where might this tunnel lead

Just a hint of snow. The occasional fat flake visible against the still leafy tree, in slow dance downward. I watch, mesmerized as if my back window has become a television, the floating white stuff a metaphor, a plot device in the opening credits that whisper a coming change.

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There are things I am pleased about. The great functional beauty of my living space. The ancient trees five minutes away from my front door, the warm community of artists that surrounds my studio and work. The hum of this reconstructed painting as it nears completion in a few days, in time for its’ entry submission into a group show.

The way this painting, with its’ odd off-balanced, skewed gravity has informed what I will do with the other golden one – a permission to work with graffiti on my own work – to include a vulnerability, a soft ‘wrongness’ in what the piece will say, or sing.

To include an ache.

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New awarenesses have risen in me in these days spent writing, reading, drawing – and watching the rain, the wind, the first snowflakes dance slowly downward. This is what I’d hoped for when I leaped off the cliff last winter, though of course there were, and are no guarantees.

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Now the train song, second of the daily five as it curves past my neighbourhood’s houses – high metal squeals, deep chug chug of engine, bell clanging a clear, steady, andante A. My mother would have named that note without checking, which warms my eyes a little, remembering. The mark of a real musician, I used to think.

I know that at some point in my three years here I will record that train song, and add my own voice to it, like graffiti.

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This morning I’m feeling more than a little raw and chafed by the lack of beloved human voices in my world. The rootedness I feel only at my cabin is a lump in my throat, a wetness behind my eyes. I yearn for that safety, that belongingness, today.

As I listened to our Estonian residency artist Kai Kaljo talk about her time here in Canada last night I heard a thread of this in the way she approaches her work. Belonging and not belonging, comfort and discomfort, public recognition and then forgetfulness. In a dark time after everything changed she drew dead flowers, because she found them beautiful. Eventually realized that her creative self was rising, impossibly, again and change was good. Of course it’s good. But still.  Why eyes? asked the young artist. What is the significance of eyes for you?  “I don’t know, really. You decide.”, says Kai.

Kai gifted me a print of the opened window she stared through and loved all through her Italian residency, said as she signed it “I think art is like a window, yes?”. After the rich art talk and the connections made I closed my studio door and wondered why I felt different.

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I begin to understand that my known internal voices have long been misinterpreted by me, out of a learned assumption that outside voices automatically hold more authority. An old old lesson; my older sister finished all my sentences when we were children together. Somewhere beneath conscious awareness our culturally competitive parents approved of this as a mark of her superiority of mind and were entertained by it.

Instead of arguing I learned to archive my unspoken thoughts deep in a subterranean library. Floors and floors of shelves full of unspoken observances, delights, curiosities, private games, resonances and interesting relations with other-than-humans. Beneath those floors the wounds, traumas, bewilderments, betrayals, shocks I believe we all have some version or extreme of, levels below levels, each darker than the one above.

By doing this I could become the mirror required of me aboveground, and did so for many years, since “mirrors show everything but themselves. …nothing of your own will be heard”

Or possibly this is what I did. It’s a good working theory at least, based on what I’ve gleaned so far. In any case I’ve known for a good long time that for me stories are best mined in the dark.

IMG_0375 In The Faraway Nearby Solnit says,

 

Writing is saying to no one and to everyone the things it is not possible to say to someone. Or rather writing is saying to the no one who may eventually be the reader those things one has no someone to whom to say them. …. Is it the shared solitude of writing, is it that separately we all reside in a place deeper than society, even the society of two?

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The end of my annotated, allegorical Masters story, Seven Swans, Seven Rooms keeps changing, as I get closer to telling it aloud in collaboration with an Owen Sound audience on December 7.

Since I last spoke the story at the end of April, my father passed, I traveled for a month in Europe, returned to find I lived somewhere else, was surprised on the summer road by the strangeness of Grief, and then the comfort of Retrospect. Both have since become my good companions. So of course the story’s end changes. It describes a beginning I’m only just now beginning to glimpse through the trees.

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To echo Kai – I’m not sure why these curiosities are here, or these aches, these lumps in my throat. Am reluctant to over-explain, wise enough to know that the only way through is in. I do trust them, that they’re here for good reason. Maybe they’re for you?

I really don’t know. You can decide.

 

Junk?

I’m about to leave for a long-awaited trip to Lake Superior.  We’ll take the kayaks, a lovely new tent & good camping gear (the best wedding presents ever); the bikes, some tomatoes from the garden since the plants are now overflowing, books, cameras, and my own cluttered mind, in hopes that the latter can be washed clear in the cold cold waters of the Great Lake.

It’s like jumping off a cliff.

I think about what I’ll come home to with my clearer mind – a ‘before-and-after’ question.

I look around now and I see bags and clothes and recyclables, a painting that needs re-framing, trim for the interior windows on a chair, fireworks left over from Dom’s birthday, a set of bongos, three bats of roxl insulation, a huge bag of birdseed, hats and coats and bags – and that’s just the obvious layer.  Add a psychological one which in part will explain my mental clutter: each item is connected to an ongoing narrative – my gardening shirt from yesterday, which I will wear this evening while mowing the lawn; cardboard recyclables from food we’ve consumed, which we are hoarding for future woodfires; the painting I gave to Grant the first Christmas after we met of a frog (why a frog?) under a tree; the pile of trim made from cherry wood which was a posthumous gift from Grant’s highschool shop teacher; and on it goes.  Please note- the last two sentences are as unnecessarily long as our house is unnecessarily full of stuff. 

writing place of choice downstairs at home

None of these things are simple – some carry stories heavy with complexity – the roughly oval, green-striped rock, for example, which we brought back from Ireland.  In my mind it goes with a picture of Grant’s dad who is walking alone toward the ocean on Nicholson’s point, his coat billowing in the coastal onshore wind.  The entire family was on this trip back to find Nicholson roots in the North of Ireland, near Kilkeel and the Mournes.  We had a poignant, rich time that was full of laughter and discovery, and two months after we returned, my Father-in-law died suddenly from a heart attack.

taken by a kind passer-by in our rented house in Tipperary, near Nenagh, on the last day of our trip.

For me, the whole story of Bob is embedded in that rock, which nestles against another from Russia, and another from Dunaad in Scotland, and many many others, all holding connection to place – the French River, where we camped with my parents 8 years ago; black basalt from the shore (above); a piece of rubble from the great wall of China.  They rest together in a big wooden salad bowl on legs (another great wedding present), which likely will never be used for salad.

We’ve inherited furniture and plants – desks from McMeekin’s; a dresser that once belonged to my great-grandfather Keebler, who built the Circle Bar factory where my studio is; two christmas cacti-one from Grant’s maternal grandmother, and another from the paternal.  Both those ladies come with stories that could fill volumes.

More psychological clutter. We’re getting better at it, but, when we’re relaxing at home we see all the events, choices, labours, tasks and materials that went into putting the house here these past six years – and also what the next tasks, tools, labours & materials will be. Sometimes this is just not restful.

If I close my eyes, I can hear all the tales from all these things, this house, these posts & beams-  singing softly into the room – each with its own resonance and frequency.  It’s very very rich.

It can also be deafening.

Note from 2016:  I’ll have to do this trip on my own someday.  We didn’t make it to Superior, and the marriage was over by the next summer.  My life is MUCH less cluttered, now.