It is COLD up here in Toronto but the snow, when it falls, doesn’t seem to stick. This morning my cousin and I took a leisurely stroll through the nearby cemetery and I snapped this shot—I know many Americans think Canada’s climate is comparable to Siberia but it’s not really that bad. It was balmy when I arrived on Thursday and still fairly mild on Friday when my cousin Bethany and I went to see the Frida Kahlo exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario. We admired her art, questioned her devotion to Diego Rivera (who slept with dozens of women during their marriage, including her SISTER), and then bought some pretty earrings for ourselves at the gift shop. We both turn 40 this year, and it’s amazing how you never seem to run out of things to say to someone who’s known you your entire life. I’m actually surprised at myself—I’m not a very social person, but I’ve done a lot of socializing this weekend and it’s been great (though tomorrow will likely be a day of silence). After the exhibit we had lunch at our favorite health food restaurant and then stopped at a grocery store on the way home to pick up butter tarts (yum!) and a Christmas tree! Once the tree was up we found Frida on demand and watched the film, which ended just as our guests arrived for dinner. My cousin felt we should celebrate my 40th birthday, which was in October, and she asked people to bring a poem with them instead of a gift. My cousin Anna’s children made me lovely, glittery cards and wrote out “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou; my cousin Laura gave me a poem I had given her years ago—Martha Graham talking about the artist’s purpose:
There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and there is only one of you in all time. This expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium; and be lost. The world will not have it.
It is not your business to determine how good it is, not how it compares with other expression. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.
No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.
Words I needed to hear right about now…My cousin Juli came straight from her long shift at the hospital and after dinner we talked about travel and the difference between planning a vacation and embarking on a journey. I haven’t done the latter in quite some time but hope my Xmas trip to London will contain some magic and/or adventure. The trick is being OPEN to the possibilities, which I’m often not—I’m too tired, or too busy, or too cranky these days. Being here in Toronto has helped me to think about my next book project—what does it mean to write about/or from within an archipelago? When did I first step foot on or see an island? My earliest memory is of The Little Island (written by Golden McDonald, aka Margaret Wise Brown, and illustrated by Caldecott winner Leonard Weisgard), a book my kindergarten teacher/mother shared with me. “All land is one land under the sea”—that’s the line that has stayed with me to this day. When you’re an introvert you generally try to keep things separate, but no woman is an island and even if you do try to compartmentalize you still end up with a chain of little islands that are nonetheless bound together. This weekend has been a pleasant sort of jumble. I spent Saturday with my mother and she sent me off with a peanut butter & chocolate birthday cake, which I have shared with my many cousins (one of whom is taking me to the airport in an hour). I have no contact with my three siblings, all of whom live in Toronto as far as I know, but I have an enormous extended family and thanks to them I’m going back to NYC feeling very blessed. Tomorrow it’s back to work, back to grading, and onward as we march (drag ourselves) toward the end of the semester…