Get a load of the little tiny house on the wrong (subjectively speaking?) side of the tracks where i got all a little rough around the edges and a penchant for street fighting, etc… (just kidding.)
I walked here the other day from just a little over the right side of the tracks and got nervous as i walked; the place is so gd full of little childness vulnerability for me and I haven’t looked at it in years (the house not the vulnerability) and the vulnerability has been bubbling up at the surface for awhile now and i wasn’t sure what would happen if i went there. But i’m rough around the edges and don’t shy away from a struggle (obvs), so i went, with my ferocious orange dog.
It was the weirdest thing. This sounds cliche, but the house shrank.
It was tiny. It was always tiny, but it was tinier, like it hardly existed anymore. None of the things around it, the weird playhouse in the front yard, the for-some-reason-depressing wrought-iron fence, even the weeping willow- all had disappeared. There seemed to be no ghosts, no hollow spots, no leftover bits of energy.
The essence of the place had changed and it meant nothing to me anymore. Hardly any visceral response.
If you have any idea what has actually happened here, please let me know.
Am i different more than said house? Is my definition of home changing? Have my roots perhaps unplugged and then settled somewhere else? Is this what healing feels like? Or letting go? Acceptance? Do things stop clawing at you eventually if those happen? If these places stop feeling like our roots, is there room for new stuff? Has this happened to anyone? What the heck? Please report back.
And also, does it make it less weird that my sister and i were practically allowed to play on the roof because the house is so little? ;)
My new habit is to use my hyper-focused mind to memorize poetry.
I’m starting with Bukowski and Mary Oliver, obviously. Mary Oliver because it’s Fall and she’s beautiful and believes in this wretched and glorious world again and again. And Bukowski because he’s a sonofabitch and I could use some sonofabitch bossing.
In other news, possibly not coincidentally, I remembered to try trust that the universe is unfolding as it should, even when I’m scared of the unfolding. And even if i’m only scared because i’m listening to the animal of my heart and this is foreign. Stupid giant brains, we have.
It’s pretty great news.
As practice, this giant man-deer appeared (a true apparition) on my walk (on the golf course!) today.
The world is in flux: the river starting to freeze up at the edges, last few leaves unfallen, geese flying around with everything akimbo, not sure if it’s time to go yet or not.
This guy was steady. So steady that i barely believed he was real. And when I did believe in him, i got a little unsettled. Why would he just stand there and stare his antlers off? Was he going to attack me? It’s not rutting season, right?
But Portman is an animal, even though she’s portman, and just sat down and looked, so i followed her lead.
This was an act of faith, and when I surrendered into it, i realized there hadn’t been one in awhile. And i realized that the faith was a softening and a being held and has an expansive quality that only exists in faith and I was thankful to be at home again.
What’s the point of anything unless you can surrender into faith and trust this glorious, wretched world, again and again. And be offered signs in the form of the most majestic deer you’ve ever seen not hurting you (why would he??), but to have him just be a beautiful yes! you’re on the right track! keep it up!
After we stared at each other for awhile, he left peacefully and deer-like; a giant, fast, breathtaking leap into the trees. The steady gaze is still with me, though.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
In the family of things.
Do you know Fall was originally called just Harvest?
For years and years it was and and then we moved into cities and it stopped being.
Doesn’t the word Harvest and its unearthing and gathering and preparing and quieting down for winter sound so much more useful than Fall? A powerful ritual of things coming to a close, picking things up and seeing what we’ve made or not made, and putting them down to sleep. Or even its successor, Autumn (what a beautiful word! and it turns out, this morning while I couldn’t sleep; one with an unknown origin and etymology. How mysterious you are Autumn!)
But Fall? Sounds a little abrupt, no? No wonder everyone walks around un-slept, haggard by the winds that have been pushing them around, their nervous systems exhausted, longing for their lazy summer days, clinging to every last bit of sun and warmth and those times that were so hopeful and bright. Nothing has come to fruition if we lose the harvest. And then the fall is just sad. (Not that i have a problem with sad.) But the sweet sorrow of fall could be a grieving of what has been done and grown (or not grown) to get us here. In our culture, we just have the fall, or the Fall of the Leaf as it was called for awhile in the beginning.
So, i’ve never very much had a problem with fall. I like the falling and I often feel ready for it; every day has been harvested. There is ritual galore. This year feels different. I have been distracted, fixated, have not been moving along with the current of life as smoothly as i normally would. I’ve half-assed cleaned one section of eaves. I didn’t even make (that much) apple sauce. I cleaned up all the leaves, and a new layer has fallen, this new batch feeling tiring rather than like the work that will build me warmth for the winter. I forgot to make a fall soundtrack. Thanksgiving felt rushed and odd. I don’t really have anywhere that feels like the right place to settle down into for winter. (As i write this, I realize that this might be the rub.) It was like i had my eyes somewhere else and looked up to find that we were in it, this falltime. I forgot the harvest.
I find myself holding onto not summer, but to something. Or to nothing, but not in the releasing of things that aren’t mine way. More in the i was looking in the wrong direction and missed the shooting star, or the goal, or the point.
Luckily, things go in cycles, and they often go slowly enough that boats are not fully missed.
And so i designate this coming time as the Harvest, a gathering up, a looking at, a quiet, no-new-input time, like Harvest is supposed to be. I will put the gardens which aren’t mine to bed. I will do something with the bounty of rosemary that the garden has yielded. I will hold onto nothing. I will make soup with my whole attention, and I’ll teach yoga with my whole intention, and I’ll sleep with my whole attention, and I’ll take out the winter clothes, and I’ll wear winter boots for the first time, and mittens and two layers. And I’ll take big deep breaths of autumn air, even if these breaths get the wheels going and urge me along to something unknown.
;I will harvest what i have made this past season, year (or whatever) and i will look at it clearly, with my eyes right here. Present to what’s here for once in awhile; this bed that i’ve made, this state of heart and mind that i’m in, this time around. And then i will put everything down to sleep. And i will move forward, which is really just falling, like the season promises it will help with. And then falling will be wonderful, restful, a relief, a letting go of things that are not meant for me. And the things that I’m left with will be right.
As I write, a layer of snow has covered the deck and is falling softly. It won’t stay this time. It is just a reminder. Nature gently, but seriously, saying: come on… You’ve fallen a little behind. You don’t have to hold onto things tightly. Let them go. Things will settle where they need to. And it urges; come, and takes me by my hands, which are finally empty.
This weekend, the day a huge unburdened wind almost swept through the prairie and shook the leaves from the trees, but stopped in its tracks and yielded to the beauty instead, I went to one of my favourite places on this earth. It was a day when i could use a steady drive to the lake and I arrived completely lightened up, cleared out, like my bullshit stories had yielded to the beauty, too. I breathed in the cool, wet prairie air and hugged my rainboot-wearing friends with the softest and happiest heart you could imagine. It was
like my yoga.
So, in case you’re wondering, i was going home sort of. I was teaching a workshop in the whiteshell, near falcon lake, on my friends’ property, in their studio they have just completed building with a giant vision and their own hands. The slanted walls are made of wood and when you speak or breathe or laugh or cry, it echoes and there’s no question that you’ve made a sound.
This part of the whiteshell has always felt like home somehow. I’ve never had a cabin there, i didn’t go there as a kid, there’s really no reason why the place swallowed up my ego and welcomed me home, and took off my coat, and gave me a spot, but it did. And somehow this feeling of home never atrophies no matter how long it is between visits. I think it’s because it was my first feeling of home. This little, lucky seed of homefulness has grown into my current work of making a safe space and trusting it will be lit up organically, and into this yearning that leads me to find community in various strange and unexpected places, I think, and it is the root of my ability to feel my soul’s deep wanting to love and be loved in that interconnected way that is real life. It shook awake the knowledge that community is all there is. It dusted off the love for having kids around and people and for all the jobs being important. It’s a place that reminds me that i have something to offer that is humble and valuable, even if that is something small. It reminds me that people are made to support each other. I’m not sure i would have known this otherwise. Community, i learned from this land, is our natural state of human nature.
It’s all kind of a big deal for me.
Do you have a place, person, experience that let you relearn something that you missed the lesson for originally? These second (third, fourth, tenth)-chance learnings blow my mind.
Further bigging up the deal was that my work and the whiteshell met, like long-lost orphan sisters or something, and i even forgot to be nervous about the meeting. Further big was the fact that several kindred spirits that i don’t see very often were there to be funny, and thoughtful, and courageous, and sweet, and themselves. You know; like people get to, in a community, a meeting of hearts, each one with a valuable, humble space to fill up.
Dar Williams, Bill Coe’s favourite, hippyly, heart-liftingly/breakingly singing about her version of home, I think. This is circa nineteen ninety-something for me. About the same time i discovered home so i might be deflecting.
(This here is the perfect leaf. It’s not that great or interesting, but it apprivoiser’d me and I loved it. I think the colour is perfect.)
Making gratitude on Sunday morning.
I pray to feel all of this, wholeheartedly.
Of course there is holding. The bracing makes sense.
Gripping our own hearts in carefulness; this ribcage cannot be for nothing. These muscles and their tensions must be for safety. And shoulders are for catching burdens before they get too deep, aren’t they??
What’s the point of it all (there isn’t one)
If you can’t feel the sky
on a warm, golden day,
when nothing holds tight,
to a fall ceiling of blue,
as it opens up, full of faith,
and offers you light?
(follow loose leaves
and stop holding on
and soak it all in
what is meant for just us
and let the rest go.)
I grew up on it when i was too young, and it was still scary. The book i had was unpretty for a little girl, with infrequent pencil-illustrated pictures and a rough cover. The words were old and hard for my little brain to absorb, and the book sounded like it was written by a two-hundred-year-old, unsmiling English man. Probably a guy who hated children.
And yet, i loved it with every corner of my little self. I would get carried away by the tale. (I rarely got carried away by fun!) My memories involve my dad, with a daughter on either side of him, edged in close, half trying to hear better and half a little bit scared of pirates and what kind of frightening things can happen when children get taught how to fly. There’s usually a fireplace in my memory, or candles or some other intentionally warm and lovely lighting. None of the above happened. (But who cares?!)
The inside cover of our book had an inscription that my down-the-street-neighbour, Mrs. Palmquist, had written: To Amanda on her fourth birthday. Mrs. Palmquist’s eldest daughter was a Wendy. (Did you know that Barrie practically invented the name Wendy? Or at least popularized it for girls, knowing he needed a special name for such a character. Before that, there were a few boys named Wendy, but Wendy Darling definitely started a new thing.)
Today, whenever i meet a kid, i wonder how long ’til i can read Peter Pan with them. If they are over six and they haven’t yet read it yet, i think, what is taking so long? I always thought that if i stumbled upon a daughter, i’d call her Wendy. Wendy Darling continues to be my favourite character of all time; sweet, strong, steady, but willing to throw all of the caution into the wind for Peter. She is terribly resilient. She is confident, but lets her ego crumble for love. She’s so cool.
And don’t even get me started on acorns and thimbles.
These funny little reminders of miscommunications and misunderstandings everywhere and that everything seems to have a potential secret meaning, take me directly away, and I feel happy that who knows what kind of good can come of a something that just doesn’t quite make sense, yet?
As such, I sew with a thimble, which i don’t think people do anymore. It’s cumbersome for me and it doesn’t really protect my hands. But who wants to miss a chance to use a thimble?
Acorn season is a whole other business. The day when the giant oak trees that grow all over Winnipeg begin to loosen their hold on the acorns, and the ground becomes notched with oak nuts is a good time. When you feel the first little crunch underfoot, you know things just got magical; anything could happen, even flying from windows and sewing on shadows. Childlike vision is the new normal.
So today, I dipped into the park’s acorn collection, leaving the rest for the squirrels to scurry around for, and walked with these little nuggets in my pockets and swirled their unbelievably soft and hard surface between my fingers and wonder about mystery, misunderstanding, and magic.
“Do you really think so, Peter?”
“Yes, I do.”
“I think it’s perfectly sweet of you,” she declared, “and I’ll get up again,” and she sat with him on the side of the bed. She also said she would give him a kiss if he liked, but Peter did not know what she meant, and he held out his hand expectantly.
“Surely you know what a kiss is?” she asked, aghast.
“I shall know when you give it to me,” he replied stiffly, and not to hurt his feeling she gave him a thimble.
“Now,” said he, “shall I give you a kiss?” and she replied with a slight primness, “If you please.” She made herself rather cheap by inclining her face toward him, but he merely dropped an acorn button into her hand, so she slowly returned her face to where it had been before, and said nicely that she would wear his kiss on the chain around her neck. It was lucky that she did put it on that chain, for it was afterwards to save her life.
Two days ago, a sparrow hit my window. This is a usual occurrence of course; sparrows hit windows all the time, there a gazillions of them and the windows in this house are big and don’t look like windows but like a big reflection of more outside. It’s the way it goes when houses start to get in the way of nature. It makes me dislike the windows though.
This particular sparrow happened to have been flying free and happy, and i saw him just before he hit, maybe our eyes connected or probably not, but i remember it that way now. It was too fast but, holding my breath high up above my heart, I willed him to turn at the last second. He hit the window with a devastatingly hard, hollow thud and fell instantly down on the deck beside a pile of crunchy Autumn leaves. I had hoped, despite the loudness and hollowness of the thud, that he would get up and fly away. Birds are resilient. There’s a one-legged goose that’s hanging around at the golf course where my dad plays, for goodness sake.
In case you’re wondering, he didn’t get up this time. I figured out that he wasn’t going to when he stared out, overwhelmed by death lurking while the tiniest pool of blood spilled around his beak. He was motionless, except for a bunch of twitches, each one seeming like the probable last. None of his sparrow friends had seen the tragedy, so i sat beside him and wrapped him in warm light and my heart shook as i witnessed him breathing his last few breaths and then his body went empty and hollow too. It was a sad moment, watching his body die, his lungs empty out, his feet go limp, and then a freedom moment when his body became just a body because the absence of the himness was so obvious. I was glad when he was free. Safe travels, Sparrow! It was still hard to see his little body there. And the stupid window.
It has been said that when a bird hits your window, someone close is going to die.
I figured he was close and had died already.
I figured also that he was there to tell about a freedom, the kind of symbol that sailors get tattooed on them after 5000 miles on the sea or that they get two of for 10000 nautical miles.)
I didn’t know exactly what or how, but I’ll tell you; you know when life is happening in front of you and you know when something’s important. And that Sparrow was. He was.
The next day, yesterday, I found out that my aunt went into a coma. She’s been fighting like hell against cancer through her whole body for the past five years. She weighs 90 pounds, has had a lifetime of only vodka and cigarettes and hardly food and loss, until the past years when she got rid of the vodka part. She really forfeited a lot in this life, largely because of the first illness that devoured her. Alcoholism is so cruel and relentless. I can hardly imagine how her small frame carried around the sorrow of losing two sons, a life, the trust of everyone in her family, her childhood when she began to drink in closets at age 12, and just about every ounce of potential that she contained.
Jackie was a brilliant woman. Even my dad says so and he doesn’t say anyone is smarter than him, ever. (To balance this, he says it while shaking his head and saying what a waste.) She also was the proudest person alive and she also never left the house not dressed in the most perfectly-tailored dress she could find and shoes and accessories. The stories say she wore dresses to school every day the whole way through and that she was the most elegant kid in the north end.
She was such a lady.
Five seconds after the sparrow died, when I found out that she was in a coma after years of struggle, i sighed a big, sad, peaceful sigh of relief and wished freedom for her. She was not so interested in freedom though. She was more interested, it seemed, in living here. I suspect that because she had lost and missed out on so much, that she didn’t feel done. She completely couldn’t let go of the life that was no longer intended for her.
Still, i took my blanket of light off of the Sparrow when he no longer needed it and sent it her way. I wrapped that woman that people think of and shake their heads in the biggest, most beautiful, most down-filledest blanket of warm light of acceptance and compassion and love there ever was. I imagined her in her most glorious state. I imagined her laughing and grandmothering and having fun and being loved by her sons in all the ways that, in reality, she could not. I imagined her wearing the fanciest hat. I imagined people thinking of her and their eyes lighting up.
This morning at 2:30, she died.
I think she finally gave in and opened up into freedom. She was far too feisty, and unless she let go, i don’t think she would be gone. I hope it felt like twenty lifetimes of relief when she set things down and let go.
I’m sorry for the Sparrow, but so thankful that he came by to tell me to take care of this woman in my heart before she joined him and all of the others in freedom.
Sweetest travels, J.
The other day, after a long hiatus spent stewing in the exploration and integration of a million little and big things, I finally stopped in at my dad’s house. In my mind, and in the absence of an objective reality, said Dad had become a caricature of all of every idiosyncrasy and challenging quality he has ever possessed. The image in my mind had taken on a life of its own and was a living and breathing madman. (Which is not entirely the case.)
It was such a nice surprise to find him in his natural state: curious, engaging, (still a weirdo), more excited than i expected him to be to see his oldest offspring, with a few new stories and a few that he had already told me twice. I listened to them all this time.
My dad* is a collector. And an historian. And, I guess, an archivist, possibly a bit of an archaeologist, even. He’s also been known to take things out of other people’s trash in the process of being all of those things. When he hasn’t stumbled upon something that i think is junk, it is often a real find.
The other day, before saying hi, he produced these two diaper pins with my name engraved upon them. They are sterling silver and feel like old silver cutlery (which he also collects and polishes on a regular basis) and they stopped my breath for a moment. In the crazy runaway train of my mind, i forgot that my dad, amidst all of his fiery reactions of my childhood and rigidity, has a habit of choosing and holding onto the sweetest, most tender symbols of moments in time. The sort of symbols that take their arms around you and pull you back to a time in an instant, so you can smell your old house and remember the single time he and your mother smiled with each other in your presence (you didn’t even remember that time happened!), or try to imagine who on earth though to get your name engraved on your diaper pins.
Truth be told, he’s got pretty impeccable timing.
*I also don’t call him my dad, but I’m a little worried that if i call him by his whole name as i usually do, he might google this and have some emotion that he can’t figure out and ignore me about it;)
Then I discovered the prairie, and a slow healing began.
- Stephen R. Jones, The Last Prairie (2000)
The definition of glorious:
The prairie being the prairie, and having the time to stop and kill the engine, and have ears fill up with silence and then crickets in stereo, and feel your footsteps on the crunchy, dusty, stirred-up ground, and touch the flowers that are much brawnier and tough than they look, and feel the sky’s humongousness steal your breath away, and watch the sunflowers move their heads to follow the sun, or the tall grasses yield to the prairie wind, all of them much larger than they look in pictures or from the road, and to smell the sun-warmed everything thick in the air, but also clearing your senses, and to feel the unspeakably vast quality of life invite you back in and absorb you into this landscape like you’d never been gone.
For me, the prairie is where it happens every single time.
I think it’s such a lucky break that i get to live in the glorious sketch of this standing invitation.