the canadian chronicles

observations of a South African émigré

The Inevitable


When you’ve stayed up late doing your income taxes, and then you’re freaking out about how much you owe the CRA, and then you choke on a piece of apple and your husband is just about to give you the Heimlich and then you throw up and nearly pass out…

That’s when you realise it really is just all about death and taxes.

All Aboard the Guilt Train


Here’s something they don’t tell you: there’s enormous guilt in trying to live creatively.

Maybe it’s because we’re continuously told all artists will starve; therefore, if we aren’t sacrificing our mental health and bank accounts on the altar of creativity, we aren’t real artists. We start to make lists: “But look at ________ and _________ and that other guy. They are successful and rich and were able to quit their day jobs.” And then we make other lists, “But I guess we forgot about Mozart/William Blake/Poe/Sammy Davis Jr.”

So we try to bolster ourselves with reading inspiring works on living artistically. And then we can start to really believe that if we aren’t being our “best selves” or “living true creative lives”, then we are just being oxygen thieves. Then, we start to feel guilty because we have a day job, and we aren’t dedicating ourselves to our craft like (that very dangerous) Everybody Else. We can self-flagellate if we aren’t NaNoWriMo-ing or doing daily practice or taking semi-annual artist retreats or being “recognised.” But then we can also feel guilty if we do make/take time to do those things, because then we’re not focusing on other, more important Life things.

And round and round we go on the Guilt and Pressure Train.

But what does it mean to live creatively? Here’s the rub: we all have different versions of what that means. So we can’t compare ourselves to William or Wolfgang, because their creative living is not our creative living. One person might have to move to the Andes and take up ayahuasca and beading skirts. Another might start a painting class and drop out half way. Another might finally do that PhD in Creative Writing.

Really, though, all we can try to do is hop off at the right station for our own specific destination. And if we happen to get distracted and miss our stop, we need to remember not to beat ourselves up about it, because that stop will come around again.

Sometimes That Hamster is Under My Control


Anxiety is just plain weird. It just is. It’s like your brain decides that it’s not enough to hamster wheel, it has to cause uncomfortable physiological responses, which then sets the hamster wheel racing even faster. This interferes with sleep, work, socializing… And then it’s even more frustrating when you know the various things that help to make you feel better, but you can’t break out of the wheel to go and do those things that make you feel better. The same goes for depression, though to me this feels different in that it’s like the hamster wheel broke, but you’re still trying to turn it anyway (albeit rather sluggishly). (Maybe this is why I am averse to hamsters?)

I’ve written before about what my experiences with depression have been (and “coming out” about it too). This seems to have been my lot as an adult, more than anxiety, but when I look back over my life, I realise that I have actually always been quite an anxious/fearful person. A “worry wort”, as it was described to (and of) me, when I was young. I’d be the kid worrying about everyone else (are they okay? did they lose something? will they get into trouble? are they late? am I late? – it also didn’t help having a mother who is always late, including quite often for picking me up from school). It didn’t help that I was bullied, either, especially as I was also hyper sensitive. Or that I went to a hyper draconian private school, where the fear of fucking up and thereby being kicked out, costing parentals oodles of $ at a time where they were broke caused major anxiety. I remember that for large portions of time living with that yucky, prickly feeling in me, and not knowing what to do about it either. So some was irrational worry, some was based on experience and reality. How does one know the difference?

Simultaneously, I have also always been silly, quick to laugh, and funny (if I may say so myself). I like to think I’m good at cheering up other people, and just as much as I feel the bad deeply, I am able to feel the good deeply too. It’s a strange dichotomy. It’s also what makes A&D so frustrating. They are good at robbing the joy from the world for me, even though I fight hard to not let them. A&D, to me, feel like opposite ends of a wonky spectrum in terms of how they affect my energy (restless vs. listless), and yet it’s weird how often one causes the other and how they intertwine. Fortunately I have learned, over time, some ways to cope, but it’s never easy to turn to those solutions when you can’t get up off the couch.

Moving to Canada was an interesting part of this journey. The first year I came here (12 years ago!!!) was revolutionary. Not only had I been recently diagnosed with hypothyroidism and started treatment (making the world of difference to my energy and mood!), but I was also free!! Free from expectations, agendas, studying, and the familiar. It was exciting and terrifying in equal measure, but the anxiety was less in some ways, especially after my initial “wtf have I done” freak out after landing. It was a whirlwind. I met someone. Got married. And then there was the stress of moving back when I was feeling really settled here, followed by the stress of immigration when the call came through that we had to return to Canada by a certain date. That early euphoria passed and suddenly it was reality – I had moved away to another country, almost as far as I could go from my home. I had a new job, new responsibilities, new worries. I had a friendship go south because I “wasn’t the way I was before” (yeah? fuck you too). I had some health issues. It was weird. I got help, I made some decisions (to quit my job, take a break). There was a lot of great things, and a lot of worry. Hamster, hamster. Sometimes calm, sometimes furious, sometimes numb.  I began to work seriously hard to mend, feel better, push “play” on my life again. And it has helped, a lot.

So I have to remind myself that sometimes that hamster is under my control, and sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes it’s a complete dick, and other times it’s all fuzzy and cuddly.

All I can do is ensure that I clean out the sawdust, replenish the food and water, and grease the wheel when I can.


99c Pizza Must Be Code for Free Botulism, Right?

20161010_181118It’s 12 years ago to the day since I stepped off the plane at YVR, after spending a very entertaining 10 days in London that included a lovely boy from Tunisia and a trip to Brighton, and thought “WTF was I thinking?”

It was a whirl of emotions (excitement, terror) and a flurry of finding the right transportation downtown to the backpackers that was part of my visa deal. I think by the time I’d chosen my bunk and sat down, I felt like weeping. And then I began to explore.

Those first few days are a blur, but certain things pop out for me:

  • seeing a sign that said zero degrees and thinking they might find my frozen corpse underneath said sign
  • marvelling at the girl at the backpackers who had already got 2 tattoos and a piercing in her first week
  • thinking that 99c pizza must be code for free botulism and that 25c peep shows* were rather expensive in Rand terms
  • buying a very large muffin and making it stretch out for several meals to save money
  • meeting a lovely Aussie (who is still a friend today) and going out for a very good beer and a burger
  • walking down the road and feeling… free? which sparked a joyousness
  • pausing at the Sails at the Convention Centre, seeing snow dusting the mountains, and Japanese maple leaves on the ground and hearing a loud voice bubbling up from my insides saying “It will be okay. You will be okay.”

I feel that it’s important for me to remember my Canuckaversary and celebrate it every year. Because it reminds me of that person who, despite her fears, went all the way to the other side of the world on her own, and took charge of her life. It reminds me of that feeling of being more competent than I’d ever thought. It reminds me that I can take risks and they will pay off (sometimes in unexpected ways). And it reminds me of how far I still have to go.

*this was when Granville street was significantly less chachi than it is now!



The best are those days when you forget you backed The Oatmeal’s latest awesome project, and it arrives in the mail like a little Happy Unbirthday present.

PS – Always ensure you order the NSFW add ons. They’re disgustingly wonderful.


Fall(se) Starts?

leavesSomething that I realise still seems alien to me, even after all these years of living in Canada, is how the new school year starts in September.

All my life, the school year has run with the calendar year. Logical, no? It means that as the year itself draws to a close, so does work, exams, etc. It’s so much more psychologically sound to feel like you’re wrapping up everything from one year and preparing to enter a new year with a fresh start. I can’t imagine starting a new grade near the end of one year, breaking for Christmas, and then starting up again in a new one. And it’s a similar feeling with work.

Of course I get that when you’re from the Southern Hemisphere, your longer holidays are over the summer, which coincides with Christmas time, versus having your longer holidays be mid year. But it just feels all wrong. And it’s totally unfair that when the weather starts to turn cold and leaves are tumbling off the trees (like pieces of your soul plummeting to earth), you’re supposed to be all gung ho about work or school (or like me, both because some of my work is at a school), when all you really want to do is crawl under a duvet and hibernate till spring.


And don’t even get me started on Pumpkin Spice Everything…



Poor Jealousy-with-a-capital-J

Othello - Green eyed monster

I can’t remember where I read it, but I recall that a while back I saw something that struck me as very true. To paraphrase the mystery source, when you feel yourself becoming jealous of something that someone else is doing, it’s very likely because you feel like this is something you yourself should be doing.

Now while I can attest to twitches of jealousy while watching acquaintances enjoy their trust funds,  for example, that pales in comparison to the rageful yet prim Jealousy-with-a capital-J who has reared her head to hear a friend is writing in a serious and/or recognized way – like getting published, joining a writing group, finding a literary agent, or having their blogs picked up by online magazines.

Am I not a despicable human? Of course I am.

That is not to say that I am not deeply happy for that person at the same time (but only if they really are a true friend of mine 😉 ), and that I wouldn’t promote the crap out of their book/articles/websites etc., but I don’t get possessed by the same burning, ugly little gnome when a friend has reached success with a band or job or, as happened recently with a friend, in provincial politics.

An Ugly Girl-Child in a Buttoned Up Frock

I have been puzzling a lot over this Jealousy. She is a wheedly, sharply ugly girl-child in a frock buttoned right up to the neck, with an odd twist in her mouth. And I have been trying to get to know her better. How can I soften her, this Jealousy-with-a-capital-J? How do I teach her not to hold herself so brittle-ly? Because she is, quite sadly, carrying a shame at not working hard enough to achieve the desire to finish a novel and attempt to get it published. And it is that which is twisting her mouth and making her think such small, bitter thoughts.

And so, if she can’t bring herself to relent a little, how do I get her to at least ignore those feelings (the shame and the disappointment in herself and the anger towards others), so she can concentrate on her own affairs? I think that I have found a small answer – and a direction for her acid tongue.

An Unprompted Smile from the Prim Little Thing

I’m distracting her more by forcing her to blog again. I’ve fed her stingy little soul by writing again. I’ve allowed her to make a friend who has been providing her with some great research and detail for her story. And I could swear the other day she actually uncrossed her ankles , unfolded her hands from her lap, had a little bit of colour in her cheeks, and maybe even quirked a smile unprompted.

She shows promise, poor thing.

How can I not love her just a little?


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