My older son, at five, spoke the language of heraldry. Sable, azure, purpure, argent, he would tell me. Rampant, passant, sejant, couchant. Hypothetical coats of arms now drove his conversations. What would the crest be? The supporters? The field? Mummy, what is your motto? He pored over books of flags, small vivid shapes and colours marching in tightly-packed formations along each page. He acquired two large banners, the Scottish lion rampant and the cross of St. Andrew, slick bright rectangles of fabric draped over our furniture. A wooden flagpole was gifted to him by family friends, and we flew the Royal Banner of Scotland in our small backyard for his pleasure and our amusement. Our neighbour two doors south, suspicious, asked me about the flag’s provenance. Soon afterwards, a large Italian flag appeared in his backyard: a challenge. We took our flag down shortly after, childhood obsessions retreating as quickly as they once advanced. But each morning, sipping tea at my back window, I gaze out at the red, white and green of Italy, wind-tattered and faded, but firmly, insistently planted.
From my current daily writing practice with three women across the continent. Word prompt: rampant.
There is a mystery in how things come together and then fall apart. How people come together and separate. A mystery in how more effort in relationships doesn’t always yield more reward. Years ago, in high school, my mother came into my room as I was hanging up the phone with my then-boyfriend. I was crying. She said, “It doesn’t have to be this hard.” She said, “I had a relationship in high school that was hard. Then when I met your father, it was easy.” I remembered this recently. That had been the sign I looked for. When I met the man who eventually became my husband, and still is, I knew because it was easy. Things that were hard with other people were easy with him. Communication was easy. Vulnerability was easy. Conflicts were easy to resolve. Yet that ease hasn’t made other relationships easier. I think about that, twenty-five years later. About why the dark clouds of anxiety come, why my brain tells me stories I try not to believe. About being unloved, about being replaceable, about being not worth holding onto. There is a mystery in why I am whole and strong and joyful one day, scattered into weeping pieces the next. “You have everything you need,” I tell myself again and again, “You have everything you need.” And I breathe and wait once again for the cloud to pass.
From my current daily writing practice with three women across the continent. Word prompt: mystery.
I feel something wrapping around my husband and me in recent months, an ease settling around our shoulders, a trust deeply excavated. We married when I was twenty-three. Who knows what kind of luck at that young age found me a life partner to grow into, resilient to the bruises and stresses and close calls of a long-lasting relationship. Twenty years later, I again feel something arise like infatuation, my heart skipping a beat when he is near. What comes back to me is a line from our wedding service, the planning of which was hobbled by my resistance to trappings and details and traditions. But the bare, clean bones of ceremony were what entranced me, I realize, now that I have learned to value the speaking of words to make things happen. “Let their love for each other be a seal upon their hearts, a mantle upon their shoulders, and a crown upon their foreheads.” It was the magic of the words that convinced me then, as it does again when I recall them. A few years later, we flew to Bulgaria for the wedding of my closest university friend. The Bulgarian Orthodox wedding service, we discovered, was a literal enactment of the same words. Crowns balanced and mantles draped, a choir chanting the service from high in a hidden loft, and the couple walking around and around the altar’s perimeter, silently, until something like a spell had been cast.
From my current daily writing practice with three women across the continent. Word prompt: mantle.
Going for walks at my parents’ house usually involves a large loop, twenty minutes each time along a quiet road. This used to bother me, now I find it meditative and simple, easy to add up. My mother and I went out for a walk each morning of last week’s visit. The south-east corner of the loop is wooded, mostly private property, but connecting to a marshland on the nearby small lake, where my dad and I sometimes paddle. Heading towards that corner one morning with my mother and kids, we saw a dark low shape on the road. Moving, but so very slightly we though it might be a living thing injured. We approached it with trepidation. As we neared, we made out the low, slow shape of a snapping turtle crossing the road. A car approached behind us. I waved frantically, flagged it down. It swerved around the turtle. A man and child got out and told us the snappers had been laying eggs on the north side of that corner. They sped off. Tentatively, we approached the turtle. My older son immediately volunteered to relocate her. I instructed him to hold the shell on both sides of the tail, keep a firm grip, as I had seen others do. He tried, found her much squirmy than he had expected, asked for gloves. Gardening gloves retrieved from the house as we guarded the corner from cars, he tried again. He lifted her over the pavement carefully, placed her down on the grass on the other side. A moment later, a huge truck heaved around the loop, taking up both narrow lanes. We walked home, my son skipping a little. I said to him, “You are often nervous about small things, often worry unnecessarily. But when action is needed, you are decisive. You are the first to act.” He walked home even taller than his now two inches taller than his mother.
From my current daily writing practice with three women across the continent. Word prompt: gloves. We moved the turtle one more time that morning, this time crossing back towards the marsh.
I ate my lunch on the back steps today. I once came out here each morning, sat with my tea, silently taking everything in. Why did I stop? The steps face due east, unshaded, sweltering in the summer morning sun. I retreated to a shaded window instead. Today, in early afternoon, I can sit here in comfort. Breeze on my skin, the sky a brilliant unclouded azure. I eat a large bowl of hastily chopped vegetables in yogourt. I get up, pick fragrant dill and chives I forgot I had planted, toss them in too. I can believe, in this moment, that this meal is the most delicious I’ve ever eaten. These days, I am looking for enchantment without embellishment. Look at the peonies: their ostentatious glamour seems exhausting. They hang heavy with the weight of their blooms. The gull high in the sky, however, is unconcerned that it’s a much-maligned gull. It’s soaring. I crave sometimes to be more marvelous, less ordinary than I am. But I lay that aside now. I let my senses be delighted. I tap into the magic that binds me to everything.
From my current daily writing practice with three women across the continent. Word prompt: embellishment.
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.
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.
To maintain equilibrium takes effort. The self that flew through the streets a few days ago now feels earthbound, heavy, hampered by heat and menstruation, weighed down by small sadnesses, by worry, by fear. I try to stay kind to myself. It’s the only tool that works for the times when my brain tells me things I otherwise know not to be true. Perspective, my friend, perspective, I say. Perspective and compassion. Don’t get stuck here in this swampland, feet squelching and dragging through the muck, pulling you under. You will pass through it. I cautiously pry open all that is clenched – my shoulders, my belly, my brain, my heart – and gently spread them out wide. I can see clear blue sky behind the cloud layers. Infinite space, infinite opening, infinite expansion. Those are eternal. Everything else – for good or for ill – will pass.
From my current daily writing practice with three women across the continent. Word prompt: effort. From this morning.
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.
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.