Long live these days before snowdrifts and ice. Long live square toed boots and shadows in the late afternoon light. This is a gratitude post, a bowing down before the riches of my damned lucky life, a thing that people do at this time of year. How could anything be so miraculous when it's so ordinary? It is, though, it totally is. I could never have pictured this life before I had it; my imagination did not have the vocabulary for its strangeness and sacrifices and grace. Long live whatever it is that will keep me from taking it for granted.
I didn't write yesterday because how could I. I always default to stunned silence.
All the trees that matter are naked now. The trees that matter are the four nearest my house that shed enough leaves to make a hundred of those commercials where people jump into leaf piles. I'm nearly finished with the raking and every time I turn over a new clump of them I'm slammed with that vanilla-earth smell and I just love it. It wasn't much past four that the motion-detector light started flashing because of me. It's too early for this, too early. I am trying to have a better autumn attitude, but this is not something you can assemble out of a kit.
I've developed a bizarre fixation on roasted chicken lately, crisp shattering skin and salt and butter and thyme. Cold slices in the morning for breakfast. I remember the man who loved roast chickens in Amelie and I dig for the oysters. I don't think Myron knows they exist. Don't tell.
It is impossible to have too many candles. It is impossible to have too much light when darkness is walking close enough to step on the heels of your shoes. I figure if you're old enough to decide what heals you, and if flickering yellow light in your immediate vicinity is what does it, then you strike a match.
Leslie Jamison: We dismiss sentimentality in order to construct ourselves as arbiters of artistry and subtlety, so sensitive we don't need the same crude quantities of feeling--those blunt surfaces, baggy corpses. We will subsist more delicately, we say. We will subsist on less. You should read The Empathy Exams anyway but especially now, because I've mentioned it to you at the end of another day on this planet, because you are sentimental, because you are not.
Not much more than a few sentences tonight because what was I thinking with this every day posting thing. BUT. Can I just say that I love our local writer's festival, and I also love that every year I get to go to more and more events. (Remember when I talked about that hard-copy quandary a few days ago? You can't buy ebooks at an event like this and I like that the sale table helps support the festival.) Writers are kooky and neurotic and also very normal and I like being in their presence and listening while they talk about their work even when what they've written isn't my cup of tea.
I'm deep into Undermajordomo Minor and part of the charm of it is that I've heard Patrick DeWitt read from it in his very deadpan way, so now I kind of feel like I can hear his voice throughout the book, the way I always do with Neil Gaiman after hearing him read the audiobook version of Fragile Things. The rest of the charm of it is that the book itself is bent and wonderful and I lose track of time while I read it. That's what I read books for.
A thing that happened this summer is that I went with a bunch of people to the lake to take photos at a classic car show. I am not what you call "lit afire" by classic cars but I like typography and logos, and classic cars have great names stylishly mounted all over them. Afterward, we were going to set up our cameras at the lake shore in the dark to attempt to shoot the northern lights. People say you can see auroras here in the city but I haven't been able to yet; this was going to be my first time.
My old camera was a two-year-old model when I got it, and it was a good learning camera. It still is. I can take 85% of the pictures I want to take with that old beauty/beast. I had been wanting to upgrade, though, and the chance to shoot auroras was a good excuse to finally do it. I had been comparison shopping and reading reviews for more than a year. When I clicked "buy" I felt immediately sick, the way I did when I bought my first new car and the way I still do when I buy just about anything that costs more than a nice dinner. Snafus happened, as they do, and it looked like I wasn't going to get it in time, or if I did, that I wouldn't have enough of a handle on the menus to be able to set up the camera for long exposures in the dark. And then the snafus got unsnaffed and the day came. I put the new camera in my camera bag, with extra batteries and the necessary lenses. I caught a bus to our meeting area, jumped in with my carpool, and halfway to the little lake town, I realized that I had left the mounting plate for my tripod on the old camera, back on the top shelf of the guest room closet.
If I thought I'd felt sick on buy-date, it was a dozen times worse now. A huge part of the trip was ruined for me. You can't just hold a camera for night photos like that. The tripod is a necessity. And of course everyone was planning to stay out all night, shooting until sunrise, and then to drive back to Winnipeg after a diner breakfast. No one would be heading back before the night shoot, so I was stuck. I spent the day shooting car after car, chrome trim and tailfins and a goddamned Edsel, trying not to think about how stupid I had been, how careless. How mortifying to be in the group with a dozen people who would never have done such a thing. One woman kindly said, "Well, that's a mistake you won't make again." And this was the best and truest thing that she could have said.
We drove out to the shore and I sat down on a large rock. I considered leaving the camera in the van, but instead I brought it with me and propped it on a rock, aiming not toward the aurora display but just at the stars in general. Mostly I behaved the way I would have if I had gone to the beach just to look at the night sky. I listened to my friends and listened to the endless slapping of water on earth. I stared at the stars and thought the usual things we think when we're rendered small by the idea of the universe. I shivered, because it was cold that late at night in the lake breeze. I thought, again, about this blog and wondered if I would write anything about this night.
From time to time, people checked on me, sitting there in pitch black and not taking part. One man (very generously) let me use his tripod for a while and take some sample photos, so the night suddenly wasn't a whole loss. Every five minutes with his tripod was a photo he wasn't able to take himself and for a project like this, it was a generous gift. I munched on an energy bar and drank cold water and was eventually unbothered by the wasted time and my error and what anyone else thought of the ninny who remembered to bring her tripod and extra batteries and filters and memory card and cash and a tiny porta-pack of trail mix but not the one little piece that made the photos possible. I thought about books and Myron's parents and my family back home and at least 25% of the people I have ever met in my entire life. I thought about the nights on my school trip to Hawaii where we slept outside on the beach and listened to the water splashing all night, the first time I had ever done such a thing.
The thing I had never heard about auroras before is that sometimes (maybe all the time?), when you look at them from certain latitudes, they don't have that showy green and purple tint. To me, they looked like clouds in the clear night, not really any color at all, just grayish white and moving across the sky as if the wind were blowing them. In the photos later on, the colors reveal themselves. If this were going to teach me anything grand about life, it would be that it's okay to write about something three months after it happens instead of using it right away while it's fresh and green; it's okay to let things mellow or intensify. It's okay to recollect in tranquility, and maybe not even just okay but ideal. I'm not in any rush here, I don't think.
I think I have probably called ten or so posts "more than this" in my time of writing online, or maybe wanted to call them so and then said no, because (a) cliché (b) risk of people hearing Robert Smith in their minds instead of Bryan Ferry, not that Robert Smith is ever truly a wrong answer (c) "More than what, exactly, you never did say." The urge is back again.
A thing that happens when you neglect a blog for a year is that you have these ideas that maybe you could hang a post upon, and you tell someone I am having blog thoughts and they say, as is tradition, Good! or Nice! or Yes! or similar. No one is ever not supportive. But it's almost as though saying that deflates the urge to write the actual post, as if you have done the work already, and then you get busy with digging a path through three feet of snow so that you can get the recycling out of the house.
I read Life after Life years ago--while the blog was still being somewhat regularly updated!--saw this, and stowed a slice of paper there so that I could find it again. I told myself during The Dry Time that when I came back to writing here again, I would type it in for you.
"Fred Smith? What was he like? Do tell!"
"How? In bed?"
"Gosh, no, not that at all. I've never... like that, you know. I think I thought it would be romantic. No, that's the wrong word, a silly word. 'Soulful' perhaps."
"Transcendent?" Millie offered.
"Yes, that's it. I was looking for transcendence."
"I imagine it finds you, rather than the other way round. It's a tall order for poor old Fred."
"I had an idea of him," Ursula said, "but the idea wasn't him. Perhaps I wanted to fall in love."
"And instead you had jolly good sex. Poor you!"
(To have a friend like that is a marvelous thing.)
It's so naked, to admit "I was looking for transcendence" and, by extension, to admit you didn't find it. So much of what passes for the personal internet these days involves garbage inspiration and sunshine stupidity; I find it infuriating and wasteful, even though I know so many people respond to it. I wonder about the difference between life coachery, typeset shreds of text (I can't call them quotations because who says this stuff, I mean really) meant for repinning and regramming and reblogging, and a character in a novel admitting that she had aimed for a goal, failed to meet it for whatever reason (let's not malign Fred here just in case), and found herself without anything more than the ordinary.
It's possible that I keep wanting to use "more than this" as a title because I was looking for transcendence, too. I always am! If we could manufacture that shit we would all do it. And we would do it all day long like junkies and we would never do anything else. Who wouldn't want to freebase Life+? It's not practical but neither is so much of what we do, anyway, that we call living.
There are so very many exclamation points and italics in this post, possibly because I am not having it vetted by my own personal Millie. Possibly because it is wonderful--it is!--to write such a thing as this, without an answer, without Five Steps to Finding Transcendence, without any advice at all except to say that a thousand times a day, I am looking for it myself. This is how I know that whatever part of me did not want to grow up has gotten its way, and that I still live with wonder and expect to be amazed. I am on the lookout for more. I respond to the parts of other people that are looking for it too, and finding it in places I would not expect, and then writing about it.