How to Expect What You're Not Expecting
Stories of Pregnancy, Parenthood, and Loss
EDITED BY JESSICA HIEMSTRA and Lisa Martin
ILLUSTRATIONS BY JESSICA HIEMSTRA
FOREWORD BY KIM JERNIGAN
PUBLISHED BY TOUCHWOOD EDITIONS
Winner of the Bronze Medal in the Parenting category at the 2015 Independent Publisher (IPPY) Book Awards
“This book, the one you hold in your hands, this book about loss and longing and the half-life of grief, is a wonderful book, one you will want to read, and read again, and share with someone dear to you. This might be a surprise, or at least it was to me, for it’s a book in large part about the greatest of heartaches, the loss of a child. And yet the book is more than that, as the careful grouping of these essays suggests. It’s about unexpected and inescapable loss (What you have is what happened), yes, but it’s also about hope (The wounded past cannot deny the beautiful future), about the search for meaning (The desire to understand), and about love (The possibility of love). It’s also about making…
…As one of the first readers of this book, I asked myself what comfort I might take from these stories, what wisdom. I suspect that word “wisdom” might make these writers squirm. While there may be much we can take away in terms of understanding and insight, it is not the writers’ intention to advise or instruct. If they give advice it’s mostly the cautionary sort (“Expect anything”). The purpose of these essays, of writing them and of publishing them together in this way, is less to provide an answer than to provide an example, less to inform than to explore, to share a story, or stories, that might have a wider resonance. And yet I did feel comforted as I read, more than comforted. I felt happy to be alive and in such company…
… Beauty is the balm sought by both editors of this collection, and beauty is the gift they give us. As Jessica Hiemstra puts it, “Beauty might not be necessary, but we need it.” - Foreword Kim Jernigan
Your purchase of an autographed book includes a set of three mini print illustrations from the collection.
Contributors include Chris Arthur, Kim Aubrey, Janet Baker, Yvonne Blomer, Jennifer Bowering Delisle, Kevin Bray, Erika Connor, Sadiqa de Meijer, Jessica Hiemstra, Fiona Tinwei Lam, Lisa Martin, Lorri Neilsen Glenn, Susan Olding, Laura Rock, Gail Marlene Schwartz, Maureen Scott Harris, Carrie Snyder, Cathy Stonehouse, and Chris Tarry.
How to Expect What You're Not Expecting Illustrations by Jessica Hiemstra
How to Bury a Yellow Toque by Jessica Hiemstra
My mother introduced me to swamp lanterns. We were walking somewhere near the University of British Columbia campus. She had embarked on her PhD. Dad had left her after twenty-three years of marriage. He put the canoe on the roof of the car and took the tent. He drove off, looking for water, himself, something he’d lost and had no idea how to find again. Mom quit her job and moved to the only province they hadn’t been to together. I was at UBC too – studying linguistics and looking for order. We’d both emerged from a long dark stretch. I was back in school after dropping out of the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design, after discovering I hated art school. I’d been waiting to go since I was seven.
We’d both spun out and were settling now, enjoying our minds. So we walked and pointed things out to each other.
Walter Benjamin says the art of storytelling is reaching its end, she said. It’s because the epic side of truth, wisdom, is dying out.
People threw cigarette butts into petrol barrels, I told her, because they were stamped “empty.”
Look, she said. This flower. Yellow shots in the dark wood.
It’s like a marsh-marigold. We held the marsh-marigold in our minds.
Boom, Mom said. I could hear the sweep of them against the side of the canoe, Dad in the back with a paddle. I could feel the steel culvert under my seven-year-old bum, water tugging their stems when a beaver slid through, holding its breath, waiting for me to leave.
You used to pick me marsh-marigolds, Mom said. I smiled. I could still see them wilting on the kitchen table while she hummed Paul Simon or Judy Collins and I sat on my feet, with crayons, drawing.
Yes, they always died.
The epic side of the marsh-marigold hasn’t died out, she said.
The most beautiful thing about a marsh-marigold is the space around it. The trick of painting is putting the right amount of dark beside the right amount of light. Light is nothing if it isn’t offset by darkness. It’s obvious why so many of us love Rembrandt, Vermeer. Those of us who once believed in Jesus still lean towards Isaiah. Brightness is mere emptiness if it isn’t situated in negative space, contrast. Though we wish it weren’t so, we love Van Gogh, Edvard Munch, Frida Kahlo more because of the darkness in their lives. It makes their paintings shine. Marsh-marigolds shoot up out of swamp water. Swamp lanterns emerge out of winter, dark ground.
I’ve been resisting this as a painter: my preoccupation with light and beauty. A lot of painters feel pressure these days—to make something new, to purge the Wordsworth from their desire. I feel pressure to reject beauty, to paint for the sake of the paint, to stop asking people to make meaning out of what I’m representing and, of course, to stop representing altogether. I feel pressured not to paint, as though painting itself were antiquated, out of vogue, unnecessary. I feel pressure to be Marina Abramović, to perform instead of paint. I feel pressure to be Diana Thorneycroft, Jana Sterbak or Damien Hirst—to unsettle instead of soothe. But the truth is
I want to take your hand and put it under a hen’s wing.
I want to say: loveliness, look, it’s here. It’s hidden in calendula, broken teeth,
the woman who told me God stops the rain for her: I say look Lord,
I’m tired of the rain. I feel obligated to cut a cow in half, holler
hell. I should. But every time I’m flooded, I’m flooded with splendour.
I want to paint the way I love Vancouver, the way it seeps through me,
the fling of water from spokes, the wash of winter on Skytrain windows,
the underbelly of eagles, the undersides of frogs, leaves.
I paint because I’m looking for the ground, a sturdy place to position what’s spinning in me, my life. I’m looking for an antidote to disarray, the substance of hope. And it seems that’s out of vogue too.
Mom tugged me into the bushes. It has quite the smell, she told me. And then she did something she rarely does. She lied. It’s glorious. Breathe deeply, she said. I did. I bent and pulled as much swamp lantern into my lungs as I could. The flower attracts flies by smelling like dead meat. We laughed hard, tumbled back onto the path.
Crap, Mom, I said, you lied.
She grinned. I’m learning the world. We laughed again. Then walked in silence, hands in our mittens, our mittens in each other’s hands.
Two years ago my sister had a stillborn baby—a week before the baby was due.
Just before the baby died, I’d written something in a notebook about due dates. About how odd the phrasing is, like returning a book to the library. Library books don’t belong to you. They are something you enjoy and have to give back. They’re on loan. I wrote something about due dates being more like expiry dates.