Author: Donna Costa

At The Zoo

At The Zoo

Is it just me or did January go by in a flash?

Well, time flies when you’re having fun, eh? (Keeping it Canadian here!) So what was happening last month? Well…

The audio of Breathing With Trees passed quality control and is now available at favourite audio book sources, including Spotify, Amazon, Overdrive, Hoopla, Rakuten Kobo, Audible (coming soon) and more. If you listen to my book, let me know what you think. Write a review if you feel inclined. (It helps!)

My second novel, previously named Fragments, then Frag Mentz, is now tentatively titled If I Could Remember, I Would: Memory, My Mother & Me. (It’s normal for a book title to change once the story is complete and there may be more tweaking before it’s done!) I’m not quite at the finish line — the book is with my editor for review — so perhaps I should say approaching the finish line? Better still, with work yet to be done on interior and cover design, maybe approaching the approach to the finish line is more accurate. Hoping for a release late in 2023.

And, since my novel uses excerpts from my mother’s autobiography, I will be simultaneously releasing her book as well. It just makes sense.

My short story “All in the Family” was finally published — writers hate waiting, at least this one does — in Prairie Fire, Winter 2022-23, Volume 43, No. 4, available for purchase. Hop on over to Facebook to see Prairie Fire’s post on Jan. 23, read an excerpt of my story, and see pics of my grandma. (And one of me, around age 4, with a very bad haircut. Yeah, I knew that would get you there.)

Since I’m sticking to literary happenings in this month’s blog, I should mention that my local writing club, London Writers’ Society, has invited an award-winning author to speak in our city. I am involved on the club’s Board and behind the scenes in organizing the upcoming event. Author to be announced soon!

So, there you have it, last month’s happenings. (Cue Simon and Garfunkel, “At The Zoo”.)

How was your month?

(Oh, yes, some snow shovelling filled a few of those January days. Not a literary happening, but maybe I was pondering this blog while shovelling. Does that count?)

Thanks to Matthew Cabret on Unsplash for the flamingo photo.

Resolution or Ritual?

Resolution or Ritual?

Every January 1st, my mother would make her New Year’s resolutions. Her list always contained the same two items — lose five pounds and exercise more. Whether it was the same five pounds she’d vowed to lose the previous year or an additional five was unclear. Her list would contain other goals, too, things like learning a new word every day or becoming an expert bear maker. (She did!)

Unlike my mother, I never made New Year’s resolutions. What was the point, I thought, if you are writing the same thing from year to year. It seemed more a record of failings than resolutions. Even the best intentions seemed to fall by the wayside before the first month ended.

For me, I preferred to mark the turning of the year with a ritual. For years, it was simply reading The Red Tent by Anita Daimant, cover to cover in one day, as I nibbled gorged on Christmas cookies and holiday leftovers. When that novel disappeared from my bookshelf, having been loaned to a friend but never returned, I switched to Keeper ‘n Me by Richard Wagamese. If you could meet any writer, alive or dead, who would it be? For me, Wagamese. Having once lived in northern Ontario myself, his story strikes a chord. But this year, his book wasn’t calling me.

So, sans a fiction novel to read, I made a resolution — Yes, me! — namely, to read The Making of a Story this year. By Alice LaPlante, the tome is almost 700 words. Perhaps it needs to be a 2‑year effort.

Still yearning for a ritual of some kind, I heard Kryon speak of “expecting benevolence.” Then, perhaps because my son was home for Christmas this year, I was reminded of playing the story-making game when he was a child. I would begin with an inciting incident, such as, “A man was eating an apple while driving his car. He threw the apple core out the window. What happened next?” My son would pick up the storyline, add some drama, and finish with, “And what next?” So I decided to mix the story-making approach with expecting benevolence.

And so I began…

“My short story “All in the Family” is published in Prairie Fire,” I said. (I admit it was a bit of a cheat because I knew the story was forthcoming, although I didn’t know precisely when.)

“And what next?” I asked myself. Instead of focusing on life moving from drama to drama, I focused on a life moving from good news to better news.

The release of my audio book (okay, another cheat), a road trip to New York, some physical healing, a falconry experience, an award, some relationship reconciliation….

Unleashed, my desires poured forth. Things I had been unable to admit wanting, even to myself. Within minutes, I had a very long list.

What else, what else, what else? I kept adding to the list.

Were these wild imaginings or powerful intentions? I didn’t know (and still don’t.) But I felt happier. Perhaps I wasn’t five pounds lighter as my mother always resolved for herself, but I was emotionally lighter.

This expectation of benevolence is my new ritual, one I intend to practice at the beginning of every New Year. Give it a try. See how it makes you feel. Can you give yourself permission to wish for anything and discover the secret yearnings in your own heart?

May you be safe.

May you be happy.

May you be healthy.

May you be peaceful.

Photo: The bears, Wilbur and Wilma, hand sewn by my mother, feature in my next novel, a memoir about caregiving, about “memory, my mother, and me.”

Gift Giving & Receiving

Gift Giving & Receiving

Imagine a bubble…

It was late in the evening as the gentle voice of Monika Muryani guided me in an online meditation. As instructed, I filled my bubble with a request. Send me a gift in the coming week, a gift easily known, seen and recognized. One that will make me say, A-ha! I asked for a gift and this is it.

I watched my bubble drift into the sky and into The Field, into the energy of All That Is.

As soon as I awoke in the morning, the bubble-request sprung to mind. Oooh, I wonder what my gift will be, I thought, then went about my usual morning activities. The meditation leader said the gift could be as simple as a cup of coffee or a smile from a stranger.

Setting out on my morning walk, I noticed the wind was picking up. Is this it? A gift of nature? I inhaled the ozone-rich air of an approaching storm, cool against my cheeks, and smiled. If I have to ask, then this probably isn’t it, I thought.

I noticed many gifts of nature that week. The gurgle of the water at the creek, the cardinal’s song that sounded like his spring mating call even though it is autumn-winter. The warmth of the afternoon sun.

There were other gifts, too. A pleasurable day spent shopping. (I hate shopping, so ‘the gift’ wasn’t what I bought, but the fact that the day was enjoyable.) Finding out my line dancing class was being renewed in the new year. The sound of my own laughter in my period of mourning. Who wouldn’t laugh at cedar shrubs decked out as Santa-gnomes?

Still, I kept wondering, Is this it? Is this THE gift?

This morning, the last day of the meditation timeline, I saw a teen walking toward me, his back hunched from the weight of his backpack. I’d seen him on other mornings. Each time, for one brief moment, as we passed each other, there was just him and me—a young man and an old woman—alone in the world at 7 a.m.

Now, I typically greet the people I see regularly on my morning walks with a cheery, Good morning. But teens, like this one, would routinely ignore me, keep their eyes forward, and walk quickly by. I kept persisting, hoping they might actually greet me in return some day. Lately though, I’d given up. I stopped greeting the people that never replied. Instead, I’d try not to look at them, just like they pretended not to notice me.

But this morning was different.

As I silently passed this male teen, already a foot taller than me, he turned and smiled! Reflexively, I smiled back. For that split second, we connected.

This is it, I thought.

Truly, that moment was a special gift. And even as I write this, it brings tears to my eyes again. Yet the bubble meditation brought me another gift—the gift of observing. Throughout the week, I was in a state of mindfulness, of noticing ordinary things. Hans Christian Andersen once wrote, “The whole world is a series of miracles, but we are so used to them we call them ordinary things.” Each day, my world was filled with ordinary miracles and I was filled with gratitude.

And, not only was I noticing ordinary miracles, I was expecting them. This was a paradigm shift. Believing and knowing that good things are coming my way, that each day holds promise and potential. Not just know it, but to feel it in my being.

That is the gift!

So, go ahead, imagine a bubble…



With gratitude to:

Monika Muranyi for the meditation, Nov 23, 2022, Kryon Circle of Twelve.

Braedon McLeod for his bubble photo.

           

The Art of Pretense

The Art of Pretense

Today I stopped pretending.

I stopped pretending I was the kind of person that would iron crumpled tissue paper in order to re-use it someday.

Briefly I thought about how it might be re-purposed. I remembered the stained glass vase I made in grade four with torn bits of coloured tissue paper and Modge Podge. Yeah, I didn’t bother to pretend I would make one of those.

I could have pretended that tissue paper was recyclable and tossed it in the blue bin. That way, if ever informed otherwise, I could exclaim, “Well, I didn’t know!”

But today I stopped pretending.

I checked online and found tissue paper (and wrapping paper) are NOT recyclable. Sure, you can throw it in the bin and the garbage collectors might dump it in the truck. But, at the end of the day, at the other end of the line, it will not be recycled.

While tissue paper is biodegradable, we can’t pretend it happens efficiently when mixed with trash that isn’t.

Tissue paper is compostable, but I can’t pretend I want the coloured dyes on my vegetable garden.

And those gift boxes? The ones with layers of Christmas tags, one year’s tag covering last year’s and the five years before that, boxes with the corners slightly squashed from storage and small tears in the sides…I stopped pretending I was ever going to re-use those either.

I stopped pretending the mess in my wrapping storage didn’t bother me. So I sorted the bins—one for Christmas, one for other occasions. I stopped pretending flattened bows would ever adorn a present, that the gawd-awful gift bag—Who gave that to me?—would be re-gifted in this lifetime.

I sorted the bins, stacked gift bags neatly by size and occasion, gathered all the fluffy bows in one bag and discarded the flat ones, and arranged rolls of tape, side by side, with the pens and gift tags. All that remained was a pile of wrapping cloths. My furoshiki phase.

Furoshiki is the Japanese art of gift wrapping using fabric squares or oblongs in plain, bright colours or perhaps imprinted with pink cherry blossoms, an image of Mt. Fuji, or sakura waves. Bunnies, cats, sumo wrestlers. And tied with fancy knots around the gift. The wrapping techniques are used for square objects as well as those that are long, flat, slender. There’s a wrap for a wine bottle, another for two bottles together, or various sling wraps for carrying heavier items. Furoshiki is eco-friendly. Perhaps this year I would create some Christmas wrapping squares?

I carefully folded the cloths and placed them in my bin as a reminder.

Sometimes I still pretend.

Red Cars & Green Hearts

Red Cars & Green Hearts

If you look for red cars, you’ll find them everywhere.

Look, there’s one! Oh, another. And over there.

It was an exercise assigned by one of my profs at college and it was true—red cars were everywhere! Were there really more red cars than any other colour? Or was it simply that we were tuned to see red cars, so that is what we noticed.

In these last how-many-is-it-now years, it seems all that is wrong with the world is being highlighted. Whether it’s our political, educational or medical systems, that which is broken, that which isn’t working any more, is being highlighted so it can be changed. Or deleted.

We’ve become attuned to seeing red cars everywhere.

Let me switch gears here and say that music is a barometer of the people. (Stay with me while I connect the dots.) Song lyrics are often social commentary put to music. Think Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi. Bob Dylan, Blowin’ in the Wind. John and Yoko, Imagine.

Personally, I’m a fan of new country music. Now, some might dismiss country as merely songs about drinking, trucks, and breakups. (If that’s all you hear, maybe that’s your red car, er, truck?) And I’ll admit there is a lot of that in country music. It’s part of the human condition, so why not. And those breakup songs are often full of anger and revenge. Maybe it’s even why we love them, why we sing along.

But then comes a breakup song that’s different. It’s full of tenderness and love. Compassion. It made me sit up and notice. It wasn’t a red car. It was a green heart!

Stay with me while I switch gears again. I promise it will connect up.

Love is green. This occurred to me when looking at the colour chart for the chakra system. The heart chakra is green. The heart chakra is Love, thus Love is green. Then I began to notice green grass and green trees. Even green cars. The earth emits the frequency of love. It’s beamed out from Gaia to remind us Love is everywhere. The speckled green of zebra grass. Blue green of hostas and spruce trees. Red green of Japanese maples.

Not only is green/love everywhere, the song tells me there is a shift happening. From anger to forgiveness, from blaming to taking responsibility for self. From pain to healing. From red to green.

Now maybe I’m reading too much into one song. Maybe it is just another breakup song. But I’ll take green hearts over red cars any day. I prefer to think, as Bob Dylan wrote, the times they are a changin’.

Many thanks to Old Dominion for another great song, No Hard Feelings. Apologies in advance…you will have to watch an ad before you can hear the song. (I have no control over that or the ad! Just saying.) But if you liked their song, too, send them a green heart.

Mystified

Mystified

Have you ever looked out an airplane window and wanted to touch the clouds? Or walk on them, like an angel in a cream cheese commercial?

This morning, an hour after sunrise, a soft mist hovered over the field, across the path where I intended to walk. I smiled at the thought of being in the mist, like being in a cloud. What would it feel like on the skin of my bare arms, bare legs? Would it feel as soft as it looked? Like a gentle caress?

But as I approached the mist, it moved further away, then off to the right. I couldn’t seem to get into the mist. Turning, looking back at where I’d been, I realized I had already walked through the mist.

Sometimes it is only when we look back that we can see where we’ve come. Sometimes, being in the mist is not chaotic or soul wrenching, but is subtle, delicate, elusive. A soothing and tender transition.

As I look back at last month’s experience at Sage Hill Writing School, I remember a feeling of being held in the palm of compassion. By my instructor, by all the faculty, by my classmates, by the writers in classes of different genres. For ten days, I was a writer. We talked about craft, shared our stories, our processes, our goals. We allowed ourselves to be vulnerable. We respected and honoured that vulnerability in each other, in ourselves. We began to see ourselves as writers. Not just see it, but to be it. To experience it fully until the knowingness was imbued in every cell of one’s being.

I am a writer.

Yes, there is still much to learn about this craft, yet the knowing I am a writer now resides more fully. Or perhaps, having been through the mist, I am now seeing clearly what has been there all along.

With gratitude to Sage Hill Writing School.

For this opportunity, I acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts.

Donna Costa |
Green Light

Green Light

~Your submission has been accepted.

Words that delight any writer waiting to hear back on publication of a story.

~Your application has been accepted.

Words that delight this writer waiting on a grant application. Woo hoo!

The purpose of my grant is for a Writing Mentorship with Susan Scott, who has been my editor for a couple years now. She polishes my stories and has been instrumental in helping me get published in Queen’s Quarterly, Nurture Literary, and Prairie Fire (forthcoming). During the 5‑month grant period, we will be working on five separate stories.

Woo hoo!

The grant will also fund a writing course at Sage Hill Writing School. I’m so looking forward to ten days of writing, writing, writing—my instructor is Lorri Neilsen Glenn—meeting fellow writers and hanging out in the literary community.

For these opportunities, I acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts.

Donna Costa |

Thank you. Merci.

Green Light Photo by Carlos Alberto Gómez Iñiguez 

One Woman’s Treasure

One Woman’s Treasure

Sometimes I lose my sh*t. Like when people throw crap in the river.

In the woods beside the river, there is a hangout for locals, with logs in a circle, rickety webbed lawn chairs, and once-ergonomic office chairs. I understand the need to claim a place as your own, a place to meet with friends. (I even wrote about a hangout in my book, Breathing With Trees.) But what enjoyment comes from throwing trash on the ground? Or in the river? My river! My sacred place.

As I stood at the water’s edge, I fumed. It was hard to ignore the rusty metal bars of the patio swing chair discarded in the river. I sang my morning song of gratitude to Mother Earth and apologized for the sin against her. Giving thanks lowered my anger a few notches. Down to mere annoyance. Still, it was challenging to complete my meditation, with that thing triggering my emotions.

The 3Rs—reduce, reuse, recycle. Perhaps the chair in the water was being repurposed, as a trigger for me to explore my emotions?

The next day, as I approached my sacred spot at dawn, a great blue heron lifted off its perch—the discarded metal frame—and took to the sky. A magnificent 5-foot wingspan overhead before it settled on a nearby dead tree.

What a blessing! A heron had come to share my sacred space. I’d seen herons in the river before, but they always waded further up the stream. It had come to my spot because of that piece of metal junk. It cared not that the trash was polluting the stream. It simply made use of what was available to roost, to rest, perhaps to search out fish. It flew in and flew out. There was no anger, no annoyance.

As I pondered this, I remembered the words of Dali Lama regarding another emotion, “If you can solve a problem, what need is there to worry? If you cannot solve it, what use is there to worry?”

Perhaps anger is the same? If there is an action needing done, do it. If there is no action you can take, what is the use of anger?

Right now, the river flows high and fast. But when it is safe to do so, I will don the hip waders that my husband kindly bought for me to use in our home pond, and I shall pull the trash from the river. It does not belong there.

But the memory of the heron will linger on, the treasure from the trash.

Return to the Breath

Return to the Breath

My teacher says that a good meditation is one that you did. She also says we get the meditation we need, not always the one we want. I am participating in an 8‑week training based on Buddha’s Brahma-Viharas, also known as the Four Virtues. These are: Loving Kindness, Compassion, Sympathetic Joy, and Equanimity/Peace. (The breath work is sometimes called affectionate breathing or mindful self compassion.)

I begin by noticing my breathing, letting my body breathe me. In and out, my chest rises and falls. When my mind wanders, I return my focus to the breath. Then I release the breath-focus and whisper four phrases in my mind.

May I be safe. May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be peaceful.

Whom am I asking? Some omniscient god who bestows wishes? Is it my god or your god? Is it all one? I don’t want to share my god right now. Just let me have these minutes with god to myself. Leave us alone please. I bring my attention back to my breath, then repeat the phrases.

May I be safe. May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be peaceful.

Perhaps it is not god I am asking, but myself. In what ways do I deny myself? Block myself? Not allow myself to receive?

May I be safe. May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be peaceful.

The phrases remind me of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but with safety as the foundation, necessary before all else. Is happiness essential before being healthy or peaceful? Is it even a hierarchy? Or are they all equal, interconnected, like Olympic rings?

Return to the breath.

May I be safe.

I breathe in and out. The energy of Safe resonates through my beingness. I hear: I am that. I cognize the truth—that I am safe, and Safe is embodied in me. I marvel at the oddity of feeling so completely safe in these times.

May I be happy.

There is an expectation to feel the emotion in my beingness, just as I had previously with Safe. Instead, there is silence. Darkness. The breath breathes me as I resist both the silence and darkness. Impatient, I move on.

May I be healthy.

Once again, I feel the truth of it, feel Healthy resonate, a part of every cell of my being. I am that. Again, how strange, yet marvelous, that I feel healthy in these times.

May I be peaceful.

I feel the energy of Peace. It is different than that of Safe and Healthy. Peace is thing, overlapping my right side, slightly off to the side. It is attached to my beingness, but not centered with me. Or perhaps  I am not centered in peace. Did peace move away or did I? Pulling Peace to me, centering it with me, it covers me like a hollow shell. It does not fill my beingness, but waits for me to welcome it in more fully. Instead, I return to the breath.

May I be happy.

Silence. Darkness. Am I unhappy? Am I blocking happiness? What’s wrong with me? My breath quickens. I grab Peace which I have let wander off. I pull it over me like a shroud. Try modified versions of the phrase, my teacher had suggested.

May I be happy just as I am. May I be happy with things as they are.

Silence. Darkness. What if I find my own phrase, my own words?

May I be joyful.

The earth opens. A geyser of joy shoots up my body, erupting out my crown chakra in crystal droplets of happiness.

May I be safe. May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be peaceful.

I return to the breath.

Angel On High

Angel On High

Christmas decorations gather dust on the mantelpiece. Merry reindeer, whose antlers upturn in jubilant salute to the heavens, now slump their calico-clad bodies toward the hearth. A leg-lamp memento from The Christmas Story is switched off, no longer glowing like sex in the window. For the first time, the angel we have seen on high has not fallen from her precarious perch on the nativity’s stable roof. The letters on her angelic banner proclaim Gloria to the deafening silence.      

In years past, when my children were small and decorations didn’t get boxed immediately after the New Year, I would mumble, “La Befana”—the Italian Christmas witch. She arrives on Epiphany Eve to deliver candy (or coal) in children’s shoes. Never a major celebration in my husband’s Italian family, I was happy to toss a few candies my kids’ way in order to use the excuse.

This year, Epiphany has passed, uncelebrated. I flop on the couch and glance at the mantle. It had been an effort to put up those sparse decorations. Why bother? What’s the point? I asked my husband, my lack of enthusiasm in direct proportion to the limited contact with my grandchildren, to the lack of children’s laughter. The Christmas‑with-no-tree was blessedly over.

“I should take those down,” I mutter. Words are the only effort I can muster. The decorations, I know, will still be there tomorrow.

Ennui blankets my soul like the drifts of snow that wrap around my house. I don’t resist the weariness. A minimum of tasks gets completed. Walk the dog. Shovel the driveway. Eat. Library books, unread, are renewed automatically online, only to sit unread again. Day drags into night drags into day. The metallic sound of the mailbox interrupts the tedium. I debate the likelihood of incoming mail versus the lid merely flapping in the wind. I don’t get up.

Across the room, an amaryllis bulb emerges from the dark peat. I mark its growth on paper like the pencil marks that once marked the door frame to track children’s height. Kindergarten, grade one. On and on until I had to reach above my head to score the line.

The plant’s green stem grows half an inch overnight, then one inch, two, each day shooting skyward at an increasing pace. At twenty inches, the upward growth slows, energy now redirects to the bulbous tip which swells in gestation. At the apex, the slit of an opening as the swollen labia-sepals begin their separation, parting unhurriedly to birth the blood-red blossom.

Some day soon, I will emerge from this darkness. Not yet. For now, I wait in expectation, listening, trusting, in the angelic Gloria.

Originally posted Jan, 2022.

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