Life Lately

It feels like this summer is flying by. My parents arrived on the 18th and between spending time with them and work (did I mention I took on a second serving job?) life is busy. Here’s a quick update for you, with pictures!

It’s been hot and dry and some lightning made for a few very smokey days. We had forest fires burning all around us, with the closest being just 21 km from town. That one was something like 5 km away from a historic site, Dredge #4: the fire crews had it surrounded with sprinklers just in case. Between the efforts of the fire crews and a few days of rain, all the fires are out.

Last Thursday, I read alongside U.K. based poet Chrys Salt at Alchemy Cafe here in Dawson City. This is my third time reading in public, but my first time as something of a feature. My name was on the posters and every time I saw one of them around town I felt like a total imposter. But we had a great turnout, twenty to twenty five I think. Chrys was fabulous: her background is in theater, and it certainly shows in her readings. She was captivating, and I feel like I learned a lot watching her read. I read for ten minutes to a much appreciated, very warm reception. At the end a few people asked where they could find more of my work, and as I wrote my website address on scraps of paper, I wished for business cards. I think I secretly (not so secret anymore?) love an audience!

Other highlights of the last week: a walk through Orchid Acres, a spot in West Dawson where thousands of spotted lady’s slipper orchids grow together in the forest, and a private tour through the Bear Creek compound just outside of Dawson. This was the headquarters for all of the dredging activity that happened in this region up until the 60’s. Everything there is pretty much untouched since the day they ceased operations: it was fascinating!

Next week I hope to have a book review for you, if I can manage to squeeze in some reading time and finish my book! Hope your summer is fun. xo

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Spotted Lady Slipper Orchids
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Forest walks
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Midnight Sunsets
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Smoke in the valley
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Me and Chrys Salt at the Alchemy
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Safety first!

 

A Bartender’s Work

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On Sunday mornings, at twenty past eight, I walk to work in the dark. My good black boots with the pointed toes squeak on the hard-packed snow like pieces of styrofoam rubbed together. Outside of the bar I might pick up a few empty cigarette packages from the ground, sometimes a crushed beer can, evidence of the night before. I go inside and knock on the tavern door. The night cleaner lets me in. We chat about his evening, then he disappears to sleep. I take off my coat, turn up the lights. I count my float, take inventory of the cigarettes and the beer, wine and hard liquor we sell for offsales. I line the bottles up on the bar, the Christmas lights causing the amber coloured whiskey to glow. I load the hot dog machine, unlock the coolers, brew a pot of coffee, turn on the classic rock radio station. 9 a.m. I open the blinds, unlock the door.

Some mornings there is a rush of last night’s revelers: they belly up to the bar, order beer or coffee and Baileys. Their stories tumble out amid laughter, their eyes darting beneath heavy lids. They spend a few hours with me as they come down. Soon the stories slow, the eyes grow heavier. They wander home to bed or grab a half-sack of beer and head out to see if the party is still going.

Some mornings, for the first hour I sell only offsales. These folks move more slowly. Shaking hands pull out of coat pockets in a spill of crumpled bills and coin. I help them count out what they need, then pass the bottle across the bar to be tucked carefully inside their coats. Often I’ll see them again in the early afternoon.

There are quiet mornings when I get to chat with one or two people over coffee. Together we watch the light fill the sky, the details of the world coming into focus through the big windows in the front of the bar. We talk about the weather, or someone’s upcoming trip to Whitehorse, my kids or their grandkids. Rarely the talk forays into politics: it’s dangerous ground that we all generally try to avoid.

Always, they bring me their stories: of addiction, failed marriages, suicide, and very rarely, residential school. Stories of the old days. Of bush life, of hand-mining and shaft digging. They brag of being the best CAT operator in the territory, the best barmaid of their day. They share with me their journeys, both outside the territory, and in. Stories of last night’s party, last week’s canoe trip, Passions, heartbreak, dreams realized or not, birth, disease and death. We make our money on liquor sales but we trade in stories and I try my best to hold space for each one. To let each person tell their story as it needs to be told, whether it’s full of careful omission or gross embellishment. They all want to be heard, and that is the true work of the bartender.

Balance Point

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In a recent personal rejection from The New Quarterly, the editors noted that while they often publish work “engaged with the dark side of the human condition and family” those works typically have a “point of balance.”  It got me thinking about my tendency to gravitate towards that darkness, to the exclusion of the light. It’s something I’ve done for as long as I can remember; there was a time where I was sure I wouldn’t have kids because how could I raise kids in a world I had no hope for? These feelings have been exaggerated lately, to the point where I actually feel paralyzed to write anything at all (I do, though, continue to write daily).

I feel like it’s disingenuous to write pretty things, all light and air, when the world is dark and getting darker. Even in the microcosm of family life, I feel like it’s a disservice to the truth if I don’t talk about my struggles. Parenting is hard. Marriage is hard. If we don’t talk about it, everyone continues to suffer in silence, alone in the dark. But it seems like my devotion to the hard truths of life has become an unhealthy obsession: if I’m not writing about hard, sad things, I’m not writing. I can remember this being a part of my writing life as early as my teens. I wrote in my journal most often when I was going through heartbreak, either romantically or with friends. Writing through the darkness was how I made, how I continue to make, sense of things. That is a part of my depressive nature, I suppose. So maybe a part of my practice must be to continually choose to turn towards the light. To document the neutral times, the happy times. To learn the language of levity.

In the days since Trump’s election, I’ve seen it suggested by a few different artists that to continue to make beautiful things is, in fact, a radical act. I feel this responsibility to the truth; to not look away from all of the horrific things happening in the world. I feel like, as artists, we must witness and document. But people need to rest, too. I write so often about self-care, and for me, self-care is sometimes turning away from the endless feed of news and towards something so beautiful it takes my breath away: a favourite poem, the light on the hillside at sunset, my kids holding hands as they play. This leads me to wonder if my power as a writer might be in creating things of beauty. Safe places to rest the mind for a while. Because we can’t afford to look away. We have to stay engaged in order to fight what is coming, what is already here and has been here beneath our notice for decades. But to look for the beauty in each day, to turn towards the light, is the balance point I need right now. It’s a gift I can offer, first to myself, and then to my kids, and then to the rest of the world.

Turning Towards

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I’ve made a habit of turning away from life, lately. It was a means of survival, at first. Checking out from intense emotions was getting me through. Now it’s just a thing that I do mindlessly, reflexively. And I feel like I’ve been writing this post over and over for a year now. I’m tired of it. Are you tired of it yet?

Today I’m making a concious choice to turn towards life. Limited time on social media. Actually getting out of the house, out of the driveway, out of the neighbourhood. I took the kids to the woods today and although it was a grey day and the path was solid ice, we made our way through the dry brown leaf carpet along the edges. And instead of looking for the exit, as I always do, I chose instead to notice what was around me. The constant hum of distant traffic and the lonely sound of crows. Red berries clinging to a bare, thorny bush. Frozen puddles and how the ice shattered like glass under the kids’ boots. The bright green creep of moss on deeply furrowed tree bark, the texture of it. Coyote scat. My breath, in and out. How impossibly tired I am. The weight of the baby in the carrier on my back, the ache in my shoulders and neck. Noticing all of it. Turning towards. Choosing to stay.

It’s been easier, in some ways. It means less yelling, because I can see the shit before it hits the fan. It means happier kids, because I’m paying attention. And I suppose, grudgingly, I will admit that it means happier me, too. Turning away from life is no way to live life. Even if what you’re turning towards is mind-numbingly boring, or uncomfortable, or cold or whatever. At least it’s mine, right?

Full of Rocks

 

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This is a difficult time of year for me; I’d forgotten just how dark the winters are here in Dawson City. It’s been something like 3 years since I was here in December. With the kids, our day begins at 5 am…a full 5 hours before the first light in the sky. And because we’re in a valley, we don’t actually see the sun in the sky for several weeks (I seem to remember that it’s the second or third week of January when we get the first fleeting glimpse). The sun begins to set around 3:30. It’s hard.

I feel this sluggishness that seems to correlate. And maybe we’re meant to really hibernate at this time of year. My first winters here, childless, were spent binge-watching the t.v. series we could rent from the video store (pre-Netflix, don’t ya know) and smoking copious amounts of pot. I’d get out for a walk when there was light. We’d visit friends, the ones with the best sun exposure usually, and drink beer out of cans. Brunch, dinner parties, gatherings of friends in kitchens; it was not so bad. It was novel, in a way. The quality of light or cold, all new to me and my friends.

But now there are so many demands on me, and also I’m 10 years older. I suppose, children or no, I’m happy to be past those fuzzy days spent stoned on the couch. And I’d like to be able to access some kind of motivation, or a continuation of the motivation I feel in the sunnier months. But the long dark fills my veins. It feels like a game we used to play as kids: you’d lay down, eyes closed, and someone would run their fingernail along your outstretched arms, tell you they were cutting you open. Then they’d lightly patter their fingers along the cut, then, more pressure with their fists. Filling you with pebbles, then boulders. They’d pinch along the cut, stitching you up, then tell you to lift your arms–they’d be so heavy. It’s like that, with the winter dark and cold. My limbs are full of it. It’s a monumental effort to write this now. Monumental effort to engage with the kids. The thought of getting all of us dressed, only to spend 10 minutes in the yard with at least one of us crying that it’s cold, is not motivating. I confess to not getting the kids outside much at all, lately. I’m so thankful Aedan goes to school, has recess. It’s one less thing for me to stress about.

There are families that thrive here. I see their pictures on Facebook: tobogganing, skating on frozen ponds, snowmobiling along the trails. It makes me so tired just to think of it. Maybe it’s SAD. Maybe I just need the right supplements, or a swift kick in the ass. What I do know is that I’m taking the kids to London for Christmas: we leave on Sunday and I know that even just a couple more hours of daylight will make the difference. Or I hope it will.

How do you cope with the winter months? Are you able to stay motivated or, like me, would you rather stay in bed til March?