I’ve been back home again. I took another mini-holiday to visit Windsor to participate in a four-day Intuitive Painting Workshop. The next post will be about that (remarkable) workshop. But integral to the experience as a whole are the four days I spent in Windsor – in and around places I frequented in my thirteen years living there while my girls were growing up; the place I left seven years ago.
I’d not been close like this to Windsor since I left it. When in the area I’ve either stayed in its easterly suburbs or in my original hometown of Amherstburg. I choose not to live with regrets but I’m wondering, what the hell was the matter with me?
Maybe it took those seven years for me to need to get there and be in it and find pleasure and comfort in it. Like I did over this past extended weekend.
This time I stayed with Lynn. She carted me around and gave me use of her car when she didn’t need it and brought me morning coffee and cooked me meals and poured me wine and dished as much love and support as she ever has in 45 years of a friendship. On my last day there she drove the 30 km west from her home to Mackenzie Hall on the city’s west side just to drive me the six km to the train station; a cab ride I was most prepared to take.
Having a friend like that? Beautiful thing number sixty five.
In each of those four days I drove (or was driven) along the Detroit River – and the sight of it from Lake St. Clair to the Ambassador Bridge about broke my heart each time. Of course it did. It was a compass point for most of my life. Marking west in Amherstburg for the first 30 years of my life, and north in Windsor for another 13. I looked upon the riverfront path I walked on so many nights and thought of my first adventures in online journaling on a homemade website where I documented the experience.
I live in a new place now, and next to an impressive body of water, but there’s something about a river. The methodical movement in it causes a restfulness in the mind. The freighters passing through and the bridges and the other city so close on the other side. Most of my father’s career was spent navigating that river, further placing its waters in the sensibilities of his daughter. He was often away for periods of time when we were kids and it was that river that would have carried him away most times.
And then Windsor’s streets; quieter, cleaner, everything on a smaller scale than Toronto, where I live now. Ouellette Avenue hasn’t changed much; a few restaurants gone, a few new ones in their places. Neither has our old street changed – from the perspective of darkness anyway. Our old happy (and haunted) house is still there, with its porch and its maple tree. Carly snapped a shot of it earlier in the summer to show us how much it didn’t change. There were many hours lived on that porch under that maple tree.
It was late when I went by. I wished I hadn’t missed seeing our old neighbour Louisa on her porch. I know she would have been there. Down at the corner, the diner has been remodelled, but the convenience store is exactly the same. One night a bunch of us from the workshop I was attending had dinner at an old favourite restaurant of my girls' and mine, Basil Court – Thai food I’ve yet to find equalled in Toronto.
Windsor seems smaller and slower than it was when I left. It’s probably not – it’s probably my perception, because I needed it to be. If I had to describe how I’ve felt in those four days, it would be “cocooned.” Probably because I needed to be.
It’s easy to write about the love dished out to you by a life-long friend. I do that a lot; it seems I have a lot of life-long friends who dish me a lot of love. What’s not as easy to write about is the kind of experience I had at the workshop. I’ll get back to you on that one. In the meantime, this space is for Lynn and Windsor. I’m feeling a lot of things coming away from those four days of living in my old city and painting intensively. The most of substantial of those is grateful. And that, my friends, is beautiful thing number sixty-six.
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.
Today I catch the streetcar and I’m standing in the back of the car looking over the seated peoples’ heads out the window. As we go underground into the dark tunnel toward Union Station I see my reflection in the window. Then I see the arms of the woman next to me. Then her neck. And her anorexic shoulders. As always I’m shocked when I see an emaciated body like hers. And my heart aches for her and other women who are somehow compelled to do this to themselves. She looks like she belongs in a hospital bed under a doctor's care, not standing in a crowded streetcar. Looking at our reflections in the mirror, I think about my everlasting extra 10 pounds. And I think about my friends and family for whom those ten pounds mean nothing. They would love me if I carried a placard on my forehead that read: Extra Pounds and She Forgets to Call and She Should Vacuum More.
I’m filled with gratitude as I look at my cleavage and my curves in my reflection. And I'm grateful for the kinds of men whose heads I still manage to turn now and then, and the ones I know who appreciate me and desire me, lumps and all. I think about my relationship with food in that it sustains me, it provides nourishment to my body and well being, and it accompanies pretty much every joyful gathering in my life. The woman walks away from me and up into the station and I wondered how those limbs can support her, I can practically hear her bones clattering. As she wobbles off I wish her luck. I wish all of us luck. Someday I hope us gals will cut ourselves a break.
A fella trips onto the subway with a bike and a bag stuffed with what looks like garbage. He messes around with the bike and keeps trying to lay it down, which is awkward in the midst of all the commuters. One lady finds herself on the wrong end of the back tire so she steps away from the man and his bike, and he loses hold of it and drops it to the floor. “DON’T MOVE STUPID ASS!” he hollers at her as she moves away. Over the next two stops they steal glances at one another, she wondering if she heard what she did and he wondering what stupid ass wouldn’t stand there and let his bike tire rest against her clean work clothes. He manages to get his bike and torn bag of garbage off at St. Clair station and most of us breathe easier. The lady gets off at the same stop, still stealing glances at the person who called her a stupid ass. I hoped the incident didn’t spoil her morning, but I’m thinking it probably did.
Someone, relatively new to Canada, showed me his arm that had a welt from some sort of insect bite he got when he took his kids to the park. I ventured that it might be a spider bite, and suggested antihistamine would relieve the itching and inflammation. His eyes got a little wider and he spoke of the deadly black widow spider he heard of once, and how they can kill with their venom. I thought, “hoo boy, girl you should have kept your mouth shut.” I wondered how long the poor guy imagined he would keel over and die from a deadly Canadian Black Widow spider bite.
Song encounter #1: Out of the blue I hear one of my favourite songs, “Up on Cripple Creek.” Instantly, the morning of the food starved body, the insulting words hurled at a stranger and the irrational freakout about black widow spiders evaporate.
Tonight, out for a walk, I witness some of the barricade building in the downtown core in preparation for the G-20 Summit. I’m annoyed with the summit being held here, right in the core of the downtown. I’m annoyed with the media, which tends to ignore the hundreds of thousands of peaceful protesters in favour of the more juicy window breakers. And I’m annoyed with the feds who encouraged Toronto to “show off” our city, then dropped the ball in terms of support for the losers in this event, like the business owners who have to close up shop and the homeowners who are S.O.L. if something happens to their property. And I get really annoyed by the “us and them” thinking that got us to this standoff in the first place. I remember the creepy policing during a similar event in Windsor some years ago, and I think, either I’m going to take me and my camera down into the brouhaha, or avoid it altogether. Which will be hard because guess where I live now?
Song encounter #2: I hear Coldplay’s Viva la Vida and I’m brought back to a moment a few days ago, when I’m on the shuttle bus going to work. That song comes on in the vehicle carrying the heavy, tired, morning resignation of the riders, and then someone starts to hum. Then another person does. Then I do. When I hear that song today everything about it is changed. Now, because of that moment, I love that song. I can’t hear it enough.
I catch a few minutes of this race on TV. I’d not normally stay tuned to such a race because stunt flying creeps me out. But before long I realise – hey – I know that river! Seeing the shots of this river, the riverside park I once walked every night, and those two cities fills me with pleasure and makes me a little homesick. In a good way.
This is a response to Willow's latest Magpie Tales visual creative writing prompt. I'm two days late posting – but I liked the prompt, it's timely, and it furthers a bloggy theme that has revealed itself this week.
Last week I had dinner with an old family friend from back home who, like me, picked up stakes and came to Toronto and has settled herself in the Beaches. There’s something about living near the water that seems right, I said, and she agreed.
She and I both grew up near the Detroit River, and it’s a waterway that features prominently in the essences of both Amherstburg and Windsor where I spent most of my life. When I left the area, I was given several pieces of art to remind me of home – two featuring ships on the Detroit River and a one of a great blue heron in the marshlands off Lake Erie.
In my last few years there I walked by the river many nights and I recall the change that came over me the instant I came off my street to the river’s side – inhaling the air affected every pore – it was electrifying. Since leaving Windsor I’ve hovered down near Lake Ontario as close as my budget would allow. Many people have asked me why I subject myself to such a long transit commute to my job on the north end of the city, and while there is certainly the “cool factor” of living right in one of this city’s marvellous neighbourhoods, the idea of being landlocked has always loomed when I considered where next to hang my hat.
And as one might generate from the previous couple of posts, the world of rivers and lakes has always had a place at our table by way of our sailor dad. Having a tug captain for a father was a novel thing to tell your friends – no one else’s father was a tug captain. It certainly wasn’t the happiest situation for him to go away for periods of time when we were small, but I think it’s probably one of the sources of the independence in my sisters and me; at the very least it’s attuned us to the sensibility of a sailor. That kind of life isn’t for everyone, but it was for my dad, his brothers, his father and generations before them.
Something else that has probably played a part on my gravitation to the watery side of things is the fact that a quarter of my bloodline features a whole bunch of islanders. Some of them came over from the Western Isles of Scotland to land themselves on the Manitoulin Island in Ontario. Aside from the hunk of land under their feet, water is the central thing to an islander’s existence. Many make their living on the water. They are aware of its gifts and its dangers – it is both life giving and perilous. And for islanders, it’s the road out.
The need to feel free is one of the fiercest desires in me – probably more of a burden than a boon. I always blamed it on having emerged from a bad marriage, but really, I’m thinking it goes much deeper than that. Being near the water somehow appeases that need for freedom – maybe there is some tiny gene way down somewhere in my body that is appeased by the sense that I’m always near the road out. Or maybe it's some random genetic link to some fisherman who once cast out his nets searching for the thing that will get him through the next day.
Maybe the water simply carries some internal symbolism of the grand search. It’s not such a bad thing, to be always searching – the idea that there’s something new around the corner is renewing. And renewing is better than stagnating.
So me and my inner fisherman will carry on with the nightly water walks and ponder the grand search. Or maybe we won't.
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