Cold ‘hood, warm hearts

There’s a thing that they say about Toronto, that it’s a hotel city – cold, soulless, people from all over the world with nothing in common and no desire to know each other. No naturally occurring culture.

In my new construction zone of a neighbourhood that reputation seems personified in the architecture, the condo towers, glass shoeboxes in the sky, holding lives of tiny isolations.


And yet, and yet… on my way to work last week, I noticed some new ducks in the water.
Usually we have the mallards, currently fattening themselves in the waters by the sugar dock…


But these ducks were different, with white stripes on their heads.
A google search suggests they are long-tailed ducks, who summer and breed up in the arctic and are currently migrating to the eastern U.S. where they winter – just stopping in, a layover on their journey.


I was talking about the ducks with my old friend Sabrina, visiting from Ottawa.
She was in town wanting to see some of the exhibits at the inaugural Toronto Biennale – one of the larger exhibit spaces being just across the street from me, gathered around the theme of Shoreline.

We climbed around on the big wooden structure by Adrian Blackwell resembling the shape of the lakefront I look at every day –


Until I noticed my old friend Andrew across the room, just sitting down at a table with a coffee, and went over, startling him into a hug.

It had been so very long since I’d seen him, so many years had passed that there was a divorce I’d guessed at but didn’t want to believe between two beloved souls, both of them so creative and wonderful in different ways – too different, they’d finally concluded, and off they went in their own directions, a warm beautiful home on a tree-lined street in a friendly neighbourhood torn assunder, hearts broken.

In fact, there was a new book he said coyly, a sly crooked smile of pleasure in accomplishment.


And later in the day, sitting on the Sherbourne bus heading south after a browse in an overflowing Book City on the Danforth, full to the brim with the beginnings of the Christmas season on a Saturday afternoon, I cracked open his latest Ticking Heart and was reminded of how much local flavour he imbues in his books – the corner of Barton and Euclid evoked in the opening paragraph, a corner I know by heart from the years when my boy went to school at Palmerston, and a place I still see on the days I visit my friend Nicky…

The richness of place, I was thinking, even in its younger moments, its birthing moments, even as it is being built, even if it is cold.


The strange melancholy even of a construction site where bunnies can be seen in the early mornings and the Santa Claus parade parks at the end of its run in a moment of fun park absurdity.


Sunday, the final day in a weekend packed with lovely human encounters, was brunch with Sabrina and Louise, another old friend from back in the day in Montreal, in town to visit family.

We stood around the kitchen table in my tiny new home and laid out food and found plates and cutlery in the cupboards and talked about time and failing memory and the decline of bodies and accidents slow to heal the way only women who have known each other for decades can do, talking over top of each other finishing each others sentences, laughing at jokes that have been running between us forever…until a moment where Sabrina – or maybe it is Louise? – is telling a story, making a point, building the narrative towards a natural culmination point, saying:
“… Because in the end, we are all…”  and completing the sentence, Louise and Sabrina both speak at once:
Louise saying: “goddesses”
Sabrina saying: “bags of flesh”
There is a split second pause before we are all bent over, helplessly howling with laughter at the perfection of the opposition, the absurd juxtaposition of such wildly diverging endings to a sentence.
Ahhhhhhh… old friends.

And there you have it – a dispatch from the life of a goddess/bag of flesh in a tiny glass box in a cold and soulless city.

* * *

Lens-Artists Challenge – Cold

Filling the frame

Mornings are very different in our new place.
Here there are no early morning blackbirds, cardinals, or blue jays, no turtle doves, no squirrels…
Here there are gulls and monarch butterflies heading south by the dozens, and the occasional gatherings and murmurations –

Here we have boundless skies over the outstretched cityscape –

Here we are by the lake, colours changing every day, different skies, different temperatures –

And here there is … CONSTRUCTION!

The whole neighbourhood is under construction.
Even just outside our balcony, there is construction – the site itself is due for a building soon, but in the meantime the large lot seems to be a drop-off point / work site for other nascent buildings nearby.

I’ve noticed the gates to the site open before 6 a.m. on weekdays, with workers arriving in their SUV’s, big long trucks backing in, delivering building materials, forklifts unloading materials, headlights lighting everything eerily.
In the background the 72 bus already trundles eastward towards Commissioners and the Gardiner roars quietly, the commuter day already in motion.

This new context has been an interesting place to be as so much more attention has started to shift to the climate change issue.
Every day in the media has more studies, more discussion, more pressure on politicians… it is moving fast.


And to be with this new ultra-urban vista, with the cranes in the sky, the trucks backing in before dawn, the constant motion of the highway,
there is a sense of the powerful relentless motion of our society, forever building, forever moving, forever growing.
The effort it would take to change, to turn it around, to make the giant shifts necessary…
Heck, that is gonna take some willfulness from all of us.

Lens Artist Photo Challenge – Filling the Frame

Ba bye

I think it was in June 5 years ago that we moved here.

An abrupt downsize and shift to the east end that I thought would be a short transition, ended up being a rather long 5 years as the city moved into full on housing crisis.

But our time here has had its moments. The neighbourhood is rough, but also felt fresh and new and needed to be explored.

The local park / ravine became my favourite haunt …

There was happiness in the spring mornings when the robins start at about 4:45 am, the delightful sweet neighbours in the building, the visitors that come by regularly …

It was from here that I seriously got back to working in the visual arts, in photography AND collage AND painting – and I got my first tiny little studio close by at the now defunct Artisans at Work.

And it has been the place from which baby bird has begun to stretch his wings – moving out for a stretch, coming back home for a stretch…

But, since April of this year, since I put in an application to a new living situation, I’ve been saying goodbye – hoping, wishing, willing, while not knowing for sure…

Goodbye to the hood, goodbye to its good, bad and uglies, including some architectural and social disasters zones –

These monstrosities have been the centrifugal point of my goodbyes, determined it was time to stop having to look at them.

And then this week I found out we have indeed been accepted to the new place!

Hallelujah !!!

A couple of days before the news came through I was out on the patio drinking my coffee. A cardinal hopped onto the nearby branch of the tree into a ray of sunshine. A butterfly fluttered and landed on the cat.

This I will miss, I thought.

Where we are going there is no patio, no courtyard, just a wee balcony, a little too close to the highway.

Late to work, I got an Uber pool, and we drove down the DVP alongside the Don River. We passed an egret, startling white against the green of the shores of the Don. A small family of ducks paddled a little further down. Cormorants stretched their wings in the sun.

Hmmmm… maybe connecting with a new set of birds is a thing to think about…   Maybe there is a way to volunteer in the parks… maybe that is part of what the next home will bring….

Female Fates

(This voyage happened a little while ago –
Got a bit too busy to complete and post it at the time, but here it is now…)

Montreal again.

Time for the Foire papier and I’ve signed up for a hooked-up tour to see all kinds of hot shows and behind-the-scenes tours with curators and fun stuff.

In the morning on my way to the train station, rushing late onto the commuter train platform, I see a familiar face amongst the crowd – my sister!

Such a treat, such a surprise, and a chance to chat about travel plans, kids, family this and that, our 2 bashful waspy selves happily delighted at the unexpected intimacy.

Some hours later, early evening in a crowded vernissage in Old Montreal, mind blown already by the totally rad exhibit by Bharti Kher, hinting at things deeply feminine, reproductive, migratory, a cross between exquisite sensuality and mass production…

We are milling around by the bar, people-watching the funked-out Montreal artists in psychedelic shades and storm trooper boots, when across the room again I see a familiar face…
My sister-out-of-law! Another most adored human!

Not quite officially related (she is my son’s aunt, but my ex and I never married), it is wonderful to see her after some years of missing each other in passing, and there is news of new cousins in the mix, and tell me, tell me, how are all the kids?

It feels awfully apropos to be surrounded by spermatazoid specks and female shapes on this day of family, tribe, migrations and reconnections.

* * *

Next day, another 12 or 14 exhibits, but my favourite is this one, yet another amazing female artist, Elly Strik – new to me, very drawing based –

This entire room is called the “dream room”, with a huge drawing on one wall of Freud’s couch, and many smaller drawings of more intimate details on the surrounding walls.

The major portion of the show is comprised of these massive mysterious female almost-portraits… beautiful yet unknowable, huge and yet tender.

And you, Gentle Reader?

Seen any good Art lately?

Awakenings

I’m always engaged in some kind of awakening process…

Except when I’m not.
Except when I’m hiding, hibernating, buried down in the numbing comforts of familiarity, habits, denial, avoidance and layers and layers of shadowy elusive fear…

* * *


The jaguar’s breath is warm on my face.
Whiskers twitch.
The pink wet of it’s mouth shows behind the enormous teeth.
There is a nibble at my neck.
But its proximity becomes a merge and we are two as one, fused together as we tumble down down through epic layers of earth and rock hurtling towards the very center of the earth…

The jaguar is considered the sun of the underworld, is the one in charge of destroying all our negative unconscious patterns… it gets rid of fear and obstacles.

~ Sergio Magaña

* * *
Sergio is one of the teachers I started following, hoping to develop my capacity for lucid dreaming, for awakening while dreaming.
Once in a while I manage it, once in a while there’s a glimmering of consciousness while sleeping, but mostly I am unawake, unaware, and remain utterly convinced by the nightly procession of illusions.

* * *

Recently we’ve had workmen in and out with drills and hammers and sanders and plaster and paint. We’ve had to prep the apartments and then evacuate while they do some work, then we come back in and clean and reassemble, live for a few days before they announce they’re coming back for the next step of unfinished business, the cycle beginning all over again.

They are not masters of efficiency, it is annoying, and yet it has put me into a deep clean, a radical de-cluttering of the space – there have been days and days of moving furniture and vacuuming, emptying out boxes and wiping down the dust covered contents, filling up the recycling bin with reams of irrelevant papers.

Sifting through one file folder I discover print outs of the massive communication I had over many years with my friend Mike who passed a month ago. Sometimes I think I started this blog really to replace our correspondence when it dwindled some years ago after thousands and thousands of words back and forth between me in Toronto and he in St John’s.

But in this recent excavation, there was one letter in particular that jumped out, demanding attention – it was the description I gave him of a first visit to a woman – a seer, a clairvoyant, a psychic in Montreal, recommended to me by Brenda, beloved friend of several decades now.

This woman shook me to my foundations that first time I went to see her, such was her insight.

Every few years or so I go back, and while each time is bouleversant, a profound reckoning with myself, over the years the shock of her capacity to see so keenly has lessened a tiny bit, even though I am cautious to prepare myself each time for what may turn out to be a life-changing session.

In that letter to Mike, many years ago, I described this woman, my most searingly awakening catalyst person –

She sat me at a table in front of a large window that looked out across St Laurent and the mountain beyond.
She explained her way of working – that she functioned essentially as a mirror, reflecting back what she saw inside one’s self.
She said she essentially entered a kind of trance state and would likely not recognize me in the street afterwards.
She handed me a stone with an animal carving on it, asked me to hold it a moment, then hand it back to her.

After having the stone back in her hand for just a moment, she got very animated, pulled her paper and pens toward her with excitement and began to draw and speak…
Her eyes were essentially closed, but her eyelids flickered as she spoke, as if she was seeing images inside her eyelids, not looking at me.
She said:

You have spent so much energy trying to hide your vibrancy.
It is like an inner pressure, all the fire energy you have inside of you.
If you don’t let it out, it will begin to effect your health.
You have treated yourself very harshly.
Now you must learn to cultivate tenderness and gentleness towards your self.
Now there must be no more violence.
It is finished.

The way she spoke was so clear and direct and definitive and her images so frighteningly insightful, the tears rolled silently down my cheeks as I made note of her words –

This woman inside of you is like a lion.
She takes her time.
She belongs to herself as a matter of course.

I continued scribbling my notes on a page, watching her flickering face with a kind of awed fear.
Clearly, she was a witch. 400 years ago she would have been burnt at the stake.

You do not see yet fully where you are going.
But this is not based on effort, it is based on COURAGE.
You must practice taking risks, you must practice pushing the boundaries.
Train yourself not to hide, not to contract.
DO NOT HIDE BEHIND ANYTHING.
When fear comes, look at it, look into the heart of it…

The hour was up.
She helped me into my coat and kissed me on each cheek.
I found my way back down in the elevator and came outside into the beginnings of a snowstorm.
The blowing snow stung my face as I walked for several hours, unseeing, caught up in my own thoughts.
I didn’t sleep for days.

* * *

Of the many splendid teachers and resources I’ve discovered on the path in the years since, two of my favourite “awakening” people, are in fact the “awakening couple” – Chameli & Arjuna Ardagh are both teachers in their own spheres. He does something called Awakening Coaching, while she is the epicenter of Awakening Women, a yogini circle.
Arjuna says of the experience of awakening –

…I find that what is really meeting this moment, hearing sounds, seeing movement, and feeling currents of sensation is formless empty space, pregnant with infinite possibility. There is a mysterious presence, indefinable, with the capacity to embrace everything, just exactly as it is, but which in itself is nothing, just pure context, with no content. This presence contains the body but still exists, with or without the body. In this recognition, just here, just now, there are no problems and never have been. Disorienting and confusing as it may be, this realization brings a sense of peace, wonder, tremendous energy, and a feeling of love with no specific object…
~ Arjuna Ardagh

Here is Chameli –

* * *

And you, Gentle Reader?
Do you have favourite awakening agents in your life?

Weekly Photo Challenge – Awakening

Spring Smile


Out beyond the place where we lived – a restaurant, a home, a gathering place – there was a stretch of landscape, deep ice and snow, a river and pathways still in the clutch of winter’s deep freeze.
There I found Gerald’s body.
As I stood there, feeling the violence inflicted on First Nations people again and again, he began to rise up – an ascension, a resurrection.
His back was towards me as he floated up into clouds and sky.

* * *

I turned over in bed, the disoriented waking of the morning, all identity and story still clinging to the whispers of strange images, oblique narratives, and there amongst the sheets I found a small slip of paper, the size of the paper fortune from a Chinese fortune cookie.

How sweet!
Where could it have come from?
Perhaps the library book disheveled in one corner of the bed?
Which would mean some sweet inspired soul had written it on a piece of paper and slid it in the book to be found by strangers…

* * *

It seems I’ve been in a deeper hibernation than usual this past winter – a number of people have been in touch asking: Where the heck are you? Are you still there???

On the one hand I’ve been intensely quiet, burrowed down inside like a bear in winter, reluctant to venture outside now that I’ve set up my studio at home…

And with a bit of a breather on the work front, just one slow-moving independent film job on my plate for the moment has meant there are not too many obligations around town…

Yet on the other hand there have been a number of planes, trains, and automobiles – a few wee winter adventures, opening up horizons and yielding the nurturing influx of friendship and art –

One, a retreat with my beloved dream teachers in Vermont

Another, a week puttering around NYC with a friend, a place I haven’t been in far too long, exploring the great city in all its glory and looking at as much art as we could…

Louise Bourgeouis @ the MOMA

And then a packed full long weekend in Montreal with dinner parties, vernissages, and the unfortunate news of the loss of an old dear friend made bearable in the bosom of so much love and creativity…

I’m hoping this very quiet stretch is almost over, and like a caterpillar that has been naught but a gooey cocoon for months, I’ll emerge resplendent and colourful with the coming spring, posting up a storm about dreams and painting and, with any luck, a little more travel…

We will see 🙂

Chestnut – Work In Progress

Weekly Photo Challenge – Smile