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.

oh look, @x96mdn painted a picture of my apartment move.

A post shared by Denise Williams (@lettergrade) on

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.

Maison Guidry and NAMM 2016

I attended NAMM as part of the WordPress sponsor team last weekend, staffing our booth, offering WordPress advice to artists and businesses, and chatting with all the drummers I could.

The exhibition floor was… huge. I never saw all of it, you just couldn’t. But I got to wander around wide-eyed in the forest of cymbals, chat about gear and beats with a lot of drummers I respect, meet the Tom Tom Magazine contingent, saw new hero Sarah Morrow with Dr. John. And I made ‘chk chk chk hissss’ cymbal noises with Nicko McBrain on the very first morning, so I could have died happy before it even got going.

The best thing happened at the very end, though, listening to Maison Guidry (plays drums with Stevie Wonder and Chick Corea) answer questions. I saw him play a short demo on the exhibition floor with the fullest, fullest joy on his face.

I stuck around to listen to him answer questions from the crowd afterwards. Responding to a technical question about a super intricate beat, he started to explain but then stopped and said (this is all paraphrased from memory, so forgive inaccuracy), ‘You can’t play that. You have to start by playing one-eighth of those beats, and then eventually when it’s natural and it’s part of you, you add some more.’

Then he went off on this long amazing tangent about music being a language you learn like a child (‘eventually you start using words like compensatory‘), about not running before you walk, about breaking down odd time signatures to their simplest (‘you have seven fingers, right?’) and how you have a job and a responsibility to your band and your audience (‘first job is to count, second job is to make people dance’). It was super inspiring to me to hear a guy that young, that committed, that successful and celebrated, insist: the moment you let ego in, you are failing at your job as a drummer.

Music scenes are lousy with ego! Pretty much always, and whether earned or undeserved, it’s always gross and uninspiring to encounter. I hope I can keep Maison Guidry in my mind next time I come across it.

“Not so up-to-date as a spaceman, but better for bedtime…”


This turnaround really blew my mind.

Breitenstein is not a stupid man. But his understanding of revenge porn’s social fallout was puzzlingly simplistic. In all the hours we’d talked, he never expressed sympathy for women who had their nude photos posted to his site, but he also didn’t express malice or ill will toward them. He just sounded like he hadn’t really thought about it. To him, the revenge porn victims who filled his inbox with takedown requests just seemed like an administrative headache to be dealt with, not a series of people feeling real pain as a result of a crime having been committed against them. He’d never actually been face-to-face with a victim of revenge porn before.

Read the whole article, about revenge porn distributor Scott Breitenstein, by Kevin Roose: At Home with a Revenge Porn Mogul

Doris Duke on repeat

New favourite. Till I found out his sweet talking / Added up to street walking