December Update

It’s been a year, and I feel that the air is clearing. If that sounds vague, let’s just say that 2023 has been a challenge. Not like 2022, which was quite calamitous by comparison, but certainly from the perspective of world politics and (closer to home) the health of my business, it’s been a tough one. The economy is hard and a lot of people (myself included) are being a lot more financially conscious than ever.

After some super-constructive feedback I’ve been intently focused on revising Book Three, which has been tough. You’ve probably heard the term “kill your darlings” before, in regards to the sorts of sacrifices an author inevitably has to make during revisions; well, this last revision has led to a small cemetery of darlings. And necessarily so, since I attempted to cram a lot into the second half of this novel, and the result was the lack of a sense of a singular theme/conflict as opposed to a barrage of them. That said, I think it’s in a good place now, and I’ve put the manuscript in a proverbial drawer in order for it to sit for a while, so that I can come back to it with a fresh pair of eyes. It’s still a solid story, and I’m very happy with the process of deciding what it was I wanted to, well, say — sounds straight forward, but it’s harder than it seems, especially when you have a lot of things you want to reflect on. Hoping to turn this over to my agent in the spring of 2024. It’s also nice to not be staring at the same project, so that I can (god forbid) consider other writing projects (short stories, essays) I’ve either neglected or temporarily abandoned.

Musically, I’ve been blessed to have come upon a wide array of artists who are new to me: Sweeping Promises, Water From Your Eyes and Froth most recently stand out.

Tomorrow, for the first time in two years, I’m taking part in the Holiday 10k (formerly the Tannenbaum 10k), and the weather is going to be perfect (a little wet, but above zero), so I’m going to quietly focus on a personal best time. Don’t tell anyone.

photo of my racing bib, showing my name and racer number

Too Much Freedom, pt II

So, let me try to summarize the previous entry (this a just a running thought, folks, and if it seems to be directionless I’ll pull the plug): I’m attempting to invert the notion of “too much freedom,” which is typically aimed towards people seeking acknowledgement of social justice issues, seeing as in reality if there’s going to be an argument for “too much freedom” it’s in the much more serious and widely documented actions by right-wing extremism.

Part of what I’m musing on are questions of how we got here. How, for example, we have so many people who are poorly informed.

There’s an interesting piece in the Globe & Mail, by columnist David Parkinson, pointing out the chasm that can exist between what a populace thinks they know, and what the more complicated truth may be. In this case, some myths that Canadians seem to have come to believe about our economy. We think our interest rates are the highest compared to other countries, but the opposite is true; we think the carbon tax is hurting our wallets but its overall effect is practically negligible on the average person. An easy takeaway from this is the need for better public education about how the parts of the economy work. But even the best education can’t save us from our own psychology.

We’re easily influenced by phenomena which can seem to draw its own conclusions. The sight of a street person sitting on the sidewalk, drinking from a bottle a sherry distracts from the many possible reasons, likely spanning many years, how that sight came to be. If we were able in that moment to step back, we’d begin to see how factors such as socio-economic status, childhood instability, and mental health issues probably contributed to this outcome. Were we magically to have access to this information, it’s likely we would conclude the street person we see on the sidewalk probably didn’t choose to be where they are, which is where our minds might go if we don’t know any better, or don’t wish to know any better.

A very interesting piece of data is the prevalence of brain injury in homeless populations. We know through research data that street people suffer from a host of unfortunate situations. While data may not tell the full (read: nuanced) story, more and more it provides a scaffolding to better understanding, potentially leading to better social outcomes. The problem is that, to the average person a) data is invisible, and b) because most of us just want our individual lives to go well, and don’t have the time or capacity to understand everything else, we rely on a combination of news, friends, social media, suspicion, projection, transference, you name it. So, even before treading into the topic of intentional disinformation, there are many ways in which we can unintentionally lull our way into thinking we know more about things than we do.

All of this said, a defining issue, which I touched on previously is one of severity. There’s a significant degree of difference between someone who mistakenly believes the federal government is responsible for the Bank of Canada’s decisions to hike interest rates, and someone who is spreading hatred against LGBTQ+ individuals on public channels. The consequences to the former are few and isolated. To the latter other people’s lives may be at stake.

And this is where disinformation makes everything worse. It’s the difference between someone having strong feelings against a politician or member of society, and that same someone wanting to storm the Capital building or intimidate drag storytime at the local library.

And I should take a break and come back to this…to be continued.


A Hard Week

Last week was hard. Overwhelmed by the end of it. Head full. No room to deal with the quotidian what do you thinks and what would you like to dos that approach us from friends and loved ones. These sorts of periods are not necessarily rare in my profession, as a psychotherapist. A common underlying cause, what makes it so overwhelming, is, naturally, holding the weight of my clients’ concerns, their varied life events, the precipices, and shadows.

But this past week especially, it felt like I was talking to myself in parallel to my clients. We were touching on things, incidentally, that seemed to resonate with me, my own past and present*. We talked about broken romantic relationships, we talked about unresolved dynamics with parents that likely may never be resolved, we talked about feelings of professionally lacking when up against our peers. We talked about death. We talked about heartache, complicity, and that fucking word “selfishness.”

So there was this sort-of doubling effect, like when you’re on a smartphone call and suddenly you can hear your own voice echoing because there’s a bad connection, and no matter how much you try to tune it out you can still hear every UM and YES echoing a second after you say it, in the shitty way your voice sounds like when you hear it played back to you.

One of those weeks. Material that, using its own logic, veers a little too close to mine. Most of the time this wouldn’t cause much in the way of distortion — that echoing voice. However, given the state of the world (remember when people used this as a figure of speech?) and where my mind happened to be, it was harder than it needed to be.

This week will be better.


* these are anonymized/defocused to protect both my clients’ and my own material


Reading Fiction

One casualty of the COVID-19 lockdown has been the fact that I can’t read fiction. The good news is that this doesn’t affect my ability to read/revise my own writing, however any plans I’d had to finish or start something transportive I’ve had to set aside.

My assumption is that this is a product of low-level fight/flight/freeze instinct at play. Once again, there’s a very real danger out there, after all. A lot of very real deaths out there, too, which has in turn halted the world’s economies. Mass layoffs, and entire industries staring into the mirror, wondering what awaits them around the corner. Fast-forward two endless months, and each province, state, and country is playing a game of How Much Do We Open, some more cagily than others. And still the thrills and chills — commercial real estate as we know it may be undergoing a paradigm change — continue.

Whatever the reason, I just don’t have the space for fiction at the moment. I have enough room in my head to be able to navigate the world (as well as the fictional ones I’ve created) and that’s about it. And, believe me reader, I would love nothing more than to finish Ludmila Ulitskaya’s The Big Green Tent, which is a lovingly told novel about the lives of a trio of young men (and by extension their loved ones and colleagues) in post-Stalinist USSR. I suppose the good news is that I get to savour it?

As for non-fiction? I’m mainlining that shit. And I’m so thankful for my subscriptions to the Literary Review of Canada, and (a Christmas 2019 gift) the London Review of Books. Yes, make of this what you will, but though I don’t have room in my head for fiction, I have more than enough for reading essays about books (some of which are fiction).

I’m also thankful that I’d started learning a musical instrument last year — being able to practice guitar (and, more importantly, relearn a lot of music theory I’d abandoned decades ago) allows me to appreciate music in a fuller way than I have previously as just a listener/devotee.

So, perhaps it bears repeating: there are no awards being handed out when this is all over, because the “all over” will neither be soon, nor easily measurable because it stands to happen very gradually (and I’m not placing any bets on the “all” part). A lot of us who have had our self-development routines halted — going to the gym, dance class, recreational team sports, for instance — are looking for ways to perform (on a basic level at least) so that we feel some sense of personal progress. And the truth is that I think we will all be left on our own to make sense of this, in our own ways — which is perhaps the equivalent of a participation badge rather than an award.

Just make the best of it. Don’t expect a lot, because this is a crisis. Take whatever you can find in terms of growth and accept that for what it is. Routines will come, but later. Relaxation will come, but later. Reading fiction (for me, at least) will come, but later.



Like most people, I have been dealing with the lockdown in waves. Sometimes my mindset is functional — I can don my mask and walk to my office through empty streets, work with clients via videoconferencing, and come home. Repeat and rinse. Other times my mindset is quasi-functional — I find myself forgetting to follow the arrows taped to the floor of the grocery store, find myself asking myself how long I can go on with the current lockdown conditions. This isn’t helped that one of my parents had to go in for surgery to remove a tumour recently. Talk about helpless. Like anyone else, I’m not immune to situational depression and anxiety — and there are plenty of reasons for us to feel this way, given the unprecedented situation we are in.

One thing in particular I’ve noticed is how I’m getting hung up on correspondences, especially (though not exclusively) with retailers I’m purchasing items from. Over the course of the last 40+ days I’ve had to order various things by phone or email for delivery or curbside pickup: a new pair of jeans, DVD rentals, cans of cat food. And with each inquiry I find myself anticipating their response, going so far as to reserve space in my head for the response, looking forward to it when it comes. I’m not sure what this is about, however I think there’s something significant about the word anticipation in this context.

Anticipation as in looking forward to something sure, that tomorrow holds something firm for me, even if it’s a denim retailer in Vancouver confirming that, no, the jeans I ordered don’t require hemming because the inseam is an acceptable length. Quotidian things that, six thousand years ago, back in February, would’ve been quaint, if routine, correspondences.

The technicolor truth is that we are all living our lives without knowing what each subsequent week is going to look like — and I’m not even talking about geopolitical events, I’m talking about these quotidian things: when will the gardening centres be re-opened so we can pick up soil in order to plant basil seedlings, when will I be able to speak with people again without wearing a mask and standing 2m away? When will I be able to walk into a coffee shop and sit at a table, when will I be able to give a friend a hug. Receive a hug. Talking, touching, lingering. Unguarded.

So, when I get that email from the retailer in Vancouver, a little bit of normalcy has been temporarily restored, and I feel rejuvenated: we’re going to get through this shit, everyone. But then the opposite happens: a place I’ve done tonnes of business with is offering curbside pickup — just contact us on Facebook! And I do, and there is some preliminary back-and-forth…and then nothing. I nudge, reminding them that I’m waiting to hear back from them. Nothing. I nudge again. Nothing. Two weeks pass. I leave a message on their business phone…nothing. All the while, the Facebook group for the store is updated with thanks for all those people putting in orders. And I want to punch a hole in the wall, because this very simple, straight-forward thing that I was looking forward to has — for entirely unknown reasons — been thwarted. And on bad days the little paranoid voice in the back of my head is wondering whether I’m being snubbed for some reason, which — believe me — is the last thing you want to have nagging you during a global pandemic whose key feature is self-isolation, while you’re waiting to hear about your parent’s cancer surgery.

I think we all, to varying degrees, want or need to know what’s coming around the corner, and the current situation has made that opaque. Amidst the not-knowing we are party to a lot of speculation through ill-informed social media posts and the spectacular mismanagement happening across the border in the US, and to a slightly lesser degree in the UK. We look for signs of normalcy, of hope (though I am suspicious of how much weight Western society puts on hope) around us. But it’s a tremulous state of normalcy, and so no wonder part of me gets upset that the sole proprietor of a particular store, for whatever reason (mistake, coincidence, “new normal”), isn’t returning my inquiries — just as I feel rewarded from those who make their best attempts to get in touch so to does the opaqueness of silence reinforce the dark, seemingly interminable bullshit we are living through.

This isn’t normal, I remind myself. People are trying, I remind myself. Yet, still, there is this forward-looking part of me, wanting seemingly superficial reassurances which — if I’m honest — isn’t superficial, but practical (if only to help me get through to the next week).



When I’m working with clients at my day job as a therapist, a lot of questions get asked. These can as often be prompted at the client’s request than from my own professional curiosity. However, at some point in the course of our work, one question will almost always be arrived at, regardless that finding its answer in a general or objective sense would seem intimidating: what’s normal supposed to be?

This question is provoked by the arrival of two large, often incompatible and almost always incongruent masses: our-normal — the nuanced consideration of the innate (though not necessarily immutable) principles and conditionings that define who we are as individuals — and normal-normal — the broader idea of how we should be both as individuals and with others, and our expectations for how society works. In our unprecedented present situation, given widespread self-isolation, a death count that isn’t stopping soon, and worldwide unemployment, to name just a few items, normal-normal seems less normal than it did previously.

I’ll start by saying that I’m pretty sure our-normal, who we are as individuals, isn’t going to change as much as some might fear. Individual change happens slowly, even when its intentional.  That said, over the course of our current crisis we may feel different due to a host of serious inconveniences, which — depending upon socio-economic factors — might wreak havoc on our lives, even traumatize; this isn’t even to mention the ever-present tension and the fact most of us don’t know what the the future looks like beyond the next week. This is not a safe time, for anyone, and these sorts of situations don’t happen often on a worldwide scale. In light of this, if we find ourselves suffering anxiety or depression during this unsafe time, even if we haven’t experienced those things before, I don’t generally consider that to be a sign of our-normal changing; I would contend it’s a sign of our-normal reacting within an allowable range, given the present context. If anything we may end up seeing more of ourselves (the good and the meh).

For me, the prime question boils to: when this is all done, what’s normal-normal going to be? What will normal be like with respect to unemployment support and health care services? What’s normal like for travel and public gatherings? When we don’t even know the next time we’ll be allowed to sit in a pub or café — let alone our favourites because they might’ve gone out of business? When we don’t know when we’ll be seeing our next paycheque, what’s normal supposed to look like?

I’m tempted to look at normal like the passage of time from the standpoint of physics. Time doesn’t really pass, it just is. There isn’t really a 2pm — that’s just society trying to sort itself out so that we know when to sleep and when to feed the chickens. Given the unpredictable timeline ahead of us, I think we will need to look at normal-normal similarly. Most of us would readily acknowledge that words such as “normal” are open to subjective bias, even if at the same time we are using them to define objective standards because we have to, because humans. I think we may be less comfortable acknowledging that normal can be something as subject to change as it is to definition.

What’s happening, I feel, is not the suspension of normal-normal, or normal-normal being reprogrammed. Like being part of an engrossing movie only to catch a piece of fake scenery, we are jolted out of the way we have accepted our places in, and the construct of, pre-pandemic society. I see this as an opportunity to question to what degree normal-normal, beyond semantics, truly exists, and who benefits.

I feel it’s important not to get too hung up on restoring whatever our collective version of normal-normal was, like the last backup of a computer. Among other things, there’s a lot of inequality there. When our community, municipal, provincial, and federal representatives inevitably talk about moving forward I would prefer that we not reflexively reach for  previous notions without first considering what can be addressed so that there is less inequality. I want to pay attention to the laws and precedents being laid down presently — like taking over a hotel in order to house the homeless, an initiative that was ignored by city council in the past — so that we are able not only to take care of ourselves and our communities today, but to think about the evolving normal-normal we want from this point forward.

As I might venture to share with a client, in answer to that inevitable question I opened with, whatever normal can be, whatever normal can include, we get to have a say.



Abstraction: Breaking the Logjam

In our current state, with the coronavirus COVID-19 circulating around the globe, everyone is on alert. The good news is that many people, particularly on social media are providing helpful information and/or forwarding information from those who are working on the frontlines (I also appreciate the many newspapers that are sharing related resources without a paywall). Considering how some movies and books have modelled society’s chaotic behaviour during a pandemic, I’m impressed with how we’re handling it.

That said, despite the best intentions, for some it’s all too much. As in: too much information, too much input, too much emotion, too much logic. It’s the volume, both in spatial capacity and, in some cases, loudness (if figurative), that can get to us.

As someone whose day job involves the intake and intermingling of a lot of types of information, a lot of input, a lot of emotion, and a fair amount of logic, I know what it’s like to find yourself overwhelmed. Especially, and ironically, when it’s useful stuff that’s overwhelming me. The last thing you want to do is read something, or watch something, or listen to something after a day (or a week or more) of that. And yet how do we break the logjam in our head without simply inputting more information in the process?

There’s meditation, right? I value meditation, and it is a legitimate option (particularly now with apps such as Headspace), but it’s not something that you just plug in and benefit from immediately. It takes practice and not a little guidance for some. Even potentially meditative arts such yoga or martial arts require training before we feel their benefit.

I would like to recommend abstraction. Go ahead and read, but maybe try poetry — where form itself, as well as language, is at play, where you are free of the necessity of following a story and plot. Speaking of language, for those practicing a second (or third) language, try reading poetry in that language aloud to yourself. Go ahead and listen to music, but perhaps you might try ambient or experimental — where there is no overly familiar verse/chorus structure, but something enveloping and amorphous (I wrote more extensively about ambient/experimental music here). Want to watch something? Go for a walk, without headphones or devices to distract you, and instead take in what’s around you; take routes you’ve never walked before. The advantage of abstraction, especially if, like me, you are sensitive to patterns, is the lack of literalism — the sense-making is more constructivist, less top-down and objective.

I think it’s important to give ourselves something to help take our minds off the waves of information we’re intaking every day, to stimulate our ideas without overwhelming us at the same time. Getting back to meditation, one phrase which I find very helpful, taken from a professional seminar I attended, is this: acceptance is not approval. In other words, there will always be things outside of our control, some of which may frustrate us — a classic example is coming to a busy streetcar stop only to have people stream aboard before we can get off — but if we can learn to accept that we cannot realistically control these things then the darker parts of our psyche won’t be (as) activated — and, most importantly, that this is not the same as bestowing some sense of blessing on those irritants.


Pain, pt. 2

The short version: it turns out that what I have isn’t piriformis syndrome.

The long version is that if it were piriformis syndrome it would be gone by now. The pain has been alleviated greatly, but there is an odd pattern to the soreness, and overall it’s overstaying its welcome. I’m inclined to believe my TCM clinician when he suggests it’s a herniated lumbar disc. This would explain the prolonged condition, as well as how the pain is activated by any unhealthy sitting that messes with my spine’s alignment.

So, I need to be patient. This is new territory for me.

The good news is that I was able to take part in the Spring Run-Off 8K in High Park — something I’d signed up for a couple of months ago. I was prepared to sit it out (albeit miserably), however I felt good enough to take part, so long as I kept my target limited to crossing the finish line vs achieving any particular run time. In the end I crushed my expectations and pulled off a solid performance for someone who hasn’t run in weeks (and didn’t injure anything in the process).

The bad news is that, the day before the race, I was stepping off a sidewalk to cross the street at a light when I pulled/tore something in the heel of my right foot. This would be the Achilles tendon. Luckily, as running goes, I’m not a heel-striker, so it didn’t bother me on race day (now that would have been a cruel reason to cancel). That said, I have yet another part of me to rehab.



I have this weird, recurring thing. It starts with a dull soreness in my left glute, kinda like someone kicked it the day before and it feels bruised. Then, in a day or so, an odd stiffness and soreness stretching from the glute all the way down the back of my left leg, going down to my ankle. Within a day or so it reaches the zenith of its pathology: pain.

Two weeks ago yesterday I tried getting out of bed. I swung my legs over to the side of the mattress, and between that everyday action and my feet touching the floor I became a crumbled mess, bent over in agony. I was in so much pain I was crying. I was unable to stand. I was unable to sit. I was unable to do anything without experiencing the sort of intense, unrelenting pain that makes you realize in seconds why anyone would unhesitatingly reach for opiates.

What I have goes by two names: pseudo sciatica, or piriformis syndrome. The sciatic nerve travels from the spine and down the leg where it provides sensation to the skin of the foot and the lower leg. Unlike classic sciatica which involves irritation of the nerve from the spine via a disc, what I got is caused by the irritation via the piriformis muscle — something you’ve likely never hear of, but it’s a band of muscle in the core of your glutes. If the piriformis is aggravated it can bother the sciatic nerve in a similar way to classic sciatica. [Update: please see the follow-up post]

I’ve described the pain to people as like having your hamstring replaced with razor wire. It’s actually worse, because of how the pain “glows” all through the leg. At its worst, the pain cuts through your thoughts, your feelings. It takes priority over everything. It doesn’t care if you are happy or if you had plans to go somewhere that day. I’m always humbled by how quickly physical pain cuts through everything, taking priority, and how it terrorizes me with its power. I end up impatient with others, downright angry 24/7. I catastrophize: this is never going to end, I’m going to be like this forever.

I can afford physiotherapy, which makes me lucky. I don’t have health benefits because I’m self-employed, so anything not covered by provincial health care comes out of my wallet. I immediately checked myself into a physio clinic and I remember being furious: this again. This being physio. Physiotherapy (and related physical therapies) is something I have a good deal of experience with and I never hesitate to recommend it to people; the irony is that when I find myself being forced to return to physio it feels as if I’ve failed at something. Something tells me I’ve been irresponsible, which is silly.

Piriformis syndrome can happen to people who sit a lot. While I’m one of the most physically active people I know (I walk to work every day, I go to the gym, I run, I practice baguazhang) my job as a psychotherapist means I’m sitting for an hour at a time. Piriformis syndrome also prefers distance runners, which makes me a prime candidate.

For the last two weeks I’ve been doing physio exercises three times a day, combined with visits to a clinic, combined with acupuncture and Chinese medicine. Progress was very, very slow. The last time I had this it lasted all of a week or so, and I was able to work it out on my own with stretching and massage. This time it’s been remarkably more painful and long-lasting.

Yesterday, on the two week anniversary of not being able to stand out of bed, it felt like something had subtly changed. My mobility felt more easy, I didn’t have the feeling like I couldn’t extend my lower leg when I was walking on the sidewalk doing errands. I stayed outside, pushing myself a little, forcing myself to stay active. Today, for the first time in many weeks (partly because of the terrible weather we’ve had) I was able to practice ba gua outside on our terrace. I nearly cried.

My relationship with physical exercise is a personal one. It allows me to connect with my body. It is embodied movement, whether it’s running a 10K circuit or doing ape offers fruit. I’ve gone two weeks without any chance of significant exercise, and so the things that gave me internal relief — running, baguazhang, gym — were off-limits, which in turn made me miserable, feeling imprisoned.

I suppose I’m sharing this because it’s important to take a moment to reflect on the relationship between body and mental health. How it directly affects my spirit. The pain is slowly receding, I have my mobility, and I know that soon I’m going to be able to run outside and feel better. But my experience pales beside anyone with chronic pain, and I am humbled when I consider anyone who has to go through life under such conditions, be they due to injury or living conditions. Not to mention the fact that, when this has passed, I will have spent hundreds of dollars on physical therapies that many cannot access.


A new novel

So, in case you think I’m a complete sloth, one reason I haven’t been posting much is that I’ve been busy the past few years working on a new novel, called Radioland. The reason I can write about it now is that I’m convinced it doesn’t suck (or no longer sucks, depending upon the draft). Very soon I will hand it to my agent and all the publishers will be bidding on it hopefully it will find a good home.

This was a hard one. Not as story-driven as The Society of Experience, but similar in that it features two first-person perspectives. This is very much a “trauma book” and it pissed me off when I realized this was the case. Writing about trauma takes a lot of heavy lifting, and is draining as fuck.

Here’s the Official Synopsis:

Kris is an alt-rock musician who abruptly drops out of his popular band to rake over an unprocessed trauma from his childhood; Jill is an outcast who operates in the shadows of the city, cursed with a dangerous type of magic that draws mysterious strangers to her. By chance, they start a correspondence with each other and a strange relationship begins – one that coils around their lives like a macabre spell. As they share their stories with one another, they each approach the source of their misery and risk losing themselves, even their lives, in a darkness that seems destined for them.


Everything Jill senses tells an intense story, so she numbs herself with alcohol to keep her head clear, hoping she’ll meet someone who can tell her how she came to be the way she is. Kris struggles to maintain his grip on reality as he pulls apart the threads that make up his identity. Working through fallen mentors, splintered identities, and substance dependency, the two of them try to help each other make sense of their lives, though it may ultimately reveal one of them as a serial murderer.


Radioland explores the absurdity of fame, the toxicity of trauma, and the morbid dangers unearthed as we seek a greater understanding of ourselves.


Interesting, huh?

Writing this book (and applying for grants which are never granted), I feel I’m coming closer to describing my approach. I call it metaphysical social realism; that there can be fantastical things such as time travel and actual magic…but these facts don’t change the rest of the world which contains us — rent is due, relationships require maintenance, the responsibilities of adulthood call on us whether we are ready or not.

I hope to provide more updates on Radioland as they happen.