time spent wandering

Nothing fun happens on the internet. So, I learn little by little, I get used to getting used to. I get used to spending weekday evenings out because the alternative isn’t social media reels that keep me entertained and feeling connected until I pass out from exhaustion. It’s plenty of time, space, and void; ample, endless, unrelenting. It demands to be filled, with anything, so I learn to find stuff to do, and make the effort to do them; after work, before a workout class, after an evening out and the night is still young. A fitness instructor once told me, you either learn to love the pain or love the result. Can you love both?

That ordinary Wednesday, like all the other Wednesdays before and after it, I finished work at 5pm, and admission was free at the Art Gallery of Ontario downtown Toronto. The only thing not ordinary this Wednesday was it was an unusually warm winter day at 13 degrees Celsius in the middle of February. All day long, I felt giddy, soaking up the sunshine on my commute to work and back. I couldn’t get enough. I wanted more. With internet that died for me years ago, and about four hours to spare that evening, on an unusually warm February evening, I decided to go to the museum. Instead of the usual 5-minute bus ride, I walked the 20-minute to the train station: With four hours to spare, I was in no rush to get anywhere. As usual, I began my time at the museum taking a stroll through the gift shop. They have a special section for Jean-Michel Basquiat’s collection. Earlier at work, someone had said, “he wants to be Jean-Michel Basquiat” while describing current Jay Z. Despite myself, I laugh out loud, it’s uncanny. I stick around and pay extra attention to the collection. Basquiat’s art makes you feel, and abstractness that usually repulses me now delights me. I find out he died so young, younger than the age I am at now, and I think 27 used to be so old, when did age happen to me?

Alone, with nobody to impress, I decide to give myself permission to notice what I notice, rather than try to notice what I’m supposed to notice. What does this art say to me? How does it make me feel? Do I like it? Does it interest me? Do I think it’s cool? The internet makes you hyperaware of everyone else’s reactions, opinions, thoughts, and it inadvertently influences your reactions, opinions, thought. Is this interesting? Is this cool? You can go online and find out. Without the burden of the digital influence, I learn to return to child-like wonder. I look for what feels good, daring, bold, intoxicating; that which invokes, inspires, transports and transforms. Does this make me want to touch, taste, feel? Does it leave me exhausted with wanting more?

I like nature, so naturally, I start here. I imagine sitting by one of these. I imagine myself inside the painting. Would it be cold? I don’t know. I wonder, too, what the artist is like: What kind of person makes art like this? How much patience does it take to create something like this? How much patience do you have? How much do I have? I start taking notes in my Notes app: Writing can happen at the gallery, through living one day at a time.

I’m reminded of fall, so far out; first get through winter, then spring, then summer— and fall. Two better seasons in between. I thought about how time never stops; it goes on and on and on, and on, and I have no choice in the matter but to notice. Notice the snow, the days getting longer, warm summer nights, then notice the trees change colours— red, yellow, orange. I want to cry. I can’t cry at the museum. I wanted to live, you know, on my own terms. One day, it surprised me to simply know, feel it deeply, my life mattered just as much, and the earth whispered, love isn’t enough sometimes: I miss you, I’m sorry. 

This is the artist: Lawerence Harris, and he refuses to repeat himself. How liberating! I learn a concept: theosophy; a belief in the spiritual interconnectedness of all things. Theosophy. Theosophy. Theosophy. I hope to not forget the word, but I won’t forget all things are interconnected.

By now, I can’t stop thinking about fall. My least favourite season. I used to say it was my favourite season; everybody said it. We had only two seasons in Ethiopia: Summer and summer with rain. In that moment, many, many, many years later, it occurs to me, fall is my least favourite season. So forgettable. In fact, I hate fall: Everything dies. I tolerate winter, adore spring, lavish in the summer months, but fall? I fall apart. Spring is a much better season to love; a season of beginnings, rebirth and renewal. I love the smell of fresh earth in the warm air. If hell had a season, it’d be fall.

I prefer the museum alone. Less self-conscious. I can pay attention to the crookedly hanging paintings, and even the uneven eyes of a painting of a boy. Was it intentional? I notice and I wonder: This is time spent offline in a nutshell.

More fall paintings. I hate fall. 

Can I do this. I love it so much. So messy, yet so beautiful. Reminds me of a life I call mine. If you zoom in, there is so much texture; I lean in to notice, without getting to close so it doesn’t freak out the museum people.

I want to sit right at the edge in the middle and stare at the water for eternity. Get in the painting, and look out into the distance. I can’t wait for summer; the beaches, lakes, rivers. To stare at the water long enough, with sunshine warming my soul, you hear the gods whisper. But, there are so many painting about fall. Is it the colours? It’s a very ugly season, beautiful colours though. I don’t want to live with longing. I want to be outdoors, with the elements, feel the textures of the earth.

“wild woman —
do not be afraid
to dance alone. 

(the earth has been waiting
for you)” 

“Kids being kids, reminds me of being a kid,” someone says as we all stand and look at the painting. “Canadian childhood,” another one chimes in. I’m eavesdropping. I love the joy of reminiscing, remembering; even if that childhood had nothing to do with my childhood, I know, I know, I know. 

After all the colours, texture, lines and engraves, the simplicity of a single black dot is almost overwhelms me; love at first sight. I don’t care for meaning lately, I look for beauty. Some things are beautiful, and beautiful things demand attention. Ugly things demand attention too. What makes you pay attention? You can choose. 

Green is a nice colour, I guess. I haven’t considered it. I’m considering it now. Maybe I noticed it all along but didn’t pay attention until this moment. 

Precise, geometric and minimalist: Somehow I want my writing to feel this way too. I leave for home. It’s almost 9pm, and by the time I get home, there’s still ample space, time, an unrelenting void, but there is also joy, of a night spent out and about, getting lost in swarming bodies all over the city; happy to know there is still so much to see, notice, feel, be inspired by, still so much happening offline. How much effort is your life worth? 

Until next time,

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