Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Working Through the Storm

A month ago, I quit my job. It was a long time coming.

When I was first hired at the place I will call Housen, I was ambivalent. It was a job, and after a year of unemployment, any job was going to be the right job, because it was going to pay my rent and let me have some of that so-called financial freedom that work is supposed to allow. Right away, things went weird: my hiring manager, the only other person on the Housen staff, went on a personal leave to take care of her sick mother. At the end of her allotted six weeks, her mother was neither better nor worse, so she asked for an extension, which the board she answered to denied. So she quit.

I was then left alone for the next six months. Housen's board president came in once or twice a week—he and I split her workload between us, and I took the communications and office administration side, while he navigated the financials. Things got done. The fall fundraising campaign fell to me, and I knocked it out of the park. In fundraising, a campaign that returns more gifts and money than the previous year's is a success, and my campaign did both those things. Other projects were less glorious: the annual gala  needed an in-house staffer who could lead the way, and there was no one on staff to do that. It ended up being split between a part-time event planner, a volunteer committee chair, and about seventeen different women who made calls, picked up silent auction items, bullied the venue staff, and more. It was a patchwork quilt time at Housen, and sometimes things didn't get sewn all the way to the end. But, for the most part, it was manageable. Not fun, but manageable.

Things changed once the new Executive Director was hired. Whoever was going to step into that role was going to be seen as the saviour of the organization, a person who would lead Housen into United Way-level fundraising on a shoestring budget. Laurence came with great bona fides: nine years tenure at a charity, deep involvement in the community that donated to Housen, and the ability to talk and talk and talk.

We was doomed from the beginning.

Laurence and I never connected very well. He saw me as a glorified handmaiden, someone who should drop everything if he let out a peep of confusion or distress. I, on the other hand, had had to work out any issues that had come up in the previous half-year on my own, with only the barest of support. I expected him to be an professional adult; he expected me to be a gum-snapping, nail-filing, cartoon-secretary ditz who would be at his beck and call.

He was flummoxed and irritated by his email. He swore constantly. He interrupted me, the office volunteers, the president of the board, tech support, donors. He called our accountant multiple times a day, looking for guidance on things like what a P&L statement is. He used words like "rationalize," a business-ese expression that means organize but sounds fancier and more cutting-edge. He took the limitations of Housen's donor database system personally. He spent so long working on a mailing list that we nearly missed the holiday it was supposed to be honouring. His gift of gab transformed 15-minute check-in conversations into meandering anecdotes and opportunities to name drop. He had a habit of sticking his hand into the waistband of his pants when we spoke, a personal tic that bordered on the inappropriate.

Having to spend my days locked in an office with this man took an emotional toll. I would come home and cry. Sometimes, I would come home and vomit out of sheer anxiety. My parents encouraged me to speak up for myself. After all, I wasn't doing anything wrong. What were they going to do—fire me? After many weeks of screwing up my courage, I sent an email and asked Laurence for a meeting to discuss the tension in the office.

The gods have a funny way of dealing with personal strife. Sometimes, merely setting some corrective motion in action is enough to make them smile down on you. Two days after I sent the email, I got a call from an agency I had applied to two years before. They wanted to interview me.

It took two weeks for Laurence and I to sit down and discuss the issues I had brought up. Two weeks of him telling me he was too busy, that he didn't believe in meetings, that more important conversations with other people would need to come first. By the time we sat down together, I had already talked to the other agency. I was waiting for my references to be called. It would be the very next day when I would get the official job offer.

I quit my job on a Monday. Laurence barely reacted. In the ensuing two weeks, he made no concessions to the fact that half his office staff was leaving. I prepared a manual—how to enter donations, how to pay an invoice—and left that for him. I offered more than once to sit down with him and go over any questions he might have, knowing full well that I would be inundated once I left the office. (I wasn't wrong: it was less than three hours after my final day at Housen when he texted me, asking if I would call their email service provider for him. I reminded him that I had left all that contact information for him, and that I didn't work there any more.)

Those last two weeks felt heavy. I hope Housen does well, because they have a well-meaning mission and a dedicated donor base. Under the right direction, they should grow.

But leaving was still the right choice. I moved into a job where I can work from home, and where I have enough time to write, and get paid to write. This is great. This is literally the thing that I've wanted for years. And it feels good. Housen was always going to be a stepping stone: having two people in an office means that someone is always the boss, and that someone was never going to be me. There was no role I could move into if I did well, no promotion that would come my way. I learned a lot while I was at that job: how to run a project, how to work alone, how to manage volunteers. I learned how to speak up when someone in power is using that power to make me feel lousy. I learned how hard it is to do that, and how worthwhile it can be. But mostly, I learned the value of moving on when it's time to move on.

Image via Mike Hollingshead via This Is Colossal

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Broad Town

There are pop culture phenomena that seem to sail right by me, and I just watch them go, happy and content in my vague awareness. Things like Iggy Azalea, for example: she had some radio hits, and some beef, and my whole reaction to her could be summed up as "huh." She doesn't matter to me. She's a product that isn't aimed at me. Her whole shtick is something that operates mostly outside my interests (the exception that she pings my "white people being idiots in hip-hop" radar, which is a frequency I tune into only when I've had a good night's sleep). My world isn't enriched by her existence, and so basically, to me, she doesn't matter.

On the other end of that spectrum, there are things that are just downright embarrassing to be missing out on. Despite three or four of my friends saying, "You should definitely be watching Broad City," I sort of dismissed it as Girls-ish, and my patience for Girls petered out sometime before the third season started. Can you blame me? I was tired of the endless thinkpieces, of reading about Lena Dunham's maybe-probably-not molestation of her sister, of reading about Dunham in general. Don't get me wrong: Girls is interesting, as a certain type of portrait of a certain type of girl. But all girls, all the time? Snooze.

So when I finally watched Broad City, I was delighted. First of all, it's nothing like Girls. Both are about female friendship, but Broad City is about women who actually like each other. It's about women who don't want the penthouse, the boyfriend, the job that defines them. What Abbi and Ilana mostly seem to want to do is smoke weed, wear weird outfits, and hang out in each other's company. The jokes are funny and often absurd—Ilana's attempt to power through an all-seafood dinner at an upscale restaurant despite a life-threatening shellfish allergy leaves her slurring and puffy in her studded bustier; Abbi's stoned attempts to keep Ilana's "tax papers" safe end with her soaking wet in a dentist's bathroom after her smoke sets off the fire alarm; their attempt to ride the Chinatown bus is on par with any joke on Louie—but the theme of friendship is a rock-solid foundation for the entire show. Ilana and Abbi like dudes and hang out with dudes, but their first to-do is always to check in with each other.

Last year, one of my longest friendships fell apart in a spectacular way. Shelley and I had been friends since high school, when we would smoke reefer on my parent's back deck after we finished waiting tables at nearby restaurants. We talked about guys, we talked about our creative dreams, we talked about our parents. And once we both landed in Toronto, if you swap out the weed for vodka, things stayed like that for a long, long time. But over the last few years, things started to change.

Full disclosure: I am weird with women. I'm competitive. In high school, I compared myself to my friends across every rubric, and if I felt myself lacking, I would short-circuit the friendship in an attempt to never have to be the dumb/ugly/virginal/unfunny/non-musical friend. I ditched a couple really awesome girls because I felt I couldn't live up to them—and yes, I know now exactly how strange that sounds. But I didn't then. I thought I was protecting myself, but all I was doing was closing myself off. Some of those friendships were rebuilt, and some of them weren't. Now I know what I was missing.

Anyway, back to Shelley. She would call me up and dish about her boyfriends when there was a problem—he's so mean, he's so drunk, he's so unambitious—and then disappear when things were fine. As a result, I tended not to like her boyfriends, because I knew them as drunk, mean, slackers. She opened a business and became a community leader in her tight-knit neighbourhood, where I didn't live. She started declining my offers to meet her anywhere that wasn't her home turf. I'll be honest, I was jealous of her success, but I was also irritated that we couldn't just hang out and be chill any more. When she got engaged, we started to disintegrate.

I'll cop to the fact that I behaved badly during the early part of her engagement. Things with my own partner where up in the air—were we going to make the same commitment? Who could tell!—and I pouted. But she did thoughtless stuff as well: when I called her up to tell her M had proposed, the first thing she said, even before congratulations, was "You'd better not get married on the same day I do." Things got chillier and chillier, until all we could do was compare notes on our upcoming weddings.

When she finally sat me down after I got back from my honeymoon and told me she didn't want to be friends, it was, by then, a relief. But you know what? I still mourned. I still felt sad as hell that we had split up, because we had come from a place of closeness. There were times when we were younger when we swore we would be friends for life. But without the glue of singleness, drinking, and an open schedule, we didn't have that much in common. By the end, we had gone from open to opaque.

So when I watch Broad City and see how Ilana and Abbi (the characters) behave in the hands of Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer (the writers/producers/editors/actresses/showrunners), I feel. First of all, I feel mad please that these obvious geniuses have been given a crack at a national audience and knocked it out of the park. I love seeing women succeed in entertainment, comedy especially, and it's really nice when it doesn't have to be marketed as "women's entertainment." Because, you know: barf.

Secondly, I am insanely grateful for the female friends I have in my life. I am stupid blessed with amazing female energy, from my sister, to my university friends (some of whom turned into my for-real best friends), to the women I've met through M, to former bosses, to old co-op buddies, to second-degree friends who I mostly see at clothing swaps, to the small cadre of lesbian friends I have who are helping me answer some of sexual identity questions, to the moms I know (mine included) who have shown me how not to be an asshole mommy when my own time comes. Some of those long-lost friendships from high school have turned, Lazarus-like, into warmblooded relationships, complete with texting and Christmas cards and the whole shebang. And it's clear from watching Broad City that there are women out there who love their friends, and who can write about it in smart, knowing ways.

I'm still a little blue about what happened with Shelley. But I can have these awesome memories of her—of us—and still know that being apart is better. I'm working on being healthy in all aspects of my life: eating better, working out, having good communication practices, working at a job that I like, getting enough sleep, drinking less, consuming good media, and making time for creativity. Watching a show like Broad City is good for me, but not in an eat-your-vegetables kind of way. It helps light a path to things that really matter: laughing as hard as you can with your friends, as often as possible.

Image by KittyCassandra via BuzzFeed

Friday, March 27, 2015

A Silly Beast

I once took a writing course where the instructor told us, "If you ever get stuck working on a piece, just write the sentence, 'The most important thing to know about this is_____', and then fill in that blank." He advised that, if we wanted to get really artful, we could rework that sentence to be less plodding and hacky, but sometimes, it works.

So. The most important thing to know about the Beastie Boys is: I still love them.

With Adam Yauch's death nearly three years ago, the Beastie Boys aren't really a band anymore, something that Adam Horowitz confirmed in a GQ interview this week. Horowitz was pictured wearing a baby and with manic, slightly tufted graying hair: it was Brooklyn-dad chic, and a still from the upcoming Noah Baumbach film While We're Young. It seemed very on-brand for a dude who has basically a professional New Yorker for the majority of his career.

I've written before about the impact that the Beastie Boys had on me when I was a kid. I was fourteen when the band released Hello Nasty, and for me, it was transformative. It was one of the first albums I became obsessed with, and it made me seek out music like it: first, other Beastie Boys albums, and then hip-hop in general. By the time Hello Nasty was released, the Beastie Boys were comfortable with their own weird brand of humour and production and rhymes. They weren't Nas, they weren't Talib Kweli—although they collaborated with Nas on their last album, and toured with Kweli in 2004—but they did have the effect of raising my consciousness. I spent the majority of my high school years obsessed with hip-hop, and with New York, and with the Beastie Boys.

I can't explain why they spoke to me so clearly. I was a white girl, feeling a little bit out of sorts in the small town I had just moved to. They were these thirty-something Jewish dudes who had come up through the punk ranks and then become these utter assholes—inflatable penises? Spraying people with beer?!—and then, somehow, become bored with being jerks and turned into real live awesome hip-hop artists. It was radical, in the way that Sonic Youth was radical: they were basically these normal people making groundbreaking music in a scene where it was insanely difficult to get buy-in for "normal."

Their brand of silly fun was accessible as a teenager. They didn't rap about women (I mean, they had rapped about girls, but that was old news), they didn't rap about the ghetto. They rapped about shit I knew about: sandwiches, swimming with your friends, Boggle. They didn't cover themselves in gold chains or flash diamonds. They wore suits they found at the Sally Ann, or janitorial uniforms. And, to be clear, there's nothing wrong with rapping about the ghetto, or growing up poor, or wanting diamonds. But for me, when I was fourteen—and even now—I personally identify more with the desire for sandwiches than for bling.

Most of all, they just seemed to be buds. I know a couple guys who still hang out with friends from their teenaged years, and it always impresses me. They shotgun beers, or they go mountain biking, or they goof around and watch horror movies. Sometimes, they dig deep and talk about religion—echoing Yauch's Buddhist turn—but often, it's the inconsequential surface stuff that keeps them together. They write for each other's zines. They turn on the barbecue. The fact that it's almost always casual doesn't mean it doesn't matter. It matters more, in a way: people with whom we can be our goofy, teenaged selves with well into our thirties shouldn't be dismissed. Those versions of ourselves are often the most vital versions.

The interview with Horowitz underscored just how much Yauch had mattered to the Beastie Boys. That project, that band, can't continue without him. There might be B-sides or remixes, but the Beastie Boys are over. I feel a little silly mourning a band, but then again, the Beastie Boys celebrated silliness. They loved it. For them, it was as much a touchstone as New York City, or basketball, or their own storied past. Feeling silly is often something we have to do in order to be authentic.

So: the most important thing to know about the Beastie Boys is that I still love them. They still make me feel good. And I think they're still important.

Image by Eric Tan via Cruzine

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Game of Life

Imagine, if you will, a house party. No, not the house parties of our wretched youths, where some poor girl is barfing in the bathroom and someone is necking in the basement. Nobody is drinking whiskey straight from the bottle at this party, or if they are, it's decorous little sips, and only because they're feeling dashing in an Hemingwayesque sort of way. No, this party has a point, and that point is board games.

Board games have had a resurgence lately, and so it's important to choose your gaming persona carefully. Your favourite game can say a lot about you. In classical gamer terminology, a "Twister person" is a horndog who's just waiting to fall into a frisky, and potentially "accidentally handsy," little heap with his fellow party guests, while a "Monopoly person" is a jag-off who enjoys screwing people over and who has modeled his (it's always a dude) haircuts on Michael Douglas if he's over 45, or Jared Leto if he's younger. Obviously, both people are terrible. Avoid them.

All in good fun! So let's find our own special games:

Ticket to Ride: Colourful train routes criss-cross a map (Europe, America, or several expansions that explore Asia, Africa, or Northern Europe), and your job is to claim them. Players randomly select routes, and then try to claim the legs between each city by playing colourful cards. With two players, the board can feel expansive; with four, people are building on top of each other, and the competition for routes is fierce.
For people who like: in-flight magazine articles; Pinterest board named "Travel Dreams!"; steampunk
Not for folks who like: over-pronouncing foreign place names; "comedically" complaining about international flights (everyone knows they're terrible, stop trying to be Jerry Seinfeld about it); leaving the "r" out of the word "immigrants"
Ideal playing soundtrack: Simon & Garfunkle

Onirim: the only one-person game on this list, Onirim is a card-matching game that takes place in a dream world. Players are trying to collect doors, which they can earn by playing three-card matching sets. Nightmare cards are sprinkled through the deck, forcing players to discard valuable cards. The art is appropriately unsettling in its childlike naivety. Onirim is a beautiful game that's quick to play and tough to win.
For people who like: talking about the healing power of crystals; quiet time; recipes that use agave nectar instead of sugar
Not for folks who like: emojis; Ke$ha; strobe lights
Ideal playing soundtrack: Enya

Pandemic: Oh man, this game is a heart-breaker. Players work in teams to stop an outbreak of viruses around the world. Each player has a special ability: the medic can heal, the dispatcher can move other people's tokens around, for example. The game starts slow, but soon, the viruses are jumping between cities, and the team is planning three or four moves ahead in order to frantically stay on top of the outbreaks. Wins are rare for inexperienced players, and the ability to work together is paramount to getting anywhere close.
For people who like: planning out their post-apocalyptic cabin locations; Y: The Last Man; Crossfit
Not for folks who like: easy wins; long discussions about strategy; pretending the world isn't going to face a horrible medical emergency like this IRL sometime soon
Ideal playing soundtrack: silence. There's a lot of talking in this game

Cards Against Humanity: You know Apples to Apples? It's a filthy version of that. One player acts as the judge, randomly selecting a black card that has a phrase with missing words; the other players anonymously submit white cards to the judge, who them reads them aloud and decides which answer is the best. The answers are nonsensical, crude, sexual, sometimes racist, and often groan-inducing. The first person to win ten rounds is the winner, and I use that term in the loosest possible way.
For people who like: explaining what a "queef" is; potato vodka; It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia
Not for folks who like: being sober on games night; earnesty; not having to explain what the Trail of Tears was
Ideal playing soundtrack: any late-1990s bro-rock

Munchkin: A card game that thrives on quickly-broken alliance and constantly shifting allegiances. Players flip over cards to fight opponents, each with a level representing a combat strength. The higher the combat strength, the more you need to rely on the folks around you for help; they'll try to shake you down for rewards, promises of help in the future, or simply ignore your request and toss more opponents at you to fight. You gain a level (and some cobat strength) for each opponent you beat, and the first player to level ten wins. The artwork is cartoonish and the opponents are often silly (in the Western version, there are the "Buffalo Gals," a trio of bison dressed up in corsets and wearing mascara).
For people who like: puns; wearing hand-me-downs from older siblings; movies with talking animals
Not for folks who like: consistency; going to the spa; movies with Guy Pearce
Ideal playing soundtrack: Ennio Morricone

Hive: In this tile game, players try to surround their opponent's queen bee tile with various buggy tiles of their own. Each tile, and bug, has a special ability: grasshoppers can jump over other tiles, beetles can stack on top of other tiles, and spiders can move three spaces in any direction. It's like an insectile version of chess.
For people who like: calling glasses "spectacles;" reading about math prodigies in the New Yorker; digestive cookies
Not for folks who like: avoiding insects; playing "Never Have I Ever" at house parties; shopping at Costco
Ideal playing soundtrack: Clint Mansell

Settlers of Catan: This is the game that really started the board game renaissance. Collect resources; build cities, roads and armies; lie bald-facedly when anyone tries to trade you sheep for brick, like the sucker they are. I won't get into all the various permutations or strategies, but suffice it to say that it's both vicious and fun.
For people who like: pretending to be farmers; making sounds when they play with Matchbox cars; stews
Not for folks who like: their friends
Ideal playing soundtrack: Ke$ha

Image via Baubauhaus

Saturday, March 14, 2015


Okay, let's just get one thing out of the way right now: "Boulderz" is a terrible name for a rock climbing gym. It reeks of early-1990s teen pandering, when things were "rad," people called money  "beans," and "snaps" where given to high achievers. Boulderz, with a flagrant, unapologetic zed, is a throwback name—it's the type of place that would feature in an action movie montage. The final cut of that scene would be Our Hero, flying through the air before improbably grabbing onto a handhold that is smooth, tiny, and bolted to the ceiling. Cut to Our Hero guzzling water and catching sight of his mortal enemy, a Russian who's out for revenge. Cut to them racing to the top of the wall, and fist fighting all the way down. Cut to the love interest, in an shiny white leotard, demonstrating roundhouse karate kicks on the hapless Russian on the floor. We haven't see the last of that Russian, I bet!

Anyway, despite a terrible name, Boulderz has proven to be fun. Oh, sure, my hands no longer work as "hands;" they're now claws that I used to badger open jars. And my shoulders are getting used to a constant ache. Oh, and my forearms haven't been this useless since I started playing squash. And if I ignore the bruises, blisters, and calluses, I'm doing pretty good.

I went into my first rock climbing session with the totally low and reasonable expectation that I would be amazing. I mean, I'm fit! I lift weights. I used to bike to work (until the snow started to fall), and take Nia classes (until my instructor ditched her Tuesday night class).

When we arrived, children were scaling the walls like it was no big deal—literally, children. Teenaged boys who had clearly brokered some deal with their cool moms to stay out until 11 PM on a Friday. Seven year olds who eschewed the handholds to brace themselves against the wall and ascend, monkey-style (or is that monkey-stylez?) up the routes. Three year olds in the world's tiniest climbing shoes who chirped "I'm tall, I'm tall" as their encouraging mothers guided them along the wall. The routes were all marked: yellow for total newbies, blue and green for slightly more advanced climbers, right on through to black, the international colour of death.

I surveyed the landscape. Sports bra engaged, hands chalked to the nines, hair back in a French braid that signaled athletic confidence. I marched over to the yellow beginner's route. I gripped the handholds. I though to myself, Hey, these are really rough! This kind of hurts! Then I swung myself up towards the second handhold. Got it. I was starting to sweat. Then the third. Oh, shit. The fourth handhold seemed to halfway to Australia. The end of the route, four feet away, might as have been on the moon.

I dropped to the mat and spent the rest of my first trip to Boulderz traversing the bouldering wall in the back room, hiding out from all the sleeveless-T-shirt-wearing experts who hadn't climbed a yellow route since they were in diapers. There was grunting. There was swearing. At the end of our 90 minutes, my hands were so swollen I couldn't get my wedding ring off. I could barely lift my post-climb tacos.

It was a month before we went back. Our friend Mark has been going weekly for a few months, and he's tackling green routes with style. His sister-in-law Ania is an accomplished climber; she looks so confident on the wall that she might as well be climbing stairs. M and I are still huffing and puffing, working on our yellow routes and trying not to let the middle-school students intimidate us.

However—and you knew this was coming, because this is a story about sports—I have made progress.

Of course, because this is also a story about me, the progress is incrementally, screamingly slow. Climbing isn't like cycling or Nia. I can't do it for 90 minutes straight, because the effort involved in just holding my body to the wall is enormous. I can go in three-minute burst. Each next handhold becomes its own riddle to solve: how to I get my feet to support me? How do I get my body a little bit higher? How can I coax my arms not to give up?

And, slowly, it's happening.

The yellow route that so frustrated me on my first trip? I climbed it Friday night. I got all the way to the top on my first try. It was an amazing thing, completely unexpected and also 1000% glorious. When I waggle my fingers, the muscles in my forearms have begun to ripple in a way I find most pleasing. I'm starting to tune out the sleeveles tee shirts, the baby-climbers, the experts and, improbably, the voice in my head that says, You'll never make it up there.

Right now I'm just focusing on the yellow routes. My hands, my body, my flyaway hair and the chalk in the air? None of that matters. It's all about yellow routes. Start with the yellow routes. All things happen from there.

Photo via History by Zim via PBS.com

Saturday, March 7, 2015

And I Was Glad

I am tired—this weekend is full of late nights and physical exertion—and I'm also a little grumpy. I haven't had enough water or sleep, and I've had far too many carbohydrates in the last six weeks. I'm feeling bloated and gassy and generally out of sorts.

And yet: some things to be grateful for.
  • We went to the AGO and saw the Jean-Michel Basquiat retrospective and the Art Spiegelman exhibit. It was an interesting study in comparisons: two artists, working in a larger framework of cultural damage (being black in America; the Holocaust) and from artistic traditions (street art and comic strips, respectively) that aren't often seen in a gallery setting. Two men, powerfully influential and also still outside the art-world box. And then the discussion afterwards, over a mountain of Chinese food, with my husband and our friends—smarty-pants all—who know about art and who could also let me be an expert about hip-hop culture and Maus, both of which I studied Talmudically in my early twenties. It was super fun. (Also, the chance to think about my dad. Maus is heavily dad-driven, and after I read it for the first time in university, I gave a copy to my own father. I don't know if he read it or not, but the act of giving that book to him feels powerful to me. I love my dad.)
  • The changing shape of my work. That's all I'll saw about it for now, but things suddenly feel looser, and more buoyant. I can't even put into words how much of a relief that is.
  • Writing! Oh man, writing more—and, more importantly, getting to know the community of writers who work at Torontoist, where I do some freelance work—has been so effin' nice. I often feel like a fraud when I introduce myself as a writer, but I didn't. I don't. It's possible to make that happen.
  • My husband. We are strange and lovely humans, and we are strange and lovely together. I dance, he sings, and we are our silly, grumpy, loving, cuddling, devoted selves. Years ago, in the early stages of being a couple, M and I went to a bar with friends, and before he went up to order, he offered to get me a glass of water. My friend turned to me and said, slightly disbelieving, "He offers to get you water? Man, that guy is a keeper." And he is.

  • Even though I don't currently fit into my last-summer, biking-every-day clothes (quelle surprise), and I haven't done cardio in, oh, weeks, I've been rock climbing twice in the last month. It's challenging, and not in the way I expected. The first time I went, I struggled a lot with needing to be good—despite never having climbed before, I thought I would somehow be a natural. As it turns out, I was quite bad at it. Like, not good at all. And having to get up in front of all these muscled dudes and chalked-up ladies, who were Spidermaning around the gym, was so intimidating. I hated feeling like a beginning. I hated that I so obviously was a beginner.

    But the next time we went, I felt differently. I hit a goal—reaching a particular handhold that even a few weeks before was utterly impossible. My legs didn't ache as I worked my way across the wall. I chatted with some of the people in the crowd—people, as it turned out, who were just as new to the whole thing as I was. And I felt proud of myself. I was accepting my experience as it was, not as I wanted it to be. That felt powerful, and good. And, unlike bouldering, like a transferable skill.
  • Last weekend, my dad asked me if my husband had replaced him and my mom as the most important person in my life. I have to admit, I hesitated; the love-hierarchy implied in that question made me feel edgy. My answer was that I am the prime minister of my own life, and I have all these cabinet members who support me and give me guidance in different areas of my life: my partner, my parents, my siblings, my friends, the authors I read, the role models I choose. I'm so incredibly lucky to have a full and knowledgeable cabinet surrounding me.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Write On

Last week, a friend of mine, who happens to also be one of the Editors-in-Chief of Torontoist, emailed me asked if I wanted to write a review of Fabricland. Not a concert or a stage play, not a restaurant or a book. A fabric store. And not a hip, happening new place, the kind of see-and-be-seen joint that sometimes inspires hipsters to take up handicrafts - looking at you, City of Craft! - but Fabricland. That slightly dumpy, unflatteringly lit, cotton-poly blend of a retail experience. Fabricland.

When I wrote the article, I realized that I was treating the whole experience like a puzzle: how would I situate this story? Should I write about the gender politics of craft? The condo boom that will ultimately close this location in less than two years? The way pop-up stores have influenced retailers? What was my thesis? What pieces of the puzzle could I leave in the box, and which would I need to tell this story?

God, I loved writing it.

When I first started writing this blog, I didn't really have any hopes for it. I had graduated from all-about-meeeee Livejournaling, and I just wanted a place to experiment. I want to write about stuff, not just myself and my own hang-ups and feelings. I had big opinions about everything: cycling, Leah McLaren, Lost (can you tell I started in 2009?). I didn't have a beat. I just wrote about whatever I wanted to.

After a while, I realized I could use this blog to my advantage. I sent out links to Spacing and was offered an internship. I bounced over to a sex 'n' love blog. I slowly built up my portfolio, and my writing skills. Even though I dropped down to one post each week, I usually look forward to writing it. There's always this little engine part of my brain that's thrumming: maybe I could write about it, write about it, write about it. And having other outlets, like Torontoist or XOXOAmore (RIP), just meant that part of my brain revved more.

Some people process their lives through music. They are, like my husband, the Rob Gordons of the world: not creators, exactly, but those whose biographies are akin to soundtracks. They can put a pin in "my first concert" or "the first time I saw that band live" or "when we went to that city and saw that show." Traveling with M has always included a live music component: beautiful punk shows in Oakland, weirdo Brooklyn Halloween shows, Icelandic hometown heroes playing a free concert under the midnight sun. Remember that time we saw this live? And we can.

I like music, but it's not how I process my shit. I need to write it out. A friend of mine said the words "reflective writing" the other day, and it reminded me of being forced to keep a journal for certain high school classes. (Obviously, I was one of those kids who always faked it in a mad scramble at the deadline, which is a shame.) I'm a person who learns by writing it out. I often don't know how I feel about something until the fast tikky-takky of the keys is almost hypnotic. I've written letters I've never sent: to former lovers, to siblings, to people I no longer want to know. Writing it down is, as our guidance counselors always said, a way of getting it out. (I also chat vivaciously with myself in the shower and plan conversations that way. People are weird, man.)

Every few months, I come back to this realization: I like writing. I'm good at it. (I mean, I'm not, like, Joan Didion or anything, but that woman had her own hangups.) When I do it, I feel better. It's magical and mundane. I am blessed with this knowledge, and also cursed, because the time I allot in my current life for writing that feeds my inner she-beast is pretty damned small. And that she-beast can't always be ignored.

Perhaps in the coming weeks and months, I'll be more aggressive with my time, and devote more energy to things that make me feel better. The days are getting longer; the tide is beginning to turn. Putting pen to paper is the best way I know to stretch out and enjoy it.

Image by Kevin Dowd via WeTheUrban