This week I'm walking to work the "no-shortcuts" way, walking up to my office east along Adelaide Street from Spadina. It's part of the "Entertainment District" though the street with the beautiful name is rather shabby along the route I walk – it has none of the swankiness of King Street, a block south. There are some great buildings though, and construction underway in spots, and slated to begin in others, and I expect in the next few years the area will house a lot of new glass. I'll enjoy the "shabby" bits while I can!
Did you know that eighty percent of the information we receive comes through our eyes? And if you compare light energy to musical scales, it would only be one octave that the naked eye could see which is right in the middle? And aren’t we grateful for our brains that can take this electrical impulse that comes from light energy to create images in order for us to explore our world? And aren’t we grateful that we have hearts that can feel the vibrations in order for us to allow ourselves to feel the pleasure and beauty of nature? ~Louie Schwartzberg
Our American friends are celebrating Thanksgiving today. Anybody's Thanksgiving Day is a good reminder for all of us to express some gratitude. If you need some help thinking about what to be grateful for, Louie Schwartzberg has some ideas.
In fact he’s done such a good job in reminding me, I’m calling him beautiful thing number seventy-seven.
The other evening I’m walking home. It’s not late but it’s after dark. I look unremarkable in Monday office wear – the kind of clothes you drag yourself into in that seven o’clock Monday morning sigh. I haven’t washed my hair, it looks unremarkable too. I’m wearing a casual fleece jacket over top of the Monday office clothes and a favourite scarf in reds and greens. If anything, the colours of the red jacket and scarf are the only things not unremarkable about my aspect on an autumn Monday evening in which I just want to get home.
I’m walking fast. At that time of the evening, the office tower crowds have left the sidewalks and got onto their trains and I’m free to hoof it as fast as a like. I cut down from King Street and through a parking lot and round south onto Blue Jays Way and as I get around the corner a young guy materializes on my left jolting me to awareness with a sudden “WOW.”
“Wow!” he exclaims again, beholding me with his arms held out at his sides.
I’m not particularly surprised, there are animated people everywhere in the city, and I give him the, albeit amused, attention he’s looking for without breaking my stride. He beholds my unremarkable aspect, held to his spot by some perceived marvellousness.
“You look GREAT!” he says, maintaining a respectful distance and I don’t feel threatened by him. I smirk, to let him know I’m on to his play for a handout or a trick even. He backs off a little, acting bowled over by the aspect of me:
“The way you rounded that corner, that was gorgeous!”
I don’t break my stride but I give him a little laugh, appreciating his original delivery but I’m not falling for it and I’m not going to give him any money.
As I walk south toward home, I carry with me the enjoyment of his in-the-moment earnestness, and what seemed to me an artistic perspective of an otherwise unremarkable woman rounding a corner in a red jacket and pretty scarf.
And I wonder if, really, he maybe did see something in that woman that betrayed recent events he couldn’t have known about; those kind that, despite her unremarkable approach to Monday‘s workday in a city office, had her feeling just as beautiful as the person he created in his clever appeal.
Wherever it came from, the fella's creative perspective is beautiful thing number seventy.
My job is trying sometimes. It’s one of the reasons I like it. I like the ups and downs; the ebbs and flows; the momentum and adrenaline and the “way to go me!” of the high periods, and the catching up and thinking about what I’ll cook and remembering I have to mail that thing part about the low periods.
I’m in a trying period now. Really trying. I’m so tired I’m afraid to go to bed because when I get there I can’t sleep because of the things that are causing that blackberry to flash its little red light. Don't say it – it IS put away in my purse, but I KNOW it is flashing red.
Tonight, again, I got nothing. I’m just tired. I'm a little dejected and a little blue and that is certainly because I'm tired.
I do have somebody else’s words. His words will be swooping about the atmosphere like a flock of birds in autumn in the next days, and I hate being a joiner-inner. But I’m struck by the idea that in his death, his words are stronger than mine are today. And I’m motivated by that! I'm encouraged in the thought of it. An original mind never dies, does it?
I know I will sleep thinking about that.
Good night world.
(And good night original mind.)
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” ~Steve Jobs
I’m in a good space. Recently someone was going on about my choice of home and work locations citing with disgust the dirt and grime and pace of the city core. “Yeah but,” I interjected, “I’m really happy.”
I thought of that as I walked to work this morning with the delicious September air on my skin. It was warmer today after a few overcast, chilly, damp days. Everybody seemed grateful. Or maybe it was just Friday Mode: you sense a relaxation in the bodies collecting at the street corners – hands gripping bags a little less tight; shoulders a little looser; conversations with friends a little lighter. A pretty, smiling girl in a floating dress sails by on her retro-styled bike riding standing up, her hair tossed back. TIFF is everywhere, adding to a mood: white tents and sections of red carpet and temporary stages and other photo op units dot the downtown core. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who thought of striking a campy, movie star-ish pose in one of them.
The oft-mentioned getting off the subway for two hours a day and onto the sidewalk for one, is doubtless a major factor in my current feeling of strength and contentment. And that one hour walking is just the commute. Having given up my transit pass, I’m walking over all those distances I wouldn’t have thought anything of covering on a streetcar months ago. Sometimes I curse that once-handy card, but really only when I’m overloaded with groceries, collected after work when I’m hungry and my lack of judgement in gauging things like how much that giant Ontario cantaloupe will impact the weight of the bags holding the other fifteen things I’ve got to get home with me.
Work itself is coming together. Changing jobs is never an easy adjustment. For the first few months I felt like I was floating in the wind, unknown amongst my far-flung colleagues, but my [new] manager has been putting effort in getting my name out there and I’m finally meeting people and getting to know those that work around me. After months, I’m finally feeling like I belong.
This summer I joined a gym. Yep, me. The new job gave me access to a great corporate rate and the new location gives me access to a small women’s gym where I go at lunch to engage weights and strength training, but mostly indulge in all things related to yoga. I’ve practiced yoga off and on for many years, mostly at home. There are some fine instructors at my gym and I’m working harder, posing more courageously, challenging myself in ways any recorded instruction could not generate. If you practice yoga, you’ll know what I mean when I say my body is breathing, my hips are singing and my spine is floating.
My girls and I are gearing up for a road trip tomorrow, back home for a wine festival on the rolling grounds of Fort Malden at the edge of the Detroit River in Amherstburg. I may need to detox by Monday when I come home. But right now, being in a good personal space is the right frame of reference in which to take myself back home to my always loving people for a couple of days.
I can say confidently in advance, after a couple of days in the country and the space and timing of a pretty town on a river amidst old friends, my good space will be shining like a diamond when we return on Monday.
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.
There is sidewalk art on King Street, depicting a yellow brick road. It’s advertising a free evening movie in the park next to Roy Thompson Hall. I was thinking it would have been fun to take my girls to see The Wizard of Oz in a park when they were small. But then again, neither was a big fan of that film. Kelsey wasn’t much up for malevolent looking green witch faces, or clowny scarecrow ones for that matter, despite how kind the bloke is. And Carly was less than impressed – the technologies of her day rendered old movies fake looking and therefore not believable. Besides, she’d heard the little people in the film had been abused, and even if that story about the little guy hanging himself on set was an urban myth, my little social critic was jaded.
Had I had the breadth of entertainment available to me when I was her age, I suppose I would be too. Nevertheless, I can still drum up the escape into Frank L. Baum’s world I experienced just from seeing that old movie on a small, black and white screen (unless we got to go to Aunt Martha’s and see it on their colour console) all these decades later.
So I was charmed to see people walking on the narrow strip of yellow brick road along the wide King Street sidewalk this morning. Maybe it was subconscious – their feet just following the obvious path. I was kind of hoping some of them were imagining they were walking into a world far away from their offices and meetings. Hanging around with weird creatures and rediscovering oneself while defeating witches could be considered a favourable alternative to another day of spreadsheets and emails; for a few days anyway.
I was thinking that as I noted some feet in high heels stepping purposefully along the yellow brick road. The woman in the sharp suit attached to those feet was wearing a hint of a smile, her thoughts seemingly not anywhere near King Street. “Carry on!” I thought, pacing my walk to the tune of the Yellow Brick Road song running through my head. I just know she was walking to the same tune.
My weekend was restorative. I decompressed from the hellish work week previous and all that time not doing things at home. Like laundry. It was the perfect weekend for a recovery.
Saturday morning I awake to rain (never a sorry sound to wake up to as far as I’m concerned) and then thunderstorms and then drizzling rain and blustery, chilly dampness. I get out anyway and nose around downtown and buy some groceries and a few other items I’d been wanting. One could never accuse me of spoiling too much weekend doing things like housework.
Sunday morning shows pity on us weekenders, and opens the curtains wide, letting the heavens shed down a most welcome and most luminescent heat. I attend the Muhtadi International Drumming Festival up at Queen's Park. The afternoon is pretty much perfect; I move between sunny spots and shady spots and listen to drum sounds that at once electrify you and plant you on the earth. (Drumming arts at a time one needs some soul reviving: beautiful thing number forty.)
I've arranged to meet up with Kelsey so I walk slowly back through the University of Toronto Campus. It strikes me how I’d forgotten how much I love to be on a campus, and I wonder what life would be like had I chosen a path of academia. I don’t dwell on that thought too long, but I decide I need to visit this university more often. A campus bursting with green under sunlight: beautiful thing number forty-one.
As I’m heading back toward College St., groups of heavily garbed Muslim women pass me by going the other way. I can’t help but feel the contrast in us, me in my summer skirt and cleavage revealing tank top and sandals. Having just turned 50, I embrace my cleavage as a badge of honour, but the opposing theories regarding what one wears as a badge of honour is palpable as I move amongst the young women.
I smile at them as I would any stranger passing me by, though most of them, chatting amongst themselves or with thoughts elsewhere, ignore me. But then one woman makes a point of pausing to smile back with a small wave. I wave back, and the turn of her body in her long black gown and veil and charming smile makes me think suddenly of that nun who flashed the peace sign in the Woodstock movie.
Let's call the smiling women, one at the U of T on a sunny day in June 2011 and one on a muddy concert site in August 1969, beautiful things number forty-two and forty-thee.
I walk down to Spadina Ave. and hook up with Kelsey and we have dinner on a patio then take a meandering walk around the Harbourfront piers, chatting as the sun sinks in the sky and loosens its hold on the day. And I even finish the laundry.
Since spring arrived, it's been a mission of mine to walk slower.
My love for walking was born in the eighties, when Debbie and I and our kids went for walks every day. The thing is, back then, we were walking along an unpaved country road. Our little caravan: she and I walking, taking turns pushing Jared in his stroller, Carly and Kelsey and Chad on their bikes up ahead, owned the road. We walked fast for health. But for mental health, we stopped to smell the wild roses or pick mulberries or admire some wild looking tree or another. But in between, we walked fast.
I never stopped walking fast. You can imagine the problem this causes in the heart of a big city. I am affronted by tourists dawdling in front of me, friends stopping to chat in the middle of the sidewalk when I'm trying to get to a hair appointment. PEOPLE STANDING ON THE ESCALATOR. I'm bursting to sail around the humanity. Heaven help the throngs I've cursed at Yonge and Queen or Dundas Square when I've got somewhere to be. It'll be all my fault when they all die slow and painful deaths.
These days I'm working on that. I'm consciously slowing my pace; I'm wandering home from the station rather than getting home fast.
When Debbie and I were walking fast, it was about having the freedom to do so. These days when I'm walking fast it's about not having freedom. Clearly I'm going about getting it in the wrong way.
Walking slower and feeling freer. I'm working on that these days.
One can become complacent about things. Just going about the task of getting to work every day and doing all of the things otherwise required to take care of one’s life, including those labelled fun and enriching, is busy.
There are a few reasons why I stayed in what was, for the most part, the wrong job for three and a half years. Mostly, it was because I was appreciated. I work in business development, and I’m pretty good at creating a good “face” for the company I’m representing. I created a fresh “brand” for our proposals and other documentation, and I was considered an integral part of the proposal development teams.
A good part of the success of any proposal writer is the ability to persevere under pressure, and spiking hours. I must say, I dig the pace of proposal writing; the constant turnover of projects appeals to me. I work better under pressure, and I love the feeling of producing something of a high standard under difficult conditions.
But I had no true understanding of our product (software solutions), nor the desire to, really. I don’t have a brain wired to understand this kind of technology. I didn’t really need to – it was the specialists that had to write up the solutions – they were the ones inventing them and had to be the ones describing them. It was cool to watch the process of a team designing a custom solution for a client – a creative process working in a highly technical environment. But I always felt outside of that, and thus not satisfied with my role in it.
They appreciated me, and they paid me to stay. My financial situation was substantially improved in my tenure there, but in the end, I don’t live for money. Job satisfaction is more important to me.
There were a number of times over the past three and a half years that I started to look for a new job, but complacency took over and I just carried on. I was “comfortable;” doing work that, while not satisfying on a personal level, gained me the respect of the company. Recently though, as recruiters started calling, it seemed the time for change was right.
The long commute had started to wear me down. My loyal blogland friends will know that the commute was often a source of inspiration for this space, and that lately it has become less so. The crowds of rush hour, and the inherent (?) rudeness, anonymity, unseeing, cattle-like behaviour just plain depressed me. I found it harder and harder to live the rule, “be the change you want to see” and I don’t want to be cattle.
So I’ve been entertaining opportunities presented to me by these recruiters that seem to have come calling all at once. There was an almost-hiring at Christmas. I was excited because the office was near to my home. But really, the work sounded much like what I do now – lots of coordinating, not much challenge. There were lots of opportunities opening up in the area where I work now, but what’s the point? Fresh job/same commute is only addressing half my problem.
But then, another recruiter called with another address that caught my attention. And then an enjoyable (yes, enjoyable) initial phone interview with my would-be manager, who described a job that sounded challenging and exciting – more writing, less coordinating. There was another in-person interview over lunch, just as enjoyable as the first. I was being presented with the opportunity to develop my own job (not previously held by anyone), and to help another company grow in an area where they want to expand. There is opportunity for travel, to develop my skills, better benefits and yes, a little more money.
And I can walk to work. I live in the heart of the city because I love the vibrancy, the diversity, colour, sights, oddities, action and surprises. You can't know how gratified I am for the opportunity to move out of the underground tunnels and up to the sidewalks.
The best part of all: two hours a day, formerly spent travelling to and from work, mostly underground, will be mine again. Two hours a day. That's ten hours a week, forty hours a month…
All the riches in the world can’t replace that.