Wednesday, May 30, 2007

To Jeremy...


Growing up in a Bible-thumping, evangelical, apocalyptic cult meant growing up with an over-developed sense of responsibility to others. The sense that I was responsible for saving souls. I recall so many jw sermons emphasizing the "life-saving" work we were involved in. How being alive on this planet was like being on the Titanic. "It's all going down. And we have to save as many as we can," the elders would say.

Of course, I got this message through the cult but also through my mother. I am remembering how much she loved my first boyfriend. How much I was encouraged to stay with him, even though it was destroying me every day. "He needs a friend. Jehovah would want you to be there for him. If you're not there, what will happen to him?"

Yes, mother. Okay, mother. I will sacrifice myself on the altar of goodwill. I will save another soul.

At the end of those long days in the ministry, knocking on people's doors, I felt like I'd done this amazing thing. That I'd been God's direct tool in the eternal salvation of mankind. Yet at the same time, my own soul was dying. A slow, painful death.

I can still be that martyr. It is a hard pattern to shake. Feeling that I must surrender my heart, my life, my soul, for that of another. To help another at the expense of my own health, my own sanity. To attempt to save the suffering, the misguided, the lost. To be everything to everyone.

While I have shed the cult and its teachings, they have not shed me. Some days it feels like I will never be free of it.

tall penguin

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

From the Archives: After Hours

I am being flooded with the anger of my relationship with my first boyfriend. Anger that has gone very unprocessed over the years. I barely have words for what I'm feeling. I wrote a poem about it one day back in '99, six years after the relationship had ended. It's still my best attempt to express what happened to me.

After Hours

Ten o’clock-
The dark cloud
Looms overhead
Like some foreboding canopy.
It drifts in
Slowly, subtly.
Then hangs right above me.
And rains
My own personal shower
My own personal storm.
All for me
All to me.
The rage surfaces first
The words you said
Like daggers
Piercing my soul.
The conversations play again and again
Like some twisted chorus.
You hate me, hate me, hate me
Hate mother, father, sisters
You wish you were dead.
Your world so unlike mine.
I must be strong.
Must love you
Won’t betray you like the others.
Conversation always ends the same
You’re sorry and
You love me, love me, love me.
Job done for another day.

Next rolls in the pain
The pain of love with hate
Hate with love.
Cannot show you pain
You’ve seen enough,
Must be strong.
But now, at day’s end
It all rushes in—
The words you said.
The hug followed by the insult.
The caress followed by
The stinging stab of your unbridled tongue.
But can’t show my hurt
Until I’m alone.
Not until the clouds come
To shadow my tears.
Now, now it’s safe to
Break down.
To split apart.
The shattered soul erupts
From the faultless façade.
Pain, pain, pain.
No consolation.
The friend to all
Is friendless.
She takes to paper
The words no one will hear.

Thunder rolls
And ushers in the desolation.
No where to turn
No one to turn to.
Who will listen?
I talked you out of suicide today.
Now who will do the same for me?
No one knows
The after hours persona.
The other side
Which lurks
Until the sun sets.
Until the day is done
And all is saved.
Now, who saves me?
Planning the escape—
Those pills look really good.
To sleep, sleep, sleep.
So very tired.
No consolation.
So alone.
The tears long gone now,
Just a gaping hole
In my chest
Where my heart used to be.
You ripped it out long ago.
That day—do you remember?
You ripped the chain from my neck
Said it was an accident.
The anger in your clenched fist
Said differently.
I actually wished you
To strike me.
Perhaps then I would’ve left.
Instead, later, “I’m sorry.
I love you, love you, love you.”
And I loved you too.
I even created two of me
So you could love the best
And I could keep the worst
For survival
For sanity.
The pain you caused
You never saw.
Those late hours
The clouds,
The rain,
The thunder.
All for me
All to me.

Midnight, maybe later.
The clouds weigh down,
So heavy.
No energy left
Not for pain
Not for healing.
And so I sleep.
My last waking thought—
The sun will rise
And I will awake
With a smile.
Have to be strong.
Have to love you, love you, love you.
And have you
Love me.

tall penguin

The Pressure of the Shoulds...

How many relationships crash and burn or become eroded over time because of the shoulds? The way we think things should be, how they should act, how we should act, what love should look like, what love should feel like, what we think should happen next. And on and on it goes. Disappointment over the unrealized shoulds destroys relationships. It destroys our souls.

All our preconceived ideas of what should occur in life, in love, in ourselves, in others--they are all cages. We are slaves to our own ideals, our own thoughts. The chemical and electrical constructs that have been hard-wired into our three pound universe through genetics and experience have enslaved us. It is a vicious cycle. So insidious. So seemingly real. So easily identified with. And so maddening.

I hate being human. I fucking hate it.

tall penguin

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Does the body remember?

I'm back to physio. I had the most painful, most excruciating session yet a few days ago. My body is still reeling. While my strength has increased dramatically, my stamina is still in need of improvement. So, it's back to the floor for me, doing daily exercises to build the endurance I so sorely desire.

The muscle that I'm doing the most work with right now is called the psoas muscle. It's the muscle that flexes the hip and so is the most important muscle involved in walking and movement. Needless to say, mine is fucked up. The physio suspects it's from car accidents, falls and trauma over the years. It sure feels pretty battered up. I feel pretty battered up.

I slept most of the day after the session. My body felt bruised, abused and severely raw. Today I feel lightening bolt pains streak up and down my body. But I also feel lightening flashes of memory streak across my soul. Things I haven't thought about for a long time. People from my past. Strange perceptions of days gone by seem to be welling up in my consciousness. And I wonder if my body holds the memories of the past and as the muscles are worked and released, whether those memories float to the surface.

All I know at this moment is that I feel invaded. I feel as if my skin has been robbed of me and I have been beaten and left for dead. And yes, I've felt this way before. Far too many times.

tall penguin

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Be the Sperm, Be the Egg...

About a year ago I went to visit my cousin on the East Coast. She sent me to see her "healer" friend. Now, at this point in my life, I'm not a big believer in anything in particular. Suffice it to say though that this woman has a presence that could be described as healing. From the moment you drive up onto her property, you feel a wave of peace pass over you.

So, I'm lying on the table. This woman, who's never met me in my life, begins waving her hands over my body, resting them at various points. She says very little over the course of the session. By the hour's end, I am relaxed and quiet. Healer lady then says to me, "I have no idea why I'm saying this because it seems a bit odd of an illustration but I'm going to share it with you anyway."

"Please do," I say.

She continues, "You need to spend more time being the egg. The egg ripens within the woman's body and then it waits. It waits for the sperm. The sperm struggles to find the egg. You've spent a lot of your life struggling and trying for things, making things happen. That served it's purpose and you're very good at it. But now, you must learn to be the egg. Learn to wait for things to come to you."

I smiled. I could see the sperm and the egg quite clearly in my mind. And yes, I could relate to the sperm, always moving, always trying to get somewhere, to make things happen, to be the first one to the finish line. The egg seemed a little too passive for me. Just sitting around waiting for the sperm to show up.

As I was sitting on a rock at the beach today, I was reflecting on my past relationships. And I remembered the sperm and the egg. Lately, I've been spending more time just being, allowing things to come to me. Not pushing so hard. Not trying so hard. Still moving forward but not feeling like there's somewhere I must be. Something I must do. Someone I must be with.

And I realized that I have been the maturing egg for a long time. I have been growing and evolving and ripening into who I really am. And now, it is time to wait. To wait for things and people to come to me. I am here. I have been the sperm. I am now the egg.

tall penguin

Coming Full Circle...

I went to a club tonight. And ran into some jw's from my past. One was the DJ. He was the cousin of one of my good friends from my teen years. DJ man didn't shun me. I don't think he knew I was "no longer a jw" (the official announcement made when someone leaves the cult). He didn't ask. I didn't tell him. That's their rules, their game, their narrow box. I felt no need to play into it. And it felt good. Damn good.

It's been almost 2 years since I left the cult and I was curious to know how some of my old friends were doing. I first asked about his cousin. Found out that he, wife and child are all well.

DJ man then goes on to tell me that another friend, my first boyfriend in fact, is not doing well. Apparently, ex-boyfriend, now married, is out of work and sits around and plays video games all day. Now, he did that when I was with him. Of course, we were teenagers then. It's not quite the same when you're 33.

I breathed a sigh of relief as I realized that my breaking up with this person was a very smart thing to do, although I was heartbroken at the time. This ex-boyfriend was abusive to me. His abuse changed the course of my life for the next 10 years, as I worked to undo the damage he did to my psyche. It could've been worse. Much worse.

Just as we were finishing up our conversation, I caught sight of another jw friend of mine. Someone I knew was well aware that I was no longer part of the cult. He was one of my best friends. We had known each other since we were children, our mothers being good friends. And we shared a lot together. When I left the cult, he would not say goodbye to me. I was heartbroken. The last social event I attended as a jw was his wedding, a bittersweet event. I knew at the time that I was going to be leaving the cult and that I would probably not see him again. But my heart was also sad as I remembered how much I loved this person.

As he entered the DJ room, our eyes met. I smiled. He turned his eyes away from mine. No acknowledgment. No smile. I held my head up high and walked past him onto the dance floor.

I danced and danced. I would catch his eye occasionally and smile. He would quickly turn away. I felt sorry for him. I realized that the shunning was hurting him more than it was hurting me. As the night wore on, the dance floor crowded and we ended up dancing close, almost back to back. It felt good to be near him. Even if just for a moment. I sent him a silent hello and let him know that he was loved. Shortly thereafter, he left the club. As he descended the stairs, he stopped, turned my way and smiled. And I smiled back.

tall penguin

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


I must say that being in charge of my own life, making my own decisions, is hard work sometimes. I can see why people gravitate towards constructs like politics or religion to make things a little more clear cut. Taking one moment, one day, one scenario at a time requires insight, wisdom and patience. And love. And it can be exhausting.

Today I feel as though I'm bumbling my way through. Attempting to understand myself, understand others and still be able to lay my head on the pillow at night and feel good about the decisions I've made this day.

While I no longer long for the "safety" of my old constructs, it is an odd place to be without beliefs, to be making it up as you go along. Most days I enjoy the freedom. Today though, I wish things were a little more clear. I wish the answers would come a little more readily, a little faster, with a little less effort. But then again, perhaps there are no answers for me today. Perhaps it is enough for me to just be here, in this muddled space. To be one with the muddle. And so it is.

tall penguin

For Judy...

One day,
When the sky has turned a shade of yellow we’ve not seen before
When the music has stopped but the band plays on
When the trees blossom and wither at the same time,
We will look back with a tear in our eyes and laugh
Wondering what all the fuss was about.

tall penguin

What's in a name?

For those of you who know me personally, you know that I have a hyphenated first name, the first part of which is a very old English name. It is the name of my maternal Grandmother. It is an old woman's name. And it has always felt like an old woman's name.

My whole life I have felt burdened by this name. It felt like the baggage of my mother's unrealized dreams for herself, her desire to be like her mother. I am not her mother. I do not want to be her mother.

So, I find myself in an odd place. What do you do with a name that you know in your heart does not represent who you really are? Or does it even matter?

For now, just call me "tall".

tall penguin

Scab Picker

As a child, I would pick my scabs. I rarely wore bandaids so I could keep an eye on what was happening with my wounds. Within days or sometimes even hours, I would begin peeling back a corner of my wound to see what progress was being made. I would silently ask the wound, "Are you healed yet?" The many scars on my body give a silent answer.

I am still that little child in many ways. I get wounded emotionally and keep checking in on the wound, revisiting it, watching it, exposing it to further injury, asking "Are you healed yet?" I am impatient with the process. I think that if there are wounds within me, even ones in the process of healing, that I can't possibly be whole. That I'm less somehow.

This time around though, my heart is not being so yielding to this habit. My heart is wounded, not mortally, but deep enough to literally feel the ache heaving through my chest. It cries out for healing, and I, rip off the bandaid that shields it from the world and pour salt in it. And it cries louder still. Will I listen? Can I ?

tall penguin

Sunday, May 20, 2007


I've been doing a lot of walking these days. I've made peace with my body, with my soul actually. I am in my own skin and loving the moment. This moment. The only moment there is.

I took a different route home yesterday. I just chose random streets to walk up heading in the general direction of home, trusting that eventually I'd reach my destination. Walking up one street, I came upon a large park. A park I didn't even know existed. It was tree-lined and dipped down in the middle to a playing field. I edged my way down the hill, stopping just short of the bottom and found myself a little patch of grass to lay down on. I read for a bit, then curled up and fell asleep, the sun beating down on my face. I could feel myself smiling, grinning from ear to ear as I napped. This moment was perfect. As every moment was beginning to be.

From the park I continued walking. The streets were lined with huge maples. I pulled down one of the large leaves and carried it along with me, waving it like a flag as I walked. Still grinning like an idiot. And loving it.

I noticed that the area I was entering seemed familiar. I looked to my left and saw the home of a former client. A little girl I'd worked with some years ago. I popped across the street and rang their doorbell, remembering the moments we'd shared together. They weren't home but I could feel their presence in my heart. I was filled with gratitude as I thought of how our lives overlapped for the brief time of our work together. And I reflected on the many lives that have intersected mine so far on this journey. And I realized that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. To continue to enjoy the moments of touching people's lives and having their lives touch mine.

tall penguin

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Conversations with God: On relationships

This is an excerpt from the book Conversations With God Book 1 by Neale Donald Walsch. An interesting "dialogue" between the author and "God". To me, it's a conversation between a person and his higher/most authentic self, which is what "God" means to me. Anyhow, they get into a discussion of love and relationships and I thought it was a very poignant exchange.

tall penguin

"Neale: Over and over in my relationships I have given up when the going gets tough. The result is that I've had a string of relationships where I thought, as a kid, that I'd have only one. I don't seem to know what it's like to hold onto a relationship. Do you think I will ever learn? What do I have to do to make it happen?

God: You make it sound as if holding onto a relationship means it's been a success. Try not to confuse longevity with a job well done. Remember your job on the planet is not to see how long you can stay in a relationship. It's to decide, and experience, Who You Really Are.

This is not an argument for short-term relationships--yet neither is there a requirement for long-term ones.

Still, while there is no such requirement, this much should be said: long-term relationships do hold remarkable opportunities for mutual growth, mutual expression, and mutual fulfillment--and that is it's own reward.

Neale: I know, I know! I've always suspected that. So how do I get there?

God: First, make sure you get into a relationship for the right reasons. (I'm using the word "right" here as a relative term. I mean "right" relative to the larger purpose you hold in your life.)

As I have indicated before, most people still enter relationship for the "wrong" reasons---to end loneliness, fill a gap, bring themselves love, or someone to love---and those are some of the better reasons. Others do so to salve their ego, end their depressions, improve their sex life, recover from a previous relationship, or believe it or not, to relieve boredom.

None of these reasons will work, and unless something dramatic changes along the way, neither will the relationship.

Neale: I didn't enter my relationships for any of those reasons.

God: I would challenge that. I don't think you know why you entered those relationships. I don't think you thought about it this way. I don't think you entered your relationships purposefully. I think you entered your relationships because you "fell in love."

Neale: That's exactly right.

God: And I don't think you stopped to look at why you "fell in love". What was it to which you were responding? What need, or set of needs, was being fulfilled?

For most people, love is a response to need fulfillment.

Everyone has needs. You need this, another needs that. You both see in each other a chance for need fulfillment. So you agree---tacitly---to a trade. I'll trade you what I've got if you'll give me what you've got.

It's a transaction. But you don't tell the truth about it. You don't say, "I trade you very much." You say, "I love you very much," and then the disappointment begins.

Neale: You've made this point before.

God: Yes, and you've done this thing before---not once, but several times.

Neale: Sometimes this book seems to be going in circles, making the same points over and over again.

God: Sort of like life.

Neale: Touche.

God: The process here is that you're asking the questions and I'm merely answering them. If you ask the same question three ways, I'm obliged to continue answering it.

Neale: Maybe I keep hoping You'll come up with a different answer. You take a lot of the romance out of it when I ask You about relationships. What's wrong with falling head over heels in love without having to think about it?

God: Nothing. Fall in love with as many people as you like that way. But if you're going to form a lifelong relationship with them, you may want to add a little thought.

On the other hand, if you enjoy going through relationships like water---or worse, staying in one because you think you "have to", then living a life of quiet desperation---if you enjoy repeating these patterns from your past, keep right on doing what you've been doing.

Neale: Okay, okay. I get it. Boy, You're relentless, aren't You?

God: That's the problem with truth. The truth is relentless. It won't leave you alone. It keeps creeping up on you from every side, showing you what's really so. That can be annoying.

Neale: Okay. So I want to find the tools for a long-term relationship---and you say entering relationships purposefully is one of them.

God: Yes. Be sure you and your mate agree on purpose. If you both agree at a conscious level that the purpose of your relationship is to create an opportunity, not an obligation---an opportunity for growth, for full Self expression, for lifting your lives to their highest potential, for healing every false thought or small idea you ever had about you, and for ultimate reunion with God through the communion of your two souls---if you take that vow instead of the vows you've been taking---the relationship has begun on a very good note. It's gotten off on the right foot. That's a very good beginning.

Neale: Still, it's no guarantee of success.

God: If you want guarantees in life, you don't want life. You want rehearsals for a script that's already been written. Life by its nature cannot have guarantees, or its whole purpose is thwarted. "

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Without Words...

I find myself in a strange place for a writer to be. I have no words for the space I'm in. Nor do I have any desire to find any. And so it is.

tall penguin

Wednesday, May 2, 2007


I sit on a park bench watching the children play. It's Spring. The trees are budding. It seems everyone and everything is coming alive. Including me. After a very long soul-searching winter, I find my soul emerging from hibernation. Not sure I've ever been this present before.

I sit on the park bench watching the children play, a stupid smile on my face. I must look like an insane person waiting to be carted off to the asylum. But really I'm just content. Just happy to be in this moment. There is nothing particular making me happy. Nothing particular contributing to this moment of bliss. It just is.

I'm reminded of the final scene from the film "American Beauty" where Kevin Spacey's character has just been shot and he's lying there, his head down on the counter in a pool of blood, smiling. Just smiling. And his final soliloquy trails in the background:

"I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me... but it's hard to stay mad, when there's so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I'm seeing it all at once, and it's too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that's about to burst... And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life... You have no idea what I'm talking about, I'm sure. But don't worry... you will someday."

tall penguin

The Hodge Podge

I'm sitting at Starbuck's, revisiting my book draft. Adding. Taking away. Editing. And I realize how much stuff I've written over the years and how I just want to print it all off and spread it around on the floor. Surround myself with it. Immerse myself in it. Cut and paste it like a kindergartener doing a collage. As much as I enjoy the feel of my fingers on these computer keys, there is something so lovely about paper and pen. Red ink marking up pages. Scissors cutting away the excess. Writhing hands crumpling up the rejects. I want to feel this in my body. I want it to run through me. To feel it in every corner of my soul. Somehow my Macbook doesn't really cut it.

I've been taking an art class for the past few weeks. It's become this therapeutic look into my soul. Into what motivates me. Into my fears around expression, around creation. Shit I didn't even know was there is coming up through the charcoal, through the pastels, through the paints, onto white bits of paper. I don't consider myself a visual artist by any means, but the process of creation is the same, whether you're writing, painting, programming, making food, making a baby or making a life. Along the way you discover yourself. You lose yourself. You hate yourself. You love yourself. You are terrified. Angry. At one with the world. All alone. Connected and detached. You create. You destroy. And once in a while something comes through your soul that you feel satisfied with. For the moment.

The class art instructor invites us over and over to destroy in order to create. To scratch over, paint over, cut up or crumple up what we've made and see what it looks like from its destroyed state. And to revisit, renew and recreate. It was difficult at first. You become so attached to your creation. It's hard to let go. You think "this is the most wonderful thing I've ever done." And then you scratch over it, wash it over with black or white paint and see something completely different. Life's like that. The fine balance of letting go and holding on. Knowing what to keep and what to paint over. What is really the best you can do and when you can do better. I'm learning.

tall penguin

Bookseller On Duty

I work part-time in a major Canadian bookstore. I love it. I love helping people find books. Most of all though, I love talking about books with people, which inevitably ends up with us discussing life, love and the pursuit of happiness. I'm always amazed at what total strangers will reveal to me while standing in an aisle of books. I've heard so many life stories now, I can't even remember them all.

There's the newly retired customer who was just diagnosed with Celiac Disease who is attempting to modify her diet and lifestyle at the same time as she attempts to enjoy her new found freedom from the nine to five world. There's the customer who was "just browsing" and we got into a discussion about the Post Secret art project and the nature of secrets and how anonymity allows us to bear our soul to the world. And then there's the older gentleman who comes in almost every night and reads Pilates books. He must be at least 70. He walks with a cane and has some vision and hearing issues. I've tried to engage him in conversation about his fascination with Pilates, but I haven't gleaned much yet. He's a bit of a mystery.

I've had customers tell me about battling cancer, going through break-ups and divorce. They share with me the issues they have with their children, their spouses, their pets; their battles with life, God, and everything in between. I have customers that miss me when I'm sick, customers that hug me when I'm down, customers that I consider friends, if not family.

People sometimes ask why I do this work, with the pay being so craptastic. And this is why. I love stories. And at the bookstore, I am surrounded by them. The stories on the shelf, written by people I will never meet and the stories of those who walk the aisles. I am happy to share the journey with all of them.

tall penguin

The Book...

For as long as I've known myself, almost 33 years now, (hint, hint, my birthday is coming up...I'm open to presents, hugs and various libations) I have had a book floating around in my soul. Over the years it's made its presence known. As you well know, I have writing scattered around through my past, much of which has never seen the light of day. This past week though, THE BOOK has been more palpable, more omnipresent. I sat down last week and wrote for a few hours. It came through me, as if I were possessed by a providential muse of sorts. And I let it come.

I now have what I think is the basic structure for THE BOOK. It will take some time to flesh out I'm sure. But it is begun. And it's exciting.

My creative process continues to fascinate me. I have a tendency to keep a safe emotional distance from what I write, not allowing myself to fully express what I'm thinking or feeling. Last week showed some differences in this pattern though. There was a rawness to it, a letting go, an abandoning of the need for censoring along the way. I see this as my heart learning what it means to open to life, to trust, to be fully present and alive.

I read the first draft of THE BOOK to my new roomie. As I was reading, my throat began to get raspy and close up. I was verklempt by my own words. I had written them but this was my first time reading them through, and out loud, which is something I rarely do. There was this feeling of vulnerability and shock and awe at what I'd written. There was stuff there I didn't even know I'd written. Stuff I didn't even know I'd felt until the words came out of my mouth. It was freeing, exhilarating and a bit scary. But I pressed on and when I'd finished reading, I smiled. THE BOOK had made its first appearance out in the world and it felt good. I was no longer a slave to it. And it was no longer a slave to me.

tall penguin