Today, after getting off the streetcar, I walked up Yonge Street to the Y. In almost every doorway, a homeless person was camped and sleeping. Often it was hard to tell if there was someone inside the bundle of rags and blankets piled up on the step. And then, there was a woman, naked from the waist down, filthy, squatting to pee on the sidewalk before returning to her shelter in a doorway.
This on the main street of downtown Toronto.
The other day, I rode to one of my favourite stores, the pen and paper emporium Laywine’s, to buy an essential, my annual academic daytimer without which my life would disintegrate. The store is in Yorkville, the streets of which are a parody of wealth and white privilege on display – the cars, the clothes, the arrogance.
Something is deeply wrong in our city. Our mayor is decent, blinkered, boring. No real solutions to homelessness and the epidemic of mental illness and opiate addiction. Instead, we have rampant development, giant high-rises going up everywhere, which include no affordable housing; there are more construction cranes in Toronto than anywhere else in North America. Drivers are beyond entitled, speeding, careening, partly out of frustration because the streets are impassable due to construction and street repairs – though most streets are so full of holes, they look as if they’ve been attacked by giant asphalt-devouring digger dogs.
And now we’ve elected as premier a right-wing car- and development-loving blowhard who’s going to spend billions constructing new highways through the formerly protected Green Belt.
Not to mention Ukraine. And another smart, fit writer friend locked away with dementia.
The world, today, is too much with me. Late and soon, getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.
What comfort? For one, the January 6th commission, which has done an extraordinary job of presenting the facts, entirely from former Trump loyalists, about the former president’s criminal delusions — the most vital work of democracy and journalistic investigation we’ve seen this century. Thank God for it.
Yesterday, one of the most marvellous classes ever, watching writers take flight. A joy.
Reading: right now, Rebecca Solnit’s wonderful Orwell’s Roses, following her nimble mind as she explores George Orwell’s garden and everything connected to him — fascinating, heavily researched, wide-ranging.
And mostly, my own garden. How is it possible these plants and flowers keep gracing us with their scent and beauty year after year? Sometimes I think we don’t deserve them. I go out in the morning and kiss the roses and talk to them. They feel like friends.
Will we pull through this time of darkness? I don’t know. Perhaps we won’t. But they will. Solnit quotes Orwell in 1941, back in his country home after time in London sheltering from the Blitz: “Crocuses out everywhere, a few wallflowers budding, snowdrops just at their best. Couples of hares sitting about in the winter wheat and gazing at one another. Now and again in this war, at intervals of months, you get your nose above water for a few moments and notice that the earth is still going around the sun.”
Mock orange. The smell is heavenly.