14 March 2007

The Little Wanderer

The strange turn of the seasons: four weeks ago it was subarctic and today we broke the 50 degree mark for the first time in three months. All is a slop, melting snow and crumbling ice sheets, the drip-drip of water pouring down rain gutters and forming vibrant, young streams in the alleys. I have been feeling unwell, off, and in the midst of paranoid neurasthenia and spending most of the beautiful day inside labouring over my taxes and surreptitiously checking symptoms online, at the dinner hour I put on a soft, cream coloured hoodie that I bought last year at a Club Monaco in Montréal, worn under a cute little Gap green corduroy jacket from several seasons ago, slipped on my brown Keen clogs sans chaussettes, and went for a walk.

My local park was crowded with people, which surprised me. “Aren’t you good people supposed to be at home having dinner?” I wanted to proclaim. Strolling couples of all ages, some alone and others with either children or dogs or in fact both in tow, were passed by weaving, huffing runners, also of all ages and shapes, most in shorts of all things. Getting out of the house after sorting receipts all day felt good, and I paused in several places to gaze upon the lake in the middle of the park, which just last week had been reliably frozen, and now was slowly, inevitably, turning into an extremely large Frostee. On the lake itself, there was a lone, foolish ice fisherman, squeezing the last out of winter. Beyond the lake, rising above a network of brown branches and angled rooftops, the towers of Cold City are ablaze with the deep orange and gold reflections of the setting sun. But the park and the lake are engulfed in the deep shadow of twilight, of dusk, a reminder that winter is not yet gone, will still extract the last of our patience.
Temperatures are meant to return to around freezing over the weekend, but I doubt we shall have a cold spell sufficient enough to return the lake to winter’s glaze, which made me a little sad, ironically, even as the warmer weather has meant one can drive with the window down (all the way, not just a crack) listening to classic Heart at full blast, and picture the time when the park will actually be a no-go zone at dusk. The mosquitoes here in the northern climes are rather too fierce for me. When shorts will be de rigueur, as opposed to foolish optimism.

As I walked around the large loop that is the pathway in this park, my mind turned to my neurasthenia, my transitory health concerns, and living in extremis here, marooned on an archipelago of ice and snow (or alternatively, swampy bogs and mosquitoes). Ever since I bid a less than fond adieu to my biological family, right after I graduated from Prestigious Eastern U., I have really in many ways been on my own. Being here, in the middle of an emotional nowhere, exacerbates the feeling of vulnerability, of being alone, of loneliness or perhaps rather solitude. This is not necessarily a kvetch as much as it is a pragmatic statement of fact. Of course, perhaps I am just spending too much time alone. I am rarely alone alone, if you know what I mean. The constant meetings, classes, office hours, and commuting mean that, like many North Americans, I am daily surrounded by thousands of people who I will never know, but on some intellectual level form a community. A million people all alone, watching TV or online alone until all hours, the ghostly blue shadows flashing against a million other windows.

Prancilla, who has recently taken to making 72-hour commando raids into Cold City and promptly returning to Lake City before even a decent brunch and dinner combo, pronounced on his last trip into town that of his four years in Cold City, years #1 and #4 were the best, with the middle two being Spartan and alone. Somewhat prone to believing in patterns, riddles, mysteries, and spells, I wonder if this will be my experience too. Aside from being terribly busy, and stuck with the feeling that I’m getting things done but all in a half-assed way, everything is going rather according to plan. I remain a beautiful colleague, if somewhat overburdened. I am on all the cool committees. My classes are cogent and my students jolly (except for those that aren’t). The divisional grey beards respect me, and include me in their confidences. Senior faculty take me to lunch (and pay!), to ask my opinion on this and that. My department chair and I are getting along swimmingly. I attend my civic committees and my presence is appreciated and noted. And this morning, surrounded by several unorganised piles of receipts, pharmacy printouts, and my accountant’s 40-page tax organiser, I received a phone call with the good news that I was a finalist for a fellowship next year. On the surface, all is well and good. To quote Hallie, “I haven’t seen my soul, but my mother’s rabbi tells me it’s a knockout!”

But I feel like Joan Didion, “Woman of the Year” holed up in her ruined Franklin Avenue manse at the end of the sixties, living on tranquilizers and whiskey and paranoid premonitions and visions, keeping the license plate numbers of random panel trucks and waiting on Charles Manson. Is it a coincidence that my grandparents lived down the street from Didion during this dark time, in their own ruined manse which was to my childish eyes a paradise, the garden filled with aloe vera, jade plants, bougainvillea, and flowering lemon trees? Could this be an effect of a change in season?


GayProf said...

For the pattern to work, was your year #1 the best? Also, if you get the fellowship, won't that mean you won't technically be in Cold City for year #4?

Anonymous said...

Isn't your pic the Yoshimoto Nara's artwork? Is the Little Wanderer living in Cold City? Just "wandering"...

I often visit but rarely comment. I am a slave of Slaves of Academe. Your potent thinking and superb writing can be a bit intimidating for someone like me but reading your blog is always a treat in the dullness of the blogosphere.

Good Luck with the fellowship. I'm sure it is for you.


Anonymous said...

Where are the johnsons?

Mr. G

Didi said...


Congrats on the Fellowship...hope you get it and return East. MISS YA! Anyhow, think we are feeling a little maudlin - normal end of term, end of winter - exhaustion, blues...but, we just need to remember slowly things change like the seasons and we enter new modes of being. Furthermore, even though you feel alone - many of us are always thinking of you.