Vanilla: words in brief

On weekends, we took the bus to the mall across town, lingering at the Body Shop to dab vanilla oil on our wrists. We loitered in the bright glare of the food court, waiting for something we couldn’t have named, hair fluffed high, jeans pinned at the calves, smelling like fresh baking. I wore dark eyeliner and the deep matte red lipstick my grandmother had left behind, digging down to the bottom of the tube until every speck of it was gone, the colour irreplaceable. We wanted to be noticed. We wanted to be dangerous. We wanted to be sheltered. We wanted to be safe. My friend only told me her darkest childhood stories years later, when she shakily began to bring them out to the light. Back then, in the bright glare of the mall lights, we could cast no shadows.

From 100 Words: The Beauty of Brevity.  Word prompt: vanilla

Grammar: words in brief

I learned English at the age of six, slipped it on like a mermaid’s tail, dove right in over my head and never stopped swimming. I still take secret guilty delight in searching for grammar mistakes in print, those lumpy rocks that try to sneak in among the pearls. My mother, after thirty-six years in Canada, still blithely mixes up “the” and “a”, but on the eve of my wedding my nascent father-in-law commented admiringly: “Your mother is an excellent communicator.” I needed twenty more years to learn to speak the truth like she does, and perhaps I have not learned it yet. It takes more than technique and a tail to make a mermaid.

From 100 Words: The Beauty of Brevity. Word prompt: grammar


Kindred: words in brief

It’s a wild and turbulent day: rain, gusting winds, periods of sunshine, periods of shadow. There is upheaval and anxiety and confusion in the weather and so, too, in myself. We are kindred. I am wary of people lately, sometimes exhausted by them, preferring the company of books and writing, and silence, and of the elements, and the moon, and the faint hum of the city I live in, and of the life and death forces always pulsing through. I feel myself curling up, retreating, keeping open only to my heart’s rhythms within. I imagine running away. In my daydream, it’s always to the north coast of Scotland, to a small house by the sea. I see myself walking out each day in driving wind and rain, staring out at the tumultuous ocean, on the edge of the human world. Alone, but never alone.

From 100 Days: The Beauty of Brevity. Word prompt: kindred. Unlike the rest of these posts so far, this one is today’s. Lots of weather blowing through.

Nowhere: words in brief

I’m on my way to nowhere. It’s not that I’m not moving, but I keep losing the path, wandering off the trail, meandering, loitering, stopping altogether. In truth, I never knew where the trail was going, but perhaps I thought that if I walked fast enough I would reach wherever it was before it saw me coming and had a chance to disappear. Goals are like mirages, I think. They sometimes appear before me in periods of thirst, and I find myself crawling in the desert with all my strength, truly wanting to believe. Then the dreamed-of vision dissolves and I fear dissolving with it. If, instead of panicking, I stand still, I might find that I have indeed been carrying water all along, that the seeds caught on the soles of my feet have sown wild gardens all around me, that this place – nowhere – is exactly where I want to be.

From 100 Words: The Beauty of Brevity. Word prompt: “nowhere”

Infinity: words in brief

Infinity scares me, the sombre hushed voice in the planetarium intoning the incomprehensible scale of the universe, the brutal surrealism of a world that floods my night-time brain with horror and wonder and fear. Neither eternal life nor eternal death feels like a satisfying solution to the dilemma of mortality. I’ve heard that cultures where the dead play a crucial role in advising the living don’t share our fear of death. The dying know that they will continue to guide the community, that they won’t ever be out of a job. Perhaps it is a question of belonging, the fear of death as a form of exile from the human. I don’t want to lose my place in the story. I want to know what happens next and how it all ends.

From 100 Words: The Beauty of Brevity. Word prompt: “infinity.”

Comparison: words in brief

Comparisons are odious, I tell myself in the mirror, keeping the lights dim, keeping my face angled in such a way that I can pretend to remain in denial about the disappearing act my chin and jawline have been doing in recent years, so that I can ignore my drooping eyelids, so I can convince myself that my features are as symmetrical as they once were. “Can I compare with myself?” I wonder, as I peruse photographs from twenty years ago. “Greater than, less than, equal to?” I ask as I compare sets of fractions with my younger son. I am more present in myself than I was then, both stronger and softer; more grateful for life and health; more aware of everything that is beautiful and worth tending. In headstand, I can trust myself to push my feet off the wall. My balancing point is wider and more stable than I knew.

From 100 Words: The Beauty of Brevity. Word prompt: “comparison.”

Distraction: words in brief

Everything I love sometimes seems a distraction from something else I’m equally devoted to, each passion wanting all of my time, clamoring for my singular attention. Instead of following one path with focus, I climb between the spokes of a wheel, or the threads of a spider web, moving with great enthusiasm for a while in one direction, then ditching it and jumping spokes towards something else. An equally multi-passionate friend drew a diagram of this for me once. “You may not go as far on any of these paths as someone more singularly focused,” she said, “but you will keep coming back. Your path is like a spiral. And look at these connection points; look at the bridges you are building; look at the web you are weaving here.”

From 100 Words: The Beauty of Brevity. Word prompt: “distraction.” 

I’ve committed to the full 100 days of writing prompts this time around, so there will be many more very brief pieces posted her over the next few months. I plan to share a lot of them here, but I won’t repost every piece. There are some I want to hold close or put aside for a while.

Spoonful: words in brief

I dole out the world to my children in palatable spoonfuls, pacing out truths about dangers and horrors a little at a time, gauging their readiness, giving them space. They’ll need to drink the whole bitter brew at some point in their lives, I tell myself,  they’ll need to face everything ugly and cruel that humans do and have done, but not yet, not all of it yet; they can’t stomach all of it yet. Is it the very definition of privilege to be able to protect them when they’re young? Or is it my deepest parental instinct to do whatever I can to show them the beauty of the world first?

From 100 Words: The Beauty of Brevity. Word prompt: “spoonful.”

Reverse: words in brief

I failed my first driving test at sixteen, failed by hitting the gates out of the simulated parallel park, by narrowly missing a pedestrian crossing the road, by turning right on a red light just as a wave of traffic roared towards me from the left. The examiner’s indignant exhale of breath as I executed the first of these maneuvers was enough for me to know where this test was heading. The rest of the drive was tense and half-hearted, me already close to tears. After a year of tending my bruised ego, I signed up to try again. I clocked in hours of practice this time, my high-school boyfriend coaching me as I reversed into parking spots again and again. Now, years later, I am suddenly filled with gratitude for his patience.

For 100 Words: The Beauty of Brevity. Word prompt: “reverse”.


Canada: words in brief

I came to Canada at the age of six, on a LOT flight from Warsaw. I was crammed into a single stern passport photo with my mother and two sisters, the imminent birth of the younger of which had kept us grounded in Poland when my father left six months earlier. My grandmother stayed with us at the airport hotel, her crying joining that of the baby, none of us sleeping with the planes loud overhead. We said goodbye early the next morning, her only child and her only grandchildren. On the flight my sister and I ran up and down the aisles for hours, wreathed in late Soviet-era cigarette smoke, fueled by handfuls of candy from the flight crew: the darlings of the skies. We didn’t know that we could never really go back.

For 100 Words: The Beauty of Brevity.  Word prompt “Canada.”