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.
I could stay awake for hours watching the shadow across the room. It loomed craggy and distorted, the shadow that in daytime was nothing at all. My sister, one year younger, had slipped again into the bottom bunk next to me, her face cavernous in the darkness, blocking my way out. Alert and still, I watched her intently as she slept, assessing whether she was still breathing, still human, still herself. Now, I glide at ease through my dark house, keep lights dim in the evening, crave the softness of shadow. When I wake at night, it’s the inner shadows that loom craggy and distorted, the weight of intangible loss pressing my ribs tight like a corset. In the daytime I breathe deeply: I am sane, I am happy, I am whole.
From my current daily writing practice with three women across the continent. Word prompt: shadow.
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.
My younger son and I made an unspoken agreement once – when he was five or six or seven – that if one of us smiled the other would smile back. When I was angry, disgruntled, sad, he smiled, and I became his mirror. I smiled too. When he sulked or stormed, I smiled. He smiled back; first grudgingly, then widely. Now, when I kiss him, he kisses me back. It’s hard to evade reciprocity, to give him a surplus of affection, like a parent sometimes craves to do. Sometimes, I kiss him, and he kisses me twice, three times, more. Then I sneak into his room at night on tiptoe, and kiss him again, silently, gently. Like a blessing. A secret parental blessing, which as my child, he can’t return.
I’ve returned to this daily short writing practice after three long weeks of absence, now writing to word prompts by email with three other women across the continent from me. I’m also doing a looser every-week-or-so word prompt with a friend in town. This is from the latter. I’m going to keep posting these periodically under the same heading of Words in Brief. This is what grounds my days right now, this and a weekly art prompt with another friend; this and my I-finally-at-42-have-the-inner-discipline-for-it daily yoga practice; this and the increasingly full days of homeschooling my two kids.
My children were both born in the same bed they were conceived in: an old brass double with a high headboard that came with their father into our marriage. The bedroom was the same too, west-facing, with the bulky radiator against the window and the large wide maple outside. The first time, the bed held me up as I squatted at its foot, naked, bearing down hard as I clutched the heavy post. Perhaps I held back, until the threat of moving to the hospital loomed, a shock to my insistent planting in this place only. I clenched my eyes then, traveled deep down into the pain and through it, emerging new with my child on the other side. The second time, my body began to push before the midwives arrived, and the baby slipped out like a fish, capped in his thin slick caul. His brother woke an hour later, as the commotion waned. I can see him standing beside the bed, backed up against the radiator: small, stunned, wide-eyed.
From 100 Words: The Beauty of Brevity. Word prompt: bedroom. From one of the final days. My 100 days of writing prompts and daily witnessing and being witnessed are over, for now. How I miss them already!