Archives for September 2014

At the Stoplight

I am taking a class at the university’s downtown campus this semester – English 102, Introduction to Poetry. My other class this semester is a math class for prospective teachers, and when I finish these two classes I will be finished with my prerequisites and I will be able to apply to teacher training. The end is in sight. After a good summer semester, I’m feeling optimistic.

I’m not done yet, though, so every Monday evening I make the trek to the city for class. The drive isn’t bad, although the last few minutes of making my way through the downtown core during rush hour can be harrowing. Once I’m there, I spend three hours immersing myself in the world of poetry, parsing lines and words and syllables and punctuation marks for significance and sentiment. They say the devil’s in the details, and that’s never truer than when you’re reading a poem. What does it mean? What does any of it mean?

It’s a question that reaches far beyond poetry, as anyone can tell you. A poem is like a microcosm that contains every other part of life.

Once the class is over I find myself in an altered frame of mind. I’m sifting everything I see, weighing shadows and colours and pedestrian crossing lights, letting it all seep through me, asking it to tell me a story. What does it mean? What does any of it mean?

poetry traffic lightAnd so, yesterday evening when I was stopped at a red light and I glanced to the right, I looked at the scenery with different eyes. Things that I might normally have overlooked, or not noticed, stood out in sharp relief. Every little nuance seemed replete with substance, placed there to tell me something.

I was looking in the window of a shiny coffee shop, a signal of the neighbourhood’s gentrification. Just inside the window, sitting at a bar that butted up against the window was a woman. She was facing me, but her eyes were fixed on the laptop open in front of her. She looked to be about my age, give or take. Perhaps she lives in one of the newer housing units in the area. Perhaps she works or volunteers at one of the local non-profits. Perhaps she was escaping the chaos of a house filled with young children to get some work done now that her partner was home.

The coffee shop door nearest to me, to the right of the woman, was blocked with yellow caution tape, betraying the seedier reality of this street corner in one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the country. Seeing it, I pressed the button to lock my car doors, and then immediately chastised myself. You are perfectly safe, I told myself. Quit acting like a bumpkin.

As I clucked at my own suburban sensibilities, I noticed a man sitting on the sidewalk, his back against the coffee shop window and his legs bent in front of him. He had a baseball cap pulled down low over his eyes, and he was wearing a red track suit, which was several years out of style and too large on his body. I couldn’t see his face clearly, but he had that look of advancing years that comes from too many cares. Still, it wouldn’t have surprised me to learn that the man, and the woman in the coffee shop and I were all the same age, give or take.

We were a strange trio, the three of us, made stranger still by the fact that neither of the other two saw me. There was a clean, well-dressed woman working in a coffee shop that is doing its best to bring life into an area that is long past declining, and well into downtrodden territory. There was a man positioned midway between us on the sidewalk, curled up and just sitting. Maybe waiting. Maybe resting. Probably wrestling with demons I don’t know about. And then there was me, a suburban mom of two, taking university classes in her spare time, wide-eyed and uncertain in the big city.

Coming from my poetry class I tried to parse it all. The caution tape. The shiny glass window. The laptop computer. My locked car doors. The too-big, but mostly clean, track suit on the man. The dirty sidewalk. The smell of late summer and car exhaust and the ocean and urine. The deepening darkness as evening settled into night. The happenstance that brought three strangers within feet of each other for only a few moments. What does it mean? What does any of it mean?

I don’t know what the woman was doing, or what the man was doing. If I’m honest I’m not even sure what I was doing. How can I find meaning in a poem, or a song, or a situation, or a coffee shop, if I struggle to find the meaning in my own mind? What does it mean? What does any of it mean?

And then, before I got too lost in my thoughts, the light turned. I shook my head once, and drove home to my family. I might not know what it means, but I know where I belong. That, at least, is something.

Pizza Crust Pandemonium

I’ve been feeling a little bit sheepish about my lack of blogging. I’ve been meaning to come back here and give an update on what’s happening in my life. I want to tell you all what’s happening with my return to school, my running, the continuing renovations on my house, and just how much tea is in my tea cupboard right now. I will do all of those things, soon. Right now, though, I have something very important to discuss: the pizza crust pandemonium that is sweeping the continent.

I remember that day almost 20 years ago when I first sampled a stuffed crust pizza. At first blush, the idea of putting more mozza inside a pizza crust sounded like genius. I love cheese. The world can always use more cheese. However, when I actually tasted the pizza I discovered that the world did not need this cheese. The stuffed crust cheese did not taste good to me. It tasted different than the cheese on top of the pizza, and the texture was all wrong. I resolved to avoid it in the future.

pizza crust

Picking up pizza, with a totally regular crust

Sadly, in the nearly two decades since that day, the world has not come to its senses. Stuffed crust pizza was followed by a whole lot of different kinds of pizza crust. The worst – and it literally caused me to vomit in my mouth a little – was the hot dog pizza crust, in which weiners are baked right into the crust of the pizza. All that I can say to this is why? I am not above eating a hot dog. I adore pizza. However, because I have good sense I understand that these two foods are best enjoyed separately. Adding two good things together doesn’t necessarily make them better. Sometimes it just makes them wrong. This? Very wrong. Some people may be willing to try it, but I am not one of them.

Yesterday when I was watching TV I saw a commercial for the pretzel crust pizza. Apparently, it’s America’s newest fast food twist. And while it doesn’t hit my buttons nearly as hard as the hot dog pizza, once again I’m asking myself why. What is it about our culture that causes us to take something that is perfectly good, or even great, and try to optimize it? Why can we not just say that pizza is great, and we can accept it for the wonderfulness that it is without constantly trying to mix it up and take it to the next level? Why can we not just be satisfied with awesome, cheesy goodness of pizza?

Some innovations are great, I’m sure. While I haven’t tried a cronut, I’m sure people love them for a reason, and I bet I’d enjoy them myself. And brunch really is the perfect fusion of breakfast and lunch. I also concede that I spend a lot of my time telling my children that you can’t know whether or not you’ll like it until you try it. Sometimes, though, I think can really can know before you try it. Chocolate sauce just doesn’t belong on lasagna. Hot sauce just doesn’t belong on waffles. And crazy crusts do not belong on my pizza.

Perhaps it’s a sign of my advancing age that I am suspicious of these pizza innovations. Or perhaps it’s just that I’ve tried some of them, and I prefer a regular slice of pizza. Eaten with my hands, of course. Because knives and forks are all well and good, but they should never touch pizza. Whatever the reason, I’m a traditionalist, and I’m not afraid to admit it. Pizza is great as it is, so keep your paws off my crust.

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