We climbed up an alternate route, off the trail, always the way it was done, scrambling hands and knees up the muddy slope, me in the heat deciding to take off my boots. Once I took them off, I wanted one more step and then one more, and then stubbornness took over. A spring awakening of my thin skin through all those hours exposed. Over sharp rocks, cool mud, soft moss, tough roots, the prickly dried grasses of last fall emerged not so long ago from under the snow. Brushing by swathes of trillium in bloom, delicate lady’s slippers, columbine. Up to the top of Old Baldy, high up above the hawks wheeling, deer tracks nimbly preceding us out to the rocky outcrop. I climbed down to a lower ledge, held my back tight to the rock. I couldn’t remember whether vertigo was a fear of heights or a pull towards the edge, the fear that one will be lured to jump by the strange magic of earth’s gravity. Of course I imagined leaping, circling boldly with the hawks, suspended in air. I didn’t imagine the plummet.
Word prompt: plummet. Daily writing practice by email with three women across the continent. This is from the backlog.
I am a toddler in the black and white photo, blonde and chubby and bonneted, squatting on the sidewalk in front of the apartment on Ulica Faraona. Later there was grass, I am sure of it, but here the ground is covered in rubble, gravel, piles of concrete, as if remnant to some great devastation. The building across the parking lot under construction my whole short life; I imagine it like Penelope’s tapestry, woven and unwoven in secret each night, each year no closer to completion. We roamed among those stocky Soviet apartment blocks, small packs of children, freer than our parents. I remember gas at the gas station after a shortage, and the line of thirsty cars that snaked for blocks and blocks.
Brief daily writing by email with a small group of women across the continent. Today is day 33. This is from the backlog. Word prompt: ground.
The first real garment I knit for myself was a shrug. Blue, the colour of the summer sky. For some winters when my kids were small, I survived through the slow counting of stitches reeling after desperately sleepless nights. My exhaustion was anchored in the repetitive flutter of my hands, condoled by the softness of alpacas and merinos, comforted by the hypnotic alterations of variegated colour and handspun texture. It was colour that kept me sane on gray winter days, that mesmerized my brain with jewel tones and contrast and the soothing lilt of monochromes. It was enough to see beautiful things emerge under my hands. Sometimes it was more than enough.
Word prompt: shrug. Brief daily writing with a small group of women by email. Day 32 of this new format. This is from the backlog.
I look down at the ground as I stand in the circle. A small girl has drawn a spiral in the snow beside me. A few moments later, I overhear beside the fire: “Sometimes she starts to spiral out of control.” I danced a spiral dance here a few years ago in the darkness of the winter solstice, six months later for the summer solstice in the lush green of June. That feels like some other person in some other lifetime. I am still surrounded by friends here; I know I am at home. But the wild energy of that previous time, the collaboration and momentum, all of that is gone. I am stripped bare, focused inward, disciplined, cautious. It is a choice, but also a reaction, a swing of the pendulum, a spiral. It’s hard to see the other side when I am here in this tight curl of myself, hard to see the arc widening, hard to imagine that I might again expand.
From my current daily writing practice by email with three women across the continent. Word prompt: spiral.
Snow has been falling on and off for the past three days, with more coming. It muffles every sound. When I am alone at home I never turn on music. I envelop myself in silence, breathe it into my lungs, wrap it around me like a blanket. On city streets, I take in a cacophony of sounds, some jarring, some sweet. The cardinals have started staking out this year’s territories, their gliding song slipping through the frigid air on sunny winter days. House sparrows are congregating. Grey squirrels chase each other ardently from tree to tree. Spring is dipping its toes into winter. On crowded buses or on the subway, I carry silence with me, and also birdsong, and also the small tightly wound green seeds of my own opening, waiting for a place to land.
From my current daily writing practice by email with three women across the continent. Word prompt: silence.
I could stay awake for hours watching the shadow across the room. It loomed craggy and distorted, the shadow that in daytime was nothing at all. My sister, one year younger, had slipped again into the bottom bunk next to me, her face cavernous in the darkness, blocking my way out. Alert and still, I watched her intently as she slept, assessing whether she was still breathing, still human, still herself. Now, I glide at ease through my dark house, keep lights dim in the evening, crave the softness of shadow. When I wake at night, it’s the inner shadows that loom craggy and distorted, the weight of intangible loss pressing my ribs tight like a corset. In the daytime I breathe deeply: I am sane, I am happy, I am whole.
From my current daily writing practice with three women across the continent. Word prompt: shadow.
It’s a wonder that we mostly stay alive for years. All those bones, organs, vital fluids, possibilities for failure. I’m not afraid as much as I once was, years ago. I can sleep in a house alone now, but I always lock my doors and windows. I try not to drive on slippery country roads on snowy nights, though sometimes I’ve found myself doing just that, hugging the centre line until the occasional glare of opposing headlights penetrates the blinding white and I shift over carefully, just a little, to let the other car pass. I’ve always walked alone in the city after dark, quickly, emphatically: perhaps tense as a bowstring, but insistent that I stake this claim. But sometimes I hear my husband breathe beside me as he sleeps or I put my hand on my son’s small chest and feel his heart beating and wonder: how is this possible? How long will this last? And so I stay close, try not to be afraid, but stay close; try not to let any moment pass by without noticing.
From my current daily writing practice by email with three women across the continent from me. Trying to keep around 150 words. Word prompt: vulnerable
The things I track now are subtle. The blooming and fading of the frost landscape on the small window beside which I sit to write each morning daily traces for me the brittle extremes of this year’s cold winter. Each day I notice where the sun comes up: at mid-winter in the far south-east, almost past the window’s right-most frame; and now, this week, at the season’s turning-point towards spring, I see its incremental shift, heading daily slightly east again, where on mid-summer mornings it will rise dead centre, painfully blazing despite blinds tightly drawn against its radiant heat. I could have been tracking wolves and moose in the deep snow of Algonquin Park this weekend, and a few years ago –restless, searching – I would have moved every obstacle to go, and did. But now, something has changed: my insides have shifted. A week ago, I backed out. I want to be here. My attention has shifted its scale, expanded the small life around me like a magnifying glass, revealing an intricacy of patterns I am only now slowly tuning in to see.
Word prompt: subtle. From a daily brief writing practice with three women across the continent who I have never met in person, but who now show up in a very real way with the power of their words in my inbox each day. This is my week to choose the words we write to.
My younger son and I made an unspoken agreement once – when he was five or six or seven – that if one of us smiled the other would smile back. When I was angry, disgruntled, sad, he smiled, and I became his mirror. I smiled too. When he sulked or stormed, I smiled. He smiled back; first grudgingly, then widely. Now, when I kiss him, he kisses me back. It’s hard to evade reciprocity, to give him a surplus of affection, like a parent sometimes craves to do. Sometimes, I kiss him, and he kisses me twice, three times, more. Then I sneak into his room at night on tiptoe, and kiss him again, silently, gently. Like a blessing. A secret parental blessing, which as my child, he can’t return.
I’ve returned to this daily short writing practice after three long weeks of absence, now writing to word prompts by email with three other women across the continent from me. I’m also doing a looser every-week-or-so word prompt with a friend in town. This is from the latter. I’m going to keep posting these periodically under the same heading of Words in Brief. This is what grounds my days right now, this and a weekly art prompt with another friend; this and my I-finally-at-42-have-the-inner-discipline-for-it daily yoga practice; this and the increasingly full days of homeschooling my two kids.