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

Scrambling home, sheltering in place

Each family, each group of friends suddenly scrambling to be in a particular place, their country, their home.

On facebook I watched over several days as a friend’s beautiful haunting photos of Italian countryside turned to desperation as there are no masks, there are no flights, and the government help line is forever busy.

Photo by: EF

My dad, a snowbird lounging by the pool in Palms Springs, brushed off with insouciance the increasingly frantic pleas from us, his adult children, to come home, while simultaneously trying to convince me that a trip I had planned to the Laurentians in Québec was “too dangerous”.

At my end there were still so few cases in Canada, was still no mandate from government to avoid travel between the provinces, and I knew the visit with trees and birds and snow, devoid of humans except for my Montreal buddy, would be about as safe as you could get…

Back home after traveling the newly-sanitized trains, I returned to a roommate who had joined me in mid-February to be close to her pregnant daughter, due to give birth – a first grandchild. The plan had been a month or two to help the new parents in the early days. She is frail, older, but can still cook and consult and be of comfort.

But as the emergency decrees descended, she too got imploring calls from sisters and the other daughters back in Vancouver – “come home now, while you still can!”

One look at the state of the airports on late night television made her decision for her –

People travelling from all over the world jammed in with no masks, no gloves… the WORST possible scenario. For now she is “sheltering in place”, which is my place.

Since I had been on trains, exposed to travellers, and since I continue to go to the grocery store and my studio, we decided to be cautious. We are maintaining (mostly) 6 feet apart in the home, and wipe down all faucets, door handles, counters, and light switches just in case.

The invisible enemy…

All work that was potentially on the horizon has vanished. No travel, no shoot. No shoot, no edit. But I have the great good fortune of being in an artists’ co-op of sorts, full of community-minded folks, in the great, safe country of Canada where we have this thing called universal health care.

And you, Nose Followers? Any recent travel and scrapes along the way? Are you happily sheltering in place, or stir crazy already? What news of this strange new reality we are living?

Room to write

In the city. Benjamin has moved out. I see him from a distance – we wave.

I’m in the new place, yes, and I have the studio where I paint, yes, but there is also a writing room I have not been to in some time….

It’s a bit of a grody place, kind of like a rundown motel room, no real neighbourhood around, and dodgy things going down in the nearby rooms…

But it is a place to write.

* * *

In waking life, space is not such a problem – heck, you can write just about anywhere (if you can still go anywhere, given the day by day increasing restrictions on movement) but it is more about the time – time to write.

But well, hey. Looks like there’s gonna be a lot of free time ahead!

There’s so many things I’ve been meaning to write about – rambling thoughts in my mind, rough drafts sitting in the draft folder here… Not sure I’m ready to make a big public commitment to a daily practice or anything just yet, but it does seem like an awfully good time to a) be as creative as we can be, and b) enjoy the beauty of widespread connection the internet gives us and not just the obsessive paranoia.

Speaking of which – this was happening in the building across the street yesterday –

Scary dystopian scene, right?

So this is the challenge – to find the focus, to shut out the tremendous corona-noise for a chunk of time each day, and to find the joy that is always there, waiting, in creativity.

And so many people, across the globe, are stepping up, shouting out, in the most amazing ways already. For example, my hugely talented neighbour –

Teiya

And you, Nose Followers? What are you up to in this strangest of times???