Hazlitt Magazine

'The Great Question Machine': An Interview with Max Porter

The author of Lanny on ghost stories as love stories, how countries think, and leaving doors open. 

I Know You Are You, and Real

Now, what wouldn’t I give to swim in my sister’s dirt?

The Inventor of Mother's Day

Anna Marie Jarvis spent years fighting the holiday’s commercialization. But her attempts to keep control of her creation may have hastened its descent into Hallmark territory. 


‘The Great Question Machine’: An Interview with Max Porter

The author of Lanny on ghost stories as love stories, how countries think, and leaving doors open. 

This week, Hazlitt's new publishing imprint, Strange Light, is launching its first two books. (Obviously, we have impeccable taste and these books are really good.) One of these new books is Lanny, a novel from English author Max Porter. Porter is the author of the genre-bending novel Grief Is the Thing With Feathers (winner of the International Dylan Thomas Prize and the Sunday Times/PFD Young Writer of the Year Award, and adapted into a sold-out stage production starring Cillian Murphy), and takes a similarly visceral approach to his new book. Lanny takes place in a small unnamed village outside London, and the first half splits the narration between four wildly different characters: Jolie and Robert, recent transplants from the city and parents of the precocious Lanny; Pete, a revered but reclusive artist hired to give young Lanny art lessons; and Dead Papa Toothwort, a mysterious folkloric creature who listens to the nonstop chorus of voices from the village and takes particular interest in the titular character. Then, Lanny disappears, and the residents of the village are forced to confront what they know about themselves and each other.   Porter had just started his book tour last week when I interviewed him and spoke to me from his hotel room in New York City. He is an energetic and gregarious speaker, different than the impression his prose had left me with. I had called him on his British cell phone number given to me by his publicist. Anna Fitzpatrick: I accidentally wrote down your number wrong and dialed Germany, twice.  Max Porter: Really? Were they nice Germans? It was an answering machine, and I wasn't sure if it was yours. It was me just doing my funny German answering call prank. Just in character for this book tour. But not a character that anyone is familiar with. I go off script. So, congratulations on having one of the inaugural books out with Strange Light. I didn't know what it was about when I started reading and I didn't know it was going to be really scary, so thank you for that. I was house-sitting for a taxidermist and I was alone with all these dead animals. Oh, shit. It's interesting you found it scary. What did you find scary about it? Papa Toothwort?  Yeah, the giant dead plant monster who maybe kidnapped a kid, and then [redacted for spoilers] and [redacted] and also [redacted]. Like, what part of it do you not find scary?  Okay, cool, yeah. I get that. I guess I've forgotten that because so much of the conversation I have around that book can't really include what happens at the end, and can't really include Toothwort, you know. I tend to talk about, when I'm doing events, I talk about family and myth and childhood and England and all this kind of stuff, and then I sometimes forget about part three [of the book]. Even just lying in bed because I couldn't sleep last night because I'm so jet-lagged, I was like, "Oh yeah. He does [redacted] in the [redacted]." [Laughs] Anyway, thanks for reading it. I'm going to have to figure out how to transcribe this interview without giving away the ending.  Oh yeah, it's hard. The main one, the really hard one, when I talk about the book, because I want to talk about the kind of moral framework for the book, as well as some of the formal concerns of mine, it's really hard not to mention the ending, where you find out that Toothwort himself is [redacted]. That's really hard, because I desperately want people to discover that on their own. You simply can't talk about that in advance of reading it. But that explains so much about the book, about why he behaves the way he behaves. It feels like a very subtle reveal. You have to be paying attention to get that. I hope it's less of a reveal than a kind of clicking into place. It's almost like, in musical terms, a repetition of a refrain that you had heard somewhere before but you hadn't quite realized is an important refrain. Just like a coda or something. Well, there are elements of horror and mystery to your novel, but it's not a whodunnit.   Well, we done it. We wielded it. Ah, society done it. Once again. And I hope that's sort of the point. The reveal is not a literary device or anything like that, and it doesn't really have anything to do with me as the author or any of the characters in the book. The reveal is an invitation for you to have done a certain amount of thinking throughout the book. It's to do with the relationship between book and reader, and it should kind of cast its light differently on everyone. That was my thinking about it, that your ending or understanding of him as a character, or even Lanny as a kind of an absence of a character, is very bespoke. It's yours. Hence some of the white space in the book, and some of the absence of things that you would expect to be in a novel. Even you talking about the scariness of it, or the horror, or the unease of it, that's, I hope, very unique to your encounter of it.  [[{"fid":"6705281","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"1":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false}},"attributes":{"class":"media-element file-media-original","data-delta":"1"}}]] Photo Credit: Lucy Dickens Talking about separating your art from the artist, that's kind of a theme in your book. Lanny's mother is a former actress turned crime novelist, and that kind of comes back to her when Lanny goes missing. People start dissecting the content of her book. That happens to some extent with Pete's artwork, where he's being interrogated about some of the adult subject matter of some his paintings in conjunction with the missing kid. Was that something you were trying to work with in this book?  To be honest, I didn't really think about it. I made them artistic people because I'm interested in those people and I felt that was relevant to the themes of the book. But I suppose—yeah, it's nice to have some clarity on that, from your question. I suppose one of the big issues of our time is how to separate the art from the artist and what to do about bad people who make great art. These are pressing questions. But, to me they are questions that come from the artificiality of the role of the artist. I think we put the artist on too much of a pedestal anyway, so the question of whether we should care whether they were bad is sort of like, "Didn't you know they were bad anyway? Why did you think they were special?" Why in the culture industry did we need to elevate them onto pedestals, pretending they were perfect? None of us are perfect, and artists tend to be more flawed. So, it seems laughable to me to discover that these men are all creeps, because of course they were. Didn't you read the work?   So, I'm interested in that, but one of the things I'm worried about now is that art becomes a more rarefied thing and becomes only defined by its cultural worth or its place within the cultural system, but art is deeper than that. Literature is the common language, and in the same way art has a deep and important role in our society more than just pretty things in galleries to be sold. What I wanted to do with Pete particularly was to create someone truer to that, and I wanted to show how society has been unkind to those people, has othered them. I wanted the artist as threat to be explored around Pete. I didn't need to specify too much about the kind of work he made, but it kind of made sense that the kind of work he made was accepted in an avant garde context, but then becomes utterly terrifying to people in a localized, social context, where the apparatus of understanding is less developed. The classic thing of, what sense does someone like Louise Bourgeois make in a psychoanalytic context, or a context of art theory or surrealism or the New York art scene of the 1970s, and what context would that work make in a French farmhouse when someone who isn't in that world is confronted by those themes? That's always been a fascinating theme to me. But more than thinking about if artists are just good people or not, I was thinking about the ways art is viewed as autobiographical, even when it's not. I know that's a response your own work has gotten a lot.   That's why I made Jolie a writer. I was kind of yelping against a particular current in UK literary culture, which has upset me in recent years. Anti-intellectualism and misogyny go hand in hand to block the work of fiction writers, particularly when they're women, to write about lives other than their own, or to write well about their own life in the context of fiction. You have it in your own literary culture I'm sure, but it is dismaying to watch the way we don't allow women to be novelists and clobber them around the head with the kind of biographical fallacy. It happens everywhere, but it upsets me in the UK when there have been books that I’ve greatly admired either as a publisher or a reader, and then see them reviewed as if they're autobiography. I wanted to set her up as a little case study of that, but I realized I didn't need to get bogged down in the type of work she makes, or even the type of person she is. You can do that kind of deftly with that one kind of tabloid thing where it's like, let's look at the woman who writes this work, behind the mask as it were. I see that as the manifestation of the whole critical impasse anyway, that kind of moralistic judgement.   I saw Sally Rooney interviewed at the Toronto Public Library a few weeks ago, and she was saying that she purposely tries to abstain from revealing too much about her personal life, and that she feels like she's disappointing people when she reveals that her books aren't based on true stories, and that she just makes them all up.   Even still, there will be this desperate desire for personal information, an, "Oh yes, someone found out Sally Rooney lives with her partner who is a teacher, he must be Connell." Or Sally Rooney must be writing for him or around him. The desperation to do that is an astonishing thing in 2019, X many years after postmodernism, a hundred years since Virginia Woolf. It's quite extraordinary that fixation, almost fetishization, of the biography, is still so powerful in literary culture. And how boring, of all the things you could talk about with Sally's works, that that is a thing that people want to talk about. It's sort of crushing. It's a way to kill the possibilities of the form as well. The novel should be one of our most radical forms but you'd never guess from a lot of literary engagement. So, my next question is, are you Lanny? Who stole me? [Laughs] Besides society, of course. God, I've never thought about that. I did get stolen! From who! It's not funny. I've never thought about this. These questions are really unlocking me. I got stolen at the Oxford Covered Market when I was about eight or nine years old, yeah. I was just chewing my jumper, not really paying attention, and this guy just led me away. Did you get... put back? Are you okay? I suddenly looked up and started to go, "Oh, uh, er, help..." and my mom came barrelling around the corner, swinging her handbag like an ax and knocked this guy around the head. I don't think he was actually a predator or anything like that, I think he was a kind of confused drunk or something.   Was he made of plants?  Yeah, and he was shapeshifting. Lanny is the title character, but like you said, there's this space in the book. For the first part of it, you have four narrators, including Toothwort himself, but you never hear from Lanny directly. It's one of my preoccupations—I tried it in my first book and I'm going to try it again—but I'm only interested in how accomplished readers are at building characters beyond the writer's determination of them. I remember being really sorely disappointed as a child when a character was overly illustrated, or when exposition was just heaped onto a character in a way that removed the imaginative possibilities for me. Lanny does say a few things, and there is some dialogue, but not very much. I want the book to be a series of mirrors, and Lanny exists as a reflection of other people's idea of him. To Robert he's a kind of reprimand and in some respects a threat or emblem of disapproval, and to Jolie he's a kind of muse, and there's a lot of maternal and almost erotic obsession with the surface of him, and him as a kind of projection and site of trauma for her. Same with Pete and their friendship, which becomes a kind of natural thing but becomes loaded up with societal suspicion. I didn't need to write him, I just needed to create him as accurately as I could in absentia through other people's consideration of him. There were a few times when he did appear a bit more, and I realized the damage I was doing to the book as a warp and weft of ambiguity. There's a textural thing made up of other people. I did great damage to him when I put him in any great detail. There was a bit where he had a long conversation with Pete about sexuality, and I realized I was removing all possible hint and suggestion and interest for the reader to gauge their own sense of Pete as a sexual person. More happens when I took stuff out. I find that really, really, really, really pleasing to do, realizing how much the reader can do if you just give them a bit. Same in the second part. You know you can get to a person, both a character and a role within a community, and their kind of whatever, psychosexual or socioeconomic type. You can do that in just half a line. You just set them up deftly in relation to other things. It's not what they are on their own, it's how they're responding organically to other things in their ecosystem. Same with Lanny. I limit him. I make him smaller for the reader, the more I tell you about him, where I want him big. I want him up in there floating. Also, for me as a writer, he was the one character I didn't do any work on. I didn't imagine him at all. I don't have a vision of him in my head, whereas everyone else I have a hyperrealistic sense of. I know what Robert looks like naked, I know how he eats, I know how he chews, I know how he blows his nose, I know his sexual predilections, everything about those characters. Whereas Lanny just needed to remain for me an absence as well. I don't remember reading if you even gave Lanny an age.  No, I didn't. You don't need to know. I have a sense of how old he is. He can't really be teenage, and some of the things he does and some of the intellectual currents he's surfing on with the adult world means he can't really be much younger than the certain age, but yeah, I never name it. Same as I never really need to name where the place is. There's so much I don't need to tell you, which is the point for me. It's something the characters do to each other, especially in the latter half of the book. They fill in the blanks when they have their suspicions with each other, particularly when it comes to Pete but also between Jolie and her neighbour, Peggy. The point of having the kind of floating village voice which is sound rather than literature, one of the reasons is to train the reader in a way of kind of half listening, half reading, where they're not reading it as if it's normal literature. They're kind of floating over it, picking up traces and scents of things, so later on things prickle or echo or reverberate according to that texture, and so that's what I want you to be doing. I want you suddenly like, "God, had I completely abdicated my responsibilities? Why was I as a reader not alarmed that Pete was spending time with this kid? What kind of person did I think Robert was?" A bit more like a musical experience, I want you to be like, “He taught me how to play this music in part one,” and that “my notes are sounding in some of the stuff that the village is saying.” Even if some of them are kind of unsubtle. Obviously, Mrs. Larton is unsubtle and obviously I'm talking about a particular type of person, the moral judgement of a particularly religious person or the vicious gossip of a more unpleasant person in the village, but I hope they're not caricatures. I hope they reflect realistically and truthfully the way all of our minds work, even the things we don't say that become personally taboo. As if we're all moving around in microclimates of our own taboos, our own questioning of what is an inappropriate thing to think or say. The village is not just a model of individual consciousness, but also off of how our relationships work. Things you'd say to your partner that you wouldn't say to a stranger, and things that a community says to itself that it wouldn't say to its newspaper, and vice versa. It becomes a map of an individual relationship, and so a small place, and then a big place, and then I hope also of like a nation state. This is how countries think. This is how we write history. This is how we contextualize our past and so on and so forth. For that to work as I want it to work in a reader's head, so much of it has to be white space. You compare it to music, but it's a story so suited to the form of a novel. Just from the way you literally place the words on the page, to what you choose to reveal or not. You said you had a similar approach to the last book, but you adapted that to the stage. I'm wondering how your storytelling technique changes in a visual medium like the theatre. The thing about Enda Walsh who made the play is, he's a very, very visual theatre maker, and he's very collaborative. He chose to make Grief an assault on the senses. He wanted to make the book come to life in the most vivid way possible. He realized to do that, he had to focus on the wordiness of it. It's not like that guy's obsession is, you know, Chuck Berry. That guy's obsession is poetry. His trauma manifests itself through literary jokes, literary devices. The play is really, there's words dripping off the back of the stage, there's huge words scraped in the thing, typewriters come alive, bits of paper are all over the thing, the dad is always drawing stuff and always saying, "ah, look at this drawing I've done," or, "I'm writing this note." For me, the visual I had in my head writing it became very literalized on stage as words. I guess that wouldn't happen again. That was completely unique to Grief Is the Thing with Feathers. There is always a death, because with both books I talk about the ambiguity and wanting interpretive doors left open. With Grief Is the Thing with Feathers I wanted no door to be closed. So like, the idea of the crow being a metaphor, or the crow being a manifestation of the dad's obsession with Ted Hughes, or it being a joke, or it being a real crow, or it being the children's fantasy of a crow, I want them to all be possible. I once read a review, and I mean I've gotten horrible reviews and stupid reviews and all sorts of things, but the saddest review I ever got just said, "Okay, I get it, the bird's a metaphor for death." I was like, "Oh no, please don't do that!" [laughs] "You just shut all the doors. What a shame. What a shame for you, and what a shame for the boys, and what a shame for the dad, and what a shame for the bird." Where was this review? It was a famous person I shan't name on Twitter. And, fine, to each their own. Totally fine. I just felt that will be a pity for them, because there's so much colour and noise outside of that interpretation. But anyway, the theatre obviously has to make choices, and he chose to make crow and dad the same person. It's an astonishing thing, it allows for a really truly virtuoso performance. Cillian Murphy is like, I've never seen anything like it. It's a performance I'll never forget as long as I live. But it nevertheless closes down other interpretive avenues on the stage. You have to do that. The stage has power literature can't have, and literature has power that the stage can't have, and one of those powers for me is the openness.   I want to close with a softball. What is the role literature in today's society? [laughs] What is the role of our literature in our society? Or just, art in general. What's the point of art. I was just in Sydney with lots of amazing writers, but one of them was George Saunders, who was reading my books. It's amazing to meet someone you admire as much as I admire him, and him be reading my work, ‘cause it kind of charges the conversation in an unusual way, especially when there's a kind of, you know, mentorship or admiration thing going on. Like, I'm on my knees, admiring George Saunders. Lincoln in the Bardo is a book I thought in some ways parallels yours. There's the missing or dead boy, and the chorus of voices. They're loose parallels, but it was a comparison I held in my mind when reading. I love Lincoln in the Bardo. I'm obviously massively flattered by the comparison. I do remember when I was first reading Lincoln in the Bardo I was thinking, finally, here's the book I want to read. Finally, here's a ghost story that is a love story. That is sort of the meaning of literature to me, how to connect us to each other and to our past. For me, the best books are the ones that teach us to mourn better, to refine and revitalize and interrogate the ways in which we relate to each other, now when we're alive and after we've died and before we've been born. Squash the space time continuum. I'm relatively unapologetically old-fashioned about the idea of the novel as an empathy machine. I do think that is the case, even if that's too cozy a formulation. I read an incredibly intelligent article recently by Namwali Serpell about how that now clichéd idea of the novel is too easy. It lets us off the hook. Because we can say, "Oh, I've read books about that, so I care." And that's not real care. In fact, that might be part of a terrible Western failure to act, because we're busy looking at art that makes us care. I’m probably paraphrasing her terribly.   It's a charged question, right? I see a controversy bubbling this morning on the internet about this boat that's being exhibited at the Venice Biennale, a boat in which a bunch of migrants died. Whether you think that's good work or bad work, the work is asking the question. I guess personally, literature is about a way to worry and a way to think more carefully, and a way to express fear and love, but for all of us generally I think it should be the great question machine. If we stop asking questions as a society we become lazy and we become formulaic and we become obedient. Literature is just the way to dismantle, to ask back all the important things. Anyway, to bring it back to George Saunders. He called it, the idea that it's small entertainment for a bunch of verified people, we cannot allow that to be the case. It must be the lifeblood of our society, for everyone and relevant to everyone and being written by and for everyone. I uncomplicatedly agree with that.
I Know You Are You, and Real

Now, what wouldn’t I give to swim in my sister’s dirt?

One year after my sister is dragged to the Farmhouse I place an ad in the newspaper that says Let’s Go Swimming The woman I later meet at the edge of the lake is perhaps three times my age and so thinI laugh as I imagine her scanty dinnersA bowl of brown riceA single steamed green vegetableThe simmered stem of some ascetic flower She is disgusted by my smoking My matted hair She snatches the cigarette out of my mouth and slaps meacross the face and my tearsWhich have been so long absent Are suddenly there and my vision is bright and clean Beside us The lake steams Apple cores and beer cans float around its rim She strips to boxers and then she takes off my clothes too The trees are so thickly green I don’t worry about my nudity—the Town is a mile away And I know I’ll seem to be part of the greater landscape As in a bad painting When she kneels and starts working on my shoes I close my eyes and place my hand upon her head I want to test the water with a finger or foot but watching her diveMakes me ashamed of my hesitancySo I climb an overhanging tree And sit for a moment in the fragrant creaking alien arms And then I drop into the lake from that height Not knowing if there will be rocks below In the moments before I hit the water I love her more than I’ve ever loved anyone The lake is so silty and fetid It feels like when I was a child And forced to use my sister’s old bathwater After she had been lifted out and towelled dry Now What wouldn’t I give to swim in my sister’s dirt? There is nothing There’s nothing I would not give How could our parents have thought that water fit for another personAfter they had washed her thin oily hair in it After they’d cleaned the dirt from her toes This water is as warm as saliva and the bottom is covered in strange lumpsMy companion is miles ahead already A muddy blurI want to ingratiate myself to her I want to receive the full measure of her attention Without doing anything to provoke it And certainly without revealing That her attention matters to me in any way In other words I am ordinary I want to tell her I know how to suffer With my swallowing and my injecting With my snowbanks and my hangovers With the terror that turns My organs black and sour She insists we follow the river that feeds the lake We swim against a ruthless current until we can go no further Until we are swept back cursing Still she says nothing Still I learn nothing I await what I know will never arrive I await what I wouldn’t recognize if it did (My suffering acquires a mock-spiritual cast) [[{"fid":"6705231","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"1":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false}},"attributes":{"class":"media-element file-media-original","data-delta":"1"}}]]   We reach the bank I want to thank her then break her Gently apart at the joints like a chicken But there on the bank in front of my eyes She dissolves like sugar whisked into water I emerge from the lake less clean than when I enteredOur Town’s nightwatchman circles the water Even though it is nowhere near eveningHe wears huge black goggles and reinforced rubber boots In a very short time, I lost everything. The way forward is hidden from me, as is the way back. And I cannot remain here, of course.He taps his way forward with the aid of a walking stick I lie back in my round iridescent-pink sunglasses I think pink is the most influential colour in the world People motor by in a boat They’re laughing and passing around a baby I feel my usual revulsion at laughter and babies and groups I look into the opal on my finger and if I unfocus my eyes I can see my sister swimming inside the fiery lake at its core Lately I cannot decide What I believe Do I believe in releaseDo I deserve release Will I be released   Listen to this piece from the audiobook edition: [[{"fid":"6705241","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original"},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"3":{"format":"media_original"}},"attributes":{"class":"media-element file-media-original","data-delta":"3"}}]]   From I Become a Delight to My Enemies by Sara Peters, a Strange Light book.
The Inventor of Mother’s Day

Anna Marie Jarvis spent years fighting the holiday’s commercialization. But her attempts to keep control of her creation may have hastened its descent into Hallmark territory. 

Bereavement means staring into a personal void. I want my mum, but she doesn't exist. She is absent, but I vividly recall her presence. This leaves me longing for a character who lives in my mind's eye, wishing she would climb back into the real world. I want to receive wisdom that is not available, hear a voice that is inaudible, see a face frozen at an ever-receding point in time. One of my best friends lost her dad when she was young and we agree that grief evolves like an ever-widening spiral. Immediately after death, the spiral is tight and the loss keeps hitting. As time passes, the spiral widens and the hits spread out. You acclimatise to life without them and when they arrive, it’s a shock. This year on my mother’s birthday, I am surprised to learn, nine years since her death from cancer, that I am still susceptible to this terrible ragged yawning feeling that nothing—no tears, no poetry, no love, no sex—can placate. I tried it all and grief still pitched me into an inner world of magical thinking. I don’t want to be ambushed again, so I prepare for the next hit by looking up the date of Mother’s Day in the UK. It falls on the anniversary of her death. I have never bought into Hallmark occasions. I disregard Valentine’s Day, Father’s Day, every other “Day,” but Mother’s Day jabs at a nerve. The blasé marketing images of mothers and daughters feel like a personal slight. I don’t get to ignore this holiday. This holiday ignores me.  The malicious twist of timing has me researching the origins of Mother’s Day, and its commercialization. This is how I discover Anna Marie Jarvis, who went further than anyone to try to manifest her dead mother’s spirit in the world.  Anna Marie Jarvis, born 1 May 1864 in Virginia, is popularly credited as the founder of the American Mother's Day.  Jarvis's vision of Mother's Day had been in the works since her mother died, in her presence, in 1905. The two shared an intense bond. Anne Reeves Jarvis, who regretted her lack of formal education, drove her eldest to study at Augusta Female Seminary. They corresponded frequently and intimately by letter after education led to opportunities for AMJ to leave home, first to become a bank teller in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and then to be the first female literary and advertising editor at Fidelity Mutual Life Insurance in Philadelphia. When ARJ got sick, AMJ spent the last year of her mother’s life caring for her. She described the moment of her mother's death like this: "light like a heavenly benediction on a blessed soul, that the angels did come and bear away their 'snow wings' this precious mother to her 'immortal home.'” The inaugural Mother’s Day in Jarvis's adopted home of Philadelphia was held at the Wanamaker Store Auditorium, where 15,000 people came to listen to her speak for over an hour about the domestic sanctity of mothers. This high attendance was the culmination of her flair, perhaps solidified during her brief advertising career, for writing persuasive letters to influential people. For years she had been writing to the owner of the store, John Wanamaker, who ended up using his local advertising space to publicise Mother’s Day. Simultaneously, a more intimate ceremony was taking place in what had been ARJ’s local church in Grafton. White carnations were ARJ’s favourite flower, so Jarvis donated 500 white carnations to the congregation. She left instruction by telegram that the purpose of the day was to "revive the dormant love and filial gratitude we owe those who gave us birth." Her focus—then as always—was on a daughter-centric view of motherhood and celebrating the love that flows from the mother to the child in private domestic spaces. Obsessive focus began in earnest in 1912 when Jarvis quit her day job at Fidelity Mutual in order to work full-time on the business of popularising Mother's Day. Death had taken both her parents (dad Granville died in 1902) but had given her inheritances which she used to create the Mother's Day International Association (MDIA). She sent circulars articulating the sentimental function of MD as “a day of family reunions, of home-comings; a day of gladness and of beautiful memories, a day of uplift and inspiration;” went on promotional tours around Western Europe and continued her letter-writing campaigns to, amongst others, President Woodrow Wilson. Jarvis had a lifelong habit of writing to American presidents. Although she didn't have much luck down the line with Franklin D. Roosevelt, in Wilson she had a sympathetic ear and in 1914, he heeded her persistence and issued the first Mother's Day proclamation. Mother's Day was on the national calendar. But the more popular MD became, the longer her list of adversaries—those who wanted to use the day for ends contrary to AMJ’s wishes. She pitted herself against, among others, Eleanor Roosevelt; Frank Hering, an American football player who tried to style himself as the Mother’s Day founder, and John Wanamaker, the friend who helped her get the day off the ground. She reportedly bought a salad in a Wanamaker’s store only to throw it on the floor after realising it was being sold as a “Mother’s Day Salad.” Many of her battles represented an idealistic war against the use of her day as a marketing ploy. The floral industries had been quick to capitalise on the growing appetite for white carnations, steadily jacking up the price of what had been cheap at half a cent in 1908, to 15 cents in 1912, to $1 in the 1920s. Once demand exceeded supply they introduced red carnations, marketing them as symbolic of a living mother, and repurposing the white carnation as symbolic of a dead mother. In Memorializing Motherhood, Katharine Lane Antaloni wrote, "From 1912 until her death in 1948, Jarvis was unwilling to relinquish control and accept the status of her day as a public holiday and, therefore cultural property. Repeatedly she threatened to sue those who designed their own Mother's Day Celebrations (whether merchant, minister, or mayor) without her express permission, especially if she recognised the celebration as a blatant act of commercial gain. At the peak of her battle against the commercialization of Mother's Day, she allegedly had thirty-three pending lawsuits." It was not just profiteering that AMJ objected to, although she maintained a fierce integrity around this subject and refused all conciliatory attempts by the likes of Hallmark to cut her in on their gains. It was also any deviation from her vision of how the day should be observed. When patriotic associations like the American War Mothers, or female welfare charities like the Golden Rule Foundation, tried to use the day to spotlight their causes, she came after them with righteous vehemence. In 1925, she made headlines after she was arrested for disorderly conduct. She had crashed an American War Mothers convention in protest of fund-raising based around sales of white carnations. The judge dismissed the charge, impressed and enamoured by her mother-centric passion. During her lifetime, AMJ put up a valiant and vocal opposition to the forces of commercialization. Yet market forces have a greater life expectancy than any single human. This year, as Mother's Day in the UK draws closer, an email from UK Teeth Whitening poses the rhetorical question: “What better Mother's Day gift than pearly whites?” Someone at TOPSHOP bashes out a list-feature for their newsletter on “The most inspiring mother-daughter duos in movie history.” I go into a cafe in the leafy suburb where my mum used to live and count four laminated A4 sheets and one chalkboard advertising that afternoon teas can be booked for that “special weekend.” Every email subject line and sandwich board to weaponise the word “mother” stabs at me, reminding me of what I do not have. I feel a throbbing kinship with my dear departed and an antipathy to the living bodies who mindlessly slap that word onto anything they’re trying to sell. I understand why Anna Jarvis, in her grief, clung to the sense of sacredness around her bond with her dead mother and turned it into a fight against the world. For the intimately bereaved, connections to the dead can feel more urgent than connections to the living. And yet...  Anna Marie Jarvis, zealous defender of her Mother's Day vision, tireless warrior against warped versions of her ideal, misinterpreted her own mother's legacy by some considerable margin. Her mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, was an outward-looking progressive whose concept of Mother's Day had a far wider social remit than the domestic love-bubble blown into the ether by her daughter.  ARJ had organised Mother’s Days Work Clubs as early as the 1850s. These involved bringing physicians to give advice at church gatherings in an attempt to combat public health crises around poor sanitation. She was a gifted public speaker and gave lectures with evocative titles like: Value Of Literature As A Source of Culture And Refinement and Great Value Of Hygiene For Women And Children. She believed in a mother's service to "humanity in every field of life" and was driven to do public good through community activism, attaining the status of local hero during the Civil War for the impartial care she offered to soldiers on both sides. In 1868 she organised a Mother’s Friendship Day designed to reconcile those who had fought as Confederates and those who had fought as Unionists. The day went ahead despite threats of violence. “It was a truly wonderful sight to see the boys in blue and the boys in gray meet, shake hands and say, ‘God bless you, neighbor, let us be friends again,’” recalled eyewitness Hop Woods. Her humanitarian efforts were eventually dialled back by the toll of a difficult marriage and the tragedy of losing between 7 and 9 children (accounts vary) to measles, typhoid and diphtheria. Yet a sense of unfinished business still burned, hence her dying wish that AMJ continue her work. “When Jarvis memorialized her mother, she minimized the complexity of ARJ’s legacy,” wrote Antaloni, "she rarely portrayed the power of motherhood beyond its traditional boundaries and thus never directly acknowledged the aspects of her mother's life that celebrated a public facet of motherhood." How Anna Marie Jarvis, who was so close to her mother and fought for her legacy till death, so fundamentally misinterpreted the nature of her wishes is a question lost to the grave. That she did gives me pangs. I wonder how Mother’s Day would have evolved had AMJ battled for a community-centric celebration instead of the day that she promoted, which, eventually, was uprooted from its origins and now belongs to the culture and makes it impossible for the motherless to be involved. It slices us cleanly out of the purview of the occasion, despite the fact that the founder made her efforts in testament to a kinship that transcends physical absence. Like AMJ, I was present when my mother died. There is no feeling like watching a human lose their soul. When breaths start to get further apart, each exhale is a cliffhanger until the relief of another inhale. The cycle begins again and all is well, for she is alive still. The slowing tempo is not adequate preparation for a full stop; and the death rattle. Suddenly there is no one occupying the familiar body I am looking at. I am not religious but the feeling is mystical. Where did she go? The form is her but not her and never will be her again. Immediately there is a desperate urge that will recur at various intervals for the rest of my life, a desire to reverse this incomprehensible transition. To make like Orpheus and descend into the underworld to try to bring her back. Her death makes no sense so believing that she will live again does not need to either.  Grieving is the process of coming to terms with something that scans logically—everyone dies—but does not scan emotionally. This person is alive! They live inside you. They are not gone! So as not to seem mad, you want to memorialise them, create a tangible monument to their identity. My act was to make a short film, not about my mum per se, but about our ongoing relationship in her after-life. This is not quite the same as starting a Mother’s Day movement, still, it stems from a similar place. The woman who created Mother’s Day didn’t do so for commercial reasons, but out of an all-consuming drive to keep her mother alive in the world.
How Canada Fell in Love with the Stanley Cup

From fans to telegraph operators to a troupe of determined players from the Klondike, here’s how Stanley Cup Fever spread across the country.

Just 20 years old, Weldon Champness Young was already a veteran with the Ottawa Hockey Club when he went to the Russell House hotel for a formal banquet in March of 1892. The evening was hosted by the Ottawa Amateur Athletic Club to celebrate the end of his team’s season. When Weldy and the other guests sat down, they found menu cards that told two tales. One side, as usual, set out the fine fare the hotel would serve that Friday night. The other side showed the names of the Ottawa players and an account of another impressive winter. In ten matches, the squad had won nine times, scoring fifty-three goals and allowing just nineteen. “This was the record,” according to the Daily Journal, “of a genuine amateur team playing for pure love of sport and treating all comers as they wished to be treated themselves.” More than seventy-five people had gathered in the hotel dining room to honour that success, and by the end of the night they’d have even more to cheer about.           Located a short walk from Parliament Hill, the five-story Russell House was the finest hotel in the Canadian capital. Oscar Wilde stayed there in 1882, and many politicians lived there; Wilfrid Laurier called it home for a decade, including during his first year as prime minister. It was also popular with Ottawa’s high society, who enjoyed the luxurious public rooms and excellent food. The 1880s and ‘90s were the hotel’s heyday so it was the obvious choice for a banquet that attracted many prominent gentlemen—including guests from Montreal and Toronto—and featured music from the Governor-General’s Foot Guards band. Around 9:30 or so, women joined the festivities, taking seats in a wing of the dining room, and the hotel staff served coffee and ices for dessert. At 10 o’clock, J. W. McRae, president of the OAAC, began the formal proceedings. A lengthy round of toasts was a regular part of such gatherings and, by tradition, the host always led off with one to the Queen. After McRae had done so, Philip Dansken Ross, the publisher of the Journal and past president of the OAAC, drew cheers for his toast to the Governor-General that included complimentary remarks about the Englishman’s staunch support of sports, especially hockey. In 1888, an aging Queen Victoria had tapped Frederick Arthur Stanley, the 47-year-old son of a former British prime minister, to be her Canadian representative. After serving two decades in Parliament as a Tory MP, Baron Stanley of Preston entered the House of Lords in 1886. Going to Ottawa, not exactly the most glamorous—or warmest—city in the British Empire, sounded like a retirement posting. Initially, he declined the Queen’s vice-regal offer, but Lord Salisbury, his prime minister, talked him into becoming the Dominion of Canada’s sixth Governor-General. When he arrived in Ottawa in June 1888, he was a middle-aged aristocrat with a stout build. He kept a grizzled beard and above his broad forehead, his hair was thinning and starting to grey. The New York Times described him as having “a commanding and soldier-like appearance” and being “decidedly good looking.” He’d never seen a hockey match before coming to Canada, but Stanley came from a sporting family. In 1780, his great-grandfather, the 12th Earl of Derby, created The Derby, the most prestigious of the three races that make up the British Triple Crown. Stanley shared his family’s passion for horse racing as well as its love of hunting, fishing and cricket. He and his wife, Lady Constance, had ten children, eight of whom survived to adulthood. The family quickly embraced winter in the great white north, enjoying snowshoeing, tobogganing and, most of all, hockey. Unable to attend the banquet for the Ottawa Hockey Club, Stanley sent something better. His aide de camp, Lord Kilcoursie, delivered the surprise by reading a letter from His Excellency: “I have for some time past been thinking that it would be a good thing if there were a challenge cup which should be held from year to year by the championship hockey team in the Dominion.” Even better, he’d already asked a former aide, who was now back in England, to order such a trophy. The thrilled guests at the Russell House applauded enthusiastically. When McRae proposed a toast to “the hockey team,” friends and supporters stood on their chairs to drink. Then each player stood to respond. Team captain Herbert Russell went first and made everyone laugh. Young earned a special round of applause for raising a glass to the good fellowship that existed among the clubs of the O.A.A.C. and their members. The last player to speak, Chauncey Kirby, added emphasis to his words by climbing onto the table. Eventually, Kilcoursie was on his feet again with a song he’d composed. Called “The Hockey Men,” it began:                                       There is a game called hockey—                                     There is no finer game,                                     For though some call it “knockey”                                     Yet we love it all the same.                                       ’Tis played in this Dominion,                                     Well played both near and far;                                     There’s only one opinion,                                     How ’tis played in Ottawa.   The verses that followed were about the members of the team and were, if possible, even cornier and more ridiculous than the first two. The stanza about Young, who played cover point, one of two defence positions, went:                                       At cover point—important place—                                     There’s Young, a bulwark strong,                                     No dodging tricks or flying pace                                     Will baffle him for long.   Everyone loved the performance. More songs, toasts and speeches followed until the guests sang “God Save the Queen” and then belted out “Auld Lang Syne” before heading home or moving on to the next party at midnight. The evening had been a great success. The delight at the Governor-General’s promised gift on that evening had come from hockey people: players, league officials and other hangers-on. Still, their excitement over a trophy to recognize the country’s championship team was indicative of the growing ardor for the sport. But not even these insiders could have imagined what the Cup would come to mean to Canada.        *  Stanley had picked just the right moment in hockey’s development to donate a trophy. The modern version of the sport began in 1875 with an indoor match at Montreal’s Victoria Rink. Eight years later, at that city’s first Winter Carnival, three teams—the Victorias, McGill and Quebec City—played a round-robin tournament in what was billed as the “novel game of hockey.” Soon it spread to Ottawa, Kingston and Halifax, where an early version of the sport had long been played. By the end of the 1880s, there were matches in Toronto and the Ontario Hockey Association formed in 1890. More and more Canadians were playing—and watching—the game. But Stanley’s gift wasn’t just good timing. Although the nation had emerged out of a collection of colonies in 1867, Canada was technically just a self-governing dominion and definitely still part of the Empire. In fact, people born in Canada or naturalized immigrants were British subjects (this didn’t change until 1947 with the Canadian Citizenship Act). So colonial thinking lived on. Most English Canadians were ardent Anglophiles and if a member of the British nobility—indeed, the Queen’s own representative in the country—approved of this new game enough to bestow a trophy, people took it seriously: hockey must be something Canadians should enjoy. And so they did. The sport had already made it to the prairies. Local businessmen, including Jack Armytage, launched the Victoria Hockey Club of Winnipeg in 1890 and three years later, the game had “attained an immense hold in the public estimation” in that city. A multi-sport athlete, Armytage was renowned as a trainer and kept himself and his teammates in excellent shape with rigorous drills. In 1895, his Vics toured Ontario, Quebec and Minnesota and won four of five matches. After Winnipeg beat the Montreal Hockey Club 5-1, the teams went to the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association clubhouse for the post-game festivities. While there, Armytage spied the Stanley Cup in a trophy case. He was determined to win it. In February 1896, the Vics hopped on an eastbound train, accompanied by a handful of their hardcore fans. They were going to play Montreal’s own Victorias, the new Cup holders, in a Valentine’s Day match at Victoria Rink. (Sure, two teams named after the Queen meeting each other in a building named after the Queen sounds like a royal parody, but it was just an indication of Canada’s devotion to the monarch.) Adding to the fun, the two teams wore similar colours. Garnet with gold trim and a gold buffalo on the left chest for the westerners and maroon with distinctive yellow Vs on the front of the sweater for the easterners. Few Montrealers gave the challengers much of a chance. Fans liberally placed bets on the assumption that the westerners would get schooled by the hometown squad. The 2,000 or so in attendance included twenty-five Manitobans who “gave an excellent exhibition of Western lung power” in a vain attempt to match the volume of the locals.               The fans back in Winnipeg were no less excited. The phones never seemed to stop ringing at the offices of the Manitoba Free Press as people called the newsroom to get the score. Hundreds of others had congregated in three of the city’s hotels—the Manitoba, the Queen’s and the Clarendon—to await game updates, sent via telegram. Only a few years old, the Manitoba Hotel was the city’s poshest. Built in the French Chateau style by the Northern Pacific and Manitoba Railway, it set the tone for many future railroad hotels in the country. Numerous towers, turrets and gables adorned the roofline of the large red sandstone and brick building. The highlight of the interior was a large, high-ceilinged rotunda. That’s where John Tait, city manager of the CPR Telegraphs, disappointed the fans by announcing, in his distinct Scottish burr, an early Montreal lead. But he soon read another bulletin from the branch office in the hotel. The goal had been disallowed because the play was offside. Eleven minutes into the match, the fans cheered: Armytage had scored. A second goal followed nine minutes later. The telegrams tracked only major developments, such as goals and injuries, so there were stretches of anxious wondering about what was going on more than 1,800 kilometres to the east. In the second half, there was a long, worry-filled wait when nothing at all appeared to be happening until word came in that Higgy—Winnipeg cover point Fred Higginbotham—had broken his suspenders, leading to a delay until someone could find a new pair for him. Finally, at 9:50, Tait announced, “in stentorian tones, which reverberated through the great rotunda,” the final score: 2-0 for Winnipeg. The response was triumphant cheers and gleeful handshakes all ‘round, followed by the sending of many congratulatory telegrams to Montreal. Over at the Bijou opera house, the announcement of the final score during the performance of Princess Toto elicited “a perfect shriek of delight” from the audience. Meanwhile, back in Montreal, supporters of the western Vics made their way to the Windsor Hotel to collect at least $2,000 in winnings for their well-placed wagers. After the traditional dinner with the host team, the Vics headed home in a private car on the CPR train. They took with them their share of the gate—just $160—and the Stanley Cup. A crush of fans packed the platform and cheered as the train chugged into the CPR depot. It was flying the Union Jack and had hockey sticks and brooms, denoting a clean sweep, stuck in its cow-catcher. As a brass band played “See the Conquering Heroes Come,” the players climbed into the open sleighs waiting for them. The Cup sat in full view in the lead sleigh as the procession—including the band and the fans—made its way along Main Street to the Manitoba Hotel, creating the first Stanley Cup parade. [[{"fid":"6705001","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"2":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false}},"attributes":{"class":"media-element file-media-original","data-delta":"2"}}]] A crowd of several thousand greeted them at the hotel. After the mayor and the president of the hockey club had made speeches from the bunting-draped balcony, Armytage stood up in his sleigh. The team captain said he was too hoarse to give a speech, which made the crowd laugh, and thanked everyone for the warm welcome. Then the players and dignitaries made for the hotel’s smoking room where they filled the trophy to the brim with champagne. Drinking from the Cup would become a ritual that subsequent winners would gleefully follow. Losing had been a bitter blow for the Montrealers. A Free Press story claimed the Victoria Rink’s caretaker “was so worked up over the defeat that he shed enough tears to almost fill the big trophy.” The eastern Vics issued a challenge in mid-November and on Christmas Day, the former champions travelled west for a return match scheduled for December 30. This time, there was far more coverage in newspapers across the country. A large crowd went down to the train station and greeted the challengers with “a ringing cheer.” The next morning, 700 people showed up to watch them practice at the McIntyre Rink. In the hotels and shops, and on the streets, all anyone talked about was the big game. Montreal’s Star marveled at the unprecedented excitement and predicted the police would need to focus on keeping order “to prevent the anxious crowds who cannot obtain tickets from storming the rink.” Along with removing the gas lighting and adding four additional electric arc lights as well as opening large vents in the roof in hopes of solving the problem of mist obscuring the fans’ view, the building’s management increased the capacity from 1,200 to about 2,000 in preparation for the game. Even that wasn’t going to be enough. The price for one of the 250 reserved seats was a steep two dollars. But that didn’t stop scalpers from doing brisk business, getting as much as $25 for a pair. A man who’d come in from Calgary to see the game paid $15 for one and another fan traded two-and-a-half tons of coal for a ticket. Lord Stanley had appointed two respected Ottawa men as trustees of the Cup: P.D. Ross, the newspaper publisher who’d been at the 1892 banquet, and John Sweetland, a doctor and the Sheriff of Carleton County. One of their responsibilities was to appoint referees. Weldy Young often reffed hockey and lacrosse matches and was someone both teams could agree on. So the trustees asked him to travel to Winnipeg to handle the game. He started the match a little after 8:20 and before long it was hard to hear his “dainty little whistle” above the crowd noise. The play was fast and close and exciting. The home team thrilled its fans by storming out to an early lead, firing the first three goals. But Montreal roared back to go ahead in the second half. When Winnipeg scored late to tie it up at five goals apiece, the eruption impressed even the Montreal seven. “I have played many exciting championship games, but I never heard such a wild burst of cheering as went up when the score was made even,” one member of the team said later. “It was like a great and prolonged road of thunder rolling again and again from end to end of the rink.” When Montreal scored again, it put “a damper on the crowd but they could not restrain a cheer for the fine work of the visiting team.” The final was 6-5 and as the Daily Tribune observed, “Winnipeg is in mourning for her lost Valentine, her Stanley Cup.”      Young praised the crowd: “During all my experience in hockey matches both as a player and as an official,” he said, “I never saw such an intelligent, impartial and well conducted audience.” Whether he knew it or not, the audience was far larger than just the crowd in the rink. The CPR and Great North Western telegraph companies had arranged to provide detailed coverage of the game with direct wires to the arena. This had been done for other sports, especially boxing, but not for hockey. The Manitoba Hotel had promised that “every move of the puck will be announced.” Several hundred people made the rotunda reverberate with cheers, and groans, as they followed the play in only slightly delayed real-time through frequent CPR bulletins that were written with the help of a hockey expert stationed beside the telegraph operator:         “Merritt has just stopped a hot one.       Grant has just had a run down the rink and made a shot on Winnipeg’s goal, which was well stopped by Merritt.       The play is very fast—and just 8 minutes more to play.       Merritt has stopped several hot ones.       Montrealers are keeping the puck at Winnipeg goal and raining shot after shot.       Winnipeg on the defensive. Montreal is playing the best game.       The Winnipegs are wakening up.       Another shot on Winnipeg goal was beautifully stopped by Merritt.”       In Montreal, the Victoria Rink was hosting the skating club’s first fancy dress carnival of the season and the Daily Star had set up the twelve-foot square Star Bulletin Booth in the centre of the ice. News of the game went up on eight large bulletin boards that rotated on pivots to allow one side to be visible to skaters while the other side was being updated. A brass gong sounded with each new telegram, which came so quickly that five Star employees struggled to keep up. Although Winnipeg’s reign as Cup champions lasted for less than a year, a team from outside Montreal had finally won the trophy and fulfilled Stanley’s desire to create a national honour. The matches in February and December served notice that westerners were just as good at, and just as passionate about, the game as anyone else. Enthusiasm for the sport was exploding, the rinks were packed and the press had made the Cup a big story. Stanley’s gift mattered now. Best of all, fans in two different cities, in two different provinces—and, indeed, anywhere else in the country where people were interested—were able to experience the same game at the same time because of the telegraph. More than an influential precursor to broadcasting, these play-by-play transmissions brought Canadians together through their shared love of hockey. * Having been one of the first people to hear about the Stanley Cup, Young would find it impossible to shake his desire to win it. He and the Ottawas came close a couple of times but failed. Seven years after attending the banquet that launched an obsession, Young moved to the Klondike, leaving his team and his hometown—but not his hunger for the Cup—behind. During his first couple of years in the sub-arctic, he offered occasional updates on life in Dawson for people Outside, as Yukoners called anywhere beyond the territory’s borders. In a summer 1900 letter, he covered local politics, a mild smallpox outbreak and the doings of several former Ottawa residents. He also made an announcement that must have seemed particularly outlandish given the Northern town hadn’t even existed five years earlier. “And now, by way of warning, let me break the news gently, a challenge from the Dawson Hockey club, for the possession of the Stanley Cup, is now being prepared,” Young wrote in the Citizen. “And let me further inform you ‘outsiders’ that if a team is sent you do not want to hold us too cheaply.” The son of Ottawa’s fire brigade chief, Young grew up in a fire hall. Older brother George had been an original member of the Ottawa Hockey Club and Weldy joined the team in 1889. Nicknamed Chalk, he had plenty of skill and speed. As early as 1893, he began scoring, or setting up goals, after making end-to-end rushes, among the first cover points to do so. [[{"fid":"6705006","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"3":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false}},"attributes":{"class":"media-element file-media-original","data-delta":"3"}}]] Although Young was respected as a referee because he had “a thorough knowledge of the game and a reputation for squareness,” he could be a terror as a player. He wasn’t particularly large—he was a wiry 165 pounds, about average for players of the day—but he was tough, loved to indulge in a physical game and could be hot-headed. Many opponents felt his stick across their ankles and he often found himself at the centre of brawls. During a late February 1898 game, in the days before nets, with the score tied 4-4, the umpire signaled a Quebec goal. Everyone else in Ottawa’s Rideau Rink was sure the shot had been well wide. An incensed Young skated up to the umpire and pointed to a path the puck had made along the slushy ice. That, he said, proved the puck hadn’t gone between the uprights. The umpire, who later claimed that Young had jabbed him with his stick, jumped at the player. Young responded by punching him, which brought a crowd of people, including two or three cops, onto the ice and led to a skirmish between players and fans. Since the police weren’t much help in calming everyone down, it fell to Ottawa’s captain Harvey Pulford, known as the Bytown Slugger, to break it up. Off the ice, Young was an affable and gregarious guy with many friends. One day in 1897, while on his way to a Montreal football match, he asked a boy on the street, “Hey, kid, want to see the game?”             “Sure do.”             “Come on, I’ll take you in,” Young told him. When he asked the lad if he liked hockey, the 13-year-old said yes, though he’d really only recently started playing. “Right. I’ll be here with the Ottawa team next winter,” said Young. “How’d you like to be the stick boy?” Serving as stick boy for Young and his teammates when they played in Montreal ignited Lester Patrick’s love of hockey. He went on to be a star rushing cover point on the Brandon team that lost a 1904 Cup challenge to an Ottawa team that included several players he’d fetched sticks for. By the end of his Hall-of-Fame career as a player, coach and general manager, Patrick had won the trophy six times. “It just goes to show what a thoughtful act will do for a boy,” he later said. “Maybe I’d have got into hockey some other way but that gesture by Young set me on my way.” * After moving to Dawson, Weldy Young played for the Civil Service team, which issued a Cup challenge in 1901. Winnipeg’s Vics were once again champs. The Ottawa Journal reported that while the trustees had asked about suitable dates, they never heard back, suggesting the Yukoners had decided against going that winter. But it’s also possible the trustees had discouraged the team; they often used scheduling problems to squelch unwanted challenges. Perhaps Ross, Sweetland and Winnipeg captain Dan Bain appeared accommodating in public out of courtesy but were privately reluctant to entertain a challenge from a team they considered inferior. The Vancouver Daily News printed what the trustees may have been thinking. Dismissing Young as too old, the paper added, “It will no doubt be an enjoyable trip, and the Dawson boys can loosen themselves of their nuggets, but no Dawson team can lift that cup unless all the Vics drop dead.” Three years later, the plan to send the Civil Service team had given way to the idea of assembling an all-star squad made up of the best players in town. By this point, Young’s former club, led by the sport’s original superstar, “One-Eyed” Frank McGee, had a stranglehold on the trophy. A letter to Ross and Sweetland went out on August 24, 1904: “The Klondyke Hockey Club of Dawson, Y. T., hereby challenge the Ottawa Hockey Club, of Ottawa, to a series of games for the Stanley Cup, emblematic of the hockey championship of Canada, said series of games to be played under and in accordance with the regulations governing the trophy in question.” To help the cause, Young wrote a long, less formal, letter to Ross. He laid it on thick about all the success Ottawa’s sports teams had experienced since he’d left. Cleverly dealing with any concerns Ross might have that Young was past his prime, he wrote that it was “particularly gratifying to see that five of the last winter’s unbeaten champions were teammates of my own as far back as ’98 and to me it exemplifies beyond doubt the truth of the old adage ‘The old dog for the hard roads, etc.,’ and holds out for me, I must admit, no little consolation.” Young was referring to an Irish proverb—“The old dog for the hard road and leave the pup on the path”—about the advantage of experience in the face of a difficult task. Young also sought to put Ross at ease about the other players. “Speaking of the team itself, I can assure you that they are as likely a bunch as ever happened,” he wrote. “True we are badly handicapped by so little competition but unless I miss my guess by a large majority I will produce at the right time as good a forward line as ever went a-hunting for a Stanley Cup.” The postscript dropped the name of Joe Boyle, who would represent the team in the east and had full authority to arrange dates. The swaggering Yukon mining promoter was a regular at the Russell House, where Ottawa’s powerful and connected, including Ross, hung out. By mid-October, the Winnipeg Tribune reported that Ottawa had agreed to a best-of three series with Dawson—giving Young another chance to finally win the Stanley Cup. * Late in the year, just a few days before the Winter Solstice, the Klondike enjoyed precious few hours of daylight and the Dawson townsite, at the bottom of the Yukon River valley, received no direct sun at all. So it was dark and cold—a frigid -23 Celsius—when three players left town on foot at 7 a.m. on December 18. They had planned to let a dog team pull their gear, but so little snow had fallen that wasn’t possible. They walked down the Overland Trail wearing moccasins and parkas and carrying their gear on their backs. Many residents cheered the trio off that Sunday morning and the Yukon World noted that the team was going east to “show some of the old time cracks how the noble game should be played.” Accepting the role of long shots simply wasn’t in the Yukoners’ nature. The next morning, four more players hopped on their bikes and rode out of town under clear skies with a north wind behind them. The cyclists hoped to make it to Whitehorse in a week. Setting out to, as they put it, “win fame and the Stanley Cup,” the hockeyists, as players were often called in those days, figured it would be a straightforward eighteen-day trip to Ottawa. Straightforward by Yukon standards, anyway. Eventually, each of the cyclists had to abandon his broken-down wheels and join the walkers. After travelling more than 500 kilometres in nine days, the team arrived in Whitehorse, tired but on schedule. The next morning a blizzard shut down the narrow-gauge White Pass and Yukon Route railway. When they finally reached Skagway, Alaska, they’d missed their steamer to Vancouver by two hours and had to wait three days to board a Seattle-bound ship that made many of the players severely seasick. Worse, Young wasn’t with them. Although he’d been named captain and had helped select the team, if he left with the others, he’d lose his civil service job. He’d have to finish handling the election returns first and then try to catch up.   [[{"fid":"6705011","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"4":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false}},"attributes":{"class":"media-element file-media-original","data-delta":"4"}}]] Even if their star player could make it in time, most hockey people in the east refused to consider Dawson City a serious contender. The team was from a small sub-arctic town and no squad from west of Brandon had yet challenged for—let alone won—the Cup (though none of the Dawson players was originally from anywhere west of Manitoba). The prevailing wisdom was that the game was at its best in Montreal, Ottawa and Winnipeg, while the play in the Ontario Hockey Association, which Ottawa had long ago quit, and the Maritimes was inferior. But there was more to this than hockey snobbery. Even during the Vics versus Vics matches of 1896, the newspapers played up the conflict between the “effete east” and “the Wild and Woolly West.” Hockey wasn’t the root of the country’s endless regional squabbles, but it didn’t escape the wrangling either.     The Ottawa team had insisted the Klondikers not play any exhibition matches en route. This wasn’t to ensure the challengers would arrive unprepared—it was to avoid any lopsided losses that might dampen ticket sales in Ottawa. Despite the cynicism, and the need for the Dawson hockeyists to assure reporters their challenge was no joke, the team’s journey generated a lot of enthusiasm. And there was more to it than an affection for hockey and underdogs. The Klondike Gold Rush was over, but Canadians continued to romanticize the Yukon and the long journey from “the mining centre of the golden North to the Capital of Canada” only added to the story’s charm. All along the route, people cheered the team. And it was no different in the home of the champions, where the Citizen reported, “The matches are creating the greatest interest of any Stanley Cup contests yet played in Ottawa.” At a quarter to five on January 11, 1905, three-and-a-half weeks after leaving Dawson City, the hockeyists stepped off the train and onto the platform of Central Station where a large and appreciative crowd gave them “a right hearty reception.” An executive from the Ottawa Hockey Club led the players away to the Russell House. Despite the cordial welcome, the hosts weren’t about to grant the visitors’ request for a one-week postponement before starting the series. Meanwhile, the challengers denied rumours they’d threatened to default the opening game and focus on the second and third ones rather than play unprepared. The first match would go ahead as scheduled, with Earl Grey, the new Governor-General, “facing the puck” at 8:30 p.m. on Friday the 13th. After nearly a month on the road, and with no time to practice, the exhausted and far-from-game-shape Klondikers, still waiting for Weldy Young, would take on the Stanley Cup champions before a sell-out crowd of 2,200 fans at Dey’s Arena in just over forty-eight hours.  * The Klondikers lost the first game 9-2. Joe Boyle followed an already well-established custom for losing teams and blamed the referee. Then, in the Bijou Hotel bar, Ottawa right winger Alf Smith overheard a Klondiker—Boyle, according to some accounts—trash “One-Eyed” Frank McGee, who’d scored only once: “Who the hell’s McGee? He doesn’t look like much.” Although this may not have been the first example of “bulletin-board material” in hockey, it remains one of the most regrettable. Dawson lost 23-2. “Ottawa simply skated away from them at the whistle,” reported Toronto’s Globe, “and continued to pile up the goals with a merciless monotonous regularity which was farcical in the extreme.” McGee scored fourteen times. The humiliating blowout didn’t mean the two teams were about to dispense with the tradition of celebrating together after the game, though. Eventually, the party became a little too boisterous and, according to legend, Harvey Pulford attempted to dropkick the Cup over the Rideau Canal. It landed on the frozen water and no one thought to recover it until the next day. Young’s teammates were in the Maritimes on a post-series barnstorming tour when he finally caught up with them. These games on the east coast as well as in the United States and Ontario were to fund the players’ return to Dawson City. While the Klondikers had proven no match for Ottawa, they did much better against other teams. They won thirteen games, lost nine and tied one before large and appreciative crowds. The eagerness of the Yukoners to make such an audacious journey, and the public’s response to the whole adventure, revealed just how deeply Canadians had fallen in love with the game. And how quickly. Stanley’s trophy had been a powerful endorsement and technology such as trains and the telegraph had helped spread the sport from Cape Breton to Dawson City, but it was the unlikely mix of grace and ferocity at high speed that really struck people. In the dozen years since the trustees first awarded the Stanley Cup, a niche, largely regional sport with a small fan base had captivated the country. Hockey was now the national pastime.

And the Word became flesh: coarse hair, crooked smile, the taste of salt on his clavicle. I am the disciple whom he loved.

    In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things were made by him and through him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. And the Word was life, and the life was the light of all. And the light is a light that shines in darkness, and the darkness comprehends it not. And the Word spiraled outward into a cosmos of orbits and counter-orbits, into a billion subjectivities and a trillion perspectives. From the Word came a multiverse of matter and energy interfluxing, a dazzling, bewildering, volatile orrery, a wondrous, widening gyre: a going forth, to multiply. And the Word became flesh: coarse hair, crooked smile, the taste of salt on his clavicle. I am the disciple whom he loved.   [[{"fid":"6705121","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"1":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false}},"attributes":{"class":"media-element file-media-original","data-delta":"1"}}]] When I remember what came before, I see a black sky, a flash, and then hear a sound like the roar of rushing waters. I lay sprawled in the tangle of rope thick and bristled in the stern of my father’s boat. The wood by now is dry, wherever its carcass is beached and whatever now scuttles there, but then it stank of its hundred hauls of ancient fish and its cedar hull that was busily sweating gum that matted the hair on my legs. All day and into night we had caught nothing. And so half-dozing, I stared at a costive sky while my brother, stripped to the waist in the heat (but still wearing his silly hat, all the lanker for the atmosphere’s dense press) minded the net. He whistled a song of my mother’s. I remember her singing it, but not now its words. I remember her singing it, but not quite her voice. I wasn’t there when my brother died. I am thankful for that. They sowed his bones in fields remote, to be seed against a harvest none of us will live to glean. Instead I remember that sticky day before everything, seeing from prone the desperate throb of light stagger in zig-zag, and hearing my brother laugh as the humid summer air at last cracked open and drenched us cold and clean. “Come and see!” and I saw: the whole sea’s skin rippling with the rain’s contusions, and beneath it a net swarming with silver life.   *   tell me a story after that? aren’t you tired? didn’t you, I mean I thought— no, I did. obviously. i touch his hand to the stickiness on his stomach, now growing cool and tacky in his hair oh right. ok. um, In the beginning there was the not that. a real one …ok. ok. so. the night I was born there…there were a lot of animals. it doesn’t matter why ok ok. so there were doves in rafters high, and sheep with curly horn, and um, a cow all white and red and a donkey shaggy and brown around a baby? where were you born in a very funny. so it was cold, because it was winter— wait i open my eyes and pull my head away from the fuzz of his chest when is your birthday? mid spring, when the shepherds are in the field. that’ll be important later. listen; nevermind. it was cold, because it was christmas he pushes my head back to his chest not altogether gently and starts to trace slow curlicues into the back of my hair so i was shivering my baby ass off. so my mom asked the animals to help what the fuck dude i whisper, softly, into the pleasant stink of his armpit listen—so the cow blew his breath all soft and warm her breath what? cows are girls oh. right. ok whatever. moooooooo. cattle lowing, all that good stuff. so I blessed the cow sure but the fucking donkey is all “eyy-onh, eyy-onh.” super cold whinnying. you know, like donkeys do. do donkeys do that? of course they do that. haven’t you met a donkey i mean, i guess. i mostly fished so I go up to the donkey— as a baby? so i go up to the donkey. and I say, “what’s your name?” but he just keeps going eyyy-onh, eyy-onh all cold. so I pull his ears wayyyyy up and say, “your name is DONKEY.” And that’s why donkeys have long ears. It might also be why mules are infertile; I might be confusing the details, and it might be funnier in Portuguese. i roll away from his side and out along the length of his arm, to bring my face to rest inside his open hand, and stare out into the darkness beyond our little light. let me get this straight. donkeys didn’t have long ears until you, as a baby, punished them for breathing on you too coldly? i mean… I am the Way the Truth and the Light. the infinite utterance which speaks all being into being and so am unbound by the laws of cause and effect, chronology and chemistry, space and time, so… why did all the donkeys have to be punished for that one donkey who was only doing what you made him to do? dude, that is kind of my whole deal is that a true story? of course it is. I am the Way, the Truth, and the— did that really happen oh. no. this bedtime story sucks. tell me a better one.   *   I remember the day he came to my brother and me, on the shore as we knelt untying my father’s skiff. Rosy-fingered Dawn was unstitching Night’s design, and then: there he was. In the flesh. Come with me, he said, reaching out a hand that in the years, short years, to come I would kiss until I knew its every callous and curve. Until the Romans broke it, as they break everything, and left it a mangled pulp for us to scrape from their torture post. Until the angels made it incorruptible and a beneficent sign for all to see. Until both left it perfect and golden and alien and unrecognizable to me. How can you follow anything, he said, if you are down upon your knees? Get up and walk. We have work down the road. What could I do but follow straight? We never saw the boat again.   *   One time he got really fucking furious at a fig tree. Just absolutely screamed at it for like forty-five minutes.   *   From silence speaks the light. In the beginning was the Word. The symptom of language then is reality; we speak these stories and these stories speak us over and over until I am not sure if we are anything but history indulging a bad habit. We are the atoms of history: dust that has gathered on sandals. And dust upon sandals, and dust upon the road—who knows the revolutions of dust? My mind is not what it was. Let me try again.   *   Incarnation means nothing more than in the meat, and it was the meat of him I loved—red and raw, the stinking sweating heft of him   *   A father commanded his two sons to work in the vineyard. “Yes father,” said one, but did not go. “No father,” said the other, but he went. Which of these, then, has done his father’s will? I thought, when he asked, that I knew. But I was young then. And now I am old, old as he never was nor ever will be, and I know now that love sometimes makes a promise it cannot keep, and sometimes no toil can fix the clockwork of a heart dropped from the mantle smearing glass across the floor. Sometimes you must say “yes” when you mean “no.” There is a kindness that he never learned in the lie.   *   ok a story once upon a time a nun on an important mission was crossing a river with her donkey laden with supplies. and the beast stumbled, and it sent all her goods, her clothes, her books, tumbling into the stream. and as she tried to recover her ruined things I appeared on a rock, and I said, “that, teresa”—because her name was teresa—“is how I treat all my friends.” “and that, lord,” she said, “is why you have so few of them.”   that story also is not very nice. and it’s kind of the same story as the donkey one yes they all are. the same story   *   He sits in a house cool and dark as the mob presses in. From my post amid the knit of the crowd outside I hear the scratch of his barked laugh tumbling over their bodies like a brook breaking over thirsty stone. A twinge of jealousy dances over my ribs for a second, and is gone. A street away there is a bustle. Men, square and strong, with a beauty that is familiar and a cruelty that is not, are moving through the press, entitled and rough. With them is a woman, older but not old, who watches the crowd part like she is afraid, but not for herself, and not quite of them. From her scarf falls a serpent-coil of hair and I suddenly understand why I know and do not know the features of the young men jostling on her behalf; and I know, not just from the lock of unmistakable tawny brown but from the precise nervous choreography of her sudden gesture to tuck it back behind her ear. I know, with an electric, genetic certainty: this is his mother. She stares at me as she waits outside, while what looks to be the oldest of these men barks into the house, barks with a bark so much like his, with a bravado I will get to know in later years is slightly shrill to mask this man’s nerves. James was my brother’s name, too. In reply from inside the house, I hear the burble of his voice, its words indistinct, and a laugh cascade lazily again through the crowd. He will not see her. In front of me their mother’s eyes are still staring, glassing now, and I feel the heat in my cheeks, the embarrassment he never seems to have the decency to feel, that has left me a raw nerve and forever seeping apologies in his wake. But today, for her, I have none. How could I. How could he. And I know: this is how he will leave me too. A swift, cruel blow that will shatter all my bulk. A surgical strike from above, hurling masonry through the streets like leaves of concrete. I will scream, desperate in the temple precincts, looking for a lost boy I had mistook for kind, who will laugh at my panic: didn’t I know he should be with his father? And the learned and the holy will praise his wit, and his insight, and the bravery with which he left us behind. He will skewer steel through the raw pulsing meat of my heart, to wild acclaim. I watch his brothers swear and push their way back out of the crowd, the sweat darkening their shirts. She glances once, hopefully, over their broad desultory backs shaped so much like his, and I realize I recognize their cruelty after all.     [[{"fid":"6705126","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"2":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false}},"attributes":{"class":"media-element file-media-original","data-delta":"2"}}]] From my house at Patmos I see a serpent blot out a third of the stars, belched hot from ruined Hell to gnaw at the root of a world suspended from a golden chain, and dragging behind him the debris of a universe of death. And as the light from our world hits his scaly skin I wonder how it feels against his scars. He and I both know what it is to outlive our allotted grace. He and I both know what it is to slither over cracking stone in a wilderness grown parched and seasonless. Our God has made monsters of us both. Our God has made us witness to his glory, and dared us to cry out while he ripped the thing we love apart before our eyes. And I watch the Great Serpent who is called Satan make planetfall and drop to crawl through the underbrush and hot dirt, with a brand of hot fire in his tail, side-winding through a world of kindling. And I go back inside. The death of God might have been endurable if he had not then plunged his corpse into the well and poisoned all the earth with wormwood. So let this dead sphere bury its own dead. Tear out the eye that makes you sin. Shake off the dust from off your sandals. Tear down the Temple; build a new one. He always hated nostalgia. It’s what I remember most fondly.   *   wake up please wake up The grass is cool and damp from the night air and the broad flat carpenter pads of his hand are smoothing my hair too roughly. I fell asleep. When did I fall asleep? His nose against my face is slick. A dog, pawing, whimpering. Even in the dark i can see his eyes are wild and wet and his brow soaked and chilled. Through the slit of my white sindon my baffled, dozy erection nudges, which he is cupping desperately and absently. I sleepily try to pull him down to me before I process something is wrong. listen nearby peter’s snores rumble the stone while my brother sleeps face-up, open-mouthed, gulping lazily like a dying trawl. His hand tightens gently and then I hear it: a troop of men, clanking and cursing, are coming up the garden path. what if we ran yes we could run. we would lose peter i would lose my brother but i have lost everything for him before lost mother and father and town the children and wife and dignity i will never have and i cannot care—just dust on the road behind us what would it profit a man to lose his soul just to save some petty world but suddenly there is light everywhere as torches catch the vicious crags of faces. There is a boot in my gut and i am hauled from the turf. “which of these faggots is it?” they throw the sniveling little crabapple traitor into the ash around our cold fire and he scrambles and sobs and clutches at his master’s cheek mewling his apologies and frantic slobbered kisses with a rage i did not know i had i throw him again to the ground and their arms are everywhere on me but the linen is loose their armor is heavy and on him they have not yet even laid a finger and suddenly peter is awake and roaring, brandishing a sword i did not know he had the sense to carry “we run,” i whisper to him while peter holds their attention, sliding from my sleeves, his forehead to mine. “if they kill us they kill us but we run now” in his eyes i see the light that lit the stars the dark that sat brooding upon the waters and i have loved you more than i have loved anything. you can’t forget. Never. Never. the whole of my life before and since I have broken every promise I ever made so that I might more perfectly serve that one. and so i bolt, wriggling from the white robe in the soldier’s hands, slipping from the net like a flash of living mercury. naked and shining under a scudding, lambent moon and laughing, to be so free (at least st ambrose believed it was me)   *   But when I turn breathless on the hilltop, he is not with me. Instead there he stands rooted, right where i left him, stalwart and righteous as a Goya by their torchlight. Still not a hand upon him. Not a man had followed. No one had cared. And i crumble, naked in the grass, and weep til morning light     [[{"fid":"6705131","view_mode":"media_original","fields":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"3":{"format":"media_original","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":false,"field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":false}},"attributes":{"class":"media-element file-media-original","data-delta":"3"}}]]   when i wake again it is morning and the sun is hot. nearby from a tree hangs the traitor, the cord of his belt around his neck, his expression an ugly scarlet bloat. Upon his brow is a wound i might well have given him. Soon his blotching face will split like sweet rotting fruit and the birds of the tree are inquisitive but not yet brave enough to feast. i take his piss-stained clothes and stumble into town to watch the world end.   *   still i keep my testament and so i am supposed to write. supposed to claw into the rock of history some phrase that will last when I am dead and gone and though all the world cannot conjure the contours of my face it will remember the flinty brilliance that I sparked here in the dark alone and the rock of his majesty against which i struck that light but my heart is so broken. broken is not even right. it is a pulverized thing. a bruised uncabled tissue, its fibers relaxed and purpling with pooling, cooling curdling blood. fruit rotting to succulence when i sleep i remember days that never were. i dream a life i never saw and which i now see he never wanted did you not know i would be in my father’s house? he left, and i do not know what now becomes of me   we are supposed to endure. but the truth of history—the real fact of the record—is that some lives do not matter once they’ve passed out of them we live, but we live in the footnote how is it that they could kill him but i am what died   writing does not heal. the document does not make whole. poesis is not a therapy it is thrusting a filthy digit into the spot where the lance has pierced you and it says: look, here. ascend and transcend all you like; this is the wound that will not close. this is the precise spot you have been marred forever   *   i watch them drive a rivet through a foot that i kissed i know not how oft feet i cooled and washed with my own hair: the delicate, beautiful ball of his ankle, swooping to curve down into ridges dusted with errant tufts of hair, a faint sourness from leather and grit and the thoughtless joy with which he walked and ran and even once danced, scooping me up in his arms in a nighttime waltz in an upper room when all the world was asleep and there was no music but my jackhammering chest and i asked him in a child’s whisper to draw shut a window-curtain lest the neighbours see and which to my secret thrill he did not smashed and ruined and unmade   *   so why do you hate donkeys so much i don’t hate donkeys. he is playing with my fingers, dandling them in the space above our heads, as dust-motes plays in the light i love donkeys. they try, and they fail. donkeys are cute, and they do their best, and they end up hobbled, maimed, broken in a stream every day a stress test, til breakdown. to be a donkey is to know the truth: God always gives us more than we can handle. he presses my finger into the centre of his hand. ok. well, I like the nun. i thought you would.   good night.   and he kisses me on the forehead, and in his arms I dream of the smell of hay and the breath of beasts
‘I’m Not So Interested in Feelings People Go Through on Their Own’: An Interview with Sally Rooney

Talking to the author of Normal People about writing about mental health, whether books can critique the capitalist systems for which they’re turning a profit, and the perils of readings.

Sally Rooney's second novel, Normal People, is already one of the most talked-about of the year. The book centres on the relationship between Connell and Marianne. Two young people from separate social spheres, they start spending time together because Connell's mum cleans Marianne's family's house. Despite their differences—Connell is popular, athletic, working class; Marianne is ostracized, isolated, and from a wealthy family—they develop a secret relationship rooted in shared intellect and a staggering physical connection. As we follow them to university, the change of environment alters them both, but their connection remains, unconventional and constant.  Many adjectives have been draped on Rooney’s shoulders since she has become a phenomenally successful young novelist, so instead of adding to the list, I will say that the experience of sitting across from Rooney and talking about politics, literature, and music instills the same blend of familiarity and insight that I get from reading her books. There's a warmth to her and a sense that she is someone who is uniquely positioned to capture and reflect on the world she’s living in. Haley Cullingham: I wanted to start by talking about intimacy, because the way that you write about it is one of the things that I’ve most taken away from your work. Do you have some literary touchstones that have shaped the way you think about intimacy? Sally Rooney: Whenever people ask me about this, it’s the one question I’m terrible at answering on my feet. I feel like I really should carry around a little list of books, because I always regret when I walk away from the interview, "Oh, I didn’t say this one book that was really seminal for me." But the one that springs to mind I must say is James Salter’s novel A Sport and a Pastime. Do you know that book? It’s a really, really interesting book. And I’m not actually familiar with the rest of Salter’s work, I’ve read some of his short stories, and I’ve read this one book, and I’m sort of working my way through the rest of his work and his novels and stories, but A Sport and a Pastime is, I guess it’s an erotic novel. It’s set in France, it was published in the late 1960s, ’67 or ’68, and it’s a really, really intense exploration of intimacy between these two characters. Nothing really happens in the book other than the development of this really intense sexual relationship. And that book blew me away when I read it. And I think a couple of critics have spotted [it], purely because of the depth of the influence that book had on me I’m sure. But that book was something that made me feel like, "Oh, it’s possible to construct an entire novel about and propelled by sexual desire." Like to have that be the kind of momentum of the narrative. And there have definitely been other contemporary books as well. Intimacy is the one I keep returning to, and desire and intimacy. I think it fascinates me because it’s a feeling that by its nature involves another person. You can be sad on your own, or happy on your own, or angry or whatever, all on your own, but you can’t desire on your own. Your desire needs to have an object. So, the introduction of the object then creates a kind of tricky relationship between the desirer and the desired, whatever that relationship might be. Is it a relationship of dependence, is it a relationship of antipathy? So, it’s just the introduction of that other aspect that makes the feeling interesting for me as a novelist. I’m not so interested in feelings that people go through on their own. So, I think that maybe that’s why desire and love interest me so much.  I watched this video that you did for Louisiana Channel, and you spoke a lot about the idea of how we can’t be independent in a capitalist society. I was wondering if you could talk a bit about how that connects to intimacy for you, or if that makes it interesting to explore intimacy?   Yeah, I mean, that’s the thing, I’m aware that I might be to some extent just rationalizing my own impulses, because I’m not interested in writing about solitude, and I’m not interested in writing about characters who sort of navigate the world in an independent way. And then the way that I rationalize that is obviously by saying that I don’t really believe in those things conceptually. So, I don’t know which comes first necessarily, the philosophy or the instinct [laughs].  But I definitely do have a strong reaction against the predominant discourse of independence. For me, I came at that through a feminist angle, so my development of my political consciousness was really organized around gender, and I’m still trying, obviously, to organize my thoughts around gender now, and also to incorporate other frames of thinking. But the way that I started thinking about gender politics was organized around female independence, so the idea that women should be independent from men, but also from one another and from social structures, and that empowerment was about personal agency and decision-making. And I guess I just increasingly became critical of that attitude. I now feel like there is absolutely nothing independent about the way that we live our lives. What we have managed to accomplish is a sense of independence because we no longer have to see the people who are doing all the work that sustains our existences, because they’re very far away from us in many cases. Or because their work is concealed through other social structures. And so, I just feel like an almost repulsive reaction against the idea that we can be independent when actually we’re living off the labour of others and just pretending to ourselves that those people don’t exist because we don’t have to look them in the eyes. So, I want to be conscious of that, and then within that, I guess, to take that critique into our personal lives and to negotiate the idea of independence from others in that situation as well. So, the idea of moving independently through our personal lives kind of horrifies me and again, I know that that’s a personal instinct. That’s like me saying, "the idea doesn’t appeal to me," and then I can retroactively apply whatever ideological justification for it, but it’s just something that I don’t like the idea of. Of course, I’m not saying everyone should do monogamous pair-bonding for their lives and raise nuclear families, I don’t believe that. I do believe that in our personal lives, we end up, whether we like it or not, deeply entwined with other people. And so, I’m interested in how we negotiate those relationships, because they are a fact of how we organize our society, and because they’re fascinating for me. I’m not interested in pursuing the idea that we should have, or could have, independence from other people, either in our intimate lives or in a situation within a network of economic exchange.  You’ve described intimacy as a “loss of self,” and I found that phrasing interesting, because I think there’s an appealing element of that, but also a very devastating and terrifying element of that.   Yeeeeeah. [laughs]  Do you think that loss, good or bad, is something that is unique to being young?   No, I don’t think it is. I think the loss of self, it’s something that, really, the more I explore—I have no academic background in philosophy at all, or philosophy of religions—but the more that I put tendrils out into those areas and do a bit of superficial reading, the more I think the theme of loss of self or ego-death is an extremely common feature of most serious developed philosophies and theologies. It seems like most societies have evolved a concept of the loss of self, or the giving away of self, or selflessness. Certainly, very central in Christian thought, in Buddhist thought as well. So, I think there’s something to it. There’s a reason why we keep returning to this idea philosophically across societies and in different cultural circumstances. And I think one of the ways that we experience it most readily, now, in our current cultural setup, is through intimacy with others. That opens up the possibility that we are giving away our sense of self or putting our own best interests behind the best interests of another person. It’s not something that in an ambitious, capitalist society we do very often. We’re generally encouraged to follow our own best interests all the time. But I think when people have children, that’s one big example of when they tend to put somebody else’s interest before their own. And often I think mutually preoccupied lovers, also, would be more interested in what’s happening for the other person than for themselves. And so, I guess that fascinates me, because it runs counter to the logic of the market or whatever you want to say. But also because it’s something that’s, it seems to me, philosophically substantial. The idea of giving up your self. And obviously as a novelist being attentive to how painful and disorientating that is, as well as the potential for joy and for some kind of profound experience, but also how scary it is. And scary not only because it’s just intrinsically scary, but because it runs so counter to all our assumptions about how life should be lived now, that we should always be looking after ourselves and looking after our own needs and policing our own boundaries. That to do the radical opposite of that feels wrong. And I’m interested in that wrongness. So, yeah, being attentive to both possibilities. And I guess also trying to be fairly value-neutral in the way that I write as a novelist. Trying not to say whether the relationships that I depict are healthy or toxic or whatever. I’m not really interested in those value judgements. I think if I wanted to make those I wouldn’t be writing a novel. The novel, for me, is just about observing how they play out, and saying, "Well, I don’t know. This is how it happened." That fear of surrender felt, to me, like the great tragedy of the Connell-Marianne dynamic. As I was reading, I just wanted to be like, "It’s okay! Just be together, you’ll be fine!" Yeah! But they didn’t think they would be fine. And for Connell particularly. Marianne seems, I think, at various points in the novel, ready to give a lot. Connell was not ready to give very much. In the beginning of the book he was ready to give, like, almost nothing. [laughs] Or what felt to him like a lot within very confined boundaries. And by the end maybe he’s learning to give a little bit more of himself. And I think there are reasons why it’s more difficult for him than for her. And one of them may be gender. Like I think maybe men are socialized to fear loss of self more than women are, because women from such a young age are groomed for motherhood, and they’re sort of ready to think, "There will be a time in my life when I’m taking second, or third, or fourth place to the other people in my life." I don’t know that men are socialized to get ready for that in the same way. So maybe there’s a sense in which, because of their different gender roles…but I’m sure there are individual reasons as well. But definitely I think in that circumstance, Marianne was ready, was almost preternaturally ready, to give a whole lot of herself, and Connell was scared by that, and scared by accepting what she was ready to give him and scared by doing the same thing in return. I wanted to talk a little bit about your activism and the writing you’ve done—what role does that play in your life right now?  I mean, I don’t really think of myself as an activist. I’m certainly someone who has strong convictions. [laughs] And I talk about those very readily because I don’t see any reason not to do that, like, to be straightforward and honest about what I believe. I’m certainly not writing a novel then pretending, "Oh, I have no opinions." I have opinions, and I’m fairly ready to stand by them and defend them. And obviously to be challenged and to accept counterarguments and whatever, I think that’s all part of normal life. But I don’t really think of myself as an activist as such.  In my normal life, completely away from my work, I do normal stuff like going to rallies, that I always did, going to marches and stuff like that. And that hasn’t really changed except that I’m a lot busier now, and not so often at home. But other than that, it’s basically the same. But in terms of using my position as a quasi-public figure, bringing that into my activism or using that as a platform for activism, I haven’t really done that almost at all. I wrote a little bit about the abortion referendum, and I guess I did that because it was a situation where I felt, "Okay, I have a little bit to add on this. There’s something that I can maybe offer here, that I haven’t seen necessarily offered in the rest of the discourse." It’s a little grain of something, but it might be helpful to the general public conversation that we’re having. There are very few issues where I feel like I can help the public conversation. Like really few. A lot of times my opinions I’ve just taken from something I’ve read, and thought, "Wow, that’s so smart." [laughs] And then I’m like, instead of just rewriting that, why don’t I just tell people to read the original piece that gave me the good idea? So I guess I feel like there are people who have lived experiences that are more relevant, who are speaking from a position of more relevance, there are people who are just smarter and more sophisticated political thinkers than I am, who are more engaged in those forms of discourse, and so I don’t think I have a whole lot that I can do, beyond what I do as just an ordinary person, which is show up and do things like that. But that’s not to say that I’ll never…like with the case of the abortion referendum, there may arise specific circumstances in which I feel like, "I’m maybe someone who could be a little bit helpful on this one." But I think the circumstances in which I can be helpful are very limited. So, I try, when I can, to direct people to work that’s being done by other people and say, "This is amazing, you should read it or you should engage with it" or whatever it is. But I don’t feel like I’m necessarily a useful participant in a lot of those conversations.  In the Louisiana Channel video, you talk about the role of literature, and how its role in the economy might compromise its ability to speak truth to power. What role do you see literature playing in shaping political ideas and challenging ways of thinking, whether positively or negatively, and what is its potential? I’m very skeptical of its potential in that way. This has been a debate throughout the twentieth century—socialist writers and critics obviously argued about the extent to which aesthetic forms, like the novel or like plays, forms of writing other than polemic, can intervene helpfully in political discourse and how they should do that, and what is a socialist novel? And what is a socialist play? And you have writers like Brecht or whatever who manage to answer that case for themselves, but not necessarily provide an answer that works in general. I’m just deeply skeptical because of the ease with which the novel is accommodated by the system of profit-driven publishing. If the book is turning a profit for shareholders, then the book cannot meaningfully be critiquing the system by which that profit is turned. It can offer the critique, but clearly the critique is capable of being accommodated, because the very presence of the book in the market tells us that. So, is it important to keep offering the critique anyway? Maybe? I don’t intend to stop doing it, because it would just be dishonest to stop, because it’s what I believe. But I also want to be appropriately skeptical of the value of that. And not pat myself on the back for including a paragraph in the book where I suggest that that’s the system, that that’s going on, and that the book contains the critique. [laughs] Okay, it contains the critique, but it is also contained by the system, you know, so. I’m skeptical of it. But I also think that there have to be parts of life that are not…I don’t think anything is completely separate from politics, I think everything we do is captured by one system or another, we’re never totally free of it. But I also think there have to be parts of our lives that make it worth going on with the struggle. And obviously one big part of that is our intimate lives, and that’s what I write about. I think that our personal relationships with other people give us a reason to keep living. And I think for a lot of people, or let’s say for a small number of people, the novel is another reason to keep going, to keep feeling like the struggle is actually worth engaging in, like there’s something worth protecting about human civilization. And for some people that’s the novel. And for other people that’s like, sports or other forms of the arts. There are loads of other things that are of course part of these broad political systems but that bring us a joy or a pleasure that we can salvage that isn’t totally just transactional in its nature. And I think that the novel is one of those things, maybe. That’s obviously not to say it’s fenced off from political concerns, but that there’s maybe something in it that transcends the transaction of simply paying for a book and owning it as a commodity. I would hope so.  I also wanted to talk to you about literary communities, because there’s that wonderful scene in the book, where Connell attends a literary reading… And he’s like, "What is this?" [laughs] "What is happening?" [laughs] and the artifice and the privilege of it really comes through. I was wondering if you can talk a little bit about the harm that those communities might do, but also if you see any value in them? Well, I think, the thing about that scene is, Connell is really suffering from clinical depression at this point, he’s deeply depressed. And he goes to this reading, and as you say, he’s really alienated by what he sees there, it feels so artificial, it feels like the whole art form has been completely captured by the elitist institution, and that people are engaging in it merely as a way of performing their participation in an elite cultural activity. And that appalls Connell—he’s from a working class background, for one thing, so he feels shut out from it, but he also is just someone who’s critical of those kinds of activities, and so it just doesn’t appeal to him. But the writer he meets is actually kind of nice to him! And, again, I wasn’t trying to give a parable there, but I just thought, that rang true to me. That he went along, he thought the reading was kinda bad, the way the reading was structured was borderline tasteless, and he felt very alienated, but the person who wrote the book did so in a sincere way and actually seemed to be a thinking, feeling person, and like, cared. And wasn’t cynical. And Connell left feeling like, "Okay, yeah, I don’t know." Because the way that he felt about the reading was still true, it was an elitist cultural activity, but on the other hand, people who write books, a lot of the time if not all of the time, are sincerely trying to do something good. They’re sincerely trying to find something true or insightful about the human condition or the conditions of our cultural world. And that’s a meaningful thing to do. And they’re sincerely striving to do something meaningful, and obviously they don’t always accomplish it, sometimes they write a book that’s not that great, and the reading’s bad. But the person behind it is sincere, and the cultural activity is meaningful, and we’re all striving in the same direction. So, I think Connell came away from that confused, that there’s a great extent to which artistic endeavor has been captured by commodification and elitist academia, but there’s also some extent to which it’s still worth engaging with because it brings us joy and because artistic effort is still sincere, and it’s worth going on with. It was obviously coloured by the frame of mind that he was in at the time.  But my experience of literary communities, and this is speaking from a position of enormous privilege because I’ve been really lucky, lucky, lucky all the way through, with my first book and my second book, everything has gone kind of right for me, so speaking from that position, which is a very rarefied one, my experience has been that like, other writers have been enormously welcoming and supportive, and I think there’s a strong sense, the way that I’ve experienced it, and again, not to speak for other people, but that we’re all kind of in it together and that the industry feels very random, and you never know what’s going to happen, which book will be successful and which won’t, but that as writers, we’re all doing the same job, and trying to grapple with the same questions, sometimes feeling like we did okay, sometimes feeling like, no, that didn’t really work, but it was an experiment, whatever. And so I think there’s a value to literary and artistic communities, but we should strive not to be captured by the kinds of commodification that Connell is seeing in that scene. Are there any efforts happening right now to dismantle that literary gatekeeping or overcome it, or counter it, that you see that you’re finding inspiring? I’m a very solitary person by nature, and I don’t go out much [laughs] or attend things, unless I have to, and so I feel like, you know, I keep forgetting that I’m now in a position of privilege, and that I have this platform, and that there are actually things I could actively be doing to try and improve literary communities, and to try to open them up. And instead I’m just sitting at home writing my next book, because that’s just what I’m like by disposition. But maybe I need to challenge myself and actually try to do stuff.  I have spent the last year editing a literary magazine in Dublin called The Stinging Fly. And so, we have an open submissions policy, and a big priority for us is publishing work by writers who’ve never been published before, so in that sense I feel very dedicated to openness, and to drawing people into the community, rather than to look after the community as it already exists, kind of thing. One of the previous editors of that magazine, Thomas Morris, the Welsh writer who was living in Ireland, he befriended me when I was in my teens, and encouraged me to keep writing, and introduced me to other aspiring writer friends, and in that totally ramshackle way, we developed a writers' circle and we still all share work with one another. And so, he’s someone that I look to as a really good example of how to build a literary community. To go about it in a completely open, slightly arbitrary kind of way based on wanting to support people who feel left out, and don’t know other writers, and who feel completely at a loss as to how to involve themselves in this community. I had no idea what the publishing industry even was. How it worked, or where it was, it’s in London, I didn’t know that. [laughs] So all of those things, I had no idea. I grew up in the west of Ireland, my dad fixed phone lines for a living. And my mum, in fairness, worked in the arts, she worked in the local art centre, not in publishing at all. So, I wasn’t someone who could just, like, stride into that world. Of course, I had privileges, I had a college education, I did, but it wasn’t easy for me to navigate that world. And so I really did rely on the kindness of other people, who had read maybe like a couple pages of my work and thought, "Oh, come along to this, I’ll introduce you to some of my friends." And I think maybe there’s an aspect in which Dublin is small enough, and Irish social culture is kind of informal enough that it’s easier to do that there. My experience was, when I was writing Conversations with Friends, if you show up to a book launch in Dublin, the writer who wrote the book is right there, you can just talk to them. It’s small, and everyone, in my instance, again, I won’t speak for other people, was very friendly, and open, so it’s easier to feel in touch with the literary community. I think in cities where there is a publishing industry in which there are lots of people employed and working professionally it may be harder to wander into a book launch and meet the person who wrote the book. So I think, in a way, in Dublin, not that I’m saying we don’t have a long way to go in terms of breaking down barriers, because we do—there are lots of issues left to address in terms of accessibility of the arts in Ireland, loads—but just speaking from my personal path to that, I think there are some ways in which it’s fairly open and welcoming, and we need to work on making it more like that. I’ve seen you talk about a funding model for the arts in Ireland that you think is working well. What's the situation, and what's the benefit to literary magazines?  Well, I should stress, the arts need more funding in Ireland. I was not praising the current government’s funding structure. What I was saying, I think, is that I do think there’s a focus in Ireland on magazines and journals that publish previously unpublished writers alongside writers who have been published before, and get that work out there, and I think those journals and magazines are read in London. I know nothing about American and Canadian publishing, so I can’t comment, but I think in London and in the UK it’s difficult for first-time writers, unless they’ve been through specific MFA programs or whatever, to just submit work to say Granta and get it published off the bat. I think that’s really hard. Whereas in Ireland, of course it’s competitive, and it’s difficult to get published in these magazines, but we will read your work and give it a fair shout. And, speaking from having been an editor there for a year, I really don’t care whose name is attached to it. If it’s good, it’s getting published. Or if it’s good enough, we can’t obviously publish everything that’s good.  There’s a sense in which, I feel like the way the arts community has organized itself, specifically in the literary world, that’s seen as a priority: finding new writers who’ve never been published before, supporting their work, giving them editorial attention, drawing them in and publishing that work and getting it read. So that’s a big priority, and I think that’s something that has really helped a generation of writers, like me, definitely, and also other writers who’ve emerged as a sort of new wave of Irish writing. A lot of them were published in The Stinging Fly, or other similar magazines like The Moth, Tangerine in Belfast is another great magazine. So, I think the fact that that is a priority is good. Also, that there are specific grants available to writers who have had maybe like one or two pieces published but have not published books. You can apply to the arts council and just get a little chunk of money, and it’s not a huge amount, but it’s enough to maybe look after rent for a little bit while you just focus on your writing. I got one of those, and that was huge for me. I was still working on Conversations with Friends, I’d published maybe an essay and a story, like, not a whole lot. But they gave me some money and I could do a bit more writing and it meant a lot at that time. So, I do think we need more of that. I’m not saying we have an adequate amount, of course we’re never going to feel we have an adequate amount, we definitely need more [laughs], but it’s important I think that that’s what the model looks like. That it’s not necessarily about funding the artists who are already successful, who represent Ireland abroad. I think it’s much more important to focus on people who have never been published before, who have no idea how to get published, and to make sure that they know that these things exist, that they can apply for these grants, that these magazines are here, and that we’re open, we take submissions. It’s about focusing on that side of things, and I think that’s what Ireland has been relatively good at so far. Normal People takes place during the Downturn Period. Do you feel that there was an impact of that period on Irish art and culture?   Huge. Yeah, I do. I think it was huge. People talk about this new wave in Irish writing, and it’s funny because it’s difficult, for me anyway, to point to a fallow period in Irish writing, because it seems to me like there’ve always been really interesting books coming out of Ireland. And you have writers like Anne Enright, Colm Tóibín, Sebastian Barry, they’re obviously still publishing now, they were publishing before, are they part of the new wave? Maybe not necessarily, but they’re among our obviously greatest writers and they’re still publishing great work all the time. So, for me I think what the new wave refers to is writing that emerged during the period you’re talking about. And that’s what differentiates it from what came before, that it’s writing almost specifically in response to the particular economic conditions that emerged after 2008. And I would date it back to, there’s a collection of short stories by the writer Kevin Barry, called There Are Little Kingdoms, that came out I think it was 2010 maybe? It was published by The Stinging Fly Press actually, and that book felt very different from what had preceeded it in Irish writing, and it was, I think it’s not controversial to say, hugely influential on the writers that then emerged afterwards, writers like Lisa McInerney, like Colin Barrett, and then in turn obviously those writers were influencing me, and the other writers who were emerging then, so I do think that that 2008, 2010, 2011, those years were seeing a big shift in how Irish society was organized, that’s an objective fact, and then, also in the cultural responses that were emerging.  Are there any books forthcoming from Stinging Fly Press or any stories coming out in the magazine that you’re especially excited about?  The current issue is being guest edited by Danny Denton, the writer from Cork, so I’m excited to read everything, because I’m here and he’s there doing the hard work. So, I’m really excited to read everything that is in there, but I haven’t read any of it yet. And then, there’s a writer called Nicole Flattery, who’s just published a collection of stories with Stinging Fly Press, and also with I think Bloomsbury in the UK, called Show Them A Good Time. It’s an unbelievably good collection of stories. Nicole is a really astonishingly gifted writer. I love reading everything that she writes. She just writes the best sentences out there, I just think her sentences are unbelievably good. So, I’m really excited about her book. It came out, maybe I think, February? End of February? So that’s the Stinging Fly book I’m most excited about. I wanted to talk about mental health a little bit. I love the way you write about mental health, from the smaller moments, like in Conversations with Friends, where alcoholism is kind of on the edges of it, and then in Normal People obviously, in my reading, I felt mental health was very, very present. Is that a starting point for a character, or is it something that emerges as you write? I think it emerges in the character. I suppose when I first met these characters, I felt like, they were already fully formed and it was my job to find out what was going on with them. Of course, that’s not actually true, and sometimes I have to remind myself, "You made it up! They did not arrive fully formed. You made it all up!" But I can’t accept that. So, for me, it was like, I met, in Connell’s case, this young man, or teenage boy, and I really think now, looking back, when we meet him, he’s already deeply wracked by social anxiety. He doesn’t have that name for it, necessarily, but he feels so uncomfortable in his own self with regards to what’s perceived as normal. And when he manages to come close to that, he’s feeling okay, and feeling comfortable, like he knows how to navigate his life, and when he feels himself pulling away from what’s normal, he gets very unhappy and sick and upset and not feeling good. And he doesn’t necessarily have the vocabulary to think about that, because who does when they’re 18? And then, as he goes through university and feels further and further away from the social world, just feeling deeply alienated from what he sees around him, he sinks in to this terrible depressive episode, I can’t remember what year of college he’s in, third year I think. And that just felt to me like it was the inevitable result of the factors that I’d introduced, I had this character, I knew how he felt in his school life, I knew how he managed to navigate a very fixed and stable social world, and then I wrenched him out of that, and put him in a very unfixed, very mobile social world, where all the pieces seemed to be moving very quickly. And it just felt like the only way that he could respond to that, particularly when Marianne is gone, ‘cause she’s like his one, even though their relationship is in some ways very unstable, she for him is like a stable presence, and then he goes through this bereavement because of the suicide of his friend from school, who he’s completely fallen away from, drifted away from. It felt like the only way that I could work through that remaining true to who I thought Connell was, was to have him respond in that way. And I mean it was never like I sat down and thought, “I should address the topic of depression,” but I felt like I had to stay true to the character that I had, and I was interested ultimately in following him into that exchange that he has with the counsellor. And again, doing what I described, which is remaining fairly value neutral. Like I wasn’t trying to say counselling is good or bad, that’s not something that interests me in the context of a novel. It’s not a judgement that I feel interested in making. It’s like, here’s what he would have done. Here’s what he did. Here’s how it played out. Was it a good or bad experience? I don’t feel like that’s for me to say. But I wanted to be attentive to the detail, and the strangeness of it for him. It’s something that he probably would not have pursued at an earlier point in his life, no matter how bad he felt. It’s something that became open to him because of the specific situation that he was in, and the fact that it’s free for college students in that specific circumstance. I was interested in how I thought that would play out for him. One of my friends, actually, asked me to ask you this: she was curious about what you were reading and listening to as you were writing, because she listened to the Connell and Marianne playlists that you made. Was that purely a character exercise or was that actually what you were listening to? [Laughs] Oh man, I was listening to those! Yeah, yeah. I spent more time making those than I did writing the novel, they were so intricate, and honestly if you listen to them in chronological order, a lot of the plot is in there. [laughs] Go back! ‘Cause they’re good playlists. I flatter myself but they are good. So, I was listening to that, yeah. What else was I listening to? I’m trying to think now. I wrote Conversations and this book kind of close together, so there’s probably some overlap in terms of what I was listening to. I think I was listening to St. Vincent, I’m not sure when that album came out though. And, oh, you remember that Sufjan Stevens album, Carrie & Lowell? Again, I can’t remember when that came out but I think I was listening to that writing this. And then what was I reading? Not a lot. When I was in the process of actually writing, particularly writing early drafts, working really intensely, writing thousands of words a day, I wasn’t reading a lot. And I find that I really have to use my breaks from writing to read as much as I can, try and read like a book or two a week or whatever, because when I get back into it then, I can’t read. I feel like such a fraud for not being able to read when I’m writing, I feel really bad, because it’s like, am I saying I like my own work more than other books? [laughs] That’s so terrible! But I don’t think that’s what it is, I think it’s just I have to shut off that part of my brain. Maybe it’s just that I love reading so much that it just takes up too much of my mental space and I feel too engaged by it. I would like to think that. And so, I need to kind of distance myself from it in order to get the intense work that I need to do done. So yeah, I was certainly reading a lot in the breaks, while I was writing I wasn’t reading much. What are you reading on this trip? I just finished Emmanuel Carrère's book The Kingdom. Oh my god, it’s amazing. Okay, this book blew me away. He’s this French writer, and he has written this book which is partly a memoir of his own fairly short-lived conversion to Christianity, he’s writing it from the perspective of having then lost his faith but still being very engaged in the philosophical underpinnings of the Catholic faith in specific but Christianity generally, and part of the book is like a retelling of the gospel of Luke from the historical perspective of the Luke character, so it’s like, so fascinating. There’s so much history in it, there’s so much theology in it, and then it’s also this very personal look back on a period in his life that he now struggles to understand, like he really believed in the supernatural elements of the faith and now just doesn’t at all. So, it’s a really, really, really fascinating book, and it has reawakened my, in fairness, kind of lifelong interest in the gospels. I’m really fascinated by the character of Jesus, and whenever I go back and read those gospels I’m just compelled by him all over again. I just find him so interesting! So, I’m going back now and reading over the gospels again as well, so that has been my big reading interest while I’ve been on this trip.
The Year in Thrift

As I moved into a house where I hope to stay forever, I spent a lot of time with things other people left behind. 

What were we obsessed with, invested in and plagued by in 2018? Hazlitt’s writers reflect on the issues, big and small. I spent four years working in retail for a fast-fashion chain that, at the time, employed a program colloquially known as “rip shifts,” processing items no longer in sellable condition. Sometimes unsellable meant returned purchases sodden with sweat and cigarette smoke. Sometimes it meant a decision passed on from management about a shipment of 89 mustard yellow polo shirts seven months out of season. Once or twice a week, an employee would spend six hours in the stock room with a pair of high-quality garden shears, shredding nylon puffer jackets and cheap sandals into unusable bits of material that couldn’t be fished out of a dumpster somewhere and, god forbid, given a second life. Depending on a lot of things—your mood that day, your relationship to this employer, your inclination towards human interaction—it was the best shift to take, so long as you didn’t think too hard about what was actually going on. After working a rip shift, I’d have muscle-memory dreams. Of the particular, putty-like give of pulling spandex apart. Of finding the right pocket to split the side seam of a pair of jeans in one smooth cut. Of nests of useless fibres growing taller, forever. Now, ten years later, once or twice a week, on my way home from work, I’ll stop at the thrift shop down the block from where I live. I pick a section—denim, knits, toddlers’ clothing—and run two fingers along the hangers’ shoulders while going up and down the aisles. I let texture direct my attention. The plastic pull of acrylic? Pass. Polyester? Any smells or stains will never leave; keep walking. The brush of cotton or wool is good. The tractionless slip of silk, better. Cupro is soft and heavy and indicative of contemporary technology: recycled strands of cotton blended with copper oxide and favoured by manufacturers and designers who value environmental economy, or at least the semblance of such. Since this is a second-hand purchase, I tell myself, I don’t have to worry about the distinction. If the colour suits and the size is right, I take it off the rack to think about whether or not to take it home. These days, the ritual doesn’t take long. Maybe ten minutes or so. Not too long ago, it used to take hours. I started thrifting in earnest last year for a few reasons. My second pregnancy permanently swelled my feet up by nearly a whole size, and no pair of shoes I owned still fit. I was on a parental leave salary, and on parental leave time. I told myself it was an ethical choice. Commercial garment production is notorious for its use and pollution of water, inefficient textile use and exploitative labour practices. Perhaps this could be one easy way to feel better about the consumption choices I make, I thought. This choice quickly ceased to be remotely about ethics or being economical. On my first trip to that neighbourhood thrift store, thirty seconds after walking past the shelves of mismatched tea cups and silverware and mounted Scarface posters, I spotted a white garment tag still hanging from the hip of a pair of pants, Missoni’s trademark boldface "M." A $700 pair of brand new unworn wool slacks just sitting on the rack, priced at $5.99. “What idiot would throw something like this away?” I thought, at once re-living that one Simpsons episode and finally, truly, turning into my father. I spent the next hour flipping through every hanger on that rack. I loved, it turned out, wandering among the purged possessions of others. I also loved bringing them home.  My family moved into our most recent, and hopefully permanent, home last Christmas. It was my sixth move in ten years. Nine, if you count a few three-month interstitials spent at my nonna-in-law’s home while we looked for places in a city with one of the most polarized affordability and vacancy rates in Canada. Our first stay at my nonna-in-law’s home in between apartments was in the year after her husband died. We spent those months helping her bag up his suits, ties and shoes and ensuring they were on the porch for various charity programs to pick up, programs that likely carted them to the same types of thrift stores I’ve spent the last year ambling about in.  That Christmas, we opened and giggled over every bottle of homemade grappa that nonno would distill and store in the basement, left forgotten for years. Most of it was undrinkable—bottles stuffed with deconstructed raspberries and raisins left to bloat into fuzzy, grey balloons—but she insisted everyone take some home. It was the beginning of an ongoing purge that has little to do with KonMari method ideas about minimalist purity. It feels more like a wind-down, one that instills a kind of gratitude and pre-emptive grief whenever I experience it. At one point, she pulled some clothes out of her closet, three plaid skirts she’d cut and sewn for herself shortly after moving to Canada in the 1960s, and gave one each to her two granddaughters and me. She worked most of her life as a tailor, and these skirts are expertly made. Every hem is perfectly even, every line of the fabric’s pattern book-matched at the seams. I’ve seen such garments while thrifting—handmade clothes, clearly meant for a particular person—and gravitate towards them now. Never to buy them; just to look. After we’d settled this most recent move, my father started leaving old belongings around our home without telling us. Baby clothes. A bicycle helmet. I know what he thinks he is doing. I want to believe it’s too early for it. I don’t yet have it in me to tell him to stop. 
The Year in Chores

This year, time flew marked by dishes, laundry, trash, repeat. Occasionally I was seized with the worry that I was not doing the correct things.

What were we obsessed with, invested in and plagued by in 2018? Hazlitt’s writers reflect on the issues, big and small. Entropy is often explained, simplistically, as a measure of disorder. It’s a rule of the universe: everything tends toward disorder. A party will not clean up after itself, because entropy. A broken glass won’t heal itself, because entropy. My friend Kate, a poet and physicist, says that simply by existing, we are fighting entropy. To be alive is to be ordered. What I’d wanted was for this to be a quiet year. I’d wanted to rebuild my life and the routines in it. The year before had been nuts, albeit in the good way: I’d gotten married. I’d had two books released within three months of each other, and gone on two book tours. I’d met innumerable new people and eaten alone in innumerable restaurants—not unhappily. It seemed a sustained reward for the previous year, during which I worked constantly, during which I debated about whether or not to leave a job that was making me miserable, despite the fact that I loved the work itself. What I wound up doing more of, this year, more than anything else, was chores. Even writing often felt like a chore—a small act that created order, temporarily, but seemingly amounted to nothing. I say seemingly, but maybe it’s actually—the jury is still out. The jury hasn’t even been summoned. Writing pieces of a thing that I didn’t have any great plans for, I felt less like an architect of some grand thing. I felt more like a custodian.  My plans had not exactly been the best laid. I had given myself responsibilities—probably too many: In December I signed a commercial real-estate lease for the arts-and-letters space I’d wanted to open; in January, we were off to the races. This brought new people and meaning to my life, and also chores. In June we adopted a kitten, which added love to our lives, and also chores. All year, my husband Eli was working in Los Angeles, back for visits to San Francisco roughly every other weekend. Suddenly the chores that we had divided, at home, became mostly mine. Nobody washed the dishes after I cooked. Cooking, which ordinarily I love, became difficult. One weekend, while Eli was home, I took a sausage out of the fridge, peeled the wrapper off, and started to eat it, the way I might have fed myself, alone. “Give me that,” he said, horrified. He pried the cold, naked sausage out of my hands, sliced it, put it on a plate, and microwaved it. He finished it with a decorative swirling of Sriracha. After I was done, he washed the dish. Was that so hard? It sort of was. Early in the year a librarian told me about Kanopy, the online streaming service connected to public libraries. They had The Great Courses, she said! This excited me. I proceeded to stream “The Mysteries of Modern Physics: Time,” taught by Sean Carroll, a CalTech professor. Time moves only in one direction, and disorder is always increasing. One can mix cream into coffee but one cannot easily unmix it. One can scramble an egg but not unscramble it. (Scientists apparently have figured out a very complicated way of un-boiling eggs.) Entropy, in our universe, had been lower in the past. Entropy is always increasing. There is no end to chores. Time flies like an arrow, and time flew marked by chores: dishes, laundry, trash, repeat. It seemed like it was always time to swap out the litter in the litter box, and litter is so goddamn heavy. The chores not only seemed interminable, they were; they are. The average person loses a third of an ounce of skin per week. The weight of a “car key,” according to Hughes Environmental. Our cat Bunny has a tortoiseshell coat, so it’s three colors of fur she sheds everywhere. Then there is my hair, that seems to be falling out at a rate that defies logic. And each of us losing car keys of skin every week, though I guess it’s probably less for cats, and Eli is here only part of the time.  Every week I’m having to contend with a car key and a half of my family’s skin, let’s say. This year I washed out the sponge-y filter in my vacuum for the first time! I’d never known this was a thing you should do until I Googled it. I washed it with soap and water and watched the water run out when I squeezed it, blackened. Once, tiredly, doing a load of laundry, I forgot the detergent. It seemed like every other week I was scooping molding hummus and salsa from out of their tubs, and rinsing the tubs, and putting them in the recycling bin. The mold was living its best life, and was I? Occasionally I was seized with the worry that I was not doing the correct things. In less charitable moments I thought: I’ve given myself reasons to feel useful, but what was I doing, really? The feeling sometimes crept in, insidious: I wasn’t building anything solid, or real, or permanent. I was writing pages and pages, and despite all this time spent, I still couldn’t understand where the book was going, or what the point of it was. I’d wash the dishes and take out the recycling, and a moment later there was another dish to be washed or more junk mail in the mail slot. From time to time I wondered, I still wonder, if it had been a mistake to arrange my life the way I had. In an alternate universe I moved to Los Angeles with my husband and I’ve been writing my masterpiece—my masterpiece I have an outline for—and my burden of chores is shared, and minimal. Yet I had the loveliest year, and it unfolded in quiet, impermanent, perfect moments: in good people gathered to talk and laugh together for an hour or two; in a little cat purring, its body draped over mine, while I read. These were things that happened, and vanished. Not without a trace—there are always traces. The trash would need taking out and there would be furniture to be put back in to place, and dishes to wash, and surfaces to wipe, and pants to go over with the lint roller. It’s occurring to me now that chores, as acts that momentarily bring order to our universes, are important human stuff. Or at least human stuff. Anyway, they’re not nothing. Last night, reading a poem by Ada Limon, I copied part of it down: “I took to my hands and knees. I was thinking about the novel / I was writing. The great heavy chest of live animals / I had been dragging around for years;/ what’s life?/ I made the house so clean (shine and shine and shine).”
The Year Inside My Brain

I stood up and the top of my skull slammed hard into the ceiling. Weird, I thought, and then I stopped thinking at all.

What were we obsessed with, invested in and plagued by in 2018? Hazlitt’s writers reflect on the issues, big and small. If there's one thing I know about recovering from a concussion, it's that nobody thinks they could possibly ever do it. I know this because it's what every single person has said to me every single time I’ve told them the big long list of stuff you're not supposed to do during your initial period of "brain rest,” which for most people lasts about a week, but can take months for those with more severe injuries. The goal of this period is essentially to get both the amount of sensory input going into your brain and the amount of interaction you have with yourself down to zero for as long as you possibly can. You are trying to divert one hundred percent of your brain’s energy back to the recovery process, which means you can't listen to music or podcasts or audiobooks. You can't read, or watch TV or look at your phone. You can't cook at all, or clean without taking many breaks. You can't really go out anywhere, because all sensory input makes your eyeballs feel like they’re inflating in their sockets. You can't really talk to anyone for very long, or about anything of consequence. You absolutely can't drink or smoke weed, and you shouldn’t take CBD oil or any kind of painkillers or naps if you can help it. You can eat right and drink a lot of water and wake up at the same time every morning and go for short walks until you feel dizzy and besides that, basically, your options are to sit on the couch and stare at the wall, or to sit on the couch and see if you’re somehow any better at meditating than you were the last time you tried it. (Surprise! You’re not.) Years ago, I had this friend—not super close, more of an acquaintance, really. We lived in Montreal at the same time, except that while I was drinking comically oversized bottles of 50 in the city's dumbest bars and writing poems about my complex emotional landscape, he was getting a degree in physics, and then a job at the school, and then one day on his way to work, into a horrific bike accident where he smashed his (helmeted!) head so hard on the pavement that the resulting brain injury lasted for literally years. I saw him when he was just emerging from the darkest part of his recovery—the black hole at the centre, the big rest—and when I asked him what he’d been doing since the accident, he just shrugged. Light jogs around the neighbourhood, petting a strip off the cat. I asked him whether he could at least catch up on his reading and he reeled off that long list of things he wasn’t allowed to do, and then I said the same thing that everyone says: Wow, I could never do that. Hubris! I didn’t get my concussion in a bike accident, though when my brand-new manager at my brand-new job told all my new coworkers I had, I did not correct him. I got my concussion in the basement of my house, on a hot day in late August, while trying to locate the origin of the cat pee smell that had been lingering down there for weeks. I was bending down to check behind a box full of copies of the poetry collection I’d published in the spring, thinking about how funny and sad it would be if the cat had pissed all over them, and then when I stood up the top of my skull slammed hard into the corner of the concrete bulkhead that jutted out from the low ceiling. I braced myself for pain, but felt something completely different instead: a powerful, shimmering nausea unlike anything I’d ever felt before, sweeping through my body in one intense wave from the top of my head right down into the arches of my feet. Like a natural disaster. I’m not sure how long I stood there, just letting the wave move through me in diminishing intervals like that, but I’m convinced that if you were watching me you could have seen my body cutting in and out like a bad signal. (Funnily enough, I had used this exact image often in that poetry collection, as a representation of an idea, and now it felt like it was actually happening to me. Hubris?) Weird, I thought, and then I stopped thinking at all. Another thing they tell you at the clinic is that anxiety and memory both burn brain-energy at about three times the rate of regular thought, stimulating the exact parts of the organ you are trying to keep still for recovery purposes, and as such you should really try to avoid them wherever you can. So, okay: just sit on the couch for twelve hours a day with no distractions and a brain injury and do your best not to feel anxious, because feeling anxious will make your brain injury worse. Also don’t remember anything. No problem, right? I could never do that is the only logical response to this, even though it doesn’t matter whether you think you can, because you have to. The only people who think they can do it are nuns and monks and yoga people and the brainwashed; people tapped into some mystical dimension that requires total, rigorous, daily, full-body commitment to reach.  Concussion makes your relationship with your own mind hyperliteral, then turns it inside out. A few days into my initial recovery, I noticed this spot on the back left quadrant of my skull, about the size of a toonie. Most of the time the spot tingled in an ambient, white-noise kind of way, but if I tried to do anything too challenging—like, say, reading the IKEA catalogue for longer than four minutes, or thinking for ten seconds about all the money that was literally draining out of my bank account minute by minute as I sat there not working or moving or thinking—the tingling would flare into a hot pins-and-needles sensation that increased in volume until it burned so bright I would be literally forced to stop thinking at all until it died down. When I described all of this to my doctor he just sat there nodding patiently, waiting for me to finish. That's blood rushing to the part of your brain you're trying to think with, he told me. Cool. You can use it as a guide, he said. If I felt a little tingling, I was doing something good for me, pushing myself just enough. Too much, and I knew to back off. Soon, this spot inside my skull became my only reliable metric for how much I should be thinking, whether I should stop. Recently, I’ve stopped being able to feel it; soon it will be entirely gone. I think I might miss it, though “miss” is also entirely the wrong word. A friend once told me about this video he was obsessed with—specifically, the part where you can see the inner workings of the MTA control centre. The antique 1930s control panel, all those ancient levers and switches and wires. I like the part where the guy emphasizes that the whole thing is completely safe, just very, very old. That control centre, it turns out, is an excellent thing to picture when you’re picturing the inside of your brain. Idiosyncratically constructed, at once impossibly strong and idiotically precarious. As long as I’ve been a depressed person, I have understood my depression primarily as an issue of crossed wires, chemical imbalance. My brain and my body are connected, and that’s why both of them feel better if I exercise and eat and sleep and drink water and take my pills at the same time every day. No big mystery. I say this all the time, and most of the time I believe it. Still, though, I've never been able to completely let go of the secret conviction that some part of my emotional life operates completely outside of my body, and therefore completely outside my control. My most intense episodes of depression or anxiety can feel so full-body that when I am in their grip, it’s impossible to conceive of them as a glitch in my own chemical processing. In these moments, my emotions feel like truths about the world outside my body that have worked their way into my nervous system. It feels not just inadequate but foolish to presume they begin and end inside my body. They are not petty or small. They are a natural disaster. But lately I’ve wondering whether there’s a third option: something bigger than my body that fits perfectly inside it. Like, okay: there’s this weird trick I can do with my memory. It’s been four months now since I hit my head in the basement, and though many of my symptoms have dissolved, I can still conjure those initial waves of strange, glittering nausea from the moment I hit my head in the first place. All I have to do is describe it—to myself or someone else—and suddenly, there they are, pulling all the way through me again, like nothing else I’ve ever felt before. I am one hundred percent certain that what I experience in these moments is not the memory of a feeling or the idea of it or a watered-down version cut with time and distance, but the actual exact same sensation I felt a whole four months ago, coming down through my body again. Is this a glitch in my brain or is it time travel? Does it matter? Doesn’t trauma sear itself into your circuitry, and is that maybe a kind of magic too? Since I discovered I could do this, conjure the past into the present, I’ve found myself testing it out every couple of days—at my day job, in conversations, on the streetcar, in my bed alone—just to see. It feels perverse and queasy and inexplicably satisfying. It’s not a metaphor for anything. You never know all the things that your body can do, even when you’re sure you’ve felt each one. There’s always something new for you to learn from the interior.
The Year in Dog

Days have become generally unmanageable, and for some people it helps a bit to have a dog around, which I encourage. 

What were we obsessed with, invested in and plagued by in 2018? Hazlitt’s writers reflect on the issues, big and small. Maintaining a dog is mostly not that difficult. The worst part is the constant fear you’ll kill it, particularly in a way that lets everyone else know the death was your fault. The second-worst part is knowing that, even if you don’t kill it, it’s definitely going to die. And from then on you’ll carry around the weight of your beloved dead dog that you won’t be able to talk about as much as you want to, because it’s just a dog, not a human, and the humans you know will also be dying. Otherwise it’s really good. This year I had the pleasure of pep-talking a few friends into getting dogs of their own. Days have become generally unmanageable, and for some people it helps a bit to have a dog around, which I encourage. My friends’ concerns were mainly like this: Will I kill it? Will it be too expensive? Am I going to be able to deal with taking it outside to do its business multiple times per day for twelve whole years, or however long it lives? Will it ruin my social life? Will it hate me for not being good enough? It’s difficult, I know. It’s a big decision. I’ll tell you what the answers are, though, in case you’re also curious: Probably not; sort of; yes, but if you adopt an older one you’ll have it for fewer years than that; yes, but that’s a positive; and maybe. But mostly you’ll just love the dog and the rest is nothing.  This isn’t to say I think everyone should have a dog. Even though maintaining one is non-difficult, like I said, there are many non-difficult things that some people are just not equipped to manage. For example, I once dated (this is none of your business) a guy who thought dishwashers came with soap already inside of them. Like, a supply of soap that was distributed throughout each wash, already there, inside the dishwasher that came with his apartment. That guy should not have a dog. (He’s a doctor now.)  Anyway, this was my first full year as a dog owner. I adopted my dog, Peter, in May of last year from a Brooklyn rescue that saved him from a kill shelter in Georgia. In case you’re unfamiliar with my number one Pete-man, the tiny Peterita, I’ll tell you what to picture when you think of him: He’s a mix of several dogs, mainly black lab and chihuahua, and the mix lends him the appearance of some sort of very shiny puppy. He’s got wide-spread, noticeably large eyes, and a really intense pee stare when he needs to go out. His head is a bit too small for his body, which is not aided by the fact that he’s a little too fat. I don’t mean this to be rude. Truly it’s only just a tiny bit, and I think he’s very handsome, obviously—a young Leonardo DiCaprio type, if I had to cast him—but it just so happens that he deserves treats at a rate that slightly outpaces the amount of exercise city living allows. It’s neither of our faults, really, but we’re working on it. This year together cemented a rhythm with us—dogs sort of require the rhythm and train you to respond accordingly. Mornings are always the same. The alarm goes off and if it’s before 6:30 a.m., Peter will stay in bed a bit longer, literally groaning like a teenager when I hug him and tell him that I love him so much it makes me want to die, before I go off to do whatever morning chores there are to do. After 7 a.m. usually means I don’t want to get out of bed at all, which forces Peter to put his tiny little face right in mine, giving me his intense pee stare until I relent.   For whatever reason, he presses his body flat against the door to assist in my putting on his collar to go outside. It’s no more helpful than if he just stood still, not pressed against the door, but I appreciate the effort nontheless. He trots down the stairs, bow-legged and funny, and we head off to the nearby park. For the most part I dread meeting other dog owners on our walks—trying to be polite as dogs tug at your arms, neither of you exactly sure when to cut the conversation off and say, “okay [dog] let’s keep walking!”—but I had an exceptional meeting in January that has stuck with me, if you’d like to hear about it. Peter and I were stopped by an older man getting out of his truck, who asked if he could say hello. Yes, he could. He cupped Peter’s face in his hands explained that he loved dogs, and that his dogs had died. He wiped the boogers out of the corners of Peter’s eyes and said, “You spoil them, you know?” The man kept dog treats he got from the bank in the cup holders of his truck in case he had the opportunity to meet any new dogs, and he gave one to Peter. (Peter, sadly, doesn’t take well to treats when he’s nervous, which he tends to be. He took it gingerly in his mouth and placed it on the ground. I picked it up and said he’d be excited about it when we got home, but it still felt a little cruel and I feel bad that it happened the way it did.) Before parting ways he stopped me to ask what my dog’s name was. “Peter,” I said. He gasped. “—My name is Peter!”   After the walk comes his feeding and our various work day formations. If I sit in my chair, he’ll lie at my chair’s side. If I sit on the yoga mat, he’ll sit up directly beside me as if we are both using the computer. If I lie on the bed, which I must admit is what I usually do, he’ll lie with me, either under the covers, at my feet, or right by my side, with his head on my shoulder. Obviously I feel guilt about the boring day he must have while I’m looking at my stupid computer (and what must he think I’m doing? I hope he doesn’t know about Twitter) so I’ll usually sing him a lot of high-pitched songs about the body parts he has, to entertain him. (For example: “Are you my little puppy guy / Do you have little puppy eyes / Are you sweet / And are you small / And do you have a face?”) (For another: “Who is this little puppy guy / Why is he so sweet? / He is tiny and he is small / And he has got four feet!”) At night we sleep together in my bed, a disgusting habit that I would not alter for even a significant sum of money. (And I would love a significant sum of money.) Then I listen to him breathe until I fall asleep. The year was solidly this. Maintaining my dog, being with my dog, holding my dog’s face in my hands and telling him I love him while he tells me stop holding my face. The days slipped together, racing past in a blur of unspeakable horror, but there was at least always this. My number one Pete-man. The tiny Peterita.
The Year in Rebuilding

That’s the thing with emotional abuse. You stop trusting yourself, which makes it hard to be alone, so you stay and you listen to someone else’s version of your shared story.

What were we obsessed with, invested in and plagued by in 2018? Hazlitt’s writers reflect on the issues, big and small. A male friend recently told me he'd just looked up the definition of gaslighting. “I'm still not sure I know what it means,” he said. “It's basically what Trump's doing to the whole world,” I said, and then I laughed. Not because it was funny. Because I couldn't imagine what it's like not to know.  Gaslighting was the tactic most commonly used by my ex-boyfriend, Ryan*, when we were together in 2017. It was part of a pattern of emotional abuse that made me believe I was as crazy as he insisted I was. He argued with every thought I spoke out loud. He discredited every feeling, including those he asked me to share. He told me he didn’t hold me against the wall by my throat that one night, when his eyes came down on me like an avalanche and I believed I deserved it. “Mate, you’ve lost the plot.” He said it all the time when I pointed out his behaviour. He had as many different ways of calling me crazy as he had reasons to do it. He’d say it with an edge of affection for his crazy girlfriend who wanted to run ultramarathons. He’d say it with a heavy dose of pity for his crazy girlfriend who didn’t want kids. He’d say it, drunk in the middle of the night, because his crazy girlfriend was crying again. If he voiced jealousy over someone smiling at me on the street, he blamed his outburst on my having given a flirty look. If we went to the gym together, and he was angry he’d spent $7 on admission rather than a beer, he’d say we wouldn’t be fighting if I hadn’t forced him to exercise. If I said I was frustrated by being constantly cast as the crazy girlfriend, the issue was never his treatment of me, it was my sensitivity. Reframing an incident was easier than taking responsibility for it, at least, for him. This is part of what makes it hard to identify gaslighting. It can be disguised as a different perspective. After we broke up, I spent 2018 re-learning how to trust myself—my thoughts, my feelings, things that happened right in front of me. If you’ve never been with someone who negates your experience of the world, it’s hard to imagine how it starts. It’s like a brainwashing you agree to. At first, I kept notes like life preservers around me, reading them behind the locked door of the bathroom when I felt reality washing away on his words. Eventually though, worried he’d find them, I shredded them. I deleted the whispered voice memos from my phone because they seemed like evidence he was right. They seemed like the sort of thing a crazy person would keep.   For a long time, I didn’t call it abuse. Living in the Yukon, where rates of violence against women are three times higher than the national average (and those rates are even higher for Indigenous women), if felt like there was always something worse happening. As a journalist, I was often covering it. My nose wasn't broken like the woman I interviewed about her domestic assault. Ryan hadn't threatened "'til death do us part" like the ex in the harassment trial I covered. Besides, I was a lippy feminist who talked back to catcallers and told her friends to ditch partners who were leeches, or alcoholics, or simply mean. I wasn't the kind of person who landed in an abusive relationship, let alone stayed in one for a year. Still, somehow, I did. * It was my first winter in Whitehorse. My long-term partner was still in Ontario, and we stayed together at first, eventually deciding on an open relationship, and then no relationship. I moved north to cover crime for a local newspaper while I wrote a novel about a family of outfitters that fractures when one member goes missing. I remember being overwhelmed by the number of charges of harassment and assault there were to cover—so many that a co-worker suggested I quit reporting on it altogether. “We can’t cover them all,” he said. “How do you decide which ones are bad enough?” I stopped trying to keep up and focussed my spare time on the novel, which is how I met Ryan. He was in Canada, working as a carpenter and a horse wrangler for an outfitter I was interviewing. He had hazel eyes and an Australian accent. He was gentle with horses and he smelled like hay and engine oil. We met at a wild game banquet. He told me, later, that when I'd walked up to him that night, wearing a dress printed with images of deer and foxes and black bears, he didn’t know whether to kiss me or shoot me. If you’d asked me, then, to describe him in a word, I would have used joyful. He'd pick me up after work and yank me across the bench seat of his truck so he could sing Elton John songs in my ear as he drove the Alaska Highway north to his cabin, where we built bonfires in the snow and looked for northern lights. Falling in love with him was like falling in love with a character I’d written, even as I was already involved with other, very non-fictional people. Ryan knew about the partner back in Ontario and had no reservations about continuing our relationship. We never discussed exclusivity. He reminded me often that his plans included long stretches leaving the Yukon to travel to Alaska, Alberta and Ontario before returning to Australia. I told him I was happy to enjoy each other as much as possible until that time came. I don’t know if we were so intense so early because, or in spite, of our built-in expiry date. That was the arrangement, when, months later, he found out that the same week we’d met, I’d been sleeping with a single dad from Vancouver—one I saw again after meeting Ryan, and one I intentionally didn’t mention. Ryan had a meltdown. He called me a cheater. He said we’d never been casual and, in fact, he’d been thinking about cancelling his travel plans, extending his visa, marrying me, and having kids (though I was clear I didn’t want the latter two with anyone). At first, I defended myself (can you technically cheat on someone if you aren’t actually a couple?), but my defense felt like weaselling out of responsibility. I didn’t want to dismiss his pain or perspective, so I agreed with him. I believed I was a cheater. I still believe that. The difference now is that I also believe that didn’t justify Ryan’s treatment of me, before or after he found out. * At first, it was the way romance is, halcyon and singular. Whitehorse was quiet and cold and dark. We ignored it, staying in bed until the winter sun set, then eating bacon in the silver afternoon light of my small, slanted cottage. We drove everywhere because, in minus 40, our breath froze our eyelashes to crystals if we walked. He talked about flying me home to meet his family in Australia where I could finally take off my parka and get a tan. Mornings, he rolled over and gave me a look like he was discovering galaxies in bed beside him. “Fuck, I love you.” He sounded shocked every day. “You know?” I did know. It’s why I didn’t mind that he was jealous. Instead, I learned to recognize the look he’d get when jealousy kicked in. The way his forehead fell like a shelf, shadowing his eyes. The way his cheek twitched.   "You know that guy?" he'd ask, pointing at a singer in a bar. "Did you fuck that guy? Why does he keep looking at you?" One night, someone I’d never seen before told Ryan to watch out for me. That I looked like trouble. Ryan spent the rest of the night trying to get me to admit I was sleeping with the stranger. We were thrown out of a bar after a man walked by us and said I should go home with him. Ryan grabbed him by the collar, pushed him through the dense crowd, and punched a bouncer in the process. After that, I told him a dozen different times that I wouldn’t be around him when he was drinking. "Amy," he always said. "The problem isn't that we're drinking. It's what we're drinking." His drunkenness, and the fights that followed, were my fault because I liked whisky. He was just trying to keep up. We’d be fine if we stuck to beer, or cocktails, or took "nights off." That’s how he characterized the evenings we stayed in to watch movies and split a bottle of wine. He wasn’t even 30. Already he had the thin spidery veins around his nose that you see in career alcoholics. * He found out about the single dad in the spring, while he was working a stint as a carpenter in Calgary. I flew there to apologize. He picked me up at the airport and told me he’d considered driving me into the flat, dark Alberta countryside and leaving me on the side of the highway.  "If I take you back," he said. "You can't break up with me. You can't cheat on me and then break up with me." I promised not to. * As the snow melted, his moods were like mountain weather. He loved me and called me regularly from his job in Calgary to remind me I was a piece of shit. I accepted it as part of the process of being forgiven. I agreed with him. I hated myself as much as he did. When Ryan came back at spring’s end, there were friends I avoided. He didn’t demand it. It was just easier that way. Anyone he knew had met the single dad triggered a terrible mood. Likewise, anyone from Vancouver, where the single dad lived, or anyone who acknowledged Vancouver even existed. Same with anyone who spoke freely and openly about sex—that reminded him I'd had it with people other than him—and with vegetarian meals. The single dad was vegetarian. Ryan’s outrage over a falafel could last days.     I bought new bedsheets because he didn't like the thought of the old ones. A new coffee mug because he wanted to know he was the only one who’d ever used it. He was corrective in explicit ways, discouraging me from taking a course in personal training because I’d “be terrible at it,” and implicit ways, by immediately changing the song every time I put music on. He shit-talked my education (he'd dropped out of high school) and the granting system for Canadian artists (until I got one for my novel—then he was furious when I wouldn’t use it to visit him in Australia after his visa expired). He made derogatory comments about every woman we knew and a sizeable number we didn’t. They were stupid, or sluts, or liars. He openly pitied me for not wanting kids (wasting my life, he called it), while at the same time pressuring me to have them. “I should just get you pregnant.” He said it often. Once, he tried, coming inside me and denying I'd told him not to. It was careless, but I didn’t believe it was intentional until, hours later, drunk at a bar, he got angry with me for taking Plan B. He held his visa extension over my head. When he was happy, he’d tell me he’d been talking to immigration officers about staying in Canada. When he was angry, he’d give me a look of disappointment and tell me he would be trying harder to make it happen if only I hadn’t been such a shit person. “I would have changed my whole life for you,” he’d say, and though I knew it wasn’t true (he wouldn’t even have changed his drinking plans for me), I said nothing. I felt I’d lost the right to dispute him on anything, including drinking, which he started some days at noon.  He brought friends home from the bar at 3 a.m. and berated me after I’d asked them, from bed, to keep their drunk cheering to a minimum. “You should have been a better host,” he said, drunk again, bringing it up two months later.     Sometimes when my dog howled at him, Ryan screamed back, like an animal, without words. “You can’t treat him that way,” I said. On the rare occasion I said that about myself, Ryan told me I was sensitive. Crazy. That I needed to look at things from his perspective, which felt like all I ever did. The closest he came to acknowledging any wrongdoing of his own was to tell me I’d made him the way he was. That my mistake was responsible for the choices he made. * Summer came. I wrote about a program (now defunct due to lack of funding) that tracks cases of violence and sexual assault against women in the north. Someone I interviewed told me about the time her ex broke her nose on the lawn in front of her kids. He was one in a long line of men to treat her that way, but the first she pressed charges against. The whole community turned against her. In the end, he was found guilty of unlawfully being in her home. Still, she said, the trial changed things. Some people seemed ashamed of the way they’d treated her. They told her they were proud of her. She felt stronger, she said, for having spoken about it. Ryan went to work at a hunting outfit and I followed, to work as a cook. I didn’t go to be with him, not entirely. When he’d asked me, months earlier, to take the job, I’d declined. Once he found out about the cheating, though, I felt I owed it to him to go. Moreover, it would be good research for the book I was writing. I’d also be able to quit the part-time job I’d been working as a communications analyst, which made me feel like a professional gaslighter myself. This was a way out. It was a bonus that Ryan might ease off me, knowing I was isolated in a cabin just south of the Arctic Circle, rather than in town, sleeping around. “I’m glad you’re out here so I’m not jealous of you and other guys,” he wrote in letters he sent back to camp when his hunters came in from the mountains. Sometimes he said he loved me. Sometimes he said he’d never forgive me. Always, he reminded me how crazy I was. How dramatic. How lucky to have him. * His visa expired that fall. We broke up. He told me I’d always be the best sex he’d ever had and I watched him get on a plane and wondered how that could be the one thing about me that was worth remembering. Still, we talked regularly. I was deeply depressed. He was annoyed by it. For months, he alternated between begging me to move to Australia and have his kids, and reminding me I was trash, and the reason he was going to be miserable, broken even, for the rest of his life. Eventually, I mentioned the night he held me to the wall. I thought he'd excuse it—tell me it wasn't as bad as I was making it out to be, or that it was the only way to calm me down, or that we both knew I liked rough sex and it was foreplay. Instead he erased it. He said, self-righteously, that he’d never touch a woman. Then he told me never to contact him again. The memory of that night is the most vivid I have of us. Still, his denial made me feel ashamed. It made me feel like a liar.   * I kissed him when he did it. We'd been drinking beer at a softball tournament all afternoon. When it ended at 9 p.m., the sun still high in the summer Yukon sky, we were laughing and holding hands. It seemed like a good opportunity to be drunk and happy instead of drunk and fighting so we went to the same bar we’d been thrown out of months earlier. At some point, he started getting the tiny twitch over his right lip that meant he was upset. In the street, he shoved me. Not hard enough that I fell down, but hard enough that I nearly did. Hard enough that, if it had been accidental, he would have apologized instead of glaring at me. At home, he reminded me it was my fault he treated me like shit. I said I knew and I asked if he was ever going to stop punishing me for it.       At some point, he crossed the room, lifted me up, pressed me against the wall and put a hand on my throat. I remember wondering if he was going to hit me and hoping so, because, if he did, I could break up with him. At the same time, I remember hoping it would cancel out my cheating so we could start over and everything could be as good as I knew it had the potential to be. He didn't hit me, though. Instead, I put my hands up to his face and I kissed him and I thought please make this normal. It didn’t, but he did let me go.   I don’t remember whether we fell asleep that night with our backs to each other, me crying, him blacked-out and snoring. That happened frequently. It’s just as likely, though, that was one of the nights we went to bed furled into each other like fiddleheads, apologizing until we fell asleep.  * He’d ask, if he was so bad, why did I stay? Maybe I’d say it was guilt. That I felt I owed it to him after cheating on him. Maybe I'd say nothing. Explanations got his back up. "I'm just a simple carpenter," he’d say, sarcastic, malicious, when he didn’t understand something. "I dropped out of high school, remember? I’m not the one with the master’s degree."  Or maybe I’d ask him to think about the night we were at the hunting outfit, when I messaged him over the satellite phone to tell him I’d witnessed our boss take his adult daughter out on the porch in the pouring rain, slap her, throw her against the wall, spit in her face, and call her a slut because she’d forgotten to send an extra saddle on a hunt.   I stood up to our boss on that. He told me to mind my own business. Said his daughter was difficult. “You don’t know what a liar she can be,” he said. “She’s manipulative. She’s crazy.” I remember him casually telling me it had never happened, and I remember the shrillness of my own voice over his. “It happened right in front of me!” Ryan believed me then. So did the daughter’s boyfriend, a guide, who quit when he heard about it. Everyone else—wranglers, guides, guests—ignored it. Eventually the daughter did too. Within a week, her dad was calling her honey and she was calling him daddy and they were a team again. As a team, they fired me.  * After Ryan’s visa expired and we broke up, he spent four months sailing the Atlantic with his rich father and living on a catamaran in the Caribbean. I spent that time hating myself. I fell apart, mentally and physically. My focus was so shot that, when I was writing, I had to copy and paste as few as four words to move them around the page because I couldn’t remember them well enough to re-write them in the proper order. I developed debilitating stomach pain. For two months, I was too nauseous to eat. I dropped weight. My hair fell out. My hairdresser was the only person I talked to about it, and then only in vague terms. “Lots of women stay in bad relationships here,” she said. “Especially in the winter.” I went to doctors who ran tests for everything from pregnancy to ulcers.   “Are you depressed?” one asked. “Do you know why that might be?” I saw therapists, but stopped after a few sessions with each. They were all too nice. It felt like they were making excuses for my behaviour when I wanted them to punish me. It wasn’t my idea, but I didn’t have a better one. That’s the thing with emotional abuse. You stop trusting yourself, which makes it hard to be alone, so you stay and you listen to someone else's version of your shared story. Then, when they’re gone, thinking your own thoughts is like being buried alive. It’s easier to keep thinking theirs.   * I remember being on the phone with Ryan one night. I’d just been evicted from my apartment, in a city with low vacancy, in the middle of winter. I was measured when I told him I was worried about being homeless in the Arctic. He told me I needed to relax. That I was unhinged without him there to temper my moods. That I was, as usual, overreacting. But I wasn’t, it occurred to me. Not only was I not overreacting, I was barely reacting. In fact, I was flat and mechanical most days, especially when talking to him. It hit me then that no matter whether I was calm or hysterical, laying blame or claiming it, crying or not, he’d say the same thing: Calm down. Relax. You’re crazy. Those three things, he’d repeated like a rosary, by rote, the whole time we’d been together. “You’re fucking gaslighting me,” I said, out loud, to myself. “What does that mean?” I tried to explain. He cut me off and called me crazy. I hung up. I wish I’d stopped answering the phone after that, but I didn’t. Calling it what it was only made me feel more insane. If I could identify it, why was I putting up with it? That month, it was because I didn’t have the energy to fight with him when I was also fighting with my landlords for one more month in my place before moving into the only available apartment I could afford. But in general, I had no energy for anything. That’s how I slid into a new relationship I didn’t leave though I wanted to. It was the opposite of what I’d had with Ryan in that it was devoid of physical or emotional contact, but similar in that it was with a self-admitted misogynist whose complete lack of regard or respect for me reiterated every day how worthless I was. * What’s the point of writing this? Of putting it someplace it can be dismissed just as I've come to trust it? At points, writing it made me doubt whether it was even that bad, though I know those aren’t my thoughts, they’re Ryan’s. My thoughts are about the number of days and weeks and months I hated myself so much, not just for cheating, but for everything else in me he criticized, that it was unbearable to wake up every day and still be me. It’s worth saying something about what caused that. Reading other writers’ accounts of similar events is what helped me get through it, and it means something to be able to put it someplace it can stand and not be shouted down. I don’t have any delusions that it would convince Ryan, or anyone like him, that this all happened. Maybe I’m wrong, though. Maybe he’d read it and reflect and reckon with himself. He’s done it before. One night in bed, he told me he thought he’d sexually assaulted a former girlfriend. She’d cheated. He’d taken her back. During sex, he’d suggested something she said no to. He did it anyway, telling her it was her punishment.  “Did I?” he asked me with genuine concern. “Assault her?” “Yep,” I stared at the ceiling. “You did.” I don't know whether he ever apologized to her. I doubt it, same as I doubt he'll ever apologize to me. It took years for him to admit what he did to her. Maybe in a decade, some other woman will hear how he treated me. Maybe she'll have the good sense to kick him out of bed before she has to spend a year re-building her sense of self. If not, I hope she has people around her who believe her. Because I only started to trust myself again when I told a handful of friends and they didn’t question me. They didn’t correct me, or suggest that I look at it from his perspective, or tell me it was my fault, or remind me that other people had it worse. They acknowledged the situation was fucked up ("keep kicking losers to the curb,” my hairdresser said. “It’s great for your hair”) and they believed me until, eventually, I did too.
The Year in How Things Seem

I thought giving generously would mean, when I needed it, I’d receive help without asking. I am learning that life is not a mind reader. 

What were we obsessed with, invested in and plagued by in 2018? Hazlitt’s writers reflect on the issues, big and small. Things are not what they seem is a common leitmotif of film; the eeriness of a suburban family against the backdrop of pristine Americanism. In Blue Velvet, a young, cherub-faced Kyle MacLachlan finds a severed human ear in the gladed green grass. In American Beauty, an idyllic family life thinly veils a marriage falling apart, betrayal, greed and Lolita-esque seduction. In Ordinary People, a family in mourning tries to remain stoic in the face of sadness. The darkness of mundanity is just beneath the quaint surface, stewing, bubbling, wanting and waiting to erupt. I’ve always related to the facade of togetherness. When I was younger, I was good at telling stories. Generally, I told them to create a familial fantasy, some strange fiction that I had concocted about the very normal, and very loving, life that I led. I lied gratuitously about my mother, who worked as an artist and as a part-time daycare worker; about my father, a lecturer (later a professor), because I wanted to make believe that we had money and grandeur. I wanted to make believe that my mother wasn’t crazy, and that she loved me—and that the bruises on my arms, the cuts on my back, weren’t from her, that I was a silly clumsy kid who walked into chairs and walls, a kid who played on trees too often, the wounding branches and leaves macerating my fragile exterior.  Messy little thing that I was, it was easy to believe. After a while even I began to believe that narrative, too. Believing that I was, in fact, worthless—too worthless to look after myself, thinking that’s why my mother didn’t, either. I convinced myself that I was undeserving of the love I saw other children bask in. There was always a constant, heady part of me that wanted to self-immolate, thinking that the answer to my prayers was death; I was suicidal at ten. Outwardly, though, I seemed confident, alive like a current, seeking approval from friends, teachers, acquaintances, needing to be absolved of my sins. Friendly, and hungry, wildly—I’ve always been well liked. *  My father very slyly sent me an article a few years back that detailed how millennials (and, strangely, genXers as well) are more historically depressed because of—get this—Facebook. Zuckerberg, creating everlasting divides. The piece detailed a rise in our collective frustration that lives were being led without us that looked so much better than our own. The stories we tell of ourselves are rooted in some hopeful imagination about what we wish we had, or what we think we deserve.  How many times have I looked towards a friend, and been happy for all their accomplishments, only to feel utterly terrible about myself shortly after? Jealousy, I’ve been told, is a good fuel—but what happens when it becomes toxic, like a sugar plum rotting in the sun, turned sour? What happens when you can’t alchemize it, and it, instead, becomes weaponized against you?  I’m rarely jealous, but often sad. Sad at my feelings of invisibility (feelings I understand are ridiculous), sad that I feel like my career has been slow to build—I’m 28, and have been freelancing patiently, regularly, for eight years, and yet my career as a writer sometimes feels like it’s somewhat plateaued. Sometimes, I feel bitter.  Yet, there are moments, cherished moments, of visibility that feel like a reminder that I’m on the right path. There have been moments of resoluteness, where things have felt like they’re making sense. In these moments, the gaps feel less all-encompassing. Writing is generally how I feel sedated, but in this past just-over-a-year, there have been moments where it felt purposeful. Social media has a way of validating things that don’t necessarily need to be validated. Like a singular, pithy line, or a glorious magic-hour selfie. Such things, up until now, were done in relative obscurity, with a scrawl in one’s journal, or on a manual Canon SLR, and then forgotten. These moments of recognition made me challenge how we measure success, in relation to how we measure self-worth. * In January of last year, a few days after my birthday, I found my mother in her room, slumped at the edge of her bed, immobile from a suicide attempt. She was crumpled like a non-human, and when I saw her, something kicked in. I wasn’t her daughter, I was her caretaker. I have always been my mother’s that, I just never wanted the job. For days, I nursed her, and for nights on end she would come to my door, screaming, knocking, at 2 a.m., at 3 a.m., needing the solace of someone who she hopes loves her. I would have to pull her out of her anxiety, her depression, massage her swollen feet, whisper her prayers, and remind her that she would be alright. I had done this my whole life. It’s wild how in those moments time is endless, circular. It was like a replay of every single time I’ve come to her aid, a cycle of violence, continued. A few days after her attempt, I got an email from the publisher I was working with on my first book to find out that they were going under. A week later, the Muslim ban happened, just as I was planning to move back to the United States to start a new, fruitful life. As all of this was going on, I was interviewed by Vogue about visibility and style. I shared it on social media, and friends congratulated me. It felt strange to encourage a certain perspective of my togetherness, of my “success,” at this moment. I didn’t know how to say that things are never as they seem. The alternative, though, sounded like a petty defense, so, for the most part, I stayed quiet, not knowing how to describe the fact that in moments of life and death, career highlights (big or small) are strangely arbitrary. On social media, how do you describe your unhappiness—the devastating reality of depression, your mother’s illness, usurping you like a black cloud? How do you detail sadness, without seeming maniacal, or obsessed with pain? * The thing is, some people have a natural shield, a presence of togetherness; a semblance of strength. Some people can be ruptured and still maintain a composure that borders on sociopathic. Some people don’t know how to turn to a friend, a lover, and say: I’m tired, please help me; or: I’m exhausted, let me rest.   I am one of these odd, incongruent humans who doesn’t know how to ask any old soul for help. I thought giving a lot, with kindness, would mean, when it was my turn, like karma, I would receive it without asking. I am learning, though, rather indelicately, that life isn’t a mind-reader. Women are not taught to seek help, at least we are not conditioned to it. I was always preened for a man, for birthing, or wifedom, but never for myself; my needs. Even to myself, what I want is oh so very secondary. It becomes such a naturalized waltz of picking up laundry, and cooking meals, and hurling myself towards caring for another human with such sedated eagerness, openness. Brutalizing my own comfort, I will always  genuflect at the altar of somebody else. Conveying not a glimpse of shattering pain, or interior misery and sadness. Instead friends closest to me have always been surprised that I might suffer from depression, saying, “But, you always look so happy.” * I’ve recently become friends with a young poet that I deeply admire. Their career is one of those rare gems of overwhelming accomplishment—a New York Times Best Seller in their early twenties, millions of copies of their book sold worldwide. Before knowing them it would have been easy to create a narrative of their quiet luck. Oh, how nice it must be to be known! To be read! To be that idolized! Talking to them, however, has been deeply humbling. I’ve found out the opposite, learning all the ways in which they have been attacked online and how they’ve both surreptitiously, and publically, been hurt by people close to them, how they’ve lost friends. It made me realize how often we put people on pedestals of invincibility. How it’s so easy to misjudge and create interpretations of somebody’s life, just because of the supposed “virtue” of fame. It also showed me how deeply divided we are, and how we’re unwilling to accept others’ successes, because so often it feels like an attack on us, as if their accomplishment is a reflection of our own demise. It’s scarcity mentality 101, and in fact the system (white supremacy) functions on this divide; the more time we’re focusing on hating each other, the less time we’re focusing on a revolution.  *  Life isn’t a mind reader, and neither are people. There’s an important lesson to be learnt as we move forward in this age of over-information, when everyone’s lives are available to us in formatted, clickable views. The old adage of never assuming anyone’s baggage continuously plays in my head, like a song, as I’m learning, in turn, how to intuit that sometimes asking for help is a revolutionary choice. I’m realizing that they’re linked. That they’re both about expecting more from humankind, and knowing what you deserve is a powerful, resonating thing. But, there’s also something to be considered about putting people on untouchable platforms, only to pull them off, a knife to the back. How do we function as a society, if we’re unwilling to appreciate people’s foibles, their tacky flaws, how do we evolve if there’s no place to fall? There’s a dark side of everyone, shadows unseen. Yet, despite it all, I’m learning that a good reminder is this: growing older is not jumping to conclusions about people. It is assuming less, and allowing people to surprise me, in the most earnest of ways. It’s about nurturing the idea of being nurtured, and understanding that it’s two-fold: to be and to nurture are a part of the same device. It’s about knowing everyone has baggage, and that most human things are never truly as they seem. My good friend Gleb explained to me once that in Eastern European Jewish tradition, bad things come in threes, only to make room for positive things to occur. He assured me that brighter days were coming. He told me I’d be okay.