“If I could sit here for three months alone, saying the same things, doing the same things, day by day — then perhaps a few pages would be solidly written in the end…. what one wants for writing is habit.”Virginia Woolf (Thanks Charis!)
*Settle in. It’s a long post, dear friends!
A new year has begun and this is a very unique year for me as I have chosen to take a sabbatical. A sabbatical is an ‘extended period of time away from work’. Some careers include the sabbatical as part of the experience. Typically, this is a paid time away to rest, reflect, rejuvenate, and perhaps work on a research project in a dreamy place like the south of France or the red stone caves of Sedona…
For me, I’ll be staying in the city of Windsor, working from home or in libraries, cafes, or bookstores. I do hope to go on retreat somewhere during the year, but those plans haven’t solidified as of yet. I will be working with writers as editor/mentor, however, I’m not taking on any new writers just yet. I’ve got a full roster of incredible writers who I’m continuing to work with for completion of their projects.
Gertrude’s Writing Room, the magical, incredible space in Willistead Park’s Coach House is now closed. Everything has been packed up, sold, donated and delivered. I am slowly unpacking boxes of books and trinkets here at home, and feeling the power of the magical energy spread through our home. It has been a difficult yet necessary closure. I did feel relief when I said a final thank you and goodbye to the space on December 31st.
Last year, 2022, was one of the hardest years of my life as a writer, as a community member, as an advocate and empath. As the year unfolded and I began to live the dream of being a Poet Laureate, I experienced the wrath and cruelty of a bully that affected my role as poet and community-builder. As his harassment fattened and strengthened on-line, I began to lose my courage, my ability to write/create, and I began to have major health issues. My body and soul was telling me (screaming at me) to stop, look, and listen.
As I did my best to quell the negativity boiling within my self and my circles of friends and family, I realized that the bully’s words were affecting me on a foundational level. Whether that was his intention or not, it was happening. I had to pay attention to the physical and mental reactions I was having. I realized that in order to deal with the darkness he was slathering in our community and in my life, I had to stop what I was doing – and I do a lot. I always have.
For as long as I can remember, I have been ‘busy’. Whether it was joining clubs and teams in my youth, working three jobs and studying in school in my twenties, teaching, writing, doing readings, and opening Gertrude’s Writing Room – my working life, my learning life, my family and friendship life has always been busy. Building community through creativity and writing has always been my main heart goal. But my heart was breaking…my soul was affected by the bully’s statements about my writing as well as my ‘place’ in our community and the greater community. I was afraid that I would be cancelled for writing something that came from my heart. Why was I feeling so crushed, so wrong, so inferior, so very afraid?
I quietly resigned as Poet Laureate in mid-September, and by the end of that month I was so weak from worry, heartbreak and frustration, it began to manifest in my body with the onset of ocular myasthenia gravis (an auto-immune condition in my eye that makes me see double due to the loss of muscular ability in my eyeball and eyelids), and a lower back injury that made it impossible for me to do many daily movements that previously were never an issue.
I spent many hours alone in the writing room…looking around, crying, questioning. I spent many hours not alone in the writing room – having intense, soul-full, heart-felt and life-changing conversations with friends. I began to know in my heart that it was time to stop everything so I could heal.
The feelings/emotions, fear and negative self-talk that the bully (and others who were so quick to hit ‘like’, ‘share’ and write comments on his posts) triggered in me was the true darkness. I realized that the bully was an entity that had been in my life before. I realized that the fear, the gripping, courage-squashing monster that resurrected within me has been in residence in the darkest parts of me since I was a child. This was the real monster. This was the childhood fear. This was the cruel self that I needed to face.
The bully’s words, the slippery shift in meanings around support and community, the thundering waves of rejection and misinformation, of misconstrued narratives and damage-driven agendas…I turned into a cloak of loss…Loss of faith in myself and community, loss of trust in my own skills and abilities, loss of energy that I could continue to do the good work, the heart work, the soul work because I truly didn’t know how to do it anymore…under the pounding waves of my own loss of self.
I think about the different narratives of what happened. There’s the narrative that I quit because I wasn’t ‘strong enough’ to not let the bully’s words affect me. That I gave up, stopped caring, had a breakdown, lost my mind…changed. That I wasn’t able to be in the spotlight, to take on the role, to respond…That I’m a privileged white girl who couldn’t take the feedback, or face her ignorance around cultural appropriation and/or racism. That my voice, my words, my intentions are meant to be judged and I have to be quiet and/or apologize when the judgements come like knives. That my intentions, my beliefs and values, don’t actually matter, to some, and I have to accept that.
I have worn the shoes of all these narratives, even when they didn’t fit. I keep all the shoes and continue to step into them so I can learn, so I can dive into how each narrative makes me feel and why, and figure out how to let go of the shoes that offer options to experiences that are just not mine. What is my narrative? Sometimes it is an amalgamation of all of them…sometimes it is none. The shoes are in a steady shift. Or I go barefoot…which is an experience in itself…
I decided to close the writing room for many reasons but the main ones were that I knew I couldn’t do the inner work whilst running a small business, that I didn’t want to worry about costs, that I was too tired to create, collaborate, market and do the work of leading. It was a very difficult decision. More difficult than resigning as poet laureate. If I define myself, my work, as being a writer, a community-builder, a teacher…what would be left of me if I stopped working in these capacities?
There were days when I felt sick to my stomach at the mere idea of shifting out of the work I’ve done for decades. It literally felt unnatural to me. That I was going against my purpose. That I was wrong to even consider a change of this magnitude. And then the bully’s face would come to my mind. I could see his fingers on a keyboard pulling pins of word grenades and tossing them into the world to explode…and this serenity would flutter in my centre with the deep knowing that, in fact, this mega-life change was (is) my purpose. That it was (is) okay to stop, look, listen. To change. To rest. To heal.
And so here I am. Sitting in a sacred space I’ve created in my home. A white candle burns as sage smoke curls in the air. The second hand on the clock ticks loudly and there is nowhere else I have to be but here, writing this to you.
I feel less afraid now than I did two months ago. I have decided on a sabbatical schedule that includes the most important things to me: writing, family, health. My eye is still unwell, but my back is getting stronger, and I made it through a tough bout of Covid. I am reading again. I am writing in my journal. It is still difficult to write poetry, but I’m nurturing the poet in me and giving her time to rebuild. I am letting it be okay that my desire to teach, organize, attend is quiet. I am ready to begin new habits and am curious about what will come of them.
My weekdays will look like this:
8-11am – wake, pray, meditate, stretch, write
Break for food
Afternoon for writing sessions, family, friends, other projects, etc.
Go with the flow
The key is sacred morning time for mental and creative health. I have identified three writing projects to work on. I’m not sure if I will work on one at a time or shift back and forth, but the goal is to finish them before starting anything new.
I am recording a podcast with the great Karen Morand. It’s called Art Kitchen – Feeding Your Creative Soul. This is a project I am committed to working on. Our first podcast episode airs Monday, January 16th.
I will be submitting writing on a follow-my-instinct basis. Loads of submission calls land in my inbox each day. I’ve been reading them over and submitting if I feel compelled, inspired, motivated to do so.
I’m posting a photograph a day on my Instagram. I can’t deny the pull to do something on social media. I can’t quite confirm the healthiness of this pull, but I can say that there’s a big part of me that doesn’t want to be forgotten…that is worried that if I completely expel all social media from my life…that makes me less than, forgettable, unable to stay connected with the world, failing at my ‘online presence’….ha. That’s reading pretty unhealthy as I write it, but there you have it. And so, I’m sticking with instagram. Twitter, for me, is hell, so I’m staying off it, and Facebook too is a colosseum I’d rather not attend.
Email is a constant, though I may be even slower than before in responding. There are times when I just can’t open my laptop. Although I need her to write, she feels very connected to kinds of work that give me anxiety. I know I will breathe through this, but the truth is that my ‘must-respond-right-away’-ness has dwindled in the shift of healing. Time feels different. It is less…frenzied. Less…electric with musts.
I am following the seasonal shifts and moon phases for reflection. I feel an intense connection with the moon and want to follow her rhythms. The same goes for the seasons. Here is the calendar I’ll be following, so that when a seasonal shift arrives, I will stop and reflect on how I’m feeling, how things are going, and how habits are building (or not), and make any new changes.
February 2 – Imbolc/Mid-Winter
March 20 – Equinox/Spring
May 1 – Beltane/Mid-Spring
June 21 – Solstice/Summer
August 2 – Lammas/Mid-Summer
September 22 – Equinox/Fall
October 31 – Samhain/Mid-Fall
December 21 – Solstice/Winter
Plus all the new and full moons in between.
These moon/seasonal markers feel in tune with my spiritual and mental flow/learning. I love meditations that coincide with these shifts, which in many cases, are driven by the light/dark relationship. That is what I am experiencing and so to let nature guide my spirit in this way feels beautifully divine.
I have a list. A ‘what-to-do-during-my-sabbatical’ list. It’s quite long. And suddenly daunting as January first crawled toward me. Choosing to flow with the seasons and moons is making the year feel way less daunting. The ‘year’ as a whole feels huge and long, unreachable. But holding days and moonlight as pauses throughout the year feels much more accessible. The list is there. The little dreams. The space for new dreams…this is what the sabbatical holds for me.
I don’t know how often I’ll be blogging. I will go with the flow here too. Again, it feels odd/unnatural to not have a commitment to writing and sharing here, but I know I need the freedom to flow.
“Be new, think new, and open your heart to new things. Let go of the old and all your attachments. Spirit has awesome plans for you. Make some room.”#35 – Loyal Heart, Wisdom of the Oracle
With love, V
13 thoughts on “Sabbatical 2023”
I am so sorry this has happened to you. I know what it is like to be bullied, have experienced triangulation, and persons trying to re-frame me as someone I’m not. I had to walk away from people (unfortunately in the local literary world) in late 2019 and early 2020. The most freeing, loving thing I did for myself in some time, I really feel for you and understand the pain you are experiencing. I hope 2023 brings you, healing, peace, joy, and comfort. Love and all the best – Lynn
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Thank you for your honest and generous words, Lynn. I’m sorry to read that you’ve experienced similar challenges. I honour your choices and hope that you’re still creating and writing because that is what’s most important! All amazing things to you as well! Peace!
as always, you are beautiful, honest and inspiring Vanessa. May all good spirits guide you this year and keep you safe and help you heal. lots of love.
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I can only say, I’m sorry that this happened to you and the community. You have both creativity and compassion as the qualities that will bring healing. There are also many people who care and send love to you! ❤
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Thank you Ellie! I’m so glad we’ve become deeper friends during all of this! I’m grateful for you!
Thank you for this open, honest, soul bearing email. It was very well written and you have conveyed your experience perfectly. Some of it made me sad to read. But not all of it ♥ I wish you the best during your sabbatical Vanessa, and I hope we get to spend a bit of time together while you are doing this. You know where to find me ♥ And don’t worry, you won’t be forgotten. Not a chance ♥
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Thanks, Trace! Yes, more time with you sounds like perfect magical medicine! Love you!
Vanessa, your creative spirit will “ rise from the ashes, “ stronger than ever before! I can see that from the beauty of the room you’ve created in your home”. Keep on Vanessa! I’m with you all the way! Let me know when we can have “ lunch at Vito’s “. I’d love that!
Sent from my iPad
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V, I scarcely know what to say except that you are on the right path, the right path for healing. Even though you told me all about your sabbatical and what led to it, this was hard to read because it’s you, it’s your emotions, your hurt, your life.
You’ve accomplished so much. Coming back will happen and I know you have lots of people on your side. Me included. As one of your supporters said, you will rise from the ashes.
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Thank you, Mark…for reading and responding and for being a grand friend in my life! I’m so glad the words brought us together so many moons ago…I love that ‘rise from the ashes’! Thank you!
Vanessa! I’ve always treasured your honesty and your love for others. Thank you for sharing your pain because in doing so it helps me and others not only understand what you are going through but it also makes us step back and re-evaluate our own lives and priorities. You have always left a deep impression on me. What a role model! I think you are amazing! Sending you a million hugs across the miles! Wishing you more health and happiness as start your sabbatical!
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Thank you deb! An email is forthcoming!!
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You will rise again, poet/writer. To your good health, good healing!