Friday, November 28, 2008

Miracle or Mimicry

The day is warm and Lindsay is especially frisky. Her black coat gleams and she darts about with her tail wagging delightedly, her nose scraping the surface of the snow like a vacuum cleaner sucking up scent.

Suddenly she pauses and stands alert, eyes scanning the pathway ahead of us. Then as I approach, she gives herself a shake and prances off along the path until she vanishes into the distance. Seconds later she comes racing back, dancing excitedly around my feet. Come on slowpoke she's saying, lets get going.

I smile, ruefully.

It is hard to believe Lindsay is crippled with arthritis and wracked with severe pain.

Yet that was the diagnosis from our vet. Until a year ago Lindsay would limp painfully around the house and could often be found huddled in a back room whimpering in agony. For three years I could only take her for short walks around the block, Lindsay limping and whining all the way. It was painful to watch.

She was on a daily dose of aspirin to ease her suffering; but this barely seemed to take the edge off.

And then her arthritis went away. Vanished completely. In a single day.

Within a week of my arthritic mother moving into a retirement home.

Since my father's death, my mother had lived in a granny flat attached to our house. She cared for Lindsay through the day while we were at work. A very independent woman, she cared for the garden, cooked her own meals, had the dog for companion, and limped painfully about her apartment. Her arthritis is so bad she had had a knee replaced two years ago and may need surgery on the other. But at 89 there are other health issues that make that operation unlikely.

Had Lindsay been miraculously cured of her arthritis? Or had she been mimicking my mother's behaviour?

The March issue of National Geographic has an article on animal intelligence. The cover star is a boarder collie with a vocabulary of 300 words. Lindsay is an English Springer Spaniel and I have no idea how many words she understands. She's certainly the smartest dog we've ever owned. Knows all the family members by name. Never needs to be talked to in short commands, she's very comfortable with sentences. Although sometimes the simple word "NO" seems a challenge for her.

That our pets have minds and thoughts comes as no surprise to many of us who have spent most of our lives in the company of animals. What is surprising is that it has taken so long for this to gain scientific acceptance. Are we that insecure about our place in the universe that we can’t acknowledge what is right in front of us?

Lindsay plunges back along the trail toward me, her eyes sparkle and there's a smile on her face. I don't think she's a miracle dog. I think she's just trying to be part of the family. As the National Geographic article says, "A dog in a human pack needs to learn to adapt."

Anyway, have a look at this 30 second video clip of her and you decide:

Thursday, November 27, 2008


As Americans are enjoying their Thanksgiving with family and friends, Canadians are trudging off to work as usual, our Thanksgiving having been over weeks ago and our bosses unreasonably expecting us to show up for work.

If you are celebrating Thanksgiving today, drive safely and have a joyous time!


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

My Wife, the Watkin's Man and the Dionne Quintuplets

Dionne Sisters Pictures, Images and Photos

Alright, so here is the sad story of my wife, the Watkins' man and the Dionne quintuplets.

My wife and I met at College, dated, became engaged and married on our graduation. We agreed we would live closest to whoever got the best job after College. As it turned out, that would be me; but little did we realize the best job offer would require us to move to the small town of Callendar in Northern Ontario. Population 1000. Both Linda and I had grown up in Toronto (population 3,000,000 and counting) and had never lived outside a major urban area. It was culture shock for us on a grand scale.

We brought a wonderful home overlooking Callendar Bay on Lake Nipissing, set back in the trees on two acres of land. It was located on a hill side just south of the bay and about a mile out of town. One thing we hadn't planned on was the lack of job opportunities for Linda in such a small area. While I was involved in exciting work, Linda was fairly isolated and alone, just her and Jenny, the dog we had in those days.

You may have heard of Callendar? For a brief moment in time it had actually been famous. World media had descended on the town. Major Hollywood stars could be found hobnobbing with the locals on the main street. In 1934, quintuplets had been born to a young rural farming couple, Elzire and Oliva Dionne, in Corbiel, a small homestead just outside Callendar. The complicated delivery was attended by two midwives and Dr. Dafoe. The odds against success were 57,000,000 to 1.

All five Dionne Quintuplets survived but were immediately made the wards of the provincial crown until they reached the age of 18. Across the road from their birthplace, the Dafoe Hospital and Nursery was built for the five girls and their caregivers to live in. Their parents could only visit by joining the thousands of people in the Observation Gallery who watched from meshed screens as the children played twice a day as part of "Quintland," a theme-park like atmosphere showcasing and selling Quintuplet merchandise.

Approximately 6,000 people per day visited the observation gallery to view the Dionne sisters. Close to three million people walked through the gallery between 1936 and 1943. In 1934, the quintuplets brought in about $1 million, and they attracted in total about $51 million of tourist revenue to Ontario. Quintland became Ontario's biggest tourist attraction of the era, at the time surpassing Niagara Falls.

Of course that was all decades before our arrival in town and Callander had drifted back to a sleepy anonymity. The only remaining connection to those heady times was the woman who ran our variety store who was the granddaughter of one of the quints midwives. She sold pictures of her grandmother with the quints to the tourists.

But back to my wife and the Watkins salesman.

One morning, after I had left for work, my wife was getting dressed when she heard a knocking on the door. It took her a minute to finish dressing before she could answer.

And when she got to the door she found the local Watkins Product distributor peeing against the side of our house.

I guess he had figured no one was home because my wife had taken so long to answer. He looked acutely embarrassed but was obviously having trouble stopping what he was doing.

He said, "Watkins?" My wife said, "No thank you."

And that was the last time anyone came to our door selling Watkins products.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Strange Case Of The Naked Woman In The Night

My dear friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, had retired from the avocation of private investigator that had brought him world renown, to raise bees in Kent; but had not retired from the mournful playing of melancholy tunes upon his infernal violin.

"But I fail to understand, Holmes, why you would wish to call it 'The Case of the Second Tent?", I sought to distract him from his labours upon that wretched instrument.

Holmes finished the musical phrase.

"My dear Watson," he replied, reluctantly setting the instrument aside, and reaching for the persian slipper in which he kept his pipe tobacco, "It is elementary. You have just heard the tale told to us by our friend, the Explorer. You know my methods. What would you choose to call it, 'The Strange Case Of The Naked Woman In The Night', no doubt."

"Well, as I recall the story, Holmes, that is its most salient feature. The Explorer and his wife were camping on the shores of Lake Huron close to the town of Goderich. They were fast asleep in their tent, when the Explorer was awakened by the sound of a young woman chattering excitedly about her evening spent with some young men she had met at a party. And while she recounted these adventures, she was proceeding to remove her clothes."

Sherlock Holmes at Rest Pictures, Images and Photos

"Indeed, Watson. As a gentleman, and not wishing to frighten the young lady, the Explorer permitted her to continue with her undressing, unchallenged."

"Most admirable, I agree. However, Mrs. Explorer was not so gracious, and, having been awakened by the same chattering, demanded, in a loud voice, to know what the woman thought she was doing.

"This occasioned an even louder shriek from the nearly naked maiden, who quickly gathered up her discarded garments and fled the tent, kindly remembering to fasten the zipper up behind her."

Holmes was thoughtfully stuffing tobacco into his Meerschaum, "Those indeed are the facts of the case, Watson. However, if you recall, what happened next was most singular."

"Indeed, Holmes, after some discussion of the intrusion, the Explorer and his dear lady managed to return to sleep. Some hours later, the light of day just beginning to brighten the interior of the tent, the Explorer had the curious sensation of being watched. The peculiar notion was strong enough to rouse him from his sleep, certain that if he opened his eyes, he would find the face of another mere inches from his own.

"He then heard the sound of something sniffing and rummaging about in the tent. This event took place before Lindsay, that noble dog, had come to the Explorer household, so it wasn't she that the Explorer heard.

"Sensing the creature was now in the most further remove of the confined enclosure, he risked opening his eyes. And found himself staring at the nether end of a skunk. The creature's identity made obvious by the white stripe down its back."

"And from this, Watson, we can deduce that when the inebriated nymph had fled their tent, she had failed to pull the zipper fully closed and had certainly not engaged the clasps that would have prevented such an entry." said Holmes, lighting his pipe with evident satisfaction.

"As usual Holmes, your skills at deduction astound me." I replied. "Of course, recalling Mrs. Explorer's reaction to the night's previous visitor, our dear friend held his breath and uttered the most fervent prayer, that Mrs. Explorer would not awaken and challenge this second visitor.

"In time his prayers were answered, for she remained quiet and the fragrant beast, having satisfied itself that no food was to be found within the tent, eventually left through the opening that had admitted it in the first place."

"Quite so, Watson" Homes was already disappearing in a haze of equally fragrant tobacco smoke, "And the Explorer then leaped to his feet and rushed to properly fasten the entry way to their temporary abode."

"And that is the story Holmes. It ends there, but why would you choose to call it "The Case of the Second Tent?"

"Elementary, my dear Watson, for what can we deduce would occasion even an inebriated young woman to enter a strange tent and remove her garments in the middle of the night. Do not forget she could not have known so fine a gentleman as the Explorer was the occupant. She could have been placing herself in the gravest of danger."

"Why Holmes, you are quite correct. Whatever could be the answer to this odd riddle?"

"Why, a second tent, Watson! A second tent! In the camp ground where Mr and Mrs Explorer chose to spend the night, there had to have been a second tent of the same style and manufacture as the Explorer's own. It is the only explanation that meets the facts of the case."

"Indeed, Holmes, once again you astound me. However, calling it "The Strange Case of the Naked Woman in the Night", will attract more readers to this blog, than the title you propose."

"Surely not, Watson, the readers of these missives are finer folk indeed. If they choose to read your account it will be despite your lurid title not because of it."

And with that, he reached once more for his fiddle.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Canadians In Love

I have to admit it, we Canadians are not known for romance. If someone were to ask you to name the most romantic people on earth, Canadians would not immediately come to mind. Might not even make it onto your list as a postscript.

"Nice people" yes we would be near the top of your list. "Polite", "clean", "nice neighbours", okay you got us.

If you're ever in a fight, a couple of our hockey players would be handy to have around. But women seldom dream of toothless lovers.

If you need comedians for the Hollywood grist mill, Jim Carey, Martin Short or Mike Myers will do just fine. They'd be fun to have at a party, but they're not romantic. Oh Hollywood did its best to make us romantic, with those singing Mounty/beautiful Indian maiden movies back in the thirties. But the Canadian Mounted Police don't dress in those red surge jackets any more, they don't ride horses and they sure don't sing. If you get stopped for a ticket in Alberta, they'll look like any other cop in North America. And the same old, same old isn't romantic.

That's what makes it so strange that the entire population of Canada should have fallen in love, deeply passionately in love. The stand in the freezing cold just for a glimpse, a taste of the ardour of your affection, kind of love. Romance on a grand scale.

With a chain of donut restaurants.

Cue Enya, dim the lights, we are about to name the object of our affection: Tim Hortons

Tim Horton\'s Coffee Pictures, Images and Photos

Just listen to what Wikipeadia has to say:

"Tim Hortons Inc. is a coffee-and-doughnut fast food restaurant chain. Founded in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1964, the store rapidly expanded across Canada to become the country's largest quick-service food chain.

"Tim Hortons franchise stores are plentiful in Canadian cities and towns. As of July 1, 2007, there were 2,733 outlets in Canada, 345 outlets in the United States and one outlet just outside Kandahar, Afghanistan. Tim Hortons has supplanted McDonald's as Canada's largest food service operator; it has nearly twice as many Canadian outlets as McDonald's, and its system-wide sales surpassed those of McDonald's Canadian operations in 2002. The chain accounted for 22.6% of all fast food industry revenues in Canada in 2005. Tim Hortons commands 76% of the Canadian market for baked goods (based on the number of customers served) and holds 62% of the Canadian coffee market (compared to Starbucks, in the number two position, at 7%)."

Have sweeter words ever been spoken? Can you not feel our hearts beating. Our soldiers in Afghanistan could not exist without Tim Hortons and our troops wrote enough pleading letters to the restaurant chain that they opened a store on our military base in Kandahar province.

And Tim Horton, the man for whom the entire chain is named, was a hockey player.

If you want to find romance in Canada, just go to any Tims and look for the line-up that stretches from the counter out the door into the cold frigid morning.

We are not afraid to suffer for our love.

Have pity on us, we're Canadians.

Friday, November 21, 2008


Tagged Pictures, Images and Photos

Uh, Oh. . . I've been tagged. Plant Buddy ( tagged me and now it's my turn to tag YOU.

The tag says to post 8 Random Facts and/or Habits about myself and then choose 8 other people to tag.

Now you've been tagged by An Explorer

After you put this link on your site, go and tag 8 other bloggers and have them link back to you.
There are benefits to this tagging game: You increase traffic to your site and meet new people.
This is my first tagging experience. . . So here goes:

1. I was born in England but came to Canada when I was three.
2. I have a Masters Degree in Social Work.
3. I hate snow in November. Snow should stay in its place, which is Christmas Day.
4. I've just started eating a healthier diet.
5. I have two daughters and four grandchildren.
6. Actually I had five grandchildren but one died of an unsuspected heart condition at 6 months.
7. I am a secret fan of the Pibgorn comic.
8. I once stood at the next urinal to Mickey Rooney.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

When Things Go Right

Lindsay has a strong personality and distant relatives are always asking about her. So I posted the above video to YouTube last winter and titled it "Lindsay at Play". When I checked back, later that afternoon, it had had over a thousand hits! I was astonished.

Then I noticed its listing among "related videos" and discovered it was smack in the middle of ten videos about Lindsay Lohan. Not wanting our sweet dog in such company, my wife made me take it down. I recently reposted it with the subtitle, "How Lindsay Gets Burrs In Her Ears" and it gets no where near the attention.

I'm walking alone today, Lindsay accompanying me only in my thoughts. We are having family over for dinner tonight. However, my oldest daughter's son is allergic to dogs. His eyes swell, turn red and water painfully. So whenever they're coming over we have to board out Lindsay for the day and do a dramatic cleaning of the house. Both are difficult to do on week days when our employers actually expect us to turn up for work.

Fortunately for us, Nigel is only a couple of blocks away, is a former dog trainer for the Canadian Institute for the Blind, and loves to have Lindsay visit. He calls her "Monster" and Lindsay goes into paroxysms of delight when she sees him. So Lindsay will stay with him, out of the way for the evening.

I've been asked a couple of times about Lindsay's breed. Like Barack Obama she's a mutt. An English Springer Spaniel/English Setter mix. She is mostly Spaniel, but we don't give her the Spaniel cut and chose not to get her tail bobbed. As a result she has a beautiful tail, that, along with her ears, is a magnificent burr collector in the Fall.

We taught Lindsay to sit and lay-down and roll over; but most of what she knows she taught herself. She listens to us intently and it's astonishing the things she's picked up. When she was being irritable one evening, my wife got annoyed and told her, "Oh, Lindsay go to sleep!" And she did. We laughed, thinking it was just a coincidence; but no, Lindsay knew just what she was doing. And its become a handy little command to have in our tool kit.

Speaking of teaching dogs to "sit". When Lindsay was younger she was part of a dog walking group called Puppy Club. About twenty of us would gather with our dogs and take them for a run through the Rouge Valley on a Saturday morning. One woman was having problems with her dog and loudly and angrily ordered it to sit. Everyone of the twenty dogs promptly planted their bum on the pathway setting off a veritable earthquake of obedience. You probably felt the earth move where you live. Ubiquitous little command, that "Sit".

Anyway, thoughts of Lindsay as I finish my lonely walk. Lots more more to do before the family arrives. The weather forecast is for our first snow storm of the season tonight. Both our daughters live outside Toronto and won't drive if the weather is bad.

So I'm keeping my fingers crossed and looking forward to the day.

Monday, November 17, 2008

When Things Go Wrong

It all went wrong. The entire day. Everything.

I'm taking Lindsay for a run this morning to unwind. My muscles ache but I push through the pain. Lindsay scampers on ahead, then comes running back to see what's keeping me.

Both Linda and I have 89 year old mothers living in the same retirement home. However, Linda's mother has been in serious decline over the past 6 months. Whether from stroke or dementia, its hard to know. But she's become very forgetful, and very slow, and very angry. Difficult for the staff to deal with. Difficult for us to deal with.

I trudge on through the snow. One step in front of the other.

A decision was made last month to move Linda's mom to the second floor, the extended care floor. We've put her name into a another facility, but it will be 4 or 5 months until a spot becomes available. Depending on how quickly people die off at the new facility or on their waiting list. Its a tough business, this caring for seniors.

We were to be notified when the move was to take place, so we could prepare her mother for the change. No sense preparing her too soon, she would only forget and get confused. And frightened. And angry.

Yesterday, Linda and I were looking forward to having coffee with Giorgio Di Cicco, the Poet Laureate of Toronto. I talked about that in my previous post. Linda loves poetry and was really excited. But an hour before the coffee, Linda got a phone call from the retirement home to say they had already moved her mother to the second floor and when were we coming to move the remainder of her furniture down to her new room?

"What!" I could hear Linda saying on the phone, "This was supposed to be organized. This was supposed to be a process. You were supposed to warn us!"

Well, it turned out, a room had come available and staff were free that day, so they had gone ahead with the move. Expediency trumps process every time. It was a half hour before we were to meet with Giorgio. Suddenly the day had gone from joyful to a nightmare.

I won't bore you with all the details. Linda went immediately to see her mother. I kept the appointment with Giorgio, but my head and my heart were with Linda. Linda had arrived to find her mother sitting on her bed in an otherwise empty room, wracked with both confusion and outrage. Two hours later, with Giorgio back off to the hundred acre "Hermitage", where he lives North of Toronto, Linda calmed her mother down while her brother and I moved the remainder of her mother's furniture down to the second floor.

It was rushed. It was exhausting. It was stressful. We had words with the staff; but of course, the woman who had made the decision to proceed with the move had already gone home. And won't be in today (Sunday) or Monday. She knows how to time somethings.

Usually a walk with Lindsay is magic, easing away both physical and emotional strain. But, somehow,there is no magic in our walk today.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Exploring A Creative Mind over coffee

Not all that long ago, in better weather than the cold rains of today, I was having coffee with Pier Giorgio Di Cicco at our new Starbucks in West Hill.

I see you're not impressed. His is not a household name in America, not here in Canada either and not even here in Toronto where he lives.

But I'm impressed. Di Cicco is the Poet Laureate of the City of Toronto. But it's not his poetry that interests me today, its his work as a philosopher of creative communities. Here is one of his quotes:

“There's no escaping the virtual project of the planet; keeping in mind that information technology enriches, extends our domain, generates wealth and makes life easier if not profound, we also recognize that it robs us of the indigenous, the flavored, the local. And that is the challenge of the contemporary city; the question of how to be international and at the same time unique.”

Di Cicco’s philosophy has found popularity in forums ranging from The Prime Minister's Advisory Committee on Cities and Communities, The Creative Cities Project of the Ontario and Toronto governments, to Waterfront Toronto to international conferences on urban sustainability. In 2005 he was appointed official "Curator" for the City of Toronto’s Humanitas project, a global showcase where Toronto will host its heritage, vision and strategy for global citizenship.

“The creative city is taken to mean different things. It means to prosper and to assert one’s heritage in a climate of adventure. It means innovation to those who would marry commerce and imagination. It means a welcoming city with places in which to relax, with people free to invent and encounter, through the arts, in public spaces and through architecture. But architecting a city is first about constructing the space between people, the metaphysical space, the way they feel about each other and for each other.”

Di Cicco's work has earned him numerous awards, including five Canada Council Awards, six Ontario Arts Council Awards and the City of Toronto Arts Award. He was recently appointed the Emilio Goggio Visiting Professor in Italian-Canadian Studies at the University of Toronto.

“For until we have architected the civic space between each other, we will inevitably put up bad buildings, confused infrastructure and obscure the project of city spirit.”

Di Cicco had come here to the West Hill area of Toronto to talk to us about the creation of a creative community and I had taken him for a tour to see our small section of the City for himself.

He is a man of ideas and vision who prefers things a little messy.

We need more of those.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

In Praise Of Silence

On Sundays I take Lindsay for a special run through the Rouge Valley. Like people who are "bears in the morning" without their coffee, Lindsay is unbearable without a long run to tire her out. Otherwise her friendly nature and Spaniel energy are just overwhelming.

We pass a line of joggers running tirelessly along the trail, each and every one with an ipod filling the silence in their head.

Lindsay runs with them a way, until she realizes I'm not following. Then she turns and races back toward me, tail wagging like a metronome.

I don't own an ipod. I seldom turn the radio on in my car. When my wife isn't home, I never turn on the CD player. When I listen to music, I like to attend to it, fully.

Even here in the Rouge Valley, you can hear the city rumbling in the distance. But there is one pathway, off the beaten trail, that winds further down toward the river. At the bottom there is a silence so profound, you can hear yourself think.

Lindsay and I always take this path and sometimes I'll sit for a while on a fallen log and just be aware. At times we're joined by the wind, or chipmunks or a raccoon and even once had deer bound by us. Sometimes, if you just take the time to be still, the world comes to you.

Monday, November 10, 2008


About five yards ahead of us, the rabbit hasn't moved. It sits in profile, tall ears erect, its dark left eye watching Lindsay's every move, its nose twitching rapidly.

And then its gone. One single bound into the tall grasses by the side of the pathway and its as if the rabbit had never been. At my feet, Lindsay has finished her investigation of an interesting scent, her tail is back to wagging with excitement, and she looks up at me to ask why I'm standing still. She prances down the pathway a few feet and then looks back as if to say, "Come on, lets get going!"

So I start walking and Lindsay bounds on ahead, past the spot where the rabbit had been sitting. Catching the recent scent in passing, she backtracks, nose to the ground and is off on the trail. But the rabbit is now long gone.

I walk on, thinking about our senses. Lindsay has missed the rabbit right in front of her because she was turned into the sense of smell not sight. I'd been reading, a few days ago, that scientists had discovered that our brains tune out unnecessary sensation, to prevent distraction from our primary sense of sight. Put on clothes in the morning and we can feel the fabric against our skin. However rough or comfortable, however sensual our clothing feels, within minutes of dressing, our brains tune out that awareness.

For a moment I focus on the weight of the coat on my back, the slight itch of my scarf, the tightness of the hat on my head, the feel of the leather gloves on my hand, the constriction of my feet in my boots, the coldness of the air against my face.

But when I begin to listen to the distant grumbling of the city in the background, the crash of the waves at the bottom of the bluffs, the clicking of the branches in the tall trees, the squish of my feet on the muddy pathway, I realize my brain has already tuned out the feel of my clothing.

I struggle to both feel and listen at the same time. I can do it, kind of. But not well.

I'm a very visual and auditory person. My wife has a much greater awareness of aromas and tactile sensation. She will track me down in Sears to have me come over to feel an interesting fabric on a dress that has delighted her.

I remember our dinner at the restaurant last night, the air alive with wonderful aromas. The delicious warm taste of the food, the coolness of the wine glass. Linda momentarily reaching across the table to squeeze my hand as she tells a funny story about her day at work.

Then Lindsay comes crashing her way through the brush and tall grasses, returning from the rabbit hunt. She pushes her way back onto the path, twigs stuck in her tail and long ears. She shakes herself vigorously, loosening a few of the twigs, the rest she just ignores.


Friday, November 7, 2008

An Evening With A Poet

sun dog Pictures, Images and Photos

Celestial events marked the beginning and the ending of the meeting, like auguries from a Celtic past.

A sundog, that torn fragment of a rainbow, dug its technicolor blade into the earth on a 45 degree angle to the setting sun. A rare winter phenomenon never witnessed by me before.

It was March of this year and we were on our way to hear Pier Giorgio Di Cicco's talk on Creative Communities. I had worked hard to host this event here in the West Hill section of Toronto. Invitations had been sent to every school, church, political and community organization in the area. But we were fighting the walking wounded staggering home weary from a days work and a long commute back home to the suburbs. And, of course, girls night on American Idol. Given such adversaries, would anyone come?

Millie, at Sister's Restaurant, had donated her party room for the evening. The proviso was that we would have to set up the chairs ourselves. So we arrived early to our task, only to find the room already set up with only a few minor changes needed.

People trickled in and time raced toward the 7 pm start of the meeting. Had the sundog been an augury of success or failure, or just some random meteorological event? In the end, 25 people turned out in a room set for over 60. No teachers and only one church sent two people. A disappointment.

Pier Giorgio arrived, tired emotionally and physically from officiating at the burial of a friend. Although the Poet Laureate of Toronto, Giorgio was once a Brother in the Order of St. Augustine and is now a Roman Catholic Priest. The City Planner of Toronto had died suddenly and Giorgio had been asked to preside over his funeral. He had come to our meeting directly from that, dressed in his black suit and roman collar, the normal flamboyant clothing of the poet laid aside for his somber duties.

He went from table to table, engaging each individual in conversation. Who are you, why are you here (when so many others stayed in the comfort of their home), what do you want for your community?

He went to the lectern and waited patiently for my introduction. And then he began to speak. Hesitantly at first, struggling to find his way into his message. But then finding the heart of what he wanted to say, his voice gained strength, lifting the audience out of the drabness of suburban life into the promise of a vital community, where people spoke to each other, where artists found each other and contributed to the public space, where political will encouraged innovation and risk over safety, where messiness was tolerated and fears laid aside.

Here is the essence of his message: "Let's say an artist creates a piece of public sculpture, a red boot. You will find there are two reaction to this red boot--"Oh look, someone created a red boot and set it here on the sidewalk. Why would they do that? What a fun thing for someone to do!--or "Look at that stupid red boot, someone's going to stub their toe on that. We better get in touch with our City Councilor and have that removed."

You can have vitality or safety, human interaction or safety, growth or safety, a healthy community or safety. But you can't have both. Creativity is a messy and risky human endeavor but joyful and hopeful for all of that.

The meeting went on for two hours, with Giorgio having another two hour drive back to his home north of the City.

As we left the meeting, a lunar eclipse was nearing the 3/4 mark. We stood in the cold winter night, warmed by the meeting and the vibrant exchange of ideas that followed and watched the moon turn red. Like the statue of an old boot sitting on a sidewalk, just waiting for someone to stub their toe.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

On A Leash

There are no thoughts of artistry this morning. There is no free time to take Lindsay for a run along the bluffs. I have an early morning meeting at my downtown office to learn a new software package, so I'm taking Lindsay for a brisk and brief run through the neighbourhood.

My pockets are full of bags for poop n scoop. I'll need them.

At the bluffs she ranges far ahead, criss-crossing the terrain, her rambling taking her three times my straight-line distance. She is a blur of motion.

On the leash, she is forever coming to a complete halt, arrested by irresistible smells, needing to mark her territory. I'm the one in motion. Pulling her forward against her will. She gives me a look that asks, whose walk is this anyway? But I have a train to catch and it runs on a schedule I have to keep.

Along the bluffs my thoughts range free. Here my thoughts are of work related issues, phone calls to make, e-mails to answer, clients to visit, problems to solve.

The wind has a bite to it this morning and a bitter taste, but the day will warm. The trees are almost barren of leaves and the world has a dull and deserted feel.

It isn't inspiring.

This isn't fun, this is a duty.

But that's life.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Exploring the Life of an Artist

My wife is an artist. She's won awards, painted on commission for the Toronto Zoo, been exhibited several times, has one of her paintings currently in a juried art show. That's one of her drawings in the picture above.

She has more requests for her paintings than she could ever fill.

But she doesn't make a living at it. The problem is volume. She works carefully and slowly, seldom turning out more than 3 canvases a year.

For her day job she's teacher in one of the more notoriously violent neighbourhoods in Toronto. Her school is in lock-down mode at least weekly.

She loves it. Her entire teaching career has been spent at that school, outlasting four Principals. She genuinely enjoys her students and her staff are especially close and supportive. Many of her students have gone on to University and slowly the neighbourhood is changing, in part because of a major police clamp down on gangs 5 years ago.

When the Poet Laureate of Toronto gave a speech here last spring, he told the story of asking his local baker, what is art?

The baker said, "Giorgio, art is what you write and what I bake."

Art, Pier Giorgio Di Cicco believes, is not dusty paintings hanging on gallery walls. Art is an attitude and a care you bring to the things you do. Thomas Merton's father was an artist, but made his living as a gardener. Or, rather, who made gardening his art. For my wife, teaching is also her art. As Giorgio said, its a question of attitude and care.

To be an artist, you don't need to be a poet or a painter or a sculptor; your art can be your job, your garden, your interior decorating, the raising of your children. The care you take in creating your blog.

Another way to think about it is: we are all artists, the only question is, are we good artists?