July 21, 2014

I finished my first screenplay--well, finished it enough to send it off to someone who knows enough to tell me what to edit first. 

I bought two dress patterns in celebration. (MonetaCoco.)

Laura and I are currently having a little sew-along; both of us are making Emery dresses. As of two weeks ago I have thrown myself on to the dressmaking bandwagon with no hesitation or decorum. 

 I got a new shirt.

I got a new shirt.

I filled out my tuition grant application. 

I trimmed Simpkin's claws. 

I thought about fitness goals and ate with a mind to "making my macros". This fervent intuitive eater is test-running a switch to calculated nutrition. What can I say? Intuitive eating saved my sanity and helped me gain a healthy attitude toward food. Now I want to know that I'm eating in a way that supports the development of a stronger, abler--and yes, more attractive--body. I just want my abs to show up. Today this quest involved a smoothie made with 60 grams of whey powder . . . 

 oregano flowers

oregano flowers

Thinking about fitness made me think about Allison. I suddenly wondered if I'd ever heard her sing. I looked her up on youtube, and promptly had a cry to this song.

I wrote a thank-you note.

I squished all visible worms on my cabbages. I transplanted about 20 chamomile plants from the driveway to the backyard.

I was envious of Glynis's morning project. So quotidian, specific, pertinent, consistent. It's extremely refreshing.

Tim and I are about to watch the last episode of the new Cosmos series. I'm going to try to knit the last couple inches of the second sleeve for this sweater.

 coffee mirror

coffee mirror

 

Good night kids!

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 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. 

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. 

As a reader?

"As a reader, I often feel I can detect the spoor of word processing in books, particularly long ones. The writers--no longer slowed by having to change their typewriter ribbons, fill their fountain pens, or sharpen their quills--tend to be prolix."                                                                 

- Anne Fadiman, from "Eternal Ink"

Cat booklets



For two or three years now, I've been getting requests for the Cat poems to be collected. Well, I finally collected them. I printed up a plain-Jane, bare-bones, print-fold-staple zine. It is not a beautiful handmade object so much as the thing that books have been: just a conduit of text.


Like the medium, the message is rough and undecorated. I wrote these poems when I was 17; I am printing them up now as a tribute to my younger self and her fear and trembling, but also to put the poems somewhat aside. Unscrubbed as he is, I've been living under Cat's shadow for too long. He'd have me believe that none of my new poems will ever measure up.

I've been thinking a lot about my future as a poet. I want to write and publish in a culture where both information and distraction are more readily available than ever on the internet. It seems doubtful that I or any writer of my generation will be making a living (or a name) selling physical books. However, my rebellious spirit says "Here. Take this last book anyway. Five of the poems are plastered all over the interwebs, but two of them have never seen the light of day."

If you'd like one of these white booklets, comment here, or send me an email with your mailing address. I'm not going to charge for these. I have 20 copies, and I would love to post you one. 

xx Lizzie

The Finishing Project--Day 7 (that is, 9)

Indian Summer

Forget your gift of an Indian Summer.
We do not want it;
We run on towards Winter.

This pulpy haze seems kinder,
But we gnaw the pit,
And your gift of an Indian Summer

Deflects our dive for the center.
Like the whitening rabbit
We run on towards Winter. 

We crones won't stand the meander--
Our short time is split.
Take your gift of an Indian Summer,

Give way to the year's inevitable splinter,
Let us begin the fit;
Forget your gift of an Indian Summer.
From here we will run on towards Winter.


































An imperfect villanelle, to finish off. Yes, this one's for school too.



The Finishing Project--Day 2

Plates, pitchforks, knives, dishes
And extra bought
All we have for the loaves and fishes
All panicked, caught

Crumbs, soupbowls, bones and cups
And broken plates
All the dishes wash them up
All we will wait

Another ENGL 294 assignment--surprise! A nursery rhyme. I'm not bothered, using school writing for this project, so no one else needs to be bothered either. It's a small miracle that in September I'm writing anything but smarmy essays. 

ETA syllables

The Finishing Project--Day 1

I've responded to Candace's invitation to The Finishing Project--one poem a day for a week, the goal being simply to produce finished work. This is Day 1, and I have a poem.  I must fess up, and tell you that I'm killing two birds with one stone here. I've been assigned 10-12 lines of blank verse for my Introduction to Writing Poetry class. These are them.

A Misuse of the Word 'Entropy'

Pining for nothing more or less than pure
Fabrication, now that I can't construct
A thing, and unlike before, nothing will
Materialize out of thin air under
My hands, and more and more, even more appears
Under others' hands in China. We know
"Longevity is the antithesis
Of fashion". We feel the horror of that
Life which causes visible wear. The scab
Of repair, a darn or a patch, will peel
Back to gnashing of teeth, detritus, debris--
We must make all things new every morning. 

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. 






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.

Cat as Athlete Philosopher

Cat kept up
his ideas as a gymnast
might keep up his body.
It was a terrible relief
to stretch himself every morning
to begin work.

Cat trained.
He practiced for fits
of flawless action,
for impossible stunts
and tumbles
and a tight finish.