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?
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.

A Small Toolkit for Taking Care

A Small Toolkit for Taking Care

The Small Self-Care Toolkit was my first effort at creating a zine, and today, years later, I finished a significant update to the content and also renamed it.

So, here you go – the 28-page Small Toolkit for Taking Care (now with a stronger focus on the role of community and relationship in our actions of care).

What are actions of care?

I used to write a lot about self-care, and I defined self-care as any choice you make that honours your needs. I talked about sustainable self-care as the result of consistently bringing awareness, compassion, and intention to your choices.

I don’t really talk about self-care as much anymore, because I think that community care, collaboration, and connection are so critical to challenging the kind of individualism that places all of the responsibility for our well-being on us as individuals, and can end up being victim-blaming and hurtful.

I still think that honouring our needs is important. And I still think that it’s easier to make these actions sustainable when we bring awareness, compassion, and intention to our choices. But now I think that it is important to name and recognize how these actions of care happen within social contexts, and how we are not just looking after ourselves when we take these actions – we are also looking after our communities. And how we can also care for ourselves by caring for each other.

Download the free 28-page PDF here.

And if you appreciate these resources, consider backing my Patreon!

Boredom, abuse, and the 4 of Cups

Boredom, abuse, and the 4 of Cups

Image description: The 4 of Cups in the Next World Tarot. A person with one breast exposed from a pink housecoat sits on a dock, examining her nails. Four corked bottles float in the ocean beside her, and she has nail polish bottles on the deck beside her. She is wearing fuzzy green slippers.

This is another cross-post from my tarot blog. It’s been a really intense few weeks of responding to abuse – people in my communities are responding to interpersonal, intimate, and social/structural abuse, and it’s been really heavy. Tarot has been helping me work through this, and today’s post is a companion to last week’s Ten of Swords post.


Last week I pulled the Four of Cups, and my phone ate the post. I meant to come back to it, but didn’t have time.

This morning, I pulled the Four of Cups again and I am thankful for the opportunity to come back to this. I’m also so conscious of how our relationship with the tarot deck is so contextual – this card lands differently today than it did last Saturday.

Today, I flipped that card over and in the femme checking her nail polish I saw so many women and femmes in my own life who have experienced abuse and are bored with it.

I thought about those moments when you’re shocked that someone would say or do something abusive, but you also know that they’re just reading from the same ratty old playbook as so many people before them. I’m thinking about how predictable and unoriginal abuse is; the gaslighting, the victim-blaming, the blame and shame and fragility and violence.

And it doesn’t really matter who they are, we see it all over the place. TERFs abusing trans women in the same boring old ways. Men abusing women and non-men in the same boring old ways. White folks abusing people of colour. Across every gap of privilege and dominance, there is the potential for this abuse and when it shows up, it is horrible and unacceptable and boring.

The effects of abuse are real. When I say that abuse is boring, I am not at all intending to downplay the impact. But where I see creativity, resourcefulness, innovation is in the responses to abuse. Abuse is so easy – our whole culture is set up to comfort and console and protect people who misuse their power. Capitalism, white supremacy, heteropatriarchy – it’s all designed to make it easy to misuse our power in the same old ways. At the end of the day, it’s the same old Scooby Doo villain reveal – looked like an exciting new monster, but it was the same old thing again.

I see this boredom in the Four of Cups today.

I feel this boredom in my heart. And I feel the heaviness of it in my shoulders, my temples, my hips. Because it may be same old same old boring shit, but it’s also pervasive, entrenched. It’s everywhere. Yes, it’s the same thing. Yes, we can predict the gaslighting, the victim blaming, the revisionist histories. We can predict the response of the media and many of the people around us. But that doesn’t make it any easier. That doesn’t make it hurt less. That doesn’t give the disenfranchised access to power or stability or security. The boring abuse still takes over lives, leaves people hurting, alone, living with trauma.

So, back to the Four of Cups.

Personally, I have always read this card as being about scarcity. It shows up when I’m feeling restricted, afraid. There’s often a sense of constriction in this card for me. I’m holding all those cups in reserve, because I don’t know if I’ll have anything left tomorrow. I’m unwilling to engage, because engagement feels risky.

In Carrie Mallon’s interpretation of the Four of Cups in the Wild Unknown, she writes:

This card tends to get a bad reputation, but it’s one of my favorites, and it has a very nuanced message. In some circumstances, this card suggests a person who is closed off from opportunities. Being too absorbed in your inner world can be a detriment, leading you to miss golden opportunities. Disconnection and apathy can be inherent in this card.

But in another view, emotional withdrawal does not have to indicate a negative form of apathy. Sometimes you need to hole yourself up, forget about what shiny things the outside world is offering, and let your emotions stabilize. After all, four is the number of structure and stability, and cups are the suit of emotions. Therefore, the Four of Cups can advise you to come back to your own emotional center.

Even in the more “negative” interpretation here, I wonder: what has led this person to be closed off? What has been happening in their context that has them turning inward to their inner world? What is the context that invited disconnection and apathy into their lives?

I think this is especially relevant when we are examining our own responses to someone who has experienced abuse. Do we see them (or ourselves) as “missing out on golden opportunities” (without holding compassion for how much those opportunities might cost)? Are we frustrated with them (or ourselves) or not engaging in their/our own lives? For not leaving, responding, resisting – all the other “opportunities” available to people who are experiencing violence (which are often not actually as available as they seem).

The Next World Tarot guidebook interpretation of the 4 of Cups highlights the potential positives that come with disengagement and withdrawal. I think this is relevant to the current theme of responding to abuse which is so present in my life these days.

In the Next World guidebook, Cristy C. Road writes:

It feels as if she has been in the middle of this argument for centuries. The 4 of Cups is strong, but exhausted, and unwilling to part with the quiet. She is happy now – along the seaside, surrounded by her most comforting possessions. The 4 of Cups asks you to question your exhaustion. Is it due to unhappiness, disinterest, or boredom?

Living in a society so complacent with injustice, the 4 of Cups asks you to transform exhaustion into your own disengaged moment of accidental self-care.

Are there ways in which exhaustion can highlight injustice? Can our exhaustion and disengagement be an indicator of where something is wrong, and we are unwilling to cooperate with it?

Is there a way in which exhaustion can be refusal? Is there a way in which our acknowledgement and response to exhaustion can be self-care?

So often, interpretations of the Four of Cups can feel incredibly victim-blaming. (In Michelle Tea’s Modern Tarot, she actually says, “Often when this card comes up, the problem is you but you’re too deep in your own bad feelings to see it.”)

When we locate the problem internally, it becomes difficult to see the wisdom and creativity of people’s choices to disengage. Disengagement, turning away, avoidance – these things are all massively devalued in our capitalist, productivity-worshipping, success-chasing, “manifest your best life”, “law of attraction” culture.

But people are always responding to the hardships and traumas in their lives.

People are always resisting.

Nobody is a passive recipient of hardship.

Certainly, there are times when we want to be engaged, and there are times when we want to shift away from the restriction and isolation of this card. But what would happen if we brought curiosity to our interpretation of what’s happening?

What if we asked:

Am I feeling disengaged right now? Does this card reflect my feelings in my own life, or is it an invitation to think about how I’m viewing the world around me?

What have I learned about disengagement as being either good or bad? Who taught me this? Does this learning align with my own values, or my own lived experiences?

If I am disengaged right now, why am I disengaged in this moment?

What am I disengaging from?

What does my disengagement make possible?

What have I learned about greed, or selfishness, or self-absorption (also strong elements associated with this card)?

Whose values do these lessons about greed, selfishness, or self-absorption align with? Do these values apply differently depending on the social location of the person who is behaving in “greedy” or “selfish” or “self-absorbed” ways?

What have I learned about self-care? From whom?

Is there a small moment of self-care that I can engage with today? What might that look like?

Who does it serve or benefit when I engage in self-care? Who does it serve or benefit when I do not?

How can I reevaluate (the key word on the Next World Tarot version of this card!) what I have been taught? Can I choose to engage with these discourses and narratives with curiosity, and to honour my own insider knowledges?

This week, in fact the last few months, has been focused on being a support for people responding to violence in their relationships (both intimately and socially/structurally). I have been so thankful for the gentle invitations that the tarot has offered me over this time. I’m particularly thankful for Cristy C. Road’s Next World Tarot and the liberation and justice-oriented interpretations offered in the guidebook.

Intimate partner violence and the 10 of Swords

Intimate partner violence and the 10 of Swords

(This post was originally written for my tarot blog.)

I am tired of watching the people in my life suffer at the hands and words of people who claim to love them.

And it does not escape my notice that it is more often the femmes, the women, the disabled, the neurodivergent, the vulnerable who are experiencing violence and abuse from their partners.

I am overwhelmed with listening to people who consult me for narrative therapy, and who consult me as a friend, talk about what has been done to them, talk about what has been said to them, talk about what has been said about them, and to hear them questioning themselves with the oppressive voices of our culture.

Was it really so bad?
He didn’t mean it.
Am I too needy?
He was drinking.
They were having a panic attack.
Everything I say makes her angry.
He really tries.
Maybe it’s not so bad.

Maybe it’s not so bad.

Of course they doubt themselves! Our culture chronically gaslights marginalized communities. Marginalized communities are often operating within transgenerational trauma, poverty, scarcity (if not in our families, then in our communities). Marginalized communities may also have to contend with other structural and systemic issues that make naming abuse and violence more challenging – Black and Indigenous communities are at such increased risk of violence from any system. Seeking help often means finding more violence.

There is so much normalization of violence in our culture. And although it is not an issue that only impacts women, or is only perpetuated by men, there are patterns. They are painful patterns to witness.

One of my friends recently posted this open letter to men:

Dear men,

Just wanted to let you know I am so over it. I talk to your partners every day. I see their tears and listen to their self flagellation in the effort to make you happy. I watch them cram themselves in tiny boxes so they don’t threaten you. I fume as they suggest, gently, kindly, if it’s not too much trouble, that you consider their needs, but your wants are more important. Men, I watch you casually ask for sacrifice as if it were your due. I seethe as your partners ask for the simplest things of you, and you just don’t even bother. I see you go through the motions and call it love, when it doesn’t even pass the bar for respect. And then, as it all falls apart you claim you need a chance, as if you haven’t been given dozens, that you didn’t know, as if you hadn’t been told relentlessly, and that you can change, as long as you won’t be held accountable.

Men, I am so over watching your partners unilaterally trying to fix relationship problems that are yours. I am tired of knowing your partners better than you. I am exhausted having to buoy them through the hard times because you cannot be bothered. I am tired of you cheapening what love means by buying the first box of chocolates you see (not even their favourite) and calling it an apology but changing nothing.

Don’t hurt my people. Men, do better or go home.

And still, the questioning. Maybe it wasn’t so bad? Maybe it wasn’t so bad. Maybe it wasn’t so bad. Because each incident on its own might not be so bad. Might be a bad day, a bad choice. Might be a bad moment. It’s not the whole story. Maybe it’s not so bad.

And on its own, maybe it isn’t.

Image description: The Ten of Swords from the Next World Tarot.

From the guidebook by Cristy C. Road:

This is the final straw, and the 10 of Swords is exhausted from counting. They have lost themselves, over and over, in the name of love, self-worth, trauma, post-traumatic stress, healing the body from abuse, healing the mind from manipulation, and unwarranted, non-stop loss. The 10 knows healing, they studies it and have been offered power, candles, bracelets, and messages from their ancestors through local prophets who run their favorite Botanica. They are listening, but they are stuck. Proving to their community that while they have known power, they have known pain they don’t deserve.

The 10 of Swords asks you to trust your pain, own your suffering, and don’t deny yourself of the care you deserve from self, and the validation from your community. That validation is the root of safety. The 10 of Swords believes now is the time to ask your people for safety.

I pulled this card after another conversation with a beloved member of my community about an incident of misogyny in an intimate relationship.

I had brought this question to the deck – “How do we invite accountability into our intimate relationships?”

I wanted to know –

How do we create the context for change without putting the burden of emotional labour onto the person already experiencing trauma from the choices and behaviours of their partner?

How do we deepen the connection to values of justice, compassion, and ethical action, for people who have been recruited into acts of violence and abuse?

How do we resist creating totalizing narratives about people who use violence and abuse? How do we resist casting them as monsters? How do we invite accountability while also sustaining dignity?

How do we, to use a quote by one of my fellow narrative therapists, “thwart shame”? (Go watch Kylie Dowse’s video here!)

In moments of distress, I often turn to the tarot. When I don’t know how to ask the right questions, and I don’t know what to say or do, I turn to the tarot. Tarot cards are excellent narrative therapists.

I flipped this card over and the image moved me immediately. These acts of intimate partner violence and abuse do not occur in a vacuum. It is not just one sword in the back.

A misogynist comment from a partner, directed towards a woman or femme, joins the crowd of similar comments she, they, or he has received their entire life.

A racist comment from a partner, directed towards a racialized person, joins the pain of living an entire life surrounded by white supremacy and racism.

An ableist comment from a partner, a transantagonistic comment, a sanist or healthist or fatphobic or classist comment – these comments join the crowd.

And so, how do we invite accountability while preserving dignity? How do we resist totalizing narratives of either victims or perpetrators, resist recreating systems of harm in our responses to harm?

See the whole picture.

Even though it is so painful to look at, see the whole thing.

Rather than locating violence and abuse as problems that are localized to a relationship, individualized and internalized to a single person making choices, recognize that these things happen in context. And for many folks, these contexts are incredibly painful.

It will take time, and patience, and compassion, and gentleness, and a willingness to do the hard work of both validation and accountability. It will take community to find safety.

We need each other to say, “it is that bad, even if this incident might not be.”

When the victim-blaming, isolating, individualizing voices start clamoring, we need each other to say, “this is not your fault.”

We need something more nuanced than “leave,” “report.”

We need to show up for each other, with each other. We need safety. We need validation.

Can we do this by asking questions like:

How did you learn what it means to be in relationship?

What examples of making choices in relationships have you seen around you? What was being valued in those choices?

Does what you’ve learned about being in relationship align with what you want for yourself, and what you value for yourself?

Do the actions you’re choosing in your own relationship align with your values or hopes?

Who has supported you in your values and hopes?

Do you share any hopes or values with your partner(s)?

What have you learned about violence and abuse in relationships? About who experiences violence and abuse? About who enacts violence and abuse?

When did you learn this?

Does this learning align with what you’ve experienced in your own relationship?

What insider knowledges would you add to this learning, from your own experience?

Have you ever taken a stand against violence and abuse in your relationship?

What enabled you to take this stand?

When violence or abuse shows up in your relationship, are you able to name it? Have you ever been able to name it? What supports this ability?

What have you learned about what it means to be accountable in relationship?

Do you have supports available to you that invite accountability while sustaining dignity?

Who can support you in being accountable for the actions you’ve taken when you’ve been recruited into violence or abuse? Who can support you in asking for accountability from a partner who has been recruited into violence or abuse?

Here are some resources if you’re looking for ways to respond to intimate partner violence:

The Stop Violence Everyday project.

Critical Resistance’s The Revolution Starts at Home zine.

The Creative Interventions toolkit.

(This post was originally posted on my tarot blog. You can find it here.)

Goal setting season

Goal setting season

Me: Okay, let’s set realistic goals for 2019.

Also me: Yes! Fully agreed. Okay. Let’s say… A zine every month, two blog posts every month, start an email list and send out an email every week, complete one collective document every month, write a book, 10 narrative sessions every week, revamp and run all the online courses, and take one day off every week. And present at some conferences and publish some papers. And get healthy! And keep the house clean. And get back to Stick Figure Sundays! And maybe start another year-long project. This is going to be great. Keep it realistic.

Me: … wait …

Also me: You’re right. Also read a book EVERY WEEK!!!!!!!!

There’s a running list, in a little cream-coloured notebook, of all the projects I hope to complete. Sometimes I read through the list, see the checkmarks and the projects still coming up or in progress, and I feel excited and accomplished. This is how I like to engage with my goals – always a longer list than I can finish, because it is joyful to do the work that I love.

But many times, and especially at the end of the month and the end of the year when I assess what I accomplished in comparison to what I hoped to accomplish. In those moments, I see everything outstanding and I feel a sharp mix of shame for being so ambitious and shame for not getting enough done. Shame squared. This is nothow I like to engage with my goals, but so often, that’s what ends up happening.

A couple weeks ago, I posted an invitation to contribute to a conversation on this topic.

The new year is coming!!

Some of us (I absolutely do speak of myself here) end up being aggressively recruited into the whole “New Years Resolution” thing, with all the pressure and guilt and shame and excitement and joy and enthusiasm that entails.

I sat down with my journal for a couple hours this afternoon and spent some time starting to plan out my year, and I was so conscious of the pressures of capitalism, ableism, and individualism in my thinking.

At this time of year, we can be influenced by discourses that say all we have to do is “dream it,” and when that doesn’t work, we can end up feeling like we’ve failed. And! At the same time! We can end up feeling powerless and hopeless in the face of dreams that feel entirely unattainable.

If you are a goal setter and year planner, how do you navigate that process?

I want to put together a small collective document to bring some community care to this process that often ends up feeling so individual.

Send me your thoughts about surviving the goal setting season! Comment, send a message, or email me at sostarselfcare@gmail.com. Send your comments in by December 19, so I can have the post ready to go by December 21!

Image description: A to-do list with a pen. (Surviving) 2019 Goal Setting. What we want to accomplish and how we handle the pressure. A little collective document project.

I loved the responses.

Lindsay’s comment echoed my own experiences. She shared, “I find this so challenging. Knowing how much I did not get done has started to push me to stop setting goals, because it is starting to feel futile and like the goals just create undue pressure and guilt – SO not the effect I’m seeking! But I love goal setting and when it feels positive, it’s SO good! I am trying to shift my perspective by tracking “achievements” daily. Some days this might be “took a rest day” or “cooked a healthy meal.” And then there are times where it’ll be “ran in a 10K race” or “presented at my first conference.” I think I need to look back and see that I’ve made positive movements, even if they didn’t always match or meet my goals.”

How do we balance the joy and motivation that can come from recognizing the positive effects of our actions, and the progress in our lives, with the invitations to failure that can come with certain practices of goal-setting?

Or do we even need to “balance” these, which might imply that the preferred state would be to have both in some kind of equilibrium. Is there a way that we can decline to participate in the comparisons and expectations?

Can we find a new way to talk about goals, accomplishments, success and failure?

Some folks had ideas!

Emma shared, “I’m planning on levelling up in a few areas and gaining a new skill or 3 or 5 💗 I’ve got some talent points to carefully spend this year. Increase my damage against the patriarchy. Day to day stuff ya know. This way of looking at it helps me hide my terror at another year of gardening and canning but this year with a 6-month-old! This isn’t just a new year thing, it’s been a way of looking at my overall healing as well.”

The idea of approaching healing as a game, particularly as a roleplaying game that gives you the opportunity to put your “skill points” into areas that you choose, is so delightful and interesting.

It has me wondering about things like what might become possible if we imagined our goal setting projects as quests in a game? Would might shift in our sense of “self” if we imagined ourselves as characters, with skillsets that we could increase through experience points and choice?

If you were playing a game of your life, what class of character would you be? A ranger, a paladin, a rogue, a healer, a warrior? Would you be multi-classed?

(Because my little cream-coloured notebook needs more projects, a thought occurs to me: If I put together a collective document or project on the topic of roleplaying games and their role in our lives, would you want to participate? Let me know!)

Rachel also had an idea about the format of goal-setting. She shared:

Just the act of listing goals in a bullet point list (how most people do it) leads to a total and complete loss of proportion.

Here’s one goal I have for next year next to my major focus goal from this past year:

  • Learn to cook squid
  • Find a post-doctoral job

Those are not the same size at all. The time/number of steps/degree of complexity/degree of that being under my actual control at all are entirely different. But they are the exact same amount of space on a list. So that’s something I will be being careful of in the New Year.

This has me curious – have you found ways to format your documentation of goals so that it’s more representative than a bullet-point list? How do you create the document of your goals?

A couple folks said that reflecting on accomplishments rather than setting new goals was helpful for them.

Dottie shared, “I never know what my life is gonna be like that far in advance so I never know what a realistic goal even looks like lol I am queen of the short term goals. ‘Gonna put my laundry away.’ ‘I hope I can make a pear crisp before these pears go bad but who knows!’ ‘Gonna look back in awe at everything I’ve managed to accomplish.’ ‘Gonna set things aside when I don’t have spoons to finish.’”

This last piece – “gonna set things aside when I don’t have spoons to finish” – feels so important.

Have you ever been able to set something aside because you don’t have spoons to finish? How did you learn to do that?

Richelle also uses reflection as a tool. And her idea turned into the ten-day group that has been running since the 21st! (You can find more information in this facebook album, and you can still join by sending me an email.)

Richelle shared, “I want to do a New Years count down – my top 10 things I’m proud of this year. The pressure to look forward can be overwhelming and I think I want to celebrate what I already am. If media gets to fill time to let staff chill by repeating the awesome that’s happened this year, why can’t I?”

Speaking of chilling…

Shawny shared, “I like to keep it silly/small. Two years ago my resolution was “wear a bra as little as possible.” I met it! It worked great! I’m back to bras, but it was a wonderful year. This year my resolution is “wash my hands more.” It’s also a nice subversion tactic when people ask, especially as a person in a fat body who gets bombarded with extra toxic weight loss goals.”

Rei shared the role of Hygge in helping them work through the process of 2019 goal-planning:

I had a bit of a “lightbulb” moment the other night and a lot of my goal planning for 2019 kind of all fell into place, and along with it, coherent enough thoughts to send something in to you about the goal setting collective document!

I’ll say that I don’t like the idea of “new year’s resolutions” because they tend to set up extremely specific and often unattainable goals that we’ll feel incredibly guilty over when we inevitably fall short. But I do like to pick a couple of key things or areas of my life that I really want to focus on throughout the coming months (I can always adjust course whenever I need to, and I often do reevaluate my goals throughout the year).

My lightbulb moment started with Hygge. I’ve been doing a lot of reading on the Danish concept of Hygge (could be roughly translated to coziness, comfort, connection, safety, warmth, and a lot of other related and much more nuanced concepts if you’re not familiar with the term). I really enjoy the idea of exploring Hygge as a way to connect in a spiritual sort of way with my Scandinavian roots and so I know that’s something I want to focus on as one of my goals for 2019. My next step after the main goal is to brainstorm and list a few ways in which to accomplish that goal. I always keep these things as flexible items I can work on over time rather than hard and fast things that NEED to get done so as to realistically honor what my chronically ill self is capable of. While I was listing things to work on to incorporate Hygge into my 2019, I started to think more about what I wanted my life to look like all around, and settled on a couple more areas I want to focus on, mainly Art & Writing, certain organizational/responsibilities based things, and a general sense of self projected through activities and aesthetics. I won’t get into all the details, but I planned out those areas briefly using the same steps as above.

I like to keep my lists, main goals, and sub goals, in a planner or journal to refer back to throughout the year. I can then make more specific goals that are relevant to my schedule and energy needs each day/week/month and so on.

I know that this kind of planning and goal setting probably won’t appeal to everyone, but I very much like the idea of goal setting as a way to try and create a life I love in realistic ways. Ways that honor my capabilities and acknowledge my chronic illness and limitations. It gives me a sense of control when so much of my life is outside of my control, while being realistic about it all so as not to slip into the victim blaming mindset of “if only I come up with the exact right systems and exact right steps and goals I can accomplish anything DESPITE my illness, and if I haven’t then I must not be trying hard enough.” As anyone with chronic illness will know, there are a lot of things I wish I could do that are just not doable in my life as it is, so this method helps me focus on what IS doable to try and create more happiness in my life. A rejection of toxic positivity, and a focus on the realistic and what actually works.

I’ll also mention that I find it very helpful to use the “Life Pie” system from Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” in order to assess various areas of my life and figure out what kind of goals might be helpful to focus on. Though I tweak the categories she uses as “work” in the traditional sense doesn’t apply to my circumstances, and so on.

I appreciate both Rei and Dottie for disability and chronic illness into the conversation, and Shawny for bringing the specific concerns facing folks in larger bodies. Each of the contributors to this small projects bring their own intersections – racialized, queer, trans, disabled, fat, poor. I’m so thankful for that diversity. I am so thankful for my communities.

I’m ending this post with the work of a fellow narrative practitioner, Daria Kutuzova.

In her phenomenal work on “Hijacking the New Year and Other Practices of Anti-Depression,” Daria describes how depression uses “celebration” as triggers, and offers suggestions for an alternate approach. You can find her slideshow here. This section is paraphrased from her work.

Some of her observations about how Depression sneaks in:
– “Taking stock” of the past year (practices of comparison)
– Anticipated lack of the “miracle of renewal”
– Anticipation of things getting worse in the coming year

One of her suggestions is a Tree of the Year exercise as an antidote to these triggers. Here are the questions associated with the Tree of the Year.

– What did you come into the past year with? What was the focus of your attention then?
– Which of your skills and character strengths supported you most through the last year? What new skills have you learned this year?
– Into which projects and relationships have you been putting your time, energy and heart during the last year?
– What were the most magical, sparkling and meaningful moments of the last year?
– What were your successes in the last year, however small or big? What are you proud of?
– What did you pleasantly surprise yourself with in the last year? What good things didn’t you expect, but they happened anyway?
– What gifts have you received in the last year – from people and from life in general?
– What have you lost, had to let go of or had to put on pause in the last year?
– Who has been a really good friend to you in the last year? With whom would you like to celebrate?
– What are your dreams for the coming year? What are your wishes for yourself?
– What were the good habits that you tried to learn/create in your life during the last year, that did not fully “stick”, but while you were doing the routines, it was good?

If we abandon the idea of writing grand, “all or nothing” New Year resolutions, if we decide not to force ourselves into committing fully to doing something for the whole year, but instead look for shorter time increments (a week, a month at the most), which good routines would you like to try in the coming year?

If you find any of these suggestions, reflections, or exercises helpful, I would love to hear about it, and would be happy to pass your reflections on to the contributors.