Category: Reading

Stillness Like a Voice

**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.

A Good Book

I mentioned this book in my last post; and finished it yesterday in what amounts, in my current life, to a marathon of uninterrupted reading, which in my pre-kids life would have added up to a walk across the parking lot. I used to read non-stop, everything and anything, and devoured multiple books each week; and will again when interruptions slow and cease. This is just a sweet taste of times to come. And what a book. The kids had listened to half a chapter on Saturday, and were bounding around impatiently as I ate up the last few pages, so I summed up the ending and then read them the final paragraph. Apple-Apple had tears in her eyes, as did I, though I hesitate to give anything away by summarizing what you might want to go and experience for yourself. Those final few sentences are so full of longing and loss, of the grief of separation, and tell of the ways we work so hard to keep ourselves sane and normal, our interior and exterior “housekeeping,” the order we invent communally and individually to protect ourselves from the wild uncontrollable arbitrary and mysterious forces that surround us, that will ultimately claim us, too.

The best part, for me, was talking with the children afterwards about these two sisters, who lived two such different lives, one transient and lost to the “ordinary” world, the other cleaving to it. Which sister would you rather be? I asked them, and Apple-Apple and Albus knew immediately they’d rather live the life of the ordinary sister, who likely grew to marry and have children and a house. But then Apple-Apple pushed her thinking further. She observed that if she were reading a book about someone, she’d rather it be about someone like the sister whose life was sadder and unusual. In essence, she understood the nature of fiction-writing/reading: that we end up writing/reading lives we wouldn’t want to live, in order to illuminate the lives we do.

Can I give you the final sentence? I don’t know whether it will have as much meaning out of context, but it’s so beautiful, it called out (to me) to be experienced again and again: “No one watching this woman smear her initials in the steam on her water glass with her first finger, or slip cellophane packets of oyster crackers into her handbag for the sea gulls, could know how her thoughts are thronged by our absence, or know how she does not watch, does not listen, does not wait, does not hope, and always for me and Silvie.” The power is in that final rhythmic chant-like repetition of phrases that in denying, finally, uphold. And always.

I am now left with that empty, lost feeling after finishing a truly extraordinary book. Hard to know where to go next. But it’s redeemed the novel for me, as a form to seek out and enjoy.

A Day Among Days

Too too late, but feel like recording a few of today’s really lovely moments. I was home alone with the kids, which is an odd way to spend a Saturday, and the day proceeded like all the days of this summer holiday will, if I’m a blessed and fortunate woman.

The backyard was where we spent all morning. Hammocks. I brought out a mid-morning snack of lemonade and popcorn, ran inside for something else, and when I came back out again, CJ had climbed himself into one of the lawn chairs with his sippy cup. At one point, three of the kids loaded themselves into the wagon and Apple-Apple pulled them around to their “house” (where I was the grandma, Fooey informed me). After lunch, CJ went down for his nap and I introduced the concept of The Siesta (they weren’t keen unless it involved “screen time,” a term I don’t recall ever using myself). Thanks for the siesta idea, Janis; this is going into my summer routine. I dozed and the kids played games, not of the video variety (“you’re the meanest mommy ever”): Bananagrams, Jr. Boggle, Rush Hour, Snakes and Ladders. Siesta hour ended with a book on the couch (a grownup book with no pictures); the sight of Mama prone and absorbed filled everyone with resentment, so on impulse I began reading it out to them. I’m reading Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, which is brilliant, dreamy, dense, complex, elliptical, with occasional terse dialogue, ie. not what one would imagine holding a child’s interest … but it did. All three gathered around in almost absolute silence to hear these quite astonishing words read aloud. The book was even better consumed in this way (though I don’t plan to torment Kevin by practicing this regularly before bedtime).

Quickly, before CJ woke, we made pizza dough, though I wasn’t as patient as I should have been with Fooey’s interminable stirring. I know other parents are better at this; I could be better, should be better. Lordy. I just wanted the darn dough stirred. Apple-Apple kneaded. She’s got a career as a baker (a baker, farmer, teacher, mother, dancer, writer, artist, I believe the current plan is). Beautiful dough, like silk. We left it to rise and headed out to the little park where we actually lay in the grass for awhile and made pictures out of clouds. Every cloud was a pirate device or weapon in Albus’s eyes. I will not let this trouble me. Nor was I troubled by the body part jokes that wended their way throughout our day. SIGH. When do these topics stop being so Highlarious? What was that? Never?? Darn, ’cause I seem to have outgrown them.

After supper, CJ discovered his own ears. He loves other people’s facial features and is thrilled to have them pointed out on himself, but this is the first he understood that he has two ears. Two of them! He pulled the tops out and perpendicular to his head, and with a huge grin of pure delighted discovery he ran through the obstacle course that is our living-room floor, ears in hands, to show his Daddy, home from work.

A brilliant moment in a solid, good day.

Sunday Morning

Re above: our living-room, Sunday morning, post-breakfast, while Albus and parents plan for his upcoming birthday party in the kitchen. Musical track in the background: Christmas music. (Nooooooo!!!!). Of course, this scene has since dissolved, is dissolving as I type, with the addition of Albus as Santa Claus. Apple-Apple is sitting on Albus, Fooey has just come to report rather urgently.

Literacy Rocks

Reading has transformed our mornings and evenings. The two eldest children have graduated to chapter books, and are utterly drawn to the written word. Apple-Apple and Albus both read in bed, and it’s meant we can tuck them in earlier, while letting them stay up a bit later. And in the morning, Albus gets up early and snuggles in a blanket on the kitchen floor … with a book. (I should add that the kitchen floor is heated, and it’s his favourite place to read). The difference between an hour spent devouring a book, and an hour spent sedated before the television is quite remarkable. Television, while temporarily diverting, inevitably leads to “TV Brain,” as we call it: you know what I mean–that irritable, bored, restless state of mind and being. The kids raise their eyes from a book wanting to talk and share and describe.
That said, Fooey does watch television most every day, because I rely on that “quiet time.” But both Albus and Apple-Apple seem bored by it, and it is never be their first choice for an activity.

Scoops Aren’t My Forte

Here’s something I’ve never done before: blogged while watching an event live on my computer. I’m sitting here in our disastrously toy-littered living-room, kids in bed, Kevin at hockey, watching the 2008 Giller Awards unfold live online, computer perched on the piano bench. The Giller is just about as exciting as a literary event gets anywhere–in Canada, certainly nothing comes close to topping it. Though in my younger, more Communist days, I held a smallish disdain for the wine-and-dine-them-with gala-glamour of the Giller; the medicinal, humbler, early morning non-dramatic announcement of the Governor General’s Awards seemed somehow better. Or better-for-you. I had a Pilgrim’s Progress streak back then.

Well, all proletariat disdain is gone. What a wonderful, generous gift to the Canadian literary world: of course these hard-working, creative, utterly underpaid people should get one evening to shine and dine and wine. Who cares if it’s illusory. And never mind that the nature of all prizes is to eliminate a whole passel of potential worthies; though that’s sad. Let’s just say that those chosen are the most fortunate of the fortunate and leave it at that.

Okay, if I type the winner’s name, then press “publish post” will I scoop the Canadian Press?? Heh.

Joseph Boyden.

There we go. He’s telling his mother not to cry, but of course she is. Wish I could remember the name of his book … Through Black Spruce, maybe? I read his first, very fine book, Three Day Road, and this one features some of the same characters. I think. I’m not proving very useful in the fact-checking department, which is ironic, because once upon a time that was how I earned a living. Fact checker.

And, no, I did not press “publish,” but instead watched the speech. So much for this bit of reportage. Were filing a coherent piece on tight deadline my actual job, I would not have an actual job.

Back to the living-room. Bedtime. Will take to the comfort of my humidifier-enhanced sleeping chamber last year’s Giller prize winner: Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay. And enjoy. Or maybe not. Did I just dare to write in my very last post, mere hours ago, that baby CJ is sleeping well these days? I knew that was tempting fate. Sigh. He’s howling upstairs, after being put down less than an hour ago. Here I go, off to said chamber, not to read after all …

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