Since it’s the end of the year, I’m going to reflect on the way it all went down. First thought: the first five or so months of this year were some of the worst five or so months I’ve ever felt. This was because I couldn’t feel them at all. 

Every few years I get really depressed. It’s just the way it is, and the way it likely always will be. I am a sturdy house with faulty wiring.

2013 will go down in my own little history (joining 2008, 2002, a fair bit of 2010 and all of middle school) as one of those years. I don’t feel like going into detail about it just now, but it got ugly. Then, gradually, it got better.

The second half of this year has been one of the better second halves of any year, so far. I read and wrote a fair bit and travelled good travels, baked grill marks into my side in a slatted white swimsuit on the first really hot day of late-June, and ran ~355 miles. Most of all, I had nice times with good people and remembered how nice it is to have good people, realized to the fullest extent in my life so-far how grateful I am to have so many people who truly have my back. I’ve always had a loner complex, so it’s been a pleasant surprise to be able to see what everyone else already could: that people like me. That I am a person to like. 

And that’s the thing, when you’re a person who periodically loses the ability to feel. You forget that you are a person of worth. Remembering otherwise is also a relearning, and each time, what you learn gets bigger. “Wisdom” is one word that gets thrown around carelessly, and I’m not going to be one of those assholes who pretends to be wise. “Perspective” might be closer. Anyway, I feel like I’m coming out of this year with more of a sense of how to BE, in the most pared-down sense of the word. Wiser, maybe, if not yet wise. Maybe this will be the time the learning sticks. 

My second thought: this blog has run its course. I talk about myself enough in other places. This will be this blog’s last post. It’s been real.

I am an American living in Toronto. I arrived in 2004, at a time when it was fashionable for young liberals to threaten to move to Canada and, on a more personal but related level, when one-upmanship meant a lot more to me than it does today. This means I’ve lived in the city for almost a decade. For almost a decade, nobody back home cared about it. “Ooh, Toe-rahn-toe,” some would say when I told them where I’d gone for school—an out-of-state tuition I could afford, across an international boundary but on the same system of glacial lakes. How exotic, this implied. Usually, though, I’d just get a vaguely perplexed stare, and whoever I was talking to would change the subject. This is how most Americans think about Canada: briefly, barely, and with little understanding. It isn’t because of willful disinterest, necessarily. I think most people just prefer the mystery. I have relatives with advanced degrees who still think I speak French. 

Because of this, I’m a little tickled to have my mayor’s name on all my American friends’ lips and Facebook walls. Actual shits are being given! About Toronto! Getting America to acknowledge the existence of Toronto is kind of like getting your sheltered Republican grandpa to admit that he’s long suspected Obama’s probably not a Muslim. It’s not the best-case scenario, but it’s a step.

A step to what? That, I’m unclear on.

I’ve lost track of all the major media coverage we’ve gotten back home.The flashy tail end (knock wood) of a years-long public spectacle is being (and has been) broadcast, in distillation, for all the motherland to see; really, all the world. Once the mayor was lampooned on the opening sketch of Saturday Night Live (and why yes that would be the sketch reserved for the most interesting and important news of the week, thank you very much), I knew I had to cut myself off. I couldn’t even pretend that I cared they screwed up the accents.

This is all very exciting. It also feels terribly absurd.

For the record, I did not vote for Rob Ford. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t, because I am not a citizen and cannot legally vote for anyone. My experience of Rob Ford’s tenure as mayor of Toronto has been one of a civically concerned and emotionally invested denizen without full license to have either concern or investment. From a bleachers seat, I’ve watched the mayor oppose every remotely compassionate by-law thrown in his direction, well before he admitted to using and buying drugs, driving drunk, and publicly insisting he has “more than enough to eat at home” in the context of his poor, poor wife’s bits. Somewhere along the line, Toronto stopped being the aloof but gentle leather-jacketed enigma I’d envisioned when I moved here, an ignorant American, at 18. It became, instead, something more familiar: a divided city.

While I’ve been here for some time, it’s Ford who has made me realize that I can’t reconcile the symbolic Toronto of my shaky but gut-trusting understanding with the truth that it’s a real city with real city rifts still figuring out how to grapple with both. If I could, I’d likely be less surprised that we’ve found ourselves with a leader so obviously, so cartoonishly, villainous, yet with such broad appeal.

Audiences abroad won’t likely catch the nuance. They haven’t been backgrounded on policy and demographics, growing pains in a city most viewers will not know. Instead, they’ll see more of the gong show they didn’t expect from a place they may not have given thought to, be momentarily surprised, and forget. They are not commiserating with us; they are eating popcorn and waiting for the next outrageous plot twist. It feels uncomfortable but oddly uplifting, like lapses into tenderness from a largely indifferent lover who occasionally bangs your friends.

Notoriety is a narcotic buzz. It’s like being in a fight, waiting for the next punch to land. That is, until you’re unable to feel anything at all.




By CF, courtesy of NYT

By CF, courtesy of NYT

Lately I’ve been joking a lot about monetizing my anxiety. Why not? Everyone loves an entrepreneur.

Early in the year, I spoke with the author Claire Messud about her latest novel and, in one of the many tangents that conversation would take, she explained to me how some women are “good in their skin,” like the sort-of villain in her book. I think there was a french phrase associated with that, which I don’t remember because I can’t speak french, but the unfairness of the concept really struck me. So much so, when I played the interview back for transcription a while later I heard myself ask Messud: “REALLY? These people exist?” And there’s so much doubt in my voice that it doesn’t even sound like me anymore, my low nasal drone warped shrill with incredulity. Without context, a listener might guess that a third person had entered the mix.

Anxiety is a feeling of impending doom that finds a home in everything. I work for myself on a contract-to-contract basis, so there’s plenty in the inherent structure (or lack thereof) of my day to day to encourage an ongoing hum of existential dread. But I know it wouldn’t make a difference if I woke up every morning to the same routine at the same reliable desk job with the same benevolent taskmaster making sure I met my daily quotas. Because anxiety is something I carry with me, like an infant. I am its next-level attachment parent, shaping my life in tandem with its wants and pissy peeps, holding it over strategically placed bowls when it wants to void its bowels. I try not to think about how codependent we are, how much the both of us needs the other in order to exist in a way that makes sense. Fact is, there’s always something to ruminate over, a future to prepare for, a now to correct. Things are going well? That other shoe will hurt especially hard once it drops. 

I’ve discovered the New York Times‘ anxiety blog, which makes me feel a little less like shit–or, at least, like I have company in the quagmire. It’s quite an age to worry in! So many channels for our thought loops! Every day is pretty much a worrier’s choose-your-own-adventure. 

“We worry,” says the blog. “Nearly one in five Americans suffer from anxiety. For many, it is not a disorder, but a part of the human condition.” 

I haven’t determined the line between disorder and human condition, and neither has the profession that’s responsible for drawing those distinctions. But I’ll probably spend the next ten minutes mulling it over, or until I come up with a professional worrier’s business plan. I hope it will involve bumper stickers.

Basking in the warm glow of my late 20s, that's what.

Basking in the warm glow of my late 20s, that’s what.

I turned 27 last week. “That’s a good age,” a mid-30s friend told me. “Not too young, not too old!” I agreed. It felt good, I told him via Twitter message.

Later, when I was lifting two birthday bouquets into the narrow hallway to my very 20-something apartment (the kind with a futon in place of a couch), my upstairs neighbor asked me: “How old?” I suppose I could have answered, “Young enough that grown men don’t feel strange asking.” Instead I told him, and when he asked how it feels I said, again, “Good.”

When my mother was 27 she’d been married for four years and employed for three by the same people who write her checks today. When her mother was 27, she had two kids (my mom was the second) and ran a farm. Now I’m 27 and employ myself and put off getting married and buy $12 cocktails instead of saving responsibly. I’ll worry about that, I’ve figured, when I’m an adult. Or adult-er.

It’s telling that the show Girls (about 20something women in New York who I guess I’m supposed to relate to) is written by the nearly-27-year-old Lena Dunham. The characters are a couple years younger, but not enough to make a huge difference. I may have been a little more of a mess when I was 24, Hannah Horvath’s age on show, but I was no girl. But if I had been, nobody would have faulted me for it.

Adulthood isn’t a number, but you know it when you see it. My friends from high school are getting married and having babies, for instance, and while I don’t think those milestones define adulthood or togetherness they do signify a place at which lasting choices are permissible. At first it was only the friends I might have gone to wholesome parties with once upon a time but never visited after graduation, but now the group’s expanded to include people with whom I’ve shared books and pubescent angst, Brooklyn cab pukes and 3am dancing. And where I might recently have thought,”This is wrong,” as though other people’s commitment to Big Decisions meant I was on the clock for mine, now I think “This is nice,” because it feels good to get a sense of what the long term is going to look like for the little friend-family I’ve forged, to feel like the girl-flux is slowing down. I liked being a girl sometimes, but it got exhausting. Bring on those late-20s, the thirtyish years. I’m ready to be a woman.

I renewed this site for another year. Now read this essay on race and indie rock fandom.

Hello world! Happy new year. Though I guess it’s not that new anymore. Three weeks in, 2013 already feels old hat. 

It’s been a big one for me so far, anyway. I became a permanent resident of Canada, a specification irrelevant to the vast majority of the global and even Canadian population but essentially a guaranteed ban against future deportation from now until the end of time. It’s not citizenship, but the biggest and hardest step in that direction. Few who haven’t dealt directly with the Canadian immigration system, including most natural-born Canadians, have any idea what it is but it’s good. I threw a big party last week and invited the band whose video is displayed above and they came! Lovely people, too. And the day before, my therapist dumped me (we’d taken our relationship as far as it could go, you see). A big year so far indeed. 

Then, there’s the issue of this blog. I barely update it anymore and the domain’s about to expire. Do I even bother to renew?

I started this blog just over three years ago ostensibly to write about food, craft, and curiosities, but mostly because I wanted to be a writer and was told real writers write blogs. I picked up a number of readers off the bat but the voice this thing started with wasn’t really mine, and few of those original readers remain. Now I am a writer, professionally and 100% of the time, and this thing has turned into a diary. Diaries are fine, but I’m not sure I want mine on the Internet. I overshare enough on Twitter as is. 

So do I renew? Do I abandon? Do I repurpose? I have 24 hours left to decide. Here ’til then. Maybe gone tomorrow. 


Whenever some hugely incomprehensible tragedy happens where a bunch of people are killed by, say, a single gunman who is young, white and male, we react by trying to make sense of things and by straining to figure out how to prevent history from repeating itself. The issue of mental illness and its probable role inevitably crops up, and we debate whether or not the gunman was “crazy” or “normal” as if those two are entirely separate possibilities.

Here’ s the thing: mental illness is normal. Actually, it’s totally banal, as is this entire blog post.  It’s your drunk uncle, your perpetually weeping grandmother, the cataclysmic highs-then-lows of your best friend’s mom. What it isn’t, by default, is some abstract “crazy person” caricature who grimaces through the world with the subtlety of a sonic boom.  

You don’t “probably” know someone who struggles to escape the grip of mental illness; unless you were hatched from an egg and are reading this from a secluded cave that just happens to have wi-fi, you absolutely 100% do. Real talk: you know several. 20 percent of all Canadians will personally grapple with some form of mental illness in their lifetime. For those of you even worse at math than I am, that’s one out of every five people. In the U.S., that rate is even higher—26.2 percent is the estimate. That’s higher than the number of people in the U.S., for example, with blue eyes.

I just spouted off some totally common knowledge that we, as a group, manage so frequently to ignore. So, let’s do each other all a favor and stop talking about mental illness in terms of “some crazy person.” We know far too much about its ubiquity to perpetuate stigma. Instead, let’s acknowledge that it’s something many of us have to deal with, that it doesn’t make us bad or weak, and that it’s something that deserves treatment—and, that most unpopular word, compassion—in order to make people more functional and humane members of society. And then, once we make its care more accessible (LOTS of work needed on that front), let’s not chastise those who make the incredibly courageous and responsible decision to take advantage of it.



It’s the holiday season, a time when long-separated relatives gather together to share in food and libations, catch up on the happenings in each other’s lives, exchange thoughts on current events, and reflect on the year. It’s also a time when familiarity and booze combine to make people behave like asses—often, it seems, at the expense of unmarried members of the family.

If you’re reading this, you probably agree with me already. You were lured in by the title, and you clicked and scrolled at will. You do not need to read this because you already get it. But someone you know does. You know the person. So, the following message is for that person, the person you have perhaps just shared this important lesson with in hopes of Making A Difference, the person I will be addressing from this point forward:

Please. I implore of you. Do not be the ass that asks your unmarried relatives if and when they are planning on getting married.

“But it doesn’t seem to bother them!” you might say to me, now, laughing, because you have seriously not figured out that asking your niece, nephew, cousin or child about their private romantic lives is about as appropriate as them asking you how often you bang your spouse, and in what position. So clueless you are, you’ve neglected to consider that your inquiries into their private, romantic lives are about as much your business as whether you prefer missionary or doggie style is theirs. It is every bit as crass, and equally unwelcome.

Your relative may not say anything to indicate that they are bothered by your question and, in fact, they may be so used to it that they aren’t. You are not the first person to ask them this, you see. They would probably rather let it slide than confront you about it, because they see you once or twice a year and like to keep those rare interactions pleasant and meaningful. But I’m willing to bet money on one thing: the moment those words escape your lips, they are judging you for being an ass. 

“But I just mean to make small talk!” you might reply. Don’t look wounded! Your relative knows that small talk is not what you meant at all! What you meant to say, dear ass, is “when the fuck are you going to get your life together and BE AN ADULT?” because you are one of those asses who believes that adulthood and responsibility are defined by a list of prescribed milestones beginning with marriage. Your relative sees right through you; in fact, you are probably not the first person in his or her life to give them that hint. So stop pretending you ask because you care and admit it: you are being an ass.

Oh, and by the way, if your relative has been in a committed relationship for several years but hasn’t chosen to commemorate their bond with a grotesque blood rock and $25,000 pageant, for the love of not being an ass do not refer to their partner as their “friend.” That person is not their friend; that person is their partner. And you are an ass. 

Every Tuesday night I take a bus, then a subway, then another bus to get to the church where my choir rehearses. I sit on public transit for an hour, give or take, and I get off and walk for three minutes down a woody path that cuts straight through a cluster of apartment buildings and spits me out within view of the church.

I didn’t always know about the path. Before I found it I would get off at the next bus stop and walk, at an impatient clip, for 11-13 minutes through an outdoor mall to get to practice. Sometimes I would stop on the way for a too-hot and too-expensive cup of soup from the luxury grocery store on the periphery of the complex. Then another member of the choir showed me the path. The shortcut saves me a minimum of six minutes.

The shopping centre route I used to take is the maze with all the recycling signs.

The path is genius. It acts as a bridge where the grid of the city lets up into an unwieldy tangle and smells like forest, to boot. But, also like the forest, my path is unlit.

This past Tuesday, the sun set in Toronto at 6:20p.m. Last week Tuesday, sunset was 6:31. Rehearsal, both Tuesdays, began at 7. Both Tuesdays, the “give or take” hourlong commute gave instead of took and I was late.

Last Tuesday I got out of the bus with my earbuds tucked in. It’s probably not a good idea to walk into a wooded, unlit path after sunset with earbuds tucked in, but I was listening to a podcast about a woman who got attacked by a shark and I didn’t want to stop listening. So I walked into the dark, wooded path without being able to see very well, and also without much ability to hear things apart from the podcast, which was very good.

That’s when the man appeared.

I saw his arm first, which he extended toward me with a piece of paper at its end. Then I saw his hood and his shape. He said something I couldn’t understand.

“NO!” I shouted at him. I half-heard my own voice as it came out of my body, girlish and shrill. I had re-watched Clueless the night before and it occurred to me that I’d just sounded like Cher.

“God!” said the man. He sounded wounded. I could hear him because I’d pulled out an earbud. “I–I’ve lost my cat!”

I could tell from his voice he was telling the truth. He had probably asked me, “Have you seen my cat?” before I could hear him, and he probably lived in one of the apartment buildings adjacent to the mouth of the trail. He was probably trying to hand me a poster he’d made with his cat’s picture on it and a number where I could reach him. He was upset.

“You can’t just sneak up on a girl walking by herself in the dark like that!” I realized I was crying.

A serial perpetrator of sexual assaults in my neighborhood (possibly, allegedly, a teenage boy) didn’t stop my nighttime jogs. I don’t carry weapons and I don’t know self-defense. I walk alone more often than I don’t, usually through the city, sometimes at night. While I wouldn’t say I haven’t been cautious, I haven’t really been scared either. I guess you could say I’ve been macho.

But I wasn’t crying because I’d been macho. My tears were hot and so was my face. I was crying because I was angry.

I was angry because I had acted like an asshole. Fear and a pair of earbuds and a guy who didn’t know not to approach a woman in the dark because he had never lived as one made me into the kind of person who shouts at a guy who’s just lost his cat. Who shouts at someone who just lost their cat? An asshole. And, well, me.

I was angry at myself for other reasons, too–for losing composure, for being slow on my feet. But probably, more than anything, I was angry at the cosmic injustice of knowing that, if guy had hurt me, people would be wondering why I was careless enough to walk down a dark path wearing earbuds. And I was angry at myself for being careless, too! It was all very circular.

Anyway, nothing actually happened. Thank goodness! But now I have to think about whether it’s a good idea to keep taking my shortcut. And it’s a bummer.

As I’ve written about a lot before, I’m a mixed kid who grew up in a bicultural household. My mom moved to the U.S. from El Salvador as an adult. My dad’s grandparents were immigrants to the U.S. from Poland and Germany (so, generic white person). I grew up listening to my mom’s Latin pop (my dad’s not really a music guy) and eventually got into noisy alt rock as a teenager (my fave bands were Sonic Youth and Sleater Kinney, neither of which sound like merengue). But I didn’t discover Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez’ Love and Rockets, the early 1980s alternative comic series, until I was in my early twenties.

I loved the aesthetic of the series, the women-centric storylines, and the punked-out Chicano characters of especially Jaime’s stories. I don’t think there’s been anything quite like it, before or since. Los Bros Hernandez were on my favourite music podcast yesterday, NPR’s Alt.Latino, to talk about the music they grew up on and how it shaped their work. Here’s the link.