Wednesday, May 22, 2013
What more is there to say? I know that it can't be easy filling your shoes these days, but I'm so annoyed by your constant lack of respect for me.
Yeah, I'm taking this personally. If you claim to stand for the taxpayer, for the voter, for the average Torontonian, well baby, I'm right here. It's me that you're not addressing when you spout nonsensical comebacks to reporters. It's me you're avoiding when your statement on whether or not you smoked crack, and whether or not that was captured on video, fails to materialize. It's me who feels rebuffed when you send your brother to comment on the crack scandal in your stead.
You have long prided yourself on being The People's Mayor, despite raised eyebrows and guffaws from many of The People. You were like Toronto's suburban dad: tight with money, constantly threatening to take us out of swimming lessons and cut off our computer time; a genial football coach who could lead his team to the finals but sometimes slipped up on the field; visibly uncomfortable when dealing with arty weirdos like our cyclist friend or our LGBTQ buddy; who didn't understand how saying Asian-Canadians "worked like dogs" wasn't a compliment. You are no doubt embarrassing, but I could see how you meant well.
But as your term has progressed, you've slowly transformed from "affable dad" to "unpredictable, scary-eyed guy behind me in line at Walmart." Your transgressions have become international news stories, as they rightly should be: when politicians are accused of smoking crack, that makes headlines. The incident file that St. Joseph's Media has compiled lists forty-six different incidents since you took office on December 1, 2010. That is, on average, about one every 20 days.
While the incidents themselves aren't always hashtag-worthy events, they have one unifying theme: they distract you and us from your job of running the city of Toronto. There are 2.5 million people living in this city (or, about 57,000 people per incident - that's one embarrassed North Bay-sized city every three weeks) who rely on you and your council. Important city decisions have been knocked off-kilter by your personal shenanigans, leaving council members to scramble in their wake. And while it's true that your mayoralty has been scrutinized to an unprecedented degree, you continue to necessitate the scrutiny by being erratic, rude, volatile, uncaring of the safety of others, dismissive of serious allegations, and a poor council member.
It's hard not to take that personally, Rob. People not so different from me still believe in you; you have let them down.
I hope you can transition from "scary Walmart stranger" to something more befitting of a mayor: "uncle who has seen some crazy shit" might be okay, as would "cousin who started 12-stepping a few months ago and won't shut about his higher power." I hope you get the help you need, whether it's addictions counseling, media training, or simply someone whose job it is to stand beside you every moment of the day and prevent you from face-planting. The people who elected you deserve that from their mayor, as do the rest of us.
Friday, May 17, 2013
However, I do want to take a breather and just reflect, for a moment, on the amazing relationships in my life. From the boyfriend who, this morning, texted me "READ THE NEWS" (he was talking about this news story, which 1. Blech and 2. I'll probably talk about that next week, because I have thoughts on RoFo and his leadership "skills"), to my generous and thoughtful parents, to the best gal who went careening through No Thrills with me in a grocery shopping spree for ten people that included a lot of tortilla chips, to the sister to walked me halfway home last night and with whom I got to giggle over New Girl's excellent season finale, I am, for lack of a better word, blessed.
I tend to shy away from the blessed descriptor because it can feel like I've gone into a belief system that I don't subscribe to - Mormon housewives (and the blogs that parody them) and Christians hipsters often spout about blessed they are. To which I reply: yay for you, I guess. But if there's no benevolent deity in the sky, smiling down on me and granting me these little life moments, where does that leave me?
I've been reading Anne Lamott's new book Help Thanks Wow, and in her introduction, she stresses that her readers don't need to feel connected to, say, Jesus in order to feel blessed. She reminds us that feeling blessed can emanate from pretty much anywhere we choose we want to call it - for a while, she called blessing-giver Phil, after a street vendor failed to finish a bracelet with her favourite Philippians quote, but we can call ours whatever we want. Higher Power? Maybe HP for short? Sure. The Goddess? Okay! Even "the great unnameable force that acts for goodness in the world," although that handle is a bit unwieldy.
I don't know what I would call mine, but I do know that I feel blessed when I get to see the buds on the trees burst forth over a single, green weekend. I feel blessed when I get a card in the mail from a friend who's just checking in. I feel blessed when I see my siblings and my parents, and for the relationship that we've worked so hard to make good. I feel blessed when I look in the mirror at my belly and don't automatically make an "ugh" face. I feel blessed when the lilacs bloom, when my inbox holds a job offer, and when my freezing cold feet finally warm under the covers. And I feel blessed because I know that these things are a mixture of luck, hard work, paying attention, and, you know, some great unnameable force that acts for goodness in the world. Phil for short.
Thursday, May 9, 2013
As the owner-operators of human bodies, we all know that, sometimes, our engine lights come blinking on.
Most of the time, it's nothing: maybe we spilled some grape soda on the backseat upholstery, or got a little crack in the windshield. Nothing to worry about - just patch it up and go on our way. These are the sprains, strains and unexplained bruises of human existence. Occasionally, the motor starts making a weird noise - an unexplained lump, or a nagging sadness that won't go away. And sometimes, the black box under our hoods goes completely on the fritz. These would be your cancers, your miscarriages, your schizophrenia. Those kinds of things require some pretty intensive time in the shop.
It's good to go in for a yearly checkup, to change the oil and to ask about that nagging cough or the time a couple weeks ago, when your poop was red (Did you eat beets? You did? Well there's your answer, bub). My annual physical tune-up always feels like I have some persnickety Volvo that needs a gentle mechanic to fine-tune her in just the right way; in other words, I've had my fair share of medical thumps and bumps, and all the anxiety and fear that goes along with that.
This year, I feel both more and less unhinged about it. In other words, my Volvo is getting more mileage but she's starting to run a little smoother.
More, because my body's specific tempermentality is centered around the reproductive system (one AWOL ovary, a tilted uterus, and a tentative diagnosis of a syndrome that is linked with infertility issues), and I'm starting to realize that my baby-making window is slowly but inexorably closing. Which makes me sad, and prone to lashing out when I hear friends and acquaintances are actively and enthusiastically making the babies. I hope that, by the time I'm ready to start a family, all my parts are still in good working order. I also know that there's no real way to know until I get there. That part of the map is dark.
But I'm also feeling less tweaky about it, too. My love had told me up and down that we can make it work, however and whenever we decide to start a family, which lifts a huge load.
Moreover, I'm starting to assemble my own toolbox to take care of my cantankerous body and mind myself. I'm just a weekend hobbyist - mostly little adjustments here and there - but they have to do with jealousy, competition, and feeling like I'm lagging behind. I'll admit to feeling left out when I hear about babies and baby-making, but left out of what? Other people's bedrooms? Their relationships? I don't want to be there in the first place, guys. My Volvo body may be smelly in the sun and have a couple dents in her, but I don't let just anybody drive her.
So this year, I'm enrolling myself in a crash course on how to avoid skidding out, emotionally speaking. I've got lists from my friends about areas that I need to work on; being too hard on myself was a recurring theme. I have reading - internet printouts, books, David Foster Wallace's incandescent commencement speech - that act as streetlights as I pilot my finicky car down life's sometimes-potholed roads. Most of all, I have good friends and a good partner who can sometimes take the wheel when I can't make it on my own.
Monday, April 29, 2013
To Liz: I love you because you constantly take risks and reinvent yourself. You never seem married to the idea of being a certain type of person, but you always seem to have your "ideal you" fixed firmly in your mind, and I find that so incredible and inspiring. You are hilariously, unapologetically judgemental. You are a natural teacher, and a natural collaborator, and the combination of those traits is so rare and precious that you're basically a unicorn. You're a doer, and an incredibly tenacious worker who is always up for a challenge. I have so much fun with you.
To Rachel: I love you because you are a world-builder. You are an amazing artist, but your canvases are neighbourhoods, spaces, and ultimately, people's lives. You are socially fearless. You are a creator. I love that you get bored easily but never abandon your friends and family. When you sat me down, years ago, to tell me I was drinking too much, I was so mad at you, but I have a massive amount of respect for the guts it took a 20-something girl to talk to her friend about that. You always seem human, but you never seem afraid.
To Emily: I love you because you take risks. You're an amazing storyteller. In crunchtimes, you are the most dependable person I know. You're the best at gossip. You make me laugh until I cry. You remember everything, and will usually suggest we try doing it again, but BIGGER. You're growing into yourself and into this city, and while these might be your wilderness years, baby, you're the queen of the jungle.
To Chelsea: I love you because of everything. You're the person who can make the angriest I've ever been, but you're also the funniest person I know. I love the conversations we have that are 100% in-jokes. I love crying on your shoulder and being a shoulder you can cry on too. I love that you believe in yourself. I love that you're still a big kid at heart, and that you refuse to apologize for what you like. I love that any live music will get you dancing, that any body of water will get you swimming, and that you mention your hair about six times a day. I love your totally human, fall down/get back up bravery.
To Abe: I love you despite your terrible puns. You are so mind-blowingly smart but are never a douche about it. You have excellent taste in whiskey. You know your feelings without being ruled by them, which is so rare and admirable. You are cosmopolitan, but you also still wear disgusting teeshirts from high school. You are never afraid to tell people they're wrong, and you rarely do it in a way that makes them feel bad or stupid.
To Mark: I love you because you taught me a lot about what I want. You have excellent style. You always make me feel appreciated as a friend. Your turns of phrases blow me away sometimes. I love that you have big-picture goals about the person you're becoming. I admire your professional goals. I love, that, when we spend time together, I come away just a little more in love with the world.
To Lindsay: I love you because you are such a careful thinker. You have amazing style and the best haircut. Your karaoke rendition of "Gay Bar" will haunt my dreams. We're co-op babies who grew up together. You are so professional and confident in your jobs. I love that you identify problems in your life and actively work to solve them, often in really innovative and non-traditional ways. You're an excellent fiction writer. You are strong.
To Emmett: I love you because you're always up for adventure, whether it's crashing a house party or going halfway around the world to a place where you know literally zero people. You make the best barbecue I've ever had (sorry, Dad). You are unfailingly generous in small ways. You've introduced me to some of my favourite songs ever. You're one of the few guys I know who gets genuinely excited to go dancing.
To Amanda: I love you because you work hard AND you play hard, and you do it in a way that never feels off-balanced or like you're going to wake up on someone's front lawn the next day. You seem to accomplish everything you put your mind to, and you do in a way that never comes at anyone else's expense. I've never seen you be mean.
To Mike: I love you because you're my best friend. You've taught me how to fight well, how to love my body, and how to make the perfect sweet potato fries. I love you because I can picture us together in five years, in fifteen, and on a 40th anniversary cruise of the Caribbean. I love you because you pay attention, to everything. I love you because you're honorable. I love your interest in insane genres like punk and horror, especially since it never seems to make you hard. I love the way you dress. I love your techno-geekery. I love your work ethic. I love that you never seem to stop learning. I love that family is important to you. I love that you're a planner. I love that you ride your bike to work, because that hill is intense. I love you because you call me on my bullshit. I love you because you make me a better person. I love your smile, and I love that, before you leave for work in the mornings, you come back and kiss me goodbye. I love our life together.
Friday, April 26, 2013
- Travel. Okay dudes, Iceland last year changed me. I never thought I would be that girl who would browse airline fares to places like Belize or Osaka, but here we are. I want to see more of the world. And it's not that Canada's not a total babe - she is! - but I've lived in three different provinces and visited four more. I've seen plenty of America, too. I want to go somewhere where the buildings are a thousand years old, and those places just don't exist in the New World.
- Also, let's just give a warm hand to Iceland in general. I loved it there. The fresh air, the billions of sheep, the insane one-way tunnels, and the dried fish jerky at every gas station? It. Was. Amazing. I want to figure out a way to be there more, because I felt so alive, so much like myself, that it was incredible. I've been researching Icelandic novelists, keeping my eye out for job openings, and occasionally find myself scrolling through my trip photos with a wistful sigh on my lips. It's an unrequited love affair.
That seal-duck is not to scale.
- The Royal Tenenbaums, which I've been thinking a lot about in a family sense. My boyfriend posted these amazing old-tyme-y epitaphs on his Twitter feed recently, and it reminded me strongly of Royal Tenenbaum's lying headstone, "Died Tragically Rescuing His Family From The Wreckage Of A Destroyed Sinking Battleship." And that made me remember my crush on that movie. We saw it New Year's Day, 2001, in a packed Manhattan cineplex. Our family were the only people who laughed during the post-suicide attempt hospital scenes. That movie is all about family - chosen, rejected, begrudgingly loved and lied to - and watching it with mine reminded me that I am related to lunatics and I couldn't be luckier.
- Switching up my appearance in some way. (Beyond the ongoing paleo diet, which has been a life-changer. At some point in the future, I'm going to inflict this horrible, pseudo-scientific blog post about the way I eat onto the world, and I'm going to be an asshole) I've been thinking about meaningful tattoos. I've been thinking about dying my hair. I've been thinking about my fashion sense; I finally have a closet that makes sense to me, and I love that. What does the inside-me look like, and how can I get my outsides a little closer?
- Next steps. I'm at a crossroads, professionally speaking.
Personally, I'm starting to feel the tidal pull of my 30s, and while
half of me wants to throw my hands up in the air and spent my food money
on airfare to Oslo, the other half whispers that maybe we should start
saving for a condo, or when am I going to have kids (which makes me ask,
can I even have kids? Let's all lie in bed staring at the ceiling and not blink for a while, yeah?), and maybe I should stop thinking about marriage and maybe I should stop eating meat and maybe, just maybe,
someone out there has it all figured out, and I need to find that
person and shake them by the lapels and make them tell me her secrets.
Breathe, girl. I know things will work out fine - they're working now! - and I just need to chill TFO. Also, I need to stop watching Girls and How I Met Your Mother, because those shows deal with exactly this type of thought process and they are infuriating. (And we all know the secret is healthy BMs and good friends, both of which I'm good on.)
- Crafts. Holy shit, crafts. I went to the City of Craft fair with my mom recently and it was so inspiring. And not in a "I could never do that" sort of way - although the vendors were all mega-talented - but in a way that asked, if those are their niches, which ones are mine? I've always loved working with fabric, and I've always loved collage (which I think explains my unreasonable lust for Pinterest), and I tweet these little poems about food and topknots and gold, and when I do, I feel better. I want to feel better more often. So I need to inspire myself.
Saturday, April 20, 2013
Ladies and gentlemen, I want you to take a good look at my tits. I know social convention frowns on this - the usual interaction is that you look, quickly and unobtrusively, and I pretend not to notice. But tonight, I want you to feast your eyes on these melons. I deliberately wore a low-cut outfit just so your job would be easier. Consider the size, where they are on my body. Food for thought: I wear a 36-E cup, which means that my breasts stand a full six inches - half a foot! - away from my ribcage. Think about the weight, how they might look in a tank top, or as I go jogging, or in an ill-fitting bathing suit. Think about what they might look like on a fourteen-year-old, or a 68-year-old. Imagine yourself as the owner-operator of this chest. Guys, I hate to break it to you, but I spend very little of my time at home playing with them. I spend far more time trying to wrestle them into some form of social acceptability. Trying not to scare the children, or make your wife uncomfortable. Imagine trying shopping for a job interview outfit, or even a goddamned button-up shirt.
When I was eleven, Alison Riley was the first girl in our class to start developing breasts. One day, we were all the same: little flat-chested kids with long arms and straight hair. The next - bam. Puberty. Puberty was a fickle and bad-tempered mistress for me. I was slammed with all the lousy, no-good parts of puberty first: acne, weird smells, an unshakeable chubbiness that was foreign to my previously lean little-girl body. My hair changed, from stick straight blonde to something that looked like a hedge. And I became devastatingly aware of boys. Once my friends, now they were the object of crushes, which meant that I was too terrified of them to actually hold a conversation. With all that avoided eye contact and mumbling, I developed a reputation as being weird. This was not unjustified.
In the young-adult books I read, breasts were often a subject of concern. I remember reading one book that suggested that your boobs would be fully developed when you could hold a toothbrush in place under your tit; the main character replied that the only way that would happen to her is if she glued the damn thing in place with toothpaste. I came of age in a time of buxom supermodels like Cindy Crawford, and Topanga from Boy Meets World, who had an unbeatable rack.
I yearned for breasts because I thought they would be my key to the kingdom of boys. After all, boobs were sexy, and boys wanted sex; ergo, boys would want me if I had boobs. The math seemed simple enough. I imagined that breasts would give me confidence, would transform me from mousy to Madonna. Alison Riley had become the object of male fascination with her new accessories, and I vowed that I would have the same for myself.
It might surprise the men in this audience to hear that growing tits hurts. Remember those pubescent growth spurts that would keep you awake at night, your whole body vibrating from the shock and betrayal of your next couple inches? We had the same thing, only our growth spurts were on our chests.
The process of developing breasts starts with a tenderness around the nipple. It itches, actually, but there is no way to scratch that infernal itch. Your breasts begin to swell. At this point, you spend all your waking hours trying to determine the exact moment you need a bra - too early, and you would be a poseur; too late, and you’re a floozy. Your nipples invert. You lie awake at night, trying to ignore the burn in your chest, and take a mental inventory of your clothes - which ones will hide your new assets, and which will show them off. Your parents start acting weird around you. At a certain point, you may realize that your tits aren’t going to look at all like the models in the magazines, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Remember: you are twelve years old.
The entire process take months. In the end, you have breasts. If you’re lucky, they are a pleasing size, shape, and symmetry. But, you know...probably not. They’re probably too big, too small, too low, different cup sizes, dark nipples, light nipples, and maybe even a hair or two. All your dreams come true, right?
I was twelve when I started developing, and instead of making me a sex symbol, I felt like I had a target painted on my chest. Attention from skeevy older boys was eagerly reciprocated, much to the disgust of my mom. I was one of a group of overdeveloped tweens, and our peers mocked up for allowing our boobs to grow so big. As if we had a choice. My female classmates gave me side-eye; the boys snapped my brastrap or “accidentally” brushed up against me on the bus. I withdrew as much as I could, but those damned things still stuck out. I was most disappointed in the reaction of the boys around me. I expected that growing a pair would render them helpless in my presence. After all, all the big-chested women in my magazines and Friday-night sitcoms had dudes falling all over them. What I failed to realize then was that the boobs had to be attached to someone with confidence. For something so soft, boobs make you tough in a hurry.
Mostly, they’re kind of a hassle. They get sore and swollen when I get my period, and they’re practically impossible to dress well at the office. I get inappropriate comments from men, and drunk women often think it’s okay to grope me - like they’re conducting a science experiment by feeling me up. Bras cost a ton of money, and no matter how hard I work out or how much I deny myself, there’s no way for me to diet into a B-cup.
The boob fairy was clearly drunk when she dropped off my rations, but that’s okay. I’m anticipating a rowdy support group someday - it’ll be me, Alison Riley, the ghost of Anna Nicole Smith, and all the big-titted ambivalent ladies I meet along the way. We’re out there, struggling in our turtlenecks and four-hook bras. We can see you staring. And one day, I swear to god, we are going to find a button-down shirt that actually fits.
Saturday, April 13, 2013
The story is too complicated to get down in a blog post, but the bones of the plot are that Michael J. Anderson (you may remember him as the dwarf from Twin Peaks)'s travelling circus picks up Ben, a young man who seems to have a healing gift despite the fact that he is often played with slack-jawed stupor by Nick Stahl; this circus has a collection of weirdos, like the family-act strippers, the bearded lady, and the conjoined twins. Some of the other circus members are decidedly more otherworldly, having been gifted with second sight and other supernatural powers. At the same time, a California preacher named Justin Crow is having visions, ones that inspire him to start a new congregation in the desert. He's a little too close with his sister (I mean, what would an HBO show even be without incest, amirite?) and seems to be able to control people with his mind, but he's a man of the cloth: he can't be all bad....except that the horrible rape scenes seem to suggest otherwise.
The show is just amazingly designed: it looks incredibly tactile, as though you can feel the fine layer of grime and blood on every surface. The downtrodden glamour of the circus is breathtaking- I want to steal the design elements for my home, except that I don't actually want to take decorating advice from blind mystics and coochie dancers. But the stripes! The feather fans! The overalls and handlebar moustaches! The caravans and painted elephants, the trousers and the bobbed hair! It strikes exactly the right balance of glamour and seediness, like stealing your dad's old leather jacket from his college bar-fight days, or drinking rum in back alleyways, or a slept-one smokey eyeshadow. It's bare red lightbulbs, falling-down thigh-high stockings, and cutting your own hair with paper scissors after three drinks.
What impresses me most about Carnivale is how adept it is at capturing how good America is at myth-building. Maybe it's a by-product of growing up in Canada, where we're mellower on chest-thumping nationalism, but I've always been fascinated by how Americans seem to be so good at creating stories about what it means to be American. There's even the phrase "American dream," which about boot-strap-yanking optimism and the chance to make yourself into a new man.
When I was a kid, I became a little obsessed with Disney. I read a couple biographies of Walt Disney, the man behind the empire (my favourite anecdote about how his Mickey Mouse persona clashed with his actual personality was that his employees would use their desk-to-desk phones to whisper Bambi's famous line "Man is in the forest," whenever Walt stomped into the building), but I was actually more interested in Disneyland and Disneyworld, the giant alternate universes Disney had built. It was fascinating to read about the design process, sure, but also to think about the narratives Disney was creating through spaces like Frontierland (a sanitized westward expansion where the Indians were dirty enemies) or Tomorrowland, where Disney presented his brand of futurism to the American public. He offered a cleaned-up past and limitless future, all meticulously maintained and complete with a snack bar.
A few years later, I became equally obsessed with Stephen King's epic novel The Stand, the 1000-page exploration of good and evil in a post-apocalyptic world. It raised questions of what I would do in that kind of situation - die? Side with the baddies? Have nutty dreams? All of the above? - but more importantly, created a whole self-contained world that was openly dealing with the questions of fate, destiny, God and whatever dark forces s/he works against. When I was fourteen, I needed that story so badly.
Mythmaking seems like it's an American pastime. Think of the phrases "in a post-9/11 world" or "remember the Alamo," or how concepts like baseball, jazz, or the Army are presented. They're particularly adept at creating good-versus-evil stories in which they are, naturally, the good guys. I think this is why conspiracy theories have always been particularly robust in America: like any country, America is an ethically ambiguous entity, but so much of the country's identity rests on being the good guy; creating an all-powerful "other" to take the fall for fucked-up shit means ordinary schmoes can distance themselves from America's bad behaviour. American is a sucker for a mascot: the Statue of Liberty, Klansmen (hey, not all mascots are good), Marilyn Monroe, the honorable soldier, the entrepreneur.
Combining all these elements into one 1930s-era stew is delicious. Carnivale is one of the slowest shows I've ever watched - even though the action is often creepy, the dialogue is obtuse and plots meander off and on the screen for a few episodes before things get to a head - which gives me plenty of time to peruse its Wikipedia articles and try to figure out all the seemingly random (so not random!) lines of dialogue and flashes of imagery. It's also fascinating to me that the show is set in a time when America was vulnerable - after the golden Jazz Age, before the revitalizing pulse of WWII - because those are the moments that seem open to creating new mythologies. We all need new stories when our old ones no longer fit; America, it seems, has always been on the lookout for both the Next Big Thing and Our Glorious Past, and this show nestles right in the middle.
I guess the only thing I can think of to compare would be, indeed, that post-9/11 world, when Americans were seen as victims and heroes. The shock of the attacks led to a moment of pure, still panic as dust and paper and bodies fell on New York City; this was followed by months and years of flag raising, xenophobic hollering, Dick Cheney, Iraq, Jon Stewart, and a thousand other mini-industries. Imagine that coming towards your family farm in 1936 in the form of a dust storm a thousand feet high. Imagine that happening for years. No wonder the producers of Carnivale were drawn to that setting. Those people must have been exhausted. They must have been ready to listen to anybody. I know I would have been.