Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Where land and water meet

Do you ever get that feeling, when going somewhere you haven't been before, that this is a place you've been missing?

We just got back from a short visit with family in New Brunswick and managed to visit several beaches while we were there. We picked our way down a steep, mossy slope to a little private beach, found an inlet where waves from the Bay of Fundy rolled around us, and stood on a stretch where sand and rocks met with grey water reflecting a grey, cloudy sky.

For our three-year old daughter, her first experience of beaches had an immediate appeal. Despite cool temperatures and rainy skies, she would have stayed all day tossing rocks and dodging the waves that lapped at her toes.

For me, I always have a feeling of coming home when I am at the edge where land and water meet. Although I grew up completely landlocked, I discovered the beautiful northern lakes of Saskatchewan as teenager and something just clicked.

I love the reflective quality of water - how it enhances and amplifies the quality of the day. On a warm and sunny day, water dances with light and the promise of refreshment. On cool, rainy days, the grey waves add somberness and depth.

Though there is little time for reflective stillness when visiting beaches in the company of a young child, I appreciated the opportunity to drop in on an old friend. Here I am now. This is my Miya. It's so nice to see you.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Books: The Fire Dwellers

Continuing with my Margaret Laurence read-a-thon, I recently finished her fifth novel, The Fire Dwellers (1969). This is the story of Stacey MacAindra (sister to the protagonist of the Laurence's previous novel, A Jest of God). To put it mildly, Stacey is a dissatisfied housewife - but this is far from being a literary version of Desperate Housewives. Laurence's writing is nuanced and layered, Stacey's character is sharp, funny, annoying, strong but confused and lacking will-power. She drinks too much, second-guesses herself constantly and can rarely figure out how to say what she really wants to.

If this sounds tedious to read, I'll admit that at times it was. As with other Laurence characters, sometimes I just want to grab her by the shoulders and shake some sense into her. But it is a mark of a gifted writer who can create a world within her novels filled with people as we are - filled with unique combinations of strengths and weaknesses, virtues and flaws.

Although I didn't find this the most satisfying read of the Laurence canon, it is a significant book in many ways. At the time it was published, women's liberation was just moving into general circulation and the idea of writing a novel about a housewife was practically unheard of. It was a bold decision to write about one - and not to make a superhero out of her, but to explore her very humanness.

I found myself  often frustrated with Stacey and her endless worries about her taciturn husband, her brood of 4 children, and her role as wife and mother - she feels trapped in a life that she hadn't bargained for and can see no way out. Yet when I felt that she could be trying harder to move beyond the confines of her narrow role, I realize how much I am a woman living in 2012, not 1969. More than a textbook on feminism or the 'feminine mystique', this novel offers a detailed examination of a culture in which women were not expected, nor barely allowed, to dream beyond having a hard-working husband, well-behaved children, a clean house and a social life of tupperware parties and bridge nights.

In many respects, this book is timeless. Women, especially mothers and partners, will be able to identify with Stacey's insecurities and questions. But in several key ways, this book is also a valuable historic work, showing how women in the 1960s struggled to break the constraints society placed upon them.

Miya's big race

On Sunday, Miya and her family participated in the 2012 Minto Run for Reach. This intense competition pitched our young Ottawa native against some of the best athletes in the region - including Paralympian runner Jon Dunkerley.

Though she had been keen to face her rivals in the Half-Marathon competition, out of consideration for her mother (who, to her daughter's chagrin, is a hopeless runner), Miya consented to limit herself to the 3K Family Walk/Run. Since this event was not timed, when her decision was announced there was an audible sigh of relief among other racers.

Miya showed early promise as a marathoner, and  just a few days shy of her third birthday, she proved that she is ready to take on the challenges of road racing. Bolstered by the support of her family - mom, dad and grandma - as well as the companionship of Baby Penguin, she smoothly sailed to the finish line.

John Stanton, President and Founder of the Running Room who was the Run for Reach race starter, is rumoured to have been  studying Miya's running technique and may be introducing a line of pink croc racing shoes at his stores this summer.