Goodbye April

I haven’t had the opportunity to post here, however I hadn’t realized that it was over a month since posting something substantial. I wouldn’t say that there’s anything different going on in my life, so much as that, upon reflection, perhaps I’m spending a bit more time seeking comfort where I need it.

I got back into a martial art that I started before the pandemic, called baguazhang, or simply bagua (pron. bahg-wah). It’s a little idiosyncratic compared to more mainstream forms like karate, taekwondo or BJJ. I’d say it’s somewhere between what we in the West call “kung fu” (external) and tai chi (internal). Let’s just say there’s a lot of walking in circles. That said, I needed something that allowed me to move/train my body in a way that was different than going to the gym or distance running, which can feel static. Bagua is anything but static. Also, crucially, the very place that teaches it is literally across the street from my office in Chinatown. It centres me and its choreography is demanding enough without the more wild kung fu-style kicks etc. It’s also nice to do this with other people — something I was also sorely needing (ie a form of socializing that wasn’t chatting with someone at a pub)

I also started Book Four (I know, I know), which is coming along. I can’t really say much about it because it’s very early, however I’m liking its shape. What’s funny is that my previous long-form entry here was about not wanting to be stuck with Author/Psychotherapist in publicity material…and yet the protagonist of Book Four is exactly that. It’s also nice working on a book where the protagonist is a woman. Radioland had two protagonists — male and female — and The Society of Experience had an intermittent female narrative in the form of Seneca’s diaries, however I’m looking forward to keeping things female this time around. Book Three is in revision-mode now, for the last round I think.

I’m trying to keep myself informed of what’s going on in the world, but the world is too big and there’s too much. I think the curse of social media is that there are so many perspectives on so many things that it can be paralyzing to even log-in some days, so currently I’m not. I’m very thankful that I re-subscribed to the London Review of Books this past summer because their coverage of what’s happening in Gaza is extensive and authoritative, without the self-censorship or bad faith arguments that have poisoned coverage of this conflict in much of the mainstream media. I’m not a prolific magazine subscriber, however I can’t help but think of how lucky I felt when I happened to subscribe to Harper’s just prior to the towers falling on 9/11, the drums beating towards a disastrous war. Reading informed, well-written arguments isn’t going to stop the worst of humanity from manifesting, but at least I can form my opinion from a source that isn’t compromised by a fear of spooking advertisers or an editor casting a dark shadow over someone’s shoulder.

Yes, and reading. Lots of reading. Let’s see…Labyrinths (a collection of Jorge Luis Borges stories and essays), Benjamín Labatut’s When We Cease to Understand the World (which is fabulous), The Rigor of Angels by William Egginton and Audit Culture: How Indicators and Rankings are Reshaping the World by Cris Shore and Susan Wright.

I hope this finds you well.


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.


Story: Wesley Evonshire

Today I have a new short story in the world, which I’m very happy to announce is now available in Fusion Fragment issue #7 (a seriously well-done anthology). This leans more heavily toward speculative fiction (in this case, horror and sci-fi), Wesley Evonshire was one of four stories I began working on a few years ago when I was taking a break from revisions to my upcoming novel, Radioland. They each share a link involving something that fell to earth which has a deleterious effect on those who come across its remnants.

I’m grateful to have any works published, but I’m distinctly happy with this one, not only because I’m proud of it, but that it was also used as inspiration for the cover art of the issue. It is available both as a digital download and hardcopy (my contributor’s copy is pictured below). Other contributors include Tiffany Morris, C.J. Lavigne, and Calgary’s own Heather Clitheroe.

Your patronage is much appreciated (also, the digital version is basically free, so now you have no excuse).



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.



Memories of a Virus

I can’t help but think about Toronto in 2003. I had just started working with a well-respected performing arts film company in the autumn of 2002 after having been laid off from my previous job after the bottom fell out of their financing for an ambitious Grimm Brothers-based children’s TV series. Some context is important here. 9/11 had only happened a year before my lay-off. The effect of 9/11 was huge on the film and TV industry. One large factor was advertisers: they weren’t producing new ads — I don’t exactly understand the psychology behind this though I gather many were waiting for what the Bush Jr. administration would do as a response to the attacks. But, as I did start my career working in TV commercials, I can tell you that those 30 second spots pump tonnes of money (and jobs) into many parts of the economy. So, no new ads, no ad money to broadcasters, thus no budgets from broadcasters for new productions, which meant industry jobs were scarce.

Then came SARS.

I wrote about this for the Torontoist ten years after the fact, albeit in a more generally-geared way (not focused on the film industry). It may not be the definitive SARS essay, however it’s topical both as an overview of the what and how, and also as a point of comparison to what we are facing today, nearly 20 years later, in the early days of the coronavirus COVID-19 as it spreads its way across the planet.

As I wrote then, we were caught flat-footed as a result of economic downsizing (or to use more current parlance, austerity measures). And if 9/11 took the legs out of the film and TV production in Toronto, SARS was a squarely landed sucker punch. Even though the job I’d just landed paid much less than my previous one (don’t get me started), I had to be thankful because I ended up avoiding an industry-wide cull that left all but the best (or well-connected) in the industry. For a simplistic explainer, Hollywood movies shoot here in order to take advantage of rebates on labour costs, and thus undergird the infrastructure that the native Canadian industry depends on for their productions. They didn’t want to cross the border for risk of any cast or crew getting ill. Even beyond North America we were affected: the company who hired me was about to start pre-production on a feature shooting in southeast Asia — then like now a hot zone of the virus — when the plug got pulled for insurance reasons.

Even though we pulled ourselves out of it, it got bleak. It felt like Toronto was put in a sick ward and someone wrapped it in protective plastic from the rest of the world.

A lot has changed since then. Canada learned its tragic lessons — losing 44 lives and having a hole drilled through the economy will do that. Our medical infrastructure is now among the best prepared in the world. It’s a strange and unsettling deja vu to see other First World countries who weren’t affected by SARS struggling to stave off infection. This includes, coincidentally enough, film productions (as it stands, Toronto has become and remains a boomtown, especially since Netflix has invested in studio space). I am very thankful for the lack of social media (as we know it now) back in 2003. What I witnessed then was only a precursor to the more virulent online racism, xenophobia, and paranoia that we are seeing today.

I wanted to write that Torontoist essay in 2013 because it seemed nobody wanted to acknowledge what happened in 2003 — that somehow, maybe thanks to “SARSstock“, we could wash ourselves of it. The body count. The World Health Organization’s travel advisory. The second SARS wave that hit later that year. The economic downloading that made us so vulnerable.

I’m writing this now because I work in the middle of Chinatown, which has been unfairly punished by the association with COVID-19. Restaurants and businesses are suffering for no reason other than the public’s ignorance. I realize it’s early days for COVID-19, which has the potential of wreaking great havoc. My hope is that, where applicable, medical facilities are upgraded to prevent the spread of infection, people use common sense when travelling and — of personal importance — that populist governments do not use this as an excuse for clamping down on democratic freedoms (i.e. public assembly, elections). We shall see.


Jean Vanier

Yesterday, I read the revelations concerning an internal report by L’Arche, an organization renowned for its work in changing the way society takes care of those with developmental and cognitive challenges. Its founder, Jean Vanier, has been accused by several women who worked with him of sexual assault. I was gutted to read this, as are many people around the world, I suspect. Let me be upfront, because I realize not everyone is going to follow the link I’ve posted (and sometimes I blog thinking that this will automatically be the case): these were women of faith who were working dedicatedly with his organization and/or directly with him, whom he coerced and pressured, sometimes over years, breaking so many personal and professional boundaries in the process, doing so much to hurt people while he was helping others.

Vanier, who passed away last year, was one of those people who, while I did not explicitly follow, I held in esteem. Ever since first learning about his work in my late 20s, his commitment to humanizing those who do not have a voice — which included the homeless, among other sectors of society — I’ve looked up to him as a high water mark of how to be a decent human being capable of walking the talk. And this makes the stories coming out all the more sickening, because of the extent of his abuse of power, how much harm he has done to his victims. 

So, what do we do?

I’m not on social media much but I can already imagine people dismissing everything to do with L’Arche, the organization. And while it would be healthy to see how the internal investigation evolved (in particular how quickly it responded to complaints), I am cognizant that the news is due to L’Arche’s internal investigation and not as a result (from what I can see) of an external journalistic exposé.

I want to continue to support the work of L’Arche in spirit, even if Vanier’s actions in private were so intoxicated and self-absorbed — in particular, for me, the accounts in which he justifies his actions to his victims as being in the spirit of God. While it appears that none of the people he cared for — the most vulnerable in society — were targeted, I am holding my breath on this last part. But there are already victims, women who trusted and believed in his work, in him, and who are scarred by their experience, and whose relationship with their religion I can only imagine must have exacted a great toll as well.

A question that is particularly relevant these days: is it possible to support the continuation of someone’s work despite their horrid private actions? Yes, I think it is, and I don’t think one requires a lawyer to parse out that logic, however I think in this particular instance L’Arche will need to gain the trust of the public, and to define themselves beyond (probably by expunging) Vanier’s image.

Incidentally, I’ve been reading Becoming Ethical, by Alan Jenkins, which provides ways for therapists and social workers to work with men who abuse. I appreciate Jenkins’ philosophy, part of what is called the invitational model, which is not to lock those who have abused into a permanent status of abuser, but allowing them an opportunity to represent themselves and find their own path through the pain they may have caused (as well as deep reflection on their own internal logic). I mention this because I deeply wish there had been a last act in Vanier’s career where he was able to recognize the damage he had done and at least had begun the work of transforming himself ethically.

I am so fucking angry at the man. And terribly saddened with yet another public figure – someone synonymous with raising the quality of the lives of others — has unveiled himself to be culpable of something so avoidable and destructive.

[For those who are curious, I’ve revised this piece many times. Why? The answer may be its own blog entry, but I feel I didn’t give as much space to the victims in the original post.]


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.


The Best Canadian Essays 2017

I’m proud to announce that my essay, On Madness Within Imagination (previously published in the Humber Literary Review) has been chosen for inclusion in The Best Canadian Essays 2017. It’s now available in-store and for online purchase.

Other authors included in the collection: Peter Babiak, Deni Ellis Béchard, Jane Campbell, Leonarda Carranza, Francine Cunningham, Larissa Diakiw, Alicia Elliott, Suanne Kelman, John Lorinc, Lauren McKeon, Susan Peters, Russell Smith, Joanna Streetly, Richard Teleky, and Jane Edey Wood.

If you live in Toronto, there’s a launch planned for November 16th @ Ben McNally’s on Bay Street. I will be reading along with a selection of other authors.


The Brain & Science – The Problem With Wanting It All

As a psychotherapist, I have taken an interest in the rise of neurobiological research being applied to my field. At first, particularly upon hearing about “interpersonal neurobiology” (or IPNB), I was excited — I was seeing the intrapsychic and biological converge into what appeared to be a fascinating model of understanding human behaviour. But here’s the thing: while I have a deep reverence for the subjective life of the individual, I’m also interested in looking at things empirically, where applicable. Without this latter aspect, I feel we fall prey to magical thinking.

The more I looked into some of the new ideas permeating my field, I became aware of a few things. While certain concepts, such as the idea of neuroplasticity, were taken from science, the more I looked at who was writing about this, the more I noticed that the people applying these complicated concepts to psychotherapy weren’t neurologists or geneticists. One of the oft-referenced authors in the field of IPNB is Allan N. Schore, who is a psychologist and researcher. His books are popular with those looking to harmonize neurology and psychotherapy. And while I respect his multidisciplinary work, I have difficulty with binary conceptions of how the left and right brains work (whereas, supposedly, the right brain is responsible for emotional attunement, the left brain for insight and analysis). Why do I have difficulty with this? Because many neuroscientists would contend that this is too simplistic a way to look at the brain.

This is a blog post and not a long-form essay. I could go on. I suppose what irks me is the amount of material being written about a myriad of complex neurobiological research findings that skip over the necessary cautions that are the hallmarks of science. Correlation is not causation. How big was the sample size? Continue reading “The Brain & Science – The Problem With Wanting It All”