My Studio: Margaret Sweatman

My G'wan

When I was a kid we had a dog named Simon, a big red dog too shy to bark. He had a habit of placing his paw on your arm when he wanted you to admire him, over and over, the paw, his winning amber eyes. Simon liked pumpkin pie. He liked all kinds of food not good for him. He ate two velvet dresses that my mother had nearly finished sewing for my sister and me: one burgundy, one blue.

In those days, you didn’t have to keep a dog penned up, and Simon was free to roam the back lanes all afternoon, nosing tin garbage cans till they spilled and exhumed their riches. One day, my father backed over Simon, compressing his innards. And when Simon evacuated we discovered gems from his intestinal tract that still have not decomposed in the Brady landfill. Simon was okay: it was a very small car. 

He was a simple dog who felt things keenly, and my family responded to him with unmixed devotion. Except when he was in the way. Maybe that’s when I began dimly to understand the class system. My mother always said, “Simon gives us a focus for our love.” And sometimes, when there is no time for love, the servant of our love must go away. When we needed Simon to go away we would say, “G’wan.”  Go on.  “G’wan, Simon.”

We had a beat-up baby grand piano in the living room where my dad played Tchaikovsky till his knees gave out (he needed reverb in the sustain pedal). The piano then turned into our inside-doghouse. A lovely old instrument, it became the “G’wan.” 

“G’wan,” we said to Simon.

Simon went under the piano.

And so the patterns of my life began to take shape.

I had to write a history essay for Grade 11. Simon was under the piano, and I was in my room struggling with the American Revolution. We were both in our G’wans. 

I have been illegitimately lucky, and unlikeable, in my stubborn insistence on my own G’wan through all these decades, in almost countless homes, through thicks and through thins.

Right now, I’m sitting in my current G’wan. It’s ordinary. Messy. I can’t explain why I love to be here (and don’t need to: I’m writing for writers and readers), down under the sounds of everything. My listening abode. I even eat breakfast here. I come here when I can’t sleep, most nights.

A desk and chair, listening. It’s where everything that has already happened can be heard by all that will be new.                                                              

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206-100 Arthur Street

Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

R3B 1H3

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