One Minute Musings
250 word essays
by jen dyck-sprout
They came from all corners of the world: from Venezuela to Hong Kong, Canada to Zimbabwe, and Connecticut to Seattle.Some confessed to me that they had drinking problems, some worked at Google, some had no money to their name, some had values that conflicted with my own. Some were grumpy, but they warmed up. Some were shy, but they warmed up too.
A handful led to second or third dates, others I forgot almost immediately, while a select few became dear friends who have had a profound impact on me. The DJ from Harlem who hosts open mic poetry slams, the gamer with body dysmorphia, and the corporate lawyer who quit his lucrative job in Manhattan to campaign for Bernie in Nebraska.
I learned to meet people where they are. If they weren’t ready for a relationship, that didn’t make them toxic men, or a waste of my time, or disposable. It made them complex human beings, like me.
Beyond making dating more enjoyable, I met dozens of interesting and inspiring men who weren’t the right “fit” but who nevertheless expanded my worldview and opened my mind to new perspectives.
More importantly, what started as a numbers game ended up bringing me closer to humanity, to believing in the good of others, no matter their religion or political orientation or profession. People who I initially saw as numbers through my screen came to life.
Not only that, it eventually did lead to “the one,” just fifty-nine first dates later.
When I worked at a food bank where my dad volunteered, people were always shocked to find out we were related. He was like the other volunteers who were also foodbank clients; I was like any other white girl who went to the best university in the country and wanted to change the world.Despite having relatively very little work experience and tangible impact, I was paid and he was not. And yet I was envious of how effortless it was for him to engage with people who had been in residential schools or had fled wars. He could blend in with people who were gang affiliated or formerly incarcerated, and easily befriend someone who was illiterate or severely disabled.Meanwhile, I felt like a naked, ten foot tall misfit. I wondered how many years of hardship it might take for me to not be pegged as an outsider.It was easier to turn away. To pretend their problems didn’t concern me. I’ve turned away from my dad my whole life. Suffice it to say he’s an anti-capitalist and I went to the most Wall Street connected business school there is.He didn’t turn away anyone who needed help, even though, or maybe because, everyone he loved had turned away from him.While I turned away from him, I nevertheless learned from him not to turn away just because something is uncomfortable. He helped me see that people on welfare are people first. Even the ones you could hardly stand to be in a room with, deserve respect
Here’s my best attempt at channelling what my mom’s parting words would have been, had she been that type of mom, the type that I aim to be for myself and my baby.I know you think you need me to write you these words of encouragement and advice, but you don’t. I’ve already seen how you embody all the skills you will ever need to live a happy and fulfilling life. I’ve had the pleasure and fortune of being able to stand back and watch you shine, ever since you were a young child. You will go on to do just fine without me, you’ll see. Nevertheless, here are ten of my top lessons for you to hold on to.1. You’re above average at many things, but you’re exceptional at making others feel valued and respected, and finding the good in everyone and everything. Lean into this super strength every way you can.2. You have a tendency to be impatient with inefficient systems or people, sharp when your focus is interrupted, defensive when given constructive feedback or unsolicited advice, cranky when you’re hungry, irritable before your period, and withdrawn when you sense conflict. Most of these you probably inherited from me. Sorry! These “weaknesses” don’t make you any less amazing, they just mean you’re human. Be aware of them. Acknowledge when they impact others. Apologize. Work towards reducing how much they show up in your life.3. If there’s one thing I wish I did more of in life, it was express my emotions. Express yours, especially when it’s the last thing you want to do. The harder an emotion is to express, the more liberated you will feel after doing so. Don’t be afraid to be yourself.4. I know you’ll miss my unconditional acceptance of who you are. It’s not impossible to find this with others though. Look for friends and partners who you feel you can truly be yourself with. Don’t settle for anyone who makes you feel like you need to be smaller, or hide parts of yourself. Be yourself, be yourself, be yourself. Note, helping others be themselves is also the best gift you can give.5. Trust your gut. You already have all the knowledge and information you need about how to proceed inside you. This will help you be yourself.6. The right guy will come along. Make sure you enjoy dating until he does--it will help you grow and give you some good stories to tell.7. Even the right guy might not be around forever. Life is impermanent. Savour every damn moment, and don’t feel guilty about using your inheritance to help with this!8. If ever you’re feeling unhappy or stuck, don’t forget the beautiful simplicity of taking a walk. Inhale the intoxicating smell of nature. Trust that everything is as it should be and most importantly, don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Just be yourself.9. Don’t forget the other basics that I taught you: read, travel, make time for those you love, exercise, eat healthy food, and treat yourself to cake!10. I already know you’ll do many great things that you’ll wish you could share with me, like raise a beautiful family, get a graduate degree, or earn a promotion. Don’t worry about the fact that I’m missing these milestones. I already knew how special you were and that you could do anything you wanted. Your main challenge will be deciding which path, of the many available to you, to take. Don't believe anyone who tells you you can't take them all eventually.I love you. I am proud of you, no matter what, and trust me, I’m still with you.
I was grateful for a new muse. I saw you--suffering, stunted, and stifled in the suburbs--from your first text telling me you were “fun”, accompanied by a selfie in the mountains. Here we go again I thought.I didn’t need to do anything for you to start confiding in me. As if you’d been waiting your whole life to let this dam inside you burst with someone capable of harnessing the pent up energy. You knew as I knew. I’ve known men like you my whole life.You held more promise than the men before you, a genuine desire to continue to let the river flow and flourish. But despite all my coaxing and tending and conserving, your water wasn’t sustaining any life.Before long I uncovered the source of sewage--a family in complete denial about a father’s pedophilia. Expert dam builders, convinced the serenity of an artificial and contaminated lake was preferable to the ferocious power of a raging river.Is there anything worth taking away from our brief (but far too prolonged), wild (but only if measured by volume of texts exchanged), and sufficiently distracting (but entirely unfulfilling) affair? Only that men who choose fear over freedom will ultimately not nourish me in return.There were many men before you, but there will be none after. And for that, I thank you.
Many nights over the course of the pandemic, I have found myself gravitating to my photos app, as if I was subconsciously craving something lost that could be found in these memories. I wasn’t sure what that was, until one night while flipping through snapshots of “normal” times I noticed a pattern: nearly every single video I had taken over the years, hundreds of them, was of people dancing.I knew I loved to dance—I’d long called it my favourite art form—but I honestly didn’t realize how much joy it sparked in me until that night, three and a half decades into my life. It’s amazing how our buried passions can reveal themselves in surprising ways.I have a terrible memory for basically most details, yet when I watch a video I took—no matter how many years ago—of someone dancing, I find I can remember the person and setting like it was yesterday. When I watch someone dance, I am witness to their absolute uniqueness. Their movements teach me everything I need to know about them. It’s as if I can see the imprint of their soul.I record these moments to capture the sense of elation I feel when I see people expressing themselves with abandon, brimming with creativity, tenderness, and inner-goodness. What I can’t capture, what I crave, is how the energy that emanates from the dancers uplifts others who haven’t yet learned how to trust their inner goodness or how to release their own unique and creative energy into the world.
In a culture where most are given the last name—often the aspirations too—of just one parent, I appreciate that my parents believed I could be more than one thing. A Dyck and a Sprout.Maybe they were truly oblivious to how embarrassing it would be to carry such a name, but I like to think that they knew I could be strong enough to carry it nonetheless. Large enough to master multiple disciplines, and pursue a plethora of passions.I wonder if they realized that my name would teach me how to befriend my bullies and how to straddle two very different worlds.I can’t imagine my life as just a Sprout, or just a Dyck, any less than I can imagine a life in which I’m just a writer or just a manager. I want to live my life like I can be a student forever, and a teacher whenever.I’m tired of the pressure to be one thing to the world. The constant bombardment of advice to find my calling, my purpose, my passion, my place, my mission. As if I couldn’t have many.Why should I have to decide? I always had a hunch that my ideal would career would just be an amalgamation of many, and I suspect I’m not alone. I believe that to thrive, to truly feel alive, I need permission and space to reinvent myself regularly, to try on different hats, or even better, to collect as many hats as I’d like.
The Tallest Poppy
I often pretend I don’t know something to help others save face. Or downplay my accomplishments, lest I risk intimidating someone. Even in my mid-thirties, surrounded by intelligent and successful people, I still have to fight the urge to conceal my true colours. It’s more of an instinct than a coping mechanism at this point.I’m not sure the fear of rejection was ever founded, but I can’t imagine I was the only one who learned to make herself smaller and smaller, afraid of being the tallest poppy in a blue-collar city with such cold winters that you can’t expect to stand out and survive. It didn’t help that I was actually the tallest poppy my whole childhood, the lone Mennonite with toned down opinions, watered down vocabulary and pared down dreams, towering over all the little French Canadian boys in my class.I grieve the colossal waste of human potential when I think about all the black sheep of the world pretending to be white, and find myself drawn to people who have the strength to resist the pressure to conform.And still I’m afraid of standing out, making noise. But I’ll keep trying, to stop twisting and contorting myself into a box that doesn’t allow me to spread my wings. In the words of Buckminster Fuller, I seem to be a verb, and evolutionary process.
Here we go again
In the beginning, I couldn’t believe someone as good looking as you actually wanted to hang out with me, even if it was just as friends. I wasn’t used to having privileged white guys like you, with faces made for TV, pay attention to me.You made me believe that maybe I was the intimidating one. You’d stare deep in my eyes and suggest that I needed to give guys like you a shot.But every time I was about to, you’d introduce me to some new girl. I always knew that you’d realize you weren’t good together and eventually come crawling back to me when you did.We’d go out dancing, have a gloriously good time, and ask each other why we didn’t do this more. I’d go home the next morning, excited to see you again, only to be introduced to yet another new girl the next time I did.The last time you went as far as actually saying we could be good together. The next week you were in a new relationship.Now, you ask me every time I see you, if I’m happy in my relationship. And I convince you that I am. Then, as if trying to settle some score by proving you’d rather have your new life than another threesome, you double down with another commitment: an SUV, a dog, a proposal, a house. As if we don’t both know that you will eventually ask me to go dancing again.
I am large
When I started therapy, the therapist questioned why I asked if the uncertainty I was feeling was normal. This frustrated me greatly—was it not normal to care if something was normal? I just wanted an answer! And most of all, I wanted to be normal.For months I wondered how I'd ever be able to understand where I stood if I didn’t know what “normal” was. Was I smart or smarter? Patient or impatient? I’d worry that I must be more concerned with fitting in than the average person, but then I’d go on Instagram and quickly be convinced otherwise.The goalposts were shifting everywhere I looked. I’d stand next to someone anxiously waiting in line and think, I’m a calm person. But then I’d talk to my dad and think, Nope, I’m irritable. To my MBA friends, I was a hippy, and to my hometown friends, I was a capitalist. Some days I felt like I occupied every position on the spectrum from Grinch to Mother Teresa.After months of trying to reposition myself, I finally stopped looking for the goal post and started to embrace the idea that I was the whole field. That I could be everything. And I felt at peace, knowing I had something in common with everyone, everywhere.Sometimes I’m fashionable, sometimes I’m bland. Sometimes I’m disciplined, sometimes I’m chaotic. In the words of Walt Whitman, ”Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.”
You were definitely different than the others. I welcomed your financial, emotional, and geographic stability. I thought that your complete lack of insecurities would help me feel more secure. That your extroversion would balance my introversion. That your large, warm, and tight-knit family would compensate for my lack thereof.You had a taste for the best while I had a taste for the worst. You wanted boutique hotels and Michelin star dining while I wanted camping and street food. Country clubs and cottages instead of career changes and comedy. You wanted to settle, I longed to soar.I really wanted to believe different would be good for me. You were so kind and generous and optimistic and smart and driven and successful and active and available.If I could just focus on these qualities and ignore the others…If I could just forget the deeper layers of myself that craved companionship…I kept telling myself Different is good. Different is good. Different is good.If I could just be indifferent to the unavailable and unstable others, to my unlived dreams, to the gnawing sense that I was settling.In the end, different was good for me. It took me a year and a half, but eventually, dating you helped me accept that I was the one who was different. That I just needed to spread my wings and fly.
The Cost of Fitting In
I used to tell my friends that my dad was a lawyer, which felt almost close to the truth given his anti-poverty advocacy work. No one ever met him, so I could speak of his intelligence, kindness, and activism, while leaving out the parts that wouldn’t help me fit in.I was angry at him for living in neighbourhoods that my friends knew to avoid, with people who made me feel unsafe. I wished he would just cut his hair, change his diet, and buy some new clothes. As if that could wash the class struggle off of him.I didn’t invite him to my high school, college, or MBA graduations. I didn’t want friends to see his broken glasses, his limp, his missing teeth. Ironically, I now realize my friends don’t even see people like him.It pains me to consider how many years of hardship it took for him to fade into the background of society. And how much those years have changed the way he thinks… sees… walks… talks… eats… sleeps… and dreams...Most of all, it pains me to think of the social toll enacted by me (and others like me) on him (and others like him) in an attempt to fit in. I suppose poverty feels like less of a personal threat if we see those living in it as not just different, but less than. We act as if being poor is shameful, but the real shame is not seeing our shared humanity.
The Year we'll be surprised to miss (1)
When NYC first announced a shelter-in-place order, as grocery store shelves were being cleared of provisions, makeshift field hospitals were being built in Central Park and U.S. Open tennis courts, and the daily confirmed cases county continued to increase exponentially, I was afraid of mass chaos for the first time in my life.I imagined having to make my way, by foot if necessary, possibly under the cover of the night, over the Canadian border and back into the safety of my home country. Scenarios of hyperinflation and resource wars in the global north ran through my head. I reasoned that Canada’s natural resources and oceanic borders would act as a buffer against chaos.Amidst these anxious thoughts, my boyfriend reassured me that he could manufacture a power generator out of our bicycles. He put on some Bob Marley, started dancing in the sunlight streaming through our windows overlooking the Statue of Liberty, and claimed that this was exactly what he had been waiting for. That he had written “you’re going to want me around when the end is near” in his dating profile.I had no recollection of this, but his ability to not just embrace, but find joy in, a moment that I feared could actually be the end of the world, at least of the one that I knew and loved, made me cry fat tears of gratitude that in a fateful moment two years earlier, I didn’t accidentally swipe left on my guardian angel.Part 2
the year we'll be surprised to miss (2)
Even though neither of us had steady incomes and we lived in a studio in the epicenter of the pandemic, between my passport and education and bank accounts, I realized just how far we still had to fall before we could even begin to empathize with economic migrants and refugees. I appreciate that 2020 reminded me of my extremely privileged place in this world.2020 also reminded me that I could do without my daily excursions to find a new cafe, my hectic social calendar, and my group fitness classes. I had learned this lesson before, that I need very little to feel content, but little indulgences slowly creep into your routines and before long feel vital to your very existence.It wasn’t just pandemic anxiety, of course. The daily reminders of pervasive injustices and inequalities only amplified what was at stake with the U.S. election. Any time I found myself worrying about things beyond my control, I thought of the day in April when I announced to my partner, proudly, that we’d lived together in a studio for a year, and he replied “no, we’ve lived together our whole lives, with everyone and everything else, on this giant rock flying through space.”Through 2020, the trees kept reaching, the earth kept spinning, and above all, my heart kept beating. It’s been a running joke around the world what a dumpster fire 2020 was, but sometimes I feel like I’m the only one who will miss it.Part 1
I used to feel bored all the time, until a Spanish friend, the type of woman who didn’t walk but strolllllled, told me I shouldn’t ever complain of being bored.She was right. There were a million things I could do at any given moment, even then, in a small Germany town in 2007, to keep my brain engaged and stimulated. I just had to find one before boredom ever set in!In the thirteen years since this wakeup call, mental stimulation has only become easier to find, and I can confidently say I haven’t complained of boredom again. But I miss it.I miss boredom in the same way I miss everything from childhood that can never be truly recovered. Gone are the days of somersaulting off bunk beds with my brother and those of my mom being alive. The days when we shared one TV and had to rely more on our memories than the speed of our thumbs.I can unplug from the internet all I want to try to recreate the feeling, but deep down I know we live in the age of influencers and unicorns and notifications and 24 hour news cycles.It’s only now, as I find myself longing for a lost feeling and time, that I realize I may have misinterpreted my dear Spanish friend. I stopped complaining about boredom by eliminating it altogether, when all this time I should have been celebrating and cherishing it.
In Between classes
When I hang out with some friends, I often feel a strong urge to play the part of someone with a deep sense of financial security. I imagine myself having a wardrobe I’m proud of, getting a dog that I’ll pay someone else to walk, and building a routine around facials, manicures, and matcha lattes.You can afford it now, I justify. But then I’ll see the familiar faces of an elderly couple waiting patiently at my building’s back door, and cancel my brunch plans. I see people like them everywhere, sorting through garbage to collect the cans discarded by people like my friends who will never understand the value of five cents.Growing up with a communist, anti-poverty advocate for a father, I find it easier to imagine myself in the modest shoes of these can collectors than the designer shoes of the people I went to school with. The type of people who come from such wealth that they don’t think twice about ordering a $1,200 bottle of champagne or buying a second home in the middle of a pandemic.As much as I yearn for their sense of freedom, I can’t help but see how my earning and claiming it prevents others from doing so. I suspect it’s not even possible for me to live with that degree of privilege without losing the ability to empathize with those who don’t, which is likely actually the greatest privilege of all.
The Saddest Goodbyes
I am rather used to the pain of separating from loved ones when I move.It’s always hard, but at least with friends and family, we can hug and cry and text daily until we feel secure enough in our connection to trust it will always be there. There is great comfort in knowing that I will continue to exist in the mind of someone else.What I’m not used to are the pseudo-goodbyes. Like when I told my favourite spin instructor “I’m moving, so this is my last class.” Until that moment, I wasn’t even sure he knew who I was. There were no hugs or phone numbers exchanged, no promises to keep in touch or see each other again soon. Just a sad Noooo! that made it difficult for me to swallow.The separations that haunt me are the ones with people who didn’t even get a pseudo-goodbye. With people I worry might not even remember me in a year. The baristas who know my order, the doormen who know my routines, the corner store cashiers whose familiar smiling faces make a big city feel small. The people who ensure I am safe and cared for yet don’t know they’re members of my extended family.I want all of these people, hundreds over the years who I haven’t been able to hug, to know that they still exist to me. That in my mind at least, the connection was real and will always be there. Goodbye.
What's Left Behind
The real turning point in my mom’s terminal illness was when she had a seizure, or maybe it was a stroke, it didn’t really matter since she was already in palliative care with an active Do Not Resuscitate order.I had been watching her slow decline for months by this point, so I was surprised by how upsetting it was to watch her convulse, knowing I was helpless and that the end was now very near.When the convulsions ended, it was clear that the mom I knew was gone. She wouldn’t get out of bed or be able to speak to me again. A distinct feeling that I never wanted to be close to anyone ever again coursed through my whole body.In a strange way, this was the closest I’d ever felt to my mom. Being at my most helpless point at the same time she was at her’s, all our defenses gone, deepened and cemented our connection in a way that still lives with me, ten years later.Until that moment, I never really trusted myself. Deep down, I think I believed that trauma would ruin me. I didn’t know I was capable of feeling the desire to close off to the world and choosing to let it go. I am strong enough to hold love and terror, joy and pain, gratitude and grief, at the same time.This last lesson that my mom left behind has turned out to be the greatest lesson of all.
If I died tomorrow, I’d want the world to know…
That so much more joy comes from discomfort than comfort.I hate winter. And I grew up in the second coldest city in the world, so I know a thing or two about how much your back and fingers and toes and face and soul ache in the deep freeze of a January that feels like it will never end. Recess is cancelled, cars don’t start, blizzards ruin holiday plans, energy bills skyrocket, and the rest of the world laughs at us. There is no reprieve for months on end.But when spring finally arrives, weeks later than it should, it is the most glorious feeling. Ever. The snow melts all at once, giving the air a distinct smell, sound, and even taste of fresh, ice-cold glacier water. Trees and birds and insects suddenly spring to life again and I feel, in the core of my being, an immense joy, sense of accomplishment, and conviction that anything is possible. And I pity the people in Hawaii and L.A. and Vancouver and Sydney who’ve been so comfortable this whole time.I get a similar feeling when I complete an extreme endurance challenge, pass a difficult exam, survive a breakup, or worse, the death of a loved one. I feel….alive. Discomfort widens my perspective. It forces me to adapt, to grow. It reminds me that we too are nature and to evolve is the whole point.That being said, I never want to spend another winter in Winterpeg again.
A Thousand Words
How is it that some pictures come alive through a screen while others fall flat? That some connections can be felt before you’ve even met? And linger long after you’re gone?I must have swiped left on a thousand men before your profile caught my eye. Judging by your big shy smile, the way your hands lay awkwardly at your sides, and your sad sensitive eyes, I just knew you were my type. And I yours.We started chatting right away. But I learned you were six years younger than me, and only in town for the summer. “What’s the point?” I asked. “You never know, we could be a good match,” you replied.I couldn’t resist the screaming urge I had to ease you. To grab those lost hands and give them a place to call home, to look deep into those sad eyes and tell them they were not alone.You were even cuter in real life. We spotted each other from across the street and laughed in a way that acknowledged you were right. I crossed the street thinking buckle up, this is going to be a ride.I didn’t expect someone from Chicago to sound so southern, nor did I expect to see myself in you. I felt all your insecurities as if they were my own. I saw you. You reminded me of me when I first moved to New York and realized the tacos I had grown up with were not in fact tacos.Part 2
Cat & Mouse
Part 1I recognized something in you, or more accurately, the absence of something.But when I reached my hand out in a way to communicate I can make you feel whole if you let me, you pulled away.Back in the privacy of my apartment though, inch by inch, you let your guard down. I knew you would. And I gladly took every inch you gave me. But if I took the inch too quickly, like a skittish mouse, you would pull away again.We spent the summer together, trying to see the world through each other’s eyes, and cycling between enjoying the electricity of each other’s touch and, for me at least, agonizing over the shock of the accompanying withdrawals.I wanted to convince you we’re the same. But you’d spent your whole life being treated like we’re not. I wanted to rub your back (shhhh, it’s ok) until you really believed it was, but you’d accumulated generations of loyalty to people with scarred backs like yours. I wanted to hold your hand until the sadness evaporated from your eyes, as if generations of hands like mine hadn’t put it there.I reached and reached for you like a cat chasing a mouse that has escaped under the door but will inevitably return. With each new chase, I became more aggrieved by this door that neither of us had closed, until finally I could see that neither of us would have the power to open it again.
You took photos of me thinking I wouldn’t notice, told me I was the only girl you’d slept with in three years, and wrapped your body around mine as if only I could satisfy your hunger. Yet any time we made plans, I had no idea if you’d be sick again. Work late again. Lose your wallet again. Be stuck in the train again.But with the predictability of a slot machine, you’d finally show up. You’d bring me flowers and chocolate, order us dinner, share your Juul, and squeeze me so tight I thought you might swallow me whole. I loved seeing the loneliness melt off that baby face of yours, and feeling your overworked muscles relax. It was as good as hitting the jackpot.You turned me into a gambler. I even stalked you on Instagram, something I’d never done before. Every time you liked a pretty girl’s photo while not replying to my texts, my chest tightened. But still I kept feeding you my coins.Maybe you sensed you were not the only man trying to swallow me whole. The odds of just one slot machine weren’t in my favour after all.Maybe you knew your irregularly dispensed rewards made me want to see you more.Maybe you feared that I would swallow you whole.Whatever it was, you kept your distance. I guess you knew it was safer to look at me in your snuck photos than risk letting me win everything you held dear.
The weight of expectations
A strange thing happened this week.For months I’ve been advising a promising ed-tech start-up and loving every minute of it. My commitment to the team was informal, but we had a sort of handshake agreement that we could formalize it in the future. I trusted we’d work things out.Everything was going so well, it made sense to finally get a contract in place. The founder and CEO made me a generous first offer of both equity and salary, retroactive to when I started working with the team and agreed to all my requested amendments - more equity and fewer days worked.I should have been happy. It was the same great team, the same great product, the same responsibilities. Nothing had changed, except my potential compensation.Unfortunately, that changed everything for me.Instead of working when I felt like it, which was almost all of the time, I now owe them two days per week (and that feels like too much). Instead of operating from a place of trust, I now worry that there’s some part of the contract that will screw me over. Instead of feeling a deep sense of satisfaction from gifting my time, I now feel the weight of expectations. Instead of being curious and excited about where this adventure could take us, I now have to work for two years for my equity to fully vest.Jobs, like school, can really suck the joy out of tasks that we are inherently motivated to do.
the morning after
Last night, after Trump's election, I went to bed and truly wasn’t sure what the state of the world would be when I woke up. Would all the colour be drained? Would we forget how to laugh?The first time I felt that uncertainty was after my mom took her last breath.I didn’t consciously wonder if the grief would suffocate me in my sleep, but I remember feeling surprised that I woke up. That I was, in fact, still breathing without her. I was also surprised that the sun came out that day, I didn’t realize that I had expected it never to again. My mouth even curled up in a smile, albeit briefly, when my best friend came over. That she was alive, and that my face and spirit weren’t completely broken, gave me a glimmer of hope.A bald eagle paid us a visit that morning, lingering in the backyard as if to pay its respects. The fall leaves surely were more vibrant than most years, clinging on to their branches for longer than they normally would too, as if to remind me that the world was still spinning.It’s spun up countless magical moments of joy since, as if paying its respect to every last breath taken on its surface.Today, the morning after Trump's victory, I am awake, still breathing. The sun is shining, birds are singing. Stores are opening. And the colourful leaves are clinging on to their branches as if to say ‘let this great world spin.’
“If you consistently put out a truthful message to the world about what you want to do, the people you want to work with and who want to work with you, will find you.” Bruce MauConsider this site my lighthouse. To attract my people.People who march to the beat of their own drum, swim against the stream. Who question conventions like needing to sign a contract before working or spending a lifetime with someone.People who ignore the boxes that society puts them in. Men who cry and women who skateboard and seniors who dance on TikTok.People who make art for art’s sake. Who remind me that we’re meant to play, to expect less, and to create, as much as we’re meant to procreate.People who ask big questions. Who like being surprised by the answers, or lack thereof.People who don’t see things as black, white, or even gray. Who see rainbows.People who stop to watch a street performer. Who ride the waves and don’t ask where they go.People who are passionate and full of contradictions. Multi hyphenates.People who think of their life on this planet as extending in all directions, beyond time and body. Who are thirsty to experience as much of life as is possible.I want to attract those who relate to even half of what I’m describing. These are the people who, just by being their authentic selves, help me feel more free, more at peace, more inspired.
I'm still here
It drives me crazy, especially now that I’m self-employed, that I don’t have easy and affordable health insurance options. To say nothing of how it feels to pay taxes to a government led by someone who doesn’t. Taxes that perpetuate the extreme injustice of this “justice” system. I could go on.Every day that I still have two feet in a country that clashes with my most deeply held values, I have to ask myself ‘why I don’t just go back to Canada?’ Heck, everyone else asks me this. Why then, am I still here?New York. I’m addicted to the thrill I get from knowing that at any moment, anything could happen. There’s a higher concentration of my people here than anywhere else in the world. Where, in spite of everything, the pandemics and terrorist attacks and subway delays and gentrification and rats and noise and pollution, the great world spins. With every corner I turn, I find life, love, and hope.Being this close to the enchanting, inexhaustible, variety of life makes me feel like I can be my whole, inexhaustible, self. The reality is that the problems here - the inequality, racism, ignorance, and backwards policies - are everywhere. Not to mention leaving doesn’t make the problems go away. Police will still be killing innocent humans no matter where I live. I’d rather be confronted with the amplified truth of the world, beautiful and ugly, than hide from it. To leave now would be to take me further away from my own truth.
new day new cafe
Growing up Mennonite in a blue-collar town with a single mother, “treat yourself” was not in my lexicon. It was drilled into me that if I didn’t need something, it was not worth any amount of money. If I can walk or bike somewhere in less than 40 minutes, I can’t justify a $2.75 subway ride to myself. Forget taxis, unless I have open blisters or am unexpectedly caught in a blizzard.It took years of six-figure salaries before I could eat at restaurants guilt-free. Even now, with a healthy sum of money saved, it’s embarrassingly hard for me to order anything but the cheapest thing on a menu.In college, I learned to leverage this financial anxiety: spend $2.00 on coffee, guilt myself into marathon cafe study sessions. At work, I applied this technique any time I had a task I wasn’t motivated to do. I was buying coffee every day.It wasn’t long before I craved the experience of coffee - the chance to escape, to explore, to experience something new, to engage with strangers - more than the caffeine itself. As with any addiction, the craving grew, and I found myself needing to visit a new coffee shop every day to get my daily hit.I’m a proud addict. I love the sense of accomplishment from crossing another cafe off my list, the exhilaration of discovering a new one to visit. What started as a way to get work done has evolved into a loophole to treat myself.
I wanted to believe the complete sense of alignment I felt after moving into my studio could last forever.It was my first time living alone and exercising complete control over my living arrangements. I deliberately chose my neighbourhood, my furnishings, and my unit with unobstructed sunset views. I’d never before “treated myself” in such a big way.I’d occasionally consider living somewhere else - upstairs in a bigger unit, closer to the park, back in Manhattan, or out of the city altogether, on the heels of everyone else who had fled NYC over the years - but I always concluded my exact apartment was the exact place for me.My boyfriend moved in, and the magic of my small studio somehow continued to grow with his presence, even through a pandemic. For three years, even other apartments in my neighbourhood - with the same convenience to subways and cafes and theatres and bars and friends and parks - didn’t appeal to me.But from my little oasis, I could no longer ignore the growing inequality and threat of re-electing a fascist president around me. The thrill of seeing Lady Liberty from my window faded with every friend who left town and business that shuttered. I gave up my lease, convinced myself that I could feel whole again somewhere else, for far less money, and instantly regretted it.Can beautiful feelings ever last forever, or do you need to feel the risk of losing what you have to appreciate it again?
It started with a breakup that brought me back to the depth of pain I felt when I lost my mom. With the important difference being that when my mom died, I didn’t feel resentful or believe I was unlovable.After months of folding myself in half, thinking that would make me less ‘difficult’ to be with, I decided to tackle my depression by trying to expand once again. I identified as many things that brought me even a sliver of happiness as I could, and stacked them on top of each other each and every day. Nature, dancing, journaling, books, friends, popcorn, chocolate, weed, cycling, running, documentaries, and music...all gradually revived the joy and confidence I’d worried were dead forever.I was left with a habit of finding things I loved and adding them to my list of things I needed to squeeze into a day. Boxing, yoga, comedy, meditating, writing, photography and visiting new (coffee shops)[#newdaynewcafe] made their way to my list, as did dozens of my favourite show venues, parks, and restaurants. My daily to-do list looked something like what a normal person would do over a week of vacation. Friends thought I was a maniac. But I was a happy maniac.This habit worked through subsequent breakups, career transitions, and even the pandemic. If how we spend our days is how we spend our lives, I am determined that my life be full of joyful moments. If only it were that simple.
With my growing collection of things that I love, I now find myself waking up in a frenzy. On any given day, I want to be in at least a dozen different places, with at least a dozen different people, doing at least a dozen different things. There are never enough hours in the day.It’s the type of energy that helps me jump out of bed excited for the day ahead, but also the type of energy that makes it difficult to relax. Even on Sunday mornings, I’ll wake up at 6:00, and feel annoyed that I have to wait at least an hour before any of my favourite coffee shops open.More and more, my determination to stuff my life with joyful moments is leaving me overwhelmed with all the things I want to do but don’t have time for. I am starting to see that my days spent in a restless pursuit of happiness will accumulate into a life that feels rushed and unfocused.But my favourite things, places, people, and activities have gotten me through so many difficult times, it’s hard to let go of the desire to inhale them all at once. I am sure anyone with an addiction can relate.I’m trying to see my strong motivation to keep expanding and expanding as part of the human condition. Something to marvel at rather than be consumed by. It’s delightful to see in others when I sit still and pay attention. It’s enough.
When the Covid-19 pandemic really sunk its nails into NYC, and one establishment after another announced they would be closing indefinitely—parks stubbornly remained open. People have been wishing for an end to 2020 basically since it started, but the time I spent in New York’s parks this year has restored my faith in humanity.I’ve watched multiple adults learn how to ride a bike. I’ve seen people teach others how to box, dance, drum, and forage for medicinal plants. I’ve attended donation-based performances by comedians, puppeteers, and jazz musicians. I’ve rejoiced in countless neighbours coming together to play soccer, basketball and volleyball. No matter how bad the news was that day, people made room for each other in the park.At a time of extreme income inequality, racial tension, and political polarization, the parks felt like a true equalizer. From Prospect to Central, Riverside to Morningside, Washington Square to Tompkins Square, and Governor’s Island to Coney Island, New York’s parks don’t discriminate (though some people in them infamously do).The more time I spent in these parks this pandemic, the more I recognized who exercised when, who walked which dog, who preferred to rollerblade on weekends, and who preferred to play tennis late in the evening. The rhythms of the parks made this big and anonymous city feel small and accessible.A lot has been said about the critical role essential workers have played over the last 8 months, but to me, New York’s parks have been the real heroes of this pandemic.
Coming Full Circle
Early in the pandemic, I announced that I was available and happy to help anyone who was looking for advice with their start-ups, careers, or really anything.To my surprise, friends and strangers actually took me up on my offer and soon my calendar was filled with calls. I doubt my “advice” was worth much, but I think what mattered more was helping people see they weren't alone. It felt truly incredible to wake up with the knowledge that I could play that role for people. I thought ‘I could do this, without pay, for the rest of my life.’Then it dawned on me: this is what my dad has done as an unpaid, full-time, anti-poverty advocate for the last 20 years.It’s easy to assume that a willingness to give time freely comes from a place of financial privilege, but my dad is broke. Not like ‘down-on-his-luck broke’, but like ‘will-never-escape-the-cycle-of-poverty’ broke.It shouldn’t have taken me 34 years to figure out I am my father’s daughter, but I’d distanced myself from him for so long - in large part because of his poverty - that I didn’t consider how much I’d learned from him.My little experiment revealed the unique privilege I did have, to have a father who taught me that some callings were worth sacrificing everything for. He showed me that deprivation is not something to fear, and that you can live a rich and meaningful life even when the rest of society sees you as poor.
There’s a concept in business known as Essentialism. It’s the “view that every entity has a set of attributes that are necessary to its identity and function.” It has become a productivity hack, where instead of trying to get more things done, you focus on getting the right things done. Essentialism, essentially, is the disciplined pursuit of less.I’ve found that if you really embrace this discipline, it becomes very difficult to work in a corporate environment, where nearly everything you’re asked to do is non-essential and could be eliminated. In my last job, as a manager of managers, the vast majority of the work I had to do was honestly not worthy of my energy and effort. The exception? Making others feel seen and heard. That felt essential.I wasn’t fully aware this was ‘necessary to my identity and function’ at the time. I couldn’t explain to you why I quit that job and was immediately so drawn to a Bushwick-based, non-binary street performer that I felt compelled to make my first documentary film.I admired how they would go out, day after day, wearing rollerblades and the most outrageous outfits, to put on a show that most people completely ignored. But that didn’t deter them. As long as one person smiled, their job was done.I filmed them for a year before I realized that the message I wanted to amplify was really my own: spreading love is the only thing truly worth doing.
hungry for more
It wasn’t until I was in my late 20s that I realized I was one of the kids who went to school hungry. Because only half of my time (the alternate weeks I lived with my dad) was spent in poverty, I didn’t identify as “poor.”But the weeks I spent with my dad, I was always hungry. He’d ration food so carefully that he’d notice when I snuck a couple extra stale crackers on top of the two I was allotted with my daily (watered down) powdered soup mix for lunch.
Every dinner was the same too: ½ a no-name box of mac and cheese (made with water), a bowl of salad, a small glass of Coke, half a can of peaches for dessert.My stomach would growl day and night, but I just thought I was hungrier than the average person. After all, hunger seemed to seep into everything I did. I was hungry to try every free activity possible, to befriend anyone I could, to explore every corner of my neighbourhood, and, when there was nothing left to explore, to study maps and encyclopedias.I can’t say for sure that the years of deprivation I experienced as a kid on welfare made me insatiable, but I can say my friends who had bowls full of fruit on the table, rides to tennis lessons, and Christmas gifts that weren’t labeled ‘girl 8-12’ and dropped off by a volunteer, are able to say ‘no’ in a way I cannot.
Covid Survival Guide (1)
Eight months since the pandemic hit NYC, my hometown is facing going into their first lockdown. My brother is struggling because, like me, he’s convinced he “needs to see people and get out to feel happy and productive."I hope that these tips (in addition to cliche ones like practicing gratitude and mindfulness, exercising, and sleeping) which have helped me to keep my spirits and productivity high through the pandemic can help him and other restless, gregarious souls out there.10 Strategies to Stay Mentally Well in a Lockdown1. Invest in a pair of binoculars or a telescope. Studying space, plants, and animals will help keep things in perspective. If you want to start even smaller, try to notice one new thing every day about your surroundings. Or find twenty questions you can ask about an object that you use every day. You might be amazed at how much there is to learn about what’s around you that you take for granted.2. Declutter. Nothing feels better than simplifying your life. This includes giving yourself permission to wipe things off your to do list, even if you haven’t done them, and not look back. I like to put expiry dates on anything I add to my lists. If I can’t visit that restaurant or read that article or see that new art exhibit by the deadline, well then I probably didn’t really want to do it that much in the first place.PART 2
Covid Survival Guide (2)
PART 13. Get outside every single day, no exceptions. Take a long walk and make it special by listening to a podcast or your favourite music, or exploring a new neighbourhood or park. Try to imagine how in ten years you will look back fondly on this time and miss the familiarity and peacefulness of these walks.4. Make the room where you spend most of your time a space that you love. Treat yourself to an expensive candle and/or pen and notepad, weekly flowers, fancy tea, a new ergonomic office chair or piece of art or potted plant. You might think you should save your money, but mental health is the most valuable thing you have in your possession, it’s worth investing in protecting it.5. Plan to do something big from your bucket list one year from now. I signed up for this 2021 tour in Mongolia that I will combine with a trans-Siberian rail trip. I can’t wait. If it has to be pushed back, so be it. Don’t underestimate the power of having something to look forward to.6. Speaking of, have something to look forward to every day. Think of anything you enjoy, choose the top 7, then spread them across the week. Incorporate as many guilty pleasures as you can: junk food, reality tv, takeout etc. For example: Mondays: movie with mac&cheese, Tuesdays: end work early, guilt free, Wednesdays: pancake breakfast etc.PART 3
Covid Survival Guide (3)
7. Try collecting all the things that bring you joy - e.g. lists of movies, books, restaurants, and activities that you love - to revisit whenever you feel in a rut. For example, you could go through vacation photos, rewatch a favourite tv show, or schedule time to call an old friend.8. Stop paying too much attention to the news, if you haven’t already. Get the important headlines, but don’t dive into the details and the drama. As soon as you start to feel a story is making you feel something negative, mentally swipe left on it! Trust me, you don’t need this negativity in your life.9. You can’t control the news but there’s plenty you can control. Get yourself out of a mindset of scarcity and into one of abundance by committing to doing one generous act every day. You could donate $5 to a charity, leave a big tip, or send a gift to a friend. This is especially effective if you are feeling anxious about what you stand to lose in this pandemic, or feel like there isn’t enough (food, financial aid, ICU beds etc) to go around.10. Breathe. No matter what anyone says, things will go back to normal, and better yet, you will appreciate normal so much more. Think: spring after a harsh winter.Bonus Tip: Reflect on 2020 - list at least 10 things that went well, 10 things you’re looking forward to in 2021. There are plenty of reflection templates online to help with this.PART 1 PART 2
Missing Puzzle Pieces
Most of the time I forget how alone I am. I’ve practiced how to live without a dad for over 20 years now, without a mom for 10, and away from my brother for 8. I'm an expert in aloneness.In these years, I’ve learned how to use friends and lovers and hobbies and work and constant activity to build a surrogate sense of family. The more ravenous the lover, the better they fed the pit in my stomach I was hungry to satisfy. The more I could accomplish in a day, the better I could justify the benefits of not having a nuclear family. The more places I could travel to, the more I could tell myself I was making amends for my mother’s premature death.Then the holidays arrive, flights sell out, streets empty, restaurants close, my friends retreat to their hometowns, and I remember that even my incredible partner can only ever be a square peg in my puzzle-piece-shaped hole.I like to leave the hole open on holidays. I’ll ride a rollercoaster of emotions around a mostly deserted city, recognize others like me, wandering with no destination in mind, coming to peace with the idea that some feelings can never be recreated.Crossing paths with these other oddly-shaped holes, each usually filled haphazardly with a unique concoction of distractions but now emptied and laid bare for the holidays, helps me see that we’ll never find the missing puzzle pieces. And somehow, I feel whole again.
I vividly remember studying my mom’s breath, looking for signs of which one would be the last, and marveling at the concept that somehow, in the moments between a breath and no breath, whole worlds could stop spinning.Before these last breaths were last months. It’s hard enough to watch your mom die, it’s a whole other kind of hard to watch her dreams die before she does.I never asked what those dreams were, it felt too painful to address the elephant in the room, but ten years later, all her unspoken and unlived dreams continue to haunt me. What were they?Maybe she was the one haunted, from not knowing what my dreams were? I remember wanting to tell her when she was diagnosed, but the elephant squashed my courage.Knowing her, I assume she dreamed of seeing my brother graduate, of becoming a grandma one day, of traveling, of renovating her bedroom, and of continuing her volunteer work.But I wonder if she too longed for financial freedom, or if that is a uniquely millennial dream (or curse)? If she too dreamed of TED talks and book tours, or if she had given up those dreams long ago, around the same time she gave up hope that my father could financially contribute to our upbringing?The fact that I’ll only ever know the pain of watching her let these dreams go, makes me know for sure that there’s no time to lose in pursuing my own.
I’ve always had a feeling that I need to fly, an insatiable desire to push beyond the boundaries of my mind, my body, my hometown, my place in life. I just didn’t know how to act on these impulses until my mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer and I had to watch her grieve her unlived dreams as all her boundaries started to contract.Her death was an awakening for me.It helped me see that the strong urge I had to cycle across Africa would not go away until I satisfied it or died, whichever came first. I figured I might as well satisfy it.
I also understood that though I didn’t have the courage to express my love to her while she was alive, it was not too late to shower it on others.I began to satisfy many other urges too; I’d tally the people I’d been with, the places I’d seen, the things I’d done, as if each experience would amount to one less regret at the end of my life. But from every satisfied urge, another still would emerge.
Some call this the hedonic treadmill, but I see it is an evolutionary urge that we - bees and dolphins and tulips and all other living things - have to expand.I believe a deep, evolutionary satisfaction comes from expanding—learning, experiencing, creating, sharing—until we’re forced to contract again and accept the many unsatisfied urges that will inevitably survive us and serve as an awakening to others.
In the early weeks of the pandemic, when I feared the world as I knew it was possibly gone forever, the glorious flowering trees in Fort Greene park told me that all was not lost.Since then, anytime I feel anxious, which, for obvious reasons in 2020, is often, I’m comforted knowing that trees have survived their own pandemics, that they don’t discriminate, and that an election is just a blip on their radar.The more I pay attention, the more I empathize with these trees. I admire the childlike naivete of sapling pines reaching for sunlight. I feel the insecurity of scrawny teenage maples, still oblivious to their brilliance. And I long for the wisdom of large oaks that have withstood so many storms.Their leaves guide me through seasons, giving me permission to bloom in the spring, stretch my limits in the summer, shine in the fall, and retreat within to recharge in the winter.Their roots teach me that it’s not about publishing a book or winning an oscar. It’s about feeling a deep sense of connection. One that is already there if you can Just. Stand. Still. And really feel the earth beneath your feet.I imagine the sadness that old trees must feel looking down upon us lost humans. Wishing they could tell us, as we cut down their friends and offspring, how simple life really is.The rings in their trunks remind me that no matter what, I Must. Keep. Growing.
growing up poor
It’s not easy to shake poverty off of you.I remember knowing that my dad was doing his best when we would spend whole days walking around a city made for cars, stopping first at a Money Mart, then at one grocery store after another to stretch his cash and coupons across as many food purchases as humanly possible. I remember being hungry anyway.I also remember the anxiety that ensued when a coupon was void and my dad had to bitterly hand over the last of his change. It wasn’t unusual to go to my mom’s for a week and return to find things missing—my rabbit, my toys and books, furniture—pawned symbols of my dad’s desperation. I remember all the stories that didn’t add up.I remember how often we moved, my dad always blaming it on “jerk” landlords who I now suspect may have actually been quite generous. I remember sneaking in and out of the apartment directly across the street from my school only when I was sure no one would see that I lived in the building with boarded-up windows.
I remember learning how the cycle of poverty is actually a spiral that trends downwards, until you have no choice but to live with bedbugs and alcoholic roommates. The fear that the spiral was bottomless.Most of all though, I remember shame. A constant, spiraling feeling that leaves me ashamed of being ashamed of someone who was just trying not to sink.
An eye for an eye leaving the whole world blind. - GandhiAs if it were a life jacket, I used to rest my eyes on this quote, tacked above the list of local welfare offices and next to Know Your Rights pamphlets, among other resources cluttering my dad’s office, for what felt like hours.There were no windows in the room that he, founder of the Low Income Intermediary Project, shared with the local postal union, yet he was convinced no one would notice the cigarettes he smoked when he was alone.I found his office suffocating. Between the stale smell of smoke, the tv that he never turned off, the tattered furniture, the stash of soda crackers he kept at his desk, and the suspicion that he lived there on and off over the years, the place reeked of poverty.I wanted my visits to be as short as possible, putting us in direct opposition the two or three times a year that we’d see each other. He would share prolonged stories about his clients, how difficult their lives had been, how the system held them down, how some people just couldn’t catch a break. He was proud of how he’d helped them stay afloat, even though It was clear to me he didn’t have his own life jacket.He wanted me to stare directly in the eyes of what it was like to live in poverty, but the only thing I could ever stand to stare at was this quote on the wall.