Wednesday, June 15, 2022

in mourning for my damaged, neglectful city

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.


  1. Beth, I share your dismay at the huge discrepancies in our cities (even our small towns, like the one I live near). I loved Orwell's Roses. I love how Rebecca Solnit writes out in the wide world and then draws in again, her focus so smart and sharp. I find myself wondering what Orwell would do in these times, having read Down and Out in Paris and London, his essays, his novels. I know he'd be pushing acorns into the soil and buying up rose plants at Woolworths and trying to find the decent way to respond to inequality, to evil. He had a kind of practical hope, too, which is maybe something to aspire to. Solnit too has it, I think.

    1. It's an extraordinary book, her range is so wide and yet tethered always to Orwell - and to human creativity and decency and, yes, hope. It's an almost intimidatingly wise book that grows deeper chapter by chapter. I decided to read it after you wrote about how much you liked it.

  2. Your garden is so beautiful Beth!!
    I'm also dismayed at the current state of downtown... it's getting hard to live here if you actually feel the suffering and haven't become totally immune to it. And it's also unsafe on the TTC - when certain characters walk on, everyone becomes tense. I try to call 311 or report incidents and ask them to check in on a homeless person in distress when I can, but really I'm starting to feel like I want to move out of downtown.
    Orwell's Roses looks amazing.. will have to check it out! Have you read the book "The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delany Begins Her Life's Work at 72"? It's a fabulous book.. may not be about a real garden, but just as magical.

    1. Mita, it's wonderful you're at least trying to find help for those who need it. Somehow the city keeps on going, and there's even joy and beauty to be found here, but it has changed so much in ten years. I have not read "The Paper Garden" but it sounds like the kind of book I love, will definitely check it out - literally - from the library. Thanks!