I haven’t taken many photos at the museum, where I’m spending my mornings. I mean to, and then get caught up in the work and forget everything else. I’ve been commissioned to write a completely open-ended piece that will be performed in the museum a week from Sunday (by an actress, not by me).
Here is my morning routine: I walk to the museum, enter at a back door that is unlocked and propped slightly open, climb a wonky circular staircase, which I swear is going to fall off the wall any minute, and ring the bell outside an industrial metal door on the second floor. Eventually someone comes to let me in, although I usually have to knock for awhile too, and one day had to wander around the grounds until the museum director happened by. Behind the door is a large room with big windows, big tables, shelves of books, filing cabinets, several desks, mysterious bubble-wrapped items, and a workspace where today a man was framing photographs: new prints made from old film (or would it be plates?), photographs originally taken in the late 1800s. These will be part of the exhibit too, which focuses on portraiture.
I follow the director down a hallway where he unlocks another door, this time to a small storeroom that has become very familiar. Here, I sit on a step-stool and write, while looking at paintings, photographs, etchings, sketches—whatever the director brings and props before me. His gentle delight when he offers me a new portrait has become familiar too. It is an astonishing and simple way to spend several hours. I sit, I study, I look, I think, I lean closer and examine, I wonder, I write. Out of this, I hope to make something new and original.
Adolphe Felix Cals, “Portrait de Leonie-Rose Davy,” 1874.
Today, I walked through several empty rooms in the museum below, where the director has taped paper print-outs of paintings on the white walls to indicate where the real paintings will be hung. The exhibit is due to open a week from Saturday. On one wall, I saw a print-out of the portrait, above. As we stood in the empty room, the director gestured toward the woman and said, “It is you!” I have not seen the painting in person, only in the catalogue. I have not studied her face up close, nor sat with her in the storeroom. I hope there will be time before the exhibit officially opens to stand in front of her and wonder about who she was.
After I left the museum, and walked to the boulangerie to buy half a baguette for lunch, and to the fromagerie to buy some very soft cheese to eat with the baguette, I came back to my apartment and looked up an old photo I remembered taking during my 365-project (when I took a self-portrait every day for a year): our expressions are so similar, it is uncanny. What do you think?
I surrender to the mystery.
Sorry about yesterday’s long, rambling, complicated, sort-of-poem post. Note to self: don’t mistake a stream of consciousness “poem” for a blog post. I was trying to be efficient, kill two birds with one stone. I’ve got this project underway to write a poem a day, but you can see from yesterday’s example what these poems look like — journal entries, perhaps, or meditations, completely unedited and unmodified. Poured out, you might say. Which is swell for a private project, but less awesome for a public forum such as this.
Today I’m going to be efficient by telling you far less. Not sure I’ll have time to write the poem, but if I do, I won’t inflict it on you. In truth, a poem a day is aspirational at best.
I’ve got big aspirations. I love this time of year. I love the snow, the cold, the bright days. I love my new-year appetite and enthusiasm for big aspirations.
I love napping on the couch with the dogs.
The nap is my sweet reward for another aspiration: exercise five mornings a week. Early mornings. Five in a row. Not sure yet if I can hack it, but I’m going to try. Monday: spin/weights with group of friends. Tuesday: run/walk/yoga with long-time exercise friend. Wednesday: swim with daughter (!!). Thursday: run/walk with newer fast exercise friend. Friday: spin/boot camp with a couple of friends.
I’ve made it through Wednesday, peeps. (Why am I calling you peeps? Sleep deprivation, perhaps?) Swimming with my former swim-girl was pretty much bliss this morning. We swam for an hour. We shared a lane. She did her thing, I did mine. And Kevin made us a big pan of scrambled eggs when we got home.
Kids are practicing instruments. Meals are being made. Physio exercises in the living-room! Soccer skills in the basement! Reading in front of the fire!
And I’m being efficient because I’ve got writing to do. If you don’t hear from me as often here, assume the best: I’m writing something else! (And it’s probably not a poem…)
PS Physio exercises and laundry folding have been elevated to new heights by a) a subscription to Netflix, and therefore b) ten seasons of Friends available to watch on-demand. It’s the small pleasures, it really is.
Pouring my coffee this morning, I thought, this is my favourite moment of the day — the smell of the warm coffee, the anticipation of sitting down at my computer and tasting the first sip.
But then it occurred to me that my day is full of favourite moments.
Some are ritualistic in their daily repetition, such as the cup of coffee.
Others alight out of the blue, like sitting beside CJ on the stairs well after his bedtime while he tries to remember what worry he was going to ask me about, what worry is keeping him from staying in his bed and falling asleep, his face in profile to mine, fixed in thought, and it feels like I could go on looking at him forever without ever tiring of the sight of him in the late-evening half-light coming through the window. At last he says: “Why do we have to lose our baby teeth and then grow adult teeth? Why aren’t we just born with adult teeth?”
This is my favourite moment. And this. And this.
Leaping in the air to cheer my daughter who is suddenly rocketing into second place with a pure blast of speed as she comes around the bend at the end of the 800-metre race. Somehow, on the straightaway, her face turns toward mine, from the track to the stands, and it feels like our eyes lock and I can see the fatigue caused by her effort, and I am telling her that she can keep going, she can do it, and she is telling me that she already knows this, wordlessly, and the image becomes fixed in my mind in a way that feels quite permanent.
An email out of the blue from a senior editor at a major Canadian magazine, asking me to consider writing for them — goosebumps.
The light in the early morning as we approach solstice.
The scent of peonies in bloom.
Talking to a loved one, even though they’re not having a good day, knowing a loved one feels comfortable talking to me, even though they’re not having a good day.
Seeing a 4:10-kilometre split while out-running a thunder storm at soccer practice. Saying to my daughter after we’ve dashed to the car through driving rain, now I’m going to go for an under 4-minute kilometre. Just one. And she says, you can do it!
And anything seems possible.
Enjoying the peace of this photo. Or maybe it’s the pause. The moment suspended.
In a rush. Monday morning. Dog can’t decide whether she wants in or out. Need to get on bike and get to a school meeting. Still not getting enough sleep.
I’m tempted to put all of the above into hashtag form, but I don’t know why. Maybe hashtags are kind of like miniature poems? Or maybe I should just sign up on Instagram? Here’s how it would look …
#inarush #Mondaymorning #dogatdoor #biking #meeting #moretiredthansleepcancure
Just have to add a postscript. Goes like this.
#bikechainblues #argh #greasecoveredhands #foreverrushing #notquitelate
I’m collecting all these photos to illustrate blog posts that have gone unwritten.
For example, these photos are from last Thursday, when I got up early with AppleApple who was swimming, went for a lovely run (first I checked the temperature and actually said to myself, hey, -24 with the windchill, that’s not bad!, mainly because I’d been expecting -30 and you’d have to admit, by comparison, -24 sounds positively balmy). I started my run around 5:30AM and discovered that the sky was growing pink by 6:20AM. It was a beautiful morning in Canada! (Today, I was running in nearly broad daylight by 6:45AM, although it was still -24 for some reason. I run on Tuesdays with my friend Nina, and we swear that this winter’s trend has been: Tuesday will be the coldest morning of any given week.)
So last Thursday, post-run, post-shower, post-poached-eggs-for-breakfast I fetched AppleApple from swimming, and tapped out a blissfully happy status update on FB: A beautiful morning in Canada! Then I took a nap. Kevin got the little kids up to their friends’ house before walking to his office. The older two were both home, one sick, and the other taking a “mental health” day (which we all need, on occasion). I was woken from my nap by the sound of wind striking the house. It was that loud, that dramatic. I opened my eyes to a scene of winter obliteration outside the window, and saw the time: 8:57AM. Exactly when my two little kids would be walking to school with their friends. So much for the beautiful winter morning in Canada! My initial instinct was to hop in the truck to try to “rescue” the children, but after I’d texted Kevin and the parents of the walking friends, I downgraded my response to “anxious pacing.” It was clear that driving in such conditions would help no one. (In fact, the shockingly sudden snow squalls caused enormous pile-ups during the morning’s commute.) The squall blew itself out in less than 15 minutes.
less than an hour and a half separate these photos from those above
That afternoon, Fooey reported that they were nearly at school when the snow blast arrived — “I couldn’t even see J, who was right in front of me!”
“Was it kind of exciting? Like an adventure?” I asked, hopefully.
“No. It was cold. It wasn’t fun.”
Right. Hello, realism. Well, at least no one was scared or lost or sad, from the sounds of it. Tough little Canadian kids we’ve got.
On Friday, I met Kevin for lunch and I splurged, which is not a word that I usually associate with my purchasing actions (I hate shopping, as a rule). I bought x-country skis, boots, bindings, poles, plus vastly reduced snow pants (everything was on sale, which helped me to justify the decadence). And then on Saturday I went skiing while Kev took the kids sledding. I went out again yesterday morning with a friend. It was -27 for some reason. It was also stunningly beautiful.
I used to hibernate during winter and get pretty blue. A few years ago, I discovered that running was an all-season activity, given the right clothing. Winter improved immensely when I started getting outside in it. But there are times, as when slogging up a slushy street struggling to find footing, when one thinks to oneself: I’m trying my best, but let’s be frank — this sucks. When will this damn stuff melt so I can really run again? Truth is, I’ve never embraced winter sports; I’ve never, up until last Friday, invested in any equipment that would deliberately draw me out into the snow, that would induce me to think, even faintly, hey, I hope this snow lasts awhile longer because I’d really love to go out skiing again soon! That is a whole new level of winter acceptance right there.
The fireplace in the living-room doesn’t hurt either.
I’m 39 years old and I’ve spent the better part of my life in this country. I think I’m finally starting to feel like a real Canadian.
Some days I don’t have so much to say. Some days I’m teeming with ideas. Today is the former. I find myself a bit dazed and distant, wandering my treadmill (though I promised not to mention it). Maybe it was being awoken at 4:44 AM by a whining dog, and then submitting to the realization that I wasn’t fated to fall back asleep, given that my alarm was set for 5:05 AM. And the dog would not stop whining. Even after I took her outside.
I brought the dog inside. I drank a glass of water and brushed my teeth. I woke my daughter for swimming. I dressed and did yoga in the dark of the living-room. And then I went out for a run (-19C). It was a bit earlier than I usually go, and the streets seemed especially dark and empty. My eyelashes became bejewelled with droplets of ice. Cold seeped through my double and triple and quadruple layers. I ran as fast as I could, but I couldn’t run myself warm. I saw three people during my entire run, and a single vehicle passed me. The neighbourhood felt that emptied out, that silent, that blissfully asleep. And I was blissfully awake. I am a complete convert to the early morning.
The people I saw: one woman going for a walk; one woman going for a run; one man I’ve seen before (or smelled, more precisely), who walks down the middle of a particular street smoking a cigar at approximately 6:15 AM (eep!).
Before kids and jobs, as a university student, my interior clock was switched around. I did my best work after midnight, and had difficulty rising in time to make my 11 o’clock classes. Maybe waking early is just another version of that devotion to the hours when most of the world is asleep. I think that’s what I love about being awake early. I love the quiet. The illusion of solitude. The sense of being a watchful eye on the sleeping houses.
My daughter was so happy when I picked her up at the pool, maybe for the same reasons, though I don’t know for sure.
I’m not saying it’s easy to set the alarm, or that it comes naturally, even now, after several years of practice. Oddly, it’s actually not. It’s actually something that I have to remind myself, almost every single time, will be worth it. If there’s a secret to discipline, it’s this: the first step is the hardest one to take. I forget this regularly, and learn it again, regularly, very often at 5 o’clock in the morning when my resistance is low and I’m somehow willing to stagger forth. The first step is the hardest.