November snow. Life moves forward and we step out to meet it.

Yesterday. Woke up to snow this morning. There’s a particular feeling that comes with it. Part nostalgia, part melancholy, part pleasure. Large white patches of clouds moving southwards across a blue sky. The maple I still see out my back window, on the block behind ours, lost a lot of leaves over the weekend. In the calm and sun of Saturday morning, I watched it rain down yellow leaves like a hand dropping gold coins onto a table. In Sunday’s wind, it gripped the gold coins harder, dropped fewer. But overnight, perhaps it relinquished its grip. Now it is half bare.

By mid-week, temperatures will be in the mid-teens again. One week at a time. There will be cold and dark days. But sometimes the cold will break.

Yesterday was a slow gray morning, then a rush to pick up a Car Share car, a rush to drive to the McMichael Gallery, then a wonderful afternoon looking at stunning art and walking on the trails. We were a little late for our timed ticket, but apart from that everything was smooth and easy and spacious. It was a treat, the first impractical visit we’ve made to a shared indoor space since March. Impractical perhaps, but good for the soul. The Christi Belcourt exhibit was gorgeous, inspiring, rich. Huge paintings of intricate patterns and colours. That sense of wonder and deep connection to the Earth and the universe.

How can I keep cultivating that? How can I keep expressing that? I need to keep making art. It may be small and simple, but it is a practice of awareness, wonder, and thanks.

This morning, I looked out the living room window and saw that the spindly maple in our front yard has lost all its leaves. It happens suddenly each fall. A week ago, even a few days ago, it was gorgeously orange. Each year I am surprised.

Later this morning, when we went out for a walk, the sidewalks were icy, as if there was a mini ice storm during the night. Rain, sudden freeze, the first fall snow. The ice makes me feel helpless, hobbled, nervous of falling. I take tiny penguin shuffling steps. I feel the shame of a child who can’t keep up, although it’s my children who have always been steady on their legs, confident and upright on slippery surfaces. I imagine the frustration if I broke an arm or leg, the inertia, the enclosure, how hard it would be to do my daily tasks. Those two broken arms in childhood made me afraid of ice. Afraid of falling from an upright position onto slippery concrete. I am attached to movement. It helps me keep my mood and energy regulated, helps me tap into the joy that runs underneath the other, more variable, emotions. But life is full of risks. Sometimes I stay oblivious to them for long periods, sometimes the risk of life rushes into me and floods me.

What is there underneath? The equanimity to keep on going. A wider perspective. Curiousity and hope. Openness to not knowing. A core of strength behind the softness of maintaining a warm welcome to the world around me. Strong back, soft front – I love that line, that instruction. It’s what I aim for. It’s how I want to live.

By late morning, the ice had melted. Life keeps on going, amidst a slow-rolling pandemic, amidst today’s nail-biting historic election south of the border. It’s been a year of mourning what we expected, but also opening to what’s present. Also thriving. Life keeps moving forward, and we step out to meet it. Sometimes with open arms. Sometimes reluctantly, but bravely. Sometimes with tiny steps, shuffling like penguins. Going back is never really an option.

Of birth and birds and the quiet of May

The quiet felt like a blessing to ease the worry and confusion of those early weeks of sheltering at home. The planes absent from the sky, the flow of traffic diminished to a trickle, people passing quietly and widely on the sidewalks. I remembered then how much I love where I live, the place itself, the neighbours all around, all the life.

We walk through Wychwood Park now most mornings. One morning we saw both hawks, one in the nest and one in a tall tree near the pines. Saw the geese, the goslings, bigger and darker than a week ago. Heard the white-throated sparrow, and another bird that sounded vaguely familiar, more from birding by ear recordings than from life. Common yellowthroat? I admired the trilliums, bloodroot, Canada mayflower, columbine, all of which were surprises when I saw them here. One day, on a late afternoon walk, an unexpected heron landed at the pond. We watched for a long time. As we were about to head home, it leaned forward, bent its legs, looked like it was about to take off, and then – bam! – it dove in and came back up with a wriggling fish. My whole family spontaneously cheered.

The blessing of quiet, the strange blessing of staying close to home, brings me back to the time around my first son’s birth. It’s the same time of year, the same warm spell followed by a cold spell after we’d already turned off the heat. I remember that first night after the birth, when my husband slept and I curled myself awkwardly around this unfamiliar creature who I was supposed to keep alive. I lay awake, even though I’d been awake labouring all the night before, even though I was exhausted. Like earlier in the day, after the birth, when my husband and the baby had slept and I got up and made phone calls instead. My body was sore and slow, the bleeding would be heavy for many more weeks, but my heart and mind were racing. I couldn’t bring my energy back down; I couldn’t settle. I couldn’t understand what was supposed to happen next. How anything could ever be normal again after the fabric of reality had torn.

The small creature beside me: translucent eyelids, curled up hands, something alive that hadn’t existed before. He didn’t cry much then, just made the oddest squeals and whimpers. His eyes blinked in slow motion. His hands were curled up tight. His mouth opened wide. Wherever I looked in those early weeks, I saw those eyes and mouth imprinted behind my eyelids. He moved and squirmed and squeaked and simply existed in the most unsettling way. A living creature that hadn’t been there before, that had been made by magic, the most amazing magic of bringing things together, of conjuring, of incubation, of waiting… waiting…

I sat in bed for days in May and June and the spring turned to summer. I moved slowly around the house, watched the big maple in the front, now gone; or sat in the back room, nursing on the borrowed love-seat, and looked out at the big maple in the back, now also gone (oh, how I miss those trees!). I felt the sweet breeze on my face and body and nursed and held and juggled and tended this creature who was suddenly the centre of everything. In those quiet days in May, as the days lengthened and warmed up again, and I tried to reweave my life in a completely new, strange, and irreversible way. We do it all the time, humans, tear the fabric of reality and then mend it again. Life changes irreversibly, and we adapt.

From an online Morning Coffee writing session with Firefly Creative Writing last week. The prompt was “The quiet felt like…”. I wrote more, but this is what I kept. I missed yesterday’s morning writing session because: birds. The beautiful distraction of birds. On my morning walk, I saw two orioles, a kingfisher, and a baby hawk, pale and fuzzy and clearly visible without binoculars (which we forgot yesterday), standing up and briefly flapping its wings at the edge of the nest. And my son, my once-tiny firstborn who is now 6′ 1″, turned fifteen last Friday.

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Belonging: words in brief

I hum with the thrill of belonging in my body as I handle my slim metal steed through the hot city streets, speed fueling my lungs and cooling my skin. I am at the head of my small flock of two, the mother goose: glancing back, calling instructions, signaling. Modeling the appropriate mix of courage and caution. I’ve crashed only twice on the road, on the same day years ago, the first time I rode across the city. No-one had warned me of the dangers of streetcar tracks. Twice my wheels caught the slippery groove on left turns and spun free, bucking me off to the pavement’s sharp burn. No cars were close enough to hit me. I limped out of the intersection, climbed painfully back on, pedaled home; it would have been a long walk. Potential collisions explode like fireworks in my brain as I navigate the streets. I push them away, stay attuned to both danger and joy. I am alive now. There is no other way.

Back to my daily email writing group after a break for most of May, aiming for another hundred day stretch. I will continue to repost here periodically, because why not? This is yesterday’s prompt, day one: belonging. 

Shadow (2): words in brief

I am noting a shadow lately on my almost-teen’s upper lip. A couple of months ago he said to me in alarm, “When I woke up this morning, my voice sounded strange. I didn’t recognize it.” I could hear it too. His singing voice has now descended into bass, like his dad’s. Every week he is taller, lankier, more like an adolescent, more like a man. I told him at dinner last night, after a conversation with two mothers of teens, “I understand why you are so tired recently. You are completely re-forming. Like a caterpillar to a butterfly.” “Oh great,” he grimaced, “I’m going to liquefy and reconstitute.” None of us look forward to changes that huge, that painful, that necessary. We hold our breath, haul in our reserves, squint skeptically at the miracle of flight promised on the other side.

From my current daily writing practice with three women across the continent. Word prompt: shadow.  The first time the same word has come up more than once. But what a versatile word it is. 

Fluent: words in brief

I studied French in school for years, but only felt truly fluent the odd occasion when I spoke it drunk. At a party sometimes; or once in my early twenties in Hungary, where in the wine-cellars of Eger’s Valley of the Beautiful Women, I conversed brilliantly for hours with a man from France. I was shy then, and often overwhelmed with anxiety in social situations. A friend with an alcoholic parent once warned me of the drastic change in my personality when drinking. She was right, and yet, instead of sinking further into the dependency, the more vibrant self that had once been tightly furled eventually learned to bloom unaided. I still drink alcohol, and sometimes it relaxes me, but it’s no longer an escape or a crutch or a way to get away with things. Sometimes to my regret.

From my current daily writing practice with three women across the continent. Word prompt: fluent. Will I ever write a regular blog post again? I’m not making any promises either way.  

 

Feverish: words in brief

Those first few days were the usual mess of blood, tears, milk. My gravid body slowly deflating, leaking and bruised. I stayed in my room, on my bed, where it all happened. Tucked the crying baby in one arm, the stunned toddler under the other; was reclaimed by the relentless cycles of sleep and waking, spun loose from clock time. By the third day I was feverish. I was swept off to the hospital, the tiny babe – an accessory, not a patient – wedged in with me on the narrow cot. Burning with heat, leaking milk, I trailed IV tubes, gown askew. My husband slept on a fold-out chair in the corner, held the baby, held us together. The toddler, hustled between grandparents, was ushered in for a visit, dazed but resolutely himself. “I am Pooh. He is Piglet,” he told us, claiming the new creature into the story, his story; so that we were complete now, we were whole.

From my current daily writing practice with three women across the continent. Word prompt: feverish.

Release: words in brief

This March day of sun and brisk wind, I am at home with a cold. I drink tea with ginger and honey, baptize the air with my sneezes, feel my head foggy and dazed. The cobwebs between windowpanes invite my contemplation. My house creaks, settles. I’ve heard soft scratching, found tiny pellets in corners; appraised the piles of books on the floor, the box of half-opened mail. It’s not the first time I’ve fallen sick when my kids are away. I used to dream of ambitious projects for these times, rarely realized. Now I am grateful for some hours of silence; for time to think without interruption, to tend no-one but myself. I’ve come to trust tears and menstruation as rituals of shedding: letting it out, letting it go. Perhaps these fluids in my head, considered wryly, are telling me the same thing: release, release. Take this day as it is. Let go of who you think you should be. Meet yourself as you are.

From my currently daily writing practice with three women across the continent. Word prompt: release.

Lair: words in brief

This has been a winter of burrowing, hiding out in my lair like a mammal in hibernation, or a wild creature tending its wounds. Digging deep into the earth of myself, I imagine myself as grounded. It’s an internal process, I admit, not visible to everyone I encounter on my daily travels. This week I read the Handless Maiden chapter in Women Who Run with the Wolves, a book that keeps coming forward to meet me when I need its wisdom. She writes of the woman undergoing initiation, soul deep underground, but body anchored firmly in the daily rituals of the outer world. I feel this too, core strength and discipline rising like a tree out of the soil in the barren months of winter, but with vitality humming down in the roots, threading deep in the soil, sap preparing to run.

From my daily writing practice with three women across the continent. Word prompt: lair. This is from two weeks ago. 

Surge: words in brief

At this time of year, I feel the energy of the earth stirring. I feel it passing through me too, a resonance that pushes against the shell of my winter covering, the one that keeps me warm, protected and enclosed in the cold dark days. But now, instead of directing that surge outwards, as I have often done, I am holding it close, compacting it, building it up layer after layer, until it is as hard and bright as a diamond deep in my chest. Stored energy I can choose to use and direct, or hold on reserve. Am I trying to hold that energy back because I am afraid of it? Because I now feel like it diverts my focus, hurts my discernment, sends me spinning and reeling and ablaze? I tell you: what I want is simply to hold the banks of my own river; to channel the current wisely. I want to set limits for myself gently and firmly, to say: “Thank you. This is enough.”

Word prompt: surge. From my daily writing practice with three women across the continent. This is from a month ago.

Submerged: words in brief

I only came close to drowning once. A cottage on an Ontario lake, owned by Polish friends of my parents, a generation older, who had survived their share of trauma. Me, an immigrant child from a small country, raised in tight places. Not used to all this space, all this nature. Did I know how to swim at all? I was alone in the deep water regardless, close to shore, simply slipping down into the darkness, arms flailing, head submerged, gasping for breath. No voice. Someone spotted me, shouted, one of the sons – an older teen – jumped in, dragged me out. I was self-conscious already then, my body too close to his. He got me to shore. I brushed him away. I never thanked him for saving my life.

Word prompt: submerged. From my current daily writing practice with three women across the continent.