**written at the “new” cottage, The Treehouse, Seeley’s Bay, Ontario**
Afternoon. Too beautiful to sit indoors. Shadows of leaves, the bay water, wind, Fooey watching videos, CJ asleep, big kids and Kev trying out a round of pitch-and-putt golf. I spent yesterday and this morning reading, all in a big sustained gulp, The Girls, by Lori Lansens, a book found here in the cottage. Couldn’t resist (despite bringing along two library books, now untouched). This was not deep literary fiction, though well-crafted and appealing. Lightish. I appreciated the small, quiet observations, such as how the most extraordinary situations don’t seem bizarre while they’re happening, it’s only afterward that one has to cope with them and reflect upon them and place them, name them–not just experience them–that the reverberations are felt. The narrator wonders whether perhaps we never get over our losses. It is funny how we’ve accustomed ourselves by that phrase to believe that human beings “get over” things, as if we could ascend a loss and then descend on the other side, walk so far we couldn’t see or remember it anymore. It’s more like the effects are embedded within us. Not that we’re doomed to spend our lives sad and ruined, just that life doesn’t permit us to be the same.
Is reading a distraction, or does it pull me into a different kind of now?
I worry often that I’m not present enough. And then wonder what presence really means.
Wondering–what will make me happy, satisfied, content, or is that mining false gold even to seek such ephemerals? Wondering–what will I choose to do with my days? Is it enough to cook, clean, preserve, parent? What more, exactly, am I craving? I want to fill these days absolutely to overflowing with meaningful actions; and feel a simultaneous and contradictory pull to let my days fill themselves naturally.
I used to think that writing was a way of seeking and perhaps finding permanence; certainly it’s been for me a form of solitary meditation. I’ve begun to think, however, that it leaves something out: the body. And I wonder–is doing, experiencing, being present oddly more permanent? I think about the families I got to know through doula’ing, and how my life and theirs are, for that speck of time, embedded with each other’s–because we were present and together at a significant moment of transition and becoming. My part was small, and it wasn’t my story, but I bore witness. Bearing witness … that may be where my talents lie.
Writing is one way to bear witness: the private distillation of experiences, physical and emotional, into words. It can feel intimate, but it’s also crushingly lonely. Reading may be another way, opening oneself to a larger world, to different stories. Also solitary. The appeal of the doula experience, upon reflection, is the shared human interaction; yes, it’s a way bear witness, but in a physical, corporeal way. It happens and then it’s over. You can’t write about it afterward (I can’t, anyway, not descriptively). The fact of it happening is enough, more than enough.
Come to think of it, that’s a lot like parenting.
Okay, that handwritten scrawl of a self-indulgent text required way too much editing. Writing directly to blog is much more efficient. And I didn’t come around, at the end, to any satisfying conclusions. Sorry folks. Above, an inundation of photos. Sorry, again. Guess I really really really missed blogging.
First, news. The New Quarterly will be publishing not one but THREE new stories from this (nearly) completed collection in their upcoming fall issue. I will notify you and harass you at that time to go forth and purchase said truly lovely literary magazine. And because you are patiently accompanying me on the writing journey, here follow a few encouraging words from the editor on these stories: “I’ve read all three stories now and am excited about them, about these characters which have both complexity and mystery, and about what you are doing with the narrative structure and the language … to get at the complexity of human relationships and feelings which are seldom simple and straight-forward but more often ambivalent and contradictory. You put it so well yourself in one of the stories: She wants every moment to yield to possibility. She wants every moment to remain in motion, to admit that it is many things, all at once.”
It is lovely news indeed, both to be anticipating publication, and to hear from an editor that she is reading these stories as I have written and intended them.
Second, I feel myself coming around toward a decision (how’s that for muddling) about this coming year (by which I mean this coming school year, since that’s when the new year really starts for those of us who are parents). I am seriously entertaining the idea of babysitting another child, close in age to CJ, two days a week. That would mean I wouldn’t be doula’ing, which has given me pause; but this most recent doula experience (which I didn’t blog about) really clarified the difficulties of committing to that work at this time in my life … and more importantly at this time in my children’s lives. Look at that kid up there. He’s 14 months, active, energetic, busy, animated, bursting with New, open like a sponge to learning, and I have the opportunity to stay home and share this time with him. As I’m envisioning it right now, I will commit to two full days at home, very child-focussed; and at least one full day of writing; and one more day when I’ll exchange childcare with a friend. That will leave one day free and unscheduled. I also plan to take one night class this fall toward the eventual re-education plan.
Life will be easier and I’ll feel less muddled, less distracted, when I commit. But I take commitment pretty seriously, which is why I want to be certain, gut and heart.
Well, it was amazing.
Last night I attended, for the first time as an adult, a birth that did not involve me pushing out a baby. I volunteered as a doula, or labour-supporter, for a young couple having their first baby. Herein, a few general observations about the birth experience, all of which threaten to sound terribly cheesy, the way all big life-changing transitional events do when translated into words. But here goes …
The most ordinary space can be transformed into a holy, sacred place.
A woman’s body is an extraordinarily powerful entity, and in birth it just really knows what to do. Travelling emotionally and mentally into that place where you can allow the body to do what it needs to do can be really frightening; at the very least, there’s some resistance to letting go like that. I remember feeling that in my own births. That sensation of oh no, no, I really am not prepared to go there, do I have to go there? “There” is an extremely focussed, interior, almost animal place inside the body and mind. “There” will get you through just about anything, I think.
We really earn these babies.
How profoundly my experience of the spiritual is linked to my body, to physical reality.
Birth is this crazy intense moment in a life–the moment of parents becoming parents, of a new human life entering the world, of vulnerability, and of strength, which is parenting distilled–and which could kind of define love, really. How vulnerable it feels to love somebody the way I love my children; and yet in no other role could I feel as strong, if I’m called to be, for their sakes.
Let’s see, what else. Yes, I cried a bit at the end. I also laughed, and found myself feeling weepy at moments during the labour, overwhelmed by the amazingness of the body, by the strength this woman kept finding throughout, and by the connection to this individual yet collective human journey. It’s ordinary, and it’s extraordinary.
Will I do this again? During the labour, I couldn’t imagine NOT doing it again (doula-ing, I mean; not giving birth myself). But I’m exhausted today, and know that choosing to do this more regularly–as a job on the side? or pursuing midwifery?–will mean choosing not to do other things instead. Reflection is in order.
Writing day, but this is the first I’ve gotten to the computer this morning. Fooey had her major dental appointment this morning, so that took priority. She was fully conscious during the surgery, but on nitrous oxide (“magic nose” as the dentist calls it) and additionally on a drug that kinda makes her look and act a bit drunk. Amazingly, the dentist (Super Dentist, as I shall forevermore call him) drilled and filled three cavities, including between her two front teeth, and shaved off an additional three more cavities, all in one go. So she’s taken care of. For now. Heaven knows, we are flossing and brushing and treating juice like a rare treat these days (“Juice!!!” the kids squeal with delight when it is offered at a birthday party; the way other children might scream, “Candy!” or “Cake!”), but there are hard teeth and there are soft teeth, and it’s looking like my babies have the soft ones. Something tells me this won’t be Fooey’s last”magic nose” experience. It was quite trippy trying to imagine the experience through her eyes, lying in that chair, breathing nitrous oxide into her innocent lungs, sunglasses on, in a dental office that looks like it’s perfectly preserved from the 1960s, while Super Dentist and his assistant spoke soothingly of “pink and yellow sugar bugs” being “washed away.” (Drilled away). I was starting to see pink and yellow sugar bugs. It wasn’t a bad sensation, actually.
I’ve been meaning to blog all weekend and it’s already Monday. These were some of the topics in mind. Carrot cookies: really good. Taking four children ages three to seven to the musical theatre (Annie) for a 7pm show: surprisingly fun. Midwifery: lots of Big Thoughts. In fact, that’s where I’d like to go in today’s blog.
On Friday evening, I attended the Eby Lecture at Conrad Grebel College, which this year was given by Marlene Epp, a Mennonite historian. The place was packed out with the local Mennonite crowd. It is impossible to show up at something like this and not a) recognize 99% of the audience, b) be known by name by at least 33% whose names you do not, in turn, remember, and c) actually turn out to be related to 5% of those in attendance. (Note: All figures are wild estimates). The subject was Canadian Mennonite women who were midwives/healers. I love this kind of history, largely story-telling, using oral sources, diaries, notes. I loved how she integrated and contextualized the Mennonite story into and within the larger story of immigrant Canada. Proof that I would make a lousy historian, what jumped out at me instantly was the source of great fiction this history could make.
Some of you may know that I harbour distant fantasies about becoming a midwife myself. Likely from the moment I saw my own sister born at home (I was twelve and a half), the profession has seemed to me almost magical, and certainly powerful: guiding a woman through gestation to delivery, being present and receiving new life. It’s the only alternate career path I’ve been able to imagine for myself; yet I’m excruciatingly aware that my interest in midwifery is more idealistic than practical. It seems like the kind of profession one should feel “called” to (though that may be more of my idealism talking). Children and grandchildren of these midwives recalled holiday celebrations broken by the mother or grandmother grabbing up her brown bag and heading out on a mission of mercy. Midwives also acted, in some cases, as naturopaths, chiropractors, bone-setters, healers, and undertakers. Because, of course, tied up so closely with birth is death; at least, it was for most of human history, and still is in many places on earth. The responsibility seems vast. I feel myself torn between wanting to discover whether my own hands and mind could care for women and babies in this way; and being pretty darn sure that pursuing that course would bury my ambitions to continue writing fiction. Not to mention limit my time with these four small children I’ve produced who still need constant care.
I figure on four years of grace till CJ starts kindergarden. In some ways, it doesn’t seem like much time, yet when thinking over the changes in our lives these past four years there are almost too many to integrate and understand. We just are where we are. I like planning ahead. But I like staying flexible and open.
Four years ago, I was just about to get pregnant with our third child. Four years ago, Kevin was travelling long distances, regularly, and working for someone else’s company. Four years ago, my parents were living in the same house they’d lived in since 1991. They were still married to each other. Kevin’s dad was still alive. Four years ago, our kids had two sets of intact grandparents. Though we could hope for more kids, and hope for Kevin to change his job, we really couldn’t predict or control many of the events that occurred alongside those others. So it is. I just finished reading Elizabeth Hay’s Late Nights on Air, and there’s a line that’s stuck in my mind. (I’m paraphrasing). One character says that some people believe everything is all about timing; some people believe everything is all about luck; and she believes everything is fragile. Life is fragile.
I believe that, yes, everything is fragile, connections and relationships are fragile; in some ways. In other ways, everything is damned tenacious. Connections and relationships stick and tangle and surprise us and hold us and remain. Even if only in memory.
Life is fascinating, isn’t it? And that’s why I can’t figure out whether I want to be catching it, literally, or catching it in this other way: on the page.