Every September I say it. It’s the most beautiful month of the year where I live. Summer is still here and yet the evenings are beginning to cool. Soft breezes visit often. Wild flowers fall about lazy and flourishing in their rich colours. Spectacular cloud formations make the skies endlessly entertaining. And the light – the light of September is its greatest gift: soft, translucent, dreamy, gentle.
So I’m sitting on a patio on our old and pretty street and a September breeze is feeling luscious on my arms and I’m having one of those “I love my life” moments, when a guy on a skateboard holding a bouquet of flowers sails across my line of vision, and nicely hammers home the life is beautiful thought.
It wasn’t the first time I’d done a musical pilgrimage. Years ago, during a road trip to visit our friend Sheryl in New York, my sister, her kids and I travelled back up through Woodstock, and then tried our damnedest to find Big Pink, but there was some missing link in the road signs (we suspected perhaps the current home-owner might have caused this) and we just couldn’t find it. Many do it. Music, like all art, is a spiritual experience. And if music affects you as deeply as, say, Music from Big Pink or The Basement Tapes did Cathy and I, then you’d seize any opportunity to be in that place where it was created or inspired. It adds a whole other layer to the musical story and your experience of it.
So here I am in the beautiful town of Jasper and I realise Pyramid Lake is just a short jaunt out of town, and I have to go because it is at the centre of one of my long-time favourite Blue Rodeo songs, the trippy and joyful Cynthia. While here I learn that Jasper National Park is the world’s second largest dark sky preserve, and so how could star gazing in a place like this not inspire a beautiful song like that?
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.
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?
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?