Twice a month, for four days, Olive goes to stay with her dad. He and I live three hours away from each other and we meet in the middle. On the day we meet, one of us speeds toward parenthood, the other away from it, and we stay like that for four days until we again meet in the middle and seesaw back.
I journey toward these meeting days with a mixed bag of emotions. Sometimes, Olive has a really tough time leaving and it feels like she’s ripping my heart out when she departs with tears and protests. Other times it’s easy breezy and she’s excited to go and I’m both proud and wistful, but still aching.
Either way, I drive away with an empty backseat and a silent car and I feel sad and hopeful and melancholy and liberated. I look forward to nights out and good sleeps and quiet days and the chance to write. I always hope I’ll write well and write often, though that creative state seems painfully more and more elusive these days.
The drives are long, three hours round trip. Olive is used to them at this point but I always feel bad for her – being stuck in a car seat for that long gets old, fast. And even though she’s a seasoned traveller, I’m always looking for things to make the journey easier.
Once I got a bunch of kids audio books, which seemed like a great idea until I realized that each book was about five minutes long. We’d burned through all eight of them before we even left the city limits – whoops!
These days, we play I-Spy and talk about her visit to her dad and we plan what we’re going to do when she comes home. I play endless pop music and make sure she’s well acquainted with all the greats like Adele and Florence and Drake and Britney. Recently I played Biggie Smalls Hypnotize for her for the first time (radio edit, chill y’all) and we both sang along and she couldn’t stop giggling and it was the best four minutes of my life.
These are all great ways to spend the drive, BUT, on our most recent trip, I outdid myself.
I’ll start at the beginning.
We started things off on a high note by visiting a gallery opening featuring sculptures by the amazing Joanne MacDonald. These were incredible pieces of solid metal which still somehow embodied movement and infused fluidity into solid form. It was incredible to walk around and see such tangible products of someone’s creative mind, especially since I know the person responsible. I know her!
As a fellow creative-type (can I say that? Do I count?) I couldn’t help but feel envious of how solid the sculptures were. How real.
Words on a page don’t seem to carry the same weight.
It was also fantastic because the nature of the pieces meant Olive couldn’t destroy anything – hurray for toddler-proof art! We walked around and looked at the sculptures and Olive was wired because I had let her have a cream puff shaped like a swan at lunch (seriously, how could I say no?) and so she swung off my arm like a sugar-crazed monkey and ran in circles and we read the titles and picked out our favourites
(her, left. Me, right)
Then, once we’d had our fill of real art, it was time for something entirely different.
Months ago, a friend of mine told me about a unique museum about half an hour east of the main road I take to the our usual midway meeting point. It had been on my to-do list since he told me about it and I’d decided that morning that today would be the day, the perfect day to visit it.
Ladies and gentleman, please feast your eyes on the World Famous Gopher Hole Museum, located in the hamlet of Torrington, Alberta.
If you’re thinking to yourself that this museum looks small, you’re right. It’s tiny. So what could possibly be located within this wee little museum?
Gophers, my friend. Dead, stuffed gophers.
It’s even creepier than it sounds. Look:
On one hand, it’s almost unbelievably macabre. I didn’t (and still don’t) know how to feel about it. I mean, they’re dead. And stuffed. And dressed up and arranged in bizarre tableaus. But it’s also…kind of awesome? Is it ok that I think that it’s kind of awesome?
If nothing else, the whole enterprise is fascinating. The town is tiny, and as far as I can tell the Gopher Hole Museum is its claim to fame. The museum itself is no bigger than a small bedroom and it’s run entirely by volunteers. An elderly woman admitted Olive and I, charging us only $2 to enter. An elderly man was repairing one of the light bulbs in the small display cases when we walked in.
He eagerly beckoned us over and asked if I had a camera, then told me I’d get a better picture while the case was open. I did what I was told and stooped down to take a photo of the open case, featuring a gopher fashion show. A 1996 gopher fashion show. (This means the museum has been in operation for at least 20 years!)
I chatted with the man and found out that each gopher costs $250 to have professionally taxidermied, at which point costumes are hand sewed and sets decorated. Looking around at the room full of display cases, I was filled with questions. Who the hell started this? And why?
Furthermore, why were we there? Why take an hour’s detour to spend fifteen minutes walking around looking at the spectacle in utter bewilderment, and another fifteen wandering around the gift shop, filled mostly with beautiful hand knitted baby sweaters and handmade quilts?
I mean, Olive loved it, obviously. It broke up the drive and we were both silent as we left, winding our way through Torrington’s empty streets lined with dilapidated houses and crowded front yards. Olive was thinking about the gophers and I was thinking about human beings and how driven we are to create.
We spend unimaginable amounts of time creating sculptures of twisted metal and strange dioramas of dead, dressed-up gophers. We sit and create strange blogs for no reason, pouring words onto virtual pages day by day by day by day.
The urge to create is bottomless. And when you can’t get there – whether because of fear or writer’s block or depression or an unnameable, heavy, stomped down feeling – it’s paralyzing.
And that’s when you walk around art galleries and drift through museums and read beautiful poetry and feel envy, deep sinking envy and also gladness that creation exists and gratitude for the creators themselves, too.
Sculptures and taxidermy. Articles and stand-up and paintings, beautiful stories and strange, halting movies featuring models and murder.
We live to create. It feels like dying when we don’t.