Full, beautiful, blessed and lonely

Hi world,

I know it’s been a while.

Life here is relentless. I work, I take care of my family, I try to sleep enough and I go to the gym. Taking care of mind, body and family is all that my 24 hours currently allow. Of course, my family is a little larger than average and my work has no clear boundaries. But last weekend, my husband went on a motorcycle trip with his friend Brad and I had a moment of sadness when I realized that I had no one to talk to.

It’s nothing new. I’ve been on the outer edge of my friends’ lives for most of the last 23 years. But when Paul leaves, the echo rings deep. I have friends, don’t get me wrong, but I never see them. I’m the weeds growing on the shoulder of people’s personal lives: my friendship is the rugged type that blooms in weird and inappropriate places. It doesn’t expect care and feeding, it takes root firmly in the poorest soil but remains mostly ignored and undisturbed. Nobody picks it up or plants it on purpose, it never ends up in a bouquet, displayed in a special spot or marking a special occasion.

It’s a full, beautiful, and blessed life. So full it has pushed out relationships, ambitions and dreams. So beautiful it has built walls around itself. So blessed its halo intimidates those who come close to it. Full, beautiful, blessed, and lonely in the midst of a crowd of children, acquaintances, colleagues and followers.

I started this blog almost 8 years ago while I was expecting my twins. At the time, social media was but an echo of what it has become. It offered a connection with the outside world, a way to keep in touch against the isolation of bed rest and, later, the twins’ infancy. But its promise of friendship without effort was a hopeful lie. Friendship requires presence. Presence requires effort. Our brains are tricked into believing that the little thumbs’ up at the bottom of a post are a meaningful connection but our hearts are not dupe. I am lonely in the midst of a crowd. I get social media wine emojis all the time but I have no one to go for drinks with.

This sense of loneliness and isolation comes at the bottom of a wave, when there is a false sense of calm. In the calm, what was previously hidden appears in sharp contrast.

“And to whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required: and to whom they commit much, of him will they ask the more.”

This full, beautiful and blessed life has required much. When the water recede for a moment, in the momentary lull between two waves, I feel a sadness at what I have lost, or never been able to gain. In these moments, what has been given disappears in the shadow of what has been required. I mourn the relationships that withered and those who were never given a chance to grow. I mourn the skills I lost and the progress I never made. I mourn meeting someone to play and write music with. I mourn traveling to the cities I only read about. I mourn being sought out for my knowledge and experience. I mourn the person I thought I would be when I grew-up. I mourn the friend I could have been.

When the loneliness weights too heavily, I take refuge in writing and there, in my own thoughts, characters live, breathe and love, they travel, sing and fight. They take risks and make horrible mistakes that they struggle to repair. They live the lives I will never live and screw them up in ways I will never dare. They process emotions I hide deep down and move along an arch that bends away from proper order and convenience. They are left to run freely towards their dreams and ambitions without too much regard for appearances or good conduct.

These days spare little time for fiction and creativity, for pretending, for music and drawing. In times like these, I have to make do with patience and civility, keeping entire universes of things unsaid and stories untold in square little boxes, hoping they don’t escape as angry words, bitter tears or extravagant expectations. I carry the weight of this contained universe in my chest and pray that it doesn’t implode and burn everything in its vicinity.

Universes are hard to carry: they are slippery and they don’t have handles.


What I read in 2017

Last year I started writing down a list of the books I read and who recommended them to me. At the beginning of January, I purchased a Kobo e-book. It was the best purchase I made in years. I still think that there is a charisma to reading ink on paper but I’ll have more principles when I have fewer children living at home.

The Kobo is easy to tuck into my purse and I can read in bed without bothering my bed-mate(s). Unfortunately, it prevents me  from supporting my local independent bookstore (if you never visited Mill Street Books in Almonte, please do: it’s everything you ever dreamed a bookstore to be.) But results speak for themselves: I read more books in 2017 than in the previous 10 years combined. Here is the list of books I read in 2017. Since life is too short to read crappy books, I do not feel an obligation to finish a book I am not enjoying. It follows that I recommend all those books just for finishing them.

1. “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” by Stephen King. Non-fiction/Memoir. Paperback. Recommended by: Brainpickings. This is on the must-read list for any creative type. Quote: “Being swept away by a combination of great story and great writing — of being flattened in fact — is part of every writer’s necessary formation. You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you.”

2. “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern. Fantastic/YA/Fiction. Book. Recommended by: The Protagonist Podcast, episode 073 (it’s one of their most downloaded episodes). I remember reading after finishing the book that it had been started as a NaNoWriMo project and not being surprised: it has a “pieced-together” quality that was disconcerting at times. Reading the book, I was delighted by Erin Morgenstern’s gift of imagination. She describes the magical and the transcendent with a rare skill but I found that the story lacked focus and rhythm and that the structure was unnecessarily confusing.

3. “A Boy in the Moon: A Father’s Journey to Understand His Extraordinary Son” by Ian Brown. Memoir/Non-fiction. Book. Recommended by: I found it in a used bookstore and thought it would be good background reading for my own novel.

4. “The Evening Chorus” by Helen Humphreys. Historical Fiction. Book. Recommended by: I found this book in my car, that’s all I can say. It’s beautifully written, from a “craft of writing” perspective. Every sentence is a work of art. That said, it also lacked focus and read like a collection of story starts and hints of characters. As Stephen King wrote in “On Writing” (paraphrasing someone else, I think): “If you put a gun on the mantel in chapter 2, you better make sure someone picks it up in chapter 4.”

5. “The Headmaster’s Wager” by Vincent Lam. Historical fiction. Kobo e-pub. Recommended by: my friend Johanne Wagner of Twins for Hope. Vincent Lam is one of my favourite writers and his debut “Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures” is my aspirational book: I re-read it as a model of how I would want to write someday. In “The Headmaster’s Wager”, the man falls into a hole and digs himself in deeper and deeper until all those he loves are dead, most of them because of his bad calls. He is left with nothing but his sense of self-preservation, we are left with the start of “Bloodletting and miraculous cures.”

6. “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage murders and the birth of the FBI” by David Grann. Investigative journalism/non-fiction. Kobo e-pub. Recommended by: The Longform podcast, episode 241. Non-fiction reading like a true murder-mystery about a dark episode of American history. From the synopsis: “In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian Nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, the Osage rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe. Then, one by one, they began to be killed off.” This book is masterfully written and researched.

7. “There are no children here: the story of two boys growing up in the other America” by Alex Kotlowitz. Investigative journalism/non-fiction. Kobo e-pub. Recommended by: The Longform podcast, episode 240. This book should be on the reading list for humanity, especially if you think that there is no such thing as privilege. This is a book that blew my mind, I have no more eloquent way to describe it. It took me right to Andrew-Horner Homes. It’s one thing to know that inequality exists at our doorsteps, it’s another to experience it at the hands of a gifted writer.

8. “American Kingpin: The epic hunt for the criminal mastermind behind the Silk Road” by Nick Bilton. Investigative journalism/non-fiction. Kobo e-pub. Recommended by: The Longform podcast, episode 244.  Everything I knew about the Silk Road I learned from The Good Wife. I started the book, I finished the book. I may have taken a pee break at some point. Page-turners are few and far-between in non-fiction, this is one of them.

9. “Papillon” by Henri Charrière. Questionable auto-biography/non-fiction fiction. Kobo e-pub. Recommended by: My grade 9 teacher used to read this book out loud (from memory) to his classes in May-June on the belief that there was no point trying to teach anything after the weather turned nice. This is the auto-biography of Henri Charriere, a French man accused of a murder he did not commit and sentenced life imprisonment in the penal colony of French Guiana. This is the story of his obsession with escape and revenge. Large parts of the book are unbelievable, some smack of delirium (like that South America Native village?), but you read-on because you want to believe. A hell of a caper.

10. “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fiction, classic. Kobo e-pub. Recommended by: Life. There are some books that you have to read. This is one of them.

11. “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck. Fiction, classic. Kobo e-pub. Recommended by: Bruce Springsteen.

12. “The Blind Side: The Evolution of Game” by Michael Lewis. Investigative journalism, non-fiction. Kobo e-pub. Recommended by: The Longform podcast, episode 91. This is a book that will make you care about football the same way Friday Night Lights did: come for the stories, stay for the football.

13. “A visit from the Goon Squad” by Jennifer Egan. Fiction. Kobo e-pub. Recommended by: I first heard Jennifer Egan on Q and was smitten by her description of her creative process: it spoke to all my nook and crannies as a writer. Two days later, I heard Jason Isbell — my current overwhelming creative crush — mention “Visit from the Goon Squad” during an interview with George Saunders. So I knew I had to read it. This way, when I meet Jason Isbell, I can talk about something intelligent instead of melting in a puddle of goo. Nah… who am I kidding?

14. “Writing Better Lyrics” by Pat Pattison. Paperback. I don’t remember how I came across this book but one of my favorite songwriters of all times, Gillian Welsh, wrote its foreword. I’ve been reading this book for 18 months but I read a little, then try to apply it to my songwriting. Then read a little more.

15. “Story Grid: What Good Editors Know” by Shawn Coyne. Kobo e-pub. This is the book that sent me to New York City for a writing workshop. It’s informing a lot of my writing, whether I follow it or not.

That’s it for 2017! I am currently reading “All the Light we cannot see” on my Kobo and Sherlock Holmes in paperback. I have a mile long wish list at the Kobo store. What are reading these days?