Monday, June 30, 2008


I am sitting here in the dark because my eleven year old nephew is sleeping on the couch in the next room. It has become clear to me that typing is not my forte.

Tomorrow morning I am taking my daughter and my nephew on a four day camping trip. There are two places in the world that I have a strong connection with (s0 far). One of them is England. The other is a small national park on the Bruce Peninsula, with a small, still lake that is a part of my heart. I feel very strongly as though I have been there before, in another lifetime. That's where I am headed - hopefully my nephew is adept enough to help me with the tents.

My partner does not camp, and so I go alone.

I will be back on Friday.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

your bias is showing

Last night, I went to my niece's elementary school graduation. She's thirteen.
Longest. Graduation. Ever.
Almost three hours for thirty-five kids. I kid you not.

Of course, she's going to a catholic school, so it involved attending mass. Yay! That's an hour. And then there were speeches. And awards. And more speeches. And a slide show. And more speeches. By the time they were done my eleven year old ADHD nephew was literally crying in the pew. And the grads got to dance (their own celebration) for a grand total of one hour and forty-five minutes. I am so glad that my four year old stayed behind with her dad.

Prior to the ceremony we gathered at my brother's house for dinner. My parents are on holiday and my grandmother is in respite care this week, so conversation flowed a little more freely than usual. Like, when it's just the kids, even if the kids are forty or older, they feel like they don't have to censor themselves.

I can't remember who made the comment. But someone made reference to a server at a local pub who "looked gay." And then there was another comment. And then my sister-in-law talked about a woman she knew with a certain tattoo. She never would have known, she said, if she hadn't seen it. And then there were more comments.

I squirmed. I kept my head down and ate. I wondered what I could say, diplomatically, to shut my idiot family up. And finally what I did say was, "I'm really not comfortable with this conversation."

They stared at me. All of them. "Why not?"

"Well, would you make reference to someone's skin colour? Or make derogatory remarks about their size? It's all bigotry to me."
"Oh." That was it. Subject changed.

What would they say if they knew? How would they explain it to their kids? Themselves? What if one day, I bring a woman home and say to them "I love this person?"

It could happen.

I made a pact with myself a few weeks ago. I promised that I would cultivate fearlessness, that I would welcome passion into my life in whatever form it came, and that I would no longer hide. In any way. I've been hiding and running away from things for years. No more. I am not censoring myself for my family's sake. I'm not going to keep quiet about things because that's the way they'd rather have it.

Are there others in my extended family who are gay? Or bisexual? Absolutely.

But we never talk about them. Questions I ask about a distant relative who bought a house with another man are never really answered. And he doesn't come to family gatherings anymore. Is he ashamed? Has he been told to stay away? He warrants nothing more than a single line in a family Christmas letter, and although this is my aunt's brother I am referring to, and not a direct relative, I practically grew up with him. He's only two years older than I am. Where did he go? Now I'm going to track him down.

I refuse refuse refuse to disappear like that. It will not happen. Or so I say.

But what if I was asked to choose? How would I respond today to the dilemma posed to me more than twenty years ago?

I wouldn't back down. I will live my life as I choose. I may be exiled for a while, but I think that many of my family members would come to understand me a little better. And in time, there would not only be an acceptance of who I am, but a welcoming of the new person in my life.

After all, we were all catholic once and now my sister and I are openly pagan. Back in the day, I had a baby out of wedlock, and that was okay too, after my parents got over the shock of learning that their twenty-three year old daughter had been sexually active. They've come to realize that the world is changing.

My brother the priest...well, that may be another story. But he'll have to get used to it.

I have no reason to be "out" with them yet. Although I don't need a reason. And there are people in my life who know.

My sister.
My eighteen year old (tit for tat, that one).
About ninety women from the witchcamp that I went to two weeks ago (although, to be frank, not everyone would have understood what I was doing when I sang a particularly poignant song during our final ritual, but the people there who matter to me understood). It is much easier to come out to strangers sometimes than your own family. Especially when a good proportion of those people are part of a strong gblt community already.
My coven, most of whom are queer identified in some way.
My partner. I couldn't stand it any more and told him about three days after I got home from camp. I knew he would understand. What me might not understand is how my feelings for him have changed, or maybe never were what they should have been.

So that leaves my immediate family.

I had a lot of time to think about this yesterday. After all I spent an hour during mass, biting my lip, willing myself not to give the responses that still permeate my brain. The priest says "The Lord be with you," and I automatically want to say "And also with you...." I believe that words have power, and when I give those automatic responses, I am invoking something into my life that I do not want. It's funny what thirty-five years of churchgoing can do to your brain.

I have been a pagan for a number of years now, but for some reason, perhaps because of years of conditioning, I can't exclude Jesus from my practice. I think of him in a very different way than I used to, but he's still there, and I think he's still listening. and since a catholic church is a good place to converse with the man, he and I had a little conversation.

When I visualize him in my mind, he's this totally radical hippie type - he was a radical, his ideas were rejected by established religions, he was a revolutionary. He had dreads, and a long beard. He's sitting on a blanket in a meadow gazing peacefully at his surroundings.

Okay, I tell him. You know what I want from my life, you know that I am not ever going to settle for less than what I deserve. I've been mulling all these things over for months, now. But what do I do about my family? How do i keep them in my life, how do we maintain the positive, close relationship that we have, in spite of our differences?

And then a phrase popped into my head:

Be the change that you wish to see in the world.

No, my Jesus doesn't go around quoting himself. He's inspired by greatness as much as I am. This led me to remember another favourite quote of mine.

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.


Let the beauty we love - let the things and people we love inspire us, become us, be our life's work. Don't let fear overtake us, prevent us from finding joy. Let that joy fill us, let love become the way in which we honour the divine.

I can do that.

It doesn't really answer my questions, but I have to trust that everything will be okay.

Monday, June 23, 2008

places in my heart

We had a brief respite from the rain this morning. For two days we've had thunderstorms, and now at 12:30 pm, the clouds are beginning to fill the sky. But after I dropped the little one off at day care, the air was warm, and sun filled the sky. The dog and I took off to one of my newer haunts, a park at the edge of town that runs into the country, close to a riverside trail. We walk for a while, and then we sit on a bench near the river. He sleeps, I write. He wanders off to sniff things, I write.

Today Chester and I met a woman named Catherine, and her beautiful German Shepherd named Brigid. We walked together for quite a while, Chester getting bolder every minute (he was attacked about two months ago and it has been quite difficult to re-socialize him). In the end, they chased each other through the meadow grass, both leashless and carefree. Chester employed the tricks of the small dog when he felt threatened. He would whine and yelp as if in pain, even though the larger dog was nowhere near him. He followed me closely, especially when he got tired.

This is the view in front of me:

This is the view behind me:
In the early morning, it is quite peaceful. However, the swimming pool brings energy and loud voices to my lovely vista. I am usually able to tune them out.

My goal for walking and writing here is to open myself. By being in a natural place I can ground, center, and then the words flow more freely. Sometimes, upstairs in my study, the words get stuck in my brain like they used to get stuck in my throat when I was called in school to answer a question.

By this time next year, the landscape of this place will have changed. Today I wandered through a future suburban desert - another one. No one has complained about the houses that will be built here. The site is adjacent to another sub-division - these are exclusive homes with a river view. I'm sure they'll blend into the natural landscape very nicely, so that the builder can advertise to prospective homeowners that the setting is natural, park-like, close to walking trails.

But when the earth begins to move, where will the hawk nest?

You can barely see her (or him) but she's quite large, and holding a snake in her talons. I could get no closer. You may also notice a pile of rubble in the foreground, marking the edge of new development. That is how close this new development will be to existing wooded areas.

I live in this city, I am a part of this. My only defense is that I chose urban over suburban, that the cornfield on which my house stands was converted to suburbia almost one hundred years ago. It's actually more likely that my house stands in a former meadow. The cornfield would have been just north of us, where the cemetery is now located. Before that, trees.

I would rather live elsewhere, where houses and cars are few and far between. My dream is a home in the country, or a farm. No artificial lights, lots of trees, more space to plant and grow things, contemplate, wander, be. It's where I feel I am at my best. But in the meantime, living in an urban area reduces my dependence on fossil fuels. I can walk or bus to most places, if I want to. I am close to the school. Where I live is okay. Just okay. Home is somewhere else.

How does one person, or small group, stop the encroachment? How do you fight against the builders who come to hearings with the environmental impact reports, all proving that his (or her) houses, unlike other building projects, will do minimal damage to the environment? The OMB eats it up, grants permits that even municipalities fight against.

Hello Wal-Mart. Goodbye wildflowers.

On my next walk, I'll do a better job of documenting what we're throwing away.

The trail will still be there. I'm sure the builders made a hefty contribution towards its maintenance. But it will be a few meters away from someone's front door, instead of isolated and natural, as it is right now.

This land has been claimed by Six Nations. The waterway was key to their survival and their culture. They now have the right to review land use applications, zoning changes etc, and they sometimes make requests with regards to those applications - to the chagrin of the builders, who just want to get the job done, make their money, and go home. A new bridge is being built in the region - and the local politicians seem to have very little concern over the impact of traffic and construction on the environment. The only visible body that's trying to hold them accountable are the first nations peoples. Without direct power to halt a project, without the ability to negotiate (land claims issues have been tied up for years in yards of red tape), they often resort to desperate measures. They occupy building sites. They build barricades. There are bonfires. More often than not, unless tempers overflow, they practice non violence.

The police are watching, waiting for any excuse to move in, to incite to violence. Since Dudley George, the police have learned to exercise at least a bit of restraint. It cost a human life for that lesson.

And those who lose their so-called entitlement to such housing projects rise up, mutter darkly, wonder why sometimes the police stand back and watch. It's an illegal occupation, right? Someone bought this land, fair and square. The natives should honour the treaty they signed almost two hundred years ago, a paper they didn't understand, when they signed away the rights to just about everything except a small parcel of earth that gradually grows smaller, fringed by development, progress, more houses for more people.

I would barricade, too. I would fight with any measure I had, peacefully, to protect my birthright.
Didn't my ancestors?
Didn't yours?

Okay, in my case, I am second generation Canadian. My parents were born in Europe. The German occupation was more overt, but Nazi ideology threatened my grandparents' way of life. The Nazis imposed their beliefs and morals on the countries they invaded. They overran cities, claimed the harvest and animals as their own, left families to starve, and decided for sovereign nations how things would be done.

Sure, they had guns and military might. Didn't we?

Yeah, I know that it was a long time ago, and I have heard, in my own household, how they should "get used to it." But if the Germans still occupied Holland, would my family be used to it, sixty years later?

My position does not make me a popular person around here - at least in some circles. So what?

For as long as my work involved children and families, I channeled my activist heart into front-line work. There is so much to be done. For the last two years, before my job and I parted ways, I worked with ESL families, newcomers. In a child care setting. Every day I stepped outside of my official job description. I tried to find translators. I would attempt to explain to a despairing father why his welfare had been cut off. Usually he had received some kind of notification in a level of English and a ton of verbiage that he could not understand. I tried my best to make sure that the families had the information they needed - that they knew where to find food, that they understood the basics of nutrition. it's an uphill battle when a bag of corn puffs is cheaper than a bag of apples, and fills a kid up faster, although there is no nutritional value in the food. No wonder the kids are hungry, in spite of their parents' good intentions. Young mothers leave their extended families behind and have nowhere to turn for advice, for support, for child care. They lack the skills they need to parent, they have no language, they may not know how to cook, and in the case of some mothers, they have no community. (This rant is not intended to criticize the groups that are working with immigrants, but there are so many holes to fill....)

You can see the pain in their eyes. They came here to live the good life. It's a promised land for them - jobs, housing, support. When they come, they find themselves engaged in the struggles that many non-english speaking people have had - language barriers, racism, culture shock, lacck of access to traditional foods. The are promised free English classes and then discover a child care waiting list, which means that they cannot go, particularly if they are women.

I digress.

I don't miss my job. I miss the advocacy, the grassroots activism. I need to do more, I can do more to prevent myself from settling too comfortably into my North American lifestyle. I have luxuries that are the stuff of dreams - for many. I know that when my youngest goes to school in September that I will be volunteering in her classroom, helping with the breakfast program, doing what I can. But it's not enough. I need to go deeper, reach further.

Make a difference.

The only question is, how?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

peeling back the layers

Where did it come from? My own homophobia, I mean.

By homophobia, I mean fear and shame about my own sexuality, not anyone else's.

I've always been politically and socially liberal, open-minded, accepting. I surround myself, mostly, with like-minded people. Of course, the exception is my family.

And I think that's where it started.

When I was in my early twenties, and just beginning to maintain a solid footing on my own, I needed my family. Badly. Some days, they were all I had. My younger sister was just out of kindergarten when I left home - I loved her and missed her every day. But I had to leave - the small town I lived in was slowly killing me. I lived intermittently with my grandparents in the city, shared an apartment with a friend, took an attic room in a house with a shared bath, supported myself with minimum wage retail jobs and had a hell of a good time. I needed it - I needed to learn that I really was okay, that I was likeable, that I could make friends.

I worked in a record store for about two years, and my manager was also a good friend of mine. We thought and talked for a long time about renting an apartment together. I knew my parents would be opposed - this was the mid-eighties, and my strongly Catholic family would (I knew) be appalled at the idea of me sharing an apartment, even platonically, with a man. I thought about not telling them - but realized the impossibility of keeping something like that a secret.

So I sat my mom and dad down and explained to them that I was moving in with J____, but they didn't need to worry about my virtue, because he was gay. It was no big deal to me.

It was to them.
They exploded. That's the only word which adequately describes their reaction. They were ready to haul me home. I wouldn't go. They accused him of trying to "convert" me (their words). I laughed at them - I don't think you can be converted, I explained. I stood my ground. They dropped the subject.

Two weeks later my grandmother informed me that she was praying that it wouldn't happen. With tears in her eyes. My grandmother is under five feet tall, an amazing, strong woman, whom I have always respected. She nurtured me at times when my parents did not. She had always accepted me for who I was.

Hey, wait a minute! I though you weren't supposed to pray for negatives - at least that's what she'd always told me.

I was crushed. And I caved - I should have stood my ground, but I was looking at being disowned. I was insecure enough at the time that I couldn't let that happen.

After that, how could I tell them about my own sexuality?

The catholic church is clear as mud - you're allowed to be gay, but you can't act on it. I was raised to believe it was sinful, and rejected that belief fairly early on. Except when it came to my own sexual orientation.

So I hid it. And I ran away from situations where I might have become involved with a woman. And I had secret crushes on this girl or that girl, always explaining it away, always feeling slightly guilty about wondering what it would be like....never exploring that aspect of my being at all.

I hid behind my weight. I gained more weight. I made life choices that were safe and stable, but did not feed my passions. I have a partner, a child, a mortgage. And there is a problem with that - while I love him, I've never been in love with him. I just figured (in my insecurity) that in this lifetime, I wasn't destined to feel that passion.

I burn.
I ache.
I have missed so much.

And I have made a total mess of things.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


My sister's getting married on Saturday.

She's committing herself to her partner in the park behind my parents' house, beside the river we grew up on, with a pagan ritual, surrounded by family and friends.

If I was the marrying kind, this is how I would do it, too.

When she asked me to call a direction I was so excited. She told me to choose the direction I wanted, and I said the first thing that came to mind.


My blogger name gives you a clue to the element I feel most closely aligned to, closely seconded by earth. Water and I used to be good friends. I was born a water sign. Up until we moved here, I've spent much of my life within a few hundred feet of the Thames River in Southwestern Ontario. My life was water - as a child I waded in the shallows, fished, canoed. I sat by the water and dreamed. I would walk through "the flats" at night, with the dog, feeling perfectly safe and at one with the darkness and the eternal flow. If I needed to cry, I would go to the river, knowing that she would hold my tears and carry my burden.

When I worked in Perth County as an adult, I would often stop for lunch at the TJ Dolan natural area - and spend a lovely 45 minutes walking the trails, and listening to the bubble of the river. Or I would meditate on the banks, knowing that at that time of day, I would find the solitude I needed.

The city I live in has a river of its own, on the outskirts. I have to drive to get there. I find places to go in my core neighbourhood where there are a lot of trees - there is a cemetery close by. The trees and the wind feed my desire for the natural world, because I cannot easily access water.

Water is emotion, it is essential for life, it is blood, it is tears, it is rain, it is love itself. The waters of birth crown our lives, it is the element of intuition, the subconscious, the family bond.

I have to write an invocation for water and memorize it by Saturday. Today is Tuesday. I haven't started. I haven't really tried to think about it. The more I think about it, the more I don't want to do it.

I am afraid that the water I invoke will unleash all the emotions, both positive and negative, that I have kept contained for so long. I feel like I'm wearing a shirt with a collar that's too tight. My throat is constricted, I can't express myself at all. If I don't take it off I will explode. This shirt is not a new one - the sleeves are threadbare with age, the stripes are faded with repeated washing. It's really time to recycle the shirt and choose another one.

Why would I hang on to something that no longer fits my life for so long? Fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of really feeling - love, passion, excitement. Fear of rejection.

My life at present is not unhappy. It's a little bit...flat. It has been this way for some time, for as long as I have been choosing safety over change, security over taking chances. Transformation sometimes takes you to places that are unexpected, and forces you to examine every aspect of your life. Who have I chosen to share my life with? Why?

I really don't think anyone is reading this blog---yet. If someone is, they may get the impression that I spend all my time thinking about myself. Not at all. But there is so much going on inside, that I need to write it out. Paper and pen is vital to my self-expression, but I also need to put it out there, share what I'm experiencing, shout to the world in my distant corner of nothing, just in case someone is listening.

Monday, June 2, 2008

a different me

I am truly not the person I used to be. And yet I have always been who I am. I can track the changes I have made through the years, look at my stupid mistakes and understand the lessons I have learned. I was once a catholic, church-going, individual who hid behind books and excess weight in order to avoid connecting, confronting, loving myself and those around me. Slowly, like an onion, I have stripped the layers away, become raw, tearful, fragrant and flavourful.

I can't recall my childhood without an inner cringe. And yet I am compelled to write about it, exorcise the demons, so to speak, that continue to haunt me. Twenty-five years have passed since I graduated high school, and I am still wrestling with the things that happened there, both good and bad. Why does it stay with me, buried in my marrow, unwilling to allow itself to dissipate?

I am my experiences. I cannot escape them, only learn and grow as I age. There are still lessons for me to learn, perhaps for others to learn. Not all is bleak. Some is poetry, small moments of wonder and joy that continue to resonate within my soul.

No matter what I did, how I learned, I could not shake the weight. Ballooned to the point that weight loss methods no longer worked, I blamed myself, my lack of will, my failure to come to terms with my past - after all, it is said that once you accept the challenges that life has given you, the weight will disappear. You are holding yourself down, holding fast to earth and afraid to soar.


It didn't happen. I tried everything and it didn't happen. I didn't gain, I didn't lose, and stayed at about 300 pounds forever. Had a baby, lost the baby weight and stayed at 300 pounds. My partner supported me through everything, even when my health began to deteriorate, even when I could no longer walk around the block with the dog because the herniated disc in my lumbar spine would not heal.

We are healthy eaters, but I recognize now that I was eating too much and for all the wrong reasons. Food was my outlet. When I was upset or afraid, I hit the fridge, and pulled out the most comforting carbs I could find - chocolate, bread, cookies, pasta. I couldn't even face my own desires. Food was an easy out, and it felt good to eat. So much did not feel good.

It couldn't last, not if I wanted to live. And I wanted very much to live. Not exist. I could no longer walk my neighbourhood. Camping an hiking, two activities I love, were absolutely out of the question.The closest I could get to being outside was my tiny back yard. I need the outdoors, I need trees to sustain me. I was depressed, angry, hopeless. This is not how I was supposed to live. I couldn't use the computer, or play the guitar because sitting was too painful, and my fingers would go numb.

Eight months ago, almost to the day, I had weight loss surgery. I resisted for years, telling myself that it was only a matter of willpower. I didn't want the slow recovery, the pain, the deprivation. A year ago, I learned about a new type of surgery - laparoscopic, minimally invasive, with a quick recovery time. I applied for and received health care funding - and went to Las Vegas for the procedure.

I hated Vegas. Absolutely loathed everything about it. It is completely contrived, constructed from nothing, gives off this grand illusion of being beautiful. The first time I saw the strip, I was impressed - lot of glitz, lights, things to look at. But I began to think about all the waste - fountains in the desert, irrigation systems in order to plant trees where they would not naturally grow. The true cost of the Hoover Dam. There are very few places to sit on the strip, unless you get in front of a slot machine. All that money going nowhere. I couldn't wait to leave. I'll never go back again. It gave me the closed-in feeling I get when I am in Toronto or any other city for too long. I loved the desert itself - but I only went once. While I recovered quickly from the surgery itself, my back pain was terrible, and I spent most of the week stuck inside our hotel.

Eight months ago I weighed 299 pounds. Now I weight 215. I have about forty more pounds to lose (I'm 5'8" and naturally big-boned, so I will never be tiny). I know that within the next eight months, I will reach my goal weight. I am having a lot of difficulty articulating to myself how much this has changed me.

Okay, I'm smaller, obviously. I am wearing the same size I wore throughout most of high school. Being smaller means that I finally need to come to terms with the issues that caused me to gain weight in the first place. Slowly, carefully, I sift through the layers and I learn. I learn other ways to cope when I feel anxious. I learn that my body and I have not been friends in a very long time. I was never comfortable in my own skin. The ugly girl. The fat girl. The girl who never had a date - not until long after high school was over. The girl who was really terrified of her own feelings, her body's natural responses, and didn't really want a date, so she found unhealthy ways to cope.

That's who I was. That's still how I feel sometimes. As I get physically stronger - I work out, I can exercise without sweating like a pig and I don't run out of breath after five minutes, so I've learned to love physical activity - I look at my body and I think "Wow! Is that really me?" I am strong. My body has power. I am powerful. I like that, and it scares me a little bit.

I was afraid people would treat me differently after I lost weight, and they do. But I think that it's because I am more open than I used to be, and people are responding to the change in my personality. I chose invisibility, I chose it for a reason, and now I have chosen something else.

For the first time in a long time, I am beginning to like, to love, the person that I am.

Sunday, June 1, 2008


I don't wear a lot of jewelry. It just doesn't work for me. The few items I do wear have a lot of personal significance for me - someone special might have given it to me, or the piece contains stones, colours, or designs that capture an energy that I am working with.

For the last few weeks, I've been wearing a pentacle necklace that I acquired about two years ago. For a long time it's been too tight around my neck, but it fits much better these days, and I'm able to enjoy it once again(as to why it fits better, that's another post entirely). It's a simple piece, a beaded necklace that sits close to my throat, with a clay pentacle. It helps me feel grounded and connected to the earth, and I seldom take it off. It's so much a part of me that I rarely even think about it.

Last week, my four year old and I went to buy plants from a neighbourhood couple who have launched an urban farming inititative. Their plant sale was so well attended that most of the plants I went to buy were sold by the time I arrived. I was waiting in line to pay, when two young women waiting ahead of me turned around to admire my pentacle. I'm terrible at guessing ages, but I think they were probably in their late twenties or early thirties.

I explained that I had purchased it two years ago from a vendor at the witchcamp that I attend annually. When I mentioned the name of the camp, one of them said "Oh, wow, that's an awesome place."

And the other girl said "Yeah, half the fun of going to these festivals is buying from the vendors."

Now it was apparent to me that they may have been to a pagan festival or two, but I don't think they've been to witchcamp. If they have been, it was a different experience than I have had. I support the vendors as much as I can, because creative expression is a vital force, and those who create beautiful art, be it music, writing, painting or jewelry, deserve the opportunity to earn their living through their talents. But if there were no vendors, the experience would not be diminished for me. I go to witchcamp to experience community. I go because the collective energy we raise and send out into the world it powerful. I am inspired when I leave, to carry out the work that is so badly needed on this planet. I go to to dance, to chant, to deepen my practice, to let go a little bit more than I can in my mundane existence. Although lately, my day-to-day has been anything but mundane. Something about living my dreams....