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.
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.
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.
Long-legged, four-footed mammals usually move in a direct register walk or trot, hind feet stepping perfectly in the tracks left by the front, imprinting a long, almost straight line that thrills me every time I see it, especially on a wide expanse of clean snow. I’ve learned that it’s important to respect the tracks of animals, that these hold a piece of their spirit, and sometimes, if we’re trailing close behind, a little of their living warmth. I love finding squirrel, raccoon and pigeon tracks in city sidewalks, set in concrete: a gift, a reminder of what can’t be tamed. My younger son and I, rushing somewhere the other day, step directly in a patched square of sidewalk, still setting, leaving our boot prints firmly behind. The next day snow covers our tracks, but I know we’ll encounter them again in spring: I somewhat embarrassed by our carelessness, he beyond thrilled to be thus memorialized.
From 100 Words: The Beauty of Brevity. Word prompt: register.
This afternoon I spent hours wrestling with 400-pound fishing line in front of the wood-stove at my parents’ house, finishing off the first pair of snowshoes I’ve ever woven. Many times as the line buckles and tangles and my fingers cramp I swear that it will certainly be the last. But at no point do I either scream or throw the snowshoes across the room, for which feat of self-possession I mentally pat myself on the back, both hands otherwise engaged. I weave in and clip off the last ends as the sun dips down behind the trees; I am determined to get out before dark. I loop the perimeter of my parents’ small property, snow powdery as icing sugar, gold light angling over the tall cedars, waxing gibbous moon hanging high overhead. It’s hard to move backward in snowshoes; they are a forward-looking means of locomotion, one foot sliding past the other, awkward and graceful both. Like small rafts floating through the snow, silently skimming the skin of it, they drift me ever towards the future, lightly.
From 100 Words: The Beauty of Brevity. Word prompt: backward. Day 93.
This afternoon I sit by a fire in a Toronto ravine, drinking hot apple cider and watching red-tailed hawks soar overhead, talking with two dear friends. Our children roam the valley with the outdoor program that has been part of each of our lives since our kids were tiny. The trees around us are bare now, the creek low, November’s bold deer once again slipped under cover. The last few weeks we’ve circled up to sing at day’s end under the fiery pinks and oranges of the setting sun, last week with a nearly-full moon rising opposite. The kids return laughing, muddy, with stories of animal sightings, games, adventures, gratitude. I treasure these unhurried afternoons, these slow friendships. Each year there are changes in our lives, departures, losses of one kind or another. Community is a more porous, more fluid organism than I could have known. But it is a resilient one too, I am slowly and most gratefully learning, once I open the doors wide and let it breathe.
From 100 Words: The Beauty of Brevity. Word prompt: hurry.
I argue with the fencing every year, and every year it wins. Low wire-mesh edges our narrow backyard, the house facing off against the sturdy cement shed at the rear. In the summer, we eat dinners on the roughed-in patio, chatting with our neighbour to the north as he stands over his barbeque, steps away. Two doors north a small table is arrayed with bright cloth and long-stemmed glasses; from our back steps we compare rat-trapping tips. South, we are gifted pears and grapes and marvel at the roses. Further south, a surly watcher sits, appraising us, smoke drifting. I long for privacy, a shady outdoor room with tall cedar fences, instead of these crowded cubicles. But each spring the flowers bloom, and I sit back and leave it be.
From 100 Words: The Beauty of Brevity. Word prompt: fencing.
I love conversation that layers, bursting with possibility. Each of us casts our voice into the space between us, one line spilling over another, intuitively taking turns. I love knowing that my story won’t be lost. I will go back and pick up the thread I put down for a moment to listen to your dreams, laugh with you, follow your eyes towards the swoop of sparrows right above us, stand for a moment silent in the sun. This densely-woven tapestry doesn’t always suit, and so I also practice a more patient listening. I wait until my voice is asked for instead of jumping in, each piece of conversation laid down thick and rich, like a coat of paint that needs its time to dry.
From 100 Words: The Beauty of Brevity. Word prompt: interrupt.