A few years ago, I saw someone demonstrate how young girls (and boys) could understand what boundaries – physical, emotional and sexual – looked like. They took their arms and made a canoe which reached from the point their hands could touch out front, around and behind them. It created a canoe shape in which they sat right in the middle. I’ve never forgotten this, and I wish I’d learned this earlier. I’ve never found a more effective way to imagine around myself a space in which I healthily and sanely situate myself, safe from those I don’t wish to share myself with, or whom try to cross my boundaries. I can share my canoe with others if I choose, but in my canoe, what I say goes. It’s a no shame, no guilt, no violation space, and I maintain it carefully.
Sometimes my canoe is as big as the physical space I inhabit – my house, car, group, shop for example. Sometimes it’s skin thin. Sometimes i step out and into someone’s else’s, or they into mine. But canoes are my standard and I don’t break that standard. Nobody and nothing gets into my canoe unless I will it to be so, and I do not apologize for it. It’s a place of safety, security, well being, and it is mine to police and share as I see fit.
Christmas is a time when women especially are expected to load a heap of shit into their canoes. We get out of our guilt free zone and walk around surrounded by pressure to spend, buy and bring people together for the sake of some invented holiday where everyone is supposed to feel happy and connected. We are supposed to allow people we would never let near us any other time to disregard our canoe. We also feel it’s okay to pile up our own feelings of loneliness, lack, guilt, shame, pain and circumstance on others because we feel them so intensely this time of year. We get out of our canoe and look around and feel others are more, have more, do more, get more, and rather than dealing with it, or seeing things as they are, we begin to try and get in others canoes and get them to deal with it for us. But none of this shit is real.
Nobody has less shit to deal with. We all have ours, and it’s all magnified, triggered and exacerbated at times like these. We all hurt for the ones lost or absent, we all feel shame for things unsaid, we all wish those ties could be mended or smoothed or healed right now, even if just for a time. Yes, some have nothing and no one at Christmas, and our time to think of them is all year round, not just now. And our time to ask for help and support in our own loneliness and isolation is not just now, but all year round as well.
Just because Christmas looms, our triggers are not others emergencies. The toxic actions of family members or friends are not our job to accommodate just because a teeny baby was born two thousand years ago and religious people decided that was December 25th and a Coke commercial stole a European tradition introducing a fat white man who visits little kids at night to bestow on them the result of our over extended credit cards.
Argh, I’m getting back in my canoe.
Things are about to get crazy around here. There will be pressure, and spending, and traffic, and no parking spots, and expensive seafood, and family coming, or family absent, and unanswered phone calls, and long working hours, and unreasonable expectations, and reasonable expectations unmet.
Darling, take my advice. Don’t be tempted to get out of your canoe. Don’t expect to be rescued when you do. Deal with your shit. Stay firmly put and don’t get out to rescue anyone else. Women especially are expected to lower their boundaries, forgive the unforgivable, counsel everyone else’s pain, overfeed the already satiated, and comfort the comfortable, at this time of year. Get in your fucking canoe and push off the pier. Wave sweetly at them as they watch confused from the shore. Let them find their own canoe and paddle where their own thoughts and troubles will be their work, not yours. Don’t try to heal people or conflict or the wrongness that’s comes with facilitating peace between people who ought not be in proximity any other time with your time, money or energy. It’s time for a canoe journey, sweetheart. It will be time to return probably about February.