The spring sky beckons to the heart starved by a winter that overstayed its welcome. “You don’t need to escape the cold any more. Come on, linger a little longer…”
I love the mystery of the sudden flashback. You know, that long-forgotten moment that pops into consciousness, seemingly unprovoked. I often I wish I could go back over my thought process in a backward time-lapse so that I can figure out what exactly it was that brought the memory about. Most times it remains a mystery, though I’m certain there’s some reason my brain is illuminating that random moment at that particular time.
This whole thing is the most captivating aspect of memoir writing to me – digging up these moments that are tucked into corners of the brain and working out why they stayed in there, and connecting them all together to determine how they form something of a road map in the development who the person is today.
I digress. The point is it happened the other night. We’re watching TV and out of nowhere I’m recalling sitting in Mrs. Salisbury’s grade one classroom and we’re all drawing landscapes with crayons. And we’re colouring our clouds blue. It must have been a six-year-old “thing.” Maybe we were just too lazy to colour in the expanse of the sky so we were indicating the blueness of it by colouring the smaller bits because it was faster.
I remember, too, Mrs. Salisbury, questioning this convention. “Look out the window! Clouds aren’t blue!”
“She’s right” thought the little kid who simply hated to get things wrong in front of people. And forevermore the little kid coloured the sky blue around the white, sometimes grey clouds.
So I get wondering, was I remembering an early lesson in critical thinking? Or was it a lesson in social conformity? Because it’s fun to imagine what that teacher would have said if we were, say, painting our clouds in rainbows or purple plaids or orange polka dots or fiery flames. Would she admire our creative expression? Or would she say “clouds are not plaid!”
It seems the universe wanted me to give more thought to the life lesson question, because the very next morning I open up the “365 Days of Flow” inspirational app on my iPad to find this little image:
Mrs. Salisbury was a teacher; without a doubt she was trying to get us to think critically and draw what we see. And I’d hope that she’d be glad to know I developed some really good critical skills. But what the grown up me also knows is that artists are both critical thinkers AND innovators who express things in new and individual ways.
That girl who still hates to get things wrong needs to be reminded, often it seems, that creative expression is never “wrong.” It is fun, experimental, relaxing, illuminating, challenging, rewarding and meditative. And none of those things is ever wrong.
And I can say with absolute certainty that when my grandchildren show me their drawings, I’m gonna say, “look at those fabulous blue clouds!” And we’ll find other things at which to hurl our critical skills. Like Disney movies.
The boy was consumed by his imagination. He was standing at the front of the first car, where many of us stand if we’re intending to get off at Bloor-Yonge station. He stood beside a door that leads to the conductor’s space. In the door is a window that is mirrored on the passenger side.
The boy looked to be about 18, though a few pimples, slender build and his manner made him seem younger. He was turned to look into the mirrored window and I could see his face in the reflection, staring into his own eyes, head cocked teasingly to one side as his face transmitted a tender and earnest love.
He was a million miles away; lost in some story that caused his face and body to react in small movements as imagination unfolded events in his mind. Now and again he would change the placement of his lips or square his shoulder without taking his eyes away from his own eyes, oblivious to anyone around him.
Now and again he would turn back to face the car and the morning commuters, only to be called back to the story in his mind begging his attention back to the mirror. I couldn’t help but be amused at the thought of what he looked like from the conductor’s perspective on the other side of that window.
I know what it’s like, to have a story – real or imagined – take over my thoughts for hours, even days. In some ways I’m envious of the boy and his ability to give himself over so entirely to his internal story to the exclusion of everyone and everything around him. It made me think, he should be a writer.
On the other hand, the inherently reserved me couldn’t help but hope that at some time in my past, my own imagination given me away so completely in my own irksomely transparent face.
I haven’t used an alarm clock in years. Not needing one is one of the best things that happened to me in middle age. I wake up a little before six most days, well in advance of the time I need to get ready for work. I welcome waking up; that time to myself before the commotion of city and work are like a daily gift. With an alarm clock it was different; the wakeup call like a general ordering me out of bed, and I’ve never much liked being told what to do. Without any sort of alarm, and when it’s just my own mind telling me it’s time, I heed with pleasure, and retreat to what we jokingly refer to as the morning room with my coffee.
We live on the eleventh floor of a twelve storey building in one of the oldest neighbourhoods in the city. The morning room is a solarium facing west over the city overlooking the Toronto skyline. The night view of the city lights is spectacular. The room also gives us a view south and a limited view of the harbour and Toronto Islands beyond that. It used to be that the solarium was more of a night-time spot for us. Ceri’s piano is in there, and he’ll often go in and play against the backdrop of lights. Then last year we acquired some more comfortable seating for the space, and I adopted it for what I envisioned on moving in – a morning retreat.
The chair I sit in faces south and at this time of year I get to watch the light start to creep across the sky; different colours every day, swirling with the clouds, ribbon-like over the islands, and many a morning finds me recording the state of that sky in my journal. As I have in the past, I have returned to handwritten journalling as part of a creative recovery process, and for almost a half year now I sit in the morning room and write with a pen without editing. Everything gets in there, petty complaints, small joys, irrational fears, creative ideas and every day – gratitude for what I have.
Often I’ve expressed gratitude for this home and neighbourhood, over which I survey every morning, seeking out the forms of familiar objects from so many walks. It’s not a glamorous lakeside view. Our street is lined with parks, and beyond those a two more apartment buildings the same height as ours, and beyond those row housing, and beyond those a block or so of small industry, and beyond that railway with occasional GO and Via trains streaming through, and beyond that the elevated Gardiner Expressway over top of Lake Shore Blvd., and beyond those, Sherbourne Common park astride both sides of Queens Quay, and beyond that, new development land that includes a shiny new George Brown College campus, and beyond that the harbour.
Not exactly pastoral, it’s a view I enjoy. Every day I see the ferry making its journey back and forth across the harbour – these days through the same narrow paths in the iced-over lake. I see the tiny figures of early morning skaters zipping back and forth on the Sherbourne Common ice rink. And the life preserver on the walkway beside the lake which I’ve photographed more than once, the last time a few weeks ago when Debbie and Len were in town and we were giving them a tour of the neighbourhood.
It’s not much more than a dot from the view of my morning room chair, but there is something beautiful in the familiarity of it. Something I appreciate every day during the ritual of the morning room.
For the longest time I’ve gone back and forth about whether I wanted to return to blogging. Astonishingly I’ve continued to pay for the Typepad space simply for lack of deciding what I will do with the project, or even just the accumulated writing. The Typepad folks are great, always helpful and responsive and the blog designs are beautiful. But my lack of commitment didn’t warrant the cost – I could maintain a site for free or almost free. So I took action the other day and bought a domain where all this has moved to (jensrealia.ca). I could house the writing – and um, well I could come back.
In December I took a break from social media for what was going to be a week or two and ended up lasting for five. It was refreshing. The whole social media thing’s been irking me for a long time. Social media is wonderful for so many reasons, not the least of which are the re-establishing of relationships with extended family and my old and valued friends. I love knowing what my far flung people are up to. But then there are so many things that came with social media like the privacy issues and the emergence of trolldom and cyber bullying, and virtual relationships with virtual “friends” who tell you about their latest headaches and other personal woes you wouldn’t dream of talking about in person with someone you haven’t seen in 35 or 40 years. It was all leaving an unpleasant taste. There is so much about social media that is just so… uncomfortable, or just not worthy of thinking about in the course of living some kind of meaningful daily life. Maybe I was just being too sensitive but I wanted to experience again what life was like before all these social-but-not-really-all-that-social time wasters came along.
It’s ironic then, given all the uncomfortableness I’ve been feeling with social media, that making the new blog the other day felt actually quite comfortable. As I was looking through all those old posts to ensure they migrated correctly, I could see there isn’t anything virtual about the realia of my life. And goodness knows I have some deep need to convey my experience of it in some creative way. In typical barrel-ahead fashion I’d clearly made the decision. I wasn’t copying all of the posts into a Word document to save in my computer; I was keeping it public. It looked like I was coming back.
It’s not like I wasn’t thinking about it at all. For months I drafted “I was away and now I’m back” posts. Don’t you just hate those? I was away, and I’m not really sorry about that and I’m certainly not going to chastise myself about it. The break happened because it needed to.
The best motivation is the gentle kind, like that which has been offered by the lovely PE who has loyally linked back to me every time she writes a ‘finding beauty’ piece. It wasn’t just gratitude for the loyalty or guilt for being virtually not home every time she did so, but she was reminding me that this is an idea we both feel strongly about, and it’s something I need to do again. It’s deepest darkest February, and new writing, about beauty, is knocking on the door.
So this blog has moved here. Having abandoned my little blogging world for so long now, I have no business asking any of my friends and readers to come back. But if you do, and if you read from a feed it’ll need to be updated to www.jensrealia.ca.
Up until a few weeks ago, I never made a good chicken soup. I am generally a really good soup maker. It’s always been my best thing. But all of my attempts at chicken soup could best be described as LAME. BLAH. HO HUM. This winter I’ve had a seemingly endless craving for the stuff and I’ve been buying some pretty good chicken soup from the “soup ladies” downstairs in my office building. I say “pretty good” simply because the broth is delicious, but it’s low on veg and high on macaroni, and macaroni and my waistline do not get along. So I decided to just get down to it and learn how to make a proper chicken soup of my own.
All it took was for me to think of the basic tenet to good broth: roast the ingredients first. So once week I’ve been doing this:
And I’ll be darned, at 53 years old I can finally make really delicious, nutritious and soul warming chicken soup. It’s a little labour intensive, preparing a roast chicken, then picking off the meat and adding the bones to the stock pot to make the stock, and then cutting up the veg and meat to make the soup. But for the simple pleasure of creating this…
…it’s time well spent on a cold weekend afternoon.
One misty, moisty, morning,
When cloudy was the weather,
There I met an old man
All clothed in leather
All clothed in leather,
With a cap under his chin.
How do you do?
And how do you do?
And how do you do again?