Thursday, November 21, 2013

Slainte/Cheers - Welcome to Toronto -- Anne Burbidge

_Courage My Love_; Dearing, Sarah

In the exciting newness of months after 2000, the book above appeared miraculously. It is set in Kensington Market, where I was starting out as a newcomer to Toronto. Its name refers to a used/vintage clothing and jewelry store still operating on Kensington Avenue. Being younger than the protagonist, Irish-American newcomer, Mrs. Philippa Maria Donahue, who is 31, I read the story with an eye to finding something of an identity (like she was as well) in addition to finding a suitable habitat.

Quite soon, the charm of our neighbourhood emerges in the novel: ". . .she labeled the main roads, for simplified reference, Fish Street, Clothes and Vegetable Avenues." Populating these roads are street people, immigrants and artistic-types -- the latter especially captivating to me because I had begun to pen (rather bad) poems regularly. As Tommy Gunn, her market guide states, in this area, "it's acceptable. . .to be committed to painting -- out there it's not." (106) Life of the arts is given some measure of respect. Here then was an artist-friendly zone and I had had the good fortune to have landed there by pure chance, renting a basement apartment on Oxford Street.

My housemates -- mostly OCAD students who decorated our space -- and I were very close to stores selling cheap appliances (all hail the working toaster!), threads and subsistence to feed our creativity or eccentricity. Seeing “Patty King” in print put me under a deeper spell of love for the book. There many deals were to be had on baked goods and often I picked up the free weekly marketed to the Black and Caribbean community, Share. Indie news sources soothed the not infrequent pangs of isolation.

During one spring, I was pleasantly surprised at the Reference Library to meet a former co-worker, a bilingual call centre temp, scanning the papers for work. Just a few days before, I had been doing the same and had found a lead paying more than what we were earning previously. The library gods and goddesses were kind and soon we both landed contracts.

Like the main character who toils away at a hair salon, I also had cut my hair shorter and clocked my time (they timed you endlessly) at the office near Yonge and Front. Did walk to work -- wasn't as awful as it might have been. To meet more people though, I joined a queer-positive women's basketball league. Poets and writers there had similar intensity as the rest of the players, though they were less likely to run you over.

My friend from work -- "Jean" -- attended one of the games (took a breath and invited him) and seemed to enjoy it even with the miscues (league of all skill levels). As he explained it, in his native country, Haiti, part of the fun in taking in a match is to bet on everything – which team will do this first – shoot, score, fall over. When a collision occurred, he said in a voice that had commented on many collisions, “oops!”

Older, more experienced writer-types in the league guided me with my writing projects in a manner comparable to the conviction of the more scruffy Tommy character. One went on to write several books with a local press and another to launch a couple books of poetry. As I dabbled in writing book reviews, took courses and sought some financial stability (did ok there, incredibly), I gradually became more attuned to online expression. This blog began in April, 2008. For several years it lapsed into dormancy, but I kept paying the hosting fees of the companion site,, where you can find details on how to contribute a piece here. May restart it yet!

After a few years, I inevitably lost track of Jean. This was not shocking since we didn’t date very long and he was not so keen on an artistic kind of life although he did read Baudelaire. One night, I saw him walking with a woman near my newer apartment off the Danforth. We said hello, spoke for a minute or two and then continued on our respective paths.

Many adventures later, I still return to Kensington Market. Mainly I go there for the baked goods and newspapers, but occasionally I sample a quick or long meal with or without company. The comforting familiarity, enhanced by Courage, is something to draw strength from as life rolls on in the buzzing city along with others who at times appreciate this oasis of sorts.

Courage My Love
Sarah Dearing
Stoddart Publishing Co. Ltd.

Anne Burbidge, Chickliteracy founder, studied at Mount Allision, Trent and Ryerson Universities and holds an M.A. in Canadian Studies. She lives in Toronto where she landscapes, tweets and sometimes writes poetry her cat tolerates.

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