Sunday, 24 February 2013

Envy as Recreation

I have always enjoyed looking through real estate ads. At one point I considered becoming a real estate agent, but I've decided I am not interested in sales; I'm just nosy. I like looking at other people's homes and seeing how they live. I see a cute cottage or a majestic mansion and my head fills with stories and plots. I always begin writing by thinking of the setting, not the people or the plot. The setting is a character in and of itself. My husband the social worker walks into a room and the first thing he notices is the people in it. I walk into the same room and the first thing I notice is the colour, the texture, the fabric, the windows...oh, and are there people here too? I missed them completely.

I envision myself living lives in these houses for sale. I could easily do the writer-in-a-garret thing, a studio apartment with no furniture but a loom and a harp and a battered desk. Or I see myself in a stone cottage surrounded by green fields and sheep, with a spinning wheel by the hearth. Or a chalet in the pine woods with a river running past, in which my dog dabbles. A geodesic dome, off the grid, with a well and solar panels. A funky loft in downtown Toronto, with canvas on which to paint and a nightlife humming below my feet (I'd never go down and join in, of course). A greenhouse with little shop attached, a market garden behind the house.

I will never purchase any of these places. No matter if I find a perfect, beautiful place that would be ideal for me - I find another, and another, in the next issue of the real estate magazine. As different as they are from each other, they are all perfect. I could see my lifestyle flexing and adapting to fit any of them. I can see myself writing my life story into all kinds of settings. I can picture my retirement being a myriad of things - a homebody working in my garden, or a footloose traveler roaming the world. And so, being overwhelmed with options, I choose none of them. It's not a fear of the unknown that keeps me in my current house. It's not sentimentality either. It's the certainty that - once I chose a place and moved - I would keep finding yet more places, and once the ball was rolling, I would want to try them all. I am not good at closing other doors once I've walked through one. And if that feeling is there, then I know I haven't really found THE place for me.

I also know myself well enough to recognize I am the type to see first the sunshine coming through the windows and the wisteria blooming over the trellis and not notice until too late the dry rot in the floorboards or the flight path directly overhead. Reality rarely lives up to the expectation. Better to stick with what I have and keep fantasy in its place: between the pages.

I will continue to munch my way through real estate ads like a sugar junkie eating candy corn, finding right place after right place. It is entertainment, not to be taken too seriously. (I have learned not to take too much about myself seriously, in fact.) And as a writer, I can create people to inhabit these lovely homes in my place, and let them deal with the dry rot while I soak up the sunshine in the greenhouse.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Non Habemus Papam

Well, we know what the Pope is giving up for Lent. It's eerie, because just the other day I watched a movie on cable called "We Have a Pope." It's about a cardinal who is elected pope and refuses it and runs away. It's a bit freaky that a day or two later, Pope Benedict announced his decision. Maybe he saw the movie too. Metaphysical or coincidence? Whatever the case, it makes me glad I didn't watch "Armageddon."

The good thing about being Mormon is I can enjoy the pancakes without having to observe Lent. But if I were to observe it, what would I give up? (I can picture myself phoning my boss and saying "I won't be in for forty days. I've given up work for Lent.") Would I give up something superficial like chocolate, which I know isn't good for me anyway, or would I put serious thought into it and give up something important and valued? Would I be willing to sacrifice reading, or music, or gardening?

I think Pope Benedict has been brave and humble and has put his concern for the Church ahead of his own pride. Would I, like he, be able to admit when the reality isn't able to match the expectation? When something defeats me? It's a difficult thing. We are taught all our lives to strive and reach and not give up. But sometimes, I think, recognizing our limitations requires more strength and wisdom than sticking to an impossible path.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Books and a Snow Day

We were hit with a wonderful snowstorm yesterday. We must have shoveled the driveway and sidewalks three or four times, not wanting to let it accumulate to the point where we couldn't dig out. I am recovering from surgery, so I left the heavy machinery to my husband and just cleaned along after him with a shovel. The garden is a soft sculpture in meringue - windblown curves two feet deep, drifts in fantastic shapes. The statue of the praying temple boy is buried all but his head, which sticks out of a snowbank as if he's wrapped in a cozy white blanket. This morning the sunrise was golden and magical, lighting specks of tiny snowflakes drifting lazily - slow motion - through the air, like pixie dust.

I love the feeling of being snowed in, with nowhere I have to go and nothing I have to do. It was a great way to end my four-week time off work. I am reading Barbara Kingsolver's book Flight Behavior, and it was perfect to curl up with, with one puppy at my feet and the other spread over my stomach like a hot water bottle.

For years I have kept a notebook of the books I have read, with notations about whether I liked them or not. I have found this handy since my memory is going. If I can't remember if I've read a book or not, I can look it up and see, and I can also see if it's worth rereading. There are some books I reread every year or so, such as Martha Grimes's series. My memory is so bad, I don't remember how the books end, so I am able to enjoy them all over again as if for the first time.

Skimming through my notebook, I realize I have a very eclectic taste in books. I go through phases, too. One month I'll read entirely classic stuff, like Jane Austin or Charles Dickens. And then I'll go through a Back-to-the-Land phase and read nothing but "How to Grow Everything You Need on an Acre" type of stuff.  Here's just a sampling of what I've read (ones I'd recommend):

  • Mr. Monk on the Road by Lee Goldberg
  • A Nation Worth Ranting About by Rick Mercer
  • Horse Sense for People by Monty Roberts
  • Letters from Wingfield Farm by Dan Needles
  • Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller
  • Never Have Your Dog Stuffed by Alan Alda
  • Environmental Restoration: Ethics, Theory and Practice by William Throop
  •  The Importance of Lunch by John Allemang
  • The Egg and I by Betty McDonald
  • No Greater Love by Mother Teresa
  • Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv
  • Friends, Lovers, Chocolate by Alexander McCall
  • Day Spring: The Coming Water Crisis of North America by Chris Wood
  • Always Looking Up by Michael J. Fox
  • Ripe: The Search for the Perfect Tomato by Arthur Allen
  • Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can't Avoid by Lemony Snicket

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Julia Child and Thoughts about Food

I am reading Julia Child's My Life in France for the first time. I wish I could have met her. Such zest for life, such uninhibited enthusiasm! I listen to her descriptions of what she ate, and the joy bubbles off the page in a fragrant steam. Reading a chapter is like eating a good meal - satisfying and decadent. She didn't let her stature (6'2", size 12 feet) hold her back in a society of petite French women. She utterly forgot herself and threw herself into her work and life with absolute dedication. What an example! What happiness, to pursue your passion!

I love to sit and read recipe books, especially the kind with coloured photos. I went through Two Greedy Italians Eat Italy recently, and it was all I could do not to lick the pages. Cream and butter, pecorino, cinnamon, apricots, mascarpone, mortadella, golden syrup, rosemary, courgette, lemon, olive oil, honey, tangerine. You rise from reading, satiated without having eaten a morsel.

Food is such a touchy topic for people. There's too little, there's too much, it's out to kill us, it's our friend and the cure for everything. It will make you fat, it will make you thin, it will cure disease, it will cause it. It stresses you out and comforts you. It comes from too far away, it's laced with nasty things. It's pretentious, it's common, it's fresh, it's cooked, it's raw. It's ancient, it's modern. It's art. It's the stuff of life.

Personally, I side with Julia. It's a joy, and when you open yourself to life - joy - food - you are filled. She ate rich wonderful food all her life and lived to be ninety-two. That's a good enough endorsement for me.

I'll talk to you later. I'm off to the kitchen.