Friday, May 20, 2022

"Home" vs. "Away"

I’m home now. I’m looking at the flea market couch I brought up from California; I had cushions made three times over the years till I got it just right. Now it’s just right. It’s been in my life 42 years.
Tim has been in my life 34 years, but he had to be out of town this weekend; so “home” as a notion right now is “place,” not “where Tim is.” That makes for interesting thoughts.
Home is Life Admin and Chores
Home is where I came back to two months of unopened mail, piled high. And that’s Issue #1 about home: It comes with what Sophie calls Life Admin. Life Admin is bills to pay, bank statements to reconcile, plants to be repotted, newspaper delivery issues to be complained about, humidifier to be cleaned and put away, etc etc ad infinitum. Life Admin is Chores.

“Away” still comes with Chores, but they’re different. There will always be laundry, but Away laundry is “throw it all in one load.” Home laundry is different temperatures based on color and fabric, which is not a bad thing. In fact, I enjoy being a master launderer, but Away laundry is the three T-shirts and two jeans you brought, and you’ll wait to repair one pair of jeans till you’re home with your sewing machine (Life Admin).
Home cooking comes with a pantry and a well-stocked spice rack. Away cooking is like camping: in a bare kitchen, I discovered the only staples I needed were olive oil, vinegar, and soy sauce. My salmon, broccoli, and spinach salads were easy and delicious, and dishwashing was a piece of cake, too.

Away eating is usually street food (roti, char siu bao, a baguette, a Greek salad, whatever I come across), so there’s less cooking (and I’m eight pounds less, too). Home eating means cooking, so it runs up against the do-over-and-over-again problem endemic to Chores.
Away comes with a landlord; Home comes with homeownership. Home ownership comes with Life Admin; it’s a love/hate relationship.
Away is escape
When I take my Months, Tim, Sophie, and my sister usually visit for a few days or less than a week. This time, Tim came for a month, and I found myself Preparing Speeches in anticipation: “I am not taking care of you.” Wow, I hadn’t expected that, but I realized that Away meant I wasn’t a wife, a mother, a caregiver, a responsible party. I was just Barbara. Although I was first in the Airbnb, I didn’t want to be the household manager, the keeper of Life Admin.
It’s different when Tim and I vacation; then we’re both tourists and equals experiencing a place, and we have a great time. But in my Months, I’m what a friend calls a “resident visitor,” and I’m making a life. It’s an act of creation, and I want to be free to explore it without introducing Life Admin. I startled myself with my vehemence – my ferocity even – I’m still pondering that.
Home means a Car
Away is public transit; Home is driving a car. My car is often my friend and I look forward to road trips; but public transit is my love. My Presto card and the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) open up a whole world for me while I get to look out windows, not worry about parking or gas, be part of society. Public transit is walking out to a bus or subway stop and knowing one will come within a few minutes. It is not having to check a schedule for the 45-minute chance a bus will come. I used to run Anchorage’s public transit system, but Anchorage will always require a car.

My last streetcar ride in Toronto was very complicated: almost every stop involved a person in a wheelchair, walker, or stroller; so the ramp was often deployed and the aisle got very crowded. I could have been annoyed, but instead I thought: this is a place to grow old! People can still get around in their Third Third, no matter their physical state.

Home is comfort
Robert Frost’s home may be “‘… the place where, when you have to go there,/ They have to take you in,’” but Home is also the place that, when you’re not at your best, sick or hurting, “comes with a husband, a couch, a heating pad, a big blanket, Netflix, many library books, a teakettle, and a medicine cabinet.”
Home holds memory
When my mother moved out of the family home, she lamented the wall where all our heights were marked as we grew up. Those marks were a symbol of all that had transpired there, all the life and memories. Home holds that past. Away holds re-creation. In our Third Third, those two battle a tug-of-war.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Goodbye, Toronto

I’m saying my goodbyes to Toronto. I’ve seen my last Hot Docs Festival film, and I’m just back from my last author program. I’ve probably had my last roti, checked out my last book at my local branch library, gone to my last art workshop. Horror of horrors, I’ve even watched my last play.
The thing about my Urban Infusion Months is that I get attached. I embrace my new city – even my new neighborhood – and then I feel such nostalgia over leaving it. I leave little bits of me and my experiences all over.
When I first arrived and wrote my last post about the thrill of being a little bit scared, a little bit curious; my friend Helen replied, “How are we friends when we’re so different?! Reading this one made me realize how much I now like creating new routines and avoiding confusion!!”
As I told Helen, “I definitely create new routines. It’s just that they’re new routines, not the same old, same old for the past 35 years!”
So I’d start off every morning checking blogTO to see what new things they’d found for me. And I’d stop off at my Riverdale Branch Library where the librarian posted a new poem every day of April for Poetry Month.

Many nights, I’d catch The Great Canadian Baking Show – four seasons’ worth! – after I figured out the TV remote. I learned that Montreal-style bagels have bigger holes than New York bagels and they’re boiled in honey water instead of plain water. They look scrawny and burnt as opposed to New York’s plump and golden, but that honey water holds a LOT of garlic and onion. So when blogTO announced the opening of Kettleman’s Bagels, I headed down there to check them out and watch the bakers in the window. I do that a lot. A half-dozen bagels are coming back to Alaska with me.

I learned where the Apple store was when my external hard drive crashed, so I knew where it was when Tim lost a cable. Around the corner, Yael has put the recipe for my hair color in the files so she can repeat it. When I discovered that Nova Era Bakery in Little Portugal has a wonderful little cafĂ© in back, I took Elizabeth and Tim there, too. It’s my new “Spot,” right near Galo de Barcelos.

I have my favorite FreshCo, my favorite COBS Bread, my favorite Bulk Barn, even my favorite Dollarama with my favorite licorice. I have my favorite streetcar (although Tim insists I’ve never met a streetcar I didn’t love). I have a tried-and-true walk up the hill to the subway, and I know where the bad puddle exists permanently in Riverdale Park. I even have a favorite spot on the couch in the apartment living room.

Still, no one sits next to anyone on the TTC yet, and there’s even distancing spaces in theaters, so my salvation has been Meetup: Walking Adventures with Deb. Several times a week, Deb leads us through the nooks and crannies of Toronto to the glorious greenery of the ravines, paths, and rivers. We’re outdoors and unmasked and walking and talking. Siobhan, Penny, Anna, Phyllis, Janet, Alison, and so many other welcoming folks made such a difference. I see what’s ahead on the calendar, but I won’t be here.
On Sunday afternoons, the Danforth Jewish Circle let me be a part of their Jewish community and their art workshop to create a print for a tapestry for the sanctuary. Now I’ll only see photos when it’s finished.

In all my reading and conjecturing about parallel lives and multiverses, I think about all the branches of my lives that take off after I’ve left them. There’s the Anchorage Barbara, the Toronto Barbara, the New York Barbara, the San Francisco Barbara, and even the Costa Rica Barbara. If I’d stayed in one place, I could hold my life close and let it continue. But by starting new lives in several places, I have to let them go.
This is the sweet and sad part. I have to let them go.
Because there’s another part of me that wants to lie with Tim on our back deck in Anchorage and look out over the yard that’s held barbecues and potlucks, croquet games and badminton games, Sophie’s playhouse and once-healthy spruce trees. To bask in all the history of 37 years in one spot.

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