Forget you Siri. I don’t want a robot PA. I want a doula.

 

I read an article that said the single best way to win the dinner party (ie make a positive enduring impression) is to ask people what they do for a living, and then say: “That sounds hard.”

Apparently, this social ninja move is the fail-proof opening gambit. Three simple words to bypass tedious small talk! Dive direct into interesting insights! Maybe we are universally wired to obsess over our own struggles? Maybe most members of humankind (at least the first world ones) feel sufficiently under-appreciated in whatever work we’re doing, that given a genuine invitation, we’ll launch into true revelation.

So when I say that motherhood is hard, I’m not saying that fatherhood isn’t, or childlessness isn’t or being a kid isn’t or being a cartoonist or a liftie or the Prime Minister isn’t. I’m not trying to win the Golden Globe for Dinner Party Guest of the Year. I’m just saying there’s a reason when you ask an 8 month pregnant woman, or the toddler-wrangling, infant-wearing, coffee-toting mama, how she is doing, that for a second before she recovers her equanimity you glimpse the whites of her eyes.

Childbirth is daunting. Motherhood is strange and complicated and high-stakes. Change is hard, and the almighty transition from being childless to having a completely-and-utterly-messily-and-noisily-dependent is dizzyingly hard, too.

But then, so is everything worthwhile.

And there are always ways to make the hard stuff easier.

Ask a doula.

That’s their job description, after all.

My friend, Christine Spierings, an early childhood educator and mama of two, is now a birth and postpartum doula.

A doula is a caregiver, from the ancient Greek word for “woman who assists”, whose role is to support a woman in labour – to take care of the mama-becoming, and her partner (to make sure he/she is taking care of the mama-becoming too), as she does the remarkable work for bringing a little being into the world.

Says Spierings simply, the number one requirement of her work is “to not let the mum feel sorry for herself.”

Added bonus: a really awesome doula will make the partner parent look like a hero, a role they’re about to be called upon to play with alarming regularity.

“I didn’t know what I was going into,” remembers Spierings, about having her first child sixteen years ago, “I went to pre-natal classes and I kinda listened. But I basically went into hospital and curled up on the bed in the foetal position. I didn’t really walk much, I didn’t do anything and I had a really long labour. Whereas now I know, the more you stand up and the more you move, you’re allowing gravity to work for you and the movement is helping your pelvis adjust and let the baby move through.”

In other words, it was hard, and it could have been easier.

Cue Spierings’ career change. Plus, she loved being pregnant. She loves babies. And she can imagine herself, even in her 70s, jumping in the car and whipping down the highway to meet a client at the hospital.

Coaching a woman through the birth experience is one reason she’s also just trained as a Dancing for Birth instructor – and is offering a 5 week program at the Community Centre for expectant and new mamas.

“It’s not all dancing,” says Spierings. “It’s gathering and sharing in a safe comfortable space. Getting to know your peers, having the change to talk about your discomforts, apprehensions, changes, what’s going well for you, stretching, collecting yourself, relaxation, breathing. Then you get up and dance – Latin inspired, afro, belly dancing, all types – but mostly it’s about movement so you can create habits you can take in to the delivery room. The more you create healthy habits – movement and mental calm – before you have the baby, the calmer you’ll be in delivery. A lot of women like to be in control. And when you’re going into labour, you are not in control. You have to let go and be open to what’s unfolding.”

Doula-assisted births tend to result in shorter labours with fewer complications and medical interventions – statistically proven outcomes that prompted the First Nations Health Authority to recent funding doula services for Aboriginal families in BC through a special grant program.

Currently, doula services are not covered through the public health system, although some insurers, including Sun Life, are started to offering coverage.

Not Letting Mamas Feel Sorry For Themselves is a skillset that would be welcome well beyond the delivery room.

Me and my friends have sometimes joked that we each need a wife, in order to get it all done. But maybe we need a world with more doulas. Or a world, as Anne-Marie Slaughter is saying, that truly values the work of care giving.

I wouldn’t mind a life doula. Job description: prevent me from feeling sorry for myself, believe deeply in my capacity to do the hardest things imaginable, offer massages at the perfectly right time, know a few good dance moves to bust out in times of duress, and remind me that women’s bodies are mysterious, powerful and nothing to be ashamed of.

But before we manifest a world in which there are food doulas for new parents, back to work doulas to help keep the wheels on after the one year maternity leave is up, death doulas to help guide the terminally ill, and wise caring coaches to rumble us through all life transitions with a combo of compassion, tough-talk and dance moves, let’s at least make it commonplace to have a doula or midwife appear at every person’s original birthday.

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Would you take a wellness workshop from your dentist?

Last I heard of Pemberton’s stalwart dentist, Anne Crowley, she had put on a backpack and was about to solo trek across the country.

I didn’t really expect her to be offering an eight-week wellness course at the Pemberton Community Centre, starting Jan. 18.

“I made it to Lillooet,” she said.

She’d set out with a simple, earnest goal: to connect with the earth and see beautiful places. Her agenda was completely open. Maybe she’d walk for a few weeks, maybe a few years. “I wasn’t doing it to prove anything.”

Pemberton to Lillooet was always going to be one of the more beautiful legs of the entire trip.

“I really enjoyed that walk.”

It took her seven days to hike up and over that mountain range, hauling her 55 pound backpack and leading her companion, a five-month-old rambunctious dog, at which point the nail bed began to peel off her toe, threatening infection and worse, amputation. The heat was ominous. “I had no idea how I was going to carry enough water for my dog through the desert from Lytton.”

And a lot of pavement lay ahead.

Crowley had just returned from locum work in Newfoundland, so, with her license still good, she returned to another gig in Labrador, abandoning the cross-country grind and putting Plan B into effect. “You get to 64, you don’t need to impress anybody. So I flew back east and went trekking all through the Maritimes.”

She walked 3,000 kilometres, pretty much the length and breadth of Newfoundland, eschewing pavement for the most beautiful overland trails. “I can’t even explain how wonderful it was to just walk and walk and feel part of the earth and be outside. It really connects you — you’re up when the sun is up. I had my dog with me, so I was never afraid, and always had some companionship. I just camped and walked.”

Crowley’s never been afraid to plough new ground. She was part of the second dentistry class at the University of British Columbia to ever to admit women. She was Pemberton’s first dentist, arriving in 1978, having been recruited hard by residents to set up a practice here, after serving on the mobile dentistry unit, a four-month program that gave locals a chance to get their teeth cleaned without having to wait the six months it took to get an appointment with the nearest dentist at the time, in Squamish. She started the Pemberton Youth Soccer Association in 1994 and has been coaching kids ever since.

On her return from the east coast this October, the longtime recreation champion called Dan Cindric at the Pemberton and District Community Centre about an idea she’d been kicking around. And they put it on the program.

On Monday nights at 7 p.m., starting Jan. 18, she’ll host “Eight weeks to Better Health,” a workshop with no fixed agenda and nothing to prove, but the chance to dig in on various components of healthy living, harnessing habit, practice, journaling and the almighty power of a group.

“I’m not a big groupie,” admits Crowley. “I’m typically a lone wolf. But when I do get together with a group, against all my natural inclinations, it’s so good.”

She recalls a guest karate sensei who brought the lesson of the power of the group to her dojo once. “It was a powerful lesson. You literally felt the physical strength. It was a black and white experience for me. I’d never been able to marshall that level of strength before.”

Crowley has developed a firm conviction that wellness is a state of mind. “It’s 20 per cent physical and 80 per cent mental and spiritual. There are a lot of things that hold people back.”

The power of a group won’t be one of them.

“I’ve got an idea of what we’ll cover,” she says, “but it will unfold somewhat organically, based on who shows up. The participants will co-create it. It’s that universal time of the year when people want to get some more healthy habits. I think it could be interesting. And at the very least, it could just be an opening for other people to say, ‘hey maybe I could offer a course.’ There’s such a huge amount of talent here.”

Crowley seems to have a knack for tapping it.

Don’t worry. She’s not going to hassle you about flossing. But you might get a free toothbrush.

Some stuff I learned in 2015

I’m a slow learner.

But this is what I managed to piece together during this most recent solar orbit.

I learned that productivity is a con (and I should really stop clicking on all those headlines that offer happiness and productivity hacks), that hope is a radical act, and that writing is still my best medicine, (even though meditation keeps getting suggested.)

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That teachers come to you, when you need them, but not always in the shape or form you think.

That lunch dates rule.

That our stories are like snakeskin, and it’s okay to shed the old ones when we outgrow them. In fact, it’s more than okay. It’s necessary, little wrigglers. It’s absolutely necessary.

I learned, as I wrapped up 3 years at a great little creative agency, that if your name isn’t attached to something, you won’t fight as hard for it. You just won’t.

I learned what it’s like to cry instant hot tears when someone holds the space for you to approach your sorrow.

I learned to wait for a surgery I wanted done ASAP.

I learned that attention is prayer.

More than prayer. Attention is actually the fuel that runs the world, not oil. Kids grow off it. Relationships require it. Learning demands it. And personal internet-connected-screens erode it, dangerously, continuously. 

I interviewed a bunch of great people, and realised that, just because people are creative practitioners producing work that stops me in my tracks, doesn’t mean they’re particularly dynamic or interesting in person, or in their ability to articulate their process or motivations. So it’s probably time to stop worrying that I’m not sufficiently dynamic to be “a creative” and stop reading profiles of creative people in the hopes of gleaning some wisdom, and just follow my curiosity and do the work.

I came to suspect that our bodies have probably always known everything we ever needed to know. We just never really learned to listen. When I do hear something, it feels animal. Quick. Growls or moans or squeals. It’s not articulate but it’s responsive. It’s okay to trust it. Even when it doesn’t make much sense.

I learned that there will never be an “and done!” moment after which everything can finally begin.

I learned that the hustle got me here. But now it’s time to trade the hustle for a practice. A slow steady daily practice. Practice is sustainable. Hustle is a blaze of drama and adrenaline. It was fun. But now I’ve got work to do.

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What does it all boil down to? (Because I also learned this from that great creative agency: every meeting or brainstorm should end with some action items.)

So, this, for 2016:

  • Don’t worry about pleasing everyone. Have the courage just to please yourself.

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The world is going to change. Massively. I hope it’s without violence. That’s in our hands, right now.

Oh yeah, and it’s okay to text on the toilet. As long as you know when to unplug.

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What 13,000 year old human footprints on a BC beach taught me about living in the moment

This, from the latest issue of Coast Mountain Culture, which can be hard to find on the ground – being such a luscious piece of print yumminess that it gets scooped up quickly. So, here’s one of the pieces I penned for the Holy issue.

Ancient human footprints unearthed on British Columbia’s Central Coast challenge the orthodox theory of the colonization of the Americas, and put a modern family’s stresses into perspective

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Photo courtesy the Hakai Institute.

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A Step Back in Time from Hakai on Vimeo.

Over the boy’s ruffle of white-blond hair, my husband is glaring at me. We’re engaged in the daily battle of unfinished to-do lists and who should do bed-and-bath duty in the last productive hours of the waning day.

The tag-teaming, crisis-managing, toddler-whispering, boss-appeasing, garden-tending, dinner-prepping daily cycle leaves us routinely scratching our heads. What are we doing wrong? Life can’t be this complicated, stressful, frazzled.

It’s less fraught at our secret place — tucked between two rivers — neither off the grid nor true wilderness, but off the radar, without running water, out of the fray of our increasingly edge-frayed lives.

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There, if we bathe at all, it’s in river water warmed up on the stove. We read books by headlamp instead of skimming the endless ephemera of the internet. We sit on the beach and dig our fingers and toes idly into the sand as the boy plays games of his own making with driftwood and river-worn stones. We cook over open flame, our clothes and hair perfumed with smoke. We track the salmon runs. The alarm centres of our brains stand down, stop spurting hormones, cease triggering crisis mode.

Four hundred kilometres north of this place, along the same fissured coast, archaeologists with the Hakai Institute and University of Victoria have just found what might be the oldest human footprints in North America.

Hakai Institute and University of Victoria archaeologists Daryl Fedje (background, in red) and Duncan McLaren (foreground, in orange) at the dig site. Photo by Joanne McSporran.

Two adults and a child around a fire, over 13,000 years ago, left this tantalizing record of their existence in the soft clay off Calvert Island, a protected area where the shoreline and sea level have remained unusually constant for the 15,000 years since the last Ice Age.

The discovery goose pimples the flesh of the archeologists who found it, methodical professionals who rarely get glimpses of a human story, sifting more commonly for clues in rock, charcoal, animal bones, or seeds.

It enforces the cultural wisdom and historic relationship of the coastal First Nations to the land since time immemorial.

If the initial carbon dating proves out, it builds the case for a coastal migration theory of colonization of the Americas. The orthodoxy of hunter-gatherers crossing the Bering land bridge down along an ice-free corridor along the Rockies, would be replaced by an upstart theory that earlier coastal sea-farers, possibly paddling along a kelp highway, chased fish and whales, and travelled in small family bands, to settle and inhabit villages clustered up and down the coast: the original Cascadians.

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For me, it is a text message from the past, a reminder from someone with the same evolutionary-selected physiology as me, to simmer down, little sister. All of my insomnia-inducing scorch-the-earth striving to live a noteworthy life, make some kind of mark, warrant a Wikipedia entry, leave a legacy, or just put the bloated memory sticks of iphone photos into some coherent order, matters for naught.

All that matters is here: this man, this child, this beach, this fire, this moon, this moment.

Add another stick to the fire. The hungry beasts will come prowling soon enough. Hunker down, tell some stories, find a way to be a family.

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And just maybe one day, 10,000 years hence, when the next Ice Age has risen and wiped the earth clean again of our follies, a confused future naked ape with a mate and a child and a fire to tend will see this footprint of mine, and feel, somehow, grounded again; will think, for a fleeting second, “Look now, we have been this way before.”

This article first ran in the winter 2015–16 issue of Coast Mountain Culture magazine.

Coast Mountain Culture magazine — everything that’s fine about the planet Cascadia.

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Got stress? Try impromptu living room dance parties. Science rates it.

I’m working on a new stress management strategy.

Gritting my teeth and just getting ‘er done has backfired. Compulsive clenching has begun to undermine the fillings in my molars. So much for the grin and bear it approach.

So, impromptu dance parties it is.

I mean, how good does it feel to crank the tunes, dim the lights and get silly, rocking out in the living room with your roomies?

Science backs that up. A new study from the University of Oxford shows that dancing together with others (“exertive movements in synchrony”) boosts health and wellbeing. Even rocking or walking in step with someone creates a feeling of emotional closeness. The endorphin kick from dancing in sync increases pain tolerance and boosts the sense of connectedness with those you’re dancing with.

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Even babies feel it. As the study’s lead researcher, Bronwyn Tarr, told Mic magazine, “They pick up the beat and get a lot of pleasure out of moving along to it.

When we grow up, we seem to start limiting our expression of that inherent musical ability. I think adults need to look for opportunities to unlock the creativity that was originally there.”

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Wanting to release my latent groover, I reached out to the founder of Pemberton’s Dance Studio, dance teacher Anna Kroupina. Alas, Kroupina, a bona fide Russian-trained ballerina, couldn’t offer me a fast-track to funky moves and a chill head space. When you grow up behind the Iron Curtain, in a country that breeds the best dancers in the world, dance is firstly about discipline.

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Mesmerized by ballet performances she’d watched on TV as a three year old on the party-controlled stations, Kroupina had to audition for a place at a dance school. “It was a huge selection process. There were two or three schools in the big city and they’d pluck 20 per cent out and give those kids a chance to try ballet,” she said.

Kroupina attended two schools in Yekatarinburg, overlapping classes and dancing with single-minded obsession, six days a week for up to four hours a day, from the age of five until she was 20. At 12, she was the best dancer in her region. At 15, a teacher offered her an assistant teaching role. Dance was a sanctuary in a place where even food was a luxury. “Being a dancer is a very special place for your mind to go to because when you’re in training, you get so focused it feels as though you’re flying away to some other world.”

When Kroupina moved to Pemberton four years ago after falling for a Canadian guy on her post-retirement travels, she started her international career, teaching dance full-time at the Pemberton Community Centre, and providing an outlet for many a girl’s tutu fetish. This year, Kroupina has partnered with Trish Belsham to open the Pemberton Dance Studio as an avenue for local students who want to take things a bit more seriously.

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“I do think dance is a discipline, because you need to know how your body operates and what your body is capable of,” explained Kroupina.

We all start with an instinct for moving. Technique and training get added on, and then, a dancer has to learn how to release that spirit again, with their newly acquired moves. “It’s a beautiful progression, but one has to happen before the other one occurs. To be a professional dancer, you have to have that spirit, and the emotional stamina to show what’s inside you and to dance it all out. Being a dancer is having your dreams come true through your feet, through your arms, through your body. Dance is bigger than we can imagine, but you have to work hard before the dream can be realized.”

One of the less formal classes Kroupina will teach this winter is the Mommy and Me/Daddy and Me class — a dance party for parents with two and three-year-olds, inspired by Anna’s own almost-two year old, Maya.

Strikes me, an unlikely ballet school student if there ever was one, as a cool way to get into sync with a bunch of other parents and kidlets, in the hopes that the resulting compassion, connectedness with each other, and increased pain tolerance, will help us navigate the years to come.

Photos courtesy Anna Kroupina of the Pemberton Dance Studio.

 

It’s called flow state because you just can’t force it.

“Babies can’t do that.”

This is currently my kid’s favourite phrase, and frankly, our best leverage to attempt to manipulate him, great big two and a half year old that he is, into doing our bidding. “Oh, well, putting on pyjamas is for big boys. Babies can’t do that.”

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Babies don’t wear sunglasses, he noted recently. Babies don’t eat spicy things. Babies can’t ski. And we agree, bemused by the apparent randomness of his observations, until he asks, “why?”, at which point the crushing weight of our ignorance on pretty much everything exerts its heft.

I found myself resorting to, “Well, babies haven’t really developed their fine motor skills,” as explanation for why babies don’t do up the zippers of their winter jackets themselves, which seemed to satisfy him. (Victory, for now.)

Thinking about infants and gross motor skills had me flashing back two years, to a bath time that took place on top of the kitchen island. There I was, hypervigilant and slightly stressed that at any moment he’d somehow magically fish-flop himself out of the bathtub and onto the concrete floor, smooshed into a billion pieces, the final proof of my deep suspicion that I (chronic houseplant murderer) was ridiculously unqualified for this life-tending responsibility.

There he sat, in a tiny plastic bathtub, a fat little flesh dollop lurching back and forth like a Weeble Wobble, trying to reach for the rubber duck floating in the water in front of him. He had just enough muscle control to be a liability to himself. He’d lurch forward and the momentum would push the duck out of his reach. Lean back and it would bob back towards him. Lurch forward, batting his hands for it, pushing it beyond his reach again.

I could have just handed it to him, I suppose. But I was rooting for him to work out how to reach for something that he really wanted without pushing it away. I hoped for him to gain that more than I cared if he actually got the duck. So I just watched.

In just another version of the parent’s prayer – may my kid not have to learn everything that I have finally figured out, the hard way – I was rooting for him to grasp what took me three decades to get: that there is a delicate balance between wanting something and inviting it towards you or reaching with such desperation that you push it away.

You see it in lovelorn singles, in the crushingly insecure.

The best way to get approval is not to need it,” said cartoonist Hugh MacLeod. “This is equally true in art and business. And love. And sex. And just about everything else worth having.”

Let the rubber ducky teach you that, kiddo, and you’re well ahead of the game.

I’ve heard activists talk of this, as a need to balance extreme tenacity with humour and levity, or else they’ll burn out, and begin to hate the humanity that they’re trying to save, combusting out of sheer frustration.

I read an interview with Rebecca Rebouché, an artist and collaborator with the brand Anthropologie, who said, of the secrets of her creative success:

“I could almost cry thinking about all the ways I’ve hustled, sacrificed, and scorched the earth with my striving.”

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Rebecca Rebouché

I think about the striving – the singe marks all around where my partner and I have been burning the earth with our velocity, our tag-teaming, our endless projects, our plaintive “are we there yet?” queries as another bed and bathtime rolls around and the game is nowhere close to done, and think, yeah, sister, I could cry, too.

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“We spend our lives preoccupied with effort, the importance of working, striving and trying,” says UBC professor Edward Slingerland.

“We too often devote ourselves to pushing harder or moving faster in areas of our life where effort and striving are, in fact, profoundly counterproductive.”

The ancient Chinese philosophers worked this out. They called it wu-wei – “no trying” or effortless and unselfconscious action. Yoda, also, got it. “Do, or do not. There is no try.”

Try, by not trying. Do with less. Give ‘er, then let it go. Some place between these two points, effort and surrender, is probably the kind of stillness that turns you into a magnet, and brings everything you’re striving for, to you.

A half dozen attempts in, the baby worked it out.

If only I could be so quick.

Maybe it’s time for a bath.

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Choose hope. It doesn’t make you a pussy, it makes you more productive.

I reserve the right to remain hopeful.

6 days in to a new government, and 3 weeks past the election, I’m declaring it, as though it’s a constitutional right, a mantra and a magic spell all rolled up into one.

I felt hope crest like a rogue wave the morning after the election, and it surged again, when I heard tales of a friend who works in Ottawa on the Hill, who was greeted with a small plastic cup of champagne at work that Brand New Day. She thanked her manager, but was told, “don’t thank me,” as her boss acknowledged their Muslim colleague, a quiet woman, not imbibing, who had stopped at the liquor store that morning, to share her own sparkling sense of hope with her workmates about their shared future under a new regime.

Canada's new Prime minister, Justin Trudeau, when asked why his cabinet is gender balanced.

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The communications strategist in me gives a nod to a game well-played at the new government’s opening gambits (Inuit throat singers at the swearing-in ceremony!, Cabinet media scrums! a Google Hang-out between the Prime Minister and some grade 5 students!), but it’s my feisty little inner hope-fiend that has really rallied as the new PM states that gender parity is important “because it’s 2015”, and swears in a Cabinet featuring a Minister of Climate Change, a Minister of Refugees, a Minister of Science (who is an actual scientist!), a Minister of Health (a doctor), a Minister of Agriculture (a farmer), a Minister of Transport (an astronaut, for the win!), a Minister of Defence (an Afghanistan combat veteran), a Minister of Families who is a poverty economist and a Minister of Democratic Institutions who is a Muslim refugee. Bonus points for the fact the PM was once a snowboard instructor at Whistler Blackcomb, and although this is not my party, well, the Hope-o-Meter is steadfastly sitting in the green zone.

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I am embarrassed to admit it – have I just been seduced by good hair and great soundbytes? – but, to admit that politics is, for the first time in a decade, inspiring positivity, interest, engagement, instead of cynicism, disdain, disappointment, vigilant scrutiny, makes me feel vulnerable. Gullible, even. I’m scared to confess to this hopefulness, to allow it, because it hurts to be disappointed, to have your heart broken, your expectations dashed, to find out that one politician or party is just the same as all the others, that hype comes from a machine, and the system is so flawed that no one can make a difference.

But for now, I reserve the right to remain hopeful. Not because hope is a warm and fuzzy feeling, and right now, the nights are long and the days are drizzly. No, I’m indulging in hope because it is, outside of outrage, (which is just as hard to sustain), an absolute necessity to getting things done.

That’s what I discovered reading a blog post on time management by Wendy Kelly, a scribe for Pemberton-based web design and digital marketing agency, Custom Fit Communications.

Forget list-making, bed-making and getting up at the crack of seriously-it’s-pitch-black-out-there, the best and most under-reported productivity hack is simply having a robust sense of hope.

“At the end of the day, without hope,” wrote Kelly, “you really can’t keep up your pace. Workers of all types need hope to get up each day and do their work, and I would argue that creative types need hope all the more.”

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Margaret Atwood, the dire futurist of our times, seems to agree. She recently told Canadaland’s Jesse Brown, “Unless you’re an optimist, you don’t bother writing books. It’s a very optimistic thing to do.”

Optimism isn’t the same thing as hopefulness, though. Optimism is the belief that all-will-be-well. Hope is the ability to fly in the face of evidence to the contrary, to strive for excellence in the face of obstacles. Hope has been correlated with better pain tolerance, workplace attendance, engagement and creativity.

Brene Brown, a shame and vulnerability researcher and author of Daring Greatly, explains that we have poetic but misguided notions of the word hope. “Most of us think of hope as a feeling of positivity. But hope is not an emotion at all. It’s how we think and it is 100% teachable. Hope is a function of struggle. The 2 prerequisites for high levels of hopefulness are perseverance and tenacity.”

It’s not pathetic to be hopeful. It’s pragmatic.

If we care about climate change, democracy, missing and murdered women, beating cancer, raising great kids, living in kind communities, we need to all struggle for that together.

So I’m holding on to this surging sense of hope for as long as I can.

And for all you lovelies out there squaring off in the face of cancer treatment, heartbreak or other adversity, may your days be doused with hope, too.

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Give good face, like it’s the only one you’ve got.

I went hiking with a bunch of ladies over night at a cabin up the Duffey. Most of us had kids, so the hardest work of the weekend was just getting out of the house.

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By the time we were on top of the mountain, we were giddy with freedom. Or altitude. That’s where we stumbled on the subject of 60 and 70-year-old women we knew who were getting work done — botox, plastic surgery — trying to look pretty by forfeiting the expressiveness of their faces.

IMG_0071We were not judging. We were confronting the ravages of time ourselves. But aunties, come on. You’re invisible, anyway. Let’s be honest: once women reach a certain age, we all become unseen. Instead of that being liberating — look, now you can be the way you want to be, dress how you want, say what you think, care only about the people you care about — are you so addicted to being perceived as a pretty thing that you’re injecting your faces with paralyzing agents?

Okay, maybe I am judging.

But I’m disappointed. And afraid.

I’m afraid, because I am confronted by the state of my own face.

I spent months thinking about face and my own resting bitchface, and I blame it less on aging and more on Ryan Proctor.

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Proctor, a long-time, top-quality Whistler guy, had agreed to let me write about his recovery from a mountain bike crash, which saw him implode his face on impact. His face was rebuilt, quite remarkably, but he looked different. He shot a self portrait every day, like he was trying to reconstruct his relationship with himself, and every few weeks into his post-recovery, we’d chat about his accident and his surgeries, about selfies and social media, luck, mirrors and coming to terms with having a new face.

I snapped a selfie one day, inspired by him, inspired to capture a great mood and freeze-frame the memory. I was studying it, scrutinizing my face. I was in the gondola, by myself, so I could be unselfconscious about my curiosity: wow, that’s what I look like. My eyes are completely different sizes, my nose is really large, my wrinkles have gone gangbusters… but still, it’s my face. It’s my self, even, or maybe because of, the things I love to hate, because that’s part of the package.

Proctor’s humour and storytelling had distracted me — as I looked at my naked face, it struck hard, how difficult that must be, to have your face change.

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Reconstructed Proctor looked the most like himself when he was smiling, or wearing a toque. “It’s more my resting bitchface,” he told me, that’s confronting. “I have more resting bitchface than I had before.”

Your what?

“You’ve heard that before? That thing, I think girls talk about it — when you’re looking normal and your face is just relaxed, and you look like a bitch.”

That’s so hilariously close to home that it hurts.

I also look like someone who has experienced a childhood full of sunny SPF-free days, seasons on the mountain squinting into alpine weather, and two sleepless years as a new mama. I’m also kind of surprised and relieved to see that the laugh lines are more etched than the frown lines — a sign the tally of experiences were kinder than not.

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But here’s the truth that we circled around that day as we stood on top of a mountain breathing in our good fortune: approaching middle age is really freaking disorienting. And we are all looking for a few good role models on this adventure.

If a 30-year-old guy can address his changing face with grace and humour, can’t we all?

Aunties, show us 30 and 40-somethings how to do this honestly and gracefully. Show us aging is not something to be afraid of. Something possibly to even revel in. Pass on the Botox, and go the rowdy route instead – laugh too loudly, march in the street, rage against the changing climate. Stop worrying about the way men see you, and start thinking about what your granddaughters see.

It’s so brutally ironic that just when I got comfortable in my own skin, it would start to sag.  Right? I get it. I really do. But come on, my loves. Show me your naked faces and all your honest expressions. I’ll show you mine. Wrinkles and all.

I toilet text ALL THE TIME and am not even ashamed

I wrote this column on the toilet.

I’d finished my business minutes earlier but was on a writing roll and didn’t want to stop typing to pull up my pants.

I have gotten into the habit of taking my device to the washroom with me because it might be the only chance I will get until everyone in my house is asleep to check emails or instagram or twitter. I try not to be tethered to a device at work, in meetings, at the dinner table or around my kid, hence: bathroom. And in my reality, regardless of what experts say about it being a myth, multitasking is a thing. Not just “a thing”, it’s my thing. <ends toilet-typing>

Screen shot 2015-10-12 at 4.40.57 PMI tweet on the toilet. I brush my teeth in the shower. I eat my lunch at the computer. I’m not even really ashamed of this. I think it’s pathetic. The antithesis of mindfulness. Problematic. But, hardly freakish outlier behaviour. (Quick Google to verify self with stats and I get a 2011 study that says 19% of people have dropped their phone in the toilet and 39% take their smartphones with them to the loo. By 2012, that’s up to 75%. Evidently, circa 2015, it’s so ubiquitous that it doesn’t even warrant a study.)

Sherry Turkle is an MIT professor who has been researching the psychology of online connectivity for the past 30 years. In a recent New York Times piece, Turkle references a study that discovered a surprising number of people would rather give themselves electric shocks than sit alone with their thoughts.

Turkle is interested in how our extreme attachment to constant digital connectivity is diminishing our capacity for self-reflection.

Cue fleeting moment of self-reflection: I don’t think I’m escaping my thoughts so much as optimizing my time when I text and tinkle. But I catch myself wondering, when I respond to a toilet break by reaching reflexively for device, what becomes of my relationship with my physical self?

Bluntly: if you’re always checking your emails when you poo, when are you ever checking in with your body? I mean, doctors can diagnose the state of your health with just a glimpse at your excreta. The body is always telling tales.

Trauma experts have discovered this. I picked up a copy of The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma, at the library the other day.

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It’s compulsively readable, despite the heavy numbers that explain why author, Dr Bessel Van Der Kolk, has had no shortage of traumatized people to work with during his career in traumatic stress counseling and research. One in five Americans has been molested, one in four grew up with an alcoholic, and one in three couples have engaged in physical violence. There’s a lot of pain out there, and it lodges in people’s bodies, changes their brains and their behaviour, and gets passed along from generation to generation. Radically, for many, the cure is not in medication or talk therapy but in reconnecting with their bodies – yoga, play, music, neurofeedback, mindfulness, or even a quirky treatment called Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR), in which the “magic words” from the therapist appear to be, simply, “notice that,” while wiggling their finger back and forth in front of the patient.

I was kvetching about something to my partner recently, and instead of trying to scratch the itch, or solve my problem, he said something that bathed the room in warm celestial light. “Well, pay attention to that.”

Whoa.

Just this: Here’s your body. Here are your hurts and aches. Here are your complaints. Here are the distractions. And here’s one loving voice saying, “Notice that. Pay attention to that.”

I think we risk becoming more and more dissociated when we think that shitting and pissing, eating lunch or waiting for a friend to arrive, are things not worth doing with our full attention, are just opportunities to check into the Network for our “connectivity fix.”

As Turkle writes of our technology addiction, we have a choice.“It’s not about giving up our phones but about using them with greater attention.”

Right? That there? Notice that.

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Come together or fall apart

Two year old: “why daddy say ‘holy shit’?”

“Oh, that’s just because the stock market is collapsing. Goldfish cracker?”

A friend shared one of her go-to blogs with me, with the warning, “it’s kind of depressing.” It feels like we could be reaching the limits of a finite world. Not to mention, tropical fish are swimming around off the coast of BC, and the economy has shifted into a recession again. What the hell do we do about it? Apparently there’s a global run on ammunition – manufacturers can’t keep up with the demand. That’s vaguely terrifying. (Imagine if all the efforts preppers are putting into outfitting themselves for the post-apocalypse, was going into building community here in the the pre-apocalypse?!) These are the thoughts that were swirling in the background as I wrote this week’s Wellness Almanac column.

All summer long, I’ve had water on my mind. The shocking baldness of the mountains as glaciers vanished, the dry creek behind my house and my parched garden ratcheted up my water stress.

Then suddenly, at the end of August, I woke up under a canvass tent in Tyax Adventures’ Bear Paw camp, prepared to hike my bike up the Chilcotins’ Deer Pass, and it was raining, hard.

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The squall passed quickly, as Pemberton’s Sylvie Allen, mountain bike guide extraordinaire, anticipated. (Nothing an extra cup of coffee in camp couldn’t cure. Thanks, Andrea.) Two hours later, our five-woman strong posse of riders had crested the pass, and from the stark alpine of 2,300 metres, a whoop-inducing hour-long singletrack descent awaited us.

Trudging through clay and rock up that last push up the Pass, I had glanced continuously across to Mt. Sheba, benchmarking our progress and watching with fascination as the last of the winter snowmelt trickle-flowed down the mountain’s side in little rivulets and runnels.

I’ve read the claim before that “mountains are the water towers of the world,” but I’d never envisioned just how organic and un-industrial that is.

I stared at the little trickles and braids of melt that wended down the hillsides, joining up, as quickly as possible, with other rivulets, gathering force to become creek, to etch valleys, to morph and amass as stream, river and eventually lake. It struck me as embryonic and deeply poetic. I was bearing witness to the very conception of a river, peeking at an enduring primal affair between granite and sky.

It was probably the altitude. No one else seemed distracted from the task of hike-a-biking and taking photos. But I couldn’t help but feel the force of this revelation: if even water molecules are drawn to other water molecules, then we humans, 72 per cent water, must be drawn to each other too.

We are meant to come together.

IMG_3813There are survivalist websites that talk about what you need if/when the shizzle hits the fan and the economic and oil system collapses. Swiss army knife and stockpile of ammunition are recommended.

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But more practically, experts recommend that you invest now in developing good relationships with your neighbours. (There’s an incentive for a block party if ever I heard one.)

IMG_1058 A decade ago, I visited the ancient Roman ruins at Baelo Claudio. Situated on the southern tip of Spain, it was a major sea trade port and a fish-salting factory in its heyday of 41 A.D. It had temples, a forum, baths, a sewer system and three aqueducts that supplied the town with water — sophisticated, gravity-fed public engineering works that the Romans were famous for and that have rarely been reproduced in modern times.

We may have a measureless amount of information at our fingertips today, but data doesn’t make us smarter.

In his book Hope Is An Imperative, David Orr writes,

“There is an appropriate velocity for water set by geology, soils, vegetation and ecological relationships in a given landscape. There is an appropriate velocity for money that corresponds to long-term needs of whole communities rooted in particular places and the necessity of preserving ecological capital. There is an appropriate velocity for information set by the assimilative capacity of the mind and by the collective learning rate of communities and entire societies. Having exceeded the speed limits, we are vulnerable to ecological degradations, economic arrangements that are unjust and unsustainable, and, in the face of great and complex problems, to befuddlement that comes with information overload.”

Just because the amount of information available to us has exploded since Roman times, our ability to absorb that into bodily knowledge has remained constant over millennia. So, the crucial difference that determines whether a community has enough clean water for everyone, or is in total disarray boils down, quite simply, to the way we organize ourselves.

Stockpiling ammo or practicing playing well with other kids? I know where I’d rather put my energy.

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This piece was first published in the Whistler Question, on 1 September 2015.