Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Burner Phone

Having a smartphone is a little like having a dog. In the beginning, when it's new, it can be so much fun figuring out all the little tricks you can make it do (play fetch! Download Instagram!), and you want to show it off to your friends. You get a custom case, or buy a collar at the upscale doggy boutique on the trendy strip. It's there when you wake up and when you go to sleep. You start to make plans around the dog ("Can't go out of town for the weekend, I've got to watch Mr. Mustache") and around the phone ("We need to turn around, I left my phone back at the house"). And over time, you forget what it's like not to have a dog, or a smartphone.

Except here's the thing: dogs are living beings capable of love and affection. Smartphones, on the other hand?

When I was a kid, my parents sometimes left us with babysitters to do whatever they did on parent-dates; I always envisioned totally fancy restaurants with, like, harpists in the corner, but it was probably closer to cute bistros and driving around without their three insane children. This was an era when parents would routinely leave their children with semi-vetted high school students for hours at a time. A more trusting time, maybe. (I remember watching the Miss America pageant with one babysitter, who microwaved marshmallows and chocolate chips together for a dessert that even I, in my sweet-crazed youth, knew was a bridge too far.) This is a time before cell-phones. Leaving the kids alone with a teenager who would give them diabetes did not necessitate the use of a telephonic tether.

After my first year of undergraduate studies, I was torn about whether or not I should continue at U of T or just fling myself off a bridge, so I split the difference and moved home for a year. I acquired my very first cell phone, a silver plastic Motorola flip phone. It had three basic functions: calling, texting, and invoking a frantic attempt to disconnect whenever I accidentally "connected to the World Wide Web," an event marked by four minutes of a pixellated spinning globe and an error message. Most of my calls still came into my parent's house: the reception was better, and I liked being able to cradle the phone under my ear as I baked cookies. I suspended the cell phone after a few months, and paid out my contract in eight-dollar increments (because even when you're actively avoiding the phone, Bell Canada will somehow find a way to charge you for it).

After I moved back to the city, I split a land line with a few housemates, and engaged in a Byzantine scheme of shared bill payments and message-taking. When I moved out on my own, I kept the landline and got an answering machine, and took delight in creating stupid outgoing message (the halcyon days of youth, before every caller was a prospective employer!). It was only in 2012 that I finally buckled and got a cell phone, so that my boyfriend and I could text. Not just a cell phone: a smart phone.

Man, those first few days were a rush. It was a flurry of downloading apps and inputting contacts, and texting for the first time in years. I sent photos to my parents and played Tetris in bed. I took delight in the fact that I could watch YouTube videos in the tub and screw around on Pinterest all hours of the day and night.

Now it's two years later, and I've got a problem.

Anytime I could be on my phone, I am on my phone. Mike puts on a movie, I pull out my phone. I'm glued to the handset deep in the underground tunnels of the TTC, and I'm reading 45-page New Yorker articles on a 2 1/2" by 4" screen. I can feel my brain changing with phone ownership: I'm disappointed when I don't have any texts to reply to, or when no-one has validated me by liking a recent Facebook post. I'm easily distracted. I refresh over and over, looking for that perfect news item that will release me--ahhh, is that it?

When I'm away from my phone, I feel a sense of lightness. It sounds like hyperbole, but when I'm at the farm or the beach or traveling internationally, I know that my phone is basically a glorified camera, and it's stowed out of sight. But the second--the second--I think I might be able to connected to a signal and get online, I am there. Mid-conversation? Sure. Right after sexy times? Yep! I'm a monster. I take a stack of cookbooks into the tub with me to unwind and then I hunch over my phone like a gargoyle.

And I hate it! I hate feeling tethered all the time, and I hate feeling like I'm waiting for something to show up on my social-media doorstep that will somehow fill my life with sparkles and glee, and I hate how my brain itches for a fix if I put my phone down for more than a few minutes. And I have no idea how to fix this, because I'm clearly longing for some connection, some sparkles and glee in my life right now. And while those things can't come from my phone, the seduction--the idea that they might, if I spend enough time there--is ruinous.

When this phone finally breaks, I'm going to do myself a favour and seriously consider a return to the land line. If I can't do that, at least trading the smart phone, with all its bells and whistles and Instagram filters, for something a little simpler. I want simpler. I want the kind of real connections phones used to bring: the human voice, and time spent together even when we're far apart.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

F1 Racer

I have a whole jumble of things in my head right now - wedding planning; the best flavour of Ritter Sport (I think it's coconut, but I can't be sure until I try them all!); how exactly we're going to get access to Community in the fall if Yahoo geolocks it for some reason; Rob Ford's relatively level of dickishness these days; all the things I would like to do with these amazing fabrics; if the kombucha I'm brewing on my kitchen counter is normal, or if it's plotting to take over my apartment in the most disgusting way imaginable.
My brain is so busy. It's nauseating. I had coffee with a friend last night, and as we were sitting outside, watching couples make out by the fountain by the park (at least I was watching, but I'm a terrible perv and also that couple was right there), I found myself concentrating very hard on what she was saying. If I didn't tunnel my listening skills down with a mighty effort, I found I would drift off on some brain-tangent ("I wonder if the shoes I bought for my wedding are too tawdry, or just the right amount of tawdry?") and lose the plot of what she was saying entirely. I feel like I spent that entire coffee date squinting at her, listening as closely as I could. I'm sure it was a little disconcerting, but she was nice about it.

At that same coffee date, we talked about the concept of going F1 - that is, being financially independent. Oh my god, just read those words again: financially independent. Are you drooling? I'm totally drooling. I'll admit that this was prompted by a recent faux-bio of, ahem, the now-adult members of The Baby-Sitters Club, specifically Mary Anne (of course it was Mary Anne), who achieved her own financial independence at the age of 29.

My brain plays that back to me like a record that has warped in the hot sun. Even though I know these are fictional biographies, it's delicious. (Once, at a party, I asked the standard cocktail party question, "What do you do?" and was flummoxed when the girl I was talking to replied breezily, "Oh, I'm independently wealthy," as if that's a thing people put on their business cards. I later found out that her family owns a national newspaper.)

Anyway, I think my brain has been going a zillion miles a minute because I'm trapped in an over-air-conditioned office all day, usually alone. I do not get paid well to work in this office. It is lonely. It is boring. It is stressful. Of course I daydream about financial independence, and having the time to make quilts, and the kombucha I'm making. Those are the ideas that keep me sane. My brain feels fried because I keep snapping back to reality (faxes, emails, files that are somewhere in the office and need to be found right away) There's tension between the lovely dream that keeps me whole, and the reality of my day-to-day life.

I am trying very hard to find a way to live in this job while I have to. I do yoga in the meeting room. I read The Toast. I find it hard to focus for very long on any given task - this might be because I would much rather be doing pretty much anything else. But because I am not F1, I am required to work and pay bills. And until I can find a job where all my hyperactive brain nodes work together, I am stuck at this one.

My mom keeps telling me to leave. And she's right. But I spent a lot of my 20s unemployed, and it can be scary without a safety net. I'm trying to get as much out this job as I can; not just the spreadsheets and the faxes and the committee meetings and the email laws, but also the muscle memory of sitting on my butt all day as my bank account screams for mercy. I can figure out how to step away and move towards the stuff that really matters: having a head that's clear enough to listen to other people talk.

Image via poetryqn via Spoonflower

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Thumbprint In The Dough

Earlier this month, on a weekend trip to the Beaver Valley where we ate grilled meats and drank a lemon/honey/ginger drink called a Bee Sting and had a bonfire and lay on the grass reading future-imperfect science fiction novels, I picked up a half-pound of thick cut bacon, which was a metaphor for the future.

I was not expecting to buy bacon. I bought this on a whim. We were in the general store, which sounds like it should sell saddles but instead offers GTA escapees expensive local honeys and artisan sauerkraut. In my hand, the bacon had a pleasing heft to it. I earmarked it for quiche, paid for it, and left.

The bacon never made it into quiche. Instead, we used it in a sweet potato/poached egg hash, added a couple slices to egg salad to make it amazing, and ate it as god intended, on the side of a plate loaded with fruit and cheesy scrambled eggs. We burned some, accidentally; not to worry, there was still more. By the time we reached the end of the half-pound and mournfully threw the pinkish waxed paper it had been wrapped in into the garbage, I was a little sad. The bacon, much like the future, had not followed its intended path, but it had been delicious all the same.

I love food. I've always had a bit of a complicated relationship with eating food, because eating disorders and body dismorphia and blah blah blah yawn, but for the most part, food itself it a straight-forward pleasure. Those people who bark "food is fuel!" while the suck down a sachet of Soylent have no idea what they're missing.

Let me illustrate this point more fully: let's talk about pickles.

Slice a cucumber thinly—you're not aiming for something through which you could read a newspaper; go for something the thickness of your average New Yorker magazine. Boil a cup of vinegar with a half-cup of sugar, stir until the sugar disappears, then add a few hot pepper flakes and a vigorous amount of salt and pepper. Pour the vinegar over the cukes, and then dump the whole thing in a glass jar and stick it in the fridge. It'll be something you eat while you're deciding what to cook, but the spicy/sweet/tang flavour profile, along with the crunch of the cucumber, is pretty much the perfect thing. Have it as a side dish with thick-cut smoked salmon and a few slices of hard white cheese and dark rye, or use it to cut the richness of a meat stew. Or you can just take the jar out of the fridge and smell it when you're feeling sleepy; the vinegar will wake you right up.

And yes, I know that you can buy pickles from a store, but until I started making my own, I didn't know how freaking fun it would be. Canning and pickling always seems like sweaty work, considering what you have at the end of it—a few measly jars of goopy raspberries, or a container of pesto you have to freeze so you don't accidentally give yourself botulism. Until I started doing it, I didn't realize that it was fun.

Food should be fun. I have no patience for those dudes who banish their girlfriends from the kitchen because they're too busy using their goddamn sous-vides to understand that sometimes, really, the best thing you might put in your mouth would be a ballpark frank on a soft white bun with French's yellow mustard. That's not to say that cooking shouldn't be an experiment, and an experience; I just think that things like molecular gastronomy and avant-garde presentation ("This evening's lemon meringue pie will be served as a Meyer lemon mist trapped under a glass cloche, which I will lift and you may waft towards your face; a trio of Thai-inspired shortbread cookies; and this picture of the Swiss Alps, which represents the national heritage of the meringue") are sort of bullshit.

I love off-the-beaten-path ingredients: bring me tripe and chicken hearts and purple garlic and pickled fishes. I want authenticity, like Iceland's dense, chewy breads that have been cooked (and slowly caramelized) by being buried in the hot ground near their thermal springs. I like food that seems as if humans made it, where you can see the thumbprint in the dough. Bring me your funkiest tubes of cured meats, your gooiest custard tarts, your most random kimchees. Right now, as I type this, there is a jar of kombucha slowly fermenting on my kitchen counter. I have plans to track down the blueberry-maple sausages my food-dork friend Emmett brought over a few weeks back, because they've haunted my dreams. The only thing I really won't eat are bugs (HELL NO) and broccoli soup.

Now, for the most part, I am a decent home cook. I assemble terrific salads, and I can stuff a pepper and a grape leaf with equal aplomb, and while I am intimidated by making a turkey (it's the giblets...what are they?), I'm actually pretty sure I could assemble an army's worth of side dishes for a turkey dinner without much fuss. I grew up in a family that cooked at home, and then I lived in a co-op with people who prioritized good food. Under my foodie bud friend Liz's direction, I helped make wild rice pilafs and salmon at the dining hall. Moving to the city exposed me to so many new cuisines—Korean, Ethiopian, Japanese other than maki rolls, dim sum and more—and I've taken culinary cues from most of them. Then I use all this background to make it about more than just food.

The power of good food could be summed up like this: last week, I had an exceptionally stupid day at work. Emails! Phone calls! Insensitive comments from bosses! I was stressed and I was tired, and as I was biking home, the only thing I could think about was coleslaw.

I could picture it in my head: the crunchy red cabbage and the thin slices of green onion (cut on the diagonal the way my mom always does it), mixed with some shredded carrot and sliced radishes. I thought about the dressing—not a mayo base for this one, but rather something with sesame oil, lemon juice, and a shot of sriracha—and if I should include sesame seeds or just let the sesame oil speak for itself. When I got home, I shrugged off my backpack and made a beeline for the kitchen. Just chopping the cabbage started to release my shoulders. By the time I sprinkled on a little sugar to cut the tang of the vinegar—well, I was still annoyed by my workday, but now it was distant. The fun of the food had taken over, and I felt soothed.

The coleslaw was just as good the next day, back at the office.

Cooking is a hobby. I don't want to be a caterer or a prep cook or, worst of all, a chef in a high-stakes kitchen. That would ruin the fun of it, the grubby pleasure of a sightly overripe fig or an amazing bit of cheese. But learning the rhythm and the release of cooking for pleasure? That is, for lack of a better word, delicious.

Image via Martha Stewart

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Your Summer Horoscopes, Probably

In celebration of Mercury retrograde being over, I present to you the Kaitlyn Kochany brand of soothsaying (that is to say, probably 100% garbage but who really know? Maybe I have untapped psychic powers. This type of thing apparently runs in our family. This makes sense, since we are witches, mostly).

ARIES: Do you remember Anne Geddes, the photographer who worked pretty much exclusively with babies? She would dress them as various flora and fauna; because they were babies, the instinct was to say "awww!" instead of questioning exactly what, in her creative process, led her to dress them in literal cabbage leaves and call it a day. I sense a Geddes-like path unfolding before you, where your choices are going to lead you somewhere strange and unexpected. Keep the babies out of it, if you can.

TAURUS: When I picture a Taurus, I picture a big red muscle car with black stripes down the side, and some meathead in a white tee-shirt leering out the side of it. It's sort of appealingly Brando-esque (Brandonian?), but it's also invasive and spitty, like the guy is going to smoke his cigarettes right in your face, aggressively call you "babe," and make you want to tug on the hem of your skirt to feel more covered up. I feel that somewhere in your heart of hearts, Taurus, you want to unleash your inner douchebag and go cruising with this dude. Fight that instinct so hard.

GEMINI: Picture yourself sitting at the top of a cliff, staring over the Arctic ocean. The grass between your fingers is lush and green. There are sheep bleating behind you. Puffins circle in the sky. The sky is infinite. Take a deep breath - ahhhh. Now keep that feeling in your heart. The place you are now is not the place you have always been.

CANCER: All the Cancers I know have massive sweet tooths, so my first recommendation is that you should book that long-overdue appointment with your dentist and get it over with. Secondly, wear sunscreen. Third, do some gently stretching before bed every night. Basically, I'm trying to tell you to get with the program in basic body maintenance. Get that mole checked. Stop buying gum instead of brushing your teeth, that is disgusting and you know it.

LEO: Everything I told Cancers, you should do the opposite. Go get a tattoo at the scary parlour on the boardwalk. Eat the discount oysters. Pull down the straps of your bathing suits and go lay in the sun for a while. Stop reading books that were on your university syllabus and buy some big fluffy airport novel. Stop being so good, dammit. You're making the rest of us uncomfortable.

VIRGO: I have literally never met a Virgo. I have my doubts as to if you're real or not. For the purposes of this horoscope, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt that you are real and not a collection of ghosts, but I have my eye on you, Virgo. In any case, if you are a ghost, I would beware of becoming trapped in closets in whatever house or office you're currently haunting. The ghost's un-life is already lonely enough without spending all your time with people's dirty skivvies or label makers. If you are real, beware of being startled in the bike lane by electric scooters coming up behind you at 30km/hr. Those fuckers are the SBD fart of the cycling world.

LIBRA: If you had been born in the 1920s, I would say it was your destiny to become a Zigfield Follies girl or an MGM bathing beauty. If you were born in the 1940s, I would tell you to go apply at the Playboy Club as a bunny. You have an above-average physical attractiveness, enough to get you onscreen but not enough to warrant a speaking role. You can either keep striving for that pinnacle of beauty (your eyebrows are looking good these days, by the way), or you can relax. Really up to you.

SCORPIO: Everyone knows the beefcake Phantom of the Opera, but if you're not aware of the Lon Chaney iteration, it's legitimately creepy. (Those teeth!) Your homework this week is to quit going for the pretty version of everything and start digging into the more repulsive side of the world. I would suggest visiting a reptile sanctuary, if one exists near you. Touch a lizard. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

SAGITTARIUS: I am really holding back from recommending that y'all (including me) quit our jobs, fly to Norway, and have a three-day hike into the Lapland wilds. Really fighting advising us to move into some hippie farm commune and letting our freak flag fly all day, everyday. But....I can definitely advise you (me) to keep looking for opportunities to find balance between this constricting normal-person existence, and the altogether too free weirdo existence. There is a middle ground! Let's find it!

CAPRICORN: Have you seen Adventure Time? It's billed as a cartoon for kids, but in reality, it's this loopy, crazy world about life after the apocalypse. There is one living human, lots of portals to hellish worlds, and talking candy. I'm not really sure how to explain it, except that in fifty years when they're teaching Absurdism in the 21st Century at DeVry, this will definitely come up. How does this relate to you? Just watch a few episodes and then tell me what you think your horoscope should be.

AQUARIUS: Beware of cottages, especially their sump pumps.

PISCES: Do you think the ROM ever looks at the Louvre and just sort of sighs with embarrassment? There's a certain elegance in being simple, right? If you've been spending your time trying to recreate elaborate Pinterest crafts or following nineteen-step recipes with thirty different ingredients (looking at you, Food & Drink magazine!), maybe it's time to simplify. Here, look at this picture of a pink dolphin. Sometimes beautiful things just happen. Just chill out.

Image by Mina Braun via Milk Magazine.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Nothing I Like More

There's nothing I like more than sitting outside on a blanket, in a sun-dappled spot of grass, gossiping with some girlfriends or cuddling with my boyfriend.

There's nothing I like more than looking at beautiful things. I love magazines with luscious photospreads, cookbooks art-directed to within an inch of their lives, books with beautiful covers, clothes made with strange structures and odd angles, concert posters that evoke the essence of the show at which they were purchased, walls that hum with paint and wallpaper, and little tchotckes that can magically transport me back to a favourite memory.

There's nothing I like more than delicious food. The kind of restaurants that look like nothing special on the outside—their plates are made of melanine and their floors are covered in linoleum—but they reveal themselves to have the perfect jap chae, or the most perfectly spiced burrito. I like going to places a few notches up on the fanciness scale, too, where the waitstaff will fill up your water glasses and there's a prix fixe menu offering things like smoked salmon or cheesecake: the kind of thing that's fine when I do it, but transcendent in the hands of an expert. And there's the food we cook at home, too; all the dishes that we've perfected for our busy workday nights, and our lazy Saturday mornings, and for when people come over for board games, and for when it's just the two of us and we decide, hey, why not cook up some really interesting?

There's nothing I like more than running around with my friends. All the birthday karaoke, all the Korean lunch dates, all the coffees in Kensington market, all the trips to the various dim sum restaurants, lemonade stands, roti joints, brunch spots—not to mention everyone's porches, rooftop pools, kitchens, back yards, cottages, parents' houses, and fire escapes—all of them filled with stupid gossip, inside jokes, tearful secrets, half-drunk singalongs, advice, and updates, and all of that filled with the kind of comfort and respect that can only come from happy friendships.

There's nothing I like more than writing. I think about the stories I want to tell all the freaking time: I plot essays on my bike commute, daydream about my blog posts, and go on imaginary talk-show interviews in the shower so I can refine my novel ideas. Writing makes me feel sane. Writing makes me feel like my lungs are bigger, that I can breathe more.

There's nothing I like more than organizing stuff. It sounds trite, but the power of a well-organized spreadsheet can't really be undersold. I like having information at my fingertips, having a good filing system, throwing away old and unnecessary stuff (can I interest anyone in a Staples catalog from 2011?), and making everything feel clean and fresh and accessible. It's a total left brain/right brain thing, but working out a thorny data-management problem feels almost as good as putting down a really decent plot twist. (Almost.)

There's nothing I like more than spending time with my family—and in this, I include the family I'm making myself, with my fiance. The unconditional love, the willingness to learn (my parents and I had a surprising, and surprisingly great conversation about trans* identity a few weeks ago), the funny parts and the sad parts: they all come together in a way that is never perfect and yet somehow always is.

And, in the face of another demoralizing work week, when I have to ask myself if my job feeds any of the things I like, or any part of myself that I want to see grow, there's nothing I like more than a weekend spent with the people I love, surrounding myself with beautiful things, delicious food, amazing art, sunshine, cuddles, and love. There's nothing I like more than that.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Get Some Strange

 I read Infinite Jest in a week. Well, not quite a week: I read the first hundred or so pages in three tortuous months, resentfully flipping back and forth between the book's meaty prose and its spindly, wandering, essential footnotes. Then—and I'm not sure why—something happened. I began to read obsessively, maniacally. I lay in bed reading Infinite Jest (with a dictionary beside me as well, because the book, in addition to its irritating form, isn't known for an accessible vocabulary), sleeping occasionally, waking up, reading more. I burned through the whole book that way; it became a fever dream of tennis and public bathrooms and Canadians who are compelled to lift the heel of one foot slightly when they fart. I kept the lights dim and took frequent naps. When I came to the end of the book, I realized that the actual end of the story had happened somewhere several hundred pages before. I felt perversely satisfied with this infinite loop of story. It was a snake eating its own tail.

As my life moves more and more towards the mundane, predictable cadence of adulthood—with its work schedules and Outlook calendars and highly scheduled ladies' brunches—I rely more and more on the written word to give me a dose of funky, unexpected weirdness. I look to Pynchon and De Lillo, to Chabon's mid-career work and to strange, small-press children's books. I get plenty of strange, highly focused essays from Harper's, where the topics range from people suffering the delusions of probably-imaginary skin disorders, to an alcohol-soaked review of Room 237, a documentary about Kubrick's adaptation of The Shining and the various paranoid interpretations that have been floating around since that film's release in 1980. I read shifty short stories about haunted undersea caves. I could stand to read more poetry.

The stories are linked by a loosey-goosey approach to plot (sometimes, like in Room 237, the plot is basically nonexistent), but an animated and enthusiastic approach to observation. There are patterns in these stories: an attempt to scrutinize the things, mostly unseen, that run our humdrum world. Turn your head fast enough and you might see them out of the corner of your eye, but only if you're exceptional lucky...or is that unlucky? Finally seeing the face in the television static you've suspected has been there the whole time isn't exactly reassuring, you know?

Writers in this genre (psychoanalytically-obsessed metafiction? Postmodern worry-porn?) aren't out to reassure us. They want to make us uncomfortable, because this discomfort creates a space for really examining our normal lives. Reading De Lillo's White Noise, with its blended families and savvy teenaged girls, I had echoes of Ann M. Martin's wildly popular series The Babysitter's Club, albeit perverted and made strange. House of Leaves, an update to the Minotaur legend, uses different formatting tricks and strange appendices to create a narrative that expands and contracts in unexpected ways, like the titular house itself. The worlds are unstable. The form is unpredictable. The guy doesn't always get the girl, and not in that Nicholas Sparks kind of way where it turns out the girl is suffering from a fatal disease and will die attractively sometime in the final chapters. These books are completely bonkers, obsessed with what is "real" and what isn't, and sometimes kind of pointless...then again, life itself is sometimes pointless.

The one that I always come back to is The Crying of Lot 49, Thomas Pynchon's slim little ode to Italian opera, shadow postal services, the Los Angeles underground scene, and tapestry. Yep, throw those ingredients in a bowl, add a half-baked conspiracy theory, plenty of drugs, and wildly unlikely character names (Oedipa Maas? Doctor Hilarius? Mike Fallopian?) and stir. The result is a short novel long on strange. I find it confusing, meandering, infuriating, and utterly absorbing. I've read it a half-dozen time, each time finding some new oddity. The book's world is a place I like to visit, because it's so structurally weird.

I love that. So many novels chug along at the prescribed novel pace, with a beginning, middle and end, with characters who have clearly defined needs and wants. My own writing is like this: serviceable, but not in the least bit weird. I could stand to use more weird in my writing. Hell, I could stand more weird in my own life.

But for now, I set my alarm for 7:20 AM, and I leave work at 5:05. We grocery shop on Monday nights. I eat one hardboiled egg for breakfast every morning. We ride bikes with other white people, swaddled in technical fabrics and protective helmets. We drink lemonade. We vote. We behave ourselves, and the world around is behaves accordingly. There is no strange. There is no unexpected.

We have to go looking for it.

Image via This Is Colossal.

Friday, June 6, 2014


I've been struggling to write about unhappiness, not because I'm so damned happy, but because I don't really know what do say about being unhappy.

If my life is like Minnesota, the self-described "Land of 10,000 Lakes," then there are parts of my life where my happiness is like Lake Superior. My friends, my relationship with Mike, my sculpted body; sure, there might be a polluted beach or two, but for the most part, I can take pleasure and comfort in the depths of these things.

Other areas in my life? Not so much. My creative side, which started off vast like Rainy Lake, feels like it's slowly draining. As my personal time becomes more limited, writing and crafting - which bring me such pleasure! - are some of the first things to go. In the face of a full-time job and a rapidly-approaching wedding, when there are databases to update (despair) and caterers to harass, creative time feels like a luxury. Or exercise time, which I claw out of my limited time. Exercise doesn't really make me happy; it's more that not working out makes me feel so crazy and sad. There's a little bit of pleasure there, but it's the pleasure of an arm sore from a recent inoculation.

And the job itself? The joy I find there is a little puddle, maybe the size of Spoon Lake, which maxes out at six feet deep and is about the same size as Yorkdale Mall if you include the mall's interminable parking lot. I don't even really want to talk about the job.

People always chirp, "Do what you love and love what you do!" I did what I loved for just over a year: I freelanced, I ate lunch with friends, I played outside and went for bitterly cold winter walks. I also cried over money, and the impression that I would never find work again. Now, loving what I do means loving the hectic stress of an office in transition, loving the uncertainty of who my boss is or will be, and loving the mundane boredom of being alone for 80% of the workweek. It means finding joy by floundering in a sea of decontextualized and scattered information that someone needs right now, no please, no thank you, so go track it down and synthesize it and make it pretty. Now.

And I know how lucky I am to have a job. Any job. But is it good luck or bad luck? The more time I spend with this one, the more I feel like maybe this lake will someday turn itself into a swirling drain, and carry me down into a further darkness. Six feet is enough to drown in.

I need to get a little dinghy and stay above the muck of my little puddles, my unhappy lakes. They matter, because I can't see where to step in their muddy waters, but I can promise myself I won't disappear in their sludge. That much I can do.

I need to swim more often in the cold waters of my deepest lakes. They save me: the friends, the family, the partner, the fitness, the making, the eating, the sleeping. I can dive down to where the water will force the air from your lungs, and shooting to the surface is teaching yourself how to breath all over again.

Image: "Message," 2014, Shawn Dulaney