Nifty’s “F*ck It” List 2015


Fancy bucket!


At the beginning of this year, I made being kind my New Year’s Resolution. In an external sense, this has not changed much about my day-to-day life or my day-to-day actions. From the outside, I am more or less the same as I was in 2014–a nice person, I hope, who tries to be a NICER person, but certainly no saint. Instead, my resolution to be kind has so far involved more of an internal shift in concentration, and a constant reminder to focus on my own actions, rather than the actions of other people. If I can help, I should help, if I can’t help, I shouldn’t despair over it, and if other people are either refusing to help or are actively contributing to a problem, f*ck ’em.

Strange words perhaps, from someone who wants to be a kinder person, but I don’t believe being kind and saying “f*ck it” to a few things are mutually exclusive. In fact, I think the ability to say “f*ck it” is one of the essential traits of people who are living their lives well (I believe Jesus referred to this as “turning the other cheek” but I have a bit of a profane streak).

Many people have bucket lists (i.e. lists of things they’d like to see or do before they kick the bucket), but I find those a little too high-pressure (after all, I could be hit by a bus tomorrow and I hate when items on to-do lists are left unchecked). Instead of thinking about what I need to do before I die, I’d rather consciously decide what not to worry about, in the hopes of living a life that is happier and healthier and more kindly towards my fellow humans.

I have called this list the F*ck It List:

  1. Any bucket list with an age stipulation. As someone who will be 29 in a few months, I’m tired of seeing lists in my Facebook and Twitter feeds telling me what I must do, what I must see, and places I must travel, all before I’m 30. Why does experience stop when you reach a certain age? When I’m 30, will my arms and legs and eyes suddenly pop out of my body, leaving me incapable of watching a sunrise over the Mediterranean, hiking to Machu Picchu, or kissing someone in the rain? WHY DIDN’T ANYONE TELL ME MY ABILITY TO EXPERIENCE THE JOYS OF LIFE WAS GOING TO END SO SOON???!!! Bullshit. When TC and I went to the Galapagos Islands a couple of years ago, one of the couples on our boat was in their 70s (if not 80s). They participated in all the activities (though I believe the wife sat out of the snorkeling), had an amazing attitude, and a wonderful time. And who are the people writing these lists anyways? Short-sighted fellow Millennials who work as writers for clickbait websites, who truly believe the sun rises and sets on their youth and can’t fathom a life after it? Why are these people the experts on MY life’s needs? And can a fulfilling life really be distilled into a list of generic (and often cliche) enjoyable experiences? Many people I’ve met who have bucket lists of some kind are amazing, open people who embrace their desires for adventure and experience as part of a full and varied life. But some people completely miss the bigger picture which is that bucket lists should enrich your life, not take it over. And also that your 20s are (likely) only one small fraction in the entirety of your life. It’s fine to leave some experiences for later. If I die tomorrow, I want only two things: one, to be fully confident that the people I care about know I love them; and two, to be fully confident that they know that I know that they love me. As long as I can maintain that, the rest is gravy, and nothing to get anxious about. So I’ll turn 30 without ever seeing a monkey in the wild (which I’d really like to do)? F*ck it, that’s okay.
  2. Winning. I really, REALLY like to win. Especially arguments. I want to be right, but more than that, I want my “opponent” to KNOW I’m right, and to admit that I’m right. The idea that someone might go to their grave being wrong about something I TOLD them I was right about makes my skin crawl. And that’s not their problem, it’s mine. F*ck winning–lately I’ve realized that winning often means NOT having the last word. And at that point, it’s not winning, because there is no contest. It’s just living. Too many people want to win, and it’s screwing up our province and our country and our planet because no one will extend a hand or admit that perhaps they don’t know everything.
  3. Online comments. F*ck ’em. I know I should never read the comments on online articles, but sometimes I do, and it destroys my faith in humanity, so I should really just stop forever.
  4. Money. It drives too many of our decisions and it’s just something we made up. People worry about it, people fight about it, people kill each other and the planet for it. I have never yet regretted parting with money if doing so would make me happier or healthier. (Of course, I am lucky that I had enough of it in the first place that I could make the decision to part with some. Obviously, if you don’t have enough money to support yourself or your family I understand why you can’t say “f*ck it” to money but those of us who can, should. Some of the people who worry about money the most have more of it than they need).
  5. Worrying about the future. Obviously, it’s good to be prepared and I definitely believe in insurance, health benefits, and retirement savings, but I often worry about crazy hypothetical situations like what if my future, currently non-existent children are criminals, and also more probable and therefore anxiety-inducing hypotheticals like what I’ll do when my parents are older if they are unhealthy, or what would happen if I became paralyzed or something (for whatever reason). There’s nothing I can do, in this moment, to prevent any of these possibilities, and worrying about them is useless. The grasshopper in the Aesop fable probably shouldn’t have sang ALL summer (a bit of food-collecting wouldn’t have been a bad idea what with winter on its way), but I think he was on to something about not delaying too much joy and contentedness for a future date. This is not a contradiction of my above point on ageist bucket lists being stupid. I’m just saying it’s always a good time for peace of mind.
  6. Guilt. It’s not the best reason to do anything good, and if you aren’t going to do anything good with it, you may as well say “f*ck it” to feeling guilty about stuff. Of course, if you do something wrong you should feel remorse, apologize, and try to learn something, but letting guilt keep you up at night? F*ck that.
  7. Mainstream media outlets, and the way they choose to tell stories, and the way celebrities’ lives are depicted as more important or newsworthy than the lives of “regular” people, and the way the relative “merits” of certain (usually female) body parts are discussed in magazines and online as if you can choose what kind of ass to have the way you’d choose which model of dishwasher to buy, and the way some people are called terrorists and monsters and others are just “lone wolves with mental health issues” or “separatists” or “freedom fighters” and the difference between them is usually just their skin colour or religion. I don’t have to buy that crap.
  8. Wasting my time on the Internet. I’m on here way too much. Spending too much time on the Internet makes me think I have to know everything, and sometimes, it makes me think I need to say everything, or not even everything, just ANYTHING. And saying anything just to say something isn’t good enough. So with that in mind…
F*ck it. I’m tired of looking at the computer screen so it’s good-bye for now. Please feel free to make your own F*ck It Lists, as knowing what you DON’T need is sometimes just as important as knowing what you do. Maybe. I dunno, I’m not the boss of you. F*ck my opinions, and their little blog too.*
(*That’s a Wizard of Oz joke, sort of.)


Kindness (My New Year’s Resolution)

I have noticed a hardness.

I have noticed a hardness in the way I speak about people, and the way I think about them.

I have noticed that while in many ways I am accepting, or at least tolerant, of difference (and hopefully occasionally downright welcoming of it), there is a hardness there too. Human weakness, which should inspire my compassion, is often met with indignation and impatience instead.

I have noticed more and more a desire to turn off and tune out. I have noticed that this is not so I can embrace the world beyond the screen but instead so that I can hide from it. I am intelligent and educated enough to understand that the lifestyle systems I am a part of tacitly permit suffering (human and ecological) and I am using this same capacity for reason to try to justify it.

I have noticed that it is hard to forgive.

I have noticed that everyone seems to be shooting or bombing or beheading each other all the time and at a certain point a human death becomes just another one on the pile as long as it’s not in my backyard.

I have noticed an insufficient presence of goodwill in many of my undertakings.

I have noticed that it is much easier, and often pleasurable, to complain.

I have noticed a pettiness, and a need to feel superior.

I have noticed all this can exist in my character, defiantly, almost gloatingly, even as I feel exceptionally fortunate for my myriad blessings and wish to be more deserving of them.

And I have doubts. Doubts in my conception of myself as a good person. Doubts in my desire to have children (why bring them into this world? Why do we need more witnesses for the apocalypse we’re actively unleashing?). Doubts in my conception of my own spirituality and philosophy and what I consider to be true, good, and worthwhile.

And there is, sometimes, an emptiness.

Perhaps my heart felt a bad wind rising and squirreled itself away and it’s under a tree somewhere, in amongst the roots, and it’s holding its breath and listening to each groan as the tree swings back and forth, caught between resisting and letting go and achieving neither end.

Perhaps I am the tree, boughs and branches becoming stiffer the older I get, already firmly rooted in my opinions and beliefs and ways whether the soil will hold or not. Perhaps it’s just that I’m not as good at swaying with the breeze as I used to be. And now I’m waking with every creak. Shaking with every storm. Mourning every leaf that withers and falls, because it happens too fast now, far too fast, and is it just me or are the seasons different than they used to be?

And so–kindness.

For me, goodness will not be found in perfection. I will never be without my flaws (in fact, if I am honest with myself, I find them interesting most of the time). Perfection is paralyzing. It’s all-or-nothing. It is not in my grasp.

But kindness is. I would say it’s not that hard to be kind, but that’s not always true. Sometimes kindness is difficult. Still, kindness does not require of me any resource or special capacity that I don’t already have. Someone who is poor can be just as kind as someone who is rich. The powerless can be kind, as well as the powerful. The foolish can be as kind as the wise. Kindness does not need the light to survive–it can be found in the darkest of places or the darkest of times.

And the spirit of kindness can be found even in those beings who are, like me, imperfect.

And so I have found my New Year’s Resolution for the year ahead; just a small one:

I want to be kind.

Photo: Brayden McCluskey

Photo: Brayden McCluskey

The Bloggerversary Edition: Nifty is 4!

I’ve been on the fence about whether or not to acknowledge my “bloggerversary” this year. I knew I was going to roll out a new look (hope you like it!) but I wasn’t sure whether to proclaim the milestone from the roof tops (“Oh my god! I’ve been writing this blog for FOUR WHOLE YEARS!”) or whether to just let the day pass by (“M’h. No big deal. Let’s write about something else.”).

Of course, I already did let the day pass by. The four-year anniversary of my very first post was actually on November 29. But I was on Salt Spring Island last weekend having a wonderful time and drinking martinis…so…yeah. And besides, is four years of (over)sharing on the Internet really such a thing to celebrate? Is it an accomplishment? Can I look at it and say, yeah, I get to feel like a real blogger now?

In many ways, no. It’s weird, but although I set out to be a blogger four years ago and began by following a lot of bloggers on Twitter and going to blogger meetups, etc., the more I’ve blogged the more I’ve pulled away from the idea of “being a blogger”. This is partially explained by personal growth–as I have become a more confident blogger I have also become a more busy person with more going on in my life, and I simply don’t have time to be an active part of an online community. But it’s also a question of how I identify myself. Would I call myself a blogger? Trick question. I don’t not call myself a blogger, but generally speaking I consider myself a writer. And having a blog can be an amazing gift for a writer–it holds me accountable to writing at specific intervals and has allowed me to share my writing with an audience (and sometimes to be a part of one as well–I have absolutely loved loved LOVED watching and reviewing theatre for NiftyNotCool).

As a blogger/writer/what-have-you, I’ve had some uncomfortable moments too: For every solid piece of writing there’s a mediocre one just taking up space. Being on the Internet gives people access to me, in ways that I don’t always foresee. Posting my opinions means sometimes people will disagree with me, occasionally very unpleasantly. And after blogging about sensitive issues, some of the responses I’ve received have forced me to re-examine my position, even my motives for writing. Does the fact that I am good at saying something about something mean that I should? Do I have a responsibility to post about certain issues because I am an okay writer who has a blog? Do I also occasionally have a responsibility NOT to write about certain issues, because I am not the best person to address them? Should I occasionally leave some silence in cyberspace for someone who isn’t white/cis/hetero/middle class (not that I take up much room, but still)? Why am I talking? Am I trying to help? Enlighten? Learn? Or am I just talking to hear/read myself think?

While monitoring the site stats for NiftyNotCool, I’ve had the thrill of watching a post go viral (my post on the recent teacher’s strike in BC has been viewed almost 50 000 times, most of them occurring within the first two days of its existence), and I’ve also bruised my ego realizing that the majority of my site traffic still comes from people googling the phrase “nifty nudes” [which is depressing, because obviously those people aren’t really interested in what I have to say and are visiting my blog posts about Wreck Beach by accident while looking for porn, but also intriguing: who knew so many people were on the hunt for specifically “nifty” nudes?]. At the end of the day, what do my stats really mean? Very little, most likely. WordPress hosts my site for free (I just pay for my domain name) so I don’t make anything off the little ads that sometimes run at the bottom of posts, no matter how many people view them. I’m not getting book deals or job offers. No one hands me a medal for having 20 000 views in a day or harangues me for only having two.

So what the heck have I been doing for four years? Shouting into the darkness? Well, sometimes. But other times, more and more as my blog and I grow older, I manage to say something that lands. And every once in a while somebody tells me that I have expressed something that they were feeling. And then I do think there’s a place for NiftyNotCool here in cyberspace, and there is a reason that I talk–not just to hear/read myself think but also so that every once in a little while somebody else can hear themselves too. And as a writer that’s just….wonderful.


Photo: Bill Kresowaty



It’s almost here…


Illustration by Sonja Kresowaty

It’s happening.

And I am so excited.

My Travelling Companion and I reached Salt Spring yesterday afternoon and time is now moving both heart-racingly fast and excruciatingly slowly. How can I possibly get everything done in time? And how can I possibly wait so long? After a nearly two-year engagement it is surreal to me that all the pieces are moving now, that we will be decorating our reception venue tomorrow, that cupcakes and catering are a go and my gown is in my future in-laws’ closet and my parents and sisters are here (here!) and we’ve picked up our marriage license and told our officiant what we want her to say and that any remaining preparation must fit into the next two days (two years of prep into two days!) and that after all of this hoopla life will go on as before.

Because life doesn’t stop or make accommodations for people’s weddings. Though both the sun and the well-wishes of friends and co-workers have been beaming down on me for the past few weeks, there is, in the words of Bob Marley, “so much trouble in the world”. Trouble that jeopardizes our environment and humanity. Trouble that is so much bigger than my current biggest problem, which is that I have had an allergic reaction to a necklace I was wearing and my neck is now covered in hives (which won’t look nice in wedding photos, sigh). In the midst of such uncertainty and grief and violence and pain, how can the wedding of two privileged people possibly be relevant or significant? How can this event, into which we (and our families) have poured so much time and money and energy possibly be worthy?

I like to think that celebrating love is worthwhile. I like to think that if everyone could have the love and generosity that I have received the world would be a better place. I like to think that some traditions bring us closer to our families, and that this makes them worth observing. While preparing for our big crazy day has been stressful in many different ways, offers of help and congratulations have poured in from all directions and this is both gratifying and humbling. People can be good, and it is important to know that.

We will not be getting married in a world that is as we would like it to be. There is suffering and there is danger and greed and selfishness. This doesn’t end because we get married. After all of this hoopla is over life will go on as before.

Except it will be different because it will be shared. Which is just so nice to think about.

How Pinterest is Crushing My Wedding (and Self-Esteem)

They used to say every girl dreams of a fairytale wedding. I’m not sure about that but I do currently feel the weight of the expectation that every girl must CREATE a fairytale wedding, whether she ever dreamed about it or not. As one of my colleagues warned me about wedding planning, “Once you get on that roller coaster you can’t get off.” And I am definitely riding a roller coaster made of paper lanterns and jumbo popsicle sticks, hastily stuck together with my newly-acquired glue gun.

Maybe I was once one of those girls. Maybe I once wanted a poofy dress and a string quartet and an aisle lined with rose petals (maybe I still do want a poofy dress, a string quartet, and an aisle lined with rose petals but perhaps I am too practical and too poor). Who doesn’t want to imagine a major event without also having to imagine the financial, familial, and time restrictions that will influence the big day? But who can afford that dream when it comes to their own life? Practically nobody.

Which is why, Once Upon A Time, if you were not rich enough to hire a wedding decorator or rent out a spendy venue, you rolled out some plastic runners, threw up some balloons and streamers in your “wedding colours”, and called it a day. I certainly went to a lot of weddings like that in my youth, and I had a great time. NOW, however, Martha Stewart, Pinterest, and craft stores everywhere have conspired to convince less-wealthy women that they CAN have their fairytale wedding after all, and furthermore that it is EASY and CHEAP, so long as they are prepared to MAKE EVERY DAMN THING THEMSELVES.

After visiting at least seven separate stores (Michael’s, dollar stores, Costco, shops in Chinatown, etc.) and spending so many dollars on paper lanterns, LED tea lights, and various wedding-related bric-a-brac, I’m beginning to seriously question how “easy and cheap” DIY wedding decor really is. Looking at the “DIY” page of my wedding Pinterest (yes, I had one) makes me want to cry. Apparently I compiled it in a simpler, more innocent time. A time when I thought perhaps I would learn to make macarons (an incredibly complicated piece of baking I’ve never attempted once, never mind enough times to feed a bunch of people). A time when I thought I was going to cut literally thousands of leaves out of coloured felt and thread them into festive garlands, or make my own lanterns out of mason jars and good intentions.

Sigh. I had no idea how incredibly bad at planning I am until I had to plan a wedding. And I had no idea how much my crafting skills fell short of what is considered a “simple, pretty wedding” nowadays until I tried to make even the most straight-forward of Pinterest-inspired dreams a reality.

One of the pieces of advice I’ve been getting since I got engaged is to make my wedding “my own”, as if my fiancé, the dozens of people attending, and the family and friends whose time and resources are being generously donated help throw one lavish party, have nothing to do with it. This wedding is far from being “my own”. The photos I’ve pinned on Pinterest are not my own, the crafting ideas are not my own, and the images I carry in my head of what I wish my wedding could look like are not my own. They’re part of some kind of wedding stencil that floats around in the ether, waiting to lay itself on top of all new couples’ best-laid plans and show them how far off the mark they are.

Um...nailed it?

Um…nailed it?

It’s all well and good to try to create your dream wedding if you’re crafty, and patient, and don’t live in a studio apartment where every available flat surface is now covered in boxes and bags. It’s less good when you waste two hours and six sheets of origami paper trying to learn how to make a magic cube rose only to end up with a fist-sized mass of crumpled sadness. Ho hum. I don’t think I was made for this.

I’m not sure where these high expectations for weddings come from (I know our guests are not snobby people and would not judge us based on my origami skills), but I do know they exist. Case in point: yesterday, I went to the dentist for a check up and cleaning. One of the hygienists told me that I have the lightest shade of “natural” teeth (based on the scale they have in the office). Which is great! And then she proceeded to explain how to use a fancy home-whitening kit (normally $100) which my dentist gave me for free as a wedding gift, so that I could really whiten up before my wedding.

And you know what? I appreciate it and I’m going give it a try. If you flip through wedding magazines, you will notice that while more brides nowadays may opt for ivory or off-white gowns, nothing but the whitest of whites will do for their smile. It’s weird to me that a dental office can simultaneously acknowledge the lightness of your smile and offer you free home-whitening, but it’s as if we all understand that weddings are somehow special, extraordinary events, and normal levels of nice-looking just don’t cut it. Subconsciously, we’re all trying to recreate a Pinterest/wedding magazine-worthy wedding, and it’s pretty damn stressful.

And yet I find I’m getting excited in spite of my anxieties. We’re lucky to have lots of help from family and friends, and the closer I get to the wedding the more I remember what it’s all for. It’s hard to make a wedding “my own”, because it’s not just for me, or even for us. It’s to share with people we care about, and part of that sharing is wanting to show off for them.

Or maybe that’s kind of bullshit. I’ve spent an entire blog post blaming Pinterest and whinging about how some evil conspiracy has created unrealistic wedding expectations, but deep down I know that I want things to be pretty because I like pretty things. And I really like folding paper.

Pretty pretty!

Pretty pretty!

[Note: for my origami needs, I have been turning to the amazing website, I made the roses above with the instructions for Origami Rose with Leaf.]

How to meet women without being a creep thank you.

Um…I like that you’re a reader, but no thank you.

Hi there (heterosexual) fellas!

I don’t usually dispense dating advice, but I can only imagine that the dating world is a minefield for you right now. With the #YesAllWomen hashtag taking off and so much push-back against rape culture and the sexual entitlement implied by terms like “friend zone“, you’ve probably been made to feel like an asshole for, or at least have been prompted to question, the ways in which you’ve commonly interacted with women in the past. It may seem like your go-to conversation starters are annoying, insulting, and perhaps even scaring, some of the women you’d like to get to know better.

This sucks. It sucks for those women because they very likely ARE annoyed, insulted, or possibly even frightened by your overtures. And it sucks for you because, to give you the benefit of the doubt by assuming you are not a rapist, you’re making yourself look like a creep, which was probably not your goal.

Though it’s true that a lot of the single male behaviours I’ve observed in my young life are certifiably creepy, it’s hard to lay the blame with you. The same patriarchal, macho culture that has been hurting women all these years has also been hurting you, by telling you that your worth as a man is directly related to the number of women you can sleep with, by telling you that your emotions and vulnerabilities are shameful, and by denying you the right to appreciate all of the different relationships you have with women in your life, even if these relationships are not sexual. The culture that raised women to think they must be thin and have large breasts to be attractive also raised men to think they need to be tall and muscly. For both men and women, these expectations are unrealistic, as is the expectation that you’re supposed to be attracting lots of women, all the time. That the culture that raised you makes you feel like you’re missing out on some amazing elite party whenever you’re not having sex is unfair and totally false. And it’s understandably frustrating for you.

But that frustration is scary for women (if you want to know why, simply look at some of the extreme violence catalyzed by frustrated and misguided feelings of sexual entitlement, like the Isla Vista murders, for example). If you want to talk to a woman without being a creep you need to understand that while you might feel embarrassed or rejected if your interaction with her does not go well, she has very real reason to fear that she might be assaulted or even killed. If you’re talking to a woman who’s never met you, she’s not just assessing whether or not she wants to have sex, date, or continue talking to you. She’s also assessing whether or not you might be a threat to her physical safety, either now or down the road. Not behaving like an entitled creep goes a long way if you’re trying to establish even just that physical trust.

That said, there’s nothing wrong with going out for a night on the town and trying to “get lucky”.  People of all ages and genders are indeed looking for romance, and as long as you’re courteous and respectful about it, no one can fault you for approaching people you’re attracted to. Both love and sexual intimacy are wonderful things and it’s completely valid to want to find willing partners to share either or both of these adventures with you.

In terms of actually finding these partners (either for just tonight or for years to come), I unfortunately can’t help you. I don’t know any superficial “trick” for attracting women (unless that trick is hygiene, in which case, yes, hygiene is a great start). In terms of keeping your approach courteous and respectful, however, I do have some tips I’d like to share with you:

  1. Remember that no one owes anyone else sex, ever. You don’t owe anyone sex, and neither does she. Even if you’ve bought her a drink. Even if you’ve talked all night. Even if she flirts with you, or makes out with you. Even if she goes home with you–if, at any time, the woman you are talking to makes it clear that she does NOT want to have sex with you, that is the end of the discussion. Thank her for the conversation, call her a cab, or put her up on the couch. Then do something else (if you’re still interested in being around each other even if sex isn’t going to happen) or just walk away. No insults. No calling her a bitch or a slut or a tease. And absolutely NO trying to persuade her to change her mind once she has said no. It might not be the outcome you wanted, but a true gentleman seeks freely given and enthusiastic consent, and NEVER makes someone feel guilty for not wanting to provide it. This foundational principle is absolutely essential if you want to be respectful and polite in your interactions with women. Without fully understanding this the rest of my suggestions will be empty gestures, just tricks to make women think you’re a “nice guy”.
  2. Try to make sure you’re not interrupting something. A person who’s been interrupted by a stranger is likely in no mood to give that stranger much of a chance, romantic or otherwise. I’ve been interrupted by men I didn’t know while I was mid-conversation with my friends, and the other day a man on the bus got the woman sitting in front of me to take out her ear buds and listen to him just so he could tell her she had a “beautiful profile” and “nice features”. Not impressive. I’m sure you don’t like it when people interrupt you, and most women don’t either. Even if you’re interrupting or intruding to give us what you think is a compliment, what we really take away from the interaction is that you don’t believe that whatever we were doing (talking to friends, listening to music, or even just enjoying a quiet moment with our thoughts) is as important as your right to approach us as a stranger and say whatever it is that is on your mind. So how to know if you’re interrupting something? Well, if the woman you’d like to speak to is talking to someone else, listening to music on headphones, reading a book, or writing something, this is a pretty good indication that she’s busy. Why not try making eye contact with her before you approach her? If she avoids contact she is probably not interested, however, if she reciprocates she might be open to a conversation. When in doubt, simply ask, “Am I interrupting you?”. If she says yes, apologize and move on.
  3. Ask her to dance. Almost every girl I know has been the victim of some random stranger grinding them in a club without so much as a hello. Ew. Grabbing and frotteurizing someone on the dance floor is invasive and incredibly creepy. Asking someone to dance is not only respectful, it is charming and old-school and provides a gateway not just to dancing but also to introductions and conversation. Which I assume you would at some point want if you were truly interested in meeting someone.
  4. Talk about something besides her appearance, at least to start with. One of my friends recently mentioned to me that she doesn’t actually feel flattered when strange men begin conversations by complimenting her on her appearance. Though obviously a compliment is preferable to an insult, the implication is that physical appearance is the A+, gold standard by which women prefer to be measured. It actually sucks to be measured by your physical appearance, and beginning your interaction with a woman by talking about her appearance just plays into her insecurities. Instead of talking about physical appearance, which people have very little control over, why not talk about her/your job, her/your studies, how her/your night is going so far, etc.? Your continued interest is signal enough that you find the woman you’re talking to attractive. You don’t need to put her on the spot about it (besides, I’ve always much preferred to receive those kinds of compliments from those who’ve also seen me without make up, not just people seeing me dolled up in a club).
  5. On that note, never never NEVER “neg” a woman. Of all the creepy tactics endorsed by creepy players, negging is one of the most sinister and insidious. Insulting an attractive girl so that she’ll feel insecure and sleep with you in order to “regain” your favour and her lost confidence is dishonest, misogynistic, and cruel. If you think it’s okay to say mean things to another human being to trick them into having sex with you, you don’t deserve to be with anybody. Period.
  6. Honesty is the best policy. Lying to get someone to sleep with you is a totally creep move. If you think you need to lie to impress women, maybe you need to do a little more work on liking yourself (or being the kind of person you can like) before you go searching for a partner. Looking for a fun night but not looking for a girlfriend? Just say so before anyone goes home with anyone else and before any feelings get hurt. Believe it or not, women do enjoy sex and not all of us are looking for a “til death do us part” scenario. Being up front about who you are and what your intentions are just saves you from awkward and uncomfortable misunderstandings down the line. Remember, in small cities like Vancouver, it’s not uncommon to see the same single people in the same clubs/bars on any given weekend. Wouldn’t you rather be remembered as a cool fling instead of some lying creep?
  7. Don’t take it personally. Unless you’ve specifically done something to upset the person you’re talking to, there’s no reason to take a lack of interest on a woman’s part as a judgement of your worth. She might not be looking for a male partner right now (either because she’s already seeing someone, isn’t into men, or maybe just wants to be single). She might be out for a night with her friends and doesn’t want to add a strange person to the mix. She might be very shy. Or she might just not be into you, and that’s okay. Think about the women you see everyday that you’re not into–should they take it personally? Of course not. No one’s attracted to everyone and it’s nobody’s fault.
  8. Women are people, which means they’re not all the same. My suggestions come from my own experience, and while I think they are worthwhile as broad strokes, every person is different and will react differently to different approaches.  As with any social interaction, intuition and social acuity are good traits to have. When in doubt, remember that politeness and courtesy are almost always appreciated (even if the lady in question is not interested in pursuing a relationship), and that name-calling and aggressive behaviour are almost always creepy (unless you’re with a lady who’s specifically in to that sort of thing, but that’s a whole other scenario….).

In addition to the above suggestions, I recommend being open to the idea that women might approach you (and remember, if they do, you are entitled to the exact same courtesies that are expected of you). In  my current (and most of my past) relationships, I took some of the initiative when it came to meeting and finding out more about the guys I was interested in and I think it worked out well for the both of us. Society still seems to think that men are always supposed to pursue women but women are capable of breaking the ice too. Relax. Enjoy your night out for what it is. Maybe a woman will approach you. Maybe she won’t. Maybe you’ll want to approach someone and maybe it’ll work out. Maybe it won’t. Either way, remember that your frustrations, disappointments and moments of confusion are shared by most single people, both men and women. There’s no great sex party going on without you–just a few people having sex and a bunch of people pretending.

[Note: My list of suggestions is by no means exhaustive so female readers, if you have anything to add or if you disagree with any of my points, feel free to comment below. Gentlemen, I recognize that creepiness can be a two-way street. Is there anything women have done that creeped you out? Let me know!]





When Airlines Have a Heart

Just a short post from me this time as the family medical situation that brought me to Toronto last week became, as of Sunday night, a situation which now requires my staying in Ontario to attend my grandfather’s funeral.

There’s not much I can or want to publicly say about this situation, but I did want to say an internet thank you to Air Canada, for being surprisingly human for a large (and oft-maligned) airline.

After spending a week with my family, I was scheduled to fly home on Tuesday on my mom’s Aeroplan points. On Monday morning I found out that my grandfather had passed away during the night and, obviously, if I wanted to attend the funeral (which I did), I would not be able to fly on Tuesday as planned.

With less than 24 hours to go before I was meant to be boarding a plane, Aeroplan cancelled my flight and reimbursed my mom’s Aeroplan points. We were advised to call Air Canada when rebooking my flight home to talk about a possible compassionate discount–as it turns out, if you are suddenly changing or making travel plans so that you can attend the funeral of an immediate family member, Air Canada may be able to offer you a bereavement fare (obviously, when I called I was asked to provide specific details about the funeral so that Air Canada could verify the legitimacy of my request).

The hardest part about the process was actually just waiting on hold with Air Canada to talk to someone (30 minutes!) but once I was put through to an agent I found her to be very helpful. I had already picked the flight I was hoping to be on so once she confirmed that she could get me a bereavement fare on that flight the rest was pretty fast. She didn’t offer any platitudes, which is not what I wanted anyways, but she was courteous and efficient, and double-checked the details at each step before she made any promises. When I hung up the phone I was booked on a flight home for a price that was $100 less than the fare posted online.

$100 may not seem like a huge amount, however, unexpected events often come with unexpected expenses. For an airline not to take as much advantage of a situation as they could (since people travelling for funerals usually don’t have the flexibility that would allow them to arrange their schedules to facilitate cheaper flying), and to actually offer a fare to make things a little easier on their customers’ wallets, feels like an incredibly human thing to do. Air Canada is probably not the only airline to offer compassionate rates, but they really helped me out this time and I certainly appreciate it.


(Yes, it’s a Christmas picture but it’s the only one I have that says “Air Canada” and also “giving”.)

Family Trees


The phrase “tracing my roots” is an extension of the metaphor that describes family lineage as a tree with roots extending ever downward into the past and branches spreading ever upwards into the future. People charting the roots and branches of their particular family tree do so with names, places, and dates. They look for, and note, persons of distinction among their predecessors, and this distinction in their family’s past lends distinction to their present, to their blood. Locating your family is a way of locating yourself, of answering the question of why you are the way you are. Whether your ancestors achieved fame or infamy, triumph or tragedy, great love or great sorrow, you marvel at their lives and wonder at the forces of biology and time, at all the tessellations required to allow history to start with them and lead to you.

An impromptu visit to Toronto in response to a family medical situation has given me a rare opportunity to observe three generations of my mother’s family as they interact with, conflict with, and occasionally reflect one another. The unplanned nature of this visit and the uncertainty that prompted it mean that no one is on their “Christmas family-time” best behaviour. We’re just co-existing in my grandparents’ house for a few days–eating, sleeping, alternately trying to be useful and trying to get out of being useful (or maybe that’s just me–I really don’t know how to cook with other people’s food). It’s both fascinating and sobering: the similarities, the differences, the inevitability of change (of physical condition, of the roles and responsibilities necessitated by that condition, of familial relationships based on these new roles). And the realization that these changes aren’t anything new in the history of families.

Despite these stories being old and oft-repeated over time, they are still new to me and constantly in flux. I am, more or less, neatly half-Ukrainian and half-Latvian. How I feel, however, changes all the time. As a kid, I spent a year in Latvia as well as a lot of time with my mom’s Latvian-speaking side of the family. This is why I can sing Latvian folk songs despite (regretfully) not being able to speak Latvian. Latvian-ness was an ever-present force in my family. Of course, there was the matter of my Ukrainian last name. Can’t be helped, can’t be gotten around. It’s Ukrainian and I would be reminded of that every single time a school official stumbled over it. Then we spent a year in Poland and glory be! Every single person knew exactly how to pronounce it. My Ukrainian-ness seemed obvious and normal (Ukraine is, of course, right next door) and my Latvian-ness was an afterthought for a time.

indexIt’s been like this for most of the past few years, feeling connected to one culture or the other depending on which side of the family I was visiting or thinking about. In the past few years I’ve been involved in making shows with fellow half-Ukrainian theatre artist, Aliya Griffin (and taking Ukrainian dance classes!), and my creative and cultural life has seen a lot of Ukraine. But now, I’ve come to Toronto just in time for Latvians all over the world to celebrate Jāņ(mid-summer) which meant going to the Latvian Centre for beer (Lithuanian, sadly, but it will have to do), pirags (fun fun bacon buns), and song. So yes, I’m both Latvian and Ukrainian, always, a product of recent and not-so-recent history, and somewhere in there is a German predecessor (just one I like to think although of course I guess it doesn’t work that way) and one Ukrainian horse thief.

When you’re thinking about your place in your family and the world, it can be easier to start small–for me, I can start at the tiny intersection of my family tree where my parents branch out into my sisters and me. Growing up in the same house, it was easy to see how I was like my sisters. After all, we were similar in appearance, had similar talents when it came to school and athletics, wore each other’s hand-me-down clothes, sounded like each other (people couldn’t tell us apart on the phone), and were often treated as a unit by both family and friends. It was also easy to see the ways in which we were different–my older sister was more outgoing, my little sister was shy, etc.

But the differences and similarities we exhibited in our parents’ home are only part of the story of the variations I anticipate in the lives of our great-grandchildren. When I visited my sisters in their own homes I found myself confused by their kitchens. Where was the breakfast cereal? Where was the stuff required to make all the meals my parents used to make? Why was there kale in the fridge? Was someone really going to sit down and eat this mango? WHERE WAS ALL THE MEAT? I quickly began to form the idea that my sisters had veered away from our childhood eats while I’d remained steadfast to them.

Which is in fact not true; we’ve just chosen which pieces of home to bring with us. I always liked the pantries full of crackers and breakfast cereal, so that’s what I have. And I’m not as faithful to my parents’ kitchen as I like to think–there’s a lot I’ve changed, even in old favourite recipes, to suit my new tastes. It’s just small changes, here and there, but add time and biology and circumstance, and who knows where we end up?

On a visit to my parents’ house several years ago, I found somewhere the cover for their old toaster. (It’s beige with mushrooms on it and says, “CHAMPIGNONS” in brown letters). I tried it on my toaster in Vancouver but it didn’t fit so I put it in the outer pocket of one of my suitcases and forgot about it. Months or years later, I was in my sister’s kitchen and realized that her toaster was the old one from home. I asked her if she wanted the cover for it and she said yes. I looked in my suitcase and it was still there, ready to be returned to its rightful place.

I tell this story because although my family and I still have the same inside jokes and commitment to each other, the different physical landscapes we inhabit (our cities, our homes) are strange to me. I get lost in places I expect to find familiar (my sisters’ kitchens, for example), and I search for continuity–old things in new places.

All this is to say that we are not our families but we are pieces from the same shape, like dandelion seeds on the wind. Where we land is anybody’s guess and, with luck and flexibility, we can pretty much thrive anywhere. One day you realize that you have changed the story of your family simply by moving to another city, or adapting your home to your needs, or taking a job, or getting married. And so Ukrainian horse thieves and Latvian egg farmers beget teachers and graphic designers and publicists and me. How far away are my roots, now? And how wide is their reach?

Please excuse the haphazard careening from one thing to another in this post. This week has been more about my grandparents, aunts and uncles, mom, sister, and cousins, than about the blog. But I do like thinking about families, so I’ll probably blog about them again.

Of Recipes and Women, Family and Food

Me and TC (from the inside cover of "Favourite Recipes"). Illustration by Claire Robertson.

Me and TC (from the inside cover of “Favourite Recipes”). Illustration by Claire Robertson.

Of the many wonderful and much-appreciated gifts that I received at my recent bridal shower, I think one of my favourites is a book of recipes collected by my soon-to-be mother in law. She canvassed family and friends from both my side and TC’s to compile the fairly hefty tome, which bears the title “Favourite Recipes”. It is now on my kitchen shelf (I had to do some readjusting to make room) with a little blue notebook which is, in many ways, its predecessor.

When I graduated from high school my mom asked me which recipes from home I’d like to know how to make once I lived on my own. She bought a thick spiral-bound journal and then sat in the living room and copied out each recipe in her best elementary teacher printing (which, you can probably imagine, is painstakingly neat). Generally speaking, it took me about three or four years to learn to make any of these recipes passably (except lasagne and bolognese; those I was fairly adept at somehow but was too lazy to make) and a few more years on top of that to really master. I had even made my mom write out instructions for dishes she had never needed a recipe for (like hash brown potatoes). Ten years later, I still have not made every dish in my “little blue notebook”, but I now trust I have the competence, if not always the time, to do it.

Where the little blue notebook was a gift from my mother of my favourite recipes, my bridal shower recipe binder has continued to build on the foundation my mother laid out–the best recipes are not necessarily the fancy ones endorsed by celebrity chefs that necessitate owning a pestle and mortar, or the photogenic delights of Pinterest (that necessitate being a kept woman who spends all her time making angels out of marzipan or some such). The best recipes are the ones that are tried and true, the favourite meals and desserts that have been repeatedly successful over the years, the kind of food you can make with love for the people you love without needing to be a Gordon Ramsay or a Martha Stewart. Sure, some of the recipes in my new binder are from magazines and many, I’m sure, are originally from cookbooks. The point is not that the women (and men–hi Dad!) who contributed to this gift are culinary geniuses, the point is that these recipes are recommended because they work.

Flipping through my binder, I am beginning to realize that my favourite recipes as copied by my mom were just the beginning–just the foods I could think to ask for at the time, with the tastes and abilities of my 18-year-old self. I’d never really thought I could one day be making Grandma’s pirags, or my dad’s cabbage rolls. I hadn’t placed myself in the lineage of people cooking for their families. And now I have, through the contributions of loved ones from my side and my fiancé’s.

And it’s not just the women who contributed to the recipe binder that have become part of my cooking story. Many of the recipes have titles like “Fern’s Mandarin Orange Salad” or “Jackie’s Honey Chicken” (when the name of the contributor was not Fern or Jackie). Recipes have been passed from parent to child, friend to friend, and neighbour to neighbour. Even some of the recipes that came from cookbooks I am sure came from community and school cookbooks (I remember my family having a few of those) which are themselves collections of recommendations and favourites being passed from one member of a community to another. There is no way to know for sure where most of them really came from and in that way they belong to everyone.

Recipes in a purchased cookbook are great but they’re just lists of ingredients and instructions. Even with the fancy photographs in today’s cookbooks (which I actually don’t like because they seem fake), the recipes have no connection or relevance to me. They’re nothing until they’re made. What makes the recipes in both the little blue notebook that my mother gave me ten years ago and the recipes in the bridal shower binder collected by my future mother-in-law this spring so special is that they have been made, time and time again. They’ve been made for as long as I’ve been alive, by people who love me and wish the best for me. Some recipes are relatively new. Some are older than my grandmother. As I use them I begin to pencil in changes here and there, depending on what works for me, knowing full well my parents always did the same. And so it goes.

To all the women in my life and the ones who came before them, Happy Mother’s Day. May your culinary efforts always be appreciated and your children always do the dishes without complaint.

Dining in the Peanut Gallery

Empty plate with fork and knife.“How do you stay so slim eating steak and potatoes?”

This question came out of nowhere in the lunchroom yesterday at work. To put this remark in context, two coworkers were sitting at one end of the lunchroom table, having a conversation. I was sitting at the other end of the table, eating my aforementioned steak and potatoes (leftovers from dinner the night before) and reading my Maclean’s. Basically, I was minding my own business and really enjoying my meal. Until one of my coworkers decided to interrupt the conversation she was having to remark on the food I had chosen to eat for lunch.

My answer to her was the same answer I usually give in situations like this, “I guess I have a fast metabolism.” And then I added, by way of apology, “I’m sure it won’t last.”

The other coworker said, “You should have seen her at last year’s Staff Appreciation Breakfast.” To which I replied, by way of apology, “Yes, there was REAL WHIPPED CREAM and I just couldn’t help myself. It was amazing.” And that coworker remarked that I “sure can put away food.”

While we’re on the subject of the Staff Appreciation Breakfast, the next Breakfast is coming up next week. I look forward to the Staff Appreciation Breakfast at my workplace every year. It’s a day for the bosses and managers to acknowledge the work done by administrative staff to keep the department running, and it’s a morning of REALLY good food. Hashbrowns. Pancakes. Blueberry compote. Real whipped cream. The works. Sadly, the event has been ruined for me.

I DID eat a lot at last year’s staff appreciation breakfast. I filled my plate and then went back for seconds and thirds. As I said, the food was amazing. What wasn’t amazing, however, were the remarks my (female) coworkers made last year: “You’re going up there again?!”, “Oh wow, look at Lauren!”, “Someone’s got a sweet tooth!”, “Just wait until you’re our age, you won’t be able to eat like that anymore!”

I was humiliated. No one likes to be made self-conscious while they’re eating, especially not a woman. I felt put on the spot, and I felt that my coworkers had decided I was an acceptable target for this kind of shaming because I am thin. No one at that table last year would have dreamed of remarking upon the plates of any of my more curvacious coworkers, and my coworkers at lunch yesterday would never have said what they said to a larger woman, so why did they think it was okay to do it to me?

I had just begun to get over the squirmy uncomfortable embarrassment I’ve felt every time I thought of the Staff Appreciation Breakfast. I was starting to look forward to next week’s event. I thought surely no one but me would remember how much I ate last year (I certainly have no clue what anyone else ate), but yesterday’s lunch was a reminder that I will not escape scrutiny. If I don’t watch what I eat, other people will do it for me. Apparently there’s a sign on my back that says, “Go ahead and comment on how much I’m eating. Don’t worry, I’m thin, so it’s not rude.”

Except of course it is. And it hurts my feelings.

I think I should take this moment to acknowledge that Fat Shaming (i.e. shaming or making fun of people who are overweight as if their bodies are your business) is pervasive, dehumanizing, emotionally damaging, and completely wrong. I cannot believe the emotional abuse and humiliation people think is okay to heap on someone because of their weight.

This is not to say that thin women (or any women really) have a free pass, because obviously they don’t. What I eat has been a subject of scrutiny for my entire life. When I was a kid, it was because I was a picky eater (foods I wouldn’t eat included onions, peppers, mushrooms, cooked peas, cooked carrots, mashed potatoes, zucchini, whipped cream, spinach, avocado, yoghurt with peaches, peanut butter and jam sandwiches, cheese from a lunchbox, and anything else I had determined was icky due to texture, mostly). I cannot blame my parents for wanting me to eat more. It was their job to make sure I ate enough nutrients to be healthy and I know that they worried about me.

That said, they were my parents and they loved me and needed to make sure I didn’t get scurvy or Rickets or something. Everyone else can go suck on an egg.

Like the gymnastics instructor who pulled my little sister and me out of class to show her assistant how skinny our arms were and to have a good laugh about it (this is the same gymnastics instructor who missed presentation day because she was hungover and needless to say she never instructed in my town again). Or the complete stranger from my first week at a new school in grade 10 who, when I declined some gross-looking English potato chips said, “What’s wrong with you? Don’t you eat ANYTHING?” (this person had literally never seen me eat a meal so I don’t know what her problem was). Or the dweeb I dated briefly when I was fifteen who, after he badgered me into disclosing my struggles with disordered eating (that’s a story for another time), responded by saying, “No. You eat a LOT.” and then told me the story of the time he got meningitis which was obviously way more interesting than a bit of wonky dieting and some purging now and again.

Or the boyfriend in third year university who told me I got the flu because I don’t eat enough vegetables (which remarkably I didn’t find very comforting, in addition to it not being true, but at least he apologized later). Or the coworkers who’ve asked me how often I bring cheese and crackers and an apple for lunch (answer: almost every day, for four years, and I like it very much thank you). Or the countless numbers of women who have told me, with a hint of malevolent glee in their voices, that someday my metabolism will slow down and my eating habits (or at the very least, my eating habits as perceived by people who really don’t know a thing about them) will “catch up with me”. Basically, I’m damned if I don’t want to eat a lot (because then people think I’m “dieting”), and I’m damned if I do.

I have tried to tell myself that I should be flattered, that having people remark on my weight or my lunch because I am thinner than them (as opposed to larger) is not an insult, and that maybe they’re just jealous. It is very little comfort.

I don’t want anyone to be jealous of me, I want them to leave me alone and let me eat my damn lunch. I don’t need any warnings that someday my sinful ways will “catch up with me” and I’ll be fat and feel bad about myself; every woman who has ever been a teenaged girl is already afraid. And I shouldn’t have to justify my diet or describe it to ANYONE. But since so many people seem so bloody interested, I am going to say this once, and then never again:


Sure, I indulge at a free bonanza like the Staff Appreciation Breakfast. Why the hell not? Good food is one of the joys of life and, in the absence of allergies or other medical considerations, I see no reason to deny myself. For the most part though, I pay attention to the food groups, try to get in enough fruits and vegetables (though it’s hard), eat my fibre and my protein, never drink Coke or Pepsi or coffee, have primarily switched to organic meat and milk, enjoy cooking and baking, and yes, like most people, I have a sweet tooth that sometimes gets the better of me. I also take the bus to work which means I get a good 40-50 minutes of walking in every weekday, train in aerial silks, take Ukrainian dance classes, and like being active outside (though the city makes it harder). I know my genetics play a huge role in the shape of my body and my ability to maintain muscle, but I don’t eat poorly and when I do I don’t rub it in anyone’s faces.

And even if I ate fast food every damn day and never touched a vegetable, it still wouldn’t be any of your business. I don’t expect other women to apologize for their bodies so stop trying to get me to apologize for mine. I have the same insecurities you have and at times in my past they have cost me my health. I should not need to justify my desire to feed myself to you.

The next time some random person tells me I’m eating a lot maybe I should look at them coolly and say, “Don’t worry, I’m going to throw it all up later” and just keep eating with a weird smile on my face. That’d probably shut them up.

Or maybe (since eating disorders aren’t a joke even though I would find that hilarious) I should just look at them coolly and say, “That isn’t any of your business.” and leave it at that. I’m done apologizing for what I do and don’t eat. I’m done with acting like I should feel flattered by what is obviously negative attention, and I’m done with explanations. I NEVER notice or remark upon what other women are eating (except to occasionally say, “That looks/smells delicious!”). Humiliating me at the table serves only to patronize me (as if I were your child and not your colleague) and it won’t make you feel any better. So please focus your energy on enjoying YOUR lunch and let me do the same.