Friday, February 18, 2011

Words Planted Like Seeds

Today is a mirage. A preview of spring, nothing more. By Sunday all this will be frozen over again, encased in ice, piled high with snow. For today, however: icicles shrink, drain pipes gush and heads go hatless under a cloudless sky. I feel a breeze in my hair and it makes me shiver but not from cold. It's like a shard of June has broken off and fallen backwards through the seasons. I wonder if, later this year, we will come upon the fragment of February that it replaced. I wonder if we will go to sleep hot and sticky, in a world of parched grass and air conditioning only to wake up facing a blizzard?


On Tuesday I entered the vault. When I heard that I was invited to visit a bank archive I thought yawn and ah well, it'll look good for class.

I had to be escorted into the elevator by my obliging tour guide; the service elevator is the only one that goes to their floor. Not up, as I'd assumed, but down and into an old vault. We stepped through the giant metal door as if entering a submarine. We're under land though not water; a subterranean instead.

I was surprised by how lovely it all was. It felt newly renovated. Despite the lack of windows it appeared to be a calm and comfortable place to work. Just three people in the department, all bookish and bright.

There was a storeroom full of treasure. I don't know what I expected. I think I'd imagined that all I would see would be reams of graphs (printed on dot matrix, with tear-away edges) showing how the piles of gold belonging to the bank have grown over the years. And this is when we signed a contract with The Prince of Darkness... see how dramatically our dividends increased after that quarter? But of course it was not like that at all. It was dusty old ledgers from the 1820s and artwork purchased by the bank and prototypes of typewriters all gleaming brass keys encased in wood.

The treasures were remarkable, of course, but the best bit was when my host sat me down to show me what she does every day. From outside looking in (not that you could, not that deep underground) it would not appear terribly exciting: cleaing old things, typing away about them in a database. But when she told me about it she beamed.

You are writing the history of the bank, of the city really, and of the items in our collection. This database is it, it's the record. I love my job.


I checked out the little museum on my way out. It's on the main floor and open to the public, unlike the rest of what I'd seen. There were more stories under glass. Crumbling bank notes from before Canada had its own currency; lovely 3D pictures of the construction of the Old Port (made of cut paper and little strips of wood); a handcarved letter opener.

There are things in that vault, solid artifacts with ID numbers, a monetary value and a spot on a shelf. But the reason they matter is because they are placeholders for stories. They whisper, in their hidden lair under the cobblestones of Old Montreal, even if the only souls who hear are the archivists in the next room. It is a library like any other, a treasure trove made up of words whether they are printed on a page or whether they hover, invisible, in the air.


I wish I were an athlete but I am decidedly not.

The truth is, the snowboard won. I get these ideas, I think that maybe this time I will take to something immediately. I will show natural talent and I will swish down the hill in style. And then, of course, reality hits and I am flailing in the snow with a large chunk of fiberglass strapped to my feet, on the verge of tears. How did I get to be so delicate? Have I always been this way? Everybody falls. Everybody gets back up and tries again. It is the only way to improve. I know this, I knew this before I inched up the bunny hill on the motorised ramp. It made no difference though, each time I collided with the mountain I felt the breath and starch both get knocked out of me.

Why does it have to hurt so much? When can I go in and drink hot chocolate?


Just once it would be nice to be able to impress him. Just once it would be nice to see pride in his eyes rather than patience and pity. He spent the whole car ride back with his hand on my knee saying You did so well, I'm so happy we went, You should have seen yourself on that last run, but somehow I had trouble believing him.

The next day I expected my tailbone to ache, but it didn't. The rest of me was sore though. Especially my arms and my fingers. All those times I had to hoist myself back up, doing backwards push-ups on a moving board.

People asked how my weekend was and I found myself telling them that I went snowboarding. Just like that, like it was a fun outing and not abject humiliation. Everyone cooed and said Oh my, that must have been hard! I'm too scared to try. Are you any good? and I found myself chuckling and saying No, not really, but everyone sucks at first. 

I guess I'll probably end up doing it again, won't I?


The past few days I've been trapped in my couch. I started reading Room and could not stop. Interruptions would not cease: work, making supper, sleep, hygene. I would have preferred that they leave me be, to read for as long as it took.

It's not really my favourite kind of book but it is the kind that requires you to stay up with it, holding a flashlight if necessary, asking over and over what happens next?

The language is deceptive. It seems simple but it isn't and it is now imprinted on my brain. I hear myself thinking in the cadence of a five year old and urging myself to be scave. If that sounds a little too precious, or if you think that books narrated by children are not your thing, I bet you would be surprised by this story. I bet you would be charmed and drawn in and moved to the edge of your seat. Or then again, maybe you wouldn't, but I was and I'm glad.


  1. Really enjoyed this. I loved the idea if a sliver of June in February, but I especially enjoyed the description of the bank vaults - beautifully emotive.
    Because I enjoyed it so much, I shall take the liberty of saying that I wish you'd written more on that, then saved the rest for another post. It's not that the rest wasn't good, just that you'd taken me to a lovely mellow mood, then suddenly switched it off to say something else.
    I really hope you don't mind me saying that. You write so well & I want to read more.

  2. Hi Sharon - No of course I don't mind! Thank you for taking the time to read and to tell me what you think. I suspect you're right those things might have been better off in their own posts, so I will keep it in mind for next time. Thank you too for all the kind things you've said, it's so nice to get feedback, especially when it's nice : )

  3. You are such a beautiful writer. This was the first time I have come across any writing, in journal or book form, where all the snippets of thoughts, different but ...well, not really so different in the end... come together into something wonderful. Thanks for your gift. Keep writing. :)

  4. Here's to a slice of Feb in Jun - or better yet, Aug!

    I felt like this was more of a friend-update for me - but I must add the "I love your writing" bit in order to fit in with the other comments. ;)

    And, of course, because it's so true!


  5. Anon: Thanks so much for your kind feedback. I intend to : )

    Andie: Thanks! It is kind of a friend update, I guess, they were all just little bits of what's been going on : )