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Suzanne on Buffy at Spring Creek Farm

The day before St. Patrick’s day, 2023, I took my two baskets full of recycling down to the building’s recycling room. I guessed that it had been three weeks since my last visit, a detail I noted while riding the elevator; the metric notably different compared to my years spent looking after my mother–coming and going during her daily schedule and needs, and then the time around her October move to a long term care facility when I had to clean out her apartment; old news, but a meaningful backdrop to the now. Emptying recycling is an exercise in anthropology, an examination of a human’s behaviour exposed by the items being recycled. Here in the building, recycling is to be separated between the paper and cardboard, and the ‘everything else’ category, a process that helps me go back in time with each item. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t pause there caressing the used soup boxes and curled, sharp sardine can lids, fondly remembering old times. I did notice that I produced less recycling, evidence of no longer having to entertain someone else by constantly trying new things. I haven’t gone minimalist, and it’s not that I’m stuck in a rut when it comes to comestibles, but I know what I like, and yes, I happen to love sardines.
I left the recycling room, returned to my apartment and stood for a moment, processing this new ‘now,’ sensing another aspect to it: For so long, I had been driven to learning all that I could around how humanity worked by studying Buddhism, Zen meditation, and everything Carl Gustav Jung. Now, I felt no longer drawn to even look at those books, shelves of them dedicated to topics woven through the various, related disciplines. Instead, I stood gazing at my shelves full of fiction. First of all, I’ll never understand how people can use a kindle to read a book. I consider all of the physical books I have read as ‘friends of mine.’ They all came into my life at just the right time and offered just the right words to carry me forward, and I like being able to see the covers, hold them and feel the heft, and open them to reread, or at least rediscover the sentences that I had underlined– that long-time habit that I feel helps to secure the words in a deeper space than otherwise. It’s almost as if the act of underlining stops time and allows me to connect with not only the sentiment of the expression, but also the author, as if they become present as I move my pen on the page.  Just like the telling items in my recycling basket, each novel has a tone to it. Vonnegut has a peanut butter jar tone, while F. Scott Fitzgerald has a ‘luxury, 3-ply Kleenex box’ tone. Nora Ephron’s biography might hint at an empty dental floss container, because they are brilliantly designed and I always hate getting rid of them, but if I were to start a collection, I might be considered as committable and justifiably so. The various authors might be compared to anything from empty toilet paper rolls, to the plastic pull-tabs from boxes of oat milk, or the wrapping from a stack of printer paper, although Thomas Pynchon I would equate with a carboard match book, strike strip removed before recycling of course. David Sedaris books, I would equate with my empty non-alcoholic beer cans, and Cormac McCarthy? McCarthy shares with Toni Morrison, Annie Dillard, Salinger, Neil Gaiman, Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, and, well I won’t name them all, but I could, because yes, they are my friends. Funny how I feel I have to apologize to the authors I didn’t mention. I will do that later.
Just because I’m not presently keen on my academic tomes doesn’t mean I’m done learning–far from it. I’ve learned just as much from reading good fiction as from any ‘Fear and Trembling.’ Good fiction can’t help but teach about the human condition because that’s what it’s based on. Take this quote from Cormac McCarthy's, ‘All the Pretty Horses’:
 “If fate is the law then is fate also subject to that law? At some point we cannot escape naming responsibility. It’s in our nature. Sometimes I think we are all like that myopic coiner at his press, taking the blind slugs one by one from the tray, all of us bent jealously at our work, determined that not even chaos be outside of our own making.” P. 241, First Vintage, 1993 .
Was I fated to pull that particular book off of my shelf and find that particular quote? I can’t possibly know the answer to that. Fate, if it’s a thing, embodies a long trajectory. Synchronicity–those meaningful coincidences, occur in the moment; fate could be general health, and synchronicity is a sneeze. Was I fated to have my trip to the recycling room inform how my life has changed? Why am I now out of dental floss? Perhaps this could be a new type of psychotherapy–depth ‘recyclotherapy.’ For a fee, I watch you empty your recycling, carefully noting the items and how quickly you chuck them into the bins, and then we go and examine your bookshelves. Or, we forget the books and I focus on reading your recycling, as someone might read tea leaves, or palms. Perhaps not though. I am one of those people who judge others by what they buy at the grocery store. I admit, I’m terrible but at least I’m honest. I don’t care so much about adults, but when there’s someone in line with a kid who is misbehaving and the grocery cart is loaded with Dunkaroos and bags of gummy worms and sour keys, I clench to keep myself from slapping the adult. Yes, I know, and I tell myself that perhaps they are having a party, but that never holds, and again, I judge. I am flawed.
Back to the McCarthy quote; it suggests that we want to believe that we make our own way. I wish I could be certain that such a belief was true. I don’t know; I believe it, and then not, depending on the day. There is no question that life demands agency along the way but some people seem to find solid success and contentment early on, while the rest of us, not so much. Any time I have tried to circumnavigate my gut feeling and instead took steps toward purely egoic, material gain, my efforts failed. In light of this, perhaps we are meant for something specific; born with a certain makeup drawn to certain experiences. Maybe. There are myriad possible reasons for our struggling.

Part of the trouble might be something simple like the fact that there are too many of us now and we’re tripping over each other. Years ago, I was driving in Ottawa on a rainy day, looking for a particular address. I wasn’t familiar with the street names, so was scanning the area as I drove. I came around a corner, drove through an enormous puddle of water, and completely soaked a woman who happened to be standing on the sidewalk. I mean, I drenched her. I saw her in my rear view mirror after the watery assault. She let her hands drop to her sides, looked down at her soaked clothing, water dripping from her hair, and then she looked after my van speeding away as if to say, “YOU. KNOB.” I felt terrible. There was nowhere nearby where I could pull over so that I could walk back and apologize. I’m sure that she was judging, and rightfully so. To my point, we were in each other’s way. I was trapped on a narrow street with no way to avoid the puddle, and she was trapped in a body that could not move fast enough to avoid getting splashed. She would have had to have been a superhero able to leap thirty feet off of the ground. It was unfortunate–but also damn funny. I know, I’m terrible.
I don’t remember the exact date, but sometime in the late 80’s, I was driving south on University Avenue in Toronto, and it was raining. A man was trying to cross the road, from east to west, and I almost ran him down. We were both shocked and I know this because I could see his face staring at me clearly through my driver’s side window. He was right there, wearing a red Far West gortex jacket and it was David Suzuki. I like David Suzuki so I’m glad that I didn’t run him over. Also, your welcome, because taking him out of the picture would have been a serious blow to the environmental movement here in Canada. We’d be awash in Dunkaroo plastic and it would be my fault.
It all comes down to this: Whatever the reality, the trauma, fate or not, you ‘are,’ right now; we are. It’s good to wonder about the world–I am suspicious of anyone who doesn’t, but when you have all of the moments ahead of you, why not do something other than fret? You can always stay frozen, worried about doing the thing, and time will pass, you will continue to recycle, and you will still ‘be,’ but with nothing to show for it, no story to tell. It’s fine to just be, and we need to do that, sometimes for as long as it takes to really inhabit our skin. Meditation is a must. And afterward?  I am in no way condoning the ‘treadmill’ mentality of achieve, achieve, achieve–that way lies lunacy. My focus here is in the narrative around convincing you, inviting you to participate in the world in some way, instead of seeking refuge from it, especially if you might be dealing with difficult emotions. That difficulty will always be there if you let it. Turn toward it. Get to know it, and you’ll realize that it’s there to teach. That’s important, but so is letting it know its’ place. You can rejoin your miserableness any time–that option is always there, so put a pin in it if you’d like. Sometimes, even something simple like doing a few sit ups can break the spell. After the sit ups, maybe you feel momentum building, enough to realize that you have nothing to lose by trying something. If it doesn’t work, well, you were planning on being miserable anyway, right? You don’t know your fate, so what if now’s the time when you make a breakthrough, and with that momentum you might buoy yourself up enough to get a whiff of purpose, and wouldn’t that be sweet. Then, would you want to take a break from that success to go back and put in your time being miserable? Highly unlikely. What about the chaos mentioned in McCarthy’s quote? Chaos is disorder–entropy, a challenge to be morphed into order. Of course it all depends on the flavour of chaos. Are we talking about flying monkeys, or family disfunction, or a tornado, or dripping coffee down the front of your shirt, or ‘D’ all of the above. There’s a story there, and it’s better than the one where you were sitting being miserable. It’s not easy to rise. To be clear, I am not talking about, ‘putting a goddamn smile on your face’ when you are in the dumps. Nothing is more infuriating than having someone offer that instruction. I’m a judgemental jerk when it comes to feeding Dunkaroos to children, but not when it comes to feeling miserable, to being depressed. I get it. I’ve been there, and I can’t tell you if you are fated to continue to be depressed. There is a chance that this might not be the case. What if we went ahead and assumed that, and did those sit ups; got them in ahead of time. I know that sometimes you don’t feel like talking to anyone. I get that too, because what if you just want to be quiet, and you don’t want to do sit ups, and you don’t want to have your life compared to that of anyone else and risk having your pain invalidated. I’ve been there too, and it’s insulting to be dismissed. Your life has a story right up to now. Maybe someone rounded a corner and soaked you by driving through a puddle, or they almost ran over you, or they went through your recycling and told you that you were going to meet a tall, dark, stranger. Whatever happened, here you are, busy putting the blank slugs into the machine, still breathing in and out.
Words have power, and the phrase, “What if it’s all okay,” has lifted me out of more than one dark drift.  “What if things turn out?” is another favourite. Then, “what if you needed to experience this miserableness in order to move toward your success?” Struggle changes you. In that sense your miserableness isn’t a waste of time as long as you’re learning from it. There’s no luck in being dropped to your knees from some tragedy or sadness–that’s not winning the lottery. The ‘win’ comes afterward, where there is potential for maturation, for taking the experience and becoming stronger from it. Hard to predict this by reading tea leaves, or examining your recycling, but maybe the simple act of participating in your existence is enough.
I was scanning McCarthy’s, ‘All The Pretty Horses,’ looking for the quote–you know the one: “He thought the world’s heart beat at some terrible cost and that the world’s pain and its’ beauty moved in a relationship of diverging equity and that in this headlong deficit the blood of the multitudes might ultimately be exacted for the vision of a single flower.” Well, I couldn’t find it. I gave up looking for it, but in the process, noticed the word, “ardenthearted,” on page 6 of my copy. I looked it up and the definition I found was for the word, ‘ardent,’ meaning ‘characterized by intense emotion.’ It seems ‘ardenthearted,’ is McCarthy’s own word and it is listed along with the very quote that I found it in: “All his reverence and all his fondness and all the leanings of his life were for the ardenthearted and they would always be so and never be otherwise.” I don’t know how I ended up here, at this quote, all the way from describing my recycling, but here we are. Once you go through difficulty–once you suffer, it’s as if you begin to value more deeply the human condition, and to love the others in that flow speaking this same language of soul and heartbreak. In your showing up to heal, you discover that, despite those curled, sharp edges, you are recycling, morphing your suffering into wisdom. Fate or not, you ‘are,’ and however this magic works, there is everything to be gained by committing to fully becoming, however that might play out, in whatever tone.