The Parkdale branch of Toronto Public Library is packed full of people reading, working, talking, goofing around, crying, whining and laughing.  The security guard gives advice to a young girl, who says something like  ‘I just feel like they’re not hearing me sometimes….’.

The library is a single floor, nestled in a relatively underprivileged neighborhood close to one of my old apartments.  It’s a carpeted, swimming-pool sized room  – twenty fully-occupied work tables surrounded by walls and stacks heavy with books.  A quick scan counts at least 40 backpacks, eight pairs of rubber boots, one wheelchair, three umbrellas, five languages, one crutch and four sharpie hi-liters.  There are perhaps 150 of us here, between the ages of five and ninety.

The walls are leaf green on drywall, sky blue on cinderblock.  The same paint was used on book stacks and is repeated with earthy brown in the carpet pattern – sixties Escher-like overlapping circles.  I wonder – did the head librarian choose this decor (I like it), or does somebody out there design library colours & consult with TPL?….

I’m sitting between two men who are both wearing widely striped sweaters, so my peripheral vision is zinging.  It’s a comic exercise in focus to keep my eyes and my attention here on what I write.

Kensington Market, Toronto, photo by Marcus Vichert
Kensington Market, Toronto, photo by Marcus Vichert – close as I could get to Parkdale.

It’s been 2 hours, and is now 6pm.  I’ve spent some time digging around in Carl Jung, Virginia Woolf and a book called Old Mistresses; Women, Art and Ideology.  Good chewing, while the hum of library rises and falls in the room.  If I close my eyes it feels like swimming; my thoughts float as they will on gentle waves of sound and movement.

swimming in thoughts...  A painting of mine from 2002 called 'Resonance'
swimming in thoughts… A painting of mine from 2002 called ‘Resonance’

Then I open my eyes and the striped sweaters snap me back here.

Today in the Toronto rain I’ve been thinking about how things become valuable.  And which things become so, and why.

There are those things one might expect, but sometimes forget to be enriched by.  I love my daughter’s capacity for courage, her willingness to leap where most others would not.  I adore and cherish our youngest cat’s unsatiable need for play and discovery; the fierce protective loyalty of our second-youngest, Samantha.  Purrl, the older indoor cat for her silent, compelling intelligence – I’ve never met a four-legger more articulate than she.  Oliver, the roly-poly old man cat, now deaf and slow, but still so engaged with the world around him.

2012, house.   by Dominie McGruer
2012, our house.  We made those walls, those quoins, that garden. 
by Dominie McGruer

I so value our house, and the way it continues to teach, demand of, and heal us, at soul-level; the 100s of trees we’ve planted over seven years that grow and grow – even the ones who were girdled by rabbits; the plants that so willingly and generously work with me, the sun and the rain in our gardens – oh my, but God lives there this spring, in all his/her glory.  I am astonished, honoured and so keenly respectful of the will of things and people to grow, grow and bloom.  I value the sincere friendship of my husband.

Jaqueline duPre, Marcus Vichert, Fiona MacDonald.  Fran McArthur, Mary-Katherine Finch.  Jose Abreu, Kati Gleiser, the woman across from me who is so gently and graciously helping another woman to edit her manuscript online.  Michael Klaassen, who just wrote to me.  Emily Helmut, who just bought a cello and knows who she is.  The tibetan monk who just walked in.  The colour yellow, which is like the sun, especially on a wet day. Everyone who makes art, writes and sings.  All of us who play.

Blue and white striped sweaters. Crutches, for those who need them.  People who design the decor for, work in, and spend time in libraries, all over the world.

Life is here, and I value all of it.

The sound of a giant awakening

My desk is in a new place – not sure I like it yet.

table saw
table saw

To my right, a pile of ash and cherry lumber, drywall, moor vents, a roll of typar, a garbage bag full of roxyl & strips of R20 styrofoam.  A rolled-up rug, boxes of Christmas decorations from 2 years ago.

To my left, other, more domestic piles – rolled up clothing, socks, a towel, plant bits on the floor.

In front of me are five large bags, each representing one fiscal year of our taxes.  Beyond that, seven small piles of clothing I will keep but have no drawer-space for.

If I were a giant waking from a long sleep to find this mountain of stuff piled on top of me, I would be irritated.  I’d make a huge crack in the earth, shove it all in, and that would be that.

the current state of the shovel painting.
the current state of the shovel painting. 

We’ve been at it all week here.

Instead of creating art, Grant has built shelves, sorted tools, filed rolls of electrical wire; plumbing, mortar, drywall materials, kitchen appliances; saws and drills and bits and screws.

Instead of working in my studio I have armoured myself with high purpose and dug deeply into corners that were like dark lairs – every one stacked full of toxically functionless Stuff that should have been gone from here a long long time ago.

Now, on the second day of 2013 in this short break from the battle between Positive Forward Movement and Clogged Paralysis, I’m well and truly exhausted and still uncertain as to the victor.

edge of a small cliff
edge of a small cliff

Enter Joseph Campbell:

I don’t believe people are looking for the
meaning of life as much as they are looking
for the experience of being alive.


[insert pause, as I stare out at the gently falling snow…..]

south window
south window

I’m going to light the wood stove now, and BURN STUFF.

happy 2013 all.  & just to reassure – it’s a (mostly) friendly giant.