Wednesday, December 29, 2010
A low-key Christmas, of course, with bits of melancholia mixed in to relieve the near-total apathy. But, all in all, I believe it was no worse than expected, and maybe even a little better.
I was reading an old post the other day - the one about the 106 most unread books. I wanted to assess my progress through my self-imposed program of Improvement. And I've done okay - I have added five to my "Have Read" list, and I have added three to my "Have Started" list. (The library wanted them back.)
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West
Tale of Two Cities
The Once and Future King
Initially I was disappointed to see only five pins down, but two of them are Ayn Rand meisterwerke, so I shouldn't feel badly about that. I nearly went blind reading Atlas Shrugged in particular. It was during our June visit to Ontario, and I read that sucker in eleven days. About 1100 pages, in teeny print.
I had a lot to say about Atlas Shrugged after I read it, but that was six months ago and now I'm not nearly so motivated to talk about it. Plus, it's really long and preachy. But on the up-side, the sexual tension is handled brilliantly. If there's one thing Ayn Rand knows, it's timing. (Except "when to quit" - that part she struggled with.)
The Fountainhead made me tired.
Vanity Fair, it turns out, is a page-turner. It's one of my friend Bethro's favourites, and I can see why. I didn't LOVE it, but it's a good one for discussion. I personally think Thackeray likes Becky better than Amelia, but that's despite himself. Or maybe he's just being ironic - giving Amelia the rewards of virtue in the end although he, himself, values Becky's acerbity over Amelia's insipidity. Hm.
Anyway, a word on style: Vanity Fair is like a really long and rather slower-paced Georgette Heyer novel. If you have managed more than a handful of Heyers and enjoyed them, you will probably like VF. I did find, though, that VF is hard to read when spread over a long period. You have to concentrate on it, and that's easier when you read it in, say, two weeks rather than six.
Watership Down, on the other hand, is one of my desert island books now. I always thought vaguely that it was a gentle, pastoral children's book, on the lines of "Wind in the Willows" for a slightly older reader. I certainly wouldn't have called it "edgy", or anything.
Boy, was I wrong.
It's about animals, sure, but it's totally serious, not in the least tongue-in-cheek, not at all wry about the fact that these bunnies have their own myth tradition and none of them can count past five. The world they live in is masterfully set up. I can't say anymore, except that you should read it. If you find it a slow start (there is some background to get through), just at least finish off the first three chapters. If you're not hooked, you probably never will be and you can go on to something else.
Lastly, the self-effacingly titled A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. And my only comment on that is: neither. It was good enough - certainly had its poignant moments. Lots of gratuitous bad language, which got annoying in a surprisingly short amount of time. So maybe I'd amend the title to "A Slightly Emotive Work of Mediocre Talent".
What am I reading next? I was thinking that maybe you should give me some recommendations. Pick something from the list, and leave a comment saying which book I should tackle next, and I'll read and review it.
If nobody expresses a preference, I'll go on to Anna Karenina, which has just been lent to me by a friend. I've ordered The Once and Future King from Chapters with Christmas money (thanks Mom!), for the #2 spot, and I believe after that will be Catch-22.
Here's the list of what remains unread. I have just counted, and there are 60 titles here, which means I've read 46. I'd like to get half done this list, which is seven more books, by the spring. Just for bragging rights, nothing important.
Tell me what to get from the library, and I'll get started. (Just please, please don't make me read non-fiction. I don't care much about Guns, Germs, OR Steel. And not that true crime one either. I don't like crime.)
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
The Name of the Rose
The Tale of Two Cities
Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies (I do not want to read this.)
War and Peace
The Kite Runner
Reading Lolita in Tehran: a memoir in books (I don't really want to read this either.)
Wicked: the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
The Historian: a novel
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Love in the Time of Cholera
A Clockwork Orange
The Once and Future King
The Poisonwood Bible: a novel
Angels & Demons
The Satanic Verses
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
To the Lighthouse
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
The Sound and the Fury
Angela’s Ashes : a memoir
The God of Small Things
A People’s History of the United States : 1492-present (No. I don't want to read it.)
A Confederacy of Dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything (It better be.)
Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed (Uh uh.)
On the Road
Freakonomics : a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything (Nothing by an economist, please.)
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an inquiry into values
In Cold Blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences (Yuck. No.)
The Three Musketeers
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Wednesday, December 08, 2010
I had a lot of time to think, while we were on the ferry back to the island. We embarked on our 31-hour journey from Prince Rupert in the afternoon, under a cloudless sky. We sailed south past barge terminals, docks, and canneries. Then those dropped back to the stern, and it was tugs and seiners and buoys. Then those dropped astern and we moved on into isolated channels, past narrow coves and innumerable waterfalls. As the sun set, dropping smudgy and red through the clear winter sky behind the western mountains of Grenville Channel, the full moon rose pale and chilly in the east.
It was too cold to be much on the outer decks, but I spent as long as I could tolerate outside, thinking, staring at the steep sides of the channel we were navigating.
Darkness crept up on us while we were still in Grenville Channel. I put the children to bed, and stayed curled on the porthole sill, watching the moon.
I was hundreds of kilometres from the nearest electric light. The ship was barely lit. The passage we traveled was waveless – protected from the open sea. The black ocean slid underneath in a heavy liquid ink that felt bottomless. Above me was the round and silent moon, sailing in her own black unending sea.
For hours I watched it – saw it above, saw it below. I gazed at the coastline, an otherworldly, blurred slash of distant paleness, the only proof that we were divided: sea and sky. If it weren’t for that shoreline, we – the moon and the sleeping children and I – could have been on the continuous inside of a dark liquescent ball.
Bathed in the moon and the remoteness of the night, my communion with the dark Pacific brought a sudden realisation.
Sandy died hours after September’s full moon, in the early morning following the autumnal equinox. The high tide had begun to ebb one hour before - and not long before that, she had sat up in bed and said her last words. I have to go.
Four Fridays later, I had watched October’s full moon rise and thought of how she had left - intentionally, it seemed - on the turning of the tide, the turning of the moon, the turning of a season – her favourite season.
And now eight weeks had passed, and on my journey home from retreat, I saw a third full moon rise.
I know when the next one will come: a rarity – a full moon on winter solstice, the longest night of the year. Solstice marks the time when earth’s life forces are at their lowest ebb. Everything is dead or sleeping. But every day afterwards will be a little longer...our faces are turned towards the sun for a few extra minutes of warmth every day, until finally it will be enough to awaken the plants, and rouse the animals, and break open the seeds lying under the melting snow.
The wheel of the year will turn again.
It has been a hard time. Nearly a full year has passed since Dad came to tell me of his diagnosis, and since Sandy came to me and told me her cancer was back. Now he is cancer-free – healthy – and she is dead.
And we have suffered.
So there is one more moon to come: a full moon to light the longest night – the moon that will close this season of mourning.
The morning after, light will begin to return to the sleeping earth.
Light will begin to return to me.
Last spring, I wrote “I’m lost. I don’t know how to lose a friend. I think the handbook for that might turn out to be short: muddle through as best you can.” Now I’ve lived the end of our story, hers and mine, and I can look back on the last twelve months and say, with peace: I have done well. This job I had to do, this task given me to accomplish, was painful and difficult and it broke my heart...but all I could, I did.
And it was enough, and more than enough.
Now I find, at the end, that one of the most important things is to let go of a thing that is over. To know the job is done, to have experienced it fully, to let it become a part of who I am, and to go in peace towards something new.
There are times in your life that grow you up – push you up a steep and rocky slope, which you have to scramble to stay on top of, and when you reach the summit your hands are bleeding and your fingers ache from holding on, but you’re changed, and stronger, and the view is incredible.
Life is a beautiful thing. Death can be a beautiful thing.
The time for weeping is nearly over. I can feel the season of mourning passing away. I’m ready for the wheel to turn, ready for the next season to begin. It’s an everlasting cycle, and I am a part of it.
Friday, December 03, 2010
I feel like putting on a floaty dress and heels.*
And now, for your admiration, I'd like to introduce my beautiful niece and nephew:
Brother and sister, they have been in care at Addis Ababa for about 7 months. Gwen hopes to bring them home in the spring - once the rest of the paperwork is done. (It's agonising.)
My nephew is probably 8 or 9 years old (though his paperwork says 7), and my newest niece is 3.
And this is "Ehet" (sister).
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
I said to Gwen, “Sandy bought me a Christmas ornament on my birthday every year. Tomorrow’s her birthday, so I’m going to buy myself an ornament...I’m thinking of one of those Starbucks ones because she had one on her tree.” The next day, Sandy’s 47th birthday, Gwen went to get a few groceries in the morning, and came back with a little paper bag. In it was a card telling me she loved me, and a little red and white china Starbucks cup with a gold ribbon. I cried and cried, and she cried, and we hugged.
She made Sandy a birthday cake – Black Forest, from scratch. With yummy brandied cherries she canned herself, and real homemade buttercream. We sang “Happy Birthday to Sandy” with huge smiles, huge voices, like she could hear us. (She could.)
The kids played Twister, and laughed and fell on the floor. I finished knitting my legwarmers and wore them around, every day, with the yarn ends still hanging off. Gwen cooked Ethiopian and I ate so much I felt faintly sick.
I vacuumed. (I love vacuuming.)
On the last day, we looked fondly at each other, misty-eyed, and agreed that it was the best visit ever, and nobody wanted us to go home. Not me, not Gwen, not my brother-in-law, not the children (who have never gotten along as well as they did these two weeks), not even the niece who gave up her room for us.
I have a lot to say about the ferry journey, but that’s for a different day. For today, I’ll close by saying this.
There’s nothing like family, and there’s nothing like friends.
There’s nothing like friends IN your family.
You know that saying: “home is where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in”? Well, “have to”, nothing. We want to.
And that’s a huge blessing, and a precious gift.
Saturday, November 06, 2010
The Celts believed that a traveller wishing for safety and luck should cross three waters at the start of her sojourn. I will be crossing a river, then an ocean, and then a river again. The ocean crossing will take an entire day...once round the sun to accomplish 272 nautical miles.
Travel is always significant. This time, I hope to be restored for the next fifteen days as I stay, with my children, in my sister's house. I hope to come back - again by ship - with more peace, more optimism, fewer tears. The smaller salt swallowed up in the larger.
See you on the other side.
Tuesday, November 02, 2010
But this afternoon, while working on my first Mosey, I thought something didn't feel quite right - what should have been centred, wasn't.
I turned the knitting this way and that.
I noticed an odd abundance of purls.
So I counted.
How did I get this far, I ask myself, how on earth did I get 30 rounds in without noticing I had cast on not 76 stitches, but 64?
Thirty rounds is far.
Even the four purl stitches together, on the needle join of a 2X2 rib, did not alert me.
So I am unravelling, and putting ice cream on my humble pie.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Thanks for the votes, friends!
First of all, it's annoying me that the only edition I could find in my library is one with Reese Witherspoon on the cover. I am not a snob, normally, but I admit I find it a little galling to be seen reading a book that says "Now A Major Motion Picture" on it. It may be a character failing - I'll look into it. (See "self-improvement program", above.)
Except for the cover, I actually quite like the book. It's more interesting than I expected. However, the print is small, and if there's one thing that points out one's age, it's trying to read a book whose lower-case "o"s measure one millimeter in diameter.
I measured one.
William Makepeace Thackeray is also much too fond of moralising in parenthetical asides to the reader. My high-school writing teacher would have hemorrhaged red ink all over his MS - "Show, don't tell!" she'd have written. He "shows" just fine - there is no need to tell. Cynically, I suspect that he, like Dickens, was being paid by the word.
Saturday, October 23, 2010
This month treated me well. Not happily, but well. Filtered through a screen of death, life took on a sharpness I didn't anticipate. A lot of things clarified for me during the last four weeks.
I will have more to say about it - her death is the central fact in my life: and will be, for some time - but for now, for a little while, I can leave this alone.
The posts I've written since September 24 have generated lot of response. Privately, I've had many emails about them: about their resonance in readers, about the way I've written them. I want to thank everyone for their remarks - interestingly, I've been so comforted from your response to these posts. It's reassuring to know that so many of you understand what I'm trying to say.
My original post, written the day Sandy died, is in the final round of the Canadian Blog Awards' "Best Post 2010" category. The CBAs, unlike the CWAs, are a voting-driven competition, so if you would like to vote (as many times as you like, but only once per 24-hour period), you can do so at the link above, or in the sidebar, above right. Half Soled Boots is also in the final round of the "Family and Parenting" category.
Thank you all, again, for your good wishes, prayers, and support during Sandy's illness and since her death. You've been an amazing comfort to me, and I'm so grateful.
Saturday, October 16, 2010
But I am writing to you as if you can hear me.
Today is my birthday. I thought about you all day, about how you used to come here with something yummy and with a Christmas ornament for me, every year. That was wonderful, I loved that so much. I turned 37 today and thought about when you were 37, and had your little son at long last. I sent you a card and "The Runaway Bunny". Then when you were 39 I had my daughter, and you sent me a card and "Where the Wild Things Are".
Your birthday is in just a few weeks. I will make scones in honour of us, and then go out and buy myself an ornament that reminds me of you. Maybe a Starbucks one because I love the little china cup you always have on your tree.
I should tell you that I have become great friends with Elvera. She and I seem to understand each other...she has invited me to your old summer camp to cook with her next year, and (this is making me cry for the first time today...) I think you would be so pleased to know that I am going to go there in your footsteps and do what you did. I'm so happy that I will get to be in that same kitchen and maybe learn from Elvera about those roasted vegetables you used to do.
My mom misses you. My daughters miss you. Ian misses you too. He loved you.
Did you see how many people came to your funeral? 662 - it was crazy. I felt a bit sorry for Bryan because I think every last one of them hugged him and cried a little. Not to blame them.
But Bryan's doing great. I'm so glad you got him to the homeopath before you died...it has made a world of difference. He was standing up to people, the week after you left. You should have seen him during some of those pre-funeral organisation meetings - you would have been proud. He was firm - quiet, respectful, but firm and decisive. He didn't let people walk on him. I was proud of him too.
In a way I think he might come into his own, now. He is stronger and I think he will become a different man, a different father, as a result of having to live without you.
Not that I think it's a good thing you are gone. This is my way of finding a silver lining, that's all.
I will never stop missing you.
I want to type "you'll never know how much I love you", but I think I'm wrong about that. I think I loved you exactly the same amount as you loved me.
I have such comfort, I want you to know - such comfort that you and I had something nearly unspoken. I want you to know that I know you loved me...I know you were close to me. Even though we didn't always get to see each other as often, or spend as much time together these past three years once you went back to work, I know it didn't mean anything. Don't worry about that. I know you worried about it, and you felt bad, but I'm telling you it's okay.
I love you so much. I always felt you were uncomfortable with the term 'best friend', but you need to know that I called you that always, and I will call you that always, and that it's not some sort of competition - it's a statement of fact. Of my friends, you are the best. The best, my darling.
I also need to tell you that, because of that last morning we spent together, when your soul was clinging on with the most fragile of tendrils to your body, I do not fear death any longer. You have helped me with my deepest dread. You showed me that I can go toward that moment with certainty and peace. You showed me that pain is fleeting, but acts of love, generosity, freedom of spirit, uproarious laughter, and determined kindness last for a generation.
I love you so much.
I will miss you so much.
I will come and have coffee with you in your mansion the second I get there. Because now there really IS someone in heaven that I can hardly bear to be without.
The world is without salt, my lovely, best of friends. I can never savour it in the same way again.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
I suppose the well-intentioned but misguided remarks come out of not knowing what to say. After all, what does one do with a person who is sad? How do you speak to that person about your plans for Thanksgiving, or remind them that they owe you $27?
At what point does mourning become a bother?
This process is new to me. I'm not sure what to expect from it. I'm not sure how far my inner resources will take me. I don't know at what point my heart will have had enough time...I wonder when I can start everything up again.
Grief is uncomfortable for a lot of people. They'd like to get it tidied out of the way. I cleaned up Sandy's bedroom two hours after she died, so her husband wouldn't have to come back home to hospice supplies, a rubber sheet, the aftermath of paramedics and fear and horror. Is it like that for people? They don't want to examine the frailty and uncertainty, the damage of death?
I don't know. I don't understand it. But I can see the need in their eyes when they ask me how I am - the anxiety that I might take my walls down and talk about my real feelings. Such a sense of relief when I stick to "I'm fine, thanks."
As a rule, I'm not a sharer. None of those people are in particular danger of having to soothe my sorrowing tears. But when I see how eager they are to pretend it never happened, to act like no one died, I think they might be cheating themselves. Remember Rascal? Every precious page of that beautiful book is a drop of flavour and texture, colour and scent and love. Not because he has the raccoon, but because he's going to lose the raccoon.
I've decided. I will feel the hurt as keenly and as deliberately as I felt the joy and the love of her before. As carefully as I will, sometime later, feel the happiness of remembering her.
I will wait it out.
The end will come eventually.
Monday, October 04, 2010
Sandy and I were close. Imagine something dreadful happens to you - or something amazingly wonderful. Who do you call first? I would call Gwen, Mum, and Sandy.
It was more than help in trouble: more than filling a need. It was a safe place for us both to go. It was a comfortable silence, a cosy blanket, the Food Network on and the remote within reach. Scone day: I know her tea should be milky and hot, she knows my coffee is black and strong. Her favourite Devon cream, in the little glass jar, is $4.49. $3.99 on sale, and I'd buy two and bring them over. I'm closer to the grocery store than she is. I made the lemon curd and she made the strawberry jam.
She likes it when I bring my knitting.
I like the way she says "thinger" when she can't remember the name of something. "Hand me that keychain thinger."
She likes that I recognise all her literary allusions. "I feel like Mrs. Kirk."
We understand each other.
We understood each other.
But my friend is gone.
I visited the place where we last met.
Nothing was changed, the gardens were well-tended,
The fountains sprayed their usual steady jet;
There was no sign that anything had ended
And nothing to instruct me to forget.
The thoughtless birds that shook out of the trees,
Singing an ecstasy I could not share,
Played cunning in my thoughts. Surely in these
Pleasures there could not be a pain to bear
Or any discord shake the level breeze.
It was because the place was just the same
That made your absence seem a savage force,
For under all the gentleness there came
An earthquake tremor: Fountain, birds and grass
Were shaken by my thinking of your name.
- Elizabeth Jennings
Friday, September 24, 2010
As the past week progressed, I began to realise what the 500th post would be. I just had to wait for something to happen, and that would be the day I'd say my half-a-thousandth to you.
Today is the day.
Five days is not a long time. Five days is how long it takes a birthday card to arrive from Ontario. Five days is a nice stay at a resort. Five days will get you, in your average four-door sedan, from Vancouver Island to....oh, maybe Winnipeg.
Sunday was okay. It was fine - not great, but not terrible. There was an update sent out, saying that she was feeling a little better - that she was not so bothered by this crushing heat that had oppressed her for days.
Monday was different. I couldn't be there, and couldn't be there Tuesday.
Wednesday I spent the day with her. The second I walked into her house, I could feel the loss of what had begun to ebb away. Time to get ready.
And then this morning. It followed a night spent in wondering and knowing, alternately. An hour or so of sleep, scattered by a 4:45 AM phone.
She's in a coma. The ambulance is on its way (I could hear it) and could I meet them (they are coming).
A fumbling of shaking hands and jeans and shoes. A dropping of keys and writing a frantic note for the sleeping household. I'm walking to the hospital.
A block to go and there's a vehicle approaching from behind - it passes and I see a flash of white, a reassuring red, a lit window through which I can see a uniform bent over the unseen stretcher.
"Are you a family member?" My mouth begins what is the heart's truth: "she's my sister" and I note this with surprise before I say, amazed that it should be so, "no....just a friend."
Paramedics ask "what's your name? Okay Shannon, you're taking her legs. We're lifting on three."
Through the blankets what I am lifting are not legs, not feet: they are two rounded, firm hot water bottles, but they're filled with ice. I decide then that this is one of my jobs...I am going to keep my warm hands on them every second I can.
Her husband is trying to listen to the oncologist. He is pain, cohering into the blurry shape of a man. He is running in silver beads all over the floor, an explosion of harm and agony.
This is one of my jobs. When it is time, I will collect him back together carefully.
He kneels. His hand on the skin of her scalp, her hair just beginning again. "It's just that I love you so. I love you so."
I ask the oncologist. "Today?" She looks at me for a half-second, assessing. "Yes. Are you Shannon?" I'm so surprised that she knows me. Everyone I meet today, for the first time, knows me.
Just a friend.
"We have a private room for you upstairs."
"A private room in a Canadian hospital, is that possible?" her husband tries a laugh, through the scream I can see just under his skin.
"For situations like this. I'll tell them there is a big family coming. We're moving you to 3 south."
I don't ask, I just come along. I've got her feet.
The room number pleases me. 321. Her husband is dyslexic, so I'm pleased for him too. One two three. On your marks.
I see nothing else about the room, because if I am in it, I am staring at her face. I am noting everything, with the intense study of a scholar. I am trying to find her.
I move to her shoulder, lay my warm and strong arm all along the chill length of hers. One hand on her head, I put my face in her shoulder. I smell the morphine. "It's Shannon, sweetheart. I am here for Bryan. Your babies are fine. We will make sure. Don't worry. Everything is going to be all right. I love you so much. I'm so glad to see you today. I'm not leaving."
An elevator opens. My friend's father. He comes inside. He shouts "No." and turns away and shouts again.
"I can't do this."
He doesn't really know me. But I can do something. Now I will pray for him.
I am staring at her face. No one will remember this like I will. No one notices she has not blinked. Her open eyes, thickly coated with yellow, will not change through these hours.
But I notice.
Her husband talks to her. His sobbing is a flail on my heart. I want to die.
"I have loved you so much for 23 years we had together. Remember when we drove across Canada? We had coffee and talked. You read to me. I loved every minute of that. I loved being with you. And now here I am with you at the end and I love you."
I am staring at her face.
People want phone calls made. There are people who should be here, who don't know yet. This is one of my jobs. I can do this. I walk down the corridor and do it.
"I am so sorry to wake you with such bad news. You don't know me. I'm just a friend."
Someone says to me, "Shannon, I need tea. Please. And Bryan should have something."
Be right back. I think there's a lounge downstairs, I'll find a kettle.
I have just poured the last of the water over a bag, into styrofoam, when there is a slamming of a stairwell door, a voice raised. "Shannon! the kids are here, we need you upstairs, they are hysterical."
I run. I wonder vaguely if I can do three stairs at a time - settle for two.
They are here, in the hallway, one just turned eleven and one about to turn eight. I try not to think about her birthday, fifteen days from this day. I can feel the panic building so I push the birthday away.
Her son is sobbing, shrieking and powerless and helpless with it. Her daughter gets to her feet. "I can't stand anymore. I can't stand it."
"Let's take a walk. There's a lovely window at the end of the hall."
Little one, I will be normal for you. Sandy, I can be normal for your babies. It's my job.
And I have not seen her for a while, but I have memorized her face. I can stay in the corridor, because I can see her here. I am seeing her.
There is a friend, familiar to the children, and she takes them away. They are finished. This is too much for them.
A sudden change for the better. She has turned to her husband's voice. She has raised her hands.
I go back inside. Somehow there is only me, for a minute, and Sandy. She is restless, nerveless fingers motioning to the blanket as if to raise it. She cannot grasp it. Her eyes fixed, still open. She must be so distressed. She needs me. I still her hands and rest my cheek against her head. "Ssh. Don't worry. It's okay. It's nearly finished. I know you're cold sweetheart. It's okay. I love you."
Her hands lift. She is rubbing her scalp. The motion makes her need to cough. There isn't enough breath.
We will raise her bed a little. We will fold her blanket behind her shoulders.
Her fingers, far from her sides, are pulling down as though to make sure she is covered. Under the blankets she is bare, except for her shirt. I can see she is worried.
I cover her. My hand is on her shoulder again and I say quietly, "You are covered. Be easy."
Her mask is too tight. The oncologist steps in, stethoscope to her ears. No one breathes as she listens. She steps back. "You know what? let's take that mask off. There is air going in, but not much. The mask is not helping her."
And there is my friend. Her mouth drawn down in suffocation, her amber eyes open, her pale hands floating.
Someone else's voice. "Shannon."
I do not look away from her. "What do you need?" I say quietly. Where does this composure come from?
"Sandy's favourite Psalm. Psalm 91. Can you read it for us?"
I am standing at the death of my friend. I am standing with one hand on her, and with the other holding her husband's Bible. I can do this for them. She will hear this one more time from me, and if I never did anything well before, I will do this well. How do I put peace into my voice? I will do it.
Because she has set her love upon Me, therefore I will deliver her.
I will set her on high, because she has known my name.
She shall call upon Me, and I will answer her;
I will be with her in trouble
I will deliver her and honor her
With long life I will satisfy her
And show her My salvation.
I am her friend.
I kneel beside her shoulder. I am staring at her face. Her breath is a flutter, a quick reflex, no more than three in a single minute.
I am drawing in what she needs. I am breathing in deeply, the way she used to. I realise that I am not willing her to stay alive. I am willing her to die.
Because I am her friend.
Her husband, across from me, cries. The cancer is breaking him in two.
I am staring at her face.
There is a rush inside me and my head throbs. My throat constricts over words I know I must say, but I wish for an insane moment that everyone would just go away so I don't have to say them in front of anyone else.
I don't want them to hear. It will be hard for them to hear.
My hands are on her arms. Her ear is nearly close enough for me to whisper. She won't hear a whisper.
I don't want to say it.
I love her so much.
I don't want them to hear. They will not like it.
I can do this for her.
It is my job.
I open my mouth. I draw in her breath.
I say it. "Go in peace."
And she goes.
There are no more flutters.
And I have done this for her.
I have been her friend.
I laugh. I am so light. She is not in pain anymore. She doesn't have cancer. She is cured.
I say something else people might not like.
I get up and I go out to the corridor. I've been asked to phone many people but the first number I dial is my own. My husband answers. "She is gone." My mother is there too. "Mum, she's gone." I get to the end of the hall, right in front of the lovely window. I turn one corner, out of sight of her room, and I grip the handrail. I am on my knees in the hallway, hanging on grimly to the rail.
I'm cracking. My chest is in splinters down the middle and all the pain is going to come shrieking out if I don't watch it.
I get a grip on myself. I stand. I drag my sleeve across my face.
I dial the first number.
A vague amount of time goes by. I have told a lot of people and I am astonished how easy it is. "I am very sorry, but I am calling you with very bad news. I must tell you that your friend Sandy passed away fifteen minutes ago."
I am so sorry to tell you that your sister-in-law Sandy passed away twenty minutes ago.
I am so sorry but I must tell you that Sandy passed away about a half hour ago.
I am back in the room.
I do not look at her face anymore.
I am looking at him, instead.
"I just don't want to leave her here," he is sobbing. "I just need a minute more before I can leave her here."
When he has come out, we go in - one at a time.
I wait. I smile. I am pressing every bit of myself against the edges of that crack. There is a seam of dazzling, disastrous light in the middle of it.
It's my turn.
Even as I put my hand on the doorknob, I don't know what I will do inside. I don't know what will happen.
I step into the room and cross to her. I press my arms against her cold arms. I use every bit of gentleness I have when I cradle her face in my hands. I lay my open palms against the top of her chest, feeling her collarbones and her stillness.
I lift her hand, carefully opening her chilly fingers to slide mine inside.
I kiss her hand.
I cross to the open window and stand for a minute looking out at the sheets of cold rain.
I open it a little more, reaching a hand through.
I don't understand.
My palm is smooth and pale. Drops of water, driven by the wind, splash against it.
I wipe my cold hand against my face.
I cross to the door.
I leave the empty room.
Sunday, September 19, 2010
It's fall, so that means blog awards. I've been nominated in a few categories of the Canadian Weblog Awards - thank you, phantom nominator! - which are being competed a little differently this year. The winning blogs will be judged by a panel, rather than being awarded based on number of votes. I'm entirely content with this approach, and in fact am enormously pleased just to have been nominated.
Half Soled Boots has been named in three categories - Best Written, Best Family and Parenting, and Best Crafting. Once someone notices that the knitting content has dropped off sharply, I'm sure the last nomination will be moot.
In any event, we'll watch for the shortlist (December 1) and will keep you updated as to whether or not HSB advances. Any good wishes gratefully accepted.
(Now that I have been nominated for a "Best Written" award, I feel like I can use sentence fragments with impunity. I've read "The Shipping News": I know fragments are de rigueur.)
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
I was standing by the open slider door to the back yard, when a finch flew directly at me, hovered in the air right in front of my chest for a moment, then darted past me into the house. It perched on the top cuff of my (unoccupied) boot, pooped inside it, and flew back out again.
I was washing dishes. A bird flew in through the open window, alighted on the rim of the dining room chandelier, then flew back out again.
I was sitting in the living room five minutes ago, drinking cabernet and thinking about life, when two finches flew toward the back window. One bonked against the glass and fluttered dizzily away, while the other hit the open half, came straight inside, landed on the floor, hopped about for a second, and flew back out again.
So if a bird in the house means a death is coming, and trouble comes in threes, I am in big kaka right now.
Monday, September 13, 2010
I've been working on my niece's sweater - fields of white stockinette with zero interest until the button band, which is stranded. I've finished all the pieces except the hood. Work in progress:
And here is the swatch for the colours. I started out with a paler green and a paler pink (you can see them down near the cast-on edge) but they were all wrong - too babyish. The new ones are much better.
Lots of things are going on lately - I was joking to my mom the other day that I feel like I'm manning a crisis hotline. My poor friends are having a terrible time - 2010 is a doozy. I'm managing by careful administration of movies, fiction, alcohol, and stimulants.
Wednesday, September 01, 2010
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
When it comes to doling out the relaxation, I think I am more owed than owing. See how my laundry room looks?
I put a gallon of paint on the wall. Unfortunately, I need another gallon to deal with the other half of the room, so my photos all resolutely face the one direction.
This room is also my 'school room' and though some people on this earth have lovely school rooms with lots of coordinated colours and tasteful wicker baskets in cubbies, I am stuck in the wretched teal laundry room, with some kind of weird rubber floor and no practical (or beautiful) storage options.
When I started homeschooling (FOUR years ago, good grief) I resisted all pretense to formality. I didn't like the preoccupation that other HS mothers had with their schoolrooms. It felt like playing, to me - like they were more interested in lining up pretty glass jars with paintbrushes in, than they were in facilitating their children's natural tendency towards discovery.
It was a 'baby' and 'bathwater' thing.
Now, with Charlotte starting Grade Four, I've noticed a few things. Firstly, the higher the grade, the more organisation you need. The simple fact is, there is more to cover. The time commitment is greater, the content is more demanding, the child is more inquisitive and both deserves and can handle more detailed information. A kindergartner can be given an important lesson just by handing them scissors and coloured paper, and reading them "One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish". It doesn't keep a nine year-old nearly as busy.
Secondly, the dark, cold, chaotic laundry room just doesn't have the right vibe. The feng shui of the place practically pushes you out of the door physically. It's like a WalMart - the second you walk in, your hips start to hurt, your feet cramp, the fluorescents make your eyelids twitch and you get an irritable headache. That's not good enough for my kids.
Lastly, we keep thinking of it as the 'laundry room'. That is just plain bad prioritising. It can't be 'the laundry room where school happens', it has to be 'the schoolroom where laundry happens'.
So I'm making a schoolroom. It has a map of the world, it has an art line. It has a dictionary and a thesaurus, and a guinea pig. It will have a globe, soon, and a magnetic calendar. It has a weather chart, a planisphere, several compasses and a protractor.
And it will have math, and spelling tests, and hand cramps from writing, and it will have lying-on-the-carpet (when we get one), and listening-to-audiobooks-while-painting, and playing-with-the-guinea-pig, and lying-around-knitting.
So it won't be a place of constriction, or a monument to the mainstream, and it doesn't make me a martinet, or my children droids.
I think I can handle it.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
It's been a good while since I had a Messy Tuesday post, but that doesn't mean it's been a good while since I had a Messy Tuesday. This is my laundry room. It's meant to be a "Before" picture, but the "After" hasn't arrived yet.
Mañana, I say.
I was in my old beloved city on the weekend, to bear witness to this:
Weddings always make me cry, and not because they're happy occasions. They make me cry because those two are standing at the foot of Everest, squinting optimistically up at the summit. The happy couple is thinking about standing astride the peak, in a heroic pose, with endless sky behind them. When in fact, if they ever DO get there, they will be bruised, bleeding, suffocating and suffering. Marriage is bloody hard work.
This shouldn't be taken in any way as a slight to my husband, by the way.
And anyhow I'm sure the last 13 years have been just as gruelling for him as they have been for me. We love each other like sandwiches, but I think every married person would agree with me that, to make it work, each partner needs a level of perseverance and dedication that few newlyweds are prepared for.
But hey - marriage is the ultimate 'learn as you go' activity...second only to parenting, I'd say. We're all works in progress. Which brings me to my closing photo - a progress shot. It's not really After, it's more During, but improvement is noticeable.
See? anyone can change.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
I'm so disappointed when that happens. I want to be totally shocked by the end of a movie, you know? I want to have NO idea. Like Memento, or Shattered. I like books like that, too - books where I can't see It coming: where the writer outsmarts me.
Speaking of books, I have some things to review. I have read a biography of Peter Elliott Trudeau, the entire repertoire of David Eddings, Atlas Shrugged, a bunch of Miss Read books, and a Martha Stewart guide to needlecraft. I feel tempted, here, to give two adjectives for each book and call them reviewed, but instead I'll write proper posts for them. Except the Eddings, because those are old friends, reread for the umpteenth time.
Nearly time for school to start, amazingly.
Saturday, August 07, 2010
"Ra ra ra-ah-ah
Gaga, ooh la la
Want your bad ro-mance!"
This reminds me of a dreadful afternoon when we were fifteen and my best friend was babysitting the pastor's three year-old. We were at our wits' end trying to stop her from singing something she had picked up (from us) during the course of the afternoon but, try as we might, the girl insisted on belting this out at the top of her lungs:
"If you're gonna do it
Do it right
Right, do it with me!"*
You would have thought that day would have taught me prudence, would have taught me to be careful what music I played when kids were present, but apparently not. It wasn't even two years later when my little four year old cousin, whose family I was rooming with during university, left my bedroom and wandered down the hall warbling
"Gimme gimme gimme a man after midnight
won't somebody help me chase these shadows away!"
Children will hang you, for sure.
Some people might think it's strange that I don't let my children watch Disney movies, but they sing Lady Gaga songs. I think it a bit odd, myself, but I'm willing to live with it.
I might also be counting on them finding Lady Gaga incomprehensible.
Plus I always clear my throat loudly if they happen to be in the room when she says "And baby when it's love if it's not rough it isn't fun."
I'm up for the 2010 Parent-of-the-Year award, didn't I tell you?
pretty dodgy for a promo shot.
See the optical illusion, there?
* I'm not sure what's worse: the horrible lip-synching or the weird pre-show-show with the - what is he, Italian? - cinema employee. No, wait: I have it. The worst part of this whole video is when George Michael plays the tambourine on his crotch.
Sunday, August 01, 2010
Butter gets a bad rap sometimes, what with all the finger-pointing about heart disease and so on, but as far as I'm concerned it's food, and margarine isn't.
So now my butter has a beautiful red house to live in, before it meets my toast.
Friday, July 23, 2010
My transition to a small town has been painful at times. It took years for me to get over the loss of my City. There are still things I miss about it - shopping choices, advanced recycling programs - but with every year that goes by, I am introduced to more and more compelling compensations.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
Friday, June 25, 2010
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
It's a little unnerving to see a picture of my young self. I dread the thought of what 20 more years will do to my appearance.
I'll let you know how the reunion goes - too bad I don't still have that dress or I could put it on just for laughs (tears?) and see whether it will zip up.
Saturday, June 19, 2010
Friday, June 04, 2010
"For our bird graveyard museum, Keely’s going to ask if her dad has any dead hummingbirds we can have."
I just sat there, watching her run back down the street, while the soundtrack in my head played crickets chirping.
Friday, May 21, 2010
Last night I finished our current read-aloud - Rascal. Things were going so very, very well up until the last page, when my eight year old sat bolt upright in her bunk. "Wait a second. WHAT IS HE DOING."
The six year old, much like Rascal himself, remained in blissful ignorance until the very last paragraphs. As Sterling paddled quickly away "from the place where they had parted" her eyes grew large and then.....the sobbing began.
Twenty minutes later, as I administered another dose of Rescue Remedy to my distraught baby, I reflected on the need for sadness in childhood. In a happy-ending culture, where Disney's Little Mermaid does not dissolve into sea foam, where the main characters NEVER get killed off, and where children are not expected to attend funerals, the routines of illness, separation, loss and death are unknown to a lot of people.
I've been thinking about this a lot, naturally, and have had some interesting email exchanges with commenters on recent posts. I was surprised by the idea, expressed by several people, that friends of those with cancer often desert them - they don't know how to act around an ill person, they don't know how to be with a dying person.
So they back away.
I wonder whether, in the peculiar type of sheltering that people do with their children - wherein they are routinely exposed to anonymous media violence, but not the human reality of suffering - our society has created a generation of emotionally-paralysed adults who, from lack of practice, don't know how to empathise.
Last night, as I was comforting my little girl, her sister was thinking aloud about Rascal. "Someday I'd like to see the movie," she said. After a minute she added, "Though I bet they changed the ending...they usually take those sad parts out."
But I don't want the sad parts out.
The life I live is incredibly rich. There are shining moments of near-perfect happiness.
There are huge gorgeous feasts with my family.
There are hot and lazy summer days, there are steaming pots of tea in the fall.
There is uproarious laughter.
The feasts are so much better when you're hungry. The lazy days wouldn't be nearly so lovely if my muscles weren't tired from days of work. The laughter is never better than when my face is still wet with tears.
I won't cheat my kids of this: the intensity of relief and joy when it has been tempered by tension and sorrow. Their pets will never 'go away'. Loss will come to them, and sadness, and they need to learn how to cry - cry hard - and grieve and mourn, and dwell in darkness.
And tomorrow, when the sun rises, everything will seem new.
Monday, May 17, 2010
I have gotten two emails from the owner of Body Matters Gold, both with coupon codes for percentages off. The first code was for 10% off: "TXT10". The second was for 15: "TXT15". So what I'm wondering is, if I go through the checkout and put in "TXT50" will I get it for half price?
Embarking on a new sweater today. This one is a knockoff for my niece, who showed it to her Mum on the Gap website, calling it her 'dream sweater'. Sadly the sizing was all wrong for her, so her Mum couldn't buy it, but I've decided to come to her rescue.
I need some simple knitting because things have taken a decided turn for the worse. Sandy is so very, very sick. This week I'll be with her on Wednesday and Friday, just spending the day sitting with her while her husband is at work and the kids are at school. She can't be alone in the house.
Knitting figures largely in our history. I want to knit while I'm there because it comforts her. I can be in her room for hours and she doesn't feel like she has to talk to me, because I have something to do.
So, the yarn will be Loyal superwash wool, with the colourwork done in (probably) Lanett. I'll use Ann Budd's handy book for the basic sweater, and add the colourwork bands when the body is completed. I haven't decided whether to knit the bands first and seam them, or pick up and knit them from the body stitches. I'll do as the spirit moves.
And as much as this distraction will also comfort me, as well as Sandy, I'm afraid it can only help me so much. When push comes to shove...I'm lost. I don't know how to lose a friend. I think the handbook for that might turn out to be short: muddle through as best you can.
Tuesday, May 04, 2010
Friday, April 23, 2010
Monday, April 19, 2010
This morning my uncle wrote this to me: "...we have a thousand words to use when talking about root beer floats or skinny jeans but when bumping up against the big mysteries we are left floundering around trying to find something to say.
So I won't try."
And neither will I.
Thanks for all your prayers and good wishes for her, and for those of us who love her.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
An eggcup, and a Bialetti...slightly esoteric items, and two of the things I like having in my kitchen. Their specificity is very cheering.
One must be able to hang one's tea towels.
Tea towelling fabric from Fabricland. 45/55 cotton/linen
Quilting cotton edging: Red Barn.
Motifs: Alicia Paulson, backstitched with DMC 3771 (Black brown).
Thursday, April 08, 2010
Monday, March 29, 2010
The story is of something that happened to me when I was 34, and 6. It still amazes me, the clarity and sharpness of the vision I got that day: reading this post brought it all back.
I hope you like it.
Friday, March 26, 2010
And I realised, I actually did Vestuary without meaning to.
I cast on Dad's vest on the 23 of January, actually, but I did finish it in the month of February - on Groundhog Day, to be precise.
I've been promising pictures, but as Dad was at home recovering from surgery, an opportunity didn't really present itself until the other day when he walked over to my house for a piece of cake, and Lo and Behold - he was wearing his vest.
Yes - I am Shan, son of Ham. (Well, okay, 'daughter'.) There was no one on the other end of that phone.
The picture is a bit out of focus - it's because Dad wouldn't stand still but insisted on goofing off...see photo #1, above. (Love you Dad.)
British School Slipover
Pattern: Cheryl Oberle, from Interweave Press' Folk Vests
Yarn: 3.5 skeins Berroco Ultra Alpaca, Peat Mix
Yarn Source: Needle & Arts Centre
Needle: 4.0mm Clover bamboo circular
Tension: 20 sts/4"
Cast on: January 23, 2010
Bound off: February 2, 2010
Size: 45" chest
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Sadly, she was too late.
For once in my precious life, I got ON something, and got it done.
I'm so darn happy about this thing, you wouldn't believe it.
Friday, March 19, 2010
So here I am, trying to finish up all the half-done projects hanging around. Remember this quilt? I pieced the top seven years ago, when my daughter was a baby. My friend was taking an introductory quilting course, which I couldn't afford to take with her. Every week after her class she'd come to my place with the instruction sheet for the block of the week, and I'd make my block using hers as an example.
I had a duvet cover that I had made during university and was hardly used, so I was able to reclaim the fabric from it and, with careful management (i.e., pinching pennies until they screamed), bought a few pieces of good quality quilting cotton to make up the difference.
It was supposed to be a full-sized bed quilt, but Elizabeth's personal life fell apart halfway through the course, she stopped taking the class, and we only ever finished the nine blocks.
I put the top together last year, and quilted it. Most of the quilting was done with my sewing machine, but I did hand-quilt one block - the pinwheel design in the two pictures below.
So here's my dilemna. It's time to bind this sucker - add the half-inch strip of fabric around the edge. I have two options for the binding: the dark green, or the dark pink.
Help me out here, mates - should I go with the green or the pink?
I find the green nice, but a bit boring. The pink definitely makes the quilt pop more, but is it a little on the loud side?
But I'll take crazy over boring, any day.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Saturday, March 13, 2010
Even the name is making me feel queasy. Two years from now, when I spend 365 days feeling unaccountably nauseated and having nightmares, it'll be because of my unconscious, associative memory of this movie.
It's like someone in an editing booth cut the climactic 25 minutes from each of the following disaster movies and taped them together to form a three-hour gauntlet of painful, funny-in-a-bad-way action footage:
- Crimson Tide/Red October/every-submarine-movie-ever-produced ("Someone has got to swim down to where something is jamming the hydraulics! There's not enough oxygen for him to get back! It's a suicide mission!")
- Independence Day ("The White House looks like a little toy with that gigantic ship overtop of it! Oh God, no! There goes the last bastion of freedom and intelligence in the known world!")
- Titanic ("The night is so black, and the sea is so deep! One brave man has the courage to stand facing the o'ermastering ocean, seconds before he perishes as the enormous liner sinks with frightening suddeness beneath the darkness of the waves!")
- Armageddon ("We are on a tiny little planet floating in the vastness of space, at the mercy of ominous planetary alignments and unexpectedly large asteroids! Er, I mean, solar flares! Now don't you feel vulnerable? Good!")
- The Day After Tomorrow ("See how it looks when Mother Nature decides to drown all the humans in snow? or rain? And doesn't the USA look scary with all its prominent buildings and monuments gunnel-deep in precipitation!" Also in this category, "Two-second glimpses of major world landmarks and cultural icons toppling/being engulfed in flames/sinking beneath waves/rolling over screaming populace, or silly Catholics who are sitting there praying as the dome of St Peter's Basilica does a slow pastry-pin manoeuvre through the Piazza San Pietro."
- Volcano ("All that plate-tectonic stuff the geologists have been saying about the San Andreas fault finally turns out to be true! And look at the size of that gee-dee crack down Santa Monica Boulevard!")
But luckily (pick any of the above movies for an example), the YEW-nited States of aMERica has HEEroes! Remember that terrible line from Independence Day (I think), where a Royal Air Force fighter pilot turns to his copilot and says in a posh, relieved accent, "Thank God the Americans are doing SOMETHING, wot?" Record numbers of people died from acute embarrassment in cinemas all over the world.
Spare yourself the agony of wasting three hours of your life which you'll never, ever get back. I hardly ever wish I had never seen a movie - usually there is some redeeming quality, no matter how tiny, to make it worth the watch. I'm sorry to say that even the presence of Chiwetel Ejiofor (y'know - the black guy from Serenity and Kinky Boots?) couldn't save it for me. Also, I usually like John Cusack, but if he's going to keep selling out for huge blockbuster Bay-and-Bruckheimer-style action flicks instead of using his powers for.............
And while looking for links to flesh out that last sentence, I stumbled upon his (apparent) twitter feed, which makes me think I should dedicate the rest of this post to a plea for public funding to set up classrooms in Hollywood production lots so that actors can have access to basic literacy training.
Now I need to go wash my eyes by watching "Everybody's Fine". I'm depressed already, why not have a good wallow-and-cry?
Over and out.