I get as much pleasure looking at the objects in my window when they're reflected by the morning light onto the curtain as I do looking at them when the curtain is open. It's kind of otherworldly-like; secret goings on in that other realm just beyond the reach of this one. Like when you're a little kid and you think all your toys come alive when you're sleeping, interacting in a toy community with toy concerns and toy traditions and toy conversations - all above the little non-magical world of mortals and thus never to be shared.
I say it often to the folks who take my classes: don't ignore the things that inspire you, even if you don't know why they are making you feel inspired. Maybe, even years later, it'll be the missing puzzle piece.
Gone is the life of leisure. I’m back to work after three restful weeks of living at my whims – meandering walks, cooking big pots of things, watching old movies, visiting with my people and enjoying my own company. Looking back now, I realise more than ever how much I needed that time.
For the past few days I’d been pouting about having to rejoin the world of the working stiffs again, and pouted some more when I woke up two hours in advance of my alarm clock this morning. But while I was getting ready I started to really look forward to my walk up to the office.
I think that’s something to do with the new photo journaling project and the walks I’ve been taking in support of it. There is a pleasurable and fresh purpose in walking outside, even if that is to simply open my eyes and pay attention to my little world within a big city. I’m falling in love with my city again – looking into its cracks and crevices and finding a canvass that’s painted with new pictures every time I look at it. It’s still early in the project but I’m finding it’s less about finding a photo to get up there than it is finding rewards (again) in learning how to paying attention.
All these years after developing the idea for this blog, I’m substantiating what I knew in the first place. Not just for writing and art – but for living. Living in the moment is what it's called. And it's beautiful thing number 81.
Re-posting. Not because of any (tanking) mayor. Because we're still remembering an awful night and thinking a certain critical and creative mind would be welcome today.
Yesterday an entertainer in a Pepto Bismol coloured suit stood up in Toronto’s city council and ranted and raged about “left wing pinkos” to show his support for our new mayor. It seems the mayor requested that this person – a national celebrity who has been known to rant his bigoted views on what is probably the nation’s most popular television show, causing many to question the soundness of his mind and his relevance on a show watched by many, many children – be the one to introduce him and decorate him with the chain of office on the first official day of the new council.
Yesterday’s show tipped the “cringe-o-meter” for many thinking people. Here we had an entertainer in a pink suit taking that deplorable political tool – the sound bite – to a new low in stirring up anger and divisiveness, and helping this mayor move our city from world-class to class-less.
The same night over dinner my daughters and I had a conversation about John Lennon. I said that the pink clad entertainer would call Lennon a “left wing pinko” with great glee. Carly and Kelsey, in their 20s, had never heard the term “pinko” before yesterday; Carly said she'd Googled it. I thought it was funny that a great many of the people the guy in pink was trying to insult would have had to research what exactly his dusty old slur meant since it hadn't been seen in a number of decades.
My girls – both intelligent, thoughtful, reasonable young women – were saying that they feel Lennon’s murderer robbed their generation of knowing a fine critical mind and thought-provoking artist. He died before they were both born – but it just doesn’t seem like it – thirty years on Lennon’s persona looms still. He angered many, but he inspired many more. And that’s because he was a man with big ideas, and he worked them out and expressed them in truly original (and sometimes groundbreaking) ways. None of his protest art included name-calling or trite clichés or sound bites, although the media loved to take sound bites out of his statements, like the infamous “we’re bigger than Jesus…”
Sound bites water ideas down to single layered messages. Sound bites take bits of language and turn them into a symbol. Given that humans process symbols before they process language, it’s not surprising marketers and politicians have turned it into a remarkably effective tool for persuasion. We see the symbol – we don’t have to bother to think – the meaning is handed to us in a neat little package.
Fortunately, many of us still like to use our brains. Many of us – like my daughters – stop and think about what is in, around and behind a message and work out its meaning for ourselves based on our learning and experiences.
One might say War is Over was a John Lennon sound bite. But it was one of many layers – of contradiction, optimism, questioning the status quo, change, motivation, suggestive selling, opportunity, no, yes, maybe… Lennon’s War is Over might have made you think about a hundred things. The point is, it was intended to make you think – not relieve you of the need to do so.
What were the layers of meaning in the “left-wing pinko” sound bite? I don’t think more than one meaning was intended – it simply meant “the other side.” It was easy for that guy’s fans, or the angry supporters of the angry mayor. Who needs to think? Yahoo – take that you Other Side!
Lots of Toronto people though – like my critical minded daughters – are wearing Left-Wing Pinko as a badge of honour today. Especially given that it’s also the day in which many of us are thinking about one particular left-wing pinko and what might have been another thirty years of ideas and music and art – robbed, from a world that could really use them, in one violent moment.
John – I really wish my girls could have lived in the same world you did for a little while. But your messages are not lost on them. If you were here today, you might be as encouraged as I am that there are lots young people around who are able, like you once were, to think beyond a sound bite and imagine a world in which anything is possible.
"Themey" postscript to that post just below.
Rick Danko, here at the twilight of his life, beautiful thing number fifty-eight.
The other day a friend, who’s lived in Toronto most of his life, commented that I have a pretty good understanding of the city considering I moved here only a few years ago. Actually it was five years ago, and I think five years is plenty of time to get to know a city. But then I suppose in a large one like this, with its many distinct neighbourhoods, one might establish the habit of frequenting nearby and familiar spaces. I’m sure my familiarity with the city has much to do with my having lived in four of those neighbourhoods, and working in a place substantially north to all of them. I’ve got around, and mostly without a car. The best thing about not owning a car isn’t actually the wagonload of money I save. It’s the ability to get up close and personal with a place, to really see it.
Last night I rode the streetcar home at dusk. To me, it’s the most perfect time of day; when the night begins to slide in and envelope you and your world. The shades of blue and purple are divine. Even the names for this time of day are beautiful – dusk, nightfall, eventide, and the loveliest of all: twilight. And then as darkness settles, space becomes more immediate; time slows; sounds muffle; people change demeanour. As the light dwindles, the city’s heartbeat slows. I sat on a streetcar last night and watched the light change and the city moving within it.
On a Sunday evening when the city is winding down a weekend, it can be a most pleasant time to be gliding through the streets on a rail. I especially love the 505 and 504 King Street cars that take me from my cousin’s home in Riverdale over to Spadina, where I get off and walk slowly down the last ten minutes or so to where I live. I might get home faster if I took the subway, but I couldn’t imagine how a few minutes are worth more than the time spent looking at the city. In the summer I sit by an open window and stick my face in it and enjoy the stroke of night in my hair.
Not all, but most times, I feel lucky that I don’t have to have a car. When walking or riding, I feel together with the city – like a functioning aspect of a sprawling organism. What I lost in convenience when I ditched the car I’ve gained in stimulus, space and sight. When one drives through the city, one generally sticks to available highways and arterial streets – those which get you where you’re going the fastest. When you’re walking you can cut through side streets and see the nooks and crannies without much consequence to your time. In fact, if you’ve walked your daily travels for any length of time, your sense of time changes. It isn’t quite so urgent to get home because focusing your attention on the features and nuances that happen across your path; or you get lost in the meditative aspect of steady walking, feet pacing earth. You’re more able to be present in the NOW.
A person like me places a lot of value in her ability to pay attention to the world. Paying attention inspires her; makes her happier and more alive. Paying attention to her immediate world gets her out of her head. She is connected with the streets and patterns of movement in and around them.
Sometimes the city – in spite of its noise, in spite of the cacophony and vast numbers of people – brings her not a little joy. Particularly at twilight.
Twilight, dusk, eventide, nightfall, sundown – whatever you want to call it, it's beautiful. And beautiful thing number fifty-seven.
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.
“Long before I wrote stories
I listened for stories.
Listening for them is something
more acute than listening to them.”
I have always loved the way autumn leaves leave their ghostly impressions on the sidewalk after a rain.
Today I was thinking those ghost leaves remind me of us. We put ourselves out there, hoping to leave an impression on our corners of the world. Isn't it wonderful when we find out we do?
Think of the ghost leaves as a reminder.