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?
These days much of my world looks like this. I have heard all kinds of grumbling about it, and I suppose if I had a car I might be grumbling too. However, much of this is about transforming one of the best things about this city – the harbourfront, which has gotten kind of shabby. If this is going to be a world-class city, then this jewel of a spot needs fixing up. Bring it on, I say.
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.
In which we get up close and personal with thousands to watch the lighting of the tree and subsequent fireworks at Nathan Phillips Square (Toronto City Hall).
Should I go suddenly from this life, I hope it's not by decapitation by glass falling out of the sky.
After work Ceri and I meet up at Fran’s for steak salads on the patio and chat and watch the world go by. It’s been another hot day and sun dresses float by on women everywhere. As a collection of them walks over to a table on the patio, I remark that every one of them has a pattern I wouldn’t pay money for in a million years. Ceri says that he was thinking all the dresses weren’t looking so bad.
It’s a beautiful summer evening and we’re reluctant to leave, so we linger longer than usual. As my friend Lisa said yesterday, it’s what we wait all winter for, no?
Summer has officially arrived and Canadians everywhere are doing what they love to do a lot: complaining about the weather. Not me. I'm so glad to see summer. I am glad to have my bike out; to be wearing sandals and getting pedicures. I'm glad that the city festival season is in full swing; that I am going up to the cottage soon; that my skin is turning brown and that there is colour everywhere. I’m glad to be spending entire days outside; that the harbour is filled with boats and the Harbourfront filled with tourists. I’m glad for the long days and that the summer solstice is almost here. I’m glad for the abundance of fresh foods, and especially glad for having people I love to share it with and a rooftop patio to share it 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.
The other night I’m walking down Adelaide Street toward home and can hear bits of song in a woman’s voice hurling through the air in pieces. On advancing a half a block it’s clear to me it’s the wild-eyed but otherwise attractive, middle-aged woman standing in the middle of the sidewalk ahead. She’s looking back in the direction I’m coming from, waving her hand toward the bank towers and the new Trump hotel in that kind of drunken-like joy you’d see in schmaltzy old musicals.
“I love this towwwwnnnn!” she bellows in her best Ethel Merman. Her voice sounds pretty good actually, and I love where she has placed herself in her mind. I love schmaltzy old musicals. More – I envy her ability to convey this Ethel Merman aspect of her self-defined truth out there for the world to enjoy with her. Granted, many people are crossing the street to avoid her not seeming to want to share in her truth, but there it is. Despite my own wariness, I like it. Anyway, it reminds me of my sister who has been known to do a very funny Ethel Merman; but I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t share it with the Bay Street suits on a Tuesday afternoon.
“I love this town too” I think as I skirt by her, and listening to her bellowing behind me I wonder if maybe her gestures at the bank towers and the hotel with the famous rich guy’s name aren’t of irony rather than joy. But joy sings more often than irony does and I’ve never heard Ethel Merman being ironic have you?
It gets me thinking about a discussion I’d been having with my current batch of writing students on ideas around authenticity and expressing one’s truth. I put it out the idea of the human capacity for people to re-invent themselves, and how this is usually a person’s way of redefining a personal truth, or bringing forward one or more layers of a personal definition and pushing other layers to the back, for whatever reason. Personal writers do that with words.
So many times I have seen mentally ill people in the city streets that seemed desperate to share elements of themselves, some truth that strangers are not interested (or comfortable) in knowing. I wonder about the other layers of that lady – the layers underneath Ethel Merman.
It’s kind of like earlier in the week when I’m having an afternoon tea break in a large food court area near my office. I'm watching a guy, who is sitting by himself, practicing for a job interview. He reviews something on sheets of paper on the table in front of him and then verbally practices a response to the imaginary person sitting in front of him. I know that layer he is pushing to the front; knowledgeable, competent, confident, intelligent. A Bay Street Suit. Beneath the table his hands practice their corresponding gestures: purposeful, passionate, trustworthy.
I silently wish him luck as I walk by, imagining a celebration with a significant someone on his great new gig later that night. I get more engaged with my imaginary version of his reality than with the one he is assuming. But then I don’t find Bay Street Suits and the truths they convey all that interesting. I'd rather know what's going on at his kitchen table.
All week I've been thinking about they layers of me I push forward, and those I push to the back – both in my physical aspect and my writing, wondering how I can use them to enhance or grow the latter. I hope my students are thinking about that too.
Early in the week I stop on my way home for something to eat after working late. About halfway through my meal a couple sits at a table nearby. They seem mismatched, both in size and style. I check myself for making this judgement; after all I’d like to think I’m deep enough to remember that human connections have nothing to do with size or style; that they’re made up of much more interesting and mysterious things than that.
Still, humour me. He looks younger than her, at least by way of style. He looks to be the kind of guy who shops at the mall for clothing and assorted electronica and other boy bling with his buddies. That kind of guy didn’t exist when I was his age, in my little world anyway. Boy bling was only popular among the white polyester pants and open shirt set of my parents’ generation; and electronic toys came in really large boxes with really large woofers and tweeters that took up whole corners of living rooms or was installed in the doors and rear windows of the shaggy-haired owners’ beat up Monte Carlos.
This guy has perfectly trimmed hair and a nice shirt and expensive looking jacket and has just set his expensive phone on the table after checking for messages. The gal is not the kind you’d imagine our guy and his buddies cruising at the mall. She doesn’t look like she goes to malls much. Her hair isn’t modern; neither are her clothes. She doesn’t set a phone on the table upon sitting down.
But it’s not the appearance of the two that gets my attention, it’s the expression on his face: a bland smile, which is not a smile; the kind of face you wear on a first date when you’re trying to hide your disappointment, trying to pretend you’re up for a good time when really you’re counting the minutes to the moment when you can call an end to the evening and chalk it up to experience. His eyes match the insipidness of that not-a-smile, trying to look at her as if she were somehow interesting but seeing through her instead.
I can’t see her face but I expect it is either (1) wearing the same bland mask of resignation, or (2) wearing a face of an eager, insecure not-a-smile, not quite covering a furious search for something clever to say.
She takes a long time to order a drink and the guy and his bland not-a-smile are patient as the gal discusses options with the server. I'm taken back to a time when I was about 15, sitting in the corner of a car with a bunch of kids having skipped school on a gorgeous June afternoon. We stopped at a drive-through window and I ordered a large pop because I was thirsty but was mortified to discover just how large the large pop was, and I spent the rest of the glorious June afternoon feeling miserable and embarrassed about having ordered a bucket of pop (no doubt puny by today’s standards) and thinking I must look so ridiculous. Of course the only thing that made me look ridiculous was the embarrassment over a stupid cup of pop which nobody noticed. That moment of insecurity ruined the experience of the afternoon which should have been fun, with boys and skipping school and early summer and all.
My mortification over that pop is probably the only thing that keeps that memory alive in me. And what gives me compassion for that girl who seems to be trying hard to order the right drink. After she finally makes her decision, he orders a craft beer in a fancy bottle without hesitation.
I can’t bear to watch as she considers the food menu and turn back to my book, ironically, 51/50: The Magical Adventures of a Single Life, a memoir by Kristen McGuiness who embarked on 51 dates in 50 weeks. Looking up now and then I see the couple’s conversation slipping in and out of the air between them. When it’s not sliding off to the floor in a heap, the talking is quiet, serious, polite. He nods kindly at something she says and then it slithers away again. Between bites she watches the filler content running on the hockey channel right above their table. He looks around for something to be interested in.
No doubt I’m in tune with the couple because of this book I’m reading which is all about a whole bunch of first dates. I’d heard the author interviewed on the radio a year or two ago, and quite possibly it was she who inspired me to embark on my own Year of Dating Fearlessly. Certainly I’ve had my share of bad first dates, more of them than good ones and like McGuinness I was searching for some kind of flaw in me that was hindering the success rate.
In the end, my year of dating was more successful than hers – on one level. What we both got was a little more self-understanding. For me, it was a reaffirming of my awareness in knowing what I want and what I don’t want and being secure with that. I’d venture to say that wouldn’t be far off from what I knew back when I was 15. At least when I wasn’t agonizing about what boys were thinking about my drink choices.
As I ask for my bill, things seem to be warming up, the conversation more animated and relaxed. Maybe it’s the drinks loosening them up a little. I’m hopeful for them.
But then as I walk past them to leave, she’s watching the hockey channel with a bland not-a-smile and he’s talking on his cell phone; and my hope for them slides to the floor along with their failed conversation.