I was chopping Brussels sprouts and the smell was so green and familiar, it made me think of my Granny’s yard and the boxwood hedge and the raspberry plants that exploded with fruit all summer long. You know what else though? Those sprouts smelled like caterpillars in trees in the spring, big horrifying nests of them writhing up there, the men threatening to burn them down. “It’s the only way,” they’d say, their eyes lit up by the potential blaze. I started thinking about how those caterpillars would drop down on their long, singular silky strands and land in our hair and how we would frantically claw at our scalps, trying to find them, to get them off of us. And how their little suction-cupped feet, how they’d stick to our hands, the terror bringing goosebumps to our skin, while we shrieked. What were we so afraid of anyway? I mean, I remember what it was like to be terrified by something tiny and insignificant and, let’s face it, harmless, but it’s been a very long time. Now I’m afraid of climate change and how we are all filled with plastic particles so small, you can’t really see them, you can believe they aren’t there, because that’s nicer. But it’s in our tissues and our bones and one day we’ll stop disintegrating altogether like the rest of the mess we made. I’m scared and I’m sad and I ache from the way that racism and sexism and misogyny and bigotry have exploded to the surface of everything, everywhere, this thing like a monster that’s been lying low for a while but now is playing on all our TVs, getting the name of the town that’s burning wrong, making jokes, talking about raking as though this is all a punchline to something, but it isn’t. People are dying. People died. People will die. I’m sick about how kids in America are being shot in their desks, protected only by clear backpacks as though it was only the packaging that was the problem. Where are my phobias? You know what? They’re gone. Gone. Where they used to be, there’s just a nothingness, like the white noise machine in my hotel room that drowned out the traffic in the Costco parking lot across the street. I miss being scared of heights and horror movies and flying and sharks, but specifically only Great Whites and Tigers, who are known to be so indiscriminate in their tastes that they’ll even eat license plates. Now I’m only phobic about if I’m going to be able to pay the mortgage next month because they say “Do what you love and the money will follow!” and I’m trying so hard to do what I love in spite of the way the world is both literally and figuratively on fire. It’s just life that’s sometimes a lot, sometimes doesn’t let you come up for air, even when you’ve been holding your breath for weeks, months, years. My kids are constantly swimming upstream and there are bears, fishing, so I have to be ever vigilant. The weeds are trying to reclaim my house for their own. I beat them back, but I wonder if I should just leave them to it, if the weeds can figure out better than I can, if they can pay the bills the bills the endless bills. What I’m trying to say is that I’m doing what I love but the money isn’t following as steadily as one might want to maintain things as they are, but so what? I love what I do. I love it. I do. I’m lucky. And so. Then. What next? What if? Everything starts with a what if, that’s what I always say, and it’s true. What’s also true is that everything is hard sometimes and I wish it were easier for me for you for everyone but for dinner we are having roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon and maple syrup and yams with a side of mashed potato and gravy because when the food is heavy in our stomachs and the rain is falling on the skylight and the dogs are snoring gently, tufts of their hair moving around the floor in the draft from the fireplace, we are safe we are safe we are safe for now. I used to hate Brussels sprouts, but now I crave them, the dense sweet awful richness of them, the cabbage-y crunch. It’s like eating my childhood, my dad saying, “Karen has to eat one! No one can leave until Karen eats a sprout!” and all of us laughing and me making that face, but chewing chewing chewing until it was gone, relieved to have it over with for another year, knowing that next year would be the same, thinking things would always be like that, that our lines would be the same in that scene forever and ever, amen.
Sometimes I have things to say and no one to say them to and I think it would be nice if -- seeing as we are about inventing somewhat useless technology and ignoring the fact that we've destroyed the world -- I had some kind of AI friend who would validate things that I feel are poetic. For example, I was just lying here on my bed, revising, and the window is wide open a few inches behind my head and a breeze blew in and it was so exactly the right temperature for a breeze that I actually said, out loud, "Aaaaah." The wind itself was a reminder that poetry exists.
My sheets are dirty, not in the way that you think when someone says that, but literally because we've hiked every day this week and the trails are dry and dusty and the dogs leave brown shadows on the blankets when they jump down.
"Oh," the AI would say. "Yes, that sums it up beautifully, doesn't it?"
Here's another one:
The Internet has been very kind to my daughter lately. The Internet is actually giving her confidence, which is not how it is meant to work. I wonder if I am missing something, but the Internet is building her up. I see it happen much the same way as Lego bricks, when compiled according to the instructions, miraculously become a pirate ship. Of course, I know that it's possible that the Internet will one day turn on her, a raging oceanic storm, and she will be left, once again, a pile of sharp plastic that hurts my feet when I step on it.
Stepping on Lego was actually a much rarer occurrence in my life than you'd think from all the memes.
What about this: Every once in a while, I think, "What should I be when I grow up?"
All I really want to do is write and read. Read and write. I suppose I'd also like to meander down paths and eat snacks while admiring the view from the top of a hill.
I want to live further away from neighbours, so I can't hear their whistling, but close enough that I can still say, "How are things?" and mean, "I'm glad I know you. You're loved."
It will sound odd that I say this, because I live in a forest, or near enough that probably the greatest risk to my longevity is winter storms and falling branches, but I want to live near more trees but also to receive more sunlight, unblocked by trees. These are conflicting wants, but being human means that we must always want unlikely things to co-exist. We must crave the impossible.
I haven't been interested in acquiring new things at all lately, but I just got a targeted FB ad for a purse that made me want to throw my credit card at the screen. I didn't buy it, but I wonder how intimately social media actually knows us -- what it hears, how it concludes things we haven't yet realized about ourselves -- better than, say, our sisters or the guy on the dating app who would like to submit an essay entitled, "You are a b*tch and here is why" in lieu of sending a note that says, "Hey, how's it going?" The purse was grey leather, the colour of the smoke that is suffocating the blue out of the sky and I wonder why I'd be compelled by something that so closely matched tragedy.
I have two dogs and one of them has a slightly disordered personality, by which I mean he comes off to strangers as an aggressive, slathering, probably dangerous beast. After months (years) of being in a state of constant anxiety while taking him for walks, I've realized that if I pick him up and cover his eyes when we pass men or unleashed dogs, he is a completely and entirely different animal: docile and soft and companionable. I think I'm quite a bit more like my dog than I'd like to admit. I certainly tend to jump to angry or unflattering conclusions about approaching mammals. There is no one with me, usually, to cover my eyes. That's a metaphor. If you actually were to cover my eyes, I'd as likely as not break your fingers.
"Interesting," the AI would say. "You should write a book."
"I certainly should," I'd tell it. "This is just how I procrastinate. I take breaks from words with words. What do you think of that?"
"It's one way of doing it. Go for a walk."
"But I'm on a deadline."
"The screens are making people blind. And don't you need to see the trees? Even from strictly a practical standpoint."
"Yes," I'd say, amazed at the insight. "You're right."
"I love you," the AI would conclude.
"The breeze through the window," it would answer.
Is that a love story? What isn't?
I want there to be no technology. I want to not be typing this. I want the shortcut between my brain and the words to be a path made by a pen and paper.
I want Amazon to not exist. I want to live in a village. I want to greet people with hugs. I want everyone to feel safe. I want to know what it would be like to wake up and not check "for messages".
I want to live in a place surrounded on all sides by nature, by the sounds of an animal's footsteps in the fallen leaves, by water crashing furiously against a pebbled shore.
I want to sit in an adirondack chair.
I want to remember how to bake bread. I want to sit around a kitchen table, all of us listening to a show on the radio.
I want to remember, always, that on the other side of this screen, there are trees moving through their cycle of growing and shedding and re-growing and shedding again. I want to look up and see an eagle, looking back.
I want to walk on dirt paths without any sounds around me at all except bird calls and the peculiar talking sound that tree trunks make when they grow intertwined and are trapped in a perpetual dance with each other, their bark rubbed away where their limbs touch. I want to spend whole days without the word "mortgage" entering my mind. I want to sleep through a night without waking up with a start remembering that I need to be anxious.
What would this same life be if, tomorrow, like my son promises is possible, all technology failed? Would we all step out of our houses and apartments and rooms, blinking in the bright sunlight, temporarily paralyzed by the dazzling magical sound of the things we've stopped listening for, the symphony of insects that is always humming behind the engines and the radios and Netflix and iTunes and the lawnmowers?
I want to get up in the morning and not hear anything but the dogs' claws on the floor as they jump from the bed, the sound of coffee percolating on a stove, the wind buffeting the glass. I want to open the door, barefoot, and step outside. I want my feet to land on soft moss, on dry fallen leaves, on grass that hasn't seen a mower. I want to start walking and keep going into the woods without a schedule to follow, without something counting my steps to see if I measure up, without a podcast playing in my ears, without my phone in my pocket, without without without, in order to remember what it's like to be "with".
I want to walk with you, with a friend, with a child or two, with someone I love, with someone new, all of us quiet, our breath hanging in the fresh dawn air, making personal clouds like temporary tattoos on the sky that mark where we stepped, some small part of ourselves mingling with the rising fog and lifting up to where the stars are shining behind the blue, the grey, the light.
Do you ever ask, "What have we become?"
What do you want?
The maple tree that my son planted from a seed is almost as tall as the house and I look at it and I'm astonished. I want to grab people walking by and say, "Do you see that? My son planted that from a seed. LOOK at it!" It feels like a miracle, that tree, the way that hundreds of leaves have suddenly unfurled and are even as I type blowing in the wind, the sun shining through them, iridescent green.
My son is taller than me now. That is a thing that happened. One minute he wasn't and then he was as surely as if the race were never even close.
When I was little, my parents planted three trees in the front yard. They made a kind of triangle. I remember playing games there, running tiny laps around them. Then the trees got too big or died. I don't remember them going but they are all gone now. The place they were is just grass, sloping down to the street like a humped back.
The trees have something to do with everything.
I woke up this morning and the sun had already risen and I could tell it was warm because of the smell of drying cut grass. It's the weekend so everyone is out there, mowing, the lawns like patchy carpets buzzing with bees and already beginning to brown. The sheets were smooth and cool against my skin and the dogs were sleeping, heads pressed against my legs, and I thought that maybe this is the best part, the smell of this season and the softness of sheets that have been washed and dried a million times, the book I fell asleep reading still open beside me, the sun streaming in the skylights.
This is it.
I keep wanting to hit pause, right here, with this half-drunk cup of coffee made exactly how I like it, the laptop warm on my legs, the newly planted flower pots showing off in the morning light, a hummingbird hovering right there.
I like the book I'm writing. I haven't written anything else for a while because I couldn't. I've been wrestling alligators, wanting the book to be a thing it didn't want to be. It's been reptilian -- rough-skinned and toothy -- wanting to drag me under, but suddenly it's just clicked. It's working because it's easy, that's how I know. It wasn't an alligator at all, or maybe it was and the gator was just misunderstood, a movie monster.
Writing books is sometimes like being pregnant but in the way that an elephant is pregnant, which is to say being pregnant for so long that you no longer remember a time before you were, so you can't imagine a time when you are not.
I have two pending projects that are equally exciting, after this. They are already lurking behind the WIP, waiting to be seen. Like all of us, I guess. It's hard to see when they're just seeds but I wonder if they will turn into maple trees or bright orange carrots or a smattering of wildflowers in the shade of the 300 year old fir tree that hurls its cones down on the roof with such determined ferocity. I'm daydreaming. I put the hammock up last week.
What else is there to say? As I type, I'm always thinking, "No one reads blogs any more, for goodness sake." I think it in a British accent, a kind of scolding tsk tsk sound along-side it. But say someone does read it. Say that someone is you. Hello there.
Today, I'm going to mow the side yard and plant the vegetables. The garden is a constant war with me on one side -- the side of goodness and righteousness, of course -- and the weeds opposing, using their unethical tactics like Russian bots on Facebook. The weeds are always far in the lead, but I love being out there, chipping away at them, clearing the dirt out inch by inch, only to have it overtaken again. The different weeds mark the changing season, first the buttercup and then the morning glory and after that the grasses. If you were a weed, what kind of weed would you be? That's probably a quiz you could take on the Internet. There's one kind of weed that I have that's poisonous in every way: the sap, the leaves, the roots even. You have to admire that. There's really no way that it doesn't win. It leaves its itchy scars. I don't really mind. Like they say in job interviews: I love a challenge.
Besides, they were all once just seeds. Isn't that what this post is meant to be about? The Things That Grow. The wild things.
Every time a seed is planted, it anchors me more to this house, this life, this place. The veggies can't match up to the miracle of that tree though, the way the dog lies on the back of the chair so he can look out the window at it, the birds perched to survey the neighbourhood, the rabbit hiding near its trunk, the way it sweeps the sky gently like a paint brush, nudging the clouds north and south, the shadows of the leaves flickering on the ground below.
What I mean is that right now, everything is okay here. How are you?
I'm making chicken stew today but not properly, not really. I mean, it's the kind of chicken stew that uses Campbell's Cream of Chicken soup and a slow-cooker but while I'm chopping celery, I'm basically a homemaker in the 1970s, putting together a casserole in my cork-heeled sandals while smoking a Virginia Slim and my hair is up in a scarf and I'm wearing big sunglasses, I don't know why, because why not? I'm probably dancing or singing Joni Mitchell. Of course, almost none of these things are true. The celery and the Cream of Chicken soup are real, nothing else. I don't smoke. I have cork-heeled sandals but I'm actually wearing fuzzy socks with multi coloured stripes because I don't dress in reality the way that I look in my head. It's too much trouble. Soft socks are the only reason to keep going sometimes.
This morning was a hard morning, parenting-wise and writing-wise for that matter, and now nothing is clicking together for me and I have to write a blog promoting a book and all I can think about is chopping the celery and the specific smell that celery has and the way my daughter thinks that celery makes her throw up because she once choked on a piece of lettuce in a sandwich when she was three and became obsessed with the idea that celery and lettuce are the same thing. She hasn't touched either vegetable since and when I serve this stew later, she's going to squint at it suspiciously and maybe eat one small piece of chicken and then she'll see the celery and get hysterical and I'll end up feeding her portion to the dog (minus the celery, which she won't eat either) but the thing is that I really really like celery. Is being a parent a contract that you sign that says, "I will never again cook with celery"? Did I sign up for this, a life free of the satisfying crispiness of a celery stick?
Celery strikes me as the most French of all the vegetables, although I have no idea why and maybe the French people reading this are rolling their eyes at me and saying, "Zut alors!" in horror at the very idea of it. And then I'll clarify: "French people in the 1970s" and I'll explain about the cigarette -- maybe in a holder this time -- and Joni Mitchell and the way the sun picks up the glints in the linoleum, the gold flecks in the pattern and the way that soon the other wives from the neighbourhood will come over for coffee and we'll sit around and talk about what so and so said to somebody until it's time to pick up the kids from school. Then they'll understand. They'll know what I mean, except maybe I meant chilled white wine, which sounds more French than a coffee klatch, I suppose.
Somehow celery is now also connected in my train of thought to shag carpeting, avocado coloured of course -- and how if you vacuumed it in a certain direction, it made a pattern like freshly cut grass, which in turn reminds me of how we had an actual carpet rake -- it was green, too, both the rake and the carpeting -- and after the carpet was vacuumed, we'd rake it, which strikes me as very Zen, like raking a sand garden, at the same time as being a painfully colossal waste of time.
I have hardwood floors, which aren't even wood, they are bamboo. Years from now, I'm sure my kids will roll their eyes about that, the bamboo floors, and why were they a trend? I don't understand either. I don't know what the best floor would be, as it turns out. I don't even know what I want, not when it comes to that, to the thing on the floor. I just think I have better childhood memories of that green shag rug than anyone could possibly have about ugly dark brown wood-ish stuff.
That's all I have today, just the celery that I'm chopping for the stew no one will eat except me, at least not happily, an unfinished draft of a book that I have to get to, and the hard slamming of the doors of the car as the kids stormed off to school, affronted by the earliness of the morning and the way their hair didn't look quite the way they wanted it to be.
Life as a vegetable, I call it. Or maybe Celery, Life.
I once choked on a piece of celery myself actually, but I didn't die. I'm still here. I'm still writing. I'm still chopping as though my life depends upon it, the stew starting to bubble in the pot, while Joni reminds me about the painted ponies, the carousel of life, everything going round and round and round.
I Googled "I love you" just now.
I was marking and marking and marking, that's what I do at this time of year. Merry Christmas! Here is some marking! Oh, holy marking, the grades are brightly shining.
I'm lucky to get to read these stories but I'm also tired. That's how it goes. Lucky and tired are always doing battle. So I was thinking about marking and the students who poured their hearts into their work (and the ones who didn't) and I was thinking about how writing is a form of love, that putting a story down on paper (or on a screen) is a form of love, how love is involved whether you want it to be or not, how much I love my characters, how Velveteen-Rabbit-real they are to me, real because I love them into being.
My son is studying love at school, that's a thing now, at least in Montessori. There are so many forms of love. There isn't a love-word that describes writing and creating and surviving and keeping going and I think there should be, don't you? Art is love. So is living. Writing definitely is.
I love you, I typed in the Google search box.
My screen filled with results. It felt so immediate, so true and good and right, that typing I love you would of course have a million hits and the first thing was a song, and it was a song I didn't know, so I clicked it and listened to it while I heated up a cup of coffee for the third or tenth time and hoped that I wouldn't get microwave radiation poisoning if I actually managed to drink it this time before it got cold again. The song wasn't bad. It wasn't the best song I've ever heard, but I listened to it twice, just in case, and then I read the comments because I wasn't ready to go back to marking yet. Someone commented that they found the song by saying "I love you" to their Google phone and I loved that, that here we are in this world that is largely falling apart, all clotted up with the gore of humanity's greed and hunger and hate, saying "I love you" to Google, which is marginally better than asking what the weather is doing, because you can literally go look out ANY window unless you have no windows. All people with windows should look outside to see what the weather is doing and not ask their Alexa. Instead, they should say to their Alexa, "I love you." Why not?
It felt pretty good to me, knowing that other people out there are saying "I love you" to no one, to nothing, to the ether.
So after that, I scrolled down on the page and the next five or six or seven hits were all for "I love you Daddy" which is the Louis CK film that is now never going to be released or will be later, after "things blow over" or whatever the patriarchy hopes will happen next. And just seeing that, seeing how quickly "I love you" led to Louis CK and misogyny and the whole garbage fire of everything gave me a lump in my throat and bile in my mouth, both at once, like a terrible choking medical condition. The stuff these so-called "powerful" men have done is monstrous. It's truly monstrous. There isn't another word. Think about it. Their assumptions that we -- our bodies -- are what they are entitled to because they hold the keys to some kingdom that some of us would like to enter maybe or even something much less than that. Like, say, we want to stay employed. Or, I don't know, alive.
But they made money.
They got the keys.
And then they thought, "Hey, I get a prize now, right?"
The prizes that they claimed were us.
It's beyond absurd to me that this is the world we live in, that for however many years (forever?), women have been made to feel that it's at least partially our fault, if not entirely our fault, that men -- the key-holders, the prize winners -- have sent us photos of their penises or touched us or grabbed us or kissed us or raped us. Unbelievably, men (some men) to a certain degree still seem to think this is the case, that women INVITE this. But -- surprise! -- it's not true! It is not women's fault! Or, god forbid, girls'!
We did not ask for this!
It is the fault of the men who perpetuate the acts in question. The questionable acts or whatever they are calling them. They aren't really questionable, they are just wrong. I have an answer regarding these acts and the answer is "Eff you."
But now there is a new dawn. A new dawn!
There is a line in the song, the I Love You song, that says "We are shining in the rising sun" and look at this, look around right now, because we women are shining and we aren't shining because we want to be something pretty for you to look at, for you to feast your eyes on, for you to send a penis pic to! Imagine that! Nope, we are shining because we are really really angry, because the tipping point has been reached and it is now spilling over, all over, everywhere, and burning down all of you "powerful" men and your "proclivities" and your kingdoms, the keys to which you thought we needed.
We have had ENOUGH.
We will build our own kingdoms.
And we can, because we are fuelled by the fury of generations of girls and women who you have felt entitled to touch.
This isn't PRETTY SHINY SPARKLY us, shining for your pleasure, this is ENOUGH ALREADY us shining with incandescent rage, that's the shine that you see, that's what is so beautiful, how much shine we have. I mean, it's enough shine to burn your skin straight off if you stare for long enough, so I encourage you to do that if you're one of these men in question, a man who has conflated wealth with "the right to do whatever the hell you want with our bodies".
And here's a tip: If you tell us to smile, well, you won't remember what happens next in the heat of the combustion of our cumulative exhaustion with how things have been up until now. I bet you've said it. "Smile!" I bet you've thought that was a "nice" thing to say and that we wanted to hear it. Spoiler: We never did. Not once was it a pleasure. Not one single time.
But I didn't want to go here.
This post was about "I love you" and writing and what happens when you search things on Google that really could bring up almost anything as a result.
I wish Google would take that Louis CK stuff off their front page of I love you, really I do.
Let's put some loveable things up there. Something that makes us feel softer inside, something that makes it OK that we are here, right now, in this world where we have to buy a lot of things and keep up and earn more and pay tax and give up all our smooth luxurious empty time in favour of running faster to be fitter and thinner and richer and god if only we can get to the end with enough money to last us until we've finished eating our very last meal, I guess.
There should be some dogs on that page. Actual dogs. Puppies. Dogs are love. I'm firmly convinced. That's what love is. All animals. Well, not the ones that see us as meat. Or the ones we view as meat. That's a whole 'nother thing.
When I say "I love you" to my daughter, she always says, "Okaaaay". I don't know where to put that, but it wanted to be in this post, so there it is.
My bird died yesterday, so I'm a bit sad and all over the place. I don't think I gave my bird his best life. I feel guilty about that. I always feel like I'm letting my pets down, except my dogs, because all they want is to go for a walk and it turns out that same-same, that's mostly what I want, too! Cue the joy soundtrack!
I wish I could take my dogs with me all over the world and what we'd do is that we'd turn our back on the cities and all the stores where we can spend money on things we don't want or need that one day we will feel relieved to throw away. We'd turn away from that and go to the edge of town. All towns have edges. The edges are the best part because beyond the edges is the chewy nothingness, like the edge of a tray of brownies, you know what I mean.
There are usually trees out there past where the Gap Outlet resides and all those other clothes made by women and, who are we kidding, children, in unsafe factories overseas for the same amount of money per day that we spend on a Creme Brûlée Latte at Starbucks. That's who we are, just as a reminder: We are people who have indirectly said, "I'm OK with women and children working in unsafe conditions for not-enough-money so I can buy a tank top for $4.99." I'll just leave that here. I'm not trying to make you feel badly, I'm just poking at my own bruises. I'm wearing slippers right now from Old Navy. No one is perfect. I'm definitely not.
When humans leave blank spots, the plants grow up there and fill it in. That's the magic. That's love. A form of love that also wasn't in my son's Montessori text book: The way the planet loves itself. "Look, a blank spot!", the planet says. "I will fill it in with green." Even Chernobyl. We can't seem to destroy things even when we are actively trying. The plants grow back. Go plants! I found a vine growing in my crawlspace when I went to get the Christmas decorations. I admire its tenacity. It's really dark in there. But then if I'm being honest, my first reaction was not "Go plants!" Mostly I was depressed about the fact that my house is holey, not to be mistaken for holy. It is so very holey that plants can grow right through the walls. But maybe that is holy. Who knows? The plant is morning glory, in case you're wondering. When we all die and the planet burns and freezes in equal measure and that idiot who is running America starts a nuclear war because someone made fun of his complete and absolute incompetence, the morning glory will live on. Praise be for the weeds, I guess. The weeds are love. They know what we don't know about how to just keep living, in spite of everything ridiculous that's happening everywhere. They just keep doing it. So do we, I suppose. Maybe we are weeds. I have to hope we are.
Probably the morning glory in my crawlspace will grow up through the chimney and into the living room soon. One day, I'll look down and it will be twining around my Old Navy slippers, which are on my feet and I'll be pinned here to the couch, which is OK because I have my laptop and I'm writing and my dog is sleeping on my shoulders and I love. My coffee is cold again but that's how it goes.
Anyway, I love you.
My students all type "anyways", with an S. That's not actually a word, did you know that? But they keep typing "anyways" and I keep crossing it out and each time, I feel hopeless for a few seconds and then I stop feeling hopeless and I love what my students have written and that they wrote it and that even though everything is terrible, we still write things, we conjure up magic out of nothingness, we make characters, we invent lives, we Velveteen-Rabbit-love all these made up people into being. It's like we can't stop. We keep doing it.
We can't stop because love. Love keeps propelling everything forward. Love and dogs.
I hope you're well.
I hope you're writing.
I hope you love.
I hope you're loved.
My kids watch YouTube videos as though it is their full time job.
"What are you watching?" I ask my son, who is now twelve, balanced on the tightrope-thin border between childhood and adolescence, teetering teetering teetering.
"This guy doesn't have a home," he explains. "He's a train jumper."
I watch the video over my son's shoulder as a lanky man-boy on the screen jumps into an open container on a passing train, going to who knows where. He grins into the camera.
"That looks... uncomfortable," I say.
My son turns to me, puzzled, laughing. "It looks amazing," he says. "Can we buy a camper van? We should go on a road trip."
The days are long, they say, but the years are short.
What bullshit, I think, at the same exact instant when I realize that they are right. The truth of it is in the vibration of the train tracks on the screen. The call of that. The way it beckons.
Anyway, ask not for whom the bell tolls. (They say that, too, the bullshitters, the truth-tellers.)
There are always two choices, two roads diverging in the yellow woods. That's what we must teach our children who are leaving leaving leaving, maps unfolding inside their hearts, the road calling calling calling them away.
Always ask "What if?"
Always ask "Why?"
Teach them to ask all the questions of themselves.
Teach them to answer all the questions for themselves.
(Not just so they get an A on their papers. Not just so they go to a good college. Anyway, what is a good college?)
Emphasize this: Take the fork in the road that feels right. Be water. Follow the path of least resistance.
Rivers are beautiful, don't you think? Especially the sound of them, rushing rushing rushing.
But don't be in such a rush!
You have plenty of time!
You aren't water.
I know what I said, but now I take it back.
I take it all back.
Stop watching YouTube.
We can't get a camper van.
Look, just don't take the path that is steep and crumbling, every step a risk, rocks tumbling tumbling tumbling off the sheer edge of the cliff, splashing hard into the roaring river that is flowing flowing flowing so far below you that it no longer looks like a threat, that you can't even see the ferocity of rapids, that it just looks like a simple line, a border between this and that, you and me, the past and the looming looming looming unknown.
Sometimes I wonder how we all agreed that the thing to do was to have a house, with this many rooms, and that one would have a couch in it -- who agreed on the size and shape of this thing anyway? -- and it would face a fireplace and above the fireplace would be either a mirror or a TV and that decision -- mirror or TV? -- would be a choice that really told your guests who you are. Look, I like to watch HGTV. It relaxes me -- I generally run pretty high on the anxiety scale -- but it also makes me want things: a tiny house in the woods with a view of an ocean. A huge island in the kitchen. A laundry room that's big enough for cabinets where I can keep an assortment of chemicals that will make my clothes white again. I mean, OK, I guess that won't fit in a tiny house. But this is just thinking out loud, so who cares?
If I get the laundry room, a big good clean one, then I'll want white clothes. I may as well. I have lots of space to clean them and hang them to dry. Actually, why not let someone else do that? Maybe I could pay a service. I'll wear my white clothes casually, I suppose to a beach, so now I want a beach, too. Sleeves and pant-legs rolled. The pants can't be white. That wouldn't work. Let's say the pants are old, comfortable jeans. I have some of those, although I ripped a straight line across the backside when I fell down the cliff on a hike. Good thing they weren't white! I didn't break my leg.
Anyway, in this image, I also have perfectly highlighted hair and it blows back from my face, which is wrinkly, but not too much, just enough that I look content, you know? Women of a certain age always look so serene. Well, in the ads for incontinence products they do, so whatever. There's always a river and some kind of cruise or a group of fun similarly aged women without a care in the world doing yoga. Very stretchy, they are. So let's say we are also stretchy and put some Botox on that list of new wants that are the fault of HGTV. I also want not to be afraid of needles and toxins in this scenario.
Let's get back to it. So after my walk on the windswept beach with my white-clad kids who are mostly smiling, showing off their glowing teeth and good health and overall good natures and cleanliness, our golden retriever who would never actually lurch away from my grip on a walk and try to bite an old man in the kneecap, will bound up to the house ahead of us. We'll be laughing about something, because we can sure laugh in this fantasy. Everything is joyous! There will be a scattering of birdsong. No one will flip anyone else off and then, say, punch them in the face while crying about the disparity they perceive in overall life fairness.
In the laundry room, we may as well have a dog shower. Custom made. Maybe some kind of Italian tile. Italians seem to really know their way around tile. Nice stuff. The dog will stand in the shower and I'll get all the sand off him before he ruins my floors, which are reclaimed barnwood, but perfectly waxed and polished so they look new but I can feel pretty smug knowing that they are recycled from some kind of old farm in Vermont. Carbon-footprints don't count in this imagining, OK?
I'll put the dog in some kind of not-invented-yet dog dryer. The dog doesn't lose hair. Let's say he has a rare condition where all his fur stays attached to his body and doesn't clump and roll and run around under the furniture only to blow out as soon as someone you want to impress steps into your house, which can't be that tiny, after all, because it has to accommodate you and your dog and your glowingly healthy children.
Oh, let's toss a husband into the mix. Why not? Only not a regular husband, but one of those ones from movies who is good and kind and really strong and funny. Maybe, oh, I don't know the Rock. You got me, it's always the Rock. Who says I have to lower the bar? I don't! He really actually wants to take the kids to school and also to build things with them because he loves being around them, not because he's some kind of messed up predator who is just trying to befriend them so evil can ensue, but because he really genuinely finds them to be the best company on the planet. Except for me, of course.
He also loves to cook! And clean up! And he actually appreciates that you clean the house or better yet, he pays someone else to clean it so you don't have to, because the tiny house is, after all, now a mansion on an island somewhere beautiful and the neighbours are all lovely and kind and have friendly dogs and happy children and nowhere in any gardens are there weeds. Weeds just don't grow there. Why would they? Weeds are ugly and messy and boy do they ever like to choke the life out of flowers and vegetables. Sometimes you and the Rock sit out on the patio and sip wine because in this case wine is not a symptom of alcoholism or wishing to erase the shittier parts of your day and/or life, but actually just a pleasant thing to sip in the weedless garden while you read books. Kitchen Rock Who Loves Kids also loves books. Of course. Duh.
Oh, I have another idea, which is that in the living room, there will be a fireplace with a mirror but it will be one of those fireplaces with two sides, so on the other side, there's a family room, which is more rough and tumble, more Pottery Barn than actual designer-ish impressive furniture, and on that couch, the children will sit and watch, say, thirty minutes of TV every day, without eating in there and getting the goddamn crumbs everywhere because we are imagining, why not? Who pictures crumbs? Nobody! No one tells you about the crumbs that get stuck on absolutely every surface, along with the mysterious stickiness that plasters itself over everything you own the very second you have children. If you don't have kids yet or you're pregnant, I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news. There are going to be crumbs. Not on HGTV though, just in real life.
Anyway, your happy kids who love each other agree on the show and watch it quietly and thoughtfully and then they turn it off when they are done without having hysterics or lying about when they started watching it or just flat-out ignoring you. This isn't real, so maybe after that they help their dad or stepdad or whatever, you know, the Rock, the nice guy who is in the kitchen, still, right now, they help him clean up and they tell each other jokes. Jokes! Really funny ones. They'll film themselves telling a joke and it will go viral on YouTube and you'll use the money you earn from that to put them through college. The best college or at least the most fun one where nothing unthinkable happens on the reg. They aren't going to have terrible, soul-sucking corporate jobs when they grow up, either! They will save the world or do art or save the world with their art or build bridges or save kittens. That's an actual job. I saw it on Facebook. A team of guys who go around and save kittens from trees! What a world. The point is that the kids will go to some kind of school that will spit them out at the end even happier and healthier than when they went in, which is some kind of benchmark because already they are the happiest and healthiest kids alive.
Anyway, from the now-clean kitchen, you can hear your daughter belly-laughing and your son laughs so hard that he gets the hiccups so he pours a glass of filtered, totally safe and fantastic miracle water from the fancy water thing you just bought for the counter. This is not real money, this is just HGTV, so that's fine, that works. Good water. And the kids drink 8 glasses of it a day! They need to because they are super active. I mean, look at them.
The Rock starring as Kitchen Man has just come out of the kitchen and put on some kind of JCrew windbreaker and he's going to take the dog for a run on the beach and the kids can come too and he'll hew for them a kite out of driftwood and seaweed that he's woven together and in the meantime, why don't you go out?
Why don't you?
That sounds nice. You could meet a friend for drinks! People do. You saw it on that miniseries that starred Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern and some other gorgeous women. That was a good miniseries. Pretty. It was in California, I guess. Maybe that's where you live, actually. You wish you could remember what that show was called. Oh, I know! Big Little Lies. I mean, clearly their lives weren't so great, but even just the setting would be enough. The setting was amazing. All those cliffs and crashing waves and gorgeous homes. Anyway, those people always were meeting each other for drinks and in real life people meet for drinks, too. This is made obvious by the fact that bars and restaurants and pubs exist and don't seem to always go out of business because everyone is too busy to go to them. So you can do that, pulling your front door behind you as you leave in your nice leather shoes and perfectly fitting jeans and some kind of technical cashmere top that makes you look like Cindy Crawford or whoever is hot now that it's not 1989 anymore. The door locks automatically behind you, gently, like those kitchen cabinets with the soft-close that you see sometimes on kitchen renovation shows. This front door is like that, soft and solid at the same time. You don't have to bang it three times, really hard until you actually think what will likely happen is that the door will one day just fall apart into a big pile of Jenga-like blocks of wood and then what will have been the point of slamming it in the first place? You go down to where your car is parked and it will start. Your driveway is not cracked and broken, which is a nice feature in a driveway. The car is not a fancy, expensive thing because you eschew fancy cars in favour of donating money to charities that raise money for cancer or orphans. Oh, maybe it is a little bit fancy. I mean, heated seats would be nice and one of those back up camera things.
You get in and you back up and you don't accidentally back over the neighbour's cat or the kids basketball hoop or anything. Down on the beach, the sun is setting and it's making a million colours in the sky and it's so gorgeous you literally can't breathe, and silhouetted against that are your joyful kids and the famous actor playing the part of your husband. It's pretty nice, actually. And all this from just that one half hour show about how to redesign the flow in your laundry room. It's nice to know that my imagination is still firing on all cylinders and you know, turning an ad for laundry detergent into this full-blown fantasy existence! That's healthy, right?
I'm getting off track, OK, sorry. I know you want to get to the end at this point. So let's say that you're breathing again now because you blinked or the sun finished setting or whatever. Nice moon. Full. Glowing like a ribbon of silk on the road, like you're actually inside some kind of poem. That's your life now, all big white-toothed smiles and free verse. Anyway, you drive to the restaurant, and you meet your friends and everyone is happy to see you and you are happy to see them and everyone hugs and you order some food that isn't accidentally full of things you're allergic to, because this isn't real, might as well not be allergic to everything, and you eat it and you don't feel guilty about whatever it was because Kitchen Man doesn't care if you gain a pound or eight or even eighty because he sees you as an actual human being and not as a particular body type that you have an obligation to maintain because he went into it under the understanding that you would remain totally unchanged through the years, always the girl he married, even though he's gained a few sitting on the couch watching sports on the TV, which is getting bigger and bigger every time you blink, almost in inverse proportion to the amount of time you have left to live, if you live to be an average age. By the time you meet your doom, that thing will have obliterated the fireplace, the living room, the couch! Think about it. Actually, by then TV will be 3d or 4d or just holograms, running around your now empty living room while you get out of the way so you don't get shot or eaten by zombies or whatever happens on TV.
Anyway, you'll have a nice time with your girlfriends and boyfriends and everyone you know and have ever met who all love you and want to drop everything to meet you for a drink right now, and then maybe after you'll all get a manicure or a pedicure. Do you know that in real life, I've never had a manicure or a pedicure? I'm well past the point of ever doing that. I just cannot get my head around paying someone else to paint my nails. It's not that hard to do for yourself. I mean, it wouldn't be if I ever did it, but mostly I don't bother because I'm pretty busy and I'd rather read a book.
Like I said, I don't watch a lot of TV, yet I bought into this idea that you have a couch and a fireplace with a TV above it. Mostly I forget it's there. The kids watch it constantly. If I see Kate Hudson talking about compression fit leggings on Disney XD just one more time, I'm going to commit a crime. I don't know what it would be. I was going to say something violent, but I'm not a violent person. Maybe I'll just shoplift an eyeliner or something, but actually, no, I'd feel too anxious and I like to not be anxious, so I'll just pay for it. So I guess I'll buy an eyeliner and then I'll come home and pour a glass of wine from a box and eat popcorn for dinner and watch HGTV. The kids are at their dad's. If they were home, I'd make vegetables or something. Popcorn actually really gives me a bad stomachache as it turns out. Who knew?
You know what? Those holograms might be nice. I'm looking forward to that invention. Not if it was CSI or the Living Dead or whatever most people watch, but for Fixer Upper. Like you could watch in an empty room and Joanne and her golden retriever of a floppy, happy husband will tear down all the walls and make it one big room with a rusty gate on the wall and somehow it will look unbelievably luxurious. At least there won't be a bunch of laundry on the kitchen counter and a pile of dog vomit on the rug! That's something. I think we can all agree to that, and if we have to have a couch and an ottoman and a fireplace -- although actually fireplaces are kind of outdated because of all the wood and flames and smoke and general messiness and hard work that they entail -- and TV all arranged exactly the same way, then so be it. I can do that. I think we all can. We'll just sit on our couches now. Let's just wait for stuff to happen. It's going to be good, I think. It must be. Otherwise, why did we do all this? It has to have a point. Everything does, right? It all leads to a happy ending. I believe that. I really do.
Yesterday, I cut my mother's hair. It's as delicate as I remember my daughter's hair being when it was first, finally, long enough for a ponytail.
My daughter has spent the summer with wind blowing through her hair: roller coasters and a swamp boat, speed boats and kite-flying gales. The brush tore through knots and matting. There was a leaf, a twig, some fluff. We dyed it purple: two shades, two boxes of dye. Her pillow is magenta in the morning. When she sweats, rivulets of lavender run down her cheeks.
I let my daughter cut my hair. As she cut, my head became lighter. I sat up taller. I fell in love with the sound of sharp scissors cutting away what doesn't need to be there.
When I was six, my mother put my waist length hair into a braid and chopped it off. A feeling that I'll never forget: The way the comb abruptly ran out of hair to comb, somewhere above my shoulders. The way my hair seemed alive, swinging around my face.
How quickly we are all changing, all the time, even when we are trying to stay still.
Maybe if I learned to love it, instead of always leaning so hard on the brakes, it would be the difference between careening down a hill, terrified, out-of-control, and the feeling of being on a bike, the wind in your hair, your hands not touching the brakes on purpose, so fast that you're flying, you're free, and it's nothing but gravity that's even keeping you here, in this life, right here and now, every second your hair growing fractionally more, the changes happening in spite of you, as unstoppable as wind and time.
I spent almost a month at the island. The island has never changed. Maybe it will never change, I don't know. I hope it doesn't. The island is nothing more than what it is, a mass of sandstone risen from the sea. There are trees and paths through the trees and blackberries and beaches. There are a handful of cabins. There are old abandoned logging roads. There are fallen trees. There are standing trees. There are cedar trees so old that my whole family can't span them with our arms, hands held, wrapped around their trunks.
When I'm on the island, everything falls away. There are no stores, so one can't buy anything even if one wanted to, and the thing is that you don't. How could you want anything when all this exists? You eat breakfast and clean up. Without technology, everything takes longer and feels more purposeful. The pace is slow. You go for a walk. Every day, you take the same photos because every day, you are struck by the same beautiful things: the way the maple leaves capture all the light before it hits the valley floor. The fungus growing from the fallen tree. The tree that came crashing down beside you on the same walk, last year, and didn't kill you. The shadow of the distant deer as he spots the dogs and runs, the deadfall crackling under his hooves.
In the afternoon, maybe you go to the sandy beach and swim, but first the act of making lunch with limited supplies. You make do. Making do is something you don't do much at home because at home there are grocery stores everywhere and delivery services and so much to spend money on. At the island, you pick blackberries and eat them off the bush. You sit in the shade and work while you watch the kids swing on rope swings, first one, then the other, back and forth up and down the trail from one to the next. There isn't anything else. There is no TV and no internet and no reason to do anything else than swing from this tree and that tree and there isn't anything else they'd rather do anyway.
Oh, build a fort. There are no building supply stores, so walk from log-pile to log-pile on the beach and pry free half-rotten driftwood because that is good enough because it is all there is, anyway. You use a handsaw to cut the wood and rusty nails you found in a bucket under the cabin to hammer it together and it's perfect. It's a palace. It's the grandest thing ever built, in spite of the fact that it's still only a floor.
Your expectations are different, that's all. The whole family rushes to the hillside to see an eagle, fighting a raven in the sky. We sit on the hill and wait for whales. There are a lot of mice this year -- you put your hand under the barbecue to turn off the flame and it lands on a tail, leathery and alive.
There weren't any whales this summer. I hope it's not a sign.
When I got home, the September issues of fashion magazines that I don't remember subscribing to are crammed into the mailbox, as fat as the old Sears catalogue. I flip through one in the first bath I've taken for over a month -- no plumbing at the cabin means no showering -- and I see five different versions of $500 pale pink tennis shoes that are not designed for playing tennis and I see that my skirt should be below my knee this year and the boots are the same, but slightly different, and I see that I am doing my brows wrong and the thing one must do to their hair is a $500 colour process and everything is $500 and I want to throw the magazine but then I read my horoscope and it says that international fame is coming my way at the end of September, so maybe I'll hang on to it.
I don't want pale pink sneakers.
I don't want to want pale pink sneakers.
I want to take my shoes off and feel the warm sandstone under my feet, the wind coming at me from the northwest, blowing my unfashionable hair away from my makeup-free face. I want to look up at the sky and see an eagle gliding home. I want to hear the sound of the whale before I see it, the loud exhalation that says everything is the same and nothing needs to change because what matters is what is real, and what is real is a sandstone island, risen from the sea, populated by the ancestors of the people who have been there since the beginning, since long before pink sneakers, since the dawn of mankind.
I can't remember the last time I had a day off. A proper one. A day with nothing to fill it, empty hours stretching languorously through the daylight hours and on into the dark. A day when I've thought, "I'm so bored."
Every night, I fall asleep dreaming about words and unfolding plots, interlaced with real life, which is to say the kids and what they need and deserve and want and love and hate and why they won't stop fighting and if they'll ever clean their rooms and if the dog will stop launching himself like Cujo at passers by and how I'm back at work at the University soon and deadlines and vacation and all of that.
It's the characters who keep me sane. That's true. I'm telling you because I just realized it.
Every morning, I wake up and wish that I'd properly cleaned the house the previous day, stumbling down the stairs and into the kitchen to make yet more coffee in the pot that's only passably maintained. I love my life, but there's just so MUCH of it and it's all in need of a deep clean. I haven't had my hair cut in two years, at least. I don't spend much time thinking about if I like how it looks or not, I just twist it up on my head and pin it in place with a pen or a chopstick and put off dealing with it for another day.
I'm always saying, "Tomorrow."
Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow.
Maybe tomorrow, I'll crawl into the crawlspace and concrete over the part where water rises up out of the ground and seeps into the stored bedding for beds we no longer own and bags of outgrown clothes and shoes and toys.
Maybe tomorrow, I'll help my son convert the shed to a workshop and we'll get someone to put in the window that we picked up for free from the bottom of someone's driveway and maybe tomorrow, we'll swim in the pool and light the propane fire and roast a marshmallow and savour the summer. You know, the possibility of Northern Lights glimmering through the warm summer night exists and we should be watching for it, waiting, holding our breath, because sometimes we get so busy, we forget to just stop being so busy and to go for a long walk in the woods, looking up and down and sideways. The way the sun shines on the green of the maple leaves is everything. The stoic way the trees grow slowly up towards the light.
Tomorrow, I will go for a real hike, with no destination and no hurrying, just one step in front of the other, deeper and deeper into the woods.
I'm writing it down because it's life, or it's my life right now. It's how it is, every day a scrambling to the finish line trying to fit in as many events as possible, like some kind of demented party game where at the end you win only the satisfaction of knowing you did it, you didn't think you could, and you did. Don't get me wrong, it's worth it.
I'm afraid of boredom. So it's good that I don't have time for that. Not now. Maybe not ever.
Oh, there's a fish, a birthday-party goody-bag fish -- who gives PETS at a party? -- who needs badly to be cleaned. I have to remember the fish. I'm typing this blog post, a post about nothing, a tallying of busy-ness, and the fish can barely see me through the green tank, which will take five minutes to actually clean but going to a website and buying him new gravel seems like a better use of time. Remember when we had to drive to a store to buy things like that? I miss those days. We had a department store that oddly (in hindsight) had a pet aisle where you could buy actual pets -- birds and fish and hamsters. What must it have been like to be an animal who lived in a cage in a department store, waiting for someone to suddenly decide that along with socks and laundry detergent and a new hat, they also needed a guinea pig?
The birds chirp with delight when I sit down next to them to write, at least I assume it's delight because I like the idea that they are delighted, when really they are probably saying, "Look, lady, just clean the cage, OK?" I'd like to offer a blanket apology to all the pets. I love you all. Is love enough? It would be if they were human. I need to order more bird seed and some spare time that I can spend letting the birds spread their wings, flying frantically around the living room, their birdy little hearts pounding with excitement and fear.
There's a garden. I've eaten three tomatoes that I grew myself but the kids won't eat the strawberries in case there are spiders. Don't forget to be afraid of spiders because they lurk everywhere, something I didn't realize before I had kids. Being vigilant for spiders is a part-time job, too.
Last week, I spent a valuable day pulling the waist high weeds from the yard and made a mountain of weeds for the haulers to haul away but when I got back from a writing event, but now I am back and so many have grown back that I need to do it again before they come. But where can I fit that in?
The weeding, the endless weeding! I'm going to look back on my forties (and fifties, I'm guessing) as the weeding years. Here's something that might surprise you. It surprised me when I realized it the other day. The thing is that I love weeding. Or, more accurately, I love the gratification I feel when I have a hard job and I manage to somehow do it, sweat pouring down my face, and the clock ticking off the hours that I'm not working but probably should be, all the while, the characters in my head, scrambling for a foothold. That's how it is, to write, to be always writing, and it's amazing. It's wonderful. I can't recommend it enough. Your kitchen won't be clean enough. Your whole house, actually, will accumulate a filmy layer of dusty neglect, but who can bring themselves to care?
My hair is too long. The weeds are encroaching. The crawlspace is leaking. And every day, I step over a puddle on my front steps which seems to have no plausible source. But I'm writing. There is a woman with a tattoo on her arm sitting at a kitchen table. She's very beautiful and she is afraid. The tattoo has faded to grey and she has a child.
A really unusual child. They are all unusual, aren't they?
I'm going to clean my son's room and while I clean, I'm going to be listening to that child and waiting for the story to unfold, one word at a time, one sentence unfurling into a paragraph into a chapter into a whole thing, the thing that I meant to tell all along.
I was looking at photos someone took of the Northern Lights and it occurred to me that beyond the fact that they are beautiful, the Northern Lights look exactly like a particularly green version of an ocular migraine. Maybe if I could begin to see ocular migraines as beautiful, I wouldn't be convinced each time I have one that I'm actually -- this time, for real -- having a stroke. Is it possible that the distance between calm and terror is just a tiny readjustment of thinking?
No one looks at the Northern Lights and says, "This is really making me anxious." At least, I don't think they do.
No one looks at their ocular migraine aura and says, "This is breathtaking!" either.
We were watching Survivor last night and the host introduced one of the players as "the woman who got up from the couch". My son looked at me and said, "Mum, you should do that! She got off the couch, so you can, too."
"Who me?" I said. I mean, I got defensive. Anyone would. I don't have a desk! I'm working on the couch, not just sitting! I never just sit! I don't have time!
"Still," he said. "You could do it, Mum."
I realized he wasn't criticizing me, but throwing me a vote of confidence. Sometimes you miss love when you're looking for reasons to hate yourself, that's the thing. I'm too old to be on Survivor though. Plus, I'm allergic to fish so would probably die somewhere around episode 2. "The first time in Survivor history!" the host would say. "This is a historic moment!"
All of our historic moments lately have been moments when we, as a world, have cringed in unison. I'm not sure what that says about the course of humanity. I wonder if, before they went extinct, the dinosaurs were ever just embarrassed to be a part of it all, or worse, heartbroken.
I've been so busy.
I AM so busy.
I overscheduled, overestimated my own abilities, over-everythinged all the things that I can't quite get done on time, except somehow I do, every time. I haven't had my haircut in years. I've turned down all manner of social things to the point where I rarely have the opportunity to decline invitations any more as they aren't coming. And oh, I've been missing the great swathes of time I used to spend walking and thinking, which, as it turns out, are crucial to getting the work done.
Irony is still my favourite and my best.
Someone on the Internet wrote a clickbait article about how if you want to write a book, you have to write every day or you may as well quit. The truth is that if I don't spend a lot of time walking and thinking, I can't write a book, every day or otherwise. The writer of that article is giving us all something to feel a thrill of superiority toward, which I suppose is a nice thing for clickbait to do. I choose to feel sorry for him because that makes me feel even better, but the truth is, mostly I feel confused. Why does he think that what works for him will work for everyone?
Here's what sometimes works for me: Stopping the work to sit in the garden and take photographs of bees. I wonder if I should sell that idea to The Daily Beast. How well do they pay? I could make the time. I'm the master of creating time out of thin air, my hands waving around, my eyes closed, conjuring magic. The Internet is nothing if not a lovely stew made from all the things we thought about while we were not getting our work done.
Anyway, what a ridiculous idea! To write every day. (Or else!) I can't write every day, even though I have been. That doesn't make sense, but what does?
The person who wrote that article though! He's like a song that's stuck in my head now. It's right there, churning. Write every day! OR ELSE. Someone knows him. Someone loves him. Someone probably thinks he would do well on Survivor. But still, what a smug person! So smugly telling other writers that he is special and knows better and no one else gets it or understands him and his greatness. Oh dear. Poor man. He's trying to make us all quit. Maybe he thinks that improves his chances of survival in a field where no one survives. The thing is, your book doesn't have to be "better than" the competition. Your book simply has to be good and true and resonant. If no good books cross the transom, the publishers will all quit. They'll begin taking long walks in the woods themselves, noticing things they never saw before, like the way if you look down on the path, you'll see multiple rocks shaped like hearts. They'll realize that you can always hear birds, thousands of them, all chirping a different tune.
Also -- I seem to still have more to say about this clickbait, sorry, I thought I was done -- he seems to have a lot of anger, manifesting in hating all other writers for being better looking. Better looking! "That's absurd," I said, when I read it, shaking my head and laughing, but also feeling better about myself. It was a compliment, if you think about it. I love other writers, especially the women. (The women tend towards being less smug, not that all men are smug, but certainly the smug tend to be male.) We're all the same person, all of us writers, really, a borderless entity pulsing with words and felt feelings and ideas and endings and observations and compulsions and love and self-loathing. We're usually outsiders who spend a lot of time alone, indoors or out, noticing the details.
God, it's so miserable today, the weather.
Even as I'm writing this, rain is hitting hard against the window, pushing the hanging strawberry plants around with a sort of unexpected violence. Last night, there was thunder and lightning. It crackled through the night sky and into my dreams, which were terrible ones about unspeakable things that made me fear death, because what if death is nothing but nightmares on a loop, showing you who you really were?
My son is right now running endless laps around a track, his lungs no doubt aching, rain dripping from his hair. He's probably cold or hot or both but definitely uncomfortable. He hates running. Let's say he's not genetically predisposed to being good at it. The apple fell near the tree of me, for certain. Track meets make me anxious, as lightheaded as I felt that time an owl flew directly into my face in the woods. It's adrenalin, I think. Mine works in an odd way. I sometimes get weak when strength would seem preferable or more obvious.
"I can't stay!" I told him. "I have to write!"
This is writing. I'm feeling guilty though. In one minute, I'm going to find my keys and head back up there, to cheer him on.
You know, just as I was feeling satisfied with the metaphorical appropriateness of the terrible weather, the sun came out. It's shining on the screen now with such intensity, I have to tilt the laptop to be able to see. I'm not where I should be. Am I ever? I'm on the couch. I'm here writing this, and not the book that I'm meant to be writing. I could be surviving. I should be at the track meet. I could be winning something, somewhere, somehow. A million dollars. A book contract. Love.
This is a post about writing every day or not at all. This is a long walk in the gusting wind, the gentle flickering of a migraine aura sliding in slow-motion across my field of vision, an owl disappearing into the branches of a raindrop-bejewelled tree. This is my voice yelling, "Go! Go! You can do it! Keep going!", rising above the sound of the crowd, as loud and strong as anything has ever been.
I'd been hearing banging in the walls again, the sound of scurrying. Rats, obviously, I thought. I was filled with dread and angst and a kind of fury towards this house and its easy accessibility for wildlife. I kept thinking of the scene in Ratatouille when the old lady starts shooting her gun at the ceiling and thousands of rats poured out and I was glad I didn't have a gun because I like my ceilings where they are, separating me from falling pine needles and bird droppings.
I sat and worked and listened to the thumps and got increasingly worried. Could I afford to pay an exterminator again? Did I want to? Maybe I should just sell and move! But nowhere is exempt from rats. My exterminator told me once that the worst place for rats in town was also the most coveted neighbourhood, one of those places where all the wives are willowy and do pilates and all the men have good jobs and nice cars and their children wear crisp white shirts that always look clean and no one is ever sad on the outside.
I lived in that place once and maybe people thought that about me. I never did Pilates but I did have the requisite Hunter gumboots and long hair. Inside the house, there existed the darkest place I've ever been. I was reading to my son one day, and a rat tail suddenly appeared from under his closet door and flicked back and forth before disappearing. I'm just saying, I should know better: Things aren't always how they appear. There are rats in the attics there. Far more than you'd guess, based on house prices and appearances.
Anyway, I couldn't stand it anymore, not knowing if the rats were gathering forces outside, having their babies in my weed bucket, drowning in the murky winter water in the kids' pool. I stayed quiet. I listened. Finally, I followed the sounds to my front door. I opened the door, and there, in my son's outgrown helmet (which is still hanging there, as though his head might one day shrink again enough to wear it), was a nest of baby birds. Each time the mother came and went with food or more nest-filler, the helmet thumped against the wall.
The birds and their funny nest are a miracle. They are a thing that makes us exclaim when we come home each time, "Oh, look!" Each time I look at it, I'm in disbelief. I mean, I'm happy it's not rats, but more than that I'm happy the birds made this their home. It's like validation: Your house is a safe place for us. I know that sounds ridiculous. But we didn't have birds nesting at the old house, that's for certain.
My kids' therapists try to teach them to manage their anxiety by using red light green light thinking, which is to do with not automatically assuming the worst. I like to think of it as rat/bird thinking. Why do we always assume rats? I'm trying to relearn how to do this, so I can model it better for them and so I can just be better, in general. I'm trying to always assume birds, even when it doesn't make sense. Especially when it doesn't.
The daffodils that I planted turned out to be miniature. I've never seen tiny daffodils before. Daffodils are my favourite. I planted three hundred bulbs. The bulbs were regularly sized. They're pushing up all over the front border, in between the weeds, which are also sprouting. I think of November and all those hours I spent burying them in the cold ground on my hands and knees. Every spring I regretted not doing it, so I made myself do it, even though it seemed awfully optimistic.
Scattered among the tiny daffodils are a few regularly sized ones. They look like giants, wise elders, bent at an angle over the tiny perfection of their miniature replicas.
Anyway, everything is a miracle when you think of those baby birds in a bike helmet, don't you think?
Last night, the rain fell so hard against the skylights that I woke up again and again and again. I had practical concerns: As an adult on a limited budget, I can't afford to fix whatever it is that causes the crawlspace to flood when it rains. I contemplated how much rain the crawlspace could withstand before it simply sighed and allowed the water to fill it. The rain showered down harder and harder and then so hard that the skylight itself looked like the front window of the car when I enter the carwash. It's been a long time since I cleaned my car. These two co-occurring thoughts unlocked the floodgates and the entire reservoir of my worries (how long will the car last? when will I clean out the crawlspace? should I somehow get something fixed? when was the last time I cleaned the bathroom?) flooded the room, sweeping away two children, who were camping out due to nightmares, and two dogs, who can't sleep unless they are literally on top of me.
Fortunately, we all survived. (We know how to swim.)
We keep surviving.
Which is amazing considering how all of us, in turn, wake up at night and realize that everything is impossible, leaving us tired and upset enough in the morning to shout things like, "I can't and won't go to school today or ever again, you dummy!"
This morning, after taking the recalcitrant youths to school, I went for a muddy walk through the forest, remembering how an ancient maple tree once toppled over right next to where I was walking due to a rainfall which had drenched the ground. There were worms lying everywhere, gleefully, all over the muddy ruts and grooves made by the water pouring down the mountain in the rains (and, subsequently, into my crawlspace). I couldn't imagine where the birds were. Why were they not feasting? The worms stretched out languorously in the mud. As it's impossible to tell if a worm is awake or asleep due to their lack of eyes, I assumed they were asleep, blissfully resting on the rivulets of streaming rain, dreaming of only what they already have: Wet earth, the good luck to avoid being stepped on by people and dogs, a nice place to stretch out and rest.
No trees fell on me or even near me today, although I did see one that had crashed across the path. It was a fir and it looked freshly broken. I tried to count the rings but it had the bad instinct to break very crookedly and roughly in a way that made it impossible to count. I will say that it looked like a young tree. There was no explanation for why it broke, mid-trunk, and fell to the ground except that maybe it was just depressed about the rain. I should have known or helped but my list of things-I-am-responsible-for is already too long. It would be better if trees could leave a note, in this scenario, something that says, "It wasn't your fault." I felt badly about the tree, but something about the worms made me feel hopeful and happy. The hopeful happiness made me feel excited about everything. And by everything, I mean, "the books I am working on and submitting and revising." A lot of my everythings are books.
When I got home, I could see more and more daffodils pushing their way through the soil -- I could swear even more than when I'd left the house -- and I came inside and had some hot chocolate and did some work and wrote this down. I feel glad that I wrote it down. It's easy to think, "Oh, I'll write about the worms when I get home" and then not do it, choosing instead to click around on Facebook for ideas about where to put the litterbox to minimize the smell in your home before remembering you don't own a cat. I'm glad I wrote about the rain and the sleeplessness and the worms and the daffodils because the thing with life is that it goes by so alarmingly quickly. Ask anyone. No one ever says, "Actually, it seems to be taking forever to get to the end." My daughter keeps saying amazingly insightful things, which I think about blogging and then I don't, and then they're gone. I forget them. I hate forgetting them.
Let's not forget the worms and the broken tree. Let's pay attention to the details. Let's write them all down.
Be careful on the trail. Don't step on the worms.
Lately, I've been thinking about moving.
I won't move, of course.
My parents are here and if I were too far from them, I'd make myself sick worrying about the things they are going through over which I have no control. I do that here, too, but if I were further away, it would be worse. Being unable to move makes moving all the more appealing.
I click through galleries of photos of houses for sale. Houses on acres of land. Houses perched on ocean-facing cliffs. Houses nestled into clusters of trees. Houses I could actually afford to buy. Houses that would afford me the unthinkable luxury of not panicking every month when the mortgage comes due. Houses that would allow us to breathe, to wander, to even occasionally travel, all while protecting us from the elements, forming the box around us in which we could live a different life.
I'm addicted to looking. I've always loved possibilities.
Which isn't to say I don't love my house and my hometown. I do. It's such a ridiculous privilege to live here in the shade of the ancient trees. I love my life, even with the crushing financial pressures and my children's anxiety and my own ceaseless worries and the way my dog has started coughing at night and how even though the snow is still not entirely melted, the weeds are already pushing through everywhere.
But I feel like somewhere, something is ticking forward towards something else.
A new destiny.
I emptied the winter rain from the kids' swimming pool last week. This felt like a huge accomplishment. All winter, I watched it filling with rain that rapidly turned brown and murky, stained by fir needles and oak leaves. I pictured drowned rats, dead birds, who knows what unknown horrors. The actual draining of the pool revealed nothing except -- mysteriously -- a peeled orange amidst the thousand pinecones. There's a metaphor in that, almost certainly.
I haven't been blogging because it's seemed impossible to blog lately. There is too much happening that is too implausible, yet is real. And the truth is that I don't know what to say about it that hasn't been said more eloquently by someone else.
I just keep saying, "I can't believe this is happening."
I can't believe this is happening.
But it is happening and I am so lucky to live here in Canada, awash with privilege. Even through all my worry and panic, I have to remember that. I have to remind myself.
So lucky. It's all such a crapshoot, a roll of the dice. I'm grateful. I don't want to sound ungrateful. Not ever.
The unimaginable has happened.
But there is good: the surge of people doing the right thing is heartening, inspiring, amazing. America is not Donald Trump.
America is the resistance.
The resistance is the peeled orange, the beautiful surprise in the mess.
And I'm still writing and I'm still walking and I'm still living in my too-expensive-for-me falling-over rat-visited house and nothing has changed here, except the kids got taller and the dogs got older and it's probably time for something to change for the better, don't you think?
Something magnificent is about to happen. It must be.
The dog is sitting on the back of the white armchair, facing out the window. He is always waiting for something to happen. Please note that only an hour ago, he threw up under the couch and tried to bite me when I pulled him out by his tail.
The things that might happen include the mailman or a change in the weather. Neither of these things are particularly interesting, but he's interested. While he sits there, his ears pricked forward, I imagine that his heart is beating just a little bit faster, thinking, "The mailman! The mailman! A GUST OF WIND!"
I don't have the heart to tell him that it's Saturday and raining and nothing beyond that is going to happen.
I'm sitting on the couch. I'm writing. I want to finish this thing today, tomorrow, next week, soon. The idea of finishing is there, it's the bulk of the middling that's the trouble, which means sitting here and contemplating everything about why I'm doing this and for whom. Panicking in small waves, when the paralysis of not knowing how to get to the end allows it.
The Christmas tree is looking increasingly like a large amount of work waiting to happen. The kids are away. When the kids aren't in it, the house seems filthier. Somehow when they are home, the filth is disguised by their moods, craft projects and Astrosmash. I should clean it but I'm writing, or doing the thing that goes hand-in-hand with writing, which is not writing.
I should take down the Christmas tree.
I haven't written on this blog since October. Nothing has happened.
That's a lie: Plenty has happened. Enough has happened that I haven't been getting the work done in a way that is joyful. I prefer it when it's joyful, obviously. The joy is in the doing. It's the not doing, but worrying about doing, that's the trouble. Because other things are happening that are hard, it filters over into the writing and makes it harder to form the words you need your fingers to type.
Picture yourself having to carry something heavy up a mountain in the wind and snow and rain. And that something heavy is a Volkswagen beetle which is rusty. And every time you take a step, another part falls off that you have to pick up and somehow re-attach enough such that when you get to the top you have a complete car that someone may admire and even want to buy. (You must be the optimistic sort who assumes that if you just GET it there, everything will be OK.) The point is to get a car to the top of the mountain, let's say.
Imagine that as you're walking, you're thinking, "Why on earth am I carrying a VW to the top of this mountain in these conditions? This is ridiculous! And possibly unfair! Everyone else is having fun, in big smiling huddles that they will photograph for social media! Why am I climbing a mountain with this terrible rusty car?" But somehow, for some reason, you keep walking anyway even though you're getting cuts all over the place from the jagged metal bits and possibly need a tetanus shot. (Well, the reason is because it's your job but it's also your passion. Every time you get to the top and put down the heap of car-like material you run right back down again and begin carrying another car. Maybe it's a sickness. Who can say.)
It takes a lot longer than you think, every single time, to get a CAR to a MOUNTAINTOP. Well, duh. If it were easy, everyone would do it. You do it because you're mad, as the English would say, or at least people who read a lot of British fiction.
The journey may or may not be worth it at the end. EVERY journey is not worth it. That's one of those things like, "You can be anything you want to be!" that people like to believe but is wholly untrue. (I, for example, will never be a ballerina or an astronaut.)
It's possible, when you get to the top, that the whole stupid wreck will crumble to dust and the freezing, harsh wind will blow it away and you'll be left standing there, blinking, probably having a heart attack or dying from exhaustion and dehydration. (Drink more water, for goodness sake.) At the top of the mountain, a whole crowd of authors with brand new BMWs and Land Rovers will be casually chatting and hugging each other. You don't even recognize some of the cars, they are so expensive and beautiful. They roar off, one by one, bestsellers, prize winners, lauded, celebrated. The authors huddle, smiling, for a gorgeous photo. Tra la la. They won't even look sweaty or dishevelled because they know what they're doing and you don't. Wipe the rust dust off your hands and act natural. Or rub it on your face and blend in with the background trees and dirt. One of those things.
Either way, take a long slow breath and allow yourself to feel euphoric. You made it to the top of the mountain! And that's sometimes enough. There are beautiful patterns in the sky made by the clouds. Everything smells good, except probably you, but that's another thing altogether. Try to just appreciate that cluster of wildflowers and they way people are congratulating each other and hugging. Hug someone. Pretend you don't notice when they brush your rust dust off their clean clothing.
Up close, even rust is beautiful. Look closely.
By the way, the website is getting a huge makeover in January. I will update it with all the VWs that I dragged to the top, all year, one after the other. (It's amazing that after a good editing, a buff and polish, coat of paint, complete engine rebuild in some cases, their rusty beginnings may be less noticeable.)
(I don't know.)
(I don't even know why this is about cars. It's just what happened when I started typing. I started thinking about cars and mountains.)
The new website will be pretty but the content will be largely the same, except with more books added. If your website is your face on the internet, do you ever get tired of looking at it? DO you look at it? I go whole days without looking in the mirror. It's easier to do than you might think. I go months without looking at the website. It's similar. But, of course, it's different.
I like how humans assume that when the calendar year flips over, there is an opportunity for 365 days of joy JUST AROUND THE CORNER. Who knew we were such optimists! Each previous 365 day chunk has proven otherwise, but we still keep hoping. Isn't that the most beautiful thing?
Here's to a good chunk: shiny, new, light, and easy to carry. If you're lucky, you won't even have to carry it! You could drive it. Why would anyone carry a car? Just get behind the wheel and steer it up the rocky cliffs, watching carefully for wildlife. After all, they were here first. They're at home. You're just visiting, for now, forever, for a while anyway. Don't run them over. That's bad karma.
I wish you all the happiest of years, the best of books, the warmest love, the lightest loads to carry, and much beauty and serenity.
Serenity Now! Let that be our motto. Or Live Long and Prosper. Your choice. And good luck with those Volkswagens.
Every night as I'm falling asleep, I have a half-formed idea about zoos. The crux is that humans have voluntarily signed up for captivity. We lock ourselves into our houses, each nearly identical to that of our neighbours, and we perform for a public using social media and our words. This is how we earn our food and pay for our keep.
We don't venture out into the wild. It's not safe out there, we believe. It's better in here, with Netflix and wine, soothers against reality.
I listened to a podcast about a man who lived as a badger for two weeks, snuffling in the dirt blindly for food. I went for a hike in my woods and thought about how familiar all the trails are to me now, four years in here, how each one is as unique as the whorl of a fingerprint. I couldn't walk them blind though.
I didn't lie when I said it was half-formed, but there are certainly more of us in captivity than in the wild, which is also true of other animals teetering on the brink of extinction. I'm thinking of red wolves, in particular. There are a lot of them in zoos. The ones in the wild have been reintroduced. Born in a cage, they must be padding around in the valleys now, eyes wide and alert, wondering where the boundary lies and who will feed them next.
We aren't going extinct. We can't stop making more of us, drunk on someone's basement couch when we're young enough to know better or soberly when we're too old to stop the yearning from overtaking us.
I love the way babies are, the weight of them in my arms.
I don't want another baby, it's not that. I just want to get out of captivity, like those red wolves, who were born howling at the zoo light, mistaking it for a low-hanging moon.
When they see a real moon, what must they think?
This web-site is half-broken and needs updating. I want you to know that I know that, I just haven't done it.
In my bullet journal, I have written: Fix website. I write neatly, with a fine black felt-tipped pen. I like the sound of it on the paper, the way I draw a dot before each entry. I imagine checking it off with a red pen, also felt tipped, the satisfying swoop of that.
I have also listed the following, which remain unchecked. (The red pen gets little use.): Finish book; finish other book; weed garden; find someone to weed garden; deal with the kids' pool; service the car; teach boy the times tables; deal with girl's anxiety; win lottery. I wrote "win lottery" just now, stopping typing this post to do so, because I didn't read The Secret but I suspect it said something about visualizing what you want in order to make it true.
I just crossed out "win lottery". In its place, I wrote, "sell movie rights or next book for seven figures" because I'd like my windfall to be a result of an effort that extends beyond choosing six numbers correctly. Then it would feel earned, even though there is a randomness to the math that says that hard work plus time = success.
Oh, just wait a sec.
I put "win lottery" back on the list, because who am I to be so particular about luck and good fortune?
When I win the lottery, I'm going to buy a big piece of land on an island.
The land will have open spaces and trees and its own bay. In this way, I will own the tide, and by extension, also time.
On this huge space, I will build a tiny house. I've designed it in my mind. It won't be so ludicrously tiny that I'm crawling around on ladders to get to bed, but rather it will be too small to house all the things that currently keep me in captivity. Because my house will be small, it also won't bankrupt me. Also, the inside will seem less appealing than the outdoors and so I will spend all of my time outside. I will not be vitamin B deprived any longer, for a start.
When the moon rises over my bay, I will know exactly how to howl at it. I expect that in return, it will tell me how to correct for all my regrets.
In this scenario, I will homeschool the kids. In this scenario, they will also like it.
One can do whatever one wants when everything is hypothetical.
We will destroy all of our clocks, carving them out of our appliances, deleting them from our phones. It's the clocks that keep us captive; it's humanity's decision to measure time that closed our cage doors. That, and the way we are on our knees, worshipping them. We are thanking them for keeping us safe from what might have destroyed us in the wild we've forgotten knowing, before time, before money, before we signed on for any of this.
Lately, I've been overwhelmed by how much of everything that there is (except for time, never enough of that). I go online to buy a thing, a thing I've talked myself into needing, and then the site pushes suggestions at me, and I think, oh, yes, that's true, that would be nice if my lashes were longer and my brows were browner and my skin was fresher and my hair was smoother and I look in my basket at $125 worth of things I didn't want or need and I delete it all and I go outside and I try to remember about breathing and how that works and how I need to do it more slowly and then I calm down. I think of all the things I've put in internet shopping baskets and I want to cry for my bank account, for myself, for a world where the water is both rising (the oceans) and receding (everywhere else) and the weather is broken and people are being killed at the Macy's make up counter and people are being killed because they're not white and people are being killed because everyone has a right to have a gun -- it says so in the constitution, amirite? -- and people are being killed everywhere, all the time, and Donald Trump might be president so it must be the Apocalypse and I'm over here self-soothing by putting things in my internet shopping basket, click-and-point, click-and-point, let's make it all OK, and really, yes, if I had fewer wrinkles things would be looking up.
Only I made a decision -- a conscious, actual decision -- to buy less this year. Not nothing, just less. Less and less and less. I want to become smaller and smaller and smaller. I watch Tiny House Hunters with envy. My own house is pretty small. But the mortgage isn't. To be free of that! A loft bed! Well, I have one of those now in a regularly sized house that is full of things I've put in internet shopping carts. In August, I live in a tent, every year the same, me and the kids and camping beds and sleeping bags, and I love how there is so much more time when you have so much less. It's a trade, don't you see? I see it so clearly, sharp focus, the obviousness of it. The less you have, the more time you get. What a wonderful world. Those tiny houses are getting so fancy now. I'd build mine in a forest somewhere. No lawn care required. Trees everywhere. Like now, but less. Fewer things in the cupboards. Why do I have so many baking pans? No one who never hosts dinner parties needs to own 20 plates.
I abandon baskets recklessly.
I picture myself running through real stores, throwing all the things -- so many things! -- into actual shopping carts, the world is a Target, careening down the aisles, things falling in my wake and then somehow escaping, the basket tipped, wheels spinning, me outside, running and running and everything around me getting greener and wilder. I heard on the radio the other day that the smell of soil is proven to elevate the mood of people. Then I listened while a man described the weeks when he decided to live as a badger, blind, and snuffling through the dirt. He must have been the happiest man in the world, I think, albeit probably awkward at dinner parties. I don't like dinner parties, as a rule. Eating in front of other people seems so uncomfortable to me, like showering with an audience. Is that really how you rinse your hair?
I probably sound unhinged.
I'm writing a book about a friendship. I don't know how much I know about friendships, at the end of the day. I love my friends but I'm probably not very good at being one. I hoard time to spend it alone, badger-like. They say that two hours of silence every day is -- important? imperative? I've forgotten which word it was. Facebook is very informative, good at telling me what I want to be true. I like silence. When the kids aren't here, I turn everything off. Sometimes the birds fill up the spaces with their noise and I try to explain, "Look," I say. "They're only gone for one night, pipe down in there."
I had a best friend, growing up, all the way through to my mid-twenties. One of those intense friendships. We were in each other's pockets. We were in each other's heads. Sometimes, the lines between us blurred. We did it on purpose but then it got bigger than us somehow. We were too close and not close enough. Toxic, my therapist said later. But was it, I wonder, or was that just how I told the story? We were intertwined like ivy, growing over and around each other until where one stopped and the other started was irrelevant. And now we're not anything. We haven't spoken in years. "Why aren't you still friends?" my kids ask. They need to know everything. The truth is, I can't remember. "Oh," I tell them. "There was a thing." There must have been a thing. I can't quite put my finger on what it was. It seems impossible that we could simply have chosen to stop. I'm writing about that friendship, but it's not about that friendship, but it is about that friendship, too. It's about intensity and blurred lines. It's in its fifth major revision. I think, all along, I was meant to write about that friendship but I also haven't wanted to do that. It's obviously fiction. You'll see. Anyway, I've been circling it, remembering things, remembering what it was like to have someone who is an extension of you, a stretch of your arm, a shadow, a cliche, a vine that's both embracing you and strangling you at the same time.
Is there a guidebook for all of this? For friendship and shopping? I know how to do the other things, how to breathe, how to be outside, how to write a book, how to sit still with myself and be fine, be OK. But friendship and shopping, those things are harder than they first appear on the surface. Don't get me started about love. It would be possible to buy everything by mistake, to find yourself amongst so many things that individually look so imperative, but when listed together, all remind you of how advertising works so well on you. What if we've all been sold a bill of goods? Snake oil for everyone, my friends!
I've been looking at photos from my past, old friends old loves old homes old holidays. I can do that. I'm not saying I don't cry when I do it. Bittersweet, all of it, a life accumulating behind me, and I'm a leaf on the river floating through it all. I can't find a lot of the photos although I know they exist. I lost ten years to an ex. We had two photo albums, as though the entire time we were planning to separate sooner or later, but somehow he got both copies. I don't know what happened to my teens. Selfies weren't a thing, but there must be pictures. Even now, I have very little evidence that I was here. Maybe that's why I write so much down. Maybe that's what this is: I was here. Look at me. Ask any writer. That's definitely part of it.
I have an image in my head of all of us, anyway, as just leaves in the river, clumping up together sometimes, other times on our own, sometimes carrying other critters, mostly not though, mostly it's just us in the water and I suppose eventually, we bump up against the end of it, the end of the river. We'll think about our trees, sure, and how we miss what we had then, but how this is also an adventure. Isn't it interesting? At the same time as really having very little to do with us. We don't have much say over the wind or the current. Maybe the end is the place where the river flows into the ocean, or maybe the river beyond the bend has dried up and it just stops, peters out in a dry river bed somewhere, the earth cracked, the fish dead and us finally blown around, or soggy and composting. Composting sounds macabre, I know. I don't mean it in the sense that you think I do. I mean, as leaves. Becoming something both less and more than ourselves. Analyze it if you want. Does anyone read blogs anymore? What does it all mean?
Someone once commented that they thought my blog was just an echo chamber of my "low level depression" and I laughed out loud when I read it because it was such a gentle reprimand. Me, with my low-level depression! How dare I! I mean, go big or go home, I suppose. The thing is that I'm not depressed. I have a certain love for melancholy, but I'm content, in the big picture. I love my life. I like being in it, a part of it. I understand at the age that I am now about how it all clicks together in spite of our best efforts. My life is all the things I love the most: my kids, my dogs, books and words and trees, always trees. The maples are my favourite right now with their enormous bright leaves that are starting to lose their green, framing a sky that's fading from thick blue to a thinner autumnal grey. I go out into the woods and I walk and I walk and I try to notice things and the way they are and the way they change and cycle and exist and exist and exist.
But there are always shopping carts, full and teetering, decisions about when to click and when to run. I'm just a human being. Maybe it's an echo chamber of my humanity or just, like I often say, a little flex of the writing muscle, a way of spilling words onto the page that aren't part of something bigger at all, they're just themselves, just this one snapshot of what I left in the shopping cart: a tube of mascara, two bottles of shampoo, an eyeshadow palette, a foundation designed to make me blend in, to blur me into the background, so I look OK, I look fine, I look like part of the landscape, just one more leaf the same as all the others in the river, the sun glinting off the ripples in the moving current, dazzling diamonds of light all around us, moving us towards what we can only hope is the sea. Think about it: the sea! All those possibilities, all that space, and so much time, an expanse of time, all the time in the world that we need so that we can be, we can just be.
Allow dust to settle everywhere in your house.
Accumulate items you don't want and have no space to store.
Let the weeds choke out your garden.
Ask yourself: How do you write a book?
Think about the enormity of writing a book.
Allow yourself to feel overwhelmed, dust settling into your pores, your hair growing in disarray.
When you're tired of sitting, go for a walk.
Walk to a bookstore.
Look at all the books on the shelf.
Feel overwhelmed by all the books, which are probably really good, written by people who know how to write books.
Find the contact information for as many of the authors as possible.
Email to ask them, "How do you write a book?"
Sign up for a class about writing books.
Wait for the professor to tell you exactly how to write a book.
Listen for specific instructions because once you know them, you will be able to write a book.
Books are cookies, right? One cup of flour, one cup of sugar. Eggs. Don't measure the chocolate chips, just dump them all in.
The professor will talk about creating obstacles for your character to overcome.
Realize you don't know how to create a character. Think about raising your hand but then don't do it because you don't want to admit you haven't got a clue. You have, after all, already written nineteen books.
On the critique you fill out for the course, state that you still don't know how to write a book.
Request a refund.
Start receiving emails back from authors.
They all say the same thing: "I have no idea. Best of luck to you."
Go back to the bookstore.
Stand in the centre aisle and weep.
Buy twelve books, using your grocery budget.
Go home and read all the books.
Think about cleaning your house. Surely if your house is clean, you'll be able to sit down and simply write a book.
How hard can it be?
But JK Rowling said her house was messy for seven years while she wrote Harry Potter.
Look around your house and feel proud that you've taken this step of allowing your house to get messy.
Read Harry Potter again.
Give up on everything.
Discuss on social media that writing books is hard. Try not to sound like you're whining. You chose this. You wanted to write books.
So write one.
But first, tweet this: "Writing a book is hard." Count your likes. Accumulate retweets. A lot of them are from authors you love. They all agree! It's hard.
It's too hard.
Watch six straight hours of Top Chef.
Go for long walks. Longer every day.
Try not to ever be IN your dusty, decrepit house full of things you should be getting rid of but aren't because you are busy writing a book.
Avoid the following: Opening your laptop. Your agent's phone calls. People who might ask, "How's the book coming along?"
Try to walk in forests as far away from crowds as possible.
Come to terms with the fact that writing a book is both ridiculous and impossible. Experience a period of mourning for the characters you had thought would populate your book and the things they would have done. Begin to wonder what they would have done if this had happened or that. Imagine it. Picture one specific scene so vividly that you become unclear if it really happened (to you? to someone you know? in a dream? in a movie?). Focus on the table cloth.
Because you can't stop thinking about the way the table started to shake and the cloth shimmied back and forth and the bowl of apples spilled and the way your character ran to the window to see what was happening, type it out. It's not a book, so it doesn't matter, it's just a scene that you're writing because of the table cloth, the way it wasn't ironed and should have been, and that one apple bouncing onto the floor and the way after it happened, the light poured in and illuminated it because the blind fell down.
Just that one scene.
Once you've done that, eat a cookie. (Make them first. Remember: ALL the chocolate chips.)
While you're eating the cookie, think about what your character would do once she assessed what had happened. Think about who the other people would be who burst into the room and say, "What have you done?" Even though she didn't do anything.
It wasn't her.
Think about that.
Type one more scene.
Go for a walk. (Take some cookies.)
While you're walking, let another scene unfold in your head like a movie. There are no stakes now because you aren't writing a book. Stop in the shade of a tree and type the scene awkwardly into your phone, like you're texting yourself.
You just have to resolve this one thing about why everyone always assumes she's done something, even when it's clearly something that's nothing to do with her.
When you get home, make a cup of tea. Add quite a bit of sugar. Read on Facebook about how sugar is basically poisonous. Give that a thumbs up while you sip your delicious sweet tea and finish the cookies. While you're on Facebook, mention in your status that you've quit writing books and how that's really very liberating. Ask for job leads. State that you never knew how to write a book and all the books you've written were flukes and you're OK with that.
Open your laptop to create a new resume. Get bored with typing up your spotty work history and instead write down the bit about how your character is in love with someone she shouldn't love. No one should love him. Look, he's a terrible person. He murdered the waitress. Your character doesn't know this, and considering all that's happened, she doesn't ask questions.
Write the bit about the waitress and what happened to her. Much more fun than trying to figure out who to use as a reference on your resume.
Make the scenes overlap a little. You aren't writing, you understand, you're just piecing a few things together. You just want to think about how this could be believable, how it could be someone's truth.
See this man-character through the waitress's eyes and through your character's eyes.
Think about how everyone is two people.
Actually, your character is also complicated. Think of the ways in which she is also complicated.
Don't forget the waitress was also not one-dimensional.
If you were still writing books, you'd want to do something with that, but you're not, you're just doing this one thing that isn't a book, so it's OK if it's not perfect. It's just daydreaming.
Daydreaming that you happen to be typing because typing helps you to think.
Listen to some podcasts.
Paint your toenails.
Open the freezer and think about cleaning it out, then close it again.
Have another cup of tea.
Call your mum and tell her you quit writing. "How's the book coming along?" she'll say. Hang up on your mum.
Sit down with your laptop.
Google jobs in your city.
Take a bath and think about how you should probably move.
Search Craigslist for apartments in New York.
Write just a little bit more about your character, the waitress, and the man, as well as the man's son and the waitress' best friend and how she's connected to your character. Think about braiding and how all stories are just braids of people. Tweet something about that. Receive no hearts or retweets. Delete it. Think about how everything you think about is sort of embarrassing and why you should never use social media.
Retreat to your keyboard.
Budget for a move.
Buy some lottery tickets.
The thing is that you can almost see what happened. Have the man tell your character about the waitress.
Have your character make a decision.
After all, so many people died. The waitress may have died anyway, when the thing happened that happened.
Introduce your character to the waitress' daughter.
It's all just imaginary. These people aren't real and you aren't writing a book.
You are just typing and thinking.
You are just imagining and braiding.
Have another cookie. (Make some more first. Eat half the dough.)
Everything is going to be OK.
I want to write a middle grade book set in a different time, on a different planet, but with human characters. Human characters who have been formed out of thin air, influenced by nothing, with no pattern of history informing their power and response. A place where society doesn't yet exist and never has. I want to set this book on an even playing field, where the difference between boys and girls is anatomical and not societal. In this book, I want to explore what happens to the girls. I want to see what they could do, if things were different than they are, I mean.
Here is a scene from real life:
My daughter is in skating camp. Figure skating is dominated by girls. Her class is mostly girls, the older kids who train at an overlapping time are girls. There are, however, a handful of boys. One little girl in her class -- a tiny blonde who just turned 7 -- announces to the room that she has a boyfriend now. Her boyfriend is twelve. "Don't even talk to me if he comes into the room," she instructs my daughter. "You look like a boy and he'd be very angry if he saw me talking to a boy."
My daughter is confused. The math is wrong. This boy is older than her older brother, the girl two years younger than she is. "He's WAY too old for her," she worries, later. "It's not right. I don't look like a boy. Do I?"
The boy comes into the room and presents the little girl with a heart he made for her birthday. So maybe it is true, this almost-teen is the boyfriend of this little child? I don't know. Maybe it isn't. Maybe no one knows what the truth is, not even the players. The girl shoots a look at the other girls. They obey. They are all struck mute until he leaves. The little girl preens. "He'd kill me if he saw me with another boy," she repeats, proudly. "So thanks."
My daughter doesn't know what to make of it. She doesn't know what to do with it. She tells me the story six different ways, looking for me to say something, to tell her how to understand.
"She's playing," I tell my daughter. "She's pretending." This game, if it is a game, confuses me, too. What kind of game is it, really?
The little girl skates out onto the ice and executes her moves perfectly. She's a good skater. She makes sure they all understand that. "I'm the best skater here," she tells the others. They nod, agreeing. "None of you are as good as me," she says, emphatically, making sure it is understood. No one argues. "You all look like boys." They flinch, as a group, but accept her truth as their own.
"You don't look like a boy," I tell my daughter. "You look like yourself. It's a ridiculous thing to say! She's just trying to make you feel less-than for some reason! I don't know why. But don't let her get into your head. Ignore her."
"For my birthday," the child says, "My parents are taking me to Disneyland. We leave right after this. I'll be back tomorrow. It's just for the night."
Everyone believes her.
I laugh, when my daughter tells me. "That isn't even possible!" I say. "She's joking. She's teasing you."
"When we left," my daughter says, "The coach said, 'Have a great time at Disneyland!' So it's true, or he wouldn't have said that! She's going. It's real."
She seethes with jealousy. Disneyland for dinner! A boyfriend who cares so much that he'll MURDER her if she speaks to another boy! And she can skate! How unfair is life, anyway?
Disneyland is easily five hours away, factoring in the drive to the airport, the wait at customs, the flight, the shuttle to the hotel. Six, maybe. No one goes just for one night. But my daughter believes. She believes Disneyland. She believes she looks like a boy. She believes the abusive, controlling boyfriend.
"No," I tell my daughter. "Disneyland is impossible. And the boyfriend thing, that can't be true. But even if it were, that's not love. That's not what love looks like. That's not something to envy. I promise. That's terrible, if it's true, that he threatens her. It is so not OK."
"He made her a heart though," she says. "He gave her a heart, so he must love her. It's real."
"It's not real!" I insist, hoping I'm right. "Anyway, expect something better than that for yourself. Please don't expect that another person can make rules for you, like 'Don't talk to other people.' That's just wrong. Do you see that?"
My daughter shrugs. She's too little still to put much thought into relationships with boys, real relationships, not just crushes. She says, "Do I really look like a boy? Why am I so ugly?" Then she bursts into tears.
"You're beautiful," I say, but she isn't listening anymore.
Maybe in the book that I write, all the characters will be blind.
Not only would they not be able to see what other people look like, they wouldn't know what they themselves looked like. Only by being blind would the power of a random arrangement of facial features be rendered powerless; the shape of a body not the first thing that we notice about other people.
Imagine how that would be.
To get out of bed in the morning and to not spend an hour improving our appearance to make ourselves acceptable to the world!
I've been going to the grocery store sometimes in my gardening clothes, unshowered. I'm particularly swamped lately, emotionally spent. I just ... don't care. Sometimes I don't shave my legs. I am taking on the world like a man, or at least like most men who I know, who -- if they need a lawnmower part from Home Depot, just go get it. They don't have a shower and change out of their work clothes. They don't put on some mascara, add a layer of lipgloss, blow dry their hair.
It's harder than you'd think to make myself do it. I've learned my lessons well. I know better -- I truly do -- than to go out without my face on.
This is what happens when I go out of the house, unkempt:
Nothing different than when I spend an hour getting ready.
Not one thing.
Here is another scene from real life:
I am at the mall with my daughter, who is eight. She keeps up a steady stream of conversation and I drift in and out of it, while collecting the things on our shopping list.
She says something and I stop walking, my hands full of batteries and vitamins, on my way to the register.
"What did you say?" I ask.
"____ hates her grandmother," she says. "Because her grandma called the police when her stepdad spanked her and her mom really hard."
"What?" I said. "Her stepdad hit her? And her mom? That's terrible, sweetheart. I would have called the police, too. Her grandma did the right thing."
My daughter is suddenly uncertain, near tears. Has she said too much? Is someone in trouble? "You don't understand!" she says, panicky breathing. "He didn't hit them! He just spanked them! Spanking is OK!"
"Spanking is hitting," I say. "Hitting is not OK."
I put the batteries and vitamins down and my daughter and I sit down on the cold tile floor. I hold her hand. She's upset. I think of all the things that I should say. I don't know which one to put first. I wish there were someone else here to tell me exactly how to approach this. I do the best I can: "I'm sorry for your friend," I say. "I'm glad her grandma called the police. That must have been very scary for her."
"It was just spanking!" my daughter repeats, near tears. "It's not something bad!"
I feel dizzy. The lights of the store spin. I take a big breath. "It IS something bad," I tell her. "I'm sorry, but it is something bad. No one gets to hit you, not when you're a kid and not when you're an adult. Not ever. Do you understand?"
"Mum," she says. "You promised you'd buy those vitamins! I don't want to sit here! I shouldn't have told you!"
"It's OK," I say. "It's OK."
I buy the vitamins.
I the car, I try again. "It's never OK," I say. "It's not love. That's not what love is. It's not hitting."
"SPANKING," she says again, and puts her headphones on, blocking me out.
If I wrote that book, I don't think it would do well. There would be something about it that wouldn't ring true.
I sit down on the couch and watch a show with my kids, a show they love. In the show, the girls are dumb and pretty and speak in breathy voices. The boys are smart. The boys make the decisions. The boys treat the girls like pretty prizes. The girls want to be won.
I make them switch to something different.
The other show is pretty much the same show, with a different name.
Flip: pretty girl, long hair, lots of makeup, dumb.
Flip: pretty girl, long hair, lots of makeup, dumb.
Flip: pretty girl, long hair, lots of makeup, dumb.
I turn the TV off.
I turn the TV off.
I turn the TV off.
For now, it's all I can do. It's all I know how to do, to make it stop.
I wanted a better ending than this for this post. I'm reaching for it. I'm looking everywhere. But I can't find it. I can't see how to wrap this one up right.