enjoying the now

Today, during my photo shoot, I looked down and realized I had avocado all over my sweater. I took my sweater off and then realized I had pasta sauce all over my t-shirt. Later, at Costco, a woman stopped me to hand me back my child’s missing sock. I have 31 unread text messages (sorry to anyone reading this who I haven’t texted back–my daughter is finally napping and I just need a few moments of me time to decompress). Now, her pajamas are on the living room floor. I need to clean the kitchen for literally the third time today (and my husband has already cleaned it, too). And my goddamn pants that I finally fit into post-partum stopped fitting me today.

But I am so happy. I wouldn’t change any of this, for anything.

It’s this messy and complex life that I love because while none of it is Instagram perfect, it’s filled with love and intention. It’s a life that is lived in, fully, each one of us stretching out on an unmade bed. The sun shines down upon us; other days, it is misting; others, it feels like hail. There’s no perfect way of living this life but it’s whole and it’s real and it’s the only way worth living.

What my 6-week old daughter has taught me:

1. Let go.

This seems to be a theme in my life, how to let go and move on. Whether it’s the simple things or the complicated things. Row can go from smiling to crying to smiling all in about 5 seconds. Suddenly her bubbles are relieved and she’s back smiling again (we call her burps “bubbles,” it’s much cuter). As soon as her bubbles are gone, she simply forgets and has moved on. It’s been a really great reminder for me to move on, let go, not dwell or let anger stew. Just let go. Life’s much more enjoyable that way.

2. Shadows are the coolest thing in the world.

No really, the coolest thing in her world right now is looking at a shadow on the wall. Or a striped sweater. Actually, she’d prefer to look at our entire closet. She will crank her head around and stare at every contrasty object in her field of vision. She’s obsessed with the simplest little thing that I don’t notice. It reminds me though to slow down and look at the simple things, the small things, the mundane things. Pay attention to them. Focus. Don’t let yourself be victim to information overload. Allow yourself to be bored so your mind has room to breathe and create. Stare at the crack in the ceiling and let yourself think. Be intentional while doing the dishes. Appreciate the slowness that comes with life. One day I’ll feel as if it’s all gone by much too fast.

Memories I do not want to forget.

Remember when the water tank at our rental broke? I was 33 weeks pregnant. It was March 20th. I remember this because our anniversary is on the 20th. We received keys to the house we had bought the week prior, and with no running water, we made the hour drive with our dogs to our new home. We pushed the two couches together in the living room. Remember? The couches left behind by the stager. Remember? I was 33 weeks pregnant. The smaller couch was comfier for me to sleep on; you took the long couch, the one that sort of sinks in the middle. It was so quiet. Finally. No cars driving by–no ferry traffic, no speeding cars. It was so quiet and we were giddy with excitement. Here we were, in our new home. We slept soundly that night, listening to the wind and the crickets. It didn’t matter that it was a bit cold or that the couches were a bit uncomfortable or that we were sharing them along with our two dogs or that I was 33 weeks pregnant and exhausted. It felt like Christmas and we were kids again, in our new home, the one we bought for Row.

Memories I do not want to forget.

Realizing we had two separate bathrooms in our new home, our first home, the one we bought together. We each shouted from the bathrooms. It was silly but it was our home.

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Sitting at the table, the kitchen nook behind you, your red sweater and gentle face backlit by the setting sun. What we ate, I don’t know, though I do know it’s documented in a photograph somewhere. Music played, we danced in our seats. You bopped your head and snapped your fingers and swayed this way and that way. The excitement of our first dinner in our new home, our first home, the one we bought together. Nothing else mattered in this moment. 

Memories I do not want to forget.

Waking up in Florence, Italy. It was September of 2017. They had already left the Airbnb we were renting (they: my husband and our two friends). That morning I told my husband to go, I’d be fine staying behind. It was our last day in Florence and though I could barely get out of bed–morning sickness was strong–I wanted at least one set of our eyes to see the city. I could relive the day through his photographs, it was enough for me. After much persuasion, he left with our two friends.

I slept all morning. I slept into the afternoon. Finally, I stepped out the front door, lush greens everywhere, wildflowers and rolling country hills. The air was warm against my seafoam green sweater. You could hear the birds singing, the air dancing, the wind blowing ever so softly. I sat on the chair on the hill and breathed. The stillness felt more alive than the city.

Was it as beautiful as I remember? Or does my memory make it more?

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It was the day before and I was still wearing my seafoam green sweater, the one I purchased in Annecy, France. I’m not sure why I forgot to pack a sweater. It was warm, in fact, I think I had my sweater tied around my waist. Giardino Di Boboli. We wandered what felt like a maze. The Fountain of Neptune and many others. The trees blocked any sounds coming from the city. No cars, just the breeze, your hand in my hand, a pack of saltines in my purse to keep nausea down. Still, we were happy. I felt free. Our own secret garden, just you and me. The sun was hot and beat against our skin and so we sat for awhile in the grass, on the stairs, on a bench, too. We watched tourists roam, tourists ourselves. It was us and the 7-week old baby inside of me. She’s due in 3 weeks.

We bought you a house.

We bought a house for you.

Your room is next to ours.

The gardens are bigger than both of our rooms put together. 

I don't know much of how to raise you, 
but I'll raise you by my side.

We can sit in the garden while the sun beats down.

You will sleep at first and I'll fumble my way through planting, pruning and picking. I'll try the vegetables first and then I'll puree them for you.

Eventually, you'll pick the vegetables, too.

There is a chicken coop. 
We're probably crazy to buy a house, have a baby, pick up gardening, raise chickens, raise you, all at once.

But on the days that we're all much too tired, 
we can sit on the patio and rest.

The patio gets sunshine all day long. It faces south and so we'll see both sunrise and sunset.

Once it's warm enough I'll buy you a kiddie pool and we can sit together in the water to stay cool. 

I imagine you'll love warmth as much as I do. I imagine you'll crave the sun and find the sunny corners of the house, just like I do.

There's a reading nook in the kitchen.
A reading nook in our bedroom.
Both, with sun.
And we'll read. I know we'll read lots.
We'll read until we fall asleep.

When you're older you'll discover the downstairs of the house next to the sliding door where your play room will be. 
In and out, you can run. 
In and out, with the dogs.

Across the yard you'll see your dad's workshop where you can ask him questions and learn how to build. 
You'll learn about metal, wood, micarta, and all sorts of other materials that you can turn into anything you want.

The workshop will be yours just as much as it is his.
Just as our house is really for you.

Rest and restoration.

I've been in this weird creative rut lately; perhaps it's not a creative rut but simply that there are a lot of changes going on right now. Normally, change is when I find myself writing, but this time, this time things are different.

But suddenly when I woke up, I felt inspired in the way I only feel at this time of year. It's cold. It's dark. You study the light glowing through the window and realize how sacred it is. You pull you socks extra high, tuck in your undershirt and sip on a cup of tea. Things are sleepy and a bit gloomy, and I suppose it's in this meloncholy I find both rest and restoration. 

My relationship with photos is different than it used to be. I feel less inclined to capture the moment and more inclined to simply gaze at the moment and breathe it all in while it lasts. The credenza in my living room, the plant that sits on top, the spinning record and burning candle. It's a still life that I can photograph to remember or it's a still life I can sit in front of and contemplate the reality of its existence, my existence. It is here. It is now. I am now. 

Which brings me to words, and why I love words. They aren't digestible in the way photographs are, the ones we see on Instagram and mindlessly scroll past, catching only a glimpse of life here and life there. With words, you can't scroll past. They either don't exist and are merely dark shapes and negative space, or, they become an entire new world. 

Here in my home, I create an entire new world. I learn to play the ukulele and even pick up our old guitar. I play piano on my iPad until we find both the money and space for a real piano. My office is no longer my office, but a new room, slowly filling with new things for a new human I have yet to meet and yet who knows me possibly more intimately than I know myself. 

It's the time of year where things slow, things quiet, things sleep. The solitude and the silence: space created in order to let new things grow. But first, rest. We rest.

So the story goes.

So the story goes,

the house hums: the heater.
steam rises: a cup of tea.
words float; melodies dance: a record plays.

So the story goes,

he types; i type: we're home.

Our Home grows.
my belly Grows.
rain keeps us inside and you stay inside, too.
and when the rain stops and the flowers bloom,
so, Here, You will be.

and then, 
I don't quite know how the story goes. 

the house will still hum just in a different way.
my tea will probably be cold by the time i get to drink it.
words will still float and melodies will be dancing. 

he'll type; i'll type; you'll be asleep.

maybe you'll fall in love with the sound of these keys, 
the way i have.
maybe you'll fall in love with the sound of the rain, the way he has.
maybe i'll hear you type one day and i'll watch as you create another world in our home.

And so the story goes.

My little sister. My big sister.

It was April 6, 1991.

You are my first memory. I don't remember the first time I saw you or heard you, but I remember that suddenly you existed. My sister. The one who would become my closest companion growing up and also the one whom I would hate more than anyone, thankfully, only for brief moments. Our father made sure to teach us how to say sorry and perhaps more importantly, how to forgive. And forgive we did, over and over, just as sisters should.

I was two at the time, almost three. It's strange to me that I have a memory of myself at two years old. That I existed as the same person I am today, 26 years later, but in a small body and with a mind I didn't fully understand. I remember dad putting me in the car. I was scared–bewildered, is perhaps a better word–but even though we were leaving the hospital (or were we going there?), dad had a huge grin on his face. Perhaps the biggest grin I have ever seen on him. He was my Trust, and that is what I did, I trusted him The fact that we were at a place where only sick people went to, things were going to be okay because he was smiling.

And of course, he was smiling. For you had just been born.

You are my first memory.

Therefore, my life could not exist without you in it. I didn't know a time before you came into the world. I didn't know anything before you existed. You are my first memory, my first understanding that I, too, existed as a small child.

I remember you getting your ears pierced before me, and finally deciding that I could do it, too. If my little sister could do it, so could I. My little sister, or, perhaps, my big sister. I remember sneaking upstairs from my basement room into your room, climbing into the bunk beds. I was too scared to sleep alone, and so I slept next to you, my little sister. My big sister. I remember when you first came to school and I wasn't so sure how that worked. You were near me, but there you were, down on the playground, far. You had your own set of five year old friends, and I didn't quite understand how that worked. I thought we were one unit up until that point, but now I saw that we were two different bodies existing on our own. How does this work? I thought you were mine.

But we were each other's. I remember laughing in bed with you–was it two twin beds, or was it one double?–in our grandmother's Montana home. We had already moved away from Montana, and so we were back visiting. We wanted to find our thing together. Something only sisters shared, something more than blood, apparently. We were giggling as we came up with nicknames for one another, and somehow, in a way only an eleven and eight-year-old could ever understand, we landed on Wisconsin Cheeseburger. I've still never been to Wisconsin. 

I remember jumping on pillows in our basement, careful to avoid the lava on the carpet. We were each different colored Yoshi characters. I don't remember our colors now. I remember slapping you across your bare chest when you could barely form a full sentence. I wanted you to leave my room but you refused, and now how desperately I wish we could be in the same room together forever. I miss you.

I remember playing solitaire together on dad's computer at church, waiting for him to finish up work. I remember walking our dog together and running through the forest to school. I remember when games like dress up and paper dolls were no longer fun for me, and not being able to understand or explain to you why I no longer wanted to play the games that were once so much fun. We were growing up.

I remember playing in our backyard and riding bikes together. I remember long car rides to California, and back to B.C. I remember painting our faces with makeup and trying to embarrass our parents. I remember you trying to embarrass me. It worked, every time. It still works, just as well as how you still fall for all of the fake stories I tell you. We laugh about them later.

I remember when you were diagnosed with scoliosis. At fifteen, I was enthralled with boys, and I used them to distract myself from the pain I felt from not being able to protect you anymore, like when we were younger, and a girl was bullying you. I told that girl if she messed with you again, I would break her other arm. Now, there was a pain I couldn't fix or take away. I distanced myself from you, and it's one of my biggest regrets. I think you distanced yourself from me, too, though.

But I also remember being at the hospital with you. It was a few years later, and I knew I couldn't keep running, I had to be there for you, however difficult it was, and difficult it was, as the doctors broke your back in half to straighten it with poles. I danced in your hospital room, hoping to get even one smile out of you while you came in and out of consciousness from the drugs. You did smile, you were also annoyed at me at times, but I didn't care, your smiles were worth it. You had changed, though. You had a new sense of empathy that was much greater than I was capable of experiencing. 

It makes me worried that I can't remember as much of our childhood as I would like to. Perhaps if I had some photographs in front of me, I would better be able to relive our moments. Instead, many of these moments have been replaced by our experiences together as adults. 

I remember when I decided I had had enough and abandoning my home and entire life in San Francisco. Thousands of miles away, I crawled into bed with you, yet again. I told you how all of my nightmares had come true and you listened quietly to me. I don't know if you didn't know what to say, or if you were simply in the nightmare with me, but you listened, your gentle and calm self, and stood by my side until I had enough strength to pick myself up again. My little sister. My big sister.

Again, in the bedroom, it was the night before my wedding. You asked if I wanted my own room, my last night as a legally single woman, and I said no, I wanted you next to me. We crawled into bed and listened to the wind whistle. We cracked jokes and made funny faces at each other and talked. When you fell asleep, I woke you up with all of my excitement about what was to come. Or perhaps it's that I didn't want the night to end, you laying next to me. Us, as sisters, one entity splitting further into two. 

Of course, I remember your wedding day. How beautiful and calm you were all morning up until you saw your almost-husband when suddenly your silly side came out again. My favorite side, too. I remember watching you walk away with him, arm in arm, and realizing now that someone else was watching out for you, but that that was okay. You were the prettiest and most elegant bride, but also the most lively and courageous bride. My little sister. My big sister.

Time continues to pass, and I realize 26 years have happened since my very first memory–you–and I wonder how it is possible for time to continue in the way it does when I desperately want to hold onto our moments and make them last forever. Mostly, I am just grateful, that on this day, I get to think about you and celebrate you. You are one of the biggest blessings in my life. You have made my very life exist in the way it does. You are a part of me, and you are a part of whom I wish to be.

And now here we are. You, in one country, and me, in another. I will call you later today to wish you a happy birthday. I will wish so badly that you and I could be sharing a bed together instead, coming up with practical jokes that we could play on our parents or sharing our deepest and darkest secrets. My life revolves around your existence. My memories began at your first breath. My little sister. My big sister.

I remember sitting with you at the top of Glacier National Park knowing that everything was right in the world because I had you. My little sister. My big sister.

I love you. Happy birthday.

Why I stopped trying to change the world.

When I was five or six years old, I vowed to myself that I would change the world. I had just finished reading a book with my family that explained the political situation in North Korea. As young as I was, I knew the situation wasn’t good, and it was then and there that I knew my life’s mission: I was going to change the world. 

Fast forward to high school where I was wearing a sneaker with a high heel shoe, a jump rope as a belt and a tutu over my jeans. I looked like a complete weirdo but it was the activist in me standing against conformity and what the cool kids did. I organized social justice meet ups during school lunch hour and as soon as I had my own job, I began sponsoring a child overseas. A few years after high school I went to university and began a degree in Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice at the University of British Columbia. At the same time, I was working as a photographer and turned many of my school essays into photo projects that focused on everything from eating disorders, to abortion, to stolen Indigenous land. For a time, I worked as a photographer for UNICEFto help raise awareness on issues in the DRC in Africa . I vowed to myself that I wouldn’t ever stop the fight for justice and human rights consumed me.

Like any fire that isn’t properly stoked, I, too, burnt out. I was doing everything I could possibly do to change the entire world but I wasn’t seeing any immediate change. I would open up Twitter and once again, my timeline would be filled with countless more stories of pain and injustice. I’d see friends on Facebook arguing over the presidential campaign and whether or not we should have gender neutral bathrooms. It was overwhelming, exhausting, and made me feel hopeless. I became angry.

The thing is, anger can actually be a good thing because anger can motivate and inspire change. The problem with the anger I had was that I only allowed it to focus on the negativity, fear, and hopelessness I was feeling, instead of actually doing something to create change. One can be angry, but one must also live with hope. Filled with fear and hopelessness, I realized I needed to change my approach, and this is when I quit trying to change the world. 

Instead, I focused on creating change locally. By focusing on local issues, suddenly I was no longer only promoting change, but I could act on it, too. Issues that once seemed big, daunting and impossible to fix suddenly became small, relatable and achievable issues to fix. I didn’t need to argue with people on Facebook anymore, I could get a group together locally and act on the change. I didn’t have to save the entire world, something I will never be able to do, but I could create change in my neighborhood. This is where hope began to blossom. 

Hope starts small, but like anger, it spreads like wildfire. I’m reminded of all the times I’ve had a bad day, and how someone’s simple act of kindness has completely changed my day around. Now, whenever I’m out and about and feeling blue, I tell myself to change my attitude, because if I can smile and represent hope to one person, that person can smile and represent hope to another person.

Changing the world starts locally. It starts in your relationships, in your homes, in your neighborhoods, and in your cities. There are so many things you can be doing locally that, while they might seem small, will influence the rest of the world. Read the newspapers. Volunteer. Help a stranger out. Join a local community garden. Listen to people. Ask people how you can help. Join your friends at their meetups for topics surrounding LGBTQ+ issues, racial issues, religious issues or class issues. Dream big, but start small and start with something tangible, promoting change one step at a time. If we all create change locally, together we will be changing the world.