it doesn't have to be this way

This morning I was talking to my roommate about one of my favourite books, Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life, and suddenly found myself feeling slightly weepy. I talked through the burgeoning tears and moments later they urge had passed. I could have easily dismissed the teary moment to PMS—I had, afterall, gotten equally teary during an episode of Love Island just yesterday—but throughout the day I couldn’t stop thinking about that moment. I had been talking about the moment I had realized, influenced by Yanagihara’s novel, that there was great appeal, for me, to have “a little life”. A little life: finding rich and satisfying intimacy with other people, whether romantic or not, having a beautiful home; maybe you’ll have a dog. It’s a life that is defined by love and connection, and simple pleasures. It’s one that sounds completely satisfying and beautiful , but in a world in which we are constantly told that we should always want more, that we should always want better, it doesn’t feel like enough. It feels like giving up and settling. I think the reason I felt so teary describing that moment is that I want it so badly. And I want to also feel like that’s a worthy pursuit. I don’t want to be disgusted with myself for wanting that. The greatness of a life that results in love, joy and beauty, even in the face of terrible things and the worldly pressure is beautifully depicted in John Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies. I just finished reading the book and I enjoyed it so much. Although I shed quite a few tears over it, it didn’t leave me completely wrecked and feeling incapable of living in the world, which always feels like a plus. The novel follows an Irish man named Cyril Avery through his own little life, from the moment he is born into chaos to the tender moments of the months before his death. Over almost seven decades—each new section of the novel skips forward seven years—Boyne makes you feel tied to Cyril, as he comes to embrace the immovable fact of his homosexuality in 20th century Catholic Ireland, falls in love and makes quite a few mistakes all in between. I devoured the book, my emotions alternating between laughing and crying and groaning and gasping. It’s the best book I’ve read this year. Another thing I read this week that fits well into this theme and motivated me to write any of this down, was Anne Helen Petersen’s newsletter titled oh no all my earnestness in one place. It’s comprised mostly of a commencement speech she gave at the University of Oregon in which she encourages the new graduates to forego the idea that there is a map and if they follow it, they’ll follow it right to certainty and security. Because more and more, that certainty is not there. You follow the map and then at the point where the bells should ring because you’ve absolutely made it, you’ve won, the map falls off. She talks about how many of us know that we have to throw away the map, we have to rethink what our futures may look like and what we need to do to get to that nebulous future, but find it difficult to do so. I screenshotted this:

“And for various reasons, you’re scared and exhausted”

“And for various reasons, you’re scared and exhausted”

She reminds us that we do not have to be ruled by fear, especially of the unknown and the uncomfortable. She reminds us to dig into the uncomfortable instead of dismiss it. She reminds us that whatever it is that we are struggling to reconcile with, whether it’s how we work or how live or whatever, that it doesn’t have to be this way. We have the power to make it any which way we want. Although as she suggests, that is easier said than done. I feel like I’ve been telling myself for years to ditch the conventional definitions of success, to ditch the ideas of how my future could look like. I’ve been telling myself for years to just listen to myself, rather than to the voices that tell me there’s a right way to get what I want and to have a satisfying life. I remind myself everyday that I can’t put too much stake into the future because there’s no way I can control what happens. But then I panic. Because the thing is that the future is like a poor potential partner: it demands you to invest everything into it but at no point will give you any signals, any indication, that it’s in it with you. That it will give back everything you’ve given it, and maybe more. And no matter how much you give it up and swear you won’t return it’s call, you always do. Because you feel like you’re missing out on something potentially great. And it’s hard to believe that something actually great will come your way without as much strife. There’s no use promising that you’ll get over it. But as Petersen’s newsletter, and Boyne’s novel, and my tears remind me, it’s worth trying to get over. Because you might miss the good stuff otherwise.

consumption report

  • The Man Repeller article that led me to AHP’s newsletter

  • I started listening to Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, which hasn’t necessarily told me anything about success that I haven’t really thought about myself, but has given me lots of interesting stories to share at dinner parties. It is satisfying though to have things I’ve thought about before be expressed in a more eloquent and pseudo-scientific way.

  • I find it really hard to get into podcasts, though when I do, I dive all in. I recently have been obsessively listening to Gimlet’s The Cut on Tuesdays, and excitedly await the episode each week. New York magazine’s The Cut is the only media publication I read on a regular basis because it combines fantastic reporting and writing with easy humour, as well as has a splendid mix of celebrity gossip as well as newsy news. The podcast is essentially just an audio version of that greatness, a perfect distraction from tedious work. I’ve also been really enjoying the Longform podcast again, especially this and that.

  • You can find out the other books and movies I’ve consumed recently here

MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION

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Months ago I read Otessa Mosefgh’s acclaimed novel My Year of Rest and Relaxation at the persistent request of my friend. Later, I drafted an email about my thoughts on the book. I never sent the email, and I never shared the thoughts I wrote. Here’s the (slightly) edited version.

I was fully prepared to dislike My Year of Rest and Relaxation. When I was encouraged to read the book by my friend, I had known about the book for awhile. It had dotted my Instagram feed for weeks at some point last year and even though it was lauded by people whose opinion on literature I quite respect, I also recalled books like Meg Wolitzer’s The Female Persuasion that are the talk of the town and then I find a tremendous bore. And I really want to start forming my own opinion on things.

When I started reading the book, I thought wow I do not like this girl, I do not like this book. But I kept going because my friend wanted me to read it and I wanted to read more of almost anything. My first thoughts about the novel’s unnamed narrator and protagonist is that she was conceited, privileged and a little whiny. I felt disgusted with her and I was unsure if I could make it through a entire novel full of her. But of course, over time I came to understand her. I came to appreciate her, to care for her. She could be a little despicable and gross but she also felt relatable. The overwhelming, and sometimes debilitating feeling of caring so much it feels impossible to live when life feels like a grey, purposeless mess. When it felt full of people who thought they had it all figured out, desperate characters that were grasping at every possible thing to make themselves feel good about who they were and who they had chosen to be. Characters like Reva and Ping Xi and Natasha, who weren’t bad people, but who are the kind of people we should resist becoming if only because there is no satisfaction in a performative life. 

Yet, her project of a year of rest and relaxation feels like a performance art piece, even without Ping Xi’s strange appropriation of her experience. I still haven’t decided what I think. I think it was Mosefgh’s intention for it to feel a bit performative. Despite this, and despite the protagonists lies and delusions the whole thing feels honest and open. Maybe the joke’s on me.


who cares what i eat?

(img via tumblr)  not wellness approved

(img via tumblr) not wellness approved

The first time I remember crying over the way I consume food, I was about 10 or 11 years old. I left my yearly physical in a fit of tears, after my doctor told me that I was way over the “normal” BMI for someone my age. I ran home bawling in tears and self-hatred. In reaction to the news, I downed a pint of Oreo ice cream and a container of powdered donuts. I told myself I enjoyed every bite but I also remember it feeling like a punishment. Though I wouldn’t have described it as such back then, I was definitely a binge eater, and I definitely had an eating disorder.

If you talk to a lot of women, stories like this one are not out of the regular. Based on conversations alone, most women I know have dealt with some sort of complication with food and the way they consume it since they were children. I’ve had friends who spent junior high trying to subsist on a diet of plain popcorn. I’ve underwent diets with friends that saw us diligently recording our meals, and allowing ourselves to manically indulge (re:binge) on so-called “cheat days”. Again, none of this is new. Living as a woman in a patriarchal world in which your worth is often measured by your beauty—and beauty is defined by thinness—means that from an early age you’re taught to think about food in a very controlling way. Whether for nourishment or pleasure, food becomes something that could easily destroy you if you let it. And so, twelve year old girls go on Weight Watchers and get refuse to go the pool, lest somebody tell them that once they lose their baby fat they’ll beautiful.

For some people, the era of fad diets is one of the past. Oprah might be the face of Weight Watchers but the modern feminist knows that diets are just a tool of the patriarchy. The modern feminist knows that to spend an excessive The modern feminist subscribes to something else: wellness. Unlike the fad diets of the past, wellness is a lifestyle that is focused on overall health and wholeness. Now, if you restrict yourself to two meals a day and count a smoothie as a satisfying meal, it’s not about losing weight or anything messy like that. Now if you restrict yourself, it’s about shaping your body and its systems in order to reach the best version of yourself: full of energy, successful, and strong. Although the narrative may be different, the process and the goals are still the same.

In a recent op-ed for The New York Times titled “Smash the Wellness Industry” writer Jessica Knoll discusses her experiences with restrictive eating and how her recent discovery of “intuitive eating” has changed the way she interacts with food and her consumption of it. She describes her experience with wellness as “a poisonous relationship between a body I was indoctrinated to hate and food I had been taught to fear.” Knoll names diets like Whole30 which is premised on only eating “whole” foods for 30 days in order to determine foods that are harmful to you. It involves giving up things like gluten and alcohol (typical) as well as legumes and grains (not so much). Starving oneself (intermittent fasting, anyone?) is now acceptable in the name of wellness.

In his essay “On Food” Mark Grief talks about the ways in which, as homo sapiens, our relationship with food has changed now that many of us do not face scarcity. He touches on a variety of subjects, but what I strongly remember is how he talked about the relationship between food and health. What I generally got from the essay is that in our obsession for immortality, we turn to food as a way of controlling our lifespan. This attitude is one that I think plays a strong role in the wellness narrative. With more and more people being diagnosed with cancer at increasingly younger ages, it makes sense that people find comfort in the idea that you’ll be ok as long as you stop eating tomatoes. Furthermore, wellness encourages the idea that if your diet is wholesome and clean, your life will be as well. In his essay, Grief claims that we have come to “privatize food care as a category of inner, personal life.” How we eat has become a defining element of how we live.

Of course, having beautiful, wholesome lives is extremely appealing, and if it’s as simple as only drinking juice for breakfast, what could be the harm? For Knoll, and for me as well, the issue is that “at its core, “wellness” is about weight loss.” And while losing weight is not necessarily a negative thing, most women’s desire to lose weight is founded on the idea that thinness is the ideal, and that women who are fat or “fat-bodied” or whatever you want to call it, fail to care about themselves or their quality of life. As someone who constantly deals with guilt over my choice to order onion rings and avoid the gym, I can attest to how quickly one can fall into harmful habits (like finding satisfaction in missing meals) when living in a world where wellness is king.

As an idea, wellness is great, and being conscious about how we treat ourselves should never be a negative thing. But I would love to get to the day when thinking about what I eat and how I eat is the least important thing I have to think about. A hyper-tech future sounds frightening, but if that meant food became a passing thought instead of a ruling force, I think I might be okay with that. Or maybe that’s still dangerous thinking. Honestly, who cares?

I obviously love to talk about my relationship with food and my body.

Gloves Are A Scam or, Why Am I Always Cold?

In the past couple of weeks, I have bought two pairs of mittens which greatly disappointed me. One I returned, and the other I was forced into keeping due to those two lovely words sales associates love to say: final sale. Before these weary purchases, I had been hesitant to purchase any sort of glove contraptions due to a belief that I still hold pretty strongly: gloves are a scam.

If you’ve ever lived through a Canadian winter, you know that finding the right pair of gloves is an exercise that requires time, precision and a certain delicacy. Not only do your gloves have to keep your hands warm, they also have to allow you to be dexterous when juggling the million things you can now carry; they have to make sending a text from your phone quick and easy; they have to be easy to keep track of (how many gloves have you lost?); and they have to be cute. I know that’s asking a lot from just one winter accessory but that’s just how it is.

I, however, am not so demanding. I’ve sacrificed many expectations of my gloves—easy phone access, trackable, cute— and I still cannot find a glove to satisfy my needs. All I ask is for them to be warm and to fit! Take these mittens I am now committed to. Upon the first five minutes of wearing them outside, I feel my thumbs slowly firm up as they freeze into solid blocks. Five minutes later, the other four phalanges start to tense up, and as I clench my fingers into my palm in an attempt to get blood flowing through them, I notice that my palm is my freezing cold! It’s completely ridiculous.

But were the gloves truly to blame? If I’m being completely honest, I’m pretty much always cold no matter how wrapped up I am. In addition to gloves, I have a hard time with parkas, thick socks and winter boots. As much as I would like to believe it, all these things couldn’t be scam artists. And according to science, they’re not. According to Dr. Martha Gulati (via The Cut), being cold all the time can be attributed to the slowing down of your metabolism when you sit still for a long period of them. She stated that she was never cold when she was moving around at work visiting patients, but couldn’t help shivering when she was sitting down and working in her office. Which makes a lot of sense. It definitely explains why after 30 minutes in any one of my lectures, I begin to shiver, no matter how warm I had felt in moments prior. And unless you do jumping jacks before you leave the house, you probably are already a cold brick when you step out onto the mean winter streets.

So maybe gloves are not really at fault. It seems that yet again the human body has shown the extent of its weakness and delicacy. Maybe it’s too much to ask of gloves to battle against such a messy beast. We ourselves can barely handle the bodies we’re in. But I won’t lower my expectations yet. One day, I’ll find a glove that is worthy of Toronto’s brutal winds. Until then, frozen fingers it is.

SUMMER ‘18

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This summer started out a bummer--I didn’t have a good job, my future was really uncertain and I spent more time worrying than enjoying myself. Eventually things figured themselves out, as they’re wont to do and I started a new job where I’ve met some pretty cool people. Hanging out with them has reminded me of how good it is to just have fun and be open to dancing, whether your drunk or not. That sort of attitude has snuck its way into my summer playlist which, in my opinion, is full of BANGERZ and that I’m pretty much listening to till there’s snow on the ground. One of my faves on here is “Heart to Break” by Kim Petras which is really just the bop of the summer. One thing I’m really embracing this summer is the idea of risking delight. I’m always so cautious, so “practical” and I let that hold me back in a lot of ways. It means a lot of missed experience and a lot of unnecessary regret. This summer, and the rest of this year, is about being open to experience even if it breaks me, even if it makes me cry. With this playlist I’m officially crowning this summer as the summer of dancing your ass off and having one or six martinis. We all deserve it. 

THE CHALLENGE

Artwork by  Jasjyot Singh Hans

I haven't written in almost a month. Scratch that. I haven't written anything that I'm remotely proud of in a month, maybe even longer. I sort of abandoned this blog for a few weeks in my attempt to conserve energy and I wrote a few things for uni that made me want to smack my head against my keyboard in a dangerous way. On top of that I hated everything I wrote. It all sounded stupid and fake and NOT LIKE ME AT ALL. Even writing this post feels a little bit excruciating because I'm not sure exactly what it is I want to say, even though I've been sitting with it in the back of my mind for four days now. Whenever it comes to these moments, when I feel like I'll never really write anything again, I can't help letting my insecurities take over. I just start to think about alternative career paths, about doing a job that lets me write but that doesn't give me as much anxiety as sitting down to creatively write does. To put it simply: I feel like quitting. But I promised myself that I would stop quitting when things got scary so here I am trying to push through. But I feel blank. I feel devoid of the passion and the excitement that I felt a few months ago when all of this was just a scary endeavour I was exploring in my journal. I have all the prescriptions--morning journal pages, inspiring quotes, readings--and yet I still find myself just typing words without any connection to themselves. I want to be a writer, but I don't feel like a writer. I don't feel like I could ever be a writer. And I know part of that comes with putting pressure on myself to be a certain type of writer, but still...

I don't want to publish this, but I'm going to. For full disclosure. As a reminder to myself. I wanted this week to be the week that I threw myself back into working on this blog and being creative, but I don't know where I am. And I need to figure that out. I'm going to take this week to do it. Let it be a sort of vacation of sorts. I want to read a lot. Keep my computer out of my bed. Watch 50% of the movies on my Netflix list. Take time for myself. I don't know if it's the perfect antidote, but it's a beginning. 

Redefining Success

What is success? These days it seems like there’s an overflow of articles, books, podcasts, etc. that are all trying to give us some definition of success. Although it can be inspiring, it can quickly get overwhelming, especially when no one definition feels right.

Late last year, I had my biggest struggle with success. I had made it my goal to be the most well-rounded student you’ve ever seen. I was going to raise my GPA, have an internship and do more creative work. And on top of that, I was going to read more books for fun. I knew trying to balance all of that was going to be tough but I believed that hustling was the key to success and so it would all be worth it in the end.

So I worked hard at it. I studied everyday, making sure I was doing my readings and practicing my French. I went to my internship each week and made sure that I was working on my projects whenever I had a free moment. At the same time, I was managing and co-editing a blog, as well as working at my part-time job on the weekends. At first, I was thrilled with all the work I was doing. Yes, I thought, this is what successful women do! I thought that if I could handle my immense workload, then I would be proving something. To the people who thought I was lackadaisical and unserious. To my future bosses. To myself.

By mid-October I was burnt out and unhappy. I started panicking when things would go wrong and I felt like nothing was in control. I kept on working but I wasn't sure what for.  To top it all off, I didn’t feel proud about anything I had achieved. Not about my grades, my internship, my work. Nothing. I didn’t feel like a success, I felt like a failure.

I recently read an interview with Phoebe Lovatt, writer and founder of The WW Club, that articulated my current feeling about success: 

I think the only key to success is deciding what success looks like for you, and not getting derailed by someone else’s version of it. To me, it’s asking myself: how often am I waking up and looking forward to my day? That’s success. It’s not about how much money I have, how many followers I have, how much I’m impressing people. If I don’t wake up and feel like my day is a day that I want to have, then what am I doing?
— Phoebe Lovatt

I'll be honest, this is easier said than done. It's easy to say that you don't care about how much money you have or how well your business is doing when you have achieved "conventional" success. When you're just a person working hard to get something published or bring an idea into fruition, it's hard to look at your life and feel like you've been successful. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't. Having a big idea about success is not a bad thing. In fact, it's important to keeping us motivated. On the other hand, it's important that we celebrate the smaller things that contribute to our being able to pursue the big ideal of success. Like finishing a draft, no matter how messy it may feel. Or having a difficult conversation with a friend. Or finally going to yoga class after months of putting it off. These are all challenges that we overcome and that's what success is about. Overcoming challenges. Or maybe it's not. That's up to each of us.

It took a lot for me to come to the point where I realized I had to evaluate my relationship with success. I had to think about why I had defined success the way I had for so long and why I wasn't satisfied by it. I had to tap into some darker, uglier parts of myself that I often try to talk away. And it's not like I've found the answers in the process. In fact, I'm still trying to figure it out. I know it's a process. I don't feel like a success, but I do feel successful.