Ghosts Of My Youth

The first ghost story I ever heard was from my mother. She described how once, while sleeping in an upstairs bedroom in her sister’s house, she woke to the feeling of twin icicles curling around her ankles. They were hands, but she didn’t see a body, exactly. More like an abstract interpretation of a body, female, crouched at the foot of the bed. It yanked once, hard, and she opened her pink teenaged mouth and screamed, causing it to let go and vanish. The details shift uneasily when she retells this story—sometimes there is a horrible, unseasonal rainstorm beating the roof, sometimes she is 15, or 17. But these two details remain the same: The bed belonged a dead woman and she never went into that portion of the house again.

There’s a lot of paranormal activity in my family. Whether it is more than most other families is hard to say, but we seem to have more than most. During holidays and family events, after the adults wander into the kitchen to drink coffee or head off to bed, us cousins gather in some remote part of the house and talk about the things that go bump in the night. These are our heirlooms, a series of signals and omens that help us make sense of each other and our shared family history, which is by turns strange, mysterious and murky. These stories open up a portal to the parts of life that don’t seem to make much sense but as still just as real as the rest of it. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that sometimes a ghost isn’t always a ghost. Sometimes, telling a ghost story is a way to talk about something else present in the air, taking up space beside you. It can also be a manifestation of intuition, or something you’ve known in your bones but haven’t yet been able to accept. But sometimes a ghost is exactly what it is—a seriously fucking scary spirit.

Worst Behavior

From the outside, Toronto seems like a utopia: the world’s greatest rapper calls this city home (that’s Drake, if you haven’t been paying attention), gay couples are free to get married, our healthcare system is beleaguered but subsidized, and our film festival is a barometer for Oscars. Torontonians are a happy clash of cultures; almost half the population are native speakers of another language. Vogue recently named our bustling Queen West the second hippest neighbourhood in the world. THE WORLD, YOU GUYS. VOGUE.

But in the tense run-up to the municipal election later this month, there’s been a lot of drama that exposes the conservative, xenophobic face of this city’s power elites. Two female candidates, both women of colour, have publicly come forward about incidents of basic bullying hate rhetoric directed at them online and IRL, some originating from self-professed members of the ill-defined, amorphous mob known as Ford Nation.

The Best Time I Was Almost an Actress

I was obsessed with movies and television as a child. So obsessed that I’d spend hours quoting dialogue, singing Wizard of Oz songs, trying to force a British accent (alone), all while telling myself—in the A&E Biography narrator’s voice—that I was the next Judy Garland.

Actually, I liked to tell myself that Harrison Ford or Tommy Lee Jones—who would obviously eventually come to see me as a daughter —would stumble upon me during one of my Broadway renditions and pluck me from my boring suburban life, casting me in every movie they signed on for.

The A&E Biography episode went a little something like this:

“And when Harrison Ford found himself on the mean streets of Cambridge, Ontario,” the narrator would say, “and he heard the sweet notes of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow,’ he knew he had found the next Judy Garland.”

I have no idea why either actor would be in Ontario, or why out of every child actor they’d compare me to Judy Garland, but this meet cute was merely an indicator of my delusions of grandeur —delusions necessary in sustaining any career in the arts, but especially in fueling a burgeoning acting career. Which is why, ten years later, when I asked for an agent, my parents said told me I could spread my wings and fly.

The Best Time I Was A Child Con Artist

My family has many unwritten rules. The second most important is: do not open the door if the doorbell rings only once. In our family, if the doorbell only rings once, you were either a salesperson or a canvasser. And salespersons and canvassers are liars and thieves.

My mother came to this conclusion shortly after she first immigrated to Canada; two scam artists pretending to work for the government tried to enter our home. Looking back, this is probably why I couldn’t make it as a (sort of) con artist, selling chocolates on the mean streets of southwestern Ontario.

Our Eyebrows, Our Selves

I’m not sure when I decided that my eyebrows—thick, dark, and joined—weren’t considered attractive, but I was a preteen when I realized that I would have to do something about it. When I was 12, I begged my mother to let me get the offending patch waxed. Getting my eyebrows “fixed” was Step One of the makeover process that I just knew was necessary if I was going to be a pretty teenager. In teen magazines and on The O.C. (everyone’s favourite show in 2003), I saw smallness and whiteness celebrated in bodies, in clothes, and in upturned noses. Even Kristin Kreuk, the only image of non-white beauty I remember from that time, was hairless and thin.

I always wondered if my eyebrows could be a little better—a little more arch, a little less thick, a little further apart. Maybe, by some miracle, my eyebrows would make the rest of me seemed smaller, small enough to fit into a white, blonde, hairless ideal that seemed to be attractive to everyone around me. I understood that to be small, to not offend, was to be feminine, which seemed instrumental to achieving all the milestones of successful teenagehood—parties, boys, Marissa Cooper’s hipbones.

The Best Time I Worked At Hot Dog On A Stick

My current job—very grown up, very mundane—affords me a lot of time to peruse the Internet. I sit at my desk, wait for phone calls to come in, for my co-worker to bring in more baked goods and for lunch to roll around so that I can finally step outside and smell the fresh air.

Recently, while at my desk, I read the worst headline: “‘Hot Dog On A Stick’ Files for Bankruptcy”. After 68 years of selling freshly made lemonade, hot dogs, and cubes of cheese dipped in batter and fried on sticks, Hot Dog On A Stick is no longer serving with style and a smile. Foot traffic in malls is down; people trying to eat less breaded and fried meat; and as a result, the once-iconic mall chain is filing Chapter Eleven.

The Best Time I Thought I Was Going To Die In The Italian Woods

“You don’t have to speak Italian, it’s completely fine. Non ti preoccupare.”

The fact that my boss couldn’t get through the entire reassurance in English should have been a tip off. But it wasn’t. I accepted the job, an offer almost too good to be true: myself and my first-ever Serious Boyfriend would be working in Italy for a now-defunct government program that sent Italian government officials’ children away from them for a few weeks every summer.

A regular summer camp in most of its programming, we would teach English for three hours total each day. In return, we would be housed, fed, paid, and free to roam the Italian national park where the camp was located. “If you’re working, try to keep it professional, you know. No more than three glasses of wine with lunch,” my future boss—a British man named Peter who sounded like he was kind and handsome—had said on the phone. It was really and truly too much.

Snackwave: A Comprehensive Guide To The Internet’s Saltiest Meme

Over the past few years, an aesthetic we like to call “snackwave” has trickled up from Tumblr dashboards. Now a part of mainstream culture, snackwave is everywhere: it’s printed on American Apparel clothes and seen in Katy Perry music videos. It’s the antithesis to kale-ridden health food culture and the rise of Pinterest-worthy twee cupcake recipes. It’s the wording in your Instagram handle, a playful cheeseburger selfie, Jennifer Lawrence announcing on the red carpet that she’s hungry for a pizza. In snackwave world, everyone is Claudia Kishi, and your junk food drawer is also your blog.

What we’ve written here is merely a guide to understanding the rise of this very Internet 3.0-specific aesthetic. Snackwave is no longer a lowbrow joke bonding tweens across Twitter feeds and Tumblr blogs. It’s being co-opted by corporate Twitter accounts and fashion companies, both of whom are seeking to talk just like their ‘net-savvy young consumers.

Both of us are very much a part of this scene—in fact, we’ve got McDonald’s Sweet ‘n Sour sauce IVs hooked up to our veins right now. We know snackwave inside and out. So grab a bag of Funyuns, a sleeve of Oreos, and get ready to ride the snackwave.

Nothing But the Truth: An Interview with Teyonah Parris

You may recognize Teyonah Parris for her role on AMC’s Mad Men as Dawn Chambers, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce’s first African-American employee, and subsequently, the series’ first recurring African-American co-star. As Don Draper’s former faithful secretary, she has mastered the series’ distinct sensibility of balancing thoughtful, serious drama with wry humor and wit.

As Parris started her role on Mad Men, I began writing my master’s thesis on the series, a critical feminist analysis of the representations of women in the workplace. After hours of multiple viewings, I was most intrigued by the pivotal scenes among Parris, Elizabeth Moss, and Christina Hendricks, and their personal and professional struggles at various levels within the fictional advertising agency. For a series set amidst the civil rights and second-wave feminist movements, Mad Men has done little to directly address the issues surrounding them.

Parris seems acutely aware of the developments in contemporary mainstream and independent film and television, and has actively taken on challenging and complex roles that address issues of race, gender, class, and privilege. With the end of Mad Men in sight, her career is only getting started: she has two projects premiering this month—Dear White People, a critical favorite at the Sundance Film Festival, and the Lebron James-produced Starz basketball drama Survivor’s Remorse. She also worked with Amy Poehler in this summer’s satirical rom-com They Came Together, poking fun at the inherent tokenism of the sassy-best-friend archetype.

I talked to Parris about her education as an actor, landing Mad Men, working on Survivor’s Remorse and Dear White People, and the future.

Lessons My Closet Taught Me

I just came home from a weekend stranded because two trains caught on fire. Now I am too tired to crawl into bed so I am lying on the floor of my closet. My delicious, walk-in closet, as big as my room, bigger than the studio apartments my friends own. You have to walk through it to get to my room. My walk-in closet makes the increasing chances of death by flaming subway train (or two) seem reasonable to me. My walk-in closet with a rug thick as a blanket. I lie on it and stare at my clothes like they are my psychoanalysts. They are.

Adventures in Sexting: An Interview with Kara Stone

Kara Stone makes the games she wants to play. A Toronto-based artist, her primary mediums are interactive films and video games; her first game, Medication, Meditation was a Kill Screen Playlist Pick. Her latest, Sext Adventure, was recently chosen to be showcased at Indiecade.

Users playing Sext Adventure will find themselves sexting with an automated bot. The results of your sexting adventure are entirely up to you—the bot’s responses vary wildly. There is no way to predict the outcome of the game. Sext Adventure was designed to give the bot its own consciousness, personality, and sexuality as players progress. The bot can even reject its sexuality altogether, if it so chooses.

I first played Sext Adventure at a Dames Making Games event, where I was working on my own project. Together with Nadine Lessio, who coded the txtr engine Sext Adventure was built on, Kara had been working on her project all weekend, and everyone was excited to try the demo. When we finally got to test it for ourselves, the room went silent as we hunched over our phones, sexting a bot, the only sounds a few nervous giggles.

Kara aimed to make a game that explores issues of technology, gender, and digital intimacy. She’s part of a growing number of female developers, such as anna anthropy, Zoe Quinn, and merritt kopas, amongst others, who are making video games on their own terms. Their games explore depression and illness, gender and sexuality, feminist issues like objectification and harassment.

Often, these games are maligned by mainstream game press and players as “not-games.” I have no use for that bullshit. These are all video games, and all the more important because people don’t want to see them as such.

I had the chance to speak with Kara at Bento Miso earlier this month. We talked about gaming, gender, sex, mental health, and exactly what qualifies as a game.