Search results for 'Mountain'

Guest Post: Life As A Mountain Hike

7 Nov

My husband Matt wrote the following post about how challenging it can be to have a partner who is depressed. If you are at all technically inclined, you can check out his own blog, Quoth The Runtime, “Segmentation Fault”. He mostly writes about programming, but he also posts some pretty great stuff about the rampant sexism and misogyny in his industry.


I’ve come to the conclusion that the best metaphor I can conceive of for everyday life is that life is a mountain trail. Some days you have to work hard to make any progress, other days are simple, and some are nicely balanced. You can see beautiful vistas, or find yourself in the bottom of a dark valley. The weather can be reflective of your mood, a lot like what you see in movies (there’s a reason why it always rains during movie funerals). Some days the air’s become so thin that it’s a struggle to do anything of any great significance. You see your friends from time to time on the trail, and perhaps you’ve arranged to meet sixty miles up the trail in two days, and you only hope it’s downhill or level at worst, because you have a lot ground to cover in not much time.

So, given that life is a mountain trail, what is it like when your partner is depressed? It’s like hiking with someone with impaired lung function. They need to carry oxygen, and some cases are worse than others. Some patients need to basically have the mask on the whole time, while others can operate normally with a couple of deep breaths every once in a while.

How does this affect your relationship? You both have to take more load. Your partner has to carry the tank, so you offset that increased load into your own pack. But you’re also thinking about their oxygen supply. Sometimes it’s “do they have enough air in the tank,” but when you’re really paying attention, it becomes “do they have enough airflow”, and usually that only happens when their depression becomes apparent again. The big problem with depression, not just socially, but functionally, is that it’s invisible. Depression quite literally changes how the patient thinks, both on and off treatment. Enough airflow from the tank, and your partner is brought up to baseline.. except for the fact that they’re still carrying the extra weight, so you’re still taking some of what would otherwise be their load! With the right treatment, the patient can feel reasonably close to “normal”, but if they don’t maintain the treatment, for some reason–maybe a disrupted routine means not taking their medication for a few days, or maybe they’re feeling so good they self-moderate to a lower dose–or their circumstances change and now they just aren’t getting enough air (perhaps their brain chemistry has adjusted), then they can’t perform as well… and as their partner, it’s up to you to keep an eye on that. It’s not just your partner’s concern.

Living with a depressed partner is hard. In addition to everything that normally comes up in any relationship, you’re ultimately their partner in managing their depression, too. Whether it’s as simple as giving them some slack on the harder days, and letting them do their thing while you pick up the housework, or something as detailed as collaborating in their treatment plan, their depression will always be there, whether it’s forgotten, or it’s the elephant in the room, or it’s something than can freely enter the conversation as necessary. But remember, it’s invisible, and it’s insidious. Because it’s part of how your partner thinks (and not, say, an obvious but treatable impairment, like a significant limp) it’s all too easy to forget that it’s even there when it’s well managed.

It’s easy to become resentful that you’re doing more of the housework, because it’s easy to forget that it’s not that your partner is being lazy, they’re depressed. It’s easy to forget that depression manifests itself in more than just tears; it can also be lack of energy, lack of motivation, or lack of interest. When depression isn’t obvious, it’s all too easy to forget that it’s there, and then it’s all too easy to establish a mental separation between your partner and your partner’s depression, because you might only think about it when they’re well and truly despondent. While you and your partner may not want their depression to be a part of their identity, it’s critical to remember that it’s always there, in the same way that an amputated limb is always missing, even if it’s been replaced by a prosthesis.

And when you’re in a long-term relationship, you’ve been carrying the extra weight for as long as you have, it’s easy to forget that what you don’t see in your partner’s backpack is their failing lungs and their oxygen tank. If your partner’s been having an easy time with the hike–perhaps a couple of huffs on the tank a day is all they’ve needed for months–it’s easy to forget why you’re carrying more of the weight. It’s easy to forget that it’s so that they can simply keep up with the pace of every day.

But when the depression becomes apparent again, naturally, you respond with compassion and empathy. You encourage your partner to talk about it, or you give them their space, but if you forget, or don’t realise, just how bad their depression really is when it’s in force, then you may forget how your partner may really need you to respond when their depression strikes. Of course, the deeper problem with this is that your partner is an adult, or at least competent to make their own decisions. It’s very difficult to convince who a person who doesn’t believe they need air–they’re just a tired today, or the trail’s harder than they expected–that they really do need air… At least, it’s hard to do that without coming off as condescending and paternalistic (and, let’s be honest here, if anyone is liable to be offended, and rightly so, by paternalistic talk from her husband, it’s Anne) when you’re in a partnership of equals.

My own overwhelming desire to respect Anne’s agency and autonomy has meant that, on a number of occasions, I’ve dropped the ball badly, because I have a pretty significant mental block around telling anyone I love, “you need to do x.” Particularly so when I know that the thing I believe they need to do is something they would ordinarily object to. Anne has already told the story about how her postpartum depression drove her to pharmaceutical help; but I don’t think she mentioned in that story her difficult history with pharmaceutical treatment, or with psychotherapy. I had broached both ideas in the past during lesser episodes, and met with resistance on every occasion. I didn’t want to press the issue again (and I didn’t know had truly bad her depression had become until I read that post), and every time her depression has resurfaced since, I’ve had a hard time finding the strength to ask basic things like “have you been missing your medication,” or, “have you been using your blue lamp,” because I want to be able to trust that she has, and I don’t want her to think that I think she’s forgotten, or incapable of taking of herself. I don’t think that she can’t take care of herself, but I worry, at those times, that her depression will colour how she hears these things, or tell her that her treatment isn’t working, and that she should just give up.

But as her partner, she does need me to be able to say these things (whether she’ll admit it or not). She needs me to be able to tell the difference between herself talking and her depression talking. She needs me to be able to see that the trail’s too hard for her today, and figure out what needs to be done, whether it’s replace the tank, try to open the flow more, take more of the load (or straight out jettison some stuff, or find someone to help), or even just make her stop and sit for a while. Maybe she needs me to call for help, but I’ll never know–and she may never admit it, even to herself–if I can’t talk to her about her depression.

We’ve both recently started following TSN anchor Michael Landsberg’s Twitter feed. Landsberg, if you weren’t already aware, also suffers from clinical depression, and has written about it on his blog for Off The Record, particularly in light of Wade Belak’s death. Landsberg has been promoting a topic on Twitter, #sicknotweak, in the buildup to launching a website of the same name, in order to promote a change in how we, as a society, view depressed people–that they aren’t weak, but they’re sick, just with something that isn’t normally visible. It’s an important paradigm shift that I need to keep in mind, particularly when Anne’s depression comes to the fore again. Depression is, fundamentally, a disease like any other that needs to be managed.

Just like a hiker with a bad lung needs to manage their air intake.


Anathema Device, Feminist Hero

13 Mar

Terry Pratchett died today.

I know that this isn’t exactly shocking news, since he has been very public about living with Alzheimer’s and was a passionate advocate for assisted suicide (although his publishers have said that his death was “natural and unassisted”). People nerdier and smarter than me will write better tributes to Pratchett, and I will read them all greedily, although they’ll be a poor substitute for any further books he might have written. But I do want to take a moment to talk about one of Pratchett’s characters and how fucking rad I think she is. She’s been a feminist hero of mine since I was nineteen, back in the bad old days when I rejected the label feminist and instead preferred to call myself an “anti-capitalist” (spoiler alert: you can be both). The character’s name is Anathema Device, and she’s from Good Omens (1990), a book Pratchett co-wrote with Neil Gaiman, and she is just perfect.

The first time we meet Anathema, she’s eight. She’s lying in bed, reading a book of prophecies with a flashlight. The book, it turns out, was written by an ancestor of hers, Agnes Nutter. Agnes, who was burned for witchcraft in the 17th century because what else are going to do with a woman who can see into the future, was great at being psychic but shitty at marketing. The copy that Anathema has is the only one in existence, mainly because literally no one bought the book after its first and only printing. Which maybe makes sense, since it’s both so obscurely accurate that it’s often only useful after the fact (like the advice “Do Notte Buye Betamacks,” a prophecy for 1972), and mostly it just tells the futures of Agnes’ descendants. It ends with the apocalypse, at which, Agnes prophecies, Anathema will be present.

Anathema always goes by her full, improbable name. You’d think someone would shorten it to Ana or Annie – especially since the definition of anathema is “a person detested or loathed” or “a curse” – but no. She’s a four-syllable, say-my-whole-name kinda gal.

Anathema, at age eight, is described as being “a bright child, with a pale face, and black eyes and hair.” That’s really the only description we get of her for the entire book. Pale, dark hair, dark eyes. We don’t know if she’s gorgeous, or ugly, or fat, or skinny, or tall, or short, or just sort of average – which is pretty magical in and of itself, given how invested most books (especially those of the fantasy genre) are in describing the appearance of women.

Part of it may be that Anathema’s too busy doomsday prepping to are about how she looks. The next time we meet her, she’s nineteen and zipping around the countryside on her bike, tracking ley-lines and, I don’t know, doing other witchy stuff. Because of course she’s a witch; she even subscribes to special witch newspapers. But she’s more than just a sorceress in training – she’s basically an early version of a Social Justice Warrior.  According to the book:

“Anathema didn’t only believe in ley-lines, but in seals, whales, bicycles, rain forests, whole grain in loaves, recycled paper, white South Africans out of South Africa, and Americans out of practically everywhere down to and including Long Island. She didn’t compartmentalize her beliefs. They were welded into one enormous, seamless belief, compared with which that held by Joan of Arc seemed a mere idle notion. On any scale of mountain-moving it shifts at least point five of an alp.”

One of my favourite scenes in Good Omens is when Anathema sleeps with Newton Pulsifer, this dude she’s just met. She knows she’s going to sleep with him, because it’s in Agnes’ book (along with about a billion lewd/encouraging comments from Anathema’s various ancestors in the margins). Having it foretold that you’re going to sleep with someone makes consent a bit tricky – after all, is it really your choice, or are you only doing it because the book suggested it? On the other hand, Agnes’ seeing is described as a kind of backwards remembering, so in that sense she can only prophecy the future as it has already happened.

Or something.

Anyway, the point is that Anathema has known her whole life that she’s going to bone a guy with a weird name. What happens afterwards is just perfect:

“‘That was wonderful,’ said Newt.

‘Good,’ said Anathema, ‘The earth moved for everybody.’ She got up off the floor, leaving her clothes scattered across the carpet, and went into the bathroom.

Newt raised his voice. ‘I mean, it was really wonderful. Really, really wonderful. I always hoped it was going to be, and it was.’

There was a sound of running water.

‘What are you doing?’ he asked.

‘Taking a shower.’

Then Newton’s like “… maybe we can do it again?” but Anathema shuts that down real quick by telling him it’s only prophesied that they’ll fuck once and only once.

I just love Anathema so much. She’s sensible, smart, independent, feminist as fuck, and funny. She’s a total boss at not giving a fuck (which, ok, fair enough, it’s possible that having a book that tells your future and also knowing that the world is going to end when you’re nineteen take away whatever fucks you had to give), and meets all of her detractors with a cold, hard stare. She also has her PhD. She’s nineteen and she has a witch and she has her PhD. I literally defy you to create a better character than her.

I’m more than ten years older than Anathema, but I still aspire to be like her. I want to be as unafraid and as fierce in my beliefs as she is. I want to work with the same dedication and drive that she does. And, I mean, obviously (this should go without saying) I want to be a un-fuck-withable witch biking around and flipping everyone off.

Thank you, Terry, for creating Anathema. Thank you for all the amazing, multifaceted female characters you wrote over the years. I know that I’m not the only one who’s drawn strength, encouragement and humour from them, and I’m sure your daughter (a kick-ass lady in her own right) will turn to them many times in the days to come.

Thank you for all the gifts you gave us. I hope your passing was swift, and suffering is eased. Sleep well.


If You Buy a Harry Potter Engagement Ring You Are Probably Awesome

22 Jan

A brief response to Kelly Conaboy’s post on Gawker, “If You Buy a Harry Potter Engagement Ring You Should Not Get Married“:

1. There are some very excellent reasons that people should not get married. They include such things as “the couple is too young to legally marry,” or “the couple believes marriage is an outdated patriarchal institution based on the premise that women are property,” or, especially, “the couple does not wish to get married.” However, nowhere on that list of reasons why two loving, consenting adults should not marry is “because they both like Harry Potter-themed jewellery.” No matter what your opinion of the oeuvre of J.K. Rowling, the fact that two grown-ass people who love each other also love her books does not mean they are somehow too immature to wed.

2. How about just being happy that people who share the same passions and interests have found each other and apparently delight in each other’s company? No one is making you, Kelly Conaboy, marry someone who likes to read intelligent social commentary disguised as fiction about teenage wizards. I fail to understand how it somehow impacts you that someone else who is completely separate from your life loves Quidditch enough to want to own this ring:


3. I’m sorry, but no one who had to google the words “Golden Snitch” is fit to write about a ring that represents the Golden Snitch.

Screen Shot 2015-01-21 at 9.11.10 PM

That’s like asking me, the person whose idea of haute cuisine is dumping a can of Campbell’s into a dented old pot, to write a column about cooking. Also, the fact that Conaboy twice implies that she didn’t know what a Golden Snitch was reeks  of performative ignorance.

We get it, Kelly, you are too cool and grownup for Harry Potter. Do you have any other points you wish to make.

4. Writes Conaboy:

‘Imagine this scenario: The adult female on whom you have spent the past seven years of your life takes you to the top of a mountain. She pulls out a ring. “Is that?” “Yes—the Golden Snitch,” she says. She has proposed to you with a ring you recognize as the smallest ball—the name of which both of you know—used in the broomstick game child wizard Harry Potter plays during his downtime. Two adults standing on top of a mountain with a ring from a series of young adult novels neither of whom were, even at the time of publishing, the correct age to read. A Harry Potter engagement ring.’

While I get that she’s trying to be pithy and clever, there are a few issues here.

First of all, Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone was published in 1997. Assuming the “correct age” to read that book is the same age as the protagonists – eleven years old – those readers would now be 28, which is a decade above the legal marriageable age in most states and provinces.

Second of all, there is no correct age to read Harry Potter books because they are great books.


If you need a refresher on the deep and complicated theory behind this last point, might I direct you to Nicole Cliffe’s fantastic piece On Subcultures. Specifically, you should read this part:

‘There are people who respond to other people having fun in ways that are alien to them with inexplicable rage and contempt. This is, honestly, one of the worst things you can do to yourself as a person of something resembling character. I kind of do it around things like Burning Man, which is silly. Obviously, if people really love Burning Man then they should just burn their little hearts out with great joy and abandon. And we should remember that other people probably feel this way about things we like. If you’re a Doctor Who fan, and you’ve ever tried to show someone an episode of Doctor Who, and it’s been a dismal failure, and they’ve tried to get YOU to align yourself with their vaguely snide amusement by saying things like “so, I assume the special effects are deliberately bad on purpose, right?” or “wait, how many of these have you SEEN?” or, worst of all “how does anyone stand the Doctor?” then you should know better. Perhaps the single greatest summation of this concept being “don’t yuck on someone else’s yums.”‘

Everyone likes different things. Some people like things you think are stupid or boring or pretentious – and you are entitled to that opinion! That being said, it’s pretty crummy to use your opinion as a way to make other people feel small. Also, your personal taste in books or television or leisure activities are not the official determinant of who’s allowed to get married.

6. I would be way, way more concerned about adults buying each other rings that reference something like Atlas Shrugged, a book that is purportedly for adults but, in my experience, is mostly beloved by neo-Libertarian fifteen year olds. But you know what? Even Ayn Rand fans need love (and jewellery) too.


Now You Are Four

21 Jan

Dear Theo,

Saturday was your fourth birthday. You are four years old now. It doesn’t matter how many times I repeat those words to myself, that shit is still blowing my mind. You are four – in just a few months you will be starting what you refer to as “big kid school.” You’re practically in college, doing a double major in Kicking Ass and Taking Names.

I want to tell you a bit about who you are right now as a person. First of all, you are hilarious, often intentionally. You’ll play just about anything for a laugh, especially if you think it will get you out of trouble. You have the cheekiest grin I’ve ever seen. Best (or maybe worst) of all, you seem to have a preternatural gift for sarcasm. I often share your bon mots on Twitter and Facebook, and honestly, there are times when I’m pretty sure you’re more popular than I am.

You’re still the type of person who just rolls with whatever comes your way. We’ve had some pretty stressful times in our family this year, but you’ve been so happy-go-lucky through it all. Your daycare teacher mentioned a few months ago how remarkable it was that you always seem to be in a good mood, and it’s true – no matter what’s going on, no matter how little sleep you’ve had, your disposition is pretty much always sunny side up.

Speaking of sleep, I should probably mention that you still hate it. Your bedtime-delaying tactics are impressive – just another glass of milk, just another cuddle, you just need to tell me something, you don’t want your nightlight, no wait now you do want your nightlight, nope actually you don’t want your nightlight and you have to make two trips to give it to me because the first time you forgot to bring the charging cord that was still plugged into the wall. You also hate sleeping in your bed, and for some reason seem to prefer the floor – especially “the crack,” a space that you create by pulling your bed away from the wall.

Why did I waste my money on a bed, though

Why did I waste my money on a bed, though

One of the things I treasure the most about you is how compassionate and empathetic you are. You take the time to consider what other people are feeling; if someone is sick or hurt, you like to go check in on them to see how they’re doing. When you go to the park, you always like to bring two toys, so that you can share one if you happen to make a friend. If you’re eating something, you always like to offer everyone around you a taste. You have your moments of complete self-centredness of course – I mean, you’re only four after all – but in general you try to be aware of everyone else around you, and I love that.

This past year saw you gaining more awareness about social issues, both on larger and smaller scales. You came with me to the local Take Back the Night rally in the summer, and more recently we went to the Black Lives Matter protest. You accept the fact that girls can love girls and boys can love boys as a matter of course, and you’re better about trans issues than some of the grownups I know (“Mom, a boy can have a penis or a vagina, and a girl can have a vagina or a penis, right?”). We talk a lot about gender and race, and you’re very enthusiastic about the idea of equality. I’m excited to see what new social justice mountains we’ll scale this year.

Really into the whole "holding a fiery candle" thing at the Black Lives Matter protest

Really into the whole “holding a fiery candle” thing at the Black Lives Matter protest

Three was a big year for you in terms of milestones. For example, you finally learned how to use the toilet, much to the delight of everyone who has spent the past few years changing your diapers. You also weaned, quietly and very much on your own schedule, this past summer. You learned how to write your own name – both backwards and forwards, which I suspect means you are a witch – and you’re starting to sound out words. You still suck at drawing and have no interest in creating pictures of actual things, but hey, illustration isn’t for everyone I guess. You seem to prefer making sculptures, most of which are variations on the theme of “space shuttle.” You’re like the Claude Monet of space shuttles.

Your interests these days cover a spectrum from “emergency vehicles” all the way to “multicoloured anthropomorphic ponies.” You love doing puzzles – you’ll do the same one over and over until you’ve perfected your technique and can put all the pieces in place without much effort. Your current favourite toy is the Playmobil ambulance you got for your birthday, and I can’t get enough of hearing you prattle on about “emergency services.” You’re still obsessed with space, and you recently wondered aloud if the fact that Jupiter and Saturn were gas giants meant that Earth was a “gas baby.” Your current favourite show is My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, and I am absolutely delighted because a) it’s way less annoying than pretty much anything else you like to watch and b) IT ACTUALLY HAS FEMALE CHARACTERS WHO AREN’T REDUCED TO ANNOYING PINK-N-PIGTAILS STEREOTYPES.

Your favourite pony is Rainbow Dash, and you are over the moon about the Rainbow Dash hat we got you for Christmas.

You found this flag and said "look, a Rainbow Dash flag!"

You found this flag and said “look, a Rainbow Dash flag!”

You’ve been asking for a baby brother for the past few months, and lately you’ve really amped up your campaign. You approach the subject like a Reasonable White Dude on twitter who just won’t stop trying to logic his way into being right. To wit:

Theo: If you just have two more boys and then a girl, that’s only four kids in this family! Four is a very small number. And then if you just have one more baby, that’s only five kids!

Me: What would I even do with five kids.

Theo: We could all watch shows together!


Theo: We need more boys in this family. We don’t have enough boys.

Me: But we already have more boys than girls! If anything, we need more girls.

Theo: Um… I think your two cats are girls?


Theo, completely in earnest: You’re going to have a baby soon. Two babies, actually.

Me: You can’t just state things as facts and hope that makes them true.

Your apparent investment in the Baby Industrial Complex is admirable, but unfortunately it’s just not going to happen anytime soon. Take comfort in the fact that you would probably really hate sharing me with a tiny, screaming bundle of poopy diapers.

You are such a great kid. I don’t think you’re objectively any more amazing than the average four year old, but in my subjective opinion you are the best thing that’s happened since sliced anything. To use your own words, I love you to Mercury and back and that’s a very, very long way. You make me so happy. I am incredibly stoked to see what the next year brings for you, and to continue watching you grow into the amazing human you’re bound to become.

Love beyond all reason,



Fuck Busy

13 Oct

Late last night I was cruising around on Pinterest because hey I’m a boring 30-something mom and that’s what I do when I can’t sleep. Which, by the way, is every night, meaning that I’ve developed a bit of a Pinterest habit, among other things (my  insomnia-beating arsenal includes such soothing activities as: watching documentaries about the Chernobyl “liquidators,” hate-reading the blogs of conservative white dudes, and sending slightly incoherent late-night messages to my friends and acquaintances). Anyway, I was happily scrolling through pictures of pretty landscapes tragically marred by trite sayings (example: a gorgeous mountain at sunset with DON’T GIVE UP, THE BEST IS YET TO COME scrawled across it in white letters) when I came across this:


I had one of those moments where I was like, “oh.” And then I was like, “yes.” And then I had this huge mishmash of complicated feelings that I’ve been trying to untangle ever since.

Busy is how I keep myself from having enough time to think the thoughts that might completely derail my day.

Busy is how I distract my mind from the refrain of you’re not good enough, you’re not trying hard enough, nobody likes you

Busy is word that I hold over my head like some goddamn Sword of Damocles, as in: you’re not busy enough, you should be doing more, you don’t deserve a break, just keep going.

Busy is the first thing I think of when I wake up – will I be busy enough today? Will I get enough done? Or will I be a failure?

Busy is the last thing I think about before I finally drift off into a sleeping-pill-induced sleep – have I been busy enough? Am I satisfied with my day? Or have I been a disappointment, both to myself and to the people around me?

Busy is my anxiety-charged brain, either leapfrogging from one thought to the next, stringing together conclusions so quickly that I can hardly breathe, or else fixating on one idea and spinning it over and over, like a sore tooth that you can’t stop running your tongue over even though you wince every time.

The glorification of busy is the reason that I struggle so hard to relax – because I’ve never really, truly been busy enough during the day to deserve a rest. I sometimes ask myself what “busy enough” would look like, and I can never seem to come up with a solid answer. I tell myself that “busy enough” or “accomplished enough” is just something that I would intuitively feel once I’ve reached that goal post. But I never feel it, so I always have to assume that it’s just another day of not being good enough.

The glorification of busy is why my go-to solution for anxiety and depression is to try to out-run them, as if they’re that big stupid rock in the Temple of Doom and I’m Indiana Jones, always able to stay one jump ahead of being crushed.

The glorification of busy is why I’m sitting here in my mother’s living room on a long weekend writing a goddamn blog post because I feel like I just haven’t satisfied my daily requirement of “getting shit done.” Never mind that I’m supposed to be lying in a pool of post-Thanksgiving turkey-coma drool. I tried that. It didn’t feel good; instead, it felt like I was wasting precious time during which I could have been doing something important, like maybe memorizing the periodic table.

We live in a culture that praises “busy” as the best thing a person can be – both in terms of employment and personal life. We’re encouraged to cram as many experiences and events and accomplishments into a 24 hour period as possible – and then we’re encouraged to share our interpretation of those experiences, via tweets and pictures and pithy Facebook updates, in as close to real-time as possible. Even when you’re relaxing or having fun, you’re still often tapping into that busy mindset. “Am I sufficiently relaxed? Should I be having more fun? What can I do to optimize this experience? If I’m not feeling good, is that because I’m just not trying hard enough?”

And while I would on the one hand argue that staying busy is sometimes what stops me from having a full on tear-drenched meltdown in the middle of the day, I would also say that living in a culture that promotes “busy” as the ideal has for sure shaped my ideas of how to handle the sick panic of repetitive thoughts or sharp flashes of fear that set fire to my nerves. If I didn’t live in a society that glorifies busy, would my response to anxiety be to immediately throw myself into some type or work or another? If I didn’t think that busy was the be-all-and-end-all would I maybe take a few deep breaths and try to slow my thoughts instead of crushing them with other, different, faster thoughts?

Fuck busy.

Fuck the fact that I crave busy as a way to block out all the other shit that’s going on in my head.

Fuck the impact that busy has had on my ability to zone out, to shift gears, to slow down.

Fuck tweeting about how much fun I’m having when all I can think about is what I’m doing next, and then next, and then next.

Fuck the sense of dread that I have when faced with a day full of empty, unplanned hours.

Fuck the feeling of inadequacy that the glorification of busy has left me with.

I just want to learn how to shut off the busy voice in my head for five minutes. I just want to know what quiet is like. I just want to close my eyes at the end of the day and sleep without having to Pinterest myself into an exhausted stupor.

Fuck busy.

Lady Songs Part I

9 Mar

Nathan and I were sending each other favourite songs this morning. This is a thing that we do fairly often – pretty much anytime one of us thinks of something the other should listen to, and then it’s impossible to avoid the rabbit hole that is Songs Nathan Knows – but today we were only sending songs with female vocalists, in honour of International Women’s Day.

And then I had a genius idea.


Me: Pleeeeeeaaaaasssse

Nathan: I think I can manage that, but we have to include an Against Me! song.

We were originally aiming for fifty songs, but we somehow ended up with nearly three times that number. So you get SIX DAYS worth of posts about lady music instead of just one. Aren’t you lucky?

But why songs sung by women? I mean, International Women’s Day aside, what’s the appeal?

Personally, I’ve always preferred female musicians, probably at least in part because it’s easier for me to sing along with them. I’m also far more likely to identify with what they’re singing about – I’m a sucker for a good song about struggling to get through tough times, or a weepy hymn to heartbreak, or an empowering lady anthem. There’s something else, though, about a woman’s voice that’s hard to articulate. It gets right down into you, and it’s hard to shake loose. Women’s voices have teeth.

Nearly all of my earliest musical memories are of female musicians. My father had an extensive record collection, and I found my first favourites there – singers like Tracy Chapman, Cyndi Lauper and Michelle Shocked. I memorized all the lyrics to Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody, and my parents found it hilarious that I sang, “I wanna feel the heap with somebody,” instead of “I wanna feel the heat with somebody.” Listening to music meant time with my father, and it was an activity that he took very seriously. To this day, I can count on one hand the number of people who listen to music as thoughtfully and as deeply as he did – my grandfather is one of them, and Nathan is another. Even I’m not on this list because, as much as I love music, I don’t seem to have quite the same ability to become as thoroughly absorbed in a song as they do.

Listening to music with my father was a sort of transcendent experience. He always had a stick of incense burning while we listened, so my memories of these times are all wrapped up in a thick, sweet, smoky smell. His record player was in the basement, so it was always cool and dim, a perfect sonic atmosphere. I would watch reverently as my father placed the record on the turntable and carefully placed the needle. The two of us would sit in silence through the static hiss of the first few seconds, and then once the music came on we were immediately both lost in it. I think that listening to music was the closest my father, a lifelong atheist, ever came to having a religious experience.

Here are the first twenty five songs. Enjoy!

1. Haim – The Wire

2. Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues

3. Howling Bells – Low Happening

4. Torres – Moon & Back

5. Marnie Stern – Every Single Line Means Something

6. Le Tigre – Deceptacon

7. Blonge RedHead – Falling Man

8. Lykke Li – Sadness Is A Blessing

9. Yuna – I Wanna Go

10. Waxahatchee – Dixie Cups and Jars

11. Heartless Bastards – Mountain

12. Dum Dum Girls – Coming Down

13. St. Vincent – Save Me From What I Want

14. Russian Red – Cigarettes

15. London Grammar – Wasting My Young Years

16. Joan As Police Woman – How Come You’re Solid Gold

17. CHVRCHES – Recover

18. Bat For Lashes – Prescilla

19. Azure Ray – Scattered Like Leaves

20. Coeur De Pirate – Place de la République

21. Postiljonen – All That We Had Is Lost

22. Broadcast – Subject To The Ladder

23. Lianne La Havas – No Room For Doubt

24. EMA – California

25. Slow Club – Beginners


2013 In Review: Part 2

6 Jan

Read about January through June here!


Hands down, the biggest part of July for me was speaking at BlogHer’s annual conference. When I received the invitation to be part of a panel discussion about blogging and mental health, my first thought was that there had been a mistake. They couldn’t have meant me – they must have meant to ask some bigger, more famous blogger. But nope – they wanted me. I had the honour of working with the wonderful Aurelia Cotta, A’Driane Nieves  and Arnebya Herndon, and because of their awesomeness and enthusiasm the panel was a breeze.

Professional blogger at large - LOOK AT HOW MY NAME TAG SAYS SPEAKER, THOUGH

Professional blogger at large – LOOK AT HOW MY NAME TAG SAYS SPEAKER, THOUGH

Speaking on the panel

Speaking on the panel

BlogHer ’13 was pretty great. Highlights include seeing keynote speeches by Queen Latifah and US Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. Also lots of delicious free food. I kind of sucked at the networking part of the conference, but free food. I am such a fucking sucker when it comes to free food.

How is this my life

How is this my life





We’d been friends online for months and months and honestly I thought we’d never get to meet, because she lives in British Columbia and I’m not exactly a frequent flyer, BUT THEN WE WERE BOTH SPEAKING AT THE SAME CONFERENCE. How flipping lucky is that?

I am the luckiest. Not just because I got to meet Shannon, but because I get to have friends like her in the first place.

Chicago itself was awesome – seriously, what a fucking great city. THEY HAVE A CHILDREN’S MUSEUM AND A FREE ZOO. Matt and Theo had a total blast exploring while I was conferencing, and I joined them whenever I could. We ate deep dish pizza, rode the El Train and had a great dinner with our super-smart neuroscientist friend Jess. Best vacation ever.

Theo playing at the Children's Museum. I think he was in heaven.

Theo playing at the Children’s Museum. I think he was in heaven.

Checking the horse's heartbeat

Checking the horse’s heartbeat

Giving medicine to the chicken.

Giving medicine to the chicken.

The city

Lunch on Michigan Avenue

Lunch on Michigan Avenue

Three words: Deep. Dish. Pizza.

Three words: Deep. Dish. Pizza.

Not sure why the Chicago River is this colour...

Not sure why the Chicago River is this colour…

Lion at Lincoln Park Zoo

Lion at Lincoln Park Zoo


Waiting for the El

Waiting for the El

The lions at the Art Institute

The lions at the Art Institute

My favourite painting from the Art Institute of Chicago - Young Spartan Girls Challenging Boys

Favourite painting from the Art Institute of Chicago – Degas’ Young Spartan Girls Challenging Boys

I also had the chance to take in the Daniel Clowes exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Daniel Clowes is the genius behind Ghost World, aka my favourite graphic novel of all time. I also like pretty much all of his other stuff.

I was in heaven.


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Chicago was a blast.

The rest of the month was pretty rad, too. I spent a lot of time working on my book, which meant that the blog was somewhat neglected, but I did post a few things: I wrote about how much insomnia sucks, how ashamed I feel over my lack of education, how privilege colours the way that white folks talk about Trayvon Martin, and what it’s like to be Not That Girl.

Other highlights of the month include spending all day every day outside, going on a fancy date with Matt, and getting Theo his own bed in his own room (yes, he’d been sleeping in our bedroom all this time).

We spent Canada Day with Eden, Michael and their daughter Isadora. Iz and I climbed on the giant spiderweb at the park near our house!

We spent Canada Day with Eden, Michael and their daughter Isadora. Iz and I climbed on the giant spiderweb at the park near our house!

Matt and Theo jamming with Iz

Matt and Theo jamming with Iz



Because sometimes you lie down to nurse your kid and the cat is like THIS SEEMS LIKE A GREAT TIME TO PILE ON TOP OF YOU.

Because sometimes you lie down to nurse your kid and the cat is like THIS SEEMS LIKE A GREAT TIME TO PILE ON TOP OF YOU.

Fun times and high-waisted shorts at the wading pool

Fun times and high-waisted shorts at the wading pool

My little shark <3

My little shark ❤

Date night - dinner at Frank and movie at the TIFF Bell Lightbox theatre

Date night – dinner at Frank and movie at the TIFF Bell Lightbox theatre

Found a giant Boober Fraggle at Value Village aka HAPPIEST DAY OF MY WHOLE STUPID LIFE

Found a giant Boober Fraggle at Value Village aka HAPPIEST DAY OF MY WHOLE STUPID LIFE

Theo liked him too

Theo liked him too

More splash pad madness, this time with Matt manning the spray thingie

More splash pad madness, this time with Matt manning the spray thingie



We got to meet my friend Melissa's daughter Juno - or, as Theo calls her, "Baby Judo."

We got to meet my friend Melissa’s daughter Juno – or, as Theo calls her, “Baby Judo.”

July was the month when my hair got funkier. And yes, that is a Bell Jar t-shirt

July was the month when my hair got funkier. And yes, that is a Bell Jar t-shirt


So the most important thing that happened in August is that on the sixth it was MY BIRTHDAY.

As I do every year on my birthday, I paused and remembered the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. It’s a weird event to share a day with, but I’ve sort of grown to love? appreciate? something? the time I spend reflecting on that anniversary.

Then I had some cake.


I also had a fun birthday soirée (and by soirée I mean all of my friends came over to my apartment for drinks and snacks and we spent the night laughing uproariously/listening to Elvis Costello).

I’m old, you guys.

I spent a lot of August lounging around in parks, going to the island for picnics and making trips to Value Village with Audra and/or Eden. I also spent a lot of time sitting in coffee shops NOT writing my book. I did manage to get a fair bit of other writing done, though. Here’s some of the stuff I’m proud of:

Ten Lies Depression Tells You (which has been shared and viewed a whole bunch of times, a fact that warms the cockly cockles of my heart)

What It’s Like To Be A Writer Who Is Also A Woman

How To Talk To Your Son About His Body (which I wrote with Nathan but which he basically refuses to take credit for. SUCK IT NATHAN I AM GIVING YOU CREDIT ANYWAY.)

A Few Truths About Love

I also wrote about Miley Cyrus’ VMA performance, which resulted in a small internet shitstorm. The piece, when republished in the Huffington Post’s music section, became the most viewed post in that department, which is bananas. I had a lot of really amazing people support and share my work, and I also had a lot of crap slung at me. One guy even invited me to suck his dick, which, I mean. Good thing we are living in a post-patriarchal world where the best insult you can think of is asking a woman to perform a sex act on you.

August in pictures:

Theo and Iz. She's old enough to babysit, right?

Theo and Iz. She’s old enough to babysit, right?

Reading Theo's all-time favourite book. He has the whole thing memorized.

Reading Theo’s all-time favourite book. He has the whole thing memorized.

Important life lessons with Auntie Catherine

Important life lessons with Auntie Catherine

Bringin' back the Ninja Turtles

Bringin’ back the Ninja Turtles



On the boat to the island

On the boat to the island

Future archeologist

Future archeologist

Swimmin' hole

Swimmin’ hole

For Matt’s birthday we went to the Ai Wei Wei exhibit and then out for fancy tapas for dinner. My lovely friend Liz, who blogs over at The Stretch For Something Beautiful, babysat Theo so that we could have a fun grownup time.

From the Ai Wei Wei exhibit at the art gallery

From the Ai Wei Wei exhibit at the art gallery

At Matt's birthday dinner - naturally there are no pictures of him from his own birthday, because I am a narcissist

At Matt’s birthday dinner – naturally there are no pictures of him from his own birthday, because I am a narcissist

At the end of the month we went to the Canadian National Exhibition, which is basically the biggest, smelliest most crowded and awful fall exhibition that you can imagine, except that it’s ALSO amazing. Theo loved the farm pavilion, was mildly terrified by the idea of riding on the merry-go-round, and enjoyed his 99 cent spaghetti. And I got to ride on the SWINGS. Success all around!

At the CNE with Amy

At the CNE with Amy

My favourite fair ride of all time

My favourite fair ride of all time


September was PRETTY RAD. I spent two weeks in Alberta with my in-laws, and since I’m afraid of flying, I got to spend THREE NIGHTS AND TWO DAYS ALONE ON A TRAIN. Since we didn’t think Theo would do well spending that long cooped up on a train, and it didn’t seem like a great idea for my kid to see me super fucked up on Ativan (which is the only way I can fly), that seemed like the best arrangement for everyone involved.


Train by night

Train by night

My little bed!

My little bed!

Train selfie. Sorry.

Train selfie. Sorry.

First day on the train is spent in Northern Ontario. From my journal:

“We stopped briefly in a town called Hornepayne and had the chance to get out and stretch our legs. I walked all the way through the town to the woods that surround it, and then back to the train tracks. It was such a strange, eerie little place.

The sky there was cloudless and very blue; the air was warm. It was a Sunday afternoon, so you would think that people would be out and about, but no. It was all empty streets, empty yards, empty swings on rusted old swing sets creaking and blowing in breeze. The only other sound was a faint wind chime somewhere not far away, but the sound was so blurred and indistinct that I couldn’t tell where it was coming from. I felt as if I was a visiting a place where everyone had died fifty years ago.

One house had a tattered, faded confederate flag hanging flying from its front porch. Another building had a sun-bleached sign for now-defunct restaurant and general store painted on its side. There was the hulking carcass of an ancient Ford pickup truck (by the look and shape of it I would guess it dated back to the 30s or 40s) sitting a few feet into the woods on the north side of town; ragweed and tall grasses grew thick through the truck’s windows and along its dash.

There was an old train station and hotel by the tracks, all steadfast sun-baked brick and rotting wood. The windows, their glass smashed long ago, are now just dark, gaping holes surrounded by paint-peeling windowsills, exhaling the cold smell of mould, damp and ghosts.”

Day two started out in Winnipeg:

In Winnipeg I visited Louis Riel's grave!

In Winnipeg I visited Louis Riel’s grave!

But by the afternoon we were in Saskatchewan:



Not too many trains come to Melville...

Not too many trains come to Melville…


Alberta was a blast. We drove into Banff one day and spent some time in the mountains (I didn’t take any pictures, though, wtf). We went to Heritage Park, which is an old-timey village thing:

Theo riding the steam engine at Calgary's Heritage Park. I think this was everyone's favourite day in Alberta.

Theo riding the steam engine at Calgary’s Heritage Park. I think this was everyone’s favourite day in Alberta.

Theo just about died of happiness when he got to ride on a steam train




Studying hard.

Studying hard.

Little log church

Little log church


We found a house that was JUST THE RIGHT SIZE for us:

In the tiny dugout house

In the tiny dugout house


We climbed a tree:

In a tree!!

In a tree!!

And visited VULCAN:

Vulcan, Alberta aka HEAVEN ON EARTH

Vulcan, Alberta aka HEAVEN ON EARTH


This is the best fucking town ever

This is the best fucking town ever

Me n my boyfriend Spock

Me n my boyfriend Spock

I was preeeeetty stoked

I was preeeeetty stoked

Bev <3

Bev ❤

Seriously though they had the best murals everywhere

Seriously though they had the best murals everywhere

And public transporters!

And public transporters!

On September 12th Matt and I celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary. I don’t have any pictures of the super lovely dinner we had (courtesy of my wonderful mother-in-law, who babysat Theo, made the reservation, paid for our dinner and sneakily brought a picture of Matt and me PLUS A REPLICA OF MY WEDDING BOUQUET to the restaurant), but here’s what we looked like on the big day:


Married four years. And as of this coming April, we will have been together for nine years.

Holy shit.

I mean, holy shit.

Matt is the best, you guys. He is the most loving, patient, appreciative partner, and I am so lucky to have him in my life. So lucky.

Dude, I love you so much.

Another big Alberta event was that my sister-in-law Erin brought me along to her roller derby practice. She taught me how to skate and, more importantly, she taught me how to fall.

Erin is the coolest and let me just say right now that I feel so lucky to have married into a family that includes her. She has always been funny and kind and smart and a huge support when I’ve needed her the most. Erin, you are super rad and I love you.

Derby life

Derby life

I learned how to skate! Sort of!

I learned how to skate! Sort of!



We also went to the Calgary Zoo:

The Calgary zoo had some ... odd ... attractions.

The Calgary Zoo had some … odd … attractions.

Theo was SO EXCITED about the shopping carts at the local grocery store

Theo was SO EXCITED about the shopping carts at the local grocery store

Another moment of excitement from my time in Alberta – meeting Danielle Paradis after months of online friendship. You guys she is super smart and funny and gorgeous!


The trip back was pretty uneventful. Just prairies and more prairies and then Northern Ontario.

The prairies are kinda bleak, you guys

The prairies are kinda bleak, you guys

Because of the weird timing of the train in conjunction with when Matt and Theo were able to get cheap airplane seats, I got back to Toronto a full thirty six hours before they did. Nathan met me at the train station and took me out for a greasy diner breakfast and then to see a movie. Then we made cookies. And dyed his pants. And watched bad TV. And made dinner. Basically Nathan is great is what I’m saying here. I am really lucky to have him in my life, too.


The last big thing to happen in September was when I wrote about David Gilmour. Someone on CBC found my post and wound up interviewing me, the Toronto Star interviewed me, and a local high school teacher invited me to come speak to his 12th grade English class. It was all pretty exciting, but I think speaking to a high school class was the best part. First of all, I got to write PATRIARCHY in giant letters on a white board. I mean, that right there is a fucking dream come true. And the students were smart and engaged and had so many interesting things to say. We had a really great discussion about gender and feminism and intersectionality and it was all so exciting that I was high off of it for the rest of the day. Shout out to City Adult Learning Centre! I love you!

A few other posts from September that I am pretty proud of:

You Are Worth It (yes, you!)

Slut-shaming, Suicide and Mrs. Hall

Tips For Writers


October was kind of a write-off, because I had pneumonia for half the stupid month. I spent a lot of time lying on my couch watching the X-Files which I mean, hey, there are worse fates in life.

And anyway, October did have its share of rad moments. For one thing, I got to have a sleepover with Jennie, Audra, Alexis and Shannon (with Eden joining us for dinner)! Not only that, but we had it at the owner of Peach Berserk‘s house. WHICH MEANT THAT WE GOT TO TRY ON DRESSES.





Matt and Theo and I went to my mother’s house for Thanksgiving. The weather was gorgeous and we spent a lot of time outdoors.


(My mom made the hat!)





Yes, I am a grownup.

No, my bedroom is not often this clean.

I … oh man I am such a disappointment to myself sometimes. Hah.



In October Theo was consumed with toddler ennui.


We tried being a two-kid family for a night so that Melissa and her husband Mike could celebrate their anniversary. It was pretty successful?


It was my beloved Sylvia’s birthday.


And Hallowe’en!




Theo dressed up as (in his words) a “big kid preschooler engineer.”


This was the first year that we took Theo trick-or-treating, and he had a blast. Of course, he kept freezing up and forgetting to say trick-or-treat, but otherwise he had so much fun. And then after two days he totally forgot about the candy and Matt and I were like, JACKPOT.

I also wrote some things in October:

Gilmour Girls: A Reading List for David Gilmour

How To Talk To New Parents

How To Be A Grownup (spoiler alert, I don’t actually know how, as evidenced by how rarely I clean my bedroom)

High Tech Panties Won’t Stop Rape







That was basically the best thing that happened in November.

Other November awesomeness includes the time Liz, Amy and I went to the rare book fair at the Art Gallery of Ontario. It was the first time the two of them had met in person, but they so similar that I knew they would get along like wildfire. Turns out I was right!


This is what heaven looks like, by the way:


We also went to the Santa Claus parade in November. Do not ask me why it’s held in November. I was kind of worried that Theo would get bored and want to leave part way through, but nope. He was so into it.

IMGP5232 IMGP5228 IMGP5221

Yes, I was knitting during a parade. So?


In November, Theo experimented with weird sleeping positions:

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I helped Nathan housesit for Audra, and got to cuddle these guys a bunch:


Also my friend Annie DREW A PICTURE OF US (plus our friends Nancy and Melissa) AS THE KIDS FROM STAND BY ME.


I’m Gordie, of course. Annie is my Chris ❤



Theo had his preschool picture taken in November, and it was neat to compare what he looks like now vs. what he looked like a year ago.

November 2012:


November 2013:


At the end of November I went to the first meeting of the Young Adultery Book Club (run by my friends Cat and Alicia). Our first book was Flowers In The Attic. Somehow I had never read this book before which, I mean, what is even wrong with me?

I’d only managed to finish the first three quarters of the book beforehand and thus spent the entire meeting shaking my head in disbelief, saying, “I don’t understand how this is a BOOK. WHAT IS WRONG. WAIT THEIR MOTHER DID WHAT?”



Some things that I posted in November:

On Learning to Love My Nose

Guest Post: Life as a Mountain Hike (written by my husband Matt)


Holy shitsnacks we’re finally at the end of the year!

December was mostly ok. My sister Claire had an accident at the beginning of the month, which was pretty scary and stressful (especially for her).

Claire is the prettiest, in case you were wondering:


I super love her and I am glad she’s ok.

Other than Claire’s accident, the month was pretty good. I went out with my friends Graham and Susan for Susan’s birthday, then got drunk and took bathroom selfies and THEN watched Drunk Trek. Although sadly I was so boozy that I passed out about twenty minutes in. Whoops. At least that prevented me from drinking anything else and thus hating myself a lot the next morning.


I saw my friend Liz do a reading of her poetry as part of an arts collective:


We went to Casa Loma …


… and visited Santa Claus


We found a Theo-sized hole in one of the towers


They had a mini ballet version of Peter Pan – Theo immediately decided he wanted to learn to dance ballet


Then the ice storm came:


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Buuuuut I still went to work. At least Theo came along to help me clean!


On Christmas Eve, we drove down to Kingston with Nathan, whose family also lives there. When Matt and Nathan get together it’s like insta-best-friends, so Theo and I napped in the back seat for most of the trip while the two of them high-fived each other for three hours over how awesome they are. Pretty great, you guys.

Also pretty great? Christmas itself.

Theo reading a Christmas Eve bedtime story with Gran:


Opening presents Christmas morning:

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Theo spent the rest of the day running around the house saying, I’M A REAL HOCKEY PLAYER


Then we took him for-real skating, and he wasn’t too sure what to make of it:


I wrote some stuff in December, too. I talked about how I am a feelings machine, and I made a list of all the stuff that isn’t feminist, I had some stuff to say about why we obsessively document our lives, and, in the wake of Nelson Mandela’s death, I discussed Canada’s own apartheid.

In mid-December, I wrote a guest post for The Outlier Collective on how to deal with negative/trollish blog comments.

Then, for my last post of the year (not counting the first part of my year in review), I wrote about how virginity is a social construct. And I got freshly freshly pressed! Again! For the third time this year! BLOGGING HAT TRICK!

I ended the year with a fan-art tribute to Patti Smith, in honour of her birthday. I love you Patti Smith!

I am a nerd.


It’s been an amazing year, you guys, and y’all have been a huge part of that amazingness. Thank you so much for reading and commenting and sharing. Thank you for being awesome. You’re a big part of the reason why I keep writing here.

Happy 2014 ❤

Fiction: Delphine

12 Nov


Before she does anything else, Delphine takes a moment to sit down and roll a joint. She does it slowly, carefully, savouring the experience. Every precise movement of her hands, from spreading the paper on her desk and carefully arranging the line of weed down the middle, to flicking her thumbs in just the right way to wrap the whole thing into a neat cylinder, is a distinct pleasure. In some ways, rolling the joint is just as satisfying as smoking it. Part of this satisfaction, Delphine believes, is because you enjoy anything you’re good at.

That’s sort of her motto, actually.

She sits by the window as she smokes, watching the way the late afternoon sun filters through the leaves of the sycamore tree outside. One of her neighbours is playing a Lou Reed album, the familiar gruff, wheezy voice floating across the still air of the courtyard. Delphine holds her breath for a moment, imagining that she can feel the smoke curling and spreading deep inside her lungs, then exhales slowly, luxuriously.

Afterwards, as her body begins to enter the slow, dreamy state that really good pot always brings on, she begins to get dressed. She has a Session today, so it doesn’t much matter what she wears — she’ll just have to change into whatever the Company has picked out for her today as soon as she gets there. Still, she chooses her clothing carefully, taking the time to put together an outfit that pleases her.

It’s nice to look nice, after all.

She digs an off-white baby doll dress out of her closet and pulls it over her head, tying a wide pink ribbon around her waist as a belt. Her tights today are wine-coloured and her shoes are a pair of scuffed-up brown ballet flats – boring, but she knows from experience that she won’t be able to walk in heels by the time the night is over. Last comes the jewellery, layers and layers of necklaces and bracelets; the clinking and swaying as she walks make her feel gaudy and mysterious, like a Hollywood gypsy. She slides rings on her fingers, three on each hand, and puts on her lucky earrings, big, round gold studs.

There’s no point in putting on much makeup, because they’ll just make her wash it all off, so she settles for bright red lipstick and an oversized pair of sunglasses. The finishing touch is her fur coat, a slightly-ratty, knee-length leopard skin affair, one of those remarkable Value Village finds that happen once in a lifetime. Some days the coat makes her feel like a 60s movie star; other days, it makes her feel like Kurt Cobain. Both versions of herself make her happy.

She has some time before the Company’s car arrives to pick her up, so she sits down at her computer and logs onto the oracle message board. Delphine discovers that there’s a new post from the early hours of the morning, so she clicks to open it. She’s surprised to discover a note from Sibyl saying that she’s resigning, effective immediately – the last she’d heard, Sibyl was enjoying her work and was being booked frequently for various Sessions. Sybil doesn’t give any reason for her resignation, either; her post is little more than a brief paragraph saying that she’s enjoyed her time with the Company and wishes them all well.

Sibyl is the third oracle to resign this year. They lost another one, Pythia, just last month. The turnover rate for oracles is pretty high.

Most women leave of their own free will, of course. The Company has to let some of them go, of course, but those cases are few and far between. The vast majority quit because they want to get clean, although a few have quit because of sexual assault or, in one case, rape and battery. Not that they ever come right out and say these things on the message board, which is the only way they’re allowed to interact with each other. They have to use code words, and in this way somehow manage to tell each other quite a lot even while saying very little.

Sexual assault isn’t really uncommon in their line of work; considering what goes on during the Sessions, most of the oracles consider it to be pretty much par for the course. Delphine suspects that it’s happened to her a few times – not penetration, but probably at least groping, maybe even more. She’s woken up to suspicious bruises and unusual aches, and once there was even the angry red imprint of a hand on her breast. It used to upset her, but she’s since come to the conclusion that it’s something she’s willing to accept. Like most of the other oracles, it’s a price that she’s more than willing to pay for all the perks that come with their job. Because there really are so many perks. None of them can say that the Company doesn’t treat them well.

The Company pays for everything the oracles have. It pays their rent, pays all their bills, and pays for the sleek black cars that shuttle them everywhere. It provides excellent health benefits, with full coverage for dental and prescription drugs. Speaking of drugs, the Company pays for those, too, or rather, it supplies them. They’re the best Delphine has ever had, and you can get just about anything you ask for.

Delphine’s drug of choice is heroin, which she realizes is passé in terms of recreational drug use. She likes to think of it as retro-chic – hey, the 90s are back, right? – and has become an expert at finding out-of-the-way veins and contorting herself into strange shapes in order to shoot up. It goes without saying that she can’t have track marks on her arms; that would ruin the look.

Track marks are not a part of the Delphine that the Company is selling.

Delphine wasn’t always Delphine, of course. At some point, in the now-distant past, she was Veronica, a round-faced, well-scrubbed girl from a nice family. She lived in a small prairie town, did reasonably well in high school, and had a nice boyfriend. After graduation, Veronica and her nice boyfriend moved to Toronto, a two-and-a-half hour flight from home, and got a cute little apartment together. Things were great.

Except then the nice boyfriend turned out to be not-so-nice and it wasn’t long before Veronica had nowhere to live and no way of making money. Too proud to go crawling back to her parents and her armpit of a hometown, she was determined to make her way in the big city on her own.

Things were feeling dire for a while. She lived with a succession of terrible roommates in a succession of tiny, filthy apartments while working a slew of miserable, minimum wage jobs. She blew all her money on bad drugs, which were still better than no drugs, and started to feel like she was never going to get out of the trap she’d found herself in. Looking back, she has to admit that she wasn’t far from reaching the point where she would flee back to the prairies, tail between her legs, when one day she came across a cryptic Craigslist ad.

The rest is, well, history. The Company rechristened her Delphine and, at the age of 18, she began her career as an oracle.

Delphine’s phone buzzes, shaking her out of her reverie, and she picks it up, expecting to see a text from her driver. Instead, she sees that it’s Andrew calling her.


“Uh, hi Delphine. I was just calling because I wanted to make sure that you got the thing I sent you. You know, last night.”

Delphine picks up the little velvet box on her bedside table and flips it open.

“Yeah, I did, Andrew. They’re nice earrings. Really nice. Thank you.”

“Well,” Delphine hears his usual hesitancy, his funny shyness. “They’re not really from me. They’re from the Company. I wish I could say they were from me.”

“But you’re not allowed to give me stuff.”

Delphine walks back over to the window and sits on the ledge. Lou Reed is gone, replaced by The Smiths. She mouthes the words of the song and happily leans her head against the glass, that funny feeling that pot always gives her of being perfectly at home in her own body blossoming somewhere deep in her lower belly and hips. She feels good.

“Yeah,” laughs Andrew, “Yeah, I know. The Company is pretty strict about that kind of stuff. But it makes sense. I can’t let anybody think I have a favourite, right?”

“What were they for, though? I mean, I’m not complaining or anything. Just curious.”

Delphine knows exactly why the Company has given her a pair of expensive earrings, but she wants to hear Andrew say it, wants to have her ego stroked just a little.

“Just for being you. You’re the best that we’ve got, you know. The clients love you – some of them even ask for you by name. And your predictions are so clear that I barely have to do any translating.”

All of this is true. Delphine is doing three, sometimes even four Sessions a week now, and she knows that the Company is able to charge clients several hundred, maybe even a thousand dollars for a Session with her. They recently moved her to a new, more spacious apartment and gave her a healthy bonus.

The Company is never stingy when it comes to showing appreciation for the oracles.

“You’re really fantastic, you know,” Andrew continues. “I think half of your clients are in love with you. I almost am myself.”

Delphine smiles, staring out at the leaves on the tree bobbing gently in the still air.

“Anyway, I just wanted to make sure that you know that the Company is really happy with your work. Things are going great – in fact, one of the higher ups recently told me that you’re at the peak of your career.”

The last words out of Andrew’s mouth make Delphine’s skin prickle, as if it’s suddenly begun shrinking, shrivelling, drying and tightening across her bones.

She stands up quickly and walks away from the window, her necklaces swaying and clinking with the sudden movement. Her heart beats too loudly, too quickly. She struggles to think of what to say without giving away how panicked his words have made her.

“What do you mean?” she asks finally. “What does that mean, I’m at the peak of my career?”

“It – it just means that you’re doing really well. You’re the best.”

“It means that it’s all downhill from here. That’s what it means. It means I’m the best I’ll ever be, I’ve reached the peak of the mountain, and soon I’ll be over the hill. Right?”

“No, Delphine, of course not, I didn’t –”

“Sybil left. Did you hear about that?”

“Yeah, but what does that –”

Delphine can hear him fiddling with something nervous, his tie maybe, or else the collar of his shirt.

“What’s going to happen to me, Andrew?”

There’s a long pause before he replies.

“Nothing,” he says guardedly. “What do you mean by that?”

“I mean, what’s going to happen when I stop being an oracle?”

“Listen, Delphine, I can’t really talk right now, I –”

“I get that you might be someplace where you can’t say certain things, but just give me yes or no answers, all right?”

“I — fine, sure.” His tone is resigned. “Ask away.”

“I’ve been doing this for eight years now. Has anyone ever been an oracle as long as I have?”


“Have any of them even come close? Say, five or six years?”


“What’s the longest anyone else has ever lasted?”

“That’s not a yes or no question.”

Delphine exhales sharply through her nose, trying to contain her irritation.

“Just say a >number, Andrew, no one will be suspicious.”

Andrew hesitates, then quietly says,


“Has anyone ever gone on to work for the Company in another way, maybe in a clerical job or whatever, after they’ve stopped being an oracle.”


“Can I put this job on my resumé?”

Andrew’s voice is growing smaller, more unsure.


“Will you give me a reference?”

“No, you know that it’s against -”

Delphine is pacing now, her muscles tensing with anxious energy. She wishes she had time to roll another joint.

“Can I get clean and still be an oracle?”

“No, of course not, Delphine, don’t be silly.”

“Do you honestly think that living this kind of life is sustainable? Do you think I’ll be an oracle til I’m 50? How about 40? Andrew, what the fuck is going to happen to me when I can’t do this anymore?”

Delphine stops suddenly and stands in the middle of her bedroom. She takes a deep breath, and finds that she’s struggling not to cry.

“Listen Delphine, I — we can talk about this later, all right? I have to go.”

Andrew’s voice is gentle but firm. She’s not going to get anything else out of him.

“It doesn’t matter, I’ve already heard everything I needed to.”

Delphine misses the days when you could slam down the phone whenever you hung up on someone. It was so satisfying. Pressing the little square image that appears at the bottom of her phone’s smooth glass screen whenever she wants to end a call just doesn’t feel the same.

Delphine sits on her floor and draws her knees into her chest. Her hands are shaking. She takes a few deep breaths, wishing that she could take a hit of something, anything before the driver arrives.

Most days, Delphine is able to push aside her worries about the future and convince herself that she’s not walking along the edge of a cliff, liable to slip and fall at any moment. When she’s high (which is, admittedly, most of the time), Delphine truly believes that everything will work out fine. She tells herself that she’s not going to be fired, and even if she is, she’ll be able to find something else, something better.

But on cold, grey mornings when she wakes up feeling distressingly sober, she finds that she can’t outrun her fear any longer.

On those mornings, Delphine is forced to look the truth right in its cold, beady eyes:

She will not be able to do this forever. Not even for much longer, probably.

Delphine is a lot of things, but stupid isn’t one of them. She knows that this type of life isn’t sustainable. Sometimes she’s amazed that she’s been able to keep it up for this long. Sooner or later she’ll lose her youthful glow and the Company will decide that she’s too old, too used up to be an oracle. Or else the drugs, those wonderful drugs that allow her to float through her days, will finally take their toll and she’ll be forced to either get clean or die. And if she chooses to get clean, she’ll be out of a job, won’t she?

In the harsh light of those sober mornings, Delphine can see her future self clearly: an addict, homeless and out of a job, with absolutely no career prospects. No resumé, no references, no way to get free drugs.

The worst part is that there’s nothing she can do to change how this will play out. Sometimes it’s like she’s watching a slow, silent disaster, a train derailing and falling lightly, dreamily off a bridge and into the river below. And though to an onlooker it would seem like she has plenty of time to do something, anything to save the people onboard, the fact is that it’s impossible. The most she can do is try to forget about it for a little while.

Luckily, her lifestyle is very conducive to that.

Delphine soon hears her car pull up outside, sees her phone flash with a text from the driver, and, shutting her sleek silver laptop, walks down the stairs and out into the early autumn evening. It’s warm out, too warm for her coat, really, but Delphine doesn’t mind. The man holds the door open for her, and she slides into the car without saying a word. She forces herself to stop thinking about the future, and instead turns her thoughts to the upcoming Session.

Delphine settles back against the rich leather seats, straightening her skirt and pulling a pack of clove cigarettes out of her purse. The funny thing is that doesn’t even like tobacco, but she enjoys the act of smoking itself. She finds it soothing, calming. And the clove cigarettes are so pretty, with their thick gold paper and matte black filters. They smell good, too. Delphine lights one and takes a long drag, sucking the spicy-sweet smoke deep into her lungs, then exhales, admiring, as she does so, the bright red imprint her lips have left on the filter.

It’s not long before they arrive at the Royal York hotel, where the Company rents a suite of rooms. Delphine exits the car, coolly thanks her driver, and saunters nonchalantly into the lobby. None of the staff even bother to look twice at her. They all know her by now.

The suite has two large main rooms, one little side room and a bathroom. Delphine heads to what is commonly referred to as the Staging Area, the room where she will get ready for tonight’s Session. Kate, the makeup lady, and Sue, the woman who does her hair, have already arrived. Andrew isn’t there yet, but that’s fine – they won’t need him until later.

Tonight’s dress is a gauzy, white, semi-sheer affair, all plunging neckline and floating layers. Delphine strips naked and pulls the dress over her head; she’s not allowed to wear underclothes during a Session. Though the lights will be low enough that no one will be able to see through the dress, the Company wants her clients to be able to see the hint of a nipple, the vague shadow of what might be pubic hair. Suggestion is a big part of what they’re selling.

After getting dressed, Delphine settles into the chair by the mirror. Sue begins combing out her hair, making little tutting noises under her breath.

“What?” asks Delphine, already knowing what she’s going to say.

“You need to get your roots done. They’re showing, and it doesn’t look good.”

“But I like the way they look,” protests Delphine

“The Company won’t, though. And that’s what matters, isn’t it?”

Delphine knows that she’s right. That doesn’t stop her from putting up a bit of a fight before agreeing to come see her Saturday morning for a touch-up. Bickering with Sue makes her feel better, more normal.

Sue curls her hair, then piles it in an elaborate, vaguely Grecian-style on top of her head. She secures the mass of ringlets with a fistful of bobby pins, then begins carefully pulling out seemingly random strands of hair to frame Delphine’s face. She sprays the entire thing with several coats of hairspray before she begins adding the flowers, little pink and yellow ones stuck artfully here and there. Finally, she adds a beaten gold crown in the shape of laurel leaves. Although Delphine’s hair and clothing vary greatly from one Session to another, she always wear the gold crown.

Once Sue is done, Kate comes over and gets to work, spreading creamy foundation across Delphine’s face. She dabs highlighter on her cheeks and on her temples, skilfully applies false eyelashes and uses a multitude of brushes on her eyes, lips and brow.

Once her face has been adequately made up, Delphine looks a full ten years younger. Her skin is smooth, dewy; her eyes are soft and bright. She looks innocent and naïve, which is exactly what the Company is going for.

At that moment, as Delphine is admiring herself in the mirror with a vain little smile on her face, Andrew walks in. He’s wearing a suit – no elaborate costume for him – and his hair is, as always, parted neatly on the left. In his hand is the small vial of of liquid that will complete her transformation.

“Who is it tonight?” she asks him, trying to gauge where they stand after what happened earlier.

“James Vipond. A hedge fund manager, very rich, very successful. Wants to know about stock options.”

“A subject I’m intimately familiar with, naturally. This should go well.”

“It always goes well,” insists Andrew, “I told you before on the phone, I don’t know how you do it, but you always come up with top-notch stuff. I barely even have to bullshit it into something the client will understand. You’re gifted or something.”

Delphine just shrugs and looks past him, at her reflection of the mirror. She doesn’t want to be reminded of what they talked about on the phone. Not right now, not right before a Session.

“Oh, and,” Andrew says, lowering his voice, “I just wanted to tell you that you don’t have to worry about what we talked about on the phone. We’ll figure something out. You’re the best we’ve got Delphine, honestly. I didn’t mean to upset you.”

Delphine ignores him and drinks the liquid all in one gulp, gagging a little on the cloying sweetness. It’s the consistency of cough syrup, and just as vile.

She’s not sure what the liquid is, exactly. Ergot, maybe, processed and re-processed until all of the nasty side effects are gone. Or it maybe psylocybin mushrooms, their effects distilled and magnified a hundred times. It could even be some form of acid, too – the Company employs some of the country’s top chemists, and she wouldn’t put it past them to come up with a brilliant new type of LSD.

Whatever it is, it’s the best fucking high she’s ever had.

Whatever it is, it makes everything else worth it.

As Andrew leads her into the room they refer to as the Temple, Delphine can already feel the drug beginning to take effect. Nothing has ever felt as good as Andrew’s hand on her arm; the sensation makes her shiver with delight. She suddenly laughs out loud, for no reason other than that she feels so good. Delphine feels her body expand, warm and glowing, until it’s big enough to fill the room. She has never been so happy. She has never loved life so much.

The Temple is a large, dimly lit room, all candles and smoke and sheer, draped fabrics. There’s an enormous, opulent Persian rug on the floor, and huge, overstuffed cushions scattered here and there. Andrew leads Delphine over to her seat, a gilded three-legged stool set in front of a brazier. As she sits, he begins to light the richly-scented incense in the brazier, and Delphine, still maintaining a weak grip on reality, watches the smoke rise in front of her.

The clients are supposed to believe that it’s the smoke that gives her visions. That’s not true, of course, and anyone who really thought about it would be able to figure that out, but it’s what they want to think, which helps. They all want a little magic, a little mysticism. Delphine is convinced that, more than anything else, they come here for the show.

Andrew makes sure that she’s settled, then goes off to the little side room, from which he’ll watch the show through a two-way mirror. He’ll come out later, to interpret her ravings in a way that ensure that the client goes home happy. He’s the liaison between Delphine and her clients, the bridge between whatever world it is that she goes too and this gaudily-decorated hotel room in downtown Toronto. He’s there to monitor her and make sure that she does what she’s supposed to, but he’s also there to protect her. In theory.

Delphine leans back on her little seat and gives herself up to the drug. The high comes rushing over her, like a wave, and soon she’s lost in a world of fantastic visions. She feels herself floating up and up and up, feels her nerve-endings stretching outward, through her skin and into the world around her, hungry for pleasure. She feels every single one of her cells drinking up pure, distilled joy. She feels. She feels. She feels.

One minute she’s floating, suffused with joy, then the next she’s slammed back into her body, cold, trembling and breathing hard. There’s a moment of confusion – why isn’t she sprawled on the bed in the Staging Room? That’s where she’s always woken up before. Today, though, she’s lying in a crumpled heap on the floor of the Temple, her body aching and strange. The candles have been put out and the main lights turned on, turning the oracle’s exotic grotto into an expensive hotel room filled with tacky, pseudo-oriental decor.

Andrew is crouching by her side, his eyes wide, frightened.

“What happened?” asks Delphine, struggling to get up.

Because she knows that something must have happened.

As Andrew helps her to sit up, Delphine realizes that her dress has been torn down the front, exposing almost everything. Her arms, belly, and inner thighs are covered in red marks and bruises. Her left breast has a deep scratch on it. Her lips feel strange, and when she reaches a hand up to touch her mouth, she discovers that she’s bleeding. Something is wrong with her right eye; it won’t open all the way.

She makes a movement to cover herself up, then realizes that Andrew has already seen everything, has probably been sitting here staring at her body for hours. She folds her arms across her chest and looks at him, waiting for his answer.

“You … you said some things,” Andrew finally says, his voice shaking.

What do you mean, I said some things? I always say things. It’s my job to say things.”

“Different things. Frightening things.”

“What do you mean<!–?”

Andrew takes a deep breath.

“You were doing your usual thing, and everything was going fine, when all of the sudden the client reached over and grabbed you. He started kissing you, touching you. You — you didn’t really put up a fight at first, but he kept going. He tore your dress. I don’t even know why he did that, because he could have just pulled it off, but he took it in both hands and tore it all the way down the front. And then he undid his pants and -”

Andrew stops talking and just sits there, opening and closing his mouth as if he doesn’t know what to say.

“And where the fuck were you? You’re supposed to be watching me, you’re supposed to protect me.”

“I – I didn’t know,” Andrew’s voice is shaking, so he pauses for a moment, takes a deep breath. “I didn’t know that he was going to go so far. I thought he only wanted to cop a feel. That’s what most of them want.”

“And you let most of them do that? You just let them do that?”

“You know it’s not up to me, Delphine,” Andrew says feebly. “The Company -”

“Fuck you,” Delphine spits out. “Fuck you.”

Andrew just sits there, looking down at his hands, until finally Delphine says,

“Tell me the rest of the story.”

“He pushed you onto the floor and started to, um … you know.”

“Say it.”

“I –”

Say it.”

“He started to – to assault you,” says Andrew, struggling to pick out least damning term. “That’s when you started to fight back. As soon as I realized what was happening, I swear I came as fast as I could. I – I … ”

“And then what happened?” Delphine’s voice is cold, emotionless.

“As soon as I got in the room, you sat up, and pushed him off you. I mean, you pushed him so hard that he – he kind of went flying and hit the wall. There was no way you should’ve been able to do that. No way you could be strong enough to do that. But you did. And then – and then your eyes sort of rolled back into your head, like you were passing out or something, but you were still sitting up. And — and this strange voice came out of you, really deep, harsh. Not your voice at all. It was like you were possessed.”

What did I say?”

“You said that there were planes coming, planes that were going to bomb this city out of existence. You said we were all doomed, every single one of us in this room. Then you laughed. You laughed like it was the funnest thing ever. After that you sort of jerked and twitched a few times, like you were having a seizure or something, and then you fell back on the floor.”

Delphine and Andrew look at each other for a long time, neither of them saying anything. Both are trying to digest what’s just happened. Both are reassessing the other person and their relationship to them. Neither knows what to do now.

Delphine is the one who finally breaks the silence.

“So what happened to the client?”

“The client left after that. He was pretty freaked out. I’ll have to file a report.”

“No,” Delphine cries, scrambling over to him, her arms and legs tangling in the remains of her dress.

She places a hand on his arm and looks at him pathetically, appealingly. She tries to keep a grip on her panic, tries to tell herself that she’s not in danger of losing everything.

“Please don’t file a report. The Company doesn’t have to know. Please.”

“I have to. You know that. And anyway, what if the client files a report? It’s better to get our version in first, before he can put his own spin on what happened.”

“Why would the client file anything? What’s he going to say? That he raped me?”

“No,” Andrew says quietly. “He’ll say that you attacked him. Maybe tried to rob him. It’ll be his word against yours, and I already know whose will win. You know it, too.”

Yes. She does.

Delphine changes back into her own clothes, and then Andrew takes her home. They barely speak. When Delphine’s about to get out of the car, Andrew leans over and kisses her, hard. He’s shaking, and it takes her a moment to realize that he’s crying. As if he was the one who was attacked. As if he was the one in danger of losing everything he owned.

Delphine stumbles up her stairs, half-falling and catching herself on the railing several times. Her head is spinning, a side-effect of the drug that sometimes lasts several hours, and she’s more tired than she’d realized. Fortunately, she only lives on the fourth floor, so she’s soon safely locked inside her apartment. She looks in the mirror and determines that she’s going to have a nasty black eye. She touches herself between the legs, wondering if the client had time to come, if she needs the morning after pill, or an AIDS test. She washes the blood off her face, smokes half a joint, then burrows into her bed.

She sleeps deeply, without dreaming, until morning.

When Delphine gets up and turns on her computer, the first thing she sees is an email from the Company. She’s suspended, it says, until further notice. There will be a hearing, and at that time her case will be evaluated. Until then, she’s not to leave the apartment.

There’s a second email, from Andrew, saying that the client had contacted the Company as soon as he got home and lodged a formal complaint against her.

Delphine tries to log onto the oracle message board, but she’s locked out. This doesn’t surprise her.

She starts rummaging through drawer on her bedside table, pulling out vials and needles and packets of powder. How much will she need to take in order to make sure that she’s past all resuscitation efforts by the time someone finds her? What combination will grant her the fastest, most painless death?

She opens her computer, types the names of the various drugs that she has on hand into a search engine. She hesitates for a moment, wondering if she’s being too rash, then adds the words “suicide options” and hits enter. She has to be quick about this. Surely the Company is already increasing their surveillance of her; no doubt they saw what she’d typed the moment it went through. Maybe even before.

How long does she have before they cut off her internet, send someone over to take her to the nearest mental hospital? Or maybe they actually want her to die – maybe this all part of their plan.

Delphine’s hands are shaking; she feels panicked, paranoid. Her breath is coming fast and hard. She’s worried that she might faint. She scrolls through the search results, but nothing she’s reading seems to make sense. She understands the words well enough, but when she tries to put them together they start to lose all meaning.

Fuck it, she thinks to herself.

Delphine starts digging through her kitchen drawers, eventually pulling out an enormous, heavy silver soup spoon. She wipes it down with rubbing alcohol, then carefully takes a new syringe out of the plastic and paper packaging. She fills the syringe with water and squirts it out into the spoon. Then she adds the drug, five times as much as she would normally take. She strikes a match, breathes in the birthday cake smell of sulphur and smoke, then the thick, yellow beeswax candle she keeps on a kitchen shelf. She holds the spoon over the sputtering flame, and watches the fire lick and darken the metal. She takes the plunger out of the syringe and uses that to stir the mixture. Once all the heroin has dissolved, she slides the plunger back into the syringe and, placing the needle in the spoon, slowly draws mixture into it.

Now that she’s doing something familiar, Delphine’s hands are steady, sure. Her breathing returns to normal; her mind narrows, focusses.

Deciding to kill herself was the hard part. Actually doing it is, it turns out, quite easy.

Delphine finds a rubber medical tourniquet and, as she wraps it around and around her left arm, silently thanks the Company for taking the time to consider all of her drug-using needs. She expertly tucks the end of the tourniquet under itself, tugging at it to make sure that it’s not going to come loose. Then she turns her attention to her forearm, slapping it until the veins of her inner elbow start to bulge.

There’s a knock at the door.

Delphine jumps, accidentally knocking the syringe off the counter; it falls to the floor and rolls under the refrigerator. Her panic returns. It’s the Company, coming to stop her, or else coming to make sure that she finishes the job. Of course they’d want to be here while she offed herself; they need to somehow dispose of the body and get rid of the evidence, don’t they? She’d been so stupid to think that she could beat them at their own game.

“Fuck off!” she yells, hoping to buy herself some time. “I’m busy!”

She hears a key in the lock. She gets down on her hands and knees, peering under the fridge, looking for her lost syringe. She hears someone come into the room behind her, feels hands on her shoulders pulling her away from the fridge. She sits back, hard, against her kitchen cupboards, looks down at her hands and starts to cry. The Company has her now. Or rather, they’ve had her all along. She never had a chance. There’s no way out.

“Delphine,” the voice is familiar, though the tone isn’t.

Andrew’s usually hesitant, deferential demeanour has been replaced by a firmness that she’s never heard before.

He kneels next to her, takes her arm in his hands and begins to unwind the tourniquet.

“What are you doing?” he asks, almost sharply. “You don’t have time to get high. We need to figure out a plan.”

Delphine just shakes her head. She’s crying too hard to talk.

He helps her to her feet and leads her to the bedroom. He glances at her open computer and pauses, taking a moment to see what’s on the screen.

“Fucking stupid,” he grunts, slamming the computer closed. “Do you think that’s going to solve anything? I told you, we need to come up with a plan.”

Delphine stares at him, slowly realizing that he’s not here on official Company business.

“What happened?” she asks. “Why are you here?”

“I’ve been suspended too,” he says, starting to pace around the room. “It happened right after I sent you that email. They’re unhappy about the Session last night, but it’s more than that. They’re worried that I’m too close to you, too involved. They don’t think I’ve been able to maintain a professional distance.”


“So we’re both going down. We need to help each other if we’re going to make it through this.”

Delphine snorts.

“Right. Like you helped me last night.”

Andrew stops short and, for a second, looks ashamed. Then his face hardens again, and he says,

“I told you that I tried to help you. It happened too fast for me to do anything, and anyway, you seemed to be able to take care of yourself.”

“Well, why don’t you leave me to take care of myself again? I was doing fine before you came. Leave me alone.”

“Look, Delphine.”

Andrew comes over and sits beside her, taking her hand and softening his tone.

“You don’t know what we’re up against. You haven’t seen what I’ve seen. The Company – well, the Company could and would do both of us a lot of harm. And you know as well as I do that the inquiry isn’t going to go in our favour.”

“And you think there’s something we can do about that?”

“Let’s make a run for it. They haven’t frozen my bank account yet, and I’ve got plenty of savings. We could go somewhere else, somewhere they won’t find us. We could do the same oracle schtick, with me as your manager. We could make it work. I promise I would take care of you.”

Delphine’s chest starts to tighten again. She feels hemmed in, as if she’s running out of choices; either she leaves the country with Andrew, who proved last night just how trustworthy he is, or else she relies on the mercy of the Company.

Of course, she does have a third option.

She takes a deep breath, tries to shake off her panic, and says,

“All right, let’s sit down and talk about this. I’ll make us some coffee.”

If all else fails, the syringe is always there as a last resort.

She goes into the kitchen and grinds the beans, the light from the window gleaming off her sleek, vintage espresso machine. As she waits for the milk to steam, she looks around the room. This is her life. Her apartment. Her kitchen. Her espresso machine. Is she really ready to give all of this up and go live in some little backwater somewhere on the other side of the world?

Of course, the truth is that none of this is hers. Delphine doesn’t even belong to herself; she belongs to the Company, and if she agrees to go with Andrew, she’ll belong to him.

By the time Andrew comes into the kitchen to find her, she’s got the tourniquet wrapped around her arm again and she’s back on the floor, digging under the fridge. He grabs her, but it’s too late, she already has the syringe in her hand.

They fight over the syringe in a way that Delphine hasn’t fought since grade school, kicking, punching and screaming at each other. Andrew is red in the face, and Delphine’s cheeks are slick with sweat. Delphine grunts and spits at Andrew, trying to free herself from him. She feels as if she’s just about to get the upper hand and wrench herself out of his hands, when, suddenly, he throws himself on her, using his weight to pin her against to the ground.

A grin of exhausted triumph is plastered across his face as he tightens his grip on her wrist, finally forcing herself to drop the syringe.

The grin disappears a moment later. The loud drone of airplanes, many airplanes, distracts both of them from what’s just happened. In silence, Andrew helps Delphine to her feet and leads her over to the window. They stand there, watching aircraft in their tight military formation filling and darkening the Toronto sky. They hold hands.

The first bombs to fall are distant, down near the lakeshore. They float like snowflakes, and when they hit the ground they make a sound like fireworks. Delphine’s apartment shakes, and one of her pictures falls and smashes its glass on the floor, but otherwise they’re unharmed. For now. Both of them know that it won’t be long.

Andrew turns and looks at her, his face full of awe.

“You saw this,” he whispers. “You predicted this.”

Delphine smiles, squeezes his hand.

“I guess I’m a real oracle after all.”

They watch the destruction of their city in silence. Both of them know that there’s nothing that they can do, nowhere to run.

Somehow, there’s enough time between the moment when they hear bomber’s drone directly overhead and the instant of the brilliant, annihilating flash, for Delphine to have one, final thought.

It’s better this way.

The ending comes in a moment of pure, bright, unadulterated pleasure, a brilliant flash, a rush of warmth, and then nothing. It’s the best last moment that anyone could ever ask for.

Boeing B-17G

How To Be A Grownup

19 Oct

It’s late afternoon on Thanksgiving Monday. I’m lying on a chaise longue on my mother’s back deck, a ratty old knitted blanket across my lap and a book that I am not reading in my hands. I am pretending to be a 19th-century invalid, recuperating from a non-specific ailment at a sanatorium in the Swiss Alps. I am breathing deeply, imagining that I am taking something called the fresh air cure. The sun is warm, its light buttery and yellow. I can hear my son laughing in the distance as my husband chases him around my mother’s small garden, and I pretend that he is a small Swiss child who lives in a nearby thatched cottage. I tell myself that he is amused by the antics of the goats he is herding. This is, I assume, what small, 19th-century Swiss mountain children do: live in picturesque cottages and laugh heartily as they herd their goats.

I am thirty one years old and I am still playing pretend.

Is this what grownups are supposed to do?

Ten years or so into my purported adulthood and I’m still not really sure how to be a grownup, or what that even means. As a kid, I thought that being an adult meant that you did whatever you wanted, although for some reason all of my grownup fantasies were oddly baking-specific. For instance, I imagined myself making cookies whenever I pleased, and thought about how I would be allowed to use the electric mixer without any help. I would, I told myself, be able to wear party dresses every day of my life. And while all of these facts are empirically true and have been true for over a decade, the ability to do these things is neither as satisfying as I thought they would be, nor do they make me feel especially like a grownup.

What does adulthood mean? What is it supposed to look like? As a kid, there seemed to be recognizable difference between adults and not-adults, but now that demarcation is becoming less and less clear. There also seem to be more stages on the way to adulthood than I’d first realized – I used to think that you were either a child or an adult, but now it turns out that, rather than being a binary, it’s more like an evolutionary process, from infant to toddler to preschooler to that nebulous age between when grade school starts and puberty begins to teenager to university student to young adult to – what? Just plain adult, I guess.

Except that I’m not really sure if I feel like an adult.

Mostly I just still feel like myself.

It probably doesn’t help that I don’t look so very different from my teenage self; sure, there are a few lines here and wrinkles there, but the basic structure is exactly the same. I dress the same way that I did as a teenager, too, or rather I dress the way that my teenage self would have had the funds been available. I don’t wear what I think of as grownup clothing: crisp white shirts, tailored suits, prim polyester dresses in black or grey or navy. I like the same things as I did when I was a teenager, more or less – reading, writing, watching painfully earnest indie movies, dressing up, acting out, telling bad jokes, sitting on people’s living room floors while drinking and playing board games. I still read Little Women when I’m feeling down and want literature that’s akin to comfort food. I still get that same funny ache at the end of Empire Records when everyone is dancing on the roof, just like I did when I was sixteen. I still put waaaay too much sugar in my coffee. When we drive past a cemetery or over a bridge, I still hold my breath.

I’m still me, and I can’t help having this weird sense of disappointment over not being the prettier, smarter, more capable creature that I thought growing up would turn me into.

Maybe  part of the problem is that I’m no longer certain of what being an adult looks like. I used to think that there was a sort of set formula: you finished high school, went to university, started a career, fell in love, got married, bought a house, had kids, then watched your own kids repeat the same steps. But then I watched as this blueprint, which seemed to be the  How-To guide accepted and promoted by family, teachers, guidance counsellors, and just about every movie or book that I’d ever seen or read, failed my parents and many of their peers. They hated their jobs. They hated each other. My father stopped being a lawyer, left my mother, and moved to the city where he lived in a bachelor apartment and worked as a bike courier. My mother was exhausted and miserable, trying to raise three kids by herself on a secretary’s salary – by the end of the day, once everyone was fed and bathed, once the homework was done and the dishes were clean and half a dozen petty arguments had been mediated, it was all she could do to sit in front of the television and fall asleep to the sound of the laugh track of some corny late-90s sitcom.

That wasn’t what I wanted for my life.

I didn’t know how else to move ahead, though, so I tried my hardest to follow that old How-To guide. As the end of high school approached, the adults in my life encouraged me to apply to universities. Or rather, there wasn’t even much encouragement – it was just assumed that this was what I would do, and any divergence from that plan seemed impossible. There didn’t seem to be any alternatives that my parents or guidance counsellors felt were acceptable. College, it was intimated, was for the not-so-bright, and with my critical thinking skills I belonged in an undergrad program somewhere. Getting a job was out of the question, unless I wanted to be stuck working at McDonald’s for the rest of my life. Even taking a year off to figure my shit out was frowned upon – I was too flighty, they said, and would almost certainly never go back to school if I left. So my mother scraped together the hundred or so dollars needed for the application process, and I filled out the forms, and it felt like we were doing the right thing.

And I don’t mean to make it sound like I didn’t want to go to university – I did, I swear I did. I just want to make it clear that it also felt like that was the only way that I had of moving forward with my life. And I was desperate for some way, any way, of moving forward.

The problem with university was that while everyone agreed that I belonged there, no one seemed certain how I was supposed to pay for it. The provincial loan system was Byzantine, the forms and online application difficult to navigate, and the resulting funding amount impossible to understand. For example, the government could refuse to give you a loan if your parents earned a certain amount per year, even if said parents were not helping you pay for your education. Lines of credit from the bank weren’t much better – I mean, they were fine, I guess, if you had someone to co-sign. I didn’t.

When I asked the grownups around me how I could possibly afford this education that was supposed to be so critical to my life, they gave these strange sort of blank stares and suggested that I get a summer job.

Because when they’d gone to post-secondary school, a summer job had been enough to pay a year’s tuition and then some. That was obviously no longer the case.

The good old How-To guide hadn’t anticipated changes like this.

I managed to finish two years of university on a combination of government student loans, kind student affairs workers and a healthy state of denial. By the end of that second year, though, my finances were so badly fucked up that there was no question of finishing my degree. Two steps in to my path to adulthood, and I was already failing the model. Or rather, the model was failing me.

I’ve spent the last ten years trying to figure out if and how I can make the old blueprints work for me. It’s true that I can check off a few things on the list – I did manage to fall in love once or twice, I am married, I do have a kid. On the flip side, I haven’t finished school, I’m not sure that I would call my hodge-podge of jobs a “career,” and I can’t imagine a time when I will ever be able to own a house. Even the things that I’ve managed to check off seem, upon closer examination, to grow a bit murkier. My marriage doesn’t necessarily always look like what I thought a marriage should be. I don’t spend as much time with my son as I could. I often worry that I’m a bad partner or a bad mother. I am slowly learning that marriage and motherhood aren’t so much accomplishments as they are a lifelong work in progress. I’m also learning that being a wife and mother aren’t necessarily fool-proof indicators of adulthood; it’s not as if some magic switch is flipped when you say “I do,” or in the moment that your child is first placed in your arms.

So where does that leave me?

It’s both freeing and terrifying to realize that the old formula for adulthood doesn’t apply to my life is both dizzyingly freeing and incredibly terrifying. On the one hand, in theory, my life gets to be whatever I want it to be. On the other hand, I have no fucking clue what I’m doing, and the potential for failure seems high. It’s like wandering in the forest without a map, or even a guide to the flora and fauna – this glade seems like a nice place to build my home, but what if it floods every year during the spring thaw? These berries look tasty, but what if they’re poisonous? Of course there’s always the possibility of a happy ending, but it seems to be equally probable that I will die alone, frozen to death, maybe, or else eaten by wolves.

Lately I’ve been looking hard at my friends’ lives, trying to pick and choose the things that I want to emulate. What’s funny is that it’s not the friends who have the most material successes, the ones with the best jobs or the nicest houses that I’m drawn to, but rather the ones who have certain traits and behaviours that I covet. I admire, for instance, my friend who makes difficult choices, who goes ahead and does things even when he’s afraid or thinks that something is impossible. I admire another friend who’s an expert at saying no. I want to be more like the friend who seems to have that extra split second to figure out if their emotional reaction to any given situation is warranted and appropriate. I want to be like the friend who seems effortlessly organized, who holds family meetings every week to figure out who will be where doing what when during the next seven days. I want to be the person who fights for their beliefs without being disrespectful or unnecessarily cruel to the people who don’t agree with me. I want to be measured, calm, and collected.

And I want to do all of this and still be able to get a little weepy over Empire Records.

What I’m realizing is that, while creating a guide to my own personal grownup life, the best place to start is with myself. I need to work harder to build the type of person that I’m happy with before extending my energy outward. I need put a dot in the middle of the map marked you are here and then radiate all other lines outward from that spot. When I write this all out, it sounds unbelievably selfish, but I also can’t think of any other way to make a guide that suits the kind of life I want to live; because before I make that guide, I have to figure out my own shit, which means answering all of the big questions like what the fuck do I want, and why am I even here, and where do I go next?

Maybe that’s the best way to be a grownup.


The Extra Bicycle

28 May

There are three bicycles on my balcony right now.

Normally there are only two – my shiny blue bike, with its giant seat and extra-wide wheels, and Matt’s sturdy green mountain bike. But for the last week or so there’s been another bicycle out there, one with a funky wire basket and a badly-warped frame frame.

This third bike belongs to a mystery woman who was involved in a cycling accident at the foot of the hill that I live on. I don’t know exactly what happened, but I do know that she landed face-first on the pavement, and I know that by the time the paramedics arrived her breathing was shallow and her heart rate uneven.

Her bicycle ended up on my balcony because Matt and Theo happened to be walking by the scene of the accident shortly it happened. Theo is fascinated by and and all emergency vehicles, so the sight of the firetrucks and ambulances was an instant hit with him. Ever since that day, he keeps saying:

“The firefighters took the woman away. The firefighters took the woman to the doctor to make her better.”

For Matt, the scene was a reminder of my own bike accident, which happened almost five years ago. Seeing that woman being strapped onto a stretcher and loaded into the waiting ambulance triggered all kinds of memories for him of my ill-fated tangle with a set of streetcar tracks down at Church and Adelaide. That was why he brought the bike home and left his name and number with the paramedics – because he remembered the kind stranger who had dragged my bike out of the road and locked it up, then given me his business card in case I couldn’t find it when I went to get it back.

I think about that accident fairly often. It’s hard not to, to be honest; the stiffness and occasional ache in my left knee are a constant reminder of the fact that my leg is packed with hardware. And anyway, that crash was a sort of turning point in my life; I’m not going to get all dramatic on you and say that it was a near-death experience or that it changed my view of humanity, but it definitely altered the course that I thought I was on. At the time, I was upset, even angry about that, but now I’m mostly thankful for it, because if I hadn’t fallen and banged up my knee, who knows where I would be now? If I’d kept on going in the direction I was headed in, I probably wouldn’t have Theo, for one thing. For another, who knows if I’d be writing, or teaching yoga? Who knows where I would be at all?

The reason that I happened to be at Church and Adelaide that morning was because I was starting my second week of George Brown’s Sign Language Interpreter program. I was running late, and I probably, almost certainly, wasn’t being as careful as I should have been. I’d always been wary of streetcar tracks, because I knew of other people who had had dangerous interactions with them, but I guess that I let my guard slip a bit that morning. I remember that I had to turn left onto Adelaide and I had to move into the left lane to do that, so I was simultaneously pedalling furiously to make it to the intersection before the light changed while signalling the lane change with my left hand and also looking back over my shoulder, watching out for cars. Just as I was getting ready to turn, I felt the traction change underneath my front tire – it went from rumbling over rough pavement to, for just a moment, skidding sickeningly, uncontrollably over smooth metal. Then with a jolt my front wheel slid neatly into the groove of the track, and I was stuck. At the same time my back wheel jerked forward, causing my bike to jackknife beneath me.

I knew that I was going to fall, but I thought, for some reason, that I could prevent it. I put my left foot down to try to steady myself, but my bike’s momentum was too much. I went down.

I don’t actually have any recollection of falling. I remember realizing that I was screwed, and then I remember lying sprawled on the hot pavement, my bike upended beside me and its wheels spinning pathetically in the air. I don’t think that I blacked out or anything – I’d somehow managed to avoid hitting my (unhelmeted) head – but I guess that whatever I was experiencing in that moment was too much for my brain to handle and it just shut down or somehow blocked it all out.

I remember thinking that I should stay sitting there in the middle of the road, even though cars were zooming around me, because it seemed like the safest place. A crowd had gathered around me soon after I’d crashed, and a few of them had to convince me that it was much smarter to get over to the side of the road. Two people helped me up, and that was when I realized that I couldn’t put any weight on my left leg. It didn’t hurt, exactly, it just didn’t work. So these two people had to half carry me over to the curb, while a third person went and rescued my poor bike (her name was Frida, by the way, as in Frida Kahlo, and she had an elegant if  heavy vintage solid metal frame with a beautiful, now-smashed, wicker basket on the front).

By the time I reached the side of the road I was crying, hard, and hyperventilating. Not because I was hurt or scared, but because it had suddenly hit me that I could maybe, possibly have died. A woman sat beside me and told me to breathe while someone else called an ambulance on their cell. A third person handed me their phone so that I could call Matt. Back then I didn’t have my own cell phone, so I told him that I didn’t know where they were taking me but would call him from the hospital once I got there.

Once I got to the hospital no one, myself included, thought that there was any rush to look at my leg. I was certain that my knee was just sprained or twisted – after all, it barely hurt at first, and I hadn’t even torn my jeans. But by the time Matt got there, my leg was aching something fierce, and he found me huddled up in a wheelchair in the waiting room, crying quietly, trying not to bother anyone with my sobbing.

Eventually, someone called my name, Matt wheeled me through the big metal door, had some x-rays done and then sat for another hour or two on a hospital bed. Finally, a doctor came in and said brusquely,

“Your left tibial plateau is fractured. An orthopaedic surgeon will be coming to discuss the details of your surgery with you. Okay bye!”

I mean, I’m sure it didn’t exactly play out like that, but that was the general feeling of it. The doctor’s routine view of what I’d managed to do to my left knee was miles and miles away from my experience as a person whose life had just been turned upside down by a few brief sentences. Everything suddenly started to sound like it was very grainy and far away, and my vision began to go dark. I had to lie down before I passed out.

The technical details of what happened were this: my left femur, that big, heavy, club-like thigh bone, had, in the course of my accident, slammed into my tibial plateau (the place where the tibia and fibula meet to form the bottom part of the knee joint) hard enough to dent it. Surgery was needed to build the surface of the plateau back up, or else I would almost certainly walk with a limp for the rest of my life. So they took a bone graft from their bone bank, and held it in place with a metal plate and a series of large metal pins.

Why yes, this does mean that I have a dead person’s bone in my body! I kind of hope that it comes from a murderer or a genius or a murderer-genius or some other interesting type of person, but of course you can’t be too picky in these types of situations.

After surgery, I didn’t walk for three months. I went from having a giant, heavy cast to a much lighter, foam-and-plastic brace. When the took the cast off, I’d lost so much muscle mass that my thigh was narrower than my knee joint. It was gross. Oh and speaking of gross, if you ever want to terrify your needle-and-generally-medical-phobic partner, please invite them into the room while your cast is removed and the twenty six enormous metal stitches in your knee are suddenly revealed.


Matt had to leave after that.

Once I was ready to start putting weight on my leg again, I discovered that I’d somehow forgotten how to walk. I went to physiotherapy twice a week and, slowly and painstakingly, re-learned something that I’d mastered at the age of fourteen months. I still walk funny, even now, five years later – my left arch collapses and my entire left leg rolls inward, so that if I’m not thinking about it, I walk with a tiny bit of a limp. A limp, mind you, that becomes much more exaggerated when I’m tired or the weather is bad.

It goes without saying that I had to drop out of school – for the first few weeks after surgery, I could barely get out of bed, let alone go to class. On top of that, I was totally, totally loopy from the drugs I was on. I was so loopy that I read Twilight and thought it was good. No joke.

So I left school and, once I was able to function like a person with two legs again, returned to my nearly-minimum-wage retail job. I started trying to put my life back together and figure out what I wanted to do with myself, but I was at loose ends. I’d written a book the year before, and had had it tentatively accepted by a publisher and an agent, but the summer after my accident both of them ended up rejecting my manuscript. I didn’t know what to do with it, or myself. My life felt totally directionless.

In the summer of 2009 I married Matt, as planned. Eight months later I was suddenly, unexpectedly pregnant. And now, nearly five years after my accident, I have a hilarious toddler and a fantastic partner, I manage a yoga studio, I teach yoga, and I’m sorta, kinda, maybe accepting the fact that I might be a writer.

If I hadn’t fallen, there’s a chance that I would still be in an equally good, equally happy place in my life. But I’m not willing to take that gamble – if given the choice, I would always, always pick the prize on display over whatever’s behind the closed door. A bird in the hand, etc. So I guess that in a weird way I’m kind of thankful that my wheel slid into that streetcar track. I’m thankful that I ended up sprawled out on the ground, and I’m thankful that I smashed my knee up badly enough to need major surgery. Because all of that, every single little aspect of it, lead me to be right where I am.

I also think that falling off my bike was a big part of what helped me learn to love Toronto. I’d only been living here for a little over a year, and so far the city had seemed strange and unfriendly to me. If you’d asked me before my accident what would happen if a Torontonian fell off their bike in the middle of traffic, I would have said that everyone on the street would have gone about their business while that poor unlucky soul got run over. The people at Church and Adelaide that day proved me wrong, though, and since then I’ve learned over and over again that this city can, when necessary, have a heart.

The mystery woman, the woman whose bike is currently taking up real estate on my balcony, called this past weekend. She’d spent three days in the ICU, she said. She’d bled out into her brain and nearly died, she said. She kept thanking Matt for saving her life, and he had to tell her, over and over, that he’d only saved her bike.

She’s home now from the hospital, and her nephew is coming over sometime soon to pick up her bike. I hope she ends up being okay. I hope that someone told her just how many people stopped to help her, how much love and care she got from total strangers. Most of all, though, I hope that however this accident changes her life (as it certainly will) it ends up somehow being for the better.

Me, on crutches, out for brunch with friends

Me, on crutches, out for brunch with friends