human beans, as souvenirs

 
When I come back from the east coast it’s usually sand and shells that come with me, the memory of cormorants flying a thin line above the ocean at sunset, the embrace of solitude in all that surf and space and horizon, the pleasure of spending time on red dirt roads that lead sometimes to a new beach where (I once overheard someone say) there is nothing to see.

But this time it’s more than the tangible, the feathers and stones, that have stayed with me… it’s the two women at the shared lunch table at Point Prim who have not only heard of the obscure Ontario town where I live but who lived there too, twenty something years before moving to PEI.

The guy who works at the lighthouse (also from Ontario) who says the ferry crossing over to Nova Scotia should be okay but calls ahead to check and then gives me his card and says if it isn’t I can phone and yell at him.

It’s the young man and his guitar who sings about the girl he left behind in Moncton, and a chef on the same boat, making free blueberry crepes.

And the owners of our B&B who tell us they’ve had 1200 people stay in their not so very large home in the past year and then invite us for a glass of wine.

And the photographer at breakfast, on his way to the Cabot Trail, and next to him a slightly addled couple with almost no sense of direction who you wonder how they drove here from Alberta and you just pray they’ll find the lobster supper they’re heading for in New Glasgow, and next to them the American who says her favourite part of Canada is the gasp, which, after a few questions, we understand to be The Gaspé.

The woman who runs the local co-op art gallery.

And the woman who runs a magical world of love, laughter and literature for people of all sizes.

The person who takes time to show us a ‘hotel’ room in an old railway car at Tatamagoush and the guy behind me in line at the Charlottetown Dollar Store who’s talking to someone in front of me about the number of frogs dying in ponds and rivers because of pesticide run-off from farmers’ fields.

It’s the group of elderly tourists, German maybe?, who arrive at Brackley beach as I’m sitting on the wooden steps, hello, hello, hello, they all say in passing and then take pictures of each other… and how there’s always one in every group that tears away from the herd, seeking a moment of solitude. The way that one plays at the edge of the water and jumps backward with all the joy of a child when the waves roll in as he knew they would.

And the woman who works at the tourist place in St. Peters who tells me that most restaurants are closed at this time of year and when I ask So where do the locals eat?  she replies, Well, at home of course…

It’s the server who says that winter on PEI is so quiet the speed limit on certain streets changes from 50 to 70. It’s everyone on the beach, including the guy who asked if I was Nicole Picot, the Minister of something for New Brunswick. (I am not.)

The discovery of George S. Zimbel while waiting out a rainstorm after seeing the wonderfulness of an exhibition that included Montgomery’s manuscript for Anne of Green Gables.

Familiar faces wandering around Summerside farmers’ market and a woman who sells me bags of freshly picked dulse.

The seaweed fanciers at a seaweed workshop where seaweed is fondled and used to paint seaweedy scenes.

The couple who, on a dockside patio, check their phone for info on Acadian history and then one of them reads out loud… loud enough for us all to hear. Go ahead, ask me anything.

The woman who is almost my friend and the warmth of her welcome.

The young people who on this beach of red sand discuss having once been on a beach where the sand was black but can’t remember where that was…

The people from the south shore who come to the north shore and stand in line for fish. But only on weekends.

And lovely Arthur from Florida, originally from Boston, embarrassed about Trump… and the equally charming people he’s travelling with and how they meet up each night to play cribbage.

Barb and Barry from Milton who in not more than ten minutes not only introduce themselves but list everywhere they’ve been on this driving holiday (because they’re retired; he from the fire department, she from banking), everywhere they’ve played golf, hiked (they “did” four hikes in Fundy in one morning “plus saw the tide thing”), where they’ve spent every night (because every day and every night are laid out in advance), as well as how one daughter who has a new boyfriend is studying in Guelph to be a vet while the other is working as a teacher in the U.K. but her landlord is giving her a bit of a runaround at the moment because his email has been hacked. The daughter happens to text while Barb is sharing all this so Barb texts her back then reads me the text her daughter sends in return. The landlord problem seem to be resolving, albeit slowly.

(The next day Barb and Barry announce “they have done the entire shoreline” of PEI. They also “did” Greenwich but can’t remember much and sadly have terrible things to say about the lovely woman at the St. Peters tourist place. Felt she was holding out on them about there being few places open to eat.)

The wedding party who take photos on the dunes beside the signs saying don’t climb the dunes and the guy who parks his car almost on the dunes at the sweetest beach but only steps out for a second, long enough to take a shot of the lighthouse then drives off.

A woman who made a museum of the place LM Montgomery boarded while she taught school and the view from her window.

A guy who knits socks.

A guy and his food truck.

A cat named Charlie (because cats are people too).

And his not necessarily best friend.

The painter who tells me about the land she’s just bought where she wants to build a studio. I tell her I’d love to move here.

She says do it, buy the property next to mine, I’d like to have good neighbours.

 

 

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*don’t tell me to buy a lawnmower either, shirley

 
Kerry Clare recently wrote a piece about the prospect of not necessarily coveting a house or even lamenting the impossibility of owning one in Toronto any time soon. She wrote about being a happy renter in her city of choice, about living close enough for her husband to stroll to work, close enough to walk the kids to and from school and how everybody’s home at the same time to have dinner together.

You wouldn’t think this would inspire negative comments, but then you’d be silly. Because, it seems, everything inspires negative comments.

It’s actually stunning to watch, anthropologically, this need humans apparently have to take things personally. How almost anything can be interpreted as a slight against something else. In this case the fact that she’s coming out as a contented renter is really pissing off a lot of people who own, which begs the question why?  If you’re happy in your world why does it trouble you that others are happy in their different  worlds?

This isn’t about lawns or renting or owning, it’s much bigger. Sadly, the emotions triggered by the small stuff may suggest an intolerance also to the bigger stuff… race, class, gender, religion, age, and all those other isms.

So what is it? Are we wired to create divisions? How else to explain this constant sorting of them  from us. And why don’t we get that there is no them? There’s only  an us. Some of us like lawns. Others of us don’t. Some of us like bubble gum flavoured ice cream and others of us have taste. (Ah, see that? That’s exactly how easy it is…)

Also, don’t we get tired of it all? The sides, the I’m right you’re wrong, no I’m right you’re wrong, no me, no me…  the incessant, uninformed griping about The Other. Do we ever get beyond it, smarter, more broad-minded? Or does our brain function max out at self-righteous smugness?

For the record, Shirley, (tho’ I doubt this makes us kindred spirits) I live in a house probably similar to yours. I didn’t always. For more than a decade I lived in Toronto in various apartments similar to Clare’s. I also lived in a council flat in Oxford, a pretty house on a hill in the Caribbean, an impossibly tiny bachelor in an Edmonton basement. Had you asked, while I was living in any of these spaces, I’d have told you I was content with my world, not just the structure of where I lived, but the lifestyle it allowed me to live.

Because that’s what it comes down to: are you happy with your life/style?

The point, Shirley, is that I would love it if we all stopped categorizing everyone. We are all of us ever-changing bits of various things based on where we’ve been and where we happen to be at the moment. Today’s renters are tomorrows owners. Or not. And vice versa. Who cares. We deal as best we can. And if someone’s managed to make their own version of lemonade (or bubble gum ice cream) then maybe we can celebrate that instead of telling them iced tea (or vanilla, obvs) is the way to go…

Finally, Shirley (are you still there?), I think it’s important you know that not everyone who lives in a house needs a lawnmower. And that you surely, Shirley, do not speak for me.

* The title for this post is a riff on Kerry Clare’s response to one of the comments her piece inspired and it amused me no end.

 

 

 

 

 

it’s the small stuff that connects us

 

From Welcome to the Hood,  a work in progress.

Glynnis is wearing pink cotton shorts, a striped tee shirt, support hose and brown sandals. Her toenails are painted red. She is only 56 but lives in a nursing home because she is epileptic with brain damage—the kind of brain damage that has rendered her almost childlike. She can’t function on her own. Or even walk. If I don’t visit for a week or two it takes her a minute to remember we’ve ever met. Her parents are close to ninety. Until recently she lived with them. She tells me all this, matter of factly. She thinks the nursing home isn’t a bad place but occasionally has issues with the oatmeal.

She likes colour. So do I. It’s what we talk about. The colour of everything. Look at the bird, I say as I wheel her past a cage in the sunroom, he’s such a beautiful bright blue. She laughs, says that’s not a bird. What is it then, I ask, and she looks at me, back at the cage, then at me again. It’s a bird!  she says, still laughing. I never know what part of her is confusion and what part is just plain smart-ass funny. I think she likes it that way.

I take her out to the courtyard where no one ever goes. Tables and chairs, umbrellas, gardens, a walking path, a bench under an ivy-covered trellis; it all makes for good optics when the inspectors come but in reality it’s too much trouble for the staff to move people outside. Instead they’re crowded around a TV screen near the nurses’ station. No one looks at the set. Most nod off. Some watch the comings and goings in the hall, others beg to be taken back to their rooms.

None of them has the slightest idea there’s a courtyard full of sunshine on the other side of perpetually drawn shades.

There’s a purple hibiscus bush that reminds Glynnis of one her mother has. Her mother’s garden is magnificent, she says, and then we pass a window where we see Marion in her room staring out at something. When she sees us she taps on the glass, points. Marion doesn’t talk much, mostly she sits alone in the dining room and counts her collection of plastic cutlery. But now, this tapping… I’ve never seen her so animated.

At first I can’t tell what she’s pointing at and this frustrates her, she points harder. Maybe she means the hibiscus. I point at the hibiscus. No, no, she shakes her head. I want to tell her to open the window, but it would be too complicated. She may not know how, it may not even open. I don’t want to frustrate her further. She hangs her head as if giving up, then looks at us again, makes a face, annoyed, sad, says something, points. Jab, jab, her finger tapping on the window, intent on getting her message across.

“What’s wrong with her?” Glynnis says.

“She’s trying to show us something.”

“Who cares.”

Glynnis wants to get going.

Marion keeps tapping.

Finally, I see what it is. A bird’s nest tucked into a niche in the trellis. I show Glynnis. She laughs, says her mother has a bird’s nest. Marion smiles, her whole face relaxes and as each of us, from three different vantage points, stare at the bits of grass and twigs, it occurs to me that in this split second of discovery we experience the wonder of this tiny thing in exactly the same way, with exactly the same joy. And in that fraction of a moment I see the connections between us and know that the differences are only an illusion.

closing time

 
It took the better part of two days to install.

Just over an hour to take down.

The weeks in between were a sheer loveliness of spending time with my own couches in a public space and meeting people and having conversations start out of the thin air of upholstery.

The woman who told me her grandparents were happy as clams all their livelong lives together and maybe not in small part because of the mickeys of hootch they kept down the sides of their respective armchairs.

Another who said her first couch was an old door on top of bricks (for legs) and a slab of foam with fabric wrapped around it and several pillows propped against the wall.

The couch someone had forgotten but suddenly remembered hauling from a curb in Whistler and how much they loved it for the year they lived there.

The people who left me postcards.

And the strangers who sat down and talked as though we were old pals.

The kid who told me that sleeping on a pullout feels like a vacation.

And the kids who came on the last day to play the lava game and the scavenger game and ran around looking for things in the photos… a fire hydrant, geese, a porch, leaves, a rock, curtains, stairs, a dog wearing sunglasses. I loved their names— Violet, Autumn, Pandora, Audrey, Lucas, Madeleine, Maxine, Susie… I’ve forgotten some, but not the boy with the glasses and the girl who was so painfully shy.

The friends who brought me greenteacoconutmilkmachalatte, and those who were there when wine was on offer. Friends who travelled a distance to see this show and those who couldn’t come but were there in spirit. (I felt that spirit!) To friends who gave up part of a Sunday afternoon to hear me talk about how underwear affected furniture design. And to friends I missed seeing… sorry I missed you! Thank you all for coming and making this experience exactly what I hoped it would be… a stirring of memory and invitation to story.

Above all, thanks to The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, and the amazing gift that is Gallery A, for allowing me and my orphaned furniture this time and space.

Putting rubbish to some good purpose is my whole thing, after all.

That, and writing mystery thrillers set in art galleries…

 
 

my life in laura smith songs

 

I love this post over at Commatology so I’m stealing the idea and I hope you do too.

It took me about seven seconds to decide on the music for this game because whether I realize it or not, Laura Smith’s words travel with me. And if not always the words, then the sentiments of land and sea and nature and our responsibility to the world and to each other and the idea of dreams and following them and having the courage to know you are all you need to be.

Also, there are references in her songs to things like goat skin drums and pennywhistles. Who would NOT want that living in their head??

In a nutshell, I like her music.

So the game is this: to answer the questions with the title of a song.

The titles can be from any albums belonging to one musician.

My Life in Laura Smith Songs—
  1.  Are you male or female? I’m a Beauty.
  2.  Describe yourself: My Gate’s Wide Open
  3.  How do you feel about yourself?: I Built a Boat
  4.  Describe your ex: Faceless Wonder
  5.  Describe your current romantic situation: Shade of your Love
  6.  Describe your current location: Safe Home Sweet Light
  7.  Describe where you want to be: Horses and Plough
  8.  Your best friend is: Tell the Truth
  9.  Your favourite colour is: Gypsy Dream
  10.  You know that: It’s a Personal Thing
  11.  What’s the weather: Elemental
  12.  If your life was a TV show what would it be called?: Shore Lines
  13.  What is life to you?: Inspiration
  14.  What is the best advice you have to give?: Clean Up Your Own Backyard
  15.  If you could change your name what would you change it to? Jordy

 

you can take me anywhere but you can’t dress me up

 
 
I was once invited to a costume party I didn’t want to go to but under pressure grudgingly agreed and at the last minute—literally minutes before we went out the door—I cut a hole in a white sheet and wore it like a poncho. No one at the party seemed to know I was supposed to be an angel. Where’s your halo, they said? Where’s your wings??

Details.

I don’t like costume parties. I find them uncomfortable for many reasons, not the least of which is that the whole point of the dressing up is to attract attention, which is counter to what I usually aim for at gatherings, i.e. to quietly blend in with the cheese table. It’s not that I’m anti-social. I’ll meet you for lunch in a heartbeat; it’s crowds of people not talking about anything that cheeses me off.

A scenario only made worse in togas and sailor suits.

But it’s not just that, there’s something else weird. Like clown-weirdness.

That said, here I am, invited to another costume thing. One where I will know almost no one. Theme: western. At least there’s that… I can wear jeans. And a simple shirt. And, lest anyone say I don’t have the right spirit for these things (which of course I don’t), I’d like the record to show that I went to Value Village and found a hat with a string under the chin and a black and white neckerchief.

I draw the line at boots.

I think this one’s pretty obvious right?

I’m the Birkenstock Cowboy.

[cue the music]

 

 

 

 

at the train station

 

The five year old whose dad says “Stay here, I’ll be back in a minute,”  and leaves his kid kneeling on a bench surrounded by backpacks and bags and the kid stares in the direction of the washrooms like a puppy until he comes back.
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The teenage boys who fist pump goodbye like it’s nothing. The face on the one that stays.

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The lads that take pictures with real cameras with real lenses.

dsc08769The three young women whose minds explode when they see each other. Their smiles.