November 17th, 2011

amelie you can do whatever you want

winter thoughts

I went outside today and it was the first time I'd worn gloves and my worn winter coat in some time. It had me thinking of this portion of NaNo I'd typed about a couple winter memories. I know it's not winter yet but I read mention of snow on my twitter feed so I don't feel too bad posting this - I mean, it is coming, right? As with any excerpts I share, they are rough draft, likely to change or disappear during the editing process (if I get that far?) and the chapters may not stay the same number, it's just the order I'm writing them.

from: 'Memory Trails, Our Desire Lines'

Frost on windows. The crystal-web designs that would appear overnight. How could nature be so exquisite? So intricately detailed and creatively random?

All throughout my childhood living in Ontario, whether it be St. Thomas or in the rural countryside of Alvinston, I remember winter mornings of frost.

I believed there had been an artist at work, carefully and magically sketching with ice on the windows while the household slept.

He hasn't come by since those early years.
Properly insulated windows have drawbacks.

Living in an old farmhouse with your next door neighbour on the block a few miles down the road, the only thing between you being fields of beans or corn, a deep and wide ditch and the dirt road -- when winter came and brought the snow there was nowhere for it to go but up close to the house, surrounding it in high drifts that would sweep up in sculpted swirls. The fields were leveled by Fall's harvest and there was nothing much else to stop the snow except for a barn here and there, a piece of farm machinery with the houses so far apart.

Once, I wanted to make a snow fort. I was a teenage girl with a shovel, standing on the snow that reached the height of the window, behind the house digging my way down to the ground. I don't know how I managed to do it but I did, imagining myself to have the strength to create some elaborate labyrinth to lead out to the shed where beside herbs and wild rhubarb grew during the summer.

I made it to the bottom straight down and had begun a ways on the tunnel when it was demanded that I return inside. Not only was it too cold outside for this sort of nonsense, but the snow from that height could have collapsed on me at any time. Would it have? I'm not sure.

I'll also never know if I could have made it across the lawn. (Likely not)

But that focused determination - to create, to imagine, to push the body beyond limitations - how do I find that again?

I wouldn't care if all the walls I create collapsed, if I could only be that passionate, determined, believing one.

People speculate it must be so much colder in the winter to be living near the lake but I don't think it is so. Living downtown was much colder for me.

I remember the whip of wind between the tall buildings downtown, the bitter slap in the face you'd feel as though each tower were tossing the cold back and forth between one to the other.

After working a later shift at the CN Tower, walking up John Street toward Queen, wondering, might my face and fingers break off before I'd make it somewhere warm? Dramatic thoughts like that would come to mind when passing the little 'watch out for falling ice' signs outside the CBC building. Still, it was fun to huddle with a co-worker friend and eat vendor veggie dogs in soon to be removed phone booths, to feel silly and smart at the same time when we found the non-functioning rotating door to be a reprieve, too.

Waiting for a streetcar at Queen street, a hot chocolate from Second Cup warming my hands through gloves, I watched a man on the other side talking to his dog who labored behind, both of them likely frost-bitten, homeless, surely too late for any shelter that night. He was hurrying his limping dog on with encouragement to keep moving. I hoped to myself that his push-ahead walk meant he knew where he was going, that he knew of some place warm for the night. I wanted peace of mind.

I've lived in Toronto over three years now and I'm still not used to it but I've noticed how much easier it is to say, "no, I don't have any change..." whether it's true or not.

This is a city where, to be cool, you're supposed to act like you don't care that you live here, even though a good many of us came from other places growing up and wanted to relocate to The Big City very much.

/// - adp, November 2011
alice lost in labyrinth


I watched a lot of 'Hoarders' (recently finished Season 2) and although I could only peek through fingers or distracted myself by writing in my paper journal while glancing up when I would hope dead animal or feces scenes would be over, I pretty much watched them one after the other. I did this earlier on while working on my NaNo which inspired this chapter of thoughts.

from: 'Memory Trails, Our Desire Lines'

A confession: I can be compulsive when it comes to watching shows related to hoarding / hoarders. If I manage to get a hold of some episodes, I will watch until I can't stand it anymore. Until I've seen too many dried out flattened animals and floor to ceiling death trap piles. At the same time as I watch, I'll often be writing in my paper journal, "I'm not like that!" and explaining how I'm not a hoarder and tangents of various associative thoughts.

Whoever came up with the idea of creating a television program showing the horrific extremes of hoarders lives is a genius. For me, they've created the perfect reality slash horror show. You see things you can't unsee and you learn things you can't unlearn and you can't help but wonder after watching an episode about the apartment unit next to you or that house down the block with the blinds always down.

There was a fire in an apartment that was part of a public housing building (they're hardly up to code as it is with some of the crummiest cheap-ass landlords, entitled because they're so kind as to let people who live on next to nothing social services have a next to not safe residence) well, as I said, there was a fire in one of the buildings and hundreds of residents became homeless. The fire began in the unit of a hoarder, a man who had kept piles of papers and law books and who knows what else. Someone who could have used some therapy over the years with this condition but even if you're put on the slightly better wage of a disability pension, you're rarely given the help needed to get healthier, as you're regarded with about as much potential as the one who's had no choice but to submit to welfare. But back to our hoarder.

So this real life hoarder in this real life building with real life people almost died and probably wished he had after the news jumped all over this one, blaming the man completely although it's not as if the landlord hadn't been aware of the problem and it's not as if the government who, carefully watching each penny doled out, wasn't aware of his condition, and yet at the end of the day the subject of unsafe housing regardless of the hoarding incident or not was never discussed in the media because public housing is one of those things that, unless you live in or near one, you don't want to think about it because it's just not nice, ya know?

I thought of that hoarder in that apartment living that life and then I think of a hoarder I knew in my own life - he was a good friend who, by all appearances one would never suspect it - but his home is a time capsule and in it there are two places one does not go. One is his childhood bedroom that has a locked door and a key that he keeps protectively hidden. I once tried to get in there and this skinny frail man with severe asthma took on superhuman strength in barring me from the door, his body shaking with adrenalin when I would take a turn at the doorknob, both of us knowing it wouldn't actually open but his fear that it might, that it just might, and then what would he do?

He let me see the basement though. I think he felt it was still within reasonable control, the pathways he had like aisles in a goodwill store, the smell - somewhat similar. An exercise bike - "But I use it!" - that being most unlikely as who would sit there in the near dark of a dank basement surrounded by so much stuff pedaling a cobwebbed stationary bike from the '80s? There were clothes hung up (better than piles, I suppose?) and as you walked along you could see them go from year to year. Every thing he kept was a part of a year, a decade, a historical reference only he would get.

He said he'd done some cleaning up down there so that the furnace and central air and whatever filters that were installed for this and that (his asthma was extreme) could be regularly checked and maintained. He'd had to make pathways before for the few people who had to come into his home to do work and it was always a big deal for him. Like the one year the electricity had to be upgraded - that was a horrible time, he said. Stuff had fallen on him when he'd opened up his bedroom and he'd done a clean up then but in the years since, things had got out of hand again. But the basement, didn't I think the basement looked good? I remember standing there, feeling sad. I wondered at the bedroom above that I would never see. He wasn't anything near bad as an episode of one of those hoarding shows, no.

Somehow, it was worse. I had this feeling as though he'd never quite let it get so bad as that. No dead animals. Also, because of his obsessive compulsive way of maintaining the main living areas the way they were when his parents were alive, one would not see those rooms overrun. But there was something about it horrific to me anyway. This man, this good and kind man, making sure the knick-knacks stayed in the same place, not allowing time to move forward, not adding his own personality to the house he solely owned - except by way of the secret room, the basement - seemed to me no way for a man to live.

He said he'd always been this way, even before his parents died fairly young. He didn't know why he was that way, he just was. His family doctor, unfamiliar with new diagnoses such as "hoarding" has never helped him to get treatment for it and overall, in dealing with it on his own, I think my friend had done alright. But I wonder at his parents, back when they were alive. Didn't they know that bringing a streetlight home was not a normal thing to do? Had they any idea it'd be in his basement to this very day?

What makes people turn out this way? What prevents the rest of us from having this particular illness? We live in a society of consume, consume, consume where material things are popularized to mean more than relationships and connections to other human beings, or even a better one with ourselves.

I've seen a grown man almost cry over a cereal box label. "But don't you want to remember the time you had this cereal with me?" And I made him throw it out. I don't remember what cereal it was or even if it was cereal that the label was for. I don't remember when it was exactly or whether it was a good day or not.

Are we really at a loss over that? I can't say. Typing the above, I think of all the little things one tends to forget, to let slip away. These details that this man can recall - lyrics and facts, trivia about this and that - incredible that he can remember all of that. And I wonder what's so wrong about keeping a cereal box label?

Then I think about that locked room. In that room is everything he wants to remember and everything he doesn't want to forget and it's all locked up, protected, hid away.

Another confession: I miss him. I miss his friendship. I hope he's doing okay.

Why can't you let go of that shit, old friend?

I wanted you to see your potential. I wish you knew this was your time to live.

We're both inflicting punishment on ourselves (a thousand lashes daily) in our own very different ways.

/// - adp, November 2011