Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Single Red Poppy in the Garden

There's a single red poppy in my garden. Yesterday it was a ball of green and this morning, the colour shone forth -- red as shameless lipstick. It has not yet opened, but by tomorrow night, the petals will likely be strewn about on the ground, spent. But tonight, it's there, brilliant and singular and vivid.

Which is good because this week has not exactly been that sort of week. It hasn't been a bad week in any way, but it hasn't been brilliant.

I fell off my bike a week ago and it was the next day that I noticed the sharp bruised pain in my lower back that came as the result of bike seat meeting my seat. Three days later we had The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Pool -- and the leaping of the rescuing dog owner, who fortunately happened to be at hand when the dog stepped out onto the pool cover to test its and his buoyancy. By evening, my clothes were still damp and my other hip was complaining. (Interestingly, a bout of lifting and spreading two cubic yards of mulch actually made a positive difference to these woes which slowed me down for much of the week.)

Another aspect of my week involved Recently Employed Son #1. My almost fifteen year old son did the not-impossible-but-difficult thing recently : finding a decent job at the age of 14. He works as a dishwasher in a new gourmet burger restaurant with walking distance of our house. He's the youngest employee by far. Driving him home at midnight last weekend -- after his third of four evening shifts on the long weekend -- I asked him whether he felt older. He said he did, that most of his friends had spent the weekend at Wonderland or cottages while he was working each evening. I recognize that I don't have the body of a 14 year old (see paragraph above) nor the stamina, but it has been anxiety-producing in me to watch this kid burn the candle at both ends and in the middle. The other comment he made about his new job -- other than the running income tallies -- was that there was no longer any room for procrastination in his life. Which, in itself, is a great thing and I'm delighted to see it. However, work is not his only commitment. He took on the job, being assured the restaurant would open later in June, rather than in mid-May. This would be good because his season on the bantam rugby team would be over by the first week of June. And then, around the time that the restaurant actually opened, the fly-half on the junior team got injured (as fly-halfs apparently do) and my boy was called up to this team, in addition to maintaining his role as fly-half and captain of the bantam team. (Are you still following along?) And then came the mysterious "summatives" -- year end projects in virtually every subject. Group meetings, research, videos, power point presentations, brochures, song and dance numbers, classroom lessons must all be planned between dishwashing shifts, rugby practices and matches, school, oh and sleep. Sleep is like the fly-half in this game, more than a little injured. My fear is that he will get injured or sick from the pace he's keeping. Especially this week.

This week promises to be weird and possibly wonderful. (Close your ears robbers who read this blog). This week, my husband heads off to St. John's, Newfoundland for three days of presentations -- just as he spent three days in PEI two weeks ago. Two weeks ago, I got very excited to see him return. This week, at the end of the third day of single parenting, I will hop on a plane and join him in Newfoundland where we will wend our way to the northern tip to see the little town where he was born. We're missing the rugby championship, one work shift for son #1 and several major summatives and math tests. The last time we went away, he got sick. I am deliriously excited about the prospect of a trip with my husband, but I feel like the energy of the week is weird -- gird loins for first half of week, relax for second half and hope that all is well at home. And then, a week from now, I will be home again, hopefully having seen the massive icebergs that are currently resident in the harbour of the small town at the top of the Rock.

I visited a different church this morning to celebrate their new building, and the choir sang a song where two lines repeated over and over again: Take me to the water, take me to the sea/ Take me to the water and set my spirit free. This week, this day, I saw this in the single poppy -- which has actually started to open up in the sunset even as I write -- but this week, my prayer, my hope is that I will be able to sit by the sea with my love, and that there, in the presence of icebergs and whales, my spirit will indeed be set free.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

I Got Nothing

Actually that is a lie, on the scale of "pregnant at 43." The reality is that my life has been too full of life this week to be able to blog about it.

While I've been walking the dog, I keep thinking of things I want to tell you about, but then I get home and the ideas have evaporated. Except, I need to tell you about the seductive scent of lilies of the valley at dawn and the whisper of lilacs after dark. These alone are worth walking the dog for.

I've been a single parent most of the week while Dave has been in Prince Edward Island. PEI is a place I should like, but it has always been an unpleasant place for me -- I've had some of the worst injuries of my life while there, on more than one trip. That bridge induced vertigo in the steadiest driver I know, too. The last time I was there, our tent was mere inches from the next campsite, and we were serenaded with late night flatulence, peeing, burping and crying from the neighbours. We left early. I didn't mind being left behind on this trip.

Soccer has begun and it looked like it was going to be ALL SPORTS FIVE NIGHTS A WEEK, until my thoughtful eldest decided that playing school rugby on both the bantam and junior teams, as well as taking on part-time employment, was more than enough for him. Now our Tuesday and Thursday evenings are freed up. I've met a few parents recently with similar sports attitudes to mine -- adore watching the kids play sports, strongly encourage them to do so, but seriously wish things would revert to the way they were twenty years ago when each child had one or possibly two nights of sports per week. Also, open to having a sane pace of life, and separate adult interests.

Last weekend, we hosted my Grandma -- who turns 92 tomorrow -- my mom and dad, sister and brother-in-law for High Tea, which included maple scones, clotted cream (homemade -- dead easy), lemon squares, banana muffins, chocolate dipped strawberries, tea, coffee, and lemonade. It was a memory in the making, and while Dave said he regretted the fact that I had to make my own Mother's Day (kids slept in and were somewhat lethargic about the occasion), I couldn't imagine a nicer day.

My birthday was the day before. It was a low-key day, but better than last year when I was sick on my birthday. (The outrage! The wrongness!) We had dinner with Dave's parents and brother's family and it was good.

The days and weeks are flying by. It seems it's always the weekend too soon -- which says to me that I love my work and there's a lot of it. Both are true. I've moved my office to the back porch most days and I feel very fortunate to be able to do that. I'm learning and being challenged and hopefully helping people too.

It feels like that only scratches the surface of it all. But, the lilacs are beckoning me for a smell and a stroll. See you soon.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Proust Questionnaire

I like this series of questions, often asked of celebrities in Vanity Fair magazine. I'm going to offer my answers but I'm actually more interested in yours.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
A good book, a cup of dark coffee, a comfortable chair in the shade outdoors on a warm spring day. With violets underfoot.

What is your greatest fear?

What do you dislike most about your appearance?

The loss of my flat stomach.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
In writing, many of my characters have a "tangle" of hair or eat tangled-up salads.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?
My husband and children.

When and where were you happiest?
In a garden in Florence, Italy.

Which talent would you most like to have?
I'd like to be able to fly.

What is your current state of mind?

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

My children who seem like they might turn out to be lovely people.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?

A robin.

If you could choose what to come back as, what would it be?

A minke whale.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?


Where would you like to live?
By the sea.

What is your most treasured possession?

Sea glass in my jean jacket pocket. And small letters from my children.

What is your favorite occupation?


What is your most marked characteristic?

Maybe persistence.

What is the quality you most like in a man?


What is the quality you most like in a woman?


What do you most value in your friends?

Who are your favorite writers?

L.M. Montgomery, Madeleine L'Engle.

What is it that you most dislike?
Weeding my rock garden. Unresolved conflict.

How would you like to die?

In my sleep, in perfect health, at the age of 100.

What is your motto?

Beauty will save the world.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Fan Mail

Six years ago, I sat in the basement of a church in Stratford, Ontario. I had a small table, on which sat copies of my newly-published book. The room was filled with other such writers and publishers: it was a writing festival. But just up the row from me was a guy called Joseph Boyden. He had a newly-published book too. Three Day Road. It really was new then and most people didn't know who he was. But I had read his raw accounts of the flooding in his adopted town of New Orleans in the months just before and I knew he was That Good.

The question was: Would I tell him I thought so?

I sat there much of the afternoon -- between flurries of signing one or two books -- pondering the question. The problem was -- and is -- that, faced with the opportunity to meet someone even remotely famous, I can imagine no role for myself other than Giggling Fan Girl. Every single thing I can think to say has a flavour of "OMG! I LOVE YOU SO MUCH!" At least, that's how it sounds in my head.

And despite the fact that you and I likely agree that Boyden -- man and author -- is worth that kind of adulation, I was not about to drool on his shoes. I thought about how I could approach him, what I could say that would show a good blend of admiration and collegiality.

In the end, I sidled up to the slight blonde woman who sat at his table and got talking to her. Turned out she was his wife Amanda. Turned out she introduced me to him. My heart may have pounded -- have you seen this guy? -- but I did not humiliate myself. In fact, I asked him a question that had been plaguing my writing, and he gave me an answer that was simple and profound, one I return to again and again. I'm glad I got over myself enough to talk with him, glad I was able to remember he was both only human and very good at what he did.

Maurice Sendak died today. I didn't know -- though I knew almost every word of Where the Wild Things Are -- how much I admired him until he was gone. A month ago, reading my U of T alumni magazine, I discovered that Northrup Frye had still been teaching at U of T when I went there -- and I could have sat at his feet to learn. Five years ago, Madeleine L'Engle died, never knowing how much her work meant to me.

Today, I want to draw a line in the sand. More Boyden-like encounters, even if I come across fawning and insipid, and fewer regrets. I'm so deeply grateful for those writers who have opened up my world. Their deaths remind us that they are as human as we are, that their time here is finite and that they've used it well. I want to remember to thank them and learn from them, every chance I get. Before it's too late.

Thank you Maurice. Let the wild rumpus start!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Ingenue No More

You never sported a gamine haircut nor pranced in sassy short dresses but still you remained timebound around the age you were when your eldest entered the world. You began marking time by their milestones, not your own, and your own age crept up on you. You had no idea whatsoever that you had become the older generation -- for the moment the tide turns has no signal -- but suddenly here you are. You're in bed late at night when your child stealthily confesses feelings for someone, a classmate, and your stomach lurches just a little, for you are on the other side, ingenue no more, but older person, parent of the person who has feelings you remember only too well. How exactly is it that time has passed like this and you are neither the lovestruck teen nor even the person entrusted with a little baby, but instead standing on the outside, hoping the object of affection is worthy, is kind, is good, eats vegetables, walks with grace, holds hearts carefully. In short, is a worthy ingenue, now that the mantle must be passed. You feel oddly dislocated in the midst of rootedness, an existential shoving over. You want to take that child of yours and do everything you haven't done yet, tell them once again about how to be and live and love. They tell you about growing pains for children, they tell you about the angst of adolescence. What they do not say is that growing pains happen over and over again throughout your life, and that while you would have it no other way, you still feel an ache late at night.