It was a sunny afternoon in downtown Vancouver. Kids played on wide pedestrian walkways. Couples lounged on benches. Live music blared from the front lawn of the art gallery. Cyclists coasted along the divided bike lane. It was a regular Saturday until I saw a strange man leading two young boys around a corner.
“Hey, look at that,” I said and pointed with my elbow as I bit into my veggie wrap.
“What?” my sister, Mia, asked as she bit into hers.
Two boys, 12 or 13 years old, followed a man away from a crowd of spectators and around a corner of the building. One kid stood to the left of a newspaper drop-box while the skinny kid sat on it. Both dressed in medium-blue denim, t-shirts, jackets tied around their waists and carried identical white, plastic bags of stuff. The man was in his mid- to late-20’s, about five feet ten inches tall, wearing a black track suit with white stripes, an oversized jean jacket and bandana -- classic street uniform of been there, done that. He ricocheted back and forth along a ten foot line in front of the kids.
“Ah man, what a leech, that guy’s going to take advantage of those kids somehow,” I said.
“What? What do you mean? Really?” she asked.
Before I left policing to start a business, I had talked to hundreds of street level drug dealers and opportunistic “I can get those cds really cheap for you, give me $20 bucks and I’ll be right back,” type of guys.
I stopped eating. “This is not good. Those young kids, that guy, not good,” I said.
Mia shifted her weight from one foot to the other and back again. “Oh my god, should we call police?” she asked.
“Nah, there’s no crime. They could do a street check, but he’ll be long gone before police get here,” I explained.
The man handed a cigarette to the kid who was standing, he inhaled and passed it back. The man smiled and waved his arms around as if he was telling an animated joke. Neither kid smiled.
“What about that security guard?” she asked. “He could say to leave those kids alone.”
“He won’t get involved in that and besides, goofballs like that know security guards can’t enforce anything,” I said.
As a police officer, it was my job to identify dealers. But without the uniform, the gear and the back-up, I was stripped down to a citizen.
But even as a citizen, I’d confronted teenagers spouting homophobic slurs on a bus and got two obnoxious drunks out of my local park. I’ve convinced people to pick up their litter and chased down a guy after he exposed himself in Stanley Park. So why was I hesitant this time?
“Uh, this is not okay, I’m not okay with this” Mia said. “How come nobody else is seeing this?” I wasn’t a parent, but my sister was the mother of a 12 year old girl, my niece, Nina.
I needed time to figure out what was going on. Maybe the kids were looking to score pot for the first time? Maybe they had approached the man first? Who was I to say what these kids could or couldn’t do? Wasn’t that their parents’ job? They'd probably tell me to f*ck off. What's the point? These were not my kids.
If they were getting beat up, the decision to intervene is easy. But this was subtle. Would intervening make any difference?
“I can’t go home knowing we didn’t do something,” she said. She paced within the four foot outline of a sidewalk square.
“What, do you want me to go say something?” I asked. “I could say something.” I started to pace. My heart beat faster.
“Would you? I would want somebody to intervene if it was Nina,” she said. “Sometimes kids just need a moment, or somebody to present a way out, so they can make a different choice.”
I crossed Hornby Street and threw my veggie wrap in the garbage to free up my hands –in case this all went sideways. I had no idea what I was going to say.
“Hey, I need to talk to these two,” I said to the man.
He backed up about four or five feet and looked me up and down. Twice. “Who are you, their mom?” he asked. He had a medium skin tone and aquamarine eyes. I just blew his chance at easy money.
I stared back. “It doesn’t matter, I need to talk to them.” I said. The kids were silent.
He walked back towards me and stood a foot away. “Uh, why don’t you –“
“Just go, around the corner, I need to talk to them,” I said. I was now connected to those kids and invested in their well-being. Suddenly, those kids were my kids too.
“Uh, hey man, what the f–“
“GOOO-A-WAAAAAY,” I said with a side dish of if you’re going to f*ck with me, I am ready.
He backed off and raised his hands and forearms in the universal language of “okay, I don’t want a scene”. He wasn’t afraid of me, it was all becoming a hassle and the kids weren’t worth it.
Mia stood right beside me again. We both turned to look at the kids.
“Uh, hi, uh, I know you think you know that guy, but you don’t. That guy is someone that will screw with you. I’ve seen it a lot. So I, uh, just wanted to give you a moment, to maybe, uh, give you an out, so you could make a different decision, if you wanted to” I said. “Is there anything you guys need?”
“Ya, can I have money for the bus?” said the boy standing. His eyes were glassy and bloodshot. He’s probably high already.
“No, I don’t have bus fare. Anything else?” I asked the other kid, the smaller of the two.
“No, we’ve got money, thanks,” he whispered.
“How did you like the concert?” Mia asked.
“I really liked this one band,” the quiet kid said. He reached into his plastic bag and pulled out a CD like he was unveiling a prized sports trophy.
“They were good?” Mia asked.
“Yeah, they were cool,” he said.
“Awesome. Ok, well, we’re going to go. We just wanted to give you guys a second, because, uh, well, we care about you guys, and thought maybe this might’ve been a situation that you found yourself in but wanted an out. Ok, so, if you guys are good, we’re going to go. If you wanted to walk away with us, to get away from that guy, that’d be cool too,” I said.
The quiet kid smiled. “No, we’re okay.”
We walked away in our separate directions. Maybe we had an effect on those kids, maybe we didn’t. But our hearts confirmed it was the right thing to do.
© 2012 Michelle Sevigny. www.michellesevigny.com. Reprint permission granted with full copyright and link intact.
Photo by On A Meadow, lea
I flipped through the newspaper and stopped at an ad for the New Year’s Day Polar Bear Swim. My resolution was to Live Life According to My Heart, and whenever I paused at something for longer than two seconds, I knew my heart was speaking.
The polar bear swim?
I emailed three friends. Nope, not interested.
"Okay, Heart, we’re going solo,” I said. But I was hesitant and systematically knocked off some possible excuses.
Expensive? No, it was free. Too tired? I could set my alarm. Self-conscious about a bathing suit? No, I love my bikini. Worried that somebody would steal my bag while I was in the water? A little bit, but maybe a nice couple would look after it for a few minutes.
Then my mind joined the game. “Everyone will think you’re a loser, standing in a huge crowd all by yourself,” it said.
“Everyone else has somebody there to support them, hold their bag, congratu—“
Intellectually, I knew that nobody was going to know, let alone care, that I was on my own. And I didn’t think that I cared since I went to movies, restaurants and pubs on my own, no problem. But the mind is like that, it pokes at a sore spot. I felt defensive, “Shut up, that’s not true!” rather than kind, and that’s how I know there's a bit of truth to it.
“Well, I’ll wear my running clothes so everyone will think I’m out for a run,” I laughed. “And besides, if I was with somebody else, I wouldn’t be learning how to deal with you, my tricky little mind!”
I worked New Year’s Eve and was in bed by 6am and up at 11:30am, plenty of time before the 2:30pm swim.
Polar bear swim, eh?
Music. I needed music. Kelly Clarkson’s Breakaway. Loud. Tears suddenly flowed down my cheeks. I’m listening, Heart, but stay with me!
I packed an old towel and toque into my dog’s knapsack. I looked for my sandals. Where are they!? “You threw them out last fall, I guess you can’t go,” said my mind.
You don't need them.
“Okay, if the opportunity presented itself to do this, what else would I have to do to be ready?” Shave my legs!
I showered, shaved, put on my bikini and running clothes. I glanced at my camera. “Somebody might steal your camera, I guess you can’t go,” said my mind.
You don't need a photo, you'll have the story.
I drove with my windows open and my fast-paced breath chilled against the air. I wore only a long-sleeved t-shirt yet light perspiration formed on my body.
I rounded the bend to Ceperley Park and saw the traffic jam in the parking lot. I braked hard and pulled into a spot on the side of the road. People in bath robes, flip flops and wild, orange wigs and others in winter coats, scarves and gloves, we walked together to English Bay.
My chest thumped harder than Keith Moon. "You just went for a run, of course you're breathing heavy,” I thought. I laughed out loud.
The assembly line sucked me in and and I shuffled alongside women in pink wigs and corsets and men in leopard tights. Guys in hula skirts carried beer cans as they hooted and hollered. Spectators clutched onto jackets to avoid getting separated. A TV cameraman interviewed two women in a shark costume. Loud speakers blared, “15 minutes!”
I squished back into the crowd and pushed my way back towards my car.
“What? You’re going to leave and not do it? Seriously?” yelled my mind.
“Maybe this was just practice for next year. Please, I don’t know yet, c'mon!”
Once I got out of the epicentre, I walked to the water’s edge, just outside the barricaded area, so I could watch the registered swimmers go in. There were hundreds of people still, but also breathing room.
“Could you take our picture?” asked a guy.
“Yes, absolutely,” I said.
He was from Quebec City and his girlfriend was local, both were bundled up in winter jackets. Twice he took off a glove and dipped his fingers in the ocean.
“Have you done this before?” I asked.
“Nah, too cold,” he said.
“What about you?” I asked the girlfriend.
“No, if I was with somebody else, maybe, but I can’t do these things on my own, I feel too vulnerable,” she said as she fiddled with her scarf. “Have you?”
“I haven't before but I actually have my bathing suit on,” I said.
As we continued chatting, I saw five people in bathing suits, huddled in a single Australian flag towel.
I asked the Australian group, “Are you going in just from here?”
“Oh yeah, you get trampled down there, here’s perfect,” he said.
I then counted twenty or thirty more people in bathing suits. Rogue polar bear swimmers!
“Are you doing it?” asked the girlfriend. “It’s almost time.”
I kicked off my running shoes, yanked off my socks, whipped down my pants and threw off my sweatshirt and jacket.
“Go!” said the guy as he pointed to the barricaded swimmers running towards the water.
I ran four or five strides into the water and dove underneath. Once I surfaced, I high-fived the Australians and half a dozen other people before I walked out of the surf.
I wrapped myself in my towel and shook the couple’s hands. “Just so you know, connecting with you was a huge part of my experience and I'll never forget you,” I said.
I dressed, pulled on my fleece toque, and walked through hundreds of people standing in their winter coats and holding Starbucks. As the whoooo-hooooos and noise makers faded, I heard my heart:
Way to go.
It’s going to be a great year.
© 2011 Michelle Sevigny. www.michellesevigny.com. Reprint permission granted with full copyright and link intact.
Photo by jagtor58
I don't trust myself. Specifically, I don't trust my mind. If my mind tells me what to do, I am suspicious of its motive.
But I have learned to trust and believe in my heart. My heart is the only voice of authority that has my best interests, well, at heart.
My heart is the like the quiet person at the party. It doesn’t have to work the room; it doesn’t have to tell stories to show how cool it is. In fact, it doesn’t care what anybody thinks of it. It is quietly content. And patient.
“Hey, why not get up at 6am and write for four hours this morning?” whispers my heart.
“Why should I? I’m so tired, and my bed feels so good, so I’d rather sleep,” says my mind.
“Ok then, sleep,” says my heart.
My heart never argues. That’s how I know it is my heart speaking.
Following and arguing with my mind feels bad, listening and following my heart feels good. I am at peace. Aligned. Balanced.
So my 2012 New Year’s Resolution is to Live Life According to My Heart and I’ve pondered and developed 10 Guiding Principles, in no particular order, to assist me:
1. Go Slow.
This is another way to say ‘live in the present’. Going Slow helps me feel and sit with negative emotions before reacting angrily to an email, eating when not hungry or worrying about the future. I also capture endless opportunities for gratitude of the present moment. Go Slow is the first step to all the other principles.
2. Say Yes.
My mind is quick to say “no” when my heart speaks of an idea or a thought. If I #1 Go Slow, I then hear my heart so I can easily, Say Yes. And Say Yes is according to my heart -- if my mind screams “say yes”, it usually means to do the opposite.
3. Live with an Open Heart.
Living with an open heart is about being kind, to others and myself. This is easier for rescued animals and more challenging towards grumpy people! But I’ve found that there is always a behind-the-scenes, a back story, of what appears on the surface. And #7 Be Joy makes their angry tone of voice disappear and allows me to ask them about their day -- making #4 Connect Daily happen.
4. Connect Daily.
We are each connected in some way. I can create daily connections by getting together with family or friends, saying hello to fellow runners in Stanley Park, laughing with a cashier at the grocery store, waving to a driver that I’ve let into my lane or volunteering. #1 Go Slow, #3 Live with an Open Heart and #7 Be Joy make connections meaningful.
5. Ask for What I Want.
And by that, I mean what my heart wants. This may be asking for what I want from the server at a restaurant, from a loved one or from the submissions department of a magazine. Or, I may simply ask the universe. And if I #1 Go Slow, it is easier to Ask for What I Want, because I truly know.
6. Do It Now.
Fear and anxiety increase with time. Do It Now invites me to take action, even a tiny baby step, before my mind argues a counterpoint. It may be “clean out the closet” which then allows more room for creative or peaceful thoughts in my head. Or “write and mail an article to a magazine” or "book that trip to Ireland". All of which are connected to #8 Let Go and Trust.
7. Be Joy.
When I am full of joy, I present my best self to the world. The world is more joyful in return then too. And I am more accepting of roadblocks in #10 Wherever I am is Where I Am Supposed to Be.
8. Let go and Trust.
My mind wants to control me and everything else. But since I cannot control anything beyond my own thoughts and actions, life is easier, and more peaceful, if I Let Go and Trust that it will all work out. It always does.
9. Eat Real Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants (from Michael Pollan)
In descriptive terms, I’ve been a meat-eater, vegetarian and currently, vegan, but I've never identified with a strict title. In general, I've never been concerned about weight except gaining 35 pounds in the stressful final year of a relationship break-down. During the next two years, the weight disappeared on its own, because the weight was irrelevant. No guilt, worry or dieting allows more, #7 Be Joy. And #1 Go Slow, #5 Ask for What You Want and more #7 Be Joy allows weight to become a non-issue.
And the one Guiding Principle that is connected to all others, especially, #8 Let Go and Trust, and which makes my resolution fool-proof:
10. Where Ever I Am, Is Exactly Where I’m Supposed to Be.
I do not usually understand when roadblocks or alternate paths appear in my “planned” route, but I am always grateful for the detours, after-the-fact.
And I don't expect any of these to be easy. But at the very least, the conflict they will produce as I put them into practice should make good fodder for future stories.
Happy New Year!
© 2011 Michelle Sevigny. www.michellesevigny.com. Reprint permission granted with full copyright and link intact.
I parked my car on a quiet side road off Main Street, a half block away from my destination. This could go horribly wrong. Was I ready? Yes. I had what I needed and I had a clear objective. I took a deep breath. I’ve done other things that I once thought were impossible, like run an ultra-marathon, bike-camped solo through the Greek Islands, started my own business and confronted an armed robbery suspect. But this was different. I was about to walk into a situation that would increase my heart rate and hurl me out of my comfort zone. But I was ready. Ready for my first shopping party.
In 2008, Seonaid Robinson and her mother, Margaret, opened Bottoms Up Clothing Co. on Bowen Island and re-located to Vancouver in 2010. I discovered their shop when I got re-acquainted with Main Street a few weeks ago. I love to support owner-operated businesses and especially, mother-daughter partnerships.
“I hate shopping” I said. “Wait. That’s not true. I’m working on this. So let’s say, I’m open to learning how to love shopping again”.
“Well, we’re having a private party in a few weeks if you’d like to join us?” asked Seonaid.
“Uh, okay,” I said. And before I could chicken out, I handed her my business card for the invitation list.
The lure of free wine helped me say yes, and also knowing that Winston would be there as the Official Bottoms Up Greeter. Winston was a large, laid-back three-year-old mixed-breed dog who sat in front of the floor length mirror while wearing a lime green satin tie. This was my kind of place.
When did I start to hate, uh, get scared of shopping? I used to love clothes! As a teenager I was into the Mod scene and it was all about looking cool in smart British fashions. Standing-out and being different was the whole point. Up to my mid-20’s, I had a closet full of fun clothes, earrings for every outfit and bracelets of every colour.
It started to change in my late-20’s, when I became a police officer. I started on street patrol and wore the issued black uniform. Sameness was in and being different was out. I then worked “plainclothes” for five years and my uniform was dark jeans and oversized black or grey t-shirts to cover my bullet-proof vest. My hair was safely contained under a dark baseball cap. No earrings, no rings. The whole purpose of plainclothes was to blend into a crowd. When I left policing in my late-30’s and started my own dog training company, I wore dog-appropriate work clothes that were equally dark and boring.
Fashion makes you stand out. I was no longer comfortable with that and I wanted that back. I wanted my love of colour, my love of uniqueness and my love of funky clothes, back. But it had been so long that I didn’t know how to do it anymore. About a year ago I started to make baby steps. A pink scarf here, a silver ring there. I had the desire to change and the vision of what I wanted. Now I just wanted somebody to help with the "how-to". I think Seonaid was my girl.
I walked into the Bottoms Up party and was greeted by Winston. Thank God. Hi Winston! A few minutes with him and my heart rate slowed. Good boy, Winston.
“Winston, you are my official retail therapy assistance dog tonight,” I said as I glanced around the 900 or so square foot shop. “I made it, I’m here, and I just need to do half an hour,” I chuckled. “Winston, stay close.”
“Hi, welcome, thanks for coming,” said Seonaid. “What flavour of white wine would you like?”
“Anything, thank you,” I said. A dog, and a glass of wine. This shopping thing might be fun.
I had two fifty dollar bills in my pocket. A small amount for a shopping party but an amount I found challenging to spend. I know I have a few beliefs that add to my shopping resistance. How can I possibly enjoy a hundred dollar pair of jeans while there are children starving in Somalia? I’m still working through this, but I have recently accepted that whether or not I help the world’s hungry is independent of the type of cloth that covers my butt. Oh god. Winston, where are you?
“Ok, so how does this party work?” I asked.
“You can just shop or you can tell me what you are looking for,” says Seonaid.
“Ok, I’m definitely going to need your help, please. I need tops. Don’t let me leave without one or two tops. No t-shirts. I would like something nicer, but still casual. And I’d love to try them on with a pair of jeans too.” I said.
“Ok, do you want short or long-sleeves?” she asked as she glanced at my lower body and pulled a pair of dark denim off the shelf.
“Short, please. And feminine, without being frilly. No sweaters.” I said. “It would really help me if you could just bring me a bunch of stuff to try on.”
“Okay, let’s get you set up in a change room.” she said.
I glanced at the jean label and almost called out for her when I saw the size. “She’s way off, size 29, no way, I’ll have to put my pants back on now, go get another pair,” I muttered. I thought of Winston. “Ok, stop it, slow down, be open, just say yes, put them on,” I counter-argued. They fit perfectly. She’s good.
“How do you do that?” I laughed.
“I’ve been doing this a long time, sixteen years, and well, I’m pretty good at it” she said with a smile.
As I settled into the change room, glass of wine in hand, Seonaid brought me a variety of tops and fine-tuned the selection after asking questions of what I liked and didn’t like. She checked in often and her timing was perfect. I finally chose a fitted, teal top with flared short-sleeves from a Canadian company called Orb. I bought an identical one in purple. Baby steps.
Fortunately, I like to explore and laugh at my quirky little fears that I’m knocking off my list. I was inspired by Seonaid because not only did she find fashion fun, she found it easy. It would seem that one person’s hesitation is another person’s strength. “You’ve done it” becomes “I can do it too”. We just need to connect with somebody who thinks it’s fun and easy. Wow, how awesome would everyone become?
And a dog wearing a neck tie always helps too.
© 2011 Michelle Sevigny. www.michellesevigny.com. Reprint permission granted with full copyright intact.
Photo by Nina Matthews Photography
My heart was beating against my chest like an angry tenant banging on the wall of a noisy neighbour. As the needles pierced my skin, I thought, I can’t believe I am doing this. Doing it now. Today.
I had two tattoos already. Both of which I had gotten in my early 20’s. I don’t regret them, since they represent my impulsive nature of the time, but they don’t have significant meaning.
I always knew I would get more tattoos. I love them. I love the artistry. I love the significance. In my early 40’s, the idea of a new tattoo re-surfaced. But I was going to wait until I had a vision.
I love books. I love quotes. I love words. About a year ago, an image of a word tattoo popped into my mind.
Whenever I thought about my four favorite words, one of which is ‘create’, I burst into tears. What’s up with that? I wasn’t sure, other than, clearly it had an impact. Was I not getting enough creativity? Did I want more creativity? Did I need more creativity?
Create. Create my business life. My working life. My personal life. What does creativity mean? It means growth. It means change. It means ….?
Tattoos of ‘create’ swirled around my head. I knew I wanted it somewhere where I could see it. All the time. Everyday. I create stories with my right hand. Yet, I can also create my ideal meal. Create my ideal day. Create my book. Create my life.
Create. That was it it. Then what? What design? As I want to be a writer, an old school typewriter font sprang to mind. That was it! ‘Create’ in a typewriter font. Right wrist. I saw it.
I had created the vision of my next tattoo and then I waited until the place and timing was right.
I checked out various tattoo places in Vancouver and Liquid Amber Tattoo was one of them. It’s in Gastown. I love Gastown. I have thought about moving to Gastown. It is a company started by women and focused on women artists. As a woman entrepreneur, I loved that.
I had the vision, I had the place. Why was I not making it happen? If I got honest about it, I was hesitant because I knew it was going to be an emotional experience. I might burst into goddamn tears right there in the studio! Not because of pain, but because of the deep sense of joy that comes from doing what was always meant to be done. I was hesitant to show my vulnerability.
For whatever reason, or perhaps, for a variety of reasons, June 9th was the day. I was ready. I already had an unbelievable morning which started with an amazing walk with my dog. It was sunny. I had Temper Trap in the CD player. These are things on my Awesome List that instantly put me in bliss mode.
I drove downtown, parked and walked into the shop. My intention was to check it out, and if I had a good gut feeling, I was going to commit.
Luvia and Rene were seated at the welcome area and were awesome. They answered my questions and Rene printed off a stencil for me to see. Perfect, I loved it. I wanted it done right away and luckily, she was available.
About 20 minutes later she was done. I looked at my new wrist. Create. It was like it was always meant to be there. Like I wasn’t surprised it was there and yet, completely overjoyed that it was. I got instructions on the after care and left the shop.
A few minutes later, I was driving across the Second Narrows bridge and as I glanced at my bandaged wrist, my chest tightened as tears clung to the edge of my lower lids. I had permanently inked ‘create’ on my body and I experienced a deep sense of joy, contentment and, fulfillment. I couldn’t even see my tattoo under the bandages yet the vision of it was so strong, that I saw it and knew it was there.
© 2011 Michelle Sevigny. www.michellesevigny.com. Reprint permission granted with full copyright intact.
Photo by Michelle Sevigny