It was my birthday this week. 32. As a child, November was slushy. In my adult years, it’s been warm. This year, it snowed. I love the snow. The weather made my birthday extra special. The past year has been a breath of joy. Life gets easier as I get older. I’ve spent so many birthdays angry. I never felt loved enough. I was angry for most of my life. Thirty was easier than 29 and 31 was even better. I am looking forward to my thirty second year. I am optimistic and feel loose. There is no weight on my shoulders. I smile easily. I love so many people and now that I’m a happier person with an open heart, I can let in all the love that has been around me the whole time.
Chagall’s Four Seasons mosaic is remarkably similar to his paintings; It’s watery colours leaking outside their tiled bounds.
Calder’s Flamingo is calming, and draws me under it. It’s orange-red beams soft and inviting, mirrored in the surrounding black modernist cube buildings.
Miró’s Chicago is a queen who looks north with two wide-open eyes. Her crown has points like waves and it floats above her steel head. Arms outstretched, she welcomes visitors to take a closer look. Under the rough concrete exterior, you can find pockets of colourful tiles, a nod to the gems in Chicago’s architecture.
The Picasso, though untitled, is unmistakably a horse. Its long nose and nostrils are not the only indicator. Fourteen ribs traverse the space within it. At its rear, the shape evokes a pelvis and from it, a large base angles downward. Visitors mount it freely and ride down its smooth brown-black structure. Its ears tilt backwards as it stands still and listens to Chicago.
I am not one to reminisce. I don't have (many) regrets and rarely am I nostalgic for the past. This summer, however, has thrown me back to ten years ago. I didn't even realize it has been ten years since I worked in Italy.
Ten years ago, I spent the summer between my first and second year at chef's school in Italy. I worked in Tuscany for three months and the property was situated on the highest point in Chianti. I remember seeing the twinkle of Sienna in the distance to the south, in late afternoon when the sun cast yellow over the hills, and illuminated ancient buildings in the distance.
I had an Italian boyfriend and we would go for scenic drives on my days of ( which were few and far between). Driving through Tuscany, I insulted him by remarking how similar the landscape was to Canada's. He hadn't been to Canada. Now, in Trent Hills, I am reminded of Italy.
Last month, when I picked the red currants I was transported back to La Petraia. I had worked at the agritourismo with four other chef students from Canada. We started each day at 5am by feeding all the animals. After that, we harvested. I was always happy to harvest the red currants. The tall bush provided shade from the famous Tuscan sun, and it created a curtain of privacy from our demanding boss. Under the shade of the red currants, I sat and harvested alone in peace, or while chatting to the farmers in broken Italian.
When the sun was too hot to bare, we had our lunch with the farmers in a little shack in the shade. Our afternoons were spent leading cooking classes, and then serving Michelin-quality ten-course meals. We left work at 9 or 10pm most nights. We got home, drank vodka and ate salumi. We did it again and again and again.
In our final month, there was a drought and our town's well dried up. Nobody had water. We all began counting down the days. Mail I sent never reached Canada. The train operators went on strike. All our bunnies died of a mysterious disease. We weren't paid a penny for our work. It was a really hard time but I look back at my time in Italy fondly. It was my introduction to Slow Food and life as a farmer.
My time overseas ten years ago projected me forward to where I am now. With no awareness it was happening, I feel like everything in Italy and since has put me on a course to be here in Warkworth. It is as hot as Italy and this summer, it is as dry as it was there too. I am tougher for it.
I have been working on a farm two times a week and I love it. We take breaks in the shade and eat ripe cherry tomatoes off the vine. Today, Bruce handed me a beet he had pulled from the soil. I ate it and again a memory of Italy flashed before me: I remember biting into a beet back then and thinking how exquisite and sweet it was - not at all dirty tasting. It was the same today: a burst of sweet flavour and not at all dirty. Italy taught me how to be in tune with food.
A few weeks ago we had a duck on the farm and I was reminded of Jack, the duck I had adopted as my own in Italy. On slaughter day, I hid him. I had forgotten about Jack. Like I said, I don’t often reminisce. He was a loner duck, rejected by the rest and just like Lucky Ducky here in Warkworth, better suited as a pet than a meal.
I will try to find the journal I kept in Italy. I want to look over it and see my dreams and predictions, my hopes and fears. It is comforting to know ten years have past so quickly. Back then, ten years into the future seemed like a lifetime. I pondered where I would go and what I would do with my life. I would never have dreamed I’d be working on a farm and writing. I also thought I’d be married and have children by now.
But I am right where I should be, doing exactly what I want to do. I wonder where I’ll be ten years from now. I wonder how much will stay the same and how much will change. I wonder what I will remember and what I will forget.
Everybody knows the boat is leaking. Everybody knows the captain lied.
I’m having a hard time. I’m listening to my lyrical hero: Leonard Cohen. He reminds me of Bourdain. I’m still not over his suicide. It made sense. All smart people are depressed. I’m drinking expensive white wine and diluting it with club soda - because it’s noon and a spritzer doesn’t seem as shameful.
I never used to drink, but that was because I lived with an alcoholic. Now that he’s gone, I drink (not usually during the day, but I have been drinking every day for a while now). It always feels like a treat, and that’s how he thought of it too. I am trying to be careful not to have more than 3 a night. Three is still too many. I’m not bored but I am lonely. I am busy and I fill my time so that all day, every day, there is something to get done. I miss the distraction of a partner. I miss his playlist. I miss the constant presence of a silent partner. I miss being able to blame someone. I miss planning a future. I miss the prospect of children.
The other day, I overheard someone ask a friend, “ what’s the first thing that comes to your mind when I say: marriage”. Immediately the word confinement came to me. I’ve been thinking about that since. It makes me kind of upset that I didn’t think of ‘love’ or anything remotely typical. I know I am weird and different. I am a loner. I am happy alone.
There are times when I cry because I am lonely, and because I am conflicted: I want my independence. I don’t want to answer to anyone or compromise my time, my wants or my needs. However, there are times when I just want a friend to stop by and give me a hug, bring me a bottle of wine to share and drink together, mull over the world, and life.
When I have a shitty day, that’s when I realize I need friends. Many of them are far away and busy. I blame my social media. I over-post and infiltrate all streams. People see my every move, and every meal. They think they know how I am doing and what I am up to. Those posts are begging for attention. I try to keep this in mind when I see friends postings and I try to reach out regularly. I don’t do a good job.
Today my post garnered the attention of one good friend and one new friend. Afterwards, I made some art. It’s a better way to communicate than instagram. I am writing. I feel a little better. I have also had three glasses of white wine spritzers and it’s 1:30pm.
It’s my first day off since April.
Shopping local seems trivial in Toronto. It seems like any small gesture of support is pennies dropped and lost in the big city hustle.
In Warkworth, things are different: Every dollar spent is a dollar earned. I knew the importance of shopping local in Toronto, but until moving to Warkworth, I hadn’t fully grasped how money could increase in value by keeping it within a small community. Let me explain:
Working at my mother’s cafe, I am tipped by locals. Let’s say I choose to spend my tip money in town. I decide to barbecue and head to The Village Pantry to buy some PiriPiri spice mix for $5. Raquilda uses that money to buy some local herbs at Market at the Mews on Friday from Peter Finch of Rolling Hills Organics. With his $5, Peter buys a lemonade and a muffin from Bekky O’Neil of Cardboard Reality Farm. Bekky uses that money to buy some of my art postcards for sale*.
In this example, five dollars bought a BBQ rub, local organic herbs, lemonade, a muffin and postcards. The money ended up coming back to me in under 24 hours.
I’m happy to be in a community of hard working locals who are all so eager to support each other. Sharing our wealth and keeping it close makes us all richer, more generous, supportive and kinder. Warkworth is a truly prosperous town.
*these are hypothetical transactions that may or may not have taken place.
Plants wilted, soil either moulded or dried up and even the cacti would die. The plants I had at home were symbolic of my life. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. At home, I had many responsibilities. My days started abruptly; I had no time to spare. I’d jump out of bed and was likely to clean the floor before I fed myself. My ‘to-do’ list was endless. By 2pm, I would have done more chores than most do in a week and then I would go to work. Returning home, often after midnight, I would feed the cat, and then chain smoke until I was exhausted enough to fight off the adrenaline and head to bed. In the dark, I would stare at my partner who would grind his teeth and thrash in his sleep. Often, he also snored. I didn’t sleep well. At first light, I’d jump out of bed and do it all again. It was difficult to keep track of the days because I worked so often and always on the weekends.
Keeping a plant alive was a ruse in attempt to slow down and breathe. I had to trick myself by adding, ‘Water the Plants’ to my list of chores. I had a cactus, a succulent, an elephant tree, a spider plant, and others with names I didn’t know. I had gathered them $3 at a time from the corner store. I would buy plants as a treat to myself, thinking of it as self-care, and in an attempt to make my space peaceful. I would buy a small bag of soil and carry it home. I would put newspapers on the dining room table and there, I would pot my plants. These quiet mid- afternoons, when the sun came in yellow through our west-facing windows, were happy, fleeting moments that gave me hope.
They kept dying. I couldn’t remember when I had watered the plants and I was constantly rearranging them for more or less light. I was anxious and fairly sure I was manic (though undiagnosed). I tracked my moods, and tried to find a pattern.
In order to pace myself, I made a chore schedule. This was to steer me away from attempting to do it all. Tuesday was laundry day. I would do 3 loads every Tuesday, lugging the laundry bags from the third floor to the basement, with a pocket full of quarters I had methodically put aside throughout the week. I’d set my alarm and go down and transfer the clothes to the dryer. I’d set my alarm to fetch them and carry them back upstairs. I liked folding the laundry; It was peaceful and the warm clothes were comforting. Seated on the bed while I folded the pile of clothes, I would imagine my future. I probably spent more time cleaning than eating, bathing or reading, but becoming aware of this helped me move forward.
I gave the plants a schedule too, and watered them on Wednesdays and Sundays. The schedule helped me tone done the standard I had set for myself. I felt like I was in control, but I was still unhealthy and the plants still wilted. I had yet to learn that it wasn’t control that I needed, but rather, sunlight, fresh air and the nourishment of a small town community.
Growing plants in my downtown apartment was as close as I could get to peacefulness. Standing over the sparse greenery, idle with my phone in hand, I closed the relationship advice page, and opened a guide to plant care.
I started asking people: How often do you feed your plants fertilizer? How often do you have do laundry? How often do you fight with your partner?
In September, I left Toronto, I moved to the country and soon thereafter became single. It was a move I anticipated, but couldn’t conceive until I was here. My frantic city routine was abolished and I found myself busier than ever - but in the most rewarding way. It is a different kind of ‘busy’ in the country.
When I first arrived, my step-dad was spending a lot of time in the garden. We were nearing the end of tomato season. Everyday, the tomatoes demanded our attention. Crouching between the aisles of vines, I became closer to nature, and gently plucked tomatoes from the vine. I removed horn worms with a twig and tossed them into a bucket. Lugging the basket of tomatoes inside, my step dad and I would smoke them and make them ketchup or simmer them into a passata. We spoke to farmers and learned we could freeze them whole. The tomatoes were on my mind, and helped me move on from all I had left in the city. These tomatoes gave me time outside, they reinforced my familial bond, they reignited my joy in the kitchen and they opened the gates of communication with famers.
I am just as busy as I was in Toronto, but with a much more varied life. People out here take care of one another. After a few months of working at my mom’s cafe, I still struggled with my new identity and finding my place. I learned that if I was willing to work, there was always a job to be done. After a month of adjustment, I started talking openly about how I felt. By being honest about not knowing how I was going to earn a living in Warkworth, I was offered work. I soon found myself with a number of odd jobs. I painted three sheds on a farm, I baked some cakes, I cat-sat, I painted a ceiling for the first time, I packaged gourmet chocolate, and I learned how to check on bees before winter arrived. Out of my element, I didn’t have any control or routine. Everything was so new and country life was sweeping me off my feet.
When it got colder and darker, and winter was fierce, I didn’t feel isolated out here, I felt surrounded and supported by my new community. I volunteered at the Arts & Heritage Centre, and soon was hired as the Arts Administrator. I work there now, and absolutely love it. I am still doing a million other things as well. I have found my place here in this magical town. Every person here has a multitude of varied skills and we all learn so much from each other. Warkworth is a very special place. Out here, we are surrounded by both artists and farmers. Many are both.
One artist/farmer, and also a friend of mine, recently gave me some of her plant clippings. They survived transplantation and are happy in their new home, on my window ledge. I am growing a number of plants from seed and they have been a pleasure to watch sprout and charge upwards. Just like a little sprout in shallow soil, I teetered upwards before growing any roots - a blind faith everything would be ok. I was propelled forward into the next chapter of my life when I first arrived. The town nourished me. I have survived my transplantation and I am rooted here now. My anxiety has dissolved and what I experienced as mania, I now realize was situational. My first true leaves have emerged and I am excited to see how my life grows. My house is full of lush greenery, happy cacti and blooming flowers. I have created a precious place I can call home.
When I’m not at Our Lucky Stars cafe, the Ah! centre, a farm, my mom’s house or taking my weekly stroll with Bruce Brown, I am cooking, eating, spending time with friends (often at The Legion), reading, writing or making art. I am doing everything I ever wanted. My life has evolved into something I could have never imagined a year ago. I wake up, and every morning, sitting in bed watching the light come through the curtains, I drink a glass of water, and breathe. I do my
morning yoga routine. I say good morning to the plants. I feed my cat and then myself. While I eat, I quietly reflect and enjoy being surrounded by plants and silence. If the plants look thirsty, I water them. They are thriving, and so am I.
The birds sing louder in the city. They sing above the traffic and through the smog. Birds in the country sing softly and sound carries.
To appreciate jazz, you have to give yourself over to it. Let it absorb into you.
Parker was the yardbird, an intellectual who could chirp high and glide close to the ground. Thelonius Monk was abrupt, dramatic, poetic and deliberate. Monk's Dream is my favourite bedtime story. Later, Miles Davis flirted with improvisation and guided it with instinctual harmony. He reminds me of a downhill skier in the alps. Bill Evans played the piano as if dipping a toe in a still, blue lake in spring. Coltrane could morph from manic cat to prowling jaguar. If you listen carefully, you can hear his thoughts. Dizzy Gillespie was a saucy punk and legend of succinct complexity. Chambers was like a blue whale; strong and gently creating his own current.
These greats speak to us through their instruments. They are eloquent in their chosen language of jazz. The instruments are characters and the sounds are actions, plot points, exclamations. Imagery comes easily. If it's good jazz, it tells a story. It is a pleasure to listen to and to decipher. The story appears when you pay attention.
When I am 9 minutes into Kind of Blue, I sink into the story.
The notes evoke a sequin dress, tight against the curves of a woman, who sparkles in the dark. It is nighttime in New York. Light on her feet, the piano dances with the crowd on tippy toes. The spotlight shines towards the bar. The mood slows and the sax signals tribulation. As she dances, she rips apart the heart of the scotch drinker, watching from the bar, from under the brim of his hat. We imagine him watching her, grimacing from heartache. Is this Freddy Freeloader?
The rhythm change announces a change of scene and now she's walking home and it's nearly daylight. She's tired. The horn comes in again. He's following her, begging her to stay longer. He pleads long and loud. She lists the ways he has disappointed her. The sax is her voice. She slurs some of her words. She is frustrated. A person interjects and tries to calm her from making a scene. It's too early in the morning for this fighting in the street. She tells them to shove off and continues berating Freddy. After a long explanation, she walks away, leaving him behind. She walks slowly, her dress catching the first ray of daylight. The piano is the sun peaking through the stout buildings. He laments his loss, and watches her disappear.
I enjoy being alone. I wake up with a plan for the day, or at least a general idea of what I would like to do. Some days, I wake up at 6am and work; Others, I wake up naturally at 9, do yoga, do a workout, re-arrange my room, make a nice big breakfast and won't get dressed 'till noon. I mostly make my own schedule. I would be irritated if I had to compromise that.
I eat well. At night, I have so many hours between sunset and bed and so I fill that time with making beautiful food. I take a lot of pictures of that food. It's probably obnoxious at this point. Part of me feels that if I am putting so much time into the food, it has to be more than just for consumption - that it should somehow go towards my 'portfolio' or my career, my future. It's as if I am keeping a tally of the nights I am doing just fine being alone.
I worry being alone will make me selfish and self absorbed. My last partner wasn't always nice to me, and I thanked him for it, worried that if he was too encouraging, my ego would inflate.
I have conflicting thoughts about having children. I worry not having children will make me self-absorbed and selfish. I don't want to be pregnant in my 40s, so I am really hearing the clock tick. I do want children. I want them with when I am ready, but I know the process isn't that easy or immediate. I am anxious about the possibility of being unable to become or stay pregnant (for a number of reasons). I have internal dialogues with myself, working out timelines and deadlines for meeting a person, bringing up the notion of kids, feeling out the relationship and their ability and then speculating about the time it takes to conceive or carry to term thereafter.
Part of me has entirely given up on birthing my own biological kids in a hetero-normative relationship. I have started realizing there are so many options: dating someone with kids already, adoption, IVF, raising a child with a gay man, being a surrogate for a gay couple who would include me in the child's life. Fostering. There are a million options. I don't even know if I want kids any more.
For the past two years, I felt a deeply rooted hormonal craving for a child; It was a teeth-clenching, fist-squeezing feeling of absolute necessity. Then my partner and I broke up and the feeling completely dissipated. I don't think it's about finding the right partner any more - I think the feeling is just genuinely gone. I like to be in control. Perhaps because I can't control this sort of planning, I have reverted to telling myself I don't care. Who knows?
Writing is good to let out these sort of subconscious thoughts; These thoughts that easily flow out of my fingers onto my keyboard but which I cannot grasp if I am staring at the wall and trying to think about them.
I try to be upfront and honest with the people I am interested in. I have this gnawing bug in my ear telling me not to be too forward and not to be too honest, but I like to be forward and honest; It cuts through the bullshit and it doesn't waste any time with pleasantries.
I feel as if I scared off a potential suitor lately. I don't blame myself or them. I sum it up to them hearing my needs and realizing they couldn't meet them and then backing away. What are my needs? Being alone and doing what I want, how I want. Is finding a partner important because it's a reminder that one must be kind to others and learn to accept compromise each day? I know being alone doesn't have to be synonymous with being self-absorbed but I have a hard time remembering that. I think a lot of my fear is rooted in seeing my father: a cyclical bachelor with expensive taste and not ever as much time for his daughters as for his projects and jaunts to Paris, Porto or Santander. I envy his freedom and I pity the loneliness he has built.
I work hard to reach out and feel connected; This blog is partially me doing just that. I fear becoming my father but I don't feel ready to sacrifice my alone time or my flexible routine. I like doing things my way. I like eating what I want to eat and taking 2 hours to cook it. I don't need anybody, but human presence would be nice. I don't want a partner just because it is normal and expected, either.
I'm trying to go with the flow while also trying to flow down the most efficient river with the shortest distance to pregnancy....or at least to a place where I can approach it more optimistically and realistically. There will be a point where I will have to decide to do it on my own or to not do it at all ( or maybe a point where I meet someone and they want the exact same thing "like, now").
I boarded the train just after 3pm in Cobourg. I love taking the train. Trains are a luxury I am lucky to afford.
The train was full of youth. I thought to myself "Cute: These kiddos are going home to Toronto, probably back to school, after visiting their parents over the weekend". Their vibrating energy made me smile. They reminded me of every first year student - liberated to be oneself and fiercely unapologetic. How naïve, I thought: They have been taught that the world is their oyster.
The train departed and I opened my computer to get some work done. I cherish my time on a train. I am able to focus on my work and I become incredibly productive. If I don't have work to do, I can count on 45 minutes of uninterrupted reading. I savour the time I can read without distraction.
Of course, if it was a smooth ride I would probably not be writing about it.
The voice of a young woman was tuned to a frequency that carried throughout the car. The sound split my focus. It made me cringe. I couldn't ignore it. I spotted her a few seats away just as she and her three friends started laughing. Their laughter pierced the sacred train silence. The disturbance was loud and unceasing.
To my relief, the people in front of them turned in their seats and peaked over their headrests. They told the girls that they could hear them through their sound-cancelling headphones. The girls laughed. They explained that the loudest one had been eating a carrot with her mouth open and a piece of the carrot had fallen out of her mouth and into her shoe. She showed the couple her shoe. She took pictures of her shoe for instagram while the couple watched. The couple laughed and they all started chatting. Chattering.
I tried to drown out the noise by concentrating on my work. I couldn't focus and so I searched on Instagram to see if I could find the #carrotboot and troll her. I couldn't.
When we arrived in Toronto, I hopped off the train and hurried out of Union station. I had a great time in Toronto.
I must have been around 8 years based on the pictures I remember seeing. We had arrived in the afternoon and I remember having to be woken up when we reached the dock. It might have been raining. I was drowsy or grumpy when I had to step into the little motor boat. The weather was fierce and I hid under blankets on the floor of the boat as it bumped against the choppy surface. It felt like forever. The boat slowed and I emerged, looking out to face a giant rock on top of which a house sat. The familiar scene of Georgian Bay.
After dinner I remember sitting on the couch. The couch separated the dining room and faced away from the table and towards the fireplace. I curled at the end of the couch. The adults may have still been eating. I had my back to them. There must have been a fire lit, but I don't remember it.
I remember Leonard Cohen. It must have been "Take this Waltz" and I may have fallen asleep before I could hear more. I remember being drawn to the darkness of his voice. I didn't pay attention to the lyrics. I have the strongest memory of sitting on that couch alone, listening to his voice harmonize with his backup singers. I was absorbed by his sound completely. I don't reminisce often. I'm not nostalgic, and I think that affects my ability to remember - but hearing his voice when I was on that couch is clear as water.
I remember walking down the rock and into the forest on the other side of the water. I may have been exploring alone. I often sang as I wandered. Mom told me that I was misbehaving and was sent outside. She says I went under the porch and found a snake. I don't remember the snake, or much else from that trip.
When I listen to Take this Waltz, I imagine rough waters bashing against a hill made of one big wet rock with a house on top, where I sat alone among family and where the voice of Leonard Cohen made a permanent imprint on my brain. I am reminded that no matter how grumpy, I can always feel better with music.
I never thought my life would be busier in the countryside.
In the city, I thought waking at 10 was acceptable and by the end of the day I'd complain how hard I was working. I worked until I didn't, and when I left work, I didn't take it home with me. Cooking was a chore. Cleaning was constant. I smoked to de-stress. I walked everywhere to save the $3 TTC fee.
Now I am in Warkworth. I wake up at 7 or 8. I have a million things on my plate and I do take my work home with me for the first time in my life. I am making less money but saving more. I don't smoke. My brain is healthier. The anxiety I thought was chemical is seeming more and more like it could have been situational.
I wake up and do my 15 minute yoga routine. No one knows I have woken up. I haven't checked my phone or opened my computer. I breathe and stretch and gain strength for the day. I do not dread the day.
I have formed a new habit into my mornings. It is my own version of meditation and checking in with myself. I split a stack of tarot cards in a random spot and expose the blindly chosen card. Sitting on the edge of my bed, peaceful after yoga, I pick up my phone and find a reference to the card on a tarot deciphering site, Biddy Tarot. I don't expect the card to tell my future - that's silly. I use it to jar my brain of its old thinking habits and patterns. I use it as forced introspection, as a third party perspective. I read the meaning and apply it to my life. I don't take it word for word. Often, it helps me throughout the day as a reminder to re-focus, re-balance and to view things from a different perspective.
After my tarot moment, I have breakfast and feed the cat. (Ok, the cat gets fed first.) I check emails and do lots more work on my computer than I ever have before. I send many emails. When I have sent a few, there are more waiting. I have to practice pulling myself away from the computer and resolve to leave emails unread while I prioritize other tasks of the day.
I am learning to be honest about my capabilities. It has been hard to learn to say, " No, sorry, I cannot take that on". I am my mother's daughter, after all. If anything, she is the inspiration for me to learn to say no. She says yes to everything. She works her butt off. Her heart is under a lot of stress. No time to slow down, I think she thinks. I try to make that time for myself.
A chef once made me stop and take a moment to breathe during a rush. I was 15 and overwhelmed and nothing was going right. He made me stop everything and just stand there. It was hard to stop and let go. He instructed me to make a list of priorities in my head. When a minute was up, he allowed me to get back to it. My motions were smoother, more precise and I could think clearly again. He taught me that sometimes you need to slow down to be effectively productive.
Our worth is not measured by our productivity. I read that somewhere recently. I don't know if I agree. I certainly wasn't raised to think it, though I do like the way that mantra sounds. I suppose it is how we define 'productivity'. To me, and I'm sure to my mom also, productivity includes doing things for others, taking the time to call Grandma, stopping on the street to pick up a glove and prop it on a fence for easier visibility. In those cases, yes, you are a better person because you did those things.
But how about we stop thinking about worth and just get on with our lives? I am learning in Warkworth that today is 'my life'. In the city, it seems like a race to catch up. People ask what you want to do with your life. Today is your life! Every day you are living it. Wiccans will say, " Do what you will and harm none". I'd say that's a pretty good rule to follow. Every day is you leading your life. It's not as if today doesn't count. In the city, it seems people live thinking of the future and not the present. City dwellers are hypnotized with grand goals of prosperity, delusions of wealth bringing happiness and popularity amplifying status.
I am busy, yes, but I have learned to step back and take an hour to prepare and eat (and digest!) dinner. There is always time in the day to do what you want to do.
At the end of the day, I am alone but I am peaceful. I realize we are all alone. I have to learn to live with myself, make myself happy and entertain myself in healthy ways. I take more baths now than ever. The bubbles make them special. I read more. I read until the bath is cold. In the bath, I don't check my phone. I plan meals and empty the fridge between grocery shops. I eat very well and I eat more canned goods than I ever have before. I do wish I walked more than I do here. It takes 10 minutes exactly to walk to the end of town and back.
Though I am busier here in Warkworth and feel stretched in a million directions, everything is easier than it was in the city. I am very busy, but neither my mind nor my motions are hectic.
I am standing in the foyer of my new home. Looking into the house, there is a room on either side of me and nothing ahead. The room on the left has old white walls stretching up to the high ceiling. A wooden plank juts from the wall, to be used as a seat. I have a memory of feeling uncomfortable on that bench, posing for a picture taken by a stranger (possibly a photographer I didn't know).
As I scan the space, I see I am standing beside an open floor vent and beside it there is a sage smudge, just barely singed. I use my foot to push it down the vent and then regret it immediately. I'm too scared to reach down and get it. To my right, there is a larger room - filled with clutter and furniture. There is a draft table half buried in moving boxes (but not my moving boxes). There is an old TV loosely hanging from the wall. I feel uneasy and leave the house.
I am on a campus of large hedges and blackened brick buildings. I seek out the cathedral. Upon entering, I see the bowl of holy water and I approach a priest and ask him to bless me. I stumble over my words, then take a seat on a large stool. There is a service in session but I remain at the back of the church. The priest dips two cotton pads into the stone bowl and places them on my eyes. I feel soothed, but then I see what he sees. I am sitting on the stool, the cotton pads are soaking through with blood from my closed eyes and my head is rolling slowly. Again I see things from my perspective and though I feel unnerved, I don't see blood and I feel still. I leave the cathedral.
When I exit the church, I face a large courtyard. I see a friend with her toddler in her arms. She waves to me and I see her say something to her child, then lowers him to the ground. He runs away from her and away from me. We try to catch him as he races around the stone path bordering the square swath grass. Somehow, we cannot catch him. He races straight to my house.
We catch up and reach the house, where the door had been left open. He is standing in the doorway, looking in. His mother scoops him up and they leave.
I go inside and I look up. In lieu of an exposed lightbulb, there is a lightbulb-sized rubber head. She has her eyes on me. Her eyes are blue. Where her hair would be, is a swath of pink plastic. Soon, I am at her height, pulling the head off to expose a camera. I realize I am floating. I am not on a ladder. I grab the camera and it loosens from the wall, and as the cord stretches out from within the ceiling, I repel down to the floor.
I know the house is haunted. I try to say something soothing to the disturbed soul. Nothing happens. I resolve to start with the empty room on the left. I begin to paint it a sunny yellow colour. I am standing on a ladder in white pinter's overalls and it is the picture of 'home renovation'. I am smiling and rolling on the paint. I get a flash of third person perspective. I am painting the room black. Not yellow. It looks as if I have painted layers and layers of black paint without realizing.
Horrified, I begin to pack everything into my car, planning to drive it to a dump far away. In the car, I idle outside the house and look in through the open door. It seems I got everything. My phone rings and it's a familiar number. I get out of the car to answer the phone but no one is there. As I call back the number, I walk up to the house to lock up before I depart. Inside, a phone is ringing. The home phone is off the dock. I follow the ring.
I find the phone in the air vent with the sage smudge and it's still ringing.
I realize I had been haunting myself, from a different year. As if time had layered and over and over I was bumping into myself from past and future.
Horrified, I awake.
Tonight I sat in a sound bath.
My day had started at 6 a.m and continued as a whirlwind of frantic motions and looming PMS-like symptoms. Breakfast was so long ago I can barely remember it. When I had my first break at 5, I ate dinner alone, as usual. I had french fries and mayo for dinner with a side of crudités. I scanned through emails with my right hand while eating with my left. I sipped on an Old Fashioned I had made myself using a special ingredient.
With ten minutues to spare, I zipped across the street to the Arts and Hertiage Centre, where the event was being held. I was asked to bring a cake. I made it yesterday, knowing today would be non-stop. Yesterday, I garnished the cake with some orange slices I cut finely using the mandolin (that is, I lay the slices down on parchment at the bottom of the cake pan with the intention to un-mould and flip it over to serve). I had extra slices so I put them in a pot with water and sugar. I thought: maybe they'll be marmalade or maybe an orange-infused simple syrup. Then I made the cake batter. Meanwhile, as the simple syrup bubbled, the slices maintained their shape and became vibrant and so I changed the plan.
After they had simmered a while and the pith began looking translucent, I pulled the slices out. One by one with a fork, I sieved off the excess liquid and lay them on a cooling rack. I put the rack in the oven after the cake came out. I turned the oven off immediately.
The next morning (this morning) after I ran about a while, I came home quickly to check on the oranges. I had dared not open the oven lest some residual heat be let out. Still a bit soft. I turned the oven to the lowest it would go and checked on them every half hour until it had been about 2 hours. I cooled them as I went out to do more errands. They became beautiful crispy orange 'chips'. By evening, they were bitter and slightly sweet and just lovely with my Old Fashioned.
I finished my cocktail and headed back out. I arrived at the sound bath and put the goodies aside. I found a space on the floor in the dark room, where 15 others lay on their yoga mats and covering themselves with blankets. I sat against the wall, on the wood floor, with no blanket.
The instructor began to make sounds using her quartz crystal bowls - though I could't be sure how (my eyes were closed). With the first note she made, I imagined the colour red. The sound changed and I felt intuitively it was yellow. We were asked to think of a word and we were gently reminded this is the time of year for making goals. I had had a hard day working with my mother. It was my fault things didn't go smoothly. The word "gentle" came to my mind. It was a purple word. Coincidentally (or perhaps not), I have a strong aversion to purple.
I am not gentle. I would like to think I am full of love. I'd like to think I am graceful. I am intuitive. I see beauty where others don't. I am in awe of the world often. I am caring.
But I am not gentle.
I spent a long time trying to clear my mind and work on my breathing and I did try to be "present". Instead, I fought with my racing mind. By the end, I just wanted to go home and eat chips in bed.
What made my head spin was thinking: treat others how you want to be treated. I know that my aggressiveness stems from working in kitchens for over 15 years. I realized most people (e.g. my mom) want and need to be treated gently. I realized I have a difficult time remembering that because I do not want to be treated gently.
What problem do I have with being gentle? I realized tonight that I look down on those I think are "soft". Where does this hostility come from? It would be easy if I could blame genetics; I am so much like my dead Grandmother, or so I've been told. (She was cold, mean and firm and I always got along with her swimmingly.) I'd rather be told, "Sweep that area at 5pm" rather than, "If you could, if you wouldn't mind, would you please sweep at some point in the evening?". I don't see one as more kind than the other, but my mother would.
Ironically, I feel like I am being censored when I have to use more words to say something that I would feel more comfortable saying in fewer. Maybe it 's that I feel gentleness is: false, a lie, deceitful, phoney and a waste of time. It skirts around the issue. It isn't clear or to the point. It is just padding for the truth. It implies shame in asking for something.
My mother would probably call me terse and imply it as something I should be ashamed of. It means clear and neat. Those are things I would take pride in. In busy kitchens, it's necessary to demand a number of things that need to happen without wasting time explaining them. In an interview, I would call my way of working efficient.
I've often wondered if I have a slightly autistic brain, or in other words, if I'm "on the spectrum". I have a hard time following social norms and I often misunderstand body language and misread facial cues. I hurt other people, including my mother, with my sharp attitude. I'm not a flowery person. I'm full of spurs.
So this new year, 2018, my word is : Gentle.
Don't treat me gently, I don't like it. It confuses me and irritates me. However, I don't have to treat other people as I want to be treated. I should treat other people how THEY want to be treated. I will try my hardest to remember that other people feel more comfortable when I smile as I talk; when I speak slowly and end my sentences with a higher intonation; I will be aware of my facial expressions and try not to furrow my brow or clench my jaw. I will stand with open body language and rest my face while listening even if I think there is no time for human behaviour I can't wrap my head around. I will try to be gentle.
I will continue to feed people. Food is a language I do speak. Try an orange chip: They are bitter , brittle and delicious.
I was a smoker for nearly 12 years. That's insane to me. I never thought I would become addicted. I warn kids I see smoking that it will eventually control their lives. They don't believe me.
Hunched over, hugging myself, when I smoked, I was a little a ball; a smoking nervous wreck. I used it as a means of escape: Escape from work. Escape from a party. Escape from family. When I smoked, I was in my own bubble where actions had no consequence and instant gratification was a treat I always deserved. It was "me time". I told myself I needed it and that it was good for my health because it calmed me down. I have low blood pressure and I joked that smoking brought it up to normal.
Quitting took a full year of re-training my brain. I decided I wanted to quit. This is key. You have to want to quit. So many people told me to read "the book" but I didn't. Instead, I gave myself rules. I told myself: No smoking until after breakfast. This was an eye opener: I often smoked in lieu of eating and I felt better eating breakfast first. I felt better realizing that I could find the time to decide what to eat, to make it and then to eat it. Truthfully, many times after I established this rule, I would go downstairs and smoke immediately after. Once I got better at following this rule, I tried to adhere to it for all meals of the day. It was strange to force feed myself just to be allowed to smoke a cigarette after. Realizing my brain prioritized smoking over food was helpful to the cause.
I stopped smoking while walking. I would tell myself that once I got to my destination I was allowed a cigarette. Man, did I hustle to get places after that rule was enforced.
Mindlessly smoking was a tough one. Sometimes I would look down and be smoking but not able to remember lighting up or making the decision to smoke. Sometimes, I would start smoking then realize I had tossed my cigarette mindlessly somewhere not remembering when or where. If someone else was smoking, I would smoke. A rule I established was: Unless I was planning on smoking, I didn't smoke just because it was an option or offered. I broke this rule many times.
The more focused on quitting and stopping, the more I recognized the idiosyncrasies of an addict. This helped me too. I began to cut down. I would tally my cigarettes day by day and week by week. I went down from 15 a day to 10 to 5 over four months. Then, I was stuck on 5 a day for a long time. One before work, one after work, one when I got home and inevitably there would be more that I needed. I did need them: I was still addicted.
Finally, a little over 3 months ago, I got firm with myself. I told people I had quit so that I was forced to adhere lest I be found out. By this time, I could smell it on other people and knew that I had smelled bad for 12 years. It clung to the air in my house. I opened the windows. I washed everything. I hid the beautiful vintage ashtrays. I threw out all the lighters. Before bed, I would sneak outside and in the dark. I would smoke half a cigarette, overwhelmed with guilt and pleasure.
Finally, a big change in my life happened and it was the turning point. I smoked half a cigarette a day for 2 weeks and that was that. I have been smoke free since an unknown date. I'm not counting. It's been a little over 3 months.
Now, my "me time" is spent cooking and then eating. I am off-duty to the world. I don't answer my phone, I turn up my music, I listen to the food and I breathe.
On Instagram, the followers of a chef couldn't understand why I was upset. I had tapped on the thumbnail image because it looked good. It seemed to be a creamy pasta with fresh peas with a steak fanned on on the side.
When I looked at the larger image, the steak looked rancid - it had a nice char, but the exposed flesh was a strange texture and a slimy brown colour. From my experience as a chef, I knew something was amiss. I saw "flank steak" in the description and knew that too was incorrect because of the muscle structure that this "steak" lacked.
Then I realized I was on a vegan's account and that the description went on to say that this was a "flank steak of portobello mushroom"
(pause for effect and adequate gasping time)
I was a vegetarian for 15 years. I believe in the mantra, " Do what you will and harm none". Calling a mushroom a steak can be forgiven because the term steak is now colloquial for 'a hunk, a meaty piece'. But calling it a flank steak goes too far. Here's why:
Butchery is a craft. It is a respected tradition and it honors the animal. A human takes the time to cut the meat from the bone with little waste. It brings us closer to nature. It helps us respect the whole animal. Taking a term for a specific cut of beef to describe a vegetable is not only an insult to the effort of all butchers ( and also farmers who raised that animal with love and care) but also to the mushroom. It is not respecting the mushroom for what it is. It is not honoring the mushroom's unique characteristics.
Which brings me to my next big problem with calling things what they are not: That chef bent to the whines of the public. He wouldn't have called it a flank steak mushroom if he didn't sell more because of it. He was answering the whines of the public. This is a world where people want everything and want it now. It's the same reason we have tofu chicken fingers and bean chips. Our desire to eat whatever we want, whenever we want, is actually pulling us further away from food. We are eating substitutes and imitations. In doing so, we lose a bond with food that should be innate.
I get upset because food tradition is incredibly important to me. We share stories through food. I can understand populations around the world better based on the food they eat. Food is a way of life everywhere in the world (it seems), except for in North America. In North America, food is just something else we consume.
Food is special because it helps us hold onto our roots and respect our ancestors. We don't have to imitate them, but to look back and understand why they did things the way they did helps us live life better now. Let me explain with yoghurt. Yoghurt is more than one thousand years old. It has no single origin. It was made (probably by accident at first) by people who kept livestock. They wasted nothing. It was a time when dissemination of knowledge was through story, passed down from guardian to child, from mentor to mentee. It was important to listen carefully lest you lose that yoghurt recipe and disrespect the animal by wasting something it gives freely.
It probably only took 5 years for it all to change. Yoghurt was in demand as a low calorie snack. People wanted something creamy and had the luxury of wanting to buy calorie free food. Soon, 'Yoghurt' was being made with skim milk, carrageenan, gelatin, guar gum, splenda (which is so processed that I am appalled it can and still is labelled 'yoghurt').
It wasn't the companies, it was the people, the demand that changed things. It was the " but I want it" attitude. Where did this attitude come from? Was it globalization? By sharing our food and ideas, we actually diluted them into a big grab bag of 'pick and choose'.
This is something I have talked about before. I get pretty aggravated because I do love food with such a passion. When you eat food that is imitating something else, you are taking the story away. By buying something that imitates what you actually want, you are separating yourself further from the source. The more processed . packaged food is, the less involved a human is. You are voting at the cash register. Companies will respond to what you buy. They care about profit. If you don't respect real yoghurt, it will eventually disappear. Thousands of years will disappear.
If you want to be a vegan, go for it. Love the vegetables and legumes for their history; for the decades they have been nourishing people. Don't make a mushroom seem special because it can look like a steak, know that it is special for the qualities it already has.
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but we're not talking about roses.
I feel like for my entire childhood, my mother was in the kitchen.
When we got home at four, we dropped our knapsacks at the door and plopped down on the couch, brain dead from a long day at school. This was before remote controls, so one of us would squat with our face two inches from the screen and turn the dial while the other would whine, " No, go back! That one". Mom didn't interfere or take sides. She let us sort it out, but we both knew she was she was there, in the kitchen, listening.
Most days, Mom would bring us an after school snack. It was usually 'soldiers' (a peanut butter and jam sandwich cut into four long rectangles) or cheese and crackers. She probably put cucumber and carrot sticks on the plate too...but I don't remember.
When we spread out our books and paper on the dining room table, Mom was cooking dinner in the next room. We would holler our questions and she would holler back answers. If we called her ("mmmaaaaaaaam"), she would leave her cooking and come help.
Dinner was difficult for Mom. My sister liked cheese and hot dogs and was pretty fussy. I was a self-declared vegetarian from the age of seven, and my dad was the pickiest. I don't remember watching him eat. I remember my mom having small portions. I remember sitting across from my sister and making faces. The big square table where we sat down to dinner was too big to kick my sister under the table (though I'm sure we tried).
If we had food left on our pates, Mom would divide the plate and tell us to choose a side and eat it. If we still couldn't, Dad would tell us we were not allowed any cereal or snacks later and that if we were hungry, we would have to finish our plate.
When we had finished, it was custom (and required of us) to say, " Thank you for the lovely meal. May I please be excused?". We said it every night for my entire childhood and into my teens.
In high school, Mom worked, so we got home before her. We'd drop our knapsacks with a thud and plop in front of the TV. She would get home, take off her coat and march on ahead to the kitchen. I remember being upset that she didn't take off her shoes when she got home. It never occurred to me she was in a hurry because she was racing against the clock of hungry growing hormonal teens. It never occurred to me to get dinner started. I would look in the fridge and there would be "nothing to eat" and she'd open it up, spend an hour cooking/pulling rabbits out of hats and would always offer us a (healthy and satisfying) feast.
Towards the end of high school, I would sit on the barstool at the end of the kitchen counter and watch her cook.
When we had eaten everything on our plates and were ready to leave the table, we would thank our mom for dinner - often in unison.
Now, in my 30s, I live alone. I work during the day and when I get home I'm exhausted. But what do I do? I march on ahead to the kitchen with my shoes still on and dive into making dinner.
Cooking for one is hard. It's hard to tell yourself you are special enough to fuss over. But you are. I am.
I have been craving Mexican. I can't eat onions, garlic, wheat tortillas, beans or dairy, so you can imagine making Mexican seem authentic and satisfying is a challenge. But I did it.
Because of Mama.
She taught me that it is possible to whip something up from nothing if you're got the right momentum, vision and chutzpah.
I did go to cooking school. Cooking school taught me the rules and techniques. Mama taught me how to love to cook, how to show others you care by cooking for them, how feeding people creates a deep bond, and that sharing food can be the greatest gift given or received.
It seems I am drawn to friends who struggle with mental health. We "get" each other and know what to say when the other is having a "bad brain day".
But to all of you who don't understand, here are the things to do and not do:
1. You can say something like, "It will pass" but that doesn't make it hurt any less, so maybe follow up that statement with "but I know that doesn't make you feel any better now. I'm sorry you're having a hard time. I love you"
2. Don't expect me to know why I feel depressed/wonky/weird/anxious/like a piece of garbage. So do not ask "Why?" or "What's wrong?". Just say "How are you doing?" and then listen.
3. Don't ask if there is anything you can do: I probably don't know what I need. Don't ask if I want to eat or have eating anything. Put food in my hands. Just bring over soup or chips and leave them by the door. I might not want to talk to you, but I'll take delivery. I might take all day to open that door, but when I do, I will feel loved and taken care of.
4. Don't say "I'm here for you" and leave it at that. Be persistent. Actually be there. Call. Call again and leave a message when I don't pick up. Leave a note under the door. Text that you're outside and I can decide if I want company or not.
5. Please be patient. I lash out. I am critical. I am negative. When I'm not feeling good, I pull everything down with me. Notice when I behave like that, and ask me how I'm doing. I'll probably be honest and say "I am depressed". It feels good to acknowledge it out loud. When I feel better later, I'll be thankful you let me stew without making me feel guilty about my poor behaviour. I am sorry for this bad behaviour.
6. Do NOT suggest ways I can make myself feel better. Trust me, people with depression know more than you about what they are "supposed to do" and what is "supposed to work". Assume your suggestions are ignorant and assume we will feel insulted if you offer a solution to our bad brains.
Lately, I have been incredibly depressed. I have been drinking too much. I "faked it" on social media by posting old photos when really I barely ate a thing in the last three days. I drank all day. Last night, I wallowed in a bath for hours with a bottle of wine. I got hammered and blacked out.
One person caught on. She was persistent. She said the right things. She said "I'm sorry" and "Are you talking to anyone else about this?" and "Have they been helpful?" . She kept the conversation going until I stopped and she didn't push further. She checked in on me the next morning too.
I woke up this morning feeling like the darkness had lifted, but I was skeptical and tread lightly as if I was going to wake the beast. At lunch, working at the cafe, I got anxious and frustrated, but it was just normal "feels" and not the crushing hopelessness that would have destroyed me the day before.
I feel ok now. I made a nice dinner (after I ate a bag of chips). I'm having a beer, but that's all I'll have. I'm caring for myself in the ways I can.
Thank you to the few people who gave me those knowing sideways glances and hugged me extra tight this week.
Also a side note: I tried yoga. I had baths. I turned down the lights. I turned on my Himalayan salt rock lamp. I slept a lot. I listened to calming music. I drew. I wrote. I used an essential oil diffuser.
Only time heals and only feeling like I'd be missed helps.
I need to re-train my brain. You do too, probably.
Today I was painting a room. It was the third time this week that I have been contracted to paint a tongue in groove wall. It requires the use of a paint brush. It's not an easy roller job. It takes time and diligence.
When I had completed half the room in good time, I thought to myself: I am a painting Goddess! I looked at myself. I was standing on a ladder with clunky boots, an oversized t-shirt over a nasty old sweatshirt and I had paint on my hands and face.
I realized then, that the image 'goddess' evokes for me is a perky breasted woman, arched back, standing tall and fierce with a small waist and thick thighs. She has her hands on her hips in defiance (probably against a man).
The problem is that her aesthetic is more dominate than her power, her character or her beliefs. She is usually fighting men...or worse : seducing them.
In media, the goddess plays a role as man-eater.
And what do we think of when we think of a God? What do you think of?
Powerful? That's the word I think of. Why do I think of a word for God but an image for Goddess?
Don't be mistaken: When I call my friend a goddess, it is for her abilities, her accomplishments or her persistence leading to the goals she set for herself. Disappointing myself, I realized today that even though my heart is in the right place, I still imagine a strange Sailor-Moon type scene of that woman when she embodies Goddess: ribbons of light surround her body and she's glowing. Her head is tilted back, her arms open as if she's awaiting embrace. She spins. She is on tippy-toes.
What I've written above is embarrassing for me to admit, but I'm glad I am; This is an honest blog, after all.
A Goddess is not a precious, fragile thing; She is a fierce woman of her own volition and will conquer her aspirations - with or without grace.
I need to re-train my brain to think of: Woman As Goddess: Powerful and Able.
I painted two small sheds yesterday. I had been hired to do this project a month back but I am a novice and went too slow. The weather changed before I could finish painting all the grooves. Yesterday was warm, possibly 15 degrees Celsius, and I finished painting after 4 hours.
It was windy when I walked home. It seems my days usually end around 3pm; That's when the sun starts going down. That's when the weather changes. I realized I hadn't been thinking about anything all day. I was focused on painting and my mind was blank. It felt like my brain was calm water lapping inside my head.
I slept at 9 and woke at midnight to start the arduous but incredibly pleasurable task of making a mass batch of bread. It doesn't take too much effort, but it does take time and attention. I talk to the dough. It helps. I'm sure of it.
By 7 in the morning, the bread was out and cooling and I crept back upstairs to bed for a few hours.
Just after 11, I flew out the door, late for work, holding the earrings I intended on wearing. As I descended the stairs, I prodded my ear lobe with the hook and hit something. I was already wearing earrings.
This evening, I made a chocolate pie from scratch and with no recipe. I am mourning the closure of Bar Italia. It was a restaurant - until a few months ago - on College Street in Toronto. My parents took us there before they divorced. It was simply where our family went if we were going out for supper. Everyone always got the same thing except Mom, who always had a hard time deciding.
There was a chocolate truffle cake on the menu. It could hardly be called a cake. I don't think it was baked and I don't think it had flour or leavening agents. It was always the same: perfect and insanely rich. The slice was only an inch thick and maybe 5 inches long. It sat on a plate alone or there may have been a raspberry coulis underneath. Our family shared that one dessert every time.
I went on my first date there, with a guy who would eventually propose to me when I was 16. We both used fake i.d. I don't remember what I ate, but I know where we sat and the view I had of that room. That room is etched in my memory forever.
Later, I got a job as a cook there. It was my third job ever. I never saw anyone make the chocolate truffle cake. Someone did it upstairs but I never saw who or when they made it.
Tonight, I channelled Bar Italia and what I have learned about cooking since and I prepared two mini chocolate truffle pies. They are in a pie shells only because I had left over pie pastry.
I cannot eat this pie, but I will savour the memories it holds. Tomorrow, I will give it to my mom and her partner, my stepdad, Trevor.