the home project

the day started innocently enough.

a few minutes before seven, in the warm bed. oblivion. then a small beaming face barreling in from the darkness, arms laden with stuffed animals. behind him, the pitter patter of smaller feet, a smaller face, a smaller armload of companions. a bed party.

presents opened. a giant coffee mug with skull and crossbones: pirate pottery for a full-grown birthday boy. i smiled blearily at the man floundering under the loud and cheerful tornado of our children.

happy birthday, you.

then, the first mistake. i got out of bed.

i went downstairs to make him coffee for his new mug. a man who roasts his own coffee and gets a giant coffee mug specially selected by his offspring as his main birthday present should have coffee on the morning of his birthday. especially in November, on the first day of snow.

i pulled the grinder forward from its nest at the back of the counter. i cleaned the French press, placed it on an angle at the ready. then i remembered the bacon.

for me, remembering the bacon is always a mistake.

(the last time i cooked bacon, i was about eleven. it was Mother’s Day and i was up early looking to make my mama some breakfast in bed. i remembered some bacon at the back of the fridge: i may have nibbled some slightly raw strips while i cooked. then when i traipsed triumphally to my mother’s bedside, plate in hand, she looked at me in surprise and asked, where’d you buy the bacon? turned out she’d last bought bacon at Christmas. EW.  i’d remembered a relic. so yeh, bacon. bad luck.)

oh hindsight.

morning light was just beginning to brighten the windows, and i turned from the counter, feeling ridiculously pleased with myself for being all morning-person-like, up making bacon and coffee. i grabbed a frying pan from the rack overhead, turned on the burner, opened the fridge. i was admiring the smooth arc of my own movements when i noted a still smoother arc out the corner of my eye. cat. leaping onto the counter.

where the glass French press sat perched precariously against the…



the French press made its own rather elegant arc as it sailed towards the floor. my body moved instinctively in towards it, then out again as the SMASH shot shards into the air and sent the cat sailing off the counter in a yowling arc far more impressive than any of the others.

and there i stood, in slippers, in a pile of glass, when Dave came downstairs.

happy birthday, i squeaked to the coffee-lover as i swept up the remains of his coffee press.

now, it may be the maturity that comes with birthdays, or it may just be the way he was brought up, but Dave was unfazed. he cocked his head, taking in the situation. then, like Winston Churchill’s proverbial optimist, seeing opportunity in every difficulty, he dug through the cupboard to find a funky dripper doodad he’d bought and forgotten to try. hey look! he said, enthusiastically. this part even works on thermoses!

by the time i had the floor safe and the bacon successfully burnt – mistake #3 – there was coffee in the carafe AND in the thermos. then he then went to the store and bought himself the biggest Bodum i have ever laid eyes on.

i decided at this point to cut my losses and forget about trying to bake him a cake. rather, i went downtown to the tiny little German cafe where i told sympathetic German baker my story about the coffee and the French press and the bacon and he took pity upon me and sold me an entire fresh German vanilla roll, made mostly of whipping cream.

and i thought, this is perfect.

in contrast to other years, especially, absolutely perfect.

so there. happy birthday, Dave. you’re a fine example of how to handle the smaller tragedies of life. next year, for your birthday, i may skip the bacon, but i’ll see if i can’t break something else that you’ve been hankering to replace.

i hope it’s not your funky pirate mug.


Oh how I wish I were a trinity, so if I lost a part of me, I’d still have two of the same to live
But nobody gets a lifetime rehearsal, as specks of dust we’re universal
To let this love survive would be the greatest gift that we could give.

– The Indigo Girls

the seasons of endings always make things feel so fragile.

separation. leaving. d-d-divorce: the word that only gets easy to use when it’s over. these all come as a surprise, every time, even when maybe they shouldn’t. when you are outside the circle of two, there are always permutations of possibility, of choice, beyond your capacity or your point of view. i try not to assume i know what people will do. i have been wrong before.

this past week or two, though, there have been five announcements. FIVE. five separate endings. friends and acquaintances, each with their own stories, who came to the end of their own particular ropes of embeddedness, at least in the incarnations they knew them.

my heart swelled up like a balloon. for each heart involved, but for hearts in general. so many broken dreams. by the fourth, i was gasping. with the fifth, i felt the wind blow through everything.

Dave looked at me and said, eyebrow raised, anything you want to tell me?

because that’s the problem with endings. they remind you that the structures which hold you are not pre-ordained.

(okay, maybe yours are. i won’t argue.)

a friend says, it’s over, and – if you are me, at least – you nod and your forehead wrinkles and you try to smooth it out and look really calm and unshocked and like you totally have the shoulders to take this whole conversation and the horse it rode in on.

and you do. it is their tragedy or release. or both.

but in that one first moment, you are always faking it. the human brain is just plain surprised by the math. even when you stand outside the circle, One becomes Two is monumental logic.

(even if it IS you, in my experience, it comes as a surprise. oh, you say, shaking with shock or relief or betrayal or just the surreality of that impossible absence, the empty place where the other was.)

when there’s something in the water and relationships are crashing like flies, people don’t much like that reminder about their own velvet bonds. one of the cruelest things about going through a divorce or separation is the way people pull back, as if you’ve gotten cooties. they don’t want to tread, true. but they also don’t want you to be catching.

and the truth of it is, you ARE.

because like living things, relationships die. and they die like dominoes, one-two-three. Domino Theory works far more potently behind the closed doors of everyday houses than it ever did in geopolitics. the abrupt turns in others’ maps have a profound weight, a shock, like a seismic event.

i remember the first time. i was still in college, slogging through those first years of my so-called adulthood, my hands out and groping blind for some shape of a life that might await me. first love. then first relationship. not precisely with the same person. i was late coming to it all and i dove in headfirst and found myself floundering, gulping, aghast and naked. you cannot stand so easily when you have given a part of yourself away, i learned.

and then a bunch of friends split up all at once and you find yourself in a bus with a Walkman and The Waterboys, weeping aloud at the writing on the wall.

it happened again when i was twenty-eight. i had been around a block or two and thought i knew better than to build my nest on the structures of other people’s stability. then friends split and a mentor left her long-time husband and my knees went weak because in the holes they left behind i recognized my own unhappiness, and an abyss.

my marriage was over within the year.

it’s not that simple, of course.

my marriage ended in the damp, cool dining room of a cheap Bangkok hotel, over white triangles of toast served with jam and canned whipping cream.

as with a long illness, this death had been coming. the year before, looking into the abyss had horrified me. but i kept peeking, worrying at the scab that tried to grow over the view. i had no map, no model for what i was looking for. i knew i loved him, though too much like a brother. i knew i felt smaller and smaller the longer we stumbled along. i knew i felt contempt settling into the cracks between us and the idea of living like that for another fifty or so years made the panic rise up in my chest.

thus i had accepted the end of my marriage, even come to believe in its necessity. i had just not known how to perform the execution. i kept waiting for an accident. death by toast with canned petroleum product eventually sufficed. it was polite and sad and bewildering, when it came.

the death of a fragile thing is always sad, even when it unburdens you.

most of us in this culture no longer have maps for marriage and relationships. the old maps were that you got what you got and you sucked it up and made the best of it. it is better now, of course: most of us have more agency than our great-grandmothers in this regard. but a very different responsibility.

it is one thing to hold out resilience and endurance as the only choices, and to call them happiness. it is another to dangle fairy tales and infinite possibility. make your own way, we are told. and we do, the hordes of us, cobbling together our lives from hope and scraps and whatever lessons we’ve been handed. but it is hard to make maps as you go, especially ones that have no culturally-imposed limits. the road to happiness and love can be as broad and as deep as your imagination. this is a gift, people, and a curse.

it is a curse because our loves are always fragile things, vulnerable to the possibility of more. it is a gift because the possibility of more is mostly real.
i am less afraid of the dominoes these days. not because i am smug and sure that we will never be among them…i gave up on betting in those stakes a long time ago. i don’t believe in happily ever after.


my map is a wrinkled thing, now, scribbled in the margins, torn in a few places. i keep revising it as i go. it got easier to use when i stopped thinking it had to look pretty.

somewhere in the early days, when Dave & i were first together and it was heady and beautiful and oh-so-not-where-i’d-imagined-myself, i sat one day and looked around and tried to take stock of what it was that was working, finally, that was different from everywhere i’d been before.

i said it aloud to him and he laughed at me, because it was not the most romantic statement ever made:

i feel like i’m not looking over the back fence anymore.

there it was. and still is. such was my luck. i like to think i’d have found that place in life, on my own – and with age, i am slowly coming to it in multiple arenas – but he was a gift, indubitably. a messy gift, currently sporting a moustache.

thus on my map, “happy” is a messy country, populated with more resilience and endurance than i’d ever imagined it would need. and love is no longer a destination. it’s the luggage.

fragile, yes. but there is life after happily ever after, even after the dominoes topple. there is more, always more. just in case, in this season of endings, it helps to hear.

what does your map look like? what shapes it? how have these seasons of others’ endings – if they’ve come – impacted you?


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.)

sometimes i miss grief.

(a ridiculous thing to say, really. it is the speech act equivalent of wrapping oneself in tinfoil and swinging from a rooftop TV antennae in a lightning storm. HIT ME AGAIN, it dares.

it lies. or if you understand it as a wish for things to be anything but otherwise, it lies. it is one of the unspeakables, damned to misunderstanding because we are taught to receive messages as if they were swaggering suitors with one thing on their minds.

i do not want to be misunderstood. because it is not true: i would hunker down in the sewer to avoid the lightning bolt. we all would, if we ever saw it coming. keep all our precious ones safe, keep our own heads above the mire of rawness and panicky incomprehensibility and the Somebody-sized hole that sucks our breath and pulls us under.)

and yet.

if you know someone grappling with grief, know this. the cruellest trick is that to heal, one must become doubly bereft.

when somebody dies, you lose them. same when something precious, like a relationship or a dream or goal, comes crashing to the ground. but in the place of that which was loved, you make a trade.

you get grief. it’s the shittiest deal in the world, but it’s something. grief sits in the hole left behind, a living thing, a conduit for some of the love and pain and anger that come with loss.

then time does its thing. pain starts to look a little more like resilience. and if you are actually healing, the grief grows thinner at its centre, stretching out like taffy until it is no longer a thing unto itself, but an absence. what is left is mostly just the damage of the accommodations of having carried pain for so long, the twists and scars that pucker around the hole, the way you’ve grown used to holding yourself off-kilter.

one day you catch sight of your hunchback in a passing storefront window and you stare.

you are looking for the touchstone at the core of it all, because the grief and the lost thing have long since become one.

but that one day, it is gone. the last touchstone, the sharp corner of longing. you are still scarred, hunched, puckered. but there is no grief to touch. the wind blows through the hole.

eventually you come face to face with the fact that this is what “gone” means: all death leaves behind, in the end, is the living.

my children know they had a brother, born before them. they know his name. Oscar understands that Finn died. Posey is still working from the operational assumption that death is a very special thing that happened to Grandpa Cliff last spring, and that somehow Finn – who may possibly also be a star in the sky – is trying to elbow in on Cliff’s territory. this makes me laugh, in the very best way.

we don’t talk about Finn a lot. Oscar asked to see his memory box a few weeks back, the small green ribbon-tied memento collection from the hospital, with its footprints and its hair clipping and the impossibly tiny hat that once smelled like his newborn head. i had not dug it out in well more than a year, not in Posey’s memory. she chortled over the diaper, too small for most of her dolls. i traced my fingers over the small gilt imprints of my son’s feet.

for years, the sensory assault of the NICU lurked, in Technicolour and Surround-Sound, in the lizard core of my amygdala. i would be walking down the street, and a jackhammer a block away would jar me into a cascade of unprocessed memory, the bang bang bang of the ventilator and it would hit me that that was the sound he heard most and was he frightened and did it drown out my voice and did he hurt and i was not even there when they punched the tube through his chest and my gut would wrench and my mind careen until i would find myself stockstill on the sidewalk with tears streaming down my face. three, four years later.

this is how trauma works.

but when i touched the place where his feet once were, a few weeks back, in the green box, i found no lurking tide of memory. i touched the imprints of his feet and my brain went looking for the corresponding memory of those small toes on my skin. and yes, i recalled the toes, and i smiled wryly, the wonder of him and the chasm both acknowledged, but i did not feel it. my fingers did not tingle. i was not transported six years back. it was only memory.

those moments of being transported grow thin, rare. maybe they will come no more. i have other toes here to touch and tend to; my life is crowded and busy and good. i do not want to grieve. oh god, no.

but i want to feel.

i miss the grieving for its vividness, its, its trompe l’oeil effect of making present what is irretrievably gone. i look for Finn, now, and find…only me.

in the healing, the last of what’s been lost slips away.

and yet.

i found something the other day. our washer broke and for the second time in less than three years, we bought a new one, to the tune of much embittered cursing (mine). the delivery men came. and when they hauled away the offending appliance and i confronted the sludge beneath, i found it.

Dave’s ring.

i bought it for him for his 31st birthday. the year Finn died. it was seven months later. i was already pregnant with Oscar.

we do not have wedding rings, he and i. i wear my grandmother’s tiny 1938 Art Deco diamond, and her bands.

he lost it more than a year ago, at the gym, we thought. Dave has a history of precious things littered out behind him, lost. this was not grave. i was sad, but without recrimination. i have lost rings, too, and things far more important.

but when i found it, Friday, wedged between pine boards and tarnished, i felt.

six years washed away and i remembered my own shyness, handing it to Dave in its blue velvet box; how i stumbled over the words of hope and endurance that i meant for the ring to carry until i finally shoved the card at him with my eyes wide and blinking back tears.

it had only one name engraved inside it, then. it now has three.

and there’s the thing.

time is a shit. it’s a shit for physicists, refusing to go both ways even when it ought to, and it’s a shit for philosophers and it’s a particular shit for those who mourn. there’s no getting around it. you cannot go back, to undo the sorrow time brings. you cannot go forward – into the proverbial healing of all wounds – without bearing the day-to-day grinding work of living with pain and through pain. and when you finally get through, to that place of acceptance or resilience or whatever your personal post-traumatic Nirvana might be, you cannot go back even to visit the intensity of loss, and so you are carried ever away on the tide of time from that which you loved and grieved.

but. as you are carried forward, scarred and puckered but still breathing, time keeps on changing the game. when i bought that ring, six years ago, resilience and acceptance and healing were words i barely dared hope about, dangling way out at the edge of our horizons. fake it til you make it, i figured. the ring was a promise to try.

we made it, i think, by any standards that i understand. there’s been more letting go in the journey than i’d have comprehended, six years back. sometimes the numbness of that hole where the wind blows throw, it saddens me.

if i could play with time, i would hold in one hand the intensity of presence that grief once gave me with the intense, resilient present in the other. each would find the other accessible.

i never had that, not really.

but when i held Dave’s ring again, the other day, and saw Finn’s name, and Oscar’s and Posey’s, all together, for a second i did.



end of summer by o&poecormier
(photo courtesy of the lovely & talented @BethPJohnston)

a bonfire on the beach on the last night of summer. by next summer, we will have a cottage here. we hope.

for now, sandy feet and salt and smoke in our clothes on an unseasonally warm September night. small bodies racing down the shore into the sunset.

tomorrow, school. tomorrow. already.
what brought your summer to a close?

the year Star Wars was released, i was five years old. i’d never been to a movie, even a Disney fairytale: my mom would take me me to Candleshoe in the theatre later that year, but at the time i had no clue i was missing anything.

i started first grade that September, innocent of The Force and of Jedi and robots. within weeks, the scales had fallen from my eyes: EVERYone, it seemed, had plastic figurines with long legs and strange costumes. some were golden; one had cinnamon buns for hair. i didn’t realize it all stemmed from a film. i thought there was a game called Star Boards that everyone knew but me.

Oscar is five. he starts school next week. he has owned a Star Wars tshirt for a year or so, now; he is the proud inheritor of his father’s plastic 1977 figurines. but yesterday, he took a leap i didn’t take until i was twenty-five: he watched Star Wars. with his dad. and popcorn. rite of passage.

(he is now convinced he is Han Solo. i seem to have been relegated to the role of R2D2. he is also convinced he can make his sister quiet using The Force. good luck, young Jedi, sez me.)

i think it’s mostly those of us born before VCRs that can remember our first movies, because we were OLD by the time we got taken to one. do you remember yours? do you remember the first time you saw Star Wars?

Dave at Davestock by o&poecormier
Dave at Davestock, a photo by o&poecormier on Flickr.

the beach is in front of him, sunset pink over the mountains of the opposite shore. the water is glass, the beach, pebbles. old tree stumps gnarl and twist in the bonfire.

his parents’ fishing shed is visible behind him. the cottage, replete with antlers, looms on stilts across the lawn. there is an octagonal gazebo for latenight singalongs without black flies. the smokestack from the power plant looms just out of frame. there is a full moon.

from the deck of the cottage, they look out, easy and laughing, clustered, catching up.

nine years since we gathered here. the bodies shift, some of us stoutened with babies and beer. the beards grow grizzled and flecked with silver.

most of them – the guys, and a few of the women – have known each other since childhood. most moved away from here years ago: all return, though, in regular pilgrimages to parents and grandparents still rooted in this small town.

they called it Davestock, that first summer party sixteen or seventeen years ago, when most of them were twenty-ish or not much more. guitars and cases of Alpine that ensured Dave’s mother’s place as a saint in the annals of history: most of them saw beer bottle toss as a blood sport, then.

they are different, now.

or not. the lawn at the cottage Sunday morning was oddly pristine. not a trace of vomit in the pansies; even the few rogue cans and sixpacks looked anemic in the wholesome expanse of green. somebody finally wrote out all the verses to Hard Rain’s a Gonna Fall. not one soul braved shrinking flesh and the misnamed Bay of Heat to skinnydip at midnight. but there were still guitars until nearly dawn. gestures, familiar. signature laughs that do not change, only deepen a squeak or two.

there is no such thing as catching up, of course. it is impossible to tell your life to me, or mine to you, not really: we none of us have ears to hear the tide that is somebody else’s reality. we parse and allude and it washes over us, and then we smile and nod and pretend we are made clean to each other. we have no business claiming to know each other over time.

your friend, the one you loved when you were a green, lost kid: that friend has shed all his cells and his eyes are crinkled now. they’ve seen a hundred things you never will. that other friend, ripped wide open by a fork in the road that was not yours to take? she is no more that girl you knew than she is a phoenix. we are each of us only aging humans who remember each other fondly: whose stories intersected once, and again.

yet we end up woven together, each making the other a little more real. shared history. i stand at the edge of the fire and watch them all and smile at Dave, who is more Dave at Davestock, suddenly, than anywhere.

i hear The Cure in my head – you make me feel like i am home again – and i warm my hands at the fire and hope they can come again next summer.

who are your oldest friends? do you know them, still? how?

California was mythical, even in reality.

San Diego was a whirl of sunshine and parties and fish tacos. i don’t eat fish. i almost never stay up for 24 hours dancing and talking about porn and philosophy with people i’ve never met before. i don’t often read my own words to crowds of thousands, or try to hug them all afterwards. yet i swear it happened. and Mark Twain was right, San Francisco in the summer was colder than winters i’ve spent. people had down jackets on. in August. i hadn’t believed. my unbelief is fixed, now. and i have a new sweatshirt.

one week away. one week without children. first time in more than five years.

the verdict is in: we still like each other. there is still some syncopated rhythm between us two, even when the two small drummers and the routine we all march to are removed. it is good to know. you hope, but you cannot quite know.

mind you, we spar more in their absence. more attention to give, to smooth out, to make something of. i am difficult. i work overhard at this. it may sometimes be exhausting.

(we’ve flown all night, seated in front of a very loud, entitled woman who was apparently new to the 21st century and to the concept of not sharing every. single. thought in her head at full volume with the entire. fucking. airplane. did you know that there are screens on the seatbacks? yep. she got a full tutorial which she repeated for everybody. at midnight. did you know that the seats tilt back? full tutorial on that too. she ordered a chicken sandwich at one am. turned on her light so she could dissect it for the listening pleasure of the whole plane. she didn’t eat it. her voice was a giggly caricature of middle-aged feminine faux-passivity. yes, she probably had anxiety. or mental health issues. still, it was a five hour flight and even with my earplugs in i only managed to sleep about 45 minutes. i wanted to smother her with a lipstick. Dave slept like a baby. all that to say he might have been a little wiped out.)

but we had fun. and i was surprised. it was my first BlogHer, and our first trip to California, and i thought it was possibly a ridiculous mistake to try to combine the two. but i am not one to shy from a ridiculous mistake if i can kill two birds with one stone, and ill-conceived whim or no, it rescued me from the nail-biting of having to try to find a roommate for the conference and discovering i am actually a pariah whom nobody wants to sleep with. even platonically. so, i brought Dave.

and he was game. really game, genuinely hey, i’m putting my best self out there game and hey, i am totally happy to take care of myself while you hang with your friends game and really just altogether agreeable and cool and some part of us time-travelled back years to a life we left behind a long time ago, where we were social and fey and the life of the party. he even deigned to play tourist in San Francisco and take pictures of me in cheesily mythic locales, waving at the ghosts of Jerry Garcia and Jack Kerouac. we danced, and we were flaneurs wandering city streets and we sat with old friends and laughed, and made new ones. i turned my head once, sidelong, and said hey you in a tone i haven’t used in years, and he laughed and i thought we could have a rocking good time at the old age home someday, us two.

(our cupcake cuteness courtesty of the lovely & talented Schmutzie, aka Elan Morgan).

so is it true? is joint BlogHer the key to cohabital bliss?

well kinda. BlogHer itself is everything you think it might be, and more. people will write better on that than i. it’s huge, and overwhelming, and fabulous to see people, and i’m not much for swag but i liked the BlogHer folk immensely and loved having my arms around people who’ve previously mostly been words and stories, for me.

all that would have been a pleasure on my own. i actually spent a lot of the conference on my own, because Dave’s pass was only for the evenings. so i met new people. i researched. i sat in on sessions and discussions. i had my nails painted yellow – for free – by a day hire for Tropicana. i sat backstage with the Voice of the Year women, which made me feel ten feet tall and wrapped in a hand-stitched quilt of kindness and support.

but when i stepped out onstage in front of everyone, i knew he was there.

no need to explain it later, to try to capture it. i knew his face was smiling up at me, a pillow for the quilt.

because this is the secret rule, people, the one that is the key to all public coupledom beyond the bounds of cloistered domesticity and duty. one simple thing.

your spouse needs to get that people online are real. that’s it. if you leave it to BlogHer to shove that message through an unwilling skull, you’re wasting half your weekend.

but if you ever had a love letter relationship, it’ll work. if your partner understands that connecting with people through words makes for deep ties, bring ‘im. bring ‘er. give ‘er.

it helps if he or she likes people. and is maybe your friend, as much as or more than your romantic mate. BlogHer is no space for jealousy.

it also helps if he or she is cool not knowing everybody. because even you won’t. no matter who you are.

and if he or she is cool wandering off alone sometimes, so you can connect with people as yourself and not just a member of a twosome.

and if he or she is willing to hold his or her own, and be your social equal, whatever that means for the two of you and the circles you run in, that’s the clincher. if you’re a talker or a joker or a wild party-dancer and your blog community are Just Like You and your spouse isn’t, he or she may stick out as an extra, rather than a member. there are all kinds of intersecting communities there to be part of, and they’re porous and fairly welcoming, but they are based on affinity. membership is extended, if a person can step into the roles available.

know your people. and your person. if you think they’d be a rotten fit, don’t do it to any of you: don’t go to BlogHer together.

if you need to justify your hundred internet friends to your loved one, you will have a miserable time. if you need to justify your loved one to your hundred internet friends, you will have a miserable time.

if your loved one likes the idea of meeting and expanding your circle of internet friends – and perhaps taking The Palinode hat shopping in the process – then consider a party pass and a shared room.

you may surprise yourselves.

and when you go home, to the other life, the small world where few of us are superstars, you will not have to explain anything. you will crash together back into it, neither of you owing the other. and you will think, damn, am i lucky.

hello kiddos. we missed you. we’re home. and we’re good.






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.

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