Sisters, Ranked

We are five: always, five, the five of us, the group of us, the lot. “You guys,” “the girls,” “the sisters.” Once, when I was young, someone asked me how many sisters I had and I answered, quickly, without giving it a thought, “five,” as if I couldn’t extricate myself from the larger being, the group, that we made up. I was one of them and they were one of me.

We are a tribe: each loud, brassy, strong, in her own way, each of us born about two years apart so that my parents, presumably, could catch their breath. I was first: curious, playful, shy, quickly carving out my old space in the world, trying, though I didn’t know, to fill the void of a miscarriage two years prior. My next sister didn’t wait much longer—she, born eleven months after my first birthday, arrived with a vengenance. With something to prove. When it was just the two of us, me walking around in a t-shirt, a leaky diaper, and a Band-Aid I affixed to my head because I liked the look, she was still immobile, reduced to sitting in a carriage or crib. I’d reach in and try to play with her. I was three, so I probably tried to eat her: nibbled on her toes, smooched her face, slobbered on her ears. She hated it, my mother would tell us later, and she didn’t stand for it. She’d attack, in the vicious way that babies do, grasping at my eyes and ears to try to get rid of me.

The next two came all at once: twins, which was weird for me, because one day I had one little sister and the next day I had three. They are identical but roundly different, and after a while, even you couldn’t fall for their identical twin switcheraoo. They both called each other “sissy” and carried mismatched stuffed animals around everywhere they went—a matted tiger and a purple bear, called “Tiger” and “Purple.”

Two years later, our youngest sister arrived. We’d all been spoon-fed femininity by then; We had scores of photos of us in matching dresses and hats, each of us looking like discarded swatches in a fabric store, and we were all enrolled in ballet and tap dancing classes at a local studio. Barbies and doll babies littered our rooms, but finally: here was a baby come to life.

We attacked her, relentlessly. We tried to feed her and wash her and poke her and play with her and dress her up and fuck with her and boss her around and protect her. She, now, is the strongest of us all; some of her first words were “Get away from me!” and “Leave me alone!” I am pretty sure she can beat me up.

The Best Time I Dropped Out Of College (Twice)

I dropped out of college the first time in a bright kind of fall. The college, because I’m Canadian, was actually called university, and the university was of Western Ontario, a great, big, unevenly beautiful school at which both of my parents had matriculated. It would have been nice if that’s why I too had enrolled, or why my decision was forcibly encouraged; the real reason was that the U. of W.O. was a 12-minute drive from our house, where as a stay-at-home student I’d cost a lot less, help with the chores, and continue to attend our evangelical hell-hole of a church.

Resigned, I spent my first year of an undeclared major wearing comfortable shoes and riding the city bus to school. I remember making very few friends. One of them I kissed for 20 minutes by the light of a neon Sublime poster, and when my mother read my diary to find this out, she not only sat me down for a long talk with my dad, but also, the following Wednesday, showed up at 3:10 p.m. to an even longer lecture on Hegel. Five hundred students of Modern European History turned to look at her. I looked for a sharpened pencil. She just had a feeling, she said to me later in the van, that I was doing something here besides learning.

How to Have a Dinner Party

1. Invite people who believe in food. A dinner party will be much more successful if everyone there believes that food really exists. Remember, it just takes one food skeptic to ruin the party. Also, don’t invite anyone who is afraid of food.

2. Ask your guests to prepare questions. Preparing questions in advance will give the dinner party more structure. However, guests should not expect to receive clear, straightforward answers to their questions since food does not communicate in the same way that people communicate. Also, you may want to ask your guests to bring photographs of their own food – it helps to make connections.

3. Create a food-friendly atmosphere. Choose a quiet, dimly-lit room with a round or oval shaped table. Light candles, since food is attracted to heat and light. Begin your dinner party near midnight.

4. Ask your guests if they’re ready to participate in the dinner party. It’s normal for people to giggle nervously, but if anyone looks genuinely afraid, you may want to ask them to leave. Encourage your guests to relax and hold hands. Soft chanting can help.

5. Summon the food.

Do You Have Impostor Syndrome?

Last week, I had a piece published in the New Yorker. Aside from getting my first job and meeting Nora Ephron’s editor (he said I had a “very similar spirit” to her), seeing my name in the New Yorker was, easily, the happiest moment of my life.

But it wasn’t until the second or third draft of this post that I actually wrote all of that—”I had a piece published in the New Yorker“— out; I didn’t “do a thing” or “have something weird happen to me,” as I wrote in previous versions of the sentence. People would ask how it happened, and I’d shrug and say, “I just got very lucky.” Nope!!! I worked hard. I wrote a piece that I’m really proud of, and I should own it. I should be proud of it. I should SAY it. Why was I so hesitant to do that?

Tips For Treating Your Skin in The Wintertime

Winter is a magical time of year. Who doesn’t love winter? Curling up under a handknit afghan blanket by a roaring fire with your sweetie pie, the smell of pine and peppermint in the air, the soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas playing on your expertly set up sound system, a gentle snow falling outside acting as a clean white blanket to Mother Nature, covering up suspicious footprints and DNA and those mysterious bloodstains. You are next spring’s problem, incriminating evidence! But all that cold, dry, drying winter air is not good for your skin. I’m no scientist or dermatologist or beauty expert. But I’m obsessed with skin. Touching it, stroking it, caressing it, smelling it. Poking it. Did I say touching it? Skin. Skin. Here’s what works for me.

What Makes Us Feel Better When We’re Sad?

Everyone has a favourite activity for when they’re mildly depressed. For some, it’s huddling in bed with a comforter pulled up around their ears to shield against this cruel world; for others, it’s donning neon underwear and blasting “Deceptacon” for an impromptu bedroom dancing party.

My own ministrations involve watching old episodes of Freaks and Geeks I’ve already seen at least four times, soothing myself with the familiarity. (If I need a quick hit of joy, it’s straight to Youtube to watch a 47-second clip of Bill Haverchuck stutter “You cut me off mid funk!”) When that’s not working, I go watch videos of Michael Clark. For the unitiated who may not share my interest in post-punk and wacky outfits—Michael Clark is the apotheosis of the two combined. He was the enfant terrible of 1980s contemporary dance and you can watch old videos of him leaping gracefully along to the jagged guitar screeches of The Fall in ass-baring leotards or polka dot face paint. And now that it’s November, I’ll surrender to the sweeping melancholy of the Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs and let the music seep into my listless limbs.

The point is, no one is immune to getting the mean reds, the SADs, the abject paralyzing fear of continuing to live your own life. No matter what you want to call it we all have our own unique ways of coping with the world when everything turns to shit, and I’ve made it my mission to collect some of the “sadness routines” of some of my favourite people on the Internet and IRL.

So here’s to buying an entire box of Hallowe’en candy for yourself and eating it while watching The Craft. Here’s to buying overpriced essential oils and pouring them in the bath. Here’s to putting your socks in the microwave to warm your feet. And most of all, here’s to allowing ourselves to wallow and assuage our guilt with the knowledge that hopefully soon we’ll feel temporarily a little bit better.

Black Girls Don’t Read Sylvia Plath

It was another muggy summer, the summer I discovered Plath. If I had discovered her legacy later in life, it may have served as a calming revelation, the meat of hindsight. Wonderment not as thorny and beloved.

I discovered Plath through the typical girlhood grapevine: a slumber party. A friend who looked like Stevie Nicks circa Rumors but had suited up in detail-heavy riot girrl gear mentioned Sylvia Plath. She had just finished The Bell Jar. She wanted to know if I had read it. She casually said, like a cowboy flicking a cigarette stub to the side, I think you’d like it.

Never Too Much

We’re leaving Barcelona, heading towards Bilbao to catch an overnight ferry to England. Outside the city lies a near-desert marked by occasional stone foundations, once buildings, trees of some sort, olives or fruit—the Spanish countryside, orchard-studded and cloudy overhead, is a blur at eighty miles an hour, lovely as anywhere. After last night’s show my throat hurts in a way that is hard to put into words. Just breathing, abiding, it burns. I can’t really speak, my voice, a rasp. I’m an overdramatic child on the verge of tears. I’m homesick. I twist in my earbuds and put on Luther Vandross, because I need to hear someone who can still sing. I close my eyes as the opening bass line dances and swells, it’s become so familiar, and I’m back in Brooklyn tripping on the sidewalk between my apartment and the grocery store. I open my eyes; in the side mirror I can see my face is flushed. It’s incredible how certain songs can carry you in and out of tangible memory. I’m barely in the van any more. I feel tracks rushing under my feet, I close my eyes tight, Luther’s voice carrying me away, my heart swells, I’m on the A train and I’m going to see a boy.

I’ve been on tour since the fall of 2013, when my band became moderately popular overnight, seemingly by accident. We had to make a spontaneous decision—whether or not to leave our jobs, sign a recording contract, write an album, and take to the road. It’s the most exciting and stupidest decision I’ve ever made. We tour four to six weeks at a time; take three or four days off; then leave again as soon as possible. We spend up to ten hours a day in the van to play for about 25 minutes, then we pack up, sleep somewhere for a few hours, and do it again the next day, seven days a week.

The first time I spit up blood, I figured it was a fluke. A cold, playing too hard, too many cigarettes. But after that first time, it seemed like my body began breaking down at an unparalleled pace. Speaking became uncomfortable. At a level above quiet conversation, it’s actually painful. I try to sing along with the radio and no notes come out, no matter how hard I try. For half an hour every day, I scream until I burst blood vessels around my eyes and nose. It’s my job now. As a result, my vocal chords are destroyed. The first time in my life that people have paid attention to what I have to say and it’s threatening to take my voice away for good.

Reviews of Store Catalogs

The J. Peterman Company: Owner’s Manual No. 121 By John Peterman The J. Peterman Company, 74 pp., $0.00

Not long ago, I spent an afternoon in a sparsely populated cafe on the bank of the Seine with an older gentleman, an Ernest Hemingway-type in rolled-up sleeves. His chief claim to fame was that he’d successfully wooed Audrey and Marilyn in the 1960s, but while the glamor of his private life eclipsed his public travails, he’d been busying accomplishing more than his fair share of success in life—or should I say exactly his fair share; when you meet the man it becomes immediately clear that he runs on only a dash of luck generously greased by a certain European charm and personality—and today his résumé includes climbing Mount Everest wearing only a motorcycle jacket and adopting a coterie of displaced polar bears from southern Alaska, which he raised as his own children. We’d been talking for three hours before I realized I wasn’t in a weathered cafe off the Seine at all: I was in a small room in my own home—my bathroom—reading a J. Peterman catalog.

Self-Care, in Theory and Practice

This column has a singular purpose: to talk to single women about navigating a world where they are their own savior.

I’ve fluctuated between dating a few men after the end of a fairly significant relationship. After sleeping with people who, I learned, were ultimately uninterested in me (and generally incapable of thinking of anything other than themselves) I realized I desperately needed to focus on me. All me. All the time. I had never done that. I was scared, as a lot of women often are, to explore what existed in the great abyss—me. I realized how much I relied on others telling me that I was pretty, so I began to depend, a surfeit amount, on other people’s opinions of myself in general, putting emphasis on their assumptions over mine.

After months of self hate and destruction, I knew I needed to learn how to be better. But self-love was this weird concept. I was aware of what it meant but had never interacted with it; I thought it too audacious a commitment. Then I began reading: Susan Sontag, Eartha Kitt, Ruth Asawa—all of these women who I admired, who had also battled with self-care. One of my favorite writers, Jean Rhys, was a raging alcoholic. I used them as examples to be and not be at the same time. I wanted to tap into whatever greatness I knew existed inside of me so I could be happy with myself. Self-love can mean whatever, to whoever.