A Poem for Women’s History Month

File:Queen Mary's Crown.png

Wee Elizabeth Learns to Count

My father was under the impression

that girls didn’t do math

couldn’t do math

shouldn’t do math,

but very young, and in spite of my gender,

I learned that one sickly son

was greater than the sum of two daughters

brimming with their father’s temper,

that a mother with divided loyalties

could easily be separated into two parts,

that each sworn love could be added,


one cancelling out another,

that both waistlines and egos

were subject to exponential expansion,

and that when asked to account for one’s


it’s always preferable to keep the

remainder at one.

Poem: A Spot of Tea

File:Buffalo Pottery Argyle Teapot.jpgA Spot of Tea

Precisely four cups of water

luke warm

Kettle positioned in the centre of the element

set to high

Boiling only until the timer sounds

Hot the pot

Two bags in

Five more minutes on the timer

Exactitude in seemingly-random splashes of milk

in small spoons brimming with symmetrical cones of white sugar

Viscous, semi-liquid beams of honey

The fresh acid of lemon

A fan of circular biscuits


The rest of creation spins and twists

in fractal formation

A daily exercise in nihilism and chaos

But there is order to be found

in the teleology of dried leaves

and steam

warm cylinders of bone china

and terra cotta

cupped between eager palms

Cosmic nonsense set right

with careful doses of Darjeeling and Chai.


Paris On My Mind



Paris is probably a little cliche as an escape. Romantics, foodies, philosophers and history buffs alike talk about whisking themselves off to the city of light. Mention that you’re going, and everyone around you sighs dreamily and gets twinkly-eyed. That’s just what Paris means to people, at least in theory.

And I’m one of them, but for a slightly different reason. You see, my first visit to Paris inspired me to upend my life. Once upon a time, I was living somewhere I wasn’t crazy about, working bits and pieces of jobs to make ends meet, and generally sulking about being part of the rat race. I was tired, I was frustrated, and I was…stuck. I’m not ashamed to say that it was the film “Amelie” that put Paris in my head. I bought right into the cotton-candy pink images of flitting around on a moped, hearing snippets of love songs in the subway, musing about the meaning of life in sweet little cafes.

Maybe I should mention that years before, I did my thesis on Simone de Beauvoir, and no, that didn’t trigger any of this (sorry, Simone). The intellectual history of Paris just didn’t mean that much to me. The clincher was the idea that somewhere else, everyday life could include a healthy dose of whimsy. I needed the smell of croissants, the twinkle of lights on the Eiffel Tower, to be stared at by a gargoyle atop Notre Dame.

Long story short-Paris was everything I’d hoped it would be. We went for about a week, and packed in as much of the city as we could. On our first day, we sat on the edge of the fountain in the Trocadero and stuck our feet into it, like eager pilgrims who’ve reached the wellspring. We lived off lemon tarts and crusty bread. We walked, and walked, and walked, and observed how people enjoyed their meals without the distraction of electronics. Like many, many foreign suckers before us, we fell completely and utterly in love with the city.

And then we went home. And soon after, we quit our jobs. And then we moved. And then we started our own business. A complete life overhaul was all sparked by Paris. For a while, like a kid who becomes obsessed with dinosaurs after a trip to the museum, I was pretty single-minded about it. I decorated our kitchen with black and white photos of the city of light, and learned to bake Parisian treats. I watched every movie I could find that was set in Paris. I learned to wear an artfully-arranged scarf. Paris flipped a switch in my brain that wouldn’t be flipped back. It made me re-evaluate all the things I thought were important.

In the years that followed, there were two more trips to Paris, one just the two of us, and one with a preschooler who seemed to be just as enchanted as we were. The changes that came after each subsequent trip maybe weren’t as profound as the ones that followed the first one, but there was always some shift in world view, some re-evaluation of goals. Paris has become our symbol, our touchstone, our shorthand for needing something to move, to transform, to breathe.

Paris has taken up lodging in my subconscious too. I dream of it when I’m faced with major decisions or feeling stagnant. In my dreams, I mean to explore just the right little corner, to revisit something fascinating. In every dream I have of Paris, I run out of time and have to go home, or I keep walking past someplace important without realizing it. Sometimes part of the city is closed off or too crowded. Without fail, I wake to the overwhelming feeling that something has been left undone, that something has been uncovered.

It’s been about six years since I’ve been back. I’ve been lucky enough to explore all kinds of other fascinating cities around the world, but they’ve never had the same transformative effect that Paris does. Lately, I’ve started to notice drawings of the Parisian skyline on t-shirts and posters. I’m longing for roast chicken with frites and pain au chocolat. I’m feeling the need to wander through cobblestone streets, unhurried, past clever murals on the sides of buildings, to hear the lilt of chatter at the market.

I really have no idea what needs to change in my life right now, but I’m hearing the call, and with a little luck, I’ll be heeding it soon. This time around, I’ll be flying in from a place of curiosity, rather than dissatisfaction. When I come home, I won’t be quitting or uprooting anything, but I could be discovering or building. Once again, Paris has something to teach me, and I ache to learn.

“Paris is always a good idea.” Truer words were never spoken.

An Ode To Those Who Live By Their Pen (Poor Souls)

Poet Stuck In a Rut


My verse is like a greeting card,

With meter regulated,

Each verse a carefully-measured length,

All meaning strangulated.


I swear my fierce, undying love,

For better or for worse,

I pulverize my passion sweet

Into uninspired verse.


And to my rage, I grant no flair

For free-verse there’s no room.

Oh, only couplets can convey

My all-consuming doom.


The angst, the hate, the fits of joy

That burst forth from my mind

With help from lifeless, starchy odes

Conveniently left behind.



©️Amy Leask, 2020

Pretty Optimistic, For A Pessimist

Oh, 2020. So young, and yet you’ve already dumped on us heaps of human dumbassery. No, I apologize, arbitrary number on a calendar, you didn’t do this. We’ve dumped it on ourselves. It’s so tempting to throw up one’s hands and concede that while homo sapiens sapiens are persistent, loud, and creatively destructive, we’re really not that smart, or that nice. Each new year seems to bring new reasons to lose faith in human nature and our supposed intelligence. We fumble our way into misinformation, unnecessary power struggles, wanton destruction of the very things that sustain us…ugh. Throwing up in my mouth a little as I write this.

Fun facts: humans have the largest brains of any vertebrate, relative to size. Over the millennia, Mother Nature has knit us a toque of trillions of synapses. We’ve got the grey, squishy goods to write symphonies, to explore other parts of the galaxy, to craft poetry, to fawn over sunsets, to restart someone’s heart. For the love of Pete, we were smart enough to invent butter tarts. And, even on a good day, all of this is grossly overshadowed by many, many instances of people repeatedly playing a worldwide, championship game of “You’re Hitting Yourself. Stop Hitting Yourself.”

Nope. We can do better. And when I say we can do better, I’m not saying that we should do better. Of course we should, but we really are able to do better. We’re waaaaaay smarter than this. Sometimes, it’s because we underestimate ourselves, our own intelligence, just like we underestimate the incredible smarts of kids, or animals. Sometimes we get flustered at the effort it takes to act like a clever species. Sometimes we’re overwhelmed at the amount of responsibility that comes with brain power. If you know better, you should be doing better, and you kind of can’t just excuse yourself from it. Regardless of our motivations, we are not living up to our potential. Not even close.

Remember this quote?

IMG_8088John and Yoko were really onto something, and I think you could easily replace”war” with  “stupidity”, “foolishness” or “irrationality”. Even if the movie Idiocracy is slightly less than fictional, and we are, in fact, shrinking in our intellectually capacities, we still have a ways to go before we lose it entirely. For the time being at least, we are smart, and we are savvy, and we have the equipment necessary to not think like moldy kitchen sponges. It’s right there, people.

Do I think we’ll see an improvement in human behaviour in 2020, or 2011, or 2030? Probably not. You see, I’m a bit of a pessimist. It disappoints, but does not surprise me when my fellow humans make a circus act of their very worst actions. When I turn on my phone every morning, this is pretty much what I expect to see.

But there’s an optimist that lives in my head as well, and although she’s tiny, she “wears heavy boots, and is loud” (Henry Rollins).  I know what we’re like most of the time, but I also know what’s available to us, all the resources and talents we have tucked away. I’ve seen it in the kids I work with, who celebrate their sparking, overloaded minds and hammer their elders with questions. I’ve seen it in my students, who manage to find really good ideas in the midst of the heavy task of finding themselves in the world. I’ve seen it in random strangers I meet at community events, when I get a glimpse of some nugget of wisdom they’ve been hanging onto for years. I hear it in a comedian’s punchlines, on the pages of my kid’s graphic novels, in song lyrics, and in protest movements. This tiny optimist is why I bother to do what I do, both professionally and personally. She won’t stop pointing out these possibilities to me. She’s why I brace myself for the worst in people, but still squint to see what’s hiding underneath the ick.

So we still have another 11 months left this year to redeem ourselves as thinking beings, and yeah, if we don’t screw things up too badly, we’ll have a lot longer than that. Let’s not blame the year itself, or the stars, or each other. Let’s just use what we’ve been given, and think.






cardboard box

Tidying Up, In the Bleak Midwinter

Before anyone starts thinking of possible prescription meds to solve this, I’m happy to report that I’ve found an effective treatment. Last year, while immersed in the post-Christmas doldrums, I binge-watched a show on tidying up (yeah, it was that one). Then I went on Amazon, the officially supplier for cold-weather shut-ins, and had a whole whack of itty bitty boxes with dividers delivered. Then I systematically went through everything. I mean, everything. For a couple of months, I picked through every drawer, every cupboard, every closet, and toted out bag after bag of nothing in particular (and yes, I thanked it before I pitched it).

It felt really good, good enough that the fact that it was winter didn’t bother me so much. Like, good enough that this year, once the holiday hullabaloo was over, I just automatically launched into it again (holy crap, it’s amazing how extra stuff can grow back in only a year). Like, good enough that I actually look forward to the next domestic vivisection.

While I am somewhat beholden to a certain home organization guru for kicking me off on this endeavour, this post isn’t intended as a testimonial or an endorsement for any particular methodology. It’s just that, while I’m turning over proverbial rocks and dealing with everything that scurries from underneath them, I feel the need to also take stock of my reasons for doing so. I like to gut my mindset as I gut my closets.

So, into my second winter of epic tidying of the space between walls, here’s what I’ve found in the space between my ears. Being inside most of the time forces one to be alone with one’s thoughts. Yeah, I know, good Canadian girls get out and go skiing and skating and tobogganing, but…ew. For better or for worse, I spend the winter months reorganizing my ideas, my priorities, my goals. And just like the space at the back of my cupboards, sometimes it ain’t pretty. Type A extroverts like me tend to let things stack up, go unnoticed, get moldy with neglect. I’m forced to ask “Why did I ever think that was a good idea?” and then I’m obliged to thank it for doing its job, stuff it into a proverbial bag, and take it away.

As is part of the process of tidying my possessions, cleaning up my mental space also necessitates that I revisit the good ideas as well. There are sparks of awesome that get hidden underneath routine and foolishness. As I dig out cute, snarky t-shirts, cartoon socks and a pair of jeans that fits like it was meant to be travelling pants, I also excavate happy thoughts, plans that might still work. It’s strange how good ideas get lost in the shuffle just as often as less-than useful ones, maybe even more often. Good ideas are sometimes hard to wear and use, and easy to put away and forget.

Do I still feel at odds with winter? Hell yes. Do I still want the apple fritters, the hot baths, and permission to nap unabated? Absolutely. But I’m finding that a stack of empty bins, some garbage bags, and a little time to take stock of the clutter both inside and outside of my head can make it easier to find contentment as I wait for spring.

On Being Canadian. And Nice.


Just like you never notice your own accent until you travel somewhere else, sometimes you don’t acknowledge your cultural identity until you’re far away from it. Last week, I went to a conference outside of Canada, and did several very Canadian things that led to me being almost blinded by my own Canadian-ness.

1. I spelled out loud with the letter Z. That’s zed, not zee. And then I apologized.

2. I had no idea what the temperature was in Fahrenheit. And then I apologized for that too.

3. When people commented on how nice, and polite, and considerate Canadians are, I got all awkward and humble and denied it. And yes, I apologized for us not being as nice as people think we are.

The first two are all in a days work when visiting our southern neighbours. I can’t help it if our alphabet is a little different, and our units of measurement vary. No biggie. The third one, in hindsight, really bugged me.

You see, I didn’t just do the “aw shucks” maneuver and thank them for their kind words. I kind of launched into a series of mini-lectures on all the ways in which we aren’t always nice. I’m not just talking about our prowess in hockey fights, or our tendency to passive aggressively poke fun at other people behind their backs, either. I got into our own recent increase in populism. I spoke of our history of oppression of indigenous people and minorities, and how current efforts to make reparations might not be doing the trick. I had intended to be cute and clever, but I think I came off as a little bitter. I made one American stare at me blankly and say “Well, you’ve burst that bubble.”

The strangest thing is, I love being Canadian. Even with our extreme weather and funny accents, I’d still rather live here than anywhere else I’ve ever been. Canadian modesty keeps me from shouting it from rooftops, but we’re really quite awesome here in the Great White North.

Maybe it was my Canadian modesty that made me tell the truth about us, instead of just smiling shyly and saying thank you. I’d like to think that part of my identity as a Canadian involves admiring our way of life without idolizing it. My love for my home country, for my fellow hosers, and love for what we’ve built together don’t stop me from keeping a critical eye open.

Maybe what others see as humility is just our Canadian sensibility that we’re not done yet. Humans have been stomping around our rugged landscapes for tens of thousands of years, and yet, we’re still figuring out how to get along with one another, how to love the land, and how to express ourselves on foreign shores. Part of being Canadian may just be the recognition that we’re not finished, not settled, still seeking. Our village (look up the origins of the name “Canada”) was built on a tacit agreement that we would forever be rebuilding and repairing it.

We are a nation of upgrades waiting to happen, a living laundry list of bug fixes and new versions waiting to be released. I may have seemed a bit of a downer when I was chatting with my new American friends, but in reality, they just happened to catch this Canadian mid-hiccup. A year before, or a year into the future, I might have had a very different list of changes to report. Make no mistake, though, there is still awesomeness to be found in the process of working on ourselves, of constantly being in the midst of a tune-up. I don’t feel like less of a Canadian for asking “What can we do better?”

So, here we are sitting on another birthday as a country (heck, even this holiday itself could use a little re-evaluation). Please join me in raising a beer, or a double-double, or a butter tart to this 9.985 square kilometer work-in-progress, and to the 37 million toque-wearing, notoriously sarcastic, Kraft Dinner-loving, overly-apologetic souls who aren’t afraid to constantly pose and re-pose the question “What is Canada, eh?”

I Made Friends With A Yeti.

My apologies for not blogging much these past few months, but I’ve been making new friends and creating new stuff. As it has a tendency to do, spring whizzed by me, and I’m scratching my head trying to figure out where time went. Okay, a bunch of time went into my newest book, and I’m completely smitten with it.

Some time ago, I uttered the words “If you met a yeti” in conversation (no idea how it came up), and the lovely lilt of that phrase got stuck in my head. The same way I wonder what animals think of humans, I wondered what a yeti might make of us, if they stumbled out of the woods and happened upon a person or two. I made a list, which turned into verse, and the very talented artist Toni Cater agreed to give our yeti friend a face and a form.

Yeti is cuddly, and sweet, and curious, and I can’t wait for people to meet him/her. I’m so proud of what we’ve accomplished in the past few months. The print book was just released, and the interactive eBook is nearing completion too.

Please give it a whirl, and enjoy the marvelous conversation that ensues. Children, like yetis, have some pretty deep thoughts about human beings.

You’ll find it on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca.



I Resolve to Find a Better Alternative to New Year’s Resolutions.

I’m not the biggest fan of Christmas (cue humbug). I’ve got nothing against the holiday, per se, but I really don’t like what we do to ourselves (and each other) in the name of all that’s holly and jolly. We shop, we make, we clean, we bake, we run around with big, nervous smiles embedded in our faces. There’s the expectation that we’ll get this holiday to be the best one yet, but when the ribbons eventually come off, we’re exhausted, and left wondering why we don’t feel all egg-noggy and cinnamon-sprinkled about the whole thing.

And then, only a week later, we make ourselves promises about the coming year. I will get my squishy, cookie dough butt to the gym and will make my muscles the consistency of fine Italian marble by Valentine’s Day. I will climb at least three rungs up the professional ladder. I will keep my new rhododendron alive at least until summer. And then I will pretend I never promised any of this stuff, lest I end up looking like a first-class dork later on.

I don’t know about you, but I work pretty hard, all year long. I’ve done my best in 2018, both at times when the universe gave me a cookie for being a swell gal, and when it flipped me the bird and said “Let’s see what you do with that.” I’m light years from achieving perfection in any one area of my life, but I’m not a slacker. Never have been, never will be. I’m not keen on the inevitable guilt trip that will come if I make resolutions, and then can’t fulfill them (and yeah, it’s gonna happen that way). So I just don’t make them anymore.

But what to do instead? I mean, just because I don’t make resolutions, it doesn’t mean I don’t want to pay respect to the year about to tap out, and welcome the one waiting to come in. Attention must still be paid. I’ve come up with a couple of alternatives, suggestions that still give a nod to the changing of the temporal guard, but that won’t make me feel like sheepish, inadequate garbage at any point next year.

First alternative: choose a personal theme song for 2019. Find a catchy little tune to play as a condolence whenever life appears to go off-book, or as a victory march when things work out. It should embody who you are, and your general goals, without being specific enough to set you up for failure. Really, it should be more about your frame of mind than about specific tasks or projects, and yeah, if you get part way through the year and find it isn’t cutting it anymore, you get to change it. Since I’m more about playlists than about single tunes, here’s my top 5 list, in no particular order:

  1. Ukulele Anthem, by Amanda Palmer
  2. What a Difference a Day Made, Jamie Cullum Version
  3. And She Was, by Talking Heads
  4. Woodstock, by Joni Mitchell
  5. Raise Your Glass, by Pink

Okay, so maybe a theme song isn’t direct enough, or it won’t work because you can’t pin it up above your desk. Fair enough. There’s also great value in a slogan or a catch phrase. Choose a quote to light your way through 2019. Use it as a mantra, or a battle cry (depending on the level of zen in a particular situation). Heck, choose a whack of them, make multiple copies on sticky notes, and plaster that business all over the place. Words pack a pleasing wallop. For myself in 2019, I’m thinking of:

“My optimism wears heavy boots, and is loud.” Henry Rollins

“I don’t have to attend every argument I’m invited to.” Dorothy Parker

“It’s not the load that breaks you down. It’s the way you carry it.” C.S. Lewis

“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” Vincent Van Gogh

“You are what you settle for.” Janis Joplin

There, now isn’t that a whole lot less intimidating than solemnly swearing to read War and Peace or single-handedly finish the bathroom reno? You can still start a new year with intention, without having to adhere to a specific checklist. You can set yourself in a general direction and enjoy the ride, take advantage of the pleasant surprises along the way, and not be too thrown off by the bumps in the road. Best of all, you can maybe come to realize that life, the universe and everything don’t unfold in one-year chunks, if they unfold at all. We are ourselves on-going projects, impossibly complicated and lovely.

Happy 2019, all. I wish you beautiful theme songs, poignant words, and a palpable lack of resolutions.


How Kids Can Help Us Rethink Philosophy

shutterstock_191437544At what point did philosophy become a luxury, rather than a necessity? We’ve never needed critical, rational thought more than we do now, and there are more reasons to embrace our inner philosopher than I can cover in a blog post. Yet it’s often a bit of a hard sell. I don’t get it.

Here’s something even more strange about our aversion to philosophy: while we moan and groan about it being too hard, or not necessary, our kids are doing it (and doing a pretty good job). Right under our collective, grown-up noses, there is philosophy going on amongst those who aren’t old enough to vote or even stay home alone. I know because I’ve seen it, and I’ve marveled at it.

How do we keep ourselves from being lapped by minors, when it comes to philosophical thought? Well, maybe we need to put on a pair of kid goggles and try seeing philosophy through their eyes. How does a child do philosophy, even before they know what it is?

For starters, children aren’t hung up on the notion that big questions belong solely to academics. They aren’t afraid to join in this very ancient, human pursuit. They don’t ask permission, and they don’t shy away from an argument. For them, asking these questions is just part of being a person. This isn’t to say that children (or anyone, really) can’t benefit from a little formal practice, a little structure, and some feedback, but kids seem to know that philosophy is still available to them, years before they’re ready for university. The fact that they’re so willing to ask us so many big questions seems to indicate that they know it’s available to the rest of us too.

To a child, philosophy doesn’t have to be written down or published. Some of us grow up and dive into the thousands of years of documented philosophy, and we find it inspiring and even life-changing. That’s all well and good, but as a child will demonstrate, there’s also philosophical content to be found in a crayon drawing, a puppet show, a discussion over an afternoon snack, a story, or an anecdote. It happens in many forms.

As little thinkers show us, the practice of asking big questions doesn’t always have to be serious. Philosophy does ask us to use reason and logic, to be objective and respectful of opposing viewpoints, and yes, philosophy does tend to take on some fairly heavy issues.  But why should this have to negate play and fun? Why shouldn’t there be humour in trying to find our place in the universe? Why shouldn’t playing with ideas be acceptable? We thrill when we see our children learning through play, including when they delight in asking big questions. Why do we deny adults the pleasure and joy of thinking big?

What’s more, children remind us that philosophy shouldn’t be a solitary practice. It can’t be. We insist that children learn to share, to be kind to one another, to cooperate, even when their ideas and those of their fellow humans don’t match. Somewhere along the line as we mature, we become unable to examine two sides of an issue without going at each other’s throats. All the lessons we learned while sharing a sandbox seem to disappear. Child philosophers teach us is that we’re in this together. Philosophy demands that we learn to talk to one another, learn from one another. There’s just too much to process, too much ground to cover for us to do it alone.

A final, and very important lesson that wee folk teach us is that the big questions asked by philosophy are applicable to real life. Talk to a child about a philosophical question, and they’ll tell you about an instance when they encountered it in their daily activities. They immediately see connections between the big questions they ask, and the way they live. That’s why they ask them in the first place. They need to talk about fairness so that they can play well in the school yard. They need to talk about beauty so that they can express themselves through art and appreciate nature. They need to know what makes a human because they have rapidly growing minds and bodies that beg to be understood. They need to understand the difference between true and false, real and imaginary, so that they can make decisions and keep themselves safe. Children see that philosophy questions are rooted in real life.

As I see it, we have two options. We could go on thinking of philosophy as an outdated practice stashed in an ivory tower somewhere, an amusing hobby, or a conversation starter at cocktail parties. We could continue to paint it as too abstract, too intellectual, too impractical. Or we could take cues from our children, and examine philosophy through a different lens. We could sharpen our minds and embolden our spirits to look difficult issues square-on, with the critical, yet curious eye of a kid. We can go back to a point in our lives when it was still cool and acceptable to see ourselves as relentless, unapologetic, and joyful, question-askers.

I’m for the latter. Who’s with me?