EXPRESSIONS OF RESISTANCE

I arrived home yesterday depleted. That’s really the only word for it despite the fact that it was a good day. Wednesday is my hardest and longest teaching day. Paying such close attention to people who are nestled so closely around me for hours on end may, in fact, draw out of me more than it does some of my colleagues. Perhaps more than I’m really able to give.

November Sunset, photo by me
November Sunset, photo by me

At the end of such a day, it makes sense that I just wanted to head home to lay low, to have several cups of steaming tea and soothe my vocal chords.

I dropped all of my bags, set the kettle on the stovetop and opened this laptop. I do this to reconnect with the world that I’m drawn away from by my work and my absences. I move from my email inboxes to Facebook, seeing what I’ve missed (or briefly caught on the screen of my IPhone before it flitted away).

It’s a highly interactive but quiet world that is both a highway of engagement with others and one of my favourite places of retreat.

November 17th, the sun through my kitchen window
November 17th, the sun through my kitchen window

I discover brilliant sites online that I subscribe to happily and which now fill my Inbox every day with notices. I skim through the online papers though there are too many.  I visit the surface of the lives of the people I care about, wanting to see the evidence, through pictures, posts and messages, that they’re well, that they’re still there. I’m apprehensive about letting any of them fall through the cracks of my awareness.

 

When I got home yesterday, Christian and my husband were sitting together watching something on Netflix. Everything about the scene and the feeling in the house was benign and calm, except me.

Victor Hugo, La Pieuvre

I couldn’t bring myself to go sit with them; it was too soon. So I opened up this laptop. And scrolled. And scrolled. And scrolled. And was inundated by posts about the Trump presidency. Facebook’s algorithms saw to it that all of them—from the most considered and balanced to the most polemical and shrill—were unrelentingly distressing, worrying, disturbing, depressing and alienating. This stream was magnified by the posts of friends and their friends from both sides of the border who are, as I am, in agony.

 

This election year in the country of my neighbours to the South has filled me with a sense of dread. There’s a darkness in the world that has revealed itself and that clings to me.

I know how this sounds. But I also know that I’m a healthy and emotionally balanced, level- headed, very intuitive woman and I trust what I’m feeling.

I’ve been alerted.

Warned.

I feel the breath of something that wills ill. Something that’s tearing the social fabric in an unendurable manner. Something that it may take decades to heal from. Something that seeks to separate us from each other and divert us from what we must do and become.

More immediately, it’s a dark energy that will envelop and endanger the people I love: my students from all around the world, my children and grandchildren who will be more wounded than I because they’re still headed into the biggest portion of their lives.

There are so many voices crying out these days. Some of them (many?) screaming painful, ugly, vile things that infect everyone. But many, too, yelling out like sonar beacons in search of kindred minds and spirits and the reassurance of these connections. People of kindness and conscience.

I don’t feel that there is an US and a THEM.

This dark thing that hovers over us all is about inequality, despair, fear, tribalism, malice, innocence, ignorance, corruption, rapaciousness, cynicism, greed, misfortune, selfishness, the degradation of modern life, insecurity, exploitation, and a sociopathy that normalizes and institutionalizes everything that breaks down the connections between us and the planet which is our shared home.

Surveillance, by Levalet

Facebook has hugely amplified my bewilderment and sadness in the wake of the rise of Donald Trump and his entourage. It’s true. Sometimes, what I read there makes me queasy.

I think maybe that’s part of what was happening to me yesterday when I sat down after work. I just felt sad. It was a heavy and cold feeling. It was that longing for a good cry. It’s what creeps in when my energy is low.

In recent weeks, I’ve come to understand that maybe suffering is part of what I’m meant to experience. When there’s little else a person can do to effect immediate change in the face of a terrible wrong, owning the suffering that emanates from that darkness is something. It’s a valuable first step.

This seems to be a shared sentiment because, beyond the unrelenting stream of post-election news online, there are the cries of many voices expressing pain and distress. And also a desire for something good and just and universal.

Melancholy, by Alyssa Monks

From the pain comes resistance. I’ve felt this too and I watch its myriad expressions and modulations appear online every day, especially among artists and writers.

I’ve recently been invited to join other writers searching for a means to combine their voices in an expression of resistance to the darkness, certainly, but also, hopefully, to build pathways of understanding and unity between us.

I want to be part of this movement, but I know that I’m not a political writer. I hope I’ll be able to find a way to contribute something that’s meaningful and useful even though it’s personal.

On the table yesterday, I found a package from Amazon addressed to me (most of them are and most of them contain books). Inside, I found three volumes of Mary Oliver’s poetry. Lean, lovely books that weigh nothing in the hand but somehow have such import.

I opened the smallest one first, A Thousand Mornings, and read one poem after another. At first, I thought that I would break down and cry—her work is so beautiful—but I couldn’t stop reading. There was such grace and truth in the short poems I pored over that I felt them lifting my spirits almost immediately. I can only describe this as a moment of quiet bliss.

The ones I found most beautiful are the ones that spoke to the pain inside me yesterday. Who knows which will resonate in a week or a month from now.

Here are two of them:

 THE MORNING PAPER

By Mary Oliver

Read one newspaper daily (the morning edition

is the best

for by evening you know that you at least

have lived through another day)

and let the disasters, the unbelievable

yet approved decisions,

soak in.

I don’t need to name the countries,

ours among them.

What keeps us from falling down, our faces

to the ground; ashamed, ashamed?

 

POEM OF THE ONE WORLD

By Mary Oliver

 

This morning

the beautiful white heron

was floating along above the water

and then into the sky of this

the one world

we all belong to

where everything

sooner or later

is a part of everything else

which thought made me feel

for a little while

quite beautiful myself.

WHAT CAN I DO?

Painting by Alyssa Monks
Painting by Alyssa Monks

 

WHAT CAN I DO?

What can I do when
there’s nothing I can do about
our neighbours down south and the mess
they’ve made in their yard
already rank and infested
with rancid matter that attracts
the rats and scavengers who survive in
the dark places that the light
can’t find?

I can turn my gaze to the north and
the east and the west and hold up my
light and you can hold up yours and
then you and then you and then you and
then you and we’ll outlast the
dark and the rats and the scavengers
who’ll grow old and weary before
their time and we’ll clean
up the mess they’ve made.

November 9th, 2016

FALLING BEHIND

Here it is again, this sense of falling behind, this sense of compression. It’s increasing, and soon it’ll crest.

It’s directly connected to my work life, and also to the twists and tangles of my inner life.

I don’t have a 9 to 5 job. That isn’t the way my professional life in adult education developed. In fact, I can’t even say from one trimester to the next what my teaching schedule will be. Contracts begin, last a certain number of hours and months, and then they’re done. They can start any time (though summer is rarely the chosen season) and end at different intervals, which creates an ever-changing, staggered work schedule.

There are all kinds of advantages to a schedule like mine. I’m not boxed in at the same work station Monday to Friday.  I have no idea what my schedule will be in three or six months. There’s always a gap in my agenda where I can stick in spontaneous events like coffee with friends of family, or those killer dental or medical appointments; and mornings when I can do some writing or preparation before leaving. Gaps that allow me to break out of a routine.

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Because I go to my students’ workplace, I’m always moving around. I’m currently teaching eight groups in four different companies on the island of Montreal. Though it sounds contradictory even to me, while I’m not crazy about the driving—especially in bad weather, in the winter or in rotten parts of town (the Décarie circle comes to mind)—I really do enjoy my nomadism.

My teaching job is the antithesis of getting stuck in a rut. I’ve learned so much from the near constant state of acclimatisation that I’m in. This job of mine, which is also my mission, has taught me to be less fearful and more adventurous. It has helped me to grow up (!) and to meet new situations and people head-on with both confidence and modesty. It’s made me realize that I can teach and people can learn—and vice versa—in a small conference room, a cavernous hall or in a kitchen, with or without a whiteboard (no more blackboards) or workbooks. It has taught me to simply believe in my ability to do my job well and then go out and do it as mindfully and conscientiously as I can.

The walls closing in.

I trust others more than I ever have because I’ve learned through my teaching experiences that it’s possible to meet every one of my students on their own terms and grow to know them there, where they are all, eventually, happy to be discovered.

But I’m still struggling with the flow of my life these days. The first image that popped into my mind as I started writing this was of a sine wave. Don’t get distracted by the fact that it makes no mathematical sense. The truth is, it’s exactly how I feel, riding out the hours, days and weeks of my life.

Moving along in time is a perplexing experience. When my life slows down and gets quieter—as it can in late spring when many of my teaching contracts come to an end and I have bigger and bigger gaps in my schedule— I often first feel a lightness of being because suddenly, I’m free! I have time… for other things! It’s a gentle kind of elation. A temporary weightlessness.

 

During those periods, I can catch up in all of the other parts of my life where balance has been lost: I can make plans to see my beloved friends and family (especially my mother and grandchildren); I can do more exercise; and, o joy of joys, I can sit and spend more time writing.

But if this period lasts too long, and new teaching contracts are too slow to reappear, then I start to feel disorganized inside the time. I feel that I’m squandering it. Or else I throw myself into writing at the expense of the rest and then something inside of me starts to squirm.

Of course, this doesn’t last. More works comes in. More demands are made of my time. Someone needs me. Someone is sick. Someone is suffering. The balance shifts and suddenly, I’m busy again. The pace of my life quickens.

This uneven, unpredictable, up and down, fast and slow ride along my life’s timeline is anxiogenic and right now, I’m heading into the crest of that wave. I have eight groups of students at four different places to work with and plan for every week and soon I’ll be up to ten. My sine waves have started to look more like this:

Ten is too many. I have to cut all kinds of joy-making activity out of my schedule. I have to boil each day down to the bare bones of what has to get done. Meanwhile, it feels like time is accelerating past me.

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But it’s also temporary, and by December 23rd, I will have reached the end of my mandate with five of these groups, and then there’ll be another lull until things pick up again and I’m sent to new places to meet new men and women from all parts of the world, or else happily reconnect with former students.

Part of me wants to argue that my sense of balance and wellbeing in this life depends on getting the pacing right. But as I look at these words on the screen, I know it isn’t true.

My happiness, the joy I feel simply being alive, starts here inside my head and depends on an act of relinquishing.

Through the ups and downs, the lulls and the frenzy, I have to remind myself that no one has set a bar before me. That there’s happiness to be had and meaning to be found in tumult as in quietude. That falling behind and getting ahead are magic tricks and figments of my over-active lust for life. That I should stop fussing and just keep moving.

Photo by Vincent Bourilhon