Tuesday, October 27, 2009

On Setting the Bar Low

L and I have been friends for a long time. It's one of those unusual friendships - we live in different parts of the country, she in the Centre of the Universe and I in God's Country. We met by phone calls: I was editing the magazine in which the organization for which she did PR was frequently featured. We had these long conversations, I remember, full of jokes and laughter and sharing before we got to the business part of things, and we became friends long before we ever met.

But meet we did, 10 years ago now or so, and we were just as good friends in person as we were on the phone. When I was pregnant, she was one of the first I told. My son's father left me soon after I told him about the pregnancy, and L was nothing but supportive of me, every day of those long lonely months. We spoke more while my life moved on, past that job and into others, as I re-imagined myself and my life, as I became a mother and as I moved into becoming a teacher. Her life changed, too: she got married to a lovely man, and they had two beautiful, bright sons, both a little younger than mine. We met again a couple of years ago, when I was in Toronto to see my brother, and we took our boys to the museum where they stared up at us, two women laughing together like the old friends we are, before running off together to play.

This is one of the things I remember about L, and one of the reasons I cherish her as a friend: we were on the phone one day just after a sensational news story had broken - a mother somewhere had left her toddler out in the snow on a night where the temperature had plunged well below -30. The little one had frozen, literally, solid, which was a good thing because it meant she could be thawed out slowly, and manage somehow to survive virtually unscathed.

"You know," said L to me over the phone, "that's the secret to parenthood. Just set the bar really low. As long as you don't leave your baby outside to flash freeze, you're doing great!"

I laughed then, and I often think of that conversation and laugh even now. I think L had a point: we have such crazy expectations of ourselves as parents that sometimes we just need to give ourselves a mental shake - as long as I have not accidentally locked my two-year-old outside overnight in February, I'm doing just fine, thank you very much.

So when a colleague loaned me "The Glass Castle" by Jeannette Walls, that's what I was thinking. The book is one of those stories of unutterable sadness: poverty; destitution; abuse; neglect. It's an autobiography, and the scenes of those children going from day to day without a bite to eat, cold and poor and essentially abandoned by their parents, turned my stomach. But all the way through, I kept thinking of L and her advice to set the bar low: I have never been rich (or even close to it), but my child has never gone to bed without his supper. He has never had to dig through the garbage cans at his school to get some lunch because there was no food at home. We have shopped in second-hand stores, but not because there is no other choice. We have never had to leave our home in the dead of night, one step in front of a landlord. Bill collectors have sometimes called my house, but they have never been looking for me.

I have never had a lot of money, but I had a life that is rich in other things.

Including my accidental, lucky, cherished friendship with L.

Friday, October 23, 2009

How I Will be Spending My Weekend (since I brought home a bunch of work and we all know how I feel about marking)

How to Knit a Poem (Gwyneth Lewis)

The whole thing starts with a single knot
and needles. A word and pen. Tie a loop
in nothing. Look at it. Cast on, repeat

the procedure till you have a line
that you can work with.
It’s a pattern made of relation alone,

my patience, my rhythm, till empty bights
create a fabric that can be worn,
if you’re lucky and practised. It’s never too late

to pick up dropped stitches, each hole a clue
to something that might be bothering you,
though I link mine with ribbons and pretend

I meant them to happen. I make a net
of meaning that I carry round
portable, to work on sound

in trains and terrible waiting rooms.
It’s thought in action. It redeems
odd corners of disposable time,

making them fashion. It’s the kind of work
that keeps you together. The neck’s too tight,
but tell me honestly: How do I look?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Open in Case of Emergency

Today was much better; thanks for your comment (Mrs Spit!) and for your emails. Today I was not stuck in traffic, or in meetings; the photocopier did not hate me; my beloved offspring did not lock me out of anywhere I wanted to be; the wonder dog (while still stupid) was not perceptibly stupider (more stupid?); no kids had panic attacks in my classroom; and my mental health stopped crumbling away into oblivion.

So, an improvement.

On the other hand, I'm still behind on just about everything.

Oh well, we keep on keeping on here chez Artsy, no matter how far behind we get.

Yesterday, while waiting on the Wonderful Opener of Locked Doors (hi Doug!) to unlock my car, I had a thought. (Not the homicidal kind, those don't count.) There, on the passenger seat of my car, along with my bag, cell phone, leftover lunch, city street map, gas receipt, to-do list, and reusable grocery bag (as well as a few CD cases, most of which had their liners pulled out), was my book. The boy's babysitter laughed at me a little - "You know you can't read and drive at the same time, right?"

Well, it was news to me.

I always have a book. I bring a book to my riding lessons, when I know I won't have time to read. I bring a book to work, where there is never ever ever even a spare second to open it; I bring it to the dentist, where a nice man pries my jaws apart and drills bits of my teeth out before taking all my money away; I bring it to the garage where they change the oil and generally inspect the Crapalier on a regular basis.

No matter where I go, there's a book.

Because if I don't bring one, that's the day I'll be stuck on the highway for three hours waiting for a tow. That's the day there will be a record snowfall and NONE of my students will arrive and my marking will all be done, along with all the paperwork I'm behind on (as if). That's the day when everyone will fling up their hands in dismay and say, collectively, "to hell with it. Let's just read our books for a while, and maybe have a cup of tea or something, until things settle."

So you see why I bring my book places. (Sometimes, if I'm being honest, there's more than one book. Because if I'm waiting a long time for something, I might finish the book! And need something else to read!)

But I'm wondering now, as I contemplate the confession I have just made to the whole wide world and everyone, am I the only one? Surely not. What, dear internets, do you bring with you to open in case of emergency?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Dear Today,

You sucked.

That is all.

Sincerely yours,


PS Getting my boy to lock the keys in my car when I picked him up at his babysitter's house when I was already an hour late getting home? That was a stroke of genius. The cherry, as it were, on the cupcake of my day.

Now I'm going to go drink some wine and count down the minutes until you are over.

Friday, October 16, 2009

"It's Dead, Jim" and other miscellany

Last night my DVD player died a spectacular death (its last words? "No DISC..."), leaving me no choice but to worry myself to sleep rather than be lulled into slumber by the flickering lights and lulling sound track from the greatest soporific I know: television.

Now, I am not exactly a TV person, as some of you know. I've still got the 20 inch old hulking set I bought when the boy was a baby; none of your wall-mounted surround-sound flat-screen jobs for me. I have no cable, and peasant-vision doesn't reach me out here in the boonies, so I don't even get the CBC. TV has almost always sent me directly to sleep, especially in times of stress, when otherwise I just lie in bed and worry about things I have no control over.

In fact, now that I think about it, my tendency to fall asleep minutes into any movie is partly why I learned to knit. I wanted to know how that Harry Potter movie ended, so I needed to do something with my hands while I watched.

Anyway, I don't have much of a plan at the moment, because I secretly want to be the kind of person who can airily claim "Oh, I don't even have a tv!" while the truth is that I do, in fact, want to be able to watch a freaking movie at night after the kid goes to bed. Surely I've earned a little brain-dead time for myself!

So, naturally enough, I stopped at the book store on the way home and spent the money that could have gone towards a new DVD player on books. (What? They were having a sale!) I bought Juliet, Naked so I can keep up with the Well-Read Hostess, and I picked up the sequel to The Hunger Games at the library, so I'm pretty well set for reading material, at least on Saturday.

Sunday, though, will have to take care of itself.

(And, in keeping with the "other miscellany" part of today's post, I read The Book of Negroes by Laurence Hill last weekend and loved it. The friend who passed it on said that it was published under another title in the US - Google tells me that title is Someone Knows My Name. I find this most curious. Also, I like the Canadian title better. That is all I have to say about that.)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Why isn't "knat" the past tense of "knit?"

Inquiring minds want to know!

I've mostly finished one (and only one) Newfie Mitt for my mom - a birthday gift that I'm not letting out of the bag, because my mom is so far away right now that she can't even reach my blog.

Funny story about the mitten. I was watching the boy swim yesterday, while finishing off the top of the mitten. There was a lady sitting beside me who was staring, absolutely agog, at my knitting. Turns out she's in town to visit her brand new tenth (!!) great-grandchild, and, having recently taught herself to knit, was curious about how the mitten went together. I told her it was dead easy, and then I gave her my pattern.

Yep. So now I have to finish the other mitten, not to mention the thumb on this one, having parted with my only copy of the pattern.

In other news, I finished the boy's much desired sweater off yesterday. He wanted it in stripes: "black and yellow stripes, mummy, like a bee," and that is exactly what he got.

Me? I got a headache.

Next up is the other Newfie mitt, obviously, as soon as I can lay my hands on another copy of the pattern. This altruism thing sometimes bites one on the ass.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Holy Timewarp, Batman!

Overheard the other day:

Middle-Aged Woman the First (with teased bottle-blond hair, wearing a sweatshirt with a kitten applique): My daughter's getting married!

Middle-Aged Woman the Second (with teased bottle-brunette hair, wearing a sweatshirt with a cartoon character applique): Finally! How old is she now?

MAWTF: She's twenty-three. She waited a long time!

MAWTS: Did she ever. Who's she marrying?

MAWTF: Oh, a very nice boy from Drayton Valley. They're going to live out there.

MAWTS: That's nice. Does she have a job in the area?

MAWTF: No, she might look for something after the wedding, but we're focussing on that right now.

The conversation fades away, while Artsy's head quietly explodes....

Seriously. Twenty-three? Twenty-three years old is a long time to wait before you get married? What century is this? And what, pray tell, would happen to a woman who passed the best-before date of 23 years old? Maybe she would end up like me - independent! Educated! Unconventional! Not particularly interested in getting married! Set in our ways! (That's what my gramma says about me - and she does have a point.) A spinster!

I remember when I was 23 - I got my dog that year, and that was the very limit of what I could handle. A marriage at that age would have been an absolute disaster.

I suppose there's only one thing to be done: never tease or dye my hair, and resist the lure of sweatshirts with appliques on them. That way lies madness.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

In which October Comes In like a Lion, and I Overhear a Funny Conversation

It's snowing here, dear hearts, and there is no heat in the school, for the foreseeable future.

This is good because I get to wear all my fabulous knitted sweaters, and also the "Fetching" fingerless mitts I knitted for myself.

This is bad because... well, because it is snowing.

Yesterday I heard the best conversation among a group of grade nine girls. It went a little something like this:

Girl the First: Did you go out with him? He is so hot!!!

Girl the Second: (giggling) No, I didn't go out with him... but Girl the Third did!

Girl the Third (giggling): Only once!

Girl the First: No! It was more like three times! And he's so hot!

Girl the Third: I know!!! But we only went out, like, twice!!

Girl the Second: You know who else is hot? Boy the First!

Girls first and third: Oh my god! He is so hot!!!

[Things continue in this vein for a few more minutes, after which a short silence falls upon the group. It is broken by this:]

Girl the First: You know what would be cool? A slide that went, like, from your bedroom, to, like, the kitchen.

Girls second and third: Oh my god! That would be so cool!

Say what you will about teaching junior high: I never overheard anything that hilarious when I was working for White Rednecks Inc. I love my job, mittens and all.