Some reflections

April 14, 2008

1. A new dog is a process. Maybe not for everyone, but for me. I loved Isis so much – she came with me through so many big changes: three cities, two degrees; the start and end of my first big relationship; always curled up beside me on the kitchen floor when I was crying about the one that got away. She stared solemnly at me when I got my BA, danced with me when I got my MA, and always climbed into the car first. And now there’s Alice. She’s not Isis, she never will be. There are times when I resent that, because I wish, childishly, that it could have been Isis forever. But that’s not the way pets work.
I’m no longer ambivalent about Alice’s role here – that was hammered home a few weeks ago when the protective grizzly reared its head, that surge of “Nobody fucks with my dog.” We’re having buildy moments – when she walks into the room, plops down on her ample rump and yawns something inside of me aches and smiles at the same time. Like when she stretches beside me on the couch, accidentally kicking me without apology. Or when I ask her to “heel” and she does (these moments are fewer and farther between). I look at her and know that I’m moving toward the ownership mixture of taking her presence for granted and looking at her grinning because that’s my dog.

2. The past few weeks have been spent bouncing from one important thing to another. I’ve been doing lots of talking, but along the way the kinds of conversations that matter, that have become part of the daily routine (not to be equated with the daily grind, but ‘routine’ in the way that the afternoon coffee is routine – necessary, needed, anticipated, cherished) have fallen by the wayside. So has my dissertation, and, reassuringly, I miss it too. These important things hit their expiry dates soon and the routine will return, just in time for terraces and slathering on sunscreen and late-night bouts of inspiration with nowhere to be in the morning. But still…

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“With sympathy”

December 7, 2007

Shit.  How do I even begin to fill the rest of that card?  What do I say to a close friend who has just lost her mother?  Is picking the only card that says “heartfelt sympathy” enough of a substitute for not having the money to be there in person? Are flowers?  I eschewed the cards with entire sentences of sentiment for the same reason that I can’t come up with my own – it all seems platitudinous. “Thinking of you…”  “In this difficult time…” “Memories of loved ones…” If you ever need a reminder of the uselessness of language, camp out in the sympathy aisle of your closest greeting card store and watch the emotionally stunned shoppers stare at their empty choices.

Lately

November 12, 2007

Days, entire weeks, are passing in half-remembered nights and hangovers, lingering coffees and long meetings, drafts tossed off the table in frustration or fury, frantic scrawling on the back of any scrap of paper at hand, sneakers slapping kilometre after kilometre along the canal, late nights and vigorous moaning mornings. I looked at the calendar and noticed that the garbage needs to go out, that it’s November.

Thanksgiving…

October 11, 2007

the Ontario habit my parents won’t let me shake. I made new mixed cds and we hit the road. The glove compartment was air-conditioned – such decadence! GB pointed at the train each time it raced alongside the highway, snapped pictures out the window as we crept up on my hometown. The sign for kilometre 666 is still missing on the 401 West. The layover in Toronto went by too quickly. Drunk in my parents’ basement we giggled like teenagers, tiptoeing excessively to sneak out late at night for a smoke. We clambered down rocks determined to make our way to the base of the waterfall, we sunbathed and swam at the beach (seriously). The meals were enormous. I stocked up on Baco Noir at the LCBO. We dallied long past Monday; it’s somehow now the middle of another week of meetings and lectures and I’m terribly unprepared, but at least the weekend is fewer days away than usual.

Je me souviens

September 11, 2007

I spent my first year in Montreal bouncing between Vieille Europe, Copacabana, the Miami, and Parc Lafontaine I played countless hours of pool with two old friends who had made their way here, and a guy with a phenomenal handlebar moustache who I later discovered was a coke dealer (one of many roads not taken). Ryan Larkin often weighed in on the essays I was marking. It was a rough year – the love of my life was six hours away, I was in a new city with a largely staid and uptight cast of colleagues, and I leant heavily on one of my dearest girlfriends. Generally miserable, I whiled away the hours between my weekend travels with beer and pool.
Tonight, years later, the scene played itself out again. And I realized that I’ve made real histories here. Handlebar Moustache remembers me, I still can’t consistently make bank shots, my girlfriend and I talk like we haven’t been separated by years and time zones. I have memories that can be re-enacted. That is both beautiful and profoundly sad. Watching her grin at me as she sinks the eight ball, I side with it being beautiful. We should all be so lucky.

The last few bits of the last long weekend are ebbing. Tomorrow the fall semester officially starts, which actually means very little – this is the first September in six years that I won’t be teaching. Both of my parents (teachers as well) retired in June; we’re trying to revel but there’s an undertone of trepidation. How do we fill time now? My answer seems so simple – write the diss (it’s not my diss now, but the diss; a crucial distinction, as lately it’s been writing me). But first, snippets of how I spent my summer vacation:
Socializing: Added up, more than a month was spent entertaining visitors. The last (not counting one arriving this week) left yesterday. Having my space back is both appreciated and a little lonely (I might even miss the cat). Such serial visits make one observation unavoidable: my friends are fabulous.
Travelling: Retirement parties, a shower, a wedding, a funeral. Flurries of activity and stockpiley trips to the LCBO.
Biking: Useful and economical – 12:30 is too early to call anything quits, and cabs are financially unfeasible for someone of my proclivities, (un)employment status, and geographical location. I tried so hard to enjoy biking everywhere. But I just don’t. I’m a pedestrian.
Writing: I wrote a decent draft of about a third of the diss. Not as much as I’d have liked, but summers here are notoriously unproductive. I blame Montreal.
Fucking: I slept around a bit. It was fun. And easy (which isn’t the same as uncomplicated, but what’s summer without a little light drama?). I like how thank-you emails are becoming de rigueur.
Running: I hit the 10k mark mid-June, and have been doing that three times a week ever since. I’m toying with the idea of training for a half-marathon, but could just be looking for an opportunity to toss around the word ‘fartlek.’
Preening: I officially if grudgingly accepted that I look good in hot pink.
Listening: Boxer by The National. Writer’s Block by Peter, Bjorn and John. The Reminder by Feist.
My parents will be gleefully sleeping in tomorrow morning. I’ll be up, futzing with the coffeemaker and wondering how to organize my non-semester. I’m not comfortable with unstructured time. Summer is always a needed reprieve, but after four months I’m antsy again. Sans students until January, I’m compiling a list of fall distractions, er, plans. My tentative triangulation: the St. Henri pool, a diner with free refills, and Allez-Up.

Birthday

August 21, 2007

It started innocently enough – me reaching into the back of the cupboard to draw out the Baco Noir that had waited in reverent darkness for almost a year. The bottle and I curled up on the porch and watched the cats hunt, the moths bounce off the balcony’s bare bulb, the night pass. My doorbell rang early Saturday morning and the rest of the day I shopped with an old friend, picking up our rhythm like it hadn’t been paused for the past ten months as lives and careers moved us to different countries, time zones. We came home to find a more recent friend climbing my back stairs. He held out his hands – in one a bag of young green shoots poking hopefully out of their training pots; in the other, bacon. More people materialized as the day wore on, some were even found serendipitously on the street. The bar closed its doors as we left and stumbled sideways for poutine.
Morning: coffee, Advil, bacon. Sunglasses before venturing out for the afternoon’s provisions (the market for strawberries and the SAQ for white wine). We sprawled carelessly on the balcony and devoted the actual birthday to our characteristic conversational swings. As dusk dropped we dressed up and pranced prettily through the door of my favourite restaurant. The waiter applauded the alcohol consumption, saying most women would have passed out under the table. We drained an expensive bottle of red upon our return, christening the just-renovated porch with its first set of wine stains.
And now… Stash’s vodka has been roundly depleted, days with the California blonde ostensibly left us with nothing to talk about and yet we couldn’t stop. She’s flown back to San Fransisco, and I’m on a train to London, my black skirt and shoes stowed safely in the overhead compartment.
I knew my grandfather had died. I knew halfway through my parents singing “Happy Birthday” – my father was hammier than usual and off the phone quickly. But for the rest of the evening I pretended, like my parents, that I didn’t know. They called early the next morning and everything has been in motion ever since… rent a car or take the train? Quickly send emails postponing or bowing out of the week’s obligations. Find a cat-sitter to take over my cat-sitting, and get a spare set of keys cut. Slide down to the floor and sob my way through a Cat Power song. Decide train, definitely. Call a girlfriend in London and ask her to make up the spare bed. Do a load of laundry, freeze the rest of the birthday bacon. Water the plants, change the cat litter, just keep moving…
The Tetris-like tension of such details breaks as I’m on the train. The tourists in front and behind me (Eastern European and Australian respectively) are captivated by the postcard scenery. My eyes are just as fixed out the window, but I’m seeing different things. The sunlight drops behind heavy clouds and light rain as the train hurtles further west; I try not to read too much into this. I’m quietly anxious. My brother is picking me up at the train station; until then, I tuck my legs under me, turn up the volume on the iPod, and keep staring out the window.

I can’t imagine living in one place all my life – to not have that dialectic of leaving and returning, moving between pasts and present, the liminal space of the highway. My one-week tour of places called home was both predictable and revelatory (revelations saved for later). Quintessential Ontario moments: being back-slapped by a biker, at the skeezy pub ordering a 50 (and then another, and another), swatting in frustration at mosquitoes the size of quarters, the Quebec license plate on my rental car prompting someone to shout “Go back to your own country!” The expanses – of roads, of fields, of skies, of water – provoked a profound inner quiet that I desperately needed to find again. I was overwhelmed, as always, with wanting to linger in the way it was just a little bit longer: the slow-running comfort of familiar conversations and faces with long histories. My girls, my wine. Life carries on with little regard to how hard that can actually be …

What is hardest to accept about the passage of time is that the people who once mattered the most to us are wrapped up in parentheses (John Irving – I know, I’m sorry, but it’s true).

I cried at the wedding – don’t tell anyone (and that was even before I started dipping into the fountain of cosmopolitans). Not at the legally-obliged-to-be-everlasting-love, but at watching two people so dear to me dancing and smiling and nothing but each other, oblivious to the fireworks of camera flashes. Quintessential wedding moment: the inevitable dance with that guy who spills his beer down the back of your dress as he’s trying to grab your ass.
Final tally: 1860 kilometres on the rental car, three awkward conversations with my mother, one drunken 4 a.m. limo ride, two pieces of wedding cake, five in-transit Tim Horton’s coffees.

Homeward bound

June 26, 2007

Of course, expecting my mother to be waiting silently for me is too much to ask; she’s always got something to say. I leave tomorrow morning for about a week, home for a few days and then to a wedding. My bags are packed and I’m ready to go… except it’s not a jet plane, it’s a compact rental car. Travelling and visiting in the summer isn’t like the holidays. There’s less chocolate. The car windows stay down the entire trip. And without extended family around to mediate, my mother’s comments become more unpredictable. She’s been uncharacteristic lately – asking about my writing, supporting some of my decisions, offering sorely needed financial assistance. Then there’s the wedding – a reunion of sorts for me, since I haven’t been back in two years. Anticipating the acres of ground to cover with old friends at the same time as I’m looking back on what’s been trod with more recent ones, there’s a pervasive sense of shifting emotional continents. The motion of a few friends’ lives has picked up – jobs are changing, cities are changing – and along with it there’s a scramble to check the anchors. Some fixed points are necessary for navigation: the ones that know who you are now, the ones that know you so well you can’t see behind you without them. Such thoughts recur each time I head home to stretches of sky and of water and of stars. This time tomorrow you can find me standing in the field behind my parents’ house, staring upwards, marvelling.

More fun than Facebook

June 24, 2007

Sure, you could join a social networking site. Or you could get six people from various parts of Canada and the U.S. together, soak them in cocktails, and the networks reveal themselves. This is the way it should be – face to face you see the arms waving incredulously at every new recognition of shared people, places, events. The world is small. We circle back to each other eventually.
The drinks continued, a cab was shared. I walked home in the morning, wishing desperately for sunglasses and aspirin, not noticing my underwear was on inside out.