relationship stuff

i maintain it was nobody’s fault, but rather an unfortunate accident. i could have prepared, had i known to expect her. she couldn’t prepare, because she didn’t realize the chasm between us.

until Tuesday.

The Awkward Event:
the rapping came at the back door which was odd because it was a weekday and nobody who would use the back door knocks and i was on my feet, bewildered, stealing a glance at the car through the window as my feet hurried me to the back of the house. i registered that i was still in my slippers as my hands wiped themselves against my jeans and automatically reached up to smooth bedhead and check for offending particles in my teeth.

it was 3pm.

i caught bare shoulders and a stray bra strap in the mirror as i shuffled by and i was just struggling one arm into the paint-spattered hoodie i’d slipped off earlier when i heard the door open and she entered the kitchen just a second before i did.

hellOOOOOo. her voice announced her, jarred me; not an inquiring tone so much as a demanding one. where was i? it came up short as we both stepped into the kitchen via different doors.

i smiled, or i think i smiled. smiling is a reflex, right? i meant to smile.

she is one of my oldest friends. we greeted each other with an economic half-hug and stood in my back doorway.

what are you doing? i asked, intending more friendliness than my voice really managed and trailing off before the accusatory “doing HERE” slipped out.

not working, she grinned, shrugged. what are you doing?

my answer spilled before i could stop myself, but when it did, i let it sit for a beat, between us.


i am working. that is what i do when i am here all day paying other people to look after my children. this is where i work.

and all the while she was here – which wasn’t a long visit, she took the message – i know that beat hung in the air like my rictus of a smile.

The Internal Monologue:
the beat meant to say, oh, my dear friend.

it is *nice* that you’ve come back from Bermuda and have another week off from your government job and it’s nice that you’re keen to tell me you don’t even open emails for work during holidays because surely you can have just two weeks actually off even if i can’t quite fathom the concept of not opening email for two weeks, let alone unplugging entirely, and it’s nice that you get to engineer this complete separation between professional and personal life for a two week period.

i don’t get it, but i got to tell you, it sounds nice. really. it does. nicer than Bermuda, even.

the beat meant to say, i feel helpless because we have become different species, my friend, and i know you don’t mean to offend and neither do i. i swear on my mother.

but here we are. and i should have offered tea, and i know it.

it is the 24th of May, the Queen’s Birthday. the old rhyme my grandmother taught me ends, “and if we don’t get a holiday, we’ll all run away.” i need a goddam holiday. but Victoria Day or no, there is no running away from the fissure between my friend’s life and my own.

so instead i offer this, a helpful primer on my kind.

print it out if you need to. share at will.

A Primer, to Facilitate Pleasant Relationships between Networked Humans and Those Who Love Them:

i am homo new medius: the networked human.

this is life, with a few tweaks and variations, for many of us in the 21st century.

maybe you are a networked human, too. or maybe you just know one. perhaps you have a friend or family member who has become swallowed up by networks and you no longer know how to interact with him or her.

please know that the gap is kinda painful on both sides. homo new medius probably cares about you, just as you care about him or her. but cross-species friendships and family relationships take special care and understanding.

Networked is Constant
first, it’s important for those of you who aren’t networked to understand that being networked is not actually a bad thing. it’s just different. it’s very different.

for some of us, it allows privileges like working from home or being part of our kids’ lives in more flexible ways than traditional jobs allow. for most, it’s an add-on to already busy job and life commitments. but it’s part of the price of being engaged in the culture or arts or education industries in the 21st century. business, too, though not all of them have caught on yet.

it also enables handy things like paying mortgages even with an Arts degree.

for many of us, it means doing what we love. it is a privilege, just a bit of an all-consuming one.

it tends to mean we work a lot. often on scattered and widely distributed projects, often using widely variant voices and skill sets in the run of a day. we do a lot of sharing of our work, because impression management and reputation-building are part of getting more work. we’d share your work too, quite generously, if you were putting any out there.

Networked is Time-Managed
being networked means that our personal/professional divides have long since blurred in ways you probably find baffling and disconcerting. we may have tried to explain this to you once or twice. we have probably given up.

it means the notion of a vacation in your sense of the term – unplugged not just from technologies but from the professional aspects of who we are – is as quaint and foreign to us as any other holdover from the Victorian rift between the domestic sphere and society.

it means that we are uber-connected, but that our relationships – particularly those not with young children, for whom many of us make special exceptions – have to be managed, because we are juggling multiple deadlines most of the time.

homo new medius can actually be decent friends, i swear. we’re often good communicators, though we prefer to communicate in-network. we’re usually pretty tuned into relating with others. it’s just, if you want our undivided attention so we can relate to YOU, you’ll need to give us notice, the same as you would for any other busy professional.

Networked is Always In Two (or Six) Places at Once
and so – and this is the Most Important Part of the Primer – while you may find us in our houses, that does not mean we are actually sitting around eating bonbons and watching Days of our Lives.

or if we are, we’re probably still working straight through it.

homo new medius can be found in a variety of semi-natural physical settings. we are also almost always simultaneously in at least one other online setting – at the very same time – working or sharing or learning or doing whatever it is that your particular networked human does.

our failure to respond to your unannounced visits or phone calls with unbridled pleasure and hospitality is not intended to be rude. it is, rather, simply, that you don’t recognize our work habits. you will not see us barging into your offices unannounced expecting to chitchat for no reason beyond the social. please accord us the same the respect.

Networked is Not Your Monkey
and yet, i know, you mean no harm.

to you it looks like we’re just home, piddling away on nothing. or Tweeting. to you, those look the same. sometimes they are. but not usually.

but when you assume they are, and you joke and diminish things you don’t understand while still demanding our time, you make us feel kinda like we’re in the zoo, required to explain our own personal brand of exotica.

if you want to visit your networked friends, please bring your own peanuts. also, do not expect us to drop everything at your convenience. that is all.

Pro Tip: if you would like to schedule a meeting outside prime productivity hours – when we’re usually still working but more amenable to taking a break – that’d be great. and if you ever want us to explain to you how this networking stuff works, just ask. we’ll mostly be happy to show you.

though beware: it’s catching.

Coda: i’m not advocating networked as The Way to live. today, a ticket to Bermuda and two weeks radio silence sounds absolutely beautiful. and i need to do a better job of carving out time for my friends and family who aren’t part of my online networks, because they’re important to me.

but we live increasingly in a world wherein the divides that used to operate between time-on and time-off don’t hold anymore, and while those of us who’ve made – for business or pleasure or some mix of both – the move to more networked practices are literate in how the other half live, the reverse is not so true. or is limited to the righteous annoyance (relatively justified) of all of us who’ve ever tried to have a conversation with someone unable to tear their nose out of their phone for three seconds.

still. i believe that networked humans and non-networked humans CAN get along. i believe in a world of peace and love between those of us trying to learn to walk the blended personal/professional tightrope, and those who’ve chosen other walks in life. this is my missive to them.

did i miss anything? any other homo new medius out there with anything to add?


they were away.

they pulled out of the driveway and i waved from inside the house though it occurred to me after they drove away that i could have stood in the driveway, waving until they could not see me anymore.

i’d like to be that mother. i’d like them to remember me that way, the way i remember my grandmother, standing in her pastel housecoat in her sunporch, waving until i walked out of sight of this very corner.

even into my adolescence, when i was otherwise too cool for school and riddled with the agonizing cringe of self-consciousness, i always waved back. the smile on her face as she watched me go sang, be well! i go with you!

i was one of the grand old ocean liners, an occasion every time i left.

note to self: start waving.

but Friday afternoon they drove away with their father, car piled high with plastic dinosaurs and cups of milk and the miniature Strawberry Shortcake with the scented scarlet nylon hair, smooth and glossy and eminently easier to comb than that of her three-year-old owner. hairstyling implements are weapons of torture when directed at Posey but delightful if aimed at ponies and Strawberry Shortcake. at least for a minute or two.

i threw in all the DVDs i could find. it’s a five hour drive to Dave’s parents house.

between the hair-combing and the dinosaurs and DVDs and the Read-It-Myself books that i placed conveniently by Oscar’s booster seat in paroxysms of proud motherly fantasies of him reading sweetly to his little sister, Dave probably got, what? ten minutes of quiet on the drive? fifteen?

i don’t know. i didn’t ask.

i was alone.

they left for forty-six hours because i had a writing deadline. half-way into it i’d completed a draft, based on days of work beforehand, all on a program i hadn’t used before but had been saving away on, diligently. then, whoops, i discovered that program doesn’t allow saving: when i’d closed the document to email it, i lost everything.

every word, gone.

cue swearing and wailing and gnashing of teeth.

that is how i spent my weekend alone, grunting like Sisyphus back up the hill of my own ideas, pushing the stone of my own chagrin and self-recrimination and disbelief.

still, i was alone.

alone. nothing but my work to get back to. reflexively, i sought out the children as distractions from the job at hand. nobody needs a bum wiped? my brain pouted hopefully, as i winced at the blank screen in front of me. i could almost see the old words. every time i looked for them they grew fainter in the rearview, and more and more beautiful.

that first draft has now become a verifiable lost Atlantis of Shakespearean proportions. may it rest in peace.

but i had time to recreate a thin shadow of it, because i was alone.

in my life as a parent, time alone is terrible and beautiful. beautiful for the unbroken stretches, the chance to forget the clock and the routine and mealtimes and the thousand tiny interruptions and really, truly throw myself into the flow.

terrible because alone? it is a devil’s bargain.

every time things go wrong in my life i am shocked by time’s irreversibility. really? i think. but i just HAD that. i can SEE it.

my hands flap and scrabble at the invisible clock, trying to turn it back. just a bit. a smidge. i blink, conjuring with all my powers that moment just seconds ago when whatever it was worked. or was unbroken. or Was. Not. Blank.

i am dogged and faithful in my magical thinking, my repeated beating of my head against the wall of time’s directionality.

it makes me irrational, fighting against my own reality in this tension of inbetween, in this life where deadlines meet snow days and trips to the ER because kindergarteners walk on the monkey bars, sometimes, and where i am always rushed and there is always something left undone and i am regularly convinced i am drowning.

my writing. my research. my parenting. all tied together in the constant push-pull of doing nothing quite as well as i’d like.

i stare baffled at the spectre of that alone time i used to have: the creative headspace, the flow. i still believe it’s out there, somewhere, not eaten by schedules and deadlines and responsibilities all freely assumed.

it isn’t, except on very occasional weekends when that car piled high with Strawberry Shortcake and plastic dinosaurs goes hurtling down the highway through moose country with the people i love most packed inside it.

and that is the devil’s bargain.

i could blink and find myself on the other end of a phone call, stunned and shocked and disbelieving. but they were just HERE. i can SEE them.

i do not let my brain go too far down that road. it makes me feel sick in my throat.

but standing alone in my kitchen, i see that the aloneness will come anyway, eventually. time moves only forward. and someday i will have long forgotten what the hell i was trying to write on Saturday and all i will know as i shuffle around my empty kitchen in a housecoat is how fast those kids grew up.

and so i mutter my secret mother’s refrain, a plea in two parts:

i want to be alone. just for a bit, though. just for a bit.

and then we all keep swimming on together, never quite going under, and i beam and wave until my arms hurt.


for almost six years now, i’ve written here. at least a few posts every month. sometimes, in the heady old days, twelve or more. but always a few.

i kept going because i was afraid if i stopped, i’d stay stopped.

until this month. i’ve been busy, under deadlines, distracted. three weeks went by. bless me internets, for i have sinned. it’s been nearly a month since my last blog post.

the words piled up in my throat and it felt strange, not to write, but also kinda…freeing. like unintentionally walking out a door and just keeping on going, collar turned up into the wind, not looking back.

yeh. self-aggrandizing fantasies. i was totally Bob Dylan, 60s-version, in soulful black and white. maybe i’d walk on ’til i found me some Allen Ginsbergs & men in heeled boots to hang with on suitably seedy streetcorners.

Photo courtesy of vvanhee

suddenly i can see why old rock stars get grumpy about playing their ancient #1s over and over and over again, no matter how much gas those hits have put in the car over the years.

old identities trap us, in a sense, like flies in amber.

and in the radio silence of the past month i wondered what it would be like, to close this door.

if i stopped, who would i be? what would i miss?

this is my brain on inertia.

the longer i hang on out here on the misty flats of the so-called long-dead personal blog, the more i suspect the radio silence – whenever it creeps up and swallows another of us – never comes from having nothing to say.

it comes from getting out of the habit of speaking.

and then the shame and fear creep in and we doubt ourselves. and maybe we stop. maybe we walk away. maybe we try to become experts on something people clearly want to listen to, instead.

because what value can there be, in just…writing?

i talk in my head all the time; stringing long disjointed narratives that trail out and weave tiny baskets of madness in my head, like waking dreams.

i assume you do this too. don’t crush this illusion for me, please. let’s just call it our little secret.

(well, ours and my neighbour’s, who caught me today as i scraped spring-wet slush from the sidewalk, words leaking aloud. i spun around and smiled, tried to look normal. she gave me a remarkably kind look as she scuttled back indoors. perhaps i should make her a pie. though my pies might be scarier than my muttering).

but that muttering? it’s a private activity. i don’t assume that everybody wants to hear every thought that runs through my head.

it’s just that the longer i go without filtering it somehow, without speaking aloud, without writing, the less i can tell the difference between what i need to say and what’s just noise.

Dave went to India last week. i work at home, so i didn’t talk much in the time he was gone. i mean, i talked to the kids, but my kids are small and forcing them to act as sounding boards and filters for the kaleidoscope blur inside my head seems…inappropriate. and he & i talked on the phone, but…he was half a world away. in a place i can barely imagine. and nine time zones removed.

by the end of the week, between his absence and my extended blog vacation, i was totally, absolutely fine…but unsettled, unsteady. i was Lassie, ears permanently pricked. Timmy, are you down the well?

and then i knew i couldn’t stay stopped. i couldn’t walk away.

this space steadies me. here, i make myself look in the mirror. here, i make myself speak.

when i do, i am lucky enough – sometimes more, sometimes far less, but still lucky – to find my words received, and reflected back slightly differently. this space is where i force myself to believe that i have something to say.

oh sure, i have my niche spaces. they’re easier: they’re focused. i write about academic research or open online courses or upcycling and renovating and i understand going into those posts what i want out of them.

here, i seldom do.

this house of who i am when i’m online? this lived experiment? has many rooms.

Twitter’s still where i spend the most time: i can work and play there, both. Facebook’s the kitchen party, where the old friends are and the longer conversations unfold. LinkedIn is the parlour with the plastic still on the furniture. Pinterest is the guest room i wish i had.

the theoryblog? it’s my study, with the door propped open because i don’t want to be alone.

but this blog is truly mine own…a space i no longer have in my embodied life. it’s my bedroom circa adolescence: the place where i am still working out who i want to be, the place from which all those other public identities got their voice.

and so i’ll stay here, try to stay in motion, try to keep speaking. not because the words are always important. but because the writing them matters. to me.

what online spaces matter to you? why? and how do you keep Timmy out of the well, in your own head? 


the day after. Susan’s gone.

i dreamed about her yesterday morning. we were some kind of Thelma and Louise, secret agents laughing, doing vague, crazy dream-things until little feet woke me at 5:45 am and i rose blurry from the fog and i wondered.

and then i waited – edgy and wrong – all day, and then i heard.

i like to imagine the dream was her saying goodbye. i like to imagine i will see her in the stars. i don’t know if i really believe either of these things, but i leave the door cracked to the possibility.

i do know that i will look at the sky with wonder for the rest of my life, because she taught me.

she will always be a teacher, in my mind. she was my friend, as she was a thousand people’s friend. she was Marty‘s friend, particularly: the real Thelma to her Louise. thank you, Marty, for sharing her. you two were damn lucky in each other.

Susan was one of my very first blogging friends. one of the first people who opened this space up and grabbed me with words by the bones of my wrists, building for me a world of the real that has nothing to do with in the flesh.

except when the flesh has ceased and you know there will be no more words. and you say to no one in particular, hey, there seems to be a Volkswagen parked on my chest. it’s made of cement. and then your heart swells up and leaks out your eyes

this is my first real experience of what it means to lose one of our own. i see us all out here as parts of a web, knots in an enormous 3D crocheted blanket snarled together like one of Dave’s rhizomes, all marvellously, intricately interconnected.

for me, Susan was one of the key knots, a touchstone by which I knew and understood the whole. the empty space that was hers, then, is distributed and strange, the grief ephemeral and yet amplified.

she was not mine, or yours, i know. yet she gave herself to us.

last night, after the kids and i lay in their little beds in their new room under a ceiling speckled with projected stars, i came downstairs and i looked up the comments she’d left here, over the years.

seventy-odd little messages over nearly five years, plus a couple of dozen emails. one afternoon together, running in the rain. gifts, each one.

Susan was adamant that what matters in life – what survives – is what we put into the world: publications and people.

i sat here last night re-reading these comments like old love letters, smiling through the tears that stung and dropped. and i thought, this is what we blog for.

i celebrate her tonight through a few of her words. private words, scattered across my own…augmenting them, making them more. they were a gift to me, these, and the other hundred messages or so. maybe i’m just giddy with the gravity of sorrow and all, but i keep thinking, don’t bogart that Susan. share.

inhale deep, while you’re here. breathe her in.

March, 2007. it has always been her perspective on the term “mommyblogger” that gave it dignity, for me:

Personally, I love the term mommyblogger when applied correctly to those
of us who write about our kids
 and delight in it (and who aren’t currently professional
writers or claim other labels and reject the term).

It implies and acknowledges the community inherent in child-raising, and it gives
voice to the nameless
thousands out there who have for centuries carried babies, held
little hands, wiped noses, and helped children learn.

The thousands — millions — tens of millions — who give their all to helping these little children
learn to talk,
read, cook, laugh, love, and find themselves in a big, scary world.
The tens of millions who,
in a world of “Dr” this
and “Mr” that, are known primarily by one name — Mommy.

I am proud to be a Mommy, and proud to be a mommyblogger. That’s my choice,
but right now it feels pretty wonderful.

– whymommy

May, 2008. her capacity for presence, even from far away, floored me. the one time i met her, she made me feel like i was the only person in the world. when her gaze was trained on you, literally or figuratively, you had her whole heart for a minute.

Thinking of you today.

My neighbor over the fence and I chatted about you today. We explained to her mother just
how far away PEI is,
 and how your writing resonates with our souls. She and I have never
talked much, but as we shared our
favorites and wished you well, it was amazing to see.
– whymommy

June, 2008. i wrote about pipers at a funeral, just a musing. and she shot straight back, from the hip. i had forgotten this one, until last night. it took my breath. please read. i don’t think Susan will ever be forgotten, but i hear her. can we find a way to honour this, in our big old crocheted blanket way?


I don’t want tears and mournful songs at my funeral. I want parents and children to
gather, to take my
 children in their arms, and to hug them closely when I can’t anymore.
They can sing if they like, but I really
just hope that friends and family will focus on life, and a
future that will encompass my children even when

I am no longer here to set up playdates and parties. I don’t mind if everyone
forgets me, but I could not bear it if
they forgot my children.
– whymommy

April, 2010. she was a rocket scientist, which makes me smile. i can barely add six digits. but we were both researchers at heart, for all the disciplinary differences, lovers of ideas and knowledge. what i realized last night is that we were bound, too, by journeys that both confronted the spectre of separating parent from child, in death. my writing began there, and has ended in healing. would that Susan’s trajectory could have been so clean.

Your voice is a dear one to me, and I am forever grateful that you did reach out on that day.
You have taught me
 so much about loss, and about daring to move on, while
never, ever forgetting.

Last week I heard the name “Finn,” and I snapped to attention, head swiveling so fast
to see the little boy being called
in the park. I thought for sure it must have been a mistake,
and, indeed, he had already disappeared behind the

climbing tree. I only caught a glimpse of his sneakers.

I thought of you, then, and Finn and Oscar and Posey and Dave, and wanted to tell you.

I know because of you that telling you that I remember him doesn’t hurt.
I hope, at least, that that is still true.

I remember Finn, and I am able to talk now to babylost mamas with an open heart,
not running away from the
topic, all because of you.

November, 2011. the last comment she left me. it makes me nod. yep: recognizing luck, counselling belief in beauty, in hope. stretching beyond me to the wisdom of perspective. yeh, that was Susan.

My map? Gone, pressed neatly into the family Bible, history upon history,
not mattering in the end. In the end, all I have is this hand I hold, and I cling tightly,
for he is all that I have.

There is beauty in relationships yet, bon … wait for it, the beauty will surprise you
again even while you mourn the losses of ten.

You are lucky in yours, as I am in mine.
– Susan @Whymommy

this was my friend, her generosity, her warmth, her incredible capacity to give of herself. the comment is remarkably like her final post: in the end, she was not ours, but Curt’s. it lifts the Volkswagen off my chest a little to know that she had that kind of love to hold her and carry her.

i am glad there is no more pain, for her. but it hurts me to think there will be no more words. she put so much of herself – so much beauty and thoughtfulness – into her words.

what words of hers do you have? in your comments stream, or from FB, or just from her own blog? what are your favourites? what can you share?

please don’t bogart that Susan. i am not quite ready to stop hearing from her.

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?


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.)

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’s Friday night, July, and we’re in the backyard with visiting friends. a warm evening, for here, but settling into dampness as the sun slides off into deep blue.

he comes out with a sweater on, a plain grey knit crewneck, roomy and soft. mine.

one of the oldest items of clothing i still own, sleeves beginning to fray at the edges. it has a slit up the back where his father accidentally sliced it once: it was at the top of the box, the favoured one, last thing packed. we had just moved back to Canada, and Dave’s dad was eager to show off the sharpness of his Swiss Army knife.

no matter. it was a decade old, even then. it still keeps out most of the mosquitoes.

that sweater has been more places than most members of my family. i bought it by mail order when i lived north of the Arctic Circle, that first long black winter when the sun disappeared for months. my body was small but i did not know it. i ordered a large. it came big enough for two of me; the perfect sweatshirt, only dressier.

i wore it that summer, home in the Maritimes to visit, when we stopped at a friend’s cottage. my boyfriend’s buddy, younger, still in college. i hadn’t met him before. i didn’t see him again for a year. then he lived in another country for two: he grew up somewhere along the way. another year later, and our respective worlds dissolved and then collided.

there would not be another shot taken of just the two of us for five more years. but here we are, the first night we met, in July of 1996. fifteen years. a blink, or three.

there is a rock wall behind us, and water in front. you cannot see either, particularly. but i see them, as i see the one who took the photo, the one between us and the water. the one we smiled at, without guile. so much water to cross. so much left behind.

yet we still own both the sweaters that we’re wearing in this photo. Dave’s has fared worse than my own: what remains is a faded, mostly shredded collection of holes, like a child’s blankie loved too long. we still have the guitar. neither pair of jeans was long for this world.

i didn’t know, that summer night fifteen years ago, how the story turned out. it would have been too complicated to look in the eye, anyway. yet i stare at the photo looking for clues, for signs, talismans. do we fit together, like tectonic plates at right angles, waiting to be aligned? or is it all just chaos and choice and sheer luck, and hold tight to the shreds you’ve been granted? even if they do occasionally break into Whitney Houston songs in dead spite?

i don’t know. i do know that the friends who visited us this weekend would have seen a pair perhaps not so different from the two in this photo. older, yes. more distracted. but still at these odd right angles, distinct and yet easy in each others’ company. his hair is still longer than mine. there is often a drink in his hand. he holds the guitar more, lately.

i want to peer into the scree at the bottom of the magic teacup and conjure a picture fifteen years hence. gray hair, a few more pounds: that matters not. what i want you to tell me is that the picture will still look, somehow, like this one.

i will save the grey sweater, and see.

are there first photos of you and the one(s) you love(d)? what do they tell you of what came true?

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