Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Fear of Writing

For many years, the way I processed basically everything was by writing about it.  Had a bad day or a personal success? Write about it! Had a relationship fall apart or get sweet? Write about it! Had an opinion about a pop culture moment? Write about it! Had an emotion, a body feeling, or literally any experience at all? Write about it! I knew that, at some point, I would sit down at the computer and a bunch of words would come pouring out, and at the end, I'd feel different. Maybe better, maybe worse, often relieved, but always different.

Writing my way through my life allowed me to understand my world, myself, and where the two intersected. It was also a way of explaining myself to other people. "I have a blog" is a pretty straightforward way of talking about the writing I did: it was opinionated, or thoughtful, or personal, or political. I know people who have read the whole thing, because they liked me or they liked my writing. (That is...a lot of reading. I'm a wordy bee sometimes!) Writing it propelled me forward, as well. This little blog opened some doors professionally, sure, but it also helped me work through some of the blunderbussing that was my late 20s and early 30s. Just a seemingly endless stream of words, all of them useful in some way, at least to me. The best ones were the ones I went back to ten or twenty times, obsessing over what I had written because they actually helped me get outside myself and realize what I had to realize. The worst ones were, at the very least, practice: a few hundred words a week to keep my fingers limber and my copy-editing sharp. Like doing scales, only less annoying to the neighbours.

In the last few years, some things have happened. Some good things, sure, but also some fucking bad things. And I realized, after my son was born, that I'd sort of lost the ability to write my way through it.

A while ago, I admitted to myself that I have a bunch of stuff I'm yearning to write about, on a molecular, soul-deep level, but I lack the courage. This is the shit that has made me feel exhausted, terrified, lonely, and ruined. It's nasty, gnarly, bone-crunching stuff. It's talking about sickness and bad marriages and mental health. It's naming names. It's admitting that I've been close to the abyss, that the ground has crumbled around me and a few solid people have held me up. Writing about all of it means really examining it, and to be honest, I'm scared.

Because some of what I've dealt with over the last four years or so has been mental health-related, writing about feeling crazy feels a bit like a conjuring trick: will laying it out bare give it more power, like oxygen to a flame? Or will it wither and die when exposed to too much light? Will putting it down on paper make it realer? Will people look at me sidelong, like I've lost some essential handle on adulthood? Will they take my kid away? Will they put me in jail? Will I lose my job or the respect of the people I care for? Does talking about feeling crazy actually make it so? Is it safer to shove that part away, shove it down, gag it, strangle it, starve it? Deny it exists, and put on another coat of veneer?

If it sounds like I'm being melodramatic, you haven't been listening to these howling, fucked-up thoughts in my head.

And it's not just the intrusive thoughts. Really talking about what's happened in my marriage is opening up a huge can of worms: shame, embarrassment, fear, rejection, sadness, grief. And if things are good, or at least improving, then what's to be gained by dragging all those damned skeletons out of the closet for closer examination? "Oh, detective, it looks like this one really had its feelings hurt!" Much easier just to keep them in situ, tucked behind my summer clothes and the pants that no longer fit.

But, then again. If writing is my process, and I'm not writing, then how do I process?

There are those old stupid adages "Do one thing every day that scares you!" and "Courage is feeling the fear and doing it anyway!" both of which are fine if you are naturally brave and/or have a chilled-out life. I know plenty of people for whom these could be a mantra, and the idea of writing about their 2016-2019 inclusive would be, like, a big ol' shrug.

Writing about this peculiar kind of writer's block is my roundabout way of admitting that some topics are top of mind, and to write about anything else feels horribly inauthentic. When I really want—nay, need—to talk about my emotional state, the idea of writing about, like, Game of Thrones or which politicians I currently hate the most seems, not even silly, but like an active lie. And it's also a weird way of asking permission: will I alienate the people I respect by diving deep on this stuff? Much of it is very unpretty; I haven't yet turned a corner on a lot of it, and I'm not going to be anyone's bubbly influencer guru on loss, grief, or that shitty voice in your head that will sometimes stand in the corner and list everything that's wrong with you.

And again: I'm scared. It sounds dumb to be afraid of writing, but there's something about what I'm currently avoiding that seems like it would open floodgates, or lead to realizations that I would have preferred to have left undiscovered, or drive off the people who had helped me stay sane. I'm scared of more loss and grief, and the fear of creating it through my own writing seems preposterous but it's very real. (And yes, I know, I could journal and keep it all under lock and key, but the process would be the same re: floodgates and realizations. At least with blogging, there's sometimes a sense of give and take with people who have had similar experiences, or who can at least remind me that I'm generally okay, despite my critical interiour voice and/or the wolves that sometimes sneak under the door of my brain.)

At this point, just writing about writing feels good. It's a stretch, a good one, like after a long nap on a cold day. But it's not the main event, and I know it. So I'm working up the courage to get in there and unpack allllll the shit that has been giving me grief over the last few years. There's a lot. It's not appealing. I've been a huge mess, and I've talked about some of it with some people but no one has heard the whole story. (This sounds so dramatic! It isn't. It's just above-average hardships for white people in their 30s.) And maybe I'm asking for permission, or encouragement, or waiting for the right moment, but none of that will really come meaningfully from external sources. It's coming from me or not at all.

So stay tuned, I guess? I guess this is me saying, I'm going to try?

Saturday, March 9, 2019


Back when I was learning French, there was this common giggle that would sometimes run through the classroom: the mixing-up of "je suis" and "j'ai." For the non-Francos in the reading audience, "je suis" means "I am," while "j'ai" means "I have." Every year, some remedial case would mistaken say "je suis chaud!" and one of the classroom pedants would snarkily reply, "Oh, you're the human embodiment of heat?" (NB: that pedant was sometimes—but not always!—me.)

It might make no sense to read it "j'ai chaud" as though it meant "I have heat," like you were a dog or a menopausal woman, but in reality, that's exactly how you use it. You are not, in fact, the human embodiment of heat; you are someone who feels the effects of heat on your body, possessing the qualities of warmth for a time, and then being released from them as your dad inevitably turns the thermostat down, again, he's not made of money you guys. It's a key difference between English and French; it sometimes pops into my head to remind me that English, the lingua franca of the Internet, has funny quirks and weird effervescence that we don't always see with the naked eye.

It was the same reason "Tammy Pierce is Unloveable," the comic memoir that ran on the back page of BUST magazine, made me so uncomfortable. The Roz Chast-style illustrations—all manic wavy lines and haunted grimaces—combined with the awkwardness of adolescence, was just a scootch too familiar. Tammy Pierce was a gong show, for sure: constantly getting her period in the middle of gym class and accidentally brushing butts with the school's resident dreamboat. She was an ur-teen: horribly relatable to all but the most well-adjusted high schooler.  But combined with that declarative, inviolable IS UNLOVABLE, right across the top of the page? Suddenly, Tammy's whole normal, awful human experience had been indicted as unworthy, alien...unlovable.

Look, I know that I read too much into things. I have an English degree. I was trained to overthink a text in the same way a doctor can take a temperature; I can think in themes the way a composer thinks in melodies. This is great if I want to explicate the homoerotic themes of Billy Budd; less awesome if I start thinking too critically about myself and my own life.

In my late 20s and early 30s, I was...kind of an awful person? I had finally reached the pinnacle of human achievement, which was having a steady boyfriend. I had a job that paid enough that I could be low-grade snotty to my parents without real repercussions. I had enough time to work out, so I was looking [insert flexed-arm emoji]. And I hadn't yet internalized the idea that other people might not love being gossiped about, might not think jokes at their expense were hilarious, that an apology wasn't a "Get Out of Jail Free" card for thoughtless behaviour, or that the perfect outside-looking-in scene wasn't a replacement for a messy, imperfect, interiour relationship.

In the couple years after I got married, but before my whole world fell apart, I lost two close friends. In the process of disengaging from our friendship, they both said basically the same thing: you're not really all that nice, you're not really all that kind, so we're gonna...go. And go they did.

In the moment, I thought I would be fine! I was like, "Pfft, those girls don't know what they're talking about. Have you seen how hot my body is these days? I'm fiiiiine."

Reader, it took a while to kick in, but I was not fine. I coasted along for a few years, but in the span of about 30 months, there were some huge traumas, only some of which were of my making or under my control (parental cancer! birth trauma! eviction! homelessness! an affair! hell, let's throw a cockroach infestation in there for good measure!) and suddenly, the inside of my head was a pretty scary place to be. I struggled with the idea that, if I had made different choices, like not having a baby, we wouldn't have been evicted or my dad wouldn't have gotten sick. I responded to all these injuries with rage, or emotional shutdowns, or suicidal-ideation-level anxiety. I made jokes. I stopped sleeping and eating. I ate a lot. I looked out the window at a white sky, and felt a sweeping, paralyzing fear that my life was unfixable, that I was unlovable, that I was being punished for not being all that nice or all that kind.

Some days, I still feel that way. I feel like the turns my life took was a sort of punishment for letting those friends go, for being kind of a shitty person. In my early 20s, I was bulimic and a binge-drinker. I took eight years to finish a four-year degree. I have always been a late bloomer, and not a little emotionally stunted. In my early 30s, all that dumb shit came home to roost. I had done a bit of therapy, but honestly, it was like knowing how to paddle a canoe in the face of a tsunami. It's not quite the same skill set.

Every relationship is based on, you know, relating; it's a two-way street, where each person starts with his or her own values, priorities, interiour language, sense of humour, justifications, dead zones, and boundaries—what Anne Lamott refers to as "your emotional acre." In the process of creating a friendship, you hope that enough of those things match up, and that there can be an honest flow of emotion and good vibes. I think that's what people mean when they say "we grew apart": that the street just got a little too long, that the middle was too sparse. Sometimes, there's an earthquake, and a rift will open up right between your zones, and there's no way to clamber over the wreckage without getting exhausted. 

It's funny, because I don't fault either of those people for ending their friendships with me. Going through that process, in addition to all the other stuff that happened, has given me a what pop-psychologists might call a growth opportunity: a chance to take a step back and examine who I am in a crisis, who I want to be, and where I need help. I had been a shitty person; was I still? Was my behaviour who I was, really?

Last summer, when the affair and the cockroaches were all I could think about, I lost my sense of humour. I didn't want to talk about it all the time, but the inside of my brain was just screaming, constantly. I didn't know how to say, "Fuck, I need to talk about this but I can't have another sympathetic look or another piece of advice or another person say, 'god, I don't know how you do it, you're so resilient,' because realistically, I'm thinking about taking the toaster into the tub with me right now, as we're talking, so I'm going to smile and nod and then say I'm tired, which I am, and that I'm going to sleep, which I'm not." So pardon me if the jokes are thin. Losing my sense of humour, which I had carried with me through what I had thought were the worst times, made me feel fucking awful. It made me feel unlovable. It was like I was constantly seeing myself through the eyes of those old friends: the people for whom I was not nice, and not kind.

Maybe that's just...who I am? Maybe mean, shitty people deserve a mean, shitty life.

Or maybe not. I mean, look at capitalism: if that whole shitty person = shitty life thing was real, we'd have honest politicians and great HR departments.

My most favourite people are not unscarred by their own traumas. They have lost parents and partners, become estranged from family, been evicted, lost jobs. They are still kind. They're my goddamn role models these days: the people who are smart, funny, compassionate, kind. The people for whom anger isn't a dirty word, but neither is it a guiding force. There's a meme that surfaces every now and then, saying something like, "the kindest, softest people got that way because their life was harder than you can imagine," and for some people, I think that's true. The wolf you feed is the wolf that grows, right?

That whole growth opportunity that surfaced before comes down to this: I have a choice these days. I choose to keep living, which is an obvious one, but sometimes, I have to say it out loud. I choose to try to improve myself: read the books, do the therapy, wait ten seconds before speaking, find the forgiveness. I choose to try to improve my life: move, get fulfilling work, try to maintain the friendships that work and, these days, forgive myself for losing out on some that didn't. I am imperfect, both in who I am and what I do; I choose to accept that, too. My own emotional acre got blown over and dug up and infested with cockroaches; it's not going to be a rose garden any time soon. But the soil is fertile, and I'm trying to make some things grow.

Maybe I am unlovable. But I don't think so, these days.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

A Hermeneutics of Food

Food should be delicious.
Food should feed at least two of your three hungers (mouth, belly, heart).
Food should avoid being precious.
Food should avoid trying to be something it isn't: vegan hotdogs, for example, just should not.

Food should be made to eat quickly, standing up over the sink.
Food should be made to eat while driving, or riding on public transit, or pushing a stroller.
Food should be made to eat while sitting at a restaurant while four teenagers or college students hover nearby with water carafes and table brushes.
Food should be made to eat at dusk, after the sun sets into the water, and the grill is hot and everyone is just a little drunk.
Food should be made to eat at a desk, which you hate.
Food should be made to eat at a table for two on a vacation that has been in the works for over a year.

Food should be made to seduce, to impress.

Food should be made by women, but men-chefs get all the attention.
Food should be made by cooking school instructors who themselves were taught by old men, so that everyone who is anyone is still learning mother sauces as if anyone wants them.
Food should be made by your mother, so pay attention when she's in the kitchen, because her food will form the spine of your memories and when she's gone you will grieve her by grieving her potato salad.
Food should be made by your father, who will try to put pickled banana peppers on dishes they have no business being.
Food should be made by apprentice chefs who work long, long hours and who live in small, empty-fridge apartments.
Food should be made by people who do not give one single fuck about what they're cooking, but need to pay their rent.
Food should be made by eccentrics who live on Patagonian islands and cook like angels for groups of four.
Food should be made by immigrants who came here to have a better life and who know what the hell they're doing so just show them once and leave them alone, Martin

Food should allow you to recall other fine moments in your life.
Food should allow itself to be forgotten.
Food should be simple.

Food should be consumed on a melamine table off a paper plate while sipping from a plastic straw.
Food should be eaten languorously, like a cat who is playing peekaboo with a can of tuna.
Food should be scarfed down without ever looking at it, never taking your eyes off a smart phone. 

Food should loosen your chest and allow you to breath easier.
Food should quicken your pulse.
Food should make your shoulders stronger, from kneading and pushing and stirring and whisking.
Food should make your belly softer.
Food should cut across your tongue with a lash of acid, followed by a blurt of fat, each balancing the other out.

Food should not be too hot. It can sometimes be too cold.
Food should not be a challenge to those eating it. (I see you, lobsters.)
Food should not make the eater feel bad or stupid, in the case of "not getting it" when it comes to chefs with Opinions About How Food Is Done.
Food should be a mix of all foods, from all places.
Food should be sacred and separate, according to passport and time zone.
Food should be prepared according to the eater's religious deferences.
Food should tell you when it contains insects.

Food should be taken home from a farmer's market and cooked that same day.
Food should be packed up in boxes when you move houses.
Food should be forgotten in the fridge until it liquifies and is awful.
Food should be purchased in a hurry from a chain grocery store while you try to head off a tantrum from your toddler.
Food should be eaten only with good wine or filtered water.
Food should be eaten only after at least one beer.
Food should never be eaten with a beverage.
Food should always be eaten with a beverage.

Food should avoid making you feel silly when you eat it.
Food should not be fancy just for the sake of being fancy.
Food should not be low-brow just to prove a point about fanciness.
Food should not avoid its own truth.
Food should try to be plain, unless it is very fancy, in which case it should just go ahead and be fancy.

Food should be delicious. It should be simple, unless it's impossible to make simply, in which case it should be extravagant. It should be seasonal and fresh. It should make your body feel good; if not your body, then your heart, or your mind. It should be familiar, unless it is truly the first time the dish has been prepared in human history, in which case it should be sublime. It should be a real part of your day, but feel free to ignore it in favour of more pressing matters. It should be delicious, though. Don't eat it if it's not delicious.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Sagittarius at Gunpoint

I have this theory about memories and moving. It goes like this: when you stay in one place as a kid, you're connected to your past in a way that people who moved around a lot aren't. You can walk past a park and say, "That's where we went sledding every winter," or "That's where Dan's brother knocked his own teeth out with a bottle rocket." You grow up with the same group of people: elementary school, middle school, high school, bachelor parties, first communions, whatever. Your parents are friends with the same people they went to school with. There's a web. When you're a kid, it's invisible. When you're a teenager, it's stifling. But when you're an adult, it's reassuring to know that you can, kind of, go back to the same old haunts. I know, I know: change is the only constant. But even when they rip out the bank where you opened your first account and replace it with an A&W, you can still remember the bank.

I moved five times before I turned thirteen. My dad worked for IBM, so we would relocate, stay in a place for a few years—three, three and a half—and then he would get promoted so we would pick up and move somewhere else. It was never just down the road: we moved from Toyko to Calgary, from Ottawa to Victoria. I went to five different schools before I started high school.

On paper, this is glamorous. "Oh, you lived in Japan. You were a child model. You rode elephants in Thailand and spent Christmas in Hawai'i. Must have been amazing." And I'm sure it was! I have mementos of those experiences, like a little Thai outfit that I will one day stuff my own child into, or a tee shirt from 1985 with a whole travel itinerary applied in iron-on felt letters down the back: Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia. But I don't actually remember much about that time in my life. I was too young, and everything was too transient. Nothing is truly foreign to a young kid, because everything is happening for the first time—there's no context that says, "whoa, this is unusual!" because every damn thing is out of context. Childhood is literally creating context. (Exhibit A: we took an infant to see the Chihuly exhibit at the ROM and I was blown away and he was like, "Oh, more colourful shapes, like the rest of the world.")

I don't remember the bedroom I had when I was ten. I don't remember my teacher. I don't remember what our dining room looked like, or if we had a basement, or what the bathrooms were like. I remember snippets: getting a rug in the shape of a teddy bear and setting up camp, lamp and all, in my closet in Calgary, only to be told it was a fire risk; leaving a Japanese lesson having learned the word for octopus (tako), and thinking, "I'm never going to need to know that one" (never thinking that one day I'd greedily eat takoyaki on ramen dates in my thirties); taking the bus to my first date in Victoria (I saw the Fran Drescher vehicle The Beautician and the Beast, with Little Frank); my sister's second birthday party at my grandparent's cottage; ice skating at the Calgary Olympic Stadium; sitting in the car and eating McDonald's pancakes before skating on the Rideau Canal, my newborn brother's bellybutton stump and how gross it was. I barely remember any friends; I remember a handful of moments, with vague sketches of buildings or people in the background. Without that constant reiteration of this-is-where-that-happened, memories don't stay. I sometimes think about what it would be like to show up at our house in Tokyo and ask to take a look around. Would I remember things then?

I don't know that my parents ever thought of any one place as their "forever home." They had both come from small southwestern Ontario towns; as a family, we never discussed going back to either of them as any kind of "homeland." My mother's parents had been living near the Bruce Peninsula for a few generations, but my father's parents had escaped post-war Poland with zero fucks given. We've never visited, never been in touch with family over there. That side vanished into the forward-thinking ether. Our nuclear family was our whole world, for most of my life: aunts and uncles and grandparents lived a flight or a ten-hour drive away. Every few years, friends and teachers and neighbours would be in the rearview mirror. Aside from my family, I don't know anyone who's known me since I was a kid. Even as the world was big, our web was small.

If you're up at all on your star signs, you might be familiar with the idea that Sagittarians are natural travelers. We yearn for the road, wanting to see the world, never feeling settled in one place, never wanting to. But what if that's forced upon you? Would it be as fun? As urgent? Frankly, I'm a terrible Sagittarius: I'm rarely optimistic, change bums me out, and extroversion makes me sweaty. But the travel thing has always made me curious. If I chose it, would I love it?

The driving force of my adulthood has been finding home. It propelled me into relationships, and made my biological clock deafening. It has been seeking the place where I feel most myself, most human, and finding that most everywhere comes up short. (As I write these words, it occurs to me that the geographical cure for whatever is wrong with me was never going to work, because feeling outside is an issue with my insides; but, certainly, a sense of being from somewhere in particular might have helped define some edges.) Being nomadic in my childhood, keen on escape in my teen years, and evicted in my thirties, has given some broad strokes of why this particular concept might have eluded me. And honestly, I don't know that I'll ever be "from somewhere;" Stratford is the closest, and it feels good to be back; I'm still keenly aware of the history people have with each other here, stretching back to pre-K and sometimes earlier.

My main memories of childhood are of airports and flights. I remember a sunrise over the cloud cover during a red-eye back from somewhere far. I remember TVs suspended above seats, every screen playing the same movie, cheap headphones given out by stewardesses. I remember the different music channels we would tune into, and how the children's channel would loop every 90 minutes; on a fifteen-hour flight between Chicago and Narita, you could hear Peter and the Wolf ten times. I remember the in-flight meals, delivered on greige plates, the excitement of getting a whole can of ginger ale to myself, the little fake salads and gravies that were not the right colour. I remember how loud the toilets were when they flushed, and how thrilling the moving sidewalks were. I get knocked sideways by sense memories, like the particular smell of a jetway, or of a hotel with a pool.

And it's not like I feel robbed of anything, because I'm sure the experiences I had were valuable and formative, if not exactly seared into my conscious understanding of myself. But I also wish that I knew where capital-H home is for me, truly. Is it Stratford, where I went to high school? I've moved back, and it feels a bit like I'm pretending at rootedness. Is it Sauble Beach, our seasonal home since forever, but only during the summer months? Is it any of the other places, or somewhere further back? Would my Polish great-aunties welcome me? (Doubtful, if their surly New World counterparts are any indication.) I feel most alive when I'm on the edge of a great wind, usually next to a large body of water, with all the ions in the air. I've never lived there, but I've felt that wind, and it feels like it unlocks part of me I didn't know existed. Can I live in a gust of wind? Can I bring my toddler and husband?

Once, during a move, a hotel clerk tried some small talk and asked me where I was from. I didn't understand the question—we were moving towns, so technically, we were homeless, but the idea of being "from somewhere" was also just not something I had internalized. "Toronto," I answered, even thought I hadn't been there in years, and didn't know anything about it; I had been born there, so I was from there, right? She peppered me with questions about what I liked to do in the city, and I stared at her, blank-faced, because I wasn't really from there at all. I wasn't from anywhere, in that moment. And that is something I remember.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Anthony Bourdain Taught Me How To Eat

 Anthony Bourdain taught me how to eat. He taught a lot of people how to cook, how to travel, what to order in a restaurant, what to pay attention to—the feeling of barbecue sauce dripping down your chin, the sound of peanut shells cracking open under your fingers, the smells of meats (all kinds of meats) roasting or braising or grilling or steaming, the sound of a thousand people screaming in a city street or a thousand mosquitoes buzzing in a forest grove, the taste of damn near everything—but he taught me how to eat.

When I was eighteen, I worked in a hole-in-the-wall noodle shop manned by twenty-something year old cooks and chefs: half-papered cooking academy drop-outs who thought they knew better than their teachers, and who decided to open a little nineteen-seat joint to prove it. It was half Tampopo and half Kids: sociopaths saucing noodles at 6 PM and drinking shots at 9:30. It was 2002, and Bourdain had recently published Kitchen Confidential (the cover photo showing him and two unnamed associates posing with kitchen knives the size and attitude of machetes) and A Cook's Tour (the cover image of him, in some unnamed Asian country, camo tank and half-smirk on display). Everyone in the restaurant had read them, and most had taken the Gospel of Anthony to heart, which was: eat good food, see the world, and be as macho as you can. Bourdain knew he was putting on a persona—he says in the introduction of A Cook's Tour that he wants to see the world, and hopes it looks like the movies—but for precocious chefs in small towns, Bourdain was an avatar of all they might be one day: smoky, smart, gnawing on roasted duck on the floor of a Vietnamese fishing hut.

Perhaps most of all, Bourdain represented a certain kind of authentic man. He certainly curated his experiences to be tough, what with the drinking and the drugs and the travel. He wanted to get in there, see things not from the window of a tour bus, but from the back of a sampan. Cooking, which is often fussy and perfectionist, wasn't really his calling. He wanted to be a war correspondent, with the front lines on the edges of the kitchen. He offered a path into the world that was informed by adventure and great food, not necessarily in that order. I still remember a daily special that our cook created: mango and lightly grilled octopus served wrapped in udon noodles and nori, a bastard's version of sushi, and easily one of the top three things I've eaten in my life. That dish would never had been made if the cook hadn't said, "Fuck it, I've been reading about Bourdain in Japan."

One of my favourite things about Bourdain was that he ain't no snob. He insisted that international street food be taken seriously as a culinary tradition, which, for a guy who came up in relatively posh rooms, bucked the norm. He opposed the insistence that only French food could be serious, and, with his books and television shows, showed viewers at home the plethora of unfamiliar, weird, confusing, and downright unpalatable eating there was to be had. Some of it was stunt food, for sure, but a lot of it was just saying, "Hey, chuckleheads, get a load of this pho." I really believe that reading Bourdain in 2002, before moving to Toronto and before getting my feet wet with David Chang or Munchies, opened me up to what was out there. It taught me that you can eat basically anything, anywhere, and have it be meaningful.

Because Bourdain was passionate and erudite and raw and sexy, because he was well-traveled and a halfheartedly reformed drug addict and an accomplished cook, because he could write 3000 words on, basically, "I went for dinner at this place," he was a hero to a lot of us young food-minded folks. His space was unabashedly male—there were not a lot of women in his books, like, at all—but it was also about all the damage that he had inflicted on his body and his psyche, and that he had lived to tell about. He was a survivor, saying, "Hey, follow me. I made it. You might too."

In later years, I stayed away from his media presence, because I was worried that he was like an album I had listened to too much freshman year: would it hold up if I went back and spun it again? But I always loved encountering him in the wild. I read his articles in Lucky Peach. When his partner came out against Harvey Weinstein, Bourdain was there by her side. His support for her complicated his macho persona: it was her fight, and he was in her corner. It felt grown-up, to be there but not in the centre of the frame.

And then, of course, he died this morning. I wonder if those young punks who staffed that hole-in-the-wall had a bad time hearing about it. They followed a lot of his same path: drugs, disappearing into other jobs, running out of money or good luck before their thirtieth birthday. He was what winning looked like, what getting out alive could be. Suicide is a haunting thing—questions about what went wrong, and how, and why—and it's scary, because maybe you or me hold the seeds of it in our own imperfect little hearts. It seems like something we're powerless against, because we don't see the dark heart of it, creeping up and around and inside; we see the outside, where people fake feeling okay for one more day, until they don't.

I am so, so grateful to Anthony Bourdain for teaching me what it is to eat. Taking my time, considering my options. Treating highbrow like lowbrow and vice versa. To have a brotherhood of cooks, a community of people who look to food to answer questions: how am I creative? How do I express myself? What do I bring to this millennia-long conversation about how we nourish ourselves? To go in search of deliciousness in unexpected places, of adventure, of hope. Because that's what eating great food is, really: it's the hope that somewhere in the meal, you'll taste something you've truly never tasted before.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Things That Happened in 2017

2017, in a nutshell
January: Our kid turned one and Trump was installed, drywall-like, into the White House and we marched in the streets and we also got our eviction notice. January kind of set the tone in a lot of ways, y'know? The Women's March was good and made me feel like that anger and fear were put somewhere; I think it's telling that the year that started with the Women's March ended with #MeToo. I know I certainly did a lot of processing this year around feminism and what it means to be a woman in this world.

February: We went to a "play-in" at City Hall to protest the high price of child care in the city; I doubt the protest did much, but we got our picture in the paper and I felt a bit like I was trying to cash some of the cheques the Women's March wrote. NS and I went to the Beaver Valley while Mike stayed home to work, and we watched Abstract on Netflix and I thought about going back to school for design. We started house-hunting for a new place to live.

March: NS learned to walk the week that we packed up our place, and it felt like our life was falling into the ocean. We didn't have a new house lined up; we saw dozens that were somewhere on the continuum from "pretty nice" to "literal murder basement," and applied to a few, but nothing was rolling our way. I felt so manic and crazy at this point in the year. Our friends kept us afloat with food and wild-staring-eyes coffees, and I love them to the moon and back for this; but March 31 rolled around and we had no new house. The utter terror of being homeless with a toddler is difficult to put into words; it ripped our marriage up and made me yearn to flee the city into somewhere, anywhere, that felt like it wanted us. The big news story this month was how Toronto housing market was incandescent, and it really felt like we were among the victims of, like, a wildfire or a flash flood.

April: We moved into my in-laws place, where I spent a lot of the month being consumed with rage about how nice their house is (so nice!) and how shitty the apartments we could afford were (so shitty!). I took a lot of baths and went for a lot of walks. I visited my parents in Sauble Beach, where condors perched along the ridge of their barn roof.

May: We got a new place! Yay! Yay? We moved all out stuff in on May 1 and didn't actually move ourselves in until mid-month, because the amount of stuff we had was so much bigger than the amount of space. I was an absolutely rage-tyrant to my husband and there was a lot of blaming going on, which left a big boot print on an already tender relationship. I'm ashamed now of how much anger I allowed to intrude into our marriage. Our house continues to be too small for us, but I have several tiny corners that I've made my own, and sometimes daydream about the day we pack it all up for the Next New Thing. However, in May, we were still unpacking, and I was still absolutely engorged with shitbag feelings, and things were Not Very Good.

June: June was the month that our neighbour went berserk on a semi-regular basis, which was terrifying and sometimes hilarious (like when he got arrested wearing nothing but a pink towel), and which added cement to my hunch that our new address was terrible. Real talk: even though we felt safe (mostly, although I did have this recurring daymare about him trying to break into our apartment to rob it and discovering me alone with a baby), the reality of living next to someone who was a domestic abuser, drug addict, bungler of B&E attempts, and general filthy-mouthed nuisance, was a spiritual drag. Trying to decide if I should call the regular police line or 911 was a real fun time; listening to him scream and kick out windows was a real fun time; watching the cops pull up, again, was a real fun time. He left on July 1, and it sort of felt like the moment you christen a ship with champagne; except in our case, the bottle was full of asparagus pee.

July: DRAG RACE ON NETFLIX. Changed my life, seriously.

August: We house-sat for two weeks and visited my parents for two weeks, so it felt a lot like being on vacation. I learned how to give a dog eye drops. There was a partial eclipse. I threw my best friend a surprise bachelorette (with a lot of input and assists from friends near and far). There was racial upheaval in the USA. I made jam for the first time. I read The Argonauts. We talked a lot about Game of Thrones. August felt like a patchwork month, stitched together out of nothing much. Being in transition between places felt almost normal, except that the homes we were in weren't our home.

September: We celebrated three years of marriage by going to Momofuku and falling in love with it. (Ginger Scallion Noodles, hello). We also went to the Drake Commissary and for fancy gelato, and slept in, and frankly, I think that date saved us a little. It feels like it's been a tough, low-connection year, and sometimes a little splurge can be a real balm. I said to someone not that long ago that sometimes, I just want to feel expensive. You know? Like, all my clothes are bought new and not from Costco and my skin looks like it has Sephora lotions slathered on it, and I feel like I have the means to care for myself in a thoughtful way? Like that. So a date devoted to just the two of us, where money wasn't really an issue, felt like such a GD luxury.

October: I went through this really intense two-week period of wanting to move to Port Elgin and open a noodle shop. I even wrote a business plan. On the other side of those two weeks I came to understand that I have no real idea what I'm doing, and for now, because of various factors, we're tethered to Toronto. This is a not-very-affirming drag. But on Halloween, NS sat in a fire truck and we still talk about it.

November: Work ramped up to a degree where I basically skipped my birthday this year. But! We went to the Beaver Valley and started learning how to play Dungeons and Dragons, and man, that was fun. I had a bit of a meltdown due to proximity to some expired friendships, and I'm trying to figure out what to do with those feelings—I don't feel like reconciliation is the right move, but neither is trying to stuff my emotions down a well. And I don't really know what the middle ground is! Mainly I'm trying to come to terms with the idea that other folks—who I used to know and love!—think of me as a villain. And trying to figure out if I can sit in that comfortably, or if there's anything to be done. ANYWAY, FEELINGS, GOD. Sometimes, I'm so grateful for the billion hours of therapy I've had since I was 18; I would be even more of a basket case without them. As it stands, my basket is roughly $400-corporate-gift-sized, which, like me, is filled with expensive jams.

December: I did a bunch of work for a new client. I felt rather competent in my job, which was a terrific feeling. We watched Moana on the daily, and I felt rather less competent as a parent, but hey—this is a bit of a fallow season when it comes to maternal energy. Winter is really tough with a toddler; the snowsuiting alone crushes my soul, and that's before I even have to haul an ice-covered stroller up a flight of stairs, negotiate mittens, figure out snacks, try to pick a destination that will kill a morning but preferably doesn't involve de-/re-snowsuiting, find a TTC route that doesn't involve passing through Bloor-Yonge Station, and so on. Also, I have a terrible cough!

And, of course, this little month-by-month roundup doesn't really capture how bonkers this year was. Being evicted is one of those life-defining moments that made me realize that I wanted to change my life. I no longer felt safe, like the world was my oyster, like anything was possible. It was the same feeling that intruded after my sister was sick, after my dad's surgery, after NS's birth. I wanted to retreat, redesign, recalibrate, realign. I wanted to feel like the universe might care about our little family; and if not the universe, at least the GTHA housing market. But alas, the signs don't point in that direction.

But it also doesn't capture some of the sweetest parts of the year. I deepened my friendship with my mom-friend bestie through weekly bagel dates and playground hangouts; I watched NS transform from baby to walking, talking toddler; I spent many hours with my sister watching Flight of the Conchords and talking about relationships; I spent most Tuesday mornings with my husband, chatting in "our" coffeeshop; I texted my mom a thousand times; I got to see my dad bloom back into health; I read the New Yorker every week; I helped friends move; friends helped us. Even if the universe is like [shrug emoji] at our everyday life, there are people in our world who care very much; they were the sustenance of 2017.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Fall Sweater Horoscope

 ARIES: You're in a song-lyric phases, aren't you? One of those seasons when every song on the radio is about you, exposing your secret heart, no matter if it's Leonard Cohen or Justin Bieber. When all you want to do is drive somewhere alone, belting out songs at the top of your lungs, palming away tears or letting out those primal yips and howls that threaten to erupt morning to night. You know what, Aries? Do it. Get in your car and turn up the Top 40 and borrow the words to feel your feelings.
Recommended sweater: cardigan

GEMINI: The world needs more queeroes. We need more drag stars, more lipstick femmes, more dirty knees and torn fishnets. We need more rock stars who fuck their fans, more trans liberators, more random acts of affection between friends. We need less toxic masculinity and emotional labour. We need more glitter and more tenderness, more butch bears and more leather. We need the fringes, because that's where things really start to sway. Do you have enough fringe in your closet, Gemini?
Recommended sweater:
crop turtleneck

TAURUS: You always make me think of muscle cars! To me, Taurus is the most macho sign in the zodiac, a real emblem of butchness and posturing. I think of Brando in his silly hat. I think of McQueen from Cars. I think of cigarettes dangling from the edges of lips, scraped knuckles, whiskey straight and slammed back. Anyway, this is all to say: don't be a cartoon version of a person, a paper-doll outline of a 1950s detective, or a 1980s Aquanet secretary or a 2017 Tumblr gender nerd. Give yourself dimension and shadow. Don't pose.
Recommended sweater: fisherman

CANCER: I read an interview with Rashida Jones recently, where she talked about the difference between feminism (the goal of lifting up women within a patriarchal capitalist society) and the feminine. And I was like, "YEAH!" but then I realized I didn't really know where to go from there. I love being feminine, and being queerishly femme—interrogating what it is to be female in relation to both men and other women, in both a capitalist system and edging outside it. Cancers have a great gift for empathy; your goal this fall should be to channel that intuition into channels where the waters are murky.
Recommended sweater:
angora waist-warmer

LEO: Tap into your feline side this fall and stop working so hard. Cats sleep like ten thousand hours a year (Ed: not true?), and they also give zero fucks about other people's feelings (Ed: confirmed), so maybe it's time for you start gazing out the window in a tawny, "ask me again about the Edson file, Carl, I DARE YOU" manner, and then slowly pick the steak out of your teeth with a credit card before falling asleep at your desk. And if your current job doesn't allow for this, pivot until you find one that does.
Recommended sweater: sweatshirt with a cat's face on it

VIRGO: Last month, The Knife released their Live at Terminal 5 concert video, rife with weird instruments and highly choreographed dance routines. It's unclear, from watching the video, who exactly is in the brother-sister duo of the The Knife and who's doing support; the idea is that everyone would meld together into one cohesive entity. No backup singers, no stars. The world could stand a little less hierarchy, which makes me ask: are you upholding these less-awesome power structures, Virgo? Do you share your limelight?
Recommended sweater: sparklegoth capelet

LIBRA: Every time I think about Libras, I think of candles and altars, animal skulls and feathers. I think of my old friend the Libra, who had the most beautiful green eyes and who smoked like a chimney. I think of broken hearts and velvet ribbons—tactile gifts we give ourselves to heal and mend, to remind ourselves of old wounds. I think of how hard it is to be kind to those who have hurt us, and how fucking important is it that we try anyway.
Recommended sweater: Pendleton blanket wrapped just so

SCORPIO: Did you know that scar tissue is sticky? It binds together layers of our bodies—skin, the underlying muscles and fats, fascia and organs—into a mess of connection. This connection, which isn't really how our bodies want to work, causes pain and other side effects. Physiotherapists recommend scar massage, a process of poking and prodding these over-enmeshed areas to loosen the connections and work towards better health. It's a metaphor, Scorpio: don't let yourself become too connected, too enmeshed. Keep some layers in your life.
Recommended sweater:
Fair Isle

SAGITTARIUS: Can we talk about Winona Ryder in Stranger Things? Can we talk about how affirming it is that this messy, shaky, edgy, unbelieved character—who is so yelly and jittery for most of the show—is, by the final episode, whispering soothing salvations into our heroine's ear? And can we talk about how mothers have it so hard? To be jittery and jumpy is antithetical to the Earth Mama ethos; it's off-putting and not calming. But there she is, doing her mom job, despite being a total mess, and it made me feel SO MUCH BETTER about all the times I feel like my blood has been replace with carbonated iced coffee and I still manage to pull it together for my kid. It's possible. Thanks, Winona. I needed that.
Recommended sweater: v-neck cashmere blend

CAPRICORN: A short list of things I don't understand: why men get all the props in modern art; how I'm supposed to feel about Yayoi Kasura's infinite rooms (claustrophobic? agoraphobic? both?); how people who live in Toronto afford international vacations; what is included in an all-inclusive resort; how transfers work with TTC Presto cards; how vaping is "not smoking"; why I'm so puffy all the time. A quick Google search could probably clear about half of these, but I kind of like living with a little bit of mystery in my life. How comfortable are you with the unknown, Capricorn? Do you fight the compulsion to know every answer?
Recommended sweater: the one your ex left at your house two years ago

AQUARIUS: I've been thinking about manifestos a lot lately. What's the difference between a manifesto, and say, an artist's statement? A list of demands? An explanation? A poem? A manifesto feels to me both grandly self-indulgent and the act of carving out space in the cosmos, claiming space, demanding to be counted. For women and femmes, this act is not self-indulgent at all, but a moment of violence against the status quo. You may not be a woman or a femme, Aquarius, but I hope you count them as part of you allies and your inner circle. Read their manifestos. Stitch them on a flag and fly them from your rooftop.
Recommended sweater: oversized cotton blend with holes at the hem and the thumbs

PISCES: Many years ago, I went out for Nuit Blanche and ended up at OCAD very early in the morning. Wandering the pillars of the school, I came across their student exhibits—paintings, drawings, and a curious section devoted to the "curatorial" students. One corner was heaped with images of the Virgin Mary: candles, paintings, icons, sculptures, mannequins dressed in blue, so on and so on. I remember feeling a bit affronted, because, to me, curation has less to do with whole-hog collecting and more to do with editing: the careful inclusion of what matters, and fuck the rest. But maybe I'm wrong, my fishy friend. Maybe it's not about what gets put in, but what gets left out. After all, you can't have everything. Where would you put it?
Recommended sweater: