Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Coffee, Anyone?

I sit in my favourite café in downtown Montreal, listening to the sound of bulldozers and tractors. The street is still under siege as construction workers lay new pipes and widen the sidewalks. I try to pick up the thread of music playing indoors but the singer is drowned out by the cacophony outside. Surprising that anyone else is here – but there are dozens of customers drinking lattés as they tap on keyboards or flip through papers. A few, like me, write in lined journals.

What you find here at 3:30 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon are usually students, the self-employed or the retired. We are each in our private worlds, focusing on the material in front of us as the aroma of freshly ground coffee beans wafts by. Our heads lift periodically to watch the human traffic streaming past the window.

The voices around me are a mixture of English, French, male and female - talking, laughing, telling stories. Friends meeting friends. A middle-aged woman wanders in alone, carrying a backpack. She heads straight for the desserts – an array of breads, cookies and cakes, mostly chocolate. I skirted temptation by ordering a blueberry scone with green tea. By the time I demolish the scone, my appetite is sated. The young dark-haired man across from me sips from his cup the same moment as me.

People aren’t so different from birds. We flock together. Even if we’re not connected, we like to observe, to be where the action is. As a writer I can’t afford to be isolated. I need to witness human behaviour first-hand – and hopefully to get inspired.

A fluffy flower seed twirls through the open window and past my table, air-borne by the breeze. It too seeks fertile ground. Maybe neither of us will find it in the remaining hours before sunset, but at least we’re here.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Do You Believe in Love?

As I walk along the river this afternoon, enjoying the colourful autumn leaves, I see a white-haired couple. The man’s arm is thrown around the woman’s shoulders and they speak softly together. Laugh.

After feeding a horde of hungry ducks, I start back home. I meet the same two people, who have also reversed direction. They step aside to let me pass but instead I slow to their pace. They exude contentment and perfect ease with each other and the world. They are also in their 80s and have been married 65 years.

We chat as we stroll in the sunshine. Talking about the past, they tease each other. Flirt. The details of their lives seem ordinary enough – met at the YMCA, had three children, nine grandchildren. He supported her for twenty years as she raised a family; then she entered the workforce. “Everyone loved her,” he says, meaning her co-workers. “And who wouldn’t?” His eyes sparkle as he gazes at her.

She says she had nine brothers and sisters. I ask if they are still around. She says yes, looking confused as he gently reminds her that they have passed on.

In these days of soaring divorce rates and break ups, I find myself moved. Doug and Mary have the kind of love people yearn for when they mention “soul mates.” As a romance writer, I need to believe that love can endure. Today I have living proof.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Feeding the Ducks

As our days shorten and get cooler, our appetites sharpen. It’s no different for ducks. This morning I fed a few mallards in the park. They fought over the morsels – the bread was whole wheat, after all, not the cheap white imitation they normally receive. Bread in beak, they toddled over to the river bank to dunk their findings before gobbling them down. Then they scrambled over a mound of fallen leaves and came back for more. Greedy buggers. I had five thick slices but all went quickly.

I love birds – especially graceful blue herons and egrets (which unfortunately do not venture as far north as Montreal). It must be their sense of freedom. The closest I come to seeing the world from the air is in a plane and I have to first buy tickets and go to the airport. The birds just spread their wings and lift off.

Yesterday I saw a flock of ducks flying in formation, practicing for the long journey south. I admired their discipline. I have trouble getting out of bed some chilly mornings.

It feels good to feed them. By now they’ve grown accustomed to the sound of my voice and look out for me. They do not totally trust humans. It’s hunting season here and from the trees across the water comes the sound of guns.

I wish I could keep them all safe.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

The Truth about Happiness

It’s a rainy night – cold and wet – with autumn leaves tumbling from the sky. Fewer people walk the streets now, preferring the comfort and warmth of their homes. I too sit indoors, curled up on my couch as darkness falls.

I just spent a few hours with a dear friend, someone who can see into my soul and who offers words of wisdom which come from both insight and years of experience. In his eyes I see my best self reflected – strong and independent, yet thoughtful and considerate of others. I feel we have shared our concerns as well as communicated our high regard for each other. Our exchange satisfies me in a way that superficial conversation never can.

Some of us expect to find happiness by amassing “things” – whether the latest iPod or a new car. Yet the pleasure in acquiring things is fleeting at best. We become restless after awhile and then hunger for something else. By trying to impress others with what we have, we are really trying to impress ourselves.

To be happy I need to feel good about myself. To do this, I can take actions such as helping someone else or meeting a challenge. Both raise my self-esteem. I can also appreciate the give-and-take of a relationship. We all need to be understood and to express the love we hold inside. I find this is often what brings the greatest joy.