monday grumps: walking

19/07/2010 § Leave a comment

Spinning in circles will tire you out, make you nauseous, and get you no where, but they can be fun. Ideas and possibilities are swirling around in my mind like soft-ice cream spiraled, made conical. I have a project due this Wednesday, so I tinker with the wheels.

For class, we were given an assignment that pulls at our curious tendencies. Each one of us has to find something or someone that intrigues us, interview that someone or someone affiliated with that something, take the data and spin it into an artistically woven story, an intricately knitted blanket to wrap around humanity. Being given a deadline was my piece of cheese.

I biked around the city in search of a tale. I looked under slides and swings, dug in the sand, climbed the apex of the jungle gym, looking for something interesting. When T told me that she was going to help a man with his Facebook page, a mayoral candidate who’s campaign is to turn Toronto into a province, I felt the pull of curiosity, like a centrifugal force. I found my merry-go-round.

Remaining open and de-personalized from rejection, I asked her to talk to him about doing an interview with me. I pessimistically thought that it would be impossible, that he wouldn’t have time for a silly school project. I begun to spin new webs of ideas, poking around for other possibilities that have caught my attention before. Patrick, from Conspiracy Culture bookstore on Queen Street? The gambling ring in the Vietnamese restaurant, where we eat pho as loud laughing, beer-sipping gentlemen exchange inconspicuous handshakes? The band of middle-aged Portuguese men who sit around on Tuesday nights, surrounded by pictures and figurines of the Virgin Mary, the enclosed veranda lit by white Christmas-lights? I was beginning to feel desperation. I did not have much time, nor energy, to quicken my pace and bite the cheese.

Nevertheless, I was sated. Moments later, T texted me to say that Mr. Vallance agreed to the interview. I sighed with relief from the nausea, tummy full.

I was new to conducting an interview. My teacher, Kate Carraway, recommended that we develop a persona for the interview.

– For example, I conduct an interview in all black. I remain Stoic, yet receptive. I have a list of questions, I ask them directly, I write notes and record the voice. I give it an hour, and then I leave.

– Oh.

Cycling to Mr. Vallance’s house, I was not nervous. My belly did not flip-flop — I did just eat a bowl of pho — and I had cachéed a twist-off topped bottle of Pinot Noir (with notes of vinegar). I reasoned that a failed interview could easily segue into a laid-back conversation over a glass of terrible tannins.  I had to remind myself that “getting the story” was not the objective, rather just a discussion over his thoughts about an unfamiliar topic. It was supposed to be an experience, an informal classroom, or just the fundamentals of what it means to be a social creature. That was nothing to be anxious about.

Meeting him for the first time — his steadied approach to the screen door, clothes faded from years of wash & starch — was humbling. He looked like an everyday man, not a streak of intimidation behind his eyes, which were blue, not icy, but like a sun-streaked sky. Yes, there was a warm and befriending sparkle.

So it was, after an hour-and-a-half conversation about his campaign and politics and jokes, slightly fermented but still funny, and self-proclaiming his love of numbers, I discovered that, indeed, he is an everyday man.

– My wife she is a marvel. She can go into a yard sale, pick out 6 items and 4 of them will fit other people. She’s a talent, that one.

Although I was confused about the numbers of his comment — I am a self-proclaimed non-numbers person, despite my knack with them — I was touched by the sincerity of his affection for his wife. Even when spinning charts and graphs in my face, wheels of hand-coloured demographic census tracts, his demeanour was nothing short of human.

So, how do you write about somebody like that? Somebody who, not only has ideas that change the way you think but is amiable, intelligent, somebody I already respect? How do you take apart the mechanics of information to expose the workings of something deeper, something similar to the wheels of his soul?

So it was, that I went for a walk. I usually find that the timely cadence of a walk allows floating ideas to settle into place. The rhythm of the heel-toe on the pavement provides an opportunity to slow down and observe — to put things into a timely perspective. It reminds the mind, a subject of imagination, that the ground is where we practice life, where we live as compassionate creatures.

Although I could conjure Mr. Vallance as a caricature, an embellished figurine in the games of politics, I will not. After my walk, after being pulled off the merry-go-round of painted possibilities, I touched down and decided to just write about him as a real person.

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