Saturday, April 4, 2009

Memory Bank

"All writing is different levels of failure."

- Mordechai Richler

The Non-Resident-Non-Teenager (NRNT) recently spent a long weekend at home. Together we walked the dog in the woods by the sea, where she breathed deeply of the salt air and commented on the birdsong. The air has been brittle and silent during the cold winter months, and while there was no sign of green, spring was definitely in the air, being rung in by the birds.

The NRNT took the sights and smells of the woods by the sea back to the big city, where she'll pull them out of her memory-bank from time to time, just as I've been doing with snippets of wisdom gleaned from last summer's writing camp.

A few pearls, useful at any time, but especially during a long winter:

"Writing is not an indulgence. The indulgences are what you've given up so you can write."

"Be patient. You will write many more failures than successes. Be willing to fail."

"Show up for work. Write like hell and live up to your predecessor."

"Writer's block is an attitude problem. Just lower your standards and keep on going."

I scribbled like a fury trying to catch every word. I think I caught some good ones.

The birds are still at it, but it's not time to put away the snow shovel just yet...

The Latest Thing

"I think one of the reasons I'm popular again is because I'm wearing a tie. You have to be different."
- Tony Bennett

Many moons ago when I was an idiotic conformist teenager impressionable young woman, I decided I needed the Latest Thing, which, a few weeks after the Frye Boots craze came and went and a few weeks before we all required pukka-shell chokers*, was an Icelandic sweater**. Suddenly the athletic blonde trend-setting girls were wearing these cozy-but-cool pullovers, with the body knitted in pale blue or pink, and the yoke pattern usually involving white and pink or blue, depending on the body colour. I'm not sure who knitted these sweaters, but I was desperate for a blue one with a white and pink yoke.

My birthday was not far off. I pined and hankered and pestered my mother, thinking she might just pull an Icelandic sweater out of her knitting basket at my request. Finally my birthday arrived, and there, on the breakfast table, was a sweater-sized present. I took my time opening it, savouring the moment when the blue sweater with the pink and white yoke - a guarantee of personal happiness and total acceptance by my peers - would be mine. I pulled away the last piece of tissue, and there it was: My very own hand-knit Icelandic sweater.

It was brown.
And scratchy.
And the neck was too tight.
And the yoke was a darker brown.
And it was brown.

I thanked Mum for it and wore it around the house a few times, and then I put it away in the back of my closet.

In the thirty years since, I've felt ashamed enough about the brown sweater that I've kept it, packing and moving it as many times as necessary, but always it's stayed at the back of the closet, forgotten and sitting in a pile of guilt.

Until now.

Sick to death of the sweaters I've been wearing non-stop during this long winter, I recently emptied my closet. When I reached to the very back, there was the brown Icelandic sweater. I pulled it out for a better look. It wasn't simply brown; the lopi yarn had a chestnut sheen to it, and the yoke was a carefully chosen blend of a deeper shade of chestnut and off-white stitching. I pulled it on and it fit perfectly.

It's brown.
And comfy.
And the neck is just right.
And it's the warmest sweater I own.
And unlike any other Icelandic sweater I've ever seen, it's brown.

I've been wearing it ever since - it's my new favourite sweater.

Thanks, Mum. This time I mean it.

*The irony of Frye Boots and pukka shells was lost on us Eastern Canadian city kids, few of whom had been anywhere near a ranch, where such a boot as a Frye might have its uses; or Hawaii, where pukka necklaces originated to ensure safe voyage by sea.

**Given our cold winters, Icelandic sweaters actually did make good sartorial sense. But mostly they were cool.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Wal-Mart Muses

"All good stories are about conversion."
Flannery O'Connor

I've just been to Wal-Mart, one of my least favourite places on earth.

I find it overwhelming at the best of times, with signs and specials blocking my every step, more stuff than I could imagine ever being interested in buying, and ponderous souls pushing carts oh-so-slowly in front of me, keeping me from my destination as their rocking steps become slower and slower.

I had two thoughts:
I'd rather be writing.
I'm here for the kitty litter.

My first sight upon stepping through the sliding doors was the lady in the blue vest doling out with great compassion the shopping carts. I accepted one, and then had to wait while the person in front of me organized herself and her cart into the slow waddle I was destined to follow to the pet supplies aisle at the farthest corner of the store. Eventually I got around her, and made my way past Cheez Whiz displays and such, dodging small seniors intent on stocking up on Whiz.

The pet supplies aisle was blessedly empty; my 18-kilogram box of kitty litter within safe reach on a waist-high shelf. But when I tried to swing it into place, it knocked the cart, sending it on a lazy, squeaking trip down the aisle. I and the thousand-kilo kitty litter chased it as far as the dog biscuits, where it settled to a stop and I wrenched my back with the weight of the kitty box. Soft curses ensued as I waddled my cart slowly to the cashier. It took me ten minutes to get there.

The woman at the cash greeted me with a wide smile. Her front teeth were separated by a formidable gap, and her eyes smeared with disco-era green shadow. There was warmth in those eyes - while I paid for my kitty litter, she called me both "honey" and "sweetheart," and seemed to mean it. I thanked her.

As I wheeled past the shopping cart lady in the blue vest, she wished me the best possible day in a voice rich with sincerity. I thanked her also.

Being called "honey" and "sweetheart" and being wished the best possible day by the ladies at Wal-Mart could only lead to one thing: I've had, in fact, the best possible day.