There must be a lot of dog owners in the Kingston Road / Beaches area because the little shopping section of Kingston Road has a seemingly high number of doggie daycares and grooming services among the shops along its little stretch.  It gives me great pleasure to walk by one of these daycares every night during my walk home.  The facility encompasses an old shop.  The windows of the storefront have built-out platforms that probably housed the store’s goods at one time.  Now they are the “looking out the window spots” for six or eight dogs I find sitting there every evening, waiting for their respective humans to come and collect them. 

Their faces are precious – full of concentration and suppressed eagerness, waiting for the first sign of familiarity out there in the street.  When I stop and giggle and wave at them, particularly the beautiful brown lab who lets the little blonde dog use him like a cushion, they look at me with patient half interest, no doubt thinking, “You are NOT the human I’m waiting for!”  Sometimes I think I’d like to hang around and wait and see what happens in there when one of those humans actually arrives.  I’m betting it’s a wonderful, momentary bedlam.

I’ve been really busy with classes – one ending, with all the stories and feedback and grading that entails, and two starting – one of which is brand new.  The new class is writing memoir and family history stories, and it’s one I’ve been trying to get the college to let me teach since I started with them five years ago.  It’s the one I had in mind when I first decided to teach creative writing.   One of the strategies I’m exploring a lot in my lesson planning is how to mine our memories for meaningful stories.

It was a class in personal writing that set me on this road; where I decided that I absolutely had to help people tell their stories.  Ever since then, I’ve been thinking about the seemingly random images that reside in our memories.  The famous Cesare Pavese quote, “We don’t remember days, we remember moments,” sums it up.  When you look back upon your life, I’m betting that you will look back upon a series of moments, or “snapshots” as I call them.  One of the authors I’m reading on the topic right now calls them “shimmering images.” 

Some of those snapshots are aggressive – bellying up to the bar, front and centre of the mind, again and again like an old regular.  Then there are others that come up suddenly, seemingly unprovoked, leaving you wondering where they came from.  And others you go looking for – as you talk with old friends, or tell your kids a story from your past, or dig out that old Rod Stewart record on a rainy day. 

I’m intrigued by these inner snapshots; I think they reside in our memories for a reason.  I think we’re supposed to remember them.  And as such, I think they’re ideal inspiration for personal writers.  And that’s why I’m having my class mine them for inspiration this semester.  And why I plan to join right in, the results of which will likely be found here in this spot. 

What about YOUR snapshots?  Which ones are old hangers on?  Which ones have surprised you, as if jumping from around the hedge up ahead just when you didn’t expect it?  Like me, you may begin to collect them, as if on magical beads strung on a long silver chain, woven in and out of your consciousness.  Some are ugly and hard to look at and may need to be tucked away for another time.  However, nestled in and amongst the lovely ones, they are part of the whole story.

This weekend began a week of adventures with a six year old, as I stay with Sam while his mom’s away on business.  A week of negotiating how many more bites will score dessert, and play dates and Sponge Bob Square Pants.  For the most part it’s all good; the greatest challenges tend to revolve around six year-old boy logic being held up to 47 year-old hasn’t-been-a-mom-of-a-little-kid-in-a-long-time logic.  At one point I told the kid to stop being a pedant, and he didn’t even ask me what it meant – he just looked at me and declared a silent truce.

But it was sure fun seeing that little masked face and gloved hand waving at me from the sidelines of the ball hockey rink.  And then the lingering walk home, admiring the early spring flowers in the neighbourhood gardens.  I showed him what “hens and chickens” were, and he admired the blue scilla and violets most, and at one place where there was a misty blue carpet of them over most of a lawn, he said he would just love to live in a house with a garden like that. 

Later Sam went on a play date, and when I went to collect him three hours later, there was a marvellous work of sculpture spread from the hall through the kitchen and into the living area. The sculpture consisted of more Lego than I have ever seen before in one place, arranged in groups of partially assembled Lego creations and two-foot wide jumbles and piles of yet-to-be used blocks. And the odd pirate ship or space ship or some other kind of crazy vehicle in between. I weakly asked if we might help the other kid clean it up, and the father said, “No, he has a ’system.’” So I hightailed Sam out of there before the mom came home.

We’ve got the rest of the week ahead of us, but something tells me we’ll come out the other side still good friends and with a number of stories to tell his mother.

I’m poking around in the freezer thinking I might have a piece of a baguette in there.  When it becomes apparent that I don’t, I close the door wondering, “What am I going to put the butter on?”

Armed with sidewalk chalk and coffee (rumor has it that coffee was spiked with Baileys, but don’t quote me on that) my friend and her sister set out at 6:30 Easter morning to create a greeting outside the front window, bursting with love, for their Mom, who’s been having an awful time battling illness.

Kind of makes that overpriced Hallmark card seem lame, doesn’t it?

DawnMelArt2

DawnMelArt1

(Important Update:  Another rumor has it that it wasn’t Baileys but it was Godiva white chocolate liqueur that was spiked into the coffee.  But the source is sketchy.  So take with a grain of salt.  But definitely Easter-like, so maybe that rascally Easter Bunny was involved!)

The other day I receive a letter from a very dear and very well meaning friend, giving me an update on the condition of another friend who has had some health issues.  Throughout the letter my friend keeps saying that we are “getting up there” and “getting old.”  I balk a little the first time she says it, but by the fourth time it comes around – me and my so-not-old self are disturbed by my friend’s stream of thought.

I’m afraid I immediately rattle off a response that objects to the whole idea.  “I am not old” I say, and “nor to I plan to call myself old until I am rocking the halls of a nursing home.” 

Maybe it’s because my parents continue to enjoy good health as they enter their seventies, but I don’t consider THEM old.  And maybe it’s because I’ve been feeling so darned good lately that I really, really object to my 47 year old friend talking about reading the obituaries every day.   

I know for sure though that my issue is not so much about her calling ME old.  I think the issue is that I don’t want to see someone that I love dearly standing at the age of 47 with one foot in her grave.  Old is a state of mind.  And one’s state of mind has everything to do with one’s quality of life.  And if I were to get hit by a bus tomorrow, at least they can say I didn’t spend my last day scoping out nursing homes.

Now I think it’s time I pay my wonderful friend a long overdue visit and kick some rocking chair ass out of its reverie.

Yesterday on the bus I’m reading a new magazine, the first of a subscription my sister Jane ordered for me before she went back to the UK.  It’s called “Clean Eating” and it really is a lovely read, full of luscious looking ideas for healthy, “clean” meals.  Anyway, I’m reading the editorial page and I’m caught up in my tracks.  The editor is writing about a recent visit to her doctor, in which the doctor hits her with an unexpected question:  “What’s your five year plan?”

The piece went on to discuss her thoughts of a five year plan, and included those of several of the magazine’s contributors, all of which were based on pursuing a healthier, more wholesome life.  And this is great, but I was struck by the idea on a broader level.

Setting goals is something I am always getting after my writing students with.  I believe you take faster, more defining steps toward achieving your dreams if you actually set those dreams out.  Write them down; itemize them, categorize them.  I believe in this theory because I know it to be true based on my own experiences.  I know that during the happiest periods of my life I had definitive goals to work towards – whether they be related to creative endeavours or major life changes.

And yesterday, sitting on the bus, I was hit over the head with the realisation that I haven’t thought about my own personal goals or any such five year plan in a long time.  I was caught up, thinking, “where do I want to be in five years’ time?”  Like the writer in the magazine, the answers that immediately came up were rather lame, vague ideas about health and career.

So this is something that’s going to take some serious writing and thought to work out.  I need a fresh list.  Big and small; long term and short term.  I think it merits a new ‘carry around’ journal.  I have some old holdover goals with which to start – but it’s time to reassess, and refocus.  Where DO I want to be in five years?

It’s a scary question, full of wonderful possibilities.