Morning Song

When you step through the doors, the conductor has already raised the baton. The music begins pianissimo, so quiet that one might miss it completely. It starts with footsteps, the grit under your shoes breaking the rhythm when you don’t keep pace. You pick it up gently with the beat of your breath, strong and steady as it rises and falls like the hills.

This is a new song. It feels familiar like an old friend, but you’ve forgotten all the parts. A fermata—a pause for you to tune in—and then you hear them, the harmonies layered one by one. The sections of the orchestra are all there. The leaves vibrate at the soft touch of the breeze. Chickadees sing out, a staccato call and response between the trees. A register below, the crows perch low on the power lines like black notes on a staff.

Some of the players are unexpected. The steady hum of traffic a few blocks away is a bass line beneath the melody. It fades briefly behind the water running allegro in the storm drain as you pass. Even the road crew is counted in, striking and scraping stone in time. And every sound is noteworthy.

And every sound is noteworthy.

They rise to a crescendo and the music surrounds you while the neighbourhood slowly rises. It awakens house by house, the inhabitants unknowingly becoming both audience and performers as they stir and spill into the day. You reluctantly reach your destination and the silence is deafening when you shut the door behind you. Outside, the conductor smiles secretly as the composition continues.

Page Break: The Starts and Stops of a Writer

I used to write — a lot. Where others imagined futures with hockey sticks or lab coats, I dreamed of letters. I didn’t see my name in lights but rather in print, neatly positioned in the bottom right corner of the cover of my novel(s) and anchoring a colourful illustration of a Montmartre cafe in Paris or Rome’s Trevi Fountain. From my upstairs bedroom, painted blue and with a wallpaper border of sailing ships, the view of the vineyards at the edge of Osoyoos was a world away from, well, everything. The only option for a teenage romantic in a small town was to travel by pen.

Paris, March 1995 (Sonia Nicholson photo)
Paris, March 1995 (Sonia Nicholson photo)

In grade 8, my best friend and I spent our lunch hours sitting cross-legged on the rough grey carpet in the aisle of the school library. With our 3-ring binders in hand, we hammered out five chapters of a horse racing story inspired by the Black Stallion book and television series, and by a local horse-breeder/teacher we knew. We were so committed that we designed purple and green jockey silks and convinced my co-author’s mother to sew them. But eventually homework and band concerts and awkward dances took over, and our book was lost under stacks of high school ephemera. Even the silks disappeared. Still, that ache to create remained.

When I wasn’t writing, I read about it. My favourite novel in those years was A Summer in Paris, which tells the story of a group of friends who participate in an immersive school-sponsored trip. One of them, Nina, wants to be — you guessed it — a writer. Spoiler alert: she remains in Paris after the program and becomes an author’s assistant. Nina’s fictional life was my real life goal! By age 19, I had been to the City of Light twice and filled notebooks with poetry. In university I surrounded myself with languages and literature; however, the texts I read and the papers I produced didn’t leave much room for more artistic pursuits. And the drive for grades meant I literally didn’t leave my tiny dorm room.

So that’s been the pattern. Long stretches of life punctuated by periods of productivity. The words have been dancing at the periphery of my page, peeking over my schedule and teasing me while I’ve been busy meeting milestones in family and career. Ten years ago I somehow found the time to plot out an entire novel, complete with character biographies and a future movie soundtrack. I did everything but put all the parts together. And then nothing. All of the words went away to some dark storage vault in the depths of my mind and the notebooks were relegated to a basement cupboard. Though the desire still quietly burned like a lamp left on to await a loved one’s return, the writing stopped.

Though the desire still quietly burned like a lamp left on to await a loved one’s return, the writing stopped.

The sheets (or more accurately by that time, screens) remained blank until last year when Mosaic Times approached me about doing an article on growing up in an immigrant family. My insides screamed yes, a reflex from a muscle nearly atrophied from disuse. At first I struggled. It felt like I had just woken up from a deep sleep and couldn’t quite remember the beautiful dream I’d had. The images were frustratingly out of focus. But the vivid memories of my childhood with all its technicolour sights and sweet smells proved to be the elixir I needed. The writing returned. Ironically, I had spent so many years imagining far-flung locales for my subject matter when it was a little corner of my past that truly opened the door.

Since that day I have endeavoured to never misplace my calling in the footnotes of my story. Truth be told, I didn’t write again until now. But I was plotting — biding my time — until I could place myself somewhere I would really see the inspiration around me. Not in the neatly organized school library like so long ago, but in my own messy life as it is now. And today as I look out my front window, taking in every shade of the leaves on the trees before tapping at my keyboard, there is no mistaking that the view is just right. And just write I shall.