Patterns Inspired by a Canadian Winter

I know in some places, the beginning of March is warm and holds all the promises of glorious spring, but here in Montreal it is still white and frigid and though the sun shines, it seems content to delay the the burst of life that comes with a warmer season.  I think mostly, we’re okay with that here. The city seems alive regardless of weather, most days, and winter is to be celebrated as much as any other time of year.  Yes, I’m wearing layers. Yes, the heat is on in my house, and yes, it is still cold in here. But we are so lucky to have four distinct seasons! The fun that comes with winter is all the more fun because we know that it will soon be gone (okay, I don’t want to get carried away here – often nearing the end of March many of us are crying out to the heavens for the temperature to warm up already)!

In celebration of winter, I’ve created a couple patterns (one by request from a friend, freshly transplanted here from France and totally in awe of our winter).

Behold, the decidedly Canadian winter pastime, skating.

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Self Sabotage and Finding Focus

Growing up as a creative kid with very hands-on, project oriented, DIY parents, I’ve had many moments of looking at things in shops, or in magazines, or catalogues, or noticing an accessory or fetching outfit on someone passing me by, and thought:
I could make that.
And sure, a lot of the time I didn’t make it, but then sometimes I did, or at least my own variation. Over time, it became tied in with my own sense of frugality. Why would I buy something if I could make it? And that, incidentally, worked for me for a long while because my path through art school and into adulthood welcomed frugality.  I nurtured this Make Everything quality and it’s been pretty fun. Of course, it’s not just fired by my, ahem, tight purse strings, but also by joy in creative exploration. It’s addictive. And it’s a bit of a problem for someone like me,
as I’ve come to realize, with my energies sprawling out like tentacles into the far reaches of only God knows where. There’s no end. There are too many wondrous things to get my fidigity artist paws on and I want to explore them all.

Right, I can’t do it all at once, but I can jump from one creative discipline to the next as though leaping from lily pads. And that pretty much sums up my life. Even as a teenager my mom would caution me saying that she noticed I seemed to work in six week cycles. I would get super passionate about something, dive in head first and work feverishly. Before long, that fever would break into a comparatively lackluster interest, and I would move onto the next thing.  That was the first time I associated  my inherent creative personality with something that was wrong with me. It became my fatal flaw. I’ve carried that with me. I’ve been a person who lacks – damn this word to hell – FOCUS. It’s been so elusive to me. I’ve put FOCUS on a pedestal and charged it with so much meaning – that if only I could focus, I could be prosperous and happy and wildly successful.

Self sabotage. I excel in this area. Reflecting on it, I think it’s mostly linked to my lack of self worth. I know, every time I say I lack self worth, it sounds so ridiculous to me because I have the ability to look at myself logically and come to a fairly conservative conclusion that I am pretty great (and I hope you see that about yourself, too). But my emotional self will have none of it. And I’m not blaming anyone here. My mom was doing what all great moms do, she was expressing concern. No one can control how we will internalize their words. Only we are responsible for that. And God help me, I cling to that thought now, as a parent.  I’m even considering starting a therapy fund for my children to present to them when I send each of them off into adulthood.  I digress. What I’m really trying to say is that by putting FOCUS up on that pedestal, as I let it be defined to me by society in general, I’ve set myself up to fail.

So, why is focus so elusive? Creativity feels like an intermingling of the soul and the conscious thinking mind and, as thus, there seems to be an eternal struggle between the emotional and the logical. We know focus is good, but the soul does not want to settle for just any old focus. The creative soul wants to find its one true love, at least that’s what it feels like to me. And time – another thorn in my side – is a nagging bitch. It’s hard to focus when you have that hovering feeling that while you are focusing you may be missing out on something else great, maybe better, and you wouldn’t want to miss out on meeting your one true love. Soon you’ll be old and a spinster and well past your prime. In a world with so many creative avenues, sometimes these tensions run high.

I can, and do, focus, regularly. I am productive and skilled. I do what I do and if I’m not already pretty good at it, I’m improving all the time. I’m not afraid of a good challenge and I kick ass at creative problem solving. Where the lines blur for me is that there are many forks in the road and they are all awesome. Often I find myself on more than one path at a time, and that, in essence, means I lack razor sharp, pinpointed focus, and therefore, as society would tell me, all things “success” related  (imagine me air quoting right now) shall elude me. But gah! That sounds SO BORING.

So, here’s where I’m at. A while back, I watched this rather liberating TED Talk about Multipotentialism. Finally, a label that I can package myself up with and present to the world. Apparently, this newly coined term, multipotentialite, encompasses the very essence of my being that I felt was a personal flaw. She flipped it around on me. First of all, I’m not the only one. And secondly, it turns out I’m pretty valuable because of it. Meh, who knew?  So, I’ve been thinking about this, and the need to still focus, in concert with my multipotentiality, if I’m going to actually consistently put food on my table, and wondering what kind of business model I could create for myself  that would encompass a certain freedom to jump between what I now know to be my true and loyal loves – drawing, writing, sewing, and graphic design. I’m working on this, and it feels right.  I’m one of those “extroverted introverts.” – I love being with people so much, but it can be exhausting (mostly because I’m a YES woman – yikes, another hitch in my git’along) and I also love my alone time. I actually adore being out in the world alone. For me, it’s that balance between the joy of people watching and the energy I get from being by myself.  I do find it easier to see clearly, to have a better sense of focus, when I pay attention to whether or not I need to steal away to be by myself for awhile, and learning how to say no to things that prevent me from doing that.

So, I encourage you, if you are beating yourself up over your inability to focus, start with praising yourself for what you are already good at. Revisit those things. How many of them have had staying power with you throughout your life – that no matter how far away from them you veered, you always came back? Those are your loyal and true loves. Start finding your focus there. I’m just realizing this myself, and I have to say, it’s not boring in the slightest.

Bonne chance, my friends.

When Being Responsible Gets In The Way of Meeting Goals

It’s that time of year we all take stock on how we’ve triumphed or missed the mark again for another year. How did I let this one slip by so quickly and how did I let myself to spread so thinly in so many different directions?  It’s frustrating. It’s anxiety feeding. It’s driving me slowly insane.

I have plans for 2016 – big plans. And at the hub of them is creating better daily habits. To that end I’ve decided to both write and draw EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.  All too often I find myself in the throws of a busy life with kids and responsibilities. Sometimes I hate that I’m so damn responsible. In fact, I use it as a procrastination crutch, so that I’m busying myself with mundane tasks and never quite getting the time I feel I need to see through my creative impulses. So, I’ve come to finally realize that they can’t be creative impulses. They have to be intentional, scheduled daily habits with a goal (ahem, goalsssssss) in mind.

I want to polish and publish my book series. In November I took part in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and actually wrote the second book in a month! It’s a very rough first draft but I did it. A whole novel in a month. The first book took me the better part of 4 years with a lot of procrastination (aka, fear and hesitation). But November was a turning point for me, and I did it, mostly joyfully, by committing to sit my ass in a chair every morning at 630 or 7 am, make toast with PB and honey and some tea, and write somewhere in the neighbourhood of 1700 words. Sometimes it took an hour, sometimes two. And this was during one of the busiest months of the year for me, leading into THE craziest month of the year. I wasn’t sure it would be possible …. but then it was. Like magic. It became a ritual.

I’ve always said “I wish there were more hours in a day.” Turns out, there are. You just have to get up earlier and prioritize your goals.

Every time I finished my word count for the day a feeling of conquering the whole blessed world came over me.  I kid you not, on more days than one, I’d type the final sentence and my arms would reflexively shoot up in the air like Rocky, victorious in the ring. That feeling can be euphoric and addictive, and can lead to thoughts like, Well shit. I’ve already written a whole chapter before most people are awake. Anything else I accomplish today is gravy. Potentially, a dangerous line of thought, yes, because I could find a whole lot of things to do to procrastinate the rest of my day away.

Be it writing a blog post, a poem, a short story, working on my book series or carving out time to submit my work to agents or publishers, I endeavor to make a specific time for writing every day. It’s that important to me. Yes, I am saying this out loud to myself.  Every day. It is that important to me.

My other great love is drawing. I want to improve my drawing and watercolor skills. So many days I’ve had it in my head that today I would draw, I would try new techniques. But it was so hard to actually make it happen – even if my day was free of outside appointments. So now I have to get serious about this. Do I want to work on my illustration skills? Heck yes. And drawing is a big foundation. I know I should be doing it every day. And I WANT to be doing it everyday.

I actually made a pocket sized book from 8×10 Fabriano watercolor paper, torn into quarters. It’s done with a Coptic stitch and has no spine so that it lays flat when opened. It’s not very difficult to make – you should try it. 🙂  I plan to use this little book for my Urban Sketching endeavors – and again, my plan is to carve out a prioritized time every single day to do some sort of drawing based work, be it out in my community or in front of my television.


Do you have plans to cut through the craziness of life and make a commitment to your goals this year? Do you have techniques on time management you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments.

What Canadians Look Like on Election Day

I did not fathom just how nervous I would feel today. I am beside myself with anxiety. I went from generally rolling my eyes at the beginning of the campaign 78 days ago to chewing off my finger nails today. I’m worried. I’m worried for my Canada. Our current government is just awful and horrible and what nightmares are made of. And the Man has a chance at re-election – AGAIN. He’s spent the last decade systematically circumventing democracy and pulling apart everything that makes this country beautiful. And people keep voting him in, though he wins largely due to our broken electoral system. The vast majority of Canada wants him OUT. I am beside myself.

But there is hope.

So, these little scribbles are an expression of sharing in our collective Canadian anxiety tonight.

Come on Canada, we can do this!

Are you glued to the screen tonight?  How are you coping?


On Pain

I’ve had a long running fascination with the nature of pain, how we perceive it and how to overcome it. I often tell my kids, “don’t give power to your pain”, essentially helping them to not allow themselves to dwell on the pain, and it will feel less painful. This was just based on a hunch.

I’ve tested my theory a lot on myself. I’m fortunate to have given birth three times, so. like a lot of mothers, I think, I use childbirth as a pain threshold. Once, I was at the dentist having a tooth repaired and the freezing wasn’t working. The dentist paused and asked if I was okay. And I was. It hurt, but nothing like childbirth, I consoled myself. I was able to minimize the pain in my mind and she was able to finish the job without extra medication.  I’m not super tough. I just think we are set up this way. Maybe we can think the pain away.

My youngest is about to turn 11, so the memory of the intensity of giving birth is fading and I suspect won’t be able to hang onto that comparison for much longer.

Recently, I had some deep tissue massage on my legs to help with a nagging case of Achilles tendinitis. It was intense. It burned and pinched and hurt like hell. I needed something to bite down on. But in the midst of it I thought about what my friend and Yoga instructor, Michel, had said one class:

Acknowledge your pain. Walk into it. Breathe and let your body support you.

So, I did. I visualized myself standing smack in the middle of that pain. And instead of wincing and grinding my teeth and persevering until it was over, I found myself in a feeling of power and strength as the pain met me as an image in my mind, not too unlike being in the midst of a dark storm as it blew past me. What was almost unbearable was no longer a problem. In fact, it was almost like a gift. How amazing that I could endure this with comparable ease, when only moments before I was ready to jump out of my skin. I was empowered. And more, I felt secure and in control, which is the opposite of what I normally feel when running from pain. Maybe it was because I felt I could see the pain – its beginning and end. Maybe it was just the distraction – focusing on the motion of facing pain, but not focusing on the pain itself.

My yoga friend meant her words in the the context of our yoga practice, which never seeks to induce pain, but sometimes in life pain is unavoidable. And how nice to find that in these areas of my life, where there is physical pain and discomfort, that my body is equipped to deal with it if I can just let it.  Another reason to trust that my body knows what it needs.

Maybe in a world where we are so intent on medicating all forms of pain it serves us well to explore what pain can actually do for us and how we can embrace it and work with it and use it as a tool to know ourselves better.

Have you had similar experiences in thinking or visualizing away your pain?  I’d love to hear about them.