Sunday, August 14, 2016

Notes from a year named Thrive: August

More than a decade ago, when I moved to LA someone told me the people I met in my first year there were going to be the people who introduced me to the people who would really be my friends. As a young thing, I found this rather distressing because I was having enough trouble making the first round of friends.

Also, as a young thing, I'd misunderstood that no one was telling me to invest the time and energy into making friends for the purpose of them being temporary or stops on the way to someone better. They were talking about growing social circles and how you're widening the net you can cast to find your people. Lasting friendships—not merely acquaintanceships formed because you're new somewhere and having someone to be new-in-town with makes it all less lonely.

I also didn't understand that just because you know someone doesn't mean you're friends. Culturally-speaking, we've been carving away at the idea of acquaintances for years. (Thanks, Facebook.) Having acquaintances was something I also had to learn. To understand they're the people who I know and enjoy interacting with, but I don't routinely seek them out or make a point to check in on them.

The people I stretch for—dig down deep to find those extra damns—are also the people I trust with things that matter. My friends are far less than the number of people I know. It's a longer list than it used to be or I thought it was, because I've got some casual friends that have consented to offer support when it's needed. But people who I want to spend a lot of time with is not a high number.

Earlier this year I had to forcibly subtract from it, because a couple people I felt very close to proved themselves to be dramatically not good for me. In the months since this went down, it hasn't been easy. I really felt the absence and the loss of those pillars of my support network.

Also, I fretted about any potential encounters. What would they say. What would I say. It was inevitable that we were going to cross paths again even in a city the size of Toronto. For example, there was a wedding coming up that we were all going to attend.

Yesterday I went to the ceremony, and when I finally saw these former friends... I realized I had nothing to say to them. I didn't want a reconciliation; I wanted them to stay away from me. I was there to celebrate, and I had no reason to interact with people who no longer had a place in my life.

Thankfully, we were purposefully seated at different ends of the restaurant. When I settled in, I put my efforts into socializing with the people at my table. Eventually my worries faded, and when I happened to see these former friends across the room it felt like nothing more than seeing someone who looks familiar—someone I used to know, but haven't seen in years and maybe can't quite place how I knew them.

I came to Toronto five years ago. One of these former friends was among the first people I knew; she introduced me to a lot of other people. Including the two who got married yesterday. I guess what I was told about LA might apply to any city. Or any life, really.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Notes from a year named Thrive: June Part 2

It has been three-ish weeks since moving in, and things are starting to feel settled. It's still weirdly quiet sometimes, but after working in the office all day, it's nice to come home and have the space to myself. To make a little dinner and watch a couple episodes of Brooklyn 99, then put on headphones and write for an hour or two.

That may not sound exciting, but after months of not being able to get any writing done because either I was slammed at work or there was yet another thing that needed my attention or it was more fun to spend time with the people I was staying with, a little break from excitement is welcome. Or rather getting to rediscover the excitement of words on a screen and the building of worlds.

Work is ticking along. I've had a couple weeks of relative quiet, but focus is shifting to the big show in September. Big as in the-biggest-the-team-I-work-on-handles and also big as within the top three pop culture shows in North America. Big as in a big, slightly impossible task. But I love me some dopamine, and I'm kind of happiest when I'm accomplishing things that are slightly impossible.

That's the key that I've worked out so far this year: I don't thrive on challenge. I thrive on accomplishment, which comes from challenges. But not challenges that keep reoccurring or refusing to ever be accomplished.

It's been not quite six months, but we've done four shows now—two I was on site, two I was remote support—and I'm getting the ground beneath my feet. It is a lot of work spread between not a lot of people, and during show weeks it's a high volume of input and high demand of output. It's intense, and there's not a lot of room for other things during those 3-4 days. But we don't do a show every weekend, and not every show is as demanding as the one on Florida was.

All of that said, it's entirely possible this job will turn out to be a challenge that refuses to ever be accomplished. I'll deal with it should that happen, and in the meantime, I keep remembering that the goal of this is to learn everything I can.

Work aside, this was also the week I started making plans with friends and having them over. Although when they do come over, I mostly want to show off the great neighbourhood that I live in. Every view of adulthood looks different, and for now, I'm happy to have mine be a little peace in a space I enjoy.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Maggie Stiefvater's The Raven King

With The Raven King, Maggie Stiefvater brings The Raven Cycle to a triumphant close. While imperfect, the concluding volume is magnificent. It completes the story set out to be told in The Raven Boys, twisting and turning and ultimately reaching a satisfying conclusion. Maybe more importantly, it signals that while the quest for Glendower and the matter of Gansey's impending death have been resolved, there is still so much questing and living left for these characters.

Along with Gansey, Blue, Adam, Ronan, and Noah, the reader has sought Glendower throughout the Virginian countryside. We've witnessed terrors and wonders. Victories and defeats. That might be my favourite part: Knowing that we've participated in a moment of these fictional lives; they existed before the first line of The Raven Boys and they'll continue on after the final line of The Raven King.

The Raven Cycle is a passionate, sprawling narrative. It's messy and tangled around its characters, who are in turn messy and tangled around each other. Stiefvater has written one of the best examples of complex friendships, and the inescapable way that people are drawn into each other's lives. The quest for Glendower is the unifying purpose of the group, but it's not what the books are about. Not only is this honest, but it's valuable. Groups come together then shift, evolve, and change in life, and it is refreshing to see them do so in fiction not because of conflict or drama, but because that's how it is. Within this final volume, there is definitely a marked shift of the larger group into smaller ones.

The Raven King is also perhaps the strongest of the series when it comes to the delicate balance of light and dark, illustrating how both exist in all the characters and in life. It's always seemed to me that the first book was about Adam, the second about Ronan, and the third about Blue. The Raven King is Gansey's book—fraught with anxiety and horrors, but so eager to be wondrous and filled with hope. It's a valiant book; one that prizes honesty, compassion, and competence. Things go well in this series because people ask for help, they accept when it's offered, and doing so works magic. While the narrative doesn't pretend that's effortless or without compromise, it constantly seeks and finds a balance.

It is impossible not to discuss Henry Cheng, who is not only vital to The Raven King but who may be the character whom I love the most. I was not expecting that. Henry crashed into Blue Lily, Lily Blue and read like he was mainly a foil for Gansey. That continues somewhat in The Raven King, because mirrors/mirroring/balance are very important to the overreaching narrative, but Henry steps up and becomes his own character. A joyfully terrified new member of the group who can offer Gansey a view of what he could be, and in turn, grows along with him. As a result, I loved every scene with Henry in it. Also, I want to live at Litchfield House, because they throw the best parties.

I would've liked to see Henry introduced much sooner—say book one or two—because it would have made him feel more organically included. That said, I've experienced the kind of friendship that Henry and Gansey have: A sudden and situational one that grows into something bigger and better. Sometimes you just click with someone and neither of you are really certain why. It's not to say that won't take work to continue to be a functioning friendship, but it's also incorrect to believe it never happens.

If you've never had someone appear in your life and offer remarkable kindness when you needed it, then I wish that for you. Because it's a rather splendid magic to have the privilege of experiencing. It's also a rather splendid kind of magic to work for someone else.

But in the interest of honesty, maybe why I like Henry the most is because I needed to hear what he had to say. When I read The Raven King, I needed the reminder that "If you can't be unafraid—then be afraid and happy."

Having anxiety is like living with a nightmare tree in your head. Anxiety constantly wants to tell you everything will break, and no one wants you around, and you will die alone in a hole. (For some of us, it's very specific about the hole and which animals will gnaw on our forgotten bones.) If you let it, it can be there 24/7 to provide a plethora of fears.

"Safe as life" is a loaded statement when you have anxiety. But we don't have to live like that—limited by fear—and it is the constant choice of people in The Raven King not to. This book rewards everyone who chooses to live. This book celebrates the choice to live and grow and go on adventures—whatever one decides qualifies for one as an adventure. Because this book understands living and growing look different to different people. I am so proud of all these fictional people—how they've grown and the places they earned for themselves.

Maybe that's my point. The Raven King is not magnificent because it is perfect, and expertly crafted, and never misses a narrative beat. (That has never been what I've asked The Raven Cycle to be. Because it's not. Each book has pacing issues. Blue Lily, Lily Blue is as close to structurally perfect as they get.) The Raven King falters; it wanders off down dead ends, and it forgets about one of its antagonists for most of the book, and it doesn't tie everything up neatly. But. But. It is magnificent, because I recognize all of its flaws and none of them matter to me as a reader.

Would I like to finally get the answer about the fucking hubcap? YES. I WOULD. But I understand it turned out not to be essential to this story. I really do enjoy knowing there are stories left to tell, and I'll be all right even if they never get told. That's not the expectation or experience of every reader, but it's mine and I'm cool with it.

In the end, The Raven King is about growing bigger, growing out and into the world. It is about being joyfully terrified. About being regular-kind terrified, too, but doing the difficult or just difficult-for-you thing anyway. And everyone who does that, does well. If one wanted to make oneself a king, then that's a way one could go about doing so. It's also a good way to live. Out there in the world. Safe as life.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Notes from a year named Thrive: June

A lot has happened since April. Things got weird, then they got really weird, then they got really fucking weird, and now they might be back to being only weird. Eventually they may even stop being weird, but that's not really up to me.

I have my own place; I moved in last week. It is really expensive to move, and even more expensive to move when one's kitchen supplies consist of a lot of mugs, a stovetop espresso maker, and a tea pot. I had been hoping to gradually gather things before the June 1st move, but that was derailed by shit happening. The amount of IKEA I put on my credit charge in the past few days triggered a fraud alert due to how rarely ever use my credit card for anything more than a meal out or ordering a t-shirt online, and I'd recently been in Florida with work charging things there as well. I had to be like nope, that was me and I'm really aware of it. I was prepared. I knew it was coming, but the knowing and the doing are different.

The important thing is that pending some food/cooking supplies, odds and ends, and the couch that's coming on Wednesday, my place is set up. It's enough for one person and two plants and a lot of synthpop, but it's going to be an adjustment. The neighbourhood is great, the other tenants are super welcoming, and the landlords are remarkably decent. More so because things went stupid and awful during the last month with my previous ones.

It has been fun to have full autonomy over decisions but also terrifying. It all felt a little too big for my skin, and I got overwhelmed by the possibilities. But I'm doing better, and I know this mix of terror and thrill means I'm doing the right thing. I'm doing something that demands I grow. And I'll kill at it, because my ability to endure has been well-tested the past few years.

And, dead welsh kings, was it ever tested by what happened with the smell and moving things into storage and staying elsewhere for the month of May. Right now, today, is a little tough because I've unbraced from three months of crisis coming at me from both personal and professional spaces. I have to learn how to relax again.

I'm really grateful to have friends who have been checking in on me to see how I'm adjusting. It's been illuminating this past month or so to see who reaches out, who shows up, who doesn't ask for anything from me in return. I had a good chat with a friend last month about where our respective energy and effort was going, and she also mentioned that it's remarkable to see which relationships falter when you take a break from being the one who initiates the contact.

There was something I suspected had to happen when I named this year thrive, and I really wanted to be wrong about it. But I wasn't and it happened anyway. Maybe knowing I invoked it helped me recognize when it was happening, but it didn't make it any easier.

Moving out on my own was the right decision, and it became more and more the right decision over the past six weeks. But that doesn't ease the disappointment of something that I had really wanted to work not being a functional long-term situation.

We'll see what happens with work and life and the future. Anything's possible again.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

There's a problem in my current rental unit with ventilation/air flow. It's been intermittent—but tolerable—and back in February became consistent and intolerable. One of the units below us has smokers. I don't smoke. I have smoke allergies. And in a rational world, someone else smoking in another unit wouldn't have impact on my life.

The problem is the smell started coming up out of our first floor closet. Then it was in the kitchen closet and the cupboards on the floor and then it was in the master bedroom's closet and my room—the closet and a corner by my desk. I've got tote bags that didn't reek of smoke in January, and hasn't left my room since, but smells like a chainsmoker borrowed it to carry tobacco.

Through a lot of back and forth—and also some misguided attempts to help without addressing the actual problem from our landlord and property manager—my housemates finally made it clear to the smokers that they need to take it outside until we can sort out why we're getting the smell of their cigarettes in our unit.

It's a month later, and most of what I own still smells like tobacco.

Basically, the smell should've gone away when people stopped smoking inside and it didn't. For a while the smoke smell decreased significantly—thanks neighbours—and in its place was this other weird-ass smell like bad fabreeze. It smells a lot like the odour treatment spray in the garbage rooms in the complex's garage.

My mom's been asking me every time she's phoned since February why I sound like I have a cold, because whatever this is irritates my throat and my eyes. I've spent the past two months congested—but only when I'm home.


Last weekend, Saturday night, one of my housemates went to the hospital on a stretcher because the irritant was so strong in our unit that we were all lightheaded and lethargic. She has asthma, which makes all of this a much bigger issue, and in addition to my symptoms was also confused. A knock on my door woke me so that she could let me know—in the anxious-calm voice of someone who is knocking on a sleeping person's door at 2:30 AM—that 911 had been called and Toronto Fire was going to be arriving soon, so we needed to clear our unit.

And in an equally anxious-calm voice, I may have replied: "Ok, I just need to put on my coat."

I remember putting on jeans and my coat and going outside. Thinking how much easier it was to breathe—and how nice the cold air was because it made me feel less groggy. More awake. Everything was very calm, because I was upset but not really feeling anything. I knew I was awake, but it didn't feel real.

The firemen and the hazmat teams walked through the unit and looked at things and had little handheld machines. A couple of the firemen couldn't smell anything, but one of the hazmat team could.

That was good because it's hard to describe a smell to someone in a helpful way when you have to explain the effects it has on you versus the scent because you've been congested for the past month and often don't smell it anymore. You just know it's there because your eyes are burning and your throat hurts and your ears keeping popping.

That's how I spent from 2:30 AM to 3:30 AM on Saturday—trying to describe a smell to firemen and then a hazmat team. Being asked calmly by an EMT if I could locate my friend's wallet and health care card because they were going to take her in the ambulance to Toronto Western. Having the same EMT calmly ask me if I was all right. Then a fireman came up and asked if the smell smelled like disinfectant and I had to explain how I couldn't smell anything but I knew it was there because my eyes were burning. He suggested that if I had somewhere else to go then maybe I might want to do so.

"We have seven weeks left on our lease," I told him. "We're trying to find out what is causing this."

And then he asked every question every one of us has been asking for the past month, and I got frustrated because it wasn't helping—even though he was genuinely trying to help—but at least I was feeling something again.

It is a heart-wrenching expression professionals whose jobs are to help people be safe get on their faces when they realize they aren't going to be able to do a good job for you. Not through any failing of their own, but because the situation shouldn't be happening in the first place.

Then he assured me that the little machine had not found anything toxic it was built to detect and it was safe to stay in the unit.

By 4:00 AM the living room was full of the smell again.


Here are things I never want to have to say to anyone again:
"I got woke up and told the firemen were on their way."
"All I needed to know tonight is that if I go to sleep I'll wake back up. That's really helpful."

Here is something I never want to have to say to a friend again:
"Don't apologize. I'd rather lose sleep than be dead."

And a thing I am beyond fucking tired of saying to people over the past two weeks:
"We don't know how it's getting in here. We don't know why it only became a problem recently."


Maybe the only victory in all of this is that I started to have an anxiety attack while trying to write a text at 5 AM, because someone needed me to do something and it was 5 AM but it still needed to be done and I didn't have time to be upset because we were in the middle of someone is at the emergency room and there was a hazmat team in my home and no one knows why we're all getting sick.

But I stopped it. I didn't have an anxiety attack. I felt awful and I went to sleep and the world didn't end.

I didn't have an anxiety attack coming home to meet with the property manager and the Fire Inspectors this afternoon. I was real close—but I stopped it from happening. The world didn't end.


We've been trying to find out how the irritants are getting into the unit for a month. We're only starting to get answers now. Because everyone is very interested in telling us how unlikely something is or their readings can only tell us what it isn't.

There's an air quality technician coming tomorrow morning—and we're in touch with a host of municipal agencies who are all doing inspections. We may have even found where the smell is coming in—except it only explains half the places, and not why a corner of my room started smelling like cigarettes or how the smell got into the office closet (where it's always been the strongest.)

I passed on going to a concert with a friend tonight, because I can't do it—and she understood. The world didn't end.

The world probably won't end this week. But I really would prefer not to have to spend six-and-a-half more weeks feeling like it might.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Notes from a year named Thrive: April

This week I started looking for the next place to live, and—apparently—one of the potential landlords already creeped me online so let's put a post up here about that.

About that? Don't creep on your potential tenants. And it doesn't make it less awful because you told me you did it. I'm a big fan of consent. (It's kind of my top fave.) If you'd like to know something about me, you can ask me.

Because there are a lot of places to rent in this city when you make as good of a potential tenant as I do. Whether or not I rent from someone will be up to me. (Same as it's up to me whether or not I accept a job someone offers.)

So adventures. There are people in this city who shouldn't have rental properties or be property managers, and it's been a lot of encountering that. Little done with it, and I've barely gotten started.

As for why I am moving: My lease is up at the end of May. The landlords, who used to reside in this townhouse, are ready to move back. That's why we—the current tenants—are moving out. My housemates and I are moving to separate places to facilitate faster saving money for a downpayment when we regroup to buy a place together in a couple years.

That's getting weird reactions from people when I tell them. Usually an OH NOES WHAT HAPPEN, which I occasionally feel reluctant to justify with a response because someone has already decided a terrible thing has befallen me.

This is not the meme of how friends living together destroyed their friendships, and I'd really appreciate if people could stop rushing to check that box as What Must Have Happened. There's no sordid tale, no volcanic eruption that has resulted in people never speaking to each other again.

Temporarily splitting the party is not what I—or we for that matter—wanted. But we couldn't buy a place—too many moving parts—by the time the lease was up, so we had to look at what made the most financial sense.

I'm growing a bit weary of people assuming this is an awful thing that happened to me. It's not. It's a decision I made with my eyes up on the longterm goals, and because I'm ready to have some time on my own before committing to being a homeowner. I'm currently in a place that is made of glue and pressboard—the unit shakes when large trucks drive by outside and we've smoke/smells coming up from other units from gaps where the floor doesn't meet the wall. Nothing was sealed properly, which is part of why I spent the past two winters rendered useless by pressure headaches every time it snowed.

Rushing into buying something and being stuck with a terrible investment is not something any of the group is interested in.

In addition to needing to find a place to live for June 1st, the events company that I work for has three shows in the next 60 days. One of them requires me to be gone to Florida for the last week/end in May. I have a lot on my plate for the next few months.

While I'm going to do my best to get through this without being sharp or crackly or biting anyone, I don't have a lot of extra damns lying around. If you're wondering why you can't reach me or I didn't seem to find your joke funny or I look displeased—it's entirely possible your joke wasn't funny and I am displeased, but I might also be internally freaking out over a number of variables and feeling somewhat overwhelmed in general.

Instead of telling me that things are awful and I should be upset, ask me how you can help.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Natalie C. Parker's Behold the Bones

There's a lot to love about Natalie C. Parker's Behold the Bones, her sophomore novel which acts as a follow-up/companion to her 2014 debut Beware the Wild. Parker's voice work in Behold The Bones is impeccable—it creates not only a distinct personality for its narrator, but a distinct perspective for its setting. (The mythos of Sticks, Louisiana felt well-developed in Beware the Wild, but Behold the Bones deepens and expands it. Meaning: You can read one without the other, but you really ought to read them both.)

Candy Pickens is the only person in Sticks who can't see the Shine—the swamp magic that swims through the town, causing all manner of eerie encounter and collections full of "Clary Tales." Maybe because of this, Candy is already planning how she'll escape Sticks. How she'll leave it behind. But the events of the first book have increased the ghost-sightings to the point where they're commonplace, and she's tired of being the only one among her friends who's never seen a ghost. When a reckless act to remedy that has inescapable consequences, and a family of wealthy, reality TV show ghost-hunters arrives, Candy's thrown into the spotlight in a way she never wanted.

Behold the Bones is, for the most part, a very neatly made story. Everything is there for a reason, which tightly connects in a satisfying climax. The trope inversion is also well-done—pushing further than the first book, taking the expectations of the reader and using them to comment on the genre.

This is a tale about the way we are inexplicably linked to our roots, even when we think we're the odd person out—the only one who doesn't see the place we grew up the same way as everyone else there does. It's also about the mistakes we don't make, and the people we don't let ourselves become.

In that way, Candy is a very relatable character. She's also a fierce, ambitious girl who knows her worth and takes no nonsense. Who makes mistakes—big ones—and learns from them. I appreciated how honest the book was about Candy's thoughtless/unaware treatment of her friends, the real hurt it caused, and how she grew from it. That's a hopeful thing to see—the nuances of privilege and its effects in addition to the broad strokes.

Because this is a book about being linked to a place, the core of it is her relationships with the other people in Sticks—her family, her friends, and the new strangers come to town. It's both a nod to the smalltown Gothic and a modern presentation of growing up in rural America. There is a realness to Sticks through Candy's eyes. As a result, the eerie and otherworldly elements are that much more chilling, because they stand out. They're disruptive, not wondrous. They don't belong—and yet, they're so seamlessly interwoven.

It's but one of the ways that the element of belonging, of know but not-knowing, of rediscovering a place you've lived your whole life, is layered throughout the text. This is also present in the well-paced romance. I enjoyed the quietly stated element of how you can really enjoy your time with someone and care for them a lot, but also understand that they shouldn't stay with you. That the person who you may have more of a future with is someone you thought you knew, but were wrong about.

For me, perhaps, the most exciting thing about Behold the Bones is how it promises that Parker is an author doing inventive, intelligent things. One to watch, and one to eagerly anticipate the next opportunity to read.

Beware the Wild and Behold the Bones are available now— and highly recommended for fans of Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl's Beautiful Creatures series, Sarah Rees Brennan's The Lynburn Legacy, and Maggie Stiefvater's The Raven Cycle.