Age six or seven, in our former Toronto back yard, with one of our two Siamese cats, Mitzpah and Horowitz
By Caitlin Kelly
I’m very lucky to live with a skilled photo editor and archivist for the United States Golf Association — whose ability to rescue faded, torn, wrinkled images is amazing.
I’d lost hope for this photo, which is in color and was so so faded! But he brought it back.
This photo means a lot to me, because it’s the only image I have of the last home I shared with both parents, on Castlefrank Road in Rosedale, a lovely neighborhood of Toronto. It would prove to be the last time I lived in a house until I was 15, as my now single mother and I lived in different apartments in Toronto and Montreal.
Bored by isolation during this pandemic, I’ve recently returned to two activities I haven’t done in decades and used to really enjoy —- swimming and playing the guitar.
In my teens, I was a skilled swimmer and used to compete, do synchronized swimming and worked part-time through high school as a lifeguard. But I’ve never enjoyed swimming at the Y — the pool is enormous and even one length daunting.
Luckily, our apartment building pool is open this summer, even if only for two months, and I’m trying to do multiple lengths every afternoon. To my surprise and joy, I’m finding it really relaxing, and a great time to stretch out muscles cramped from too much sitting.
I used to play guitar and write songs and haven’t even touched it in 20 years. But it’s time! I’m excited and nervous to start building up the calluses needed to play without pain. I love singing and really miss it.
Have you taken up new skills or activities in the pandemic?
Recently I heard someone say if you want to see where your priorities really lie, look at two things: your calendar and your bank statement.
If you believe your priorities are what truly matters to you, look no further than those two places to confirm or deny your hunch.
Let’s do an experiment. Take a look at your calendar, and take an inventory with me. How much of it is work related? How much of it is spent in social engagements? With family? Doing hobbies? Self improvement?
And how much white space do you see?
We have become a culture that is severely uncomfortable with white space. We don’t like being left alone with ourselves, and that’s because it’s not always fun.
To Dr. Brown, co-author of a book called “Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul,” the discussion begins with defining the term. He describes it, among other things, as a voluntary activity that can take us out of time or at least keep us from tracking it carefully. It is spontaneous and allows for improvisation.
Another crucial component, according to Dr. Brown, is play’s capacity to elicit diminished consciousness of self. Or, to put it in layman’s terms, it gives us license to be goofy. In an interview, Dr. Brown provided the most familiar example: how almost every person makes faces and sounds when meeting an infant for the first time.
“If you take a look at relatives looking at the bassinets, turn your camera back on their faces,” he said. “What you see is nonsense. There is this deep, innate proclivity for nonsense, which is at the core of playfulness.”
Finally, play is also purposeless, at least in the moment.
We’re now at the end of a break for the holidays in Canada, staying with my father at his house in a small town — with nothing to do.
The town is filled with very beautiful old houses and has a gorgeous waterfront trail along the edge of Lake Ontario. But there’s no movies (my drug of choice!) or theater or museums.
It’s forced Jose and I to…be still.
So what have we done?
Organized photos, talked at length with friends on the phone or gone to see them in person for a long lunch, read entire books start to finish, slept, cooked a terrific Moroccan lamb stew for friends who came for the afternoon, browsed several bookstores and bought new books (yay!).
I binge-watched an entire season, 13 episodes, of Frankie and Grace on our computer.
I’ve written multiple blog posts and planned several new ones — Q and As with some fantastically creative and successful people I hope you’ll find inspiring — freed from the production line of life as a journalist. Planned a possible vacation next July and decided against one in Spain this spring.
Lit a scented candle bedside every morning and at night. Enjoyed the rumbling and whistles of passing trains. Savored the skeletal beauty of bare trees and bushes against a wintry gray sky.
Played gin rummy. Talked. Sat in silence to watch the jade green waves crashing against a snow-dusted beach. Emptied my email in-box. (OK. not so playful!)
Took bubble baths in my Dad’s old claw-foot tub.
I loved the Times’ story about planning for play because it’s so deeply unAmerican to even breathe a word of…laziness. Rest. Downtime.
The entire culture is one of non-stop doing, not mindful being.
It’s one reason we keep coming back to my native Canada for breaks; Canadians, in general, value a more balanced life, and love to be outdoors even in winter. In my decades living near New York City, a place of frenzied ambition, I’ve always felt like an outlier for wanting — and carving out in my life — a lot of room for play and relaxation.
Like one of the people featured in the Times story, we’ve chosen to remain in a one-bedroom apartment and drive an old, paid-for car in order to be able to work less.
There are times I’d kill for more space or a shiny new vehicle. But the time and freedom we gain by not having to gin up an additional $500 or $1,500 every single month for years to come to pay for them?
Our priorities are retirement, (so we have saved hard and lived fairly frugally to do so), and travel. Without children, we also have the means, and the time, to focus on our own desires and how to pay for them. Selfish or not, it gives us a life we enjoy and value.
Anyone who’s been reading Broadside for a while knows I’m a high-octane person. But recharging, for me, is every bit as essential as rushing around.
How about you?
Do you make time, and deliberately set aside money, to just relax?
For those of you who don’t have one — and I’m guessing that’s most of you — here’s my current sewing box: needles, thread, ribbon, vintage and new buttons, a bit of vintage cotton, my beloved and very un-PC pincushion of Chinamen (wrong phrase, yes I know) holding hands. My thimble appears to have gone missing, but I rarely used it anyway.
I pulled it out the other day to repair a cotton rug whose edging, after only a few washings, had begun to come apart and fray. I think there are people who would have kept it looking crappy and others who might have simply thrown it away. Not me.
I also have some mending on my to-do list, old cashmere with a few holes.
I love using my hands to make and repair things.
Some of the things I can do, or have done, very happily far away from a touch-screen:
— cook a good meal, with sauces or nicely plated
— bake quick breads, cookies, cakes, pies
— sew and mend
— take photos, draw and paint, (both artistically and walls/furniture, etc.)