In Which I Think I’ve Finally Had It

In Which I Think I’ve Finally Had It

The bestie is going to Rhode Island next week for a friend’s birthday trip. There’s a part of me that’s happy for him, for managing to carpe the diem despite living in a country that is burning down around his ears. And there’s a part of me that’s envious. I’m envious of his ability to throw caution to the wind. I’m envious because I can’t seem to.

I am angry with myself for being such a scaredy cat. It’s like I woke up one day, realized that a.) this virus isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, b.) it may not be all that easy to shake off for my demographic and c.) have hobbled myself ever since by restricting my movements mostly to work and home because I can’t seem to silence the inner voice that keeps screaming “I don’t wanna die! I don’t wanna die! I don’t wanna die!”

I’ve spent the night in a haunted jail. I’ve slept with a dinner knife under my pillow after booking a $25/night bed in what, in hindsight, was surely a borderline illegal hostel. I’ve taken numerous walks in the dead of night, under questionable lighting, from my place to the main road so I could catch a jeepney to work. I’ve travelled solo. So why can I not do this? Why am I so cowed? Why can’t I bring myself to take up the reins of my normal life and take the risk? 

I’m tired of doing my part. I’m tired of staying in. I’m tired of avoiding crowds, tired of avoiding people, tired of wearing a mask in public. I’m tired of hand sanitizers. I’m tired of keeping my distance.

I’m tired of following instructions.

I’m tired of this heat.

I’m tired of streaming shows. 

I’m tired of numbing my feelings with food. 

I’m tired of avoiding most of the news cycle. I’m exhausted. Every time I think we’ve done it – eating Tide Pods? Gender reveal parties? Humanity finally hits rock bottom! – the news comes on and I realize that noooo, we are not done. Not by a long shot. There are still new depths to plumb.  I’m tired of reading about selfish, uneducated assholes who believe Covid-19 is a hoax. I’m tired of protesters who think mandatory mask-wearing is detrimental to their health and an assault on their freedoms, tired of idiots who think “it’s over” and have illegal bonfire parties at the beach with crappy music, tired of people who walk around thinking “well, I already have it anyway, so I may as well be out.”

I’m tired of borders. I’m tired of feeling hemmed in. Tired of the 9-to-5. I’m tired of watching people act like it’s fine to carry on the way we used to, and I’m tired of being in survival mode all the time.

I’m tired of all the politics. I’m tired of sexism. Of racism. Of victimhood. I’m tired of clapbacks. I’m tired of cancel culture. I’m tired of illiteracy. I’m tired of stupidity. I’m tired of social media. I’m tired of YouTube drama. I’m tired of the incessant Twitter pile-ons on the cause du jour of the day. I’m tired of the desperation, of the incessant grabs for the spotlight, of all the stunting people think they need to put online to grab attention. To grab validation. I’m tired of the hate. I’m tired of Tik-Tok.

I’m tired. I’ve spent the last few months using work to distract myself from the apocalyptic hellscape that is 2020, and you know what? I think this is it. I’ve finally hit a wall. I’ve run out of gas. I’ve had it. I am going to have to get over myself and this ridiculous fear sometime. 

My grandmother walked to school in the middle of World War II, and would hide in ditches whenever planes flew overhead. Compared to that, this is nothing. Besides, I’m tired of being afraid. I’m definitely tired of complaining. I’m tired of being tired. I will find that fine line between bravery and foolhardiness, and I will walk it – I don’t know how, and I don’t know when, but I will. 

A Bad Gay and Other Stories: A Mini-Review of The Bone Clocks / Less

A Bad Gay and Other Stories: A Mini-Review of The Bone Clocks / Less

I finally finished The Bone Clocks. I kept putting it off to do other things; I’d read a chapter and fall down the rabbit hole for an hour, and then get distracted again. It’s not the book’s fault, I don’t think. I just couldn’t focus. Scratch that, maybe it’s the book’s fault. Just a little. It’s told in five sections, by four different points of view. Although David Mitchell is clearly intellectual and formidably well-read, the narration was random and rambling and I would catch myself wondering – what was the point of all this? Why should I care about this or that protagonist? What’s around the riverbend? He answers my questions in the last third. My only conclusion is that David Mitchell may written it while on an acid trip, because the shit that goes down is so bonkers, so weird, and so out there, I had to reread some sentences just to try and piece it all out in my head. That’s what happens when words like psychodecanter, neurobola, ingress, scansion, etc. are thrown at you out of nowhere like a barrage of psychic projectiles. It kind of reminds me of that Brampton video that went viral last week – just another a lovely summer day in a nice, quiet suburban neighbourhood, then a car comes careening in out of nowhere, smashing into everything like it’s a scene out of a Fast and the Furious franchise.

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Unlike The Bone Clocks, I had no problem finishing Less. It’s an easier read. If there’s any takeaway I have from it, it’s that Andrew Sean Greer is a masterful storyteller.

Nothing seems to go right for Arthur Less; absurdity is so much a part of his life story, it is his life story. It is, in parts, hilariously tragicomic. I laughed like a loon when he gets told to his face that the reason his work hasn’t been accepted into the gay canon is because he is a “bad gay” for focusing too much on the sads and never giving his protagonists a happy ending (“But Odysseus returns to Penelope!”). I also giggled at his dogged determination to get his VAT back, no matter what it takes, because he’s American, dammit all to hell.

I envy Greer his control. He repeats the use of certain words or phrases (“They are not kidding”, “An Evening With Arthur Less”, “Why?”) to add levity, and rein in the constant flashbacks and it’s like watching an expert puppeteer at work, tongue firmly embedded in cheek.

Not that I agree with how it all went down. I don’t feel the ending was deserved, but (here be spoilers!) that is probably because I have very little patience for aimlessly frivolous people who seem to think it’s okay to ask their friends to Save the Date, then go through with the whole kit-and-boodle, only to turn around after a scant twenty-four hours of being married and say, um, I don’t think I should have done this…? Yes, Britney Spears did it too, but she was drunk and in Vegas. In Less, it turns out to be an utterly premeditated, lousy, wasteful, overly dramatic attempt to get attention. It’s like Sally Rooney’s Normal People – if they had just talked it out, they would’ve been fine. Why do they never talk it out? Also, why do they always say what they don’t mean? I get that Arthur Less is emotionally scarred because he was unceremoniously dumped by the poet/genius/asshole he gave his youth to, which is why he pushes everyone who gets close to him away, but really, fifteen years of stewing in his own drama? Please.

Still, if the end goal was to give a gay protagonist a happy ending in order to get included in the gay canon, Mission Accomplished. I can almost hear Andrew Greer muttering “am I a good gay now?” to his critics. I will give him this: he is a very good gay. They were not kidding.

A Quickie Escape

Dear Elly G,

While you were ogling handsome men queueing up for some patio action, I was ogling people and places, period. My adventures these past few months have become even tamer than usual; this morning we spent a couple of hours going for gas and a car wash, with a quick stop for coffee and empanadas. I know, exhilarating. I’d been meaning to visit  Super Bakers, a place that makes Filipino empanadas, but never got around to it because it’s rather far from the city core and would’ve entailed at least an hour on public transit. But now, with the car (which I have christened “Car”, I still don’t really know what to call it… Carolyn? Carlos? Carson Daly? Carmi Martin?) it’s accessible. And it being two minutes away from where we get gas doesn’t hurt. It was worth it. The empanadas were deelish – flaky, tasty, stuffed with goodness and not mystery meat. At $21 a dozen they don’t come cheap, but they’re a nice size so it’s fairly good bang for your buck.

The store signage made me giggle. No, it didn’t say “home of the original” or anything like that, it said “Super Bakers” in giant text, and went on to proclaim “Finest Empanadas, Hopia, and More!” underneath. I don’t know what they mean by “more!”, unless they’re talking about the lone cabinet that held UFC tomato sauce pouches, bihon and a collection of Mama Sita’s sauce mixes. All they sell are empanadas and hopia. That is all. There is no “and more!”. False advertising! But I won’t hate because it made me laugh and because they weren’t lying about their empanada being the finest. Not that I’ve tried all that many over here, but so far, I’ll give them the crown and intend to be a repeat customer – if they’ll have me, given all the shade I’ve just thrown.

I wanted to try out an automated car wash because I am an ignoramus and when someone says car wash, this is what I expect:

angels car wash

Which of course didn’t happen, because in the car wash of my dreams, I am Drew Barrymore as a Charlie’s Angel. This was the reality:

real car wash.gif

Two minutes tops, in and out. Very clinical, totally anti-climactic, but I had fun anyway. Like I said to a beloved professor two years ago: I’ll take it!

We decided not to take the expressway home and ended up driving through the Junction, a neighbourhood of Toronto I’d really only seen the tip (yes, just the tip) of before. It felt like the old Honda 50 days, driving around exploring the backroads of Batinguel to Valencia whenever Noreco II went on the fritz.

You really can’t keep a good Canadian in on a hot summer day, because people were strutting their stuff with no masks on, just shopping or walking about, or lining up at the LCBO. It almost felt normal again. Quarantine? What quarantine? COVID who?

It was nice to observe it all and feel like I was oot and aboot again, without truly being oot. I don’t think I’m ready to risk that just yet.

Not oot, just aboot,
Nikka

Body Talk: A Normal People Book Review

Body Talk: A Normal People Book Review

Today’s theme is “damaged,” brought to you by Sally Rooney’s Normal People (the book, not the TV show).

My good friend K says Normal People is an accurate portrayal of how relationships work. If this is how relationships work, it’s little wonder most of them go kaput.

Normal People is about a young man and a young woman who hook up in their final year of high school and go on to attend the same university together. They have sex the whole time. It’s the biggest thing that connects them, the sex. They both have inner demons: the man is working-class, obsessed with being accepted and incapable of (or unwilling to) admit how much he likes her; the woman is rich, so she has the luxury of not giving a shit, but her life would be better if her brother wasn’t a physically abusive dickbag. Something about sleeping with each other makes them feel normal, or whatever way they believe normal is supposed to feel, and so they sleep together a lot, because apparently, that is what normal people do.

Young, horny and damaged: they’re normal people. Normal people who internalize too much.

A lot of feelings left unsaid fall by the wayside. Even if they’ve convinced themselves in some twisted way that they are only ever really truly honest – with themselves and to each other – when they’re together, they’re so busy having sex, at the end of it all, they’re so exhausted, they’re unable to form more than a few sentences. So it becomes all about internalizing, which forms the on-off dynamic of their exhausting, drawn out relationship. It sounds convoluted, but it’s really very simple. If they could stop for a minute and make time for an actual, honest conversation, maybe then they wouldn’t be so fucked up. I spent a lot of time i internally screaming at these two to JUST TELL EACH OTHER HOW YOU FEEL, because guess what? People can’t read minds.

But no one wants to read about a perfectly normal relationship. It’s boring. People want drama. They want tears. They want hurt feelings, and slammed doors, and aggressive break-up sex, or aggressive make-up sex, and moments where the heroine decides she’ll just go ahead and let men treat her like dirt because it’s the only time she really thinks she can feel something. People want to read about broken people. It’s the new escapism. And it works, because it’s true – perfectly normal relationships are boring. Nothing happens. There is no conflict. And conflict is what makes a story worth reading.

I like conflict. I just don’t like it when a particular conflict can be avoided. A relationship works when people are honest with themselves and with each other. Do normal people not talk to each other anymore? Relationships can’t work if no one in it wants to talk about it. And bodies can only say so much. Great sex isn’t a bad way to get a relationship going. Sometimes, it really is all about the horizontal tango. It’s certainly a fun way to spend the first few months of being together. But people can’t just bone all the time, and sex can’t function as a substitute for honest communication. Great sex doesn’t fix everything.

Maybe to some it’s just more romantic to be troubled, to have issues, to be damaged. Sometimes I wonder if people have fallen in love with the idea of being damaged, being conflicted. It’s as if being such frees them from the burden of having to be actual individuals who are accountable for their own actions, and anyone who says otherwise doesn’t understand how hard it is just to breathe, waaah, I’m the victim here, waaah. I’m not interested in assigning blame. I’m interested in: what are you going to do about your current circumstances? How are you going to fix it?

It’s why the character I would get along with the best in Normal People is Niall, the roommate. “Niall is a practical person,” the hero thinks. “He shows compassion in practical ways.” I like Niall. I like practical people. That’s just my version of normal.

Stray Thoughts in the A.M.

Stray Thoughts in the A.M.

I’m tired of not being able to go anywhere. It’s not that I need to. I just want to know I can.

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I miss second-hand bookstores. A lot. Didn’t really realize how much, until I looked up from reading All the Light We Cannot See, realized it’s so good I want a copy of my own, and was reminded that BMV – one of my favourite haunts – is closed. And it sucks.

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I dug into a folder from 2010 to find a photo of my niece and me for her birthday, and my god, this is self-flagellation. Keep your hair shirts and cilices, if I want to self-mortify, I’ll revisit 2007-2010. I miss being skinny.

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Not that I was that skinny, but what made me think I was fat in 2010? This photo folder is pushing my 2020 self to have a good long cry in the shower.

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I really just want to wake up and magically be a hundred pounds. I want to take a potion, fall asleep, wake in a pool of dappled sunlight, open my eyes like Princess Aurora after being kissed, float away on my tiptoes to a full length mirror, and sing the opening bars of Creed’s My Sacrifice to the newly revealed outline of my clavicles. Hello my friend, we meet again

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Can I just have all the cake I want? Can I never have to worry about trifles like calories, or cholesterol, or fatty organs and having to eat fish and leaves forever?

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We finally have a car! I kind of felt something. Just a little something. A little bit of excitement, a little bit of happiness, but mostly relief. I feel like I’m supposed to feel something more, but I got nothing. My brothers are way more excited about it than I am. Am I dead inside? My mother suggested we do some sort of cleansing exorcist voodoo by dedicating the car to God, because “you don’t know who used to own it.” I promised to take it to an abandoned parking lot and sprinkle it with holy water. Maybe do a little dance. Burn some gris gris. Which I haven’t. Where would I even get holy water? I think swinging a censer would make for some dramatic visuals though.

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I hope my mom doesn’t read this. Her glare of death is as potent now as it was then.

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The dealer detailed it before handing it over to us though. So there is no trace of the previous owner, except for very meticulously kept receipts. I found them all, folded neatly in a plastic envelope, in the glove compartment. Each receipt conforms to the dates in its CarFax report. What a stickler. Hopefully a Protestant. Maybe Episcopalian.

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Sorry Mom, that was the last one. I promise.

Random YouTube K-hole: Caged Heat

I’m trying to keep from thinking about the e-mail my neighbourhood Shoppers Drug Mart just sent. One of their employees just tested positive for the COVID-19 virus last Thursday, the very day I had to go in for some female things. Ugh. My anxiety levels are high, and I’m distracting myself with YouTube videos featuring themes of prison, jail, cages, being trapped, etc., etc. I’m not sure if it’s  really helping,  but it’s this, or escapist videos of beautiful lives and butterflies, and I do love a timely theme, so let’s start off with an angry, incarcerated cry for help in the form of…

They Don’t Care About Us – Michael Jackson

The prison version of They Don’t Care About Us is lesser known than the one set in a Brazilian favela, and came with a disclaimer, because not only was the song (and its lyrics) controversial at the time, so was the imagery of human rights abuses.

Michael Jackson was a true creative genius who used the chaos of his personal life to fuel his creative output. His songs of love, isolation, hate and injustice still ring true, decades after he first came out with them, and his vision was always prescient (also see: Earth Song). It’s a shame his legacy has been left so tarnished.

The Sweet Escape – Gwen Stefani

Now why does this look familiar? Oh, yes. Do you know anyone working from home right now, complaining about how life is so hard, they’re going to need therapy when all this is over? What about the ones going “we needed this” from the safety of their own homes, secure in the knowledge that they don’t necessarily have to go out to earn a livelihood? This video is for you. Here’s Gwen Stefani in the bougiest gilded cage known to man, singing about how she yearns to be free, while us poors putting ourselves at risk look on, wanting to kick her in the tits. I know, I sound bitter (and really, that’s not what song is about, lol). But like I told someone earlier this week, if you’re happy and not in any way, shape or form endangered by homeless crack addicts at the moment, I’m not interested in hearing “we needed this” from you.

Telephone – Lady Gaga (feat. Beyonce)

Speaking of we needed this, Lady Gaga’s Telephone (featuring Beyonce) is arguably the music video that established her as a musician with a definite point of view – she was going to be weird, she was going to be out there, she was going to be seen, godamnit – and she wasn’t going to be cheap about it. I’d argue that Gaga injected some much needed energy into the (then) fading music video landscape with this short film masquerading as a music video. It was a throwback to the glory days when music videos that had stories to tell ruled the airwaves, and you can bet Beyonce never allowed herself to be this upstaged ever again.

Jailhouse Rock – Elvis Presley

“Number forty-seven said to number three, you’re the cutest jailbird I ever did see, I sure would be delighted with your company, come on and do the Jailhouse Rock with me…”  Homo-erotic? Scandalous? For 1957, this is a big fat yes. I never really saw what about those hips made the girls scream and quake and throw their underwear, but I saw parts of Preseley’s leather-clad comeback in HBO’s The Searcher, and finally, finally got it. He ruled for a reason. Elvis Presley in his prime was hot.

I started this post with the King of Pop, and I’m ending it with the original King of Pop – you didn’t think I was going to leave out The King, did you? Elvis Presley is in the building with those wicked, wicked hips of his, singing about having yourself some good old fun in the clinker.  And we should take note of his advice. After all, if we can’t find a way to amuse ourselves right now, we’re going to go nuts.

 

Head vs. Heart

Head vs. Heart

I’ve decided I know what this is.

Looking for the perfect used car on Kijiji is like trolling for true love on Tinder; your mind knows that whatever is out there is likely a dud, while your heart can’t help hoping for a happy ending anyway. The Awkward Yeti’s excellent Heart and Brain illustrates this weird, symbiotically screwed up relationship of the psyche better than I ever could (I recommend you head over there because the rest of this is just going to be me going on about finding the chariot of my dreams).

No matter how jaded I claim to be, I haven’t yet managed to kill that hopeful little girl in me that dreams of happy endings. Except this time I’m not looking for love. I’m looking for the perfect used car. Which, if you think about it, is pretty much the same thing. It’s that old “what if I get lucky” conundrum that has people losing their minds on dating apps and throwing away their monthly social security check at the slots.

My brain is stating the facts simply, sitting in a chair having a cup of tea, looking at me with pity. It knows that real life doesn’t always have happy endings, and it also knows that buying a used car means inheriting someone else’s problems. But my heart hasn’t yet succumbed to reality, and is busy jumping up and down with giddy glee, mouthing what-ifs, sprinkling flower petals over everything, singing Disney songs of hope and forever after. And the blasted thing gets louder each time brain tries to remind me to keep my feet on the ground and my head out of the clouds. Everything is going to be okay! You’re gonna find the one! It’s this delusional, positive-thinking side of me that I usually tamp down with a lot more success, but it’s getting harder and harder to shut it up the more we search for our true auto soulmate.

Dream big. Reach for the moon.

It’s never going to happen.

Trash, Glorious Trash

Who loves trash receptacles? Just for today, and just for this moment, I do.

It took me a while to work up the nerve to submit to Detritus, which I have loved since I first stumbled upon it last year. I would’ve been fine just being a part of  one issue, but having that little stamp of trashy approval is the cherry on top.

There are a lot of online indie lit magazines out there, and what I love most about this one is their unpretentiousness, and willingness to let the chosen pieces speak for themselves. And so supportive, too!

ps. look for me on page 10
pps. shameless plug over, back to looking for the perfect used car

Wanted: Fairly Decent Jalopy

Wanted: Fairly Decent Jalopy

We’ve been stressing out about getting a car.

I know, I know, I was supposed to learn how to drive a couple years ago, but that kind of fell by the wayside. Parking in Toronto is expensive, insurance even more so, and a subway stop is an easy block and a half away from us. It’s easy to just depend on public transportation if you live in the downtown core. Before this whole COVID-19 thing descended on us like the pale horseman of the apocalypse, it was pretty easy to get around.

But now, with homeless shelters being pushed to the limit, the mostly ignored underclass of humanity that generally skates on by unnoticed/ignored in normal times has started to take over the subway. And it’s April. In Toronto. Think April means winter has come and gone? We were at -10C windchill last week. So no, I can’t blame people who just want some shelter. We’re all just trying our best to survive and stay warm for a minute.

The downside is, well… they’re homeless. They have more issues to worry about than health, or hygiene. It’s more worrying about where to take a dump, how to get the next big high, where the free soup stands are. They’re now taking advantage of the subway system, nesting in a bajillion trash bags full of god knows what, sore-infested legs bared, smelling like urine, taking up three seats  and sleeping their way from Kennedy to Kipling station.

The places the hubs and I work for were declared essential, which is both blessing and curse. On the one hand, something to take our minds off the current pandemic is always nice. On the other, the act of getting to work means exposure, which means risk, which means what used to feel like a harmless, non-eventful commute now feels like playing Russian Roulette.

So yes. We need a car. And so far, it’s been a trip.

You see, we’re in the market for a beater. The kind of car that can stop running and you can leave at the side of the road and never look back, hello-goodbye. But it can’t be any old beater. It has to at least run for a few months before giving up the ghost. I’m not just a beggar, I’m a chooser to boot and to top it all off, neither he nor I know shit about cars. I’m in hell.

The paranoia is draining. Cars on AutoTrader and Kijiji  look so good, but then the doubts start tumbling in… will this certify? What’s wrong with this car? Why is it so cheap? Is it too cheap? Will we get mugged? Is it a bait and switch? Are there liens? Is the transmission off? Is that too much rust?

It’s so bad, we’ve contemplated just buying a new one and driving it off the car lot, warranty and all, everything in good working order, but along come the questions again. Is it worth the depreciation? How much will insurance be? Do we really want to spend the next seven years of our lives paying through the nose?

When will all this end? Will it even end?  

It’s exhausting. I’m tired.  I want to stop and get off the crazy train, but I can’t seem to help myself. So I just have to square my shoulders, take a deep breath, and summon the memory of what the immortal JZ always says when it comes to things like these: get a grip. Because what else is there to do? 

Eat. Yes, eating sounds good.

I think I’ll go eat my feelings for a minute. If you’ll excuse me.

 

ps. And then you get the guys who have an ad put up but won’t answer. I mean, fine. If it’s sold, it’s sold, but DON’T LEAVE THE BLOODY AD UP.

I’m in Room’s Hair Issue!

I’m in Room’s Hair Issue!

Is it only April? This year feels like it’s dragged on forever, with all of us trudging through the stark dystopia that real life has become. Still, I’ll take the good times where I can get it, and I am thrilled to report that Silver Fox, a poem I wrote in a happier time, was published in Room Magazine‘s latest: the Hair Issue!

I’ve followed Room online for quite some time now and they always have interesting stories to tell. I tend to keep my poems to myself (no one really knows I write them… and now you do), so it is a nice ray of sunshine to have my first shared piece find a home in one of Canada’s finest, and longest running literary magazines. I’m usually not one to self-promote, but this latest issue has quite a number of wonderfully written pieces and I couldn’t be happier to even be in the same conversation as the women in these pages.

The bookstores are currently closed due to the pandemic, but they take orders online. The Hair Issue is definitely worth your while… and not just because I’m in it! (Okay, shameless plug over 😊)