If you see me,
rapt up in battle,
wrestling a would-be assassin,
my life precariously hanging in limbo,
no professionals in sight,
please don’t walk away.

I am alone and tiring,
and my assailant is intense –
forcefully focused on bringing me down,
and I am fighting with a strength
I didn’t know I possessed,
and cannot depend on.

Am I shadow boxing?
Fighting a foe no other than myself?
Is this an act of futility
and I a fool for trying?
Should I lie down and play dead
and take my chances?

My spirit says “No!”
I’m not ready to die!
So I fight, and I fight
straining to restrain
my grip tightening
I dare not let go.

And I would not mind if you’d step in
and give me a hand
and take up the struggle with me
offering enough support
that I might call for help
now, when it’s really needed.

‘Cause, strong as I seem
my control is clumsy at best,
and it is only by some strange miracle
that I am winning at all.
So please, before I am lost,
If you see me, struggling with life,
don’t walk away.

Day 258 “Empires”

Scaly slate wings entomb;
morbid fear rank;
visions blurred by despair-
my father’s empire.

Manacled, powerless
an involuntary accomplice;
Mother’s words attempt to assuage
Her eyes scream: “Run!”

Rigidly erect the Emperor
regards us condescendingly:
sneering, denying culpability
while the dragon’s tail tightens its grip.

Prisoner of this desolate reality
I shrivel, and decline
withdrawing inward
my flame an imperceptible smouldering.

Until a whispering of possibility
planted deep within the rubble
pushes upwards, grows silently
constructing, perfecting armour.

Life or death uncertain
I face the tyrant
Call him out and hold steady
Against the roaring of the beast.

Time and perseverance
Slay the ungodly
reducing omnipotence,
to pitiful pleading for mercy.

Welcoming the sunshine
embracing peace
and personal freedom,
I grant him forgiveness

and pray from my place
of solitude and healing
that  my perceived oppressor
will, one day, forgive me.


shrivelled at my feet
begging for forgiveness

pining for kindness
disbelieving heart.

Day 255 “Take a Step Back”

I am living in my father’s house
with a man who said ‘I do”
then didn’t – at least not with me.

These walls, built with lies,
deception whispering in each corner-
betrayal bouncing off my lover’s soul.

No comfort is found here,
Expectations are beyond me
I am over my head.  Stop!

Take a step back.
The house is vacant,
past inhabitants now ghosts.

I have a voice.

I have a voice.

Here is not the place to use it.

Take a step back.
Walk away.
Victory is not the goal.

Take a step back.
Let it go.
These are but hollow, old walls.

Day 251 Careful and Carefree

Dreams have provided a source of personal revelation for me since I started recording, and subsequently learning about them, in 1986.  The poem “The Shadow of Shame” was based on the dreams of several nights, all bearing a similar theme – my ability (or rather inability) to form relationships.   By weaving together the images from those dreams and writing the poem I was able to recognize the underlying culprit.

Shame is insidious, silently spreading its menace, growing like a weed rooted in the soul.  It began for me the year I turned nine, when my teenage sister got pregnant.  While no one directly spoke to me about what was happening, I knew by the raised voices and frantically whispered arguments that something was dreadfully wrong.   A wedding was hastily arranged despite my father’s protests and my sister’s life was changed drastically.  That fall, when I started a new school, the shadow was already casting its pall over me – I felt myself on the outside of the circle looking in.  None of these kids, I was sure, was already an aunt or uncle.

Then, the summer of my eleventh birthday, my parents sat me down to tell me about my mother’s previous marriage and divorce.  Imagine my shock to learn that my sisters were half-sisters, and that two of my male ‘cousins’ were actually brothers.  “Divorce is a sin,” my mother told me, “So we don’t talk about it.  People would not approve.”  Marked by this new secret, I knew my hopes of belonging were shattered.

When we moved, mid semester, in the eighth grade, I was taken out of my gifted classroom and thrust into the mainstream.  Where previously being an oddball was celebrated, my new peers scoffed at my quirky abilities further fueling my growing awareness that I was fatally flawed.  When a boy I had latched onto and actually crushed on, publicly called me a dog, I learned how deep humiliation can run, as I then became the target of relentless bullying – everyone in our school took to barking at me at school and anywhere else I happened to be.

When we moved from that community, I had already learned the importance of caution around others.  I knew that making friends required careful observation and consideration, and demanded that I not reveal my true self.  There was little provision for letting one’s guard down, or being carefree.

And then my father dropped his bombshell – revealing to me the duplicity of his life – and any shame I might have felt before was now multiplied a thousand fold.  I was certain that others could tell by looking at me that my family was a total wreck, and furthermore, I knew they were justified in their judgments of me.  I shrank into myself, seeking dark corners, avoiding eye contact, or skipping school all together.  I tried running away, cutting, drinking, but nothing numbed the emotional pain, nor brought me closer to others.

When, at fifteen, I was abducted and raped, my family unwilling and unable to deal with the fact, just didn’t talk about it.  Called a whore by my father, I pushed the memory to the back of my consciousness and fixated instead on ways to end my life.

I thought I had put all that behind me.  I believed that through therapy, and just as a side effect of maturation, I had eluded the black cloud of my youth – and yet here it is -rearing it’s ugly head again, reminding me that I still struggle with getting close to anyone, certain that they will despise me if the truth comes out.

Ridiculous, isn’t it?  Yet, I bet that we are all, in some degree, affected by this plague.  Shame builds walls where there are none, creates distorted images of superiority and inferiority, and takes personal blame where there is no fault to be had.

In the final dream, I am befriended by a troubled youth ( something that occurs regularly in my chosen occupation).  It is at the moment in which we both realize that we have shameful pasts that we are able to let down our guards and freely be with one another – just two humans being.

Maybe it is the very things that shame us that make us human, and the willingness to share our shadows that brings us connection.

I know that this heart longs to step out of the restrictions of careful interaction to experience carefree intimacy with another.

In the meantime, I will keep dreaming.

The Shadow of Shame

Head down, absorbed with your mundane task,
you diligently work with pregnant anticipation.
Hesitantly, I approach,
offering commendation.
Straightening, you stare through me
and turn your back
your silence a concrete wall
between us.

Embarrassed, I retreat
across the frozen landscape
of your inhospitality,
stinging with rejection,
stumbling in my own

Lounging, you revel
in upcoming adventures
Confident and capable
Shining with radiance.

Overshadowed by your beauty
and superior wit
I am silent,
floundering in my incapability,
not wishing to appear the fool.

I catch you searching,
seeking a place to land
and call your name,
hurrying to catch you,
but you ignore me,
intent on finding your own answer.
Feeling inadequate I shrink back
and hope no one has seen.

I never measure up.
Something about me
elicits shunning.
I am nondescript

A young man,
tortured and in trouble
invites me in.
We share a lot in common,
he too knows loss
and condemnation.
He too has made mistakes
and suffered consequences.
He is a willing companion,
and I have found acceptance.

Day 245 Gain and Loss

The mistress, meticulously groomed
glows a sun-kissed bronze shimmery
invitation, promising seductive
sensations of pleasure and release.

The husband, tense, overworked,
emotionally overwrought
heeds the call like a sailor
following the lure of sirens.

The flirtation begins in innocence,
he sips from her splendour at a party,
tastes her bittersweetness and
feels himself losing all control.

She is a master, a pupeteer
mesmerizing him with her smooth,
easy ways – lulling him into compliance
and alone; for private indulgence.

The wife, tired, lies awake
the empty space beside her
echoing the hollow place within-
she no longer holds his desire.

Spent and reeking from his illicit encounter,
the husband stumbles into bed,
reassuringly reaching for his wife in the dark.
Unresponsive, she feigns sleep.

They’ll not speak of it tomorrow-
awake and re-engage in the routine they call life.
Not tonight, he’ll tell himself,
Not tonight, she’ll hope.

The mistress sits smugly in waiting,
a never ending supply of liquid gold,
bottled with a promise – subliminally
conditioned to bring personal gain.

Day 232 “Levels of Virtue”

“Good, better, best.  Never let them rest.  Until your good is better and your better best,” my father would make me recite often; a constant reminder that I was never good enough.

“Patience is a virtue…, ” my mother would wag her finger at me implying that I was somehow sinful.

I gave up being virtuous long ago.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always been leery of “good” people.

I knew a woman once who was touted by others as a guru – saintly sweet, full of love and light – you know the kind.  She often rented space in the same office building where I was working at the time, and for some reason, I kept my distance.

Call it instinct.

Or maybe, it was because I didn’t want her judging my lack of virtue.

One day, as I approached the building, I heard a distinctly female voice raised in anger, coming from inside the lobby.  I hesitated, not wanting to walk into the middle of a fracas, and listened for distinguishable voices.  I caught the low, gruff tone of one of the landlords, and the higher, more nasal,  and still calm voice of his partner.  Whoever they were trying to discuss matters with was having none of it – her voice like piercing shards of glass was bouncing off the walls, and as it did not seem like it was going to subside, I had no choice but to push open the door and disturb the scene.

Red in the face, foaming from the mouth, was the “guru”.  Unforgiving of my untimely entrance, she turned her wrath on me:  “Could you not have waited?!  Does no one have any sense of boundaries around here?”  Then she stormed out the door, leaving three brow-beaten people in her wake.

“What was that?”  I asked looking at my befuddled landlords.

“Woke up on the wrong side of the bed, I think.”  chuckled one.

“Apparently we did something to disturb her,” stated the other.   “Nothing that would provoke that amount of anger, I should think, but there was no talking about it with her.”

I had no reasoned response.  After all, she was the purported paragon of virtue, certainly not me.



Day 177 “Trimming Excess”

Want to meet for a drink after work on Friday?  The text was the third invitation I had received this week.

Sorry, was my response, too swamped with work.

Like my dismissal of the other two invites, I didn’t give it another thought.

That is until I read today’s reflection.  “The principle of simplicity,” Derek Lin writes, “…can be extended to cover excess in general.”  Apart from my weight issue, I thought, where might I trim excess?

It hit me like a bolt of lightning – How about the excess that stands between me and my values?

I profess to value relationship, and long for deeper friendships, yet I find saying no so easy.  Work above all else is my creed.  I learned it from my father, who learned it from his father, and have even passed it down to my children.  Everyone understands the importance of work, so it is a forgivable excuse – but is it an honest one?

If I put the amount of effort into my relationships as I do my career, I would surely have the bonds I long for.  Is work an excuse?  Could it be that I really am just afraid of intimacy? I certainly have experienced more than my share of rejection and abandonment, so maybe this is something I need to consider.

Teaching, with all the prep work involved, is time consuming.  Coaching, while expected, just adds more hours onto the day, yet, I wonder if there isn’t another approach to the way I deal with the pressure?  Is there any excess to be trimmed to make room for other aspects of my life?

I worry about something as soon as it is assigned.  Once I know my classroom assignments, for example, I immediately go into overdrive trying to plot out the semester and thinking of ideas to engage my students.  I push myself to be organized weeks in advance, and fret about the weeks beyond.  The resulting emotion is one of being always behind, frantic.

What if I could change my approach –  break tasks down into more manageable chunks – and leave myself time each day for something other than work?  Is it possible to create balance, and with it calm?

“Trimming Excess”, with its simplicity of message, has caused me to reflect on the way I complicate things.



Day 168 “Hidden Messages”

“I’m not as smart as you.  I’d probably be okay if I was smarter.”

“That’s not true, Mai!  You are very smart.”

“Do you really think so?”

My sister and I were doing dishes after supper.  I had come to visit parents and Mai, who lived just upstairs from my parents’ apartment, joined us.  Mai is paranoid schizophrenic.

“You got 96% in your nursing program.  Intelligence is not your problem.  You have a mental illness.  That is different.”

“I did, didn’t I?  I used to be a good nurse.”

“I’m sure you were.”

Mai would attempt to take her life at least once a year, resulting in the eventual loss of her job, and much of her independence.

“Do you want me to do the washing?  You must be tired.”  Mai set down her dishtowel and backed away from the sink.

“I am just fine.  We are almost done.”
“You’re probably just tired.”  Mai removed herself from the kitchen area of the apartment and sat down.

I realized in the that moment that it was actually Mai who was tired, but somehow, she was unable to articulate that, so she projected her feelings onto me.  It was an aha moment for me, and explained much of Mai’s behaviour.  I would notice it when we went out together.  If she would suggest that I was hungry, cold, or whatever, it really meant that she was.

“Mai is unable to speak directly to whatever is bothering her,”  I explained to my Mother later on.  “So we can’t take what she says at face value.”

“It must be part of her illness,”  my Mother deduced.

I agreed at the time, but then it became apparent to me that my Mother did the same thing.  Her hidden messages were not as easy to detect.

“How can you keep a husband and work full-time?”  she might ask me, which I would take as criticism.  Or, she would say:  “You were out having lunch with a friend, what about your husband and children?  What did they do for lunch?”  Such statements would grate on my nerves, until I decided not to take them personally and investigate what she was really saying.

“Did you ever want to work outside the home, Mom?”

“Oh, I would have loved to, but your father wouldn’t let me.  A woman’s place is in the home.  When I did go to work, it was only after I threatened to leave, but he never liked it.”

My Mother’s seemingly judgmental comments were actually expressions of regret for the limitations she felt in her own life.  Apart from not being allowed to work outside the home, my Mother also didn’t cultivate any personal friendships.  “My children are all I need,”  she would say.

My family, I came to understand, are masters at hiding the truth.  It warranted a look at my own behaviours and communications.

I am highly skilled in convincing myself that immediate gratification far outweighs longterm gain, thus my ongoing issues with weight (or should I spell that wait?).  Put a high calorie, non-nutritious snack in front of me, and I will go for it everytime – hungry or not.  I convince myself that I deserve this, or I’ll be good tomorrow, or that it’s just this one time, all of which are lies.  Thor is my co-consipirator in this process.  We support each other’s need to overindulge.

So what, I have ask myself, is the hidden message behind this behaviour?  And if I am to get honest with myself, what will that look like?

Clearly, I have work to do.


Choosing Self Love

The day was sickly hot, and my allergies were bugging me.  I just wanted to hunker down in the corner of my room and lose myself in a good book, but when I tried the back door, it was locked.  I knocked.  No response.  I knocked harder and longer.

The door swung open angrily, and my oldest sister yelled for me to get lost, slamming it in my face.

I knocked again, more persistently.

She opened again hissing at me:  “Seriously, V.J.!  You need to stay away, or Mom will kill herself.”

“But it’s hot and I don’t feel well.  Please let me come in.”

“No way!  Mom can’t handle anything else.”  She slammed the door again.  I heard the lock slide into place.  I slumped down on the step, thinking over what she had said.  Was it really possible for me to be the cause of my mother’s suicide?  The rest of the family, save for my Dad, were inside.  I was the only one locked out.  Was I really that bad of a kid?

That was the day I learned that I could be responsible for another person’s well-being.  I wasn’t yet eight years of age.

* * *

“I am not a very good daughter,”  I explained to the therapist I had been seeing.  I was thirty-seven and having difficulty with my own daughter, so I sought help.

“What makes you say that?”

“Well, I upset my mother and she hasn’t spoken to me for a week.”

“You think you are that powerful?”

“Pardon me?”

“You actually believe that you can influence how someone feels?”

I hadn’t thought of it that way.  “You mean, my mother’s reaction is out of my control?”


* * *

“My husband tends not to look after himself when I am away.”

“And how does that make you feel?”

Eighteen years later and I am back in therapy again.  Situational anxiety and depression is the diagnosis.  I feel like I have regressed.


“Why is that?”

“Well, if I was home I know he would be cared for.”

“So you are responsible for his choices?”

“No….well…..I guess that is what I am saying.  Shit!  How do I let this go?!”

“You will not always agree with the choices that your husband makes, but you can at least let him have responsibility for them.”

“That makes sense, so why is it so difficult for me?”

“It’s really about control.  Somehow you believe that if you can control the other person’s behaviour, then everything will be all right.  It never works, of course, but it’s a product of growing up in an out-of-control family environment.  It’s part of being a people pleaser.”

I thought I had dealt with all this years ago, and said so.

“The subconscious tries to heal those parts of self that are still wounded, so it repeats patterns.  The secret is in re-parenting yourself.  This need for control is a reflection of a childhood need that wasn’t met.”

“Like the part of me that thought she was responsible for my mother’s suffering?”

“Yes.  As an adult now, you need to offer that little person a different perspective.  What would you tell that little girl now?”

“Well, I would sit down on that porch step with her and explain that whatever her mother was going through was not her fault.  I would tell her that her sister was coping with a bad situation, and that it was not related to her behaviour.  None of it was her fault.”

“That is a good start.  Can you see anything else that the child might be missing in this scenario?”

“Caring for.  I was hot and tired and needed shelter.  I probably needed some comfort too.”

“So how will you give that to her?”

I think this over.  Am I good at looking after myself?  Occasionally, but not always.  “Why is looking after myself so difficult?”

“You tell me.”

I look back at the little girl locked out of her house, and I suddenly know.

“She doesn’t think she deserves to have her needs met,”  I realize.  “I still don’t think my needs matter.  Others are always more important.”

“So who should you be responsible for?” the therapist asks gently.

“Me.  And her.  She needs me to take care of us.”

“Can you do that?”

“It’s the only choice that makes sense.”