Whistler Grand Meetup

Like every other year at Automattic, I met up with (almost) all my coworkers in a spectacular location for a week this month. I have been busy and not good about remembering to take pictures, but my friend Clicky is exceptionally great at it. (The remembering part, sure, but also the photos.) You can look at me and Zandy and Watkis right here. :heart-eyes:

zandy and denise.jpg

And you can see his other excellent pics of our week over at allmyfriendsarejpegs.





Last night I was sprawled out enjoying the new comfort of my new living room after many, many weeks of moving and setup and house-fixing, drinking some wine and chatting with Celeste on the phone. It was about 9:30, and we were interrupted by a knock at the door.

Ground-level living is not something I generally yearn for. I was super happy years ago to trade a ground-level apartment with a backyard for a second-level apartment with a small balcony. I like a level of separation, I think it reduces your visibility as well as the chances of being bothered by something weird and/or threatening.

On the other hand, I am now a House Owner in a neighbourhood of house owners. It’s weird to make that shift in the winter, when it’s dark so early and people are cocooned inside all the time. I am going to live here a long time and I want to meet people and participate in all that, so I know already that there are just things that my comfort level is going to have to get over, and I haven’t even gotten started.

Neighbour encounters have been sparse, a bit hit and miss. So far I’ve met:

  • a man who says his welder is still in my shed (I’ve verified, it’s true)
  • a man who very kindly came over to give me his extra garbage tags so the city would take all the bags the departing owner had left out. Very thoughtful!
  • a man who managed to be cheerfully welcoming, but vaguely racist AND homophobic in the first five minutes
  • a woman I really enjoyed meeting, whose kids pointed at me from their car when they saw me hauling gear, adorably and disproportionately star-struck, ‘That’s the drummer, Mommy!’
  • a friendly older man on his porch taking down Christmas lights, and his wife who glared at me instead of returning my greeting. Eeeep. Split the difference.

So, surprised but also aware that the previous owner is supposed to come by sometime soon, and feeling a bit better that Celeste was still in my earholes on the phone for potential murder-witnessing, I answered the door.

A stranger stood there, friendly enough, a little urgent in how he spoke but not too much. He lives down the street, he told me, his daughter is epileptic and had a seizure, she’s okay, it’s not unusual, but the pharmacy delivery is coming soon and he doesn’t have cash until his wife gets home tonight at 11pm.

I mean, it sounds like a scam right out of the gate, but also not completely impossible – so that’s a hard call to make on the spot, especially if you want to be the kind of person who provides help when people need it and you can. And it puts the onus on you to challenge.

I got his name and his house number, but what help is that, really. I mean, sure, all these things ran through my head right then that I could have done to verify him.

I could tell him I have no cash in the house, but that’s a little hard to make believable. I could ask for ID and see if it matched the name and address he’d given me. I could insist on taking his photo. I could try to take his photo secretly. I could tell him I’ll drop the money off at his house in a bit so that he could only have it if the house story was real.

But honestly, all those things carried some element of risk since I knew nothing about him. If he was genuine, it would be rude although certainly understandable. If he was lying, well, I don’t know if he’s got a temper or an eye on getting into the house. My door was already open which is a vulnerable position to be in, and it was only going to cost me $20 to get it closed safely, for sure. So I pretended none of those things were running through my mind and I gave him $20, which he promised to return after 11pm, when his wife got home.

He did not return with the money, obviously, I never thought he was going to. When I went by that house number today, it had many fancy shrubs and immaculate porch decorations that just don’t scream children to me, let alone ‘dude who doesn’t have $20 in the house.’ So I’m left thinking about what I would do next time.

I mean, first of all, better blackout curtains so it’s not so obvious I’m here. The curtains were shut but they kind of glow. But not answer the door? I really don’t want to be someone who doesn’t answer the door. It’s my house, it’s my door.

I noted today that the glass outer door has a lock on it, so maybe the answer is to lock that if I’m in the house alone, and talk through that if someone comes to the door. Still sort of sticks you with the need to refuse to open it, which… awkward.

When talking about security one day, my house insurance guy showed me this video doorbell thing that he has. It streams video to your phone of who’s at your door, AND takes pictures, AND allows you talk to them from the app on your phone if you need to pretend you’re not home right now, heh. But it seems like a bit of a crappy, suspicious solution, and I feel like it would mark me on the street as someone who would use it. And expensive in a way that’s out of range with the actual problem.

Okay, but maybe I will anyway. Even though I knew what was likely up, I still felt like a dummy in a bunch of different ways when I woke up this morning. For giving an obvious scammer some cash. For going to the door at all. But I can’t even think of one thing I would have done differently in that moment even though I was caught by surprise, although if there’s a next time I’ll be better mentally prepared.

The thing that lingers with me, though – it’s such a familiar thing we do with our faces in comparable situations. As long as the threat level is unsure, our faces go, ‘I am cheerful, I am supportive, I believe you so much, we are having the most small talk of belief. If only you could stay here forever so I could believe you the most possible amount! Come by anytime for more belief!’ And that stupid face is our defense until we get the door closed.

Ontario-times ahead

2015 was an unusual year for contemplating some big changes, and then having some other (very unwelcome) changes dumped on me. One of the most disruptive was losing my apartment to a landlord conflict that took a lot of energy, made very little sense, and deposited what was left of me in a storage locker and the guest rooms of friends for awhile.

As unpleasant as it was, the situation became a lever for decisions I was becoming more ready to make anyway. After 8 or 9 years in Montreal, I had been looking for a change and a new place to settle.

My job at Automattic is digitally-distributed and comes with the luxury of portability, so it was really up to me where I wanted to live next. I had been considering the US, but the exchange rate and election make that unattractive for the moment. I travel a ton, so I thought about going nomadic and travelling while working for a year or so, but I am feeling a strong need to nest awhile before I head out again. It sounds silly, but I really want to know where my stuff is.

I made a list of all the things I wanted in a new city (not in Quebec, not Toronto, smaller, bikeable, music scene, green space and hiking, the possibility of having a window in every room of my apartment, airport proximity, near real water, close enough to drive to a great beach, near a larger city, a few friends and family nearby would be nice, etc) and did a bunch of research, made a bunch of visits.

Science! And a bit surprising. In the end, Hamilton Ontario was the only city that checked all the boxes on my list, and so that’s where I’m moving at the end of May. I’m from Nova Scotia, so apart from a less-than-stellar year living in Toronto in 2000, I don’t have much experience with Southern Ontario, and it’s going to be a novelty to explore.

I returned to Montreal after my last Hamilton visit, suuuuuper excited but wondering if the absoluteness of having signed a lease would make me Montreal-wistful, and it just… doesn’t. I’ve loved it here, I have so many good things to say about it, but it’s also a place with a lot of dead ends, where the things I’ve loved best are dwindling from age, experience, gentrification, or warming winters. I’m very ready to leave it and do new things.

All my anxiety flows from the idea of leaving people, I realize – the ones around me, and the ones who come through often because Montreal is a far more central hub city. I’ve been so lucky to have great friendships here and be part of great communities. It doesn’t seem possible to leave everybody and yet at some point, you just have to, or you end up cutting yourself off from new possibilities. I’m preparing myself for a period of sad transition, but I’m really excited to set up a new and different future.

Stopped, Thief

I was on a semi-crowded train heading downtown at rush hour last night, and I was trying to distance myself from a hectic, frustrating work day by reading on the metro. I tried to get a decent enough grip on a handrail with my other hand, but it was difficult because a man near me kept ending up in inconveniently close quarters, no matter how the onboards and exits at each stop shifted the crowd.

It was annoying, but not egregious. I wondered if he was just kind of a creep, but it wasn’t so creepy that I’d be certain enough to call it, and I certainly had nowhere else to move in the car.

At the stop before mine, I looked up as he moved around me to leave. Under the pile of sweater he had draped over his arm, I saw a tiny, distinctive flash of one corner of my bright blue wallet.

I often think that I’m too slow to move on things, too long to sort out benefit of the doubt, and it makes me nervous I won’t move fast enough in situations like this.

But it’s always the times when you don’t think at all, that you move the most decisively. Next thing I knew, I’d grabbed his arm and was yelling a surprising list of obscenities at (if I may say so myself) an impressive volume. He didn’t put up much of a fight, just denied it even as I grabbed my wallet back and started dismantling the stuff in his arms to see if he had more. The crowd was close around us but nobody moved or said anything, and he submitted to my search and verbal abuse until I let go of his arm, and then he just stepped out of the train and walked away as the doors closed.

I checked my bag – he’d managed to open up all the zippered pockets without me feeling it, but nothing else had been taken (or was worth taking, to be honest). A few people came to life around me and started with questions and incredulous recaps, a round of ‘oh boy!’ exclamations. My stop was next, so the conversation was short. Everything was fine, but it was hard to shake and everything felt more exposed than before. Relieved I wasn’t spending the evening figuring out how to cancel cards and IDs, but I walked home with the imaginary extra weight of a stranger pulling at the things I was carrying.

Photo by Shawn Carpenter, https://www.flickr.com/photos/spcbrass, shared via Creative Commons licensing.

‘Not the kind who protest in the streets / But in the classroom.’

‘Why are you crying,
if you didn’t even know them?’ Anna Humphrey wrote these poems about the women (one for each, by name) killed in the Montreal Massacre when we were all their age, or younger, more than a decade after it happened.

Anna Humphrey wrote these poems about the women (one for each, by name) killed in the Montreal Massacre when we were all their age, or younger, more than a decade after it happened. And every year on this date, I am amazed at (and grateful for) how she managed to make less of a mess out of all the horrible things we feel about it.

After more than a decade of us pestering/crediting her every year, she has licensed their use through Creative Commons, so please share if they mean something to you.

14, As More Than Just a Number

by Anna Humphrey

For Genevieve Bergeron, 21
Because you bled one week of every month.
Because you wanted to build bridges and towers.
Because you weren’t at home dusting the den.
Because, for no reason.
Because “The gunman suffered a brutal upbringing”
Because the world has gone mad, gone sad.
Because you were there.

For Helene Colgan, 23
At 5:30, the paper says,
on Dec. 6
he began to roam the halls
hunting humans
with two ammunition belts
criss crossed on his chest;
a semi-automatic,
and a knife
and his eyes – cold
and his hand – steady
And in the paper they quote,
“It was just like Rambo.”
But what would you say, Helene,
if you could say?
Probably just
that it wasn’t fair;
that Rambo
only shot
the bad guys;
that your gunman
was shorter,
much scrawnier,
and no kind of hero.

For Nathalie Croteau, 23
When he spat:
like a dirty taste
from his mouth
you were the only one who said ‘no’
You said, “We aren’t.
Not the kind who protest
in the streets.”
Probably your last words
Probably not quite true
Not the kind who protest in the streets
But in the classroom.
The kind who would challenge,
the kind who would speak up;
try to save thirteen women
and herself
when everyone else
had lost their words.
Brave Nathalie
in coffin #8.

For Barbara Daigneault, 22
Later, they talked about the men
and the guilt
He was smaller than me,
I could have jumped him.
Could have
Should have
Would have
Could have been the hero
Should have hit, kicked,
slugged him hard,
sprayed a fire extinguisher
in his eyes.
Would have, if only
I’d thought of it in time.
Could have bashed his teeth out
Should have thrown him through
the wall.

For Anne-Marie Edward, 21
21 is very young
only 17 + 4.
21 should be camping in the Gatineau
Backpacking, hitchhiking,
meeting the man of her dreams
21 drinks cold coffee and works
late into the morning, on drafts
of a paper
she really should have started
last month.
21 drives with her music
turned up loud
and worries where
she’s going
with this life of hers
and whether or not
she can pay off
the phone bill
21 thinks often of a house
in a quiet neighbourhood
and a wedding dress
with a nice head piece
or veil
not too fancy,
and not too soon,
but not so very far off either.

For Maud Haviernick, 31
(Quotes taken from the Ottawa Citizen)
“The man who killed 14 women on Wednesday had trouble relating to women and couldn’t keep a steady relationship.”
“No way,”
you might say.
“Well, then… it’s okay.
Was he beaten as a child?
In high school, was he wild?
Was he reckless? Was he tough?
Did he just need more love?
Or was he bullied? Did they taunt him?
Did they pants him?
Did they punch him?
Did his mother make him bad?
Was she absent? Was his dad?
And how is it no one saw it?
no one caught it?
no one thought it?”
“He had difficulties in expressing his need to love and be loved. He was a very troubled individual, who suffered a brutal upbringing.”
“No way,”
you might say,
“well then…
it’s okay.”

For Maryse Leclair, 23
It didn’t seem any different
when his alarm went off
at 6:30
like every morning
just like it does
every morning
And when your father
read the newspaper,
put on his uniform-
when he secured his gun
in the leather holster,
how was he to know
he would walk
through his daughter’s blood
towards her killer
lying shot through the head
in a third floor classroom?
All in a days work.
All in a days work.
All in a days work.
Not today.

For Anne-Marie Lemay, 27
You were just an Everywoman.
Nothing personal, Anne-Marie.
You were Everywoman
who turned her back,
Everywoman who wouldn’t let him
buy her a drink,
take her home,
take her in his arms.
Everywoman on the street
wearing a business suit
and heels
Each one he thought
was laughing at him.
If he’d known you were one woman
One woman who liked
to ride her bicycle in the spring,
who sometimes woke up
late at night
with cravings for sea food,
who wore red
Converse running shoes,
who liked to bake
and sometimes
liked to hike…
But it was nothing personal,

For Sonia Pelletier, 28
Your body was found underneath a cafeteria table,
trying to hide
just like you used to duck behind the sofa,
conceal yourself in the closet
with your feet in a pair of boots
and a jacket wrapped tight around you
Ready or not
here I come
like you used to hide your tooth brush
so when eight thirty came
and you wanted to stay up
you could waste time
then ask for a glass of water,
another kiss goodnight,
one last hug.
Exactly like they told you to do
in event of an earthquake.
“Sit in a doorway,”
they said,
“or under a table.
While the floor shakes
and the drywall cracks
around you
you should be safe there.”

For Michelle Richard, 21
Sort of like grade school picks
for baseball,
or a dance
with the boys on one side
and the girls
on the other.
And for awhile you thought
it was a joke,
some trickster;
some friend of someone’s
making an ass of himself
because it was the last
day before Christmas exams
and time
for some fun.

For Annie St-Arneault, 23
On Thursday night
they brought in
the maintenance crew
to paint over the bullet
repair the walls and
scrub away the
blood and bits.
And Friday morning,
were you to walk through,
you’d never guess.
You’d never even guess.

For Annie Turcotte, 21
Probably not how you imagined
your funeral
On an icy day with
3000 plus in attendance
And 14 hearses
gliding past
with white numbers on their sides
and all in a row
1 and 2, 3, 4
And a sunken-cheeked woman on the street corner
holding her daughter’s hand
5, 6,
7, 8
and the daughter not understanding
9, 10, 11,
saying to her mother,
‘Why are you crying,
if you didn’t even know them?’

For Barbara Marie Klueznick, 35
A three page letter,
dated, ‘Wednesday’
signed, ‘Marc’
meant to explain
meant to make it
make sense
and we could call him crazy,
and try to forgive
and we could call him ‘full of hate,’
and hate him right back
and we could fall to the ground
and cry ourselves to dehydration
and we could start a candlelight vigil
and we could be afraid
and we could learn self defence
and practice kicking a man in a marshmallow suit
and yelling the word ‘no’
We could, and we will
but it will never
bring you back

For Maryse Laganiere, 35
and the flags flew
at half mast
and the city was in shock,
and the country
and the men
were afraid
for their lovers
and the streets
were a little quieter
while your family
and your sisters
looked everywhere
for why’s.

(Illustration generously shared by Evan Munday)