Saturday, October 24, 2009


On Thursday, October 22nd, I climbed the CN tower, that ever-present Toronto skyline anchor.

As a life-long Toronto girl, the CN tower has meant different things over the years to me. In primary school, it meant a guaranteed field trip every year. It was always a visit fraught with nerves, as I will admit, I have always had a fear of heights. Not a crippling fear but a fear nonetheless. So, over the years, I have had no urge to visit the tower and look out on the vastness of the city from such a height. When you live your whole life in one city, you rarely have the urge to participate in things "touristy", in truth, you tend to scoff at them (well, I do, anyway).

However, as an interior designer and a person who has always loved the architecture of buildings in general, the tower represents something much more than concrete and metal.

It represents home.

When I drive back from my office north of the city, every weekday, I see it looming in the distance as I drive south on the DVP toward my downtown condo. It reminds me of all the reasons why I live in the city, and of all the choices I've made in my life to get me to the point I am now--the "where I'm supposed to be" of it all.

So when some co-workers decided to repeat the feat a small group had attempted last year--to climb the interior steps of the CN tower for the United Way, I gave in and said I would do it. Truth be told, I really didn't think about it too much. It was a good group activity, a 'team-building' type of exercise, and I regularly work out with the best of intentions.

Piece of cake, right?

I naively thought there were 100 flights of stairs. There are 144 flights. I found this out about 20 minutes prior to climbing them.

To begin, you clear security, and are given a card. The helpful staff punch in the card, and that is your starting time. GO.

And I did. For the first 40 flights I took a serious pace, not slowing. I did math in my head, dividing the flights up into fractions, as in 40 floors is just under one-third. It was daunting.

At 72 floors I was at the halfway point, gasping for breath as the air got thinner and thinner as I climbed higher and higher. It wasn't that crowded. As in life, you catch up to the people you are supposed to be with; the rest fall behind. Another smaller group is far, far ahead.

As I mentioned, this was a 'corporate' climb, so there were lots of serious teams of serious companies, much bigger than our little group. There were banks, investment groups, the CAMH, Enbridge (who sponsored the event), and many, many others. One company had a particularly artful group t-shirt, grey in colour (like the steps in the tower) with a beautiful white tree on the front of the shirt, down in the corner, a tree in white, laden with snow. The caption on the back of the shirt, scrolling down near the hem was "We like the winters here". The group of employees from this particular company was overwhelmingly male, young, and fit. They were in the same group of 100 climbers that my company and I were. I cannot possibly describe my jubilance as I sauntered by some of these young, fit men on my way up the tower. Some of them were doing what I wanted to--pausing on a landing, leaning onto the wall for support. I kept going--left foot, right foot.
The CN tower stairwell is not remotely glamourous. It is a metal cage, grey in colour, housing the seemingly-endless flights of grey metal stairs. Yes, metal. Not concrete like the tower itself. They are metal, grey like the fencing surrounding them, and unlike usual buildings, the stairs just keep going--because there are no floors of the building to get onto and off of. The stairs, being metal, have no risers, because that is how industrial stairs are constructed. It's more cost-effective. Each flight is approximately 11 steps, and you reach a landing. There are handrails on each side, grey metal, square, unforgiving. The walls are white, except for one small number on each landing--spray painted in orange is an industrial-type number of the stair flight you are on. As the numbers got higher and higher, I forced myself to not think about where I was, and how high up I was--that would have finished me. As it went, my lungs were having a hard enough time themselves, filled with cold, unconditioned air. The higher up I went, the harder I fought to breathe. The paramedics, grimly stationed every 5 flights or so up, began to make sense. At least 10 times during the climb I mentally pictured myself lying down on one of the landings.

For me, the first 40 floors were a scramble, a competitive way for me to put as much distance between myself and my coworkers as I could. By 60 I was worried. At 72, the half-way point, my breathing bordered on desparate. By 80 I could no longer imagine or calculate rationally the end of the stairs. Something happened between 90 and 95--I spotted a coworker beneath me in the open risers of the stairs, steadily gaining, and somehow, from somewhere, that competitive streak in me opened up, and I booted up the next few flights. 110. 120.
For the last 40 flights I was heavily walking, with two other girls, both from different companies, with whom I had been pacing myself with since my last spurt of energy. We didn't speak, just walked, quickly, determinedly, for those last 30, 20, then--as one of the girls announced at 134--the last 10. The three of us, without a word, started to move faster; when we got to the time-punch clock at the end of the final flight, flight 144, we high-fived. I had finished before everyone else in my office.
After the clock-in, there were still (unbelievably) some more short flights to get up to the observation deck where they were giving out water, and, in the late dusk of a Thursday night, you could look out onto the entire city, from any vantage point, north, east, west, south, and no other building would block your view. That's how high up it is.

Because the CN tower is the tallest building in the world.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Don't Worry

I looked after my niece and nephew on the weekend for a little bit, my sister's children. "Looking after them" is really a misnomer as my sister was there with me for most of the time, except for a small window when she ran out to the store to buy batteries for my nephew's crib player, aka, 'ocean wonders' or 'jungle wonders' anyway, it may be the wrong moniker for this toy but needless to say: no sleep was happening without it, so it's been promoted to the status of Important, Useful Toy.
As you can probably tell by the content of my blog, I am not a parent. I have not (yet?) experienced that privilege/joy/frustration/life-changing, for lack of a better word 'transformation' for myself. But I do have the 'on the sidelines' viewpoint.
As a non-parent, aka, Aunt (or Godmother) in my case, you tend to be a little bit more hyper-vigliant than the parents. I'll give you an example.
One instance, about a year and a half ago, my sister left me with my niece and nephew (my god children as I call them) for a short, short stint, at her home, during a Saturday afternoon. I arrived, Ms. Mary Poppins, and my sister went out, leaving me with them. Before the door had even shut, they had ascertained the obvious:
1) Auntie was here for the afternoon.
2) Auntie is childless ie, not a parent.
3) There is only one Auntie, and two of us.
We could have squared off, but they had already won, let me tell you.
My niece brought me (and my nephew, who had to be carried, as he wasn't walking yet) up to her room to show me the bounty of toys, dresses, and all acroutments associated with her life. My nephew and I sat on the bed to watch her fashion show of one outfit after another, and I felt all was "under control" and how hard was this? Until my nephew, again, not walking as I mentioned, but crawling like a determined beetle with no sense of direction, started scurrying again. On the bed. Right off the bed, so fast, lightning fast, that I didn't even have time to react. He was off, and fell off, the side, with a loud 'thunk' as his poor little head hit the wall. I didn't even have time to react, to grab him. I just had time to launch myself onto the other side of the bed, where he had fallen, and pick him up, wailing, crying, sobbing.
I was mortified. I had been left to care for my sister's children and look what had happened. I picked my crying nephew up, brought him back onto the bed, cradled him in my arms and gave him a million kisses and told him it was alright. My niece, seeing her brother fall, came running, and gave him a big kiss too. I told her that would help him feel better. Her love means something.
Between the two of us, we calmed him down. He had only a little bump on his forehead, and prior to my sister coming home, I tried to rehearse what in the name of christ I would tell her had happened to her son.
My sister arrived home from running some errands and having some much needed 'alone' time about an hour later. I had the children eating a snack, I guiltily admit the tv was on, but we were having a great time. The door opened, my sister walked in, smelling of fresh air and Jean-Paul Gaultier, and both kids ran to the door to greet her. I wondered how prominent the bump on my nephew's head would be to my sister. I didn't have to obsess--my niece, in that proud way children have, announced immediately "River had a-accident" leaving my sister to look my way, where upon I promptly explained all. She thought it all pretty funny, as she knew my nephew's propensity, even prior to walking, for lightning-quick movement.
The whole experience, I think, left me more paranoid than a parent. Now, when I look after them I try anticipate anything/everything that could be a possible injury for either one of them, I see danger everywhere (really, I do anyway), and I tend to react more strongly than my sister, their parent, to anything that may injure them, or any potential accident situation. It's crazy.
I try to balance this with healthy thoughts about how utterly insane some of the things I did during childhood were (for example, jumping off my moving bike without using the brakes just because I thought I could escape the laws of physics. Ouch. ) Also, all the many injuries I did sustain, while just being a child, made of rubber and glue, seemed to be able to keep healing as fast as I did).
Back to Saturday, and my little sojourn while my sister went to the store. It was right around "bedtime" which meant, to my niece and nephew "Storytime" so it was up to me to make this work.
I chose a book that has been a big hit with my niece for a long number of months, called "The Places You'll Go" by the omniscent children's writer Dr. Seuss. I never fully appreciated him as a child myself, but wow, as an adult...this book pretty much tells a child, in child-like terms, every thing they will ever need to know about life; the ups and the downs, the lonely times, the waiting, the happy things, the joy. The mystery, the sky, the wide long streets, the confusion. And, as I've read this before to my niece, I know the storyline well.
They both love being read to. So my nephew got in his little 'hands on lap' position, sitting right beside me, and my niece sprawled out to listen. I opened the book, and read the first few opening lines, as I've read many many times to my niece, and then I got to the part "with your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet, you're too smart to go down any not-so-good street". And I literally choked up. My voice filled with tears, and I pointed at the pictures to distract them, and they didn't seem to notice, they were into the book. I don't know what it was about those lines, the book, it's very very simple message, but it really affected me in some deep way, and that book does seem to do that to me. I recovered, read the rest of the book, skipping over some of the harder parts so they didn't have to listen to that. After all they're children. They don't have to deal with that today. I stuck to the fun parts, with friendly elephants, balloons, and slides. No need for Auntie to get emotional again. But I did keep one key line with me, to add to my week;
"When things start to happen, don't worry, don't stew;
Just go right along. You'll start happening too".

Friday, October 16, 2009

Three Words, Ten Years

Here it goes.
Twenty-six started slow. At the Keg. But not Leslie. The Mansion Keg. Where I was. Filling a shift. After midnight sitting. The bar alone. But for Nikki. I’m twenty-six. Disbelief set in. Drink in hand. Far from home. Far from sanity. Years from sanity. But hopeful nonetheless. Twenty-something-hopeful. Hope springs eternal. In your twenties. That is, only.
Back from Keg. In basement apartment. Lived below family. A loud family. With two children. With weight issues. And stomping issues. They rose early. Earlier than me. I sat outside. To avoid noise. With New Yorker. My tanning lotion. My current book. Sunglasses and water. Alone, reading, thinking. The whole summer. Two jobs going. One at night. One all day. Every day, endless. But I persevered. The backyard, grass. My tan, golden. Talking on phone. Standing in shower. Watching the rain. Learning, eating, alone. In bed, alone. Watching TV, alone. Underground, with wallpaper. Open-concept kitchen. Air-conditioning, cold. Watching the crows. Conversations with God. Sitting on steps. Watching cars drive. Listening, my head. My head, spinning. Short-story reading. Answering the phone. Ordering Chinese food. Rolling the carpet. After the flood. Lots of rain. Loved the crows. Followed the crows. Through the park. On running shoes. On roller-blades. Falling, tripping, embarrassed. Got over it.
Back to backyard. Then the snow. White, falling, quiet. No loud noise. Discovering new shows. Another twenty-birthday. Thai food, Rosedale. Ernest Hemingway book. Chili in food. Friends at table. Birthday candle-blowing. New Yorker renewing. Toronto Life arriving. Getting thrown out. Or, evicted out.
New apartment hunt. Late October, fall. Move-in date. Hallow’s Eve Night. Black and orange. My new windows. The church outside. The loud street. A Toronto street. My new couch. My old bed. My endless loneliness. My constant books. Summer next year. Hottest in years. New century, hot. Hot summer weather. Hot brick building. No air-conditioning. No mercy, ever. The fourth storey. Facing the east. The morning sun. Beaming in, always. The a/c unit. My parents bought. My friend installed. I read a lot. The Fountainhead summer. Sitting at window. In a chair. Getting into Rand. Getting into myself. Turned twenty-eight. End of summer. Pre-September eleventh. Pre the collapse. Falling in love. Another October month. My sister’s engagement. Her wedding plans. My laryngitis, voice. Nothing to say. The time marching. My love affair. My subsequent heartbreak. Recorded in walls. Etched on heart. My heart died. It awakened later. But never fully.
The next season. Wore in, out. No date to. Take to my. My sister’s wedding. Bright blue day. Lots of people. Sister in white. Smiles, hugs, toasts. I’m twenty-nine. In the photos. Bright blue dress. Birks’ box-blue. Had to cut. Myself out of. The blue dress. A few months. And, suddenly, thirty! A new decade. A new heart. A new spirit. Where is that. Twenty-something girl? I think, mirror. Where do I. Go to now? Who do I. Go to now?
Life on Bathurst. Continued unabated, slow. The walls unpainted. My unwillingness to. Settle into home. To accept it. To accept myself. It-what was. Not-what if. My hair, short. My hair, long. My skin, pale. My skin, tan. Is that it? Just each season? Not each day. Can’t remember “each”. Just the “every”. Everytime I cried. Everytime I failed. Everytime I folded. Up into myself. A small chair. By the window. Looking out, dreaming. I still dreamed. On the fridge. Poems I loved. The Table poem. The Mutilated World. Poems from Globe. The paper drew. Me back into. My own world. Then one day.
I went out. Back out in. To the world. The one out. There, the window. The door open.
My heart open. Not fully there. But open nonetheless.
August, thirty-one. Another hot summer. Not much changed. Same Bathurst apartment. Same two jobs. Same little car. Same little life. But I adjusted. My outlook on. The future, somewhat. Less fear now. More hope now. What changed, when? Can’t really tell. Just..hope and. More hope and. Some more money. Did that help? Maybe it did.
I can’t recall. Just knowing that. I could keep. It up alone. Helped, maybe, maybe.
What was read? That random summer? Maybe 1984 again. Maybe some Hemingway. Maybe Chick-lit only. Dulling my senses. Not my memory. That remained intact. I could remember. The past clearly. The white walls. The tangled sheets. Who was there. Who I was. With that person. Then you move. Onto someone else. You both do. You have to.
Thirty-two came. And gave back. The first age. In a dog’s. Age to give. Something back to. Me, myself, I. Renewal, new person. Something special, real. Safe, comfortable, chess. Games, not really. Love, yes, maybe. The golden compass. Another warm October. Along Lake Ontario. Turning to winter. But this time. With a friend.
Trips, births, deaths. I’m thirty-three. I’ve dreaded it. For many years. Is it cursed? Seemed to be. My mom’s illness. My nephew’s illness. My own anxiety. A new home. But I can’t. Enjoy it yet. Not while everything. Is upside down. In my life. In their lives. In all our. Collectively screwed lives. I lose weight. Alot, without thinking. I go away. On a trip. With an acquaintance. And her viewpoint. Opens my eyes. Just like that. Life’s beauty and. Endless power to. Surprise, comes back. Open my eyes. And look at. My life, earth. It’s sliding by. The ocean surf. The jet-ski rides. The little houses. The ragged streets. I come home. Changed forever, in. A good way. Tanned, happy, calm. I feel peace. Never feel that! Thirty-four arrives. Just in time. I’m still calm. Nothing seems to. Rattle my cage. Like it used. To do, always. I don’t react. I just live. I can’t control. What will happen. What won’t happen. Life will happen. I want to. Make it happen. But I don’t. Obsess over it. Anymore, at all. Heartbreak can arrive. At any time. It can also. Leave whenever you. Can let it. I go away. Again, and again. It changes me. Back to my. Old young self. Carefree, unfettered, unwilling. To give up. This late date.

Those three words. Look at what. They have done. And then undone. And done again.

Eight quick years. Running across pages. Only two more. To finish writing. This little post.
Thirty five, August. A nice party. With good girlfriends. The year flies. More than ever. I visit Europe. For the first. And last time? I prefer heat. And beach and. Not a city.
Another long winter. But I persevere. I reunite with. Him, the him. Of three times. Third time’s a. Charm, they say. Are they right? I hope so. We witness love. A lot of it. It’s all around. Us, and me. It changes him. Too, I hope. We move in. Not a big. Deal or fanfare. Just us, together. No illusions and. No real surprises. We’re two confirmed. Singles who just. Happened to find. Single each other.
Thirty-six just. Under two months. Ago, really, without. A big realization. I’m just at. That stage of. New mid-life. Where you can. If you try. Hard, still look. Pretty good, and. You can, if. You really want. To, lie shamelessly. About your age. Which I don’t. Re-connecting with. An old friend. One who has. Known me for. More than years. More than these. Ten little years. And has been. Away from my. Life for almost. That amount of. Took an opportunity. For some introspection.
An opportunity to. Evaluate when, exactly. My dream to. Write went away. Or rather, when. I filed that. Dream under “later”. But guess what? Later is now.
Later is ten. Years old today.
Happy birthday later.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Artistic Temperment

As soon as you accept the idea that you are in control of your
thoughts you will be able to create your own happiness.

When I try to classify where it is I fall on the spectrum of "personality type", I always have a hard time. Partly because I get the sense, say, if I'm trying to describe myself, that I'm all over the place, which really, depending on whom I'm interacting with and where, I am.
It's kind of like those quizzes you sometimes complete in a magazine that you might read at the gym, you fill it in with your head, you're on the elliptical and you don't have a pen. If you get this many "D's" you are a gregarious, instantly-befriending type; if you get a certain amount of B's you are shy, retiring, and someone who never goes after what they want; if you amass a bunch of A's, you are a go-getter, ruthless, a true "type A".
So my personality type is part type A, with that 'get it done' instinct, but then I have a thoughtful dreamer thrown in there too. Over-sensitive to the plights of this world? That's me, too.
So describing myself in any realm is never that simple.
The day began at 5 am, because this is the time my mind decided to wake the rest of me up, ready or not, to think about things that are best left alone.
My boyfriend's step mom summed up what one needs to do when niggled with those mind-gone-wild thoughts at 4, 5am, and it's this: "Let the thoughts just drift away like a leaf blowing in the wind." It sounds SO amazing, so simple, so d0-able, and yet, unlike the lovely quote that heads this post, at 5 am I HAVE NO CONTROL. It starts with the Next Day, as in what do I have to do the Next Day, or, at 5 am, That Day, and why I can't control my mind, or at least corner it into pretending to think positively. No leaf blowing was going to happen.
I turned to the state of the desparate, trying to get a few more precious minutes, minutes, I'm saying, of sleep. I decided to count sheep. Not just any sheep. The clay-mation sheep from the Serta ads, that look so forlorn on the commercials, when the person gets a new mattress and no longer needs the clay-mation sheep. Well, I needed them. I tried to count them all, their sad, forlorn faces imprinted on my brain from the ads.
Guess what? Yea. Yup.
So I saw this quote today on a 'positive thinking' website, and it seems so ...easy. But I sometimes have trouble controlling my own thoughts. They've controlled me for so long. Listening to a church sermon at the baptism of a good friend's little baby on sunday, the minister said something that really struck me: "No amount of worrying will add even one hour to your lifespan". It was almost like what Oprah defines as one of her "aha" moments. I literally have used worry as a shield for years, decades, eternities. And the minister is right. Time will march on, fate will chalk up what it wants, your life will unfold, streets into streets on the folds of the map of where you're going, taking whatever route it wants, ending up in the same destination. That is, where you're meant to be. Do you have a say in it? To some extent, yes. Meaning, you get to decide where you turn left or right. But, as I mentioned to a friend in a conversation of "discourse" the big decisions in life are sometimes made for you--meaning, you don't make them, so they make themselves. All those big things, the ones that you mull over at 5 am, are things that occupy your deeper mind, where, no matter what, you aim to meet your number one need, whatever that might be. Work-related, love-life, or that crazy idea that just won't go away.
In the daylight, waking hours, you can shelve what you think you may really need to do, at the time, but maybe, at 5 am, it's when the real thinking is going on.
There's no hiding from inside your own head at that time of the morning, let me tell you.

Saturday, October 3, 2009


Years ago, from a psychotherapist I was visting after experiencing a robbery at the place I was working at the time, I received a list of what some might call "instructions", a photocopied sheet that my dr. may have given to all of her patients. It was a list with some interesting suggestions, one of which was to come up with a "mission statement" for your own life, and my previous post triggered it for me.

The mission statement I came up with was that I was going to live my own life, my way, to the end. Meaning, I wasn't going to allow anyone else's view of what I should or should not do in my life, or with my life, colour any of the decisions I was going to make, or any of the things I wanted to be. And so far, I've managed to keep this theme, this mission statement going.

I will admit I've had some meagre bad luck, the first paragraph of this post gives a nod to that (it's not an event I ever give my full headspace to anymore); I've also done alot of growing up to get to where I've gotten to, shedding those unrealistic expectations of what life is supposed to be, and what life may or may not owe me (life owes me exactly nothing); and because of these beliefs of mine, this little credo, I've managed to get through alot more meagre bad luck, to prove, as one very close friend once put it, how resourceful I really am.
Over the last two years, I've had to really monitor the amount of time I spend worrying/obsessing/over-analyzing, and allow myself to really do alot less reacting, alot more observing, and it's allowed me to come to some amazing conclusions about what I call "sorority living." Let me explain.
My sister drives this point home as describing people as "Real". Or "Not Real."
Real means genuine. Real means caring. Real means concern, and real means feeling really happy for others when they have something great happen to them. Real also means feeling the pangs others feel when something goes really really wrong. It means participating in someone's life, if you are there as a friend. It means going the extra mile. It means not keeping score. It means giving that person some slack when they need it.
Not Real. Not so good. It means that you will hear white lies. And, being real, you won't call a person on those white lies. You are generous enough to let them have them. (by the way, you're not doing them any favours.) It continues. It means that you will probably do them alot of favours, ones that they often won't reciprocate. Sometimes, being Real goes hand-in-hand with being a giver. Not real's are often takers. It means un-genuine, un-original behaviour. They will hide behind their own lies, because they are motivated by envy. Not Real's will probably be very jealous of the Real's. The Real's are there, staying the course of their own life, navigating with the truth, and this gives them a clear conscience. The Not Real's don't know WHAT that feels like.

I have recently caught up with some of my very very Real "old" friends, meaning that, we've all been in each other's lives for a long long time, even if we are unable to communicate as frequently as we would like. They each reminded me, each in their own way, how important real-ness is. They are all some of the most real women I know. Genuine, passionate, stubbornly original. I contrast this with some behaviour I've fallen victim to recently, both in my personal and professional life. It doesn't go unnoticed. But, like a Real, I don't call them on it.
Because I don't have to.
They already know what they're like.

6 word Saturday

As instructed on The One Minute Writer, I am describing my life in 6 words:
My life is my own book.