Saturday, December 28, 2013
I usually find myself thinking about New Year's resolutions this week: those promises we make to ourselves to become better people, to lose weight, quit smoking, stop eating so many hotdogs wrapped in puff pastry, what have you. I love resolutions, because they represent the person I want to be; I hate them, too, because inevitably I let myself down.
But 'tis the season, am I right? And since my last few large-scale experiments in lifestyle change have been relative home runs—weight loss, booze hiatuses, creative projects—I think adding some more personal challenges to the mix might be fun. And at least, in January, I have company (although by February, the gym is awfully empty once more).
I'd like to swear less. I swear a lot: when I'm cracking a joke, when I'm expressing frustration, when I'm angry, when I'm having sex. I favour the F-word, maybe because its shock value is high and it sounds exactly right when I need a word to spit out of my mouth with anger or disdain. But I'm a writer. I should be able to replace fuck with a word that expresses my sentiments without alienating my mother. And the other, lesser swear words—crap, hell, shit, damn—are low-sounding and vulgar. This is perfect when I'm a bar that has, for instance, a mechanical bull that patrons are invited to ride; or when I join a gang of rag-tag but good-hearted sailors in the 1940s. This is less appropriate when my webpage is slow to load, or when I accidentally drop a container full of lefter spaghetti squash on the floor. I need something that expresses the mundane, acutely suburban/21st century annoyance factor of those moments. Not the f-bomb.
I'd like to submit more writing. I think this is best done with measurable, concrete goals ("more" is pretty vague when my current track record is "not a lot"), so I'll put it out there that I'd like to submit at least six pieces of short fiction this year, along with at least one monthly pitch for a non-fiction or journalism market. This makes is less of a wishy-washy idea and more of a to-do list. I like to-do lists.
I'd like to keep a gratitude journal. One of the key indicators of happiness the ability to recognize joyful moments and be thankful for them. Saying "Hey, that was a really great time" is so important. When it's because of other people, thanking them—out loud, with words—for creating those moments is paramount. Sometimes, it's just important to remember that nice things happen and to pay attention. Even just taking a couple moments before bedtime to jot down a good moment enlarges the moment in the day's lens. It makes the good seem bigger.
(There are, like, three or four depressed people in my life that could probably benefit from this kind of thought exercise. It seems like every time I see them, their lives have somehow become even more hopeless and nothing good has ever happened, not even once. It's terribly selfish to admit, because depression is difficult to surmount, but those people are exhausting. They create this vacuum around themselves where nothing good can live; quite frankly, I'm never excited to enter their spheres, because there's no air in there. I'm not sure if there's a resolution in there—after all, I can't do their soul homework for them—but I can recognize the good in my own sphere.)
I'd like to continue my body work. God, what a eye-rollingly Gwyneth Paltrow phrase; what I mean is, re-commit to my successful paleo-ish diet, to lifting weights, to running, to stretching, and to dancing. I love moving my body, I enjoy working out, I like cooking, and I really like the benefits of all those things. I like my flattish stomach, my well-defined shoulders, my ability to wear short-shorts and to eat cheesecake whenever I want. Lord knows maintaining a strong and healthy body will only get harder as I get older, so laying the foundation when I was 28 was likely the best gift I ever gave myself.
I'd like to live with more art. Art is so unapologetically non-functional that it can be tough to rationalize in the face of, say, groceries, but I think its value is so high. I admire and engage with the creative process in my own life, in several facets (writing and writer's groups, knitting, stamp-making, collage, and other, more nebulously define activities), and I come from a long line of creative types. Supporting other artists in their endeavors by buying their stuff and putting up in my house is one important way of saying firmly, "I believe in the value of this work."
Successfully resolving to change depends on paying attention, to commitment, to discomfort and making different choices than the ones that feel safe. They push our boundaries, in other words, and they can be tough to pull off. But I want to try. Change is good. Changes is the place where growth comes from. Let's get a little more grown in 2014, right?
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
I think it's also important to recognize that change brings about both positive and negative fallout: the author of this piece, for example, reminded her future self that she loves to read in bed, and dating someone who would be uncool with that would be a major bummer. Katrina's married friend said wisely/weirdly, "Girl, the person you love will bring a new you out of you," but hopefully, that new Katrina will also enjoy reading in bed. She also recognized that, if/when she gets all coupled up, she will continue to have single friends, and they will likely not enjoy feeling like a third wheel; indeed, some of her best friendships are with couples who don't make the shell of being with The Two of Them hard to crack. Promising to carry that intention forward is a way of honouring both her present and her future self: recognizing today when being with couples is an onerous chore, and promising tomorrow to be aware if she ends up creating that same chore for her friends.
So, here's my letter to myself, at the age of thirty-five.
Dear Future Kaitlyn:
Hey girl hey. I'm writing to you from December 2013, two weeks after your 30th birthday. It's 2018 now. Did we ever get hoverboards? Or even self-lacing shoes? (If you didn't buy those hideous self-lacing shoes, just know that I'm disappointed back here.) Since you have so much free time now—lacing your shoes takes, like, minutes, every single day—feel free to kick back and relax with this missive from the past.
First up: work stuff. Remember your 29th birthday, when your mom made business cards for you? They said writer on them, and you cried a little because it felt powerful and real? I know since then, you've done lots of writing, and lots of emotional work to feel worthy of that business card. I hope that, at 35, your business card says something about you that feels true. I bet it says writer, but if it doesn't, that's okay. We'll get there. You've always searched for a vocation—the thing you feel called to do—and recognizing that feeling when you sit down and open up a fresh, blank document was a major milestone. Don't take it too personally if you needed to learn Adobe InDesign to pay the bills. Consider yourself someone who thrives in the slash: a writer/event planner, or a writer/research assistant. Keep the slash alive for as long as it's useful, then ditch it.
Secondly, I bet kids are happening. Maybe we had some kids, maybe it's all our friends—and when it starts happening, I bet it's going to feel like every single person we know is pregnant simultaneously. I really hope it happens for us. If it doesn't, it's okay to be sad. It's okay to feel betrayed. And it's okay to spend a bunch of weepy months at the therapists/reproductive specialist's office. And it's also okay to take time away from friends with kids, as long as we eventually get back to them. But try not to reduce yourself to the kids/no kids binary. Be gentle with the people in your life who don't have kids, yourself included.
(And be gentle with the people who do, yourself included. I bet they're all really, really tired. Remember, when the baby is crying and the toddler just pooped in the laundry basket wearing a grin of spiteful glee, that this is damned hard work, and it will feel like nobody is giving you any credit. So go ahead and give yourself some. And take your babies traveling. I don't know why I feel so strongly about this, but I do.)
I recently heard maturity defined as being okay with imperfection, and it made me think of my relationship. Mike and I are 98% awesome, but sometimes that 2% looms large and black and evil in your mind. Knock that shit off. Be okay with the 2%. The imperfection is the black soil where things grow from. Don't strive to wipe it out, and don't get so sad when it pops up. It happens. It's okay.
I bet that, at 35, your body looks different, especially if you did have a couple kids. Mazel tov! Remember realizing that you didn't need to be afraid of slasher films, because only teenagers die in those infernal movies, and you're not a teenager? Apply this thinking to your body: you aren't a fashion model/teenager/movie star, so you don't have to look like one. Keep yourself healthy by eating good food, dancing with your friends and family, and remembering that Walter Miller quote, "You don't have a soul, Doctor. You are a soul. You have a body, temporarily." Feed your soul and your body with only the best, and don't let anyone shit down your neck. Especially your own self.
Above all, remember that it's okay to ask for help. There will be days when everything is stupid and sad: people will get sick and die, your relationship will seem like a sheer cliff that can't be climbed, your friends will move away or get busy, and you will probably always struggle for money. It's okay to say, out loud and to an audience, I feel crazy. I feel sad. I feel left out. And when things are good, it's important to say, This is great. I'm so happy! I made a good choice. The value in this is immense: connecting with the people around you by being honest ("I'm having a terrible day!") gives them a chance to dig in with you. ("I can't fix your problem, but I am making some cookies and would love to see you eat some.") And it also gives you a chance to do the same with them. These connections will be the measure of your life: more than money, or kids, or bylines, or boarding passes. Knowing what you need and asking for it is tough; give yourself credit for how tough you are when you're vulnerable.
And that, really, is where we want to be at 35. And, you know, right now.
Friday, December 6, 2013
In the spirit of this feeling—strong, stable, supported and able to be supportive—there are things and people that I need to express gratitude for. So here, in no particular order, are some of them.
- My parents. They are truly the best. I love that they kid around with my pals; it turns out that, in my adulthood, my parents have become my friends. But also so much more: my confidants, my eternal cheerleaders, and my role models. I'm supremely lucky they are they people they are, as they've helped make me the person I am. And I'm grateful.
- My boyfriend. He is amazing, full stop. I love his unshakeable faith in us, as a unit; I love his passion and his energy; I love his sweet and curious nature. He is my partner in every sense of the word, and even in the moments when my crazy brain insists I would be better off alone—in a pit, made of tar! Hashtag self-loathing!—he knows to stick around. That is a rare and much-appreciated talent in this house.
- My friends. I am ungodly blessed by the people in my life, who always show up with food and gifts and time and energy, who give me so much and who allow me to give them my heart, too. That reciprocity is one of the engines that drives me; an emerging "friendship" that feels much too one-sided is now getting some serious scrutiny from your truly, and that scrutiny feels like good, soulful work. I just feel like I don't have enough time for surface relationships anymore.
- Nia. Is it weird to be grateful for a dance form? I don't care. I am: it's given me my body back, made me confident and strong, and, shown me a way to age gracefully into my 40s, 50s, 60s, and beyond. At a time when I'm looking for role models that make me feel good about myself, practicing Nia offers answers to questions I was afraid to ask, like "What can I do to feel pleasure in my body?" and "How do I act when I'm vulnerable?" (I cry a lot, as it turns out.)
- This city. Rob Ford aside, "winter is coming" aside, I really do love this town. I'm excited to see more of it: to live in different neighbourhoods, to drink in bars and eat in restaurants all across town, to keep my Annex roots alive and encourage new growth. I'm lucky to live in a place where I can eat fresh food all year round, where I can get around without having a car, where I can buy things at every price point and amuse myself for free.
- Writing. I do a lot of different kinds of writing: blogging, interviews, reviews, short fiction, long fiction. I'm a member of a writer's circle and I do a lot of the administrative work for that, which is fun. I have friends who encourage me to take risks in my writing, by trying new gigs or passing on promising leads. And the daily or several-times-weekly practice of getting creative has turned out to be a true personal sacrament. Sometimes, it takes the form of knitting or crafting, and I'm grateful for those things as well, but writing has allowed me to be so honest and true to myself. It's been challenging and difficult, it's been vertiginous and raw, but it's always been necessary. And I'm grateful for the place it holds in my life.
Thursday, November 28, 2013
First up: I have regrets. My twenties were a time of massive upheaval, and the last decade wasn't easy. I took eight years to do a four-year degree. My sister was sick, my brother was sick, I was sick, all with various ailments; health-wise, we were probably averaging a 7/10 on the Holy Shit scale, overall. My parents fell apart and then, blessedly, back together again. I had an ovary taken out (I miss it). To be honest, it was kind of a gong show for a few years. I've never been the most "together" kind of broad, and my twenties threw some stuff at me that was really, really fucking hard.
It's funny, because while I've totally shared this stuff before, I've never really reflected on why. I feel maybe they're the reasons I feel like the slow, fat pony out of the gate—you know, the one behind all the glossy stallions who are all busy tossing their manes at the finish lines and comparing notes on their successful adulthoods while I toddle along behind, freaked out by my own tail. I'm oddly protective of the weird hiccups I suffered/created for myself over the last decade: they're as much a part of me as the whorls of my fingertips. And the people who have never experienced a hiccup or a major life catastrophe—or who don't talk about them, as if they're something to be ashamed of—are as smooth and impenetrable as a billiard ball. I need, and I need my friends, to be open about our cragginess. It took me a long time to learn not to apologize for that.
I also wondered why I keep reflecting on these events. I think it's because I recognize that they may have played a part in diverting me from the marriage/homeownership/kids/graduate degree/career common among the people I consider to be most successful. "If only I hadn't struggled with an eating disorder and social anxiety," I tell myself, "I, too, could have had a house in the suburbs. If I hadn't had a three-year nervous breakdown about the end of my first major relationship, I could be married by now." Etc., etc., because the truth is, I feel ashamed that I haven't done those things yet. Even though marrying my first boyfriend would have been a trainwreck, and even though there's no way out of ED than slogging through it. Meanwhile, all the other horses are at brunch, comparing notes about their nannies and retirement plans.
That's not to say I haven't learned things during my twenties. I learned about love, about loss, about sickness and health. I learned about working through bad spots in good relationships—at times, this has felt less like "working through bad spots" and more like "lashing yourself to the ship in the midst of a hurricane"—and I learned that one of my favourite things to see is my best friend/boyfriend on the couch in his sweatpants (the ones I gave him for our two-year anniversary), playing Nintendo with a half-eaten bowl of ice cream beside him. I started this blog and learned about writing. I talked to upwards of a dozen different therapists and counselors and started to untie some of the knots that have plagued me since childhood. My relationship with my parents and siblings has deepened. I've made new friends in the past decade. I've learned the value of vulnerability in connecting to others, and I that need some degree of reciprocity in that vulnerability; otherwise, I'm just oversharing into the void, which is supremely unsatisfying.
Lately, I've been thinking more about the idea of a forest fire than of a horse race. Forest fires, for those of you who have never lived in California or seen Bambi, are bad news. Australia, which is generally on my "places never to go" list (giant spiders! Poisonous snakes! Horrifying human rights policies!), is rife with them. They can burn for weeks or months, ruining the air, lowering your McMansion property values, and melt your car tires. Fun! My twenties often felt like a forest fire: out of control, burning too hot for me to handle.
But after? That's something altogether different. A burn can help preserve the health of a forest's ecosystem and enrich its soil. Scientists think that Eucalyptus plants evolved to encourage fire—its oils are, of course, flammable, and its leaves are hardy are hell—so that it could grow more abundantly in the wake of a huge burn. Eucalyptus is the prime example of a species that's taken something terrible—forest fires, your twenties—and turned it into something that really sings. Horse races? That's passe. This is the image I want to take with me into my thirties: the sprouts of seedlings coming from an earth that has been enriched by the fire that came before.
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
That's the last hangover I've had.
Giving up alcohol for six months was a personal experiment. I spent a long time wrestling with the problem of binge drinking, but by the time I was ready to become a teetotaler, I felt more on top of my relationship with alcohol. I still drank, but rarely during the week. I still drank, but only occasionally to excess. I still drank, but I could go to social events and not get schnockered. I had made progress.
So I figured since going from "drinking like an asshole" to "drinking like a normal person" was on lock, I was ready to try "drinking like an Mormon." Also known as not drinking at all. I made exceptions, but only a few: a shot at a friend's going-away party, a glass of wine at my boyfriend's mom's milestone birthday, and a couple more up North (vacation and 20th anniversary of buying the cottage, respectively). But birthdays, housewarmings, goodbye dinners, Friday nights, anniversaries, and what-have-you: I abstained.
Well. For the amount of bewilderment this decision was met with, you would have thought I had proposed we start all socializing in Richmond Hill. I kept going to social events (without my other signature drink, Coke Zero, because this is a time of great personal challenge), but instead of vodka or wine, I drank tea, water, Fresca, kombucha, club soda or ginger beer. After about a month of adjustment, I was able to stay out until last call. (I learned to bring a snack: club soda has no calories where alcohol has lots, so I would be famished by midnight while everyone around me was fine.) I danced sober, I did karaoke sober, and I hung out with lots and lots of drunk people. Sober.
It wasn't always easy. I didn't drink on my sister's birthday, and she's still mad. I often found that, as the night went on and the folks around me got more buzzed, I felt lonely: I was solo off the coast of Margaritaville, unable to radio in. One of my most vivid memories of the past few months was going to a friend's party. When I declined her offer of a beer, she snorted and said, "When are you going to be fun again?" I have been guilty of secretly (and, in some cases, loudly and publicly) opining that my sober friends would be more fun if they got into the tequila; getting that thrown back in my face felt kind of shitty.
But there have also been massive upsides to this experiment. My relationship is softer and kinder because we don't have to negotiate the stupid things we said when we were both drunk. My body is slamming right now, because even a few beers a week can add up to a lot of calories—and time spent on the couch recovering from the night before is time not doing things like yoga or running. I've never been more productive: I write more, I work out more, I see more friends and I feel happier.
My birthday is next weekend, and the experiment will come to an end. As a bonus, it's my champagne birthday, so the bubbly will be flowing. I'm kind of dreading it: I feel like many, many people will try to pressure me into having a drink with them, and I'll get blotto as a result. I don't want that. I don't need thirty shots for thirty years. I want to wake up the next morning feeling fantastic. If I'm sore, I want it to be from dancing too hard, not from throwing up. I want a fun night with maybe a couple drinks.
And I think that's all I want from here on out. I want to keep this body, this lifestyle. I want all my drinks to be special occasion drinks. And if anyone feels like that's not good enough—well, I can't throw my vodka/cran in their face just yet, but I think that water will get them just as drenched.
Friday, November 15, 2013
I went to the Save Toronto rally this week, sign in hand, feeling sort of foolish for even showing up, because it's not like he's going to look out the window, see the 1,200 people who have turned Amy Winehouse into a protest cheer just for him, and think, “Hmm, I ought to step down now.” I went because I wanted to vent some of my frustration, to showcase my disgust, and to be in the company of others who felt the same. It was a powerful but ultimately short-lived catharsis.
When I went back through the photos of the event, I noticed that a hashtag was popping up in a few different places: #morethanFord. It came from Torontonians defiantly refusing to be defined by the mayor’s clown-college theatrics, and refusing to let their city be defined by him. It was on Instagram, where parents snapped photos of their kids playing in city parks, and on Twitter, where folks tweeted reminders that fun, important stuff was still happening in the city. In the spirit of #morethanFord, here are some of the things that I, personally, love about this place.
- The sound of the trains roaring past my apartment late at
night; even though Toronto is, technically, a lake town, most of us live far
enough from the water’s edge that the blue haze to our south is more of a concept than a geographic reality. But the sound of trains, which I've loved since childhood, is a comfort that crisscrosses the city more democratically than the sound of lapping waves.
- That city council is finally starting to wiggle, even just a little bit, on it's no-bike-lanes-on-Bloor stance. When the city is mired in a transit boondoggle (LRTs? Subways? Both? Neither? I suggested everyone gets their own helicopter, but it seems nobody's listening to me), even baby steps on a formerly contentious urban issue is a breath of fresh air.
- The Grid's recent article on child-friendly plates at fancy restaurants. We're a city that eats, a lot and often, and training our kidlets to be curious and open-minded eaters—and guides to how to accomplish that—are important for creating a next generation of tripe-buying diners. Plus: nary an overhyped taco on that list!
- I'm a little obsessed with a pair of Parkdale boutiques, Crown Flora and Cambie Design, along with Mjolk in the Junction and Good Egg in Kensington. To me, they represent the pinnacle of a certain type of aspiration: constant access to beautiful, well-designed, functional things. And while they are often quite expensive, these shops also let me feel locally connected to tangible beauty, which is a certain type of pleasure.
- The glory of this city as the seasons change is so wonderful. There are flaming red trees in unexpected places, bare bushes that are tipped with ethereal-looking white buds, hardy grasses, and drifts of crunchy yellow leaves. There are blushing sunrises, spooky moonrises, and golden sunsets that make me catch my breath. There are hordes of good-looking men and women who have embraced flannel shirts, knit toques, and wool socks—hoser chic, if you will—to brave the last minutes of patio season. And there's the collective knowledge that it's going to get bad before it gets better, so we'd all better get our big boots on now.
Thursday, November 7, 2013
I'm afraid of never being alone again. People usually say they're afraid of being alone, and I know from experience that too much time spent by myself isn't good for me. I like my time, though. And as my relationship deepens and we start talking about having a family someday, my personal Klaxons start blaring: trading in huge chunks of me-time in exchange for snippets of solo time wigs me out. Louis CK does this great bit about little vacations from his kids—not, like Caribbean cruises or anything; no, his "vacations" are the seconds it takes him to walk to the driver's side door after buckling his kids in the backseat of the car. That's scary.
I'm afraid of job interviews. God, there's something about the banality of evil on that one, eh? "Come, in your finery, to sit in this windowless room with a jug of flat-tasting water to answer questions about how you handle conflict!" I sweat. I get light-headed. I become supremely self-conscious. It takes all my white-knuckled energy not to flee the room. The only good part is the rush of endorphins that flood through me after I walk back out into the sunlight. I. Fear. Them.
I'm afraid of spiders, deep space, and deep water. As all good humans should be.
I'm afraid of my parents dying. I've been hounding them for the last year to update their will, and they keep accusing me of being macabre. I'm not. I just want them to never die; having a solid will feels like they'd be taking care of me from the great beyond. It's childish, I know. I can't help it. The thought of being without them makes me breathless with sorrow.
I'm afraid of getting fat. Ugh, I know, I know. After a lifetime of grappling with my weight, and a decade-plus of living with an eating disorder, I went to treatment and got better. Still, I'm not at a yogurt-commercial level of joy with my body, and I suspect I will fight my entire life to not ascribe negative value to my double chin/upper arms/rubbing thighs. And yet, it's impossible to let go of the death grip this particular fear has. I check myself out in every mirror I pass, and am constantly calculating what needs to be hidden, what needs to be flaunted, and what can only be despaired over. Jesus, how tedious. Thank god I got rid of my scale, or who knows how crazy I would get?
I'm afraid of having kids. Jeez, there's just so much that can go wrong! From the moment of conception to, basically, forever; I'm afraid that I'm going to leave some sort of toxic imprint on them, pass them a variation of my illnesses, damages, and flaws. I'm afraid I'm going to miscarry at a family reunion. I'm afraid I'm going to sleep through their midnight cries. I'm afraid I'm going to back over them in the driveway, or forget them in their car seat on a hot summer's day. I'm afraid the dog is going to lick them to death, or I'm going to drop them on a stone patio, or they're going to develop an eating disorder or start drinking when they're twelve or slice their arms open to feel their feelings. I'm afraid of nut allergies, of creepy neighbours, of falling down the escalator at the mall. Oh my god, how does anyone ever live through having a kid?
I'm afraid of never having kids, or never getting married, or owning a house. I'm afraid I'm going to stay in perpetual 29-year-old limbo for eternity, my favourite black tank tops and miniskirts rotting around me. Even as I examine my life for what I need (maybe a good mutual fund portfolio is a better financial path than a house in Toronto? Maybe marriage sounds wicked but gala weddings leave me cold?), I'm afraid that somehow, I'll wake up one day to discover all my eggs have gone rotten, I still live above a bar, and my relationship has turned into the one my upstairs neighbours have—they seems to communicate primarily through name-calling and blasting pointed Fleetwood Mac songs. Shudder.
I'm afraid that I'm actually not a very good writer. That all the work I've put into writing this blog, and writing fiction, and writing interviews, will have been for naught. There will always be writers who are much, much better than me—I'm not afraid of knowing that. I'm afraid of being one of the actively bad ones. I'm afraid of being boring. Or worse, of being trite. I can't imagine a worse fate that of the middling creative type with aspirations of grandeur.
Friday, November 1, 2013
The media, both traditional and social, have been at a fever pitch since the announcement. And for good reason: Rob Ford said over and over that there was no video, that he hadn't done/doesn't do crack, that there was nothing to discuss here. Over and over, he brushed off any attempt to discuss the allegations. And since the allegations initially surfaced in May, city business slowly seemed to devolve back into whatever parody of "normal" we're accepting as status quo these days: our civic leader being the lone vote against affordable public housing at Toronto's waterfront developments, for example, or the constant battle over which badly needed updates to the transit system were most deserved, and by whom.
So yesterday's announcement came with a side order of ugly satisfaction. It's impossible to follow the saga of Ford in City Hall without wanting to shake my head in disbelief. As Torontoist rightly points out, the mayor has a long history of meeting accusations of bad behaviour with a denial and dismissal. He's rarely made accountable for his actions, and has developed a reputation for being the mayoral equivalent of a Teflon don: people say things—hell, people prove things—against him, and he just stays right where he is.
I'm worried about the next election. Rob Ford has declared as recently as last week that he planned on seeking reelection, and it remains to be seen if this episode will have an effect on those plans. He can run while facing charges; he can serve as mayor so long as he's not serving more than ninety days in jail at the same time. Regardless of wether or not he actually follows through on his plan to run, the city faces an unattractive legacy in his wake.
For instance, there are all the programs he's cut and the service changes he's made in the name of "saving taxpayers money." It will take years to undo or mitigate these changes, which were often targeted to vulnerable populations or social services. Then there's all the policy and planning disruptions—chief and most irritating among these was the hostile takeover of the transit discussion, and the cancellation of a funded and relatively comprehensive plan in favour of an extended, disjointed muck-racking session that saw the approval of a smaller, more expensive, underfunded transit plan. And he's left a smear across Toronto by making it an international laughingstock led by a fractious, personality-not-politics council.
These aren't accidents. Rob Ford's "I do what I want" strategy is most often employed by teenagers who are testing their wings. And like many teenagers, Ford is experimenting with drugs, running around with unfavourable types, getting caught and blatantly denying it—right to our faces! We can tell you've been smoking, mister!—and skipping school (er, work). Even Chief Blair played his part: his I'm-not-upset-I'm-disappointed line from yesterday's press announcement was a classic parenting move. Lord knows I've hung my head in shame enough times when those words have been directed at me. If Toronto is a family, then Rob Ford's tantrums and misbehaviours forces us to wonder what happens when the dad who we put in charge actually turns out to be the troubled teen.
The adult thing to do now would be to resign. He's demanded resignations from people who have plagiarized, who have been caught sleeping on the job, who have dared disagree with him on important issues. Now, after being caught smoking crack and being a racist, it's his due. At the minimum, he should take a leave of absence—because, of course, Ford isn't a teenager, and these activities and allegations aren't "skipping school" and "hanging out with teenaged thugs."
Ford's behaviour paints a portrait, not of a defiant seventeen-year-old but of an addicted and erratic forty-one-year-old. Owning up sends the message that these allegations are serious, and being taken seriously. If Rob Ford cares about the taxpayers as much as he says he does, it's the least he can do: to be governed by a mayor involved in the drug world is to be embarrassed by our leadership, to be second priority for the man whose job is it to make us his first, and to be distracted by the problems of a civic citizen whose public persona should be policy-based, not personal.
No-one can force Ford to resign. No-one can make him take a leave. He needs to decide that for himself, and his history suggests that our perpetually teenaged mayor is more interested in hanging onto his seat than earning his keep there. To continue up with the same erratic schedule and the same arrogant messaging in the face of real, proven problems is to continue being a petulant teenager . What we need, now and always, is a leader.
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
I've been a Tetris player for the last decade or so, ever since Tetris Attack! dominated the common room of my sixteen-roommate house for the better part of two years. I've become accustomed to closing my eyes and seeing little falling blocks—teal logs, purple hills, yellow squares. (I'm not alone in this: there's even a phenomenon called "the Tetris effecthttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tetris_effect," which I'm sharing with probably a million people right now.) And while I never got into Angry Birds or Candy Crush Saga, I totally play a lot of Tetris. It goes in waves: sometimes, I'll play a few times a week, while other times I'll play nine or ten games a day. Right now, I'm in heavy-play mode. Tetris all the time for me.
Here's the thing about this: I've started to win. My particular version of the game only goes up to level fifteen, so once I clear 150 lines of blocks, I'm rewarded with a screen featuring little dancing purple pieces. (It's totally cute.) I never used to win at Tetris. I didn't actually realize that I could win until the first time I beat the game. Now I win a lot.
When I first started playing this game, I would obsessively check the level counter and the "lines needed" box that told me how many more blocks I had to clear before my next achievement. I would panic as the pieces fell faster and faster, and make easily avoided mistakes. I would set aside pieces in the interest of "saving them for later," and then never actually use them. But the less I cared about winning, the better I played. As my wins continued, I learned things; for example, it usually takes me a game or two to warm up before I would win, and there's a point in every game at which past mistakes will come back to haunt you.
It's not hard to see the metaphor in this.
In life, as in Tetris, being in the moment is a valuable skill. When I learned to relax, and take it one line at a time, I became much, much more likely to move onto the next level. Feeling stupid for mistakes served me poorly; instead, accepting them and working my way out of them was a much better strategy.
I've spent a long time struggling with perfectionism. Often, I don't even start a project because I'm so freaked out by the possibility of doing it poorly. I don't ask questions because I don't want to seem dumb. And I constantly judge myself against other people's performances and choices—in work, in relationships, in appearance, in fitness, in lifestyle. It is exhausting and never-ending.
Weirdly, Tetris has given me a way that I can practice going easy on myself. I don't have to maintain a spot on someone else's leader board, or have each game trump my last. I can be more...zen. I can relax. And, much to my surprise, this zen feeling has translated into other areas of my life. I take it a bit easier on myself when I have to ask a question, or when a deadline I've set for myself sails by unfulfilled. I'm trying to keep what my teacher once called "beginner's mind," when every time is the first, low-stakes, we're-all-new-here time.
Deciding to not be a perfectionist is like deciding you don't have the flu when you're running a temperature of 104. It just doesn't work. People need to practice self-care skills, and practice them in a way that doesn't feel high-stakes. For me, it was Tetris. For someone else, it might be baking pies, or collage, or Lego. Or ax-throwing. Who knows?
But it does makes a difference when you have a safe, failure-friendly place to learn and make mistakes. This is especially true as an adult, when it feels like all our responses and habits are so ingrained as to be unchangeable. And, once you've experienced the thrill of learning, trying, failing and succeeding, bringing those feelings to other areas of our lives can make them that much fuller.
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
GQ recently wrote about the power of a uniform in a man's life. These aren't military ensembles or garbage-man jumpsuits, but rather the colours, shapes, and concepts that makes these powerful men return to again and again to feel their best. It's an intriguing concept. The suit has been the de facto uniform of successful men for decades, with jeans and a teeshirt standing in for the double-breasteds on the weekend, so playtime is easy. Shrink the proportions, add in a hat, or subtract a tie, and bam: instant uniform. Replicable, portable, and memorable. Dudes at home can survey their own closets and quickly spot patterns; maybe a penchant for flannel, or a small but growing collection of wingtips, or a signature pair of sunglasses.
For women, our fashion terrain has been a bit more treacherous. Short hemlines? Long sleeves? Should we emulate the menfolk and don boxy jackets in the office, or attempt a softer silhouette? Bright colours, or a more muted palette? Some women (hello!) walk like T-rexes when we put on high heels, while others shudder at the idea of flip-flips anywhere but a spa. Can we wear linen a la Eileen Fisher, or do we have to wait until our post-menopausal granola phase? Not to mention that we can mine pretty much anywhere in the last eighty years for fashion inspiration, from the sleek CK-ish silhouettes of the 1990s to the crinoline skirts of the 1950s. Look at your life, look at your choices!
Which is why the idea of a uniform struck me. Paradoxically, it feels freeing to ignore 95% of the fashion white noise and zero in on the few pieces that I claim as my own: black tank tops. Capris. Chunky scarves. Am I interested in a strapless bustier or a pair of high-waisted floral jeans? Anthropologically, sure, but I'm not going to put it on my body.
I brought up this concept at friend's recent dinner party, and one of the other guests shied away from the idea of wearing the same thing every day. "I don't want people thinking I can't do my wash!" she exclaimed. I hadn't thought of that: uniforms are still often a blue-collar reality, rather than a fashion choice. For many, the idea of wearing the same thing every day reek of McJobs, of aprons and smocks, of polo shirts with your name pinned above the nonfunctional breast pocket. Or maybe of only having one pair of pants, of only having one pair of sneakers, or of wearing socks until they're more holes than sock. While Alexander Wang might wear black pants every day, nobody really thinks they're the same black pants 365 days in a row. This is not a universal truth.
Even without formalizing it to the point of "having a uniform," I think most of us gravitate towards the same things over and over. Taking stock of my closet, I can see clearly that I like natural fibres in a muted gray/black colour family. Other women would dismiss this as boring. Occasionally I'll buy outside my wheelhouse, and you know what happens? Those things just sit there. My lime green teeshirt gets no love, while I've worn my best black tank top until it was see-through. I feel like an impostor in those clothes, while my favourites empower me, revealing my most confident and best self through fashion.
It would be easy to dismiss this as trite—after all, if you're not confident, clothes aren't going to change that—except that clothing is our armour in the world. Putting on something that makes you feel fantastic is a secret weapon, and figuring out shortcuts to that feeling is not a worthless exercise. If it comes by developing a uniform, a signature, or a favourite, then by all means, claim it as yours. There's no shame in returning to something that makes you feel great. As far as I'm concerned, too many black tops just isn't a thing that can happen.
Saturday, October 12, 2013
Saturday, October 5, 2013
Take, for example, Menrui. This was an Asian-fusion restaurant run by white owners, which sounds like a recipe for disaster. In reality, the cooks were chef's school graduates, the hole-in-the-wall restaurant was always busy with locals, and I worked there twice, under two different owners. Both times, it felt like a funky, smelly, tight-knit group where the focus was a tiny, hip room, and really tasty food. But Menrui is gone: the original owner taken down by the riptide of drug addiction, the second owner bamboozled by the challenges of small business management, and so poof—disappeared. When I walk by its old address, I get a pang of nostalgia. I'll never be able to stop in for a bowl of udon noodles with spicy peanut sauce, or an orange-date-banana smoothie.
This isn't unique to small towns—it's virtually impossible to walk down any street and return to the same one five years later. But the change is felt more greatly in small towns. The main street really is just that, and instead of a big city's hopscotch board of neighbourhoods, there's usually a single downtown core. Which businesses thrive, and which fail, can say a lot about a town.
For example, Stratford is a nice little town of about 30,000 people. It has two engines driving it: the factories, which ring the community like a necklace, and the Stratford Festival. The Festival, as it's always called, caters to tourists who come in for a day or a weekend, take in some theatre, eat at some restaurants, and then leave. These people come from Toronto and Buffalo, from Montreal and from Chicago, from Waterloo and from Nashville. At least, they did: because of the recession, the Festival is losing money. It seems that, in a time when food bank usage is up and mortgage defaults are an American rite of passage, people just don't want to pay fifteen dollars for a plate of tortellini before their $75-per-ticket performance of Tommy.
So there are two kinds of people in Stratford: those who cater to the tourists, who find themselves increasingly nervous as sales drop, and the blue-collar factory workers. My sister described them as "rednecks," and while she's being classist, Stratford is home to a high number of people with neck tattoos.
If you wandered into downtown Stratford, you would see plenty of little boutiques (although fewer now than in years past), plenty of empty storefronts, and a curious mix of well-dressed older couples, and teenagers sullenly pushing baby strollers while wearing unflattering pants and smoking. The two groups eye each other warily. The tourists are transient, coming for only a few months each year, but the town's unwavering devotion to their imagined needs and wants has coloured the whole town. There was a bitter and years-long fight to keep Wal-Mart out of Stratford because of the perceived threat to the tourist-centric downtown businesses, most of wouldn't dream of carrying anything in Wal-Mart's inventory in the first place. Meanwhile, for the people who actually live here, there remain very few place to buy things like baby bottles, or shirts costing less than thirty dollars, or school supplies.
Downtown, things aren't much better. There are lots of empty storefronts. And it's not just a storefront problem: there are a lot of amenities this town might actually benefit from that are downplayed or shoved aside in order to appease those transient tourists. There's a dearth of things like wilderness space, or youth-focused recreation (unless you count the head shop, which, like, I guess...?), non-stage-related adult recreation (unless you count the myriad bars, which, like, I guesss...?). The local movie theatre sucks. There are no live music venues. No wonder the teens in Stratford wear such heavy eye makeup; the local Shopper's Drug Mart is the only place they can go that's open until midnight.
This may explain why so many of my high school friends have left. The job market is poor, and the jobs that do tend to come available are in tourism or in factories. But more than that, there doesn't seem to be much to do. Unlike in many corporate arts towns, there's no thriving underground arts scene. The Festival is oppressive and everywhere, colouring even the most basic initiatives. (A Farmer's Market? Sure! That will drive tourism!) Stratford would benefit from a slight perspective shift: instead of desperately looking outward to retain its identity—Festival! Gardens! Dinner! Maniacal laughter!—looking inward at what the town truly needs. Why do so many people leave? What might make them stay?
When I come home, I don't see my future. Aside from visiting my family, there's nothing there for me. The town's insular worldview and drug problem make it unappealing to raise a family, and its lackluster job market and lack of stuff to do makes it unappealing as an adult.
No place is perfect, but my hometown needs to figure out ways to grow as we have grown. As it stands now, it's a parlour trick, a one-act play, a designated hitter: good at one thing, all the rest be damned.
Thursday, September 26, 2013
Enter David Gilmour.
Yesterday, Hazlitt posted an interview with the author; it was a tour of his bookshelf, the one in his University of Toronto office. Gilmour, who teaches English and cultural studies at Victoria College, was being interviewed as a teacher and a writer; his novel, Extraordinary, has recently been long-listed for the Giller Prize.
As an interview subject, Gilmour was exceptional: lauding Proust one moment, then telling his interviewer that he only teaches "guys. Serious heterosexual guys. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy-guys. Henry Miller. Philip Roth." Roth, he explains, necessitates a late-semester introduction, because, you know, scenes of middle-aged men eating menstrual pads require worldlier students. "I save it ’til the very end of the year because by that point they’ve got fairly strong stomachs, and they’re far more sophisticated than they are in the beginning. So they can understand the differences between pornography and great literature." So sayeth Gilmour, who is also no great fan of women writers, Canadian writers, Chinese writers, and men who aren't strapping lumberjack-ish men—Proust aside, of course.
I never had the pleasure of sitting in a Gilmour classroom, although I did encounter my fair share of shoddy teachers at my alma mater. And he's since gone on record as saying his words were taken "out of context," that the interview was second on his mind to a conversation he was simultaneously having with a colleague (that started after the interview began), and that he teaches big, muscular writers because he identifies with them the most. (For what it's worth, Hazlitt's transcript holds up just fine in the face of Gilmour's blustery non-apology.)
The whole thing reads like a slick parody of dude-writer culture: from the women-don't-matter dismissal, to the pricky middle-aged sexuality, to the odd specificity of not teaching Chinese writers (are Japanese writers okay, Gilmour? How about Thai authors?), to the monomaniac belief that one's own worldview is the only one that could possibly matter.
I know that writers need healthy levels of self-confidence and self-belief in order to succeed. To this end, Gilmour is fine, if utterly obnoxious. If he wants to immerse himself in a literary culture that's a warm, wooly, just-like-me blanket, he can go right ahead. Never having read any Gilmour, I can't tell you if the effect of reading his library creates sparkling innovative, or derivative same-old.
But inflicting that same culture on his students is irresponsible. He says he can only teach authors that he loves, and he happens to love mostly male writers. ("Not my fault, bro! They speak to me!") But I don't think he's trying hard enough. As an instructor, he may feel most comfortable talking about books he likes, written by men he wants to emulate, featuring characters he identifies with. But teach those, and those alone? Laziness. Solipsism. Shameful.
Worse, it reinforces the notion that dude-writers (and by extension, dudes) are the only types that matter. When we repeatedly see, in media and academia, a narrow representation of existence, we assume that things outside that narrow slice are somehow not-good, or defective, or worthy of dismissal. See: size-ten women; women of colour; queer people of both genders; trans people of both genders; old people; immigrants; overly sexual women; asexual women; unattractive people; and people living unusual, non-rat-racy lives. Part of me understands what Gilmour is saying. It can be difficult to identify with people who are different from us. But that's how literature works: it connects us to people who aren't like us, and lifts us to a place of common understanding. How low-reaching do you have to be to only want to appreciate folks who are just like you?
When I was in school, my Contemporary American Literature class could have been populated with Roth, Emore Leonard, F. Scott Fitgerald—all of whom are name-checked by Gilmour as being particularly impressive—but instead was thick with unusual choices. The Book of Salt, by Vietnamese-American writer Monique Truong; "America," by queer poet Allen Ginsberg; Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, a deeply troubling short film about the singer "performed" by Barbie dolls; and many more. The literary landscape we worked through was varied and challenging, and my professor was knowledgeable about their various forms, authors, and influences. It was a difficult class to pass, since the writing was challenging and the focus was kaleidoscopic. But I still think of that as being one of the best, and most comprehensive, moments in my education. By exposing myself to a rich, varied, and unfamiliar territory, I became a better writer, a better student, and a better human. Perhaps Gilmour should check that class out. After all, it's just down the hall.
Friday, September 20, 2013
I'm not going to pretend to be anything other than some Jilly-come-lately to baseball. Oh, sure, I "played" baseball as a kid: slow-pitch softball, where I was terrified all the time that someone was going to hit the ball to me and I might actually have to perform. I struck out constantly in games, which confounded my relaxed (and therefore more successful) at-bats during practices. In my worry about messing it up for everyone, I stuck myself way, way out in left field, where no ball could possibly reach me. I could never muster the graceless talent of, say, an Amish ballplayer, who plays just for the sake of playing. Needless to say, as I got older, I realized that the pressure of team sports wasn't really my thing. I played squash, danced, and ran, and those solo or semi-solo pursuits were much better for my soul.
On the other hand, I do remember the 1992 and 1993 World Series of baseball, AKA the ones where the Toronto Blue Jays won and everyone went berserk. I remember the ambient excitement in my family: watching one of the games up at the cottage, where we dropped my great-aunt's place on some bogus pretext that was discarded as soon as my dad snapped on their TV. Having a team in the playoffs was a big deal, since Canada's baseball landscape was pretty arid. Plus, the Jays are my dad's team. I remember car rides with him up to the beach, when he would tune into the dense, impenetrable chatter of radio baseball announcers; or games watched at home, him alone in the darkened TV room, letting out gusty cheers when they did well and stomping upstairs to bed when they performed poorly. Just as golf is my grandfather's sport, baseball is my father's: they're experts in the art of watching.
For me, the thrill of the game is different. It's less about standing by the team (although, since the Jays are the only professional Canadian ball team, it would feel odd and turncoat to root for an American team; at least with the Jays, I can say, "I'm from here, what's your excuse?") and more about the ritual. Going to the SkyDome —excuse, me, the Rogers Center, barf — is a process: negotiating the throngs of people massing on Front Street, climbing the endless concrete ramp up to the 500-level, then settling down into the blue plastic seats. Listening as the announcer calls out each player's name with theatrical panache, saving his heartiest readings for the home team and coolly underplaying the visitors. Grinning as the Japanese fans behind us lose their minds equally for both the Jay's Munenori Kawasaki and the Yankee's Ichiro Suzuki, team allegiances be damned because one of their own is up at bat.
The gameplay itself is long stretches of time balancing between boredom and engagement as the teams glide through inning after runless inning. The sudden snap of excitement when something, anything, starts happening: a pitch beans a player! A bat breaks! A mini-drama of a runner getting chased down the baseline by a ball-wielding third-baseman, or the sudden heartbreak of a dropped flyball. The roar of the fans as someone expectedly smacks the bejeezus out of a ball and sails it over the fence, and their slow jog around the bases to score that point. Baseball, like opera, creates an air of general theatricality without a lot of actual action. It's perfect for summer, when just complaining about the heat is its own recreational activity.
Last night, we went down the Rogers Center, sat ourselves down in the cheap seats, and watched as the Jays beat the Yankees. It was a fine game: a few laggardly moves by the Yankees and a couple nice runs by the Jays meant the game had the slow, loping pace of a large savannah animal. The Jays are doing terribly right now, and so being a fan is basically just an exercise in morale. "Next year is our year," we said to each other, ignoring the rest of the 2013 season as so much administrative work to be filed. There was a baby there, a six-month old with a button nose who was grabbing at the man in front of him's blue baseball cap, grinning like a tiny maniac. The Japanese fans waved signed with the Japanese flag on side and a maple leaf on the other (my heart!). The Yankee fan to my left clapped futilely as the rest of the stadium booed A-Rod. We ate sunflower seeds and drank beers. It was the perfect time to be a sports fan.
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
I've never been pregnant. I've never really wanted to be pregnant; wanted to have kids someday, yeah, but the few pregnancy tests I've taken in my life have all been accompanied by nervous stomachs, crossed fingers, and a three-days-late start to my otherwise clockwork-like period. But each time I've peed on those innocuous-looking sticks, I've gotten them back negative, and been much relieved.
However, much like pregnant women, I do have vast and varied experience with gaining weight. So I can talk about that.
In 2009, I was the fittest I'd ever been in my adult life. I was commuting twenty kilometers a day by bike, I was running three times a week, and lifting weights twice a week. In August, two friends and I biked to Guelph, a day-long trip that was challenging and exhilarating. I was also sticking my fingers down my throat to throw up meals I had just eaten, and I was taking laxatives to shit out what I couldn't purge, something I had been doing off and on for the past twelve years. I weighed 108 pounds. I hated my body, but I looked amazing.
In the fall of 2009, I threw a house party where I drank a bottle of wine for dinner and blacked out well before ten PM. I woke up the next day and I had no food in my house. My parents were coming over to take me out for dinner, and I spent the entire day shaking on my bathroom floor, trying to throw up and having nothing. When they arrived, I tried to stand up and nearly fainted. My disapproving mother found a bag of pasta somewhere deep in my pantry and made me cheesy macaroni. I was so embarrassed.
I got help. I never know what to call it: "rehab" sounds so dire, and "treatment" is what my sister calls the six-month period when she was receiving chemo. For eight months, I went twice a week to CAMH's Eating Disorders and Addictions program: once to a group therapy session, and once to meet one-on-one with a counselor. The program was successful enough, I guess; I stopped binging and purging, but I never figured out why I struggled with those problems in the first place.
I also started gaining weight. A little, at first: chalk it up to quitting my job and losing my commute. Then more: blame that on actually keeping my food down. Then more and more, until three years later, I was 158 pounds.
I was humiliated. My BMI was at 29.9; for all intents and purposes, I was obese. I was horrified. I was wearing sizes I had never worn before. I was bloated. My skin was gray. I cried every time I got on the scale, every time I tried on old clothes, every time I went to the gym. Nothing seemed to work. I wasn't bulimic anymore, but I didn't want to love this big body of mine. I felt like I couldn't.
Everywhere we go, we get messages about how we're supposed to look. We get them from the media, sure — pregnant and ballooning celebrities are a specialty of judgey tabloids — but we also get them from our friends, families, and partners. We hear from a friend about how cutting out Coke and fast food made them lose fifteen pounds, how going paleo made their skin clear up, about how they stopped losing weight once they figured out they were lactose intolerant. We hear from from our parents, who compliment us on weight loss ("I had the flu, mom."), or who offer diet advice followed directly by cookies. We hear it from our partners, who love our bodies, but who sometimes say boneheaded things about other women's bodies, either in admiration or in disgust, that we internalize.
Everyone knows it's hard to lose weight, but it's a little-discussed secret that gaining weight is also tough. It comes up in small ways (sleep positions change dramatically when you're carrying an extra forty pounds, for instance), and in large ones: emotional health, self-perception, self-love. I have nothing but sympathy for pregnant women, especially those balancing between the first trimester and the day when your bellybutton pops — the women who aren't always obviously pregnant; who might have just, you know, stopped running, or decided that cupcakes are an all-the-time food. Trying to remember that you're growing a whole other person inside your body is hard when you can't get your pants done up and you want to throw yourself down on the bed and cry. And, because the universe is a bully sometimes, it's the thinnest women — the ones who work hardest at keeping tiny and toned — who invariably end up showing first.
My weight gain was the result of some pretty bad depression, a total rewiring of the way I looked at food (friend! Not enemy!), and maybe some genetics. Your weight gain is the result of some cray-cray hormones, and the desire to make a family. I'm well aware that pregnancy comes with a host of other bummers, like nausea, exhaustion, constipation, and yeast infections, on top of gaining weight. There's also a certain pressure to pretend like every step of pregnancy is a moment of growth and gentle, maternal love, when I'm sure all some of you want to do is weep angrily while burning down your local fat-unfriendly LuluLemon store.
I don't know what to say except: I feel you, girl. I know that weight changes aren't easy, either going up or going down. I know what it's like to look down at a stomach that wasn't there a few months ago and despair, and to dislike the change even when it's a result of something positive. Hang in there: in a few months, you'll get to meet the reason for your new waistline, and something tells me it might be worth it.
Friday, September 6, 2013
Culture is more than beliefs, practices, and values. Culture has commonly been defined as the worldview, lifestyle, learned, and shared beliefs and values, knowledge, symbols, and rules that guide behaviour and create shared meanings within a group of people.
— F.E. Racher & R.C. Annis, Respecting culture and honoring diversity in community practice. Research and Theory for Nursing Practice 21
This past year, I've been thinking a lot about how I define myself: what's important to me? What values do I hold dear? What traditions make me cringe? And how do I feel about myself when I choose to diverge from the choices around me?
It's complicated stuff, yo! And just to make things more bananas, there are personal cultures, family cultures, religious cultures, and professional cultures, each with its own set of values, symbols and worldviews. For example, when I was growing up, my family culture was semi-nomadic: we moved from city to city every few years. As a result, I looked with suspicion on people who had spent their whole lives in one town — in one house, even! — because it was just not how things were done in my house. Even smaller family practices have influenced me: sitting down to dinner together is important, as is mixing a can of tuna into a box of Kraft Dinner. But to other people, that's crazytalk.
It's important to identify the things that are important about your own personal culture, I think. For example, my boyfriend loves all things horror-related. Horror movies, bands who use Dias de los Muertos imagery, action figures wielding knives, and jump-scare video games. And when I ask him why, he tells me that fear is cathartic and he likes being scared. Now, to me, fear is something to be avoided, and cathartic feelings spring from heartfelt emails to long-lost friends. Different personal cultures makes for different responses to common emotions. There's no real right answer; I leave him alone when he's watching C.H.U.D-centric movies, and he listens to my nervous self-talks before I hit the reply button.
When I moved into a housing co-op, I felt like I had found a culture that really spoke to me. Here was a housing situation that let me have a say — I sat on the board of directors for four years, which set the co-op's direction on issues like rent, community spirit, and food — but it also exposed me to a huge range of people I otherwise would never have met. There was a DIY spirit to the place (the stove is filthy? Clean it! And then go talk to the bum who dirtied it in the first place!) that fed me. I'm not saying it's all sunshine and roses. For instance, most people get to choose their roommates, which wasn't my experience, and interpersonal conflict ran rampant. But there was a ramshackle loveliness that colours my memories of the place and my time there.
When I left the co-op, I moved in with my boyfriend. I encountered a bit of culture shock. He's lovely, and his friends are lovely, but they're kind of different from my hippie love tribe. Hell, even my own friends are changing, even if they're originally from the hippie love tribe. Many of them are married, for instance. Some of them own their own homes. Families are getting started. And without the comforting struts of my co-op lifestyle, I was left wondering, is that what I should be doing too?
I don't have an answer. I want to get married someday. I want to have kids. But today? Not today. As the culture around me changes, I have to wonder if I'm capable of figuring out who I am, and where I fit. The values and lifestyles of my friends are shifting — I'm making new friends, and my old friends are making Big Life Changes — and I've never done the work of sitting down to figure out which parts of their culture appeals to me, and what I want to hang onto from my younger, wilder, less traditional days.
It's funny to think of a bunch of strangers together in a house as having any particular form of "culture," but that's what we made for ourselves to bind us together. There were family breakfasts on Sunday mornings, communal meals for sixty people, shared laundry, and drunken spin-the-bottle. These are things I missed when I moved away. Furthermore, they're things I'd love to give back to my friends and family someday (especially those makeout sessions....wink!)
I was kind of hoping that this thought process would happen on a subliminal level, but I don't think things really work like that. Cultures are not preserved by ignoring them. I think people need to choose to hang onto the useful parts of their pasts, and be selective about what parts of the evolving personal cultures around them we choose to adopt. I'd love to live in a co-housing development, for example, even if some of my friend would die before sharing an oven with anyone else. Some of my friends will choose to remain childless, while I definitely want to have a family. And there are personal choices — raising a paleo kid? renting v. owning? long hair v. "mom hair"? therapy v. drinking my emotions? — that we'll encounter only in the future. It's all a part of it.
Over the next while, I'd like to set down a vision of my life: things from my past I want to preserve, and new ideas I want to explore. Nothing too intense: it'll be less of a five-year plan, more of a dream board. The best thing about this process will be that it's happening at all. Paying attention to how I live is part of my personal culture is something that I definitely plan on hanging onto.
Thursday, August 29, 2013
Raise your hand if you expected to be able to sit down and watch thirteen hours of quality television, on demand, whenever you felt like it. In the middle of the night. When you have the sniffles and need a day on the couch. Maybe, if you're old school, you've been spreading them out, a few episodes each week; if you're really old-school, you might only be watching one episode a week, like they did in the 1980s, those Dark Ages.
We've had Tivo for a long time now (since the '90s = forever), so we're used to being able to pause our shows and come back after we get an ice cream sandwhich from the kitchen. And we've gotten used to paying for must-see TV — HBO has trained us well —and expecting stars to occasionally pop up. Hello, Steve Buscemi! I see you, playing a gangster! You're adorable. (Call me!)
When Netflix said it would begin offering original programming, I was skeptical. Netflix routinely recommends titles like, I don't know, Bachelor Party in the Bungalow of the Damned, so I was worried that we were going to end up with some truly execrable television experiences. I've seen Two and a Half Men. I know what television producers are capable of.
I ignored Lilyhammer, Netflix's first original offering. I saw a few print ads for it, and read a couple reviews, but there was nothing that said "Must-See TV!" It was impossible to ignore the next few original series, though: House of Cards was uniformly admired, and the return of Arrested Development was one of the most anticipated media events of the last few years. Suddenly, Netflix was a media darling: innovative, fresh, and catering the type of audience who binge watches entire seasons of New Girl in less than a week.
So, you know: everyone.
Now, with Orange is the New Black, I think the burgeoning...network? media entity? programmer?...is hitting its stride. OITNB is funny, it's well-written and (mostly) well-acted, which are pre-requisites for any classic show; since it was created by Jenji Kohan, the brains behind Weeds, I'm not surprised. And it can't be denied that Kohan has a knack for catchy theme songs.
But OITNB is more than that: while Piper Chapman, the nice white lady who goes to jail, is the series's theoretical center, the show is most effective when it's focusing on the other characters. Why? Because their stories are stories we haven't seen before. (I know it seems crazy, but it turns out there's more to feminism than white ladies! Who knew?!) We get to see a lot of upper-East-Side white ladies who run cupcake shops/artesian lotion start-ups/gluten-free consulting firms in movies (ex: every romantic comedy ever produced), but we don't get to see a lot of Black women, or trans women, or lesbians, or drug addicts, or immigrants. At best, they're relegated to the sassy receptionist/real-talk best friend role; at worst, they're just not in the picture.
So getting a whole bunch of them, in one place? With backstories and everything? What a treat. Seriously. I love Nicki, the mouthy, matted-haired lesbian/recovering junkie; I love the love-hate relationship between Daya and her volatile mother; I love Poussay and Tastee's genuine affection and unspoken, totally heterosexual love for each other. I love seeing trans actress Laverne Cox as trans prisoner Sophia Burset. I love that neither Cox or Sophia's trans-ness is erased or marginalized, but I also love that there's more to Sophia than her being trans: she's smart, and pushes for better health care inside the prison. I love that. And it doesn't matter what colour those characters are. I mean, it does, because, you know: identities and cultures and politics. But their ethnicities and sexual orientations and gender genesis don't preclude them from being interesting to watch onscreen, right? Which seems to be a radical idea, but it shouldn't be.
Piper Chapman is not a particular compelling character, and her hook — how did this nice lady who is Just Like Us end up in prison? — dissolved the second she told her disbelieving mother than she was no better than any other prisoner, and that she actually deserved to be there. True say. Now get out of the way, because there are other, more interesting stories to tell.
Tuesday, August 20, 2013
Nia, which is a dance fitness practice, often focuses on "freedance" movement; that is, dancing in a way that feels amazing in your body. Sometimes this matches with the music; many times, it doesn't. It's pure movement, pure pleasure, and sometimes it can be tough for me to really let go and get into the movement: I try to choreograph my dancing, strive for symmetry, and do other type-A stuff that lessens the pleasure. Sometimes, freedancing is nothing more than sitting on the ground and flexing your fingers: hell, if it feels good, just a gentle sway can be a freedance. Really appreciating the way muscles slide over bone, how fascia creates support, how breath energizes the whole body. It's amazing, but it's also tough. It requires mindfulness and nonjudgement — how often does that come naturally?
While I was taking my White Belt a couple months ago, we did a lot of freedancing. And there was a moment, when the Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes song "Time of my Life" was being played, when I got legitimately teary-eyed. This surprised me: I've never loved Dirty Dancing, and I generally roll my eyes when that song comes on, but in the moment, it struck me in a very real, raw, emotional place. It was unexpected, and very vulnerable.
Doing Nia has allowed my relationship with music to evolve. I've become more aware of my body as I move through space; I've become more confident in my own particular brand of booty-shaking on any given dancefloor; it's helped me forge emotional connections to the music I'm listening to; and it helps me focus on how to lead other people to move, as well. I love beats — I always have — but I'm starting to think of them like clothing hangers: convenient places to hang a particular move, or feeling, or expression of joy.
And I can't deny, I'm excited to build playlists for dancing. Should I lead with some GusGus? Cool down with Massive Attack, and get the blood pumping with A Tribe Called Red? This stuff feeds me.
Monday, August 12, 2013
When I was nine, a family friend asked me what I would be when I grew up; I shirtily replied that I wanted to be a political analyst, despite the fact that I wasn't totally clear on what that person would actually, y'know, do. In high school, I raised my hand and asked what someone had to do to become a stay-at-home mom, which gave the teacher only slight pause before returning to the lesson at hand. University was an eight-year marathon of "who the hell knows that this degree is going to get me?" and my post-graduation career has been scattershot at best.
I have no clear idea in my head of what my business card should say, or even what I would want it to say. This is frustrating, because as my friends start businesses/head back to school to get college diplomas/entire second or masters degrees/climb the corporate ladder to a comfortable middle rung/pay off their student loans/start families/be actual, functioning adults, I'm still at a loss when someone makes smalltalk at a party by asking what I do.
What I do, these days, is write. I make crafts. I take baths and read comic books. I spend hours thinking about my stupid reproductive system and the various ways it's going to let me down. I meet friends for lunch and I hang out with my boyfriend. I cook. I job-hunt. I dance. And while it's all soul-nourishing, it doesn't exactly pay the rent.
Realizing I have no professional goals to speak of is terrifying. Unlike my friends in the service industry, I don't want to open my own themed bar. I have a horror of amassing more student debt by going back to school, and I have no idea how professional journalists get paid unless they're Lewis Lapham. I feel adrift, aimless, and worst of all, boring.
Sometimes I daydream about living in one of those dystopian worlds where your profession is assigned to you at birth, or halfway through your bar mitzvah — I mean, those places have some downfalls, but at least people have some focus. I took a quiz online that suggested that my ability to innovate and direct might make me ideal for a job in fields like wedding planning or Chinese medicine, but somehow, those don't really jump-start my engine, you know?
So I dunno. I'm open to suggestions. My boyfriend just came into my office and asked me what I was working on; when I told him about this blog post, he said, "Well, you're a writer!" which is both deeply encouraging and also like, dude: blogging doesn't pay my bills. I need some ideas on how to pay my bills without completely losing my mind (and I think, to the eternal disappointment of my nine-year-old-self, that political analyst is pretty much out of the picture by now. Bummer).
Saturday, August 3, 2013
I've been thinking a lot about it lately for a number of reasons: I'm in the midst of fertility tests, those aforementioned pregnant friends, and Jean Twenge's article in The Atlantic called "How Long Can You Wait to Have a Baby." Presumably, the "you" in that title is intended generally, but I read the article as though it was going to personally deliver me some bad news. The article talked about a couple fertility cliffs — one at 27, so that ship's long since sailed, and another around 38 — and the how fertility-rate statistics are often manufactured from outdated or poorly interpreted evidence, and presented in a breathless catastrophe narrative that tells women of 35 their eggs are stale and their uterus is toxic. The article's counter-narrative was, perhaps, a little too rosy, but it was nice to have a reprieve from the usual discourse.
Of course, statistics about other women do nothing to assuage my personal anxieties. I have no idea if I'm running out of time, or if my levels are abundant. I don't know if my eggs are dumb, with Neanderthal brows and a tendency to miscarry. I don't know if it'll be easy to get pregnant because I've never tried; the fact that I've never had an accident or a scare makes me feel like less of a birth-control champion and more like something is awry.
And that's before the kid is even born! Then I have to worry about work-life balance, about keeping the romance with my partner alive, about money — always about money! — about what happens when our upstairs neighbours smoke, about playschool and which books to read them and food allergies. I want, fiercely, to be a mom, and to have a partner who wants to be a father; I also suffer from ambivalence about what I might lose when I become one. I know I'm not alone in this.
Tonight, I was buttonholed by a friend of mine who proclaimed that couples should be married for at least five years before they have kids. This was awkward, because this person is neither in a relationship nor a parent, and when I mentioned that a five-year window probably wasn't in the cards for me, became insistent. "You need to get your fights out," he said solemnly. I'm not convinced that crossing the five-year threshold puts a moratorium on conflict, but it's an interesting theory. I just don't have that kind of time.
These feelings aren't going to go away: as more and more of my friends become happily, easily, joyously pregnant, the more convinced I am that I'm part of the infertile minority. After all, someone has to take on that role. It's exhausting: trying to balance the knowledge of not-being-ready-now in so many ways (financially, in my relationship, possibly in my body, in my living arrangement) with that curiosity, burning ever brighter, about what's really inside all those baby carriages.
Wednesday, July 24, 2013
I haven't always been that way. I'm kind of a homebody, to be honest: I like to curl up in bed with a nice book and some gluten-free cookies. Maybe if I'm getting really wild, lunch at a previously untested restaurant will be on the books. I've never been one to dive off bridges, dance on the table, or run with the bulls.
However! Things change. A couple years ago, we went camping. Eight days in the wilderness, canoeing from site to site, getting eaten by blackflies and hissing "You have to tell me when you're going to switch sides with your paddle!" at each other. It was kind of horrible, to be honest: physically demanding, emotionally draining, and I felt left out of the tight-knit group who had organized it. Plus, did you know that there are spiders in the forest? Big ones? It was tremendously challenging.
But it's funny, because looking back on that trip, there are some shining moments. I learned how to canoe. Mark read aloud from his hard-boiled detective story as we listened, intent and exhausted, around a campfire. I had sex in a tent, like any good Canadian should. The risotto was delicious. The campsites were magical. And we made it out alive: my relationship with my boyfriend survived the trip, and I made it out relatively unscathed. Nobody got eaten by a bear.
It turns out that trying new things—even things that might make us uncomfortable—is a secret to happiness. I've been trying this approach in my life lately, and it's led to some interesting results. Keeping an open mind about the little things, wether it's trying a new flavour of ice cream or turning an unexplored corner on an evening walk, lets our brains discover new sources of pleasure. And while there is pleasure in the tried-and-true way of being, these new exercises are mental calisthenics, forcing me to pay attention—do I like this? Why or why not?—and pleasure often emerges as a result.
This extends to big-picture items as well. I read an article recently where the author considered the idea of putting his partner at the centre of his life. For people who have been together since their teens, this might be second nature, but for those of us who spent a good portion of our 20s on our own, it can be tough to shift from "me" to "us." It's scary to give up on being "right," to start asking "what's best for us?" instead of "how do I come out ahead in this?" But being conscious of the need for this shift, and working on stretching those us-muscles (m-us-cles?), is rewarding, even when it requires a mental backbend or an emotional time-out.
Since I'm trying new things in several aspects of my life, it makes sense to savour travel opportunities as well. Last summer's trip to Iceland created for me what I like to refer to as my "Iceland-mind:" that is, the feeling of freedom, joy, and support that comes when I'm doing something I really love. It comes when I'm cooking, or when I'm doing Nia. It comes when I'm walking with my boyfriend, or writing fiction. And I want to create other "minds" to go with it. Maybe "Tokyo-mind" will be my busy, workaholic aspect, primed and attuned to do my most focused work. Maybe "San Francisco-mind" will nurture my hippie-ish side, where I talk freely and unabashedly about my co-housing dreams and attend desert raves. Who knows what other minds are out there, waiting to be discovered. I won't know until I try a few on for size.