I have a collection of Japanese ceramic things that I packed away, along with every other loose leaf whatever in my apartment because I had decided at one point I wanted to see nothing except white space and one object at a time. At the moment—and god help me this is changing TOMORROW—those boxes have exploded.
I feel drawn to Japanese things. I like the Japanese mind, it feels vast, minimal, and clean. I have a collection of rocks that look like yin-yang symbols. I am taking this point in the summer to invoke this vast, airy, clean feeling and do a little thinking. There is a harshness that can dominate the summer, specifically in the city. Oppressive heat…backyards, boats, parks, or simply your dank, hot apartment that goes best with copious amounts of alcohol—it all can leave a girl not so hungry. Filled with heat, in this moment I am now making this season about the beach, reading, solitude, skin, beautiful vegetables, gentle friends, rap music, peace-ing out, and many kinds of beverages.
Try thinking about a yin-yang. Even when sadness abounds I like to think about a quote that is something like, “Love is strong as death.” It’s from a book by Elizabeth Smart called By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept. I think of it because I feel like without all the darkness and fear in life, I wouldn’t know the impeccable lightness and beauty of things. Josephine Foster wrote a nice poem too that very simply states, “Black and White are Friends for Life.”
The extremities of things can be nurturing, but also taxing. I live in this area of Toronto that is Queen West—although this scene I am about to explain, by the way, applies to all big cities. I’ve lived above this gallery for four years, and even in that short amount of time have seen a lot of changes. For one, this used to be more exclusively an “artist” zone of sorts, with lots of small galleries and cheap housing, dingy diners, and Chinese restaurants. I have no shower, but I do have a beautiful clawfoot tub. My floor’s pitched at a 45-degree angle, and I have one electric hot plate, one propane burner, a toaster oven, and an old Cadillac of a fridge. I used to fantasize to myself I was in the Beat Hotel in Paris and Allen Ginsberg was my neighbor, which actually isn’t that far from the truth. It’s pretty dreamy to come into this out of art school—no rules, solo living, and lots of character, all at $550 a month.
This area is also home to CAMH, the largest mental health center in the provincial vicinity. As of late, it is one of the fastest growing condo fields around. Gorgeous historic warehouses full of working artists and small artist-run centers have been demolished in favor of ugly, uninspired glass-and-steel high rises. The Bohemian Embassy is the worst. In the midst of this condo boom, the mental health center underwent a massive reconstruction and is now a huge compound. Condos and CAMH rose side by side, and I spend a lot of time staring out my window down to the street thinking how hard it was to tell which of the two camps—the patients and the remaining artists or the condo dwellers—are more deranged.
It is striking to watch the two worlds function so closely. They are two planets orbiting side-by-side and crossing paths; I await the imminent collision. Sometimes I feel like my body mirrors this neighborhood. My CAMH self sustains from the euphorias of mania, champagne, smoking Newports on fire escapes, beach fruit, and ripe summer strawberries dipped in the ocean and fed to me by a lover. My condo self skulks around in a gauzy numbness eating stale pizza crusts and massive amounts of Portuguese chicken, endlessly finding somewhere to be, and dodging the sunrise. My artist self theoretically enjoys reading, early night and early rise, making things, writing, and having intense philosophical discussions in my window with best friend.
The Japanese culturally based concept of macrobiotics is about looking at eating and life practice in a yin-yang shape. “To embrace the meaning of the symbol,” explains the Macrobiotic Guide, “is to understand that it represents the vibratory nature of all manifest phenomena, created by the interaction of opposing yet complementary forces the positive and negative, the aggressive and receptive, the masculine and feminine-all existing to encourage balance in the unfolding of life.” The yin-yang also has a little of each opposite half in its own. This presence of the opposite suggests constant movement—laws of attraction, repulsion, etc. —and so guarantees movement within the life process, growth and change. What a lovely form. If you start getting into macrobiotics, there are even all these neat tricks and charts and recipes you can fixate on if you can’t jive your worlds by yourself. Help is good. There are yin and yang foods, cooking methods, seasons, moods, ailments, everything. It is very helpful to see a connecting force in your life instead of seeing everything fractured and chaotic.
The following are pulled pretty much directly out of this book I love called The Self-Healing Cookbook By Kristina Turner. Take them however you want. It is deep, positive hippy wisdom, and I find it comforting. It is about getting in touch with what you need for your own happiness and balanced life where you are free and open to receive love, and getting to know and accept what causes you pain. I find it very challenging to follow guidelines, and also impractical. Let these ideas pass over you.