The roof over my head

The living room ceiling has leaked since I moved — we moved — into this house. The first winter I was here, barely holding it together and nursing a newborn on the couch, I watched with horror as the brown spot that had been growing steadily bigger on the ceiling finally opened like some portal from hell and released a flow of dirty, icy water onto the floor.

At the time, it was both a reality — something was broken — and also a metaphor: the carefully constructed walls around my life were breaking down, letting in the demons. Or, at very least, the elements. Greg, our (angelic) next-door neighbour, ran out of his house when he saw me attempting to scale a ladder up the side of mine in December. He and my other angelic neighbour from across the street ended up on the roof, hacking away with axes to break up the ice dam that had melted into the chimney flashing. The next summer, we got new shingles, and assumed that the problem was fixed.

It was. That is, until it wasn’t. A couple of years went by, and then the roof leaked again: same spot, same seam in the plaster. Guys came over and re-tarred the flashing. Things stayed dry for months. We had the ceiling repaired and replastered. It leaked again. More tar. And on and on it went, months going by with nothing happening and then some freak windstorm or snowfall and I’d wonder what that dripping sound was. And then it would stop raining and I’d go back to denial. I mean, if the roofing guys couldn’t figure it out, how was I supposed to know? How were we?

That, of course, was a metaphor, too: the way things slide into disrepair, and the ways you fix them, and they hold for a while, until they don't any more. 

And then, I designated this past November as maintenance month. While everybody else was writing novels and blogging daily, I was getting the car tuned up and mending the holes in seams. In November, I changed the filters on the fetish vacuum. I hacked away at the summer garden and put it to bed for fall, raked all the leaves. I filled in forms and sent them off. I went through kids’ clothes, my e-mail inbox, the basement. I made chicken stock. I hung photos. I put up the net over the ping-pong table, made all the phone calls, got the winter tires put on. I went to the chiropractor. In essence, I tried to think of every niggling thing I could think of, every open loop, every loose end, and I tried to deal with it, close it, tie it up.

I called the chimney guys. And I called them repeatedly, because you know how they get busy and don’t come the first couple of times, or on the date they say they're going to, but I was on a mission. Because this house, which has been subtly and not so subtly transformed over the last year as I have gone from “we” to “I,” needs to be safe. It needs to function without threat of the elements coming through, without me wondering what kind of black mould has been festering in the attic, right over my head.

The chimney guys came this past weekend. They erected scaffolding, ripped out the old flashing, took up the shingles to check for rot: none. (None!) They laid down waterproof membranes and new shingles, installed actual new flashing, sealed it tight. They sent me pictures from up above as they went along. In the spring, once the snow melts, they will come back and replace the missing bricks in the chimney. The job went so well, my chimney guy told me, that he would knock a bit off the original quote. And it’s guaranteed: if it leaks, they’ll come back and figure it out.

This may or may not be the end of the story. But it’s a new chapter, and I’ll take it.

Listing, learning


I’ve taken to making lists of everything I do in a day, a running tally of pages written, important e-mails sent, articles submitted to editors, interviews completed, workouts, queries, the like. I’m not quite sure — no, I have some idea — precisely why or to whom I’m justifying my existence, but that’s what it is: justifying my existence, finding a way to quell the voice that likes to tell me I’m not quite enough just on my own, that I need a string of accomplishments, cookies baked, meetings scheduled, in order to be allowed to be.

And today, I just couldn’t.

I mean, just couldn’t means submitting an article to a new editor, letting go of my perfectionism and doubt (the freelancer’s niggling baseline of I’m not an expert! coursing through my veins) as I steeled myself to hit “send” because deadline and I have enough sense of self-preservation to know when to let go. Within minutes, I had positive feedback.

Just couldn’t means that I managed to get myself to the chiropractor, who wrenched my neck back into some semblance of a place; to a meeting at the school; to feed myself lunch; to move forward on scheduling an interview; to have an important phone meeting. But it also meant flailing around on the blank page of what should be the next short story. I am halfway — half! way! — through this manuscript, five out of ten stories drafted. And I have ideas and fragments for the next five, but each time I sat and set the timer, what came out were doubts and questions, and then the phone rang, and no. Not today. Today there is no focus.

It’s been a stressful week, full of new discoveries and big challenges and even some good surprises. Got sad news about a friend. Manageable news, news far enough away from me that it holds no repercussions on my life, but I could feel myself dissolving when I got it. I woke too early, and was then joined in bed by a snuggly boy and had the presence of mind to relish his presence. I napped today. I couldn’t do much else.

And then I pulled it together to go to the gym, where I got yelled at in a friendly way in spin class, and then I showered and sauna’ed, lying in the dark and quiet heat, imagining the toxins escaping my body in rivulets of sweat, rinsing off in the cool and then doing it again. Now I’m home, little between me and bed but Netflix and some toothpaste.

And today, that's going to have to be enough.

Guardian Angel (or, don't leave your wallet on top of your car)

I put my wallet on top of the car so that I could take a selfie at the gas station. That’s stupid, I told myself as I did it. You’ll regret that. Don’t do it.

But I put my wallet on top of my car, anyway, and took the photo and posted it, before gassing up before hitting the road to Winnipeg, where Elan and I had decided to meet for the weekend to work and play and eat great food and wander streets and hang out and go to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and have long, blue-sky conversations about the Future of Work and Life and Anthology and Everything. And then I got into my car and I drove off. 


And then I realized within a minute exactly what I had done. By the time I got back to the gas station — remembering to inhale and exhale and drum, drum drumming my hands on the steering wheel during the agonizingly long red light between me and my fears — my wallet was gone. Not on the ground next to the pump. The attendant inside hadn’t seen it.

And so I stood in the parking lot of the gas station for a moment, trying to figure out my next steps. I had a car and a full tank of gas, but now no driver’s license or credit card or bank card or cash. So, really, I wouldn’t be able to make it to Winnipeg, would I? Not really. Not legally, or easily, not without a Guardian Angel to bankroll me, in cash, now. Did I have a Guardian Angel?

I was just processing all this fallout when a man drove up in a red truck.

“Are you looking for something?” he asked.

I don’t think I’ve ever actually uttered the words “Bless you,” before in my life (at least, not anyone who hadn’t just sneezed) but I did, then.

(It didn't even occur to me to open my wallet, check to make sure that everything was there. Because I knew it would be. And it was.)

And then I got on the road, and I drove, listening to Cheryl Strayed read from Tiny Beautiful Things, and that book is my new religion. I still need to reread it at a couple of million times and process it, but I'll take this lesson from it, for now: that little voice in your head? The one that says, That's stupid? The one that says, You'll regret that. Don't do it. Listen to that voice, and then also listen to it when it says, Do that thing, that thing that you're so scared to do. Because that thing will save your life. And also: You are surrounded by Guardian Angels. You just need to meet them, and also be one when called.


PS: Elan and I stayed in Winnipeg courtesy of Executive Suites by Roseman. The accommodations were lovely — comfy beds, fully appointed kitchen, easy-on-the-eyes decor. I'm guessing our Winnipeg digs were one reason why it took so much effort for us to actually venture out into the city; it was too easy to stay in and just hang out. Roseman put us up (thank you!), but I'm not otherwise compensated for this post, and all opinions are my own.