Colour Swatch… By the Roadside

Palette_AugustRoadside.jpg

I don’t keep diaries. It might seem odd for a writer, but I’ve just never been able to get into them. Occasionally, I will do stream of consciousness writing, but the main way I express my thoughts is through my books and stories. When I want to express my experiences day to day, I lean more toward the visual, through life sketches, pen drawings and colour. I feel like colour can tell someone more about a mood, a time and a place, a day in my life, than three pages of description. Perhaps it is because I feel so rooted to my own place in the world and I am very affected by my environment. The natural environment especially inspires me. It really is an inescapable character in every Canadian’s life.

When I was driving the other day, I noticed how beautiful the colours on the roadside were at this time of year. It inspired me to start keeping a colour diary to remember times and places that make an impression on me. The colours above represent the plants that I see on the roadside that are so beautiful all layered together. The green is the grass, its shady base and the yellowish burnt edges at the tip. The brown is sprigs of wild millet that provide dark counterpoints to the wildflower colours beside it. The three wildflowers are Queen Anne’s Lace, Devil’s Paintbrush and Chicory flowers. The whole thing turned out rather retro in terms of the colour juxtapositions, like a seventies living room set.

I hope that these colour diaries lead to paintings. I think it will be good to have them for later, as reference for bigger things.

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Meanwhile, In The Mid-Winter Blahs…

Or should it be termed the early spring blahs now?

I started this blog, in part, to write about some of the things that make this part of the world so special. Well, here’s one that’s definitely ‘special’. If you’ve spent a full winter in a northern climate, you know what I’m talking about. The November snow seems magical, fluffy and lovely, a herald of Christmas. After the holidays, well, it’s January and we’re expecting it. People who enjoy winter sports, tobogganing, or just like the snow are still hanging in there. By about mid February… most people are getting pretty grumpy. By mid March, if the snow is still around, they’re starting to get a little nuts.

As I’ve written before, I’ve found this winter fairly refreshing. What I don’t find refreshing is the driving of all the tightly-wound people out there on the highways for march break. Or their parking. Or their road crossing habits (seriously, people, I know you’re feeling impatient but when the crosswalk is thirty feet away, come on!). I had a guy literally walk right in front of my car today.

Let the melt begin!

Five Things About Hamilton: Pictures Pending

Welcome to Part Three of my three-part series on class in the placed I’ve lived in Ontario. Entry one is here, along with the original prompt that inspired these posts, and number two is here.

 When we left off, I was in my late twenties, living in Oakville, and realizing that nothing I could do at that time was going to allow me to live there in any comfort due to the exorbitant price of housing. We began looking for other accommodation, and because we needed to stay near Toronto and the greater Toronto transit system, Hamilton began to look like a good option. I had just finished an animation contract in Hamilton, and we had heard that we could get a nicer place for much, much cheaper.

 My work contract was not my first experience with Hamilton, however. My parents grew up here, and most of my extended family still lives here. I have memories of shopping and going to movies downtown as a little girl, and my Dad and I share many happy memories of feeding the birds at the Provincial park down on the bay inlet. Later in my life, I spent a lot of time in Hamilton while my Dad underwent heart surgery at the General. It was a hard time for me, but Hamilton’s medical system is amazing and the doctors and nurses there really made the whole thing a lot easier and smoother.

 I really like Hamilton. I think I like Hamilton better than anyplace I’ve lived before. Here are some of the reasons why.

      1. Hamilton is affordable. Nothing is super cheap, but rent, food and utilities are at least reasonable.

      2. Hamilton has an amazing health system, as I said before. Because the city is home to one of the country’s foremost medical research universities, there are a ton of hospitals and clinics, and wait times are low. The quality of care is also excellent, and charity treatment is often available for those in need.

      3. Hamilton has incredible community spirit. Some people don’t see it, because Hamilton can be a little… grungy sometimes, but when you look past the wear and tear, you’ll see a lot of great people who take pride in their small businesses and care about their communities. It’s the kind of place where you get to know the guys that run the restaurant across the street and work the counter at the convenience store. I like that.

      4. Hamilton has lots of stuff to do. Whether you like movies, art, live theatre, night clubs, hiking, the beach… whatever… Hamilton has it or is near to it. For the size of the city, there’s just a lot of really interesting stuff to see and do.

      5. And lastly (and this is one that a lot of people won’t believe, but it’s so true…) Hamilton is beautiful. I won’t listen to anyone who wants to bitch about Barton Street or the Steel Company… the working class history here is what made the city what it is today! Besides, the Steel Company is so cool looking. How many people can say they got such a close look at a huge, industrial revolution era steelworks? It’s really neat in there, and when you catch it at the right kind of day, in the right light, with the sun rising pink behind it and vapor rising from the stacks, it’s picture worthy. And I love the buildings. Hamilton has the most beautiful range of architecture periods and styles, especially Victorian gothic revival, which is one of my personal favourites. You can find everything… old fifties blown glass signs, gabled roofs with worn shingles, old shopfronts that are growing a little lopsided with age… I want to do a photo project of all the beautiful details these buildings have someday. The combination of beautiful architectural work, urban renewal and graceful aging make the streets of Hamilton fascinating, full of secrets. And the view from the mountain looking out on the lake… now that’s a place to do some yoga. Right there. Beautiful. Stand on the mountain brow sometime when it’s snowing, and tell me it’s not the most beautiful place in Southern Ontario.

As you can see, I’ve fallen in love with a city. I’m going to take pictures, over time, so others can share it with me. Until then, that’s my series. Lighter fare is coming up on Thursday, as I share some silly conversations that Robin and I have had lately.

My Life In Oakville: Part Two of Three

If you haven’t been reading along, this is Part Two of a three-part blog series I’ve been doing on class in the places I’ve lived throughout my life. The first part, about my hometown of St. Catharines, is here. The first post also contains the original prompt that inspired this series, if you’re interested.

 Growing up, I had an ever-evolving, love-hate relationship with my hometown, which provided a ton of enrichment and inspiration for my later work, but no place for a person with my particular talents to develop into a young professional. I was frustrated with the declining amount of career-track jobs, and the rising crime rate, which seemed to ruin many of the things the place had going for it.

 All this left me in my early twenties, longing to escape to the city and round out my education in some way that employers would actually recognize. I saved my bursary money, sold a large portion of my stuff, and moved to Oakville to attend Sheridan College for animation.

 My feelings about Oakville were mixed from the start. On the plus side, it was way cleaner than St. Catharines, and I never felt unsafe on the street, on the bus or basically anywhere, whereas in my hometown, I would have to have my wits about me pretty much all the time. Someone in Oakville who would be considered dirty or ugly would pretty much be considered average anywhere else in Ontario. This had advantages and disadvantages. Because I’ve always been a bit of a fashion fan myself, I found myself feeling like I fit in better sometimes than I did at home. However, the major disadvantage of the bar being higher for fashion and looks is that I couldn’t just walk down to the mall in my crap clothes with my hair unwashed, like I would sometimes do before. I mean, it’s a free country and everything, but appearance really did seem to make a big difference when it came to customer service there. If I came in wearing a $900 outfit, I’d get doted on by every salesperson in the place. If I came in with average hair and clothes, with road salt on my jacket, I’d basically get ignored, and if I managed to corner somebody, they’d usually be rude.

 Another plus was that being in an urban centre close to other urban centres meant that transit took less time and usually went to the places I needed to go, and jobs were easy to come by. I found that businesses sat on resumes for a lot longer, on average, before replying, but it was definitely easier to get interviews and casual jobs. I had one rough summer where I couldn’t find work, but Robin and I muddled through somehow. Having said that, though, I never really saw as much of the town as I would have liked to, because a) they don’t have a very good central news source, and so it’s hard to know what’s going on around town and b) everything’s ridiculously expensive.

 Now, on to my major beefs with Oakville. The first one is the environment. Oakville has a lot of nice parks and hiking trails, it’s true, but it lacks good sources of fresh produce like I had at home, and I found myself growing really homesick for the fresh foods I had pretty much year round in St. Catharines. I also really enjoy bird watching, and birds are much fewer and farther between there. I know that might seem elementary to someone used to the city, but it’s not something I even thought of before I went there. And the air quality is really, really crappy. As in, the crappiest in the country. I got sick every winter unless I pumped myself full of vitamins, and I temporarily lost my singing voice. We lived just a couple of kilometres from the 403, and walking down there made your skin feel gritty. There was also a huge problem with medical wait times. Any trip to the walk-in clinic or emergency room was a guaranteed five-hour endeavour, regardless of time of day. Anywhere else on the peninsula, it’s like 45 minutes to an hour, tops.

 Another huge problem with Oakville, for us, was the housing prices. We paid $1200 a month (an amount that will get you a newly renovated place with a parking garage, weight room and security anywhere else around here) for a slummy place the size of a postage stamp with management that I wouldn’t be exaggerating to tell you to hide the silverware around. Our appliances and fixtures hadn’t been changed since the 70’s, they cleaned the hallway about once every three months, the elevators broke down several times a week, the boilers exploded, our toilet exploded one day with no one around it (seriously!) we had insects coming up through the drains from other people’s filthy apartments above and below us, we had people that let their dogs crap in the hallways rather than go outside, we had a crack house down the hall, and on Christmas Eve, 2012, we found a guy passed out on the floor of our hallway with his cock out, in front of an apartment where a mom and her teen daughter were living. We called the cops. A lot of times. They never came. The prices were so high there we were forced to take on a roommate, and that turned into its own nightmare. After a string of thefts, destruction, and just plain creepiness, we had to give up on the roommate thing and go it alone. Our place, for $1200, was the cheapest we could get in town. This was a problem.

 Eventually, we had to give up on Oakville and move away. I still don’t like to think about that very much. It was hard for me to write this, because I’m still dealing with everything that went on there. I guess, on an emotional level, it was a really bad place for me. It’s the kind of place that makes you feel like you just never quite measure up. I was constantly trying to prevent people from finding out where and how I lived with a mixture of fancy clothes, confidence, and education. It’s exhausting to have to live that way. I still want to live in the city, but there has to be a better way.

Next Post: Our flight to Hamilton, and what’s next.