In what direction has life taken you?

Recently, an interviewer from The Malahat Review asked me this question. He meant to ask about the effect on a writer’s life of being awarded a significant prize, but of course I always take these questions personally. A year ago I could never have predicted the place I’m in now. Life is amazing. Beautiful and turbulent. Sometimes terrifying, true, but so often nourishing, hospitable. I will never stop being interested by this complexity at the core of our embodiment–that being alive keeps us perpetually open to the possibility of grave loss, and we have to live with that (however it manifests itself: as fear, as denial, as compassion, as selfishness), but at the very same time being alive and being vulnerable in this way keeps us aware of the extreme preciousness of our circumstance. Allows us to experience beauty, and love.

Ten years ago I took a walk with the grief of my mom’s death raw in my heart, and brought back, from a path along the river, fistfuls of aspen leaves. I packed them in a mason jar, boiled river water with salt, and poured it into the jar. And preserved the leaves, the walk, that day. They changed immediately, of course. And became, the instant I tried to immortalize them, something radically other than what they had been. The veins in the leaves turned soft and slightly brown. Ten years ago, what I had made was less than what I had wanted it to be.

But a decade later, the jar is a treasured object. The leaves are lovely as they are. They are an ordinary miracle: here instead of not here. And once again, life has taken me in the direction of what is no longer here. I am living with loss. Trying to wrap my head and heart around what’s gone, learning to embrace unsolicited, large-scale change.

Thinking about that jar, the decade it possesses in its squat presence on my desk, gives me something it is difficult to name: perspective, yes, but also courage, and a reminder of the simple fact (or possibility) of endurance.

How would you answer this question, “In what direction has life taken you?” How has your life–your heart, your art, your jar–endured or changed?

If you like, you can read the rest of the interview here.

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