“But this is all in the future.”

floor plan

My current essay-in-progress is one I’m calling “Blueprint”. I made some notes towards it a few months ago and then it sat around as I worked on other essays, finished a novella, made a quilt, moped a bit during the cold winter. But the other night I woke just after midnight, came down to my desk, and it suddenly called. I have a few things to try to bring together in this piece and I won’t say much about that now but this morning I got out the house-plans John worked on so labouriously in the winter and spring of 1980-81. I remember how he’d set up a workspace in his study on the second floor of the house we rented in North Vancouver. He had the most amazing view: Burrard Inlet, the city lights of Vancouver laid out beyond his window, and on clear days he could see over to Point Grey. He had a few drafting implements and a copy of the building code and somehow he drew plans for a house. I know that the process for reproducing the plans wasn’t actually blueprinting at that time– I think these plans were actually xerographed– but people still called them blueprints. Do they now? Probably not.

So I’m writing about those plans as well as the beautiful Czech modrotisk, or block-printed indigo fabric, also called blueprint. I’m writing about Anna Atkins and her early 19th c. cyanotypes of British algae, ferns, and flowering plants. And I’m writing about time. Because honestly it’s on my mind almost always. As I look at John’s plans and remember the whole hullabaloo of moving our lives here (at least part of the time) to a tent, with a few cooking pots, a Coleman stove, so that we could build a house (we were poets; how on earth did we imagine we could build a house? Well, we imagined it…), I realize it was almost exactly 38 years ago. Our first baby was two weeks old when we drove up the newly-constructed driveway and he will turn 38 in 8 days. When I write about that time, I am there in body and soul. I am listening to loons nesting on Sakinaw Lake and asking again, as we frame the opening for the window above the kitchen sink, if we can make the sill deep enough for a pot of geraniums.

from a work-in-progress:

What also happened as we planned the rectangles and how high the windows, how wide the doors, was that we had a baby. While we built the first two rectangles, he lived with us in our blue tent set up on a plywood (two sheets; 8×8) platform with a tarp extending over it for added protection from coastal rain. He slept with us under our down sleeping bag in its duvet cover. I bathed him in the one enameled tin basin we had in our camp kitchen (a homemade table under the tarp with a Coleman stove and a few battered saucepans), which was also our salad bowl, in water from Ruby Lake, brought up to the building site in a 10 gallon container. The well had yet to be drilled. The baby, who was Forrest, wore a toque at night because he had almost no hair.

And what happened before we moved in to the three rectangles (because a square is also a rectangle) with their bare plywood floors and no doors to the bedrooms, is another baby, not quite born as we lugged our furniture and boxes of books and the entire contents of a kitchen into the house, but arriving soon after. The first baby was a toddler by then, eager to climb ladders, find abandoned nails in corners, and not careful enough around the woodstove so that a corral had to be constructed from offcuts of 2x4s.

But this is all in the future. I am putting the house and its life before the drawings that conceived it. I want to write about the blueprints. How John drew rooms onto big sheets of paper, using special rulers and other measures, representing lintels, top-plates, the distances between windows, how a door might open in, or out, and how a life unfolds from what a pencil projects.

quotidian

This is a celebration of the quotidian, the daily. This is for when I think everything is happening in other places. That real writers are those out in the world, on stages, represented by high-powered agents, writing, writing, in castle retreats or on Greek islands or in the mountains in their own snowy studio, returning only for meals at a table of other writers. This is a day when the wood box was filled, two loads of laundry done, a table cleared and laid for dinner tonight, when sourdough bread and a pie was baked (well, it was one frozen, unbaked, in September when the Merton Beauties sat on the counter),

apple pie

when biscuits were baked (Stilton and walnut) after the pie, in a cooler oven, to have with glasses of wine this evening,

stilton and walnut

when I folded laundry and thought about the book I’m writing, a collection of essays called Blue Portugal, and how when I was swimming my slow kilometer yesterday I realized how I could structure the book, mostly long essays about family history, fish libraries, and the nature of memory but what about using smaller “blueprints” based on some actual blueprints I’ve been studying and parsing, what about investigations into the process of modrotisk, the Czech blueprint I’m using as a back for a small quilted piece using a forgotten piece of indigo fabric tied with beach stones, what about tracing the evolution of blue cloth, what about including some of the Assyrian cuneiform tablet stuff detailing the agency of women weavers and merchants in the 19th century BC when their husbands carried their textiles to Anatolia by donkey caravan, what about, what about…You can see how the daily might add up to be something worth writing, and maybe reading.

in progress