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?

I've got the power

Here’s a story:

For the past five-plus years, I have used just one of the three electrical outlets at my kitchen counter.

[Where are you going? Come back! I'm talking outlets! It gets better!]

The space was renovated in 2010, a miraculous transformation that was worth every penny and all amounts of upheaval. But somewhere along the line, sometime after the backsplash was finally installed and the job was complete (and now I’m thinking of the line in the enh movie version of Eat, Pray Love where Elizabeth Gilbert’s friend talks about the evolution of adulthood and the stage where “you get your granite countertops”), two of the outlets stopped working. Maybe they never worked. In any case, I think I called in an electrician at one point and he couldn’t figure out the problem. My dad, who has a degree in electrical engineering, bought some fancy gadget to test the currents, and tested them, but to no avail.

And so we put childproof covers on the two nonfunctional outlets and used the remaining functional one for everything else, unplugging the kettle to plug in the toaster, unplugging the toaster to run the blender, unplugging the blender to grind some coffee, and so forth. That particular corner of the kitchen became prime real estate. And I sucked it up, getting used to the limitations of the otherwise wonderful space, living with them until they became normal.

But. If you’ve been reading the (admittedly irregular) posts here of late, you’ll know that I am trying to deal with these kinds of things, to figure out what’s wrong and then fix it or get it fixed (or at least budget to get it fixed at a different time). I’m trying not to live with the status quo when the status quo blatantly isn’t working. That’s true in all areas of my life, but of course home is one of the most tactile and immediate examples — metaphorical, too, this getting-my-house-in-order thing.

I procrastinated on the outlets because there didn’t seem to be a solution to the problem, because I worried that a solution might involve having to tear out the backsplash and I just couldn’t stomach that thought, because I was getting by well enough just with the one set of plugs. But it’s January, and I’m still just high enough from getting the chimney flashing fixed to muster up the gumption to deal with this particular (yes, First World) headache.

And so, a few nights ago, I took a baby step toward the solution: I took the cover off one of the non-working outlets and plugged in my phone charger. Just in case. Just to see. Just to be able to describe the problem to the next electrician.

Reader, it lit up.

And guess what? Guess! The other outlet? The one that I haven’t used in five years? It works too. Just now, I drank a cup of tea made with water boiled in a kettle plugged into that outlet. Earlier today, I ate some toast made in a toaster plugged into that outlet.

For five years, I have literally not used an energy source that — for all I know — was always available to me. And that’s not even a metaphor. Except that it so totally is.

And maybe there’s some loose wire somewhere that will kick out once again, flicker and die and need resuscitation in the form of an electrician rather than magic. And if and when that happens, I will make the call.

But for now, I am reveling in my tea and my toast, and in the message from the universe that I have, that I may always have had,  more power, more energy, at my disposal than I realized. I just needed to plug into it.

Light it up, baby. LIGHT IT UP.

Crimson gold

I may be overdoing it with the raspberries.

It’s just that they’re everywhere, literally ripe for the picking, low-hanging fruit, all the clichés. I can trudge through the back lanes of my neighbourhood and emerge with a couple of yogurt containers’ worth of berries in under an hour, my fingers stained red like I’m some urban foraging vigilante — hey! Another cliché for you: caught red-handed. Not that anyone’s guarding them, not that anyone owns them; they’ve just colonized the spaces between the backyards, brilliant flashes of red weighing down their branches and beckoning to me: if you don’t take us, who will?

I can’t not. I can’t rest for thinking about all that goodness, fret about those berries darkening and dropping to the ground, all that waste.

I’m not alone in my obsession. “Thinking of raspberry foraging tonight,” M texted to me on Saturday. We cycled to the latest jackpot: a different friend’s massive garden, bordered on three sides by raspberry bushes, and she’s too busy to harvest them (Don't worry; I’m paying her back in frozen berries and jam). Like shooting fish in a barrel. Metaphorically, obviously — I would never shoot fish in a barrel.

We got talking over the fence to of the neighbour, who — obviously — happens to raise Monarch butterflies. He talked to us at length about milkweed and chrysalises (I just looked up “plural of chrysalis”) and showed us his monarchs in various stages of growth. I love that, all over this city, all over this world, people are passionate about, fantastically expert about, so many different, tiny things. “It’s like Christmas,” said M, after making arrangements with the butterfly man to come back in the fall and get some of the apples from the tree in front.

I eat plenty right off the bushes, freeze more to use later in smoothies and baking. I’ve mashed 12 cups’ worth of into a crimson, jewelled mess of pulp and seeds, and I may well mash another 6 cups worth before I’m done. In a few weeks, M will show me how to make jam. And we will pick windfall apples and make sauce and cider too, and I’m thinking about a late-summer raspberry tart — you know, in a flan pan, some kind of custard vanilla base, the very best berries on top. Like the proverbial cherry, marking the height of summer and easing our way to fall.