The falling out of friendships, the always temporal and sometimes temporary nature of activist communities spoke to my own experiences of friendship break-ups, activist relationships forged and broken, miscommunications, flawed politics, exile and exclusion that characterizes my life and work within queer communities in London, Berlin, Montreal and Toronto.
As I was cycling to work the other morning, a garbage collector threw an empty can in front of me. I pulled an emergency brake and managed not to fall off. “Oh my God!” said my friends on social media. “That’s really extreme, what did you do about it? Did you take their license plate?” Nope, said I, calmly. I just cycled on. The thing is, this kind of occurrence is not extreme to me. It’s extremely horrible, but I don’t consider it extreme behavior because it happens on a fairly regular basis.
In fact, every day biking in Toronto is a mini adventure. Unfortunately, it’s not the kind of adventure where you get to do exciting things; it’s more of an adventure in commuter stress and aggression.
Although biking is touted by enthusiasts as a way to beat the stress of the public transit system (TTC for Torontonians) or driving, biking in the city also leaves you exposed to the frustration and idiocy of others. It is an unusual bike ride when I don’t get beeped at or narrowly avoid a car doing an abrupt maneuver or a pedestrian stepping into the road. It is also normal for someone to yell at me at least once a week.
I remember years ago, before I moved to Toronto, a friend telling me the media had created a ‘war’ between cyclists and drivers and that Toronto was a very aggressive city to cycle in. I thought, how can any city be worse than London (the UK one) where cycling to work means you join the daily influx of eight million people and have to contend with gridlocked roads, plus hoards of pedestrians? (As an aside, the streets of London make Toronto look like an abandoned post-apocalyptic landscape by comparison.)
Now, having lived here for two years, I still think London is a more dangerous place to cycle than Toronto, but I also feel that the animosity towards cyclists is next level in Toronto. Sure, when I biked downtown from my house in London I was taking my life into my hands. I knew that the busy London roads resulted in the frequent deaths of cyclists. But I never worried so much about aggression from the people behind the wheel. I never thought the drivers themselves were out to get me.
The three recent cyclist deaths in Toronto become even more chilling when you think that fatal bikes accidents are the logical extension of car drivers who don’t want bikers to exist. Bikers are losing their lives in Toronto and no one seems to care.
It’s not just that the streets are unsafe for cyclists in Toronto. It’s not just that weaving in and out of traffic on streets where there are no bike lanes (or the ‘bike lanes’ are actually car parks — I’m looking at you, College Street) makes behavior unpredictable and collisions more likely. It’s also that the rank animosity and violence directed towards cyclists makes Toronto a horrible city to cycle in.
As a female cyclist I have no doubt I experience more aggression from car drivers, pedestrians and other cyclists than I would if I were a man. I also think that, because I am exposed to more vitriol from fellow travellers, I get a glimpse into the city’s attitude towards cyclists that I wouldn’t necessarily get if I moved through the streets unchallenged, as some men seem to. (Either that, or cycling itself exposes you to the jerks of all walks, or rides, of life, as Scott Colby argues in his article for the Toronto Star.)
There could be many reasons for this animosity. Is it because Canada is an oil-reliant nation, and its laws have been primarily focused on cars? Is it because the city’s travel infrastructure is so shitty that the roads are becoming more and more clogged? I certainly think that the level of stress and misery at rush hour commute time contributes to the fights that happen.
Perhaps it is also that Canada’s obsession with oil and cars results in a gendered national pride invested in being able to drive. Men, especially, have some weird macho pride resting on their ability to buy a 400 horsepower SUV that can smash a cyclist to pieces. I remember reading the comments in an article about the danger of cycling in Toronto (never read the comments, people), in which a few vocal trolls seemed to relish the damage their powerful cars could do to the human body.
For now, I have no solution to the apparent war other than to quote Aline Calvacante from Bikes vs. Cars and say “it’s not a war, it’s a city.”
In my last post I talked about the inherently classist structure of restaurants, gyms and stores that sell health food. My lovely roommate has now drawn my attention to this awesome video. Created by youth of Toronto from Lawrence Heights, one of TO’s large assisted housing projects, it draws attention to the lack of food in their community.
As one mother says, “you wanna eat healthy? Well, guess what, you have to pay a lot for it.” In response to the lack of affordable fresh food in their community, these awesome youth are creating their own projects.
But I can’t articulate any of this as well as they can, so take it away:
hey y’all – Shameless Mag in Toronto and I would like to create a piece about the validity of asexuality as an orientation. We think it’s important that youth learn that there are other, non-sexual ways to be fulfilled and form relationships. As a non-asexual person, I am hesitant to create this article by myself. Is there an awesome person out there who identifies as asexual who’d like this opportunity to set forth their point of view either by co-authoring the article or being interviewed? Ta! Contact me via commenting here or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Part two of two on blocked creativity and learning to self-care. In which I share some of the skills I have learnt to combat writer’s block and forming good creative habits.
After living in Berlin for 2 years, it has been hard to move to such an expensive, capitalist city as Toronto. With the low cost of living in Berlin, I was able to just about survive working seasonally in summer camps and doing the occasional editing job. Each day I had the option of how to spend my time.
Granted, then, as now, I often misspent my time. Too afraid of my own power to spend each moment alive and listening. But I feel like I did a lot more listening (and, as a result, creating) then than I do now. This is OK I guess. It’s not OK that I am sad, frustrated with and hating on myself right now. But it’s OK because I know that, any moment, this situation can change. I can sit down, as I am now, and listen. This makes it OK because right now I am listening. Right now I am creating. And now is, of course, where we all live.
It’s amazing how much calmer I feel just writing this. How much more in control of my life I am. It’s this feeling that I am running from. Being present makes me realise I can take control. And if I control things, then I have the ultimate responsibility for my actions. I become responsible for the way I treat others and myself, how I spend my time. A fulfilling job, healthy relationships, a creative life. All of these things become – are – attainable.
The question of time and money becomes even more urgent in an expensive, capitalist city like Toronto. Like London, the struggle to pay rent, buy food – to survive – feels far more urgent than it did in Berlin. When my minimum income doesn’t cover my expenses, I easily stress out. Having low self-esteem when it comes to employment, I spend a lot of time panicking and very little applying to jobs. I feel like I deserve a good job and fair pay, yet find it hard to believe anyone in the media industry will ever see that potential in me unless I sell myself very aggressively. I put a lot of pressure on myself to work hard, which results in me freaking out and running away from my desires and responsibilities – in short, from myself.
I don’t like selling my skills. I do believe that I have a lot of talent, yet my experience in the middle-class world of media has scarred me. Afraid that employers will be scared off by my politics, I undermine myself at the same time as believing I am better than everyone else. It’s this toxic mixture of arrogance and insecurity that leads to a feeling of hopelessness.
In situations like these, where I feel the pressure of survival, being present becomes my most important task. And because of this immense pressure I put on myself, it is also the thing I find hardest to allow myself to do.
When I moved to Berlin in 2010 I was extremely depressed. I was suicidal, on-and-off, that whole year and leaving London felt like my only chance of escape. In London, I felt no opportunity to get better, to carve out a life for myself. Between the 2 rush hours it took me to get to work everyday, the expense of rent and transportation, and no time and money left over to do anything fun, I felt there was no space for me. London invaded all of me. I was lost in an unfriendly sea.
Berlin was never enticing for itself. Berlin was appealing because it was an escape. It was the place I learnt some essential survival techniques and finally began to confront myself.
In Berlin, I learnt that time spent by myself – in silence, nature and adventuring – is the most self-loving, scary and productive gift I can give myself. I learnt that I am infinitely creative – I love drawing, dancing, singing, photography – and I enjoy exploring that. I also learnt that I am, above all, committed to the art of writing. Writing is where I can truly realise my potential. Writing is where I belong.
Two years ago, I followed The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and started writing every morning for half an hour. This stream of consciousness helps me vent and gain perspective for the day. I also learnt the self-love that comes from taking myself on a date once a week. These two tools finally allowed me to start writing on a regular basis, for the first time in my life. It also led me to create a successful blog, zine and write controversial articles for online magazines. Heck, I even wrote some poetry!
Now, living in Toronto, I am once again resisting the revelations (revolution!) that come from using these self-love skills. I use dating and unemployment as an excuse for spending my days freaking out over nothing in particular, rather than engaging in the daily drudge and acute concentration that would actually lead me somewhere – to write, send articles out, submit job applications.
I am wary of making commitments to stop or start doing something forever. If I promise myself I will never binge eat again, the next time I do, I’ll just beat myself up even more. I really don’t need any more self-loathing in my life. So, for now, I’m not going to say I’m going to write my morning pages every day and do my artist’s date once a week. I’m not going to say I’m going to work on my creative writing for 2 hours every morning, or post on this blog once a week. Because I know that if I don’t keep that promise to myself, I’ll end up hating and blocking myself even more. Sometimes self-care is just letting myself be.
A good friend once said to me she had stopped promising herself she would never self-harm again. Because then, when she did self-harm, the compounded disappointment and guilt made her feel even worse about herself. Every night, when I go to sleep, I don’t say I will always be OK. I say, right now, in this moment, I am breathing, I am alive and I am OK.
The greatest challenge of moving to Toronto has been keeping true to myself. Part one of two on underemployment, self-care and learning to create.
I have had the hardest time recently keeping on top of things. As you’ve probably noticed, this blog has been seriously affected. It’s been such a struggle to move to a new city and try to build a new life, find employment. As always, getting a job has been the hardest challenge. I have such low self-esteem when it comes to employment. I’ve never had a job that I both enjoyed and that paid me a fair, living wage. Some of my most fulfilling ‘jobs’ have been volunteer positions and I have only ever been paid a fair wage for the drudge of administration. In every other situation, I feel that I have been taken advantage of. And, of course, I co-operate in that.
Recently, dating someone new has given me the perfect excuse to ignore myself. I thought that 2013 would be so easy. Now I’m 30 I will be so mature and sorted. I will approach every situation with diligence and a balanced mind. Turns out, keeping perspective has been the hardest challenge of the past 2 months.
I have a tendency to prioritise others over myself; the classic habit of a blocked artist. These days, I try to put myself first. The balance of doing this while acting responsibly towards others in my life is something I am constantly thinking about. Refusing to put myself second place, recently, hurt someone else who was vulnerable at the time.
In other ways I, every day, put myself second. I distract myself by messaging my lover instead of writing. I spend time with them outside of our allotted dates instead of job hunting. This leaves me feeling frustrated and angry with myself. I know I am using them as an excuse and that is neither fair to them nor me. This is something I struggle with every time I date someone. I would really like to develop healthy relationships that support rather than undermine my creativity.
My lover asked me recently if we could stop freaking out now and just spend time enjoying each other. And I was, like, I don’t know! Maybe I like the drama too much. I know I am using the drama as a distraction from myself; where would I be without it? Oh yeah, a responsible, calm adult; living (working and playing) in the present.
I am afraid of silence. I am afraid that if I sit, in silence, even for 15 minutes, all my pain will come bubbling up and I will have to act on it. What will this mean for me? Does it mean I will realise I need to be by myself more? Does it mean I’ll need to change a relationship, end a friendship? Responsibility to myself entails change.
In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron notes that some blocked artists are afraid to create because they are afraid they’ll be forced to undergo radical change. If gay, they’re afraid they’ll be struck straight; if straight, they’re afraid they’ll realise they’re gay. I also have this overwhelming fear. What will I be forced to realise when I sit, just for 15 minutes, by myself every day and listen to the sound of my heart?
Oh yeah, and my lover’s idea for a new Tumblr: ‘Now That I’m 30’ and all the ridiculous things I feel that I should do now I’m in a new decade.
Resources to help you feel safe being creative:
The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron (this book changed my life, no joke)
Creating a Life Worth Living, Carol Lloyd (also a book-based course)
The underemployment saga continues as I forage ahead in Torontonian society armed with a temporary work visa, an ever-changing resume and very few pennies. Brrrr, it’s cold out here! Writing cover letters and applications isn’t fun, which is why I’ve decided to distract myself by making a list of movies to watch instead of doing the aforementioned job applications. Pretty awesome, huh? Now I can procrastinate productively!
Here’s the top 5:
5) Working Girl (1988)
Don’t be put off by the fact this movie is probably older than you are. This classic tale about impostor (Melanie Griffiths/me) who pretends she is really her boss (Sigourney Weaver) and in the meantime has an affair with Harrison Ford is great fun for any horny temp who dreams of grabbing her boss’ position and honey.
4) The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
Meryl Streep is great as the boss from hell and we get some kind of fuck-the-fashion-industry validation at the end of the film when Anne Hathaway’s character rejects crazy working hours in favour of a good relationship with her bf. However, how is she going to afford the clothes now she’s unemployed? Oh yeah, she got some kind of writing breakthrough. Sigh. If only making it in this world as a journalist were that easy (my life).
3) High Fidelity (2000)
Why is this one in here? Isn’t this film more about break ups? Well, probably, yes. But this movie based on the book by Nick Hornby is a serenade to losers everywhere. Failed in relationships? Running a slow business? Have extensive but impractical knowledge of rock history? Then this film’s for you. I love it for hating the shittiness of the way the main character treats his girlfriends but then has some kind of mid-life epiphany and turns into a nice guy. It’s kind of the sad-case-turns-good story that I like. Now that shit I can identify with.
2) Girls (2012)
OK, not a movie, but this new TV series about a bunch of underemployed twenty-somethings trying to make it in the big city really speaks to my heart. (Like, duh!) I didn’t expect it to be any good, but I empathised with the main character’s Hannah’s low self-esteem, shitty employment situations and even shittier boyfriend. My life is like that ! Yaaaay! Cathartic for the Y-Generation with our few pennies and fuck load of cynicism, Girls is great for its fairly realistic portrayal of working life in 2012. Think Sex and the City but way more funny, realistic and oddly uplifting. Watch out for series 2 in January 2013.
1) Erin Brokovich (2000)
This old classic about a broke single-Mum sticking it to the Man is heart-warming. (Truly, I mean it! I’m not being cynical at all. No, really.) Julia Roberts stars as the stubborn woman who blackmails her way into a job at a law firm and proceeds to make a ground-breaking case against the environmental violations of a global pharmaceutical company. Yay, working-class undereducated women sticking it to the man! And it’s based on real life. Also, did you know that her Hell’s Angels boyfriend is played by Aaron Eckhart of The Dark Knight Two-Face fame? Who knew he could grow all that hair?