Squirrel: 0 / Boy: 1

I ran over a squirrel last week and felt really bad. I’m pretty good at dodging things and split second collision avoidance but there was nothing I could do that time that wouldn’t have caused worse problems. It ran right out in front of my car at the last second.

So I have been making a conscious effort to be in the moment when I am out and about in the world, thanks to Isabella Man’s efforts to jolt me into reality last time I was in Toronto.

In the morning I do a fresh bread & bagel run, ideally before the cafe opens but you know how it is. Then I grab a coffee, maybe something to eat, catch up with Sarah on the cafe, the neighbourhood, the next big project. While we chat I make a grocery list, pick up my trusty pal Stella and head out to do the daily errands, and, if we’re lucky, squeeze in a walk at the water before Sarah leaves.

This morning I had to forgo my big water walk with the pooch as the Fire Inspector was coming at 9:30 about the liquor license so I had to shop quick and get back. I parked out front to unload my groceries and then had to drive around a rather large block to park in the lot on the other side of the cafe. (All this play-by-play is by way of proof to you that I was indeed alert and engaged with my environment when it happened.)

So there I am, waiting to turn right off King and onto Sherman and a small girl and her not much older brother are dawdling along. I’m guessing they are late for school and the girl appears to have it together but the boy is playing with a ball and walking in a “two steps forward one step backward” kind of jerky way, occasionally darting left or right as the ball gets out of control. I notice it is mostly out of control. Then I drive around the block.

As I am coming back along King St from Barnesdale, I spy the same two kids, and it is thanks to Isabella Man that I am alert and in the moment. It is thanks to the dawdlers themselves that I had had the time to observe them on the first pass and to take note of the boy’s erratic behaviour. And it is thanks to the dead squirrel and to my aforementioned skill at dodging split-second collisions that I was able to break/swerve when the boy’s ball bounced askew and he followed it right out into the high-speed, one-way, King Street traffic.

Maybe some things do happen for a reason.


My own little world…

So I’m walking in circles on Wednesday, along Isabella, down Church, along G-something and back up to Isabella. I’ve got time before the talk I’m set to give that evening so I’m burning off a few nerves and feeling a little self-satisfied that it all came together in the end so the first time around the block I’m enjoying being back in Toronto, if only for a few hours. It feels a bit like I’m on a day pass.

The next time around I’m in my own little world so it’s hard to say exactly how many times I went around the block after that. It was a blue sky, chilly after a surprise rain shower (surprise to me, anyway). So there I am, oblivious to everything. I’ve got my “avoid moving objects” radar on, and my “turn right at the corner” auto pilot is set and seems to be functioning, so I can do all this while watching my own inner movies.

Then, quite suddenly, a man leans into my bubble, and I come away thinking, ok, now I am in the present! The guy is older, stooped, possibly drunk though it is hard to say – it all happened so fast. And the experience got me wondering, are we allowed to live in our own little bubble? How rude is it to walk down the street, oblivious to everyone, thinking only of ourselves? Not that I do it on purpose – who does? – but maybe a habit of greeting people would go a long way to helping us all to feel like we’re really here.

There I am in my bubble, vaguely thinking about my talk, practicing it in my head, hoping it goes well, when the guy leans in, and in a well-worn voice says “Nice tits anyway!”

I jump out of my skin at the intrusion and all I can say in return is “You scared me!” and he repeats, “Nice tits anyway!”

And I go away thinking that maybe we never really are in our own little world…


It’s been a year now since I started writing the blog: At work, at home, at play; learning things the hard way!

I write this blog for a couple of reasons; because I’m a writer; because I want to share what I am learning about community-building; because I think community-building will become increasingly important in the future, sort of the way second-languages became important over my lifetime; and because I feel like others may have had crazy experiences like mine and may not have the words or opportunity to express them.

Last year at this time I became remarkable. I’d been at CSI for about a year and was feeling a little bit nutty. Unglued. And then one day someone pointed out two things; 1) that I am remarkable and 2) that I don’t seem to see it. “What am I not seeing?” I wondered. After that, my eyes were open. Wide open.

It’s a bit like seeing mushrooms. I’d been thinking for years that I would like to grow mushrooms. I loved the idea of just walking out to pick a few mushrooms when you feel the need for an omelet. I imagined some day being a mushroom farmer. We had books about mushrooms and had heard all about the Mushroom Men in places like Germany, whose job it is to identify your mushrooms for you after you go off picking wild ones.

When we bought the Pink Palace in Montreal, it had a really big lawn in the back (think croquet, AND badminton AND garden that never produced food AND flowers AND shed AND dining/bbq patio) and at the very end were a hundred feet or so of woods, mostly poplar and birch trees. Mike would disappear into the woods in the afternoons and eventually there was a path all the way through to the big fields and beyond that the cemetery.

Kitty Cat would follow me when I went for a walk, but she always stopped at the end of the path, never ventured into the fields. Returning one day I noticed something remarkable in the woods; a tall white mushroom with delicate shingles down its cap. I rushed to get my mushroom book, amateur mushroom man that I am, and saw at once that it was a Shaggy Ink Cap and that the look-alike poison partner is one of the few that is distinctly different. And lo! The woods were full of Shaggy Ink Caps! How had I never noticed them before? As I picked them I began to see more and more mushrooms that seemed to have been there all the time and yet, it’s as if I couldn’t see them until I was introduced to them, got to know them. Then I saw them everywhere; at bus stops, other people’s lawns, you name it. We settled on two edibles; the Shaggy Ink Caps and the Morels. I’ll tell you, we didn’t just eat omelets! I was at last, a mushroom farmer.

And I think this is how it happened at CSI. Somebody told somebody that I was remarkable. And then they could see it too. And word spread, and pretty soon even I could see it. It was a community where everyone’s eyes were open to each others remarkableness. And when everyone thinks you’re remarkable, well, you become it.

And I’m so amazed by my community here in Hamilton, where such a high percentage of the people are seeing the greatness in each other, reflecting it back, introducing others to it. We aren’t mushroom farmers here, we’re Remarkable Farmers and it’s so great to be able to write about these people and their remarkableness. Thanks for reading!

Love Note for J K Rowlings

Dear Joanne,

I live in a neighbourhood in Hamilton, Ontario (Canada) where there are a great many people trying to make a difference in the community. I have met many of them through my small cafe where a lot of story swapping goes on. I am amazed at how many of these people have had Harry Potter childhoods. Not in the magician sense, but in the sense of being abandoned or ignored or unloved. In the sense of having to find their own way in the world, figure out who they are and where they belong and how they fit in.

I wanted to thank you for creating Harry Potter and sharing his journey. He is a modern archetype that allows me to connect with people in a humourous, optimistic way as they share personal histories. It is as if we live on the frontier of society, a place full of people who believe that “it doesn’t have to be like that” and who are committed to doing something about it; to creating a world where the Voldemorts have no sway, where people know their neighbours and care about each other.

So thank you. For your words, your compassion, for telling your stories that help us to tell ours.

Solitary walks on the beach…

I heard this great joke and since I can’t tell jokes for beans it’s been rattling around in my head looking for an outlet. So this morning I’m walking on the beach trail with Stella the Wonder Dog, watching the movie of my life and oblivious to everything else and this morning’s episode is starring me; telling a great joke terrifically. And people are laughing. So I tell it again, just to make sure I got it right, and people laugh again. And I tell it again, just to make sure I really can do it and not only do the imaginary people in my imaginary movie laugh, so do I.

Then I perceive the three people speed walking past us giving me odd looks and I realize that I am laughing out loud and that they can’t see the movie in my head, didn’t hear the joke. And the best that I can come up with in that moment is to pat Stella on the head with another little forced chuckle and say “Good one, Stella!”

Be nice to the crazy lady in your neighbourhood; she just might be me.