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

Climbing


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

Friday, February 20, 2015

Twelve Scenes From Other Worlds

 1. I live in a tiny cottage on the edge of a Nordic country. I am a widely celebrated poet who writes small, still paeans to the natural world. I have never had sex, and I never intend to; I am confident this will add to my mystique after I am dead. Instead, I pour my erotic attachments into odes to rounded fruits, thick glossy leaves, and gnarled root systems. I take long walks from my cabin into the fjords. One day, I am swept out to sea. There is a postage stamp in my honor.

2. I am part of a husband-and-wife real estate team. We are the most successful agents in the city, and we advertise that aggressively. We are photographed standing back-to-back, arms crossed, smiling warmly into the camera. My wife is naturally blonde, and my hair is the perfect shade of brunette. The colour costs nearly three thousand dollars each year to maintain. We write it off as a professional expense.

3. I am the mother of identical triplet girls. When they were babies, I wrote numbers on the soles of their feet with indelible marker. I insisted on giving them flowery, vaguely European names—Francesca, Angelina, Bianca—but despite my best efforts, two of them grew up to be lesbians. The third moved to Shanghai as a missionary, and doesn't speak to any of us.

4. I am a very successful artist living in New York City, where I'm part of a polyamorous "constellation" made up of other artists. Once a month, we have a live sex show, which always sells out. We deliberately serve crackers that I know taste terrible. The New Yorker once called me "the next Yoko Ono." Sometimes, I put on jeans and huge white sneakers, buy a bag of cherry-flavoured licorice, and I go to La Guardia and watch the planes take off.

5. I bartend. I have three earrings in each ear, and I chew a pack of gum each night. I have always been proud of my legs, and wear sheer black stockings and short skirts. When the pint glasses come out of the dishwasher, I polish each one by hand. At the end of the night, my hands smell like soap and stale beer, and I like that very much.

6. I was a child actor; now, I'm a Twitter sensation. I live in Los Angeles and tweet about traffic and watching sitcoms on TV, and for some reason, this is a huge hit. I'm invited onto late-night television, and offered a book deal. Later, I see this book at an remaindered bookstore at an outlet mall in Atlanta, Georgia, and my feelings are hurt.

7. I am a mid-level manager at an international firm. When I have an affair with a woman in another department, her personal assistant discovers our secret. I threaten to kill her if she tells anyone; terrified, she exposes us. My lover and I are both fired. When I am escorted out the building by security, I am holding a plant in a cardboard box. I realize I have seen this moment in a movie.

8. I am a stand-up comedienne. One night, after a show, a fellow comic slips a sedative into my drink and fondles my breasts in the green room. Seven months later, he is offered a pilot for a network. I tell no one about what happened.

9. I am an art therapist. I specialize in international child refugees who have escaped war zones. I hear about severed limbs, about burning houses, about bodies floating in rivers. During our sessions, the children draw these scenes for me. Later, I throw their pictures away. I never feel unconflicted about this, but I also know I can't keep a mountain of paper devoted to horror in my office. I drink a lot of white wine.

10. I am a radio producer. I spend three months in Antarctica, working on a story about isolation. I sit with a Czech marine biologist in a very hot sauna. We are both drunk and naked. After we are dizzy from the heat, we run outside wearing only thick white boots and a scarf. It is -100 degrees, which is colder than the moon. The steam rises from my body like a thick white cloud, and I see the aurora australis. I can't see the Czech in the darkness. I feel utterly abandoned, and this exhilarates me.

11. I am a grad student. My girlfriend lives on the other side of the country. We keep in touch by Skype, texting, and the occasional visit. I no longer know if I love her, or if I've grown accustomed to our arrangement. It occurs to me that I have never lived in a place longer than two years.

12. I work part-time at a gourmet deli, going in early to make rigorously healthy salads. In the afternoons, I write columns for several print and online publications. I am fast, thorough, and my editors adore me. I have two children, and a husband who is close enough to perfect that he sometimes seems like an alien who has learned how to be human by studying romantic comedies. In the evenings, I knit and volunteer for local non-profits. We do not have a backyard, but we live close to a park. I sleep horribly, and I never lost my baby weight. I am happy.

Image by Pat Perry via This is Colossal

Friday, February 13, 2015

A List of Happy Things


Here is a brief, incomplete list of some of the things that are making me happy in these dark, miserably cold, winter days:
  1. Adventure Time, which is ostensibly for children but is also 100% ba-nay-nays and likely to freak out/enchant those who are even the slightest bit high. In the post-apocalyptic land of Oo, the human boy Finn and his shape-shifting dog companion Jake fight demons, woo princesses, and go on quests. They also eat pancakes, play with their video game system, and end up in impromptu dance parties. It's so many things at the same time: odd, genuinely terrifying, heart-warming, and funny. I can't figure out if it's really meant for kids, or for adults, or what. But it's pretty great.

  2. Rock climbing! M and I went last weekend, and it was bonkers. I was expecting to be better than I was—I mean, I work out! I can flex my abs and shit!—but even though I totally fell off the wall like forty times, and gave myself a blister, and could barely open jars for days afterwards, I can't stop thinking about it. Rock climbing seems to be a sport where you have to get out of your own head to do it with any proficiency, and getting out of my own head is a thing I'm trying to do more of.

  3. Caramel corn. Even though I'm paleo-ish, caramel corn is the food of angels.

  4. Weight lifting. I read a wonderful article in Maisonneuve about the impact that lifting weights has on women, and this line in particular stood out for me: "A 2001 study found that college students who completed a course of weight training reported an increase in body strength, lower physical anxiety and general improvements in body satisfaction, while concurrent aerobic exercise was found to have no effect on body image." This totally jives with my lived experience: the more I lift weights, the more I appreciate my striated shoulder muscles, the curve of my bicep, and the subtle-but-definitely-there definition of my obliques. I built my body, and size two or not, I'm damn proud of it.

  5. California daydreams, which have been sustaining me during stressful times at work. It's become easier and easier to recall our beautiful honeymoon: the heat, the sun, the landscape, the sense of adventure. The ions in the air from being so close to the ocean. The laconic SoCal drawl of the shop girls. The preponderance of really excellent tacos. The sense of togetherness we had. Whenever I feel bummed out at work, I imagine M and I walking down Sunset and stumbling into Amoeba. I imagine us goofing around in the organic grocers on Haight Street. I picture us hanging out on the train into LA, after a day of watching brown hills, studded with barrel cacti and the occasional burro, roll on by. Travel is magical in the moment, but it nourishes us for the rest of our lives.

  6. New Kelly Link! She seems to publish a book whenever I'm having a sucky time at work, and I am so effin' jazzed that she's back with a set of nine new fantastical, weirdo stories. She is a delight, I love her, I can't be more pleased. The first one had foxes in it. Foxes!

  7. So, much to my annoyance, my friend Abe turned out to be right about podcasts. (I will continue to keep my distance from This American Life, because, even though I can't explain it, Ira Glass make me twitch.) I've been mainlining episodes of 99% Invisible for nearly two weeks, and it's awesome. So far I've learned about modern Warsaw's semi-fake historical district; how basketball developed the shot clock and became exciting; whether or not modern prison designers violate human rights standards by designing buildings that might literally torture its inhabitants; how to communicate with humans who will be alive in 10,000 years; and why a particular hotel in Illinois is purple.  This show is fascinating! I'm interested in design—if I was more focused, I might have become an architect or a interior designer—but the stories are also just so charming and addictive. I even listen through the sponsor shout-outs at the end of the show, because I want to know what host Roman Mars' sons have to say. Dammit, Abe. You've won this round.

  8. Honorable mentions go to ramen noodles, Vanilla Coke Zero, our mega-cozy blanket from Cambie, my slick-looking Sorel boots, the ring my mother gave me for Christmas, M's and my screen-free days, mid-week dinner parties, a boozeless (so far!) 2015, sunshine, Straphanger, my so-far-so-good  Facebook hiatus, and great sleeps. Even in the darkest winter, there's enough to keep us going.
self-image
A 2001 study found that college students who completed a course of weight training reported an increase in body strength, lower physical anxiety and general improvements in body satisfaction, while concurrent aerobic exercise was found to have no effect on body image - See more at: http://maisonneuve.org/article/2015/01/29/making-gains/#sthash.DDVyspMt.dpuf
A 2001 study found that college students who completed a course of weight training reported an increase in body strength, lower physical anxiety and general improvements in body satisfaction, while concurrent aerobic exercise was found to have no effect on body image. - See more at: http://maisonneuve.org/article/2015/01/29/making-gains/#sthash.DDVyspMt.dpuf
A 2001 study found that college students who completed a course of weight training reported an increase in body strength, lower physical anxiety and general improvements in body satisfaction, while concurrent aerobic exercise was found to have no effect on body image. - See more at: http://maisonneuve.org/article/2015/01/29/making-gains/#sthash.DDVyspMt.dpuf
A 2001 study found that college students who completed a course of weight training reported an increase in body strength, lower physical anxiety and general improvements in body satisfaction, while concurrent aerobic exercise was found to have no effect on body image. - See more at: http://maisonneuve.org/article/2015/01/29/making-gains/#sthash.DDVyspMt.dpuf
A 2001 study found that college students who completed a course of weight training reported an increase in body strength, lower physical anxiety and general improvements in body satisfaction, while concurrent aerobic exercise was found to have no effect on body image. - See more at: http://maisonneuve.org/article/2015/01/29/making-gains/#sthash.DDVyspMt.dp
Image via Ffffound

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Marooned


Late last year, I saw a quote from Brene Brown - magical Brene Brown, whose 2010 TED Talk opened up a discussion about vulnerability and shame that has acted like a lightning bolt through my life - that read as follows: Unused creativity is not benign. It clumps inside us, turning into judgment, grief, anger and shame. I think most people are like, "right, yep, creativity, it's a thing, we should do it!" And then there's a certain sector of people who just winced when they read that, as if their soul was curling up like a leaf next to flame.

So, real talk: I spend my days staring at a 12" x 15" computer screen, which sits sixteen inches from my face. Because my boss does not like it when I leave the office, I often eat lunch at my desk. I try to escape at least once a day, but it's usually only for about twenty minutes. Most days, I go across the street and pick out a treat from the Lawrence Square Mall, like a Vanilla Coke Zero, or a sugar-free truffle from the bulk section of Fortino's. Some days, I don't even get that far: I just go and sit next to the radiator in the office building's back stairwell, staring at the words in whatever magazine I'm "reading" that afternoon. I tend to leave at the end of the day feeling very, very sad. Two days out of five, I get home and I cry brief, disgusted tears.

My job has some outlets for creativity, but they're sparse. An email template here, a survey there. It's "creative" in that specific, office-job way. I get a kick from reorganizing my files, or choosing which colour folders to use. But when I see my freelance writer/furniture designer/art director/poet/knitter friends post their latest article/chair/window display/chapbook/cowl, and I get all itchy and hot. It's not jealousy, exactly. It's like I'm a vampire, and they're drinking pint glasses of blood while I'm holding a thimble.

Anne Lamott once wrote that she is a writer because she's no good at anything else. My fatal flaw, the thing that feels like the nail in my creative coffin, is that I am good at other things. I can administrate and organize and draw up strategic plans. I like doing those things. It feels like a betrayal of the creative spirit to own up to it, but here we go: I am good at spreadsheets. I can write emails like a goddamn pro. I like writing reports.

And yet, do too much of that, and I feel disgusted with myself. I feel tired. I feel like half of my body is slowly filling up with an oily despair. The computer screen is too close to my face, and I can't get away.

If I was only good at the creative stuff, it would force me to hustle. It would force me to sit down every day and transform those skills into money. As it stands right now, I've banished myself from the island of creators - that wild jungle where tigers might eat you if you can't get your shit together enough to build a Swiss Family Robinson-style palace. I'm just floating along in the Sea of Vague Regrets: oh, look, there's Continuing Education Reef! Now I'm passing the Fjord of Damn Right I Am Somebody.

And I float on. I'm unsure of what to do with this sadness, this underutilized side of myself. Right now, I'm just sitting with those feelings, trying to feel them. It's a shitty process.

I'm starting to realize that I have a limited amount of time on the planet, and I don't want to spend it being an administrative assistant. I'm cultivating these amazing female role models, from my aunts who went back to school in their forties, to the moms I know who freelance, to my own mother, whose restless creativity has meant that we've grown up in beautiful, artful homes. The physically sensation of my unhappy days does look a lot like that unused creativity that Brown warned us about, and I'm so tired of feeling ashamed. I want to row back to the island—and I don't even need the treehouse; right now, a little lean-to would be plenty—but I'm not sure where my oars are.

Image of Fishermans Wife Knitting on Skagen Beach by Michael-Peter Ancher