Thought Trafficking

July 21, 2009, 9:38 pm
Filed under: living, outside | Tags:

4 July 2009

A man came into the box office, this was a few years ago, and complained in an offhand way about people – Americans – who put the number after the month. For example, September eleventh, or April third. This is not proper. What is proper is to say the fourth of July – the fourth day of July. And I thought, well, at the very least they got that right. Today is the fourth of July, and it is so hot that the puppy exasperatedly ruins the shade plants in an effort to cool down. She is so cranky that I put her away inside for a while to stop her nipping and yelping.

We went on our longest walk yet today – my whim, because she had so much energy. We turned right where we would have turned left – zigged when we should have zagged, I suppose. I was curious to see what had become of a friend’s old apartment
The puppy was snapping at my heels and I was trying to remember which basement they had occupied – the one across from the baseball diamond. I turned my neck a little further to see it as I passed by and to check on the noise of bicycles coming up from behind, and that is how he and I made eye contact. This was the first time I had seen him in about eight months – the last time being when I shouted at him to get off my driveway, threatening to call the police, a day or two before that first big snow, about ten days before Christmas. He no longer knows where I live.

Our eyes caught briefly and recognition did not need to flicker: it was already there. He rode on and I walked ahead.

No matter what anyone pretended, there was no love lost on either side, no unsung desire tying us together long after it should have. It was something else – misery or desperation or both – that had us talking in the first place. A dam against darker, stormier waters. And it passed, as these things do.

He paused for a moment longer than necessary at the stop sign. I thought I saw indecision the tilt of his haunches, in the way that he was trying to turn the bicycle against its will, which was his will. I know why he almost turned; I know why he did not turn.

19 July 2009

It isn’t me that I’m afraid for.

The late July sun falls softly in my life, settling across the high shelves of apartment balconies.

The city seems to spread itself without end, taking a run up against the mountains, trying for the top. Spidery sinews of population, runners.

My shoes fall heavily on the pavement.

A man sat at the end of the park with a sign on which he had lettered the words “HUNGRY” and “HOMELESS” and “HIV”. It seemed petty to notice the alliteration. I smelled of sunscreen and dirt, music still ringing in my ears, and I had some slices of bread that I had made and packed for the day but had been unable to fathom eating in the treacherous heat. I stopped and offered those to him.

It is perfectly understandable that he declined these day-old offerings, and I felt the need to apologize. Without making eye contact, he asked what for, and I said for not having anything else. I didn’t know what else and we wished each other a good evening, knowing well that our evenings were bound to be very different.

It is easy to be thankful at a folk festival, out on the grass in a large and open “fare-paid zone”. “What you are grateful for increases.” This is true, but also easier to say from certain perspectives, in certain positions. I was standing, proferring my sad bag of bread. He was sitting, avoiding all eyes in the way that makes one conventiently invisible, unobtrusive. It raises the question of posture: which is worse, standing over someone offering them your mangled breadslices while they inform you that they are, as you know, homeless and would have nowhere to store them, or squatting down beside them as though you understand. You don’t understand and if we are being honest you probably don’t want to, but that momentary juxtaposition, your head over his, is an awful moment, an artificial and all-too-physical vertical hierarchy. You feel the possibility in both of you; never walk under a ladder. “There but for the grace of God, go I,” is also “There I may follow, given time.”

There are times when I think that we should feel and remember and treasure our missteps and our near misses. Not because we are so “lucky”, so “fortunate”, and certainly not in order to better pity those we pass at ground level (“pity is a crime, and it ain’t worth a dime,” says John Prine) but in order that we realise both the unfathomable enormity of the gulf between our situations and also our terrible proximity. We should never pretend that we understand; there is, however, the possibility that we will understand. Such “grace” is nothing that one “deserves”. This world is full of mistakes, both ugly and beautiful. We don’t always get to choose which are which.


I wrapped my heart in concertina wire and sold it for a song
July 15, 2009, 10:15 pm
Filed under: living, music, Uncategorized | Tags:

If you asked me to say what I liked about this picture, I probably couldn’t articulate it. I think it has something to do with the fact that the reflection of fingers in the dark of the piano is more definite than the fingers themselves. new-york-2009-homecoming-131

Mondays are important for a number of reasons
July 13, 2009, 7:59 am
Filed under: living, music, outside, Reading | Tags:
And the first reason is that they are not Tuesdays. Bless ’em for that.
Here are some things for a good Monday:
Amazing music, and quick-streaming at that:
Something for the summer hours:
Time expanded. The day widened, pulled from both ends by the shrinking dark, as if darkness itself were a pair of hands and daylight a skein between them, a flexible membrane, and the hands that had pressed together all winter–praying, paralyszed with foreboding–now flung open wide.
-Annie Dillard, The Living

And finally, some things that you can find outside:


Jelly something?


Water Music
July 12, 2009, 11:12 pm
Filed under: between times, living, outside | Tags: ,

My mother emailed me this morning to tell me that she was going canoeing today, and that she was excited. This made me glad, and also heightened my anticipation of going home. The fall is a nice time to convince my parents to strap the canoe to the top of the van and head out to a body of water. After kayaking yesterday with Amanda and Kyle, the urge is that much stronger. But she ended the email by telling me that the lake–the slough, really–at the Wilderness Centre is no longer there. That it has dried up. I know that landscapes change, rivers dig themselves deeper, fields just blow away. But it seemed wrong to know that it’s gone, that I never paid it any mind and now it is gone.

Kayaking yesterday we paddled under three bridges, further up the Gorge, followed geese when we could and held still to be visited by dragonflies. I like to paddle as fast as I can for a minute or two and then enjoy the glide, the illusion that you aren’t moving because the wind is combing the ocean the other way. We had to turn around at the bridge that is part of Tillicum Road, when the water got too shallow and the weeds started to suck on our paddles. The water was the only bearable place to be in yesterday’s heat, the sun came off of the surface in a breeze, whereas the pavement reflected and amplified it, and sunbeams rose in wavy mirages and unfortunate city smells. A wind lifted off the ocean in the evening, though, bringing in a cloud cover and changing the colour of the air.

Today my shoulders groaned when I mopped the floor, put out by being asked to make themselves useful two days in a row.

Boxes, sockses, lockses and foxes
July 12, 2009, 7:31 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I love going through boxes, especially jewellery boxes, boxes with compartments. The first object of my affection was my mother’s jewellery box, the one that seemed to have all the best secrets. I think that it is a near-universal trait of small children that they love poking around in things that are normally closed and hidden, that have secret compartments and hold secrets, or things perceived as secrets.

When I got older and moved away from home to live with N&T, I got to have double the fun when Tae and I would spend mornings going through my jewellery box, the one I inherited from my mother and painted a dark blue. She was 4 or 5 at the time, and I was in second year university. I would make a cup of tea and she would snuggle beside me and we would excavate every little thing in the box. It is even better to re-discover all the things that you used to hide away with someone who sees them as all new, each time. Every button, every little rock or bit of sea glass means something inside that box. It is more than just jewellery, or odds and ends. It is archaeology. I see Tae now, speaking like a grown-up, sometimes wearing earrings that were culled from that box a few moves ago, small glass cubes bought in Venice, and I have the happy thought that we keep pieces of each other close by.

I go through this box by myself every time I move to thin out what has accumulated there. The big earrings bought for a costume party or the hair elastics thoughtlessly tossed in, those are picked out quickly. Then there is the matter of untangling the two chains that I keep, each threaded through 3 or 4 charms: a sphinx that Gerry and Marie brought back from Egypt when I was about 7, a fish that Megan brought back from Tunisia in high school, a charm against the evil eye that Kailey sent from Greece, an amythyst from an old friend, a heart-shaped locket with pictures of my parents from my father, a red garnet heart from Kailey at Christmas a few years ago that she gave me sitting at her kitchen table while we drank tea. Then there are bracelets from my sister, given to me at the end of her two week visit to Brussels, and also two other bracelets sent specially from my mother and her sister while I was staying there.

Jewellery isn’t something I like to accumulate in large quantities or display. These things could just as easily be bits of found glass shreds of fabric. They are little triggers, like little strings tied around my fingers, little remember-whens. Just enough.

Then dig further in the box, and there are more boxes, under this first layer.

Three little plastic fishes, from N&T one year when they went on vacation, and a little seashell box. Inside the seashell box is a collection of buttons, little found things, a woven armband from Leenie and Kailey years ago, a tiny painted rock. Another cardboard box with two dried flowers, fuschia, from a morning a few years ago. Further under that the miscellany becomes unintelligible, except to me. Notes in the bottom that I can’t throw away, though I begin each time with the intent to do just that. Old addresses, scraps of paper with childish letters, bits of post-its with personal words. Also a barrette from the first grade that I can remember getting tangled in my hair. We were on the Plains of Abraham and mom tried to fix my long hair up when I complained of how hot it was, how itchy my hair was. Some things kept because they should be kept, some things kept because I can’t yet throw them out. Lists, old tickets. A 7-year old watch with a broken strap that still keeps perfect time, the one I used to time the piano lessons I gave.

I am sitting on my floor replaying this ritual because soon I will move again and beside me is a little pile of things that tinkle, that are going away this round: the earrings from mom that I wore to Julie’s wedding; some shiny earrings that I think I wore twice back when I worked at the art gallery; two pairs of hoops, one that I have been putting off parting with because of the magpie in me, though I wore them only once. Small, with tiny engraved motifs and inset stones, not expensive or old but graceful in their own way. A puzzle ring from a folk festival about ten years ago.

I realise that it is a luxury to accumulate even this much, and I know that these things aren’t strictly necessary to me. The reason for writing a post now is the curious urge to share this again, to have someone else’s stories told, to tell your own. To say that this comes from somwhere, and it is dear to me.