Monday, March 16, 2020

Slow holidays: a chance to re-see and re-set

I stayed in "slow holiday mode" for a few days after we returned.  At the beginning, I was simply noticing that the light in the house had changed--that the movement of the sun northward illuminated new corners and flooded some rooms that had not seen a lot of sunlight.  I can't explain it--or maybe I can.  I bought this house--100 years old now--because of its windows.  There are generous windows on every side.  (I am about to get new windows that are more energy efficient and easier to clean.)  The longer days, the new shafts of sun invigorate me and make me more attuned to time passing.  I think in the winter I simply huddle down and try to ignore the dark, try to ignore the ticking of time that will only tell me how much longer I have to endure.  But in the 8 other months I am vibrantly and elegiacally aware that time is passing.  Light and time stand for life and energy, but also for time's sublime passing, something that needs to be noticed and embraced. Taking a slow holiday allowed me to see this.

And I noticed it in the cats.  This is only the third time we've left them with our wonderful cat- and house-sitter, Bronwyn Angley, a former student who has this thing for cats.  Our return was marked by some changes in habits:  Tuck now wants to curl up in my lap while I do my bedtime reading rather than rattling the closet doors hoping he can get one open and thus convince me to give him another treat for getting out of my closet. Last night Bill and I watched Vanity Fair--it's a bit dated, I suppose, but very relevant to a period we sometimes call 'late capitalism.'   During the movie, Lyra found a way to sit on my lap so he could hold my hand in both his paws--and maybe rest his cheek there.  They will be three at the end of May, and they're perhaps getting more mature and reflective about our absences, more deliberate about their time with us.  They remain the  most  cuddly cats I've ever had whose complicated inner lives I often glimpse, with delight, and I was so grateful to get home to them.

I've changed my work habits.  I started revising Soul Weather on January 6--the first Monday of the new year, after having left it in a virtual drawer since mid-August when I all but finished it.  When I get back into a large writing project, I'm so focused--perhaps you've noticed that I've written far fewer blogs in the last two years and that I've become a decidedly unreliable Facebook friend.  The revision is going well--which makes me nervous and hence even more driven and obsessive.  'Surely if I read this chapter one more time I'll see more clearly what's wrong with it.' I tell myself.  But while I was away from the work in Victoria, I decided that I need to at least try to write three blogs a month--not quite the blog a week I kept up for a while.  Writing a novel is so lonely.  You can ensure that your prose is musical and precise and colourful (when it needs to be), and that the layers of ideas are being elegantly and unobtrusively woven in, but if  your conception is off--unrealistic or, worse, boring or inconsequential--if your characters don't sing with complexity and curiosity--all these decorative touches are pointless.  That's just the way it is.  So I thought I could ease my loneliness a bit by writing blogs and obsessing happily over the two likes and the one share.

While we were in Victoria, we didn't go to any of the lovely quilt shops they have there, partly because I'm on a kind of minimalist kick and want to make use of the stash I have.  But even so, I realized I need to do more quilting.  After finishing my black and white quilt, I decided to work on one  unfinished project and one new project going forward.  I also realize that I need one bright, wild project, and another one that is more serene.  I've gotten Jenn Kingwell's "My Small World" quilt out and I've realized my fabric choices were simply too chaotic.  So I'm working panel by panel, sometimes taking out pieces that don't work and carefully inserting something better.  I've also started a quiet pyramids quilt. 

I need the comfort and delight of something I can demonstrably do well, plus the adventure of seeing whether my conception is actually going to work.  I need the small stakes plus the comforting connection to all the women (and some men) who have made quilts for use and for delight and to create beauty in their daily lives.  In some ways, this is an antidote to revising because the stakes are small.  In some ways, it's a reminder that craftsmanship really does count and that I should simply believe that.  But most of all it reminds me of the importance of everyday pleasures, everyday beauty, everyday attention--a recognition that slow holidays encourage.

I also wanted to practice the piano more and to shake up my workout.  And then, of course COVID 19 showed up, and the University wisely closed the Fitness and Lifestyle Centre, so my plans for a more challenging workout will have to be put off.  I'll write more about COVID 19 in the days ahead as I take it all in--the grief I feel for sick Italians and for their healthcare workers who now have to decide who lives and who dies--maybe it's just because there are more stories coming out of Italy whereas China didn't admit to any inability to manage the number of people who fell ill.  At the same time, I'm so proud of Canada's evocation of community to help manage the crisis, emphasizing that we all have a role to play in mitigating its effects here, that our individual health is part of a common good that helps to protect those most at risk.  Then there are the effects on our everyday lives, many of them fostering a smaller carbon footprint.  Oddly enough, though, much of the thinking about how to live that I did on my slow holiday is perfectly suited to the coming weeks of near isolation.  Light provides the everyday beauty I need, quilting and music provide a kind of aesthetic comfort.  Meanwhile, the cats settle me in place where I read the book I began, believe it or not, in mid-January:  Boccaccio's Decameron, set in fourteenth century Florence during a plague that killed between 2/3 and 3/4 of the population.  More about that in the days ahead.

In the meantime, please take care of yourselves and find your own ways, your own resources, to take your lives inside as serenely as you can.   As Alice Major so simply and wisely put it "we need to stay quiet for a bit and keep the vulnerable among us safe."

1 comment:

  1. Stubblejumpers CafeMarch 16, 2020 at 2:30 PM

    "Light provides the everyday beauty I need"

    So true, that.