WordSpring.ca http://www.wordspring.ca The thoughts that bubble forth from my overactive mind... Sun, 01 Sep 2013 19:31:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.6 My Kitchen is Clean, and Nobody is Coming Over! http://www.wordspring.ca/2013/09/my-kitchen-is-clean-and-nobody-is-coming-over/ http://www.wordspring.ca/2013/09/my-kitchen-is-clean-and-nobody-is-coming-over/#comments Sun, 01 Sep 2013 19:31:45 +0000 Catherine Novak http://www.wordspring.ca/?p=555 my clean kitchen

Next step: the windows

Here’s a dirty little secret that many women aren’t willing to share: we aren’t all neat freaks. Despite my mother’s best training and ongoing exasperation, I am one of them. Here I am, firmly in mid-life, and my mom, who turns 75 this year, still feels she can come over and clean my fridge, or wash the walls, to “support me”. In the world of mother-daughter relationships, this signifies all kinds of anxiety-ridden, passive-aggressive baggage – I know. And I have let her, because it is one way that she can express her love for me. You can imagine what a pre-cleaning cleaning frenzy I go through each time this happens. My sons know this as the “Grandma clean-up”, and I am certainly passing my neuroses onto them.

Here’s the pattern. Grandma is coming over, so we make sure the dishes are picked up from the table, the bedrooms and the living room, and put in the dishwasher. We consolidate game controllers and make sure all those green rectangular game cases are back on the shelf. Books! They are everywhere – and I make piles of them, and banish the ones that don’t have a home yet off to my bedroom, with the mismatched socks and the laundry that hasn’t been put away yet (at least I have already folded it). We run around with a grocery bag for wrappers and straws, and a damp cloth to take the sticky bits off the tables. I sweep and mop the floor, and one son runs the vacuum while another attacks the bathrooms. All this can be done in an hour or less – so why do I wait for an occasion to do it? Why do I teach my kids, tacitly, that a consistently clean and tidy home is for OTHER people?

This is no epiphany. I have recognized this pattern in my life since I left home nearly 30 years ago. But this year is the first year that I am the Adult in my home. Before, I was waiting for some Prince Charming that I could serve (oh yeah, let’s not go there), or I was in a relationship and hoping that Prince Charming would lend a hand (one did, and one decidedly didn’t). This year, there’s me and my kids. And sometimes, like this weekend, there’s just me.

Well, guess what? I like a clean kitchen. I’m not waiting for anyone to come over to wash and put away the pots and pans, to get rid of the compost and to sweep up the crumbs from toast. I am worth a shiny sink or two. It calms me and helps me concentrate to be in an orderly house. Cleaning it is not an act of subservience if I’m doing it for me. I may never be a neat freak, but I can give myself the gift of a home that I love to be in.

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Opening up to vulnerability http://www.wordspring.ca/2013/08/opening-up-to-vulnerability/ http://www.wordspring.ca/2013/08/opening-up-to-vulnerability/#comments Tue, 20 Aug 2013 04:33:52 +0000 Catherine Novak http://www.wordspring.ca/?p=553 On A Pink Cloud by Mark van LaereYou may have seen Brené Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability – with 10.6 million views, I’d be surprised if you hadn’t at least heard of it. In it, the social work researcher describes her work, determining why some people are able to live “whole-hearted” lives while others struggle. The key, she says, is opening up to the possibility of bad news, disconnection, and rejection. It’s taking our fear and shame by the horns and saying yes, it’s there, and feeling it anyway – because we are worthy of love and connection.

On a scale of 1-10, how worthy do you feel of love, connection and acceptance? How much are you willing to be vulnerable? After some rough years where I didn’t feel worthy as a partner, a professional, or even a functioning grown-up, I am starting to open myself up to vulnerability. It’s a huge step forward. Maybe, like Brené says, it was a spiritual awakening. It means that whether I am applying for work, creating a career for myself, or opening myself up to new friendships (maybe new relationships), it matters much less than it used to if that connection doesn’t happen. Within myself, I am learning to be whole.

And now, here’s the new lesson for me – learning to be whole includes learning how to grow, how to be shaped and influenced by the people and things around me, while still feeling entirely myself. I don’t have to give up who I am to connect with others. I can have boundaries and relationships, and so can the people I care about. Occasionally for me, breathing through that (still scary) place of vulnerability, I imagine either myself or whoever I am interacting with wrapped in a big pink cloud. Try it – it’s surprisingly effective!

Wishing you pink clouds and whole hearts,

Cath

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Camping Solo http://www.wordspring.ca/2013/08/camping-solo/ http://www.wordspring.ca/2013/08/camping-solo/#comments Wed, 07 Aug 2013 04:58:51 +0000 Catherine Novak http://www.wordspring.ca/?p=544

near Botanical Beach

Last weekend, I did something completely new for me. Something independent, even a little bit risky. I went camping, in a tent, on a stretch of wild beach, with no cell phone access, by myself. Emphasis on BY MYSELF. SOLO. It was fantastic.

I have never, ever, taken a holiday alone. I have travelled by myself a fair bit, but it has always been related to work or to a volunteer activity. The men in my life have taken trips on their own, and I have travelled with them, or my parents, or my kids, or even my girlfriends. But just me? With only my own thoughts and books to keep me company? I’ve never been that independent… until now.

I’d been hoping to get away by myself for months. First, it was going to be January, then Spring Break, then things got busy and now here we are in the middle of summer. All I wanted was some quiet – some uninterrupted time to read, write, and think. I also wanted to be by the ocean. So I packed my little tent, a few clothes, four books (that was three too many, but I was indecisive) and two days’ worth of food. Oh, and my hand bell for meditation. And a small treat that a friend left at my house last week (thanks, Scott). And off I went.

Not my cove, which shall remain a secret...

I picked the far end of the Juan de Fuca Trail for finding my piece of paradise. I wanted open ocean, but not a four-hour drive to Tofino. By the time I left my house on Saturday afternoon, and drove two hours to the trailhead, it was after five. That meant that if I were going to camp at an official “campground”, it would have to be Payzant Beach. Even better, I found the perfect spot only 3 km in.

I set the tent up where the forest gives way to slate rock formations – great for the view, but a little hard for sleeping on, considering my sleeping mat had a hole in it (note to self: check for leaks before leaving home). Once my home-away-from-home was set up, I took off my hiking boots and picked my way, barefoot, to the edge of the rocks. (I stayed barefoot right until I left) In the water, a thick kelp forest bobbed about, and I strained my eyes for signs that seals might be disguising themselves amongst the bulbs. I heard a great sigh, and thought it might be whales, but it was a wave pushing into an undercut portion of a rock. Just as I thought “hmm, no seals” and looked down, there was one right at my feet! We both gasped, and she did one of those end-of-the-pool flips that you see Olympic swimmers do, and was gone — almost. I spotted her again, getting another look at me from a safer distance.

That was as exciting as it got – the rest of my mini-holiday was for thinking, dozing on warm rocks, reading, composing songs in my head, cooking easy one-pot meals, dozing and reading some more, and inspecting the tide. It was more relaxing than the all-inclusive Mexican resort I went to with my (ex) boyfriend a couple of years ago, because I didn’t even have to choose where to eat, or worry about whether anyone apart from me was having a good time.

Four, maybe five times, other hikers joined me on the beach, but they stayed in their own space and I stayed in mine. They never stayed for longer than a snack and a picture. I hardly had to speak to anyone. I was so much in my own little world that I question whether I really am an extrovert, or just a very friendly introvert.

Seal food

Seal food

I got up early the morning of the third day, put my things back in my backpack, and trekked out again, longing for coffee and a shower. I have rarely felt so at peace, and so whole-in-myself. No cougars or bears mauled me, no thieves took my cell phone out of my tent (though I scared myself with that thought as I searched for it on my final morning) – I didn’t even get a mosquito bite. I did get a couple of bruises from clumsy attempts to climb over logs with a 40 lb pack on my back (10 of those were books). I chalk that up to forgetting that I’m not 20 any more.

In all, it went so well, I may just make solo camping an annual event. Don’t worry – I will always leave notes about where I am, and when to expect me back. I’ll stick to mid-country areas where I know that if I sprain my ankle, someone will be along in a couple of hours. I’ll take fewer books, and more writing paper. And I may even stay longer than two days.

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A quick presentation on Cybernetics http://www.wordspring.ca/2013/03/a-quick-presentation-on-cybernetics/ http://www.wordspring.ca/2013/03/a-quick-presentation-on-cybernetics/#comments Wed, 27 Mar 2013 04:50:23 +0000 Catherine Novak http://www.wordspring.ca/?p=539 I’m not sure if this was entirely successful, in that we were only allowed to give the briefest of notes within the PowerPoint. After all, this is supposed to be designed as if we were presenting it with our own speech alongside. But I’ll tell you this – I LOVE the field of cybernetics! As a subsection of systems theory, it is fascinating. I could talk your ear off for a week about cybernetic systems, but instead, why don’t you take a look at the presentation and ask me a question? Next week, I’ll have finished the FAQ assignment for this course, and I’ll post that too, in case you are as taken with it all as I am.

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A quick thumbs-up for “The Flying Troutmans” http://www.wordspring.ca/2013/03/a-quick-thumbs-up-for-the-flying-troutmans/ http://www.wordspring.ca/2013/03/a-quick-thumbs-up-for-the-flying-troutmans/#comments Sun, 10 Mar 2013 16:26:24 +0000 Catherine Novak http://www.wordspring.ca/?p=537 The Flying TroutmansThe Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book dug deep inside me and has held on, thanks to the wonderful characters of Hattie, Logan and Thebes. Their road trip is as much a journey to find themselves (certainly in Hattie’s case) and each other as it is to find the kids’ long-lost father, Cherkis. And while the characters are unusual, they are drawn with great compassion and realism – I found myself comparing my own children to the kids in this story. Miriam Toews is one of Canada’s very best authors.



I joined Goodreads a few months ago, but haven’t taken advantage of its many features yet. This morning, just as a warm-up before a long day of research, I gave five stars to The Flying Troutmans. If you are a reader and haven’t yet checked Goodreads out, click the link and try it for yourself. I’ll bet you find a few more books to put on your “want to read” list.

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I was a teenage fundamentalist – kind of. http://www.wordspring.ca/2013/02/i-was-a-teenage-fundamentalist-kind-of/ http://www.wordspring.ca/2013/02/i-was-a-teenage-fundamentalist-kind-of/#comments Sun, 10 Feb 2013 19:34:18 +0000 Catherine Novak http://www.wordspring.ca/?p=529 “So today at school, Mom, I was telling Jacob about Adam and Eve, and he was rolling around on the ground laughing.”
12-year-old Stephen and I are in the car, heading home for dinner.  It’s a great time to talk about our day.  Lately, he’s been telling his Grade 7 buddies stories from the Old Testament.

“Jacob goes, ‘So they eat from the Tree of Knowledge, and the best they can do is figure out they’re NAKED?  They get knowledge of CLOTHES??’ ”

Stevie is just as irreverent as Jacob – that people would actually take this “Bible stuff” as literal truth is a completely foreign concept to him.  And yet, I still have a guilty twinge at all this mirth at the Bible’s expense.  I know that no bolt of lightning will slice through the roof of the car to smite us, but it’s still weird for me not to treat the Bible as a – no, THE Holy Book – the literal Word Of God.  I grew up with literal bible believers, went to school with them, hung out at their youth groups.  I was a teenage fundamentalist – or at least doing my best to play the part.

Kelowna, BC, is a pocket of religiosity in an increasingly secular Canada.  The churches are big, especially the evangelical ones.  In my teenage years of the late 1970s, Kelowna was smaller, more remote, less sophisticated.  It was a bit like the town in the movie Footloose, where youth weren’t allowed to dance, so some of them snuck out to do more risky things, like drink in the bush.  As an insecure, bookish teenage girl, I knew I didn’t want to go to those parties.  Why stand by a smoky fire in the cold, just to get drunk, throw up, ride in a pickup truck with a driver almost as drunk as you are, and risk ending up in the hospital, where my mom (the emergency nurse) would probably disown me?   Or risk getting arrested and fingerprinted by my dad, the cop?  Let’s not even entertain the thought that I might end up dead, or worse – pregnant.  So if I were to have any social life at all, I should probably hang out with those nice kids, the Christians.

My best friend, Lori, beat me to Christianity by a few weeks when we were both 14.  She had gone with her mother to a Pentecostal women’s dinner, and came home speaking in tongues.  Church was suddenly the best place ever, particularly the Young People’s group, which had older teenagers and really nice leaders that treated you like a real person and listened to what you had to say.  What’s more, Jesus was real, and Lori had given her heart to Him.

When Lori asked me if I would come with her to the Presbyterian Young People’s I was happy to go along.  Bible study was actually a natural fit for a book reader like me; we looked in-depth at individual verses, like “If I have the tongue of men and angels, but have not love, I am nothing”.  We sang songs like “Peaceful, Easy Feeling”, only the words were changed to be more Christian.  We had intense conversations about the nature of evil.  Christianity was actually getting me to THINK.  I have the Presbyterian Church to thank for that.  And it’s a good thing, too, because the Cool Church was one of the big churches down the road, and things were a little different there.

At the Cool Church, they showed films about the Rapture, and how scary it would be to be left behind while the plague of locusts rained down on apartments and cars.   Kids from the Cool Church played Led Zeppelin songs backwards so we could hear Robert Plant sing “My Sweet Satan” and be thrillingly horrified.   At the Cool Church, they lifted their hands and spoke in tongues after just about every song.   The Cool Church had about 70 teenagers in their youth group, and concerts, and really good looking guys.  And those really good looking guys hugged everybody, even me.

I tried being baptized in the Holy Spirit, but he was stingy with me – my speaking-in-tongues attempts just came out like “Hey, Shondala shondala”, and felt completely stupid.   I also had trouble believing that everybody was born in sin, and doomed to hell unless they believed in Jesus Christ As Their Lord And Saviour.  I mean, I came from a family full of dead people.  My older brother died as a baby.  My mother was in a car accident when she was 13, and it killed most of her family.  Would Oma, Opa, Hans, Leen, and my baby big brother Stephen be in hell because they weren’t Christians?  Still I straddled these two worlds of Christianity – one cerebral and folky, the other glitzy and mind-bogglingly scary and literal… because either you were in or you were out.  I wanted to be in.

My whole social life came to revolve around being a Christian.  I sang and played piano in the church young people’s music group, Koinonia.  We actually made matching skirts and toured churches around the Interior.  A few times a year, we went to a retreat where we’d study the Bible and impress each other with the verses we’d memorized.  We’d sing and sing, and have our own dances, and flirt, and laugh, and stay up all night, lying in big puppy piles and listening to Christian rock… or the B-52s and the Moody Blues.  I got to know the Bible very, very well.  And I still had trouble with this whole “saved” thing.  At least with the Presbyterians, who believed in Predestination, being saved was all up to the Grace of God.  It was up to Him who was in and who was out, and God’s Grace was surely enough to be merciful to a few innocent babies and grandparents I’d never met.  And Gandhi, I decided after watching the movie about him.

As I was thinking my way into ever-more-liberal Christianity, and heading off to university, some of my high-school friends who stayed in town were dating the guys from the Cool Church, and going to Bible School.  I could feel the gap widening between myself and them.  One Christmas I came home, and the drummer from Koinonia announced that he was throwing out all his rock albums because the rock beat is from the Devil.  Right.   Another friend stopped cutting her hair or wearing makeup, because long hair is a woman’s adornment, and pleases the Lord, and her husband.  We lost touch.

When I was 21, I took a wonderful course in “The Bible and English Literary Tradition”, which finally opened the doors and let me breathe, and figure things out for myself.  We discussed allegory, Dante, Milton, Mithraism and pan-Hellenic gnostic sects.  We looked at the puzzle of Paul the Apostle, and how messiahs and virgin birth stories existed in many faiths.  We were introduced to Northrop Frye’s The Great Code, and the work of the Jesus Seminar.  Wow, I thought.  A group of Christian scholars that actually respects Jesus enough to try and figure out what really belongs to him, and what is just stuff that grew up around his reputation!   By this time, I knew much of the Bible by heart, and knew that many parts of it just didn’t hang together well enough to take literally.   It had to be a series of documents that reflected their time, written by people who created God in their image.  I no longer wanted to be in at all costs.  I just wanted to find out what was real.

The rest of my story is about leaving and coming back to my faith, as an adult.  I may get to writing that down, eventually.  For now, let’s go back to the car, with Stephen, because I think it’s important that as Canadians of European descent, my kids know the biblical references in their cultural background – the stories in the Bible, the basics of mainstream Christianity, and where people have made God in their own image.  I want them always to be able to know what they believe, and why.  Even if it’s just to say “I don’t know the answer.”

I know that Christianity comes in many flavours, including Quaker.  We don’t have to accept – or reject – all of it, in order to be “in” or “out”.  I find that even though I count myself among the Universalist Friends, I understand both historical and current Christocentric Quakers.  Their turns of biblical phrase often resonate with me deeply.  I can laugh with my kids at the absurdity of taking creation myths literally, and be thankful that I know the stories anyway.  I’m thankful that I grew up Christian, even though I’ve left both the extreme and the mainstream forms for a version that is both more open and more challenging.  As a Friend, I can be both who I am and who I was.

“So today at school, Mom, I was telling Jacob about Adam and Eve, and he was rolling around on the ground laughing.”

12-year-old Stephen and I are in the car, heading home for dinner. It’s a great time to talk about our day. Lately, he’s been telling his Grade 7 buddies stories from the Old Testament.

“Jacob goes, ‘So they eat from the Tree of Knowledge, and the best they can do is figure out they’re NAKED? They get knowledge of CLOTHES??’ ”

Stevie is just as irreverent as Jacob – that people would actually take this “Bible stuff” as literal truth is a completely foreign concept to him. And yet, I still have a guilty twinge at all this mirth at the Bible’s expense. I know that no bolt of lightning will slice through the roof of the car to smite us, but it’s still weird for me not to treat the Bible as a – no, THE Holy Book – the literal Word Of God. I grew up with literal bible believers, went to school with them, hung out at their youth groups. I was a teenage fundamentalist – or at least doing my best to play the part.

Kelowna, BC, is a pocket of religiosity in an increasingly secular Canada. The churches are big, especially the evangelical ones. In my teenage years of the late 1970s, Kelowna was smaller, more remote, less sophisticated. It was a bit like the town in the movie Footloose, where youth weren’t allowed to dance, so some of them snuck out to do more risky things, like drink in the bush. As an insecure, bookish teenage girl, I knew I didn’t want to go to those parties. Why stand by a smoky fire in the cold, just to get drunk, throw up, ride in a pickup truck with a driver almost as drunk as you are, and risk ending up in the hospital, where my mom (the emergency nurse) would probably disown me? Or risk getting arrested and fingerprinted by my dad, the cop? Let’s not even entertain the thought that I might end up dead, or worse – pregnant. So if I were to have any social life at all, I should probably hang out with those nice kids, the Christians.

My best friend, Lori, beat me to Christianity by a few weeks when we were both 14. She had gone with her mother to a Pentecostal women’s dinner, and came home speaking in tongues. Church was suddenly the best place ever, particularly the Young People’s group, which had older teenagers and really nice leaders that treated you like a real person and listened to what you had to say. What’s more, Jesus was real, and Lori had given her heart to Him.

When Lori asked me if I would come with her to the Presbyterian Young People’s I was happy to go along. Bible study was actually a natural fit for a book reader like me; we looked in-depth at individual verses, like “If I have the tongue of men and angels, but have not love, I am nothing”. We sang songs like “Peaceful, Easy Feeling”, only the words were changed to be more Christian. We had intense conversations about the nature of evil. Christianity was actually getting me to THINK. I have the Presbyterian Church to thank for that. And it’s a good thing, too, because the Cool Church was one of the big churches down the road, and things were a little different there.

At the Cool Church, they showed films about the Rapture, and how scary it would be to be left behind while the plague of locusts rained down on apartments and cars. Kids from the Cool Church played Led Zeppelin songs backwards so we could hear Robert Plant sing “My Sweet Satan” and be thrillingly horrified. At the Cool Church, they lifted their hands and spoke in tongues after just about every song. The Cool Church had about 70 teenagers in their youth group, and concerts, and really good looking guys. And those really good looking guys hugged everybody, even me.

I tried being baptized in the Holy Spirit, but he was stingy with me – my speaking-in-tongues attempts just came out like “Hey, Shondala shondala”, and felt completely stupid. I also had trouble believing that everybody was born in sin, and doomed to hell unless they believed in Jesus Christ As Their Lord And Saviour. I mean, I came from a family full of dead people. My older brother died as a baby. My mother was in a car accident when she was 13, and it killed most of her family. Would Oma, Opa, Hans, Leen, and my baby big brother Stephen be in hell because they weren’t Christians? Still I straddled these two worlds of Christianity – one cerebral and folky, the other glitzy and mind-bogglingly scary and literal… because either you were in or you were out. I wanted to be in.

My whole social life came to revolve around being a Christian. I sang and played piano in the church young people’s music group, Koinonia. We actually made matching skirts and toured churches around the Interior. A few times a year, we went to a retreat where we’d study the Bible and impress each other with the verses we’d memorized. We’d sing and sing, and have our own dances, and flirt, and laugh, and stay up all night, lying in big puppy piles and listening to Christian rock… or the B-52s and the Moody Blues. I got to know the Bible very, very well. And I still had trouble with this whole “saved” thing. At least with the Presbyterians, who believed in Predestination, being saved was all up to the Grace of God. It was up to Him who was in and who was out, and God’s Grace was surely enough to be merciful to a few innocent babies and grandparents I’d never met. And Gandhi, I decided after watching the movie about him.

As I was thinking my way into ever-more-liberal Christianity, and heading off to university, some of my high-school friends who stayed in town were dating the guys from the Cool Church, and going to Bible School. I could feel the gap widening between myself and them. One Christmas I came home, and the drummer from Koinonia announced that he was throwing out all his rock albums because the rock beat is from the Devil. Right. Another friend stopped cutting her hair or wearing makeup, because long hair is a woman’s adornment, and pleases the Lord, and her husband. We lost touch.

When I was 21, I took a wonderful course in “The Bible and English Literary Tradition”, which finally opened the doors and let me breathe, and figure things out for myself. We discussed allegory, Dante, Milton, Mithraism and pan-Hellenic gnostic sects. We looked at the puzzle of Paul the Apostle, and how messiahs and virgin birth stories existed in many faiths. We were introduced to Northrop Frye’s The Great Code, and the work of the Jesus Seminar. Wow, I thought. A group of Christian scholars that actually respects Jesus enough to try and figure out what really belongs to him, and what is just stuff that grew up around his reputation! By this time, I knew much of the Bible by heart, and knew that many parts of it just didn’t hang together well enough to take literally. It had to be a series of documents that reflected their time, written by people who created God in their image. I no longer wanted to be in at all costs. I just wanted to find out what was real.

The rest of my story is about leaving and coming back to my faith, as an adult. I may get to writing that down, eventually. For now, let’s go back to the car, with Stephen, because I think it’s important that as Canadians of European descent, my kids know the biblical references in their cultural background – the stories in the Bible, the basics of mainstream Christianity, and where people have made God in their own image. I want them always to be able to know what they believe, and why. Even if it’s just to say “I don’t know the answer.”

I know that Christianity comes in many flavours, including Quaker. We don’t have to accept – or reject – all of it, in order to be “in” or “out”. I find that even though I count myself among the Universalist Friends, I understand both historical and current Christocentric Quakers. Their turns of biblical phrase often resonate with me deeply. I can laugh with my kids at the absurdity of taking creation myths literally, and be thankful that I know the stories anyway. I’m thankful that I grew up Christian, even though I’ve left both the extreme and the mainstream forms for a version that is both more open and more challenging. As a Friend, I can be both who I am and who I was.

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Motherly thoughts on an 18th birthday http://www.wordspring.ca/2012/12/motherly-thoughts-on-an-18th-birthday/ http://www.wordspring.ca/2012/12/motherly-thoughts-on-an-18th-birthday/#comments Mon, 10 Dec 2012 02:56:01 +0000 Catherine Novak http://www.wordspring.ca/?p=520 Warning – birth story to come.  If that is not your cup of tea, don’t read it.  But I’ve never put my recollection of it down on paper.

Today, my oldest son turned 18.  For him, it was not a big deal.  ”It’s not like I can do anything different,” he said.  But it’s an anniversary for me too, because on a grey, rainy day much like this one, I became a mother.

Birthing Daniel was the hardest thing I have ever done.  Early labour began Wednesday morning Dec 7th, 1994  two weeks past his due date of Nov 26th..  My contractions were about 10 minutes apart, so I could play game after game of Scrabble, and walk down to Jericho Park, playing the waiting game with my husband and the doula, who came over.  Wednesday night, I thought for sure that things were kicking into gear.  We checked into BC Women’s Hospital, and expected to see the baby by the morning.  Instead, just wave after wave of nauseating contractions, never really kicking into heavy, productive labour, but not going away, either.

We listened to  a “relaxing” Loreena McKennit CD over and over… I don’t think I’ve listened to it since.  Thursday was tough – including vomiting with contractions until there was nothing left to heave, trying showers and hating the tingly feeling of the water hitting my back, trying walking and listening to the moans of the other labouring women – women who were entering the labour rooms and leaving with their babies while I paced and puked, and waited.  This baby just wasn’t coming.  By Thursday night, I had dilated to 5 cm… but on Friday morning, I had regressed to 3 cm.  Seems my cervix was swollen with the pressure of the baby’s head – and the head was probably stuck on my pelvic bone, to make things worse.

That morning, we talked about a C-section as I was “failing to progress” and showing “uncoordinated labour” (that was an understatement).  The epidural (something I tried very hard to avoid, since I wanted a “natural” birth) was one of the last tools they had in their bag; it actually made things a lot better for the morning and afternoon of Dec 9th, 1994.   I still remember the name of the anaesthetist, Dr. Ross, and how much I loved her.  For those hours, I could relax and let my body do its work.  I could feel everything – even get up and go to the bathroom – but I couldn’t feel pain.  The nurses did a test with an icecube, where they would run it up my pregnant abdomen until I felt the cold.  Below the “epidural line” it felt like a toy wooden block, that became cold as it reached my chest.  Perfect.

Finally around 5 pm, I was fully dilated and ready to push.   Except that every time I did, the baby’s heart beat would slow right down to a dangerous 70 beats or less.  I couldn’t get on my hands and knees, I couldn’t squat, I couldn’t stand. All those positions put the baby in grave danger.  Finally, we found a position where I laboured on my left side, with my husband and the doula taking turns to hold my upper leg in the air.  And with every contraction, we had to monitor the hearbeat of the little person trying to get out.  My memory starts clouding around this point… I was pushing, things were tense.  Every push put baby in danger – he needed to come out, and it was too late for a C-section, since he was halfway through the birth canal.  Afraid for his little life, one of the medical staff said “Can you push – hard?”  I let ‘er rip, and felt like I was splitting my self in half (apparently this was pretty close to the truth, too).  At some point, the attending doctor reached in and slipped a loop of cord from around the baby’s neck, while I was asked to do “butterfly breaths” – keeping my body, and hopefully the baby’s, still, while he performed this procedure.  Another push, and out came a big, blue baby – too still to be good news.   Someone picked up a phone on the wall, and called “Code Blue” in my room.

My birth plan said “place baby on mother’s stomach”, but they whisked the round, blue doll over to a table that came in the room with a bunch of people from Children’s Hospital.  Now there were 13 people in the room. I counted. About 8 of them were huddled around the table where they had placed the baby.  Another three were tending to me, and then there was my husband, who was pacing around with this hands in his hair, and my mom, who excused herself to go for a walk. Nothing seemed real. Every second was a question mark.  Why were all these people here?  What was going on with my baby?  When could I hold him?  Why did mom leave the room?  I never asked myself if he was going to make it.  My brain didn’t want to go there.

I don’t know how long it took for the “infant resuscitation team” to do their work, nor could I see what they were doing.  Thinking about it, they were probably doing baby CPR, and giving little Daniel oxygen.  But in the end, another life entered the room, and not by the door.   In the end, I was ecstatic.  Not relieved, because I didn’t want to think about almost losing him.  Just ecstatic.  When he was finally placed into my arms, around 20 minutes later, it didn’t matter that it had all gone sideways.  He was my baby, and he was here.

Happy 18th birthday, Daniel!  I’m still so glad you are here!

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Academic Writing: Let’s put the people back in the procedures http://www.wordspring.ca/2012/11/academic-writing-lets-put-the-people-back-in-the-procedures/ http://www.wordspring.ca/2012/11/academic-writing-lets-put-the-people-back-in-the-procedures/#comments Fri, 23 Nov 2012 03:42:16 +0000 Catherine Novak http://www.wordspring.ca/?p=515 Is there any form of writing more dense, jargon-filled and hard to figure out than academic writing?  Technical manuals poorly translated into English are probably easier to read than many of the textbooks currently lining my bookshelf.  It’s a shame, because I have spent hundreds of dollars on these books in order to learn something from them, and instead, I find myself getting distracted and confused.  I have to read paragraphs three or four times in order to find the meaning, and according to the class discussion on Facebook (our student lounge in this distance program), I’m not alone.

Looking through the text, a major problem that I have noticed is that, in order to try and build in some distance and objectivity, and put an emphasis on procedure, the authors often strip out the people carrying out an activity.  In the social sciences, where people are the active ingredients in an experiment, this is just crazy.  Can you imagine describing a chemistry experiment without the chemicals?  I have had it with these kind of sentences: “lesson plans are then reviewed”, “stakeholders must be consulted”, “a needs analysis was carried out”.  Who do the authors think is running around doing all this activity?

The American Psychological Association has tried to steer academic writing back into clarity, but even in their own publication manual, they are fighting a losing battle.  While some brave soul has written the chapter on style with great clarity, the rest of the manual tumbles back into obfuscation and passivity.  I guess it was a committee project.

Here is my bold challenge to all academics, especially those in the social sciences and humanities: put the people back into your work.  The words “social” and “humanities” are there for a reason!  Use the first person, the second person, the third person – whatever it takes to make that wonderful little construction, subject, verb, object.

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Top 5 reasons I find writing scary http://www.wordspring.ca/2012/11/top-5-reasons-i-find-writing-scary/ http://www.wordspring.ca/2012/11/top-5-reasons-i-find-writing-scary/#comments Mon, 12 Nov 2012 03:53:38 +0000 Catherine Novak http://www.wordspring.ca/?p=503 Those of you who know me personally, and not just through the Internet, know that I have a job that keeps me busy most days, that it is in the service sector – retail home health care sales, to be exact, and that I am a good writer, but not a freelancer.   So why don’t I become a freelancer, I’m asked.  And I ask myself that , too.  My current job will never be full-time.  I’ll never have benefits there, and I am currently living below the official low income cut-off.  In other words, I have little to lose, and perhaps a lot to gain, by concentrating on writing for a living.  But I’m scared to do it.

#5: I might offend my family

Ridiculous, isn’t it?  Any writer worth her salt wouldn’t lose sleep over what Mom might think about what she writes.  Some writers mine their families for material for their stories.  But if I can’t imagine my mother reading it and feeling proud, I find it hard to get started.   I should probably get therapy for this.

#4: The topic has been done to death

Sometimes I go to the local newsstand and look at the hundreds of magazines sitting on the shelves.  All those words!  All those topics!  And yet, which articles actually have something fresh to say?  I heard once that if you strip every plot down to its barest elements, there are only seven stories, with endless retellings.  What could I possibly add that is new?  It gives me writer’s block just thinking about it (and that’s a shame, because look at all the space online and pages on shelves that need to be filled).

#3 I have trouble finishing what I sta

Strictly speaking, I shouldn’t be worried about this one.  I finish what’s on my plate at most mealtimes.  I get all the way to work every morning when I head out the door.  But as a writer, I can delay the end of a project just by looking for that extra detail.  I can fall down some very deep rabbit holes looking for the right facts, the extra information, or the perfect piece of colour to add to a piece. Maybe I won’t know when to say “I’m finished”, and shut the computer down.  Maybe one of those rabbit holes will lead me way off topic and I’ll end up writing three completely unrelated drafts for other projects, none of which have an editor waiting for copy.

#2 I’d have to be my own boss

I tried being my own boss once, and I was a lousy one.  I was a miserable employee, too.  I’m not happy administering my own work – all those quotes, invoices, spreadsheets, projections and business plans made me a nervous wreck.  On behalf of other people, the paper end of the job is just something to get through on the way to the real work.  Doing it for myself, it felt like being faced with a sheer black obelisk that I had to climb with my bare hands.

#1 Writing might change who I am

Let me rephrase that.  Writing does change who I am!  I go from being busy to reflective.  I question my assumptions and see things in a new light.  If I were to write full-time, I’d have to get over my other fears and be open to both praise and criticism, a risk-taker, an original voice, a finisher, a delegator and a confident manager of my own destiny.  I’d have to take responsibility for my own success or failure.   I’d have to cut back my hours at my day job, and call myself a writer.

Actually, it sounds like something I need to do.

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This is me, pouting and stamping my foot http://www.wordspring.ca/2012/08/this-is-me-pouting-and-stamping-my-foot/ http://www.wordspring.ca/2012/08/this-is-me-pouting-and-stamping-my-foot/#comments Wed, 08 Aug 2012 03:59:07 +0000 Catherine Novak http://www.wordspring.ca/?p=493 This post  is from my more “academic” blog, which I have called http://rrucatherinenovak.wordpress.com.  It’s not so academic tonight, so I’m going to post it here, too.

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Let’s be perfectly clear here.  I have drawn the line under my work as of my last post, and this one does not count for any self-evaluation except the one that I am doing right now, as I type.  And frankly, I would have titled the post “I suck”, except that I am trying to be a bit kind to myself.

I want to and need to get my blog self-evaluation asssignment done and handed in two days early, so I can head off to Portland (Portlandia!!) with a clear conscience and one less thing on my plate. Now it is 8:34 pm. I have an outline, and I have some notes.  I *don’t* have printer ink, which is hindering me, and think that I may need to hop in the car and drive to campus if I intend to get much done tonight.

Do I stay and soldier on through at home, keeping my 12-year-old silent company and letting the empty coke cans from last weekend attract the fruit-flies?  Or do I ship out for a more intense and studious atmosphere?

What really sucks is that I have 23 more months of self-discipline ahead.  I am NOT on a boat.  I am taking two classes that I borrowed lots of money for.

For what it’s worth, just writing my little hissy fit down seems to have stiffened my resolve. I think after this self-pep talk, I’ll be ok tonight.

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