An almost existential stroll in downtown Toronto

Waking up is a commercial break in a seven-hour movie (sometimes four). You look at yourself and choose:

a) Today I’m going to save the planet
b) Today I’m going to work on my novel
c) Today I’m going to

Millie Ho

go downtown to listen and jazz and mingle with old friends and smoked memories. So you do. You draw things on the subway. They’re characters from that long-suffering neo noir novel you’ve been writing since what feels like the day they snipped the umbilical chord. You use Paper Mate pens, the blue ones, because they remind you of non photo blue and make you feel like the architect behind Something Grand And Wonderful (If Only You Can Get It Done).

Millie Ho sketching

The most complicated thing to sketch is fabric. They way they zigzag and carve down the torso and arms and trap shadows between sharp folds—it’s complicated but oh so satisfying when you (think you) get it right. I recommend sketching while staring wide-eyed at passengers on streetcars/subway trains/buses. Bonus points if the exercise yields you a free seat due to:

a) Somebody getting off at the next stop
b) Somebody trying to evade pictorial documentation
c) All of the above with whipped cream on top

The Rex

You are at the Rex. You listen with eardrums buzzing pleasantly and think about blood diamonds and vendettas and hitmen with fedoras slanting over one eye.  Neo noir is very jazz and blues friendly. Your brain maps out subplots, character motives, denouements and liquorice-esque twists. You mentally review your Godfather study notes and try to spot Michael Corleone in the crowd.  Then you see the


drummer with no face and think, Isn’t it mysterious? You stare for a while and see it. Look left, and then down. There’s a hole in the drum. It’s not a bullet hole. You know this for sure. You write something in your notepad about how stylish holes are when they can’t be explained.

Downtown Toronto

You walk downtown. The lights are alive. The sky is black like coffee. Look. Up above. See the Cat’s Cradle? Kurt Vonnegut knew how to contextualize chaos.

Man in Car

There are men in long black cars. You consider the possibility of them being criminal masterminds. Of course. Look at the suit, the courtesy, the limp of unknown origin.

Man getting in car

Duck, slam, roar. No time for soul-searching interviews. You’ve got your own humanity to figure out. Like wondering if

TTC Subway station

you’ve been walking down corridors all your life.


That’s all you see these days: polished floors and open doors,

Subway Train

yellow lines and barcode rails,

Harbourfront Street

cold pillars and orbs that spill.

TTC Entrance

There is no end to corridors.

Downtown Toronto Traffic Intersection

But isn’t it comforting?

67 thoughts on “An almost existential stroll in downtown Toronto

  1. Erik says:

    The city asks you who you are, echoes all answer given. The shapes inside it are all dead. It’s all just rattling down empty corridors.

    Very nice stuff Millie! A lot of effort in this one, and it paid off.

  2. domtakis says:

    Excellent post, I love seeing life this way, even a trip to a place so familiar can be like a film with so many unknown plots. When your mind and imagination are open it can be filled with wonder. Thanks for the wake up call.

  3. Steve says:

    a no frills microscope with telescope thrills.
    i hope this becomes a regular ride
    on a park bench inside your mind
    and hammock on your shoulder.
    your return is electric.

  4. alienheartbeat says:

    Great moody post.
    and you caught me: evading pictorial documentation.
    btw, Saw 3 largish, poorly shaven men in ill fitting suits on a street corner in Yerevan. I could not believe it, you will not believe it, but they were carrying violin cases. Nicest of all possible theories – they were on their way to a wedding. In the end, I refrained from asking them. Having already visited a Yerevan weapons shop and seen what was on sale.
    Didn’t get to see their vehicle.

  5. inkblot1218 says:

    What a fresh perspective! I think this is the kind of inspiration I’ve been needing lately to help with my writing! “There is no end to corridors. Isn’t that comforting?” I really loved those lines especially. It really kind of brings back the idea of feeling lost, but also somehow also managing to be comforted by this.

  6. bdh63 says:

    Love the photos and text. Like a noir fairy tale with echoing corridors, leading to…. great scope for imagination, thanks. Nice blue sketches, too.

  7. ianamclennan says:

    Wonderful. I walked by the rex today and there was swing bouncing off walls up and down queen street. For a moment I was in a gangster film. That’s all my imagination had to give. Your imagination is inspirational!

  8. Vee says:

    Nice wake up for me, great read. I will be observing life a little bit more closely today, all my senses are on tenterhooks reading this, in an eager, positive way thanks.

  9. Jen says:

    I LOVED this. Totally speaks to where I am right now in my writing life … and in my life in general. Glad to have discovered your blog on Freshly Pressed.

  10. stupeoandbeaner says:

    I used to try and sketch people on the subway but I found a lot of people didn’t like it. However, maybe it is just me. So on the subway, I just draw the stuff. Like the signs, the 3d stuff. HOWEVER, drawing people is a lot more fun like I saw that you did. Great drawings. Great article. Yeah, some drummers just look like cymbal heads because they are really into what they do.

  11. broadsideblog says:

    Great post — that night-time pic of Queen Street West made me so homesick! (Grew up in TO, visit often, in NY since 1989.) Loved your images and writing. It’s rare a post makes me stop in the middle and really think about it. Yours did.

    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed.

  12. painfullytrue4u says:

    Great blog. My parents were born and raised in Toronto. I was born there but moved away when I was 3. I grew up in nature, with tree’s and birds singing sweetly in the morning, nature uninterrupted. Nature doesn’t ask you who you are, it wipers softly to your soul telling you you are a part of me…. i often wonder hoe different my life would be if I grew up walking down corridors.

  13. thehumanghost says:

    This, for me, is an amazing insight of the struggle for comfort and solitude in a harsh urban environment. The quest for intellectual paradise is reflected in this blog. Thank you for providing an oasis to my pursuit of personal purpose.

  14. DePlume19 says:

    I’ve never spent any amount of time in the city, so I thank you for the trip, and especially for making me think in a different way and with a very entertaining perspective.

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