Monthly Archives: April 2013

Letters to X. First Letter.

Dear X.

Last night at midnight I said goodbye to you on gmail chat, drank bourbon out of a wine glass, and left my house in my pajamas. I walked down the street alone, past the cherry tree you tried to climb – though you don’t remember it, because you were too drunk. You only know that you tried to climb it because I told you, days later, in Confessional Park. All of its blossoms are gone now, and it is in what I like to think of as the Ugly Duckling phase: straggly weather-beaten petals strewn beneath it, the new leaves unfurling like feathers not yet grown, damp and awkward compared to the glory of the blossom that preceded them.

Walking further, I found another cherry tree and climbed it, quickly, scraping my wrists on the rough bark, finding the familiar footholds in the dark, disappearing into the dark nest of branches. I often escape to trees when I am unhappy and need to feel secure. Physically secure: the high ground. Psychically secure: I am still me, I am defiantly still me, escaping the world of humans and returning to the world of trees. I can run away to somewhere better, if you don’t want me.

In a few seconds I had settled myself in the rough hand of the tree, cushioned by my Cowichan sweater. It was knitted by my mother: another reassurance. Every stitch of the springy, well-worn wool has felt her fingertips. It seems possible to imbue such an object with protection. I will wear this sweater for the rest of my life, and when I die it will still be full of protection, and so much more besides.

From my hideaway I could see the bike route. It is always busy, even at midnight, and I watched the intermittent cyclists whisk by with their backpacks and bike lights and jerky stop-go at the intersection. They didn’t see me, of course. Cloaked in shadow and cradled by branches, burrowed in the heart of the tree with my legs stretched out along the long licheny boughs – even in daylight, nobody looks up. Hair collecting dead blossoms and moss, elbows crooked to make as many points of contact as possible. Not for balance, but simply to be a part of the tree. The day had been windy, outrageously 90 km/hr windy, and now the last breaths swept through the tree, swirling the leaves and ruffling my loose cotton pants around my bare ankles. The waving branches patterned pale streetlight across my arms.

I thought about you. I thought about the mistake I had made that afternoon: reading some of our correspondence from back in the Year of the Quasar, the Flying Squirrel, the Marigold, the Soapberry. The Year of the Early Radish. When everything was Murakami, in the absolute best of ways. It was a mistake to return there. I thought about you and held onto the tree and wondered what I was doing. Gusty midnight in the cherry tree, tin-can-telephones strung out from my heart to a half-dozen houses in this lonely city – including my own – but nobody picking up.

I watched a car pull up beneath my tree and discharge two young women who, laughing, never saw me as they entered the house across the street. Simplicity is easy to imagine in the lives of others.

You don’t like climbing trees, I know, but I have always gone to them for refuge. Maybe it was my earliest means of removing myself before I could be removed.

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I’m updating you from here.

Great Dane Coffee, UBC Campus.

I’m updating you from here.

Picture a desk and I’m sweeping everything off of it: Adams peanut butter jars full of pens, a mirror, several potted plants, loose papers, index cards, envelopes, erasers, stray bits of yarn, half-folded paper cranes, stacks of books. Rilke, Neruda, Ginsberg, A Primer of Ecological Statistics (Nick Gotelli, how many lives have you saved?), The Satanic Verses, Spud (and I miss South Africa! I lean back in the chair and look at myself in the mirror and put on a dreadful South African accent, and laugh at myself), a few copies of the New Yorker, each turned to a different page. All of it! SWOOSH and it’s all on the floor, along with a healthy coating of dust.

Who hasn’t updated for months?

What’s an update, anyhow?

I’m drinking coffee and I drink coffee perhaps once every two weeks, nowadays, so I’m anticipating hyperactivity in my near future, likely followed by a hollow sense of unwellbeing. It’s okay: I’ve long since surrendered to my weakness for momentary highs. Meditating (meditating!) in the mornings doesn’t seem to have made an impression on my susceptibility to these brief pleasures.

It is summer now, exams over, and most of the students have left. A few weeks ago it would have been wall-to-wall: frantic undergrads poring over textbooks, coffees flying off the counter and into distracted hands already jittery from caffeine. I wrote a poem once when I was an undergrad which contained the line “adenosine, with its four sharp syllables.” I think of coffee that way, but never tea, though it’s the same drug. Secondary compounds etc. Anyhow, here I am. At the counter sits a group of three men eating toasted sandwiches, perched on stools that seem slightly too small for them. Two are young, one is old, white-haired. Are any of them students? It seems possible that none of them are, which makes me happy.

In the low table next to the door, three young women, undergrads. They have lingered into the broad, indolent, luxurious summer days that I didn’t learn to appreciate until it was too late: the space between the end of school and the beginning of home, where you might loll about in cafes with your friends talking about nothing, or experience a strange possessiveness over the ghost campus. Their plates are empty but they push around the small chocolate crumbs with their forks, rearrange the crumpled napkins, idly discuss their plans to travel home and the adventures of the previous semester. They wear shorts and rest their Toms shoes on the leather armchairs.

I have brought my mouse with me. There seems to be some significance to that.

The girl behind the counter – also Asian – complimented me on my dreadlocks. I didn’t tell her I’m planning to cut them off. It will be good to be ugly for awhile. Confrontational. To be seen in a different way.

Summer! Time to kick out the crutches…