For Sarah


A gorgeous gown, glowing smiles, eager anticipation and love, fresh young faces on the brink of their lives together: Beauty. Guests in their finery, laughing and hugging, happy to see familiar but rarely-seen faces, happy to step into the magic with the couple of the day for a few short hours.

For the second time this summer, immersed in the joy of the moment, I was also aware of the many stories, both happy and sad, leading up to this day. And despite our divorce rates and widespread disillusionment with the institution of marriage, I’m happy we’re still getting married—I believe there is great value in the public affirmation of and community support for the melding of two lives.

I remember this particular young woman as an infant, a spirited child who knew what she wanted and didn’t want, and was unafraid to say so, through tears, through smiles, through whatever. Mother-toddler exchanges were mostly some variation of the following: “You’re tired/hungry/need to use the washroom,” met by an instant and determined “I am not, I am not, I am not.” I remember well her easy expression of affection and emotion, sorrow and joy.

I hope you’re able to keep that spiritedness alive, dear Sarah. Trust your intuitions. And I hope you’re able to keep your sense of fun going, to pursue and find whatever it is that will have the power to drive your smile through all the different stages of life. Because though the path ahead will hold plenty that will demand thoughtful earnest responses, fun is essential. Fun, actually the sharing of our laughter and our tears, is the best of relational glues, stronger than a will of steel. I know from experience that if you’re well-matched, which you truly seem to be, it is possible to keep much of today’s joy and optimism alive. The secret lies in chasing pleasure often enough that the good times outweigh the grind of work and familiarity.

 

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Moving on


It’s time. And despite the fact that the person at the Goodwill with whom I’m suddenly having a daily affair is crankier than cranky—he has never offered to help, nor smiled—it all feels right.

Late August can at times be a somewhat melancholy time of year for me—the peak of my summer gone, a warm and pleasant memory in my ears—but not this year. And despite my excruciating painful feet (and very tired brain) at the end of every day, and the cranky exchange with Mr. Goodwill, I’m energized. It feels good to take charge, to clear out the deadwood, the million dusty and obsolete things we once thought we couldn’t part with. I feel skinnier already.

So far, I’ve discarded or passed along a million pairs of boots and shoes and ski-boots we’ve all outgrown or out-aged, a snowboard, skis, back-country hiking backpacks, a tent, crutches (who was that again who hobbled around the campground on crutches one summer?), basketballs, hockey-sticks, Bert and Ernie hand puppets, golf clubs, tennis rackets, books, mug collections, team jackets, dolls, doll clothes, swivel chairs, toboggans, flotation devices, a thousand wires and cables, and much more.

A flotation device would be good right about now. It’s 30 degrees, and my feet are complaining about the 50 flights of stairs for too many consecutive days now. I’m more a packrat than I imagined too—the closets downstairs have mostly the wires and electronics and games that others here haven’t wanted to part with just yet, but I’ve stored more children’s artwork and blown-up and framed childhood photos than I thought closets could hold.

Still on the chopping block are a dining room suite and china (truly gorgeous, but rarely used now), a lazy treadmill that failed to keep me fit, several amps and electric guitars, a table hockey game, DVD players, CD players, a dinosaur TV, and other similar-looking but unidentifiable (by me at least) electronic cousins.

Busy, full and wonderful years they’ve been, happy and sad, but the house is almost empty now, and it’s time, as they say, to batten down the hatches, streamline, simplify, make it all more contained and manageable, free up space and energy. I’m terrible at delegating, and, over the years, have done a disproportionate amount of the sorting, organizing, shuffling around, cleaning and storing of things others haven’t been ready to part with.

They’ve been good years, but it’s time. First though, along with the current burst of energy—tears of nostalgia, good-byes, regret, and plain old fatigue. But I’m ready for this, so ready.

Music, Madness and Magic

We paid our endlessly-long-line-up dues, got our wristbands, and were granted entry into four days of chaos, fun, Porta Potty unpleasantness, love, over-heating, joy, and amazing sound. We kicked off in our usual way, with friends, cider, beer and wine, and then tentatively tested out our dancing feet with Corb Lund. We let Emmylou Harris lyrics tap into our dark places and make us weep, and then infused the Afrobeat sounds of Amadou and Miriam into our psyches to recharge.

In the evening (I can’t remember which one), a cool breeze coming off the now-damp grass, the sounds of The Barr Brothers baptized us in beauty. Perfection. In the hot afternoon sun, we happily bumped into each other and (less happily and accidentally) swapped sweat with total strangers to the energy of Arrested Development and a stage so full of talent and humour that I vowed to continue returning to this spectacular music festival on this spectacular hill in this wonderful city until I’m too old to navigate the hill, even if my friends tire of it and I need to go solo.

I know, I’m easily mesmerized at the hands of musical magicians, but still: I don’t think it is possible not to be at least partially hypnotized at some point during this extravaganza of sound and beauty.

Of course, participating in four-day events as rich and sleep-deprived as this means reaching upper limits of pleasure and the sudden bloom of at least one bit of conflict. (I have a pathologically low tolerance for conflict and emotional withdrawal, and consequently wept through the entire gorgeous set of James Vincent McMorrow.) But workshops like La Bottine Souriante, Lennie Gallant, Martin Joseph and the Paul McKenna Band—all crowded together on one little stage and playing together—infused enough joy and energy to make it all worthwhile. Later, the gorgeous sounds of the gorgeous Bahamas from about five rows back was divine.

After a month of daily severe weather we saw not a single drop of rain or hail all weekend, nor a single lightening bolt, and despite mosquito warnings, I used no repellant and got not a single bite. I gorged myself on pleasure, on sunshine, on Fat Franks and cider and other wonderful foods, and on beautiful, beautiful sounds and beautiful and happy and wonderfully weird people. And I’ve squirreled a bunch of it away for the barren winter a few short months ahead.

The Dance

Maybe it’s the rapidly waxing moon, almost full now. Or maybe it’s estrogen, or rather a shortage of it. Or maybe it’s the over-abundance of stimulation at the music festival on the weekend, or the humidity, or just the fact that it’s been a busy month and it’s back to work and ordinary life now. Maybe it’s because even though the yard is finally gorgeously drenched in flowers and sunshine and lush green grass, we can’t take our supper outside, not unless we’re willing to become supper for the mosquitoes.

Whatever it is, I keep losing my equilibrium today. Not falling-flat loss of equilibrium, just not in possession of sure and easy footing. Stepping on toes, bumping into the words of others, wondering why they’re being contrary. Old-fashioned crankiness, is what it is.

It irritates me that I still, after all these years, respond to strong personalities by wanting to shrink rather than by asserting myself. It takes every ounce of energy I have not to back down and say “silly me, I don’t know why on earth I ever needed/thought/imagined that!”

I don’t like that my values and views on everything from vaccines to politics (though as informed by fact as any), fall well outside the mainstream and are shared by almost nobody in my circle of friends and family, but they’re my views, and I don’t know how to lie.

Maybe my disequilibrium sometimes comes from plain old-fashioned fatigue resulting from the constant tension between positivity and being honest about reality. Bright-siding has not served us well after all—averting our eyes to the truth of history and current powers at work dooms us to the rut of repeating the insanity. But a steady focus on reality is crushing, so we try to balance between the two poles. Will I give my attention to Chris Hedges right now, or chase another of Edmonton’s great summer music festivals? It’s a dance, and it requires a strong sense of balance.

Or maybe my irritability stems from the fact that I haven’t published anything (outside the informal and therapeutic bits on this blog) since my cancer diagnosis over a year ago.

Now that I’ve said it, I see that not publishing is exactly what it is. It’s not only this of course—it’s all of the above—but I’m a writer, and I’ve been busy with infinitely more boring and less gratifying activities for much of the past couple of years. It’s time to change that, though I’m aware that working on changing it is exhausting and irritating in it’s own right. Publishing isn’t exactly a cake-walk these days.

So, in the meantime, note to myself: breathe. Be gentle with yourself, and with those around you—they don’t want to be wrong about disagreements anymore than you do. Extend grace. Don’t be the judge, just be honest about your own truth. Accept that you are once again at a crossroads. The world is full of confusion, joy, conflict, change. Embrace it all. Offer a blanket to those in pain. Smile with those who have reason to smile.

And get to work.