Saturday, December 27, 2014

Things that Happened in 2014

January: I finished the first draft of my "long story," a novel-length murder mystery set on a post-apocalyptic farm. I did my due diligence and set out copies to a half-dozen friends for review and comment; they were generally kind, which gives me hope. I haven't had time since then to pick up the story for more work, but I think about it every day.

February: I visited my friend Jess in Montreal for her baby shower; she's my first close friend to have made a kid. Last year, I went through some Big Feelings about kids/fertility, but somehow, it's been easy being her friend through her pregnancy and new motherhood. Most of that credit goes to her: in addition to talking about maternity leave and breastfeeding, she also knows about things like Serial and Straphanger and Jian Ghomeshi. She's pretty rad, as far as motherhood role models go.

March: I started a new job, and the results, as they say, have been mixed. However, I did make headway on a my work-related anxiety and confidence. So there's that.

April: M and I got engaged. We had been talking about marriage for a while, but when we went for a walk up to Casa Loma on a beautiful spring day, I didn't know he was about to get down on one knee and propose. It was pretty magical.

May: We really started to dig deep on the wedding planning. Five months is not a long engagement, and there was so much to do: what would we feed people? Where? What would I wear? Who would we invite? How much is postage? There were so many moving parts, and each one took time and intense conversation.

June: I interviewed two people who cited their workplace's community and connectedness as a major plus for them, and I realized that this—since I worked alone—was a perk that was lacking in my own job. These two interviews are probably what began 2014's maddeningly slow thought process about my own professional story: What do I like to do? How do I turn that into work?

July: Technically, Emmett's annual Dominion Day party was in June, but it felt like the kick-off to this summer. We ate mad barbecue, drank whiskey, went on a meandering hike, and I read White Noise by Don Delillo, which was weird (and I liked it). There was also a huge bonfire, which conveniently doubles as a lazy metaphor for personal rebirth and renewal.

August: Honestly, I spent a lot of August feeling pretty lonely. Our wedding loomed large and unconquerable on the near horizon, my bank account was being drained like a fatted pig, and I felt unshakeable workplace ennui. I also was loathe to talk about it, since that felt very spoiled: "Gather round, friends, as I complain about my life choices!" I cried a lot. I read about Detroit. I made kombucha.

September: Then M and I got married. Our summer had been filled with filthy work weekend and aching muscles, but all of the work paid off big-time. We had two lovely, shining days: a teeny ceremony at city hall (+ dim sum), followed the next day by 88 of our closest friends and family eating tacos, drinking cider, and dancing until 2:30 in the morning. M and I had often turned to each other in the weeks leading up to our big days and said, "If we can get through this, we can get through anything," and I really do think that's true.

October: One of my oldest friendships ended. It was a long time coming, and it was honestly for the best, but I felt pretty crummy about it. It made me ask myself uncomfortable questions about what my boundaries are, and how much evil I carry in my heart (we all carry some), and my abilities to sustain any long-term relationship if I couldn't keep this one going. I miss my friend, but I don't miss feeling terrible about our friendship.

November: M took me to Luma for Taste of Iceland, and we all got really (really!) into Serial.

December: My first Christmas as a married person was also the shortest one I'd ever had: two and a half whirlwind days with my in-laws, my parents, my dad's extended family, and my husband. I made the decision to wear control-top underwear to Christmas dinner, which was miserable and masochistic. I enter 2015 as a woman who will never again be punished by restrictive panties.

Image via Mathew Borrett

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Threads of Truth

When we were in Los Angeles this fall, we went to LACMA, where we toured the Japanese Pavilion and looked at kimonos from the mid-20th century. They were so strange, these hybrid things. They were the shape and design of something medieval, but meticulously decorated with contemporary inspiration: strands of DNA, loose interpretations of Sputnik, geometric Frank Lloyd Wright-ish lines and colours. They were beautiful, but also kind of sad. It was hard to picture who, exactly, would have worn these outfits, and where.

I've thought a lot about those kimonos in the past few month. For me, they've become a kind of symbol of the balancing act we all do in building up our identities. The contradictions we contain.

When I was in recovery, I encountered this idea of "radically accepting" one's own body. It works like this: instead of defaulting to self-loathing and disappointment every time I see or think about my appearance, I would just kind of...accept it. Attributes that were previously assigned a negative value were reassigned a neutral one. In practice, it meant that when I saw a picture of myself with a double chin, instead of hating the picture, and myself, and vowing to lose some weight, I would just go, "huh, I have a double chin in this picture," and then keep on keepin' on.

This is so hard. This is one of the hardest thing that I've ever had to learn. But in the end, I got better at it, and I realized that I could transfer this practice into other areas of my life. I could be in a shitty mood and all it meant was that I was grouchy, not that I was a bad person. Taking each thing as being its own tiny piece of a greater mosaic, and not the totality of my life, was revolutionary.

It allowed me to start recognizing contradictions, which doesn't often happen in black-and-white thinking. I could be both a good partner and also annoy my boyfriend. I could be attractive and also have frizzy hair. Both things could be true at the same time. The world, man! It's a big place! We can hold a lot of truth in here.

Anyone who listened to the podcast Serial can tell you that facts and truth aren't always super-obvious. Tracing the story of the 1999 murder of a high school girl, and her teenaged ex-boyfriend Adnan's subsequent investigation and conviction, the podcast was an unmitigated success. People made charts about the episodes. I texted a handful of people about the show constantly ("It's so good!" / "I KNOW SHH I HAVEN'T HEARD THE NEW ONE YET"). Someone even remixed the advertisement for Mail Chimp that ran before each episode; I know because I listened to that remix three times.

Serial was "about" Hae Min Lee's murder, but it was about so much more than that: how host Sarah Koenig schooled us all in investigative journalism; how the criminal justice system has blindingly bad flaws that are (slowly, sometimes) being corrected; about how defense laws do their jobs, and how inmates treat 18-year-old Muslim kids when they show up in the general population of a maximum security prison. But it's also about how we tell each other stories, and how those stories are—and aren't—always based on facts.

Sometimes, we need to chase facts down and beg them to talk: a Jay-on-Serial situation. Other times, we don't know if we can trust them completely: Adnan, definitely. Many times, we end up with a buffet of weird, conflicting information about a situation—or a person—and then we have to make a judgement call: what's happening here? Who is this person, really? And can I tell my facts from my feelings enough to know for sure?"

At the end of Serial, I wondered who Adnan was, really. He seems to be a contradiction: a guy who went to prison for murdering his ex-girlfriend, and despite his protestations of innocence, doesn't actually seem to mind it much. A model inmate in for life. A mosque kid who stole, a Muslim boy who had sex. A man convicted of a violent crime who got elected to the incarcerated equivalent of the student body government. A man who will never know a life outside of cinderblock walls—first in high school, then in prison—but who will make his friends barbecue sauce from scratch.

And some of the contradictions, I can understand. I don't think I could sustain the level of rage that I assume I'd feel at a wrongful conviction over multiple decades; at some point, I'd probably give in and at least check out the library. We know prison as a lonely and violent place, but I guess sometimes gregarious and good-natured people end up there; they need to fit in somewhere, too. Multitudes, man. This story has them.

But the way the podcase, and our brains, are set up is that multitudes are hard. We don't want conflicting evidence. We want a nice 140-minute action movie with an appropriate number of explosions and pithy one-liners, and we want the villain to be Russian, thanks. We want a yes/no: guilty or innocent? Beautiful or ugly? With Adnan, we have two truths: his, in which he is innocent, and the one belonging to the state of Maryland, which convicted him. He both is and isn't a murderer. It all depends on who you get your facts from. An entire identity follows suit.

Back at LACMA, those kimonos are arranged along a spiral walkway. You can either follow it up towards the vaulted ceiling, or down into the basement. Each garment is given its own special nook, and you can see many of them from any given vantage point. Sometimes, you can look down at see a kimono from an aerial view, and notice a detail of neckline or sleeve that would be otherwise undetectable. But you can't see all of them this way. You have to retrace your spiraled steps, go past the ones you've seen before, back down to the entrance of the building. Then you have to keep going, even further, to get to the others. It's the only way to see them all.

Thursday, December 11, 2014


The cheerfully-named new UP public transit initiative aims to link Union Station (along with secondary stops at Weston and Bloor West) to Toronto Pearson Airport. This is good. The Pan-Am games are coming up, and people will be arriving. The city needs a link between its air and ground transit hubs, and the UP - which stands for Union/Pearson, duh - can help facilitate that.

The problem is the cost. The cost! Jeez Louise, this thing is expensive. $27.50! One-way! That is intense. For a family of four, you'll be paying $55. School-aged kids are charged nearly ten bucks to ride. Once you're deposited at Union station, you then pay an additional three dollars to ride the regular TTC. Of course, if you buy a Presto card, the UP fare drops to $19 (although the Presto card costs $6, so the savings is kind of a wash), but right now, the Presto can only be used at fifteen of the TTC's 32 subway stations, on one of its streetcar routes (and only then on the shiny new streetcars, of which there are currently two in operation), and on none of its bus routes.

This is byzantine madness. It shouldn't take a PhD in economics (not to mention a trust fund) to budget for a trip from Pearson to the Beaches.

Metrolinx says the UP system isn't targeted at your average Torontonian. They're after the business traveler dollars and the tourists. This leaves a gnarly taste in my mouth for two reasons: business travelers will likely skip the UP altogether in favour of renting a car or hiring a cab; and since when is it ethical to price-gouge people just because they're from out of town? In other queasy news, airport workers will be offered the chance to buy a monthly pass for $300. This makes sense, because so many airport jobs pay so much more than minimum wage.

Blog TO published a comprehensive comparison of where Toronto falls on the airport express cost spectrum; surprising no-one, this new fare scheme is the most expensive of its kind in North America, and one of the most expensive in the world.  Maddeningly, the service isn't even all that great compared to other express routes (every quarter-hour for UP, compared to JFK's transit link that runs ten or eleven times an hour in peak times), and, although it does beat the trundling 192 rocket bus (and the shambling 52 bus, which can take over an hour to get from Lawrence West station to Pearson), at least the TTC's three-dollar fare is easy on the wallet.

When we went to Reykjavik a couple years ago, we paid about $25 for a bus taking us from Keflavik airport to the city's downtown. But dudes: that bus ride was 40 minutes on empty roads, and the bus driver literally dropped us off at the doorstep of our Air BnB. Like, right in front. Unless you're staying at the Royal York hotel, the UP offers no such comparable service. You still have to get to where you're going, and you have to pay more to do it.

Truly usable, visionary transit is integrated. It's affordable. Hit me with an transit-line airport surcharge, sure - when we were in San Francisco this fall, there was an extra four or five dollars tacked on to the BART ride from SFO to downtown, and it that makes sense. But to charge a rate that is nine times the going rate for the other transit system in the city? To market that blatantly as some sort of luxury for elite travelers, when it was funded by taxpayer money? That's more nauseating than air turbulence.

Now that the fares have been announced,  it's unlikely that Metrolinx will create any kind of wiggle room. That's too bad. Instead of a transit system that can link us with the rest of the world, we have one that shows just how frustratingly inward-facing this city can be.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Your Winter Horoscopes, I Guess

As we near the solstice/EOY/darkest depths of winter despair, my witch blood has flared up again and so I'll offer you yet more unsolicited life advice based on birthdays. I'm getting the hang of this, truly, probably.
ARIES: I cannot imagine a world without oranges, but according to my trustworthy friend Liz, apparently, we're all heading in that direction. It's terrible. It's something to do with a fungus, or a genetic change in the fruit, or something equally benign/apocalyptic—I don't know, look it up. I guess we're going to all going to have to get really into grapes or carrot sticks for our 3 PM snack, but I don't know if my heart is really in it. This is a metaphor for something in your life, but I'm tired from my lack of vitamin C, so you're going to have to do the heavy lifting on this one.

TAURUS: The new Star Wars trailer has divided people into two camps: those who believe that the cross-light-saber is cool, and those who know that, if wielded in battle, some chumpy Jedi is going to cut his own hand off and save Darth Vader the trouble. A lot is riding on what camp you find yourself in, Taurus. More than you could even know.

GEMINI: There is a baby-name website actively advocating for expectant parents to name their children Roscoe and Buster. I weep for these unborn children, I truly do. Can you imagine having to say, "Hi, my name is Buster Johnson and I'm here to interview for the sales position?" Or explaining, every day for your entire speaking life, yes, really, Roscoe, and no, your parents didn't name you in 1932? You're smart, Gemini. Give your kids a fighting chance.

CANCER: You are the embodiment of that motivational poster that goes, "How to have a bikini body: 1. Have a body. 2. Put a bikini on your body." Just carry on. I have nothing to add.

LEO: I have a serious question for you, Leo, and I want you to really think about it. How much time would you say you spend each day considering your own reflection? Maybe not even really consciously doing it, but checking yourself in brushed-aluminum elevator doors and on the backs of spoons? And then judging it, sighing, and feeling 10% worse than you did even three minutes before? Maybe think about spending less time doing that.

VIRGO: Have you been watching Fargo? The whole thing is like hanging out with my uncles, if they were inept criminals. Also, Billy Bob Thornton is in it; looks like that dude was really ahead of the curve on the whole Jian Ghomeshi thing, eh? You might be equally ahead of the curve on something, but only time will tell. (That's always the way with the ahead-of-the-curve game.)

LIBRA: Of all the deadly sins, I would say you're definitely ready for gluttony. All-you-can-eat shellfish bars might not always be worth the food/salmonella ratios, but when you beat the house on those gambles, man, they really pay off. It's like shrimp, forever. Go early and stay late. Ignore all the other sins, though, or you're going to really be asking for trouble. As in: no angry shrimp eating. No lusty scallops. And remember: pride, at all-you-can-eat shelfish bars, goeth before blowing chunks.

SCORPIO: When is the last time you really let your hair down? Had a bonfire, roasted a goat, danced barefoot around the flames, and let yourself howl at the moon? I would bet that you've spent a lot of time checking to make sure your shirts are properly buttoned and your hair isn't askew, but it's time to take a break from that. Go get your warpaint on and pillage for life's pleasure.

SAGITTARIUS: The phrase "You only get one shot at this" is such a cliche, but dammit, it serves a purpose. So does "This is no dress rehearsal." Both phrases are favourites of the chronically insipid, but they can be powerful when you remember that yeah, actually, you're running out of life-time and some day you're going to die. So book that trip to Spain, have that second baby, and quit fucking worrying about your RRSP (also, LOL at retirement, that shit is for baby boomers, we'll work until we die).

CAPRICORN: Jesus, dude. You have got to get it together on the eating front. You're not in the "muscle weighs more than fat" camp unless you can see your bicep veins; until then, eat something green at every meal. Stop eating half a pizza in one go and then wandering over every ten minutes for the rest of the night for "just one more sliver." You fool zero people with that strategy. You're not going to stay in your 20s for much longer, and then every pizza molecule you've ever ingested is going to wrap itself around your heart and squeeze.

AQUARIUS: Soul homework: remind yourself every day while you brush your teeth that you're only one person and the fate of the world doesn't rest on your shoulders. Every time you poop, tell yourself that you're actually fine the way you are. And when you take your first bite of food in the morning, think about the fact that you're very good at loving people. Try this for a week or two. Get back to me on how it goes.

PISCES: Remember how awesome Kyle McLachlan was on Twin Peaks, and how doofy he was on Sex and the City? Casting is everything, and I'll bet that you have at least one person in your life that's been horribly miscast: a lover who should actually be a friend, a work pal who should be upgraded into a roommate, an ex who is better suited to being a demon in hell. You'll know 'em when you see 'em.

Friday, November 28, 2014


I've never had what people refer to as "a calling." What a great idea, right? As if someone just out of focus is beckoning to you: "Psst. Hey. Check this out." A vocation, if you will. I believe there are some careers that require that guiding spirit—teacher, doctor, spiritual guru—and some, such as office administrator, that do not. And as I was sitting in a Second Cup today, regretting my mid-afternoon treat (brownie + hot chocolate = so much sugar), it occurred to me that this might okay. I might be fine as I am.

I sometimes feel like there are not one but three new years in each year: the start of the calendar year, the back-to-school season, and one's birthday. These tend to bring on self-reflective moments: am I where I want to be? What should I change? What should I keep? The past nine months have been dramatic and emotional: friendships have ended, marriages have begun, work has been a disaster and I've felt my creativity strain at the confines of a 24-hour day. At the end of it, who am I? Who do I want to be?

Okay, I know this has been wishy-washy and a little self-indulgent so far, but bear with me. I am an overthinker; it's just how I roll. I keep thinking about my friend Liz and my aunt Barb, both of whom went back to school for thinks they wanted to do. Maybe even felt compelled to do, when it comes right down to it. And my own calling may not work the same way: it may be a magnet that repels instead of clicking close, where each day I stay in a place that doesn't feed me, I feel more and more ruined. It doesn't show me where I should go, but it teaches me where I can't stay.

It's my birthday on Sunday. In the spirit of a new year, here are three things I want to make happen for myself. To make that coffee shop revelation really hold true, to actually be fine where I am. 

1. To get a new job. I spent thirteen months unemployed, and in some ways, it was the greatest year of my life: I did freelance work, I made things, I saw friends and family, I had a good therapist. It was like being a student, but without having to be an alcoholic, bulimic 24 year old. I know work is work, and that it's not designed to make us feel good. But it shouldn't be making me feel bad. A new job, even a temporary one, might help fix that. It also might not, but there's no way of knowing until I try.

2. To get onto a new career path. After spending the last two years dancing around it in various forms—I'm going to be an HR manager! I'm going to be a life coach! I'm going to be a board trainer!—I realized that what I wanted to do was talk to people about their problems and help them fix 'em. I want to be a therapist.

Jeez, it feels weird even saying that out loud, you know? It's a ton of work, but I think I'd be good at it. And, as my mom pointed out, I can be five years older and be on this path, or I can be five years older and in the same career stream, just floating unhappily along. I'm trying so hard to avoid saying cliches like "You only get one shot at this," but seriously: I really do only get one shot at this. It's not like it's going to happen unless I make it happen.

3. To embrace all my feelings. I spent one afternoon this summer just bawling my eyes out in the office at this blog, which made me feel all kinds of complicity, guilt, and general grief at the world. After I was done, I just sort of stared blankly at the wall for a while. And feeling that sad was really uncomfortable. Unsurprisingly, I also hate being angry with my husband, I hate feeling anxious around my boss, and I hate worrying about my various family members.

But I also love spending time with my family, and feeling peaceful about the end of a friendship, and basking in the glow of M's love. I can be somewhat of a pessimist, and I often also try to avoid bummer feelings because, hey, they're bummers. But accepting the whole range of my emotional spectrum is such a key part of being a human. When I try to ignore the negative, or when my angry feelings threaten to block out all that joy, well, then, we have a problem.

So this year's to-do list for myself is a little different. It's not a lose-ten-pounds kind of deal; it's a get-going-girl exhortation. Some of it is trying to control for external forces, some of it is figuring out how to make a big change without psyching myself out, and some of it is just continuing to do work I already know how to do. So yeah: I see you, thirty-first birthday. I'm coming for you. Let's do this thing.

Saturday, November 22, 2014


I recently read a blog post about PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) and its effects on the author's weight, and it kind of took me back. Not in a fun, those-were-the-days sort of way, either: in a terrible, alarmed, self-loathing kind of way.

Some background: since hitting puberty, my weight has been a yo-yo. I blossomed, sure, but I also ballooned. I grew enormous breasts in a very short amount of time, and I went from being a skinny kid to an unskinny teenager. I had no idea why.

Like lots of kids, I turned to food for comfort. Cookies tasted good, but I was no dope: I've known how to read a calorie listing since I was in the sixth grade. I taught myself how to purge (although, credit where credit is due: Seventeen's concerned articles about the whole ana/mia thing were very helpful), and so even though I continued to eat my feelings, I did lose weight. It was clear from the guys in my high school that to be thin was to be a prize. I wanted to be a prize for someone.

This is old territory for me, and not something that I'm proud of. Although, if we're being honest, I'm not really ashamed of it any more, either. I look back at that girl who just hated herself because her stomach wasn't concave, and because her arms jiggled when she moved, and I feel so tender towards her. I was so mired in shit back then, and it took a huge amount of courage to pull myself out of it. It forced me to start being what Anne Lamott calls "militantly on my own side."

But, the process of pulling myself out of the La Brea tar pits of self-loathing meant that I had to re-learn how to eat like a normal person. I hadn't ever really done that as an adult, and, to my alarm, it meant that I started gaining weight at a rapid clip. Like, 45 pounds over a span of a year? Which meant that, at my heaviest, I tipped the scales at 159 pounds. That's a lot for a 5'1" person. My eyes, which have always been anime-big, started to look smaller because my face was so bloated. I was helpless against the scale, and without purging, I had no idea how to fix this creep.

Things came to a head on Father's Day 2012, when my mom took one look at me and said, "Oh, you're not doing well, are you?" She didn't mean, like, LOL fatty. She meant Oh, your skin is turning gray. Which it totally was. I couldn't stop gaining weight, I was constantly bloated, and I was in a hellish cycle of diarrhea and constipation. To top it off, I had recently been diagnosed with PCOS, since my history of cysts and total weight explosion was enough for the nurse to flag it, despite not having the related hormonal shifts, body hair, or missing periods. I was fat, potentially infertile, and terrifically gassy.

Apparently, "learning how to eat normally" hadn't quite hit the mark.

I've read that women who are gluten sensitive have a higher incidence of both depression and eating disorders. This might be because of a couple different things: it's easy for a preoccupation with avoiding certain types of food to bleed into avoiding most food; it's also possible that the bloating and digestive issues that comes with gluten sensitivities can trigger a win-at-all-costs approach to avoiding them.

After that Father's Day picnic, I was ready to try anything. I started on a paleo diet, which involved cutting out grains (rice, corn, and wheat especially) and legumes, and piling my plate high with protein and produce. I ate some dairy here and there, I cut down on sugar (although, if cavewomen had had chocolate, lord knows they would have eaten it), and I ditched beer completely.

People tend to dismiss the paleo diet as being extreme, but I did this because I was suffering under a modern mealplan. Cupcakes made me fart. Bagels triggered exhaustion. Once, I ate two slices of pizza at a work function and had to go lie down on the bathroom floor for twenty minutes. Nobody wants to live like that.

And dudes, paleo isn't easy. All fast food is basically grain-based: burgers, pizza, sandwiches, falafels, sushi, ramen. Steel yourself to get really excited about desserts like meringues, which is usually (and correctly) presented as the finishing touch on a lemon pie. Baking is a write-off, and anyone who tries to sell you on paleo baked goods is a huckster fraud, because that shit tastes like styrofoam peanuts.

But the results can't be argued with, at least in my case. I started to sleep better. My stomach de-bloatified. My skin cleared up, for god's sake. And, to top it off, I dropped 35 pounds. The nurse who had originally diagnosed me with PCOS redid the tests a year later and proclaimed her original call to be in error. I no longer fit the symptom profile. A weight, no pun intended, had been lifted.

To some degree, I will always be a fat girl. Maybe not on the outside, where my weight-lifting and dance marathons have paid off, but on the inside, where the numbers on the scale get burned into my brain. I tend to overload the importance of weight in my self-worth calculations, and even though I've gone through hundreds of hours of therapy and have truly embraced kale, the math still gets skewed. M had done much heavy lifting on this topic, and while he met me at my lightest, he's loved me at my heaviest.

But the thing is, I needed to learn how to love myself at every weight. If the numbers on the scale start to tick up again, I like to think I have strategies in place to cope, and not just more vigorous dancing or less chocolate. Strategies like self-acceptance, a sense of humour, and the belief that my body is good enough no matter what it looks like. That's the heaviest—and the lightest—part.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

On Stress

When I was eight or nine, I called the Kids Help Line because I was feeling scared and nervous all the time. I had two younger siblings who ate up most of my parent's time. I had few friends. I spent a lot of time alone. I was afraid of pretty much everything: certain commercials on TV, my parents dying, drugs (educating fifth-graders about heroin....why?), losing library books, getting yelled at. Everything an elementary schooler could plausibly fear, I feared it. The Kids Help Line ads were pretty much ubiquitous at the time, and their message was "If you need help, just call!"

So I called, and I spilled my guts to the nice lady on the other end of the phone. She listened to me talk to what felt like a long time, as I tried to figure out why I felt so bad all the time. Finally, after I had run out of steam, she said gently, "Sounds like you're pretty stressed out."

Sounds like you're pretty stressed out. It was a gift: a name for the feelings that swirled inside me. It was a real thing. I was not, as I feared, totally crazy.

I promptly burst into tears.

Many years later, I realized that the Kids Help Line was for kids in actual trouble—the ones getting touched by their stepfathers and the ones who had to sleep on the streets—and I was probably the cause of an unseen and amused smile on her end. I felt embarrassed, but then her words came back to me. Sounds like you're pretty stressed out. That was important to me then, and it's still important to me now.

I'm a person who takes on a lot. Nearly everything in my life signifies something bigger that itself: my job becomes who I am. Every fight with my partner signals the beginning of the end. Weird rashes are symptoms of horrible diseases. I still lose my effing library books, for god's sake. My baseline stress has always been high, and adding the regular business of life on top of that can make it intolerable. I'm a person who takes on a lot; consequently, I'm a person who melts down on the regular.

Over the years, this has manifested in different ways. Denial, food, drinking, smoking pot, making out with horribly chosen strangers, bulimia, rage tantrums, sleeping until 4 PM, skipping school. The list continues from there in the most predictable way possible. It will not shock you to hear that none of those strategies worked.

I read somewhere that the secret—the "secret," if you will—to dealing with stress and its various expressions is pretty simple: diet, exercise, talk therapy. If you're in the depths of a horrible chemical depression or an anxiety psychosis, there are obviously other things you need to add to that toolbox, but those're the basics. Eat well, move around, and talk it out.

And you know what? Since reading that, I've done my best to embody that. I eat fairly well (although I have a weakness for Chicago-mix popcorn and maple-bacon chips), I try to move as much as I can (given that I work in an office), and I talk it out (when I can afford it, and get the time off).

Hmm. Maybe I need to recalibrate a little. Maybe I need to remember that, if I have high baseline stress, then I need to have a big fat self-care routine, too.

When I was unemployed, I didn't have any money, but I did have free time. So I cooked, and I went to exercise classes, and I found a cheap therapist who could see me in the middle of the day. And you know what? I still felt stressed out! But I didn't feel like I was going crazy. I worried about money, my work identity, and the future of my relationship, but I didn't worry that I was a bad person or that my boss's words were going make me throw up.

Stress will do that to a person.

And stress also comes from pretending that things are fine, that boundaries aren't being crossed, that I'm holding up the bargain I made with myself to eat, move, and talk on a regular basis. When I'm not taking care of myself properly—when I haven't given myself permission to say, "Nope, that doesn't work for me," either to myself or the people around me, then I'm only adding to the baseline. Stress is also shame-creating: I feel bad for feeling so bad. Everyone else seems to managing their stress-loads pretty well, so what the hell is wrong with me?

I enough to go into self-care mode. I pour out a soothing tea, I hop into a hot bath, I take a walk with my husband, and things feel okay for a while. But over the last few months, I can feel my stress levels rising. It's slippery under my feet, and I know I'm headed for a fall. Those little moments aren't mitigating the bigger problems. I know I need to make a change, and you know what? I'm scared.

I sometimes wonder how many kids like me called that nice lady up and spilled their guts. I wonder how many times she said to them, "Sounds like you're pretty stressed out," and how many times she heard that silence on the other end of the phone. The silence that says, yeah, I am pretty stressed out. Thank you for seeing that. Thank you for helping

Thursday, November 6, 2014

New York I Love You

At the risk of sounding trite: New York City, am I right?

Some context: last weekend, we loaded ourselves into a Megabus (slogan: "Your ass will never be the same") and took a twelve-hour journey to the City That Never Sleeps But Will Sometimes Concede To A Nap. The whole thing was a brain-mash of one-second memories and vague impressions: the guy at Hallowmas who tried to hit on me and reestablish his stick-on moustache at the same time; the smoked-cashew salsa at the upscale taqueria; being utterly ignored by the shopgirls at Helmut Lang (granted, we had just gotten off the bus and I was still wearing sweatpants, so I can't really blame 'em); M staring wistfully over the edge of the High Line as Graham turned to me and said, "This totally looks like the cover a book called Contemplating Joey Ramone"; seeing hot-pink leather aprons for sale in Greenwich Village; buying sky-scraping vintage heels; the complimentary hotel wine as it was handed over by the front desk clerk, whose eyebrows were unabashedly just drawn right on and also slightly uneven; etc, etc.

Also, we saw Lili Taylor and Nick Flynn on a tour of the Tenement Museum, and seriously, if that place wasn't a national treasure before, it damn well sure is now.

I think that, like most people, I have a tendency to compare whatever big city I'm currently in to my hometown of Toronto. It's inevitable, right? They have graffiti everywhere, while ours is concentrated in certain hipster nabes. The High Line (not to mention Central Park) is a magnificent expression of public planning and integrated public works management, while Toronto has Trinity Bellwoods and, like, the West Toronto Rail Path? There's just so much more stuff there, so much more complexity. I saw a restaurant dedicated entirely to oatmeal and despaired that Toronto would ever be able to match that. Imagine how many people need to love—like, really love—oatmeal for that to work. Does Toronto even have that many people?

It's cliched to feel that despair, of course. Comparing Toronto and New York is a fool's errand, and it will make us feel bad. New York is older by about 150 years, and there are more people living there by a factor of four. Toronto has a reputation for being staid, even in our own country—if you want to party, go to Montreal; if you want to make money, go to Calgary—and our municipal government has been mired in scandal and pointless in-fighting for the last half-decade. So, you know: not the same.

But being in New York is to breathe in the air of potential. Take, for example, the High Line park. The former rail-shipping corridor, abandoned as the trucking sector took over, was denounced as an eyesore and some residents lobbied to tear it down. Others, figuring it might make a cool park, banded together and become the Friends of the High Line, a group that eventually convinced the corridor's owners to donate it to the city, and that got architects and engineers on board to design the new park way. Now, the High Line is walked by over five million people every year. It's a marvel of weathered wood and native plants, of scenic overlooks and gently burbling fountains. The condos that overlook the park sell for about two million each, and I'm sure those original disgruntled residents have come around.

It's so frustrating to live in a place where municipal creativity is squelched. Look at the food truck fiasco, which bans trucks from operating within 50 meters of a brick-and-mortar restaurant. Instead of creating a little artisan food hub, the city has effectively told vendors that they're only welcome in wastelands. (Compare this to upscale LA neighbour Abbot Kinney, which invites the trucks in as part of its monthly First Friday street festival, during which the surrounding restaurants also report an uptick in business. It's almost like the two things might be related.) Part of the Gardiner Expressway are literally falling on people as they drive it—why not create a High Line analogue for our very own? I love the museums and the weirdo art venues and the pop-up galleries, but we lack this vision for ourselves as a city that can Get Shit Done.

Part of this is that we're spread out, and the growth downtown (where I live) has been mostly private. The city's skyline hasn't been transformed by cool new parks or even interesting office buildings. It's been mostly same-old condos, each one pretty much like its neighbour. The promised Section 37 developments have been milquetoast, and the city itself has been so swept up in the transit folder that little else has been discussed. Our brand remains one of soulless glass towers and a few precious, and mostly upscale, arts scenes. We're so fractured: a city of BIAs and east-vs-west mentalities, of our downtown getting down on the suburbs for election results, and the suburbs throwing shade at the core for stalling on subways. We're messy, and not in a fun, energetic, city-that-never-sleeps way. We're not the party girl; we're the friend who fell asleep in the cab on the way home.

Walking through New York last weekend, the critical mass of the city wasn't overwhelming. It felt natural and right. I felt springy and at home. And coming back to Toronto, seeing this city—our city—shining in the distance, I know that we can do better. We can wake up, shake ourselves off, and start walking.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Four Points About Jian Ghomeshi

Everyone is talking about Jian Ghomeshi, the disgraced and affronted former host of the CBC's Q and alleged sexual misconductee—you know the guy, the one who was all, "my BDSM practices are my own business!" in the face of four different women coming forward (anonymously, natch) and accusing him of unwanted sexual violence.

He's retained Navigator, the crisis communications firm previously employed by Michael "I definitely killed that cyclist" Bryant, to help him craft his statements. The result is a canny mix of petulance and defiance, the promises that the ex has regretted her statements and the CBC is firing him despite the fact that everyone involved assures everyone else that everything, ever, was consensual. Ghomeshi has framed the alleged assaults as being in the context of a consensual BDSM relationship: that is, the punching and choking weren't a problem until after he split with his partner, whom he is depicting as a vengeful sprite out to ruin his reputation.

There's been a lot of backlash: against Ghomeshi, against the CBC, against his so-far unnamed accusers. So let's get a few things straight:

1. Assault and abuse can still happen inside BDSM relationships. Indeed, Ghomeshi joked about his own sex life being like Fifty Shades of Grey, the publication of which has prompted an unfortunate tendency to popularly present "kink" as "owning another person and using them however you want." Kink and BDSM is always negotiated, boundaries are both known and respected, and informed consent is at the forefront.  The accusations against Ghomeshi is that he's someone who blithely says, "I like it rough" without bothering to spell out that "rough" means "I like to hit/choke/deprive women of oxygen." This is not kink. This is unsafe: physically, emotionally, sexually.

Now, I know that there are kinky people who like being punched and choked and deprived of oxygen. (I follow enough of them on Twitter.) But "being kinky" isn't carte blanche for all non-vanilla sexual behaviours. We all have the lines we don't want to cross: someone who enjoys getting hit might draw the line at getting peed on, for instance; other people might like both. I'm not denying that it's a choice, and a valid one. I'm just pointing out that if someone feels like you've assaulted them after punching them in the face during what's supposed to be consensual sex, you're doing it wrong.

2. In the aftermath of #GamerGate, and Steubenville, we know—we know—that being a woman who speaks out against men in power is a dangerous game indeed. The women who have accused Ghomeshi aren't hiding their identities because they're being sneaky or trying to put anything past people. They're likely doing it because these days, coming forward about sexual assault, especially against a well-liked media figure, is an open invitation for detractors to find them, smear them, demand proof, examine their histories, and tell them that they deserved whatever they got. Their anonymity shouldn't temper people's ability to believe in the accusations.

3. Some people seem to think that the CBC is under the obligation to keep Ghomeshi on its roster until the day he's jailed for sexual misconduct. This is weird, and not true. The CBC is a media entity, and Ghomeshi is part of their brand. The conversation we're now having about him is decidedly off-brand, which is bad for the CBC. They've made a business decision, the same way TLC made a business decision about pedophile-datin' Mama June and The Food Network fired racist Paula Deen. It's the same reason that companies recall faulty child seats and take back spoiled meat. Their product has suddenly gone off. In Ghomeshi's case, his product is his own self: it has been spoiled in the eyes of many listeners. Remember, also, that the CBC didn't publicize the BDSM angle; Ghomeshi did that himself.

4. Finally, we need to get over the prurient wishy-washiness that seems to infect these stories when they come to light. When a man punches a woman outside of a Denny's at three o'clock in the afternoon, we can all agree that he's a problem; when he does it in the bedroom, all of the sudden we're like, "Well, maybe we don't know all the details. Maybe she provoked him. Maybe she wanted it." This is such soggy bullshit. There aren't always two sides to every story (see also: change, climate). Sometimes, presenting things as a 50/50 narrative split gives powerful people even more power.

It's unlikely that Ghomeshi will be arrested for any crime. Indeed, he's already launched a suit against the CBC for $50 million dollars for wrongful dismissal. He's well-liked in Canada, and his public persona up until now has been as a relatively harmless moppet. He is, as his defenders say, innocent until proven guilty.

But just remember: it's not like, in this day and age, coming forward about sexual violence wins people any favours. And this is about more than rough sex and bad brands. This is about who's narratives we choose to follow. I, for one, will be choosing to believe the women who have nothing to gain by coming forward over the man who has so very much to lose.

Image via Project Unbreakable via Buzzfeed

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


I've been in jobs where I realized I was bribing myself with coffees I couldn't afford just to go into work with something warm and comforting...
--H, describing when it's time to move on

More often than not these days, the highlight of my workday is going to Fortino's, the grocery store in the unpleasant Lawrence Square Mall, and buying myself two sugar-free chocolates from their bulk foods section. Sometimes I get two mint-flavoured treats, and sometimes I mix it up: a peanut butter and a mint? Oh, Kaitlyn, you decadent scamp. I take the escalator upstairs, where I spend a minute in front of the cigar/magazine/pop stand's cooler—and I in a Fresca mood today, or do I want my old standby, Coke Zero? And what is "a Fresca mood," anyway?—before paying one dollar to the man behind the counter. Then, without any other reason to be in the unpleasant Lawrence Square Mall, I head back to work. The whole thing take about fifteen minutes, including crossing Lawrence Avenue's multiple lanes of irate/incompetent drivers. On my way there, I pass the unpleasant Lawrence Square Mall's lone bit of beauty: the front garden's luscious croton plants. On my way back, I look south, towards where I live.

I have no fairy godmother who has magically imbued me with the direction and drive to figure out where, and as what, I should be working. I have a real mother, who's convinced that I'm going to be a writer someday—as in someone who can pay the bills with words! The stuff of legend, I tell you. She sends me job postings to positions for which I am wildly unqualified, like the VP of communications, or a web writer/designer with an inside-out knowledge of Photoshop. Part of me loves it, though, because her faith in me is unflappable. When I tell her that I'm not even going to be considered for those roles, she shrugs. "You never know until you apply."

I'm smart. I'm capable. I'm organized like a motherfucker. I communicated well. I can see patterns. I can see long-term goals. And yet, I get stuck in these dead-eyed jobs in beige shoeboxes, watching the clock so I can go to Fortino's for my daily candy bribe. I feel like a polar bear in a zoo: there's so much potential to be truly awesome, but it's just not my natural habitat. Sometimes I lash out and try to eat a penguin/get drunk on a Tuesday night so at least my no-fun Wednesday workday has a reason; mostly, though, I'm just tracing one big furry paw through the pond water and dreaming about the Arctic.

When it comes to work, I'm passive by nature. I'm ferocious in other aspects of my life, but somehow, that doesn't show up in my nine-to-fives. Maybe this is because my first big-girl job experience was so terrible (abusive bosses, exploitative schedules, much personal anxiety), or maybe it's because I have two modes when it comes to authority: frozen and furious. I've only recently started standing up for myself at work—pointing out exactly where I'm going above and beyond in the office, and suggesting that that deserves a raise still feels dangerous and scary—but I still get bad gut-feels when there's any sort of work conflict. And I know that, and I feel helpless to change it.

One of the biggest lessons this job is teaching me is that I do not thrive under these circumstances, which are exactly the right intersection of pressure, tedium, and frustration to make me feel like that polar bear. Moreover, by staying here, I am choosing to not thrive. Why would I look that in the eye and then decide to stay? At what point does that make sense? (One: financial. But even then, knowing that I make roughly $10,000 less than my similarly skilled compatriots in the for-profit sector tempers that argument a little.) My life outside of work is rich and rewarding—I love to dance, I see my friends, I lift weights, I cook good meals, I write, I knit, I craft, I'm close with my family, I love my husband—but I don't spend eight hours a day feeling like my life is rich. 

I spend it counting the minutes before I can leave, even for a minute, to get something sweeter. 

Image via Indulgy

Saturday, October 18, 2014


(New blog alert.)

(Don't worry, I'm still writing on this old workhorse, too.)

Saturday, October 11, 2014

A Fashionable State of Affairs

In the past year, I've gone from being a silly girl in my twenties to being what feels very much like A Woman: married, working at a non-profit, traveling with my husband, planning for the future. It's startling how fast that all happened. And, in the midst of that, I wonder if my wardrobe has had time to catch up.

Trust me, I know how superficial that sounds. After all, there's nothing inherently different about me now that I'm in a fresh new decade, or have a snazzy new gold band as an accessory, or working in someone else's office instead of at home. None of those things should matter vis-a-vis my wardrobe, but, somehow, they do. Something that felt right even a couple years ago now leaves me feeling like I'm playing dress-up: cyberpunk dresses, which I love, suddenly don't fit me like a second skin. I find myself yearning for a pair of skinny black velvet trousers and asymmetrical tanks in natural fibres, and I know it's time to play Name That Style.

For years—years!—my guiding style principle was "post-apocalyptic farm girl." I wanted something that could conceivably take me from a warehouse rave to a turnip patch. Oddly, this isn't a look that most places carry off the rack, so it means assembling a closet from thrift-store gems, hand-me-downs, weirdly styled wardrobe staples, and the very occasional bought-new splurge. And this worked, mostly, with a few missteps (once, while getting ready for a night out, I wore high-waisted leather-look leggings and a black, collared wrap tank top; my hair was big and blonde and blown out to the heavens. M took one look at me and said, "You look like Sandy at the end of Grease," which meant it was time for big LOLs and also back to the sartorial drawing board).

Now, while I still want that general flavour, the farmgirl look is losing steam. I keep thinking about modern-art gallery owners at openings, or goth Japanese hobby-farmers, and 1970s camp counsellors in poorly made horror movies. My closet now is just bonkers: a Garfield sweater nestles in beside a drapey Helmut Lang tank top. My drawer overfloweth with black tank tops, and yet I've also kept a pink sweater I've owned for a half-decade and worn maybe three times. I have miniskirts from that slutty store at the mall, I have booty shorts to be worn only in the winter (and only with tights), I have pants that fit horribly that I can't figure out how to replace, and I have a drawer full of tee-shirts despite the fact that I wear tee-shirts about three times a year.

M is a maximalist in many ways: he loves toys and souvenirs, he buys a tee-shirt at most concerts he attends, he gets the super-special edition Blu-Ray of whatever movie he's buying. We have more box sets in our living room than most video stores (RIP) have on their shelves. And I love our jumble of interlocked stuff, like our wall full of concert posters and our comic-book shelves. Sometimes, though, I wish we had the ability to curate our lives a little more effectively, to remember that the toy/poster/tiny bowl/lanyard that reminds us of a special moment isn't the memory itself.

I struggle to get rid of gifts, like hand-me-down pillows or gnarly old rugs. I hang onto books that I bought during my undergraduate program that I never got around to reading. The things that represent relationships, or things I wanted for myself ("I'll have a season where all I read is steampunk novels!"), are especially hard to ditch. It feels like a betrayal.

Which brings me back to my closet. Most of the clothes that go unworn were gifts: either too fancy for every day wear (a stack of party dresses from my mom), or things that don't quite align with how I want to present myself in the world (that pink sweater). I'm a person who often crafts stories about her outfits: today, I want to look like a safari guide; today, I want to look like a posh beekeeper. (The fact that I rarely want to look like an office manager could be dissected, I know.) When other people's narratives don't match up with mine, it can throw me for a loop. I struggle to shape a story where I wear a heathery Irish sweater and a one of my six black knee-length skirts. I wonder if my clothes are too young for me, or not quite office-appropriate, or too staid. I wrinkle my nose when it comes to go shopping, because I'm at a loss for where to buy new clothes. Mostly, I just want to feel like myself, but  with all these changes in the past year, I'm not totally sure who I am, and who I want to be.

But when I see something I know is right—oh, that's a nice feeling. A recent trip to Value Village scored me a pair of Sorel boots that tickle me completely. I can picture wearing them as I walk through the snow on the way to a client's office, or on a winter walk around my parent's farm, or to brunch with a bunch of girlfriends. I could also picture them on the feet of a magazine editor, or a lavender farmer, or a consultant, or a writer, or any of the other zillions of alternate-reality Kaitlyns I use to shape the vision of how I want my real, messy, married, working, laughing, loving life to go.

Image via

Friday, October 3, 2014

Swipe it, Tap It, Ride It: A Tale of Three Transit Systems

M and I are in California right now, soaking up the sun and having a rollicking good time eating fish tacos, drinking cocktails, and attending raucous podcasts with problematic showrunners. It's been a riot, and it's all been made possible by California's public transit system.

We are emphatically not drivers. We both ride our bikes as early and often as we can, and most of our friends and favourite destinations are within a ten kilometer-radius of our house. And besides, Toronto has done a good job of building up, not out. We're not the sprawliest of cities. Not like, say, Chicago. Or New York. Or, hell, let's just say it: Los Angeles.

Good goddamn, LA is huge. It's mind boggling. At five hundred square miles, it's more than double the size of Toronto. It stretches from Compton to Beverly Hills, from Santa Monica to Topanga. I found it totally bewildering: there were Ethiopian restaurants next to nail salons next to valet parking lots next to microgalleries next to gourmet dog food stores. In the four days we were here, I could see no discernible rhythm to the neighbourhoods: Jewish bakeries shared a storefront with Korean bistros, which were across the street from gorgeous vintage movie theatres. Homeless people and hustlers seemed to be everywhere. It's a surprisingly low-slung city, with a relatively small downtown surrounded by many, many square miles of bungalows and mansions, all of which are hemmed in by the hills.

I wasn't surprised that San Francisco was easy to get around. We spend a fair amount of time on the bus, sure, but SF is much tidier, and it's famous for the BART, the Bay Area's version of Toronto's GO trains. They also have buses, both rapid and locals, and cable cars, all of which form a transit network through the city. But moreover, metro San Francisco is less than 50 square miles. Despite the fact that its topography resembles a EKG (hills! So many hills!), it's fairly walkable and dense. The transit system is the cherry on top of an already-accessible city.

But LA's transit system caught me off-guard. I was nervous about going to the notorious car-centric city without a driver's license, but navigating the Metro and its buses and subways was shockingly easy. We could get from the train station to the airport on a dedicated bus line. We rode the subway to Universal Studios. We took a bus to Venice Beach. I'm not going to lie: it was kind of amazing.

But it wasn't just the size of the system. There were unexpected kindnesses shown to its riders. It cost $1.75 to ride, and transfers were fifty cents. Each bus had an info pamphlet about its route, clearly showing connecting lines. The stops were simply the names of the intersection: Hollywood/Vine, Hawthorne/Lennox, etc. The rapid transit stops had countdown timers and large, easy-to-read information signs about the routes. The TAP cards worked on buses and the Metro, but you could also use cash. The Metro stations are beautifully designed.

There has been a long-running argument in Toronto about what our next steps should be as a transit city. Build a downtown relief line! Give a line to Scarborough, who somehow "deserve" it, as if public transit is a reward to be doled out to a particularly high-achieving cohort of riders! Light rail! Heavy rail! Subways! Dig! Elevate! Talk about it forever!

We've somehow lost the ability to have an coherent conversation about transit. To the detriment of the people who actually ride it, the system is bogged down in bureaucracy, funding reversals, bad PR, lagging wait times, and upgrades that polish the same turd over and over again. While the shiny new Spadina streetcars are lovely to look at, they don't help serve a larger area. The crush of passengers on the rush-hour lines is already at a fever pitch - add in a few delays or jam a couple stations and the whole thing freezes.

Toronto bills itself as a world-class city, but our transit system is a backwater experience. It's expensive, it's slow, it's small. Our leaders have flaunted competing transit packages, designed to upgrade the experience and move the people; unfortunately, these promises aren't always backed up by solid funding schemes, and the current political landscape is one that fractures the transit question into dozens of small-scale conversations - the suburbs, the downtown, the subways, the LRTs - and forgets that public transit is best when it's a visionary, large-scale project designed to serve the public.

We deserve better, as a city. We need a transit system that is reliable in Toronto's murky winters and blazing summers. We need a system that can grow, connecting more and more people as it does. We need regional transit that's fast, reliable, and decongested (and while I have mostly kind words for GO transit, anyone's who's sweated out one of their interminable lineups at Union Station at rush hour knows the stomach-churning run down to your just-announced platform - not to mention the fact that the lines are often confusingly named and the final destination audio-confirmed only once the train has left the station).

I'm not asking for a whole new system. The one we have is flawed, not broken; it's possible to make it better. Start with better HR, which leads to better PR: the drivers and station agents are often visibly irritated by the customers they serve. Make transfers time-based, so that we can hop on and off the system without having to pay again. Extend the service hours, making it possible to take the bus home from the bar after last call. Offer three-day passes. When you commit to fixing up a station, have it take less than, say, a year to complete the project. Invest in automated payment systems, so that riders pay full fares or don't ride at all. (All the transit systems we used on our honeymoon had reloadable cards, which were tapped or swiped to pay the fare.) But it takes more than little fixes: we keep drawing fantasy maps, and we keep getting bupkis. Shovels need to actually go in the ground. Lines need to open on time.

I really hope that whoever replaces Rob Ford as mayor has enough gumption to begin the process of transforming the system that moves hundreds of thousands of people every single day. We all need reliable transit with a plan for the future: anything else is simply not good enough. Until then, residents and visitors to our world class city will be making do with a second-tier ride.

Los Angeles Metro map via MyMaps

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

On the Other Side

It's been nearly two whole weeks since my last blog post; since I wrote about wedding brain, I done got married, threw a banger of a party with my new husband and my entire family (in-laws and outlaws, that gang is), came down with a wretched cold, and had to re-plan part of our honeymoon on the fly when our original Air BnB host soured. I've also devoted equal time to admiring my new wedding ring and the Jewish high holidays, which are happening right about now - working for a Jewish fundraising organization means I've started saying "Happy New Year!" in September, which is a new thing for me.

Planning a wedding meant that my life turned into a cyclone in the final days before our ceremony. I misplaced three pie plates, an entire chocolate cake, a pair of shoes, and an impressive amount of Tupperware. M and I fought like banshees, made up, and then fought again. I learned how to cornrow my own hair, how to walk in 4.5 inch platform wedges, and what it feels like when my dad cries as he walks me down the aisle. We planted a tree - one that blooms in the month of husband's birth, and that has heart-shaped leaves. There was maniacal rushing. There was a glowing photo session. There were some dirty looks and some dashing around the farmhouse in my underwear, well past the point of caring who saw me and who didn't. There were tacos. There was cider. There were dark 'n' stormies and there were love potions. There was so much laughter.

This cyclone means that I'm left with a mosaic of memories - the boys moshing along to "Sabotage," the bartenders singing along to "Close to Me," the speeches that referenced M and my ultra-challenging camping trip, the tiny boxes of chocolates and brief moments of respite from hosting where everything just gelled. I emerged from our wedding weekend feeling like Mike and I were the center of a universe full of love and friends and family. (And also viciously hungover, and with a pile of beef ribs and dim sum that would kill a man.)

Taking on a project like a wedding actually tests the mettle of a couple's relationship. I was surprised to find out that trying to throw a catered party for 100 people was stressful–the magazines make it look so easy! At some points, it felt like more like the day was something that we were trying to conquer rather than celebrate. But through it, he kept making me tea. And we kept going for walks together. And we kept on going. When the day came, it was more than perfect. It captured who we are a couple: private people who love to dance, mushballs who can still wangle a shovel, and part of an extended and involved constellation of people.

I'm a writer, and one with a decent vocabulary at that, but there is no word in the English language for the feeling of gratitude and dedication, the feeling of earned joy, the feeling of enveloping love. 

I've never believed in "the one" - the destiny of two people who are meant for each other. Because that denies all the work that goes into relationships: keeping them fresh, keeping them kind, keeping them loving. Real life doesn't work like that, and even great couples sometimes have bad days (or months). Instead, I believe in "the choice." We get to choose our love stories. We write them as we go. And I'm lucky— despite my utter failure to express exactly how amazing and energized and cherished I felt this past weekend—to have M as my amazing co-author in this love story of ours.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Wedding Brain

 There's this buzzing in my ear right now, and it's going something like this: call the caterers // have you emailed the rental place yet // oh my god what if nobody comes // what if everybody shows up at three-thirty instead of four // we will never have any money again // it's going to rain // itsnotgoingtorainITSGOINGTOHAIL.

This is my brain when it's been set to "wedding."

 Before I got engaged, I used to roll my eyes at brides who were like, "People are being mean about the seating arrangements!" I'd think all these self-congratulatory thoughts about who people were going to sit where I damn well told them to sit, or else. And since then, I've been sat so far away from the head table that I was practically outside - and this, admittedly, stank - and I've looked morosely at my own seating chart and hoped that my cousins, who are fun, aren't P.O.'ed that I've basically done the same thing to them.

A rundown of the crazy things I've done so far:
  • bought crazy-expensive childrens' sandals from Italy because they fit my stupidly tiny feet.
  • nodded as my parents offered to buy a new fridge so that we would have a place to store cold beer in a barn.
  • had my hair done like a Viking warrior-woman, only the end result was more 1960s beehive, and I hated it.
  • hauled about three thousand pounds of poop-dusted hay out of the barn where we're holding the reception.
  • build stone stairs, using a pickaxe and my bare hands. Like, literally: my bare hands. It was very paleo-home decorating chic, if I do say so myself.
  • said the words "radiant orchid" out loud approximately one million times.
  • debated how much booze is enough booze, how much Elton John is enough Elton John, and how many tacos is enough tacos.
  • cried at schmaltzy poems on the internet.
  • had screaming fights with M, sometimes about things that should be lovely (the words, "I can't believe we're fighting about our fucking vows" have definitely been said, by me, horribly).
  • listened to Bank's song "This Is What It Feels Like" about three hundred times, which is how many times I would put it on our dance mix if I thought I could get away with it.
  • tried to explain to at least three girlfriends that, yes, while this is "my special day," I'm actually sort of nervous about being the center of all that attention. My star isn't that shiny, y'know.
  • tried on about fifty puffy princess ballgowns at The Bride's Project, which was stupid-fun while being completely wrong for me, style-wise.
  • biked home holding three plastic bus bins in my outstretched hand; it a feat that I wouldn't have even attempted six months ago for fear of accidentally windsailing myself into traffic, butnow ain't no thang.
  • promised my friend that, if she ever wanted to elope, I would still buy her a bread maker.
  • wondered what would happen if we decided to elope.
We're getting married in just over a week. Let's see if my brain makes it to then.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Meanwhile, I Keep Dancing

Whoops! In all the running-around excitement of last week (whirlwind work weekend/cottage trip/epic friend hangout/what-have-you), I completely forgot to update this blog. To be fair, I have a good reason: I am going crazy.

Because we are getting married, and because we're doing it in a venue that has to be transformed from a semi-broken poo- and hay-storage unit into something that, at the most, will be thrillingly amazing (and at the least will be structurally sound), my brain is on fire basically 24/7. I go to sleep thinking about lists of things we need to do. I wake up thinking about those same lists. I email from the subway and I text from work. I call people and call them again. We make plans. We make things. We are trying to create an experience for ourselves that we're proud of, that we can point to and say, "We did that as a couple, with our families and friends. We love each other. We made this." And sometimes, part of that experience is shooting bolt upright at three AM wondering where we're going to find tiki torches.

This whole process reminds me of that beautiful quote from Hillel: I get up. I walk. I fall down. Meanwhile, I keep dancing." Sigh. Yes, right? Because that is this.

People keep showing up for us in a big way, and I'm so grateful. I have so many anxieties and fears (death, divorce, unhappiness, embarrassment, etc), and these people keep poking my brain and my feelings and saying, "These are cobwebs. There's nothing," and then I can breathe again. Sometimes, that means talking; other times, that means hoisting a nail gun to build a dance floor. After all, we need a place to dance while we celebrate our wedding.

A true story: one of this weekend's projects was to build a set of stone steps around the side of the barn where we're holding our reception. The ground there is literally full of rocks - we had to break it apart with a pick-axe—and the flagstone that had been set aside was fifty meters away, under the front of the barn, piled in a heaped mess of craggy corners and spiders. And yet: my brother, running on three hours of sleep and a whole complement of his own personal anxieties, built the top step. And yet: my aunt and I carried the flagstone around the barn and laid it out on the grass. And yet: my uncle puzzled out the rise and run of the staircase. And yet: I followed my brother's template to build three more stairs. And yet: my friend and I shoveled gravel to fill in the crevasses. And yet: my dad built the final three steps. And then: it was done.

This wedding, this process of joining M and I together, is happening in the context of a group of people who want to see us do well. Nothing we do is in a vacuum. He and I keep turning to each other to say, "If we can get through this, we can get through anything," and that feels so true. We've already been through more as a couple than most people go through in a decade of marriage: death, mental illness, unemployment, medical mishaps. We're strong.

But, you know, at three AM, with the tiki torches looming, I can forget that.

So this is yet another gratitude post: a thank you to the people who are rallying around us in the final weeks of preparation. They keep reminding us, by showing up and working hard, that we're worth all this work. They hold us up when we get bogged down, and their help gives us the space to breath together as a couple. This is the whirlwind, a pile of chaos and tantrums and sleepless night (and so many emails). But this is also dancing. The dancing keeps us sane.

Image of Sliding House via Material Strategies.

Friday, August 22, 2014


Not so long ago, I had a friend turn to me admiringly and say, "You're so good at doing all the self-care stuff. The gratitude practice, getting regular exercise, going to therapy, doing stuff like the 100 Happy Days challenge." It took me by surprise, because I do "the self-care stuff" because if I don't devote large amount of time to actively trying to feel good, I often devolve into feeling, well, terrible.

In an effort to continue carving out these moments of feeling good, I recently did the #100happydays challenge on Instagram. The premise is pretty straightforward: using whatever social media platform you feel happiest on, take a photo/craft a tweet devoted to a moment of joy. Do that every day for 100 straight days. Don't let excuses like "I don't have time" whinge their way into your protective #100happydays cocoon. Feel your life become more joyful. Blah blah blah: transform!

I did mine on Instagram, where there are currently nearly nineteen million photos tagged with the #100happydays hashtag. (Tellingly, there are about 44,000 photos tagged #day97, which might tell you something about the average Happy Days-er's ability to follow through.) I took pictures of acorns, of friends, of kombucha projects, of family members, of my fiance, of food, of flowers, of a rainbow, of cats, of graffiti, of a baseball game, and plenty of other things. Each picture is a moment in time, and many of them make me smile as I scroll back through them. I had forgotten about some of them: honey balls with a friend, for example, or a lovely, lounge-y park afternoon with M devoted solely to reading magazines and talking about our honeymoon.

Some are clear gimmes: the picture of a fig in front of a Beastie Boys poster, for example, is nothing more than just two things I like. I'm not capturing a moment of joy; I'm getting in my daily shot. The shot of me cuddling with a friend's baby isn't quite happy, per se; it's a bit bittersweet and guards my complicated feelings about babies and motherhood. I probably posted more shots of my emerging kombucha project than anyone cared about, and there's a conspicuously lack of photos taken at my office.

About halfway through the hundred days, I realized that usually, I wasn't exactly capturing a moment of happiness. I paying attention to these moments solely so I could take a picture of them. They were still happy, sure (I mean, who doesn't like sitting in a park with a can of Coke Zero and a fresh issue of Entertainment Weekly?), but I was seeking them not for their joyfulness, but for their posterity. And that's sort of...not the point. The pictures became the point, not the feeling they were trying to capture.

Here's the thing: I'm a person with flaws. I'm quick to anger and I'm slow to forgive. I insist on being right, even to the detriment of being kind. I live with many kinds of fear and anxiety, and it damages my ability to get out of my own head. I can be, and have always been (my mother can attest to this) willful.

But I'm also a person who tries to be better. I'm trying getting to know myself, and what makes me feel great. When I feel great, more pieces of the puzzle seem to fit. Unlike a lot of people, I've worked hard at knowing, naming, and working with my emotions. I am honest without being cruel. I live for creativity: writing, cooking, making. I try to make space in my life for things that sustain me: smart work, physical exercise, friends and family. And while the idea of #100happydays was intriguing, the actual practice left me a little cold. A friend of mine, who often bucks convention and grins doing it, started tagging her photos #happyeveryday. When I asked her why, she shrugged. "Why stop at a hundred days?" she replied.

I guess this is why the #100happydays challenge was a little disappointing. I like gratitude logs  - for a while, I had a practice of writing down the five best things that had happened to me that day, and M and I like to play an out-loud version of this game in bed before we go to sleep. But those are sweet memories that I can bring up at the end of the day: they're sparks of love and life that become brighter when we look at them. They're not Christmas lights I hang just to liven up the room.

Image via Instagram, duh.

Friday, August 15, 2014


I am tired.

I'm tired of reading the news.

I'm tired of feeling broke.

I'm tired of advocating for myself in a workplace that doesn't seem to give a shit.

I'm tired of grinding my teeth when I sleep, of worrying that buying a fancy magazine will break the bank, of reading Tumblrs that make me cry. I'm tired of beige walls. I'm tired of dressing in office-appropriate outfits to go into work alone. I'm tired of FOMO. I'm tired of being tired when I get to work because I bike, because I can't afford transit.

I'm tired of people telling me that this is "the real world" and that I just need to get used to it. Why the fuck would anyone's life advice be "get used to people stepping on you, don't fight it, just do your best not to notice it until you can take all those valuable skills your learned under someone else's boot to your next job"? HOW. IS. THAT. HELPFUL? How does that mitigate the day-to-day? Seriously, I'm asking. I want to know.

I am thisclose to buying a tiny house (with what money though LOLOLOL), picking my twelve favourite things, and just going to live in the woods somewhere. I am so fucking tired. Of everything.

I want to write a righteous and empowering post about how I overcame all this garbage and figured out my life in 92 Easy Steps, but right now I am not overcoming shit. I'm mired in it. When I get to the other side, maybe I can write some pithy, salty post about how I flipped my hair and won the day. Right now, though, I am too broke for my usual self-pity cheesecake, and besides, I have a wedding dress to fit into in a month, so who wants to eat cheesecake when she can obsessively look at her upper arms in the mirror and fret that they're getting jiggly?

Sorry. I got a little carried away there.

Wishlist, stardate today:
  1. A proper date with M. We have been so busy with all the wedding planning and various other extracurriculars, not to mention the $$ situation, that it's been ages since we had some fun couple time. I miss fun couple time!
  2. Peace in Missouri. Good lord, it is crazy that I even have to wish for that, but here we are.
  3. A job where I feel in control and proud of the work I do.I am paralyzed by the idea of going back to school, because my student debt is real and looming, and I am loathe to add to it. On the other hand, I've qualified myself only for jobs I hate. I feel totally stuck, and stupid for being stuck.
  4. Metaphorically, I feel like the ground is moving beneath my feet. For real, I would like that feeling to stop.
I'm going back to bed. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Kombucha-fication of Kaiko

There is a science experiment happening in my kitchen right now. It's pretty low key - just a couple of glass jugs with some paper towels banded around them, no big deal, nothing is fucked here, dude - but inside those glass jars, I am growing magic.

Disgusting magic, yes; but magic nonetheless.

I first discovered kombucha years ago, when I was going through an expensive and not-entirely-reasonable phase of buying my groceries at Whole Foods despite having an annual income of $22,000. (I was dating a dude who was this sort of proto-foodie: he did zero cooking, but still had Major Opinions on food. It was complicated.) (And by complicated, I mean dumb.) I grabbed a bottle of something called Wonder Drink, because I'm a sucker for packaging, and when I cracked it open, I was pleasantly surprised. It was vinegary, yeah. Most kombuchas are. But it was also effervescent and sweet, with a creamy foam that wasn't overpowering the way soda pop can be.

It was also three dollars a bottle.

I come from a family of DIYers. My mom's hands are constantly in motion: knitting, sewing, reupholstering, gardening, painting, sanding, chopping, stirring, making. My dad, before he became a project manager, was a carpenter, and he still owns and uses a truly mind-boggling collection of saws. My dad, like all dads, went through a phase of home-brewing his own beer and wine. I grew up with the sound of drill as my Saturday-morning alarm clock. We are a family of home-cooked meals, of crayons ground into the carpet, of "want to build a deck this weekend?" When M and I decided to get married, we undertook the project of cleaning out the barn on their farm property, a project that has easily cost 100 man-hours so far and helped coin the phrase "poo-dust."

My own DIY streak is a bit lazy, but it's there. I find my truest self is when I'm making something - dinner, usually - that combines the opportunity to use my hands and my brain in equal parts. (Plus, the joy of solo kitchen dance parties can't be understated.) I spend the past winter compulsive knitting. I'm not afraid to plan something out  and devote a few hours or days to its completion (see: the cardboard Viking ship I built, then set on fire, for my 30th birthday). The very idea of making something beautiful can be a powerful drug: I spend too much time on Pinterest and Ravelry, looking up recipes for citrus curds and patterns for legwarmers.

Which brings me back to kombucha. When I went on my six-month no-Coke Zero/no-booze "cleanse," I was hard-pressed to find an alternate drink that was still interesting. Since water is for chumps, I dove into the deep end of high-end and esoteric beverages. I tried kefir and about 60 different kinds of ginger beer. I drank Fresca and San Pellegrino with abandon. I brewed enormous jugs of Moroccan mint ice tea.

And I bought lots and lots of kombucha. All flavours. All brands. I can tell you with authority that the Tonica Vibrant Blueberry flavour tastes like cough syrup; that Rise's Mint Chlorophyll looks horrible but tastes good; that GT's regularly has snot-like clumps of the SCOBY (more on that in a minute) floating around it, which is fucking disgusting; and that Wonder Drink is good but its flavours could stand to be more intense across the board. I know my kombucha shit, is what I'm trying to say.

But when an opportunity presented itself for me to start brewing my own kombucha, I hesitated for a moment. Like any homebrewing project, making your own kombucha could be a recipe for disaster. Who wants self-inflicted diarrhea? Not this girl! I made a promise to myself (and to M, who thinks kombucha is disgusting) that this operation would be clean, sanitary, and use only top-quality ingredients.

Then I started brewing. The main question mark in this process is the SCOBY, which is a "symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast" (and before you throw shade on bacteriological food, think about yogurt and kimchi, please). The SCOBY is terrifying. Kombucha brewers are always optimistically saying things like, "It's like a pancake!" but if you were served a pancake like this, you would throw it over the patio fence and into a bush. It looks like uncooked alien placenta. It looks bad. Like, ideologically bad, as if it is plotting things in the night.

But when you combine this horrible "pancake" with tea and sugar, the yeast and bacteria in the SCOBY start converting the sugar into bubbles and a wee amount of alcohol. Left alone too long, it will turn bitter (but won't we all?), but after 7-20 days, the tea will be in the perfect zone of bubbly, sweet, and acidic. Take out the SCOBY, resist the urge to perform an exorcism, start a new batch, throw some herbs or fruit into your newly brewed kombucha, let that sit for a day or two to flavour it, strain the everliving hell out of it, and then keep it in the fridge. If you're feeling sassy, add some gin. If you're feeling unsassy, keep it plain.

Boom. The whole operation will run you the cost of bottles (2.49 per at your local Asian import store), a couple big glass jars (ten bucks each at IKEA), and ingredients. And guys? Sugar and tea aren't exactly an bank-breaker.

Plus! IT IS SO FUN. Handling the SCOBY, making sure everything is all clean and set up in its place before the bottling process, daydreaming about flavour combos - it's all the hallmarks of a good DIY project. I'm saving money on one of my favourite drinks, I have this little bright spot of a project, and I'm making something fun. Plus, it feels like my countertop glass jars are the spiritual daughters of my dad's beer-making garbage pail: I'm carrying on a family legacy of making stuff, and making stuff happen. And that's truly delicious.

Image (of my own kombucha!) via Instagram