Kanada Day

She asks me to walk with her, although I know I don’t have too much time. Even the TTC, in this world, has something of a schedule to keep. But I can’t refuse her. I never could.

“We should take the streetcar when we get to it.” I tell her as we walk out of the Huron Garden behind the Lillian H. Smith Library with its memories of red berries, green and tea. “I imagine you have important things to do.”

“On a day like this?” She shakes her head. “No. I don’t want to put my bike on a bumper. And right now, the only important thing is to enjoy this July weather people keep complaining about. Wouldn’t you say?”

She’s right of course. As we begin walking down College and Spadina, the summery day somehow seems to make everything newer and clean. Even in the sun, her weathered face is as round and cratered as a silvery moon: motherly, worn, and wise.

“Come on.” She says, her voice still sibilant and deliberate despite being an octave lower. “I want to have a look at the Library again before my next book launch.”

There is a quiet eagerness to her steps as she guides the bicycle beside her with both hands. We come to the front of the Lillian H. Smith Library. Even now, I can’t help but marvel at the arch framing the doorway and the elaborate statues of the winged lion and griffin on either side with their entourage of carved animal friends. It reminds me of the guardians set around Morpheus’ Palace of Dreams: minus the Dragon and the Unicorn.

She stares up at the statues as well. As she smiles, the jowls of her cheeks turn into fine lines and her faded blue eyes light up into slivers of sky.

“Mac couldn’t have done better: him or Ruben.” She says. “It’s come a long way from the Spaced Out Library, you know. I haven’t been here in a long time,” she puts a weathered hand on the griffin’s side.

“Neither have I.” I admit and I wonder why given that this is the closest Toronto Public Library I’ve ever felt to home.

“I used to work at Girls & Boys House.” She says. “I was a page there.”

“I know.” I tell her.

She turns and pats me on the shoulder. “Of course you do. Come on. I want to go through the Market for a while.”

Again, I feel a slight nudging of time but she is persuasive. We turn around and walk towards Kensington. We pass many women in summer dresses and Homburg hats, men in vintage suits and T-shirts and children playing with music and somehow I feel happier watching them. I notice a few of them carrying Canadian flags as well, but I don’t pay it too much notice.

“They turned Boys & Girls into a U of T Security building if you can believe it.” She grumbles. “A security building of all things!”

I shake my head. “At least there’s the Merrill Library.”

“The Lillian H. one.” She corrects me. “As much as Judy would have liked that, she’d have corrected you sooner.” She sighs. “Poor Judy. She’d have gotten a real hoot out of what this place has become. I’m so glad we’re having the reception upstairs.”

By the time we get to one of the Kensington Market intersections, the sky is beginning to turn orange in the late afternoon sun. I also begin to see more Canadian flags: some of them set near stalls and others carried out by vendors. They are even there as labels on people’s shirts. Then I remember what day it is.

That is when I hear the crescendo of Bif Naked’s “Spaceman” and notice that my companion is no longer at my side. I find myself wandering around looking for her. I know I should start making my way back now, but I can’t. I just ran into her by coincidence after getting off the car from Lower Queen and getting very quickly lost … no, found in a once and a lifetime opportunity series of conversations with her. But having said so much and yet so little considering, I can’t leave it at this now.

I wonder why no one has reacted to her yet — this Poet Laureate of Toronto — but then I think about it again. Even here, in this place where she is honoured, many of them probably just see a little old lady in a red and Phoenician-purple looking tunic that could just as easily be woven with Greek and aboriginal patterns.

I find her in front of the astronaut. She — the astronaut — has loudspeakers behind her that is the source of the Bif Naked song. The astronaut is a pale woman with straight long black hair. Her white bulky suit has a Canadian tag on its chest. My friend — and yes I consider her my friend at this point — drops a Toonie into the other woman’s gloved hand.

“So cool.” I hear my friend say before she walks past me to a nearby booth to buy an orange from a lithe dark-skinned woman with multi-coloured dreadlocks.

“I had a photo taken of me in a space-suit once.” She pays for the orange. “It was supposed to be the cover for my latest book of poems, but because it was the seventies my publishers wouldn’t let me use it. Now you have all these famous singers and female astronauts making fashion statements alike. Just look at how far we’ve come.” She pauses. “Still, let it be said that I did it before it was cool,” she ends off with a wink in my direction.

I laugh and look back at the street. “You know, Kensington Market reminds me of the Carnival scene in Issue #22 of Miracleman.” I offer, caught by the myriad of different people buying and celebrating in the streets.

She nods beside me. “And it’s Marvelman. It’s the Marvel Family. A happy family of superheroes. None of that litigation bullshit.”

I’m laughing again. “No. The only thing missing are the balloons.”

Then we see a booth with balloons. We exchange a look. She’s the one that breaks the tableaux. “Well, let’s see if these ones will let us float into the sky.”

And so we get some balloons. We don’t fly, but we might as well have. Our conversation about comic books continues.

“I think Neil was the best thing that happened to Marvelman.” She says as we walk–her with a green balloon and me with a red one. “I love the mythopoeic, the changes that legends go through. Neil keeps an essential humanity throughout all of his works.”

I feel a lightness in my chest — a giddiness — as I hear her talk about Neil Gaiman. “And not Alan Moore?”

She turns to me and frowns a bit, the wattles of her neck forming a cavern underneath the worn Anglo-Sphinx of her face. “Don’t get me wrong.” She tells me. “Alan Moore is brilliant, as brilliance goes, but I’m not sure I like the direction he took my Marvel Family. It was too dark. Too …” she shakes her head. “Too eighties.”

As she grins again, I feel my mouth matching her expression. “You know, I was born in the eighties.”

“Yes, but I lived through them …” She stops walking and stands there. People continue to move past us, but she remains still. Her blue eyes blink a few times and her face begins to resemble an older version of the gaunt and haunted expressions I’ve seen captured in photograph.

“The city became so cold and impersonal.” She says faintly. I look at the distance in her gaze and I can’t quite find it in myself to meet her eyes.

“My drinking got worse. I wasn’t writing and I kept making myself sick. That time, in ’87 I almost died …”

This time, I can’t even look in her direction. She’s quiet for a few more moments, as though considering something. “The irony was if Frank — my drunkard buddy Frank — hadn’t come into my apartment when he did, I would’ve been dead. There’d be no walks on Kensington. No lectures at Western, York, or U of T. No coffee with Peggy. No new cats. No new books. No life. Nothing.”

“I’m glad you survived.” I whisper, still not meeting her gaze and trying not to think about the alternative right now.

She shakes her head at me sadly. “That time in the Animal Rights Movement probably helped. I honestly didn’t think I had anymore to give, you know? And then, when I went back to that infernal Black Tunnel Wall,” as she keeps talking I wonder if — in this world — she’s told anyone about this in an interview or anywhere else millions of times before, “looking at my mother’s experiences during the Blitz … you know, they compared the thing to Plath’s Bell Jar, though I never really got that comparison. Looking back though, it’s like I passed through that tunnel and … I’m so glad I did.”

She smiles at me again. “You’re right. It wasn’t a bad time. I got to see Toronto get beautiful again: with all those clubs and Goth Nights coming up with their lithe, pale, made-up young boys and girls in black and kohl. Really cool stuff: made me almost want to be sixteen again. And my friends were there and I got a whole ton of honourary doctorates …”

“Professor –”

“No. Don’t call me that. Professor or Doctor is for someone who graduated high school. Miss is for someone more authoritarian than I ever was. You can call me by name.”

I almost do. Instead, she shakes her head. “I’m sorry. It’s just Alan Moore reminds me of the rest of the eighties and I know that’s not fair. We all have to work with darkness and re-imagining those Jungian archetypes. Look at George Lucas’ Star Wars.”

“And then the Prequel Trilogy.” I mutter.

“Please,” she holds the palm of her hand out to my face, “let’s not. It almost makes me wish I hadn’t survived the eighties.”

I shake my head, case in point. “There was no comparison. I think Neil had the more difficult job though,” I tell her as we make our way towards the College and Spadina streetcar line, “I mean, where do you go from utopia?”

The sky is more pink than orange by the time we get to the tracks.

“All utopias are problematic. As long as human nature exists, as long as that yearning is there, as long as we tell stories nothing ever really stops. There is always something after ‘Happily ever after.’ It never ends. It is never over.”

With that remark, she stops to ease herself onto her bike seat. And then I know.

“But this is.” I state, feeling myself deflate inside.

She takes her helmet and begins to put it on over her silver hair. “You knew that already.”

There is so much I want to ask her still, so much I want to say but all I can actually say is, “Please …”

She shakes her head at me. “You know, when I stare off like this, I can see why Louis Dudek once called me ‘Crazy Cassandra,’” she says, fondly.

“You’re more of a Tiresias than a Cassandra.” I whisper helplessly as I try to ignore the tears welling up in my eyes.

“No. You’re wrong, my friend. I’m no more the shade of Tiresias than you are Odysseus feeding me blood at the Nekromanteion of Ephyra, though your heart is in the right place.”

There is a light in her eyes. They are somehow an even stronger blue than ever in the pink light of an early Toronto evening. Their dreamy expression stares right into me. I feel ashamed.

“I’m sorry,” I tell her.

“I understand.” She says not unkindly. “You’re trying to do for me what I attempted to do for Lawrence. And I thank you for that. But I am not your Other. I am not your Cloud-Gwen.”

I hang my head because deep down I know she’s right. Then I feel a gentle hand cupping my face and turning me to look up at her again. As she sits up on her bicycle, her white hair sticks out of her helmet is a pastel of different colours in the sunset.

Mishugina,” she murmurs softly, her smile wry and gentle. “All of this is an elementary world. A mythical world. You should be proud.”

She leans forward and we hug. I wonder if anyone else can see us: and what it exactly is they are seeing. Is it an embrace between friends, a grandson and grandmother, or something more wishing the other farewell, and never goodbye?

The next thing I know, we’ve let go of each other. She is looking up and around us. “It’s funny,” she says, “today is Kanada Day and this country still doesn’t know what it is.”

“Maybe not.” I try to keep myself from choking up. “But neither does Toronto.”

She laughs. “It never did.”

I shake my head this time. “But I can definitely tell you that you helped it dream up some of its coat of many different colours.”

She smiles and in the waning sun, her face seems ageless and Egyptian again. “Dream well, my friend.”

She turns around and begins to peddle away.

Suddenly, I find myself running after her. I’m shouting, calling after her, “Tell me, Gwen! Did Julian the Magician know how to resurrect the dead? Did he know how to resurrect the dead!? Or was he supposed to bring back the living? Or himself? Tell me, Gwen! Please tell me!”

But by the time I ask these questions, she is already gone. I stop running. Soon, a far-too-clean and far-too-efficient TTC streetcar visits the too-clean street and rail shelter. As it comes to a stop in front of me, I know I have to go now. I helped make this place, but it isn’t mine anymore.

I came here through Lower Queen, the Gate of Ivory that could have been, and now I leave back through Lower Bay, the Gate of Horn that actually happened: back to a colder place, a more cordial place, a place of slow public transport and garbage, an asymmetrical place, a city that doesn’t make sense, a city with dark memories that never really took root.

It is a place without her.

But she did exist here, and so did I. So do I. Because today is Kanada Day. Today is a day of potlucks and shadows; magic shows and superheroes; Greeks and Egyptian exhibits at the Royal Ontario Museum; and all the people on the streets who are no-man.

Yet more than that, she showed me the secret. Because I know now, even riding this streetcar, that whatever this place and this city is, it is ultimately a land that turns you inward.

Stitches, Meetings and Silver Keys in Downtown Toronto

Well, I have been fighting off a cold for some time now and it seems as though in these days two days I’ve finally lost that battle and I’m now in the process of surviving. Sometimes I wish I was like one of Vampire Maman Juliette’s vampires to that regard who, from my understanding, are immune to such annoying things as sickness. But, sadly, there is already one vampire in her world named Matthew and having two would just be redundant.

No, I’m still mortal–for better or worse–and annoyed at my body right now because I have so much to do and not an infinite amount of time to do it.

So, how about some good news? The third and final part of my article The Stitching Together of a Mythos: Kris Straub’s Broodhollow came out a few days ago. It really made things come full circle: especially since it talks a bit about Kris Straub’s story “Candle Cove”: which is what got me interested in his work to begin with. We’ve been talking a bit on Twitter as well: which is really awesome. And in addition to getting a few more Twitter Followers–which is always excellent–I may have opened some … new avenues up for future exploration. I need to just develop this possibility further and I’m not sure how well I will do with portraying current events–even of a Geek kind–but let’s just go at it one thing at a time.

This passing week has been a challenge for me on some many different levels, but I did go to an interesting meeting before an evening Torontaru at the Get Well Bar: which I went to for the very first time. Unfortunately, already having gotten lost (because neither of the places I went to were right along the way–between Ossington and Dundas Street West–and where there is Toronto, there is always construction and the TTC to contend with) I didn’t think to actually use some networking time to–you know–network (aka talk to people) and it only occurred to me after I was heading home. But I did more or less what I had to and, besides, the Get Well Bar was over capacity and I was already feeling tired and a bit ill and there were few people I even knew there. The Bar’s game cabinets were amusing though the first little while I was there before I left and couldn’t get back in. I still never figured out how to get the Barbarian to fight in Gauntlet and I died in Frogger: a lot.

So I have been mysterious about two things so far. Upon risk of making this the most boring Mythic Bios post ever, I will leave it at that until I get more information. Instead, I guess I’m going to lean on my fall-back and become retrospective.

I’ve been to Ossington and Dundas Street West before. It’s less that I have a specific memory and more that I have found myself in the general atmosphere before. The buildings are old and run down, but there is new life and–life–in all of them. Many of them are stores or bars and you can make out some apartments above them.

At one point, after I was at the Get Well Bar–which is an ironic name given that I’m sick though it has nothing to do with anything really–I was sitting at Subway near the window. Here I was, finding myself sitting downtown watching people walk and interact beyond the glass. I saw a few couples holding hands and a few pairs of friends talking. One man was carrying his meal in layers of containers wrapped in a white plastic bag. And there was an old man I saw pass by twice and an older woman walking by.

And it made me wonder as night time already took over the faded gold and pink sky I’d been walking through earlier in my quest to find that meeting place: was this part of the city like this–like all of this–thirty or forty years ago when those older people I saw were my age or younger? Was it always like this? And would those couples still be together and those friends still meet up? Would they be as old as the people I saw that night: remembering all those times they passed through this area of the city talking and laughing and thinking it would all be the same the next day when–one day–it is going to inevitably change somehow? Would Toronto’s proclivity towards construction eliminate so many familiar landmarks that no one would even recognize this place with most of their mind or would the gritty aura of it transcend the loss of a mere few buildings that were hosts to so many other things in the past?

And it occurred to me that people lived here–actually lived here–and it was like seeing some of the Scott Pilgrim video game in real life. Is the Scott Pilgrim game really Ossington and Dundas as well as the Chinatowns? I tried to live in Toronto but, more than that, I tried to understand it: to find its spirit and companionship. I tried to find its life as it could relate to me and embrace it and–to this day–I’m not sure if I ever succeeded. A lot of the time I just found “being lost” and “afraid of the dark” as my common feelings towards being downtown: with some “dazed and confused” and the occasional and inexplicable … magic, I guess.

I think everyone of us gets nostalgic and sometimes yearns for and broods about the past.  Sometimes it’s almost like there is a choice between having some awesome moments and watching them disappear into memory forever … or never having a life of any pain or joy and watching other people’s and feeling nothing but envy, when you really get right down to it, a sense of hollowness: of having wasted your life. The first is magic, as far as I understand it and the world feels a little greyer when it finally fades. And no matter how much you want it back, you either can’t or it will never be the same: and that’s not always a bad thing.

It does make for good writing, though, such as my short story Stop 17.

I’ve been angry at Toronto and in love with it and disappointed in what I thought I found occasionally. But as I was sitting in that Subway shop, that night it just seemed like another … place to me: just a place I visit from time to time.

I’d like to leave you all with one more thing. Leeman Kessler has succeeded in resurrecting a homunculus of H.P. Lovecraft to answer all of your questions. As such, Mr. Lovecraft was good enough to answer a question that has been close to my heart for a very long time. Have a good night everyone.

It Is Never Still and Neither am I

I dream in the green of it.

In fact, I never really left the green that my friend brought me into last weekend during the summer sunshine. She told me before that I seemed disconnected–that I’d been so for a while–and, as a matter of course, we walked through High Park, then to a pub and back to her place. A night or so later, I found myself on a shuttle bus from Eglinton back to Finch after meeting Neil Gaiman. And on that ride, tired and somewhat dehydrated, I had time to think.

I had time to think about a lot of things.

There was a time that I took a night bus from College Street all the way to Finch after spending time at Neutral. At the same time, when I passed Eglinton I would look for the Higher Ground store with its old apartments that my friends used to stay at. Years ago I would come to visit there and sometimes I would stay the night after going down to Queen and the Vatikan from Ossington. The irony–that I would finally understand how we always navigated from there to there years later after they were gone–never escaped me.

The associations spread from there like creeping vines of psychogeography ignoring all perceptions of time and space. I remember walking down Spadina: from College Street to Queen with my friend from Germany and later giving her her first Halloween. I recall walking with another friend through Kensington Market to look at old thrift clothes and makeup.

Of course the Lillian H. Smith Library comes into the fore with its statues of fantastic animals: whose doors we sometimes stopped into. That library becomes a nexus: where a friend introduced it to me for the first time and I waited for another person there to see the Merril Collection for the very first time.

When I follow the track down I remember Neutral and the girl with the Cheshire smile who decided she wanted to dance with me. Further on, down the streetcar path in the night to Dufferin and then Brock Ave where I sometimes spent the night and free-cycled things like abandoned doors. Down the very opposite, away from the Lillian H. Smith Library was Broadview where two awesome ladies used to live and sometimes had parties. And then near College and Clinton was the streetcar line to Euclid Avenue.

Euclid Avenue.

I recall all the streetcar rides to comics conventions like the Paradise at the Ex or some chain of hotels and all the Starbucks and places I used to find myself in when I wandered. But of all these days and all these evenings what really sticks out at me the most of all was the night bus after a Star Wars game with my friends in Richmond Hill taking me back into the city and my walks on the Danforth and Woodbine where I used to live. And Woodbine. Woodbine. Woodbine …

There were the moots and the munches, the parties and the events and just the times when I allowed myself to wander. I’m not sure when that moment was when I changed from a quester into a castellan, or a wanderer into a hermit. And when I was coming back from meeting Neil and wondering if life would any better after reaching one of the things I looked forward to the most, I finally realized that I was in mourning.

I knew I’d been grieving for a while. In my mind I understood that this was what I had been doing and I even told people I knew that this was the state I was in. But it wasn’t until that night that I began to understand that I’d been grieving for a really long time–for all these things that I thought I lost–and I wasn’t dealing with it.

Of course, that’s not entirely true. I was dwelling in it. I didn’t let go of it. And when I moved back to Thornhill away from the city, all I could do was blame myself and scream quietly why. Why did this have to happen to me? Why couldn’t I keep my perception of freedom? Why does loss exist? Why do I have to be so fucking unhappy?

And I understand something now. That boy who made his ridiculous budgie chants, who went out to his first Conventions, who went to Euclid Avenue, who danced with the girl and her beautiful smile at Neutral, who went to Brock Avenue for the night, who stayed above Higher Ground, who helped a friend find Halloween, who played at the Two-Headed Dragon, who lived and still loves at Woodbine, who went to York University and who wandered around at all times of the day and night downtown in various forms is no longer here. I am no longer that boy or that man. I am not that person–or those people–anymore. It’s all so vital and immediate: before time eats through experiences and turns them into memories. And sometimes it sucks. It sucks so bad and I feel that anger come out at that sense of loss.

Me and my Head

But I have to accept that and live accordingly.

I’m … something else now. I’m not new. I still have all of those memories of being all those different variations of people. And I haven’t sorted through it all yet. I don’t think I ever really will. I know I’m not always wise or strong and I tend to repeat the mistakes of the past in different permutations. But I am doing so much now. I feel closer to something: something that I can’t entirely focus on or name. It’s like I am breaking through a barrier partly of my own creation and the other half belonging to the rest of the world. It is a penumbra of pain, loss, regret, rage, guilt, ennui, and rut but also stability and order and “just the way things are.”

And I am tired of feeling like a stagnant, rotting old man with crazy hair. I want to be an active powerful young man with crazy hair instead. I realize I still feel and that it is okay–and more than okay–to have strong feelings: even though and especially because I own them.

I know a lot of this might go over some people’s heads with details that explain little or nothing. But to those of you who know, and you know who you are, even though I’m a changing person I still love you and I will treasure what we had and whatever else we can have again now. I was really very lucky. And I guess I still am.

I guess this is just a really long way of saying that I’m still healing and it is confusing, and uncertain, and sometimes really quite scary. But at the same time, I feel alive and this is my space and my time: or as Gwendolyn MacEwen put it, I’m dreaming “in the green of my time.”

Until another time, my friends and loyal readers.