Days in May

Well, May, here you are, halfway gone, you complicated month, you. May is one of the most crowded months in our family calendar, and one of the most reviled. There’s mother’s day, Jeff’s birthday, Chris’s birthday, Chris and Em’s dating anniversary, Em’s birthday. It used to be a whirlwind of cake and celebration. But then Chris got sick, and added to May got less noble anniversaries like the day Chris slipped into a coma, the day the doctor told us we had to unplug him, the day he died, his funeral. Less cake and way less celebrating. Stupid May. Month that both brought Chris and took him away. Month that made Mother’s Day a complicated joke of a holiday. Month that gave us all so much sadness only heightened by all those years of May gladness. Stupid May when everything is in bloom but all our thoughts are witheredy death. Stupid.

So then you think, how am I supposed to live? Honestly, how am I supposed to go on, in the face of such sadness, but more importantly, how should I comport myself in order to truly honour the memory of someone who wanted so much to stay on this earth? I made a decision, early on, that I was not doing anyone any good by being in perpetual mourning. That if Chris couldn’t be here to live, then damn it, I was going to have to do it for both of us. The sadness helped me up to a point, and then after that, being sad and angry was kind of holding me back. So I cut it out, by and large. Writing a book from those feelings helped too.

And then eight years ago, Jeff and Michelle made the excellent, brave and healing decision to hold their wedding on May 17, Chris’s birthday, the most confusing day of them all. The other sorrowful anniversaries were straightforward. But how could you be sad on Chris’s birthday? It just didn’t make sense. So Jeff and Mich made it make more sense by turning it back into a day of cake and celebration.

And here we are again. May 17. My amazing older brother would have been 43 today, and doubtless king of the world. He was so smart, he was kind, he was funny, he could play guitar and write songs better than you. He had two gorgeous daughters he’d be in awe of now. Today he’d be sitting back with his lovely wife, watching them go out into the world, making sure they came home in time for cake and celebration.

May 17 and Jeff and Michelle celebrate another year together, their two great kids, the life they’ve built close by family and friends. Cake and celebration. There’s not much more that’s needed in this life.

As for that book, in honour of Chris’s birthday, here’s a piece from Homing, a piece of fiction loosely inspired by Chris and his guitar. Happy birthday, brother.


Rosy and Grey

I am awash on a sea of nostalgia. And a sea of fog. And a sea of anticipation. And a sea of longing. And a sea of momentum. Let’s take them sea by sea.

Last weekend I went to Toronto–nominally for my brother’s birthday and for mother’s day, but really to relive some of my misspent youth, seeing Lowest of the Low at their 20th anniversary show at Massey Hall. I’d forgotten the power of those songs, somehow, songs that were once as intrinsic to my every day as water and air. I was slammed back against the shores of my early twenties in Toronto, a time of huge confidence based on nothing, and massive confusion, a feeling that everyone but me knew the score. I remembered with force endless crushes that came to nothing, a patchwork life made of half a dozen jobs in restaurants, book stores and delivering Now magazine, late nights that lasted till morning. And I remembered the powerful excitement of hearing songs with lyrics that described the streets and bars and cafes where all those days and nights got frittered away. The way a line like: “And I will hold this coin that reminds me of the time when you nearly kissed me blind on Bathurst Street, it’s true,” or a whole song about the Carlaw Bridge, or about taking a walk up to the Only, the way those songs about where I lived crammed themselves into my heart and my head and still won’t go away. And how, after a childhood and youth spent in suburban sameness, a suburb I never saw reflected by name or description in anything I read or heard, unless it was the crummy little suburban newspaper–after a childhood and youth spent consuming stories from elsewhere till you could almost believe stories only happened in English country gardens, in New York City, the deep south and on the Great Plains–after all that, to find my way home to songs that were about my own beloved streets and places, well. I was done. Still am. That band, that band in front of whom I drank and danced and swore and cried and yelled and crushed, that band articulated what up till then I’d been unable to. That stories happen right here, right where you are, and those stories, those stories are worth telling. Those stories need telling. And anyone can tell them.

And I started my Toronto novel, The Pawnshop Blues. Which never came to much, see under drank, danced, swore, cried, yelled, crushed. But some seed was nestled then. And when I was ready to write Homing, I wrote it about the real place I live, the real place I love. Those city stories, those small city stories mean as much, are worth as much, as any story in any English country garden, or on any Great Plain.

So, there’s that.

The sea of fog. Halifax is having one of those springs where the sun don’t shine. I am trying to ignore the outside world, the natural environment. I am trying to pretend it’s merely a long grey hallway I take to get from home to work to downtown to the farmers market and back. But the pretending is wearing thin. It’s hard to feel like doing much when faced with a solid wall of grey, fifteen days out of seventeen. You know?

And so to that sea of anticipation. The sun will return eventually…right? And I will go out into it and pull weeds in the garden and contemplate the annual plan to build a shed–and maybe even do it this year. And I will go for long walks in that sunshine and think thoughts that aren’t just survival based. And Kev will come home from tour. And I will start writing again. And and and.

About that. That sea of longing. And momentum. Those two are linked. The momentum is, unfortunately, not the kind I had in the early winter, when I was writing every day and burning up the pages. It’s the momentum of a quotidian life, with coffee, shower, work, home, supper, magazine, bed, lather rinse repeat ad nauseum. There is no writing there. I have been consumed by my job, again. And I do love that job, oh I do. But my characters are going quiet in the back of my head, and that’s always terrifying. I feel the pressure (from where, I’m not sure, myself I guess) of four years since Homing, what have I done for you lately. I feel the heft of the book I am writing, the knowledge it’s not going to be done soon, even if I were working on it regularly. And it’s a feeling that’s worse than fog fifteen days out of seventeen.

So what am I going to do about it? That’s a great question. With an obvious right answer. I am going to write. Easy to say. Hard to do. I remember those days of my early twenties all that passion I didn’t know how to direct, but one thing I did know was to write every day. And I did. Whether it was going anywhere didn’t actually matter. I was clear enough then just to make sentences on a page, every damn day.

So here’s my renewal of that passion. One scene a week, without fail. One page a day if that works, or the whole thing in one shot, more likely. But one scene a week. And more Lowest of the Low on the soundtrack, to remind me to kick it over. Kick it over.