New Season

I’m heading into a new season this fall, beginning my two-year full-time MFA program in Creative Writing at UBC. We’re meeting in person, which will be a huge change after moving online for the the last 18 months of my BA. With vaccinations available to everyone aged twelve and up this summer, it seemed possible for a “return to normal” in September, but classes begin next week and the variants are still spreading at alarming rates.

If we’ve all learned anything during this never-ending pandemic, it’s to expect change at a moment’s notice. We plan, and we hope, getting vaccinations when they are offered, wearing masks indoors to stay safe, thoroughly washing our hands, and trying not to take unnecessary risks. We have no guarantees, and we try to manage our fear.

In any new season, I usually feel a mix of joy and dread. This fall, I have lots of different emotions crowding to the surface. I’ve loved my five month break from academia. I’ve read loads of mystery and crime novels, slept in, watched some great TV, played cards with Jason and the kids, walked, practiced some yoga and wrote. My three guiding words in this season were: rest, relax, rejuvenate. I wanted to be prepared and ready for the new challenges of being a full-time MFA student.

Part of me mourns the end of the summer. The other embraces it with open arms, as I feel like I prioritized rest and leisure, so I hope I’ll see the rewards once I jump back in to classes and assignments. I’m also going to be a TA for the first time for an undergrad writing class. This both excites and scares me. We never really know if we are up to a challenge simply by thinking about it. We have to jump in and do it in order to really find out.

We have another unexpected change in the form of Ava taking a gap year before starting at University of Victoria. For an entire year, I’ve been emotionally preparing for her to leave home, grieving for her while she was still here living with us. And then at the end of July, we found out that she wouldn’t have a place to live on campus, so after a flurry of searching for off-campus housing that didn’t exist or was ridiculously expensive, Ava made the decision to defer her admission for one year. So she remains at home, working a couple of part-time jobs to save more money for school next year.

A lovely surprise because I don’t have to let go of her quite yet, but still a change that I wasn’t expecting. Next week, William starts grade 10 at a new high school in our district, so for him it’s a new season as well. Something in my nature loves predictability and certainty, but too much stability becomes stale. We do need a bit of variety and spontaneity to keep us engaged and growing.

The older I get, the more I understand that I can’t think my way through change. I just have to walk it out. Trying to forecast exactly what will happen is a fool’s errand. Situations are too complex for that type of guesswork. As we say in the recovery movement, an expectation is a premeditated resentment. I’m trying to “cherish no outcome” as a friend of mine says. Instead I choose to believe I’ll have what I need for the challenges ahead at the moment I need them. Not before and not after.

Tomorrow the calendar turns over to September and a whole new season begins. What’s in store for you this fall?

Loving our Bodies Exactly as They Are

“What if we decided to love our bodies exactly as they are?”

I read this question on Twitter a while back, and I can’t stop thinking about it. As a woman, I’ve been told my whole life that something is wrong with me and if I spend enough money and time on the problem, I can hopefully fix it. So I’ve put highlights in my hair every few months, bought new and improved makeup to cover my blemishes, tried various weight loss plans and exercised more, went shopping for new and more flattering clothes, and the list goes on.

A few months ago I went to a skin place to treat some of the cherry angiomas that crop up more frequently now that I’m in my late forties. The technician gave me a brochure for a laser place that promised to get rid of the redness in my cheeks and chin for treatments starting at $199. As I drove home, thinking about this new redness issue that had never occurred to me before, I thought, “What the hell does it matter if I have some redness to my skin tone?”

Then I read that quote: “What if we decided to love our bodies exactly as they are?” What if we chose not to worry about redness in our skin, or some cellulite in our thighs, or grey hair at our temples, or wearing clothes we like that are five years old and not the newest fashion? What if we simply decided that we were fine as we were, and didn’t need to stress about it or pay a lot of money to fix ourselves up to meet a standard somebody else set in the first place?

In my presentations I talk about how the decision to change is the hardest step of all. After the decision is made, the rest is easier. Especially when we are trying to deviate from a social expectation or norm that is so familiar it becomes like the air we breathe. We don’t even notice it, so the idea of challenging it often doesn’t occur to us.

Thinking I’m too fat or not fashionable enough or that my hair shouldn’t be gray or that my skin is too red is under my control. I can believe those things or I can choose not to believe those things. I can decide. If I want to spend money and time on certain things related to my body, that’s up to me and I don’t need anyone’s permission other than my own. But I can also be as counter-culture as I want and choose to love my body as it is, without feeling ashamed, and this truly does feel revolutionary to me.

I’ve been dipping my toe into this idea and liking what I find. I’m the one who decides if I need to change something about my appearance, not the corporations marketing to me so I’ll spend money on their products. Just because something is available doesn’t mean I need it.

The world looks different when we decide to love our bodies exactly as they are.

Endings and Beginnings

We are in a time of transition, with seasons ending and new ones beginning. This pandemic, which has dragged on forever and a year, is entering a fresh stage with our province announcing a re-opening plan. All four of us in my immediate family have been vaccinated with our first dose, providing hope for a return to normalcy.

But what the hell does that even mean? Almost fifteen months into this thing, we have adjusted to masks, social distancing, staying at home, being extra cautious all the damn time. This weird version of life now feels normal to us. I can’t quite imagine getting on a plane again, going on vacation and out to restaurants, socializing with others, and speaking to a crowd of real live human beings instead of through a screen.

I’m reminded again of how strange and unsettling change can be. I know it’s good for me, like eating my vegetables and flossing my teeth, but I really hate not knowing what to expect. For this whole pandemic none of us were able to make any real plans, because staring into the future was like peering at a giant question mark. But now it appears hope is on the horizon, and yet I find myself still feeling cautious and uncertain.

Every ending has an invitation to a beginning built into it. I’m trying to focus on that as we move into the summer. Ava graduated this week from grade twelve and we’re preparing for her to attend the University of Victoria in September. She’s enrolled in the theatre program where she’ll work toward a BFA in acting. Another rough ending, when she moves out of our house, with an exciting beginning just after the tears have dried.

Perhaps the key is to make room for all of it. The sadness when one thing ends, then the vacuum of the liminal space where we feel unprepared and afraid, and finally the rejuvenation of a new experience. As Anne Lamott wrote, “My diocesan priest friend Terry Richie says the thing is not to try harder, but to resist less.” I’m inherently bad at resisting less, but it’s something I’m working toward. Flowing with the current instead of against it.

Each of us is at different stages of change, but when it comes to the pandemic we are all experiencing some of the same growing pains. We’re like butterflies emerging from the chrysalis, flying into the sunshine, freer to move around than we’ve been in over a year. Who knows what will happen next? Maybe that’s part of the allure. To allow ourselves grace when we feel timid, and to celebrate together when we feel brave. When one season ends, another one automatically begins. It’s hopeful and scary at exactly the same time.


I’ve just completed my final semester of undergrad. After four years of classes, I’ll graduate in early June with a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing from Kwantlen Polytechnic University. Due to our never-ending super fun pandemic, instead of walking across the stage in a cap and gown as I’d planned, I’ll be mailed a box containing my degree.

I’m 48, and at times I’ve felt ancient next to my twenty-year-old classmates, but overall it’s been an excellent experience to complete the higher education I began thirty years earlier. So enjoyable, in fact, that I’ve decided I might like to teach creative writing at the university level in the future, so for that I’ll need an MFA. I applied to UBC for grad school and I’ve been accepted, attending in-person this fall for their two-year program.

Completing any big goal is satisfying, but I also feel strange. For so long I dreamed about having additional time on my hands. To have five months off with no school seemed impossible to imagine, and now it’s here. I want to rest, to daydream, to read novels for pure pleasure and not feel like I’m supposed to be doing something else. To write, for myself and not for a grade.

I just finished a round of counselling, and in my last session I talked about the need for a creative break to let the soil of my mind rest. “I think that’s called letting the land lie fallow,” she said. The more I turned this word over in my mind, the more I fell in love with it. For me, this season between April and September is designed for intentional inactivity, a state that doesn’t feel naturally comfortable. But it is necessary.

Other than a few writing projects and some conference speaking, I’m going to prioritize a fallow state for my creativity. I’ll need to go into grad school as a full-time student with a sense of renewed purpose and energy. For those things, I require rest and rejuvenation.

Our culture likes to whisper in our ear, “You’re only valuable if you produce something, earn money, and work hard all the time.” But I’ve been fighting against this messaging for quite a long time, offering myself permission to slow down, simplify my existence and clarify my priorities. My 3 words for 2021 are peace, priorities and potential. They all fit well into this season of my life, where one big goal has been completed and another one has yet to begin. I’m in the liminal space, where I’m not quite sure of anything, except that rest is required so I don’t burn out.

We’ve all had a hellish twelve months. This time last year the whole world was turned upside down by Covid, and a year later we’re still fighting to stay healthy and carve out a tiny bit of novelty and fun wherever we can. It’s a long haul on a boring treadmill of sameness. For me, right now, the answer is the word fallow, which means “land plowed and left unseeded for a season or more.”

What does the word fallow look like in your life right now?

Happy 18th Baby Girl

Of parenting, Gretchen Rubin said, “The days are long but the years are short.” This was a guiding principle for me when my kids were young. Now that they are both teenagers, I find the days to be as short as the years. Once they were out of the preschool season, time seemed to speed up, like it was set to fast forward.

Now Ava is about to turn 18. I’ve been sad about it since September, when I found a new counsellor to work with as I attempt to prepare for her to move out of our house. It takes me a long time to manage change. When she leaves for university in late August, I want to be past my own complicated feelings and into excitement for her as she launches into her own life. I can glimpse this possibility, but I’m not there yet, so I’m glad I started a year in advance.

All I know for sure right now is that I will really, really miss her. We all will. On the weekends, I listen to her and William laughing from the basement as they play Jedi: Fallen Order on his Xbox. Each interaction with Ava feels more precious now. Sharper, more defined, and meaningful. Our house will have a gaping hole in it when she’s not here every day. I find it really hard to even imagine.

At the same time, because life is endlessly complicated and nuanced, I’m thrilled to see Ava inching into her own independence. It’s an exciting time, with university acceptances and academic excellence scholarships and a new driver’s license and a sneaking sense of pride that maybe we haven’t done too badly after all in raising her. My best friend’s mom always said that the goal of parenting is to take a dependent baby and turn them into an independent adult. By that measure, I’m incredibly proud of Ava on this milestone 18th birthday.

She’s fun, warm, smart, responsible, goofy and empathetic. Our lives are so much better because she’s in them. I try to remind myself that she’s not going into outer space, only to university, but it’s still a massive sea change for our family. And I know that many other families have done this and survived it, but thinking about your child moving out one day in the future and walking through it are two different things. But we are right on the edge of this change, peering out at it, and I feel so many things at once.

You are so loved, baby girl. Watch out, world. Ava’s finishing up grade twelve, in this never-ending groundhog day pandemic, and then she’s jumping into her adult life with intense enthusiasm and spirit. It will be a fascinating adventure, and we are here for you always. Happy 18th birthday!