6 September 2014

"Is that me?"

My youngest, H, will turn three in a few weeks. She is strong, determined, and feisty. She holds her own just fine with her two older brothers and is not one to be idle. It's as if she has a switch that says, why stand if you can dance? Why walk if you can run?

We live across the street from a small dead end street, where the boys will often ride their bikes. She doesn't ride yet, but loves to run along side the boys one their bikes. She's fast and has endless energy. She is a joy.

One of my favourite moments of the day, is the quiet at bedtime, where she crawls onto my lap and cuddles to sleep. I often read during this time, usually the only chance I get during the day.

Last night, she noticed I had a new book. She asked what it was. "Girl Runner," I said, showing her the cover.

"Is that me?" she asked, wonder in her voice.

I smiled at her. "It just might be."

5 September 2014

girl running

Two years ago, I was a runner. Well, at least, I was working on becoming a runner. I took two running classes and ran my first (and only, ahem) 10K at 1:03:03. Then we moved, then life got complicated. I started again, but then life got in the way again. And then I tore ligaments in my knee last August (a camping injury!) and was in pain for almost eight months.

Throughout the summer, I'd been telling my husband that I really should/really want to start running again. It seemed so hard to take that first step back at it, but three days ago Carrie Snyder's Girl Runner arrived in the mail. I've been looking forward to this book as soon as I read about it. I adored her The Juliet Stories and have been looking forward to see what she would do with a novel.

All of this to say, I knew I'd want to start reading it straight away. I also knew that it was time to stop talking and get running, so the next day, the day I started Girl Runner, I dug out my running clothes, laced up my shoes and ran.

Well, saying I ran is a tad euphemistic. I ran and walked and wheezed and sweated a measly 3K. But I did it, which was more than I'd been doing for a long time. My calves are tight, but I'm planning on going again tonight. And then, I'll return to Aganetha Smart, Girl Runner.

4 September 2014

schooling

Before we had children, even before we were married, my husband and I had many discussions about our future children's education. Nothing seemed as important. Home schooling them was an option that we talked about a lot. My husband was, and still is, quite taken with the idea. Before having children, and before my kids were school age, I thought about it quite seriously. I read some great homeschooling blogs and some good friends who had fantastic kids home schooled. But then I realized that it just wasn't for me. My boys thrived in group settings and I knew that I would soon grow resentful of devoting all my time to them, time that I could be writing, doing my own work.

Well now, thanks our province's teacher's strike, it looks like I have little choice. (Yes, I could send them to day camps, but we don't have the money to do that. And I'm at home with our youngest this semester, it just makes sense to keep them close.)

Our homeschooling is quite basic. I have them do math and reading every morning, and am trying to figure out how to keep up their French beyond just having my eldest read French books to my middle. I've also been reading Farmer Boy to them for the first time. I had read Little House in the Big Woods as a child and adored the television series, but hadn't read the series.

We are only a four chapters in to the book, but I'm fascinated with the school scenes. The antagonism of the older boys and Mr. Ritchie to the school teacher was a little shocking. It reminded me of the opening of Elizabeth Gilbert's great article The Last American Man:

Briefly, the history of America goes like this: There was a frontier, and then there was no longer a frontier. It all happened rather quickly. There were Indians, then explorers, then settlers, then towns, then cities. Nobody was really paying attention until the moment the wilderness was officially tamed, at which point everybody suddenly wanted it back.

Within the general spasm of nostalgia that ensued (Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, Frederic Remington's cowboy paintings), there came a very specific cultural panic, a panic rooted in the question, What will become of our boys?

Problem was, while the classic European coming-of-age story generally featured a provincial boy who moved to the city and transformed into a refined gentleman, the American tradition had evolved into the utter opposite. The American boy came of age by leaving civilization and striking out toward the hills. There he shed his cosmopolitan manners and transformed into a robust man. Not a gentleman, mind you, but a man. Without the wilderness as proving ground, what would become of our boys?

Why, they might become effete, pampered, decadent. Christ save us, they might become Europeans.

For obvious reasons, this is a terror that has never entirely left us.

The idea that being classically educated is somehow unmanly, that being masculine (which in this patriarchal society is highly revered) means having a disdain for education. That somehow being a brute, using brawn over brains, was admirable.

And, of course, it reminds me of the current situation between the government and the teachers. The joy the Minister of Education and our Premier seem to have bullying the teachers. They aren't using physical force, but they are pressing intense pressure on them financially (no strike pay for the teachers) and trying to turn public support against them. It's working, unfortunately. The bullies have the media on their side, and the public, many who have the American mentality towards education, are quick to find fault with the teachers.

It sickens me and saddens me.

I want to live in a place that values education, ideas, and inspiration. A place that creativity and creative though is celebrated, not disdained. How can we live in a strong society if we don't value the people and the institution that teach and mould the next generation. They spend thirteen years of their lives in public education. Don't we want to give them the best?

I don't understand people who don't value education, and I especially don't understand people who value it only if they can pay for it while giving the finger to those who can't afford to.

In Farmer Boy the teacher stands up to the bullies with a bull whip, literally beating them out the door. I'm trying to think how this can be a metaphor, as physical violence is not the answer, but I can't. I feel beaten down by this strike, by our government's attitudes towards public education. How do we fight the more powerful? How do we bridge this gap?

28 August 2014

transition

Today is the last day of my residency. I've packed up all the papers and books, taken down the drawings my children made for my walls, found a safe place to transport the now brittle, but still red, maple leaf that I picked off the ground the first morning I was at the university after my Mother-in-law had died. I still need to wipe down the shelves and the desks, but this is it, this is then end of my time here.

No deer sightings today, but a few eager leaves have already turned and made their way to the ground. It's sunny and warm, but there is a briskness in the air that means autumn, that means school, that means new adventures.

I am incredibly grateful for my time and space here at the Centre. I hope to be back somewhat regularly for their Coffee Talks and afternoon lectures, but I know it won't be the same. Nothing ever is.

Our family is gearing up for the Saanich County Fair this weekend, which mostly means hours waiting in lines for rides, but it's a good time and my kids love to be whipped up and down and round and round. It's become tradition, ending our summer at the fair, despite this uncertain September with the teacher's strike still ongoing. This is the year of the never-ending summer.

One of my first tasks in September will be to come up with a new way to get writing done. Figure out times and spaces, but I'm looking forward to whatever that might look like. I wrote a lot during my residency, and after this break, want to get back at it.

Just for fun, this is what I wrote:
1. edited "What Can't Be Packed Away" essay for The M Word
2. wrote and edited "What I Need Is a Wife" essay for Telling Truths, Storying Motherhood
3. wrote approximately 20 new poems (most were sonnets, strangely enough)
4. wrote first draft of a novel
5. wrote notes and bits and pieces for a longer essay (eventually book length?) on death, grief, and legacy

I'd like to get back to the poetry soon, as I think I might have enough for another manuscript now. It will take a lot of crafting and editing to make it ready, but I think I'm a lot closer to it than I thought I'd be, considering Glossolalia was only published last year.

And of course, the novel. The first draft was fun and fast, but it'll be this next draft that I'll really have to work hard. I want to push up my sleeves and get dirty.

I'm going to close this down now, take my box and bags to the car, wipe down the room, and return my keys. I hope I won't cry until I'm back at the car, but I'll be wearing my sunglasses just in case.

20 August 2014

hope

I have been on the verge of tears all morning. Not for any particular, concrete reason, but more for the cocktail mix of circumstance and conversation.

I'm at the Centre today. I haven't been here much this summer and my residency ends next week. I am one for being nostalgic for times while I'm still living them, and this morning has been infused with missing my time here. Only a few more days I get to spend in this wonderful office with such a lovely view. I've already seen one stag galloping across my view and I hope I see more.

There about half a dozen fellows leaving the Centre at the end of August and this morning I spent chatting with a couple of them. We spoke of Gaza, Ferguson, First Nations rights, death, birth, middle age, and health, all within an hour. Then we went to the Coffee Talk where we talked about the rights and safety of sex workers in Canada along with those who seem to have an interest in them--for good and bad. I teared up during this talk, partly fueled by this morning's nostalgia and conversation, and partly thinking of the girls (yes, mostly girls and not women, sadly) who worked the stroll near my home in Edmonton, as well as Amber Dawn's incredible memoir How Poetry Saved My Life.

There is so much in this world that feels helpless, that feels futile. But there is hope. Sometimes hope is all there is. It doesn't seem like enough. It isn't enough, but if we don't have hope we have nothing.

It's been an exhausting morning, and I haven't really done anything yet, but talk and listen.

I have three full days left in this office, and one of them will be used cleaning it up, getting it ready for the next Artist in Residence. Oh, I'm going to miss this place, this space, these people. But I'm also looking forward to the next chapter in this life adventure. What's next, I wonder?

23 July 2014

deer and stones

Today is the fifth anniversary of the deaths of three very special people. On the first anniversary, I was by myself at the Wallace Stegner house. I went for a walk and came across three young deer. It was, of course, just a coincidence, but I longed to give meaning to their sighting. Also on that day, I read Louis Glück's Autumnal and threw three stones into the stream that ran behind the house.

Yesterday, I was at the beach with two of my children. I also threw three stones in the water, saying my lost friends' names in my head as I did so.

This morning, as I entered the parking lot at the university, I saw three deer. Again, I know this is a coincidence. Deer at UVic are like pigeons in almost any other city. But. But, still. Of course my mind makes connections.

I pulled Louise Glück's Collected Poems from my shelf and reread "Autumnal." That poem, deer in triplets, and stones in collections of three now, and probably always will, remind me of my young friends and have become symbols of their loss.

We can't help but make connections. We create narrative, find symbols to comfort, to ease ourselves through difficulties. It may be irrational, but we do what we can, don't we? I count deer, read poems, throw stones for this loss.

There are other losses, though. One only months old, another impending. I don't know yet what I'll reach for to guide me through their grief. But something will, won't it? Something must.

30 May 2014

"storytelling is intrinsic to biological time"

"This story has everything a tale should have. Sex, death, treachery, vengeance, magic, humour, warmth, wit, surprise and a happy ending. It appears to be a story against women, but leads to the appearance of one of the strongest and cleverest heroines in world literature, who triumphs because she is endlessly inventive and keeps her head. The Thousand and One Nights are stories about storytelling--without ever ceasing to be stories about love and life and death and money and food and other human necessities. Narration is as much part of human nature as breath and the circulation of the blood. Modernist literature tried to do away with storytelling, which it thought was vulgar, replacing it with flashbacks, epiphanies, streams of consciousness. But storytelling is intrinsic to biological time, which we cannot escape. Life, Pascal one said, is like living in a prison, from which every day fellow prisoners are taken away to be executed. We are all, like Scheherazade, under sentence of death, and we all think of our lives as narratives, with beginnings, middles and ends. Storytelling in general, and the Thousand and One Nights in particular, consoles us for endings with endless new beginnings. I finished my condensed version of the frame story with the European fairy-tale ending, 'they lived happily ever after', which is a consolatory false eternity, for no one does, except in the endless repetitions of storytelling. Stories are like genes, they keep part of us alive after the end of our story, and there is something very moving about Scheherazade entering on the happiness ever after, not at her wedding, but after 1001 tales and three children."

from "The Greatest Story Ever Told" in On Histories and Stories: Selected Essays by A.S. Byatt