Bingo’s all I Need

This picture is lovely and still. I’m happy sitting outside on a not scorching hot day with my dog while wearing my new birthday sweatshirt from Books Are Magic, the store where I work in my dreams. I have been 43 for a few days, things are good. And weeks later, things are still good but it is June so things are not so calm.

It seems there are less events this month then there were in May. Birthday seasons are crazy in our house, May is about William and I, he just turned 14 (14!) while November is all about Rory and Scott. I would be lying if I said I am not happy that the birthday spring edition is over. So many ups and downs.

There are not as many events but the events there are in June are huge. Monday the 24 is Graduation day, for both kids. Rory from grade 6 in the morning (I know ) and William from grade 8 in the evening. The next morning Rory and I head off with his class to a water park while William gets on a bus with his school for a two hour ride to a camp where they’ll be for two night and three days. For many, this is nothing. For us, this is huge and will involve special planning. Although in the end, I am sure it will be hardest on me.

So that’s all. This morning was just a morning of filling out forms and paying for trips and so I wandered over here for a break as I think I will need to do more often in the next new weeks and months. This summer is the first in a long time that I will be not working and therefore home with the boys. This also will involve more planning. I wanted it to maybe involve the getting of a second dog but no one else in my home agreed this would be a good idea. It would be, it would be a great idea, but I live in a democracy. I had however even found the dog I wanted to become Bingo’s sister, a mixed bred named Flossy with neurological problems that causes her to spend time each day walking in circles. Maybe there is more to her adorable face that drew me in and the feeling that she needed me. Perhaps there was something else I connected to – the feeling of walking in circles some days and getting nowhere.

Why I Need to Blog

Can I say it’s because Michelle Obama wants me to? I can and I will, because it’s actually true. This past Saturday, my Aunt Bonnie and I went to see her speak in front of 15, 000 others in Toronto. We did dress up more than in the photo, but once we bought our Michelle hoodies like proper nerds, what did it matter?

Michelle was interviewed by Phoebe Robinson who I know as on of the 2 Dope Queens along with Jessica Williams. These women are all funny and brilliant and I’ve listened to some of their podcasts, especially the ones with Michelle.

To say she was amazing is an understatement. I’d spent the week reading Becoming so I knew my stuff. She touched on her past, of course, her relationship with her brother, father and mother, her grumpy grandpa, her aunt who lived on the first floor of their house. She spoke of the importance of large families – either the one you are born into or the one you choose – and how necessary these people are because of their different voices and their stories. Different stories as we grow and of course, ‘become’, are crucial because they keep are minds open and people close. When people are close to us through their stories – around the dinner table, over Netflix or through blogs – it becomes impossible to put people into groups out of fear and hate, despite the horrors others may be trying to push into our ears.

It doesn’t take a genius to see where this is going. I’ve been toying with the idea of really committing to this blog, I even paid the yearly fee to get rid of the hideous ads that pop up. But then I struggle so much and worry about sounding narcissistic. But if I’m writing my stories it means I’m also listening to yours, and then we talk and we learn and there is community. Sitting in that arena, deafened by the screams of thousands of like-minded and good people was the most overwhelming part of the night. It’s so easy to forget that there is more good than bad around us, but there is, and I refuse to think otherwise. So if use this little space to share my stories and get to know you and yours, I think we’ll make Michelle proud.

Normal People by Sally Rooney

I’ve not yet read Rooney’s first novel, Conversations with Friends but after reading her new novel, Normal People, it is on the top of my birthday list for next month. I read Normal People in three days, if that. I don’t remember the last time I not only loved a book this much, but that I savoured it. I kept stopping myself to put off finishing a section or a chapter because the book is small and even just a few chapters in, I didn’t want it to end.

Now, I say I don’t remember the last time I loved a book this much, but of course I do. I read Nell Fredenberger’s two novels this month and also The Uncoupling by Meg Woltizer, and I loved them all. But there was just something so personal and raw about Rooney’s book, I can still even feel the way the cover felt while I was reading it, that made the entire experience different.

The book is set in Ireland, in the small fictitious town of Carricklea where everyone knows each other’s business. Our two protagonists, Marianne and Connell go to school together but never talk. Marianne barely speaks to anyone, would rather read her novel at lunch and tell herself that she doesn’t care most people hate her because she’s smarter and more special than everyone. Connell, on the other hand, while not as rich as Marianne, is popular and happy at school. Life at home is also better, he lives with a loving mother while Marianne’s brother and mother are physically and emotionally abusive. The connection between the two is that Connell’s mother cleans house for Marianne’s mom. It is during these hours after school when he picks up his mother from Marianne’s house that the two begin their relationship.

And what a relationship! I was prepared for Ross and Rachael-esque drama but that isn’t the case. Without giving too much away, these two are always in each other’s lives. The first and foremost way to define their status is as best friends. There is rarely drama or fighting, there is often sex but most of all talking. Even when they are with other people, they are always thinking of each other first. When Connell is traveling with other friends later on in the book, without his steady girlfriend at the time, Helen or Marianne, it is only Marianne he thinks to buy a present for. Very early on you stop worrying about whether or not they are ‘together together’ because their relationship is so much more.

The bigger question, something I struggled with during the middle of the novel when the characters have both moved away to Trinity College for university, was whether they were good for each other. Both Marianne and Connell struggle with anxiety and mental illness and at times it was tricky to see if they helped or hurt one another. By the end, when major sacrifices are made and we see the couple rooted in love, they are redeemed. That was when it got harder and harder to turn the pages because I really didn’t want to say goodbye.

Rooney’s writing is sharp and political and it pours effortlessly onto the page. I was dropped into their world from the start and the mixture of friendship and love and pain was beautiful and overwhelming and at times claustrophobic. Even with two pages left I didn’t know how things would go or even what I was hoping for – all I knew was that the last line was exactly right.


Today


Today is a low day. Yesterday, just outside of William’s school, a car jumped far over the curb and struck a women my age and she died. I am quite sure from her photos in the paper that I knew her from the library. She was just walking down the street on a sunny day. It’s beyond horrible.

I had coffee this morning with a good friend and then took Bingo for a long walk. I listened to a podcast I’d never listened to before. It is called Committed and it was perfect. The podcast is about marriage and the millions of things that it can be. This episode was about a couple who’s five month old daughter had been diagnosed with cancer. Six months later – six long, impossible months later – she was fine. The couple tells their story and talks about how it could have broken them but it didn’t and see it as their second chance as a family and how incredible that is for them. Needless the say I was happy to be wearing a baseball hat and large sunglasses while I walked and cried.

So it’s been a day of thinking of what matters, and not just does it matter that I read far more than I clean. Just this weekend Scott and I were talking about how much time we spend with our children because they need us. We talked about trying to live more in the moment and relish this. Our kids may not be as independent as other 11 and almost 14 years olds are and that’s fine. They love us so much and they appreciate and thank us for helping them and for loving them so much back. It’s pretty fierce this love in our house sometimes and not that is isn’t in yours, of course it is. but in our house we spend hours and hours today, sometime not doing much. Often time is spent just getting through the minutes because things are hard. But instead of wishing this wasn’t the case, wishing we could have more time to ourselves, we try to hold on (to each other as well) and enjoy it. Our kids are so funny and wonderful to be with. We are such a strong unit and we know things will change one day, that our kids will get older, learn more coping skills and will want to be on their own, and when that happens, that’ll be good. But for now, when really none of us knows what tomorrow’s going to throw at us anyway, we really want to be here, with them and very much with each other.

Small Things

It’s been difficult the past two weeks to even know what day of the week it was. The next three weeks are short weeks, because a PA Day and Easter, but still today feels like the first real Monday in a long time. I have a terrible cold but two kids in school and that in our house is a big deal. I have tea and a Meg Wolitzer book I’ve never read beside me on the couch. I’m under my favourite blanket. Scott is finished teaching for the term, which means his regular day hours are the same but because he only teaches night courses, we have him every night until May and then he’s only teaching one course instead of two.

The sun is trying to peak through the fog and the room around me is lighting up as I type. I haven’t written any fiction in so long and am missing it very much. I’m thinking of making a goal for myself – a small one – to write a new short story in the next few months, maybe before the end of the school year.

Onward!

This is an old picture, we still have snow and that bunting has been taken down. And since this picture, we have moved on. I have been stuck, not able to move forward because of wondering if I was going to be able to meet my deadline of returning to work April 1. Things are still hard and we don’t need any extra worries. I’m lucky to be able to be at home keeping the waters as calm as I can. So this week I resigned from my job at the library and honestly, I’m feeling better than I have in weeks.

So onwards! For spring, for new writing opportunities (I have one! I’m really excited!), for this blog, for all the books, for family and friends who love us and for being exactly where I need to be right now which is the very place I want to be with my favourite people.

Nana

This week is going to be less writing and more March Breaking, which isn’t doing much because my kids don’t want to do anything. It’s hard. I miss the days of lugging them around, plopping them in car seats and strollers and doing stuff! Nowadays going to see Captain Marvel no doubt outshines any trips to a sugar bush.

I got away this weekend, on my own which was wonderful! I took the early train to Union Station where I picked up my aunt who was loaded down with bagels and coffee and we took another train to Whitby. We spent the entire day with my Nana who turned 92 this weekend. Nana is amazing. The fact that she is 92 is a mere technicality, she is smarter and funnier and braver than I’ll ever be.

Nana lives in a retirement village in Whitby, alone now after my Boppa passed away three years ago. The end of February marked what would have been their seventieth wedding anniversary. She misses him fiercely, we all do. Although she has has friends and activities to keep busy, at times she’s lonely, of course she is. The thing she does that amazes me the most is how she so clearly knows what she needs and she does it. She says ‘no’ to things when she feels like it, she walks when she needs to, she reads or doesn’t, she rests or doesn’t. She advocates for good among some people who are unable to keep an open mind in a world that is far different than theirs may have once been. She tells people not to be racist or homophobic with gentle and quiet words. She is kind. She and a friend work year round sending packages to schools in Northern Ontario for students in need. She is wildly funny and intelligent. She has never closed herself off to ideas or experiences that challenge her. She is realistic and doesn’t like everyone because shes’ real, and you can’t like everyone. She puts up with constant pain in her legs and the doctors who tell her there’s isn’t anything they can do.

On Friday, when my aunt and I visited, we drank wine and ate chips and talked and laughed for eight hours straight, often cutting each other off with more things to say. It may have started out being Nana’s birthday we were celebrating, but it was also the best Women’s day I’ve ever had.