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Pickle Me This

December 15, 2014

All those dreams I saved for rainy days

12One day I want to write about how I met Stuart and life properly began, and how all the energy that I’d previously directed toward trying to make people fall in love with me (and despairing when I always failed) became channelled into useful things. I stopped thinking that “Angie” by the Rolling Stones was a really romantic song. Suddenly my eyes were open and I could see the world, and we began travelling together, learning and growing. I spent a long time before that convinced that I wouldn’t really exist until somebody loved me. This was stupid in retrospect, and contrary to all my feminist principles, but my experience has proven that there was some truth to the notion—that I needed somebody. He’s my enabler in the very best way. And because we met when we were 23, we’ve also grown up together, which is an extraordinary thing to share with someone. When we met, our cumulative possessions would fill two backpacks. Which made it pretty easy for us to run away to Asia a year and half after that, and those experiences would cement our relationship. We’d never argued before—there was so much negotiating and learning involved in figuring out how to live together, and in a foreign country at that. But we made it, stronger for the struggles, and at the end of that adventure, we were yearning for home, so we got married, and began the process of making one here in Toronto, and for two years, we had no money and lived off chickpeas and couldn’t afford to take the subway, and were oh so slim. Whenever I think back to that time now, a part of my brain spends a split-second trying to remember where the children were, until I realize the unfathomable fact—they weren’t there. We didn’t know them. And the paradoxical thought that comes with that one—how miraculous that they’re here at all. I read a line in Gilead today that made me nod, the narrator writing to his son: “…it’s your existence I love you for, mainly. Existence seems to me the most remarkable thing that could ever be imagined.” I know precisely what he means, but I feel it toward my children’s father as well. That there is a Stuart in the world—I will never quite stop marvelling at that. And that he wasn’t always in my world, when he seems as much a part of me as my limbs are—how did I ever get around? Which was probably much of what Mike Reno and Ann Wilson were getting at in their hit song “Almost Paradise (Love Theme From Footloose)”, which is a part of the repertoire in every karaoke room I’ve ever sang in. It’s curious really, because there is no place else you ever hear that song, but it is a karaoke mainstay. We sing it every time we go, at my insistence, and Stuart goes along with it. Though we hadn’t been out for karaoke in ages—not since before Iris was born. But on Saturday night we went out after the children were in bed and we celebrated 12 years since the night we met, and we made wonderful, sweet, terrible unmelodious music together, and came home after midnight.

December 11, 2014

Alfie’s Christmas

alfies-christmas

“And then I knew, Tom, that the garden was changing all the time, because nothing stands still, except in our memory.” –from Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce, which we just finished reading tonight

Alfie never gets older. We’ve been reading his books since Harriet was baby, and I love them impossibly. Their stories are as familiar to me as stories from my own family. I know the corners of their house so intimately—the teapots, and the toy teapots, and Flumbo the elephant, and Willesden the consolation prize, and I’ve speculated aplenty about Maureen McNally, whom I suspect is actually a cat-burgler. And speaking of cats, I know that Alfie’s is called Chessie, and I remember when he comforted his friend at Bernard’s birthday party, and how he likes to play This Little Piggie with his baby sister’s pink toes.

Stuart’s aunt gave Harriet and Iris a book voucher for Christmas, and I ordered them a copy of Alfie’s Christmas, which came out last year. And it arrived today and I opened it at once, because this is one Christmas present we’re going to enjoy before Christmas. It’s a lovely simple story of the countdown to Christmas in Alfie’s house, and all his preparations—his advent calendar, and drawings of stars, and songs at school, baking cookies and putting up the tree. Iris is drawn to the book for the cats in the pictures, and as we were reading the book, we’re realized that she’s probably the age of Annie-Rose, precisely (and she similarly gets into boatloads of mischief).

Harriet liked the book too, which I was relieved about, because I’ve been sensing lately that she feels a bit too old for Alfie and his tales. “Isn’t he in nursery school?” she asked me the other day at the library when I’d proposed taking out one of his books. As a Senior Kindergartener, I think she regards consorting with nursery schoolers, even in literature, as kind of insulting. But I think she still does like these books as much as I do—they really are our foundational texts. And the Christmas in this particular volume won her over, so she was totally game.

It makes me sad though to think that someday Alfie might really be outgrown. It’s inevitable, of course, but it’s also kind of lonely—this wonderful world I’ve discovered through her that we won’t get to share anymore.

I feel as though Aflie’s Christmas might be one that lasts though, having taken up residence in our Christmas book box. A book that will be pulled out again every year, a process whose very appeal is nostalgia. And one day we’ll be telling a wholly different version of Iris, pointing at Annie-Rose, “Once upon a time this was you.”

October 6, 2014

Bunk Beds

IMG_20141006_133857“Do you remember,” I asked Stuart on Saturday, as we were assembling the bunk beds, the whole room in disarray around us, our baby climbing in and out of the half-built bed frame, placing her life in peril as usual, Harriet making up dance moves in the doorway, “Do you remember when we painted this room?”

When we moved in, this second bedroom had been blue with brown trim, ugly industrial shelving along one wall painted grey. It was terrible, but I had a soft spot for this room, which was the computer room, and where our books would live. I really had a soft spot for this room because it was going to be our baby’s room, although the baby was still 100% hypothetical. We spoke about the baby to nobody when we painted that room later that summer, but we were thinking about her. The couple in my mind who painted that room were ridiculously, impossibly young.

Although when the baby was born, she didn’t move into her room for almost a year—it was easier to have her upstairs sleeping with us. And then once she started sleeping, we moved her down, moved the books and computer out. We put up colourful curtains and a bright carpet, and those ugly shelves—now white and less ugly—were packed with books and toys. About a year later, we put away the crib and our futon became Harriet’s bed—our futon, which was the first piece of furniture we’re ever bought, just after we got married in 2005 when we were so poor, and it was the cheapest in the store and it would become our living room couch. And it’s been her bed ever since, the perfect size bed for the whole family to assemble on at story time, and it’s been a stage for her theatrical and dance performances, as well as the one piece of furniture that Harriet is permitted to jump on when friends come over (and why is it that any time a friend comes over, they all start jumping on beds?).

We love our apartment. We made the investment of a custom-built kitchen table last winter in order to make our kitchen a more liveable space for us, a space we can use in the long-term. And the next project would be the bunk beds, because we were determined to make it work in this place as a family of four, and it’s not impossible that Iris may one day not be sleeping in a crib at the end of my bed. (In the past week, Iris has slept all night twice. So there is a modicum of hope.) We finally bought the bunk beds last weekend on our way home from an apple orchard, from a somewhat dodgy showroom that was actually a garage on a dingy post-industrial stretch of Finch Avenue. But they had low-priced bunk beds with stairs, which were the bunk beds I wanted. Because one who climbs stairs to her bed is afforded a bit more dignity that she who must make do with a ladder. And it turned out to be legit, because the bunk beds were actually delivered, except that then we had to build them ourselves, which was the entire story of Saturday.

This is one of those “we bought bunk beds to create space” stories that turns into the bunk beds taking up the entire room. Yes, I intended there to be more space between the bunk bed and the window than there actually is, but then it could have been worse—for a few minutes, we were terrified that the drawers inside the staircase would not even have room to open. I guess this is why some people measure their rooms before they buy really large pieces of furniture, but we don’t like to worry about details in our family. The bunk beds have cleared up space on the floor, however, and the drawers in the staircase have enabled us to get rid of the Ikea dresser we built really really badly before we decided not to buy things from Ikea anymore. (Preferring dodgy garage showrooms, obviously.)

Harriet loves her new bed, which she refers to as “my cozy den”. She’ll move to the top bunk when Iris moves in, but for now the entire bed is her ship, and she is the captain, and the stairs are blocked off so Iris can’t climb them, even though the first step is too high for Iris to mount anyway, but if we leave her alone for a minute, she’ll sprout an inch and/or construct a step-stool out of her First 100 Words book. In even better news, Stuart and my marriage seems not only to have survived an entire day spent constructing bunk beds, to have grown stronger from the experience. We only said “fuck” a couple of times, and even had fun. We’ve gotten over our shock at having inadvertently bought the largest piece of furniture on the planet, and we’re pretty happy with it. We look forward to the day when the bunk beds actually do sleep the two children they’re intended for and our bedroom is our own again, though that’s looking a long way into the future, and let’s just take each day as it comes.

Mostly though, I’m just amazed, at how the years pass, and the memories accumulate, and the children grow, and how this house contains so many our stories, like layer upon layer of invisible paper on the walls, and there’s some crazy archeology at work here, scraping the surface to rediscover our ancient civilizations, right down there at the the bottom of it all that stupid happy couple with their yellow walls, and absolutely no idea of what the years would have in store.

April 21, 2014

A Tale for the Time Being

a-tale-for-the-time-beingIt was during the summer of 2001 that I started flexing the muscles that would soon come to constitute the foundation of my self, by which I mean that I started book buying in earnest, books that weren’t secondhand paperbacks on my course lists. It was a pretty fantastic time to be buying books. I wasn’t worldly enough to be aware of Toronto’s independent bookshop scene, but I lived at Bay and Charles and was pretty thrilled by this huge and marvellous Indigo shop that had opened up around the corner, and around the corner from there was Chapters, another mega-bookshop, and this was back when mega-bookshops actually sold books. You know, I have nostalgia for those days, when I thought Chapters and Indigo were wonderlands. Like the World’s Biggest Bookstore, but with comfy chairs, and no dingy lighting. Plus, that summer I was working on King Street East, and at lunch time, we’d stop in at Nicholas Hoare and Little York Books, and suddenly my paycheques weren’t going so far, but there I was with The Portable Dorothy Parker and Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, and I was this close to being a grown-up person who could buy books whenever she damn well wanted to. It was delicious.

Though I think I got it on sale, Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats. A hardcover on the remainder shelf, and I bought it at the Bloor Street Chapters. (I loved that store. I still resent the clothing store that later took over the space.) It may well have been the first hardcover I’d ever bought in my life, remaindered or otherwise. It was a monumental acquisition, fun, smart and quirky. As with White Teeth, it brought me an awareness that literature was being written right now, which had never occurred to me as I was plugging away at my English BA. That there was literature beyond my course lists, Joseph Conrad, orange paperbacks, and the New Canadian Library. Ruth Ozeki was a revelation.

And so I’ve been happy to be revelling in her wonderful new novel, A Tale for the Time Being. Everybody on earth already read this book last year and it was listed for all kinds of awards, but I only just got to it now, and it’s so wonderful. So full of everything, and there was the part that reminded me of Back to the Future, and the other that reminded me of A Swiftly Tilting Planet. It was heartbreaking, strange and really beautiful. Definitely worthy of all the acclaim.

This week, I also read Hetty Dorval by Ethel Wilson, who I’d never read before, and that was great too. I was inspired to finally pick it up by Theresa Kishkan’s blog post, and it was partly so great to read because I was reading the Persephone edition.

December 18, 2013

Six Months in, four years later

“My mother didn’t tell me much about motherhood, it’s true. She said she couldn’t remember. None of you ever cried, she said vaguely, and then added that she might have got that wrong.” –Rachel Cusk, A Life’s Work

If I hadn’t written it down, I don’t think I would remember the blurry despair of Harriet’s early days. And even having written it down, the images are fractured. (Joan Didion: “You see I still have the scenes, but I no longer perceive myself among those present, no longer could even improvise the dialogue.”) For a while I’ve supposed that it was really not so bad, and that my tendency to dwell (through writing in particular) had magnified the difficulty and my impressions of my own unhappiness. I have thought this especially since Iris came along and we’ve been weathering all the usual bumps in the road. (“Oh yes, this is why we never wanted to have another baby,” we remembered the other night when once again Iris refused to go to sleep, which, while we meant it, was delivered cheerfully, as a joke.)

The must wonderful and terrible thing about having a blog are its archives. They are, quoting Didion again, “Paid passage back to the world out there.” Sometimes the passage is treacherous though, embarrassing, agonizing, that one person (myself!) could have been so stupid. But it is ever illuminating, these glimpses that remind one to keep in mind the unreliability of memory, the mutability of self.

I remembering telling someone that it was not until around seven months in to Harriet’s life that I was happy in our day-to-day life. (This is important. I am someone who is accustomed to being happy in my day-to-day life.) As time I went on, I started to doubt that this had really been the case, particularly because of how easy Iris has fitted into my life, how much I’m enjoying these days which are mostly spent with her napping on me while I read and write. Surely, I thought to myself, it couldn’t have gone on that long. There are photographs of us smiling. I have excellent memories of wonderful days.

But then I went back recently to read my archives about Harriet at six months, curiosity occasioned by Iris having just reached this milestone. There is a picture of me halfway up a ladder at a bookshop, and I so vividly remembered that day. Stuart had taken the day off and his company was so welcome, and I remembering feeling so fat, horrible, and tired, none of which I mentioned in the post (and I remember feeling quite surprised in fact when the photo wasn’t terrible). It was shocking to me that this had been six months along–I’d remembered it being so much sooner. But then time moved a whole lot slower then.

And then my post about Harriet at six-months, which was useful because it reminded me of her Baby Self who is now lost to us entirely (who sucked on her toes, loved the chicken puppet and had eaten the shopping list the week before).

This was followed by: ” It’s so hard. And I don’t think it ever gets easy, but it gets easier. And then harder too, of course, in all new ways, but the whole thing is also totally worth it in a way I’m really beginning to understand now. Only beginning to, though, because it’s an understanding I can’t articulate or even make sense of to myself, and it’s more a steady current inside of me than a feeling at all./ She is delightful, and fascinating, and amazing, and I can’t remember a world in which Harriet was not the centre. Which is not to say that sometimes I don’t wish for a different focus for a little while, but it would always comes back to her anyway. It always does. And it will forever, but how could it not?”

Confession: I now have no idea what I was talking about. Partly because the writing isn’t terribly clear or good, but mostly because “I no longer perceive myself among those present” in these scenes. Who was that woman anyway? Certainly nobody I’ve ever been.

Isn’t it funny that we persist in imagining time as a line, one thing after another, a cumulation. When it is something else entirely, and only the “now” is ever-present, the past itself gone with a poof out behind us and salvaged sometimes when made into a story.

October 6, 2013

The Things I Want to Keep

thechildrenIn our house, there is now a big plastic bin full of clothing that will never fit anyone in our family ever again. “Should we keep any of it?” I wondered yesterday, only because I thought I had an obligation to wonder. In actuality, we don’t have the room to keep anything and I’m so happy about that because it makes answering such questions much easier. But I wonder too if I will always feel this way, feel the urge to discard pieces of our history, like jetsam.

I haven’t always felt this way. Twenty years ago, I saved everything, any flower I’d ever received hung and dried on a line strung across my dusty, cluttered bedroom. Like most teenagers, I took great care to completely paper my room walls with ticket stubs, magazine cuttings, and photos. When the Blue Jays won the World Series, I saved that day’s newspaper in a cardboard box. I was born afflicted with nostalgia. (I imagine that I am quite human-seeming in this regard.) I remember listening to Meat Loaf’s “Two out of Three Ain’t Bad” when I was six, and telling my dad how it reminded of me of the old days (when I was three). Everything I ever did from age 16-23 was carefully mucilaged into scrapbooks. But enough time passed and so much was accumulated that eventually I could see the futility of my attempts to save everything that mattered, and also that the consequence of it all was stuff stuff stuff and necessarily room enough to put it in.

So we don’t keep much anymore. I only kept a few of the scrapbooks. I am aided in all this by living in an apartment and not having a basement, and also in that so much stuff now exists online, thereby not requiring room enough at all. My blog is perhaps my most precious repository. But I become overwhelmed even by a large number photos on my phone, deleting all those but the essential because I fear being carried away by too muchness. I hate that there are 18,000 messages in my inbox. Books aside, I feel so much lighter living my life without freight. I have decided to retrieve from that plastic bin the stripy sleeper that both my girls wore home from the hospital when they were born, and the rest will go to charity.

“In fact I no longer value this kind of memento./ I no longer want reminders of what was, what got broken, what got lost, what got wasted./ There was a period… when I thought I did./ A period during which I believed that I could keep people fully present, keep things with me, by preserving their mementos, their “things”, their totems… In theory these mementos serve to bring back the moment./ In fact they serve only to make clear how inadequately I appreciated the moment when it was here.” –Joan Didion, Blue Nights

Nostalgia, I have learned with time, is an affliction that can’t be cured, or fixed with a totem. I will keep that sleeper with me, but it won’t bring the past any less faraway. Already, I cannot believe that anybody that I love was ever small enough to wear it.

We went out for posh sushi for dinner last night, our first time having it since our post-partum sashimi party when Iris was 5 days old. I’ve been awash lately in nostalgia for June, as Iris turns 4 months old and leaves her newborn self behind. June, not so long ago, of course, but forever irretrievable, a time like no other before or since for our family. Such a gentle time indeed, just like I knew it was while it was happening. I have no need to keep anything from that bin full of clothes, but oh, how I want to preserve those memories, those moments. That week I spent lying in bed recovering my c-section, when Stuart brought me all my meals and there were only four people in the world. I can no longer remember what it was like to not be able to get out of bed unassisted, or not to be able to turn over without a great deal of pain. All those memories gone, and I just remember the sashimi party in our room, that posh sushi. That was the night Harriet hung up the laundry, and played with her sticker book we’d just received from my friend Kate. How summer always is, the way you want to bottle it.

I remember Stuart taking Harriet to school in the morning, and then coming home to collapse into bed with Iris and I. I remember this one evening when Iris and Harriet were both asleep, and I sat down and wrote a review of a picture book. I remember reading The Flamethrowers, and Where’d You Go, Bernadette? I remember Harriet scampering up the stairs to crawl into bed with us every morning, and there would be all of us there, everyone I love best on a single mattress, an island in the universe. Stuart ensuring I was stocked with snacks, reading Harriet stories while I breastfed, how I was annoyed to once again be mobile because then I couldn’t read so much any more.

In June, Harriet watched the Winnie the Pooh movie with Zooey Deschanel over and over again, and we floated around our house like sleep-deprived lunatics, singing the “honey honey honey” song and “It’s Pooh! It’s Pooh! Pooh wins the honeypot,” whenever we changed Iris’s diaper and the situation called for it. How we’d be up at 4am laughing hysterically about Vladimir Putin’s relationship with rhythmic gymnast, and saying, “His virile persona….” which was alway hilarious. The afternoons when Stuart would strap on the baby and take the children away, and I’d be blessed with an hour or so of precious aloneness. I remembering leaving the house even–hobbling to the farmer’s market clutching my incision, going out for ice cream, walking to the playground to fetch Harriet from school. Her class’s end of the year picnic and glorious sunshine. The first time we took the baby out for a meal, for lunch on Father’s Day and she didn’t explode. Tremendous kindness from everyone: cards and presents in the post, meals dropped off, baked goods and visits. All this proof that we were connected to the world and that the world is good.

None of this particularly monumental, of significance to no one but me, though I suspect that it might remind you of your own precious memories, you own very best times. These are those memories that don’t dissolve into the blur of every day, though dissolve they someday will, all the same. And so to counter that, I write them down here, preserve them in my way. These are the things that I want to keep.

October 25, 2012

My Grade 12 English Text

I’ve started reading Isabel Huggan’s The Elizabeth Stories, because mention of it keeps turning up here and there, and because I keep spying it on terribly clever people’s bookshelves. I got a used copy last weekend, and opened it for the first time this morning to start reading “Celia Behind Me”: “There was a little girl with large smooth cheeks who lived up the street when I was in public school.” And I realized that I’d read this story before, more than once. It was so strangely familiar, like something I’d known in a dream, but somebody else’s dream. So distant because I’d read it a long time ago.

A little investigation revealed that I’d read the story in The New Oxford Book of Canadian Short Stories, edited by Margaret Atwood and Robert Weaver. I remembered the text, a row of spines lined up on the shelf in my grade 12 English classroom. I’d remembered “Celia Behind Me,” and also a story called “White Shoulders” (I remember being perplexed by it) which I was surprised to find out was by Linda Svendsen. (Alice Munro’s “The Red Dress” was not in the collection, but I remember reading that story too in the class.)

I was most surprised to discover that right there in my high school text were all these writers who I feel as though I’ve discovered in the last few years and who’ve become really important to me– Bronwen Wallace, Caroline Adderson, Cynthia Flood. And that Leon Rooke was there too, and John Metcalf, Clark Blaise, Diane Schoemperlen, Barbara Gowdy, Douglas Glover, Thomas King. I am pretty sure that we didn’t read “We So Seldom Look on Love” in my grade 12 English class, but I am just as sure that if I encountered many of these stories again, they would seem as instantly familiar as “Celia Behind Me” did.

This re-encounter has given me a new appreciate for the hoopla surrounding the Salon de Refuses and the Penguin Book of Canadian Short Stories in 2008.  Well-curated anthologies are the optimum way for students to discover the short story, each one onto itself, one at a time. These seminal texts are also more important and influential than I’d before supposed, definitely sowing the seeds of love for short stories and for (Canadian) literature.

For me, it would take awhile for the love to bloom. I would not be exposed to contemporary writing this good again for years, and years, and I’d have to seek it out for myself. But maybe I hadn’t been on my own entirely. It’s been a meandering path from from there to here, but I am pretty sure that the me who picked up Isabel Huggan this morning (for fun) has The New Oxford Book of Canadian Short Stories to thank for a lot of the journey.

September 11, 2012

The Comics

It’s true that from a very young age, I read the entire Saturday paper cover-to-cover, if by “the entire Saturday paper” you mean the Toronto Star comics supplement in all its glorious colour. I loved Blondie and Beetle Bailey, Family Circus and For Better or For Worse, The Better Half and Spiderman. I liked Broom Hilda, Dennis the Menace, Hi & Lois,  and Hagar the Horrible, though I was confused by Little Orphan Annie because it wasn’t like the movie at all. I was depressed by Jon Arbuckle and Cathy, but read their strips anyway, and all the others I didn’t really understand– Ernie, and Mother Goose and Grimm, Shoe,  and many others. In fact, it’s likely that I didn’t understand any of the comics, really, but it didn’t stop me from poring over them every Saturday morning, lying on the living room carpet in my pajamas. There was something in their colours and cartoonishness that made clear that this was my part of the paper; the comics were an invitation and an introduction to the pleasures of newspaper reading.

I do love newspapers, inky ones. When we lived in England, we used to buy so many weekend papers that getting them read was our chief occupation. And these days, we subscribe to the ever-shrinking Saturday Globe & Mail, and it’s still one of my favourite parts of Saturday morning, Tabatha Southey, tea, book reviews and croissants.

Lately Harriet’s got her own part of the paper, and she starts shouting for it as soon as I bring the paper in: “Comics! Comics!” Which is kind of funny because The Globe & Mail comics are mostly terrible, but Harriet doesn’t know and doesn’t care. She sees the cartoon pictures, and she thinks they’re for her. And so she makes us read the whole section aloud, some comics over and over. I don’t know if there has ever been a family so intent on Drabble. Sometimes the comics are even less terrible then you’d think, and when that happens, we’re always kind of amazed.

And thankfully, when the comics are too unfunny, we supplement Harriet’s hunger for them with regular trips to our local kids’ comics shop.

February 29, 2012

Bookends: Joan Didion's Blue Nights and "On Keeping a Notebook"

As I read Joan Didion’s 1966 “On Keeping a Notebook” today, it occurred to me that this essay is the piece that is the bookend to her new book Blue Nights, and not The Year of Magical Thinking as so many critics have suggested. (I also don’t understand why no one talks about Where I Was From. I think it’s my favourite book of all of hers.)

But first, Blue Nights is not a book about Didion’s daughter Quintana Roo. So many readers have got that wrong too. As Didion writes in “On Keeping a Notebook”, “however dutifully we record what we see around us, the common denominator of what we see is always, transparently, shamelessly, the implacable ‘I’.” Like everything Didion has ever written, Blue Nights is profoundly about herself. She’s not even opaque about it, but some readers are still so unable to get around the fact of a woman writing honestly about motherhood than they’ve been hypnotized into thinking motherhood is all that Blue Nights is about.

But yes, to read “On Keeping a Notebook” after Blue Nights is to invest the essay with a whole new level of meaning. “Although I have felt compelled to write things down since I was five years old, I doubt that my daughter ever will, for she is a singular blessed and accepting child, delighted with life exactly as life presents itself to her, unafraid to go to sleep and unafraid to wake up.” And then later, “…I have always had trouble distinguishing between what happened and what might have happened, but I remain unconvinced that the distinction, for my purposes, matters.” In Blue Nights, Didion writes, “How could I have missed what was so clearly there to be seen?”

And then further on the essay when she addresses her notes, her compulsion to maintain these notebooks in order to keep in touch with the people she used to be, “paid passage back to the world out there”. She was 32 when she wrote this essay, which is the age I am now, and it’s an age at which you feel there are whole lifetimes behind you, and it’s so fascinating to consider these. 32 is an age where your preceding decade has changed life beyond all recognition, and you’ve finally sensed an order to it all. How, as the older woman in Didion’s essay tells her, “Someday it all comes.” And none of it has started to leave you yet; the future is all promise, and it’s here.

Blue Nights is a 77 year old Didion looking back at her 32 year old self who’d supposed herself older than she’d ever be again. In Blue Nights, she notes the boxes and drawers in her apartment stuffed with history, the notebooks, the stuff she’s been acquiring through her years, all items she’d once blithely advertised as “paid passage back to the world out there.”

She writes, “In fact I no longer value this kind of memento./ I no longer want reminders of what was, what got broken, what got lost, what got wasted./ There was a period… when I thought I did./ A period during which I believed that I could keep people fully present, keep things with me, by preserving their mementos, their “things”, their totems.”

She writes, “In theory these mementos serve to bring back the moment./ In fact they serve only to make clear how inadequately I appreciated the moment when it was here.”

“It all comes back,” Didion writes in 1966, unaware of the shallowness of what she’d lost so far, convinced by the rhythm of her words. And Blue Nights is her realization more than 40 years later: there comes a day when it doesn’t anymore.

November 17, 2011

Of Eatons and Avenues

Last night I finished Rod McQueen’s The Eaton’s: The Rise and Fall of Canada’s Royal Family, which I was reading because Jonathan Bennett had included in his Power & Politics Book List, and then I found a copy in a cardboard box outside a house on Borden Street last summer. And to be reading this book right after Heather Jessup’s The Lightning Field is to be steeped in old Toronto now, to be rumbling up and down its avenues like the old cream coloured streetcars of my childhood. And to be so steeped is to be led down strange avenues online, pursuing the odd history of Dundas Street, or even leaving town to find this fascinating 1958 article in Macleans by Peter C. Newman about Deep River ON: “The Utopian town where our atomic scientists live and play has no crime, no slums, no unemployment and few mothers-in-law. But maybe you wouldn’t like it after all. Here’s why.”

McQueen’s story of the Eaton family was readably rife with scandal and gossip, and good old fashioned story. Art heists, a foiled kidnapping, cuckolds, Fascists, terrorists, Rolls Royces, idiots, feuding siblings, and fallen empires– you wouldn’t know this was Canada. How the Eatons myth was divorced from its reality, and the public was so determined to keep the myth perpetuated. The book ends in 1997, when how far the Eatons would fall was still not entirely clear, and that they only fell further doesn’t undermine the story’s importance. That this book is out of print, however, to be found in curbside cardboard boxes only (though thank heaven for such distribution really) is totally ridiculous.

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Coming Fall 2019:

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