Roasting marshmallows in the light of a million finished words

I was going through boxes of old papers last week — you know, the kind of task you can do when a child is home sick from his March break camp and therefore actual writing is impossible. Not that I entirely minded having the sick child around (at least, not until he broke a bottle of red nail polish across the bathroom counter and then attempted to clean it up with a new hand towel), because this going-through of papers was a task I had long neglected.

I have approximately 25 years’ worth of journals, and the idea that all this cringingly personal writing was lying around the house, somehow uncategorized and — more to the point — vaguely available to prying eyes, has been weighing on me of late.

It’s not that I think that anyone would actually be interested in reading through several thousand pages of my handwritten notes. (Actually, I just did some rudimentary math, and it’s approximately 20,000 pages, conservatively. Ye Gods.) It’s not that there’s anything particularly scandalous in there. It’s just that these decades worth of journals are glimpse (more accurately, an exhaustively thorough probing) into the most trivial, boring, tedious, repetitive details of the inner workings of my brain. This is the stuff that I get out of my brain and onto the page each day in an effort to be a functional human being, to write (hopefully) better and more interesting things that people were actually meant to read. These are 20,000 pages of to-do lists and whining and anxieties and ideas and ruminations on my weight, on what I did and what I didn’t do but wished I had. Ad nauseam. These journals are writing for nobody but me. (I’ll be fair: there’s likely lots of happiness in those 20,000 pages, too, but I’ll wager that the happiness isn’t any more interesting than the less happy stuff.)

And, while some people would argue that the above is a precise description of blogging, blogging to me has always been a conscious decision to write for other people. It’s a highly curated, carefully chosen, absolutely non-daily slice of life. And, yes, I strive to be “honest” online, but honesty isn’t the same thing as subjecting any of you to the ongoing monologue in my head about whether there are enough leftovers for the kids’ lunches.

In my organizing, I came across this, the earliest journal I have:

Don’t judge.

The diary has only two entries. The first, dated, Saturday, December 3, 1983, is also, coincidentally, the day I got my first period. It is, predictably, appropriately, histrionic. Thirty-three years (whoa: thirty-three years? Gah.) later, it still feels too embarrassing to read out loud, or to transcribe for you here. Not because of the biological facts of the entry, but because of my tween-before-tween-was-a-thing need to write about it as though I were performing for an audience. It includes lines that may well have come straight out of Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, to wit, “‘I am now a woman’ as they say’” and, “I feel so fat. Now I know why I’ve been so edgy all week.” Yeah, like I had any idea.

This is 12-year-old me pretending to write for myself but really writing for other people.

The next entry is a bit over a year later, and my 13-year-old literary critic agrees with me:

This is me. I hate it here. The last entry is a year ago, and it’s stupid. I was trying to write in a dumb way. I’m more open now. I just feel lonely, and wish this whole thing never happened.

Well, then.

I have no idea what “this whole thing” was about now, but 13-year-old me doesn’t care to explain, because she doesn’t need to. She’s writing for herself, in her moment, not for the woman she actually became. And I respect her curmudgeonly little self a little bit more for that, even as I’m trying to applaud the 12-year-old version of her for at least getting some words down on the page. Because that's hard shit.

All my old journals are now arranged chronologically in bankers’ boxes. They have been sealed, with instructions on the top of each box to destroy immediately — without reading — in the event that I die or am incapacitated. Don’t say you weren’t warned. I authorize an Internet posse of you all to ensure this happens.

Or maybe, one day soon, I’ll have a beach bonfire and roast marshmallows in the heat of all those words. I’m not quite there yet, but if I don’t need you to read them, then why on earth am I still holding onto them?

Th/Ink

 Awkward selfie of right arm Taken with left arm.

Awkward selfie of right arm Taken with left arm.

Being in New York was a little bit like being at a tattoo appreciation party. Everywhere I went, people came up to me and remarked on my typewriter, asked to take photos of it: strangers at restaurants, the guy who sold me tickets at the Guggenheim (if you're there, go, go, go see the Doris Salcedo exhibition, and be stunned, floored, by how she represents trauma) on the Highline, at BlogHer – fitting, since I got it a year ago immediately following BlogHer14.

I admit that I started to develop a bit of an ego around the whole thing: if real New Yorkers were impressed, then how cool was I to have an impressive tattoo? “Are you a writer? Are you a writer? You must be a journalist. You’re a writer, aren’t you?”

Thank you! Yes, yes, and thank you. Sure, take a picture. I’ll flex for you. 

“It should have its own hashtag,” I only half joked to my roomie the Palinode.

And then, out for dinner last evening in Thunder Bay, a woman came up to me as I sat with a fellow writer friend. “I love your tattoo,” she began, and I smiled and nodded because I am JUST SO USED to this by now.

“What does it mean?” she asked.

“Well,” I began, “it’s—”

“Are you a secretary?” she asked.

And now, I am thinking about class.

 

Immersed

 I like to call this "sticking it to the other soccer moms"

I like to call this "sticking it to the other soccer moms"

Rowan and I are making a cake. An “Easy Devil’s Food” cake, with a three-ingredient frosting (I told him to Google “easy frosting”). We will dye said frosting blue and red with the food colouring I ran to the store to get just now. And then we will spread the frosting on the cake (once it’s cool; I’ve been around the block too many times to consider putting frosting on even a slightly warm cake because that way lies tears) in the form of the flag of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Obviously. Because my ten-year-old son came home from soccer camp today and said, “Will you do me a favour?”

I was smart enough to say, “Depends on what it is,” but a cake? Today, at least, I can swing a cake. We had all evening, and even most of the ingredients, and perhaps his team will win “Most Delicious Flag” or somesuch tomorrow.

This past week has been full of moments like this: on Tuesday, we held a feline funeral, where all four of us — two boys, and their two mothers — came together in my/our/our formerly collective back garden to bury the grey cat, with tears and best wishes and a Plaster of Paris headstone. I spend the early mornings cycling with one kid to one summer camp and then cycling home and driving the early carpool with the other kid to the other summer camp; I make lunches and snacks and arrange arrange carpools and play dates and squeeze in work and writing in between. I overhear other mothers say things to their children like, “Are you wearing underwear?” and I know it’s not just my house. There are bike rides to the park after dinner, frisbee in the backyard, eight-year-olds riding their bikes in the neighbourhood and stopping in for glasses of water and carrots. On Wednesday, I jumped off the five-metre platform at the pool because if Isaac can do it, then how scary (OMG so scary) can it be?

I watch it all. I mean, I’m doing it all, but I’m still watching it even as I revel in it, wondering if other parents wonder at the strangeness of all the things we do, the ways we make memories, the activities our children just assume are natural, given. I came home from the drop-offs yesterday morning and tried to explain it to Rob, this feeling of being at once removed and apart, not quite fully immersed in parenting because I’m too busy thinking, I am digging a grave for a cat or I am hiding clues for a treasure hunt around the neighbourhood. I had to stop thinking at all in order to jump from that five-metre platform (it’s so much higher from the top of the platform than when you look up at from the water; it really is). In those few seconds — in the rush of gravity and the force of impact, my hair elastic blown away, water up my nose, the momentary disorientation of being underwater — I was literally and metaphorically fully immersed. More often, I am treading water in this pool of parenting, mostly in but partly out, watching it all, wondering if this is as natural as it will ever feel and hoping that that’s okay.

And then I watch Rowan peek over and over again at the cake in the cooler on the way to soccer, see Isaac leap again and again into the deep, take comic books out of the hands of a sleeping boy and turn out his light,  say a few words in honour of a departed cat, and I think, Yeah, it probably is.