Various Maps
by Darren Stewart

--I can't wait to get home
to that filthy room
with a pile of dirty dishes in the sink
cockroaches everywhere
and the heavy smell of beer.
I can't wait to lie down on that bare
my arms crossed
thinking that
this is the spot I occupy
in the galaxy.
-Dany Laferriere


A month ago.

I'm back on a beach in my hometown in the middle of the night. I sit in silence down below the rim of affluent neighborhoods on the south shore of Vancouver Island. Beside me is a large and nearly empty bottle of wine, and the two friends who shared it. Out beyond the breakers a large sea mammal huffs its way by in some consequential search for dinner or solace. I take a smoky swig and think a poem, not mine, in my head. Across the straight lights twinkle from Washington State at the base of the Olympics.


Then I'm looking up the barrel of a television camera while a too slick news guy asks me questions. It is the first time I'm on this side of the media and I'm nervous. It was several days after various extremely religious men had found a new and unique way to use a box cutter to make a point and I had suggested that the superheavyweight champion of nations had it coming. I didn't say for better or worse, just gave context.

I was hesitant to go on television. I'm trying to be a part of the objectivity-mad bloodsport of North American journalism. That hesitation was selfish given the odd transaction involved in the job. I'd spent the summer being paid to poke into people's lives, and loving it. The sobbing 60-year-old who'd just lost everything but the clothes on his back to a fire. The family who'd watched their son sink into a lake and not come back.

To them I was catharsis. To me I was not at all ungrateful for the opportunity to share the moment. Life happened, I watched from the sideline and every day I acknowledged the inevitability of the moment.


Years ago I looked at these mountains every morning while riding my bike to the bakery where I worked. I rode down the highway at some obscenely early hour toward mountains backed by a morning sky the colour of strawberry ice cream. Geography is easy. Objective. Easy, I know. Geography and weather are inevitable and an answer I can hold in my hand.


I worked long hours at the newspaper this summer because I wanted to do it well. I was so busy thinking about my writing and watching, I felt like a shell. Hollow. No sleep, no rest, no home.

On September 12th the newspapers at the coffee shop on campus sold out in less than half an hour. People were hungry for words to and human stories to fill their heads. We wanted the reliable pabulum of newspaper stories and CNN to reestablish some normalcy. But I still think we also wanted to think. We wanted context and wanted to believe that it wasn't inevitable. That these things don't happen to us here now. History cant happen so close, so sudden, we thought.


On that same beach, two years ago almost to the day, I watched a spectacular lightning storm over the Olympics from the roof of a downtown building where one of my friends worked. The storm was large violent for Victoria and people still remember it. Forty-eight hours later I would get on a plane and fly to Ottawa. But right at that moment there were three of us and it was to be the last we'd see of each other for a long time.

We drove to the beach for a better view and on the way through downtown the rainstorm hit. By the time we reached Dallas road above the waves the rain was so thick we could barely see out the windshield. We didn't care.

Lightning and the memory of this moment were like holy water in the Sahara for me once in Ottawa, living in a house with my ex-girlfriend, at times miserably. Ottawa the city is planned methodically. Its residents all work nine to five. They meet in board rooms and have 15 minute coffee breaks. They all smoke and after work they all drink in Irish pubs with wood panels, bad cover bands and no soul. The city is immaculately clean and traffic cops coax traffic out of the downtown core every weekday afternoon.

Lightning storms are unplanned. They are inevitable. They are a spontaneous comfort.


With my words last month I became a minor curiosity for 15 minutes. The local media needed a quirky local angle, quite simply. I was forced to find my feet and stand on them and it felt good. (My grandma watched the news that night and said to me, "You looked chubby on tv")


Two years ago.

Down in the sand, drenched, we sipped beers and laughed at ourselves, considering what it would be like if we were actually struck by one of the errant bolts.

Again not caring.



Darren Stewart loves everybody except those who don't burn heavy with passion for something. Anything.

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