Walking down to Sugar Beach today we came upon these tiny mushrooms. Aren't they the loveliest things? Don't you just want to escape into this tiny netherworld? I do. But then I'm inclined to think the faery world isn't affected by concerns like politics, angry drivers with horns, deadlines, retirement savings plans and fluffy pop stars.
But who knows? I could be wrong. I haven't escaped into that netherworld.
Tiny mushroom netherworld – beautiful thing number fifty-three.
I've had an unusually social week. If I wasn't having dinner with company, I was out with Carly seeing the final installment of Harry You-Know-Who in 3D or having a thirteenth birthday celebration for my niece Lainey.
Summer's been particularly enticing this year. Each year, I'm drawn out into summer more. I get panicky when I think even a few moments of it will be wasted. My mother experiences the same thing; I checked on her last week during a nasty heat wave and she was cranky and feeling squirrelly, trapped indoors.
Most of the summer has been luscious though. Now that I'm working in the downtown core I escape several times a day for a walk around a different block. There have been a number of blog posts in my head, but didn't get written because I can't stay in.
After this very social week, I must say I'm enjoying having some alone time tonight. But I'm glad you're virtually here, and so I think it's appropriate that I share a little of my summer, and some of those unwritten blog posts with you.
Oh, and have I mentioned there is a new little boy in our family? I have a new nephew, Logan James, a tiny (well not so tiny) harbinger of all kinds of beautiful newness to our world. You might not like this when you're a teenager Logan, but right now, you're beautiful thing fifty-one.
Tomorrow I'm off in a rental car to another event which can't be talked about in advance. But when it's over, I really will try to share it with you in writing.
…to this story.
As I walk out of my office for a walk at lunchtime yesterday, I very nearly crash into the very man walking by the front of my office building. He looks out of place on Bay Street at lunchtime amidst the suits and and cell phones and smart pumps. I have to stop myself from staring. The strangers in danger of bumping into me suddenly rooted there wouldn't know or care why I'm compelled to watch that man cross the street.
I turn back to find him and he's gone. I think to myself that I do so love a coincidence. This one: beautiful thing number 48.
Now and then something binds you to a stranger. Sometimes it’s one-sided, sometimes reciprocal. Often that thing drawing you in is indefinable; you may never know what it is that connects you. It’s a nice little mystery inherent in our existence, in my mind.
Last weekend I’m having a late lunch on a sunny pub patio. Into my line of sight walk two men. One looks to be in his thirties, dressed unremarkably in shorts and a shirt. The other man is substantially older – in his eighties, maybe even nineties. He is tall and lean and limber. They choose Adirondack chairs in the shade of an umbrella and the old man folds his lanky frame into one of them. In my mind I determine they are grandfather and grandson who had just seen a show in the theatre I saw emptying across the street a few moments earlier.
I’m instantly charmed by the grandfather. He’s got a wide, mildly kooky and sparkling smile that turns his small, round eyes to crescents highlighted by gorgeous laugh lines. At the risk of objectifying or making the man a characature, I think his face has the look I was trying to achieve in some puppets I made a few years ago.
They want to order beer, and his soft voice doesn’t carry over the satellite radio music. He says he wants anything but a Heineken. The server doesn’t have the gumption to just offer a Keith’s or other popular beer, and presses the grandson into making the choice. He looks a little uncomfortable; I’m sure it’s because she doesn’t talk to the grandfather directly, only through the grandson. I know I’m annoyed by it.
I try to busy myself by looking at some photos on my phone, but I am taken with the old man. He’s dressed cleverly – in jeans, running shoes and a white t-shirt with something on the front of it which I can’t see. He’s wearing a black blazer over the t-shirt and a small toque-like hat folded up around the edges. I sense he’s an artist of some kind, and I’m imagining his life as I look at him over my phone. He catches my eye a number of times. We are in each other’s line of sight, and it’s certainly not unusual that people catch their neighbour’s eyes in restaurants, but it occurs to me that he might think I’m taking stealth shots of him with my phone’s camera. It’s an irrational fear I suppose, maybe related to the guilt felt by the observer caught observing.
He’s engaged his grandson in conversation, and the younger man looks like he’s having a good time. He finishes his pint of Guinness before his grandfather gets much down of his half pint, and the elder insists on sharing what’s left.
They get up to leave and the old man acknowledges me openly, saying “bye” and waving. I’m glad to know that he has taken my attention for what it was: a woman charmed by an interesting looking man with a great smile. I finish my lunch, feeling somewhat bereft.
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.
As I've done for the past ten years or so, I spent this past Canada Day long weekend up on the Manitoulin Island with my family. Spending this time together at my father's cottage has become a tradition for us, and every year we look forward to the events the tiny community of South Baymouth puts together: the parade, the community fish fry, the silent auction of donated items to benefit of the local museum, and the fireworks at the mouth of South Bay, begun just as the last ferry of the day departs for Tobermory.
I have experienced Canada Day celebrations in the large city in which I live, and it’s wonderful; particularly down in the Harbourfront where I live. There is action and music and tall ships and people sporting red and white everywhere you look. And back home we used to love to experience the magnificent international fireworks display over the small span of river between Windsor (Canada) and Detroit (USA), celebrating both our countries' birthdays.
But nothing makes us feel prouder and luckier to live where we do than the community festivities in a corner of that island where my father’s family settled generations before us. Small is beautiful. And with our family around us, we’ve got everything we need.
Unlike my sisters and my daughters, I've never been comfortable in front of a camera. So it's a funny thing that I've been wanting to play with self portraits. I've done a number of them in previous years in my Expressive Arts and other creative classes in all kinds of mediums, and they're a grand tool for exploring that vast place of mystery – the self. Certainly I could use a little practice in exposing more of ME – something I've never been much up for.
With all of the new job events and others this summer, I won't get up for one of my annual weeks at the Haliburton School of the Arts to do one of the courses in my Expressive Arts certificate program, so I figure it would be a good idea to do some creative play on my own. And one gets introspective, I suppose, when one hits a landmark birthday.
I've no interpretation for this one, taken the day before I started my new job. Except that maybe I'll get more comfortable with the whole camera thing and get out from behind curtainy shields.
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.