I'd like to sit with my leg squashed up against someone else's leg, you know? Closer than you tend to sit with people who aren't your gorgeous and willowy editor. But not as a balm against loneliness. Balms have little to recommend them unless it's anti-inflammatory compounds. PEOPLE 4 HIRE. WE DO BY-THE-HOUR. I know how much that sounds like prostitution. But the last time I checked, prostitutes didn't know how to even price "standing with her in front of a slowly poaching egg" or "one very firm and unmoving grip around the arch of the left foot for a period of no less than six minutes".
These are strange and excellent days, veering wildly from one to the other. I really would pay for an hour. Maybe two. Then you'd have to go. I don't know that there's room for anyone to stay. I don't know that there's anyone, that apparently rare composite of not-dull and not-crazy. Which is sad, maybe? I don't know. I can't decide. Live by yourself long enough—especially when you work from home—and autonomous luxury bleeds into odd habits and self-isolation. Sometimes it's bliss. I pick up the phone and my voice won't work and my mom thinks I just woke up, but I didn't. I just haven't spoken out loud in several days. I work and work and work. I bathe in the smoke from the fire pit, standing in my little woods listening to the rush of the creek. My car hasn't moved since last week so I think I should put on something that has a zipper and go into the city and I do, and I wander, still not speaking, though not unpleasantly.
I am the third or fifth or seventh person in almost every room. Thoughtful people buy six Feist tickets and I scurry off with one, orphaning a single straggler to Kijiji. I sit in the dark in an auditorium of people with their arms over the backs of each others' chairs. She is amazing. She plays The Circle Married The Line and I think about slippery decades and cry, and then I think about Norton Juster and smile. Then I come home again, and work, and write, and wait for the boys.
I imagine, perilously (damned fool imagination) that I can forecast those decades. I know how they accelerate. I know that in a measure of that many years—a measure by which we say It can't be, but it is!like how it's been almost twenty years since I graduated from university—nothing may change. If that's the case, it will be a continuation: I may be 50 instead of 40, and marvellously lucky and unlucky at the same time. Nothing may change. Everything might.
Up above: that's me on my brother's couch in Calgary, waiting for Cheryl. I had shot her second book, A Month Of Sundays, a couple of years ago, and the time had come for her third—a yet-untitled quilting book on original design. I got on a plane with a four-hundred pound bag and landed with family, disappearing every day to check off shoot after shoot on an excel spreadsheet that first seemed wildly optimistic, as it always does. We got through it all. We always do. We wrapped just in time for Chinese takeout and a race to the airport with thousands of images to edit. Nothing will happen, at least not demonstrably, for a year or so. Then her book will appear next summer, populated from my camera, a time capsule on real paper.
A time capsule. Like stacking the wood for next winter. Right now it's unseasoned, heavy and wet. It doesn't make that hollow, musical clunk when you throw it. You may as well try to set fire to a fistful of bog. I haul armfuls of the dumped cord into a neat pile and can't help but wonder: where will I be when I burn to this point, to that point? The next time I touch this piece, this one right here, it might be next February, maybe. Either everything will be the same or it won't. The next time I see the images I took in a tangible way, finished, this trip will have been a long time ago.
Cheryl's little baby (no longer a little baby), is Nikolai. I call him Nickles. I growl at Nickles. I grab his legs and stuff my fingers into all the ticklish places. I eat his toes. He squeals. We shoot all day and into the evening, with Nickle breaks and download breaks here and there.
It's more strenuous than you'd think. I am in charge of making it beautiful, of doing justice to another artist's vision, and it's heavy. My camera. My wrists! Noodle arms. Constant tension and mind chatter and keeping all the mechanics straight to do a good job. As soon as the camera lowers I get a little spaced. Focal range and the broken tripod connector and this lens, or that one? My shoulders hurt. Light bounces around and makes surprises. Back into the car and off to the next shoot, and the next, and the next. Styling and setup and model releases. I lay on my belly on asphalt and yell at one person or another, cheerfully, coaxing, herding. That she trusts me to capture it all is still an overwhelming honour. It's a three-legged marathon. With reflectors. We hurry together. She peers at the LCD screen and nods or questions, then steps back, and we put all the moving parts together one way or another. We laugh a lot.
We see so much, travelling from scene to scene—wild horses and urban art and rolling fields and mountains. It's a tender time, with Flight of the Griffons sitting by the thousands in a warehouse in Quebec, ready to ship, and libraries and schools here and throughout the west booking readings (much of the story is set in Alberta). To have been there right now, out west where it all happens... the prairies and the big sky know already what I've written. It felt like they have an opinion. It's humbling, terrifyingly so.
I am sitting with my legs dangling over the edge of a very high drop. Soon, I will go west again with the Griffons in my hands. It might have helped me, right at this moment, to be in the service of someone else's high drop rather than my own.
As distractions go, Calgary was cotton candy. Cotton candy and the sweat of a dozen stevedores. One shoot was in the studio of fashion designer Paul Hardy, just for the location, an immersion into wildly grand and soft and flowing things. I had never touched a three thousand dollar dress before. He was sitting on a velvet couch as we left, and I gushed something about how I 'pawed everything'. I didn't know how else to express it, how moved I was by this kind of textile art. I didn't want to be the country-living ass who went LOL! THREE THOUSAND BUCKS! as though I don't think it's worth it. It is. Can you imagine that kind of drape, and the skill it takes to make pliable sculpture? As opposed to the back wall sale at a franchise full of plastic hangars and factory cast-offs. There is nothing wrong with either end of that spectrum. It's how we speak without words. Creativity is free.
I was wearing a pilled-up, bagged-out, near-disposable $14 jersey knit dress from H&M. I don't mind. I wandered back and forth among the racks gasping and sighing. Life is curious. Artists make it more so. Books and high drops and photographs and dreams, glorious shimmering dreams that seep into my wood pile for all the maybes and fortunes of this time next year.