I like to write blog posts on days when I’m feeling grounded, calm, reflective, steady.
Today is not one of those days.
I could blame it on the extra cup of coffee. But of course it’s more than that. There’s more nerve-jangling energy out there right now than I can rightly calculate. Anyone else feeling the urge to hang out a window screaming AUGHHHH at the top of your lungs?
I haven’t tried that yet.
But relief has come here and there.
I led the X Page’s writing club yesterday evening, and for that hour, I was transported via storytelling — digging into my own memories and wandering around, and listening to the stories others unearthed and returned with, each one shining and whole-seeming. The keyword we used was TREE. There were so many different trees! Lemon tree, olive tree, avocado tree, breadfruit tree, fire tree, pine tree, climbing tree, scraggly bush. Each tree took us to a different place, time, space. We were outside. We were in the tree, we were under it, we were worried, we were grieving, we were gathered with others, we were alone and triumphant.
We were transported, away from all this.
Another moment of reprieve: On Tuesday, I had a photo shoot to update my author photo. The last one was taken in 2015, and I’ve gotten so much older. I wear glasses now. I ate a lot of sourdough during the early pandemic. I don’t run as fast or as far. My children are moving away from home. I haven’t gotten dressed up for events since pre-pandemic times. Do I even have anything remotely appropriate to wear?
What is my style now? When I put on makeup, I have to take off my glasses, and everything’s a blur, and did I ever know how to put on makeup properly even back when I could see?
The above approximates my interior monologue as I prepared myself to be a subject, to have my image imprinted in time, once again.
And … it was FINE!
It was better than fine. I would go so far as to say the experience was AFFIRMING. (Props to the photographer, who had big energy, and seemed capable of firing off nothing but compliments and exuberance even as she was directing me a million times over on how to stick out my neck, lower my chin, tilt my head — no, tilt it less — there, that’s perfect, don’t move!)
By the end, I sounded like I’d gone through a particularly successful therapy session. I kept making surprised declarations, such as: “Getting older is okay!”; and other inanities that felt profound in the moment, my hair whipping around in the warm wind on what was a weirdly mild and sunny December morning.
I floated home, feeling like a star.
And now … today … on another weirdly warm December day, the wind thrashing the bare trees, the skies grey and bleak, I am anxious and restless and worrying over all that I cannot control. All that none of us can. Grasping for answers, advice, solutions, information needed to make a whole series of decisions, large and small. I want to be out in the world. Don’t we all? And we have been, and the thought of our worlds shrinking and closing back in again … well, it’s next to intolerable.
But — the answers aren’t clear, we don’t know how this ends.
What are your escape valves? What’s rescuing you right now, even just briefly?
Have you learned how to live with uncertainty? I thought that I had; but it seems there’s always more to learn.
The space across the street from our house is being turned into a park. Many of my front yard photos from the past 14 years have featured this little white house, above. That’s a demolition sign tacked onto its front porch, and a metal fence erected around it. Work began last week.
As you can see, the little white house is no more. I was out of the house on the day it came down. The children had a PD day, so I left them to their own devices and exited the scene. I biked to campus and worked like a student in a library carrel, which was blissful. I do have an office, but it’s cramped, weirdly hot, and shared with four other people. The library is infinitely preferable. Anyway, when I got home, the little white house was gone. It had been standing that morning and by late afternoon was nothing but a pile of rubble with a large machine sitting atop. I must confess I was sad to have missed the excitement. I’m the classic nosy neighbour character, observing the proceedings (any proceedings, really) out of various windows and from behind the screen of lilac bushes. In my absence, none of the children watched, apparently. They just complained about the noise. Can you imagine complaining about the noise — the noise of a house getting knocked down! — and not going out to watch? Whose children are these?
Here is the lot after it got cleaned up. A dump truck was kept very busy. A few more buildings are slated to fall before the park space is completely opened up, so I will keep you posted. Our view is changing.
To get slightly philosophical, before I go pick up my eldest from his part-time job (he bikes to get there, but I don’t like him biking home after dark), I’ve been reflecting on how much dedicated effort and organization it took to clean up the rubble across the street. From one house. With at least three expert-looking people on the site and a dump truck, a large digger machine, a porta-potty and safety fencing at their disposal. And then I think about places devastated by this season’s storms, like Puerto Rico or Houston, and I can’t wrap my head around the effort it will take to clean up and rebuild.
In other news, I’m back to coaching soccer again. Tryouts for next season are already underway (believe it or not). And I’m teaching. So writing time is precious and fleeting and jammed in, but I have to tell you, it’s happening. I’m making it happen! Last night I wrote The End on a first draft — a complete first draft! I have no perspective on its objective merits at this particular moment in time, but I feel ELATED. I truly do. All day, I felt like running around yelling and screaming the news. (But I didn’t.) (I’m so low-key. I’m only telling you guys).
In France, Girl Runner is being published under a different title next spring (March, 2016, by Gallimard): “Invisible sous la lumière.” I love the poetry of it. And I just received the cover. Look at the focus and passion in this runner’s eyes.
It reminds me of a photo of Myrtle Cook, who won gold for Canada in 1928 in the 4 x 100 metre race. The photo, below, was sent to me by Myrtle’s son, Don McGowan. She’s clearly posing for a photographer and not at the start-line of a race. Nevertheless, I’m struck by the intensity of her expression, the challenging gaze tempered by an almost-smile. I asked Don what his mother had wrapped around her right wrist (it looks like a band or bracelet of some sort) and he didn’t know, but said his mother was very superstitious, and the band might have been related to that. Any guesses?
Sunday morning soccer, Owen Sound, Ontario
The house is so quiet.
You know when you wish for something and then it arrives and you wonder why you were wishing for it? That’s what this morning feels like, and it’s a taste of the months to come, after the kids return to school: house empty during school hours, just me and the dogs, no one dashing into my office to demand/beg/complain/tattle, no need for ear plugs, no discoveries en route to the bathroom of kitchen disasters and the remains of lunch. Just me.
Interrupted by my own distractions, demands, hunger, anxieties.
This week, one child is at a friend’s cottage. Two are at overnight camp. The fourth is home, but is at a soccer camp during the day.
Here he is at supper last night, playing the part of only child without apparent effort. “I can’t see without my glasses,” he joked. He helped Kevin clean the back porch, which we are finally painting after years of neglect. He was affable, talkative, and snuggly after supper, playing a game with Kevin, brushing teeth, putting on PJs, reading a story with me.
But then it came time for bed. And suddenly the emptiness of the house struck him too. His lonely room, no sister reading by flashlight or humming her “Suzi dog songs” in the bunk overhead. Couldn’t he sleep with me? At the end of the bed? On the floor? Here, or here?
It’s kind of how I feel this morning. I can’t quite settle. After longing for alone time, I miss the mess.
I don’t know how someone so strongly inclined toward solo pursuits got so lucky as to acquire a life filled with chaos, but lucky I am. And oh how I appreciate the gift of disruption in this quiet quiet house. Kevin and I took advantage of having built-in babysitters home on Saturday, and slipped out to see Boyhood. We loved it. It’s the parents who stick with me, complicated, loving, mistaken sometimes, sometimes wise, trying even while they know they’re failing in some profound way, but that’s what we do as parents–try even while we see ourselves being clumsy, repeating mistakes. The scene that haunts me today is the mother crying in her kitchen as her son packs up his room to leave for college. “This is the saddest day of my whole life,” she says (or I remember her saying). “I knew it was coming, but I didn’t know you’d be so happy to be leaving.”
The other piece that sticks with me is how much advice the boy is given by well-meaning adults over the course of his boyhood. And how rarely that advice is what he wants or needs. Yet how compelled the adults are to offer it. Makes me want to hold my advice-giving-tongue and instead listen, ask questions, be around.
* A note on the photos: these are #unedited #cameraphone. My photo computer died last week, and until it returns to life, I am without editing options, or the ability to download pictures from my Nikon. So for the meantime, I’ve exchanged quality for spontaneity. There’s always an upside to the down.
Summer is here. And I am not, so much, here.
I keep taking photos of everywhere we go, and everything we do, but my photo computer is dying a long slow death (probably caused by the photos), making processing next to impossible. And time is of the essence. I wonder who first expressed that phrase. Time is of the essence. Could it have been Shakespeare? AppleApple and I listened to Bill Bryson’s biography of Shakespeare on our long drive this weekend. We both got a kick out of it.
She and I were in Ottawa all weekend for provincials. She won a silver medal with her relay team, and achieved personal bests in all of her swims, making for a happy time at the pool. (I watched World Cup matches on a TV hung on the wall just outside the pool deck doors, which, I won’t lie, was an awesome way to see the games — instant community.) Out of the pool, we walked to Parliament Hill, spent time with family, and I went for early morning runs along the Rideau Canal. “You should have brought your running shoes!” I said on the first evening, picturing a mother-daughter jog beside the still waters, and she said, “Mom, do you remember why we’re here? My coach said I’m not supposed to run before races!” Oh, right. Swimming. Not holidaying. I’m glad I forgot for a bit. I’m glad it felt like a holiday.
While we were away, my baby went off to camp for the first time. Two nights. And I wasn’t even there. I miss him in a way that I can’t even express so I’m trying instead to suppress. Know what I mean? “Mom, I think he’s handling this better than you are.”
School is out. It’s hot.
I need more alone time. I’m wearing ear plugs. We have a lost library book to deal with and a wrong-sized swim suit to return and swim lessons starting today. I have no idea how I will get any work done this summer; or more specifically, today, or on any day this coming week. I’m feeling slightly afraid; also overwhelmed. With everyone around it seems like there is less time to be writer-me. I can figure this out, right?
I’m on the cover of the summer edition of Quill & Quire. It may be out, in fact, but I haven’t seen it yet, I’ve only seen this, posted on Twitter by Stacey May Fowles: Wrote about the charming and insightful @carrieasnyder and Girl Runner for @quillandquire. cc @HouseofAnansihttp://instagram.com/p/pyqO1djjyz/
Kevin mopped the house while we were away. It looks incredibly clean.
He also decided we should teach the kids LIFE SKILLS this summer. How to clip your own nails. How to poach an egg. How to make a smoothie and clean the counter afterwards. Etc. Things they should probably already know, but perhaps don’t, that we expect them to know intuitively, but they just don’t. He should be in charge more often.