This morning I turned over our Group of Seven calendar to find a Frederick Varley painting called "Sunrise at Sphinx Mountain" that looked almost abstract in its joy. I stepped out of the house into the back yard and did what I almost always do: stopped for a few moments to sniff and feel the air. Yes, the sky is white (again), but the cold didn't fall down around me like a heavy cloak. There was little wind. Promising.
I'm wearing one of my minimalist white shirts today with my red silk shawl. I also put on the crazy Samurai Zaubersocks that Veronica knit for me. They are black and grey and teal and red and distinctly not symmetrical. Veronica found exactly the right knitting pattern for the wool (there are tiny cables that go right down to my toes) and then improved it so that the pattern and the wool sing together. They remind me to be offbeat. They remind me of creativity and joy and craftsmanship. They remind me that you sometimes need to see things from a new perspective.
Over the last three days, the cancer-word has woven its way into my consciousness, tying up moods and thoughts. My dear neighbour, Angela, was diagnosed with cancer this fall, underwent the first round of chemotherapy, which seemed to be shrinking her tumors. Her son was able to spend a month with her over Christmas. And now things seem to be suddenly worse. A co-worker of Veronica's was diagnosed with lung cancer. And one of my students missed an appointment on Thursday because his father-in-law was found to have tumors on his spine. This has put my imagination on overdrive. I can't help trying to imagine their fear; though I know my imagination falls far short, I also know that people who live with cancer live daily with questions: am I better today, or worse? How long do I have? What is happening in my body?
My imagination also visits their families, the wild roller coaster of hope, denial, and dread. When do they start grieving? When will they be able to stop grieving?
How does their grief relate to mine for an institution? Of course the first thing it does is to put my own frustration and sadness into perspective. Sometimes I think we take ourselves too seriously, as if people will stop reading if we stop urging them to read and suggesting ways into texts, suggesting that what they think of as the mysteries and secrets of poems or stories are really places for them to stand and look about them. Or as if people will stop writing, or will limit themselves and their stories to 142 characters, believing that (as Jack Webb used to say) "The facts, ma'am, and nothing but the facts" will reveal the mazes of their minds or the even crazier complexities of the heart. Some days I admittedly fear that Google--which I couldn't live without--has taken the place of curiosity. Why be curious if you have Google in your pocket? Except that Google doesn't unfold a metaphor like an origami flower. It doesn't feel the ethical or playful cadence of a plot or the confused inwardness of character.
I have also come to feel that however relentless the round of reading and preparation and teaching this term, I am missing something, holding back something, as if I'm not fully engaged or fully alive. Perhaps it's simply that I have an honours/graduate class this term along with a new English 110, and I'm scrambling along the surface because that's the best I can do. Perhaps it's that my writing is almost completely on hold, so I'm frustrated and hungry. Those are two reasonable hypotheses, but there's a third that has come into play, I suspect. I'm waiting. For something. Some change or recognition or illumination. This is not a productive way to live or to teach. Perhaps I need to re-read Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet to remind myself to love the questions, to lean into them with as much fervour as you lean into certainty or into hope.