Castles and Illusions

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“Who is that?” asks a 10-year old girl in the grocery store line up. She points at a magazine cover featuring an unnamed model.

I’m not sure. Some nice lady. 

“What’s she doing?”

Standing in front of a camera.

“Why is she standing like that?”

I’m not sure. She might be trying to make herself look different than she is. 

“Why would she do that?”

I’m not sure. Good question. 

“That’s weird.”

I know. [Silence.] It’s kinda weird.  

Because I’d hazard a guess that nice lady doesn’t look or stand like that most of the time. For what it’s worth, I’ve never seen women at a business meeting, or women at the gym, or women in the school yard, or women at the beach stand like that. Someone else did that nice lady’s hair and makeup so she looked quite different from what she looked like when she got up that morning. After other people with big cameras were done taking photos of her with special lights, that lady probably washed her face, put on comfy pants, and went for a sandwich. Then later maybe she hung out with some friends or her family. Maybe walked her dog. Did some pottery, played volleyball or something. I bet she’s super cool and smart.

It’s just that things and people sometimes get depicted like they are not. Sometimes it’s art. Sometimes it’s trickery. Sometimes it’s commerce. Or entertainment.

Sometimes it’s fear.

And a lot of times it doesn’t feel quite right.

Like when we get our family portraits done. It’s awkward sitting there with hands on each others’ shoulders. With hair combed just right. All that smiling when nothing’s funny. Your face starts to twitch, and your eyes get desperate when you stare at a camera and hold a fake smile for too long.

Or like keeping the house clean when you’re trying to sell it. You make the house look like it  never looks. And you run around every morning shoving things in closets and putting out fake place-settings. And you cannot wait for it to be over so you can get back to how you actually live.

Or the recipe pictures. The shimmering green smoothie on a white marble counter in front of the vase of yellow tulips. If you pan out a couple of feet, there’s a pile of slimy, black banana peels. And spatters of spinach and almond milk on the stove top. And probably stray ice cubes melting on the floor. The smoothie still tastes sweet and rich and glorious.

There’s a furious attempt to build castles and illusions, my dear. And I’m still not sure why. I can’t see all the way through it just yet.

The work comes in the un-layering, in finding what is real to you. Because the discomfort in the pose is real. The toil and story behind every image is real. The desire to flee the illusion is real.

As is the homecoming.

 

 

The Spaces In Between

There are spaces of nothing between bursts of something. This is where my mind gets busy, and I scheme feats of mid-life athletic amazement. This is where possibility takes root…along with its gnarly second cousin: fear.

Such was the case with the fondo a few weeks ago.

The fondo was my first experience riding in a big group. It was a pretty big group – several thousand cyclists. It had occupied my thoughts for weeks. The idea – the newness of it – thrilled me. But I was also worried. Not about the distance. I was doing the quarter and had covered the distance easily in training. As a typically solo rider, I was worried about maneuvering in a crowd of other cyclists. A crash. The dramatic highway pile-up. You know, skin grafts and such.

I like that about triathlons…you’re not allowed to ride near each other.

Well, I don’t know what went on at the front of the pack, but there was no sardine-packed peleton where I was. No inch-apart wheels. No tempting of fate with each twitch of the brakes. It was simply a bunch of folk of similar pace riding and keeping an eye on each other. And on the spaces in between.

Big groups are always like that really: just lots of you’s and me’s showing up until something aggregate takes shape.

The group thing, though – this posse of strangers moving together through air on wheels – brought out something new in me. As I found the slipstream of other cyclists, I could feel the rhythm of the collective. The air moved around me faster. The odometer ticked faster. Even when I found myself alone. Like during the last 10 km, as I whipped along the lakefront into the wind and barreled down the streets of Penticton. I could see my average speed was notably higher than I’d predicted. I began an instinctive race against my bike computer and the “point-9” at the end of my average speed. I tucked in and hunched down. My breath took on an unfamiliar tone. I pushed, pushed, pushed through the empty streets. I flew across the finish line – leaning in like Peter Sagan inching out a rival for the stage win. Yeah, I was exactly like Peter Sagan.

And the only crash was the one that came when I was going precisely 0 km/h and that was related to precisely zero other riders. At the rest stop, I couldn’t un-clip from my pedals fast enough. I toppled over on my left side right, bike still between my legs, in front a line of riders outside the port-a-potties. It was dramatic in its own special way.

In the end, there was plenty of space in between. The mental space required to imagine the fondo transformed into just the right amount of physical space to complete it. It reminded me that in the act of doing – distinct from thinking about doing – there is no fear. Just presence. Fear is a precursor of the mind. But it can’t exist in the bright light of action. The minute I clipped in and pushed down my first pedal, fear burned off like summer’s early morning haze.

Source: Axel Merckx Gran Fondo

Source: Axel Merckx Gran Fondo

Mother’s Day Lunch

I stood by the ‘Please Wait to be Seated’ sign at the entry of the restaurant. It was a perfect afternoon to sit on an outdoor patio. The small restaurant seemed busy. Several of it’s few tables where already occupied.

Table for one?” the young server asked.

“Yes please,” I replied.

The table had a wonderful view. There were mother’s day greetings written in crayon on one of those brown paper tablecloths. The sun was warm on my shoulders.

I looked at the menu. Lots of simple, hearty fare, which would suit me just fine. It was almost two o’clock. I was good and hungry.

The server returned for my drink order. Water with a straw, please. Then I ordered the crackers and grapes for an appetizer. She disappeared back into the kitchen.

Through the patio door to the kitchen, I could hear the chef at work. She hollered “ORDER UP”, and the server emerged with my water, grapes and crackers.

Then she came back for my main course order. I requested the mac ‘n cheese and scrambled egg. For my side, I chose the cucumber.

After about 5 minutes the server returned with some questions from the chef. In particular, she wanted to know how to know when water is boiling (“how big should the bubbles be”) and if it “goes faster” with a lid on the pot.

I continued to wait in the sun, occasionally closing my eyes behind my sunglasses. My stomach growled. With crackers and grapes consumed, I called for the server and asked her if – though not on the menu – I might have some Kettle Chips. She said they didn’t have any. I said I thought there might be some on in the back of the pantry. She checked with the chef, who said no there’s none in the pantry. I suggested they might be on the second shelf from the bottom, sort of hidden near the back. There was some chatter and slamming doors from the kitchen. Eventually a bowl of sea-salt Kettle Chips was delivered to my table. Talk about service.

As I sat nibbling my chips, I heard raised voices in the kitchen. The chef seemed to be getting upset. Something about the server needing to help more. I peaked through the window and could see the server lying on the couch reading a comic while eating from the bag of Kettle Chips. Then I saw the chef trying to drag the server off the couch by the arm, amidst shouting protest. Then the chef stormed out, yelling she needed more help and wanted things to be perfect.

Ignoring the ‘Staff Only’ sign, I sneaked through the kitchen and found the chef in her bedroom. I gave her a hug, ensuring her that things were indeed perfect. In fact they could not be more perfect. A few deep breaths and re-hiding of the Kettle Chips later, order was restored. Frankly, we all get a little nuts around the Kettle Chips.

I went back to my table. Happy chatter and clanging resumed in the kitchen. There was another “ORDER UP” and out came the server with mac ‘n cheese and cucumbers. I asked the chef and server if they could join me for lunch. To my delight, they did.  There were no scrambled eggs, but I didn’t mention that. Because it was perfect.

mothers day lunch

 

still2

Perfectly, Exquisitely Still

It’s still.

The house is still. And silent. Everyone else is asleep. The fridge is humming and the coffee pot churning. But other than that, nothing.

Outside the curve of the family room window, the leaves are still. They hang just so. Quiet, dormant.

In the vista beyond the leaves, the ocean is still. Sleek and steely blue. No touches of white, the tell-tale signs of wind and chop.

In the gray early morning light, I see the bank of clouds. And they are still. Oh, wait. No. They are moving north ever so slowly. Beneath the stillness, or amongst it, there is movement. I guess there always is.

My mind is still. I can’t find what brought me to wakefulness so early. Not work. Not writing. Not reading. Not exercise. I search and search, layers down. Then I realize there’s nothing to do. Except take this time. To be still.

Because soon there will be wind and chop. And rustle. And noise. And inspiration. And work. And movement. And all that joyfully comes with that.

But for now, it’s perfectly, exquisitely still.

What if

What if…?

Someone asked me today to think about “what if…”.

What’s my big “what if…”? The biggest or most important “what ifs…” ever. The ones that run circles around me. Dance and pop in my heart. That come back to me time and time again.

And I can’t think of one.

My brain won’t go there. It can’t translate he question.

And I’m trying to think of why.

“What if…” puts me in a place of longing. Of want. Of imagining. Of hoping.

And I don’t live there anymore.

I live here. In my amazing present.

At this kitchen table. With this creamy hot coffee. With my sleeping little family. In this house on the hill with a view of the ocean. With the complex work on my desk for the day, and the desire for to innovate and serve my clients today. With my fingers on this keyboard writing words. With the ideas and inspiration emerging today, today. In this moment.

“What if…”, it turns out, isn’t my business. It’s not my place.

Except to say, what if we dropped the question?

What if we dropped the longing for some future point in time? For outcomes we don’t fully control? Outcomes that will emerge when they are ready and all the other players we can’t see are aligned.That will take a different shape and path than we could ever have imagined.

What if we trusted that? And did the best work possible for the day. With all our energy focused on task. With a sense of faith and belief, while staying in tune with the doors opening and closing around us.

What if we trusted we are on the right track?

 

sunrise

The Things I Notice When I’m Running

Lately I’ve been running to early morning boot camp. It’s not far. Maybe a 10 minute run each way, depending on if I take the 90-second shortcut through the woods (8 minutes) or stick to the sidewalk (11 minutes). This, in turn, depends on the extent to which I hear people discussing the potential for cougars in our neighbourhood. One morning I came across a deer in the dark December woods.  I didn’t actually see it in the tight glow of my headlamp. But I heard the rustle and gallop close behind me. I hope I didn’t wake the neighbours with my instinctive perilous shriek.

In the 16 to 22 minutes of running I really notice things. It’s like the first inhale of cool morning air snaps my senses awake.

Head barely out the door, I listen and look for rain. Most times there is none, though its night visits leave tell-tale signs. The wet stairs. Dripping in the eaves-trough.

Then I listen for bushes rustling. One morning I opened the door at 5:50 to find two deer immediately on the door step nibbling our bushes. Once again, scared the sh*t out of me. They are everywhere.

Heading down our long driveway, it’s the stars. I glance up at them twinkling overhead, unfettered by any urban glow. They always seem bright and close. Like really close.

Then it’s leaves rustling in the wind. And on unusually windy mornings, if I’m lucky, I also hear the waves down on the Bay. Distant, vague crashing sounds of the ocean.

Into the second or third minute of the run, I notice the rhythmic beating of my heart and my exhales. Particularly on that dark road with no street lights where I can’t see much beyond the blackness. I keep my eyes locked on the single driveway light about 500 meters down the straight, dark road. It’s like a beacon, a lighthouse. I run down the middle of the road toward it. In the visual vacuum, I hear the tenor of my foot strike, the cadence of my breath, the swish of arms against my windbreaker. I hear myself through the dark.

Around the final bend, the well-lit intersection emerges. And the world opens up again. Just a minute to two to go. Asphalt glistening. The far off sounds of the main road.

Then on the way way home, it’s the brightening sky, now indigo behind the outline of the Douglas Firs. Just before I come down the hill, I stop to scan the horizon. These days, the peach glow of sunrise is coming up from behind the hills on the other side of the channel.  Birds chirping.  Sometimes the hoot of an owl. A barking dog. A car engine and a set of headlights.

And always, always…my own breath…regulating, slowing. The heat and damp of my skin. The tingling of work in my legs, as they walk me the last few minutes home.

.

 

Run The Other Way

Out on the sidewalk, fresh out of bed, I made a split-second decision to run the other way.

I decided to run west, away from the promise of the rising sun.

I hadn’t run west yet on that road. I’d driven it over the course of our short tenure in the rental house. I knew up over the hill, as the residential street ended, there was a 4-way stop. If I turned right I’d go down a similar residential street, past the ball diamonds, and hit the village. But if I went straight through, I’d slip into wheat-coloured farmland, pass the fairground and the high school, and from there I wasn’t sure. Ultimately, I suppose, I’d run right into the inlet.

So I wondered if I could run to the sea. It didn’t seem that far.

I started out along the damp sidewalk. The air was cool but edged with warm, as if choosing moment to moment which way to go on an early September morning. I hopped over fir branches scattered on the sidewalk. Had it been windy last night?

Through the 4-way stop, I passed the lentil and wheat farm, with the old-fashioned combine on display out front. And the house that sells brightly-coloured flowers in bunches at the end of the driveway. Somewhere in the distance a rooster crowed. A V of birds passed over head, against the slate sky. I passed an open field, edged with a white fence intertwined with blackberry bushes. Mist hung low just above the grass. Just in the field. Weird.

Eventually the sun emerged behind me. The backs of my bare legs felt its warmth. My shadow cast on the sidewalk ahead of me. Everything was illuminated. Everything glistened. Everything was framed in light.

I stopped for a minute. Breath heavy, hands on hips, taking in the sun-touched rural picture.

I didn’t need to see the sun to know it was there.

We Live Here Now

I woke to a silent, dark and unfamiliar house. I couldn’t find an alarm clock the night before, so I lay there for a while trying the feel the time. Eventually, I rummaged across the top of the bedside table and found my iPhone. 5:38 a.m. As good a time as any to start the day.

Out of the cocoon of warm sheets, the air in the house felt cool. I grabbed a sweater and tip-toed out into the hallway. Three steps in, a floor-board creaked loudly. In the kitchen I flipped on the pot lights above the sink, grateful for a touch of light. The tile was cold on my bare feet. Boxes sat everywhere. Alarm clock be damned, but I’d been sure to find the coffee-maker and some mugs the night before. The Keurig screeched and gurgled into action after months of sitting in a storage container. Well done Keurig.

I found and adjusted the thermostat and curled up on a couch-with-only-one-cushion-and-no-legs that had been plunked in the kitchen. Cradling the hot coffee mug, I looked out the window into the black dark. I couldn’t make out the tree tops that I know are there. A few stars twinkled. A light blinked from land on the other side of channel.

I started my lap top. No internet to distract me, I started working on something that had to go out on Monday. It required focus that I hadn’t mustered in the busy-ness of the last few days. As it turned out, focus came quickly at 5:45 on a Saturday morning sitting in the dark with no wi-fi. That is, until I started writing this.

6:39. The subtle orange glow of morning started to bleed into the edges of the horizon, pushing the rest of the night sky deep indigo, as if in wave. The tops of the fir trees were now etched black against a narrow peach canvas. The mountains further east emerged in a gray rolling line.

A bird started chirping. The refrigerator clicked and then started humming. The porcelain of the coffee mug now felt cold.

Twenty minutes later, the sky turned a palate of cloudless slate blue. In the weak promise of daylight, details of the trees emerged. Raindrops – or dewdrops perhaps – hung from the big flat leaves immediately outside the window. They caught the light, glistening. A flock of birds flew through my viewscape, as if skimming the tops of the distant hills.

It’s October 2015. We live here now.

The Return to the Sea

We arrived in early August, on a blustery ferry from the mainland.

We drove down the island highway to the sunny rural village where we’d be staying for the first few months. Pulling up at the rental house half an hour earlier than predicted, we ran right into the owner. He was trimming the bushes and mowing the lawn and such before we arrived. Bless him.

We’d rented the house sight-unseen from the internet; it was the only one we could find that was the right size, looked nice and was available short-term during these late summer months when the island still pulsed with tourists. Stepping into it, the house  felt immediately welcoming and comfortable – with a faint scent of sea….the kind that gets trapped in the floorboards after decades of children bringing it back on sandy feet and wet towels after an afternoon of beach romping. It had original wood cupboards and floors in the kitchen, along with a plastic wrap around bench and Formica table – reminiscent of a 50’s diner. There were wood-paneled walls and a vinyl-side wet bar in the basement rec room. The white leather couches in the main-level living room looked comfortable and well-kept.

While it was uncluttered, there were signs of life. Coffee tables and various room corners displayed wooden African-looking artifacts. There was a grandchild’s toy box and a shelf of board games. A framed picture above the kitchen sink read “So This Isn’t Home Sweet Home. Adjust”.  Signs of whole, deep life. Plus the house had its own fully equipped home gym, with a treadmill, bike and free weights, benches…like no 1970s rental house ever has. Perfect for me, knowing I’ll be on my own with the girls at times, and sneaking out of the house for early morning runs won’t be an option.

While nothing about living here would be ours, I knew immediately this house was where we’re supposed to be. This is where we start our transition and dip our toes into the adventure ahead.

We trundled around that day. We unpacked the few boxes of essentials we’d kept out of storage and crammed into the van. We claimed our bedrooms and flopped on beds. We turned on faucets and poked around in cupboards and drawers. We had lunch at a local diner. I stocked up at the village grocery store. After dinner, we took a walk around residential streets and the farmer’s fields intertwined with them, noticing types of trees we’d never seen before and wild blackberry bushes.

And in the back yard, we picked up and examined apples. Like real, live, edible apples. All these years living in a more northern, hostile climate, I’d forgotten to remember that apples grow on trees. And that an apple tree can exist in my back yard. I remember one of our houses as a child when we lived in England having “27 apple trees”. So my blueprint remembers the feeling of knowing that apples grow on trees in people’s gardens. But my brain had filed that away in the archives, like a set of back taxes. But one bite from one apple in the new yard brought back to life my knowing that food grows from the ground. That it doesn’t emerge, as if by magic, in 3-pound bagged bundles in the produce aisle in Safeway.

I made room for that sense of knowing and let it settle in.

We Live(d) Here

Our house never looked like this before. Like ever.

All the clutter was put away, save a few items.

Like the small artist’s sketch of Heart Mountain, where we got engaged, done in rough strokes of blues and browns.

The bronzey mirrored-glass vase that reflects the afternoon sun into shafts of light on the vaulted ceiling. Twinkling like stars.

I wondered why we don’t live this way all the time. Pared down. Simple. Uncluttered. Yeah, we’ll live like this next time. Next time, for sure.

The house will look great in the pictures, I thought. Weeks of work for 10 minutes of realtor pictures. Pictures of space and light. Just enough to give someone a  sense of whether their life could slip in here.  Someone will love this house. For all the reasons we have. It will be the perfect container for someone else’s gloriously perfect mess.

I sat in the silence and looked around the living room.

I noticed the Sand Fossil paint on the walls. It had been the perfect colour after all. We were right to insist it be re-painted after the painters got the shade slightly off 10 years ago. I didn’t think it would matter (isn’t tan tan?). But in a never-to-be-repeated flash of design prowess I thought it was too “hints of celery” when we wanted “warm sand”.

I saw the crisp white edging of the window trim and baseboards, that my husband installed himself.

And through the big picture window, the leaves of the tall aspen trees in the neighbour’s yard on the other side of the green belt danced in the breeze. It’s a perfect window. Utterly perfect.

I walked around main floor.

I touched the narrow wall leading into the kitchen. Nine years of kids’ heights written in smudged pencil, now painted over.

I scanned the smattering of little dents in the kitchen cherry hardwood. Especially the area where the high-chair used to sit. Messy, imperfect, plate-dropping life is in those dents. Beautiful little dents.

I wandered upstairs into the girls’ rooms. They were weirdly clean, the dirty laundry and stuffed animals hidden in their closets. I stared at those walls too. All the  stickers and scribbling now scrubbed off and touched up.

I recalled the endless hours in the middle of many nights sitting in these rooms staring at these walls, with a nursing or sleeping baby on my lap. That was way before any scribbles or stickers. I would sit in the big brown Lazy-Boy in the glow of the night light, hour upon hour…night after night. Noticing the window trim. The popcorn texture on the ceiling. The way the curtains hang just so. The edging of a photo frame.  The curl of her wee fingers and the curve of her cheek. Listening to her gentle breathing. And the click-click-whirr of the furnace going on and off.

On and off.

On and off.

God, I’ve loved this house.

I love this house.

We lived here.

We really lived here.

heart mtn