Kim and Sara, the Language of Music

Like Mother Like Daughter was my first collaboration with Kim Blanchard Souch and her daughter Sara Sobey. This mother-daughter duo began performing together when Sara was just a young teen. Kim was a touring singer/songwriter while pregnant with Sara, so it was not a surprise that Sara could sing before she could speak! What Kim could not have known was that music would be more than a bridge between them. For a long time, it would be their only shared language.

Diagnosed on the autism spectrum, Sara had a very limited vocabulary. It was when she sang that Sara could communicate with an extensive vocabulary, discovering a joy that was both physical and emotional. Her body would almost hum as her voice resonated!

This is just where this duo’s story begins. Tours, fundraisers in support of the Autism Society, recordings and appearances brought much attention to their beautiful harmonies and storytelling.  Original songs penned by Kim have told the stories of mothers and daughters, family, life, love and loss.

Now, something extraordinary is happening. Along this life journey Kim and Sara have developed their own unique voices. They perform together – and always will! But now there is room for self-expression. Kim’s path is returning to her roots as a touring artist with songwriting for herself and others as a renewed focus. Sara’s dream has been to perform with a Symphony, which happened for the first time this year.

There is more, much more, to come from both these artists and I can’t wait be a part of this next chapter! Over the coming months, their music journeys are diverging and yet we know they will always be entwined. For as they find new strength with their own voices, that beautiful harmony they create will only deepen.

Enjoy this link, to Kim Blanchard Souch and Sara Sobey singing:

Like Mother, Like Daughter

Love is In the Air

The sweet fresh breezes of spring resound  ‘Love is in the Air’! Wedding season is about to get real. It is making me a tad nostalgic. My thoughts drift back to my first marriage.

We were young. Very young. It was a brief engagement followed by a simple wedding. There were just a handful of guests, mostly my friends. As it was a hasty affair, the hundred year old tree in the field provided a shady spot to exchange our  solemn vows. There is much about that day I remember in great detail. I spent my childhood living my life as if in a great novel. Often repeating moments that had just occurred in the third person, as if the narrator of my own story. (Louise paused from her typing, smiling to herself at the memory of a younger Louise standing in the middle of the field under the shade of the tree.)  The sky was really blue. like, really blue. And the sun was blazing. Although it was hot, I remember the cooling breezes shifting the tall grasses near the fence.

My friend Susan really gets credit for making it all come together. When you are in Grade 4 and contemplating a ‘forever and ever’ commitment, it helps to have a good friend’s encouragement. Taking her role as both wedding planner and officiant quite seriously, Susan marched me across the schoolyard hopscotch pads, between the baseball diamond and soccer games, across the track field to the big oak tree where a few of our girl friends were waiting. Holding dandelion bouquets. (Actually I don’t really remember the bouquets, but we did often make dainty dandelion chain crowns during recess.)  I stood there a bit queasy shifting from one foot to the other wondering of all things, how I was going to break the news to my parents.

Now, here is where things get a bit fuzzy. I distinctly remember Susan getting perturbed that the groom had not yet arrived. All the girls, me the exception, began yelling at the groom to leave his game of pick-up soccer for just 2 minutes to make it official! ‘Because, if he couldn’t commit to even that, then how was Louise supposed to take this whole relationship thing seriously? I mean, come on!’ My betrothed kicked the ball into the field punctuating an exasperated ‘FINE!’, then ran to the tree and my giggling friends. With great gravitas, Susan clasped her hands and asked us to repeat the vows. I said my ‘I do’, looking directly at Susan. My groom gave an exasperated ‘Yeah, whatever’, kind of touched my hand and then ran back to the game. And that was it. In that 15 minute afternoon recess  I became the first of my friends to marry. They congratulated me and one of them offered to go tell my sisters who were playing on the other side of the schoolyard. I remember feeling different, somehow. Awed by the the whole situation and my prominent role. I can’t really explain it – older maybe? Definitely wiser. As the bell rang and we joined the rest of the school running towards the doors, I mused to myself ‘it’s true, marriage really does change you’.

There is, ahem, one important element that I can’t recollect – getting back to that ‘fuzzy bit’. It is the kind of detail one thinks one could never forget. I swear on a stack of dandelion crowns, I can’t remember the groom. Not his name or even what he looked like. He may have been wearing brown corduroy pants. Gosh, who did I marry that warm spring day? Alas, the first Mr. Louise Fagan will forever remain the blurry memory of an otherwise beautiful ceremony. (I’m just thinking it would have been nice when we reached our 20 year anniversary to have given him a bit of a ‘shout out’. Kinda feel bad about that one.)  

Back to the marriage. We never really spoke afterwards, my first husband and I. It was a short-lived union that suffered from a lack of communication. We drifted apart. It was bound to happen. He had his friends and I had mine. By morning recess the next day it all seemed so long ago. Sigh.

Spring, see what you do to me? It’s that promise of warmer days and weddings. Love and lovebirds. Joyously anticipating my own son’s wedding in just a few short months. (I think it’s his first). Love sweet love is in the air!

 

beautiful bloom blossom clouds

Love Liberates…

My previous post Turn Off the Gas, discusses a  negative aspect of not having appropriate, clearly defined boundaries. Not my typical upbeat topic. What I have learned in researching, exploring and writing these articles about boundaries, is that a boundary is actually quite liberating.  It can provide the framework for successful love relationships.

Maya Angelou wrote ‘Love liberates.’ The next line is equally important, ‘It doesn’t bind.’ For me, this reaffirms that within the structure of respect, a relationship finds freedom. My husband and I married as ‘late bloomers’. And, we were in a new state, new city – and for me, a new country. There was a lot to figure out, including the creation of a new identity/audience for my work. This takes time. And it takes a great partner. This is the ‘love liberates‘ recognition – my husband has remained incredibly supportive as I have worked to build opportunity and then step into it. It includes working odd hours, lots of weekends and evenings, often volunteering, as a way to get to know the community and for the community to know my work. His understanding and patience  has allowed me the space and time to figure all this out, while he has shouldered many of our personal responsibilities. Thus, the line ‘it doesn’t bind’ also fits.

And here is what is reaffirmed with each new exploration I undertake about boundaries. They are, in fact, about freedom. Boundaries aren’t about restricting or confining. Once you have established the parameters, the sky is the limit.

Relationships are like dances – the fluid motion of two people who navigate a shared space. Trying to keep in step and in harmony. Being aware of the other’s personal boundaries while protecting the one they create for themselves. It’s binding, it’s liberating, and it’s absolute bliss.

 

Turn Off the Gas (Or, Be a Nora!)

 

My recent posts have explored the role boundaries play in creating healthy relationships, first for and with myself, and then with the rest of my world.  These essays have looked at the ways respect lives at the root of every healthy boundary we set, to define how we are treated, what we stand for and how we treat others.  Trouble can occur when someone we work or live closely with, does not respect these clear relationship parameters.

Even after seeing the 1938 classic movie  ‘Gaslight’ starring Ingrid Bergman, I would have described ‘gaslighting’ to be a horror movie concept, not understanding it as a real, day by day, insidious psychological form of emotional and mental abuse . Over the past decade, numerous publications about gaslighting, have surfaced on wellness and health improvement websites but honestly, I still didn’t fully understand what it meant to fall prey to ‘gaslighting’. Until one afternoon over a long cup of coffee, a close friend revealed how her boyfriend had initiated months of psychological abuse.  ‘Nora’ has allowed me to share bits of her story throughout this boundary exploration. It turns out, Nora’s experience is a classic example of gaslighting.

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline , “gaslighting is an extremely effective form of emotional abuse that causes a victim to question their own feelings, instincts and sanity”.  It is strategic, intentional, and often impossible to identify when it starts, until you are well engaged in an otherwise happy relationship – which by then it’s often too late, as self-doubt has set in.

When Nora first started dating her boyfriend ‘James’,  he was attentive, fun, kind, and romantic. As is typical when relationships last longer than that first heady stage of new love, there was an explainable and seemingly healthy shift to a less intense stage. It was around eight months that in retrospect, Nora experienced the start of sporadic challenging mental and emotional incidents. James would be warm and affectionate, then suddenly cold and withdrawn. He rarely if ever complimented her anymore on her appearance or her achievements, which on its own she didn’t feel was really a big deal, but he often complimented other women when Nora was present. And if it wasn’t in words it would be very approving looks, gazes that held too long, with little winks or a charming smile. I asked her if she said anything to James. And she admitted she hadn’t. Because it made her feel petty. And overly sensitive. But it was hurtful. What Nora couldn’t fathom until much later, was that it was also intentional.

The odd behavior started to ramp up. One evening after work, they were happily on their way to meet his co-workers and their spouses for drinks.  Upon arrival at the bar, she quickly realized that she was the only significant other in attendance. Her boyfriend said jokingly, ‘Nora doesn’t let me out without her.” A funny remark until she had the feeling, that James enjoyed seeing her squirm as his co-workers laughed. When she questioned him later, he brushed it off saying it wasn’t a big deal. And it wasn’t. Until the next time when they showed up to meet a co-worker and his wife for dinner. Or so Nora was told. It was again, just James’ co-worker. When his friend said outright, ‘if I had known you were coming Nora, I would have invited Sarah’, Nora says she looked in confusion at James who again feigned ignorance remarking ‘Nora never misses a chance to eat at a restaurant.’ Nora says in the moment, trying to keep things light, she laughed too. But then responded by saying ‘Obviously, there was a misunderstanding about tonight. I have no problem with James going out.’ Which again, made her feel incredibly awkward to respond and react to a purposefully challenging situation that was not of her making. And which her boyfriend took noticeable pleasure in watching. (Plus, did he just ‘food shame’ her??!!) Now it was becoming a ‘thing’.  I asked her why she kept going? She candidly responded, “I have no idea! We weren’t going out a lot so it’s not as if this happened two or three days in a row. Between these moments, our relationship was pretty much, well, normal”.

This is the success of gaslighting. It is a long game.

The weirdness however continued to escalate. Besides mis-representing her to his co-workers, he started doing the same when they were out with their mutual friends and family. At every opportunity, he would volley between being overly critical of pretty much everything  she said or completely ignore her when she spoke. The same fun-loving man the group enjoyed being with would treat her with a kind of contempt that would be masked by mean-spirited teasing. It was around this same time that she began catching him in little lies. Usually about really inconsequential things. Nora began to realize there was a bigger issue at play.

Okay, so I agree the guy sounds like a jerk. But does that make him a ‘gaslighter’? Passive aggressive for sure. Maybe even a tad narcissistic. But capable of long term psychological warfare? Every couple bickers in public sometimes and don’t always treat each other with proper respect. We can’t always be on our best behavior. I have to confess, I still didn’t really believe this was gaslighting. Besides, what is the point of gaslighting anyway?

In reading articles for this essay, the examples given were extreme cases where the abusive partners were highly manipulative with a targeted viciousness which left the victim an emotional wreck, a mere shell of their former selves. But that is not always the dynamic. Because just as every work, family, love relationship is unique, so are the ways that this psychological undermining, manifests. What is the same in all cases, is that it is about power. One person wants control over another. This power can be to enact more abuse, or it can be to hide something – such as financial problems, legal issues or affairs.

Nora completely understood my hesitation, revealing that it took an unexpected conversation with her brother, to fully see what was happening. They were at a family event when her brother pulled her aside, questioning Nora about James’ erratic behavior. He described watching Nora defend herself against the nasty jabs by laughing it off to avoid a confrontation. Then abruptly, James shifted  his attention to everyone in the room but Nora. He noticeably withdrew, was cold and dismissive. Nora opened up to her brother about the increasingly confusing and often mean behavior, including the newly realized lying.  For the first time, Nora could discuss her concerns because her brother had witnessed it. ‘For the longest time, I thought I was over-reacting, or it was in my head. James would say I was too sensitive or he would shake his head in disgust like I was reading into things.’  Her brother simply said, ‘Nora, this isn’t how we treat people we love, and it isn’t how you deserve to be treated.’ Nora knew this was the truth.

My friend Nora is a really strong person with a history of healthy relationships. She was ready for this conversation with her brother because she realized the relationship was unhealthy.  Once Nora had made the decision to no longer accept this treatment, she became less emotionally dependent on her boyfriend. This distancing gave Nora a clearer perspective as she saw through his behavior, stood up for herself and finally left.  It was not until she was out of the relationship, that she discovered James had kept up this disturbing behavior in part, to hide a series of inappropriate relationships with other women. A charming manipulator, he formed emotional bonds with other women, many times turning physical and always leaving the woman feeling that ‘he really understood’ them. The little lies Nora had called him on in their relationship, had foreshadowed something much bigger. Classic.

And this is why I have subtitled this essay ‘Be a Nora’. Anyone of us can fall victim to gaslighting. At work and in relationships. Age, gender, race, it does not discriminate. Gaslighting is only successful, if you doubt yourself, lose your identity and become completely undermined by the perpetrator. Nora never allowed this to happen. Even when giving him the benefit of the doubt or a third and fourth chance, she never stopped listening to her own intuition. In retrospect, Nora would say she stayed in the relationship too long. But I think she is a bit hard on herself. She did not accept his bad treatment. She did not accept his insults. And eventually, she did leave.

After hearing Nora’s story and reading a lot of articles about gaslighting, I do believe this is what Nora experienced. The textbook cases are extreme examples, but this behavior can manifest in any type of relationship – work, family, love. It doesn’t have to be extreme to be damaging. Besides, love relationships, especially, should be fulfilling not undermining.  If any of this story rings true for a relationship you are in then do some reading, talk to friends, and ultimately if you aren’t treated well, then Be A Nora, and leave.

And one last important note: This essay is for my own personal discoveries about boundaries. I am not a mental health expert, nor is this article intended to offer advice or mental health related treatment suggestions. The National Domestic Violence Hotline provided excellent information for this piece. This 24/7 support network can be reached at http://www.thehotline.org/

 

 

Bits & Scraps, Threads & Stitches

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.

 

 

Gestures of Love Live On

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.

 

 

 

 

 

The Promise

Video

Promises are sweet. As I have grown I have learned to be more judicious with the promises I dole out. Living has shown that promises aren’t to be given out on whims and fancies. A true promise is heartfully rendered. A thoughtful quiet proclamation that connects us deeply with each other. And because I now understand this, I don’t have that many to share. They require attention, a gentle upkeep – they are responsibilities and so take time. I also now truly and better value the promises that are given in return, holding very close the gesture and the promise giver. I believe and trust better, in myself first and then in those whose promises I choose to accept.

Quiet promises given and received.

The Promise, by Aaron Copland, is a composition that captures the true nature of a promise offered, the gentlest ripple resting on an epic undercurrent of repercussions. A statement of a people and country but also a personal gesture.  Given from one to another. Simple and sweet. Lyrics by Horace Everett.

The Promise of Living,

the promise of giving,

the promise of ending

 is labor

and sharing

and loving!