Stormpocalypse 2018: We were not ready

It’s been quite exciting here on Vancouver Island the past few days. Thursday December 20th we were hit with one of the largest windstorm’s BC has seen in recent years. Off the coast of Tofino wind gages clocked hurricane force speeds. Waves were over 20 feet high. Thousands of trees fell knocking out powerlines, homes, and blocking roads. Ferries were canceled. Schools were closed. It was chaos. We were not ready.

The water treatment plant first suffered a power outage. Then the back up generator failed. Once back online, the mechanical failure was beyond repair for over 36 hours. We were not ready.

Grocery stores that had power sold out of bottled water within minutes. It took the City of Nanaimo more than 24 hours to set up emergency warming stations. Hundreds of thousands were without power. Some still are without power and will be until well after Christmas. We were not ready.

Some residents had back-up stores of food and water. Many had no heating, no method of cooking, no way to wash themselves, communication was horrid. Most notifications went through social media. With no access to electricity, no wi-fi, and no cell service as phone batteries died—residents were in the dark literally and figuratively as workers and volunteers worked (and continue to work) around the clock to restore services. We were not ready.

As a resident of Nanaimo, located directly on an active fault line, I’m concerned at the City’s (and the province’s) complete utter lack of adequate contingency planning. How is it that we have a multi-million dollar brand new water treatment plant that had such a catastrophic failure after a wind storm? What if this was an earthquake situation? With the amount of seismic activity we’ve had of late registering at 5.0 or better, it’s scary to think about what would happen. Residents do not have enough food or water to make it through more than a day or two.

At our house, we went through our very expensive emergency kit and noticed it didn’t even have a real first-aid kit. We’ve since remedied that. We saw the storm coming for days and people went on about their business like it wasn’t coming. As the storm hit, and in the aftermath, shopping malls remained open even though traffic lights were out causing 34km long traffic jams on the main highway. This blocked emergency service routes. But people still got to do their Christmas shopping, so crisis averted I guess.

Some took the chaos seriously, but most did not. Businesses were posting on social media that they were still open and available for holiday shoppers. Restaurants were maxed out and turning people away. No food supply shelters were set up, or are set up. The gulf islands are still without power, food, and water. No state of emergency has been declared, and it is unlikely that it will occur.

Another storm hit Vancouver Island Saturday night. A look at the forecast shows we will have multiple systems of varying strength continue to hit us until the end of December. Clean up is taking a very long time. BCHydro has sent ferries of linemen and crew trucks to help with over 800 workers arriving by Sunday morning (according to BCHydro’s website).

Food is spoiling in grocery stores as power is yet to be restored in some communities. The local government continues to ask us to have patience. I am extremely disappointed in how this was handled and the utter lack of emergency preparedness of local government for any kind of large-scale disaster. I am very thankful Nanaimo has just elected a new council and new mayor who unfortunately inherited this mess weeks before it came to light. Here’s hoping they learn quickly from this event as climate change will only increase the frequency of similar incidents.

Will we be ready for the next one? My house is. I can’t speak for the rest of the region, but one would hope so.

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A Letter to Myself at Christmas

Dear self,

Be kind. Not just to others, but to yourself. You have been through a lot. You’ve started over with nothing more than a few times. You’ve moved to a new town, a new country, a new province, a new community more times that you’ve had birthdays. Still, you’ve managed to gain friends that love you as if you were their own blood. Turn your kindness inwards. Embrace your rough edges with love and trust that you’re not just doing okay but brilliantly.

Be brave. Remember what you’ve overcome. When those memories threaten to bring sorrow and rob you of your joy, remember the courage and sheer determination it took to liberate yourself. You did that. You are amazing. You said enough to toxic people and places. You knew when giving your last dollar would change a life. You stood your ground. You changed a life—more than once. You will continue to create space for those who need it. Take a breath and be brave.

Be patient. You remember how many times you helped that little girl with a lisp say snow over and over until it came out sounding less like a snake with a cold and more like a word? Treat yourself that way. No one achieves success overnight. What’s more, success isn’t even a static thing. It’s more of a mindset and a state of being. If you’re patient and focused you are already a success. You want to publish a book, write a page a day and eventually, you’ll get there.

Lastly, love fiercely. Hold fast to what you love. Never be ashamed of it. You love rainbows and unicorns, who cares if you’re 32 and wear cotton candy socks? You are passionate about human rights, the environment, animals, and LGBTQ+ inclusion in the church—all of those things are beautiful. All of those things are needed. You are not too much. Your heart is soft and full of love. The world needs more love.

Don’t shrink back.

Love,

Yourself.

What to Know About Anxiety and Relationships

I have lived with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) all my life. I have also been single most of my life. In this past year, I’ve found someone I hope to spend my life with, and as a result, I’ve discovered a few new roadblocks. No one could prepare me for the intensity some symptoms take when amplified by loving another person. Anxiety often plagues me with doubt, guilt, negative intrusive thoughts, insomnia, excessive worry over trivial things and so much more. In the context of the relationship, those once-debilitating issues I had during an episode or flare-up as a single person seem worse now.

1. Guilt.

I used to have guilt about avoiding appointments or breaking plans. Now I have guilt about how every decision I make or don’t make might potentially harm my partner. Knowing they fully love and accept me as I am, sick brain and all, helps me to recognize that even though the pain of the guilt is real and felt in my mind and body, the basis for it is not. I am at the point in my journey where I am testing my limits — limits of how much I can work, what types of employment I can be successful in, how much social time I need to thrive and how much is too much. In all of these instances, I feel heavy loads of guilt.

Read the rest of the article on The Mighty.

Family Portrait: chapbook sneak peek​

I’m getting excited about this project. To give you a small taste of what I’ve been working on, I thought I’d share the introduction to Family Portrait with you.

“Not much by way of content has changed over the past thirteen years in my poetry. I’m driven to explore familial trauma through the written word both in fiction and non-fiction. Poetry offers a nuanced way to zero in on specific language. This close-up examination of moments allows an honesty and an intimacy that is not readily available in a journalistic account of events or a fictional narrative. 

When I began to seriously consider poetry, my work was posted to a personal blog. It was confessional in style and written for no one in particular—but I knew it must be shared. Before the internet became widely accessible, my poems existed in volumes of written journals or were housed on 3.5 disks. My mother still has a stack of those old 3.5’s in her desk as sentimental paper-weights alongside a hand-bound collection of poems from my original blog.

Even in those early works, I explored themes of familial relationships, identity, longing, and spirituality. I often incorporated scenes from real life, with dialogue and identifiable characters, into musing and metaphors grounded most in colours and textures. 

 My current projects speak both to a broader audience and on behalf of marginalized voices. Over the past four years of exploration, themes of childhood trauma, queer identity, womanhood, and mental illness come together in free verse, experimental form, and nuevo-formal tradition. 

To me the fight is not content versus form, but the poem shapes into what it needs to be. Fixed form can shape an idea into a striking image by way of control. A poem about something as mundane as a vanilla scented candle can be as profound as a poem about infant loss—it all comes down to moments crafted to allow readers insights otherwise unavailable. 

This collection is comprised mainly of free form and free verse. Fixed form causes me to self-edit content that I’m vulnerable about before it ends on the page. I prefer to use fixedform for nature themes or humorous work.

 I’ve titled it Family Portrait as my two favourite pieces “Father” and “Mother” are the heart the rest of my story flows from. Both are inspired by conversations. My mother raised my older brother and I on her own from age 20. She and my father separated when I was two years old, and later divorced when I was eight. The last time I saw my father was Christmas Eve 1990. He promised to be there in the morning when we woke up. After my brother and I had gone to bed our parents had an undisclosed conflict and we never saw our father again. 

We grew up transient. We moved a lot. By age 18 I had attended 23 schools. We were poor, on welfare, and had no longterm attachments outside of my maternal grandmother Helen. Our childhood was steeped in drugs and risky behaviour.

27 years later, I received a message on Facebook from a man with a made up name. Though he appeared very aged (for a man of 56 he looked more in his 70’s) and clearly unhealthy (I could see the grey of his skin and the toothless smile he gave in his profile picture—of him and his cat), I recognized my father and my heart cried “Daddy.”

I try to write most about the underneath of it all. I pay attention to the interaction between reality and the interpretation of reality. With “To Hold a Candle” I wanted to look at how consumption as an attitude has real consequences to the world around me. A candle is an object without thought or feeling. The consumption of an object, that by nature is designed to be consumed, is something we think little of as we interact with the world daily. But what if the candle did have sentience? What if it wanted a life of comfort enriched with literature and antiques? 

How can I explore the underneath of relationships in my life? Is there a way poetry can convey truths and emotions that are difficult to pin down much less say aloud in conversation? I believe that poetics allow writers the space to create images in place of, or in conjunction with, complex and sometimes troubling topics. Poetry gives us permission to explore the taboo and the traumatic in a place of protected vulnerability. Word-craft becomes simultaneously an outlet and a sanctuary for our shadows and light.”

Cat’s Meow

I always said I’d never be on of those people. Yet, here I am blending up organic pumpkin with salmon souffle flavoured fancy feast in an effort to get a cat to poop.

We bought a house last year. Calling it a fixer-upper is an understatement—but it’s our home. It’s a two bedroom rancher that was built sometime in the 50s. On our first walk through with the realtor, there was rat poison and rat droppings everywhere. Tobacco stains dripped from what used to be a white ceiling fan. The kitchen had (what we later learned to be asbestos-based) peeling yellow linoleum with several burn marks. The fridge and stove looked original to the home and also like they had never been cleaned—we didn’t even try.

The bedrooms had hardwood floors trapped beneath years of garbage, neglect, and water damage. There was a random electric organ in the living room circa 1975. The bathroom was by far the worst part of the home’s interior—even taking into account the 1/2 inch of rat feces we found under the stove in the aforementioned kitchen.

The bathroom had pepto-coloured paint peeling off of every surface. The floor around the giant steel and enamel bathtub was soft, indicating severe water damage. There was no exhaust fan to relieve the moisture. The tub surround was plasticized plywood; it had plastic paint on one side and was cedar 1/8th of an inch board with no drywall underneath. The toilet was literally falling through the floor. 

This was still not the worst thing.

The horror came from the garage. The previous owner’s son had been squatting on the property. The backyard was filled with tents, bike parts, tools, and garbage. The back door to the garage had been broken into. Inside there was a microwave, a kettle, and a hotpot stacked against one wall amongst boxes, shelves, and drug paraphernalia. Under what appeared to be an endless mountain of clothes (8 feet tall, 8 feet long, and 5 feet wide) was a mouldy mattress and box spring.

Later, throughout the cleanup process, we discovered multiple used needles hidden between layers of clothes.  Sometimes we found pictures of children that seemed to be from the 80s or 90s. We set those aside should the squatter ever return. Those memories seemed important. Eventually, we carted away three industrial sized dumpsters of refuse from the house—mainly the garage.

On a break, we sat on the front step of the house and a large calico cat came over to investigate. We remembered the cat from the window of the living room that first day in October 2017. We had done a drive-by to view the house before setting up a walkthrough and this same cat had been perched behind heavy drapes in the main front window. It took months of putting food out and calling to him (using whatever name we could think of) before he trusted us enough to let us touch him.

One of our neighbours a few months after we moved in said, “So, you’ve decided to keep George.” GEORGE! He had a name! The neighbour informed us that George had been here as long as they could remember, and that was 11 years.

We’ve spent the year building trust with George. He’s had a hard life. He was left behind. He was starving. He had worms. He was dehydrated. Now, he is warm. He is cozy. He gets a lot of attention—and I puree his food into a pumpkin bisque because he damn well desreves it.


I’m 32 and also living paycheque to paycheque

I read an article today on #HuffingtonPost titled I’m 37 and living paycheck to paycheck. As I read, I realized how familiar the author’s story was. You see the pressure to go to events to support friends and loved ones is real—even more so during the holiday season. Many of us are just one or two unexpected expenses away from not making it.

This year we had to replace a furnace to the tune of 6000.00. (We DID get a rebate and it decreases our heating costs…but that’s a huge chunk of money that was supposed to be spent over time on other house related things.) Then, we chose to keep the cat that came with our house. This meant that he needed to see a vet pronto and get all his shots, that was 300 bucks…shortly after that appointment he required an emergency visit for dental issues and some other stuff. We decided to try and save him (to the tune of 1200.00). This all happened during a period of time where Olivia was indefinitely laid off from her long-term job and I went back to school for my final year. Our budget was tight! Then, Olivia found some work, but now it’s winter and she’s facing another potential lay off.

Due to the lay off over the summer, my minimum wage job just covered expenses and we were not able to save anything. This is the reality for most folks. What’s more is most folks don’t have the ability to put unexpected expenses on credit. We thankfully did, but now we have balances to pay each month on our already taxed budget.

Please know I’m not sharing this to whine, but for the folks who find themselves in a similar situation. We see you. You are not alone. If all you can do this Christmas season is to tell people how much you love them, please don’t feel guilty. AND if you’re hard up for food, reach out—there are plenty of resources available in Nanaimo where we live (and other communities if you’re not from here), and you can always come to our house for a modest dinner if you live close by. The challenge is to escape the shame of poverty. If so many of us are (or have been) in a similar situation, why are we reluctant to be honest and to access resources available to us?

This year when people ask what we want for Christmas we have two answers. First, we cheekily reply home depot or PetSmart gift cards (because the cat and the house are eating all our money). Second, for those who are closest to us, the reality is we need time with the people we love that has no financial cost…this can even include gas costs. We’d love to come to see you, but we can’t afford the gas bill—we need it to get to work.

Doubt: Watch Me

Doubt is a nasty germ. It creeps in subtly when things are going well and begins to breed in the background. First, it will show up disguised as rational thinking. Should I really be doing this? I know ________ is more qualified at __________ than I am. We begin to compromise. Before long, we avoid the things we once loved—things we know we’ve been good at before—for fear of failure.

I struggled for two weeks to write a short story in October. I am in fourth year of creative writing and have published several stories, poems, and non-fiction pieces. I was long-listed for a prestigious literary competition and have won prizes for my promise in writing. I’ve been paid for not only my own content but to create pieces for others’ websites as well. I’ve been solicited for publication from links I’ve shared on Twitter and been hired out for events due to my creative prowess. All this is true and I still struggle to create.

I’m not trying to humble-brag. If anything, I’m trying to remind myself that I am extremely talented at making something great out of thin air and sheer will power. I have three novels in progress but am terrified to complete them. What if they aren’t good? What if I publish them and only sell ten copies? Worse, what if I publish them and someone expects MORE? Doubt is a jerk.

I say to look doubt right in the face and say watch me.

When I finally buckled down and quit the debilitating habit of self-censoring, I produced a short story in under five hours that is already receiving positive feedback. It’s even spawning the idea for a chapbook of short stories unlike anything that is currently being done. It just might be that accidental best idea I’ve ever had. It was full of typos and a little rushed—I was outrunning doubt after all, and we all know doubt is a marathon runner.

That thing you love, that you miss, but you doubt you’re good enough/brave enough/_________enough to take it on again—it misses you. Tell doubt watch me. You’ll be glad you did.

Esteem

Lately, I’ve been thinking about esteem. Not self-esteem, though that’s part of it, but esteem as in value. I’ve placed a great value on writing by pursuing an education in the field. Yet, when faced with the opportunity to apply for a writing position, I am quick to discredit myself.

I took a good hard look at other areas of my life this past two weeks. My skills, likes, hobbies, and things that bring me joy all point to things I value—things I hold in esteem. I started to pay attention to others’ observations (not to be confused with opinions) and realized that as my own worst critic I often fail to realize and own my accomplishments.

Cataloguing things that I’ve worked hard for and things that others noticed in me gave me courage to apply for a position, and I received a second interview. To stand out on paper, without having met an employer, isn’t easy. During our discussion, the interviewer let me know what set my application apart. It was my ability to describe myself, they said. They could tell my wit, humour, and love of writing from the “tell me about yourself” portion of the job application.

Don’t be afraid to hold a high esteem for the things you love, your skills, or yourself. One day it might land you your dream job.

Fall Semester Challenge: A novel in 91 days.

On the first day, of my last year, of University, our Advance Novel Prof asked us to do some math. MATH. From CREW students. He asked how many days are in September….we all paused and someone, thank God, said “30”. Then he asked how many days were in October, this I knew because Halloween, obviously, “31”. Again he asked how many days were in November, turns out there’s also 30. That gives us 91 days. Then he asked his room full of upper level students if it was possible to write 1000 words a day.

Yea. We do that all the time for assignments, but what was he getting at? Class continues until December 5th, so obviously his questions weren’t for class right? Wrong. Last question, how large is the average novel? 80,000 to 100,000 words. You’re welcome. So, all the math. If we write 1000 words a day, for 91 days, we will have 91,000 words—a novel.

WHAT?! But novels are hard to write, and I never finish them. I get to chapter three and crap the bed, shove it in a drawer, and cry myself to sleep until I have a new idea. The life of an aspiring writer. First assignment, outline (with as little or as much detail as is developed for your current idea) due next class for the entire project. Who is in it? What do they want? What gets in the way? The normal story questions. But over and over again until you can “see” the skeleton of a story. Then the 1000 words a day begins. I’ve started….two days ago. Current word count, 756. After two days. I suck at this. But I’m going to do it.

Want to join me?