When I went out on a brisk walk (my replacement for jogging now that my left-foot-ligaments are not up to the job) yesterday morning, I started with a short sleeved sweater on over my T-shirt. No, it wasn’t cold, strictly speaking, but twenty degrees Celsius and overcast IS chilly after the weeks of heat and drought we’ve had this spring-summer. The sweater soon came off, of course.
It’s been a long time since I’ve done a morning jog-walk here. I’ve been away a lot, that’s part of it, but also, for the past eight weeks or so getting on my bicycle and pedalling up a steep hill on an early morning loop has been much more enticing than walking. Even in the heat a bicycle is cooling because of the breeze of movement, and it feels so rewarding to cover a lot of ground quickly.
Later on yesterday I cycled to have lunch with a friend, a pleasurable speedy adrenalined trip to College Street West, but when we got there the restaurant (a Portuguese churrasquerria with a leafy terrace) was closed. So we ended up at Golden Turtle on Ossington, a Vietnamese place of some renown that I had never been to. Lovely to sit outside in the shade, warm and comfortable - good second-best to being in Southeast Asia - eating crispy-edged banh xeo, beef pho with tendon and lung etc, and pork kho tu (spiced deep-flavored slow-cooked pork),
Back to the bicycle vs foot thing though: The disadvantage of being on my bicycle moving quickly rather than walking is that I see way less, especially since I’m often focussed on traffic and road details rather than on my surroundings. On the other hand, even on foot it's possible to miss a lot.
Today I headed out on foot early, this time to the passport office downtown to renew my passport (in Canada it’s every five years, so it comes up inconveniently often). There’s an energy and purpose to most of the pedestrians at that hour, primarily office workers by the look of them. They are all headed somewhere, and often hurrying to get there on time.
Of course others had already been at work for an hour or more: the policemen, the road workers, the guys doing construction (tearing out and rebuilding the skating rink) in front of City Hall, the staff at the coffee shops, the streetcar drivers, the doctor coming off shift in scrubs.
The exception to all the movement and purpose was the guy sitting on the sidewalk not far from City Hall with a tidy sign that said, “I don’t smoke or drink; I need money for food.” He was middle-aged looking, pale and tired. I am not proud of the fact that I was so entrenched in my goal of getting to the passport office ASAP that I passed him by. And then his sign reverberated with me for several blocks. I wish I had stopped and made a contribution to his day.
The failed encounter with the street guy makes me think that it’s not so much the speed of one’s passage that matters in many cases, as the quality of attention we give to the world we are moving through. Though I took in the content of the guy’s sign as I hurried past, I was being more attentive to my need to get to the passport office than to what I was seeing before me. I failed to reflect on it, to really pay attention.
In contrast, on my previous day’s brisk walk I had had time and attention for the passing scene. I looked and looked and noticed changes and people and had time for thinking too: I wondered about a mismatched couple, she young-looking, and he, older, frowning and lumpy, walking down the street holding hands; I was shocked to see the big apricot tree on Robert Street gone, a tree that used to bear loads of golden fruit, but then sickened, and has now been cleaned out; walking past the flower-garden-framed house of a friend I caught sight of her through the window and had time to knock on her door and then go in for a coffee and a chat...and so on.
It’s a tricky balance, having ambitions for the day, future goals, and at the same time trying to be present to the present. One way is to take hold of each day with a slightly firmer grip. Am I saying I should be more responsible about my time management? Perhaps. Certainly more disciplined with myself.
After seeing a friend’s disciplined way of working (when I was staying in Cape Breton), I’m realising that I should try to manage my days a little more effectively. First thing in the day he gets up and writes (sits at his computer and works steadily) for about three hours, starting very early in the morning. And then the rest of the day can happen in any way, for his hard work is done.
A clear unambiguous early-in-the-day-before-interruptions kind of goal is the only sane way to be reliably productive, it seems. And it should work for people like me, whose clearest highest mental energy time is the morning.
In general I am too apt to get distracted by email and small bits of tasks whenever I sit at my computer. Those are fine, and necessary (especially as I get ready for book tour) but I should leave them until after I have done my more difficult thinking. Instead, perhaps to avoid hard work, or road blocks in my writing or thinking, I let myself slip too soon into email multi-tasking and dealing with the bits and pieces debris that gets generated by e-media of various kinds.
But to take a step back, getting down to work on hard stuff first thing in the morning requires an ahead-of-time plan. What work? In what order? I need to make a list at night, then stick to it. So easy to write or to say; so challenging to follow through on.
I like the idea of embarking on new patterns and resolutions in this still green and growing time of year, rather than waiting for the classic New Year’s resolution time of year with its dreary dark days.
I have no excuse for not following through. And yet I know I’ll need a kick-in-the-pants reminder of this resolution from time to time!
Meanwhile, to end on a more sensual note, I had a wonderful breakfast this morning after my passport excursion: some mixed grain bread I’d made a few days ago, toasted, then eaten with whey butter topped with slices of ripe tomatoes from the back garden and sprinkled with salt mixed with kelp and dulse flakes (a treat from Cape Breton). All the best kind of eating: home-made and fresh and rich with flavour.