Today I took my broken heart to the edge of the sea and I reminded it that every breath that’s ever been heaved in this world is still here to be breathed anew. That everyone who ever stood on this earth and did the simple miraculous work of inhaling and exhaling is connected to every other person who ever has. That you are connected to me in this way, and I to another, that our breath reaches back through time to those we’ve loved and lost. There is a constancy there that soothes me, the way the ocean smooths out the rocks at Peggy’s Cove. The waves there are relentless, the ocean’s hand ashore to ease the furrowed brow of rock. The cure for anything, it’s said, is salt water: tears, sweat, or the sea. I tried all three today but remain uncured, for what can really cure grief? Time blunts it, maybe, though not for long. Grief is a rogue wave. At Peggy’s rogue waves are just a fact, like grief is a fact, like every breath that’s ever been taken in and let go is still in the world is a fact.
Finally after eighteen years I’ve learned that what I know about this day can barely cover the head of a pin. I recognize this territory, sure, its rough outline, but it is a seaside in spring changed entirely by winter storms, its road ripped up, its sand carried by the wind and waves a hundred metres away and strewn upon the grass, a beach out of time and out of place. Rocks revealed and covered, revealed and covered. I know enough to know what recent losses for friends will mean. I know the way grief changes families, its thumbs hard on your clay. The way it makes a thicket grow over your path overnight so you can no longer go that way and must find a different way instead. It brings silence to the party it crashes, and regret, sometimes guilt, and recrimination. It is the worst kind of guest, rude and uncaring. A house guest that just won’t take the hint. It belches at the table, and leaves all the towels damp and wadded up in corners where they moulder, unnoticed till it’s too late.
That I know, but knowing only makes it sadder, my own grief compounding theirs, or theirs compounding mine. I have arrived at a place of activism. Death is still so awkward and impolite. Losses are invisible, unless perhaps you’ve also lost. And then there is a choice. Pretend you can’t see, or develop x-ray vision. I’m choosing the latter. I’m trying for a kind of generosity in grief. I know this beach well, I can say. It changes every day, it seems, like the shoreline and the sea, as the poet says, but I know its basic geography, and where the break in the thicket is. I know your clay will firm again and those thumbs won’t press you so. The sand will return to the beach. Those rocks that have been revealed will always be there, but you’ll learn where they are and you won’t stub your toe on them as often.
And for myself, I’m left with what I’m always left with. The pursuit of more, the understanding that none of it is assured. I don’t arrange my life around what I think one of my dear departed would want. I won’t use that as a crutch to do or not do what’s in front of me. I will, however, take to heart the annual lesson to live while I am alive. My brother would have turned fifty last week. When we were twenty and twenty-two I gave him a birthday card that said, on the front: No matter how old you get… and then inside, the punch line: You’ll always be older than me. I can’t stop thinking about that card now. I’m forty-seven this year, and feeling my age in a way I never have. Chris remains thirty-two, with so much undone. I went out to hear some music last week, and one of the singers, Lynn Miles, sang this song. It made me think of Chris, who wanted more of everything, and of myself, and the opportunities I sometimes let slip by. Let me be a wild ocean, constant and seeking. Let me spill over the rocks of my life, salty and alive. Let me always reach. Let there be more.
Winter skies—late fall skies, I guess they have been lately, though the thick crust of snow below them sure reads winter these days—are a gift. They are a complicated, sometimes prickly gift, one you’re not sure you want, actually, if it has to come with certain conditions, like snow, wind, slush, ice. Treachery, danger, discomfort at least. And yet, those skies, the colours they offer a brilliant relief from the gray scale of the day, more than a spoonful of sugar helping the medicine go down, in the most delightful way. The light they bracket is short and oblique, and if you’re awake for more than eight or nine hours a day, you’re going to see more than your usual share, probably, of sunsets and sunrises. In the last few days, I have nervously anticipated the setting of the sun for the darkness that will fall on the highway I’m travelling soon afterward, but despite that nervous anticipation, a glorious display across the horizon has helped to lift anxiety about what’s ahead, if only for a moment. And I’ve been chased out of bed before dawn by a brain that won’t stop offering me bits of work to think about, conversations to construct or reconstruct, errands I keep forgetting to do, kindnesses I should have extended, battles I should have fought or stayed out of, unease about the future, large and small. I’ve generally been fortunate in my relationship with sleep, especially since I stopped working for The Man. As a self-employed person, I can always get more sleep, and generally, I can choose whether to do something complicated or put it off till I feel more rested. I have not been called upon to operate upon a brain or heart, and so, a few nights of less than optimal sleep brings along pretty low stakes. And when you get out of bed early, you see sunrises that are so lovely you exclaim out loud in a quiet house, and creep out onto a snowy deck in your slippers to luxuriate in it for a moment and snap a picture.
But there is the dark to be reckoned with. So much dark, the most we’ll have this year descending today. And this year has been legendarily replete with dark of all kinds. I have been grateful to have been freed, professionally, from the bonds of having to know what the news is. I have been privileged to be able to turn away, if I need to, from scenes of war and violence, injustice and despair, from racism and sexism played out in streets and communities and halls of legislation. I have had a series of bad dreams in which I am being directly sexually harassed or assaulted by Donald Trump and have shrugged my shoulders in the dream, acknowledging that this is how it is now, and what are you gonna do. I have scrolled quickly past stories about climate change and its ravages, as if it is only my eyes on it that will make it true, and so long as I don’t look, it doesn’t exist. This is incredible privilege. For the dark is real and it is all around us, whether I’m choosing to look at it or not.
This has been a year of peeling back the layers of myself, chipping off the exterior that allowed me to do a pressure-filled job in a witheringly public way. My ability to compartmentalize was almost the most important skill in my quiver, to subdivide myself into selves, to put fear, criticism, shame, uncertainty, anxiety, heart, humanity in separate trunks in my head and slam them shut so I could function on live radio. Freed from that I have discovered that the trunks do not slam shut as easily anymore, nor do I want them to. This year especially, I have been easily moved to tears by displays of humanity and kindness and by displays of inhumanity and cruelty. I am, basically, a single kind or cruel word away from crying at any given time. And though it is, to be honest, inconvenient to be so close to the surface, I want to encounter those layers of myself, sift through my experiences of vulnerability and what I can take from them, leave myself open to criticism, but also to acceptance—both from within and from without. The darkness is real and it is inside us, too, whether we are choosing to look at it or not.
But the light is real too, so real, and it too is all around us. Is it harder to see with the darkness so pressing, or are we fatalists, inclined to believe the worst and to share the worst with each other? Why can’t we see the light as easily? There is the light that’s corny and a little trite, the light that is advertised as “heartwarming,” but those stories in our newsfeeds can feel far away and artificial, or like some special effort made by someone we don’t know, not applicable to our own lives, and hardly a counter to the enveloping darkness anyway.
And yet. There is a crack in everything, it’s how the light gets in. (A world without Leonard Cohen, talk about darkness descending.) The light can be the smallest glimmer. The ease with which my little nephew talks about what scares him and relieves the fear by bringing it into the light a little. An extra moment of conversation with someone who’s clearly overworked or otherwise harried—a moment of pure humanity. The grace with which my spouse agrees to be the anchor in a night of family holiday singalong-ing, which is not a role for which he’d ever volunteer, but when faced with a sentimental spouse on the verge of tears over I Believe in Father Christmas, he steps up. The ordinary citizens who have become galvanized to fight for justice, risking their lives, their comfort, their own ability to turn away from what’s uncomfortable. Circles of friends who truly form a circle, of shelter and support and love, always. Open-hearted people of all kinds who open also their arms, their minds, their lives in service of a better life for others. There is so much light. Sunrise, sunset. Look for it. Be ready to see it. Be ready to be it. Happy solstice. Welcome, winter
I’m late to the Springsteen party. I got obsessed with Dancing in the Dark a couple years back. Mostly that line: I’m dying for some action, I’m sick of sitting around here trying to write this book. Tell me about it, Boss.
Last week I watched a couple of documentaries about Springsteen. A BBC one called Glory Days, and The Promise: The making of Darkness on the Edge of Town. And the way he spoke in those films about his artistic processes, and also about fame and intrinsic self-ness, and trying to protect that thing that makes you an artist when everyone wants a chunk of you–that just set me on fire.
And so the next thing I knew I was buying a ticket to see him play in Moncton.
And now I’m like a kid with her first crush. On the drive home from Moncton Monday morning I listened to his tunes cranked loud with the window down. Probably pressed repeat on Dancing in the Dark twenty times. Ridiculous. But irresistible. Part of it is his affability, his control, his generosity on stage. More though, it’s his uncanny ability to put his finger exactly on the themes and ideas that consume me right now.
His songs are exactly what I need as I go deeper into Fallsy Downsies. The themes of economic dissolution, small towns falling apart, the ways in which industrialization fucked up everything. And then too the yearning for escape. I check my look in the mirror, wanna change my clothes my hair my face. The longing. Evan and Lansing. And Dacey always on the go, taking risks to feel alive.
Oh, sorry. I just wandered off to watch some live footage on YouTube. See? Kid with crush.
Alright, look, obviously, the dude is a superstar for a reason, all tight jeans and charisma. But also hard work and depth and an innate understanding of the human condition and all its attendant frailties.
Thing is, you just never know where you’re going to find your connection. Could be in a grassy field in Moncton with thirty thousand other fans. Could be at the wheel of a rental car at 7 in the morning, trying to find the right highway to get home, window down even though it’s kind of too cold, wind pushing your hair everywhere, infectious synthesizer hook and words that knew what you were thinking even before you did. Both perfectly content and endlessly yearning.
It’s just exactly what I need right now. Even if we’re just dancing in the dark.
First, some business remaining from last time: in the wake of that last post, pretty much every week, someone has taken the time to google something like: stephanie domet beautiful great writer. Which makes me laugh every time. I have a thick skin — you couldn’t not in my line of work — but I have to say I love the good and open hearts that beat inside my friends. You are lovely, lovely people. I appreciate your lavish praise, and will do what I can to be worthy of it!
Now, onto that. This being September, it’s been back to business round these parts. New radio season, and a recommitment to weekly writing. It was not easy, and it was not overly fruitful, but I did drag myself out of the sunny garden on Saturday and down to the cafe to crank out some pages. Four wee ones (at this rate, the book might get finished by the time I’m fifty), but better than none. I am not stumped, or blocked or any of that bullshit. I just — I don’t know. I am terribly undisciplined. And also kinda busy. Editing two books right now. Helping to plan the Writers’ Federation Fall Into Writing Gala on September 24, which is going to be awesome, and an amazing Nocturne event, about which I’m really excited, called It Was a Dark and Stormy Night — which will basically be an interactive journey through your average writer’s personal hell — I mean, daily life. That’s happening October 15 at the Company House in Halifax. So there’s a lot going on, and that’s all great. But none of it is more important than writing Fallsy Downsies. Though most of it is more fun, let’s be honest. And with other people counting on me delivering — all that stuff FEELS more important.
So there’s that. If you feel like issuing a deadline with some kind of stern consequences attached, please feel free.
And I don’t need you to keep up the flattering google searches but… I’m not gonna tell you to stop!
And finally, here’s a little musical treat. Because you’ve been so good.
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.
Or the other way around, or maybe both. I am on the road right now, as Kev takes living rooms and basements around Ontario by storm. He earned a Home Routes tour and so we’ve spent the last couple weeks together in the car, touring around, playing a concert in a different house each night. It’s been intense and awesome, and I’ve even managed to get some writing done.
More importantly, I’ve had that magic time in the car to let my mind wander and pick through the elements of my story that still stymie me. And I’ve had some important breakthroughs–some insights into what actually motivates Lansing Meadows, and what eventually leads to the rift between him and Evan Cornfield. And even Dacey Brown is moving into sharper focus.
I will be sorry to leave this full time artist life behind in two weeks. Though I hear from afar there are a number of juicy stories unfolding in Nova Scotia, and I feel the pull of daily radio. It’s a tough balance, the two lives, and I will be spending some of my remaining time figuring out how to balance them better. I’ll be back on the air on February 28th. The novel’s first draft won’t be finished–but at least I’ll know how to proceed. And that feels like a huge triumph. A more reasonable, achievable goal is a completed first draft by September, a completed second draft by the end of December. And if it goes my way, maybe publication by fall 2012.
In other news, it looks like Lady Hammond has received first draft funding for Homing, with Tricia Fish screenwriting. This is great news for that team, and I’ll be interested to see what happens next.
So, lots of forward momentum. And, for a taste of what I’ve been up to on the road, here’s a little video from our stop in Kanata, Ontario. Don’t say I never gave you anything.
Where does the time go? We were just in Newfoundland, and then suddenly, that was two weeks ago, and here it is December. And now I’m on that holiday rollercoaster, keeping my arms and legs inside the cart at all times and just enjoying the ride. I love this time of year, and this year, I seem to be loving it a little more than usual, even for me.
I am getting nothing done, writing-wise, and I am accepting that. January stretches out, empty, bleak, cold and waiting for me to fill it up, warm it up with sentences. So, that.
For now, I am just along for the ride.
There’s something about Homing-the-book that seems to resonate with local songwriters. Or maybe they’re vying for inclusion on some eventual soundtrack. Ryan MacGrath has a song inspired by the book. I haven’t heard it yet, but as with Steven Bowers‘s beautiful song about pigeons and coming home, I am beyond flattered to know that it exists. They’re both amazing songwriters, and if you haven’t checked them out yet, give yourself an early present, and go do so now!