There are big changes in the wind. Good ones. They’ll be more bloggable tomorrow than they are today; but I will say that I have, finally, taken giant steps in improving my quality of life quotient.
And even in advance of those changes I’m already feeling like I’m drifting up, out of an extended period of restlessness; the one you may or may not have caught me moaning about in this space in the past while. No doubt it’s the thing that’s behind this rather unfocused state and lack of bloggerly ambition.
I’m a sucker for change, I’ve always been. I am not a person who takes comfort in sameness. If I’m not growing or evolving or changing course, I end up feeling like I’m turning around in circles. I find it hard to look beyond into the road. Sometimes it’s a feeling of panic; like there’s nothing to write because I’m not even two feet from where I was yesterday.
Today I’m two feet beyond yesterday. Tomorrow it’ll be ten feet.
I’m not meaning for this to be a “teaser,” the cliff-hanger to bring you back next season. (Though for those of you I was losing because of my inactivity here, I hope you’ll come back next season.)
Most people, and certainly most bloggers, understand those reasons why a thing isn’t bloggable. Until it is, enjoy one of my daughter Carly’s favourite songs. I always loved it when she played this song.
“…so I want to write my words on the face of today, before they paint me”
(Shannon Hoon, Blind Melon and "Change" – beautiful thing 39)
I think the most demoralizing thing about winter is, for me, the lack of colour. In April, we finally saw a few bulb flowers emerge – but things were so dull, rainy and cold, even tulips and crocus seemed reluctant to flourish. Flower boxes are being filled up outside of storefronts and that's great, but it's not until nature lets her hair down and goes crazy that the colours really make themselves known in the psyche.
All that rain did encourage more green, as it always does. And now – after several warm, sunshiny days, trees are budding, leaves are popping, and yellow has arrived in the form of forsythia and dandelions.
May is really good at making weather in my part of the world – the humidity hasn't arrived, the sky is clear and blue, flowers are fresh and perky and green is all rich and cool, tempting you to jump in and bathe in it.
Welcome back colour, I've missed you. Today you're beautiful thing number thirty-eight.
Yesterday I walked around carrying a secret smile, feeling content and happy as I rode to and from work and contemplating an evening with old friends who are in town from back home, and my girls. As I rode on the subway to meet everyone at our friends’ hotel, I got thinking about the idea of contentment, and how it relates to “happy.” Does the presence of the former always result in the latter? Because goodness knows “content” isn’t a term I’d use to describe myself; I’ve never been particularly content. But I have been happy for substantial chunks of my life.
Leaving my hometown and coming to this city was a product of that perpetual discontentment, but leaving behind certain people and certain familiarities was the painful part of that decision. Leaving was something I had to do in striving for my own happiness, but it didn’t come without consequence, psychologically and financially. But as I have been reminded each time I return there, the love of my people remains steadfast, and maybe that has, in its gentle way, helped me to find my ground here. I still get asked if I will come home, but they all understand why I am here.
They know that in some ways, DIScontentment makes me happy. I have this fear of becoming stagnant; of living a life of never changing, never growing. I don’t suppose all the moving around I’ve done is necessarily akin to growth and change – I know many people who have lived in a place all their lives and have evolved and grown in all kinds of beautiful ways. But there is this constant yearning to “move on” within, and maybe my physical moving around is a misguided manifestation of that. Happiness is often associated as the end product of the striving – when we all know it’s the striving itself that really causes happiness; the small, sometimes methodical steps; the actions.
Last year, in an attempt to live the notion that ‘happiness is the journey not the destination’ I turfed the quest of finding “home” in this new city and left it up to “home” to find me. I had some journeying to do in the meantime. It was the right decision. I still consider my current home as a “temporary place to hang my hat” but it doesn’t matter anymore. The discontentment has been sent back to where it belongs – in my mind – no longer directed at the walls and streets around me.
Maybe my feeling of contentment yesterday was because the “twain met.” The comfort of the love and history and fellowship from back home lived together in the realm of the discontented soul, gently tugging it back from the journey for a bit of a breather.
And I was still wearing that secret smile when I walked home at the end of the evening and went to bed.
I came across this video which has scenes I can identify with my every day. These scenes ARE my every day – they're of Toronto, the city I write about all the time.
And it's funny because I could link this song's theme to a conversation I had only just last night about my experience in having been here five years now; about choosing a city and not finding a home; about not giving up on the city but quitting looking for the home.
I might be more enthusiastic about finding this video treatment of this particular song. But I have laryngitis today. I don't even know how to deal with this song when I have laryngitis.
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.
You know, certain parts of most of my days are focused on me getting above ground again. This video made me think about the coming above ground part. I should always view it as rising to the new, and to not expect. Like a goldfish?
(This video encouraging me to see like a goldfish: beautiful thing seventeen.)
Thirteen: Today’s sunshine. It’s above O°C, for starters, and that is always a bloody beautiful day this time of year. But the sun – whooo boy do we need it. I take vitamin D supplements but there’s an extra dose of something in that sunshine – like some secret vitamin that worms its way through your pores and bones and finds its way to your soul.
But it’s more than that today – the sun is different today. It's closer, more present. I could feel it enveloping me down there on the ground, as opposed to just shining down and filtering its way through the blanket of winter. It’s as if spring is hovering at the door deciding whether to come in. I say come on in Spring – you’re never more beautiful than you are when you’re hovering at the door.
Fourteen: This post by Steve. My friend – women everywhere are going to be jealous of your beached goddess. Finding wonder in long-established love, what could be more beautiful?
Fifteen: This cookbook, which I bought on the weekend. I have to make myself not buy cookbooks; I could sit and look at them forever. But I allowed myself this one because I buy the magazine often and I justified the cookbook thinking that instead of buying the magazine every month, I would buy this at the cost of less than two issues. (Who am I kidding? It’s a beautiful magazine.)
These days I'm particularly enamoured with cookbooks featuring natural, unprocessed food. Natural food is of the most beautiful gifts this planet shares with us, and meals that are simply and lovingly prepared from it is more beauty for the soul. This winter I’m in love with food more than I’ve ever been – maybe it was my way of enduring embracing the winter months. When my television is on, it’s on Food Network most of the time – when I'm not cooking and eating, I'm watching somebody else cooking and eating.
Recently I had to put a moratorium on kitchen activities because I had too many things saved in the freezer for my lunches and dinners. I’ve used it up and am rocking the kitchen again. Last night I made Turkey Chili Taco Soup and I’m counting down the minutes until lunchtime so I can eat it.
Sixteen: How I feel when I do yoga. My body is not a lot of things. But it continues to be flexible and bendy and for that I feel fortunate, because the little bit of heaven I feel at the end of a yoga session is something you just can’t bottle. I’m so ready for serious some outside action again, but in the meantime, daily yoga makes me happy – and beautiful.
I have been taken with the concept of beauty for a long time. Not idealized, contrived beauty – but the kind of beauty that has layers of meaning contained within it, and that meaning a different thing for each person that experiences it.
If beauty can be described as some kind of quality in a thing, place, idea or person that causes an experience of pleasure, satisfaction or even transcendence for its beholder, is beauty then something representing a fulfilment – partial or all – of some sort of need in us?
I have been transformed by beauty a number of times in my life, and because of that I feel, without a trace of doubt, that beauty is related to the spiritual nature of us – to the magic in our existence. I wrote about that once or twice last year during the time I was taking part in a 30 Days of Beauty challenge put out there by Erin at her (very beautiful) Bluebirdbaby blog. Hers was a photography challenge, but I adapted it to fit into my own way of expressing and mostly wrote about finding beauty in those 30 days. It turned out to be one of the most prolific and popular periods of my online writing experience. And it did what it was intended to do – lift me above the mire of winter.
So what is it you find beautiful? Based on what I know of most of my faithful friends here in blogland, it’s not going to be that pretty pop star whose photo was manipulated to “perfection” for the cover of Rolling Stone. I could look at Bob Dylan’s face and find mountains more beauty than I can in hers. But that’s me. My definition of beauty is formed by where I came from, my ideals, my age, my interests, my education – and my needs. What about you? What defines beauty in your world?
I find old train tracks beautiful. And forgotten corners of cottage yards. And broken down old sheds. And my mother’s hands. The way a little kid darts around his father repeating “Da-a-d…?” as they walk toward the Air Canada Center to the hockey game. Or the stunning gradation of the sky as it was the other night – from breathtaking orange to the deep royal blue housing that delicate sliver of a crescent moon. Or Santana’s rendering of Soul Sacrifice at Woodstock. The soft traces of humming I hear coming from the woman with the beatific smile who sits on the other side of my office cubicle. The bowl on my table filled with sweet potatoes, beets, Bosc pears, an acorn squash and some bulbs of garlic – a haul from the market last week. Giant ropes coiled on the decks of ships.
So here I am in February again. I could do with a dose of creative healing and I if last year’s exploration was any indication, another beauty challenge is what my psyche needs. Kind of like my body and soul needing that big steaming bowl of Phở at lunchtime yesterday. Hell, just writing these past two paragraphs made me feel good. Since Erin decided not to issue the challenge again this year (going with another wonderful idea instead), I’m doing an explore beauty challenge of my own, and I’d love it if you joined me.
You may not be mired in any deep dark winter. Maybe you’re in summer, or whatever season it is it’s your happiest time of year and beauty is falling all over you at every step. I’m inviting you to do it anyway. Maybe you’re not a blogger. Who cares? I dare you to write 1-101 on a piece of paper and take it with you wherever you go.
The challenge is simply this:
Find 101 examples of beauty, and show, tell, list or write them. Photographs, poems, paintings, crafts – however it is you tell your story.
I’m dispensing with the timeframe because the number target may seem high. Do it once a week and it could become an ongoing topic for a year. Find a few things a day, the project could last a month. Sit down for a few hours and you could finish a list in one go! Maybe you’re not ready just now. Or maybe you are stumbling across this challenge six months from now. Any time is a good time to start.
I’m creating a badge and a dedicated page for the challenge (stay tuned). You can grab the badge and put in your sidebar if you like, as a reminder of where to find inspiration in an uninspired or down period. And that, really, is the point. Where the doldrums take over – finding beauty brings inspiration back.
Why 101? I just like odd numbers better than even ones. It’s only a number and who knows, maybe the term “101” will just be a symbolic sort of thing, representing “my collection” or “my exploration.” I just know that for me, it’s a topic I need to return to time and time again, and I’m hoping it will turn into something of an extended exploration here. After all – it’s really beauty that I’m searching for in Realia every day. I'd venture to say it's what we're all looking for.
… for getting back into the dating world.
I'm thinking it should be a reminder – that maybe I should play it before every date. In other words – "stay down here on the planet Jennifer."
(Oh, and well, how had I gone for so long without thinking about Paul Hyde and the Payolas?)
It's one of those most luscious winter Saturdays. I watched large flakes falling down thick and heavy over my morning coffee, having a private celebration of the day of this daughter's birth twenty-six years ago. Every year she is lovelier than she was before, and I am lucky to get to share in her life.
I love the nesting tendencies that take over in January. And today, it's a rare, quiet Saturday, and all about the nesting - cooking, washing floors, cleaning in corners, washing rugs, throws and bedding, reading recipes, mandala painting and journalling. And playing with random word magnetic poetry as I look out the window to a lovely January scene.
celebrating winter with lazy coffee moments
and gorgeous chocolate secrets
that melt the ice
while dreaming of summer gardens with you