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.


Too Much Freedom

I’ve been piecing together something recently, or rather I’ve been doing it very passively for the last few years.

There’s something I took from a controversy from years ago. It was during the conversation that was happening about the voice of Apu (first started through the documentaryThe Problem With Apu, then followed by a rather wilting Simpsons episode in response). I don’t want this particular controversy to necessarily be a centrepiece of what I’m trying to get out, and yet it might be so that’s why I don’t want to jettison it entirely.

The thing I took was from a response by Matt Groening to the suggestion that Apu’s depiction was outdated and/or even racist. “[…] I think it’s a time in our culture where people love to pretend they’re offended.” (link to larger USA Today interview).

I’m not sure what Matt Groening’s technical role description is today, but in the beginning he was counter-culture. All you need to do is look at some of his Life In Hell strips to get that picture. He knew how to tweak the nose of authority with a deeply humanistic empathy for the severe consequences that come with authoritarianism and fascism. The Simpsons gave him a larger canvas, first as an experiment/time-filler on The Tracey Ullman Show, then when it had its own TV slot, which it proceeded to…well, it’s such a ubiquitous cultural product that any summary seems trite, doesn’t it?

I was deeply disappointed by Groening’s dismissal at the time, and something about it has been eating at me. It was a mark (if not a casual philosophy) of a type of individual who was speaking from a place of disproportionate comfort: money, power, influence, achievement, cultural impact. And what he was suggesting was that we were the ones with too much: accommodation, choices, ideas. And that by virtue of this we were the thin-skinned ones. He might as well have said — and I swear that Groening did say this, but I must’ve inserted it into my memory because it’s not part of any response of his at the time — that this was a case of “too much freedom”.

There’s a great irony to this dismissive sentiment, and it’s something I largely see perniciously emulated in right-of-centre cultural criticism: these people [children, racialized individuals, the systemically disadvantaged, etc] have it easy, and maybe if they worked harder they would shut up and enjoy their life. And I guess this is where I’m doing some mental wrestling because I actually feel there is too much freedom, but, rather instead of it manifesting in some nightmare of political correctness (waiting for that any day now btw), I’m seeing it in the form of the anti-vax movement, the so-called “freedom convoy” movement, the indisputable rise of far-right militarism under our noses, denial of climate catastrophe and people who demonstratively don’t understand what 5G is.

I’m tempted to ask: are these just two sides of the same “too much freedom” coin? If so, what’s on the other side, because it feels like a bullshit piece of bothside-ism to frame it as such. Is the answer truly you can’t have any progress towards a more just society without a carte blanche allowance for the worst of humanity also?

Separately — just sayin’ — supposing we could, how would we go about lessening “freedom”…without that being a flaming giant untenable nightmare-in-the-making [insert ghost of Stalin]?

I’m tempted to ask: are these just two sides of the same “too much freedom” coin? If so, what’s on the other side, because it feels like a bullshit piece of bothside-ism to frame it as such. Is the answer truly you can’t have any progress towards a more just society without a carte blanche allowance for the worst of humanity also?

I’d be happy to live in a society where my neighbour is a conspiracy freak. To each their own. But when the conspiracy freak starts vandalizing public infrastructure and sowing wider social chaos for beliefs that — political ideology aside — are unfounded or delusional, then part of me sometimes wonders whether there is too much freedom. I’m not talking about being inconvenienced by traffic due to a protest. I’m talking about something like Jan 6th. I’m talking about not just freedom to be stupid, but an enabling of stupid, a metastasizing of stupid as freedom gives it more license. I can’t help but want to tie this into what I think a big part of the problem is: where we get our information, and who/where we get it from. The thought being not that there’s a central source of misinformation/distortion that needs to be regulated (or vanquished), but rather — yes, you saw this coming — social media.

Anyways, I need to leave and come back to this … I’ll either tack onto the end or start something later…

[quick insert] But here’s the thing: social media is just a messaging service; McLuhanism aside, within the context of what I’m talking about, the social medium isn’t the message(s). I also want to avoid a reductionist approach that is hyper-focused on seeking a singular villain, and leave room for complexity and randomness, the stuff that keeps us from convincing ourselves that patterns, just because we notice them, have to be something (causal, intentional) outside of themselves.

(to be continued)



September is a strange month. As a therapist, I associate it with a predictable increase in new and former clients reaching out for support. Why is that? A bunch of things, depending upon the situation of the individual, but to name just a few reasons: end of summer, beginning of school, vacation(s) in the rearview mirror, THE END OF THE YEAR IS COMING (if I were the months of October and November I would file a complaint), shorter days (and, subsequently, daylight). What’s that, your pulse is racing just reading this? I’m not surprised.

I find September to be a significant time for reflection, whether or not I’m looking for it, and this year is no different for yours truly.

As an author, it’s hard not to think about the progress on Book Three. I’ve just received some substantial feedback and I find myself wanting to balance between (putting on overalls) OKAY LET’S GET TO WORK!… and taking a little bit of time to stand further back from the book (if possible), so that I’m not simply following through on what I’ve already created, but asking myself essential questions about structure, story, themes.

Writing a book (or short story), one can sometimes fixate a little too much on what the original idea was — that thing which struck your passion and allowed you to sit your ass down and start the project in the first place — and in doing so run the risk of missing how the larger form might change to convenience the parts which require changing within it. It’s like getting the inspiration for a mansion on a hill only to discover, the more you think about what it is you’re aiming for that, actually, a bungalow near a pond is actually a closer realization of your original idea. This can especially happen if you’ve put in a shitload of work already. Your insecurities begin to howl, and suddenly the idea of changing direction is giving you heart palpitations. No! No! I have to finish it soon, I want to move on to the next project! I don’t want to work on this forever! As with psychotherapy, there are no easy answers in this profession, and much of the time it boils down to “it depends.”

Welcome to September.


Finding A Horizon

As a therapist I’ve had the honour of sharing many a client’s experience during the COVID-19 pandemic gripping the world since early this year. It is one of those rare experiences in my profession where everyone — client, client’s friends/family, and therapist — are all in the same situation, facing the same invisible antagonist.

One thing which began to sink in for me, probably around August where most people, including myself, despite being able to enjoy the peak of summer and the freedom to leave our homes and workplaces, each day and each week seemed to be a repeat of the last one. At the worst of times it certainly felt this way to me: Groundhog Day without the humour or inevitable expectation that, whether we like it or not, credits will eventually roll. Even with the chaos of the American election and the clown shows of our respective provincial governments’ COVID preparations as distractions, it became clear to me that part of our misery was in the sense that time itself wasn’t moving despite us objectively knowing that it was. And while it might have seemed an interesting question to ponder theoretically back in August, now, in mid-November with the cold weather setting in and winter’s icy grasp not far from us, I think it’s important to share something: we have to make plans.

One thing I have both heard and repeatedly felt is that there is nothing to look forward to. Yes, there are a few vaccine candidates coming down the pipe, but I think it would be unwise for us to lull ourselves into believing that anyone who isn’t a frontline medical worker or resident of a long term care home is going to see a needle until at least next summer (please prove me wrong). Until then there is, in other words, no horizon line for us to align our sense of perspective, our direction. And so, to combat this sense that we are all floating in a timeless vacuum — and, most importantly, its ensuing depression and existential anxiety — I strongly recommend that we find ways to look forward to things, even if we have to search them out. This occurred to me when I’ve spoken with people who were moving, either because they were taking advantage of lower rent at another location, or just getting out of the city for better real estate options elsewhere. I found myself feeling jealous. I was jealous because I could see that for the next few weeks or months they could set their minds to the myriad of things-to-do and anticipate when you’re changing your place of primary residence: insurance, mail forwarding, organizing with a moving company, painting the kitchen, new mattress, reimagining the work/home space. They had, in other words, things both mentally substantial and hands-on practical to look forward to, which also happened to be novel and even open-ended (all the things you want to do before you move to a new location vs. all the things you actually have time to do). It didn’t need to be sexy, or even expensive. And I could see the relief that this presented for them.

So how can we transpose this upon our present moment, say, for the rest of us who don’t have the ability to make such a broad change in our lives? Here’s what I might suggest: look at your calendar and start to think of some thing or activity that will allow you to look forward, that you might feel engaged with, so that you can feel involved. I just received a Toronto District School Board guide in the mail, filled with online continuing education courses ranging from learning public speaking to cooking Afro-Cuban cuisine. Now, imagine enrolling in one of these courses and marking down six subsequent weeks’ worth of regularly-scheduled events where you get to look forward to learning something new — wouldn’t that add some structure to your seemingly structureless life? Books are flying off the shelves of many a book retailer — would a monthly online book club organized between you and some (carefully chosen) friends be a good idea? Maybe instead of shaking your fist at our hapless politicians on Twitter you could get involved in the organization and publicity of local community events, political or otherwise. Perhaps things like these would help us feel involved in a world where it’s hard to feel seen and heard because of all the sturm und drang around us.

I suppose what I’m suggesting is finding ways, big and small, to create a series of horizon lines for ourselves — individually and as a community — until the day comes when we will be able to safely walk out of our homes and see each other, and hold each other closely. I would like that as much as the next person, but until then I feel it’s important, from a mental health perspective, that we find ways to keep ourselves focused by finding (or creating) structure for ourselves.


An Impossible Essay: “The Movement Against Psychiatry”

I’ve been wondering whether to respond to an essay that was posted on VICE Magazine a couple of weeks ago, and so this is my meagre attempt. The hesitation you are picking up is based upon the fact that it’s an almost impossible essay for anyone to attempt to write; impossible because its subject matter contains so many perspectives — ground level, professional, clinical; historical, academic, unacknowledged — that one would need to write a thick book in order to begin to encompass just a notion of the territory that is being covered. The fact that I’m blogging about it means it’s stirred up some feelings (some conflicted) that need to be put on paper. Mostly this reflects well on the piece, despite the fact I’m not exactly a fan of VICE in general.

The essay, The Movement Against Psychiatry, by Shayla Love, lays itself out from the beginning with a profile of two people with two very different mental health challenges: one of whom, it’s argued, might have been helped by being institutionalized (even if against her will) in order to prevent her downward spiral; the other sought psychiatric assistance but found herself over-prescribed with various medications, without a sense of there being an overarching logic or consideration for the underlying causes of her situation, or the side effects of what she was prescribed. In this comparison we are presented with an outline of the challenges facing mental health in general and modern psychiatry specifically.

We are then presented with three groups: the psychiatric orthodoxy, those who belong to what is known as the anti-psychiatry movement, and those who belong (or fall into) what is referred as “critical psychiatry.” The first glimpse of the impossibility the author faces — if using those two persons’ examples off the top didn’t do it — is that, if you stop and consider it, there are inevitably going to be many voices within each of these three groups, ranging from the open-minded to the downright neglectful. For my purposes, it is specifically with how those who belong to the last two groups are separated from each other that I think the piece finds its greatest challenge. A key problem is that there are those who are self-declaratively anti-psychiatric — ranging from wanting to abolish psychiatry altogether to those wanting to revolutionize the foundations upon which patients’ conditions are considered — and those whose philosophy might be considered by the establishment as anti-psychiatric, in a pejorative sense, but who for all intents fall into the “critical psychiatry” group.

To her credit, the author touches early upon the detractive nature of the term anti-psychiatric, however my criticism is that the essay misses an opportunity to convey the power those in the psychiatric establishment have who wield this term, compared to those who are not medical doctors (perhaps researchers, perhaps academics, or clinicians) but who nonetheless have pointed questions about the prevailing logic of certain psychiatric interventions (whether it be about overprescription of drugs, or the use of ECT). That term and its connotations, in other words, can be weaponized, whether or not it is used accurately or as an attempt to discredit or dismiss the person in question entirely.

But I want to be fair where fair is relevant: the author also correctly exposes the fact that the waters of the anti-psychiatry movement are muddied by the more than passive involvement of the Church of Scientology. They have a stake, albeit a selfish one, which is fitting for a cult. This does no one any favours in this debate, and only makes it easier (see last paragraph) to punch down from the psychiatric establishment with only the briefest mention that a critic may have ties to Scientology.

And I will admit that there are a host of well-respected voices who, if pressed, I might put in the “critical psychiatry” camp, who do themselves no favours by using only the most self-serving, one-sided Mad in America articles to labour their (otherwise respectable) arguments. I find by contrast that my professional perspective ends up being more nuanced (which gives me pause given my comparative lack of academic credentials). I believe in a biopsychosocial approach to mental health (whereby causation might be one, or a mix of all). I can tell you anecdotally that, yes, there are people who are temporarily helped by medication, who are able to use that stabilization to pursue non-biomedical interventions like talk therapy. It’s good to question the underlying chemical imbalance hypothesis of depression, but if someone achieves stability enough to be able to advocate for themselves (and to make choices such as tapering off said medication) then so be it.

I think what gets lost in the debate, which can often pit two highly qualified individuals speaking in terms that are highly specialized and often theoretical — and again, I think the author does their best to come back to this point — is that, at ground level, regular people who need help are harmed. Harmed, because their GP likens depression to something like diabetes, insisting that their patient will need to be on drugs for the remainder of their life, or puts their patient on a high dosage of a toxic anti-anxiety med like clonazepam without mandating regular check-ups in order to potentially lessen the dosage. Or they are harmed because community organizations are often ill-equipped to provide consistent space for people who suffer from psychotic episodes. Or they are harmed by an untrained psychotherapist who operates in a province or state where the profession is unregulated, thus allowing practically anyone, regardless of credentials, to see clients.

I keep hearing the word “patchwork” when the mental health support system is mentioned. That is what the average person faces: a patchwork of often disconnected resources with no sense of guidance about what is best for them and their situation. Moving closer to a system that has the capability to provide continuity for each individual within a public health system should be the priority. While there is a need for debate, the largely sectarian nature of it only seems to put that possibility further away.



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



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.



Social Media

In November of last year I decided to walk away from Twitter. There were a lot of things about it that were bugging me and, without making a big to-do, I logged off and deleted my browser and app shortcuts. I have not been back. Perhaps I will at some point.

Why did I leave? For a number of reasons that accumulated over time. Here’s an incomplete list, in no particular order:

  • people complaining about things outside of their control
  • writers sniping other writers
  • those wonderful people who speak as if they are in fact camp counsellors, on a pulpit, which is to say with the sort of blinkered condescension that makes my eyes water

Okay, so it’s a little more complicated.

A major attraction of social media is the lure of transparency. And there is a ridiculous amount of transparency. You have access to both the minuscule, quotidian drip-drops of individual human life but also world events happening in real time (KOBE BRYANT DEAD alongside 20% OFF SPORT JACKETS). Society has never before had this combination of immediacy and wide signal breadth. The volume of information is incredible, which also makes the proffering of forfeited information or divisive info-blasting all the more possible (and damaging).

In Yevgney Zamyatin’s novel We (which predated Orwell’s 1984), people under a totalitarian regime live in glass-walled apartment buildings, and thus, with their every action on display they (we) monitor and police themselves. The same can be made of Twitter and Instagram, where our thoughts, diatribes, party pics, and ever-present selfies are sent instantly to a potential audience of thousands.

I cannot imagine my 70s childhood under this sort of extreme transparency. What would the assassination of Anwar Sadat, or the Chilean coup d’ètat be like through the intense and unblinking lens of our current media landscape? Sure, we can look back and talk about things like cultural imperialism but how would those events have been exploited and plundered by the scandalously invested corporate media interests we have today? I cannot imagine what the early 80s, when I was entering puberty, would’ve been like, seeing the depressingly real possibility of thermonuclear war overshadowing our lives. I can imagine anxiety and depression on a level beyond what I already experienced. I can imagine suicide.

And then there is the interpersonal angle. As a therapist I often hear clients frustrated by the sight of friends, enemies, siblings, and exes seemingly having the time. of. their. goddamn. lives. Why? Because social media also acts as a combination hall of mirrors / highlight reel for people who may or may not be who they seem, or events that may or may never have happened in the way we see them. We, the viewer, permanently on the outside, can only guess. And if we are feeling less than confident (or worse, if our self-worth is particularly low) then our imaginations might construe in those fleeting, polished glimpses a dreamworld we aren’t invited into. We feel less, as a result. Our ultimate worth as people feels less because when we see ourselves in the real world, unfiltered, unpolished, not surrounded by laughing BFFs, it can feel as if we missed the boat. A lifeboat. A showboat. We end up feeling intrinsically less in every way. Don’t get me wrong, in client work I can invoke whatever expertise I have and tell someone it’s all a highlight reel, that no one is proudly posting selfies of themselves, alone, watching Dharma and Greg reruns with popcorn dust on their face. But when that person is feeling particularly vulnerable there’s no guarantee how they’ll feel when an acquaintance asks Did you see that video of ______ on Instagram?? and once more they are drawn into that alluring bauble-rich world.

Let’s not even get into how much time in our days are wasted scrolling to check user comments or mainlining “breaking” news updates. Let’s not even get into how populist politicians are exploiting the reactive nature of social media networks in order to sow chaos and divisiveness.

There are legitimate reasons we stick with social media platforms. Despite being seemingly abandoned to Moms and Dads, Facebook manages nonetheless to be an efficient way to organize social events with friends through its messaging app, or to share interesting articles. I’ve personally appreciated being able to follow numerous psychology researchers on Twitter, as well as musicians I admire. The problem is that each platform’s defects — the targeted bullying, the bots, the account hackers, the sanctimonious calling-out, as examples — are left for us, the users, to deal with and find solutions for.

I would love nothing more than to share news about my next book or short story being published, and to readily engage with readers (and other writers). I would also like to not see people I may know post things that are racist, or, more mundanely, inappropriate for a shared space. And here we come to another problem with social media: it can just as easily reflect and magnify our darkness, our ignorance, as much as it can broadcast our brilliant ideas about the world. I can’t fault the platform architects for that, though it would be disingenuous to suppose they hadn’t factored that bit of behavioural chaos into the algorithm.

I don’t know what to do with this because I don’t have an answer. For the time being I’ve decided to rotate my attention to whatever is least bothersome which also provides the value of communicating with people I know.