Storm Bagels

The gift of a “make your own smoked salmon bagels” kit from Tyler and his crew at Gallant’s, knowing that Olivia would miss our long-established routine over the holidays when they were closed, was an act of great insight and generosity.

Cold Ride

On Tuesday morning it was -26°C with the wind chill, and I was in Freetown on horseback.

This was not what I imagined when I tentatively sent an email in June of last year:

I’m a 55 year old widower who’s never ever been on a horse. If not now, when!?

My friend Josh says “Venture Stables is the place for you!”

I thought I might dip my toe in the water with one of your one hour trail rides, but, what being a widower and all, don’t meet your two person threshold.

Any other way I could get on a horse?

The reply from Jasmine came quickly:

It is never too late to try something new and getting out of your comfort zone gives us the ability to grow :)

Would you like to join us on our next trail ride that we have going out?

We can also schedule a 1 hour riding lesson.

I opted for the lesson. And thought that would be it: I’d walk out of my comfort zone for an afternoon, call it a win, and move on.

But at the end of the first lesson Jasmine asked when I wanted to schedule my second lesson. And so I did.

And I’ve been at it ever since. At first it was every two weeks, then every week. I believe I’m hooked.

Riding is nothing at all like I thought it would be: I imagined it would be a mostly technical exercise, like learning to rock climb, or weld.

And there certainly is a technical component to it: I am only now just getting comfortable with the straps and hooks and loops, the “7-4-1” of the belt that tightens the girth, which part of the halter the cross-ties clip to, how to comfortably hold the reins.

It’s in the emotional realm that the surprises come: there is no room for thinking about anything else when on the back of a horse. It demands a mixture of intense concentration and intense relaxation; an openness to communicating, to feeling how the horse is moving underneath, using subtle movements of legs and reins to communicate back. The effects can be profound, and, more often than not, I leave the stable with a clearer head than any other time during the week.

There is simply nothing else like it.

And it is not at all an exaggeration to say that the degree to which riding has opened me up contributed significantly to being able to open my heart up to another.

And so I return, every week. In the rain, in the snow, and when it’s -26° with the wind chill.

Sharon MacNeill

Sharon MacNeill died on Christmas Day after a good and full life, an inordinate amount of it living with metastatic breast cancer.

Sharon was a great supporter to Catherine, and to me.

Sharon sent me an email on this day two years ago, writing, in part:

I am so glad to know that Catherine feels ‘finished’. That is my one hope, that when I die I will feel I have finished my life. Well more or less finished, as I suppose one might always want to tie up a few loose ends. But Catherine’s contentment tells me she feels she has finished. This is peace.

You and Catherine and Oliver will not leave my heart. Every morning I will hold you in my reflections and every evening I will light a candle for her,

We’re still vaporizing each other with our voices.”

Of all the writerly discoveries I made last year, James A. Reeves has emerged as a favourite:

Nobody’s sure what they should be doing, plague-wise. Uncertainty hangs in the air alongside the virus. We’re still vaporizing each other with our voices. Our breath. But they say it’s mild now, mostly upper respiratory. But it’s also sweeping the nation and disrupting public life. They’re still making alarming charts. No matter how this shakes out, uncertainty is here to stay—and how do you learn to live with that? Meanwhile, I’m keeping an eye on the statistics again, wondering if we’ll go to London next month.

Mad Meccano

I just picked up a grocery order from Sobeys—the fancy one across the river in Stratford. It was my first time ordering groceries online, but COVID times, and being responsible to a “steady 10” bubble, called for pivoting. I miss the familiarity of the (less fancy, but more familiar) Allen Street Sobeys, and feel pangs of promiscuity-guilt for abandoning them. But at least I didn’t shop at the Superstore.

I’ve been helping make the Internet since 1986—35 years—and in recent years I have grown cynical as I’ve seen the good, altruistic, spirit-of-sharing Internet give way to the crass, commercial, polarized Internet. It’s hard not to feel a sense of shame for my role in simply letting that happen.

But it’s good to be reminded that it remains a Meccano set that can do everything from letting me order a mango from my phone, to learning about cooking on a sailboat, to arming tenants against landlords, to reading the newspaper from 100 years ago. It is the greatest decentralized collaborative project in history; I’m going to allow myself some pride for my small role.

Several years ago I found myself in a bar on College Street in Toronto having a drink with friends. The talk turned to online dating, and Bumble, and I was able to indulge my curiosity, as two of our party had subject-matter-experience, and one had met her fiancé-now-husband through Bumble.

I was cynical: it all seemed so cold and algorithmic to let the AI robots commodify romance. While the field reports made it seem slightly less so, I remained unsold.

Until 2021.

When I woke up to being single, and came to terms with the notion that I was ready to move on to new romantic chapters after a long, cold, lonely, necessary year of grieving.

I stumbled at first. But kept at it.

I had 3 dates with C. (she ended it with a stunningly compassionate text). A lovely long distance with P. over the summer (we remain good friends). An awkward few days of chatting with A. from Halifax. A month of getting to know M. from Summerside.

Each of these were connections facilitated, one way or the other, by this Internet. And each experience, each woman, taught me something. The “valuable learning experiences” weren’t always happy at the time. But they were learning experiences nonetheless.

Then, on the second day of December, I met L. On Bumble.

We chatted, tentatively at first, less-tentatively as we progressed. Novels worth as the weeks continued. And I realized that, AI robots aside, this Internet was allowing me to use words, words that I love, that are my lingua franca, to woo and be wooed.

A month has passed.

We are getting to know each more and more each day, connecting. Building ties. It’s kind of a miracle.  

The Internet opened the door to that. And so I feel an extra dollop of pride for that.

It’s some pretty mad Meccano.

Happy New Year.

My Christmas Gift to Myself

I booked myself an appointment with my therapist for Boxing Day at 9:00 a.m. It was my Christmas gift to myself.

I was chatting with a good friend this fall about therapy; he was resistant to seeking it for himself, thinking he could “just handle things on his own.”

What I replied was that talk therapy is that, at least in my experience, both in the simple act of asking for help, and in the dialog itself. Therapy is hiring someone to help you help yourself. It is handling things on your own.

My agreement with myself is that I’ll book a therapist appointment when I have even the faintest inkling that I should: I have never been disappointed in this practice, and good things inevitably result.

My appointment for Sunday is not because I’m in crisis, or really even that anything feels wrong: I’m doing okay, starting to rebuild, feeling confident. That’s what I plan to talk to my therapist about: I want to explore those feelings with a disinterested third party, to, in essence, have a guided conversation with myself with the help of someone who knows how to facilitate that.

I can think of no greater gift to myself, and to the others in my life.