September 28, 2010

Celebration Time!

Simply the fact that it is the end of September calls for a celebration around here (see previous post), but even more so, it is time to bring out the chocolate layer cake, balloons and sparklers for two other reasons:

1)  it is my birthday
2)  this is my 70th post and the one year anniversary of Letters to the World. 

Let's start with my birthday.  I am turning forty-one this week.  While last year I celebrated my fortieth with a big party and plenty of fanfare, the celebrations are much more low-key this year.  I have instructed my family not to make a fuss; I purchased a beautiful digital camera (a Canon Rebel) and a new bicycle this year and those seem like presents enough.  In pondering my entry into my forty-second year of life, I have visualized a skating rink as representing my fourth decade.  At thirty-nine I entered the arena and rented my skates.  At forty I sat on the bench tying up my skate laces and wondering how the ice would feel.  At forty-one I see myself as starting to glide around the perimiter of the rink, gradually getting more comfortable and adjusting my balance.  Perhaps by forty-two I will be attempting some jumps and figure eights.  Who knows? Please don't ask me why I see my forties as a skating rink - I have no idea.  It was just an image that came to me.

Now on to the First Anniversary of my blog.  While my good friend Tracey at is going for two hundred posts by her first blogiversary, and I wish her much success, I am truly blown away by the fact that I have actually written seventy in one year.  The reason I am so pleased with myself is because in a good year, before I started my blog, I may write ten pieces and feel pretty good about that.  But seventy?  Utterly amazing, as far as I'm concerned.  Oh, I know my posts haven't all been masterpieces, by any stretch of the imagination, but overall, I am extremely pleased with the fact that I have stuck to my goal of producing at least one piece every week.  And I have had an increasingly good time doing it!

Once, when I was a teenager, my neighbour Vicky, a bookstore/cafe owner asked me what I would like to do when I grew up.  I said, "I would like to write a newspaper column, one that would be, like, my take on things.  It would be a bit serious sometimes, and, like, maybe funny sometimes, too."  Vicky thought that sounded great.  I had encouragement in writing from one of my high school English teachers and especially from my parents, but the idea of a newspaper column had by then been buried under new ambitions for a scholarly career.  When I went to college, my English 101 teacher, Pauline Butling stopped me in the common room one day and suggested I take the Applied Writing course because I showed some talent in that area.  I told her no, I had other ('bigger') plans, and off I went to pursue them.  Those bigger plans materialized in my going off to the University of British Columbia, meeting my future husband, getting married, and starting a family directly.  So much for the scholarly career, but I plugged away at the writing, producing a novel, several journals, and the odd poem or short essay. 

When I joined the local arts council in 2003, I volunteered to write a monthly column in the local newspaper about our programs and events.  I interviewed artists and wrote feature articles to promote their shows and workshops at our art gallery.  I enjoyed the work and it helped me greatly in learning to edit and to get my point across quickly and with style.  The monthly column was well received, but after a few years, it was time to move on when I became immersed in other things.  The itch to write, however, never left me.  From that, there was no 'moving on'.  A friend suggested I start something called a weblog, which was a way of self-publishing my writing.  My dad had started one the year before (he's the Kootenay Ranger on my blogroll), and I had found the whole concept of a blog fascinating, but for me?  I wasn't sure.  Last fall, after attending my parents' fiftieth wedding anniversary family reunion, I became overwhelmingly inspired to create a blog of my own with the idea that it would be a weekly column of sorts.  It would be my take on things, sometimes serious and sometimes a little humourous, and I would call it Letters to the World.

So here I am, now beginning the second year of my blog and on my seventieth post.  I almost cannot believe how much more settled into the craft of writing I am, compared to a year ago.  What the experts say is true:  to be a writer, one must simply write.  Once a post is finished to my satisfaction, I am already thinking about the next one.  If this blog accomplishes nothing except for the increase in my confidence and belief in myself as a writer, then, in my view, it has been a success. I really do not know what this next year of blogging will bring - hopefully, at least seventy more posts written with immense enjoyment and hopefully received with some of the same.

A huge thank you to all my wonderful, loyal readers.  Without you and your feedback, this blog would not be nearly as much fun! 


Rebecca S.

September 22, 2010

Just Do It!

It's September - the crazy month.  With the kids back in school it would seem that my life would be less busy, not more so.  Deadlines are looming and new programs are starting up, the schedule is packed and the calendar full. Early in the month I was fairly stressed and not in 'the groove' at all.  I felt like I was surrounded by strings and was just pulling them one at a time in no particular order.  It all seemed a bit chaotic at first, but if I have learned anything in my nearly forty-one years it is this:  the best way to deal with an overwhelmingly full plate is to just get going, to just chip away at the pile bit by bit, and eventually everything gets done that needs doing.  It's just a fact that sitting immobilized by the weight of my responsiblities and self-motivated work is no help at all.  Long ago, however, in my early days as an adult, I was yet to learn this important lesson.

I have always been a procrastinator, and I think this comes partly from a tendency toward comfort and pleasure, and the the need to feel undue pressure in order to focus properly on the put-off task.  When I was fifteen, my sister's boyfriend came to visit with a posse of college friends.  They were amazed at my ablility to lie on the couch reading for eight hours straight on a Sunday, yet somehow still get my homework done on time for Monday's classes.  Years later in University, my roommate was actually quite miffed at my ability to achieve good marks when, for the most part, I seemed to spend most of my time enjoying myself.  I am far from proud of my unfortunate habit, for it led to many years of struggle when real life kicked in.

My mother started saying 'Just Do It' long before the tough love phrase was ever applied to the Nike brand.  When I had my first child, I was immobilized for hours every day because I wanted to delay the inevitable fussing for as long as possible.  I would sit comfortably reading and nursing or playing with my baby for hours on end - at least then he (and I) would be happy and calm.  When my son was a month or two old, my mom came to visit us in our small apartment.  She quickly pointed out to me that it was possible to hold the baby in one arm and stir the spaghetti sauce with the other.  "Babies need to cry," she said, as she put him in his bouncy chair and helped me get on with things. 

My second baby was a sweet, tiny thing, another boy, born when his brother was only sixteen months old.  He was a good sleeper, and by then I had acquired that wondrously helpful item, a wind-up baby swing.  With two children, and a husband at work all day, I had no choice but to try and become organized.  Still, I had to gear up psychologically in order to achieve simple household tasks such as cleaning the bathroom and vacuuming the carpets.  I am not completely sure what held me back - my go-getter husband certainly could never understand my hesitation.

I truly think I saw household tasks as being achievable only after a lengthy, arduous climb over a very high mental wall, and once this wall was climbed over, and the chore done, I would congratulate myself far more than I deserved.  A soothing sense of satisfaction would come over me every time I stepped into the gleaming bathroom, or the just-dusted living room.  But it was not to last.  Housework, like child rearing, is like beading a string with no knot on the end. Within days the dust would accumulate and the tub ring would reappear.  I would toy with the idea of a quick wipe, but no.  Keeping up with it just didn't come naturally.  Retreating to a living room strewn with toys and baby board books, I would sit by with my book and wait for the mental wall to build itself back up and inspiration to hit me once more.

Those days are all but over.  I still allow myself to let the pile accumulate somewhat, but that is mainly due to the fact that I try very hard to maintain a balance between work (and I work hard) and leisure - the one is much more successful with the allowance of the other.  My husband is learning this, too as he gets older, because as my wise mother also has said, "The work will still be there when you return from your lovely walk in the fall sunshine.  It's not going anywhere."  Or something to that effect. 

I am so looking forward to beautiful, spacious October!

The tea towel in the photo above was designed by Suzi Warren and is available on her 'twisted twee' website.

September 15, 2010

The Importance of Communication

Several years ago, a woman I know (let's call her Judith) called me and said a mutual acquaintance of ours (let's call her Carrie) was in the hospital.   Apparently, Judith's husband had heard from Carrie's husband  that Carrie had suffered a nervous breakdown and had to be rushed to the hospital the previous night.  "A nervous breakdown? My God!  I wonder what brought that on?"  I said.  Judith then asked me if I wanted to accompany her on a visit to the hospital.  I agreed, wondering aloud how long Carrie would have to stay there before she could return home to her family.  Her breakdown must have been very bad indeed, poor thing.

We went off to the hospital the following evening, bracing ourselves for a potentially difficult and uncomfortable time.  Just before we left, I grabbed a book off my shelf by an author I knew Carrie, an avid reader, liked.  It was Touch Not the Cat, by Mary Stewart,  a good, light-hearted novel of intrigue, mystery and romance.  Just the thing for someone in her state of mind, I hoped. 

When we arrived at the hospital we found Carrie sitting up in bed and, by all appearances, happy to see us.  I gave her the book, which she received with a surprisingly normal amount of gratitude, and put aside her ladies' magazine immediately.  "I've already finished the book I brought."  She looked at us expectantly, waiting for the conversation to begin.  I admit to stalling a bit at first.  I'm not sure what I expected - a wasted, drugged, tearful individual?.  That is not what I found.  Carrie seemed the same as always - not overly excited about anything, but not overly upset either, quiet, and rather shy.  Hmmm.

So I did what I always to do in interesting social situations.  I just start talking.  Judith seemed a bit unsure of how to proceed, so it was up to me to begin.  Our conversation went something like this: 

Me:  So how long have you been in the hospital?

Carrie:  Two nights so far.

Judith:  Are you getting any sleep?

Carrie:  Oh yes, though of course, I'd rather be at home doing things rather than lying in bed.

Me:  Yes, that would be hard.  How long do you think you'll be here?  (all of this said, in a gentle, tentative manner)

Carrie:  Well, the doctor says about five days.

Judith:  Five days.  How is the food?

Carrie:  Oh, not too bad. 

Me:  I see that you are hooked up to an i.v.  What are they giving you, exactly?  Does it make you feel ill?

Carrie:  Well, it's antibiotics, so it changes the taste of everything, so I don't like that much.

Antibiotics?  For a nervous breakdown? O.K...   

Me:  So were you in a lot of pain the night you went to the hospital?  (There are many kinds of pain, after all)

Carrie:  Yes, the pain was really bad, so bad I couldn't sleep.

Me:  So you were in a lot of pain then.  Where did it hurt? 

Carrie:  Right here.  (she pointed to her lower abdomen) 

Well, that was a new kind of symptom for a nervous breakdown...and then something began to dawn on me - and treading oh, so carefully....

Me:  So what did they find when you got to the hospital?

Carrie:  That I had a raging cervical infection.

Judith:  Oh!  That's terrible. We weren't exactly sure what the trouble was. But are you starting to feel better?

Carrie:  Yes, but the doctor wants to keep me in the hospital to make sure I get the proper rest to fight the infection.

Waves of relief and a strong desire to laugh washed over me, but I knew I could not let on what I knew:  that Judith's husband had got it wrong. 

Me:  Of course.  Good idea.  You need your rest.  It's hard to rest with three kids at home. 

Judith:  Oh yes, sometimes it's best to stay in the hospital for a while and let other people handle everything at home.  Have you had this type of problem before?

Carrie:  Once before, but never this badly.  I hope this will be the last time, or I might have to get surgery.

The conversation carried on while Judith and I visibly relaxed into our chairs, and before long, it was time to go - visiting hours at the hospital were over.  We said our goodbyes and our get well wishes, and then Judith and I left the room, the ward, and finally the hospital.  We didn't feel safe to laugh and exclaim on the hilarity of our situation until we were safely in the car. 

How could such a blunder have happened?   I didn't ask the question aloud.  I'm sure Judith would have words with her husband when she got home, and I didn't think she would welcome my speculations somehow.  In my imagination I thought that the blunder may have occurred something like this: 

Husband of Judith runs into husband of Carrie on the street:

Husband of Judith:  How are things going?

Husband of Carrie: Well, actually, I had to rush Carrie into the hospital in the middle of the night.

Husband of Judith:  Oh no!  Why?

Husband of Carrie:  Well, it was bad.  I was quite worried.  She couldn't sleep on account of her - er - some trouble she's been having on and off for some time now.  It scared me but the doctor says she'll be alright after some medication and a few days in the hospital, in the quiet.  You know, without the kids bugging her all the time.

Husband of Judith:  Enough said.  I understand perfectly.  These things are difficult to talk about.

Husband of Carrie:  You've got that right. 

Husband of Judith:  Let us know if there is anything we can do.

Husband of Carrie:  Maybe Judith could visit her in the hospital.  She'd probably appreciate that.

Husband of Judith:  Right.  See you.

Judith's husband to Judith:  I just saw Carrie's husband.  It seems that Carrie's had some kind of episode, like a nervous breakdown, from what he said.  He said she's in the hospital and would appreciate a visit.

And there you have it.

September 8, 2010

Back to School Blues or the Halleluia Chorus?

I know it's time for 'back to school' when my eldest daughter starts pacing the kitchen with heavy steps.  She can only take so much easy living before she senses an innate need to get back to work.  Even though she said she was ambivalent about returning to school, especially the social side of things, she admitted she was officially bored and needed more to do with her days, not to mention her mind.  She said she was even looking forward to doing homework. 

My younger daughter generally greets the annual onset of a new school year with worried groans and a furrowed brow, but this year she seems to be adapting to the idea much more easily.  Grade four seems quite an attractive idea so far, for now she is one of the 'big kids' in the 'intermediate end' of the school.  She hasn't yet asked me what I'm going to do all day without her.

My eldest is graduating from high school this year and so he is feeling 'top of the world' and can begin counting down the days.  Graduation is a big deal here. We parents must soon attend 'grad' meetings and volunteer for grad fundraisers.  There are scholarships to apply for, college applications to wade through, etc.  I'm glad I don't have a girl graduating this year, though.  The boys can rent a tuxedo for the elaborate ceremonies, but the girls often buy expensive ball gowns a la Barbie they'll never wear again.  My thirteen year old daughter is already joking about making a gown out of coloured duct tape like the girl we read about in the newspaper.  I'm all for that.

My younger son is in his second to last year of high school, and seems ready to face the year now that the light at the end of the tunnel that is public education is growing ever brighter.  He's happy to get back to violin lessons and orchestra practise, too.  He was even heard to say, "I don't know why, but I just feel like this is going to be a good year." 

As for me, after a whirlwind summer of working, travelling, visiting, camping, and general chaos, I find myself euphoric to have my first quiet day at home - alone.  I see stretched before me six blissful hours of listening to nothing but quiet music or the ticking of the kitchen clock while I go about my work.  I love my children, and it is great to be surrounded by them during the holidays, by their laughter and their jokes, their ideals and their energy, but there comes a time when I begin to long for an hour or two of the stillness and solitude that September brings.  By spring I will long for their presence again as I begin to feel something akin to lonesomeness by then, but for now.....ahhhhhhhh! 

Last year, at a writing workshop, I wrote a little piece about a girl named Zoe and the route she and her friends take to school every day.  Incidentally, it is much the same route my friends and I walked to our high school in Nelson back in the mid 1980's.  Imagine that!

                                                                     Zoe's Way

Zoe walks to the high school every day with friends - sometimes one and sometimes a broken line of five or more stretched across Panorama road.  Mrs. Debiasio once told her she loved to watch them pass by her house just to see what they were wearing.  In the months of September and June when the mountain mornings are chilly the girls wear coats and sweaters and then carry them home slung on their backs like donkey's burdens in the hot dusty afternoons.

The girls climb up the black-railed steps through the wood where Zoe can still smell the ghost of the garbage bag full of moldering, dank-smelling Playboy magazines they found years ago, up past the hospital with its candy-striped blondes who, in summer, sell them Jelly Tots and melt-in-your-mouth chocolate Rosebuds.  They dip down into a straight stretch with a view - a view so much a part of them they acknowledge it with a mere glance but breathe it in all the same - of a long, narrow west arm of a lake straddled by an orange bridge and surrounded by rising, blue mountains shaped like sleeping elephants.  The girls meet more girls and now some boys.  Sometimes they link arms and chant, "Lions, tigers, and bears, oh my!" with synchronized step-hop-steps.

In winter, Zoe doesn't care enough about looking cool to risk catching her death on the mile-long walk with glacial lake-born winds biting and clawing at her face.  With a toque, scarf up to her eyes, snow pants, ski jacket, boots, she is comfortable.  But when she gets to her locker she stuffs all the outer wear in.  Out of her backpack come snakeskin shoes and the royal blue beret she bought in Vancouver with her babysitting money.  She is already wearing the menswear black blazer - the sleeves and collar turned up - that plays host to the button collection with its names of punk bands, clever remarks, and favourite causes: one of them a green stop sign with 'Stop Clearcuts' in the middle. 

When they arrive at the school, a rectangular compound set in a hollow in the hillside, the girls go their separate ways to their lockers.  Things are different here in these hallways, narrower somehow.  Zoe braces herself for the daily dose of the good, the bad, and the ugly that is high school, but somewhere deep down inside she knows:  not everyone gets to walk to school.

The photo is of my hometown of Nelson in the fall, my favourite time of year growing up, when the hillsides are painted with vibrant reds, golds and oranges.