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 practice, on weekends

It's Saturday morning again. I started drafting this post last weekend--I got as far as the title. Oh irony.

I was thinking about what is now vogueishly called 'practice'. I define practice as anything important to do for its own sake. It's related to ritual and to routine; it's often (not wrongly) deemed religious. Or spiritual--we really do need a better word for the care and feeding of our Selves that we rationalist-materialists do.

I made a list of my practices. (Many of them started out as "survival techniques".) They include writing, reading poetry, reading fiction, reading non-fiction, reading math, baking bread, stretching, powerlifting, cycling, tending plants, making the bed, intuitive eating, knitting, blogging, sun bathing, hanging laundry out to dry, sleeping, lying on the floor, drinking water, fixing things.

I quickly realized that with regard to practice I am a staunch weekend warrior. You say I have an empty house and two days off at my disposal? Why sure I'll start a loaf of sourdough and spend twenty quiet minutes stretching and connect with my blogosphere darlings and drink 2 L of water and then plunge into that short story I'm working on. Why sure I'll relax with a thick novel in bed. Please excuse me if by Wednesday evening I'm playing 2048 by the hour and drinking more than I wanted to. Please excuse me when my precious Self feels crazy, abused, and neglected and lashes out at everyone around.

Resolutions in March

- learn to make my own happiness (because it is not Tim's job, and because circumstances will not always be peachy)
This month, this has meant reading quite a lot on emotional eating, giving myself permission to stop eating food I'm not enjoying, buying a bracelet, sleeping when I'm tired, showering in the middle of the afternoon, baking myself a birthday cake, having little conversations with the Simps, buying tulips, starting Guns, Germs, and Steel in the middle of the semester. 

- complete one wearable sewn garment (hello brown paisley dress)

- master fair isle knitting (in order to make things such as this)
Finally! Progress. This is a Kate Davies cowl pattern called 'Hazelhurst'.

- remove makeup every night (this has never, ever been a habit--now that flossing is down, it's time)
I would say I'm at something like 60%?

- reach goal weight once and for all (140 pounds)
See first item above.

- 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)
The Blue Hour came out with their first print edition, and were kind enough to include my poem from January.

- 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)
We have a plan. Now to buy supplies.

- play the violin again (Vivaldi's "Winter")

- learn more about baking bread (to begin: read the lovely book Laura got me for Christmas)
Rye sourdough is proving a challenge. I have a live starter, but my first two loaves did not rise well. I bought some whole rye flour, since I suspect that part of the problem is the dark rye I've been using. We'll have another go this weekend. 

- get a tattoo (at last at last)
Progress here too. Now to scrounge up several hundred dollars. Tips.

- put more of myself into relationships (especially that relationship with one Tim Put)

- use my nice things (and remember that I have many)
It was jam our friends made last summer (thanks Mel and Jessie!), my own chocolate mint tea, marzipan which had been sitting in the freezer for a year, cloth napkins from Emily, Christmas shower gel, a hand-wound clock unearthed from the "keepsake" box and set ticking.

- make and repair more, and buy better and less (I need a darning egg)
The keepsake box contained another clock, an Alice in Wonderland clock my parents gave me when I wasn't even a year old. The battery-powered mechanism wasn't working, so Tim ordered me another one, and new clock hands. They arrived today. Also, five years later, we ordered a  Blendtec.  No more semi-disposable 30-dollar affairs.

an update

After a long hiatus from blogging, running, biking, weighing myself, journaling, and attending class--in short, from everything except writing essays, the end of the semester is in sight and I miss you all.

Despite consciously slacking off on exercising, I am down two pounds to 152. I've been trying to keep eating well during this ridiculously stressful final month, and clearly it's paid off. But I miss running. I miss my bike and the high level bridge. I miss push-ups. I miss hooping. I miss stairs. I want to start lifting weights. Clearly, it's time to jump back into things.

(Some progress was made while I was dropping off the face of the earth. I hooped leftwards for almost a minute, and rightwards for seven minutes. I dealt successfully with several large plates of Christmas baking, eating a little of what I wanted most and not getting sick. I received a second surprised, "Wow, you look slender" - this one from Ros. I left half the hot chocolate in the cup, because I was full, for the first time I can remember. I bought a pair of leggings in size Medium. And I did a 60-second plank.)

My goals for this week:

- run or bike five days out of seven
- do twenty push-ups every day, in two or three sets, if necessary
- do fifteen push-ups in a row at least once
- climb 30 flights of stairs two days out of seven
- buy or borrow a set of dumbbells
- lose one pound

journal excerpt, November 25

I have this crazy idea to write a Christmas suite of poems, crazy mostly because I am an Atheist, and this holiday has been somehow taken away from me.

I want church, incense, carols, candles, a pagan tree, a creche.

I crave the spiritual discipline of a waiting season, of Advent.

Though I am as certain as ever that souls do not exist, I am equally certain that at times it feels exactly as if I had one. There is certainly some dimension of me that responds to everything (or nearly everything) the Catholics prescribe for the health of the soul.

It's presumptuous of me.

an update

I didn't meet any of my goals for this week. Not any. However, I maintained my weight, exercised for approximately 3 hours and forty minutes, babied my leg, went to a tanning salon, and so survived what I thought was going to be a relapse into the depression of last winter. (It wasn't.) I made tea (with ginger root and lemongrass),

cranberry sauce, and pumpkin bread. I bundled up and rode my bike through the first snow. I practiced push-ups and leftwards hooping. I bought exotic salad material.

This week, I'd like to make good on my goals from last week. I don't know how running will go, since I tried to go out tonight, and felt pain in my hamstring right away, but the others are all achievable.


Sometimes I need to take a mental health day, to remind myself that I am much more than a university student, that I thrive reading novels in a clean house, that the air in September is more like ginger ale than it will be for another year, that I do not want to crack, that my body can do things it couldn't do before, that my notebook waits for me, that I've been meaning to paint my toenails red, that cutting flowers and mixing batter are restorative activities to a modern person, that I need to experience solitude on a regular basis, that there may be mail today...

A plan for strength, for sanity

As I think I make quite, quite obvious, I would like to be skinnier.

I would like to be stronger, saner, more energetic.

Since January I have concentrated (sometimes more effectively, sometimes less) on eating well and exercising, but I have decided that it is time for some accountability. As much as a part of me cringes at using this blog as a medium for it, I do think that my health is crucial to my happiness and creativity, so I will be devoting one post a week (on Mondays) to updates on a plan:

I plan to eat normally. I do not want to waste time and energy worrying about calorie counts. I do not want to start eating fat-free yogurt when there is Liberte yogurt in my fridge. I do not want to feel trapped or deprived. What I want to do is pay very careful attention to what I eat. What I want. How much I am hungry for. Whether my body needs protein, or carbohydrates, or just water. What I will truly enjoy - while I am eating it, and afterwards. What will make me feel best.

I plan to weigh myself only once a week. Weighing myself every morning seems to discourage real progress, since the small gains and losses are so arbitrary on a day-to-day basis. I want to concentrate on how I feel, the way my clothes fit, and what I see when I look in the mirror.

I plan to try to find ways to exercise every day, whether by biking, running, hula-hooping, climbing stairs at school, swimming, or walking.

I plan to start going to a tanning salon for a few minutes every week or two, since the light is getting shorter, and I am soon to feel the effects of seasonal depression.

I plan not to beat myself up over this plan.

So, in order to see progress, here are the current stats:

Weight: 164 pounds
Jeans size: 10 (at Superstore, where I do a lot of clothes shopping)
Time I'm able to run without stopping: 4 minutes
Number of push-ups I can do in a row: 3
Average bike trip: 8 km
Activity over the past week: approx. 3 hours

And what progress would I like to see? What would I like to do?

Short term:

Feel comfortable enough to run outside, in public
Do FIVE push-ups in a row
Bike to school (about 10 km round trip, with more hills)
Buy a jump rope

Long term:

Learn some hula hoop tricks
Use the pool/weight room at MacEwan
Buy a bikini
Run my usual 8 km bike route
Get a tattoo
Do a cartwheel

post 200

Good lord I feel amazing. Yesterday I bought these:

which are my first ever pair of running shoes and which were appropriately expensive. I've decided to name them Brett and Sally. Today I put them on (with a pair of neon blue leggings) and spent the duration of Sainthood, by Tegan and Sara - who else? - running, jumping around, punching the air, and doing more boy-push-ups than I ever have at one go.

July 23

On Wednesday, after a bit of a lapse, I started riding my bike again. I feel more and more that I need (very) regular exercise and good food to stay sane and healthy. Summer does not last forever, however, and I am not going to fool myself into thinking I'll ride my bike when it's icy outside, and minus 30 C. So today I need to say hello to running, my old nemesis. I also have to go to work for the first time since I cut myself. Wish me luck.