I love where I live. I love the noise and energy of the knockabout downtown. The diversity of all us that live here. And the tourists. The history welling within the bricks of this old neighbourhood. The endless supply of new things to do, different foods to try and culture to explore. That I don’t need to own a car. And that I can walk to work! Many unique neighbourhoods to discover. Grand building and humble alleys. A killer view of a really great skyline.
And a short walk to a small, floating, quieter world where just sitting down to watch if for a little while will soothe the mind and breath from all that bustle when it needs to.
My mind is glad to wake but my eyes are not, and they do their best to stay closed against the brightening window. I try to focus on some fat steely looking clouds hovering there, my eyelids protesting while I try to gauge the direction of their journey across the sky, but they are moving so slow my eyes won’t stay open long enough to judge. Opening them again, a beefy face underneath a newsboy cap emerges in the heavy grey mounds, and it’s something to focus on. I watch the face and it watches me as it creeps south toward the lake, past my window and out of sight, presumably turning its attention to sleeping dwellers in the building across the street.
I lay there and think about that face for a minute, and then, eyes ready to receive the morning, open to see the sky now entirely blue beyond the window. I get out of bed and put the kettle on for coffee.
Today I’m hammering away at my computer in my office with its rectangular windows with their rectangular venetian blinds overlooking a landscape filled with other rectangular concrete office buildings under rainy skies and I get a text from Debbie: “Thinking of you. Taking pictures of lupines in Parry Sound.”
It’s a nice thought – that a bunch of bobbing, wild lupines make your friend think of you. And that she tells you so. And that at least she is standing in a place where they are.
* * *
These days more strangers seem to be smiling at me on my walks to work. It’s probably because last week I was listening to the wonderfully charming audio book, “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society,” and this week I’m listening to David Sedaris read his stories. I’m grinning and snorting and chuckling (and sometimes crying) all the time on my walks to work these days, and finding many passers-by with open faces smiling back at me. Reminder to self: Smiling at strangers always pays off – and it doesn’t even have to be intentional.
* * *
Summer hasn’t even shown herself yet, and still, people are already complaining about the weather. Maybe all of those people are the types that ACTUALLY LIKE seemingly endless winters with seemingly endless snow and ice and seemingly endless strings of -25° days with whipping winds that hurt your whole body when you go outside. Me? I prefer a season with lupines.
Sometimes light falls on things in a fleeting moment. The subtlety of the moment can be so quick and startling that you suspect it was placed in front of you just so you’ll open your eyes and see.
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.
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.