Every month, I attend a women’s writing circle at my place of work. It’s a safe space where we get together, write in silence for a few minutes on various prompts that are offered, and then either read or talk about what we wrote as a large group / smaller circles. I look forward to it every month, and can tell others do too by all of the familiar faces. Plus, they serve a fantastic hot lunch.
During last month’s circle, one of the moderators handed out a flyer for My City My Six – “A participatory public art project that will reveal Toronto and its residents, six words at a time. ” She asked us to spend a few minutes writing out as many tiny stories as we could using only six words. I’d never done this before, so I didn’t know what to expect – but when time was up and we were called out of our bubbles to share with the group, I’d found that I’d written over 20 stories. I was marveled. I had no idea that I had so many minimalist stories to tell. I decided to commit to contributing to this cute project with as many stories as I can dream up.
I encourage you to try your hand as well!
My first dreamy story: Clouds above, barefoot in the grass.
The year was 2014, and I was underground riding the TTC. Sitting alone and smiling to myself after a particularly whimsical sentence, I was halfway through reading Heather’s second book, The Girl Who Was Saturday Night. Suddenly a shadow fell over me, and I felt a tap on my shoulder. Jarred out of my reverie, I looked up. A scruffy man with kind eyes was staring down at me.
“Pardon me, miss – but I just had to say,” he began timidly.
“Yes?” I questioned, rather annoyed at the interruption.
“I- I just had to say that the book you’re reading must really be wonderful… your face and your smile were just shining with happiness.”
I was taken by surprise; I lowered my eyes and blushed.
“It makes me want to read that book, too,” he quickly added, backing away.
“The book is called The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by a Canadian author from Montréal, named Heather O’Neill,” I blurted out, not wanting him to feel bad for embarrassing me in such a sweet way.
He scurried away, ready to exit the train. “You can get it from your local library!” I called out after him. He turned back to thank me, then stepped out of my life forever.
This book, that sentence, and the moment solidified my love for Heather O’Neill forever. I have an unshakable loyalty to people, things, and situations that leave an impact on my life.
I had previously read Heather’s debut novel, Lullabies for Little Criminals – a sad tale set in Montréal revolving around a twelve-year-old protagonist named Baby. I’ve always had a love affair with Montréal, and the charming island city is featured in all three of her novels. Heather’s playful, romantic style infused with a melancholic reality speaks to me in a way that I’ve never encountered before. By the time I had finished her second novel, I was hooked.
We showed up early, ordered fancy wine, and scanned the already-full room. There were seats available at the back… but there were also a few rows available right at the front. We sauntered over; reserved! Dang. We plopped ourselves down anyway and waited to get kicked out.
What I loved most about this book talk with Heather O’Neill was the sincerity in it; it was more a conversation between herself and Joshua Knelman, (co-founder of The Walrus magazine) about her life, her art, and her views on things. I got a sense of who Heather was by the questions Josh asked, and how Heather answered.
I was a little star-struck, I must say. Heather is an entirely enthralling person to be in the same room with. I left that evening with a dreamy mind and stars in my eyes.
“Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.” ~Maya Angelou
What’s your refuge, respite, how you repair?
I’ve become resolved to expand my creative self. I’ve always had one big toe dipped in the artistic pond, but as adulthood, responsibilities, and the 9-5 took over, I woke up one day and realized that I had transformed solely into a supporter of the arts, rather than a contributor.
Art in all of its glorious forms, is my refuge.
I’ve recently taken up plucking at the ukulele. Such a quaint instrument, capable of such beautiful sound, when treated right. Some of my fondest memories were born while spending time with musically-inclined people.
One particular night stands out for me: not too long ago after a lovely evening out imbibing with friends, the group of us headed back the dwelling of a lovely couple residing in Toronto’s Kensington Market neighbourhood. The first thing I saw upon entry was a beautiful ukulele hung on the wall, an acoustic guitar displayed in a holder in the corner, and a set of hand drums perching nearby. I went over to the ukulele and picked it up. The owner of the abode’s eyes lit up as he watched me, and he grabbed the acoustic guitar. He then said to me “Do you know this one?” and began playing one of my favourite songs ever – so I started to sing. I handed the ukulele to someone else and they joined in, playing the song from memory. Another friend picked up the hand drums, and out of nowhere a musical shaker with metal beads appeared and was included in the melody. This was shaping up to be a beautiful jam session, with everyone playing a part. We completed the song and then looked around the room at each other with huge goofy grins on our faces.
I’ve not often felt the kind of joy ran though me on that beautiful night.
As soon as I found out that he’d be in Toronto for this unprecedented event, I bought a ticket. I never in a million years thought that I’d be attending alone, but alone I went; no one I’d asked had wanted to go. I’ve been lucky enough to watch Maynard sing countless times before at shows he put on with his various bands throughout the years – but this was different. This time, I would actually be able to hear what he had to say. I could focus, pay attention, and mull. I wasn’t going to miss this for anything.
It was a cool, clear Monday night, and the November full moon was high in the sky as I crossed King’s College Circle to reach the building’s entrance. How fitting. The moon was yellow and misty and uncaptureable by my phone but try I did, because how could I not?
Going to see this man (whose career I’ve followed singe teenagerdom and whom I find to be incredibly intelligent and inspiring to this day) speak about life, art, mistakes, and learning (not losing; “you either win or you learn, losing is on you”) was simultaneously somber and uplifting. Like life.
A sneaky snippet of Maynard reading aloud from his book.
I was reminded that I should never expect things that inspire me to necessarily inspire others; what I find amazing and incredible may not resonate with even those who are closest to me; in the end, my thoughts and my feelings are my own. Despite this, I won’t ever stop going after and talking about the things that I’m passionate about. Be it music, trees, books, or sunsets. We just never know how something we do or say or share might have a deep and lasting effect on those around us.
Thank you Maynard, for sharing your life with the world, and for coming to Toronto to spend time with your fans.
Very sensitive to the injustices in our world, perpetually perturbed by misguided societal morals, and a penchant for melancholia (as well as the Oxford comma), I’ve had to learn to make the mindful decision of carving out a little happiness for myself and my life on this earth. By cultivating a deep appreciation for the world around me, the benefits given me, and the time allowed me, I’ve opened myself up to allow in all of the good. Taking in all that this city’s unique urban culture has to offer, engaging daily with nature, celebrating and creating art in all its glorious forms, respecting friendships, family, and myself, gastronomy, astronomy, and autonomy… all of these things are worth focusing on. I hope to gain a better perspective of my life and why I should remain grateful for it (every second of every day) by remembering and documenting my experiences. If by doing so I can inspire other wayward, wavering individuals to keep in perspective the rosiness of life – even better.