Notes on Hesitation

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The birds in my neighbourhood are having an existential crisis. They’re hesitating on their branches, resting for a moment longer than they should. Even when I scream and stomp my feet at the foot of the tree, they stand there, thinking about whether or not to fly away, wondering if it even matters.

              I learned the term “existential crisis” from my English teacher because we’re reading The Stranger by Albert Camus. I’m in this advanced class where everything is so deep. I love it. Anyway, the birds, right? I think I noticed it before I learned the word—is that possible? Can you notice something subtle like that and then learn the word for it, or is it kind of invisible until you can name it? I guess it doesn’t matter—the point is I’ve learned it and I can’t unlearn it.

              It’s weird because I was pretty sure flying was autonomic. That’s another word I learned recently—it means things you do without thinking. The fight or flight instinct, for example. You feel it in your body and you’re off. Thinking is a problem. It interrupts the things you need to do to survive. Like, imagine if you had to decide to take every breath—you’d die.

              I kind of know how the birds feel. Lately, when things get confusing, I slow down and get stuck in my thoughts. I can’t even choose between flavours of ice cream anymore—I just stand there at the 7-11 with the cooler door open, breathing in Freon-tasting air. When my mom yells, I used to go hide right away. Now, I just sit there thinking about what to do. Half the time, I end up doing nothing at all, and that just makes her angrier.

              The other day, she was yelling because I’d forgotten to let the cat in before we all went to bed. She said she thought the cat was probably dead. She asked me for the millionth time why I was so stupid. I snapped and yelled at her to fuck off. I’d never done that before—it just bubbled up from inside. I guess that’s the fight part of fight or flight, huh?

              But the problem with things that you just do without thinking is that you don’t know what’s going to happen next. I think she was as surprised as I was when she slapped me across the face. Her eyes got really big, and we just stared at each other. We’re the same height now, I realized. Then she was gone, up the stairs to her room. I guess it was her turn to hide. Once you’ve learned something you can’t unlearn it, especially about yourself. My poor mom. Maybe that’s when I started slowing down like the birds, sinking into my thoughts all tangled like yarn. I worry for the birds. I think someday something terrible will happen to them.

 these words by Erika Thorkelson were inspired by the colour of Juan Travieso

following the toy

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As Anne watches the toy spin slowly in the microwave, she thinks about where she and Augie will go. We could go to Vancouver, she thinks. Walk in Stanley Park and sit by the water. She’d been to Vancouver once, before she got married. She watches the toy spin and thinks about the ocean.

*

Their first night at the shelter, Anne woke up wet, Augie pressed into her side. “It’s too dark,” he said. They got up and Anne changed the sheets. She took the toy out of the backpack—it was one of only a couple Augie had been able to bring—and he clutched it to his chest as he fell asleep. Steven had given him the toy, not for a birthday or for Christmas; he just came home with it one day. It had been a good day.

The next morning, she found the tracker in her purse, in one of the side pockets she never opens. It was small, a little bigger than a dollar coin. Steven has touched this, she thought. He bought this little thing and turned it over in his hands and slipped it into her purse when she wasn’t there. She dropped it on the ground and smashed it with the heel of her shoe. She heard it crack, felt it flatten beneath her. She experienced a moment of relief before the panic—if there’s one, there will be others, she thought.

She dreams about the toy, but it looks different than it does in real life. She wakes up wet, with sweat in all the places. Augie is fast asleep beside her, a baby bird in a nest. She sees the toy in his arms and tries to think of how it looked in the dream, but all she can remember is that it wasn’t the same. And that’s the terrifying thing.

*

The fire isn’t huge, but it’s a fire. She thinks about how upset Augie will be. She’ll come up with an excuse. We’ll have to leave again, she thinks. The microwave sits on a wooden table, which is turning black as the flames eat. The microwave door hangs loose on a hinge. We’ll always be leaving, she thinks.

these words by Leah Mol were inspired by the colour of Teodoru Badiu

rocky mountain blues

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I wanted to live in the mountains.  I even got a John Muir tattoo to prove it: Scrawled right across my heart, complete with an open road and clip-art-skyline. It says the mountains are calling, and I must go. It felt less cliché when I was 22, in the city.

As I shovel snow off my front porch, staring out at the very real skyline of the Canadian Rockies, all I feel is cliché.

My Buddy Holly glasses are fogged as I venture inside – can’t see a damn thing without my glasses. I rub them clean. The fire, stacked high, burns bright in the corner. The familiar sound of roasting logs is as comforting to my neurosis as the heat is to my hands. I’ve always wondered why fire calms me down. Maybe it’s an imprint, I think, a long-lost instinct from our past that tells us a crackling fire will keep the dangers of the night at bay. I place another log on the fire.

Fumble sits by the fireside, staring out at me from between a toque and scarf. I named the dog Fumble as a joke, really: I played football growing up. The little bastard was more trouble than he was worth, but I couldn’t very well get rid of him now… my only company on this God-forsaken mountain. The woman who’d bought him had long since gone, vanished into the cold, cold night, the only kind of night I can remember now.

I’ve been on this mountain too long, I think, with six months left on a two year contract.

Six more months and I might start talking to myself, I say.

Whoever said Hell was hot was lying: Hell is a cold mountain with a pug for company. I pour a glass of scotch and look into the fire.

Then again, it’s my hell, I say.

And it’s not so bad, really. I’ve got whiskey, weed and White Stripes records. I’ve got Howlin’ Wolf on vinyl. I’ve even got some B.B. King to warm me up when I’ve got the Rocky Mountain blues.

Were things really any warmer down there, before, with everyone else?

word by Josh Elyea

colour by The Black Dynasty