Trajectories

Trajectories

(content note: death, dying)

The photo is of my hand in my dad’s hand. I took it on Thursday, as I sat with him. Holding hands will always remind me of what he taught me – three squeezes for “I love you,” four squeezes for “I love you, too.”

I will write this up in different ways over time but for now I want to share that I spent a lot of time in the last week holding my dad’s hand.

We tried, for so long, to find our way to each other. 

We did not always have an easy time of it.

There was distance that neither of us wanted and neither of us knew how to resolve. There was a lot of pain. 

We spiraled in towards each other – a phone call, a dinner, a visit. And then we spun out again, distant, disconnected. Not able to find a way to feel close. I believe that we both wanted something different. I believe that my dad wanted the kind of closeness that I also wanted. We did the best that we could. 

(My sister, who had her own hard path and deep valleys of disconnection with dad, keeps reminding me of this – We did the best we could. We all did the best that we could. It is enough. It was always enough. It will always be enough. We all did the best that we could. My sister is a miracle. I spent a lot of time over the last week holding hands with her, too.)

There were also so many cherished moments, both in my childhood and in the long apartness of adulthood. 

There were so many gifts in the relationship. So many legacies that continue in me, in my life, in my values and my skills and the way I approach my work and the world. As I move through this process and write my way through my feelings, I hope that the stories of these gifts, legacies, values, and skills will be captured in shareable ways. I want to find a way to make these things visible, to give them names, to rescue them from memory and put them into narratives. I treasure them. I cherish these sparkling memories and gifts from my dad, and the distance we sometimes felt does not eclipse them.

There is never just one single true story. Not of a person, not of a place, not of a relationship.

I am thankful to my dear friend Patti who, echoing my sister’s wisdom, wrote to me and said, “I hope you find solace in knowing that for as  long as I’ve known you, you’ve worked so hard at being in good relation with your dad. You carried some weight because of this and I’d like to gently suggest that you have been there for him and others in your family as part of your loving kindness, your gifts… Although our minds try to trick us that we might have done more or differently, you did everything the way it was supposed to have occurred.”

On November 14, my dad and his partner called to let us know that the doctor’s appointment had not gone as they had hoped. Just the week before, my dad had said he felt that the latest treatment was working. It was not. The doctor let them know that a likely timeline was 3 weeks to 3 months. 

I was in Toronto when I got the call. I flew back as scheduled two days later, attended the Ally Toolkit Resource Fair on the Sunday, presented my Networks of Care presentation at a lunch and learn and again at the Ally Toolkit Conference on Monday. I was supposed to see him Tuesday, but the roads were terrible and I hadn’t got winters on my car, he told me to stay home, that we had time. I worked 13 hours on Wednesday. Writing this, I feel hot shame and regret settling behind my sternum. I wasted a whole week.

But we had been chatting daily over that time. I sent him pictures of art my littlest stepkid had made, and he asked if she would draw him a picture of an upside down Christmas tree (he has had upside down trees for years – they have more space for ornaments). 

On Thursday, my nesting partner and littlest stepkid and I went over, and he snuggled with her and saw her art. Her picture is now framed and sitting by his tree, a 5-year-old’s rendition of an upside down Christmas tree, and presents, and ornaments, and stick figures, as he had requested. He and I chatted, and my sister came over, and it was good. It was hard to see how quickly things had changed, but it was good to see him.

I saw him almost every day after until his final moments at 4:40 am on November 30.

There are a lot of memories I want to capture from this week of time together, but right now, in this post, I just want to name and honour and make visible that in this week, we found our way to each other.

In this last week, he wanted Domini and me to be there. 

He let us be there.

We orbited each other for so long, our trajectories never quite lining up to allow us to move together, to be in closeness, to be, as Patti insightfully named it, in right relation. But in this last week, we were there. We were there together with him and his partner. It took a long time, and it’s so hard that it only happened in this way at the very end, but our circuitous path lead us finally together.

This is the tribute my sister and I wrote for him and shared on Facebook. 

David Maxwell loved books and travel and people. He loved justice and kindness and connection. He loved the precious life that he had co-created with his partner and his friends.

He lived in Nigeria, America, Canada, Croatia, and Costa Rica. And he lived in Italy, too. His favourite place in the world.

Wherever he went, he collected friends and he kept them, tucked away into his contact list, cherishing and reconnecting with them regularly. His Christmas Day and New Years phone calls to friends around the world, often starting in the early hours of the morning and going for hours and hours, were a feature of our childhood home and a tradition that continued long after we had all left that house, dispersed in four directions.

We will borrow his own turn of phrase and share that in the early morning of November 30 our dad stepped into Eternity. A long and difficult battle with cancer has come to a close. He knew that God was there with him, waiting for him. His faith was important to him, and he had an incredible ability to connect with people of many faiths.

Domini, Tiffany, and his partner Glenda were with him. His sister Ruth, who had been with us for most of the previous few days, arrived shortly after. He went with grace, surrounded by the kind of love that holds space for a whole person and for all the complexity of that person. It was deep and intentional love that surrounded him in his last days.

This experience has been incredibly challenging as we battled to process how quickly things changed. But it was also a beautiful and precious experience that we will be eternally grateful to have had with him.

We each knew him in different ways, we each have a different story of David Maxwell – not a coin with two sides and an edge, he was a TARDIS, bigger on the inside, full of rooms that few people had seen. He was a pop-up book, full of pages that became something totally new when you pulled the right tab or turned the wheel. He was an upside down Christmas tree, unexpected, decorated with unique and beloved ornaments – old ones and new ones, soft ones and hard ones, some that glitter brightly and some in the shadows.

He took that last step on his long journey while he was at home, his bed set up by the window and the view, as he had always wished.

We miss him.

We love him.

We turn the page into this new chapter, not ready. How could we ever be ready? But we are better prepared because of what he brought to our lives. His legacies in our lives will continue, will live through in our kids, in our own values of justice and kindness and connection, in our own love of books and travel and people. In our own complexity.

We know that Dad’s influence and connections stretch across decades and oceans alike, his chosen family and friends have lost a precious connection. We offer our love and support to all those who will be grieving alongside us. We would love to hear your stories of him, his life, and who he was in your life. We would love to know him better through you.

Among other books on the go, dad was most of the way through Lindsay Buroker’s Dragon Blood series and he was enjoying the books immensely. If you need a gift for a fantasy lover this coming season, consider one last recommendation from David Maxwell.

Originally posted on Facebook

I’m taking this week off, and then I’ll sit down and figure out how to move through this time.

I had an idea this morning of something I would like to do, a way of creating a project around this time, and when I expressed anxiety that I was doing this ‘wrong’ by thinking about projects, my beloved Nathan said, “You have literally always taken what you are working with and gifted community with the opportunity to connect directly and in parallel.  It is one of your ways. One of the ways your light shines so people who have belongingness with you can find their way to you in the dark. I could not think of a more you way to grieve. And I could not think of a more honourable tribute to your relationship with your Dad.” 

So, we’ll see what happens with that after this week of gentleness and space.

I know that this experience has been profound.

I know that it will change the trajectory of at least some of my work.

That it will change the trajectory of some of my own stories of myself, and of myself in relationship with my dad, and of my dad.

I know that I will find a way to bring this experience into my community work, and I am thankful that this community of support is here with me.


Edited to add: I did create the project I mentioned.

http://www.tiffany-sostar,com/courses/an-invitation-to-celebrate

An Invitation to Celebrate has been completely updated to include an option to celebrate the life of a loved one.

(Originally shared on my Patreon.)

Great Unexpectations: A Possibilities Calgary event

Great Unexpectations: A Possibilities Calgary event

I’m putting some of the material I’ve been generating for An Unexpected Light to work in other spaces. I’m proud of this, because one expectation I often apply to myself is that everything must be fresh and new, that it will have less value if it is something I created for another purpose, and that it reflects “laziness” on my part if I don’t come up with something brand new every time.

In the spirit of this month’s event, I am formally resigning from this expectation, which does not serve me and does invite me into significant feelings of failure and anxiety.

With the time and energy that would previously have gone into meeting this expectation, I will make myself a London Fog this afternoon – an act of solidarity with myself that I haven’t made time for in far too long.


You can find the Facebook event here. We are meeting on November 19 from 6:30-8:30 pm at Loft 112 in the East Village.

I am still working on getting an event calendar up on my website – hopefully this month!


In November, Possibilities will be borrowing an activity from An Unexpected Light, the six-month online course in narrative therapy and speculative fiction that I have been running.

We’re going to be resigning from some expectations of normality!

We all live under a significant (and growing) weight of normative expectations – to look the right way, to work the right jobs in the right way, to do our gender right, to do our orientation right, to be in our relationships in the right way, to not be too loud, too sad, too needy, too dependent, too … whatever! And also to not be deficient – not enough energy, not enough enthusiasm, not enough productivity, not enough independence, not enough self-care (how dare we be burned out – take a bubble bath and get back to normal!)

This month will be a bit of an experiment – rather than our usual facilitated-but-freeflowing conversation, we’re going to have a more structured event with a few exercises to work through together, some conversation about the role of normative expectations (and our “failures” to meet them), and a final exercise to formally resign from a few of these expectations and to start imagining the acts of solidarity that could take their place. (David Denborough defines acts of solidarity as “acts of justice or actions of care toward yourself, others, or the natural world”.)

We may collect some of these resignations from normal and commitments to solidarity into a small document to be shared with the rest of the community, because I think that this exercise might be helpful for folks as we head into the holiday season with its many demands and expectations.

Please RSVP so that I know how many handouts to print off.

(If you are participating in the current round of An Unexpected Light, this will give you a one-week-early sneak peek into the Integration and Care module exercise for November! And if you’re curious about An Unexpected Light and debating whether to join the next round, this will give a peek into one of the four modules in the course.)

There is no cost to attend this event.

You can support the event by either donating at the event or by backing the Patreon at www.patreon.com/sostarselfcare.

We have a focus on community care and narrative discussions for the bi+ community (bisexual, pansexual, asexual, two-spirit, with an intentional focus on trans inclusion).

This is an intentionally queer, feminist, anti-oppressive space. The discussion is open to all genders and orientations, as well as all abilities, educational levels, classes, body types, ethnicities – basically, if you’re a person, you’re welcome!

We will meet at Loft 112, which is wheelchair accessible through the back door, and ASL interpretation can be arranged. If you require ASL interpetation, please let me know asap so that I can make arrangements.

These discussions take place on Treaty 7 land, and the traditional territories of the Blackfoot, Siksika, Piikuni, Kainai, Tsuutina, and Stoney Nakoda First Nations, including Chiniki, Bearspaw, and Wesley First Nation. This land is also home to Métis Nation of Alberta, Region 3.

It is important to note that Possibilities Calgary is a community discussion group and not a dating group.

Despite the hostile ground: collective project

Despite the hostile ground: collective project

This new project, which will become a zine or a collective document of some sort, is inspired by a community member who wanted to create a “map” of all the women and non-binary folks who have managed to live a life they want despite not having family support, and despite dealing with the fear and uncertainty that can come with acute illness and chronic pain.

This project reflects our collaborative desire to make this “map” possible – to bring together stories that will show some of the many ways forward through the compounded hardships of unsupportive family and what we might call “body problems” – illness and pain, but also the problems that can be invited into someone’s life by having a body that is deemed unacceptable in our ableist, fatphobic, transantagonistic, white supremacist culture.

We are looking at these factors together because there is often an expectation of family support in many of our cultures. When we fall on hard times, we are often advised turn to family. When we get sick, family is often expected to be there for us. Although we recognize that family is not always there, there’s still this dominant narrative that they will be, or at least that they should be. And when they aren’t, it can leave us feeling isolated, vulnerable, questioning our own value and our place in the world. Experiences of rejection, dismissal, or an absence of support can stay with us for a long time.

We are looking for stories from trans and cis women, non-binary folks, intersex folks, and trans men who have experienced an unsupportive family of origin paired with body problems, and who have continued to live a badass life despite these compounding factors.

(Although cis men also experience these compounding factors, and their experiences are valid and worth listening to, in this project we are also interested in the particular ways in which misogyny and sexism, which are experienced by anyone who is not a cis man, intersect with these experiences. If you are a cis man and want to share your story of experiencing these compounding hardships of unsupportive family and body problems, please reach out to me – I am happy to create a supplementary zine, or a section within this project! But the initial project is focused on non-men because this is an important part of the original context.)

These stories will be collected and turned into a small zine or collective document, and we hope that this resource will offer some hope for folks in this position, including the community member who inspired this project!

When we then also experience body problems, particularly body problems that impact our ability to find employment, to engage in cherished hobbies or activities, or to access social spaces and support, the lack of family support can become even more difficult to deal with. This is particularly true in contexts where the social support net is being eroded – where welfare, assisted living, disability pensions, income support, housing support, and other supports are difficult to access or not adequate to support our lives.

And yet, we know that people get through these hardships.

We know that there are disabled folks with no family support who are living rich and precious lives.

We know that there are so many people who have experienced these hardships and gone on to be successful on their own terms.

We want to collect those stories.

We want to pull those threads of hope together, and weave a safety net of stories for people who don’t yet see the way through to a life that feels possible.


You are welcome to write whatever feels right for you, and we welcome poetry, essays, art, creative non-fiction, or whatever format works for you. The length of the piece can be flexible, but ideally not more than 750-ish words.

If you would like help with the writing, get in touch with me and we can arrange an interview and I can help write up your story.

We hope to make this project available in early 2020, so please send in your contributions by mid-December.

If you would like some prompts to guide your writing, consider:

  • What does your culture tell you about how families should treat each other?
  • What had you hoped to receive in terms of support from your family?
  • What do you think that families should offer to each other?
  • What does this say about what you value in family relationships? (Care, support, being there for each other, etc.)
  • How did you learn to value this, and how have you held onto this value despite hard times?
  • Is there anyone in your life, past or present, who knows that you value this kind of supportive relationship?
  • Have you been able to find this kind of support in other relationships?
  • What have you held onto as you get through the times of feeling unsupported by family?
  • How have you navigated the body problems that have been present in your life?
  • Is there anyone in your life who has supported you in getting through these body problems?
  • What do you cherish about your life now?
  • What has made it possible for you to get to a life that you want to live?
  • Is there anything that you would want other people who are dealing with unsupportive families and body problems to know?
I didn’t think it would be like this: a zine about politics

I didn’t think it would be like this: a zine about politics

The other day I responded to a post about politics and said:

I feel like the last couple years have really pushed me away from the faith I had in electoral politics, and there are times when I feel so much grief for losing that thread of hope. Most of the time I am thankful, because letting go of that opens up space to do other things and to imagine other ways of making change, but sometimes it does feel like a loss, and it is a feeling of grief.

Hmm.

Maybe there needs to be a little collective narrative projects for newly disillusioned folks to talk about this grief, which really doesn’t have a lot of space for expression.

Well, here is that little collective narrative project!

Over the next few weeks (until November 8), I’ll be collecting stories about our feelings about politics in 2019.

Submit your piece of poetry, art, or non-fiction by emailing me at sostarselfcare@gmail.com. Submissions will ideally not be more than 1000 words, but, as with all of these projects, I’m flexible.

If you are struggling with how to express your feelings or what to write, there are a few options. You can get in touch with me and we can have a chat that will hopefully help you clarify what you want to express, or you can use the following narrative questions to guide your writing:

  • When you think about the current state of electoral politics, what are the feelings that are evoked?
  • Are these feelings the same, similar, or not at all similar to feelings that you used to have about electoral politics?
  • If your feelings have changed, do you remember a specific experience or story that contributed to this change?
  • What do you miss about your earlier feelings, if there has been a change?
  • Do you have a sense of grief or disillusionment?
  • What are you grieving?
  • What feels like it is lost or more distant?
  • Do you have a sense of what you wish or hope that electoral politics could be like?
  • What does this hope say about what you value?
  • Where does this hope come from – are there particular political histories or thinkers who have inspired and nurtured this hope?
  • What do you hold onto when difficult feelings about politics arise for you? What, or who, keeps you going?
  • What are the actions that you are taking in your life that align with your hopes and values?
  • Have you ever had a moment of realizing the elected officials or the institutions of power were not responding in alignment with your values, and taking some kind of action? This action may be as small as reaching out to an LGBTQIA2+ friend when legislation threatens our safety, or it may be something like reading the 291 Calls to Justice in the MMIWG Final Report, or getting involved in community organizing and protests. People are never passive recipients of harm and trauma, and I would like to include stories of response in this zine!

My hope is that, regardless of the outcome of the Canadian federal election that is happening today, this zine will bring together stories of how we are continuing to do work in our communities, how we are continuing to hold onto our values despite our feelings of disillusionment and grief over the state of politics. I hope that it will bring our voices together, and give us a sense of how we can move forward together, organizing together, supporting each other, doing the work of responding to the problems in our lives regardless of the politicians who hold so much power (and the corporations who hold even more).

I’m looking forward to your contribution!

(Although this zine is inspired by the Canadian federal election, contributions are welcome from anyone. These feelings about politics span so many spaces.)

Pregnancy and Infant Loss Day 2019

Pregnancy and Infant Loss Day 2019

Today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. This is a topic that impacts so many different people, including trans and non-binary folks who experience gender erasure and harm in both medical contexts and support spaces around this loss; Black, Indigenous, and brown people who experience racism in medical contexts and support spaces; disabled folks; neurodivergent and mad folks; so many people who go through this experience (which can take so many different forms, and can be felt in so many different ways) undersupported, underserved, dismissed.

The You Are Not Alone project was first conceived in 2017 as a response to loss resources that are highly gendered, and that implicitly assume their readers are straight, white, and cisgender. It was also created to try and provide something free and easily accessible.

This resource is freely downloadable and shareable. You can find the 70-page PDF here.

From the Introduction

This is the third edition of You Are Not Alone, and we hope to reissue this document yearly with more and better information and resources. In 2019, we have added Aditi Loveridge’s personal story, and expanded the section on handling racism in medical contexts with Aditi’s help. We have also expanded the resources section to include information about Aditi’s Calgary and online-based charity, the Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support Centre.

Although this resource attempts to be intentionally inclusive and anti-oppressive, the two primary collaborators – Tiffany Sostar and Flora – are both English-speaking white settler Canadians, with stable housing and strong social supports. Our privilege means that we are missing nuance, and we do not see what we’re not seeing. We are open to being corrected, and to hearing from people who do not see themselves represented in this document. You can reach Tiffany at sostarselfcare@gmail.com.

This document is designed to be a grief and loss resource, and we have included abortion stories and resources. However, we recognize that not every abortion is experienced as a loss or followed by grief. (This is true for miscarriages, too!) We also recognize that it is possible to feel grief without feeling regret, and this is true for any pregnancy loss, whether it’s abortion, miscarriage, stillbirth, or adoption.

We are so thankful to the individuals who contributed to this document. Our call for contributors was met with courage and generosity by people who shared their stories despite the pain that telling the story brought up for them.

We are also thankful to Andi Johnson and Randi van Wiltenburg, both full-spectrum doulas in Calgary, Alberta, who contributed not only their personal stories but also a wealth of knowledge and information. Their professional contact information is listed in the resources section.

Parents we want to honour:

  • Those who have lost a child to miscarriage
  • Those who have lost a child to abortion
  • Those who have lost a child to stillbirth
  • Those who have lost a child after birth to medical illness
  • Those who have lost a child after birth to adoption
  • Those who have lost a child after birth to structural violence

This affects:

  • People of any gender identity
  • People of any sexual orientation
  • People of any relationship status and structure
  • People of any race or culture
  • People of any state of mental or physical health
  • People of any religious belief
  • People of any socioeconomic status

This kind of work – creating resources that help serve the margins is exactly the goal of my Patreon, and it’s why I do what I do. I am thankful to be invited into this kind of work by people in the community who recognize a gap and want help filling it, which is what happened in 2017 when this resource was first created. I will continue to do this kind of work. If you would like to support me, you can find my Patreon here.