Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Oh, The Places You'll Go!

*This is one of those posts that just sort of materialized... it's kind of personal, and a bit heavy at first, but mostly hopeful, and, hopefully, worth the read.*

Some days you wake up and you just know that it's going to be a good day. Like today. The sun is what woke me from a strange, silly dream, and as much as I tried to hold onto the dream, the sun was there insisting that waking up wouldn't be so bad.

It's nearing the end of April which, for me at least, is one of the most bittersweet times of year. You would think that, because it is my birthday, I would love this time of year, but I have trouble with it. I have trouble with it because it's gorgeous, and because I do love it, and because it was my mother's favourite time of year. It was her birthday too. Spring is about re-birth. Diana was all about rebirth. Renewal. Reinvention.

Diana re-invented herself. She threw sand in the face of the norm and tried to make her life into what she dreamed it could be. It was a modest dream, but it was her dream, and for at least a while, she got to live it.
Everyone has their own method, their recipe
for happiness, for life filled with beneficent

light. All I ever wanted, was to stay alive,

and be happy; every small joy a triumph,

every day without violence my gift to myself.
That is the beginning of one of my favourite poems. The poem is called "Red Currant Jelly" and was one of the eleven poems my mother wrote that won the 1996 CBC Literary Award for poetry. The series of poems is called "Eleven Paintings by Mary Pratt". Pratt is an unbelievably talented Newfoundland-based painter. Her painting, Red Current Jelly, which was the inspiration for the poem, is on display (last time I checked) at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. The poem is probably more moving for me than for most because it is so personal, it is so immediate. It goes on to talk about simple things like family traditions and sense of belonging and how time works you into family mythology.
...Like the stories they tell, the ones
you have become part of, the silver spoons and

great-uncles, and an old telegram from the war
when everything was lost, everything hoped for.
It always makes me think of the ineffable things that make life worth living, about being truly alive, about hope and beauty and love. Mornings like this morning make me feel the same way.

Diana told me more than once that the day she brought me home from the hospital was the most beautiful day. I always felt as though there ought to be some final qualifier at the end of that sentence: ever, of my adult life, that spring. She said the grass was greener and the sky was bluer and the sun was brighter and the whole world seemed to be bursting with life. It was May. I thought she was just describing life through the eyes of a poet.

The day she died was the first real day of spring, and the grass was so green and the sky was so blue and the sun was so bright, and everything was just so, so alive. It was so beautiful I thought I would cry. That was four hours before she died. I didn’t cry when she died. It wasn’t surprising and I wasn’t even really that upset. The strongest things I was feeling were relief and guilt that I felt so relieved.

It’s a clichĂ©, but she wasn’t hurting anymore. I couldn’t be upset about that. She hadn’t been herself for a while anyways. Not really. She was her mind; she once said that if she was in a car accident or something and she was brain dead, she’d rather we pulled the plug and donate what organs could be salvaged to someone who could use them. If her mind was gone, she said, she was gone. When I was seven, that sounded so abstract, so deep. Now, in my mind at least, it’s just a given.

This morning the sun was so bright and the sky was so blue and everything was just so alive. It's an echo of that overwhelming beauty... and then something happened that made my heart halt, as if unsure of how to proceed. In a good way.

That's why I am so confused. Recently, my life has been a series of strange, seemingly coincidental, events that have begun to snowball into something that, this morning, hit some kind of critical mass. My heart has been racing for weeks, in joy, and in anticipation, and in hopeful delirium that things might be changing for me, for the better, forever. Then, in the midst of writing an email, one that seemed relatively unremarkable to begin with, I checked something, just to make sure what I was writing wasn't completely impossible, and my heart just halted. It's not impossible. Not even close. It's actually more perfect than I could have even imagined.

My heart paused, as if to ask me if I really wanted it to do this, to keep going, not because it thought I would want it to quit, but because the manner in which it was about to proceed seemed too good to be true. I was breathless. Hours later, I still am. My heart is thrumming along quietly, trying to ignore the impulse to pound joyfully. (It can do that, it reasons, when I get an offer of admission, or a letter of interest.)

I love school. And I hate school.

I love learning. I love reading. I (clearly) love writing. I love debate, and analysis, and the unbelievable connections that can be made when one is truly paying attention.

I hate the academic snobbery that post-secondary education tends to attract. I hate elitism. I hate losing touch with the real world. I hate deadlines, and profs who do not understand that sometimes life throws shit your way and you CAN'T get that paper in on time even though you aren't the one who is sick. And I hate how much people waste eduction, how many people go to class and sit like slugs, incapable of interacting with the material, as if education is a chore.

I've been in and out of school for the past two years. More out than in. And I miss it. I miss learning, and debating, and having beers with my profs. I already knew I was going back to classes in September, but I was going back just to finish my degree, to get the stupid piece of paper and to close this chapter [Undergrad in Vancouver] of my life. I didn't have much of a plan beyond "graduate" and "move back out east."

Then this morning happened.

I'm pretty sure this is what it feels like to fall in love. I've only felt this way once in my life. I was sixteen. I bought Paul Van Dyk's double CD "Out There and Back" and listened to it on repeat for eight hours and lay there with my head hanging off the end of my bed trying to remember how to breathe.

Silly, I know. But that double CD is the one I'd choose if I was only allowed to listen to one album for the rest of my life. I speaks to me, it's like an artificial heart-beat. I makes me feel like myself.

The only other time I have felt anything like what I felt this morning was in the wake of life altering news. Bad news. News so bad that my system had to pause for a moment to figure out how it was supposed to work. As if everything in me forgot how to function. Can news be so bad that it confuses your entire system? I felt like I was trying to figure out if I was dreaming. That time it was a nightmare I thought I was in. This morning, I'm trying not to wake from what feels like the best dream ever.

It's not even that anything happened.

Nothing happened. Except for about a million tiny cogs falling perfectly into place in a priceless time-piece. For a long time, I've felt trapped. Paused. In limbo. In Dr. Seuss' Waiting Place...
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.

Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wing with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.

(And you though Dr. Seuss was for kids...)

In the Waiting Place, time seems to stop, things freeze (only they don't really), and you don't seem to get much of anything done because you are waiting for something, usually some unknowable thing, to happen and pull you out of the rut.

Some people expect someone to pull them out. Fine. Good luck. Not me. I've always known that I was going to save myself. I don't need someone to save me, I just need people who give me the strength to save myself. I've got that now.

The cogs all fell into place this morning. Writing. Rowing. Graduate school. Where to move. Why to move there. How to move there. My career. My sport. My education. My future. My life.

It all seems too good to be true, but every time I check a detail that might hinder my plans, it somehow, inexplicably, gives me good news. It feels as though the cosmos is conspiring to help me. It's like my trip to New York and DC all over again. I'm waiting for something to bring me down. Back to the real world.

But how unreal is what I'm considering? I joked about moving to Pittsburgh because, well, why not? It was a joke... and then all of a sudden it wasn't anymore. All of a sudden it became something I wanted to do, something I really wanted to do, something I wanted that defied logic. It was a gut feeling. It was people drawing me there. To a city I've never set foot in. To a state I've driven through twice, in the dead of night. To a place that had me at "confluence of three rivers" and really hasn't had to do much to make me love it since then.

Now I have a logical reason to move there. A really good reason. A reason that will serve as a good enough excuse to everyone who needs the kind of justification for what I know, in my heart, is simply something I MUST do.

I want to get back into rowing. I want to write. I want to go to grad school. (I hadn't seriously considered combining those two until now, and now they are absolutely inseparable in my mind.) I want to be a city that has snow. I want to be back out east. I want to be closer to my family. I want to be somewhere new.

There are silly little things too, of course. I have friends there already. In school, I am all but guaranteed to make more. I'll be able to Pens home games. I can see my Sens when they play in PA. I'll be close to New York and Washington and Ottawa. (My definition of "close" has been altered by living in Vancouver which is far FROM EVERYTHING...)

And then there's just gut instinct.

That I'm supposed to be there, for a while at least. A three year MFA will be good, in terms of "a while" - then maybe I'll move on. Or maybe I'll stay forever. I'll figure that out later. Right now, I just need to get there. I need to get my ducks in a row. Until today, I knew I needed to do it because I needed to finish this chapter of my life... but now? Now I know I need to do it because I've just been given a teaser of what the next chapter holds, and I want so badly to get to it, that I'm prepared to do whatever is necessary to get to it in a timely fashion. Be it writing the GRE, or swallowing my pride and asking profs to make an exception for me (even though I probably don't deserve it), to working jobs I hate just so I can afford to make it all happen.

I'm still breathless. I have words for a lot of things, but not for this.

The last chunk of my favourite storybook ever... because it sums it up better than I can.

Somehow you'll escape
all that waiting and staying.
You'll find the bright places
where Boom Bands are playing.

With banner flip-flapping,
once more you'll ride high!
Ready for anything under the sky.
Ready because you're that kind of guy!

Oh, the places you'll go! There is fun to be done!
There are points to be scored. There are games to be won.
And the magical things you can do with that ball
will make you the winning-est winner of all.
Fame! You'll be famous as famous can be,
with the whole wide world watching you win on TV.

Except when they don't.
Because, sometimes, they won't.

I'm afraid that some times
you'll play lonely games too
Games you can't win
'cause you'll play against you.

All alone!
Whether you like it not,
Alone will be something
you'll be quite a lot.

And, when you're alone, there's a very good chance
you'll meet things that scare you right out of your pants.
There are some, down the road between hither and yon,
that can scare you so much you won't want to go on.

But on you will go
though the weather be foul.
On you will go
though your enemies prowl.
On you will go
though the Hakken-Kranks howl.
Onward up many
a frightening creek,
though your arms may get sore
and your sneakers may leak.

On and on you will hike.
And I know you'll hike far
and face up to your problems
whatever they are.

You'll get mixed up, of course,
as you already know.
You'll get mixed up
with many strange birds as you go.
So be sure when you step.
Step with care and great tact
and remember that Life's
a Great Balancing Act.
Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.

And you will succeed!
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)


So . . .
be your name Malkin or Mason or Mer,
or Malhotra, Crosby, Nash, Godard or Stall,
you're off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So . . . get on your way!

So clearly I took some creative license in the last few lines...

Today was just beautiful. It tore at my heart a little, and then somehow my bittersweet morning became something of a quietly life-altering day. Nothing big happened. Not in the world. Not to anyone. Just to me. In me. Something in me is different. Confused and hopeful and convinced that everything that is happening isn't just coincidental. This is all happening for a reason. I have absolutely no idea why, exactly, but I am absolutely certain that I'm not crazy.

I had planned to write something about overcoming obstacles today. Instead I wrote this, which is oddly enough just that, but not at all what I imagined.

You have to know what you want before you can get it. I had no clue what I really wanted. I've had little hints, brief glimpses of potential futures, but I was waiting for something that I couldn't have explained to you before today, but I can now say is simply the whole package. It's like holding out for Mr. Right, that dream guy who is everything you need (but probably not everything you thought you wanted): you're not sure until it's right there, staring you in the face. And then you know.

You know that's it. That's right. That's destiny.

This is neither what I expected, nor what I 'wanted' -I didn't know to want it- but it feels more right than anything else I've ever felt. It's the most insistent instinct I have ever had. Something drew me to Vancouver; almost as much as something drove me from Toronto. But that feeling was nothing compared to this. This is like a siren call, an instinct that leaves any part of me that might want to dissent wondering where its willpower has gone.

A few years ago, someone asked me if I believed in destiny. I told him I believed in fate. When he asked me what the difference was, I told him 'subtle'. I was being cheeky. That's how I flirt.

I knew they were different, but I couldn't have told you how, or why I believed in one but not the other. Fate is the effect of entropy, of events all inevitably leading to a pre-ordained conclusion. There's no escaping fate. Or so I thought. But perhaps there is. Perhaps, destiny is a more active alternative to fate. Maybe destiny is what happens when you take control of fate, and tell it how things are going to be.

Maybe destiny is there for all of us who are not satisfied to sit back and let out lives happen to us.

I was going to go all playoff-crazy and write a Pep-Rally post for the Blue Jackets because I want to see them win tonight. The Columbus Blue Jackets need to find some fire before they face off against the Detroit Red Wings. They need to figure out whether or not they are going to take charge of their destiny or if they are going to succumb to fate. I could try to write something inspirational, but I won't. Instead, I humbly suggest that Ken Hitchcock reads his team some Dr. Seuss before tonight's game.

Good luck boys. (You too Pens!) Make today a Super Tuesday!


ali said...

I really really enjoyed reading this... The stuff you write is crazy powerful -- I don't even really know how to explain it...

So, maybe, today was a 50% Super Tuesday? Maybe you can smile when you think about the Columbus game if you picture me in a Buffalo Wild Wings (a sports restaurant/bar joint) in Kentucky watching the Pens game but continually yelling jabs at the 10 guys there in Wings jerseys. I screamed the loudest all night when the BJ's scored their goal -- I thought the Wings fans were going to come and get me... Oh well... haha

mer said...

at least they weren't Flyers fans...

lauren said...

I love everything about this post, Mer. You (more than most) deserve your dreams. And I love "Oh, The Places You'll Go"- my senior year, my AP Literature teacher read it to us on the last day of school, and I feel the need to read it now at most major life events. Dr. Seuss knew what he was talking about.

I think the Jackets might be succumbing to their fate- but Nationwide was rocking tonight! That franchise definitely has a future, because their fans are going to will them there.

Susan said...

WOW! Loved this!
Sometimes you just have to let go and follow your heart/soul/gut. Sometimes everything does just fall into place. It doesn't happen often, so enjoy it and go for it! I'll be sending good thoughts your way!

Jessclub7 said...

Dr Seuss = a philosophy to live your life by.

Follow the good doctor - he will never lead you astray!

Val said...

In the words of Nike - JUST.DO.IT.

What an inspiration you are to all of us to wake up and just do it! When I was 22, I was brave and did something, and I am so glad that I did, but there are times when I wonder...you (and all of the women on here) have the option to never have to wonder...

My sister-in-law is the former women's rowing coach at UW-Madison and very connected to the East Coast rowing clubs, etc. through her college years at UMass. If you need anything at all in that regard and think she could help, let me know!

Go pens, bjs, and I think I have to root for the ducks because of Ryan Whitney and James Wisniewski! Peace out!