MONDAY 9:46 AM:
Sitting in some hipster cafe in the “safe” part of parkdale this morning, killing time while I wait for our airstream trailer to arrive for a day of story-recording. Oh, I hadn’t told you about this, yet? Well, here we go.
T.Ode is a thing, a thing on wheels, that means so so much in the context of a city that doesn’t know how to converse with itself. The name was inspired by a song by Toronto’s own MC Abdominal and Notes to Self — an ode to the screwface capital, the megacity, stinky cranky hogtown, and all its joys and quirks. East, West, North, South, and the spots in between.
Under the umbrella of Humanitas, this forms part of a festival piece called “The Toronto Story” — a seemingly endless series of histories and mysteries that come straight from the mouths of those who live here, feel here, shape here, love here, hate here, build here, grow here, are here. This city, like any other, is filled with people still adjusting to each other and to their environment.
I’ve been working behind the scenes on this project for months. Pouring days and nights of worrying, imagining, talking, phone-dialing, ttc-riding, map-reading, and politically-guided decision-making into developing some kind of roadmap of T.Ode story-collection. Making the pieces fit is an ongoing process, of course. Sometimes, realizing that they don’t and won’t fit can be even more interesting. We are such terribly adaptable creatures, us humans.
Now, at location number fifteen (nearly at the halfway mark on our total list of thirty-six locations), given a morning of idle coffeeshop brooding, I’m forced to reflect on what’s really happening with this thing, this big beautiful beast on wheels.
“How is it going?” people ask me. “What kinds of stories are you getting?”
Well, let me tell you how it’s going, and let me tell you about these stories. They are all extremely personal and intimate and exciting and loving and terrifying, even the seemingly banal ones, all at once. It feels like an act of love to tell a story to a complete stranger, and the little over-sensitive worrier in me can’t help but feel little startled that people are letting us in so easily. Stranger-to-stranger interaction happens — not often, but it does — on the bus sometimes, at the grocery store in the fruit section, at the laundromat, in long impatient queues. It happens, but not like this.
Torontonians have been sharing their hopes and their dreams. They’ve been talking about how frightened they were as children growing up with violent gangs in Cabbagetown, they’ve told us how heartbroken they feel over their ruined marriages and lost loves, they’ve been sharing so much anger, so much peace, and so much joy. Stories about being homeless, about being detained by police in post-9/11 hysteria, about how much it sucks to have your bike stolen every summer. Stories about moving here for love, about neighbourhood quirkiness, about taking risks, about the joys of daily routine. Even the conversations that happen outside of the trailer and away from the microphones have been phenomenal — stories about drug addiction, stories about fighting, stories about having no stories. The ones who say “but I don’t have a story” are my favourites — everyone has a story.
Of course, it’s not all easy — human interaction hardly ever is. It takes a lot of work to achieve any sort of ease, to build trust, and especially to cast off stupid socialized fake instincts. On the part of the story-collector, a very conscious decision must be made to break out of the comfort zone, to approach people and topics and situations you’ve been told time and again to steer clear of. On the part of the story-teller, the protective shield that so many city-dwellers tote around on a daily basis must be shed, and the advice of so many children’s shows (“never talk to strangers”) openly defied. Why should I open up to you? Why should you open up to me?
I want so badly to keep a record of all of our days on the trailer, of all our interactions. Of every look exchanged, of every crumb of understanding gained. My mind is buzzing.
Shoot, guess I’d better start posting more often.