August

This summer has been a good time too for me to take a step back from my blog. There's a quietness in me now that I think is probably connected with age. But letting go of that habit of feeding the blog machine has allowed me to dig deep into my days and really feel it all.

So many things seems suddenly simpler. I see that I've got so much and I want less. I've been living somewhat frugally and it has made me reset that spending instinct. Not constantly looking at stuff helps too. We think we can look at products with abstract admiration (I like to think we can too). But it does also create and perpetuate this gulf; what I have, what others have. Sometimes the only way to quiet that is to stop with the looking and admiring of what others have.

And it's funny that when you stop looking regularly, the stuff becomes boring to look at occasionally. I flip through lifestyle content now and find myself entirely outside of it and unaroused by it, when before it used to fuel and fizzle in me.

That said, my sense of acceptance is also connected with a sense of accomplishment. I'm no longer starting from scratch and building something out of nothing. I look around my home and it feels right; not necessarily planned top-down, but every thing is a decision I made, an object I fell in love with. To want to undo and redo that because of some interior spread would feel like a kind of identity-stripping extreme makeover.

So I guess what I'm saying is that I don't have much appetite for reinvention these days and that drains a lot of the allure of lifestyle content, which seems to deliberately make us want to be wholly other.

And this isn't just about home decor, but fashion and body too. I'm altogether less hung up on the seemingly innate idea that one day I'll be emerge into something I wasn't before. I'm more interested in how walking to and from work every day makes me immediately feel than how it makes me look. I've let go of the unrealistic expectations of all of it; expectations fuelled by magazines and by comparing myself too much to others.

Like I said, this feels connected to age. I notice myself becoming more and more invisible and, in some respects, that's freeing. But I suspect this has more to do with my own eyes than with those watching or not watching me. I've finally realized that self-consciousness that gets in the way of doing the simplest things is a juvenile feeling for a woman in her late thirties. That letting myself grow up in this one regard outweighs all the dreaded things about aging.

I've also been thinking about being single and all of this. I'm still learning to live on my own, which is strange because I've been alone a long time now. But it's not what I expected for myself when I was young and there's still that voice that measures present me against what past me expected, even if that's an outdated idea. I know more and more that coupledom isn't for me; that I would contort like heated metal under the expectations and pressures of it, that I would break it because I was afraid of losing myself in it.

And so the summer I've felt all of this. Some of it as a burden and some of it as the most liberating idea. Sometimes, I've felt something like resignation or excess resistance in all of this and I've worried that I'm cheating myself somehow. But mostly, I feel like I'm accepting and letting go of voices external and internal, real and perceived, that tell me I would be better if I were otherwise.

Summer musings

Summer has been swimming by, its cupped hands pulling days of light and languor, flowers and lazy buzzing behind it. Progress gorgeously indolent and easily numb to pain.

I thought I’d pop back in to share some links with you, bits of things that have held a quiet resonance with me on my daily walks, with words that return in conversations with friends over coffee and other drinks. I have already read these pieces several times now, so that I feel now like an animal bedding down into grass when I return, circling until I settle into something soft and familiar.

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I've written a lot about home, the feeling of it and the physical place of it. The feeling of belonging somewhere you don't want to be day-in, day-out. Of loving something and seemingly rejecting it but still holding onto it. And how you must love it just as you must love yourself, even though you somethings hate yourself too. Mark's piece, which was written way back in May for the anniversary of Dubliners, captured so much of what I feel about my dirty old town.

"Dublin is a repurposed city, in the way of all postcolonial capitals. It is haunted by the fact that we are going about our business in streets and buildings that were originally constructed for the purposes of our dispossession. Much of the north inner city, where I live, is characterized by an air of discontinued grandeur, as of a place that has not been able to keep itself in the style to which it was once accustomed."

and

"The city that Joyce portrays in Dubliners has both receded into the distant past and remained insistently visible; Dublin, like all cities, is a sort of palimpsest, in which the past is always and everywhere legible beneath the surface of the present."

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A little obsessively, of late, I've been looking at trees. Thinking about why we fall in love with trees, how we can't help but personify them. The Flanagan coat of arms is an oak tree and I've often started and quickly stopped attempts to make a family tree. It becomes arbitrary too quickly, faceless names that could belong to any Irish character in any book set in Ireland. My grandparents are real to me though they're dead, while living aunts and uncles are strangers. Trees aren't always easy to climb.

I loved reading this by Casey N. Cep on Pacific Standard.

"It is only a tree. A tall walnut. Eighty or 90 years old and 40 or 50 feet high. It is the only one of its kind on our farm, but one of many around the Eastern Shore. My grandfather used to eat the walnuts from its branches; my grandmother used to milk cows under the shade of its leaves. My father calls it the tree from hell."

and

"I wonder about my father’s family, the one that gave him away. I wonder about whether I am more likely to get cancer or heart disease or any of the other things that one inherits from one’s family. I wonder about my temperament and temper, and whether they might come from that unknown branch."


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When little, I was once riding my bike up and down our cul-de-sac, which stopped at the top in a great circle. I went up one side, swooped the loop and came down the other side. Over and over, blissed-out at having the street all to myself. Then a neighbouring child came out and she saw how I was playing and joined in. I remember faking a happy-go-lucky spirit of the-more-the-merrier, but the fact was, I was bummed when she joined me.

Now, I often have to remind myself how happy I am alone. That the idea of necessary coupledom I sometimes feel bearing down on me is optional. That others may not understand why I am happy alone, that it might even grieve them. And that sometimes I myself don't understand it and feel I want something I patently don't want. And that this confusion isn't just mine, that I'm inundated with narratives, fictional and real world, that make me feel like my life is hollower than yours because you have another and I do not.

So, this, by Hannah Black for TNI, was very worth reading:

"[The couple] is the most reductive, exclusionary and precarious imaginable method of meeting the probably universal need to feel close to and recognized by others."


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Also:
- A cure for love / the ethics of a chemical breakup.
"...as our understanding of the biological and neurochemical bases of lust, attraction, and attachment in human relationships continues to grow, so will our power to intervene in those systems—for better or for worse."
- Denise wrote a book!
- Therapy is not an emergency procedure
- "The extraordinary should not be allowed to become ordinary, no matter how good it is", and this thought-provoking piece too
Made me laugh

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Last weekend, I met a friend for scones and coffee and we went to the farmers' market together. We parted then, each of us with a punnet of strawberries and I walked down residential streets that cut across the valley down to Casa Loma. I sat for a while in the gardens at Spadina House, chatting lightly with the gardener and admiring her foxgloves. In the sun, my strawberries were macerating in their own juices and my hands stained red as I ate them in the sun.

I walked out of the gardens and crossed the road to a townhouse that was for sale and I made a heartfelt wish to live there, to have days such as this one spanning seasons, with different angles of light, measuring the changes around a tree I would decide was mine.

I spent the afternoon imagining how I might decorate the house, where I would go for coffee and groceries, how I might use the rooftop patio to make cyanotypes for each season, leafy silhouettes swimming in aegean blue, and spend my nights gazing at waxing moons hanging in a cerulean sky. 


Summer musings are sweet. I hope your days are too.

Days of green

There are days when I miss being here, blogging. It's easy to think this way, but it already seems like a simpler time. Instead, now, meted out meanderings and truths left unspoken. A sudden feeling of time lost to clouded judgement.


But bookending these days of strange second-guessing have been easy walks to and from work. Verdant trails up and down the hill. As a rule, I never walk back the same way I came. And so I go down by the leafy streets of Rosedale, a neighbourhood I share in the spoils of but am too poor to be part of. And I come back by way of ravine trails, which sink deep below street level and all the complicated unbelonging.


I walk slowly, listening to the creek, picking out what has changed since yesterday and the day before. This weekend delivered doilies of Queen Anne's Lace on the ravine floor. In the smallness of these changes, I feel calm. I lean into certain turns on the path. I pick out the bark of one tree and decide it's my favourite. I look for a patch of light and a reflection that's only there on certain days, but feels like a secret when it returns. And I forget about the mistakes that led me here and let the verdancy fill me up.

Book report: My Life in Middlemarch

Navigating the world only by what's relatable is a pretty confining activity. I tend to think that it's become more prevalent — that, inundated with so much to read, to think about, we're more likely to curate our content, our reading of that content, by a simple kind of self-centredness: how does it relate to me?

This, perhaps, is magnified by our general angstiness. We're constantly seeking answers for ourselves. We're trying to make sense of our experiences and our relationships. We've cast ourselves far and wide into the world and now we're trying to find ways to cast order on our disarray, to bring unity to feelings and situations that seem to us disparate and uniquely modern.

There's something significant lost in this approach, of course. We forget the ability to appreciate abstractly, unselfishly. To love something not because it hooks up to us in some way, but because it is simply a story that moves us, or a character that intrigues or repels or challenges or changes us. By straining for what already feels familiar, relatable, comforting, or what feels like an answer to our particular questions, we miss the opportunity to see the wide world that's not about us.


But recently I found myself in a situation I struggled to understand. And I yearned for a love story that somehow mirrored my own, that would help me see an arc, an ending with a soft place to land. As Rebecca Mead writes in My Life in Middlemarch "I longed for the simplicity of a direct comparison" (p.82). And I felt more alone because I couldn't think of the movie to watch or the book to read, because I felt like the love story I was in hadn't been told. And living in an untold story was a little devastating.

Still, there's a balance here. Only looking for ways of hooking the world up to you is confining. Moreover, reading or watching something and expecting it to knit seamlessly with your own experience likely requires some sort of blinkered interpretation of character or story. We should be able to do both: to enjoy, feel inspired and understood when a character or story intersects with our own, but also to enjoy and appreciate when it deviates, when it perhaps doesn't overlap at all.

Rebecca Mead dances this fine line so beautifully in her book. She lays bare the relationship we can have with a book -- where it not just relates, but even shapes us - a relationship that's dynamic too, evolving as we do. And just as we have a sense of continuity in our own life and identity - despite fractured and conflicting feelings and moments - so too we can read the same book and read a new book, forming a new shoot each time.

"Reading is sometimes thought of as a form of escapism, and it's a common turn of phrase to speak of getting lost in a book. But a book can also be where one finds oneself; and when a reader is grasped and held by a book, reading does not feel like an escape from life so much as it feels like an urgent, crucial dimension of life itself. These are books that seem to comprehend us just as we understand them, or even more. There are books that grown with the readers as the reader grows, like a graft to a tree." (p. 16)

Mead also shares how through Middlemarch, she built a relationship with George Eliot, whose life at times informed and illuminated her own (though this is often better seen in retrospect). Loving a book, living a life through a book, creates causal connections run both ways; we read books a certain way at certain times, and they too influence our actions in different ways at different times.

But also expressed - just as importantly - is a purer form of appreciation. This is about a fully rounded reading experience. How one can be moved on multiple planes, both from inside the paradigm of self and from outside of it, where appreciation is a cool, clear stream, untainted by ego.

I picked up this book at a perfect time. I had a craving for a certain kind of voice, a certain gentleness of spirit and mind, and this book both inspired and comforted me. I'm rereading Middlemarch right now too (it's an old favourite of mine, though I don't pretend to know it as intimately as Mead). I'm unsure if it's possible to read Mead's book without familiarity with Middlemarch - I'm inclined to say not — that everybody should read Middlemarch, multiple times. And Mead reminded me why.

Val Nelson & other thoughts

Blogging has felt lately like a memory of something I used to do. I haven't stopped, but the gears aren't turning the way they used to and I have yet to figure out what that means. Am I uninspired? Is blogging done for me? Should I try a different approach? I know I'm not ready to strikethrough this whole thing and walk away. But I'm not sure what staying looks like. Maybe it will just be a slow death.


I looked at these paintings by Val Nelson tonight and thought, my home and life and way of being feels more like one of these paintings than it looks like any photograph. The ways in which I'm moved in life are less material, more embroiled. It's stuff that's hard to share here, where the moodboards and the curated lists reduce life to something attainable, shareable, somehow detached.

I don't want to deconstruct looks or blather on about the act of blogging. I want to live with blurry feelings and not lean on them to have a clever blogging hook. You know, birth and death and sorrow and sex and work happen too and it all gets left out here. And when all that stuff feels especially real and present, a blog post feels like a bit of a lie — a simplistic and fatuous sort of alternative reality. And I'm not up for that.


I'm up for these messy paintings of rooms where it looks like people fuck and cry and think and live all of life. I'm up for fictional stories that say something more true and moving and real than our primped and preened "real" blogs. And what does that mean for here? I still don't know. Maybe I just wanted to tell you that I like these paintings. And to give you some kind of warning about a potential retreat to a wordless and blurrier place.

A Room in Kent and The Room in Hampstead, both by Val Nelson, via Bau-Xi