Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Later, Awhile: of Straw Hats and Visors

 OK who's thinking of alligators and crocodiles, as well as headgear?

Light blue golf visor, the kind held by a
sproingy cord around the back of the head,
with a pattern of birds; and a straw hat.

Settle in, I'm about to extend a metaphor.

I've always had a big head. Possibly also metaphorically, but I'm talking about physically. As in, it's hard to find hats to fit. 

Luckily, my sister has kept me well-stocked with adjustable golf visors, which are awesome. They keep the sun out of my face and let me stay cool--they don't retain the heat a baseball cap would. 

However, lately I've found that visors give me a headache if I wear them too long. Also, they don't protect the top of my scalp from biting bugs or the sun. (It's been a while since the part in my hair burned--THAT's not fun.). 

So I've "adopted" a straw hat from my husband, just to try it out, and I like it. I'm sampling other straw hats, just for grins. 

The point is, sometimes what was working fine doesn't work so well anymore. Maybe it will again, someday, and maybe it won't. The thing is, I want to be open to other options.

Which brings me to seeing you later, gator. 

I'm going to ease into summer by taking a step back here during July. I'll be around other places online (Twitter and Instagram) and I'm available by email.  

But in the spirit of my previous post about when a pandemic is "over," I'm honouring the many and varied changes that have happened in the past few years. 

For example. I'm down to one recurring work client, this year facilitated and supported by a grant, and I hope to continue that trend. I want to best support the novel I'm working on and the novel that's out getting some eyes, as well as my book. And Shuniah House Books. And I want to read things. And be outdoors, because my enjoyment of last summer was hampered, somewhat, because of healing wrists. 

I'm happy to keep up with some commitments, while I'm stepping back from others, and contemplating in general how I can contribute to a more just future.   

See you, perhaps only briefly, in August, unless something big happens. Because the world looks different--so it should be different. I'll start with me. 

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

When is a Pandemic Over?

Not yet. 

Not even later this afternoon, when all the people in this household will be fully vaccinated, or two weeks from today, when our immunity should be ramped up and ready to go. 

Not even when this country reaches some magical number of vaccinations or some magic percentage of the population vaccinated, which will in theory (or reality) mean that we humans can no longer transmit the virus in this country.

Or any of the above in any other country, either. 

Not before the world has access to vaccines. 

But not even then.

Increasingly, I'm understanding that the pandemic may never be over. Not for those "long-haulers" who continue to experience the effects of the disease. 

Certainly not for those, in my extended family and not, who lost loved ones and were prevented from the social rituals of mourning that we humans have developed to accompany us through those difficult times of life. 

But--ideally--it won't be over for all of us. When do we stop grieving a parent? When do we stop feeling proud at graduating, at finishing a project, at publishing a book, at winning a race? 

Never, I hope. I don't want to "go back." And so I don't want to stop being proud of those scientists who foresaw the need for new types of vaccines and were ready to tailor one to this particular virus. 

And maybe because I'm ghoulish, or because I write fiction and personal essays and thus always poke at my inner life to see where it hurts, I don't want to forget. I don't want to "get over" the losses.

I don't want to take things for granted, to stop feeling grateful on the day when it is safe (as opposed to "I feel safe," which is irrelevant) to be with people without masks.

So, when will it be over? Your mileage may vary, but I hope we all carry the experience of this pandemic with us. 

(I know, I write about this a lot. Sorry/notsorry. It's on my mind.)

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Open Gate

Yesterday I met online with some people about a future event. An online meeting? Be still my heart. 

Trust me, a meeting about the future is a big deal--a bigger deal than it might seem.

We can now plan, tentatively, for future in-person events. Thanks, science of vaccines! (Get vaccinated.)

For the past fifteen months, I haven't thought much about the past or future. I haven't often allowed myself to reminisce, no "gee, remember restaurants?" or "oh I can't wait to"s. 

On occasion, sure. Watching TV--"was this filmed before the pandemic or in the early days?" "nope, they HAVE masks but are taking them off, when was that?"

But mostly, it never felt like a useful way to spend too much time. 

That meeting, though, opened a mental gate. In the evening, I suddenly remembered the joy of having someone else bring me food that they'd cooked. The food didn't need to be gourmet or expensive or fancy. Just the act of being elsewhere, in a new environment with different surroundings, and food on the way. 

Since then, we've had more than one similar conversation in this household, ranging from wandering the aisles at a library or bookstore, to "stopping in" for coffee and a scone, to dawdling in Canadian Tire. (That last one wasn't mine, so much.)

I'm still not eligible for my second dose, though I anticipate an earlier appointment than originally scheduled. I'm still leery of living too much in the future or dwelling on the past too much. And I'm determined not to re-enter a world that's "back to normal." 

But it's nice to know I can still look forward to being part of the world again--a new world we can create.  

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Recent Books

 Last week I wrote about The Road, Cormac McCarthy's litmus test of hopefulness.

It occurred to me later that I post about books on Instagram quite a bit, and there I share sentences on Sunday (and on Twitter: #SundaySentence is a fun hashtag to browse). And I share other book thoughts some other days, too. 

Just to mix it up from photos like these. 

For example. Recently, I've posted about Beloved, by Toni Morrison. Twice

Also about The Woo Woo, Lindsay Wong's memoir about ice hockey, demons, and more. 

I'm still thinking about the stories in Jack Wang's collection, We Two Alone. And Ross Gay's appropriately named The Book of Delights

And Alexander Chee's How to Write an Autobiographical Novel. So good. I keep photos of some of his words on my camera roll, for the times when I wonder if it's all worth it.

One of the best parts of reading more widely in the past year is learning how much I enjoy it--and one of the most difficult parts is seeing how much I have missed when I didn't.  

Yes, re-reading has its place, but choosing books from outside the previous lines I'd drawn around my interests has pleasures of its own. I look forward to another year. And another after that. 

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Thoughts on The Road

Recently, our book club* read The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. It's still with me--I haven't been able to move our copy to a shelf, although I pick it up to try. Then I flip through it again and return it to the coffee table.  

Not gonna lie, I was nervous about reading it. Back in the days of All The Pretty Horses, my reader friends said of his work, "It's really good, but it's bleak." 

And then along came No Country for Old Men, which I didn't see or read for the same reason. 

So, 2021: Did we really need more bleak? In fact, the book club actually picked all our books in June of 2020, and I was pretty sure we wouldn't be wanting to read about bleakness. But thank goodness for vaccines.

And when the book club picks a difficult book to read together--well, isn't that the point of the book club in the first place?

So, if "enjoy" is the right word to use to describe this book, I enjoyed it. It's thought-provoking, and challenging, and illuminating. Here are some other random thoughts.

Writers hear "trust your reader" a lot, and this writer really does. Only on page 53 do we get the first hint of a flashback to explain what could have happened. And by then, it didn't matter to me--the world we were in with the man and the boy, walking down the road heading south, was enough. 

In fact, I was never quite sure whether it was worse when I thought there maybe weren't other people left alive, or when I knew there were. 

So many amazing quotes. 

"All of this like some ancient anointing. So be it. Evoke the forms. When you've nothing else, construct ceremonies out of the air and breathe upon them" (p. 74).

Also, did I mention, in terms of "trust the reader": this writer assumes some basic knowledge of the Western European canon--like the Christian Bible (though perhaps familiarity with only that part that Christians call the Old Testament would be enough). 

Here's a thought guaranteed to spark fear in the heart of a writer. 

"He picked up one of the books and thumbed through the heavy bloated pages. He'd not have thought the value of the smallest thing predicated a world to come. It surprised him. That the space which these things occupied was itself an expectation. He let the book fall and took a last look around and made his way out into the cold gray light."

It's true--we do write because we think people "now," whenever "now" is (also a meditation in the book), might read it. And people in some future. But what if there isn't a future?

And this quote that sticks with me: "What you put in your head is there forever."

I think about this often, too--especially at the 100-year-mark of the Tulsa Greenwood Massacre and the recent discovery of children's graves in Canada at a former residential school. I won't look away. And at the same time, I always need to be mindful about voyeurism. I'm not a spectator to these histories. I'm not powerless. 

Even this man and boy, when they'd lost the world they'd known and even their trust in others, made a life for themselves. They insisted on being together, being a family, carrying the fire. 

The other quote that sticks: "Goodness will find the little boy. It always has. It will again." 

Maybe we're that goodness. May we be that goodness.   

*Note: for some reason, "book club" is the acceptable and appropriate term in Canada; "book group" is preferred in the U.S. Using the wrong term on the wrong side of the border will get you some supercilious glances.