Three hundred and forty-four

“My hood”

How can you not be inspired living around this?  My surroundings affect what I write, what I research and what I’m interested in.  I just can’t say enough about how much the character of Parkdale has shaped this year – from the people and the old houses, to the shop signs and the rusty old garbage cans piled near the waterfront.

I went for a walk today and took a bunch of photos around this area of Toronto.  I have been playing with my camera and what it can do.  Some photos turn out better than others.  I tend to spend more time on the photography part of this month than the actual writing.  I almost feel like the photo tells a story on its own – that any explanation takes away the individual response to the image.  It’s this individual response that makes art personally affect us.

Three hundred and thirty five

I was flipping through the Toronto Life January 2012 edition, in their “Where to get good stuff cheap” section when I came across this sentence: “On sale for $495, it’s as cheap as it is versatile”.  And they are writing about a DRESS!  A cotton, plaid, shirt-dress – nothing fancy.  The more I look through the section, the more I see why Torontonians are constantly lured into spending money.  Nothing in the “good stuff cheap” section is all that cheap.  I guess they’re trying to go for how to get expensive items at a discount.  But I’m not sure “cheap” is the right word for a $495 cotton dress!

Prices stand out to me since living on $4 a day.  I never really noticed how expensive things are.  It’s hard to buy milk and cereal for under $4 (or almond milk, as I’m still on the no dairy thing from vegan month).  And I’m definitely not buying any new clothes or anything that isn’t completely mandatory.  It’s interesting how not having those “rewards” (like buying a new sweater, or treating yourself to a chocolate bar) makes you change your reward system and value different things.

Parkdale

We (as in you, the readers, and I) were talking about really understanding what it’s like to live in poverty in Canada, and how I need to hit the streets to see what life at the poverty line is really like.  I only need to walk outside my door to see this.  I live in Parkdale – a mix of low-income housing, lots of new immigrants, artists, and gentrified areas.  It is a diverse section of Toronto with lots of character.  There are “hipster” bars beside run-down cafes and food banks.  Walking up Jameson Avenue, lined with tall, low-rent apartment buildings, you run into all sorts of different people.  There are hard-working newly immigrated families.  Students goof around, old men mumble to themselves, and drug addicts get high or come down.  Teenage girls giggle and their mothers or fathers push carts of groceries home from the discount store.  There are people of all colours.  This is a working class neighbourhood, with some poorer than others.

In the Parkdale 2011 Report Card on Health, Housing and Food Security (which Parkdale failed most categories),  The Parkdale Community Health Centre explains: “57% of our clients report income under $20,000 and more than 30% of our clients live with mental health issues.”  I love Parkdale, but I watch some of the people here struggle – sometimes dealing with mental illness, sometimes dealing with money at the bank, sometimes just dealing with life at the coffee shop.  I wonder what they are thinking as they stare out of the window over their coffee for hours.

Here are some residents of Parkdale who explain what poverty is to them (from The Toronto Star):

Two hundred and ninety-four

I’m still in awe of the amazing random of act of kindness I was witness to yesterday.  It still brings tears to my eyes.

Good deeds, however, don’t have to involve helping people directly.  You can do a good deed for the community as a whole or in the case of my good deed yesterday, for the environment.

Picking up trash is not a glamorous job, but it needs to be done  (or people could just stop littering and that would be even better, but unfortunately I can’t see that happening anytime soon).  As I walked around my neighbourhood and looked at the sidewalks and the parks, it was sad all the garbage lying around.  At one point I found a pop can within throwing distance of a recycling bin.  Really, that person couldn’t walk the four steps over to the bin to put it in there?!  They just decided to leave it on the park lawn instead. Who does that?!

It was definitely a gross job.  I wore gloves and carried a plastic bag to collect the rubbish in.  When I reached a garbage bin I emptied and continued.  The funniest thing was I was going to work straight after and was dressed in my supervising, fairly dressed-up attire.  I got a few funny looks in the heart of Parkdale from the crazies.  I’ll take the looks if it makes our community a little prettier.  I’m afraid to walk to work today, though, because I’m sure I’ll find all the places where I picked up garbage from to be littered again with McDonald’s paper bags and ripped newspaper.  Sad, but true.

It wasn’t as emotionally satisfying as doing a good deed directly for someone else (and picking up garbage is pretty close to a selfless act, although I did have pleasure from the beauty of clean streets), but if everyone picked up a few pieces every time they went outside, our environment would be cleaner, which in turn helps our mental and physical health.  And my friend (and reoccurring character on the blog) the Eco-comedian would be proud!

One hundred and seventy-six

The friendly neighbour

If someone walked by you in the street, smiled and said “good afternoon”, what would you think?  How would you react?  In the suburbs where I grew up, or a small town, you would smile back at them and say something nice.  In Toronto, though, everyone lives in their own bubble and are usually in a rush.  Rarely does someone look you in the face as they walk by.  Or they are talking on their cell phone or listening to their iPod.  The people who do say hello are usually tourists, crazy or want something from you.

I am just as bad a culprit as anyone else here.  I don’t like making small talk with the bank teller.  I hate when people are walking slow and in my way when I’m trying to get somewhere.  I usually have my headphones in.  I’m suspicious of what people want from me when they say hello or start to approach me.  I’m not proud of this, but living in cities most of my life has made me this way.

They say it takes less energy to smile than it does to frown and that smiling releases endorphins, natural pain killers and serotonin which changes our mood for the better and makes us feel good.  So, if this is the case, then we should all be smiling more and being friendlier to the people we encounter in the city every day.

Parkdale

Parkdale is a largely working-class area of Toronto, with a number of low-income apartments, new immigrants, artists and young professionals.  There are quite a few boarding houses for out-patients with mental illnesses.  The main street is becoming a place to hang out for young people because of the large amount of bars, cafes, shopping and restaurants that have come to the area over the past few years.  It is an eclectic group of people who live, work and walk the streets of my neighbourhood – yes, this is where I live and I love Parkdale.

But it is not somewhere where you talk to people on the street.  If they aren’t crazy, they will think you are crazy, or they are suspicious of your motives.  And that is why I spent the day walking the area, smiling, saying hello and trying to make contact with my neighbours.  These were some of the reactions I got:

  • “Do you have a cigarette?” he asked me, when I smiled at the man who always hangs out at the end of my street.
  • Most people kept their eyes down so I couldn’t even catch their eye to smile at them.
  • I walked past a day camp and smiled at the kids, then stopped because I realized I might look creepy doing that.
  • Most men reacted like I was trying to hit on them.
  • Most women looked at me strangely.
  • A lady with her boyfriend gave me an evil look.  I’m not trying to pick up your boyfriend!
  • I tried to catch a man’s eye as I walked by him, but he was starring at my chest!
  • Not one person smiled back at me.

It was really hard, but actually made me feel great.  The smiling did brighten my day.  And I really observed who my neighbours are.  But it did make me sad.  Why are we all so suspicious of each other?  What happened to community?  Or is community now defined differently than where you live?  Do I just need to accept that unless there is some familiarity, I will not get a smile from a stranger?