An exploration of Landscape and Identity at the Ottawa Art Gallery – Date #2

Any good date is more about the connection than the location, or time of day. I woke up this morning and was having a really lazy feeling and was struggling to get moving. However, I had made a date with myself for this morning at 10 am at the Ottawa Art Gallery and I needed to get going. I debated continuing to lounge in bed and skipping out on going to the gallery because it was a rainy, miserable day and my bed was super cozy. There was no one who was waiting for me like a “real” date and then I realized what I was doing in my head.

I was making myself less important than the value that I would have offered to someone else if I was meeting them for a date somewhere. Part of the journey of dating myself, of romancing myself, of making time spent doing activities more than just an opportunity to do something on my own. I wanted to shift my energy to ensure that I was making myself a priority and not an option in my own life. It is what I want from a partner at some point, and for that to happen, I also need to make myself a priority.

I got myself going and dressed for a daytime date in jeans, a nice casual flowing black top with my favourite red and black coverup over it. I took the time to pick out my mala bead necklace to wear along with it. The beads soothe me when I am not feeling my best and it was helpful when I was nursing a bit of a headache, but still wanted to head out on my date with myself.

Today’s date and connection with myself was to the Ottawa Art Gallery and I had planned for a Saturday morning date since the OAG is not open in the evenings. Originally I had planned to ride my bike, but with the grey rainy weather, and a faint headache persisting in the background, I chose to take my car downtown.

Entrance to the Ottawa Art Gallery

I was interested in this date with myself because of an exhibit by Don Kwan, a Chinese-Canadian artist whose work looked compelling as it grappled with the issues of identity, place, representation, and family memories. At the centre of his work was a Chinese lantern that he hung outdoors and photographed throughout the changing seasons over two years. He had removed the glass inserts that contained the images of his family members and these were on display in one part of the exhibit. What remained of the lantern after the documentation was presented, as photographed throughout the seasons.

Landscape and Loss, Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall
Remnants of a palace lantern, hung in tribute to the artist’s mother and father who died in 2019.

Another exhibit that moved me was entitled “To play in the face of certain defeat” by Esmaa Mohamoud. The artist uses representative art to explore sports as a covert form of neo-slavery. The athletic equipment and symbols illustrate the pervasive discriminatory behaviours and attitudes based on race, class, gender, and sexuality. The art had me reflecting on the fetishizing of sports figures, and the dynamic of often white sports club owners making money from racialized athletes.

Art by Esmaa Mohamoud

There was other art that I felt drawn to, including these two beautiful pieces.

Mushrooms is by S. Maria Brandt and the other is “Evergreen” by Kazuo Nakamura

After leaving the art gallery, I was not quite ready to end the date with myself and wandered looking for an independent coffee shop to grab a treat and a drink. Unfortunately, as I explored a couple of my favourites, they were either closed or were fuller than I felt comfortable with as we move into this stage of the pandemic where it is no longer required to be fully vaccinated in restaurants and no capacity limits. Along the way, I admired how the theme of today’s date remained present as I admired some street art along the way. I fondly remembered all the street art I have admired over the years as I traveled to other countries and places. One of my favourite things to do in a new city is to wander looking at public art. It builds a sense of connection to the culture of a community, and it is one of the most accessible ways to explore a city when I am traveling.

A sampling of some street art along Somerset Street West, Ottawa

Disappointed that my first choice for a tea and a treat was not open, I wandered back to my car. Along the way, I saw someone weaving back and forth across the sidewalk headed towards me. He had no shirt or socks on and appeared to be wearing a grey towel wrapped around his waist and a black t-shirt wrapped around his head. He was muttering to himself and waving his hands in my direction. I had seen this gentleman earlier, as I was driving my car as they had been standing on a street corner taking off his clothes and shouting at the top of his lungs in a mumbled jumble of words that I could not decipher. I felt somewhat anxious as the person was potentially high, or in the midst of a mental health crisis and I was uncertain as to his intention. He was clearly headed directly for me even as I tried to discreetly move out of his path. As he got really close, he appeared to be handing me something in his hand and although the potentially safer response would have been to avoid him, I felt compelled to reach out to him in the spirit of connection. He opened his hand to reveal a somewhat crumpled and tired-looking orange tulip bud. I accepted it, said thank you, and paused to offer him something in return, but he waved me off, took a bow and kept on moving. I was touched – a gift of a flower on my date with myself. It felt manifested because all this week I was trying to figure out how to send myself flowers in a way that they would be delivered at a time when I was least expecting it, just like an impromptu gift from a partner. And here was a flower, presented to me by someone that I initially felt fear and concern for.

As I wrapped up my date with myself, I reflected on the fact that I had once again chosen a date that was easy to access from a solo date perspective. There were several people wandering the gallery on their own, and occasionally a group of two or three people would wander by. The date is genuinely something that interests me – a variety of artist perspectives – and stimulated my interest in visual art, as well as gave me a great deal to contemplate from an intellectual perspective. I realized I was judging myself for not being more outside of my comfort zone, for not challenging myself to someplace that was less comfortable as a singleton and I wondered why that was.

I reflected on a conversation that I had recently with a friend when I told them I was embarking on a project to date myself and had planned to tackle 50 dates in the remaining weeks of the year. She laughed at me a bit and told me that most people might have challenged themselves to maybe ten dates and wondered out loud why I needed to make it such a big goal. In my reflection, I realized that I had not only set myself this challenge, but I also felt that there was a need to push myself to do things that were always outside my comfort zone. That is indeed a part of my personality, but I also want the process of dating myself to be a process of my own self-discovery as well. What are the activities that I want to spend time on because they are of passionate interest to me? If I make myself a priority, how can I tap into my needs, wants, desires and explore who I am at my core? As I continue to reflect on who I want in my ideal partner, I want to also use this time to ensure that I explore who I want to be, now and into the future. I want to spend time investing in the person that I want to be and continue to develop myself into the kind of partner that the partner I hope to attract, will also find attractive. I am certainly enough as I am. but in making myself a priority in my own life, I know that I will have a clearer sense of who I am outside of the contributions that I make in my professional and volunteer life, or how I have defined myself as a parent.

And that is someone worth spending time with. I rated this date a 10/10.

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