Karen Rivers

Weather, power, beauty, love, life.

Karen Rivers

We've been away.  Every summer, we go.  Same place.   There isn't power there.  Well, solar panels. Do they count?  They charge batteries and we charge our phones and e-readers using the batteries, so there really is power.  When I say, "There isn't power there" what I mean is that there isn't really anything there that there is here, that people expect to have.  For example, no roads. Ok, fine, there are logging roads.  No vehicles on them though.   Only that one guy with the small red truck he imported from Japan.  I don't know whose truck that is.  It has parking permits written in Japanese from 2006.  It sits at the edge of the forest now, here, wondering what happened.  Wondering where everyone went.  

We did a lot of walking in the woods and sitting at the beach.   The trouble with that is that there is extra time to feel offended about things when there isn't all the white noise of real life, like drive-thrus and traffic and being late and all that.  I shouted at my parents more than once.  That doesn't make me feel like a very good person, I can tell you that.  But overall, being on an island without power (or anything else) and sleeping in a tent for a month is a good thing that you should do for yourself, too, but not on my island.  I like the fact there are hardly any other people there and the people who are there are, like me, also without power.  I mean, there are powerful people, if you look closely at who they are and what they do, but at the beach, sitting on a log, we all have holes in our clothes and could probably stand to take a shower.  Most people don't have showers there or hot running water.  Cold rain water collected in tanks, that's it.  We swim in the bay to clean off, but it's not always clean.  The beauty of it all is that we're free.  We've been released.  Or we're out on bail.  Probation.  A month or two or three of not having to be the selves who we are when we are in Home Depot buying more Rubbermaid tubs to store the excess of items that seem to accrue in all the rooms of our extremely expensive, high-powered houses.   Some period of weeks where we stop updating our status updates with comments about everything because nothing is happening except for everything that matters which is to say, absolutely, that nothing is happening.   Just light turning into darkness and then back again, the stars drawing their same pots and pans in the night sky and then the sun blueing it all up again for another day of being alive.   


I spilled coffee on my laptop right before I went away.   It ruined everything.  I spent the holiday, staring out to sea and imagining that I'd lost the books that are due.   My heart would speed up but then some whales would swim by and the kids would run down the beach, following them, and the sound of the whales blowing would echo around on the sandstone and we'd all feel so lucky that I'd forget about the laptop and how only an inch of coffee can really bring you to your knees.  


I bought a new laptop.  It isn't ready yet.   I'm using my kid's laptop to type this.  She is at her dad's wedding today.   The weather is insane.  I'm not exaggerating.   There has been a windstorm and flash floods are predicted.   All summer long, it's been calm.  It's been hot.  Fires everywhere.  Today, everything the summer forgot to perform is happening at once.  I'm picturing white tents blowing out to sea, guests wondering why they bothered to comb their hair, my daughter's bubbles being carried all the way to the moon on the back of the lifting wind.  (The flower girls are blowing bubbles, no flowers.  I don't know why.  Maybe it's to do with the environment or birds, although you'd think they'd like flowers.)  It feels strange to me that my daughter is doing this at someone else's wedding.  Upstairs, I have a wedding dress I never wore.  It's from JCrew.  It's really pretty.  Well, now it's yellowed a bit.  I haven't looked at it lately but last time I did, it was yellow-ish more than white-ish, but maybe it always was, or maybe I didn't store it properly in approved brand-name containers and so it's just a dress that happens to be white and has aged.  The thing was, when he proposed to me, he wasn't actually divorced from his first wife yet so the wedding didn't happen.  Turns out you have to do the paperwork first.  I was sad about that.  I feel a bit robbed, like I never got to go to the prom.  I didn't actually go to the prom either.  We didn't have a prom.   Maybe just a regular dance?  I don't remember if I went or not.  I didn't have a date, that's certain.  Sometimes life whooshes by and other people are having proms and weddings and then you are suddenly 45 and realize that those people are not you.  You didn't feel beautiful whilst dancing in the arms of someone you thought you loved, or indeed actually did love.  Not even once.   I do wish him well.  I want him to be happy.  I want everyone to be happy.  I want for dancing and that elusive feeling of being squarely in the arms of the right person at the right time.  For me, too, not just for other people.  

It's starting to rain.  Really hard.  I want to go sit cross-legged on the front lawn in the rain but there are spiders in the grass.  It's that season again.  The spiders are everywhere.  I live in a forest, of course there are.  They build their webs from my car to the mailbox.  "Sorry," I say, backing out of the driveway, the web pulling and separating from the jaunty red flag on the top of the box, the sparkling drops that once decorated the thread like diamonds all conjoining again and becoming nothing.  I was going to say, "becoming a tear" but that sounded melodramatic.  I still wear my engagement ring but on the middle finger of my right hand.  It's a beautiful ring.  Life is what we do while we fill time between being born and exiting, stage left.  I'll probably go off to the right.  I feel like that's the sort of thing I'd do, misread the instructions and end up alone on stage right while everyone else is stage left, giggling.  There's a lot of drama in between the birth and the exit is my point.  Sometimes it's good, riveting stuff.  Other times, we look at our watches (or, more likely, our phones) and we wait for the time to pass, wondering how this play got written and why it was produced, exactly, because it's not that good.  Nothing is happening.   We wonder if we start playing Angry Birds on our phones if anyone will notice.  Not that anyone plays that much anymore.  That ship has sailed.  Something else is the thing now.  I don't know what it is.  I forgot to pay attention.  Pop culture is like an exam we are constantly taking to see if we're staying on-track.   I'm not.   Sorry.    

The weather outside is pushing at the trees, daring them to fall over, daring the house to crumble under their ancient weight.   I'll be surprised if the power doesn't go out sometime today.  But having power and then having it turn off temporarily isn't the same as not having power at all.  



I feel like I want to meet someone with eyes that crinkle when they smile, like in a novel, where you read about how his eyes smiled.  I realize everyone's eyes do this, especially as we get older.  I just have an idea in my head of a particular face I haven't seen yet.  I'm an adult.  I have lots of ideas.  I try them all on for size and then abandon them in the changeroom and leave with nothing.  Not on the floor in a heap or anything, even though that would make a better end for this paragraph.  I hang each one up, properly, on the hanger that I took it off.  It's not really fair to make someone else clean up the mess I made, particularly if I'm not going to buy anything, after all.



At dinner, an older adult tells my daughter to sit up straight.  She's slouching.  She's tired.  I slouch all the time.  Maybe I'm just exhausted.   This makes me sound unhappy, but I'm not.  I'm fine.  I'm happy enough for now.  My work is going well.  I shouldn't say that, then it will suddenly stop working out.  I believe in things like that, fate and bad luck.   

Anyway, this person says to my just-turned-8-year-old, "Sit up straight! Don't you want to grow up to be graceful?"   

My son slumps over in his seat.   He is not expected to grow up to be "graceful".  No one pokes HIM in the back.

"What's graceful?"  says my daughter.  

"It's so men will think you're pretty," he says.  "Don't you want to be pretty?"

"I have a question," she whispers to me later.

"Yes?"  I say.

"Is it my job to be pretty when I grow up?" she says.

"NO," I say, too loudly.   I'm so angry.  I'm furious.  Not with her, you understand.  

Try writing a book as a woman.   People flip to see your author photo and then they make a judgement.  They just do.   The photo becomes as important as the work.  Months or years of work.  But are you having a good hair day?  Did you pay to have your makeup done?

"Oh, a woman's book," certain people say (men). "Should I read it at the beach?"  

("Don't you want to be pretty?" he says.  "Why not?")

It's not her goddamn job to be eye candy for anyone, sir.  Goddamnit all to hell.   Seriously.  Fuck that.   Sorry for the langugage, but really, for God's sake.



It's really raining now.   It hasn't rained all summer.   The ground is hard and dry and not open to new things such as moisture, even if that moisture is imperative to life.   Maybe, eventually, the dirt will crack open and let that water rush in.  The trouble is with that is that the tree roots get loosened.  Then all it takes is a few sharp blasts of wind, and next thing you know, the old-growth trees are falling.   Three hundred years, they've stood there, holding their own, not waiting or wanting for anything.   When they come up out of the ground, tearing their roots up with them, it's really a sight to see.  The webs of roots make maps which, if you trace them, all lead back to one thing: the heart of that tree.  Not that trees have hearts, but I think you know what I mean.  Do you?   The sun is trying really hard to shine through.   Probably my ex and his new wife will have rainbows.   Probably the photos will be magical, ethereal, perfect, the grey flat sky illuminating all that they feel, the colours from it spilling onto them like a new beginning.   She'll probably store her dress properly, paying a dry-cleaner to do it, preserving it carefully for all time.   She'll probably do all the right things that I forgot to do.   I wish them well.  I do.   "Congratulations!" I'll say, brightly, and I'll mean it.   I really will.  I'll look for something in myself that might not be there, some small something that can shine like that, that can be that way.  A light.  A bit of power.  That's all you need, really.  That and a place to sleep at the end of the day, the wind blowing in over your face through the vents on the side of the tent, blowing oxygen towards you, keeping you from forgetting to breathe.