The Top 5 Things That Creep Me Out

I’m not one to shy away from the usual spiders, or smelly baby diapers or even haunted houses (you can read about my experience sleeping over in a haunted plantation house in Louisiana here).

But I do have a list of things that totally creep me out. Okay, so I know most of these are fairly random, but every time I come across one of the things below, I can’t help but think, “AHHH!” “UGH!” or “SHUDDER”–perhaps all three at once.

1. Noses
noseMy close friends and family know about this one all too well and sometimes like to torture me with it. I have looked after my nieces and nephew many times, so I am completely okay with tending to the “messier” parts of life (although, “Can you wipe my bum?” still gives me reason to pause). I’ve also cared for a few intoxicated friends now again (I won’t name names, but rumour has it 5-Hour Energy shots are a bad choice for a night out…so is a carb-free diet). But the minute a child–even one I love dearly–runs in with a dripping nose, I involuntarily find myself running from the room, trying not to make my gagging noises audible from space. And yes, I have returned when no other adult could be found within a four-mile radius to help with aforementioned condition, in order to wipe the mess away (with my eyes closed), but I am thinking “AHHH! AHHH! AHHH!” the whole time.

It’s even worse when it happens with adults. They intentionally go digging around in there, IN PUBLIC (transit). And once you see it, you can’t erase it from your memory by thoughts of anything else but…I can’t even continue this thought…

2. Libraries
libraryThis one might be the most random. I love books. Like love, love, love books. But libraries creep me right out. They’re too quiet. Enforced silence is unsettling. Ugh. I also totally believe that creepy people are hiding in the stacks, waiting to do creepy things to unsuspecting browsers, while the musty smell and weird lighting help to cover their tracks.

Professor Plum, with the candlestick in the library. See?

Photo by Irum Shahid,

3. Toe Socks and Shoes
My best guest at why this is so creepy is that it stems from not particularly liking feet, or people touching my feet or paying people to touch my feet (pedicures, people–where did your mind go?). So, I don’t get why someone would willingly sport apparel that shoves a fair bit of material in between each toe crevasse. They’re weird enough to see other people in them, but then I think about someone cramming my tootsies into those contraptions and I shudder. Out loud. *shudder*

4. Puppets

UGH. ’nuff said.

5. Zombie Movies
zombieEven the funny ones. I can’t handle all the blood and unpredictability. Zombies don’t plot or scheme or think about survival. They are mindless and don’t even have the gaul to care about their villain appearance (which, to me, is important for character development). My boyfriend tried to get me to watch Zombieland with him, with the promise that I only had to sit through 15 minutes, and if I didn’t like it, we could turn it off. He was confident that I would be drawn in by the dry humour of the normally hilarious Jesse Eisenberg as he plays a neurotic character wondering who to trust (hint: not the zombies or the pretty girls, like Emma Stone) in a world gone so mad that the likes of Woody Harrelson (whom you know is never going to play a sane character) are the most likely to survive. He was sure that the funny element would be enough to make me forget, so I could laugh along with him. He was also wrong.

Ahhh, ugh, shudder and all that.

What creeps you out? Extremely random blog posts? (I hope not)

The Inspiring Nature of Nature

nature lakeside long weekend wriI sat on the bank of the escarpment this weekend, looking down over the edge whenever my eyes glanced up from the pages of my book. The novel I was reading was much darker than the bright, warmer-than-normal spring day and the heat of the sun beating down on my shoulders helped to lighten the mood. And freckle the two shelves of skin there.

Out in the distance were two familiar silhouettes, paddling a canoe across the expanse of water below. Following them with my eyes, I saw one reach up a hand and wave lightly. The other followed. I waved back.

And, suddenly, a scene appeared before my eyes (imaginary, but not hallucinatory–go with me here; I’m a writer, so I’m only HALF crazy). What if the people in the canoe were to witness a kidnapping, of someone they knew, from the water? Too far to do anything to help. Too in view to prevent seeing it all.

And then, I wondered, who is kidnapping this girl from such a peaceful setting? Is there a (somewhat) rational explanation for her being targeted? Why, other than the obvious, does it fill the gentlemen in the canoe with a Molotov cocktail of thunderous emotions? What would they do to try and find her? Where could the kidnapper have hidden her?

I did an interview with director Shawn Levy (Date Night, Real Steel, Night at the Museum) a little while back, who said that the story in every great film he’s ever worked on has started from a basic question of “What if?” What if you could revitalize your marriage with the events of one night? What if the underdog could be trained by a former champ to become a contender? What if the museum exhibits came to life at night?

This “what if” concept has stayed with me ever since, and I am constantly applying it to possible story lines for future writing. If it’s an interesting “what if” that can be proposed in one short line and grab someone’s attention, it’s worth the blisters on my fingers to try and hammer it out. Right?

But it’s funny when that inspiration strikes. For a fiction writer, it could be a character, it could be a scene, it could a complex dystopian world that unfolds itself to you in one spectacular moment before going back into hiding. Then, you need to start the tedious/exhilarating experience of trying to pull it out, to make it grow. It’s nothing more than a seed that can wither and die so easily, and you are left with no proof that it ever existed in the first place. As author Rick Yancey (The 5th Wave;  put this on your summer reading list NOW) once told me, writers have to be patient gardeners.

If writers are indeed gardeners, creating manicured lanscapes from the wild chaos of nature, then I guess it’s no wonder that being outdoors can be the most inspiring location for the wordsmith. The poets and writers of the Romantic Movement in England (circa the early 1800s) wrote about little else than nature itself (which I remember from university because I was ready to scream at them to write a little dialogue here and there, in between their long-winded descriptions of the almighty mountainside, the turbulent sea or the country garden). But it is inspiring, even now.

Maybe especially now.

Being delegated to my closet in the sky downtown Toronto, I do feel inspired by the colourful city lights and impressive skyline. It excites me. It widens my eyes. It overwhelms the senses. Yet it’s not the same inspiration. Not at all.

I must admit, the only time I crave the solitude of a cabin in the woods, away from all the urban delights I revel in on a daily basis and swear I cannot live without, is when I think about sitting down to write pages and pages of something I hope to one day see published. It seems less daunting and more organic in a setting like that. Or maybe it’s just an escape from reality that parallels the journey of diving in to write a book. It’s different than my every day, and, in some ways, that fact alone makes it appealing

However, never having actually written much in that type of environment, I am ill equipped to really tell if I could stomach the isolation for the time needed to pound out a manuscript.

But, then again, what if I could?

Standing Still

Beech Tree in Winter ForestAt my Bikram yoga studio, every time I clasp my hands together, weave my fingers tightly with the index released and drop my head backward, I stare at the words written at the back of the room. With my knees locked and squeezed in snuggly, I start leaning back farther into half moon pose and look at the words painted in black cursive.

Do not be afraid of growing slowly. Be afraid only of standing still.

I try to breathe, even though my lungs feel slightly constricted as my lunar position wilts down and down, stretching my spine to its limit. I try to breathe and keep those words at the front of my mind, tattooed on the inside of my forehead.

On those days when I feel like I have just spent the working hours treading water rather than actually swimming anywhere, these words paralyze me. Am I even growing at all? Or am I a merely reacting to situations around me, just to fight to keep the ground I’ve already won?

I am a firm believer in setting SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, AttainableRelevant and Time-bound)How else can you possibly know if you’ve arrived unless you had a good idea of the direction you were headed in the first place?

So, each year, I make New Year’s resolutions. I keep them in a file on my phone, so I can look at them every time I’m bored and confined to a small space, like when the subway train gets struck with sudden constipation inside the tunnels. I read them over again and I reassess. I measure my (slow) growth.

One of my goals this year is to finish my first novel, get it polished and deliverable. And then deliver it, of course. Whether or not someone with clout and good favour reads it, is beyond my control. But, after I finish the first draft and print it all out in a spiral bound manuscript (what a high), I am advised to take a step backward before editing. Take a moment, advises my writing group. Get some distance and time in between you and your words. You need perspective to be an effective editor.

They are probably right. I nod along with their advice, knowing that they are the kind of people to understand how these processes work. It’s been an amazing support, to have these people involved in my writing life. Like my favourite Victoria’s Secret bra. They understand my body of work.

And so, the manuscript sits there. On the table in my office. For over 2 months. And. It. Kills. Me. Every inch of time, I feel that burn to pick it up and have at it with my red pen. I want to rip into it like an over-eager butcher until it can be grilled to perfection and served at a high-class bistro.

So, even though those words on the back of the yoga room wall burn into my skull every time I practise and reach for Zen, I remind myself that you sometimes have to stand still in order to grow slowly. That the raw hunk of meat in book that sits and taunts me daily isn’t ready to be carved yet. Or, more accurately, I’m not ready.

I need time, out in the physical world, to grow and to think and be a real human being, before I bury my head in the sand of my own words again.

So, in the mean time, I try to get out. To experience everything I can, with friends and family and sweaty yoga rooms. I start a new blog (hello virtual world!). I write short pieces of fiction. I feel the sunshine on my face. I get my haircut after 8 months of grow-up. I pick at my fingernails. I paint said nails to deter anxious picking. I pick at them more when the polish cracks and peels. I watch movies. I get ideas from the strangest of lyrics. I start a wine club with my friends, with spreadsheets that stay true to the nerd inside. I marinate.

But, now, thank the heavens, I think I am ready. About time! my brain yells. I am ravenous! The time to meaningful pause is over. Someone hand me my red pen! This could get messy, folks.


Mirror, Mirror

We’ve all been warned before. Whether through Narcissus, Dorian Gray or Snow White’s evil Queen. Mirrors are dangerous. The vanity that they conjure from within brings the ultimate downfall, even for the powerful among us.

Yet, we are a culture completely obsessed with staring at the looking glass. It’s not always in the bathroom vanity or front hall mirror, but from Facebook profile pics to selfies on Instagram, it’s pretty obvious that we never really pull ourselves away from our reflections.


I recently finished devouring the book Gorgeous by Paul Rudnick (who wrote the screenplays for Addams Family Values and In&Out). It’s a sort of Cinderella/reverse Beauty and the Beast story for YA (which is all I read these days because of my work audience) about a young, average-looking girl, Becky, from a trailer park in Missouri. After her mother dies, she is summoned to New York City to meet fashion guru Tom Kelly. He offers to create  3 designer dresses for her, which will transform her into the most beautiful woman in the world. For one year. In that time, she must fall in love and get married, in order to stay that way. And so, her alter ego, Rebecca, is born.

When Becky is alone, she still sees herself as the small-town girl with bad skin and awkward teen limbs, but when anyone else is in the room, the mirror reflects an image of overwhelming beauty–to Becky and the world.

It sounds very fairy tale and far-out, but the author is incredibly witty, creative and hosts vivid characters, such as Becky’s best friend Rocher (named for the “high-class” chocolate Ferrero Rocher), who has the biggest (and most hilarious) potty mouth I’ve ever read in a teen book.

The novel is obviously about the all important topic of inner beauty, which has been dragged through the mud in cheap Hollywood comedies so much that I almost didn’t want to pick up the book. But it surprised me. And it made me think.

Particularly, with these lines:

I turned away from the mirror, which was a really good idea, because mirrors lie. This mirror had told both Aimee and Suzanne that they were glamorous stars-of-tomorrow and it had convinced Rocher to get her nose pierced and if I kept asking it to tell me everything, or anything, it would make me want to kill myself, or get cheekbone implants, or slam my fist into its snickering, unreliable, glittering surface. Mirrors are more dangerous than guns or cars or crystal meth, because they’re cheap, readily available and everyone’s addicted.

[my emphasis added]

What stood out to me, other than the fantabulous writing, was the undeniable truth presented amidst a world of magic realism where putting on a gown covers all flaws. Mirrors lie. They are like drugs, but worse, because everyone is addicted. And they don’t know it.

We don’t know it.

And I am just as guilty as everyone else. After I found out my husband of 3 years had cheated on me, and I left, taking off the rocks from my finger, I was mortified by the ring tan line that their absence left behind on my finger, created from a recent trip to Costa Rica (where I thought we had fallen more in love with each other). It was a constant visual reminder of all that I wanted to obliterate from my memory, lest I spend one more moment wading in my pool of tears while I hid away in the spare room of my brother’s condo uptown. I just wanted it to melt away. Then I could feel the proper numbness I desired. Then I could move on.

So, I decided to head to a tanning bed (go ahead, judge me). Warmed by the artificial lights, I was convinced that a healthy glow gave me a better defence against the cold of the real world. I thought it hid the pain and puffy eyes behind a happier, prettier, thinner me. I wanted it to lie more effective than I could ever do with a quick, “I’m fine.” And, maybe it did. For awhile.

But the ring tan line faded quickly and all it left me with was a bronzed shell that felt empty inside. And an addiction. I liked the way I looked. I liked the control. I liked the lie.

Eventually, I forced myself to give it up. Because I kept seeing images that paralleled a tanning bed with a coffin. Because I wanted to avoid being a wrinkle-puss at the age of 38. But also because I wanted to take back the power from the mirror, which I allowed, for too long, to tell me how to feel that day, based on how I looked. I let the reflection in the mirror define who I was, rather than the other way around.

For awhile, maybe it was a crutch that I needed to survive the pain that was going on inside. I could look in the mirror, see something I liked and have that image tell me that there was still beauty (and hope) in the world. But, as with any addiction, it had too much power. How many times have I felt okay, then looked in the mirror, been unimpressed by the girl with the lop-sided grin, and my mood got knocked down a few pegs? Or an entire tower of terror elevator drop?

Paul Rudnick is right. Mirrors lie. Unbelievably. Horribly. All the time. The image we should believe more than our shiny reflection is the one of the best friend who hasn’t seen us in a few days and smiles, a wide stretch, and reaches out to embrace us. Or the lover who brushes our hair back from our faces and closes his eyes in contented bliss. Or the niece who rushes to open the door for our arrival, because it’s been way too long since we came over to play.

These are truth. These we should believe. These we should see looking back at us in the mirror.

Gorgeous, indeed.

Abercrombie & Fitch: One of Life’s Little Mysteries

In general, Abercrombie & Fitch makes me uncomfortable. You can be walking through a brightly lit mall that feels spacious and airy, but if you make the unfortunate choice of stepping through the doors of this store, suddenly the ceiling zooms down closer to your head, the air becomes thick with sneeze-inducing cologne, the dim lighting makes you squint so you almost can’t see the outrageously overpriced tags.

For the life of me, I have never been able to figure out why they do this. On purpose. You know, if you were creating a store out of some cave in the wilderness and had to make do with bad lighting, cramped spaces and stale air, it might be forgivable. This, I just don’t get.

Not to mention, any time you do cross the threshold, you may encounter semi-naked store models (generally a guy wearing only pants and his girl counterpart in his missing, over-sized shirt) who do nothing but stand around and look broody. I suppose the purpose is to be a real-life version of the strange ads they produce, also sans much apparel. However, it comes across to me like a very public sort of walk of shame. I see them as a sort of cautionary tale, of what happens when you get stuck in the college lifestyle of booze and boys and forget the brain between your own two ears.

And yet, the company flourishes. Even with CEO Mike Jeffries at the helm–someone who flaunts the fact that his brand purposefully excludes anyone over a size 10 (click here for the article “Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Explains Why He Hates Fat Chicks“) because they aren’t part of the popular crowd. Without excluding people, you can’t really excite anyone. Ahem, sure… His niche, supposedly, is “cool kids.”  Because only the coolest of the cool wear track pants that cost 85 bones (or was it “pee their pants”?).

Google Mr. Mike Jeffries–who looks strangely like mix between a jock-ish guy I almost-dated in university and Joan Rivers–and read up on what a wordsmith he is. It’s clear that “cool” is his middle name. Or, something that rhymes with cool. And starts with F. I don’t know. Just spit-balling here.

God, Grant Me The Control…

I read this article about someone who decided to try out Gwenyth Paltrow’s insane-sounding diet and exercise regime that is detailed in the book Tracy Anderson’s 30-Day Method, which the celeb has pointed to as the sole reason for her stellar (skeletal) beach body.

The writer in question lost a lot of weight. She also lost her ability to concentrate, stand on her feet and think clearly (which some might argue actually happened previously, since she signed up for this physical torture without coercion).

sprinting for skinnyWhile the whole system seems bonkers to the average person, me included (it consists of mostly pureed foods which only give you about 700 calories a day, not to mention the 2 hour daily workouts), on some level, I get it. I mean, I understand why people seek out these drastic measures.

There is something about structure and control that makes you feel better about all of the other craziness in your life. Because you can’t regulate when a family member will pass away, or decide not to have feelings for someone who’s no good for you, or even control the economy that determines whether or not you’ll have a job next month. If there is even one small aspect of your life where you can feel like the reins are in your hands and not in Lady Luck’s, then you have something tangible to hold on to. Life no longer seems so random.

People like to point out that I have control issues. Old news. Growing up with divorced and quarreling parents, with three siblings, one of whom was autistic and impossible to predict, it’s not a stretch to conclude that my craving for structure has been with me from an early age. I like timelines. To-do lists are my chocolate. I need to know when things are going to happen, so that I can plan.

Sometimes, I think it’s a strength. In my otherwise chaotic work environment, I am that dependable person who creates organization from obvious mayhem. I know what’s going on at all times. I have to. And when I can’t control something, it’s my natural inclination to drop it. To run away. Like when I can’t control who my husband is sleeping with. Leaving = strength, regardless of what some may sneer at me.

This is perhaps why I poked and prodded my boyfriend this week about when he might get his knee dirty. Not because I’m super-eager to get married again, but because I start feeling that insatiable need just to know when. So I can plan. And plot. And control my whole universe.

However, I am learning, more and more, how this control issue is also just that: an issue. My weakness, for all the times I’ve missed out on the moment because I’m writing to-do lists in my head, or counting back the hours/days/weeks/months that I’ll need in order to accomplish a task that’s unrelated to what’s right in front of me. It can vacuum out that special magic from an experience that should be lived in its entirety, frame by frame.

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” This old flutter of insight is something I keep having to come back to. But I continually need to add one question: even if I can change it, should I? Like pestering the hornet’s nest. Fun? Maybe. Necessary? No. Dangerous? Hell yes–allergy or no.

I’ve recently started my own workout regime, in an attempt, I tell people, to prepare for a race I want to run in the summer. But there’s more to it than that, if I’m honest. I want to look good in all those fun sun dresses I recently splurged on (Visa, if you could hold off on that bad boy bill, I’d get truly indebted to you–get it? Ha!). I want to control how I look.

But, not in comparison to Gwen’s lithe stick figure. Or my effortlessly skinny best friend. Or the girl down the hall. I want to have a say in how I look, within the healthy range of the body type spelled out in my DNA. Which means, basically, that an intense exercise plan will result in bulkier limbs as my body builds up those muscles easily, rather than slimming down to be on par with celeb-pretty. It’s taken my awhile, but I’m okay with this kind of pretty. It’s my pretty.

But is my dedication to running six days a week still an expression of my control issues? Probably. But perhaps I will snap out of my running fix long enough to appreciate the smell of sweat in the gym, the flex of my leg muscles pounding pretend pavement, the person beside me striding in unison to my movements. Perhaps I can learn to smile at the random chaos along my journey to reign it in. Everything in moderation, right?

The Magic Number 3

IMG_9607I did an interview with British pop-star Olly Murs last week for work. Both cheeky and charming, this guy has a story of success, with the gist of it being that he tried out for UK’s The X Factor three times before making it onto the show (where he went all the way to the top 2 before losing to this guy).While he’s still trying to break into the North American music scene, in the UK he can’t go many place without being mauled by girls with zombie-like determination.

But before all that, Olly faced the ultimate rejection–and in-your-face laughter from friends–and kept going back for more, convinced that it was just something he had to do.

They say that the third time’s a charm. You know–“they.” The mysterious group of people that doles out tidbits of life’s truths, just in time to stop yourself from giving up and throwing a surprise pity party for one.

So, I am hoping that the same will be true for me. I have tried to keep this blog thing alive, not once, but twice, and failed. There was my original blog, created through mild coercion by well-meaning teachers in college, cracking the proverbial whip as they get you ready for the “real world.” Then came the cupcake blog, when I was convinced that a solid theme would keep me on track. But baking metaphors, while beautiful in their time and place, can only stretch so far (also, all that sugary chemistry is not good for the waistline).

But the number 3 is supposed to be magical and/or divine: 3 meals a day, 3 Little Pigs, 3rd rock from the sun, 3 primary colours…It goes on and on. Sometimes, I’m not even sure why we try so hard to make any of the other numbers work, when clearly it’s that third flashy one that’s the true golden girl (Goldilocks and the Three Bears, anyone?).

Ah yes, but there are all those wonderful and invaluable things I’ve learned along the way. Experiences I wouldn’t trade for anything (well…maybe life could keep some of them…).


And so, here I am, at Blog #3. I don’t have anyone to keep track of my progress and spur me on with promises of big, fat A’s upon the completion of each post. Nor do I have a theme, beyond that of my own experiences, to steer me in the right direction with sugary goodness.

Yet, at heart, I feel like a writer. Beyond all the work emails and administration, celebrity interviews and concerts, champagne-driven events and parties, I am still most comfortable in front a simple screen and some familiar keys under my fingers.

Apart from my novel-writing attempts–which I am sure will be awarded much spotlight during the scintillating/grueling process–and my professional exploits–which nudge me uncharacteristically towards the light and cheery end of the literary spectrum–this will have to serve as that place where my deepest “writer” thoughts (I just love sounding so lofty) can manifest: the good, the bad and the ugly.

Bear with me. This number 3 wagon ride may still be a bumpy one.