The greatest potential for growth and self-realization exists in the second half of life”. Carl Jung’s words are more than just comfort for an aging society. They are about opportunity!

When my two kids were launched into college and beyond, seeking their bigger lives beyond our front door, I was also launched. The structure that provided the bedrock of family life for the past decades wasn’t needed. With anticipation, I looked at this new phase as a page yet to be written.

It turns out that I am not alone. What used to be described as a Mid-Life Crisis could now be more aptly described as Mid-Life Opportunity. The tired traditional stereotypes of mid-life crisis involve a man with a receding hairline, new sports car and younger girlfriend – a desperate attempt to hold onto or recapture a past. Not only is this picture outdated, it rarely reflected a woman’s journey. In fact, it wasn’t until the movie Thelma and Louise, that women found a collective voice when turning against their circumstance. As Thelma says, “I don’t recall ever feeling this awake. You know. Everything looks different now.” With this model rather than having a younger boyfriend or new sportscar, the result of an acknowledged woman’s Mid-Life Crisis was to grab your best friend by the hand and drive off a cliff!

The Crisis in Mid-Life Crisis, comes when the subscribed rules of our past push against the blank slate of our future. Fearfully, we cling with white knuckles to a familiar life structure while acting out in sometimes ridiculous ways, trying to quell that persistent itch of curiosity. Affairs, gambling, over-spending, immediate gratification rather than deep reflection. Mid-Life Crisis, even in its name, is inherently about destruction. An implosion of monumental proportion.  How do we manage the transition that comes with entering the middle state of life while minimizing collateral damage?

Carl Jung’s words provide the first guidepost on the journey through mid-life. I believe it is only a crisis if we mistake the excitement of the future as a restlessness with the present. When we experience a big life change that typically aging brings – empty nest, health issues, death of elderly parents –  it can trigger Mid-Life Opportunity. Self-awareness and honest personal conversations combined with knowledge and experience that only living can give, set a new course. It is the time to take stock. It is the time to pay attention. It is the time to fulfill potential.

Recently I was at a family gathering where it was revealed that most of the couples and the single people of my generation, were either embarking on or contemplating big life changes. Selling homes and moving miles away; planning months of travel; taking on new career paths; rediscovering dormant creative lives.  Exciting opportunities were being sought out that would put them on entirely new life paths. There was no crisis here! Instead, I was hearing about a renewed sense of adventure. A rediscovery of what it was like to live unencumbered by an obligation to something other than themselves – almost like being a teenager again! But this time, with experience. Couples were facing this together, rather than one acting out destructively. Single friends were blessed with realizations there were new choices ahead that could take them where ever they desired.   Mid-life was asking the question ‘what comes next’?

I like Jung’s optimistic view. This is the time to fulfill your potential with a renewed energy while armed with a lifetime of experiences. Maybe that’s all it takes. A re-branding. Rather than dreading aging, we can look forward to this next phase.  When curiosity and anticipation replace fear and angst, Mid-Life Crisis is no match for Mid-Life Opportunity.

When Nora Ephron, the famed director/writer of notable works such as ‘When Harry met Sally’ and one of my favorite of her books ‘I Feel Bad About My Neck; and Other Thoughts on Being a Woman’, died from complications from cancer in 2012, it was a complete shock to most of her friends and colleagues that she had even been sick! Ephron had decided to die the way she lived – on her own terms. She controlled the narrative. By doing so, she wrote her own story, maintaining the authority of her life.

In being the author of our own lives, we choose to pen our narrative. Our ‘story’ is the life we live. The plot is our day to day actions and interactions, the setting is where we are rooted and where we journey, the cast of characters are those we choose to have around us. Our narrative told in our own unique voice!

Being our own authority takes on richer meaning. Now that we recognize we are the authors of our own lives, are we holding tight to its authority? We should be! For me, being the authority of my life means that I am the best one to tell my story. I try not to give this power away. In defining my voice I have realized that when I give someone else authority over my story, it is seldom to my advantage. There is no benefit to giving energy or time, to those who belittle, insult or undermine. Instead, I put my energy to action – taking on projects that ring true to me and my story; having people in my life who honor; and building strong intentions to continue to create a narrative of which I can be proud. This is when I am in full authority of my story.

As the author and the author-ity, we are fully accountable. This place of ownership is where fruitful partnerships can blossom. It is learning to keep your own power by creating respectful boundaries for yourself. From here, you can be mindful of others boundaries too.

Nora Ephron created some of the most seminal works for women at a time when we were just finding our collective voice. It’s good to be reminded that when we take author-ity of our lives, we define how the world perceives us and also, a clearer picture of our story is created. Nora’s personal mantra remains true for me – ‘above all, be the heroine of your own life.’

On my early morning walk today I listened to the SuperSoul Conversation Podcast in which Oprah and Agape International Spiritual Center Dr. Michael Bernard Beckwith explore manisfesting the life of your dreams. This is such a popular topic now as new age and spiritual awakening guides determine that if we can just get out of our own way, we can then be open to the possibilities and potentials of our souls.

Is it really that simple? According to Dr. Beckwith, it is about having intentions that align with our personal purpose.  In requesting a tangible explanation  about his assumptions, Oprah, fittingly, brings it back to soup. Tomato soup actually. She was working in her garden and thinking about how she would love a bowl of fresh tomato soup. She let that thought go, and shortly after, her neighbor appeared with a pot of tomato soup! How many times have we thought about someone and they called or we ran into them unexpectedly? While these are fun examples of intuition and serendipity, Dr. Beckwith explains that stating intentions isn’t about asking for things, but about being open to the discovery and acceptance of our personal purpose.

So, with that to mull over on this gorgeous Sunday morning, I am re-visiting one of my favorite ‘fresh from the garden’ soup recipes. Tomato, of course!

Here’s to another slurpy spoonful of SuperSoul Sunday Conversations! Link to the podcast is below the tomato soup recipe.

GO TEAM!

Tomato Soupfor you or your neighbor to make! – Non-Dairy, Vegan

 

Ingredients

Fresh Tomatoes – vine ripened, any variety will do! – cut in half. I usually use at least 6.

Garlic – 2 cloves chopped (or more if you love garlic)

Salt, Pepper

Sugar – white sugar, just a touch, but not absolutely necessary

White Onion – 1, sliced

Celery – 4 stalks or more, cut in chunks

Vegetable Broth – 1 carton, more or less

Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) – as much as you need

There are two secrets to the success of this recipe – using fresh ingredients and then roasting the vegetables first!

Making the Soup

Step 1. Roast the tomatoes (sliced in half) the chopped celery, onion, and garlic, drizzled with EVOO, at a 425 degree oven, for 30 minutes.

Step 2. Let the vegetables cool slightly and, if you aren’t keen on the look/texture of tomato skins, remove some of them. They will separate easily from the tomato. I happen to like the char taste and in a later step, the skins are dealt with!

Step 3. Heat some EVOO in the bottom of a pot, over medium heat.

Step 4. Add the roasted vegetables with the juices from the roasting pan to the soup pot, along with just enough vegetable broth to cover. Salt and Pepper to taste, plus a light dusting of sugar if you choose.

Step 5. Heat until it boils. Let it simmer for 10 minutes. (The longer it simmers, the more delish it is!)

Step 6. Remove from heat, let cool slightly, then either put it in the blender or use your hand held blender/emusifier, and puree the soup. This will give it a lovely creamy texture, without adding dairy.

Step 7. Return to the pot, add more vegetable broth if it is too thick. At this point, you can also add dairy or almond milk/cream if you want a creamier, richer tasting version. Heat to delicious tasting temperature.

Step 8. Ladle a good portion of the soup into a container, and walk it over to your neighbor. You never know, you might be the answer to their prayers!

 

 

Being in the room is standing in a space that desires your full presence. It’s that place of  understanding and respect we hold with each other. It is found in all aspects of our lives. When you aren’t metaphorically in the right room, there is little you can do to make that room fit.  The dynamics between people create that space and, if that place does not expect and want the best of you, then not only is it not your room, it can never be your room.

I used to joke that I could make an entrance, but for the life of me, I could never make an exit! It was a tongue in cheek analogy for my propensity to trip on doorsteps, but truthfully, for how I engage in my life. A loud enthusiastic ‘hello people’ meant that I could enter most rooms with confidence – boardrooms, interviews, auditions, parties, relationships… But knowing when it was the right time to leave, to make my exit, was typically fumbled. I stayed too long or, the worst, forgot something and had to return! How many times have we realized it was time to depart but stayed anyway –  a job, friendships, lovers? It’s very humbling to have made my final dramatic gesture, only to slink back to retrieve my handbag.

The key is of course to exit that room as soon as you realize it’s not your space. That truth is confirmed when you can’t thrive, your contributions aren’t valued or your voice is not respected. In the most toxic situations, your core values are compromised. If  that  knot rising from your belly stifles your breath at the thought of holding that space, it is not your room.   Recognizing you aren’t in the right place, means knowing for what you stand. Boundaries have been set defining your expectations of yourself and of others. In how you treat them, and how you are treated. Life experiences provide the best lessons, and I now try to recognize the signs sooner.  If someone you hold space with, makes you doubt your gut instinct, well, back away. Your inner voice is aligned with your core values, and it is to be believed.

The real power comes in the creation of our own rooms. Who is in your room? Do they treat you with honor and respect? Are they fully present in the gift of being a part of  your life? Do they allow you, to witness fully the living of their lives? Nate Berkus, in his book The Things That Matter, says  “Your home should tell the story of who you are, and be a collection of what you love brought together under one roof.’  It’s the ideal analogy for creating our life spaces, our rooms. Who you bring into your room should reflect the life you want to live, and they should want that for you too. An invitation to the room is built on trust and the understanding that what is in your deepest personal space will be honored. It is sacred and it is safe. It is reciprocal and it is earned.

You can’t always choose to leave a room nor to make a graceful exit. The best choice is to be true to yourself. To remember that regardless of the actions of others, your response is your own.  For me, I turn to the one thing I know will always make things more bearable. In those instances when it is necessary to hold that space, my only option is to tie my shoes a bit tighter, turn up the music, and dance my way through.

Here’s a bit of dancing music to get you through your room. GO TEAM!

(Thanks Disney and JT)

Can’t Stop This Feeling

Remnants of fabric connected by intricate stitches, are a mirror for a woman’s story. With leftover bits and scraps, loving hands delicately construct warm, protective, beautiful coverings. Quilts are metaphors.

During  the era of my Great Grandmothers, quilts and blankets were created out of need. There was a form and a function. Just like the family structure. Women were the center of their homes. Their identities defined by being wives and mothers.  Yet like women throughout time, our foremothers found ways to amplify women’s experiences by telling and re-telling each other’s story. Many women found creative, personal and even political expression through Quilting.  Individual personalities showing in each finished piece. Form and function overlayed with decorative design. They created a legacy stitch by stitch. Quilts are stories.

In ‘How to Make an American Quilt’ directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse, based on the novel by Whitney Otto, we witness the sharing of wisdom that occurs as a group of friends gather, as they often have before, to stitch a quilt. The quilting circle is the conduit for the revealing of deeply personal stories, confessions of their joys and heartbreaks, all the while imparting life instruction to an apprehensive bride. This young woman, played by Winona Ryder, in her search for her own answers, takes these stories being told, these scraps, and pieces them together as a sort of armor of comfort. One of my favorite images is a young Ryder lying under the quilting frame, listening, absorbing the voices and experiences of the women stitching the fabric above.

Quilts are maps. The fabric pieces reveal a life’s journey; threaded side by side. Random or precisely laid out, stitch after stitch weaves another pattern, like tributaries meandering from the river. Patterns chosen tell a broader story or give the reason for the quilt – wedding, new home, anniversary, birth of a child translated by patterns with names such as Double Wedding Ring, Log Cabin, Pinwheel, Applecore, Patchwork, made without machine, cut, pieced, assembled and stitched.

Quilts are art. To take remnant pieces and make something functional is a talent, but quilting goes farther. The finished quilts are moving works of art. The ‘herstory’ of generations of women whose hands lovingly threaded the bits and pieces, the remnants, and created the protective blankets that sheltered new born babies, wrapped young lovers, comforted the sick. When I run my fingers over the old threads, I am remembering the lives of the women who sewed the quilts, honoring the stories that were told over and through each careful placement of fabric and delicate stitch. Quilts are prisms.

 

 

Musicians and Actors love improv. Exploring a theme’s potential, far beyond its typical path. Many of our favorite SNL and SCTV characters were discovered through improv. It is well documented that JS Bach, the master of classical music, used improvisation extensively in his contrapuntal inventions. Through experimentation we discover unexpected ways of sharing a message or discovering a truth.  It is through improvisation we find our unique voice.

All creative explorers are searching for the same thing – their own voice. It is the collective journey of all artists yet unique to each. How we convey our message is equal in importance to the message itself. The hand-painted porcelain dish is as important to the meal as the carefully chosen ingredients.

A choir can sing in harmony or in unison, but as soloists we are heard above the rest. A crowded room is a jumble of sound, challenging to distinguish one person from another – if you compete for attention, the din just increases! But whistle and you can get that full room’s attention.

A ‘flock’ adequately describes a group of birds. Thanks to the inventive English language, however, we can give bird species more apt wording – starlings ‘murmur’, crows ‘murder’ and Larks ‘exalt’! An ‘exaltation’ of larks is a gorgeous use of words to describe this beautiful singing bird’s collective path of flight. The need to individuate, even with birds, is about allowing their unique characteristics to be recognized. A ‘parliament of owls’ couldn’t be more perfect.

Whether we sing with the flock or strike out on our own, the explorations are as endless as the artists.  Variations on a theme indeed!

There is something to be said for lending your voice to the group! Check out this astounding murmuration of starlings as filmed by National Geographic:  https://youtu.be/V4f_1_r80RY

I am thrilled to announce the inaugural Revelations has inspired a larger project currently in development. In the coming weeks more details will be revealed – we can’t wait to share!

REVELATIONS (8)

A multi-discipline performance of theatre, poetry and spoken word, as well as music, song and dance. The vignettes are linked and bridged with solo piano. Nine women perform a variety of works, revealing a shared history, understanding or personal discovery to each other and their audience.

Conceived & Produced by Louise Fagan
Directed by Valerie Manatis Barnet

FEATURING: Meisha Adderley, Kathy Dunleavy, Robyn Hussa Farrell, Latria Graham, Teresa Hough, Arialle Kennedy, Ruth Littlejohn, Crystal Pace, Janice Wilkins, and actors in training from Converse College.

This sculpted original staged event is bridged with solo piano underscoring stories that range from poetry, spoken word to monologues and scenes. Music, stories, laughter and joy!

Each piece is like a jewel. Individually lovely but their real strength and beauty is when they are side by side – like a string of gems on a bracelet.

Two very dear and deeply loved women who had great impact in my personal and professional life died a week ago. Accomplished, smart,talented, beautiful and blessed with a lovely streak of mischief. Beacons of joy, they radiated love and kindness. Cruelly, both were ravaged by disease.

janetJanet Heerema battled ovarian cancer then acute leukemia fighting until her last days when she finally, gracefully, stopped. In the midst of her illness, Janet organized a ‘Celebration of Life’ which was a monumental sold-out concert raising thousands for Ovarian Cancer research. Janet had a way of inspiring, bringing out the best in people. She created community, using music as a balm and an inspiration. The times I needed counsel, Janet would offer thoughtful, experienced, kind reflection. She lived fully, with the belief love was the reason and the answer. Her example is one I will always draw upon.

 

 

lesleigh

Lesleigh Turner’s battle was also courageous. Struck down by the relentless illness of depression, Lesleigh put a brave face on her struggle finally succumbing to her disease by taking her own life. An unfair end to an unfair diagnosis. An incredibly talented woman – photographer, actor, director, producer, creator of community. Over her challenging final years she moved heaven and earth to build a home for her family. Lesleigh was a great friend, a great collaborator and a champion of everyone she knew. She loved and lived fiercely, an example I will carry.

 

My friend Donald D’Haene beautifully described Lesleigh as having ‘drowned with love’. I would say that Janet was ‘buoyed by love’.  The world shifted with the loss of these powerful women. It’s a different place this Sunday then it was a week ago. I don’t believe Janet and Lesleigh knew each other but they have impacted my life and our communities through similar gestures of love.

Living too far away to be able to attend their memorial services and life celebrations, this reflection is my way of honouring the lives and my friendship with Janet Heerema and with Lesleigh Turner.

 

 

 

 

 

Canadians possess a fierce pride of identity. One vital thread of our complex cultural history is so young that we can reach back and be within a generation or two of touching those pioneers who, along with the First Nations strong voices before them, helped forge our identity. And from those markers we can draw a direct line to each generations’ cultural benchmarks. Our sense of self as Canadians is etched on the landscape where we first identified with these distinctly Canadian heroes. The Canadian Shield, the Rockies, the Great Lakes, three Oceans and the Hudson’s Bay.  From which birthed the Group of Seven and their compatriots who painted what we felt, to poet Al Purdy considered by some the quintessential voice of Canada , giving words to those same feelings. Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, and on to the Tragically Hip. Their music echoes the rough wildness of the land, laced with the most sophisticated and graceful turns of phrase. Land and sea. The poetry and the music. The Hip sound like our Canada. Just as Emily Carr’s and Tom Thomson’s paintings look like our Canada. gd

Like Purdy, Gord Downie’s poetry and lyrics do not shy away from the stark, the harsh, the vulnerable, the real. Without pretense. On a cold February night in 2013, a friend and I sat in Koerner Hall, Toronto, for a fundraiser supporting the preservation of Al Purdy’s A Frame cabin. Al Purdy’s home at the edge of Roblin Lake in Prince Edward County Ontario had always welcomed artists and would continue to be an education resource and home of cultural discovery. A place of legacy and cultivation. Gord Downie performed.

“I am drinking yellow flowers

in underground sunlight

and you can see that I am a sensitive man.”

You could be forgiven if you attributed this line to a Hip lyric. It is from Al Purdy’s “At the Quinte Hotel”. The thread from Purdy to Downie re-stitched. I marveled and also reveled that for Canadians, a poet’s home was worthy of preservation. That our cultural stars believe in the importance of place – identity, legacy, cultivation.

GORD_DOWNIE_-_QUINTE_HOTEL_2500kbps_620x350_2675478247
Gord Downie reading ‘At The Quinte Hotel’

Flashback to early summer 2000. I am spending the better part of a week recording soprano Barbara Dunn-Prosser and pianist Brian Jackson at The Bathouse, the recording studio created by The Tragically Hip. Dunn-Prosser’s ‘Till We Meet Again’ was the first classical recording we were told, to be recorded at the studio. I opted to stay on-site, immersing in the space that had an extraordinary Canadian pedigree, trying to absorb as much as I could to  in some intangible way, infuse it back into the recording. The state of the art studios, driveway basketball hoop, wild rhubarb patch through the path out the back door, Lake Ontario at its front doorstep and the warm Bathouse Team. Creating the capacity for Canadian musicians to fulfill their artistic visions. A place of legacy and cultivation.

I’ve never met Gord Downie but he has had a tremendous influence on my creative career. It’s very Canadian to feel a familiarity with our cultural stars.  Lyrics and poetry resonate because they are drawn from our collective landscapes. Our stories are intertwined. Yet we are also determined to etch out our own destinies and this is what Gord Downie continues to inspire. Brilliantly. His path and that of the Tragically Hip, have been uniquely theirs. We can’t help but say, uniquely Canadian. This final summer tour solidifying our collective identity, securing their legacy as they write their own history.  Gord Downie continues to be the author of his own story. And in doing so, he has become the hero of ours.

(You can see Gord Downie read ‘At The Quinte Hotel’ in a wonderful short film shot in 2002, here: https://youtu.be/vPKeczB3wrg )

gd2
Al Purdy’s A Frame Cabin
bathouse
The Bathouse Recording Studio

…and Other Things Turning 50 Taught Me.

(link to original article: Mind Body Green )

On the cusp of my 50th birthday, I found myself especially sensitive to offhanded, brusque comments from acquaintances, feeling unusually hurt by close friends, and generally dissatisfied with life. The milestone had made me more introspective, and I began to realize that I’d allowed an unhealthy pattern to emerge in my relationships. I took the opportunity of turning fifty to reassess the way I interact and start fresh.

Like charms on a bracelet, eight jewels of clarity came to me. Here are the things that will help me cultivate better, healthier relationships for the next 50 years.

1. Words DO hurt.

I have felt the affects of harsh words and I have witnessed the pain caused by my own thoughtless comments. Tom Hanks’s character in You’ve Got Mail describes this moment beautifully: “when you finally have the pleasure of saying the thing you mean to say at the moment you mean to say it, remorse inevitably follows.” Whether you’ve wounded another or been wounded yourself, the scratches on our hearts take much longer to heal than any physical scar. For some, they never do.

2. Kindness trumps niceness.

When I was younger, I thought being nice was a badge of honor. But I realized it came from trying too hard to please people. Now, I choose to be kind. Kindness takes real effort. You have to channel reserves of grace, self-control, and maturity. It garners respect, rather than disregard.

3. Intentionality and determination are superpowers.

If I ever questioned that I had superpowers, a thorough review of my past would allay those doubts. Stating a desire or goal is the first step to realizing it. My best moments were born from the powerful declaration of my goals. Intentions, though they aren’t strict paths, are an offering to the universe. Saying, “I am ready for a new career,” or “I am ready for love,” we open up the possibility for success and fulfillment. Those things may not arrive by the means or in the package we expected, but that makes them infinitely more exciting.

4. I am 50 percent responsible for 100 percent of my relationships.

If I want successful, healthy relationships, I have to take full responsibility for my actions and reactions. I’m talking all kinds of relationships here — family, friends, colleagues. Further, I must be intentional about not taking responsibility for anyone else’s part of our relationship. Relinquishing control of other people’s behavior allows them to live up to their part of the bargain. We meet each other half way. Exactly half way. Which brings me to my next realization.

5. Drama doesn’t deserve attention.

It’s easy to find yourself in the middle of a crisis that is not of your own making. Most people who try to involve others in their drama are addicted to the surge of adrenaline provided by a perceived crisis. Having an audience (that would be you) is how they validate their behavior. People confuse drama with having an interesting life. But I have learned (and I hope you will, too) that ditching drama makes space for so many more compelling pursuits.

6. Shame is not productive, but accountability is.

I’ve made huge, cringe-inducing mistakes in my life. But never once has theself-loathing or self-flagellation I responded with actually helped me move on, or make better choices. Now, I’m choosing to acknowledge my mistakes, take responsibility for them, and then let go.

7. All the world’s ills can be solved with homemade soup.

Maybe it’s the meditative element of chopping, mixing, stirring. The rhythm and repetition are calming. When I make soup, I slow down. In that quiet space, I have room to be creative, and my mind fills with possibilities. The rest of the world disappears. And the result of my meditation is a tangible, delicious dish that’s nourishing to my body and my soul.

8. To place proper value on myself, I must make boundaries.

Too many times I’ve compromised myself by giving time or trust to someone who didn’t deserve it. I’ve given the best of my ideas and talents to groups that did not respect my contributions. I’ve given my affection to people who undervalued me. Eventually, I realized that this was my fault. I was letting people take advantage of me because I did not sufficiently value myself.

These things feed on each other. Creating boundaries is a way of telling yourself that you have value, and your needs and desires deserve to be honored. Valuing yourself makes it easier to prioritize yourself, and not let other people’s needs trump your own.

Self acceptance is at the core of all of these realizations. If I value myself, then I am accountable to myself. I am responsible for my words. I am kind. I can focus my power for good, live intentionally, and when necessary, create boundaries with grace. I hope the lessons I’ve learned help you inform and improve your life — whether you’re 28 or 82.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock