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Month: December 2008


I’ve been carrying around a collection of Joan Didion essays from the sixties, reading one every evening on my way to work. The hum of the train. The sway of the tracks. I sink down in my seat and get lost in John Wayne or California, soothing the transition between fitful sleeps. I’ve been covering Gaza this week.

I’m not sure what more I could tell you about these pieces. I could tell you that I liked doing some of them more than others, but that all of them were hard for me to do, and took more time than perhaps they were worth; that there is always a point in the writing of a piece when I sit in a room literally papered with false starts and cannot put one word after another and imagine that I have suffered a small stroke, leaving me apparently undamaged but actually aphasic. I was in fact as sick as I have ever been when I was writing “Slouching Towards Bethlehem”; the pain kept me awake at night and so for twenty and twenty-one hours a day I drank gin-and-hot-water to blunt the pain and took Dexedrine to blunt the gin and wrote the piece. (I would like you to believe that I kept writing out of some real professionalism, to meet the deadline, but that would not be entirely true; I did have a deadline, but it was also a troubled time, and working did to the trouble what gin did to the pain.) What else is there to tell? I am bad at interviewing people. I avoid situations in which I have to talk to anyone’s press agent. (This precludes doing pieces on most actors, a bonus in itself.) I do not like to make telephone calls, and would not like to count the mornings I have sat on some Best Western motel bed somewhere and tried to force myself to put through the call to the assistant district attorney. My only advantage as a reporter is that I am so physically small, so temperamentally unobtrusive, and so neurotically inarticulate that people tend to forget that my presence runs counter to their best interests. And it always does. That is one last thing to remember: writers are always selling somebody out.

And so, 2008 comes to a close. It started, for me, in Chicago and New York. Seventy-five thousand words, a diploma, a road trip through the Deep South, an imploding job market, and a gamble across the Atlantic. Now in Paris, in my newsroom, a dozen screens of live wire footage flickering war, death, destruction, despair… With this, it ends, and with this, 2009 begins. Be healthy, ask questions, and make an honest start to the new year. As much as you can.



allo home

the sunset lasted forever over greenland
i couldn’t tell: was i looking at clouds? or at snow?
glaciers on the water, fluffy and jutted, and we skimmed along the ice.


Heavy jet lag twice in one week has left my head more scrambled than usual. Leaving Toronto felt more difficult this time. The more I move around, chasing jobs and degrees in other cities and countries, the more I wonder how I can make it all work in my hometown. Or at least in the same timezone. Wandering is delicious, but the seemingly endless cycle of adjustment and re-adjustment makes me long for strong, thick roots.

I see so much beauty in the despair that first drove me to leave. In the tired, creased faces, people shoving me out of the way on the bus. Street slang heavy with cursing and made-up grammar. Hesitation. Weariness of anything new or too much ambition. Toronto is a buzzkill, a hole, a puzzle with wide green spaces and crowded undergrounds, but all I know is to love it, warts and all. Love the way it sounds, love the way it feels, love the way it smells. Love the way it lets me be.

My allophone self. I told the Montréalaise next to me on the plane about how you could easily go about your entire life in Toronto without learning a word of English, so to call it an anglo city is a misnomer. She seemed horrified. I was confused.

red, light, red, light

Before you’ve gotten off the escalator that spits passengers from the belly of the metro onto Rue Barbès, you can hear the chorus:


Men lined up along the sides, four, five packs of contraband smokes stacked in each hand, throwing numbers. Two euros, three euros. Why pay five at the tabac? You want KHAMEL? No?

Once you’ve made it past them, pushed past the bars of the metro street exit, beyond the flyer boys for the local psychic (“IL ou Elle sera pour toujours comme un toutou — EXCELLENTS RÉSULTATS”), it’s corn. You smell it first, blackened and hot, ears roasting over makeshift BBQs the men wheel around in shopping carts. They don’t yell prices. They don’t have to.

Turn right, cross the street, allez tout droit. It says Rue de Poulet on the sign, but here we call it Rue des Cheveux. Hair everywhere. Knotted strands, stray braids, clumpy bits of weave, red, black, brown, and brassy blond. The neighbourhood storefronts are plastered with images of glossy locks or twisties piled and arranged on smiling models. These high-heeled hairstylists, forever sweeping excess from their floors, shoo much of it into the garbage. But then, there are the pieces that escape. Freed by front door breezes, they roll south along the hill, blow in wisps toward Château Rouge, and down the stairs to the next metro in line.