I will not fear this city

“Don’t touch me, you stupid cunt!”

“That’s right, you feminist whore! I will fucking beat you.”

“Quit looking at me, bitch!”

“Get out of here, you moron.”

The man – I haven’t seen his face; eye contact seems injudicious – hurls the worst epithets he has at his disposal towards the woman who unthinkingly reached out to steady his body, lurching with a combination of bus breaks and alcohol.

The tirade lasts the span of two blocks. At the back of the bus, we – mostly women of the upper middle class – exchange flickering, uncertain glances. I am struck with the man’s language. Not the vulgarity, but the tone and nature of the words. All feminine and derogatory or implying a lack of mental facility. I am sure the rest of them, like me, feel the impulse to act and not to act. But what could any of us do?

At the next stop, the man decides to leave rather than wait for whatever enforcement service the bus driver has contacted. Despite his departure, we troop as a flock to the next bus that vaguely follows the route we need, trying to escape the malodor of echoing memory. But before we go, I see a young woman offer a tissue and some reassurance to the target of the man’s hostility.

Two days later, I am walking home from work with a friend. We pass a panhandler. I’ve seen him before. Sometimes I offer change; more often I walk past with murmured apology. This time I am absorbed in sharing an anecdote. His legs are stretched far into the sidewalk, so I must pay oblique attention to curve my path and avoid stepping on him.

His scream truncates my story: “Shut up! You talk too much!”

While my friend is startled, I am puzzled. Alarmed and detached. This may be the first time in my life I’ve been yelled at by a stranger. But two incidents, however unequal in threat, so close together begged analysis. I was in no danger during either event. The only thing ruffled was my sense of untouchability – which ought to be ruffled now and again.

You see, I love this city. The last time I fell in love with a city I didn’t know how to love with open eyes. I loved what I thought I saw – loved the products of my imagination. And perhaps this is what breaks love. The slow dissolution of fantasy. Perhaps that is why I left.

I have less theory, more experience this time. I know my love will not change the way this city moves. Will not weave small bridges between all the worlds trying to occupy the same space. This city will break my heart and mend it and break it again. I will allow it to create and disturb my comfort. Because loving a perfect space no longer satisfies me.

Filling a vacuum

Tis the season for giving up, and though I’ve moved away the tradition that officially gives things up, I do believe that abstaining from vices on occasion is good for the soul. So I’ve given up a website I normally go to that allows me to passively consume idiocy while searching for the occasional chuckle. Because this particular website reinforces a particularly short attention span, hive-mind paranoid thinking, and smugness. None of which I need. But what this leaves me with is time. More time than I care to admit.

What does a woman do with this time? Perhaps becomes a bit reflective. Perhaps finds old companions. Old thoughts. New thoughts. Strange places. Discovers tiny bits of the world again. Allows herself to untangle and exhale into something like real life, but more like imagination.

Off the Cuff: Surrealism

We were at the art gallery tonight, in what turned out to be a semi-insane attempt to attend a gallery talk on Surrealism and Science. Because two or three hundred other people seemed to have the same idea (go figure: Tuesdays are pay-what-you-will). So there we were crammed into the nooks of a gallery exhibit. Hot and crushed and part of a very real swarm of art enthusiasts. But once the lecture started, it all faded away.

Surrealism may be my favourite artistic movement. The subversion of it. Reinvention and reordering. Disorder and absurdity that isn’t nonsense. It turns sense on its elbow and I like that. Although I’ve tried out cultivating order, rationality, and logic in my daily interactions, they aren’t my native tongues. I feel at home in the images of Surrealist works. Bizarre and unsettling and chaotic as they sometimes seem, they remind me that not everything is understood scientific or rational terms.

That’s where it all began to resonate; the Surrealists movement was a reaction to the rationality and scientific emphasis they had been raised with in the context of dealing with World War I. These concepts were (to them) inadequate tools for deciphering the psychological aftermath of the war. So they pushed into myth and subconscious and attempted to recreate understanding by reassembling the known and unknown outside of reason.

In listening to the talk, I realized I often place too much emphasis on making sense of the world using tools that are mostly foreign to me. Like handing a mitre box to a weaver and expecting a brilliant charcoal sketch. I try to use reason to process and communicate my world; I don’t intend to dismiss reason and logic, but I need to recognize that I don’t live in those spaces. I live in the soaring rustle of crows’ wings, the crunch of gravel under bicycle tires. In rain falling through the trees outside my front window. In the sweep of colour against a stranger’s skin. A laugh, a phrase, a perfectly timed exchange passing through my hearing. Goldfish in all the wrong-but-right places.

I knew this. But I had forgotten. I will likely forget again. And this is ultimately what art is for: to come inside and kick around the furniture we thought we had placed so perfectly. Remind us of all the cubby holes where we tucked ourselves away.