Transitions Expose the Cracks

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The last flowers given to me by a friend two days ago.

When I woke up this morning I had four words on my lips: Transitions expose the cracks. With those words, so many things became clear. I have been thinking about transitions a lot as I pack our house in Missoula, dividing our possessions into: Goodwill / Garage Sale / Ship to London / Throw Away / Give to Friends / Pack in a Suitcase. There is nothing quite like moving house to renew a sense of what matters, what should be allowed to be fleeting, what needs to be held close and what needs to be completely let go.

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My last walk up Mount Sentinel.

And in that process, any weak link, any unprocessed anger, frustration, or bad feelings become raw and exposed. And this has been my story the past few weeks. All of us in my small family have been navigating the transitions. Some days it hasn’t gone so well. Other days, when we feel in sync, the process is a cake walk. ‘Moving house. What’s the big deal?’

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My last trip to the Roxy.

Today while I was watching E at her final swimming lesson, I was reading Maggie Nelson’s ‘Argonauts’. If there were ever a book about transitions, it is this: “I told you I was sick of stories in the mainstream media told by comfortably cisgendered folks … expressing grief over the transitions of other … Where does it fit into the taxonomy of life crises when one person’s liberation is another’s loss?”

So there it is. Transition. It can be so many things simultaneously.

Apart from my musings on what these two years have meant to me, I keep coming back to the specifics. To the fact that our two years out of London involved coming to a specific town in a specific state populated by specific people. And this is when the tears come. As they did yesterday while I said goodbye to M and her daughter A on my front lawn with mount Sentinel at their backs. That was hard.

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My last trip to Idaho.

So here goes. I would like to thank all the people here who have let me into their lives, their struggles, their joys, their secrets. The friends who have ferried E across town, patiently not making me feel like an idiot for not knowing how to drive a car. To all the people who have fed us, poured us glasses of wine and bought us beers and cocktails in bars. To my friend B who now has my Yoga mat and can keep me up to date on Aladdin and his Persian carpet as he gives tips on ‘extensions’ to all the pretty girls in class. To the writers here who have read my work and allowed me to read theirs. To the editors here who are crazily generous with their time and have published my writing over these two years. To S whose ‘girlfriend dates’ with E have indelibly marked E with what friendship in the lives of girls and women can mean. To the friends who have let us ride their horses. To M whose cinema is the source of so much joy and so many hours of conversation. To G whose bookstore is beyond a doubt one of the best in the country and whose one-liners are a whole genre unto themselves. To those we have canoed with and braved tornadoes with on the Missouri River. To the friends who have sung Kinks songs for us and played guitar and enchanted us with their voices. To those who have performed in bars downtown and encouraged us to sway and dance embarrassingly as if we were 19 again. To those who have barbecued (still a mystery to me) and organised fancy dress parties and shared stories about past lives and future dreams. To the people who have been so open and curious and generous and kind. I honestly cannot imagine landing in a more beautiful place.

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My last views of Paradise Valley.

Who knew that all this and so much more could be found in this small town, high and dry in the foothills of the Rockies, eight hours from the nearest big city? Who knew? But you know who you are and we will always be grateful for what you have given us.

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The last time I will watch these two walk the dusty streets of small towns.

It is my last night in this town. E has three friends over for a sleepover. As I type this, I can see them streak past the kitchen window while the sun sets behind the mountains. They are playing some sort of hide-and-seek game involving fast running, squeals of laughter and the idea of having to get to a ‘safe house’. The goodbyes will be in the morning. We will cry. But then we will get in the car and drive away our sorrow. This is what road trips are so good for. We have several days of lakes and endless horizons and cheap motels and signage that breaks my heart with its insistence on a way of life that still clings on here. All this before we board the plane to London. Those days will be a balm. And then reality will hit and that will be a whole other story.

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what a long strange journey

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Lincoln, Montana, home of Ted Kacsynski, the Unabomber.

In a few weeks, I will have been in Montana for exactly two years. And in those same few weeks I will be returning to London. On 23 June, the UK voted to leave Europe. How this will affect us all is still to be seen. So far, the mood seems to veer from hysterical to forlorn. A new word has been coined: Bregret. It means the sense of regret experienced by people who voted for Britain to leave Europe, only to immediately regret it. I can’t think of a word in the English language that contains more inane stupidity than Bregret.

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Great Falls, Montana.

And in these two years my mother died, followed eleven months later by my father. The house I grew up in is being put on the market and my past in Canada feels as though, through the combined forces of time and circumstance, it is being slowly erased. I learned to drive in Montana. My daughter has become more confident, more independent, and doesn’t think she is rubbish at Math. And I have had the fortune of working with some really wonderful editors here in the US. My writing has expanded. But why all the looking back? All of those changes are not isolated happenings that will suddenly stop. They are part of the past twenty-five years spent in London and are part of my present and will influence my future. I am seeing life as more of a continuum and less of a series of marked periods.

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Missoula County Fairgrounds.

I remember when I was planning my move from Toronto to London at the age of 23. A man I worked with, a lovely man, a Quaker called Neil who did phone sales for the magazine I was art directing, said to me, “Every young woman needs to live a chapter of her life in London.” A chapter. It always stayed with me. I suppose with the longer view that comes with age, a chapter feels inaccurate. Life is more of a novel, or script, or mini-series. Of course it will end: I will die. But in the meantime the connections are surfacing with more force and power than ever. There is sense, a logic or purpose perhaps, created simply through the passing of time to all the moves and decisions I have made in life. It is a sense that has emerged with sharper outlines by throwing all my cards in the air and saying, “Hey, let’s try Montana for a while!” The cards landed in a random order, but I can now clearly see the beauty of the pattern they made when they fell.

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Atomic City, Idaho.

Because of the self-imposed instability that J, E and I ventured into by leaving a very stable life in London, a new trajectory has been uncovered. Like the morning after a snowfall, those first footprints you make stand out in a very marked way. Moving here was the snowfall and every piece of writing to have come out of it, every milestone experienced by E and every frame in J’s film is a footprint. The first blackened shape against that crystalline whiteness.

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Finisia Medrano tending her wild garden.

I am beginning to do things here for the last time, see friends for the last time, experience views for the last time. This morning cycling back from dropping E downtown, I stopped on the pedestrian bridge over the Clark Fork river and wondered if this might be the last time I will see this particular view. It might be.

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Crane Hot Springs, Oregon.

For the past month or so, I have been feeling bereft about leaving here, but I no longer am. I see this period as one of huge change, of lives passing and a reminder of my own impermanence. I also feel a little bit how I felt after giving birth: “Sheesh, if I can do that, then anything is possible.” If I can move to Montana and make it work for all three of us in this tiny little constellation of what people here in the US call my ‘family’, then I can make other changes in my life.

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Lolo, Montana.

We are talking of returning here to the US once we have regrouped in London for a time and had a think about how best to make the work we want to make and to live our lives in the best possible way. I am not too happy with England being simply England now that it is no longer part of Europe. I live there on an Irish passport. I am a European and when I moved to London, it was partly because of its ties to Europe. I am hearing some pretty sad stories from ‘back home’. The latest from an ex-student of mine who saw a bunch of white guys chanting ‘baa baa black sheep’ to a black kid on the tube. I know racism exists everywhere. It is pernicious. But now that people feel they have earned the right to display their racism unfettered, I feel perhaps things have moved to another, scarier level. Or perhaps in order to slay the beast, it first has to come out of its lair. I’d like to think so. But I have always been told I am ‘politically naive’.

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Lolo, Montana.

So, the packing has started. The pruning of E’s drawings and paintings and lumps of clay molded into cats or coiled pots. What to throw away, what to sell at a garage sale, what to give to charity, what to pack and lug across the ocean back to England. We are all three of us in transition again. As long as we can time our transitions to be in synch, we’ll be fine. I say this tonight. With transition comes sadness, a feeling of loss, but also excitement at all the things you haven’t seen or felt or even imagined. Just around the corner.

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The Murray Hotel, Livingston, Montana.