You are not a helpless calf

When I was online dating, I looked for all the signs.

We were both born in August!
His profile picture has a dog in it!
She emailed me on a Monday — I love Mondays!

I was looking for signals that this was right, because I thought that a good relationship was one where everything felt right. I didn’t think that love was a choice I could make. I thought it would be a summer rain shower I would suddenly be engulfed in, confounded and dizzy.

It was the same when we were looking for a studio for Firefly. I would fall in love with a certain address, with a street with the same name as my dead aunt, a door with a beautiful knocker, a landlord who was a writer. I looked for resonance, a gut feeling that said yes. There were MANY of those, but none of them worked out.

It turns out that none of it mattered. The person I would fall deeply (slowly, fearfully, awkwardly) in love with would be one who didn’t really stand out at first. Who wasn’t born in August. Who didn’t write me on a Monday. I chose to love him. And I continue to make that choice, every morning, every day.

And, the studio we found was 1898 Danforth Ave, as uninspired of an address as possible, with a property manager who didn’t give a shit about Firefly, just wanted us to pay our bills on time.

I feel wildly fortunate to have these loves — Ian and 1898 Danforth — but they’re no thanks to my sensitive psychic antenna. They’re here because I worked hard, I pried my stubborn, sensitive heart open again and again, and got lucky.

But can you blame me for trying?

When something matters deeply, we call our whole selves into the search. The trouble comes when we require life to bring us signals and signs along with the gifts it’s shoring up. The beautiful studio and the dead Aunt’s name and the email on the Monday.

Writers — I’m talking to you. Writing matters deeply. So it’s so easy to fall into thinking that we need everything to be just right in order to do it. Most of us labour under the idea that “real” writing comes in swells of flowing inspiration, impossible to ignore, that “real” writers sit down and their stories expand around them easily like their own secret landscapes, just waiting.

Or, we just think that we can get there, but the snow has to be shoveled first, the emails answered, the cereal boxes off the counter. Lined up. Smallest to largest.

We’re waiting for the moment when the our creative energy gets so intense that it lassos us out of the chaos of distractions like a the helpless calf that we are, and draws us in against our will.

To be clear though — you are not a helpless calf.

You can just choose to do it.

And actually, as a physical practice, writing is very ordinary. It’s something we say yes or no to every day. And it’s something we can keep saying yes or no to, along with the shoveling, along with the Instagrams, along with of all the other ka-jillion demands and distractions.

And that, my friend, is the hard part.

It’s hard to choose to do something that no one might notice.
It’s hard to choose to do something that may not make money.
It’s hard to choose to do something that’s just for us.

But hard is fine. To be clear, my life would be a lot simpler if I didn’t have these 850 square feet of commercial space to manage and I was dating whoever I felt like from day to day. But simple isn’t what I’m striving for. Creation, effort, devotion, production — that’s what creative energy is for. And it almost never comes without struggle.

When the summer showers of inspiration drench us suddenly (and yes, it does happen sometimes, and Oh My Stars those times are good), it’s easy to say yes. But for every one of those writing sessions there will be three to sixty more that look a lot more like date with a hard chair, while all those other life demands wave invisible pom poms in front of our eyes, trying to get our attention.

In my experience, it never gets easy, but it gets easier. To to get all biblical for a sec — writing begets writing. The more we choose, the more the choice comes naturally. I look around on Fridays at the group who is gathered at the studio for quiet writing time and my soul swells. They didn’t show up because they’re so immersed in their project that they can’t possibly turn away, they showed up because they said they would. Because they’re saying yes to it. And so they sit, and they look for the words that can pull them back in, and with patience and open-heartedness, they find their way back there. And by the end they’re glowing.

I guess the point is — there’s company in the struggle. And it’s pretty beautiful in there. Despite the pom poms of distraction, despite the self-doubt, there is so much sweetness when we towards it fully and say yes.

This can be as simple as opening a new window on your computer right now and getting started. There’s a free video writing prompt below to get you going. There’s an Open Mic Night coming up to share or just support others, soaking in that yes through their words. There’s a retreat that just opened for registration today.

If you’re looking for some community and support in that “yes”, keep reading. If you’re just ready to go write — this is your sign. You’re amazing. Go.

Spring Retreat Registration Opens Today!

Yahoo, Spring Thaw is coming back! People who signed up for the early bird list did snap up some of the spots, but there are several left. Come melt into the lengthening days with Ailsa and Danette.

Click here for more info.


Our Open Mic is NEXT WEEK!

Yesss! On Valentine’s Day, come down to the studio for stories of love and the lack thereof. If you have a piece to read about the joy of love, we’ll put your name in one jar. If you have a piece to read about the misery of love, we’ll put your name in the other. Then we’ll go back and forth, calling up a dozen readers, 6 from each category. Come to share work or just clap until your hands go numb. Pieces should be under 5 minutes, suggested cover is $10 and goes towards out scholarship fund. There will be heart-shaped chocolates for all.

Click here for all the details.


Meet our sweet Writers In Residence!

We tried to pick one. We really did. But the applications came in thick and sparkling and we couldn’t narrow it down past four. So, here they are, our 2018 cohort! They’ll all be doing readings, offering services and generally sharing their brilliance at the studio this year. We’ll keep you posted.

Click here to learn more about these great souls.


Our Spring Workshops are up!

Hungry for a spring awakening? Registration doesn’t open until Feb 27, but you can peruse and plan and get on the Early Bird list for a nudge when we open pre-registration for any that you know work well for you. NOTE FOR WEST ENDERS: Saroo is running a class in Oakville this spring! Woot!

Click here to read up.


Wanna get TO it already?

Messy Beautiful Pages #50 is up! Come scribble with me. FIFTY!

Click here and get ready to write.


Finally, here’s a poem about hearts.

I’ve never heard a heart described quite like this. Thank you, Rita Dove. Here’s one you probably won’t want to write on a Valentine, but ooooh, it’s good.

Click here for the poem.


Okay now.

Here’s to choosing what we want to choose, and letting the magic come in it’s own sweet time.

Yours in all the best yes’s (and all the struggle to get there),

Chris and the whole Firefly Family

I’ve been anxiously editing this newsletter all week.

The story starts with a book. Over the holidays, I picked up a copy of Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less Hard by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. Many parts shook me up, but the one that made me stop everything was when he wrote about the DMN, the Default Mode Network.

I’ll probably butcher this, but here we go. In the early 1990’s, a grad student was studying FMRI scans. These are brain scans that collect information in real time, so that scientists can see what’s going on when we’re doing stuff.

The student found this weird thing; when people phased out, a whole new part of the brain lit up brilliantly like a secret room suddenly flooded with activity. He could not figure this out and finally started to wonder if actually, when we’re resting, our brain is working in a whole different (and possibly very important) way. His colleagues didn’t buy it — work is work, rest is rest. They told him he’d ruin his career if he published it.

Buuut, over at Washington University, a fancy professor came to the same conclusion. He was studying people’s brains while they were reading using similar scans, and found that as SOON as they stopped reading, something new happened, something huge and complicated that they had no name for.

So, the duders got together and named it the DMN, Default Mode Network. This is the beautiful, complicated web of connection and productivity that happens when we’re not actively working, but instead are, say, staring out the window or washing dishes or walking a familiar street.

Here’s where it gets really interesting — they figured out that that people who are highly creative have way more complex DMNs, meaning that our brains are doing a lot even when we’re resting. And, that DMN complexity is linked to empathy, decision making, emotional intelligence and all kinds of other important life skills.

This told me something startling — our brains need to phase out. They feed on phasing out. Especially when we want those brains to be creative.

You may know this about me, but I’m extremely attached to being productive. I love a day of good work. I’m sad about the world and motivated to do my best by it. I feel that this is an essential part of who I am.

But this research made me wonder if that drive to strike the most things off my to-do list every day was muddying my brain, making it harder to make good choices, see other’s people’s opinions and, of course… to write.

I also started wonder whether my drive for productivity isn’t tied to my essential nature, but to living in the 21st Century and owning a smartphone. These days the pressure to be connected is unreal. You know this. The internet is changing the pace of our lives in a way we don’t even understand. Our ancestors didn’t need scientific studies to tell them to phase out, because they had plenty of time doing repetitive chores or walking long distances or just not looking at computers.

Now, every molecule of my ego is begging me not to tell you this next part. But here we go. This winter I’m trying an experiment; I’m scheduling an hour of pure, undisturbed phase-out time into the middle of every workday.

Here’s how it works: I come home around 3pm. I change into flannel pyjammas, close the blinds and let the dog up on the bed. (See photo above. That was Wednesday.) I lie down. That’s all. Sometimes I sleep (the book has an equally-amazing chapter on naps) other times I just pet Marshall and let my mind wander. No phone, no books, no podcasts. Just me, in the room, doing nothing.

I freakin’ love it. It’s like being allowed to devour fourteen ice cream sundaes while lying on a beach getting a foot massage. I feel the hour all day long. I’m more patient, less tense, and I’m writing WAY MORE — getting ideas for stories in the middle of conversations, staring at words in wonder at how beautiful they are. I’m feeling, again, like the world is a constant stream of creative possibility. It feels so good to be back.

Truth: Aaaaall I can hear in my head right now is your judgment. Who does she think she is? She’s clearly showing off. How entitled can you be? I’ve edited and re-edited this, deleted it all, written it again. I feel like I’m confessing to something awful. That’s how hard for me to say that time rest is valid, real and worth talking about. I suspect I’m not alone. I suspect that’s part of why we’re all so tired.

I recognize that my 3pm tryst is a product of my privilege. If I were working a double shift at Wendy’s, no one would be giving me an hour off for idle time in the middle. And it hurts my heart to recognize that.

But, there are millions of ways to lean in. Whether it means not turning on the news while commuting or not checking email on lunch break or just not feeling guilty for the DMN time your brain is naturally claiming when you find yourself scrolling through Instagram photos without thinking, there’s always ways to make friends with idle time, and to claim it as part of your creative practice, your brain health, your well-lived life.

Writing isn’t just about putting words down, it’s about cultivating a climate where those words appear, asking to be written. At Firefly we’re always looking for new ways to do that for ourselves and our community. How do we care for the soil so that the flowers leap out of the ground? There are a million little methods, but this is my current favourite.

Thank you for reading. I hope you’ll join me. But, you know… On your own. Not at my place. Even though I’m sure you’d be great company. Marshall isn’t really that friendly. And anyway. You get it.

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Can We Keep In Touch?

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