Saturday, July 25, 2015

Food on Four Wheels

One of my favourite things from our California honeymoon last fall was a night out in Venice Beach's Abbott Kinney neighbourhood. Abbott Kinney is sort of what would happen if Toronto's Kensington Market met Yorkville: it's got a beachy, hippie vibe, but the cashmere sweatshirts cost $400. I loved it, because it felt self-contained in a way that a lot of Los Angeles didn't. Toronto is made up of an archipelago of neighbourhoods, while LA seemed like more an oozing sprawl. (I say this with affection, of course.)

In Abbott Kinney, we shopped, walked up and down the street, stopped in for dinner at an upscale resto, drank delicious cocktails, and basically acted like we had more money than we do. When we left the restaurant, the sidewalks were still buzzing with people, most of whom were lined up for the First Friday festival. There were dozens of food trucks lining the curb, each with two lineups: one of hungry Angelenos clutching cash, and a second of dreamy-faced eaters who were snacking on everything from gourmet cotton candy to Korean short ribs. Meanwhile, the restaurants that lined the other side of the sidewalk were wrangling lineups of their own.

It was a scene to give Toronto City Hall the willies. They've been adamant that food trucks will be the death of the traditional dining experience, and that this menace on four wheels will one day overtake bistros, cafes, and restaurants and leave us all out on the sidewalk.

I think this is crazy. I am biased—after all, we had a food truck cater our wedding—but there seems to be several major bonus to encouraging a local food truck scene.

First of all, from an economic standpoint, there are a couple key differences from a brick-and-mortar place.  Fun fact: restaurants are expensive, yo! People need to get a lease, buy all this equipment, hire staff, get a liquor license, decorate, design a full menu, &c, &c, &c. A recent National Geographic article pegged the average start-up costs for a food truck at 75 grand, while a "real" restaurant clocked in a cool quarter-million dollars.

Putting together a full kitchen and a full menu is a ton of work. Food trucks have smaller, more specialized menus, which mean that the space to cook in can be highly specialized. (If you don't have to have both a deep-fryer for your calamari appetizer and a freezer for your chocolate gelato dessert, you can use that space for equipment you actually need.) Not having space for more than two people on the truck means that you can't hire more than a handful to run your whole business, keeping your staffing costs lower.

Lowering the cost of entry means that more people can afford to do it, giving a wider range across the socio-economic spectrum. It also means creativity: if your specialty is, say, hot dogs, then how many variations can you offer? How about dumplings? Hand pies? Ice cream bars? Narrowing your focus can mean a sudden influx of a-ha moments. (No topping hot dogs with ice cream bars, please.) And let's not forget the cultural diversity. Many of the American food trucks focus on regional cuisines, such as Mexican, Egyptian, Korean—Toronto, as one of the most diverse cities in the world, is already comfortable with eating all over the map. Show me a Toronto schwarma restauranteur who wouldn't be equally happy running a food truck.

Plus, you're mobile. Run out of food 3/4 of the way through a busy night? You don't have to deal with hungry customers who have been sitting for twenty minutes while you scramble to figure out if you can somehow combine chives, orange juice, and carrots to make the tortellini with pesto they ordered. You can just drive away. You can also chase your market, going from the construction worker crowd, who eats their first lunch at 10 AM, to late-night party girls who won't touch a carb when sober but who will happily wolf down a burrito at 3 AM.

That's not to say that food trucks are perfect. It's hard to prep meals for a hundred people in a space the size of a walk-in closet. Like any food business, profit margins can be slim, and it's damned hard work. More than a traditional restaurant, food trucks have to be on it with social media; after all, it doesn't matter if you have the best gyros in the city if nobody knows that you're down on Cherry Street today. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and being listed on various food truck finder apps are all required to build a following; then again, most of those tools are free. 

So why am I singing the food truck's praises so hard? Because Toronto has been usually strict in regulating how and where these business can operate. For years, they had to be at least 50 meters away from an open business, and could only stay in the same spot for three hours; now it's thirty meter and five hours. There are less than 200 food trucks licensed in Toronto (this doesn't include the nearly 150 ice cream trucks, who don't face the same restrictions), and checking the Toronto Food Truck app reveals that many of the trucks listed there operate well outside of the GTA: Collingwood, Kitchener, and Barrie all get hits. In trying to protect the established restaurant industry, Toronto seems unwilling to believe that food trucks can co-exist with a relative level of harmony.

In Los Angeles, meanwhile, food trucks have their own professional association, a real-time website revealing current locations, and it's part of an $800M annual national industry. It's seen as a natural extension of the city's vibrant foodie scene, and a showcase for the city's ethnically diverse population. Food trucks are big business there, and they're not confined to the sidelines. In other cities, food trucks have been seen as a menace to local business, but one blog I read compared the conflict to record labels vs. online music downloads. In other words: things evolve, so evolve with them.

I feel like this could be part of an ongoing lament of how Toronto lags in comparison to other cities. From art-school gift shops to public transit to families stuck in tiny condos to city parks that close in order to host international games, it's hard not see the cracks in Toronto the Good's facade. I want Toronto to be better. I want this city to be as innovative as it thinks it is, and to innovate outside of the white-dude, middle-aged, working-with-a-pension box that is slowly falling apart. Food trucks aren't the only way Toronto could take on that challenge, but they certainly are the most delicious.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Things I Was Wrong About



Following is a list, by no means complete, of erroneous opinions, reconsidered thoughts, and retracted statements belonging to yours truly:

  • Carbohydrates. They are delicious. Paleo works like a top to keep me lithe(ish) and supple(ish), but there is just no substitute for tortellini with pesto.
     
  • Dungeons and Dragons-themed games. Specifically, Lords of Waterdeep, which is fun and easy to play, and has a level of mystical nerdiness that's still accessible if you don't happen to be a middle-school dork.

  • How I Met Your Mother. That show, along with Friends, has aged horribly. It's sexist, transphobic, misogynist, commitment-phobic, and worst of all, it gave the world Barney Stinson. I'm sure that Neil Patrick Harris is a peach IRL, but Barney Stinson was a woman-loathing manchild Lothario in a nice suit. (It should be noted that Ted Mosby also sucked, but in a completely different way.) I hate that, for a while in the mid-2000s, Barney Stinson became a cultural touchstone, and that I was initially sucked in by this show.

  • Los Angeles is hot, sunny, easy to navigate, attractive, and has great food trucks. I think too much early exposure to Woody Allen had convinced me otherwise.

  • Woody Allen in general, come to think of it.

  • I stand by my opinion that space colonization is morally wrong (I'll get into it someday, but basically: we're not entitled to any damn planet we can get our grubby hands on; we have no way of knowing if our presence on another planet would be devastating to another species [or devastate the conditions that would allow another species to grow and evolve]; and the money, time and resources that we put into getting to and terraforming another planet would be much better spent on earth, for things like alternative energies, birth control, and hunger relief), but I will admit that seeing Pluto was pretty cool. If it's possible to be for space exploration and against space colonization, I choose that.

  • Though I can't watch Hannibal because it gives me the fear-barfs, the show is beautifully shot and artfully produced. The odd episode that I've seen since I swore it off after season one has been gorgeous, and its insistence on both tactile glamour and Carrie-levels of gore is super weird for a prime-time network show. And honestly, it's only gotten more baroque and insane as the seasons went on, which made it the perfect counter-balance to all the by-the-book crime dramas that seem to run for hundreds of thousands of seasons. To all the people who embraced Hannibal with their whole, sick hearts: I'm sorry for your loss

  • People who say "we're pregnant" aren't total monsters, probably.

  • The second season of True Detective is just not living up to its potential. (Insert "disappointed high school vice-principal sigh" here.) I miss Cary Fukunaga! I miss Woody Harrelson! I'm glad Rachel McAdams is there, and that Bird-Mask is around, because they seem fun. But good goddamn, I do not care at all about Taylor Kitsch's 1980s-era cartoon tortured-gay-guy character,  and Colin Farell leaves me cold, and without Woody Harrelson around as an eye-rolling audience proxy, Nic Pizzolatto's the-world-is-a-vampire schtick, delivered this season from Vince Vaughan's unconvincing maw, reveals itself to be grating and pretentious. I believe that this season can turn it around; I don't thing it'll live up to the art of season one, and I think the potential to develop it into something truly cool—which, on paper, with the gangsters and the high-speed trains and LA's seedy underbelly and the promise of the occult, it definitely had—is rapidly running out of time.

  • Chicken hearts. When you grill them, they're like tiny hot dogs. Who doesn't want tiny hot dogs?

  • The mesh shirt that I bought from Value Village as a joke, which I never thought I would wear out of the house, which has been a godsend to me on hot days, and which has forced me to confront and celebrate my body—which, despite its flaws, I find myself being amazed by. Through the mesh. Through the raver-adjacent, too-young-for-me, inappropriate-everywhere mesh. I love this stupid mesh shirt.
Image via Valfre

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Love on the Moon


I want all things to be perfect all the time. I want perfect hair, framing a perfect face, above a perfect body. I want a perfect life: working a perfect job, earning a perfect paycheque, going home to a perfect partner. When I die, I want people to weep furiously; or, because we are WASPs who are lousy at dealing with emotion, I would like picturesque tears to slip down powdery faces as they look at me, impeccably posed and still beautiful in my casket, and murmur, "She was so perfect."

Never mind that there are a hundreds of definitions of perfect, and thousands of things that will take a girl into A+ territory without technically cracking 100. Perfection is the horse on which I have placed my bet.

Surprising no one, so far, I am not winning.

It took me over a decade to forgive myself for not having the perfect body, and that was damned hard work. Much to my chagrin, I still unthinkingly buy into the myth of perfection in other areas of my life: the best friend, the perfect husband, the dream job. I've convinced myself that there is one, Platonic, ultimate ideal in each category, and all those who fail to live up to its standards are wastes of my time.

Which is baloney, of course. But the thing about baloney is that it still tastes good.

When I was alone, I could be sucked into a vortex of perfectionism and no one suffered but me. But now that I'm married, I'm being forced to confront that I am—ugh—deeply imperfect. Especially, I love imperfectly. I hold grudges. I fight. I make excuses for myself that I would only resentfully accept from anyone else. This feels different from the flawed love I've offered boyfriends, lovers, and friends. I don't know why marriage changes things, but it does. This matters more. The stakes are higher.

This week, I came home from an evening out and found that my husband had made the bed. On my pillow, there was a little love pile: my baby blanket, the Now magazine already opened to the crossword, and M's favourite little stuffed dog from when he was a kid. On my bedside table, there was a glass of water. My light was on. It was the sweetest gesture, the kindest demonstration of affection and love I could ever want.

The next night, we fought twice and I was told that I never listen, ever (which, in my defense, isn't technically true; I listen, just not very well and often defensively). We had two nit-picky, irritated walks and several large, MAD-style farts. We went to bed angry.

I woke up contrite. I woke up thinking about that little pile of things, and the heart that made it so. I woke up thinking about how that coming home to that bed, that glass of water, that light, was, well, a perfect demonstration of the type of love I get, and how often I get it.

I'm not perfect, and I need to stop thinking it's something to strive for. I need to stop thinking of my way/opinion/method as being "the right one." I understand that in this vague, dumb way (the same way I understand long division), but I need to really get it. This divorce from perfection needs to be in my blood, flow through my veins, get into my brain, and dissolve my commitment to always being the smartest, most beautiful, most accomplished person in the room. It's the only way I can really love, and can really receive the love that flows my way.

I read an article about Buzz Aldrin, the one of the first men to ever walk on the moon. In the article, the author writes about the peculiar duality of American astronauts. They were smart, good-looking risk-takers who could not afford to dwell on the impossibility of their mission. Going to the moon was so fraught with the possibility of failure, at so many junctions, that only perfection would keep them alive. One NASA engineer put their odds of success at 50-50.

And yet: they didn't obsess. They didn't give distraught interviews with the press about their fear of failure, the fear that their inevitable mistakes would kill them. They joked around with Lyndon B. Johnson on earth and made ham sandwiches in space. They told the press, years later, that they didn't think about what could go wrong. They did their best; that was, in the end, good enough.

Getting married is a little like climbing into a space pod with another person, and praying to god that all your bolts have been tightened and your math has been triple-checked. But once you're out there, you can't focus on all the imperfections. At least, that doesn't do any good. I have to learn to trust that good enough is just right, for me, the people I love, and the people who love me.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Work History


When I was a kid, I didn't really have an answer to that classic kid question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" For a while, I had a variety of disingenuous fake comebacks like political analyst, but to be honest, I didn't know what a political analyst did when I was ten, and I still don't really know now.

When I went to university (which I did because literally every adult in my life told me university would be a pre-requisite for any success in the workforce), I had some limited self-knowledge. I knew that I liked reading, and that I had received good feedback on writing assignments in high school. I signed up for English courses, mostly, and did okay, mostly. In the years when I was depressed and uninspired, I tended to skip classes in favour of eating hot chocolate mix directly out of the jar, which didn't really do much for my GPA (or my mental health) (or my blood sugar), and when I failed or nearly failed those courses, I began to feel like even English literature was no longer a place where I could thrive.

While I was still chipping away at my interminable degree, I joined the board of the housing co-op where I lived. Those meetings were both some of the dullest, most bureaucracy-heaven hours of my life, but they were also a training ground for me. I learned a lot, including skills in long-term planning, communication, managing and working with people (which, for a 24-year-old idiot, is pretty valuable), and just dealing with dull bureaucracy as a function of work. I felt like I was working on things that mattered in a way that, when I was reading Daisy Miller, did not really come up.

In any case, when I graduated, I took my co-op experience and my degree and began to gravitate towards administrative jobs in the non-profit sector. I worked for a non-profit condo developer, for a housing co-op, for a social justice documentary maker, for a food-security charity. On paper, these jobs sound more prestigious and amazing than they really were: a lot of my roles were secretarial or PA-based. I continued to write, I continued to read. I sometimes joined the co-op board as an alumni member, and sometimes I didn't.

And all the while, I floated on. I knew that, at some point, I was going to have to get serious about what I wanted to do with my life. But I still hear no calling, and I still have the same job title at 31 as I did at 25. I took vague stabs at figuring it all out—maybe I would be a therapist! Maybe I would be a HR whiz! Maybe I would be a writer!—but I never followed through. The reasons are complicated: university sucked up thousands of dollars and left me gun-shy about investing any more money in post-secondary education; I am risk-averse and not particularly pro-active, so launching myself into new and unproven work or school territory is legitimately scary; without a serious call to action, I feel like a fraud when I investigate other types of work.

Ironically, I write an interview column called I Want Your Job. Most of the people I talk to have one of two things in common: they love the work they do, or they love the people they work with. The word "community" comes up a lot in those conversations. So does the word "passion." Over the last couple years, I've transcribed interviews in tears because I felt like I didn't have either.

Also ironically, I have great role models in my own life. My parents weren't great at this, to be honest: my mom didn't work outside the home, and my dad's job was an impenetrable mash of long hours and esoteric job function (I was 30 before I knew—like, really knew—what a project manager actually does). But my friends; oh, my friends! I know no fewer than five people who went back to school after their undergrad to refine and further their professional selves. From public policy to nursing, from teaching to graphic design, from photography to pottery classes, from library sciences to a PhD in political science. It's an amazing gamut of education, made possible by self-knowledge and drive.

But it feels like there's something lacking in me. I have a vague sense of what I like, but they're often conflicting checkboxes, not the final answer. For example: I like working alone, and with a peer group. I tend to chafe under authority, and I tend to like clear direction from higher-ups. I like creativity (writing, cooking, working with my hands), and I like problem-solving. I'm smart, but probably not as I smart as I think I am. I want time with my friends and family. I get bored easily, and that is accelerated if I don't feel like my work makes a difference. I think the reason I've stuck it out in low-level admin jobs is because working for non-profits let me think my work matters...but I'm actually not sure that that part of the equation carries as much weight as it used to.

(And before someone says, "But you're a writer!" let me say this: I love writing. I do not currently make my living at it. Becoming a full-time, paying-my-bills-at-it writer would probably mean becoming a journalist; if you refer back to the paragraph about being risk-averse and not pro-active, you might see that making a living by chasing stories and putting myself out there might not be so appealing, although to my credit, I am getting better.)

Okay, so anyway, what does this long rambling history and half-assed therapy session have to do with anything? Basically, I'm tired. I'm tired of feeling like I'm in a rut. I'm tired of not knowing who I am, what my destiny is. Many, many people never feel "a calling" or "a vocation," but most of those people don't suffer angst for it. It's normal to work a job, have no strong feelings about it, and enjoy the other parts of your life enough that those 9-5 hours aren't what define you. But I'm chafing in my little box, and I don't know how to upgrade to a better, roomier, more Kaitlyn-ish box. Or to get out of the box altogether.

I feel like I should know, like I want to know. I want more than what I have set myself up for. I want to feel fearlessly forward-moving. But right now, I don't.

So I'm at a loss as to what to do. In the next year, three years, five years, I want to be doing something different. I want more challenges, and bigger payoffs. I want mentors, and a community. And I know that putting it out there doesn't magically make it happen, but I certainly know that I'm not alone in this. All those friends who went back to school must have had a come-to-Jesus moment where they said "That could be my life." And I want to start talking about how those moments are shaped, how they happen. They could even happen to me one day, if I let them.

Image via Enkel Dika

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Truest Detectives


I'll admit that, when I first heard of True Detective, I confused it with the Jason Schwartzman/Ted Danson comedy Bored To Death, about a writer who pretends to be a private eye. I was like, "huh, that's still on? Weird." And then I just went about my life.

When I finally clued in, I watched the entire series over the course of a weekend. The show's moody, brooding disgust with its own world was mesmerizing: the Louisiana bayou could, and did, suck any number of secrets (and the men who kept them) into its backwater bogs. For me, season one was about what happens when men break: the cost of maintaining a masculine identity, the cost of losing one's place as family leader, and the men who close ranks to protect those among them who hurt women. Rust Cohle and Marty Hart weren't exempt from this brokenness. They only worked well together when they were working a case—any attempt at socializing ended in disaster.

As the series began, it seemed clear that Cohle, played by Matthew McConaughey, was the more damaged of the two. After all, his wife was gone, his kid was dead, and he had spent untold months drugged to the gills as part of an undercover sting operation. Paradoxically, of the two lead characters, Cohle seemed to have the better handle on who he was; Woody Harrelson's Hart was a philadering liar whose need to be liked—nay, loved—governed his every interaction. Say what you want about Cohle, but at least he was an asshole to your face.

Anyway, the show begat a million think pieces and Hot Takes, focusing on everything from the cinematography to its anti-natalist bent to the semi-mystical elements to the unfeminist angle it seemed to pursue. It was Big Deal TV, and it had seemingly come out of nowhere. By the time I heard of it, the show was already three episodes deep; by the time it was finished, we were having True Detective huddles at every cocktail party, birthday outing, and bar crawl.

So season two, which kicked off on Sunday, has big shoes to fill. The show is an anthology, which means that no-one from seasons one's cast has returned, and the action and storyline have shifted from Louisiana to Los Angeles. What unites the two seasons so far is corruption (in season one, it was spiritual; now, it's political) and police characters.

The cast is....okay? I mean, I don't really care about Colin Farrell. To me, he's in the same group as Ryan Reynolds and Jessica Biel; that is, people who are bigger names than they are actors. The last big movie Farrell was in was Total Recall in 2012, which wasn't a flop, but it wasn't exactly a hit, either. Same with Rachel McAdams and Vince Vaughan; Vaughan, especially, has some work to do, seeing as how lately he's been phoning it with with "movies" like The Intership and Unfinished Business, both of which were unmitigated failures, and both of which earned Vaughan special excoriation for his performances. He's definitely driving the McConaughey bus in this season. True Detective is his chance to atone for those past movies, and prove that he's more than just a lumpy sack of eye-rolling. It'll be interesting to see if these guys have the chops to manage writer/creator/show-runner Nic Pizzolatto's somewhat heavy-handed dialogue without chewing every last scene from now until August.

Anyway, the story seems to be about a few different things. First and foremost is the construction of a high-speed rail corridor through central California—and, I mean, there's nothing sexier than public transit plots, amiright? Vaughan's character Frank Semyon is a gangster who seems to have reformed enough to be a viable leader on this project, but not so much that Ray Velcoro, Farrell's dirty cop character, isn't still his heavy on the side. It's a relationship that goes back the better part of a decade, after Semyon hipped Velcoro to the man who raped his wife. Velcoro is also investigating ("investigating"?) the disappearance of the City Manager, who was in business with Semyon.

McAdams plays Ani Bezzerides, a Sherrif's detective who isn't quite capable of separating her personal life from her work; hence, the raid on the cam-girl house where her sister works; hence, her spitting hate towards her guru father when she investigates one of his missing compound employees. I'm not sure how she ends up at the scene when the City Manager is discovered, eyeless and (presumably) dickless on the side of the road, but she is there. (Copious amounts of internet searching turned up bupkis on that front, so I'm going to assume it was because it happened on the side of the road and she has some sort of jurisdiction?) And Taylor "Tim Riggins" Kitsch plays the sexually defunct highway patrolman who finds said City Manager's body, after a game of high-speed, cheek-flapping motorcycle chicken with himself.

This season was promoted with vague allusions to "the occult" and "public transportation," which don't really seem to go together (unless the Metrolinx staff have a lunchtime Wiccan circle they're not telling us about), but I'm excited to see how the show handles that intersection. I'm also excited that there is a real live female cop in this season, which was sorely lacking last time around. And I'm excited to read all the endless recaps and think pieces that I'm sure will come out of this season, too.

True Detective is often not quite a show, per se: it's more a series of moods, of chiascuro-lit set pieces, of dialogue that would make a suitable bumper sticker for a hearse. It's T Bone Burnett's impeccable soundtrack work, of Cary Fukunaga's—and now, Justin Lin's—challenging scene direction. It's a chance for all of us to step into the swirl of television criticism, because both seasons seem to offer so much to critique. I don't mean that the season two is bad; quite the opposite. The show in its entirety is a rich swirl of character, plot, and philosophy. It's trying to say something about the world, which gives people a lot to chew on. 

With its older sibling now graduated, this season will have to fight to prove that it's up to the task of engrossing us all—of ruining another season of cocktails parties with our True Detective huddle. Even if it's not as "good," I think it's already well on its way to being just as interesting to think about.

Image via The Decider

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Ghomeshi Chronicles


This month's Toronto Life cover story leaves me feeling a bit icky. Jian Ghomeshi's face, in that classic grainy black-and-white mugshot aesthetic, is grinning out at me. The cover line promises to delve into "who is standing by him, and why he's sure he'll walk," which immediately made me wonder what kind of article this would be.

As it turns out, the article is more of a conflicted MASH note to Ghomeshi than a solid rebuke. Just what we needed

The article, clocking in at over 4,000 words, was written by Leah McLaren. She refers to Ghomeshi as Jian throughout the piece, as if she's writing about a friend. And, indeed, she is. McLaren first met Ghomeshi over 16 years ago; in the article, there's a photo of them together at her wedding.  He is her friend, and she has the job of investigating how he lives after being exposed as a man whose penchant for sexual violence cost him his work and his reputation.

Over and over again, McLaren shows us moments of Ghomeshi overstepping boundaries, and then backs away from making a solid judgement about them. To wit: after their first meeting, when he was 32 and she was 23, he invites her—the journalist who had just interviewed him—to an orgy. In their last exchange, an email Ghomeshi sent McLaren after the death of his father and before his exposure, he mentions a long-ago crush on her, and that he had imagined marrying McLaren. When McLaren shows the email to her husband, he just rolls his eyes and dismisses it as "creepy," but McLaren thinks it's a nice summation of her relationship with Ghomeshi:

It was quintessential Jian. Grieving the loss of his father but still a consummate flirt, reminding me of our shared (non-romantic) history, complete with a self-deprecating reference to his anxiety issues and winky-face emoticon.
But here's the thing that McLaren misses, either deliberately or accidentally: when a man knows a woman is married and says that he would have liked to marry her, it crosses a line. When a musician invites a young woman doing her job into group sex, it crosses a line. The consequence for crossing a line doesn't have to be severe, but it should exist. There's no indication that McLaren has ever felt that Ghomeshi's comments and invitations are out of line. For whatever reason, she shows us these moments, but steadfastly plays them off as jokes, as Jian being Jian, as a usual moment in her friendship with an unusual man. When she mention a moment at Q, when "just seconds before going on air, he said he liked it when his girlfriend wore a certain baggy wool sweater because he knew it was obscuring the bruises on her breasts," she doesn't condemn him—which she could, on multiple levels: as a sadist, as an abuser, as an inappropriate member of his workplace—but just tells us about the moment. I don't know how she feels, but I know how I do: gross, dude.

The fact that McLaren does come out halfway through the article and say that "though none of the allegations against Jian have been proven in court, I now believe he behaved violently and without consent on what appears to be a habitual basis over the past 20-odd years" is a mild count in her favour, made even milder by the fact that she forgets to say, "and it's a problem!"

Maybe this is how people in Canadian journalism really feel about Ghomeshi—he was powerful, and he was well-liked (as long as you could tolerate the occasional bruised breast). I wish McLaren hadn't been so quick to discuss those warm gatherings over at Ghomeshi's house in the Beaches, and his ability to hang onto friends despite the allegations against him.

This is a sympathetic portrait of a man in trouble, of a man who created his own trouble by abusing his power and the women around him. Jian Ghomeshi is not an accident. He made this problem for himself. I am not sure why Leah McLaren and Toronto Life feel it's necessary to play this as a great downfall, a tragedy of the misunderstood. I'm not sure why we're supposed to be inspired by his confidence; unless this story was published as meta-demonstration of the type of ambivalence Ghomeshi produces, even now, I can't imagine the point of defending this person.

I know we like a good anti-hero. I know we like a good, messy, complicated story. And the story here seems to be that McLaren, even having been exposed to Ghomeshi's boundary-bruising firsthand, still wavers. It is difficult to hear that your friend is a lousy person. But it's not as if Ghomeshi operated in secret; from the very first time she met him, alarms bells should have been ringing.

But they didn't.

I will tell a story of my own life. Back in high school, there was a boy named Neil. Neil was charming—funny, self-effacing, good looking—but suffered from cripplingly low self-esteem. He dated girls who were smart and beautiful, and he cheated on them, a lot. To him, sex and sexuality were a salve for his feelings of inadequacy, and so he weaponized that. He would say things like, "The only reason you don't want to have sex with me is because I'm fat and ugly," and the girls, both girlfriend and extracurrical, would be in the position of having to soothe him even as he ignored what they wanted.

One by one, the girls wised up; the boy became a man. When I last saw Neil, I was dating my husband, and Neil and I met for a drink. At the bar, he put his hand on my thigh, and I told him to take it off. Neil pouted, called me a tease, said "The only reason you don't want to have sex with me is because I'm fat and ugly," and when I refused to comfort him, he left. It was a relief.

I have known Neil for a long time, and I have known him to be charming and fun company. But after him crossing the line for so many years, and after hearing about him cross other people's lines, I grew tired of excusing his behaviour. The alarms didn't start ringing that night at the bar; they had been going off for years. I know that Neil has his damage, and might think he has good reasons for acting the way he does, but it doesn't make it less toxic. Being friends with Neil meant I had to excuse the way he treated women, and I finally reached a point where I didn't want to.

There is a difference between knowing about something and condoning it. I know about Neil; I don't condone him. I do not get the sense that McLaren, or Toronto Life, has made that distinction about Ghomeshi.

Image via Dream Fierce

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Short Love Letters to the Writers of My Childhood


Dear Madeleine L'Engle: Thank you for writing Many Waters, and making sure that, when I was eleven, it was on the market with this cover. That cover, which reminded me in all right ways of a certain Mr. J.T. Thomas, was one of the most wonderful pieces of proto-sex fantasy I could ever wish for. Thank you for writing A Wrinkle In Time: despite the Jesus-y parts, which I had blocked out of my memory entirely, the book is still a really weird, fun example of science fiction for children, written as though kids are capable of grasping both scientific and metaphysical concepts. I'll never forget that image of Charles Wallace, his eyes pinwheeled into nothingness, berating his sister. It rivals 1984 for utter annihilatory creepiness.

Dear R.L. Stine: You scared the ever-loving shit out of me with Goosebumps #14, The Werewolf of Fever Swamp. My bedroom was in the basement, and my bunk bed was right in line with the ground-level windows, which meant that I spent the better part of two years waiting for werewolves to burst into my bedroom and eat me.

Dear Ann M. Martin: Bless your heart for making chapters two and three of every Baby-Sitters Club book totally skippable. Thanks for giving us Jessie, the eleven-year-old Black ballerina, and Matt Braddock, the deaf baby-sittee, and Danielle, who had cancer, and Stacey, with the diabetes. Even though these characters were as one-dimensional as paper dolls, and often defined by their differences, at least they weren't automatically punished for them. Even network TV is still playing catch-up on that front.

Dear Paula Danziger: Thank you for writing confused, angry teen characters whose anger and confusion wasn't the sum total of who they were. Parents—adults in general—are sort of fumbling around in the dark most of the time, so thank you for making your families fallible, because I learned through you that families can fall apart in more ways than just with the Dead Parent trope. Finally, thumbs up for setting This Place Has No Atmosphere on the moon, because that is a deeply silly place to set YA fiction and that makes it perfect.

Robert O'Brien: Thank you for writing both Z for Zachariah and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIHM. These are both deeply weird, deeply science-driven books that I haven't read in ages, but I think about often and fondly. The cover for Z for Zachariah, in particular, is one that has stuck with me for more than two decades.

Dear Nancy Farmer: I know that a white woman setting a book in a futuristic Africa wasn't ever going to be completely the right thing, even if you did actually live and work in Mozambique. But in The Eye, The Ear and The Arm, you knew enough to treat Zimbabwe like a specific place, with its own history and culture, instead of just one panoramic view of AFRICA: PLACE OF OTHERS. It was thrilling for me to read about a place that wasn't another Sweet Valley knock-off, and Black characters who weren't marked by their blackness.

Dear Judy Blume: You are the gold standard of writing for girl children, even if my own personal experience of reading you was 80% confusion over what a sanitary belt was, and 20% skepticism over Getting One's Period as the defining moment of my teen life. So, uh, thanks?

Dear Francine Pascal: Thank you for never once explaining what the fuck a "lavaliere" necklace was, or why it was so important to have a heart-shaped face. Thanks, also, for playing into that uptight bitch/flighty bitch duality that women are assigned to. Thanks for making the smart kids ugly, too. That was great. Oh, wait: your books were soaps for teens, and they taught me that having a perfect body or money meant you could be an asshole. So thanks for nothing.

Gordon Korman: Thank you for making laugh so hard at Son of Interflux that, when I tried to read a chapter aloud to my young sister in the waiting of the dentist's office, I slid off the black leather couch and onto the floor in hysterical glee. The receptionist peered at me, and my sister, who was laughing in that helpless "I don't know what we're laughing at!" kind of way, and then pointedly ignored us. Also, your insights into Teen Dude Brain were highly valued on my end.

E.L. Konigsburg: Thank you one million times for From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Claudia Kincaid is a bad-ass bitch who is afraid of nothing except not knowing. She is fierce, determined, swoony, romantic, particular, and grim. She is a girl who is very much a girl—that is, a female character that can't be rewritten as male—but a human being first and foremost. Her adventures in the Met spawned a lovely shot in The Royal Tenenbaums, and ten million arty runaway fantasies. Your book is a puzzle, a love letter to learning, and a sly poke at well-behaved children. It is a perfect map of young adulthood, of being a girl, and learning about yourself. So, yes: thank you.