10.34 Spaces

A few weeks ago, I went to a big book sale at the Toronto Reference Library. I love walking into that building - it’s such a huge space and a hub for weirdness and of course, full of books. I find comfort there amongst all those rows and rows of books.

When I walked into the large room where the sale was being held, I loved seeing all those people rummaging through all the piles, balancing paperbacks and hardbacks in the crooks of their arm.

Sure, there was more romance novels than you’d really care to look through, and enough copies of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo that it could’ve warranted its own section, but still enough of the good stuff to go around. With so many stores closing down, it’s something I miss about used bookstores - the wandering. I often used to troll the aisles of used bookstores, considering it a journey to find something new and unexpected. A lot of times, I just liked the cover of a book or the title - The Fuck-Up? I’m sold, and the best thing was when the book ended up being something important to me.

I ended up with a number of finds, spending a grand total of $5.50. What a great way to spend a Saturday morning.

The week after, I spent the afternoon at the Ontario Art Gallery. Taking full advantage of their new offering of a $35 annual membership, I thought it would be a great idea to just be in a space full of art. With the membership, it took away the need to feel like I had to walk around. My intention was just to be around art, as I do believe these spaces hold a special kind of magic.


William Kurelek, Home on the Range (1967)


I hit up the AGO at opening time early on a Saturday morning. Figuring that most people will start on the main floor and work their way up, I went right to the top and made my way down.

For some reason, I like to be in the individual gallery rooms alone. There's a silence and an emptiness that is comforting. I don't even have to like the artwork, just being in their presence is enough. Knowing we're together, just the two of us.

Out of all the work, the artist that has stood out the most for me repeatedly every time is William Kurelek. These paintings stop me in my tracks. Maybe it's the vast space of the landscape? The combination of darkness and humour? The ability to always discover something new in the depicted scene?

I felt like I was on vacation. Walking around looking at art. Stop, sit, read. More art. Sip on a coffee. Write a bit. I had nowhere else to be.


William Kurelek, A Ukrainian Canadian Prairie Tragedy (1974)


The week after that, I went to the Toronto Islands. It was windy. This did not deter me from biking several times coast to coast. My intention was to get there early before everyone else. Before the picnics and kids and parties. I half succeeded in this. But, early enough.

My plan on the Islands is usually to bike, read, write, repeat. For some reason, it was so windy, it seemed to be blowing in all directions, which removed the wistfulness of the journey. But, that didn't stop me.

Although the Islands are a part of Toronto, they still feel somewhat removed. A tourist attraction that you don't often vist as an inhabitant of the city. It's quiet there though, that is, except for the odd ridiculous yacht blaring country music that reminds me of those ridiculous SUV limos. I always know when it's time to leave - when the four-seater rental bikes clog up the pathways.


On the ferry to the Toronto Islands.


All this got me thinking about the spaces we inhabit, try to avoid, ones that are comforting, and others that are threatening. What happens when your own space becomes uncomfortable? It’s been sullied to a certain degree by the residue of experience. That happened to me a few years ago where there was a presence in my apartment that ended up becoming negative, consuming things to a point where my space was no longer my own.

I’m sure a lot of people feel this way - living in a big city, you need a place, no matter how small, that is your own. I love the place where I live - it’s tiny, but the perfect size for me. It’s got a cool and interesting layout. It’s my sanctuary when I’m not feeling like being around people. Being an adult, I feel so much better at making decisions when it comes to my social life. Sure, there might be a party to go to. But also, waiting at home are my pyjamas and a whole new season of GLOW.

What do you do when it no longer feels like yours? For me, all those years ago, it was just time. Bringing my things back to the foreground, racking back into focus what I had lost. Eventually, after an exorcism, I’m kidding, of course (or am I?), things felt normal again. They felt safe.

But, I’ve been enjoying this expansion of space by going to the library, to the AGO, to the islands. My pyjamas might always be calling my name, but also, there are so many spaces to inhabit.

Paul Dore