A Thundering Kind of Calm

I can hardly believe how much happened this year. My feet took me to new places, high places, dangerous places. My heart opened up to take in new people, and it too went to high places and some dangerous ones.

My heart raced with fear alone at a bus station in Limerick Ireland, and swelled with hope after a magical frolic and heart to heart with a London busker and gem (“Jem”) of a human in a secret rooftop garden. I learned “I can” in the rain in Edinburgh with a flight to catch and everything going wrong. I learned “I can” on Heart Mountain, scrambling alone, heart again racing with fear and swelling with elation.

A song I’d written out of my disillusionment with theatre helped get my band into the finals of a nation-wide songwriting competition.

I fell back in love with theatre, re-entering the relationship gingerly. A well-placed refrain of Joni Mitchell’s Blue in a visceral production of Hedda Gabler at the National Theatre in London may have won me over, and a saucy rendition of The Twelfth Night also at the National Theatre sealed the deal.

In the fall I took on 3 acting roles over the next half-year, bingo, bango, bongo, and am having fun acting again, much to my own surprise.

I brushed off my Spanish, took a risk, and fell hard into love and a beautiful, painful adventure. I learned so much about myself and gained so much perspective on how many different ways there are to live and what it means to be Canadian.

I said some goodbyes and sunk deeper into the love of old friends and my family, summitting mountains with Jason, sharing songs with Sarah and Kathryn and Mandy, running stairs with Hailey at November Project. I felt like an island on Salt Spring Island, but I hiked, swam naked and then washed the car and my blues away.

Rae’s badassery inspired me to run harder faster, and thanks to Michelle, I no longer do my push-ups from my knees. Genevieve’s boldness in art, nature, and womanhood made me bolder and freer myself. Ale and yoga taught me that come what may, my breath will carry me through whatever discomfort I endure, and I am stronger than I think I am.

On my bike, countless gorgeous sunsets, fingers aching and face stinging with cold, snowy wipe-outs, and twinkling city horizons made every day full of delight, beauty, challenge, and triumph.

I had a party on the weekend to celebrate my birthday. In the strange December warmth, I stood atop a pile of pilfered pallets in the backyard, in my blouse, mini-skirt, and hiking boots, hammer in hand, smashing away, pulling apart wood for the fire. I think this year brought me into my skin; into my strength. To a feeling of safety; of rising above. Of grounding. A thundering kind of calm. Respecting who I am and what I need while I grow toward being better.  I’m in love with life, and all the people in mine. My brothers and my sisters, thank you for walking with me, loving me, and living your lives big so I can follow your footsteps. Here’s to another year down. Let’s dance, swing hammers, and pedal hard into to the next!

It’s Cliche, ok?

My friends sat around the table rolling their eyes at me when I suggested we do that classic Thanksgiving thing. I knew full well that my beautifully sarcastic friends would sass me and then participate. I know that some find it cliche, like some worn out tradition your granny insists you do in exchange for your turkey, but gathering and taking the time to ponder and articulate what fills us with gratitude is one of the most beautiful things I can think of to do on a holiday, and it’s what makes Thanksgiving my most favourite. Fall is a time of harvest, and isn’t it true that though we toil much, we have plenty and much to celebrate?

They nominated me to go first.

I heard myself saying that I was thankful for everything I had gone through in the last year or two, because though much of it was neither comfortable nor pleasant, I have found myself in a place of calm in the midst of what feels like yet another time of transition. In the past I may have described this very season as one of tumult. But here I am, breathing deep, feeling a sense of trust in whatever or whomever will hold me up, though I don’t know what I will face or how I will get through. I feel a deep, deep sense of dread about the winter. I feel afraid that I am not fulfilling my potential as a human being. I am afraid of living paycheque to paycheque until I’m 86 and they have to push me out of the wheelchair to send me to work. On some level I think I may have lost faith in the concept of romantic love.

But somehow, I feel safe and calm, a far cry from the twitchy rage-filled Natalie I felt like 6 months ago, hand hovering over a detonator, feeling unable to stop myself from blowing up my life. What happened? A few things I guess. I went to the mountains a lot. I did things that scared me so much I felt nauseous. And I did some of them by myself. I gained trust in myself. I think you naturally start out nervous and calculated, but without realizing it, the body gains a familiarity, a confidence, and an intelligence of its own. Suddenly the brain thinking “What if?” gives way to the body knowing “I can.” But the mountains are pretty flipping humbling, both in their majesty and because they demand respect for variables of danger. It’s a healthy paradox. I am fierce and I am humbled.

What else happened? … Yoga. I have a goddess of a yoga teacher who week after week says that our breath stays consistent in the discomfort of the pose. Muscles start burning, everything is working, and the brain wants to just give in, but the body is actually strong, and if we stick with it and breathe, we can surprise ourselves. “The breath stays consistent in the discomfort of the pose.” Maybe it just sounds like yoga jargon, but I kid you not, I think this has changed my life. Practicing this regularly, it has permeated parts of my life outside of yoga. Shit goes wrong, or people are awful, or something doesn’t go how I want it to, or I’m terrified for some reason and somehow my breath is even, my jaw is relaxed, and that boiling flight or fight feeling has become more rare. It still happens, but my body knows now, I don’t even have to tell it … “The breath stays consistent in the discomfort.”

I have fought for relationships that felt poisoned and soiled, taken two steps forward, one step back, and seen the power of persistence and love.

I have walked away from others for the sake of dignity and self-respect.

I have found a softness and joy with my family, and leaned on them in all kinds of moments.

I am … going to be ok, no matter what.

I am … thankful, even though I’m actually still terrified.

I am … breathing …

 

With love,

Natalie

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Another year, another musing.

*Below are the words I wrote on my birthday a few days ago. I hope there’s something in them for you.

Birthdays are checkpoints. I always seem to reflect on my birthday.

This morning I woke up with words in my mind. I sat down with my guitar to capture them in a tune, and after I’d done so I realized that similar words had already been written by a friend in a song. It was a song I’d actually sung with him on his record. I have friggin talented friends, and I get to make music with them. That right there is enough blessing for one person.

Then, of course, I opened my Facebook to find kind articulate words from a dear friend that made me remember that being the hurricane of a woman that I am has some benefits, that it’s not all downsides.

Then she texted to say that it was a “birthday miracle!” and that I could come in for a birthday massage because evidently half of Calgary is home sick today, and her appointments all cancelled.

Here’s what I wrote in my journal a couple of days ago, while looking back on my 25th year…

“When I saw my 26th birthday coming from a month off, I felt kind of proud and optimistic. This year was a good one, but hard in new ways.

I LOST MY VOICE.

I physically lost my voice [struggling through a case of vocal nodules], and I lost my voice metaphorically too. I fought to be heard in ways that were probably desperate and by turns seemed childish or bitchy.

I hid.

I spent so much of this year hiding.

[Many of you will think this is not true, as you’ve seen many of my adventures plastered all over social media. Friends, social media is selective. Posting cool photos of live performances and my grinning face does not mean I’m not hiding.]

I shook off all responsibility and I climbed mountains.

I was proud of myself.

I disappointed myself.

I loved and I lost.

I stood beside my brother on a boat and witnessed he and his Love give their lives to each other.

I stood up for myself.

I made new friends.

I biked.

I risked.

I surrounded myself with plants and sunlight.

I didn’t cry near as much as I used to.

But I cried when it counted.”

Today I biked to the park in -15 degrees and played frisbee with mittens on. I felt spontaneous and adventurous and alive, and delighted to be doing some of my favourite things, whatever the weather.

Maybe that’s what I’ll take into the next year. I’ve been going to this early morning  outdoor fitness group that meets downtown at 6:13am all year round. They use the hashtag #weatherproof. I don’t actually know if my body is as weatherproof as the attitude of this fitness group; my joints ache and my muscles tense up in -3o, and I hope I’m not hurting myself by doing it. BUT. Can I live spontaneously, bask in the adventure, and feel fully delighted and alive, whatever the weather? Can I be weatherproof? A real smart lady said to me a few weeks ago, “I can’t control other people, I can only control how I react to them”. Do people and circumstances have control over my calm? My delight? My peace? My joy?

Check back in a year, and I’ll let you know.

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#weatherproof