June 12, 2018
Toronto Islands, Canada
I spent two weeks on the Toronto Islands—a small cluster of islands south of the downtown core—for a residency, working on a project I said would be secret—and then proceeded to tell everyone about.
I woke up later than usual—I never set an alarm—due to the blackout blinds. I headed to the communal kitchen and made small talk with an installation artist while I waited for my coffee to steep. After I divulged what I was working on, she recommended I read Flatland by Edwin Abbott. The fact that I was still in my pyjamas forced an intimacy between me and the artists at the residency that I didn’t follow through with.
A writer, textile artist, and filmmaker walked into the kitchen. I won’t see the painters or musicians until dinner. There isn’t a punchline, it’s simply what happened. The writer and installation artist began to talk about New York. I saw this as my cue to get back to my desk and start writing.
A bit after noon, a photographer I’ve met a couple of times messaged me asking if I’d like to join him and his friend on the nearby beach. Since I’d gotten a good amount of work done, I decided to join them for a game of Scrabble. I walked through a trail that had been forged by men cruising in the ’90s to get to the beach, where I found them reading. The photographer was reading a book by Umberto Eco and his friend was reading Sick by Porochista Khakpour. I didn’t bring a book or my phone, so I simply lay in the sun and thought about my project.
The photographer lent me his sunscreen and I teased him about it being SPF 30. His friend offered me her coconut oil. SPF 3, she said. I opted on the side of caution and used the SPF 30, forfeiting any hope of a tan. They talked about photography and I listened while scouring the beach for pieces of ceramic—another artist at the residency was collecting found ceramics for an archaeology project. When I found three pieces of ceramic I was more excited than I previously thought it possible to be about a broken plate on a beach. I’m unable to articulate why finding fragments of a broken object made me feel part of something.
We began the game of Scrabble. Everyone took a long time to come up with a word and we constantly had to ask each other whose turn it was.
Midway through the game the tide came up quickly and we scrambled to move our belongings out of the lake’s reach. After the unexpected wash, we decided to end the game early. We each played our last word and tallied up the score. I looked at the friend’s remaining tiles and realized she could add an s to her last word, which I did for her. The extra point was what she beat me by.
I let the friend use my shower while the photographer and I waited in the kitchen. I came to this residency once with an ex-girlfriend, he told me. I asked how it went and he replied, We broke up halfway through. This makes sense: the island is a good place to break up with someone for the same way reason it’s a good place to make art: there’s no cell service.
When the friend came back she pouted, Maybe I shouldn’t have used coconut oil. Her whole body was burnt. When they left to catch the ferry, I felt weird not going with them. I’m used to my time on the island being ephemeral. There are few residential homes on the island—around 260 in total. The government actively makes it difficult for people to live on the island since they want to turn the entire piece of land into a park. Toronto, the city within a park! To dissuade people from living here, there’s a law that makes it illegal to sell groceries.
The residency is in the old schoolhouse; my room, an old office. The new school is a half a kilometre inland, safeguarding the children from potential flash flooding and erosion. Children who live on the island attend the school alongside children who live in downtown condos. (The island school is the closest option.) Each day they cross the ferry both ways to get to school. I find this charming, and biking past the school I paused to watch city-slicker children in raincoats explore the beach.
I biked to the marina and slipped through an opening in the fence that said no trespassers. The marina restaurant is supposed to be for members only. I could feel that my back was burnt, on account of me being too shy to ask someone to apply sunscreen to it. I had brought a book to read, but eavesdropped on other people’s conversations instead. A man I recognized from my neighbourhood was there with someone who wasn’t his wife. The island marina is the perfect place for an affair: far enough away from your life that you can forfeit guilt, plus there’s little chance of running into someone you know. The same geographic reasons make the island conducive to artmaking. I came to the conclusion that a good environment to make art and a good environment for a relationship are mutually exclusive things.
I ate half my sandwich and biked back to the residency. In the kitchen I ran into a painter who told me a story she’d told me three times already, I smiled and pretended it was my first time hearing it.
I took a selfie of the burn in the bathroom mirror and realized it was worse than I thought. I went to sleep and tried to sleep on my side. The next morning I took the ferry to the mainland to buy aloe and some groceries.