Note: it was 5 years (and 4 days) ago that I learned the results of tests I’d undergone earlier that month and we had reason to celebrate. I think of that period of my life a lot and certainly at this time of year. A life is such a rich and tender thing sometimes.
If you heard champagne corks popping yesterday, around 4 p.m., it was us, celebrating the good results of my latest scan. We’d met with my specialist in North Vancouver and he was very clear in his assessment that the nodules under scrutiny are not metastases as first suspected. That scan, a little harrowing, was thorough. So we left his office and went into a bar nearby, ordering two small bottles (the single-size serving) of sparkling wine and to be honest, the bottles had screw tops, not corks. But it was lovely to touch glasses and breath huge sighs of relief.
There’s so much to do. My publisher and I are beginning the process of thinking about a cover image for Euclid’s Orchard., due out in September. I believe that the book will be designed by Setareh Ashrafologhalai, who also designed Patrin. I love her sense of space, her ideas for both cover and page, and look forward to seeing what she does with this collection of essays. I put the manuscript together in the fall, when I was recovering from double pneumonia and was undergoing all sorts of tests for other possible things. I knew it was important not to waste time so I set myself the task of finishing four essays in various stages of completion after Mona at Mother Tongue asked me for a nonfiction manuscript. One of the essays, the title piece, was ready, thanks to Josh MacIvor-Andersen who edited it for Rooted: The Best New Arboreal Nonfiction, available in April. But the others were scrappy, messy, shapeless. Many nights I got out of bed and came down to my desk to sit in the absolute quiet and puzzle away at what it was I wanted the essays to do. I wanted them to explore territory, to shine small lanterns onto dark pathways threading through the lost landscapes of my family’s history. They’re personal and sometimes I wondered — still wonder — at the value of writing that terrain into being. But I also believe that we do the work we’re called to do and that was the material agitating to be noticed and shaped.
Today is Virginia Woolf’s birthday. I began reading her in high school and I remember how much I loved her novels, Mrs. Dalloway in particular. There was everything in it. Later I discovered A Writer’s Diary and lost myself in it. Each generation has its Woolf biography, or two; and for mine, it was Quentin Bell’s. He was her nephew and his sense of her time, her relationships, her houses — so intimate, and beautifully circumspect at the same time. I’ve read later biographies, notably Hermione Lee’s, and other books about Woolf. But I like best her diaries, edited by Anne Olivier Bell, and her letters.
Whenever we go to London, we stay in Bloomsbury, where Woolf often lived, and we walk from the little flat we rent at Cartwright Gardens to Marchmont Street for coffee. I love the street, with its bookstores, small hardware shop with pots of flowers for local gardeners to buy, cafes, stream of people…I remember this bit from the diaries, when Woolf returned to Bloomsbury from Hogarth House:
Can I collect any first impressions? How Marchmont Street was like Paris… Oh the convenience of the place and the loveliness too… Why do I love it so much?
There’s a pub we pass on our way back to the flat from dinners or concerts or plays and in March, the evenings are often mild enough for people to take their drinks to the outside tables. Walking by late, there’s a hum of conversation as one passes and I think of her then, hearing the same sound, on the same street, the air just beginning to smell of green from the nearby St. George’s Gardens.
I wonder what she would have made about our current world? She would have had no time for the machinations of a pompous self-aggrandizing man tweeting his tiny vicious thoughts, I feel quite sure. It was a man like that who led her to believe that the world was not worth living in, I think. Her own demons were the world’s demons. On her last birthday, two months before her suicide in March, 1941, she recorded this is her diary:
Its the cold hour, this, before the lights go up. A few snowdrops in the garden. Yes, I was thinking: we live without a future. Thats whats queer, with our noses pressed to a closed door. Now to write, with a new nib, to Enid Jones.