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I’ll take the leap from “I’m not good enough” to “enough is enough” and start submitting unpublished poems to journals, developing new workshop programs for adults and youth, performing and collaborating, and standing up whenever I witness injustice.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

 

 

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. 

 

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. 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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A Package of Inspiration

Dear Friends,

Well, what can I say. This year has been a challenging one, hasn’t it?

Every day, things seem to get worse- especially when we’re tuned in to every form of media possible. It makes it impossible to step away from the grief, frustration and anger many of us are feeling. It is important to sit with those emotions, but let’s not forget that we still have a lot to give. We have a lot of work to do.

It can begin by acknowledging our privilege and stepping up for our friends, neighbours and communities.  (Tweet this)

It can begin by offering goodness and kindness.

It can begin with sitting with friends and sharing what inspires us and motivates us.

In the spirit of this need for renewal and reflection, I’d like to offer packages of inspiration to those who would like to order them. Each package will be tailored for you, and will include prompts, images, and tiny delights to remind you to find gratitude in the little things.

The $25 package will include a signed copy of my latest poetry collection, Firesmoke. Each package is a gathering of materials I have handpicked, so supplies are limited.

Fill out the form below and let me start crafting the perfect inspiration package for you.

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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?