Posted on 03 June 2007

I sit in my house in the garden – unfortunately, the roof is leaking so I’ve covered it with plastic to protect my papers and books – thinking of the past week and Paul Simon and Bob Marley lyrics run through my brain. “Still crazy after all these years” and “No, woman, no cry… everything’s gonna be all right.”

It’s been a crazy week. One sister called and asked if she could stay with us for a few days. She needed somewhere quiet to think. She left her husband a note saying just that. On the fifth day, he changed the locks on their doors, and the numbers on their alarm system. Now she can’t get into her own home. The police said “No, he can’t do that” – though he did – “Get a lawyer.” I have to be careful telling this publicly because anything I say could be used against her in a court of law which seems as appalling as his crime.

I learned, a few days ago, that our next-door neighbour, who has lived beside us for 23 years, died May 13th. She had been in the hospital since November, suffering from diabetes. Over a period of time, the doctors removed her feet, then her legs below the knees. Rob visited her and said she was quite philosophical, had accepted her loss. She was 82 years old. Every Halloween, she would let her grey hair down and dress up as a witch. Every holiday – Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day – she would leave a little gift on our porch for “Silly Gilly.” Somehow it seemed sadder her dying and not knowing.

Last weekend, the Globe & Mail featured Leonard Cohen whom I’ve adored through all his careers – as poet, prose writer, song writer and musician. I’d like to see his art exhibit in Toronto. Though he laughs when people call him “a lady’s man,” I used to dream of him as the perfect lover. I have never loved a poet in the flesh but did make love to a man who recited “My lady can sleep/ Upon a handkerchief,/ Or if it be fall/ Upon a fallen leaf…” and later married him.

Every time, Cohen appears to me – on television or in the paper, through his writing or song, I am drawn to him. In this interview, when speaking about his current situation – living in an old house in Montreal with his 48-year-old love: “This isn’t very different from the monastery… It’s the same kind of life, which is sometimes difficult, like everybody else’s. It’s a struggle for significance and self-respect, and you know, for righteous employment, to be doing the right thing.”

What is the right thing, I wonder. I have such battles inside myself. I do everything around the house that I can possibly do so I don’t have to pay someone else for labour though when I tried to prune the cherry tree – sitting precariously on a ladder and sawing at a branch – I realized some things are best left for professionals.

My life now consists of home-work and writing. I have slipped into writing mode this past week and can’t seem to stop. I write a paragraph or two – sometimes only a sentence – and when what I’m writing reminds me of another writer’s words on the subject, I stop and find her (or his) text. Sometimes I quote her (or him.) Sometimes not. I am also referencing my journals and old letters. I appear to be creating a system that works for me. I whisper to myself to not get too cocky, too excited – though sometimes I can barely contain myself, I’m so pleased. I remind myself over and over that this is not for publication – at least, at this stage – I can do what I damn well please.

The books that have pleased me the most in recent years are those that don’t follow any set formula or those that speak about the unspeakable – like novels by Winterson, Duncker, Ondaatje. All three are way above my league but they give me courage to write what I please. Nancy Mairs, whose niche is non-fiction, is another author of whom I’m especially fond. I was leafing through “voice lessons” this morning and found many passages that I’d underlined. The one that applies to this moment, is a quote by Jane Tompkins: “I find that having released myself from the duty to say things I’m not interested in, in a language I resist, I feel free to entertain other people’s voices. Quoting them becomes a pleasure of appreciation rather than the obligatory giving of credit.”

I so seldom allow myself pleasure or rather, I struggle to allow myself pleasure which sounds mighty ridiculous when I see it on paper. Writing can be fun and if it isn’t, why bother? And although I do struggle – sometimes for hours on end over one sentence – in the end, when I’ve got it right, I am so full of pleasure, the struggle appears as nothing – the means to an end.

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