Saturday, December 20, 2014
When we were in Los Angeles this fall, we went to LACMA, where we toured the Japanese Pavilion and looked at kimonos from the mid-20th century. They were so strange, these hybrid things. They were the shape and design of something medieval, but meticulously decorated with contemporary inspiration: strands of DNA, loose interpretations of Sputnik, geometric Frank Lloyd Wright-ish lines and colours. They were beautiful, but also kind of sad. It was hard to picture who, exactly, would have worn these outfits, and where.
I've thought a lot about those kimonos in the past few month. For me, they've become a kind of symbol of the balancing act we all do in building up our identities. The contradictions we contain.
When I was in recovery, I encountered this idea of "radically accepting" one's own body. It works like this: instead of defaulting to self-loathing and disappointment every time I see or think about my appearance, I would just kind of...accept it. Attributes that were previously assigned a negative value were reassigned a neutral one. In practice, it meant that when I saw a picture of myself with a double chin, instead of hating the picture, and myself, and vowing to lose some weight, I would just go, "huh, I have a double chin in this picture," and then keep on keepin' on.
This is so hard. This is one of the hardest thing that I've ever had to learn. But in the end, I got better at it, and I realized that I could transfer this practice into other areas of my life. I could be in a shitty mood and all it meant was that I was grouchy, not that I was a bad person. Taking each thing as being its own tiny piece of a greater mosaic, and not the totality of my life, was revolutionary.
It allowed me to start recognizing contradictions, which doesn't often happen in black-and-white thinking. I could be both a good partner and also annoy my boyfriend. I could be attractive and also have frizzy hair. Both things could be true at the same time. The world, man! It's a big place! We can hold a lot of truth in here.
Anyone who listened to the podcast Serial can tell you that facts and truth aren't always super-obvious. Tracing the story of the 1999 murder of a high school girl, and her teenaged ex-boyfriend Adnan's subsequent investigation and conviction, the podcast was an unmitigated success. People made charts about the episodes. I texted a handful of people about the show constantly ("It's so good!" / "I KNOW SHH I HAVEN'T HEARD THE NEW ONE YET"). Someone even remixed the advertisement for Mail Chimp that ran before each episode; I know because I listened to that remix three times.
Serial was "about" Hae Min Lee's murder, but it was about so much more than that: how host Sarah Koenig schooled us all in investigative journalism; how the criminal justice system has blindingly bad flaws that are (slowly, sometimes) being corrected; about how defense laws do their jobs, and how inmates treat 18-year-old Muslim kids when they show up in the general population of a maximum security prison. But it's also about how we tell each other stories, and how those stories are—and aren't—always based on facts.
Sometimes, we need to chase facts down and beg them to talk: a Jay-on-Serial situation. Other times, we don't know if we can trust them completely: Adnan, definitely. Many times, we end up with a buffet of weird, conflicting information about a situation—or a person—and then we have to make a judgement call: what's happening here? Who is this person, really? And can I tell my facts from my feelings enough to know for sure?"
At the end of Serial, I wondered who Adnan was, really. He seems to be a contradiction: a guy who went to prison for murdering his ex-girlfriend, and despite his protestations of innocence, doesn't actually seem to mind it much. A model inmate in for life. A mosque kid who stole, a Muslim boy who had sex. A man convicted of a violent crime who got elected to the incarcerated equivalent of the student body government. A man who will never know a life outside of cinderblock walls—first in high school, then in prison—but who will make his friends barbecue sauce from scratch.
And some of the contradictions, I can understand. I don't think I could sustain the level of rage that I assume I'd feel at a wrongful conviction over multiple decades; at some point, I'd probably give in and at least check out the library. We know prison as a lonely and violent place, but I guess sometimes gregarious and good-natured people end up there; they need to fit in somewhere, too. Multitudes, man. This story has them.
But the way the podcase, and our brains, are set up is that multitudes are hard. We don't want conflicting evidence. We want a nice 140-minute action movie with an appropriate number of explosions and pithy one-liners, and we want the villain to be Russian, thanks. We want a yes/no: guilty or innocent? Beautiful or ugly? With Adnan, we have two truths: his, in which he is innocent, and the one belonging to the state of Maryland, which convicted him. He both is and isn't a murderer. It all depends on who you get your facts from. An entire identity follows suit.
Back at LACMA, those kimonos are arranged along a spiral walkway. You can either follow it up towards the vaulted ceiling, or down into the basement. Each garment is given its own special nook, and you can see many of them from any given vantage point. Sometimes, you can look down at see a kimono from an aerial view, and notice a detail of neckline or sleeve that would be otherwise undetectable. But you can't see all of them this way. You have to retrace your spiraled steps, go past the ones you've seen before, back down to the entrance of the building. Then you have to keep going, even further, to get to the others. It's the only way to see them all.
Thursday, December 11, 2014
The cheerfully-named new UP public transit initiative aims to link Union Station (along with secondary stops at Weston and Bloor West) to Toronto Pearson Airport. This is good. The Pan-Am games are coming up, and people will be arriving. The city needs a link between its air and ground transit hubs, and the UP - which stands for Union/Pearson, duh - can help facilitate that.
The problem is the cost. The cost! Jeez Louise, this thing is expensive. $27.50! One-way! That is intense. For a family of four, you'll be paying $55. School-aged kids are charged nearly ten bucks to ride. Once you're deposited at Union station, you then pay an additional three dollars to ride the regular TTC. Of course, if you buy a Presto card, the UP fare drops to $19 (although the Presto card costs $6, so the savings is kind of a wash), but right now, the Presto can only be used at fifteen of the TTC's 32 subway stations, on one of its streetcar routes (and only then on the shiny new streetcars, of which there are currently two in operation), and on none of its bus routes.
This is byzantine madness. It shouldn't take a PhD in economics (not to mention a trust fund) to budget for a trip from Pearson to the Beaches.
Metrolinx says the UP system isn't targeted at your average Torontonian. They're after the business traveler dollars and the tourists. This leaves a gnarly taste in my mouth for two reasons: business travelers will likely skip the UP altogether in favour of renting a car or hiring a cab; and since when is it ethical to price-gouge people just because they're from out of town? In other queasy news, airport workers will be offered the chance to buy a monthly pass for $300. This makes sense, because so many airport jobs pay so much more than minimum wage.
Blog TO published a comprehensive comparison of where Toronto falls on the airport express cost spectrum; surprising no-one, this new fare scheme is the most expensive of its kind in North America, and one of the most expensive in the world. Maddeningly, the service isn't even all that great compared to other express routes (every quarter-hour for UP, compared to JFK's transit link that runs ten or eleven times an hour in peak times), and, although it does beat the trundling 192 rocket bus (and the shambling 52 bus, which can take over an hour to get from Lawrence West station to Pearson), at least the TTC's three-dollar fare is easy on the wallet.
When we went to Reykjavik a couple years ago, we paid about $25 for a bus taking us from Keflavik airport to the city's downtown. But dudes: that bus ride was 40 minutes on empty roads, and the bus driver literally dropped us off at the doorstep of our Air BnB. Like, right in front. Unless you're staying at the Royal York hotel, the UP offers no such comparable service. You still have to get to where you're going, and you have to pay more to do it.
Truly usable, visionary transit is integrated. It's affordable. Hit me with an transit-line airport surcharge, sure - when we were in San Francisco this fall, there was an extra four or five dollars tacked on to the BART ride from SFO to downtown, and it that makes sense. But to charge a rate that is nine times the going rate for the other transit system in the city? To market that blatantly as some sort of luxury for elite travelers, when it was funded by taxpayer money? That's more nauseating than air turbulence.
Now that the fares have been announced, it's unlikely that Metrolinx will create any kind of wiggle room. That's too bad. Instead of a transit system that can link us with the rest of the world, we have one that shows just how frustratingly inward-facing this city can be.
Wednesday, December 3, 2014
As we near the solstice/EOY/darkest depths of winter despair, my witch blood has flared up again and so I'll offer you yet more unsolicited life advice based on birthdays. I'm getting the hang of this, truly, probably.
ARIES: I cannot imagine a world without oranges, but according to my trustworthy friend Liz, apparently, we're all heading in that direction. It's terrible. It's something to do with a fungus, or a genetic change in the fruit, or something equally benign/apocalyptic—I don't know, look it up. I guess we're going to all going to have to get really into grapes or carrot sticks for our 3 PM snack, but I don't know if my heart is really in it. This is a metaphor for something in your life, but I'm tired from my lack of vitamin C, so you're going to have to do the heavy lifting on this one.
TAURUS: The new Star Wars trailer has divided people into two camps: those who believe that the cross-light-saber is cool, and those who know that, if wielded in battle, some chumpy Jedi is going to cut his own hand off and save Darth Vader the trouble. A lot is riding on what camp you find yourself in, Taurus. More than you could even know.
GEMINI: There is a baby-name website actively advocating for expectant parents to name their children Roscoe and Buster. I weep for these unborn children, I truly do. Can you imagine having to say, "Hi, my name is Buster Johnson and I'm here to interview for the sales position?" Or explaining, every day for your entire speaking life, yes, really, Roscoe, and no, your parents didn't name you in 1932? You're smart, Gemini. Give your kids a fighting chance.
CANCER: You are the embodiment of that motivational poster that goes, "How to have a bikini body: 1. Have a body. 2. Put a bikini on your body." Just carry on. I have nothing to add.
LEO: I have a serious question for you, Leo, and I want you to really think about it. How much time would you say you spend each day considering your own reflection? Maybe not even really consciously doing it, but checking yourself in brushed-aluminum elevator doors and on the backs of spoons? And then judging it, sighing, and feeling 10% worse than you did even three minutes before? Maybe think about spending less time doing that.
VIRGO: Have you been watching Fargo? The whole thing is like hanging out with my uncles, if they were inept criminals. Also, Billy Bob Thornton is in it; looks like that dude was really ahead of the curve on the whole Jian Ghomeshi thing, eh? You might be equally ahead of the curve on something, but only time will tell. (That's always the way with the ahead-of-the-curve game.)
LIBRA: Of all the deadly sins, I would say you're definitely ready for gluttony. All-you-can-eat shellfish bars might not always be worth the food/salmonella ratios, but when you beat the house on those gambles, man, they really pay off. It's like shrimp, forever. Go early and stay late. Ignore all the other sins, though, or you're going to really be asking for trouble. As in: no angry shrimp eating. No lusty scallops. And remember: pride, at all-you-can-eat shelfish bars, goeth before blowing chunks.
SCORPIO: When is the last time you really let your hair down? Had a bonfire, roasted a goat, danced barefoot around the flames, and let yourself howl at the moon? I would bet that you've spent a lot of time checking to make sure your shirts are properly buttoned and your hair isn't askew, but it's time to take a break from that. Go get your warpaint on and pillage for life's pleasure.
SAGITTARIUS: The phrase "You only get one shot at this" is such a cliche, but dammit, it serves a purpose. So does "This is no dress rehearsal." Both phrases are favourites of the chronically insipid, but they can be powerful when you remember that yeah, actually, you're running out of life-time and some day you're going to die. So book that trip to Spain, have that second baby, and quit fucking worrying about your RRSP (also, LOL at retirement, that shit is for baby boomers, we'll work until we die).
CAPRICORN: Jesus, dude. You have got to get it together on the eating front. You're not in the "muscle weighs more than fat" camp unless you can see your bicep veins; until then, eat something green at every meal. Stop eating half a pizza in one go and then wandering over every ten minutes for the rest of the night for "just one more sliver." You fool zero people with that strategy. You're not going to stay in your 20s for much longer, and then every pizza molecule you've ever ingested is going to wrap itself around your heart and squeeze.
AQUARIUS: Soul homework: remind yourself every day while you brush your teeth that you're only one person and the fate of the world doesn't rest on your shoulders. Every time you poop, tell yourself that you're actually fine the way you are. And when you take your first bite of food in the morning, think about the fact that you're very good at loving people. Try this for a week or two. Get back to me on how it goes.
PISCES: Remember how awesome Kyle McLachlan was on Twin Peaks, and how doofy he was on Sex and the City? Casting is everything, and I'll bet that you have at least one person in your life that's been horribly miscast: a lover who should actually be a friend, a work pal who should be upgraded into a roommate, an ex who is better suited to being a demon in hell. You'll know 'em when you see 'em.
Friday, November 28, 2014
I've never had what people refer to as "a calling." What a great idea, right? As if someone just out of focus is beckoning to you: "Psst. Hey. Check this out." A vocation, if you will. I believe there are some careers that require that guiding spirit—teacher, doctor, spiritual guru—and some, such as office administrator, that do not. And as I was sitting in a Second Cup today, regretting my mid-afternoon treat (brownie + hot chocolate = so much sugar), it occurred to me that this might okay. I might be fine as I am.
I sometimes feel like there are not one but three new years in each year: the start of the calendar year, the back-to-school season, and one's birthday. These tend to bring on self-reflective moments: am I where I want to be? What should I change? What should I keep? The past nine months have been dramatic and emotional: friendships have ended, marriages have begun, work has been a disaster and I've felt my creativity strain at the confines of a 24-hour day. At the end of it, who am I? Who do I want to be?
Okay, I know this has been wishy-washy and a little self-indulgent so far, but bear with me. I am an overthinker; it's just how I roll. I keep thinking about my friend Liz and my aunt Barb, both of whom went back to school for thinks they wanted to do. Maybe even felt compelled to do, when it comes right down to it. And my own calling may not work the same way: it may be a magnet that repels instead of clicking close, where each day I stay in a place that doesn't feed me, I feel more and more ruined. It doesn't show me where I should go, but it teaches me where I can't stay.
It's my birthday on Sunday. In the spirit of a new year, here are three things I want to make happen for myself. To make that coffee shop revelation really hold true, to actually be fine where I am.
1. To get a new job. I spent thirteen months unemployed, and in some ways, it was the greatest year of my life: I did freelance work, I made things, I saw friends and family, I had a good therapist. It was like being a student, but without having to be an alcoholic, bulimic 24 year old. I know work is work, and that it's not designed to make us feel good. But it shouldn't be making me feel bad. A new job, even a temporary one, might help fix that. It also might not, but there's no way of knowing until I try.
2. To get onto a new career path. After spending the last two years dancing around it in various forms—I'm going to be an HR manager! I'm going to be a life coach! I'm going to be a board trainer!—I realized that what I wanted to do was talk to people about their problems and help them fix 'em. I want to be a therapist.
Jeez, it feels weird even saying that out loud, you know? It's a ton of work, but I think I'd be good at it. And, as my mom pointed out, I can be five years older and be on this path, or I can be five years older and in the same career stream, just floating unhappily along. I'm trying so hard to avoid saying cliches like "You only get one shot at this," but seriously: I really do only get one shot at this. It's not like it's going to happen unless I make it happen.
3. To embrace all my feelings. I spent one afternoon this summer just bawling my eyes out in the office at this blog, which made me feel all kinds of complicity, guilt, and general grief at the world. After I was done, I just sort of stared blankly at the wall for a while. And feeling that sad was really uncomfortable. Unsurprisingly, I also hate being angry with my husband, I hate feeling anxious around my boss, and I hate worrying about my various family members.
But I also love spending time with my family, and feeling peaceful about the end of a friendship, and basking in the glow of M's love. I can be somewhat of a pessimist, and I often also try to avoid bummer feelings because, hey, they're bummers. But accepting the whole range of my emotional spectrum is such a key part of being a human. When I try to ignore the negative, or when my angry feelings threaten to block out all that joy, well, then, we have a problem.
So this year's to-do list for myself is a little different. It's not a lose-ten-pounds kind of deal; it's a get-going-girl exhortation. Some of it is trying to control for external forces, some of it is figuring out how to make a big change without psyching myself out, and some of it is just continuing to do work I already know how to do. So yeah: I see you, thirty-first birthday. I'm coming for you. Let's do this thing.
Saturday, November 22, 2014
I recently read a blog post about PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) and its effects on the author's weight, and it kind of took me back. Not in a fun, those-were-the-days sort of way, either: in a terrible, alarmed, self-loathing kind of way.
Some background: since hitting puberty, my weight has been a yo-yo. I blossomed, sure, but I also ballooned. I grew enormous breasts in a very short amount of time, and I went from being a skinny kid to an unskinny teenager. I had no idea why.
Like lots of kids, I turned to food for comfort. Cookies tasted good, but I was no dope: I've known how to read a calorie listing since I was in the sixth grade. I taught myself how to purge (although, credit where credit is due: Seventeen's concerned articles about the whole ana/mia thing were very helpful), and so even though I continued to eat my feelings, I did lose weight. It was clear from the guys in my high school that to be thin was to be a prize. I wanted to be a prize for someone.
This is old territory for me, and not something that I'm proud of. Although, if we're being honest, I'm not really ashamed of it any more, either. I look back at that girl who just hated herself because her stomach wasn't concave, and because her arms jiggled when she moved, and I feel so tender towards her. I was so mired in shit back then, and it took a huge amount of courage to pull myself out of it. It forced me to start being what Anne Lamott calls "militantly on my own side."
But, the process of pulling myself out of the La Brea tar pits of self-loathing meant that I had to re-learn how to eat like a normal person. I hadn't ever really done that as an adult, and, to my alarm, it meant that I started gaining weight at a rapid clip. Like, 45 pounds over a span of a year? Which meant that, at my heaviest, I tipped the scales at 159 pounds. That's a lot for a 5'1" person. My eyes, which have always been anime-big, started to look smaller because my face was so bloated. I was helpless against the scale, and without purging, I had no idea how to fix this creep.
Things came to a head on Father's Day 2012, when my mom took one look at me and said, "Oh, you're not doing well, are you?" She didn't mean, like, LOL fatty. She meant Oh, your skin is turning gray. Which it totally was. I couldn't stop gaining weight, I was constantly bloated, and I was in a hellish cycle of diarrhea and constipation. To top it off, I had recently been diagnosed with PCOS, since my history of cysts and total weight explosion was enough for the nurse to flag it, despite not having the related hormonal shifts, body hair, or missing periods. I was fat, potentially infertile, and terrifically gassy.
Apparently, "learning how to eat normally" hadn't quite hit the mark.
I've read that women who are gluten sensitive have a higher incidence of both depression and eating disorders. This might be because of a couple different things: it's easy for a preoccupation with avoiding certain types of food to bleed into avoiding most food; it's also possible that the bloating and digestive issues that comes with gluten sensitivities can trigger a win-at-all-costs approach to avoiding them.
After that Father's Day picnic, I was ready to try anything. I started on a paleo diet, which involved cutting out grains (rice, corn, and wheat especially) and legumes, and piling my plate high with protein and produce. I ate some dairy here and there, I cut down on sugar (although, if cavewomen had had chocolate, lord knows they would have eaten it), and I ditched beer completely.
People tend to dismiss the paleo diet as being extreme, but I did this because I was suffering under a modern mealplan. Cupcakes made me fart. Bagels triggered exhaustion. Once, I ate two slices of pizza at a work function and had to go lie down on the bathroom floor for twenty minutes. Nobody wants to live like that.
And dudes, paleo isn't easy. All fast food is basically grain-based: burgers, pizza, sandwiches, falafels, sushi, ramen. Steel yourself to get really excited about desserts like meringues, which is usually (and correctly) presented as the finishing touch on a lemon pie. Baking is a write-off, and anyone who tries to sell you on paleo baked goods is a huckster fraud, because that shit tastes like styrofoam peanuts.
But the results can't be argued with, at least in my case. I started to sleep better. My stomach de-bloatified. My skin cleared up, for god's sake. And, to top it off, I dropped 35 pounds. The nurse who had originally diagnosed me with PCOS redid the tests a year later and proclaimed her original call to be in error. I no longer fit the symptom profile. A weight, no pun intended, had been lifted.
To some degree, I will always be a fat girl. Maybe not on the outside, where my weight-lifting and dance marathons have paid off, but on the inside, where the numbers on the scale get burned into my brain. I tend to overload the importance of weight in my self-worth calculations, and even though I've gone through hundreds of hours of therapy and have truly embraced kale, the math still gets skewed. M had done much heavy lifting on this topic, and while he met me at my lightest, he's loved me at my heaviest.
But the thing is, I needed to learn how to love myself at every weight. If the numbers on the scale start to tick up again, I like to think I have strategies in place to cope, and not just more vigorous dancing or less chocolate. Strategies like self-acceptance, a sense of humour, and the belief that my body is good enough no matter what it looks like. That's the heaviest—and the lightest—part.
Saturday, November 15, 2014
When I was eight or nine, I called the Kids Help Line because I was feeling scared and nervous all the time. I had two younger siblings who ate up most of my parent's time. I had few friends. I spent a lot of time alone. I was afraid of pretty much everything: certain commercials on TV, my parents dying, drugs (educating fifth-graders about heroin....why?), losing library books, getting yelled at. Everything an elementary schooler could plausibly fear, I feared it. The Kids Help Line ads were pretty much ubiquitous at the time, and their message was "If you need help, just call!"
So I called, and I spilled my guts to the nice lady on the other end of the phone. She listened to me talk to what felt like a long time, as I tried to figure out why I felt so bad all the time. Finally, after I had run out of steam, she said gently, "Sounds like you're pretty stressed out."
Sounds like you're pretty stressed out. It was a gift: a name for the feelings that swirled inside me. It was a real thing. I was not, as I feared, totally crazy.
I promptly burst into tears.
Many years later, I realized that the Kids Help Line was for kids in actual trouble—the ones getting touched by their stepfathers and the ones who had to sleep on the streets—and I was probably the cause of an unseen and amused smile on her end. I felt embarrassed, but then her words came back to me. Sounds like you're pretty stressed out. That was important to me then, and it's still important to me now.
I'm a person who takes on a lot. Nearly everything in my life signifies something bigger that itself: my job becomes who I am. Every fight with my partner signals the beginning of the end. Weird rashes are symptoms of horrible diseases. I still lose my effing library books, for god's sake. My baseline stress has always been high, and adding the regular business of life on top of that can make it intolerable. I'm a person who takes on a lot; consequently, I'm a person who melts down on the regular.
Over the years, this has manifested in different ways. Denial, food, drinking, smoking pot, making out with horribly chosen strangers, bulimia, rage tantrums, sleeping until 4 PM, skipping school. The list continues from there in the most predictable way possible. It will not shock you to hear that none of those strategies worked.
I read somewhere that the secret—the "secret," if you will—to dealing with stress and its various expressions is pretty simple: diet, exercise, talk therapy. If you're in the depths of a horrible chemical depression or an anxiety psychosis, there are obviously other things you need to add to that toolbox, but those're the basics. Eat well, move around, and talk it out.
And you know what? Since reading that, I've done my best to embody that. I eat fairly well (although I have a weakness for Chicago-mix popcorn and maple-bacon chips), I try to move as much as I can (given that I work in an office), and I talk it out (when I can afford it, and get the time off).
Hmm. Maybe I need to recalibrate a little. Maybe I need to remember that, if I have high baseline stress, then I need to have a big fat self-care routine, too.
When I was unemployed, I didn't have any money, but I did have free time. So I cooked, and I went to exercise classes, and I found a cheap therapist who could see me in the middle of the day. And you know what? I still felt stressed out! But I didn't feel like I was going crazy. I worried about money, my work identity, and the future of my relationship, but I didn't worry that I was a bad person or that my boss's words were going make me throw up.
Stress will do that to a person.
And stress also comes from pretending that things are fine, that boundaries aren't being crossed, that I'm holding up the bargain I made with myself to eat, move, and talk on a regular basis. When I'm not taking care of myself properly—when I haven't given myself permission to say, "Nope, that doesn't work for me," either to myself or the people around me, then I'm only adding to the baseline. Stress is also shame-creating: I feel bad for feeling so bad. Everyone else seems to managing their stress-loads pretty well, so what the hell is wrong with me?
I enough to go into self-care mode. I pour out a soothing tea, I hop into a hot bath, I take a walk with my husband, and things feel okay for a while. But over the last few months, I can feel my stress levels rising. It's slippery under my feet, and I know I'm headed for a fall. Those little moments aren't mitigating the bigger problems. I know I need to make a change, and you know what? I'm scared.
I sometimes wonder how many kids like me called that nice lady up and spilled their guts. I wonder how many times she said to them, "Sounds like you're pretty stressed out," and how many times she heard that silence on the other end of the phone. The silence that says, yeah, I am pretty stressed out. Thank you for seeing that. Thank you for helping.
Thursday, November 6, 2014
At the risk of sounding trite: New York City, am I right?
Some context: last weekend, we loaded ourselves into a Megabus (slogan: "Your ass will never be the same") and took a twelve-hour journey to the City That Never Sleeps But Will Sometimes Concede To A Nap. The whole thing was a brain-mash of one-second memories and vague impressions: the guy at Hallowmas who tried to hit on me and reestablish his stick-on moustache at the same time; the smoked-cashew salsa at the upscale taqueria; being utterly ignored by the shopgirls at Helmut Lang (granted, we had just gotten off the bus and I was still wearing sweatpants, so I can't really blame 'em); M staring wistfully over the edge of the High Line as Graham turned to me and said, "This totally looks like the cover a book called Contemplating Joey Ramone"; seeing hot-pink leather aprons for sale in Greenwich Village; buying sky-scraping vintage heels; the complimentary hotel wine as it was handed over by the front desk clerk, whose eyebrows were unabashedly just drawn right on and also slightly uneven; etc, etc.
Also, we saw Lili Taylor and Nick Flynn on a tour of the Tenement Museum, and seriously, if that place wasn't a national treasure before, it damn well sure is now.
I think that, like most people, I have a tendency to compare whatever big city I'm currently in to my hometown of Toronto. It's inevitable, right? They have graffiti everywhere, while ours is concentrated in certain hipster nabes. The High Line (not to mention Central Park) is a magnificent expression of public planning and integrated public works management, while Toronto has Trinity Bellwoods and, like, the West Toronto Rail Path? There's just so much more stuff there, so much more complexity. I saw a restaurant dedicated entirely to oatmeal and despaired that Toronto would ever be able to match that. Imagine how many people need to love—like, really love—oatmeal for that to work. Does Toronto even have that many people?
It's cliched to feel that despair, of course. Comparing Toronto and New York is a fool's errand, and it will make us feel bad. New York is older by about 150 years, and there are more people living there by a factor of four. Toronto has a reputation for being staid, even in our own country—if you want to party, go to Montreal; if you want to make money, go to Calgary—and our municipal government has been mired in scandal and pointless in-fighting for the last half-decade. So, you know: not the same.
But being in New York is to breathe in the air of potential. Take, for example, the High Line park. The former rail-shipping corridor, abandoned as the trucking sector took over, was denounced as an eyesore and some residents lobbied to tear it down. Others, figuring it might make a cool park, banded together and become the Friends of the High Line, a group that eventually convinced the corridor's owners to donate it to the city, and that got architects and engineers on board to design the new park way. Now, the High Line is walked by over five million people every year. It's a marvel of weathered wood and native plants, of scenic overlooks and gently burbling fountains. The condos that overlook the park sell for about two million each, and I'm sure those original disgruntled residents have come around.
It's so frustrating to live in a place where municipal creativity is squelched. Look at the food truck fiasco, which bans trucks from operating within 50 meters of a brick-and-mortar restaurant. Instead of creating a little artisan food hub, the city has effectively told vendors that they're only welcome in wastelands. (Compare this to upscale LA neighbour Abbot Kinney, which invites the trucks in as part of its monthly First Friday street festival, during which the surrounding restaurants also report an uptick in business. It's almost like the two things might be related.) Part of the Gardiner Expressway are literally falling on people as they drive it—why not create a High Line analogue for our very own? I love the museums and the weirdo art venues and the pop-up galleries, but we lack this vision for ourselves as a city that can Get Shit Done.
Part of this is that we're spread out, and the growth downtown (where I live) has been mostly private. The city's skyline hasn't been transformed by cool new parks or even interesting office buildings. It's been mostly same-old condos, each one pretty much like its neighbour. The promised Section 37 developments have been milquetoast, and the city itself has been so swept up in the transit folder that little else has been discussed. Our brand remains one of soulless glass towers and a few precious, and mostly upscale, arts scenes. We're so fractured: a city of BIAs and east-vs-west mentalities, of our downtown getting down on the suburbs for election results, and the suburbs throwing shade at the core for stalling on subways. We're messy, and not in a fun, energetic, city-that-never-sleeps way. We're not the party girl; we're the friend who fell asleep in the cab on the way home.
Walking through New York last weekend, the critical mass of the city wasn't overwhelming. It felt natural and right. I felt springy and at home. And coming back to Toronto, seeing this city—our city—shining in the distance, I know that we can do better. We can wake up, shake ourselves off, and start walking.