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.
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.
Okay it’s not working. Those kind friends who have been visiting me here for a long time will agree. I started the photo journal for the purpose of feeding my creative hankerings, enhancing my ability to see. To see if I could commit to a daily act for a year. I wanted to enrich the Realia project, add more layers and depth to it.
But my participation in it has distracted me from the writing Realia efforts. I remain committed to putting up a photo a day, and I am still really enjoying it. But I miss living here in this space. I still want to be here and share stories about my life and experiences.
Some time ago I came to the conclusion that I never should have started a second blog, that I should have just incorporated the project into this one. I did play around with that at first, with the photo project on a different page, but I found it was easier to keep the projects separate by just having a second blog space. Why did I feel the need to keep them separate? Who knows? Call it a brain fart.
Back when I was first working out the ideas for Realia, I saw it as a space that would change and evolve and grow, as I’d hoped I would. Of course the photography project is representative of growing and changing and evolving. So why not incorporate a photo a day project into it? It makes sense to me to merge the projects. Simple is always best; one space is enough. It’s all part of my story; it’s all my realia.
So my plan is to move the photo blog back over to this one and incorporate them back into one project. The photos will continue to be posted daily, and they will be accompanied more often with the stories.
I hope this won’t alienate the people who come here to read what I write. At least there will be some fresh content when you do come! And I hope those who subscribe to me on the photo site will update their feeds and visit here instead.
It’s sure great to have you along, whether for the stories or the pictures. Roll on!
My wonderful niece posted this video on Facebook yesterday. She says is very inspired by it. How wise of her.
A 13 year old wise soul: beautiful thing number eighty-five.
I’ve been purging. From my closets I mean.
It wouldn’t be a stretch to think that in moving through progressively smaller places – from a two and a half storey house with a full basement, to what is now a small one bedroom condo with two closets for storage – there couldn’t be much more to purge, would there? However, four bags of clothes, plus two more bags of coats went out the door to a donation bin, as well as another five bags of “stuff” to the garbage or recycler. AND, there is a section of my larger closet that I’ve not got to yet.
Last night I got to thinking about why I hung on to these things. It wasn’t all THAT bad; with some investment into storage pieces, I could have accommodated a lot of that stuff it in a much more sensible and meaningful fashion than I had until now. I won’t tell you what non-sensible and non-meaningful looks like, but it's not pretty. But I think the hanging on to stuff is a measure of self-burdening. Why someone would justify self-burdening is beyond me but I'm working on it.
I’m sure I’m not the only one. Some bits of clothing you look at and decide you are NEVER WEARING THAT AGAIN. There are the buying-on-a-whim mistakes. And those things you so wanted to look good in, but much as you wanted to, an honest look the mirror would not return a favourable picture. There are pieces of clothing that look nice on the hanger and match other pieces perfectly and are a great colour – but not a great colour on you. “I think I look good in red," but when you walk around feeling like you look about as attractive as a mud puddle, it becomes apparent that you don't look good in THAT particular red. There are the old favourites – so favourite and for so many years, they look tired of life and are begging for eternal rest, only you’re not ready to let them go.
Then there are the items saved for certain creative projects. One of those un-started creative projects came with me from Windsor, seven and a half years ago. I still like to partake in creative projects, but the main one is writing. I also like to photograph and paint and journal. These are the things I do all the time; so items related to projects I’d not started in the years they were stuffed in closets – gone.
And the papers, oh the papers. Bills and paperwork needing to be destroyed or filed. Stacks of paper that had graced my kitchen table right before guests were coming so got put onto a bag in the closet. Bags. Evil, multiplying demon bags.
My name is Jennifer and I will am ready to come clean with a problem: I have spent HOURS these past evenings sorting, destroying and pitching paper. Hours people! And it's not finished!
I’m fifty. Will I ever become one of those people who sorts and files mail when she gets it? One of those people who thinks “big picture” when she’s adding an item to her wardrobe? Holding on to found items because they’ll look great in a collage one day?
Not bloody likely, but in the meantime I’m feeling about 300 lbs. lighter. And the feeling of lightness is not only related to order and space in my closet and dresser. It’s coming from the knowledge that the clutter, and the resulting “to-do” things – both creative and not – at the root of the clutter, are things that live like little thwarting demons behind the walls. Demons that impede me from doing the things I need to do and want to do, like writing, and cooking.
When I’ve got the extra weight of clutter and disorganization weighing on me, I find it difficult to move forward. I procrastinate and hesitate and in the end get nothing done because I don’t want to make time for the mundane tasks in favour of the fun and more meaningful activities. Funny thing is; whenever I get down to a purging, decluttering effort like this – it is enjoyable and very satisfying.
Last night I laid in bed with the closet left open on the clean side, just so I could bask in the Zen.
(That Zen – beautiful thing number 71.)
I've had an unusually social week. If I wasn't having dinner with company, I was out with Carly seeing the final installment of Harry You-Know-Who in 3D or having a thirteenth birthday celebration for my niece Lainey.
Summer's been particularly enticing this year. Each year, I'm drawn out into summer more. I get panicky when I think even a few moments of it will be wasted. My mother experiences the same thing; I checked on her last week during a nasty heat wave and she was cranky and feeling squirrelly, trapped indoors.
Most of the summer has been luscious though. Now that I'm working in the downtown core I escape several times a day for a walk around a different block. There have been a number of blog posts in my head, but didn't get written because I can't stay in.
After this very social week, I must say I'm enjoying having some alone time tonight. But I'm glad you're virtually here, and so I think it's appropriate that I share a little of my summer, and some of those unwritten blog posts with you.
Oh, and have I mentioned there is a new little boy in our family? I have a new nephew, Logan James, a tiny (well not so tiny) harbinger of all kinds of beautiful newness to our world. You might not like this when you're a teenager Logan, but right now, you're beautiful thing fifty-one.
Tomorrow I'm off in a rental car to another event which can't be talked about in advance. But when it's over, I really will try to share it with you in writing.
There are big changes in the wind. Good ones. They’ll be more bloggable tomorrow than they are today; but I will say that I have, finally, taken giant steps in improving my quality of life quotient.
And even in advance of those changes I’m already feeling like I’m drifting up, out of an extended period of restlessness; the one you may or may not have caught me moaning about in this space in the past while. No doubt it’s the thing that’s behind this rather unfocused state and lack of bloggerly ambition.
I’m a sucker for change, I’ve always been. I am not a person who takes comfort in sameness. If I’m not growing or evolving or changing course, I end up feeling like I’m turning around in circles. I find it hard to look beyond into the road. Sometimes it’s a feeling of panic; like there’s nothing to write because I’m not even two feet from where I was yesterday.
Today I’m two feet beyond yesterday. Tomorrow it’ll be ten feet.
I’m not meaning for this to be a “teaser,” the cliff-hanger to bring you back next season. (Though for those of you I was losing because of my inactivity here, I hope you’ll come back next season.)
Most people, and certainly most bloggers, understand those reasons why a thing isn’t bloggable. Until it is, enjoy one of my daughter Carly’s favourite songs. I always loved it when she played this song.
“…so I want to write my words on the face of today, before they paint me”
(Shannon Hoon, Blind Melon and "Change" – beautiful thing 39)
I haven’t been writing much. If you’re one of my regular friends I’m sure you’ve noticed. Lists of beautiful things and posts of YouTube clips are not writing. I’ve learned to accept the dry periods and assume the “writerly collector” in me is needing this time to just collect experience. But it’s been bothering me – posting other people’s work and videos of other people are not going to bring you back, and I can’t stand the thought of losing any one of you.
Part of it is that I’ve been immersing myself in good books over my daily commute – and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. In fact my excuse for staying with this job which is an hour’s trip from my home has always been that those two hours of travel time every day are reading time. But the problem with immersing myself in books during this time is that I’m not paying attention to my favourite subject: that little space of world around me and the people in it.
By the end of winter I start feeling trapped by it – the darkness, the extended periods of painful temperatures, the ugliness. Let’s face it – snow in the city is only beautiful when it first falls. Then it becomes dirty mounds on sidewalks and on edges of parking lots and lining curbs everywhere. I’m all about the changing seasons, I feel lucky that I live in such a climate – but by late January, I’m finished with this damned season.
I’m sure it’s all related to a lack of sunlight. In fact I know it – after an hour’s lunchtime walk in bright sunlight today I felt heady, almost drunk. And the move to Daylight Time this past weekend has flipped some internal switch – I get to evening and find daylight and I’m noticeably happy. Lots of my friends are still complaining about that lost hour of sleep – I’m practically giddy for it; I’d gladly sacrifice two hours to have Daylight Time back again.
I wish I was one to write myself through a down or difficult period. The last few months of hunkering against the weather, coming out of the subway after work into the dark, the sequestering away from humanity and losing myself in other peoples’ stories – have all caused me to close off, and thus close off that well of stories.
During today's lunchtime walk I stopped and looked ahead at a length of sidewalk on which there was no snow, no ice, no slush, no puddles; just a clear sidewalk under a sunny sky. And when I stood there looking at it, I felt a sense of freedom I haven’t felt in more than a month, a welcome desire to get back outside of myself.
As I walked on, one of my favourite song verses ran through my head:
You say you'll give me a highway with no-one on it
Treasure, just to look upon it
All the riches in the night
U2, from Rattle and Hum, 1988
Let’s call that little simple little verse, with its image so humble and idea so rich, beautiful thing 25, and my theme for escaping the bonds of winter.
I have been taken with the concept of beauty for a long time. Not idealized, contrived beauty – but the kind of beauty that has layers of meaning contained within it, and that meaning a different thing for each person that experiences it.
If beauty can be described as some kind of quality in a thing, place, idea or person that causes an experience of pleasure, satisfaction or even transcendence for its beholder, is beauty then something representing a fulfilment – partial or all – of some sort of need in us?
I have been transformed by beauty a number of times in my life, and because of that I feel, without a trace of doubt, that beauty is related to the spiritual nature of us – to the magic in our existence. I wrote about that once or twice last year during the time I was taking part in a 30 Days of Beauty challenge put out there by Erin at her (very beautiful) Bluebirdbaby blog. Hers was a photography challenge, but I adapted it to fit into my own way of expressing and mostly wrote about finding beauty in those 30 days. It turned out to be one of the most prolific and popular periods of my online writing experience. And it did what it was intended to do – lift me above the mire of winter.
So what is it you find beautiful? Based on what I know of most of my faithful friends here in blogland, it’s not going to be that pretty pop star whose photo was manipulated to “perfection” for the cover of Rolling Stone. I could look at Bob Dylan’s face and find mountains more beauty than I can in hers. But that’s me. My definition of beauty is formed by where I came from, my ideals, my age, my interests, my education – and my needs. What about you? What defines beauty in your world?
I find old train tracks beautiful. And forgotten corners of cottage yards. And broken down old sheds. And my mother’s hands. The way a little kid darts around his father repeating “Da-a-d…?” as they walk toward the Air Canada Center to the hockey game. Or the stunning gradation of the sky as it was the other night – from breathtaking orange to the deep royal blue housing that delicate sliver of a crescent moon. Or Santana’s rendering of Soul Sacrifice at Woodstock. The soft traces of humming I hear coming from the woman with the beatific smile who sits on the other side of my office cubicle. The bowl on my table filled with sweet potatoes, beets, Bosc pears, an acorn squash and some bulbs of garlic – a haul from the market last week. Giant ropes coiled on the decks of ships.
So here I am in February again. I could do with a dose of creative healing and I if last year’s exploration was any indication, another beauty challenge is what my psyche needs. Kind of like my body and soul needing that big steaming bowl of Phở at lunchtime yesterday. Hell, just writing these past two paragraphs made me feel good. Since Erin decided not to issue the challenge again this year (going with another wonderful idea instead), I’m doing an explore beauty challenge of my own, and I’d love it if you joined me.
You may not be mired in any deep dark winter. Maybe you’re in summer, or whatever season it is it’s your happiest time of year and beauty is falling all over you at every step. I’m inviting you to do it anyway. Maybe you’re not a blogger. Who cares? I dare you to write 1-101 on a piece of paper and take it with you wherever you go.
The challenge is simply this:
Find 101 examples of beauty, and show, tell, list or write them. Photographs, poems, paintings, crafts – however it is you tell your story.
I’m dispensing with the timeframe because the number target may seem high. Do it once a week and it could become an ongoing topic for a year. Find a few things a day, the project could last a month. Sit down for a few hours and you could finish a list in one go! Maybe you’re not ready just now. Or maybe you are stumbling across this challenge six months from now. Any time is a good time to start.
I’m creating a badge and a dedicated page for the challenge (stay tuned). You can grab the badge and put in your sidebar if you like, as a reminder of where to find inspiration in an uninspired or down period. And that, really, is the point. Where the doldrums take over – finding beauty brings inspiration back.
Why 101? I just like odd numbers better than even ones. It’s only a number and who knows, maybe the term “101” will just be a symbolic sort of thing, representing “my collection” or “my exploration.” I just know that for me, it’s a topic I need to return to time and time again, and I’m hoping it will turn into something of an extended exploration here. After all – it’s really beauty that I’m searching for in Realia every day. I'd venture to say it's what we're all looking for.
Last month I signed up for a blog challenge to post something every day. I should have known better. My creative self doesn’t manage real well with rules. It was good for the first little bit – it gave me the impetus to stay in the moment, because in the moment is where I find things to write about. But it was also December, and for me, December is a month of parties and shopping and preparing and friends and events – it’s a month of distractions. And this particular December was particularly distracting.
I do approach this blog with the intention of writing every day. Everyone who engages in this process knows that if you write every day, your readership is more likely to grow. I enjoy the growing numbers as much as anybody – creating something, and sharing it is a source of enormous personal satisfaction. I am exceedingly grateful for you, that you show up to read what I have to say, and that you may have shown up to find I haven't written, again, is the primary reason I chastise myself for missing days.
But I got a little jaded, I suppose, as I explored the many bloggers also participating in this and other challenges, because so many would fill up space with nothing just to get a post up. Some of the posts would even say “I don’t have anything to say today, but here I am.” In one respect that’s GREAT – a cardinal rule for any writer or artist is to show up. Sit down and if all you have to write is “I have nothing to say” write it anyway because it may turn into something else. At least you’ve kept your office hours, and if a writer didn’t have any discipline, then nothing would ever get written. But in other respects, you write because you want people to read you, and a sure way to get someone to run the other way fast is to say “I have nothing to say, but listen…”
That kind of stuff belongs in my journal, not on my public space. My space is about ideas, not clicks; style, not volume. Experimenting yes, but striving to maintain a standard more so. I’m certainly not above light and silly – I’m sure you’d dump me quick if I was always long and serious. But if a post isn’t interesting to me, it sure won’t be interesting to you, and you are here because something I said once resonated with you enough to bring you back.
And for that, I couldn’t be more grateful. So this year's posts will be dedicated to you. I couldn't think of a better reason to try a little harder and dig a little deeper, could you?