Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Girl and the Bird

 Once upon a time, there was a girl who lived in the city. She was a happy girl, more or less: she had friends and family near and far, and she had a bike to ride, and good food to eat, and a happy boy by her side. The girl was a wild one: she wore feathers in her hair and rode her bike on the empty streets of the midnight city, daring the world to come up and meet her.

Most often, the world did.

One night, the girl was riding her bike when she happened across a tiny bird in the middle of the street. The bird did not fly away when she pedaled towards it; instead, it cocked its head at her and blinked. Despite its tiny size, it seemed fearless. The girl slowed her bike down. The streetlight pooled orange glow across the road, and the moon rose slowly beside them.

The girl looked at the bird. The bird looked at the girl. Nothing around them moved. Even the treetops were still. The girl smiled gently, silently inviting the little bird closer. The bird hopped, once, twice, then stopped. The girl smiled. A tenderness flew through her, unexpected on this ordinary night.

Then the bird let out one small sound, and its body fell to the side. Its tiny talons curled up, and its eyes closed.

Dead? Dead.

The girl let out a cry she did not hear. Without thinking, she scooped the little bird up into her hand. It weighed barely anything at all: it was lighter than a rose in bloom, smaller than a handful of snow. It did not move as she held it near to her face. She looked through tears for signs of life.

Nothing.

The girl was still astride her bicycle, still in the middle of the street. Because she didn't know what else to do, she swung leg over her frame and carried the tiny body over to the sidewalk. She placed the bird gently on the pavement, then stood and looked at it from her full girl's height.

It was so small. Surely nothing this small could have suffered for long.

The girl sat on the curb and allowed her sadness to rise up. A sob slipped out, then another. The night around her blurred into orange light and shadows. The moon's full face disappeared under her tears. The bird lay beside her, quiet in death.

Then the girl heard a sound. Another bird had landed, cheeping madly at the girl, at the tiny body beside her. Then another bird landed. Soon, the girl and the body were surrounded by a tiny quorum of birds, all crying into the night.

The girl pushed herself back up to her feet. The birds fell silent for a moment, watching her rise. Then they turned their attention back to the death at hand. It was impossible for the girl to know—were these other birds friends? Family? Perhaps a lovebird, drawn to the scene by the tidal knowledge of death? All mourning in their own raptorish way?

As the girl watched, each took a turn running its beak along their fallen friend's feathers. It was a gentle thing, made strange and beautiful under the orange glow of the streetlight. The birds paid her no heed as they tended to their friend.

The girl walked back to her bicycle and looked once more at the birds on the sidewalk. They were silent now, looking down at the tiny body.

The girl did not smile as she rode away, but neither did she cry. Instead, she felt the love she held in her heart for her own flock rise up over the city like a wing on the breeze.

Image via Karl Martens via My Modern Met

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Things That Happened in 2015

January: We kick off the year with a gorgeous sunny day and two feasts. Brunch is, and probably always will be, one of my favourite meals to eat outside the house (and, to be honest, inside the house and also beside the house and pretty much anywhere, let's be real), so when Julia invites us over for a New Year's Day brunch, and it's bright and sunny, how can we say no? A few hours later, a group of us troop over to Mother's Dumplings in Chinatown and eat our body weight in dumplings and Chinese broccoli; then we all decamp to our place to watch Blade Runner. This is the way every year starts now, and it's one of my favourite traditions.

February: I head up to the Beaver Valley to spend the Family Day weekend with friends, while Mike stays home to play catchup with work. The weekend is relatively uneventful—board games, homemade dinners, reading the New Yorker in bed—except for the afternoon I spend nearly freezing to death on the side of the road.

The story? The general store, which is across the street from Emmett's house, does not carry pretzels, and when I ask where is the nearest store that does, the clerk waves her hand and says, "About eight minutes up the road, just out of the valley." I figure, hey: I'm dressed warmly. I've got a backlog of 99% Invisible episodes queued up on my iPod. I'll walk to get some pretzels! So I set out. It's sadistically cold outside, but the sun is shining and it's all okay.

After about fifteen minutes, I'm halfway out of the valley and there has been no store. After about thirty-five minutes, I am fully out of the valley, picking my way down the side of the road, grimly determined to come back with pretzels, dammit. Roman Mars drones in my ear. After forty-five minutes, I give up. There are no stores, barely any houses, and I am way, way out of town.

When I turn around, I realize that I've been walking with the wind at my back. Now, the -38 windchill racks my face, shooting into my hood, stinging my eyes, ruddying my cheeks immediately. I get a chill that has nothing to do with the temperature: it's my body recognizing that I am in serious trouble a half-second before my brain does. I have no phone, I don't know Emmett's number, and I am deeply fucked. The snot running down my face freezes, but I'm too cold to feel it.I can barely catch my breath.

By the time I get back to the top of the Beaver valley, the sun has begun to set. By the time I get back to the general store, the temperature has dropped another few degrees. The clerk looks up as I re-enter the store. "Did you get your pretzels?" she asks cheerily. I ignore her question and say, "When you said 'eight minutes,' did you mean walking or driving?"

She has the good grace to look stricken. 

To punish her, I buy a very expensive gluten-free butter tart and a warm can of Diet Coke, and return to Emmett's. He and Hannah look up when I come in. "Where'd you go?" he says mildly.

"I need to sit in front of the fireplace for a while," I say. My face is red and the skin around my mouth and nose is raw and heedless of touch. It will stay that way for nearly a week.

March: I quit my job! After five months of working with a boss who doesn't understand the difference between an executive assistant, an office manager, and a 24/7 on-call mindreader who is expected to know the difference between ahem and aHEM when he clears his throat/asks for something, I'm ready to move on. Also, the ceiling in our apartment's bathroom caves in. The two are not related.

April:  I get my first writing commission, I start a new column at Torontoist, we meet an astronaut, I start writing for Yonge Street Media, and I can do two and a half minutes of burpees without vomiting. I am terrified that I will never have any money again, but things are happening, and it feels good.

May: Pregnant. Pregnant! Pregnant. PREGNANT. We are pregnant. I am pregnant. It is the weirdest thing. I feel totally normal—I keep working out, I keep riding my bike, my appetite is pretty good—and I assume, like an idiot, that the entire pregnancy will progress this way. Somewhere, the goddess rubs her hands together with glee and engraves several lightning bolts of Truth and Calamity with my name.

June: Ah, here we are. I feel like garbage. I get an ultrasound, and yes, there is a tiny human jellybean inside of me. It has a heartbeat. Later in the month, I vomit on the sidewalk in front of a bar. I'm definitely pregnant.

July: My dad has cancer. A melanoma that was not-quite-excised from his cheek six years ago has hid quietly in his body; now, it's back, with lumps under his arm and in his lungs. I tell him that I love him. Later that night, I get up and go into the bathroom and weep. Then I write down all the things I know about him: memories, sayings, advice, his story, his life. I force myself to write it in the present tense.

I tell some friends, but not many: the process of telling people is exhausting. My dad is vibrant, vivacious, funny, and very much alive. Cancer, especially melanoma, is widely regarded as a death sentence. I realize that telling people means comforting them, and I am too exhausted to do that. I keep the news mostly to myself. He starts treatment, an immunotherapy that turbocharges his blood and allows him to keep his quality of life high.

August: The bar below our apartment begins extensive renovations. We are awoken most days at 7 AM, and work often continues past midnight, seven days a week The demolition is loud—think tile drillers, concrete drills, jackhammers—and we receive no notice that it's happening. Contacting the landlord reveals nothing. I end up texting with the site foreman, who is livid on our behalf that we weren't told in advance, or updated...but the landlords are also his bosses and they want this job done yesterday. Our fire alarm rings at odd times. The water periodically shuts off. Contractors show up unannounced at our door to fix these problems, and leave having broken the fire alarm. I feel like I'm going insane.

September: We move. Our new place is on a residential street, on the ground floor of a house. We have a tiny playground just down the road, and all of Saint Clair West to explore. It's a nice place to have a baby. But also: I throw my back out lifting boxes, and it takes weeks to recover. My pregnancy hormones are through the roof. Our new bathtub is too small for me to sit in comfortably, so a major self-care ritual disappears from my life. All I want to do is cry. Instead, I call my midwife, and she refers me to a prenatal psychiatrist. I do not feel better, but I feel like I could feel better, and that's good enough for now.

October: My dad finishes cancer treatment. I go to Stratford for a week to spend time with my parents, and to visit my out-of-province sister, and I drink champagne with him. We listen to  miraculous baseball games on the radio. We cheers—"To life!" every time—and sometimes we cry. Things could be good, or maybe bad, but for now, we're all together. It feels close enough to normal, but of course, it's not.

When I get back to Toronto, our downstairs neighbour falls asleep with his deep-fryer running and starts a fire. At 11:50 PM on the Monday of the Thanksgiving weekend, we are on the sidewalk, frantically trying to figure out where we might sleep that night, because our apartment—our new apartment!—is full of smoke.

Later that week, we have a gas leak in our apartment. It is impossible not to think dark thoughts.

November: I spend three days with my mom, driving around Prince Edward County, swimming in salt water pools, eating fancy-ish meals, and just feeling held. I take many baths. I read several issues of The New Yorker.

We get the test results back for my dad: the lumps under his arms are gone, and the ones in his lungs are much smaller. It is possible to feel like things might be okay, at least for a while. Okay, and a while, are enough.

The baby is kicking, moving, tumbling through me. I check out books about natural childbirth from the library and do not read them. January feels close. I look down and I don't see a pregnant body—I see a fat one—and I realize with a start that, even though I've been pregnant for six months, I still haven't internalized it. I am flooded with terror about motherhood, and about delivery, and about change. It's a huge feeling, made huger by the fact that I didn't really know it was there. It's like opening your door one morning and discovering that you now live on the top of a mountain; it's still possible to do stuff, but the commute takes longer and you're tired by the end of it. M is so supportive. I have fallen in love with him in a deeper way, and this takes me by surprise.

December: We are doing our best to prepare for baby, and also save money, and also finally unpack everything from the move, but things are slow. In lieu of shopping or cooking, I knit like a fiend. Socks and baby hats and tiny sweaters fly off my needles. I listen to hours and hours of podcasts. We offer to host Christmas dinner. We take prenatal classes. We lie in bed and read to each other. My back hurts, so I sleep on the couch. I take pictures of my stomach. M and I see Star Wars: The Force Awakens and he is pleased. I do the crossword. We eat perogies and burritos, rum cake and stir fry. We invite people to our house to watch Blade Runner on New Year's Day.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Force

Full disclosure: Star Wars, as an experience, wasn't really part of my childhood vernacular. I think my parents—my dad, probably—sat us all down at some point and showed us the original movie. In some ways, this was likely along the same lines as "sometimes we go to church," or, "yes, you have to learn fractions": just another thing to teach your kids so that they grow up to be well-rounded adults.

I have a distinct memory of being utterly confused by the trash compactor scene in Star Wars: I had somehow missed their descent down the chute, and I was flummoxed by the eel-thing that seemed to live there, and frankly, the whole idea of compacting a room full of wet garbage was just weird enough for me to not really grasp wtf was going on. As the movie went on, already-familiar pop culture icons like Darth Vader shared the screen with ideas that seemed to make no sense, like blowing up a moon-sized space station by firing into an exhaust pipe. (I mean, say what you will about George Lucas, but he honored the shit out of the sanitation department in that movie.) I remember walking away feeling sort of confused, and maybe a little let down—that was what the hype was about?

I don't remember if there were follow-up home screenings of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. I was sixteen when the prequels started coming out, and I remember leaving the theatres with that same sense of let-down-ness: was that it? A bunch of dudes in housecoats flipping around with light sabers, interminable political "drama," and Natalie Portman dressed in either parade floats, or a midriff-baring fighting ensemble? This was what everyone had been waiting for?

Actually, no. I know now that the prequels are widely regarded as terrible, but at the time, I wasn't sure enough in my own critical voice to make that statement. In the face of high school nerds, who wield a powerful nerdery indeed, it seemed impossible that the prequels might not actually be any good. And, in 1999 (much like today), the hype machine around these movies was absurd. Besides, there were always the old movies to fall back on, with Lando and Boba Fett and the cantina on Mos Eisley. You know: the good ones. The blemish of the prequels couldn't mar the original trilogy; if anything, it heightened their importance, making them even more precious.

In 2010, I lived with my parents for a summer, and I undertook a crash course in film and pop culture: I watched Michael Fassbender's Hunger and the X-Men movies, I watched a jillion Westerns and Hitchcock flicks, and I watched classic cartoon. I rented out half the video shelf of the local library, figuring that, if they thought these were worth spending taxpayer dollars on, I should probably see them. It was that summer I decided to revisit the Star Wars universe.

Again, they failed to imprint themselves on my heart. But at least this time, I could kind of figure out why. As a pop-culture phenomenon, Star Wars isn't designed for 26-year-old women who are killing time before they have to go wait tables; it's meant for people who can obsessively comb through the entire universe, learning the names of various minor characters, robot models, and alien races. It's meant to introduce the Western and the Ronin and the Opera and the Love Story to kids and tweens, to show them that stories, no matter where they're set or who they star, often have the same skeletons under their skins. It opens up metaphysical questions around good and evil, and the choices we make about those forces, but leaves the concept of God or a church well outside the frame. It is storytelling 101, each building block neatly lined up beside the next one, and just different enough from anything that had come before to seem fresh and important.

Which brings me to The Force Awakens. A girlfriend recently asked me, "On a scale of zero to ten, how many fucks do you give about Star Wars?" I conceded that I give three fucks: one for the sheer intensity of the pop-culture phenomenon; one for my husband, who loves these movies; and one for my curiosity about if these new installations are going to live up to the original trilogy, or bottom out like the prequels did.

I would love to spoil The Force Awakens for you, but I will not. But I'll say this: the new movie is fun. It doesn't really matter if you're heavily invested in either the original trilogy or the prequels—as long as you have a passing knowledge of characters (which is pretty standard in 21st century life), you'll be fine. This movie is darker and more explosive that the loins from which it sprang; it's also funnier, more beautiful, and more feminist than anything that came before it. It is silly and serious, important and also a trifle, and very fun to watch. It's definitely a 21st century Star Wars, but I think that makes it better: it fits into the original canon but doesn't try to match it beat for beat.

If you want to introduce your kids to Star Wars, don't start with the Force Awakens. Start with the original trilogy, and let them (maybe) be bored and confused. Movie-making has changed dramatically in the last forty years, and going from Star Wars to The Force Awakens shows exactly how much. But same bones of story—family, adventure, new romance, ancient forces—are still vibrant and present across all the movies. The old ones are still relevant, even as they get a little creaky; the new one, despite its whippersnapperish peacocking, is more than able to hang with its ancestors.

Oh, and it goes without saying: skip the prequels. Nobody's kids need to see that.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Master of Some


Aziz Ansanri has never been "my" kind of comedian. Despite him being pretty much exactly the same age as me, I think of him as belonging to the 20-something set, maybe because his jokes are in the "modern foibles" category of comedy: lots of raised eyebrows at relationships, texting etiquette, and what-does-it-all-mean personal identity questions that dog most of through our formative years (and, in my case, waaaay beyond).

In what is probably his most famous role, Tom Haverford on Parks and Rec, Ansari played the archetype of a self-proclaimed big fish in a small pond. He was especially adept at playing the businessman-dreamer, which only really works when you're in a tiny town and you think your insane ideas are viable business options because you haven't seen the inevitable New York City iteration hit the skids.

Ansari is funny and personable, both as Tom and in his stand-up persona. His Wikipedia page proclaims that he's a feminist, which, in an age where male comedians constantly interrogate female comedians, and women generally, on their ability to perceive unfunny boys'-club "jokes" as anything other than subtle violence, is a relief. He's been on critically acclaimed shows, like Flight of the Conchords way back in '07, and done voice work for Adventure Time and the Venture Brothers. He was on Scrubs, acting as a bridge between the JD years and the terrible, best-to-be-ignored intern-centric reboot. He's made good choices!

Last month, he launched Master of None on Netlfix. He plays Dev, who's sort of like Hannah Horvath's to Ansari's Lena Dunham: Dev seems like a lightly fictionalized version of Ansari. Dev's single, a foodie, an emerging actor with a few commercials and a role in a terrible action movie under his belt. Ansari cast his real-life parents as Dev's parents, further blurring the line between reality and fiction (and, despite his mother's total inability to not look at the camera, their scenes are hella charming). Dev often speaks in the sing-song cadence that Aziz adopts in his stand-up sets, and has the same interest in surface/sparkle/shine that he embodied with Tom Haverford.

For the most part, I liked Master of None. It forefronted some interesting questions around race, in big ways (why don't we see more minorities in the media?) and in smaller ones (the "black virus" movie). It was especially smart around its treatment of second-generation immigrants—the kids whose parents might be intimately familiar with how to kill a chicken, but for whom chicken comes in nugget form only.

And yet, I can't love it unreservedly. It falls for a couple stupid sitcom storylines—kids will ruin your life, dummy! your relationships are doomed for failure!—and, despite their racial diversity, Dev's friends aren't actually characters we haven't seen before. The dialog feels stilted sometimes, as though the actors are reciting lines written by fourth graders.

We are in an age of comedian auteurs. People who started in stand-up or in other people's writer's rooms are now producing and starring in their own shows. With Louie or The Mindy Project or Master of None, we see autobiographical details bump up against the fantasy world of television. Someone, and I can't remember who, wrote that Louie is what happens when you actually dramatize the hyperbole that makes stand-up sets so funny; likewise, The Mindy Project is best understood as a rom-com, with all the meet-cutes and false barriers and redemption arcs that genre embraces. If I had to guess, I would say that Master of None works on upending our expectations of race and relationships? Or maybe it's about Millennials? Or...something else?

I can't quite put my finger on why I don't fully connect with Master of None. At first I thought it was because I am now an old grumpy pregnant married person, and this show is about being Young, Hot, and Fun™, but I watch plenty of shows that aren't directly about who I am in this current moment. But Master of None is so much about surfaces that it can be a little distracting. 

The best moments on the show are when he decides to dig a little deeper—ask his parents about their immigrant experience, instead of keeping them at arm's length, or actually care about the experience of the women he works with, instead of assuming he already knows what their lives are like—but there are also so many moments when he focuses on the outward appearance of his life. He wants a relationship that's 100% perfect at all times; he wants the cleanest apartment; he wants the nattiest outfit. The idea that perfection and surface sheen are desirable, let alone achievable and maintainable, is barely examined. His sing-song cadence reinforces the notion that life is a thing to be performed rather than lived, and it's only in the last episode that we start seeing actions that challenge that, and there's precious little emotional work to go along with these changes. 

Master of None is a good show—not a great show, but a good one—and watching it was a pleasure. Ansari raises interesting questions, and answers some of them adeptly. But still: I just wish there had been more there there, you know?

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Life Dreams


Back in 2010, I decided that I wanted to draw a map of what my life could look like. I've long been interested in—obsessed with?—the "ideal life"; not in that Martha Stewart Living kind of way, but rather asking myself, what are the things, moments, places, and people that make my life glow?

I've explored this a little on Twitter—I've been doing these word collages called "things to consider" for a few years, in which I just list different things that have been creating brainwaves for me lately. Sometimes these lists are themed—food, clothing, colours—but usually they're just lovely little dots in the matrix of my imagination. When I decided, last year, to organize them all into a spreadsheet, I found plenty of common themes among the nearly 2100 (!) different entries. I love gold jewelry (fifteen entries), the colour black (24 entries), babies (nine entries), plants (70 different entries, including marigolds, succulents, lavender, and wet grass), and the beach. Yoga turns up a surprising number of times for someone who does it only a couple dozen times each year, and the category of TV/Film generates only eighteen entries—and yes, of course I categorized my dreamy life list. I am a right brain/left brain cartoon character.

Having this wealth of information is probably self-indulgent, but it's also a great way to track the patterns in my life. Back in October of last year, when a friendship was falling apart in a grueling way, I found myself thinking about things like "being sad and being okay." In May of this year, I mentioned "hope" during the weird unknown cavern of time while we suspected I might be pregnant but before we could know for sure. A series of tweets about "feeling afraid," "fresh starts," and "home offices" in the weeks before I quit my job reinforced exactly how miserable I was. The seemingly minor details that make up the majority of the entries only make the real stuff stand out more.

So what to do with this information? Well, because I am the person I am—a dreamy planner, a reluctant doer—I drew a picture. I mined the tweets for information, and then applied that information to a dream.

In 2010, I still lived in student co-op. I had just started dating this new dude. I hadn't even really started my post-university work life yet. I was an unformed lump of clay. But I had a vague sense, even then, of the types of things I needed my life to contain. Having been a lonely child, I needed friends in my adulthood. Having no drivers license, I required a bike. Having a fetish for both beauty and function, I wanted a kitchen full of glass jars. Some things on this initial plan seemed frivolous, like face paint, or nearly impossible, like a writing job. But those have manifested in the most amazing ways.

In any case, fast-forward to today. MUCH HAS CHANGED, friends. That boyfriend? We shacked up and got hitched. Three jobs later, and I'm finally earning about one-third of my income from writing, which is a great holy-shit/stability balance for me. I have a closet full of weird black clothes, a great gaggle of friends, and—pregnancy aches and pains notwithstanding—time and energy to exercise.

(I never did get that topiary, though.)

This half-decade review opens up new questions: what about the next five years? How do I balance the need for beach time, and nature in general, with the wish to live in a city? How exactly does one find the well-curated jewelry collection (and not go berserk with jangliness when you're trying to wear it) without blowing grocery money on turquoise and gold bangles? Will I ever take a satisfying bath in our postage stamp-sized tub? So many questions!

The sixty-four thousand question is: do I have the hustle to answer the questions this wish list asks? I can write a book, but can I publish it? Read—and write for—great magazines? Maintain important friendships in the face of a growing family? Is the simultaneous yen for both babies and alone time the dream of a madwoman? Can we bump up our income so that luxuries like fancy knitting supplies, cargo bikes, and travel money aren't a hardship? I am lucky in that many of the things I need in my life, like big hair, a lovely marriage, and a paleo kitchen, already come Kaiko-standard.

Putting the wishes, the achievements, and the relationships that I value down on paper has the effect of making them feel real, and possible if they aren't already real. It's like a magic trick, or a roadmap, or a message in a bottle to my future selves. Seeing it all laid out makes me believe that someday, that little dream house can be ours.

Images by Kaitlyn Kochany

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Best Meal Ever


The best meal I ever had was a potato waffle topped with avocado, salt, and pepper, eaten with a dear friend who would be leaving the next week for a teaching job in America. The best meal I ever had was with my husband, sitting at the floor-to-ceiling window-wall at Luma, eating cod drench in dill all perched atop a bed of pickles. The best meal I ever had was with a friend, when she bought a fake-fruit and ice cream-topped funnel cake from my uncle's beachside snack stand and a half-dozen of us dove on it like seagulls, picking it apart with our bare hands. The best meal I ever had was with my sister and two of her friends at Rundles in Stratford, where, at the ages of 21 (me) and 18 (her), we got roaring drunk and the staff took magnanimous care of us. The best meal I ever had was when my dad and I flew to San Francisco for the weekend, and we got the last table at Chez Panisse, and I ate some kind of soup and some kind of seafood, and then we had to run—run!—back to the BART station in order to take the last train into town.

The New Yorker recently published an article about the process of choosing the world's fifty best restaurants. The list, produced annually by San Pellegrino, started as a lark and has been since elevated into a maker, and marker of Very Good Restaurants. "According to Bloomberg, the day after Noma captured the No. 1 slot, in 2010, a hundred thousand people tried to book a table," the article says. (Also, an aside, but: has the The New Yorker always been somewhat slutty with its comma use, or is this a new thing?) The list—and it's very tempting to refer to it as The List—has now been subdivided into multiple global regions, like Latin America and Asian. There are gratifyingly few American or French eateries listed; it seems like the major culinary earth-shakers are coming from places like Mexico City, Lima, Bangkok and Copenhagen (although the article rightly points out that the sole African entry is run by a white European, which is problematic).

If you are of a certain age, a certain income bracket, and of a certain disposition, you may find yourself treating lists of this kind, both global and local, as a to-do list. One ex-boyfriend was a chef; the other graduated from Starbucks to running the AGO's cafe. I can imagine both of them poring over these articles, scanning for places they've been, places they'll go. The names of the fifty best restaurants are a collection of syllables that reveal nothing about the food they serve: Gaggan, Noma, Arzak. Blank slates, promising the very best in innovative cooking.

As always, lists titled things like, "World's 50 Best Restaurants" create in me an existential despair. I want Canadian cuisine, dammit! What is that, though? Toronto is still dominated by Asian tapas bars, ramen houses, and taco joints. Toronto Life praises Italian seafood restaurants, Asian-Nordic mashups (full disclosure: that sounds like heaven), and Argentinian innovators. With the exception of Boralia, which Toronto Life refers to as a "history lesson," there's often very little acknowledgement of local culinary history, and maybe that's because we simply don't really have one. Toronto, the most diverse city in the country, feels free to borrow extensively from global tastes. What ends up lacking, however, is a sense of our own culinary roots.

What unites the San Pellegrino list is a sense of muscular, embodied gastronomica: a chef's clear vision for his (and it is nearly always a man in the chef's whites, both on this list and in the general population) food. The best chefs in the world aren't offering Spanish food in Moscow or Danish food in Melbourne. If anything, they're maybe hewing a little too close to the locavore movement, sprinkling their plates with "ingredients" like lichen or rainwater. Toronto's chefs make good use of Ontario's produce bounty, the inspiration for the dishes is far-flung indeed. And while Toronto offers really wonderful food, it's not surprising that we have yet to crack the top fifty. The closest we've come has been Langdon Hall in Cambridge in 2010, and they offer carefully Ontarian menu items that sound right at home on the San Pell list: "tasty roots" (featuring an on-trend forest floor broth!) share the page with Montforte chevre and cloudberry souffle. This year, a single Canadian restaurant in Montreal manages to make the top 100.

There is nothing wrong with Toronto's restaurant scene. It's vibrant and innovative, and our fusion menus can compete with anything on offer in Paris, Tokyo, or New York. I've have dozens—hundreds!—of delicious meals here. I could eat Karelia Kitchen's smoked shrimp crepes any day of the week. The rotating seasonal brunch menu Emma's Country Kitchen has exposed me to pumpkin pancakes, and I will never be the same. The small plates at Fishbar, the scallops at R&D, the slobbish (yet carefully constructed) burgers at Burgernator, the mezze plate at Harvest Kitchen: all memorably delicious.

And yet, because I'm greedy, I want more. I want a gang of upstart chefs to create a Dogma 95 for the 416 food scene. I want the excitement to come not from how well we adapt the culinary traditions of the world, but how innovative we can get with our ingredients and traditions, even when we have to create those traditions from scratch. I want to see our name up there on the best-fifty list. It's a beauty pageant, sure; doesn't mean the whole thing doesn't matter.

Image via Jose Perez

Friday, November 20, 2015

Zombi


In the Haitian tradition, a zombi is a person who has died, been magically revived by a bokor—a sorcerer—and then to act as a slave to the bokor or whomever really wants a shaggy half-alive manservant.

At this stage of my pregnancy, I feel like the fetus is the bokor and I'm the zombi. My bokor, instead of asking me to, like, dig holes or do unpleasant tasks, is primarily interested in tracking down and eating all the soft, white, salty foods we can get our hands on: President's Choice White Cheddar mac 'n' cheese, boiled perogies, pizza, raviolis of various sizes and fillings (let's not kid ourselves: cheese raviolis), various breakfast cereals, all the cookies a human being could ever consume, and more.

I literally feel like I've been hypnotized.

I knew, going into this pregnancy, that there would come a day when I could reach My Highest Weight Ever. This record was previously held in 2012, when I weighed 159 pounds on a 5'1" frame, and I wore a size 12/14. In photos from that time, you can see all that weight I'm carrying: my boobs are huge, my face is swollen, my stomach puffs out over my belt loops. I had terrible digestive issues at the time: chronic bloating and diarrhea, nausea after I ate, and a whole host of other intestinal maladies that are, frankly, pretty gross.

Riffling even further back through the calendar pages, the colonic disruptions I dealt with in 2012 were probably a result of a decade-plus of bingeing and purging. Bulimia is a stupid, ugly disease, made stupider and uglier by the fact that, often, the very things a bulimic is trying to control—a puffy face, for instance, or a bloated stomach—are exacerbated by the binge/purge cycle. I took myself through a decade of shitty behaviours before wising up in 2010. I got a dietician, who told me to eat the food groups; I started working out once or twice a week; I stopped sticking my finger down my throat.

Ironically, the course correction took a physical toll. Between 2010 and 2012, I gained 30 pounds. I was eating normal food, but it made me feel like garbage; I felt like garbage, and there was no healthy way for me to fight it. When I switched to a paleo diet midway through 2012, tiny alarms bells rang—alarm chimes, really—because I had to ask, was I restricting? And then the weight started to come off and my skin cleared up and my poops became somewhat less life-ruining, and I had made a good choice. Adding in a rigorous weight-lifting habit a couple times a week meant that, when I wanted a slice of cheesecake, I could have one, along with abs and tricep muscles and a thick neck that I'm sort of proud of. (Kochany necks are the thickest, and it's sexy. We look like bulls.) I was proud of my body! After a decade of eating disorders and recovery, I felt like I had reclaimed something that had been mine the whole time.

So anyway, now that we're through that long, TMI preamble, here's my point: I was wholly unprepared for the mental shell game of the healthy weight gain that comes with pregnancy. I feel utterly bombarded with messaging around how I'm supposed to look—from weight gain calculators to Instagram posts to mom-friends on Facebook, there seems to be a "good" way of looking pregnant, and it involves staying cute and lithe and doing lots of prenatal fitness. And I feel, in my seventh-months glory, like a fucking water buffalo.

I do not feel glowy. I do not feel cute. I do not feel like a goddamn goddess. I feel like, if I wanted to ever lose any baby weight, I should have all my kids before I turned 30. I look at my friends who had kids and who bounced back to their pre-baby bodies in a matter of months, and I despair. I read blogs that say that I will never get my pre-baby body back, and that this is a good thing! Look at what I'm gaining! I see stretch marks being reframed as "tiger stripes" and I feel like these women are fooling themselves. I can't work out right now, because I'm too tired and sore from the physical angst of hauling around this belly all day to do the intensive cardio/weight regime that usually keeps me in check. Hell, even just walking around the damn block creates all these cramps and round ligament pains and aches.

And then I eat half a box of macaroni and cheese, because I'm starving and our tiny sorcerer is asking for sacrifice.

I'm now four pounds away from My Highest Weight Ever, and I'm freaking out. My face? Puffy. My stomach? Well, it's big. It's hard to the touch. If you want a simulacra of this experience, please shove a fully-loaded laundry basket under your shirt and then try to put on your socks. I can literally see my child twist and turn inside me, which is magical, but also deeply weird. I was told that I can gain between 25 and 40 pounds while growing this kid. So far, I've gained 23, and I have another eight weeks to go. I feel as dense as a dying star.

This is clearly one of those "get it out, get it down," posts, because I'm not really sure what I'm looking for (maybe a paleo mac 'n' cheese recipe?). Just as I couldn't anticipate the physical and emotional toll this process would take, I can't predict what the recovery will look like. I can't know what my body will look like in a year, or five, and I really can't figure out how I'll feel about it. So maybe, if anything, a reassurance that this too shall pass, and that there will come a day, very soon, where I lose anywhere from five to ten pounds in a single day, and this day might change everything.

Image via Tom Gauld

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Urban, Suburban, Exurban


Every now and then, I fall into this daydream: I'm a few years older, sitting in the kitchen of a farmhouse, looking over the fall fields as the sun rises in the distance. I'm sipping a cup of tea. There's a dog curled around me somewhere. An open New Yorker lays on the table in front of me, but I'm not reading; instead, I'm thinking about the farm, my family, and what I need to do that day.

As the sun rises over the crest of the autumn-dried haygrass, I might pick up some knitting, or turn on the oven for muffins. My husband appears in the doorway and rumbles through the kitchen cabinets, hauling out the frying pan for bacon. Our kids are somewhere—maybe outside in a treehouse, maybe upstairs, still under the covers, reading, maybe hollering at each other, or the dog, or us.

Don't get me wrong—I love living in Toronto. Over the last decade, it's become my home: I've fallen in love here, made several homes here, started a family here. Nearly all of my friends live within the city limits, and my parents live close enough that I can see them many times each year. The city has lots going on: its density means that we can live without a car and still buy groceries. We can hop on our bikes and within a half-hour, be down at the waterfront, or in a historic/rapidly-gentrifying neighbourhood that has a 1:1 ratio of brunch places to young families, or in a park. Toronto has so many parks! Big-ass parks like Trinity Bellwoods or High Park, plus all these little parkettes, scattered through the city like dropped freshwater pearls.

But I was raised in other places—cities, small towns, and also out in the country. After four years in Calgary, we moved to Manotick, Ontario when I was in elementary school. Actually, not even Manotick proper, which, in the early 1990s, could best be described as a village; no, we lived outside of Manotick, on a rural road that faced an empty lot near the Rideau River. In a lot of ways, Manotick was terrible for me: I hit puberty there, I was bullied there, I was devastatingly lonely there. But—and this is a big, reluctant but—there was also great things about growing up in a place where I could be outside four seasons of the year, where we could play on a rope swing or have a big garden, where the neighbours had a stream in their backyard and we could go sledding in their ravine.

I don't know if I would choose to raise my kids out in the suburban countryside (and we lived a short car ride from both Ottawa and Nepean, so it wasn't like we lived in isolation). The social pool is so small, for both adults and for their kids. The amenities are few and far between—a YMCA class here, an arts camp there—and getting anywhere requires a car. Trips into the city were always glamorous, but that was because my folks planned them as outings. We'd eat McDonalds hotcakes and then skate on the Rideau Canal. There were museums trips. Compared to Manotick, life in Ottawa seemed great.

Toronto offers those same chances for us. There's just wads of culture: museums, festivals, restaurants, live shows. It doesn't have to crunch our wallets, either: we can buy an eight-dollar roti,  check out the Swedish Christmas festival, and then hit a second-hand bookstore. Factor in the price of a TTC day pass and that's still less than the cost of a movie. We get lazy, and complacent, and forget that these things are available to us, but they are, and they're a vital part of urban family life. But we miss the other half: the nature, the freedom to chuck your kids outside into the yard and say, "For god's sake, go blow off some steam," and the semi-enforced boredom that, I think, allows kids to sharpen their imaginations.The suburbs, which were supposed to offer proximity to the city's cultural gifts while still allowing for a yard, no longer provides either. When's the last time you drove around on a suburban cul-de-sac and saw a gang of kids playing outside? Most suburbs don't even bother building sidewalks. Who would use them? Let's face it: nobody walks out there.

But I still crave that rural pace. I want to be able to have a garden, a big dog, and a gang of kids that aren't tucked into a two-bedroom condo. I want to be able to walk on the beach, or stand around the firepit, or make a cardboard fort with my kids in the driveway. And I still crave that urban place, too. I want to be able to hop on the streetcar to the swap meet, to walk to the library, to see the latest Indonesian action movie on the big screen. And I'm here, already, and so it feels like that choice is to be here too. But I wonder: what am I giving up? What would another place, another pace, do to my life? To my family?

My parents have a farm now. It's not a working farm, although it does have a barn and occasionally, a local farmer will offer them cash to take their hay. My folks use it as a rental property through the summer, and then they settle in for the winter. It sleeps eight in proper beds and another four on various couches, and there's a sun porch, a huge kitchen, an enormous bathtub, and poppies ringing the front porch. There is a cozy kitchen woodstove, a massive fireplace in the living room, and a firepit outside. In the summer, a hot wind comes up and shakes the trees and makes the cicadas sing their buzzy song. In the winter, the snow drifts slowly—so lazily, in fact, that if you're not careful, you'll fail to cotton to the fact that you're getting snowed in.

There, in the mornings, all year round, it's possible to look out over the fields and watch the sun come up.

Image via Alessio Albi

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Horoscopes to Wear Sweaters To


Gather round, ye astrological astronauts, and cozy up to my latest witch proclamations. These go down especially nice with a good cocktail (Manhattans, anyone?), or, if you're abstaining, a hot chocolate made with real milk.

ARIES: I recently joined this Facebook trading group, where people will post photos of stuff they don't want—tables, half-eaten loaves of banana bread, unopened and slightly outdated tech—and then go "ISO" things to replace them. People are in search of the weirdest things, but the same general categories keep coming up: succulents, haircuts, mirrors, "consumables" (you're fooling no one, stoners), and, always, tall cans and tokens. It's this weird proxy economy that couldn't exist if we weren't terrible at just getting rid of stuff. We always seem to want something in return.

TAURUS: When a woman gets knocked up, there are very few objectively great things that happen to her body. The whole nine months are basically just one long ooze. The exception? Goddamn, pregnant hair looks amazing. Add in that "glow" people talk about? It's like they're radiant from the chin(s) up. Perhaps, Taurus, you too have a unexpected and time-limited glory in which you can revel.

GEMINI: One of the weirdest (to me) subgenres of film is Christmas horror, but not only does it exist, Christmas horror has a rich and bloody history reaching back to the Canadian X-mas horror classic Black Christmas. One of my favourite Christmas horror movies is Rare Exports, a Norwegian movie featuring a very off-putting Santa and a bunch of homicidal—and, um, full-frontal naked—elves. It's so weird, you guys. But it's also kind of charming, and it's actually not all that scary. It's more of a ninety-minute wtf-fest where the intersection of gore and nostalgia and amazing Scandi scenery are at its peak. Which is all to say: seeking out life's strangest intersections can be a beautiful thing.

CANCER: My sister spends her life flying between her office in the city, her work zone in the hinterlands, and her boyfriend and family three provinces away. There's something in her spirit that really enjoys this, but Cancers are known for being homebodies. Y'all like your creature comforts. Maybe this is why, when she travels, she brings her personal totems with her: favourite sweaters, an iPod loaded with pop music, her At Bat baseball app. It keeps her grounded even as she makes a habit of never quite knowing where she might wake up tomorrow.

LEO: I love office supplies. Index cards, binder clips, printers that work right out of the box without having to whack the side and pray to Jesus that everything is hooked up: magical talismans, one and all. Having a well-stocked office supply cabinet makes me feel prepared—which, when you think about it, is just another word for safe. The illusion of safety can be a powerful one, and not all bad. After all, I'm way more willing to take a risk when I feel like I have a net underneath me, even if that net is made up of paper clips and half-inch binders.

VIRGO: Can I level with you? It took me a full year to read The Hobbit, which is ridiculous because that book is not long. My husband's copy of the book is 279 pages, which is about the same as a Stephen King short story. I think it took me so long to wade through it for the same reason I'm lukewarm on Star Wars and I don't really care about the Beatles: not having been exposed to them as a kid, I missed the rush of discovery and wonder that those pop culture touchstones can create. Encountering them as an adult, I understand, on an academic level, why people dig them; they just don't make me feel anything. This year, I stopped apologizing for that. It's not my fault the timing didn't work out.

LIBRA: "I feel cheated never being able to know what it's like to get pregnant, carry a child and breastfeed,” once said noted feminist Dustin Hoffman. Allow me to fill you in, D: stick a bicycle pump in your belly button and inflate your stomach until you can no longer see your pubes, then go on a 45-day crying jag. Experiences that seem magical from the outside are often very much not once you're strapped in for the ride, and it can be tough to know, when, exactly, the payoff stops making sense. Maybe you, too, Libra, are engaged in something feels way different on the inside that it seems on the outside. Maybe you could share with the group a little more.

SCORPIO: I've been really coveting black Nike running shoes lately. I went through an intense clogs phase, and I still love my Blundstones, but there's something about a breezy pair of runners that make me go "mmmm." But all the art-school girls I see are still clutching their dirty white Chucks like they're the effing holy grail, and now that I'm in my thirties, I can't tell if they're weird or if I am. It feels shallow to "still care" about fashion, as if that's something I'm supposed to give up as I get older—like I have to trade that brainspace for, like, knowing about investments or something. But also: this stuff matters to me. Sometimes, you gotta give in to the parts of your brain that cares deeply about superficial stuff.

SAGITTARIUS: I have this recurring daydream in which I'm a farmer. I see myself with a baby goat slung around my neck as casually as a Milanese millionaire would wear an ascot, and I walk the rows of my crops—lavender? Hops? Peach trees?—with the comforting buzz of artisan honeycombs coming from somewhere over the next rise. I wear galoshes because I have to, and my hair is wiry yet alluring. This daydream has pretty much zero in common with actual farming, and is just an escapist fantasy whenever I find myself spending too much time on the computer...but it's also really useful, because it points out what I'm lacking: physical work, a connection to nature, a sense of purpose. It helps what's missing throw a shadow.

CAPRICORN: So Trudeau filled his cabinet with women, and you know who wants to talk about it? Cab drivers. Cab drivers definitely want to ask you about your opinions on Trudeau and his political harem, and they definitely have opinions themselves, although they won't share them until they suss out where you fall on the political spectrum. I get the sense that Toronto cab drivers, as a group, have some of the highest levels of diplomacy and tact on the face of the earth, even though they scare me half to death when I'm cycling and they're going extinct in the face of Uber. Maybe Trudeau can repurpose Toronto cab drivers as ambassadors; lord knows they have the skills for it.

AQUARIUS:You know what pains me? Justin Bieber is having A Moment. I've listened to "Sorry" about 300 times, and you know what? I'm NOT SORRY. That damn song is really catchy. Bieber is doubly embarrassing because, like me, he's from Stratford; unlike me, he's a gazillionaire pop star who has silly tattoos and wears/acts like the dumbest shit on earth and people are always like, "You're from STRATFORD?! Do you know JUSTIN BEIBER?!!!??" and first of all, no, and secondly, ugh. But I am powerless in the face of "Where Are U Now," as all reasonable humans must be. And you know what helps? Watching the "Sorry" video for the 301st time. Those girls can daaaaaance.

PISCES: Did you notice a lot of tandem bikes this summer? I sure did. I saw them everywhere, and I can't help but wonder if they're in a renaissance, or if they've actually been there the whole time. I feel like this is a metaphor for something: maybe there's a slightly unusual trend that will pop into your life soon, making it a bit weirder and more delightful. Maybe that thing is already circling you like a friendly, dopey shark, and you just need to start noticing it. Maybe join a tandem bike gang—it will obviously have an even number of members—and keep your eyes open on the road.

Image via The Bold Italic

Friday, October 30, 2015

Pregnancy, In Lists



A partial list of cravings so far:
  • tortellini with pesto
  • banana smoothies
  • green smoothies
  • dim sum-style turnip cakes
  • pad Thai
  • toast
  • more toast
  • seriously, an embarrassing amount of toast
  • kefir
  • samosas
  • peanut sauce
  • macaroni and cheese
  • pudding cups
  • soft white foods in general
Things that have been the grossest:
  • my beloved kombucha SCOBY, which I had to throw away and then barf a bunch afterwards
  • red meat
  • the inside of my own mouth
  • the stupid prenatal vitamin that I take like twice a week and always which always makes me feel disgusting
Nicknames for the baby:
  • the little buddy
  • the tiny dancer
  • little friend
  • kiddo
  • the disco monster
Cutest things:
  • have you ever seen a newborn onesie? Good lord 
Obsessions:
  • what I'll fill my freezer with before the kid arrives
  • strollers—they truly are the car parents buy before they buy a minivan
  • sleek maternity clothes
  • how to position my body in time and space so that I'm comfortable
  • avoiding other people's unsolicited labour stories
  • toast
  • knitting tiny clothes
  • pinning gender-neutral clothes on Pinterest
  • baby-wearing resources
  • poking at my belly to see if that's the kid's head or its bum
  • offering people a chance to touch my stomach (I am a monster)
Physical challenges:
  • stiff hips
  • sore back
  • leaky boobs
  • my crotch is a swamp 24/7
  • this, like, numb/burning area at the top of my abdomen? The midwife says this is not unusual, but I think there's a demon in there
  • sometimes I go to pee and then an hour later I have to pee again, and then an hour after that I'm peeing again, and...

Physical amazingness:
  • feeling this kid move around inside
  • no acne?! 
  • seriously, my hair looks insanely good right now
  • constantly fondling my new outie bellybutton 
  • yoga is fun again
  • a bunch of different people have said that I'm "glowing"
Emotional challenges:
  • crying pretty much on the daily, for real
  • fear
  • anxiety 
  • developing an inexplicable fondness for Justin Bieber songs 
  • that every twinge is somehow a miscarriage, or, now, premature labour
Emotional amazingness:
  • when my husband reads stories to my belly and then we snuggle afterwards 
  • the incredible influx of people who want to give us baby-related stuff, including furniture, clothes, and soaker pads for the aforementioned leaky boobs
  • holding onto the parenting mantra my mother gave me, which was "Feed the baby. Hold the baby. Change the baby," which, like, I can totally do those things
  • feeling closer to my mom in general
  • finding some mom-friends (however: is there a more terrible phrase in the English language than "mom-friends"? I don't think so)
  • watching my body change in all these incredible ways, and not feeling super fucked-up about it (as Virginia Slim said: "You've come a long way, baby."
  • starting to maybe feel sort of like, if I can get my house cleaned up and take a shower sometime between now and January, I might be ready for this. 
Image via Rebeca Losada

Thursday, October 22, 2015

On the Bandwagon

True confession time: I only really care about sports when there's something on the line. Spring training? Whatever. Regular season play? Unless something truly spectacular happens, like a brawl in a sport where there usually isn't any brawling (bowling, for example), I tend to skim it. The gold-medal games in the Olympics? The World Series? The Superbowl? I'll made a dent in my couch for that. But this year's Blue Jays—home of Joey Bats and Tulo, of Josh "MVP, MVP" Donaldson, of hometown boys Russel Martin and Dalton Pompey—have forced Toronto to fall in love with them. I'm no exception.

For the past few years, my dad has bought a 500-level flex pass, which lets him select a bunch of games at which he can drink eleven-dollar beer in the sky. He's been generous with the tickets—I regularly get texts asking if I want free tickets to the game—and we've been greedy in accepting them. My husband and I load our bags with Bulk Barn snacks and bottles of water, and we alternately roast in the sun or sit out under the stars. It's an outing: a bike ride to the lakeshore, a required-by-law Instagram shot of the CN Tower, and also, some sports.

I have great memories of my friends at these game, which were otherwise unremarkable. Going to a game with unrepentant Yankees fan Abe meant sitting next to him as he cheered for A-Rod (of all people) while the rest of the stadium cheerfully booed him. This was the same season that Munenori Kawasaki and Ichiro Suzuki were in regular rotation; the Japanese fans behind us hollered us for both the Jays and the Yanks that night, wildly waiving Canadian, American, and Japanese flags.

But the games? Oh, those games were not good. In 2014, there was a record-setting nineteen-inning game in which they barely beat the Tigers; in 2012, they burned through 31 different pitchers. They hadn't won more than 90 games in a regular season over a decade. They had the longest payoff drought of any professional sports team in North America. Before this summer, going to Blue Jays games were like going to a movie where, even if the ending was okay, the whole thing was kind of disappointing.

I was nine in 1993, when they won their second World Series and Joe Carter walked on the moon. I remember that series: I remember the Coke ads, and somehow winning fifty bucks in a family pool. I remember being freaked out by Phillies center fielder and noted felon/angry-looking man Lenny Dykstra. But mostly, I remember the electricity of caring. Feeling like it was something big, something that mattered. Not having a TV at our cottage, we went to my mom's cousin's house and huddled around the TV to take in October games. Mike tells me stories about being in Toronto when the Jays won, of going to Bloor Street and watching the city erupt in mad fandom, finally feeling justified to howl at the world. Some nights, when we come back from having a few too many drinks and want to feel that feeling, we'll lie in bed and watch the walk-off home run clip in bed together. Joe Carter's erumpent face, equal parts thrilled and shocked, and Tom Cheek's heart-eyed instructions to "touch 'em all, Joe," are as Canadian to us as Heritage Moments and Tim Hortons.

For twenty years, caring about the Blue Jays was Torontonian background radiation. They played, we cheered, they had heart and good players, and none of really mattered. Even my dad vacillated between two settings: "those bums" (when they lost) and a grudging "those guys" (when they won). I mostly went to games for a chance to yodel Ennnncarnaaaacion along with the PA announcer.They were good enough—all sports teams manage to win enough to keep fans from chewing the insides of their cheeks into lace—but they had not again touched greatness.

Until, unexpectedly, things shifted this year. When they the team acquired ace pitcher David Price and shortstop Troy Tulowitzski in the late-July trade deadline, they suddenly went from being good-enough to something special. People who hadn't known anything about baseball were suddenly showing up at the SkyDome (never Rogers Centre, please), cheering on a team that had put down two eleven-game winning streaks. Torontoist published a guide for bandwagoners. Then the Jays clinched the American League East, and then they beat the Rangers in a five-game series that culminated in one of the weirdest, craziest, funniest games ever played, post-season or not.

The Jays are now fighting the Kansas City Royals in a brutal seven-game series. They've forced the Royals to Game Six, after losing their first two games and getting absolutely slaughtered in the fourth. But the thing about the 2015 Jays is that they just keep going. They keep not losing crucial games. They're still in the running. It's the most bizarre thing. If they win the next two games—and they could, they really might, everyone is being cautious but nothing's really over yet—they'd be heading to the World Series for the first time in 22 years. I have to admit: imagining Toronto's crazy joy at that moment gives me a manic chill.

But still. For me, if we finish here, it will have been a good finish. The Toronto Blue Jays have finished in the bottom half of the division for the past nine years. Now, we have the batflip that spawned a thousand memes, a team that seems to play as though they care, players who regularly fly through the air to catch and throw. Watching them play now is a pleasure, because they believe again. And we believe in them, too.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

How to Dress Yourself and Grow a Baby at the Same Time


Hola bitches! Whoops, now that we're expecting babies / baking buns in our ovens / exploring the mystical path of motherhood, I guess we have to trade the word "bitches" for something more G-rated. So: Hola, gestaters!

By this point in your journey towards birth, you may have gained five or ten or forty pounds. I offer no judgement on the number, on your general shape—some lucky bitches gestaters only gain like, thirteen pounds all the way through and we can still see their abs well into their eighth month. (Those women are stone-cold freaks, though.) Full disclosure: I'm six months along and I've gained nineteen pounds, mostly in the baby zone (tits and stomach). I've gone up about four bra sizes. I wear a special belt to keep the weight of belly from cranking on my back. According to my midwife, my abs—my hard-earned abs!—are slowly being separated down the middle line by the sheer force of my uterus growing out. (This is the same midwife who, when I told her I was feeling very pregnant that day, looked at my stomach and said slowly, "Well, it sort of just looks like you had a big lunch." CUE FEELINGS.)

Since your body is changing, you will be forced to get new clothes. In my experience, maternity clothes are both different from, and better than, just sizing up. Sizing up often means that, while the garment fits over your belly, it's sloppy elsewhere: too-long straps, gaping underarm holes, bumster pant rises. I hate to admit it, but maternity clothes just fit better. They're designed to fit over the basketball your partner has shoved under your shirt.

But they're also stupid expensive and often designed as though the average age of Canada's first-time mother is 55, not 29. Some fashionistas recommend embracing your inner Golden Girl during your pregnancy, and just rolling with brightly coloured muumuus. Counter-point: I feel uncomfortable in colours brighter than navy. Throwing a weight gain and a shape change into the mix wasn't exactly inspiring me to break out the teals and aquamarines.

I've staunchly stuck to, and expanded on, my wardrobe of grays, blacks, white, black, red, and more black. For reference, here's a list of maternity things I've acquired over the last six months:
  • gray skinny pants *
  • black wide-leg pants *
  • cheaply made pair of black leggings *
  • insanely beautiful pair of black leggings **
  • spangly black party dress **
  • dotted grey cocktail dress *
  • black pencil skirt **
  • black denim skirt **
  • black poofy skirt **
  • black tank top *
  • green-khaki tank top *
  • black 3/4-length sleeve top *
  • plum tunic *
  • gray short sleeve sweatshirt **
  • gray v-neck baseball-style sweatshirt **
  • black swingy sweatshirt **
  • white maternity/baby-wearing parka *
This is in addition to a bunch of things that I've just kept wearing well into pregnancy, including a mesh tank top, a sheer blouse, an extremely tight black sweater, several long shirts/minidresses, and a pair of leggings that I kept from my fat days, because I liked the pattern and knew that, at some point, they would be resurrected in their bump-accommodatingly largeness. I've also co-opted my husband's sweatpants, and have been wearing a fur-topped toque pretty much everywhere. (I was led to believe I would be sweaty as a pregnant person, but I'm freezing.)

So what are all those asterisks? Well, the single star is something that I bought second-hand, either from a mom who was selling something she no longer needed, or from a used-clothing store like Value Village or the Salvation Army. The double star was something that was given to me free of charge—most often from my own mom, but also from friend-moms who were like "ENOUGH of these belly panels I need real jeans again!"

I provide these items to you, not as a shopping list, but as a reminder of two things:

1. It is totally possible to dress yourself on the cheap during this period. There are a few things that I need to complete this wardrobe—some maternity tights, a cozy hoodie, and maybe a couple more tank tops—but for the most part, I'm there. Second-hand maternity clothes tend to be in fairly great shape, because most women only wear them for a few months. And, in addition to checking the usual VV/Sally Anne places, second-hand and consignment shops devoted to outfitting your kids will often also have a maternity-clothes section. I scored a $140 shirt for six bucks from one these places, and I'm still not entirely over it. Trolling parents buy-and-trade groups are also a great place to pick up deals, as is Kijiji: witness my $500 maternity coat, which I snagged for a cool Borden. I think the total cost of this wardrobe has been about $300. While half of it came for free, I think it could be done for under $500 even if you had to buy it all.

2. I love showing off my bump. Maybe even flaunting it! As a well-endowed woman who has struggled to accept my weight and shape for most of my adult life, being visibly, obviously pregnant has been crazy empowering. A pregnant belly isn't like a fat stomach (shut up, I didn't know this!): it's hard and firm and well-defined with the outlines of your kidlet's growth pod. Of course, your mileage may vary. Some women gain weight all over, some gain very little, and some may not even show for a while, especially if they started out on the heavier side. But for me, this stomach is something I'm proud of! I like wearing tight clothes and showing off my kid.  (#thatmom)

But I still am not drawn to toucan prints and sunset colours. I love black and grey for the same reason that I love mesh and tight clothes: I feel most like my primal self when I wear those things. During a time that is often primal, and often confusing (hello, hormones!), the comfort of a power-outfit can be a touchstone. Finding things that reflected who I am, even as I change, has become important to me.

Thinking hard about my own fashion narrative throughout the years has been a great creative exercise, and a terrific way to figure out the self I want to project in the world. I can be so many different people—post-apocalyptic farm girl; sharp-eyed gallery curator; cozy-kitchen'ed baker-maker; gauzy-eyed lavender-and-hops farmer; all-black witchy mama; thick-muscled fitspo pinup; and so on, and so on. Each of those facets of myself, or those personas to which I aspire, gives me strength and courage in the world. I love my post-apocalyptic farm girl style for its natural fibers and self-reliant air; I love my witchy-mama vibe for its mystery and all-black colour scheme. Plus, fashion is fun, and pregnancy is often not fun. Finding a fun outlet in which to be pregnant is a kind of take-back-the-night moment for me, in between all the morning sickness and backaches and acid reflux.

These moments—these nine months, actually—are moments of transition, between focusing on myself to focusing on my wee family. After the baby is born, my clothing choices may cease to matter at all, or drop way down on my priority list. They may go from from form-fitting to forgiving, or from fashionable to utilitarian. But there is absolutely no reason I can't be a well-dressed bitch until then.

Image via Nettie Wakefield

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

This Week, In a Post


This week, I'm at my parents house in a very picturesque small Ontario town, engaging in some self-care and allowing others to take care of me. So far, this looks like:
  • A massage!
  • Family time. Just being around my parents can be really soothing, although when my dad was being a total pill about Blue Jays tickets, I did have to hide. 
  • Two trips to Fabricland with my mom, to choose fabric for our futon cushions so I can hate the futon a little less
  • A solo venture to all the fancy-lady stores on the downtown strip, searching for maternity tights
  • Making fun of maternity clothes on the internet with my sister
  • Nightly chats with my husband, who I miss quite a lot
  • Lunch out with my mom and sister, where literally every dish was primarily cheese and it was v. delicious
  • Multiple baths in my parent's deep (and exceptionally clean) bathtub
  • Making quesadillas (filled with squash, chicken, green onions, kalamata olives and cheddar, and it was SO tasty and I feel like a chef genius)
  • Knitting my dad a non-itchy hat to replace the 100% Icelandic wool toque I made him several years ago, which is nice to look at but will literally make you feel insane, which he has rightly never worn
  • Chocolate, every day
  • Pinterest
  • Spoonflower
  • Listening to The Roots, Banks, and Joe Strummer
  • Not setting my alarm
  • Going to bed early
  • Sleeping in
  • Getting gifties for the baby, including a way-cute onesie and a vintage book about breastfeeding that featured photoillustrations of hairy dads cuddling their babies
  • A heating pad wedged between my shoulder blades
  • Walking away from the TV after an episode of Friends, because let's face it: those people were really mean to each other! All the time! 
  • Lying around in my towel for an hour after I take my morning shower, watching my stomach pulse with baby-kicks
  • Accepting that my feelings are my feelings and I don't have to fix them
  • Accepting that the next year or so is going to be very tough, and also very rewarding, and also very different from this year, and that it's okay to be excited and freaked out
  • Setting a to-do list, and then being okay when I don't get through it
  • Did I mention the baths already?
  • Washing my previously unwashed and horribly filthy Icelandic sweater (my version of this process involved swirling it around in the machine using a croquet mallet, which isn't really S.O.P. but was my favourite part)
  • Reading the Far Side in bed
  • Feeling really good about my outfits
Image via Emilie Fountaine

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Nuit Off-Blanche


My first Nuit Blanche was Toronto's second: back in 2007, my boyfriend and I wandered the streets until dawn. I don't remember much of what we saw, but I do remember the dreamy electro music that played during OCAD's atrium during their free pancake breakfast, and our pact to hail the first cab we saw on our walk home, and that we ended up sprawled in his twin bed as the day greyed out up us, never having caught that cab after all.

The following year, my heart was broken: the boyfriend had become the ex, and I did Nuit Blanche with friends, the ghost of past loves dogging me around the city, installation to installation. I remember a cloud of fog around Hart House, and handwritten wishes tied to a tree. I remember "come home baby I need you here" being one of those wishes, and my heart broke even more. Everything in my life seemed irreparable. In the fog, I cried, and let myself be seen by strangers. To be seen by friends would have been too intimate.

Over the years, Nuit Blanche has been a place to meet secret lovers, to meet friends, to wear layers, to fill water bottles full of whiskey. The best way to do the night is by bike, following the masses as they roil from one place to the next. Exhibits that are wildly popular at eleven PM or one AM usually thin out around dawn—I saw Lower Bay Station, and its claustrophobic sound installation, that way—and the crowds go from parents with children, to drunk college friend groups, to dedicated up-all-nighters. There are places of refuge, like the Gardiner Museum. There are places of wild revelry, like Trinity Bellwoods. And there are overlays of memories—old friends I once knew, new friends I never saw again.

The art is almost always forgettable. I don't mean that in a bad way, but it's like going to a museum. At some point, fatigue sets in. The art blends together, creating one super Picass-brant, and the day is a dreamy blur. Nuit Blanche is the same way. The night becomes about the trips between art sites, the blurry cell phone pictures, and trying to push through the throngs of people to get back to your bike, or onto the streetcar, or to see the thing that we all came to see.

And: the back-to-back years of romance and then mourning still seep through, even though I'm now married. It's like going back to a grave, in a way. It never feels quite normal. It never doesn't haven't that memory.

The last few year, I've skipped Nuit Blanche. Last year, I was in New York City, partying in a Brooklyn warehouse with a thousand other weirdos. Years before, it's been too cold, too rainy, too many people, too spread out, too esoteric, too mainstream. It's been not my scene. And frankly, that's okay. Nuit Blanche is dedicated to experience: it's to be immersed in art, to run around the city with friends, to show your kids the crazy scupltures at MOCCA. It's to have new experiences—and to try to recreate that for myself year after year is a misguided attempt to hang onto something that evaporated into the fog years ago.

Leave it to the kids, the art fans, the college students. Leave it to the new lovers. I'll be at home, with my husband, loving that.

Image via the Culturatti

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Only Way Around It Is Through It


Pregnancy is turning out to be a lot like rock climbing for me, in that I expected it to be something that I was naturally very good at; in actual practice, I'm not all that talented at being knocked up. The failures on my end have been manifold: physical, mental, emotional, professional.

I'll be honest: it took me weeks—maybe months—to really internalize the idea that I was going to be a mom. For the first six weeks, I was terrified that I would have a miscarriage, so instead of celebrating, I spent all my time thinking about that. I obsessed about the idea, checking different actuarial charts constantly, waiting for the daily risk rate to drop from 33% to 12% to a much less panic-inducing 2%. Every time I went to the bathroom, I had a split-second image of blood-soaked underwear and clots of...material, before I realized that nope, that dampness in my panties was just pregnancy swamp-crotch.

In the meantime, I started exhibiting signs of proper pregnancy, like food aversions and morning sickness. I lost the ability to eat vegetables and I spat meat out at the dinner table. I ate tortellini for breakfast and lunch for two weeks—something I laugh about now, but that caused my wheat-averse body to bloat and swell. I dry-heaved all the time, and went to bed at nine PM feeling like a loser. I gained a bunch of weight very quickly, and had visions of myself ballooning up to 200 pounds. For a former fat girl-turned-bulimic-turned-recovered person: hello, all my nightmares.

Fast-forward to now. I'm rounding the corner on week 24, and the last month has been terrifically, destructively, suicidally hormonal. I go from laughing to weeping to enraged in less time than it takes to load Netflix. I hate to admit it, but I have moments—hours, if I'm being honest—where I do not know that I have what it takes to be a parent. People keep asking me if I feel maternal, and honestly? I do not.

I feel fucking guilty as shit, because I'm mourning the life I feel like I'm losing. I'm mourning lie-ins with my husband on Sunday morning, and biking across the city late at night. I'm mourning the ability to dash out the door on a moment's notice, and the time I can spend meandering around the dark corners of Facebook. I'm mourning my boobs, which were never perfect but have transformed into these grotesqueries that leak randomly and look pinched and raw—and this is before breastfeeding even starts! Everyone says that kids are awesome and super fun, but they're also like tiny cult leaders who hypnotize you into thinking that squashed-up hamburger buns are a totally fine Play-Doh substitute.

I feel afraid, because I get so sad sometimes. I'm afraid that my sadness and anxiety will seep over into the womb. I'm afraid that no sleep and no money will ruin my marriage, and then I'll be alone, with a baby. I'm afraid that I will hate being a mom, and that I won't like this kid as a person, and then I'll be stuck with them forever. Forever. I'm afraid that M and I don't have the skills to cope with a baby, and we'll turn on each other, and eat each other alive. I'm afraid the baby will bear witness to that.

I'm so tired all the time. My body hurts—sitting, standing, getting out of bed, lying down, lifting things up? All of it makes my back scream. Going to the bathroom can create these little shooting pains down my belly; it's not enough to call the midwife, but just enough to ruin an otherwise enjoyable poop. Dropping the soap in the shower elicits a curse word. And yes, I know I should be doing yoga and stretching and working out. We all know the woman who went jogging until she was seven months pregnant. I hate that bitch, right?

I am not a trusting person, and this process requires a whole lot of trust. Trust in the future, trust in yourself, trust in the changes that are hurtling your way. I feel lost on how to navigate this, and I feel lonely. Nobody ever tells you that pregnancy is lonely as hell. All these feelings, all these changes? I want to talk about it all the time, but I know that doing that is alienating and weird, especially for people without kids. I don't want to call up my girlfriends and be like, "I am so soul-crushingly moody today, so please, let's get coffee and I can inventory all the clothes that I no longer fit into at you while you stare into the middle distance and pick at a scone," but that's pretty much what I want to do.

And! Finally! I feel like a bag of shit because I'm having these feelings in the first place! Let me tell you, pregnancy is not easy for everyone—maybe it's not easy for most people—and yet the message that we get is that we're going to be glowing goddesses, and our bodies will work naturally, and we'll just glide through it with a few barfy moments and a few generously cut caftans. I feel like a traitor to the cause for even saying that I'm having a rough time. I don't want to spoil the illusion for my childless buddies, I don't want to be a drag or a complainer, and yet: I feel fucking awful a lot of the time.

Strangely, I do feel a bit better after this feelings-barf. I've been keeping a lot of this bottled up (well, my husband knows, because he lives with me and I've been a monster), and letting it out only when the pressure gauge is in the red zone. I don't know why I'm doing that: experience has taught me that talking about it—naming the feeling, demystifying the emotion—can do a lot to just calm and recalibrate a person. So: thank you for listening. And if you're out there, feeling like a lonely, moody, scared pregnant person yourself, know that you are emphatically and unequivocally not alone.

Image via the Guardian

Thursday, September 17, 2015

California Nightmares


Since I, and a couple friends, started a writer's group a few years ago, I've noticed a peculiar shift in the way I read. I still pick up books for pleasure, but now I'm more likely to notice all the hinky details and typos, all the tone-deaf tropes, all the thudding dialogue. In short, I am reading more like an editor than a reader, which can kind of ruin the kick-back-with-a-book experience.

Last week, I picked up Edan Lepucki's debut novel California, a dystopian read set in the Golden State after a series of catastrophes, both economic and environmental, kill off millions of Americans. Cal and Frida are a young couple who survive the breakdown by fleeing the rapidly disintegrating city of Los Angeles—with its gated communities, its downtown overtaken by radicals, and its suicide bombers (including Frida's brother Micah)—for the relative safety of woodsy isolation. The two of them are now foragers, hunters, shed-dwellers. Their neighbours are a tiny family of hippies, and they have the most humourless dinner parties in the history of mankind. When the neighbours kill themselves, and Frida starts to think she's pregnant, the two of them strike out for a nearby encampment, one that has been surrounded by spikes and where pirates—strike that, Pirates—have been spotted. Will they be welcomed by the spiky community, or eaten? Is Frida's baby real, or are her symptoms the result of malnutrition? And who is that mysterious bearded man leading the Spikers?

When I read the back of the book, I was like, "Hmm, this has potential." I love apocalypse narratives. They're like puzzles to me. People behave crazily in the best of times, so when you take away their running water, their penicillin, and their easy access to fast food, what happens? I like reading about the interpersonal and interiour dynamics when people really begin to believe that this might be their last night on earth. I love the ripple effect of removing one or two essentials from people's lives (our cushy, late-stage lives) and trying to figure exactly where the waves would come ashore. If we shut down, say, Manhattan's transit system...what would happen? Would taxi drivers become fief lords? If Calgary decided to keep all the oil to itself, would they build a wall? And who would build it? And would they be proud of their good work?

And, it should be noted, I've been obsessed with this idea in my own writing. The last couple years, my poor writer's group buds have been subjected to multiple takes on the end of the world—snowstorms, nuclear strikes, economic collapse, and other, more amorphous sputters—and my attempts to play those out on the human scale. What happens when an introvert needs to join up with a group in order to survive? Where, exactly, does baby food come from after the world ends?

Even when I think I'm sitting down to write a little story about, like, young lovers going skinny dipping, I can't keep the tidal wave out of the background. Some attempts have been more successful than others.

Apocalypse stories work best when they balance the personal with the global. I want to know the scale of the disaster—is it just one or two towns? Or did the entire Pacific Northwest region just fall into the sea?—but I also want to know about the people who're experiencing this. Are they shy, or strident? Do they have kids, or are they still kids themselves? Did they already have guns before shit went down? Do they think Obama is a Kenyan, or Jack Layton was a saint? Do they know how to garden? Knit? Dress a knife wound? Would they hold that information back in order to grab onto some power, or would they share it freely? Do they mourn their dead family and friends? Do they remember the world before it all went to shit? Those questions form the lynchpins to writing interesting apocalypse stories, even if I don't always nail the answers.

So: I had two main issues with California, one cosmetic, one editorial.

The cosmetic problem was one of capitalization. We've had multiple discussions at the writer's group about writers capitalizing certain words to denote significance (turning groups into Groups, land into Land, etc), and the general consensus we've come to is that this is lazy writing. While people do think in landmarks—my convenience store, my Ikea, my grandmother's grave—these tend to be personal landmarks. In the book, these personal landmarks are replaced with monoliths. For example, the bathhouse where people go to get clean is universally referred to as the Bath, but in real life, Susan might call it the bath; Gary might call the place the bathhouse; Daniel might refer to it as the soap shack; and so on. Annoyingly, newly arrived Cal and Frida pick up on this nomenclature almost immediately, despite not being assimilated into the group.

I understand why Lepucki did this (hint: it is easy), but that doesn't mean I like it. Hell, even places in Toronto with actual proper names still get a whole bunch of different titles—I mean, I can barely remember that it's not still the Skydome, and it's been the Rogers Centre for a full ten years now. Names are powerful, and they're one way to actively create and enforce conformity.

The editorial issue I have with California runs a little deeper. These characters are paper dolls. Frida is fleshed out a little more—we know she's a baker who used to like getting stoned—but most of these people are just empty teeshirts. Forget individual characterization; I had a hard time telling anyone not in the main cast apart. Lepucki seems to have taken "show, don't tell," to heart, but then she sort of forgot to do any showing, either. There are moments that I didn't buy in the least, because real people don't behave like these characters do...but characters created solely to serve the plot might.

One of the most annoying things as a writer is when you have this awesome idea for a story, and then people you create to make it happen just don't want to do it. Your story is the minivan, and your characters are the recalcitrant toddlers you're trying to stuff, screaming, into the backseat so you can just get to where you're going. But I can promise you right now that if you, as a creator, populate your writing with characters who are just cogs in the story wheel, they'll come across as stiff, boring, and hard to tell apart. I want backstory, I want details about appearance (exactly how did Astrid lose that tooth?), I want the author to not be afraid of adjectives. I want characters to do things, and for those things to mean something. Lepucki's characters didn't do a lot, and it ultimately didn't mean much when they did. Genuinely disturbing reveals were met with muted or nonexistent reactions, and the plot machine just kept chugging along to Grandma's house.

I genuinely can't tell if this is deliberate on Lepucki's part—after all, in a dytopian world, it's totally possible that people would be flat and kind of soulless—but even characters that were probably designed to be magnetic and charismatic fall flat. The cultish Micah is, by turns, petulant, standoffish, and needy, and it's hard to imagine exactly why anyone follows him. It took me far too many pages to realize that the Land actually hosted two factions (the original settlers and Micah's group), because everyone seemed uniformly capable and uniformly committed to the cause. And that cause, and the steps the Group had taken to support it, revealed slowly over the novel's last third, was probably supposed to be shocking, but would obvious to even a careless reader. Those literal red flag were planted all over the book. The questions about how different personalities might respond to a disaster never get asked, because there aren't enough variations in characters for that to really matter. It's just chug-chug-chug to the finish line.

I felt, at times, like this was a very promising first draft. I was itching to take a red pencil to it, scribble in the margins "Why?" and "How?" and "Tell me what effect this has!" These are the questions we've been asking ourselves at writer's group, and answering them really does make for a stronger story. I don't want to know how—I want to know why. In apocalypse stories, this can be interpreted as "Why did this happen?" but that's not always the right thing to ask. It should be "Why does this matter?" and, that old perennial question readers ask, "Why should I care?"

Image via Joseph Morgan via Future Organization