Archive for July, 2011|Monthly archive page

A Living Canvas

I wonder what Monet would have thought of this light.

It’s Nova Scotian fishing village meets the Hindu Kush foothills here in Iqaluit, Nunavut, where Bonhomme and I are spending our summer vacation.
The sun starts setting here around dinnertime, and stays there, singing a long lingering lullaby, for about five more hours. By the time I go to bed, it’s dusk. Night lasts about four hours in midsummer this far North.
“Momma, it’s morning! The sun’s up!”
“No, Love, I assure you that 4:20am is not morning, no matter what the sun says. Go back to sleep.”

A trawler points to the Atlantic Ocean where this morning sea and sky blended into one wet blanket pulled all the way up to shore.
Rocks are everywhere.
Rock lawns. Rock parks. Everything feels like a half-built construction site, but no. The builders, not the boulders, are what’s uprooted.
Most driveways have more skidoos than trucks.
Tradition nestles up to technology – survival comes first. The best tool for the job wins. Wolverine-fur-trimmed hoods; skidoo-pulled wooden sleds; high-powered crossbow arrows.
No patios, no store fronts. Interior space trumps exterior, and maximized for view.

Tundra is squishy, it turns out. A springy carpet beneath my feet, stitched and painted, woven and splattered.
My hand aches for a paintbrush.

Iqaluit Summer

First the cold hits.
Then the dust.
Dirt roads, dirt air, dirt sky.
In bursts, beauty appears.
Royal purple carpet of tundra flowers.
Igloo-shaped catholic church.
Glacier-forged hills.
A patchwork quilt of stilt houses.
The frigid wind welcomes me with a bear-hug,
breaking the news that this –
this harsh, bold, tumbled, tenacious land –
this is home too.

What memories are made of

Morning mist upon the lake.
At this hour, only the loons are out.
We head off across the bay,
canoe, paddle, pajamaed boy and me.
Stowaway snail.
Lily pad stems are tested for size and strength.
He’ll remember heaving rocks into the water –
and awe when a skipped stone defies gravity eleven ripply times.
Cutting through the mirror water, our canoe doesn’t run out of gas like the motor boat will later this afternoon.
I work against the wobble as my point man drags his paddle behind him, watching the wake.
He’ll remember the taste of burnt marshmallows,
spelling his name in sparks against the darkening sky.
Finding the missing puzzle piece,
being old enough to turn the BBQ propane tank on – and off again.
Winning at cards.
The canoe bottom scrapes up an old public boat launch,
parking by braille.
We draw with sticks in the sand at the side of the unknown road,
look for cornflowers, peek into cottage backyards.
He’ll remember the glow of the mountain moon,
spooky nighttime wood cabin creaks.
Taking a swim instead of a shower.
I’ll remember bright blue baseball pajamas running full tilt towards me,
Queen Anne’s Lace waving him on,
in the still of an unwoken morning
down a sunny dirt road deep in bear country.

Mind under matter

Dearest tells me that my difficulty breathing is all in my head. He doesn’t say it to be dismissive (although it is), but rather to argue that my recent bout with an upper respiratory virus is made worse by my anxiety. And, because my anxiety has manifested itself in disturbing physical symptoms, like chest pains and sleeplessness and difficulty breathing, quite noticeably for a year now, he wants me to explore the possibility of taking anti-anxiety medication before we have another child.
All three concepts terrify me.
That my anxiety’s that bad.
That my fifteen years of holding depression more-and-less at bay medication-free may not only be over, may not only have failed, but may have made things worse than they had to have been.
That pregnancy could be imminent.
We’ve done all the tests to make sure that I don’t in fact have any lung or heart problems, which was scary enough. But no, Dearest is right, it’s all in my head. Or rather, what’s in my head is screwing up more than just my head – I’m a perfectly physically healthy 33-year-old woman who happens to be extremely sensitive to pain, hormonal changes, and stress. The chemical soup that is my brain is flavouring my body.
My anxiety’s that bad.
I thought that when school was over, things would get better. When Dearest’s leg healed, things would be easier. When Bonhomme grew a bit older and stopped emotionally exploding all over me every fifteen minutes, and slept through the night, I’d lighten up. A new job, of course, would be an enormous breakthrough. But I graduated a year ago, Dearest is no longer limping, Bonhomme’s four now, I changed departments this spring.
In many ways, I think school filled up a helpful amount of space. When I was studying like a maniac, trying to do a master’s part-time while raising a child and working full-time and upgrading our house and, you know, trying to stay married, I had no time or space to think. And when I felt like I was going nuts, I had plenty of good reasons to feel that way.
But I’ve now built a number of important structural changes into my life. Dearest and I had agreed to intensify my studies so that I could finish my degree more quickly, because we both recognized how hard it had become (and then he went and broke his leg, the chump). Dearest, and two doctors, and my mother, finally convinced me that my job was making me way too crazy, and I spent over a year finding a new one. We worked REALLY hard at getting Bonhomme to sleep through the night.
And now, I have a little bit of time and space back. Emptiness to fill. Overdrive to downshift.
Anxiety to feel.
I went on anti-depressants once, for a few years when I was a teenager and my parents were divorcing and I didn’t know who I was and I was trying to make my way in the world. I remember what they were like. Everything was muted. I remember seeing gray. I lost my motivation – not a lot, but a little. I felt chipped away, edges rounded. Nothing got better, or easier – just grayer. I cared less.
Now, with jagged-edge focus, sharp colours, razor-cutting caring, I can understand the potential helpfulness of gray.
I can understand why Dearest thinks it could be worth considering. I might sleep better. And sleeping better, rebuild my immune system. I might maintain a more even emotional keel. And with less highs and lows, tap into my natural perspective more easily, more often. So I wouldn’t get so anxious about the little things, I wouldn’t read everything into everything. My naturally emotionally volatile four-year-old might not get under my skin so much, and I might be able to handle him with a bit more humour, a bit more patience. And when we are ready for another pregnancy, timing-wise, I might be ready, resiliency-wise.
But I don’t know if I can pay the price of gray. It’s not just what the concept of medicating my anxiety is telling me – “don’t trust your body”, “these feelings aren’t useful” – it’s the fear of what else gets packed away along with the anxiety. Does my art-self get suppressed too? My desire to paint, to write, to question? Do they get put on hold, or harder to access? Are my anxiety, my empathy and my creativity interdependent?
And so, it’s come to a head. Five years of wondering whether my mental health will cost me the chance to have another child. Fifteen years of trying to maintain that mental health intervention-free. I’m meeting with Doc in a few weeks to discuss my options, medication-wise. Regardless of whether he agrees whether or not I need them, pregnancy may preclude them – but we’re going to talk about it.
And I feel nothing but fear either way.

Summer Storm

Wet blanket sky,
Ballerina trees do pliés.
Lullaby wind.
Clouds crack open,
Let in light.
Mirrored puddles beg for feet.

It starts.

There’s drywall dust on the TV remote, on the stacks of DVDs that do nothing but grow.
There’s a fine white coating on each and every ladle, spatula and pan.
Bonhomme’s cheery blue play kitchen is grey.
The couch puffs as I sit on it, defeated.
It’s a house, it’s a house. It’s just a house.

Dearest staplegunned the plastic sheeting to the beautifully hand-sponge-painted livingroom walls. He didn’t want to make too many holes, so he only attached the sheet in about three spots, leaving about six meter-long gaps fluttering.
There’s dust on and around every single round protusion on Bonhomme’s lego, which had been left out in all its hundreds of pieces.
The diningroom ceiling is nice and smooth now, stucco all gone, matching the kitchen ceiling.
It’s dust, it’s dust. It’s only dust.

The kitchen reno hasn’t officially started, but Dearest wanted to be in a good position when it does, so he thought he could sand about twelve square meters of ceiling without too much fuss.
Nothing has been packed. Crumpled cereal bags lay heaped on the top of the fridge. Bonhomme’s sippycup lids are jumbled on their drip-dry rack.
Because the reno has not yet begun.
Just, apparently, the pre-reno.
Breathe in, Grace. Breathe out.

Get the banker’s boxes out.
Pack the non-essential cookware.
Donate the cans you haven’t touched in months, the lentils, the pasta, the older extra pots and pans.
Make Rice Krispies squares. Make a big batch of pea soup, and chili in the slowcooker (after you give it a good rinse).
Tell Bonhomme’s friends that we’ll do park playdates for the summer.
Don’t kill your husband, don’t kill your husband. He was trying to be helpful. Really. Don’t kill him.

The air sparkles in the thousands of dancing motes as the evening sun slants in.
I mow the lawn, determined that the outside of the house will be neat and tidy, because God knows no person, thing or room inside is.
I send Dearest off with some kitchenware donations and instructions to take a break.
I take a break.
It’s the last major reno, it’s the last reno. It’s the very last major reno. 

Blank Page

I could be reading. I could be cooking, or cleaning, or painting, or watching TV. I could be sleeping. I could be mowing the long-overgrown lawn in the last lingering rays of the early summer sun. Bonhomme’s abed and Dearest is out, and I’ve got an hour or so to myself before sleep becomes an absolute must, and what am I doing? I’m blogging. I don’t even know what about. I’ve got a blank page and measures of frustration and worry and endearing fleeting moments to capture before they’re gone – and I’m not so exhausted that I can’t try – and I find myself instead thinking about why the heck I’m doing what I’m doing. Because I could be reading. Or taking a bath. But I feel compelled. Drawn. Called. Blogging reminds me that I’m bigger than myself. I am an integral part of something larger. Not just the community of it all, although that has unfathomable merit and depth, but the contribution of it.

Dearest and I are currently engaged in a quintessential Canadian pastime: renos. The Great Kitchen Caper, to be exact. Since I moved in to our home eight years ago, and since he moved in twenty-five years ago (having bought our house from his parents), we’ve both hated our kitchen. It’s small and cramped and crowded, with 1950’s era built-in cabinets that divide our small room into two (in order to pretend to have a diningroom), minimal cupboard space, and about two feet of useful countertop. We wheel our dishwasher from one side of the kitchen to the other every night to hook it up to the faucet. We have two fridges, a legacy from when my husband roomed with two other young men while his father was trying to figure out how to keep the house on his small salary through Dearest parents’ divorce. It turns out that three twenty-something men and one fifty-something divorcé couldn’t quite coordinate things like cooking communal meals, let alone sharing milk and bread, so, two fridges. And then when I moved in and we kept one of the roomies to help offset the mortgage, it was easier to keep the multiple fridges. And then we finally had the house to ourselves, Bonhomme came along, and, well, you know. We have a cramped, crowded, crazy kitchen.

But, we make decent money, we’re mostly done most of the remaining renos in the house, we’re the roll-up-our-sleeves kind of folk, it’s time! Reno time. (Not that it’s ever been anything but.) Mindful of the fact that we have a four-year-old this time around needing our attention, realizing that this is the biggest job we’ve ever done or Heaven-willing will ever do, recognizing that we both work full-time at demanding jobs, and remembering QUITE keenly that the last reno resulted in a broken leg (and a broken toilet, and a broken wall) that took six months to heal… we went to see some professionals. Then, after a $70,000 quote, we didn’t go see them anymore.

Instead, we’re now driving each other, quite loudly, nuts. It’s not an easy space to design around, with two openings, an outside door and two unusually-sized windows. And while we’ll be updating the electrical, we’d rather not move the plumbing. So, some constraints. And then there’s me, insisting that the kitchen is the hub, the heart, the hearth of the home. It’s where people come together, teach each other, work together in the most fundamental way. Everyone, every family in the world, has to cook. Has to eat. Has to talk to each other in the process. In short, the kitchen is bigger than itself.

How does that translate into inches and feet? Into appliances and counterspace? Into dollars and cents? And how on earth do I explain this to my only-somewhat-handy-but-valiant husband?

“We could always just do a patch job, sell the place, and buy something bigger,” Dearest brings up repeatedly.

“We could wall in the open flow to the livingroom and box the kitchen in,” Dearest suggests unhelpfully.

“I could set up a full-size oven in the basement for when we’ve got company over, as Economicus said,” Dearest proposes.

We’ve been talking about utility a lot. About whether something that is twice the price has twice the usefulness. About whether to indulge in a quartz countertop when for the same cost you could replace a laminate one five times over. Ten times over. About the tradeoff of losing the corner storage space vs. having a bigger stove, and each of our frustrations in wanting both. We’re arguing about capitalism and consumerism and risk and debt and what we can do without. Recognizing that anything we do will be better than what we have.

In the midst of all this, I’ve been reading a lot about the global financial crisis – you know, the one that we conveniently like to think is over. And I wonder how much of it might have been averted if we’d all balked at the $70,000 kitchen reno quote? If we’d all rather send our children to MIT than have a bigger house? If we’d all instead spent the time poring over the design plans and arguing about where to put the dishwasher and lived with the fact that we can’t have it all?

And so, I blog. Even when I’ve got a blank page and nothing much to write about. Because I think the conversation, the ongoing conversation we all have, needs to be about need a little bit more. About utility. About how we all build hubs, hearts, hearths, communities, every day. We build each other.