Home Is Wherever I’m With You

Wow I can’t believe I’m finally getting around to posting this – it feels like it’s been forever since I’ve been on this site!! I wrote this on Dec.3, but then my computer died before I got a chance to post it

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Sitting at the Starbucks at the MARS Centre, listening to Christmas tunes, beside two young women who are discussing careers and gossiping and talking about job opportunities at UHN. Earlier today I learned the dance sequence to Beyoncé’s formation video:

Okay, okay, ladies, now let’s get in formation, cause I slay
Okay, ladies, now let’s get in formation, cause I slay
Prove to me you got some coordination, cause I slay
Slay trick, or you get eliminated

It was a fun class, and I was exhausted and didn’t think my body could take it but somehow I survived it and even had a bit of fun. Like a lot of things these days, things seem to register as fun well after the fact. :-) There was a girl next to me who I would turn to every time I didn’t catch what the instructor had just shown us. Too bad she ended up leaving early! I wish I could post the video we took but it is forbidden for liability reasons. :p I hate that I have to abide by all these rules… I wish I could just write whatever I want, but I guess censorship is part of writing, or at least thinking about others feelings. I don’t know how Malala did it.. makes me admire her even more. Writing anonymously from her little house in the village, knowing that every word could get her in trouble. And yet still managing to keep a smile on her face!

It’s been a rough little past while, as you can probably tell since I haven’t been writing my blog posts which is very unlike me. However I have been walking the 10 KM at least once I week so I will write them all eventually.

Week 45!! It was a memorable one. I woke up early since I had promised Arvin that I would join him for a session at landmark forum. He asked me to be his guest since he is working on a documentary about mental health and addiction – his documentary profiles three people on the streets who deal wih addiction, and shows how they became addicted, their childhood, where they grew up, relationships, etc. I’m meeting with him next week with a few other folks to brainstorm further [Update: this didn’t end up happening – they met all the way up in Etobicoke!]. I walked from the Distillery where I’d been staying for most of November (at Samir and Shannon’s place while they got married in India), past some beautiful churches, up Jarvis, and to the hotel boardroom where the event was being held.

At first I was skeptical – I had heard both good and bad things about Landmark – some of my friends swear by it, and some people say it’s like a cult and they are really aggressive in getting you to sign up. So I went in skeptical, and emerged inspired. It was the stories that did it for me. One girl spoke about how she and her mother were separated for so many years because she held onto grudges and hadn’t fully forgiven her, and then during a Landmark session, she decided to call her and surprisingly, her mother was at a Landmark course just across the street from her! At that moment she realized that her mother had never actually abandoned her, she was always there. Hmmm… as I’m writing this it’s making me realize that I’m not alone either, and even though I don’t see my loved ones all the time, they are always with me. It’s hard to remember these things when you are feeling a little lost and hopeless (or a lot lost and hopeless).

Following Landmark, I walked out to the Allan Garden conservatory which was closed but I love that area so I sat on a bench there and FaceTimed my sister (or maybe she FaceTimed me, I can’t remember). We were both still upset by the Trump win… in fact I think I still am. I can’t believe how hard it hit me!! I had a great time at Sheldon’s election party, and then as I fell asleep, I was hoping that when I woke up, I would hear that Clinton had won, but instead I read that it was Trump. And my body locked up, and I felt SO much anger. Roshni and I talked about how she had been debating with Dad over a few things, but I could’ve told her that there is definitely no winning those debates!! Lol. Chris also felt really upset about the Trump win, because he resonated a lot with Clinton and what she stood for. I’ve noticed that all the leaders have been very positive in terms of making statements about working in harmony (like Clinton, Obama, Sadhguru, my Mom)… but I don’t know if I buy it. Usually I’m so positive but lately I’ve been a negative nancy to say the least. Where has my sense of humour gone?! There are moments it surfaces, usually around people. I miss the kids I was tutoring, I miss my old life, I miss my creative writing classes, I miss my old self. Not that I’m not grateful for my job and where things are heading, it’s just hard letting go of the things you love.

The next part of my day was pretty wild, insane, magical, unreal. In the middle of our FaceTime call, my phone died, which was pretty odd since it had 42% battery, and it normally works even if it’s 1%. I had an immediate urge to go home, charge my phone, make plans, absolutely anything to get escape this anxiety of being in the unknown – but instead I took it as a sign to explore and I wandered into a church at the corner. As I read my book, The Bandit Queen, about Phoolan Devi, my mind started to spiral into depression and I didn’t think I could continue. The words started to blur and not make sense and my mood got so low. And just then a woman came up to me – she had short black hair, was of African descent, very thin, and exuded kindness and warmth. She asked if I was staying for the event that evening, and I said what event, and she said that they were having an International Fair where there would be foods from all different cultures and music and dancing. I asked what time it was at and she said that it started at 5 PM. I glanced at my watch and it was only 3, so in my head I thought I probably wouldn’t stay that long – she caught my look and said vehemently, “You must come” so I agreed, still not entirely convinced.

I tried to read my book again, and that’s when a short man approached me – he had long white hair and a long white beard (he kind of looked like Santa Claus, or a character from Lord of the Rings), and he also asked me if I would like to join the festivities that evening. Now I could hear the universe loud and clear – I was going! In case there was any doubt, he handed me a long paper ticket and said that this would get me in (the cost of the event was $20, all proceeds going to children’s programs at the church). Just as I was thinking, now what am I going to do for the next two hours, he asked if I was hungry and of course I was, so he led me down to the basement and suddenly I felt like I was in another world. It was like I was in one of those black churches from the sixties, back during Martin Luther King days, where everyone was wearing those amazing hats and long dresses. There were people from other backgrounds too, there was an Indian family who had just left, and I would say white was in the minority. The man brought me a plate of yummy vegetarian food, and I heard from the guy sitting next to me whose name I now forget, that that is one of the values of the 7-Day Adventist church – they believe that a vegetarian diet is best for the mind, body, and soul. Similar to Hinduism in that way.

As I ate, I asked this guy so many questions about their beliefs and his own life story. He said that he was the only one in his family that was religious, the others weren’t into it and didn’t really understand his connection with the church. It’s hard going against the grain and doing something that your family doesn’t approve of. It reminds me of this movie I want to watch called Moonlight, about a boy who black and gay and growing up in a poor Miami neighbourhood. So excited to see it with Rhonelle after the holidays!

I told this guy (let’s just call him Evan because I’m going to keep talking about him) that I had stayed at Chris’s parents place the week before and stayed up all night reading The Book of Job, one of my favourite bible stories. Poor Job didn’t stand a chance… yet eventually his faith in God was restored and he was blessed with fortunes far beyond his wildest imagination (probably because like me he figured out that your imagination doesn’t exactly function in times of despair). Let’s hope my story follows a similar path to the other side! Evan’s eyes widened as I continued to share my insights on Job, and he pulled out a booklet from his bag that was a summary/study of guess what – yep The Book of Job! He said that every week in his church they study a different part of the bible and this week it was Job. What a crazy coincidence.

Then Evan started to excuse himself – he said that he had to set up for a workshop about anxiety and depression. That’s when my eyes grew wide. Oh wait, I forgot to tell you about the other amazing person that I met at the table – her name was Candace and she and I instantly connected. She had been through an abusive relationship and suffered from low self-esteem and didn’t have much money to live on. I told her about things I’d been going through too. It is amazing how we were able to be so open with one another. She and I were welcomed by Evan to join the workshop (he could probably tell we needed it!!). We listened to videos by an expert on mental health and addiction, and then did activities around goals and ways to overcome obstacles. Finally it was time to forget our woes and just play and have fun. We went into the adjoining gym for the International Fair, the event that had enticed me at the start to enter this magical place. Candace and I sampled food from all over the world in that little gym – India, Guyana, Kenya, Jamaica, and many more. We danced and let loose. We had ice cream and authentic home-cooked treats, and watched the kids having so much fun running around and being free.

After the event, we took some pics in the abandoned church (picture above). I was wearing my favourite t-shirt that says “Home Is Wherever I’m With You”. I love that T-shirt so much! Then we got to the bus stop and met this cool homeless guy who was sitting there drinking, and who ended up asking me out! He was actually really sweet; he said that sometimes, a person just needs to talk. How right he is.







It’s On The House

Week 20. This time I wore my Walk In Her Shoes t-shirt although you can barely see it in this picture. I walked up University as usual, stopping at Osgoode Hall to see the beautiful cherry blossom trees. I did take a video but I’m a little embarrassed to post it.

I had to stop for a break since I was in pain and read from my book “True To Life” by Beth Kaplan. I’m taking a class at U of T called “Life Stories 1”, taught by the vivacious Beth Kaplan, who is a writer and former theatre actress. Like me, she has written a diary since she was 9 years old, and like me, she was inspired by the Diary of Anne Frank. She really listens to our stories and offers such meaningful feedback. It’s been tough digging into my past and creating stories from my experiences. We are currently in the childhood phase, and my first story was about my grandmother during the time when I lived on Stokes Crescent growing up in Kanata. I vividly remember one afternoon when it was blistering hot (we didn’t have AC), and we were both lying on the bed in my room, immobilized by the heat. She asked me to walk on her legs to relieve the soreness. I used to love doing that. I guess it is typical in Indian culture for grandmothers to ask you to do that, but in my class other people had never heard of someone walking on their grandmother’s legs.

I walked up Yonge street, passed Buddies in Bad Times theatre, and made it to Balzac’s for my 3 PM meeting with Gillian. She is my friend who is working on a documentary about Phoolan Devi. She just spent a few months in Vancouver with the director, Hossein Fazeli, to edit the film and plan the next stage, which will be returning to India to shoot the re-enactment scenes. Talking about India always gets me excited because I am dying to go there! (haven’t been since I was 15). Perhaps I can go the same time that they will be there – it would wild to actually see how a documentary is filmed. They will be filming in Uttar Pradesh, which is in northern India, close to Nepal. It is also the home of the Taj Mahal, the birthplace of Krishna, and the land where Lord Rama was said to have ruled thousands of years ago. It must be a magical place!

Lately whenever I get to Balzac’s, I start crying tears of gratitude. No one really understands this, because whenever people see you cry, they naturally think that you’re upset, but really, there is something about being there that feels so grounding that it moves me to tears. And I’m becoming accustomed to crying in public. I think my sense of what is socially appropriate is going out the window. A result of spending too much time on my own I guess. Anyway, when I was about to leave, the ladies that work there gave me a beautiful daisy cookie – “It’s on the house”, they said. How incredibly sweet!!

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Daisy flower given to me from the ladies at Balzac’s

I stopped by Chapters on the way home, and encountered this owl that reminded me of the universe and it’s all-knowing wisdom. Far beyond my own knowledge that’s for sure. The owl has a special significance for me because it was the symbol for the team I worked with at Cancer Care Ontario, called ‘Knowledge Management’, and my manager Casey had given us all owls to hang above our desks.

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Owl at Chapters, Bay & Bloor

Then I walked home all the way in the rain, and it was beautiful!

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University Avenue at night

Truest With A Capital T

Another cold, harsh day. I can’t believe I’ve actually committed to doing this walk for the entire year. A part of me is resisting it, while the other part, my spirit, is feeling great about it. I walked to the reference library and met my friend Gillian for a very late lunch at Jack Astor’s. She is the co-director of a documentary about Phoolan Devi.  We chatted about her recent trip to India where she worked on the editing of the film and also received an ayurvedic treatment to improve her overall health and well-being. The film is her passion and she wishes to get the story of Phoolan out into the world, to inspire and address the global issue of violence against women, and provide a story that shows that anything is possible. As I’ve said before, this woman lived nine lives in her one short life. And she underwent an amazing transformation. She transcended her pain. Unspeakable pain. Pain that most people cannot even comprehend. Gillian showed me pictures of where Phoolan used to meditate, in a valley in India, while she was on the run.

After our meeting, I read for a bit at Balzac’s. There was an interesting article in the Star about Indian brides-to-be navigating through matrimonial websites, trying to find honest men with good intentions. Ha good luck! There are a lot of frauds on the sites as well as men that use them for harassing women. There was an interesting passage which captured the ideal Indian bride:

Whether advertised through Sunday classifieds or matrimonial sites, finding a partner has always been a family business in India. The most sought-after-bride is one who is demure, traditional, light-skinned, respectful, as well as educated and working. The groom is a catch if he works for a multinational company or is an engineer, a doctor, or a bureaucrat. If he works abroad, he scores higher. The man and woman have to be from the same caste and religion, and horoscopes will be matched by an astrologer.

It’s so interesting how we have these requirements for the opposite sex. What is the ideal woman in our society? And the ideal man?

After Balzac’s I went to an author talk at the library: Gabrielle Hamilton. She is a renowned chef (she owns a restaurant called Prune in New York) and writer. She recently wrote a memoir about her life – it sounds so interesting, I will have to read it and tell you more about it. The interview was great, she is so funny and brutally honest. She talked about her viciously sad marriage and how disconnected she felt. The interviewer, Ian Brown, asked her how she was able to be so honest about it, and whether her ex had a reaction to the material. She said that there is nothing else to do but be honest, that it would be beneficial to all if everyone spoke their truth, especially about troubles in their relationships and marriages. It’s true. No one really likes to talk about it, yet when someone does it really piques our interest. There is something about a good love story that we all can relate to, and also to a relationship that falls apart, betrayal, heartbreak, and grief. He asked her about how hard writing is and she said that it is the hardest thing in the world, to write truly, without all the bullshit, without being concerned what people will think, just laying it all out on the page the way it is meant to be. That something takes over and it’s almost like it’s happening on its own. I know what she means. Kind of. I’m still pretty self-conscious about what people will think of what I’m writing, and also there is only a certain level of my personal experience that I’m willing to share. She said that it takes awhile to find your Truest voice (Truest with a capital T). What is that voice? It is the voice unhindered by fear. The voice that comes from the deepest part of you, that says what needs to be said.

After that I walked all the way home, through St. Mary’s College, down University, and through Nathan Philips Square. I just love walking through there at night, watching the skaters and listening to the Top 40 music, seeing people so happy and enjoying the cold winter. It brings me so much peace and happiness.

The Bandit Queen

This morning I met my friend Melinda at Lavazza near my place and we talked about boys (our favourite topic of conversation). There is a thing with women that no matter what situation they find themselves in, whether in poverty or in a refugee camp (or sitting in a café on Queens Quay), the conversation always tends to gravitate towards love. Does he like me? Does he think about me? Sigh. Age old questions that are so simple yet seem so torturous and cause never-ending speculation.

Following our chat, I started my 10 KM walk. It was -40 or somewhere around there, and I had to stop every few minutes to warm up in a pharmacy or coffee shop. I stopped at SickKids for a bit and talked to my Mom on the phone about fears and remembering past lives. She said that she didn’t think it was useful to remember because it just distracts you from your purpose and causes you pain. I thought that it is actually a blessing if you are lucky enough to be given insight into your karmic path, to know that there is something beyond this physical existence. There is a quote by Rumi that I love: “Know then that the body is merely a garment. Go seek the wearer, not the cloak.”

I got to the reference library and almost gave up and took the subway home, but something told me to keep going so I did. I went to Balzac’s and finished reading Count Me In by Emily White. She goes on a quest to understand human connection, our need to belong and live a fulfilling life. She is extremely sensitive to rejection, as am I, even though I throw myself in the fire over and over again. Perhaps one day I’ll throw myself in and won’t feel so burned. There was a scale at the back of the book that assesses your sensitivity level and I scored pretty high! Perhaps it’s like a muscle and you get better at it. Or perhaps no one is really rejecting you and it’s all in your head.

It was funny that I had considered going home and ended up having a very serendipitous meeting. I ran into Gillian, a woman who I’d met through my friend Gosia. She is making a documentary about the life of Phoolan Devi. I went to an auction last year where the director spoke about Phoolan’s story. She is almost a mythical figure in India – a woman who was brutalized by life yet managed to find the light. I can’t actualy believe this story is real. This woman lived nine lives in her one short life. Gillian wants me to be more involved with the documentary, and perhaps reach out to women’s rights organizations in India to form partnerships.

Then I walked to Chapters where I felt bored with my life in general, thinking that this blog is the most exciting thing I have going for me right now. Lately I’ve been scared to come home because it reminds me of how I almost lost my place, and triggers a lot of anxiety. It will take time for me to trust again, to release this knot in my stomach that doesn’t seem to go away. I walked home through Victoria College, and then onto Nathan Philips square, watching the skaters and listening to Neyo’s Miss Independent playing in the background. Finally came home to my messy place!