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I have a favourite editor

I have a favourite editor. Probably all writers do. But this guy is sunshine. Every time I do a piece for him and read over his comments in the margins, I smile. Here are some snippets from his latest edit: He starts with a cheery “Hi Karen!” and then moves on to: “This was a lot of fun! I feel like turning on some music right now.”

The piece was about how to bring music into your home in a more intentional way, and all the benefits it brings. So, now I’m totally warmed up and beginning to lean back in my chair to soak it in, and he writes: “I have a couple of suggestions and a question.”

No problem, think I.

His very next comment is lovely again: “I like how you’ve built the scene.” He just said that to be nice.

What’s up next? This: “Love how you’ve set these two sentences up… Plus it acts as a great transition.”
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These past months, my gobbling greedy self learned anew, and deeper than ever, how disappointment can punch you in the stomach. The deep, miserable kind. The cry loudly on your bed when you are home alone. The nose-running kind.

I felt like God had almost given us something amazing. But He shrugged and said “Nah” at the last moment and looked for someone better to give it to. That’s what I felt like. And the fact that I felt that particular cry-baby kind of thing, made me think that maybe what I think and feel about a lot of things to do with God aren’t quite right. Because, was I supposed to feel that way? Wasn’t that naughty and bad and selfish and stupid?

Then, instead of that Big Magical Thing I thought I had deserved to receive into my grasping hands, God gave me a small, tiny thing. A name. It dropped fully formed into my mind one morning as I sat sipping my breakfast tea.

Darlene. My old friend from years back. The woman who knew enough, even back then, to iron her second-hand dresses inside out so they lasted longer.
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Me and my Mom

On a recent day, during a visit from my Mom, we travelled through Toronto via go-train, subway, bus, streetcar, taxi and a big chunk by foot all within the space of a few hours. We reached our destination: Canada Blooms. There we snapped shots of bouquets and table centres we liked, and then later limped our way through the Eaton Centre where we wandered, dishevelled, through a designer shin-dig at The Bay.

We collapsed in front of the tv when we finally made it back home.

I can’t remember what we watched that particular night, but it was likely an episode or two, or maybe even three, of the fourth season of House of Cards. Left all on our own, we blazed our way through the entire season that week, along with a 5kg bag of jujubes from Costco. And we started a frightening but manageable fire at a restaurant with a napkin, a bread basket and a candle flame.

It was a good week. She is a good mother. Not only because, but certainly partly because, she is a mother who will walk, subway, bus, streetcar, taxi, go-train and meander her way through a day, turning the ordinary into adventure at the drop of a stylish hat, worn jauntily to the side.

A sweet and tender moment

I had a lovely embrace of a moment with an old friend recently. We encountered each other at a writers conference,  after 22 years of living our lives and growing up and out from what we had been when we knew each other: wives of husbands in seminary.

Between us we had criss-crossed our countries, had five kids and I think five books. I saw her first with her husband, and that was a pleasant consuming of sandwiches and swapping of milestones: “We did this, then we did that. We moved here, then we moved there. We had this kid, then we had that kid. This bad thing, and that bad thing. This good thing, and that.” Just what people do.

Later, I ran into her again alone — and that’s how we were back then too — friends together all four, and friends alone us two. I told her that way back then she had taught me something I hadn’t known yet about prayer. Then I told her I wish I had done a thing differently  then, acted better (maybe even acted at all) in the face of a sorrow that had entered her life. I had not met real sorrow face-to-face myself, back then, so I didn’t recognize that beast when it crashed into her life. I didn’t act fully enough, I know that. She didn’t remember.

Then she shared a memory of something she felt embarrassed about from way back then, after all these years. I didn’t remember. And back and forth we went for a moment or two, in this strange and humble liturgy: self flagellating failing, met with loving amnesia.
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Signs of the time, and how much I let them bother me

I have a dear and patient friend to whom I send the pictures I snap of the most annoying decorative signs I find in cute shops everywhere. She rewards me with a “HA!” of solidarity. Janet, I think, is the only person to whom I have so far admitted how much those signs, which can be roughly divided into two camps: the Bossy and the Boastful, bother me. That will all change now.

The bossy ones are those that yell at you to “Dance!” “Laugh!” or “Leap like a Lizard!” When there is a row of them leaning against a wall at a gift shop, they overwhelm. Like a gaggle of old aunties sitting around a table at a wedding reception, doling out advice you didn’t ask for, barking out instructions for how to fix what is wrong with your life. Or the too cheerful friend who always, no matter what, has a bright side to share. A silver lining commando.

Nothing would bring my spirit down on a daily basis like a sign in my kitchen telling me to lift my spirit on a daily basis.

Then there are The Boastful plaques that trumpet what kind of family this is. We are a family who….forgives, dances, laughs crazily, cries, eats, whispers….

Believe me, I know how cynical I sound. In fact, I think I’ll have a decorative sign made up: “Believe me, I know how cynical I sound.”

The signs are meant in part, I guess, to be internal messaging. Your six year old is strangling the four year old, so you point her to the sign, “Chloe, as you well know, and as the sign says, we are a family who forgives, not strangles. Loosen your hold!”

A billboard hanging in our living room would not have made a dent in our family life, I can assure you. So, then I think the signs (many of which I suspect were given as a gift because they really are their own industry now), can carry with them a tinge of…the aspirational, a kind of decorative boasting of how healthy and real everything is here in this place especially, and then of course, the blatantly obvious.

Because of course family is always where you are hurt and where you heal, where you spill your milk and sometimes someone does yell at you, because constant spilling actually gets annoying and quite tiresome. And sticky. Even though the decorative sign, in what is often false advertising, says that this is where spills happen and no one gets mad. Our homes are, of course, where you learn to forgive and ask for it too, for all the dumb crap you do, and yes, it’s where we do dance like mad in the living room even if there actually is no one watching, and usually, let’s face it, more often than not, no one is watching you dance.

And yes, oppressive sign-maker you are correct, that life is better at the lake. That one, for the most part, is true.

Sometimes when I see these signs I make up other versions in my mind like: “We are a family who pours tea and then loses whole, full cups somewhere in the house pretty darn quickly!” or “We are way messier than we ever thought possible!” or “It’s okay, you’re not less than a human if you don’t actually dance, hardly at all, ever, for years, because the opportunity has just not presented itself.”  But I think even those signs, so much closer to the truth, would get tiring after a while. I really do think so.


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