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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

 

greg
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?

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

 

 

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.

 

 

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):

 

The Ghazal Project: Week Two

 

This week’s prompt was  “What does spring taste like”, and wow, did I get some delicious responses! From ‘black coffee’ to ‘ ice melting into a mountain stream’, the poetic possibilities were endless. And yet, I had to pick only one.

Week 2

 

Lemon, mint and ginger. 

Healing that stings and soothes.

It reminds me of the incredible potency of nature’s medicine: citrus, leaves and roots- medicine we often overlook or take for granted.

I want to thank Anuradha Sen for providing this week’s ghazal refrain– it was a lovely process (and challenge) for me to come up with couplets for this one.

I can’t wait to see what next week’s prompt yields.

In the meantime, listen to & read “Lemon, Mint and Ginger” below.

 

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! 

 

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!