The iron fencing at Osgood Hall, University Avenue at Queen Street, Toronto. The purples and blues courtesy of dusk, on the shortest day of the year. Those colours, that light – beautiful thing #79.
This morning it’s deeply overcast; one of those rainy mornings when you wish it was Saturday but it’s really Thursday and so you drag yourself out of bed, late, and don’t care about what the clock says because everybody is late on a rainy day.
The atmosphere has an indigo-charcoal cast and soft, smoky clouds are obscuring the tops of the buildings. It’s warmer than usual and it’s raining lightly but it seems like the rain is coming down hard because of the thrusting winds.
I walk outside and one of those winds sweeps up smacks me wet in the face and so I look at the streetcars approaching the stops outside my building. One going east to Union Station would be a relatively fast ride, and then I could navigate my way through the station and walk the underground malls all the way to my office. I’m gauging the favourableness of that as opposed to the 25 minute blustery rainy walk when I get a look at the steamy windows of the streetcars and I think about the vacant, rude, blackberry punching humanity crammed inside, and that times a hundred teeming through Union Station, and I open up my polka dotted umbrella and tilt it into the wind and walk up into Spadina Avenue for my journey north-east to work.
Right away I smell the rain on the city and I’m glad I’ve chosen the walk, even though gusts blow up one side of me and down the other and I’m hanging on to my umbrella wrestling it back to its job. I get up to Front Street and other people are wrestling their umbrellas too and some are crouched up tight in their hoods and scarves. On King Street the streetcars are glistening behind the swishing windshield wipers and the streets are shining under the rain and the clouds seemed to have sunk down to encompass the coffee shops too.
I get close to Bay Street amidst all the suits and black umbrellas and while I’m waiting for a light I imagine all of those bankerly types suddenly swooping up into the air like the would-be nannies in Mary Poppins, high heels flying off and scarves fluttering; and I imagine them flipping and whirling, getting smaller as they move off past the cloud draped buildings and over the lake toward Niagara Falls.
I get to my office with mashed up hair and a runny nose and I prop my dripping umbrella next to my desk and get myself a cup of jasmine flavoured tea and know that my wet ankles will dry before long.
Over the weekend Ceri and I spent a good deal of time walking around. We did the forty minute walk back and forth between each other’s places a number of times; at one point yesterday taking the long way around to stop and have the big brunch and $3 Caesars by the lake as we did a few weeks ago. (Justified of course by all the walking.)
Saturday we met up for lunch downtown after he’d spent a few hours in the office and I got a very happy re-blonding of my blonde. We managed to make it through the throngs at Yonge-Dundas Square pretty much unscathed and lunched at a brew pub looking down from the second floor into Yonge Street and for a little while, the Occupy Toronto protest making a pass-through.
Yesterday we strolled around his beautiful and historic St. Lawrence Market neighbourhood, a place of enormous riches for someone who seeks out beauty in the corners of a city. The thing I love about living in the heart of a big city is that there is always some new inspiration, some new splash of colour or interesting character to stimulate the imagination. It’s particularly easy to find these things in neighbourhood gems like this one. Ceri was ever patient as I stopped every minute or so to be inspired once again through my camera’s lens.
As we stood outside the lovely façade of an old bookstore looking through the window at the cacophony of stacks and piles that simply could not bear the slightest bit of organization or categorization, I said “I believe your neighbourhood is going to have to be beautiful thing number seventy-six.”
I’ve been purging. From my closets I mean.
It wouldn’t be a stretch to think that in moving through progressively smaller places – from a two and a half storey house with a full basement, to what is now a small one bedroom condo with two closets for storage – there couldn’t be much more to purge, would there? However, four bags of clothes, plus two more bags of coats went out the door to a donation bin, as well as another five bags of “stuff” to the garbage or recycler. AND, there is a section of my larger closet that I’ve not got to yet.
Last night I got to thinking about why I hung on to these things. It wasn’t all THAT bad; with some investment into storage pieces, I could have accommodated a lot of that stuff it in a much more sensible and meaningful fashion than I had until now. I won’t tell you what non-sensible and non-meaningful looks like, but it's not pretty. But I think the hanging on to stuff is a measure of self-burdening. Why someone would justify self-burdening is beyond me but I'm working on it.
I’m sure I’m not the only one. Some bits of clothing you look at and decide you are NEVER WEARING THAT AGAIN. There are the buying-on-a-whim mistakes. And those things you so wanted to look good in, but much as you wanted to, an honest look the mirror would not return a favourable picture. There are pieces of clothing that look nice on the hanger and match other pieces perfectly and are a great colour – but not a great colour on you. “I think I look good in red," but when you walk around feeling like you look about as attractive as a mud puddle, it becomes apparent that you don't look good in THAT particular red. There are the old favourites – so favourite and for so many years, they look tired of life and are begging for eternal rest, only you’re not ready to let them go.
Then there are the items saved for certain creative projects. One of those un-started creative projects came with me from Windsor, seven and a half years ago. I still like to partake in creative projects, but the main one is writing. I also like to photograph and paint and journal. These are the things I do all the time; so items related to projects I’d not started in the years they were stuffed in closets – gone.
And the papers, oh the papers. Bills and paperwork needing to be destroyed or filed. Stacks of paper that had graced my kitchen table right before guests were coming so got put onto a bag in the closet. Bags. Evil, multiplying demon bags.
My name is Jennifer and I will am ready to come clean with a problem: I have spent HOURS these past evenings sorting, destroying and pitching paper. Hours people! And it's not finished!
I’m fifty. Will I ever become one of those people who sorts and files mail when she gets it? One of those people who thinks “big picture” when she’s adding an item to her wardrobe? Holding on to found items because they’ll look great in a collage one day?
Not bloody likely, but in the meantime I’m feeling about 300 lbs. lighter. And the feeling of lightness is not only related to order and space in my closet and dresser. It’s coming from the knowledge that the clutter, and the resulting “to-do” things – both creative and not – at the root of the clutter, are things that live like little thwarting demons behind the walls. Demons that impede me from doing the things I need to do and want to do, like writing, and cooking.
When I’ve got the extra weight of clutter and disorganization weighing on me, I find it difficult to move forward. I procrastinate and hesitate and in the end get nothing done because I don’t want to make time for the mundane tasks in favour of the fun and more meaningful activities. Funny thing is; whenever I get down to a purging, decluttering effort like this – it is enjoyable and very satisfying.
Last night I laid in bed with the closet left open on the clean side, just so I could bask in the Zen.
(That Zen – beautiful thing number 71.)
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.
Last weekend, I spend part of Labour Day down in the Harbourfront, coming to terms with the idea that summer really is leaving us. Where I live we can usually count on some pretty gorgeous, warm, sunshiny weather in September, but this year’s Labour Day didn’t show any of that stuff.
Ultimately I don’t care about the weather; I put on a sweater over top of my skirt and sandals and go out to get close and personal with the thousands of others who don’t care either.
After watching tourists take pictures and browsing for bargains amongst the craft vendors in their tents, I buy a piece of roasted corn from the One Love Corn Soup guy.
Corn is still full on here. Roasted from the One Love guy, it’s substantial gorgeousness in your hand; rich and mellow. Like September. I’ve been thinking about that lunch all morning.
I sit down to eat the corn by a little canoeing pond to watch the paddlers. The artifiicial pond is designed mostly for kids and families who want to noodle around in a non-threatening place. Usually you see a bigger kid or a grownup accompanying one or more tots. It’s cute – the little ones dip their paddles in clumsily and don’t notice their grandmas at the edge trying to get them to look up for a photo.
Not long after I sit down I notice a little guy in a canoe all by himself. He’s no more than four, and his parents are standing at the edge waving at him. He heads straight for the edge of the pond near me and is stuck there for ten minutes or so. Every now and then a stranger comes by and encourages him to row on the OTHER side of the canoe, and gives the vessel a little push to help. But the kid keeps drifting back into the wall.
I’m thinking, how's he going to get back to the starting point? How long are they going to leave him out here? What if the canoe rental time runs out?
Eventually the little boy makes his way back toward the centre of the pond. Straight for the fountain. Then I’m thinking it’s a cool day for a tiny body like that to get doused. Still his parents, relaxed, holding backpacks and a small cooler bag, are waving at him from over on the others side. The smiling kid somehow averts the fountain and glides straight for the other edge of the pond, where his canoe clings again. Now and then he paddles furiously, on the OUTSIDE of the canoe, which only secures its place against the other wall, where now and then a stranger comes along on the walk outside the pond and gives his vessel a push.
After awhile his parents start waving him back in. Either his canoe rental has expired or they’re bored. They’re waving him in and the kid, paddling in circles, grins a lot at people around him.
I’m at the point where I just want to go grab the front of his boat and pull him around the edge to the other side where his parents are waving him in. Then I start wondering about my tendency to want to protect him.
Recently I'd been talking about my favourite sorts of books when I was a kid, “My Side of the Mountain” and Enid Blyton’s “Adventure” series – all about self-sufficient kids working out problems, big and small. Without grownups guiding them around to nicely wrapped peanut butter sandwiches on the safe side. THOSE kids in THOSE stories didn’t need anybody pulling them around in any boat. THOSE kids went on grand adventures that lasted weeks, even months, and outsmarted the elements and even criminals.
So I think if that kid is ever going to be up for his own great adventures, he isn't going to find it if anyone drags him around the edge of the pond back to a place of comfort. I start to feel pleased for him. He could BE Philip or Jack or Sam, my early literary heros.
I imagine me watching some grandkid one day; paddling in circles on the other side of a pond and finding pleasure in her or his adventure. And maybe some stranger might be on the other side, disapproving of my leaving the kid out there drifting into the wall.
But me and the kid; we’re only thinking of the adventure around the corner. That adventure is beautiful thing number sixty-two.
As I think about that I look up and there's the canoe virtually sailing across and right up to his folks on the other side. He gets himself off the canoe and the dad musses his hair and they walk off.
"Themey" postscript to that post just below.
Rick Danko, here at the twilight of his life, beautiful thing number fifty-eight.
Believe in yourself and believe in love. Love something. We’ve got to learn to love something deeply. I think it’s love. It sounds sentimental as hell, but I really think it is. To paint a leaf, or a twig, or a piece of dung from a horse, it doesn’t matter; the shadow it casts can be wonderful.
Andrew Wyeth (the Wisdom project)
Last night my girls came to dinner. For awhile we had the rooftop patio to ourselves, which was surprising because as summer nights go, it couldn't have been more perfect.
The summer night is like a perfection of thought. ~Wallace Stevens