Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Unsweet


I've been in jobs where I realized I was bribing myself with coffees I couldn't afford just to go into work with something warm and comforting...
--H, describing when it's time to move on

More often than not these days, the highlight of my workday is going to Fortino's, the grocery store in the unpleasant Lawrence Square Mall, and buying myself two sugar-free chocolates from their bulk foods section. Sometimes I get two mint-flavoured treats, and sometimes I mix it up: a peanut butter and a mint? Oh, Kaitlyn, you decadent scamp. I take the escalator upstairs, where I spend a minute in front of the cigar/magazine/pop stand's cooler—and I in a Fresca mood today, or do I want my old standby, Coke Zero? And what is "a Fresca mood," anyway?—before paying one dollar to the man behind the counter. Then, without any other reason to be in the unpleasant Lawrence Square Mall, I head back to work. The whole thing take about fifteen minutes, including crossing Lawrence Avenue's multiple lanes of irate/incompetent drivers. On my way there, I pass the unpleasant Lawrence Square Mall's lone bit of beauty: the front garden's luscious croton plants. On my way back, I look south, towards where I live.

I have no fairy godmother who has magically imbued me with the direction and drive to figure out where, and as what, I should be working. I have a real mother, who's convinced that I'm going to be a writer someday—as in someone who can pay the bills with words! The stuff of legend, I tell you. She sends me job postings to positions for which I am wildly unqualified, like the VP of communications, or a web writer/designer with an inside-out knowledge of Photoshop. Part of me loves it, though, because her faith in me is unflappable. When I tell her that I'm not even going to be considered for those roles, she shrugs. "You never know until you apply."

I'm smart. I'm capable. I'm organized like a motherfucker. I communicated well. I can see patterns. I can see long-term goals. And yet, I get stuck in these dead-eyed jobs in beige shoeboxes, watching the clock so I can go to Fortino's for my daily candy bribe. I feel like a polar bear in a zoo: there's so much potential to be truly awesome, but it's just not my natural habitat. Sometimes I lash out and try to eat a penguin/get drunk on a Tuesday night so at least my no-fun Wednesday workday has a reason; mostly, though, I'm just tracing one big furry paw through the pond water and dreaming about the Arctic.

When it comes to work, I'm passive by nature. I'm ferocious in other aspects of my life, but somehow, that doesn't show up in my nine-to-fives. Maybe this is because my first big-girl job experience was so terrible (abusive bosses, exploitative schedules, much personal anxiety), or maybe it's because I have two modes when it comes to authority: frozen and furious. I've only recently started standing up for myself at work—pointing out exactly where I'm going above and beyond in the office, and suggesting that that deserves a raise still feels dangerous and scary—but I still get bad gut-feels when there's any sort of work conflict. And I know that, and I feel helpless to change it.

One of the biggest lessons this job is teaching me is that I do not thrive under these circumstances, which are exactly the right intersection of pressure, tedium, and frustration to make me feel like that polar bear. Moreover, by staying here, I am choosing to not thrive. Why would I look that in the eye and then decide to stay? At what point does that make sense? (One: financial. But even then, knowing that I make roughly $10,000 less than my similarly skilled compatriots in the for-profit sector tempers that argument a little.) My life outside of work is rich and rewarding—I love to dance, I see my friends, I lift weights, I cook good meals, I write, I knit, I craft, I'm close with my family, I love my husband—but I don't spend eight hours a day feeling like my life is rich. 

I spend it counting the minutes before I can leave, even for a minute, to get something sweeter. 

Image via Indulgy

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Psssst...


(New blog alert.)

(Don't worry, I'm still writing on this old workhorse, too.)

Saturday, October 11, 2014

A Fashionable State of Affairs


In the past year, I've gone from being a silly girl in my twenties to being what feels very much like A Woman: married, working at a non-profit, traveling with my husband, planning for the future. It's startling how fast that all happened. And, in the midst of that, I wonder if my wardrobe has had time to catch up.

Trust me, I know how superficial that sounds. After all, there's nothing inherently different about me now that I'm in a fresh new decade, or have a snazzy new gold band as an accessory, or working in someone else's office instead of at home. None of those things should matter vis-a-vis my wardrobe, but, somehow, they do. Something that felt right even a couple years ago now leaves me feeling like I'm playing dress-up: cyberpunk dresses, which I love, suddenly don't fit me like a second skin. I find myself yearning for a pair of skinny black velvet trousers and asymmetrical tanks in natural fibres, and I know it's time to play Name That Style.

For years—years!—my guiding style principle was "post-apocalyptic farm girl." I wanted something that could conceivably take me from a warehouse rave to a turnip patch. Oddly, this isn't a look that most places carry off the rack, so it means assembling a closet from thrift-store gems, hand-me-downs, weirdly styled wardrobe staples, and the very occasional bought-new splurge. And this worked, mostly, with a few missteps (once, while getting ready for a night out, I wore high-waisted leather-look leggings and a black, collared wrap tank top; my hair was big and blonde and blown out to the heavens. M took one look at me and said, "You look like Sandy at the end of Grease," which meant it was time for big LOLs and also back to the sartorial drawing board).

Now, while I still want that general flavour, the farmgirl look is losing steam. I keep thinking about modern-art gallery owners at openings, or goth Japanese hobby-farmers, and 1970s camp counsellors in poorly made horror movies. My closet now is just bonkers: a Garfield sweater nestles in beside a drapey Helmut Lang tank top. My drawer overfloweth with black tank tops, and yet I've also kept a pink sweater I've owned for a half-decade and worn maybe three times. I have miniskirts from that slutty store at the mall, I have booty shorts to be worn only in the winter (and only with tights), I have pants that fit horribly that I can't figure out how to replace, and I have a drawer full of tee-shirts despite the fact that I wear tee-shirts about three times a year.

M is a maximalist in many ways: he loves toys and souvenirs, he buys a tee-shirt at most concerts he attends, he gets the super-special edition Blu-Ray of whatever movie he's buying. We have more box sets in our living room than most video stores (RIP) have on their shelves. And I love our jumble of interlocked stuff, like our wall full of concert posters and our comic-book shelves. Sometimes, though, I wish we had the ability to curate our lives a little more effectively, to remember that the toy/poster/tiny bowl/lanyard that reminds us of a special moment isn't the memory itself.

I struggle to get rid of gifts, like hand-me-down pillows or gnarly old rugs. I hang onto books that I bought during my undergraduate program that I never got around to reading. The things that represent relationships, or things I wanted for myself ("I'll have a season where all I read is steampunk novels!"), are especially hard to ditch. It feels like a betrayal.

Which brings me back to my closet. Most of the clothes that go unworn were gifts: either too fancy for every day wear (a stack of party dresses from my mom), or things that don't quite align with how I want to present myself in the world (that pink sweater). I'm a person who often crafts stories about her outfits: today, I want to look like a safari guide; today, I want to look like a posh beekeeper. (The fact that I rarely want to look like an office manager could be dissected, I know.) When other people's narratives don't match up with mine, it can throw me for a loop. I struggle to shape a story where I wear a heathery Irish sweater and a one of my six black knee-length skirts. I wonder if my clothes are too young for me, or not quite office-appropriate, or too staid. I wrinkle my nose when it comes to go shopping, because I'm at a loss for where to buy new clothes. Mostly, I just want to feel like myself, but  with all these changes in the past year, I'm not totally sure who I am, and who I want to be.

But when I see something I know is right—oh, that's a nice feeling. A recent trip to Value Village scored me a pair of Sorel boots that tickle me completely. I can picture wearing them as I walk through the snow on the way to a client's office, or on a winter walk around my parent's farm, or to brunch with a bunch of girlfriends. I could also picture them on the feet of a magazine editor, or a lavender farmer, or a consultant, or a writer, or any of the other zillions of alternate-reality Kaitlyns I use to shape the vision of how I want my real, messy, married, working, laughing, loving life to go.

Image via mybeautyandfashion.com

Friday, October 3, 2014

Swipe it, Tap It, Ride It: A Tale of Three Transit Systems


M and I are in California right now, soaking up the sun and having a rollicking good time eating fish tacos, drinking cocktails, and attending raucous podcasts with problematic showrunners. It's been a riot, and it's all been made possible by California's public transit system.

We are emphatically not drivers. We both ride our bikes as early and often as we can, and most of our friends and favourite destinations are within a ten kilometer-radius of our house. And besides, Toronto has done a good job of building up, not out. We're not the sprawliest of cities. Not like, say, Chicago. Or New York. Or, hell, let's just say it: Los Angeles.

Good goddamn, LA is huge. It's mind boggling. At five hundred square miles, it's more than double the size of Toronto. It stretches from Compton to Beverly Hills, from Santa Monica to Topanga. I found it totally bewildering: there were Ethiopian restaurants next to nail salons next to valet parking lots next to microgalleries next to gourmet dog food stores. In the four days we were here, I could see no discernible rhythm to the neighbourhoods: Jewish bakeries shared a storefront with Korean bistros, which were across the street from gorgeous vintage movie theatres. Homeless people and hustlers seemed to be everywhere. It's a surprisingly low-slung city, with a relatively small downtown surrounded by many, many square miles of bungalows and mansions, all of which are hemmed in by the hills.

I wasn't surprised that San Francisco was easy to get around. We spend a fair amount of time on the bus, sure, but SF is much tidier, and it's famous for the BART, the Bay Area's version of Toronto's GO trains. They also have buses, both rapid and locals, and cable cars, all of which form a transit network through the city. But moreover, metro San Francisco is less than 50 square miles. Despite the fact that its topography resembles a EKG (hills! So many hills!), it's fairly walkable and dense. The transit system is the cherry on top of an already-accessible city.

But LA's transit system caught me off-guard. I was nervous about going to the notorious car-centric city without a driver's license, but navigating the Metro and its buses and subways was shockingly easy. We could get from the train station to the airport on a dedicated bus line. We rode the subway to Universal Studios. We took a bus to Venice Beach. I'm not going to lie: it was kind of amazing.

But it wasn't just the size of the system. There were unexpected kindnesses shown to its riders. It cost $1.75 to ride, and transfers were fifty cents. Each bus had an info pamphlet about its route, clearly showing connecting lines. The stops were simply the names of the intersection: Hollywood/Vine, Hawthorne/Lennox, etc. The rapid transit stops had countdown timers and large, easy-to-read information signs about the routes. The TAP cards worked on buses and the Metro, but you could also use cash. The Metro stations are beautifully designed.

There has been a long-running argument in Toronto about what our next steps should be as a transit city. Build a downtown relief line! Give a line to Scarborough, who somehow "deserve" it, as if public transit is a reward to be doled out to a particularly high-achieving cohort of riders! Light rail! Heavy rail! Subways! Dig! Elevate! Talk about it forever!

We've somehow lost the ability to have an coherent conversation about transit. To the detriment of the people who actually ride it, the system is bogged down in bureaucracy, funding reversals, bad PR, lagging wait times, and upgrades that polish the same turd over and over again. While the shiny new Spadina streetcars are lovely to look at, they don't help serve a larger area. The crush of passengers on the rush-hour lines is already at a fever pitch - add in a few delays or jam a couple stations and the whole thing freezes.

Toronto bills itself as a world-class city, but our transit system is a backwater experience. It's expensive, it's slow, it's small. Our leaders have flaunted competing transit packages, designed to upgrade the experience and move the people; unfortunately, these promises aren't always backed up by solid funding schemes, and the current political landscape is one that fractures the transit question into dozens of small-scale conversations - the suburbs, the downtown, the subways, the LRTs - and forgets that public transit is best when it's a visionary, large-scale project designed to serve the public.

We deserve better, as a city. We need a transit system that is reliable in Toronto's murky winters and blazing summers. We need a system that can grow, connecting more and more people as it does. We need regional transit that's fast, reliable, and decongested (and while I have mostly kind words for GO transit, anyone's who's sweated out one of their interminable lineups at Union Station at rush hour knows the stomach-churning run down to your just-announced platform - not to mention the fact that the lines are often confusingly named and the final destination audio-confirmed only once the train has left the station).

I'm not asking for a whole new system. The one we have is flawed, not broken; it's possible to make it better. Start with better HR, which leads to better PR: the drivers and station agents are often visibly irritated by the customers they serve. Make transfers time-based, so that we can hop on and off the system without having to pay again. Extend the service hours, making it possible to take the bus home from the bar after last call. Offer three-day passes. When you commit to fixing up a station, have it take less than, say, a year to complete the project. Invest in automated payment systems, so that riders pay full fares or don't ride at all. (All the transit systems we used on our honeymoon had reloadable cards, which were tapped or swiped to pay the fare.) But it takes more than little fixes: we keep drawing fantasy maps, and we keep getting bupkis. Shovels need to actually go in the ground. Lines need to open on time.

I really hope that whoever replaces Rob Ford as mayor has enough gumption to begin the process of transforming the system that moves hundreds of thousands of people every single day. We all need reliable transit with a plan for the future: anything else is simply not good enough. Until then, residents and visitors to our world class city will be making do with a second-tier ride.

Los Angeles Metro map via MyMaps

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

On the Other Side


It's been nearly two whole weeks since my last blog post; since I wrote about wedding brain, I done got married, threw a banger of a party with my new husband and my entire family (in-laws and outlaws, that gang is), came down with a wretched cold, and had to re-plan part of our honeymoon on the fly when our original Air BnB host soured. I've also devoted equal time to admiring my new wedding ring and the Jewish high holidays, which are happening right about now - working for a Jewish fundraising organization means I've started saying "Happy New Year!" in September, which is a new thing for me.

Planning a wedding meant that my life turned into a cyclone in the final days before our ceremony. I misplaced three pie plates, an entire chocolate cake, a pair of shoes, and an impressive amount of Tupperware. M and I fought like banshees, made up, and then fought again. I learned how to cornrow my own hair, how to walk in 4.5 inch platform wedges, and what it feels like when my dad cries as he walks me down the aisle. We planted a tree - one that blooms in the month of husband's birth, and that has heart-shaped leaves. There was maniacal rushing. There was a glowing photo session. There were some dirty looks and some dashing around the farmhouse in my underwear, well past the point of caring who saw me and who didn't. There were tacos. There was cider. There were dark 'n' stormies and there were love potions. There was so much laughter.

This cyclone means that I'm left with a mosaic of memories - the boys moshing along to "Sabotage," the bartenders singing along to "Close to Me," the speeches that referenced M and my ultra-challenging camping trip, the tiny boxes of chocolates and brief moments of respite from hosting where everything just gelled. I emerged from our wedding weekend feeling like Mike and I were the center of a universe full of love and friends and family. (And also viciously hungover, and with a pile of beef ribs and dim sum that would kill a man.)

Taking on a project like a wedding actually tests the mettle of a couple's relationship. I was surprised to find out that trying to throw a catered party for 100 people was stressful–the magazines make it look so easy! At some points, it felt like more like the day was something that we were trying to conquer rather than celebrate. But through it, he kept making me tea. And we kept going for walks together. And we kept on going. When the day came, it was more than perfect. It captured who we are a couple: private people who love to dance, mushballs who can still wangle a shovel, and part of an extended and involved constellation of people.

I'm a writer, and one with a decent vocabulary at that, but there is no word in the English language for the feeling of gratitude and dedication, the feeling of earned joy, the feeling of enveloping love. 

I've never believed in "the one" - the destiny of two people who are meant for each other. Because that denies all the work that goes into relationships: keeping them fresh, keeping them kind, keeping them loving. Real life doesn't work like that, and even great couples sometimes have bad days (or months). Instead, I believe in "the choice." We get to choose our love stories. We write them as we go. And I'm lucky— despite my utter failure to express exactly how amazing and energized and cherished I felt this past weekend—to have M as my amazing co-author in this love story of ours.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Wedding Brain


 There's this buzzing in my ear right now, and it's going something like this: call the caterers // have you emailed the rental place yet // oh my god what if nobody comes // what if everybody shows up at three-thirty instead of four // we will never have any money again // it's going to rain // itsnotgoingtorainITSGOINGTOHAIL.

This is my brain when it's been set to "wedding."

 Before I got engaged, I used to roll my eyes at brides who were like, "People are being mean about the seating arrangements!" I'd think all these self-congratulatory thoughts about who people were going to sit where I damn well told them to sit, or else. And since then, I've been sat so far away from the head table that I was practically outside - and this, admittedly, stank - and I've looked morosely at my own seating chart and hoped that my cousins, who are fun, aren't P.O.'ed that I've basically done the same thing to them.

A rundown of the crazy things I've done so far:
  • bought crazy-expensive childrens' sandals from Italy because they fit my stupidly tiny feet.
  • nodded as my parents offered to buy a new fridge so that we would have a place to store cold beer in a barn.
  • had my hair done like a Viking warrior-woman, only the end result was more 1960s beehive, and I hated it.
  • hauled about three thousand pounds of poop-dusted hay out of the barn where we're holding the reception.
  • build stone stairs, using a pickaxe and my bare hands. Like, literally: my bare hands. It was very paleo-home decorating chic, if I do say so myself.
  • said the words "radiant orchid" out loud approximately one million times.
  • debated how much booze is enough booze, how much Elton John is enough Elton John, and how many tacos is enough tacos.
  • cried at schmaltzy poems on the internet.
  • had screaming fights with M, sometimes about things that should be lovely (the words, "I can't believe we're fighting about our fucking vows" have definitely been said, by me, horribly).
  • listened to Bank's song "This Is What It Feels Like" about three hundred times, which is how many times I would put it on our dance mix if I thought I could get away with it.
  • tried to explain to at least three girlfriends that, yes, while this is "my special day," I'm actually sort of nervous about being the center of all that attention. My star isn't that shiny, y'know.
  • tried on about fifty puffy princess ballgowns at The Bride's Project, which was stupid-fun while being completely wrong for me, style-wise.
  • biked home holding three plastic bus bins in my outstretched hand; it a feat that I wouldn't have even attempted six months ago for fear of accidentally windsailing myself into traffic, butnow ain't no thang.
  • promised my friend that, if she ever wanted to elope, I would still buy her a bread maker.
  • wondered what would happen if we decided to elope.
We're getting married in just over a week. Let's see if my brain makes it to then.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Meanwhile, I Keep Dancing


Whoops! In all the running-around excitement of last week (whirlwind work weekend/cottage trip/epic friend hangout/what-have-you), I completely forgot to update this blog. To be fair, I have a good reason: I am going crazy.

Because we are getting married, and because we're doing it in a venue that has to be transformed from a semi-broken poo- and hay-storage unit into something that, at the most, will be thrillingly amazing (and at the least will be structurally sound), my brain is on fire basically 24/7. I go to sleep thinking about lists of things we need to do. I wake up thinking about those same lists. I email from the subway and I text from work. I call people and call them again. We make plans. We make things. We are trying to create an experience for ourselves that we're proud of, that we can point to and say, "We did that as a couple, with our families and friends. We love each other. We made this." And sometimes, part of that experience is shooting bolt upright at three AM wondering where we're going to find tiki torches.

This whole process reminds me of that beautiful quote from Hillel: I get up. I walk. I fall down. Meanwhile, I keep dancing." Sigh. Yes, right? Because that is this.

People keep showing up for us in a big way, and I'm so grateful. I have so many anxieties and fears (death, divorce, unhappiness, embarrassment, etc), and these people keep poking my brain and my feelings and saying, "These are cobwebs. There's nothing," and then I can breathe again. Sometimes, that means talking; other times, that means hoisting a nail gun to build a dance floor. After all, we need a place to dance while we celebrate our wedding.

A true story: one of this weekend's projects was to build a set of stone steps around the side of the barn where we're holding our reception. The ground there is literally full of rocks - we had to break it apart with a pick-axe—and the flagstone that had been set aside was fifty meters away, under the front of the barn, piled in a heaped mess of craggy corners and spiders. And yet: my brother, running on three hours of sleep and a whole complement of his own personal anxieties, built the top step. And yet: my aunt and I carried the flagstone around the barn and laid it out on the grass. And yet: my uncle puzzled out the rise and run of the staircase. And yet: I followed my brother's template to build three more stairs. And yet: my friend and I shoveled gravel to fill in the crevasses. And yet: my dad built the final three steps. And then: it was done.

This wedding, this process of joining M and I together, is happening in the context of a group of people who want to see us do well. Nothing we do is in a vacuum. He and I keep turning to each other to say, "If we can get through this, we can get through anything," and that feels so true. We've already been through more as a couple than most people go through in a decade of marriage: death, mental illness, unemployment, medical mishaps. We're strong.

But, you know, at three AM, with the tiki torches looming, I can forget that.

So this is yet another gratitude post: a thank you to the people who are rallying around us in the final weeks of preparation. They keep reminding us, by showing up and working hard, that we're worth all this work. They hold us up when we get bogged down, and their help gives us the space to breath together as a couple. This is the whirlwind, a pile of chaos and tantrums and sleepless night (and so many emails). But this is also dancing. The dancing keeps us sane.

Image of Sliding House via Material Strategies.