At a party recently I met someone who, explaining why he has roommates when he could afford not to, said, “I can’t stand silence, I can’t stand being alone.”

What surprised me wasn’t what he had said, or how unequivocally he had said it, but the self-assurance with which he had shared this detail about himself. I wondered at the kind of confidence or its opposite that one must possess to be comfortable and, evidently, a little proud of a fear of silence.

It’s when I come up most strongly against the architectures of violence that structure my life that I fall back most gratefully on a lifelong desire for solitude. Those moments are increasingly rare these days. What has taken over my life instead is an ever-growing thrum of everyday noise. It has become easy, with all that noise to keep one company, to shrink back a bit from the thought of aloneness.

But every so often I am shocked back into a clarifying hunger for stillness, for quiet, for an internally-generated reserve. It feels a bit like a superpower, something so anonymous and so seemingly foreign to that world crushes in. It feels like the exertion of a power, the careful and considered and wilful demarcation of a border, a limit, a resolve. It is my favourite rebellion, sometimes laced a little with guilt. What could be more decadent.


Jul 23, 2015

I think my new rule will be to not read books where the central protagonist is a pretentious man, and this will apply whatever the intentions of the writer. Irony will be no defence.

Other kinds of flaws and every other gender, sure. But if literature is meant to be break from or to illuminate the every day, why spend my time immersed in the most mundane and the most pervasive and the most stifling of all my daily tribulations.

Categories: Long No Comments

Pretty sure I’ve forgotten how to write. In its place is law. How awful.


Today, in an email to a friend, I write that I am burrowing away from the news. It later occurs to me that I have been burrowing away from the world for a few years now. Have you seen the news? It is a daily onslaught, and my skin feels fragile, my bones flimsy. It is possible that death stalked the world just as openly in the past as it does now, as shamelessly and as relentlessly. But it must be a trait unique to our times that the dead march through our consciousness in technicolour live-action. Invisible in life, they explode onto our screens, trailing blood and shit in their wake. I am not sure. I have been burrowing away from the world for a few years now. I am not sure when it started, this shrinking of self away from self. I think I could peel off my skin, like peeling the green off a grape, and inside you would find a grimacing, wrinkled, many-knuckled other person, bent over, waiting for a walking stick that never appears. I am thinking these days of the months and months of working casefiles that were shameless and relentless in the hurt they packed away inside their sometimes slim, sometimes overflowing cardboard covers, sheafs of papers sliding to the floor, trying to trap into meaning and into hope the balances of others people’s lives. I have been burrowing away from the world for a few years now, from the day-to-day reminders of how close death follows us. I am not sure what happened or how it happened, but somewhere along the lines, words began to fail me. Another client in my office, weeping, asking me to please not ask her to describe her rape again. Another client in some vast and empty hallway, grasping hold of my hand, looking up with all a child’s hope that I will fix this. Another one, another one, another one. Language became purposive. Language became only purposive. Everything else was luxury, and anyway I was too tired for anything else. I have been burrowing so deep away into a quiet that somewhere along the line I lost me. I have been thinking tonight that breaking to the surface maybe calls for a return to the exigencies of raw skin. I miss writing, and I am terrified, in a dull sort of way, that I have forgotten how to.


In his notes, the ones I read before I meet him, is the brief story of his being, as a child, his mother’s caretaker, and his being, as a teen, the person who discovers her body after her suicide.

His handwriting lodges itself somewhere inside my ribcage, slicing through the spaces between my ribs, nestles against the ceiling of my belly. It haunts me, words and ink rising up as spirit, coiling smoke-like inside my skull.

When I discuss the case with my officemate, my voice sounds shrill to my own ears, too obviously broken. So I clamp down, resolve to say little. Privacy, after all, is perhaps the most meaningful thing I can offer in the face of poverty’s bureaucracy, all the crush of its paperwork, the persistence of its census-taking of grief.


There are layers to forgetting, to its doing and its effects. There are memories of which I have left only memories — these are those moments that were forgotten and rewritten twice over, and they serve as footholds in time’s face, helping me a little to scale the past’s walls. Violence’s whiplash, they are the familiar edges of scars, ridges rough and grounding under peeling fingertips, they are the lips of ravines that careen away from all attempts at mapping. There are layers of everything forgotten, sedimented into landmasses that are multicoloured with eddies of madness. They are the not forgotten, the strictly compacted, the always almost rising.

Today, I watched horses graze through snow. They shuffled through banks of knee-high white down, pelts heavy with winter shag. Today, I stood in a half-built house on the edge of Six Nations territory, watched in silence as the land billowed away from us in great roiling stillness, its every curve seeming to arch against my palms, a soft freezing.

Today, we drove on clear highways past small cities and I thought mostly of Kampala. I thought of its hills. I remembered standing alone and diminished on their peaks in cathedrals and in mosques, the city verdant here and thickly-roofed there below us. At night those hillsides were a furor of lights, as though the stars had yielded to the land’s pull. I remembered balancing groceries on my lap, wrapping calves and thighs around humming metal, and disembarking from motorcycles to aching thighs and wobbling calves. I remember the sunlight’s weight on my eyelashes.

Most of last year felt like a near simultaneous forgetting of everything as it happened. Today was the first time in months that remembering felt like something other than coming up against a pebble in my shoes, a boulder at the base of my neck, a bloodied fingerhold in a sheer cliff-face. There are other landscapes, other flora. I look now to plains and hold my breath for hills, I do away with maps and come into time.


I should have expected it, but I didn’t expect it, says my teenage brother later, on the phone, after having been racially profiled in a massive way on his first international flight.

Caveats: at least he wasn’t travelling alone, at least I was there for part of it, at least they didn’t confiscate his passport, at least they didn’t detain him, at least they let him on the plane.

And yet: when it begins, what kicks in, underneath fear’s sheer flatness, is a sense of normalcy, the sense that we are now characters in a script, an airport’s plastic air circling around our quick jerking bodies. Everything I feel feels 2-D.


Then you show me your palms, hands unfurling skywards. I don’t fight to win, I fight to fight. So you disarm me like this, instantly, wholly.


Whatever his flaws, his poker face was impeccable; it only ever cracked when he thought no one was looking.


It occurred to me today that if I’d stayed in Vancouver, I may never have started taking my (prose and poetry) writing seriously. How depressing.


Ramadans as a child were about books. There was the Quran, yes, hardbacked in green, with glossy yellow-toned pages thickly bordered, every end note a machine-made miracle. But mostly I remember a lot of Dickens. And one month, I filled the hours between tarawih and qiyam with Poe, curled up, chubby, and wide-eyed in bed, enthralled with ghosts and walled-up humans, bricks that leaked blood.

I think even then that I knew how lucky I was.


Violence has a certain charm, an undeniable charisma. When nothing else in life makes sense, there is this on which to hinge logic. It is both cause and effect, and in this rare generosity, in its ability to take in everything and make it consumable, make it known, make it a moment in time that can that will that must be passed, it is intoxicating and comforting and infinitely relieving. It is immortal, there is no telling a counterstory that is not also its story. There is no escaping it, no undoing it. It has the sweetest bedside manner, is a familiar companion, the closest friend.


Some weeks ago, I hit on the perfect answer, so when she asks, “How are you finding being back?” I am ready and I say, “It was the right decision to make. This is where I need to be right now.”

We’re in between heat waves — I missed the one on Canada Day, we’re not yet into the madness of mid-July — and walking here, I locked eyes with a short-haired brown girl in yellow jeans.

“Isn’t that the best feeling?” she enthuses. She is remarkably easy to talk with; she does all the talking. So, at the intersection, while she explains why this is the best feeling, I mull over the significance of silent communication with strangers and how it feels like nothing at all. Not relief, not pride, maybe a delicate hint of anticipation, but nothing notable enough to stay the sense of quieting exhaustion and greying lips.


for our families

Jul 14, 2013

This feels raw. What grief to carry, what an impossible weight. The blatancy of it, innocence has such an ugly sheen to it. Nearly half a century ago, James Baldwin writes The law is meant to be my servant and not my master, still less my torturer and my murderer. Justice is not a sentence, it is an instinct, cultivated. How do we find ourselves here again and again and again, how do we get somewhere else, how do we make it to there, how do we realise it. How do we love in these times, when the simplicity of our being and our being with each other is hedged in on all sides with a deathly violence — not just the issue of our living, but specifically of our loving: how do we love through the fear of our loved ones dying on pavement, in small rooms, in front of our keening eyes, far from our pleading skin, their bodies whole, or veins torn to surface. How do we love through the threat of it, the knowledge that it is our loving that keeps us most vulnerable. It’s not ultimately that you fear for yourself — you live, and then you die, and there’s the peace you were looking for, in being beyond physical sensation — but it’s fear for the ones you love, fearing for the possibility of your outliving them, carrying them as memory and reproof and blinding ache. How is it that my love for my family is so clearly demarcated by the constrictions of my heart when I think of all the ways that we are none of us so far removed from each other in dangers that we skirt, knowingly or unknowingly, everyday. Could love not be the sweeter, the gentler, the freer thing. Blood on the leaves, blood at the root. And after all, there are still different stories, different endings for our different histories.

Categories: Long No Comments

Hunger feels like a secret, a silence contained in the body, a keeping of company with self, a fullness of solitude.