Darkness: words in brief

This morning, slightly melancholy, groping in the darkness, I thought: maybe life is random and sad and fragmentary, but the answer is to get together and sing. Maybe that really is what community is for. Not for deep reciprocity. Not to grant vision and meaning. Not for day-to-day sustenance and support. Just an occasional reprieve from the loneliness of being mortal. Something simple, a momentary unity, a momentary joy. Maybe that is what I couldn’t see. The problem was that so often loneliness was harder after the unity than before. Finally it seemed wiser to simplify, to rely more on myself, to engage more deeply with that foundational relationship. As Marianne Moore wrote, “the cure for loneliness is solitude.” It’s not so simple, of course. I live with people who love me, and that may be what tips the balance. But I’ve learned that when I choose intentional solitude, when I choose to turn my energies inward, I learn to trust that my own company is of value. I trust my own resources. My needs and motives become clearer to me. Out of that trust – I hope – my engagement with the world becomes healthier. It becomes less compulsive, lighter, more whole.

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

 

Folded: words in brief

I folded myself around my son at the end of the day. Late: 11:15. He still tells me cuddling helps him sleep. Last night, our popular city counselor of many years was hosting one of his movie nights at the tiny park at the bottom of our street. A Wrinkle in Time, one of my favourite books in my pre-teen years. My name is translated as Margaret in English. Meg, the name of every bookish, over-sensitive, but secretly very brave literary heroine of my childhood. I can’t bring myself to watch the movie. The boys went down to watch with friends. My husband and I, so desperate for any time alone, are now efficient about using it, like teens. Earlier in the afternoon, he left work early to join us for the closing of the kids beloved outdoor program. Me, now, always: “Is this the last time?” I look around the small clearing in the ravine, every family at a crossroads of one sort or another. The kids are lean, gangly, a few taller than the adults. My younger son still reaches only to my chin, although he claims to be taller. He says, “Can you cuddle with me until I’m as tall as you?” How can I rush this? That day will come too soon.

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

Stakes: words in brief

My neighbour two houses north asks me over our wire mesh fences if I want two dahlias for my garden. I am hanging laundry in the sun, sliding the squeaking clothesline to my right, shaking and pinning each damp item. It is a comforting ritual. She tells me to put down stakes on either side of the plants and tomato cages around the stalks, as once they’ve grown huge and unwieldy any support offered may damage them instead. She tells me I must dig them up in the fall and overwinter the tubers in my basement. I love that she opens the gate to the yard of the neighbours between us and walks through to pass me the lumpy tubers and stalks. “I’m going to plant one here too, in John’s garden,” she says. “Does he know?” I ask her. We laugh uproariously. I imagine us sneaking under cover of night to plant flowers in the yards of our sleeping neighbours. Guerilla gardening. These spiky summer-flowering red and yellow blooms our rambling coded messages of life and death and regeneration.

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

On burning things

Taking a short break from my recent daily writing prompts this month, I find myself rereading things I wrote prior to starting up that daily practice. Longer pieces, poems, essays. Sometimes I am moved, sometimes confused. A year or two passes and it’s easy to forget the intensities of any one moment, and also the wisdom that comes out of those intensities. Some things I read make me wince a little, or smile wryly: “Who is this person? Maybe I should listen to what she says.”

There’s an expansiveness in what I read that is not part of how I feel right now.

This past winter, a winter of daily practice, of discipline, of retreat, I wondered where my fire had gone. I missed it, but also didn’t. I missed the connectivity and expansiveness and energy of a few years ago. I missed the vision. But it no longer nourished me. I could finally articulate it plainly to myself and others: I was burnt out.

A few days ago, I said some of this to a friend, with nostalgia but also with an emerging gratitude. She reminded me that when we met two or three years ago, I told her I wished I could write more, but I couldn’t find the time. I was organizing, collaborating, learning, scheduling, planning, supporting others, driving here and there, expending emotional energy and labour. My labour was rewarded in intangible ways, but certainly not renumerated. I was saying yes to everything, on an energy high, not mindful of the costs.

Now, she pointed out, I am no longer doing all those things, but I am writing every day. I am tending much that I neglected then. I’ve found the time.

Earlier this week I said no to something, as I so often do right now, and I wrote to my closest friend, my constant witness: “I feel like I am going around burning things and then being sad that they are gone, but needing to keep on burning anyways.” This is not a new feeling. It’s been with me since at least since last summer, when I stepped away from a big group commitment that I had worked towards for years. It had been creeping up for some time before that, in departures and unravellings of various kinds. I’ve written before about spirals. But it’s only in the last few months that I’ve been able to fully name the sense of ending. Slowly, gently, to lose my paralyzing fear of it and find the freedom instead.

What confused me for a long time was that I thought I’d already done this, when my kids were born, when I left my job, when I turned away from who I had always expected myself to be. But perhaps I simply found new expectations to impose upon myself.

Or perhaps it’s those cycles again, the cycles I keep finding everywhere I look.

Waldorf educators write a lot about seven year cycles. In adulthood as well as childhood. Clarissa Pinkola Estes does the same in Women Who Run with the Wolves. Death and rebirth is a constant in our lives, if we look at them with awareness. Not linear progress. Cycles of death and rebirth. Seasons. Non-linear, non-Western, non-modern time. Last year, at forty-two, I realized that perhaps a cycle was ending.

Cycles of course don’t need to mean full severance. I have been with the same partner for close to twenty-five years now. Our relationship has moved through many cycles. Encompassed joy and grief. Falling in love, taking each other for granted, periods of disconnection, falling in love again, deepening. It has been several different relationships already, and will be several more before we are done. Like an organism bigger than the sum of our two selves, it’s something we need to tend and feed regularly. I am reminded of this often, of how easy it is to disconnect in small ways, to go our separate ways, to not talk about difficult things, to find emotional sustenance elsewhere. Connection is easy to find, but this big project of a marriage of almost two decades, of co-creating a family, of co-creating a home, it’s hard but deeply satisfying. It nourishes my soul and teaches me the biggest lessons.

In the same way, everything I’ve learned and experienced in every part of my life is still mine to keep. As is each connection, each collaboration. It’s all absorbed into the whole, one thread of many, one piece of a puzzle which some day I may be able to see more clearly than I do now, although at each new turn of the wheel it already becomes a little clearer.

I read a book last month called The Joy of Missing Out. It was mainly about technology, and about the exhausting connectivity of the online world. It was about fasting, taking breaks, learning how to moderate our constant contact. But I imagine it also as a bigger choice. At some point in life, we discover we can’t Do All the Things. The cost is too big. Right now, as I have sometimes in the past, I find myself closing doors to make space in myself for whatever needs to happen next. I find myself curious again.

Or as my friend replied, when I spoke – tired, but certain – of burning: “Burning makes fertile ground. Just remember that.” Another kind of fire, with another purpose.

Fritter: words in brief

This morning, I felt spring clarity and space. Brightness, despite the raging storm. I did not want to fritter away any of my day. I began to clean my desk, sort through handwork baskets and supplies, organize projects, read through a pile of library books on textile art. I made a list of projects that need to be finished or begun: knitting, embroidery, my grandmother’s diary to transcribe and translate. As I tried out a Japanese sashiko mending technique on a torn shirt, I heard a crash. “A tree branch is down across the road!” one of my sons called out. Pause. “It’s landed on a car!” Pause. “The wire is on fire!” I jumped up, ran downstairs. The afternoon took a detour. Our neighbours’ huge maple had been split in two by the wind, wires were down and a concrete hydro pole cracked to the ground. Fire flared briefly on the wires. A confused robin dashed about underneath the debris. The fire crew arrived in minutes. The power will be out for a couple of days. We are fortunate, with family in the city. We have relocated. My plans are derailed for the moment, everything a little off-kilter. The new moon is tonight, but my dream for ritual is deferred. The streets are icy, treacherous and bleak, the wind howls, the rain continues to pour. The small spring flowers are crushed under the snowy crust. But as the ice pelted my window this afternoon, I heard a loudly vocal cardinal, still frantically singing.

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

Abundant: words in brief

I volunteered for a few years for an organization that gleaned fruit from urban backyard trees. Each pick was a small puzzle to solve. The promised ladder was not available or the fruit was clustered too high or some of the volunteers were afraid of climbing. Boosting on shoulders happened, and tools were devised to pull down branches for easier reach. Someone might go down the street to knock on doors for an extra ladder. Sometimes one or two agile climbers startled the rest of us, shimmying up to the highest branches, unencumbered by fear. I was slower, stayed low, but loved being in trees. I loved those June evenings leaning nestled between branches abundant with cherries, hands gently gathering, shoulder-bag full. I’d look down at the city streets radiating away from me, up at the wide sky streaked with warmth. Everything I wanted was within reach.

From my current daily writing practice with three women across the continent. Word prompt: abundant. With an ice storm in the forecast this mid-April weekend, I look ahead with longing to trees heavy with fruit. 

Evanescent: words in brief

I told my friend today that I miss our camping trips with kids. She said, “me too, but my kids wouldn’t come if we planned one now. It would be only me.” How could it be that we didn’t know, the year she moved further south and we camped on the property she lived on? And the following year, after she moved back to North Bay, and we met with friends at Mansfield on the summer solstice? When we made a little village of tents and sat around the fire at night, sang songs to the full moon, and drifted on our backs in the gentle current of the Pine River? How could we not have known that it would be so fleeting, so evanescent? That those days would soon be past?

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

Mansfield rainbow.jpg

June 2016. Camping with friends, a full moon and an (evanescent) rainbow. And much shorter kids than I currently have.