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Gwen Tuinman

Novelist and Advocate

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introspection

Missing Pre-COVID Smiles

I visited my dentist for a cleaning, a mundane and slightly dreaded experience made all the more off putting by COVID. The hygienist welcomed me with a temperature gun to the forehead, a dousing of hand sanitizer, and a list of blanks to initial on a clipboard form. All acts were necessary for both our safety. And any one who might follow in our wake.

After the appointment ended, I returned to the reception area where four clerical staff sat in a row staring into the glow of individual computer screens behind a plexiglass wall. A voice asked, “Can I help you?” It was impossible to discern who’d spoken. No one had looked up from their screen. And their masks hid my cue–the speaker’s smile of engagement.

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The Centre Cannot Hold

Years ago, one of my daughters gave me a beautiful book, Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach. I wasn’t feeling well at the time and the daily readings lifted me. Today I flipped to a passage that reflected on feelings of being “spaced out” and “out of kilter”. Breathnach attributed this being uncentred within. “The centre is not holding,” is how she put it.

Talk of centres not holding made me think of Joan Didion (1934-2005). In recent months, I watched a documentary, by her nephew, called The Centre Will Not Hold. I sensed gravity in the words, interpreted centre to mean inner strength. The frailty of her physical body, in later years, brought to mind the final tenacious leaf that clings to its branch in spite of November winds. The film walks the viewer through Didion’s remarkable career as journalist and author, and the personal tragedies of having survived both her husband and daughter. Winter cruelly buffeted Didion, but for her to have carried on and written books like The Year of Magical Thinking, I can’t help thinking her centre did hold.

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Underlined, Circled and Quoted

In my book collection, there are so many pages with phrases underlined in pen and keywords contained inside pencilled rectangles or scallop-edged clouds. When ideas resonate, I draw hearts in the margin to later remind myself how intense the connection felt upon first reading. A single heart, two hearts, three hearts. Sometimes I colour them in to make my point.

In large part, my reading is tied to research and personal evolution. Next to certain paragraphs I’ll write notes to myself. This is huge! Or maybe I’ll jot an action to take in light of what I’ve read. A few years ago, I installed a cork board that spans most of one wall in my office. There hangs an envelope marked Quotes/Inspiration. Only the phrases that really hit home are recorded on index cards and stashed there.

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