On returning to a house you expected not to return to

In January, we moved back into our house instead of moving to Germany. The plan fizzed out in November or December and it was my fault. Everyone here knows almost exactly what went on between the end of summer and Christmas: the drama, the sex, the ugliness between Tim and I that started to affect everyone around us. Forgive me, but I am not prepared to write all of that. Looking back, less than two months later, I already feel that I became unhinged in a completely characteristic, devastating, and embarrassing way; there is a sense of tragic inevitability about everything that went wrong, even as I complained (to everyone), bewildered and raging. I don't know what to say.

I do know that it would be a cop-out for me to write it off as a passing bout of craziness. Since I have been back here, basking in privacy and normalcy, there have been uncomfortable daily doses of self-realization. (Maybe moving to Germany was a way to try and run away. If I've managed to come back to myself, it's been to find a charming house that is falling down.) I have been thinking about my own anxiety, fear, anger, mental health. I've been examining memories of myself and my parents. I have seen patterns emerging in the events of the past 6 or 7 years--ways I have continually sabotaged myself and others, mistakes I keep making, ways I have of thinking about the world as an enemy, ways I have of thinking of my own life as something terrible that happens to me, my life as something I must make up or apologize for. 

I like to call myself a writer, and the stories I like to tell myself are profoundly unhelpful, even damning. 

That sense of tragedy, for instance, is a double-edged sword. Do my own personality, habits, habits of thought cause a set of predictable problems? Yes. Is it productive to view myself as a plane flying futile and unstoppable into a tower? No. Tim and I were talking this morning about family- and self-narratives. It is so important to take on the role of a wise and and wry and hopeful storyteller in relation to your own life. It is so hard to do that. I tend to sing the songs of disappointment, helplessness and thwarted expectations. When I became an atheist, I threw away the convenient (often hopeful, comforting, and stabilizing) narrative of liberal Christianity and cobbling together a replacement has been a discouraging business. (Interestingly: I have realized that the process of reading and writing itself constitutes what comes closest to a religious rite for me, and that literature grounds me the same way that Christianity used to.)

I would like to stop living in a post-modern crisis mode which I recite into existence. I started by trying to deal with the panic attacks--I've mostly stopped having them, and now I am taking L-theanine for anxiety. Every morning, Tim weighs me out a dose on a cute little drug scale and mixes into a shot glass of water. For the first time in five years, I don't feel at all times like a hunted antelope. Other changes are coming. I am writing again, and with any luck, I'll soon be able to share some poetry and at least one short story. I hope to start adding content to my Tumblr project this week. It's good to return. 

the old view from here

A couple of days ago I sent off an angsty, stilted, apologetic email to one of my closest friends. I told her something I'd been keeping to myself--something I'd been afraid to admit to myself or anyone else, something that had been brewing for a long time. She laughed at me, gently, because she already knew. 

Tim knew before I told him. Perhaps, what with my idolization of certain musicians, you all saw this coming before I did. 

I'm not, well, straight. 

I wasn't going to write about it here. It seemed like a discussion out of place, smack in the middle of posts about knitting, food, books; more than that, I was afraid of offending you, the readers. I was afraid that bisexuality was the last straw. You were already putting up with my atheism, my non-feminism, my unorthodox marriage. I felt like I should apologize. 

But I think there's been enough apologizing. I'm not thirteen anymore, scared that a crush on a girlfriend would destroy my life and all prospects of future happiness (and send me to hell). I don't have much else to say on the matter, but I'm happy and relieved to be saying this much. I was sick of pretending. The four-years writer of this blog, the (nearly) 22-year old woman, the one still in love with Tim Put, the author of 200-odd poems, the homebody, the English student? She liked girls the whole time. 

stash


On Ravelry, one's 'stash' of yarn is a major fixture. It can be photographed, catalogued, looked up, and organized by weight, colour, fibre content. Some members have thousands of skeins ready and waiting. These are pictures from my own little 'stash'. For the first time, I have yarn for more than two prospective projects.


And it is beautiful yarn. Some of it was hand-dyed in France. The green skeins above are from an Irish spinning company; I'm going to knit Tim a cabled sweater out of them. Once I learn how to work cables, that is.



I have yarn for Christmas presents, for mittens for myself, for my first attempt at fair isle knitting. But this wool-hoard--with a wee bit of silk and alpaca and nylon thrown in--makes me uncomfortable. 


Buying this yarn, which I've done in a frenzy, all since August, has been as easy and pleasurable as sharpening my pencils or buying new notebooks. Or, for that matter, buying interesting ingredients from Superstore. Is there anything more appealing than provisions and supplies? It's easy to forget that the point is the writing and knitting and cooking, and afterwards, the reading and wearing and eating. 



And it's easy to get caught up in "learning", too. It's easy to spend hours reading forum posts, self-help books, lovely blogs. But it can be an ordeal to practice a new technique, to scribble shitty first drafts, to try to live some kind of good life. 

Mostly, I want to spend more time doing than preparing. It's quite hard.

On Mess

I thought that by now I would have permanently escaped mess. Escaping mess, I would have also escaped cleaning up. By now,  I thought, I would be able to start existing in earnest; in a pristine and well-oiled environment I could start the perpetual-motion machine which would define my adulthood as one of accomplished glory and efficiency. Now that I didn't have to deal with the mess my mother dealt with, I could write, carry on a clear-cut yet passionate relationship with my husband, excel in school, save scads of money, and finally, steadily begin to acquire gorgeous new possessions instead of haphazardly replacing the victims of breakdowns, wear, accidents.

Escaping mess was probably my penultimate childhood goal. My bedroom was as minutely arranged as a nativity scene on a mantel. Everything that didn't fit the schema was chucked outside the door. If something broke, I hated myself and threw it out. If I ate something too messy, too large, larger, crumblier than a carrot or an apple, I hated myself and threw it up. I panicked over the relentless advance of kipple, and drew my circle ever smaller. The dream of a poised and perfect stasis dies hard. However. 



By now I see that since I left home, started eating, and grew up, I have been actively courting mess. The mess of living with a partner. The mess of transplanting in the kitchen. The aphids in the pepper plant. The mess of house-training a cat. The mess that is academia. The disappointing grades. The mess of moving. The mess of a mortgage. The mess of our very own water pipes, leaking through the ceiling. The mess of hauling gravel around the yard. The mess of tools and sawdust in the livingroom. The mess of writing-anyway (with my terrible penmanship, feeling ugly, in spite of noise, without a speck of inspiration). The mess of oiling a bicycle. The mess I never admit is mine. The mess of relationships: coworkers, family, tenants. The apologies. The mess of homemade food. The mess and mud of a garden. The failed radishes. The mess in the laundry room after replacing the windows. The mess of learning how to do something. The knitting ripped back 6 times. The mess of publishing poems that make me cringe a little. The mess I try not to clean up so I won't drive Tim crazy. The mess of grinding a knife. 


The knitting that got ripped back six times. But look at it now! It's a poppy pod.

Though I am living and managing, though I am making things, fixing things, though I am doing well, everything I want is a bit of a mess. So strange, and a little sad, to realize it.

This turned into something a little more vague and moralizing than I had intended. I would be very interested to hear about your views on specific or general life-messiness, should you care to comment or send off an email.


a short defense

(the tomatoes, on Friday)

I think our tenants think we're a couple of self-righteous hippies. The other night, lying in bed beside an open window, an isolated fragment of conversation rang out from upstairs: "I mean, they don't even have a car". And we don't have a car. We don't have a television (just four or five monitors), or full-time jobs, or cellphones. So far, so normal (in my mind). I avoid the mall like the plague. I will happily drink alcohol in great variety, but never, ever go out on Saturday nights. I work as few hours as will pay my bills, buy my groceries, and allow me to save for tuition. I now have a giant garden. I bicycle and walk; during the Winter, when I have to, I take the bus. I read and write a lot. I use a laundry rack and a bread oven on a daily basis. 

Our tenants' opinions are only the beginning (and wait until they notice that I sometimes knit). Edmonton is considered an oil town which exists largely to supply and connect the notorious Fort McMurray up North. While all of this oil means that Alberta has enjoyed a healthy economy during the past four years of recession (and I am certainly not one to complain), it seems that almost everyone who lives here--even the hipsters--are mystified that I too am not channeling all of my energy into the usual industrial pursuits. My co-workers are friendly towards my few-hours-as-possible policy, but most of them are working two or three jobs. People seem to want me to earn more, but also to spend (a lot) more. Since I do not work 40 or 60 hours a week, saying that I "can't afford" something is somehow seen as a comical, even (strangely) elitist suggestion. 

May I offer a short confession, and a short defense?

Perhaps the "elitist" title is appropriate after all. The truth makes me sound like an unendurable snob, and it is this: The culture, acquisitions, and activities which I am ridiculed for avoiding? I have no interest in them

I would rather buy black beans in bulk and make my own (damn fine) Mexican food, than eat at Tres Carnales*. I would rather spend an evening with Patrick Leigh Fermor than at a party. I would rather ride my bicycle to work than pay for a car and a gym membership. I would rather grow my own peas than buy them at the farmer's market, never mind Superstore. I would rather mix a gin and tonic at home than pay the price of half a bottle of gin at Three Boars*. Most of the time, I would rather buy yarn or fabric than clothes. Most of the time, my own food is better, making things is more fun. I'm ok, not being able to "afford" things, as long as I can read lots, put myself through university, become a better cook, own outright a fraction of a house, buy raw materials and books and acres of free time.


I would rather live cheaply than spend my twenty-second year at a minimum-wage job. It's not through lack of ambition or laziness that I have four days a week "off". Even if I only had one day off, would the money I earned amount to anything significant, when compared to the fact that I had exchanged it for hours and hours of reading, writing, exercise, sleep, cooking, making, talking, thinking? 11 dollars an hour is simply not enough to devote one's present life to serving coffee. 

* Please note that I am not disparaging these establishments; they are, on the contrary, two of the best places to eat in Edmonton. 

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. 






Peter-Pan

Growing my hair out means a lot, lately. I'm doing it because, as I said to Tim this morning, "I think it looks more grown up".

I want to grow up.

I am twenty years old and it would be trendy here and now to put off growing up for about ten years; but I am not interested.

The idea of a professionalism that has very little to do with the corporate world appeals to me. Focus, confidence, self-possession, ability, style.

There are a thousand different ways I can stop playing the child. I can, for instance, stop wearing ripped hoodies and using a can of hairspray a week.


Perils of Work

I have sunk low.

I wrote today in the petrifying knowledge that I have not published in over a year, and that I may be no good.
I couldn't ignore it, like I could last week.
Another rejection email sat in my inbox, and I wanted to cry.
Scream and cry. Cry and scream.

I wrote for over an hour,
but I do not feel productive.
But I wrote.
But I wanted to write something golden.
But I sat in a cafe and wrote about clothes that I want.
But I am trying to make writing a practice.
But I am not commanded to like everything that ekes out of my pen.
But I wrote, and I wrote alone. And solitude is another practice I am trying to implement.

(I have to admit that Etsying is adding to my stress. I haven't made any sales recently, which is not the end of the world, but a little disheartening, since I have spent quite a lot of time lately spiffifying my shop. Also, stupidly, I ventured out into the Critiques forum again on Sunday, and received some advice that did not seem very lovingly intentioned. I have re-decided

- that I prefer to make fewer sales with greater personal connection
- that I do not plan to whip myself into a stressed out frenzy over my shop
- that I am not trying to appeal to anyone and everyone
- that I don't need people I don't especially respect to tell me how to create
- that the main reason I opened an Etsy shop was to share my work with people who will love to receive it)

That's the deal. And I will write. And I will publish again.



*It's only a polite, and not a truly sincere apology, but I'm sorry for all the resolve and manifestos of late. I want to begin again, to work and live better than before, and I have to keep saying it.*

A red letter day

Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples. Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.



This is the best political news I've heard in months. These words are strong and reasonable and true. To celebrate, I'm listening to some Tegan and Sara.