Thursday, December 29, 2016
January: The big news this year was the birth of Noah Stanley Kochany Cinovskis, baby extraordinaire. He arrived at the top of 2016, January 25, six days late and after three days of fuckin' back labour that had me seriously questioning how many kids I want ("zero" no longer being an available number). I had an emergency C-section. I didn't poop for a week. The baby had trouble latching but we got him fed. It was cold but not insanely cold. So: solid B, overall.
The other big thing has been my father's recovery from his brain tumour, a metastatic melanoma that reared up three days before last Christmas. He had emergency brain surgery at the tail end of last year. The day before our baby was born, my dad started radiation therapy. My sister moved back to Ontario, quitting her job in Calgary to be here. M and I were useless and distracted with the final weeks of my pregnancy and Noah's birth. Also! David Bowie died.
In January, everything felt edgy and extremely emotional, which is basically the theme of 2016: Edgy and Extremely Emotional (E&EE).
February: I spend a lot of time thinking about moving to the forest and starting a commune. Every time I close my eyes, I'm picturing tiny houses, ringed at the edge of a field, each with a nook to sleep and a place to park a laptop, where the membrane between inside and outside is thin. This is the first time I think seriously about leaving Toronto, and the idea, in various permutations and executions, will be a motif for me this entire year. I feel so depleted, and the idea of recharging in this city seems totally impossible.
March: My parents housesit in Etobicoke and we spend a bunch of time in their white-leather living room, wondering who, exactly, decorated this house. I take the baby to the One of a Kind show and it's like going out with the Beatles in 1964. Women are elbowing each other out of the way to fawn over him. I leave with a dozen butter tarts and a newfound appreciation for personal space. I do a workout for the first time since NS was born and cry because my body feels so irrevocably unsame.
April: The days are all of the same: we sleep, sort of; we walk a lot; we eat a lot; we try to get the baby to sleep. Buds appear on trees and our jackets stay in our closets, but it feels like time out of time. Looking back at the spring, it feels like something we survived. New moms on Instagram who are seeing other people's beautiful babies and weirdly flat stomachs and fun brunches, while you have a screaming infant who doesn't sleep and who just pooped on your last clean pair of sweatpants? Take heart, you are not alone in feeling like you were sold a bill of goods. This is a tough era, the first three months. I kind of can't believe we got through it.
May: I launch The Stroller Derby, which is where I've been writing for most of the year. It's fun to have a different outlet—my mom voice, which is different from my Hipsters voice—but I also miss writing this blog, too. This year's creative output has been...compromised, shall we say.
June: Mike goes back to work. It's weird and hard to be alone with Noah all day, but it's also fun and easy, in other ways. His sleep is all over the place. Naps take so much energy to make happen that by the time Mike gets home from work, I am spent. He's also spent, because night sleep isn't much better. I miss him, but I'm also glad to have my alone time again—only now, they're snatched moments instead of hours. I spend a lot of time walking Noah in the stroller.
July: Sleep deprivation. Hard. Worse than anything. There's a moment where I go into Noah's room for the third—fourth? fifth?—time that night, and a tree taps gently on his window, and I am convinced and terrified that it's a murderer. I have panic attacks. I'm seeing things out of the corners of my eyes: a backpack in the corner transforms into a severed head. I feel utterly broken. Ultimately, we sleep train Noah, because we have to: I am really losing my mind. I feel so upset about this, though. I wanted so desperately to give him everything, to never hold myself back. But I can't give him my sanity, because he needs me to have it. I feel lonely and like my mom friends with judge me, so I get weirdly evangelical about the benefits, even if it's just to my husband and neighbour, both of whom sleep trained, too. This feels like such a dark time of the year.
August: I spend a week in Stratford, saying a slow goodbye to the place my parents lived for almost twenty years. It is time to sell that house. Five bedrooms is a lot of bedrooms for a family of two, but my siblings and I have a tendency to rotate home every now and then, and it feels sad to lose this huge house, surrounded by trees and friendly neighbours, in a small town studded with coffee shops and nice little bistros. Even though I haven't lived there in years, my parents' move feels like a real loss to me. I spend a few weeks obsessing about moving to a small town, walking the trails, working in a little shop or at a relaxed firm.
September: I start group therapy at Mt. Sinai, because my post-natal anxiety was pretty heinous. It was kind of a big shrug, if I'm honest, but it was nice to feel supported, and like I wasn't alone. Mental health issues have always been a rough area for me, but since my 20s I've been getting better at insisting on help, and refusing to feel any shame for needing it. Anyway, this was more of that.
October: We dress up like witches for Halloween and hit two separate kid parties. It feels very parental. I do some heavy emotional work with a friend with whom my relationship hit the skids right before NS was born, and it feels so hard that about seven different times I feel like saying. "Fuck it, let's not be friends any more!" but that's not the right answer. After a lot of emailing and some in-person talks, we feel more settled, but holy mother, that was hard.
November: I threw my first event, a dance party for parents and babies. I rented out Buddies in Bad Times, sold tickets, made a playlist...all the things you do when you're throwing an party. This was a prime example of "fake it 'til you make it," because I didn't even really think that hard about what I was doing; I knew if I did, I would start to second-guess myself and get imposter syndrome. So I just kind of did it. And you know what? It was awesome. I got some critiques (about hours, how to make the event friendlier to queer families, about the music), but I also got great feedback from parents who were like, "THANK YOU, I just wanted to go dancing one more time before my children graduate middle school." Also, Donald Trump won the 2016 American election, and everyone started barfing and panicking and have not stopped.
December: We host Christmas dinner. We fight a lot. We make up. We buy each other cookies. We let each other sleep in. We drink tea. We play Peggle. The baby gets his first cold. I make resolutions. I look at the baby while he nurses, half-dreaming, and I cannot even begin to tell you about all the different ways my life—my heart—has exploded and shimmered and ended and begun this past year.
Monday, December 19, 2016
Aquarius: Have you read Ta-Nehisi Coates's "My President Was Black"? I'm reading it now; it's a pretty powerful look at all the ways Blackness and authorship, narrative, expectation, self, America, Trump, racism, and power intersect. The usual stuff, these days. Your soul-assignment, Aquarius, is to read the things that challenge you to be outside yourself. If you go angry, read gentle. If you skew easy, read hard. Read things that make you put the book down on the edge of the tub and stare balefully at the floor for a minute. Pile up books beside your bed, tuck them into your bag on your way to work, read after dinner instead of browsing Netflix. Be different people, for a while.
Pisces: One of my friends has this marvelous tradition of buying his friends flowers when they graduate. I love this! It's so thoughtful and sweet, but also lovely because flowers aren't something you're beholden to. You don't have to find them a spot in your kitchen or pack them the next time you move. There's something to be said for ephemeral forms of friendship, you know? Maybe it's time to do a little floating in your own relationships, Pisces. Not get too bogged down in all the stuff.
Aries: The city of Toronto installed bike lanes on Bloor Street this past year, a victory for cyclists who had been asking for the protection for...a decade? More? They went whole-hog, too: nice big plastic bollards and a wide lane for cruisers and speed demons alike. I used to avoid Bloor Street when I was biking, but now, I head towards it, confident that I can have my own slice of the road. A city-sponsored slice, at that. It's kind of an amazing feeling: free, yet insulated. What are the things that you head towards that make you feel that way, Aries? And when was the last time you made the trip?
Taurus: Ancient Icelanders had a lot of different runes, but most of them had to do with the same few basic needs: sleep, warding off enemies, calming strife, healing from injuries. I love the power and mysticism embedded in a few lines, and the ancient runes are still in use today, albeit more often as tattoos and design elements than in actual spell-casting. But wouldn't it be amazing if a few shapes, drawn in dust or blood or snow or sand, had the power to change things, even if only in a few key areas? What runic magic would you invoke, Taurus? What lines would you draw?
Gemini: Over the past few years, my husband and I have bought each other gifts of comfort and caring: bike helmets, sweatpants, cozy clothes. Slipping into something fleecy and warm at the end of a chilly winter's day can be about as good a tonic as a cold glass of water in July, or an early-morning coffee after a tossy-turny night. We often underestimate the power of simple material comfort, like fresh sheets or a favourite shirt, but they can be so powerful in creating just a little bit of softness in a hard day.
Cancer: I bought the baby a book with a finger puppet crab in the middle of it, like a little orange softy poking out of the centre. It's pretty cute, as crabs go. It frolics on the beach, plays in tide pools, naps with its family. I mean, crabs don't really "frolic" or "nap" or whatever...but sometimes it's so nice to feel like even crabs are making decisions and engaging in self-care and just, like, having a nice day, you know?
Leo: The concept of forest schools is one that just fascinates me. Are you familiar with this? Basically, you pay someone a lot of money—like, a lot of money, Montessori-preschool amounts of money—to dress your kids up in rain gear and then go hang out in the forest. Sometimes there's structure, like going to check out a beaver dam or look for mushrooms. Other times, it's self-directed play: kids hanging out with each other, figuring out how to be human beings, together, in the forest. There are no desks, no reading corners, no math lessons. It's just nature. And you know what? It makes me wish that I, too, could attend a forest school. The thought of being out in the trees, on the beach, near the dunes, next to the escarpment, wherever our forest school would be, is so goddamn appealing that I barely have the words for it.
Virgo: Time to start your Fuck Off Fund, my darlings. Whatever is coming your way is going to heavy and mysterious, knocking you right out of your shoes. You need cash money to deal with it: to take the time off work, to make the emergency move, to eat out for a week because your fridge is under a foot of water or encased in ice or something. I hate to be catastrophic, but if you don't have a FOF, you're basically waving a red flag at a bullish universe.
Libra: In the wake of the US election, I've been thinking a lot about Woman Island. Who would I invite to this femme-topia? Solange, obviously. Anjelica Huston. Octavia Butler? Kate McKinnon! The women who surround themselves with undeniable female energy, who are powerfully, undeniably, unapologetically women. I mean, I have no problem with men—they're useful, to a point—but most of them lack that vivacious verve that comes from growing up in a system that either hates you or ignores you and deciding, Fuck it, I'm going to take the wheel anyway. Woman Island, man. Invite only.
Scorpio: We are nearing the winter Solstice, the longest night of the year. Last year on the Solstice, my dad had a stroke, a brain bleed, a metastatic cancer episode, and it was so long, and so dark. He's still here—changed, yes, but present and himself—and the gift of him is all I wanted them and it's all I want now. Dark things happen in the dark, my loves. But the best thing about the Solstice is that it's as bad as it gets. Tomorrow, the day becomes longer, by seconds at first, and then hours. Darkness comes, darkness goes. We'll always have night time, and we'll always have some daylight.
Sagittarius: There comes a point, midway through every single knitting project I start, when I absolutely hate knitting. Doesn't matter if it's a pair of socks or a vest, I'm like I am having the worst time in the whole world, this is so boring and slow. And then I turn on a podcast and I keep knitting, and you know what? It continues to be boring. But at the end of it, I have whatever beautiful project I was working on, all done and blocked and tucked away in a drawer to be pulled out. And every time I pull those things out, I don't remember the tedium; I remember how damned proud I am of the finished project.
Capricorn: Death Valley is a horrible place, pretty much empirically. It's hot, it's barren, it's full of plants that want to stab you death and bugs with far too many legs. But every ten years or so, forces collide and the valley erupts in a "superbloom," a pointillist masterpiece of wildflowers. From a distance, it looks like a haze; these aren't the flashy blooms of, say, a Dutch tulip farm. This are delicate little buds, whose time only comes once in a while. If you're a fan of subtlety in your natural phenomena, make plans to be in places where tiny, hazy miracles happen every so often.
Friday, July 8, 2016
A year ago, my husband and I walked with my parents beside a waterfall, working up the nerve to share our news. We hadn't written a script or talked about how we would tell them, and finally, more out of sheer nerves than anything else, M and I pulled them into a family huddle, four heads together, and whispered, "We're pregnant!"
The heart expands.
A year ago, my parents called me and told me to get M, and the two of us sat in the living room, holding hands like children, and listened as they explained that my dad's old melanoma had slipped between the healthy cells and made new homes in his lungs, in his soft places. Things would be different now.
The heart contracts.
There's an illustration that surfaces every now and then, that says, "Nothing in nature blooms all year," a reminder to go gentle on yourself in hard or fallow times. There are seasons when great wild things burst forth and everything is possible; there are seasons when the trees hold dead fingers against a gray sky and it seems that nothing will be possible again. And so it is with our bodies, with ourselves, our lives.
I am exhausted. The last year has been earthquake after earthquake until the ground beneath my feet is silt and I am drowning. My dad is sick. The birth of our son was such a trauma that I still cry when I think about it—my old dream of a big family seems impossible now. Money has been strangle-hold tight for months. I am overworked: even downtime when NS is sleeping or playing on his own is eaten up by my job. I am lonely. My family home is on the market; the farm where M and I got married will be sold next. Relationships have ebbed: starting back in November, I've been told by friends and family members that I'm mean, that I'm not grateful enough, that I don't share the conversational air, that I have shut them out.
And maybe I have. I sleep so little and I work so much. Some days, the only thing that keeps me alive is that, if I went, there would be no-one to feed the baby. It's hard to stay peppy and bright, it's hard to stay kind, it's hard to stay present. It's not all bad. There are moments of joy among the grief. But right now, it's a lot of grief.
Everything has changed. The deal I had with my parents—that they would never die—has been broken. The deal I had with my body—that it would behave and deliver—has been shredded. The deal I had with myself—that I would ask for help—has fluttered away on the wings of all the relationships I seem to have mangled. I know this all sounds so dramatic and over the top, but I'm really struggling to find good things right now. Add in the news, add in the heat, add in all the daily terrors of life.
Once, after another heartbreak season, my dad called me up and said, "Let's go to San Francisco for the weekend." I said "What?" and he said, "Come on, let's just go!" So we went to San Francisco for three days: picked over the bins at Amoeba Records, walked the Golden Gate Bridge, stopped into silly museums, watched No Country for Old Men, drank Fat Tire beer. On Saturday, we took the train under the bay and emerged in Oakland, the home of Alice Waters, of Chez Panisse, where we had dinner. But it wasn't Chez Panisse, exactly: it was the auxiliary cafe upstairs. And it wasn't dinner, exactly: we got the last seating of the night, so we sat down for a meal at nearly quarter to ten, on the cusp of the kitchen's last orders. I don't remember what we ate; I remember laughing as we ran, half-drunk, to the BART station in order to catch the last train back to the city.
Once, after another heartbreak season, I took my tiny son out in his stroller—his bright lemonade yellow stroller, so different from all the blacks and grays that I usually surround myself with—and we roamed around the city for a while, doing errands and meeting friends. On the platform of the bus station, as we waited for our ride home, I reached down absently and gently ran my fingernails up the soles of his feet. To my surprise and delight, he let out a giggle, and then a roar as I did it again. Soon, I was laughing, and he was laughing, and when I looked around the bus platform, I saw a dozen other people laughing too.
Nothing in nature blooms year-round. This week, I feel stuck and dirty and dire and alone. I know that my dad feels that way too—and my sister, and my brother, and my mom, all of whom carry this burden, and others. I am tired. I am lonely. I feel like the worst possible version of myself, and that everyone knows it.
Sometimes, when I nurse the baby, I imagine the two of us enveloped in a shimmering cocoon of white and purple light: a shower of love and safety for us. I imagine it for him, protecting him against the world, or at least softening the heartache when his own earthquakes start to roar. For now, though, I carry him over the cracks, and I hope that our shimmering love is enough to keep him safe. It's all I can do. I hope it's enough.
The heart expands, contracts, expands again.
Image by Esra Roise
Thursday, May 5, 2016
Saturday, April 2, 2016
The baby is currently wearing an olive-green onesie, a gray waffle-knit shirt that is one size too big so it looks a little slouchy, a pair of burgundy and cream crocheted booties, a bandana-bib printed with Marvel heroes, and leggings covered with cats floating in space. I have to admit, I'm a little jealous of his outfit.
I keep thinking about fashion and style. Maybe because I'm in flux—I don't really fit into my pre-pregnancy clothes, and I'm not really interested in investing in a whole new wardrobe to accommodate my new, saggy belly—and maybe because I'm not really sure how I'm supposed to dress as a mom.
I know, I know: dress the way I've always dressed! But I need tanks that are loose enough to hike up over my bra when it's time to nurse, and comfy shoes for walking for hours with a stroller or a baby strapped to my chest. Necklaces are a no-fly zone, and my fingers are still too swollen for my rings (including—sniff—my wedding ring). There are emotional as well as practical considerations: everything I'm wearing (or not wearing) right now is purely functional, and it's kind of a bummer, because nothing really makes me feel like myself.
My husband, over the last few years, has started investing in these big-ticket clothing items. He bought Frye boots and a Schott leather jacket, just like every punk-rock god. He has band tee-shirts and pins and patches, denim jackets and a great haircut. And recently, when I asked him if his insides and his outsides matched, he looked at me and said, "Yeah, I think they're really starting to."
Is it superficial to want my clothes to reflect how I feel? The truth is, I don't really know how I feel. So much has been in flux over the past 12 months: my dad getting sick, gaining weight, even quitting my job. I'm starting to seriously consider moving away from Toronto, or what it means to stay. I've thinking about going back to school. And there is, of course, that big, red-letter item: the baby, all sixty-two giggly, cat-pants-wearing centimetres of him. It's a trite observation to make, but you know, for something so small...
Even though by virtue of having birthed and cared for this boy-child, I am irrefutably a mom, I feel a bit like an imposter (albeit an imposter who hasn't slept more than three hours in a row in two months). I want to feel powerful, fierce, sexy, competent. I want to look that way, too. But right now, I look—and feel—like I'm putting on a costume. What do I wear to feel like myself when I can't pin down what motherhood means to me? What the next few years might look like? Who I want to be, and who I actually am? When I don't know what my insides are up to, how do I get my outsides to match? I mean, so far, I've been leaning heavily on sweatpants and leggings, but those can only carry a girl so far.
Maybe this will get easier and I'll find a style that makes me feel like me + baby + all the other elements of my life actually hang together. I'm starting to see things that might inform and inspire this process: Fly boots, strange linen trousers, even teething necklaces. Tall boots for weekends at my parent's farm, and hand-knit socks underneath them. Doubling down on the black and gray colour palette I've favoured for so long, with the occasional bit of whimsy to match my son's insane leggings. Hairstyles that keep the baby's grasping fingers out of harm's way and also make me feel more pulled-together than my standard-issue bun. Clothes that fit and flatter my silhouette, even if it's changed, because I've changed. Things that make me look, and feel, like myself.
Image by Rafael Mayani
Friday, March 25, 2016
For the past six years, I've worked as an administrative assistant in some capacity. It hasn't always been called that—you can also call me a producer's assistant or an office manager—but it's been basically the same job. I set up the teleconference and make sure the coffee is hot. I answer the phones and order the printer paper. I do the mail merges and track the packages. I troubleshoot the website and manage the email list. When I first started, I thought these kinds of jobs would be stepping stones to more interesting work—that if I started in the mail room, I could work my way up to senior management, the way my dad did at IBM in 1981. Turns out that this type of job only lead to more jobs just like it.
I sometimes think about what my life would be like now if I had known myself better at the age of twenty. It's impossible to predict the future, true, but the interests I have at the age of thirty-two were all there in 2004: sexuality, craftiness, writing, fashion, art, design, community, good food and drink.
And if I had known myself better then, I would have known I'd never last in those administrative assistant jobs. The longest I've ever worked anywhere has been 15 months, at the most interesting of the bunch. The shortest? Six measly months. The average time worked at a non-profit job is 18 to 24 months, which means I'm on the skinny side of the bell curve, professionally speaking. Which, given the emotional satisfaction of the mail merges and the email lists, doesn't surprise me one bit.
In the last two or three months, I've felt a tug back towards those long-standing passions. It's almost nostalgic, honestly—since NS was born, I've had lots of time, and reason, to think about the person I want to be. The person I've always been, to some extent. But I've had very little time to actually come up with a plan to become that person, let alone enact it. I have these dreamy pictures of what I could be: a crafter, an educator, a writer, a chef. But the path to making any of it happen is fuzzy, even as it feels more and more urgent.
If I had known what I wanted twelve years ago, I might have finished school in a reasonable amount of time, instead of noodling around for eight years and through two nearly-complete minors (Jewish studies and urban planning, if you're keeping score at home). I might have gone to chef's school, or dived further into crafting. If I had been more confident ten years ago, who knows where I might be as a writer? It's not wasted time, exactly. It's just time I spent on other parts of my life: meeting my husband, getting my mental health to a good place, becoming a real part of my family.
So how do I make a living at any of this? My mom suggested M and I "start a business together," which is a lovely idea until I started to think about what we would do (hops farming? Woodcut prints? Weaving? Horror movie experts?), and how we would monetize it. Mom and I went to the One Of A Kind show today, and everywhere we looked, there was something interesting. From intergalactic travel agencies to chompy mugs, hundreds of people had found their passion, found their niche within that passion, and then gone for broke. It was cool. It was inspiring. And it's something I want to do in my own life.
In eighteen years, NS might well be heading off to college, and I'll be fifty years old. It feels like a lifetime away—indeed, it's his lifetime—but I can remember eighteen years ago in my own life, and it doesn't seem that far away. And honestly? Fifty sounds young to me. I know it sounds crazy to be talking about fifty as though it's just around the corner, but I need to start thinking about those birthdays like they're coming up, because otherwise, I'm going to be a forty-eight year old administrative assistant and that's not something I want. I'm at least twenty-five years away from any kind of retirement, and I might as well spend it doing something I love. Or, at least, something that inspires and challenges me, something that changes me, something that I enjoy and that I can learn from.
Image from Bad Vibes
Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Despite the fact that I want to consider myself a person who loves nature and the outdoors, I am not always enthusiastic about actually being outside. I prefer to move through the world quickly, or at least as quickly as I can without being gasoline-powered. And, as much as I'm ashamed to admit it, I'm rarely one for hikes or nature walks. (Nature is just full of bugs, y'all.) I want to be a Patagonia model, ripped and muscular and ready to scale El Capitan in a pair of breathably stretchy linen technical pants; on the other hand, there is remarkably little TV in the forest. A year ago, the idea of going for a power walk just for the hell of it would have raised some puzzled eyebrows on my end. You just want to walk...around? Can't we just bike there? Or maybe get a coffee and read a magazine?
But having a baby changes things, and while NS is still in his infancy, we can't just stuff him in a pannier and bike around the city. We have to choose between transit, begging for rides, and walking. In the face of a TTC crush, or trying to work around our parent's schedules, sometimes it's just easier to lace up our comfy shoes and put one foot in front of the other.
Surprisingly, I've taken to city walking. We've done five big, multi-hour, multi-kilometre walks in the last week, mostly with NS napping in the stroller as we push him through the city. He sleeps remarkably well as we roll him over the sidewalk's cracks and bumps, and the noise of the traffic doesn't seem to bug him at all. Meanwhile, we get to chat with each other (not always possible on bikes), and pop into different little storefronts on a whim, and get a refresher course on the city we've lived in for years. Things change, block by block, and from a car or on a bike, it's not always possible to tell how.
When I lived in Stratford, we used to walk through the Dolan, a natural area bordering the cemetery, with a river and everything. Dolan walks were the sort of thing we'd do after Easter dinner, when we'd been eating for days; the ground was always muddy and the trail was halfheartedly maintained. The forest is never my favourite place to be. You never know when you're going to come across some sort of spider family reunion. But it was nice to be outside, getting our shoes wet, poking through the underbrush.
More often, we'd take family walks at Sauble Beach, which I loved, and still love. Sauble is a special place for my family: we've been there for literally generations (four now!), and the walk from our cottage up to the big bathrooms on Sixth Street is a five-times-a-week occurrence. Usually it's after dinner, as the lake is sequinned with a thousand gold and copper sparkles, and the beach is littered with other families doing the same: walking along the waterfront watching the sun go down. Sometimes, it's in the morning on a weekday, when the beach can be nearly empty. Or at night, when the wind whips up and we come back inside with our hair blown out. Powering along the sandy shore, a little buzzed on the wine we drank with our dinner, chatting about everything and nothing in particular, it's a special time.
Walking in the city is sweet, too. It's just that I miss the ionized wind coming off the water, or the deep-oxygen feeling of the forest. We are firmly inside the city—not close at all to natural features like High Park, the Don Valley, or the waterfront, where we could conceivably go and get our nature on. Ironically, we'd have to transit or drive there. And while Toronto might be "the city inside the park," as its signs boast, those parks are often micro-parks—a corner here, a roundabout there. A pocket of green tucked between two houses or behind a subway stop, not a rolling expanse where I might conceivably be afraid of an actual natural experience. Walking those parks take all of two minutes. It makes me ache sometimes for something more nature-adjacent.
But you know what they say: the grass is always greener, yadda yadda. Walking the city sidewalks is also a great thing. M wears the baby, or I push the stroller, and we explore. We're both working on losing our winter/baby/Netflix weight, and coming home with sore feet is a nice way to do that. If you had told me a year ago that walking would be such a source of physical pleasure, I would have scoffed. It's not going to get me ripped, that's for sure. But a gentle stretch towards health, before I try really getting back into shape, is so lovely. And doing it as a family? How happy we can be.
Wednesday, March 9, 2016
I had been counting down the number of posts on Hipsters Are Boring, looking forward to the momentous (to me) day when I would publish my 500th post. And then I had a baby, I stopped sleeping, and my brain fell out of my head. Having a baby is like doing a mild hallucinogen all the time: time is dreamlike, sleep is fleeting, and parts of it are dramatically uncomfortable. A tiny person can make a lot of noise. And, in the midst of all that noise, milestones can get missed.
So, here we are: my 504th post.
It's almost seven years to the day after I started this blog. It's been my biggest writing project of my life so far—literally thousands of words, hundreds of posts, one semi-viral post about Jian Ghomeshi, and over 200,000 page views. It started as a way for me to throw shade on hipsters, but has evolved into something else. It's a hybrid of personal writing and venting about the modern condition. It's often snarky and it's sometimes introspective. It's weird. I feel beholden to no one else when I write Hipsters. I feel no need to soften my voice or change my tone to suit some other editor's needs. It's where I feel most comfortable.
Hipster Are Boring is my hometown. It's where I'll always be from. It's the place where I can flop on the couch, crack open a cold can of Coke Zero, and talk about whatever. It's my oldest writing friend. Writing Hipsters has opened doors for me—an internship at Spacing magazine, and writing for Torontoist—and those doors have opened other doors. Those opportunities have given me a chance to dress my writing up, put it in a skirt and make it comb its hair.
It's taken me a long time to loosen up, to learn that, when I write for other people, I don't have to leave my sarcasm or my turns of phrases at the door. I used to think that my writing had to have a transatlantic accent: that any hint of my own voice had to be fluffed and flossed and smoothed and polished until it could be any old sap's byline; it just happened to be mine. And where did I learn how to do that?
Here, of course.
In a few weeks, I'm going to be launching a new writing project. It will reflect where I am now in my life—where my brain currently lives—and be narrower in focus. I'm excited to start something that feels slightly more curated than this shaggy, unwieldy blog...but I'm also excited to keep writing here.
In the inelegant backend of the Blogger website, against this never-changing background, I'll keep trying. Nobody cares if hipsters are boring anymore—we've moved past all that, with normcore and emo-rap and a million other post-hipster poses—but I damn sure care about Hipster Are Boring.
Saturday, March 5, 2016
In 2004, I moved back to Toronto after taking a year off school. Moving home after my freshman year was kind of a reset button: I needed to recalibrate after a horrible, no-good, very bad first attempt at university.
Most of that terrible experience was wrapped up in where I lived. In September of 2002, I moved into an all-girls residence run by nuns. There was a chapel on the ground floor; there was a crucifix above every bed. Though I wasn't Catholic, I had selected this residence based on the University of Toronto's colleges system. U of T runs seven different internal colleges, each with their own personality and specialty. They're mostly administrative constructs—each one takes care of a residence or two, runs courses, and houses libraries—but they vary widely from college to college. St. Michael's, where I first landed, was an older, more conservative college; it wasn't co-ed, it housed much of the seminary and religious materials, and its buildings were old and beautiful and seemed to make for a luscious living experience. It also promised a literary magazine, which in my eight years at U of T, I never once saw.
Long story short, I hated it. The nuns were dismissive, the food was awful, and the sheer pulsing drama of housing 300 eighteen year old girls at a single address is impossible to overstate. I made more best friends in my first year than I ever had before; I also embroiled myself in several totally insane fights, one of which centered around if I had stolen a Diet Coke from the communal fridge (I had not). It was exhausting. It was too much, too close.
So I took a year off, moved home, and thought hard about where I wanted to be. When my year was up—and I had once again waited on enough tables to realize that I don't always enjoy people all that much—I moved back to Toronto, re-enrolled (albeit this time at a different college), and moved into co-op housing.
Co-op was a game-changer for me. I lived there for eight years, at three different addresses. The set-ups varied: I had a room in a house, an apartment to myself, and then shared a floor with two other girls. There were things in common at each house: shared chores; housemates I adored and some I didn't like at all; amenities like laundry and newspapers that were available to everyone. There were meetings, sometimes lots of them: house meetings, annual members' meetings, council meetings, board meetings. Co-ops distinguish themselves from private rentals by being owned and governed by their members, which means that keeners (like, um, me) can run for the board of directors and work with staff to actually run the place.
One of the perks of living in a co-op is the sense that things can change; one of the downfalls is that, often, change takes a really long time. I sat on the board for years, and the same conversations kept coming up: how to retain good members and sluice out poor ones; how to make sure revenues were high and predictable; how to orient new members to an oddly bureaucratic domestic life. At first, these conversations were inspiring, but after several cycles of new directors and new staff, they can get stale.
And besides, student co-ops are, by definition, for students. They're a little more malleable, and better able to handle close quarters. Aging out of co-op was a sad time for me, but I wanted to take the next step towards "adulthood." That meant moving in with my boyfriend, and resigning myself to the fact that, if we had kids, it'd be just the three of us in a rented apartment. Not a tragedy, but not the bustling housing model I was used to.
But then, a light shone out. In my final years of co-op, I stumbled across the co-housing model. Co-housing is similar to co-op, but with important differences: units can be rented from central group (like a co-op) or owned outright by their residents. They're often more private, such as stand-alone buildings grouped together, rather than apartments or shared houses. Since co-housing isn't common in Canada, it's often purpose-built rather than converted, and they tend to be privately financed rather than draw from grants or government programs. Since they're usually created from the ground up, the groups that start co-housing initiatives are often tightly knit, rather than the sometimes loosey-goosey group of residents that might live in a co-op.
But in important ways, they can be quite similar. Co-housing is usually run by people who want to live together, and who want a vibrant, interactive community. Housing units tend to be on the smaller side, and amenities are shared within the group (I've read about co-housing communities sharing trucks and cars, gardens, laundry rooms, play areas for kids, screening rooms, libraries, kitchens, and parks). Smaller houses tend to be less expensive to build, cheaper to maintain, and have a smaller ecological footprint; shared community elements double down on those benefits. Co-housing often offers programming, such as community dinners or internal child care, that are designed to reinforce the idea that, yes, we're all in this together.
As you've probably gathered, I am interested in co-housing. I'm interested in co-op housing, too, but there are far fewer administrative and legal hoops to jump through to establish a co-housing initiative, and all the co-op waitlists we're on are backed up through the end of the decade. Co-housing offers a chance to start fresh, maybe in Toronto (but more likely outside of it), with people we like, and in houses that fit our lifestyles. After years of living in small apartments, we could easily get into a small house (not a tiny house, mind you; just one with a smaller square footage), and we could design something beautiful and unique that suits us. This would be a step up from trying to contort our rented digs to fit our lives.
I'm picturing walls full of books, movies, and art with no landlord to give us grief about the holes in the walls; I'm picturing bathtubs that can actually fit an adult human being; I'm picturing a clubhouse for all the kids, with climbing walls, craft centres and rope swings; I'm picturing easy beers with neighbours, standing around as the sun sets. I'm picturing bike shares, dinosaur kale in the front yard, shoji screens in the bedroom, working hard to keep the community vibe alive, and feeling like we have a future in the place we are. Roots and leaves, together. And now, I'm starting to wonder who else might be picturing it, too.
Thursday, February 25, 2016
- Holy god, I am going to get the diabeetus, but I'm mainlining chocolate and cookies and Jello cups like there's no tomorrow. I think maybe it has to do with breastfeeding, but it's unreal.
- I like our house, but I don't love our house. It's creaky, it always smells like weird soups (thanks, upstairs neighbours/landlords!), and there always seems to be some new structural deficit being uncovered. From blown fuses to gas leaks to negligent downstairs neighbours who set fires to underheated rooms to rotting back decks, it has some...problem areas. And the joys of being a renter means we can't really fix them. But since we just moved last fall, and we have a new baby, there's no real point in focusing on the negative. I just daydream about moving into a place where we have all four walls to ourselves.
- That being said, I find myself really homesick right now. I love my husband, I love our new baby, but I kind of just want to curl up in Stratford. I miss small-town libraries, local coffee shops, walks in the woods, car rides. I miss downtowns. I miss small-town high school kids, because their punkishness and their art-school airs never fail to make me nostalgic for my own shitty adolescence. I miss feeling like a big deal, because it's possible to feel that way in a small town.
- On that hometown thing: I think I actually miss the relative safety net of living at home and being taken care of. I'm feeling drained by the emotional work of just being around a baby all day long. The constant feedings, begging my screaming baby to tell me what's wrong, booking all the people who want to meet the little one, the lack of good sleep. It's exhausting! M is terrific at taking care of me, don't get me wrong. But right now, Toronto seems overwhelming in a way that Stratford doesn't. Plus: I miss my parents. Double plus: I'm now back at work, and I can't say that I'm stoked.
- The guy I had a major, red-alert crush on in high school has authored a children's book. I mean, come on. The last time I saw him, I literally hid from him in an art supply store, because it was like seeing a celebrity and I froze. I am such a bonehead sometimes. Anyway, the children's book thing: I've decided to not let it bum me that he's a fancy author; I'm going to use it as inspiration to follow my own dreams. Maybe one day, I can hide from him at a writer's convention!
- I can't wait to get back into working out. Not only is my post-baby gut a major bummer, but I'm getting all stiff and achy from sitting around all the time. But the upside to this enforced sedentary lifestyle is that we're burning through Parks & Rec in record time. Leslie Knope! I love her.
- I want to get a tattoo. I keep badgering M about getting something matching, but I also want one for me. I feel like it's nearly time.
- I have a new writing project. Details to come...
Thursday, February 18, 2016
Maybe it's because I'm literally tethered to the baby seven hours each day while I nurse him, or maybe it's because I'm awake at weird hours, or maybe it's because hanging out with a one-month old baby is sort of tedious (they are terrible conversationalists, honestly), but since NS was born, I've been experiencing this burst of creative energy.
I keep thinking about tattoos I want, 'zines I could make, blog posts I want to write. I'm designing the floor plan of my forest getaway house (it includes a wall of books, an outdoor hot tub, and space for the three of us to chill on the deck). I'm thinking about writing, a lot. I'm thinking about how and where I want to make my money, where I want to live, the animals I want in my life, the people I value, the aesthetics that please me. And I'm thinking about how all of that reflection gets synthesized into making and doing, eventually. (Not now. Right now, I need another nap.)
This time in my life feels like a huge reset button. It is not a restful time or an easy process, and I'm resisting parts of it. Instead of feeling like a "mom," all natural and easy-breezy, I feel like this baby has crash-landed in our cabbage patch and I've been randomly selected to take care of him. I feel conflicted and confused by a lot of this new identity. Like, I want mom-friends, and I also feel like an asshole for seeking out people just because we happened to have birthed a child at roughly the same time. I want to adore this baby whole-heartedly, and I also find part of this time deeply boring and stressful. I want to be part of the crunchy-mom scene, but I have to use a breastfeeding pillow and my kid seems to hate being worn. I want to be free of things like despairing over my post-baby body, and yet, I look at myself and I think, "You fatty." I had a baby 24 days ago; my brain is not what it once was.
I think a huge part of becoming a parent and a mom is processing all the weird, hinky little details that have come up. For example: I have not yet mastered putting the baby into a stupid ring sling, even though it's literally a strip of fabric and there seems to be no real way to screw it up. And yet, here I am, screwing it up, listening to NS scream in my ear every time I try to jam his little feet into the carrier. I feel like a bad mom, that I can't intuit all these details about mommy-ness.
And I want to talk about it! I want to create art about it. But not just about motherhood. I want to make up more baby songs, but I also want to remember and reconfigure who I am as an adult outside of the baby-ness. Maybe I'm fooling myself by thinking it's possible to separate myself from this child right now, but there's a part of me that really wishes I could do that. And I think this creative energy, which is centered around stuff that I like and stuff I want to do, is part of that. It is daydreaming, it is fantasy, but it is necessary for my sanity.
A few weeks ago, when I was hormonal as eff and crying on the phone with my mom, she said, very kindly, "You have to put your own oxygen mask on first, you know." I've been struck by that—I have to take care of myself on the very basic levels (getting enough water, for instance. Breastfeeding leaves a bitch parched), but also on some of the higher levels, too. I need to read The New Yorker in bed, and I need to write, and I need to dream. And some of those dreams are family affairs, and some of them are just for me. They are my oxygen mask these days.
Monday, February 8, 2016
Breastfeeding is hard. When I was a little girl, I yearned for big boobs. What I got were big, soft, large-areola'ed breasts that are more matronly than sexy, but whatever, it's fine. But those same big soft boobs are damned difficult for this baby to get a latch on. Every time I breastfeed, it's a complicated process of getting my hands, his head, my nipple, his mouth, all exactly in alignment. Also, I have ton of milk, so the poor little dude ends up getting sprayed, or choking, or getting his teeny shoulders hunched up with stress. It breaks my heart. This is getting slightly easier, but it's definitely been a challenge, and I can anticipate it continuing on that way for a while.
Postpartum sweating is a thing. Holy mother of God, I have never been sweatier in my life. I wake up to a mattress that has been soaked through; I get hot flashes when I nurse. I don't know why (I think it has something to do with the body shedding water weight?) but it's freaky-deaky.
TV you can ignore is key. We rewatched the first two seasons of Brooklyn Nine-Nine and then moved on to Arrested Development. Having seen them all before multiple times, there's no real imperative to not fall asleep during an episode, but having the white noise and the comedy has been a real boon.
Having great friends and family is a treasure. In the past couple weeks, we've received soup, chili, cornbread, banana bread, cookies, macaroni and cheese, chicken stew, lasagna, quinoa salad, a fruit delivery, Polish donuts, nursing apparel, a hand-knit hat for NS, baby outfits, rides to appointments, and a slew of visitors who respect the fact that all we can do right now is 30-45 minute hangout sessions, and that I probably won't be wearing a shirt (#nursinglife). FYI: not having to cook is basically the best gift you can possibly give to new parents. When in doubt, bring food.
C-section recovery sucks. Surgery + no sleep + intense fatigue from labouring + emotional whirlwind + nerve damage + pain + coping with an unexpected procedure + figuring out how to process the loss of the birth I thought I would have = THE FEELS, both physical and mental.
Milk coming in = hormonal rollercoaster. A woman's body will produce colostrum, a super-awesome early milk that only shows up for the first few days of a baby's life. After that, she starts producing actual milk, but the transition between the two is a little bit...weepy. Okay, a lot weepy. Okay, I cried pretty much non-stop for 36 hours, including all over the baby.
The baby is going to cry. Our little dude is pretty mellow, but in the last couple days, he's really upped his squalling game. Why? I have no idea. Gas, probably. Or he's upset that Trump is leading the polls in New Hampshire.
I have never loved my husband more. Watching M these last fourteen days—the 3 AM diaper changes, the little songs when he's trying to soothe him, the dishes that get done, the snack bowls that appear beside our beds, the water glasses that get refilled, the chuckles when the baby farts, the gentle petting of my stretch-marked and scarred stomach—has filled me with such love. He's such a good dad, and it's amazing to me that, just a few days ago, he wasn't a dad at all.
I have Googled everything. Every time the baby does something, I Google it. I look it up in our childcare books. I text someone. Every damn time the kid does something new, or different, or makes a sound, or doesn't make a sound, or blah blah bah into the baby-related abyss, I'm right there on the Google-machine, trying to figure out if it's normal or if he's dying. (Spoiler: he's not dying.)
My instincts are actually okay. Everything from soothing to swaddling to sleeping, I'm like 80% okay at it. My encounters with breastfeeding experts (two lactation consultations, two midwives, multiple seasoned friends) taught me that nearly everyone subscribes to a slightly different school of thought, and will follow slightly different protocols. For example, the midwives told me to breastfeed every two hours; the lactation consultants said every three hours; the books I read said twelve times in 24 hours, whatever that looks like; my mom said don't wake a sleeping baby and the kid will let me know when he's hungry. By the end of my first week, I was a mess. But slowing down, and figuring out the timing that worked for us, really made a difference. And NS ended up gaining back his birth weight in a week and a half, a benchmark and milestone that made me incredibly happy.
This is the long game. The first two weeks have been a blur of cuddles and panic, of late nights and early mornings, of naps and walks, of trying to survive and thrive. We are learning this little baby; he's learning us. It occurred to me that I'm going to know this person for his entire life—aside from my younger siblings, there isn't anyone else I can say that about. And it fills me with joy, and nerves, to know that in a month, a year, a decade, there will be milestones that seem now like they're on the moon, and those days will come to pass before I can even catch my breath.
Thursday, January 28, 2016
They say that birthing a baby is like running a marathon. In my case, I feel like the marathon route unexpectedly zagged through a raiding party, and at mile 24, we had to wrestle a bear. Basically, if birthing was a movie, I am Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant, and I would like my Academy Award now, please.
I started labour on a Thursday. At first, it felt like nothing, or maybe something...it was hard to tell, really. Mild back pain, coupled with some prodromal feelings of unwellness—the kind you get before you come down with a cold—kept rolling through me. Instead of having coffee with my mom, as we had planned, she just walked with me up and down Saint Clair Avenue for an hour, which was nice. Every now and then I would say something like, "Maybe this is how it starts?" and she would say, "This baby is coming!" and then I would put my hands on my back and walk some more. It was a sunny day, it was cold, I was hugely pregnant.
Over the next few days, things started to form. The back pain went from being vague—was that a twinge?—to very much present. My mom told me that contractions felt like her belly was being squeezed by a blood-pressure cuff, but my "rushes" (thanks, Ina May) settled in my back. Still, we were able to work through it. M put on David Bowie and we slow-danced to "Kooks," I read about art conservation in The New Yorker, and while it wasn't quite pleasant, it felt constructive. It was intimate. When a contraction hit, M would talk me through it—"Breathe, breathe, letitgoleitgoletitgo," and time them. My job was to just keep my head down and yes, breathe. It felt doable
Saturday night, we called the midwives, who came to our house and informed me that I was three centimetres dilated. This apparently was not quite large enough to pass the watermelon that was coming down the pipeline. Also, distressingly, my contractions, though increasingly painful, hadn't formed themselves into a rhythm yet. They were still five, six, seven minutes apart, coming haphazardly. They advised me to keep labouring at home, and they left at about 2:00 AM.
Sunday was...a blur, but I do know Sunday night was awful. It is almost literally impossible to describe this pain. I felt like I was being tased while I had the flu. I couldn't always stay upright; sometimes, I would sink to my hands and feet and moan, or shriek, or curse, or just pant like a dog. Sometimes, I would throw up. Sometimes, I would have to kneel on the bed and press mightily into the small of back, or along the tops of my hips, trying to relieve any kind of pressure that I could on that area. Sometimes, doing that was agony. My knees were bruised, my back felt swollen, and the "space between worlds" that one holistic birth site talked about felt like it was full of demons.
Monday morning, we went to the Midwives Collective office for a fetal non-stress test, where they monitor the baby's heartbeat for twenty minutes and see how my labour is progressing. Now, every position change triggered a new contraction. Sitting up, standing up, walking up stairs, sitting down, peeing, getting in and out of a car. I threw up cheerful little chunks of optimistic melon on Bloor Street walking to the midwives' office. There, I found I was now six centimetres dilated—progress!—and despite not being in that five-minutes-apart rhythm, we could go the Toronto Birth Centre. There was a huge tub there; for weeks, I had wanted to labour in that. I was dreaming of that tub. That tub was going to solve some shit for me.
The Birth Centre is beautiful, but I don't really remember much about being there. I have flash-memories: sinking to my hands and knees as soon as I got into the birthing suite, hit by a blinding wall of pain; being petted gently by my husband and midwives as I screamed, labouring on my side in bed; my whole body shaking underwater as a contraction ripped through me in the tub and I wondered, briefly, if I would drown; just hating the birth stool (which the hippie part of me thought I would love!). My lips were chapped raw from breathing so hard. I threw up again. I made noises like a horse, a cat, a distressed and frightened animal. The tub wasn't the balm I had hoped for. Nothing was.
At three PM, after about five hours of labour, the midwives asked me if I wanted to keep labouring at the Birth Centre, or if I wanted to switch to Mount Sinai for another non-stress test and to start a pitocin drip to see if we could get the contractions more regular. I asked if I could have an epidural along with the pitocin; I cried when they said yes. My mom, who had appeared at some point, marched into traffic on Dundas Street and held her arms out like a warrior so we could pull out. I would have laughed if I could have.
At this point, I had been in early labour, or pre-labour, for nearly 80 hours. Here's how exhausted I was by then: I fell asleep during the epidural. For those of you who have never had an epidural, it involves shoving a long needle into your spine, and then a catheter the size of a pencil lead in along the same path. It is not exactly a back massage. And yet, by then, I was so ruined on pain that I barely felt it. The midwives were still with me, having switched from tee shirts and jeans to hospital gowns, but now I also had an anesthesiologist (two, actually, whom M described as "bro-y," and we agreed they were incredibly kind), and an OB, who wore pink-rimmed glasses and reminded me of my best gal Liz: competent, funny, and completely unwilling to fuck around when it came to health.
Now, finally, things were starting to happen, although not exactly in a way I might want. The baby's heart rate started to dip after every contraction; the OB discovered meconium in the amniotic fluid (meaning our little dude had taken his first momentous poop inside the womb), and now, instead of administering pitocin, we would all be heading to the OR for an emergency c-section.
I will pause here and say that, while I had visions of beautiful natural birth—himalayan rock-salt lamps! tub! birth stools! a sweaty, healthy glow!—I'm not an idiot. Birth isn't an emergency, and I would have preferred a natural experience, but the only outcome that I cared about was a healthy baby. The narrative around modern birth is, or can be, problematic and overmedicalized, but I am so happy that I live in a time where what happened to us wasn't a death sentence for our baby. It kept occurring to me that, one hundred years ago, it would have been. The thought makes me nauseous.
In any case, back to the OR. The whole thing would take about 40 minutes. They administered the numbing agent through epidural pathway, but this time, they wanted total coverage. M waited outside while they prepped me, and the midwives stepped to the side as the surgical team worked. I started to shake uncontrollably, and then my hands went numb (they use the same amount of numbing medication no matter how big the patient is, which meant that 5'1" me was frozen right up to my neck), and I could barely speak, my jaw was clenched so hard. When I told the anesthesiologist I felt fucked up, he helpfully told me that it was because my uterus was "outside my body and upside down," which, like, I am all for knowledge, but that was TMI.
In any case, the baby was born! The respiratory therapists aspirated all the poop-water from NS's lungs, M got to cut the cord, he introduced me to our son, I clenched and shook, and then somehow we were all in the recovery room with our parents, with everyone crying and laughing and me topless. (Everyone—and I mean everyone—related to this process has now seen some combination of my vagina and boobs.) When we introduced him to my parents, my dad started to cry—Noah Stanley is named in part after him—and everyone else started to cry.
And we were all happy. And we were all healthy! And we are now all home, after two days in the hospital, after lurching to the bathroom on unsteady feet, after kind nurses and lactation consultants and pediatricians, after learning how to swaddle our son, after M sleeping in a chair for two days, we are home, in bed, resting and sleeping and nursing and watching The X-Files in bed and trying to hang on for dear life as my post-partum hormones surge and pulse.
I won't tell you that it was easy. But I will tell you, without a doubt, with no hesitation whatsoever, that it was all worth it. This kid is great so far: warm, cute, a good sleeper, a healthy cry-er. He sleeps with one eye slitted slightly open, just like his papa, and looks terrific in hats, just like his mom. We are a family. We are all doing just fine.
Wednesday, January 20, 2016
Babywatch update: no baby yet.
I've been using this time to hang out with M—yesterday, we poked around the Salvation Army and went for scones, ate macaroni and cheese and played a board game—and also goof around by myself a little bit. It's starting to sink in that, what with having a baby, and with my husband being on parental leave, it's likely that this week will have the last few moments of alone time for a very long time. Which is...scary? But also interesting?
In any case, I'm feeling lazy, so here's a sort list of things other than "Was that a contraction? Was that a contraction??" that are occupying my brain:
- Every few months, I realize that my insides and my outsides don't match in a very specific way, which is the way of fashionable accessories. I have a couple girlfriends and chums who are very good at putting the finishing touches on their outfits—beautiful bangles, dangling necklaces, glinting little rings, even a slightly elaborate hairdo—whereas I just wear the same tiny necklaces and tunnels and big buns over and over and over. I've been trolling around, looking at glorious necklaces and interesting little rings, but I am also Dust Bowl-levels of broke right now, so it's not the most opportune time to invest in, um, frivolities. But I want to! I want to.
- I am super into my Himalayan rock salt lamp, which has a place of pride beside my bed. I'm sort of convinced that it has mystical powers, which is great, because in addition to being overdue and grumpy, I currently have a head cold. But my lamp is crazy pretty and I love its soft pink glow.
- In internetting news, I am here for The Toast's morning link round-up, which is where I get probably 90% of the interesting stuff I read on a daily basis. It is consistently well-curated: a mix of politics, gossip, isn't-THAT-weird articles about missing people or genetic disorders, animal pictures, and misandry. Even the off days are worth checking out.
- I'm super relieved and excited that my parents renewed my subscription to the New Yorker (also, I am happily in the club of 30-something women whose parents buy them expensive magazine subscriptions, and it's great), so I get another full year of amazing articles like the one about weather in literature, or girl rock climbers, or the weekly restaurant review (which, frankly, I live for). I plan on reading the meal write-ups to the baby every Tuesday.
- I have a cold. The less said about that, the better, but suffice it to say that I've been mainlining tea with honey and ginger, swallowing zinc tablets like whoa, and trying to sleep about 14 hours a night. I've also been putting my face right next to the salt lamp, because mystical powers??
- This morning, M and I woke up early (just kidding, we woke up at 8:30!) and then read in bed for a while—him about Drake's new club at the ACC, me about medical workers in the Himalayas—and ate grapes and had a cuddle, and it was all very nice indeed. I felt very cozy and civilized, like we had sailed off into the middle of the ocean.
Wednesday, January 13, 2016
I have now been pregnant for 39 weeks and three days, or, if you're measuring on emotional time, since the Reagan administration.
I've learned some things in the last 39 weeks. I've learned that, if I cry hard enough, I will have a great big nosebleed in public. I've learned that maternity clothes are actually a necessity. I've learned that stretch marks can lead me down a dark and self-loathing garden; I may compare my belly to the alien heads from Mars Attacks! I've learned that sex becomes something other people do—I recall it fondly, the same way Martin Scorsese recalls the New York City of his youth. I've learned that carbohydrates are truly a non-negotiable part of this process, and any attempt to fend them off will end poorly.
QED: Pregnancy is a beautiful, disgusting, competitive, life-affirming, lonely, amazing process.
Terror level: I will probably have a miscarriage
The first trimester is all about secrets. I have a vivid memory of riding up to my parent's farm in a packed car, five weeks along, and utterly terrified that I was going to have a miscarriage right there on the highway. The car was full of friends, gossiping and laughing, and I was gossiping and laughing right along with them, but my skin was absolutely buzzing with anxiety. No-one knew I was pregnant—at that point, telling people felt astrologically unlucky, as if revealing the pregnancy would make the tiny magician growing inside me disappear.
This was a few weeks before morning (or, in my case, early-evening and every-time-I-opened-the-fridge) sickness began in earnest, but I was already feeling averse to farmhouse dinner classics like steak, and booze was off the table for all the obvious reasons. Over the next weeks, I boomeranged from a Paleo-ish diet to one that was 80% carbohydrates. Rice noodles, potatoes, perogies, macaroni and cheese—soft, white foods for my soft, white body. Red meat was disgusting, vegetables doubly so. I had to pretend like it was all normal, like I was my usual self. But keeping up appearances, all while trying to secretly process this massive life change, was exhausting. I was cranky and sore. I said mean things. I went to bed at 9 PM.
When we finally started telling people around week 12, it was a huge relief. It felt like I had accomplished something, even though the only thing I had done was be healthy and genetically on-point enough to make a bundle of cells multiply without any major disasters.
Terror level: The baby is dead inside.
All the books I read mentioned this phenomenon of waking up one morning and feeling just dandy. Morning sickness would have vanished overnight, and the four or five pounds over the last few months I'd gained wouldn't yet be noticeable. I'd be normal again! Hooray! The books also mentioned that, for some personality types, this sudden shift would provoke a feeling of dread—they stressed that no longer "feeling pregnant" didn't mean anything sinister was happening inside; my body had stopped fighting the fetus as a little intruder and had instead distracted itself with Twizzlers and sleep.
One of the biggest hurdles I've faced in this pregnancy is coming to terms with the fact that I am very, very, annoyingly, normal. For years, I believed I was exceptional, and that the rules of nature and man didn't really apply to me. I took eight years to do an undergraduate degree, but dagnabit, I did it! I peed in the streets and never got caught! I was the only writer in the history of the world who struggled with her own worthiness! I was the most jilted of exes, the most damaged of drinkers, the most sanctimonious of bank customers. I was a unique and special snowflake!
Yeah: no. My pregnancy has been textbook. I have suffered all the aches and pains of the childbearing sisterhood—no more, no less. I've had the emotional rollercoaster, the sleep issues, the back pain, the leaky boobs, the nosebleeds, the mood swings, the stretch marks, the anxiety, the separated abs, the nesting instinct, all of it. (My only exception was a greater reliance on mental health resources—after we moved in September, I spend three weeks weeping and imagining myself walking out in front of a Mac truck—but even that faded with time.) One of the great realizations of my adulthood, coming late in the game and awash in hormones, is that I am not special. I can't escape that I am part of the crowd, and my experiences are firmly mid-pack. I didn't invent, or even improve on, any aspect of this process.
Thanks for that great reveal, baby.
Terror level: I will go into labour any second now.
I biked until I was seven months pregnant, and I walked until there was too much ice on the ground for it to feel safe. I reveled in my luxurious pregnancy hair, and marveled at how clear my skin was. I rubbed lotions and oils onto my belly, massaged cream onto my poor chapped nipples, and finally started eating vegetables again. I wore black; it was slimming.
I still feel disgusting. It wasn't just the weight gain, although that was definitely challenging. It's all the auxiliary events. For instance, I started lactating at five months along, and have woken up most nights since with either a wet shirt or stained sheets. My crotch is perpetually swampy. I've had heartburn so bad it's left me in tears. Getting out of bed in the morning is a full-body spasm of tight muscles and hips that feel like they might just explode out from under me. And my back! My poor back. Sing songs of remembrance for my back.
In some ways, this trimester has been easier than the others. I'm sleeping okay, even with the heartburn, which is a blessing. The baby is big and active, with lots of sea-monsterish kicks and rolls. (Hello, you are alive!) My husband has been an absolutely dreamboat, reassuring me that, yep, he still thinks I'm beautiful. He's thanked me for doing this with him, and we have been more tender with each other than ever before. I'm also shifting into feeling ready to be a mom—to have this tiny stranger come live with us. To teach them things, to learn things in return. Even labour, which I had been dreading, is starting to seem more like something I can actually do, not just a torture I will have to endure.
Everyone says that having a baby will change everything. I believe this is is true, but I believe it in the same way that leaving home changes everything, or the illness of a loved one changes everything, or gaining or losing a lot of money changes everything. These things have an impact on us. This is a step, a change. We'll lose some things—and maybe some people—and gain others. What, exactly, that entails, remains to be seen.
For now, I'm looking forward to nursing in the soft pink glow of my salt-rock lamp. I'm looking forward to sleepy baby yawns. I'm looking forward to exercising again! I'm looking forward to sleeping on my stomach. I'm looking forward to watching M chat with the baby as they cuddle on the couch. I'm looking forward to seeing the little sneaker grab for our food. I'm looking forward to naps, to walks, to figuring out the baby carrier, to pouty lips, to first words. I'm looking forward to my parents becoming grandparents! I'm looking forward to reading Where the Wild Things Are to our child, and being able to see their little face when we do it.
We'll eat you up, we love you so.
Image via Creative Thursday
Saturday, January 9, 2016
In 1986, Paul Simon released what was widely regarded as one of the albums of the year, if not the decade. Graceland, which debuted at #1 in the United States, regularly topped critical top-ten lists that year; it remained important throughout the rest of the century, appearing as #81 on Rolling Stone's Top 500 Albums of All Time list, as #69 on the Guardian's 100 Best Albums Ever, and on NPR's 300 Most Important Records of the 20th Century rundown. It moved more than five million copies in the US, and went platinum five times over in the UK.
Graceland, which was Simon's sixth studio album, wasn't without its critics. He recorded with South African musicians during an apartheid government; as a result, he was denounced by the ANC for breaking the cultural boycott that had been in effect since the 1950, which was enacted to bring attention to the plight of Black artists living under the regime. While the UN supported Simon—and his stance that he was working with the musicians, not the government—others saw the album as creating solidarity with Pretoria.
The album is a deeply personal expression of loneliness and loss enmeshed withing a global sound. South African musicians like Ladysmith Black Mambazo share billing with American artists like Linda Ronstadt, while the musical influences range from straight-up mbube to N'awlins-flavoured zydeco. Simon fuses these sounds with his own boy-from-New York sensibilities; in the end, Graceland is one of those albums that defines an artist and a moment in time.
Okay, so: why talk about Graceland in 2016?
Because I don't think Graceland could have been made in the 2010s. I don't think Joe Strummer and the Mescalero's excellent 2001 album Global a Go-Go could have been produced in 2016. Our world has become more global and more tuned-in to injustice, both historical and on-going, and we've become more politically correct. We're much more willing to point to cultural appropriation when we see it happening, and say, "hey, that's not right."
But I'm struggling with something: exactly how, in this moment, do I tap into things like hip-hop music, or yoga, or reggaeton, or Asian fusion food, and not seem like I'm stealing something? Globally influenced music produced by white people is one of the easiest things to point to in this category and go "hmmm," but there are lots of others.
Tina Fey was in the news this week when she talked about "opting out" of apologizing for media—in her case, it was the Jane Krakowski-is-a-secret-Native American storyline on last year's Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Fey told Net-A-Porter that from now on, her jokes would speak for themselves. This week's episode of movie podcast The Canon focused on Gunga Din, the 1930s swashbuckling adventure set in colonial India—drink every time the hosts said the word "problematic" and you'd be soused before the commercial break—but they spent a lot of time wondering how to fit older, less evolved media into our current understanding of the world. Do we discard it? Do we keep it in the history books, albeit with an asterisk? Jesus, what do we do with Flula's cover of Macklemore's "Thrift Shop"? A uber-white European dude, aping a white Seattle rapper, aping Black hip-hop?
We live in a global world. Hell, Toronto is one of the most diverse places on the planet, and it would be weird to have so many different types of people mixing together all day long without someone influencing the other. But I'm also aware that "mixing" is a relative term here—Toronto still struggles with the ghettoization of immigrants and people of colour, of queer and trans people, of poor people—that creates this false impression of diversity without ever creating real challenges to people's expectations of others. We can pat ourselves on the back for creating Drake, while still allowing Black men and women to suffer the indignities and injustices of racial profiling by police.
I'm a white lady, living a comfortable lifestyle, and I know—I know—that a lot of this could be read as "but I want my yoga class and my Ethiopian food and my hip-hop jams!" But the truth is, I feel a bit frozen. I don't want to be an asshole. I don't want to take, or take over, something that isn't mine. But I also don't want to feel like the only stuff I can believe in in an authentic way has to spring from the potato-girded loins of my Polish foremothers.
When I was in high school, I started getting into hip-hop in a big way. I read books, watched documentaries, listened to dozens of different albums from the late 1970s through to the present. I was fascinated by the genesis of the genre, because when I was sixteen, the idea of being alienated and underrespected, of having no job and no money, of having friends and music and of needing an escape, were things I saw in myself too. I was obviously not running from the cops, or enveloped in a systematically racist society, or living in a drug epidemic, but there was some overlap. It met my emotional needs in a way that, say, N*SYNC did not. And now I wonder, was I being appropriative? Or appreciative?
I want to consume media and culture from the people who make it, not the people who ape it. This seems clear, and morally and ethically okay. For example, buying terrible Native American rip-offs from multinational chains is bogus, and can easily be corrected. (Just buy your Native art from actual Native people, jagoffs.) There are weird blurred lines, like all the Korean-run sushi places on Bloor street, where someone is ripping off someone else, but it's not up to me to get involved. And then there are moments where I just need to stand in solidarity: post the link, make the donation, push for the interview, but know that the community members are leading the actual work under their own auspices and priorities (see: trans* activism, for example, or #BlackLivesMatter).
But when there's collaboration and crossover—when Graceland happens—the waters become murky. And I don't really know what to do! Can I appreciate, or participate? Or is my role to stay on the sidelines and witness? This is maybe the only actual instance of "white people problems"—how to move through the world without causing more problems, compounding the sins of the people who look like me, who act like me, who are me.
Friday, January 1, 2016
I love making New Year's Resolutions, but because I'm human, I am truly terrible at keeping them. They're a perennial (literally) favourite of mine! And, not to brag, but a lot of the resolutions I've set for myself over the past few years have come to pass, even if they were sort of by accident. I've made my peace with my body (or at least I had; we'll just have to see what a post-baby incarnation looks like and what kind of spirit work it requires), which means I no longer "need" to lose x-number of pounds. I've accepted my Coke Zero habit, mostly don't eat junk food, and I quit smoking ages ago.
But that doesn't mean there aren't things in my life that wouldn't benefit from some changes. Resolutions, adjustments, goals, habits to break or create, things I need to examine or challenge, and all the other work that goes into the improvement of a human being. In the spirit of the new year, here are some of my 2016 goals:
1. Set a monthly intention. A friend of mine does this, and I think it's pure genius. Whether it's practicing more gratitude, getting outside more often, working on a relationship that needs some TLC, or some other goal, holding it in my mind for a month seems doable. I'm a person who, every so often, will "make a five year plan": this is literally just a half-baked spreadsheet with columns like FINANCE and LOVE and I'm stumped on how to fill out the cells. I do much better with short-term goals, like giving up sugar or social media for a month, and I often find that these experiments act as a window into my priorities. Like, giving up sugar was horrible, because it tapped into the obsessive, punitive part of my brain. Better to just have a bit of chocolate and be cool with it, you know? Anyway, a monthly intention may just be enough focus in a year which I'm sure will have its share of hairiness.
2. Stop taking everything so damn personally. I am...not very good at this. From other people's weddings to celebrity bodies, it can be a real challenge to remember that these things are not happening at me, and I don't need to react to them as though I've been personally wronged. This happens literally all the time, from the mundane (I didn't win an Instagram giveaway! I am bad at Instagram and am also a loser!) to the meaningful (before I was married, unchecked jealousy over other people's engagements left me feeling like I'd been doused in lye). Being able to celebrate people's milestones and accomplishments is the mark of a healthy soul, and it's something I need to cultivate in myself before I shrivel up into a husk. I've been working on this for years already, so this is more of a reminder to, you know, keep at it!
As a corollary, if my husband happens to have a grumpy face when he's talking to me, he might not be grumpy at me (although he definitely might be: I have been known to push a button or two). I want to be able to hear past an angry tone, an interruption, or a misspoken word, and not weaponize it and turn it back onto the person. I want to be able to hear the message without getting all bent out of shape about the delivery. Personal criticism is vital for growth (prune the dead branches, etc), but it doesn't always come in an embossed envelope, delivered by singing baby angels.
3. Stop swearing (in conversation). I love salty language. I've peppered my speech with forbidden words since the fifth grade, when I realized that my parents weren't actually in class with me and couldn't do much about it (my big transgression? Telling a classmate to shut up, which, along with hate, stupid, and dumb, was definitely Not Allowed in my house). I swear like a sailor with my friends and my therapists, and I love it. It's fun! But, if I'm being perfectly honest, swearing is also sort of déclassé and aggressive. I hate that I'm more likely to drop an f-bomb when I'm angry, or when I'm trying to come across as cool or tough. Removing rough language from my speech doesn't mean I don't feel angry, or want to seem cool or tough; it just means I don't have a convenient crutch to lean on to convey those thigs. And I can definitely keep using the whole dictionary, including the R-rated entries, in my writing. Sometimes, a sister just needs to write fuuuuuck, you know?
2016 is going be a nutty year for a lot of different reasons. We're transitioning from a two-person family to welcoming a third. My parents and siblings are in flux right now, and "home" is undergoing a radical redefinition. I have creative projects simmering in my brain, but they've not yet come to full boil. And, as the year passes, time will stretch and slow like it always does. The days will be long and the weeks short, and vice versa. "One day at a time" is such a cliche, but even cliches have their usefulness.