Monday, March 20, 2023

Therapy Fatigue

Is anyone else tired of self-care? Self-improvement, self-optimization, biohacking, Gwenyth Paltrow's starvation diet, therapy memes, all of it? The more I try to figure out who I am and who I should be, the more I want to throw my hands up in despair: I am not a fucking pretzel, my loves. I do not need to be untwisted this badly.

Let me be clear: I still believe in self-care. I think therapy is wonderful—EMDR probably saved my life, and totally re-wrote some self-esteem base code around if I deserve affection and attention (no > yes, thank god), and I have given myself full permission to give myself affection and attention even if nobody else does it. That alone is a treasure! To be in a brain that isn't always sneering at me and insinuating fault? Sweet relief. Rewire my synapses any time, Judy.

There are, of course, good things about widening the trauma-scope to include more people, more experiences. Until EMDR, I had not lived my life thinking that the three years of vicious bullying and social pariah-dom I had gone through in my tween years was trauma, was. That experience informed a lot of my adult relationships, in good ways and bad. Not to mention the medical trauma of my family, and the 2018 breakdown of my relationship, both of which were major yikes. Friends of mine have gone through terrible divorces, financial failure, and workplaces that made them question who they were as people: not a one is "classic trauma," but ask them if they're the same after that. And after a pandemic, and its attached social upheaval, we can all claim a soupçon of trauma for our own. I mean: 2020 was fucked, right?

We know about trauma, we have given ourselves permission to ditch the people who make us feel worst, we are gentle parenting, and we know our love languages. Good for us! 

But...we're also labelling all our exes toxic narcissists (they are just assholes!), and we are claiming gaslighting when our memories diverge (people are fallible!), and parroting our therapists back to our friends and loved one—friends and loved ones who are not usually in therapy with us, mind you. Therapists who really only hear one side of the story. We are steeped in the language of self-accountability, but with more tools than ever to shift responsibility onto other people.

Maybe this isn't quite related to the permeation of therapy and self-improvement into the culture, but maybe it is: I'm just so tired of treating myself like a project, like a problem I need to solve. I'm so tired wading through books about trauma and triggers. I'm so bored of wondering if my relationships could be better, should be better, MUST be better, because the quality of my relationships says something about the quality of my self. How loved can I be? All the loved

I suspect this is actually a direct result of the COVID pandemic: we were locked in with ourselves and our closest loved ones—friends, family, whoever was in our pod—and many of us lacked the distractions of work, social lives, and hobbies. We were mainlining our own brains, and it was rough in there! We were overdosing on our relationships, and we needed help! Self-help and therapy-speak give us some structure, some plausible deniability (I wasn't being a dick, I was triggered), and a path to enlightenment: the promise of a better life because you will be a better person. 

But my god, it doesn't feel like a better life. It feels like a slog. Sometimes I just want to have a tantrum or be in a bad mood. Sometimes I just want to make a terrible decision, or be petty, and not have it mean anything about who I am. Failures of self-optimization feel particularly ugly, because we are supposed to both love ourselves as we are and be constantly striving to improve and be better. Why wouldn't we? Who would choose the misery of an unhealed life?

I feel like we're at peak therapy meme, and the tide is starting to turn. Folks are starting to recognize that the always-be-healing mindset is sort of a grind, and doesn't allow for our gritty humanity. We can ask ourselves: are we triggered, or are we just being a dick? And sometimes, the answer is truly, I was being a dick. Because we all get like that sometimes—even our softest and most gentle Bambis, even our most attuned and self-optimized therapists—we all get grouchy and lash out, we all say mean things, we all fuck it up.

It's not that I'm tired of apologizing for my bad moments/days/weeks—I am a champion grudge-holder, but I also say sorry and I mean it—and it's not that I want an excuse to be a jerk to the people I love. I want to be good, definitely. But I'm tired of holding myself to this imaginary standard—healed, whole, evolved, attuned—and feeling some kind of way about it when I don't.

Let me lie on the floor and look at the ceiling of the YMCA and think about nothing other than my hamstrings and my dinner plans. Let me talk shit about the people I don't like, and then laugh at myself for doing it. Let me process who I am and change my mind. Let my values shift throughout my life. Let me live, for a while, without needing to be better at it. Hold me up when I fail, hold me accountable when I cross lines. As the wise and funny Aleah Black says on Instagram, "The idea of 'fully healed' has become a secret placeholder for 'perfect."' Deliver us from perfect. 

And they also say "Self care that is a branch of collective care feeds the soul and our ability to relate to each other." My own standards for myself are much too high: I will never meet them. Instead, I want to love myself the way my friends love me, the way my mother loves me, the way my son loves me: in all my slippery, messy, imperfect, only-partially-healed-and-taking-a-break-from-the-work glory.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

An Alphabet of Great Things

Part of the Just Seeds free fonts project

A is for astrology, which we all love to hate. I'm a Sagittarius, which always boils down to "flaky, lucky, loves to travel," and while that's not technically wrong, it's annoying.

B is for blood oranges, which arrive in the grocery stores for a glorious eight-week streak and then disappear. They are the Halley's comet of seasonal fruit and I love them.

C is for Cottage Life, which, even though I don't and probably never will own a cottage, gives me bi-monthly DIY ideas, house-maintenance tips, recipes, photography, and a chatty and engaging editorial voice.

D is for dancing. It's a cliche to say that I am dancing through life, but I dance when I cook, I dance for exercise, I dance in the grocery store and at the rock climbing gym, so how else should I say it?

E is for exercise. I hated exercise when it didn't work—that is, it didn't make my body small. But when I started exercising because I wanted to feel strong, or to feel accomplished, or to take pleasure in my physical self, then I found I could love it after all.

F is for friends and friendship. I am a big old sap and I love my friends very much; the act of doing friendship brings me so much joy. 

G is for gardening, which I started doing in 2020. This year I'm scaling back on the veggies (they're just a buffet for the rabbits) and adding more flowers. I'm very excited to see how this all unfolds. 

H is for hot baths. Is there anything better on a chilly February Sunday afternoon? To get into some steaming-hot water, maybe with a magazine or a book, a cold drink to offset the heat, and just soak until you're right with the world again? 

I is for intelligence, which is one way of saying smart and well-read, and another way of saying that someone is paying attention to what is important. I am sometimes more intelligent than others.

J is for jewellery, which I rarely wear but wish I did. I admire the women who can layer on hoop earrings and gold rings and long necklaces and then just....leave the house. Rings look strange on my short, chubby fingers (I don't even wear my wedding ring any more, since I took it off one sausage-fingered hot summer day); necklaces don't suit my short neck; earrings don't work in lobes that always wear stretchers. This is a tiny sadness.

K is for knitting, my great love affair of a hobby. 

L is for libraries, my favourite civic institution / community centre / nerd zone. It gives me all the positive feelings of a bookstore (look at all these books!) without the negative ones (I am poor). Plus, the best ones function as kid clubs, tech zones, and norm-shifters when it comes to our social ecosystem. They do a lot of heavy lifting for something that is just "free books" on paper.

M is for Movie March Madness, the annual competition I run each year on Facebook and which is kicking off as we speak. I've been doing it for seven years (as long as I've been a mom!) and each year it's a lovely distraction from the real world as we parse out the best feel-good movie or the best TV show or the best movie franchise. It's a lot of work—it's grown from me doing all the writing to managing a group of 8-12 writers, plus a five-week-long schedule of near-daily posts. But it is worth it when I see two adults arguing about the merits of Moana vs Beauty and the Beast, or debating if Captain American fucks (he doesn't, probably, we think?). It's a hoot! 

N is for nighttime. After Noah was born, I didn't leave the house at night for several months, and the first time I did, I marvelled at how different the city was in the darkness with a baby. I love summer nights and walks under the stars; I love winter nights (even though they start at 4 PM); I love nights where the moon is so bright you could read by its light, and new-moon nights that are dark as anything. I love seeing the fireflies come out and the sun come up.

O is for orgasms.

P is for playgrounds—they are truly the workspace of children, and the great tragedy of our hometown is that quality playgrounds are few and far between. In another life, I would be a playground designer, and every small town would have a weird, funny, raucous place just for children, preferably very close to the downtown core.

Q is for quilts. My mom used to make quilt, as did my grandmother and great-grandmother, and there are quilts at the cottage that are from when my mom was a kid. These links to other women, the family who made things with their hands, is something I can feel in my own fingertips. 

R is for reconnecting. In this intensely post-COVID world, it has been such a balm to go to dance jams or house parties again. It's been a gift to linger over a chat. Reconnection feels like grace—it's trying again, trying more, and seeing another phase of relationship unfold. 

S is for snuggling at bedtime, the best kid-time ritual. I think those ten minutes at the end of the day are the time we are most heart-soul connected. It's the time he might cry just because he needs a cry, or we sing together, or we laugh together, or he tells me something that has been weighing on him, or I just slip my arms around him and recite Where the Wild Things Are as his eyes close. Seven is a good age; he's a good kid.

T is for thrifting, my favourite way to shop. No, I don't want to spend $115 on new sneakers; I want to spend nine months looking for the perfect pair and then I want to buy them for $8. 

U is for understanding. File under I, intelligence.

V is for vacations, which I don't take nearly enough of.

W is for water in all its forms: Lake Huron, bathwater, tears, and fizzy water.

X is for extra, which is how I take my guacamole and all my favourite people. I sometimes like I am a high-needs puppy who just needs to be petted lest I shiver myself into oblivion; other times, I feel practically incandescent with possibility. (These are extra in different direction.) My favourite people are the kind who walk off the job because their boss is a bully, who build a treehouse for their nine-month-old baby, who teach themselves to rewire their shed, who show up to a midweek potluck with stuffed mushroom caps and four BYOB beers. They are extra themselves, and I love them for it. 

Y is for young people. Stratford is a lot of great things, but there is a noticeable dearth of young people - teens and 20s in this town. When I go to Toronto, I revel in the young people there - yes, show me your weird backpack and your regrettable hairdo and your irreversible ironic tattoo! Yes, please wear the crop top, trust me that it works on you. Yes, stay out late with people you don't entirely know to make art or make music or have sex or pool-hop or fall in love or ride your bike. Yes, devote an entire weekend to a movie festival or go live on a tall ship for a semester. I love this for you. Please don't write a memoir, you're not there yet.  

Z is for zaftig, as in Lizzo, the end.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

The End of the Future

We did it, gang: we reached the future. We're here! Now what?

We have the flying cars and the holodecks and the sex robots and the gene splicers and the wearable tech. We have private space exploration and miniature computers; cars that drive themselves and computers you unlock with a fingerprint and thermostats you can have a conversation with. The future is now, baby, like right now, today, in your house. From the middle of the 19th century, to the utopian visions of the 1930s, straight through to 1980s cyberpunk, we've been waiting for the early-mid-21st century to arrive. But us, our generation? We have seen the future, and it's a toaster that will text you when your breakfast is ready.

And, of course, it's artificial intelligence. A benevolent HAL, right at our fingertips! Huge neural networks of computing power, combined with the most data humanity has ever collected—mug shots, movie scripts, recipes, medical breakthroughs, internet searches, pornographic Tumblr posts, blog posts, program code, all of it—swirled together in an artificial brain and spitting out images and words that feel human. Sometimes more human than us idiots could manage.

I'll admit it: I've been into it. I've admired the Marvel-by-way-of-Wes Anderson posts. I've clicked on the knitting grannies creating eldritch sweater vests. I've read through the knitting patterns, trying to picture the finished garment in my mind. A romp with AI can be fun, like thinking about what aliens would give each other for Christmas. A romp with AI can also be useful, especially if you're a cheating university student

But I suspect that when AI starts drawing from our immense datasets, what comes out looks like innovation but is more like a remix. What AI gives us, and what so many human designers and so-called innovators are giving us, are retreads and smudged facsimiles. 

I was not surprised when the 1990s resurfaced in fashion, because all trends come back and our consumer nostalgia cycles have been getting shorter and shorter; on the other hand, the 1990s heavily referenced the 1970s, and aside from grunge, the slip dress and the expansion of athleisure to outside of the gym, we did not do a ton of sartorial innovation. (The decade after, the 2000s, saw hipsters referencing moments from the 1930s barbershop all the way to 1980s New Wave; I am super looking forward to my kid dressing the way I did in university, which is to say, like a member of Blondie!) 

I just unsubscribed to Bon Appetit, in no small part because their recent redesign explicitly references the "approachable" cookbooks of the 1960s, a time that I most associate with aspics and red-sauce Eye-talian food. (Also, the $70 annual price tag was just not going to fly in this economy.) While BA actually casts its culinary net very wide, especially in its post-Adam Rapoport era, the "new" look of the magazine makes it feel like "upscale suburban mid-century American striver," a vibe that kind of got us into a lot of our current mess in the first place. We're now approaching a moment where the reference loop starts to become an ourobouros, when there are no new looks to look back on. Do trends disappear entirely? I mean, they've already started to. But when everything is a reference to the past, how do we ever crane our necks towards the future?

I sense that humanity is encountering a critical failure of the imagination that goes beyond culinary magazines and chatty AIs. For so long, we've been envisioning a beautiful, shiny future—sleek and chromed and so easy. And then we get here, and it's climate change and wealth inequality and people locked inside factories during tornadoes. It's not easy. It's hot, expensive, and full of gross diseases. (On the other hand, we do have photocopiers that work most of the time.)  It's so easy to look backwards, to a time when we felt safer, when the future was still a little ways down the road. 

Even our loftiest goals—like Elon Musk's aim to get to Mars!—are echoes of dreams that were presented to us as children. Hanna-Barbera premiered The Jetsons in the middle of the international space race, a pissing contest that has been taken up, two generations later, by the world's wealthiest men. Am I supposed to believe that everything that will be invented is here now? Or that every aesthetic has been developed? The idea of a bike short would have slain a peasant dead; I live in an era when Rose McGowan wore a backless dress to the MVAs. (I hope someone recreates that look for the youths!)

What the AI spits out is comforting because it plays with what we know. Every human creator starts from what they know: their memories, their experiences, their past. The future is scary now: the planet is going to roast our descendants, which is truly unsettling. We have invented the technology we need to circumvent this, but the oldest roadblock—human ego—is holding us back. I don't know what comes after the flying car: when I look up "what will the future look like?," I feel like I've been seeing those pictures all my life. 

And maybe this isn't the end of the world. As a species, we've learned so much about the world in the last century, from the tiniest bits of the universe to its outermost edges. Maybe those images of the future have been propulsive to our imaginations, allowing us to see what we would build once our technology catches up to our sense of possibility. Maybe we're just tired, after all that.

But then again: when is the last time you saw something new? Something that made you shake your head in wonder, to clear the cobwebs out, to expand the world as you know it? Not a catchy remix or a self-referential nod, not a computer's idea of what we might want, or a designer's projection of his past self into current day, but something truly, beautifully new?

Saturday, December 31, 2022

Things That Happened in 2022

January: Season three of Covid kicks off with a bang: Doug Ford, actual genius, decides that we will only be testing for the virus in high-risk areas and, oh, by the way, schools are conveniently no longer high risk! What a laugh riot. Noah is out of school for three weeks and Mike steps up in a huge way, for which I'm grateful. My dad turns 70 and we have a visit with them up at the farm—it is a massive relief to me that he has achieved this milestone, and for some reason I feel like I can breathe a little easier. We finish our Wes Anderson watch project with The Royal Tenenbaums and it's still a very cute movie.
Media experience:
Wes Anderson rewatch project

February: Um, there is a war? Russia marched on Ukraine and Putin is very man-on-horse about it and the world is definitely like UM WAT when he is casually like, "don't make any sudden moves or I'm going to drop a nuclear bomb on you!" as though the Ukrainian populace has received instructions other than "idk molotov cocktails??" from their leadership.
Media experience: The Babysitter's Club (Netflix)

March: We went to Toronto for March break. The trip was a bit of a bust: our hotel pool needed to be booked ahead of time and was packed 24/7; it was rainy; Ikea was jammed; we basically kind of flopped around for five days. The big news story was the Covid mask mandates were slowly disintegrating before our eyes, which was crazy-making. I ran yet another March Madness and the Marvel Cinematic Universe was voted best franchise by a bunch of nerds. Writer's group kicked off, and seemed to promise some creative fruit.
Media experience: Turning Red (Disney+)

April: We got Covid! We got the fuckin' virus. It Happened To Me. Anyway, we were mostly fine, except Day One was sheer panic and Day Two was a migraine from the depths of hell; after than it was just trying to keep ourselves entertained and feeling disappointed and relieved that it had finally happened. I made an Easter meal from stuff we had lying around the house and it was good. Once we were healed, I helped put on an Earth Day event downtown for 150 people, and it gave me major Baby Dance Party vibes—doing nice things with/for nice people on a project I believe in.
Media experience: the Thor: Love + Thunder trailer

May: There was a shooting in Uvalde Texas and a lot of little kids died. I cried and I thought about it for a long time. The American Supreme Court drafted an overturning of Roe v. Wade, which was leaked and caused much uproar. I went to go see a friend in Montreal, and spending time with her and her family was an incredible experience of friendship and mutual admiration; I really love that we are still friends 25+ years after we met. I carry a lot of weird friendship trauma, and maintaining these nourishing relationships means so much to me.
Media experience: catching up on the Witch, Please podcast

June: The court officially overturned Roe v Wade and it was A Big Deal. Friends from America came and had a visit so I got to kiss their amazing cheeks and hang out with their lovely toddler and just bask in the glory of long-term international friendship. A friend had a baby and had a bad time of it, and I felt sad that she suffered and glad that her baby was here and well. School ended and NS graduated kindergarten and I felt like we were launching, but towards what? No idea.
Media experience: this blistering Jia Tolentino piece about Roe v Wade

July: There was A LOT of Stratford summer time around the house—I neglected to book any summer camps for Noah, leaving us desperately underprogrammed and with very few other children around to play with, so for the third summer in a row, we lived at the library, the coffee shops, and the splash pad. We went to a wedding in Toronto, which was fun. It was nice to get dressed up and wobble around on high heels and eat a panna cotta in the company of other step-cousins and family friends. Noah learned to ride a bike, which was thrilling.
Media experience: browsing Type Books for an afternoon and buying a lot of children's books

August: Cottage time this year was a bit tricky, because the first week was largely taken up by a work project deadline, so I sequestered myself in a bedroom and made charts for several days. Once that was done, though, we were free to swan around at the beach like usual—walk to the bakery, go play on the sand, help out with dinner, read on the deck—and that felt good. The cottage was under renovation and the farm was on the market, so things felt a lot less settled than usual, but it was good to be together when we were.
Media experience: seeing a Minions movie in a movie theatre

September: Back to school! September was a bit of a catch-my-breath month; after the hurricane of summer, it was nice to be able to watch TV in the middle of the day and have a regular wake-up time again. First grade started out well and then quickly transitioned to a litany of complaints; I'm not sure where we are with it now, but things seem slightly better.
Media experience: hoo boy, I binged Sex Education (Netflix) and loved it.

October: Thanksgiving, in which I cooked a duck for the three of us! The turn of the seasons! Wrapping up some excellent and fine TV shows! Getting a sinus infection! Buying a new computer! October felt productive and fun, with good weather and beautiful trees and nice family time. Noah spent the month fretting about what to be for Halloween, and ultimately decided on Ash from Pokémon. Also, the Queen died.
Media experience: Owl House (Disney+)

November: We went to Toronto and Noah started running a fever on the train; we were caught in the desperate hunt for Children's Tylenol for much of the weekend, which was an absolute bust. However...I had a great trip, with fantastic friend hangouts, museum wanders, thrifting alone (the actual dream!), and drinks out with friends. It was three full days of feeling like I was coming home to myself, and I felt, despite the fact that my family was sick while I enjoyed myself, very good about it. Later in the month we hosted friends for drinks at our house and stayed up until the middle of the night, and it was such a shock to the system that I felt giddy (albeit wretchedly hungover). November was a month of friendship the way it used to feel: chaotic and loud and hot-blooded.
Media experience: Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts (Netflix), one of my absolute favourites of the year

December: We had all been sick, off and on, since August, so this was the month that everyone looked like we had been deflated slightly. There was a school concert, in which Noah embodied that Dua Lipa "go girl give us nothing" meme. Then, right before Christmas, the sky poured snow for three days straight, and the wind howled, and the roads were closed, and my parents lost power, and it was One Of Those Storms where you take bets on if a tree is going to fall on your car. Everyone's Christmas felt sort of small and off-kilter, but at least there were no fires or emergency surgeries this year.
Media experience: endless, endless Christmas music 

Year In Review: Oh man, this year just felt like...sort of nothing? A lot of the family stuff felt a little weird for some reason—lot of transitions and changes and interpersonal dynamics coming home to roost, sometimes literally—and while work was good and I learned a lot, it was also sort of unpredictable in its busyness and demands. I really like the friends and community that came through this year—the school parents, the Writers Group people—and yet I still felt a bit isolated...almost as if the last 2.5 years are still percolating away, but now their panic has gone underground. I didn't do any of my planned creative projects, which made me feel a bit weird, but ultimately I'm chalking this up to being a year that neither asks questions nor answers. See you in 2023, probably!

Monday, November 28, 2022

Never Mind the Billionaires, Here Come the Solarpunks

“We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art, the art of words.”

Ursula K. Le Guin

After my son Noah was born in the mid-2010s, I experienced a profound and cumbersome eco-grief. This wasn't the first time in my life when the global future elicited terror instead of hope, but the news at the time was especially dire—rising temperatures and sea levels, catastrophic weather events as the new normal, and a general sense of unease and mistrust about what was coming. 

It was widely recognized that the wealthiest countries, companies and individuals were driving the bulk of the damage, and they were also the only ones with any real power to change the narrative. Would they? Well...Elon Musk has since distracted himself from Martian indentured servitude by turning Twitter into a zoo for our worst humans; Jeff Bezos has pledged to donate millions but towards what is still TBD; and it seems that billionaires, as a general class (sigh) tend to avoid environmental philanthropy (double sigh). It's become fashionable for us plebes to murmur "eat the rich" as we scroll through the news, but since wealthy idiots seem to think that interplanetary exit is a sane and viable retirement plan, that leaves the rest of us earthbound morons mired in brain-meltingly hot temperatures. I mean this truly when I say: I hope Mars is terrible and very boring! Go there quickly and forever!

While I know that I and my descendants will likely be insulated from the worst of any looming climate changes—a gift of geography and the luck to be born in a wealthy country—I cannot pretend that we will be unaffected. I know the summers are getting hotter, the storms off the lake more intense. There is nowhere on earth where the rainwater is still pure. It's coming for us all. 

When things are that bleak, what can we do? 

It's hard to live when you're stuck in shitty feelings, but there are techniques to soothe. My friend Terran shared her practice of radical optimism, which is helpful. I also started gardening at the beginning of the pandemic, which gives an illusion of control (at least until the tomatoes are blighted), and have several Pinterest boards devoted to an optimistic prepper vibe.

I have also, personally and as a coping mechanism, developed a few aesthetic antidotes to this whole end-of-the-world experience. Like, do you have a moment to talk about Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts, my current TV obsession about a post-apocalyptic world where mega-mutant animals roam wild and humans have been driven underground, but it's hilarious and queer and hopeful and also the soundtrack is full of absolute fucking bangers? Or the Nsibidi Scripts book series, which explores magical-realist Nigeria and is a smart and solid rebuttal of the unrelenting Eurocentrism of most wizarding coming-of-age stories (ahem, Harry Potter)? Or my ongoing interest in solarpunk, the alternate-future visioning exercise that is giving me some modicum of hope in these troubled times? 

At its simplest, solarpunk imagines a world where the internal-combustion engine and fossil fuels have been replaced with green energy sources: windmills, hydroelectric dams, and solar panels. The images of solarpunk are often filled with greenery and brilliant blue skies. Unlike dieselpunk or steampunk, which creates alternate histories that feel dirty and individualist , solarpunk is clean, clear, and collective: a world where everyone has enough and our human relationship with Mother Earth is less, uh, extractive than it has been to date.

The first solar panel was invented in 1883, a fin-de-siecle experiment that managed to convert the sun's energy into electricity at the rate of about one percent. The first commercially viable panels hit the market in the mid-1950s, costing a whopping $300 per watt generated. These days, an Ontario homeowner willing to invest about $20,000 into a home array—the kind we see installed on roofs—would be able to receive all of his electricity from the sun rather than the local hydro company. Solar panels have evolved from bulky, inefficient contraptions to semi-ubiquitous installations that are nearly standard for a certain type of homeowner—maybe an eco-geek, or a luxe hippie, or a libertarian.

The solar panel isn't a poetic generator: it doesn't belch smoke or produce soot or feel warm to the touch. It doesn't have the romance of woodstoves or coal. It's also not haunted by the ghosts of failed solar panels, the way we have avoided nuclear in a post-Chernobyl world. They are silent, easily integrated into our everyday landscape, and small enough to be carried to a campsite or installed on a family rooftop. They have a bit of a beep-boop robot feel, but solarpunk's luscious greenery balances out the sterile feeling. The technology is improving every year, and prices have continued to come down. Green energy always has its challenges and detractors, but we desperately need to wean ourselves off cheap, destructive fossil fuels.

I have a Tumblr post saved on Pinterest that reads "Before we can live in a world of vertical gardens covering stained-glass skyscrapers, we need to build a world of backyard garden boxes made from reclaimed wood. Before we can cover every rooftop with solar panels, we need to equip every home with solar smokeless cooking made of scrap metal. The appeal of those green cityscapes in the pretty pictures isn't just that they're high-tech and clean, it's that they sprout from a society that values compassion, the environment, and human lives more than it values profit. We need to build that society first, and we need to build it from the ground up from what we have available." 

I believe this to be true. We know that corporations and the rich people who run them will not take care of the planet the way we desperately want and need them to, so it's up to us to cultivate our optimism in whatever ways we can. I envision buildings dripping with atmosphere-cooling greenery, so I start in the garden. I envision electric cars in every driveway, so I start by riding my bike. I want solar panels on the library, so I start by reading about solar dehydrators. I want a different future, so I start by dreaming.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

How We Do Community

It used to be so simple—when we talked about "community" as a concept, I felt like I had a handle on what that meant. Like, my friends and my family and the people on my street and the person who teaches me yoga, right? A community was a Richard Scarry kind of place, where there is one of every kind of person, all living together in harmony and pigs deliver the mail. 

Now, I'm not so sure. I mean, I've been on Twitter. I know how echo-chamber it can be out there. It's not a simple matter of showing up at the water cooler or at church and letting myself breath the same air as someone who voted for Doug Ford; what does it mean to be in community with people? 

Obviously, file this under "yet another way Covid—and just modern life in general—has got us fucked up," but let's dive in?

 Not too long ago, Devon Price put up an Instagram post that kind of blew my mind a little bit. "Capitalism, colonialism, and white supremacy drain us, dehumanize us, and alienate us from each other (and our own needs) daily. Forming a thriving, truly interdependent community can feel nearly impossible under this system. Our lives are set up to be as hostile to community formation as possible. Many of the things that we call community are not communities at all. They’re fandoms and friend groups or brand identities.” 

And pardon me if this wasn't just a whole paradigm shift for me. It spoke to why some of the issues in what I had considered "my community" felt like intractable interpersonal rifts—it's because they were. Friend groups are set up on the basis of people liking each other and their shared histories together, not on a vision or a common goal or a shared belief. Friend groups are often fundamentally incompatible with the complexities of community, because community sometimes asks us to exist alongside (and in close proximity to!) people whose personalities might drive us right up the wall, but who also want to achieve something we find valuable or important. Community allows us to actively dislike some members, while friend groups are really skittish about that.

I think is why "finding community" is sometimes so tough, especially as we age into our 30s and 40s. For me, this was a time in my life where I really started to question if I still believed in the same stuff I did in my 20s, and what I really do believe in, if not that. Things I took for granted in my 20s—the shape of my life, the family I wanted, the partner, the house, the kid, the job, the goals—all of that was upended and opened up by a series of wildly destabilizing catastrophes and losses in my early 30s. Coming out the other side, it turned out I was weirder, more tender, angrier, more open to joy, than I ever had been before. I had to be, because those are the things that let me survive that time. But those things are not universally beloved by all; in some regards, I felt like I was starting from scratch in both friendships and in community, and would have to build both back up. 

I have been driven to Google "what makes a good community," and it's not usually everybody gets along and there are snacks, although that does sound dreamy. Communities have roles and goals: people do specific things, for specific reasons. Communities have expectations and traditions: you're accountable to the people you're with, and you're often doing it with a sense of duty and meaning-making. Communities treat each other well, with kindness and fairness and transparency. Communities involve a diversity of people—elders and children, rich and poor, workers and volunteers—and value them in thoughtful and appropriate ways. And yeah, communities often do have fun, and people do like each other. But you can also be in community with someone who makes you want to sigh your loudest and most dramatic sigh.

For me, my vision of community is often centered around values: hope for a better and less scary world; that we can help each other, even when things are ugly; the power of laughter and joy in both those things. There are details that would make this a more beautiful vision—like, yes I would like to be living in a progressive oasis where billionaires are illegal, we have weekly potlucks, and the children actually learn about Black History Month and Pride in school—but we start with the basics, and they can be done from anywhere, with most people. It's amazing to me that they aren't universal, but, hey: communities exist for people who aren't like me, too. 

It has been so interesting to me the different ways that community has been present in my life. When I was in university, I lived in a student housing co-op, and my closest friends were the ones who really believed in the co-op's mission, the ones who put in time and effort and sweat to making the place we lived better. But the beauty of it wasn't that I lived only with my closest friends. I also lived with people I couldn't stand, people who were sometimes unsafe, people who were careless or rude or odd or different from me. And for the most part, we all made it work. We got the dishes done and the leaves raked, and we threw parties and cleaned up after them. It hung together in some strange, beautiful way. 

And now, in a small town, there are people I see regularly whom I adore, whose work and lifestyle I admire, who aren't quite friends but who are colleagues in our respective life-project. There are friends I like very much and who are also so different from me, whose political leanings or parenting choices are very different from mine, but we find other ways to connect. And there are folks who are true friends, who make me laugh and laugh and who will also drop off a case of Coke Zero when we have covid. There is friendship in community, after all. 

I'm satisfied with this expanded experience of community—beyond just friend groups, fandoms, and brand identities—because it allows things to be weird and shaggy. Communities are the definition of imperfect, the embodiment of "I get up. I walk. I fall down. Meanwhile, I keep dancing" and in these days—with the disasters looming/regularly unfolding—we need all the dancing we can get.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022


It's the last day of summer, and tomorrow the days will be shorter than the nights. Ever the wheel turns, but also—ugh. I know that winter is coming because it comes every dang year, but every year I also harbour a secret wish that we somehow become the Golden Isles and the winters are mild (and we also get a Target). But alas, winter in southwestern Ontario is coming, and she is never pretty. 

My biggest struggle with this time of year, regardless of weather or the temperature, is when we start to lose the light. The days get shorter and shorter, plus the added insult of "gaining" an hour that really means that the sun is gone by 5 PM each day. The six weeks on each side of the solstices are the hardest for me, because they are just so dark. I am no sun worshiper, but I miss that stupid ball of radiation something fierce. I try to deploy as many wards against the night as I can muster—daily walks, exercise, eating well, sleeping (but not too much!), creative projects—but the reality is that I tend to white-knuckle my way from Christmas to Family Day, because it's dark and cold and I'm miserable. 

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Because, first: autumn! Or as I like to think of it, Bad Summer. Like winter, summer is a real razzle-dazzle season; they have literally no/all chill, and extremes in both directions of emotion and temperature and solar exposure. Fall is milder, more temperate. Wind and rain, but not the tornado-watch thunderheads that fill the sky in August. No snow yet, or a very light and exciting dusting that melts within the hour. The garden bounty is coming to fruition—and while this is another personal ugh, since this year's garden was a proper disaster (I abandoned the tomatoes, my landlord ran over the raspberry cane with the lawnmower, and rodents ate everything else)—many other more dedicated and diligent gardeners are enjoying their crops. We get to rotate our sweaters and puffy vests back in, and I have never met a puffy vest I didn't immediately try to wear 300 days a year. Fall is golden light, orange leaves, and blue skies. 

Fall is also the time I commit to new routines. Something about that back-to-school energy that makes me want to take on a new version of myself, so I try to get that good vitamin regimen off the ground, or I start a new hobby, or I sign up for a class. I spent 23 years in the school system, and to me, September represents possibilities in learning and identity work. I like the predictability of school days and weeks with weekends. This year, I want to dive deeper in my creative goals; producing new work for my writer's group, taking a more adventurous approach to knitting projects, and actually completing the various projects that are languishing at the 80% complete mark (like the zine I made that just needs a cover, or the cookbook with three typos, or the knitting pattern that needs to be formatted, or the pants that need a new waistband, or or or orrrrr.....)

Aesthetically speaking, fall is all electronica and house music; something about those cool beats just hits me where I live, and it's much easier to dance when I don't feel like a walking hot flash. It's big sweaters and blankets. It's period movies about murders, and high fantasy on TV. It's candles on the table on Friday nights. It's stew and bread, cloth napkins and red wine. It's a few friends around the table, laughing after two glasses of wine or a fat IPA, the kids somewhere else in the house. I don't go in for "spooky season," which has been on the rise in the last decade or so as a dark corollary to basic-bitch PSL vibes, but fall is also dry leaves skittering across the pavement, mist in the air at midnight, and branches knocking against the window. It's a hunker-down sensation, a time of active burrowing and preparing for the upcoming winter. 

I know the secret of life is that nothing lingers, and that is the gift and curse of life here on earth. Hard seasons pass and we're glad to see them go; easy ones pass too, despite how hard we try to grab hold of them.  Fall is a reminder, to me at least, to pay attention to the turning of the page, the dusk and the dawn: the moments between the show-stopper, the big events, that's all our life as well.

We're in the final play-days of the year. Cool nights and warm days, and that golden light, makes being outside feel bittersweet—we all know the end is coming, we can sense it, but it's a lovely way to pass the time all the same. I love fall, and her final bursts of colour, of leaves, of exuberance. 

What a spectacular way to lose the light. May we all go into the darkness with this much joy.