Bee-Keeping: Short Story

Unedited, written in two hours 

Bee Keeping

This was how I learned: through tedious repetition and idiosyncrasy and careful planning, not well meaning teachers or holy revelations. My learning stemmed from damp earth, like a plant that lived by the way of a trickle of water. While my sister voraciously devoured recipes, I sifted and remeasured flour, juggling little bits of falling snow.

I never did exhibit any talents. Not sports. Not mathematics. Not even art, that tea cup holder of discard paintbrushes.

What are you going to do with your future? my sister asked when she was in her final year of highschool, while I sat through endless nights on a stool beside her in our mother’s apron. She had clad herself with a cheesy newspaper apron her friend had given her from New York. Brightening up the tacky windowless kitchen. Toiling even after dark, emitting her own light.

The earth has no future, I countered. The flash of knives like accidental lightning storms. What does it matters what I do?

Stop talking as if your own failures are the world’s fault. There was disdain in her voice even in those early days. Fish scales sung like violin strings to a bow from under her knife, musical even when her hands were specked with blood. The noise of lips puckered to kiss as the fish plunged into scalding water. There. You would see results if you grew up and tried something.

Mom and dad say I am grown up. In those early days forms began to take shape in the negative space between my hands, shadows without bodies, as I blunt-chopped celery and carrots and measured flour. I practiced behind the darkness of my eyelids, the secret magic of vengeful fantasies. My sister’s julienne, dice and brunoise cuts became more and more complex as did my mental films. Unbeknownst to her, we were rising on equal levels, but different playing fields.

Because I never saw her again after she left for culinary school, I never revisited our kitchen. My precision and culinary skills became honed to the next level as I grieved.

Beekeeping is a precision surrealist art. Picasso by Paint By Number, severe penalties if you colour outside the lines. This is what makes me well suited for the job.

Months after locking myself in a rented kitchen slaving over the precise quantities of magical baking soda, the karat of egg yolks, I had completely splattered the unrecognizable front of my sister’s apron. “What’s a cook like you doing in the dangerous outdoors?” said the twenty something who was hiring. Lisping through his tongue rings and leering at my apron.  

“There’s nothing left to learn in the kitchen.”

“Where do you come from? You don’t look like you come from the countryside. Your mother’s kitchen, maybe.”

I gave him the eye. Well practiced, glinting like the eye of a dying fish, honed to wake the dead. It must have worked. The next day I was given a white hazmat like suit like his and was incorporated into the foreign landscape.

~

When my sister disappeared, so did I. We just disappeared to different places. But I didn’t ignore everything I learned from baking in my sister’s presence. Practice makes perfect, and I was a beekeeper from ages seventeen to thirty seven. Twenty years. Twenty years that I did not revisit the kitchen but instead plunged my hand into golden infested dripping honeycombs and waiting stingers. Twenty years that I worked alongside people with pierced tongues and hazy backgrounds that were like shadows without a body to cast them. In that time, an unruly landscape can become pruned by the elements to reveal an orchard. In that time the dead can come to be dead longer than the living.

In twenty, even the most rebellious and naive spirit yearns to stir honey into chamomile tea, and not worry about ointment. Fall marks the only time I can return home. I volunteer to work at the farmer’s market at our stand. Although I know our home has changed, no longer a shrine for when production was at its peak, very few things change. A slight preference for chunky, viscous honey straight from the comb over the domestic, bottled version. Crinkled letters written in more and more illegible script.Tongue rings after a mouthful of honey.

My parents sometimes still mention their regret. We shouldn’t have sent her across the country to culinary school, their script whispers from time to time. Today’s her anniversary, we’re feeling under the weather today. Like a lone bee separated from its colony, rubbing its wing in a papery SOS. Too many winged SOSs and the barely audible whispering becomes deafening, disorienting. When will you be visiting the farmer’s market next? Are the bees treating you well? They never mention the kitchen. I send them homestyle recipes using organic local ingredients. Years have taught me that even the most difficult of tasks yield to consistent support.

We the farmer’s market are liminal. Harvest is fleeting. Deprivations are the norm. Winter comes inevitably no matter how many pumpkin pies we bake and bottles of sunlit honey we try to stave it off with. The meaning of them is not to create a fancy feast or indulge in nostalgia. The meaning is to make sure I have done justice to the bees, kept my promise to the earth, be a good culinary artist.

I have spent twenty years at farmer’s markets and still never found someone who could whisper the secret ingredient in my sister’s winning dish to me.

Smoke Bluffs-Climbing

There is a poetry in the lyricism of a blue sky dotted with a few white clouds and golden sunlight that follows the day around like a loyal golden retriever. Days seem slow even though they are speeding towards autumn and then winter. Everything feels like it’s renewing, and I even saw someone from the outdoor day camp I was volunteering at. Since he was a better climbing than me and younger by 10 years, I was inspired to climb a little better. But admittedly I was lazy, and decided to take up the art of capturing the day as the day wore on, which would never be the case on an actually demanding trip. The wall we were on was called Burgers and Fries, and there just wasn’t that profusion of 90 degree ridges that my fingers like to read. If the wall were a poem, it would be a lazy pastoral and my fingers preferred to read angular prose.

IMG_3109 IMG_3117 IMG_3122 IMG_3127 IMG_3136  IMG_3139 IMG_3151 IMG_3169 IMG_3181 IMG_3182 IMG_3189 IMG_3193

Sunset

IMG_3193

*Not the picture I’m describing

Close your eyes. Empty your mind.

Imagine a sunset made up of only three colours. The middle third of the composition is orange, bleeding past the line where the sky ends and the water begins. Then, all of a sudden, cobalt blue, like the flame of a match meeting an edge of sky. Even when you look really hard, there’s no whisper of pink between the tangerine and blueberry. The only thing that separates the duotone is an even more imposing colour, black. It is in the shape of a nose, tilted onto its side, smack in between both colours. This is a lone island is the only spectator in the battle between a slowly dying sun and fiercely vivacious night. 

I don’t think it was the lunar eclipse that made the sunset spectacular because I want to believe that sunsets like that happen every autumn. I didn’t capture it; I missed the decisive moment. But I have reason to believe that I’ve seen it before, years and years before. Sunsets along the Sea to Sky highway are always amazing but they usually look like the photo above: gradations of varying hues of orange and pink and shimmering reflections on what seems like rock hard mirror-like water. But this sunset was more modern, made up of vivacious oranges, cobalts, and no reflections, just rock hard black. It was so simple you could literally draw it with three lines, two separating the orange from the blue sky and water and one squiggly one for the island. But the emotions it dredged up were far from simple, from wonderment to resentment that I wanted to capture rather than savour the moment, and total devastation that comes from fleeting beauty. Beauty makes a parody of memory. And I make a parody of beauty.

Meeting Your Heroes

IMG_3002

I bet everyone can think of someone that they would like to meet. Just the other day, I watched a video of Miley Cyrus supporting an alternate method other than culling wolves, and I wanted to meet her. Just to see someone famous as normal as the everyday people that I see, removed from their sets and environments and placed into my world.

IMG_3003

I followed the Sochi 2014 Olympics through media. I, like so many other Canadians, rooted for the gold medal favourite. It felt like I had intimate knowledge with HD footage of the events and in depth interviews and really, the positivity of the games seemed magical. It made me feel positive; it wasn’t until later that I realized how politically stricken the event was, and worked-to-death athletes who even themselves couldn’t predict the gold medal winner. So to see them today seemed like an impossible event, breaking all the laws I thought I knew about how the world worked.

I got to the venue early, excited despite not being able to find any friends to go with. People thronged all around, chatting animatedly with their friends, more or less overexcited. To other people, too, seeing somebody famous that they only knew through TV was magical. As evidenced by the giddy reactions, no one really knew what to expect when the two athletes finally appeared on stage. No one clapped loudly. If you only see people on TV, you probably aren’t used to clapping for them. The speech commenced, and I alternately wished they would be more casual or suspended my disbelief. The show, though, went on regardless-right in front of me.

The older brother was just as funny as he was in his videos, and the younger brother was pretty much the same as he was in videos as well, speaking through his snowboarding rather than his words. Their task, to inspire us, was old news to most of us; their story had been through the media so much. Overcoming adversity and “expecting challenge” came through as the main theme, interspersed with personal anecdotes. Surprisingly, it was brotherly love that stole the stage and made the audience clap. The hour felt like 15 minutes.

Untitled-1

Afterwards there were pictures and poster signings. I waited at the back of the line with someone I had just met who had also been alone. It was an unlikely match in my opinion. I felt like I was being more judgemental though, more vocal than usual, by token of being at a very media/promotion conscious event. You can go so many routes, all of them set out for you: be the fan, be the insider critique, impressing others, or be nobody at all, confused with your own feelings about meeting your heroes. The olympic medalist is obviously an exceptional person whom we could all learn from, but it was his brother that I really wanted to hear, because I had heard him speak before. On a screen. I felt I “knew” him better, and so that was the experience I was looking for. While others I had no doubt followed the Olympic medalist, I felt the greatest gift in meeting his medalist in humour but not Olympic medalist brother.

Famous people are real people. Media personalities are real people. In order to make money, people need to brand themselves and have a positive media presence, and accepting that is something you learn when you meet someone who is famous. Like customer service, it’s just etiquette and also a social script. How would you feel if you walked onto the bus every morning and instead of saying Thank you, you awkwardly didn’t know how to act around a member of the public? Although it’s weird, and seems to put an edge on meeting your heroes-even everyday ones-at the end of the day, you met your hero, period. Real people meeting real people. What’s inauthentic about two people meeting? How could you walk away as if you were just staring at a hero on screen?

But my favourite memory is still the one of seeing and hearing them talk, and walk in front of me, as normal as everybody else I know, in the school I know, in my world, where everything is magical because hard work makes anything possible.

Autumn

Browns, greys, deep yellows and tarnished greens.

A new season is upon us.

DSC_1432

(photo credit: my cousin)IMG_2424 salmon

DSC_1390IMG_2665

Autumn-neither summer nor winter. A second new year for many people, heading back to school or work after a break. Minutes of light shaved off day by day, sunlight losing its stronghold in the sky. What do you expect and enjoy out of autumn, between the golden light of summer and the white, pure light of winter? Perhaps it’s the amber light of autumn that you come to love. Not the warmth on your neck nor the frozen numbness of snow, but the crisp briskness of cold suffused with the amber light.The quickening of the breath as you realize this morning is colder than the last and you had better pack an extra layer next time. Perhaps autumn is a beauty all on its own, only I never fully appreciated it.

the end of an era

New school year, new people, new life. IMG_2969 (1)

IMG_2897 IMG_2902 IMG_2907  IMG_2918 IMG_2923 IMG_2945 IMG_2950 IMG_2951 IMG_2955 IMG_2956 IMG_2960 IMG_2961 IMG_2963  IMG_2970  IMG_2976 IMG_2982 IMG_2986

Meadows. Meadows are beautiful.

Garibaldi Lake.

It rained all weekend, and my tent buddy and I were so paranoid my tent would leak-as did everyone else, it turned out. When we woke up, my tent mate and I both confessed we had dreams about bears and thought each other were responsible for making noises against the tent. Water pooled under my side of the tent, which lodged a large rock, and reminded us mother nature was our ruler. With a party of 17, we surprisingly had the campgrounds to ourselves-no one wanted to hang out in the adverse weather. A special surprise of fancy wine with fire-roasted sugar cones and fruit celebrated the end of an era, for the group leader, finishing his year long exchange. Despite going on only a small handful of the available trips last year, he’d been so welcoming it felt like he was a permanent fixture in the club. 

With all my friends doing co-op, or on exchange, it’s a bittersweet feeling to finally be trying to make new friends again. Sure, going on outdoor adventures with fellow classmates opened my eyes to lots of lovely people, but it also opened my eyes to the possibility of adult life: people are transient. Simply put, people come and go. 

I thought that I was friendly last year, and I was. But I was comfortable. I knew I had friends to turn too, reference points; now I’m floundering in the sea, again, just like last year, after my first camping trip. And that feeling of fear, of having to redefine myself, led to the person I am now, so that can’t be a bad thing. And anyways, it’s only until December. Then all my friends come back and we will all be different and it will be amazing.

Being brave is scary, and being stagnant is terrifyingly boring. Who will you be this year? Who will you be in just four months? It’s scary to think that every minute that ticks by we are building ourselves. Building who will be in the future, always changing from the person we are now. Will be the people we wanted to be? Or should we not have any preconceptions, to truly free ourselves? After just a weekend with new exchange and local students, I feel my worldview shifting. As we four at a bored unpaid internship wrap-up meeting collectively agreed, we want a job that prioritizes people-learning from people is the best way to learn. Also, I think all of our prides got a bit bashed from the unpaid full-day workdays.

Anyways. Looking forward, I’m already excited that this year will be different, that every year will be different. Excited to wake up and experiment with the day, excited to learn something that will change the way I think, and evolving everything-fuck, I will love that fear. Fear of not knowing anyone, seeking people for knowledge, and most of all, becoming someone else that I don’t even recognize. After all, stagnation stinks and if I’ve learned anything, it’s that.

Writing for Kids

I wrote something today. It’s not going to win any awards, but as I learned from a workshop, you’re not allowed to apologize for poor writing because you’re tired and whatnot. Everything that you write is yours and everyone knows you just spun it out of thin air. Own it.

Assignment:
Write two 80-150 word passages, one set in modern day/realistic fiction, the other historical/fantasy. Set the readers’ age groups in different ranges, ie 8-9, 10-11, 12+, 14+

1.

Myra flicked her mousy brown braid back, flecked with dirt, and plunged her hand into the pool. She gasped with the coldness, struggling to keep her eye on a ripple right hand corner. There was a flash of colour…then it was gone.

Seth’s face was the first to appear as Myra scuttled through the worn stone barriers that served as a door. “Sorry,” she mouthed. Eyes drooping at the corners, Seth put his hand on his stomach and lowered his head.

“Fourteen days past,” Tarka mumbled, to Myra’s surprise. The wrinkles at the corner of her eyes sharpened. “Even the slug responds faster than The High One.”

Seth began to cry, and Myra glanced imploringly at Tarka, partially out of helplessness for Seth, and partly for herself. She had a secret stash of dried berries, and hoped the beatles hadn’t gotten to them yet.

Yes I crammed way too much into that…

2.

It all began when his mom said, “Brett, meet Jack…”

After that phone call, they jumped into the car and wound through the forested countryside away from SilverCity Cinemas, Walmarts, and everything that Brett knew and loved.

Jack was Brett’s step brother, only they weren’t very close.

Jack and Brett had never met.

Brett had held a garden snake once, but he had never slapped a high five with the hand of his own brother.

Brett was determined to like Jack, even if Jack and him weren’t alike at all.

No comments, other than I used a name to start 4 of the 6 sentences.

Can you guess which age groups and genre each piece were from?

  1. Fantasy, 10-12
  2. Fiction, 8-9

Journal:

I had been having a bad week, with anxiety making me cry and avoid people as stress from school mounted. Writing, which had been a cause for anxiety all last year, finally became my solace as words flowed from my starved imagination. The progress is huge-finally I can write from the perspective of someone other than someone I want to be or messed up and kids, I do love kids. Children’s literature creative writing class could be the one to save me, if I let it. It’s the only passion I ever really had, even when I entered university and tried to grow up.

I realized that anxiety wasn’t going to go away and panicked, but I still tried my best to live my life normally. I avoided triggers, like my family, but I tried my best to socialize. I attended free yoga and dance classes on Monday, indoor rockclimbed Wednesday, and also met with fellow writing enthusiastic that day. It was a long day, but I had since grown from my mousy shell last year, and I relished in the company. Oh, and I also managed to switch into another creative writing class which I originally planned to take second semester. But several people I know are in the first semester and it fits perfectly into my schedule. Life isn’t perfect but who am I to complain? The operandi modus is to realize the positive in my life and only a fool would self sabotage themselves when they have this canvas to work with.

The Joy of Owning an “Artistic” Object

There is a certain heady joy to owning an object of “art”. From records with artistic covers, haut fashion articles of clothing, art posters, furniture, fancy tea sets, a one of a kind guitar-the list goes on-the pleasure of living alongside a piece of art is undeniable.

So what makes a mass produced item capable of being as “special” as your favourite campfire song? Mass produced artful items are never meant to be art on their own, but vessels for the owner’s experience. Though we love the art aspect of it, our greatest desire is to interact and play with the item, from playing the CD the album art belongs to, to riding that bike that is a feat of engineering and design. Even though the item is mass produced, it is special to you.

Think about how you feel anticipating owning a piece of art. Getting your hands on a new album, article of clothing, archival quality print, well designed tool. “Art” is so much more than a “thing”-art can be a friend, art can be solace, art can be a relationship middleman.

Once you own the piece of “art”, there is an aspect of maintenance. “Art” becomes a thing to care for; an embodiment of the fragile emotion of wonder and painful longing. The “Art” is both there, a physical thing, and also a painful reminder of what isn’t there, mainly the impossibility of ever capturing the fleeting moment of the peak of surprise/wonder/joy. Owning it thus is a painful activity, characterized by this polarization of feeling. The piece of “art” therefore must be taken care of, constantly tended to retain the maximum amount of the special feeling. This is done by enshrining the item, constant reminders or touching of the object,  and reminders to others of one’s ownership.

Think about that beautiful object you own or cover art from your favourite album. Do you cherish interacting with it? How much feeling do you put onto that object? Does looking at it automatically cause a reflexive emotion or memory to surface?

Summer Please Don’t Go: Climbing at Lighthouse Park

I wanted a camping trip, but this will do. Climbing used to be something on the top of my list but only indoors; then the interest waned for a while because it was too hard and seemed slow paced, but yesterday’s trip reaffirmed the greatest gift going outdoors has taught me: across sports and disciplines, all people who enjoy the outdoors are open minded people, because to enjoy the outdoors you often have to teach others, deal with the weather, and share your love.

I actually enjoyed rock climbing more, even though the rock was less fun. For sure, the climbs being very short and easier made the experience more easily enjoyed, as the rock in Squamish is more fun and easy to grip, but the climbs harder and tiring. We all got 5 or so climbs in, which is pretty good in my experience for rock climbing trips which are geared towards beginners. I enjoyed the height, but I wasn’t quite brave enough to take a “over the ocean” selfie by leaning over the rock, clipped into a harness and rope, with nothing underneath but sea. But it was beautiful. Endlessly, endlessly blue, azure, sea and sky, beautiful. 

IMG_2846 (1)

IMG_2847

IMG_2833 IMG_2839 IMG_2841 (1) IMG_2843 (1) IMG_2844 IMG_2845   

There were hornets in the cracks, which was scary. We guessed they liked the water? And climbs on one side were over the water: amazing. What a beautiful place we live in.

Panic Attack/5 Months

I can’t believe that it’s been five months since I had a panic attack. For weeks following it I honestly felt shakey, like I couldn’t believe I survived it. Hiking made me feel depressed, because it felt like I was walking away from the support that I needed, wasting the energy I barely had after the ordeal. My level of trust in myself was absolute zero. I didn’t even realize how big of a psychological impact it had on me until I realized it had been five months, and during the two month long break where I basically didn’t hike and definitely didn’t camp, I was afraid of being alone with myself away from familiar things. My depression during my last camping trip at Manning was overwhelming. The decision to not camp was because of my relatives visiting and ensuing anger it would cause if I went away while they were over, but also because I couldn’t face it if that depression deepened to pre-present depths.

Between then and now, I had to write several large writing assignments for class, which seemed insurmountable. Counselling didn’t seem to be working. Sometimes I would go and I would feel worse. And then I began to feel ashamed for going so many times and making no progress. Yet my counsellor didn’t really judge me, except maybe once, for my own good, of course. I hated counselling, or I needed it to stay hopeful. I berated myself for going to only one of a dozen anxiety management workshops, but in the end, that one meant I was able to walk out of the house and into help. What seemed like a failure was actually a success, because I had been failing, someway or the other, partially my fault, partially not, for over a month. I pretended to be angry when sessions were cancelled, but secretly I was relieved and even more hopeless.

Life with mental illness isn’t a life. I suggest that you still live life as far as you can until you can reach a place where you want to change it, but it isn’t a way to continue. I think the reason why people break down after living long enough with it isn’t proof that the illness is terrible, but because people truly want to change. Running down and finding limits is a way of saying how much you hate something and finding a way to justify hating it when it ruins your life. I would say I had little to no control over anxiety itself, but wanting to change is something that I always had some control over. As long as I could sustain a reason to change, I could. Sustaining that reason can be impossible, which is why counselling is necessary.

I haven’t figured out all my problems, obviously. Talking about mental health can make me depressed, and I’m afraid of depression. The only positive of anxiety was that it didn’t make me want to die all the time, until the panic attack, and that’s when I did, because the sense of being a piece of scum physically hurt. “I hate myself” was a physical feeling that I couldn’t control, and it came upon me like tension between your shoulders. For real. I’m afraid of depression because anxiety occupies your mind, but depression happens when there’s nothing in it. I’ve emptied and rerouted my thoughts of negative ones, but without many positive ones, sometimes I’m left with an empty brain. Luckily, being able to go back to school shows that I’ve tackled at the root of some problems, rather than artificially bandaging them. Only through the pursuit of things I loved (volunteering) and friends and family could I really see that I was able to make others happy and therefore make myself happy. As long as I can see that, the root of the problem can be fixed. And any sort of mental illness will be irrelevant. The way I think now is nothing like the way I thought before, in the content and how I think about them. I’m a nicer, smarter person. I absolutely cannot always think properly, like when I went to a pub with my friends last week. I still need to reroute my brain when it comes to certain situations, where it’s hard to rewrite hardwired scripts. I came home depressed at my inability to enjoy my time with friends. But really, my goals were different. Instead of the goal being to act a certain way, I want to just enjoy life, without any expectation or fantasy or idealism. There’s just one way to live life, and that’s by being honest.