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

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. 

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.

July 19, 2013

It's only taken 22 years to get here, but: tonight, my own body is a pretty good place to be.

Today, like a lot of days, I spent about an hour cycling. I restocked the fridge at work carrying 24 litres of milk at a time. I ate lentils and drank rose-water soda-water. I slept outside wearing very little clothing. I squatted with an 85-pound barbell on my back, and I deadlifted more than my own body weight.

I swear I felt older when I was 13 than I do now. When I was 13, my body seemed to be breaking down--I was a disintegrating pile of angry red stretch marks and excess weight that had only brought an uncomfortable, overblown femininity and no new stamina or ability to speak of. The only salvation I saw was in shrinking myself down, becoming impossibly small and slight.

A few weeks ago, I saw a picture on a fashion blog of a tiny, gorgeous woman who was about the size and shape I'd always wanted to be. She wrote that she wanted to bulk up, become healthier because she couldn't lift a frying pan. 

Adventures in Darning


before

after

I want to be someone who knows how to fix things as well as make things. Repair has been at the top of my mind for several months now. When a faulty knot (I know, I know) in the sole of one of my striped socks gave way, leaving me with a small hole, I decided it was a good time to follow tomofholland's advice and Darn It!

For my first darn, I think it's not bad. Of course, there's lots of room for improvement. This method of darning, mostly suitable for small holes, is called a Swiss darn (or duplicate stitch), and, theoretically, it can be almost invisible.

I'm also in the process of (more creatively and obviously) repairing a nasty gash in a black cardigan of mine. Perhaps pictures within the next few days. Have a lovely Sunday!

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.


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?





Monday

My friends,

At 5 am, today is one of those days on which you feel you could easily spend the whole thing just recovering from yesterday--drinking water, washing the dishes, bolstering up your heart and soul for the next bout of human contact--but somehow, there is no time, and you must go to work. This day feels like the last dregs of yesterday; can I really stretch them out another twelve hours?

Over the past few days, one acceptance and one rejection of poetry submissions. 240 pages of Little Dorrit (I'd forgotten the extent to which one needs to commit to Dickens, but also the extent to which it's easy to do so). Several ounces of sherry. Several coats of white paint. Window shopping on the internet (this bag, this dress, this wool, this book). Violin practice. Exercise. And my own sweater finished, now being blocked.

All must be put on hold, because in this interlude (smack in the middle of a pair of "clopen" shifts), the essential things are to clean up the kitchen, make myself pretty, and pack up some healthy food. We soldier on.

And oh. It is winter. -31 C degrees of it. I will probably pretend I'm Laura Ingalls on my walk to work.

I am Charlie Brown

"Everything I touch gets ruined."

On the flip side, decay and destruction.

Last night, I spilled water on my keyboard, and now my laptop refuses to chirp happily and blink to life.

The transplanting is necessary because my tomato plants are yellow and stunted.

Two nights ago, I dropped our blender. It too died.

The batch of sourdough on the counter smells slightly alcoholic.

And I even threw my newly-finished, beautiful sweater into the wash (on gentle), and shrunk it too small to put on.

If I have to buy a new laptop, I will not be able to afford Ethiopia. I am ashamed to say that I am living paycheque-to-paycheque as it is. (Though, as of the last one, my debts are basically paid off.)

I am afraid to touch anything. I am hopping on my bike for a cappuccino, and taking my journal.