Wednesday, November 2, 2022

What I'm Taking Into November

A thing or two.


The maple with golden leaves.

First. A more accurate sense of how much coffee I actually drink in a day. My husband is a master of self-discipline. For health reasons, he has decided to just drink one cup of coffee in a day, and a supplement that coffee with actual glasses of water. It’s almost the apocalypse, y’all. I have never seen him voluntarily drink water although I have occasionally handed him a glass of water and stood over him while he got over his objections and drank it. 


Now, for whatever reason, things are different. He drinks one cup of coffee in the morning, and several glasses of water during the day. Which means I’m drinking the rest of the pot of coffee. Which means I’m also trying to limit my coffee drinking to at least the morning hours. Is it helping with my sleep? Sometimes.


Second. A renewed understanding of the magic of revising one’s own words. I’m working on a novel. Yes, that one, imperfect and beautiful. Yes, still. I’ve had feedback through the years from many people I respect and admire, whose work I also respect and admire. I think I’m on the last set of feedback of that substantive nature. 


And at last, I see how, through the years, I have been not just making my novel different—I’ve been making it better. The process has been circuitous, and I’ve learned a lot. 


I hope the path of revising my next novel is more straightforward. I was going to say that I hope it’s not as frustrating, but I now recognize that I have control over the frustration. As long as I am making it better, or at least trying to make it better, I can trust in the revision process, now that I’ve seen that process at work in fiction as well as nonfiction. And who knows, frustration might be an inevitable and welcome part of that process.


the ground near the maple's trunk,
 showing leaves both green and gold

Third. A renewed sense of gratitude. November brings with it my birthday, when it’s natural to look back over not only the past month but the past year. And it's been full of both tests and gifts. I’m grateful for vaccines and boosters. I’m grateful for men and women who repair things. I’m grateful to learn about where I live, both the house itself and its setting. 


I’m grateful for the kind of life where I can look for a fishing boat in the spring and in the autumn and feel it is a part of my world, as are the feeder visitors: Blue Jays and chickadees and squirrels, and the chipmunk that hoovers the deck of what they leave behind. I’m grateful for the ability to meet people online and to see people in person, carefully. 


I’m grateful for relationships that have lasted a long time, for relationships that roll with the punches, for relationships that burn steadily and with constancy, and for relationships that can mend when it’s important to do so.


big sky over Lake Superior, from the beach
at our little camp, showing the islands


Fourth. An act of hope: I voted yesterday. I’m grateful for the ability to vote—to attempt to choose people who represent the best of me and, I believe, the best of everyone else, and entrust them with the work of formalizing how we, as a community, treat each other. 


Sometimes voting serves only as a measure of how different I am. Sometimes no one I vote for wins. 


But there is victory in speaking up. Participating in efforts to make the world more just isn’t necessarily glamorous but it’s responsible, and that’s not a bad way to live.


Happy November, everyone. That’s my wish for you.


Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Imperfect and Beautiful, AKA, What I'm Taking Into October

I'm revising again. 


I seem to revise a lot, which is fine -- it's one of the most useful, beautiful, and unpracticed parts of writing, in my opinion. 


I also seem to write about revising a lot, which is also okay.


September was a full month that included travel myself plus visitors here, plus celebration of love and family. Also: the need for (shudder) mousetraps, plus an empty well. 


It was not a "perfect" month, not that I know what that really is. It held moments I wanted to embrace, others I wanted to sustain, and still others that I was happy to release.


Now I turn my attention to revising a project that's been close to my heart for a long time. Being me, I want it to be imperfect. It will not be.


So I'm looking around. Down and up. And I'm finding beauty -- and imperfection, even IN imperfection -- everywhere.


Like this.


golden birch leaves, sporting holes and generally
appearing crumpled, lie on the dirt



A reddened leaf curls un-picturesquely;
behind it, another red leaf shows brown spots and curled edges


That's what I'm carrying into October. That life can be -- is -- imperfect, and beautiful.  


That despite my best intentions and hardest effort, all my work is also imperfect, and beautiful. My novel will be imperfect, and beautiful, and so will the next one, and the books to come. 


"Imperfect and beautiful" brings me both courage and solace. I can do my best -- and that's all I can do.


So. That's my month gone, and the one to come. I hope you find something that brings you what you need, and that you can embrace it. 



   


 

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

World Alzheimer's Awareness Month

September brings the equinox and autumn. It's also World Alzheimer's Month. 


By accident (or a grand design of which I'm unaware), two of my Alzheimer's-related publications have come out this month.


Here, read my review at Minola Review of Four Umbrellas: A Couple's Journey Into Young-Onset Alzheimer's. It's an exceptional book by June Hutton & Tony Wanless, in which Tony shares insights into his experience of dementia. Here's an excerpt from my review:


We all have a near-inexhaustible capacity to fool ourselves. No one wants to acknowledge their own mental confusion. No one wants to see dementia in the face that is resting on the pillow next to theirs. It took great courage to write this book.


We should all read it. Statistics suggest that if you don't know someone with dementia now, you will soon. 


Luckily, people -- generous, motivated, creative people -- with lived experience, people who love someone with dementia, and perhaps have cared for them, also write books. 


Here's an interview in the Miramichi Reader with Sheridan Rondeau, author of Dear Braveheart: A Caregiver's Loving Journey Through Alzheimer's Dementia (Crossfield Publishing).   


She cared for her husband, "Tony," at home during his time with dementia. Her insights and perspective can be a gentle companion for others in that situation. It was a pleasure to read her book and speak with her. 


I wrote recently about the pleasures and curiosities of "pulling back the curtain" and peeking behind the scenes. Sometimes it's fun (a movie's outtakes); sometimes it's engaging (creative competition show). 


And sometimes it's a responsibility for those of us who haven't been there to go there. That's why we broaden our reading habits to seek out #ownvoices whose experiences in society are different from ours. That's how we learn what we don't know. That's where we get ideas and energy and courage to change unequal power dynamics.


In some cases, that's how we prepare to be a better member of our community, or a better parent, sibling, friend, or "offspring" (my father's word when his "children" were adults with children of their own). 


That's why you should read books like these -- not for the curiosity or because they're scandalous, like some clickbait article on co-stars who are also having an affair. But because they let you see more fully.


If you've read a book like this, you might better understand what you're looking at. For example, when a woman filling a prescription huddles with a pharmacist for the "this is the first time for this medication" conversation, you might have insight into why she and the pharmacist both have tears in their eyes. 


Or on other errands: You might have more patience for the steely-haired older woman in the bank who's trying to keep her companion, a blank-faced white-haired woman, engaged without bothering others. The patient fifty-something woman in the coffee shop who repeatedly hands an elderly gentleman his handkerchief.


They're all part of the full range of human experience, often invisible, but still there. Where someone we know and love -- or ourselves -- might be someday.


Read these books, and books like them. Please.    



 

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Holiday

I'm enjoying a hit-or-miss kind of September. Lots of hits of family and new experiences; lots of misses of being in my "upstairs office," doing work at the computer.


I'll be back sometime later this month. Until then, enjoy.




Rocks under water


Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Inspection

So I’ve been thinking about looking deeply into things. Pulling back the curtain. Showing what happens behind the scenes.


Incident 1: When I was at the dentist early this summer, he poked and drilled while I sat benumbed and reclined. Then he brought me upright in the chair and handed me a mirror. He was excited to show me the series of cracks in my back molars (and several other teeth), the stains everywhere, and the big hole he’d created and was about to fill. Yay!


Because I’m a compliant person, most of the time, I looked in the mirror he was holding, but I really didn’t care. I know I didn’t muster enough enthusiasm to please him, but then again, a. No one could (he was pretty enthusiastic), b. I’ve been disappointing dentists and dental hygienists longer than he’s been alive so I’m used to it, and c. Basically, making a dentist happy is not my emotional labour to perform.


Consider the hydrangea, if that's what this is:
it neither toils nor spins. It knows for whom
it performs emotional labour.



Incident 2: A little over a month ago, I had the opportunity to inspect the bottom of an almost empty water storage tank, capacity something like 250 gallons. Several buckets of sludge had already been removed and the sides had been scrubbed.


When invited, I happily hopped up to stand on the bottom of an overturned plastic pail and peer into the tank through the top hatch. I could see the bottom. The water was completely clear. It was a mystical, magical moment.


Why? I’ve wondered what made the difference between seeing the details of my mouth and the details of our water storage system.


I’m pretty curious, so I have a vague interest in the inner workings of a lot of different things. Just not my mouth, I guess. Related: recently I got to see a super special image of the inside of my husband’s eye. It was very cool.



The sun sets, not without drama,
but perhaps without pain.



But that made me think about when it is and isn’t interesting to see the inner workings of things. Why yes to the eye and the cistern but no to my teeth?


OK, the teeth thing involved needles and pain. But beyond that.


So I started thinking about glimpses “backstage.” Mostly on TV.


One allure of the competition show as a genre is to see people like aspiring models, clothing designers, and bakers at work. I like to see musicians try different interpretations of a song or spontaneously goof around together. How do other people in other artistic disciplines create?


Same with the home reno ouvre, also a creative pursuit, but for a slightly different reason: it’s fun to see a house stripped to studs and reassembled, all in the course of an hour, from the comfort of my chair. It’s satisfying when order becomes chaos and then a new order again.


Same with a behind-the-scenes look at making a movie—it can be as interesting as the movie itself.


Not yet, but never far away. 



But I’m a generalist, not a specialist. I don’t want to spend extra time with the director and set designer of every single movie I see. I’m not so keen on all the different competitive cooking shows that I never miss an episode, though that Great British Baking Show is beguiling. I’d happily watch more Project Runway, but the open concept floor plan has lost its allure.


And I’m “so over” police investigations into missing and murdered people. Maybe they’re the equivalent of the dentist with the mirror.


And so? In searching for a conclusion, I admit defeat.


I think it’s human nature to be curious about how things work, but we’re not all curious about the same things.


That’s good—I have zero curiosity about electricity, though I appreciate the curiosity and expertise of electricians every time I flip a light switch.


The end.

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

What I’m Taking Into September

My courage with both hands, mostly. In September, I’m traveling for the first time since October 2, 2019. (I found a receipt in my US wallet.) I’m not sure it’s the right thing to do. But much of it is. So, a risk.


Manitoba Maple starting to change


Quantifiably reduced expectations. It’s really helpful to specify how many pages of an interminable project I aspire to finish in a month (and then cut that by a third), as opposed to hoping that somehow I’ll magically finish the whole thing and being disappointed when I don’t.


I think this green plant is a lupin;
it's spread farther in the ditch
where they grew this year. Readying
for next year?


Wild blueberries, enjoyed this year and stored for next. I made a couple of awesome desserts, and we’ve got a stash of berries in the freezer. Since we had zero local blueberries last summer, a freezer full feels both magical and mundane. 



Is the world, ever so slowly, righting itself again? Stabilizing? So, so slowly? 


And if not -- or if this sense of balance, possibility, and normalcy is also only temporary -- can I enjoy it for this moment? There's the bigger question.












 


Wednesday, August 24, 2022

The Perfect Word

The wee scene below caught my eye the other day, when it wasn’t raining and I was out for a walk

A small yellow weedy wildflower
grows through a crack in the asphalt.




It made me laugh because it’s begging to be an inspirational poster on the wall of some business conference room.


Then I started wondering which word it would illustrate.


Persistence? Inevitability? Endurance? Imperfection?


Maybe a phrase. “Allow space to grieve,” or “You can grow anywhere you want,” or “Imperfection is where the good stuff happens.” And of course, an obvious choice: “Nevertheless, she persisted.”


Nevertheless. Love it.


So. Perhaps, just perhaps, there isn’t one perfect word or phrase for this photo. The “right” phrase depends on your perspective. And there are millions of those.


I hope you’re enjoying your Wednesday, whether you’re the weed, the asphalt, the observer, the sun, or a fawn who’d like a little snack while crossing the street.