Evenings around the woodstove at my parents’ house this holiday week have been accompanied by an electronic soundtrack of arbitrary phrases voiced in four languages – Polish, French, Spanish, Russian – punctuated by happy pings of reward and more occasional buzzings of error. My sister, amused, last night: “Am I the only person here who owns earphones?” My children and I are on a month-long Polish streak on Duolingo, me finally determined to teach them my first language after years of feeling tongue-tied trying to translate the English that colonized my brain more than 35 years ago. My dad and sisters, on hearing our lessons, each dive in too, and now we are all daily practicing every language that we know in this new and addictive format. I don’t know how much Polish my children will take away, but there are other truths they are starting to glean: that we must take care in our communication, but also take risks; that the way we construct our language shapes the way we construct our world; that some things, important things, will never be translated.
From 100 Words: The Beauty of Brevity. Word prompt: Spanish. Day 96 of 100.
I’ve tried out various things with this daily writing practice over the past three months. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve challenged and entertained myself by finding my brief story within the day’s events. It has been surprisingly easy to find the connection points. As times goes on, however, I am increasingly lax with the word count.
Long-legged, four-footed mammals usually move in a direct register walk or trot, hind feet stepping perfectly in the tracks left by the front, imprinting a long, almost straight line that thrills me every time I see it, especially on a wide expanse of clean snow. I’ve learned that it’s important to respect the tracks of animals, that these hold a piece of their spirit, and sometimes, if we’re trailing close behind, a little of their living warmth. I love finding squirrel, raccoon and pigeon tracks in city sidewalks, set in concrete: a gift, a reminder of what can’t be tamed. My younger son and I, rushing somewhere the other day, step directly in a patched square of sidewalk, still setting, leaving our boot prints firmly behind. The next day snow covers our tracks, but I know we’ll encounter them again in spring: I somewhat embarrassed by our carelessness, he beyond thrilled to be thus memorialized.
From 100 Words: The Beauty of Brevity. Word prompt: register.
This afternoon I spent hours wrestling with 400-pound fishing line in front of the wood-stove at my parents’ house, finishing off the first pair of snowshoes I’ve ever woven. Many times as the line buckles and tangles and my fingers cramp I swear that it will certainly be the last. But at no point do I either scream or throw the snowshoes across the room, for which feat of self-possession I mentally pat myself on the back, both hands otherwise engaged. I weave in and clip off the last ends as the sun dips down behind the trees; I am determined to get out before dark. I loop the perimeter of my parents’ small property, snow powdery as icing sugar, gold light angling over the tall cedars, waxing gibbous moon hanging high overhead. It’s hard to move backward in snowshoes; they are a forward-looking means of locomotion, one foot sliding past the other, awkward and graceful both. Like small rafts floating through the snow, silently skimming the skin of it, they drift me ever towards the future, lightly.
From 100 Words: The Beauty of Brevity. Word prompt: backward. Day 93.
This morning we made more maps for our calendar, which late in the day was re-themed. More play with watercolour, ink, pen, pencil crayons. More strange geographical features labeled. “How do you spell ‘serpents’”? So many details to finish. Twelve is a detailed age, perhaps, but he’s always been a perfectionist. Nine on the other hand, apart from occasional wild bursts of tears, is convinced that most things he does are brilliant. Children are not born a blank slate. I drop them off with grandparents, take an out-of-the-way subway ride to fulfill a complicated arrangement with a car pick-up. For other complicated reasons, the car is not there. I pick up a tourtiere for dinner instead, decide that a brisk walk makes up for my annoyance, rush home to paint my one contribution to finish off our joint project, which I insist will be for March, my birthday month. The house smells like fir tree, beeswax candles, paints, and Sharpies. The shortest day, the longest night. Today, once it has passed, will never come again.
From 100 Words: The Beauty of Brevity. Word prompt: once-in-a-lifetime. From the day of the Winter Solstice, Day 87.
Drawing, I have learned, is primarily a form of focused attention, a meditation integrating the eye and the hand. Writing is also attention: the careful observation of the nooks and crannies of inner and outer landscapes. Recently, taking time for yoga most days of the week allows me to devote attention to each part of my body and discover what it needs. Attention, I think, is love in its simplest form. What I pay attention to, what I let myself see and listen to and feel, is where I will direct my love and my energy. When I say to friends, long-term love requires work, I don’t mean that it should be a constant struggle. I mean that love is like a plant that will always need water; that like a hearth-fire, it requires regular tending. But with a lifetime of trust it is also true that sometimes the fire can burn down to its coals and still be set ablaze again by a few deep sustained breaths; that plants with deep roots can soak up rain after periods of drought; that it is possible – sometimes or often – to forgive each other’s mistakes.
From 100 Words: The Beauty of Brevity. Word prompt: drawing.
He was in his sixties when he was hospitalized with lung cancer, but adamant that he was too old for surgery. “I don’t want to die under the knife.” His words were tossed heavily between my mother and grandmother, and sunk down deep in my small psyche, filed under “how to boldly meet death as it approaches”. I was six and we were leaving to join my father in Canada. I imagine my grandmother alone two months later, hope that she found some consolation in observing the customary rituals, in her daily visits to bring flowers and candles to his grave. Her gravestone was ready next to his, carved and waiting only for an end-date. They expected life to be hard, death to come when God called them; peace and comfort were surprising, like unexpected gifts.
From 100 Words: The Beauty of Brevity. Word prompt: surgery.
I told my kids the other day: “I should have had one more son. Then he could be the good youngest brother, who inherits everything, and you could be the two wicked older brothers who torment him until he leaves on his quest.” In fairy tales, there must be three or seven siblings, although only the youngest one counts. Fairy tales seem to prefer prime numbers. My younger son points out that two is also a prime number, and so perhaps it is magical enough, despite being prosaically even. We decide that two is perfect for our family. I tell them that after some thought, I have also decided that neither of them has to be all good or all wicked. They can both be regular mixed-up complex humans, sometimes tormented and sometimes tormenting, sometimes leaving and sometimes left behind.
From 100 Words: The Beauty of Brevity. Word prompt: three.
This afternoon I sit by a fire in a Toronto ravine, drinking hot apple cider and watching red-tailed hawks soar overhead, talking with two dear friends. Our children roam the valley with the outdoor program that has been part of each of our lives since our kids were tiny. The trees around us are bare now, the creek low, November’s bold deer once again slipped under cover. The last few weeks we’ve circled up to sing at day’s end under the fiery pinks and oranges of the setting sun, last week with a nearly-full moon rising opposite. The kids return laughing, muddy, with stories of animal sightings, games, adventures, gratitude. I treasure these unhurried afternoons, these slow friendships. Each year there are changes in our lives, departures, losses of one kind or another. Community is a more porous, more fluid organism than I could have known. But it is a resilient one too, I am slowly and most gratefully learning, once I open the doors wide and let it breathe.
From 100 Words: The Beauty of Brevity. Word prompt: hurry.
There is a truth that comes out at night that shakes me awake, looks me in the eye when I try to look away. I used to hide my face from it, try whatever method I could find to sleep when I was supposed to. I fought nightly with insomnia for years and lost. When my children were tiny, I learned to engage with the torment of their constant wakings by being staunchly present to whatever the night might bring. This kept me kind to my children and to myself, although many mornings I would stumble downstairs in stupefied exhaustion and weep. Motherhood taught me the courtship of night, the slow and patient welcoming of its stark wisdom. Now when night speaks to me, I stay awake and listen. I am astounded by the secrets it whispers in my ear.
From 100 Words: The Beauty of Brevity. Word prompt: nocturnal.