Sunday, February 1, 2015

While I was gone

Whoa! I have not posted anything on this blog since November 29th. Not even anything inane. I had never missed a single month before, let alone two, not since I started posting to my blog site in October 2010.  Blame Christmas. Blame a month-long flu - a brutal bout of H3N2. Blame writer’s block.

One thing that I know about myself is that I have seasonal cycles to my productivity. September is my favourite month. I can almost smell the freshly sharpened pencils from the first day of school. In the latter days of August, it is as if I am on a leash pulling forwards. Throughout September, I awaken when it is dark, hole up in my study for hours on end, and sigh when it is time to stop to make supper.

Still Life: Hyacinth, and Writers’ Tears. The figurines were my mother's. Margaret Laurence looks on from behind the whiskey. Her choice would have been Scotch, not Irish. Understandably.
 My second most productive time starts in late January, and the reason for this is deeply personal. My mother died January 24th, 1984. The story of her dying became my first book, Some Become Flowers. During her last month of life, I placed hyacinths on a window ledge in the room where she and I slept. They masked the smells of seeping fistulas, and decay. Every year since then, I buy at least one hyacinth in January, often three. There is a heightened kind of living that can happen when those who we love are dying, and we are with them. The scent of the hyacinth takes me there again, and again, and again, into that sense of sprung time.

This year, I got boost in my writing not only from the usual hyacinth, but also from my friend Colleen Friesen. Back in December, I had asked her to read a chapter for me, one that I had rewritten so many times that I could no longer tell which parts had resonance, and which parts were totally dead on the page.

Put in more about the murder she said. Lead with it. I did, and now I am off and running. Less than a week later, I have already rewritten six chapters. Part of my newfound focus also came from reading a book that I received as a Christmas gift from Marion Quednau.

John Berger’s Here is Where We Meet.
In this book, as Berger introduces us to his travels in Lisbon, Geneva, Krakow, Madrid and elsewhere, he also explores both the interstices and the connections between the living and the dead. It isn’t only what Berger says on the page which makes his book such a compelling read, but it is also his instinct for leaving certain things out. Somehow, those events and perceptions, the ones that he keeps just out of sight of the reader, become much more present than they would have been had they been included.

I am still learning the art of pruning. Less is more. Thank you John Berger. Thank you Marion. Thank you Colleen. Thank you Mum. I stand on all of your shoulders.

PS I just reread an email that I had sent to my eldest daughter this year on the morning of the anniversary of my Mum’s death: I am finally up off the tiles (as they say in Ireland – although that expression is usually associated with having had too much to drink). Yesterday was the first day I woke feeling like having a shower and then going to work. Until then, I would get up after sleeping 10-12 hours, and then think immediately about sitting down … Thank goodness this is over ….  Was it a coincidence that this was when my usual level of energy finally returned? I think not, although it took me two more days until I realized that January 24th had just come and gone. Then, I went out and bought a hyacinth.


  1. I love it Sharon and I resonate with all of it! January and February are brutal months for me, and my bones ache for spring. The art of pruning.... Even worse the act of giving a personal piece of writing for someone else to scrutinize! Only six more weeks of winter they say here. Much shorter for you in B.C., lucky ducks!

  2. Sharon. I feel honoured that my comment was the impetus to get back into your story. I love how things like this work, how we can lift and support each other to keep going, so often not realizing the impact of our words. Thank you for sharing your hyacinth tradition. That's so beautiful...