the ship has turned

I try not to complain too much in this space, but if you know me in person (ahem, Duchessers on the opening weekday shift), you've heard me air more than a few grievances over the last two-and-a-half years.  It has been really hard. By 'it', I mean all of it, or what has seemed like all of it. And by 'hard' I mean nigh on unbearable.

There has been the (naively unexpected) struggle to stand up under the weight of adult responsibilities. Owning, keeping, and renting a house is, it turns out, more than we signed up for. When mushrooms started growing out of the baseboards in my study last spring, I thought that I might have finally reached the end of my rope. Then the rain in August happened; we left in the middle of the night and over four months later returned home. I lost most of my garden last year. I almost lost my most important person. There has been the battle to keep our relationship healthy, alive, existent--and I spent much of the winter battling against Tim rather than for him. I did damage that terrifies me. There has been a five-year history of panic attacks, anxiety, and depression to start recovering from, and redeeming, and this has seemed like a doomed project. In January I wrote: the more I notice my problems, the more I delve into my own mind, the harder it is to act normal. I feel like I am giving body to a latent, restless ghost of craziness which has just been waiting in my head for me to fully incarnate it. There's been the daily pressure of living on a low income. There's been the daily impossible decision to try to produce creative work when I could be earning money instead. There's been this incredibly long, drawn-out quest for a bachelor's degree, and a point last August when I thought I'd decided I wouldn't finish it. There have been fucking long winters. There have been hopes and plans buried alternately under clutter, under snow, under raw sewage, under red tape, under the covers, under pages of lists, under my own hands.

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On Tuesday morning, Tim and I had just returned from the mountains. Tim's parents, who had been keeping Simpkin for us, were supposed to be delivering him home any minute. Tim sat down at his desk, looked at his screen and said, "Lizzie, you are really, really not going to like this". I knew instantly. A window screen had come off in the night; Simpkin was gone; they'd only just noticed. Tim's mum came to pick us up so we could search and call for him.

Is is my temperament, or the sympathy-enabling super-connectivity of the world, or a human penchant for rehearsing grief that made it familiar? I felt I could have been the one reading the email to Tim. I knew it all. I knew that within days I would be at a vet or the SPCA to identify a piece of roadkill that had once been the sweet, brave cat I once adopted. I would not have been surprised to see a bloody, furry lump on the side of the street in St. Albert where Tim's parents live.

Except that right now, Simpkin is asleep on our bed and has been all day.

When we got to St. Albert, we were out of the car and calling. I looked under cars, tried to look through the planks into neighbors' backyards, looked under bushes and porches. I circled the block. It started to get hot and I started to feel sick. There was a forecast for temperatures above 30 C. We searched the overgrown backyard again. The shed. The room downstairs with the open window in case he came back. Then I sat on the front steps and cried. Tim brought me water and made Simpkin an entry in a missing pets database. We decided to print off a poster with a picture Tim's sister had taken before Simpkin disappeared, then go home. The printer wasn't working. We ate bowls of Vector cereal and Tim went downstairs to try to print from the desktop computer. I went back outside. I looked under the shed again. Tim came out, holding a printed sheet. "I  don't know if this is any good--he looks black." I heard something and called, interrupting Tim. I heard it again. I called. Tim said, "I think it's a bird, but try again." A sad, cracking quack more than a meow. We thrashed aside raspberry canes. I went around to check the other side of the patch, and when I ran back Tim was holding a spitting, hissing Simpkin aloft. I ran inside for the crate while Tim pinned him down--Tim's mum had been watching from the window and was already handing it to me at the door of the bathroom. We let Simpkin into the crate and took him inside to recover. My anger and muteness toward Tim's mum had disappeared. Everything could be good again. We brought him home, cleaned his ears, sprayed him with water for heat exhaustion. Here he is. He is fine.

"I'm so glad I went back outside. He might have died of exposure--it was so hot and those bushes are so thick."

"Yes. It would have been sad to find a little cat skeleton out there in the winter when the foliage died back."

I almost howled at the thought.

--------

Of course, I was convinced that we had not only lost Simpkin, we were once again being made calamity's bitch. But I think there has been a change.

Today my grandparents on my mum's side stopped by to tell me that they are distributing some of the proceeds from the sale of their house in town. Later in the week I will be receiving several thousand dollars. First I thought: This is the beginning of the end. They are sharing out portions of their estate. On the heels of my premature feelings of fear and grief and (already) denial: an inappropriate, wild sense of relief. Something good has happened. And I thought: This is the beginning. The ship is beginning to turn. After this torturous year, someone has come to my rescue. Someone is easing this weight on me. Now things are possible. 

(It is characteristic of my grandparents to come to my rescue.) The money means that I can pay off my student loan and my credit card and still have enough left over to cover my next semester of tuition--because I am going back to school in September. If I get my usual grant from the government, most of the year's tuition will be paid for. I can almost certainly graduate without debt.

For now, I am reeling. I am tempted to chastise myself for these past months of bitterness and despair, but I mostly just want to share the good--fantastic, lovely, iridescent, delicious--news. Thanks for sticking with me. Sailing on.

xx Lizzie

picking things up and putting them down

A print that Liam made for me from a set of photos he shot at the end of last summer. I'm deadlifting 215 pounds. 
It's taken me way too long to get around to the subject of lifting, at least on this blog. If we're friends on facebook, you've probably already noticed me bragging and rhapsodizing--I believe my last related status was "I swear lifting is going to save my life".

Our barbell is set up in the garage. When we finally moved back home after New Year, I was a mess and all I wanted to do was start baking bread and lifting again. I made it out a few times during a false spring in January, but it was April before it warmed up enough for me to get back to any kind of schedule. I don't think I can bear another winter off; luckily, I'm going back to university in September to finish my undergraduate degree and utilize the hell out of my gym privileges.

55 pounds. Overhead press is a bitch. 

The prophetic piece of drywall leaning against the wall in front of the cage.

fancy lifting shoes
I try to go out every other day. I wear shorts or leggings and a t-shirt, canvas shoes or Vibrams. (There was one day in January that I found myself working out in a jersey dress. I went with it.)  I bring a water bottle and sometimes coffee. I unlock the garage, hit the industrial-sized power switch, hard, and squeeze past Tim's bicycle into the half of the garage which does not comprise Tim's workshop, where the barbell keeps the lawnmower and the miscellany company. I put down my drink and my keys and start loading up the bar for deadlifting. I can do all of this even when I can't concentrate on anything else. I can almost always drag myself to the garage and pick up the first plate. Then I'm fine.

garage view

cage
Deadlifting. Always 135 pounds to start. That's the bar with one big plate on each end--it's the lowest weight that puts the bar at a good height to squat behind, grasp, and stand up with. When I started last summer, this was my working weight. Today, if everything goes well, I'll move up through sets of 165, 195, 205, and 215 pounds. And I'll enjoy it--though deadlifting is unquestionably the hardest part, and once I'm done, the other lifts seem less daunting in comparison. Rows: 85 x 5 x 3. Low squats: 85 x 8 x 3. Overhead press: 55 x 5 x 3. Bench press: 65 x 8 x 3.

I have a long way to go (and if I have my way, if I get my hopes up, a very long way to go), but it was with a bit of shock that I realized, late last summer, that I'm pretty good at this. It fits me. I like it. It was with considerably more shock that I realized, yesterday, that at some point I must have rescinded my life-long official superpower wish--invisibility (a classic female)--for strength. I want to be strong. I want to be seen. (That picture that Liam took is my favorite photograph of me, ever.)

plates and tea cup
On the side, I'm working on being able to do pull-ups and chin-ups and handstands. I'm trying to eat properly. I'm biking everywhere and, forgive me, but I have a killer tan. I'm living in a pair of rather short shorts. Oh this summer is delicious.

ETA: Naturally, I have a lifting crush. This is her.


one more thing

Our house--the one we haven't been living in for a month, the one the contractors still haven't started working on--got broken into last night. Who knows when we'll go back. Life keeps telling us to leave. This time we actually plan to. For the moment, I keep having to ask for help, and the people around us are wonderful, and help. 

Remember that this was also a good day

Tim and I finally took off to explore the North Saskatchewan river. We didn't make it past the city limits (I wanted to), but we are planning to go again before it snows. We feel mostly aimless these days, which can be awful and lethal, but also allows for spontaneous adventures, late nights, supper with friends, coffee with friends, frivolous reading.

Our Germany plans are coming together. I feel finished with this place. I'm satisfied to soak up what's left and then leave the rest. 



better stars


This picture is making me a bit sad. What a summer.

Last Thursday night, late, it rained harder than I have ever seen it rain. We got a month's worth of rain in half an hour. It sounded like hail; it was only water. Tim and I were having a terrible fight. I sat in our doorway watching it for twenty minutes, then I came inside and went to bed. An unhomely aggressive gurgling got us up in time to see the city sewer begin backing up out of the floor drain in our bathroom. For the first time, I heard Tim swear. "Fuck." Our kitchen floor was swimming almost immediately. We called 311, we called Tim's parents, and I tried to make a dam of bath towels. Tim said, "Do you want to move far away?"

Once the thing that Tim is now calling 'the poo geyser' subsided, and the water started flowing back down the drain, the only thing to do was leave. We left. We spent last week with Tim's parents, who swooped in and rescued us. We've only been back to collect clothes and food, move all of our possessions into the bedroom, slop bleach water around, and rip things up. It feels brutal.

It also feels relieving. We are going to start new. Our plans are only half-formed, but we are planning to go to Germany shortly after Christmas. We will find renters for our hobbit hole. We will pack our things into a huge steel box. We will study the language. We will get Simpkin a cat-passport. We will have an adventure. For now, I've withdrawn from university classes and am working full-time.

Wish us luck.

resolutions

Everyone seems resolutely set against resolutions. I am not. I love them; as my friend Deanna said yesterday, "And I am always waiting for natural spaces to start things or change things, so I relish the thought of a fresh new year." I am starting with a long list:

- learn to make my own happiness (because it is not Tim's job, and because circumstances will not always be peachy)
- complete one wearable sewn garment (hello brown paisley dress)
- master fair isle knitting (in order to make things such as this)
- remove makeup every night (this has never, ever been a habit--now that flossing is down, it's time)
- reach goal weight once and for all (140 pounds)
- pay back money owed Tim (so very close)
- pay off student loan (not so close)
- repair book cubes (damaged in the move last spring)
- further improve backyard (especially firepit, but also hope for fruit trees, removal of gravel, chopping of hoary huge evergreen)
- write something (anything) every day (this should be at the top of the list)
- learn more about math and computing (calculus, number theory, Python)
- publish in at least one magazine (which means submitting)
- give excellent presents (better than last year)
- apply for at least one "real" job (something outside the service industry, something challenging, something that utilizes my skills)
- properly repair bathroom ceiling and baseboards (and begin to learn about renovating a house)
- play the violin again (Vivaldi's "Winter")
- learn more about baking bread (to begin: read the lovely book Laura got me for Christmas)
- get a tattoo (at last at last)
- put more of myself into relationships (especially that relationship with one Tim Put)
- use my nice things (and remember that I have many)
- make and repair more, and buy better and less (I need a darning egg)

Because, like all resolutions, they are mostly long-term, requiring sustained effort and the taking of many small steps, I am planning to recap on progress made at the end of every month this year. If 2012 lacked anything, it was pause. This year, I must have appointments to halt, think about what has happened and what should happen next. Who I am. What I want. What is right. Hopefully, you won't mind if I do some of my ruminating in this space. Thanks, ever so much, all of you, for listening and responding to my rambling. Happy New Year!

a paradigm shift: beauty (in which I make unstylish claims)


"The coats of arms that encrust those South German walls were once as simple as upside-down flat-irons with reversed buckets on top: at the touch of the new formula, each shield blossomed into the lower half of a horizontally bisected 'cello, floridly notched for a tilting lance, under a twenty-fold display of latticed and strawberry-leaf-crowned casques, each helmet top-heavy with horns or wings or ostrich or peacocks' feathers and all of the suddenly embowered in mantelling as reckless, convoluted and slashed as spatulate leaves in a whirlwind. The wings of eagles expanded in sprays of separate sable plumes, tails bifurcated in multiple tassels, tongues leapt from beaks and fangs like flames and inlaid arabesques. All was lambent."

- Patrick Leigh Fermor, A Time of Gifts, 99

Part 2. 

(Incidentally, in composing this post and the last, I seem to have tricked myself into doing some real writing. Having a clear goal in mind, the pressure lets up. Rather than to fabricate, vaguely, a perfect, core-shattering poem, I am trying to communicate a specific event of my recent mental life. With my ducks thus in a row, I can give myself up to wordsmithery; that is, to technique. Somewhat counter-intuitively, I think that--even though (in good writing) the medium becomes part of the message--when the message is clear in the author's mind, it becomes easier to mold it to a beautiful and expressive medium. Thorough understanding and better familiarity allows an author to judge what paraphrasing an idea will stand or be enhanced by, and what first-thought, gut-level words and expressions must remain.)

Reader, I am entranced with technique.

On Monday, July 2, I wrote:

Have, for two days, been reading the blogs of (knitting) pattern designers. I am getting my first glimpse of the techniques and mechanics of more sophisticated knitting (and, partly thanks to the blogs, partly thanks to Laura, of garment construction in general). I am entranced. This may be my equivalent to Tim's woodworking.

The best way to create the crotch seam in a pair of pants is amazing (you put one leg inside-out inside the other). I have just purchased my first sock pattern, and I can't wait to find out how to create a gusset. And fair isle sweaters--why did I blindly assume that a plain garter stitch sweater, like a steel and glass building or a plastic Eames chair, must be intrinsically more beautiful, have greater integrity? Decoration in the material arts is unfashionable, like form in poetry or adjectives in prose. Display of a technique rather than a bare concept is said to be gaudy. But why?

To approach from another angle: this marriage of mine is astonishing. The two years that Tim and I dated were one long, mutual interrogation. We talked philosophy more than anything else. What did the other think of ______? We were delighted to have discovered someone who felt the same way about almost everything, and we both felt that, on the subject of beauty, the mid-century modernists had it soundly and sacredly right. However. 

Maybe it was reading Donne, maybe it was the intricacy of my friend Justina's henna-inspired partial sleeve, maybe it was Patrick Leigh Fermor--his lavish writing and his memorized Latin odes, maybe it was all the lovely old houses in Old Strathcona, maybe it was admitting my love of medieval hymns and carols. By the time I started Hofstadter's book, I was already primed for a drastic change of feeling, but I did not want to bring it up with Tim. 

But I didn't really have to. Before I did, he showed me a seventeenth-century table on a woodworking site. 'Elaborate' is not quite a sufficient word. Then we started watching a three-part BBC series on the history of metal working in England, and by the time we had finished the first episode (silver), it was clear that both of us had been quietly revising our aesthetics for months, along almost identical lines, and simultaneously. 

"When two people live together intimately, each comes to understand the world to some extent in the way that the other does. Each imbibes the other's point of view, and over a period of years, another person's way of looking at the world has become internalized. One can now look out at the world with the other person's eyes, see it with their soul." 
- Douglas Hofstadter, Le Ton beau de Marot, 479


Tim sent me a link to this video about a week ago. Ignoring some of the dubious metaphysical claims, I think it is spot-on. 






a paradigm shift: rhyming poetry

The external life is quiet and (quite literally) homely these days: If, on any given day at the bake shop, you happened to ask me what I did on my days off, you would learn that once again I watered and weeded the garden, baked a loaf of bread, baked a pie, bicycled over to see my friend Adam perform in a Shakespeare play, wrote in my journal, knitted, hung the laundry outside, watched a BBC documentary, and worked my way through a novel, some math, a few more pre-emptive pages of honours thesis research. I am not complaining. And I have to tear myself away every time I go to work, because meanwhile the internal life has been fascinating and deep and rewarding.



Back in May, finishing up Le Ton beau de Marot, Douglas Hofstadter's book on poetry translation (you may remember the exercise I posted here), I was flabbergasted to find myself helpless in the face of Hofstadter's arguments for the primary importance of formalism, particularly rhyme and metre, in poetry:

"Thus the act of looking at a poem in print or reading it aloud should be directly tangible to a reader engaged with the poem, as opposed to being merely a covert intellectual fact."
- Douglas Hoftstadter, Le Ton beau de Marot, 524

"The need for sensuality of sound in poetry, as well as its analogue in music, was taken for granted until not all that long ago. But around the turn of the twentieth century, a wave of change started rippling throughout the arts. In poetry, free verse starting taking over, and in the world of classical or "serious" music, tonality was dropped, at least in some quarters, and replaced by a severe, austere, unhearable cerebrality; thus did poetry and music together start down the sad slide from being sensuous and visceral to being solely intellectual. And in the course of that slide, they lost more and more of their mass appeal, in the end becoming esoterica appealing only to tiny coteries and cliques of people who listened with humorless scholasticism and pretension."
- Douglas Hofstadter, Le Ton beau de Marot, 526

Though I haven't written explicitly about it here, my poetry-loving career has been almost exclusively  devoted to British, American, and Eastern European modernists--not the most rhymey company. Up until my first year of university, I actively shunned formal poetry, though I began to come around to it during our class study of Beowulf (and by the time we'd gotten to John Donne, I was won). But I remained unwilling to declare formal poetry anything special. 

Reading Le Ton beau, I was bombarded with memories of poems that had struck me hard and slain me. These poems were not prose-with-line-breaks, nor were they poems based on complex, but invisible, math.   They were kissing cousins to every one of human history's ceremonies, rites and traditions. They were not only beautiful messages, but beautiful mediums. And sometimes--oh infidel!--function followed form. 

My scattered reading in philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, and evolutionary biology has been enough to convince me of the existence of a universal (though not Platonic) human nature. Isn't this what I have always held that great poetry speaks to? To ignore the innate appeal of rhythm, rhyme, and repetition would be to ignore a major aspect of beauty in poetry--and, in fact, to ignore the nature of beauty and the human desire for it in the first place. 

I am surprised at this swing-around in my own opinion; I have always thought that I loved only the intellectual in poetry. All of this is not to say that I am abandoning blank- and free-verse, that Milosz and Hughes are dead to me. It is only to say that I think there is an unmysterious reason why Dylan Thomas's "Do Not Go Gentle" cuts as close as it does. How on earth will I incorporate it into my own work? Where much of contemporary poetry demands only unfettered feelings or salty descriptions, formal poetry demands technical skill. 

And I must continue later in a second post, because I am also recently enamored with technical skill, and from there a host of other issues open up. Bear with me.


What to do

In our own true way, Tim and I spent the past 20 hours in bed. We were reading. Cereal, journal (mine), laptop (his), sleepytime tea, Carnation hot chocolate, Atonement by Ian McEwan, Le Ton beau de Marot by Douglas Hofstadter, a beastly math assignment, and a final essay for Philosophy of Language crept in with us. And I left dishes, laundry, post office errand, and flossing. And a swampy state of malaise was the order of our day.

These are the dead days of spring. Roads filthy with dust and gravel, greenery yet to appear. At least once a week, a surprise snow fall that disappears the next day. Exams. Wind. Because Tim is rightfully consumed with school for the next two weeks, all settling-in and home-improvement plans are on hold, and we keep saying that as soon as he's finished there will be restaurant shelving for the kitchen, simple transportation, raised beds built, general supplies purchased, tampers sold, weight lost, grow lights for the plants, lamps for the hobbit hole, knives sharpened, bikes cleaned, picnics taken, manuscripts started, still more daunting projects initiated, order reigning. To be honest, I feel crushed under the weight of our summer plans. I am not taking classes, and won't be until September. Why should I favor plans over action?





Dear

blog ladies and men, I miss you very much. I will make my way back here.

The real life of going places, speaking to people, and moving money is far more 3-D, far more threatening and potential than usual. The external has been requiring all of my energy, while the internal wilts. There is so much to show and tell. When?

But I will be back. Please know that I'm still reading; thank you all for continuing to write. Two of you have just met your new babies. Two of you are still waiting. All of you are crafting examples of art and art-in-life that make me want to burst with pride. You stun me. I cherish these pieces of your worlds and thoughts.

xx

Lizzie

house home

Yes, it's true. We bought a house.

Three weeks ago, we were browsing around vaguely on ComFree. Two weeks from now, we get possession and move in.

The living room is already full of boxes. We have a to-do list a mile long, and it includes applying for two new jobs on our new side of the river. I haven't been writing, but have instead been signing papers, taking extra shifts, sending out feelers and emails and making phone calls. I was not expecting to desert this house, this snowy garden, this hipster neighborhood, these bottle pickers, this gas stove, these bicycle routes, this newly-constructed mobile so quickly. Our life (so steady for two years) will be so different.

We will live in the basement suite, renting out the upstairs. Tim will have a heated workshop. His tools will move out of his parents' basement at last. I will have raised beds in the backyard and something of a study. We may finally have dogs, a microwave, a mortgage.

And oh we want them. They mean a place for us to work and design and manufacture. They mean an investment, something solid. They mean that we are managing our little money. They mean that we are stirring ourselves, going forward.

It isn't our dream house. It isn't smack in the middle of the city, where I love to be. It has small windows downstairs (where we'll live), carpets-not-hardwood, electric stoves. But we are so young. We have help that no one else we know has, and we are doing something we thought we'd have to wait six years to do. We feel lucky.

(Pictures galore to come.)