peeping tomettery

I love walking in that hour just before dinner when it’s already dark but doesn’t yet feel like night and people are coming home, on foot and by car, stepping off busses, picking up kids, dragging home groceries. It’s like there’s a universal aaaahhhh in the air. I love the way windows are lit and I can see the wee slivers of life of those who don’t draw their curtains—which I assume they leave undrawn because they, too, want to see wee slivers of life outside, which occasionally includes me, walking by, looking at them, feeling a little like a peeping tomette (although I think that only applies if you actually stop walking).

Last night the sky was mostly clear with a few scudding clouds and the moon, an almost perfect half, and in the first of a row of old brick townhouses painted bright blue, I see a young man and a slightly older woman at a table in the front window, leaning back in their chairs, talking and drinking red wine from stemmed glasses.

In a low-rise apartment, an elderly woman checks her mail in the lobby, keeping the door open with her foot, then goes back inside empty-handed; I sense the length and weight of her days in the slouch of her shoulders, the shuffle of slippers.

Another woman, also elderly, sits with a tray on her lap, and a few doors along, in a house the size houses used to be, with a tiny carport and a milkbox, a couple are eating at a table with a white cloth; the woman catches my eye as I pass while her husband stares straight ahead at something else, a wall, a TV, a daydream, and just chews.

In a front yard that’s all plants and no lawn, a bench has been placed right next to the public sidewalk as if to offer a moment’s rest to those who have been a long time travelling. I think about stopping, but carry on instead.

A man sweeps his front porch and on the corner a fridge is being delivered. Or stolen.

A woman in jeans walks a stroller and a golden lab and a child skips to the front door of her house with a pink backpack ahead of a woman in stockings who moves much more slowly, locks the car door with a remote and a beep beep.

Across the road, a gate is over-grown with dried clematis and in the tiny wooden house attached, a couple sit back to back at computers as their faces shine blue in the light.

the power of retreat


The bay window of a friend’s Muskoka kitchen.

Giant black Newfoundland pup snoring by the back door. Green tea.

No one else around. I sit on pillows, watch blue herons flaap flaap by; a black squirrel travels down a long path, jumps onto the deck of the boathouse, peeks around the corner, realizes it’s a dead end, not to mention a poor place to hide nuts. He comes back up, disappears. I have some tea, open the book I’ve brought. I have two hours to read before I need to be anywhere. I close the book. Reach for a stack of typed pages—the chapter I’ve been working on for a month and which somewhere along the line has turned into cement, an ugly confusion that just stares back at me, obstinate, exactly what you’d expect from cement. I should throw it out but I have optimistic moments when I think there’s something in there—I just don’t know where, or how, to make the crack to let it out.

I reach for the book again.

The squirrel, the herons, are gone. The view remains. My tea is cold but still good. I put the book down and my hand reaches for the typed pages even as part of me shouts You fool… you’re about to waste two perfectly good hours in Shangri-la on GD cement…

I make notes, draw arrows. I jot “Insert A”  then write a scene and call it A. I find B within the existing mess. Then C. I mark it, move it to a better place. The dog is still snoring as I re-write what becomes D, and find E. I print “Insert E”. More arrows. And then, checking the clock, I jot a final scene and christen it F and I know—despite the tangle of lines and notes, inserts and cross outs—that a bouncing baby chapter has been born.

I’m stunned at first, that I could do in two hours what I hadn’t been able to crack in weeks. I’m inclined to put it down to the view, the solitude, the drowsy dog—all of which is great, all of which has set a mood—but it occurs to me that what is really powerful is the way my friend’s house makes no demands of me—how my thoughts are allowed the freedom to just ‘be’.

Because, truthfully, I have peace and solitude at home also. But laundry winks. Floors scowl. And the squirrels don’t mind their own business on long paths, they knock on windows and complain that they’re out of bird food. I can work at home of course—it’s where I’m happiest—but sometimes what’s necessary—for clarity, for permission to colour outside the lines, the courage to smash the cement… not merely find a ‘crack’—isn’t the familiar, but the bountiful disentanglements of  ‘away’.

That, and an unfamiliar window.

you rang?

A new cat has moved into the neighbourhood. No idea where it lives, but it does sport a responsible birds-beware bell which Jake can hear from two storeys up, across the street and 50 metres away, and while in the midst of a snoring-deep, tummy-pointed-to-the-ceiling, chirping-in-his-dreams kind of nap.

Before I even hear what amounts to a faint and distant tinkle—and I’m sitting right beside the window—he’s leapt into serious Not that bloody cat again! mode, shot past me and has his nose pressed up against the screen, sending out Stay off my driveway if you know what’s good for you, bucko vibes.

Or maybe he’s just admiring the bling?