I type in the dark, fingers missing keys, as my daughter sleeps in shadowy futon couch bed in the corner of my study; a grown woman planning her big move to the west coast of the United States. Today she turns 21.
The first fall without my Mom. She has passed away. Passe Compose.
When I first started this blog I had ides that ran one after another, in a little line, a queue. The ideas had a persistent quality as if they had to be written down.
I enjoyed writing so much that I can’t remember much else about that time except that I stained my teeth with tea and wrote every day.
After a while I began to nag myself about writing for a more demanding audience than just myself. I ‘should do this or that’. Write for competitions, write for publication.
That imperative shut down the creative juices pretty dramatically.
Then I read Alice Munro non stop and studied short stories and thought about writing.
In the midst of this I was writing a lot of cover letters for jobs that I needed but did not want. A lot of writerly charm went into those letters.
I got rejected or never heard from most of those jobs. In the same period my Mom died and left a large gaping hole where I had been focusing a lot of love and care. In the wake of her death some close relatives of mine took it upon themselves to take out their mourning on me in the form of seemingly arbitrary and hurtful criticisms of my very self.
I felt at a loss to respond to any of it and was glad to have my own family to love and be loved by.
I lost the joy of writing and I did not post much until one day I was sweetly surprised when a friend of mine said that she had followed my musings on my Mom’s illness unto death. That she had cried and been moved. And I thought, huh. Well, that is really an amazing compliment. It is a quiet answer, a nod and a smile.
All our voices are people waving at each other from a distance. We like to share common experiences. We are sociable and optimistic.
I have come to some conclusions after my thinking period, For one thing, short stories are actually memoirs and memoirs are short stories.
Also, I still need a job but my persistence and stoicism in applying to dozens of jobs this spring is starting to give me purchase. I have an interview tomorrow and if that does not work I have another job lined up.
I loved my mom and she is still with me in spirit. She is happy as a spirit. She was always a bit bigger than this earthly world.
I am still in doubt about obligatory relationships where I am not treated lovingly. I have been forced into an unpleasant matriarchal position; an irritating authoritative figure who must be denied. I am not my Mother. I reject this whole set up and I retreat. Carry on without me.
Mama - Last Word
On my personal blog:
Are you feeling a bit tense and irritable? Did you just unfriend someone who annoyed you? Are you reconsidering your job, your marriage, your hair style? Are you questioning every life choice you have ever made?
Do not act on your impulses at this time of the year. Leave your hair as it is. Changing your circumstances is not going to change the weather. Most likely you are just going a little ‘wintery’ . It is a saying I just made it up.
As January creeps inexorably into February we begin to twitch and give hard stares to strangers.
Now let’s just say this, any mood swings or feelings of cramped irritation at the restraints that are part of your life , they all count as ‘first world problems’. Let’s get that out of the way right now.
It is stressful to have debt, it is stressful to be unemployed or badly employed, it is a drag that you can”t afford a holiday, or even a dinner out, but in the long run we all have good food and warm shelter and it is a fair bet that we always will have these comforts.
But still, there is a harsh quality to a freezing January day that tests any good humor.
When I find myself standing at the window staring at the icy sea, and wondering whether I should make really chocolatey brownies, I know it is almost February. When I find myself thinking fondly of an evening glass of wine, in middle of the afternoon, I know the days are cold and short.
Today the sun crept up over the hoary frozen vista like a warning. ’Appreciate the day, Godammit’, said the Sun. I heard it distinctly. Last night the full moon lit up the frozen slippery garden and peeked in the windows, and it sang a sweet melancholy song, ’Sleep peacefully, all bundled up in warm blankets. Be a happy beast, hibernate when you can’.
I know what I have to do this coming month. The first thing is buy a big box of wine. The second is invest in good chocolate. The third is plan some dinner parties; have people over, make food, open my house.
And of course, feed the birds and critters, walk in the woods and, very important, take vitamin D and a massive stinking Vitamin B complex.
We taught our kids to read, think, play and explore without anyone telling us how to do it.
Although our Mom never home schooled I think that our confidence in taking over the education of our kids came from her. I bet our Mom would have home schooled if she thought she had a choice.
She was a very active and busy mother always teaching us details about plants or trees or about art, literature or politics as she cooked and cleaned. She taught us how to be brave and explore new experiences and places.
My sister and I came from the same home, in a sense. Although she had the young mother who gave dinner parties for her CBC producer husband and sometimes drank martinis with the neighbours and I had the divorcee who rented rooms and smoked pot with her lover, we had the same creative and energetic woman running our lives.
She was not one of those moms that dreaded summer and the return of the children from school. In the summers we lived in a cabin in the woods by a lake where there was no running water or electricity. We ran in the woods and played in the water and let our imaginations guide our play.
She read aloud and got out paints and games when it rained. She herself was always creating: painting cool designs on our rowboat, illustrating little stories, or sketching our portraits as we played. And when we all left for school in the fall, she actually missed us.
We had a bit of a bohemian mother, but she was competitive too, and not one to be left out of society. She would put on her best skirt and jacket, a Vogue pattern she sewed herself, when she had parent teacher meetings. We had porridge every morning and pulled on our sensible boots over our sensible shoes and walked to school on our own. We went to school every day and we were expected to do well.
I did not like school, and as far as I can tell, my sister did not like it either. But in those days one just went to school. The first few years of school were just plain torture, but I toughened up and my shyness was conquered mostly by grade three. It may have been good for me, I don’t know. But when my first child said she did not want to go I accepted her opinion.
As a parent I liked being free from the arbitrary rules of an institution and I loved leaving her little brain to develop without grading or peer- pressure. She dreamed, decided what she wanted to learn, pursued her own projects and charged forward. It was a beautiful sight.
It is true that some kids fair better on structured schedules than others. Some kids like the constant socializing of school, and some kids really enjoy structured school learning. Not all children thrive in home schooling. But my overview is that children benefit from free play and unhindered exploration especially between the ages of four to twelve years.
Presently I have two kids enjoying school (mostly) and my sister has an empty nest. In the last eight years or so we have both being pursuing education for its own sake, just for fun and because we like to keep engaged. I finished a long distance certificate in Library Studies and she is a few essays short of a MA.
What we have discovered about ourselves is that we tend to be very good at working for grades and the approval of our teachers. And what we find irritating is that we cannot seem to apply that same discipline and energy to projects of our own choice.
We need someone to say, ‘do this thing, and then hand it in and I will tell you how good it is’. And frankly, we are embarrassed by this characteristic that seems so deeply ingrained by our parents and the school system.
We are shocked and disgusted by our Pavlovian response to approval. Right now, as our dynamic and powerful Mom is gracefully traveling to the other worlds, with cryptic comments and magical hallucinations, we are left examining who we are and what we should do with ourselves that best expresses her lessons and her rich teachings.
As we step into the world without our mother, I think we want to fulfill some of the artistic gifts that Mom and Dad have given us. Our mother was a good painter and filmmaker, our father was a good actor and playwright. When they were young they may have had dreams. But they did not pass on those dreams. When we dreamed of being a writer or artist, we were quickly brought to earth.
Ironically, it was often pointed out that good art was produced by people who worked hard. My Dad told me when I was a twelve year old poet that good writing was 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. I wondered why he told me that and concluded that he must have thought I was not hard working enough.
Now with so much of my life behind me, and so many dreams buried by hesitant living, I think that the best thing you can say to a child is that they do in fact have the talent to do whatever they want. Hard work is the easy part. Believing that you can produce something of value is much harder.
It is possible that the best part of home schooling is being free of the crushing judgment of others. And now that we are older women, my sister and I need to home school ourselves. We need to be the parents we wanted, so we have formed a bond of unconditional support.
If we can ask our children to believe in themselves, the best thing we could do is be a good example. Our parents did not pursue their artistic dreams, and may have crushed ours by their attitude. My sister and I have inadvertently been following the same path and need to remember that what we really want is to play without judgment and to explore without fear.
There is always time to dream, write and paint.
I have too many things and I spend quite a bit of time talking to banks, lawyers and insurance people. A bunch of people count on me to get things done and be there to hold up the world.
I treasure sleep over almost any other pleasure, I eat sensibly all the time, I might go wild and have an onion ring. My skin is aging fast, not so much with wrinkles, but with an overall hue of weathering. I am becoming old.
As my eye casts over the elders in my life I realize that what we call ‘middle age’ is a very large part of our whole life, and pretty much the main course. This could be considered the best part; when we have everything we wished for and are safe, so far, from the vicissitudes of a crumbling body.
As I approach 50, in my 49th year, I have returned to my unemployed writer and busy mother state that I have been in for the last 20 years.
Having regular writing work for the last ten years was actually quite unusual for me, and I enjoyed it. Now that job is gone I am back to my usual state of a defensive low ego and a hard scrabble for my own cash flow.
I have tried applying for work this year and it has been an exercise in futility and humiliation.
In the last interview, in which I was put the twenty ridiculous questions by three nice women my age with no dress sense what so ever, I almost ended the interview with a reversal.
“Now let me ask you”, I was on the verge of saying, the only thing stopping me was the slimmest chance that they were going to hire me, “Tell me about an episode in your work history when you reacted to a stressful situation, how did you respond, what was your action plan”?
Every time I am rejected for a job I am furious. It is patently ridiculous. Obviously I would be a good worker, what is more reliable than a middle aged woman who is just happy to have a job at all?
I am left to examine the situation and myself. It appears to me that I have too much personality; I am too big in the room, with already formed opinions and flashing eyes. I am not sure that I don’t appear a bit crazy.
Still, if I had worked all along, not caring for my children in my doting fashion, I would have been in a ‘job’ all along, and my flashing eyes and big opinions would have put me in their position or as their boss.
So I chose the road less traveled on my own accord and cannot cry about it.
I have some ideas for the future: I would like to learn an instrument and be in a punk band with older woman. I would not wear a bra or wash my hair. That would be really fun. And I bet we get a following because older people with money and time are nostalgic about the music of their past, and punk was still reverberating with raw emotion in my generation.
And, I might add, I still have that inchoate rage against the self-defeating thoughtlessly destructive consumerist world. I’ve probably got more rage inside of me than the average 20 year old right now.
Also, I think my partner Joe and I could run a really great café/bar. All the successful people of our generation will want to eat and drink there, and all the children of hipsters who miss their parents.
I am planning this for later years, when we no longer have school age children. It is my retirement plan. It will be fun and since we spent much of our youth working/partying in cafes and bars we will run a great little establishment. We know all the tricks.
So that is the plan so far. Sounds good. And when the children return to school this fall and I have hours in the morning I plan to write children’s literature.
I have five billion ideas and about 10 different stories already begun.
I need to feel frivolous and happy to be able to do that so I am trying to get into the right mood. I might shave parts of my head, stop wearing a bra and get a new tattoo on my sun weathered chest that says ‘fuck y’all’.
I suppose I don’t need to do that, as the ‘fuck y’all’ must already be apparent on my unemployable face.
The ‘fuck y all ‘ attitude is good and fun, but what I really need to do is go back even further to the twelve year old girl at peace with herself and the world.
There is a place of imagination and play that is sleeping inside of me.
I have crushed my love of writing over the years, first with trying to make it into academic writing, and then by trying to sell it to magazines and papers. I have buried it under expectations that it should be a career.
This blog has lifted that veil by reminding me that I write for pleasure. Can I write for pleasure without worrying about money? We shall see.
Thinking about life and death.
Views from Life in the Maritimes; the challenge of buying furniture in the East Coast. Survival strategies, hunting and gathering…