Tag Archives: matt

How Do You Mourn The Living?

14 Jun

Tomorrow is Father’s Day.

If you’re a fairly regular reader here, you may have noticed that I don’t often mention my dad, and when I do it’s always in the past tense. He’ll sometimes come up when I write about my childhood, but other than that I almost never talk about him. He’s not dead or anything – in fact, he lives in the same city that I do. He’s just not a part of my life.

A few years ago my father became estranged from my sisters and I. There’s a lot of backstory there, but I’m not going to get into the whole thing here. For one thing, it’s not entirely my story to tell. For another, I don’t want to write anything here that might hurt anyone. So I’ll just say that there was a long, protracted leave-taking that involved a lot of tearful discussions, tentative reconciliations, and a slow, steady breaking of my heart, with the outcome of all that being that he is no longer a presence in my life.

I love my father immensely. We were close when I was a kid, and I have about a billion memories of us being hilarious and fun together. When I was a teenager, he was the cool parent and would buy me beer and drugs when I came to visit him. He taught me about existentialism, and encouraged me to read Camus’ The Outsider (his favourite book) for my big, final high school English paper. We shared a love of music, and from him I learned the deep physical pleasure – the sort of secular reverence – one experiences while placing a record on a turntable and dropping the needle into the groove. He was a great storyteller, and listening to him geek out about our family history was one of my favourite ways to spend an evening. He read to me every night when I was a kid, even once I was old enough to read on my own, and would get grumpy if my mother had to read a chapter to me while he was working late because he always became just as involved in all my favourite books as I did. He would play make-believe games with me for hours on end, something my mother, bless her, didn’t have the patience or imagination for. He was the first person to talk to me like I was a living, breathing person with thoughts and feelings of my own. We shared the same dark sense of humour; maybe we still do.

He loved me. I know he did. I’m sure that if you asked him he would tell you that he loves me still. So how do I reconcile that with the fact that he’s hurt me, badly, and has hurt many other people that he cares about? It seems impossible.

You always read about little kids who blame themselves for their parents’ divorce. I was thirteen when my dad left, and was sure that I was old enough to know that sometimes grownups just fall out of love and that’s how life is. I knew that it had nothing to do with me, or my sisters. People change, and my parents had changed in ways that made them incompatible with each other. Case closed. Time to move on.

But lately I’ve been wondering if that’s really what I believe; I wonder if I’ve ever felt entirely blameless. Because, honestly, couldn’t we have done something more? Couldn’t we have charmed him into staying somehow? If only we had figured out the perfect way to be, the way that always made him happy, then he wouldn’t have left, would he? But we could never quite suss out the secret of making my father happy. Or maybe we just didn’t try hard enough, because we didn’t know exactly what was at stake. We never imagined that he’d leave.

And then, years later, he somehow managed to leave again. And I’m left sitting here trying to pick up the pieces, trying to figure out how to live my life without him. And it’s hard.

I told my therapist that it would, in some ways, be easier if he was dead. Not that I wish that he would die or anything, just that I would know the right procedure to go through. I would wear black. I would mourn. I would recall only the happy times. I would keep a picture of him on the wall, and my eyes would well up with tears whenever I saw it. I would love him, perfectly and unconditionally, the way you’re supposed to love a parent. I would know that he’d loved me.

But how do you mourn someone who’s still alive? How do you grieve the fact that they’ve left you, when at any moment they could walk back into your life? How is it possible to feel so angry and so hurt and yet also so hopeful that things might get better? It seems totally self-contradictory. And yet, here we are.

On a more basic level, I struggle to know how to talk about him to people who don’t know what’s happened. When they ask questions about him, am I supposed to answer as if we’re still close? Or do I straight-up tell them that we’re estranged? I don’t want to lie, but I also don’t want to make anyone else feel uncomfortable. Because it is uncomfortable for other people, isn’t it? Whenever I tell someone that my father and I don’t actually talk, I always feel like I immediately have to reassure them. I’ll smile big and say brightly, “It’s fine, though! We’ll figure it out!”

But the truth is that I don’t know how we could ever figure it all out. Not at this point. We might reconcile someday, but our relationship will never be what it was. How do you grieve a relationship that can’t ever be properly resuscitated?

My father has met my son twice. The first time was on a rainy day when Theo was about four months old, we ran into my father on the street corner. He peered through the stroller’s rain shield at my fat, sleeping baby and said that he was cute. He shook his head and said that he couldn’t believe he was a grandfather. He promised to call me. He didn’t.

The second time was when Theo was two. My sister and I had agreed to have coffee with our father, and then out of the blue I asked if he wanted to meet Theo. We all went to the museum together. Theo and my father had a great old time together, drumming out rhythms in the second floor gallery, choosing favourite fish in the aquarium. Afterwards, we promised to keep in touch, to try to set up another meeting. It never happened.

These days Theo is very interested in familial relationships. He’ll sometimes refer to me as “your wife” when speaking to Matt, and he’ll call his grandmother “Anne’s mother” instead of Gran. So the following conversation was bound to happen sooner rather than later.

Theo: Who’s your dad?

Me: His name is F____.

Theo: Where is he?

Me: Well, he lives here in Toronto, but we don’t get to see him very often for a variety of reasons. But I know that he loves you very much!

Theo: … Is he not a nice guy?

Me: He’s a nice guy. We – well, we just don’t get to see him very much. But he does love you.

Because I’m sure that, in some way, he does.

At the end of the day, I’m left wondering which father is my real father – the one who sat on the floor and played dolls with me for hours and hours, or the one who didn’t just flat out didn’t respond to the email announcing my pregnancy? The answer is both, I guess, but that truth is a lot to wrap my head around.

I miss my dad.

Anne youth photo0014

 

 

Now You Are Three

19 Jan

Dear Theo,

Yesterday was your birthday. Yesterday marked the third anniversary of the day you stopped being this strange creature that inhabited my body and started being your very own small, wrinkly, independently-breathing person.

In three short years you have gone from this:

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To this:

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You are the funniest. You are outgoing and charming and engaging, and honestly I don’t know where you get any of those qualities from, because both your father and I are strictly introverts. When you see another kid who looks to be about your age, you’ll walk up to them in a way that would make John Cleese proud, wave your hands around and start shouting gibberish. This is your approach to making new friends, and weirdly it seems to work for you. You take an enormous delight in the sublimely ridiculous, and I can’t say that I blame you. It’s certainly better than my own approach, which, as a teenager, involved dressing all in black, reading the French existentialist canon, and glaring balefully around me muttering, “life is absurd.” You might agree that life is, indeed, absurd, but so far you view this as to your benefit rather than to your detriment.

You love language, a fact that tickles me right past pink and well into magenta territory. You often come home from school and announce that you have a new favourite book, and at bedtime you beg for just one more story. You can already spell a few words – Theodore, Mama, Dada, Papa, Noah and Canada – and you recognize them and “read” them when you see them. You’re starting to sort of maybe kind of sound out words when you see them, and the thought of you learning to read makes me so excited that my head might explode. You love memorizing things, and can recite entire books by heart. You are developing into a fine book nerd, and nothing could make me prouder.

If you inherited your love of language from me, then you almost certainly inherited your love of science and technology from your father. You’re all about space these days – there are times when all you want to talk about are orbiters and external fuel tanks and solid rocket boosters. You got upset the other day when I told you that we were on a mission in the grocery store – you thought that only astronauts were allowed to go on missions, because they have mission control. You’re into other tech-type stuff too – when your great-grandmother gave you a fleece shirt with a puffy vest for Christmas, you exclaimed, “Oh, a robot suit!” You love building things, whether out of Lego, wooden blocks, or these wonky connecting-straw things they have at the art gallery. You’re never happier than when we let you put together your train tracks all over the house, a crazy railroad running from the living room to the dining room and out to the kitchen. Maybe you’ll take after your grandfather or aunt and become an engineer.

Lately you’re all about defining yourself by your likes and dislikes. You love telling me about all of your favourites: your favourite colour is green, your favourite doll is your Cabbage Patch Kid, Sammy Kyle, your favourite books are Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site and The Gruffalo. Your favourite foods are spaghetti and chicken fingers, and your favourite pants are skinny jeans. Your favourite truck is a fire truck. Your favourite car is Lightning McQueen from Cars, even though you’ve never actually seen that movie. Your favourite streetcar is the St. Clair car. Your favourite city is Toronto, and your favourite hockey team is the Toronto Maples Leafs, but also sometimes the Habs. Your favourite astronaut is Chris Hadfield (or, as you call him, Chris The Hadfield). Your favourite painting is Soldier and Girl at Station by Alex Colville. Your favourite musician is John Coltrane, and every time I go to put a record on you ask for Blue Train. You are a fine little hipster-in-training.

You hate sleep. I mean, you really hate sleep. You spend the hours past your bedtime trying to engage me in conversation, promising that you have to tell me something or ask me something, or else you try to delay the inevitable by asking for just one more glass of milk or one more cuddle. We’ve found ourselves having to invent arbitrary bedtime rules (only three stories, only one glass of milk, the baby gate goes up if you come out of your room five times) because otherwise you will never, ever sleep. You sometimes stay up until past ten, which drives me bonkers because that’s the only time alone I get with your father, but you’re never cranky in the morning. In fact, your daycare teachers often remark on how you always seem to be in a good mood. There isn’t much that seems to faze you.

You’re still nursing, a fact that simultaneously surprises me, slightly embarrasses me and makes me strangely proud. I didn’t even think that we’d make it past the first month of breastfeeding, let alone three years. And yet, here we are.

Here we are.

You’re asserting your independence a lot these days, in ways both big and small. Being your mom can be challenging sometimes, most often because I’m not always sure what to do when you’re ignoring me or else being flat-out defiant. I don’t like yelling, and I don’t like giving time-outs – I guess what I really hate is being the bad guy. Especially since your arguments can be so funny and persuasive. But I know that setting boundaries and disciplining you are a form of loving you, so I figure that the best I can do is to try hard not to react emotionally to your behaviour. Instead of punishing you because I am angry or sad (although I recognize that I am totally entitled to those feelings), I try to stay calm, react rationally and not take your behaviour personally. Because it’s not personal; this is what small children are like.

There is so much to admire about you. Your kindness and compassion still amaze me, although they probably shouldn’t by now. You’re so good at reading other peoples’ emotions, and love to comment on what you think other people are feeling. You are quick to offer a hug if you think that someone else is down. One evening, when you overheard me crying in the bedroom, you ran in and asked if I was crying because someone had shouted at me. You tell me all the time that you love me, and you have an ongoing list of the other people that you love: your father, your grandparents, you aunts and uncles, you cousins, Nathan, Audra, Jairus, Nico, Frances, Nico’s Dad (who I’m not even sure you’ve ever met), Eden, Isadora, Michael. Pretty much anyone that you can think of ends up on that list. You have two best friends – Noah and Malcolm – and you often tell me that the three of you are the three musketeers. Baby’s first literary reference! Unknowingly made, but still.

You are a wonder. Your words, your thoughts, your actions amaze me on a daily basis. And when I say this – all of this, everything that I’ve written here – it’s not because I think that you are better or smarter than other kids. I’m sure that you’re exactly average, and if you weren’t that wouldn’t matter one bit. But you’re not average to me – to me, you are a very particular set of characteristics that add up to something incredibly remarkable. I cherish each and every single tiny thing that makes you you, even the stuff that I find frustrating and difficult to handle. Because those are the things that make up who you are, and I love you entirely. Yes, I love all of the things that are easy to love – your charm, your humour, your never-ending desire to know – but I also love the challenging parts, too. I love all of you.

I am so excited to see what this coming year, this year of three, is going to bring. Because, knowing you, it’s only going to be bigger and brighter than what’s come before.

Much love,

Mama

2013 In Review: Part 2

6 Jan

Read about January through June here!

JULY

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

And

AND

AND AND AND BEST PART OF THE CONFERENCE: I GOT TO MEET SHANNON FISHER

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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

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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

"MAMA LOOK HOW BIG I AM."

“MAMA LOOK HOW BIG I AM.”

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

HIS OWN BED. HALLELUJAH.

HIS OWN BED. HALLELUJAH.

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 http://shop.outofprintclothing.com/The_Bell_Jar_book_cover_t_shirt_p/l-1018.htm

July was the month when my hair got funkier. And yes, that is a Bell Jar t-shirt http://shop.outofprintclothing.com/The_Bell_Jar_book_cover_t_shirt_p/l-1018.htm

AUGUST

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.

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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

FEMINIST KILLJOY

FEMINIST KILLJOY

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

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.

I GOT SO MUCH ALONE TIME, YOU GUYS.

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:

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Not too many trains come to Melville...

Not too many trains come to Melville…

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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

STEAM ENGINE

STEAM ENGINE

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Studying hard.

Studying hard.

Little log church

Little log church

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

In the tiny dugout house

In the tiny dugout house

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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

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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:

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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!

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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!

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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.

ANNE: LUCKY IN DUDES, UNLUCKY IN … OTHER THINGS?

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

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.

SO GOOD.

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ALL THE DRESSES

ALL THE 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.

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(My mom made the hat!)

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Also in October I CLEANED MY BEDROOM.

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.

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In October Theo was consumed with toddler ennui.

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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?

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It was my beloved Sylvia’s birthday.

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And Hallowe’en!

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

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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

NOVEMBER

In November MY BOOK WAS PUBLISHED.

HOLY SHIT I PUBLISHED A BOOK.

A BOOK THAT YOU CAN BUY HERE AND HERE AND HERE  AND HERE AND HERE

I HAVE A BOOK AND IT LOOKS LIKE THIS:

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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!

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This is what heaven looks like, by the way:

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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.

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Yes, I was knitting during a parade. So?

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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:

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

HOLY CANNOLI I LOVE THAT MOVIE SO MUCH.

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

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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:

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November 2013:

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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?”

YOU GUYS THIS BOOK IS CRAZY

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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)

DECEMBER

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:

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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.

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

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We went to Casa Loma …

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… and visited Santa Claus

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

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

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Then the ice storm came:

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

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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:

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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

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

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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.

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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 ❤

2013 In Review: Part 1

29 Dec

It’s been a wild year, you guys. Mostly amazing, though. I mean, there was some not-so-great stuff in there for sure, but in my personal 2013 the good definitely outweighed the bad. Weirdly I feel like I’m one of the few people who can say that.

Let’s take a look, shall we?

JANUARY

I started the year off by making myself a flower crown which was somehow THE BEST THING IN MY LIFE (I am really into flower crowns and didn’t realize I could actually MAKE THEM FROM STUFF I BOUGHT AT THE DOLLAR STORE):

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Then I went to my friends Jennie and Red’s New Year’s party:

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On our way home from the party our subway was delayed by a girl who may or may not have been threatening to somehow harm herself. It seemed like an ominous beginning to the year.

2012 had gone out not with a bang but a whimper; on December 30th I’d published a post about how hard I was finding it to cope – re-reading it now makes me feel so incredibly relieved that I’m no longer in this place:

These days I feel as if I’ve lost the capacity for joy. I’ll catch myself mid-laugh and realize that I’m faking it, and I’m faking it so well that I’ve nearly got myself convinced. In the same way that it’s sometimes hard for me to believe that spring will ever come again, it’s also hard to believe that anything will ever make me feel good or happy again. I have these thoughts, like, hey, maybe at the beginning of my life I was handed out a finite number of good experiences and now, in the winter of my 30th year, I’ve somehow managed to spend the last one.

I’m grateful that this December I still, somehow, believe in the promise of spring.

The rest of January was tough. I was depressed for a lot of it, and to make matters even worse, early in the month Matt, Theo and I were struck by a stomach bug that led to the enchanting experience of throwing up all over a bathroom stall at Sick Kids.

There were a few highlights that month, of course. Shortly after New Year’s Day we participated in an Idle No More rally at Yonge and Dundas, which was pretty amazing:

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And then on January 17th it was Theo’s second birthday, which was pretty rad:

Theo the morning of his second birthday

Theo the morning of his second birthday

Also Wil Wheaton tweeted at me, which, I mean, HIGHLIGHT OF MY FUCKING LIFE.

Other than that, though, January was pretty hard. Depression-wise, things came to a boiling point at the end of the month. I won’t get into the gory details, but by then I was suicidal and sick with guilt over the fact that I felt that way. I went to my doctor, who increased the dosage of my antidepressants. I talked to my therapist, who listened and kindly nodded. I talked to my friends and family, who had advice that ranged from well-meaning to useless. Nothing seemed to do anything; the days just dragged on and on, weak winter light bleeding into blank, sleepless nights. It’s funny – now that things are so much better, I can’t really remember how those days felt. I can only remember that they were the emotional equivalent of the sensation and sound of fingernails on a blackboard. They were unbearable.

On January 31st my friends Audra and Jairus took me to the CAMH emergency room. I saw a psychiatrist there and spent nearly an hour talking to her. She was nice – not condescending, not pushy, not mean. Just nice. And young. And I totally coveted her wardrobe.

After that, things started to slowly, inexplicably get better. Somehow seeing her gave me permission to feel what I was feeling, and having the guilt over what I felt lifted made an enormous difference.

FEBRUARY

February was a weird sort of in-between time. I felt like I was in some kind of borderland, not quite here but not quite somewhere else, either. I spent a lot of time trying to pull myself back together, and I think that by and large I succeeded? One of the things the CAMH psychiatrist had “prescribed” was to take more time for myself. She said that I should try to do one thing a day just for me, so I did exactly that. I went and sat in quiet cafés and wrote in my journal. I took mid-day trips to the art gallery and drank in all the gorgeous around me. I went to the water spa and sat for hours in pools of salt water reading the Game of Thrones series. I tried hard not to feel guilty over all the selfish things I was spending money on.

February 11th was the 50th anniversary of Sylvia Plath’s suicide, which seemed strangely important. That date felt like a sort of arbitrary line in the sand, and I thought that if only I could get past it, things would get better. Part of it was that I felt like I was lucky enough to be moving on with my life, while she was constantly frozen in her 30th year, at the height of her poetic career but what must have seemed like the nadir of her personal life. I wrote about how strange it was that this year, when I turned 31, I would suddenly be older than she had ever been.

At some point towards the end of month I cemented my friendship with Nathan, who, at that time, was working at a fancy food store a block away from the studio that I manage. I would talk to him every time I went in to eat all the free samples or buy discounted day-old stuff, but we weren’t really friend-friends until one day I went to pay for something and he saw my copy of George R.R. Martin’s Dance With Dragons sticking out of my purse. After that we sort of fell into deep smit with each other and we’ve been pretty inseparable ever since. Nathan is mostly a super tall dude version of me with really good hair who makes me laugh a lot. I keep trying to put into words how amazing he is, and I keep coming up stupidly short, so I’ll just leave it at this: Nathan is one of the best things that has happened to me this year.

Other February highlights include:

This super rad Star Trek sweater I found at Value Village

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As is my tradition, I spent Valentine’s Day with my girlfriends instead of with Matt. We ate a fancy dinner and then got drunk and mouthy, which seems like the best possible way to spend that stupid holiday. I also wrote about how much I hate Valentine’s Day.

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I wrote an article for XOJane about breastfeeding, for which Matt took what might be one of my favourite pictures of Theo and I ever.

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The two biggest events in February were definitely the two nights that Matt and I had on our own away from Theo, just two grownups doing grownup things without a manic two year old to interrupt them. The first was early in the month, when my friends Eden and Michael offered to babysit Theo overnight. Matt and I spent our sacred time away at the Gladstone Hotel, in a super fancy room:

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It was the first time we’d ever been away from Theo overnight, and things went well for all parties involved!

Then, at the end of February, Matt and I went to a classy whiskey-tasting event in Kingston and spent the night at the same B&B we’d stayed at the night of our wedding while my mom took care of Theo. Turns out I super like whiskey:

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On February 27th I deleted my Facebook account for a week, which was pretty much exactly what I needed to do right then.

MARCH

March was pretty much a red-letter month for me in 2013. This year could, among other things, be called The Year I Fell Totally Head-Over-Heels In Love With Patti Smith, a process that was cemented by seeing Smith in concert at the Art Gallery of Ontario on March 7th. There had only been a handful of tickets to her performance there, but I’d somehow managed to score one by going and waiting in the freezing cold outside of the gallery the morning that they went on sale. It was so, so unbelievably worth it.

I WAS THIS CLOSE TO PATTI SMITH YOU GUYS:

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AUGH

Other Patti Smith highlights of this year include: seeing her exhibit Camera Solo, reading her book Just Kids, getting Horses on vinyl for my birthday from Nathan, and tearing through one of her all-time favourite books, Astragal by Albertine Sarrazin. PATTI SMITH I LOVE YOU.

I wrote some stuff that garnered a bunch of pretty rad attention in March, including 15 Assumptions That Might Be Useful To Make, which was my first post ever to be Freshly Pressed, I wrote a ridiculous alphabet poem for International Women’s Day which was shared by some pretty cool people INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO the Girl Guides of Canada, and I learned what it really, truly means to have a post go viral after writing a post called “I Am Not Your Wife, Sister or Daughter” in response to the Steubenville rape trial. That post, which has had half a million views to date, was shared by super crazy professional publications such as The Believer, Mother Jones and The Atlantic. YOU GUYS THOSE ARE WHERE THE REAL WRITERS ARE. I think March was maybe the first time I’d ever felt like a For Real Writer Lady.

Other March highlights include going to Montreal for my grandmother’s 85th birthday, an event that was notable for three reasons:

1. My grandmother (centre, age 10) celebrated her 85th trip around the sun

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2. Theo looked SUPER ADORABLE in a kilt

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3. I figured out how to do a sock bun

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As the month was waning I got to experience my first ever Write Club, where I watched the super charming Ryan F. Hughes read his work.

I also wrote another post that went viral, this time about a meme that I kept seeing pop up claiming that the holiday Easter is named after the ancient Babylonian goddess Ishtar. SPOILER ALERT, EASTER IS NOT NAMED AFTER ISHTAR YOU GUYS.

At the end of March I went to an awesome reproductive rights party with Audra and Jairus and I GOT TO HOLD THIS TINY KITTEN.

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CLEARLY I WAS NOT KIDDING WHEN I SAID MARCH WAS GREAT.

APRIL

In April I started painting again after about ten years of not painting. It’s one of those things that wholly absorbs my attention, which is kind of a nice vacation from the rest of my life. I haven’t painted much since the spring, and putting this post together is a good reminder that I should start again.

We had a lot of family art time in April

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Among my masterpieces were this weirdo fox

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And this New York skyline for my sister Claire

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In late April, I met and had dinner with Sheila Heti and I am not going to be weird and fan-girly about it here but uh it was pretty great. I wore a dress and put flowers in my hair! I made up cue cards with talking points in case I got really awkward and couldn’t think of anything to say, but I shouldn’t have worried because we pretty much just sat and talked for hours. It was, as Sheila said, a good first date.

On April 27th I went to my high school reunion (well, it wasn’t, like, a reunion-reunion, it was the 25th anniversary of the special arts program that I’d participated in, but it was basically a reunion). I’ve been pretty vocal about how un-fun my high school experience was, and I told everyone that I absolutely, definitely WAS NOT GOING, and then of course I went. And I had fun. So I guess that’ll show me.

The good news is that I looked cute:

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Channeling my inner Patsy-from-Ab-Fab

Channeling my inner Patsy-from-Ab-Fab

Dancing my little heart out

Dancing my little heart out with Graham and Susan

I wrote some pretty serious stuff in April, including the ways in which Dove manipulates womenRehtaeh Parsons’ suicide, the Boston Bombing, and the kidnapping and sexual assault of a five year old Indian girl. I also experienced one of the worst hangovers of my adult life and wrote a 13 step guide to hangover survival. So, you know, it was kind of a mixed bag in terms of content. Also I was STILL FUCKING HUNGOVER AT 8:30 PM THE NEXT EVENING. THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN I WATCH STAR TREK AND DRINK TOO MANY MARTINIS.

MAY

From my journal, dated May 2nd:

I’m sad tonight. The air is warm and smells of new earth and the heavy sweetness of flowers. As I walk home through the Annex I can hear soft laughter and the clink of dishes, comforting post-dinner sounds from all the surrounding houses. The kids are out tonight, smoking pot in the park, playing on the swings, daring each other to go further, higher. Everything is unbearably lovely, much more lovely than it ought to be. I want to hate this world, but I can’t. I can’t love it, either. I’m stuck somewhere in between.

Spring is always the time when I feel like everyone else is out having more fun than I am. Spring is when I worry everyone is doing a better, more interesting job of living than I am. I feel like there’s something stirring inside me, wanting to wake up, but it can’t, or else I won’t let it. Being miserable in the winter isn’t so bad, because everyone else is miserable, too; being miserable in the spring and summer, when everyone else is out having fun is another thing altogether.

I felt better as the month went on, though. Matt’s brother Adam came to visit, and Theo had a blast hanging out with him:

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That month we went to Adam’s CD release in Sarnia. You can download his music for free here (although I do encourage you to make a donation).

On May 20th I read my own work at Write Club which was SUPER GREAT AND AMAZING. Also I won my round and am now the owner of a much-coveted tiny plastic trophy. I am really lucky to have a wonderful group of friends, and Audra, Ryan, Lili, Frances and Nathan were all there to clap super hard for me (Jairus would have been there if he hadn’t been sick!). What why am I so lucky.

On May 30th Henry Morgentaler died and the Huffington Post asked me to write a sort of tribute to him. Which, I mean, I find it kinda hilarious that I am the first person they think of when they need someone to write about women’s reproductive rights. LET’S ASK ANNE, SHE’S ALL OVER THAT PRO-CHOICE SHIT. Fun fact: I wrote that post while sitting on a bench at the corner of Yonge and Eglinton right after seeing Star Trek Into Darkness.

HI ZACHARY QUINTO, CALL ME MAYBE.

Other highlights!

We went to Riverdale Farm and I experimented with mint green short-shorts:

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Matt and I went to see Fiddler on the Roof at Stratford. I don’t have any pictures of the show, but here’s one my mom took of us before we left Toronto:

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My friend Brendon held his annual friendapalooza barbecue, and he and Theo wore matching outfits:

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I finally visited Jack Layton’s grave:

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I discovered this amazing old picture of Alex Trebek:

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I also wrote about the collapse of the garment factory in Bangladesh, why I’m not a huge fan of Mother’s Day, and self-loathing.

JUNE

Here is my June in pictures:

Theo got his nails done by a woman who bears a striking resemblance to Hilary Clinton

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I read in parks

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With Nathan

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We spent a lot of time outdoors

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I saw The National and Mikal Cronin at NXNE (not pictured: The National or Mikal Cronin)

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I was a hilarious drunk

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Annie and Michael visited from Halifax. OH MAN was it ever good to see them

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I dug up a bunch of my favourite Matt and Theo pictures for Father’s Day

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Ancient Romans invaded the Royal Ontario Museum

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I had my first PRINT article published in Shameless Magazine

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I made a flower crown for Audra

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I stole Nathan’s Jays hat

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I stole Nathan’s I Wanna Be Your Dog t-shirt and cut it up into an awesome tank top

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Not pictured: I STOLE NATHAN’S WALLET (kidding, kidding)

We visited Kingston and Claire showed Theo the kid-sized train at her work

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It was maybe the best day of his life

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On June 1st I went to see my friend Drew’s band play and realized that I had no fucking clue what to do when drunk folks start calling people fags.

One of my favourite high school teachers, Roland Muller, died and his death was so much harder on me than I’d imagined it would be.

I wrote 10 Signs that Feminism May Not Be For You for the Outlier Collective, and it wound up being my second post ever to be Freshly Pressed. Yay!

I wrote some advice for Sheila Heti.

I started writing my book, and then wrote about writing my book. META.

So that was the first half of my year. I was originally gonna do this whole thing in one single post, but I’m only halfway through and I’m already at 3,000 words, so I think that I’ll stop here.

Coming up next: 2013 PART TWO: THE RETURN OF 2013.

“I just do not understand why this moment needs to be Memorexed.”

16 Dec

One swelteringly grey day this past August my friend Nathan and I took the ferry to the Toronto Islands for a picnic. After we’d spread his blanket out on the sand and set up the food and wine, I asked him if I could take a picture.

“Yeah, sure, why not?”

Then he did a double take and frowned at my phone.

“Wait. Why are you asking me if you can take a picture of the baguette and cheese you just bought?”

“Because I want to take a picture of you with the food.”

“Uh, sure? I guess? But don’t post it on Facebook.”

He knew, of course, that that was exactly what I wanted to do. Posting inane shit on social media is my jam. Still, I went along with it and pretended that the thought had never crossed my mind. I snapped the picture and immediately put my phone away, as if Facebook wasn’t even a thing I knew about. The photograph is still on my phone, in fact —I checked today while I was writing this. In it, Nathan is holding a paper cup of wine smirking his I-fucking-hate-having-my-picture-taken smirk. I can tell that he doesn’t understand why I feel the need to take or share this picture.

Later, when we were lying on the blanket staring across the water at the Toronto skyline, I snapped another picture. It’s sort of crooked, because I was trying to be stealthy about it. In it, along with one of my feet, a broad expanse of sky and the distant shore, you can see Nathan in profile.

“Can I post this one to Facebook?” I asked, handing him my phone.

“Oh fiiiiiiine,” he said (you have to imagine this exhaled in a long-suffering sigh — Nathan is very long-suffering). “You can’t see my face, so whatever. Knock yourself out.”

I posted it with the caption, “Weekday afternoon island picnic with Nathan, AKA I am spoiled.”

It’s one of hundreds of pictures on my Facebook profile — documenting and sharing my life is a thing that I do almost reflexively now, as do most of my peers. I post selfies, most of them artsy and pretentious. I post pictures of my kid, my husband, my friends, pictures of pretty places and pictures of trees that I find to be exceptionally lovely. When my sister and I met Jane Goodall I posted a picture of the three of us together, when we saw Chris Hadfield speak at a local bookstore, I snapped and posted a picture of him, too. I don’t post pictures of my food, but that’s only because I’m a terrible cook and most of what I produce is incredibly unappetizing. It’s not just photographs either — I chronicle my daily life in all kinds of ways, from short, pithy tweets to long, emotional journal entries picking apart all of my feelings in excruciating detail. I sometimes feel as if I spend half my life living it, and the other half documenting it as if something incredibly important depends on my ability to perfectly describe the exact shade of my friend Audra’s lipstick as we lounge one late-summer afternoon on the patio at Hurricane’s.

Why, though? I mean, why do any of this in general, and why take and subsequently post that picnic photograph in particular? Was I trying to make people jealous of the fact that my odd-ball work schedule means that I can take off in the middle of the day for an island adventure with a good-looking dude? Did I feel like my friends would be legitimately interested in this little slice-of-life? Was I trying to create a strange sort of public memory for myself?

Probably a bit of all three, if I’m being honest with myself, though the memory part is what stands out the most to me now. Looking at that photograph I remember how Nathan was in a bad mood that day, and how I was hoping the picnic would cheer him up. I remember how it started raining almost as soon as we disembarked from the ferry, and we ended up sitting under a tree drinking warm white wine while waiting for the storm to pass. I remember being upset about the rain, because I felt as if there was so much riding on the day beingperfect; I remember Nathan reassuring me that yes, he was having a very nice time in spite of the rain, and would I please stop worrying and try to enjoy the day as it was, rain and all. I remember that after the sky cleared we bushwhacked our way through the undergrowth on tiny Snake Island to get to my favourite beach, which we had all to ourselves that day. I remember the fire ants biting my legs, and I remember thinking that it was worth a few ant bites just to be lying there in hot sun with one of my favourite people. I remember drifting off to sleep listening to kids yelling and splashing in distant canoes. I remember the dreamy sound of the lake approaching and then retreating across the damp sand.

There’s been a lot of brouhaha over the past few years about how technology has changed our lives for the worse; I’ve heard more than a few whining complaints about selfies and pictures of food on Instagram all swaddled up in a that comfortably familiar blanket of worries about Kids These Days. Kids these days, with their inability to understand consequence and their disdain of privacy and their purported inability to make real-life connections with other people. There was yet another opinion piece on this subject in yesterday’s New York Times, this one specifically about pictures and social media and all the little ways we put our lives on hold in order to document them. In it, the author, Sherry Turkle, frets that we’re losing the ability to be in the moment and sit with our own thoughts — times of what she calls “uninterrupted reverie.” And, it’s like, she’s not wrong, you know? We do pause our lives to in order to record them, and we do share those recorded images or thoughts with the world at large. But this isn’t anything new — it’s part of what it means to be human, and it’s been happening for as long as there have been people, in one way or another.

We document our lives for all kinds of different reasons — because we find ourselves fascinating, because we’re trying to make sense of what’s happening to us, because we want to reach out to other people and ask them to tell us that we’re not, in the end, alone. We want to capture experiences that are by their very nature fleeting and somehow turn them into something permanent. We want some kind of touchstone that represents all the moments we’ll never have again, because by our very natures we are wanting, grasping creatures who can’t seem to accept that there are certain things that we can’t hold or keep. So we started painting on cave walls. We carved gorgeous bas-relief scenes into ancient monuments depicting mundane moments from every day life. We wrote about ourselves anywhere we could, using whatever materials were at hand. We tried to make sense of our short lives through images and words, because that’s what we do. That’s what people do.

That’s what I do, too. In fact, I sometimes I wonder if I don’t enjoy the memories of experiences more than the experiences themselves, and if that’s part of why I obsessively write, photograph and share the things, important or otherwise, that happen to me. It’s rare for me to completely lose myself in a moment; I’m always wondering what comes next, how things will end, whether the outcome of this seemingly-happy moment will, finally, be judged to be good or bad. I’m always picturing the scene through the camera’s lens, watching my hair tangle in the wind and the authentic-looking smile light up my face, as if comparing my life to a movie might help me figure out which direction it’s going to take. It’s only later, when viewed as a completed story, that the happiness of the situation becomes certain, no longer tainted by my doubt or anxiety. It’s only then that I breathe a sigh of relief and let myself feel wholly, perfectly good.

Or else sometimes an event is too big, too overwhelming as it’s happening, to allow me to feel anything as uncomplicated as happiness. Take, for example, the week-long trip to Paris that Matt and I took for our honeymoon. The we spent there wasn’t happy for me, exactly — it was too much a whirlwind of sights, sounds and smells that I was trying frantically to process and understand to be called anything as easy as happy or fun. To quote my friend Susan, everything in Paris is either delicious or beautiful or both, and I was desperate to see and eat as much of it as I possibly could in that short time. The main emotion that I remember from that trip is awe — awe and wonder at almost everything we saw and did, from standing atop the Eiffel Tower and looking out across the orderly jumble of grey buildings to using the funny toilet with the rotating, self-cleaning seat that we found in the little English tea house. Everything seemed incredible. It was only later, after our plane had touched down in Montreal and I’d given my mother and sisters the gifts I’d brought back for them and told the story of our trip over and over, that I was finally able process everything that had happened. It was only then that I had the chance to sit down, sort through the pictures I’d taken, and savour how very good the trip had been.

The photographs I took in Paris — even the photographs that I’d taken while feeling overwhelmed and anxious — helped shape the narrative of a storybook honeymoon. And while my memory tells me that this narrative may not be entirely accurate, it’s the one that I prefer to present to both myself and others as the truth. I also can’t help wondering if perhaps accuracy and truth aren’t really the same thing, after all — because while it’s accurate to say that I experienced moments of dismay, frustration, anger and fear during my honeymoon, I’m also speaking the truth when I say that it was perfect. Pictures that were taken under one set of circumstances might ultimately convey a different meaning, and somehow both ways of looking at the photograph are simultaneously correct. Images like the one below, taken from the top of Notre Dame, seem peaceful and romantic, even though at the time the height was making me dizzy, I was worried that they were suddenly going to start ringing the enormous thirteen-ton bell, and I felt shaken up after climbing the circular tower staircase, slippery after eight hundred years of use, behind an old Polish man with a bad limp who seemed likely to fall on Matt and I at any moment.

But when I see this picture I know that this moment, as frightening as it might have seemed at the time, was also unbelievably wonderful. And even if I didn’t feel particularly peaceful or romantic, the image itself is undoubtedly so. Both ways of looking at that picture are true.

We take pictures and write status updates and scrawl out journal entries because we’re trying to put together some kind of lasting story about our lives. And as much as these things might seem pointless or self-indulgent now, I suspect that someday, someone will be grateful for these records. In the same way that I love poring over old photographs, enjoying the ephemera in the background almost as much as the figures in the foreground, I’m sure that someday someone will squeal over the quaint adorableness of pictures of iPhones and Kindles. We make fun of people who Instagram their food, but I would give my eyeteeth to have similar photographs of meals from 50 or 60 years ago. Posterity of the mundane always seems slightly ridiculous at the time, but I’m willing to bet that our grandkids and great-grandkids won’t be disappointed that we took the time to pause our lives in order to document them.

It seems hardly fair, anyway, to think of it as “pausing” our lives, when the documentation itself has always been so much a part of how we live.

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.

LIFE AS A MOUNTAIN HIKE

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.

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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.

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