Wednesday, May 25, 2022

A Poet's Words



See also: church-goers, grocery-buyers. And car-drivers, joggers, sleepers in beds.


This poem, online at the Jellyfish Review.


More about Kathy Fish.



 

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Things I'm Reading

I don't recommend all these things, necessarily. However, I thought they had interesting points to make.


The cover of Jose Saramago's
The History of the Siege of Lisbon,
held in front of our sunny deck and red pines


The History of the Siege of Lisbon, Goodreads link


Our book club read this. The main character is a proofreader who--from frustration, perhaps, or perhaps from just growing awareness of his own agency--inserts a "not" into a history book and sets in motion a larger change in his life. 


I liked the idea of the power of the lesser-celebrated members of a book's production team. I said more about it on Instagram, where I'm (surprisingly) @marionagnew. You're welcome to find me there.



How Growing Up in the Digital Age Impacts Young Minds 


Salient quote: "A third concern about viewing habits among the very young comes under the heading of the displacement hypothesis: time spent watching video potentially displaces other more age-appropriate activities such as face-to-face interactions, creative or open playtime, physical movement, outdoor play, and reading, all of which are known to foster brain health in kids."  


I know my mind isn't technically "young," but I have been displacing some of my usual activities with other, media-based activities, and it hasn't been an especially rewarding experience. 


Also, now is the best time of year for my brain to re-learn about things like the physics of falling trees, bodily energy storage and consumption, the body's Vitamin D response to the sun. Et cetera.



The Making of Moonstruck


Salient quote: "[Moonstruck director Norman] Jewison once believed that, after reaching some arbitrary threshold of success, he would be able to call his own shots. Yet here he was at sixty, still hustling, still facing rejection. Those rejections were “very destructive for me at times,” he confided in an unpublished archival interview. “When I become depressed and disillusioned and forsaken and nobody believes in you anymore . . . you take it personally.”"


Again, I'm not a film director but I have experienced rejection--part of the business--and it's disappointing, and I don't like pretending it's not. (You thought I was going to say I'm old, didn't you? Well, that too.) 


However, rejection is not the end of the story. Sometimes you persevere and make Moonstruck, and even though you don't win the Academy Award for Best Director, you've made a classic that apparently experienced a resurgence of sorts during the pandemic.


Not bad.



And now, between rains, I'll go move dirt around, or move myself around on asphalt, or go lie on a rock, or something (maybe nothing!) else. 


Tra la, it's May. 






Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Working Out the Moral

So, a lot's happening. Not with me personally, so much, but with (waves arms) everything.


Here's what it looks like around here these days.


the sun, high in the sky, filters through bare-branched birches
 and various types of conifers


a birchbark-on-trunk closeup,
a shot I take often


Well, the bark on the birch trees looks like that all winter, too, except that there's SO MUCH SUN on this trunk. And I love it.


Spring has definitely, you know, and it's as glorious as ever. Now I wonder if I was somehow "too hard on" winter. If I complained too much, but beyond that -- if I went from impatient for spring, disappointed ("I'm not mad, just disappointed") with each ensuing cold snap and snowstorm, to actual anger. Of the shaking-fists-at-the-sky ilk. Futile rage.


Possibly. 


Here's what my toast looked like this morning. (Stay with me for a sec.)


slice of multigrain bread with a
large baked-in hole 


I adore this type of bread. I buy multiple loaves when it's in the store (it freezes well, an excellent feature when you eat as much as toast as we do in this house), and I was really looking forward to my first piece of toast from this loaf. 


And guess what!?! It was amazing. Hole and all. I don't love the bread less because this slice has a hole in it. 


I don't love this place less when there's a difficult season (outside or inside). I just love it, sans disappointment. (Not sans complaining, mind.) 


If the weather doesn't suit me this year, well, next year. Perhaps I won't be able to say "next year" someday, perhaps I'll be all-too-aware that my springs are numbered. 


I'm already more aware than I once was (pandemic? birthdays ending in zero? fatigue? sure, to all of those). Aware of all the clichés: time passes, everything changes, we all die, make the most of blah blah, the only thing we have to fear yadda yadda. Et cetera.  


Clichés because true, though unoriginal. As is this feeling of mine, that I love my toast even when it is imperfect, in part because it is imperfect--it has a history. Same with this place. 




I didn't think there was a "moral," exactly, to these photos, and I still don't. It also wasn't "too hot" (in any metaphorical sense) today for me to consider it. I just wanted to move on with my day, indoors and out. 


I'm glad to have recognized, yet again, that it is possible (necessary) to love the imperfect.


These really are the "good old days." They really are.   



Wednesday, May 4, 2022

'Twas Ever Thus

Monday I sent my second-born off to college. 



No, you didn't miss anything. I still don't have children. It's a metaphor, on which I can't elaborate. Yet.


It was an important day. I wanted to celebrate, because this second-born has been with me for more than a decade. 


And I wanted to take a quiet moment to ... "mourn"? Not quite the right word. But "celebrate" doesn't capture the full range of emotions around the experience. There's a letting-go of this entity that I've held (lightly, firmly, with despair, with hope) for so long.


I wanted to recognize the moment for what it is, yet another change in this time of accelerated change. 


So I clung to that mixture of feelings yesterday, in spite of political leaks, in spite of elections and pandemics and campaign promises and lies under oath. 

***

I also recognized yesterday as my mother's 105th birthday. She's not alive on earth to celebrate, but I can celebrate: so I did, and I do. I celebrate her life, her choices, her determination and courage and mistakes and humour.

***

This morning, I found myself thinking about a woman from Ukraine, born in Europe in the second half of the twentieth century, who's lived several decades. She's seen much political and personal upheaval. At some point In the past two months, she packed up her life -- perhaps children and grandchildren, perhaps not -- to escape brutal attacks on her home and herself. 


This woman is a writer. 


When she fled, she bring her laptop? What about a flashdrive? Does she have some sort of key to her passwords (a mnemonic device, a list on paper, a list in her phone?) so she'll be able to access her work-in-progress from the cloud, once (IF) she lands somewhere safely? 


Will she be able to share her work with the world? Will she -- and her children and grandchildren -- even survive?


I don't know this woman, but I know she exists. Other woman, similar and not, make their way in the world. I hold space for all of them. 

***

This spring, I have moaned a LOT about weather, as we got snowstorm after snowstorm and more weeks than expected of temperatures colder than -20C. 



I have ALSO felt my creative energy returning -- beyond the "I received a grant so I have to produce" energy. The "Wouldn't this be fun to examine?" energy. The "I can't wait to get to the page" energy. The kind of energy I've experienced only in flashes throughout the past several years. 



The kind of energy that lets me BOTH celebrate AND let go, that lets me recognize my mother BOTH as a flawed and imperfect human (as I have written about her) AND as a multifaceted, complex woman who has raised another, in me. 



I chose to protect that energy yesterday, even as other things happened. 


***


It was ever thus: celebrations and mourning at the same time. Upheaval and safety. Creation, in its many forms, co-exists with destruction. 


We celebrate. And let go. 


Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Learning, Learning

I like to learn things. Or at least I think I like to learn things.


Yesterday I had the chance to learn about algal blooms on Lake Superior, from the comfort of my dining room table. 


Including an algal-bloom-coloured pen!



It was an excellent presentation, with representation from both countries, and much useful information about distinguishing potentially toxic algal blooms from (e.g.) pollen, an annual nuisance. 


At a time when communicating science has been difficult at best -- lots of folks blaming messengers, people without appropriate expertise serving as messengers, and the inevitable politicization of good health practices -- this presentation was reassuring. 


The presenters addressed science and technical questions, and the hour included ways your average person, like me, can distinguish between standard algal growths (look for filaments to indicate standard growth) and potentially worrisome algal blooms. The presentation showed what useful information (like photos, and which specific perspectives) to collect if you are reporting a possible bloom. The presentation included safety considerations (don't let pets romp in yucky water, hose them and yourself off after being in a lake) that were excellent reminders. 


Also, hundreds of people were there, a reassuring reminder that lots of people love Lake Superior.


Given my purported "love of learning," there are, however, some things I apparently have difficulty learning. Small silly things. 


A recent example: I shouldn't brush my teeth while wearing actual clothing. If I were a product, I could claim "dripping toothpaste on my sweater for twenty-five years." That was a different time I went out in public with spots on my sweater (and a kind friend suggested brushing my teeth earlier in the "getting ready" process). I thought I had learned since then. And yet.


At least I can look forward to a future in which there will always be something new for me to learn. 


Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Looking for Wins

We're awaiting yet another dump of snow--we've had one every Wednesday for something like two months. 


And today, for some reason, I'm considering small wins. Little victories. Moments about which, even in retrospect in the wee hours, I can be proud of my behaviour. 


1. At a meeting in which people made inappropriate and ignorant comments, the kind that make me gasp aloud and my eyes narrow, I didn't get sucked into responding in a way that would have given the comments legitimacy and further derailed the discussion. Much as I am learning to speak up, I am also (perhaps eventually) learning when not to.


2. I figured out a technical network issue after only a quick internet search and giving it a whirl. To be honest, I'd rather do significantly more research than I ended up doing if it meant I didn't have to call tech support. 


3. I reset our cordless phones (yes, we have a landline; we are dinosaurs) after they'd mysteriously gone wonky--again, with minimal research, some unplugging and replugging, and some (much) poking of buttons. My motto: "Just try it!" The stakes were low. At worst, we would had had more tech gadget waste for the landfill. 


4. Miscellaneous: I completed a writing project and returned to another. I spent time out-of-doors when it was pleasant and I could get out, and I stopped myself from complaining two times for every one time I groaned aloud. I sat and looked at the lily growing from the bulb I despaired of a few months back. I managed, planned, monitored, created, and cleaned up. 


I continued with the business of daily living. I felt grateful to be able to. And that's win enough.  

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Thirty-Year Storm

We're expecting another big storm today--worse for Winnipeg and parts west, but here we expect at least a deluge of rain onto frozen ground, and possibly snow. 


At this point, there's nothing really left to say about that. 


Except when you're playing with rhythm in the wee hours of the morning, to wit:


An April morning:
I’m sunny on the inside
Rain and snow outside

Storm in the forecast
They fill wood box and bathtub
But won’t wear a mask

The house is aging
Rain seeps under the windows
Creaky metaphor

Anthropomorphize
Rain as tears, wind as anger
In the morning, joy. 


Note that I learned the word "volta" in the wee hours as well. It's the point where the poem turns to a second idea, which is apt, given that "volta" is Italian for "turn".


So I wasn't going to lament the difficult winter and stormy transition to spring YET AGAIN, but can I just say that I haven't given up hope that this weather system is a volta?


And, just so that I remember that part of transitions, even the external ones like weather, is up to me, full disclosure. Yesterday I ran errands without any coat at all (we were in the car mostly), and I've walked outdoors lately. So yes, it's no longer February.


Even on the inside.

 



Wednesday, April 6, 2022

What I’m Taking Into April

Momentum, mostly: both the thing itself, and a better understanding of it.


In March I experienced the strange sort of joy that comes when you finally sit yourself down and get to work. In this case, I was doing all the paperwork that goes into our income tax returns.


This lily has been working overtime on growing, and I appreciate it.



It’s a lot of paper (and electronic documents, which oddly still feel like paper), what with weird pandemic payouts and changes (or not) in two countries’ tax codes.


Truthfully, it’s not THAT big a deal. I’m not researching obscure legal precedents or creating something from scratch; I’m basically filling out forms and passing them along to others who fill out other, official forms. Eventually, money will change hands.


However, it IS a job that always looms large in my imagination. Through the years, I have ruined many a sunny-winter-morning-with-coffee moment when I realize, “Ugh, the TAXES—I need to get on those.”


But this year, I Niked: meaning, I just did it. And amazingly, every day I worked at it, the job actually got smaller.* In fact, I started early enough in the year that I could have worked fewer hours at a more relaxed pace (yes, on more days) and still been done in record (for me) time.


But I didn’t. Once I got going, I wanted to keep going. So I did, and after a couple of focused weeks, I pulled most of it together and sent it to our accountant.


I felt pretty good—proud of myself—about finishing before the last minute. I let myself enjoy that feeling and I recognized that I want to keep feeling it.


Not necessarily that I want to work on one thing at a time, and certainly not that I want to work on spreadsheets eight hours a day for an extended period of time.


But the pride, the feeling of accomplishment—that. Completing something. Doing good work.**


As a result, I’ve also done the side jobs that arise as part of the whole “annual tax” task. (As the returns are filed, we will have more logistics: payments and uploads and papers to pick up. I am aware of this but remain undaunted by it.)


AND I’ve started a deep edit (not my manuscript) that has loomed large. AND I’ve drafted that essay that’s been rattling around in my brain for a month or so, which may not go anywhere but needed to be drafted.


And also treats: I’m still reminding myself of the ones I’ve mentioned already this year—my bulb-in-a-pot lily has grown a flower and is a special joy, and there’s some banana bread in the freezer. But this whole momentum thing may be the best treat of all.

 

_________________

* What does it say about being a writer that when you work at something, the job remaining seems to grow? Not just the good kind of growth, as in “more words” or “more story figured out,” but also the daunting feeling that this job is turning out to be even more complicated than you’d imagined. The feelings of “the next draft is sure going to take a whole lot of shaping” and “I’m going to need to research this a LOT more,” and “is this even going anywhere?”


Or maybe that’s just me?


** Yes, I'm also aware that feeling proud of good work maybe shouldn't feel as rare as it apparently does, and I'm ALSO-also aware that saying aloud that I've done good work is something I could also do more, speaking of things that feel daunting.  

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

"Success" in the Grey Squares

My husband and I play Wordle together. He doesn't have a phone, so I "drive" the tap-tap-tapping of letters.


Sometimes three, often four, sometimes more.

He's really good at (and interested in) anagrams. Stale, least, taser, etc. *


I remain at some level surprised that words, which in my mind are units unto themselves, are malleable in this way. I mean, beyond root words, prefixes, suffixes, and declensions. Even if you add a bunch of those, you're working with the original concept.


But letters? Huh. 


In playing together, I keep bumping up against thoughts of "success." We always have fun playing, even (especially?) when it's a squeaker. So the process of playing is always successful. 


But beyond fun, I am continually reminded that "success" isn't always about the green squares, or even the yellow ones. 


With every play, we know more. And what you know is important, even if it’s knowledge that comes from an "unsuccessful" attempt to do something. 


This process is also what science does.


Remembering this process helps me (for example) stay optimistic about Alzheimer's and dementia. Alzheimer’s researchers know a lot about the disease even though they don’t have a cure or sure-fire means of prevention yet. 


Because results are information, even when the results don't confirm what you wish they did. 


And if you do something with that information--quit a project, revise something, pass along unworn clothing to a friend, drop that bunch of "interesting paper" you'll never do anything with into the recycle bin--then doesn't that information become somehow successful?


So the grey squares can be signs of success, too, for what that's worth.   




* I am so bad at this that I had to go look it up. Stale, least, tales. Rates, tares, taser. That's what I meant.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Wisdom

I'm not sure why or when I imagined I was supposed to know things or have a "valuable perspective" to offer. Or, you know, some kind of wisdom. Ha.


Maybe that's what I thought it meant to "be a grownup." Maybe, too, that's a big reason I never wanted to teach or raise children--what on earth could I ever tell them that they'd find valuable?


Especially because I'm still figuring out the world myself, as I go along.


Speaking of which, today I find myself in a pickle. 


Things are changing, and by "things" I mean people, places, rules, markets, weather, and other things I cannot control. And I find myself feeling all colours of uncomfortable--sad, frustrated, apprehensive, angry, afraid. 


And also, things are NOT changing, and by "things" I AGAIN mean people, places, rules, markets, weather and other things I cannot control. Still feeling all the things.


Specifically, today I find myself thinking wistfully of six or so weeks ago, before I could accurately label a recent map of Eastern Europe. (I haven't studied one since Czechoslovakia.) I emphatically do NOT long for a return to that ignorance; however, I wish that a series of unprovoked war crimes hadn't brought that ignorance to my attention. A change I don't like.


Also today, we're having "a bit of a snow"--possibly the biggest of the season (though I think that every time the snow melts and then deluges us again). We've passed the equinox, we're officially in Spring, and the weather refuses to reliably warm up and offer buds and the like. A non-change I don't like.


Long-ago basic therapy taught me that when I'm out of sorts with one person/place/thing, it might be that person/place/thing. But when I'm out of sorts with every person/place/thing, it's probably me. 


So I'm going to make another pot of coffee and a toasted peanut butter/wild blueberry jam sandwich, turn on some music, and see if I can get Roy to dance with me. It should be good for a laugh, if nothing else. 


Is that wisdom? I don't know. But it's what I have to offer. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Patterns

I posted the below over on Instagram. You're welcome to follow me there; I'm @marionagnew. 


Sometimes I just post stuff I see from the window, but lately I've been "more thoughtful," which is to say, "procrastinating work on our taxes."

 



Patterns from yesterday and today.


Patterns from yesterday and today. 


Patterns in me, too. Every year I put our tax info together. It’s one of those accordion projects: more complicated than I anticipated at some points in the process, and less complicated at others. More. Less. More. Less. Every year.

I’m grateful for the resources to deal with it: physical and emotional energy and time, plus (eventually) money.

On the “more complicated” days, I try to remember the pattern, and keep moving till it’s less complicated again. And, eventually, done.

I wonder if Earth feels that way about the changing seasons. All she can do is keep turning, and some days she must feel that nothing is really happening.

Yet here we are: melting snow, with temperatures occasionally above freezing.

It’s all about hope: that words can accumulate and then be massaged to make a novel, that we provide a financial accounting to our communities every year, that individuals standing up to invasion and war make a wave that leads to peace.

That in our individual ways, large and small, we are giving to our world.

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Miss Me

The photo below shows my Aunt Marion, my father, and my mother. Mom's pregnant with me.

gone but never forgotten
 
My aunt died this week. For a long time, she was the only other "Marion with an O" I knew. 

At a job in Arkansas where I worked between university degrees, one of my coworkers said "Oh, I have an uncle who spells it that way." She paused. "He wears overalls without a shirt and goes by Scooter."

My grandmother named me "Marion" after her favourite older sister, the name she'd also given my aunt, her youngest daughter. My parents wanted to honour my grandmother but didn't want to name me "Agnes," so they asked Gran to choose. Though Agnes is a perfectly lovely name, I'm grateful.

As I said on Facebook, Aunt Marion got a degree in political science in the 1940s. She married a farmer, and she spent her days cooking for him and the field hands. She told me once she made a pie every single day for their noon meal. My three cousins thrived among tractors and chores and feral kittens in the barn.

When my uncle sickened, they moved to "town," a tiny village of a few hundred souls. When he died, she lent her no-nonsense leadership to her community and her church.  


She and my father genuinely liked each other--a gift not always bestowed upon siblings. My mother really liked her, too, in part (I suspect) because she knew Aunt Marion was also no pushover.  

So yes, I'm sad. And I'm angry, because her death came after an infection with SARS-CoV-2. Otherwise, she was adjusting fine to life in an assisted living centre, where meals were provided regularly and people were around to help her (though she, typically, insisted she didn't need it). 

So miss me with your questions and platitudes about "a good long life," "feisty till the end," "was it unexpected," "out of pain/suffering/misery." 

Who are you to gauge the proper length of a life of service and happiness, its feisty qualities, or the degree of expectation of its end? 

Whose pain/suffering/misery are you talking about ending? Yours? Because her death is painful, too. 

And most of all: miss me with your "was it WITH or FROM Covid?"

Yes, we all die. But her death didn't have to happen this way. Neither did nearly 1 million OTHER deaths, SO FAR, in the US; more than 37,000 deaths in Canada.

We failed our seniors. We're failing people who have been infected and experience persistent life-altering deficits, people who are immunocompromised for many reasons, people who are fragile. 

We've also failed the children who never grew up because they died of Covid, or they were shot in schools or parks, or they exist as trans people in the US; because they were sent to US and Canadian residential schools where those in charge didn't value them; because they live in the Ukraine and are being killed by bombs in the streets and hospitals. 

We're losing so many people whose existence brings joy and whose stories are important. 

So, miss me with those distinctions that aren't really differences. 

It's far more important to miss the people we've lost. 
Wednesday, March 2, 2022

What I'm Taking Into March 2022

I looked back at the list I made at the beginning of February, and I had to laugh. Greater selectivity in paying attention to news? Such an innocent child I was a few weeks back.


But much of the rest of what I thought about holds true. 


Treats, for example. I’m loving the music I’ve picked out during the past couple of months. It's been a great way to pull me from endless doomscrolling or the vacant staring front of “news” TV, where they're quite canny about maintaining breathlessness of actual BREAKING news while showing the same interviews hour after hour.


Family: especially my sister, who drew me this monster and sent it in an envelope! That I got from a mailbox! How can I resist smiling?


Look at all its tools!!


And these general signs of hope.


Sign of hope: the bulb I got on sale and forgot about and planted anyway isn’t dead after all. Neither is my second novel draft. Sure, it’s got some throat-clearing, but I have a delete key, and I have some revision chops.


Sign of hope: I’m pretty sure that on one of the more southerly sides of the house, the snow is melting!?! I’m nervous about saying that aloud. (Not superstitious, just a little stitious.)


Sign of hope: people standing up and saying things. Saying “no” and “don’t forget us” and more “no” and “we can do many things at once” and also “hell no.”


Sign of hope: more sunshine! And the days are longer! As much as I love the night, and I love changing seasons, I am but an animal and we enjoy sunshine.


These are sad and unsettling days, on top of two years of sad and unsettling days, on top of four previous sad and unsettling years. I can’t fix any of that. 


The best I can do is feel grateful for small connections and treats, look for signs of hope, and hold fast to it all. Here's hoping you can, too. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Numbers, Who Needs 'Em

It’s tax season, which means piles of paper with numbers on them, on various horizontal surfaces.


One measure of abundance and joy



And January is also a time for end-of-year reflection and beginning-of-the-year inspiration energy. 


"It's February," you say, and I say, "Okay, yes, I see what you mean." January's possibilities might have evaporated by now, this February. But have others appeared? Also: as I am trying to remember, what even is pandemic time?


Regardless, the juxtaposition of the two energies (numbers and inspiration) is weird—helpful in some ways, not so much in others.


Here’s the thing about numbers: they measure some things really well. Money coming in and going out, for example. The number of words written, the number of pitches/pieces/novels/poems/whatever you wrote.


But they don’t measure everything. 


We all know about smart goals: specific/measurable, or is it meaningful?/attainable/r-something/t-something. (I "did my own research,"  meaning, "I googled." R is for relevant, T is for time-based--perhaps it's not surprising that these concepts, in this pandemic world, are the ones I forgot.)


So sure, you can attach numbers to goals.


But numbers don’t measure other things. Like inspiration and dreams. Satisfaction. Success. Good feelings, or bad ones, for that matter. 


No matter how many stars someone assigned to the experience of reading your book. And no matter how often someone says, "On a scale from 1 to 10, how much pain are you in?"


What level does your daughter read at? Number. How much does she enjoy reading? Not a number.


I don't mind dealing with the numbers. In answer to the question in the title of this post, we all need numbers. Including (especially?) me, in spite (or because) of my tendency to the dreamier side of life. I can see their importance, even as I recognize their limitations. 


As I total income and expenses, words accumulated, readers and sales and reviews, acceptances and rejections, I keep in mind this non-numerical measure: how much do I love the life I'm living? 


A lot, turns out, even with pandemic/civil unrest/long winter nights/unrelenting February frigid temps/difficulty feeling I have something relevant or valuable to say. 


A lot. A very important, if non-numerical measure. A lot.  

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Lots of Threads: The Unravelling, by Donna Besel

Content warning: The Unravelling is a powerful book. It deals with sexual and physical abuse, incest, and emotional trauma, and may be disturbing to readers. I also mention those subjects in my brief discussion of the book, below, which may also be disturbing. 


“Violation is violation is violation.”


“What did I want? To tell and be believed; to see remorse and change. Was this realistic?”


The Unravelling, by Winnipeg writer Donna Besel, is courageous, insightful, eye-opening, consequential, sobering—this list could continue. Donna writes in stark prose, often poetic, about her family’s experience of reporting the sexual abuse her father perpetrated on her sisters and herself.


Her story has so much to offer, not the least of which is the unrelenting presence of abuse in the lives of its victims. Attorneys go home, neighbours exchange gossip then change the subject, family alliances shift and shatter, but always, ALWAYS, the memory of the abuse is there for those who experienced it. Even—or perhaps especially—for those who “just want to put it in the past.”


It must have been tempting to lapse into denial or politeness to maintain relationships with family members who wanted to pretend it never happened or wasn’t so bad. Instead, Donna chose to directly face the legacy of the abuse, getting through it using physical activity, journaling, writing, therapy, active and thoughtful parenting, and connections with groups of friends. 


She walked a difficult path, and I hope it’s been ultimately fulfilling for her. Certainly, her openness about the wrenching dailiness of confronting the years of violation and gaslighting can help other victims know they’re not alone if they can’t “just get over it.”


Here’s a passage about halfway through the book, when she’s sitting by a lake at a retreat. 


The water’s surface remained unbroken. Without the refraction of waves, I could look into its depths; stones rubbed smooth by waves sat on the lake bottom, waiting for me to examine them. The ice had already candled, breaking up slowly, hissing and popping as pieces dropped into the lake. The morning light blazed through the ice, imparting a turquoise glow. The groaning mass moved slowly, eaten by sun and water. I stared into the water and the pile of ice transformed into a metaphor. Quietly, slowly, it was changing.


Another insight from this book: how toothless the legal (not justice) system can be. It took three years, endless advocacy from Donna on her own behalf and on the behalf of other victims, and steadfast courage in the face of conflicting demands to bring her father into a thrown-together court setting. And still, up until the sentencing and beyond, the system catered to him and his “needs,” without adequately hearing from the victims or the greater community, where he also routinely groped women and exposed himself.


Among the many other parts of the book I admire is the laser focus on the victims and their families, especially their choices in the face of acknowledged (and unacknowledged) abuse. There’s little background on the abuser—and why should there be? As Donna points out, either abusing children is okay, or it isn’t. Asking “why?” is less helpful than asking “how can we stop them,” and then doing that.


Something I hadn’t thought about is how people would respond to the knowledge of the abuse once the family began to discuss it. Like some people Donna mentions, I would have thought, “If she wants me to know, she’ll tell me. If she wants to talk about it, she’ll bring it up.” It wouldn’t have occurred to me that this leaves the burden—an emotional burden with heavy, physical consequences—on her.


I’d tell one friend, hoping I’d be spared the energy it took to tell the other. … Barb said that people believed it was malicious to tell. I explained to her how it felt like I had been carrying a huge bag of stones all my life. Now, every person I told got a rock. If they accepted it, they could choose what they wanted to do with it—throw it at the offender, or throw it away. It made my load lighter.


Today, if I knew someone was handling something difficult, I’d try to check in with the person to see what their preference is.


This book says so much. That so many losses simply can never be redeemed. That "justice" doesn't bring "closure" (and what even is closure, really, except being told yet again that "you should be over it" "why can't you get over it" "get over it, already"). And that people around us are carrying with them more than we know. 


Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Dropping A Line

We’re upgrading our internet service, and to do this, a crew had to come out to drop a line. 


When I told my sister that she looked dubious and said, “What does that mean, ‘drop a line'?“ (I get it; that’s phrase sounds like something that might happen in a bathroom, a bed, or a party.)



Reflections and reality. Not a February photo.


I was excited to describe it. It was so interesting to watch!


The crew had a literal cable—the “line,” I’m guessing—that they had to physically connect in the real world.


The line runs from the outside of our house to “our” hydro pole (we can see it from the front porch so that makes it “ours”?) and connects to other things on the pole. Then the line then runs to the next pole, and another one or two, and eventually the line connects to the poles along the street at the end of our driveway.


Those poles and their lines somewhere connect to towers, which connect to other stuff. Somewhere, there’s an electrical source, a telephone connection, light, and other things that are all vaguely magic to me.


As you can see, I know very little about some important things. Which is why it’s so interesting!


And I guess, but I am only guessing, that the “drop” refers to one of two things: a conceptual map, on which the cable “drops” a level on the map, from the line at the street to the line to our house, OR the fact that the line is at a lower physical altitude where it connects to the house than it is at the top of the pole.


Again: don’t know!


And while I’m at it: Why is the line “dropped,” when the phrase “run a line” is also available and is altitude-neutral? Don’t know!


Two vans of guys and equipment spent all afternoon at the tops and bottoms of poles in our vicinity and down at the street. They stomped various paths in snow.


I watched and did other stuff (updating spreadsheets and shuffling papers) and watched some more. 


All the while, I thought about the people whose work is with tangible things in the world. They stock grocery shelves, they treat sick and broken bodies, they drive machines that move bricks, they hammer and build. 


I remembered the first book I ever worked on, back on a now-defunct publishing company—how exciting to see it, after months of trying out the best presentation of the concepts and seeing words on the screen. A book! Paper and glue and soy ink, and I got to hold it in my hands. 


That "holding of the book" never got old. Every time the first box of a new title came in, the editorial staff gathered in the break room to look at them and applaud each other. One of the biggest moments in my life was holding a book with my name on its spine and my mother's photo on the cover. 


But mostly, now, my "work" is at a screen, moving pixels that look like words. Sometimes I shuffle papers and make phone calls.


And maybe that’s why I find this other type of activity so interesting. It’s more tangible. Not necessarily more honourable or “better”—or “worse” or “beneath me.” Just different.


Upgrading our internet is more complicated than somebody in an office somewhere turning a dial or flipping a switch.


Dropping a line is not an idea. It’s not sharing information to change a mind. It’s not telling a story to entertain someone. It's a thing that requires movement through space.


Like much of the work in the pandemic. For which I remain grateful.


That’s pretty cool. All of it.


Wednesday, February 2, 2022

What I'm Taking Into February of 2022

Treats and fun things to do. I make a list and pick from it. Does it feel fake, to rely on a list instead of some sense of joyful spontaneity? Sometimes. Is it worth it? Yes. Because sometimes it’s hard to remember, in a glum moment, what might cheer me up. What’s fun, when nothing sounds like fun. So the list is helpful.


What’s on the list? Fun things to make in the kitchen (like the turkey breast roast we had in December or the banana bread loaves that might appear this afternoon). Ways to bring the outdoors indoors intentionally (not like tracking snow in) and beautifully (also not like tracking snow in, and harder in the winter than other seasons). Specifically, growing a bulb or buying flowers or a potted hyacinth. Also: specific movies (seasonal or nostalgic) to watch. Using special mugs for my morning coffee. Small things, but mighty.


Until they're growing outdoors, I can grow some indoors.
Or, you know, try.



Music. For the past several years I’ve fallen out of the habit of listening to music during the day. I tend toward podcasts when I’m walking, and my work is such that music with words sometimes isn't a good choice. But at the Christmas holidays, I always remember music. And this year I’ve carried that through January (I yearned for classical music and Eva Cassidy) and into February (music I used to work to—soundtracks, mostly).


Scroll-Breakers. As in, a list of more-valuable (not necessarily fun) activities than scrolling. Again, why the list helps: often I’m scrolling because nothing else sounds like fun, or even worth doing. And sometimes--sometimes--remembering that I’ve wanted to wipe the years of grime off the staircase railing can get me to put the phone down and pick up a rag. Which I might not remember without the list. 


Rest. Sleep. Exercise. Rest. Generally, take it easier (and miraculously, I’m doing as much as I was, WHICH IS NOT THE POINT). Be kind, starting with myself.


Selectivity. Specifically, greater selectivity in attention to the news. My local health unit changed their COVID reporting and that made it easier. Resting has also helped me worry less about parts of the world I can’t control (the many sides, sad and otherwise, of aging monarchs; bad behaviour in Eurasia). Also: I'm doing a better job of choosing books, from a copious supply (and library), that suit my mood. Some books lighten it, some tickle it, some support it, some challenge it. Choosing is helpful.


What are you taking into February? I'll raise my delightful coffee mug in a toast to our collective happiness.