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.

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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 actually writing stuff

Great news, folks.

Simpkin and the drafts

For all of my dubious talk, I have something to show you. After sifting through two years of accumulated drafts and notes, after memorizing one Yeats poem, after starting to fill the first new binder of finished work since 2009, after realizing that, contrary to my whining mantra, I actually never stopped writing, I have one new poem and one new story. 

The story I just finished yesterday. It's my first story since The Crow Suits (does anyone remember that one? I scribbled the first draft when I was 16). It's fact-based. It seems that now I can write about my childhood (what?). It takes place in the very small Saskatchewan town that I lived in from the ages of 4-8, and I'm hoping to add to it with more "episodes" from the same weird era. Do you want to read it? I can't publish it online because it's destined for a contest, but I can (and would love to) email it to you. 

The poem, along with a few older, unpublished pieces, will be up on my Tumblr page tomorrow. 

I'm back again, kiddies. It feels really good. 

resolutions half a year in


Since half the year has elapsed, I thought I would give myself leave to tamper with these resolutions a little bit. I thought I would take the opportunity to try and look at both my six-months-past and -future selves with kindness and clarity. Resolutions needn't be static. Here we go: 

- learn to make my own happiness (because it is not Tim's job, and because circumstances will not always be peachy)in particular,  1) develop strategies for managing anxiety attacks, 2) take myself on dates

- 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)--or don't; keep lifting, keep cycling, keep learning to eat

- pay back money owed Tim (so very close); stop spending money that doesn't yet exist

- pay off student loan (not so close)--or don't; make dent in current loan, pay 2013/2014 tuition straight up

- 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); also enjoy said backyard

- write something (anything) every day (this should be at the top of the list); or just fill two notebooks

- learn more about math and computing (calculus, number theory, Python)--finish A Transition to Advanced Mathematics and the online MIT computing course

- publish in at least one magazine (which means submitting)--acceptance counts too

- give excellent presents (better than last year); in particular, surprise Tim

- 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)--or don't if the money still doesn't exist

- put more of myself into relationships (especially that relationship with one Tim Put); in particular, 1) be kind, 2) write letters--every week

- use my nice things (and remember that I have many--especially tins of expensive tea)

- make and repair more, and buy better and less (I need a darning egg); in particular, 1)stop buying cheap clothes that need to be replaced every six months, 2) refashion unwearable clothes in closet

update

The first thing Simpkin did this morning was trot over to the toilet to drink out of the bowl. I guess he is getting better.

cat-nurse

Understand this: before Simpkin, I had never owned an animal before, and never cared for one either. 

Simpkin is sick. He refuses to eat or drink. He makes sad little squeals and tucks one paw under his chest, then curls up and goes back to sleep. I hated leaving for work today. Before I left, in desperation, I mixed up a kind of gruel out of canned salmon and water and left it out for him. As soon as I got home, I commenced trying again to get Simpkin to drink. The only thing that works is an eye dropper, squeezed gently into the side of his mouth. I've been giving him water every half an hour, trying to make up for 30-some hours without a drink. Am I only flattering myself, thinking that he seems to have perked up?

A few years ago, I would have laughed at the idea of myself as cat-nurse. Now I only want this tiny living thing to get well.

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.

Simpkin


It is almost unthinkable. We have adopted the tiny grey cat and named him Simpkin, after the cat in Beatrix Potter's The Tailor of Gloucester. He's a stray, probably three months old. He's spent two nights indoors now. It's already getting cold. 

I have never owned an animal, and never tended to a little life. There is a surprising surge of joy to find Simpkin waiting for me outside, or to have him fold himself snugly (smugly) and insistently into my lap. It is astounding that we, personally, are able save him from growing ill and freezing to death over the winter. 

His eyes are the brightest blue and tawniest gold. He has faint tiger stripes on the end of his tail. He has survived all alone all summer, but now we are taking him in. I am deeply glad.