Saturday, November 21, 2009

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

I never went to camp as a kid. I went to a day camp, twice, in the woods north of Brampton: the first time, when I was six, someone stole my sleeping bag on "sleepover day" and I refused to go back for the remainder; the second, when I was ten, my best friend was supposed to accompany me but came down with chicken pox instead. Still, I never went to real camp. I just watched TV all summer. I just watched TV shows about other kids going to camp.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

pitter patter

This past Saturday, watching Broken Social Scene play a free show at Harbourfront, I nodded my head and convinced myself that I had seen them play there before in the summer of '05 (the summer where I was nineteen, the one after all these major life changes had taken place.) I watched Kevin Drew sweat on stage, and I thought to myself: the last time I saw these guys play, I had just gotten through the hardest year of my life. Yeah, I thought. That's right. I had survived some tough shit and made it to the other side, where KD et al were standing on a stage and playing songs just for me, for free. Yeah. Two thousand and five.

Then Brendan Canning grabbed his mic: "the last time we played here was in 2oo4!"

And I thought, fuck, really?

It was five years ago. I had just been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. I was little more than a month away from moving to Halifax for university. I had accomplished nothing that summer;, nothing more than learning how to stab my skin with needles. My brother took me downtown for the day, and then to this free show at Harbourfront. I was all too familiar with You Forgot It In People, had listened to it plenty of times in our parents' stationwagon while rain ran down the windshield. But this was the first time I had ever heard them play live. And it hit me hard.

At the time, I had no idea that this band would stick around for the next five years of my life. I couldn't have known that their music would be there, playing quietly in the background, through so many crucial moments to come.

I would see them play, again, at the Marquee Club in the Fax, just a few short weeks before it closed down. It was the first time I would use a fake id, but in reality I wouldn't use it: the bouncer would check my friends, but, amazingly, not me. I'd be slightly stoned, a little drunk. I'd lose the others in the crowd and watch the show all alone, feel the trumpets, feel everything.

I would trek through a snowstorm to buy Stars' Set Yourself On Fire the week it came out, and I'd listen to it every goddamn day, even the day later that spring when I'd move away from the Fax forever. I'd sit on a plane and watch the coast disappear.

I would buy the next album when it arrived in the fall of 05. I'd listen to "It's All Gonna Break" after every crush failed, and I'd feel better. "Backyards" was to be playing in the background the night my mom would call to tell me that my dad's secret affair had been revealed and they were divorcing.

I'd sit on someone's bed, watching Half Nelson on his computer, well aware I was making the gravest error, "Shampoo Suicide" everywhere.

I'd learn to love my first name, all thanks to Feist.

I'd fall in love, real love, finally, over a shared appreciation for music and a mutual history of arts & crafts moments.

And then I'd see them again, one cool summer night in a garbage-filled city, from my spot in a crowd thick with assholes. A tall guy behind me would knee me in the back; the hippie girl in front would toss her frizzy hair into my face. I'd be so short that I could barely see. But I would still feel something. They'd go on to play four encores, and I'd feel all of it.

I feel it, still.

Monday, May 25, 2009

that's how i was when i was young

Lessons in Growing Up, #1:

Last Friday night I decided to go running, for a couple of reasons: 1. I had nothing else to do, 2. I haven't been able to run for weeks, and it felt about time to break the rules, and 3. I pride myself on being a night runner. Starting from the summer I was 15, I always tend to run at night once the days get hotter. Night running is such an unusual thing, not least of all because it is SHIT TERRIFYING. I've witnessed intense fights, stumbled on couples having sex, been threatened by wildlife, fallen on my face a few times, and interrupted plenty of pot-smoking teenagers. But running at night in the summer also encompasses all the things I love about the sport, at its heart: it's always quiet, you get felt up by a nice breeze, flowers smell better after dusk, and the aloneness doesn't feel lonely at all. Most of all, you're invincible. You're completely covered in dark and yet you're still invincible. As I started out on last Friday's night run, I felt all of it. It wasn't that dark out, and I even decided to dart through the scary woods behind the St Clair West station. Near Bathurst I stopped in a park to tie my shoelaces. Some old fat guy walking a pug waved me over. Nervously, I went. He shook his head as he spoke to me:

"You know, I wasn't going to tell you this, but I have to. A few weeks ago, right in that parking lot over there, I saw a girl get raped. She got raped by a black guy on a bmx bicycle. The police were all here, and it was on CP24--you didn't see it? And, my god, her face, she was so scared. So, you know, you just can't trust people, and you gotta be careful at night, and I just had to tell you, so."

So? I ran home faster than I ever have. Thanks for nothing, pug man.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Loneliness Of

I started using my insulin pump a week and a half ago. My nurse (a precocious woman who loves lipstick and looks like a deflated Fran Drescher) clicked the device into place, and that was that. Well, not exactly: I was given strict orders to follow for the next few weeks, in order to get my blood sugars down and insulin rates stabilized. Most of the rules are tough (3 meals a day, no snacks in between [where is that DQ Blizzard I was promised?], tight carbohydrate budget). Some of them truly suck (no alcohol or sleeping in!) But one of them has proved nearly unbearable: no exercise. Until my body works out the kinks with this pump, I am indefinitely barred from putting on my New Balances. No matter how sunny and beautiful the weather is (today), no matter how much my leg muscles twitch from lack of activity (happened today), no matter how much I ache to get out there and start up my half-marathon training again (oh god, today). These running-free days are killing me.

I just finished reading Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. I've never really loved his writing style (something lost in the translation, perhaps) and this book is no exception, but it drew enough parallels with my own life to draw me in. I read it while sitting on the train to London. As we sped past creeks and forest floors and backyards, I thought about running. I thought about writing. I thought about running and writing, at once: two things I love, used to love, still care for, need to do, need motivation to start, can't give up. I want to run as fast as a VIA train and write as well as Murakami. That's what I want.

"Most of what I know about writing I've learned through running every day. These are practical, physical lessons. How much can I push myself? How much rest is appropriate--and how much is too much? ... How much should I be aware of the world outside, and how much should I focus on my inner world? To what extent should I be confident in my abilities, and when should I start doubting myself? ...
In any event, I'm happy I haven't stopped running all these years. The reason is, I like the novels I've written. And I'm really looking forward to seeing what kind of novel I'll produce next. Since I'm a writer with limits--an imperfect person living an imperfect, limited life--the fact that I can still feel this way is a real accomplishment. Calling it a miracle might be an exaggeration, but I really do feel this way. And if running every day helps me accomplish this, then I'm very grateful to running. ...
Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest. If you're going to while away the years, it's far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive than in a fog, and I believe running helps you do that. Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that's the essence of running, and a metaphor for life--and for me, for writing as well. I believe many runners would agree."
- Murakami, What I Talk About...

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

hey, yeah, awww

This time last year, I assumed the hardest part was going to be getting in. Of course. All that paperwork! All those weeks of waiting! Once I got in-- and once I passed that remedial mythology bird course laden with trick questions-- then the water wouldn't be choppy anymore. Then I wouldn't be worried.

Then things wouldn't be so unclear.

Wouldn't it be nice.

It's the April of the first year of my master's program, and I've barely made a scratch. There's certainly no dent. I know that I have a voice, and that I have so much more time to prove myself and make progress, but I can't help but feel this: the more time I put into this pursuit, the less I'm getting out of it. I don't really want to be a grad student slumming away at a part-time coffee shop job. I don't want to be a Torontonian who still secretly hates Toronto. I don't want to be a writer with permanent writer's block.

I want to think that I made the right choice last April, but I'm starting to worry that I can't keepy trying to convince myself anymore. I don't know what to do with myself.

How does one get themselves out of a slump like this? What is this slump, anyway? It isn't the stuff undergraduate hissy-fits are made of. No, it feels bigger than that. It feels like a total confusion of place and time and direction-- maybe none of this is right?

I used to always spend summers at my grandparents' cottage on Lake Huron. They sold it the winter I turned 14, but we all knew that the preceding summer was probably going to be our last and we treated it accordingly. By "we" I mean just me: I was the only other member of the family who showed any attachment to the cottage apart my from grandparents themselves.
Our cottage was a real cottage, (dilapidated, tiny, and wooden) unlike all the suburban-style monoliths that grew in the empty lots down the road over the years. It stunk like mothballs, and rain bled through the walls, and ants got into the sugar pots, and I loved it there. We listened to my dad's Jeff Healey band cassettes and played Scrabble. There was a receding, zebra mussel-infested shoreline behind our property, but we usually just went to the beach area just down the street that was much larger and cleaner. (The time my cousin and I found a bra and panties discarded in the surf there is, sadly, a story for another time.)
If you stood in the middle of this beach and looked straight out at the lake, you could see a rocky island with a single gnarled tree directly in front of you. It wasn't that far out, but as a child I thought it was the most impressive thing I'd ever seen: this bizarre, dead tree, floating on a bed of rocks in the center of the lake.
During that last summer at the cottage, I decided to finally swim out to the island. It didn't take me very long, and I found that the island wasn't even straight out from the beach-- it was located a few hundred metres to the left. It was a disgusting pile of rocks and the tree itself was practically driftwood. I stood on the rocks and touched the dead tree trunk and it wasn't even sunny out. But I did it, right? I got there, and that still matters, doesn't it?

Wouldn't it be nice.

Monday, March 30, 2009

how to scare a baby: #4

See? I told you it was fucking terrifying. Terrible, and terrifying.
This movie was a dumpy and derivative amalgam of "The Wizard", "Labyrinth", and "The Neverending Story", and it also features some of the scariest things I've ever seen on VHS.

Poor Baumer's probably rolling in his grave.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

as Apple Martin is my witness

Today I caught myself thinking about the late winter/early spring of the year I was in grade 9. I was doing an ISU project on Carl Sagan's Contact for my English class. I decided to try "tv turnoff week", breaking it only once to watch a well-timed airing of the Jodie Foster movie on City. I was listening to a lot of Coldplay's Parachutes. I was training for track season, but the shitty weather meant training mostly indoors: running through the corridors of South Hall after school, tripping over girls in the stairwells putting cornrows into dudes' hair for $5 a pop. I was fifteen, not the edge of twenty-three. I was way more productive in the past than I am in the present.

I have a plan for the future, though. It involves running the Don Valley and the Martin Goodman trail and the Leslie Spit. Early (as early as I can manage) weekend garage sale-ing. Finally writing all that quality fiction that I set out to write this year. Being unsick. Opening my windows more than a crack. Drinking as much wine as my bloodstream can handle. Getting my insulin pump and finally getting myself under control. Okay--perhaps those last two sentences don't exactly jive.

No, everything's not lost.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

dirty secrets

"Creative non-fiction", I figured, would be the easiest hill to climb. My masters program lasts for two years, consisting of three workshops, two classes, one mentorship, and one thesis (heart attack), and I can't gorge myself on pure fiction the whole time. I'm not allowed to. So, I've got to whet something else, and I figured "CNF" was the best choice. It wouldn't leave a scar. My other options (playwriting or poetry) don't even really count as options: teenage me wrote one poem ever--perhaps, perhaps two--and if you read it, you'd know why*. So, CNF it was.

But what the hell is CNF? During the first class, our writer/leader/preacher gave us a rundown on the wide range of writing styles that qualify, but was quick to footnote that Sedarisisms don't count. (She went on to compare reading his books to watching a stand-up comedy routine; according to her, when you're finished with both, you've had a laugh but the experience isn't memorable or meaningful. She said this with a perfectly straight face, no Sedaris-style sarcasm evident, and my heart dropped.) So, it isn't humour. It also isn't editorial, journalistic, academic, or "too" creative. The great range of CNF shrank quickly. I realized that I was left with only too options: dry, or soaking wet. Either very social, or very personal. Deeply topical, or glorified blogging.

I'm not sure I can do either.

Blogging is one thing (anonymous to a degree), fiction is another (nobody really knows what's real and what's not), but committing intimate details of one's life to paper and then handing those papers out to other people (friends, writers) for them to workshop just feels a little too raw and bloody for me. "Leslie, your life has a pacing problem on page three." "Leslie, your life just wasn't believable enough at the end." "Leslie, your life didn't really grab me from the start." Moreover, what the hell am I supposed to write about that can sustain itself for fifteen lag-free pages? Boy problems, 'betes problems, sad things, happy bits? "Creative non-fiction" is so far proving itself to just be a pseudonym for "grade 7 diary".

I'll stick with fiction, thank you.

* I just found a word document on my computer called "high school writers craft poems variety". Although I don't remember writing them, or if they ever made it off the safety of my hard drive, these two aren't all that shitty. They're actually pretty neat (one even rhymes!) Maybe I'm being too hard on poetry--it might be a gentle giant, after all. Now let us never speak of this again.

Joseph Cornell and The Dirty Little Secret
Box of big nothing
We look inside and wonder
But only you know

The Best Of
Scenery passing in a blear
Closing in on the end, hope drawing near
Feet moving quicker than the beat
Faster farther, never chasing defeat
Breathe, check, turnover, check, going, flight--
Ground is tougher than might
The player's lost its needle but the album still spins
Pop! Hiss! Silence can't make will thin
Up again- legs meet motion, vinyl starts talking
A little bit warped but never, ever walking

Thursday, January 8, 2009

in the land of businessmen

For the past two months I've been spending many of my early, early mornings toiling away* behind the disinfected counter of a Starbucks located down-down-downtown. "Shilling coffee to stockbrokers", as my Grandpa calls it. Digging deep to make sure I have enough in my bank account to pay my rent, the cable bill, the internet bill, the remainder of my tuition, for groceries, for public transit, for cat food, for the occasional bottle of less-than-a-tenner wine. A veritable Chai Walla.

They pay me to smile. I've seriously burned my hands twice. At the very least, this work provides me with an endless list of easily employable endearments: "double short", "half sweet", "extra hot".

The other day, after a busy and stressful morning rush, I whispered a comment to one of my coworkers-- "they all look the same to me!"-- only to be met with a disapproving glare. "You can't say something like that out loud!" they responded. But, I mean, really: once you've seen one recession-rattled businessman with caffeine sweats wearing a wrinkled grey suit, you've seen them all.

* being yelled at.