Wednesday, December 30, 2015

before i walk

Before I walk, I write my morning pages.

This is typically three pages of long hand, scrawled in the half light allowed by the single bulb over the kitchen sink. I usually sit cross-legged on the couch in the very outskirts of this light, my feet tucked under my thighs, pillow on my lap for a makeshift table, notebook on pillow, pen moving across paper. I don't write anything of consequence. It's true that I spend pages complaining. It's an airing of grievances. Anything at all. From the quality of my sleep, to the mysterious ache in my knees, to the list of things I need to accomplish today, with detours into self doubt and existentialism. I throw up my thoughts, letting them splatter and drip down the pages as I turn them.

Sometimes, the daily dump is all I have time for, especially if I've gotten a late start. Other times, I run out of things to say as I bore my own socks off with the tedium of the contents of my mind, and I run up against a huge wall of resistance, a big fat mental ugh. 

I don't want to put forth
   the effort it would take
     to drag my pen across the lines
       for the number of words I'd need use
         to tell myself all the stuff
           I already know.

I could stop here.

But if keep pressing against this wall, my my fist eventually cracks the glass (because it wasn't a wall but a window all along), and my pen suddenly has the space and energy to move faster. This is a shift into a different mode of writing. A step back from the window I've been pressing my eye against, and suddenly instead of just the fog from my own breath and a few twinkling lights on the other side, there's crisp, cold air and the whole world right in front of me. Lately, I've been using this broken-glass time to piece out bits of a story I'm working on. I'll walk my character down the stairs and into the basement. I'll describe the squeak of the stairs, the way his own weight threatens the stability of his knees, the feel of finality of the concrete under his feet when he first steps onto the basement floor.

But then it'll be time to close my notebook, and the dog will leap up as soon as he hears my pen click, and then it'll be the walk and then the breakfasts and getting ready and making lunches and the bus stop, and I swear my children try to use their voices like battering rams against my ear drums, and then they're gone for the day and I have my work to complete and so many chores and the 3-year-old at my elbow through it all.

There's something special about writing the morning pages, though, especially on days when I can cut through all that garbage floating at the surface. I like writing from this underwater place. It helps me remember that I am more than my to-do list. I am more than my body. I am more than my mind. Even if it's only for the space of ten notebook lines, five minutes of time, I am buoyed by the chance to connect to myself. My Self.

Sunday, December 27, 2015


In the early mornings, I walk my dog. Early, before the kids are up. Early, before I’ve had any coffee. Early, when the sleep still clings to the corners of my eyes, I put on yesterday’s clothing, and I go out. Now, in this season, it is always dark at this hour. Dark in varying degrees depending on the moon’s phase and the cloud cover, but always dark. The sharpest mornings are the clear ones, the cold ones. I walk down the driveway with my eyes on the sky, Orion the Hunter tilted sideways above me, watching. My breath hangs in the air, frozen, and I move forward, lengths behind my eager dog, who has been waiting with painful patience for me to don all my layers. He wears the same thing today that he wore in the middle of July. I imagine he thinks I’m tedious, but he puts up with me, nose in the door jamb. He is unwilling to miss its opening.

Most days I turn the corner and walk a few houses down, under a street light, through the heavy shadows still sleeping stretched out across the street, and stop at the bottom of my neighbor’s driveway to wait. But on the days my neighbor and her dog don’t join me, I cross the street early and continue on in silence. I wait at the street lights. The light turns, green floods the pavement, and I cross. Sawyer lifts his leg at the base of the street light, the bush we pass next, the foot of a tree: Sawyer was here, Sawyer was here, Sawyer was here. Invisible dog graffiti.

Paws on pavement, boots on gravel, we turn off the sidewalk and into the Conservancy. On the darkest mornings, if I’m alone, I keep one eye on Sawyer as we start down the wide path. If he’s all excitement and unbounded energy, I relax into the rhythm of my steps. But on occasion, I’ve seen him alert in a different way, attention on something I can’t perceive. I tell myself he hears an animal -- a doe, a vole, another dog -- but the hair on the back of my neck stands up. My antenna is swiveling, trying to pick up whatever signal he senses. Stop being a baby, I tell myself as I assess the cell phone in my pocket, my feeble self-defence skills, the likelihood of Sawyer’s ability to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. On these mornings, when I’m alone, when the clouds cover Orion and the moon, when I’m alert and on edge, I turn around early, only going as far as the water tower. I won’t go down the big hill beyond that point. The darkness looks deeper from here, an ocean I’m afraid to swim, even though I’ve been through it hundreds of times before. We retreat back to the sidewalk, the street lights; cross at the cross walk again and back up our driveway, where a light is on in the bathroom. I go into the house and start making someone’s breakfast. I drink my coffee and make the lunches. Through the window I see the sky lightening, the suggestion of the sun. The street looks different from here, in this light.