Friday, February 18, 2011

Words Planted Like Seeds

Today is a mirage. A preview of spring, nothing more. By Sunday all this will be frozen over again, encased in ice, piled high with snow. For today, however: icicles shrink, drain pipes gush and heads go hatless under a cloudless sky. I feel a breeze in my hair and it makes me shiver but not from cold. It's like a shard of June has broken off and fallen backwards through the seasons. I wonder if, later this year, we will come upon the fragment of February that it replaced. I wonder if we will go to sleep hot and sticky, in a world of parched grass and air conditioning only to wake up facing a blizzard?


On Tuesday I entered the vault. When I heard that I was invited to visit a bank archive I thought yawn and ah well, it'll look good for class.

I had to be escorted into the elevator by my obliging tour guide; the service elevator is the only one that goes to their floor. Not up, as I'd assumed, but down and into an old vault. We stepped through the giant metal door as if entering a submarine. We're under land though not water; a subterranean instead.

I was surprised by how lovely it all was. It felt newly renovated. Despite the lack of windows it appeared to be a calm and comfortable place to work. Just three people in the department, all bookish and bright.

There was a storeroom full of treasure. I don't know what I expected. I think I'd imagined that all I would see would be reams of graphs (printed on dot matrix, with tear-away edges) showing how the piles of gold belonging to the bank have grown over the years. And this is when we signed a contract with The Prince of Darkness... see how dramatically our dividends increased after that quarter? But of course it was not like that at all. It was dusty old ledgers from the 1820s and artwork purchased by the bank and prototypes of typewriters all gleaming brass keys encased in wood.

The treasures were remarkable, of course, but the best bit was when my host sat me down to show me what she does every day. From outside looking in (not that you could, not that deep underground) it would not appear terribly exciting: cleaing old things, typing away about them in a database. But when she told me about it she beamed.

You are writing the history of the bank, of the city really, and of the items in our collection. This database is it, it's the record. I love my job.


I checked out the little museum on my way out. It's on the main floor and open to the public, unlike the rest of what I'd seen. There were more stories under glass. Crumbling bank notes from before Canada had its own currency; lovely 3D pictures of the construction of the Old Port (made of cut paper and little strips of wood); a handcarved letter opener.

There are things in that vault, solid artifacts with ID numbers, a monetary value and a spot on a shelf. But the reason they matter is because they are placeholders for stories. They whisper, in their hidden lair under the cobblestones of Old Montreal, even if the only souls who hear are the archivists in the next room. It is a library like any other, a treasure trove made up of words whether they are printed on a page or whether they hover, invisible, in the air.


I wish I were an athlete but I am decidedly not.

The truth is, the snowboard won. I get these ideas, I think that maybe this time I will take to something immediately. I will show natural talent and I will swish down the hill in style. And then, of course, reality hits and I am flailing in the snow with a large chunk of fiberglass strapped to my feet, on the verge of tears. How did I get to be so delicate? Have I always been this way? Everybody falls. Everybody gets back up and tries again. It is the only way to improve. I know this, I knew this before I inched up the bunny hill on the motorised ramp. It made no difference though, each time I collided with the mountain I felt the breath and starch both get knocked out of me.

Why does it have to hurt so much? When can I go in and drink hot chocolate?


Just once it would be nice to be able to impress him. Just once it would be nice to see pride in his eyes rather than patience and pity. He spent the whole car ride back with his hand on my knee saying You did so well, I'm so happy we went, You should have seen yourself on that last run, but somehow I had trouble believing him.

The next day I expected my tailbone to ache, but it didn't. The rest of me was sore though. Especially my arms and my fingers. All those times I had to hoist myself back up, doing backwards push-ups on a moving board.

People asked how my weekend was and I found myself telling them that I went snowboarding. Just like that, like it was a fun outing and not abject humiliation. Everyone cooed and said Oh my, that must have been hard! I'm too scared to try. Are you any good? and I found myself chuckling and saying No, not really, but everyone sucks at first. 

I guess I'll probably end up doing it again, won't I?


The past few days I've been trapped in my couch. I started reading Room and could not stop. Interruptions would not cease: work, making supper, sleep, hygene. I would have preferred that they leave me be, to read for as long as it took.

It's not really my favourite kind of book but it is the kind that requires you to stay up with it, holding a flashlight if necessary, asking over and over what happens next?

The language is deceptive. It seems simple but it isn't and it is now imprinted on my brain. I hear myself thinking in the cadence of a five year old and urging myself to be scave. If that sounds a little too precious, or if you think that books narrated by children are not your thing, I bet you would be surprised by this story. I bet you would be charmed and drawn in and moved to the edge of your seat. Or then again, maybe you wouldn't, but I was and I'm glad.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Art Therapy

I have files on my computer, heavy with pigment. Folders full of photographs, paintings, illustrations and digital renderings. I seek them out, almost compulsively and then I collect them, hoard them, stash them away. I use them as my desktop wallpaper and sigh each time I close a window. When I feel low, or when I just want to see something nice I pore over the images and find a balm for the ugliness that can, at times, threaten to overwhelm.

The above two photos are by Tim of that's just it photo
Concept artwork for the film Coraline, by Chris Turnham

Flight 3 Cover, by Kazu Kibuishi
Santa Monica Pier by Alice Stevenson

Portrait with Black Bunny, Leaving the Orphanage and Three Springtime Gals by Emily Martin (aka The Black Apple)
Full Body Tattoo, In the Gallery and Birthday by Jen Wang

Oyster Catcher, Bear Mountain (detail) and Anarctic Waters by Diana Sudyka

Tangled, Knee Deep, Shark Bite and (I think this is the name) Molt by Stasia Burrington
I'm so taken with Stasia's work that I actually own all of these images in some form or another in real life, not just in files on my computer (her shop is full of beautiful things). I am checking my mailbox this week, for Molt as a pendant. That's actually not the finished piece; the completed version can be seen here, and it is breath-taking, but I really love this stage of the drawing for some reason. I even kind of like the fact that it's not finished. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Internet Whiplash. And snow. Not in that order.

It was snowing gently on my walk to work this morning. Something I'd never realized before moving to colder climes was that under the right conditions snow actually falls in tiny, perfect flakes. Cartoonishly perfect. Exactly like those paper ones we cut out.

I think the first time I noticed this was sitting in a car and seeing them land on the windshield in little piles and slowly melt against the glass.

I have this idea that I'd like to take a photo of them, the way I see them as I walk along, against my dark purple scarf. I keep meaning to bring my camera out with me when the conditions are right, but somehow I never do. 


Have you ever gotten whiplash on the internet? What I mean by that is you go along reading your usual list of sites, maybe a clever writer here, a webcomic there, all regular daily stuff, but then someone links to a site that's new to you (without warning, possibly) or they write something out of character and suddenly you are blindsided by grief. 

Yesterday I found myself here, directed from here (not a site I read a lot, but on occasion), and I continue to feel haunted by what I saw and read. 

I am warning you now, it is a devastating story. It starts off breaking your heart and then just gets worse. I'm not sure what I think of making a photo documentary of someone's life in that way. I'm still thinking about it though, and about Julie, which is perhaps the whole point. 

[Note: If you are curious, but worried, you will probably get the idea by following the link and reading the introduction. That part, and much of the rest of it, is safe for work, as they say, but there are parts that are not and there are parts that are just too difficult to really look at regardless of your surroundings.]

It's probably a natural reaction to witness a thing like that and be horrified and then, quickly, to start thanking your lucky stars. To watch your own woes shrink to the size of those snowflakes, and then melt away. It would be nice to think that this change was permanent, that it was a forever kind of thing and that from this moment forth I shall never again be petty or take my good fortune for granted. Oh, but it doesn't work like that. I'm sure I was petty again within about fourteen seconds.

Why is this weirdo standing next to me at the crosswalk, GO AWAY WEIRDO. 

What do you mean you don't have the plum doughnuts? 

The zipper on my tall boots snapped off. The whole world is conspiring against me again, isn't it??? 

It's too hard to be raw and grateful all of the time. But it is good to be reminded. 

I want to say something about the more important reminder, that of human suffering and the cost of privilege (aka "good fortune") and what on Earth can we do about it all? 

But I don't think I can without sounding preachy and being a complete hypocrite. Because what do I do? I try to be kind and mostly I'm wrapped up in my own worries. Like everyone else. 


Walking home from yoga tonight the temperature had dropped. Despite the earlier flurries, the morning really hadn't been terribly cold. That's another thing I learned by moving east; the coldest days are the clearest ones. Sun at the window lulls you into lighter fabrics, more exposed skin, maybe even a skirt. Don't be fooled though, it's a trick. Cloud cover acts as a blanket, trapping the heat. It's better to wear skirts when it's snowing, and snow pants when it isn't. Go figure. 

It actually sounded cold - the drop in temperature meant that the snow was squeaky underfoot. It's quite pretty when it's that cold though. The stars come out, and the places where the snow is left untouched glitters under the streetlights. All those tiny, perfect flakes. 

Thursday, February 3, 2011


December - Blur! Pretty lights, good food. 

January - Blarg. Three weeks of convalescence (so far). One thing after another and I am feeling all Victorian and consumptive. I even had to postpone a long-awaited voyage. Curses.

February - Brrr. It is deep winter. Snow is piling up to the eaves and we are tucked away inside. Except when we have to go out and then we wear the clothing equivalent of puffy comforters. I'm still not fully well, and I have some trouble sleeping. So I am awake, sometimes, in the darkest parts of the night. I feel like Moomintroll - awake when all the world is hibernating. 

Moominland Midwinter by Tove Jansson