanies darkness.

 A time for reflection and silence. 

A time to quieten your thoughts. 

 

I hope that you find your own unique ways of nestling into November.

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The Comforts of Autumn

October is the month when we turn the corner. Days become shorter, the breeze has a bite to it, and we stay curled up in bed a little bit longer.  In September, we are still holding onto summer days and warmer evenings. In October, the fiery leaves remind us to embrace change. Leaves fall without having a choice but to fall, and we have no choice but to let go. However, there is comfort in letting go. There is strength in knowing what we can draw from to find comfort. The key for me has always been about balance– I find that I’m either diving head first into the deep end, or standing on the shore, not willing to even dip my toes in.  Autumn is a bridge between summer and winter– and it doesn’t have to be a painful walk, if we know what we’re willing to leave behind.

Creature Comforts: things that contribute to bodily comfort and ease of mind, as food, warmth, or sleep. 

 As we prepare for cooler months ahead, we seek warmth and comfort from within and without. While we associate our ‘creature comforts’ with our weaknesses, the origin of the word “comfort” has its roots in the word ‘strength’ ( from com- (expressing intensive force) + Latin fortis ‘strong’). Indeed, being comforted and comforting others can strengthen us.

In keeping with these themes, I have decided to offer a writing workshop: Creature Comforts. I think that any transitional period requires a revisitation of  self-care practices, a renewal of joy, and a reflection upon letting go.

creature comforts

 

This workshop will encourage participants to:  

– Reflect upon the transient nature of autumn

– Honour the transition from Fall to Winter

– Examine our self-care practices

– Determine how we comfort ourselves and others by writing poems to find comfort in

– Explore questions of comfort vs. discomfort and comfort vs. complacency

– Analyze the etymology of the word “Comfort” and how it changes our relationship to the things we find comfort in.

– Express gratitude for our ‘creature comforts’

 

PRE-REGISTRATION IS REQUIRED:

REGISTER HERE. 

 

GIVEAWAY:

The 5th person to register will win a prize pack courtesy of Nadiya Virani Design.

giveaway
Join us in embracing Autumn! 
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Creature Comforts: The Instagram Challenge

In honour of my upcoming autumnal workshop, Creature Comforts, I decided to set an inspirational challenge for myself (and for all the lovely folks who’d like to participate on Instagram).

From October 1st to October 15th, I will be using the word prompts below to capture images that reflect my thoughts, experiences and inspirations related to my ‘creature comforts’. I hope you will join me in discovering your own.

Feel free to participate in all the prompts, or a just a handful. You can also use the words as tiny writing prompts if you prefer. All I ask is that you sit with the uncertainty that autumn brings, and document it as a reminder for yourself and those around you.

Don’t forget to use the hashtag: #creaturecomforts15

Creature Comforts Insta

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Schooling in September

Out of the corner of my eye, I catch a glimmer of red, a smudge of gold, a hint of rust. September has stamped its presence on a handful of leaves.  The garden is fading into fire. How did this happen so quickly? There were many wonderful summer moments left to experience.  Although the weather is still warm (read: humid), there are reminders of autumn everywhere.

Reminders of transformation, change, impermanence.

There is a sense of loss but there is also the excitement that comes with the start of a new school year. I may have graduated eons ago, but it still feels like the year begins in September. Fresh notebooks, new ballpoint pens, crisp lined paper, sharpened pencils, new textbooks, course outlines and the perfect first-day-of-school outfit.  Now, I walk into classrooms with armfuls of papers, books and markers. Instead of sitting at a desk riddled with doodles and hardened gum, I stand in front of a classroom and doodle on the board. The tables may have turned, but I’m still learning.

In honour of this lifelong journey of learning, I have decided to school myself this September. I’m listening to the audiobook version of “Landmarks” by Robert Macfarlane (a luminous book) and the print copy is on its way. My intention is to listen and read–but to also to write and respond. I want to enter into a dialogue with text to learn from it, not to critique it.

Perhaps I will stroll through the campus grounds of my  alma mater, and pretend that I am a student once again. I will plop myself down at a carrel in the library, open my book and read the following:

“Certain books, though, like certain landscapes, stay with us even when we have left them, changing not just our weathers but our climates.”

-Robert Macfarlane, Landmarks

How will you school yourself in September? 

Wishing you a spectacular September,

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Adjusting in August

August is summer’s last glory- hot, humid days dripping with golden sunshine. Gardens and parks overflowing with blooms and butterflies. Children delighting in cool treats and warm evenings, making every moment count before they have to fill their backpacks with pencils and notebooks.

There’s something about this month that eases us into the fall. It gently moves us from hazy hammock days to afternoons filled with plans and projects. It’s a month of preparing for transitions, for anticipating change. It’s a month that requires us to soak up every moment of summer, basking in its scents and sounds- from the cicadas humming at night to the scent of firewood burning.

Take every moment and hold it like a gem.

A tiny writing prompt:

Three Questions

What do I intend to achieve this August?

What do I want to let go of by the end of August?

What will I  take with me?

Write these questions in your journal, and respond in a way feels authentic to your creative process. Draw, collage, paint, write…the list goes on. Have fun with it (and feel free to send me a note to share your process).

And if you want to take your writing further, join me at Writing Ritual, my second workshop offering at Artscape Youngplace. We’ll be exploring our daily rituals, from the mundane to the magical. Click here for details  & to register.

Hope to see you there.

Wishing you an abundant August,

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Writing Ritual: Writing Workshop

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REGISTER

Join Arts Educator and Author Sheniz Janmohamed for an inspiring, engaging writing workshop: Writing Ritual. 

In this workshop, we will explore how ritual impacts and influences our daily lives and creative practices. We will write “ritual” poems, develop new creative rituals and make our own nature mandalas.

Themes we will explore:

– Ritual vs. habit
– Daily rituals
– Creative rituals
– Developing new creative rituals for our arts practices
– Major life events marked by ritual
– The rituals of people we love and admire (including our “characters”)

WHAT TO BRING:

*Your Ticket to Write
*Your favourite notebook & pen (pens & paper will be provided as well)
*Comfortable shoes for walking
*Sunglasses
*Water bottle/ Travel Mug/ Coffee
*Your enthusiasm 🙂

Materials & Vegetarian/Vegan-friendly Snacks included. 

Please indicate food allergies/sensitivies by email:
shenizpoetics@gmail.com
www.shenizjanmohamed.com

What people are saying about Sheniz’s workshops:

“Sheniz is a gifted creative writer who has a unique ability to break down what most of us see as a complicated and involved process into simple digestible steps. She was able to create a safe and extremely warm space where we could share our visions and dreams and explore different ways to express ourselves creatively…She has a gentle way of guiding the students to push themselves, to share more, to delve more deeply and to reflect. My writing techniques have improved dramatically..”

-Toni De Mello

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July Reflections

 


“Your broken heart is your greatest asset”- Paula Wing 

HEART

Breaking open was certainly my theme for June– I had to break my heart open to fill it to the brim with gratitude and a renewed sense of purpose. Taking part in the Royal Conservatory’s Level III: Artist-Educator Course was an incredibly rewarding and challenging experience for me. Each day, we showed up with the willingness to bring everything we had into the circle. We were encouraged to play, create, share, experiment  in a space that felt safe and nurturing. It reminded me of what it feels like to be part of a community- to share experiences that are sometimes difficult and challenging- but to know there is support.

We were given permission to play.  We scribbled ideas in sketchbooks,  got our hands dirty with pastels and glue, danced, sang and allowed ourselves to be silly and ridiculous. What a joy it is to remember what it’s like to be a child– and to not feel guilty about it.

We also worked on our dream projects,  accessing the heart of what we wanted to do. We were given time for creativity and contemplation.

As we stood in our last circle on the last day of class, I felt a sense of accomplishment but also a pang in my gut. I knew that once our circle dispersed, I’d have to return to the isolation that often comes with being a writer who lives outside of the city.

I’ve had beautiful moments of connection through the workshops I’m offering, but they’re only once a week. There is something about waking up every morning to uncertainty and possibility, knowing that you’ll soon be reunited with your creative family.

So, as we turn the corner of June and enter July, I’m feeling a sense of melancholy. While I’ve tried to fill the gap with journaling, creating, planning, and writing, there’s still something missing.

COMMUNITY.

I know that no matter how creative, innovative and imaginative I can be when I’m in the comfort of my own room,  it’s not as fulfilling as creating, innovating and imagining with others.

I know that while phone calls, emails, messages, texts and tweets remind me that I’m not alone in this journey, they do not and cannot replace hugs, jam sessions and communal meals.

I know now that I crave community.

I hope that July’s arrival will bring warmer breezes, sunnier afternoons and jacket-free evenings. And I also hope that it’ll bring more hugs, jam sessions, communal meals and creating with new and old friends.

Write to me, if you feel the same way. Tell me how you feel about COMMUNITY, and what you are hoping to do to participate more actively in a community that reflects the kind of life you want to lead.

Wishing you an inspiring July,

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Dreaming in June

When June arrives, it feels like summer has arrived.

The light is golden, the breeze is warm, the forests are full and the trees glow green. In June, I like to laze around in the garden, sip iced tea and cold coffee, explore the city and the woods and read books on grassy blankets. It’s a time to recall memories from my childhood summers, and re-live those moments of joy.

May was a wonderful month, filled with spring blossoms and cool evenings. The Spring Verses workshop was a fitting start to the month, as we envisioned what we hoped for in the month of May. On my birthday, I recorded a beautiful poem by Nancy Wood, entitled “Earth, Teach Me” The poem is a request and a prayer, and sums up my wish for this year.

On May 25th, I joined 12 musicians and artists at the Small World Music Centre for a fundraising concert for Nepal. We raised $2,800, matched by the Canadian government for a total of $5,600! While Nepal is no longer dominating our news feeds or timelines, they still need help. Please consider donating to a reputable NGO to support relief efforts.

In late May, I was awarded the Lois Birkenshaw-Fleming Creative Teaching Scholarship. It will be applied to my Level III Arts Education training at the Royal Conservatory (Toronto) where I will be developing an arts education “Dream Project”. I hope that I can share it with you once I’ve completed my training.

Starting June 25th, I will be offering Mapping Ourselves, a four part workshop series, in partnership with the Varley Art Gallery in Markham. Taking inspiration from the Varley Art Gallery’s latest exhibition, Traversive Territories, this creative writing workshop series will involve fun, interactive and independent writing exercises that will incorporate themes of identity, belonging, and a sense of home.

Watch this space for my next workshop offering at Artscape Youngplace. If you have ideas or themes you’d like to explore, drop me a line and let me know!

Also, don’t forget to visit my official Facebook page for your chance to win a beautiful gift at the end of the month.

Wishing you a joyous June,

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May Flowers

May has arrived.

I was born in May- a month when the cherry blossoms bloom, when the wind is warmer and you can taste summer around the corner. May is a time for me to reflect upon where I am and where I’m heading. To honour May, I’m offering a spring-themed poetry workshop: Spring Verses: An Afternoon of Poetry on May 2nd. Join me.

It’s also Asian Heritage month- a time to honour the journey of our ancestors, question how we identify and ‘label’ ourselves, and connect with our culture & heritage.  I’ll be speaking about my discovery of the ghazal form at Storytellers: The Roots of Form on May 21st. 

During National Poetry Month (April), I recorded some of my favourite poems. Click here to listen to them.

May 3rd is the first full moon of May, so be sure to take some time out of your evening to take stock of where you are and what has come to fruition in April.

Wishing you a reflective May, filled with flowers!

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The Poetry of April

Dear Visitor,

Thank you for stopping by.

Take as long as you like, and be sure to check out the latest news & events, and join the Facebook page for your chance to win a special gift.

April is upon us.  A month of rain showers, sunlight and the possibility of new growth. I’m reminded of the first few lines of T.S Eliot’s “The Waste Land”:

April is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.

April is National Poetry Month, and I will be celebrating with selected readings from my favourite poets. Be sure to visit often to hear new poems and get your dose of inspiration. I’ll also be participating in #AprilLove on Instagram, pairing my images with quotes from poems.

Press play below to hear me read a tiny poetic gem from the 15th Century Indian poet, Kabir.

Workshop Offering:

On April 26th, join me for Tasting Poetry: A Mouthwatering Poetry Workshop.  Participants will celebrate their love of food with fun, sensory writing activities and creative prompts. They will be encouraged to engage all their senses in writing about their favourite memories and experiences of culinary delights.

May April be a month of abundance for you.

Much peace,

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Forest Dreams: New Music Video!

Here’s a magical look at my mandala-making process, and some of the locales and landscapes that have inspired my work thus far.

The original track, “Forest Dreams” was produced by me (Sheniz Janmohamed) as well.

Enjoy!