to maps!

so here's to google maps! and to technology, for being more fun in its accuracy. maps, paper maps, are solid friends, and they'll always have. place in my saddlebag. they bring the order of absolute place. they ask from you, but they give a lot--know where you are, and from these points, you can olace yourself as an insignificant dot in a preordained scale , granular or sweeping. maps are what ask you to be responsible, to keep track, to understand the world beyond you. they are the sure hand tht's been there before. 


google maps is a little tipsy, but the best chance you've got, and is saying, come on, man. i swear there's a road here. i got an algorithm, man, and it says there's a road right here--and then points straight into the bushes. google maps asks you to fly in the face if all things reasonable or logical; it asks you to surrender the sense of relational knowledge for the benefit of instant information and direction that does not make any more sense than the information on all sides of it. when you look at the phone, you are not looking around where you are. all the information you need is the blue dot, the little shy arrow pointing in the direction you're facing. (which is utterly miraculous in my mind. to think that they know, if all things, which way your phone is pointing. ) you surrender every bit of where am i for two statements: i am here and i need to go this way.


and yet i love using my phone to navigate precisely because of how unreliable it is. google maps has sent me into marshes; into private property; once, almost into a river. twice in the south of france i followed my phone down a narrow lane that dissolved into n unpaved road, and when the fabled left turn came, i pivoted and saw pure underbrush, with the faintest tyremark through the grass.


i went anyway. i always go. getting lost is the miracle of travelling somewhere new--especially on a bike--and google maps is the perfect enabler, both incredible tool and reliable screwup. it has failed to get me to my hosts on time, accurately schedule travel, ir sanely interpret the notion of what a passable road is. but google maps has also placed me in the path of a harrier hawk flaring open its wings at sunset; has forced me into the arms of many unexpecting French bakers after a hungry fifteen-k detour; has found me perfectly paved, smooth roads at sunset, when the grass went on honeycoloured through the fields. iam not saying maps do not do this. but like the drunk friend who sometimes stumbles, as if by chance, into some miraculous place in the middle of things, it sent me somewhere i would have gone to if i had known the full context of my going.


if i had only followed my map, i would have gotten there. and reliably, too--on well-practiced roads that go through many towns, and which have existed long enough to be deemed worthy of mapping. but it would have been less surprising, and strange; and perhaps less fun. better to be lost and singing than true and silent, no?

I pulled out the boxes I have stuffed in the closet of my old room. Five of them: old journals, a tablecloth, hiking boots, a walrus baculum Ian gave me before he left the Maritimes that's about the size of a femur. And books, mostly books: Kingsolver, Chekov, Mitchell, Zwicky, Dickens, all the Harry Potter books I could get my hands on when I was fifteen. They like there with their spines stuck to one another, like a catalogue of bones; like a compression sack of the self. All these parts of me, neatly stacked and lightless! All these ways I used to understand myself and define myself, gone. 

Books like those, though, aren't meant to be read by me any more. They're meant to be things that I return to; a certain amount of nostalgia, of lost sense of self has to be felt before I find it necessary to open them up, sweep off the storage cloths, and sit very quietly on the my childhood bedroom floor for a very long, very quiet time. 

I always end up doing this when I come back to my parents' house, which I've done every year or so since I left. I was afraid it was nostalgia at first--some longing for the old self who used to be fed and cared for at fifteen, who would sit on the same bedroom floor and scratch out first poems or read Dune. I worried that I was somehow seeing that time as a better time.

I don't think so anymore. It feels, now, like looking back at a map after a long ride though the hills. When I've successfully lost myself and still found my way home, there's a quiet joy in tracing back my route til I figure out exactly which turn I took, where I went, and to live the journey again by tracing myself on paper. 

One day there will come a time when I'll take those boxes out and bring them to where I want to be at the moment--where Salinger and Vonnegut and Mistry will all sit exposed to light, in another house and another place and another time; and their spines will fade with time. The maps and the journey will start to look the same. 


Ach, this has been so self-reflective. Montreal does this to me right now. I'm worried, too, about the next weeks: meetings in New Brunswick, in Nova Scotia, which may or may not change what the days will look like in the coming months and years.

A doctorate feels so immense right now not because of its actual length or what its work requires, but because of the precarity in needs me to accept: that for at least another two years, the books stay in the closet, the clothes are kept packed, the baculum (hem) remains under wraps. Two more years of not knowing where exactly I'm living, or with whom; and of being certain that, no matter what, I'll uproot somewhere in order to do it. It's a chance to do much, yes. But it's also a necessary surrender. I want to figure out the edges of my surrender, pace out my territory. Find out where my choices end. 

And then, as MacKay reminds us, snow tires.

ah, there was something here before. and then I deleted it. 

is it worth it, I wonder. tonight i made ratatouille, sliced thinly, rings of zucchini and fairytale eggplant covered with red tomato. a bed of basil, garlic, olive oil. an hour in the oven, a half-hour to prepare. i like doing it. they know that. it's about making myself feel useful. 

after, though; not a word. each family member to their respective screens. it made me feel sad. it made me wonder why I'd done it.

i see them still, eyes locked away from each other, backs almost touching. 

Lots of worries today, not the least of which being the news from away: white sugar poured into water, phone calls from Glasgow, hearts being broken from a distance. The slow whine of a bobbin unspooling. Here in Montreal, the air is warm and ripe with humidity, the sun beats down, the water ruffles with wind; on the other side of the pressure system, houses are torn from foundations, people cower in stadiums. Try, despite all you know, to feel as though you're not unjustly on the winning side of a rigged, zero-sum game. Try, despite knowing this, feeling that we aren't all losing anyways. 


This evening, diving into water after a warm evening row with Dad. We never swam in the river as kids. It was dirty and messy and cold, not to be dealt with. Recently, though--since Claudia's death--I've asked my body to be okay with the cold; to glory in the shock and the eventual warming to it. Maybe it's a lesson in breaking inertia. Maybe it's just letting my muscles relax and be held by a different gravity. I like to hold myself there, letting the sky swell and take over, edgeless pastures of cloud. I could have stayed. It's nicer in there. 


Should stop writing these at night before bed; far too meditative, far too little fun.


Today's highlight: Along de Maisonneuve, right before Concordia, noticing someone coming up fast on the bike path, slipping between pedestrians and commuters and bixi-tourists as fast as I was, and noticing the flash of orange guiding them as I saw them look at my bike, and hearing the same sound come out of our mouths at the same time: a slow, head-nodding, appreciative "Yeah."  It lasted no more than a second, but I flew through the next few blocks, an unstoppable grin on my face. Recognizing each other and, in the split-second of common slipstream, glorying in that shared instrument of purpose. 



(What a nice ride, though. spinning my way up the hill from Ville St-Pierre to NDG, along the train tracks, following the path along De Maisonneuve from the ghosts of my high school to the ghosts of Chris and Brie's old building to the ghosts of the time I sat at Vendôme and cried. Following the path, still, weaving between the commuters on full-suspension mountain bikes and the tourists on their glitchy Bixis all the way through Westmount, through the park and the smell of Porsche baking in the twenty-eight degree heat, through the shaded bustle of the Concordia buildings, along the shearing sounds of construction, up to the Place des Arts and over the sunlit white tiles and the giant-sized swings to Ontario, meeting the wide street and my own memories from years past with a sense of new tarmac and new grit. And in it all, the hard sun of a new day, the heat, the humidity, the wind you generate through movement. The joy of being happy in a place that you left and which forgot you. Montréal didn't care; but I did, and I returned, and every time I return I hold new love for this place. Riding it with that new familiarity, with the muck  Look, city! Look at me, who left and came back. Let us be familiar with one another; and if we can, let us be friends.)

Try not to think about it too hard. (It's late and the slow fan is on and the crickets are sweetening the night air. There is a part in your hair from where you didn't part it right when you came out of the water and shook yourself dry. The left side of your back is aching from the bike ride. The spoken distances you'd set yourself: twenty, fifty, a hundred kilometres, all of them falling back into silence at the end of the day. How much further you go when you don't think or speak of where your wheels are headed.)

It's been a long time since you have written without consequence; try to give in to writing without consequence. Writing without sequence, writing in sequins, writing in, sick one. For a while it will all feel unnatural and meta, as though you're writing to your words themselves, trying to coax them into being smart enough. Try to coax them, sure. But when you come to the choice of either picking something which is clever or something which is true, pick something which is true.

(Your hands feel warm from the slow typing, the warm night air. You are sitting at the desk where you wrote your first poems, where you first send messages of love to a girl you'd met at a writing class, where you played a Star Wars game on an old computer your school principal had given you when you were thirteen. You look up and there are two of you looking back: the glass in the windowpane has shifted. Against the darkness, the lamplight is catching in so many different ways.)

Without holding back, without category, without intention or place or hold thereon. People your paper. Pickle the rest. When you feel the bile rise, feed it with brine. Comparisons are odious. Transformation is inevitable. Just give yourself to practice and be brave enough to be bad at it for however long it will take to get your balance. 


Here's something I wrote, from a long time ago, as a placeholder:


Rocking the chair one-footed, keeping breath,
a watch slipped in my pocket, unmarshalled heartbeat:
I love the things my body does
when I'm not looking.
The way it knows I’ll never trust myself     
to do certain things, and so must learn them well      
as to forget them. Somewhere inside the self
there hides not shadow, but so pale a light
that it fades from my view      
until my doubt can cast it on the wall.

This morning, say, stabbing a knitting needle
again and again into a twisted stitch,
pissed off that I'd gone wrong somewhere, I looked
up in frustration; and only when my thoughts
had fixed on something else--a high bird humming
between two shadows in the oak outside--
did I look down and find my hands now ravelling
somewhere far past myself, accomplishing boldness
where I failed to sing boldness; in the endless baffling
of my branches, being fruitful.