Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Days of Anniversaries

April 15 is the anniversary of my father's death, fourteen years ago. My sister and I actually begin marking the Days of Anniversaries--his death, and the anniversaries of my mother's birth and death, and Mother's Day--mid-March. That's when the joint vacation my father and I were enjoying with my sister turned into his last month. 

My father with his "map of the US" (except Texas) (because then-presidents)
(a story to be told another time) made from rocks picked up on the beach.

My book, Reverberations: A Daughter's Meditations on Alzheimer's, is about both of my parents, though only my mother had Alzheimer's, because ... well, because families, I guess. In it, I describe my father's other "last" vacation, the summer before he died, when he came up here to visit with family and to remember my mother. Before leaving for the airport on his last morning, he and I visited the older family camp, walked to the point, and sat on the beach.

And then my father began to talk. He stared out over the water, but I watched him, listening intently so I could hear him over the waves. 

He described the summers he came to camp with my mother, starting in 1945, when he was back from Hawaii in time for V-E day. One summer included side trips researching his Ph.D. dissertation, which he'd abandoned in 1942 to enlist in the Navy. In 1947, he and my mother didn't make the long drive from the East Coast of the U.S. to the lake because they were expecting their first child, the baby that died the following January.

He meandered through stories inspired by stories layered upon stories that branched into stories and returned to summers. 

The gull hovered above us. 

At last, he reached 1950 and the birth of my oldest brother. He checked his watch.

"Well." He stood up. It was time.

I don't remember all the stories he told that morning, and I don't think he expected me to. I think he just wanted to tell them again in that place, in the presence of those rocks and balsams and birch. And the gull. And the water. 

This is one my favourite photos of my father. It's from the time of his 90th birthday, a great occasion. He appreciated the celebration not because it was about him, but because it wasn't, really. It was about being together, laughing and teasing and talking, and he could bask in that atmosphere without being the centre of attention. 


This past five years especially, I've thought often of my father, who not only taught and researched history but loved it. I wonder what he'd say. I wonder what he'd counsel when I am tired of politics and pandemics and bad behaviour--lethal, murderous acts--on the part of people who have power toward those who have less. 

I happened across this prayer today in my morning reading (which isn't always religious or prayers, though it always inspires contemplation). After my mother died, any time my sister and I were together with my father--visiting Mom's grave, or in that last month with him in the hospital--he asked to hold hands and recite it. It was one he and my mother learned in the early days of their courtship, when they both sang in the church choir.


I wonder if, perhaps, he'd offer this prayer as hope and consolation for us, once our work is done. 

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Where Else I Appear (Virtually)

 Last week, a review I wrote of a lovely book, A Father, a Son, and All the Things They Never Talk About, appeared at River Street Writing:

“There is only one way this story is going to turn out.”

Everyone has parents. Everyone’s parents die. Yet the stories where parents and death intersect are unique. 

George K. Ilsley’s recent memoir tells one such story. As a young adult, George left his Nova Scotia home, heading west, eventually landing in Vancouver—as far away as he could get while remaining in North America. Then, as he turns 50, his father turns 90, and his father needs, but doesn’t especially want, Ilsley’s care. 

I enjoyed this book so much--it's honest and engaging. Go here to read the rest of my review, in which I also share a few general thoughts about memoir and creative nonfiction, and check out the book from Arsenal Pulp Press

Also! In a few weeks, I'll be appearing with two other writers from the region on an "Ask an Author" panel, hosted by the Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop. It's free via Zoom on Thursday, April 22, from 7 to 8:30 PM Eastern Daylight time. Bring questions! We'll have opinions (maybe). I look forward to hearing both Jean E. Pendziwol and Vera Constantineau (Sudbury's poet laureate!) read from their work and share their writing experiences. 

Meanwhile, it's raining (Spring! Never a dull moment!), which is fun to watch. 

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Everything At Once

When we went to bed last night, the lake ice in front (back?) of the house was still there--increasingly rotten on the surface, but intact. 

This morning, it's not. Ice breakup is a huge sign that the earth really is invested in this new season. Spring is willing to crack the ice for us. Or perhaps for herself, with us as grateful beneficiaries.

A while later, it started to snow. 

Everything is happening at once. The fight against the pandemic is not going well in Canada and especially in Ontario. 

Yet age eligibility for vaccinations is dropping all the time, and we have made what appointments we can. 

I've long proclaimed a fondness for nuance, for "both/and," for "life is complicated." For one thing, life IS complicated, and in nuance lies the richness. 

And it's also true, because both/and, that (as I have said before here, recently): spring is exhausting

Much as I'd like to finish out this pandemic (at all) with the illusion that I'm self-sufficient and "I'm fine, we're fine, it's all fine" (which I am, we are, it really is), the tension is wearing on me. Even on me, by which I DON'T mean that I'm some superhuman pandemic-weatherer so much as I mean that our "pandemic time" has been relatively easy, and my heart goes out to those whose time has been so very different. 

That's it. Some things change; some never do. (Politicians will forever throw blame around like candy while ducking responsibility.) But March is over. Daylight is returning, and the ice is leaving. I'm grateful for those things. 

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

This, Too

 This, too, is what Spring looks like. 

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

You Have YOUR Signs

Signs of Spring, that is. 

Here's one of our favourites. 

Our deck. Look at all that exposed surface area! Look at all the snow that isn't there anymore!

A year ago yesterday, in the shutdown's early days, I fell on sneaky spring ice and broke both wrists. I am expert in denial, so I acknowledged two months later that maybe something had happened. But! They're much better today, and I'm grateful and fortunate.

And also: But! They will never be the same. 

We will never be the same. The world, metaphoric and the literal planet, will never be the same. 

The ravens, though, have found grasses and are repairing their nests. The eagles hunt, as does the fox. The deer come by to feed on whatever they find.

I'm going to sit in the sun, plan our next grocery pickup, and ignore the house upkeep we should be doing. Yep, Spring is on its way. 

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Spring "Curation"

I find spring kind of exhausting. 

Maybe it's all that spring energy, the energy for growing, gathering itself as the snow melts off. 

Maybe I'm just that introverted. (Ha, no maybe there.)

Maybe the exhaustion feels more concentrated this year because people are excited about the possibilities of vaccinations and seeing other people in real life. (I'm not immune, haha, to this myself.)

Maybe it's something else. Or nothing.

Regardless, I feel (yet again) as if people are talking a lot, producing lots of "content," as we are meant to say of artistic work, "content" that I must "curate." I'm not necessarily arguing with those terms but they're part of my fatigue, I suspect. 

Earlier this week: the fox listens before pouncing. 

More! More recognition! More lists! More podcasts, and more podcast episodes with more guests! More discussions and debates! More writing around my own writing to get recognition from readers and writers for my writing. More posts in many places to talk about me and my work!

So I'm curating. Fewer "hot takes" (which I suspect is no longer what they're called) and more considered opinions. Considered opinions often lend themselves to the form of books, whether electronic or printed. Which I'm enjoying even more, as I turn away from noise of people and toward noise of chickadees and dripping water as the snow melts from the deck. 

So when I say "here are two things worth looking into," know HOW I mean it. These two things have been worth looking into FOR ME. You may curate differently. 

For analysis of a show about book discussion and analysis, you can't beat Jael Richardson's post-Canada Reads chats. Find her on Instagram, where she's @jaelrichardson. Even if you're not much into Canada Reads (sorry; I'm not), I enjoy her enthusiasm for the event and find her comments wise. They add needed perspective. 

And at LitHub, this essay about one of my favourite writers, Marilynne Robinson. (LitHub is an excellent pre-curator, by the way.) I love the interrelated sections of this essay. I love the awe with which an established writer views one of his teachers and mentors. 

Meanwhile, I just heard a gull--an early one--and want to go see it for myself. I hope you are the same. 

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Plans, and the Planning Planners who Plan Them

Note, by "planners" I am not discussing printed/written systems for tracking your days, although I certainly could because I love me some notebooks and systems and checkboxes, oh my. 

Nope. I'm talking about thinking ahead with confidence. Enough confidence to imagine doing something in the future. 

That's pretty small. But it's significant. As small things often are. 

Last year at this time, I was planning to participate in an event that eventually got cancelled. We get a mulligan (*sports term: "do-over" for us non-athletes) this year. 

The event: The Creative Nonfiction Collective's annual conference, mid-May. (You can look at a schedule at the link.) This year, it'll be online. Previous years' experiences have been well worth the conference fees, and that was back when I had to pay for travel and share a washroom with strangers. 

I'll be presenting about mentorship with Susan Olding, whose guidance is largely responsible for the existence of my essay collection. I'm sure I'll have more to say about the presentation and discussion in the future. 

For now, probably because we are approaching the anniversaries of everyone's "here's how I knew it was serious" stories about the pandemic, I'm just taking it easy. (Side note: Although I'm aware that "How was the pandemic for you?" will be an easy small-talk fallback, I am not looking forward to using it.) 

It's nice to be able to plan something that will happen in about ten weeks' time.

Planning feels hopeful, rather like sending out an essay or poem or short story or grant application--the act of sending it out is an act of hope: "I made this." Like that clip at the end of episodes of The X-Files

It's a way to say, "I am investing in myself, in the future, in the value of creativity." It shows my confidence that I will continue to be healthy between now and then. That people may still wrangle over politics, but I don't have to actively participate (though I will always keep an eye on actions I can take). And who knows, governments may still topple, but only according to the rules. 

Hopeful as crocus shoots poking up through snow. Which won't happen here for some time, but I remember them, and daffodils and hyacinth, fondly from my earlier life further south. 

All the (welcomed and appropriate) grey-zone lockdowns in the world can't destroy my confidence that spring will return, eventually.

I've missed that confidence. I'm glad it's back.