on writing a blog

I was thinking about that Warsan Shire quote today, the one about hurting out loud, or something. My thoughts turned to this neglected blog, this website, this place to put writing, this site of hurting out loud.

Oh, here are her words:

Not everyone is okay with living like an open wound. But the thing about open wounds is that, well, you aren’t ignoring it. You’re healing; the fresh air can get to it. It’s honest. You aren’t hiding who you are. You aren’t rotting. People can give you advice on how to heal without scarring badly. But on the other hand there are some people who’ll feel uncomfortable around you. Some will even point and laugh. But we all have wounds.

I posted that quote on my Facebook page at some point (along with plenty more punch you in the face wounded words and songs and miscellany). I wrote a lot in January and February. I felt compelled to get everything down on the page, to give voice to a whole lot of pain. I spent most of this winter unwell and unhappy, which sometimes looked like over functioning and sometimes looked like giving up.

At some point, I stopped writing, although I briefly returned to direct some venom Jian Ghomeshi’s way. I deleted a lot of what I’d posted here, trying not to look at it as I did so. I got rid of photos. I started to feel weird about privacy. I started to feel embarrassed about my public emotions. I wanted to pretend it never happened. I didn’t want to see it or engage with it. I wanted to move on. Actually, I don’t know that I wanted to; it just became evident that I had to.

But I think it’s more complicated than that.

I think it wasn’t just that I didn’t want that stuff out there, it was that with some distance and with some wellness coursing through my veins, I felt profoundly sad for then-me. I don’t regret writing in the way that I did, because it led to connecting and reconnecting. It led to ‘me too’ and ‘hey, thanks’.

I stopped writing as a form of bloodletting because I needed to go away and do some healing. I lost the compulsion to shout about how much everything hurt.  I sat around and felt all of my feelings deeply, then I started making life choices more reflective of a person who loves herself. I turned around one day in the Spring feeling a familiar feeling and it took me a moment to realize I felt happy.

Of course, like any good person-who-has-sometimes-been-not-super-stable knows, life goes up, life goes down, etcetera. However, sometimes a dark period can be seen quite clearly in the rear view mirror from a vantage point beyond it. When things get a bit lighter it is easier to see how heavy they were. And things were very heavy indeed. Heavy heart, heavy feet, heavy words.

I miss this writing, though. I miss crafting myself into anecdotes and memories and pieces of the good and the bad and I know that it’s an important part of whatever it is that I do. Logging back into this site was anxiety provoking. I didn’t want to look at whatever posts I’d decided could remain. But I once again feel compelled to share words, but maybe in a different way. I’m not sure yet what that will look like. I’ve been watching a lot of Nashville lately, so the obvious answer is a whole lot of country songs. So it goes.


on furious anger

You know, that Samuel L Jackson line about great vengeance and furious anger. I think that’s from the Bible, but I obviously know it instead from Pulp Fiction.

There is a lot to be angry about lately, folks. Between the most political of political things and the most professional of professional things and the most personal of personal things, there’s a lot on the table right now.

My expressions of anger have always been a bit patchy. When I worked at the bookstore I would sometimes close myself in a storage room in the basement, make up a couple of cardboard boxes, and drop kick them around the room for ten minutes. I would return to the front desk somewhat flushed, and my colleagues would know I’d been Kicking Boxes.

I had some neighbours in London once who played a 2004 era Dido CD OVER AND OVER AND OVER AGAIN on top volume at all hours of the day and night. It was so CONFUSING and SO INFURIATING. As it happened, I owned that very Dido CD and decided to break it in half and post it through their mail slot to send a message. When I shared this plan with my ex, he advised me that it was “aggressive.”

Sometimes I’m not angry about anything.

Today? Today there is a massive force of collective rage over the Jian Ghomeshi verdict. This article pretty much sums up my feelings on the matter, so I won’t go on and on. I am grateful to have many feminist friends of all genders who are similarly horrified at the state of modern discourse around violence against women, so there is comfort in numbers and solidarity, to some extent.

However. I use social media (NOT LIKE, OBSESSIVELY OR ANYTHING), and thus am aware that many, many people out there (the judge in the Ghomeshi trial among them) believe that an individual’s behaviour, actions, feelings, and memory in the wake of abuse should look a certain way, and if it does not fit that preconceived notion of appropriate response, well then credibility is in question. I offer a rage infused slow clap to anyone out there who hasn’t ever in their whole lives wanted someone who treated them like shit and exhibited seemingly contradictory and confusing behaviour as a result. Realllllllllll slow clap.

I said I wasn’t going to go on and on about it. But I’m fucking angry about it. I’m angry about what happened in that court room today, and I’m angry about all of the assholes out there like Ghomeshi who treat women like shit and get away with it. We all know someone like him. We all know multiple someones like him. Big public cases like this naturally lead a person to reflect on the layers of big violences, little violences, obvious violences, and subtle violences that are perpetrated in our everydays.

Anger can go down in so many different ways. Anger can mean inaction. Anger can mean waiting. Anger can mean loving your loved ones harder. Anger can mean holding someone’s hand. Anger can mean not wanting to fucking talk about it. Anger can mean arguing on the Internet. Anger can mean kicking boxes or trying to hate-mail a broken Dido CD, or smashing a glass while listening to a Fred Armisen interview while you do the dishes because he is such an infuriating shitbag (Oh, I didn’t mention that last one? It happened to a friend).

Anger can mean simply bearing witness to bullshit. It can mean seeing the way a person goes through life treating women, the things they say, the violences they enact. Sometimes bearing witness is all you can do as things play out, as people buy what the bullshit artist is selling. It might not feel safe to react any other way. It might be a judgement call based on very particular practical circumstances.  It might be that you are not exactly sure what is happening, or what has happened. But you see. And you are seen seeing. And that is powerful.


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on being an elite athlete

If there’s one thing people always say about me, it is that I am a naturally gifted athlete.

Oh wait, no they don’t. As a child I did not excel at sports. I was not even mediocre at sports. I was very bad at them.

I went to a hippie ‘family school’ that didn’t believe in competition. We didn’t enter into sports competitions with other schools (besides the annual track and field city-wide meet where our school T-shirts featuring flowers with happy faces were roundly disparaged) and we didn’t receive grades in PE. Or in anything! We were instilled with the notion that putting in a spirited effort was the most important thing.

Thus was borne my mistaken belief that I could be a successful athlete if I tried hard enough.

I tried numerous different athletic activities. I was certain that I would be a natural, and an absolute prodigy once I found just the right sport. I hadn’t ever tried Long Jump, so I was fairly sure that the first time I tried it I would miraculously fly farther than anyone had ever jumped in the sandpit, and that my teachers and classmates would nod knowingly: They had found the city’s new long jump champion. The results of my attempts were underwhelming.

I signed up for soccer. I played soccer for like, four years? I DON’T KNOW WHY. My parents didn’t make me do it or anything. I voluntarily took part. I never once scored a goal or assisted in a goal in all of those years, and every game I hoped the ball wouldn’t come my way. It frightened me when a horde of big aggressive jock-girls would come barrelling after the ball, and I tried to steer clear altogether. My big moment came when I stepped right out of my cleat on the muddy field and for some reason was carried off the pitch to put my shoe back on. I was kind of delicate.

Sometimes I joined in the constant rolling game of all boys street hockey at the end of our dead end street. I occasionally played goalie, and I have tried to start an urban legend that I was so tough I never wore any pads or gloves. This is true – but I think I probably played hockey like five times and I just couldn’t figure out how to coordinate the gear.

I went to soccer camp one year, tennis camp another. I tried both sprinting and distance running, but found that neither speed nor endurance was my running specialty. I was not good at any of the sports.

High school was a rude awakening as regards the virtue of putting in a spirited effort. My first PE grade was, I think, a B. I was hella confused, and spoke to our gym teacher about it. ‘So, what would I have to do to get an A?’ I asked, probably slightly aggressively. ‘You’d have to be like Susie Smith (noted jock)’, she replied. I questioned the logic of this argument, but there was no budging.

Another time, later,  J and I received a poor grade in ‘net games’, the PE class that all the elite athletes obviously chose. We were ALWAYS enthusiastic, we argued, particularly when it came to Ping Pong. Another weary gym teacher finally conceded to changing our grades, I think mostly so she wouldn’t have to listen to us anymore. We were an extremely persistent duo and perhaps somewhat of an acquired taste.

All of this is funny because as an adult I am someone who competes in a community baseball league and is at the gym every morning at 6am, without fail.

Oh wait, no I’m not.

When I lived in Leeds my husb and I went through a brief phase of playing badminton after work. Yet again, I had that giddy, excited feeling: Maybe I am a secret badminton prodigy. Incorrect. I always lost, and I was not really great tempered about it either. Once we went skiing and on the first little hill I sped way, way past him and when he finally joined me at the bottom he said ‘wow, that was impressive!’ and I was hyperventilating because I actually just couldn’t remember how to slow down.

I KEEP TRYING. Last summer for a minute I considered joining a friend’s Dragon Boat team, forgetting the fact that I am neither strong nor coordinated or good at early mornings. I would be an actual team liability.

Occasionally I find myself amongst the type of people who like to ‘toss a Frisbee around’ or ‘play a casual game of catch’ and I briefly panic, as though I am about to be exposed. Recently I was out with the niece and nephew and a bunch of friends and family, and a hula hoop appeared. One friend demonstrated a fancy way to throw it, and then others followed suit. I tried a bunch of times: no dice. The hula hoop sadly fell to the ground. Later, I was describing this scene to my Mum. ‘Oh, the snapping it back trick? I can’t do that either,’ she said. I come by it honestly.


on the good women of television

My Mervs (I cannot explain the origin of this term, as it is deeply, deeply offensive and terrible. Suffice it to say that it serves as a collective term for my bests since olden times) and I were recently discussing the question of finding a role model for me amongst the women of television. Things haven’t been so hot lately, and maybe I could use some inspiration. Oh! I had an idea. How about Olivia Pope from Scandal? You know, ‘consider it handled’ immaculate hair and work ethic. This got shot down, hard.

Um, her relationship with the President is problematic.

And she avoids her own problems by solving other people’s problems; you already do that too much.

OK, no Olivia Pope. Cristina Yang from Grey’s Anatomy? That would be great, but a bit of a reach. I do not know of a single instance in life in which someone has been scared of me. I am much more ‘I will smile a lot and nod vigorously to ensure you feel at ease in my presence! I am going to make you feel so fucking comfortable you won’t know what hit you!’ Kalinda Sharma from The Good Wife? She is so mysterious and private and suspicious. I am the opposite of all of those things. I trust you immediately! You can learn everything about me on the Internet and I’m bad at boundaries! My favourite twins  (my sister in law and her sister) have suggested perhaps Leslie Knope would be a good option, so I’m gonna go on a Parks and Rec tear.

I am down, without having even seen this show yet. I LOVE Amy Poehler. This Guardian interview with her is the best ever. Some select grabs:

Female anger isn’t praised much in our culture, but it can be kind of exciting, I say. “It is exciting, isn’t it?” she says, her eyes lighting up. “It’s super-exciting to not care if you’re liked, and to watch someone’s face as they realise that. It’s fun defying expectations about me. It’s a nice secret weapon.”


“I don’t fucking care if you like it!” has since, to Poehler’s amusement, become a modern feminist catchphrase, appearing on T-shirts and in cartoons. “I see life as like being attacked by a bear,” she says. “You can run, you can pretend to be dead or you can make yourself bigger.”

It’s a work in progress. In reality, I have basically evolved with Claire Danes’s TV characters. In the 90s I came over all Angela Chase (as I’m sure did 90% of teenage girls in the 90s. That shit was really really real. It’s worth a rewatch; it holds up).

I angsted and crushed. I dyed my hair and it was meaningful.

In present day times I’m all Carrie Mathison, kind of manic eyed and hard headed and getting all twisted up in weird Brodie business.


Often I look like this. I probably look like this right now, with messier hair.

The lesson? There isn’t one, yo! Be your own role model. Or something.


on getting out of bed

I read somewhere recently that being depressed is like your contact lenses constantly being dry and a bit dirty. I can’t remember where I read this, and a cursory Google search just leads me to weird shit like ‘suicide after LASIK’ and ‘dry eyes can cause anxiety and depression’. So, sorry whoever made that very apt analogy. Your cleverness goes uncredited.

“Willa Cather tells us, ‘There is only one big thing – desire. And before it, when it is big, all is little.’ We can honour desire as a life force, but still see how it causes suffering when it takes over our life. Our natural hunger for food can become an ungovernable craving for food – ice cream, sweets, potato chips – comfort food or food to numb our feelings. Our longing for sex and affection can become an anguished dependency on another human being to define and please us. Our need for shelter and clothing can turn into insatiable greed, compelling us to possess three houses and closets full of unworn shoes. Our fundamental longing to belong and feel loved becomes an insistent craving for substitutes.

If we have been acutely frustrated or deprived, our fixated desire becomes desperate and unquenchable. We are possessed by craving, and our entire life is hijacked by the force of this energy. We feel like a wanting self in all situations, with all people, throughout the day. If we are taken over by craving, no matter who or what is before us, all we can see is how it might satisfy our needs. This kind of thirst contracts our body and mind into a profound trance.”

– Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance,  p 139

Kind of a long quote from the wonderful Tara Brach, but it resonated with me, and after all friends, this is my blog, I get to decide how long the quotes are. So much power.

I have these intense bouts of “desperate and unquenchable desire.” I have a big craving for life. I take on a million extra responsibilities, make a multitude of plans, and feel that I can actually fit 30 hours of activity into a 24 hour day. I commit to gyms and committees and conferences and parties. Sometimes I construct a ‘back pocket plan’ to ‘try to be Prime Minister sometime’. I think I can bend life to be exactly how I think it should be.

I start a blog, and decide I have to create new posts every day, as well as study for my exams, as well as teach, as well as having a social life and eating healthy food and using my yoga pass and oh yeah I’m supposed to be meditating and I need to maintain a positive attitude and there are also meetings I’m supposed to be going to and I have no groceries so I’m eating Christmas chocolates for dinner and my apartment floor is completely concealed by old papers and diaries like a legit crazy person and I have all these saved links I haven’t read yet and programs I need to watch and I decide I can make it all be through sheer force of will, but then I end up examining my eye twitching in the mirror at 2am and spiraling: am I looking old, will I fail my exams, how did my life get to be like this, what is wrong with me that nothing ever works out, am I a moron for writing all this personal stuff on the Internet, why do I make bad decisions and how do I know what good decisions are and how can I just push through this part, all of these things, without losing it.

Then in the next moment I am losing it and I’m letting people down and everything’s toxic and I crash.

Then I can’t do any of it. I look around at people doing normal people things like getting out of bed and getting dressed and I don’t understand. I can’t comprehend how I functioned as a person a week ago, getting on the bus, running errands, working.

Now, the weary waiting for it to get better, catching tiny glimpses here and there. My most recent glimpse came in the form of laughing really hard at that amazing 2012 Herman Cain ad (with thanks to D for bringing it back into my life).

So, if you can’t get out of bed this morning, I get it.

If you feel pathetic and useless because you can’t do your job, I get it.

If you’re frustrated and full of guilt and shame and then frustrated by the fact that you’re frustrated and full of guilt and shame, I get it.

While I’m not so great at channeling the care my own way, I am sending a big old virtual hug (or virtual fist bump for those non-huggers out there) and a ton of love to anyone else dealing with this garbagey garbage right now. I also offer this (mild crankiness being another glimpse of life on the other side): It had better fucking get better.





















on music

Does every teenager go through a Bob Marley phase? My brother and I had Bob Marley posters all over our bedroom walls. A priest who was a friend of my great-grandmother was once getting a tour of our house during a party, and while perusing the posters in my brother’s room read one Marley caption aloud: “Totally stoned!”

Legend played a lot during my childhood. Legend 2 was a revelation when it was released in ’95, and I still love a lot of the lesser known Marley tracks on that album. Trenchtown Rock came to me when I was thinking about writing this post: “One good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain, so hit me with music, brutalize me with music.”

I don’t think Bob was right on that one. When music hits, it can be all kinds of painful. I’ve gone through periods in life where I have to stop listening to music for a while. Things are too raw, too emotional, and too close to the surface, and music is like a flame to that angsty gasoline. Podcasts are my music alternative. Although even podcasts can get touchy – sometimes I have to take a WTF break if Maron and his guests are getting too bro-y, touching various nerves. Sometimes I have to take a break from Sharon Salzberg and Jack Kornfield if I’m feeling full up of Buddhist instruction, like I KNOW, GUYS, I KNOW, LETTING GO, I GET IT. Sometimes I have to take a break from Guys We Fucked if I’m not getting any and feeling super annoyed about it. My Brother, My Brother and Me is pretty perennially safe – chilled out comedy stylings of adorable brothers – it’s all good.

Sometimes though, there’s a sick satisfaction in being brutalized by music, in listening to the same song over and over and over, crying or just really feeling those deep down flat out precious feelings. Here’s brutalized by music in three songs:

November Rain – Guns ‘n Roses

Picture the scene: School dance, 1992. The opening strains to November Rain. The boy I have a crush on walks my way. I adjust my glasses and ponytail. He asks me to dance. I hold my breath. We sway around a bit, barely touching. Now, are you familiar with November Rain? Well, it’s a long song. And there’s a part about three quarters in where it sounds like the song is ending. This part comes, and I break away from my partner, thanking him and walking away. BUT, the song ending is a fake-out. It keeps going! Oh, the embarrassment. He disappeared quickly and I stood there sort of swaying around by myself.


June 4th, 1994. I wish I could say this was the only occasion on which I copied the lyrics of November Rain into my diary.

I had a crush on this boy for years – YEARS –  in a crazy, stubborn, dogged way (see also: claw marks) despite the fact that he appeared to have no interest in me whatsoever. I was very determined. A lot of songs symbolized our pretend relationship over the years, but November Rain was the first.

Modern Love – David Bowie

The novel that I’ve been working on forever opens with the below scene. I’ve been working on said novel for so long that I think of this scene whenever I hear Modern Love and I get confused and think I am remembering something that happened to me. It may as well have.

Brighton. I’m sitting near the rotten old pier, out of ideas. I light a smoke, my limbs feeling like lead as I lift the little purple lighter and purse my lips around the cigarette, squinting at the sun. It’s windy, and there aren’t many people at the beach. I’m sheltered by the seawall, but it still takes a few tries to light the cigarette. Everything is blank. I inhale and look over to three girls huddled together a few feet away. They’re a blur of thick stripes, black eyeliner, worn-out sneakers, and day-glo brights, looking fourteen and precious. They’re fiddling with some sort of speakers that are emitting reams of static. I expect some sort of angsty skinny boy rock to blare out, but when the static ceases, David Bowie’s ‘Modern Love’ blasts forth. The girls snap their gum. I am staring and I feel something like camaraderie, something almost maternal.

I know when to go out

And when to stay in

Get things done

I catch a paper boy

But things don’t really change

I’m standing in the wind

But I never wave bye-bye

But I try

I try

My lips are dry and cracked and the pain in my temple threatens to make me laugh, for a second with the ridiculous conclusion of it all, of where I’ve ended up.

I wait. I grind my cigarette into the sand and light a second smoke, my hands shaking all over the place and my heart jumping all over my throat. I don’t know what to do, but I know I need more to drink in order to facilitate anything at all.


Silver Springs – Fleetwood Mac

Go watch the video of Fleetwood Mac doing Silver Springs as part of The Dance reunion. Trust me. One late hot night in June I watched said video while sitting on the balcony (those were the heady days in which I still had a balcony). I had – wait for it – AN EPIPHANY. I dedicated myself at once to Better Living Through Fleetwood Mac.

In a nutshell: I am a sucker for a romantic, dramatic, fiery grand narrative. In that Silver Springs video, Stevie Nicks is such a bona fide badass that she is singing “you’ll never get away from the sound of the woman that loves you” while making intense eye contact with her ex, Lindsey Buckingham, and he’s got this haunted look like he knows it’s true. I’ve constructed big fiery passionate narratives with various people at various times over various years. But what if the fire, the bit I was kind of in love with was in me the whole time and not tied to any particular person after all? What if I don’t have to worry about getting older because that gritty passion will always be there in me no matter how old I am and I’ll be like Stevie and the various Lindseys of my life will be like, uh, Lindsey? I think it was an epiphany rather than a psychotic break.


June 26, 2015. I like how I labeled this section ‘important’. Handy.

There are, of course, so many more songs to write about. In time. Tonight I’m rocking some Violent Femmes. Highly recommend.

Retreat farm

on meditating for new year’s eve

(after we broke silence and were getting ready to leave retreat, I took exactly three photos. That unremarkable trees shot above was the best one.)

The setup: The New Year’s Eve Vipassana Meditation Retreat. Dec 27 – Jan 1. No speaking, no internet, no phone, no reading, no writing.

A bunch of rough stuff happened this year, and my brain exploded. Shortly after I turned 36 I decided, out of desperation really, to give meditation a concerted effort. I found it useful to some extent despite my scepticism, and decided to go on the retreat as a two birds one stone sort of manoeuvre: I would learn more about meditation and I would have plans for New Years that wouldn’t make me want to kill myself. The two things that I was the most worried about going on retreat were that I would have successive panic attacks, and that I would cry every day.

Check, and check. And yet, it was the best possible gift I could have given myself at this time.


Arrival – Day 1

I arrive for registration at the farm. I am given details of my accommodation (yurt) and yogi job (after dinner pots and pans). I am shown around. Sally shows me the station where we can make tea. “I guess there’s no coffee, hey?” I say, trying to sound casual. No, there isn’t. Perhaps sensing my panic, Sally points me to the green tea containing the most caffeine.

I get lost twice trying to find my way back to my yurt. This becomes a focus of anxiety for me – terrible sense of direction combined with bad night vision means that I am constantly afraid of getting lost in what is in reality a very small space. I mention this to my yurt-mate Cassie before we go into silence and she waits around to walk back with me the first few times and later always ensures I have one of her flashlights with me. We are fast friends in silence.

Anxiety arises quickly- there is absolutely nothing to distract me. This is of course the way retreats are designed – with no external stimulation and nothing in particular to do/plan/worry about, we are able to go deeper into the mind and the mind’s workings. We don’t even have to pay attention to the time – yogis volunteer for bell ringing shifts and each time we are to be at a meditation session the bells are rung fifteen minutes in advance. This is also the way we are woken up at 6am. Beyond even my intense anxiety about getting lost, I am convinced I made the wrong decision by coming, and start planning to leave early. There is absolutely no way I can do this. Sitting with my ‘stuff’ seems like a horrible idea, now. There’s so much of it. It’s so unpleasant. What was I thinking?


Day 2

I would commit homicide for a cup of coffee. I am both foggy and anxious.

At today’s Dharma Talk, Sarah, the teacher, goes through the process of feeling, and being with your emotions rather than fighting them or trying to distract yourself from them. She lays out the idea of noticing an emotion, letting it be without judgment or add-on thoughts, and just sitting with it gently.

The big ol’ obvious emotion that comes up time and time again for me in these first few days and throughout the retreat is grief. Plain old insides-tearing grief. This is the grief of my marriage ending, of losing my partner, my friend, and the person I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with. It comes in different forms. Often it arises during meditation. One day after lunch I am sitting on the couch and a memory of how happy my wedding day was arises, followed by the acute pain of plans and hopes and love lost. I sit with it a lot. I cry about it a lot. It is a clean, straightforward, uncomplicated emotion. I also have chest crushing, complicated anxiety regarding a Situationship (see Urban Dictionary). This anxiety arises regularly throughout the retreat as well, and it is more difficult to penetrate – it is a tangle of confusion and mixed messages and hurt and it is harder to be with this emotion not knowing exactly what it is all about.

I try to craft a message in my head about why I need to leave. I’m just not ready for this. I’m not in a good enough place right now, and I am not strong enough. I need reassurance from my people because I am unable to reassure myself. I decide leaving will be the responsible thing to do on mental health grounds. I decide to stick it out for one more night so that I can explain my decision to Sarah in person at our meeting in the morning.

In the midst of one of these ‘I’ve got to get out of here’ panics, I listen very carefully to what I’m actually telling myself about why I can’t do this. I realize that I have persistent negative self-talk. The dominant messages running on a loop are:

You’re crazy and will always be unhappy.

No one will ever be in love with you ever again.

You’re not strong enough for this or for anything life throws at you.


Day 3

After breakfast I innocently peruse the green tea box while waiting for my tea to steep. “Only has the caffeine of ¼ cup of coffee!” the box boasts. After that I switch to black tea. At one point I spy a women with multiple green tea bags hanging out of her mug.

10:30 – Meeting with Sarah. I tell her about the negative self-talk and the panic. She says it’s huge that I am able to identify that I’m doing this. She advises not ignoring it or fighting it, but treating it kindly. It is my subconscious trying to help me. Fight or flight is about survival after all. I should gently tell myself that I’m going to try another way, and that it’s safe here.

This part about not fighting it really resonates. When I’m in the midst of the panic/negative self-talk loop, these statements are the gospel truth, scientific facts. So, arguing with them never worked. She also advises me to really focus in on the Metta (loving kindness) part of the meditation practice. She recommends coming up with Metta phrases in patterns of four or five pairings. For my Metta, I use: I am happy and light, loving and loved, connected and passionate, honest and strong. I practice this all day, really considering each word and what it means. I have never even considered applying empathy to myself.

My sleep is solid. I hit the yurt as soon as meditation is done for the day at 9:30 and am always asleep within the half hour, almost always sleeping completely through the night. It’s a far cry from my recent pattern of falling asleep around 2am, waking up multiple times during the night because my phone is going off or there’s a loud murder happening on the stream of Dexter I’ve fallen asleep to, and then either getting up groggy or sleeping through my alarm and panic waking later in the morning.

Day 4

My mind feels very quiet today. I am getting better at positive self-talk. I continue using my Metta mantra. I feel proud of myself and grateful to myself for coming on retreat. Sarah asks us to consider our virtues. I am caring. I am thoughtful. I am reliable. I am loyal to the extreme (I think the kids these days say ‘ride or die’. I am ride or die.). I am THERE FOR YOU, man. And I love easily. I love my dear ones so hard and I love my acquaintances and I love strangers.

After a seated meditation session, I sit at the noticeboard writing Sarah a garbled question about sitting with your emotions and letting them be without letting them overwhelm you. She sees me puzzling over the small piece of paper. “Is that for me?” she asks. I abandon the note and we have a short whispered chat instead. I try to explain my question. “What it basically comes down to is that I cry on the bus a lot, and ideally I would like to, you know, not do that.” Sarah advises trying to stay present with the body and the breath as well as the emotion when feeling a strong emotion. I try this over the next few days, but I still cry a lot when the old emotions get big. Maybe I will just be that person who cries on the bus sometimes. I’m sure people cry in their cars. I decide it’s like crying in your car but more social.

The afternoon’s Metta session is focused on gratitude. This is easy. This year in particular my friends and family have hugged me, listened to me cry, listened to me panic, laughed with me, eaten with me, drank tea and coffee with me, lent me their couches and spare rooms to sleep on and in, and their muscles to help me pack and move. They have helped me arrange the complicated logistics of my living situation and my work/school situation. They have been there for me, which I am sure has not always been easy. And I have needed them.

Day 5 – New Year’s Eve

We’ve been focusing, this morning, on noticing ourselves, observing the mind. We are to particularly notice when we engage in aversion or grasping. I go for a walk. It’s very cold in the shade. Aversion. It’s lovely in the sun. Beautiful. Looking at the farm covered in frost, I wish I could take a photo. Then I think about how I would describe it in writing. Then I think about when I can come back. Hey, there’s that grasping, that taking of a beautiful moment and wanting to cling on to it for dear life. Oh yeah, I do this. I think of that David Foster Wallace quote I love: “Everything I’ve ever let go of has claw marks on it.”

We have a small group meeting with Sarah. I mention the grasping. “So, how do I stop doing this?” The answer is that I don’t do anything. I notice that I do it. The more I notice it, the more my system will realize it doesn’t feel nice to engage in grasping and aversion, and my system will adjust. I don’t have to do anything but notice it. This is a relief, and I think I am starting to understand how this whole Buddhism thing goes.

In the afternoon guided session, we are asked to consider three ways of being that we would like in the new year. We practice breathing these states in, feeling them in our bodies, and sharing them with others. I pick serenity, warrior (which I’m defining as just generally being a badass), and joy. When I do this visualization, I find that each way of being has a colour. Serenity is magenta. Warrior is a bright white light. Joy is orange. I think I’m a hippie now.

Because it is New Year’s Eve, our schedule extends to midnight tonight, for those who wish to take part. Everyone does. We gather in the barn and lounge around together on the couches, on cushions, on the floor by the fire, drinking tea, and, at Sarah’s request, contemplating the year that was. I don’t relish this task. She asks us to consider what we want to let go of and what we want to usher in in 2016. While writing up my year, I find myself vigorously shaking my head no a couple of times, kind of in awe at all the shitty stuff that went on in the space of 365 days. It was a clanger of a year.

At around 10:30, one by one we take our pieces of paper up to the fire and are invited to speak a few words about what we are letting go of and what we are ushering in. Some people speak, some silently place their paper in the flames. When I take my turn I simply say that I am letting go of all the grief and pain and loss of 2015 and that I am welcoming in anything else! The letting go feels so real and freeing, and it’s like the rush of emotion that comes with making a big change.

Okay, I am definitely a hippie now. I earnestly took part in a fire ritual, and now I find myself (while wearing a toque and fleece and plaid) taking part in a Leonard Cohen sing along, led by one of the yogis. I imagine telling myself a year ago that I would be ringing in 2016 at a Buddhist retreat and it is absolutely flat out hilarious.

After the fire ritual we retreat to the meditation hall for the duration of the evening. We do some meditation and a ritual involving the lighting of candles and the tying of red string around our wrists, and we come into midnight singing a Buddhist chant. It is perfectly beautiful. I go to sleep grateful and happy.

Departure – Day 6

In the 6:30 meditation I feel lighter, shed of the previous year. All my grief is not that heavy anymore. Morning Has Broken gets stuck in my head.

At breakfast, we are allowed to come out of silence. However, people are tentative, and the barn is largely still silent as people eat. I think about initiating a social interaction, but I feel like I’ve lost the skill. It is only when I return to my yurt to find Cassie packing up that I have a conversation. The first thing Cassie says is “How are we ever going to explain this to anyone?” We laugh hysterically for a good couple of minutes.

Sarah gives us tips on reorienting back to life in the real world. Don’t proselytize about your experience. Don’t expect to feel exactly as you do now on retreat because it’s not sustainable under regular conditions (she likens everyday meditation practice to doing the dishes and going on retreat to spring cleaning). However, do ensure that the lessons of retreat carry you forward by practicing daily, reading and listening to the teachings, and finding community (sangha).

I feel nervous heading back to Real Life, nervous that I will start to feel panicked and unhappy again. And I am sure I will feel that way again at times. And that’s okay. I do know that I have found a path that I think is good for me right now, and I have had some important insights. I have also survived a five day silent retreat staring all of my stuff in the face when I’m feeling broken and depleted and hopeless, and that bravery has filled me up again. I leave feeling like a hopeful badass. And that, let me tell you, is a solid feeling.