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Great ideas come in Bars

It’s amazing to me how much more relevant and interesting a book (Grbich 2013) about qualitative data analysis is, when I read it in an afternoon bar half-full of regulars.

…subjectivity has value (meaning that both the views of the participant and those of you the researcher are to be respected, acknowledged, and incorporated as data, and the interpretation of this data will be constructed by both of you (the researcher is not a distant neutral being)… (p.4)


(I aimed my phone cleverly to avoid taking pics of any of the ten regulars here).

The music that plays above my head seems to be formula quasi-country-rock (sweet female vocalist); the six TV screens I can mostly see from where I sit (the mostly unused corner of the bar) are playing either a feature on the Harlem Globetrotters or a darts tournament.  I don’t have a TV, and I would never search quasi-country-rock on spotify, if I had spotify, so I’m fascinated by what I don’t know about all of it.  There are three plaid shirts and two ballcaps here (I don’t want to be rude and stare long enough to see what the caps are advertising), and there’s me, cello player/writer/vocalist/masters student and Carol Grbich, who is from Australia, in book-form.  She is open at the moment.


I ejected myself from my comfortable house (three desks and a great library, nice sound system and eclectic, slightly nostalgic vinyl music collection, art studio with three projects in progress) after reading this article about the dramatic effect on teens of too much internet and not enough in-person people.

Also this, a short story published in a New Yorker’s December issue which has gone viral beyond what author Kristen Roupenian could have imagined, the why of which we’re still sorting out (in the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Atlantic, The Economist, The Guardian…..  Here’s what Roupenian says about it in a December New York Times interview, and a quote from same.

You’ve wanted to be a writer for a long time, but you said you’ve only really committed in the last five years. Was there a catalyst?

Ha, yeah. I was at a bar with my friend. I was close to finishing my Ph.D., and I’d made it through almost the entire process of entering the Foreign Service. I’d had a few beers, and I was talking passionately about how, by becoming a diplomat, I was going to live my second-best-possible life. It wasn’t my No. 1, absolute dream, but it was pretty great … and trying to be a writer was too risky.

Here’s a December 20 Guardian article reporting her seven figure book deal as a result of the story.  Bars.  People.


All the regulars have left (only one was female).  I wonder if it was me and Carol here, drinking beer and writing, but I don’t think so.  A sixty-ish regular has come in.  She doesn’t make eye contact.

Oh yes, I will read Women & Power:  A Manifesto, by Mary Beard, because a social media friend (male) posted about it and of course there’s no excuse whatsoever to stop reading at the reviews. It was published around the same time as Roupenian’s piece, has made waves in the academic world similar to those that Cat People has made in social and news media.

In the meantime, Carol and I are talking about subjectivity.  She is a PhD of international renown and I am a mid-study but mature masters student.  We are in a bar in a relatively large rural town where I’ve lived for the past twenty-five years.

I like those guys with their shirts and ballcaps, who don’t recognize the franchise’s playlist any more than I do.  I make them nervous with my laptop, but if I went over there to talk to them they’d be mostly delighted.  Curious about what the hell I’m working on.  They could be book readers, but I’d bet it’s not their first language.  They’d look at what I’m reading and guffaw at the ceiling, shake their heads at the table, make a perfect, comment, grounded in common sense…  I find that comforting.

I should note that there’s a rougher bar downtown.  For twenty years I worked there in the afternoons and was protected by the more salacious, all male regulars by the powerful, all-female bar & kitchen staff.  Ownership has since changed and last year they painted the place – an historic century hotel deeply embedded in the town’s weekly habits – a hard light green.  It’s hard to write inside an after-dinner mint, no matter how hospitable the staff, or interesting the regulars.



I bring up issues of relevance, to Carol.  How do I make what I do meaningful for those guys?  How do I translate to their comfortable, sensible, grounded language, so we too can debate what’s important and what’s not?

She is from Australia, and it’s 2018, so she gets it (I think).  We are both white female colonials, living on land we don’t own, transplanted from our original cultures various generations ago.  Who says who owns anything, in any conversation?  But still we talk.

We talk about research.  Subjectivity, relevance, women, men, manifestos, 2018, and what to do about it.


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The clouds sift fine, windless snow onto deck and branch here.  I’m grateful for the view of seventy-foot walnut, maple, spruce and ash through this window – ah, there’s the breeze, dancing the straight down flakes into dervishes.


Driving this week has added three more verses and a bridge to my road song.  It’s interesting that the road songs only come into my lungs and voice when I’m not on the 401, the 407, the 410 – they seem to have a speed and a geography to them.  The songs need fields, barns with their lights on in the early morning dark, sundogs and fence lines held by a row of charactered trees, each bent differently to the sun and wind.

The cars on the road are all moving forward/ the cars on the road are all in a line…  caliope-like. A road-dancing song.


I’ve been challenged by this Masters in the way I’d hoped, but couldn’t imagine, 20+ months ago.  To read, efficiently, through a lens of discernment.  To read in conversation with my self, and the other marvellous selves I meet each week in class. To ask, to listen, to respond only after hearing, in a way that counts, what you didn’t know before you asked.


I’ve come to understand that in the midst of the musical/academic clouds of curiosities and fascinations there is a point of focus where my attention can root itself.  That if I find and claim that place of focus I can learn to tend the soil there, in the place where I am resonant and relevant.  I have an idea that if I can do this, generously, a garden of understood things can grow there which in turn might nourish others, especially those still seeking their point of resonant focus, their who am I, in all of this?. 

Not that I will ever stop asking myself that question, especially in the humbling context of so many other great, fertile musical thought-gardens. I’ve found some of those, and will always be in search of others.  In the meantime I know I’m still figuring out the soil in this place I’ve found for me.


The ecosystem metaphor works  – perhaps especially – if you perceive the process of decay and regeneration in human choice and culture.  I’ve read excellent material written fifty, thirty, fifteen years ago that had enormous effect on the way we thought about ourselves, our music and our role on this planet  – but it’s simply no longer relevant. Other written-down-thinking from the same eras, which barely caused a cultural ripple then, sings with great resonance now, in our time of rich challenge and undeniable change.


We know that trees with the deepest roots form the healthiest, mutually nourishing connections in a natural forest system. They hold centre for new growth to occur, provide canopy that connects steady enlightenment with grounded-ness, through blizzard, monsoon, heatwave, blight, drought.  Others, once great pillars of the same place, eventually become habitat for squirrel, owl, woodpecker and insect, or fall and are deconstructed back into fertile soil.  Both are important; there is no bad or good.  Even parasites – vines that choke, species that invade, critters that burrow and divert streams, have their place and purpose.


My other school is this place of trees, an old terraced shoreline on the edge of Georgian Bay, where I bring my change and my books, my tired from driving and good lord, from thinking, and lay it all down – my questions, out of me and onto the ground.  The lake answers, rhythmically.  The trees answer too, but only if I slow my listening to one pulse a minute.

My curiosity and these issues of relevance, resonance, usefulness have a life here too, in these wonder-days of portable wifi and recording equipment.  I am so deeply grateful for all of it, here under the sifted snow.

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“..bright colours make the Spirit People happy, apparently” he said, while he rifled through ribbons at the fabric store, “in fact the whole spirit world is lit up with colours, though I wouldn’t know from personal experience.”  I said I’d long suspected as much, and he said “ya that doesn’t surprise me.  I wouldn’t normally talk like this but someone told me along the way you were one of us. Forget who it was…” He paid for his cotton & ribbons (talkatively) and left for Toronto en route to Mexico for a five-day sweat in the spirit world.


from #Selfie (2014). inverse image of me on white indian cotton.

Four beats after the door closed behind my friend, the women who run the place relaxed and began to offer the ritual dose of aural wisdom in fabric & sewing to me. I always enter there carrying two questions and leave with answers to twenty.  This time I got a replacement bobbin pin for my beloved 1956 Singer, advice about mixing poly-cotton with cotton, and instructions on how and when to use a double needle.

Perhaps the reason I go in is to reclaim my gratitude for simple common sense.


One of us?  Not sure what he meant by that; language is a slippery thing.  Perhaps he saw one of these photos on social media – my exploration of the idea of prayer flags and spectrum colour – and felt he understood something about me.

I do suspect that colour is a form of communication more subtle than we generally acknowledge.  We broadcast far more than we are aware of, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if spirits were tuning in.  I wonder if they appreciate common sense as much as they do bright colours.


I’ve had three pedicures in my life now, thanks to Marcus. Last time I chose a kind of moss green, but this colour is better. Next time, apricot?

Right now I’m chewing on the issue of binaries, how troublesome they are just about always.  Easy to get locked into an either/or, a he said/she said – into oppositional thinking. Much more interesting to find a third response that opposes neither but makes proactive use of the ground between them.

Common sense would suggest there’s always something good to be done.  I wonder what the spirits think?

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I’m at work on a book called The Healing Pages.  It’s about magic.

You can make magic out of anything.

You can turn illness into a pathway of discovery informed by tiny lights of wonder.  They’re right there if you slow down to see them, those lights.  You can transform utter certainty of failure into possibility for positive change.  Loss, however catastrophic, can transmute into a choice – to sink your roots deeper into the ground and find greater sustenance.

Positive growth is a private, personal, magical choice.  You can put it wherever and whenever it breathes easily.  For me, it’s singing.  Knitting, drawing, sewing, reading, cooking, walking, driving, listening to trees and lake, reading, laughing, the joy of meeting others in a place of music and engaged conversation.  There are places where it doesn’t fit, too.  I’m learning more about those places.

Betrayal releases distorted old belief systems, once you get off the blame train and look at what actually happened.  Violation teaches trust of oneself along the long road of healing.

Invalidation feels like a prison.  Like a gag, like a soul-eraser, like madness. But this is illusion.  Inside invalidation is a gate, made specifically for you, to see, to open, and to walk through.  Invalidation is the gate to the fields where your voice rings like the bell of the world. The open fields where your insightful, loving, compassionate, well-informed and sometimes difficult voice is loud and clear.

Inside exhaustion is Promethean courage. Inside every wound, a treasure and a map.

Numbness is a howl.  It is also permission from the universe to Stop. Rest up. Be. Contain. Self-care. Slow release the tsunami, do not allow it to crash down. If it crashes down, you will end up in hospital, and the bell will never ring.  Nobody’s that strong.

Your Bell. Must. Ring.

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To Adult

Onward and upward!, as they say.


Through the murk and mess of unpacking all that has occurred this fall, which was rooted in what happened four years ago, which was the natural endplay of belief systems and learned behaviours embedded before the recall of memory, the everyday shifts and requirements of life continue.


An Ariadne thread through shredded intentions and unveiled secrets glows with the promise of eventual release from the darkness of it all.  No compass works in the maze of sorting out what belongs to whom, but it’s not an aimless task, or endless.  If you keep a firm grip on that thread, you can also remember to take the garbage out on Wednesday mornings, put gas in the car, and keep your budget balanced in favour of a promising future.


It’s a cliche now, Joni’s song.  But something is gained, in holding firmly to a curiosity about life.  I’m grateful for all the mess of it, as well as the beauty.  Humbled by it, too.


Ariadne, my friend, thank you for reminding me that there is a safer place I can and will be.  I know it looks a lot like my studio, a lot like my cabin.  It tastes like great food and sounds like a bell-toned belly laugh.  It feels like shared things, simple things, like good honest dialogue.  It is the rich comfort of reading under a merino wool blanket, with a fire blazing in the woodstove.

This place has a lightness of being, an active compassion for broken wings and fragility, without any distortion of ownership, projection, or desire.  It is home, where things get done.

Stories are mined in the dark, and told in the light.


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Not only are the many tasks and challenges of Christmas 2017 accomplished and fulfilled as of today, but I have been gifted further with a head cold.  What bliss, this permission!

IMG_0350To follow my compass, through this pile of books, then the next, and watch the stash of bookmarks dwindle.  To leaf through an article in The New Yorker about film in 2017, and then another in Briar Patch Magazine about decolonialization in Canada. Then sit, thoughtfully, inside the challenging cultural moment of right now.

Yes. We change our minds.  Yes.  This is difficult.

IMG_0352To watch a Netflix series I would never otherwise attempt, for lack of time and brain space, called The Keepers, which resonates with everything written in those two articles, and adds yet another dimension.  I’m glad I stayed with it to the conclusion.

I have by now filled one large grocery bag with used kleenex.  I decide to start another bag rather than empty this one, just so I can see the visual manifestation of how many times I had to empty my nose, after it stops dripping.  Feels like this will be tomorrow sometime, but you never know how long the christmas cold gift will last.

Could be two more days like this?  I cross my fingers.


In between there’s other puttery – a few dishes, sorting reusable gift bags from those that have lost all practical function, setting the mouse trap again.  Putting the edge pieces of the puzzle together, sorting the rest into colours.  Laundry, a few more dishes, freeze the leftover bison stew.

There’s gratitude.

To my car, thank you for reliable 20 hours on the road this past week. Joni Mitchell and David Yaffe, Christopher Tolkein (now 90-ish), Siri Hustvedt, Elena Ferrante (whoever you are), Patrick Rothfuss, Carl Jung, thank you for your fierce, furious, compassionate work.  And of course my family and friends – thank you too for excellent memories and belly laughs that still echo in the house and in other houses, with rich promise of more.

It’s a good christmas.

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City thunder

My practice is to wake early, catch my first thoughts in a cup of strong coffee, and pour them out into something written.


My father’s 85th birthday

This morning I find myself in a wide bunk bed that’s been built into the many-windowed, second storey front porch of a student apartment.  I look down out of the many-windows at internalized students walking their six-am exam heads through crunchy snow.


tree, awaiting our return to Owen Sound tomorrow

Ottawa University is immediately across the street. At the street’s end (which direction? no idea), is a four-lane, one-way major artery through the capital city of Canada – delivery trucks have been thundering through there since 4am.

I wake with the vague thought that perhaps city thunder is more intense in the last few days leading to Christmas.

img_1485It is winter solstice, today.  As the farmer’s almanac reports, “The word solstice comes from Latin sol “sun” and sistere “to stand still.””.



I believe this is how memories get made.  If you take note of little things, just as they are in the moment, they can warm you like a fire in winter.  If you mark the time.


Happy solstice, everyone.

I hold you that I know and love softly and without constraint, in true appreciation for who you are.