Saturday, December 28, 2013
I have just come back from a glorious walk along the creek bank; when the weather gods and goddesses give you days like today and yesterday, it's a reminder to find at least half an hour where you walk and feel inside your body, letting your senses and muscles do all the work of living, your senses and muscles reminding you of the moment you are living in. Clearly, I've been reading too much, getting ready for next term. At first, I simply admired the light, which was coming through thin cirrus clouds, so that only the thickest branches of the trees cast soft striated blue shadows on the white counterpane of the creek bed. Then I watched as a father went right down on his belly as he pushed his children down into the bowl where children go to sled. Except he picked himself up and walked away and his white hair suggested he probably wasn't their father--just a kind stranger doing a favour for a couple of kids who wanted to slide down the hill really fast. Farther down the creek bank, Florence Stratton's guerilla hollyhocks are resting under the snow, the seeds getting ready to flower once again. A Great Pyrenees, whose owner says he's nothing but a big suck, wanted to put his paws on my shoulder and have a face to face chat. On my way back, I simply stood at the edge of the bowl, watching and listening as the children screamed and yelped and wheedled in colourful chaos.
The holidays help me live in the present in quite another way by making me feel grateful for my life, for Veronica and Bill, most intently, but also for a wonderful circle of friends, for quirky, loving (and sometimes maddening) parents who remain powerful memories, for my sister who shares her quilting passions with me. That gratitude can quickly spread to being grateful for living in Canada; for not being a woman living in Pakistan, Egypt, or Afghanistan; for the weather we have here in Saskatchewan; for having electricity; for not being a Ukrainian journalist; for the cat who is sitting on my lap; for the Christmas tree--somehow a manageable Christmas tree gets smaller each year--with the promising little lights Bill ensures are on each morning when I wake up.
On Boxing Day evening, Bill and I went for our annual "sparkle tour," a tradition he's created for us, though I'm the one with the mental map that tells us where we'll find the most homes decorated with lights. There is something intimate about driving slowly along in the dark on winter roads, talking desultorily about this and that--whatever comes into one's mind as one drives down streets that are unknown to us for most of the year. We create our own coziness in the car. At the same time, people have left their curtains open to reveal their Christmas trees, so we're invited into all kinds of lives--a group of eight or ten at dinner in a very modern house on Robinson, a slightly stooped older woman in her kitchen making tea. I am so aware of many, many other lives that I will never live. I love my old house on College, but I'm aware that I'll never live in a minimal modern space, that I'll never have a house on the edge of the creek bank with a western view of the sunsets. Life is drawing itself around me, like a heavy, fur-lined cloak, and I had better pay attention.
I am not making any New Year's resolutions this January. I usually do, finding some small way I can make my life better or easier. I am waiting for July 1, the first day of my retired life, to make resolutions. Though I already have lists and plans. I have a small blank book with titles of books to read. I plan on making bread on Fridays and soup on Sunday or Monday. I can't even count the number of quilts I want to make, but the list of those is started in my planning book, where snippets of fabrics have been fastened. Most importantly, however, there is all the writing I am eager to delve into. Last night, having finished re-reading Anne Michaels' The Winter Vault, I got out the notebook I use to keep track of ideas for Soul Weather, and spent an hour or so thinking about what I have come to call "unsmiling novels," those that not only do not make us laugh out loud occasionally, but that do not provoke a smile in the reader at a funny or joyful moment. I thought about the tone of these novels, about the intelligent voices the writers create, about how profound they are, about how they take themselves quite seriously--as do their readers. I'm not sure the world they create is my world: I could not go, as Jean does in The Winter Vault, an entire year without joy and laughter. I would feel dishonest, as if I were dissing life. And with my fur-lined cloak around me, I am sure that life is not for dissing. So I'm oddly grateful that I have two books to finish before I start again on Soul Weather. I have a lot more thinking to do.
Actually, I have made one resolution--if you can call it that. Because this is what I do every January and every September: I am determined to find the curiosity and intelligence in my two classes and foster it as best I can. I am going to "find out where my students are and take them farther," as I have said to myself at the beginnings of terms for years and years. I have been teaching for 37 years. Now is not the time to abandon one's principles.
at 3:53 PM