A Conventional Life
This Hour is Mine, 40 x 60
“Well, I quit my job,” my friend Victoria tells me as we stepped single file across a crusty snow covered field.
“I don’t know what is going to happen. I don’t have any money. All I know is that this isn’t my path. I never led a conventional life. Until I had a child. A conventional life just doesn’t work for me.”
It was a grey February day. The walking was more treacherous than we expected.
Victoria and I are both edging close to empty nests. Slices of ourselves that where stored on a high shelf, almost two decades ago, seem to pulse quietly.
Victoria adds; “You have not led a conventional life.”
Behind Victoria I smile quietly. I think of my friend Jen in the Yukon.
Jen finds me conventional.
It just depends on your lens.
When I had two kids in diapers I was not offended by years of exposed lath and plaster in our kitchen.
But I was offended, deeply, to find myself swimming in a sea of red plastic objects. Dented, scratched, fourth-hand.
Somewhere buried under the ocean floor I feared I had lost any aesthetic hopes. And along with any self esteem seemed to vanish.
The kid paraphernalia kept my babies safe for long enough for me to pull my head together and make myself a tea.
It is doubtful that I ever washed any of these plastic objects before they stuck them in their drooling mouths.
During this time, as a fat carrot, I went to Whitehorse.
Jen lived on what's known as Squatter’s Row. Off grid.
Driving up her road for the first time it might have been unkind to say, “This is not a road.”
Jen’s life is full of little animal bones she found on hikes. Her shelves are lined with tiny rocks and little glass bottles and bits of felt and lichens. Pinned on her walls tiny watercolours with fabric attached, old postcards from our trip to Thailand.
Jen finds treasure everywhere.
Inside Jen’s outhouse there were poems pinned to the wall and a pile of alternative magazines. They had political themes I hadn’t known existed.
The outhouse had a door which I kept it propped open.
To save having to dig a new outhouse, Jen collected used toilet paper in a paper bag to burn.
At the end of that week I found myself lying in a bathhouse Jen had built from scavenged windows.
She is generous and must have spent an hour boiling water and carrying it to the claw foot tub for me.
I love it when they people at a fork in the road.
They size up their lives with honesty. They consider the rough path that hints at doom or treasure. They talk about subjects they wouldn’t touch beforehand. Their newly discovered energy can light the room.
I love it when people are willing to paint over their over their old canvas, to loose all that work.
It can be painful and I am empathetic with that.
Suddenly I find myself more engaged. At the edge of my seat, leaning in.
Who knows what precipitates our epiphanies; a holiday alone, a book that lights the way.
You have a “last straw” moment.
Or a conversation in a restaurant awakens a need in us. We return to the front door of our home a different person, wondering if we will be welcome this time.
Was blind but now I see.
Or setting up new rules for inspired living, we show our canines like a defensive dog with a bone.
This, we announce, is not negotiable.
Often this means drawing a new picture of ourselves, leaving a marriage. Excruciating.
What I rellish is this: before the epiphany we were circumscribed by not wanting to hurt other people.
We grow tired of our inner battle. In not wanting to hurt people we find ourselves hurting people in ways we hadn't calculated.
I can see clearly now.
Jen calls me after her tenth Yukon winter.
She has grown weary of the indoor winter bucket.
Sighing into the phone she says:
“I am building a house. With plumbing and a toilet and electricity. My life will be full of hot baths.
But it seems obscenely indulgent. I feel I’m selling out.”
I laugh at her, shaking my head.
And I can hear.
It does hurt a little.