You never know what will send you on an adventure! This week it’s beer! Well, beer and Father’s Day. Since Dad was traveling in Scotland on the actual day, we had plans to celebrate this weekend. It seemed like divine timing when I came across the launch of a new microbrewery beer named for the Humber River, one of my dad’s childhood haunts. He often uses the river’s clean-up as an example of how the world can, indeed, become a better place. Perfect.
So on Saturday Justin and I went on an adventure out to Junction Craft Brewing. It’s on the other side of the city but this was an opportunity not to be missed. Admittedly we were a bit skeptical as we got off the bus and walked towards what we hoped was the location behind this big and unwelcoming wall. The sign ‘beer’ gave us hope but it turned out to be a different brewery.
As we walked a little further, we passed by these big logs and caught sight of an interesting old building. According to the brewery, they have made their home in what was originally a City of Toronto incinerator called “The Destructor.”
Yep, we were in the right place. Clearly it’s a lot more welcoming these days!
We walked in and immediately enjoyed the ambiance of the location. Reclaimed old buildings are such treasures and this one is no exception. The high ceilings, the brick walls, the good wood, the still-industrial feel, all of it makes for a cool place to hang out.
We arrived just as the launch event was beginning.
The feeling that this was just the right thing for my dad continued as we saw this…
My dad worked for Esso for many years. In fact, it was his first big job out of university. Clearly we were in the right place to find something special and meaningful for him.
Of course we had to sample the wares and found the Humber River Pilsner to be a wonderfully clean, crisp beer that felt just right for summer. Even better was knowing that the brewery had collaborated with Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, a charity which focuses on keeping our water clean enough for swimming, fishing and drinking. My dad certainly approves of those activities! The only disappointment was discovering that someone had misspoken when they said the beer was actually made from Humber River water. Untrue. Perhaps the label art by Matt James, would make up for it. It does a beautiful job capturing the wonderfully Torontonian mix of the water, trees, fish and the subway passing by on the bridge.
At the event I was blown away by the having the opportunity to hear a performance by Juno-nominated artist Dayna Manning. Years and years ago I went to one of her concerts in a tiny twinkie-light lit venue upstairs at the Big Bop (as it was called then). It was intimate and beautiful and she stole our hearts. On Saturday I was absolutely captivated even before I realized who this rare and beautiful voice belonged to. What a gift!
We decided to keep the adventure going and sampled the brewery’s regular fare. I rather enjoyed the Raspberry Sour and Justin tried out the Stationmaster’s Stout.
For the event, food was provided by The Arepa Republic, a Venezuelan food truck. Justin and I both tried out the Pabellon – shredded flank steak, black beans, fried sweet plantain and white cheese. Delicious!! The plantain in particular added so much to the life of this meal. Memorable!
For years Justin and I have loved going on Saturday adventures. Heading out to Junction Craft Brewing for the launch of the Humber River Pilsner gave us the perfect motivation to have a wonderful outing ourselves while bringing home something really special for my dad.
I can tell you that both the beer and the stories were a hit!
So much has been happening that I want to pull out each of my current activities and put them down here in my diary, like I’m emptying my bag and having a look at what all has piled up in there while I wasn’t looking! First – reno chaos* and the studio.
As soon as my show finished, it was straight into preparing for the reno. Packing, boxes, moving and storage estimates filled our days! I struggled with finding a matrix for making good decisions about what to bring and what to let get of. Justin and I are having deep and meaningful discussions about the nature of things, space and what we want for our home, our selves and one another.
Justin helped me make progress on my books, encouraging me to start with simply packing the ones that were dearest to me, the ones that elicited an immediate “Yes!” Yes to the Secret Garden. Yes to Come, thou, Tortoise. Yes to Writing Down the Bones. I started to take that approach in every room and it helped. One, two or three boxes of immediate yeses in each room. And lots of piles and questions left behind.
I also made amazing progress with my mom’s stuff and the timing seems just right, as we marked the 5th anniversary of her passing on June 28th of this year. My goal is to transform the 7 or so boxes of her things into one and I am almost there.
Amazingly, just as we were getting lost in the process, we found out that our application for an extension needed to go to the committee of adjustment… and the earliest date was November 7th. That changed everything. We thought. We talked. We strategized. We asked for advice. Then the other night as we were coming closer to a decision, I could feel both Justin and I settle. We would continue to go for the design we wanted and we would push our reno to the spring. Everything about it felt right. Even more so when today I called the city to find out how old our house is. “It was built in 1919,” the woman at MPAC told me. “Really? So next year will be its 100th birthday?” “Well, yes, it will be.”
Now I feel so badly for have completely neglected the garden. It didn’t seem to make any sense at all to plant and putter when construction guys would be walking through with equipment and throwing things in the yard. I have been amazed by how consistently anyone that comes to work on the house shows absolutely no regard whatsoever for the garden. One guy who was just there to give us an estimate on some tree work walked right on top of my tulips without hesitation. I couldn’t help but think it signaled how much care he would take of the whole job.
Despite the garden being overgrown and left to its own devices, there is still beauty there. Two years ago I planted a white rose and last year it gave one singular bloom. This year it is more generous and I couldn’t be more delighted.
This time of year we see a lot of raccoons. This family seems to have claimed quite at least a 6-house radius around back. On this day they faced quite a dilemma. The two little babies below simply couldn’t find their way up. They were at it for at least an hour! I’m not sure whether Mom came down or babies finally made it up. I’m betting on the mom.
One of the things we are letting go of is boxes and boxes of our childhood Lego. Every one of us played with these pieces. Suzie has done an amazing job creating a series of photos for their sale on eBay. We hope that they will find a really good new home. I’m delighted to have such evocative photos and the memories of everyone playing together one last time!
On July 3rd it was the third anniversary of the day I went out for coffee and came home with three kittens. No one believes me but the truth is that I never intended to give them all a home. I sincerely just wanted to help them on their healing journey and then let them find their forever home(s). We had just said goodbye to Jinx and to Shannon’s cat Gobo. We needed some time to heal and didn’t want to rush into anything – but sometimes the Universe has other ideas.
Thinking about it now I see how all of our cats have been misfits. The beautiful Bascha was a flea-bitten, scraggly 3-lb stray who would nip at you if you tried to pet her. Jinx was a soft-hearted goofball who most people didn’t seem to quite ‘get’. Now these Escher, Shibumi and Scout, with their wild and strong personalities, are a part of our family. I wouldn’t change a thing.
After auditioning and rehearsals for Le Grand Continental at the Luminato arts festival, it was time to start moving into performance mode. We had a beautiful night for our dress rehearsal. The sky was clear, the temperature comfortable and our energy could not be contained!
Because we were performing Le Grand Continental in a public space, our first time on the ‘stage’ at Nathan Phillips Square gave us an early taste of what it was like to share this dance with an audience.
I was incredibly lucky that the audience included my two sisters, Shannon and Suzie. They were there beaming at me from the stands and taking tons of pictures!
Our choreographer, Sylvain Emard, was pleased! We were ready for opening night. The experience was spectacular!
I will hold these moments and this experience in my heart forever. And if every the music comes on, I’m sure to jump into Funky” and “Caravan” without hesitation and smile knowingly at “Ima” and “Boogie.” Each number a mood that caresses my soul and reminds me of the power of Le Grand Continental – this summer, this city, this dance.
1 audition while sick. 3 months of rehearsal in 3 different locations. 4 performances – including 1 in the rain. All of these facts are true and none of them sum up the experience of performing in Le Grand Continental with 219 other dancers in Nathan Phillips Square in front of Toronto’s City Hall for the Luminato Arts Festival.
When the call to audition arrived in my inbox this winter, it stirred something in me. Dance is my first love and though I haven’t pursued it in years, I trusted my instincts, hit reply on the email and said, “Count me in.” And though I was sick on the day of auditions, I went and did the best I could. (Read my audition story here.) I couldn’t quite believe it when I received an email that said, “You’re in!”
First rehearsals were in an empty warehouse down on Lakeshore Blvd. It wasn’t hard to get to but the way was dark, isolated and our first night had severe storm warnings. I know we talk about the ease that’s so often present when the Universe is saying “Yes” to us but sometimes I think she also says, “How badly do you want this?” Implicit in that question is another: “How uncomfortable are you willing to get?”
Stepping into amazing experiences often involves getting uncomfortable.
When we encounter challenges, maybe the Universe is also encouraging us to ask for help. In this instance, my sister-in-law worked on getting us better lighting, cast members walked together to public transit and Justin picked me up after several rehearsals.
Dreams are a team effort.
Over several months, rehearsals became my favourite place to be, which isn’t to say that they weren’t challenging. They were physically, mentally and emotionally demanding. Learning the moves, especially when brand new to choreographer Sylvain Emard’s style, was challenging. Remembering 30 minutes of choreography was intimidating. Even if I remembered, I wondered how my energy would be. By the summer, would I be able to sustain a 30-minute performance? There was rarely an opportunity for feedback in such a big group so I regularly wondered, “Am I doing all right?” Often my inner critic answered. All of this plus the emotional intensity of coming back to a love that had been dormant for too long.
One of the ways I deepened my learning, caught my memories and processed my feelings was by treating myself to post-rehearsal coffee dates. I ended up with three new lovely coffee shops on my radar: Arvo in the Distillery District and Jimmy’s Coffee and Balzac’s (pictured) near Ryerson. Whenever possible I took advantage of some quiet time with my journal, pouring out the choreography, my day’s experiences, my hopes and my fears.
A journal is there for you no matter what – able to hold the full spectrum of your life experience.
We had optional Saturday dance clinics where we could work out the finer details and get greater clarity on the choreography with the help of a team of professional dancers. Many people chose to forego these rehearsals but I didn’t miss one. How often in your lifetime are you going to get the chance to spend the morning with a team of dancers who are focused on helping you learn, grow and perform?
Take advantage of the opportunities at hand.
We went through three phases of rehearsals, starting with a small group and combining with another in each new phase. It was fascinating to watch the people dynamics created by those changes. With each addition of new people, I found dancers became friendlier with the group they had been with before. Eventually our group was so big we needed to rehearse in an arena!
Throughout the rehearsal process I was reminded of so many things I love about performance – the intense focus of the process, the sense of community, the creation of something out of nothing and the way “honouring the work” is built into every step of the process.
Week after week I was inspired by Sylvain Emard, the choreographer, Bonnie Kim, the rehearsal director and each of the professional dancers. I found myself quoting them again and again in the ‘words of the day’ section of my Studio Yearbook.
“Dance with your heart and you will be seen.” Sylvain
“Take care of one another out there.” Bonnie
“Don’t hesitate! Throw yourself in with confidence.” Jane-Alison
Every wisdom reinforced what I have known for a long time, what I base all of my professional work on, what we learn in the arts also applies to our lives.
After months of rehearsals, we were asked to chose our ‘spot’ in the line. I chose the second row, a bit to the right. It felt good and comfortable. A few weeks later, our positions were officially assigned, taking into consideration our preferences, the needs of the show and remaining subject to change. I walked up to the board to see where I had been placed. I was shocked to see myself in the last row. Not shocked because this position is bad but because for almost half of the show, the back is the front! This is a visible spot, a spot where you can’t hide, a spot where you can’t rely on anyone else to know what comes next. In this position, you’ve got to know every bit of the choreography – in your bones.
My heart was a jumble. I was honoured. I was distraught. I had picked the second row so that I could feel a bit more relaxed and focus on the fun of the experience, not the pressure of the performance.
Now, there I was, on the edge, exposed.
With barely a moment to process or prepare, we dove into dancing a number we hadn’t touched for a while. My heart was racing. Would I remember what came next? Would my feet obey? Would my body find its way?
What surprised me was that either way, I felt okay. I remembered something our rehearsal director had told us, that we all have a responsibility to learn our parts and that each of us will do so in our own way, at our own pace. Though I knew the choreography, this experience was new and intimidating. It was perfectly reasonable that it would take a while to orient myself, to settle in, to find my way.
I would not have chosen this position myself. In fact, I didn’t! I chose my comfort zone and felt good about it. If I wanted to, I could still request that I be moved to a ‘safer’ spot. I’m not going to. Not because I’m afraid to rock the boat or because I feel obliged to do as I’m told (there was a day when that might have been the reason) but because yesterday’s rehearsal showed me something:
I was more comfortable on the edge than I thought I would be.
Yes, this was a greater challenge than I anticipated but I felt like I just might be up to it. I had been working hard. I had been preparing. I could see the work that remained, the bridge that needed to be built between my comfort zone and my creative edge, the one that had to be built between that rehearsal and the first night of performance.
It was work I could do. It was work I would do.
It was work I did do.
Getting our position signaled that it was time to start shifting into performance mode. We had been doing all this rehearsing for a reason! The show was getting closer. I started looking for my costume, shopping everywhere for the cool (in both temperature and hipness) pants and vibrant top that I knew would be just right for the show. In the meantime, the music for the show was always, always, always playing – on my phone, on my computer, on my mind. It was the score to my life! I went over the moves on the subway, at the grocery store and walking through my neighbourhood. My commitment to the show was all encompassing.
It was during this stage that I had the biggest shift, a growth spurt in my creative life.
One day during rehearsal both Sylvain and Bonnie walked around the outer perimeter (you’ll remember that my spot was on the outer perimeter) to distract us as we were dancing. Three times Sylvain walked in front of me. Three times I made mistakes. Ugh!!
I love performing but I am also an HSC – a highly sensitive creative. I’m one of those performers whose nerves are so bad on the day of the show that she always thinks, “Why am I doing this? I want to be anywhere but here!”
But during rehearsals Sylvain shared some wisdom that changed things for me. He talked to us about the audience. He told us that we could either receive and give back the mass of energy we would feel from them or we could get knocked over by it. Plus, as an invocation to learn the choreography, he had also told us that we would all make mistakes, that we are human – but that making a mistake is different than not knowing the choreography, than not having done the work.
I had done the work. I knew these moves. If I showed up on stage obsessed with “getting it right” instead of sharing the joy of the dance, I knew that I would shut down, get it wrong and be knocked over by the audience’s energy. Instead, I would choose to dance. I would trust the work that I had done. I would lean into my body’s learning. Yes, I would continue to honour the work. I would bring focus and care to my performance but I would also choose not to bring tension, obsession or ego. I would simply dance.
The Studio Yearbook: This has been one of the busiest weeks that I can remember in the studio. It began with getting the #first100 print copies of the studio yearbook out into the world. Luckily I didn’t have to do it alone.
Shannon spent hours on handmade envelopes and we all spent a few Friday nights gathering treasures to fill them. Then this past Sunday we had a packing party, pulling everything together and pouring love in as we did. We three believe in magic and so we put our intention and our intuition to work as we made choices, added labels and filled envelopes. We hope that everyone will feel that when they receive their package.
Then I spent the next two days filling my granny cart with yearbooks and heading over to the post office, getting the system down and getting to know the post office clerk. It turns out he has quite a creative life!
Creating a Class
The next two days were spent filming a class that I am contributing to a wonderful collection. It’s too early for me to share the details. One of the hopes that I have for our renovation is to have a space that is always set up or readily set up for this kind of overhead filming. The less barriers to creation, the better!
Dance: This week we hit the “one month until showtime” mark. We have learned all of the main choreography and are now working to hone our skills and develop our strength. We’re rehearsing 3 times a week and have been working in smaller groups with the professional dancers. I’m also practicing in my backyard so I can start to get used to the sun and the temperature, since we’ll be performing outside and I am not so great with the heat!
At rehearsals, people are starting to think about what they are going to wear and experimenting with new outfits, new shoes, new ways of doing their hair. It’s important to “audition” your costume pieces, actually wearing them so that you can see what it will be like to move and perform in them. I have an idea of what I would like to wear but haven’t had a chance to get out shopping as of yet. Soon, though, soon.
Every rehearsal I am reminded that the better we know the material, the more fun we will be able to have. Plus, I’m working to stay present and enjoy the moment, not leaning into the sadness I already feel that one day soon this will be over and there will be nothing like it to follow.
This week I saw Sylvain’s video and enjoyed the sneak peek into what it will be like when we perform at Nathan Phillips square. I love how the video shows some of the pre-show moments. It really evokes the excitement – and pressure – of doing a live performance. I am so looking forward to it and am committed to being very, very ready.
In the Garden: With all this busy-ness the garden is being totally neglected. I was so surprised the other day to look out the kitchen window and see the tree peony in full bloom! The cold of winter hung on for so long and then we seemed to go straight into the heat of summer, bringing these beauties along faster than I would have expected. I’m so glad I didn’t miss them! I hope to get out there soon and tend to the weeds.
Studio Kittens: Our three kittens give me plenty of creative inspiration. I am always trying to capture a magical moment, one that really expresses some aspect of their personality. Considering how introverted our Escher is, this moment of him curled up on my shirt is a great reminder that he is feeling love and connection. In fact, him sleeping on my clothes was the first clue I had that he actually liked me. I like you too, Escher, even if I was going to wear that shirt!
Some days things are just challenging and yesterday was one of those days. Everything just seemed to go off the rails! Lots of unexpected challenges reminded me that leaving space for the unexpected is wise. Now I just have to remember to do it!
On the BTS today, as I was talking about multiple project and problem wrangling, I came up with the image of corralling ducklings and this made me laugh. It’s amazing how the right metaphor can lighten everything up!
The best part of a really tough day was that Shibumi kept me company for the whole morning. This has never happened before. She slept on my desk most of the time. I have a little pad to make it comfy for her. We played a little bit too. I put one of her balls underneath a hand drum and let her try to solve the conundrum. (Haha, I just noticed the wordplay there.) And she curled up in the corner chair and enjoyed the sunshine. She was great company.
It’s funny that this bruiser of a cat has a gift for healing. When I imagine her in comic book form (which is incredibly easy to do), I visualize her rather ticked off that healing is her super power. “Why can’t it be combat?!!”
Dance: After a long and demanding day, I went to dance rehearsal. We’re one rehearsal away from reshuffling our spots and getting our final placements for the show. This felt like a particularly rotten time to have a bad day! I tried to relax and stay focused but still the moves were neither settling in or showing up for me. That’s okay. It’s just one rehearsal and there is still plenty of time for practice.
Before rehearsal, there’s time to go over the choreography and to enlist the help of the professional dancers. It’s amazing how each one of them brings out something fresh and different. Their unique perspective shines a light on something we hadn’t seen before.
When reviewing the choreography for one section, Jane Alison says to us with great directness, “Don’t hesitate! Change direction. Move forward. Show confidence!” Watching her dance, it’s clear this is a philosophy that informs her work. She seems to always be moving forward – no fear, no hesitation. It reads as not only as confident but also brave, maybe even reckless.
The Reno: We continue to go through our things as we prepare for the reno. This week Justin grabbed a bunch of my old English books and said, “Which of these do you want to keep?” My answer is always, “All of them.”
I can’t remember the last time I picked any of them up. Don’t we all go online when we have a question about a word or language? Still, I think someone might make better use of these than I am.
These book hold such memories for me. I remember the excitement of getting Fowler’s Modern English Usage, wanting to start understanding not only the how but also the why when it came to language. Or the Gage Canadian Dictionary, which my family often used when we played “The Dictionary Game” around the kitchen table. Someone would pick a word and we would all write creative definitions for it. Then one player would guess which was correct. Such a Ridler game to play!
Most recently the thesaurus was used not so much to expand our vocabulary or improve our writing but for coming up with great names for characters when we were online gaming. I loved playing a healer named Recovery. (Hmm… thinking about that, I might not be able to let that one go!)
I plan to only keep the Oxford, which I have had as long as I can remember. It was my companion through all my studies and I’d like to keep it with me.
Yesterday we also had an important conversation with our contractor. We are deciding whether or not to go ahead with an extension on our house, which would give us a much better bathroom (much needed) and more space for the studio (much wanted!) It would open up our second floor and add a sense of “making it our own.” Justin designed the layout which even our architect thought was great. The thing is – it is out of our budget. So we are dancing with the possibilities and figuring out priorities.
Do we stretch and save and reach? This feels exciting if it works and terrifying if it doesn’t. Do we work within the given blueprint, using the resources we have and feeling secure but not dreamy? That seems safe and familiar.
This is a question that relates to so many situations.
Is it best to scale back and work within what’s smart, reasonable and comfortable?
Is it best to hold a bigger vision and trust yourself to grow into it?
Right now we’re working on a third option – trying to figure out how we can make the very most out of the resources that we have. I am a Maximizer after all (See Strengthsfinder 2.0!)
Art: I have a class coming up that is a part of a great bundle. I’m doing some experimentation as try to find the just right way of creating the experience that I’m hoping for the students. I want them to have a visceral, intuitive experience, take away techniques they can continue to use and also have an artifact to remind them of both.
I know that something’s working because I’m getting swept up the in the process myself as I experiment with different approaches. I managed to sneak in an hour before rehearsal yesterday and some time in the early morning today. I could easily have spent all day playing with paints and pastels!
Dance: We are one month away from the show! It’s hard to believe and incredibly motivating. Yesterday we learned the first dance of the performance. It’s lively and fun and the music sticks with you. I was tired tonight and things were slow to sink in – that’s happening more too as we are holding more choreography in our memories.
For the dance we are arranged in lines and recently we had the opportunity to choose our spot, the place we feel most comfortable. Yesterday the rehearsal director told us that, for a variety of reasons, there will be adjustments and we’ll be experiencing a bit of a shuffle. She also asked us to be generous and adapt to these changes.
Another lesson from performance : Your commitment must not waver but your expectations must be flexible.
This is one of those moments when you remember that you are in a relationship – with the other dancers, with the work itself, with the creative directors and eventually with the audience itself. You are a part of something and one of the things that means is showing up for the greatest good.
As we move along in rehearsals, I think often about one of the lessons I learned in theatre. Not only is it not your job to correct, direct or ask another actor to give you what you need, but it is exceedingly bad form. I think about it every time someone raises their hand with what sounds like a question but is actually, well, usually calling others out: “Is this part supposed to be loud? (pause) I mean, it seems like there are a lot of people that are making a lot of noise.” For me, this reaffirms my commitment to staying in my own sandbox.
Often our desire to fix things, to make things better, to correct other people is our own worry that things are going to go horribly wrong and we will be uncomfortable and embarrassed. How often do we do this in life too? How often do we try to control other people’s behaviour based on how it impacts us?
Give up trying to control the circumstance. You can not control others in order to make yourself more comfortable. Bring your attention back to yourself and do your best work.
As a performer and a person, you are responsible for you. Yes, you can give help when asked but trust other people to be responsible for themselves. Trust the leaders too.
In the Garden: I couldn’t love springtime in the garden more. This past week the birds have been singing joyously and I have loved listening to them. I’ve been dancing outside too. Since our performance will be outdoors, I thought it would be good to get used to the elements. Of course, I also bring my camera because the garden changes so subtly and often that I don’t want to miss a moment.
This year the daffodils have been a highlight for me. I haven’t had much success with them in earlier years, which made me sad because I planted them in honour of my Mom. When I was a girl in Montreal, we had a wonderful backyard. Half of it was covered with tall thin trees and beneath each one Mom planted yellow daffodils. They delighted me every spring. I felt like I was walking through a forest, finding beauty along the way.
Right now the garden is filled with potential – which was my Mom’s favourite word. Everything seems to just be about to happen.
Including the sturdy Cranesbill Geranium which came from Justin’s mom’s garden. This beauty will grow just about anywhere! I’ve managed to tuck it into corners where dirt gathers and it has taken hold!
The peonies are coming, and the ants are helping them along. I still haven’t managed to get a white peony in the garden! Perhaps after the renovation, when I’m rebuilding what inevitably be broken down, I’ll be sure to do that!
The tree peony looks like it will have several blooms this year. They bloom only briefly but they are spectacular. This was the first plant that I was really excited to put in the garden. I just happened to see it as I passed by a Loblaws one day and I brought it home. The first year it gave one singular but spectacular bloom. All these years later it is stronger, the blooms are bigger and more abundant. This tree peony must finally feel more at home.
I love watching the hosta unfurl. It’s shapes are so dramatic. Looking back over these photos it’s amazing to see the different light there is in the garden at the same time of day.
But even as most of the garden is coming to life, some plants are also fading . The De Caen poppy is a wonderful early bloomer. When everything else was still battling the elements, she was coming to life. Even the end of her flowers are spectacular!
Now that everything’s growing well, it’s time to do some tending! With things so busy my much-loved garden often goes untended. I am so grateful that despite the overgrowth, the beauty remains. Thank you, little Vinca, for the reminder.