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? Still so much to learn! 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.

img_0945

 

Begin here. It is raining.

Begin here. It is raining. I watch a maple one street over through my back window, towering over the houses and yards, south-east of me, south-east of the empty space where my maple had stood until last fall. The pale May green against the sky, today’s sky not the blue that makes the green glow bright, but a white-gray, like smoke, like a diluted wash of watercolour. The maple crown itself moves like water, like one huge muscular wave, but also each branch and twig and leaf creating its own slight ripples. This maple is now my anchor every morning, this particular magnet of green. A thought clenches in my chest: what about when this maple comes down one day? I don’t want to look at this thought right now. I nod to it and hurry briskly by, pretending I have somewhere urgent to be.

Three pots of herbs sit in cheap yellow plastic pots on the windowsill: rosemary, lemon thyme, parsley. A couple of weeks ago, the parsley leaves clung to the window like hands pressed against the screen, peering out, so ready. Today, the leaves droop. This unsettled weather, the late freeze last week – the parsley no longer looks hopeful for release.

The metal rod that cranks open the awning over the back steps bangs hard against the brick of the house. I hear faint music from the kitchen, the rustle of pages turning from the boys’ bedroom, steps creaking the floorboards in the hall.

I’m on my second thermos of tea this morning, warding off the rain and wind with spice: cardamom, black pepper, cinnamon, whatever else dresses up my black tea in brighter colours.

I’ll head out for a walk with my husband soon, out into the weather, in grey raincoat and deep red scarf. That scarf that I started wearing at forty, when I was grieving what felt like the end of youth, when I was tangled up in longing and hurt and melancholy. That red gave me power, a power that now feels owned, not borrowed, that I’ve learned I had been wearing all along. I’m stronger than I was then, clearer in my speech, taking better care of heart and body and mind.

When I woke during the night I thought about leaning into darkness. I often close my eyes when I walk in the dark, and when I open them, the faintest light can become bright enough to navigate by.  No lamp, no flashlight, no fire – those blind the eyes to what is already visible. No-one wants the darkness when it falls, but we are grateful on the other side to have learned the skill to move through it.

I’ve been participating in free online morning writing sessions with Firefly Creative Writing in Toronto (such lovely people!) three mornings a week through May.  These have been moments of clarity and quiet in a time that has often felt crowded and murky now that everyone is always at home. A brief prompt, then silent writing for twenty minutes, then a poem to close. Today’s prompt was “Begin here. It is raining”, out of a choice of first lines from several other books. I found out at the end that this one was from May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude. We were also asked to include a colour we had chosen at the start. Mine was “deep red”, from someone else’s suggestion in the chat screen. And from my still-going-strong daily email writing group I also dropped in today’s word: watercolour.

The small details of the canvas (or zooming in and out again)

There are many days right now where my creative brain seems to be on pause, or simply, to use a phrase I’ve been hearing from government employees lately, redeployed. Redeployed, for example, puzzling over complex instructions on how much and how often to feed a sourdough starter, the newest member of our family, snuggled in beside the large jars of kombucha on the tiny kichen counter. When I texted my sister excitedly last weekend that I had acquired some sourdough starter plus a couple of packages of yeast, she sent me a comic about the pandemic being a sneaky form of colonization of humans by yeast. Yeasts in league with viruses  – it has an elegant logic, as far as conspiracy theories go. All these tiny organisms looking for territorial expansion might as well team up.

My rebellion against baking is over. I’m a convert. Or simply rolling with the zeitgeist of the times. Or perhaps I’ve avoided sourdough all these years because I know how attached I get to things. The sourdough starter needs to be divided and fed every day if I keep it on the counter, and since I can’t bring myself to discard the “discard,” some form of baking now happens daily.  I’m grateful learning that I can ignore the complex instructions and that a well-established starter is forgiving. Good thing, because it’s all the precision that has always turned me off baking. I’m a cook, not a baker, and a one-pot cook at that, with my joy directed to improvising with ingredients in large pots simmering over the stove, ideally using ingredients that I already have in my fridge and cupboards, thinking about what flavours might belong together. Soup, stew, chili, curry, stir-fry – that’s my territory. Rarely more than one large pot, with occasionally another small one for a grain accompaniment. My husband’s meals, on the other hand, seem to use every single pot and baking pan we own, spreading wildly all across the kitchen. Meat and fish, and many individual sides, that’s his specialty.

Teens and preteens are always hungry, especially when they have nowhere to go. About once an hour, my younger son turns to me and asks “Anything to eat?” I don’t know where they put all the food, being all pointy knees and elbows, but since one of them looms over me and the other will soon catch up to me in height, I guess it currently goes into vertical growth. They usually manage their own breakfast and take turns making “pizza toast” or scrambled eggs for each other for lunch. Every snack we can think of, they eat, and as our grocery period runs out, the snacks get stranger and more creative.

We’ve restricted ourselves to shopping only once every two weeks. Once, but at two or three different stores, each time dragging as much home as we can on foot. Each time the planning and execution seems to swallow a full day. I miss stopping by my favourite stores every other day, but I get a certain satisfaction from the restriction, especially for my husband, who grew up buying specialized ingredients for specific recipes, often letting the remainder languish in the fridge until it was too far gone to use. Now we use my method, buying a wide range of basics, and then using all of them until they’re completely done, making substitutions as much as needed. I thrive with this cooking method. An onion, a can of tomatoes, and some grain… great! Tortilla bread, beans, and sweet potatoes… great! Some stock and some frozen peas… great! I’d wait longer to shop so we could challenge our creativity further, but my husband gets antsy when we run out of staples. And, to be honest, having some reserves feels important right now.

There’s a new sense of normalcy about this small life we’re leading now. A sense of living in an eternal present. Like we’ve entered a portal in a fairy tale, and when we come back, we’ll find that no matter how many months or years we were away, no time has passed. There’s some part of me that believes this, I think, and right now I’m not arguing with my brain’s survival strategies. Every day is a variation on the day before, and yet, there is always something small to look forward to, some small sense of momentum, something to be grateful for. There’s a great deal of privilege in the monotony of isolation, the luxury of turning one’s back on the world for an unknown period, the slowing down of time. Not turning one’s back exactly, but interacting from a distance, helping from a distance, loving from a distance. The scale of everything shifts, and if we are working on a smaller detail of the canvas, it’s highly magnified, so it takes up all the space it always did. Life takes up the normal twenty-four hours. Each day, in a tight household of four, feels full, although each is similar to the one before and the one after. The days pass quickly. Or slowly? Or both.

I started drawing again this week. Again, my canvas is small, not much past my backyard. I suspect I will be spending a lot of time in this small backyard the next few months. At this point, this year’s LUNA art project would have been well underway in High Park, all of us taking turns to meet and draw, partnering this time with the High Park Nature Centre, which, like everything else, is closed. When I think too far past my home and neighbourhood, I can feel the sadness. When I look at photographs, think about cancelled plans, notice the physical distance between people, I feel it. When I make those connections, I notice what is missing and not what is. What is is life around me, plants and birds to draw, warming weather for working outdoors, neighbourhoods to explore by bike. A riot of tree blossoms. A garden to plant and tend. My new symbiotic relationship with the sourdough to nurture (today’s bread, half white half rye, was amazing). There are poems to write, stories to tell, meals to make. I won’t push, but will surrender, actively surrender to what is here and what is possible. I will let myself be guided and pulled by curiousity, attention, love.

A few days after I wrote this, there is more and more talk about “opening up.” I am hopeful, but am also anticipating a rise in anxiety as that happens. And I think about the people who have not been able to hit pause in any way, who are busier than ever while also least sheltered and most at risk. A few days after this slightly idyllic reflection, I am zooming outward again,  feeling moments of rage as I read about the anticipated rise in car traffic from people continuing to avoid public transit, frustration about the still-scant infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians in my city and North America in general, moments of judgment and despair when I wonder whether there will be any lasting positive changes that come out of this crisis, whether we can even agree on what we would want those changes to be (and all that’s just from looking locally). It’s too early to tell, I keep telling myself. It’s too early to tell.  And I remind myself how much all strong emotions teach me about what I value and where I need to direct my energy and attention. 

img_0638

 

 

 

In praise of interdependence

Bright morning. I hear a helicopter overhead. It’s deafening. The house shakes a little. Maybe a train is also going by on the tracks south of us. A house sparrow chirps. The sun reflects off residual rain on dark shed roofs.

Monday was unsettled. I was unsettled and restless. Stormy weather, menstrual cramps, that sense of being about to burst in some way. The things that are missing are lifting their heads, looking at me, calling for my attention. The other day, I tried a loving-kindness meditation, and started crying, imagining going for a walk with my mother and talking to her in person. Today, I tried on a cloth mask my mother had sent me in the mail for grocery shopping, and felt panicky and claustrophobic until I reminded myself that I would be wearing it for other people more than for myself. Until I gave myself permission to hate it but practice wearing it nonetheless. I try to keep some emotional armour on, even soft armour. Not armour, but boundaries against fear and grief. But they leak sometimes. Then the future feels blank, and the past like a dream.

I miss my friends. I miss hugging people outside my immediate family. All those people outside my household who I love. At night I dream about conversations with friends.

On Monday, I contemplated making crackers. It was on my long list of things to do. I looked at the recipe I found, I looked at my kitchen, and all I felt was irritation. Our counter is tiny. The recipe involved rolling out the dough paper thin. And, although I make pizza dough, I roll only a little and then lift and stretch by hand. We don’t have a wooded board to roll on like I grew up with, and anyway, where would we put it? The recipe was simple, but I imagined cleaning everything off the counter first and then scrubbing the counter afterwards. Contemplating it, I felt furious. I didn’t want to make crackers. I wanted to make art. Completely impractical art. I wanted to make collages and intricate drawings of plants. I wanted to write poetry and publish it in obscure literary journals. I wanted to not make crackers and bread, but walk to the store and buy them so that I could spend my time doing something else.

Tuesday evening, we watched Jane Eyre performed at the National Theatre in London, part of their current weekly free online pandemic series. Even on the tiny screen of my husband’s laptop, it blew my mind – the performances, the visuals, the music, the metaphor of it. Theatre is nothing like film. Watching it, I added “see a live play, or several” after “buy lots of crackers at the store” to my mental list of things to do the moment they are possible again.

Remembering the few times I’ve seen live theatre in London, my next dream was of travelling. Even out of my neighbourhood, out of my city. I wouldn’t want to be hunkered down anywhere else right now. I am grateful to be exactly where I am, where every day I can take a different route on my daily bike ride, where I have wide streets to walk on, and tall trees all around my neighbourhood, and neighbours who I can easily talk to over the fence. But on Monday I looked at the counter, cursed the cracker recipe, and longed for more freedom of movement. Yesterday, I watched a play on a tiny screen and dreamed of theatre and of travel.

On the scale of comparative suffering, I’ve lost very little. And as an introvert who loves solitary activities and extended periods of time with my immediate family, in some ways I’m thriving. Most of the work I hope to keep doing in the future is from home. There are days when I question how I will fare with re-entry into a world with wider expectations and commitments, with tighter schedules. There are days when I want to hold my growing children close forever. When I guiltily recognize that there are now many things I worry about less than is my norm. That the strange anticipatory weight of dread I was feeling all through January has melted away. That in some ways it’s easier to channel anxiety into purpose – into shared concern and shared suffering and shared planning – when there is something huge and specific to be anxious about.

But in the moments when I feel stuck and restless, I long for things I’ve never seen before, never done before, experiences that will stretch my assumptions and my expectations. I want to go to the theatre, to a museum, to a library, damn it. I want people to write books, dance, put on plays, to do the things that make their souls sing. I want people to teach, to build, to heal, to do research full-time, to tell stories, to advocate for themselves and others. I want people other than me to interact with my children. I want schools to reopen. I want people to keep having choices. I say this after nine years of homeschooling and close to fifteen years of almost full-time caregiving. It takes a community. All of it does. The truth is, the thought of a world where everyone homesteads to the exclusion of everything else that humans do and create does not fill me with delight. I want a world where people can dedicate their lives to things other than subsistence.

So clearly, as I contemplate what will come out at the end of this all – inasmuch as I have a say in any it – I’m not interested in throwing out all of civilization. And, as I often do, I’m arguing against straw-men in my head, and random opinions from people on the internet. I’m happy enough that there are almost no planes in the sky right now. I’m even happier that there are fewer cars on the road. If I had a pandemic agenda, it would be to close off more streets to cars – as some cities are currently doing – to make more space for pedestrians and cyclists. And then keep it that way.

I’ve added a second small garden bed in my small backyard, and have planted some seeds and ordered more. I’ve mended some clothes, as I often do anyway. And yet, this past month has not convinced me that I want to grow all my own food, sew all my own clothes, go back to homeschooling full-time, and never travel again. If anything, the opposite. If anything, I am amazed and awed and grateful for the ways humans do things together, do things for each other, follow their own skills and passions and curiosity, make space for others to do so. I am amazed and awed and grateful for interdependence. I am wildly grateful that I don’t have do all the things by myself.

I don’t need to farm all my own food, but I can recommit to supporting local farms and local food systems. I can recommit to supporting active transportation and local transportation networks. I can share tools with my neighbours. I can support local businesses. I can support politics that prioritize people over profits. Does that change anything for me personally? In truth, I’ve been on this train for years. Now, seeing the renewed push for well-funded health care infrastructures, seeing direct government support of people who have lost income, seeing advocacy for fair wages for the jobs we now know to be essential, seeing the conversations about what matters most and what kind of future we want, I can say to my kids: “This. This is what we need to keep working for.”

I made the crackers yesterday. The recipe was easy, and there was no mess. I planted some kale in my garden. And I ordered more seeds, but, for better or for worse, most of them were flowers seeds.

Word prompt: stories.

Right here, right now (Covid edition).

Each day we walk in various configurations, me giving my sons dire warnings to stay more than six feet away from all other humans. I cycle in the mornings to get my heart pounding, grateful for fewer cars on the roads, grateful that the long-encoded solution of moving fast in the face of anxiety is still available to me.

At our grocery store, the well-spaced line outdoors stretches down the block – memories of a childhood in Poland in the 1970s, but here, there is way more food on the shelves. I want to yell this to everyone who complains about the few shortages. I also want to yell at the oblivious people who stand texting in the middle of the narrow sidewalk, at the young man who walks straight towards me and my older son – who I need to summon to help with the carrying – as we lug what we hope is two weeks of groceries home on foot, forcing us out onto the road.  But I don’t. These are exceptions. The rest of us do the keep-away dance as if we’ve done it all our lives, but now there are smiles and nods in passing that would have been rare before.

There are should-have-knows: why are our wills still unwitnessed and unsigned? How can we get anyone to witness them now? Why haven’t we yet renovated our backyard shed into an office where one of us could work? But now we are learning to move from room to room in the house, taking turns at privacy. Two hours writing alone in a room with the door closed does wonders for my focus and my mood. Why did we remove our lilac bush to my parents’ garden so far in advance of our long-anticipated backyard renovation? I imagine the lost consolation of sitting on the back steps this spring watching the blooms open, taking in the sweet scent.

There is also unexpected thanks. For our small and open backyard with its inadequate and ugly fences, where we can still easily chat with neighbours one and even two houses over, in exactly the same way we have done for years. Gratitude for the four of us being so used to each other’s company after years of homeschooling. Gratitude for the habits I’ve built up over the past few years of regular at-home yoga and meditation, and for the introversion I only recently learned to celebrate and cherish which makes me not particularly crave more company than I have. Gratitude for work that can be done from home. Gratitude too for new windows that finally open fully after fifteen years of poor airflow, which I keep flinging wide no matter what the weather, feeling immediately happier and more hopeful.

My mother has become obsessed with masks. She sent me a pattern in the mail, which I haven’t yet used. In response to my silence, she has written that she is sending me one of her homemade masks, small and light enough to slide into a letter-sized envelope. I know she’s right, but I am putting off the inevitable. I can’t imagine how I will keep myself from touching the mask, how I will figure out how to breathe through the fabric. When I go out, I tie my now too-long hair back into a bun, so that it doesn’t get in my eyes and mouth, so that I am not tempted to fiddle with anything on my face. When my eyes water cycling into the wind, I restrain myself from wiping the tears away. I wash my hands dozens of times each day. Somehow there is lots more laundry than before.

I am reading Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light, and note every time pestilence or infection is mentioned, every time the wealthy avoid crowds to avoid contagion, every sudden and brutal or long and lingering death. I have become fascinated with plagues past, with the human struggle with microbes, with how much of a risk and challenge life has always been, with how little we are now prepared to acknowledge this. What might at first have made me anxious – investigating the devastating pandemics of the past – now helps me shift my perspective to a wider view. I am amazed at human ingenuity and resilience, at how quickly people move from panic to mobilization.

I pivot from fear to a measure of normalcy, with occasional sidelines into grief. Grief mostly at what my kids are missing, all the interactions and relationships they thrive in. And a little for the people dear to me who I may not see for a long time. But I think about my parents being separated for six months when my father came to Canada ahead of the rest of us. I think about the decades when my parents could only communicate with their own parents by overseas mail, with rare visits. I think about my grandmother’s family disappearing during the war, when she was only a teen, about the years she waited before she saw them again. I think about all the people who are displaced, separated from family, without a home, crowded into refugee camps, bearing the burden of all the world’s many other infectious diseases, well-acquainted with mortality. I think about all of the people whose lives have frantically sped up as the rest of us retreat into our homes.

As for me, right now I am okay. Everyone I love is still okay. In the day-to-day, my life is not that different than it was. I have a home and food, clean running water, my husband and children with me. I watch every small sign of spring as it arrives, breathe in the air from my wide-open windows. I am adjusting to this this new normal, finding room in it for creativity, capability, joy. As long as I don’t think too much about what could have been instead. As long as I don’t think too much about the future. As long as I stay right here, right now.

Still writing with my email group to writing prompts, as we’ve done on and off for several years, sometimes daily, usually however often we can manage. Once again it’s been a long time since I’ve posted here. Perhaps I decided at some point that blogs were dead. But this feels like a time for recording. And perhaps a time for resurrection. Word prompts: pivot/lilac/mirror.

In the thickets of February

I’ve been long absent here, for unclear reasons. I’ve been writing more poetry than prose the past six months, not always daily, but in a way that needs incubation and editing and attention to craft. Still writing with my far-flung group of wonderful women to word prompts, but more often clustering several day’s worth into one piece. This was a rare long and rambling prose essay (long ago are the days of 100 word limits!) after months of short poetry. Prompts: thicket, longing, boundary, abundance. I decided it was shareable. I think every year I write some version of this piece in February, which through some strange and devious trickery is actually the longest month pretending to be the shortest. This stormy, slushy, icy February has been several months long already. 

I’ve read somewhere that there is no such thing as writer’s block, you just need to lower your standards. If this week I don’t have the mental space for poems, I can still write. I can write about longing, about boundaries, about pushing through the thicket of “life admin” I find myself in recently.

I long these days for clear skies, for clear sidewalks, for ease of transportation. I long for deep sleep. I long for energy reserves – which, for unclear reasons, I am currently lacking – that can take me through nights of long awakenings. Last night I slept deeply, without earplugs. I woke up feeling like I could throw a party to celebrate. My husband came into our office space to bring me my tea and I grinned widely at him and said I’d slept well. He laughed even before I said it, and hugged me. It was comic really, how exuberant I felt, how my face and body radiated joy. The way I taught myself to handle insomnia many years ago was to rewire my brain to make sleep less important. Over the years, I learned I could push through anything without having slept a wink the night before – large presentations, exams, meetings with intimidating books editors when I was a book publicist, work crises, sleeping in forests, all kinds of situations that were out of my comfort zone, because most things were. No, I didn’t let that stop me, but also no, it never actually got easier. So much anxiety, and no sense that I could ask for help, that it was even something worth voicing.

Putting less focus on sleep made insomnia hold less power over me. I once read that in pre-industrial cultures long periods of night waking were the norm because people went to bed much earlier without artificial lighting. It worked for a long time to simply accept this. The problem is that after years of highly interrupted sleep with babies and small kids, I know I’m a completely different person when I’m well-rested. It’s hard to pretend it doesn’t matter. But I keep muddling through, surrendering to the erratic monthly and seasonal patterns, teaching myself to get to bed a lot earlier and catch those early hours of deep sleep, learning to lie down for half an hour in the afternoon if I need it, trying not to get too attached to feeling energetic. February will end. The sun will come back. 

The daily minutiae of life. When I’m well rested I love my life, the flexibility of it, the room for constant exploration. When I’m not rested, I stumble through the day in a daze, snap at my kids, complain that I’m doing everything for everyone. I’m learning that so much of feeling over-responsible for things comes from being unwilling to relinquish control. It stings to recognize that. I made a decision yesterday to skip my women’s circle this Sunday. I have a slightly overlapping meeting with the LUNA (League of Urban Nature Artists) group that I finally decided to join. The meeting is an hour away by transit, far from where the circle is meeting, and I want to be there for the full meeting. I second-guess whether I have space for this. But the acronym: LUNA! A group of people to draw with outdoors! Bringing love and attention to Toronto’s ravines! I am amazed I was invited, really, although secretly afraid that I don’t have the energy or skill for it. So I am going to the meeting and missing the circle for the first time. My circle, that I started three years ago when I was struggling through winter, and which I’ve always lead, albeit in my low-key fashion.  Over those few years I’ve sometimes resented “doing all the work.” Aha, but if I give that work away to others, I also lose control!  Aye, there’s the rub, losing control is clearly challenging to me. What if the silent witnessing and respectful turn-taking I’ve worked on is replaced by cross-talk and advice-giving? I tell myself to let go of the reins, let go of managing these interactions. There will always be room to leave or to stay, for each of us. I can accept that no-one is irreplaceable, that groups form and change and eventually break. I can make decisions around what I need, and know that everything will work out as it needs to. 

And then abundance. As I clean years of accumulated clutter from my basement, I remind myself that I am fortunate to live in a time and place of abundance. That so much of what I want to clear out came from other people, from impulses of generousity.  I can still clear this stuff out of my house! But my kids have involved and loving grandparents, who buy them books and Lego and board games. Who give us ancestral pieces of furniture and china and tablecloths and silverware. And I can make boundaries about what comes in for me, but I can’t make them for the other three people who live in my house. My kids have direct relationships with their grandparents, and love the gifts they receive. Things trickle into the house and never leave. The more I want to control what comes in and how we tend the space, the more I become responsible for everything. It’s hard to extricate myself from that bind.

I don’t know where this is all going, this piece of writing, or my life, or the world as we know it, which is certainly not in good shape. Some days I feel I’m drowning in noise and clutter and other people’s opinions on the internet. And sometimes fear. I don’t know if I’ve made good choices in my life or poor ones. I think I see beautiful paths opening ahead of me, but on bad days they seem like mirages, or like I am on a rickety boardwalk through murky swamps, where my feet keep slipping into the muck.  David Whyte says heartbreak comes from learning that anything we care about will disappoint us, will eventually break us, and that is the honourable price of caring deeply. I am paraphrasing, and I don’t want it to be true, but I am sure that it is.

I’ve devoted a lot of energy to my children. It wasn’t intended that way exactly, but my brief experiments with the world of daycare and preschool and school, with rushing from one place to another, with quick transitions and tight schedules and bureaucracy, made me quite convinced that that life wasn’t for me. Now that we are talking about big changes, about school, about getting into the same rhythms as the rest of the world, will I look back and find it was worth it? Will they remember all our adventures and deep and hilarious conversations, or the many times I yelled at them, my frequent frustration, all the times I tried to get them out of my hair? Will they remember anything I tried to teach them? What will they carry into the world? I can’t control those outcomes. I can’t control what other people hold on to or remember, only what I do, and let’s be honest, that is hard enough. It’s really all letting go and more letting go. It’s trying to stay compassionate when the inevitable disappointments and heartbreaks come, keep my eyes wide open for the mountain peaks and forest clearings. It’s knowing that there will be hills and valleys and hills and valleys until the end, that nothing is ever stagnant, for good or for ill.

I can only keep muddling through, squinting my eyes to try to make out the path ahead, trying to find my footing, waiting for the sun to return, believing that it will. Where all my writing ends: the next small step, trusting in the wisdom of placing one foot in front of the other.

img_0037

 

Broken: words in brief

Trees lie broken on the streets of my neighbourhood. I have never see so many trees fallen here, so many broken. Three windstorms within two months, one bringing snow and ice, one testing its immense powers alone, one allied with torrential rain. The tree in front of my neighbours’ house is marked with an orange x for cutting, its fallen half long removed but jagged against the sky where the branch once welcomed squirrels and sleeping raccoons. In this weekend’s extreme heat event – as dubbed by the weather networks – I miss that branch. I sat in bed and looked out at it nursing my babies the hot summers after each was born. I wonder how many degrees its large green leaves cooled the west side of our house. Up the hill on Christie, a massive spruce cracked close to the ground in May’s windstorm, crashing onto the house it had shaded, blocking it entirely. The tree was removed, piece by piece, but the cracked roof and porch and boarded up windows still mark the damage caused by its enormous bulk. These trees perhaps had reached their lifespan. The weather perhaps has always had its extremities. But it is as in the archetypal question in any classic mystery: “Did they fall, or were they pushed?” I wonder how to live prudently, wisely, with an eye to the future, while knowing that anything can change, anything can fall apart, anything can break, and likely will. Destruction happens in an instant, growth takes years, even centuries.

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