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.
Every year I dislike this more:
This year it’s been relentless. I’m tired of your icy sidewalks. I’m tired of it hurting to just walk outside. I’m tired of your grey monotones. I’m tired of cold feet and numb fingers and whipping winds. I’m leaving you Toronto.
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.
I’m sitting here looking out at the millions of diamonds floating on the harbour and I’m filled with contentedness. I don’t know what that has to do with this post, but it seemed like a good way to start it. We’ve just finished our weekly brunch of frittata – this time with purple kale, asparagus and tomato and accompanied by couple of slices of nitrate-free bacon. I don’t know what that has to do with this post either, but it certainly reflects my rather limited perspective of the last month and a half. Cooking, was, I suppose, my way of coping; it felt productive and healthy and financially responsible. Back when I was a single mother going to university, I could stretch a grocery budget like nobody’s business.
One would think that when one is suddenly laid off from her job, she’d find all kinds of time to go to the gym, write a first draft of a novel, while away hours creating dolls and collaging and all the other things that stimulate her creative self. Most certainly she’d find time to blog. What really happened was she went into some sort of shock.
Not that it was a surprise. Most of my office had been laid off in the months before I was. My company’s industry had gone into a holding pattern and one by one, engineers began to go and then supporting staff. And then the business development group was dismantled too. One by one, ending with, I’ve heard, my boss, its director. I guess things are pretty bad when business development isn’t seen as useful anymore. It’s a giant company – our industry was a small part of it and they’d focus their pursuits in more profitable areas. Fortunately for me, my career isn’t centred on any one industry; I can write proposals for any kind of company and I have done so in a number of realms.
So the shock that wasn’t really a shock sent me into finding employment mode. I didn’t want to talk about it. I just wanted to find another job. And I did. Lucky me – proposal writers are needed everywhere these days. I started with a new company last week and the fit seems great.
But for five weeks my alarm clock was retired and I wore yoga pants every day and I revised my resume. And I tried new recipes. Food was comfort and my creative output. Likely it was a way to divert from the shock of the sudden retreat from the work world. North of that harbour I see from the vantage point of my sofa, the work world went on without me. Suits hopped off streetcars, blank faces filled the subway cars, couriers delivered packages and crews tore apart roads. I made soup.
Food might also have something to do with the other big change in the wind. After I was laid off, Ceri and I talked and it seemed like a good time to go forward with us and move in together. It occurred to me that I haven’t shared a home with a man in more than twenty years. But that’s not entirely true. Ceri and I have lived together, either at my place or his, every weekend for almost a year and a half. We have dinner together every Wednesday. It’s time. There is no need to be paying for two residences. Or be apart. Before Ceri I never knew a relationship could be so consistently pleasant and uncomplicated. Cooking for us and our family is an extension of our relationship.
I haven’t moved over to his place yet, that comes next month. We’re really excited about the challenge of merging stuff and making a home together. The Co-Habitation Project has given me new ideas about my blog space too, and I expect its documentation will be part of some needed change here.
In the meantime I am adjusting to the big changes. I love change – in many ways I have always lived for it. But as I discovered during the last time of major change in my life - when I sold my home and quit my job and took a big trip then relocated to another part of the province – big change causes system shock. But today as I look out at the diamonds floating on the lake and contemplate a different beautiful view out a different window, I feel grateful that the shock is giving way to living back in the world. And knowing that I have the capacity to keep putting one foot in front of the other, having trust in that the road that unfolds beneath them is the right one.
Happy New Year. Yeah, I know, it’s closer to February than it is to the new year swing over, but the break was intentional. Sort of. After the year of daily posting “rules,” which I didn’t stay true to in the end, I did what I have done upon being released from “rules” in the past –I revelled in the no more rules. The photo-a-day project was a good thing; don’t go thinking I’m regretting it. The exercise made me keep my eyes open, and I documented a year, and even if I didn’t manage the one-a-day in the end, I took lots and lots of photographs, a few of them decent. I’m just a natural rebeller against rules so I'd say I did pretty good. (Even better if I got the rest of December's photos back-posted!) Anyway, now that I’ve got those things expelled from my system I’m back. Here’s where I’m at.
At the beginning of the year, everyone is thinking about fresh starts and resolutions. As a big fan of fresh starts, it is the same for me too. If I were to state some resolutions, which I’m not going to do because I didn’t make any, but if I did, they would revolve around writing and creativity and personal authenticity and cooking and getting more sleep. And revitalizing this blog.
Over the extended bloggerly break I’ve been working out ideas about where I’d like to go with this space now that the photograph project is over. I still don’t have that clearly defined in my mind, but I do know that my intent is to put the focus back on finding inspiration and making pictures with words. What those pictures will look like, I have no idea; I’m just soldiering on.
I really loved writing people watching stories, but just I don’t have as many these days because I’m not trapped in subway cars with them for two hours or more a day any more. And this makes me very happy. I’ve always enjoyed the people-watching aspect of public transit, but doing it every day for several years took a piece out of me. For all the wonderful things a big city is, it is also filled with millions of people who aren’t looking beyond the ends of their noses in getting about their days and to an over-sensitive sod like me, the daily sea of rudeness was demoralizing. So I’m refocusing on the process of finding and developing inspiration in other ways, and my lovely, solitary walks to and from the office each day are the perfect times to meditate on that. That and, er, perhaps, some loving kindness toward the city full of rude people I’m still so quick to judge.
I will continue to use photos to enhance my blog space, but now I’m thinking about playing with photos creatively, and finally learning how to use my PhotoShop software to its full extent, and connecting them to the things I write. I’ve got a brand new phone and now a number of new camera apps to try too.
It’s January, my annual nesting period; and I’m obsessed with food. Every day I’m searching for new recipes, looking at my cookbooks and food blogs and the good thing is that I’ve tried, with success, a number of new favourites to put on the table. This past weekend’s kitchen adventures included tomato-onion-red pepper frittata (eaten over two breakfasts), chicken enchilada soup, vegetable barley soup, crispy quinoa bake, balsamic roasted carrots, roasted tomatoes with parmesan and Ceri’s broccoli salad. I didn’t have homemade lunches a number of times in recent weeks and the thought of the restaurant/takeout options near work, though abundant in choice, grew increasingly unfavourable. I thought of taking up a challenge, say, to try a new recipe every week, but there’re those rules again.
My little family and I are in a really good place together. Ceri and I have moved ourselves into a comfortable, though never fixed routine. We continue our quest to find something to do every weekend, and times at home are happy and relaxed and thank goodness he is amenable to one of the only channels I’m keen to watch on TV these days, Turner Classic Movies (through which I obsessively shut out the world time-travelled over my relatively quiet holidays). Both my girls have new homes and happy work and social lives filled with good people. We all meet every Friday night after work at our favourite local for “beer o’clock” and dinner where we decompress from the work week and catch up and laugh a lot. I’m so lucky.
I’ve started a new semester in my online creative non-fiction class and through it I continue to meet some really great people who seek to do what you and I do – tell our stories. Each new learner that comes to a class inspires me in one way or another; I learn so much from them. In return, I try my best to inspire them to tell their stories.
It’s January. My world is small. A good small – a beautiful thing.
Where are you at?
Friday night. After work we meet up with Carly for "beer o'clock" at our favouite local. Winter has returned today and it's tossing snow around the street like wispy ribbons. I have refused to bust out my warm winter coat yet, and thus walking outside to head home in my inadequate coat makes the blustery wind more unpleasant than it might otherwise. Hello winter.
These days much of my world looks like this. I have heard all kinds of grumbling about it, and I suppose if I had a car I might be grumbling too. However, much of this is about transforming one of the best things about this city – the harbourfront, which has gotten kind of shabby. If this is going to be a world-class city, then this jewel of a spot needs fixing up. Bring it on, I say.
A lot of people see the onset of autumn as a yearly crossroads. We feel energized for change and renewal; it’s as if the ripening leaves and drunken migratory birds lure us off tired old paths. My unanticipated absence from this space probably has something to do with all that.
It’s not good blog form, they say, taking a break without offering some sort of substitution posts. Or at least some advance notice. But then again this space has always been more about being true to me than retaining you. That’s not to say I don’t think the world of you for stopping by and offering support and conversation and encouragement. I’ve met some really wonderful friends here and for that I’m genuinely grateful.
After a couple of weeks of not being able to face that Typepad dashboard, I reassessed the future of my blog and what, if anything, I want of it. It turns out my longstanding goal of writing with more candour and openness has not changed, so I wondered if I was resisting that honesty. Especially as the desire to spend some time just living, without telling the world about how I was going about doing that, was forceful. With more certainty I know the photo project gave me license to resist the writing part. That wasn’t entirely unintentional, but now it was time to stand back and decide if this was what I really wanted.
I’ve not abandoned the photo a day project, though I will admit the “a day” part has gone amiss. Well before the blog break I’d been giving this whole “living out loud” some serious reconsideration. Blame it on Facebook.
Lest you think I’m entirely Facebook-Jaded, I still love social media. I love that people can express their passions and tell their stories on their blogs. I love that Facebook has put me and my extended family and my old friends in back touch with each other’s lives.
But I have, as should everybody, reconsidered how I want to use these things. Just as I feel it is an absurd waste of time reading that a Facebook “friend” – someone I barely knew even when I last saw them thirty years ago – has a headache or is making roast beef for supper, I also feel that my daily journal belongs in a bedside book, not on your computer screen. Some bloggers journal engagingly and with great success. I, however, am not comfortable merging the public and private. And because of that, the blog has become as insipid as an average Facebook status update.
Maybe it’s because I’m happy. Reluctant Blogger wrote once that she has no desire or need to write when she’s happy. It’s been a wonderful year and I will cherish this record of it. But it occurs to me, I don’t want to share every aspect of my personal life with the world – rather I want to share my perspective on that world.
I remain committed to the photo project for the rest of the year, and I will back-post the pictures I’ve been taking while “away.” Maybe a fresh approach on the project will reinvigorate it and, let’s hope, my writing.