It’s not.

Posted: November 26, 2019 by Rachel

I had my father, the new sender of daily selfies, on the phone yesterday. “How’s your writing going?” he asked. He asks often now. It still makes me smile. The answer to his question has the opposite effect.

“It’s not.”

“You haven’t been able to shake anything loose yet, huh?”

I shake my head but he’s on the phone and he can’t see me. The kettle boils, I pour water over the tea bag in my favorite red mug. “Not yet,” I say eventually.

Later, I write in my journal about how guilty I feel that I’m not writing. I watch a show about a young doe-eyed woman who has just lost her husband. I look over at the laptop sitting closed on the floor next to the bedside table, and then I read a book about a Jewish man who’s in trouble.

easing in

Posted: October 14, 2019 by Rachel

I am writing these words seated in the corner of a new-to-me coffee shop on a weekday evening. I had this planned, this writing break, this get out of the house break. Whatever the name; I needed it. I’ve been burning the candle at both ends this year (these past few months especially) and needed to set a date and time to get out of the house and be alone. I’d driven past this cafe a few times and always seemed to make the point of telling my husband I’d have to try it out sometime. Much to my disappointment it’s nothing special. I already know I won’t return. But for now it will do.

A friend of mine recently wrote about how she came up the idea for her second novel. I had no story. I had no characters, no hooks, no settings. So I put Sullivan in a wagon and I literally went out to find a story to write, she wrote. 

I haven’t been able to get this out of my head, and not just because I’m secretly obsessed with how writers get their ideas. Suzy’s words gave voice to the struggle I’ve been going through this year: My desire to write grows with every passing day, yet I’m missing a story.

The truth is I haven’t been listening. I’ve been working extra long hours and helping my kid with his homework and trying to keep a clean house and semi-nutritious food on the table and dealing with family health issues and grieving my mother—there has been no time for much else, no mental capacity for anything else. So I stopped listening. And now, as I try my best to ease back in to writing, I hear only silence. Crickets. 

Without a story, I focus on other things. I write about my mom and my dad. I exercise my writing muscle that hasn’t been used regularly for months in hopes that when a story does appear I will know what to do with it. 

I ease in, because that’s all I know to do right now. That’s all that can be done.

the status of things, part two

Posted: October 10, 2019 by Rachel

Last week, my father started reading my blog.

A friend of his, after asking after me one day, had looked me up and come across my website. “How long have you had your blog?” my father asked me one night over the phone. It had come out of the blue and caught me off guard. I told him I’ve had a website, in one form or another, since the eighth grade. He didn’t say much else at the time, and I was too nervous to push for more.

The next time we spoke on the phone, he told me he’d been reading more. As usual, when the topic of my writing is brought up in conversation, I shied away from asking any questions. 

“Your thoughts on your mother are beautiful,” he said. I swallowed hard, tried not to get emotional. The little I’d been writing in the last few months had mostly been about her. Writing has always been how I process my emotions, and lately, there are a lot of them.

“Thank you,” I said. We moved on to other topics. 

My father has taken to texting me photos of the coffee shops he visits. Today’s coffee shop road tour. Eco Cafe in St. Jacobs, he writes. Back at Blackwing Cafe in old Galt again. Owned by the Smile Tiger Roasters people. He tells me what he loves about the decor, and what he tends to order. More often than not, he tells me when he last visited the same shop with my mother. Sometimes he can remember what she last ordered. 

Lately, his texts include a selfie, an addition that gives me an immense thrill. We are 3,500 miles away from one another and have yet to figure out why we can’t connect through FaceTime so these selfies are the only glimpse I get of my father’s face. I save them all to my phone, look at them when I’m feeling homesick, which didn’t happen much until this year. 

Despite being a daddy’s girl, my father and I didn’t really talk about my writing once I left Canada. It wasn’t that he lacked interest, it’s that my mother tended to dominate our conversations. I would dial their number, and if my father answered the phone I was lucky to get two minutes alone with him before my mom came on the line. My father was usually relegated to the background, catching what he could of our conversations, tossing in a single word of input when he could. If I wanted to speak to my father I needed to catch him home alone, which didn’t happen often.

Now, free to speak as much or as little as he pleases, he asks what I’m working on.

“Nothing. Nothing since April,” I tell him. We fall into a now common silence—we are thinking of her, my mother. This much I know is true. “It’s too hard.”

It’s too hard to focus, to let my mind go to that place again. I was writing for her, and now every sentence I write serves only to remind me of her absence. As time goes on one thing has become abundantly clear: that it is only with time and patience and grace that I will move past this, that I will learn to live with the discomfort, or, better yet, let that discomfort fuel me to create something my mother would have been proud of.

Something my father can be proud of. Something we can talk about together as much or as little as we wish.

the status of things, part one

Posted: October 5, 2019 by Rachel

This morning I waited until the boys left, until I heard the car start up and pull away, and then I lit my favorite candle and made a second cup of coffee. My laptop sat open and ready on the kitchen table, the first time I’d even looked at it in weeks. The house was blissfully silent.

I’d prepared myself for this, written in my journal just yesterday that this morning would afford me the perfect block of free time to finally sit down and work my way through everything the only way I really know how: by writing it out. 

There were tears in my eyes the moment I sat down to write. This, too, I had expected, was prepared for. Thinking about my mother in any real, solid way always begins like this, and opening myself to the intense reality that she is no longer here—and hasn’t been for nearly six months of my life—is like opening a fresh wound every time. I have learned that to be functional—that is to work, to be a good mother and wife and friend—I have to compartmentalize my grief. Though it doesn’t always work out,  I urge my body to dispel my sadness when it is less harmful for me: in the shower, when alone in the car, layered on top of some other emotional outburst.

But then there are times when my grief rushes through me and all I can do is hold on, wait for it to pass. 

Almost a few years ago now, I wrote two novels and two novellas, and stand by the belief that they needed to be written solely to expel the blah from my body. I needed to get those books out of me so that what came next could be something good and real and special.

Good and real and special came in January in the form of a new novel that I tentatively named Avery & Lark. It poured out of me in those early weeks as though desperate to see the light. I spoke little of what I was writing out loud, not wanting to spook my creativity, and as time went on and my word count climbed rapidly, I began to feel that this was it. The book. 

I was so excited that I didn’t tell my mother. I was going to keep it secret until it was done, until I had something fully formed to show her. I experienced a small thrill each time I spoke with her on the phone and failed to mention the book. She was going to be so surprised, so proud, so in awe.

And then we found out she was sick.

My words slowed to a trickle as I sat, day after day, thousands of miles away in another country, waiting to hear about her latest test results, our phone conversations growing shorter and shorter as her confusion and exhaustion grew. Eventually, the distance being too much, I flew back to Canada to see her, wholly unprepared for what I was walking into. One week later, she was gone. 

For weeks afterward, I sat down dutifully at my computer and tried to keep writing Avery & Lark, but nothing came. I felt lost. I hadn’t realized until my mother was gone just how desperately I had been seeking her approval and praise. And that it was no longer an option nearly broke me in half. This novel—it was for her. I had been writing it for her. That she would never be able to read it simply hurt too much. 

I put the novel aside, told my therapist and myself that perhaps it was best to take a break until the pain subsided even a little. I had little doubt that I would find my way back to writing at some point—when my heart was ready. 

But days turned into weeks turned into months and here I am, now in October, having written nothing in six months. To lose my mother and subsequently my words has been too much to bear at times. Writing was always something I could turn to no matter what. Now, I have only one underlying thought: My mother will never read another word I write. The woman who taught me to love reading, who read my childhood short stories and poetry with rapt attention, who told everyone she knew when I wrote and self-published my first novel, will never have the chance to see what I am truly capable of.

It has been hard to shake this thought. There are more days than not that I question what the point is of ever writing another word when there’s no one else whose approval and praise I sought the way I did hers. The magic, as I see it, is gone, and I’m left feeling numb.

But, I don’t want to feel numb. I don’t want to spend another six months feeling lost and out of place because the thing that most grounded me, that most excited me and made me feel like me is still too difficult, too painful. I want, more than anything, to find a way to write through the pain.

Just as there is no getting over loss, only getting through it, I need to have faith that this numbness will eventually subside and I will emerge on the other side, open and ready to write once again. 

I’m thinking that it’s okay if I continue to write for my mother as though she were still alive to read it. In the same way I often look at my son and worry over how much my mother is missing, writing, for the foreseeable future anyway, may still give me pause. But the moment I see my next book in print, my mother’s name under the dedication, I will know how proud she is of me, even though she isn’t here to tell me herself. 

This I can Control

Posted: October 1, 2019 by Rachel

I have this habit of making things more complicated than they need to be. I could give you countless examples, some much more personal than others, but I will use this one: I make the process of selecting a new journal almost torturous. To begin, I’m picky. The paper can’t be too slippery because then the pen moves too freely and my writing becomes illegible. It can’t be too heavy because I often carry it along with me in my purse. It can’t be too large for the reasoning just stated. It needs to be easy to write in, which usually rules out anything with too stiff a spine. 

Mid-week last week, I wrote the last entry in my current journal. Usually I’ve got the next book lined up and ready to go, but not this time. I took a sip of my coffee, pushed back from my desk and took my completed journal upstairs where I set it in the plastic bin along with the others before it. Back at my desk, the fact that I had nothing to say didn’t stop me from feeling strange that I had nothing to write in next.

I tried to ignore the feeling, but it was stubborn. And at 2:50pm I decided I had just enough time to run to the store to pick one up before picking up my son from school.

I chose the grocery store because I knew my choices would be limited. I knew I couldn’t over-complicate the process. I knew I could take the first steps of breaking a habit that has taken over my adult life. 

There’s a lot I can’t control in life, that I can’t change, but this… saying no to my own neurosis… this I can control. This I can change. And as small as it may seem to be, walking down that grocery aisle and selecting a journal in the span of five seconds feels like the beginning of something pretty great.

And it cost only $2.14.

This Post has no Discernible Theme

Posted: September 15, 2019 by Rachel

I sat staring at the blank screen for more than a few minutes this morning. Clicked over to a couple blogs I enjoy. Took another sip of my near-cold coffee. Stared down at my slightly chipped manicure. Writing—the act of it, the thought of it—feels so different this year. I hadn’t realized until she was gone that so much of what I wrote was done in the hopes of pleasing my mother. I wanted to write something she would be proud of. Now, I write almost nothing at all.

What I do is read. Even more than I did before. When I open a book I’m transported elsewhere. For a time, I can be someone else, focus on something else. For a time, I can forget reality.

**

I’ve been having these vivid dreams. The latest, in which, Dom left me for cheating on him. Later, he said, “you turn everything that is good, bad.” I opened my eyes, tried to shake the dream. The clock read 5:37. I got up and made coffee which I drank in bed.

**

I’m still that woman who never wants to let the fruit bowl go empty.

**

I’m learning to say yes again. Especially when my initial reaction is to say no immediately. Especially when it involves something out of my comfort zone, which these days is a lot. It’s been easy to say no this year, but I’m finally accepting that it’s just not healthy to keep going down that road. Segregating myself from people isn’t going to make my mom’s passing any easier. So: Yes to coffee with new friends, yes to the athletic wear pop-up shop and writing sessions that likely won’t yield any writing on my part. Yes to trying not to say no, but also knowing when saying no is the best possible thing.

**

Thirty-five-years-old and and I keep thinking: Did she go home to her husband as excited as I was to have made a new friend?

and just like that… summer break is over

Posted: August 12, 2019 by Rachel

summer break is over

This morning my son walked into his first day of the first grade which means, among many other things including time moving far too quickly, that summer break is over.

There’s so much hope in the beginning, isn’t there? The warm weather, the sun, the long days: it all leads you to believe that summer will be magic. There will be popsicles and lie-ins and dips in the pool and, if you’re lucky, trips to the beach.

But this summer break felt like a tease. There was the promise of a break. Of slower, gentler times. I allowed myself to be hopeful. To look forward to friends and family visiting. To my son being off from school. Summer would be the season of yes— that’s what I told myself.

However, it became quickly clear that I was too unhappy to enjoy it. I couldn’t shake the fact that my mother wouldn’t be a part of any of it. She would have loved knowing her grandchildren were finally spending time together here in Vegas. She would have cheered along with me when DJ finally turned a corner in his swimming lessons. She would have understood when I complained about the summer heat. I think in upwards of thirty things each day that I wish I could tell her. And then I become even more sad.

I told my husband the other day that I accomplished nothing I’d hoped to this summer. I didn’t wiggle my toes deep into the California sand or find my way back to writing. Work didn’t slow one tiny bit. My stress levels didn’t drop. I had my brother in my home—my sister-in-law and two nieces for the first time—and yet I couldn’t fully enjoy it. Same thing when my best friend and her family visited.

Despite my optimism, grief has clouded every moment of the past three months. And now, with the return of school days, summer is over. 

I wrote in May that I was exhausted in a way that was deep and dramatic. It had been only four weeks since I’d lost my mother, but now, at nearly seventeen weeks, I feel no better. In some ways I feel worse. I am still exhausted. I still miss her. I still mourn the future that was taken away from us. I feel a profound heaviness in my heart when I’m faced with the reminder that she will miss watching her three grandchildren grow up. 

I don’t quite know how the rest of the year will unfold, how my grief will continue to manifest itself, but I’m trying to summon some of that hope I had back in June. And you better believe I’m still trying to find a way to get my toes into some warm, California sand. 

BEAUTIFUL WORDS I’VE READ LATELY | 03

Posted: July 9, 2019 by Rachel

Hanging On To A Home

Stretching its long legs and shaking the sleep from its eyes, our home decided to move. This of course surprised us. You jumped out of bed and ran to hold shut the rattling cupboards. I went around collecting the paintings from the walls and stacked in safe layers the history of our bad taste. As the landscape changed, we watched the prairie give way to skyline to skyline to skyline as our home sprinted from one city to another.

Trinkets from a dozen travels vanished. Shelves toppled over. Books-I-promised-to-read flew out windows and doors. We lost the cat somewhere in Pennsylvania. Things come and go, and we cannot save everything—though you still sometimes talk about that missing sweater.

For years our home kept its pace, and we spent many nights wondering what it was searching for. We never found an answer, but eventually, our home slowed from its youthful sprint to a walk. What we learned from watching the lives of others is that some homes run until they are tired, others until they break. I wish we had that coffee table, and I still feel bad about the cat, but I think we have done well. We are no longer where we started, but we are still here, and how good it has been hanging on for dear life with you.

— Jan Siemen
(via Popshot)


Strangers

There are strangers in the beginning:
those who untuck the neatness from your edges,
propel
you forward into the warmth
reminiscent of an old friend’s
familiar grip.
Then, there are strangers at the end:
those silhouettes of a person
gutted
from the presence of your life,
who took the tucked away parts of yourself
with them.

— Charlotte Spires
(via)

35 Years

Posted: June 7, 2019 by Rachel

Today, June 7th, 2019, is my 35th birthday. I’m writing from a chair on the back deck of my parent’s house in Ontario, Canada. The weather is much like what it was two weeks ago back in Las Vegas: mid-70s. It’s glorious.

It’s strange to be back here so soon. We left only six weeks ago, a few days after my mother’s funeral. Yet here I am, celebrating a birthday in my childhood home thousands of miles away from my husband, without my mom.

I woke up much too early this morning feeling groggy and unsure what time zone my body was existing in. DJ and I flew in last night, got to bed late. We will be asleep the moment our heads hit our pillows tonight, that is for sure. Right now, DJ and my dad are across the street watching a neighbor have his driveway re-paved. Anything involving big trucks is a big hit with him.

Tonight I will be having dinner with some of my oldest friends—and some newer though just as dear. I’m grateful for these women who have always been there when I needed them, who supported me in the last days of my mother’s life in ways that I cannot put in words. I don’t know who I would be without these four women. 

I feel blessed to be here celebrating my 35th surrounded by my family and friends. I left Kitchener over eight years and four months ago, not really knowing what I was getting myself into. All I knew was I loved Dominic, wanted to marry him and start a family, and I was willing to give Las Vegas a try. I celebrated my last eight birthdays there, each of them perfect in their simplicity, but being here in my hometown, celebrating what I consider to be one of the “big” birthdays feels right.

I was so worried about turning thirty, and here I am, thirty-five. It’s not so bad; these years that are adding upon one another. I like to think that with each passing year I’m wiser, more patient, more sure of myself. I feel as though I’m still looking alright, too. All in all, I’m okay with my age. I have so much of what I wanted out of life and what I don’t? Well that gives me something to strive for.


The Season Ahead

Posted: June 3, 2019 by Rachel

Despite time moving more slowly than ever—and feeling entirely different since my mother’s death—it’s June somehow. I shake my head every time I’m reminded of this fact. The end of the school year has come and gone; my son is no longer a kindergartener. That alone makes me feel nostalgic, emotional, and a few others things. 

I have a tendency of retreating into myself when things get hard, and Things. Are. Hard. But I don’t want to do that this time. My mom would hate it—she would hate to know how much I’ve shut friends and family out already. If anything, I need to lean into the season ahead with a renewed sense of immediacy because I don’t know if you’ve heard, but tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. 

Summer twenty-nineteen is upon us.

It’s not hard to picture the coming months. If I close my eyes I can easily picture fingers sticky from popsicles, iced coffee under the back patio, blowing bubbles in the pool, the smell of hot dogs and corn on the grill, our feet in the sand like the above photo of DJ from last August. Dominic trimming the palm trees shirtless, DJ whacking at plastic golf balls with plastic sticks, me complaining about the 107° (or higher) temperatures, the camera never too far from reach. But beyond this my plans are centered around self-care: reading, writing (in whatever form comes most naturally) and trying to reel in my caffeine consumption. 

I suppose what I want the most out of summer is for it to move slowly. I want to be present for every moment, to notice everything I may have missed in the past. To put my phone down or better yet away. To switch off my work email at the end of a long day. To say yes to DJ’s every request. This has got to be a season of yes

There are plans in motion already: ten days in Canada with DJ this month—a trip we had booked back in January so that my parents could have a solid amount of time with their grandson–, day camps, trips to the lake with the jet ski’s. Dominic and I lie in bed at night daydreaming about getting out to La Jolla again while simultaneously laughing because we know it will be a struggle with his work schedule. It’s important to dream though. To keep the hope alive that we can make it work in the end.

The last thing I want is to send my son off to school in August wishing that we had done more, been more messy, had more fun. I want him to look back on his summer break with a smile on his face. What’s more: I want the same for myself. Especially—especially—this summer.