Wednesday, November 21, 2018


November has seemed more Novemberish this year.  I might even accuse October of having stolen November's thunder and having gotten an early start.  The grey days, the grey days, the grey days.  I want to sleep more, to take more  naps.  I want to start a fight--just to get some energy to lift into the air. Though of course I don't want to start a fight when everyone seems so vulnerable, though the energy it takes not to is enormous.  The glass is half--and somebody keeps jostling  my elbow and slopping the cold water over my wrist.

Monday I drove to Moose Jaw to pick up a quilt from Half Yard Quilting Studio.  Since part of my workday was going to be stolen, I decided to add in a couple of treats that wouldn't really take much longer.  So I had lunch at Grant Hall, which is a lovely restored space with restaurant, bar, and shops downstairs and housing for seniors above.  The chairs are comfortable and the tables have pedestals where you can rest your feet and bend your knees just enough to plant a book there.  I was reading Cornelia Hoogland's Trailer Park Elegy while I waited for my lunch.  Really:  I got to read while someone made me a lunch in less time than it would have taken to make my own.  Then a quick stop right across the street to Quilter's Haven, where I needed to pick up some greens.  And I found some wonderful shades of green.

But something happened on the way home--that jostling I mentioned above.  The sun was still resistant, and all the little buildings and walls at Prairie Storm Paintball that have been tucked into one of the glacial crevasses looked more than usually provisional, like a miniature ruin.  They have little blinds--essentially sections of wall about four feet high--for paintballers to duck behind, but today they lacked their purposefulness and spoke only of fragments.  Then just down the road there was a black and white cat--recognizable only by the colour of its fur and size--that no longer looked as if it had ever had a role in giving or receiving domestic comfort as my two guys do. 

The cat drew my attention to the nests in the trees that have been sporadically planted (in very straight lines) along the Trans Canada.   Like the cat, they seemed unhomelike--even unheimlich, because you couldn't imagine a bird inhabiting them. Then I came, as one does, to the construction around the Global Transportation Hub of a huge and very unnecessary ring road.  On my way to Moose Jaw, I had cursed appropriately and muttered the words cui bono under my breath.  Who is really benefiting from this project--and will we ever know?  Bus companies serving smaller communities gone.  Threats to libraries.  Cuts to education and to cities.  Refusal to consider a carbon tax.  For this?  But the sun was a silver disk winking out of a cloud and I tried to stop my grousing because grousing alone in a car does no one any good--and can do much harm.  But when I came back to the construction site, which, going east, you must circumnavigate, I had to drive through a kind of wasteland that reminded me of Lord of the Rings--maybe Isengard after the Ents have finished with it.  Cars stream through the construction site at 60kph, but little seems to be actually going on.  There is a sense of futility and waste all around.

Part of that sense of futility and waste is exaggerated by a world that seems to have flattened to a piece of white paper--sky and fields flattened into a single plane, with no words or thoughts to give it meaning.  It's just my visceral reaction to the kinds of days we've been having.  So I tried to do two things.  One is to see the landscape, once I had passed the construction, through the Japanese lenses I used to create the quilt above, which is now waiting for me to quilt it.  One element of the complex Japanese aesthetic is to find beauty in what is pale and tenuous.  This was not a stretch:  looking at trees in the winter, I find brave beings willing to strip down to their skins and let us see the shapes they have created for themselves.  It is said that no two snowflakes are the same, and I frankly wonder how one can test such a hypothesis.  But certainly no two trees have made the same decision about when to crook a branch or add another, whether to reach out or up (though elms tend to reach up and maples to reach out).  Thanks to Japanese lenses, beauty arrived to challenge the sense of anger and futility I had felt driving through the construction site or the small grief that arrived with the dead cat.

I also re-read a paragraph from Annie Dillard's The Writing Life (which I must read in its entirety) found in my weekend Brainpickings newsletter:

"How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.  What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.  A schedule defends from chaos and whim.  It is a net for catching days.  It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.  A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order--willed, faked, and so brought into being:  it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living.  Each day is the same, so you remember the series afterward as a blurred and powerful pattern."

Dillard's defense of a schedule sent me back to my computer after this anomalous day out and about, drafting a sticky and difficult scene that is going well enough if I just give it time.  And I have been much less anxious since then (though I find that the work of hands and days--quilting, knitting, piecing, also keeps me grounded, something I'll write about next week).  But it's the first couple of sentences that resonated for me this week.  Clearly, seasonal affective disorder is having a stronger impact on my days than it has had for the last 28 years.  But wishing the days would just go on by, in Dillard's terms, is a mistake.  I need rather to remember that "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives" and realize that SAD is part of those days and my life.  So what am I going to make of it?  How will I tame it?

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