August 27, 2005

Chewing cud

I've collected up a few observations I've made over the half year that I've been living in the country and stuck them below. Don't get the wrong idea, I truly appreciate cities, but at the moment I am defining how I really appreciate the country because it's not the city -- so if you're a real urbanite you may be sorry to see the lack of positive commentary on cities below.

! Frequently, I have the pleasure of total fatigue, brought about by hard work. Last Wednesday I had it because I learned how to use a chainsaw and dragged or wheelbarrow-ed plenty of wood as well. By contrast, I used to return home from the embassy completely exhausted on a daily basis. But I never felt suicidal from a day of carrying wood. There is a difference between these two feelings of tiredness. I feel very clean after I've worked hard physically, and also feel just as clean and wonderful after I have worked hard on art. But in the government exhaustion was an unpleasant thing, as if snakes were eating my brain or something. I was liable to break things. I certainly wanted to hurt myself.

! It is very rare, living in the country, that I try to avoid seeing things. In the city, there are always many moments over the course of the day during which I wish that I hadn't seen something. By this I don't refer only to the types of social problems that most of us wish we didn't see and that we have a responsibility to keep seeing; I also simply mean things like gum ground into the sidewalk. More seriously, I include incidents like the following: as I was driving into downtown Toronto, a convertible cut me off quite sharply, so I had a ringside seat when its passenger deliberately flicked a still burning cigarette at the back of a shirtless man sitting on a newspaper stand.

! I am regaining my ability to tell the time by the position of the luminaries, the sun and moon.

! I am learning the names of trees, and of birds such as hawks, buzzards, ravens and cranes.

! When the moon is in the east and at least half full and when it has rained but isn't raining anymore, our pond looks mystical. Mists rise from its surface and the surrounding rushes. The apple orchard, maple tree line, distant fields and farther forest all appear as blocks or shapes of silver. And every shape, whether it is the massive forest or the oblong of the field is a slightly different silver. You know what it reminds me off? It's as if my eyes could see what film negatives must look like from very close. Tiny tiny tiny droplets of silver of varying intensities.

! I'm slowly beginning to see Toronto for what it is. I love that city but I am now very aware of how neurotic it is. The majority of the people on the street are constantly preening, adjusting clothing, arranging hair in subway windows. Most of the things that people wear are completely ridiculous and it is as if most of us go around on the street mainly worrying about keeping our clothes clean or unwrinkled. People often say they like fashion because it's fun but I think it's more important than fun. Most people seem defensive, wearing what I call a game face. It feels as if the streets are a tableau of a horrible bloodthirsty sport that is completely irrelevant. People in Toronto give off the smell of unsatisfiable desire that I don't feel from people or inside myself here. Living here I never have to participate in this race nor do I have any real fear of human predators as I do whenever I go outside in the city. Even when I feel perfectly at ease in the city I always have this awareness that someone might drive onto the sidewalk by accident and kill me or might deliberately pull a knife on me to get my money. Thus, there's a freedom to be alone here, without anyone being able to locate you, even to sleep or get completely lost in a daydream outside. When's the last time, if you are a woman, that you went into a park and no one knew you were there? I guess they call it a rat race for a reason but it's only now that I've left living in a city that I'm really able to see what I had to do in order to survive: the stamina that I had to have, the strategic thinking, the contingency planning all based on a desire for unimportant things and fear of sudden violence.

! I enjoy a sense of living close to the bone. Obviously I haven't gotten to the point where I'm struggling and I don't really want to struggle, but I already feel as if important things such as food and gas money are at the top of my list where I once used to want very badly a new pair of Kenneth Cole knee high boots. I despise retail therapy, and I think it's a very common solution for the gnawing ache that most professional people seem to suffer. I don't know a single person who shops as a sport who is happy with her life. I think that here I have had opportunities for priorities, both personal ones and priorities that I have as a citizen, to become clear. If life in the country had not been structured in such a way that I could figure out what mattered to me and to people, I would never have figured out what my life purpose and its foundation and goals are.

! People do struggle to survive around here more than they do in the city because the country version of poverty is poorer than the city one. The median income here is 20,000 Canadian dollars, well below the poverty line. Perhaps this explains why there is a slightly higher degree of cooperation around here, though still not enough for my liking. One woman told me that she can think of at least six or eight homes that she could walk into, no keys in the door and no one home, and help herself to anything in the fridge. She told me that she knew several people who would lend her their car at a moment's notice. A couple weeks ago I handed my keys to somebody who wanted to go to the beer store simply because I didn't feel like ending a conversation so that I could be the person to drive my own car.

! I really enjoy and have sought for some time this opportunity to simply deal with the people who are "here." Coping with and adapting to and challenging what is... instead of flitting from place to place and group to group, basing all decisions on "what I want" and what I "have in common" with whoever.

So I guess in general what I'm trying to say is that I feel that the country, at least around here, is more relaxed, safer, contemplative, and poorer financially and richer socially. Yeeesss and so original, Viv!!

I have been living here now since a week before the end of march. That's five months. Because I have moved several times I have developed a mental chart of the cycles that I go through when I move. When I worked for the foreign service they taught us that there were two kinds of people: there were the people who had a honeymoon period when they moved somewhere followed by a depression followed by normalcy -- and then there were the people who started out with a depression and then got to normal [I always felt sorry that those people missed the good part]. I'm a honeymoon person. When I got here in march I was very happy and then a couple months went by and I became very unhappy. So I guess now I'm in the normal phase. This is the happiest normal phase that I have had anywhere I have ever moved.

We'll see what happens over time. I'm banking on a few rough patches.

Anyway, time to go. It's smoke by the pond time.

1 comment:

  1. be careful lending your car. in fact talk to your insurance agent about it and find out the repercussions if they hurt it. serious dude... look what i paid in insurance for years.

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