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.

--------

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

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.


perils of work



Our new apartment is a bit darker than your average, respectable hobbit hole, but in the evenings the setting sun hits the top of the fridge just beautifully. We're settling in, and every day my bones are a little less restless, my feathers a little less ruffled. Today I went around with a little cast-iron pan in lieu of a hammer, hanging the remaining pictures on the walls.

Between the two of them, moving and settling have contrived to make us re-examine
breakfasts
careers
transportation
work habits
leisure
one little household's flow of cold, hard cash
interior decorating
education
hobbies
windows
fights
cities

Though it is probably not much of a shock to anyone who really knows me, I am shocked to admit that I do not want a "career"--ever or at all. I do not want to work for anybody or spend 80% of my day away from home, or leave myself with only the scraps. And I don't want to smear that smarmy gloss over the issues at hand, as if the world is one big corporate interview.

I want to attend to my life, of which earning a living is only one part, ever moving towards true center. You know I have plans. I want to write books (and so does Tim). How should we do it? We are not crazy.

This house is terribly important.

felt books



The felt books are finished. Nine good poems - not all of my autumn's work, but the work that came out of the rest of the work. Fifteen copies are already in the mail and in friends' hands--I'm surprised I have to make more so soon.


It is marvelous to have these printed up. They are a semester's final project, something to show. I am still a writer.

slow

Can I just say outright that on this, the 20th day of November, I have not completed 19 poems? I have completed 13, if I count the each of the 10 in "An uncharitable sketch". You could also say that I've completed 4. Two of them are very good. I've wanted to loathe myself for this output, but I can't.



Because I no longer hate every minute that I am writing. To snatch an image from Anne Lamott, I sit quietly, stringing beads on a string. I do not panic when I leave a piece unfinished for tomorrow. (I am not so eager to force the process.) It is very good. It is so slow I hardly feel like I am working, more like I am mindlessly, stupidly incubating.

But still, part of me wants to write as many poems as possible before the end of the month, to make good on my plan.

30 Days Hath November

It is the first of November. It is getting cold and dark. The winter does not seem like a harbinger of death this year, only an incubator of life-inside. Everyone is embarking on some project or another - whether growing a mustache (or, like my friend Gustavo, half a mustache), following a charming blogging schedule, or writing a novel. If I am perfectly, perfectly honest, I woke up this morning convinced that I should write a novel, myself.

The idea was tantalizing. And perhaps I am just under-confident, perhaps I am stifling myself, but while I sat in bed considering, one half of me couldn't help reminding the other half of what we set out to accomplish this winter: a fat collection of poems. I think there is a place in the creative life for this kind of self-denial, this wrenching back to the plan one knows is good, one knows could be fruitful. There will be no novel. Instead, over the 30 days of November, I will write 30 poems. Yes indeed, that's exactly one poem a day.

And at the end of the month, this autumn's work will be compiled in a felt-covered booklet - some evidence that I actually do the work I constantly mention. (I cannot publish poems anywhere on the internet if I want them to be accepted by a magazine. Hence the closure of my Etsy shop.) I will stitch the covers in scraps of wool, and print the words on creamy paper. The work is already piling up. Before the year's end, it will turn out that the year will not have been wasted.

How are you spending this darkening month?

journal excerpt: October 7

A disturbing realization--again--looking through my poems. Nature and the body are all I write about. Are they how I think as well? Is nothing else profound? Machines, cities, language, fear, money, the shrinking world, history--could I write about this, if I tried to? I think I must try, because I am too young to fall into a rut.

September 30

Right now everything having to do with my work is good. Worries about the direction my style and subject matter are taking only sing of the proof that I am actually thinking about poems again. 50-odd drafts only speak to so many hours spent happy or at least vitally agitated at my desk. Criticisms mean that words have gone out from me. Everything to do with my work is good.

38 drafts

I am learning to ignore dirty hair, pile the laundry to one side, adore the tulips behind the dishes, alternate mugs of coffee and wine, close the door, ask advice,
finish books, keep to myself, famish at my desk, scatter paper snowballs, fill the trashcan, leave my homework, abandon ringing phones, devour packaged cookies, make excuses, put off showering, buckle down.

On Saturday

there was a new breakfast recipe



and a pile of drafts.



Meanwhile, my hair was growing. As I heroically dug my husband and our fellow tenants out of the snow, brand new phrases announced themselves in my head.

"The fact that grammar is a discrete combinatorial system has two important consequences. The first is the sheer vastness of language . . . if you put aside the fact that the days of our age are threescore and ten, each of us is capable of uttering an infinite number of different sentences. By the same logic that shows that there are an infinite number of integers--if you ever think you have the largest integer, just add 1 to it and you will have another--there must be an infinite number of sentences." (Steven Pinker, The Language Instinct)

I took my vitamins in the morning and I made salsa fresca for an impromptu dinner party in the evening. I shunned my textbooks. I brushed my teeth. I listened to the second symphony. I did what I set out to do.

Friday Night

I am trying something new. I am preparing for the weekend. On Friday night I am cleaning the house and doing my homework.

Yes, they've already started to heap it on. I feel like a little pack-mule.

I am taking only four classes this semester, and I still do not have a part-time job. Over the holidays it became clear that if I am going to allow myself these luxurious circumstances, I had better put them to good use. Or I'll want to shoot myself.

I want to reclaim Saturdays, when Tim is at work and I have the house to myself. Last semester I usually spent the weekends doing homework and laundry. It was not fun.

Tom-Tom #8 is long, long overdue, I know. I have about a third of the material I need for a new issue. My primary motivation for devoting the weekend to what I like to call real work is the production of enough new, good writing to publish another magazine. And I am anxious to send off a batch of submissions to some of the daunting literary journals I so want to be included in.

I am aware that I have said similar things many times over the past year and a half. It seems it's time to have something to show for my resolutions: some letters besides the letters on my transcript.

Little Room - Jack White

When Jack White writes or talks about the creative process, what hard work it is and how deliberate and regimented it must be at times, I stop thinking "I will never be a poet again," and start thinking "I must sit down at the desk."

Well, you're in your little room
and you're working on something good,
but if it's really good
you're gonna need a bigger room.

And when you're in the bigger room
you might not know what to do,
you might have to think of
how you got started sitting in your little room.

this business of art

For the past three weeks, I have been working on a commission. It has been hard. The words have not come to me easily, and when they have come, they have not wanted to bring any feeling with them. I sent off the latest draft to my customer tonight with a heavy head. The poem is good, but it is not all I want it to be.

September 1

It's back in the saddle today. I've got a heating pad, ice coffee, a trusty ballpoint, two notebooks, Thom Gunn, a blank piece of paper, and an old quilt congregated on and around me. I am flu-ish, but I am determined to work. I am not quite all there when I am not writing. I want to take advantage of my last free Wednesday until the Christmas holidays. I want to have something to show at the end of this day.

I could cry with relief

As you may have gathered from my recent posts, the comments attached to them, and Candace's wonderful blog, I have lately been brushing my teeth and sitting down to write. Today, after three hours spent making hesitant notes for a story, journaling, and copying down poems by Sylvia and Emily D., I came out with this, all in a rush:


A fire somewhere
thickens the air
and yellows the hair
of this city.

And ash comes down
and the church lungs drown
and planes fidget
around a city

where acid drives rain
and women complain,
since there is no one to blame
in the city.

OR

A fire somewhere
yellows my hair.

Ash comes down and
planes fidget around

the city where women complain
since there is no one to blame.


I can't call them more than exercises, but they are something, they are a product.

a new place to write



Today Tim and I hauled things around so that my desk could be moved from the front room to our bedroom, so that I can be alone to write.

Now I slowly begin to rearrange our objects, and soon I will have something of a study. As for the front room, it will have something of a seating area, which I'm sure our guests will appreciate.

Tonight I plan to cook a pot of borscht. Tim is unconvinced of its luxury, but then, he hasn't tried it yet.

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.*

ugh

I am terribly overwhelmed. Today at work, my coworkers were lovely as usual, but the customers walked all over me. I seem to be coming down with a flu, and my surroundings are in a state of chaos. I am so tired. There is so much to do. I was meaning to announce the winner of the writing contest today, but am not yet decided.

To tomorrow.