One of the things I love most about my husband is his ability to be in the moment. To live neither in the past nor the future, just to inhabit the present. I suck at that. Early in our relationship, when we still both thought we had to go everywhere together, at the same time, and leave everywhere together, at the same time, we had a tearful argument (tearful on my part, only, I should point out) during which I uttered the immortal line: One thing you should know about me — I will ALWAYS be thinking about what we have to do tomorrow morning.
It’s not just the future I’m adept at projecting into. I also spend a fair amount of time trafficking in the past. I love to paw through my memories, trying to make sense of them. I can think of something I did years ago, YEARS ago, that was mildly embarrassing at the time, and still feel the twinge of humiliation. It is a skill I’d try to be less good at except that it comes in handy for a novelist. I have a complete catalogue of emotions and their attendant actions and reactions easily accessible at all times. Sure, it takes an emotional toll, but hey, I do it for you.
Earlier this week, Ryan sent a bit of a questionnaire to The Common. It went like this:
This is just the kind of stuff Ryan loves to think about. But Christ, what a minefield for such a sentimental fool as I. So, no surprise I was first to respond. And it happened to arrive on what would have been my brother Chris’s 41st birthday. Here’s my fresh-off-the-top-of-my-head response:
Well, first thing that comes to mind:
To smell: my husband’s neck
To hear: my brother’s laugh, which I barely remember
To taste: The sandwiches my grandmother used to make
To touch: Kev’s hand
To see: toughest one. First thing that comes to mind is my little garden, but that seems absurd, except that I love it so much.
I’ve been thinking about this list since I sent it. None of these are the most intense expressions of their respective senses. When Sarah answered, she was all about intensity… fresh brewed dark roast, fresh pasta with tomato sauce. Purity of sense. For me. the first thing that came to mind was experiences that are lost to me even without the artificial construct Ryan devised.
My brother had the most amazing laugh, but I can barely capture it with even the edges of my mind and memory. I remember only that it was amazing and it always made me laugh too. Maybe it was a little high pitched somehow? A little incongruous to his tall, dark person. I think I remember that it overtook him completely. I wish I could remember it. I would give anything to hear it again.
Alright, and then those sandwiches. It doesn’t even matter what was in them, nor that it’s been more than thirty years since I’ve had one. Noni died back in 1977, when I was seven years old, but oh god those sandwiches. On chewy Italian rolls, spread with butter. Then fresh tomatoes, most likely, and some kind of cold cut perhaps? Like I said, I don’t remember what was in them exactly, just that my grandmother made them and they tasted so fucking good.
Touch is the sense I would miss the least. Not that I don’t love to hold Kev’s hand, I surely do. But the other senses, the memories they bring immediately to mind, are so much more immediate, so much more evocative. When god forbid the day comes that I am on my own, I will long for the smell of Kevan’s neck. I know this from where I stand now, so I breathe deeply in its presence as often as I can in the hopes of filing it somewhere accessible.
And as for my little garden, I tried so hard for that to not be my answer. It seems so trivial. And yet, I have such a lively catalogue in my head, and I live so far from my family and the dailiness of their lives, and I have lost so many of the lovely sights of my life (my father’s hands working, my brother’s face laughing, all my grandparents looking proud). And I can see those sights again when I am quiet and still. And in my little garden, gazing at the flowers and the unfolding green, and the work Kev did to make it so very peaceful, when I am there and only there… not regretting yesterday and not anticipating tomorrow … then I can see those lovely sights again.
There was a moment during our retreat to Morden. We were gathered outside, near the picnic table. It was Friday night… or Saturday maybe? God, it’s blurred together already. In any event, the Nova Scotian members of The Common were all there—Sean, Sue, Ryan, Sarah and Carsten. Sarah had something to say, she insisted we all get our drinks. We did. She proposed a toast, holding out her Carlsberg (of all things). She said, “it’s so awesome that this writing group has turned in to five such awesome friendships.” We clinked our drinks, and then she said, “damn it, I practised that in my head, and it did NOT have two awesomes in it.”
It was appropriate though. The retreat had way more than two awesomes in it. First of all, she’s right… it is awesome, the awesome friendships that have grown out of that writing group. We have such interesting discussions, and take the piss out of each other so naturally. We are so well balanced, the right blend of hilarity and sincerity in all we do and say to each other. We can all live in a two-bedroom cottage for two and a half days and still like each other at the end of it.
So that’s a lot of the awesome. Then there’s the beauty of Morden. This was my first stay by the Bay of Fundy, and it was incredible. The way the sunlight slanted across from New Brunswick, the rocky rocky shore… how many millions of years till it’s a sandy beach, I wondered as I picked my way along it, wishing I could take every single rock home. The incredible verdant freshness, the rolling hills. The lightning show to which we were treated on Saturday night; the way it rained with wild abandon.
And then the writing. I’m not sure most of The Common got actual work done, but I sure did. Pages and pages and pages about Dacey Brown, the female singer songwriter in Fallsy Downsies, the lone wolf who’s lost her voice, but thinks she might find it if she hops a ride with Evan Cornfield and Lansing Meadows. Plus, a section that’d been missing, a section that connects the night that Lansing and Evan meet, and the roadtrip that takes them to Antigonish together.
Plus, with a little help from my friends, I figured out the ribald game at the heart of the novel. All in all, an awesome, awesome weekend.
Good god, the busy-ness lately. And not with anything particularly riveting. In fact, I’m not sure that I could tell you what, exactly has been occupying my time lately. But I have that hunted dog feeling, that feeling of the world and all its demands nipping at my heels, relentless. Which is hilarious, because compared to a lot of people I know, I have few duties. Work, meals, groceries, the odd workout, the occasional conversation with my husband. So what has me on the run? Who knows? Monkey mind, maybe.
I mean, sure, I’m editing a book, and jurying a competition, and it’s the inaugural Atlantic Ink Festival…but beyond that, not much on the go.
I did just register for this. The Google Book Settlement thingy. It was surprising to discover they’d scanned not just Homing, but also Oral Fixation, an anthology I was published in more than ten years ago. Wow, they’ve been busy. Well, now they can get busy sending me a little cheque, and oh, I do love those.
What else? The Atlantic Ink Festival, that’s what. Tonight I went to Outside the Lines, which is a lovely little bookstore on Quinpool, for a reading and reception with Sara Tilley, whose book I am loving, Ian Colford, who cannot stop racking up nominations for prestigious awards, and Stephen Kimber, whose storytelling always at once soothes me and makes me envious. So, it was a great night.
Tomorrow, the Common heads to Morden, to Sarah Mian’s family cottage, for a weekend writers’ retreat. I am planning to get rather a lot done on Fallsy Downsies, and also to drink rather a lot of wine, and maybe stay up all night or most of it, singing Meatloaf songs. Because THAT’s how we roll.