The Life Between the Line

pencil-1692531_1920I remember my parents making fun of my brother, Stephen, for how terrible he was at communicating when he was in boarding. They always said, “It’s difficult to read between the line,” because there was only ever one, in his emails. He’s never been a man of many words when it comes to writing.

As I look back on the past several months, I wonder if my parents are saying the same thing about me. I think about the amount of short ‘one-liners’ I’ve sent off to my parents or friends lately. I know I mean well. I’m always wanting to set aside a good chunk of time at some point to write a proper email and give a more full picture of things, but it usually doesn’t happen. My all-or-nothing approach with emails usually means people either get emails that resemble text messages, or nothing at all. I’m still waiting for that time when I decide to sit down and write out a proper email.

Unfortunately, so much of life happens between the lines. So many of the thoughts we have throughout the day, or the experiences we go through, never quite make it out to the people who want to hear all about it. I realize this even with Michelle each day, as things get missed or forgotten. And it’s always the craziest or best stories that are the hardest to relate. Some of the biggest lessons, impressions, and insights seem to fall into the blank silences between the lines, as words so often fail to express the beauty and complexity of these moments.

As everyone knows, it’s often when more things are happening in life that communication gets harder and harder. And as the schedule fills up, the conversations are pushed to the sidelines. It doesn’t mean that the conversations become secondary, it just means that as the quantity of story to tell increases, the motivation to tell it decreases. Before you know it, life becomes “a long story” that you hardly ever have time to tell, with all the backstory, prefaces and appendixes to everything that makes up our experiences.

That is, I suppose, the nature of life. So much of it is unexplainable and passes by in a beauty and chaos that can’t quite be captured in words. And yet, it also begs to be described and communicated. As the writer, Thomas Mann noted, “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” And I’m sure, in the same way, it’s the most beautiful moments, of life that art and artists struggle to put to canvas, or to capture with a camera. It’s impossible.

Life is an unpaintable model. However, you may read between the lines in this post, and realize that I do need to work on my communication. I’m a procrastinator at my core, I think— especially when it comes to written communication — always waiting for that perfect moment to start something, when nothing else is getting in the way. But everything always gets in the way. And so, this is part of my effort at doing a better job — choosing to start, and put words on paper; choosing  to try to capture the fleeting moments of life.

I Stole from Safeway

A couple days ago I stole from Safeway. Let me preface this. This has been my second week of “working” as a live in care-taker for my dad’s sister’s husband’s dad. Got it? I put working in quotations because, in many ways, it doesn’t feel like work. It definitely feels like work every time I lay down to go to bed and realise how incredibly tired I am, or when I try to read in the afternoon and find my eyes wandering over the pages of my book as I struggle to stay awake. But mostly the things I do fall more under the category of normal life. I wonder sometimes if mothers feel similarly (I don’t presume to say that I come even close to what moms do, but I do sometimes feel that I’m getting a tiny taste). Most of my day is filled with simple things like cooking, shopping, doing laundry, cleaning, being company, and helping to get clothes on and off. I do most of these things for myself anyway— now it’s just a little more and a little different. So, while my time here it’s very different from jobs I’ve had where I come home exhausted from working with tools and lifting all kinds of silly steel things, It still comes with it’s challenges and difficulties of its own. Overall though, it’s been a great experience so far, full of stories and laughs and card games.

So, I stole from Safeway. We went shopping the other day, “Grandpa” and I. And we were going through the list of groceries we needed, with Grandpa pushing the cart to give him something to hold onto, and me reading out labels and prices, since my eyes are still able to do that. While we looked, I saw that Old Spice deodorant was on sale. As a side note, I’ve used lots of other deodorants in my life, but have occasionally had trouble with my skin reacting a little to some (that makes me sound like a sissy). But, Old Spice has always been fine, so rather than figure out what it is that gives me issues, and which kinds I’m okay with, I just stick with Old Spice. And, seeing as I didn’t have a spare, I thought, why not grab an extra while they are on sale? So I did, making sure not to put it in the cart, because Grandpa is very generous and would have insisted on paying for it if he saw it. In this case, a little poor eyesight goes a long way. However, as we went through the store and I soon busied myself with putting fruit and vegetables in bags, the deodorant went into the pocket of my hoody to free-up my hands. And amidst loading the cart, paying for the groceries and going out to the car, taking the cart back, and making sure Grandpa got into the car fine, I completely forgot about the deodorant. So, as we unpacked the groceries back at home, a sinking feeling of guilt, horror and shame come over me when I felt something in the pocket of my hoody, totally forgetting that I had put the deodorant in there. I know it was an accident and could be easily fixed, but I still felt pretty terrible about it. There I was, an unwitting shoplifter at large with my stolen merchandise. Thinking back, I’m a little surprised how easy it was. I wonder if a lot of stuff gets stolen on a regular basis from places like that. Or maybe all the shoplifters get caught — something God spared me from in His compassion for His scatter-brained child.

So to fix the problem, that afternoon I decided to combine my exercise with alleviating my guilt, and went for a run to Safeway, taking a key for the house and five dollars to pay for the deodorant. However, this meant that when I got to Safeway, I was mildly sweaty, wearing exercise clothes while standing in line at a till with one stick of Old Spice deodorant in my hand.

When I go to grocery stores I can’t help but judge people for their shopping. I don’t mean it to be malicious or anything, but I enjoy looking at what kinds of food people get and trying piece together an idea of the kind of person they are and the lifestyle they live. Since “you are what you eat”, I’m really just looking right into their skimmed milk and free-range egged soul. I’m always amazed to see the people that load their carts full of chips and pop, with the occasional box of frozen pizza or something and wonder how these people’s bodies survive. I wonder what their house is like, or what a normal day looks like for them. I can’t help but smile when I see people buy weird health food and then throw in some sweet junk food or something as well. Or the people that buy that cheap, calorie filled whatever in the bakery section or candy aisle — the kind I always see but have never ever bought and always wondered who in the world would pay hard-earned money to eat something like that. Or the lady who picked up a magazine from the shelf (you know, the ones with scantily clad, airbrushed females that promise weight-loss routines and tell you all about what’s going on with Will and Kate, and who’s breaking up with who in the acting world?), to take a quick flip through it’s enlightening pages while she waited in line for the one person in front of her, and then had it scanned to find out the price and, rather than put it back on the shelf when she decided she didn’t want it, handed it to the cashier to deal with later. Silly, silly people.

Anyway, considering all the shopping analysis and judgement that I pour out on the people I see, I couldn’t help but wonder about what people thought of me — standing in line and holding one stick of deodorant. Did they think that I was at home, ran out of deodorant and ran all the way to Safeway just for it? Or did they think that I just decided to go shopping in the middle of a run, which I conveniently had five dollars for, and that all I needed was deodorant? Or maybe they thought I was running, got sweaty, started to smell and essentially had a deodorant emergency that couldn’t even wait until I got home? Whatever people thought, I tried to put my feeling of embarrassment behind me and act as normal as I could buying my one stick of deodorant.

After explaining that I had gone through without paying for it before, I paid the cashier for the it and then handed it back to her. Her “thank you” was forgiveness enough, and I couldn’t help but feel a little lighter with the weight of my crime lifted off me as I stepped out the door and ran off into the parking lot.

I Lost My Mind

Work, you are dead to me,
Or I am dead to you,
At least, that is, I died,
Or I will die,

Then it’s will at stake,
For I will kill you,
Or you will kill me,
So it’s your will or mine,

A mine I didn’t see,
when I stepped on it
Exploded in my brain,

So its the brain, I see
Or I saw, before I lost it

But what did I lose?
I can’t remember

A brain, a will, a mine?
I really don’t mind,

Do I mind? Perhaps,
Oh yes, that’s what I lost

I forgot I lost my mind

Winter Back Again

Just when I thought winter was gone, it comes again. I had so enjoyed the last few days of sun, with temperatures hovering around zero. I even heard birds singing in the trees outside my room. I had almost forgotten that there were birds at all, or that their songs sounded so beautiful in the warm mid day breeze. Slowly the days begin to grow longer, and I start to consider taking the path outside to class, just to get a few moments of lovely sunshine. Puddles form all over the streets, promising an end to this reign of white and cold.

And then, the other night, the flakes begin to fall. Huge thick snowflakes covering the ground like a huge blanket. And winter is back, like a cold that just won’t leave. In fact, I almost got a cold again! I’ve already had my yearly cold that comes somewhere at the start of winter, and I’m afraid the warmth of a pseudo-spring, followed by the sudden snow almost fooled my body into thinking it was time to get sick again. Thankfully after popping vitamin C with the frequency of someone with a heart condition, I survived through and lived to continue breathing through an empty nose.

Today I decided to pack my backpack with some work and head downtown for lunch at Quenched International Coffee House. I work every Friday at this little coffee shop, right in the center of the downtown area. So often, while I’m working I see people come in for a while to get some work done, settle down with a coffee and soak in the lovely atmosphere of the place. I guess it never occurred to me that I could actually do the same. I’ve seen these people in movies, frequenting cute coffee shops, squeezed into some colourful street downtown. It seems so picturesque. And why not? Why couldn’t that be me? So here I am. It’s not New York, and the bustle of life is fairly subdued, being just an average city in Alberta. But all the same, after a lovely soup and a piece of banana bread, facing the windows and watching people go by, life is peaceful.

Hammer Time

I was completely fresh when I first began my shift on the road team doing construction and maintenance over the summer. Many of the things we did were completely new to me, and even those that weren’t had only been learned a few weeks earlier. Back at the shop in Red Deer I was teased from time to time for being too soft and unaccustomed to the work that was done there. Occasionally as I pounded at a dent or some jammed piece of equipment, someone would give me the encouraging “put your purse down and hit it!” Thankfully I enjoyed a good laugh with them.

Once on the road, I was suddenly faced with a lot more responsibility, opportunity to try some new things and to really work hard. I remember the first time being introduced to our work trailer, full of tools and parts, more or less orderly and organized. I distinctly remember seeing the big red tool box, with each drawer labelled in black marker. All the labels were fairly normal, except for the label on the drawer with the hammers, which read “HAMMER TIME”, in all capitals. I never quite understood the story behind it. To me, hammers seemed like a clumsy excuse for a tool that served hardly any purpose but to hit things. It wasn’t like we were carpenters and had nails to use. Why use a hammer when there were all sorts of complicated tools that did a far better and more efficient job? I very soon found out.

Work was messy. Motors and the parts to be assembled were nothing like the neat boxes of Lego sets that I grew up on, where everything fit and worked, just like the instructions. Here on the road, everything fit on paper, but we didn’t work on paper. Holes were routinely cut in belt guards (they were never the right size), bolts were constantly being replaced. I soon learned that just about anything that could be difficult and go wrong, did. And it was at these times, which were surprisingly frequent, that I was sent back to the trailer to grab a hammer. This happened again and again. We would be busily working away at something, hit a road block, and pretty soon it was time for the hammers to come out, to bash a piece into submission or force a part to where it should go. Hammer time again.

On the road, the hammer is one of the workman’s best friends. And very soon I saw its worth in the tool box. It didn’t just serve as a steel bully on the job, it stood for problem solving and making things work in a world that just didn’t. It was compromise, creativity and determination. One day I hope I’ll have a tool box, and when I do I’ll only label one drawer on the box; ‘Hammer Time’.