Day after day of dazzling sunshine has lately lifted my spirits. It helps too that I sent off my poetry manuscript to the publisher this week and that the birds are back. Purple finches and dark-eyed juncos at our backyard feeder. White pelicans crowding the Red River. Hawks, eagles, and, of course, robins. A multitude of species starting to appear from what was a blank, barren landscape, and if anything demonstrates resilience, it’s this: how the earth can emerge from a long hard winter, once again full of life.
I’ve been thinking about resilience lately, in the same frame as I’ve been thinking about how to make meaning from loss. The most important thing, I’ve realized, is that we don’t really decide the meaning that will grow. It happens like a stubborn plant pushing up through a crack in concrete. Perhaps the best thing we can do is allow it. How our lives transform after loss is, I think, like how I’ve learned to describe what makes a good ending: surprising yet somehow inevitable.
And, yet, intention does help, doesn’t it? My mother, after her life was totally upended from the head-on collision in 1981 that nearly killed her and my brother, turned to the junk drawer in our kitchen one morning and pulled out a set of poster paints and found the new direction of her life.
After my brother died, I filled the numb, painful (yes, both at the same time) days with writing because that was how I knew to carry on, the work-in-progress becoming my life raft. But once I finished that book and it came time to embark on another, I found myself floundering, the raft taking on water. This winter, around mid-February, in a strange and new way, writing started becoming, to put it simply, not enough.
I hate even putting these words down. It feels a bit like a betrayal, like I’m failing miserably at ‘defining my brand.’ But like most artists (most, um, people), I am full of contradictions. As if to underline this point: on the day I’m writing this post about confusion around my writing path, I clicked on the daily writing tip from CBC in my email to find this:
Life is so weird. Sometimes you just have to laugh.
A few weeks ago, I went to a gardening talk with Kelly Leask from Prairie Originals, a nearby native plant nursery. Diversity equals resilience, she said. In this context, she meant a varied and rich ecosystem versus a monoculture, of course, but it got me thinking about personal diversity, about creative diversity.
Mostly, for years, all I’ve really done is write. When I took up knitting and became quickly obsessed with learning lace stitches, cabling, all the hard stuff immediately after knitting my first hole-riddled garter stitch scarf, J. and I were amazed. Suddenly I had a hobby. It’s the first real hobby – absorbing, enriching, deeply enjoyable – that I’ve ever had.
Contrast this with J. He is a man with a voracious appetite for learning and discovery. In the sixteen years we’ve been together, he has learned how to tie knots (and I mean, like, every knot), how to sail (hence: knots), how to fly fish (both Western and Japanese styles), how to tie his own flies, how to do auto-mechanics (!), how to survive in the wilderness on his own during solo canoe trips, how to paint with pastels, and, most recently, how to weld. Not to mention the fact that he just finished his Master’s degree in Special Education and will be graduating in June (can you tell that I’m proud?)
Deep loss, I’m learning, can do a bunch of stuff that isn’t expected. It can trigger a meaning crisis. It can make you question your path in life, your focus, your place. This is what’s happening to me, I think, and so, with support from my beloved, in between doing all the stuff I have to do, I’m allowing myself to follow my desire to get my hands on the earth as directly as possible.
Next month I’m taking a drop spindle spinning class to learn how to make my own yarn from sheep rovings and have started trying to find a wheel. The returning birds at my backyard feeder did not even have names for me until I looked them up a few days ago, around the same time that I dug up a clump of earth in our yard to determine the type of soil: sticky, thick clay, otherwise known as Red River gumbo.
This tricky soil can be amended by adding compost and sand, in order to improve drainage so that plants can breath in it and access the nutrients. An apt metaphor, don’t you think? Already I’m aware of the burgeoning poetic possibilities of my explorations (I mean, one of the parts on the spinning wheel is called the mother-of-all…) and that is exciting because, no matter what, I’m a writer.
Through language, ink-on-paper, I make sense of the world. It’s just that this sense-making is not so direct right now, I suppose. Not so pointed, not so clear. It’s demanding that I learn, that I look towards the broader fabric of life in order to locate the holes, knit together the rends, re-make myself, make myself whole, figure out where I fit.