Holding Back

I bought this mug on the last day of school. It was last Tuesday, early because there are still no exams. The sun on the other side is awake and smiling. Tuesday was also Summer Solstice so I was drawn to it.

And now I have the summer stretched out before me like the duvet on my bed that I am still sleeping under because I hate sleeping without it. It feels safe and comforting, even when I don’t need it because the night is too warm.

I need to get out of my comfort zone, is where I’m going if that wasn’t obvious. In my writing, I stay away from going deep, I don’t know if I do it on purpose, I must to play it safe, easy, keep people happy. Yes, I do go to therapy in case you were wondering. 🙂

I feel lately, or I always have, I’m just recognizing, that I’m standing over a pool I want so desperately to jump into but it is covered in sludge, keeping me from going deep. I think I so often feel I’m just on the outside, so full of things I want to write and say. Like now with Roe being overturned, I’ve felt on the verge of screaming or crying. I’ve never had an abortion, but I could have and that doesn’t even matter because just because I haven’t doesn’t mean people love haven’t or won’t need one and telling stories is kind of all we have in this moment, even though it’s not fair.

I want to stop worrying about ‘not enough’. My shaking doesn’t make me ‘disabled’ enough for instance, and there’s so many other things like that I feel. I’m fucking 46 years old and I’ve been though a lot. I think I need to stop being quiet and know we’re all enough, more than that. We just are. I might start going deeper, or at least trying to, and that’s kind of exciting.

Some Times

Some times there are moments when everything hard falls away. You forget you’re tired because the sunlight falls just so across the table you’re sitting at. Some days you can forget you are starting to dream about your grandmother who died eight months ago and every morning is a little tough. But you forget it for awhile because the evenings are stretching out and last night you ran in the rain with your oldest son to get a milkshake from the ice cream shop where your other son works and it was pouring and no one could stop laughing. Some times you forget about the worries you have for your kids because there is a Summer Fair at their high school and they both go and come home talking about the crazy doughnuts they bought and how much fun it was to stand in line together and talk to each other’s friends. And even though one kid isn’t go to school right now, he made it to the fair, so those two hours let you go to lunch and a book store with your husband and because of Covid, every time now you are out feels so amazing. And you knew that your people were all happy and no one needed anything of you and it was really good.

And then the summer is coming! You will go out for more lunches and dates and walks. And you are starting to write again, 1000 words a day, and your story is taking shape and revealing itself it you. And the worries are still there but the joy and the sunlight and stretched out evenings are just so much more.

Look!

So I began #1000wordsofsummer and it happened! A switch went off, the sun melted the clouds, my fingers raced. Whatever you want to say, I’ve been writing and it feels amazing.

I started reading from my ‘books I own before I buy more’ list and my first pick is Sue Miller’s Monogamy which Scott gave me last Christmas and I’m loving it! I can’t believe I haven’t read this woman before but better yet, her backlist is staggering. Good thing I got a gift certificate to my bookstore for my birthday so technically it doesn’t go against my summer plan.

School is over here in just over two weeks. Has it been everything we hoped and dreamed? Not even close. But it’s almost over and we couldn’t need to break and rest more. I am ready for it, for summer, for long days and sore hands and arms from writing and holding books up in front of my face even more than usual. For raddlers, and hammocks and trips to our outdoor pool. Long dog walks and lazy dinners. More good tv when the nights are too hot for much else and so much more time with family. My heart needs this and we have been teasing ourselves with it the past weeks with great weekends so that when the Sunday blues hit (the force is strong here) we talk about what we just did and that we are about to get two months just like it.

We are so close, the finish line is very much in sight with all the popsicles (or ice cream for Rory’s shop) waiting for us.

Now to do my third day of 1000 words.

May

May was a great month. Birthdays, weather, good tv, great books, finding cool and easy food for hot nights. We took it easy, we celebrated, we didn’t look too far past the day. We wore masks but didn’t worry about covid, I went to Toronto and a Sarah Harmer concert and restaurants and ate Italian food and then Indian food and drank a peach bellini! Definitely, some perfect moments. I think I’m just ready for the summer, school and all it’s worries to be over and have fun! Rory’s got a job scooping ice cream all summer which he got all on his own and I’m proud of him. William turned 17 and my heart wouldn’t stop exploding all day. They really are the most wonderful kids.

We’re watching Stranger Things which is fine. I am reading amazing short stories to get myself reading for #1000wordsofsummer – still writing about the nursing home but through linked short stories. I took a two hour writing course online with Elizabeth McCracken on my birthday!!! Could anything beat that except maybe the the kimchi fries at our local Bao restaurant that I dream about and have decided after I finish #1000wordsofsummer will be my reward.

I make and drink a gallon of iced tea a day. I can’t wait to swim! Kevin Wilson’s newest stories are breaking my heart right now in the best possible way. I’ve set up a perfect reading plan for myself. I will put off buying any new books (until September when the new Kevin Wilson, Elizabeth McCracken and Liz Strout start rolling out) and enjoy the so many I already own that I’ve yet to read.

And now it’s June! Let’s go summer!

Ginkgo, not Gingko.

It’s another snow day today, not sure why. The snow stopped early and it’s just another beautiful day. The grade nine student in my house has a ton of homework while the grade eleven student does not which may or may not irritate the grade nine student at times. We are eating leftover cake I made yesterday and looking forward to a long weekend. The older student and I have already done Wordle, as we do every morning. I have argued with children that cake is fine at 9:30 am but candy, perhaps, is not.

I bought myself a ginkgo leaf necklace this week from a local artist on etsy and I love it. Ginkgo trees (or gingko as I just realized I’ve been spelling it as) are old, the oldest tree in existence, dating back as far as the dinosaurs. After the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, six ginkgo trees survived close to the blast site. They turn a gorgeous bright yellow in the fall and drop fruit that smell like vomit. They are far to old to care what people think of them. The are strong and resilient and just before March 2020, a group of them were planted in the small yard outside my Nana’s window at her retirement home. She watched them all throughout the lock down, telling me how they were almost every day. I have a lot of her jewellery now but I haven’t felt right wearing any just yet. This necklace is perfect, not only is it about her, but by getting something new I feel it’s a step for me, not necessarily forward – I’ve learned grief isn’t linear – but it’s motion for sure.

Ginkgo biloba is sometimes described as a living fossil because it is the sole survivor of an ancient group of trees older that the dinosaurs. It is the only member of its genus, which is the only genus in its family, which is the only family in its order, which is the only order in its subclass. That’s pretty lonely, which is why I think they should be forgiven the fact that its seeds smell like vomit.

Rules for Visiting by Jessica Francis Kane


		

Surfing

This back pillow is the best Christmas present Scott gave me!

I was talking to our family therapist last night about surfing. She’s amazing and has been with us for years and everyone should do therapy. She talked about surfing as a metaphor for dealing with the hard stuff – surfing the waves of grief and sorrow and worry and anxiety and sadness rather than letting them hit us and wipe us out for days. I think we’re doing this and it feels good. Easier some days than others of course, but that’s what buying tulips and pretty note cards is for.

Surfing makes me think of water and swimming, which led to me looking up lane swims and dreaming of our local outdoor pool opening and getting a pass for my birthday in the spring.

Which got me thinking about moving and how that is the key to everything for me right now. Keep moving. Don’t let myself get stuck. I am more than ever understanding when people say they ‘need’ to get outside. I’ve never really been that person but I am lately, nothing feels better than the gasp of a crisp, cold breeze when I open my window or door and I breathe it all in.

Keep moving, keep reading, keep writing (see above cosy space where I’m writing at least 1000 words a day and I just broke 10 thousand words on my new project!) Keep dreaming of spring. Basically, keep surfing.

*Funny that every time I typed surfing in this post I would type surfacing instead. That works too.

Whatever gets you through

I’ve been thinking a lot about reading experiences. And by that I mean reading a series, back to back to back, and getting so immersed that you forget to eat, clean, sleep, that you have kids. It’s kind of the best thing.

I remember it happening for me in my early twenties when my then boyfriend, Scott got me to read the Lord of the Rings – something I never would have thought I’d touch, let alone devour. We were living in Toronto and I read the first one before the first movie came out. I loved it, I think I’d also read The Hobbit when we went to the big theatre at Richmond and that was it, I was love. We came out of the theatre, went right in the Chapters that used to be beside it and immediately bought the other books and gobbled them up. I needed my own copies, not Scott’s old beaten up ones. I remember being on the last book and had a few hundred pages left one weekend when we went to visit Scott’s parents. You know you are going to one day have the best in-laws ever when they have no problem with you ignoring them and hiding in bed all weekend to read. Of course sharing the books with Scott and constantly updating him on ‘where I was’ made it all the more wonderful.

Fast forward to many years later – and I’m about to divulge a major, amazing secret! Scott and I are in Waterloo and our kids are 10 and 7. Our oldest gets sick, like hit by a truck with mental illness and life is completely turned upside down – within a day our lives are ‘before’ and ‘after’. There was no time to cry or dwell, just to act. Doctor after doctor, basically the most rudimentary form of survival. One night, he was sleeping somehow, and I was desperate for anything good, anything. I did a weird thing. I emailed the staff at Parnassus Books, the bookstore in Tennessee that Ann Patchett owns. I wrote that our family was in crisis and what books would they recommend. I don’t know why I did this. But within a day I got an email and the subject read FROM PATCHETT. Ann and I became email pen pals for the next seven months. She was beyond generous. She told me what to read and kept me going. She told me to read the Ferrante series and I did, running for weeks between my couch, my computer to write to her about them and Words Worth Books to buy the next book. I met Ann last in October 2019 after the release of The Dutch House and she barely remembered me, which was exactly how it should be. Our correspondence was absolute heaven during some of the worst months of my life – my grandfather also died during this time- and it was the best reading experience I’ve ever had and I’ll always be so thankful for her kindness.

And then there was Jo Walton! Scott and I read the Small Change series I think in the summer of 2019 and again, it was a series I hadn’t been expecting to love so much! We breezed through them in perfect hammock days. Sharing all of these books with someone makes it all the better.

Rory and I read the Lara Jean series by Jenny Han together a few years ago which led to watching the movies together on Netflix every year when they came out on Valentine’s day. Also perfect!

And that brings me to now and the Oxford Time Travelling Series by Connie Willis, an author Scott has read and loved for years. He figured I’d only read and enjoy To Say Nothing of the Dog but then I asked for The Doomsday Book for Christmas, tore through it and loved it even more and immediately got the last two, Black Out and All Clear from the library and spent all of January (which has been a really hard month for me) reading them. I finished the last one Saturday night and Scott and I stayed up late gushing over them and it was amazing. Best Christmas present for sure.

Reading does it again, gets me through, keeps me going, makes everything so very good, especially when I get to share it with someone amazing.

Connections

About a month ago or more ago I got an idea for what I want to write, really write. I stop and start so many times, I have great trouble with that, but this is good! It’s a mystery, that’s all I’m going to say, maybe. I’m also going to say that since getting this idea, I may not exactly call them signs, but I do seem to be getting encouraged to start from many different places.

First, there were the Connie Willis books, chalk full of Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers references. I need to read these. I am reading the last of Willis’ Time Travelling Historians series and it’s perfection and maybe while reading To Say Nothing of the Dog is when I got my idea.

Second, I was thinking about mysteries and how of course I need to start reading more. There is an English series by Richard Osman about the Thursday Murder Club, a group of octogenarians in a retirement home who solve mysteries. The library had a million holds on the first book and it was during a week when I’d pre-ordered and bought my own million books from Wordsworth so I added myself to the hold list and forgot about it until my jaw was locked shut with pain one night, so badly I was in tears and had to go to the dentist to pick up a temporary night guard. What is outside the dentist? A lending library with Osman’s first book inside. I didn’t take it, I didn’t have another one to swap for it and I think I got a bit spooked. I drove away with a painful jaw and empty hands.

But! I did realize how crazy this was and luckily the lending library is around the corner from my kids’ high school and I went back for it the next day, spontaneously and still without a book to replace it with but I plan to add a bunch next week when we go back to the dentist because William needs braces.

Third, I heard about this book, The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections about a librarian in Toronto who solves a mystery! And not only does it sound beyond wonderful, but Kerry Clare interviewed author Eva Jurczyk and they talked about how to write a mystery and so many wonderful bookish things! I’ve ordered my copy and can’t wait to pick it up next week.

This of course is also connected to my absolute LOVE of Lane Winslow mysteries written by the Iona Whishaw. My Nana adored Lane also and bingeing the entire series was one of her greatest pleasures during lockdown. The newest Lane comes out this April and it’s going to hard to read without Nana. The cover was revealed and I showed it to her the week before she died, and we talked about them again. I’ve pre-ordered it and have decided reading it won’t be sad, it’ll make me feel close to her.

Just like writing my mystery will! Yes, it’s about an adult granddaughter and her Nana solving mysteries in a retirement home! Of course it is, and hopefully so much more.

Please, push me to keep going, check in on me if you can. I’m deciding to be brave by putting this out there. This would mean so much to me and know I’m cheering you all on at all times as well! Depression does get in my way – my own and my childrens’ if I’m honest, as does life which is the same as for everyone. But I was obviously looking for signs of encouragement and I hope they will keep on coming now that I going to get to work.

Routines

One of the trickiest things right now is getting into any sort of routine. Every Monday feels different, like going out once again into our snow covered driveway and wondering how best to tackle it. The shovel is awkward when we first start digging out, the snow feels heavier than last time, there’s no clear path just yet. But by the time you get to the end, you’ve thrown off your hat, chatted with a few neighbours and see most of the ground! That’s Friday, things weren’t so bad and you’ve made it.

Then Sunday comes, you feel rested and your muscles have healed but Monday’s forecast is something completely new.

It was the holiday. Then two weeks of online. For high school kids, like mine, every week has been different. With their four classes split into only two a week (a pointless attempt at cohorts), it means that each week is different. Then next week is totally new again because it’s the end of term so there are two days the same, and then two different days again and then three days off at home for catching up followed by a pd day before second term starts with four new classes the first week of February.

The good news (there has to be some!) is that for next term, the boards have announced they are going back to normal schedules! This means they will have four classes a day and none will be 2.5 hours long which has been insane and ridiculous. But again, it will be once again be totally different.

But we’re rolling with it better than I’d expected, with baked goods and some days not much more than a ‘meh’ attitude. I don’t dwell too much on how much they’ve missed out on. The things that are consistent are working because they are the most important – good friends – which makes the shovelling and the snow storms much more fun.

**add on — none of this is a complaint, by the way, except for the 2.5 hr long classes, they were a disaster. I’m happy my kids are back in class, no matter how crazy the days are. Because the most wonderful thing is hearing them come home and talk about their days – school talk is the best and we’ve all missed it so much.

Holding on

Everything seems to be holding on. Kids are back in school today, first time again in forever. I’m feeling ok about it, maybe shouldn’t be or just this is the way things are and we’re rolling with it.

Yesterday’s shovelling hasn’t seemed to hurt my back and my jaw is feeling better. Out in the snow yesterday, talking to neighbours under that huge sky knowing I had cake and tea and my book to come inside to was perfect.

And now I’m going to go write. I’ve got time before I pick the kids up and hear (unfortunately) all about the other kids who can’t seem to figure out how to wear their masks properly. My kids tend to dwell on these things sometimes, they haven’t yet completely inherited my optimism. Or I’m just swimming in denial.

Tea, check! Time to myself, check! Chocolate, check! Here I go!