MAKING PAPER AIRPLANES

On September 10th, 2013, I pressed Publish, and my very first blog post—which was also my first post for the Pointe-Claire Library’s Online Book Clubentered the public domain. It would be followed within hours by its equivalent in French, for the library’s Club de lecture en ligne.

There wasn’t much to it, but it felt like I’d just pushed off from the shore of a vast ocean and was heading out into open waters that I knew nothing about. Cyber waters, to make things worse.

When I was asked to take up the challenge by Mary Jane, the manager of Reference and Adult Programming, it felt like a fluke.  I also sensed a small opening up of my future, and knew that I would say yes. I was electrified.

It didn’t matter that I’d never done anything like it before, and that I was without credentials. Mary Jane’s offer was kick-starting my writing life into a public space that I passionately wanted to enter, despite a raging case of imposter syndrome and fluttering panic that whispered what-if… what-if… what-if… (you can’t do this).

Underneath my fears, there was an obstinate certainty that I would do this.

I have, and I’m so happy that I did.

What’s this happiness all about?

More than anything, I think that it’s about the miracle of living beyond your youth. About being on this earth long enough for the constantly updating versions of yourself to have as many chances as possible to flourish.

And it’s about the writing impulse.

I am a writer.

Such a simple and straightforward statement. And about as discomfiting as I am an artist.

 Statements that induce inner (and sometimes public) eye rolling. That come off as both posturing conceit and insecurity. Which they are at times. But often enough, they’re simply personal affirmations of something hidden away inside ourselves that we need to share. A part of us that we want seen and even recognized.

 Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Walt Whitman

 

I’m a woman, a wife, a mother and grand-maman; a friend (a good one, I hope), a teacher, a linguist, a lover of literature and an optimist. I’m also a writer.

It’s important that you know this about me because it took so long for me to acknowledge this part of myself. And the sad thing about it is that I know now that I was born a writer, and think that’s most often the case.

Looking back at my childhood and adolescence, I can, of course, come up with standard examples of the different ways my desire to write expressed itself: writing stories that teachers really liked; writing angsty poems alone in my room—that sort of thing.

But those mean nothing. The writer in me came alive and started to draw big deep breaths once I’d left home. She began to show up every time there was a greeting card to fill out or a letter to write and I sat, not counting the time ticking away, crafting a wish or a message that came as close as I could get to how I felt, or one that would effect a change in the reader. Words that would linger.

 She more and more frequently emerged to express my need to advocate for someone or some cause, so I sat down and worked through letters to the Editor at the Gazette or La Presse and emails to the CBC and elsewhere.

Often, she was my only means of self-expression.

She helped me to say goodbye to my stillborn son in a few impossibly sad letters, written days after losing him, that I have never been able to re-read.

She has helped me to step back from pain and confusion and anxiety that threaten to overwhelm me, providing me the remove necessary to encode and eventually understand a little better why I feel the way I do.

She seems to always be with me on my osteopath’s table, where far too often, while working to open up all of the places where my body stores its physical and psychic wounds, Teresa will suddenly say: “Come back to me! You’re in your head!” and I’m startled because she’s right, and I’ve been drifting back into the place of words and of the running narrative voice in my head.

Teresa isn’t always a help though, because she makes me talk all the time (she says she likes the way I say things). But I forgive her, because she gets me.

 There are other reasons why the writer in me has grown stronger and louder. I’ve noticed and inverse correlation between the weakening of my speaking voice and the emergence of the writer.

I have a soft, high soprano speaking voice, and sang in a choir till I had the twins. But some time in my thirties, more than a handful of notes disappeared from my vocal range. And I can’t scream anymore. That’s not a big deal because I rarely feel like screaming but I mean: I couldn’t scream to save my life—or anyone else’s.

The weakening of my voice is likely an occupational hazard (vocal strain comes with the teacher’s job description) and that would satisfy me if it weren’t for the fact that I also  understand that silence is an expression of resignation. I’ve learned and come to accept that there are relationships  and problem situations in my life upon which nothing I do will have an effect and so, I no longer confront them head on. In these cases, my pen and keyboard help me to find the solace of self-expression.

All of this was well in place when Mary Jane made her wondrous offer to me three years ago. I still don’t think that she knows what blogging means to me.

  

Since 2013, I’ve written hundreds of blogs in English and in French for the Library, and something inside me has opened up and found its legs and just wants to keep going. I love it so much that I found that these were not enough, and that I wanted a freer, more personal blog: this blog.

Just this week, a Facebook friend posted the link to an arresting and beautifully written essay by Roger Angell. It’s a very personal, wry, humble and soulful meditation on love, loss and impending death. Somewhere in the midst of his masterful piece, Angell wrote:

I’ve also become a blogger, and enjoy the ease and freedom of the form: it’s a bit like making a paper airplane and then watching it take wing below your window. ” –Roger Angell, from his essay “This Old Man”

This rather peripheral little phrase wasn’t lost on me. It floated off the page and I caught it.

Blogging is an act of faith. Every time I sit down to write a post, I imagine you—someone—out there. I hope only for that one person, ready to catch my words.

 

REHEARSAL

I’m past the midway point of my life (at least I hope the fraction isn’t much bigger than that), and it still happens to me.

I’ll arrive home, get out of my car, head to the door, pull out my keys and, just as I’m sliding the right one into the lock, I’ll feel like I’m nine years old again, and that I’m playing house. I’ll remember how that felt, and how many times I repeated those gestures in play with my mother’s old purses and bits of junk that I collected: old lipstick tubes, random keys that had lost their use and discarded change purses, that created a simulacrum of the trove my mother had stashed in her own hand bag (minus the kleenex!).

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I’ll recall how the adult world seemed like a giant set piece. And in spite of the fact that I’ve been an adult woman for decades, there’s still a part of me that feels that it’s unreal and extraordinary that this is really my life, and not make-believe.

It can happen when I’m driving and I think: Wow! You’re really doing this!, or when I’m cooking and feel, briefly, like I’m aping TV cooks; like I’m playing.

It happened, of course, when I travelled to France and to London, England:  brief moments of stepping outside of myself and observing where I was and how close to fictional it all felt.

The term imposter syndrome comes to mind, but that isn’t right, because I don’t feel any sense of embarrassment or inadequacy. What I feel is closer to genuine delight and astonishment.

Showtime! With my grandson Graeme.
Showtime! With my grandson Graeme.

How do I do this? How do I simultaneously straddle the past and the present without feeling unnerved? What is this all about? It isn’t déjà vu. That’s more confusing. Déjà vu comes with a kind of a psychic whoosh, and a sense that the flow of time has been disturbed in a way that’s slightly jarring and puzzling, like a music track that skips.

I suspect—I hope—that I’m not alone in experiencing these moments.

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Princess Penelope. Who else?

I like when they happen. They usually make me smile (at least inwardly). I realize that I’m still that same girl—or at least, that she is still in me. Which feels impossible, because most of the time, I’m rather under the impression that I’m no longer even the person I was at 30, let alone 20 or 10…

This is some kind of paradox, I guess. That I can know that I am changing all the time and that I can never retrieve or return to what was and who I was even a few months ago, while at the same time knowing that I am still that child I remember.

 

Quantum theorists might have all kinds of ideas about this «phenomenon». Philosophers, metaphysicians or psychologists might approach it from the perspective of the nature of the self, or of consciousness or perhaps even of the soul.

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I was struck by the notion of play, as in play-acting.

Watching my son Christian go through the process of preparing for a production of Macbeth at a small downtown theatre, where he is presently performing, has got me thinking.

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Scenes from Macbeth, a Raise the Stakes Theatre production. Here: King Duncan and Lady Macbeth
Malcolm and Duncan, from Macbeth.
Malcolm (Christian) and Duncan, from Macbeth.
Macbeth and Macduff
Macbeth and Macduff

In spite of being a passionate reader and writer, as well as a devoted cinephile and lover of music and the visual arts, I’m steadily coming round to the idea that the greatest of all arts is drama.

The stage.

And not simply because of the glorious, vital, engaging, in-real-time feat of the end result, but much more because of the process of getting there.

Since December, I’ve watched the director and players at Raise the Stakes Theatre produce Macbeth from scratch (well, from the bare bones of Shakespeare’s words—a pretty great starting place).

 

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The planning, the audition process, the casting, the first meetings of cast and director, the first read-throughs, the acquisition of the text by the players, the rehearsals held in spaces rented all over the city, more rehearsals and more rehearsals, moving into the theatre space, the sets, the props, the costume fittings, tech rehearsals, dress rehearsal…opening night. And, blessedly, multiple performances after that, to fine-tune it; to make it better and better. To come as close as possible to an almost perfect work of art.

 

So many of these steps are repeated again and again and again, some from one dramatic production to the next, some within the same play. Over and over, the actors work. Rehearsing lines that are the same, but are expressed slightly differently each time; felt slightly differently each time; creating new moments and new ground within the familiarity of a process repeating itself.

The traces of each rehearsal superimposing themselves on the previous ones.

And we call them players.

How much of what they learn from their craft do they carry into their private lives? How different is this from what we all transpose from our past to our present, or from our private to public lives?

 

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I love to think that each moment that I live is simply a rehearsal for what will come next. And so on.

It feels right to think of life this way.