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The car is crammed. The computer, skis and clothes are unquestionably hers. Then there’s the division of dishes, a gentle haggle of sentimental knickknacks, a compromise of artwork, a generosity of tools, a confident assertion of books. How do you halve a household? Half is a loose concept shaped by practicality, guilt and an eagerness to be donewithit. Some things are indivisible by default: a house, a gazebo, a garden, a dream. The trees she/they planted. The rock wall she/they built. On a blue-sky late-spring morning, she drives off beneath circling hawks, prepared to give up everything but her self.
We ought to have as many words for tears as the Inuit have for snow. Hot reluctant tears of liberation joypain sought channels down her cheeks as she headed down the unpaved hill to the highway. Trudging up from the store were Elspeth and André, the retired couple from across the lake, the morning paper a good excuse for a constitutional. Elspeth was 100 yards ahead. Community etiquette dictated stopping and rolling down the window. “Going somewhere?” she asked, eyeing the loaded car. “Back to the city…” (raised eyebrows) “I’m leaving, Elspeth.” “I wish I had your nerve,” she replied.
Family matters. A brother with a big home and bigger heart, asking few questions for now. A savvy sisterinlaw. Wisebeyondtheiryears nieces with such a gentle touch. Strong sweet nephews with helpful souls. Parents with sad eyes, pierced by tragedy but still able to feed a child, no matter how old, from their bottomless well of love and generosity. This is the bosom she flees to. The halfway house between there and… where? Not even ready to feel her wounds, let alone lick them. It will be almost a year before she tastes the floor-pacing gut-grinding limp-limbed tears of self-imposed loss.
I’m in love with him, Mom, she said. You’re in love with the
of him, answered Mom. Well, I guess I’ll find out, she replied. And what an idea he turned out to be – possibility upon possibility, promise upon promise. She created a steed in the image of her need, then rode it at a gallop for more than a year, through a spirit-soaring, soul-restoring, anything-but-boring landscape of unreality. Later, she cried blaming flaming disclaiming dream-smashed heart-stomped tears, but came to nurse her saddle sores without regret, grateful for the ride that had released her poetry and her power.
I could stay in the moment, coo over the new geranium buds, marvel at our easy laughter and sink into the pillowy froth of my chocolate-laden latte. Fuck the dishes in the sink! The sun fires up the rainbow machine and my heart twangs with schmaltzy tunes stirred by your warm hands cradling my cold ones. Woolly purple socks, bright Brandenburg Concertos and a bowlful of shiny orange clementines. Last night’s clothes still on the floor. Last night’s loving still on my mind. A bath? Sure. Eggs on toast? Absolutely. A walk? Why not. Can’t simple contentment simply be enough?
This morning, a letter to the local advice columnist, whose blunt-but-gentle wisdom I appreciate, reminded me of the remarkable ordinariness of the experience I have been mining for material lately. How sweetly humbling that the stuff of poetry is often no more than just another “you thought it would last forever, he didn’t, you’ll get over it honey” story. In the end, it’s the writing that counts, not the inspiration. On the next page, yet another article about the benefits of laughter makes me smugsmile. I've known that for ages!
The latte was really good, too, with hand-grated dark chocolate sprinkles.
Choosing between saintliness on the PCU and sanity on the stairmaster, I leaned toward the latter, then let a client force my hand, and now the light-headed bubbly glee induced by morning rainbow sunshine, clever email rants and zippy online conversations with J and D, not to mention the spinning frisbee finish to Dave Eggars’ book, has given way to heavy lids and sluggishness from too much computer and too early dark. Surprise early payment of some December invoices is the perfect antidote to creeping crankiness. And I can still get to the gym and back before the snow hits.
Spent a good chunk of yesterday evening browsing through the 100 Words site. It was a most cautionary exercise. Among the entries that made me laugh, think, feel and bow my head with humility, there was so much bitching and complaining and self-conscious self-loathing. Look at me! See how pathetic I am, and how cleverly I write about it! Makes me want to perform a cliché and drag those sorry souls through the palliative care unit, just as my great-grandmother took my mother by streetcar on a tour of the poorest part of town after she whined about being bored.
Just when she’s finally getting the hang of not thinking about him all the time, damn if M doesn’t call to report an encounter that has her frothing with outrage at having been hoodwinked out of her own perfect plan to buy into his flawed one. His talent like forgery: making it look so good, even the experts are fooled. Trying to figure out why he does this will sure-as-shit drive you crazy. I’m a shrink! she shrieks, and I don’t know what his benefit is! M is rarely this worked up. And she wasn’t even in love with him.
Procrastination becomes benign neglect grows to malignant inexcusable neglect. The white envelope wags a pointy finger of shame. I won’t put it away, needing this hairshirt reminder of my uncharacteristically irresponsible behaviour, which may bear relation to that deliberate 67 in ninth -grade English, just to see what not-so-perfect felt like. Didn’t feel good then, doesn’t feel good now. Composing an apology, I feel more guilt for not doing it in person and hope it’s not too late for restitution and redemption. I know D would forgive me, with her ethereal Buddhist smile, but that is surely not the point.
She could have changed the subject, but instead endured the soaking rain of his diatribe, wondering again why it had taken her so long to notice how cold she was, and why she hadn't realized how hard she worked to stoke the soulfire he could never admit kept him from freezing, or replenish the well of optimism from which he could never admit he drank… Of course, denial meant not having to throw on a log himself or pour in the occasional bucket of hope. It was such an effort to feed them both. No wonder she was so hungry.
How sad really, because she knew he had poetry and laughter in his soul and saw the world with a creative eye and heard the music of the trees. Heartbreakingly sensitive. Keenly intelligent. Playful, curious, funny, clever. Sentimental animal-lover. Eager to explore everything but his feelings. Politics safer than anger. Philosophy safer than shame. Burdened by guilt and inadequacy. Convinced of his unworthiness. An expert in Schadenfreude, hooked on blame and revenge. And reason. Raging at the imperfection of himself and the world. Grimly yet gleefully predicting the end of the planet as a fitting punishment for our collective stupidity.
Music from The Mission gives me permission to dissolve, awash in memories. So hard to write about this stuff, aware of the trick glasses I wear when viewing the past. Still questioning my sadness, probing for the anger, but can’t find it (yet?). Maybe that’s what happens with eupeptic types like me. We’re just not programmed to get that angry. Not that I don’t have regrets. But golly, life is full of pain and disappointment and things not working out as planned. Plus all the good stuff, of course. So why make such a big goddamn deal out of it?
Twentybelow (Canadian) and my weird compulsive neighbour is methodically attacking his driveway with a shiny aluminum scraper, one end of his striped scarf wrapped around his face, the other hanging to his knees. I can relate to his need for perfectly smooth surfaces and razor-sharp edges. But he loses me when he starts evening out the snow on the lawn. I want to open my window and yell at him to leave those wind-carved curves alone. (They remind me of the opening scenes of the Sahara in The English Patient.)
He’d probably dust the trees if he could reach.
Gotta have faith in your skills. If you really know how to drive, you can drive anywhere. Paris, New York, Shanghai. If you know your orienteering, you can head into the forest with a compass and a brain and be fairly sure to come out again with both. Embarking on this complex financial translation gives me the willies, but I know I’m just tired. In the morning, armed with my trusty Google, 18 years of experience, and an accountant’s daughter’s head full of remembered junk, I’ll skip the difficult title and dive into the body, trusting that meaning will emerge.
Wow. Two in one day. Called the chairman a stupid little coward and told R to just fuck right off. In the end, it was so easy to say. Fuck you. Kiss my ass. I ain’t listening to that shit no more. His last seething, self-indulgent, self-pitying, insufferably holier-than-thou tirade serving as last straw and providing the anger, indignation and eye-rolling I needed to click SEND. Felt fabulous and celebrated royally all evening. I still feel like a nice person. Just not gonna be nice anymore to anyone who talks to me/treats me like that.
Bowing to all my friends.
A remarkable week draws to a close. How appropriate that Mina should come today to clean. I laugh when she, the fanatic Portuguese dirt destroyer, gets upset that dust is settling almost immediately on the black altar table in the hall. All I can see is the halo of sunlight framing her head and the rainbows dancing on the walls. Choose your battles, Mina, I remind her with a grin.
Feels so good to have removed my shield and heavy armour. I’m heading off to a little liberation dinner with F, dressed only in my princess gown.
Cold? What cold?
During thunderstorms, Poco would try to crawl under the bed, but only his head and front paws would fit beneath the low-slung frame. Ludicrous as it appeared to us, the ostrich approach obviously provided him some measure of comfort. These days, with the winds of war rattling up a storm of sabres in a clatter of clichés, I find myself averting my eyes from the headlines, tuning out the hourly news and declining invitations to discuss the issues. I don’t think being in the dark makes me feel safe; I just don’t know that knowing stuff makes that much difference.
Had all kinds of ideas about what to write today, when Pippa’s email threw me onto a course of a different colour. I was going tell her I was officially letting her off the hook re: her responsibility to keep me informed about her sister, given the difficult times ahead, and then remembered how sending out those updates on my brother were so essential to the way I had processed his dying. The telling of it grounded me and kept me sane. I mean, we’re both record keepers, and who the hell am I to stop another writer from writing…
Hormones and blood and lack of sleep and so much work and too many phonecalls and a crazy to-do list and three-and-a-half more days to get it all done and running around in minus-31windchill in a salt-stained car with the lousy defroster and too much clothing and either freezing or sweating and glasses all fogged up and dropping keys and groping for the cell phone with clumsy mittened hands and all that crud the boots bring in and stepping in the invisible puddles with stocking feet and forgetting the garbage again and the divorce agreement coming in blithely by fax.
But soon it will be latte on the balcony in sweatshirts with the trains and the mountain and the ferries and the hills of Lebanon and long walks and checking what’s blooming in January and endless laughing and giggling and deeptalking and crying and jesus, already reminiscing, and movies and tv and gin rummy and scotch in the bath with cowboy hats and ohmygod I haven’t listened to this album in ages and “high-involvement cooperative overlapping” (lol) and finding the right fruit and vegetable store and warm hands and soft lips and souls sighing in harmony late into the night.
A new twist: calling and leaving messages for
, as in things not to forget upon arrival. And ordering stuff for delivery
, and feeling less like I’m visiting than going to my other home. Which doesn’t make leaving any less stressful or packing any less ridiculous (something sweet about knowing I’m taking more than I need but enjoying stuffing the suitcases anyways). My mental worrylist extends and contracts like a Slinky over the course of the day. My memory yells at me in random Owen Meany bursts. CLOTHES IN DRYER!!! STOP NEWSPAPER DELIVERY!!! CHANGE PHONE MESSAGE!!!
Two more sleeps…
Like Jewish holidays, my trips always begin the night before. It is Erev Seattle, and I love the ritual as I love dipping apples in honey and lighting the menorah and spilling wine at a Seder. My kitchen table overflows with plants. My grown-up luggage is perfectly packed and standing by the door. My final checklist is a satisfying series of crossed out items. I have sent a final reminder to my clients, backed up my computer, changed my phone message, laid out my traveling clothes, said my last goodbyes. And in the morning, it will be no more sleeps.
A day of many small waitings… for the morning to become afternoon, for stasis to become flight, for east to become west… filling the time as present becomes future becomes past and begins all over again in a series of moments unfolding, magazine pages flipping, one hundred words at thirty-five thousand feet, 454 mph still too slow, a mediocre movie precious for its 119 minutes… then at last the right key in the lock first shot and one last wait for headlights and a door slam and another key in the same lock but me on the inside this time.
She decided to let love sneak up on her this time. Not tiptoe across the carpet in stocking feet and pounce, not leap out from a dark corner… more like the dog who’s not supposed to sleep on the bed but climbs on anyway and inches along until his head is on the pillow, as though you hadn’t noticed what he was up to. You could be aware and allow it without really acknowledging it. And once he was there, you could throw an arm over him, and bury your nose in his fur and resign yourself to the pleasure.
Mary Oliver’s poems bring ice storm memories. Sodden air and icicles, a shiny grey drenching, the delicate birches bent double, trailing their fingertips on the slick-crusted snow. The road too glossy and hung with an impenetrable curtain of branches. And then, as though the reflection itself was too heavy to bear, the shattering of a million mirrors… After the first wave, which woke us from sleep and made us weep, rogue snipers continued to roam the woods, firing randomly for days, perversely putting the 100-year-old trees out of their misery. Only it was more a massacre than a mercy killing.
On a walk in late January, I am sent spinning by too early pink blossoms on damp black twigs, big-leafed bergenia showing off in every rockery and dancing down the sidewalk cracks (in a similar pink with a little more oomph), sweet white alyssum and the first blooms of yellow saxatile, erica both white and purple, something bright and yellow I believe may be calendula, Lilliputian crocuses, daffodils pushing up all over the damn place, and oh man! camellias and rhododendrons already! and Gaia help me, roses.
I don’t understand winter here, but I sure could get used to it.
Five years ago, the power was just coming back to our neck of the woods (literally) after 16 epic days. Poco ran down the road to greet the great grey trucks from OntarioHydro (oh, to be rescued by Ontario!) and I came out with my camera to record the event. My photos show the cherry pickers framed by an impossible tangle of mangled branches against a pure blue sky, and big men wearing big yellow coveralls and orange vests and big saviour smiles, standing casually and humbly on the snow-covered road, their hearts no doubt bursting with aw shucks pride.
Three nights into the freezing rain, they came to open the road. We’d been hoping for chainsaws, but instead got thundering, groaning Spielbergian monsters we could hear from half a mile away. The giant yellow beams from their headlights swooped through the ice-covered forest and wet black sky, as for some fabulous premiere performance. Opening night, indeed! We inched our way down the driveway to watch the horror show: mechanical Godzillas grabbing shrieking saplings in their jaws, cracking them in half and spitting them clumsily to the side. Seemed too high a price to pay for access to the world.
Finally figured out on today’s speedy hilly drizzly lunchtime constitutional what the big difference really is. OK sure, there are January blooms, and it’s so mild and rainy and all that, but it’s the shrubs, for god’s sake. They are mostly evergreen and incredibly fragrant. Especially in the rain. And not just the cedars and junipers, either. I don’t even know the names of most of them, but the point is, the overall look is not one of stark twigginess – it’s all green and leafy, right through winter. I sense that my horticultural vocabulary is about to get another boost.
Searching for shrub names, I came upon an article by a Minnesota garden writer just back (2002) from a convention in Seattle, which she called home to the highest level of gardening in America. So it’s not just me…
I can’t stop gawking. Did I mention the berries? Red and blue and orange. Spotted this morning: a long-leaved white-flowering vine and some violet vinca, proud rosemary standing six feet tall (why buy it in the grocery for $1.99 a package when you can snip it on the sidewalk?), primroses, pansies, pallid-panicled pampas grass… and snails stuck on bolted cabbage leaves.
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