Sunday, October 17, 2021

On Writing

Has there ever been an identity as fragile as that of "writer?" 

I have "been a writer" since I was in middle school, and my mom, exasperated with my daily habit of abandoning my nightie on the bathroom floor each morning, assigned me a page of writing every time I did it. Exasperated right back, I churned out nonsense stories about fairies and dolls come to life, a magazine where the cover model was a pig, and other from-the-brain-of-an-eleven-year-old masterpieces. I kept writing in high school, when I took Writer's Craft twice, earning a 95% in the class each time; I also journalled frequently, using loose leaf paper to try to figure out my friends and myself as though we were case studies in a psychoanalyst's training manual.

In university, I turned in papers that smelled a lot like the ones I'd written in high school—chatty, observational—and got barrel-scraping marks. No one told me that you weren't allowed to say "I" in university! No one told me that original thought wasn't done, and that any idea I had had to be cited from a previously published source. As someone who'd amassed a great deal of knowledge over the years about relatively obscure topics—Fatty Arbuckle, European graffiti—I was in the habit of being a voracious reader, synthesizing everything, and letting the source material fade. Plus, I was disappointed that university libraries didn't have a ton of texts on things I was into, yet seemed to have many linear feet of bookshelves devoted to, like, German Expressionist cinema, or Catholicism. Snore. 

But it was also in university when I started this blog. I finally had a place to install all my snarky thoughts and ramblings. Not trying to mold myself to the unversity-essay voice—striving for intelligence, and utterly devoid of jokes—I let my run-on sentence freak flag fly. In 2013, I wrote a fairly bad first draft of a science fiction murder mystery (!!) I have not yet had the heart to revisit; more recently, I've been trying to sort out my feelings about ritual in human life. At this point, my process includes long and animated shower discussions with myself, and precious little actual typing of words.

Despite the fact that I've never been formally trained as a writer (unless you count a lot of annoyed red pen from TAs who marked my essays) or as a journalist, I've done both and done them relatively well. I developed a real love of interviewing, which has introduced me to some fascinating people/characters. And I've been lucky enough to have some friends, editors, and clients who reach out and actually ask me to write for them, an event that never fails to both terrify me and boost me up. Writing has always kind of worked for me: I'm a much smoother writer than I am conversationalist, a much more organized thinker when I can get it down on paper, and I enjoy the process of turning "in here" into "out there."

I struggle with imposter syndrome, though. I struggle with the fact that for the last five years, this blog, and my writing career in general, has been a bit of a ghost town. Parenting, marriage, health, pandemic and, just, you know...life...has been overwhelming sometimes, and keeping 'er breezy on the blog has been a challenge. It's hard to be authentic and honest sometimes. Back n 2009, the biggest offense I encountered was Chuck Klosterman's book deals. Now, we've actually been through some shit. 

Every time someone else introduces me as a writer, I get a little squirmy. I haven't been paid to write articles for over a year now, and my professional time has been mostly administration and evaluation work—an area that I enjoy immensely, but doesn't activate my brain in a writerly way. (Again, very few jokes in those roles!) At what point do I stop considering myself a writer, or a future-writer, or a one-day-maybe writer? Someone with intentions to write isn't a writer, after all.

And then I think of the authors who take many years between books—decades, even. I think of all the writers who have day jobs, and there are legion. Of the many, many people who never make a buck off their writing and do it anyway: bloggers, fan fic authors, writer's-group members who produce work for a tiny audience. I think of the folks who write only for themselves, who finish a work, not by sending it to an editor, but by putting in a drawer. I think of my dad, who wrote haiku poems, and my mom, who writes beautiful emails. Those people are writers, too. They are my people.

Whenever I have an identity crisis about whether or not I'm a "real" writer, I try to remember that the vast majority of writers don't do it for money, prestige, or recognition. Their work is like drops of rain that nourish the soil of their lives, but are invisible on a sunny day. The garden grows regardless. In fact, it can't grow without it.

Even in fallow seasons, I'm allowed to call myself a writer. Even when I haven't been paid for it in a while—fuck, when I haven't done it in a while—I can understand that time as something that's still integral to the work. It's a period of gathering my thoughts, getting more experience, or paying attention to new ideas. It's reading time, which is incredibly important to writing. It's time to talk, to realize that my fumbling words need smoothing out. Even if the writing I'm doing is mostly on Facebook or letters, it still counts. 

Writing has never been my full-time job, but I'm not convinced I'd ever want it to be. I enjoy the loosey-goosey vibe I currently have with the process: sometimes it's a cyclone, and sometimes it's a drizzle. I can't rely on it to keep the lights on. But when it shows up—when I cultivate it to show up—I love the splash it makes in my life.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

It Solves No Problems

When I was twelve, I somehow contracted parapertussis, a "less severe" form of whooping cough that still left me coughing so hard I would routinely vomit. Let me tell you: as a freshman high school student, brand new to the area and totally unacquainted with anyone at my new school, entering with a highly communicable and public disease is not really The Move. There is a childhood vaccine for pertussis, of course—it's part of the routine TDap-IPV shot, administered at 6, 18 and 48 months of age—but for this little-sister version, there is no vaccine. There's not even really a treatment, although antibiotics can help a little if you start them early. It's basically just cough until you stop coughing.

I'm going to get it out in the open: I'm pro-vaccine. I'm pro-medicine, generally. I'm not naive enough to believe that my position is universal—I know that for fat people, women, people of colour, poor people, and those with hard-to-identify and harder-to-treat conditions such as chronic pain, inflammatory disorders, fatigue, and rare syndromes, the experience of going to the doctor and emerging with an effective treatment is a wishful dream. But when surgery removed my dying ovary, or when experimental treatment saved my dad from certain death from melanoma, or when organ donation allowed my friend to give a stranger a second crack at life, or any number of routine and miraculous interventions occur in and around my life, from EpiPens and c-sections to spinal surgeries and chemotherapies, it's hard not to feel grateful for the fact that smart men and women are engaged in the practice of discovering, inventing, refining, and delivering some of the most staggeringly advanced medical care I could possibly imagine.

And truly, I believe vaccines are a part of this medical ecosystem. Like, jeez, do you know what measles actually do to a body? Why the fuck would I want that? Like all medical interventions, I know that vaccines are not a 100% foolproof endeavor on any level—people can suffer immediate and long-term side effects, bad batches have been made, and they are more "plate on top of the leftovers in the fridge" than "triple-layer Saran Wrap" when it comes to breakthrough infections, but by and large, the shine outweighs the shit. They're safe, effective, and they don't fucking cause autism

But we're now in an age when vaccines are under scrutiny again, and the quicksand is shifting, and things are bleak indeed. When I look back at this post in 2030—from the comfort of either my forest goblin-hut or my underground bunker, depending on how things are going—I'll be like, "Oh, right...Covid." Because Covid, as a general experience, has been chock-full of psycho-social mayhem, and people playing into and across type in sometimes-surprising (but often depressingly predictable) ways.

Take, for instance, the Ostriches: folks of any age with their heads in the sand, denying the fact that the world needs to change to accommodate this public health moment. These are the people who won't wear masks in sandwich shops and who stand too close at the bank; in their most terrible form, they protest at hospitals. They also include the Live-Forever Crowd, the 20-somethings who have never been really sick, and who are convinced that the virus is for old people. As someone who was exposed to sickness in my 20s, this gang really roasts my beans: it comes for us all! Get the jab, Jaxon! 

With the Anti-Authority folks, subsets include punks of all ages whose default stance is "you can't tell me what to do!" along with the former Noam Chomsky readers who see any alignment between government, health, and media—also known as "the story of why you should get vaccinated"—as some form of sinister collusion that they reject on principle. These people are often knee-jerk reactionaries, who might be convinced into coming around if enough of their punk/suspicious colleagues do so. They also might not! The Paranoiac is another subset of this; they're rejecting the vaccine as being part of a plot to control "the masses" as though the masses have not proven, over the last 18 months, that we're about as controllable as a bag of spilled rice. Also: they don't like being reminded that the Koch brothers don't know who any of us plebes are. Sorry! (But they really don't.)

The Amateur Statisticians have scrutinized "the numbers" and can tell you that the chances of them personally contracting the virus are very small. And even if they did, the chances of them actually dying from it are even smaller. And the chances of their kids dying from it is practically a speck, so why bother taking a day off work? And to this I say: you're not a goddamn scientist, Roseanne, and Long Covid is a thing. Even if you don't actually expire from the virus, fucking around with a disease that has some pretty heavy post-viral shit is a bad idea? And maybe passing it to your kids? Fuck off.

The women who rely heavily on their naturopaths and their crystal necklaces, and who have borderline orthorexia, are The Nice Ladies. These are the women who had a bad run with an inattentive doctor for a few years, resulting in a missed lump or an inflamed colon—extremely real reasons to be suspicious of re-engaging with mainstream medicine, as medical PTSD is a real thing—but who now eschew all forms of medical intervention in favour of the vitamin aisle at the local health food store. And frankly, these are the ladies who probably don't know many people who have dealt with Covid directly; they don't know a lot of nurses or warehouse workers or LTC facility staff. 

And finally, we have Trolls, who show up in comment sections with malignant glee, spouting off about vitamin D and ivermectin and saying "it's just the flu." Always, always block and ignore. They take pleasure in pissing people off, they're almost always male, and they're just people with dirty souls.

I have varying degrees of sympathy and compassion for each of these types. Nearly everyone is trying to ensure their own safety, weighing the value of their own personal position against the outcomes of getting well and truly sick. Sometimes they have more than one objection—they're suspicious of both western medicine and the CBC! They're sometimes installed in echo chambers, shrugging off dissenting views as being "brainwashed" and feeling the horror of realizing they're alone in their stance. They're isolated, often, and while being online might feel like a balm ("others like me!"), in the real world, the friction with those who regard them as selfish, misinformed, stupid, or arrogant is exhausting. Do I have compassion? Sure. I do.

But I also know that not one of these types, either as individuals or as groups, are scientists or doctors. They're often super intelligent, but they're just not trained in this stuff. They're not equipped to make a good call. Because: most of us aren't! It's not a value judgement—I'm not a bad or dumb person because I don't know how nuclear medicine works—but it does mean that I rely on medical experts to make decisions on my behalf. So I rely on governing boards and bodies to ensure that my medical experts are well-trained and ethical operators. And I rely on governments to regulate the governing bodies. And the system is imperfect—like, yes, it is shitty that Pfizer is earning twenty-six billion dollars this year in vaccine revenue, when people who worked on actual Covid wards reused masks all day and couldn't get a vacation day for love or money. I know that there are big, obvious, glaring problems with the whole system. I don't excuse that for one minute.

But you know what doesn't fix the problem with the system? You know what doesn't make Covid go away? You know what doesn't instill a sense of community, trust, and mutual uplift with the people around you? You know what designates you as unallied with the chronically ill, the medically vulnerable, the elderly and children in your life?

Refusing the vaccine. Refusing the vaccine solves no problems. So tell me: how are all these smart, wonderful, scarred, scared, isolated, paranoid community members going to solve Covid without it? Don't just cough until you stop coughing.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Your Late-Summer Horoscope

Listen, lovers: the wheel of the year turns ever onward, and we are between spokes now: Lammas just behind us, kicking off harvest season (as anyone with a garden knows), and the fall equinox in a few short weeks. For now, the summer is hot, the days stay long, and the sky is pink with smoke. It's the most beautiful apocalypse I can imagine. Let's dive into some made-up horoscopes for the coming months. 

Aries: My fantasy these days is that someone figures out how to plant billions—trillions!—of trees all over the world. Do they shoot them out of drones? Do they air-drop them the way they seed lakes with fish? Do we have to plant each one by hand? And what happens when they fail, as many seedlings do? My attempts to reckon with what the future holds for my sweet kid—the one who did not ask to be born on a hot and thirsty planet—and with what his adulthood will look like without those billions or trillions of trees, is something I grapple with daily. Maybe your homework this quarter is to plant a tree or two?

Taurus: I am constantly on the hunt for great YA stories. Books written with The Youth (tm) in mind are some of my favourites, and if there happens to be magic, great. I have read SO MANY magical-young person books, and I truly enjoy the genre: give me teen feelings, but gimme some stakes where someone might get blown up. If there's a semi-sentient castle or a lively juju bazaar or an alternate history where noted heartthrob John Calvin becomes the Pope instead of creating his own church, all the better! Magic-teen books are now slightly embarrassing, but honestly, you can keep your Elena Ferrantes because I am over here with my TJ Klunes. Anyway, Taurus: stop apologizing for the things that give you joy; in fact, seek out those not-very-cool things that you suspect will make your life much more joyful.

Gemini: The best thing I ever heard about grief came to me via a podcast, during which the guest remarked "grief is not an emotion. It is an attempt to reckon with that which cannot be undone. All kinds of emotions may attend that reckoning." This lands in my soul the way nothing else about grief has. It feels true to me, because my grief is often attended, not just by sadness or loss, but by rage, relief, tenderness, and surprise. Grief is often explained by mechanics or metaphor—the five stages, the ball in the box—but the thing that always startles me about grief is that I can be startled by it. I can read the opening of an article and dissolve into tears; look at a photo and feel my heart squeeze. I can't anticipate it the way I can other emotions, and that is grief's unkindest thing.

Cancer: I recently read this fascinating article about mother trees: mature trees in the forest that send out nutrients to other, less-established trees. Responsible loggers will do their best to find these mother trees and log around them, leaving them to remain in that role as new saplings replace older growth. I find this unbelievably beautiful and unbelievably sad: these trees are powerful givers, but there must be something to give to. I wonder if mother trees get lonely. Humans anthropomorphize everything up to and including electrical outlets, but these trees, alone in a denuded forest, create an ache in me that is hard to reckon with.

Leo: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is my favourite of the Harry Potter books, and let me tell you, that's not a popular choice! (Most people go for books 3-5, if you're curious.) The selling points of HBP are many: the introduction of one of my top-five character, Professor Horace Slughorn, who is a total Slytherin diva and I'm here for it; Harry, high as a kite on liquid-luck potion Felix; and the opening chapter depicting a series of conversations between the actual British PM and the Minister for Magic, the alternate head of state for magical folks. Rufus Scrimgeour (battle-scarred; yellow-eyed) takes over as Minister from Cornelius Fudge (hapless; wears a green bowler hat) and I have long been fascinated with Scrimgeour's portrayal in the books: slightly dangerous, highly experienced, and maybe also kind of a lion? I have no idea and I love it.

Virgo: The only way I can recommend Niagara Falls is if you go to attend a student-housing conference held in a hotel, get absolutely blotto, and then climb into a heart-shaped bathtub, fully clothed, with some of your conference peers. I can recommend Halifax highly if you go with your mother and she drives over a huge cardboard box, wedging it under your rental convertible, forcing you to slither under and de-wedge it. I can recommend Los Angeles if you take the subway while you're there: it's new and beautiful and entirely pointless in a city where 84% of people drive. The best part of anything is often unexpected, slightly deranged, and wholly ridiculous. Dress accordingly, Virgo: you don't want to get shmutz on your outfit.

Libra: "I was bullied in middle school" is a true statement that is also a total failure: I was bullied, it's true, but those six words do not exactly capture the experience of being ostracized and taunted when I was eleven, entirely at the mercy of my classmates and bus-ride peers, ignorant to what I had done to provoke the bullying (nothing) and what I could do to stop it (also nothing). When I did EMDR therapy a couple years ago, that period of bullying, which lasted about two years, was a huge wound, much more massive than I had ever realized. It was also foundational to understanding myself, especially in ways that relate to more recent friendship and relational pain, and the behaviour I do, both healthy and not, to ease it. Seek your wound, Libra.

Scorpio: Yours is the sign I associate the most with gothic lusciousness: you're all velvet bras and pan-fried mushrooms, red wine and black nails, embossed wallpaper and credit card debt. I love you Scorps because you're Morticia Addams in a RHOSLC world, and we need your arched eyebrows and affection for a centre part when things are overly sunny. However, every Scorpio I know is also a high-key ball of stress about what other people need from them, so know when to turn the flame all the way down—no, lower—and just...stop taking care of other people. Put on your velvet bra for yourself, Scorpio.

Sagittarius: When I turned 30, I held a Viking funeral for my 20s. At that point, I was like, "wow, I have been through some stuff," and while that's still technically true, the shit that I, personally, went through in my 20s was like a puddle compared to the emotional hurricane of my 30s. I think perspective is always a key factor in life: things will come in waves, and when you're being buffeted by the tsunami, you're just trying to hold on, to survive. You're not in it like, "ah, one day I will look back at this and marvel at my growth!" You're like, "what the actual living fuck am I cursed or just a bad person. WHAT IS HAPPENING." So, Sag friends, when you find yourself on an island where the water is calmly lapping at the shores, where there are no big waves on the horizon, when you can just sit and reflect? Do it!

Capricorn: One of the greatest gifts of the modern age is how fuckin' good children's television is. The vapid pablum of my youth, designed primarily to sell me merchandise, has been replaced by a modern wave of pure-hearted edutainment: our household flagship is Netflix's Storybots, but there are dozens more: Kid Cosmic, City of Ghosts (a true gem), Hilda, and even dumb shit like Booba and Oddbods. I watch a fair amount of TV with my kid, and this new crop has dispensed with much of the physical and verbal violence that was part of the 1980s-kid-show DNA: it's gentler, funnier, smarter, and more interesting. You, Cap, are on that path as well.

Aquarius: A love letter to my kid, who is being a huge turd for unknown reasons right now: I'm sorry we: let you watch TV; sent you to play with those kids who bullied you; fed you processed food; had so many fights in front of you; gave you a video game console when you were five years old; made you walk everywhere because we didn't have a car; didn't give you a siblings; didn't get you a pet; showed you the trailer for 2016's Ghostbusters and gave you nightmares; didn't enroll you in swimming lessons; didn't let you sleep in the car. We parents, we fuck up constantly. I hope you know you are so loved, even in the depths of turdliness, and we are here for when you surface and become the next version of yourself, as we all do.

Pieces: Did you know that pretty much all of the main characters in Finding Nemo are disabled or chronically ill? From limb difference and PTSD to addiction and memory loss, these are fish who have been through a lot. A lot! And they're not always nice to be around: Marlin is a nightmare, let's be honest. And yet Pixar is so casual about this, as though it's totally normal to populate a movie with characters we might turn away from if they were humans, and then demand that we fall in love with them (to the tune of $940M in box office). This is not wholly unproblematic, but Pixar has done a good job at depicting really complicated physical and mental states, from Carl Fredrickson's use of a walker in Up to Riley's depressive episode in Inside Out. I'm glad that we have these entrypoints for these conversations, for folks to see themselves onscreen, even if it's as a fish. Where do you need to see yourself, Pieces?

Thursday, July 8, 2021

The Nine Types of Rest

The Nine Types of Rest was conceived by Steph Barron Hall in 2019, and was designed to correspond to the Enneagram types. Regardless of type, I find them useful as a checklist for needs and wants in times of overwhelm and stress; not everyone needs every type, but I will bet you a dollar that something on this list appeals to you. 

1. Time Away
Vacation time. Books from the library, websites, reviews. "You should definitely check out this restaurant." A flight, a bus ride, a long car ride. Mixtapes. Luggage. Arriving and unpacking into drawers, setting things on nightstands. A beer, a cocktail, a joint. Sitting on the porch, the deck, the patio. Stepping out into muggy heat, dazzling sunshine. A walk in the sand. Menus. Rain. Strip malls and bargain stores. Historic districts. Museums. Waterfalls. Babies napping in the carrier or in the stroller. Late dinners. Room service. Hotel pools. Sounds in the night. Really big parking lots. Souvenir shops. Tantrums. Endless photographs. The water tastes different. New transit systems. Coming home, smelling the way your house smells, getting under your own covers, dreaming again. 

2. Permission Not To Be Helpful
The best thing about going to my parents' house is that, at this point in the life cycle, being helpful feels like a choice. It's one I usually make—yes, of course I'll do the dishes, or round up the recycling, or put together a quick lunch. Of course I will look up the hours for the store, or help unpack the groceries, or flip the laundry. But there's also the luxury of knowing that if I want to, I can say no, or I'll get the next round, or I'll get to it later. Permission not to be helpful makes the choice to do so more of a gift than an obligation, and I appreciate that very much.

3. Something "Unproductive"
I refuse to monetize my hobbies. It's not that I don't think my knitting, pickle-making, or baking is "just okay"—on the contrary, I'm good at all that stuff—but the chance to do something that is only for me, because I want to, is a gift. It's not "unproductive" in the sense that nothing is produced, or even that it can't be leveraged (I have definitely traded knitting and canned goods for other wonderful things), but it's "unproductive" because anything I do with it is outside of capitalist time/goods-for-money systems, and that's the way I like it. It's a very, very small fuck-you to the endless yawp of hustle culture.

4. Connection to Art and Nature
I am not very good at remembering that forests are a thing, nor am I very good at walking around in them (my what-if brain goes into overdrive, offering up such goodies as "what if I roll my ankle and fall into the ravine and I can't get up and I die there" or "what if I pass a guy on the trail with my son and the guy turns around and murders us silently somehow" or "what if I forget my snack"), but every once in a while, the stars align and I enjoy my nature time. My 2020 highlight was a hike I did with my mom in the Dundas Nature Conservancy, where I allayed my anxiety by counting the number of 70-year-olds I saw hiking, and reminding myself that, if they could do it, then I, a 30-something with no underlying health conditions, could probably walk around for an hour under some trees. Anyway, I am not outdoorsy but aspire to be; this particular rest is not restful for me, really, but a girl can dream.

5. Solitude to Recharge
Sometimes, I just need to lie in bed and scroll through my phone. I read the archives of advice columns, I find weird Instagram accounts, I remember people I went to high school with and look them up. When I get bored of that, I lie in bed and do the crossword, or read stale magazines. I read library books that are due soon. I listen to audiobooks and doze. I pull the covers around me and punch my pillows down, flipping them to the cool side. I shove the covers away and stick my leg out, letting the breeze of the room soothe me. I keep my door firmly closed; the sounds of the house swirl around me, and I let them.

6. A Break from Responsibilities
Actually, I lied: the best part of going to my parents' house is getting to take a break from deciding what to cook for dinner. Even when I get pulled into the kitchen/offer my help, I'm off the hook for the planning. I don't have to shop for the stuff. I don't have to leaf through cookbooks, deciding on rice bowls or ramen or pulled pork or big salads. I can just show up, do some chopping, and then eat a meal! It's ridiculous how happy that makes me. I love helping without leading.

7. Stillness to Decompress
I am not really a "yoga person," in that I do yoga maybe 12 times a year and every time I'm surprised by how terrible I am at it: my hamstrings are like an overtuned guitar, and my stomach and boobs prevent some seemingly basic poses from being properly executed. But there's a moment in every yoga class, when the focus is on the breath instead of the movement, that makes my lungs feel like two huge balloons. The inside of my head is a cavern, instead of a buzzy hive. I stop thinking about what's next, what I have to do, or if I'm performing my own life properly; instead, I just breathe.

8. Safe Space
My favourite thing in the world is the sound of someone laughing from the next room; I like my own space, and knowing that someone else is nearby and happy.

9. Alone Time at Home
One of the biggest pandemic struggles, for me, was the fact that were were just together all the time. My partner worked from home; I was working from home and doing the bulk of the daytime childcare; Noah was attached to both us like barnacles; there was nowhere to go if we did go out. But I am a person who needs some alone time at home. I need uninterrupted time to write, to make things, to be creative. I like being alone during cleaning or big cooking projects. I chat to myself—it's how I process things that weigh heavy on my soul, or work through thorny creative blocks. I like to exercise in my underwear, which was less appealing when my home-gym was in the throughway for my sister's room. I try to give Mike a few hours a day of the house to himself—these are usually work-day hours, which aren't the same as true solo hours, but at least there's no kid in the background, weeping because the wrong kind of carbohydrate is on his plate. And I need that alone time as well, more than a few house a week, more than a day a month. All rest is like that, these days, but this one feels the most pressing, the most like there's a deficit.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Crush Energy

As I get older and more attuned to my ovulatory cycle, I am here to sing the praises of CRUSH ENERGY. You know this energy, if you are a living adult human in the world (but aces to the back, I guess): the stomach-drop, the hormonal flood, the flush. The daydreaming, the too-hard laughing, the absolute electricity if there happens to be flirting (ahhhh, flirting), the eye contact that is weird and also absolutely full-throttle amazing. Crush energy can be courted in places like classrooms, bars, and coffee shops; it needs to be downplayed in arenas like work and the parent-teacher meeting. Crush energy exists independently of your relationship status—while you may never act on the charge you get from standing slightly too close to someone, to feel it is a human delight. (If you're truly blessed, you might feel this crush energy from your own long-term partner, but I suspect this is rare, and comes with a complicated relationship dynamic that involves a bit of awe and distance; it is hard to feel jet-fueled crush energy on someone with whom your farts have commingled.)

Crush energy is the emotional counterpart to the physicality of making out, that time-honoured high school practice of staying clothed and being absolute disgusting horndogs. I was the kid who aced every sex-ed quiz, starting in grade five, so I knew exactly what was happening when I kissed someone; at the same time, knowledge of the vas deferens did nothing to help me negotiate the titillating combination of fear and horniness that came with every makeout session. I loved kissing in high school—if there ever was pressure to go beyond that, it wasn't from guys I really liked, so I felt secure in my decision/destiny to wait until I was "a bit older" to really get busy. The fear stemmed from the well of teen insecurity, doing something new, and the taboo of exploring your budding sensuality with another fifteen year old. If I'm being honest, I still love making out—it's in my top three favourite things, for sure—because it can bring all the emotional and physical highs of....a lot of other things...without the emotional and physical mess.

I am, historically, absolutely awful at interacting with crushes. I have had crushes dating back to high school, who, when I see them now—as a 37-year-old married mother—I will still sprint away. (Ask me about the time I hid from an old crush in the aisles of an art supply store!) I experience this as a crush hangover, a residue of awkwardness and inability to interact that I've carried with me to this very day, despite the fact that, in the last 20 years, I've convinced several many men and women to want this body and/or brain. Crushes, when I was younger, were scary because they might lead to dating, and dating might reveal what an absolute mess I am. Now that we're all in our late 30s, the messiness is no longer a shameful secret, but something I post about daily on Instagram. Thus, crush energy has shifted significantly as I've gotten older, but the ones that I started when I was young are still running on my most outdated software.

Crushes are independent of any relational hierarchies: crushes can happen on celebrities, total strangers, passing acquaintances, friends, friends-of-friends, co-workers, bosses, neighbours, whatever. It's possible to maintain those exact relationships while still nursing a crush. After all, there's no prerogative to actually act on anything here. Having a crush on someone can be a funny aside to your main relationship, a secret that you keep that elevates you and you alone.

When I younger, a crush could be kick-started almost exclusively from the killer combo of quirky handsomeness, a sense of humour, and a certain je ne sais quoi that might be described, in full detail, as "cool guy." (My crushes on women are often complicated by their hotness factor—do I want to make out with her, or just borrow her body for a while? Is she just really stylish, or should we kiss? Are we friends? Are we gal pals??) I was also firm in my self-conception that I, as a person, would not attract crushes to myself. I was forever a moth, never a lightbulb. I'm still not entirely convinced that anyone has crushed on me the way I've crushed on others, but y'know what? There's still time. I'm planning to be a hot-ass crone.

Now that I'm older, I find myself still drawn to that same trio of characteristics, but the "cool guy" factor is different now. Former Beastie Boys have it—lifetime membership to that club, as far as I'm concerned—but the dads at the playground who goof off with their kids, or the guy at the coffee shop who seems to be working on a business plan, or the local non-profit farm educator, are also in that category: interesting dudes who have their shit together, or are working on it. If you took a poll of my friends, a top sexiness factor would be "does he have a therapist?" and the only right answer is yes. (We all need therapy, no shame. If you're a dude in your 20s, 30s, or 40s and have never had a therapist, go get one! It's great! You'll get to feel your feelings, the ones you've been stuffing down for the better part of three decades!)

To me, the true gift of crush energy is the potential it carries, and how transferable it turns out to be. It acts as an inebriant in my own relationship: interacting with a crush onscreen or IRL allows me to come back and be a little flirty with my husband, a little cute. Inside my relationship, we ebb and flow, as all marriages do, with attraction and desire and kindness and fun; crush energy is a battery cable for those feelings, but you still get in your own car to drive it. Crush energy is potential, it's sensuality, it's a life-force that can knock us backwards when we're used to a lower level of intensity. But if it's a wave, it's one we can learn how to ride responsibly, like those surfers who also do activism for coral reefs. Crush energy begs us to pay attention, to feel sexy, to notice what we like in ourselves and what that part of us is drawn to. It's aspirational, it's physical, and fuck: it's fun.

Monday, May 17, 2021

39 Questions

What is normal

Who do I love?
Who loves me?
Who inspires me to do new things?
Who makes me roll my eyes and mutter under my breath?
Who makes me feel sad at what is lost?
Who has a them problem, not a me problem?
Who has a me problem?
Who makes me feel like an imposter?
Who makes me feel like myself?

What do I feel when I'm alone?
What is my strength?
What makes me laugh?
What makes me angry?
What is my fuel?
What can I do to help?
What am I not showing myself?
What do I believe?

Where do I do my best work?
Where do I feel most relaxed?
Where would I like to be touched?
Where is my studio?
Where in my home?
Where is my garden?
Where will I be buried?
Where does the light get in?

When can I be creative?
When do I push myself?
When do I feel alone?
When am I looking back to?
When am I well?
When do I rest?

Why do I want what I want?
Why am I afraid?
Why do those things still hurt?
Why do I get in my own way?  
Why am I so hard on myself?
Why am I still looking?

Why is normal

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Covid: Year Two: Friendship

It has been fifty-seven weeks since Ontario shut down for the first time, when the only stores open were grocery stores and gas stations and pharmacies and the LCBO, when people skittered in and out of those stores like they were fugitives, when you couldn't get yeast or flour for love or money. It's been 411 days since the last March Break started, since we got the news that Noah wouldn't be returning to preschool, that someone would be in touch for us to come and pick up his shoes and whatever art projects he had made. It's been nearly as long since my husband took a mid-week train to Stratford, because his office was shutting down and it made sense for him to come here so he could be out of his parent's basement and seeing his kid and his wife every day; since we began fretting in earnest about his parents and their health, my grandmother and hers.

I am tired, friends. I am so tired of my kid and my husband. I know it's not nice to say, but it doesn't come from any mean-spiritedness on my part. They are the peanut butter-and-jam sandwich I've eaten every day for 411 days. They are lovely people, and I want to go check myself into a hotel for a week to be away from them. I want to be with my friends—the moms from the drop-in circles and the ones I DM with on Instagram, the people I'd see twice a year at house parties, the friends-of-friends I'm always delighted to see on the street. I want to get to know my friend's girlfriend better, or grab a casual coffee with the yoga teacher who seems nice, or get reconnected with my high school friend who lives down the street.

I'm tired of every minuscule social interaction being fraught, weighing what I see on social media (are they partying or a hermit? have they posted that vaccine selfie?) with my own activities (have I lingered when I ran into a friend at the drugstore? did my son bring home some horrible germ? are these really allergies?). I'm tired of trying to convince myself that I'm satisfied with seedlings and online shopping, as if I don't desperately want to give my parents a hug. I feel lucky in that socialized health care will mean I will not be bankrupted if I happen to get sick, but it also means that the vaccine rollout in our area has been slow as molasses. 

I am TIRED of Doug Ford and his futile promises that this lockdown will be different, somehow—despite the fact that the hardest-hit areas have been locked down continuously since October—and he is owed back-irritation for defunding public health and canceling paid sick days. I am also tired of the young men and women in my life who are spewing misinformation about vaccines, masks, doctors, COVID treatments and COVID itself. The 30-whatever-year-old men whose biggest annoyance in the last year is that they can't watch a ballgame from a stadium seat, they have to wear a mask when they go to the LCBO, and they can't complete the dating-app casual-sex circuit on a bored Saturday afternoon.

And I not ungrateful for our admittedly non-harrowing experiences throughout—we've been in a safe little city, with less than 400 cases since March 2020, and many of those in congregate living spaces like long-term care facilities, where even the most diligent approach isn't a guarantee against sickness. Our big house meant that my sister could be here with us for nearly a year, another adult to bounce off of (and feel feelings about); it meant that there are nooks to escape to, whole rooms we can dedicate to exercise, kid-play, or seedlings. We are able to go grocery shopping, to attend doctor's appointments, to have ultrasounds, and buy skateboards. We are able to get our mail, have running water, and eat food. We want for nothing.

Except: pandemic life is a grind. It's a grind! When is the last time you felt joy? Just a streak of pure delight, shocking your nervous system with unexpected beauty or pleasure? When is the last time you felt connected to someone outside your house? An intimate moment—a hand on their shoulder, a confession told with heads together, easy laughter? When is the last time you felt peaceful, the jangle of your pandemic-addled nervous system quieted down enough to feel the hum of the natural world, the beat of your own heart? And not in a "are these heart palpitations or is this The Big One" kind of way, either. 

Adult discourse tends to view friends as some kind of vestigial university phenomenon—adults have colleagues and in-laws, not friends. (An aside: the fact that queer folks often say "chosen families"  to mean "my group of best friends who love and support me but who are not blood-kin" tells me what I need to know about the relative status of family and friendship.) However, I will freely admit that I miss giggling like a lunatic with my high school bestie while we drink wine in the driveway, and brunch with The Girls, and the coffee shop outing with a new friend, and a trip to the library with a mom-friend. Not having access to those varieties of friends, and those different spaces, makes life tougher. When the daily circuit is home office-kitchen-bedroom/husband-kid, there's very little room to be surprised by joy.

It feel almost absurd to be advocating for these nice-to-have things at the tail end of an unprecedented year, but fuck it, I'm selfish. I don't want a ballgame or a casual hookup; I don't even want freedom from the "tyranny" of masks or vaccines (what luxury, that this is our so-called tyranny). But what I do want, so much, is to feel like my soul-self is growing and not withering; to feel like the reason I'm keeping my house clean is because maybe someone will come visit one day; to feel like I can commit myself to creative projects because I will have the time (read: school coverage) to actually do them. The birth-to-kindergarten sprint was only really tolerable because I knew, at some point, I would be able to claw back some of the parts of myself that I'd put on ice, the parts that weren't paying the bills or keeping that little human alive.

And then along came 2020.

I read a tweet recently that said "It's wonderful that everyone expects non-stop risk-embracing celebration this summer, but it's slightly more likely people will have two glasses of wine and start sobbing for no reason, then leave the party and walk to the nearest body of water to sit on a bench and watch boats," and friends, I feel seen by this.  It's not so much that I have a specific grief that I can point to (a job loss, a death, a shitty diagnosis, an eviction), but navigating a world where public health has thrown a handful of marbles on the floor has left me feeling like I need to hang onto the walls for a while; it's too bad that the usual walls we reach for —friendship, nature, creativity, time off, time away—are all firmly off-limits. See you at the other end of the hallway. I'll reach out my hand when it's safe.