In the human library

Yesterday afternoon I was part of a “human library” at my granddaughters’ school. In two sessions of 15 minutes each, the Grade 11 students assigned to me — I’ll call them Emily and Rose — asked me questions and then took my “portrait” (a.k.a cell phone photo).

The girls were lovely. Not surprisingly, both wanted to know about being a writer — how did it happen and where did the stories come from? Emily also asked if I had a piece of advice or what I might say to a younger me. I told her about moving provinces and changing schools for Grade 12 and how homesick I’d been for my previous school and how lonely and self-conscious I was at first. What complicated that circumstance was that since two schools had amalgamated that summer, the students in each half knew each other and, I suppose, assumed I belonged to the other group. I told her I remember walking the hallway between classes by myself, thinking everyone must notice and consider me a loser (or whatever the term was then) for having no friends. Since I know better today, I said, my advice would be that people don’t notice as much as you think they do, but I would also say to that younger me, “It will all work out.” Which it did; eventually I made some friends.

Rose asked about a present challenge. Learning to live alone again, I said. My specific story this time was as recent as the day before, when I took the ferry to Vancouver Island. Simple enough, yes, but I’d never done it myself. New driving situations make me nervous. First, I couldn’t find my lane, and went to the going-to-Nanaimo section instead of going-to-Schwartz Bay. I anxiously circled about until I got to where I was supposed to be. Then when we arrived and I went down to the vehicle deck, I was disoriented in that field of tightly packed vehicles and couldn’t find my car anywhere. Until I finally did. IPhone Maps directed me to my destination on the Island and I had a wonderful visit with friends. On my return, I knew better what to do at the ferry. Small things perhaps, I told my sweet interlocutor, but we never stop learning. And when we stretch ourselves in spite of fear and the stretch is successful, it boosts our confidence.

As for my younger self, I’d mused to Emily that I would love to meet her. Back home, Human Library done, I thought further about such an encounter, not just Older Me looking at Younger Me but her seeing who she would become. Would she be surprised? Would we be satisfied with one another? Though we were slightly wary at first, it was strangely joyous to imagine our conversation.

Deeply affected: Women Talking

Two things I don’t do often: write a blog post just a week and some days after the previous, and go to the same movie twice. I’m doing the first because I was so deeply affected by seeing “Women Talking” I went two days in a row. The first time, I attended alone, and the second, with four friends and then out to dinner to discuss it. Both times were powerful.onesheet

This isn’t a typical review, so if you’re not familiar with the details of the film, there are many reviews (like the Guardian’s) and responses online that supply them. Nor is it about the plight of the women in the story behind the story or how consistent or compatible to “real” Mennonite life it is or a critique of casting or screenplay or anything else. These were discussions that happened in my Facebook feed before I attended, and they interested me because years ago I engaged myself with the Bolivian Mennonite women’s story and also read and reviewed Miriam Toews’ novel Women Talking, but after seeing the movie I found myself strangely disinterested in opining on any of this, for the movie affected me at a visceral, not intellectual, level, and that’s still the place it sits. I can’t quite articulate why or what about this version of the story called up such emotion in me. My friends and I certainly remembered situations of it not mattering what we thought but mine has been a place of privilege in terms of the horrific backstory here. Still, somehow I felt myself within every woman in that hayloft, as well as those like Scarface Janz who left the conversation. I did love the two older women in particular, yes, but I “knew” the women of the other ages too as the camera lingered on their faces.women-talking-hero

But I’m not sure that’s quite it either, it sounds preposterous to suggest that I understand each angle or position within the arguments, reactions, consolations, and even laughter about forgiveness and innocence and courage. About the wisdom in “it is possible to leave…in one frame of mind and arrive elsewhere in another entirely unexpected frame of mind” (August). About what to do!

Please forgive the foggy imprecision of this response. Maybe it was simply being drawn into a story that feels core in its concerns, about topics important to all of us. And for sure to women. Maybe it’s because if I wrote the minutes of my life I would set down exactly their desires too: that we want our children to be safe, that we want to be steadfast in our faith, that we want to think.

A week of bare feet, with a view

When I woke Sunday morning, “In my bed again” to the tune of Willie Nelson’s “On the road again” was singing in my head. I’d heard the latter just a few days earlier in Mexico when my son and grandson crooned along with Straight No Chaser’s cover of the song, their fine harmonies rousing emotion within me about these two in particular, but also about my whole family with me on this holiday. It reminded me of how the bus driver started each day’s drive on my Britain tour last fall with that song too, which had made me wistful as it was more of an anthem for Helmut than for me, frankly, me never being “on the road” in quite the way he was in his work and pleasures, but I was “goin’ places that I’ve never seen” in both Mexico (we were on our way back from a day at a cenote) and Britain and he wasn’t.

A jumble of resonance in other words, waking safely back in my bed with that tune, but feeling not quite home yet, remembering my feet on cool tile, then springing up to the most wonderful view, throwing on clothes to go watch the sun rise over the ocean, cup of coffee in hand, a sight especially spectacular whenever there were clouds, and then the water shifting throughout the day from blue to teal/green. A view with the best sound effects as well: the endless crashing of the waves against the shore wall of the place we stayed, the breeze through the palms, the happy noises of conversation and children at play. BCB80F50-4BAF-4E54-9D6C-69722BEF8D98

Only one week, most of it spent in bare feet, ACFE4C7E-A60C-471E-851F-BF5AEBFEE8A9but the 17 of us had a seven-bedroom house to ourselves, along with a cook and staff, and three times a day we ate together and other than the day at the cenote we were together at the house and local beach, playing the waves, playing in the sand, playing in the pool, playing games, reading, visiting. The son with a longtime habit of a bowl of cereal for night snack found the cereal in the kitchen and thereafter, we were all doing it, in cups or bowls, every evening. Stuff like that and more.

Time is time and technically the same measure, but this was time that expanded and is now rounded into a large set of memories I’ll be treasuring a long time. I’d determined to do this event subsequent to Helmut’s death, and two years later and post Covid restrictions, it was finally possible. My personal theme for the week was gratitude, and it wasn’t hard. No, gratitude this week wasn’t hard at all.


Me with my 10 grands, who range from age 1 to 21.