Yesterday my husband and I drove to our northern home. Today I sit at my other studio work table, in front of a view that includes aspens and pines. There are thunderclouds low over the hills. I am north again, and will be until next March.
I am the opposite of the migrating birds I see in the sky. They are leaving for the warm hug of weather in the south. I want the cold, snowy Winter. I want the clear, crisp air and the crackle of frost and ice under my boots.
I want to smell snow coming, and witness the first snowflakes fall from a heavy, grey sky. I want to feel them melt on my cheek, so gentle a touch, present and gone in the same instant. The first snow is always fleeting, Winter hesitant, touching the farthest edge of Fall.
I love the change of seasons. I love feeling with all of my body the movement of time. I love how each season stands forward in its fullness, then moves back a step at a time as the next season comes forward. A dance, step and step, forward and back, each season partnering the ones before and after.
I know I am a Summer Girl. It’s true. I love Summer best. Warm sun and cool shade, iced tea with lemon, long slow evenings and a bright moon. Something in me saddens at leaving Summer behind.
Yet that same something is anticipating with joy the touch of those first ephemeral snowflakes.
All seasons are sweet to me because of the change, each season precious because of its particular joys.
The seasons dance around me, dance within me. I would have it no other way.
I know how I want to begin this post, but it feels so stark, I’m not sure I can say it.
The thing is, I know the best place to start is always exactly where I am.
These last seven days, I begin to understand how someone dies of a broken heart. I always thought these words overdramatic. A diva phrase. Exaggeration. Hyperbole. I am not so sure after this year, the deaths of my Dad and cousin, and my Mom lost deep in Alzheimer’s.
I am not really in danger of dying of a broken heart, not in this moment or the next several, but my heart does feel broken.
Music eases the pain. Right now I am listening to John Boswell’s albums Trust and Garden In The Sky. Hugs, as many as possible, ease the pain. Old photographs and letting my heart move through the beloved memories attached to the images. Talking with my family and friends. Spending time in my studio, writing and drawing.
Yesterday I was unpacking the final box of household odds and ends from our move last Spring. At the bottom, rolled around a cardboard tube, was a 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics pennant. The pennant was a gift from my cousin. No coincidence it showed up yesterday.
In 1988 my husband, three-year-old son, and I spent a week of those Olympics in Calgary with my aunt and uncle. It felt like the entire city was partying. My cousin was working at the Olympic Village, and had her evenings free. We ate dinner together, with the television on to catch the sports events we hadn’t seen in person that day.
Months later we received the pennant in the mail. My cousin had purchased it at an auction.
Yes, beloved memories.
Today, the pennant is draped over a chair here in the studio. Later I will iron it, and hang it in the kitchen, the same way it hung in our previous home for twenty-nine years.
My cousin is leaving this earth tomorrow afternoon. It is her choice, after five years of dealing with a malignant brain tumor and standing up to every change it placed into her life. Yesterday, she decided it is time to let go. The biggest change of all.
Our families spent summers together, and the occasional Christmas. We went swimming in the ocean and the lake. We folded fleets of paper airplanes and flew them around the house. We leaned against the railing of the second floor sundeck and spit watermelon seeds as far as we could send them.
I miss her already.
Life is all change. The past year has shown me this in abundance. It has also taught me it is possible to find my way through each shift.
Today I am doing things my cousin and I both loved. Listening to music. Playing with word puzzles. Having time with family and friends. Writing.
The small things in life walk me through life’s big changes. The small things, and love.
Bon voyage, cousin, and much love. I am glad we’ve been family.
It’s hot and humid today. There’s a breeze that smells of the ocean and green growing things. When I look up from my writing, I see a horizon of water that is every shade of turquoise and blue. There’s deep purple at the farthest edge.
I am on the big island of Hawaii. For the past six glorious days I have been playing. Swimming, snorkeling, reading, eating, napping, playing cribbage and crazy eights with my husband. Walking. Writing. Sitting doing nothing except watching the ocean.
Yes, writing is here, listed under playing. Tuesday morning I played with my book, and ‘played’ is accurate.
I pulled out my notes and Mickey Mouse pencils. I had no expectations. I only knew I needed to write. I was missing something I love.
Tuesday I turned work into play. I wrote with curiosity and wonder. I opened to possibilities that might show up, even if they shifted my direction and caused a need to rewrite. I explored the story.
It’s true writing is work, yet it is work I love. Tuesday I got to be curious and wondering, open and exploring. I got to watch possibilities arise from my words, and experience creation.
Yes, it required work in the form of attention, focus, time, and energy. It required commitment to saying “I will rewrite this” when something was not the best it could be. It needed willingness and courage to move into my truest truth when it felt painful or frightening.
Something pulls at me if I don’t write for a few days. Desire, need, obsession. Yes. Even more, it is curiosity and love for writing. I can’t not write.
My attitude has slowly shifted work into play. I love that writing has become a mix of both these things. Saying yes I’ll write today, with a feeling of curiosity, opens my heart. When my heart is open, possibilities open as well. My writing takes a direction my mind did not expect, I go exploring, and learn something new.
This is play and work as one. I love that I get to write.
I am halfway through reading Mary Karr’s book The Art Of Memoir.
I’ve yet to read her other books (my friend just lent me The Liar’s Club), but this particular book’s title showed up three times in the past two weeks, twice in random emails, and then at my friend’s home where I was visiting. When something shows up repeatedly in my life, it’s a clue. I need to check it out.
I love how Mary keeps moving back and forth between her passion for memoir and the truth of how fugitive our memories can be. There’s a fascination with the words, and how the words make her feel, and how odd memory is when we try to pin it down into a story.
I loved hearing stories long before I started school, yet I know for sure I became a different person the day I learned to read for myself.
I see flashes of this particular memory. Sitting with my classmates at the back of our classroom. New reader open on my lap, the hand-painted pictures, and the words in large black print underneath the images. Words printed so big, they feel like they are yelling. I can smell the reader, its singular dusty, papery odour. I can feel the stiff round edges of the cover in my hands, the coolness of it as it lies on my bare knees.
I don’t know if I took this reader, or the next, home. I do know at some point in Grade One I began taking home each new reader as I received it, and read the whole thing in one huge swallow.
I needed the words and story and how they made me feel. I could not go slowly with a new book. I had to eat it all right away.
A new book burned in me. Fierce anticipation. Curiosity that yelled “Now!” Satisfaction—too dull a word for the fire I experienced. Fulfillment and wholeness are closer, yet again nowhere near the wild, bright joy I felt, and still feel, with each new book in my hands. I understand why ‘voracious’ is paired with ‘reader’. Even the sound of ‘voracious’ when I say it out loud echoes my feelings. The word growls.
I became a different person the day I learned to read. I became hungry for words and story and books. Addicted. Completely.
There was a wild, bright, fiery space in me waiting for words, story, reading, books to show up.
There is always a wild, sharp, open space in me waiting for the next new book. Words have taken over my life. I read. I write. I play with crosswords and Scrabble. I even write on my drawings; plain image is no longer enough. My friends are readers and writers.
Some might mutter “obsessed” with a kind of tsk-tsk tone. I say “Glorious!”
At six years old, in Grade One, I did not know the words I’m using here. If someone had asked me what I felt when I was reading, the word I would have answered with is “Love.”
Thank you, thank you, thank you Mrs. Johnson, for teaching me to read and love words and story and books.
In this post,
Mary Karr, The Art Of Memoir, HarperCollins, 2015; and The Liars’ Club: a memoir, Penguin Books, 1996. https://www.marykarr.com/
It’s true. We human beings can’t help it. We are words and memory and story. We create and recreate ourselves and our world when we say “let me tell you a story.” It happens every time.
This question has been coming up since the weekend. I’m not getting anywhere thinking about it, so I am writing about it instead.
I had an awesome good Sunday. Everything and everyone was sweet in some way. Basically, I swam in joy all day, no matter what I was doing. Play or household tasks (there were a few), it made no difference to my mood. I sailed through the day, fair winds prevailing.
I woke Monday feeling the opposite. Monday, my mood was resistance and struggle, no matter what I was doing. Reading? I love reading. Monday, I could not find a book that satisfied me, and I have a lot of books. Word puzzles? I love those too. Monday, I had no patience for them. They made me feel angry instead.
Monday’s mood continued on and off, mostly on, through Tuesday and Wednesday. Today I have had enough of this miserable weather. I am writing it out of me and onto the page where I can see it.
Something happened after the sweet Sunday. Something said I’d used up my quota of happiness, and I turned off the flow.
Yes, I did that to myself. I am the one who chooses how I feel about everything in my life. Here, now, I can either choose to find ways and help to lift my mood, or not.
How happy am I allowed to be? How happy do I let myself be?
These are not the same question. The first implies someone else puts the cap on my happiness. The second says I own the happiness control in my life.
My heart is my happiness control. I learned how to open my heart to love, and I know how this feels. I also know how my closed heart feels. Sunday, my heart was open to life. Monday, I closed down and stayed closed. I was missing my Dad, and it hurt too much so I closed my heart.
That simple. I closed my heart, and then all felt like struggle.
Enough struggle. I have an idea about my happiness level. Yes, I miss my Dad fiercely, and I also love him fiercely. So, I choose I can miss him and love him at the same time. Let my heart be open to both feelings. My heart is big. It can handle it. I know how much Dad loved me and still loves me though he’s not here in body. I feel it every day, and I love him right back.
I choose. I give myself permission to be happy as much and as often as I please. I give myself permission to not be okay when I need to not be okay. Be happy and be sad, and let my heart play fully with all in my life. Not bittersweet. Sadsweet, and more sweet than sad because the love is so huge.
I feel sunny again. There are clouds too, but fair winds prevail and the clouds will pass.
A good friend came by today, a fellow artist who I see weekly in the Fall and Winter when I am living in my northern home. She’s on vacation at the moment, so we took our time. We talked, caught ourselves up on each other’s families and lives. We drank tea with lemon.
She told me of a painting she’s creating of the clouds of Jupiter, and a show coming up next month. I read her some of the back story I am writing for my book draft. Too quickly (isn’t it always) our visit was done. We hugged and said goodbye, and she left for the ferry.
My friends who paint and write are blessings in my life. More than a blessing, they are supports in my life. We trade inspiration and plans, questions and comments, successes and struggles. Our friendships are a safe space to play with our creative ideas, the ones only yet a glimmer or half-grown, as well as the ones ready for the world.
There is power in our relationships. I know I am a better artist and writer because of these women. I trust them to see what I have missed or hidden from myself, and ask me the questions that need asking. My images and words are clearer and more focussed because of these friendships. I am more courageous in what I create because I know they have my back and I have theirs.
Our visit today reminds me how essential and treasured time with friends is for me. Everything we talk of, families and art and writing, strengthens us, makes us laugh, soothes us. We help make each other whole.
Our visit today reminds me it is coming time to meet some new artist-writer friends here in my new home. Yes, find more kindred spirits, as Anne of Green Gables would say.
Thank you, Lynn and Kate. Thank you, Wren and Yvonka and Fran. You help me be the artist and writer I am.
There are times when I write, and it feels like breathing. This is one of them.
Like breath. Essential, easy, effortless. A flow that is so simple and natural I have no conscious awareness of activity and my involvement in it. No awareness of time or place passing.
In these moments, I am. It is that simple. Two words, I am. I feel no boundary between me and all around me. I am. We are.
This is pure pleasure, when writing is like breathing. Writing for the pleasure of hearing thoughts pass through, for the pleasure of feeling my hand roll and loop and form words on a page. Writing because here in this moment all is perfect.
When writing is like breathing, all is whole. Nowhere is anything broken or chipped away. I feel settled, at peace in mind and body, content in heart and spirit.
When writing is like breathing, I am blessed. Writing this way, when it happens, is pure gift. I am my truest self. A feeling through every cell in my body, I am. I am love, I am joy, I am breath.
When writing is like breathing, I am my river voice, flow and music. I am life writing life.