Brain Tracking, Psycho, and a Pig’s Head

People standing in an alley, looking at the buildings

I’ve always loved Halloween: the macabre, the colour, the scents and sounds of autumn. When I think “Halloween” the image of  sinister jack-o-lanterns, crows, and yellow leaves come to mind. This year, the holiday featured a different kind of delight: headwear that tracks your brain waves, a screening of Psycho accompanied by a live orchestra, and a dance party with a talking pig’s head, where you could sign-up for your own funeral.

People standing in an alley, looking at the buildings
Psychology on the Street walking tour

Psychology on the Street

The holiday fell on a Saturday this year and it took no time to fill up with festivities.  I started my day at the Urbanspace Gallery at 401 Richmond for Psychology on the Street. Since the summer, I’ve been fascinated by how urban design affects our day-to-day well-being. Combine that with my love of assistive technology and new gadgets, and you have one happy Nell. This walk promised to do both.

The walk was part of a university study on how different urban environments affect our state of mind. Each participant at the gallery was given a Muse electroencephalogram (EEG) headset and a smartphone with a tailor-made app for the study. My master’s thesis had been on eye-controlled technology when brain-control technology was coming onto the consumer market. I was ecstatic to finally  handle a Muse headband.

Muse headsets in hard cases on the floor
Muse headbands

The headband felt delicate in my hand and took some time to position correctly on my head. We calibrated it through thinking and association exercises, followed by playing some games on the phone app were were provided. Once we were all set-up, we were guided through the neighbourhood, stopping at specific locations to observe and perform tasks on the app. Tasks included rating out emotional response to the environment on a scale 1 to 5, word association, and occasional number games on the phone.

I found myself wondering how the study would reflect different perceptions of space. For example, one alley screamed “Photoshoot!” to me, while the Art Deco typeface used on an otherwise bland building captivated my attention during our minute of silent observation. How did our life experiences and professions affect our perceptions?

After the walk, we handed in our headsets and phones. The principal investigator gave a short spiel on the study. It wasn’t anything new really, having read the information boards in the gallery and listened to the feature Spark on CBC did a couple weeks back. I looked longingly at the galvanic skin response sensors we hadn’t got to use, and left.


Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is a classic! My first introduction to Psycho had been a Royal Canadian Air Farce parody with a Furby, but when I saw the actual film later in life, a shower was never the same… Combine it with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and you have the perfect Halloween date!

I dressed up as a dark angel with black wings, a vamp dress, and my heel-less heeled boots. Matt wore costume make-up and ghoulish contact lenses, turning into a very handsome zombie. The theatre was full of people in costume,  including the symphony. One of the members was even dressed up as an actual shower – genius!

I had forgotten much of the film’s story and became totally engrossed in the film. We had excellent seats from which we could comfortably see both the screen and the orchestra below. Matt pointed out that it was all strings – no wind, brass, or percussion. I had never noticed that in the music before.

It was fantastic!

Dark stairwell lit by red lights
Eerie entrance to Ghost Hole

Ghost Hole

After the show, I met up with some friends at Ghost Hole, a Halloween party at the Jam Factory. The place was packed! I had difficulty navigating the crowds with my wings on, but everyone else had such elaborate costumes on that it didn’t matter.

There were abstract projections on the screen, sound art, and a band that reminded me of the Flying Lizards. At the door was a bloody ghost dancing next to a pig’s head mounted on the wall. Caitlin urged me to go talk to the pig. I was resistant at first, but was glad once she convinced me as it was highlight of the event for me! Once I approached, the ghost handed me a headset and directed me towards a mic between the pig’s teeth. The pig and I had then had a short but delightful conversation about the meaning of life, which according to the pig, was bacon!

My friends had signed up by SMS to have their funeral that evening. This involved being lead into a private room with a funeral director and an organist. The director had quick words with the ‘deceased’ before leading them to a child’s coffin. She would then make-up on the spot a hilarious speech based on whatever the deceased had isolated as her passions. This was followed by strobe lights and a masked devil jumping out from behind the curtains. It amused us every time!

I didn’t stay late as I was quite tired from a week of 5am wake-up calls. So, I took the bus home in the rain and curled up in bed. It had been a wonderful day! Perhaps the best Halloween since I paraded the streets with a pillowcase of candy as a child!

A Beautiful Morning and a Bicycle Accident

I awoke at 7:00 and checked my email. As there was nothing pressing, I went back to bed and woke up hours later to piano music. It was beautiful, soft music coming from the neighbours house, and I pretty sure it was someone playing – not a recording. The sun was coming through my curtains and the birds were chirping. It was a beautiful way to start the day!

I made a cup of tea and washed some strawberries for my breakfast. I finished packing for my Europe trip next week, and put on Chopin once the live piano music stopped. I did my first blog post of the year for my travel blog, A Black Beret Abroad, then had a FaceTime meeting with Charles to discuss the presentations we’re giving tomorrow on accessible media and documents for the students at Ryerson.

After a humble lunch of asparagus, egg, and rhubarb pie, I packed up my laptop and made to leave the house. My friends were at Christie Pits Park, so I thought I’d pop by and say hello before going to find a patio or cafe to do some work. First, I thought I better stop by the beauty shop at Dufferin and Bloor to pick up one last thing for Germany. So instead of going East, I headed West down Shanly Street.

Collision with a Moped

As I cycled down the Delaware Avenue, I felt like I’d forgotten something. Then I remembered my helmet. Should I go back? Oh, I was just going a short distance down residential streets, so it should be fine. Anyway, there’s all those recent studies on how cyclists wearing helmets get in more accidents than those without.

Murphy’s Law.

I turned onto Shanly Street and approached the intersection at Dovercourt Road. An old lady was crossing the crosswalk, so I went too. As I was nearing the other side, I noticed that the approaching moped wasn’t slowing down, and then BAMB – I went down. Apparently I flew a few feet! From the pavement, I looked up to see the old lady walking away down Shanly, now safely on the sidewalk. The moped driver had fallen too, his bike and him beyond the construction equipment just south of the intersection.

I got up. I was okay – scraped and bruised, but fine. The moped driver was getting up t0o. His wife, also on a moped, was yelling at him. People from the sidewalk came over. People came out of their houses. People stopped their cars and got out. It was if the whole community was coming out to see how we were doing.

I was nonchalant at first, but fortunately one of the women was able to convince me to sit down. I then realized that I was shaking. Multiple people offered me water. One woman ran home and got ice packs, wet dishcloths, and paper towels. They helped to me clean up as the wife tended to her husband. The women dragged my bike over to the fence (it was totaled) and helped me out of my backpack.

The moped driver was extremely apologetic. I felt sorry for him. He was more hurt than me – his collar bone was disconnected and he was badly scraped. I was tempted to default into saying “Its alright.”  but I didn’t. It wasn’t alright. Someone could have died or been seriously hurt. His wife said he’d had a stroke the week before – that didn’t help the sentiment in the crowd. I said I’d hope he’d be alright. That was true.

There was a social worker in the crowd, and she was counseling me to get the man to pay for the damage to my bike. I didn’t want to make a fuss, and I could tell that him and his wife were low-income, so I kept brushing off the idea. The man said he’d fix the bike for me, but as well-meaning as he was, I didn’t think that would be a good idea.

The paramedics and police came very quickly – I was surprised! Even though I said I was fine, they checked me out. It was interesting being inside the ambulance as I’d only seen them in the British detective dramas I watch. I was impressed by how well organized and compact everything was, optimizing the small space.

The police officer went on a long rant about how mopeds are considered bicycles under the law, even though they can go extremely fast. The law has yet to be updated to reflect their speed or danger they pose. Apparently its legal to ride a moped drunk – who would have thought! He said he couldn’t file a report, as it wasn’t a car or motorcycle.

The two women who had brought me first aid materials walked me home. They insisted on carrying my bags and bicycle for me, and made sure I got in safely. I was struck by their kindness – by the whole community’s kindness! It was incredible how everyone came together.

Once home, I undressed and found I had way more bruises and cuts than I thought. My first worry was the pictures for Nicole’s wedding, but the worst is on my lower body and inside of my arms, so I think it should be fine. Really, the accident could have been so much worse. I felt so lucky that this was all that had happened to me, the man, and that the old lady had escaped, totally unscathed (and possibly oblivious to what transpired). Good thing I was wearing jeans and my Blundstones too – not the cute summer dress and heels I had been considering to wear to the park!

My laptop was fine too. So, after a shower and applying Polysporin and Arnica cream all over my body, I set up my laptop to continue work on my slides. I may look pretty bad ass at my presentation tomorrow! Accessible Document Design in the rough!

Happy Day

Photo of strawberries, a theatre ticket, and a hand reaching for a rhubarb pie on a white table

Canada Day fell on a Wednesday this year. It felt like a weekend, bordered by two two-day work weeks. When I awoke at 6:45am I was greeted by a wondrous sight. The view outside my window was blurred by white fog. It was so thick that I couldn’t see the houses one street over on the west side of Dovercourt Road.

I tried to take a picture of the view with my iPhone, but it wasn’t translating well to digital. I was still groggy from the night before, so I went back to bed. When I awoke again at 9am, the fog had cleared and the sun was out! It was almost as if I’d dreamed the whole fog thing…

As it was Wednesday, I took advantage of the $1.50 special at the Laundromat at Hallam/Ossington. I try not to go there as the old lady working there is a very difficult personality to deal with, but $1.50 for a double load is too good a deal to miss sometimes!

In-between loads, I finished packing for my trip to Europe on Friday (minus a couple things of course). I bought some asparagus and a lemon at the grocers’ and set about making myself a late lunch. I tended to some emails, phoned my Mum, and before I knew it, it was time to go pick up my tickets for the Fringe Festival.
Photo of strawberries, a theatre ticket, and a hand reaching for a rhubarb pie on a white table

Cheese to Theatre

I was going to support a friend’s local theatre production called the Woolgatherer at the Fringe, directed by a recent ex of mine. On route to the show, I stumbled across a farmers market in a parking lot just off of Bathurst and Bloor. It was full of people, vendors, and good natured dogs enjoying the sun.

I love farmers markets, and one of the vendors was from Beamsville, a town near where I grew up, so I bought fresh strawberries and a rhubarb pie from them. I also picked up some cheese too – I love cheese!

I’m not quite sure what cheese I bought, but it was cut into sweet little triangles with a grey rind – and under $5! I love the different textures and tastes of real cheese – not the crap you buy in the supermarket, but real cheese. This stuff actually has flavour and texture to it. That and the cheese lady had an incredible hairdo – shaved at the sides with a purple and blue victory roll at the front!

Come 6:15pm, I cycled over to the theatre in good time for the show. The play Woolgatherer was about a crazy young girl and a trucker who falls in love with her. To my surprise, not only Yehuda and his new girlfriend was at the show – but his entire family! I was unprepared for that.

After the show, Yehuda and his family came over to me to say hello. Everyone was very happy and it was nice to see Yehuda’s family one last time. However, once hugs and kisses on both cheeks were exchanged, I quickly went to find the nearest washroom to go cry in.

I had meant to do work that evening, but was feeling distracted by all the emotions that came up. So, I went to Civil Liberties with a good book (totally enthralled with Happy City) to have a glass of Islay whiskey among people, candlelight, and vintage tunes. However, the atmosphere wasn’t as communal and chatty as usual, so I left after only one drink.

An Unexpected Gathering

To my good fortune, my friend Kitty was zooming down Bloor Street on her bike as I was getting onto my own. “Nell! Come to my house! I’m late for my own party!” She yelled towards me as she continued down the street.


I stopped in at my house to drop my book and pick up a beer. I found Kitty in her backyard breaking twigs around a fire, accompanied by our mutual friend Jamie and a fellow I didn’t know.

“Nell, you look nice!” Jamie said as I sat down.

Without thinking, I replied back, “Thanks! I just saw my ex who I hadn’t seen since we broke up in February.” Then realizing I was in the company of another, turned to Kitty’s friend and said, “Hi! I’m Nell.” to which laughter ensued.

More and more people slowly joined the fire, many of which were accompanied by instruments. There was an accordion, a ukulele, two types of guitars, and a cello. I was tempted to run home and get my harp, but the atmosphere was too enjoyable to leave, even for a minute!

Kitty was being the ideal hostess, getting everyone drinks, lighting candles, and being charming as usual. Someone brought marshmallows and soon fireworks were going off overhead from the neighbouring yard. It was lovely!

Once I started getting dozy, I moseyed on home to the song of House of the Rising Sung being sung around the fire. It was beautiful, and lasted with me the whole ride home.

Now I sit at home with the scent of campfire still on my clothes and the distant sound of fireworks going off in the distance. Today really was a wonderful day – it really felt like a whole weekend in one day!

A happy day indeed.

The End

Footprints in the snow

The world outside my window was one of discontent. The sky was flat and pale. Snow blew across its face and between the red brick houses below. I cradled my cup of tea in my hands as I gazed out the window. The thought of leaving home on a day such as this was unsavoury, but necessary. Packing up my laptop and library books, I swung my bag over my shoulder and left the warm comfort of home.

It was the eve of the break-up. I had planned it all out in my mind: what I would say, his reply… Around and around in my head it went, along with the nagging reminder that conversations never went as planned. But I knew that I had to get out. Out of my head, and out of this house that was filled with triggers of memory. Anyway, I might be incapable of doing anything productive tomorrow.

It was late in the day by now. The library and bank had closed, the two places I had to go. So, I returned the books via the slot by the front door of the Gladstone Library and then… Then what? Blankness.

Now that I was out, I didn’t feel like going home just yet. I enjoyed the gentle kiss of the falling snow on my nose and the swish and crunch of snow beneath my boots. I admired how the fresh snow sprinkled the grey slush at the side of the road. It reminded me of Edward Burtynsky’s aerial photographs of glaciers and waterways.

Snow gathered on my lapel, turning my black wool coat white. I stopped in a used book shop to run my eye through the eastern philosophy and finance section. The snow off my coat and hat dripped down onto the bookstore’s tiled floor. Conscious of this, I didn’t want to chance picking up a book that I hadn’t been searching for. No titles on the spines of the books shone out to me as new possibilities, so I returned outside to continue my wander down Bloor Street.

I love my neighbourhood. There are so many wonderful ventures to choose from. Usually, I have hankerings for specific things or places: a drink and bite in yellow light at Drift, beer and captioned films in the dark at Disgraceland, pub grub in a buzz at TallBoys, or a coffee and cookie in the artsy, sunlit Saving Gigi’s. This evening however, I had no picture in my mind, no ambiance, nor specific drink to guide myself this evening. I felt lost.

“When it doubt, go to your regular spot.” I thought as I steered myself West towards Spark.

Spark Espresso and Fresh Bar had recently opened up in my neighbourhood, directly across from Ossington subway station. The interior was all white with white washed furniture, blonde wood tables, and industrial accents. It was beautiful and the staff were welcoming. Spark was a good choice for me tonight.

I ordered a chai latte and sat down with my laptop. The barista started chatting with another patron, both carisimating about working the cafe to bar hours of 6:30 am to 4:00 am. Under normal circumstances, I would have just kept my head down and continued working. Tonight, was different. I decided to chime in.

I was introduced to “…the guy who runs the bar around the corner, the pineapple bar.” I had gone to many bars between Lansdowne and Spadina on Bloor, but not this one. The wooden blinds in the windows were never fully open and it always looked dark inside. It didn’t look inviting from the outside, despite the golden pineapple on its facade – the universal symbol for hospitality.

He convinced me that his bar was not as intimidating as it looked and invited me to come by sometime. I smiled and returned to my work.

Once the cafe had closed, I packed up my laptop and pulled on my coat. Again, I found myself on the cold sidewalk, a light dusting of snow on the grey concrete. Looking North up the street towards home, I decided that I wasn’t yet ready to return. So, I turned East, instead towards Civil Liberties – the pineapple bar.

The owner was standing in the doorway of the neighbouring diner smoking a cigarette. The retro backdrop, casual pose, and cigarette went well with his 1950’s/60’s aesthetic that so many in-the-know men now wear. As the man saw me approached and stood upright, tossing his cigarette into the snow.

“I thought I’d take you up on that invitation for a drink.”

Smiling, he opened the door into an expansive room of copper, wood, and white that was bathed in the yellow light of candles and hanging lamps. He set me up at the bar with my MacBook, plugging it in behind the bottles and giving me the Wi-fi password.

“What would you like to drink?” He asked from behind the bar.

“What’s the house specialty?”

“We have many specialties!” He paused to think. “Do you like the taste of alcohol?”

I smiled my answer.

“And bourbon?”

“Oh, yes.” I assured him, although I had never quite figured out what made bourbon so different from similar grain based spirits.

“Then I know what I will make you.” And with that, the bartender drew up a saucepan and a spiral of cedar wood – like an over sized twist of lemon. Setting these down in front of me, he set the cedar alight. As it burst into an orange flame, filling the air with the scent of cedar, he placed a bar glass over top of it. The smoke swirled around inside, a tempest storm in a bar glass.

Tossing a bottle in the air, he prepared the mix. There was a crackle as the cocktail was poured over the ice. Taking a sip, the scent of cedar smoke met my nose and I was left with the sweet aftertaste of the cedar infused bitters.

The bartender then moved onto the couple sitting next to me. The woman was sipping a classic martini, served in a shallow round glass straight out of the Great Gatsby. The man, a French beer. The bartender told us all the most wonderful stories. Each drink he made that evening had an enchanting story, a memory, or some sort of drama around it. It was wonderful! All the time, there was jazz and blues playing in the background, adding to the atmosphere.

Turned out the woman in the couple next to me was doing her PhD in accessibility, my own specialty. The two of us geeked out for a while, before I made a conscious effort to reel the man into the conversation so that he wasn’t left out. He was very nice too – a researcher as well.

Once my budget was blown for the weekend, I got the bill.  I felt refreshed from the experience, and re-assured in myself as I walked home in the snow, munching on Indian sweets I’d bought earlier that day.


The day of the break-up was spent rehearsing in the mirror what I would say. I strategically laid out Kleenex boxes around the room, an arms reach from the most likely places the break-up would take place. In the moments leading up to the prearranged time, I made tea. In my very British family, tea was the answer to every problem, tough decision, or in this case – possible heart break. I combined his favourite tea with mine in the pot: ginger and Bengal Spice, with some fresh mint to garnish, adding some Moroccan flare. I lit the candle beneath the kettle warmer, got out the tea cozy and my best set of teaware. Then I waited.


I was a mess the day after the breakup. I found myself taking frequent breaks to cry in the washroom stall at work. I was cheered by an invite over to a friend’s house after Icelandic language lessons that evening. Monday night lessons were usually a highlight of my week, but today I only made it through the first hour. Loss on my mind, I ducked out during the half-way tea break to head home.

I was greeted by my friends Kitty and Caitlin with a bottle of red wine in the dining room. On the table was a large bouquet of dried lavender, lovingly tied up in a sage green bow and burlap. Next to it was a heart-felt card and little gifts wrapped up in colourful paper. I cried.

Conversation soon turned to online dating and the pleasures of being alone. As if on cue, Kitty’s roommate Brendan came home.

“Is that Nell?” He called from the kitchen.


“Nell, I saw you the other day on the street! I chased after you, and called your name.”

“I’m not surprised I didn’t hear. I usually walk around in a bubble, alone with my thoughts.”

From the kitchen, Brendan started singing as he took off his snow boots, “Lonely Nell… Nell is so lonely, in her loneliness…”

And then he turned the corner and saw the gifts on the table with the ominous bouquet, the card, then my tear stained eyes. The horrified look on his face only added to my laughter. I was laughing so hard that my belly ached. The song couldn’t have been more perfectly timed!

Yes, I was alone, but it wasn’t a bad thing. It was a beautiful thing, full of prospect, hope, and independence. With this ending, something new could begin.

The Thaw of Toronto

Toronto hasn’t had a very nice winter as of late. What with an ice storm leaving thousands without power over the holidays, snow storms, flooding, and a provincial skating rink, we were happy to have a weekend of balmy weather (although that also resulted in flooding and will contribute to another skating rink when temperatures drop again this coming week).

Saturday was a rainy, cloudy day with temperatures hovering around 9C. I was grateful of my wellies which allowed me to stroll confidently through the puddles of melting slush and ice. We had planned awhile back to attend the screening of Watermark at the Bell TIFF Lightbox, which was playing as part of Canada’s Top Ten.

We had arrived early at 10:30 to have brunch at the Canteen, but to our surprise – the film was SOLD OUT! Fortunately there were rush tickets, so we went and had breakfast while we waited for the rush line to form. The menu was rather pricey, so I tried to stay within budget with a croissant and ginger lemonade. It was good, but not worth $10 in my opinion – even with the friendly staff and restaurant branding. I was still hungry after, so had to get a slice of carrot ginger bread to eat while waiting in the rush line.

We had fun standing in line chatting, sipping coffee, and munching on snacks. When we finally got in the theatre, there were four sits together which was lucky. The film itself was beautiful, thought provoking, and inspiring. I was a little disappointed with the resolution at times, but the film stuck with me the whole day. All the little streams of water in the ice on the sidewalks of Toronto reminded me of areal views of glaciers and lakes. Once home and going about my chores in the house, I kept thinking about all the water we use and take for granted, even just rinsing out the sink.

After the film, we went to MEC to see if there was anything good left over from the Boxing Day Sales (no) and went to a gallery where we saw some interesting photographic prints from the 1950’s.  We then walked down King Street, turning on Bathurst where saw a church looming out of the mist. We of course got our cameras out.

Steeple and branches of tree against a white sky.  statue of a religious womanSteeple and branch of tree against a white sky.

We continued our walk up Bathurst then down Queen to Ossington. We fancied a pint by then, so stopped in Bellwoods Brewery for a pint and some fries. It was dark when we left, but found a vintage boutique still open. I found a navy beret there for $15 that fit my head well, so after walking around in the store to make sure it was comfortable (I have had horrible luck with replacement berets ever since I lost my vintage Basque beret last year) I bought it.

We decided to take the bus home and parted ways at Ossington Station. I then returned home where I heated up some spiced milk and hunkered down to work on a captioning project. All in all, it was a wonderful day!

Electricity lines across a sky with a horizen of tall buildings

Desolation & Colour

Brown brick buidling with a white sign that reads "Ice Cream Factory Outlet" in sans serif bold letters, all caps.

As many urban dwellers, I tend to stick to one part of town. Between Bloorcourt, the Annex, and jaunts down to OCAD, I rarely find myself in other parts of the city these days. However, for the past 7 days I have been house-sitting out by Main Street Station, which is another world compared to the West-end. It is a sprawl of poorly maintained mid-20th century brick buildings, desolate shops which either appear to have no business or some business, obstreperous signage, big box stores on one side of the street, shadowing the independent retailers on the other, and there is a complete lack of cafe or patio culture. It may come with cheaper rent, but I don’t think I could survive here for long. I miss BakerBots and the Commonwhere’s my croissant?!

Street ruit market with a green canopy.Street fruit market with a basket of flowers hanging from a lamp post next to a blue bike. A man in jeans and a red jacket is seen walking away in the distance.

A Walk Down Queen St. East

I had a at Wunderland Cafe in the Beach the other day to discuss an opportunity working on video captioning for Inclusive Design Media. I had passed by Wunderland many times last summer when I frequented the Beaches but never went in, put off by the the painted brown wood and wizard-esque facade. However, once inside I found myself in a very cozy cafe with friendly staff and a delightful menu. I ended up splurging on a coffee and a mint-spirulina raw brownie (the owner’s favourite apparently). It was very tasty.

After the meeting, I took the streetcar a couple stops before getting out to check out a strip of Queen St. E. with various home decor and fashion boutiques. Unfortunately, most were closed at the day of my visit, but I had a great time snapping pictures as I walked along the street. Here are some of my shots from that stop:

Street view of old buildings, a wood sign reading Tavern, a string of lights and wires, and a yellow B&B Fish  & chips sign.Street reflected on glass of a window looking into a restaurant. There is a traditional wooden chair with a table set with white napkin, plate, and round stemless glassware by the window. Toys from Asia on shelving and hanging abstract glass decor is seen through the window from the street.