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.