The tools we have to hand

20258081_10154588033600964_1306340685664480_n.jpg‘Todmorden’ by STEEN (used with permission of the artist – and the proud owner – ME!)

I’m not sure where the summer went – although, if we’re honest, this wasn’t the best of the best that we’ve come to expect ’round these parts. Still, there is something always-melancholy about Labour Day weekend. It’s been more than a few years now since I’ve returned to school, and I find myself missing the preparations involved in getting back into the classroom at this time of year more than at any other.

In retrospect, the past few months have had a melancholy tinge about them. Call it a mid-life crisis if you will, but I’ve been struggling with envisioning how this next part of my life might go. I don’t feel like I’m living up to my potential – however that may or may not be quantified.

Some of that reflection stems from missing my parents. It’s not a feeling that even really goes away, but their absence has seemed greater to me over the past little while. I’m not sure why that is – something I’m still trying to figure out – but it’s left me questioning a whole lot of stuff that I had fallen into the habit of taking for granted.

Couple that with the anxiety-causing nonsense to the south of us – and elsewhere in the world – I’ve been feeling like I need to get back to doing something that will permit me to make a move toward positive change. I’m still sussing out the parameters of that – and what such a move might look like, ultimately, but it is a work-in-progress.

A number of years ago I began following the FB artist page of a friend from the old ‘hood. The evolution of his work has been hugely interesting – and incredibly inspiring. Back in the Spring he exhibited at a gallery down on Queen West, and a couple of my friends and I went to check out the work we’d been seeing live-and-in-person.

I was blown away by both his vision and the incredible detail he inserts into every piece of art. In talking with the gallery owner, I started to think seriously about undertaking a commission – in support of Brandon’s continuing growth as an artist, but also as a tribute of sorts to my parents.

Dad was a great patron of Canadian art and artists. His collection of Inuit sculpture sits in my living room – in some cases, accompanied by letters from their creators. I remember being with him when some of the purchases were made. I feel a fair bit of ownership over one piece, in particular, since I fell in love with it from the moment we entered the gallery in Old Quebec.

Rather quickly I made the decision to begin the commissioning process, and Brandon and I had a wonderful chat – after many many years. He visited the house, and photographed some of Dad’s collection, and, over the course of another great catch-up session, gleaned a whole lot of remarkably keen insight into me and my family.

The result is at the top of this page.

I grew up within spitting distance of Todmorden Mills – in the Don Valley, and I live, currently, not that far away. I can catch a glimpse of the spire when we pass through the Prince Edward Viaduct on the subway commute every morning. It’s been a landmark in my life for as long as I remember.

The image on the large wall is Brandon’s representation of my favourite of Dad’s Inuit sculptures. Mom and Dad’s names appear in the graffiti. My little lost Dude smiles at me from the window. The centre mosaic of Grandpa’s ceiling at the ROM runs up the spire. My love (seemingly misplaced, this season), of my hometown Jays. Even the Spaghetti Monster is there – as a giggling nod to my personal (lack of) beliefs.

I continue to be stunned every time I look at it – and the glow I still carry from being privileged enough to be able to have participated in the process (in however minor a manner) of the creation of something so beautiful and so meaningful is a fully-realized reminder of the many great opportunities provided to me by my upbringing and the strength of those personalities that I’m lucky enough to call my parents and grandparents.

That wonderful experience is one element of this latest quest I’ve undertaken. I’m looking for new directions, career-wise, and questioning whether it is time that I get back into the world of pedagogy.

I’m trying to write more – some freelance articles that take me back to esoterica of my academic life, and (per always) the fiction projects that seem to change course every time I give them some time and (attempted) focus.

That last bit meant that I had to attend one completely practical matter. I needed a new laptop. If you go back through colemining posts, you might recall that my MacBook died, oh, close on three years ago now. Since then, I’ve made due with a hand-me-down I inherited when we lost Dad.

I never seemed to be able to just go out and make the purchase of the better tool – one that could hold a battery charge, that didn’t freeze if I had too many widows open at once, and that I could bookmark for ease of research and reference. I admit to being a master of procrastination when it comes to certain things (the things I just don’t want to do, for example), but my unwillingness to commit and purchase the new computer was starting to seem a wee bit pathological.

I bit the bullet a couple of weeks ago – largely because we were heading to the cottage and I wanted access to all the music that lives in iTunes but has been unaccessible to me for the past three years – since iTunes was another thing I refused to install on Dad’s laptop. He had his own account, and it felt like I’d be erasing something of him, if I replaced it with my own music.

A computer is a tool – I certainly do my best not to be chained to mine – but the reality is that the one I had been using had outlived its efficiency and efficacy. But it was Dad’s. As much as I LOVE my new tool (it’s SO fast! And I missed MacWorld. Regardless of what haters might say, it’s the best tool for the uses to which I tend to put the thing), the old one still sits on my desk, waiting to be wiped and recycled.

I’m not there yet.

It will likely sit for a time, still, until I’m ready to go through the files and revisit the ways in which Dad used it as his tool for so long (he may have been almost-74 when we lost him, but he was more computer-savvy than a lot of folks my age).

I’m trying to focus on the many – less-tangible, but far more important – tools that were bequeathed to me and my sisters by our parents and grandparents; the history and the wisdom and the experiences that helped in the making of us. Those things that have helped to create – and allow us to create new history, experiences, and, hopefully, wisdom, as we take up the tools we find along our own paths.

Brandon used the tools he has to hand – his talent, his discipline, his insight, his vision of our world – to complete a creation of beauty and remembrance for me and my family to treasure and pass on to those who might come after us. I will never be able to thank him enough for employing those tools as successfully and beautifully as he has done, for the delight of all of us.

My toolbox includes such things as a knowledge of the lessons of history; the importance of art of music, and the human expressions of our shared stories; the deeply-held belief that these arts and stories are the most important things that describe and define the reality that we are all more alike than different; an inclination (compulsion?) to string words together; and, if I’m honest with myself, the ability to teach about some small aspect of all of the above.

Those are the tools that I’m working to pick up again. They might be slightly disused, but I believe they’re still serviceable. I have an amazing example, now living on my wall, providing me with constant inspiration about what is possible when tools are turned to intended- and best-use.

Brandon Steen’s next exhibit is at the Elaine Fleck Gallery, 1351 Queen Street West, November 1-30.