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September

Hilariously, the template for this blog suggests that I "Add a Catchy Title". Reader, I anticipate that my titles will always, inevitably be completely literal and humdrum.

It's been a busy month. My daughter and I made a trip to Vancouver in September, where I facilitated a workshop about climate grief for one hundred artists. The trip was quick but memorable; we drove, which I used to do so regularly that I thought I'd never want to do it again. Covid has meant that I really haven't gone much of anywhere (with the notable exception of Haida Gwaii in August) in almost two years, so suddenly a ten hour road trip to the coast seemed the height of luxury. The weather was fine and I have good tires, so we took Highway 99 from Cache Creek down through Whistler. It's a harrowing road, and every time I go that way I remember the first time I made the trip. It was the middle of February then, and I was under the misapprehension that because it was called a highway, it would be paved. Instead it was a hellish slog through blinding snow in the gathering dark; with cliffs and chicanes and sections of dirt and gravel and sudden one lane wooden bridges. At one point a rock fell on the roof of my car. I've since done it many times, though never in winter, and when it hasn't made me cry from terror, it has often made me cry from sheer beauty. I thought it would thrill my daughter. It did not. She clung to her door handle and cursed quietly all the way to Lillooet, and as we descended the mountain like the Grinch coming down Mount Crumpet, her muttering was drowned out by the horrifying shrieking of my rear brakes which chose that opportunity to gasp their last. "It's fine!" I reassured her. "The front brakes are new! I'm pretty sure we don't really need all four." You need all four, it turns out, but we WERE fine, we limped into Vancouver and found our Air B&B and I called my old mechanic.

I didn't really know what to expect from the workshop. I had made a very loose outline (which ultimately I entirely ignored). It was held in the botanical gardens at UBC as part of a two day symposium called Greenhouse, conceived by Kendra Fanconi and her theatre company The Only Animal as a gathering for artists from various disciplines with a view to intervening collectively in the climate emergency. Each day, four artists cycled through four cohorts of twenty five attendees from a huge variety of backgrounds and practices; each addressed a different issue. Of course I love talking about grief, so it was a joy to spend the day thinking together about climate grief,. What I hadn't really expected was the incredible relief I felt to be among so, so many people who all understood the situation. There was no convincing people that climate catastrophe is real. There was no explaining that it isn't actually good news. Everybody knew, everybody cared, everybody was completely attentive and engaged. It will take some time for me to parse everything that flowed out of that very long, very hot day, but it felt something like standing in a river of compassion and wisdom. That sounds flaky as all hell, but it's true. It's a magical thing to be surrounded by creative, empathetic minds, and it was a gift to me, and I have felt weirdly hopeful ever since.

We returned to the North via the Fraser canyon, which took us past the charred remains of Lytton, one of the towns that burned to the ground during this summer's terrifying, murderous heat dome. I wasn't really ready for it. I somehow thought that like the other sites of wildfires we've seen in the past few years, the wreckage would be far enough from the road to buffer us from the force of it. We were only in it for a few minutes, but it was horrific. It was what I imagine it might be like at the site of a bomb blast, before the bodies are carried away. The black trees and the burnt asphalt and the terror of animals still hanging in the air like mist, the ground so much more than just dead, it seemed like death itself. I wanted to put my hands over my daughter's eyes, not just to protect her from the sorrow of this place and time, but to prevent it from becoming a vision of the future. But it is, both present and future, her future, my sons' future, the future of every beloved child and every animal and plant, and I needed to keep both hands on the wheel.

Since we've been back I've been in my studio pretty much every day. Over the summer I made a small painting nearly every day, but I am working now on some bigger, less comfortable pieces. I divide my work fairly roughly between what I think of as "rent" paintings and "growth" paintings. Rent paintings are generally less demanding, more literal, less of a risk to my confidence. People like them, I get lots of positive feedback, and they keep the lights on. Growth paintings are where I go to find out what I feel. They are usually more abstract, more time consuming, more confusing, more challenging, more personal. I love painting. It's my favourite thing to do, but when I know there's a growth painting waiting for me in the studio I have a really hard time convincing myself to go to work, and once I'm there I have a really hard time stopping. I've spent most of October laying paint down and then scraping it off, and life generally has been keeping up a pace that surprises me though it's been like this for months and months. Kids need to be driven around, pets need to be looked after, laundry needs to be folded, and in the other part of my life I spend quite a lot of time talking to people who are dying. I cherish that work, and I see it as almost indistinguishable from my art practice, but it is very difficult these days to strike a balance. I need to spend a lot of time alone. I can't be fully present in the studio if I am also present for people, and I very, very rarely manage more than a few hours of uninterrupted time by myself. My kids are growing up- my eldest just turned nineteen- and I tell myself that in a few years I am going to long for this chaos. I will; I know I will. My chaos is the chaos of a life full of love. It is also the chaos of a socialist who cares a lot about community while simultaneously wanting to see nearly no one on a day to day basis. It's good, it's so good most of the time that I can't even bring myself to believe it. And tonight the kids are at their dad's and the animals are fed and I'd love to watch TV but I think I am going to trudge over to the shop and see about making something.

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