Saturday, March 30, 2013


 As mentioned in my previous post, I'm in Maine.
Maine lets me breathe, think, review, and reboot.
It lets me look at my life, my Toronto life, with its Toronto job, and all the Toronto problems that go along with that, from the other end of the telescopic lens.
As in far away, but oh-so-clear.

I've been reading (The Bride Stripped Bare by Nikki Gemmell, and a follow-up book of hers that I started reading on the plane).

And this: a great reminder of sorts.

It takes alot, sometimes, to be yourself. It takes alot, sometimes, to claw through all that detritus of what people want you to be, even other women.  It's a daily battle, just like lacing up the running shoes and not letting fear rule your life.  But it's a worthy battle, remember this. 

 So that's where I'm at on this fine Maine morning.
The sun in shining very brightly, the Bruins are playing in half an hour (I really don't care, but my husband is gearing up to watch), I'm eating a bit of dinner-for-breakfast, and as I was telling my friend G. yesterday, I did the ultimate "Maine" thing yesterday--I was in a juice bar. But don't panic.  I was just there by accident, as it is attached to the Whole Foods store in Portland, where people who wear nothing but comfortable shoes shop for food, expensively. Mike and I had lunch there from their food bar and it was fun to people-watch while we ate. I bought eucalyptus and flowers in the name of Easter. 
We went to a fish market, cement floors washed in water, a black cat on the front steps, empty tuna can nearby. We bought oysters and ran into a running friend of Mike's, an enthusiastic man with lots of running tales, and at age sixty-one talked about the May marathon he was currently training for, his 73rd marathon. A cancer survivor.  I listened in awe. Usually when people talk about their accomplishments in a bragg-y kind of way I tune out, but not when the subject is running, any running. Then you've got me--I'm listening, I'm all ears, I'm fully present. You're a runner, in whatever form that takes for you. I'm already impressed.
My friend H. emailed me about her spring run yesterday, how it all clicked, how it feels when that happens, and I smiled as I read her email, her joy jumping off the screen right at me, my own 5-k that same afternoon coming back to me. Not the kind of 'high' running that she experienced, but the clarity kind, the ones that comes after you've spoken out about something that's been bothering you, the kind you have after you've made a good decision, you feel clear, clean. Washed.

It was the perfect sunny-cloudy-sort-of-rainy day, and while I ran, it was three kinds of weather, and the rain, which was falling as I ran along the shoreline, tide out but still wet sand, the rain was not cold. It was a spring rain.  Shape-shifting clouds, the light kind, the ones that aren't heavy with snow, with winter's dread.

Happy Saturday and yes I say, tentatively...Happy Spring. Happy running.

Friday, March 29, 2013


I like running in Maine...

looking at the ocean.
feeling blessed.

Not a lot to write about today, I'm in Maine, the last couple of days have been better than most of the last stack of months, really, and instead of words, I'm going to pepper you with pictures.

Today is Good Friday and I found a Catholic church in Portland with Mike's help, and we went there, before the CnE's, before the crowds. And the church was, unlike many in Toronto, blessedly unlocked.
And marble'ed, and hushed, and I felt a sense of reverence, a new church--I hadn't felt that in a while.


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Just Another Sunday Morning

I guiltily cop to getting up past 10am yesterday morning and today.
God, it feels great.
But, it also destroys your day. Severs it, really, slicing it neatly in half to what you can and will get done, and those things that are just Not Gonna Happen today.
Coffee falls in the former category. Not just making it, but sitting with it. Not pouring it into a to-go cup, rushing to the car with your lunch and your work-bag and getting all set to sit in traffic for forty minutes (it's called Commuting.  I have the feeling that it's going to be one of those things that future generations will marvel at, as they did in that great book "Woman on the Edge of Time" by Marge Piercy.  They did WHAT? They DROVE TO WORK EVERYDAY? Why?).

So yes, weekend coffee is poured into a proper mug, milk is warmed, and maybe there is some Bailey's added, (there, now you  know everything) and in the background, the laundry spins in the dryer and the Sunday playlist drones on the iPod.
Coffee has a different purpose on weekend mornings, too, for this "weekend athlete" as my sister describes our work-out habits. It's fuel to run. It's a little spark to get me out the door.

So, the sleep thing.
It was a busy week, one where I measured my days by how fast they went as I rushed to get enough done in the day so that I could somehow enjoy my night without stress, or guilt, "did I get enough done?" and then the ever-present "does everything think this way, live this way, stress this way?".
I know the answer: yes. We all stress about something, and as my friend A. sums it up--we all use something to take that stress away. The thought recurred to me yesterday during my Saturday run, this time along Queen Street East (blessing the flatness of the road, so unlike my Broadview route whose hill sometimes seem as sheer and vertical as the side of a mountain) watching people outside the beer store--one guy sorting bottles, rows and rows of them, into crates, for the bottle return. Another guy sitting on the pavement with a guitar, the case open in front of him, doing his own makeshift Saturday jam.  I ran by it all thinking about what that something is, as A. and I discussed, pills, alcohol, food, stress, anger, a particular person whom you really just need to get the hell away from.  That is by no means an exhaustive list, but you get the picture.
As my husband calls them 'demons'. It's a fun conversation to have with yourself.

I'm sipping coffee and Baileys now and thinking about the next step of my day, the run, while recapping the week in my head.
An extremely busy work-week, capped off by a meeting with colleagues that truly ended in a screaming match, (we're talking grown adults here), my own wonder at watching the meeting end in this trainwreck, while not participating, I felt as tainted as anyone could sitting in the boardroom of our office sharing the same air.
Friday night saw me gulping champagne with friends (hello, demon) in an attempt to banish the memory of the Friday afternoon meeting, cabbing it home post-midnight and falling into a deep, dreamless sleep on the couch, sleeping very late the next morning.
Saturday found me committed to running, and it took longer than I thought, and as always, made me feel better than I could have possibly anticipated.
The car got washed, as did my hair, and I found myself at the fortieth birthday party of a good friend a few hours later, TTC'ing my way there like a champ. Seated with friends we laughed, drank, left early (tired....). I reflected on my own upcoming fortieth lying in bed reading the very original book "The Bride Stripped Bare" (more about that in another entry--it needs its own space) and fell asleep again, quickly, deeply, and here I am. It's Sunday afternoon and I'm in pajamas, letting the internet steal time from me, and writing, and catching up with friends (I realized, with pride, that I've managed to fit in catching up with each of my close friends this week. It felt good. I need them so much).

I also came across these two wonderful blogs, written by wildly intellligent women, the kind of blogs that put the twenty-somethings' whinging about men and self-image to shame:

Take a read at both these sites, you will not be disappointed.
Real writing, real struggles, no fronting, no pictures of plates of food (that I came across).
Just logic (wow!), honesty, and a directness that comes with experiencing the world not as not living in a protective bubble.

The bubble has burst, people.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

For No One. Really.

Because sometimes I think I don't do nearly enough of it.
Yes, I take things in.
I read endlessly.
I hover over obituaries in the New York Times, the long ones, of the famous, of the absurd, of the quirky, of the unknown.
Of the unique.
All as if I'm trying to figure out "how do I live?"
With all this fear, or with the absence of it.
With all this love, and the still-elusive security it has yet to bring.
With all of these dreams, still un-named even to myself.
And how, how, how, do I ever try to encourage them to 'come true' when I need to do my taxes and
spinning's at 6:30, and I've got to make it on time...make it on time (just like that crazy U2 song "Zoo Station". That's what my life feels like lately. A zoo. With trains. I am just missing some of them).

I had a moment in the bottle store last week (don't laugh, I really did).
I was browsing through the champagne section, a tall wall of bottles with colourful foil wrapped around their necks, picking one out for my sister and I to drink "just because" it was going to be Saturday night in two days and we live five minutes from each other and the kids can watch Scooby-Doo and eat garlic bread as an appetizer while we pick at breaded stuffed clamshells and pop open said bottle.
I stood there, blinded by all the choice, drifting past all the bottles, looking around the empty store (it was just before the after-work-Thursday crowd), and I thought, if only I had time.

Time to get it all done.
By all I mean really write that book outline at home, at night, on the couch, instead
of constantly reading what others are writing and saying, quietly, to myself "I can so do that".
Time to slow down. To remember what it's like to just "be" instead of thinking about the taxes
and the immigration paperwork, and what my husband and I will have to sacrifice to be together in the same place, finally, for good.
Time to really look around. Like on the weekends when I live what I like to call my "real life" where I run, and read, and cook really nice meals, and my laundry gets folded. And I look into my weekday, workaday life with real wonder. How DO I care so much about kitchens? Why DO I strive to meet near-impossible deadlines with the zeal of a true convert?
I don't have an answer.
Part of it lies in the expectations I set up for myself, the bargain I made with myself a long time ago (don't disappoint us).

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Tender Bar

That's what I'm reading right now.
Even though we've all lost an hour's sleep this week due to 'springing forward' I feel anything but spring-y, or spritely.
You see, I've spent a lot of my sleep time this week enmeshed, deeply, in this book.
Small print. Lots of words on a page.
I won't give anything away by telling you that:
it's a memoir;
the writer grew up just outside of New York City;
it does involve a bar;
and one of those weird childhoods that seem pre-requisite for memoir writing.
(I knew one day I'd be grateful for mine).

Last night I happened upon my favourite cluster of lines, (thus far, I know there is going to be more), and I was in that moment, while reading alone, wondrous.
Wondrous of life, of books, of reading, of lying in my Ikea bed, alone, my husband in a different country, my apartment full of hush, the reading lamp, my white tee-shirt serving as a pajama top.
The in-between weather, dipping below freezing at night on a Wednesday, and run-without-a-jacket on Sunday morning.
I read this:

' "A book is a miracle," Bill said. "Every book represents a moment when someone sat quietly--and that quiet is part of the miracle, make no mistake--and tried to tell the rest of us a story."
Bud could talk ceaselessly about the hope of books, the promise of books.  He said it was no accident that a book opened just like a door. '

The Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer, (c) 2006

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Long Goodbye

I first noticed and heard about this magnificent book through a blog I follow entitled "Bookswept" (a blog of note, consequently, that showcases random lines from books and novels alongside stunning photographs).
The author's name is Meghan O'Rourke, and all I knew is that it was a memoir, and I liked the lines I had read on Bookswept.  I thought perhaps it was a memoir of a romance gone all wrong, and in this I was wrong.
Because once again I've managed to find another book about someone's parent who died slowly, sadly, painfully, of cancer.
In O'Rourke's book it's her mother, by all accounts a magical, whimsical woman, the centre of a warm family, much like Cheryl Strayed's seemed to be. O'Rourke was older than Strayed at the time of the dreaded news, the dreaded event, but still has her own break-down moments, her marriage falling to the strain, her career feeling the weight of her grief-depression.

The book is not just memoir but O'Rourke's delving into the literature of grief, passages which she sprinkles about in the book. I enjoyed that alot. Other writers attempts to wrestle grief to the page, to pin it down, that elusive wave upon the sand. The Long Goodbye haunts me in the same way The Year of Magical Thinking haunted me (haunts me still). The way Blue Nights did. In an intelligent way, one that makes me honour my grief and it's transitory nature. And also, by the fact of its very existence, makes room for the knowledge that while it ebbs and flows just like water, the tides, and that sometimes it seems very far, then very close again--it will never truly go away. Just diminish. Then re-appear. O'Rourke likens it to the seasons, and her views as a non-religious person do not undermine her feelings of spirituality.

But enough of me waxing about the book.

I've had two nights in a row of strange dreams. Last night, my lost aunt and cousin invaded my slumber. They were visiting me in my loft, but not the loft I live in now--a greater, vaster loft, with much more furniture and a piano of all things (reminder of my father). They were scrounging for money, as they had been left with little. I questioned this. My cousin ignored me, her back turned, a thick black ponytail swinging. My aunt's eyes remaind downcast, and she could not look at me. I felt like begging her to. I may have, in a cajoling, wordless way, using just my eyes, to do just that--look at me, Aunt K.  See me, I wanted to shout. Forgive me--forgive yourself. Admit you were wrong. I'll try to do the same.
But it was, and remains, just a dream. A strange one at that.

The night before my dream involved my sister, and me trying to get her hospital care, which was impossible to do in my confused dream-world. I remember little other than that, just the bright white space we were in, the red-crosses defining the inside of the stark building.

Nothing else to really report, but I will leave this entry with an excerpt of The Long Goodbye, one that I've sat and thought about alot in my spot on the couch, late in the day, the last slants of the sun rays peeking through the slats of the blinds. That's my favourite time of day in my apartment, maybe because it's the one I see the least, as I am at work at this time five days out of seven, and the other two I may not always be home or paying enough attention at the exact right moment.
But I recalled these lines as I sat there today:

"...and I lifted out of myself and understood that I was part of a magnificent book.  What I knew as "life" was a thin version of something larger, the pages of which had all been written.  What I would do, how I would live--it was already known.  I stood there with a kind of peace humming in my veins."

This passage reminded me that alot of the thoughts I've had lately, on life, on work, on my purpose, haven't really seemed to have been invented by me, but rather they are like archaelogical fragments--there hidden in the cold ground all this time, only now being unearthed.
I like this image. And I like that for once, my thoughts of being seem to have just settled inside me, without alot of struggle on my part.  It's comforting, isn't it, in some ways? The book is already written.

For the first time in a long time, I'm looking forward to turning more pages.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Running Angels

The past few weeks in my pursuit of getting back to running, getting back to where I was before
the injury derailed me have been tough.
I've been getting out there, (the first hurdle) but it's cold and windy and there have been days where
I've encountered too much ice and had to slow to an observant walk, a trudge, really, my running shoes skidding as I pick my way along.
Character-building. That's what the types of runs I've been doing are called by my husband.
They are not fun. You might experience pain while running, in various parts of your body.
Your legs might get crampy and you will want to stop. Or, in my case, an intense back-ache that's been plaguing me, a sign that my core is rebelling against all the exercise, the ramping-up I've been submitting it to.  It's not fun.

Yesterday was another of these runs. I ran along King Street to where it converges to Lower River Street and then up to Queen, a usual route. Along Queen to some backstreets where I ran parallel to Broadview. My legs, calves in particular this time, were screaming. I stopped to walk. My playlist seemed slow. It bored me. I contemplated turning around and going home. I felt glum.

I reached Gerrard and Broadview, the mini-Chinatown, the library on the north-west corner, the crowd waiting for an elusive streetcar. An older man, elderly, really, was running south, towards me.
At first look, waiting for the light to change, I couldn't really tell if he was actually running, or just trying to make it to the streetcar stop.
I crossed the street. He was definitely a runner. Black, beaten-up runners. Black baggy sweatpants. Faded brown hoodie. A non-descript ball cap. I ran by him as he was circling the library entrance, noting his beet-red face, a mirror, I'm sure of my own--effort and cold mingling.
I ran up Broadview past the Don Jail and the newly named Jack Layton Wy, spelled that way on the streetsign (I had the thought of why couldn't they just stick the a in there?).  Just as I crossed the Wy,
the elder runner, Brown Sweatshirt, as I'd nicknamed him, lumbered by me, his feet barely lifting off the ground. I think I grimaced. Here I was, labouring along, dragging myself through this run, and a man approximately thirty years my senior had just effortlessly passed me. He ran ahead. I tried to pace myself to him, imitating his short strides and foot motion. I felt a bit better. I let myself fall behind and didn't feel the need to turn it on and just blow by him. Why? I knew I'd never be able to keep up that pace. I changed my music, upping the volume, trying anything to get to the top of the Broadview hill, reach the Danforth, head west over the Bloor viaduct and at last be running on flat ground rather than uphill.

Brown Sweatshirt disappeared as I reached the top of the hill. Just...gone. I told  my husband this story, starting it with "I got passed while running today by a seventy-year-old man."  Then I told him that he'd disappeared.
My husband; "He probably turned off somewhere."
Me; "No, I looked everywhere. It's like he saw me floundering on the corner in front of the library and decided to haul me along on his run. Like a running angel.  Urging me on through a difficult phase, then just...vanishing."
My husband looked at me. He's used to my ruminations on faith, and spirits, all these fanciful religious ideas that I cling to (he doesn't). 
"Sure, maybe," he said, coming on board, for my sake.

It made perfect sense to me.
A running angel.
Why not?

Thanks to Brown Sweatshirt, I made it across the viaduct, flew home down Parliament, and felt that good feeling for the second half of my run, the reason why running is so fundamental once you let it in. Like those concepts of spirit, so mysteriously fleeting.

But so deliciously gratifying once you catch a glimpse....

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Edge of the World

I haven't really been writing.
What I HAVE been doing is reading. Thinking. Dreaming. Musing.
Trying to look at my life from the inside-out. Forty awaits in less than six short months.
Forty, I think, has a lot to tell me and probably even more to show me.
Forty, finally, no longer frightens me.

Here's some of what I've been reading:

Rules of Civility,  Amor Towles. A debut novel from a new author (I can only pray he writes more.) My friend T. lent it to me.  Pre-WWII New York City. Girls working in typing pools and at magazines. Bluebloods with family money and houses in the Adirondacks. Trains. Quips and witticisms. The heroine of the book herself a bibliophile. Her tastes towards the classics and her habit of weaving books and their narratives into her everyday life. Her dead father.

"Whatever setbacks he had faced in his life, he said, however daunting or dispiriting the unfolding of events, he always knew that he would make it through, as long as when he woke in the morning he was looking forward to his first cup of coffee.  Only decades later would I realize that he had been giving me a piece of advice."

The chapters have actual titles. There are no quotation marks anywhere in the book.  I don't want to give it away. I haven't read a writer this visually gifted in a long time and I've had several tired mornings this week after reading it late into the night. Oh, and I don't want it to end. Always a sign of a great read.

Tiny Beautiful Things,  Cheryl Strayed.
I've talked about this book before. I've finished it now and I'm re-reading snippets of it, prior to actually buying a physical copy for myself, and for the birthdays of all of my friends for the rest of the year. It's a book for the collection. This sums it up: Strayed was the advice-giver working under the guise of anonymity for the advice column on The, called Dear Sugar. This is a collection of the columns, and I think, her best book. Torch and Wild are her other two books, both great reads, but this book really got me.

"The useless days will add up to something.  The shitty waitressing jobs. The hours writing in your journal.  The long meandering walks.  The hours reading poetry and story collections and novels and dead people's diaires and wondering about sex and God ...  These things are your becoming."

There it is in a few short sentences.
My twenties in a nutshell.

Torch, Cheryl Strayed.
I know, based on her memoir Wild, that Torch, too, includes autobiographical material. Again, I don't want to spoil this book. It's tender and sparse, open and brave. A great read.

The Dinner, Herman Koch.
A so-so read, I have to say. I know that the reviews are stellar, the translation from the Dutch very good, and the topic very socially relevant in these very troubled times we live in. But it was clunky. There's no other word for it. But very plot-driven. In a maddening kind of way. And no, I could not surmise the ending.

We Need to Talk About Kevin, Lionel Shriver.
I think I've mentioned this one before, too, but it's worth talking about again. It's a disturbing read, but I think it should be distributed amongst parents, mandatory reading for those who've decided to add to the herd on this very crowded planet. Similar subject matter to The Dinner, but much darker, and handled by a more adept writer. Tough to get through, though, I will warn you.

For a Saturday morning, I put aside the books and delved into this beautiful article in the New York Times, translated from Norwegian and containing some beautiful phrases that I've been reading over and over again, like this little paragraph that I've been thinking about all morning:

The northern lights compel your eyes upward. They’re impossible to ignore. A simple phenomenon, rays striking the atmosphere, no more mysterious than the beam from a flashlight — yet the lights convey a sense of being at the very edge of the world and looking out at the endless, empty universe through which we are all careening.

As this was a photo essay, the second link, a series of photographs, entitled "God's Light Show" accompanies the article.
Worth a read and a look on a cold, grey, March day before you go out and careen through this little time-blip known as your Weekend.

Happy Saturday.