2015 is kicking my ass

There’s a poster on the building across from mine that says “Choose Happy”. It’s written in one of those inadvisable funky fonts, so that it looks like “Choose Hoody”. Some stupid phone company reminds me every day that if I opt for a collared sweater, it might rain.

It sounds really simple. It sounds so blissfully, deliciously simple. Some eager marketing person has, out of either idiocy or brilliance, reduced advertising to this, its essential message: you can be happy. You just have to choose the right thing.

All around me, everyone seems to have their lives, their missions, their relationships, their jobs, their cars, pets, hair, teeth, Starbucks orders, 5-year plan, summer wedding, conception of the afterlife figured out. They have a business card inside their suit that leads to their website, where it will all be explained. They still need funding, but they have some good leads and a lot of hope.

It makes me want to stay in bed. It makes me want to bury my head under the covers like a blanket ostrich and wait for the day to end, because this all, this everything that everyone else seems to have figured out, feels at once impossible and totally un-worthwhile to me. I’m an expert at cynically dismissing what everyone else wants but have no idea what else to want. I don’t know how to choose happy because I can’t even figure out what my version of happiness looks like.

I get stuck on this idea that tomorrow is the day I wake up and get my life together. I missed waking up at 8, so I’ve missed the day. I might as well not do anything today and tomorrow I will start again.

I’ve tried things, in 2015. I tried working for a bank for 6 months, where I learned that a job that makes you miserable is never worth staying at. I moved into an apartment in downtown Toronto, with a view of the water and the city, and I learned what cardinal direction it points in and started trying to observe some things, like the progress of the new condos they’re building across the street. These seem like basic things, but for a person who exists mostly inside her own head, they’re accomplishments.

There’s a lot of 2015 left. There’s still time for me to get up, a little bruised, and start kicking back.


It seems to me

You never let go of hatred

But, hear me out:

You always clung to love.

We grew up in a place where plates flew

Where a kiss was followed by a yell

And a yell by a kiss

Where hate and love happened like one tree with two roots.

And so of course,

We tore each other’s hair out by the handful as we held hands on the street

Our kisses were followed by yells and our yells by kisses

We screamed and cried and bullied between the pet names

We made each other small and big

And to us, it was all the same.

And now we’re here, grown up,

And you, I think, still hate.

I have lost the how.

When I left home, I severed hatred like a black limb and cast it off

I spent years learning to wince away from anything that looked like anger

I never wanted to yell again.

You, the littler, wiser one

I think knew

That to cut down the trunk was to kill both roots.

Happy Birthday to Me

Families are hard. This is a subject which has been written about in every possible way, but which never ceases to be fascinating, because as a dead Russian called Tolstoy once said, “each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” He also said, “happy families are all alike,” but I think he may have been wrong about that; if you’ve ever met a family so happy that it is uninteresting, I’d like to be introduced to it so that I can preserve it in gold, or at least film it for the remainder of its natural days.

Holidays are a well-documented catalyst for family unhappiness, for all of the obvious reasons: entire, often extended families are gathered together, entire, often extended families are placed under the burning Hollywood-induced pressure to have one perfect day, reckless drinking ensues.

My birthday is on December 27th, which means that, through pure cosmic accident (I could be miffed at Jesus, but he was here first), it falls naturally into the category of family holiday. I would argue that the family birthday is even worse than your average family holiday, because it follows a very particular model of the pressure-to-be-happy formula. My birthday is, in theory, supposed to be a day that makes me perfectly happy. It is supposed to be the one day of the year on which I can do exactly as I please, with no consideration for whether my actions appeal to anyone but myself[1].

The problem with this, of course, is that my whole family subscribes to this theory. My mother believes that I should do exactly what will make me the happiest, and so do my father and my sister. They are all very concerned with my happiness, on this, the day of the year that is my birthright. My mother, my father, my sister, and I, however, all have very different ideas about what will make me happy. Any deviation from each vision of my perfect day is seen as a great sacrifice on my part.

My mother, for example, thinks that cake is an essential part of my day’s happiness. When I tell her that I would rather skip cake, because I slept in and now I want to go write until the family gathers for birthday dinner, after which I would like to go dancing with my friends, I see the disbelief in her eyes. I must want cake on my birthday. I am giving up the glorious pile of icing and chocolate that I really want because of some ulterior motive, some neurosis that I cannot lay by even on the best day of the year. A diet, a super-ego vision of writerly self-denial, a desire to please my friends by leaving the warm comfort of family to engage in typical, brutal twenty-something birthday rituals. How can I tell her that she’s wrong? She’s not wrong. But today is not a day to examine the tangled roots of my desires. Today is my birthday, and I will act on my impulses without picking them apart if I want to.

I think that the solution is, most likely, to relinquish the idea of birthday as day of total selfishness, to admit to the total impossibility of perfect selfishness. To recognize that to have exactly what one wants never leads to happiness. In celebrating myself, on my birthday, I will celebrate my mother, for having given birth to me, a physical feat which I don’t even like to think about too hard. I will celebrate my father, for having provided for me when I was a tiny, naked thing and onwards into my adult years. I will celebrate my parents, for having raised me to be a person whom I pretty much like most days and even love on the good ones. I will celebrate my sister, for having been my first companion, for having borne the brunt of my early passions, the fits of rage and the ecstasies of imagination, for continuing to offer wisdom and perspective to a sister who lives across the country and with whom she has at once less and too much in common than you would hope for in a close friend. I will celebrate all of the people I have met and loved, people to whom I have tried – and often failed – to give as much as I take.

I will celebrate life, which – as, again, many dead people have told us, Russian and otherwise – is very short, and also (already, at only twenty-two years) so full.

I will be totally happy with not being perfectly happy, because perfect contentment could exist only in a void, and that is – clearly, obviously – not happiness at all.

P.S. Thank you for the birthday wishes! I loved them.

[1] If you don’t believe me, I will take the liberty of referring you to the ultimate authority on birthday traditions, Dr. Seuss’ Happy Birthday to You! Corroborating sources on the problem of conflicting birthday desires include The Beatles’ “Birthday” and 50 Cent’s “In Da Club”.

Playing fast and loose with the word “wisdom”: A listicle.

Wisdom gained after having been in the city 6 months:


Refused to take plastic bag from grocery store this week even though had forgotten to bring own bag. Carrying groceries home in arms like misshapen infant, dropped bottle of Kraft salad dressing. Accidentally kicked bottle halfway down the street. Bottle completely unscathed. Congratulations on your extremely durable salad dressing bottles, Kraft.

Wisdom gained: in apocalypse, build shelter of Kraft bottles. Possible advantage of having a lot of condiments in case of having to eat other survivors.


It’s hard to make friends. It’s easy to meet a lot of people and be friendly to them. How does an adult make a friend? My first friend and I became friends because she liked to pretend that she was a dog and I liked to pretend that I was a dog owner. I don’t think this would qualify as a basis for adult friendship, and even if it did, I’m not that into dogs.

Wisdom gained: Steer clear of bestial tendencies, even at the price of urban alienation.


Dating everyone who asks you out on public transit, Tinder, at the bar is an ineffective method of making friends. It might actually make you negative friends, if you count all the people in your current city who have a latent, unfocused dislike for you as minuses.

Wisdom gained: Be nice to men, they’re people too.


Being a person is hard. As a person who loves fiction, I think it’s easy to have heavy illusions about this particular fact.

Being a character is easy. Someone gives you a unique sense of style, and an apartment with pictures in it, and hobbies, and the ability to discern between different types of wine and cigars, they give you quirks that make you charming and flaws that make you relatable and then they give you other characters to interact with that are fascinating and say fascinating things that allow you to respond in fascinating ways, and then they propel your narrative forward in highly destructive ways that totally mess up the personhood that they have built for you because that is more compelling to the audience and after all you are just this character that they have built and it wasn’t that hard to build you.

If you are not a character but a real human being, you have to find and do all of this stuff by yourself and you have to make it stable, you have to nail those pictures firmly onto the walls because when you inevitably do something to blow it all up you want there to be a few remnants, a few constants to keep your feet on the ground. If all the extras walk out on you, the set will still be there.

Wisdom gained: It’s really difficult to make conscious choices about the kind of person you want to be and then follow through on them. It might even be impossible. It is much easier to throw your hands in the air and accept that you are an unshapeable blob. The glory is in the struggle and I’m so lazy, it’s really hard for me to accept that.

Side thought: Social media is terrible because it gives everyone the ability to be a character, to advertise or fabricate the things that make them fascinating and to sweep all evidence of explosions under the rug and then you’re standing in your metaphorical head-space living room looking at all the little piles of shit on your own rug and wondering why you’re the only one whose apartment is a perpetual disaster. Also where did you pick up that friend that likes to pretend he’s a dog, and how can you get him to stop shitting in your living room?  


If you’re trying to compile a list, you should stick to a format where each item on the list is of approximately the same size and has an identifiable, repetitive structure. This will not only give your reader an anticipation of what is coming next, providing momentum to continue reading your highly accessible, compelling and fascinating list, but will also mask any bias you feel towards any particular item on the list, thus allowing you to appear logical, stable, and detached. If you lose sight of your list’s structure and, for example, write an entire half-page for a single item, it will be apparent to your reader that you are not actually writing an informative list that people other than yourself should care about. They will know that you are just ranting but with some numbers in the left-hand margin.

Wisdom gained: listicles not viable format for blog posts.


Fall is the most commercial of seasons. The leaves change colour and all of a sudden I feel compelled to buy pumpkin things and new sweaters. I have tried on so many sweaters in the past two weeks. I have ramped up my job-applying game with the actual motivation of wanting to buy new sweaters. And maybe a pair of really cute short boots. I want to give someone some of my money so that I can do the work of picking produce for myself. I want to spend a perfect autumn afternoon buying coffee after coffee in a cozy coffee shop, preferably wearing an artsy new scarf. I want to pay Justin Vernon for whatever mumbled prophecy he’s birthed recently and then use it as the focal point of a playlist that I will call simply “Fall, <3”. I want to wear so many layers. I need more clothes, just in sheer quantity, to allow for the amount of layers I want to wear.

Wisdom gained: Being poor gives you insight into how much your desires and associations are fuelled by advertising. Having to deny yourself makes you realize that a lot of the things you want are stupid.


Fall might also be the most couple-y of seasons. Why is everyone so in love all of a sudden?

Wisdom gained: Am choosing to see the need to be part of a couple as a facet of seasonally associative corporate brainwashing. See above re: nonsensical, easily dismissed desires.


Keeping a reading diary is an awesome thing! Everyone should keep a reading diary. I found mine from my formative years and was surprised by how much smarter 14-year-old me was than I remember, which was pleasant, and I decided to revive the habit, although I am just now realizing that it may lead to the unfortunate discovery that I am now dumber than I was as a teenager. In any case, writing down the things you think about the things you read is very rewarding, as it turns out.

Wisdom gained: End list on a positive note with some helpful advice. Hopefully theoretical reader will forget middle, unrelated, unintentionally emotionally revealing section of list.    


You’d think that people living in big cities would share something. You’d think that there would be a solidarity borne of common struggle, that people would pass each other in the street with a knowingness in their eyes, a nod if not a smile.

Here we are, in this crazy thing. It’s going, it’s gone, there’s nothing we can do about it now.

Like being strapped into a cart about to go over a cliff, harnessed in at the neck and waist, and reaching over to squeeze the hand of the stranger sitting next to you.

But it wasn’t. The stranger, surprised and affronted by the touch, looked at you with fear in his eyes. That was, unless you happened to be a cute young girl. If you were a cute young girl, the look softened, the hand ceded to the grip.

This was a thought that Gerald often had, in fact a surmise at which many of his thinkings arrived. If you lived in a city, the thing to be was a young woman. Doors were held for you, food and drink appeared in your hands. The world was excitable and open to you.

It’s not as if Gerald had a pair of lacy underwear hiding in a drawer at home. He just thought that if he had to do it all over, given the choice, he would be a cute young girl.

He owned a building in the city. It was a modest building, four stories tall, of a rectangular, unimposing design, but he kept it in perfect condition, clean and always with a fresh coat of pleasant-coloured paint. He had worked hard to have this building as security in his old age, and no one had given him anything and it had not been easy.

Today, he was sitting in a plastic chair just outside the door of his building. It was a sunny day, and he was waiting for a prospective tenant to come see an apartment on the third floor.

A young woman lived on the top floor of the building with her boyfriend. This was not a cute young girl. This was a beautiful girl, of the sort of overwhelming beauty that is seen only rarely over the course of a lifetime. She had light, light blue eyes. She was tall but very fragile, like a long, thin rod of glass.

Today, this woman was screaming at her boyfriend. She was screaming and crying and hiccupping. She had a thick layer of shame in her voice, and a ragged edge of desperation and fury. Gerald hoped that she would stop before the prospective tenant was supposed to arrive, so that he would not have to knock at her door and ask her to be quieter.

He thought of all the things he had done for such girls in his life, all the tricks he had pulled to make young girls pay attention to him. I would not go back, he thought. Provided one must live in the city, provided one has to be a man. It’s better to be old. 

The Ghosts of Summers Past

There’s a field behind the high school near my house that I’ve been taking boys to to make out all summer. No, I’m serious. I know it’s juvenile. It springs not so much from a desire to relive as a desire to rewrite. 

Summer in high school was a time outside of time. It was when anything could happen, when the rigid possibilities of being in high school fell away. When it came to an end – an end like this summer is ending, oh August, Sunday of summers, why must you be so heartbreaking, even as you die – it was an end that sealed in change. You went back to high school, at least for the first day, feeling that things were going to be very different, carrying with you your parcel of changes, all the ways in which you had been marked as plain to you as if you were wearing new skin. 

Fifteen-year-old me would have called this summer a full seizure of possibility. The things I do now with complete flippancy, immune to any kind of personal development they might try to wreak upon me, are things that she considered totally beyond her grasp. 

But it feels empty. It feels like something that was supposed to happen and didn’t. Like I slept through Christmas.

I can’t believe it’s already August. 



Whatever it is, don’t pick at it. The phrase usually refers to skin ailments, but can be easily translated to apply to emotional wounds.

Olivia got home from coffee with Mike to find Jessie lying on the floor of their kitchen. The front door of their apartment opened into the kitchen – illogically, like everything else in the apartment – so that the first thing Olivia saw upon pushing the door open, keys in hand, carrying a small bag from the grocery store, was Jessie’s almost naked body splayed out on the floor. There had been only a few occasions on which Olivia had seen Jessie anything but almost naked; it was her preferred state of dress, the precarious edge of nudity. Today, the form of this that Jessie had decided on was tiny denim shorts and cotton bralet. She was also wearing some kind of moon pendant, the necklace accentuated by her deficiency of clothing.

“What are you doing?” Olivia asked.

“Is it over?” Jessie asked, propping herself up on her elbows. “Did you break up?”

“He broke up with me,” Olivia said. She opened the fridge and put in the few things she’d bought at the supermarket: a new container of hummus, a couple of individual yogurts, a bunch of green onions. A box of rice crackers went into the cupboard.

“Man.” Jessie rolled over onto her stomach and cradled her chin in her hands. “It’s really over?”

Olivia closed the cupboard and turned to face her roommate. She was wearing a black dress with a high collar. “Yep,” she said. She noticed for the first time that there was a more-than-half-empty bottle of white wine on the floor next to Jessie.

“Man,” Jessie said again. “I really thought you guys were perfect together, you know?”

“What are you doing on the floor?” Olivia asked.

“I don’t know. I’m thinking. And the floor is cold. Everything in this apartment is sweating hot. How are you wearing that?”

“Have you been outside?”

“No. Is it not hot outside? What time is it?”

“It’s four, Jessie.”

“Want to go do something?”

“Not really.”

“I’ve been wanting to do something all day.”

“So go. Do something.”

“I don’t know. I’m bored. Or sad, maybe. I can’t think of anything to do that will make me not bored or sad.”

Olivia sighed and walked to her room. She could hear Jessie from the kitchen saying, “Or not sad exactly. I’m melancholy, I think.”

Olivia found a cardboard box in her cupboard and started to pick Mike’s things from among her own. There wasn’t much to pack up; it hadn’t been a long relationship and over the course of it, he had only left necessities in her apartment. There were a couple of pairs of boxer shorts, a toothbrush and a bottle of mouthwash – the stunted travel size – there was an inexpensive watch that seemed to have stopped, a nameless, faceless white t-shirt, a copy of For Whom the Bell Tolls that Mike had been sort-of-reading for months, and an electric razor, brought over in a moment of pre-parental-encounter haste about a week ago, which looked like the only thing he might actually want back. Olivia gathered it all and arranged it, item by item, in the box. The entire collection barely reached the rim, and it looked small and insignificant. The summary of a romance. Olivia was contemplating whether to rearrange it when Jessie walked in. She lingered in the door, hanging off the doorframe.

“So…what happened?”

“Nothing. He broke things off.”

“Just out of nowhere? I thought you really liked each other.”


“He had to have some reason.”

“He doesn’t feel like we’re going anywhere, he wants to go travelling, he wants to do it by himself. There were a lot of reasons, but really he just didn’t want to be together anymore.”

“Want to go egg his house?”

“No, Jess!”

“Come on. It would feel so good.”

“Jesus, he lives in a condo building. He rents the place from his parents.”

“We could wait outside and just get him as he walks out.”

“He would see us!”

“No, we could –

“I’m not even discussing this.”

Jessie shrugged. “What are you going to do with his stuff?”

“Send it back to him.” Olivia closed the box, with purpose, and taped it up.

Jessie came into the room and grabbed her by the shoulders. “You’re allowed to be angry, Liv.”

“I know,” she said. “Thanks, Jessie.”


Olivia had to go into work that evening. On the way home, she realized she’d forgotten her keys. She felt a momentary pinch of frustration; it wasn’t like her. She assumed that Jessie wouldn’t have left the apartment, but when she arrived, there was a note taped to the front door in her friend’s loopy handwriting. Come to Rosewood Park.

Alright, Jessie, she thought, too tired to resist. I’ll play.

Rosewood Park was a block from their apartment. It was on the corner of two busy streets; hurried cars paid it no attention. It featured a jarring mix of graffitied surfaces and overgrown wildlife, lush maybe-poisonous urban weeds growing out of its every un-concreted surface. The only people Olivia had ever seen in it were letting their dogs piss on it.

Jessie was standing over something in the middle of this park. Olivia started to get an uneasy, foreboding feeling in her stomach. As she approached, it became clear that the something was a fire.

“Christ, are you allowed to have an open fire in a public park?”

Jessie shrugged. “I don’t know.”

Olivia looked closer and saw that the thing that was on fire was the box she had packed of Mike’s stuff. She wanted to scream, she wanted to cry, she wanted to hit Jessie.

“Jess, what is that?”

“Oh yeah,” Jessie shrugged again. “It deserves to be burned.”

“Jessie, that’s fucked up! We can’t burn his stuff.”

“No, it isn’t,” Jessie answered. “Let’s get drunk and dance around the fire.”

“It’s not as if he was a bad person.”

“No, sure, he was a decent person. He just didn’t love you.” Jess handed her a bottle of wine, not the same one that had been in the kitchen.

“Not everyone can love you.”

Jessie threw something else into the fire. “And that’s shitty. People who claim to love you should be capable of doing so.”

Olivia let herself drink copiously. Later, as the embers settled, as Mike’s property was burning into nothing, Jessie leaned in and settled her elbows on her knees and said, “But he was a real shit, wasn’t he?”

There was only a very satisfying ash left. “He wasn’t. Honestly. He was good people. That makes it worse, doesn’t it?”

“Let’s not bother thinking about it.”

Jessie flung the last thing into the fire. The white t-shirt. A police car went by, sirens on. “Let’s go get arrested,” she said.