This Post is About Time

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I’ll never forget the way the tide came in on the Maitai River. Small fanned out rivulets fighting salty wet. Then one rushing wave pushing back strong. Too strong for the river. It whelped in retreat, obliterated by the ocean’s force. I had no idea the tide could do that — moon tugging at water in regular cycles. Hold an entire river hostage.

This post is about time.

I was walking along the shore today at low-tide. First, on the promenade. Monotonous cement. Lanes to keep me separate from the bikes. I ran out of cement and veered right, south toward the water. The endless stones broke and I edged to the sand: rippled. Uneven. Random.

I wanted to get further though, closer to the water. Where the seagulls stewed in gentle waves to their knees. Do birds have knees?

All around me minuscule springs flowed out of the slope toward the ocean. That’s what we do. That part of us inside that is compelled, by a gravity-like force, to lose ourselves and merge into consciousness. A drop becomes again the sea. Rippled sand became patches of water, flowing. It wove around green, algeaed rocks stubbornly jutting above the water line. Suddenly more water than sand.

The best way forward became obvious. Head down, momentum kept: stride along the rocks. No time to think, just do. Action outweighing the logic of scanning ahead, finding out the best route, the best way to keep above the three inches of water.

Metaphor hitting me like a dart. Have faith the next step will appear, don’t worry about three steps ahead, just keep moving forward.

***

At an appointment in Brighton to get a National Insurance number. The bland civil servant filled out a form with my particulars. “Ever gone by any other names?”

Oh. This question. “Yes.” I feel resentment rise that the state be so involved in the details of my life. Certain aspects of the past revived in official ways, never allowed to settle.

I’m reminded of the courthouse one August. Mark already engaged again, his eyes moist as I walk up, packet of papers in my hand to make official what we’ve known for years. We hadn’t even seen each other for over 18 months. Life and circumstance kept us from filing for divorce right away. We wanted to do it jointly instead of involving lawyers more than necessary. No “serving” one another. Only, we needed to be in the same province, which rarely happened then. Such annoyance at the process. The high-heeled clerks painstakingly reviewing the forms. Why couldn’t I will it away? Simply decide to be divorced and then it be so. What is this monolithic entity that can decree the category I fall into, tell me what box to check on forms. I resented it.

I still do.

“My name used to be Fast. F-A-S-T,” I spell out to the British man.

“The name you were born with?”

“No. My married name. I’m divorced.”

He continues to fill out the form, turns the page, smooths the binding to lay the packet flat.

“What was your husband’s name?”

What? Why does that matter? I enunciate the four syllables.

“Date of marriage?”

Crikey! When was that?

“And date of divorce?”

Now that’s a date I remember clearly. The last day of the Mayan calendar.

We were told it would take up to six weeks. October rolls by and nothing. November. Finally, Mark calls the courthouse. They’ve lost the paperwork. It was processed in Ottawa, but on the way back to Alberta it got misfiled. They found it, thank goodness, and push it back on track. We were told that once we each get the official letter the divorce is final exactly one month later — just in case anyone changes their mind. I wait. The letter arrived in late November.

Return address: The Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta.

I rip open the envelope, greedy for closure. To let this part of my life rest.

It’s all there, exactly what I wanted to see. The official certificate of divorce. Signed and dated for November 21, 2012.

I’m startled by the timing of it all. A mislaid form offering me a new beginning at the end of an ancient measure of time. Exactly one month later, December 21, is the last day of the Mayan calendar.

Yet here I am, nearly six years later (and it feels like so many more), still drudging up the past with all these forms. I can’t help but think how my youthful blip wouldn’t have been detected if I hadn’t changed my name. How Mark remains free from this drudging.

We finish the process. The officer hands me back my passport and I leave the grey building, full of its empty greetings from wandering security guards.

***

Walking home from the beach I realize the irony of my married name. Fast. My last name used to be Fast. I’m obsessed with the illusion of time. It follows me everywhere.

I’m crossing the bridge over the train tracks. I see the overgrown lilac bushes. Their wild glory wafting delicious scent my direction. My favourite. 

Why does time so often arise as a theme in my life?

I came to England with this visa now because I was running out of time. I was aging out of eligibility. With a fresh new passport I’d been impatiently waiting for I applied a week shy of my 31st birthday. And then flew to Hawaii. Living in England was a thing I was planning on doing soon. But was it ever something I actually wanted?

Sometimes I feel like the ocean tides, pulled compulsively by the moon. Subject to her whims as I flow around this globe. Marking time. Can’t my life be like incoming tide on the Maitai River? One decisive wave. Obliterating all else. It’s clear-cut and focused. Nothing in the way of its goal.

I’m trying to figure out what I want.

I’ve still got time.

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The Plight of the Polite Woman

The Tattooed Buddha was gracious enough to publish this piece of mine after I’d submitted it and neglected to make suggested edits for nearly half a year. It’s another example of finishing unfinished things.

The Plight of the Polite Woman

My work day was over. Dinner time.

I clomp over the boardwalk toward the dining hall and, drop my bag in the coatroom, and slide toward the dining room. Sole, Roasted Potatoes, Local Corn, Green Beans and Plum Cake says the menu board. White fish—yech. That always creeps me out. I’m slightly irritated for no reason at all today—restless. I turn the corner to the buffet lines and see a crowd by the plates. I’ll get a glass of water first.

Click here to read the rest…

On Blinds and Other Familiar Things

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Yes, this is an actual picture of my new cupboard. Yes, those are travel mugs.

I was sitting in my aunt’s living room on my latest Whirlwind Tour of Western Canada. Comfortable couches, soft lighting, great art and fabulous company. It was the day before I would catch my flight for Another Adventure and I was absorbing the experience of familiarity.

Reclined in the chair, I rolled my tea cup lazily between my hands. Judy sprawled to my left on the love seat, feet dangling over the arm, precariously close to my tickling fingers. Peggy on the right, nestled in a blanket over her lap. A coziness existed in the air. The type that is present when women who share the same blood are sitting in a room together speaking about their inner worlds, about things that are important.

Late afternoon sun was shining on the houses across the street and I looked at the edges of the windows. Judy has these elegant vertical blinds. They’re a soft, neutral colour made of sturdy fabric. Delicate chains loop the panels together along each side on the top and bottom, where they gracefully nearly touch the floor.

Judy has lived in this house my entire life. (Needless to say, we live a very different type of existence and often talk about the steadiness of her external life compared to my own. She’ll pick me up from the airport as I launch from or return to YYC, with uncountable Adventures in between.)

Now let me tell you a little about Judy. Judy is my mother Peggy’s younger sister by ten years. Given the age difference, and how famously we get along, as I tottered close to adulthood, Judy came to feel like a sister to me as well as an aunt. We’ve stayed that way for over half my life now. She’s endlessly creative and hilariously fun. She can conduct whole conversations using only words that start with a single letter of the alphabet. In fact, she can do that with each letter of the alphabet. Sequentially. Well, with plenty of breaks for fits of laughter.

Judy’s creativity has revamped her living room design a number of times in my life. But you know what? Those vertical blinds have stayed the entire time. There’s something there about the timelessness of elegance, a characteristic trait that both her and the blinds have in common.

Mulling this over a couple of things came to mind.

One: that I’m terrified of commitment. No surprises here, folks. When I owned a house (which I only agreed to because it was promised that we’d be moving West in five years) I changed things all. The. Time. I moved furniture and painted walls and never had any sense of permanence in design choices. Why would I? I’d be moving within a few years, anyway. It’s what helped me and my aversion to commitment make it through. There was no other way that I could have accepted such stagnancy unless I changed the parts of the house that I could.

Two: that Judy made a pretty great design choice to last through the changing interior design fashions of over three decades.

In conclusion: my utter incomprehension over something like having the same blinds for decades is not shared by the rest of the world. There are humans who create their lives to include this kind of permanence. I simply can’t understand it. I’m blind to the rationale. (Couldn’t help it!)

Sharing these thoughts I was struck, yet again, by how similar and yet how different I can simultaneously feel compared to my family.

That evening, before snacks and a romantic comedy and the three of us cuddling under blankets on the couch downstairs (I’m sensing a theme), I’d finalized the packing of my luggage. If there was anything I didn’t want to take, now was the time to bag it up and send it back to BC with Peggy. She’d take it and store it in her basement along with all my other things a 31 year-old doesn’t need when she spends her time frittering around the globe.

In that bag was my travel mug. Travel mugs are pretty easy to come by. People tend to collect them in their cupboards. (People who live in one spot, anyway.) They get handed out at events, branded with logos for free advertising. They’re a common sight in our consumer world.

Yet as I passed that bag over to Peggy, something in me was hesitating. Judy could see my indecision. “I’ve taken that travel mug all over the world with me,” I explained. “From Las Vegas to New Zealand and Hawaii, it’s been a constant in a life otherwise filled with change. But I bet when I get to England and find a place to live, I’ll open the cupboard and my flatmate will have a shelf full of travel mugs.”

“Take it,” said Judy. “It’ll be your blinds.”

I looked her in the eyes. Eyes of warmth and quiet wisdom. Eyes that know, despite our vastly different ways of being in this world, the human need for comfort. I smiled.

I took the mug out of the bag and returned it to my luggage.

Full disclosure: I’ve written about window treatments before.