Friday, December 28, 2012

Green-Eyed Monster

I suffer from jealousy. This isn't an attractive trait - unlike "perfectionism," which is often offered as one of those eye-rolling humblebrags at job interviews, jealousy is a seething, complicated, stomach-churning feeling. It creates distance, ruins burgeoning friendships, and makes me feel lousy.

My jealousy isn't centred around my boyfriend - I trust him, and despite occasional Weird Feelings about late-night drink-a-thons at fun bars when I'm out of town, I generally keep a lid on that kind of thing. The jealousy I feel is often directed at other women, and it's a dirty, soul-yuckifying emotion that serves nobody. (I'll sidebar to parse jealousy from mistrust: jealousy is wanting what another person has, while being suspicious of your partner's out-on-the-town behaviours is another, but equally gross-feeling, phenomenon. If my special roommate went out and rollicked around with a bunch of fun-sounding ladies, I would probably be jealous of his experience, but not necessarily of the women, since he, presumably, at some point, came home to tell me all about it. Jealousy, on the other hand, might arise when I hear all about their hot-looking leather dresses and their book deals with Random House.)

There's no real way for me to dump this on the table without feeling supremely weird about seeming to name names, so I'll speak in generalities. Forthwith, there are three specific areas that inspire my jealousy: bodies, romances, and professional success.

"Bodies" is simple - they're mostly hotter, skinnier, more interesting to look at, better dressed, have more manageable skin/hair/teeth, or lack those things but exude a confidence that renders them magnetically interesting no matter what their appearance. "Bodies" is also incredibly complicated - I didn't suffer from an eating disorder for a decade+ because fashion models inspired wistful longing. There is a hard, radioactive nugget of fear inside me, that one day I'll wake up and and find that I've become totally hideous; there's another part of me that is convinced that day has already come. So women who seem comfortable in their own skin remind me of how much more road I have to walk before I can even approach that feeling. The women who seem comfortable and can pull off a crop-top just made my spirit feel broken, because even if/when I get there, that's still a ballsy move.

"Romance" is a little more complicated, because it has nothing to do with the reality of my own (lovely, healthy, much-appreciated) love life, and more with feeling behind. I didn't marry my high school or college sweetheart, setting me apart from a lot of my social circle. My own parents met when my mom was 17 years old, and 35 years later, they're still together. I didn't date in high school - I was several people's "secret make-out companion," a role that, at the time, I had convinced myself was romantic (or at least proved that I was sexy enough to kiss); in retrospect, I can see that it served my dude friends with a way to get their rocks off without ever having to acknowledge, in public, that they might have been attracted to me, or that I was a romantic option.

I didn't have a boyfriend until my early 20s, and that went down in such spectacular flames that all my subsequent relationships have been coloured by the expectation that somewhere, there's another shoe waiting to drop (trust issues! So fun!). And as I watched my friends date, and meet their loves, and be successful long-term, I felt a sour-belly jealousy working through my system. To this day, I feel like I "should" be married, be planning a family, be committed. I can get a little crazy with my boyfriend, constantly asking for reassurance that those things will happen someday for us, which is tiresome and not really the point of being in love. But when I look the couple around me, I feel like I'm working on someone else's schedule, and brother, I am late.

The professional jealousy is pretty self-explanatory, and again stems from the idea that I "should" be at some career milestone at this point. I'm especially vexed by the talented squadron of younger writer-types that run in my social circle; young women who have been published in national magazines, who pay their rent with their words, and who could, if they bothered to go, be cool at their high-school reunions. And while I genuinely like my job, I feel the tug of writing almost daily. It's tough to balance your creative calling with your credit card statement, and the folks who can make me feel crazy.

The real problem with this sick little list is that I don't really know the women who make me feel jealous. When you get to know someone - really understand their foibles and their flaws, along with their strengths and successes - they become actual human beings. I perceive the girls who make me see green as cartoon characters - not that they are shallow, but that my relationships with them are shallow. I don't see the crippling weeks of paralyzed first drafts; I see the magazine by-line. I don't see the screaming late-night argument; I see the wedding ring. I don't see the careful mathematics of dieting; I see the flat stomach. And unless I can get to know these women better, that might be all I see.

The salvation are the women in my life who might have provoked jealousy, but who have instead turned it into inspiration. My friends - not all of them are besties, either - who have let me in. They are funny, mean, sarcastic, generous, self-deprecating, and honest. They talk about their life-work - how hard they work to achieve all that they do, which makes me realize, over and over, how much of a process everything really is. They feel their own jealousies, celebrate their successes and lament their failures. In doing so, they open a space for me to do the same.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Sick Of It All

Oh my God! I have seriously fallen down on this poor blog. I want to tuck this little blog into bed, brush its hair back from its furrowed brow, and coo, "Oh, sweetie, I'm sorry I haven't been around much lately...I promise it won't happen again."

In my defense, I've been sick. A sore throat last week, food poisoning this weekend, and a general sense of feeling run down and defenseless against sneaky germ attacks. I've been holed up on the couch, watching a lot of Freaks and Geeks (unimpeachably good TV) and How I Met Your Mother (I am starting to feel bad for TV recappers who are contractually obliged to watch that show - the seventh season was unambiguously bad); obviously, I lean pretty hard on the TV dramedy of Mr. Jason Segel when I'm feeling under the weather.

Being sick is the worst. The nausea that accompanied my food poisoning was disgusting - thirteen hours of panting and sweating, anyone? This recent back-to-back bout of illness has left me wondering if there's something wrong with my systems - have I somehow contracted malaria? Or am I allergic to my carpets? Of course, given my family's history, it's also impossible not to wonder if something darker is brewing, but for now, I'm going to assume that my weakened immune system is the result of funky yogurt and bad luck and wait for things to pass.

I've been lucky enough that I have a boyfriend who rolls his eyes only occasionally, and mostly when I boss him around ("Bring me another popsicle!"). I wear the same filthy sweatpants for three days in a row - last night, I got into bed with toothpaste all down the front of my tank top, provoking a laff riot from the BF (I deserved it, and joined in). Being sick means a "big outing" is going to Shopper's Drug Mart for more popsicles. It ruins me.

And it's especially grim in these short little days, when I see the sun for, like, five minutes every day. I feel like I'm living in a cave - albeit one carpeted with used Kleenex - and I forage for chicken noodle soup, and cough syrup to knock me out. Being sick in the summer is brutal, especially when your fever and the 40-degree weather create this compounded heat effect that will knock you out if you're not careful, but in the winter, it can feel like you are never ever going to get better.

I remember one Christmas when I had the flu, like, on December 25, and all I could do was lie on the floor and try not throw up on my sister's new dollhouse (it was actually a 4'x4' board, representing the future dollhouse that would be forthcoming once my parents got it together enough to build it...which took, as I recall, four years). No special turkey dinner, no stocking-stuffer Toblerone, no fat juicy orange was enough to knock the ailment out of my system - I had to suffer through it.

Which is really the way it still is. No matter how much cough syrup and Halls I suck back, the only cure is time.

Dammit.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Chronic Age-Related Fashionitis

I'm feeling a little boxed-in lately, at least in the fashion corner of my brain. I think part of it has to do with getting older and feeling more settled (one might say stuck; one could say that) in general, but I think part of it has more to do with self-expression: what I can, and can't, do and say, and where.

For example: there was a time in my life when I would dye my hair. Random chunks of pink and blue, terrible and homemade, would make appearances and then disappear a few weeks later. I wasn't invested in upkeep; I just liked having some little difference. I would wear 1970s neon-yellow maxi dresses with pink underwear underneath. I would do Big Daytime Eye Makeup, just for funsies, or dress in a Canadian approximation of a chola's outfit while studying. Just trying on different personas, you know?

Now, I feel like I've missed the boat. My office and my boss are both far from conservative, but my professionalism isn't usually the first thing people notice when my hair is dyed the colour of a Skittle. The women there with candy-coloured hair are that Funky Older Type: one is a beer sommelier with purple streaks in her gray, one has pink highlights in her salt-and-pepper, both wear Doc Martens, have small dogs, and carry custom-made laptop bags. Nothing wrong there, but not really my style, you know? As always, I want something a little more post-apocalyptic farm girl. Sleeker, more flattering and thought-provoking, less self-concious.

Maybe I'm complaining about aging out of my style; I'm increasingly aware of being "too old" for former go-to looks. Most of my friends are a few years younger than me, so they can still get away with looking like Hopie from Love and Rockets, or having semi-dreads or a pedophilic movember 'stache. Those who are my age usually work in creative fields - nobody cares if you're braless in a tank top when you're crunching out your third blog post of the day - and so I feel marooned on my island of Office Appropriate Clothing, trying to figure out if I can wear booty shorts to the office party or if I should stick with a pencil skirt.

Don't mistake this for wanting to dress in an outre style. I can (usually) tell what occasion demands which level of formality, and will try to be appropriate. I'm not going to show up at your wedding in a mini-dress, and I won't wear flip-flops to a job interview. This holds no matter what age I am, although I do tend to try harder to nail it than I did in my early 20s.

But it's the transition that's tripping me up. I feel like this is the reason so many women panic and cut off all their hair when they have kids: it's easy, but it also instantly identifies you as a mom. (How many older women do you know who have hair past their earlobes? It's an growing-up rite of passage.) I do not want to do this: I want to feel like my indomitable self even as I move into my 30s and beyond.

So I ask you: How can I reconcile my interest in weirdo club-inspired fetish fashions with a day job? Where can I wear bright blue wedge heels? Do I need to take out my gauged earrings and find some sedate studs? Where can I put the colour, if not in my hair? I know that, as I get older and my "job" turns into a "career," making bad clothing choices will affect me adversely; I also know that I don't want to bore myself into dressing like a substitute teacher every day until I retire. Where is the middle ground? And once I get there, what do I wear?

Friday, November 30, 2012

Happy Birthday to Me!

I'm just going to come right out and say it: I'm having a great day.

It's my birthday - I'm turning 29, and it's one of those milestone-lite days (I am nearly 30! Who is that in the mirror? I am so old, snore, blah blah blah, whatever), and it's been one of the nicest days in recent memory, period, and one of the best birthdays ever.

My life is pretty great - I have a family who loves me (I woke up to texts from both my parents, and got to have lunch with my sister and mom), a boyfriend who jumped on me at 7:15 this morning to snuggle me and whisper "happy birthday!" into my sleepy ears, a boss who gave me a bottle of champers, and a load of friends who are coming to a potluck at my place tonight.

I live in a city where the mayor can be chucked out of office, despite the pundits swearing up it down it would never happen, on bad governance. Where I can go dancing tomorrow night in an industrial club and next week at the AGO. Where I can waltz into a teeny shop in Kensington and emerge with fancy-ass dresses that fit my curvy body like a glove. I can get any number of fancy ridiculous-person sodas in the stores, and there are cats on the streets.

Two years ago, my birthday was spent stressing about a job interview the next morning; last year, I was starting a new job the next morning (2011 was a crummy work year, guys). And while both were spent with friends and loves, I didn't feel so good - I felt like I was trying to live up the Platonic ideal of The Perfect Birthday, and came up short each year. I've been plagued with this feeling since childhood, like birthdays are somehow a failure if that aren't the very best day of the year. And now that I've let myself off the hook for that, I can feel like today really is my special day.

My plants are healthy. My apartment is clean. I feel amazing, in a real, soulful way. I feel, for lack of a better word, totally blessed.

Thanks, everyone. You're all the best.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Hysterical

Hysteria opens with a montage — Victorian ladies from old to young are complaining to an unseen doctor about their troubles, ranging from uncontrollable sobbing to a vague complaint of “feelings.” It’s the 1880s, and hysteria is an epidemic among the women of London. We’re introduced introduced to a richly textured world of horse-drawn carriages and classist social morals. It’s a time when a woman riding a bicycle is shocking, and you could lose your home over a 200 dollar debt.

Hugh Dancy plays Dr. Mortimer Granville, a handsome young doctor whose revolutionary ideas (germ theory!) and straightforward manner get him kicked out of most of London’s hospitals. He eventually lands at Dr. Robert Dalrymple’s practice. The good Dr. Dalrymple is an expert in vulvar massage — the treatment relieves those annoying thoughts and mood swings associated with hysteria. The doctors naively assume that the stimulation provides no pleasure (pleasure is, of course, only possible through penetrative sex), and a half-hour under Dr. Dalrymple’s twirling index finger brings a “paroxysm” (read: orgasm) that brings the uterus back into normal alignment and cures the woman… at least until next week.

Maggie Gyllenhaal explodes onto the screen, railing about the incipient women’s revolution and being the Dalrymple family’s embarrassing black sheep: she works at a settlement house, helping poor women and children get their lives together. She’s hands-on and feisty, apologizing for nothing. Her father will offer no financial support until she settles down and gets married. Felicity Jones plays Emily Dalrymple, Charlotte’s sister, and Jones has the unenviable job of playing Granville’s safe crush: the doctor’s daughter, steeped in social niceties and a believer in the debunked science of phrenology. Compared to Gyllenhaal, Jones sort of fades (for those who want to see her shine in a more modern love story, check out Like Crazy, in which she sparkles). Emily represents the past; Charlotte, though brash and overwhelming at times, is moving towards the future. Dr. Granville is stuck between what he should do, and what he feels obliged towards.

It becomes apparent that Dr. Granville is quite accomplished at vulvar massage, and the practice is booming. But the magic touch doesn’t come without a price: Granville develops a painful spasm in his hand that interferes with his ability to treat his clients. After failing to satisfy an influential patient, the young doctor is accused of besmirching the Dalrymple practice and is dismissed. He retreats back to his friend and benefactor Edmund, and begins to soothe himself with Edmund’s new invention: a vibrating, rotating feather duster. As Granville handles the tool, he notices the similarity between his clinical work and the tool’s effects. Eureka! The electric vibrator is born.

The movie springs forward with an engagement and a trial, several on-screen orgasms and a heartfelt speech. The vibrator is a success, of course, but Charlotte is in financial trouble and Dr. Granville has a tough romantic decision to make. The movie is sprightly and light on its feet: the characters are likeable and the dialogue is heavy on sexy-sounding puns. Hysteria trips up a little when it delves into politics — Charlotte is liberal even by today’s standards, but her vision of a clean, safe place for women and their children is unimpeachable. The acting is solid across the board, and although the film could have easily become a trifle, the politics keep it grounded and meaningful. It’s the stuff of romantic comedy, to be sure, but the vibrator is one of the best inventions of the last 150 years — a tool that allows women to take control of their sexual pleasure — and this looks at its invention is a solid little gem.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Five By Five

Five foods I love to eat:
  • Kimchee. I eat this stuff with everything. On burgers, in stir-fry, on fried eggs, with cheddar cheese, on its own in a bowl, directly out of the giant 2-liter tub that I brought home from the asian grocery store...it is running me. 
  • Sausage. Since going paleo back in June, I've started eating way more meat, and the house-made sausages from Fiesta Farms are my go-to. They are amazing - chicken thighs with parmesan! pork with sundried tomato and fennel! elk! - and delicious.
  • Liberty yogurt. I got into this stuff when I was introduced to the plum and walnut variant, which is, for my money, one of the best damn flavours you can get. They also offer a coconut and a lemon flavour, and they are at least as delicious as ice cream.
  • Green beans. I'm on a major green beans kick right now. I'm basically substituting the damn things for potato chips, which makes me sound all GOOP-y and self-righteous, but they're just tasty. 
  • Figs. I know, they're somewhat vaginal in their shape and general demeanor, but they're also tasty, and so seasonal that they feel special. You know how you can get oranges all year round? Figs aren't like that. 
Five things that made me cry recently (because I am a sucker):

Five movies I could watch again and again:
  • The Iron Giant. If we are friends, I will force you into watching this at some point with me. It's a great movie. It is the Citizen Kane of space robot kid movies. 
  • Back to the Future. I mean, duh. Marty McFly was my first boyfriend and Michael J. Fox is perfect in this movie. 
  • Three Kings. David O. Russel's war movie, in which Marky Mark, Ice Cube and George Clooney run around Iraq, being greedy and hot. Also, Spike Jonze is in it, and the brief glimpse of him as a backwater hillbilly is worth the price of admission. 
  • Wallace and Gromet: Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Look, I know what you're thinking: too many kids' movies! I need some edgy horror or at least an indie darling. And I hear you, but I'm not going to lie to appear cool on the internet. Like all humans, I love Harold and Maude, but I love this movie more. 
  • Shaun of the Dead. A compromise: an indie edgy horror darling. Everyone loves this movie. 

Five jobs I would love:
  • Writer. I mean, like, I write a lot now, but it would be nice to be able to make a mortgage payment off it. 
  • My idea of "organic farmer." When I think about the person I want to become in my fifties, she's wearing a long denim skirt and wellies, a plaid shirt tied around her waist, while a small but robust dog barks as they squint at the sunset. There are hay bales and defined triceps. There are ruddy cheeks and bottles of beer. There is a great gorgeous table covered in homemade food and friends at every seat. 
  • HR consultant. This is something I'm probably going to start working towards in 2013, so stay tuned!
  • Advice columnist. Marrying my twin talents of incredibly snarky advice giving and writing. Plus, people's problems run the gamut from "How do I grieve my dying secret lover?" to "Help! My dog is overweight!" and I think that's fascinating. 
  • Rich person. 

Five days I look forward to:
  • My birthday at the end of this month! I'm turning 29, so I basically need to get all the stupid shit people do in their twenties out of my system in the next 365 days and then I get on with being a real grown-up. I will see you all at the tattoo parlour after my ill-advised quickie marriage! 
  • The August long weekend. It's my raison d'etre.
  • Thanksgiving. October is awesome: bright and clear, still in daylight savings time but with the low-hanging pink clouds of November. And the chance to get together and eat giant piles of food is one I always jump at. 
  • Winter solstice. I both love and hate this day, because it always feels like the apocalypse - we get about 8 hours of daylight in Toronto, and it's usually cold and horrible. But this year, I'm going to ring it in nice: my friend Lindsay referred me to a Persian tradition of staying up all night to defeat the darkness, and I'm going to make some lanterns and light some candles and thank god the days start getting longer the very next day.
  •  the day when figs start showing up in the supermarkets. Love that day. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Impostor

This weekend, I'll be participating in a panel about blogging and  - gulp  - sex. Part of the Playground conference, which aims to bring an open and inclusive mind to sexuality, the panel is going to be comprised of four XOXO Amore bloggers and moderated by Jon Pressick. It should be great. I, of course, am nervous.

This morning, I was interviewed by a Ryerson journalism student about sex blogging - why I do it, what it means, what it meaaaaans, etc - to be included in a much longer piece about sexuality and journalism and all the various ways the topic is (and isn't) covered in mainstream media. I should be great. I - of course - am nervous.

Impostor syndrome seems to be the next logical step up (down?) from low self esteem. It's the belief that one's accomplishments have nothing to do with the actual work you put into them: any success comes from good timing or luck. It's not always pervasive in life: you can feel like a fraud in the kitchen but a rock star in the board room, for example. I'm feeling it now, as I seem to have been tapped as someone who writes...for real. The sex writing aspect feels like a transparency laid over the idea that I'm, like, actually doing this, but it's there, adding to my terror.

When I was taking a year off from school at 19 - burnout! - I was still writing my crappy little diaryland account. And one day, an editor from Index magazine emailed and said, hey, your writing is really good. Keep in touch with us, we might want to do something with you. And I freaked the fuck out, both in the good way - OMG, someone thinks I am good at this - and the bad way - I am a fake and they are going to find out. This has been my pattern since then: elation at being accepted, dread at having to prove, over and over, that I am, in fact, good at this.

This being writing.

I write a lot. In my head, I write drafts of conversations and short stories that, one day, might propel me through a month of NaNoWriMo. I write this blog. I've written off and on for others, for money and for credit, and some have been lasting relationships and some haven't. But they've all liked, more or less, what I have to offer. They've liked my ideas and my voice, my clean copy and my respect for the deadline. Sometimes I've gone to them; sometimes (actually, more than I really want to say, because in this context, it's embarrassing) they've approached me.

And so all this points to the idea, slowly emerging, that instead of terror at being someday found out as a fraud - or that my well will run dry and I won't even be able to write my own name, let alone a 1500-word article on buttplugs or Facebook etiquette -  I should be getting comfortable with the idea that "writer" might be on my business card one day. Not tomorrow. Just...someday.

I know other writers struggle with this idea as well - I might have stolen that "writing your own name" line from Anne Lamott, and I have enough writer friends on Twitter to know that the ache of non-confidence is not my own invention. I guess what I'm doing here is shining a light on the monster in my closet, the one that whispers in my ear "Don't get used to this, sweetheart, it'll go away soon enough," and showing it to be nothing more than the rumpled old ideas of someone who, now, knows better.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Run It

I've been running lately, and it feels good.

I have always been a reluctant exerciser. Yoga gives me a serious case of the eye-rolls, the heart monitors on the elliptical have me convinced that I'm going to die of a heart attack any minute, but running is soothing. 

Despite the fact that is basically garbage exercise - not cardio enough to make you fitter, and without the benefits of weight training - it does help me feel like I am "getting in shape," whatever that means. Plus, fall runs are basically the nicest way of getting outside - I'm getting to see the fall colours and enjoy the dusky light, and then I get to go home and eat green beans and sausages. 

I actually think the biggest gift these runs have given me, aside from the chance to spend more time with the bf, is a sense of athletic accomplishment. Our route is 3 kilometers. It takes about 20 minutes - I don't run at a race pace, but I can run the whole thing. It's mostly side streets and one really enjoyable slice of park, with some hills and some stretches ideal for sprinting. It's invigorating to get home from a run and feel, not exhausted or nauseous, but invigorated and ready for more. 

Combined with the paleo diet, it's like a whole new me is emerging: clearer skin, more energy, higher-quality poops. Living the dream, I am. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Every Love Story is a Ghost Story

I read most of Infinite Jest, that thousand-page behemoth of footnotes and furrowed brows, in the better part of a long weekend, lying prone on my double bed, barely moving as I powered through the thick prose. I wrote about that experience, the unbearable weight of taking on this job - reading - and having it transform into this transcendental meditation on addiction, family, and loss. I was brain-sick, absolutely pinned to the wall with loneliness and quasi-depression and the disgusting realization that I wasn't really a kid anymore, but I was too stupid and weird to be an adult. Infnite Jest was the underscore of this, and reading it clarified my idea that maybe I had to figure some of my shit out in order to survive.


That reading experience, like all our life-moments that blindside us on some otherwise normal long weekend, was a bummer and a blessing. I haven't really been the same since I read that book, but it didn't change me or ruin me or anything. It just sort of...shifted me a little, the way really good and really demanding writing always does. I feel for book critics, who could live a thousand lives in the pages of the books they read for work. By the time they retire, they must feel ancient. The ground under their feet might become unstable. I mean, how could you not surrender parts of yourself, in the face of books like Infinite Jest or The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,or Motherless Brooklyn? Or Blood Meridien, when death, hilarious, comes riding straight at you?


No wonder Michiko Kakutani is tough. You'd have to be tough, in the face of writing like that. And you'd come to expect nothing less.



When I started reading The Pale King, it was the summer of 2011 and I was bonkers with stress: quitting my job, changes in the family, and a certain uncertainty about taking on another Big Fucking DFW Book. The Pale King isn't for wimps - almost 600 pages of disjointed and unfinished writing (he was still working on it when he hung himself, and his editor cobbled together some semblance of a story out of an inheritance of writing that ranged from mostly-finished chapters to scrambled notes), but it hangs together in an odd, slightly beautiful way.

I finished the book in the fall of 2012. I read in bed, in the bathtub, on the bus, in line at the movies, on the floor. I had to restart twice, in order to give Wallace's writing the attention it deserves, and I will likely read it again, now that I know what I'm in for, so I can surrender to it more fully.


The book is a look at boredom: how we as humans avoid and succumb to it, and what it does to us when we're held under its current. Do we change? Do we grow? It's a bit meta, as some of the driest chapters are designed to mimic the type of boring-ass stuff the characters would come up against (the book is set in and around the IRS, so it's got the full cast of pencil-necked, pocket-protected characters). But it also has great swathes of crazy glorious writing: backstory that makes little sense, like the boy who wants to kiss every part of his body - yes, including his anus and the top of his own head - but treat the reader to a glimpse at what Wallace thinks might happen when we come out the other side. When we focus, and get past the shitty boredom and the distractions, and we laser-beam in on what we're doing, what can we become?


Let's be real: I have no idea if what was published as The Pale King would have been at all like what Wallace would have eventually presented to his editor. This book is interesting and challenging, but knowing that your own name is on the spine of Infinite Jest would create a lump in the throat of even the sanest and more confident writers. Wallace, despite his genius, struggled. I don't know if the editor's thesis statement for the book would have exactly followed Wallace's, so what we're left is the ghost of a novel. There's an eerieness inherent in reading unfinished work, and this book is no exception.


I haven't picked up D.T. Max's biography of Wallace just yet, and I'm not sure if I will. I don't necessarily need to know him better to know that what I've read has changed me. Mary Karr, in her excellent memoir Lit, recalls Wallace as a weirdo, a man who got her name tattooed on his arm before they had even kissed, but reading that felt invasive, like I had run into him at an AA meeting and couldn't stop staring.


I loved reading his essays about  growing up in the Midwest, when the earth is so flat that it warps your mind a little. I want more of that. More crazy, demanding, alienating writing about what it means to become a person in this time and place. Not a second-hand story about a man who used to be here.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

October, Two Ways

Let's get one thing straight here: I am a total pansy. I am freaked out by the dark, by ventilation systems (I blame The X-Files for that one, rightly so), by the idea that a pair of hands are going to lunge out from behind the shower curtain and strangle innocents who just want to brush their teeth, by dogs with a certain look in their eyes, and by reports of global warming.

There's also the existential fears that make for 4:30 AM heart palpitations: the perfect storm of horror movie images, convincing myself that there's something under the bed, and oh, by the way, everyone you love will someday die. 

So October, what with its drugstore tarantulas and cobwebby home decor, is not really my scene: I'm pretty much horrified 24/7. I don't need, like, a special day to make me feel freaked out.

In college, Halloween was one of the Drunk Girl's Trifecta (the others being New Years Eve and Saint Patrick's Day): any excuse to get absolutely gob-smacked on Malibu and get yer tits out. Halloween offered the added incentive to dress up as a "sexy [insert profession here]." Sexy nurse! Sexy fire-fighter! Sexy Jesus (I've seen two sexy Jesus costumes in the last few years)! Sexy coal miner. I've got the black lung....and it makes me want to drink Jagermeister! 

I'm not sure how to celebrate Halloween as an adult. Do I dress up? If so, as what? My friend Rachel had, for years, a long black wig that she would base her costume on. Frida Khalo, sexy witch, Cleopatra, etc. I always struggle to find the balance of not trying too hard and still looking like I cared a little. For years I just dressed all in black, an extremely lazy take on "goth" that was more "bad mood personified." But you can't wear mesh to the office (seriously: YOU CAN'T. DON'T).

This year, my boyfriend is doing 31 Nights of Horror, a daily infusion of cinematic gore lasting the entire month of October. I plan on spending a lot of time in the bedroom, maybe getting caught up on some reading or looking at ways to beef up my resume (real talk: I will be playing on Pinterest and drinking whiskey). We celebrate the month in different ways; he, by embracing the blood-and-guts side of it; me, by ignoring that in favour of looking at pictures of children dressed up adorably for Halloween. Oh, and I also bake zombie cupcakes.

There are October things I genuinely like: I like the seasonal change, obviously, as does everyone who is marooned on a heat island. I like the shift to tights, sweaters, and scarves. I like the treetop colours and the turkey dinner, eating fun-sized O Henry bars by the fistful, picking out the season's knitting projects, and great sleeps. I enjoy the shrieking...from the living room.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Baby Steps

I'ms tarting to realize that, in a few short months, my work position is going to be over. Contract work is both a blessing and a curse: it's great because it's a resume-builder, a chance to hone skills and make some money; but, of course, all good things must come to an end.

I still have a number of months left on my contract, but I'm already starting to feel lightheaded panic from the next-step anxiety. What do I want to do? I mean, aside from jump on a plane to Iceland and open a cafe in Akureyri? Or enrol in school to become a sexual-health teacher? Or get a masters in...something?

Should I go full-throttle into freelance? Should I wait tables while I write by first book? Should I get another office gig? Should I enrol in school, either as a academically cloudy grad student or in a more focused college diploma course? Should I sell all my things and live off the land for a while, foraging rhubarb from the city planters and adopting a freegan lifestyle?

Here are some things I know about me: I thrive when I have structure (i.e., a day job, a regular paycheck). I am not really a hustler (which makes freelance writing tough, as there is a lot of hustling). I need downtime (working six days a week, like at my last job, or ten-hour days at a bar, is not really my thing). I hate sitting still for long (desks!?!), but I don't have a lot of formal training at the kind of jobs that are more active (i.e. childcare, cooking, landscape gardening, etc.). Oh, and I have skills that are mostly creative, some administrative, and some facilitative. I am introverted. I work well on a team. I like outside-the-box thinking.

So...what now?

My gut tells me to move past office jobs, but they are stable and I like knowing what I'm getting myself into every day. I'm also not bad at them. I also feel like I want to get more training - something to do with writing, or sexual health, or housing, or co-ops, or facilitation - because I like those things, and I want to know more about them. I like writing, a lot. And none of this is really helpful in divining what my next step should be.

So, a question: how do you decide on your next step? When your contract is up, when your kids go to school, when you graduate? How do you decide how to make your money and fill your days?

I'm at a loss.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

An Open Letter to Rob Ford

Dear Rob Ford:
I feel for you, man. I really do. I mean, it's got to be tough going out there for you right now: you've basically lost control of your own mayoralty, reduced to radio-show bluster and toothless trade missions to American cities, roundly mocked for your recent court appearance during which you demonstrate the depth of your ignorance to a tantalized Twitter audience, and revealed, over a serious of missteps in both the media and city hall's chambers, to be not so good at the governance part of your government job.

It's important to remember that the first group to which you are beholden is your constituents. They are, ultimately, the reason Rob Ford is in office: they're the ones who cast the vote, who read the newspaper when you triumph and fall down, they're the ones to whom you have made promises. And Rob Ford, before he took office, had a reputation for excellent customer service.

(However! Let's get one thing straight, in this age of touting Romney's qualifications to run America based on his running of a billion-dollar asset, and in which election scrutineers in Ontario are trained to give good customer service: voting and governance is not a consumer transaction. Government and politicians have different goals than businesses and the people that run them. City Hall 101, yo.)

But it's true that not everyone in Toronto was on board with Ford before he took the officious title of "His Worship." Folks who lived downtown—and here, downtown is defined as "not the suburbs" in the same way that Manhattan is defined as "not Queens:" recognizing that both places have their own sense of urbanity, priorities, needs, and identities, while also acknowledging that those ideas don't always overlap—were wary of Ford and his bombastic promises to stop the gravy train. The gravy train, it turns out, is what keeps the city going, because it's actually more of a meat-and-potatoes train: social services and administration aren't a luxury. So even as there's a large number of voters in Toronto who were, and remain, firmly on Ford's side, there were also the people who weren't enthralled with his policy suggestions and his public persona.

Remember, Rob: you represent them too. So even though you might think you're only talking to your supporters, you're beholden to all us downtown lefty cyclist pinko Star-reading scumbags too.

It's true that the media has been watching all this play out with a devotion that would border on freaky if it wasn't their job. You've given them so, so much to comment on: missteps, mixed messages, leaderless moments in city hall, all topped off with the cherry of antagonism. Of course they don't like you. You're not very good at your job, and your job is to be the face and the leader of the city in which we all live. They're very good at their job, which is reporting on you.

But Rob, you know who trips you up the most? It's not Daniel Dale or the plastic bags. It's not Twitter or Clayton Ruby or Ed Keenan. It's your own damn self. You, Mayor Rob Ford.

You consistently fail to meet the minimum that is required of you, and you tout meaningless events as major victories (see: your football coaching, which should be a line in your bio, not your raison d'etre). You don't play nice with others: not other councillors, not large swathes of your constituents, not the media. You don't seem like you have an understanding of your role: for example, after gun violence erupted early in the summer, you reacted by promising to export anyone with a gun conviction out of the city. You changed the conversation from one of mourning and anger to, well, "WTF?" Your disastrous court appearance further exposed your deficiencies.

You consistently confuse and muddle the script, making it almost impossible to work with you. You alienate when you should reconcile. You disturb when you need to soothe. You leave when you need to lead.

Rob Ford, you have two years left in office. Two years, which you've pledged to spend campaigning for your next term in office. And thus, the cycle would continue. May I suggest a different course of action?

It's obviously silly to suggest you change your style. You are Toronto's shouty mayor, a role that might make some of us cringe but that some will point to will pride. You are red-faced, through and through.

But harnessing that style—making it work for you, and for the city—is possible. You can become a bulldog, barking over and over about how much you love this place. Not some of it, not just the parts who voted for you and whom you coach in football, but all of it. The queers, the disenfranchised black kids, the hippies, the policy wonks. Surround yourself with people who know things, and make use of their knowledge. Not yes-men: people who challenge you in a way you can listen to. I'm not asking you to become a queer disenfranchised black hippie; I'm asking you to start respecting those that are.

You strike me as a man most comfortable making it up as he goes along; learn how to learn. Running a city is different from running a business or a football team. Learn why. This is info you should have picked up much earlier in your term, but hey, better late than never.

I know that municipal politics can be cutthroat and that you like power, but you can no longer treat Torontonians like they're intruding on your needs when they demand that you fuck up less. Be proud of the place you're from and the office you were elected to; honour both by being the best mayor you can be.

I know you think you're already doing that. Rob. Dude. No. You need to start asking for help, asking questions and listening to the answers. You have to start trusting that people you think of as political foes aren't trying to mess with you. Leave that kind of belief at Don Bosco, because it's so high school. Be the bigger man. Take a meeting. Take notes.

Most of all, think critically about the vision of the future you're trying to create. What kind of Toronto do you want to govern? What kind of city do you want to leave behind?

Sincerely,
Kaitlyn

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Things to Consider

Over the last few months, I've been sending out these tweets about "things to consider," with a list of items, ideas, to-do lists, destinations and baubles that have captured my fancy. Red pants, potted plants, afternoons of board games, sunshine streaming through semi-slatted blinds: it's the usual array of creature-comfort imagery that would populate any Pinterest board worth its salt.

Writing these tweets gives me a disproportionate amount of pleasure. I am, like most people, a consumer, and I sometimes have a craving for Really Nice Things - this is where the little gold rings come in. More often, though, I want the simpler things. A glossy green plant. A hand holding mine. A darkened movie theatre with Twizzlers and a contraband can of Coke Zero. The immediate sense of wellbeing I get when I step into a hot shower to wake myself up.

Most of these things cost less than ten dollars, leading me to realize that I'm not a fancy-type lady. I like things that look good, yes, especially solid furniture and freshly painted walls, both of which could be used in The New Place. Some things I've wanted are ostensibly "free," like the view from the summit of an Appalachian mountain range, but getting there would cost time and money. Some thing are so expensive as to be almost imaginary, like airfare to Japan, or would take so much time that they might as well be done by a different person, like the first draft of a novella.

But these tweets serve a very specific purpose: acknowledging these mini-desires lets me track what I want the most over time. I've mentioned plants and rings - one symbolizing lush life and the other standing for glamourous frivolity - more times than I could count. I've wished for travel, a signal that my Toronto life felt overwhelming and that I was craving an escape hatch. It's not always so deep - sometimes, a pint of craft beer is just a pint - but repeated please for consideration can sometimes means there's something more heartfelt going on. Heartfelt on Twitter - imagine that.

Teenage girls often communicate in this cloud of allusive half-meaning, before we learn to grow up and just use our damned words, already. We considered ourselves poets, obviously, except that nobody else knew what the hell we were talking about. The purpose of poetry is to illuminate dark corners and say unsaid things, not be dreamy weirdos in blank verse. But these tweets, lame and straightfoward as they are, hone the basic skill of identifying and naming desires. This skill can come in handy when you're in a howling-for-comfort situation.

Anyway, I look forward to writing many more tweets about Dan Clowes comics, crosswords in bed and the pleasures of a new magazine. They're a mini-break, just for me. And when I see patterns come out of the wordwork - not reqests for kilim or plaid, but you know, the deeper stuff - I've given myself a way to track what it all means. Meaning on Twitter - imagine that.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Looking Forward

I'm hitting a bit of a wall right now. I just moved in with the boyfriend (yay!); his place is virtually devoid of storage (yikes!), so all my stuff has been lying around on the floor. I am flat broke and a week away from payday. I have to pay for laundry now so obviously I haven't done any in the last two weeks. The only food we have is two raw chicken breasts and a 3-pound block of cheese, and I'm off grains right now because my naturopath recommended it but guys, it is FUCKING HARD to make a meal without a goddamn grain in it (hello! Rice! I miss you!). And I have a headache, because quitting Coke Zero is tough and I don't even really want to but, again, no money, so even if I did want some, shoplifting requires stealth and I do not have any.

Last night I curled up on the floor in the fetal position, berating my (too, too patient boyfriend) about his  ambivalence towards wanting to go to Burning Man. I don't even know where Burning Man is, but I wanted to go. Later, after I unfetaled myself and took a cool sip of water, I admitted that, now that Iceland and moving in together are behind me, and I'm no longer living in co-operative housing, and my job is working me 40 hours a week, I'm a little bored with myself. The fun, looking-forward-to-it parts are over, for now, and the hard slog towards unpacking and getting settled (and replacing all the 40-watt bulbs in his apartment replaced with something a little brighter) just seems unending.

(Not that I'm not totally stoked to be living with The Main Guy. [To be fair, he's The Only Guy, but that seems weird to say.] He's awesome and funny, thoughtful and sweet. But it's a tough adjustment to be around someone all the time; I'm an introvert! We need our time alone. I think I've been by myself for, like, an hour in the last two weeks. An hour. One hour.)

And my writing totally fell off this summer. I love writing for those other blogs, but sometimes, I stare at the screen and I feel despair. What am I supposed to be doing, exactly? Being pithy? About stuff? Man. Okay. And despite the fact that I know, from experience, that creative ebbs and flows are a part of life, it still knocks the wind out of me every time. I spent a solid six months this year being prolific as hell, working like a champ at the day job and writing two or three other posts each week. Now, even this blank page is a struggle, and this blank page is my writing home.

I know I sound like an ungrateful asshole. I know that changes are tough, and that after a while, what's new will stop being so new, and some footing will be found, and I can relax and go back to being my awesome, confident self. I know that. So I just have to keep writing, unpack one box at a time, and figure out what to look forward to next.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Co-op Baby


I've lived in co-op housing for eight years, and for the first time since I left my parent's home, I'm going to be living somewhere else this fall.

I first moved in to Campus Co-op Residences Inc., downtown Toronto, 169 Lowther Avenue, room 201, in the fall of 2004. I was 21, back in school after a year-long hiatus that was the result of a disastrous freshman year. I had regrouped, saved some money, developed a wee fondness for booze, and was ready to strike out on my own. Liz, who I had met in first year, lived in 169, and she suggested that I apply.

I remember filling out the application. It's been a while, so I don't know if the questions are the same, but back in 2004, CCRI wanted to know a bit about you. Did I have any special skills? (I could snake a toilet, I offered.) How was I with conflict? (I tried to be easy-going, I said.) What was my budget? (500 a month? Was that enough? I could pay more!) I sent in my forms, along with a $25 application fee, and I waited.

What I didn't know was that, for almost as long as I lived there, the co-op struggled with chronic vacancy, so I was in like Flint no matter what. My rent was $536, due by the 4th of each month or in two lump sums at the beginning of each term. That included heat, hydro, the room, and food: four meals a week in a dining hall and house food for the rest of our meals. It was an unbelievably good deal. My room was teeny, but my mom and sisters and I painted it pink and yellow ("Cheery" and "Cheerful"). I stacked books on the radiator and assembled a loft bed. It was perfect: cozy, sweet, and all mine. 

I've always loved the co-op's houses: they're huge, often housing a dozen or so students and graduates in a mish-mash of vintage furniture, curb-scored cookery and absolutely hideous kitchens. The floors are usually hardwood, and even though the rooms are drafty, they have character. My current room, two houses after my little pink-and-yellow room, has huge east-facing windows and a massive built-in bookshelf. I have a row of plants on the windowsill and a walk-in closet. My last place was the entire third floor of a house, including a 400-square foot deck. There are also much smaller spaces, like the bedrooms stuffed under eaves or beside lonely boiler rooms. The co-op likes to put kitchens in odd places, like basement or second floors, and the bathrooms are always slightly damp. A real-estate agent might euphemistically say that the houses have character, while we can just call it like it is: these houses are crazy

That might explain why I've lived with so many crazy people over the years. Narcissistic acting students and economics majors have bunked with couples who had midnight fighting fits. I've lived with people who thought nothing of lifting a few DVDs off the living room table or a bottle of wine from the fridge. I've lived with alcoholics who drank cooking wine. I've risen from a movie in the living room to find the entire first floor, from the front porch to the kitchen, covered in the foulest-smelling vomit, the alcoholic housemate responsible passed out in his own urine at the end of it. I've lived with people who had loud sex, and people who referred to women as "you people." I've lived with girls who refused to eat, girls who walked around in nothing panties and a bra, girls who brought dozens of strange men home. I've lived with men who have used their size, their rage, or their maleness to cow their housemates. I've lived with folks who have literally brought vagrants home. I've had housemates who thought nothing of lashing out if I left dishes. I watched from the window one night as a housemate was loaded, screaming gibberish, into an ambulance in restraints.

Over past eight years, I've had probably about 100 different housemates. Some stayed for years and become close friends. Others, not so much. "The guy who wore those shirts with the huge neon $100 bills printed on them" will come up in conversation, and co-op friends will nod in recognition. We talk about the night we drank all the booze in the house (we replaced it the next day), and played Spin the Bottle on the fire escape. There are rules when you live with so many folks: don't sleep with your housemates (also known as "don't shit where you eat). Also, this aggression will not stand, man.

There have been transformative moments: the joys of free clothes (I seriously haven't done much retail shopping since moving in; my housemates are always moulting clothes and I pick them up), the challenges of four years on the co-op's board of directors. I bought my first vibrator with a gaggle of housemates. I drank much too much, and went into treatment. I lost weight, I gained weight. I had my first real boyfriend, and my first real heartbreak. I had sleepovers, ill-advised sex, make-out buddies, awkward movie dates, and I fell in love a second time.

It's impossible for me to sum up the whole co-op thing, because it's shaped me in so many ways: politically, sexually, personally, professionally. I've grown and regressed, made mistakes, made friends and enemies, and learned so much about my world that it staggers me that it's been eight years. Eight years. Man.


So next up, my boyfriend and I are going to live together. It's one of those amazing moments in a couple's story, one that could lead to an excellent future. It'll be a test of what we're made of: while we spend a lot of time together, we still have our own places to retreat to if we need to lick our wounds or breathe. On the other hand, I think this new intimacy will be good, since we function well as a team. We've got a shot at something really good, which makes leaving the co-op I've called home for almost a decade that much easier. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

List of Vices

I have a long list of vices. Here are some of them:
  • Never admitting when I fart.
  • Pinterest.
  • Talking to myself in the shower.
  • Carelessness with keys, sunglasses, and wallets.
  • Chronically avoiding the green bin chore.
  • Never hanging my towels up to dry.
  • Reading in bed.
  • Red wine.
  • Not brushing my hair.
  • A soft spot for ugly nail polish colours.
  • Takeout burritos.
  • Lecturing people on things that I know only marginally more than they do - this would be mansplaining if I had a penis, but I don't.
  • Hectoring foreigners into trying on a Canadian accent.
  • Not doing dishes. 
  • Everything at the Bulk Barn.
  • Wasabi peas.
  • Coke Zero.
  • Cheap books.
  • Revenge fantasies, usually involving spit and a Bond-villain-like treatise on why I hate that person.
  • Secretly hating yoga.
  • Clothes that are too small but I keep trying anyway.
  • Bad moods.
  • Wearing my shoes until they literally fall off my feet in tatters. 
  • Being slightly rude to people I've slept with's girlfriends.
  • Self-loathing hangovers.
  • Caramel cheesecake.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Cat Marnell Is All Over The Internet

Lately, I've been rubbernecking really hard at Cat Marnell, but I get the sense that she doesn't really mind. She's the recently-disgraced xoJane Beauty Editor, the one who got canned from Lucky and hired at Vice, all because of her prodigious, unapologetic drug use. She is skinny, blonde, dirty, coked-out, writes like Hunter S. Thompson on his laziest days, and has a rabid crowd of fans who proclaim that anyone who criticizes her writing style or drug use are haters of the highest degree. Marnell is well-placed (profiles in New York magazine and Page Six) and she enrages readers by being not very good at her actual writing jobs while being very good at talking about her drug use. Most of her articles, which skate between fiction and memoir, start with a description of what she's wearing; something is always stained. She is instantly recognizable as the one who is wasting her potential.

When I was younger, I would have admired Marnell's in-your-face fucked-up-ness. I was drawn to women who were brazenly, openly vocal about their horrible addictions: mine were so secret and poisonous that the girls who had the balls to even acknowledge theirs in public where automatic heroines. Bonus points if you could make me feel like I was missing out by not taking handfuls of illicit prescription drugs and burying myself in a duvet for days on end, emerging only to have exquisitely unsatisfying sex with graffiti writers and to cadge free drinks off unsuspecting tourists who had mistakenly read desire in my glassy come-down eyes.

Marnell's life, which at xoJane was presented in the guise of beauty product reviews that were mainly a forum for her to talk about how many drugs she was doing and how much she hated being "fat" (oh, to be fat at 102 pounds!), does have a dirty sheen of glam. At Vice, she's dropped the beauty-review pretence and focused mostly on her addiction. It's River Phoenix, it's Linsday Lohan, it's Courtney Love - one died, one slurrily denies her addiction, and one, maybe worst, became a bloated, rambling addict who swoops between the highest highs and the lowest lows. Since Marnell would probably rather take a runny dump in Times Square than see a Love-like future in her cards, her alternatives are to get really clean and find a life outside addiction—something she has promised she can never do—or die.

It's slightly disorienting to read a Marnell post, because I keep expecting them to show me something: something about her, or her place in the world, or a recognition that she, as a white-girl addict with a media job, has it pretty good. She rarely has to give blow jobs to people she doesn't want to, a "choice" many female addicts don't get to make. She orbits a world that is seedy and slightly cosmopolitan: trust fund kids partying with fashion editors who are sleeping with DJs who are selling drugs to younger sisters. If you've read Bret Easton Ellis, you've read Cat Marnell, and the "interesting" twist that she's a female writer loses its edge pretty fast.

In a bigger sense, addicts aren't pretty. I don't mean that in the way a former beauty editor might, although years of popping pills and snorting drugs will eventually ruin your face and body. Bad circulation will give you cankles, bulimia will provide you with a double chin, and those ropy addict tendons will stand out on your neck forever, even if you get clean.

But addiction also creates this funhouse mirror world where all you can see is yourself and your addiction. Sometimes, the drugs do what they're supposed to: make you feel good, normal, productive. Most of the time, especially when you're abusing or mixing or binging, the drugs and booze distort reality so that you believe that, if you could find the right cocktail, the right blend of powders and pills and smoke, you can be perfect, forever. The hall of mirrors has no room for things like a job, family, or friends - when the high is good, there's no reason to believe those things won't fall into place; when it's bad, there's no reason to believe you're worthy of even the most basic humanity. There is no space for anyone who isn't you.

Which, as well all know from tedious cocktail party conversation where the other person will just not stop talking about themselves, is boring. And being boring is a cardinal sin to someone who writes click-through driven blog posts. Marnell has placed herself between a rock and a hard place. She has flat-out refused to get clean, staking jobs, connections, and her own tenuous professional reputation on the ever-diminishing returns of her readership's interest in a blogger/scene girl's lifestyle. She could go the way of Nicole Richie (famous party girl and heroin user turned mom, wife, business mogul and fashion plate), but she will more likely follow a Whitney Houston-esque path: someone who has wasted time and talent in the fires of an death-drive addiction. Someone who knows the path that drugs will lead her down, and follows willingly, because hey, smoking crystal and swigging vodka make for great blog posts.

It will surprise no one to say that writers, especially bloggers, often mine their personal lives for material. Sometimes, like in Hunter S. Thompson's case, heavy drinking and drugging played a huge part in what he wrote about and how. Others, like Aaron Sorkin, basically ignore their addiction to focus on other material. In either case, it leaves a mark. Marnell's narrow focus (beauty, drugs) has only become narrower (drugs) as her star has risen.And if you haven't drank the Cat Marnell Kool-Aid (she's so pretty, troubled, and good at writing!), you end up feeling like you're missing something in all the hype - where is the stuff that's actually interesting?

I hope Marnell gives herself permission to get past the drug stuff, which sometimes seems to be the only stuff she's made of, and explore herself as a writer. I realize that I sound incredibly condescending, but it's true: I think she's intriguing, but her subject matter (Marnell, drugs, and Marnell's own drug use) are a total bore. Show me what you think of celebrity pop culture, or the 2013 S/S lines, or even, god forbid, the trials and tribulations of a person working hard to stay sober in the face of 15 years of drug use. I would be interested in that, but just another girl who has a good connection to both the internet and drug dealers? I'll pass.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Always Something There To Remind Me

A grateful summer round-up, because sometimes, despite historical evidence pointing to the contrary, summers can be pretty amazing.
  • That the weather, while hot, hasn't yet been hot or even HOT! yet. There have been heatwaves, yes, but so far we've held the 56-with-the-humidex days at bay. Knock on wood that they don't rear their ugly heads this year (last year, in order to cope with days that pushed 60, I rode the subway all.day.long, which was pretty boring).
  • Zevia Cola, which has caffeine and no aspartame. It tastes nothing like Coke Zero (my one true love!), but it's a decent replacement for when I'm suffering too-much-aspartame-related gutrot.
  • The Iceland trip, which was amazing.
  • That smoked fish is a thing, and I get to eat it.
  • I've been getting adventurous in the kitchen, which has been pretty radical. Awesome sweet potato salads, delicious homemade ginger beer, lots of meat (I'm doing this half-assed paleo diet, which is leading to big meaty burps and some shed pound).
  • My amazing boyfriend is so amazing. I generally dislike those blogs that are all like, "<3 u babee!" but seriously: I love this guy. We have little spats and we get past 'em. We have huge belly laughs, wonderful Sunday mornings in bed where we read the paper, movie dates, a clothes-shopping buddy system, and mad emotional support for each other. He is also damned handsome, super thoughtful, and I love being with him. Best.
  • My continued employment. 
  • I was published! I wrote a piece on my buddy's new bar, and she loved it and I loved writing it, because I felt legit, as a writer.
  • The music this summer has been great. I saw Murder By Death, Childish Gambino, Of Monsters and Men (for free!), and Sigur Ros, rediscovered my semi-shameful love for Nelly Furtado, and got into GusGus. Solid wins all around. 
  • I still notice when people are getting married/having babies, but I'm also really happy where I am right now (unmarried, childless), and feel less like I'm getting left behind by people who are younger than me. I can still dream of a fancy house, a wedding menu or a baby name, but I'm steadily becoming less panicked about not having those things. If it's meant to be, they will come. 
  • As it turns out, cacti and peace lilies thrive under my care. Who knew?
  • I generally feel really good: my friends, family, jobs and love are all sources of amusement, joy and good feelings. Lucky girl, I am. Thank you to everyone who makes that happen.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Iceland: Part Three

Continued from Part One and Part Two.

Sedisfjordur is an east-coast town that was home to about 600 people and an arts scene: when we drove past the town's border, we also passed a yarn-bombed tree. The woman who ran the hostel recommended Skaftfell Bistro for dinner, and that we have a drink at the local tavern. The bar, which had burned down a few weeks before our arrival, was temporarily relocated to the local library (!!), so after a meal of seafood and excellent chocolate-cardamom meringues, we checked out the library/bar. It was like drinking in your grandma's unrenovated-since-1972 basement, and very endearing. We did a shot of Brennivin, Iceland's alleged "black death" liquor, and staggered back to the hostel in the midnight dusk.

One of the best things about this trip was how much walking and hiking we did. Sure, we had trusty Ravmunder, our Icelandic RAV-4, and he was invaluable. But almost every day had a hike somewhere scenic and ever-so-slightly off the beaten trail. After lunch in Sedisfjirdur, we hiked for a half-hour and came across gorgeous streams and postcard-worthy waterfalls. It was pretty amazing. (If you hike for half an hour in Toronto, you'll be frolicking next to a Shopper's Drug Mart.) While I know that vacation-stuff and living there-stuff doesn't really overlap, it was a relief to not sit down for hours a day. That was a souvenir I was grateful to bring home: a renewed interest in physical activity. Jumping jacks and gym yoga sort of don't cut it when you've grown accustomed to scenic vistas and rivers.

Icelanders are like, "Ho hum, this is my backyard."

We left Sedisfjordur and headed to Hofn, where the local social scene seemed to be centered around the gas station. We went directly to the guesthouse and played about 40 rounds of Munchkin, the card game that kept us occupied for the majority of our trip's downtime. Hofn was a bit of a bust, but hey: every country needs its Windsor, its Flint, its Birmingham.

You know what's not depressing? Walking on a glacier. Tragically, the Vatnajokull glacier is retreating at about 30 meters per year; it currently covers about 8% of the country and can be seen from space. Semi-frequent volcanic eruptions means Icelandic glaciers aren't the pristine white snowcaps you might picture: they're covered in frozen soot and German tourists. However, much like tsunamis or waterfalls, the sheer size of glaciers is breath-taking, and I found myself marvelling at the abstract art-esque colour palette and the thrill of standing on something so ancient.

Abstract modern artists are like, "This is my jam," but they probably use different words to express that sentiment.

After staying at a horse farm (where the dogs were mind-boggling cute and one of my travel companions accidentally zapped herself with an electric fence), we capped our trip with a visit to the Blue Lagoon. This was definitely the most touristy thing we did: there's a swim-up bar and all manner of accents were floating around the pool's perimeter. We dutifully glopped silica mud all over ourselves, and some of us might have taken advantage of the opaque blue water to engage in some PG-13 hanky-panky. The Blue Lagoon is sort of an upscale spa/hot spring/restorative swim experience, but it is damned relaxing.

The trip acted like a tonic: I left the country feeling relaxed and restored. There are huge chunks that we missed seeing—the Westfjords, for example—but nine full days was a good length to get sense of the country's size and scale and wild landscape. We lucked out with bright sunny weather, amazing hosts, and great travelling companions. Their propensity for smoked fish and flavoured sparkling water is enough to get me back on a plane ASAP; throw in some skyr cake and a cozy sweater, and I'm practically ready to swim there. I would go back there in a heartbeat. I would recommend it to everyone I know. It's amazing. It's Iceland!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Iceland: Part Two

Continued from "Iceland: Part One."

After Reykjavik, we headed up to Akureyri, Iceland's second most populous city with a whopping 18,000 residents. Honestly, I don't think we were expecting much, but the town was so.fricking.beautiful. Akureyri is at the bottom of a fjord, with giant hills - okay, mountains - overlooking the town. Our cabin was half-way up the mountain facing the town, so we had a view of basically....everything. The cabin was a dollhouse-sized little number with a teensy stove and a big-ass hot tub.

Pictured: everything.

Naturally, the much-anticipated hot tub refused to work. After pressing every button on the control panel roughly one thousand times, we ascertained that the tub wasn't full enough - a fact that, had we been using our common sense and sense of sight, we would have figured out right away. In a panic (if there's such a thing as a hot-tub emergency, we were having one), we called the brother-in-law of our AirBnB host. The brother-in-law, Flosi (yes, pronounced like a pony's name), arrived after a stilted phone conversation, took one look at the hot tub, and then started a bucket brigade. An hour later, the tub was full; the next morning, it was hot.

Not pictured: the coconut ice cream we ate in the hot tub like total bosses.
After poking around the town, we headed up to Grimsey, a teeny island that has the distinction of being bisected by the Arctic Circle. Dudes, we bundled up: hats, tights under jeans, big coats, mittens. And, while it was cold when we were on the ferry (cold and seasick), Grimsey itself was warm. Warm enough that we basically molted clothes as we walked, shedding layers of long-sleeved shirts and jackets. The island, which is home to about 90 people, is also where birds live: puffins, which are adorable and exotically pretty, and also arctic terns, which dive-bombed us as we walked.

Not pictured: kamikaze death terns.
The next day, we continued our streak of slightly unsettling natural adventures by heading to Dimmuborgir, a lava field formed by steam vents during an ancient volcanic eruption. The landscape there is beautiful, with tiny succulents and lichens growing on the rocks, and paths that required a well-developed ability to clamber. It felt like a velociraptor might come lunging out at us at any moment, but it was also beautiful.

Heading to Dettifoss was a different story. Outside the car, it was sterile rocks and grit as far as the eye could see. As we pulled off the main highway, I remarked, "Hey, it's sort of...smoggy out?" which was mysterious because we were not anywhere near a major city. The "smog" grew denser, and within minutes, we were in a full-fledged Icelandic sandstorm. The moon-like landscape and the roaring storm, coupled with the fact that we were heading towards Europe's most powerful waterfall, made me feel like we might have accidentally wandered into one of those sci-fi movies where Mars turns out to be haunted by angry ghosts. At Dettifoss's edge (because, again, all that was holding us back was a dinky little golf fence), I actually got kind of choked up. It's rare that we're confronted with such unmitigated natural power, and being so close was an intense experience. I left feeling like my soul had been scoured with Borax.

Not pictured: Darude
The rest of the time there was spent goofing around in bookstores, buying Icelandic sweaters, and eating fish. There's an excellent curry take-away joint, and we ate burgers and made stir-frys and drank Icelandic beers in the hot tub. Akureyri, to me, was the most "Icelandic" of the places we landed: cultural but not pretentious, friendly, and undeniably gorgeous. I want to go back there, and I want to take everyone I like with me so we can hang out on Grimsey and get hilariously unexpected sunburns.

Next week: glacier walks, seafood pizza, and the library that turns into a bar.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Iceland: Part One

Okay! Let's talk Iceland!

There was a free Of Monsters And Men show the day we landed, which was astoundingly good luck. That band, which has gotten pretty buzzy in the US and Canada, was giving a "we're so grateful to you all!" concert in Reykjavik's main park. It was advertised as a family event, and seeing many, many children at an event that went, daylit, until 11 PM, sort of drove home the message that this place is weird and special. They also had a jungle gym that was teeming with children 100% of the concert's duration, and people brought their dogs. It was pretty great. Later, we found out that 18,000 people had been there. I would estimate that about 16,000 of them were wearing sweaters like these:

That sweater is mad popular in Iceland.
Everyone there speaks English, but they all sound like elves. It's enchanting. (Okay, in fairness, if someone was like, "Canadians all speak English, but they all sound like rodeo clowns," I'd be pissed. Suffice it to say that the accent is charming, and their fluency is impressive. It is way better than, say, Alabama.)

The local Subway restaurant had a flavour called "Reggae Reggae," but it wasn't jerk chicken. I don't know what it was supposed to taste like.

"KryddaĆ°u tilveruna" translate to "spicy life!" HELPFUL.

Not having any real nighttime is simultaneous not super-weird and the weirdest thing ever. I kept anticipating that tonight would be the night when things got really dark, and that night never came. There is a period of about three or four hours between 11 PM and 3 AM when the sky gets pinky-orange and the sun dips below the horizon, but it isn't even what you could call "twilight." The sun takes about five hours to set and then pops right back up again.

In Reykjavik, there's a Big Lebowski-themed bar, where they serve 18 different versions of a white russian, and the minimum price is 1,700 krona, which converts into approximately 14 bucks. I found their currency to be totally confounding - it's as if everything is priced in pennies. After a few days I sort of relaxed and went with it, but it takes some getting used to. This is especially true in grocery stores, where prices seem totally absurd (1100 krona for a hunk of cheese?!) until you get to the candy aisle, where most things are between 60 and 150 krona and you feel like Willie Wonka has just handed you a wad of Golden Tickets. (Unfortunately, most of their candy seems to be anise-flavoured). Anyway, The Lebowski Bar was a shameless tourist rip-off, but I'm also super glad we went.

This is me, giving myself a high five.

We visited Gullfoss, which this crazy waterfall, and Geysir, which is a hot spring that shoots 100-degree water in the air every ten minutes or so. Both of these places had minimal approaches to safety. The most they really offered were these dinky little fences that came up to your knees and were made of rope; a tripping hazard, in other words. In Geysir, we went slightly off the path and discovered another, unfenced hot spring that was literally boiling. Attempts to touch it were followed by everyone jerking their hands away and hissing, "That's hot!" It was refreshing that the big natural-formation tourist attractions didn't assume that you were an imbecile that was going to touch the hot spring/get too close to the waterfall's edge, even though we totally did both those things.

The mid-level and cafe food food in Reykjavik wasn't really much to write home about, although I do want to give a shout-out to Cafe Loki's skyr cake. Skyr is a dairy product that's technically a cheese, but it tastes like Greek yogurt mixed with sour cream. Making a cake with it, plus rhubarb jam, plus whipped cream? Icelanders are geniuses. They also like smoked fish, eggs, and dense breads, all of which are things I like very much. Also, there are so many Thai places in Reykjavik.

Next week: misadventures in the hot tub, sunburns in the Arctic circle, and Icelandic sandstorms.

Monday, June 25, 2012

2007-2012: Five Years Later

I've been thinking a lot about that summer, five years ago, when everything fell apart. It was a four-week paradigm shift from a relatively happy girl to one who felt like her bones were made of glass. During those four weeks, my sister was diagnosed with cancer, my best friend eloped and moved away, and my boyfriend broke up with me. Choppy waters.

The dream starts with a variation on the waitress dream: I am alone, in a restaurant that is suddenly filled with people, and there are no clean glasses and the kitchen is a flight of stairs below me. I am feeling hectic and rushed, and the people, while nice, are becoming impatient.


That's when my boss decides to bring in some backup to help out. As they come behind the bar, I spy a once-familiar green hoodie.


It is my ex-boyfriend.

The cancer diagnosis isn't my story to tell - it's my sister's, and I hope one day she will tell it in a way that makes her feel okay. You're not supposed to get cancer when you've just turned 20 and you're in university. You're supposed to get hangovers and food poisoning and STIs: the health problems of the under-30 set are largely self-inflicted. At 20, the choice you make about eating that burrito you left on the counter overnight is supposed to be your hardest health lesson, not the one about needles and drugs and egg storage and chemical burns and wigs.

I imagine that the shame of your body letting you down is enormous. Her disease was wildly unfair. I remember my mom sobbing, "I wonder if this is because I sprayed Raid in our hotel room in Hawaii when she was a baby." I wondered if the smell of cigarettes that clung to my clothes in high school played a part. There is no word to convey the level of fear and worry that descended on our family that summer: the closest we might come would be howling, like a wolf. We cried, and swam through the new reality - the cancer reality - like we were underwater.

So, my wish for her, five years later, is that she can find or invent the language that makes her feel okay about what happened to her. And while I don't want her to dwell on it, it's a part of her story, and talking is good. Not speaking feels so lonely.

I tell my boss I'm going to leave. She laughs a little and say, "No, you're no," and I tell her that, if he's staying, I'm going. It's a classic line.

My best friend moving away is also her story to tell, but basically her visa didn't come through, she panicked, and got married. The wedding was lovely, but very small, and real grown-ups were definitely an underrepresented demographic. They declined to tell their parents. A few weeks later, they tried to move to America; she went, but he was stopped at the border and not allowed entry.

This was, obviously, devastating for them. As a friend, it was tough to watch them try to negotiate the bureaucratic nightmare that is the immigration process. And I was heartbroken, because it felt like a corner of my emotional foundation had up and moved to Maryland. Selfish? Oh yeah. But I was too depressed to give a shit.

She hauls us both outside, which seems to be on the roof of a parking garage. He is jovial, whereas I am furious. "I despise you, I despise you, I despise you," pours out of my mouth. I feel like I have no control, like I am vomiting words. they keep coming, louder, as if by sheer repetition I can get him to understand the scale of my loathing. "You suck, I hate you, I HATE YOU."

And then there is the break-up. I can still remember the gut-punched feeling, the moment of swimming grey vision. It took hours to talk it out, in my home and his and in the park, both of us crying. I gave him back jewellery and he refused; I left it in the grass for some kid to find during a summer playdate.

The reasons were many. We hadn't been getting along - not fighting, but allowing sadness and distance to grow between us until words alone couldn't bridge the gap. We had stopped having sex. He told me, as he dumped me, that I was uninspiring; words that, to this day, still feel like a stab wound. In the days after my sister's diagnosis, I had been a cyclone of terror and tears, and he was taken aback by the intensity of my sadness and anger. And, most importantly, he just didn't want to be my boyfriend any more.

He tries to be funny and conciliatory, but it comes off as invasive: sitting too close, standing in front of me while I'm sitting so that I am eye-level with his crotch. At some point, his jeans transform into ugly shorts -  maybe they're swim trunks - but the hoodie remains. He is wearing fur-lined loafers in the dream.

We spend some time together, after the initial break-up. We saw some movies and went for a couple walks. He had told me that he wanted to stay friends, and I had no idea what that meant.

In a moment of desperation, I went to him and offered to just, you know, sleep with him. We didn't have to be friendly, or like each other. We could just have fun! But, in addition to not wanting to be my boyfriend anymore, he was also sleeping with someone else. During that horrible, humiliating conversation, which happened days after our breakup (and that breakup had happened days after cancer verdict), he told me they had had sex on the steps of a church, and that it was the best he ever had.

I went home and vomited in the sink. I cried on the front steps. I didn't eat. I slept by staring at the ceiling. All the love I had for him - still, even weeks after the initial conversation - turned sour in a heartbeat. I could not be around him. I couldn't stand knowing he lived around the corner from me, that he still had a job, that he had the audacity to feel shitty about breaking up with me. I couldn't stand knowing that someone was comforting him, that he had friends, that he had fooled anyone into liking him.

A group of his friends are there, watching. I refuse, still, to work with him. I ignore his entreaties of friendship and recoil when he slings his arm around my shoulder in a friendly, brothers-in-arms gesture. See? We're buddies, he says. I am physically revulsed.

My exboyfriend had a pattern: he meets girls, often while still in a relationship, and begins whirlwind romances with them. We are enchanted: we connect on many levels. We decide that we must be together, and he begins the task of breaking it off with his current partner. There are months, maybe years, of happiness. And then something happens, and he meets someone, and she is enchanted. Wash, rinse, repeat. It's possible he still has this pattern.

He was with someone when I met him. He was with me when he met his next girlfriend. I have no idea how many girls he's daisy-chained along. He is not dating for sport. He feels bad when he breaks their hearts. But he still breaks them. I'm not sure why: maybe he is afraid of deeper commitment, or easily bored. Maybe he enjoys courting women more than the daily grind of actually being their boyfriends. I'm not sure. I don' t really care.

What happened to me has happened to others. With my ex-boyfriend, yes, but also with other men. What we learn, when we are treated with such vigorous and thorough shittiness, is that men aren't to be trusted. That heartbreak is a given. That we have to always wait for the other shoe to drop. It's the kind of lesson you don't learn from mutual, amicable break-ups. It's the kind of lesson you learn from getting turned back at the border, when the doctor comes into the room and says, "I'm afraid we have some bad news."

Other things are said, lost in the haze of dreaming. At one point, I spit on his foot and grin maniacally as he tries to play it off like I meant it in jest. My boss is there still, pleading for us both to  come back inside, to wait on tables, to pretend everything is normal. At one point, the exboyfriend, surrounded by his friends and his boss, moves in for a hug. I throw him off and he falls down the flight of concrete stairs. It looks to be about as humiliating as Bill Murray's fall down the stairs at the end of The Life Aquatic. One of his silly loafers comes off. His friends are standing there, ignoring me, discussing the end of his current relationship (Quote, from my dream: "When I went to bed last night they had six mutual friends on Facebook, and now they only have four." "Oh my god...").

My story has a happy ending. My sister is in good health, a robust 25-year-old with a huge laugh. My best friend found a way to move back. She and her husband are still married. And I stumbled into the arms of someone who has suffered his own losses, and who knows better than to drop something so fragile. We have a good love, something strong that stretches into the future. I love being with him, and I feel, finally, like I can start to relax. That the jewellery he gives me won't be left in the grass one summer, when my eyes are already red from crying. I love them all so much, and I'm so grateful that we all found our way to each other.

In the end, I sit on the concrete edge of the parking garage and stare at his back as he limps away. I feel euphoric, elated. Like a triumph. When I wake up, I am laughing.