Just before dawn the lake is quiet and still. Its body is a flat, dark mirror – it is motionless until the sun comes up and gently rocks it from sleep. Small waves undulate, barely noticeable but for the patches of grey, reflections of the sky that melt and reform instantly on its surface. In the distance a gentle breeze sharpens the waves and a lone fisherman casts from his boat. Like a needle, his line pricks the surface of the water. Slowly the motor boats begin to appear. They scratch incessantly at the lake, cutting over it. Does it reel in agony? Does the pain travel in the waves that lap against the dock? Lake Rosseau is female in nature. She constantly laps at the land, sometimes pounding against the shore, at other times gently caressing it, like a mistress with her lover. But her real passion comes out during a thunderstorm. When sheet lightning fills the sky, the lake stirs with excitement, longing for its touch. Her waves pound the shore as the tension between them builds. The storm rumbles and the lake shudders, her passion is released when the night sky is filled with bolts of lightning. Each moment is captured in an eerie flash of light. The sky and lake are joined and for brief seconds merge as one. The sky is dark and silent, every so often echoing the burst of lightning with a clap of thunder. In the calm after a storm you can hear the lake give a gentle sigh. But even when her surface is pummelled by wind and rain, by forces beyond her control, she cradles and protects life gently in her embrace. Last night I dreamed of a day long ago in my childhood, of a memory I’d forgotten. It was a hot, lazy summer day on our farm. I was lying in the long grass watching swallows swoop and dive in the blue, cloudless sky above. They flew in a group and every so often they’d dive and disappear through the open windows of our barn. Inside the barn was cool and filled with the calls of baby birds. The nests were high in the rafters. I waited until the mothers went out to collect food, then climbed up to get a better look. The young birds could sense me and were silent, sitting very still in their nests. I sat motionless when the mothers returned. At first they darted around me, nagging angry protests, but the baby birds began piping for food, tugging their mothers away from me. They fed their young quickly, darting their beaks from one mouth to the next. After a few trips, the mothers no longer noticed me and flew directly to their nests with food. The baby birds were completely dependent on their mothers. I woke up from the dream just as my arms spread to take off in flight. I lay in bed for a while thinking about that summer day in the rafters. I was about eight or nine years old and even then overwhelmed with the idea of motherhood. Having a small life completely dependent on me suddenly seemed more significant than anything else I could do with my life. In this morning’s paper was an article about an American lawyer who repeatedly sued the large tobacco companies and won. The lawyer is now fighting the fast-food chains and has already caused quite an impact. It’s not so much the causes this lawyer is backing, but the fact that he is attempting to change the world, that I find so inspiring. He is accomplishing so much in a world where idealism has all but vanished. I’m struggling to find inspiration today. It is all around me, but just out of reach. My thoughts drift to cleaning. Should I straighten the carpet? Rake pine needles from the beach? I can’t seem to write. Frustration pulls at my sleeve. The words are in me. Ideas that float about in my mind, but I can’t seem to get at them. The key to success is hanging on. Human effort needs to be constant, like the rhythm of the waves on the dock or the singing of the birds each morning. I’m not sure how many times I’ve wanted to give up on this newspaper, but each time I couldn’t let go. As Kipling wrote “If you can hang on when there is nothing in you except the will which says to those hang on…”My father used to say that the art to life is holding on through the bad luck and making the most of the good. The paper has finally developed into the dream I envisioned. But I find myself wanting to reach a little further; we could, after all, be national… How do I express the gratitude I have for those people who encouraged me – my husband Greg, the writers and editors? How do I thank the advertisers in these pages for taking a risk on us? They have enabled us to create a paper designed for intelligent women. “Thank you” doesn’t convey the deep appreciation and motivation they’ve given us over the years. ********************** With the help of Royal LePage, we have been able to add a section dedicated to non-profit organizations for women. We hope to make it an informative spread that will both educate and motivate our readers, while at the same time providing information to women who may be in need of the help these organizations offer. In the past decade the number of women and children in shelters has increased dramatically. On page 10 you’ll find an informative piece on the Royal LePage Shelter Foundation, which contributes to shelters for women across the country. I implore you to make a donation; your help will provide shelter to women and children in need. A small contribution will go a long way. You can make a donation online at :www.royallepage.ca/shelter/donation/index.htm
Last night I dreamt about the morning you died. I was back there again, in that hospital room at dawn listening to you struggling for each breath. Once again I lifted my head from your bed and looked out the window over the still lake. I watched the sky turning from gray to pink and the black shape of a seagull gliding high above. The anxiety of that moment came flooding back and I knew what was to come. I wanted to try to change it, to wake you so we could watch the sunrise one last time. I wanted to talk to you the way we once did, about life, love and the challenge of both. I wanted to tell you about everything that has happened over the last five years. When I stood up to walk to the window as I did that morning, I woke up with a start.
So much has happened in the last five years. I’m not sure what to tell you about first. The terrorist attack on the U.S. is one of the worst tragedies that’s happened since your death. It erupted on September 11, 2001 with a number of plane hijackings. Terrorists tried to crash the planes into important landmarks. Thousands were killed in New York when hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center. The twin towers crumbled, the smoke and dust was so thick it turned the sunny morning into night. Papers, accounts, records of all kind floated down softly onto the debris-covered streets. A cloud hung over the city for weeks, business came to a standstill. The attacks brought terrorism into our homes; they made people aware, for a brief time, that life is circumstantial; and that hate and anger can consume.
Since then the U.S. has retaliated, invading Afghanistan and using the terrorist scare to push itself into Iraq.
Here at home, Chrétien is no longer in power and some scandals that occurred during his term have since come to light. They have stirred up a lot of controversy over the past few months, but will soon be forgotten as these sorts of things usually are.
Last summer we had a power shortage and for a few days a crisis put Eastern Canada and some of the eastern states out of power. The outage made Toronto quiet, it shut off all the televisions and people filled the streets; they looked at the stars and could for once see them. Suddenly neighbours were talking and strangers spoke to one another on the street. But the sense of community disappeared almost as quickly as it came.
Do you remember the power dams you designed for Ontario Hydro back in the ’50s? I know you left Hydro when a group of people began pushing for nuclear power. I remember you thought nuclear power so costly that it was foolish even to consider it. Well, the nuclear debt has grown so large that the government is now having to subsidize Ontario Power in order to keep consumer prices down. Of course it can’t last. But there is still a small group of nuclear power supporters who released a report which proclaimed nuclear power to be the best solution to our power crisis. I don’t think the public bought it; however, the worry is that our government will take nuclear as the easiest route, even though it isn’t the most economical. It may bandage over the short-term dilemma, but at what cost?
And now to more intimate things. I have yet to tell you about my husband. His name is Greg. He is strong, thoughtful and reserved. At times he holds his passion bottled up tight inside him. It’s hard to get a tear out of him and I have yet to see him sing from our balcony, at the top of his lungs, but I’m working on it. He was a consultant, which wouldn’t appeal to you or me, but he left that career to find more meaningful things to do with his life. He joined me here at the newspaper and has helped us grow and become profitable. We were married a year and a half ago and bought a huge dump of a house, which Greg has decided to renovate. He’s doing almost everything himself. At times I wish you could see him. He researches everything he does. He taught himself to do the plumbing and wiring, to build walls and lay floors. He’s facing life with his arms wide open, not worried about status or position but focused on creating beauty in the world. Sometimes he asks me what to do about problems that arise with the house and I wish I could pick up the phone and call you. Remember how much I used to call when I renovated my first home? I know you would love Greg as much as I do. I wish you could have met.
The newspaper is thriving and our readership is growing steadily. Our writers are some of the best in the country. I ask them to write on an intimate level, not to preach at the reader but give them some sort of emotion to take away from what they read. Since we are gaining more and more female readers I think this slightly different approach to newspaper content is working. There is still the odd feminist who calls to complain that we don’t provide enough doctrine on feminist issues, but there are so many more women who call to congratulate us that it doesn’t worry me.
At times I think you are here with me, especially when I sit alone writing. I feel like you already know half of what I’ve written and sometimes, when I have an important decision to make I hear your voice in my head suggesting ideas. They say that we live on in our children and I hope that part of you will live on in my children. I want to thank you for teaching me to live out there in the world beyond my doorstep. It’s a beautiful world that hate and anger can tarnish only briefly.
I’ll write again soon.
I just listened to a beautiful song by Nathan Wiley titledHome. The first line goes “When I was a boy I had everything, I had silver and gold.” The song ends with the same words – like a circle. The song has me thinking of my past. When I think of who I am and where I come from, when I remember my childhood, I want to reach back and grasp something that I seem to have lost along the way. But I’m not sure what to reach for.
As I look out our cottage window at the deep snow, unmarked and fresh, I remember the winters at our farm. The sunny Sunday mornings filled with plans that my twin brother and I made to build snow forts or ice rinks. I remember the excitement we shared over a fresh snowfall, not just because it meant we had a new landscape to explore, but also because it marked a change in our world. For us, every little change brought new discoveries and we approached the changes with a strong desire for adventure. I don’t think I’ve lost that attitude, although it isn’t as carefree as it once was.
I remember lying in the tall grass on long summer days; the rich smell of damp earth; the chorus of 1000 frogs that sang us to sleep on hot summer evenings; and creating stories from the shapes we made of the clouds in the sky. We swam in a neighbour’s pond, explored the nearby swamp and choked on cigarettes made from dried leaves and weeds. We rode horses from the neighbouring church camp, sneaked into their gospel hall and sang The Lion Sleeps Tonight over their public address system, and flour-bombed their prayer wagon. We grew. We fought and argued. We worried over each other – best friends and bitter enemies all in the same day.
We pushed ourselves to be strong and brave – testing our limits. I remember the fear and exhilaration that came from swaying in the upper branches of a tall tree on the crest of a hill, as an August thunderstorm rolled, clashing and bursting over the fields, toward us. It made us want to sing. We sang Born Free at the top of our lungs, our voices carried away by the wind and thunder. We raced down the ice-covered hill in our apple orchard, each balanced on one ski, wanting to fly and hoping not to crash into the trees we zipped past. Some days we disappeared into the forest with our lunches tied to the end of a stick, like Huckleberry Finn, returning at dusk full of secrets. I can’t think of a better childhood. I was very lucky.
I don’t think I’ve lost my curiosity. Even now I look for fish in the still water of the lake and search for signs of change along my path. I will always want to know where things come from and how they came to be here.
I don’t think I’ll ever lose my strong urge to sing – it brings out the carefree child I was. I’ve taken to singing into the answering machines of company presidents. My goal is to sing to every CEO or president in Canada in order to get a meeting with them and build some sort of reputation. In some ways it confronts propriety – but it’s working. I’m meeting interesting and smart people whom I’m learning from and sharing ideas with – and it’s all because of the singing.
I don’t think that I’ve lost my sense of adventure, either. I still get a thrill from being lost or jumping into things without looking. This newspaper is one of the biggest adventures I’ve ever undertaken. Building an independent newspaper, with a unique voice, in this age of media monopolies is challenging, exciting and a little bit crazy – everything that makes for a great adventure. But my sense of adventure is now tempered by wisdom.
Have I lost my innocence? I approach change differently now because I know that it can bring sorrow and hurt. I know about loss and the feeling of emptiness in the pit of your stomach that has a way of growing into you, becoming part of you. I know that happiness can come and go. This knowledge is something I’d never experienced as a child; but I think its price was my innocence.
My childhood home was my Eden. Can I ever go back? Would I give up the knowledge I have to return to it?
I look around at this beautiful cottage, at my husband stoking the fire, at Lake Rosseau, smooth and covered in snow, and at the ice rink we just finished shoveling off. I know that in some ways I am almost back. I’m home, where I belong. The little, devilish girl still lives in me, but life has changed her. I feel more deeply now than I did as a child – like laugh lines that deepen with age.
Perhaps if I live long enough, the knowledge I have might slowly begin to melt away and someday I’ll regain the innocence I’ve lost. If that happens I hope to be like my dear grandmother, who also enjoyed meeting new people. She was brilliantly happy in her dementia because she got to meet a new person (even though it was the same person) every five minutes. Life is, if you live long enough, one big circle.
There is a beautiful song fromThe Lion King titled The Circle of Life. It begins with the lines. “From the day we arrive on the planet, and blinking step into the sun, there’s more to see than can ever be seen, more to do than can ever be done….”
A soft morning rain has left the island damp. The water is dark, murky green, its surface still and impenetrable – a mask reflecting the dull, grey sky. The mist, a shadow left by the rain, holds on wet and clinging. Thick clouds hang low, their imposing weight holds the air and lake in stillness, muffling and distorting sounds. The air carries the smell of damp pine needles and wet rock. The trees whisper a timeless tale carried from branch to branch, almost within reach. Understanding fettered by thought. My eye wanders from the green, feathery ferns to the dark, glistening tree bark. Rusty pine needles cover the forest floor and cushion each step – a carpet of moist smells meander a trail through the trees. Birch logs lie scattered and broken as if thrown and discarded by an angry child. I look at Mother Nature’s yard and want to pick up the rotting logs, to pile the dead wood neatly to one side. I wonder if this human desire for order might harm the forest by taking away its natural layer of waste. I don’t want to disturb the cycle of life. But how do I fit into it? I remember my aunt’s stone farmhouse. I first saw it about 30 years ago as a child, just before her husband passed away. I remember the huge maple trees that provided shade over the well-clipped lawn that surrounded most of the house. Overflowing flowerbeds were scattered around the edges. Behind the house stood the barn, rickety with a few boards missing here and there. Beyond it were cornfields as far as the eye could see. Over the years, as my aunt grew older and less active, nature claimed back her farm. The old barn boards disappeared into the weeds and vines that grew over them. The rubble foundations cracked and stones tumbled down year after year leaving a grassy mound where the old barn once stood. The clipped lawn grew into a field of wildflowers. The bushes and trees that once provided shade around the house went from lush to smothering. Long branches grew thick and heavy, reaching for any sliver of light available. The sun that once filtered through the tree leaves, splashing in puddles that moved across the living room floor, no longer came in the windows. Gradually the house grew dark, buried beneath a cave of vegetation. My aunt stopped using the large living room, confining herself to the back bedroom and kitchen where electric heat provided more warmth. Mice moved in, burrowing in the settee and moths made dust of the books that filled the shelves. Time began to erode the house from within. It was easy to feel the world living and breathing around you in that house, but it was also easy to feel conquered by Mother Nature. After my aunt passed away, the old house was levelled to make room for more cornfields. The beauty that was once there, the home that she and my uncle had shaped, existed only because they cared enough to create it, to build it with their own hands. The ease with which that beauty came undone gnaws at my mind. Can human endeavors have permanence? I know that straightening a crooked picture frame will last until the next time I walk past, that the flowers I planted this spring will be gone in the fall, but I can’t help doing it. Last month Barry Allen wrote about art, about turning possibilities into reality. When I breathe in the smell of damp earth, of sunlight on the warm dock, so many possibilities arise almost within reach, just an arm’s length away; possibilities that could slip away as easily as they appear. Simple forms, wood, grass, leaves I can shape. The flat smooth surface of stones become in my mind a stepping path to the new cottage. Bits of wood spin out a host of possibilities, it’s as if the very life that was once there inspires creativity. The smooth surface of driftwood calls to be polished, the rough bark on a broken tree branch demands peeling. Possibilities abound. But can I create or add beauty to the world that will last? Beauty that will outlive me? That’s the question of many artists. Perhaps after I’ve edited and perfected every article and advertisement in this issue of the paper, after I type and re-type the words on this page, after I finish straightening the picture frames. The afternoon sun has burned off the layer of mist that crept through the forest surrounding the cottage. Slowly the wind, free from its damp morning weight, rustles the leaves, shaking off the wetness. The sounds of summer fill the breeze. Boats in the distance, children laughing and splashing, waves lapping against the dock. So many possibilities sit within reach, ideas given by nature, full and waiting to be taken. But is there enough time? That’s the thing about Mother Nature; she sits patiently waiting, at times it seems like she’s mocking. Her winds blow against the pyramids, her weather crumbles Stonehenge. The trace of a human life disappears. She destroys without compassion, but still we live on. Surviving with the hope that somehow, if even for the moment, we can shape her bounty into forms that comfort us in this cold harsh world.
The lake is calm and still in the cold morning air. The warm muggy days of August are gone and September brings fall to our island early this year. I can’t quite see my breath, but at some point during the night a chill crept into the boathouse. I smell smoke, which means someone has lit a fire at the old cottage. My husband is down below on the dock, just about to have his morning swim. He’s quick to jump in and out again. Over the last week the cold nights have caused the temperature of the lake to drop rapidly. Our kayak slides quietly over the water. We decide to circle a large island with a forest of dense trees on its north shore. The surface of the lake is like glass, a transparent window to the hidden world below us. I snuggle against my husband as he paddles. His strong arms surround me and I can feel his stomach muscles tighten as the kayak moves over the water. We glide and listen to the morning sounds. A train whistle in the distance, the constant hum of traffic far away. A fish jumps near a rock close to shore, startling us back to our current surroundings. The chickadees call, their song echoes through the forest. Suddenly there is a commotion a short distance ahead of us. A huge turkey vulture leaps up from the water’s edge and flies to a tree further off. We pass by a dead beaver, bloated and rocking against the fallen logs on the shore. I think of this lake in the winter, of the cold winds and crushing ice. The shoreline is littered with fallen trees, broken stumps and twisted branches. Huge cedars lean out from the land, their branches reaching for precious sunlight. Lake Rosseau seems harmless in the soft light of dawn, yet the tree stumps and weathered rocks show its hidden strength. A large tree lies fallen, its branches stick out of the water and block our path. We steer around it and move on to the south end of the island where cottages are built up. Most of the cottages are quiet, their occupants still sleeping. We pass a woman reading on her dock and try not to disturb her but she smiles and comments on the beauty of our kayak. Its polished wood surface and elegant frame took my husband months build. As we paddle, a crow flies so low that we hear its wings beat. We continue our journey around the island. A monstrous orange cottage looms over us. It ruins the grandness of the large rock it sits on. I wonder about the kind of person who would build something so ugly. My guess is a middle-aged man, probably the kind who fills a quiet restaurant with loud boasting. My guess is that he came from a farm and made a fortune in the stock market. But he desperately wants attention. We reach the boathouse of the monstrosity and a man stands on the balcony pissing into the lake. My husband whispers that the man will be embarrassed when he sees us. I can’t help thinking that he’s pissing into the drinking water of every cottage on the lake. It is now almost lunch time. The wind has picked up and the sun makes the lake shimmer with activity. It reminds me of September 14, 1999 the day my father died. I remember the cold early morning when I drove to the hospital to sit at his bedside. I could see Lake Ontario from his hospital room. I remember the horizon lighting up with dawn and the black arches of seagulls in the clear sky. I can still feel the worry, the weight of it and knowing that so much would be lost. I had a thousand questions I still needed to ask him. I remember the peace that filled the room as the sunrose and the moment I looked up at the lake and knew he was gone even before he stopped breathing. I remember thinking he was out there in the sunlight that glistened on the water. I’d felt left behind. I thought about how beautiful the day was, the blue sky and sunshine twinkling on the lake. My father taught me to reach out into the world and find comfort in its beauty. I will always remember. I remember another sunny September day. The morning was beautiful and busy with people scurrying to work. I remember the sight of the planes crashing into the twin towers. I remember the weight that seemed to sit like a heavy invisible burden on the shoulders of everyone I looked at; and the fear, so obvious in the children. I remember the sorrow, the anger and the huge loss and I feel the sorrow again. Tears glide smoothly, like our kayak, without making a sound. I search for meaning, as if there is a secret to life that is out there, at the horizon. Sorrow has a way of magnifying happiness. Do I feel more now than I once did. Happiness doesn’t come from being so busy you forget to listen to the sound of the earth breathing. I haven’t found it in the rush of our current culture. Although a movie or melody can cause an immediate smile, it doesn’t last or travel deep inside me. I’ve searched for happiness in people, in games and in music. They all have an impact on me, but what I’ve discovered is that happiness is in me. Sometimes it’s hidden,sometimes it gets buried in sad circumstances, but at other times it’s out front leading the way.
Why publish a “Women’s” newspaper? I get asked this question frequently. ^The Women’s Post~ was not created to exclude men, it wasn’t created as a political soapbox for militant feminists, and it wasn’t created to be a fluffy fashion tabloid. Our most basic ambition is to contribute to the engines of change that drive social behaviour. Recent studies have shown that on average women tend to read more than men do, that women have more spending money and control more of the large purchase decisions than ever before. ^The Women’s Post~ intends to support and encourage creativity and inclusive attitudes – the fundamentals that got women where we are today. By encouraging intelligent and interesting columnists to debate ideas and by discussing the changes occurring in the world, we intend to create an atmosphere that embraces and unites the very differences that have, for too long, divided people. Our pages promote an atmosphere that welcomes debate. I’ve always believed that social change begins with one person behaving differently. This newspaper began as a celebration of such people. We hope to continue that. The other day a woman said to me “I can’t stand Pakastanis.” She said it in anger, without thinking. She didn’t know how strongly opposed I am to racism. But the worst thing about it is that she didn’t think her words were fundamentally wrong. In her limited world, racism, when expressed in a low voice, is acceptable. Does that mean she has her own moral code that is right for her alone? Do we each have our own moral code that governs – one for cannibals, another for fascists – or should morality have a strongerconnection to truth and knowledge? I tend to believe that our morals govern us as individuals and that a larger, social morality governs society, and if our own personal moral codes aren’t in line with the governing social morality, then we’re standing on very unstable ground. Ideas that enhance knowledge, adding to our civil community, are moral and anything that detracts from the community isn’t. But is this just my set of beliefs or is there a greater judge? Does circumstance impose a set of rules on us? In this issue we have a guest columnist, C.G.Prado, discussing what morality means in our current world. One of my personal mandates is never to exclude others because of sex, race or status. I’ve always believed it important to fight against exclusion. I find it impossible to simply ignore racist or sexist people and I find it difficult to distinguish between them; both exclude because of differences and both are defended by clinging social traditions. Over the past hundred years our society has changed dramatically. People no longer have to sit at the back of the streetcar because of their skin colour; women have the right to vote and work outside of their home; and it has finally become politically incorrect to exclude people because of their colour or sex. But women are still predominantly excluded on the golf course and in many boardrooms; people are still judged because of their skin colour; and differences are still being used by the weak and narrow-minded. Exclusivity breeds like a virus. It creates a climate in which differences are shunned. Exclusion is wrong because it limits us from personal growth and social development – but this, unfortunately, is my personal belief, or could it be part of a larger, social morality? “Our success is based on inclusivity,” writes George Cohon, CEO of McDonalds Canada, in his book ^To Russia with Fries~. Is his knowledge something many choose to ignore? There will always be narrow-minded people, there will always be those that simply go along with the status quo, and I hope there will always be people who stand up and defend right from wrong. “Exclusion will get us all killed, inclusion is what will allow us to survive and flourish,” says Gale Zoe Garnett (author of ^Transient Dancing~) in an interview with this paper (to be carried in our next issue). More and more people are beginning to realize the need for an inclusive philosophy. I’ve always admired those who speak out against the norm, especially those who become social outcasts by doing so. I admire the individual and believe that individuals are the impetus of change. The future looks promising, the young adults of today give me hope. They are much more inclusive than their parents and I think that in itself will make them much more knowledgeable. The older I get, the less I want to interact with sexist or racist people. But that leaves me with the fact that I’m excluding them from my life and my own philosophy won’t allow me to do that. So I share my wine with all; at times I sit uncomfortably in a crowd of people who insist on clinging to their traditions, at other times I mix with thoughtful people struggling to change the world. What’s important is that I learn things from both and that I’m open to listening and debate.
This month I asked our columnists to write a few lines about the most romantic thing they have done in the last few years. Many of them had trouble with this subject.
One of our editorial mandates is to carry intimate, first-person narrative pieces. I didn’t understand how hard the romantic challenge was until I began to write mine.
A few weeks ago a relative asked me why my journals no longer focus on the love I have for my husband, the way they did when we were first married. I hadn’t noticed the change, but after reading some back issues I see that he is indeed right.
I suppose it is because we’re still in the process of learning what marriage is all about. I find that writing about the personal, intimate details of my life – which wasn’t a problem before marriage – is much harder now that there is someone else sharing in my aspirations and mistakes. Although I was raised in a family that always spoke openly about our problems – airing our dirty laundry without restraint – my life is now joined to a man who doesn’t care to have his private life hung out on the line. He is strong and decisive, and also shy and reserved. The voice inside me, my writing voice, is learning to speak in ways that won’t embarrass him, but it’s a long process and at times I need a little more editing than I once did.
The love I have for Greg is the most important thing in my life. The intimate issues that I might have written about revolve around the challenges we face in making our love important every day. Our issues are probably similar to those that most couples go through in their first year of marriage. With deadlines, meetings and social events it’s easy to put romance and passion on the back burner. But passion can boil over and we’ve found that our love needs to be tended with careful hands.
The romantic scenarios of prime-time television don’t even come close to portraying the harmony between passion and friendship that steers us through our days. When I fumble to understand what a romantic action is I can’t help thinking of those two things: passion and friendship.
What I view as romantic are gestures that show deep understanding for the other person’s desires. So although I may want bum rubs and intimate conversation, I know that my husband doesn’t desire the same sort of thing. My ways of being romantic with him are based on what I believe he desires: cooking his favourite dinner and suggesting a game of foosball, or dinner at the pub down the street where we watch the hockey game. I find that desiring to do something that he enjoys, and developing a passion for it in myself, is one of the most romantic things that I can do for him.
As we grow closer, I am beginning to understand what will embarrass my husband and what won’t. Like the futile months of fertility clinics and doctor’s offices we’ve faced together over the past year. After months of hormone injections, mood swings and ultrasounds, we finally decided to take a break from it all. The instant flashes of anger that came with the hormones are now gone. And we’re both feeling as if we managed to survive a monster that invaded our home. I smashed more of my husband’s beer glasses than I care to admit, and I’ve never bought as many new ones as I did after the hormone therapy ended.
We both feel as if we are in a state of calm, the calm after a huge storm has blown over. We looked around to see if there was any damage but found that together we are stronger than ever before.
We’ve decided to try a new Chinese herbal therapy program that involves acupuncture. Lying side by side in the doctor’s office the other day with needles poked into our stomachs was, for me, romantic. I doubt others would agree, but the passion and desire in the act of trying to create something together is extremely intimate. And I never would have imagined how sexy this mission of trying to make a baby is.
I’m not sure if I should write about the tender moments that come after a huge fight, when we are both a little bruised but want desperately to get inside the other, to make our connection as strong and deep as it was before. Should I write about the emptiness I feel each month when I learn I’m not pregnant and I know that a child is one of the things that Greg wants most? Or should I write about the way he can make me feel so completely loved that I don’t want to breathe for fear the moment will end? There are so many things I might write about and so many that I’m slowly learning are just for us.
Last night I woke with his body curved up tight against mine. I listened to his steady breathing and lay still, soaking up the feeling. The warmth of his body, the strength of his arm as it curved around me. My version of heaven would involve hours upon hours of that moment. That feeling of love, of being loved and loving intensely is what romance is all about.
This morning I lay in bed in that not quite awake state, with my eyes shut but listening to the birds chattering outside. The light changed ever so slightly in the room, as if someone had walked past the window and I looked up to see my grandmother sitting in the armchair in the corner of my bedroom. The morning sun shone on the floor at her feet and tiny particles of dust swirled in its path. For a minute I thought of pulling the covers over my head. But my curiosity took over.
She looked just as she had when she died 30 years ago. Her grey hair pulled back in a tight bun, her glasses sitting on the bridge of her nose, with a book resting in her hands on her lap. “Good morning Sarah, I’ve come to see how you are doing. It looks like you’ve finally married. Any children?” I felt a little embarrassed dressed in only a t-shirt with Greg fast asleep beside me. Sitting up, I pulled the covers close to my chin. “No, I’m not married and I don’t yet have children.” “Well who’s this man next to you? And why hasn’t he asked you to marry him?” “This is Greg, my partner, and we are living together first before we jump into marriage.” My grandmother looked him over with a disapproving gaze. “Well I suppose the times must change but is it really a good thing? If the man’s getting everything he wants without marrying you what motivates him to make the commitment?” “Nana, I think living together is a good thing, it gives two people a chance to learn about each other. I like knowing that a man is with me because he loves me, not because he’s married to me.
My grandmother shook her head in disagreement. “But what stops people from leaving as soon as the going gets tough? How do they grow together as a couple if they have the option of simply packing up and moving on to the next person? I should worry that nobody ever makes a serious commitment to each other, that they never learn what it takes for strong love to flourish. If you don’t marry how will you ever experience what it is like to give a part of yourself to the bigger entity of the marriage. How can you grow together as one?”
I’d forgotten how forthright she was. “Nana, it isn’t that people don’t marry anymore, they do. But that doesn’t stop them from living individual lives. Marriage doesn’t force them to give themselves to the union. Of course, that may be why the divorce rate is so high.” My grandmother nodded in agreement. “Yes, no doubt that’s why. Sarah, you have to work at everything, even love, to reap the rewards. It’s the working, the journey, that creates the reward. If you don’t enter into it you’ll never have the love you deserve. You have to give up a part of yourself for the union, but it fills in quickly with so many other things.”
My grandmother had a way of jumping to the root of a problem. “Yes Nana, it sounds all very good but in today’s world people value individuality. They don’t want to give up even a small part of themselves. I’ve come close to marriage a couple of times, but I never quite made it to the commitment stage. I’ve always lived my life as an individual, not so much because I wanted to, but because no one ever wanted or needed anything more from me.”
My grandmother’s brow became furrowed. Her expression more serious. She opened the cover of the book in her hands, but closed it again. I could tell she was thinking over her words. “Sarah, I loved your grandfather very much. But when we first got married we didn’t allow room for the other. Life was very bumpy. We wanted to spend our days living quite differently. I loved having people over for tea or dinner. I wanted to travel and visit friends. I had quite a few friends all over the province. But your grandfather didn’t have as many. He was happiest reading or working in his study. The first year was terribly hard. I wanted to go my way and he wanted to go his. We were both strong individuals pulling and pushing at each other, wanting to hang on to our own ways of living. “Over time we learned to let go of our habits, to give up part of ourselves for the other, and we created a new way of being, of living harmoniously together. We worked at it. I gave up visiting my friends all the time and instead took up reading.”
The shock on my face made my grandmother smile. “You only knew me after I became an avid reader. It was your grandfather who got me into it — a gift he instilled in me. He too gave up part of himself. He stopped working so much in the evenings and the two of us entertained guests. He made some great friendships that he might not have otherwise. We both modified our ways of being. But we both shared similar beliefs. Your grandfather had high standards for himself. He never caused another person to suffer, he never cheated or lied, and he always behaved as a gentleman. I respected him and wanted to be like him.
Sarah, your grandfather and I shared the same ideals. We both believed in love, we both valued it, and I think that allowed us to give ourselves completely to the marriage.” I remembered how my grandparents were before my grandfather died. They were inseparable, the two of them walking together, holding hands after fifty years of marriage. “I believe in love and I value it,” I said, “ but in today’s world my values seem like relics from the past. Independence is the way to be; people place their careers before their marriage, they spend more time at work than they do with their partners.
The idea that two people can grow together seems almost impossible. We’re faced with so many options and individual choices. Giving up our individuality for the union created by a marriage isn’t done much anymore. But I’m hanging on to my values and I hope that when the time comes I’ll be able to do it.” My grandmother nodded and smiled. She closed the book on her lap and vanished. All that was left were the tiny particles of swirling dust dancing in the morning sunlight.
It is Saturday evening just before dusk. My study windows are open and I can hear children playing in the yard two doors down. A lone kid on a skateboard flips and circles in the street below. The street lights haven’t come on so he’ll be there for a little while yet. The sounds of spring are everywhere. Birds sing from their nests and a dog barks as someone walks by his porch.
Two weeks ago Greg proposed to me. I said yes before he could finish. Since then I’ve spent hours searching the Web to get an idea of just how wedding vows are composed. We aren’t religious so the old traditional vows, with their commitment to God, won’t work. And the writer in me can’t rationalise using someone else’s words for such an intimate event. The older religious vows view the man and woman as incomplete human beings. The marriage serves to bring two incomplete halves together into one complete entity. The more current wedding vows tend to view each person as an independent individual joining in marriage to fulfill their personal needs and desires. This has me perplexed. Although I’m not religious, I do tend to see marriage as a way of becoming complete.
Ever since my twin brother left my side and began to think rationally and independently (at the age of five, when he finally realized that giving me his ice cream left him empty-handed), I’ve wanted to return to that infant state of co-dependence. Not for the ice cream, but for the vision. Sharing a life with my twin brother enabled me to explore and discover the world through a masculine set of eyes as well as my own. I learned that we saw and approached things very differently, but when both our masculine and feminine perceptions were combined, colours became richer, experiences more interesting, and opportunities abounded. Although I’ve grown to be an individual, part of me remembers that I’ve only got half of what it takes to understand and embrace life.
The trouble is that I can’t quite grasp the masculine point of view that Greg wants captured in our vows. He is a strong, independent individual. Raised to be a perfectionist, he faces the world head on. When I am romantic, he is rational. When I rush about doing three things all at once, he focuses on one. I tend to express all my emotions and he reveals just a few. He takes up new ideas quickly, I tend to question them and prefer those already tried and tested. When it comes to our vows I’m at a loss. Although Greg admits that he comes to the marriage incomplete, he sees it as a way for two people to fulfill their individual needs. My dilemma is that I’m a complete (although incomplete) romantic. I’ve always believed that marriage is a constant evolution towards the unity of both people into one elegant human being.
The other day Greg said that there is a possibility that my romantic view of marriage could work. If this weren’t the case he wouldn’t be marrying me. A few simple words but I adore him even more for them.
My Web search turned up the ultimate how-to-write-your-wedding-vows-in-five-easy-steps guide. It was a fill-in-the-blanks type of project. The first step is to write down your favourite line from a book, a song and a musical. Next write down your favourite kind of flower and a favourite line from a poem. Then write down a saying or quote that is meaningful in your relationship. Follow this with the thing you enjoy doing the most with him. Last, write down the trait or traits that you admire most in him. Once this is done, you must combine all your answers into a vow that begins with dearest and ends with their full name and I love you.
Below is what I came up with. My answers are in quotes. Dearest Greg, “It is life more than death that has no limits” (Gabriel Garcia Marquez, “Love in the Time of Cholera”) and even though “I never saw blue like that before” (Shawn Colvin, “Never Saw Blue Like That”) I do hope that you will “let the dream begin, let your darker side give in, to the power of the music of the night” (Andrew Lloyd Weber, “Phantom of The Opera”). I hope that we will pick a “daffodil,” nay “a host of golden daffodils/Beside the lake, beneath the trees/Fluttering and dancing in the breeze” (William Wordsworth, “Daffodils”). And as we take this journey together I want to say, “have ya ever seen blue like that!” I hope that we spend the rest of our lives “making love,” because I admire both your persistence and vitality.”
“Gregory Harold Thomson, I love you.” The above vow is ridiculous and I have a feeling it’s because I’m lacking input from the other half of this equation. The passion and emotion necessary for the words to have strength are all in the context; they can’t be borrowed. For this project I’ll have to share the weight of my pen with Greg.
November 26, 2008
The sun is shining and once again, from my table in the boathouse, I can watch it dance and sparkle on the lake. The water is dark blue, almost black and there is a slight breeze whispering in the pines. I’m reaching for thoughts to write about today but they are eluding me like a mosquito hovering around my pillow in a dark bedroom. We caught a raccoon at some point in the night. It took three attempts. Each time he’d enter the trap and step daintily over the door-release mechanism, picking up the cracker and peanut butter bait, then slowly backing out. We rigged the trap with a piece of cardboard to camouflage the door-release mechanism and this morning found our bandit curled up in a ball, angry and shivering.
The island we are on is small and the raccoons swim over, but can never find enough food, so they attempt to break into the cottage. During the summer we trap them and, like bandits ourselves, sneak over in our boat to Port Sandfield, which is on the mainland at the juncture of Lake Joseph and Lake Rosseau, and drop them off while entertaining thoughts of them purchasing an ice-cream cone. The trap is supposed to be harmless, but this time the little raccoon tried so hard to get out that he scraped the fur off his paws and head. We drove him over to the mainland this morning and wondered if he’d be back in time for lunch.
I’ve just spent the last half hour sweeping the path from the boathouse to the cottage and hoping for lofty thoughts. All that came to me was frustration with the person who built the path out of asphalt, which is buckling and breaking apart at the seams. Why wouldn’t the builder have made the path with slate tiles laid in fine gravel? Slate’s been used for centuries because it stands up to the constant rise and fall of the land brought about by frost and, if well maintained, it would never need replacing. But asphalt is cheaper and it breaks down faster.
Our cultural climate breeds expediency. I reached the cottage end of the path and decided to sweep the deck, hoping to replace my frustrated thoughts about cheap workmanship with more intellectual conceptions. But alas, the deck that was stained the summer before last is peeling everywhere. As I sweep up large patches of peeling stain, the wood below is uncovered. The peeling is most noticeable under the eaves. The painters obviously used a latex (water-based) stain. It’s much cheaper than an oil but doesn’t stand up to rain so well. Why would workmen do something so cheaply? We have ferns growing wild all over the island. They grow along the forest floor.
Today Greg and I are planning on transplanting some to the new flower bed beside the boathouse. We found some beautiful large ferns yesterday while we were spraying the nests of the tent caterpillars. They destroy the young trees but we destroy them. Are we somehow mucking up the circle of life? The forest was littered with the tall birch trees that the winter winds knocked over. We collected some for firewood, but most are decaying; giving back to the earth that nourished them. More and more I’m amazed at the perfect balance in nature. Mother nature is a craftswoman with high standards.
The loons were convening last night. The sky was filled with stars, but without a moon the lake was a black pool. Their low, mournful calls were different, altered somehow into high, excited and repetitive announcements, cutting off each song but adding to it at the same time. I’ve never seen more than three loons together, but last night it sounded like five or six distinct voices, maybe more. I stood, a silent observer listening to an ancient ritual performed out in the shadows on the lake.
We alter this earth with every path swept, every tree felled and every habitat disturbed. But each of us has a choice to make. We can add to the craftsmanship of mother nature, we can imitate her example by building, creating or producing things that last and grow and change. We can hold her at bay while allowing her to grow beside us. Or we can insist on fulfilling our immediate needs, and in so doing destroy the natural world around us. In the end, life has a way of balancing everything out. Things built cheaply never last. People living for personal gain, always seem to end up with the short end of the stick. Change is an absolute and over time morality is our only guide. Mother Nature always rules and I’m beginning to wonder if what we humans understand as ethics are her laws.