Odds & Sods

At this stage of the pandemic, at this stage of the winter in Toronto with the snow falling outside, we’ve been inside a lot. There’s been snowstorms like we haven’t seen in years, which is kind of exciting and a reminder of how beautiful winter can be.

In spite of the danger sign, on some of the coldest days, when the ice was looking thick and solid, people went down the little ladder at the end of the pier and walked on the surface of the lake, crossing the harbour.

Meanwhile, here on the long days inside, we’ve gotten into Cat TV –

She’s bored, she misses her life as a hunter ruling over 4 back yards, clambering fences and scaling trees just to get closer to that bird…

So I’ve been putting Cat TV on – long loops from Youtube of someone’s back yard. One guy has a whole channel with a variety of them – winter / summer / spring / fall of 4 hours with a camera pointing at some seeds while the chipmunks, blackbirds, blue jays and squirrels all scramble and squawk and jockey for position.

The surprising thing I’ve noticed though, is how much I also enjoy having it on in the background. It satisfies some of my yearning for green, for trees and bushes, for birds and critters, as the view from here is ultra urban –

I showed my view to a zoom group I was in – it was a “shamanic” kind of gathering, and a number of the people were calling in from places like Shropshire or Devon or rural Wales, all with the rolling green, the sprawling gardens, birds chirping – so I had to show them my view for contrast.

“Blimey”, said the woman in Wales.

Anyways, last Sunday was suddenly uncharacteristically warm – a one-day blast of spring – so with A & C, we grabbed the moment and headed down to the beach, past the currently bizarre hodgepodge of a skyline on the way –

It was blustery so the kite enthusiasts were out, and one fellow with some kind of wet suit and paddle board situation swam by in the lake. I mean, yeah, the day was warm but there’s still plenty of ice in the lake.

C, the puppy, was not going in there with that ice…

I got to know A quite a bit during the spring and summer – we became walking buddies. She’s 3 floors above me and about 4 doors down, and we’re both single moms and have tons of interests in common, so we go for long walks in the neighbourhood – get outdoors, get some exercise, and talk to another human In Real Life.

She even came out one day in the kayak, which I’d been biking down to the beach and taking on outings while the weather was gorgeous.

The juxtaposition of the ultra urban living situation and the spectacular wilds of the lake makes this neighbourhood really interesting.

The whole area is currently very in development and under construction, which is kind of fascinating – to watch urban planning in action. The city is building a massive park in the strange wasteland on the way to the beach – an area that is very large and very underutilized.

So for example, this –

Is apparently going to become something like this –

And the current view of the neighbourhood –

Will apparently be transformed into something more like this –

To do my part, I’ve started a little graffiti project – bringing a sense of the wilds as they are displaced and / or shifted down to the huge new park, into the midst of the ultra urban –


It’s a fun little project, adding a sweet element of surprise to people’s days.

The first night we put a few up, I was out doing it with my friend R, and this adorable young couple stopped by to watch us with our brushes and buckets of wheat paste glue and asked:

“Is it Art?”

Why yes, yes it is, we answered.

With an extra special thanks to Brenda @burnsthefire for the nudge

Lens Artists Challenge – Odds & Ends

Every day things

I’ve been trying to start a daily habit – to get out the door first thing every morning and say hello to the lake.

The morning is my favourite time – the light is beautiful, the day just beginning, and there is hardly anyone around except the geese, the gulls, the ducks, and the diving cormorants

The few people who are out are doing inspiring things like yoga, or jogging, or even finishing up that report from a beautiful spot.

All in all, you would think this new habit would be a) easy enough, not overly ambitious, not going from sedentary to marathon in a week kind of thing and b) highly pleasurable – it is, as they suggest, a small enough habit to start with, and it is a blessing on my day every time I do it.

James Clear describes his atomic habits as:

…a regular practice or routine that is not only small and easy to do, but also the source of incredible power; a component of the system of compound growth.

…the effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them. They seem to make little difference on any given day and yet the impact they deliver over the months and years can be enormous.

~ James Clear

I’d started thinking hard about habits a couple of months ago, when, up in the night with insomnia, I did some deep bio reading about Manda Scott, whose workshop I went to last year, and whose fascinating and refreshingly optimistic podcast I’ve been following since back in January when she launched it.

On her About Manda page, written in a unique tense, she describes the period of her life when she wrote a seriously ambitious historical fiction series:

Six years of Boudica dreaming. Throw out the TV. Throw out the sound systems. Light the fire every night and let it teach me. By the end, have lost all touch with consensus reality.

~Manda Scott

The television bit and the fire every night bit I’d heard before, but the sound system??? She says: “recorded music is one of our strongest addictions”.

This is deeply radical. This blows my mind. I’d discovered the enormity of music in my life during one of my current habit experiments, which is to make the studio a wifi free zone. Not having a phone to reach for is the key piece – I have to deliberately leave my phone at home and walk over to the studio without anything that connects to the internet. The idea is that, distraction free, I will spend more time in deep thinking, or at least deep being, if there is nothing to plug into.

And the first thing I discovered was how much I missed playing music.

The phone and Facebook and whatever I can live without for a few hours, even for the day… but no music…??? I am deeply deeply hooked into music as a kind of mood designer.

So, thinking about just how deep one could conceivably go with lifestyle changes (can’t light a fire every night in downtown Toronto, but maybe there are other things…) I’ve tried to change up even the tiniest of habits, to experiment and try new things. You know, just those deeply engrained little things like brushing your teeth with the other hand.

Or, the other afternoon, on my way to a backyard BBQ with friends, rather than take the obvious bike route along King, across the bridge over the Don and along Queen East into Leslieville, I got out the map and explored some twisty bike lanes that take you over little hidden bridges and under underpasses and down onto the Lakeshore bike path. It’s still kind of unfamiliar territory for me, but shucks, there was dozens and dozens of folks out there with some serious looking biking habits.

All big things come from small beginnings. The seed of every habit is a single, tiny decision. But as that decision is repeated, a habit sprouts and grows stronger… The task of breaking a bad habit is like uprooting a powerful oak within us. And the task of building a good habit is like cultivating a delicate flower one day at a time.

~ James Clear

Meanwhile, with some BC friends we’ve begun a daily drawing challenge – each evening one of us sends a prompt to the others, and the next day we each respond to that prompt with a drawing. Some days have produced some pretty terrible drawings, but by coming back to it (almost) each and every day, there are some drawings where I can really see my skills developing –

And my morning lake-visiting habit???

At the moment I’m averaging about every other day.

There are still days when, distracted by the inviting option of coffee on the balcony, watching the skies and scanning the construction site below, searching for the resident bunnies and foxes who can occasionally be spotted darting out from underneath sheds and pipes, I indulge in that strangely sweet uber-urban homey feeling.

So, for now, on those days I don’t make it to the lake first thing, I’ve been making sure to do it at some point during the day. This is not the ultimate goal but is a temporary compromise, and it has reminded me of how fun it is to see the same body of water at different times of day.

The glaring sun and choppy waters of a mid-day, can turn into a magical evening in exactly the same spot.

And in the evenings, turns out people are bringing boom boxes and coolers of beer and skateboards and portable disco balls, and setting up sweet mini parties and dancing underneath the trees by Sugar Beach. Small groups, as is proper during a pandemic, but such creative and romantic ways to enjoy our tiny sliver of city lake front.

Lens Artists – Everyday Objects

Troubles in sanctuary

Back in April, in the most lockedness of lockdown, I still had a roommate – a woman from Vancouver, stranded in Toronto – and she would stay in the apartment all day every day, while I would venture out to the grocery stores and on over to my studio, my sanctuary.

But in those still more wintery than spring days of April, I would arrive to this room full of giant 5 and 6 foot paintings of animals, look around and just burst into tears.

Something about the scale, the sense of power, the confidence and apex predatorness… I just could not relate to any of it. Who was the person who had begun painting these? There was so much still to do to finish each of them, but I could not summon or even fathom any of that kind of big energy.

After several afternoons of just sitting on the couch looking around, I realized I would have to try something different, for the moment at least. I remembered a suggestion from Eric Maisel (I think it’s in his Fearless Creating book) to just go to the studio and squeeze some paints onto the palette. Just that.

So I started there.

And then the next thing I did was put some colours on some cheap sheets of canvas paper and moved them around. No image. Nothing representational. Just moving the paint around.

The following week I started to bring fruit. Stopping in at the No Frills on my way over, I’d pick up a few shapes, a few colours. I set up a little spot with a light, and put out the fruit.

From years ago when I did still lives all the time, I still have the tiny little masonite boards ready to go, so I did a series of pretty terrible paintings of fruit. But it was something, it was still moving the paint around.

And in between there were days when even dealing with paint seemed like a lot, so I would just draw. Pull out a sketchpad, some charcoal, and just exercise that hand eye communication – the pleasure of close observation.

But the drawings on their own felt a little bald, so on the iPad I started adding a bit of colour after the fact.

By now weeks had passed, the roommate had gone home to Vancouver, and spring had fully sprung and the trees were leafy and green and full, and I would pass them as I did my rounds – my extended route along the lake front, then circling back along the wide park boulevard of Esplanade and over towards the studio – and I started to pluck a leaf here and there, relishing their smell, their aliveness.

Being a city kid through and through I can’t tell one kind of tree from the next, so I downloaded an app to find out what each one was. At night I listened to audiobooks of The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, and The Overstory by Richard Powers – both magical, wonderful books.

And then I started to draw the leaves I was picking on the iPad.

These, I like.

Here, finally, was something new emerging that felt like it might go somewhere.

My huge animal paintings are still waiting patiently to be finished, to have the final layers and touches completed, but in the meantime, there is a new seed of something beginning…

Lens Artist Challenge: Sanctuary