Poet Laureate's Blog: December 2018

‘Tis the Season
December is one of the busiest months of the year. Despite heading into deepest, darkest days (and nights) of winter, we come alive at the chance for celebration. And it isn’t just Christmas: did you know that between November 1 and January 15, there are nearly 30 holidays celebrated by 7 of the world’s major religions, the majority in December? Especially in the northern hemisphere, we are eager to find any excuse “in the bleak midwinter” * to gather in the light and warmth to keep the cold and darkness at bay. 
Often our response is to do anything and everything in the service of holiday celebrating, which leads to doing too much, eating and drinking too much and spending too much. I recently read a great Facebook post that reframes our impulses for excess into calmer, more conscious and ultimately more meaningful actions. The Holiday To Do list posted had four great suggestions:
1. The first item on the To Do list suggests a shift from “Buy Presents” to “Be Present.” What a great gift presence is for both the donor and the recipient! When we spend time being present to ourselves and others, time seems to slow down, and we move from the relentless march of time (tick, tick, tick–time’s a-wasting!) to a feeling of spaciousness (I’ve got all the time in the world for you). 
One of the ways I slow down is to read and write poetry. Savouring the words that someone has written allows me to switch off and focus on their sound, their sense, their impact. Writing poetry enables me to dig deep and focus on finding just the right words to convey what I am thinking and feeling. And I choose the word “focus” advisedly; its Latin origin means “hearth.”  When we turn our focus toward a quiet activity, it can be as soothing and warming as sitting by a fire.
2. The second suggestion is to shift from “Wrap Gifts” to “Wrap Someone in a Hug.” Unlike gift wrap, which isn’t recyclable, hugs can be used over and over again. Many people suffer from “touch deprivation” so become a hugger! Ask people if it’s OK to give them a hug; if they say yes, I can guarantee you’ll get one back– a fabulous reciprocal exchange. You can also hug a pet (dogs are more into this than cats, but it’s worth a try), hug a tree (with all that trees provide–flowers, apples and maple syrup, shade, oxygen– they deserve some love). And while you’re at it, give yourself a hug; self-care can be as simple as discovering and acknowledging that which we love about ourselves, despite the flaws we are often quick to enumerate.
3. Here’s a great way to save time and money: instead of “Send Gifts” make a point to “Send Peace.” We live in challenging and contentious times, and it’s easy to get caught up in mutual recrimination with those who hold differing views and opinions–whether they live next door or on the other side the world. It may sound silly that thinking peaceful thoughts can make any sort of difference, but if the only person the action calms and centers is you, that’s a great start! And peace is contagious–one peaceful person can shift the energy in a meeting, a family gathering or a dialog. “Imagine” as John Lennon said, what giving peace a chance can do on a planetary scale. After all, at the end of the day, we’re in this life together. We all inhabit the same little blue-green ball whirling through space so let’s treat it and each other with loving kindness. Our lives may literally depend on it.
4. We can’t do away with “Shop for Food” if we have the money to buy it, but there are more than a few in our midst who have the need without the means. Rather than going overboard on treats your waistline will regret come January, consider allocating some of your food budget to “Donate Food.” All of our grocery stores have food drives, local churches sponsor the numerous Christmas Hamper projects and the Food Bank could really use a donating of food or cash. While Hunger knows no season, lack is felt even more keenly when others are eating, drinking and making merry.
I’d like to add a fifth item to the list: “Celebrate What you Have.” Developing an attitude of gratitude–for blessings large and small–tends to be self-perpetuating. It can be appreciation for something as small as a bright red cardinal against a snowy backdrop or as large as acknowledging the life of abundance we experience living in a free country. So celebrate!
One of the celebrations I had the privilege of participating in earlier this month was the installation of Collingwood’s new Mayor, Deputy Mayor and Council. What a moving display of democracy realized! From the opening Traditional Lands Acknowledgement by First Nations Elder James Carpenter to the opportunity on my part to share poems for the occasion as Collingwood’s first Poet Laureate, the event was rich with ceremony and bright with promise. In addition to the growing diversity of our representation, the power of community was acknowledged as was the idea of public service as a form of stewardship that while relying on the head, also moves “closer to the heart.” 
The month and years ahead will bring us many opportunities to celebrate progress, as well as to dissent and debate–all signs of a heathy community. The two poems I shared at the event are posted on this month’s Poetry Corner; in my conclusion, I shared a message with Council that I’ll also share with you at this busy time of year. In the words of Canada’s treasured poet Leonard Cohen in his song “Anthem,”
“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything 
That's how the light gets in.”
As you ring whatever bells you can in this season of light, I wish you presence, loving-kindness, peace and generosity. Have a perfectly imperfect holiday season and I look forward to reconnecting in the New Year.
Warmest wishes,
* From the first verse of the poem of the same name by Christian Rosetti:
“In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan;
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.”