Pandemic Sugar

I’m talking about sugar. Sugar dispensing to be more exact.

Note: if this sounds like the least of society’s problems, I’m going to tell you…yyyyes? aaaaand that there’s an argument to be made in how the quotidian aspects of life matter (accumulatively).

Background: since the start of the pandemic, coffee shops and cafés — I’m not talking Coffee Time or Tim Hortons, but indie espresso places — heeding the assertion at the time that COVID-19 was spreading by coming into contact with physical surfaces (since then dismissed), were forced to remove mixing stations where customers could add their own sugar and milk/cream, for fear of infection. I’m tempted here to paint a nostalgic pre-pandemic picture for those whose memories include this, because it seems that many shop owners have since adjusted and made the removal of mixing stations permanent.

This makes sense economically: there’s less real estate taken up with the mixing station, you can replace the sugar and cream with merchandise (coffee beans, etc), less condiment wastage if the staff is in charge. And this brings us to my problem.

I take sugar in my coffee. One sugar.

The problem is, since the pandemic, when I’m grabbing a coffee to go, and I tell the barista that I take sugar, the results come in two forms. The first is merely irritating: I get too much sugar. Fine, I guess. But the worst is when they put the sugar in the cup first and then add the coffee…without stirring.


No, sir. No, miss. No. Sugar is not a fluid. If you add hot liquid to sugar the sugar does not automagically combine as you clearly have it CONFLATED with milk or cream. What I end up with is effectively a cup of coffee that tastes like they haven’t added sugar to it…only to discover at the end that ALL THE SUGAR IS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE CUP, and NOW I’M DRINKING COFFEE-FLAVOURED SUCROSE.

Do you know how many times in the last four years I’ve had to clumsily use a pen to stir the contents of a coffee in order to avoid this? Do you know what it’s like [Oscar speech] to go through life asking yourself hey, did they forget to put sugar in my coffee or did they simply not understand physics?

(anyways this happened today, btw)

UPDATE: This literally happened again, a week after posting this!


Toronto Public Library

I love Toronto Public Library. I’ve used libraries all my life and especially TPL’s services since I moved here in the mid 90s. I especially support and encourage people to consider borrowing books versus purchasing, particularly when one’s income doesn’t exactly allow a book budget (as nice as that sounds).

I do have a small issue: despite receiving unparalleled publicity, reviews, etc TPL still does not carry my new novel, Radioland. You’d think: hey, this hot new book based in Toronto should just automatically be stocked at Toronto Public Library. Right? You would think so, but here’s the problem: independent publishers have a much harder time having their books stocked than majors like Penguin Random House etc.

In short, it sucks. It’s not the fault of TPL staff, but the bureaucracy of their stocking system.

This why I’m asking people who have an active Toronto Public Library membership to please take 30 seconds to fill out this request form.

I would be most grateful! Thanks.



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).



I am trying (desperately) to avoid a “boy, it’s been a wacky ride these last few months!” post. It certainly isn’t for lack of things to talk about, news to update you with, opinions to confess/shout.

Thing is, I don’t know who you are. Sure, I know there are some of you who are semi-regular visitors. There are others who happen upon this place by accident (via Blogger or StumbleUpon). There are also those who come here via Google searches, either via my name or – most likely – a book review (which admittedly I haven’t done in, oh, a year or so *). And no, this isn’t going to be a “Matt wittily evading accusations of being a lazy bastard by turning the camera on the reader” post.

I’ve been posting artsy stuff, writerly stuff, industry opinion stuff. I don’t mind the randomness, so long as there’s no fluff. I do mind the lack of output. I wish, for one, that I could post more photographs (which is to say, I wish I had a better selection of photos to post **).

It comes down to the fact that I’ve been working like a dog since May (note: this happens every year that I’m working on a SAW film). When I come out of these periods, I feel like Rip van Winkle: a little dazed, slow on the up-take. Whereas last year this time I started teaching, this time this year I am a student (part-time) †. I have a small (but good) feature and a small (but good and potentially controversial) TV show on my plate from now till February. If funds allow, I also hope to have an editor working with me on my novel, with an eye to approaching a publisher or self-publishing if that doesn’t seem feasible ††. I’m collaborating on a musical.

My plate is full.

– – – 

* which isn’t to say that I’m not reading or that I don’t want to do any more book reviews. I’m reading a lot of non-fiction, thank you. Much of it either out of professional or academic interest. However, if only to improve my Google ranking, here’s a quick book review of Antwerp by Roberto Bolaño: What the fuck was that? (ISBN-13: 978-0811217170)

** another casualty of working so much is my photography. I still have the same roll of film in my camera that I’d loaded in June. I think I’ve only taken 4 exposures since then. Of course, my cellphone camera gets all the fun these days, unfortunately.

† I will be continuing teaching, but for only two terms this year as opposed to three (which was exhausting and… exhausting)

†† It needs a new name, for one thing. And I know this is going to drive me up the wall more than any changes to the actual content of the book.


The Hammer (pt. 1)

When I rented a car and went to Brantford/Onondaga to do some reminiscing and photo-taking, I knew that Hamilton was also, ultimately, on my to-do list.

The aim of these trips is not preconceived. This makes it doubly hard to explain to others (friends, strangers, and loved ones) what exactly the hell I’m planning to do. “Taking pictures and stuff.” I’ll say – that’s certainly no lie, but of course there’s more to it. The thing about Zen is this: the second you begin to describe it, it disappears. And so – Art & Zen being the same – there’s always a scaffolding I build around my explanation for these trips. It’s the same scaffolding I use when I go out writing, or to take photos locally: a vague (yet not untrue) reason which allows me to unspoil the inspiration (which itself needs to be vague) while preventing others from thinking I’ve lost my mind. I’m not uncomplicated.

Hamilton, being a place of the past for me, exists in patches of haze – this isn’t to say I did a lot of drinking or drugs when it was a destination, and yet it seems that way: murky. Of course, a good chunk of that time is best forgotten now. The downtown seems more hollowed-out than it did before, with the exception of Gore Park which to this day reminds me what a good idea it is to have spacious downtown promenades.

It was a precursory destination. First, with an ill-fated relationship which spawned a series of bad decisions which I owe to naivety. I am not alone in stating that I owe many mistakes in my 20s to naivety. It all culminated in a brief tenancy at an old apartment building north of St. Joseph’s hospital. In so many ways, it was one of the more excruciating periods in my life – I think the haze I mentioned previously is partially there to protect me from looking too closely at things like this.

The second identity Hamilton had for me happened a few years later when, staying with relatives in Burlington while I studied at college, it became a “big city” to escape to. Toronto was bigger, of course, but it was too far to drive to just to have kicks. Hamilton was perfect and in the early 90s had a great nighttime scene in and around Hess Village. My hang-out was the Bauhaus Café, which sadly (though not surprisingly) no longer exists.

Walking around there now, it seems as if parts of it just gave up. People don’t even want to advertise on billboards. To be fair, I shouldn’t make any judgments without going there again, but on a Friday night – I’m afraid however that these judgments will only skew worse if I do.

Perhaps I have a better understanding of the haze now: it’s there to protect my feelings, it’s there to protect the city from the cold light of an unsympathetic audience.


A late Friday’s amusement…

I don’t normally post cute/funny pictures. But it’s 22:20 on a Friday night and I’m still sitting in the same f*cking mixing studio that I’ve been sitting in since Thursday morning, so humour me. In any case, I like the subtle brilliance of this.