Spring is a wonderful time of year. Everything is fresh and new. The snow is disappearing, tulips and daffodils are starting to make an appearance, and we can finally shed winter coats and don lighter options. There is a lot to do with these warmer, longer days, but one of my favourite activities is spring cleaning.
Cleaning in general, may not be one of the most enjoyable of pastimes, but it is so nice to clear the literal (and metaphorical) cobwebs that have accumulated over the winter. My house is quite small and with limited functional storage, so certain rooms become dumping grounds, receiving the little used items from various other rooms. Our ‘reading room’ is one such location. I do admit, the majority of the cluttered mess belonged to me. I have a bad habit of piling things up, saying that I will deal with them later, when I know full well that I will not. So a room that was supposed to be one of relaxation became anything but. I decided that this spring I would tackle the reading room and restore it to its previous purpose.
It was a much bigger undertaking than I had imagined, but it was so satisfying as the room began to empty out. And even more satisfying were the little gems of the past that I uncovered along the way. Mostly in the form of posters and papers, these items brought back memories from earliest childhood right up to my time at university. It was almost like going through a timeline of my life. And in these, there were some important reminders that apply to my life today.
Like most little girls, I went through a unicorn and horse phase. Most of my childhood was spent covered in mud, adventuring in the bush, but finding a unicorn poster reminded me that I did have a little bit of a girlie side as well. For a while, I had unicorn everything. Unicorn stickers that went in a unicorn sticker book. Unicorn toys. I even had a pillow case with a unicorn head and the words “Johanna’s unicorn” printed above.
Sometimes, there can be so much pressure to be logical and level-headed in adulthood, but this unicorn poster is a reminder to make sure I have a little bit of magic and whimsy thrown into my life as well.
Amongst the posters, were some of my earlier school projects. A painting of Aladdin from Kindergarten, depicting two people riding on a flying carpet was one such piece. There were also several pieces attempting to depict some sort of ungulate that I can only assume to be horses. I base this purely on the memory of my aforementioned love of unicorns and horses, but really it could have been any hooved creature. It seemed that I was not destined to art greatness. One thing that I did excel at however, was creativity.
My favourite artwork from my early years was a little fill in the blank poem and drawing that I did in Grade 1. We could choose any animal to write our poem about. Most of the other kids chose cute, fluffy animals. Puppies, kittens, and I remember tigers as well. So, was my poetry subject an endearing, cuddle-worthy creature? Far from it! Little weirdo that I was, I chose bloodsuckers.
Over in the meadow by a rock in a lake.Johanna de Demeter – Grade 1, May 1996
Lived an old mother bloodsucker and her little bloods eight.
Suck said the mother.
We suck said the eight.
So they sucked all day by a rock in a lake.
Poetic genius! I vividly remember working on this picture and telling my friend, who sat beside me, that those were his legs covered in bloodsuckers.
I always was, and still am, pretty unique. I like that word better than strange or different! Sometimes I find myself wanting to be like everyone else. I once exclaimed that life would be so much easier if I could just be normal. As if ‘normal’ is actually something that exists. This piece of artwork reminded me that I was never one to follow the crowd or do what others expected, and that I shouldn’t try to be anyone other than myself.
I always loved to write stories, but between the ages of 10 and 14, I was a non-stop creativity machine. I had grand aspirations of becoming a famous novelist or playwright. So I wrote. Wrote about magical adventures with friends. Wrote about strange creatures destroying the world. Wrote about Nooky, the Stove Belly alien and his nemesis The Ballerina Princess (who was neither ballerina nor princess, but did wear a tutu).
On occasion, I wrote plays, usually for school projects, but I came across a play that was certainly all me. It featured the Cricketman, a creation of my cousin that I captured through multiple media forms. My mom read the play aloud, laughing at its ridiculousness. Especially the line, “Stop loving! I’m melting… melting… well not melting but dying….. dying.” Not my best work, but it gave me a good giggle.
And that’s the thing! At that age, I never worried if what I wrote was perfect, or if other people would like it. I created just for the joy of it. And that’s something I have lost as I’ve gotten older. I gave in to the fear of imperfection and it stifled my creativity. It’s not easy, but I endeavor to write continuously. Even if it is horrible. Even if no one else wants to read it. Because really, how am I ever to improve without practice?
Ah yes. I had to laugh at the various posters and magazine clippings I came across. All sorts of celebrity guys, although Orlando Bloom did feature pretty heavily. Sometimes when you look back, you can smile and think about how far you’ve come from the embarrassment of teenage life. But then I have to wonder if I have really come that far at all! Well, I don’t have posters of famous guys on my bedroom walls, so I guess that’s a start!
At university, my most favourite events were poster sales. I would walk into the University Centre to find mazes of posters set up through every space possible. There was every type of poster available: movies, TV shows, celebrities, classical artwork, humorous sayings, profound quotes! I was particularly fond of landscape and animal posters. During the very first poster sale of my university life, an unusual poster caught my eye. It wasn’t mountains by the sea, or horses running through a field. It wasn’t even of a cute guy! It was a painting of a woman in a long dress, white gloves, and a large hat.
This was not at all the sort of poster that would normally take my notice, but when I looked at it, I realized I wanted to be her. I wanted to be bold and elegant. Then something caught my eye in the bottom corner. There was my name, painted in white. Johanna. What are the chances that I shared the name of the artist that painted this? Well that cinched it for me. I bought the poster, and had it on a wall of every bedroom I lived in during my 6 years away at school.
When I pulled this poster out from where it has been stored, it was ripped, crinkled, and folded. At first I was so upset. I even felt some tears pricking my eyes. I told myself it was just a poster, but it was always there through those difficult university years. But one thing I have realized, is that I don’t feel like I want to be the woman in the painting anymore. I feel that I am she, in my own way. I don’t wear fancy hats, long gloves, or glamorous dresses, but I do hold myself with a little more elegance than I use to: the confidence to stand straighter and the boldness to strike a pose.
It is always fun to go on a mental journey back in time when you come across mementos of your past. For me, it was a great time of reflection and seeing how far I’ve come and how much I’ve changed. In some cases, realizing that I really haven’t changed all that much. But for now, I need to stop focusing on the past, and live in the present – and tackle the pile of stuff I still need to find places for.
Happy spring cleaning!