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.
And next year's words await another voice." ~T.S. Eliot
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?
When I was a kid we put up our Christmas tree on or around my sister Jane's birthday on the 19th of December. Happy then over the holidays I would sit in the family room with its green shag carpet and turned down lamps and temporary pine smell, and stare at the tree, holding on to it as if holding on to time. I'd squint my eyes and let the colours run together like some watercolour painting on a night sky. I also associate Burl Ives as snowman and the annual Rudoph TV special with that pine scented memory, but mostly it's the lights.
40-something years later I'm living in a large city in which there is no olive green shag carpet in sight, but the lights strung about the place could accommodate their own dedicated landfill. Despite that thought I still catch myself standing in front of them squinting my eyes to make a watercolour painting on the night.
This morning I'm moving about my place, finishing coffee and packing things up for work, and I'm stopped still by the sun showing itself, suddenly, in a mirror.
"Good morning," the sun says. "What's your hurry?"
"I'm glad to see you too," I say.
Today we go over to Carly's place for a pre-30th-birthday party tree trimming and dinner. We've used Carly's birthday as the "Christmas tree erecting day" since she was small. And now she's 30. Yes, I have a daughter who has been on the planet for three decades. Three marvellous decades.
Monday morning I take the hour long flight from Toronto to Sudbury, to spend the week holed up in a boardroom with a team, working on a proposal. These kinds of team-based efforts are usually good experiences for me; they're intense but more productive than they would be if we were operating out of multiple offices. It's great to see and talk with people with whom I interact often via email and telephone. And getting with a team is always useful networking opportunity for me; getting to know colleagues with whom I can consult on issues and tasks that come up every day. It's a big company, and frankly, once you get to know someone in a live setting, they tend to return your calls and emails.