This year, they built a brand new aquatic centre a block from my house. It's stunning, so modern and asymmetrical, and when I looked in the windows, it looked really cool. I pictured myself jumping in the pool and bobbing around. Maybe I'd get a floaty board and do some kicks; perhaps I'd tread water in the deep end and then dive down to touch the bottom. I've never been much of a real swimmer. I did take lessons at the Y as a kid, but I didn't like the water very much, so sometimes, after Dad dropped me off, I'd skip my class, opting instead to hang out in the lobby. Then I'd wet my hair in a sink just before Dad came back to pick me up again. Over the years, I eventually learned to swim so-so. I knew I'd never be a lifeguard, but I could tread water fine, and I liked being in hotel pools or the ocean on vacation.
I'd been meaning to check out the new pool for some time, so last week, during a pretty slow work day, I checked the schedule that I'd picked up one day and discovered that I was in time for the adult lane swim. Lane swim, I thought, was a far cry from floaty boards and playing in the deep end, but I nonetheless grabbed my suit and towel and rode my bike up the street to Regent Park Aquatic Centre.
I changed into my suit, took the requisite 'warm shower with soap' and then walked onto the pool deck, where I had three choices of lane speed: slow, medium and fast. The slow lane had lots of older ladies in it, some chatting with each other, and some bobbing up and down or doing the doggie paddle. Was this one for me, I thought? The fast lane had some thin men of all ages and some young, athletic looking girls with soccer shoulders. Everyone in this lane looked like serious swimmers because they had goggles on. Some even had rubber caps. And yes, they were swimming pretty fast. I decided the medium lane was probably right for me. There were six or eight other swimmers doing various crawls and strokes. Some had goggles or caps; others none. So I jumped in and took my place in the swim progression, moving counterclockwise up one side of the lane, and down the other; simple swimming for exercise, like real adults do.
Thanks to my early aversion to swimming lessons, I can't actually do a consistent front crawl and breathe to my side for more than ten seconds at a time. I was running out of breath pretty easily too, between the cardio involved and working muscles I hadn't in a few decades. All in all though, I was keeping up just fine in the medium lane. The water felt good to me, and so did the mini sense of accomplishment I was experiencing, real lane swimming for the first time in my life.
When I got home, I googled 'best swim goggles', (Speedo Vanquishers, apparently), changed my clothes, and headed downtown to buy them and a big healthy adult salad. What began as a day hoping I'd have some time to frolic in a pool had turned into a very adult morning and afternoon of looking after myself and being good to my body.
In the last six weekdays, I have been to the pool on five of them. I'm trying to form a habit of swimming, of being good to myself, and of trying to get better at something I used to fear. It feels like growing up.
I have nine grey chest hairs now. I noticed them this morning in the mirror. They surprised me because I’d forgotten they were coming eventually. It was only last year – the year that I turned 40 – that I even started to notice grey hairs coming in on my head. “Oh I love grey hair,” I used to tell people. “Salt and pepper is so handsome. Bring it on.” Grey on my head sounds dashing. Grey on my chest sounds old.
I went to my doctor recently to have a physical done. Both of my parents have had high cholesterol in the past, and Dad was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes about six years ago, so I thought it was time to have these looked at. While I sat there, I tried to remember all of the concerns that I had for my doctor. “My shoulder’s been tense lately. I’m losing my hair. What do those numbers tell you about my blood pressure?” – and decided to let others go unmentioned. I’ve accepted the fact that my left elbow will hurt forever, after I fell on it last summer. I’ve accepted the fact that my knees ache when I try to run now. These are just small things that I’ve been moving over to the ‘unavoidable’ column. What will follow?
He handed me a requisition form for my blood tests and wrote me a prescription for Propecia – the pill that makes your hair grow back, but robs you of some of your sex drive. Seems like so many problems can be solved now, but that there’s a price to pay in doing so.
I went to the dentist last week too, to get her to look at one of my back molars. It hurts lately, and I feared it would be another root canal, having had one two years ago. She x-rayed the area in question and told me there was nothing she could see that was causing it.
“It’s probably because of your gums,” she told me. “As you get older, they recede and the roots beneath them become exposed, and that can be painful." I left, happy not to have had my tooth drilled, but feeling a bit defeated because of the slippery slope toward the future that my tooth roots are on.
This feels like it's happening fast – my sensitive teeth and aching knees, my balding pate, my neck that seizes up when I turn my head to the right, my tingling face due to a pinched nerve, my slowly deteriorating eyesight and my slowing metabolism. For years I told myself that I was good with getting older – that I looked forward to calmer, wiser times. The reality is something quite different though. Getting older feels more like "closer to the end", than it does "better and more like myself". When I see my face changing with age, I wonder, have I really done what I wanted to by now? Am I where I wanted to be? Have I really done the very best I could with life so far?
I was waiting to get on the streetcar yesterday. When it finally pulled up, the small group of people I was with had to wait for a few moments to get on because a small, thin, older man, likely in his 80s, was slowly taking the steps down, one by one. He apologized to all of us, speaking from the bottom step.
“Sorry, everyone,” he said. "It's terrible getting old." He then moved ahead through the people and walked directly up to me. He touched my arm, looked at me with his blue eyes and told me, “Don’t get old.”
There's a very good chance that, no matter where you live in the world, if you have access to international news, you likely know what's going on with Toronto's mayor Rob Ford. There is allegedly a video of him smoking crack. The mayor has called the allegations crazy, but hasn't come out and denied that this video exists, or that he doesn't actually smoke crack.
I didn't vote for the mayor, and I don't know anyone who admits to or talks about doing so. Admittedly, I live in downtown Toronto which is not a hotbed of support for him, so I probably don't know too many people that wanted him in office. Ford is strongly favoured by our city's suburbs, while those of us who live in the core are largely still reeling from the fact that he ever became our mayor in the first place. He stands for so many things that people that live in the core do not. He is anti-bike and heavily pro-car; he wanted a huge casino to be built downtown, (a movement which is thankfully dead now); and he has refused to commemorate Pride Week in Toronto - a tradition that several of his predecessors did for decades.
Since the crack story broke on Friday, I've been checking in with the local online news every few hours to see any developments. Has the mayor addressed the allegations at a news conference? Has he admitted it? Come out fighting to say it never happened in the first place? He has done none of these things, preferring to remain silent on the issue. During these days that the mayor has refused to comment, the story has become international news and rich fodder for the late night TV hosts. And this is where it gets me.
As a citizen in Toronto and as a Canadian, this story genuinely embarrasses me. I'm always so proud to travel to other places and talk of our multiculturalism and our tolerance. "Oh, we've had gay marriage for years now," I tell those I meet. I love to talk about our people, and our general sensitivity and politeness. What this story has made me realize though, is not that Rob Ford is acting un-Canadian in his boorish behaviour, but rather that how I talk about Canada is merely hopeful yet unrealistic stereotyping. I believe that as much as we'd like to be what many other people think of us, it's clear we have a long way to go.
My latest piece for Color Objects was published yesterday. This time, I wrote about the colours that bank logos tend to use. These logos are usually quite serious looking; they have to be because they want you to believe that the banks they represent aren't going to lose your money. As a result, they use rather ordinary typefaces and graphic marks. In the same regard, they often employ national colours of their respective host countries, making the bank feel larger, and part of a national fabric and culture. Here is the piece. I hope you enjoy it.
Writing about these reminded me of the summer that I worked as an on-call bank teller for Canada Trust. It was 1998, and over a period of about six weeks, I probably worked at eight to ten bank branches throughout Toronto. I was looking for a career path at the time and when this opened up, I thought the bank industry might offer that for me. I love the opportunity to prove myself and I love a "first day" somewhere too.
Anyway, I did like the chance to wear a tie every day, and I liked the computer system I got to use, but damn, those people I worked with sure were serious. I was 26 at the time and most of them were younger than me and so so lifeless. I get it; it's money and it's not a joke, but wow, was it depressing. When my stint came to a close, I crossed it off my list of potential ways to take over the world.
My newest piece for Urban Toronto was published today. It's about the new Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, a beautiful building designed by Toronto's own Diamond Schmitt Architects. It's being called among the most significant international buildings to be designed by a Canadian architect, and it's truly stunning.
The real pleasure for me however was in being invited to press day at the architect's office, and more so, to have a chance to hear Jack Diamond himself explain the design rationale of this iconic arts and cultural centre. He was charming and affable and a pleasure to watch. Click here to read the piece.
Lucy was my dog for twelve years. Today was her birthday. We lost her just over a year ago around Christmas of 2011. She'd been sick for about a week, after seizures from brain cancer, when we finally had to say goodbye to her on a Thursday. I'd known I'd lose her someday and had tried to prepare, but when it came, it was so much harder than I'd imagined. She'd been with me almost every day - a constant in a decade of change. I was never alone and my house was never empty.
Today, I got on the streetcar and walked to the very back. I was on my phone, so wasn't paying much attention to the world around me. When I hung up my call though, I looked down toward my feet and there was a Boston Terrier, almost exactly Lucy's size, sitting beside his owner.
"Can I say hi," I asked the girl who was holding his leash.
"Sure you can," she said. "This is Titus."
I leaned over and rubbed the back and side of his neck. He stood on his hind legs to get closer and looked at me with familiar eyes. Boston Terriers are all built the same way - little balls of muscle - so it's no wonder that they behave, act, fidget so similarly to each other. Titus wasn't Lucy, but for a very brief moment, I let him be. I told him what a good baby he was and kissed the top of his head, before thanking his owner and getting off the streetcar - a brief and personal few moments, for a very special day.
I've recently become a contributor to UrbanToronto.ca. It's something I'm really excited about because I'm a bit of an urban development junkie. Living in a part of Toronto for 14 years that has been developing, (as in developing nations; even developing film; something not quite there) will do that. The site is my home page and it's my go-to if I have a few minutes to kill. I love seeing the building boom that the city is going through.
My first piece was published recently. It's a re-introduction to the city of my own (developing) neighbourhood, Corktown, on the east side of downtown. Here it is. Check back now and then, because I'll definitely have lots more to say on Urban Toronto.
It's Easter Sunday today, and while it may not have the self-reflective quality that say, Christmas, or the first day of school does, it's still a day to look back. When I was a kid, we often went to Massachusetts on Easter weekend, to see my grandparents who lived in North Reading, just north of Boston, in a small Cape Cod house at No. 29 Eames Street. My sisters and I loved the house because of how it smelled, but more so because we loved seeing our grandparents. They were funny and affectionate.
On Easter Sunday in North Reading, we'd get gift baskets from Grammie, filled with plastic, opalescent grass, a chocolate bunny, and candy you could only buy in the States. We'd then hunt throughout the living room for jelly beans that she and my mother would have hidden in the room, before eating ham for dinner, in the small kitchen with the red and black linoleum floor. After dinner, we'd watch The Wizard of Oz on TV, which was shown every year at Easter on CBS. The moment when black and white Dorothy opens her front door to a full-colour Oz blew my mind every time I saw it. It still does. And those flowers, the blue sky and the very beginning of the yellow brick road still feel like Easter to me, no matter how old I get.
It feels like the future today. The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing this week on whether or not to uphold an Appeals Court's overturn of California's Proposition 8, which restricts marriage to heterosexual couples. Whatever the decision could possibly be, it does feel like the future is here now. Imagine - gay marriage in the United States. I never thought it would become legal anywhere while I was alive, and certainly not there. I remember thinking as a kid that I'd never be able to get married, at least to the person I wanted to. Thankfully, this conversation that the U.S. is having right now was decided long ago here; same-sex marriage was legalized in Canada in 2005, which I'm very proud to say..
Even after it was legalized here though, I had no interest in getting married. Not many gay people I knew did at first. It felt too conventional; it was a state that had never belonged to us anyway. I'd lived so many years thinking I wasn't 'allowed' to get married, that suddenly when it was permitted, it was too late. "I'm not the marrying type," I'd say to people, sounding like a bachelor from a Blue Stratos commercial. Now however, with so much conversation about it going on, I'm pretty sure I am the marrying type after all. It's a future I never imagined.
I was recently invited to become a regular contributor to Color Objects, a site out of the Netherlands that is devoted entirely to the aesthetics and application of colour. As a monthly contributor, I'll be writing about how colours are presented to us, through media, corporate logos and visual identities we encounter every day.
My first piece was published this morning. It's on the Rio 2016 Olympic logo, and how the colours specified for it effectively communicate a story of the people hosting the games, beyond the mere 'green, yellow and blue' that was stipulated by the Brazilian government. Stay tuned for more on Color Objects.
Here's the article.