New Chapters

“Are ya getting excited yet?”

It has been a bumpy week at the Sharplin-Christie household, and there’s really only one consistent explanation: in exactly one week, the bumps we feel will be airplane turbulence. Transitions are tough at the best of times, and I speak as an expert on the subject—teachers and freelance artists are perpetually wrapping up one thing and starting the next. I am both an instructor and a freelance writer—at least, up until this spring, I was. Now I’m in transition, wrapping up a seven-year stint of multiple-hat-wearing in Cape Breton, and about to go hatless into the unknown.

Stress and tension manifest in predictable ways around our house. Restful sleep decreases, consumption of caffeine increases to compensate, irritability follows. We’re trying to teach our four-year-old son about managing his urges, but neither one of us is teaching by example. The other day, X got into his first verifiable playground scrap—toppling another kid over a hula-hoop dispute—and his sociopathic response to the affair was “I’m glad I was stronger than him.” I wish I could conquer my demons with such casual confidence.

Obviously, his comment sent me into a shame spiral, as it would with any liberal humanist parent. It’s too much to expect a human with scarcely any activity in his frontal lobe to embrace a concept like “liberal humanism”—but I’m extra hard on him anyway, and it’s probably because I have cause to doubt my own commitment to those principles right now. When I get wrapped up in a transition, I get selfish with my energy. I haven’t lifted a finger to show my support for the LGBTQ community since Orlando, not even the literal finger-lifting support involved in sharing memes.

And since I’m already cranky, I might as well deride that form of activism. What has ever been accomplished by hollering liberal sentiments into an echo chamber like Facebook? But even as I alienate all of my armchair activist friends with that dismissal, I remember my own preferred soapbox is the theatre, and there you have a liberal echo chamber that predates the internet by 2,500 years. Don’t get me wrong; both theatre and the internet can be powerful platforms for advocacy and social reform, but in both cases you need to be engaged, committed, and relentless about the cause before you start to see any sort of change. Right now, the only thing I feel committed to is cleaning up seven years’ worth of household mess before the house-sitters show up.

Up till two days ago, it felt important that I finish writing a grant application for the Canada Council’s New Chapter programme. If you’re not a Canadian artist, this string of words doesn’t need to mean anything to you, but if you are one, and you don’t know about this grant, stop reading this aimless whine session and click that damn link. It’s a big-money free-for-all, and even if you’ve never applied for a grant in your life, you’d be a fool not to at least throw your hat into the ring. I write good grant—it’s one of the few things I’m sure I excel at—and, if I weren’t leaving town in seven days, I could probably make a decent haul hiring myself out to local artists to write their applications for them. Even if only one or two of them came through, it would help fulfil my recent resolve to help direct more federal arts funding to Cape Breton.

But I had to pull the plug on my own application yesterday, and there’s no way I’d have the mojo to write anyone else’s for them. I might get another chance—there’s another deadline for the same grant in October—but by then, I’ll be in France, and who knows where my priorities will lie? Like I just said, I’d be a fool not to apply. But I’d be a fucking train wreck if I did.

But earlier this week, before I threw in the towel, I was hunched over my laptop at Doktor Luke’s, trying to come up with a project description that was inspiring and fresh, yet managed to sneak in most of the assessment criteria from the grant guidelines. Normally, I enjoy writing in cafés, but it was getting harder and harder to concentrate because the friends and colleagues who stopped in for lattes didn’t seem to want to leave me alone, despite my body language. Each one would approach my table, wave and smile in order to extract me from the sanctuary of my earbuds, and then ask:

“You must be getting excited, right?”

The first few times, I didn’t know what they were on about. Why would I be excited about a project that may or may not get funding for production in 2018? But soon enough, they clarified, and then it would all come flooding back: the packing, the passports, the hasty, half-hearted refresher of an entire second language—the orbiting cluster of quantum singularities, black holes in my vision when I tried to picture anything beyond the next three months—

And I would smile, swallowing my panic attack like a horse pill, and say, “Yeah! It’s pretty exciting, all right.”

With closer friends, I tried to be more honest, but it wasn’t easy. “Excited? Sure, but mostly nervous. There’s a lot to keep track of, and with a kid traveling along, that’s an added set of responsibilities…” But by this time, faces would be starting to fall. Confusion and dismay. How could I not be excited about moving to France?

So I smile and back-pedal: “Yep. Definitely excited. Can’t wait.” And, once they’d moved on, I order another cappuccino, because caffeine keeps me calm.

Am I excited to be living in a foreign country for a year? Ask me again when I get there. Right now, I’m terrified.


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