In between nothing at all

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I am in between right now.

That’s the best way to describe it. At this very moment, in between lunchtime pickup and collecting the kids from camp and childcare to take them to the dentist. Waiting for one load of laundry to finish washing and another to be put away. I am in between worlds, trying to follow what's going on in conflicts across the globe, caught between my desire to know more, to try to make sense of it all, and the overwhelming amount of information and opinions masquerading as understanding. I am in between jobs — everything is at design or with its editor or waiting for approvals, and I sit here with my checklist full of checkmarks, wondering what might next come down the chute. I am in between “work” and “vacation”: I head out tomorrow for a weekend in a tent with Isaac (I know, I know ...), and then next week to California and BlogHer, and I am so excited about that that I want to pull a Madeleine L’Engle and wrinkle time so that I can get there without all this messy business of being in between then and now, here and there.

(BlogHer, California: I want to see you, and you, and you, some of you whom I’ve met before in person and some of you for whom it only feels like it; I want to close the circle between the richness of last year’s conference — and the one before that — and this upcoming one, refuel with the physical presence of all you on-liners, and chance encounters, and spoken words, and dance-floor shenanigans to get me through another year.)

And so I’m in that space where I find myself saying, “I guess we’ll talk about that in August. I guess I’ll see you after I’m back,” as though nothing real can happen, no plans can be made, between now and then.

(Even this website is in between — you can’t tell right now, but it’s under a serious overhaul as I grow it up, take the ultimately rewarding also occasionally profoundly uncomfortable steps of shedding an old skin, moving to an online presence that’s a more accurate reflection of who I am, what I do (and what I want to do). Nothing like taking a hard look at all the work you’ve done over the past decade and a half and trying to quantify it. Nothing like talking about yourself for pages, struggling to find the happy place between honest portrayal and marketing-friendly. Especially for somebody who so loves to use em-dashes and parenthetical asides.)

It’s not my favourite state of being, this liminality, hovering between what’s happened and what’s next. I don’t like waiting for the ping of my e-mail (one just came in, by the way, from a magazine: they love that essay on Star Wars, but can’t use it, in case you want it), for the likes on Facebook, the reply to the text, as though they and not I will determine next steps.

I should be doing something, but what? Write, work, or step away from the computer, pull the kid (the one not at a beloved summer program this week) out of the babysitter’s, and head out on a river hike with a friend and her children — out of cell phone range, off the grid.

Because, these kids, they know how to be here now. We hiked (walked, meandered, skipped) through the wooded path out to the rocks and the river, until they suddenly stopped at a pool filled with tadpoles and baby salamanders, where they stayed for the next two hours, catching and releasing and processing and engaging in the usual discussion of the ethics of taking home living things in plastic bags. (“And what do you think it would be like if a giant monster came down and picked you up and said, ‘He’s so cute! I think I’ll take him home and put him in a jar and feed him motor oil! I'm sure he’ll like that!’”)

At one point, we asked — as grown-ups do — if the kids might like to walk a little further, a little higher up the river, and they replied immediately, in unison, “NO!” As though the idea was preposterous, even offensive, which it was: why on earth would they want to be anywhere but exactly where they were, right then? And who were we to ask?

They were right. And so we stayed, and played, and lay in the sun, and peed in the woods, and found a frog, and a spider with an egg sac, and a carnivorous plant, and looked and looked at the sky and the rocks and the trees, none of which were waiting for anything at all.

Living in sin

[gallery ids="3275,3274,3273,3271,3272,3276"] Way back when, in our hip, pre-children, pre-homeowning, student days, Rachel and I shared an office in our apartment just off Queen West in Toronto.

(Already, I have to digress: our landlord was the now-defunct Toronto Housing Corporation, which at the time owned several properties throughout the city, which it managed in an entirely corrupt, Kafkaesque manner. We got the place not because we filled out a form and our names came up in some kind of orderly, fair lottery, but because we lived next door to the previous tenant and we knew she was leaving and the whacked people at the THC — apt acronym, that  — were happy not to have to do extra paperwork and just handed the place over. It was rumoured that the previous tenant — a lovely woman — had been a (cough) former mayor’s (cough) mistress for many years and that she lived rent-free. Other neighbours used to describe the black limousine that would pull up in front and discharge the mayor, who would disappear into our apartment for a couple hours at a time.)

(TORONTO! What's with all the mayors with secret lives?)

Anyway: back in our hip, pre-children, pre-homeowning student days, Rachel and I shared an office in our notorious, den-of-iniquity, checkered-history apartment just off Queen West in Toronto.

It was a two-bedroom place. We slept in the smaller bedroom, and worked in larger of the two. It was quite a lovely arrangement. There was something rather soothing about working in tandem, each of us at our own desk, humming along on our various projects in our own computers. At its best, the set-up pushed us to keep at our work, not to break the spell of more or less steady concentration with idle chatter or Facebook. (In any case, Facebook didn't exist — which is good, because it would've been incredibly slow on a dial-up connection.) Occasionally, we’d break the silence to confirm grammar points or to bounce around ideas about opening lines or hypotheses.

And then, we moved up here, and bought this house, and we got our own offices. And while this has mostly been a good thing, we have also occasionally missed each other’s company, especially during the stretches of time where one or both of us is working on a longer-term project — you know, the kind that requires you to sit at your desk for hours and days on end even when you don't really feel like it, which is much of the time. That kind of work can get isolating (with teeny, tiny amounts of euphoria thrown into the mix, just to make sure you don't give up entirely). Having another body there, working alongside you in companionable silence, can make a difference.

And so yesterday we decided to create an extra workstation in my office. I hadn't imagined how there could be any room for it, but it turns out that an extra desktop fits quite nicely in the room’s southeast corner once we moved some plants out of the way. My filing cabinet and my copy of the Riverside Shakespeare are now holding up a corner Rachel's new desk, and we will experiment with sharing a workspace at least part of the time. Even if she isn't in here that often, I'm already realizing just how useful a second desktop can be — last night, I used it to move forward on a sewing project (which I have since carefully tidied away so that the space is still there for Rachel).

I love this about functional spaces — how, with a bit of imagination and repurposing and rearranging we can make something from nothing, or, rather, a workstation from an old IKEA tabletop and a filing cabinet and a book that's been one of the most useful I've ever owned, and not just as a desk prop. I imagine at some point I'll have to refer to my Riverside Shakespeare again, and then we will have to hold up the desktop with a phone book or something. But for now, it's me and my girl and Will again, and maybe something like poetry will emerge from it all.

Crab/apple

IMG_0921[1] The giant crabapple tree in our backyard is finally in bloom — a month later than normal, granted, but in bloom nonetheless, its delicate white flowers wafting their subtle fragrance through the weekend air, shedding their petals slowly onto the lawn.

So of course what the boys are doing is whacking away at the tree with a garden rake and booting a soccer ball in amongst the branches in an effort to knock down as many petals as possible. They have a friend over — another neighbourhood kid — and he is helping with the flower massacre when he is not trying to set the deck on fire using the sun’s rays and a magnifying glass.

I’m witnessing all this from the kitchen, where I’m scrambling eggs for the three of them. I’m vacillating between the three “As”: annoyance (The tree is in bloom like this for only a few days – can’t they just leave it in peace?), amusement (Those crazy, creative kids!), and acceptance (This is what kids do. At least they’re playing outside and not watching cartoons.)

“Mama?” Rowan comes in through the screen door and hands me a sprig of crabapple blossoms. “These are for you.”

A wave of pure love for him washes over me as I tuck the flowers behind my left ear. “Thank you, honey.”

“Can I have sour cream and salsa on my eggs?”

“No problem.”

And then he’s back outside, and in the next minute the three boys decide that what would be a really good idea would be to sell the flowers to all the neighbours. Fifty cents a bunch! Listening to them, I groan inwardly (maybe also outwardly), because I’m already envisioning the overexcited kids running in and out of the house, door slamming behind them as they make and change plans and shout over each other. I’m already rolling my eyes as I imagine the multiple discussions I’m about to have around the fact that, “No, you cannot go door to door and ask the neighbours to buy the flowers that grow in our very own backyard.” And one kid wants me to make a sign and another one is trying to find something out of which to build a table, and another is now dragging the cooler up from the basement to use as a table and Isaac is shrieking “Flowers for sale! Give us all your money!” up and down the street even though he’s been told is not allowed to yell on the street (“It’s ADVERTISING!” he protests.). Part of me wants to applaud their entrepreneurial spirit, while another part of me cringes at the thought of the racket they’re trying to run, coaxing quarters out of neighbours. Why does everything have to be for sale? Why can’t you just give some flowers away? I want to ask, and at the same time I’m marvelling at the innocence of children, how enamoured they are of their plans, the way Isaac thinks that this will make him rich. RICH!

I love my children, but sometimes they are tiring.

And then, thankfully, it’s time to leave for Rowan’s soccer game, and — even more thankfully — it’s Rachel’s turn to take them, and soon all of the chaos will stop for a couple of hours, during which time I will write this post about all the conflicting desires and emotions that come with bringing these small, wild humans into your life. But first, I have to help Rowan get his soccer cleats laced really, really tight.

“Um, Mom,” he says, looking at the flowers still tucked behind my ear as I kneel over his foot, “You owe us fifty cents for those.”

“Nice try,” I tell him. “Nice try.”