Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Fighting the Creative Muse

Rainy Day at the Beach
Since retiring in June, I have been having a fun, engaged life, and I love it. Although I have been careful to not agree to many regularly scheduled obligations this first year so as to avoid replicating my previous over-scheduled work life, I have been pretty active.

For example, in the last couple of weeks, I have done the following: completed second language lessons in German or French daily, attended yoga twice a week, gone skiing twice, made a weekend trip to Vancouver to attend the Canadian national figure skating competition and visit friends, volunteered for a local service group, made arrangements to join a group of local artists, made plans to join a local social club, gone for hikes and walks, babysat my grandsons, gone out for a dinner and a coffee date, and completed two small academic writing projects.

As well, Rob and I went for a beach walk on a rainy day, and I tried some new photography techniques.
Patterns in the Sand

This is still a very relaxed pace compared to what I am used to. Most nights, I get nine hours of sleep. Most mornings, I sit around drinking coffee, doing my language lessons, and reading for a couple of hours before I even get out of my pajamas.

But what I have not been doing is progressing on my creative writing and art projects. The last few days, I have felt restless. I have woken up grumpy, having had upsetting dreams about frustration and loss.

"Uh-oh!" I am thinking. "Maybe the honeymoon period of retirement is coming to an end. Maybe I am now going into the part of the retirement transition when I will feel at a crossroads, not knowing what my purpose is."

Karen Hume has written about the retirement transition as being a difficult time: "Your transition to retirement is supposed to hurt. If you are doing it right, there will be a lengthy period of chaos and loss occurring sometime in the first few years of retirement."

So I was thrilled to read Kathy Gottberg's most recent post, "Why wait Until Retirement to Live A Rewarding, Meaningful, and Purposeful Life?" As I have written before, I have had trouble defining my purpose. In her post, Kathy writes about the concept of dharma, and specifically Stephen Cope's perspective of it as explained in his book, The Great Work of Your LifeA Guide for the Journey to Your True Calling.

Dharma, as described by Kathy, immediately fired my imagination. It seems to be a more roomy, holistic notion than "purpose." One's dharma is what you are called to in life -- acting from your sacred duty or your true self.

I used Kathy's list of questions to guide me as I journalled about my dharma. From this process, although I still cannot put into words a single calling, I realized that I have a cluster of themes or foci in my life, or a kind of interwoven tapestry of pursuits, that all point to my dharma. Since my earliest childhood and throughout my life, creative art and writing have been persistent elements in my thematic tapestry.

I had a whole day with nothing scheduled. I didn't even have to cook. I decided that it would be my day for going into my studio and painting.  

After journalling about my dharma, there was still most of the day left. So I did a deep clean of the ensuite bathroom. I even scrubbed every centimeter of the shower tiles down on my knees with a scrub brush.

That went so well that I decided to assemble the shoe rack that I purchased two weeks ago. I set it up and filled it with shoes that had been stuffed in bags since the move.

Then I moved on to the last remaining moving box tucked away in a corner of the bedroom. I unpacked it, found homes for everything, and neatly smoothed out and rolled up the packing paper for reuse.

By now it was mid afternoon. I had not even entered my studio. I was hungry, so I made myself some lunch. While eating lunch, I re-read the chapter of Brene Brown's book Braving the Wilderness, in which she talks about writing yourself a permission slip.

Why was I avoiding painting? I love painting, and feel happy and fulfilled when I do it. I have set up a nice painting studio right in my house. Why couldn't I make myself paint?

I couldn't use my old excuse of not having enough time.

And, by the way, why have I been avoiding working on my novel? I had to put it aside in December for a bit because everything related to Christmas made things really busy. But now January's almost over. Why am I not working on it again?

This is always my battle with creative pursuits. Once I start, I am fine. But I fight the muse and find all kinds of reasons and distractions to not get started in the first place. I have often used external structures to trick myself into starting -- things like NaNoWriMo, signing up for weekly classes, or promising to submit something on a certain date thus creating a deadline.

Composition and Colour
Brown says there are two steps: 1. give yourself permission, and 2. get on the bus (do it). I wrote the two steps on a post-it.

In the late afternoon, I went downstairs, not to my studio but to my office. I put the post-it beside the computer. Then I turned it on and began to work on my novel.

Hello old friend! I am so happy to be writing again.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

No Sense of Humour

“She has no sense of humour.” Have you ever heard someone say that? Or, if you are a woman, you might have had a remark like that directed at you: “Where’s your sense of humour?”
If anyone has ever said that to you, I will bet that a vivid memory of the type of situation that elicited it has sprung into your mind, along with some unpleasant emotions.
It turns out that I have no sense of humour. Here is a story of an experience that reminded me of that fact.
Recently, I was at a meeting of a community organization. I am thrilled to be getting to know my new community, and have been reaching out and meeting people through a number of different venues. Although I am new to these different groups because we have just moved to the area, I have found people to be pleasant and welcoming. It has been interesting and fun making new acquaintances and participating in local activities that in the past I simply did not have time for.
The group of people at this particular meeting included people from diverse work backgrounds. Usually the participation is about one third female and two thirds male, with about half being retired people and the rest still working. However, on this occasion, it happened that I was the only woman present.
As everyone bustled about getting ready to start the meeting, I noticed 'Frank' approaching others in the room and showing them a piece of paper. I wondered whether it might be a recent bit of correspondence, or maybe a community announcement of some sort. Soon enough, Frank came around to my side of the room and showed the piece of paper to the person beside me. Curious, I glanced sideways to see what the notice was about. Frank adjusted the angle of the paper so it was easy for both of us to see.
It was a crude joke about women’s boobs. Frank was grinning, looking for a reaction.
I was stunned. In this time of heightened awareness of sexual harassment and sexual violence, and with all the recent media coverage of entertainment and film industry “big names” being called out for sexual assault, how could anyone think that it was okay to pass around dirty jokes about women’s bodies?
This is not a new situation for me, of course. Being a woman who came of age in the 1960’s and 70’s, I remember that this kind of male behaviour in groups was more the norm than the exception in the past. As I often found myself in mostly male groups (because I was a skier and an active outdoors person, and because I climbed the education and career ladders to a level where women were rare), I learned to grin and bear it much of the time. I didn’t want to be tagged as a troublemaker, a prude, or someone with no sense of humour. I wanted to fit in.
I am also a lifelong feminist. Over time, I developed more confidence and began to speak out about sexist and male bullying behaviour. In one of my career positions, I initiated a sexual violence awareness campaign and led the development of a sexual violence policy in our workplace.
So how did I respond to Frank’s ‘joke’?
I would like to report that I spoke out and said, “Frank, jokes like this make me feel uncomfortable. They are not appropriate at our meetings.” I would like to say that the others in the room (all men) spoke up and supported me. But that is not what happened.
I looked at the piece of paper and said nothing.
Old habits kicked in. There was a tone of suppressed hilarity in the room that evening, and to me the dynamics felt very uncomfortable. I felt voiceless, and like the butt of the joke.
I was really angry, just boiling. I was angry at myself for not speaking out. I was angry about all of the men in the room who said nothing and let Frank get away with this behaviour. And I was angry with all the Franks of the world who feel they have the right to use sexism to put down, humiliate, and exclude others.
I tried to understand why I and the others present had behaved the way we did.
In rationalizing my own behaviour, I can say that I was a new person in this group, the only woman, and possibly the youngest, and therefore in a position of low social influence. I have been socialized throughout my life to know ‘a woman’s place,’ even though I also have fought against sexism throughout my life. As far as sexist jokes go, this particular one was quite mild, even kind of cute. I didn’t want to be seen as making a big deal about something that is trivial compared to the horror of sexual assault that so many women experience. In an uncomfortable social situation, it is easier to remain silent. I didn’t want to embarrass Frank (!!).
As far as the behaviour of the rest of the people in the room went, I wondered why none of the men had the courage to say something. Several of them are professionals for whom this sort of thing certainly would not be tolerated in their workplaces, so they must have known that it was was not appropriate. The chair of the meeting has the designated authority to manage the conduct of people at the meeting, but he said nothing. I speculated that perhaps this kind of sexist joke sharing has been the norm in this group, and if that is the case, perhaps also racist jokes. If so, why would I want to be part of such a group? 
Frank is elderly and is the most long-standing member of the group. Perhaps the other men were afraid to challenge Frank because of his senior status. And then I felt mad at myself all over again for expecting the male members to speak up when I didn't have the courage to do so.
And what about Frank? Is he really so out of touch that he innocently thought the joke was funny and just wanted to share it with us? Perhaps, steeped in a lifetime of white male privilege, he actually believes that women have no place attending such meetings, and that women in their role as wives should simply serve as adjuncts and supports to male-run groups. Perhaps this was his passive-aggressive way of putting me (and all women) in our place.
Days later, I still feel angry about it. I am still trying to decide what to do about it, because being silenced is not an acceptable option. 

It's just a little thing, but if I and the other members of this group lack the courage to deal with the little things, how are we ever going to make progress on the big things like sexual assault, rape culture, the glass ceiling, and the fact that women in Canada today who are working full time only earn 74.2% of what full-time working men earn? I am filled with admiration for women and men who have spoken out as part of the #MeToo movement.
But, too bad that I have no sense of humour.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

A Grandma Day

On Sunday, I got to be Grandma all day long. My two little grandsons came over to our house for the day while their parents went skiing.

Although I have babysat them a number of times at their house since moving here, and although they have been to our house many times with their parents, this is the first time that I have had them here all day. Their mom said that they were excited and eager to come stay at Grandma's house. 

We're Here!
Look at This, Grandma!

We started the morning right. Grandpa made his signature pancakes (yup, Aunt Jemima). Both little boys ate many, many pancakes.

Mmm, Pancakes
It was a windy, stormy day, so we stayed indoors rather than venturing out. The weather was a bonus on the ski hill -- lots of fresh powder for my daughter and son in law!

We coloured and drew pictures (art for my fridge), read stories, played with LEGO and Grandma's toy stash, and played with stickers. The younger grandson was very pleased that he had his own little bed to sleep in when nap time came (a fold-out cot that I set up in the spare bedroom).

Colouring and Drawing
Another big hit of the day was baking cookies. Actually, licking the beater and spoon at the end of the cookie-making was the part that the boys enjoyed the most. They also really liked eating the chocolate chip cookies, after they cooled off. A tin of cookies went home with them at the end of the day to share with Mommy and Daddy.

Licking the Bowl
 Their uncle spent lots of time in the afternoon playing with them. They adore their uncle!

Having Fun With Their Uncle
Everyone had a terrific day -- Mommy and Daddy at the ski hill, the two boys at Grandma's house, and Grandma, Grandpa, and Uncle. Even our dog, Kate, was totally delighted to spend the day with my grandsons.

The previous weekend, I went with my grandsons and their parents to the Tube Park at the ski hill. It was fun, and the boys loved it.

Ready to Go
On the Magic Carpet

Yesterday, Rob, my son and I had our own ski day. We couldn't have timed it better. We had sunshine and fresh snow.
Happy Skiers
Retirement is awesome! I can't even remember why I was so worried about it.