Thursday, August 28, 2008

just when I thought suburban alienation was a cliche not worth exploring...

Yesterday, my motivation to continue unpacking never returned. I guess I needed to rest a bit after all the craziness.

In the afternoon, I decided to explore my new neighbourhood, and I took my camera.

I wanted to photograph some of the differences between this neighbourhood and the one we left. The one we left was the original working class neighbourhood, where most of the houses were about 100 years old on very narrow lots. This one is not precisely a suburb, since it's so central, but it's definitely 50s suburban: huge lots, almost entirely bungalows. It wasn't until I got home and saw all the photos that I realized the number one difference: built-on garages.





garbage can




I saw barely anyone walking. A few people worked in their yards, but more than anything was a ubiquitous twitching of front curtains and heads peeking through windows only to withdraw as soon as I tried to look friendly or determine for sure what that movement was.

The most twitching by far occurred at the last house of the above series. The little old lady who lives there even came out and asked me suspiciously what I was doing. She was hard of hearing and I had to repeat myself quite a few times. "I like your house. I took some pictures."

"But what are you going to DO with them?!?"

"I'm just an artist..."

"Who are you?!?"

"I just moved into the neighbourhood. My name is Cinnamon Gurl. I live over on ___ street."

So we chatted, but her suspicion never really left her.

My first stop had actually been the United church that I once thought was heinously ugly in its modernity, but which now I quite like.

church and cart

Behind it in the parking lot were a few sheds and an institutional-looking building behind it. As I shot, a few kids rode through the background on the bikes, so I shot a bit longer (you can just make out one of them - the white speck between the sheds). They noticed me immediately, so I smiled and waved, then turned around. The shot wasn't really working.

parking lot

Halfway across the lot, one of the kids called out, "What do you want?" I wasn't sure they were talking to me, so I turned around, gestured questioningly to myself and said, "Me?" They said nothing and turned around.

Later, they caught up to me. "Excuse me," one of them said. "We were just wondering why you were taking pictures of us."

"I'm just an artist," I said. (I've never called myself an artist before but it seemed like it would make for fewer questions than photographer.)

"Oh, sorry" they said, like I had some horrible affliction.

This neighbourhood is so suspicious! In my old neighbourhood, people asked what I was shooting, but it was out of curiosity, not to uncover my nefarious plot to harm them in some way. The whole rest of the day I felt like this is a horrible neighbourhood, and I don't belong here. What the hell were we thinking?!?

school's out 2

I also discovered that the institutional building behind the church was an abandoned school. It's so sad that they're doing away with the small local schools and bussing kids to mega-schools.

school's out

My town is in the midst of a by-election, which makes it a good time to get a sense of the neighbourhood. As much as I'm trying to curb my judgments, I still judge people by their politics. My old neighbourhood was full of NDP and green party signs. They were everywhere, with only a single liberal sign on my street.

Here, there are virtually no signs. I guess these people are just apathetic. Either that or they have a bizarre need for privacy -- who KNOWS what people could do if they knew which party you supported! Especially in this day and age with the whole Internet thingie. Of the signs that are here, most of them are liberal and conservative, with the odd renegade NDP and green party sign.

I'm still really torn myself. I love the NDP candidate as an individual, but the thought of being the first riding to elect a green party MP is pretty tempting.

campaign headquarters

campaign headquarters-7

campaign headquarters-5

(those campaign shots were all from a few weeks ago)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

almost back in the land of the living

I'm sitting in our new house, boxes still all over, Death Cab for Cutie on the speakers, and I'm not sure what to do. Swee'pea's in daycare and Sugar D's back to work. There is lots of cleaning and unpacking to do, but we took care of the high priority rooms yesterday (kitchen and bath), Swee'pea's room we did Monday.

I really just want to vent, but I have no real-life friends outside of work, and I'm not at work.


Dear Rogers,

Just a thought, but when a customer moves to a different house, you might want to consider NOT depending on the phone to find out whether the customer is at the new house at the agreed-upon time for the cable hook-up. You might want to try, oh I don't know, KNOCKING? on the door? before deciding that the customer hasn't shown. Because sometimes Bell fucks up too and the phone may not be working. The dead air that comes after you dial the number? That's a pretty good indication that something may be a bit off with the phone rather than the customers not being at the house.

We were here! Waiting! For all three hours of the stupid three-hour window you force customers to hang around waiting for a hook-up.

If you do insist on depending on the fickle phone lines, you may just want to keep a few appointments open every day, just for the people who took two fucking weeks off work for this g-d move (why did we want to do this again?!?) and who may not want to wait a further two weeks just to have to leave work for ANOTHER 3-hour window of sitting at home waiting for the cable guy.

The thing is, you never know what other shit your customers may be dealing with during a move, things like -- hypothetically of course -- dangerous electricals that the home inspector didn't catch, mould, an automobile accident and an insurance company that made a "small mistake" when they didn't include the driver and part-owner of the car on the policy (woops), a mistake they're fixing but which is taking a long time to fix since the driver was out of the country for a week right before the move. Oh - and maybe a broken phone line, which got fixed but apparently the maintenance package they hosed the customer for doesn't come into effect for 15 days so they have to wait to get the broken JACK fixed. You never know if your unwillingness to knock on a door might be the straw on the poor camel's back and might cause ordinarily reasonable people to yell at your poor customer service reps at 7:30 in the morning. Of course, the 20-minute hold time didn't help either.

Next time, please just knock?



For Swee'pea, the move has been effortless, as Mad predicted. We had to stop at the old house for a few things after we picked up Swee'pea, and he yelled, "No! New house!" He stayed in the car and had no interested in seeing the old house. Bedtimes aren't quite so smooth and he's cried a few times in the night, but mostly he's slept in his own bed. He loves it here. It helps that when my parents babysat on the weekend, they spent most of it here, my dad fixing stuff and my mom cleaning a bit in between Swee'pea chases, so he's totally familiar. I love my parents.

Over the summer, I met two different women at the park who have boys almost exactly the same age as Swee'pea and who live in our new neighbourhood. They gave me their addresses and I'm wondering if a drop-in would be ok? I got the sense that they were kind of desperate to make friends nearby with young kids, since mostly the neighbourhood is full of old fogeys. But we didn't exchange numbers... what do you think? Should I wait until I have Swee'pea with me? Or should I go alone? I'd like some real-life friends...

Sunday, August 24, 2008

closing ceremony

I'm always a bit sad when the Olympics close, especially the most recent few. For whatever reason, we've had something momentous going on during each of the last three Olympics. In 2004, we got married about a week after the Opening Ceremonies, and we spent our honeymoon in a house in Tobermory. We'd brought our bikes and big plans for hiking and biking the Bruce Trail, but we only did that a few times before we succumbed to the allure of the Olympics. After weeks of wedding preparations, we needed some veg-out time, and we took it.

In 2006, the Winter Opening Ceremonies were playing on the little tv in our hospital room, as we packed up wee Swee'pea into a sleeper that was way too big for him (now impossibly small!). We needed the nurse's help to figure out how to put him into the carseat without breaking him. Once home, the Olympics kept me company through the long night feedings, and it was so nice to have good tv to focus my bleary eyes on. The Closing Ceremonies meant 3 am infomercials, before, finally - at six weeks - I just brought Swee'pea into bed with us and nursed him lying down forever more. "Move over, Sugar D," I said in the middle of one night. "He's comin' in!"

This past June, or maybe it was May, I commented to a coworker that although the last two Olympics had coincided with major life changes, this games would be uneventful, because clearly we didn't have anything significant on the horizon. Now, the Closing Ceremonies coincide with our last full day at this house.

I feel like I should take a moment to thank this house for its shelter, to honour the memories it now holds in its walls and floors. But I don't have the mental space, what with all the logistical details darting around my mind, all these things to remember. Don't forget the stuff in the shed, or the little castle slide in the backyard, or the tools in the basement. I'll have to label the pieces that are staying, and the furniture that's going with the rooms they're going to. I worry I'll regret not taking a moment to say goodbye.

I was 8 years old when I read Black Beauty. My sister gave me a beautiful, leather-bound edition with gorgeous illustrations for Christmas. And immediately I was riveted. But that book sort of broke me. I had to put the book down at one point for more than a week because every time I picked it up, I started sobbing uncontrollably again. It was in the middle of the scene when the old cavalry horse is left riderless in the battlefield, terrified and bewildered in the midst of such carnage. I empathized so strongly with what he must have felt, not having any instructions on how to get out of that chaos alive.

Other scenes from the book made me cry almost as hard, and they always involved horses being taken away from their friends without knowing in advance they were leaving. The saddest thing for me was not moving away or losing friends, but not having the chance to say a proper goodbye, not knowing that the last time you saw them was the last time you would ever see them. It's what makes me the most sad about death, the possibility that you may not get to say goodbye to the people you love.

Later in my life, break-ups that bothered me the same way, because you never knew that the last time you kissed or made love was going to be the last time ever. Or at least that's how it was with all of my previous relationships. I always wished for a do-over, just once, to know enough to savour it in the moment, this last taste of tenderness before it all goes to shit.

And I'm more than a little torn about tomorrow. The movers are coming while Swee'pea is in daycare and we'll no longer have access to the house after we pick him up. We've told him about the new house and he's excited to stay there, but I don't think he really gets it. And I doubt he'll really get it until it's too late to say goodbye. On the one hand, I don't want to put my stuff on him, but I don't want to screw him up the other way either.

I had a panic attack last night. It's been years since I had one. I've had a few panicky starts, but I've always been able to manage it and get the panic under control. Last night, I couldn't. It felt just like the spells I used to have nine years ago, back before I knew they were panic attacks. I thought I had some bizarre disease that, without warning, made me suddenly nauseous and shaky and increased my pulse till it was pounding in my ears.

I was worrying about some stuff in the new house, worried it will lead us to financial ruin (which I've never actually worried about before, strangely). (The new place smells mildewy in the front hall and dining room despite dehumidifying and airing out - and without a basement, we have no way to investigate the situation. I have one of two visions flitting around: 1) we all get sick and die from mould or 2) we lose all our money tearing the house apart to find the mould and sink into financial ruin. Please don't comment on this bit - we have a tiered action plan.)

I was thinking about how deeply Black Beauty affected me. I was trying to sort out how best to help Swee'pea through this transition, whether to keep him out of the movers' hair as originally planned or let him witness the physical process of moving homes to help facilitate the emotional process. But mostly I was utterly exhausted and unable to sleep. My muscles were all tense and I started to feel some gastrointestinal twinges. Then I felt like I was going to vomit. Or my head was going to explode with all the worries darting around. The intense fear made me suspect panic over food poisoning, so I did the things that usual help me resist emerging panic. But it didn't work. I just felt sick and scared and alone, and Sugar D was still packing the kitchen downstairs (yay West coast jet lag!) and I didn't feel like I could manage the stairs to get the company I needed. So I laid on the bathroom floor for a while until I felt well enough to go downstairs, then dozed in front of the Olympics, with occasionally screeches of packing tape behind me in the kitchen.

When we went upstairs, I realized that it was shortly after I read Black Beauty that any time I was overtired, I would become convinced that our barn was going to burn down in the night. I imagined the horses panicked and squealing in the barn all choking black and angry red and the vision was so clear I just knew I was having a premonition. I felt I had to stay awake so I could save the horses. I remember the first time my parents told me they would stay awake so I could sleep, and I was only a little angry to discover in the morning they had gone to bed after all, but not really because the barn was still standing, not a streak of charcoal anywhere. Last night, it struck me that those late night fearfests were probably my first panic attacks, or at least a precursor.

And I don't know where this post is going. Is it a treatise on panic and anxiety? A plea for advice on what to do with Swee'pea? A musing on goodbye and the Olympics? I really have no idea... except I have to keep packing.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

I was a little concerned about how exhausted I was yesterday, when the real hard work is still ahead. Luckily, my mom had told me to take it easy, to just hang out in the new house and figure out where the furniture will go and sit in the backyard. So I did. I also ran a few errands, returning overdue books to the library, dropping off paperwork at Swee'pea's new daycare (starting date Sept. 15), getting a bit of cash to pay the hardwood installers to put the baseboards back on.

I read an article about Mandela's leadership style in Time magazine, while listening to South African pop accompanied by the roaring nail gun and whining saws of the floor installers. I was surprised to discover just what a strategist he is, but I guess that makes sense given that he accomplished the seemingly impossible. I think he must be ENTP. I think ENTP's make the best leaders. I know ENTJ's probably have a stronger urge to lead, but the J can rub people the wrong way and lead to hasty decisions. ENTP's get the benefit of the logic with the P to keep them open to new ideas and able to change track at a moment's notice. (My Myers Briggs obsession hasn't abated at all -- I've found myself on more than one occasion trying to figure out what types our new neighbours are based on their lawns and gardens.)

I read another article about the science of love and romance, which mentioned a study that discovered female strippes' average tips change depending on where they're at in their cycle. Apparently their tips average $70 an hour when ovulating, $35 an hour when menstruating, and $50 an hour when neither ovulating nor menstruating.

Ok... I can't procrastinate on packing any longer.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

This Marriage

May these vows and this marriage be blessed.
May it be sweet milk,
this marriage, like wine and halvah.
May this marriage offer fruit and shade
like the date palm.
May this marriage be full of laughter,
our every day a day in paradise.
May this marriage be a sign of compassion,
a seal of happiness here and hereafter.
May this marriage have a fair face and a good name,
an omen as welcomes the moon in a clear blue sky.
I am out of words to describe
how spirit mingles in this marriage.
Kulliyat-i-Shams, 2667

Nine years ago today, around 2:30 pm, you reached into your breast pocket and pulled out a tiny scrap of paper. You blushed and stammered as you gave me an excuse for using the phone number on it. I know you hate it when I say that part about blushing and stammering, but it's important to me. It showed me you don't make a habit of giving your number to strange girls in stores, that I was somehow special.

I used to feel a mild guilt that I never wrote you a love poem in the following months the way I did for previous loves. I worried it meant it wasn't real, but enough time has passed now to know this is as real as it gets. I was just too busy being with you to write about it.

Four years ago today, around 2:30 pm, I walked towards you down an aisle of green grass
(I remember I wanted to start our marriage when the clock was on an upswing). We spoke and heard beautiful words in a beautiful place. I never felt a moment of doubt or fear.

Anniversaries used to be important occasions to me. Now I see it's the year in between that matters.
We've barely spent any time apart in the last nine years, less than 30 nights I'm guessing. If we had been separated during an anniversary before now, or before Swee'pea was born, I would have worried that it was a bad omen, that it foretold future separation. But the distance between us today (5000 kms?), just reminds me how strong our relationship is, and how strong we are individually.

Every time we lead up to you going away, I dread having to do everything on my own. But once you leave, I discover it's not your doing I miss but your being.
I unlocked the door of our new house for the first time by myself, without blinking an eye. I am fine on my own, but boy I sure like having you around. It is good to be reminded so clearly that it is you, all of you, that I love, not just your hands.

Being with you has taught me so much about myself, about you, about compassion and how to be together.
It makes me a better person. Many times over the last several months, I have reflected on how peaceful and loving and full of laughter our relationship is. Here's to many more years...

Thank you for the last nine years. Travel safely tomorrow.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Wordless Wednesday: Wish you were here

(Not an accurate representation of the current paint colour.)

bathroom window

(Note the lime green door - it's the back door but every single exterior door -- there are 4 -- is painted that colour.)






(this is the first time in many, many years that I've had naked toenails.)



Tuesday, August 19, 2008

On this day five years ago, I was painting kitchen cupboards in an empty house. St. Germaine was playing on a small cd player. The painting took much longer than I'd expected, and the blackout brought a welcome surprise. As a non-essential Ontario government employee, I was required to stay away from work. Oh, the hardship. That week let me finish painting the kitchen cupboards before we moved in. Sugar D still had to work, so I worked completely alone, and I enjoyed the rhythm and the solitude.

When I discovered the extra painting needed at the new house yesterday, I decided to take today off. With Swee'pea in daycare and Sugar D in California, I had visions of the same scene. Brush up brush down, dip in white paint... Too bad we've already packed the St. Germain cd. I loaded supplies into the car: some old tapes, a few cds still unpacked, a drink, a cup, a chair, a ladder, and all the painting stuff. My lawyer told me I'd probably be able to get the key at noon, so I duly called at noon. But apparently I chose the mortgage provider who's slower than everyone else, and suddenly my peaceful afternoon of painting has disappeared.

So now I'm sitting in the same house, only this time it's full of furniture, boxes, and cluttered lives, and my hands are on a keyboard instead of a paint brush. I'm listening to "Abrakadabra," and desperately trying to find some St. Germain. And my imagination is full of another house, all square corners and rectangles to this one's curvy trim and wonky dips.

Monday, August 18, 2008

in search of the perfect beige

I thought I had our bedroom colour chosen weeks ago. But it's been niggling at me that I just don't like the colour (Benjamin Moore's Waterbury Cream); it's too green. So yesterday, after Sugar D left for California, I decided to open it back up again. I have one day to decide, and today was my final walkthrough of the house. The winner? Benjamin Moore's French Toast (CC-224). I don't have time to second-guess myself... anyone have happy French Toast stories to share?

In less happy news, I discovered that I have to paint the baseboards. They have knots showing through. Not sure exactly when I'll find time to do that because I have only eight daycare hours before the hardwood installers come.

We also discovered more electrical work than we expected, thank to strategic placement of furniture. Oh well...

Saturday, August 16, 2008


For four out of the last five nights, Swee'pea has slept through the night, all alone. That's two times two nights in a row. He has never, ever slept through the night in his own bed two nights in a row. It's such a treat to cuddle while awake, taking our time to reconnect and greet the day, instead of the nocturnal cuddles and immediate leap to consciousness.

You'd think I'd be Ms. Calm after all that uninterrupted sleep, but I am not. Last night, just before I fell asleep, I heard a jet fly overhead. It made that freaky whistling sound that I associate with plane crashes in the movies. For one irrational instant, I wondered if it was going to crash into our house and I felt a jolt of panic. But I caught myself: this is just because I'm stressed out. The more stress I feel, the more panic and anxiety I experience (AND the more ice cream and beer I consume). I have to remind myself that the world didn't suddenly just get a lot more dangerous.

Sugar D leaves first thing tomorrow morning for six days in California on business. I have a final walk-through of the new house on Monday afternoon and the electrician is coming to give us a quote on some work we need done before we move in. We take possession of the new house on Tuesday afternoon and I have one day to paint our bedroom, rip up carpet in two rooms, and remove the baseboards before the hardwood installers come. Sugar D comes home on Friday night, just in time for two days of intense packing and one day of intense moving. And that's just what I planned.

What I didn't plan was for Sugar D to crash the car yesterday while he parked it and I got a money order for the lawyer, right before our appointment to sign all the g.d. papers (this was after the whole daycare dilemma and tour -- which we have to decide on by Monday, also unplanned). Sugar D wasn't hurt at all (thank goodness!) and the other car wasn't damaged. But our car is looking a lot like toast. We just got a quote to repair it: $2000. Our insurance agent is unavailable until Monday so I can't find out what our insurance policy covers, what our deductible is, or what a claim like that will do to our premiums. So apparently I have to fit all that decision-making and coordinating in between all the other bullshit I'm dealing with next week. Of course it's not bullshit, but it's feeling just a touch overwhelming.

This morning at the market, I saw a guy from the drop-in centre. He's taken to hugging me hello, I don't know why. But we tend to see him a lot when we're out and about. Anyways, he's having to stay at the men's shelter while his wife stays at the women's because he lost job and they got evicted, all within days of each other by the sounds of it.

I'm feeling so overwhelmed, I almost bailed on the drop-in this afternoon so I could get more stuff done, but then I thought of that guy and wondered what he'd think if I didn't show up after he just saw me this morning. I imagined explaining my problems: my husband's going away and we're buying a big house and our 2006 Toyota needs to be fixed and I have to arrange insurance, and wah wah wah. Um yeah, a little embarrassing.

I can handle this week; I just don't want to. And we can delay the car fixing if we need to because we still have our friends' car. So I'm going to the drop-in momentarily.

Friday, August 15, 2008

last chance to vote!

My photo's at fourth place, after falling to sixth. So if you haven't voted yet and you want to, make sure you do it by 10 pm Pacific Standard Time tonight. Sorry for being annoying, but the top three get prizes - mostly in the form of credit for a print at Imagekind - and I've got new walls to fill!

By the way, the new daycare was really nice. Better food -- almost all homemade. Better outdoor space -- they even have trees! It's bright and organized and requires 4 hours of parental involvement every four months. I actually kind of like that, forcing me to be engaged in his daycare space.

When we got home, I had to tell Swee'pea what we'd done, because I can't keep a secret. The first thing he said? Is Neeum there?

I definitely think we'll need to set up some playdates with the famous Neeum.
This morning I walked to work for the first time in ages. It was heavenly. The sun was bright but it was fresh enough to wear a light jacket. Geese were just beginning to stir on the soccer field, and traffic was minimal. I walked by student places and remembered what the morning freshness means: fall. A new school year.

It feels like summer is over before it's even properly begun. Is it bad that I'm already looking forward to next summer? To a summer that isn't overshadowed by a move to a new house? Regardless, this summer is nearly spent, and really, it's ok that it was spent preparing to move. Hopefully, we'll enjoy many relaxed summers to come in the house and not have to consider moving for a long, long time.

While I walked, I thought about how much I enjoy walking to work, to starting the day out with a meditation on the morning beauty of everything. Even last night's empties look beautiful. Our new house is only a 20-minute moderately brisk walk to my work compared with a 30-minute brisk walk up a big hill that morphs closer to 45 minutes in snow.

But Swee'pea's daycare is in the other direction, so if he stays there, it will mean either a second car or a long and frankly annoying bus ride. I have him on the waiting list for the place next door to my work but he loves his current daycare so much. He loves one teacher in particular and he's always talking about one of his friends. When he had scarlet fever and couldn't go to school, he wept at the doctor's when she told him. She said she'd never seen this kind of reaction in a kid his age.

As I walked, I decided screw the inconvenience, that place is good for him. My own fantasy of walking to work isn't enough to justify the change. Besides, he probably wouldn't even get a spot anyways.

About an hour into my workday, I got a call. There's a spot for Swee'pea starting in September. He'd be in a slightly larger group of kids (16 to 2 teachers instead of his current 10 to 2). They don't have a four-day option, but the five-day price is less than what we currently pay for four. We have to decide by Monday, and we're going for a tour this afternoon.

I think I've mostly decided though, because the walking fantasies -- even in minus 30 degrees and rainstorms (provided we weatherproof ourselves appropriately of course) -- are irresistible. It would mean we wouldn't have to buy a second car, which is huge for me both ideologically and economically.

What do you think... do you think the transition will be as bad as last time?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

please vote?

One of my photos made the top 10 cut in a contest over at Imagekind with the theme of unity. Now it's open to voters, and anyone can vote - not just Imagekind members. So if you think this photo represents unity the best, please feel free to vote for it.


How I believe it fits the theme: Visually, this photo shows four boys unified by their focus on a single book. As well, mosaics are made of disparate fragments unified by art. The photo was made in the courtyard of the Gugu S’thebe Arts and Culture Centre in South Africa, 13 years after the end of apartheid. These boys are younger than the country’s new democracy, the product of years of united, hard work.

And while I'm on the subject, Imagekind just announced a 25% discount on all framing until August 18, 2008. Just enter the promo code PLUNGE25 when you check out.

better late than never?

So yesterday was Bad Teenage Poetry Day, as declared by Superlagirl, and Andrea very bravely posted some of her very bad poems. Most of my poems are packed away for our move (in less than two weeks!), but I do have one I can post.

It's funny, I've posted a fair amount of silliness from my teenage years, and I just think it's funny. It doesn't embarrass me. But this poem seriously embarrasses me. It also embarrasses me that I thought it was so good at the time, I was going to post it at my horse's barn to intrigue the guy I was crushing on. Ok, so fine. I guess I can't delay any longer.

Lucifer Falling

Hitler was around then
even in New France
the devil himself
in your Jesuit habit
hiding in your circle of rosary beards
implanted in your cerebra
so you may think
you are god-like
so you may kill all that argues
in the name of the father
the son and the holy ghost.

You bring the plague on the savages
but it is you that is
converting left, right, centre
she is not yours to convert
you may as well rape her
but you will not touch her soul.

It is you,
wearing your kachina mask
that sends all into chaos
your heritage is mine
and will still be mine
as we are stuck in a ring
as the sun until
we self-destruct
and our atoms shall mingle together
as one with the stars
at peace as nothing...

Sunday, August 10, 2008

two very cute things and a question

Swee'pea decided to take his new bear with him on our walk tonight, the polar bear his Papa brought him from the Arctic. As he climbed into the stroller, he said, "My bear LOVES me." (It sounded like, "My bayo does me.")

He got out of his stroller once we were away from the traffic and had a ball jumping in and out of puddles. His shorts were quickly soaked, and I was sorry I forgot my camera. He took a break from the puddles and came running up to me, "mommmyyy!" He slammed into my leg and hugged my thigh. "I love my mommy!" (It sounded like, "My duff my mommy.")


Question: have I been invading the privacy of the folks at the drop-in centre by blogging some of their stories? Am I betraying their trust? Or is it ok because mostly I do it sensitively? Thoughts?

Saturday, August 09, 2008

You know you're a packrat if...

You find yourself hanging onto the following items as proof that you were once young (and really, really stupid) too:

  1. a handful of blank postcards of Florida Manatees, because you once felt an affinity with the sea cow.
  2. the explanatory note that accompanied a rune pendant, long since lost. It was the run called Eh, (which I think I know better as Ehwaz) meaning movement and symbolizing the horse and the sisterhood or brotherhood for horse and rider. "Movement is necessary for progress along one's path. Loyalty and trust are qualities needed for journeying together. Herb - ragwort, tree - ash/oak."
  3. an empty envelope from an old bank statement with Al Purdy's phone number on it, because you once were you so casual with his phone number, you just wrote it on any old paper. (I also kept the address book that I later transferred his number into for safekeeping.)
  4. the program from a production of Saint Joan at the 1993 Shaw Festival that was so bad, your teacher gave you all permission not to return to the theatre after intermission.
  5. the program for Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, which set off a long obsession with Buddy's music and glasses and tragic story.
  6. a copy of How to Pick Up Guys, which includes such good advice as how to handle a shy man: "Try to help a shy man get over his shyness by saying, 'I'm going to make this as easy for you as I can. I'd like to have steamy sex with you. If you'd like to have steamy sex with me too, blink once.'"
  7. an envelope from the stud farm you worked at in high school, which contains the price notes of everyone who worked at the yearling sale. Your notes are circled as the winner because you guessed $131,420 and the actual total was $120,900. You want to keep this envelope because you had totally forgotten there was even a pool, let alone that you won. I guess that memory got wiped out by the shit that came afterward. I wonder how much you won?
  8. A handwritten copy of a poem you wrote, which you were planning to submit to a magazine but never did:

    Winter Scene
    We trekked out
    with our toboggans
    and a pipe T*** had bought in Montreal.
    To the top of the hill
    and the moon,
    she looked down
    a ring of light
    surrounded her in the clouds.
    And L**** held it for me
    tight in my teeth
    as I sucked the flame
    The pipe we shared,
    finally lit
    and then we slid
    down the hill laughing
    back into the world.
    A ring of girls
    around of a ring of red
    with a ring of smoke above
    and a ring of moonlight too
    reflecting in the white
    of snow.
  9. correspondence with your benchmate from biology, which goes something along the lines of:

    me: Maybe I"ll say hi to him today. If I get the chance. I wonder if he knows i'm interested in him.

    friend: If you would do the eyebrow thing he would know!

    me: I did it at lunch. And I think he saw but it was quite a distance so maybe he wasn't even looking at me but I think he was.

    friend: Do it! (ha ha) in the hall right at him (eye contact)

    me: I will. But sometimes it's hard to position myself properly and sometimes he doesn't look at me. But I'm worried that if I stare at him too much, I'll stop watching where I'm going and trip right in front of him and totally embarrass myself.

    [there's a little diagram here, complete with thought bubbles and everything]

    me: I look like shit today. These jeans make me look like that grade 9 - she always wears tight jeans that totally flatten her ass.

    friend: Those jeans look really good. Nice butt.

  10. And finally, a sign you were planning (please please please let you not have actually done it) to hang on your horse's door at the boarding stable to impress the guy you were crushing on. This one's really embarrassing. It has a typed out copy of a really bad poem that you wrote after you watched Black Robe, your horse's name in marker, and underneath, to show your worldliness, I guess: "Un tres bon cheval. Un muy bien cavalla." Of course, that boy did become your first love, so you must not have actually posted it. Phew.

  11. Wow, and just like that, I don't really need to keep any of these.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Looking for paint advice

All the exterior doors on our new house are lime green. I'm not exagerating at all. They're pretty much neon. I definitely want to paint them, but I have no idea what colour family to start with.

It was built in the 50s and it's been called "architecturally significant." It's a bungalow and the siding is dark brown on the lower half and white on the upper (I think - I can't remember the exact colour divisions, but there's dark brown and white - that's what you need to know). The door is original, with three small rectangular windows cut out of it. This is the only picture I have, which, most inconveniently, doesn't really show the door.

So - what colour should I paint it? Blue? Brown? Red? What colour would it have been originally, do you think?

open windows

Last night we opened the windows to let fresh air in. The songs of crickets also invited themselves in, and I realized I hadn't heard them all summer long. How is that possible?

I had trouble falling asleep. My throat was scratchy, my thoughts were racing, and after a week of shitty, wakeful-Swee'pea nights, I was dreading the hours of wakefulness to come. But it was such a treat just to lie there and listen to the crickets.

Sometime in the middle of the night, a hard rain woke me up and I realized Swee'pea hadn't joined us yet - hurrah!!

Later still, a rumbling pulled me gently awake. Daylight was just peeking around the curtains, and I decided the morning birds aren't nearly as nice as night-time crickets. Then:










[the musical notes of glass falling to concrete]

Ahh. I will SO not miss my next-door neighbours and their troubled kids who refuse to leave their adolescence behind.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008


When I was lying on the massage table last week, finally getting some relief for my poor, rock-tense neck and shoulders, I couldn't stop thinking about all the people who can't afford massages. It felt a little disgusting to spend my money on something so self-indulgent. But massages are so good for you, especially if you work at a computer all day, and then come home to play on the computer. Massages detoxify your system, increase your circulation -- and prevent tension headaches, something I suffer from fairly frequently without regular massages. I think I've had two massages since Swee'pea was born, but I used to get them regularly, and I really noticed a difference back then. No more headaches, and all of a sudden I could do head slides in belly dance, which I just couldn't do before.

Anyways, the table. I was feeling guilty. Finally, I had to say something. I had to share this burden. So I told this massage therapist, who I'd never met before, that I was volunteering at the Drop-In Centre and that I felt really guilty for being so rich when so many are poor. I mean, many people don't even have a quarter for a coffee there. I would never have considered myself rich before, only millionaires are rich, but since I started volunteering, I've realized just how rich I am. I told her about what that man had said about coming to look at the poor people. (A surprised, "Oh!" escaped her lips and floated around the room when she heard that.)

She said I have to let that guilt go. Everyone has hardships and it really does no good to make comparisons. Some may say that another's hardships aren't as bad their own, but you really can't make those judgments. But I really don't have any hardships, I said. I've been so, so lucky. (Of course since then, I've remembered a few.) The therapist pointed out that some people also just have better attitudes than others, and I had to agree. Some people are more resilient than others, although that's not to say that a person's bad attitude is their fault. If no-one in your family is resilient, if they all have poor, self-destructive or nonexistent coping skills, how would you learn resilience? (And I do believe it's a learned skill.)

I had a friend in high school whose mother was a physiotherapist, and she'd also begun to study cranial-sacral therapy. She died when we were about 21, from breast cancer. She'd fought it once, but after a few years she stopped going for her follow-up appointments, and by the time she went to the doctor, she was too far gone. She died a week later, and it seemed clear to us all that she knew it had come back, and she knew she didn't want to fight anymore. She was a truly beautiful woman.

She believed that our tissues hold emotional trauma, they have a memory of sorts. Once, she was doing a treatment on my friend and my friend was suddenly overwhelmed with incredible sadness and she started to cry. She didn't know why she felt so sad, but her mother said it was because she'd released one of these emotional memories. Once she did a treatment on me, and when I went home, my parents thought I was drunk because my gait had changed. I remember feeling like everything was just slightly out of place from where it had been before - both inside and outside my body.

I wonder if the pain and extreme stiffness in my shoulders and neck ("I'm not gonna lie," said the massage therapist the other day, "It's not looking good.") is partly the result of this guilt and shame and embarrassment I've been carrying around for having money, feelings that have only intensified over the last six months. I've never really felt comfortable with my income, I've always been embarrassed that we have a cleaner - embarrassed that we can afford one: I've never been embarrassed for being a slob.

It strikes me that this middle-class shame isn't doing me or anyone else any favours. It doesn't make me donate more or use it more wisely. It just makes me feel bad - silent and embarrassed, especially around really poor people, and I'm quite certain that doesn't help them. The same guilt and shame infect and inhibit my photography. So. How do I get over it?


Friday, August 01, 2008

Wednesday was amazing, and if you can get through this post to find out why, you are amazing too

I've been reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Much of her stuff on the practice of writing and observing people resonate with me, but when she talks about creating fiction, about letting your characters drive the story, I get lost. I just don't get how that happens.

My father-in-law is a novelist, and last time we visited him I asked, "But how do you create fiction?"

He said, "Well you take real life, the things that happen to you, and you make it into legend."

This isn't a poor me post at all. I'm fine with not being able to write fiction, with not being suited to it. But I find it a fascinating shortfall, especially since I'm so fond of blogging and photography.

I love to write, I love to use words to capture or inspire emotion; I love to study people, I love to imagine what's going on with them now and what's happened in their pasts; I love finding or creating meaning in the real world. You'd think fiction would grow naturally from these passions. But I am very much grounded in the real world. It strikes me that perhaps this is why photography appeals to me so much. Photographs can be meaningful and imaginative, but they are foregrounded in some slice of the real world - or at least mine are.

In the second part of Bird by Bird, Lamott gets into "The Writing Frame of Mind." A lot of what she says here seems relevant to photography as well. She says, "Your job is to present clearly your viewpoint, your line of vision. Your job is to see people as they really are, and to do this, you have to know who you are in the most compassionate possible sense. Then you can recognize others."

"There is ecstasy in paying attention. You can get into a kind of Wordsworthian openness to the world, where you see in everything the essence of holiness, a sign that God is implicit in all of creation."

"To be engrossed by something outside ourselves is a powerful antidote for the rational mind, the mind that so frequently has its head up its own ass - seeing things in such a narrow and darkly narcissistic way that it presents a colo-rectal theology, offering hope to no one."

On Wednesday, I decided to drop in at the Drop-In Centre. I've never gone for just a visit before; I've been too nervous. But I feel like I can't delay on my project any longer. I just have to go for it. So I stuck my camera and a couple of memory cards in my bag and headed out.

I stopped at the store and picked up a couple of locally grown cantaloupes, because I've noticed that fruit goes like wildfire whenever they're lucky enough to have some donated. I couldn't help but wonder, though, if this urge to bring fruit was really a need to position myself as benefactor so nobody would be confused about what I was doing there. Maybe I was, but I was also just seeing a simple way to bring folks a small bite of summer pleasure without taking any skin off my back. I also thought about Dirty Dancing, and if anyone asked me what I was doing there I could say, "I carried a (water)melon," and then kick myself for such idiocy after the fact.

When I arrived, Sister Christine exclaimed about the melons. She hugged me and said in my ear, "Aren't you wonderful?!" And I was so pleased and warm. Did I tell you she's being given the Order of Canada? And her response was that well, she couldn't do it without all the volunteers. Yeah, she's pretty cool.

I loitered at the counter, unsure how to approach someone, how to get comfortable. The man who's given me grief before was behind the counter and offered me coffee. I don't drink coffee so I just poured myself some water.

"Did you come here to look at the poor people?" he asked, his friendly smile at odds with his nasty words. This is the second time he's said something like that to me and I felt awful and found-out. I froze. Why does he hate me?

I decided to go to the smoking area because I would feel less on show. If only I still smoked. I was so uncomfortable and still recoiling from that man's words. I remembered the words of the instructor at the portrait workshop I went to a while back. She said when you're working on a documentary project, you will have a point of view; you will have intention. And that point of view may conflict with the subjects' agenda for about how they want to be portrayed. You can't really tell them what your point of view is and get the images you want, so you need to be ok with what you're doing. I've been thinking a lot about that last one. You need to be ok with what you're doing.

My mind went back to Lammott's words, specifically the ones I read just before I left home: "If your deepest beliefs drive your writing, they will not only keep your work from being contrived but will help you discover what drives your characters. You may find some really good people beneath the packaging and posing - people whom we, your readers, will like, whose company we will rejoice in." ... "But you have to believe in your position, or nothing will be driving your work. If you don't believe in what you are saying, there is no point in your saying it. You might as well call it a day and go bowling. However, if you do care deeply about something - if, for instance, you are conservative in the great sense of the word, if you are someone who is trying to conserve the landscape and the natural world - then this belief will keep you going as you struggle to get your work done."

By showing up at the drop-in, I'm trying to break down imaginary walls. I want my photos to show that there is no us and them; there is only us. My conscious is clear. That man obviously feels protected by those walls of class, and every time he sees me he has to draw them around him. His words are more about him than me. Sitting on that bench in the smoking area, I asked myself if I was ok with what I was doing. Yes. Absolutely, I am. That said, that man has an uncanny ability to voice my worst fears and anxieties about what I'm doing.

Immediately a guy I've been friendly with sat down next to me and started showing me his drawings, which he does to keep his mind off things. He starts with the date and goes from there. One page had a map of roads he used to travel in Michigan. Another had the New York City skyline. I told him I'd never been there. He said he's been all over in a car and on a train, but he's never been abroad like to Italy or France. He's never flown. We talked for a while then he moved away.

I sat alone for a few minutes wondering what next, when a woman who's agreed to let me photograph her came out. We chatted for a while and I nervously told her about what the man inside said, wondering what her perception of me is. She asked who and I described him and she said he was just an ass.

I asked her if I could shoot her now instead of the more elaborate locations we'd been considering. She asked if I already had and I laughed. I don't think I could be quite that secretive. She told me that she's been using lysol to clean her feet. She's on day three of an overnight, intensive food-cleaning endeavour. Lysol is so safe she's showered in it before. She said she needs her feet to be clean or she can't focus. And she never wants to consider herself permanently settled because she wouldn't want to miss an open door, an opportunity to go somewhere else. I took some pics and we chatted some more and she went back inside.

Later, someone said she never talks. They were surprised to hear the smart things she had to say. Now, Sister Christine's thanking me for talking to her made more sense. I felt privileged that she talks to me.

After she left I sat there feeling weird again because some people were around when I shot her. But immediately this guy commented on my camera and said he likes to take pictures too but he doesn't read or write so he just learns by doing. I'd never seen him before so I didn't feel comfortable asking for his photograph, but later I wondered if he'd felt left out.

Another man that I've been friendly with sat down and we talked for a long time. Whooee, he told me some intense shit. I don't even know where to start.

His dad tried to get him on disability when he was 23 but the government workers wouldn't even come out to see him. He wonders if maybe he'd gotten on ODSP back then if maybe he wouldn't have gone through all the shit he's been through.

He had five kids and two wives. He loved his kids but he couldn't hold down a job because he has epilepsy and he's illiterate. His dad went through the Second World War and wasn't in good shape when he came home. He did some really bad shit on the street for a long time: for 12 years, he moved the city's crack. He lost his daughter when she was nine and it cut him up. He sobbed on the street. And two days later his older brother died.

But he's been clean for three years, thanks to Sister Christine. He doesn't care who he pisses off; he will stand up for Sister Christine and the Drop-In Centre anytime anywhere, no matter what. She's done so much for him. He said the police laugh now when he calls them about a problem at the drop-in centre, because for so long they knew him as the problem.

He says the government doesn't know its people. It just judges. If only the government could see that people don't just do bad things out of nowhere. He said he could never say this stuff to someone in an office, but he can tell sociable people like me.

I leaned in and whispered that I work in an office. I'm one of them. And he laughed and said he'd like to talk to someone higher up in ODSP, get an apology, some closure. No money, just an apology. But he couldn't do it by himself. He could only do it if someone like me was in the room, someone who understood what he'd been through. Wow, did that ever make me feel good. When we finished I wanted to hug him, but I didn't.

Finally I chatted with John. He was the one who on my second day told me, "This place is amazing. You will meet people here... well some of them you'll wish you'd never met, but some people here are so wonderful, in what they do, and just who they are." He limped over and said he's been having a lot of trouble walking, he's worried that soon he won't be able to walk at all. He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis back in 1985 so he knows the end of the road is coming. But he said that his illness has given him the opportunity to learn and he's embraced it. He talked about his grandparents, who raised him, and all the varied work he's done, and how he believes in reincarnation and the near-death experiences of his grandma and grandpa.

I could feel my face getting sunburned. I'd been there for nearly two hours and I needed time and space to absorb all that had been said and felt. By myself for the rest of the afternoon, every once in a while I had to gulp a big breath in and blow it out in a rush. I wanted to cry or talk to someone but I was alone, and really I kind of wanted to keep it to myself a bit longer anyways. But wow. This afternoon was really a dream come true. I can't believe how forthcoming people are if you only give them a chance.

Who needs fiction when there are so many amazing people in real life?

I've posted the photos over at peripheralvision. I'm really happy with them. They aren't posed, formal portraits, but they also aren't starkly documentary photos. I think they show people you would want to meet. I'd LOVE to hear your thoughts - please go check them out and come back here to comment. What do you think?

And now it is 9:40 am on my second day ALL BY MYSELF and I'm listening to Jimi Hendrix for the first time in many years and wishing it were a reasonable time to just drink beer in the sun, but I have things to do (oh hardship - a massage AND a haircut) and besides that I'm not 21 anymore. But oh the nostalgia.