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the thing about places and homes

Toronto was my first view of Canada, a grey slushy view in the dead of March that called into question my parents’ entire sanity. After the idyll of a tiny German university town (complete with castle ruins!), nothing about this place that was too big and too loud and too cold made sense. It had giant box stores in the middle of the city and a downtown that wasn’t entirely dedicated to pedestrians. It was basically barbaric.

It wasn’t where we ended up settling, a few months later. Ottawa felt like home as much as Germany or China had felt like home, which is to say that it was my answer when people asked me where I was from. But after four transcontinental moves in 11 years I felt restless if I stayed in one place for too long, and as soon as I could leave I moved to Kingston for school, then Toronto for work, then North Carolina for a boy, then Toronto again when I no longer loved him (though I hadn’t realized that at the time). When opportunity called from Vancouver, I didn’t think twice about picking up my life and driving 55 hours across the country with my brand new husband. There was no reason to think that this move would be any different from any number of moves I had made before.

Almost immediately, I missed Toronto with a fierceness that surprised me, a fierceness that served as its own sort of myth. A fierceness rooted perhaps not in pure unadulterated love for the city, but was instead a reflection of everything that had gone wrong in my world. We moved to Vancouver, and Trump got elected. We moved to Vancouver, and there were deaths in the family, and mental health crises, and cancer (fuck cancer). We moved to Vancouver, and the rain started and never ended.

A city is not to blame for the traumas that occur within its boundaries, but the hurt has to go somewhere.

In Vancouver, we lived a five minute walk from an urban corridor that had been expressly planned so that the view to the mountains would be unobstructed for miles. This view was part of my daily commute, the backdrop to my coffee runs, and all I ever felt was a gnawing guilt that this sight didn’t move me as everyone said it would. In May, when the rain finally relinquished its death grip on the city, Vancouver was beautiful, streets lined with cherry blossoms, green everywhere you looked. There were summer days where, lounging on a beach waiting my turn on a rented paddleboard, Vancouver felt like Camelot.

I knew the surface reasons why we had to leave Vancouver: we found it hard to make friends, the natural rhythm of the city clashed with our night owl habits, we’re not outdoorsy at the best of times, and the rain, oh god, the rain. None of these felt like good enough reasons not to stay. When people asked us why we were moving back to Toronto, we gave non-committal answers that invoked families and careers. They sounded right, were even accurate. But they weren’t true. What was true was that when I cracked open a novel that opened with a lonely walk home from the Elgin theatre along Yonge Street towards Cabbagetown, I started crying and couldn’t stop.

I didn’t just miss the vibrant neighbourhoods that might be the closest thing to real multiculturalism there is on offer, as low of a bar as that is. I didn’t just miss the sight of the CN Tower piercing the skyline against all decent notions of aesthetics. I didn’t just miss the stadium that will forever be known as the Skydome and the venue that will forever be known as the Air Canada Centre. I didn’t just miss the way Lake Ontario sparkles, or the shocking green of the Don Valley in the rushed glimpse between Castle Frank and Broadview.

It wasn’t even that I missed the people, although I did, with a dull ache that didn’t feel like pain so much as a deadening of all my nerves. Having lived most of my life extremely online, the thought that I could miss my friends when the internet existed snuck up on me, hit me over the head with a packet of unwritten postcards.

Mostly, I missed who I was when I was in Toronto, missed the concept of myself that only seemed to exist here. I missed being the kind of person who knew where to go and how to get there. I missed feeling an endless spider web of connections stretch before me, seemingly just a text away. I missed the freedom to be a stranger, knowing that safety was just around the corner. I missed feeling like there was always something to do, someone to see, and that if I chose to stay home tonight then tomorrow would be another day filled with wondrous things I would probably still be too lazy to engage with.

I could’ve built the same in Vancouver again, if I’d tried hard enough, I’m sure. I was 27 and privileged and gripped with the blithe indifference of privileged 27-year-olds that let me pretend that I wouldn’t ever truly fail at anything simply because I hadn’t spectacularly failed yet.

But that invincibility won’t last forever, and eventually could be turns into could have been. How much more time was I willing to lose in the rebuild, in the ritualistic tearing up of roots every time the wind changed, pretending that I was okay with the shedding of the flotsam and jetsam that made the difference between a house and a home? My entire life, whether by choice or by circumstance, I tried on new cities like I try on clothes, imagining that my terror of not living up to my potential would settle if I just kept running.

I truly wish I had liked Vancouver more, wish I could look at gorgeous vistas of mountains and water and be satisfied.

Toronto is a little grimy and brash and obnoxious. That’s okay. I’m a little grimy and brash and obnoxious, too. We have great intentions and terrible follow-through and we tell ourselves lies about our own virtue, Toronto and I, pretend our goals are more lofty than they are. We try too hard in that irritatingly eager theatre kid way and ask for the moon and usually fall short, and even when we don’t it was probably the wrong question to ask.

Truth be told, Toronto annoys the shit out of me. The soul-killing traffic, the sociopathic drivers, the overcrowded and underfunded subway, the ruthless real estate, the inhumane gentrification. The absurd machinations of city hall and the 45 (then 47) (then 25) city councilors and the endless downtown-suburb culture war exacerbated by the lingering ghost of amalgamation. The way that in the brief months of summer, the sweltering heat conspires with the ubiquitous road construction to form a haze of dust and misery that would not be out of place in Fury Road. I hate how people in other cities talk about Toronto, and when I’m in Toronto, I hate the benign narcissism that gives rise to that reputation.

None of these irritations is unique to Toronto; none of this is special. But in Toronto, they’re mine to love. Maybe it’s as unromantic as the taxi light theory, and my brief stints in Toronto just happened to be during times when I was ready for a home. Or maybe I never felt homesick for other places because I wasn’t a person yet, when I lived there. Toronto makes me feel like a person. Here you are, the city promises, against the tide of a world that is falling apart, and here we’ll be. Like we could never be abandoned again.

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Blog

things that get my hackles up: a countdown

9. non-tech people trash talking tech products that don’t function perfectly as though tech were easy
8. tech people trash talking tech products that don’t function exactly the way they want them to as though tech were easy
7. non-tech people citing Arthur C Clarke’s “sufficiently advanced technology” quote as an excuse for wilful ignorance about the technical systems they use
6. tech people citing Arthur C Clarke’s “sufficiently advanced technology” quote as a justification for hostility and contempt towards their users
5. non-tech people rationalizing bad product decisions as though tech being hard were an excuse for mediocrity
4. tech people rationalizing bad ethical decisions as though tech being hard were an excuse for perpetuating social harm
3. non-tech people thinking the latest brand new disruptive app will generate enough cover to distract from the labour-hostile late-stage capitalist systems they’ve built
2. tech people latching onto universal basic income because it absolves them of the massive inequalities they’ve perpetuated
1. the macbook pro touchbar

it is possible I am in the wrong industry

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Blog, Commentary, Me

Media habits of the exhausted

I like thinking about media consumption habits. The often unconscious choices we make about what we allow space in our brain say a lot about what that brain looks like in that moment, and if you get good enough at noticing those patterns, they can be canaries in the coal mine for your mood. I track my reading habits pretty closely on Goodreads, so it’s easy for me to notice when I’m on a streak or going through a dry-spell. For example: when I’m anxious, I read detective stories where there is a logical reason for events and the bad guys get caught in the end. When I’m depressed, I stop reading new fiction because I don’t want to be potentially disappointed in a new world I’ve put emotional investment into. When I’m angry, I read non-fiction in the hopes that if I just understand our world a little better I can get a little better at helping solve its problems. And when I’m feeling optimistic, I buy new dead-tree books. I’m normally an e-book reader and I only get physical copies of books that resonate with me in some way, so if I’m buying a physical copy of a new book it’s because I feel like I have space in my life for the potential of something wonderful.

I’ve been noticing shifts in these patterns since the election. For one, I’m in school full time, so I’m already doing a lot of difficult new reading, which doesn’t leave a whole lot of time or brain space for leisure reading. For another, running the TinyLetter means that when I see things on the internet, there’s always a part of my brain that’s thinking about what ought to be included in the newsletter. It feels like an indulgence to read a long piece about something non-political on its own merits. I find myself automatically filing away articles that are not immediately salient in favour of Yet Another Explainer About Our Current Political Nightmare, and feeling guilty that it’s taking me months to work through The New Jim Crow while the fiction books on my nightstand gather dust.

This is, of course, damaging. Because one of the important things to keep in mind is that the capital-S Struggle is not enough for its own sake; there must be something to struggle for. And though it may be a small sliver compared to Big Complex Problems like human rights and equality and health care and climate change, the freedom to create and consume art that brings us joy is an essential component of the end goal, too.

We talk a lot about self-care. (Or, well, I do.) And it’s easy to take an afternoon off and unplug from Twitter and go for a walk and take a photo of the sunset and pretend that’s proof of mental serenity, but it’s a lot harder to practice mindful self-care on an ongoing, day-to-day, hour-to-hour basis. I’m not even talking about actually sitting down to read that cool review of a video game you’ll never play. I’m talking about exorcising that reflexive dismissal that such a thing could even have space in our lives, the foregone conclusion that we can no longer afford tiny beautiful things. We can, and we must.

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Blog, Me

It’s not like I was already working 80 hours a week or anything

A couple of quick things:

I went to the Women’s March and it was great! Then I wrote a guide for Canadians who want to keep that momentum going, since we can’t exactly call US reps. (I’ll have to mirror that here at some point for ~*canonical record*~ reasons but uh I don’t have time to deal with the formatting right now.)

I also started a TinyLetter. Since I’m patently not going to consume any less news than I currently do, I might as well use that fixation to help you consume less news.

Also, for the sake of full disclosure: I made all the posts on this blog prior to 2013 private. Because it turns out the writings of a self-important early-twenty-something-year-old are actually really obnoxious! Who woulda thunk.

I’m clearly much wiser now, in my ripe old age of late-twenty-something.

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Blog, Whimsy

Books of 2016

I read 65 books in 2016. Some random numbers:

At least 1 female author: 54%
At least 1 PoC author: 18% (Yikes – I’ll have to do better about that)
Nonfiction: 29% (this is way higher than normal and I am v proud!)
Fantasy: 20%
Comic books: 14%
YA: 11%
Mystery: 11%
Sci-Fi: 8%
Literary: 8%

Best fiction: Dark Orbit by Carolyn Ives Gilman (review), Fifth Season by NK Jemisin
Best non-fiction: Unspeakable Things by Laurie Penny (review)
Most beautiful language: Between The World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Most thought-provoking: Utopia of Rules by David Graeber (review)
Most useful: Don’t Think of an Elephant by George Lakoff
Most enraging: How To Suppress Women’s Writing by Joanna Russ
Most sheer fun: Raven and the Reindeer by T. Kingfisher
Best comic: Saga by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples
Best follow-up in a series: The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater
Most disappointing: Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller (I like unreliable narrators but the nature of the reveal here was just, ugh.)
Most overrated: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
Worst read: The Unhappenings by Edward Aubry (review)

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Blog, Commentary, Social Issues

Be Neville Longbottom

Donald Trump is President-elect of the United States of America.

This was a shock, but it was also not a surprise. It is always a mistake to underestimate the depth of bigotry.

I have spent most of the day staring off into nothing. I have not gone more than half an hour without tearing up or outright crying. I am already sick and tired of reading postmortems but I cannot stop clicking them like a hamster on speed, looking for something that could have saved you, could have saved us. I am angry at everybody. I am angry at everything. I want to tear shit up and burn things down. I want to disappear. Continue reading

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Blog, Commentary

Ashley Madison: It’s not really about infidelity.

(This post was first published on Medium.com)

About a week ago, I posted the following tweet:

In the week since a lot of new information has come to light. There has been a second, larger dump with source code and the CEO’s email. We know about “family values” activist Josh Duggar’s account on the site (for which he seems to be more apologetic than, you know, molesting his sisters). We know about women and members of the LGBTQ population living in repressive regimes whose lives have been put at serious risk because of the leak. We know there are already mercenary “security experts” that are using the public’s fear to harvest email addresses for scams. We are starting to see real-world fall-out, including at least two possible suicides that have been linked to this.

In other words, things have gotten a lot more complicated.

This issue is about much more than infidelity. It’s about our vicious delight in negativity, the inevitable failure of computer security and computer literacy, the collateral damage of schadenfreude, the normalization of vigilante justice, and a collective desire for black-and-white judgments.

This is going to get long. Bear with me. Continue reading

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Blog, Social Issues

Scattered thoughts about minimum wage

I got into a conversation about raising the minimum wage on a friend’s FB thread, and I am reposting my comments here cleaned up a bit so that text is not wasted. 

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If you work 40 hours a week doing nothing but flipping burgers, or mopping floors, or making coffee, I see no conceivable reason why you should not make a living wage. Any argument that attempts to justify why someone working full time should be unable to support themselves is nothing but classist bullshit for “keeping the poor in their place”. Continue reading

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Blog, Commentary

Talking is not enough

Bell Let’s Talk always makes me super uncomfortable for reasons I can never quite articulate. Part of it is because I dislike a company advertising for itself on the backs of advocacy for mental health awareness. I get that this campaign is more effective at raising awareness across the country than Bell just silently throwing a whole gob of money at CAMH, but the ads don’t have to be so damn branded. (Note: I have similar issues with the Dove Campaign co-opting feminism. You didn’t start the conversation, you’re just benefiting from it. Yes, I am a cynical asshole.)

Part of it is also the nagging sense that we’re missing something, and moreover, that the thing we’re missing is being further obscured by a focus on talking.

Continue reading

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