Sunday, November 22, 2020

A Year of Living Colourfully

A year's worth of colourful clothes

In February of last year, I opened my closet on a snowy, overcast day, and tried to reach for something, anything, with a bit of spark in it. I was feeling oppressed by the endless black and white of winter, and I craved literally any colour at all. What I had was black leggings, navy blue dresses, gray sweatshirts, black tank tops, slate-gray pants, gray long sleeves, muted green jeggings, black tunics, and a lone pair of red pants best suited for shoulder season. When I looked out the kitchen window, all I saw was a colourless sky and the gray roofline of my neighbour's bungalow. I slept in a gray bed. I had a dead Boston fern in my front room. My husband's clothes run to the gothic: black, white, gray, and red. The only colour in our house came from our son, whose room was a kaleidoscope of bright toys, colourful books, imported fabrics, and a Roy G. Biv's worth of clothing options.

In 2020, I made two resolutions: I would stop supporting Amazon (I've had enough of Jeff Bezos, thanks), and I would wear more colour. The first was because I could no longer stomach even the occasional purchase from a company whose founder I had come to see as a predatory threat to a thriving business ecosystem that included any small or medium-sized options; the second was because I had grown tired of my colourless wardrobe, and I wanted to see who I would become with colour in my life. 

On that day in February, I went to a boutique I don't usually frequent. I went into the dressing room with two shirts—one raspberry-coloured, the other a burgundy-and-neon orange Nordic fever dream—and bought them the same way I had first purchased alcohol: quickly, slightly furtively, and with a half-sense that someone would stop me at the door and say, "Ma'am, those aren't for you." I wore those shirts constantly through the balance of that winter, reaching for them because I knew that their warm tones would lift my spirits. It was low-hanging fruit, because my spirits were pretty grim at that point, but every time I put them on, I was reminded of the day I bought them, and the tonic I was sure they'd be to my soul.

We associate colourful clothes with children, and blacks and grays with serious grown-up life. Suits are typically black, gray, or navy (RuPaul notwithstanding); we go to job interviews in muted tones; the black legging and messy bun has become the women's unofficial weekend uniform; wedding dresses and funeral clothes are white and black; all-black is slimming, which we're told we need; dark and muted clothes allow us to blend in, which we're told we should. Not only that, but patterns, fabrics and colours come and go in trend cycles that have accelerated to the point of nonsense, and fast fashion steals from the haute houses and offers dozens of juxtaposed trends that are influence-able one week and passe the next. Fashion has become a dizzying place. It's simpler to just buy some really good black leggings and call it a day. 

I've personally long avoided colour because I didn't want to be stand out. It's a cliche, I know, but I really believed that I was more appealing as a person if I could shrink myself down: big personality, big hair, big body, big opinions? At least I'm in a streamlined black outfit! I've been a dozen different shapes and sizes since I hit puberty, and hiding it in dark clothes just seems safer. It's a no-brainer to coordinate, and seen as elegant, professional, urban and chic. I've long admired women who have a signature colour—friends who wore mustard yellow or neon pink without blinking—but it wasn't for me, right? 

This year's project wasn't a wardrobe revamp. I went through and pulled out clothes I truly didn't wear—stuff I had kept because it was "once I lose this weight" or "but that person I care about gave me this" or "I used to wear this all the time, and I might again." All that went into the donation bin. I started with what I had: muted blues, dark greens, and those two pink shirts. I set a goal to wear something with colour every day, even if it was just a pair of socks.

I had a breakthrough when I bought a pair of dusty coral pants from Target in February on a family trip, and another when Marimekko and Uniqlo put out a capsule collection full of bright vegetable prints. When I thrifted or went to clothing swaps (online, since, you know, 2020), I tried to skip over the black clothes I'd normally plunder, and ask myself: what about tomato red? Or mint green? Could I try a rose gold, or navy stripe? I found myself buying and wearing unexpected hues: I went for pink over and over, ranging from nearly flesh-toned to electric cantaloupe. I loved chambray denim. I knit a bra (yeah, a bra) that went from green to yellow to orange, and wore it for a week straight. I gave myself permission to buy seersucker pants, even at a size fourteen, because why not? Fat people have summer houses too! I bought yarn to knit myself a copper-coloured sweater. I trusted my instincts, putting the purple boots with the navy pants with the burgundy vest. I made myself a neon-yellow hat and wore it constantly. 

It may not be a surprise to learn that this project, as a 2020 venture, was fun as hell. Recasting myself as a person who wears a lot of pink wasn't just an aesthetic shift. I'd long created little personae to go with various outfits: this one inspired by post-apocalypse farmers, that one by 1970s camp counselors, another by gallery owners. Since having a child, I put that on hold, and just tried to find stuff that hid the flaws. But when the whole goal was just "find colour and wear it," I let those stories drift away. I stopped trying to be someone else, even if that someone was aspirational, interesting, or fictional. Reflecting on this, nearly a year later, I can see that giving myself permission to wear things that made me feel a certain way, rather than look a certain way, or tell certain story, was something I really relished. There are still holes in my wardrobe, as well: I'm on the constant search for a pretty dress that feels right, and for pants that fit, and sweaters and sweatshirts. But as the owner of three pairs of pink pants, I'm confident I can find some garments that work.

What a gratifying project, to seek joy and then find it. I'm ready to be seen: I'm done apologizing for the size of my body or the space I take up. I crave adornment and pretty colours, like a flower or a sunset. Does that sound childish? I'm not sure I care any more. I love fashion and clothes, and I always will: I adore their ability to reveal people in a glance. By only wearing black and gray and navy, I had been telling the same story over and over, relying on an old vision for, frankly, an old version of who I am. This pink makes me feel happy. It really suits me. 

Saturday, October 31, 2020

A Bookshelf for COVID Year 1

Painting by Victoria Riechelt
This was a year where I read a lot—maybe more than I had since I was an undergrad earning an English lit degree—and I also read barely at all, if you judge by how much remained in my brain after I closed the book. I think a lot of people can relate to this, given the general mood of anxiety and distraction (as a side note, my favourite thing right now is that when you google "how many days since," the search engine will helpfully auto-suggest "since March 13?"which, for us here in Ontario, was the day when the shit really hit the fan in terms of lockdowns). Reading is, of course, transportative, recreational, imagination-play for grown-ups. It can make us more empathetic, improve our vocabularies, helps with stress and with sleep, all of which are helpful—perhaps vital—skills to practice in 2020. 

During These Times, I read a lot of news: doomscrolling on Instagram and Facebook, reading issues of The New York Times and The New Yorker basically looking through my fingers because everything seemed so dire. Reading the news was homework in the apocalypse; reading anything else was a distraction, a balm, and a reason to keep my brain from turning into an anxiety Jell-O.

Here are the books I read that made a difference in this year! Instead of chronologically, they can be roughly filed into three categories, all of which say something about my position in the world. This is also not a complete list, but rather the ones that stuck to me; I thought about them after I closed them up. Feel free to read them, or don't! But message me if you do, and we can do Zoom book club. 

Category Is: Ugh, Family

* I kicked off the year with This Is Where I Leave You, the story of a dysfunctional family sitting shiva after the father dies. I didn't love this one, because no one in it seemed all that likeable (and yes, I know, if we required that book characters be likeable, our shelves would be quite sparse), and the whole book seemed like an exercise in how much toxic masculinity Jonathan Tropper could pump into a single manuscript before an editor pursed her lips and went "hmmm." (Not recommended.)

* I read Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine in a single evening while in bed with a fever, so the book's impression on me is rather more emotional than literary. I liked it, as I tend to like any story of a woman self-actualizing out of her own shitty life, but it has some tough spots. People sell this as a comedy, but if you're tender-hearted (temporarily, due to pandemic, or chronically, as I am), be warned that there are some dark bits. (Recommended.)

* Rules for Visiting, which I listened to as an audiobook and did not finish, was a very gentle probing of friendship and relationships, family and travel. It's not silly, but the stakes are fairly low, and that can be reassuring. I also learned a lot about trees, and in a year where much time was spent in the gardening, this felt like a lovely supplementary text. In fact, I just got the audiobook out for a second time as I typed this. (Recommended.)

* I read Educated in two nights, in a thrill of anxiety. It is grim. It is Grimm Brothers-grim. It is not particularly well-written, but it is absolutely gripping: Tara Westover, raised by apocalyptic Mormons in Idaho, eventually realizes she wants to go to university after never stepping foot in a school as a child. It is just full of horrible moments, and sometimes, the only thing that kept me reading was knowing that the girl in the pages also had her name on the cover; she had made it out alive. This was not a "great read" in any sense, but functioned as a bit of a reminder that horror is not just relegated to the front page of The Globe and Mail: it lives in our own houses just as often. (Recommended, but yikes.)

Category Is: Supernatural Teens

* I re-read the Harry Potter series in the first eight weeks of lockdown; it was my bedtime reading, something I could dive into without paying too much attention. I know JK Rowling is intensely problematic, so if you would like to follow in my footsteps, may I suggest your local library? Or at least being aware of why she sucks and what we can do about it if you want to engage with the texts but not support her. As a fan of Harry Potter who came to the series in adulthood, I still enjoy the books and the fandom especially; because they're as immersive as any other fiction, they're a great thing to read during long periods of being in the house (aka Q2 of 2020). If you read the books, I'm also going to insist that you listen to Witch, Please, in order to give yourself the skills to do critical takedowns where needed; you may also like Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, which sounds religious but is actually just a very well-structured podcast that is a bit gentler but still gives lots of food for thought. (Recommended, but do your homework.)

* In the summer, after JKR's baloney statements made wide circulation, several corrective "If you like Harry Potter but are done with this bullshit" reading lists circulated. Many included Akata Witch; the story of a Nigerian girl who discovers she's a "leopard person," or a juju practitioner/witch, and falls in with a group of other leopard people as they do battle against evil. It's a fascinating rejection of what we think of as "witch" (white women being persecuted for herbalism, abortion, and Satanic dealings) and globalizes the perspective in important ways. It's also a fun read! (Recommended.)

* When I asked online what the funniest book folks had read was, Lamb was a resounding winner. Telling the story of Jesus (yes, that Jesus) during his childhood and teen years, it wasn't the funniest book I'd ever read (that dubious honour goes to Dave Barry's Book of Bad Songs, which is extremely funny if you were 13 in 1997), but it was pretty funny. (Lukewarm recommended.)

 Category Is: Self-Work, Ritual, and Community Vibes

Okay, so bear with me. After my son was born in 2016, I started to become aware of a hungriness in my life. The birth had been unexpectedly traumatic, and there was no obvious way for me to work through the transition from not-a-parent to parent, which was a surprisingly tough switch. I felt unmoored, on edge, different and in mourning for myself and what I had gone through. And yet, I was also relieved beyond measure to have had our small bear, loving him and finding reserves of patience that I had no idea existed. 2016 was a long, confusing year. 

2018 was another such year. We got priced out of Toronto in February and moved to Stratford; Mike stayed behind and there were, as his mother would memorably put it, "shenanigans;" our house was small and dark and full of cockroaches by November. When I look back on November 2018-February 2019, I can see now that I was having a mental and emotional breakdown; when I was in it, I thought I was losing my mind. 

After I started feeling better—another move, EMDR, spending time with my parents, and preschool all helped—I realized that I had been through something. Lots of people have this in their lives: the loss of a loved one, through death or divorce; unexpected moves; births; illnesses; chronic pain; toxic jobs. I'm a person who finds it much easier to talk to the void (a blog post, an Instagram story) than to say, in a small voice to a friend, "I feel sad and lonely, please take care of me." Honesty is hard. So is figuring out how to mark the transition from the person I was, to the person I am now. So is living in a society where positivity is enforced through "you go girl!"-ish statements that make me want to screeeeeam. I started looking at rituals, because if felt like that was the void in my life: the conversation about how we (personally, culturally, and humanly) mark the change from not-a-parent to parent, from healthy marriage to one that teeters on the brink, from one house to another, from a boss that makes us feel like an insect to one that doesn't, from healthy bodies to something more complicated, from one way of being to another, is a conversation that we have become fairly bad at. Like any good fan of Hermione Granger, I started at the library, and I'm still there. We'll see where this all goes. 

ANYWAY, the point of that long and meandering digression was to say: these are the books I read this summer and fall in service of this interest.

* The Power of Ritual, which talks about different types of modern ritual and why they exist, in a chatty and rather less-secular way. I will probably go back to this one a few times as I continue this journey. (Recommended.)

* Belonging: Remembering Ourselves Home, which I bought because I love the cover artist and it's been floating around on the bedside table of women I admire for years. It's about dreams (like, literal sleep-dreams) and also finding who you are where you fit. I like it but it's also dense with things that make me stare off into space while I think about them, so it's taking me a while to get through. (Recommended, so far.)

* Belong is much quicker and poppier, a community-building workbook for people who like to do eat brunch and jet off to Bali for dance parties (obviously, me). It's a bit 101 and extremely cheerful!!!, but I still learned a bunch of stuff. (Recommended.)

* For Small Creatures Such As We was written by Carl Sagan's daughter Sasha, and is a meditation on the natural world and its rhythms, along with her grappling with the death of her scientist father. It's not prescriptive the way the other books here are; rather, it's gentle, personal and open-ended. (Recommended.)

* The Art of Gathering is freaking great. I might be biased because I am deeply interested what makes good community happen, especially on a small scale, but this one is fascinating if you ever spent time in a structured way with other people—parties, book clubs, dinners with other couples, conferences, walking tours, yoga classes, whatever. It's all in there. I don't know how her advice will change in COVID-inflected world, but I am so glad to have read this book. (Highly recommended.)

Sunday, September 27, 2020

The List of Missing Rituals


A list of things I would like rituals for: 

--- The passage from not-parent to parent, which is almost always framed as joyful, and which socially does not leave a lot of room to feel uncertain, afraid, or mournful of the loss of a previous self, which were all feelings I felt, and then subsequently felt very lonely about.

--- The loss of an ideal, like when I had to admit that, no, in fact I was not going to be co-sleeping with my baby, and my baby was not going to be eating swiss chard omelettes, and I was not going to be one of those relaxed moms who have effortless wavy hair and lost all the baby weight by "chasing the kids around;" I was going to be a high-strung disaster who put her newborn on a kitchen scale to see if he was getting enough milk and whose pants sizes never came down again.

--- The end of a friendship by fast means: a breakup, in which one or both parties decides that the friendship is too broken to be repaired, and suddenly the history you shared is actually history.

--- The end of a friendship by slow means, in which one or both parties drift apart but there's probably something still there, we'll get back to it one day, until suddenly, you're at her wedding and realize, as her besties are walking her the altar, that you are no longer a bestie.

--- The end of a friendship group, as its members drift apart or move away or the in-fighting gets to be too much, and suddenly, webs that seemed unbreakable (dorm living! camp!) have dissolved into mere threads.

--- The end of a love affair, marriage or otherwise, in which the heartbreak outweighs the good stuff, and parting is the only way to reckon with it. The feelings of anger or sadness, betrayal and nostalgia, relief and sorrow, all mixed together into one pot we call "a breakup" or "a divorce," and which can linger for years, flavouring every subsequent relationship because we never drained that pot. 

--- The thing that almost happens but doesn't: the near-death experience, the abortion, the remission from cancer. How to grieve the thing that happens in your heart but not in the world? How to grieve the person who is still here but irrevocably changed? How to love ourselves when it is us? 

--- The keeping of a secret. Write it down, put it in a jar, bury it under a still-growing tree, tell no one, tell yourself under the protection of the sound of the shower, scream it underwater, the only evidence of your telling is bubbles of nothing rising to the surface and disappearing. 

--- The shift from guest at Thanksgiving dinner to host; that is, from child to adult, from younger to middle or older generation, from someone who can barely be trusted to buy the ice cream to someone who can coordinate four generations, six dishes, seating for 23, and do it all in a clean house. The first time I hosted Christmas dinner, I felt like the police were going to break my door down and arrest me as an imposter (I served fish). 

--- The slowing down of the healing process; when your clicky ankle becomes bothersome, when your TMJ requires dental surgery, when your baby weight is just...your regular weight. When you realize that some part of you has been sore for years—your back, your knee, your eyes—and that you are actually going to have to intervene with some kind of healing plan if you want it to get better. Your body is not youthful any more. You are going to have to take care of it, or it's going to feel bad.

--- The grief that comes from living in a dying world, on a planet that deserves so much more than how we've treated her. The knowledge that our kids and grandkids will face hurdles we were unable to prevent, that others could have stopped it and didn't.

--- The grief of lost histories: migration, colonization, religious conversion. Tapping into ancient tradition feels impossible when the path of history dead-ends only a few generations back. I, who have been on the lucky side of all those things, still do not know my ancestors. 

--- The decision to stop drinking. Or smoking pot. Or whatever drugs you're doing in a casual (or not-casual) way. 

--- The adoption of a new value. Deciding to stay home or go back to school, to take a vacation instead of burning out, to reach out instead of wallowing in FOMO, to say no instead of endless yesses, to try harder, to stop trying as hard, to shift. To aim for better morals or more fun or improved family life or less anger. The moment you decide to be different. 

--- The first time you grow a tomato from a seed. It goes from this tiny burr to a huge sprawling complex of greenery to fine red globes to a tidy stack of salsa on your counter. It's hard to beat this, as a moment to celebrate.

--- The day you go from being hi-hello acquaintances to being actual friends. Who even knows how this happens—sometimes to process is a thunderbolt, sometimes it's a glacier. Sometimes it's the realization that you've known someone for more than a decade and you still don't know her all the way, but you've got a foot in the door and that feels great. Sometimes it's re-meeting someone after a long stretch apart and suddenly you're on the same frequency for the first time ever.

--- The moment that you fall in love with yourself. No "once I lose ten pounds" or "once I meet The One" or "once I have a new job." Just yourself, in this moment, as you are.

--- The moment you fall in love with someone else—a child, a sibling, a partner, an artist—and the world becomes brighter and funnier and fresher and more boyuant. This is before I say "I love you," when the feeling is just a bit of heart-spark, but it makes the world different.

--- The realization that you've been growing and changing for ages, and those old friends and lovers really don't know you any more. The sadness of having some old version of you floating around, and the gladness that comes from caring for your weird little soul.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

The Garden

In March, when things were really heading off the rails and everyone was hyperventilating and then googling "hyperventilate or COVID," my sister and I started a garden. It was a rinky-dink operation: we raided our back shed (which admittedly was full of things like seed trays and rakes, because the family we rent our house from are capital-G Gardeners), and bought some potting soil, and begged seeds from friends and strangers on Facebook. Then we put the seeds into the soil. A project begins.

When we put the seeds into the soil, I wasn't expecting much. I have a cactus that I love so dearly which I've kept alive for over a decade; I also routinely kill houseplants by overwatering them, neglecting their sun needs, and forgetting that they are living beings that need love and attention. My journey with houseplants has been full of fits and starts, of high hills and low valleys, that I assumed the veggie garden would be a distraction at best, but most likely a failure.

I come from gardeners on both sides: my grandfather tended beautiful flower gardens complete with water features and hand-built gazebos; my grandmother was the kind of gardener that casually grew corn in her backyard. But when I was a kid, I wasn't interested in gardening, either flora or vegetal. Gardening was squarely the purview of the elderly (people in their 50s), and wasn't nearly as captivating as things like, say, The Babysitter's Club. So I ignored it, the same way I ignored my mom's ability to reupholster furniture, or my dad's skills at grilling meat, and filed those skills away for "learning someday." 

Turns out that "someday" is the beginning of the North American shutdown phase of a global pandemic. I am now fully an adult, so there's no "that's for old people" excuse; I'm also a person who routinely looks up advanced degrees in food preservation and foraging, so I definitely have the interest in where food comes from. Our food, most of the time, comes from big-box grocery stores (who else buys the Costco 12-pack of Annie's mac and cheese and then demolishes that inside of two months?); sometimes it comes from farmer's markets and 100-mile boutiques—the kind that sell artisan yogurts and heirloom squashes—but never before had it come from inside my own property line. 

We started with everything. Fennel, beets, lettuces, tomatoes. Zucchini, pumpkin, eggplant, kale. Cauliflower, basil, pansies (you can eat them), peppers. As the seedlings came up indoors, we used the warm March and the stay-home orders to pull weeds and turn the soil, walking the perimeter to envision the space between plants. I repotted the sturdiest-looking seedlings and pinched off the others, dying a little as they did. The fennel got leggy and then died; the beets went into the ground and were promptly eaten by the bunnies (ditto the cauliflower, lettuce, and eggplant). The kale never really came up. I spent time on the internet searching things like "soil pH lettuce" and "can you hunt rabbits without a permit."

But the tomatoes! The zucchini! The pumpkins! Man alive, if you would like to feel a sense of power, grow a tomato; if you prefer terror, put eight tomato seedlings in the ground and then watch as they all do brilliantly, each bearing 30 or so tomatoes, no, more, 40, maybe 50. I have harvested at least five pounds of tomatoes each day for the last week. I've made salsa and tomato paste; next on the docket is tomato sauce and canned whole tomatoes. I've made zucchini pickle, bread, muffins, fritters and gratin. The pumpkins will be roasted and pureed and frozen, some as-is and others as enchilada sauce. The basil has been picked, tossed with tomatoes, brie, garlic and pasta, and made into a ridiculously easy 18-minute dinner. The garden is going so gangbusters that it's a little intimidating. I feel like Seymour from Little Shop of Horrors, only Audrey is 300 tomatoes and 45 kilos of zucchini. And she will be feeding me for the next few months, if I can make enough room in my freezer.

Canning was really my gateway drug into all of this. In 2017, I made a corn relish on a whim—out-of-season peppers, stale turmeric, frozen corn—and I was hooked. It was like little jewels conjured out of thin air, proof-positive that I was a wizard: take this perishable food and stop time. I made pickled carrots and hand-chopped relish, kimchi and pesto, raspberry jam and hot sauce. I wanted to transform it all, and with a Ball jar and a bit of perseverance, I could. Coming up with new projects—pickled pumpkin?—meant discovering new ingredients and new flavours, along with trying new ways to eat it.

But it's not just canning. It's food as an art form, something that can feel very structured and very free at the same time. I don't mean to get too conceptual about it—sometimes a sausage is just a sausage—and I'm certainly not the Thomas Keller type, the ones who invent new modes of gastronomica in order to use up yesterday's chard. I just really like trying new things—ingredients, cuisines, techniques, schools of thought—and seeing what I can do with them in a fairly well-appointed but decidedly middle-of-the-road home kitchen. I don't have a Kitchenaid or a gas stove, but I do have the internet and a zesty approach. 

Growing a garden has also made me realize that I want this. I want a bit of land with some proper tomato stakes and some raised beds. I want a raspberry cane and a scaffold full of beans. But not only that: I want lupin and lilac, a smoke bush and all the hostas I can handle. I want something that will go dormant and then come alive, the way I seem to, year after year. And I can't really do that on a bit of rented yard. Those smoke bushes will never really be mine; the raspberry cane will one day be razed. It's another reason to feel not-quite-adult; don't adults have their own houses? And it's another thing to work towards in my 40s, if I want it.

When I put the seedlings into the ground, I felt very sure that all the work I had done to that point was about to be lost. I was not prepared for it to thrive, which is annoying—why did I underestimate myself? And where else do I do that? Gardens are a beautiful metaphor for so many things: fertility, femininity, cycles, rebirth, growth, knowledge, sustenance. They're also a ton of work. I shlepped buckets full of water and fertilizer, read many recipes, manhandled the earth with nothing more than a shovel and a pair of close-toed shoes. I had a goal—I am going to grow something in case COVID knocks out the food supply chain—and now I have a yard full of blushing tomatoes and a fridge full of zucchini. Mission accomplished. Now I want more.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

A Wave

Guys, we're half-way through 2020 and it's been a shitty year. We lost Mike's brother to liver failure, we lost preschool to COVID-19, my sister lost her job, my parents are trying—and so far failing—to sell their house, Sauble Beach has been washed away, and my boss started ignoring my emails. Globally, we've had America's continued descent into fascism, global pandemic, accelerating climate change, the Australian bush fires (remember those?), Jeff Bezos, race riots in many countries, and a host of other political, economic, and environmental issues.

I usually traffic in a delicate mix of glib and raw-wound vulnerability on the blog (and in my life), an unlikely mixture that can act like a potting soil for good writing, but sometimes misses the mark entirely if it's not calibrated right. In times of great stress, I struggle to find words: to write about The Thing is to dive, screaming, into the flow of lava; to write about other stuff is to whistle past the graveyard in an inauthentic way. I struggled with this in 2018, when family and personal traumas were fresh and so painful. That year, I could barely write a word. This year, both the global struggles and the weird work of staying home have not been a juicy source of inspiration.

Writing about anything other that The Big News feels like I'm ignoring something painful; maybe the truth of it is, 2020 has been my smallest year yet. I've been at home, with my family, trying to breathe through the ways my/the world has been upset. I've undertaken some interesting projects and made some new friends, but without the fascia of daily routine and alone time, I feel shitty. This wasn't downgrading from Italian vacations or high-powered work; I had a weekly yoga class at the YMCA and a matcha latte. My life was already pretty teeny.

So let me say this: I'm tired. I'm tired of my child, whom I love with my whole heart, because his need for me is constant. I miss preschool, those nine hours a week that were strictly mine. I miss naptime, gone since last fall, when I could snatch 90 minutes of midday focus. I miss playdates, where he could socialize and I could work on a cooking project as two young boys interrogated a line of Hot Wheels cars. I'm tired of begging for a bit of time to myself, an hour here or there, because my husband's work has been stressful for him (usual) and the transition to work-from-home has compounded it (unusual). I'm tired of going to bed after 11 PM, because I need an extra hour to unwind, and when I get under the covers I'm actually nauseous with fatigue. I don't do anything except normal things—cook, hang out with a four year old, Instagram—and my brain is always buzzing with things I should be doing or could be doing. I miss flow state, where I could slip into work or making or walking for an hour or two, and at the end, I was calm. I don't feel calm. I miss calm. I miss privacy.

I don't know how to plan for the future. For the past few years, my goal has been getting my kid to kindergarten, and then I could reassess. I could go back to school, make lists, research, and I could figure out who I'm meant to be. I have struggled to find this sense of self and purpose for such a long time, and kindergarten shone like a beacon—a bit of time to sit with myself and figure out, at the age of 36, what I wanted as an adult. My question swirls around space and place, friendship and community, celebration and love, dance and food, creation and impermanence. Do I want to be a wedding planner? A community events expert? A ritual-maker? A writer? A cook? Do I want to work in climate change, local food, design, housing? How do I harness this herd of cats that are my interests, hobbies, passions, and skills, into something coherent and salable that also puts food on the table? What do I have to do to invent my realest self? And how does that work fit into a world that seems to be gasping for air as we live in it?

And yeah, I know how self-indulgent that sounds, how woo. I know that to sitting and staring into space and thinking, "shit, what am I?" is the work of someone is fundamentally probably pretty okay, or at least isn't currently worried about where rent money will come from. But even still, I feel a bit unmoored. Doing meaningful work is something that makes people feel, you know, meaningful. And hanging out with a preschooler, largely without adult company, is lonely work. There's a reason that wine-mom culture is a real thing.

Everyone is suffering and I feel awful asking for care, but I want it. I want someone to bring me food, to offer to take my kid for an afternoon, to tuck me into bed. I've been getting such nice cards from my far-away friends, and seeing one in my mailbox is a literal jolt: good feelings, delivered! And I do my best to return the favour. Sending a card out feels a bit like putting a seed into the earth. I don't know if anything will grow, but I can do the work and hope for the best.

I miss being with people who really know me, who can interrupt and say, "You know, I've always seen you as _____" and offer some bit of insight. I think this is why astrology apps and memes are on the rise: we want someone else to see who we are, know us, and then lead us. What we need is guidance counselors for the middle-aged; what we get is an Instagram account. It's also why I mourn old friendships so deeply: losing someone with ten or fifteen years of knowing who we are is losing a bit of our own history. Some people relish this reinvention, pushing towards more authentic versions of self and relationship; me, I just feel sad.

Lately I've been thinking about shadow work and trauma, about the Death Mother (thanks, Toko-pa!), but also about envisioning the kind of place that I would like to be. I've been summing it up thusly: I want a closed door but with laughter coming from the other side. I want to be alone, but also with. I know it's contradictory! I need time apart to recharge, but without feeling like I've been abandoned. 2018 was abandonment on a personal level, a painful reckoning. 2020 was great upheaving loss on a global scale, but I do see that we didn't abandon each other. We're learning this new way, and it's hard work. It's all new. But I didn't abandon the long-term search for meaning, even in the cracks of time I get between begging my child to eat a peanut butter sandwich and begging him to each some chicken nuggets. I don't think anyone else did, either.

We open the mail. We dial our phones. We write long, indulgent, maybe-helpful blog posts. We read the headlines and then put down the newspaper. We tend to our children and to what is on the stove. We grieve what we've lost in small moments, as the rest of the year washes over us like a wave.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Your Summer Horoscopes

It's nearly the Solstice, which means it's time to put on your best primal screaming sack dresses and break out the flower crowns and schnapps. Here are your 100% made-up horoscopes for the next season. If you don't like yours, simply choose another one—they are all equally true.


Aries: Perhaps I can convince you to put down the phone and step outside for a while? Do you have access to some dirt and/or seeds? If you don't, think about acquiring some. If not, get thee to a natural area. Run your hands along the bark of a tree. Allow the sun dappling through the canopy to play across your face. Watch out for wasps. Enjoy the sensation of being in the arms of mother nature; if you are balcony gardening, enjoy the sensation of actual growth between your fingers. It is good to see things grow, yeah?
Kid's Book: Music Is... by Brandon Stosuy

Taurus: You, my friend, are the mellow pot-smoker, the grounded-out earthship designer, the person who can low-key assemble a salad or smoothie out of any old fridge mess. I want you to tune your vibration just a bit higher in the coming months, and focus on action instead of emotion. Mend your sweaters. Sign up for that course. Email the friend you've been thinking about for ages. Do your self-care, of course, but balance it with action.
Kid's Book: The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad

Gemini: I'm learning French and Japanese on Duolingo right now, and as a plague activity, I really recommend it. The French and I are old pals, so the sense of competency I feel as I blow through all the "je m'appelle"s is a great tonic for when the Japanese, with its whole other alphabet, is a PROCESS. This quarter, I challenge you to find something that is both old hat and new blood, preferably in the same moment.
Kid's Book: Ho'onani: Hula Warrior by Heather Gale

Cancer: In a moment of great optimism, I bought a yard of double-sided knit fabric with the intention of making a tank top. Sounds simple, right? But it turns out that knits require different tools and techniques than woven fabrics. You need new sewing needles, sometimes whole other machines, in order to make it look "right." So now I have a choice to make: get the right, albeit expensive, tools? Or live with something that is imperfectly done? Stay tuned, Cancer! 
Kid's Book: Happy In Our Skin by Fran Manushkin

Leo: Right now I'm reading Akata Witch, which has been described as "the Nigerian Harry Potter" (it's not), and the concept of the "spirit face" has emerged: how your hidden spirit-self physically presents itself you and the world. The face is hidden even from you until you discover your identity and abilities, and it is both a mask and the truest version of yourself. Have you discovered your own spirit face yet? Have you learned to love her?
Kid's Book: Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

Virgo: Since the spring equinox, we've experienced infectious disease, racial unrest and uprising, global protest, an unforeseen flour shortage, and a general atmosphere of chaos and uncertainty. And then I think about 1919—when the Great War had just ended, American first-wave feminism was a still a year away from the Nineteen Amendment, and the Spanish Flu was in full swing—and I think, well, at least we have memes now. We are living in a history, book, Virgo. It's okay to feel overwhelmed. But also: we're living in a history book, Virgo. What will they write about us?
Kid's Book: It's Not All Rainbows by Jessika Von Innerebner

Libra: I recently had a long conversation with my mom about feeling left out of groups. I've always wanted to be firmly embedded in a really solid friend group, like the Babysitters Club but for grown-ups, and I was for a long time, but in the last few years, my friendships with two central members of that group ended, and it's made group dynamics weird! It's made 'em weird. I no longer feel as comfortable with the rest of the group. I love them deeply and fiercely, but it's just not as cozy-sweater comfy. Some topics feel prickly or edgy or just sad. I have grieved those friendships for a long time, and grieved the shift in group dynamics as well. But after that conversation with my mom, I'm going to try to focus more on those individual relationships, and pay less attention to the groups that I may or not be a part of. I am my own cozy sweater, as we all must be. 
Kid's Book: One Family by George Shannon

Scorpio: Ah, my Samhaim babies in a Litha world! Are you feeling ready for crisp evenings and hot drinks? Are you ready to hang up your gauzy summer tops in exchange for slouchy long sleeves? Are you ready to trade neon for black, again? One of the most irritating features of the human experience is that we can't just skip to the parts that we like; we have to experience it all, highs and lows, strikes and gutters, and sometimes it's grievous, hard, or just not to our taste. Asking ourselves to see joy and beauty in the long unbearable stretches is like strength training for our emotions. Get lifting. 
Kid's Book: With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

Sagittarius: Are we luxuriating in pleasure at this moment? Sag buddies, we are not! It's been stressful! We have had precious few opportunities to sink into beautiful bodily sensations: we've been encouraged to keep our distance; touching has equaled sickness or callousness; and stressors like money/work/health have a way of blunting our pleasure receptors. I've been looking at nudes more frequently: lusciously illustrated pictures of people, together, alone, sensual, sexy. When my favourite Taurus asked for birthday nudes, I sent her one (tasteful! nudes don't equal porn, yes?), and it was fizzy and empowering. Send platonic nudes! Send consensual sexy ones! Send one to your partner, who is one room over, when you're both too overwhelmed to actually do anything about the nude, and it's nice to just have sent it! 
Kid's Book: From the Stars In The Sky To the Fish In The Sea by Kai Cheng Thom

Capricorn: There's a meme going around, featuring a unicorn with a skeleton face, that proclaims "Gay Pride is Cancelled, Now It's Gay Wrath," and frankly, I'm here for it. When I lived in a student co-op house, people joined the board of directors for one of two reasons: they were seasoned participants in leadership (think of your student-body leaders and GSA organizers), or they were pissed off about some issue. I was of the pissed-off school (something about the change to the dining hall had really riled me up), but I stayed on for eight years, learning and growing. My message to you is this: get angry. Stay angry. Learn. Use it for change. 
Kid's Book: Counting on Community by Innosanto Nagara

Aquarius: We're in a complicated moment for faith and ritual. Us Millennials are one of the first generations raised without church-as-default (although plenty of us went, and plenty of Gen X and Boomers didn't), but the human craving for spiritual life hasn't disappeared. Instead, a cottage industry of witchery has emerged, but it's murky—Black and Latinx people with a cultural history of bruja work have been displaced by white women who buy a crystal off Etsy and proclaim themselves witches. My Polish heritage means literally centuries of Catholicism, so I feel you: it's easier to template from another practice, even one that isn't yours, than engage meaningfully in what it means to confront ones' ancestors, acknowledge the divine feminine, love on the earth mother, or whatever else I feel called to do. But friends: leave those crystals unbought and figure it out. There is enough magic in the world that we don't have to steal it. 
Kid's Book: The Girl and the Wolf by Katherena Vermett

Pisces: JK Rowling is a trash fire transphobe who used to be a single mother on welfare, and I have complicated feelings about her role in the Harry Potter world: she is the creator, yes, but not the final word. If you've read the His Dark Materials trilogy, you can know that old gods sometimes turn to dust and their world continues on without them; maybe improved, because there is no overlording Authority that must be centralized. I don't think the wizarding world is a perfect place—there is racism, sexism, and homophobia doesn't exist only because gay people are as mythical as unicorns, even there—but it is a place with a lot of space, and into that space, the fandom has stuffed a Black Hermione, a Desi Harry, a non-binary Tonks, a bisexual Lupin, an autistic Luna, and a bunch of other non-canonical changes to the characters that enrich our readings of them and their world. Leaving space for a more-true version of a story to come to light is a gift, and Rowling, perhaps unintentionally, has given it. Let us be greedy with it. 
Kid's Book: How Mamas Love Their Babies by Juniper Fitzgerald

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Ten Albums: The Second Five

    There's a meme on Facebook right now, which asks people to share ten albums they loved, and give no explanation. I am obviously not that person—my explanations cannot just live inside me!—so, having been nominated nearly a month ago, here are the first five albums, in the order in which they became essential to me. The first five are here.

    Hidden In Buildings: Draw Your Sword and I Am Not Afraid (I forget what year)

    Graham Van Pelt and I shared a music stand in grade eleven strings class, and we were sort-of friends: we cracked each other up and he made me a mix tape, and then we floated back to our respective friend groups when the bell rang. This music, released sometime in the early 2000, was the first time someone I knew personally had MADE AN ALBUM, with samples and instruments and that had a case and played on a CD player. I loved it, not only because it spoke to me sonically—lots of spoken-word snippets, loops, and drum machines—but because it offered me a portal into a world where making things like music and art was possible for civilians like me. Graham has since gone on to do such ho-hum things as being nominated for the goddamn Polaris Prize—the hipster music Canadian Emmys—and participate in art collectives.


    Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins: Rabbit Fur Coat (2006)

    In 2006 or 2007, I had a BAD breakup. Like, breathtaking in how fucking terrible it was. It was so bad that I can remember exactly where I was standing when it happened, that chest-punch feeling, the room swimming around me. It was awful enough that I have completely black-boxed what year it was (in my defense, it was a very bad year: my best friend moved back to the US against her will, and my sister was diagnosed with lymphoma. Not a great time!), and I just think of it as That Summer. In the aftermath of That Summer, I decided to reclaim my status as a music person: like many women in relationships, this was a role that had defaulted to my male partner, who was, like many male partners, unwilling to listen to the music I liked wasn't cool enough? Too boring? Other reasons? I digress. Anyway, I started taking late-night walks down to Bloor Street, where the new-and-used record store Sonic Boom was located. I would walk the aisles, under the overbright florescent lights, choosing albums based on half-remembered reviews on websites, cover art, and general buzz. I bought Alexisonfire's Watch Out! this way—selected in part because my ex had liked them but we never listened to them together—and I chose Midlake and Basia Bulat and Jenny Lewis this way too. Half-random grabbing. Take them home. Listen on repeat to the ones that landed. This album landed, friends. It was twangy and angry, pretty and low-end, glamorous and dusty. It was also feminine, which was a relief in an emotional landscape that was so dominated by my ex. Even now, listening to the song Rise Up (With Fists!!), I get a surge of power. I feel like myself when I listen to this album.


    Fever Ray: Fever Ray (2009)

    I love the way this album sounds. I listened to it a lot when it came out, and still keep it in rotation: it's witchy and deeply aesthetic, with a throughline about motherhood and femme identity that only surfaced for me when my own identities shifted. I like their subsequent work less, but this album—the sonic embodiment of a black taper candle on an altar—holds a special place for me.


    Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros - Global A-Go-Go (2001)

    This album is a summer day, a road trip, a paid of headphones and a long walk under bright-green leaves in a small town or along the waterfront in a big city. This album is rock and folk and global and punk and twang. This album is drinks with my dad at the cottage, cooking with Liz at the dining hall, dancing with my boyfriend (now husband) as we get ready to go out. This album is warm and crisp—a salad roll full of vermicelli and avocado, a burger on the grill, an ice-cold lager next to a bowl of curry. I love that Joe Strummer took all his experience with The Clash, and then several years of casting about in a well-financed but directionless way, and then produced this crazy-quilt masterpiece. This is the album that I listen to when summer emerges again, and when this kind of joy feels possible.


    GusGus: Arabian Horse (2011)

    In 2012, we went to Iceland for ten days. Iceland is known for its music scene, and it was the summer of Of Monsters And Men and their absolute dominance on the radio (you definitely know this song), but when we went to one of the record stores on Reykjavik's main drag, I was like, "Okay, we all know about them and Bjork, but what do you like?" and the clerk, relieved not to have to pull out another copy of that album, handed me this one. We listened to as we drove through otherworldly landscapes of volcanic rock and dusty plains and thunderous waterfalls and lupin-covered glens. (Iceland is amazing, you should definitely go.) I love eerie beep-boop dance music a lot, as evidenced by several other entries on this list, but this is the one that I'd put on for parties and for when my mom and I had had too many glasses of pink wine and did impromptu Nia classes in the cottage living room.

    Bonus albums:
    * Stan Rogers: From Fresh Water (1984)
    * The Roots: Phrenology (2002)
    * Robyn: Body Talk (2010)
    * Carly Rae Jepson: Emotion (2015)