I lived in Calgary for under two years, a short time compared to the ten years I've lived in Toronto. And yet when I return here, the familiarity wells up from deep inside me. So much so, that it feels like some sort of a priori understanding of the place. And the muscle memory of reading its signs returns easily; I feel the Chinooks coming before the clouds fold themselves up like sails.

Yet, it would be a mistake to understand this feeling as belonging or love. I don't want to live in Calgary again. And if Dublin teaches me anything it's that knowing a place and feeling it deeply is not the same as living happily in it.

Toronto has never surrendered itself so easily to me. Even now I struggle to pry it open. It often feels like I do battle with two of its four seasons. That I need to ditch it regularly so I can return and trust I'm in the right place. But, simply, I love it. And fleeting as a deep sense of belonging sometimes is, when it comes to me it's the deepest, loveliest sense of home I've had.

I think, more generally, we sometimes mistake the things we're good at for things we love. There's an underlying assumption that being able to accomplish something must come from a deep sense of kinship with it. And I believe this is a particularly the case for generalists - those of us who are quick to learn something new and can become competent at something reasonably quick. But being good at something does not always mean you love doing it.

It can be easy to skate along doing jobs, living in places, building those relationships that come easily instead of discovering deeper objects of affection. And I sometimes envy those who simply could not do anything other than the one thing they love no matter how much it tortures them. I've realized this is a tension in me: I sometimes wrestle with ideas that I ought simply to stick at what I'm good at, those areas where I can succeed, and give up on what I really love.

And now I'm thinking about 2014 goals and I've decided to make a single sweeping resolution: To do what I love, not what I'm good at. To allow myself to indulge in being a mediocre writer, because writing is what I love. And being a hit-and-miss photographer, because whenever I open a canister of film, I inhale. Or being a sometimes-lonely Torontonian, because Toronto is the home that makes me happiest.

Back from the mountains

Five days away goes by quickly, a whirlwind of movement through the still and the snowy. Being in the mountains made sense at Christmas. Somehow it reduced the day's significance too. The mountains still the mountains, snow-blown on this day as any other. The lake just as frozen and skateable as any other winter day. Snow-laden conifers and grazing elk reducing so many Christmas card scenes to a seasonal normalcy.

As I always do, I started straining for home by the end of the week, longing for my own rooms, to start on the ideas I found space in my days to think of. I think sometimes I need to bookend time away before I can fully enjoy it. That I like it more as a kind of time capsule, once the daily figurings are faded. Then, I remember the light that I didn't Instagram but gazed at for a long time, the coffee that tasted so perfect as I took a twilight stroll.

I hope you had a lovely few days!

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Hee-haw!

Thank you so much for reading my blog this year! It's been a year full of challenges and excitement. I think I changed a lot this year, settling down in some ways, mutable as ever in others. And I'm happy that 2013 is ending on a sweet note and that my Christmas will be one in nature and with loved ones.

I used to be more skeptical, to easily pooh-pooh the relationships that form through blogs and social media. I see them now as just another part of my reality. And even though the separateness that exists in all relationships is more magnified here, so is the special nature of connections and of using words to reach each other across unknown, unimagined distances.

As I do every year, I've renewed my sponsorship of our friends at The Donkey Sanctuary as a gift for those who read here. I hope you all have a lovely Christmas, whatever form the holidays take for you, and that these days are full up with hope and joy. Hee-haw!

Image via The Donkey Sanctuary on Facebook.

A poem for Wednesday

I love how time changes shape in the run-up to Christmas, falling in softer folds. The past shines like a prism, casting light on different surfaces, changing the colour of memories and moments. And the countdown seems suspended, eternal.

I've long loved this poem from Billy Collins. All movement and panic in this beautiful enveloping stillness. It seems to be everything that these days are, heightened and bright as they are.

Christmas Sparrow
The first thing I heard this morning
was a rapid, flapping sound, soft, insistent—

wings against glass as it turned out
downstairs where I saw a small bird
rioting in the frame of a high window,
trying to hurl itself through
the enigma of glass into the spacious light.

Then a noise in the throat of the cat
who was hunkered on the rug
told me how the bird had gotten inside,
carried in on the cold night
through the flap of the basement door,
and later released from the soft grip of teeth.

On a chair, I trapped its pulsations
in a shirt and got it to the door,
so weightless it seemed
to have vanished into the nest of cloth

But outside, when I uncupped my hands
it burst into its element,
dipping over the dormant garden
in a spasm of wingbeats
then disappeared over a row of tall hemlocks.

For the rest of the day,
I could feel its wild thrumming
against my palms as I wondered about
the hours it must have spent
pent in the shadows of that room,
hidden in the spiky branches
of our decorated tree, breathing there
among the metallic angels, ceramic apples, stars of yarn,
its eyes wide open, like mine as I lie in bed tonight
picturing this rare, lucky sparrow
tucked in a holly bush now,
a light snow tumbling through the windless dark.

Times past

When I finished university my favourite professor sat me down and talked to me about my shyness and his own. How being Department Head pushed him in ways that were difficult for him. How I would be pushed in similar ways and that I'd get better at it. He also told me about the relationships that matter over time. How few last. How many are about place and time.

I understood all he said, knowing its truth from many childhood moves. Watching only a handful of family friends withstand our constant address changes. Knowing that it was often the ones that felt most intense, most vital that often burned out once one seemingly small thing was disrupted.

I suppose now I'm finding that the friendships that endure are sometimes the unlikeliest. Occasionally, they've been ones that seemed almost peripheral to me, ambling along happily, a benign and constant presence. My professor, of course, was right about how few last. But I don't believe longevity should be a measure of worth when it comes to relationships. Some don't last. But still, they were formative, vital, glowing things.

Sometimes, I think that my own long-lasting friendships are as much a function of people's tenacity as anything inherent in our relationship. I often feel like the ones that stick are due to the other person’s refusal to let me drift away as I’m often inclined to. Maybe it's more mutual than that, a dedicated digging in from both sides at moments when a mutual letting go would be so easy.

Christmas always brings these reflections on friendships past. The not quite remembering of why things ebbed away. The uncertain feeling of regret and going over, that relationships could have been more, might have turned out otherwise. The feeling that something was got wrong, that it was let go too easily.

My therapist used to tell me that these things don't happen by accident. That people look for certain things at certain times. That relationships aren't, can't be, simply a matter of volition on one side. That they occupy the space between two people, shared by both but outside the control of either one, a magical synchroncity of wants and needs and attractions that sometimes wanes or expires or explodes. And one shift can throw off that chemistry. It can also evolve it.

It makes it seem so elusive, so unbankable. Which relationships will survive change and hurt, triggers of all kinds and limits being met. And why should time be a measure of success when we occupy so many moments in each other's lives, when we hold onto happy memories of each other long after the moment has passed.

We think that time measures worth in many things. We talk about people standing the test of time. But time isn't a test, it just is. And people changing in different directions shouldn't be about success or failure. Authenticity exists in moments, but it can change moment-to-moment, mutable and profound and yearning.

And, yes, at the end, only a handful of friends will have been there all along. But I won't think less of those who have come and gone. And, especially at this time of year, I treasure our memories and place candles in windows for each one to return to me, if only for a moment.

Sunday best: 50 words for snow

Like so many of you, we had our first big snowfall this weekend. I stayed indoors all day yesterday, reading and napping, watching movies and cultivating a cabin fever that send me bursting out into the world this morning, walking until my cheeks were red as a baby's.

I've been admiring these lovely cloaks from Lindsey Thornburg - they seem like a fairytale to me. I've never really figured out how to do winter stylishly and I'd love to get it right. But really, I'm okay too just bundling up in pragmatic obliviousness, surrendering to elements greater than me.

Every winter I find myself listening to Fifty Words For Snow over and over, looking skywards from my window, mesmerized by the slow-mo fall of snow. It makes sense of the season, of the twinkle of lights and the glow of fire, of the spices and citrus and all we take so for granted. It makes me want to hold a perfect clementine, to make fingerprints in wax, to fold paper and tie string.

Hope you've had a lovely weekend!

Products: Rose Noir by Byredo | Trench cloak from Lindsey Thornburg | MiH Paris jeans from Net-a-Porter | Semi Matte Lipstick from NARS | Fifty Words For Snow | Isabel Marant boots from Gravity Pope


It's Friday already! I was sure I would blog more this week...

It's been so lovely walking to and from work most of this week and that novelty is still taking hold. At the same time my former life in Don Mills seems like such a surreal and distant thing. Memory is such a tricky thing. Yesterday can seem farther away than something that happened years ago. Ten years of steady routine can recede faster than one standout day.

My wreath was made and hung on the door last weekend, the first of the Christmas cards were sent and received, the year fast coming to a close. And I find myself disinterested in the gift guides and the wrap-ups, even the best book lists. I guess it's that time of year when it all seems like too much churn, too much grabbiness. And I sometimes see my own grabbiness in it too and it becomes anathema to me.

I'll be spending Christmas this year in the mountains. These mountain paintings by Conrad Jon Godly really evoke those early memories of living in the mountains. I wonder sometimes if I miss Alberta because I've been missing that feeling of being swept off my feet.

There's something beautiful to me now about opting out of the city for Christmas, of watching snow blow off a peak behind a frozen mountain lake and holding my friend's baby, wee Marcel Bourelle, in my arms. I'm counting the days!

Have a happy weekend!

Likemindedness and the moon

I think we all like to think of ourselves as independent and free-spirited. If we're not, we try to shore up our courage so that we can become more brave, more brazen and daring. Brave is a word we throw around when we see people doing things that we think would be hard for us to do. It's a word that too-kind people have sometimes laid at my feet. The truth is I don't feel brave at all. People who know me will attest to the fact that my default state is not confidence. There's so much I'm scared of; new relationships and people, my own happiness and my own sadness too, of being stuck and of growing old in that state of stuckness.

I don't think I'm special being scared of all of those things. The one thing I've learned is just to come out and say I'm terrified a lot of the time and people usually quickly express the same thing and a sort of new ground is established. The beautiful thing about vulnerability is that it's often shared. And I've found, to be honest, that I don't much care for those who don't feel some degree of fear about life in general most of the time.

I also think it's okay to admit the power of certain talismans to give us strength. I'm not one for saints and religion, but certain objects and symbols give me a feeling of structure and certainty. Sometimes I let myself follow those objects, assigning meaning to moments because of them. I know it's all arbitrary, all pretty unoriginal; I'm not the only girl to love waxing moons and garden roses, after all. But I don't mind cultivating certain recurring themes in my life, letting them form signposts or protection spells, wearing them to give me a sense of certainty and of self when I feel less brave.

And sometimes I seek and lean into other people's ideas and expressions too (like Ben's recent post). Posts like this bolster my own decisions and lift the loneliness that can arise from choices that go against the conventional grain. Sometimes that makes me feel all the more weak, like I shouldn't need others to legitimize how I feel. But there's more to it than safety in numbers. It's also about reading an expression that seems more true because it sits outside of oneself, rather in the mire of introspection.

I think it was an episode of In Treatment where it was explained why therapists need therapy, how one can only look outwards with binoculars, not look into oneself. I liked that idea a lot. The problem then isn't one of acuity, it's of vantage. When I build arguments for my choices, they're knotted up in all kinds of emotions. It's easy to sound defensive or dishonest to oneself, to lose that impartial perspective of just listening. We often tend to think introspection must be more true because it has privileged access. But what it has in access it lacks in objective distance.

The point is I used to feel bad for needing things outside myself to help me along, for needing mentors and signposts, talismans and reassurances. I used to think I ought to be able to just forge ahead, with my own internal reasoning, even my own irrational desires. But I think now that there's a difference between seeking approval from others and seeking perspective and likemindedness and faith. I've always been such an in-my-own-head sort of girl, moody and pensive. But I'm learning to let things outside of myself lend me support, to let the moon talk to me and other people finish my sentences sometimes. The nagging high-minded idea of independence is still there. But, there's also a growing idea that it's okay to find support in the world around me too.

Sunday best: Close to home

Tomorrow is the first day in our new office location. I get very mixed feelings about changes that are not of my own volition. Even when good, as this change is, I question why I'm not initiating more. Why the last 10 years have swept me up in their current. It's like I've forgotten how to sail, or swim, or however I used to navigate for myself. But it's such a lovely time of year, it's easy to put the nagging angstiness to the side and enjoy these days.

Yesterday, I went to Darlene Cole's exhibition at Bau-Xi. Her paintings are wonderful and full of unfettered whimsy. There's a deep and resonating affinity underpinning the prettiness though. Even as I spoke to her, I both understood what she was saying but couldn't quite fathom her way of looking and yet I felt very connected to it.

Afterwards, I took a spin around the AGO, stopping in on some favourites. It's such a peaceful, manageable space after the hectic exhilaration of the MET last weekend. I found myself promising to stop in there more often. And then I resumed my normal circuit, tripping my way to the flower markets where I talked roses with Jasmine, trying to convince her to order bigger more bountiful varieties.

Even though there's no snow on the ground, it's truly cold now. And I'll probably stay cozy close to home today, writing those Christmas cards that should probably have been sent by now and cooking oatmeal, reading Leanne Shapton's Sunday Night Movies, which I picked up yesterday.

And I'll try to think about what it is I want, because I think that's what's missing in all this changes. As if when life is just fine and lovely, it's easy to keep going, to even feel guilty writing that the peaceful routine bores me. That there's also nagging that there ought to be more deep bellyful joy and more purpose.

Happy Sunday, you guys!

Products: Sunday Night Movies by Leanne Shapton | Fair Isle dress from Toast | Touche Eclat from YSL | Lip Slip by Sara Happ | Rodin Crema | Hexagon Brown Diamond Ring from Satomi Kawakita | Peggy Purse from Mimi Berry | Bean Boots from L.L.Bean

Soft days

These are soft days. Jack Frost in the mornings and a soft mist by evening. The greens of sage and sprouted eucalyptus, the honeyed light of candles, the warmth of cupped teacups. The world feels muted now. A softness, a haze. And I toil through it, sometimes fighting for something brighter, more certain, and others falling into its foggy embrace, turning my face into the pillows, sinking down in the tub.

I'm caught in that beautiful hangover that comes after travel. Holding onto ideas born in the air (the best place to make promises to oneself). Ideas of living differently and of letting go. A deeper love of home but of eking out too. And I love how travel colours my normal routines with a soft optimism days after it's done, how it creates new planes of possibilities in the daily place we return to. How it reminds me of a time when this too felt like a place I had travelled to and not the home it's become.

Products: Bedroom | Cup | Branches | Spoon | Socks | Loveseat

New York adventures

Every time I go to New York, it's for the theatre. It's always a whirlwind, but I think New York will always be a whirlwind for any amount of time. You see a fraction of what you hope to, glance off a bit of art, maybe pop into a favourite shop or two.

My biggest recommendation from this trip is to always travel with a food writer. Laura made all the food decisions and, as a result, it was the best food time I've had in NY! We had an amazing meal at ACME, delicious brunch at The Spotted Pig, transporting vegetarian Dim Sum in Chinatown. We stayed at The Jade Hotel and enjoyed it there so much, though not one taxi driver had heard of it!

And, despite the go, go, go, there were moments of easy delight. Walking around Dumbo or the West Village, popping into John Derian (I brought home two new pieces), picking a few rooms at the MET and relaxing in Cafe Sabarsky at the Neue Galerie (this has become a repeat visit for me, a place I love to go each time).

The play was wonderful. They landed firmly on the vaudeville side of Beckett, a deliberate decision rather than an accident of delivery or of audience. I do like my Godot played with more evenly distributed weight between tragedy and comedy. But still, this was a special production with two wonderful actors — the second act especially enjoyable.

So much undone though! New York always leaves me with that feeling, wishing I could have met people there, lingered a little longer.