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.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

As we close out February, shortest, longest month of the year, which serves as a reminder that I need to move for the first of June and should have been preparing the funds for that and setting up a new space for at least the past three months. But. I didn't get the new job until last month, so I'm going to have to do it in three.

It'll happen. Because it has to. And I will try in the meantime not to get stuck thinking about how much work and time and money that's going to take. Or how it is going to cost me more to live each month beginning in June. No, I can't get stuck thinking about that because I have things to do in addition to all the things that come with moving.

I am doing better. Work is going better. The past couple weeks have been a little brutal with air pressure and temperature changes creating ideal conditions for tension headaches. I also viciously miss the people I used to work with, which I wasn't expecting... because I thought that was something I'd already worked through last year. But the climb upwards and onwards is in progress.

To help with things, a friend gave me one of her extra notebooks to carry with me into work so I could use any extra minutes before the day started or during lunch to do writing. I used to do this exceptionally well—carve out an hour here or there to quickly write 500 to 1000 words. I also used to write thin and messy and then spend draft after draft trying to turn it into something better.

I know how to do the kind of magic that turns tiny increments of time into the infinities necessary to get things done. It's like any muscle; it just needs to be conditioned back into shape.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Notes from a year named Thrive: February

Earlier this month I started a new job as a social media and customer service coordinator at an events company here in Toronto; the application to interview to offer happened quickly during December—so quickly that I had already accepted the position before most of my friends even knew it had been offered to me.

So yay? Yay.

And oh, I'm so tired. A mostly good kind of tired—but so, so tired.

I had to relearn how to be in an office at a desk all day. How to be around other people again when I was used to working on my own. How to commute on the subway packed like sardines when I had leisurely walked most places. It's been four weeks, and I'm almost at the point where I've found the rhythm to it.

However, I don't have a lot of energy to spare. Sleeping is my new favourite hobby. I know that's not a forever thing, but it's a challenge not to feel like I'm missing out on my friends and acquaintance's lives. I'm aware there are things that have happened that I know nothing about. Whether those are thing-things or just Twitter-thing... well, someone would have to come tell me, because the finding out would take time away from sleeping. Which I enjoy. A lot.

Yesterday, I managed to write again for the first time in weeks. And that helped. I know it's healthy for me to be around people and interacting with others and working towards goals day-to-day. I do better when I'm working—it's the tangible progress, the sociability, and the structure.

It's become apparent in the past couple of weeks how badly I was doing and how drained of resources I was. (In that way where one knows one isn't doing well, but how not-well only gets put into focus when it's no longer the constant emotional state.) There were days over the past few months that believing I would get another job took more capacity than I had. I was really scared life was going to fall apart around me. It wasn't going to, resources were in place to keep that from happening, but anxiety wants us to always expect the worst.

Thus, it's important right now for me to be able to trust that there is a better or onwards or a light at the end of what has felt like a very long tunnel. It's important that I'm careful where I put my attention and how I allot what capacity I have. My emotional well went dry months ago; it's finally beginning to refill. Slower than I'd like, but such is the way of everything.

That and having the flu meant my anxiety was off the charts for the first week or so of work, and it's only now calming down enough that I can feel confident about my abilities again. I had a bad day this past week, when a meeting went a little too much like most meetings went at that corporate job I quit. When people were a little too invested in what they wanted instead of what the customer wanted.

This was compounded by my former employer doing a big restructure in January that affected a lot of my former colleagues. Two of my friends got laid off. And I found out about this a week and a half into my new job. Right around the same time media outlets in Canada laid a bunch of other people off.

So I'm feeling especially grateful about having gainful employment right now—even thought not giving into the anxiety that this workplace will be Just Like my other workplace is something I struggle with. Despite that there is much to enjoy at this new job, and many great people on the team. It's going to take a few months to put that worry to rest. It's not just like the other workplace. That's not to say there aren't things that are similar—but they're not the same.

It's been more than a year since I left, so I thought that I could handle hearing about how things were going for my friends still employed there. The full disclosure. No kid gloves. I was wrong. Talking about that workplace left me exhausted. I came home feeling like I still worked there.

There's a lot of talk about the importance of leaving toxic people and relationships, getting out of jobs that are eating us alive, but it's not a magically happy ever after just because we did. We don't talk about the echoes or the way it lingers. Or how we brace for it to happen everywhere else. The work doesn't stop when we go.

I've been thinking about this a lot, and I don't think it gets easier. I think we get better at it. In the same way I got better at managing my anxiety and recognizing what triggers it. In the same way I know I won't be tired forever. It's just how I feel now. It, too, will pass.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Obligatory post about The Force Awakens

I saw The Force Awakens. I was rather excited by it when I left the theatre, mostly because it had what the original trilogy lacked: A woman with a lightsaber. All I care about are lightsabers and tiny robots. Other things may have happened in Star Wars, but seriously, lightsabers. Tiny robots. What more do you need? (NOTHING.)

Now it's a few days later, and I don't really remember what happened in the movie. This is a problem I find with much of the films J.J. Abrams makes: They're so crammed full of stuff that the plot becomes incomprehensible. It's much harder to view them critically, because you have to dig through the layer of "and then they did this and then they did that and then and then and then" to find where the narrative structure got buried.

Most of what I can remember is: Rey lightsabered the shit out of stuff, there was a really cool temple, Poe didn't die, and I found Finn interesting.

Poe arrived prepackaged as a badass. He told us repeatedly he was badass. Showed up at the end to be a badass. Which makes sense because we see him the least. He's got no time for character development. (I thought so much emphasis had been placed on him being great because he was gonna die soon so they gave him an abbreviated character arc.)

Finn came coded as antagonist who will become a protagonist, because we see him as a stormtrooper for the opening of the movie. When he takes off his helmet and we see him as a person, that's very effective. That's the signal of what his arc will be. Again, it happens very early in the movie because he isn't the main protagonist. (He's the secondary protagonist.) We need to see him leave the Starkiller, because his leaving is the source of his enthusiasm. So much is new to Finn and he's secretly worried he'll be rejected because he used to be an antagonist. 

When Rey arrives on the scene, she's obviously our main protagonist. We spend some time with her scavenging. The movie establishes that she can defend herself (this will be important later), she's adaptable and works hard, and she has made herself a life. She has plans. BB8 goes out and finds her with the plot, but there is no doubt she is the hero. She's going to be a Jedi by the end of things.

The problem with J.J. Abrams is he loves the source material a little too much—he's not going to take any risk that's too big, because he always focuses on elbowing the audience and going DID YOU SEE WHAT I DID THERE? JUST LIKE IN [MOVIE]. YEAH. (I'm a little weary of it, because it's the same thing Joss Whedon and Steven Moffat do. I'd like to see more stories where the writers worked a little harder to hide where they filed off the serial numbers.)

So. Yeah. The Force Awakens. It's about as good as A New Hope. With some updates, because it's 2015.

About halfway through TFA, I found myself thinking "this is so EASY. Look at how Rey gets to be the protagonist and have the hero quest. We can all do this. Look at how easy it is." Why aren't there more movies like this, I wondered. Why do we keep getting told the hero has to be the guy? Because it's not like it took a lot of narrative effort to make it Rey instead of Poe or Finn. (Make your arguments about the back end production if you want, but it's possible. We keep seeing it's possible.)

I don't believe that the gender of the main character is what determines if a work is feminist or not, because that leads to the work getting a pass even if it's shit with consent or full of internalized misogyny. But I do believe that we need stories with women in the spotlight. All kinds of women.

I would've preferred to have seen more emphasis put on the relationship between Rey and Leia. Rey had women in the film who showed up to support her, but she was still really on her own with some dudes. When Han Solo and Chewbacca showed up, I felt like the movie forgot who the protagonist was. The Force Awakens is a little too in love with Han Solo.

I enjoyed Finn. I felt that turning away from the stormtrooper conditioning to pursue his own morals was equally interesting to Rey leaving her loner life to join up with the resistance. I also enjoyed how she was established as more competent and capable than Finn. So I can see the structural argument to take Rey aside for a moment and let Finn lead the mission to the Starkiller. She was busy searching within and rescuing herself.

Could've done without the nonconsensual Force mind-reading stuff, but it's always been a problem in Star Wars. The Force Awakens wasn't going to ditch that for the same reason it didn't ditch showing us C3PO and R2D2.

Also, I was relieved Poe didn't die because what a waste of character set up, and Finn needs a friend—in addition to Rey—to talk to about... I don't know jackets or something. Honestly, it was just a relief to see media where characters aren't adversarial for the sake of plot. That Poe was like sure, why not showed the Resistance as being accepting. It juxtaposed well against the rigidity of the First Order.

I think the movie was good about not working too hard to make Finn and Rey more than friends. It felt like watching a movie made to be enjoyed by my inner seven year old. It was pleasant and imperfect, but it tried to be better than what had come before it.

However, if someone had come to me with that script and said "What do we have to do to make this even better?" here is the treatment I would've given them:

Rey, our BAMF scavenger, and her tiny robot friend BB8 find the Falcon in the ruins. She tries fixing it up, holding back on the best parts and making due with lower rations (which she’s getting because misogyny) to do so. She is about halfway through when another scavenger named... uh... Laputa happens upon her camp. They decide to work together and pool their rations. Also Rey needs a co-pilot.

They get the Falcon operational and take off into the stars. Rey admits she is looking for her parents. Her friends are more than happy to help her find them. Along the way, they recruit a hotshot pilot who isn’t a dick and a former stormtrooper who questioned the morality of the society he'd been raised in. Everyone is friends and they all have adventures. No one kisses anyone, because who's got time for that when you're having so many adventures. (Save that kissing for the second movie!)
Then they land on a planet and go to this cool temple bar thing. Rey goes downstairs and fights a bunch of ghosts or something in the dungeon and finds the lightsaber and goes THIS IS GREAT. Because lightsabers are great. Period.
No one is surprised Rey can lightsaber the heck out of stuff because she has already been shown as more than capable of defending herself, and why would her friends doubt her abilities? She’s badass. A badass with a lightsaber.
The First Order wants the map. They try to capture Rey, but they only get Poe because he's too cocky. (His arc is learning not to be so cocky.) It’s fine because Rey and Laputa are completely capable of rescuing him, and Finn knows the schematics of the Starkiller. Laputa gets to fly an X-Wing and blast up shit. Rey lightsabers every creeper who gets in her way and learns the Force as she goes. Finn gets to face down his former commander with his new friends at his side.
After they save Poe, they follow the map to the Resistance. General Leia is like hey, I'm a general BAMF. Nice work on that Starkiller. She gives them the rest of the map. Rey is like cool, do you know who this lightsaber belongs to? I found it in a temple dungeon because that's how quests work. Leia is like I think it's my brother's. He went off to deal with his massive PTSD. Let's send him a message and see if he would like visitors and not stalk him across the universe and just show up.
Anyway so they call up Luke and he's like "well, ok, I guess you can come visit but now J.J. Abrams has to pay me more because I spoke onscreen." And they're like cool and they set off to visit him.

You see how easy this is? It took me fifteen minutes tops. Your move, Hollywood.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Notes from a year named Kindness: Winter Solstice

Here we are on the shortest day of the year, rain falling as it often does for the Solstice in Toronto, and what's trending on Twitter is a hashtag about the people who made 2015 great.

I've had a year-long conversation around the word kindness—giving it and receiving it, realizing that it does cost me something, and understanding that no one is entitled to it. In learning about agency over decisions and care, I've learned a lot about self-care and boundaries. Establishing them, defending them, respecting the ones others establish so they don't have to defend them against me.

I watched other people have this conversation—former colleagues and current friends—and it grew, it expanded into a cultural discussion of how kindness tangles up in privilege. In consent and agency. A lot of us spent this year recalculating the amount of damns we have to allot, and how we conserve them for when we need them most.

The best advice I got remains when someone told me in a job interview that first you take care of yourself, then your loved ones, and your job—whether it's marketing or non-profit or social media or publishing—comes last. Because you can't do it well if you aren't taking care of yourself.

I learned that lesson the hard way, and it meant I have firm boundaries regarding what I won't put up with—and that very little to do with whether or not I can endure it. It has to do with defending the choice not to have to endure it. Because each time one of us chooses, it makes room for the next person. I also learned when and what and whom I make exceptions for.

Life is full of well-meaning bullets and assholes who don't know—or just don't care—they're assholes. But the world is also full of brilliant, caring people—and self-aware assholes—who want to be and do better. What a bunch of hustlers we are; over-extended in our own ways, and all fighting our own battles.

Those are the people who made this year great. The warmest of wishes to those of you who showed up with a smile or a song or a joke, who lent an ear or a hand. To the ones made of swords and fire, and the ones made of feathers and light.

May you have things that fill you up, people who love you, and a safe place to rest when you are weary. It's been a long year, and it's going to a long night. Stay warm; remain bright.