April into May; Magnolias, Marriage and More / by Jessica Hunter

Narcissus are growing strong alongside my ivory prince hellebores, which are fading out while muscari take their place in the dirt next to my hyacinths and the first signs of fritillaria imperialis have started to crown with the tulips. The garden moves forward even if I'm behind on my cleanup. Nature waits for no one. 

I’ve been telling myself to sit down and write for weeks now. “It’s been two months since you wrote here last…now two months and a week…two months, two weeks.” This pressure doesn’t assist. There’s no way around it in writing, in order to do it, you have to sit down and begin. Even if it’s just whatever jumbled thoughts come to mind, follow the stream of consciousness for a while and then it’ll come. Or that’s what they say (they: all the writers). What if what comes to mind is: “shit. Fuck. Just write. You don’t have anything to say. Who cares about this? No one’s listening anyways. This is a waste of your time. You could be sitting and watching copious amounts of Netflix, drinking bourbon and flipping through instagram, catching up on the latest news through facebook (because apparently that’s a reliable report source these days – factbook!), or you could go for a walk or you should go to yoga, take a bath, make dinner, mmmm cheese, you should eat some cheese, do the laundry, cuddle with the kittens, return emails, read that pile of books you just bought from Hamilton’s literary festival that now give you anxiety because you feel like you should have read them all by now and they are looking at you asking you to read them and they won’t stop until you do.”

That’s me following my stream of consciousness for a few sentences and after reading it over once I’ve decided not to put you through anymore of it.

I attended a literary festival a couple weeks ago, featuring a myriad of talented Contemporary Canadian writers, everything from poetry, prose, fiction, memoir, short story, documentary, screenplay to historical fiction. When I decided to go, I told myself I would shut off my phone and immerse myself in that culture for a few days. And I did. And it was all consuming. And at the end I felt like I needed to quit everything, go to the woods and write. Except that’s not reality nor is it a luxury that anyone, well almost no one, has. Once that thought of leaving everything left me I realized how tired I was and instead sat on my couch and watched the last season of Gilmore Girls. They are not short seasons.

At this moment it’s taking everything in me to stay with this, to stay here and continue with this task. I think because I just want to shut my brain off after having using it on overdrive, which isn’t bad, but it’s not great. Netflix isn’t going to help me exercise conscious thought. Or is it? It’s not that I don’t want to be here, I do, my deepest desire is to be here, putting words to my thoughts, but for some reason distraction speaks louder than desire sometimes, like that loud person in a room full of people, it’s not that there’s nothing else going on or that no one else has anything to say, it’s that they can’t think with the loud person taking up all the energy. Loud doesn’t equal right or best though. So my distraction is a loud, obnoxious, influencer whose only goal is to have fun and party. It’s tiring because when I listen and follow distraction I end up unsatisfied wondering what I think or feel, frustrated with misappropriation of want, and then I begin the process of self-loss.

Yes this is dramatic but would you still be reading if it wasn’t?

Creating for me is necessity, like food, water and sleep. Without it I don’t feel human and I turn into an unhappy, cranky zombie. Writing is one area that feeds my creative process. I progress. 

One of the places I go to think

One of the places I go to think

A dead long-tailed duck from a storm this past winter. I found a couple by the water; at least they died together. 

A dead long-tailed duck from a storm this past winter. I found a couple by the water; at least they died together. 

I find time to write whenever I can. My phone makes it easier with the notes app. I have over 400 notes (pushing 500, at exactly 493). It goes from bands I like, grocery lists, studio needs, thoughts, travel guides, poems to conversations I’ve had with friends or supplier details for AFM. When I was a kid I’d write little notes to myself on napkins or whatever form of paper was available, sometimes on my bank statements because we all know those things were the perfect sized pocket book. These notes would at times become songs and stories, then lost. I did it nonetheless.  

So, I can assure I've been writing, if not on paper then in my head. Thoughts come to me often or I note a scene as its passing, like this one

 

I read somewhere that

withdrawing from social media

means, slipping into a depression –

I wonder how it used to be measured?

I wonder if the ‘depressed’ know something we don’t,

about nature.

about solitude.

about her bounty of healing love?

watch how the magnolia blossoms go

dormant in the winter, blooming for

just a short period in the early spring.

No one is worried about them,

when their petals fall,

they are still very much alive,

Connected.

Holy.

Forgotten, perhaps,

Yet, still very much alive.

Or this one from a couple days after Easter weekend: “the smell of brussels sprouts with butter and lemon, left over turkey gravy mixed with baked russet potatoes and the burning of a beeswax candle on the dining room table feels like home to me. Not the home of my childhood, but the home that we are making. A home, not a house. Sim sits on the couch, always on the long one near the south side of the room, me on the short one, blanket and book in hand, the cats settled on opposite sides of the room and the last light of the day, dim and soft hitting the living room, asking for thanks. As I look at our finished door and white walls in the hallway, I say “thanks.” I interrupt Sim and his work often to read him lines of one of the books I’m reading:

 "I did not always think he was right nor did he always think I was right but we were each the      person the other trusted." ...

"We walked every morning. We did not always walk together because we liked different routes but we would keep the other's route in mind and intersect before we left the park."...

"John flew up from Los Angeles so that we could have dinner together. We had dinner at Ernie's. After dinner John took the PSA 'Midnight Flyer,' a thirteen-dollar amenity of an era in California when it was possible to fly from Los Angeles to San Francisco or Sacramento or San Jose for twenty-six dollars round trip, back to LAX. I thought about PSA. All PSA planes had smiles painted on their noses." 

Sim acts amused although I know he's probably a little annoyed that I keep interrupting him. I like sharing the parts of the book that remind me of us. He thinks I wish I could go back in time to when PSA planes existed. Just like when he has to travel for work and I complain and say “I feel like I’m missing out on bits of your life, on bits of our life” and he replies “if I was travelling somewhere boring, like Sarnia then I don’t think you’d feel that way. Are you sure you don’t just miss the travel?” We are both right. Although I do miss him more than I miss Mexico city this week (that’s where he is currently). I'm reading Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking as recommended by two reliable sources. I'm only becoming emotionally involved as I near the end, wihh her constant retelling of her memories, the vortex, as she calls it. I can relate, I enter the vortex often with moments of life that bring me ease when I am going through a tough time. Like going back to a first love when marriage weighs in. I guess it’s not the same, but I know what she means by vortex. Her portrait of loss and grief are indelible.
 

Sim interjects to tell me there's a guy in Seattle that converts old Volvos into electric cars. I respond with "Cooooollllll, we should go." Yes, because I like old Volvos and how boxy they are (partially thanks to Sim) and also because I love the West Coast and any excuse for a trip.

I'm not sure why I'm writing all this. I guess I want to give you a glimpse into my life when I leave the business alone for a few days. It's amazing how I feel when I stay away from screens for 24 hours. I can think again, I know myself better, what I want and I use my mind to wonder or dream a bit about the future instead of worrying about the immediacy of things. We all need days for this. Take some. I'm going to attempt to give myself at least one day a week offline, with no schedule. A day, entirely for the unplanned. That I have to write this here is deplorable to me.

It's not that I don't want to focus on my work, on the flowers, it's that I am always focused on them, so to take time away helps me remember how to keep going while preserving some sanity and perspective.

Yesterday was my last day at my part-time café job. I jotted down some ramblings then sent it to myself in an email titled: Blog Idea. I’ll probably include some of it here. Most of the time my posts are made up of my scattered thoughts in the moment mixed with notes I’ve been making for months and sometimes I just start from scratch. Probably because I worry about how honest I should be. Oh the debilitating filter!

I was working at a local café on Mondays, which turned into Tues/Wed, unsure of how long the gig would last. I was asked to come on board for a bit and I said yes because I like walking to work, making coffee, drinking coffee, meeting people in my hood and it was off-season. And did I mention COFFEE! I learnt a lot about the science behind a good cup, and that makes me happy because my brain likes measurements. I had a friend ask, ‘how was it working in service again?’ The truth is, we needed the money, so who cares what kind of hit to the ego that was for me? I am trying to grow a business plus Sim and I are renovating an old house in this industrious, gritty city we call home and that all takes resources. So if I needed to go back to go forwards, I was willing. I don’t even think it’s fair to say I went back because that’s an insult to all the hardworking, talented, friendly people that sustain the food and hospitality industry. It’s tough and definitely not for everyone. You have to be kind, quick on your feet, understand practical science (cooking, baking, mixology), multi-task well, etc. In my opinion, some of the best, most hard-working people are found in that industry. They carry a huge part of the domestic load of our culture on their backs. For many people, it's not just 'for a time,' it's a livelihood, a way of building community and their creativity in action. I have deep a respect for that.

 Yesterday was another day of noting my high expectations. I worked a shift that caused me to begin my day at 6am. When I was done I had a list of about 10 other things I thought I was going to get done, some of which included: bring in recycling, clean studio, pick-up groceries, mail calligraphy back to wedding vendor, return pottery to friend, start taxes, revise phone plan and swap phone (rogers is the WORST. So much of my money goes to them for shit I don’t need), water plants, go to yoga, purge closet of unworn clothes, drop off clothes to donation center, return emails for AFM, fold laundry, write a blog post, chill the fuck out and read your book, oh and take a shower because you smell. Yeah, so only 3 things on that list was accomplished after working a full day (sad to say shower wasn’t one of them) because I am not a robot and I can’t just keep going like the energizer bunny. Instead, I went to a friends place for dinner and then to the movies. We saw the Jungle Book, which made me want to go live with wolves. I would probably be more of a deer than a wolf though.  

From a hike last week on the bruce trail. 

From a hike last week on the bruce trail. 

Sim says there are two kinds of batteries: lead acid and lithium ion. He says I’m like a lithium ion battery where I tend to go at full charge into something with all my energy, heart and soul until suddenly my battery is dead and I have nothing left until I recharge. Over the years I have learned to be better with this. I will pace myself, feel my negative self-talk coming on about how unproductive I’ve been and can usually understand the signs my body gives me now but it doesn’t change that I tend to bend towards the go-go-go personality. Slowing down, despite the way I talk about it, is not my normal function, I work at it because it’s necessary for the good life.

 I used to live by the motto 'don't think, don't feel, just do,' and somewhere around my mid-twenties that all caught up to me.

I'm still a doer by nature, kinetic to the bone, I move, then think as I'm in motion, like a dancer understanding her entire composition based on how she contorts or unfolds her limbs, and then, I feel. Recipe for disaster really (my poor parents.) But it's my nature, faulty or fabulous wiring depending how you look at it. And as I've aged, I've learned how to better integrate. There are still moments, though, when I will be in motion all day, and then I will sit down to read or reflect and I have no idea where to begin. Or a friend will ask, "how are you?" And I will say, "I think I'm good,"  then as the sounds flow from my lips I realize 'maybe I'm not.' Verbal processing is a bitch. I guess that's why I write, so I can know how I'm doing. It tells me how I am, revealing myself to myself. It keeps me whole; it keeps honesty close. 

"I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear." – Joan Didion

I can identify. The movement of my hand across a page or my fingers typing on the keys, sets my thoughts on course, no longer stuck, no longer wanting for meaning.

As I said, I've improved at this with age. I'm beginning to choose myself more, saying no to visitors or social gatherings so I can keep with my intuitive self; so I can preserve her, breathing in and out, and knowing how I feel in my own body just by the movement of breath. My lungs filling up into my belly with an inhale and then deflating like a slow leek in a balloon with each exhale. That doesn't mean I don't gravitate to a more manic lifestyle, I just recognize, I’m not my best in that continuous state, no one is but our culture seems to value it more. My idea of fun Jess seems to value it more.

I thought winter would be slower. It wasn’t. Something with the inconsistency in the weather seemed to prevent me from entering a still place. Since this is seasonal work I rely on the colder season to recharge, to re-root but, I, like the plants in my garden this mild winter, never fully stopped working, even when covered in snow. Now, with event season around the corner, I see all that needs to be accomplished. It’s going to be full. It’s going to be beautiful. I’m actually really excited about this year’s wedding season and have been working on mood boards for weeks now of edgy chic couples, to romantic woodland creatures to laidback ethereal partners to timeless classic lovers.

In writing a friend and client a couple months back, regarding a comment about her wedding flowers, she said ‘I can’t stop loving them, I want to relive it all and hold those babies again,’ I responded, “I know, I wish I could bottle flowers sometimes. But then I think we wouldn't appreciate their beauty. Something about their impermanence keeps us coming back for more.”

Maybe that’s the emotion that we should take into marriage and something we need to strive to keep. Some guy came into the café weeks ago and said “people trade freedom for stability when they get married” and although part of me understood what he was saying, I completely disagreed. I mean first of all, what kind of stability is he talking about? Because when I was single I definitely didn’t have to stick out arguments or conversations that made me uncomfortable emotionally, but I do now, and not out of obligation and it's that kind of vulnerability, which draws two people closer, it’s intimate and legit. It makes the real stuff of love, and really, if I’m honest, before I was married I spent a lot of time avoiding this kind of relationship and I thought that was freedom too, having the option to switch things up whenever I wanted. It was a heck of a lot more comfortable to me but after a while I realized that I wasn’t really free and most of the time my love relationships were about what I could get more than what I could give. I think freedom is more than just our choices, I thinks it’s our insides too and I know I am more free than I’ve ever been in my life. No I don’t just go and sleep with whoever I’m attracted to or have some sort of connection with now, but I don’t define that as freedom anymore.

 Anyways, maybe my thoughts will change but this is where I’m at right now. To take it back to my original thought about the impermanence of flowers. Their beauty is because of their swift decay. We know there’s an end to them. We know they will leave us. And it’s often the most stunning flowers that leave us first.

I think of papery petals of a poppy. They are so fragile, one wrong move and they are lost. What if we looked at love this way instead of taking it for granted? I think if flowers lived forever we would just take them for granted and they would pile up in our home like everything else, passing them by and forgetting they are there. Maybe not, maybe I would stare at them forever? I’m not an expert. But if love were like flowers, if marriage were like flowers, then we would savour it all.

So, marriage is supposed to be “to death do us part” in its traditional sense, but I think that the best kind of marriages hold the door open for each other, they say “I am here because I want to be, not because I’m obligated to be. The paper is more of a statement of choice, choosing to go on the life adventure together, to be partners, lovers, friends, roommates, family. But really, it’s just a paper and if we drop the ball, or the other person does, I think we have every right to re-evaluate things and that it’s not giving up to question or discuss departing before death, to promise each other that the other can get out if they needed (that maybe that should be written in the vows), but rather it keeps the love alive and fresh, like changing the water in an arrangement - a constant renewal.

 Joan Didion’s words are in my head this week “you can love more than one person. Of course you can, but marriage is something different. Marriage is memory, marriage is time. “She didn’t know the songs,” I recall being told that a friend of a friend had said after an attempt to repeat the experience. Marriage is not only time, it is also, paradoxically the denial of time.”

This summer, I have decided to pickup more freelance design jobs, fulfilling one of this year’s goals, to: learn from the design legends around me, expand the knowledge of my craft and have fun working in community. With this comes a rigid schedule but I will still make time for beach days, weekend getaways and even a vacation. Mid May Sim and I are taking off to Europe for a few weeks. England, France, Netherlands, here we come!

With all this, I must say I am happy and content, more than ever. AFM is growing, I have a studio, a home, an irreplaceable support system of family and friends, a partner who is constantly cheering me on while continually challenging me, and I live in a city that as Kim Echlin quoted “wears its darkness on the outside,” allowing me to stop hiding too, letting go of pretense and settling into myself more as each day passes.

One last piece of news from the past couple months is that AFM was featured in the Hamilton Spectator. Full article here: SLOW SEASONAL FLOWERS HAVE THEIR DAY

MORE updates from April and into May:

April 16th/ 17th – AFM did the décor at the Vintage Marketplace for Vintage Coffee. 

April 23rd: A Fine Medley was a vendor at Wedlocked: an off-white wedding market. It was the first one and such a success. I look forward to hearing from all the lovely couples I met.

May 3rd – May 8th – I will be freelancing in Toronto at the floral design boutique Coriander Girl, owned by my dear friend Alison Westgate, who was one of the originals to spark my interest in the botanical arts scene back when I lived off Roncesvalles and worked in Parldale. This means no mother’s day flowers will be available from me in Hamilton that weekend as I’ll be in Toronto BUT if you want to make a little trip and come visit an awesome studio you can pre-order something from us here

May 20th – June 13th – I will be on vacation.