stuff to be done

we are moved.

if by “moved” you mean most of our stuff is here and not there except for a few stray things that are frozen to the yard outside at the other house.

if by “moved” you mean perched slightly dazed amidst piles of boxes and tools and stuff we keep hoping will put itself away. ahem.

if by “moved” you mean desperately trying to create spaces to hang wet winter things in a house without a mudroom. yay Dave and Dave’s dad, for building hook racks. sexy, serious hook racks.

if by “moved” you mean “caught wearing the same sweater for the past three days and a hat because it’s rather dry here and no human being on the planet has done wrong enough to be subjected to the sight of my hair.”

if by “moved” you mean a little amazed and choked up by the whole reality. i may look like the “before” Cinderella, painting basement floors, but when i surface from the to-do list long enough to breathe, i feel like somebody tossed me some glass slippers. and they haven’t yet shattered.

oh, there are leaks. and lots to do. and the chaos isn’t exactly my thing.

but i wake up in a room with light flooding in, and i set my feet on old pine plank floors, and i feel at home. we’ve been having breakfast down in front of the gas fire, these cold mornings. no furniture in the living room yet, except the kids’ little craft table and some old mats we dragged home from Thailand years ago. it’s cozy.

it’ll be beautiful, someday.

there are three floors to get lost in. Josephine beetles away to hide, frequently: you turn your head and she’s gone. luckily, she cannot hide for more than thirteen seconds at a time before her giggles come pealing from  a corner, a box pile, under the basement stairs.

Oscar got to hang his Hot Wheels track on a wall, for the first time: we’ve never had enough room, before. there is space to play, space for the mysterious treasures of childhood, for the art they create.

this is our house, we say to each other, blinking.

it’s only a house. but it is a gift, too…a fresh start. a circling back to a history i thought i’d lost, in all but the story part. and a home not tinged by tragedy, by accident of timing.

a home with room to be mindful, to make choices. a home maybe for the long run. i’ve never thought like that before.

in the fairy tale, we never hear from Cinderella after the happily ever after. but i imagine her, a few days after the fancy wedding, waking up. setting her feet on old pine plank floors, looking around. taking it in, blinking. and realizing there’s still shit to do – there will always be shit to do – but it’s her shit, now. her dream, if she can figure out how to live it.

i like to imagine her throwing on a hat with the glass slippers, and getting to the unpacking.
welcome to the dream, friends. i like to call it, in proper Arts & Crafts typeface (and with apologies to Dave, but hey, alliteration…)

we begin with the grand kitchen reveal.

the first room i focus on in any move – outside of the kids’ room, which still needs a few touches – is the kitchen. my Maritime roots and my anal retentive nature dictate that the kitchen is not only the heart of the home, but ground control for household operations. i spent my first morning here tearing through all the boxes marked “kitchen,” trying to work with the space to make it all make sense.

in the end, i’m way more in love with it than i’d had any expectation of being.

here’s the original, replete with hideous fluorescent light.

initially i had thought the green cupboards might go, in the long run: i do still want to paint the walls and ceiling, in the fullness of time, and i have a fantasy of the perfect Craftsman Bungalow kitchen with tomato-soup-red walls and cream cupboards and old-fashioned warship tile in a checker pattern on the floors.


but for the moment, we’re working with what’s here, and it’s turning out beautifully. i’m no great fan of ceramic tile, especially in the back of the house over the cold storage room, but insulation is our new friend, and luckily, my slippers are actually wool, not glass.

we moved the original island that came with the house towards the back of the room, in the space towards the back entry and the doorway to the sunroom/dining room. we removed the, uh, colonial legs that decorated it, bellied the kids’ stools up to it, and voila! it makes both a perfect breakfast bar and a mini-pantry for dry goods, with built-in butcher block.

we replaced their island with our slightly smaller birch John Boos portable, bought last year: it’s one of the most beautifully-made things I’ve ever owned. it holds some of Dave’s aspirational red LeCreuset collection, plus the coffee roaster. it serves.

Dave and his dad pulled down the fluorescent light without pulling down half the ceiling (yay, dudes) and installed a pot rack, with built-in lights. love. i keep clanging my head on the pots, admittedly, when i bend over the island, but still…love.

the potrack is really the only thing we purchased for the room, other than two bronzed Bungalow-style cabinet pulls we installed on the glass cupboards. i’d initially hoped to replace all the knobs with vintage pulls, until i counted how many knobs the kitchen actually has. mercy. i had to order these things in from the US: two will have to do.

it’s the first time we’ve ever had a glass cupboard. turns out our shared pottery fetish means we have even more mugs that we want to show off, so we added the cup hooks and hung a few from the bottom of the cupboard. the green ones are celadon pottery we carted back from Korea years ago, and they match the kitchen cupboards serendipitously. the blue beauties are handmade cafe au lait bowls that are just too pretty not to look at as much as possible.

one of the coolest things about this kitchen is the long tall cupboard by the stove: the world’s most giant built-in spice rack ever. accented by the kids’ Miffy apron, one of Dave’s funky coffee pots, and an ancient bowl of my grandmother’s, which probably lived here before.

add in the daily functioning coffee paraphenalia, antique jars and other family heirlooms, and a rather glaring but awfully handy built-in radio left by the previous owners, and you have the makings of my mornings.

what the pics don’t show off properly is the sweet curve of the kitchen window over the sink, with its painted wooden arch now stripped of the false fruit frippery it came with. it mirrors the arch that leads into the kitchen from the family room…symmetry: i likes it. the window looks out to the house that my grandmother was born in, to the corner i walked home to every day after school until i was fourteen. to the house whose current owner brought the tulips currently smiling in the centre of the room.

it feels like home. even, after some adjustments, to the cat, who has found her patches of sunlight.

as, i think, have i.

now come visit. you can help unpack and transform the rest of the space.

seven years ago tonight i landed – in the middle of a snowstorm – back in PEI.

for good, it seems, or for the long run, though i could not have predicted that, back then. back then, i wasn’t used to staying in the same country more than a few months. i own condiments now far longer than i used to own furniture.

(should you ever doubt that time marches on with merciless mundanity, check your condiments. if you have none older than your children, you are truly living carpe diem.)

our last apartment in Korea had a chilly tile and concrete hallway that opened to the winter air: no security door in that building. it was 5am and dark and cold and the trusty little 1993 Kia Pride that had cost $300 was just about to be given up for scrap and it groaned and shook as Dave pumped the gas. i had three suitcases: five years of a life stuffed down to so damn little.

it never seems possible that you can be leaving a place forever. i remember staring wide-eyed out the window at the waking city: the shuttered shops with their tin grates, the pots of drying red peppers by the roadside. the hustle of the bus station even before dawn; the pungent smells of kimchi and deng jang paste and bad imported coffee. all so present and familiar, then. now, a dream half-remembered.

i landed here at midnight more than thirty hours later, in a snowstorm. home. i was coming home. my mother met me at the airport, even though it was late and the roads were slippy, as we Islanders say. she gathered me in her arms like a child.

i was laughing, beyond tired, beyond happy. i was twelve weeks pregnant with Finn. i’d slid his ultrasound picture between the pages of my passport; shown it to the flight attendants between Tokyo and Toronto. i slipped it out to show my mother at the airport: her first sight of her first grandchild. i breathed deep, relieved. safe. and i stared wide-eyed at my sleeping hometown as the cab drove us home in the snowy dark, my heart all hopeful in my throat.

everywhere is a dream half-remembered, when you are not there.

i wrote once about what seven years can mean, how our cells regenerate and leave us utterly new. except the cells of the children we carry, who remain, somehow.

sometimes it feels as if nothing of that girl who stepped off a plane that night seven years ago could be left within this body. i am more tired now, more cynical, more lumpy and stretched, as if i were silly putty and time were like gravity.

but i know her.

i know her soft little camel cloche hat, bought to look like a grownup coming home: it still sits in my closet, seldom worn since that first winter.

i know the child she carries…or i know him as well as anyone. he is an enigma still, seven years later, and it has been long enough for me to know he always will be. i know he will die, in her arms, in mine, a few months after she steps off the airplane. i know that he will be the dividing line between she and i; that the shocking ephemerality of his small face will take worlds with it that she will never see again.

but. when i think of her stepping off that plane onto the tarmac seven years ago, i no longer want to shout at her to turn around, to run like hell. i wince, but i do not flail.

i know the smile on her face, the one that looks forward expectantly in spite of whatever else came before. i feel it rising again to my own.

it scares me, this relentless hope. but there is no other direction.

next week i turn forty. i shake my head at the number, not in denial or even disbelief…just…surprise. that it can be. everything surprises me these days. these seven years most of all.

in fifteen days, we move. this house that we brought our babies home to, all but the one, will be in the past. and a piece of my own past, in its strange way, will be our present. our future.

the move itself – the chaos, the packing – have me properly panicked.

the transition, though? it is already in motion. i am watching wide-eyed through the window, trying to carve on my brain the sight of Posey clumping up the stairs here, the sound of Oscar leaning back on his stool in the yellow kitchen and drumming with hands.

soon, it will be a dream, half-remembered.

they say, wryly, that a second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience. so it is with a second shot at homecoming.

i know it can all go to hell, in a second. and still. i gather myself, the old little cloche hat in a box, and go. like stepping off a plane into another January night; my heart all hopeful in my throat.

wish us luck. (and send moving tips, if you have any. we’ve never moved with condiments, let alone children).



last week, in the midst of going on about class and education on the theoryblog, i waded blindly into a Twitter fracas about privilege.

i was befuddled. i’ve noticed lately that people seem to reaaaaally dislike the idea of privilege. as in, violently resent it. and possibly want to throw tomatoes at it. (not to mention the people using it. ahem. *waves brightly*).

during that Twitter conversation it also became evident to me – for about the sixth time, but i am the sort who needs to learn things a few times before i can retain them (unless they are related to calculus in which case you can spare your breath entirely) – that while i happen to find privilege a really useful concept, i do a shitty job explaining it. and also – maybe more importantly – explaining why i find it a useful concept.

after the conversation fizzled to a close and i – and probably everyone involved – had a mild headache, i sat down to look at the comments that had trickled in from my theoryblog post. my comments get emailed to me with the post title in the email header position.

i caught sight of them and i began to laugh, and laugh, and also maybe snort a little bit.

because if you want to talk privilege, the title of my post was dripping with it. Exhibit A: All I Want for Christmas Is a Nice Fresh Myth. yep. and with a particularly insidious version, no less, perhaps the most dangerous one of all to bring up in polite company: Christmas privilege.

get the tomatoes and the rotten candy canes, friends. i’m going there.

see this pile of cuteness above? this is Christmas privilege at work.

it is also my daughter adjusting her, erm, pants in the middle of stage. right before her black velour snowman hat fell down over her face halfway through a song. this little spectacle was one of the sweetest, loveliest stage shows i’ve had the pleasure of giggling through, proudly.

yep, proudly. yep, it’s still privilege. the two can co-exist.

please be clear, dear readers: this is not the Fox News annual War on Christmas (except that the Fox News annual War on Christmas IS actually Christmas privilege being whipped up into a defensive frenzy, but i digress.) i like Christmas. i like my children. i like my children in cute Christmas stage shows singing carols. look at those elves! that little Santa in the back! the angels on the wall! the kid looking for his parents! the one tying his shoe! they’re like Dr. Suess’ Whos, these tiny, funny, adorable people.

so why would i call it privilege if i don’t hate it?

because it is. the corollary between naming something privilege and shaming it – or being seen to shame it by those named – isn’t a necessary one.

but calling other people out on anything is usually a great way to shut down a conversation. so i’m calling mySELF out.

my name is Bonnie, and i have Christmas privilege. it’s unearned, and mostly invisible to me unless i look really hard.

but here’s how i can recognize it:
1. i know all the words to all the Christmas carols i hear on endless public repeat throughout November and December.

2. when i see ads with people in reindeer sweaters hanging stockings, i am equal parts non-plussed and reminded of my dear Drunkle Bill.

3. i get all blurry and misty-eyed about the idea of keeping Christmas in my heart the whole year through (even if i tend to forget by February).

4. i think The Grinch Who Stole Christmas is the pinnacle of animation as an art.

5. if i am at a Christmas-themed event, i don’t need to worry that my presence may make others feel self-conscious or defensive.

6. when people say ‘Merry Christmas’ to me, i don’t wonder if they walked away kicking themselves for forgetting. again.

7. when our kids’ public school advertises its Spectacle de Noel i don’t think “i guess i should speak up and maybe explain OUR holiday to my children’s classmates too”. nope. i think “yay! real carols instead of stupid Silver Bells!”

(note to culture: Silver Bells and Santa and reindeer? still Christmas, people, just secular Christmas. secular Christmas is not actually any more inclusive than religious Christmas. you want a real holiday concert? you need to find ways to celebrate Hanukkah and Kwanzaa and solstice and preferably all kinds of traditions that may not even include a December shindig in the mix.)

i don’t need we haven’t quite come to terms, at this juncture, with either secularism or pluralism in our culture. we try. it’s messy. understanding how privilege works actually makes it a whole lot less fraught, though. seriously.

the problem with conversations about privilege is that they tend to be dead serious. and they make people feel attacked. they criticize world views that many of us have held and cherished as normal for most of our lives.

privilege is, at its core, about the critical societal mass needed to hold the belief that any particular position is normal.

it’s about being dominant, or in the dominant cultural group, in a particular arena.

so, yes, Virginia, i have Christmas privilege. i’m in the dominant group. most of the people i know celebrate: where i am, it’s still the norm. and most of the people i know who DON’T celebrate it are still really very gracious about the whole Santa-down-the-throat quality of this time of year. even when i title December posts that are entirely unrelated to anybody’s holidays this time of year with kitschy Christmas-themed titles that allude to Chipmunks’ songs.

here’s where it gets touchy. do i need to be ashamed of my Christmas privilege?

in my opinion, no. it doesn’t make me responsible for every Clark Griswold atrocity that kneecaps the power grid this time of year, nor for the small but real feelings of alienation and second-class-citizenship that kids whose traditions don’t include Christmas may feel when every second adult they see during December assaults them with the shrill commercialism of “so what is Santa bringing YOU?”

i can watch my privilege, though. i can learn to see it, and to consider the ways in which it both includes and excludes other people. and i can try to focus on changing my practices to be more inclusive where i can. i can learn more about other people’s traditions, even if acknowledging that i don’t know makes me kinda uncomfortable.

we aren’t ever going to get beyond the nasty feelings that the idea of privilege brings up unless those of us who are dominant – in ANY arena – figure out how to work through our discomfort with talking about difference and dominance.

(dominance, to be clear, doesn’t mean you have it easy. it just means you can take certain forms of belonging for granted that others may not.  just like owning your privilege doesn’t mean you suddenly morph into some charmed creature who’s had everything handed to her. or him. it just means you know where your path has been smoothed by factors outside your control. knowing what those things ARE? tends to make living in a pluralistic diverse society a whole lot easier.)

most of us have privilege in some places and not others. i’m white. i’m taken up as straight. i speak the dominant language of my culture, and i speak it in ways that mark me as educated and middle-class. all these things mean that i am more likely to be advantaged – seen as neutral, normal, trustworthy, whatever – in a random encounter over someone who does not code the same types of cultural belonging. now, i’m also female, which isn’t necessarily the same advantage, particularly at a table of power if i am looking to speak. privilege is not a monolith. it’s a complex collection of unearned attributes that make certain situations easier because you fit the norm of the people you are likely to encounter.

if someone is white and poor and male and Christian and queer, or female and well-educated and wealthy and Hindu, or aboriginal and disabled and a successful small business owner, they’ll experience a different mix of dominance and non-dominance. even wealthy, able-bodied straight white males who celebrate Christmas have all kinds of personal obstacles in their lives. but they don’t face the same structural, societal assumptions and perceptions that, say, poor, disabled, gay, black female Jews might.

here’s the other touchy point. people with privilege – even LOTS of privilege – aren’t any worse or better than other people. neither do people with a particular form of privilege owe something to those without. Except – again, in my opinion – the decency of simply acknowledging and owning their privilege, doing the work so they can see it. if i can see how the way i walk through the world makes, say, participating in Christmas concerts easier for me than it is for you, then we may be able to come to a common understanding of how we can work together to create a concert that includes what both of us value, without feelings of marginalization or defensiveness.

so my kids’ decked-out celebration of Christmas privilege was not inherently bad. or something to mock, destroy, or ban.

but it isn’t neutral. it’s a choice among available choices in a diverse and pluralistic society. you see that elf above? the adorable one in the middle holding Santa’s hand?

i’m thinking next year maybe i’ll see if he’s interested in finding out more about Hanukkah from his Jewish first cousins. and maybe teaching his class something, or doing a little song.

making room for more than Christmas doesn’t take away from Christmas.

Christmas, at its core, is about the ultimate symbolic gift: the gift of a child to an undeserving people. while i may personally struggle with the idea of a God who gives his son as a sacrificial lamb, i do know that this time of year perhaps more than any other, i feel kinda like an undeserving people, blessed with the gift of two sweet small children, over-sugared and dressed in funny hats though they may be.

they are an unearned privilege, like so many of my blessings. it doesn’t mean i don’t work hard, to parent them or to provide for them or to succeed on a variety of fronts. but nothing i do makes me particularly worthy of the gift that they are: they simply ARE.

so it is with privilege, of all kinds. i try to see it because when i do, i am more grateful, less resentful of all the things i do not have or cannot change.

thus endeth my soapbox.

what say you? what do you think of concerts and Christmas privilege and the whole idea in general? feel free to toss all rotten tomatoes in my Christmas stocking. Happy Holidays, friends.


a new month. fresh and clean, with no not very many mistakes in it. in some circles, Halloween candy before 8:30 in the morning is considered a healthy start to your day.

and in the name of health, ladies and gentlemen, toss away your shaving implements and grab yer wallets. the moustaches are coming.

it’s Movember.

and this year, Dave and his office crew of Taskforce Awesome – including Margaret, undeterred by her lack of testosterone – are growing themselves some serious facial hair. for a good cause.

Movember raises money to fight prostate cancer, through research, education, and awareness campaigns.

it also back the porn ‘staches of our 70’s childhoods, friends. done with vigour, it makes the men we know resemble Tom Selleck. or Salvador Dali. which is, um, interesting.

(i have a deep-seated aesthetic discomfort with the mustache. i prefer the spelling moustache because it seems more…campy. but still. it itches. it risks making a man look like a caricature RCMP officer.

mind you, Dave is not blessed with hirsuteness of the lip. he will be lucky to end up looking like a sixteen-year-old RCMP cadet. still.)

i’m hoping for something like this. it has grandeur.

so far Dave has absolutely no pledges. this is partly because i can’t decide whether to support him or Margaret. i appreciate Margaret’s gender-bending in participating. i also do not tend to kiss Margaret terribly often.

if YOU want to support Dave – or Margaret – all nickels are welcome. dollars too. me, i’ll just accept donated kisses from clean lips. and we shall keep you posted on the growth of the glamour ‘stache as the month progresses. ;)

we dressed up and went downtown the other day. on a Sunday afternoon, like we were fancy people without small children and a brand-new washer full of gasoline fumes at home.

a date. a 1:30pm to 6pm date, but it ended with dinner, so a date nonetheless, at least by our low standards. at 4:45 pm, it feels like one should order the senior’s menu pot roast instead of the aged steak and red wine, but one steals time where one can.

the steak was not as rare as it could have been. over small puddles of blood, i put to him the two hardest questions EVER.

the first, i’ve asked before. the second, i should’ve.

we went downtown for the Island Literary Awards. i won the category of Creative Non-fiction, for a piece on the women in my family. and because i won, i got to read. i’ve had the good fortune to get to read my work three or four times in the past year, and i feel like i’m getting the hang of it. but i have never, til yesterday, read publicly about my mother in front of my mother. so i was nervous. and the piece of writing had to be hugely truncated in order to fit the time slot, so i was more nervous. and then i sang – OUT LOUD – a line from an old gospel-country song. onstage. ahem. so i was very close to wetting myself. i was not struck down by lightning, which i thought merciful. but my knees were still knocking when we got to the restaurant.

i politely arranged my silverware. then i looked him in the eye.

did it suck? i asked, carefully disentangling my identity from the performance about to be dissected. did i suck? does not invite anything but cheap reassurance.

and he met my gaze and gave me a full, fair, blow-by-blow analysis of what i did well and how it seemed to come off and how i might do it better, which he’s done for each of the public readings i’ve done over the past year. even though the first two were forced and raw and kind of awkward. it’s not that i didn’t sort of know, and wasn’t proud of myself for doing them anyway. but he told me how to get better, each time. and i have.

i think that’s what a partner is for.

we look to the world for reflections of ourselves. am i doing it right? do i make sense? is this how i find my way?

what we get back is a mirror ball, dazzling and dizzying, a thousand blurry visions of ourselves.

some loom larger than they should: you’re too fat. you’re the pretty one. you’ll never make anything of yourself. these reflections can hold us in thrall, while we stare, confused, into their void, frozen in the glare and wondering if we’re really IN there at all.

others we fail to see altogether. they might offer a new vision, a better path, a chance to alter old habits that we stumble on. but we ignore them and cling to the picture of ourselves that we recognize.

it is hard work to bring a thousand points of light into focus all at once.  a second, trusted pair of eyes can diffract your own composite picture of yourself, offering you possibilities you wouldn’t catch on your own.

i didn’t know i knew any of this, though. not until i felt the next question tripping out of my mouth.

what do you want out of a partnership? i asked, point blank.

he looked at me, surprised. i dunno, he said. more or less. not without thought.

you’d think maybe we might have had this little talk ten years ago, in the heady throes of first blush. we were both fresh out of failed marriages, and each respectively clear on what we didn’t want. we even knew what we sought and got from each other, in the personal, specific “this is why you and i work” way. and we had the good sense not to move in with each other for another coupla years and sully that with dirty socks.

but it never occurred to me to ask what he wanted from the idea of a relationship, over the long term. it never occurred to me to ask myself. if i thought about the longterm at all, i figured Dave on a front porch in fifty years’ time might at least be lively company.  but i think i totally skipped the middle years.

like, about thirty of them.

we have both, apparently, been stumbling along without a map. we do our best to reflect each other, to keep the trust open, to keep the eternal grind of house and bills and broken appliances more or less under control. to be present to the kids. to have some fun.

when i started #thehomeproject, i think, i was looking for a way to SEE him better, and to see us in the midst of all this flurry. i don’t know that i’ve found it. i feel like i’m still stumbling. not unhappily. but i’m curious.

we’re taking input. do you have a guidebook? a map? a sense of what you want from your partnership that goes beyond love or companionship or a second pair of hands to put kids to bed at night? what does it mean, do you think, to be somebody’s somebody?

what do YOU want out of a partnership? (or a marriage, if you make a distinction?) what does it mean, to be two?

(if i don’t quite get it, maybe it’s not a surprise. my sense of two was formed as the child of a single parent, the only child of an only child. the most powerful reflector and diffractor of my sense of myself in my childhood was the woman i called my grandmother. it was her i read about on Sunday. it felt good to do her proud.

here’s a little excerpt – bear with the first few bizarre seconds – from the part of the story about Hallowe’en, 1984. i was twelve. we lived with her, then. she helped me find my way through the most blinding of those thousand points of light that hit at that age, and it was her, i think, who taught me to trust my reflection in another pair of eyes.)

yeh, you. really. you.

okay, fine, not you. but you. and you. and me.

We Have Too Much Stuff.

all of us. i know this because last night i sucked half a century of dirt and dog hair into my lungs, and as God is my witness, before i expire from some dread disease caused by ancient vacuum mites it is on my heart to shout it from the rooftops.

Too Much! Clutter Kills!

i am thinking of having bumper stickers made, except they would sit in a box in some corner of my house and moulder, and i would trip over them, and that…well, yeh.

there is an estate sale at my grandfather’s house tomorrow.

i grew up in apartments, so this house is the last of the places i have known since childhood. my whole life, the very same.

i stand in the living room and i see myself in those grainy Instagram-esque Christmas 1972 snapshots, learning to walk on the moss green carpet. and i see him on the same green carpet in May, with the paramedics around us, and all the 39 years between. all equally vivid. it makes my eyes hurt.

yet as we dismantle and sort and clean, the bones of the house grow unfamiliar and strange. i see things i’ve never laid eyes on, things de-coupled from their stories and their contexts. and i am sad, sniffing about unmoored, a dog searching for its master. i look for my grandfather in the vacuum tubes and the tools and the dust and his 1931 First-Prize-winning hand-drawn map of Australia, marked Clifton, age eleven years, that we found in the back of the basement last night.

i look, but i find him again and again on the green carpet, until my brain clamps down and says no more. he is not here. he is gone. now you go, too. vacuum. wipe. sort.

my grandfather was neither packrat nor hoarder, and he was frugal for the most part and loathe to buy new what could yet be fixed or made serviceable. still, forty-five years in the same house yields Stuff, in copious amounts. stuff not touched or cleaned or seen for years. stuff with its stories forever untold, that none of us understand or can make sense of. stuff that my uncle and my father will take today to the dump, and pay to leave.

last night my uncle pried open the enormous canister of the 1967 Central Vac and i managed somehow to dump half of its contents on the basement floor. i inhaled things no human body has any business inhaling, including what i swear was the fur of a dog who’s been dead since i was in high school. you are welcome, eventual buyer of the family home: this is my body, broken for you. i think i have a hairball.

this is part of the circle of life, in our late 20th-century/21st century existences in this privileged part of the world. our elders grow old and die or move to nursing homes, and we cart away decades of precious things that have devolved somehow into crap, and make landfill, and squirrel a few items aside for another generation to deal with when we go.

there are a few billion of us living this way. the rest, we are taught to assume, aspire to it. we get pimped new stuff everywhere we turn.

the math is suspect.

before Dave & i die, we should probably clean the shed, for the sake of our children and the grandchildren who do not exist yet. but here’s the ugly truth: we don’t know what to do with the stuff in the shed.

it’s probably useful, if we could actually identify what’s in there or lay hands to most of it. same goes for the upstairs closet. we might need it. we don’t know. life is uncertain. there’s a hurricane on the way.

here’s the problem. stuff is stories. stuff is both aspirational and grounding, a tether to who we think we are.

even this so-called virtual, where we can trade in actual stories, is no antidote.

sure, i like the internet because my clutter stays mostly hidden, ephemeral. admittedly, my semi-defunct delicious account is a poorly annotated mess, and my laptop’s colonized with programs i ended up not using, but the absolute stunning beauty of the world of bits and bites is its immateriality. poof! now you see it, now it floats like a cyberjunk satellite in an orbit you need never encounter again. (this quality became a lot more appealing after auto-save was invented, admittedly).

and yeh, digital clutter is a marginal improvement, at least for safety purposes. paper burns, after all. i own more books than i will ever read in this life, even if you locked me in the attic for decades with nothing but books and a bucket of fishheads to sustain me. i have paperwork stuffed away in files that i vaguely suspect no one will ever look at again. every surface of my kitchen is plastered with folksy child-made art collages leaking glue and wasting trees left, right, and centre.

but. all of it, digital and trip-over-able, mostly gets in the way of living. it demands. it wants cleaning, curating, sorting, attending to. it wants time. it wants you to buy matching oven mitts.

someday, my children or their children or some poor sot will have to dig their way through what i leave behind on this planet when i leave it. you too. what the hell do i want them to find?

my grandmother’s Art Deco wedding china? my grandfather’s WWII documents? maybe, if i can remember to tell them the stories beforehand. maybe photos – whether albums or holographs, it doesn’t matter. maybe a couple of beautiful things that have some monetary value: art or antiques, perhaps, that they can sell or keep. that’d be thoughtful of me, if only i owned stuff like that.

maybe the blog. Thomas King said, “The truth about stories is that’s all we are.” but really. are they going to read it?

at least it doesn’t require vacuuming.

…what about you? what are you keeping? what do you want to be keeping?

(and while i’m cleaning the shed: anybody need a free Supercycle ten-speed, circa 1984? it’s on the street outside my house: finders-keepers. huzzah).



it is everywhere, Norway and the horn of Africa and Amy Winehouse.

we are such fragile creatures, in the end. we scrabble, empty-handed, to connect. we fall like paper dolls, and we are dismayed to discover – over and over again – that death is always with us.

the ancient Stoic Seneca wrote an essay called To Marcia, On Consolation. in it he proposes that Marcia, who has lost a child, float far far up and away and imagine the world just before her entry into it. he offers her what Foucault calls “the right to a view”; the threshhold perspective from which she can see her whole journey laid out from the gods’ eye view.

in rude paraphrase, Seneca says to her, You will see stars and planets and jagged lightning, mountains and towns, the ocean, sea monsters. you will see nothing that has not tempted human audacity. but there is trial. he talks of plagues and shipwrecks, bad weather, war.…And the premature loss of those close to you, and death, maybe gentle or maybe full of pain and torture. Seneca says to Marcia, Consider and weigh carefully your choice; once you have entered this life of marvels, you must pass through these things to leave it. It is up to you to accept it on these conditions.(1)

i accept. i have stood on Marcia’s threshhold: i have chosen acceptance. but Seneca, in the art of consolation, you’re a bit of an ass.

you Stoics were trying to discipline the dismay, i think. as a guide to action, you have a point. we should not turn away from death, nor be shocked when it comes knocking too near us.

but the gods’ eye view is a sham, a trompe l’oeil. in the end, when we stare loss in the face, we look through our own eyes.

there is no language to talk of all the death in the world.

to grieve someone or something is to mark its individuality, its particularity. you cannot honour anything from a thousand miles up.

we sat with Daniel under the trees the other night.

his friend Carmel is dying. Carmel officiated at the marriage of Daniel and his wife Sundi, six years ago now. Sundi lost her mother when she was a teenager: it was Carmel, a nun, her mother’s friend, who stepped up and in where she could. now Carmel has cancer. now Carmel and Sundi are both a thousand miles away, or three. i am not good at distance. Carmel is seventy years old, or thereabouts. age is only a form of distance.

Daniel became our friend half a world away.

this is Daniel looking at Dave.

since Daniel moved here at the end of May, he has sat in our yard a lot of evenings. he has chopped down trees with Dave on our cottage lot. they have gone out to listen to music. they have argued, and laughed. it is a gift to have an old friend around.

this is Dave looking at Daniel.

i have only known one other Carmel in my life: Dave’s aunt, his father’s eldest sister, the matriarch, second mother to the clan. they must have been born in nearly the same year, a country apart. no connection except the random friendship of Daniel and Dave and i, and a name.

Dave’s aunt Carmel was diagnosed with cancer at the end of June. liver and pancreas, the fastest. beyond treatment. she fell into a coma Sunday night. we got the news this morning that she is gone.

if i tell you that she had the loveliest singing voice and that her eyes crinkled, it is not to flout Seneca’s counsel. accept, yes. but each of us only comes this way once. our views of each other are singular windows, one-shot deals.

Diane Arbus has been dead forty years today, by her own hand.

this article paints her harshly, as a voyeur and exploiter of sorts, intruding on the power relations between her and the outsiders who were her subjects. the author claims that Arbus makes us viewers complicit in a predatory act, held in sway when “our better instincts tell us to look away.”

my better instincts disagree.

Diane Arbus’ subjects were often circus geeks, drag queens, nudists, people with mental and physical disabilities: people excluded from the privileged halls of portraiture. she was their friend, for the most part, and i think it shows. she photographed them in their specificity, their one-time-only-ness: they stare back at the camera like a challenge, and leap, for me, from the screen and page, from the mundane worlds containing them.

her photos have a carnivalesque quality, it’s true. yet each subject is intensely, immensely human: it is the backdrop – the so-called ‘normal world’ and our belief in it – that Arbus skewers.

if it is unseemly and invasive to look on difference, then we back away, floating up and up until we see through the gods’ eye view, where all is blurry and less raw.

but i would rather live in Arbus’ world than Seneca’s.

and so i sit in my yard and take pictures of my friend of and my partner, while we talk of two women named Carmel, who were here.

(1). Foucault, M. (2001). The hermeneutics of the subject. New York, NY: Picador. p. 283-284.

kids, start saving your pennies for a trip to PEI, Extreme Adventure-style.

oh, you might think a Saturday afternoon of old-fashioned races with Nannie and Anne of Green Gables is rather ho-hum. you might think you’re too cool for that.

watch and learn. first, pick an ancient potato sack. get in it. line up with the afore-mentioned Anne of Green Gables and your unsuspecting Nannie. do NOT forget your sunglasses.

also, do NOT forget to begin hopping when Anne shouts GO! and everybody bounces away.

there you go. hippity hop.

now, the real key to Extreme Adventure Antique Sack-Racing is to avoid hopping in a straight line. get out in the lead ahead of Nannie, kids. then hop directly in front of her. do not worry when she knocks your hat off. you won’t be able to see, admittedly, but rest assured, Mummy is capturing it all on camera. and Nannie is quite a sight.

also rest assured poor Nannie will do anything to avoid hurting your precious self, including going down like a tonne of bricks in a decrepit sack and twisting her poor ankle.

note Anne of Green Gables hopping by in the background, barely batting an eyelash. make no mistake, kids, Stone Cold Anne is in it to win it. and who knew Nannie had such delicate ligaments?

she should be FINE by September, though. don’t worry your pretty little heads. and try not to gawk as you hop on by, kiddo, leaving poor Nannie in the dust. also, respect your elders. stop looking so gleeful.

and for heaven’s sake, don’t stick your tongue out at Nannie as you cross the finish line before her. even if Anne of Green Gables IS cheering you on.

gawd, my mother’s a good sport. and the doctors say she’ll be walking just fine before we know it. but i think next year when looking for some vacation fun we’re gonna play it safe and go with some nice go-Karts or roller coasters or something. these pastoral, old-fashioned amusements are too rich for our blood.

what are YOU doing for summer family fun?

it is late on a Sunday night and i’m beached on the couch, weary and bloated and wracked with mild – if transient – anxiety about the state of the world and my place in it. business as usual, with hormones.

Dave Skypes me from the other room, on the other side of the French doors. we are all about intimate and romantic forms of communication in this house.

he asks if i want to learn to play a new board game.

if there is a signal that human mammals employ to suggest receptiveness to the learning of new things – like lady baboons employing their swollen behinds – i am NOT giving off even the tiniest whiff of that signal. i am, rather, giving off the Jabba the Hut signal, the one that screams STAND BACK!!! FURTHER!!! AND MAKE NO MENTION OF NEW OR COMPETITIVE OR CONFUSING ENDEAVOURS!!!

Dave is undeterred. he is thinking about board games, not about me. he enters my lair.

i give him The Look. the raised eyebrow one, the one that suggests that actually, playing a board game would be far too much for my poor beleaguered soul to bear on this particular evening and LEARNING a NEW board game would be just beyond.

a fresh hell. an affront. a dangerous game.

he is oblivious: he has board game on the brain. he is a Labrador Retriever with a stick. board game? he smiles brightly. i glare at him.

board game?
we played the board game, in the end. i won. it was little consolation.

once Dave has set his fancy to something, there is little one can do to curb the hurtling missile of his enthusiasm. except wait. his attention span is short, but it is mighty. like a freight train. his is an addictive personality for the passing whim.

seven or eight years ago, he bought a domain name: he’d coined the word in a short story he’d written not long before, when short stories were his thing: the addictite is the person who is, more or less, addicted to the process of becoming addicted. to the new. to the fresh. to the unknown. an enthusiast writ large.

then he got a new idea and…yeh…forgot about the domain.

but last weekend he resurrected it. he’d mastered the last of the three culinary goals he’d set for himself when we moved back to Canada and things like ovens and BBQs came within our reach again: turkeys, roast beef, and ribs.

we had ribs on Saturday. back ribs, the fat ones, all lip-smackin’ and good. they were glorious: you could cut ’em with a butter knife. and now you can read about them at, and try ’em for yourselves.

and he can return to the recipe when the Next Big Thing comes along and makes him forget he ever met such a thing as pork.

The Next Big Thing, of course, never takes long.

today he wants a chainsaw. and i am afeared.

this is how it starts, people. this is yesterday, amidst the mosquitoes and overgrowth at our new cottage-land-to-be. you see that look on his face? the zoning in? the zealot’s focus? the wheels turning? yeh, that’s what it always looks like.

you can see Posey is beginning to look more like me every day. ;)

dear Internetz, this is your moment. while he still has toes. bring your chainsaws, and your protective Kevlar pants, and whatever other Village People costumes suit your fancy. or at least your advice. should a grown man with all his digits and an acre to clear buy his own chainsaw?

come quick. before he decides he needs a backhoe too.



there is no photo for this story. you make your own picture: your hands in the dirt.

where are you? what do you see? what spreads out from the frame to ground you in a particular place and time?

this story is a knot, a tangle of earth and weeds and ashes and roots. a rhizome, it has no beginning and a hundred beginnings. if you tug gently to pull it from the dirt, it slides loose: hanging naked and exposed, sometimes it will make you believe you have captured it once and for all.

don’t believe. there is more, always more, beneath the surface.

we bid on land last night.

not the 73 acres from a few months back, with the raccoon-infested cabin.

this is two small cottage lots, raw land, never built on. fallen birches white and rotting lay across the mossy, lumpy green of its old-growth floor. the place smells wild and salty, the sea air sharp over the green spring moss. the beach is littered with round hard rocks washed in from other shores. there are bunnies in the undergrowth of the old dune. one twitches his hindquarters at us. Posey is smitten, forever.

down a dirt track two or three minutes’ walk from the water, the lots themselves, loosely pinned. the corpses of the trees lay like porcupines, dead branches menacing at perpendicular angles. be careful! you could put an eye out! my hysteria comes mainly from lack of experience: what do i know of a place like this? i know only that small feet can trip: i grip the children as if they are greyhounds champing for release.

you could say it is him who hankers after land.

he longs for space, for a wide-open-ness i do not truly comprehend. i grew up in apartments. i am only, six years into house ownership, beginning to stop modulating my footsteps for the non-existent neighbours.

he is the gardener, the weed-warrior, the one who tackles the tangle of our side yard season after season. he grows seedlings that swell into tomatoes and pumpkins. i half-heartedly pluck, water the pansies, the cucumbers. in the dry heat of August, i am the long-haul salvation of thirsty plants. but i am no saviour: i am a stop-gap measure. his is the real work and energy out-of-doors. the prospect of clearing stumps makes him giddy.

i try to understand.

i dug one hole, one time: six years ago yesterday, my first Mother’s Day. Finn’s ashes under the tree in the backyard in the rain. just the one time. like all the strength i could ever muster for digging and growing was buried in that hole. done, before i started.

but do not be mistaken. that thread of the story is only one root. i will not clear stumps, perhaps, but this land is not for him.

i can tell you that i fear the dirt, that i do not like the worms wriggling from the shovel. true, without doubt. but there are counter-stories. Oscar and i rescued two worms the other morning, from the drying-out puddle on the way into preschool. i picked mine up and dropped him because my fingers feared the line between firmness and squish. i tried again, my fingers better readied for the soft live earnestness of the wiggling body. look, i said to my son, as if i carted worms about daily, he’s okay, it doesn’t hurt him. i didn’t add, look! my fingers haven’t withered off from touching him! i am a paragon of wise judgement. also, in that moment, amazement.

if they say yes to the land bid, maybe there will be more worms.

i say this with hope. i say this with trepidation and horror.

i hanker after the land for what it might change in me. for what it might teach my children. for the stories it might tell. the smell of earth that has never been landscaped. the patience of meandering along a rocky beach, watching the tide line. stars, maybe. bonfires.

some lost, misplaced part of me is a flaneur at heart, a wanderer of city streets, a dilettante observer of the human urban bustle. drop me mapless in the middle of Paris or Saigon and i would thrill, and walk, and find my wayless way without worry.

drop me in the middle of the woods and i’d begin writing my own obituary in my head.

but i wonder, at the stories of rocks and trees, at the possibility that somewhere under the surface there is some tendril of connection between pacing cobblestones and treading moss. i wonder if the built world and the one that precedes us are so divided. i wonder if Walter Benjamin, trudging on foot over Nazi-occupied mountains to Spain and his own suicide, found it possible to be a flaneur of rocks and flowers, an aesthete of worms.

i hanker to know, and so i hanker after the land.

he asks me, are you sure? are you sure you want this?

i imagine walking, walking, with only the smell of salt spray to guide me. i hear Oscar sing, the world’s largest rock collection! Posey peers between briars at a bunny. for a moment, i see my hands in cool dirt, and i do not cringe. in the same flash, i see the work of boarding up a place in fall, and the dead flies and the septic system and the hauling in laundry to town and all those hundred Cinderella tasks.

i nod.

all stories are part of the truth, and part lie. they are roots, pulled bare from the earth and left to dangle out of context, white and quivering.

he knows. he sees all that i do not say, the tangle of answers that cannot be unknotted. he hands me the pen and i sign and we wait to see what the answer will be.

what do your hands in the earth mean to you?

if they say yes to this land, people, shine up your hammers. you’re in for a barn-raising.




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