Communing with Trees

IMG_1871Have you ever sat on a park bench in the middle of a circle of trees, inhaled their scent, enjoyed their shade, gazed up through their branches… and felt loved?

That’s what happened to me just now, out on a walk in Ballard, where I’m housesitting for two weeks. I had found a little green rectangle on my map and made for that. It turned out to be Salmon Bay Park, one square block of rolling hills and meandering paths, picnic area and playground on the east side, trees and benches on the west. I picked a bench and sat.

I watched people pushing baby carriages. I listened to muted playground sounds. But most of all, I loved the trees. It was a hot day, and their spicy scent was in every breath. I took in their shape, their movement, their colour, and, all of a sudden, I felt them loving me back.

I don’t mean literally. At least, I don’t think I do. They’re not Ents, after all. But they were shading me, cooling me, making oxygen for me to breathe, filling my world with beauty. I felt their grand stillness, their solid rootedness, their openness to wind, to rain, to drought, to whatever came.

There’s wisdom in all of that. And somehow there’s kindness too. And IMG_1869love. I know. I know. I’m giving my imagination too much free rein. But I also know that few things are more healing than communing with trees.

Do you take good breaks?

IMG_1868I’m on a sort of a writing retreat right now: two weeks of dog sitting for my sister- and brother-in-law in their apartment right in the heart of Ballard—a neighbourhood in the northwestern part of Seattle. Within hours of arriving here, I found myself gazing at a window display of adult colouring books in the lovely independent bookstore down the street. Gazing is the wrong word, actually.

Yearning.

The next day, I was brave and attended a free African drumming class. And I mean very brave. I almost turned tail, but a woman was coming in behind me, and she drew me into her wake. Drumming was scary and hard and fun and powerful and I went back yesterday and found it scary and hard and fun and powerful all over again. (And I burst a blood vessel in my hand and the teacher gave me blue tape to put over it so I could go right on drumming.)

Anyway, after class that first Saturday, I stopped in at the bookstore (Secret Garden Books) and bought myself a colouring book. I texted my artist sister-in-law far away in Iceland to see if she had any coloured pencils. Turns out she had a big shiny new box of 128 colours in the bottom of a drawer. So now I have a colouring station: Good lighting. 128 colours. Electric pencil sharpener. I got the idea for a station from Barbara Sher’s Refuse to Choose! Use All of Your Interests, Passions, and Hobbies to Create the Life and Career of Your Dreams. A station means that I can colour for five minutes. I can even colour for one minute and get a break from my brain. I don’t have to get out the coloured pencils each time, clear a space.

I enjoy just seeing the pencils and the book waiting for me. The colouring gives me a true break, a chance to do something completely unrelated to my work, a chance to play with colour combinations, to create something that I enjoy, and something to do instead of turning to Facebook, where I tend to go when I want a short break, but Facebook breaks are always longer than I mean them to be, and I don’t come away as refreshed.

I’m thinking about what other stations I could set up for myself once I’m home. A drumming station would be pretty amazing, but I don’t have a drum. Yet… How about a dancing station? All I need for that is the floor space in my office. And I do love to dance.

What do you love to do?

What provides you with the most refreshing breaks from your work?

Writing Coach and Mentor: a Mini Launch

Certified Martha Beck Life CoachI’ve been quietly working as a life coach for a while now, letting my practice grow slowly, alongside my teaching and writing careers. And I’m glad of that slow pace, because along the way I’ve discovered a kind of coaching that draws on all my strengths and fills me with energy and excitement.

In a dual role, as coach and mentor, I’m working with people who want to write about their lives. Many people have important stories to tell and need a book to support them in their work. I coach and mentor people who want to write about their lives in order to make a difference in the world.

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At the launch of my latest book

Life coaches and public speakers in particular often build their work around their own stories. They coach people who are going through what they’ve been through; they speak to groups with needs like their own. Many speakers and coaches would like to have a book to support their work: a memoir of sorts, their message embedded in their own story.

Along with all their other amazing skills, some coaches and speakers have the skills and perseverance to write that book. Others would like help with structure, with shaping their stories; they would like someone to hold them accountable all the way through to publication.

Mentorship from someone like me can be just what it takes to turn an idea or a dream into something real.

Some people, even though they’ve been coaching and speaking around their issues for years, still have blind spots and tender places that need to be explored if their story is to do all it can.

That’s where coaching comes in. As we explore those blind spots and those memories that still hold a lot of pain, three things happen. Healing takes place, the writing grows stronger, and the work deepens.

I’ve updated my website to reflect this new focus, and now, with this post, I’m beginning to spread the word. Just a little bit.

The Miracle of the Body

A friend of mine told me the other day that when we were in our twenties, I told her that I live only above my neck. I don’t remember saying that. And I don’t really remember feeling that way. I was a bit hurt, actually, that she remembers that about me, because it means that she believed me, that that comment rang true enough for her to remember it for thirty years.

Hurt or not, I have to admit that I still do a lot of my living in my head, and the moments when I come into my body, when I’m here in all my physicality, can be profound. So many things are better in the body. Walking. Stretching. Watching. Hearing. Smelling. Tasting. Sex. And the realness, the flesh, the bones, the blood, the way we are put together… Coming into the body, into presence, coming into the here, the now, is, I believe, essential if we are to live fully, because we can only experience life in the present moment through our bodies.

I recently heard part of a documentary on CBC radio about a woman named Mary-Jo Fetterly, who was a yoga teacher when an accident left her a quadriplegic. Now, some years later, she has a lot of mobility back and she teaches yoga from her wheelchair. In the documentary, titled “If You Can Breathe,” Fetterly talks about the importance of the breath and leads a class through breathing in inspiration and breathing out release.

I have recently been yearning for yoga, and the few minutes of the documentary I caught as I drove from Van Dusen Gardens to Safeway convinced me that I’m on the right track. I remember getting frustrated with the emphasis on breath when I took Hatha yoga years ago. It seemed so irrelevant. I just wanted to do the poses and be done with it. I remember seething with fury. Later, I took restorative Iyengar yoga and each time when we got into our initial pose on the ground with a bolster down the centre of our backs and extra support under our heads, my body would open up and tears would trickle down the sides of my face.

Now, it strikes me that during Hatha yoga, I was staying in my head. During Iyengar yoga, the opening up of my chest drew breath into my body and pulled me out of my head. And the tears came.

It’s been a couple of years since I attended those Iyengar classes. A friend asked me the other day if I would like to sign up for one with her in the fall. I do believe I will.

Grand Mamas

I was honoured last week to be asked to read at Grand Mamas: Artists and Activists Talk About Their Grandmothers, Mothers, Daughters and Chosen Family, an event raising money for W.O.W., Warriors Organizing Women, the group at Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre who organizes the Women’s Memorial March, which will happen for the 25th time today. The Heartwood Café was packed; in fact many were turned away. The space was bright and bustling, with staff bringing bowls of tofu, greens and rice—at least that’s what it looked like. Yummy!—to audience members where they sat.

When the time came, I was invited to open the event. I read selections from my sister’s journals, lines never shared in public before, all of them written in the year before she disappeared. Here’s one:

People need people to live, and if you build a wall that is so goddamn high that nobody can contact you, you might as well be in jail.
       I find that I get so scared and nervous that I push people who care about me away. I try to get them upset with me or start false accusations to make them hate me. I can’t let anybody in. I try to be so tough and strong, but inside I just fall apart and cry like a little baby.
       My heart aches for my mother to come and hold me to her bosom and rock me back and forth soothing the hurt and rejection, making my self-pity fade like the morning that turns to night. I wrap my scarred arms around my thin body.
                                                                                                           Sarah de Vries, 1997

After reading, I settled in to listen to everyone else. I’m sad to say I was not familiar with any of the other presenters except for host, Amber Dawn. Clearly, I don’t get out much! Every single reading was brilliant. Some made me weep. Others made my face sore from laughing, while I squirmed with delighted horror. I’ve included a list of the presenters below.

Toward the end of the evening, Amber invited Fay Blaney to the stage. I had not met Fay officially before. She is part of W.O.W., in her fifties just like me, and a tireless activist for Aboriginal women. She and I spoke to one another briefly at the event, and the next day I read some of her writing online. She is eloquent on the subject of rampant violence against Aboriginal women and girls, the Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women in Canada, and the need for Aboriginal women themselves to be heard.

It was an important evening. Thank you, Amber and Jen!

Other performers: Jillian Christmas , Ashley Aron, Anna Soole, Ben Keane-O’Hara, mia susan amir, Jessica Giang, and Jen Sung, the co-host.

 

 

Let’s Write to Our Premiers About Bill C36

988854_712893492063982_1056431637_nBill C-36 received Royal Assent on Thursday and is set to become law in a few weeks. People have been asking me what they can do, and I have been seeking answers to that questions. Now, I have one: The Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform is passing along the recommendation that we write to our premiers, asking our provincial governments to think carefully about constitutionality before enforcing the new laws. I have pasted a template below that you could use for this purpose. If you would like to discuss the issues or if you need any assistance at all, please get in touch!

In British Columbia, you would write to

Email Address
premier@gov.bc.ca

Mailing Address
The Honourable Christy Clark
Premier of British Columbia
Box 9041
Station PROV GOVT
Victoria, BC
Canada
V8W 9E1

Dear Premier ________:

I am writing to ask you to refer Bill C-36, Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, the new anti-prostitution laws which is in response to the Bedford decision, to the ___________ (highest court in that province) to determine if they are constitutional. Please do this before pursuing prosecutions under these laws, or directing police to enforce these laws.

Many experts and sex workers have testified that these laws are dangerous for sex workers, and will recreate the harms that previously existed under the old laws. The current Conservative Government has passed these laws despite the objections of those who will be most affected, including the most marginalized and vulnerable, outdoor sex workers.

I am not a sex worker myself, but I believe that sex workers have the same rights as other Canadian citizens, and I believe in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Specifically, I believe that sex workers have the right to life, liberty and security of person. These laws do not respect the constitutional rights of sex workers, and should not be enforced before the courts have evaluated them.

Please refer these laws immediately to the courts, before more harm comes to the sex workers who will be most affected by these laws.

Sincerely,

 

 

New Zealand Gets Sex Work Right

Last night, I attended an event at the Rickshaw Theatre on Hastings just east of Main. The speaker was Catherine Healy, sex workers’ rights activist and national coordinator and a founding member of the New Zealand Prostitutes’ Collective, and a former sex worker herself. Here is a small part of what I learned from Catherine.

Eleven years ago, on the other side of the world, a small green country—the one that got to play Middle Earth in the movie—took the sensible step of decriminalizing sex work. In reaching that goal, women’s groups of all stripes—including the YWCA, business and professional associations and the Moari Women’s Welfare League—gathered together to support the striking down of all criminal laws concerning prostitution.

Here’s what happened.

  • The number of sex workers did not grow.
  • The number of brothels did not grow.
  • Youth did not enter sex work in greater numbers.
  • Trafficking disappeared.
  • Sex workers began to expect—and get—better working conditions.
  • Sex workers found themselves able to refuse service (to say no), knowing they had the support of the society they lived in.
  • Clients began to come forward when they suspected a sex worker was being coerced or if they witnessed some other wrongdoing.
  • The law began to respond to sex workers as workers, and became available to sex workers as a resource.

In Canada, we are poised to do precisely the opposite: with Bill C36, we will criminalize sex workers’ clients, forcing sex workers to work where they will not be seen; we will criminalize newspapers, websites etc. that advertise sex work, making it difficult for sex workers to work indoors, because they won’t be able to communicate with their clients; and we will criminalize those who “receive a material benefit” from sex work, making it illegal to work for a sex worker in most capacities, including as hired security.

These are dangerous, backward steps that I believe are not supported by the majority of Canadians. Let’s learn from our own experience and from New Zealand’s success and choose a different path.

 

Organized Crime is Going to Love Bill C36! Conversations with Sex Workers: # 2

“I speak here today as a family member of a murdered sex worker, a family member who supports full decriminalization of sex work in Canada,” I said.

I’ve seen the recording and my voice rings out strong.

Such were my opening remarks, as I prepared to read to a full house at Vancouver’s Gallery Gachet, to start the second event in this summer’s “Community Conversations with Sex Workers” series.

Reading from Missing Sarah

Reading from Missing Sarah

I read from my new novel, Rabbit Ears, and from my memoir, Missing Sarah, concentrating through those readings on the line between sexual exploitation and sex work and acknowledging that street-level sex workers like my sister do experience violence in their work. I was making the point that neither the existence of exploitation nor the fact of violence are reasons to try to legislate sex work out of existence.

“Sarah had the right to sell sex whether she loved it or she hated it,” I read later, and paused to tell the audience that that was likely the most difficult sentence I ever wrote.  Difficult because for years I felt that it was my responsibility to save my sister; difficult because I can’t bear to think of what she went through; difficult because she wrote about how hard it was; difficult because I recently learned that throughout her childhood Sarah was sexually abused by a neighbour.

Difficult or not, I think the statement is true.

Violence is illegal.
Coercion is illegal.
Sexual exploitation of minors is illegal.

Let’s concentrate on being available as a society to protect sex workers from these crimes just as we do our best to protect everyone else. By criminalizing sex work itself, we drive sex workers straight into the arms of organized crime, where violence, coercion and exploitation are commonplace, far from the protections that most of us take for granted. This is the point that Antoinette Rae drove home at last Friday’s event, and from which I drew the title of this piece. She and others said that the government doesn’t care. Well, I care, and I believe Canada should care too.

Some years ago, I came upon a person involved in sex work, who was in tears because some members of an organized crime faction had been arrested that day. I was baffled until it dawned on me that members of this group were her protectors. She could not safely access the same protectors I do: police and the justice system. So, she turned to those who were all too happy to protect her. A threat to them was a threat to her.

Let’s change that.

After my reading, two women formed the panel for the conversation portion of the evening. The first, “Kamala Mara,” told us that she came to sex work several years ago as a client, and she was so transformed by the experience that she decided to become a sex worker herself; specializing in Tantric sex. The second, “Jessica Rabbit”, is a semi-retired exotic dancer, and she enjoys the connection she has with other dancers and many other elements of the work.

“STIGMA!” both said, when asked what was the worst part of their jobs.

It’s not the work itself that these two women struggle with, it’s the attitudes, it’s the fact that they are forced to lie about what they do. Jessica talked about how frustrating it is for her not to be able to reference her past work when she is applying for jobs.

Both women inspired me. Both were completely comfortable with themselves, their work and with sharing their experiences with the public. I believe that we gain nothing by constraining them, by criminalizing their clients, by inhibiting their freedom to advertise and limiting the ways in which they can spend their money. Along with a host of other harms, Bill C36 will increase the stigma that people like Kamala and Jessica face.

Stigma creates danger—it forces sex workers to isolate and it allows the rest of the community to continue to eat their toast and drink their coffee* as if sex workers don’t exist.

* The toast and coffee comes from one of my sister’s poems, which I will share and discuss in a later post.

 

 

Sex Workers Speak Out

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Under the Red Umbrella

Several women inspired me last night. And made me laugh. And cry.

Scarlett Lake and Velvet Steele have made their living from sex work for decades. Last night, for over an hour, they answered questions from a supportive audience about their lives, their work, their purpose, their challenges. Both talked about caring for others as a guiding principle. Velvet said, “I’m validating people on a daily basis.” And Scarlett said, “Sex work really is a form of caregiving. It is a privilege to be allowed to be that close to somebody, to delve into their physical and emotional needs.” She used the word “calling” to describe what draws some sex workers into their line of work. Both were flummoxed and frustrated by BillC36 and the ways in which it will criminalize more of what they do. Both were absolutely comfortable in their own skin.

Even though I have been arguing for the decriminalization of sex work for almost twenty years, and in that time I have met many sex workers who seem completely comfortable with what they do, I was, in some part of myself, surprised by their general tenor of their comments. And that surprise interests me. I think it’s important, because I think that experiences like Scarlett’s and Velvet’s are invisible to most of us. As the sister of a murdered street-level sex worker, I know of the violence, the suffering, the desperation, the addiction and the limits to freedom that my sister wrote about in her journals. It meant a lot to me to hear women talk about sex work as potentially meaningful. And it moved me to hear their stories.

One story, in particular, I will never forget.

Years ago, in another city, Velvet saw a man on the street in her neighbourhood. He stuck in her mind because he had a large growth on the side of his head; she was moved by his courage, and saddened because he was always alone. She felt the urge to reach out to this person, to know him better. Then, one day, he showed up at her door. The first thing he did was hand her a doctor’s letter, showing that his condition was not contagious. To her, that act underscored his isolation. This man came to Velvet for a number of years, seeking, and receiving, human connection. At a certain point, he stopped coming, and she never heard from him again, but he has stayed with her all these years, and, if he is still living out there somewhere, I am certain that she has stayed with him.

As I listened to her story, I heard nothing that indicated exploitation. I imagined one person desperate for intimacy and another person willing to make contact. Nothing about the exchange of money for services in this instance seems problematic to me. Velvet presents herself as a skilled professional with a valuable skill set, including a wide-ranging interest in people, strong intuition and a caring nature (not to mention a sense of humour).

Over the years, I have been struck by the invisibility of the men who buy sex. The group must be vast, and I know they come from all parts of society, but I have only met two men who admitted to being clients, two men who knew my sister (murdered sex worker, Sarah de Vries) and spoke to me when I was working on my memoir (Missing Sarah: a Memoir of Loss). We know the identities of some men who hurt sex workers, but those men are not clients, they are predators, pretending to be clients to gain access to the person they wish to hurt. We see prominent men on television who have paid for sex, politicians, for example, who are exposed, who stand in front of a sea of microphones while their wives stand by, stone-faced. And we see fictional men in stories of all kinds, who buy sex for various reasons and with various attitudes toward the act. But we don’t hear the stories of real men (or real couples or real women; couples and women buy sex too) who buy sex from real sex workers. I think that that needs to change. I know that research is being done, that stories are being gathered. But if the general public doesn’t hear those stories, we are left to imagine, and our imaginings will tend to mirror what we see on TV and in the movies, almost all of which is is drawn from the more sordid side of the experience.

I told my husband about this need to hear clients’ stories, and he reminded me that in the past I would have been quick to judge any man of my acquaintance who admitted to buying sex. Even as he was speaking, I felt my gut clench, because he is right. This is tricky stuff… And I still have work to do. Then I checked my gut more carefully and discovered that it clenches because of my assumptions about the attitudes of men who buy sex. My gut also clenches when men on sitcoms joke about getting women drunk to get them into bed. It clenches at anything that suggests coercion or the absence of consent. As I say, it’s not the exchange of money that bothers me; it’s the attitude. Which is precisely why we need those stories.

By the way, the event last night was the first of a series of “Community Conversations with Sex Workers” put on by the feminist organization First: Decriminalize Sex Work along with several other sex (work) positive groups. This series is happening in response to Bill C36, which will impose a set of laws even more dangerous than those that the Supreme Court struck down in December 2013.

Kerry Porth, who moderated the event, gave us some small bits of good news. The Shame the Johns movement, she said, is a thing of the past, and sex workers on the street are experiencing less abuse from people passing by. For a model for the future, she referred us to New Zealand where sex work was decriminalized in 2003, an unqualified success. On the other hand, she reminded us, no effort to abolish sex work has ever worked anywhere.

I will finish by mentioning Antoinette Rae, a local poet and former sex worker, who took us right into some of the tough stuff she endured on the streets of Vancouver as a transgender sex worker. I was affected by the strength and beauty of her poetry, and by her insights and her humour.

I am grateful for the opportunity to hear all four women, grateful for all the work they are doing. I find myself hungry for knowledge, eager to reconnect, to get back out there, to listen, and to speak out as an ally. Over the coming weeks and months, I will attend and write about more events and I also hope to interview local people involved in this struggle.

Grow Your World … and Yourself

Did you ever ask yourself how water got onto the surface of our planet? I expect many of you already know. But I did not. I wandered into the living room one day when my husband Roland was watching TV. Much of our water, a voice-over was explaining, was released from inside the earth by volcanoes. It came out in the form of steam and formed clouds. Then it rained for hundreds of thousands of years. Not forty days and forty nights. Hundreds of thousands of years! It still brings tears into my throat to think about that. And not the “Oh, in Vancouver it always rains” kind of tears. No. These are tears that begin to acknowledge how much bigger and broader and longer and deeper “being” is than I. That can feel like an enormous relief.

I tried to grow up in a small world, I think, to contain myself and my surroundings, make sense, maintain control. It was a small, safe, slightly snobby world. Even though I traveled to the Netherlands four times before I was twenty-five, and lived in Ontario, Mexico, Montreal and Switzerland in my twenties, I still tried to keep my world small, especially here on the West Coast, in Vancouver. Whenever I came home, I settled back into West Point Grey, venturing downtown sometimes and to Kerrisdale and Kitsilano, but that was about it.

When I was five, I started kindergarten. (I had attended a wonderful preschool with one of the best teachers I have ever encountered, Pauline Wenn. She is now a professional storyteller.) But at the age of five, with kindergarten, formal schooling began. Almost immediately, I decided that it was best to conform. My father had always eaten the core along with the apple and I had done that too, with pride. In kindergarten, I stopped. I observed carefully how others ate apples, (the right way, I assumed) and followed their lead. At about that time, I started collecting moments of burning shame, when I was caught in a spotlight, my ignorance or other failings revealed to others. I locked those moments in a deep dark vault, and any time I opened it, even a crack, they all came tumbling out together. Horrors like the time I walked into the wrong classroom and starting to hang up my coat, and the time I came late one day because I believed that we were starting at ten o’clock that morning, not the next. They don’t bother me now. But they did for years and years and years.

Ironically, while my focus today is a writer’s need to live large, to let in the other, to look beyond her nearest horizons, everything in a writer’s experience is significant. None of us is unique, and, unfortunately, most children learn about shame early and carry it with them their whole lives. Yet, all experience, narrow or broad, is potential material, and even deeper than that, all experience informs our writing if we let it. So, while I encourage all writers to look beyond their own four walls or their own block or their own neighbourhood, we also need to look the other way, inside ourselves. A writer could never venture beyond her own bedroom, and still create a worthy body of work. We all know of some who have. I, however, am not made of the same stuff as an Emily Dickinson. I need broad as well as deep.

When I was nine, my parents tried to expand my world, inside and out, by enrolling me in a school on the east side of Vancouver, at 15th and Commercial Drive. The New School, it was called. The year was 1970 and the school was known as a free school, although it cost money to go there. I remember baking bread at a teacher’s house, going camping on Salt Spring Island and sneaking off with children who were more sophisticated than I to play spin the bottle in the basement, but I don’t remember learning anything in the way I thought a person was supposed to learn at school. I was not aware that that school was stretching me and opening me up to a larger world, but it was. It did. Anyway, to me that school was far, far away. We had to drive across the city every day to get there. For grade five, I transferred to University Hill Elementary School, back in the safe, small world of West Point Grey.

Then, when I was 31, I met Roland, my husband to be. He lived in Marpole. Marpole! I believe that my nose constricted a little at the thought of that neighbourhood, which I suppose I thought of as slightly seedy. Remember, I used the word “snobby” earlier. And he had spent the bulk of his childhood in Surrey, not too far from Whalley, in a house with a turret that his father built with his own hands from stones collected off the property. They called it The Castle. It is gone now. The first time Roland mentioned Whalley, I asked him what that was. I still remember the look he gave me. I ended up living with him in Marpole for more than ten years (and liking it), and now we live quite a distance east of that East Vancouver school where I spent grade four. My world continues to expand! Roland and I explore the Lower Mainland by bicycle. Discovering each new area is exhilarating.

In the early years of our relationship, Roland showed me Vancouver by boat, all three arms of the Fraser River, False Creek, English Bay, Burrard Inlet, Indian Arm, and then beyond Vancouver, across to the Gulf Islands, to Victoria, up the inside of Texada to Desolation Sound, up the east coast of Vancouver Island to Campbell River and beyond. The world is different from the water.

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Sarah at 17

My sister, Sarah, helped me to expand my world as well. She lived almost a decade, the last years of her life, on Vancouver’s downtown eastside. She was a sex worker. She was addicted to heroin and cocaine. I didn’t like how she lived and I didn’t like where she lived. She was murdered in 1998. And after her death I had to go into her world and talk to people there to try to find her. I found out that almost all my preconceptions were wrong. The downtown eastside stopped being scary and became human. Sadly, as is too often the case, I learned what I needed to learn when it was too late to benefit Sarah and me in our relationship. But it was not too late for all I learned to inform my writing. That is a glorious benefit of this work: nothing comes too late or is too terrible or too painful to be useful to us as writers. Nothing.

Yet, in my life as a writer, I have kept my world smaller than it needs to be as well, I think. I have a writer for an aunt, Jean Little, who has written many, many books for children. She has been a marvelous mentor, but I wonder if I have turned to her at the expense of other relationships. Until recently, when I thought of showing my writing to anyone other than Aunt Jean, Roland or a prospective editor, I was flooded with anxiety. Yet, I was an editor for eight years. In various capacities, I have conferenced with many, many writers about their work. And since 2008, I have been teaching writing for children and teens at UBC. In those classes, we workshop students’ writing, and I have discovered the power of that process.

Recently, I have stepped outside my anxiety to share my own writing with others while it is still raw, and that process has made possible my most recent book, Rabbit Ears. I was helped along the way by Cynthia and Glenda (in the very early stages), but Rachel and Lori (further along the way) , by Christianne and one of the brilliant book clubs at her Lyceum, and by Kerry and Raven in the final and critical stages. Opening up to others allowed me to tell a challenging story much, much more effectively than I would have otherwise.

At my book launch at Kidsbooks

At my book launch at Kidsbooks

It may seem trite to say that we should always be open to whatever is around us, near and far, that we should strive against judgment rooted in ignorance or inflexibility, that we should live in the moment, that spot where time and place meet, the only spot from which we can look and listen and learn (and write). It is far from trite, however, to do all of that, to be open, to remain flexible, and to reenter the present moment whenever we sense ourselves straying.

I am thankful to my father for teaching me that I could eat the core of the apple if I chose (although I should mention that I have heard that there is cyanide in apple seeds…), to my sister for bringing so many wonderful people into my life, to my students for reminding me how much all of us can learn from one another!

And I am thankful to the fires of the earth for releasing its ice, and for the blessing of those hundreds of millennia of rain.