Yesterday, I drove my eldest to camp and dropped him off. The weather was sunny and hot. The car’s thermometer said it was 30 degrees outside. But as we came closer to our destination, a wall of grey cloud rose up on the horizon. Rain could be seen falling in sheets from a distance, lightning flashing occasionally. Albus took it in good humour—it always storms when he’s at camp. He had to go for cover during a severe tornado warning, several years ago.
We carried his gear to the dining hall along with everyone else who was arriving, and it soon started to thunder and lightning, and rain. After a brief introduction, the kids began gathering into their cabin groups, and the parents were sent on their way. I had brought an umbrella, and walked to the car in heavy rain, feeling chuffed with myself for being so prepared. But the air was cool, and I felt almost chilly in my t-shirt and knee-length leggings. When I started the car, I saw the thermometer now read 17 degrees.
I turned on the radio and found CBC as I left the camp grounds and headed east on the small country road, then south on the slightly larger country highway (Grey County 10) that cuts down to Clifford, through Hanover and Neustadt. But I didn’t get very far. Eleanor Wachtel was engaging three writers in a conversation on George Eliot’s Middlemarch, which kept my mind occupied, even as I watched the ominous shelf of heavy cloud to the west, which seemed to be blowing my way. I accelerated to pass several cars, because I had the impression that I could somehow outrace the storm. I was in a strip of clear sky overhead, no rain, no wind, as I drove down the strip of paved road between vast stretches of fields, punctuated by little clumps of thickly treed areas, a few houses, fences, barns, but mostly fields and trees.
I crossed Highway 21, which goes to Southampton, and Lake Huron. I remember glancing to my right, again, to assess the location of the cloud, still thinking I could outrace it, if only I could get past this slow-moving trailer-home in front of me. Only a few hundred feet out the passenger window, I glimpsed a stream in amongst trees, the whole of the scene stirred into a whirl, as if it were being thrashed by an invisible force. I can see it right now in my mind’s eye: a grey force, rattling the leaves and branches, bending the trees, stirring the water, within a rapidly descending fog. It’s that near to me, I thought. I’ve got less than a minute and it will be here. And then it struck the tiny car full-force, a powerful wind, heavy rain. My windshield wipers couldn’t keep up. I kept driving like an automaton, not sure what else to do, following the trailer-home. We crossed a small bridge that took us between a thick patch of trees planted close to the road, and I could see debris flying, and the car was struck with a branch, the treetops were whirling, and I knew, suddenly, that this was very dangerous weather. But what could I do?
I must stop somewhere with less trees, I thought. The trailer-home pulled into the gravel at the side of the road, and other cars coming from the opposite direction were doing the same, so I pulled over too, coming to stop in an area with a few trees far enough from the road that I didn’t think they could fall on me. I didn’t even notice the power lines overhead. On the radio, making it all the much worse, a siren began sounding, interrupting the voices of the women talking about George Eliot, and an automated voice informed me that the area in which I was driving was under a tornado watch or warning, and that I was being advised to take shelter immediately.
Take shelter? Where? I’m sitting with the car still in drive, my foot on the brake pedal, my body shaking uncontrollably, asking the automated voice where exactly would it advise me to take cover? My new car felt approximately as substantial as a tin can. At moments, the blasts of wind seemed to lift it almost off the ground. I imagined it spinning through the air like a blown piece of trash. I realized that there was no point in keeping the car in drive, and that my muscles must relax in order to stop shaking. I geared into park, and remembered that I had a cellphone.
I began texting Kevin. No response. Here is my series of (completely over-the-top hysterical) texts to him:
I’m in tornado.
Can’t find hazards
Should I leave car and get down in ditch?
How big is storm?please help if you can
The reason I considered abandoning the car and getting down in the ditch was because only a couple of days ago I heard a news report about a massive tornado in western Canada that ravaged an area for hours, and two teens, brothers, recounted how they abandoned the pickup they’d been driving and lay flat in a ditch waiting for the storm to pass—should I do the same? Is this what one does? It came to me that I possessed zero survival knowledge in this situation, and that my instinct was paralysis, essentially: to freeze and fearfully hope for the best. Hope that I wouldn’t be the unfortunate person who finds herself in exactly the wrong place at the wrong time.
But I could find the hazards! I dropped the phone on the passenger seat and opened the glove compartment to find the manual. The car is new enough that I’d not yet had occasion to use the hazards, and couldn’t have found the symbol if my life depended on it—couldn’t even remember, in my state of mind, what the symbol for hazards looked like. In the index I found the page listing: “Page 176,” I said out loud, which curiously made me feel better, and I turned to the page, and read that the hazards are conveniently located near the radio controls.
Ah. That’s it. I pressed the button and felt more in control. I’d forced myself to behave in a calm and rational manner. The storm was not abating, however, so it occurred to me to phone home. My elder daughter answered, and I freaked her out while trying to sound calm, and then Kevin came on the line. He looked up the storm on the radar. Yes, I was right in the heart of it, but it was one long narrow path running north to south, and should be by me soon. He assured me that it was nowhere near camp, which eased my mind enormously. I kept thinking of how I’d left my kid in a camp dining-hall in what was maybe a tornado.
The trailer-home pulled out. I decided to pull out too.
I stopped once more when the wind got heavy again, parked in the shelter of a driving shed with another woman in her vehicle, both of us glancing at each other but what else could we do? Then I resumed driving again. The sky was alight with flickers of lightning, almost constant. I started to think I was imagining them. The storm didn’t seem to vanish, as promised. A utility pole that had snapped in half dangled over the highway on wires. It occurred to me, as I passed it, that I shouldn’t have parked underneath the electrical lines, earlier. I listened to a call-in show on the newly-called federal election, but I was hardly listening. I was in a dream-state, really. My focus on the road, my emotions pressed down deep. I chased the storm all the way home, kilometre after kilometre of tension and rain and wind—at one point tracking west to try to escape it, only to finish in Waterloo, on the homestretch, under a torrent of hail, and thick rain.
As I drove down Bridgeport, minutes from home, the sun came out and shone in my eyes—but it was raining heavily. The contrast was comical. Then it stopped suddenly, suddenly clear. The street ahead was blocked off by emergency vehicles, so I took a detour, and finally, I was in our driveway, home. On our front steps I leaned down and picked up a piece of hail that was quickly melting, as big as a quarter. I was jelly-limbed. Kevin fed me burritos. I couldn’t stand. I couldn’t sit. When I lay down, I couldn’t rest. I felt both drained and wired all at once.
It wasn’t that I thought I was going to die—not really. But it did occur to me that this was a situation in which death would not be a completely unreasonable outcome. “Don’t let anyone publish anything I’ve been working on,” I instructed Kevin over the phone. “It’s not ready. It shouldn’t ever be published.”
“Um, okay,” he said.
I didn’t feel a need to give him last-minute instructions on child-rearing, because he knows what to do and what could I say in a ridiculously cliched phone conversation in the middle of a storm to make a worst-case scenario outcome better? But my publishing legacy—that seemed important to try to control.
Is it sad that I’m in the middle of projects that are incomplete, insufficient, unready? It isn’t that sad. I’ve published some good things, and it would be fine to leave it at that. It also isn’t sad because the potential of the incomplete and unready is good, when a person is around to fulfill it, and here I am, alive and well, sitting with earplugs in, listening to my daughter play and sing a song she’s composed on the ukulele—she’s even printed out the lyrics and chords—and I’m writing something, even if it’s only this. I’m here and I can keep working away at these ideas and projects and can hope, eventually, maybe, to finish something else I’ll be proud of, worth sharing.
When I walked through the door, safely home, I was drained of emotion. I’d spent the last two and a half hours trying to feel nothing at all—or instinctively feeling as little as possible, emotions useless in the situation, because they’d only overwhelm rational action and thought. I felt removed. The sensation was physical—that was why it felt so peculiar, so particular. It was like my eyes and ears couldn’t transmit deeper information to my brain, like there was a fog of rain between my brain and my body. My body was this blurred heavy weight that I was dragging like stone, but it was also me, I could recognize it as me. But this was a me that was blurred, heavy, indistinct. I couldn’t feel myself. And I didn’t care.
And now, let me be a little less melodramatic: passing through the storm was a minor trauma. Had I not been alone, it might not have seemed so dire, in truth.
After devouring the burritos and drinking several enormous glasses of water, I binge-watched Brooklyn Nine-Nine with AppleApple. Later, I played the ukulele in the dark, somehow recalling lyrics and chords to a vast number of Leonard Cohen songs, which made me feel 18 again—exactly 18 years old, when Leonard Cohen songs were my summer soundtrack and longing and love were fresh and his lyrics made perfect and perfectly romantic sense: “I loved you in the morning, your kisses deep and warm, your hair upon the pillow like a sleepy golden storm. Many loved before us, I know that we are not new, in city and in forest, they smiled like me and you. But let’s not talk of love or chains and things we can’t untie, your eyes are soft with sorrow, hey that’s no way to say goodbye.” (Except, I see now, in looking up the lyrics, that I’ve remembered them wrong, and the love or chains line comes in a later verse… but it is a good line, possibly the best in the song, so I’ll leave it as it is, and sing it like that, when I sing it again, in the dark.)
With apologies for the lacklustre photography; I just don’t have time to use my Nikon on this busy morning. #therefore #cameraphone
It’s Monday in Canada. I’m looking out at a postcard snowscape that makes me want to
get out my cross country skis hibernate in front of the fire for the next six months. (Let honesty reign.) The snow and its seasonal existence should not surprise me. Yet every year it does. The car needs to be scraped, the children require mittens, snow pants, boots, hats (why are at least one or two of these items per child always missing / suddenly too small / wet or dirty / lost / apparently too geeky and uncool to be suffered, and why is this discovery always made mere moments before said children need to leave for school?), and also, to continue this long run-on sentence, the dogs hate going outside and must be sternly encouraged and dressed in little sweaters, which we find adorable but I’m pretty sure they find humiliating. In short, everything takes longer. Even that sentence. I’ve yet to adjust, having yet to admit that this is actually happening, that this white stuff actually might just stick around for awhile. Deny. This is just the first stage. Don’t worry. I’ll get to Accept, even Embrace, if I can just stick it out through Wallow, Growl, Deep Abiding Desire to Stay Indoors, and Christmas.
A few things to tell you about on this Monday in Canada.
1. For local friends, two events to highlight if you’re up for getting out:
〉 A feminist film festival is coming to the Princess this week, Nov. 18-20, featuring films on a variety of important and of-the-moment subjects, including murdered and missing aboriginal women in Canada. Website and ticket info here. Spread the word.
〉 After Hours at the Waterloo Public Library, this Friday, Nov. 21, 7PM, a fundraising event for the library with food & drink, and featuring inspirational speakers, including me. Come and watch me
try to be inspirational. Event and ticket info. More word-spreading, please.
2. Some nice news this morning from my Canadian publisher, House of Anansi. Girl Runner has been selected as a Best Book of the Year (#8) and a Best Canadian Book of the Year (#3) by Amazon.ca. (But if you can slog your way through the snow to your local indie bookstore, shop there instead.)
3. Question for you, people out there reading this blog: would you be interested in buying signed and personalized copies of Girl Runner for Christmas gifts? If there seems to be interest, I’m going to figure out a way to arrange for this to happen.
Mondays. They’re all about the paperwork and administration. This is today in a nutshell: make to-do lists, clear the desk, return the library books, go to the bank, renew both drivers’ licence and health card, soak the beans, and on and on. You know? So this post, I apologize, suffers from a similar tone.
Enjoy the white stuff, of the cold deceptively fluffy variety.
London is big.
But it feels oddly familiar. Is it because I’ve been reading London for so many years?
London has a lot of new stuff built on top of old stuff. Often, it copes with its excess of history by installing a plaque so that passersby can discover that something else stood here, or that remains still exist, but under here. But even with all the new stuff, there’s still a lot of old stuff to be seen, too. Today I went to the National Portrait Gallery and stood in front of Elizabeth I and John Donne and Shakespeare and Anne Boleyn. Ben Jonson looked contemporary. Maybe it was his simple shirt and haircut. I’m trying to remember which man was wearing a pearl earring. I think it was Sir Walter Ralegh, who lived to a ripe old age, unlike the majority of people whose likenesses hang in the Tudor and Stuart rooms.
So much changes, but the human face remains the same. Compelling in its mortality, and conveyance of individual spirit.
I’ve done so much since arriving Friday morning. I shall list it all here, mostly so as not to forget.
My flight was late. Nath met me at the airport, and we took the tube directly to lunch at Two Roads (my UK publisher). They served a fabulous plum and pistachio cake from a place called Cake & Co., and I did indeed record a video after applying mascara, which may or may not have made a difference but I felt better about it. Nath and I returned by taxi to her house, and I had a power nap, and changed, and went out for a late supper with Anansi (my Canadian publisher). Nath’s husband Craig accompanied me, for which I was truly grateful, because the trains were confusing, with lines closed here and there, and it was after midnight by the time we were riding home with the tipsy crowds. I saw a few stories waiting to be written.
Yesterday, I dragged myself out of bed by 9AM. After breakfast, Nath and I walked all over the City of London, and saw the sights (along with all the other tourists). We saw St. Paul’s Cathedral, walked across the Millennium Bridge, saw the Tate but did not go in, saw the Globe, walked across the Tower Bridge, and around the Tower of London. I also registered from my reader card at the British Library and we wandered around the Treasures room. Books! Manuscripts! Scores! I was in heaven. And I get to go back again tomorrow and spend the whole day there. (Nath and I also had lunch at this ramen place. We think Waterloo needs a ramen place just like it.)
This morning I went for a run in Greenwich Park. I did not get lost and I did not get hit by a bus. And I wore shorts and a tank top. (Kevin texted to say that at home this morning it was -8 and felt like -13 with the wind chill. What is wrong with the weather???) I’m feeling oriented now and even rode the bus and tube in to lunch today by myself. I had lunch with Claire (my US publisher) and my agent Hilary, and then Hilary and I shopped for football souvenirs for our kids and husbands, after which Nath and I went to the National Portrait Gallery, which brings you right up to date.
We’re home now. Dusk is falling. The world out my window is lush and green and a bit damp.
(No photos till I’m home, but I’m taking lots. For now, text must do.)
What were we planning to accomplish together? Do you recall? Because I seem to be lost in a bit of a haze. It could be all the yoga. Or the early morning spin and weights class, at which I felt fantastic, only to crash upon returning home, following a breakfast of poached eggs on toast.
I don’t blame you for the weather; it could happen to the best of days at this time of year. If it wants to be -20 with the windchill, what can anyone say about it? “Whoever is in charge of the weather needs to know that it’s SPRING!” hollered Fooey, but she was cheered by the long-term forecast, which promises a balmy +7 with rain for Friday.
I didn’t take many photos this weekend, and they’re still on my cellphone. Maybe this is a good day to use one’s imagination. Imagine sunshine startling me just now through my office window, clouds moving across a sky that is actually blue.
On Friday night I meant to get a photo of me and Kevin playing uke and guitar (respectively) in front of the fire, with the two oldest children sitting on the couch behind us, side by side, playing Minecraft and making the occasional clever comment on the song choices. It was as close as we’ve come to a family-music evening, and I thought, optimistically, that at least the kids were getting to hear some favourite old tunes and see what fun we were having. Except Kevin got very grumpy because he couldn’t see the music (we were playing off of single printed sheets, some of them crumpled, and all with very small print); not long after that got resolved, I rapped the whole of “Rapture” by Blondie. Awkward pause, no applause. “Is that a song about eating cars?” “Why, yes, children, it’s a very serious song about eating cars, bars, and guitars. Anything that ends in -ars, really.” “Deep.” “At least it’s not about sex, like all songs nowadays.” (Note: do not say things like this to your adolescent children unless you welcome mockery.) (Also note: I say things like this all the time. Because I welcome mockery.)
Then I sang “True Colours” by Cyndi Lauper about a billion times, trying to get the chord changes right. It’s such a beautiful song, Monday. I really wanted my children to love it. Maybe I played it too many times. “Eternal Flame” by The Bangles received similar treatment, but even I started to question the lyrics after a few times through: “This used to be my favourite song!” “Really??” “When I was 13. I thought it was so romantic!” “It sounds kind of, like, creepy. ‘I watch you when you’re sleeping’? Creepy.” So, yeah, kids these days. I’m not sure I converted anyone to my favourite 80s songs, but there you have it: family music night at our house, regretfully not photographed for posterity.
I’ll end it here, Monday. You’re a busy day and I shouldn’t keep you, rambling away here like this. Things to do! Places to go! Etc.
Signing off (or is that singing off?), Carrie
We had an ice storm. These photos are from yesterday, on the way to swim girl’s morning training session.
We had actually gotten up extra early for a soccer game in Mississauga, but the coach cancelled it. I’d already chipped the car out of the ice, filled up with gas, and acquired coffee and bagels for the road when I got the message, but we were happy to turn around. Back home, I walked the dogs, a more treacherous undertaking than being on the roads.
When I stepped outside in the dark yesterday morning, the noise stopped me cold. It was dead silent except for the ominous creaking and cracking from the trees overhead, their icy branches shifting in the wind. Branches fell, big chunks of ice fell. We lost power for most of yesterday, and our guests left a bit early, gathering their belongings in a house that seemed dark and gloomy by 3pm. Electricity is nothing to sneeze at, at this time of year.
Kevin’s family joined us for the past few days. I didn’t get a lot of fabulous photos, but Kevin and I managed to whip up an excellent feast, and hardly even missed the oven. The ham went on the BBQ. The grannies went to the market and brought back pies. Also on the menu: creamed leeks, a vat of mashed potatoes, mushroom gravy, stewed cranberries, broccoli, and coleslaw.
Albus reprised his Santa role, stuffing himself with a pillow and listening to the wishes of the little ones, who decided to be elves, too.
And it wouldn’t have been Christmas without some soccer. Everyone came along to watch Albus and Kevin’s boys team scrimmage for the first time this season. The littlest fellow couldn’t wait to get on the field himself.
That pretty much catches us up. Gifts, guests, parties (a swim banquet and a solstice party), food, soccer, swimming, writing (I’ve been working on my laptop at every swim practice, and there have been lots), and, thanks to the power outage, an impromptu supper with friends in their warm house, a sleepover, and a full-on friend day today. Ahead: more of the same! (I could do without the power outages; our house was cold).
Stay safe, stay warm, stay close to your favourite people.
chance of freezing rain
More portable office sessions have followed Wednesday’s. I’m loving it. All these years of working amidst the chaos of a busy home have inured me to noise and interruption. I pop in those ear plugs, my cue to check out of wherever I happen to be, physically.
I like that my book is set in the past, and in imaginary places. I like the sense of escape I feel upon entering that other world. The work feels light or playful, maybe. When describing my schedule to someone at a party last night — working with a new editor, tight deadline over the holidays, hosting family, no oven, two sick kids — he observed, “That’s a lot of pressure on you right now.” Is it? Oh, yeah, I guess so. Funny how it feels so easy compared to the pressure that I had to manufacture all on my own last winter, when finishing an acceptable draft of this same book. It’s infinitely easier to work with a deadline, with the support of editors, with a wanted manuscript. I can’t even describe the difference. The pressure seems like a celebration, like a party to which I’m thrilled to have been invited. I feel like an actor who’s been waiting and waiting to get onstage to perform, and finally my cue has come. Let me out there! Let me at it! Let me do what I’ve come here to do.
That’s what it feels like.
And the sick kids are on meds and appear to be mending, and the lack of an oven gives me an excellent excuse (not that I should need one) to forget about whisking up the perfect Christmas from scratch. Family is here. Everyone’s helping out. I’m letting them (I have control issues in the kitchen, I’ll be the first to confess).
accidental tree decoration
Maybe I’ll look back on this holiday as the one when I let things go and came out peacefully, blissfully, perfectly fine on the other side.