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.

Date # 1 – Fire and Ice

I felt all the nervousness of a first date. Honestly, the nerves that I feel when I am doing something on my own for the first time in general. So, I am telling myself the same thing that I do when I am in that place of feeling a little anxious about stepping outside whatever comfort zone I am stretching my toes outside of the lines – feel the discomfort or fear and do it anyway.

In this instance, I am not sure if the feelings stem from the uncertain feelings of heading into a large group of people after keeping my bubble relatively small throughout this pandemic. Or it might be venturing out into a social situation on my own after planning my social excursions to spend time with my former partner. Those first moments stepping into something new always feel a little wobbly, and then it often passes. It doesn’t always pass, but usually, it does.

I took the time to straighten my hair. My hair is long and tends towards curly. Taking the time to straighten it feels like I am taking extra effort and because I don’t do it all that often, it feels special and a little bit fancy. I took the time to put on some make-up even though I don’t usually wear it, but I almost always will make the effort for a first, second, or third date.

I turned down an invitation with a friend for the Friday night and brazenly declared that I was taking myself out for a date, so wasn’t free. There was a pause on the other end of the phone and the question, “so you aren’t free?” and I simply said that I wasn’t. And off I went to explore Fire and Ice downtown Ottawa on my first self date.

This was such a lovely first date event whether on my self-date or if I had been with another person. There was lots of relaxed movement on the street and a wide range of people milled around exploring. There were families with kids of all ages running between light displays and rolling in the snow in the small park. There were older couples who walked holding hands with the familiarity of love holding over decades. There were couples with the look of early dates, of flirtatious laughter, playful touch, and longing glances. There were groups of friends and what I assumed to be a few singletons wandering around at their own speed. And me.

As a first self-date, it was an ideal setting because any nervousness that I had about being on a date with myself melted away as it was clear that no one was paying the slightest bit of attention to me. I was able to wander in my own little world, lingering through the tunnel of lights and snapping pictures of the virtual flowers, bursting snowflakes, and playful sparks of fire playing on the street through my virtual app. I toggled between trying to capture the moments with my camera and enjoying just being. Soaking up the winter night air and the snowflakes falling gently around us all. In the small park at the end of closed-off Bank Street, there were four large screens that played a rotating light show of images with matching music that entertained on a two to three-minute loop. It was here that children gleefully danced around in movement mirroring the images and music that played and repeated.

It took me a little over an hour to wander along the street and then I returned to my car. I felt a little let down, and a bit sad. I took a couple of deep breaths and just sat with a curiosity as to what those feelings were all about. Here is what I learned…

I’ve dated on and off for close to forty years and at certain times of the dating process, I have put too much emphasis on what a date means or could mean, or what was possible. No one date, and more importantly, no one person can fulfill all your needs in any given moment. I felt all the pressure to make dating myself something magical and special and for it to feel like the very best dates that I have had with another person. What a lot of pressure on myself!!

What did I want next then, as the next question? I headed walked down the street to my car, I stopped and bought myself a London Fog latte and drove to Andrew Hayden Park and wandered around in the snowy evening, sipping my latte and enjoying the stillness along the multi-use trails. I loved the stillness. I kept my phone in my pocket so as to be full present in the moment rather than trying to capture that feeling in a picture. When I felt my energy start to shift, I hopped back in my car and headed for home.

A great date often ends with a kiss, or at least it does for me. How could I end my evening in a way that brought that playfulness and anticipation and a feeling of being complete? Fresh snow in my front yard called to me, so I set down my purse on the deck and climbed through the snow to a wide-open space and fell onto my back and made a big, beautiful snow angel, under the softly falling snow.

I’d rate the date a solid 8/10 and a good start to adventures in dating myself. Forty-nine more dates to go.

exploring the interactive art displays
Interactive art elements through the virtual app on my phone
My favourite was the transformational butterfly.
Ended the night with a playful snow angel in my front yard.

Where do I start… the list

I’m a planner. I always have been. When I feel stressed, or overwhelmed, I sit down and map out what is in front of me, set some goals, objectives, parameters, tasks and timelines. Things that help me create a sense of structure to move through. It should come as no surprise that I have same feeling as I approach dating myself 50 times over the next 43 weeks.

What do I want from my dates? Someone once sent me this very funny, and very true wikiHow page on “wooing an Aquarius woman.” It tickled every sense that I have of myself and so, I am challenging myself in the same way to create dates that “woo me”. Dates that stimulate my senses and that are fun, relaxing and interesting. I want dates that sometimes challenge me outside of my comfort zone. I want dates that are cozy and intimate and I want dates that are romantic and take a little more effort. I want a get-away weekend. Dates that stimulate my intellectual curiosity. These dates are not about taking myself to the gym on a Friday night, but it might be packing myself a special picnic and biking a little bit further up the hill in Gatineau Parc for an afternoon. It’s not just about doing something by myself – I regularly do that – but about having the intention of putting that extra effort into a date, into myself, in the same what that I approach dating someone new.

Along the way, I hope to learn more about myself and bring more intentional play and romance into my life.

Here is my first list of some of the dates that appeal to me, many things I’ve done before, a few that I haven’t, and in no particular order…

  •  Picnic in the park with all my favourite nibbly bits
  • River rafting
  • Kayaking
  • An afternoon wandering around the Ottawa Art Centre/National Art Gallery/Museum of History followed by a lingering tea and treats at the café
  • Exploring a new place to hike
  • Time at Nordik Spa on my own
  • A night out at the National Arts Centre, could be theatre, music, dance
  • A comfy date at home with candles and cuddles on the couch
  • Going out to listen to live music
  • A weekend getaway to Montreal
  • Paint night
  • Listening to a provocative speaker challenging me to think about things differently
  • Dinner out at the fanciest restaurant in town
  • Checking out a music festival in the park
  • An afternoon of bowling
  • Something that sneaks me away from work… in the middle of the week… in the middle of the afternoon
  • A bike ride to any of the little towns around Ottawa for lunch on a patio
  • Take myself out for a night of dancing
  • Wandering around the tulips at the Tulip Festival
  • An afternoon at the beach, playing in the water
  • Paddle boarding
  • Dinner at home with candles and fancy drinks
  • Thousand Islands boat cruise