Colony of Losers- Fuck Stigma and Mental Illness, I'm like 25

Surviving your Quarter Life Crisis and becoming an adult

Lynch, Lifeboats and Love

Posted on | April 22, 2014 | No Comments

I was watching the first episode of Twin Peaks, eating large chunks of dark chocolate infused with mint, and there was a moment of silence for Laura Palmer.

She’d been murdered. Wrapped in plastic.

This was followed by barroom brawls, a phone call where a father comforted his wife that her child was just fine and she was probably just out with her boyfriend and to stop worrying because there was no reason to, until he saw the cops coming to talk to him and he let the phone cord drop from his hand, and you could hear her mother screaming as she realized her baby was dead into a phone line where no one was listening and the assurances that everything would be okay had turned into silence where you can’t find words because you can’t say everything is okay, because everything is wrapped in plastic and all you ever needed is permanently outside of your grasp.

I found myself focusing on the little Lynchian details rather than the actual picture of a town swept away by grief. Like how the light Agent Cooper used to examine Laura’s body kept flickering on and off, like a strobe light, like our own eyes close when they don’t want to see what is in front of them. Like how the police secretary uses all of her words, in the hopes that she will say exactly the right thing, even if it requires saying far more than is actually necessary, even if she can’t say the words the parents needed to hear which is that it was all mistake, no one dies, parents never lose their children and friends never have to say goodbye.

But it’s all in those small details.

It occurs to me there is actually something beautiful and life affirming about a murder in a small town. In a population of 50,000 it’s entirely possible for your tragedy to be the tragedy of a whole town, you don’t live under the common grinding goals that make your pain invisible, that let your agony disappear into the details of day to day life and your singular hope that your legs are strong enough that you can run from your problems. Everyone reacts differently. Some break immediately and go into hysterics. Others joined their friend in a bar fight because that’s what you have to do sometimes. The world rarely stops to acknowledge that it is no longer whole.

Lynch began with the plan that the murder would remain unsolved throughout the entirety of his series before caving into presssure from the network. There is something  profound in that idea.

Because the things that hurt us most deeply tend not to have a tidy solution. They sneak up on us while we are sitting in our rooms, eating dark chocolate, brushing salt and vinegar crumbs and watching Twin Peaks. While we are in university dreaming that we would live forever once we grasped the secret of the universe. Inside a rut of normalcy, ready to play a chaotic groove that would change everything.

The first question people ask when I tell them about the fire is what happened. It’s hard to explain how little it actually matters, how the chain of events doesn’t explain the outcomes, how little life is an experiment or explainable down to the atomic particles. That it’s a question for a story and not for real life. In fiction fire investigators would discover a Satanic cult. Or a nefarious landlord looking for insurance money in league with crooked politicians. And when they brought the criminal to jail they would bring the world back to harmony. Only stories tend to use victims as narrative devices and their family’s grief as a way to pump the audience up for some serious ass kicking. I don’t know what caused the fire. It might have been tea lights. According to the police it was human error whatever that is. According to the fire marshals, our landlord was at fault for not having a secondary exit to the basement apartment. He won’t be a landlord anymore. This doesn’t do much for me. Punching him in the face would do even less.

You ask what happened because you don’t want it to happen to you. Only I lack the magic to prevent it. I don’t know what happened or what will happen next. That sense of certain doesn’t exist for me anymore.

The tragedy of Laura Palmer’s death isn’t that someone committed murder. It’s that someone was murdered.

In this case fire killed a person I barely knew but happened to share a home with. I can’t really speak to what this is like for her family. I know that I can feel a strange rumbling in the back of my brain when Laura’s mother cries out through the phone line dropped by her husband as she realizes her child is dead. Someone had to make that call to my roommates mother.

When I watched Fruitvale Station I started crying and couldn’t stop. When the tears first came to my eyes I thought about squeezing them out. You know show my girlfriend what a sensitive guy I was. How disgusted I was that police shoot innocent black men because they are trained to be terrified.

Then the mother saw her child and started to break down and I felt this weight crash down on me and I was swept aside in the automatic tears that come when agony can no longer hide in your body. Where you’re just bawling and breathing and you aren’t humiliated, you aren’t anything besides that feeling coming crashing down from the top of your skull to the bottom of your toes and you’re body is shaking because it needs to live and it’s hard to do when you feel death this closely but that isn’t it. It’s how incredibly powerful the love a parent feels to a child actually is. And it’s vulnerable and it’s placed in this dangerous world where anything can happen. It seems so unfair that this much passion would be bound to temporality and accident. It’s so unfair. No child can ever love their parent enough to repay all the obsession and attention and pain on our behalf. Watching Twin Peaks and Fruitvale Station I can see that love reflected in those faces as grief, like a glass poured onto the ground for no reason.  Like trying to drink from it once you have shattered it on the street in rage. And it hurts to see something that beautiful break.

And you remember that love you’ve always been seeking. The one you won’t find in any relationship after that first one. Between you and your parents when your life was more important to them than their own. The only piece of unconditional love life ever gave you and for no reason connected to your character it was taken away. To know how intense it must be to feel it towards someone and to understand how that great gift could become a permanent knife in the stomach.

And it’s worse than the idea of dying. The idea of all the pain your death would cause to the people you love and knowing there is nothing you can do to prevent.

Because my fear  of death isn’t simply that it would be the end of life or a fade to black Sopranos style. That’s the death that people waste their time being scared of. For me it’s the things left undone, the lives that are tied to mine that will be dragged into those depths with me, like a parachute tied to an anchor in the ocean. The people that would hurt so bad they would lose months and maybe years of their life wishing they could hear me rant at them in a caffeine fuelled megalomania. Because my life is precious and it belongs to other people as much as it belongs to me.

My chest hurts when I think about how much time I spent laughing in that home. Where the ceilings fell and the walls are fire scorched cavities in the mouth of hell. Everything we are exists balanced perilously between laughter and tears, and that’s why crying sounds so much like laughing but upside down, where you laugh and you feel the possibilities of life expand and you cry and you feel them contract into that hole in your chest you wanted to make into safety deposit box to keep your most valuable possessions safe.

When you’re alive you learn the trick of building on fragile foundations and you fill in holes with the dirt you used to bury things and your keeps expanding in your chest until you feel like you’re going to explode with so much life and death contained inside, rising on tides of breath where you go out to sea and desperately seek the shore.

Your death is a tragedy other people live and fill in with pictures and the sound of your voice becomes an echo, and a voice on an answering machine that someone you love listens to until your phone is disconnected and messages on your Facebook wall you never get to read and words muttered in pray to make the pain stop .

You feel the pain most viscerally in the love you still have. In the voice of my mother when I call her with tears in my voice that say I’m so happy to be alive and be able to hear your voice even when it’s shaking, even when I want something a child wants which is to be told it’s all okay and I can return to your arms whenever you want because I’m alive even if I’m hurt and I’ll be alive as long as I can because I never want you to sound like Laura’s mother on the phone when you can’t call your child and hear I love you so much that I want to be told it’s okay because you used to read Narnia to me and told me the best stories when I was a kid back when I believed everything.

I shouldn’t eat a ton of dark chocolate before I go to sleep because it means I toss and turn and wonder why my heart is beating so fast. If this might be the first panic attack I have, and I couldn’t control it because I ate too much chocolate and felt too much pain when I was looking simply to be entertained and drift off into the satisfaction of closing a door to places I don’t want to go back to. I know this doesn’t end simply because I walked out that door and the stuff left inside that house that’s mine is to be thrown in a garbage dump as a new family builds a new life on top of it.

We couldn’t catch the villain. Emergency services arrived. They got my roommate out and they got her alive all caught by television cameras that weren’t there when she died. It was an accident and accidents can’t be held accountable.

I’m not over this pain.

That’s like walking on water and I gave up on being Jesus after my twelfth birthday when angels didn’t come. I’m not under it either. I’m simply treading water as friends come by in their boats and take me into their arms and remind me how much I’m loved. As my arms, tired from all the exertion, reach towards the shore and build bridges out of sand running through water running through my palms as I try to create something beautiful to remind the people that we were there, that we are still in other places that don’t feel quite like home. That we laughed in 189 Sheridan. That Hotel Internationale threw the best New Year’s party you’ve ever seen. Where people came together in defiance of language and geography and built families ontop of plane tickets that would eventually take them home and out of my life until I needed them to arrive in my Facebook with words like I love you and I’m here for you and I won’t abandon you even when you say you’re okay and you think you’re okay and as long as you need me I need you because that’s what love is.

Life like death isn’t really about you. It’s about the people your life touches and how they touch you and how the infinity of space time closes around you when you connect. The knowledge that when we fall off cliffs other people are going to grab onto usand pretend we are flying and drag us back up to the surface when we are diving and didn’t think of how far it was to hit the water.

Sometimes it’s screaming into phonelines when you can’t reach the person you want to. Sometimes it’s just listening when someone needs to talk real fast and say things they don’t really understand yet. It can take your breath away when you realize how small the distance is between you and the people that love you.

And all I want right now is to keep writing until the waves stop crashing. Until this feeling of terrible beauty passes and I can forget again. About mothers who post pictures on Facebook of their children after they died. And I’ll remember how much I love my mother and how little I want her to carry me in her chest all the time like a bullet from a gunfight. And think of all the kids who grow up and are so alive that we forget that people ever die.

There’s children on the playgrounds. There’s my nieces in adorable pictures where they look costumed angels. My cousins are going to high school.  My friends are getting married and having kids. Every fiber of my being says the pain is worth the purchase price.One way or the other I lost my ticket and there isn’t much I can do about it.

There isn’t justice, a moral or a necessarily happy ending.The crime of why bad things happens to good people remains unsolved.  There is only life and you’re ability to see it. To not let it pass you by. To seize on the people you love and make them aware of how much your life revolves around them and how fast the world can spin.









Purgatory and Purgation

Posted on | April 21, 2014 | No Comments

It’s completely dark in here.

And it smells of smoke and there’s broken glass on the floor. And I’m alone and I’m taking more breaths than I need to especially when I don’t want to take any because there might be poison in there and I know what asbestos can do. I remember the last time I was in here with fire men and we were searching for my medication and they told me to take my vitamins and I was wearing two different pairs of shoes and laughing about taking my vitamins and wondering when things would get back to normal when my brain still hadn’t registered that things weren’t normal, when my downstairs neighbour had been saved and I hadn’t seen it on the news just with my eyes and didn’t realize she wasn’t going to make it, where my biggest concern was yelling at camera people and making jokes about how Alejandra stole my jacket and how I wanted the coat back because I thought it was funny to ask for it back because that is totally the wrong thing to do and it was cold outside and she was smaller than I was and I had on only my socks because when I heard Evan yelling I panicked and it was really cold outside and there was someone screaming in the alleyway and we couldn’t do anything beside scream and shatter glass and call 911 and wait and we waited and they came and then we made jokes about getting my vitamins before the detectives came into the TTC bus and looked like Mormons and we laughed with my neighbours who were on the weed and loved eachother and have a blog where he takes about what he’s learned from tantric sex and enjoys Chinese Medicine and I used to listen to his shamanic music on the deck and came to the conclusion he was a pretty nice guy and liked seeing him when I liked seeing him when I walked onto my deck during summer days which I had been doing for two years and a little more when they fire decided I’d wear the wrong shoes and search through blackened rooms for my vitamins and antidpressants.

And I’m standing there now.

Where no one has been for months. The bathroom on the second floor used to have a picture of a waterdroplet that would help when me when I overthought peeing and a mirror that looked like the Buddha where I’d watch myself taking a shit and Heidi, a girl from Lollipop Land put the Buddha there and I don’t know about the water droplet but whoever did it deserves my thanks and it survived the bathroom’s roof collapsing and the lines of smoke where I used to take showers and sing operas in languages that don’t exist. Where I stare without shaking. Still not ready to feel this yet. Life like one of those pictures you stare until you see something else, until you realize all the artistry it takes to make a picture you remember and you feel it in some place other than the surface of your eye.

I go outside and grab a flashlight from the landlord. He is awkward. This is unsurprising. He is trying to be a nice guy but it’s hard to do that when a situation thoroughly declares you are an asshole, not because you are evil but just because you let the wrong things slip past and you lost what was important and now it’s a long way away from when you didn’t have to live with those mistakes and you can’t be overly polite or jokey with your former tenant because he might take that the wrong way and punch you in the face. Because you can’t say you’re sorry for some things even if you want to.

I walk up the stairs that Clair fell down because she was a klutz and was annoyed no one saw her falling because she thinks like that are funny and we use to hang out in the kitchen but the roof collapsed and she lives in Australia and I can see Alejandra’s room through the cracks in the ceiling and I realize that if we’d been sleeping I’d be dead and the complaints I have collected wouldn’t mean shit and I would have only fallen in love once instead of twice and I’d be forgotten after people got sick of remembering me and I’d never have been able to turn 30. When I turned 30 I learned that we would be allowed into the house. A few days later I learned the insurance hadn’t come through and the landlord wouldn’t pay to have our things cleaned and if we wanted to go inside that was our choice.

And I got scared. I mean I have been scared for a long time. I think that is the mark of being an adult. The things that are both reasonable and unreasonable that terrify you into learning something about yourself and the world and the spaces in between. I mean the things that scare you always lurk behind a door you have difficulty opening or lurk in the shadows of rooms you are used to and you know they are there but you don’t want to see them so you look in another direction and when you see the shadow perched over your shoulder and you forget that small things cast large shadows, and big things can drink in your shadow until you forget you have a body and you don’t realize anything has a shadow.

I guess you could say the fire was a big thing.

So big I forget it was there.

Like why am I upset when I don’t feel guilty about what I did and I don’t regret moving into the house because it was one of the best experiences I ever had but for some reason it’s a struggle to access all those good memories even if I can talk about them and make it seem like I remember them, and how can I be upset when I feel so happy because I found someone I love that loves me and I feel lucky to be alive and I’ve felt worse than I feel now because the last time I was in this much pain I had anxiety and depression and couldn’t sleep or escape the inevitable conclusion that nothing was wrong but me. And I did all I could.

My roommate died for reasons larger and smaller than me. Fire code violations or candles, accidents, human error, whatever that means, but I sometimes look at her mother’s web page for her daughter and it makes my heart hurt and I check it out because I want to remember how badly things like this hurt because I don’t feel the hurt in an upfront way. I do it behind my back. I feel anxiety about things that aren’t related and I work and I work on finishing work for my job and giving feed back on the latest edit of the movie Lemonade and Lye, which happens to take place in the house which I’m standing in, that I used to live in before the fire.

Dan joins me. He directed the movie. His equipment is in my room. He told me he didn’t care about his equipment. He cared about me. That meant something.

Soon it will also be his girlfriend too and we’ll start packing away all the equipment which seems to be in good condition. My friend Lauren is coming to take me out for dinner and hold me if I lose my shit. I always take precautions. And my breathing starts to ease. There’s something about not being alone and it not being dark when I tear down the film blacks on the window and I realize the sun came out a few minutes after I began going through my room.

I start thinking about all of the little ironies involved in the last months of my life. About how the movie begins and ends with a suitcase being packed. And my new suitcase is what I’ll carry my remaining items out of the house with. Which won’t include the other suitcase because it smells like a campfire. And there was a picture of New York on the wall and it’s cracked maybe from the heat of the fire and I can tear a building off with my finger and let fall to the ground next to the broken glass. I use to meditate on the bed in my underwear and think of my problems and let them go and grab them when I was going to sleep like a warm blanket to remind me that I had survived my depression and I was more than my pain even if I could keep it as I fell asleep and let go of it when I woke up. And I remember we made a movie here and it was one of the happiest times of life hearing my words coming out of actors mouths when it sounded right and I knew I was doing what I was meant to do with my life and I made it myself with the help of my friends. And one of those friends is with me. Cleaning up the mess. And I watched that movie as I clutched my unresolved fears deep into my chest on friend’s couches and in new apartments that weren’t quite home.

My mind starts to slow. My hands are covered in ash but I can wash them. Not in the bathroom where I used to struggle to pee when I overthought the process and the kitchen where I ate yogurt barely exists as a room and I can see Alejandra’s room through the kitchen ceiling.

Only a few more times up and down the stairs. Where I fell once and Claire wasn’t there to see it.

Just a few more minutes.

Collecting my passport.  And the Nazi coin a friend gave me because they thought it would be funny to give a Nazi coin to a Jew because they found things like that funny.

I can go anywhere. I can go to New York. I can write in new rooms and my favorite coffee shops and in my girlfriend’s house in Ottawa where there is a couch where everything made sense because when I was in more pain than I thought imaginable I found her and we fell so deeply in love everything felt like it added up. I had to get sick and lose my mind to love myself like a person rather than like an idea or a story where I was a hero which meant all of my bad actions were unforgivable unlike the way I loved her where her mistakes added up to all the places she built an incredible person. It was in this house I let go of all the pain I accumulated at 25 that made sense at 29 and a half when I was sitting on her couch listening to breath and smelling her neck to remember that she was real and I was real and it was amazing that I got to be alive.

Since the fire I have been working hard to keep it together. Sometimes this meant writing until my hands hurt. Sometimes it meant calling her at midnight and talking until two in the morning just so I could remember the couch and how she smelled when I held her little body in my arms and addition added up to me being alive and in love.  Getting back the equipment and my passsport were the last thing I had to do.

I have this fantasy. It’s a mundane one for someone who has as big of an imagination as I do. You’d think I’d imagine happiness as fireworks and gunfights and balloons falling in their thousands and Hollywood premiers and saving the day and saying the most clever thing I could think of but that has nothing to do with my fantasy.

It happened shortly after I emerged into the sunshine. A little bit after we packed my remaining items and the film equipment in Dan’s car. After I entered my new house which I got because 6 weeks without a home was too much. After I laid down my suitcase in my room, and I put my clothes in the washer.

It is a shower. Where I didn’t have to do anything else. Where all I had to do was be myself and let myself feel this. Not just luck. But pain. Such intense pain. Where you didn’t make a choice and life changed around you and somehow you were still alive to make the changes you wanted and become the person you wanted to be. Which wasn’t a hero. Which wasn’t a victim.  Which was simply a person who didn’t have anything left to do to be worth loving. Who could relax and not be an ideal.

Under the hot shower my hands wipe free of ash.

Taking a deep breath I go with my friend Lauren to get a bite to eat.

A fire engine rolls down my street. Slowly. Like it’s going to stop at my new house and a laugh creeps from my stomach into my throat. I turn the corner and watch it slowly inch past my house on the way to some other Emergency.

And I’m okay.

All I have to do is feel this.

And I’m alive.

And there’s nothing left to do but live.

The Chairs On The Deck

Posted on | April 6, 2014 | No Comments

There is something about the chairs on the deck which bother me.

Maybe because they are the only piece of the house which seemingly has no idea that things have changed. Not that chairs have thought or objects can experience recognition but clearly the windows have been boarded up, that gigantic blue metal box wasn’t there before and the police caution tape is only left at the scene of crimes or tragedy. Yet the chairs on the deck look exactly the same.

What’s more they didn’t belong on the deck in the first place!  We had wooden deck chairs that were slowly eroded away by a million conversations and cigarette breaks and eventually they had to be thrown off the deck onto our concrete front  lawn lest someone foolishly assume they were still practical sitting devices.Then we brought out the kitchen chairs because we needed some place to sit.

And there they remain. Waiting for us to come back and have a seat.

It’s not just the chairs that look wrong. There are garbage bags behind the blue cage and caution tape. I think it’s the last round of garbage from November, placed outside shortly before the fire.  For six months no one has thought to pick it up. And there is some broken electronic device strewn across the concrete where I smashed the chairs for public safety.

I remember last year when the winter broke and the first false summer came. When you could pretend there wouldn’t be a snow storm in a week.

Clare and I were drinking coffee. We were probably making fun of eachother as that was the basis of our relationship. That and tea at 4 in the morning.  And we started playing this weird game, where there was one place on the deck that was placed directly in the sunlight and we didn’t want to sit there. At a certain point in the day sitting in that chair meant you were going to be temporarily blinded and most definitely sun burnt. We were aware that this time of the day was coming and I had purposefully chosen the chair that wouldn’t get me blinded.

Clare was also aware of this. Her campaign to change this began with an innocuous request. She got me to move my feet slightly down the railing, where I rested my feet when I was sitting on the deck, most likely with a laptop perched on my legs. So I moved. And then I was asked to move a little more and I did. By the end of  a half hour period she had moved directly into the path of the sun.

It was a few months later that we said goodbye in the parking lot. We had become best friends and knew we would likely fade from eachother’s life completely. We hugged, felt emotional and moved onto different lives. This is what happens when you travel. This is what happens when your home is a hotel and everyone comes from a different country and different people sit on the deck every six months to a year unless you’re Mike Kimber and you have difficulty saying goodbye to meaningful places.You make a best friend and they never hold the same place in your life again because most people aren’t good at staying in touch and I’m especially bad at it. But you have that time and it means the world.

When I’m in Halifax I swing by 2533 Beech Street to look at a different deck. I lived there for eighteen years and when I see it I remember lost times.  As you get older you forget your childhood. You don’t mean to, it just happens. Key events survive because they became stories and you talk about them enough that some semblance of memory continues. 2533 Beech used to be red and white. Now it’s blue and white and I have to say it looks stupid. Mainly because it doesn’t look the same. I can still remember the lessons I learned there. Like don’t trust your brother. He didn’t really poison you. He just made you think he poisoned you. And of course people aren’t really being murdered in your house. You’re six years old and your brothers friends came up with a very clever idea. But eventually you learn lessons your parents and siblings can’t teach you. You start letting the shitty parts of yourself go.

Most of these lessons have happened in the last five years. Manic love to mature love. Halifax to Toronto. 25 to 30. Inconsiderate nice guy to someone with a vague conception of how important the things that don’t matter to you can matter to other people. The realization that life isn’t just doing what you want, it actively involves realizing how your life impacts the people in it.

And many of those lessons came at 189 Sheridan. When I arrived in Toronto I was clinging to the past. All of my writing was based in the last time I fell in love and my heart hadn’t really moved on. I was writing about my mental breakdown and trying to make some sort of career as a mental health advocate. My whole life was based around reliving the first time I really lived. When I moved into Sheridan I felt like I was a shitty roommate, Toronto didn’t feel like my home and my real life was back in Halifax.

Then I was playing late night hockey in the schoolyard next door with Heidi, Loic, Kevin, Mayumi and Alex. We didn’t have enough sticks and we had too much alcohol. Heidi was playing like it was soccer as we didn’t have a stick she could use and I was acutely conscious of not hitting her with the stick. And despite the rum and cokes I was pretty good at it. I could remember those days in front of 2533 playing with my childhood best friends, pretending it was the Stanley Cup.

And it felt like I was in the right place. The right place to go to karaoke at the Abbey with my old roommate Jennica and the Midnight Beefeaters. And I was at a New Years party at my house where I was the only one from Canada. And I was on a great adventure. And on Christmas break Heidi’s visa ran out and she went back to Lollipop Land. And within four months the first family was gone and Evan moved in.

Evan and Alex were both personal trainers and my first real conversation with Evan was on my birthday as we ate the cake Mayumi made for me. We had nothing in common. He was into sports and I was into reading and I had little suspicion he would become like a little brother to me. Evan was there for eighteen months. I watched him grow from a child to a man in that time.And somehow he got me into basketball. And yelling. Evan and I are both very loud. We once had a competition to see who’s voice would carry the longest from the deck. It was a tie. Both of us could make ourselves heard to the end of the next block.

And new people moved in.  There was Pedro from Spain and his girlfriend and his dreams of being an architect. Carolina and her love of fashion and dancing.  Marketa and her beer.  Kotsy and his hilarious policy of drinking three beers and passing it out with the door still open. Our Rwandan roommate who liked to eat eggs and was only seen in brief moments when he left the house.   Then Clare moved in and it was three months before she opened the door and became my friend. Matthew, the American and his quickly leaving due to hating the fuck out of the place and his attempt to give our landlord a heart attack through sheer aggression.

And then Alejandra moved in. Our first real conversation was on the deck. She learned that I was working on a documentary about biological weapons and wanted to talk about science. She knew far more about it than I did. And at the end of the conversation she went inside because she had forgotten something important about the make up of DNA and wanted to remember it.She liked to knit on the deck. Marketa liked to yell at kids during Canada Day celebrations when they laughed and blew up fire works to celebrate their patriotism.

Nino and I also became friends on the deck. We talked about trying to make it in art and how much longer it took to reach financial security and how we wanted to make our living doing what we loved.  Then Nicola moved in, in an attempt to leave Italy and find a country where he could love as he wished and started a campaign to stay in Canada. He had this bizarre love of asking if he could ask a question before he asked it. And playing psychological games that involved four questions and somehow told our future. Charlotte and Nicola got into fights on the deck about burlesque and politics. And then Alessandro arrived amidst the worst rain Toronto has seen in a decade and when I met him his hair wasn’t properly geled and that would be the last time that happened.

So much of what the house was happened on that deck. Sitting in the chairs I would eventually smash and the kitchen chairs that didn’t belong. And unlike many memories I can’t let go of them. Because the house burned down and we didn’t get to leave the deck when we wanted to. Like a lost love that moved on before you did. And it was on the same stretch of sidewalk where I said goodbye to Clare that I’d say goodbye to the house and the one who roommate who didn’t escape the fire.

I don’t think I can let those deck chairs go. Mainly because they remain in a state of permanent stasis. Like they are waiting to be edged out of sunlight when this winter finally breaks. Like I could sit down on one, close my eyes and my entire life would be different. Where three hundred of my books lay sprawled out in a room that still looks like a film set. In the kitchen where I had my first date with the girl I loved.

Now it’s been a little less than six months since the fire.

Tomorrow is Nino’s last night.  He gets on a plane and he goes back to Germany and we’ll have some beer and burgers and he’ll always be a good friend of mine. Because he was there the night we walked away from that house. Because of the conversations we had on that deck.

I wish we had spent the last six months on the deck with him complaining about how cold he was and me raving drunk on medium roast coffee. I love that neighborhood. I loved that house.

I want to sit on those deck chairs.

Some places you don’t get to go back. Some places you never forget.

Someplaces will always be home.


Posted on | April 2, 2014 | 2 Comments

It’s so easy to be clever while you’re complaining. Sound exasperated. Word your complaints in a way that induces laughter and head nodding. There are so many reasons to look at the world and say no. To look at the world and ask for your piece of it. To crave the applause when it gets cold outside and you don’t want to leave your covers.

You spend your day watching people complain about their personal lives via some current event they have become particularly attached to. When someone dies you have to say something because silence isn’t something that is respected. In this world everyone needs to have their input on everything. We are all connected. Part of respect was knowing the degree to which we are connected. When my house burnt down 300 people wrote on my wall. Some of them made me cry. Some of them said words like OMG condolences.

My dad told me it didn’t matter if they used emotions or knew me. Strangers offered me a place on their couch. All the people offering to help me made my parents cry. They got an inkling of what sort of son they had. And I realized I made mistakes but I lived with a lot more love than I ever imagined.

And it’s easy to see the world as some sort of involuntary daisy chain connected by hands holding cellphones and eyes avoiding contact.

This story isn’t about that.

I was talking myself into being irritated on the bus. It was crowded. All I could hear was a man yelling into his phone pardon me, pardon and about dozen people ignoring him checking for text messages.  And I felt it in my chest. That isolation. That feeling that humanity turned a corner and all we found was a mirror on the otherside. That desire to push him on the bus and cackle like Dennis Hopper in Speed.

Only I want to talk about my phone. It’s the worst on the market. It’s also better than my last phone which was recently discontinued as they no longer wanted to make a charger for it.That was the previous worst phone on the market.

Let’s take a step back. Go to Facebook.

It was October 28th, 2013 and I checked my Facebook private messages.  I check it so often one girl I dated referred to it as my girlfriend. This time it was a letter from the ether from a girl I liked about a million years ago. At that point she had an actual boyfriend. I found this out when I asked for a kiss and was told that she had a boyfriend and a cold. At some point I met her again and told her that one day she would break up with her boyfriend and we would have some fun. I was drunk. it was one of the best things I have ever said when I was drunk.

And I got her message and I felt like a door was opening. Not wide. Just enough that I could put my foot in.

She didn’t live in my city. There is something relaxing in hoping for something totally impossible. Because you can’t get it. It doesn’t hurt to hope.

I did all the wrong things because that’s what I like to do on a date. It had been seven years since I asked for a kiss. It was about seven seconds before I kissed her. I don’t think we’d said hello. It was mostly tongue on teeth.  I’m not one for patience. And this sort of forward behavior may have confused my intentions somewhat.

I made her dinner in my cramped second floor kitchen. I still lived at Sheridan Avenue. It was a few weeks before the fire. A few years ago I found  a Craigs List add for the place. I signed the lease and suspected I was in for a brief foray into hell. I mean what else could happen when you live with strangers?

Most of these strangers left my life when they were deported. When they were in my life they were some of the bestfriends I’ve ever had. People I never would have met if not for a Craig’s List add. Who wouldn’t have been able to come here before airlines made flights affordable. Before modern technology invited them into my life. There are memories in that house that a fire couldn’t burn away. There was the New Years where foreign exchange students danced the Macarana and we had representatives from almost every country in the world. There were hockey sticks for midnight games in the dead of winter. A thousand conversations on the deck. There were friendships that made a shithole a home.

The dinner wasn’t great. But it had steak. My customary salad made of good ingredients so it had to be good. I was embarrassed as I did the dishes because I’m not particularly good at doing dishes. It was November 8th or 9th and it had just started to get cold.We went for a long walk, kissed in a park and wished that it was a little more convenient to go on a second date. We both realized that the second date probably wasn’t going to happen.

It was freezing cold. She liked the outdoors and my forward behavior of kissing her in the first seven seconds led her to the wise choice of not watching a movie in my bedroom. I walked her back to the place she was staying and I walked home.

On the way home I talked to my friend about how nice the date had been. How I regretted that it was going nowhere. Two days later I got a text message on a phone so terrible it no longer exists. She wanted meet her at the trainstation before she went to Ottawa. I was hungover from a karaoke night that involved a birthday party where a baby had been invited.

I went. It was gross. We held hands and kissed and it felt like we had been dating for years. I would go into details but you would vomit. And I said I’d visit her. I don’t know why I said this. It was unrealistic. Impossible. Exactly what I wanted.

We emailed. I wrote a couple of the emails drunk and they were filled with spelling mistakes taking away from my selling point of being an articulate writer with wild hair and a gorgeous beard. She wrote me back. Recommended a weirdly awesome movie she wanted me to watch. The type of small talk that makes the world feel big.

Friends told me about their success with long distance relationships.

And then 10 days later my house was on fire.

Completely in shock, in the most horrifying moments of my life, I sent her a text message. I wanted her to know I was safe.

She had a dream about a fire. We talked at eight in the morning outside the Starbucks when I hadn’t done any sleeping and my clothes smelled like fire. I don’t really remember what I said. I know I didn’t cry even if I wanted to.

For the next month we talked on the phone. Most of the time it was a safe place to go when nothing felt safe. When I didn’t have a home. When every day I’d recieve a phone call or an email and things would get worse. When I found out Alisha died I left a phone message on her machine.

I’m shit at breaking bad news. It always sounds like a joke. I think I just said that she was dead without explaining who, repeated myself and hung up.

She called me back while I was out getting new Blundstones as I lost my footwear and pretty much all of my belongings in the fire. Somehow she made me feel better. I think it was a combination of her being glad to hear from me and the fact that we laughed even when I felt so hurt that I could barely feel a thing.

I’d seen her twice in seven years and I lived for the moments I got to talk to her on my shitty phone. Just before bed. In someone’s else’s house. Usually with some variety of shitty news and a lot of fast coffee talk.

Now I see her for about a week every month.We travel by airplane, we travel by train but mostly we talk on the phone. People talk about long distance relationships like they talk about cellphones. A way to be with someone without being with them.

One day I broke my charger and tried desperately to get a replacement. Because I didn’t want to go for a night without hearing her voice and making her laugh. Hating Android phones I got another shitty phone, the cheapest they had at Future Shop.

Without my shitty phone and it’s unlimited long distance plan we wouldn’t be able to talk. And our conversations are great. The type that feel like home. And I texted her when my life fell apart. And I call her when I want to tell her I love her before she goes to sleep on nights she has to be up early.

And the first time I told her I loved her I did it on the phone. She had a stopover in Toronto and there was a snowstorm. It seemed unlikely that I’d get to see her and the idea that I loved her had been dancing in my brain too long. I had to say it. She didn’t. She is the type who likes to write letters and say things in person. And the plane landed and she was in Toronto for a couple days. And she said it.

And I watch people on the bus checking their text messages and not talking to eachother. Desperately trying to find an outlet in a coffee shop. And I don’t hate them. Maybe they are just waiting to get a message like the one that ended up in my Facebook on October 28th, 2013.  Maybe we connect in different ways than we did when we were kids. Maybe a generation won’t know how to spell and will tell us their feelings using emoticons. Maybe that angry post on my feed is just a desperate desire for some thought or feeling that will point them in the direction of the next place they can feel safe. But we are all trying to find something. And sometimes it isn’t located in the most convenient place. Sometimes the people you love and need don’t live on your block.

It’s so easy to get lost.

To post selfies and pretend that all that matters in the world is what people think of you.

And you can forget how much love there is in the world just waiting to happen between strangers. How far they will go for you because that’s people’s natural inclination.  We want to love eachother. And sometimes we wait for the love to arrive instead of sending it blasting into the world. Strangers offered me their couch.

Without my phone I wouldn’t be able to call her and say I’m on her doorstep, come kiss the bearded man.

We don’t connect the way we used to.

Maybe that isn’t always a bad thing.

Because without my phone I wouldn’t be in love.

It’s the shittiest phone on the market.

And it lets me hear her laugh.

It works.

Irritation-(First Colony of Losers style writing)

Posted on | January 4, 2014 | No Comments

A long time ago in a place far away I went to journalism school with a lot of awesome people. At the time I had a neighbor who would blast Peter Frampton at ridiculously early hours of the day to wake me up with. I recently found this piece and thought I’d post it. I think it was the first time I wrote stuff along the lines of Colony of Losers. Little dated. But I laughed.  Also written just before Obama won his first term. Enjoy my not so Nostradamus style predictions.


The year is indeterminate. My mouth tastes like day old marshmallows and chocolate residue. I must have eaten smores. I try to remember why my blood shot eyes are open. My ceiling is shaking. Peculiar.

My mind is the Halifax commons after a concert, it needs a five dollar Spartan breakfast rather than a hundred thousand clean up. But slathering of rum and coke slow the electric currents moving through gray matter.  I am having trouble finding myself in the garbage heap I have made of my skull.

My ceiling is shaking because on Sunday morning my neighbors decided to hold band practice.

They are playing Peter Frampton’s “Oh Baby I love your way.”

I am in hell.

This issue of the Commoner is about irritation. It’s also about confronting that irritation.

If you need a theme song to put in your iPod while you read this issue of the Commoner I ask that you consider “We’re not going to take it anymore” by Twisted Sister.

Irritation can be defined by the Webster’s dictionary as…..I don’t care. You know what irritation is and that loser Webster can get funked in their Wagners for all of their encyclopedic knowledge of the English language.

A lot of things irritate me such as Sarah Palin, tight binding underwear, parents talking on their cell-phones ignoring their ADD children until they start choking on crayons no one told them not to eat. Oftentimes my life feels like an after-school assignment where I have to interview a hippy and count how many times they use the word like in a sentence.

Recently I was on a bus boarded by drunken teenagers at the Lord Nelson Hotel. They refused to stagger the three blocks to Shirreff Hall.  Within seconds they began shouting Ola! Ola!  The inebriated puberty stars swayed back and forth making the bus tilt on the verge of tipping.  I shouted at them to sit down or I’d make sure their parents grounded them. They ignore me.

I killed no one.

I rarely let my annoyance become anger because I don’t believe in my power to change the world that irritates me.

I think that back in the sixties people were angry about what was going wrong.  I am not angry because after all the orgies, riots and progress my parents went on to vote for Reagan and Bush.

Maybe my parents were angry because they thought the world could change and we’re indifferent because they failed to change it. The difference between my parents and me is that they got the credit cards when they got jobs and quit being hippies.  We become revolutionaries the day we use our credit cards to buy our first Che T-Shirt, and learn our first Ben Harper Cover.  In a short time we went from John Kennedy to George Bush, Trudeau to Stephen Harper.  If Obama wins I expect him to be followed in due time by Palin.

Twisted Sister overcomes Peter Frampton.    I am feeling angry and optimistic.

Maybe we won’t take it anymore. But I doubt it.

Like a fine wine and a delicious meal, progress leads to pleasure, big noise and a pile of shit.  My parents wanted to fight for peace.  I want to play halo, watch YouTube and not vote in the election.

Once more my ceiling shakes with cheesy love ballads.

This issue is about our irritation and how it will be with you, “night and day.”


What Wishing Is

Posted on | December 3, 2013 | No Comments

“Everything is a miracle. We just have to recognize it.”-Fedrico Fellini

Inside of 189 Sheridan there was an infestation of overgrown house flies. They arrived a few days before the fire. In a season where they shouldn’t have been able to live. They would appear in our rooms, in our showers, in the halls, and no matter how many we killed they continued to multiply. An irritant of massive proportions. The flies needed to go. Emails were sent to our landlord. A bottle of insecticide arrived. We killed flies by the dozen, yet there was no change. In the kitchen on the second floor I watched a few crawl back to life staring at them dumbfounded.

We had our home. We had eachother. My movie was finished filming. A great girl had entered my life. Yet the constant demands of everyday existence had begun to grate on me. You know that line from the Sopranos everyday is a gift but why does it have to be a pair of socks. And the socks were on my floor. And I couldn’t get to them in time. One sock.  No shoes. Rooms full of flies.

I would give anything to have it back. To know that Alejandra was knitting upstairs. That Nic would be busily collecting McDonald’s monopoly pieces in the beginning of his campaign for world domination. To have Alessandro angrily demand to know why I was in a bad mood so that he could make it better.  To have Nino explain to me why music reached it’s climax in the 1980s. To hear Evan’s incredibly loud trash talking as he played basketball video games. We’re alive but that time is over. Our last moment in that reality involved us screaming directions at fire fighters.

Nino and I were at the Starbucks on Dovercourt and College.

I tell myself to keep it together. To stay inside of the fog of shock for a bit longer. Only I can’t find anything to say. The words keep skipping and the source of the words have disconnected.

I think of that old phrase. Flies in the ointment.

A place known by my friends as my headquarters. Ordering an iced tea and bananna chocolate chip muffin, the wood smoke still thick on our clothes. I’m wearing two jackets because I wanted to take as much out of the house as I could. We both wear back packs carrying what will become our remaining possessions.

“How are you?” asked an employee I’ve known for years.

My mouth opened and closed.

“We’re okay,” said Nino.

“We were in a fire,” I replied. “Our house burned down.”

A barely visible guilt appeared. I felt it register under my eyes like an anchor. Was anything that happened to me important when I didn’t know if everyone got out alive? Was I even allowed to talk about it with strangers?

“Oh. You smell like you’ve been camping. Everything okay?”

“Yes. No. Ummmm. I don’t know. It was bad.”

Silence. My hands were shaking.

“Let me cover his bill,” said Nino. He grinned at me and took out his debit card.

“No,” said my Starbuck friend. “It’s covered. Don’t worry about it.”

“No worries,” said Nino. “I’ve got it.”

For Nino the bill is one thing he can take care of. I’m momentarily helpless. I can’t find my words. My roommates went across the world to learn English. I went to my local Starbucks and lost it. Is that ironic?

“Here’s my debit card.”

“Totally covered,” said my Starbucks pal. “Do you want sugar in your tea?”

“4 squeezes. Not six.”

“I know,” He said his voice warm and deep.

We sit in our chairs and say things I can’t really remember. Probably we’re lucky. Maybe something else. There are long silences that don’t feel long, or maybe endless dependent on whether I can remember the last time we spoke. Those silences were broken with the same question, “Are you okay?”

A quiet war raged between us. The type only men who love eachother can experience when they both psychologically injured and don’t want to break down. Where we assume evidence of our individual hurt would hurt the other person. Make them help us when we know how difficult it is to maintain composure. For me it involves feeling tears like a pulsing headache in the back of my head, those ticklish fingers which move up your throat like an insane laugh waiting to escape your soul, the type of tears you can’t have when you’re drowning, that hit when you get on the lifeboat and someone is kind enough to give you a blanket. The tears won’t come out in public. They’ll just hint at what you are going to go through when you’re by yourself.

I tried to think of jokes. None seemed appropriate. Minutes ticked away and my resolve began to run out. I needed my meds. Even if they smelled like smoke. I needed a quiet room where I could let go. Holding on this tight was starting to hurt. I know Nino would have been there for me. I also knew that he wasn’t really there at the moment. Usually in situations like this someone isn’t hurting as much. Someone appears more broken and concern can be given to them.

The war was won.

Strange jokes fly through my head. God watching me cry. Calling me a faggot. Russell Peters saying, “Be a Man.”  Hulk Hogan raising the Ultimate Warriors hand above his head in triumph at Wrestlemania 6. Arnold saying,”It’s not a tumor.”

Neither of us cried. We hugged. Said we loved eachother. He went on a bus to Orillia. I went to my bosses house. He didn’t sleep until late night. I slept in the guest room of a mansion. When I woke up I cried long and hard. I can’t speak to how Nino dealt with it. I know he is an incredibly strong man and dealt with it in a way that made sense for how he had lived his life.

I only know that I can’t cry in front of other people.


It’s Rancho Relaxo, the five dollar rap show. Where usually I get drunk and give motivational speeches about seizing the day to my favorite rap folk. My brother Matthew Kimber aka Josh Martinez is headlining. Immediately upon crossing the threshold I know this night is different. Everything feels slow motion and warm like it was captured by an SLR camera. My brother is at the bar and it takes a lot of steps to reach him. I know I’ll feel safe with him. I don’t know what that will feel like.

My brother Matty and I hug longer than we ever have. The acknowledgement he loves me and can feel what it would be like not to have me in his life. Not things he wants to say. Just things he wants me to feel without saying them.

What will follow will be a night of jokes and a dozen different reactions to my week. A girl I once went on a hilarious date with buys me a double and stares at me with wide eyes and quivering lips. A popular rapper kisses my hand repeatedly and tells me he’s sorry for what I’ve gone through. My close friend Dan Jardine tells me he doesn’t care about the three thousand dollars of film equipment trapped in my room, he cares about me. I promise we’ll figure out something. He tells me it doesn’t matter. He means it.

An old family friend tells me his parents would love to have me at their place. A guest room. Separate from the world. He hugs me and I realize I barely know him and love him. Like this is people’s natural state. Opening their arms, taking you inside them when you need it.

I stop the tears by getting myself a drink.

I have the chance to watch my brother Matthew rock his alter ego Josh Martinez and I scream his lyrics along with him. I remember the dozens of times I’ve done this and realize I’ll never be too old to get excited seeing him do the thing he was put on earth to do. I think of all the Matthews I have seen in my life. How much more of a man he has become in the last five years. And we act like boys as we laugh loud enough to attract notice.

I don’t even remember the last words we would have exchanged. And now he is allowed to forget them. Those casual sentences that would become significant if they were the last ones. We say I love you alot. It’s a thing in my family. Maybe the last words were I love you because that’s usually how we end Facebook conversations. Maybe everyone ends conversations the same way. Maybe the last words will always be I love you.

Move on a friend so drunk he isn’t able to properly communicate. He recently lost his childhood possessions in a flood. When I tell him about my roommate he asks if we were close. I say no. He refers back to the last time I lost someone and tells me this isn’t that bad. Not comparatively. He wants to help me. To weigh pain and decide what agony can be forgotten and what can’t. One experience he shares. The other he has no idea about. For him perspective means acknowledging those scales. Not realizing time cushions wounds and I’m still bleeding from this one.

He talks about the art he lost, how hard it was to move past it, how they were just things, but the loss of things hurt. I feel bad at how wrong he is getting it. Usually I would grin, nod and bear it.

But that Michael Kimber is gone. I tell him somethings he doesn’t want to hear. I tell him he doesn’t understand. His defences go up. He thinks he’s hurt me and his first feeling is being offended at what he views as an angry reaction to his mistake. He looks miserable and I want to help him. But I won’t.

Making him feel better would be wrong because it would stop him from learning that you shouldn’t always give people advice. You shouldn’t always try to empathize. Somethings you can’t understand by approximation. Sometimes I’m not going to make you feel better. Not when I need the energy to keep myself standing.

“You have to look at the positive….You have to move on. You’re lucky to be alive.”

The evil side of my mind thinks luck is more like winning the lottery or waking up to a blowjob or being offered a role in a sitcom. Lucky doesn’t involve these pictures or these sounds or my inability to properly put them together. A few minutes prior to this conversation a drunk man staggered into me and I wanted to fight him. To make physical my emotional chaos. To punch a man until my knuckles hurt.

It doesn’t matter if I knew her. I knew her well enough to be there when her life ended. To feel helpless as I did my best. To tear at metal bars and smash in windows with the handle of snow shovels and meet her as the smoke curled out of my home and into my lungs. To see her boyfriend break in front of me like shattered glass. To hold him when he was on his knees and all he wanted was for one evening to go away. I remember telling him it would be okay, trying to put power into my tone as if I were talking to God rather than a person I met three times. It didn’t matter that she was a stranger. I’ve never prayed so hard for anything in my life. Nothing mattered like that stranger’s safety. Nothing even registers on the same scale.

Move on.

I get a drink and politely leave the conversation.

In the hours after the fire I felt a gratitude that the people I knew had walked out unscathed. Totally reasonable. We promise we would have gone in for eachother. We mean it as love. And in that idea is the kernel of a lie that will hurt us when it ceases to offer us comfort. That we could have tried more than simply calling 911, smashing windows or racing into a smoke filled room to get a fire extinguisher just out of our grasp. That we could have fought the monster and rescued Alisha if we really wanted to. We ask ourselves if a family’s heart broke because we didn’t meet her? Did we give everything we had? Could we have given more?

And I have my own regrets. Questions come to me like why wasn’t I the one to scream the warning at two in the morning? I smelled the sickening smell from the vent. Why didn’t I know it was a fire? What change would a minute have offered Alisha? What if Evan hadn’t been there? What if Alejandra’s sleeping pill had prevented her from waking up. There is the idea of courage and there is the reality of shocked horror. Would I have saved her? Could I have saved her if things had been different? If the fire began in an attic instead of a basement. Would my insane fear have helped or hurt her?

Yet thoughts like this have been with me before feeling returned. Thoughts like this can exist even when you hold your breath. When your heart calms in nightmare cold in frantic disbelief that any of this could be real you wonder what you could have done differently. The what ifs multiple until they fill your vision. Some flies can exist in any season.

Outside as I type this a fire engine is dispatched to fight another person’s fire. I watch the garage doors open. The lights flickering before the alarms came. It felt like slow motion. It’s mind boggling what exists as background noise in a normal life. Your train is delayed and a person’s life is lost and you only feel inconvenienced along the course of your day. Think of all the times you saw the ambulances, firetrucks and police cars drive by and didn’t feel a thing. Just saw them as other cars on their way to live a normal day.

As I type this the red lights in my window mean someone else is in danger. They also mean that someone is on the way to save them. Imagine living your whole life without the illusion you’d live forever. Imagine listening to the siren on the way to risk your for your someone else’s? Knowing that sometimes you are going to lose against the universe. How do such people even exist? Who consign themselves to be waterbearers in hell. Who move unseen by the general public. A general public that says god bless you after someone sneezes and barely acknowledge the emergency in their wake?

Seeing the brittle truth of reality hurts. We have to remember the powerlessness of those moments when we shouted at fire fighters and they went in the wrong door. I’ve read enough about survivor’s guilt to know that repression builds panic attacks and PTSD. You tell the story over and over again until it can be yours. Moving on immediately means pushing those images into invisible places. My backpack still smells of smoke. When I hear Emergency sirens my stomach tightens and I feel a fear that someone else is about to be dragged out of the world. And my feet feel cold. Like I’m not wearing shoes. Just socks. I breath in and joy registers so high it’s off the charts. I get to live. And I know what means. Breathing with a broken heart, doomed to love until you die. An ordinary person who for a few seconds has his heart and mind completely open.

Sometimes I wish for things. Like I just want to go to sleep for a month and wake up and remember nothing. Like I’d give anything to sit on my deck and laugh with my friends.

And I know what wishing is.

It’s missing something you can never have and I understand a hundredth of a percentile of what it must mean for Alisha’s family. To wish so desperately for something they can never have again. Not gone for a good reason. Or to teach a lesson. The precious things in life are perishable.

The many cogs in our many machines rarely get maintenance work. A screw loosens, a candle falls, a circuit breaks, a smoke alarm does or does not go off. There are millions of replacement parts in the world. You can change a lightbulb, you can buy a new gastank, change a screw. A few cents. A few hundred dollars. The madness of the world is that the most precious pieces of our heart live lie at the mercy of the worst work of our hands.  As our souls are protected only by fragile flesh and breakable bones. What is irreplaceable exists only by mercy. What is beautiful can and will be broken.

And it occurs to me there has to be a purpose in these hurtful thoughts. A part of me understands they are a method of regaining control. The belief that if we acted better we could overwhelm chaos with our empty hands. If it was a mistake we can face fate next time and defeat it.

And I think about the nature of these thoughts. The ones that repeat on constant loop until they’re all you can hear. Such as,”This is your fault” and “you are weak” or “you aren’t meant to be loved.” That somehow the lesson in tragedy is that we were worthless because we couldn’t prevent it.

Without proper counselling, support from friends and family, the lies can become your life. But even then there is a purpose, a possible salvation in the sickest disguise. The monsters emerge from under your bed, from the darkest places of your subconscious and you can see them. You can no longer ignore that you’re asleep. A puppet of insecurities and scars in places you can’t remember being cut.

Our impression of purgatory is suspended animation, Zach Morris making a cellphone call, a prison sentence before time reappears. A place in between heaven and hell where we perpetually tread water while we work towards blissful eternity. Only purgatory has nothing to do with a temporary pause or a prison sentence. The concept is based around the idea of purging your indifference to the miracle of creation through tremendous suffering. In Purgatory pain is a force of transformation, waiting for us to learn how to make hurt heal. Hell exists when we pretend we are powerful, when our pride makes the universe our fault.

The place where meaning and movement is forgotten is our everyday lives. Where pain is seen as abhorrent, a thing to be avoided, to maintain our status quo existence. Flies in the ointment. Dishes not properly cleaned. Schedules of appointments for dentistry, the headaches caused by concussions, everyday loneliness, visas that might not be renewed, dreams that might not be realized, and you hold your breath and hate your life when you have no idea what is that could be taken away from you. It’s natural to lose the present moment in all of your fears and hopes for the future. It’s natural not to be grateful to be alive. We live without perspective.

We pretend to be strong and make ourselves weak.

Move on. See the positive side.

Words for close your eyes. Embrace amnesia and avoid painful life altering revelation. Move on.  Words for forgetting the things I’ve learned this week. When I saw the hundreds of messages from friends I hadn’t talked to in years. The phone calls with my parents where I could feel the love across the line. The feeling of Alejandra in my arms and the strength in her hands as she hugged me. Her boyfriend Ricardo who flew in from Miami at a moment’s notice because he needed to help. The knowledge that a collection of strangers brought together by a Craig’s List add came to love eachother so deeply they were shaking at how close they came to losing eachother. The heartbreak of two minutes that can never be changed.

The flies are gone. So is someone incredibly precious to many people. What I feel now is both worse and better than anything I can remember feeling. Alive to the point of horror. Alive to the realization of wonder.

Grief is the act of purgation. Where every negative thought you had is lost in the weight of the overwhelming soul breaking truth of love. Where regret exhausts itself and pain lives like love in your heart acknowledging that somethings can’t be replaced. Your pain is the act of transformation, your regret the human desire to break the laws of reality for the one thing that gives that reality meaning, your depression the process of coming to accept what has been lost. Death cannot take away life. There was the laughter, the love, the heart ache that comes part and parcel with life. The whole world is changed each time someone comes into it. Every conversation ends with I love you said or unsaid but meant and felt.

Even the worst moments that night illuminated how important live is. How all consuming love is when we can no longer disguise it with composure.

All of it will stay with me for the rest of my life.

189 is boarded up.

My memories of it won’t be.


Posted on | November 28, 2013 | No Comments

“What?” I asked.

Briefly an imagine of the gigantic flies in our house fucking comes into my mind. Their wings flapping ever so slightly. Their ugly bodies doing the bump and grind originally developed at the Dome in Halifax.  I remember wondering if the flies enjoyed it or considered it to be a poor distraction from their daily exercise of eating shit.

“Everything’s contaminated,” they replied.

To get our stuff back would require us to pay for our possessions to be decontaminated. Because apparently fire makes things poisonous when it meets with materials inside of the walls of a home. There wasn’t any mention of how much decontamination this would cost. Just that if we wanted any of our possessions it wouldn’t be the city’s responsibility to pay for it. In the world of chinese telephone and this fire everything  requires translation but it felt right. Not right as in moral but right as in exact.

It was as if a metaphor had become real. Everything had been poisoned by the fire. Cleaning it up would be our responsibility.

Someone will come to get you out of a burning building. We had some amazing fire fighters working to save our lives.  A few hours later someone else will send you into the night in clothes smelling like smoke, where you have to walk away or wind up in a shelter where your few remaining possessions aren’t safe. I walked away with Nino and Evan. And eventually we wind up by ourselves. Because each of us are loving people and will do what we can but ultimately lives come down to what we do individually and this is no exception. No one else is able to hold your heart, you have to hold it and sometimes it’s too big to properly fit.

The cab driver on the way to meet with my roommates wasn’t the one scheduled to pick me up.  I got into an identical taxi and received a phone call. That particular Beck cab couldn’t make their way up the street because a bus hit a car into a streetcar and blocked his way. My missed connection wanted to know the cab number of the guy who picked me up. I pretended to not have my glasses while adjusting them comically for my new best friend’s amusement.

I was going to catch the bus. Instead I called a cab. The universe is like a rose, it’s petals plucked, it loves me, it loves me not. And when I arrive I get a phone call.

“Everything’s contaminated.”

I felt like yelling so loudly everyone on the street would stop and take notice.  So jealous that they might feel as if it was a normal Wednesday. I bit my lip and did nothing. An outburst would require explanation and an explanation would require going through the long list of everything that has gone wrong in the last few days and what might be done to remedy it.

There has been times where I’ve felt so overwhelmed I fantasized about normal things. Where just sitting down and watching a movie and not thinking about tomorrow feels like an extraordinary luxury I never had the chance to appreciate. The time between waking up and realizing what my life is like lasts for only a few seconds. The two minutes of happy contemplation of dream thoughts is reduced to Wallace falling into the apparatus that prepares him for the day, brushes his teeth and puts on his clothes. Only I have to put on my clothes. Remember to brush my teeth.  Pee and marvel at how much bubbles form in the toilet bowl and take a few seconds to try and count them as they evaporate. Then look for a home.

I feel translucent yet years of taking care of other people have made me opaque. I look better than I am. I can’t really say what parts of me are gone. I can honestly say I need to look out for myself because I don’t know where I am.

I attack each problem with insane desperation and every reserve of energy left in me.

Maybe this is because during the fire I registered words like panic as words.

Every problem feels like it needs to be attacked with the same sense of urgency I didn’t feel as my house burned down. I chase cats and jump over fences not sure what moments are important and what can be let go.  I write an article that might traumatize a camera man doing his job. I yell at his boss trying to explain why the whole damn system is wrong. I write sadness, beauty and anger for hours every night because it helps form the chaos into holdable pieces of a universe that might still love me. I think of sending bouquets to a stranger’s funeral because maybe it might make things give her some sense of peace. What do you write in a card like that? I’ve heard her mother might want to talk to us. I don’t know what I’d say so I think about it. Hoping that there are a few select magic words that will make this last a few weeks instead of a few months.

I don’t pray. I don’t want to imagine a world where chaos thinks of me as I think of it. I don’t want to imagine a world whose intention involves Alisha’s death and such a dark and unending night for some many people I love. Tragedy as a lesson feels a little too Arrested Development to me.

For people with experience in regret you’ve properly written speeches to past selves, maybe broken it down to a few key words and simple sentences that hold everything you needed to know.  And wished you could have heard them at the time, wished so hard you lost weeks and months talking to yourself about a conversation you will never be allowed to have. Regret like any emotion offers you something. The chance to hold on for a little longer to something you lost. To not feel empty in those spaces that used to burn.

My words were, ” Acceptance is the only form of control we have. Life is going to be hard. Don’t hate yourself for struggling.”

When I couldn’t sleep I tried scheduled bedtimes, turned my alarm clock away from my bed so I couldn’t count minutes, meditated for hours, read every article on insomnia on the internet and built myself a prison for the purpose of building an escape route.

I see this as we navigate through apartments and question the landlords about smoke detectors. As we test out windows to see if a chair could break it and allow us to crawl through if we needed to.Where we repeatedly promise we would have saved eachother, when we enter the silence that comes when we know that we aren’t saved yet.

I remember reading a high ranking CIA officer discussing what he thought about the conspiracy theories around 911. According to him, the US government receive hundreds of possible terror threats everyday. One time terrorists launched a truly successful attack and three thousand people died.

We didn’t believe it could happen because we didn’t believe that one in a thousand million times terror could win. Only a conspiracy could hurt us. George Bush did it. Millions of people refuse to believe it was Al Quaeda because our denial is cultural, taught to us by fairytales and great movies where good people get what they need and suffering is meant to teach us a lesson rather than a radiation leak of the accidents which power the world. Afterwards another million humans would join them because we don’t know how to sit in a room alone and reflect in times of tragedy.  If anything can be learned from that time, it’s we don’t make good decisions when our hearts are full of agony and sanity doesn’t return as quickly as we might like.

Human error is seen as a figment in the face of our desire for malicious intent. We want to find evil.

Evil can be defeated.

The universe can’t.

Since things so rarely go so totally wrong we assume that we must be able to stop bad things from happening.  The world has so many interlocking parts you should feel lucky when you are able to understand that usually you don’t get crushed. Think of the number of days where you’ve been broken and it’s taken months to repair. I can count three days.

There is no solace is contemplating what some might read as heroic actions and I read as autopilot.  There is no peace in parsing that evening looking for what could have been different.  We will not survive this by imagining ourselves as mighty, imagining fate and our own special sense of purpose. Only in the realization of how miniscule we truly are can we comprehend how lucky we are to be alive. That we somehow we manage to meet each day and steal laughter, tears and salt and vinegar chips from the hands of timeless thoughtless chaos.

Humans don’t have control. They only have the illusion and how hard they cling to that illusion is directly proportional to how much gratitude they have for being lucky enough to exist despite the astronomical odds against it.

Apparently some operation can clean our things and get many important items back to some sort of working order. The cost is 700 dollars. Our landlord will pay for it.  Maybe the three thousand dollars worth of film equipment can survive being decontaminated. I don’t think insurance is going to come through because fire investigators can’t prove what happened beyond a reasonable doubt and they are blaming human error.

We didn’t have rental insurance. Human error.

Making our movie Lemonade and Lye was the biggest thing I did this year. I pushed myself to edit the script a hundred times, I found the perfect actors to fill the roles,  the perfect director to film it, we made it from nothing and it’s beautiful.  I felt so deeply that it hurt and we can’t reshoot a single scene because the house is contaminated. Everything is poisoned.

But there is a process that will let me feel the ragged and intense beauty that being alive allows. There a thousand things I’ll do to make my life better.

There are movies I will watch in theaters chewing salt and vinegar chips I’ll sneak in using the pockets of my winter coat. There is a girl I get to see in Ottawa who came into my life a month ago and knows how to quote the Princess Bride. She’s  like Miracle Max eating a mutton lettuce and tomato sandwich confirming he’s only mostly dead and shouldn’t go swimming for an hour afterwards.  She hasn’t demanded anything from me and when we talk it feels like we are lying down in some couch located in my chest. On vacation from reality. You can be happy in the deepest hells. This is the miracle of human connection.

Anything is possible. Good and ill.

While the universe is indifferent, the people who care about me can lift the weight of this tragedy and give me moments to think. I will stand and rage against the dying of the light until an ember becomes sunrise and sunsets on that night I’ll never forget.

So I walk through Parkdale shivering at the cold as soot cover angels walk through streelight. Craving a normal day and a hot cup of coffee.

I listen to a mother say, “Trina stop fucking swearing. It makes you sound stupid.”

I chuckle.

I watch two crack addicts order large double doubles at Tim Hortons while they sway on their feet. She falls for a second and he catches her. He asks her what she wants in her coffee and she tells him. Extra sugar. He smiles at her. They love eachother.

I walk past a homeless woman smoking a joint in her sleeping bag humming some song I don’t know.

I see stressed circles sitting under silver cheeks of a senior citizen who glares at me as I hold open the door for him.

Each one of them  have been knocked from their feet.Gotten up and been knocked down again. The universe is indiscriminate. Children are born, scarred and love. You can’t tell the contents of a human heart but you can feel its weight. All of this pain. And we continue to carry it. Because we’re strong.  Stronger than the universe set against us. Able to love and love until there is nothing left in us.

Everything’s been poisoned yet we breath.

Life continues.

And so will I.

I don’t know what this feels like

Posted on | November 26, 2013 | 1 Comment

“I don’t know what this feels like.”

I put on the super powered fan that happens to be in the guestroom I’m staying. I don’t want anyone to hear me. I don’t understand that the crying will come with a screaming sound. I’m going to be heard no matter how loudly I adjust the fan. But politeness matters. And right now the tears are an itch on my eye lids, a pull on my throat, a wet fart in my brain.

I don’t know what is going to be yet.

My friends  are incredible people. I don’t want them to hear me and feel the inevitable worry that comes with sounds like that. I’ve never cried like this. It’s loud.  Sort of like the Princess Bride when they hooked up the man in black in the pit of despair.

Today I woke up to the news that Alisha died. She lived in our basement. I never met her besides through a window I smashed in with a snowshovel. I don’t remember what I saw. But it was a person. A universe that was incredibly important to many people.

I don’t know what this feels like. I don’t know what this is.

And all of my ability to give voice to what this means in some positive light is gone. I finished the piece “Two Minutes” with the idea we all got out safe. We didn’t.

Apparently Alisha was an organ donor so someone else might get to live.  A few days ago we heard Alisha was alive and we could think about finding a place to live. Last night we talked about sending her flowers. Maybe visiting her in the hospital.We didn’t know that she died on Sunday.

We could hold onto hope that life continued, no matter how twisted it’s path would be. That some sense of control could return.

I could think about how ridiculous I must look in my sweatpants. With my overgrown neck beard and contemplate how good it would feel to shave. To no longer have the smell of the fire locked into the curly hairs of my face. Even in the worst situations you can cling to some hope that tragedy could be averted. That if you just try your best, if you pray to a God you don’t believe in that there would be some sense of mercy.

I didn’t know her. My sense is that she was intensely loved because I heard her boyfriend when he was losing her. When he was trying to hold onto her inside his throat.  When he was begging for time travel and miracle interventions. When they pulled her out and she was alive. And the tiniest thread of miracle lived inside of us.

And it snapped.

Never ask how things can get worse. There is always an answer. What feels like the pits of hell can be a moment of solace and privelege, resting before you realize the depths that you’re allowed to fall in a world that has no concept of fair.

In my experience pain and love are the only substances that are truly infinite, and the more you love the more you have to accept pain in your life. If you can close your heart enough you can lose some of the pain and pretend numbness is warmth. And if you close your heart securely enough you can lose all reason for life. I have chosen to stay open, I’ve chosen to love someone I haven’t even met and this is the natural consequence of the right decision.

So I make these sounds in this room with my personal Larry David mentioning the absurdity of what this must sound like to the people outside this room. Contemplating how my face seems to ejaculate agony and how my eyes are going to look like I blazed a fatty.

Crying is sort of funny if you overthink everything like I do. So yes, it sounded like laughter, screaming and crying at the same time.

I know there is a bottom to how bad things can get. Because I’m loved by so many people. Because I love myself and there’s many handholds on the way down and each time I fall I can hear the rescue party coming. And I have people who know about climbing cliffs and will launch daring plans of rescue.

I’m not alone. Except now when I need to be. Thank you for that.

“I don’t know what this feels like.”

I remember my roommate Nino saying this when we are on the TTC bus waiting to find out what was going to happen.

There’d be moments where I wasn’t trying to make a stupid joke about my sock shoes and no one else would be talking. See I walked out without shoe. One sock.  And I had to walk past a schoolyard where people occassionally smashed bottles. The Emergency people gave me these gigantic white sacks to wrap around my feet. They were good for a laugh or two when we needed it. But the laughter ran dry and so did our questions on how this could happen and whether we would ever get our stuff back and if you could get rid of the smell of smoke in our clothes. All of this was surface talk. Everything come down to what happened in the basement.

And everyone had their repeating sentences the ones they said in their head and somehow managed to sputter outloud. Sometimes it was a concern for the things we owned. Mine was pretty typical douchebag writer, “It’s so interesting that everyone is reacting to this differently.”

Alejandra talked about the intensely ridiculously coincidences that had gone on leading up to the fire.  Like how our landlord came over that afternoon to update our smoke detecting systems and was called away at the last minute. I remembered how Nino had a dream two weeks earlier that I moved out after saying our house was a shithole. And then we moved to anger at the douchebags at our local convenience store who wouldn’t let Alejandra go to the bathroom as the blaze raged on because they have a policy.

The camera people served as a distraction. Anything that could take away focus from holding your breath in some location too close to your heart.

A few days ago I talked about how I didn’t know how I was going to leave such a loving home even though I knew I needed to at some point.

All these webs of meaning that would mean nothing if not for an event that rendered our present existence meaningless. Shock like a hug from our brain saying not yet. You don’t have to understand this yet.

And the endlessly repeating question, “Are you okay?”

It’s a pointless thing to say. But the meaning was simple. Did the fire get you? Are you a ghost? Can I bring you back to life? I love you and I’ll give everything I have left for you to be okay. For it to be some variety of the same. Love means you ask questions like wishes.

Awhile ago I heard a line from Buddy Wakefield, a famous spoken word poet, that said, “Forgiveness is letting go of all hope for a better past.” And I think what he means is that you can’t change anything that has already happened. You have to accept that nothing else could have happened because nothing else did and that is the only immutable law in the universe. You can carry regret with you but regret won’t carry you.  It will give gravity to loss and pull you down inside yourself with no exit strategy. Grief is relentless. Love is your only method to climb out and everyone in the world is working to get me out.

I’m not there yet. It’s still dark in here.

My cousin came to help life move on. To get comfortable fitting shoes and a beard trimmer to get rid of my impossible large neck beard.

The house I’m staying at is directly across the street from the fire station that dispatched the team that fought the blaze that consumed my house. Occasionally I can see the red lights flash across the front door’s window. I remembered flashing bicycling lights against my back door window to mimic the arrival of the police at the end of my movie jus three days earlier. Standing just over the basement door. Where Alisha and her boyfriend lived. And I felt cold staring at the station.

And I laughed because sometimes you can choose to do that.  I couldn’t be safer.

And then there was a cat named either Dog or Lola who bounced out of my temporary home like James Dean filled with youthful rebellion. Little furry creature with tiny legs moving through metal bars.  Innocent. Unknown to me.  Immediately my heart sped up like it was going to burst out of my chest.

So I raced after it. My shoes still untied.

Going as fast as my legs could carry me.  Jumping over fences like a maniac.  Yelling at it the cat probably named Dog to stop when I’m guessing cat’s only hear the yelling and the panic.  And it was always a step ahead of me. Always just outside of my reach. As soon as I knelt down and made my voice sound reasonable he would pause for an instant. Look at me and see the forces tearing through my body and involunarily registering in my face.

And then bounced and ran past me on his little paws.

Eventually I decided this was normal. Cats get outside. The sky isn’t just made for falling on me.

I got in the car and went to the Dufferin mall and got what I needed. I’m no longer wearing sweat pants and the neck beard will disappear within an hour.

When I came home the cat named Dog or Lola was inside. Resting peacefully, leery of the manic who chased him or her over fences and into alleys.

I feel like life is trying to tell me something. Like it won’t go away.  Like the precious things sometimes take care of themselves. And life will be waiting for me when I get off my knees and am ready to find it.

I don’t know what this feels like yet.

I need to relentlessly accept what happened. Which is the tears. I can’t be angry because that’s just sadness in disguise. And it’s sadness that holds on, instead of lets go.

I forgive the camera people for doing their job even when I question the purpose of putting our worst moments on camera.

I forgive whatever caused the fire. I forgive myself for feeling my sadness as an unholy rage directed at anyone who dares to touch the people I love with their lack of common sense. I’m as imperfect as the life that tortures me, that elevates me, that changes me, that loves me so deeply that each inhalation of air feels important.

I will not question why I did this instead of that.

I will give my life to life without reservation.

Life is waiting for me.

Soon I’ll be okay enough to find it.

I deeply thank each and everyone of you who wants to help. Who chases after me like I chased after that cat.Who said omg as they offered their condolences and gave me a fit of uncontrollable laughter at how textspeak sneaks into our most important speech. Who offered me a place to stay. Who say I can call them anytime day or night.

I’m going to be safe.  I’m going to be okay.

I just need to run through the darkness a little while longer.

I promise I’m coming home.

Cat city 300x225 I dont know what this feels like



Two Minutes

Posted on | November 25, 2013 | 2 Comments

Human beings are not born forever on the day that their mothers give birth to them. Rather, life forces them to give birth to themselves time and again. – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Two minutes is around the time it takes to describe the fire after someone asks about it.

If they seem particularly curious I have a five or ten minute version I give. If they are particularly tactless I’ll tell them things they have absolutely no desire to hear.

We call it politeness to be interested in the tragedy of others.  Showing you care also seems to involve telling me about your own experience with fires and how everything worked out for the best. Sometimes it’s two minutes where I have to pretend to find a joke is funny or explain why I’m allowed to make the joke and you aren’t. Hundreds of people really care about me and want to help if they can. Others indulge out of boredom. A desire to have something new to be angry at.

I don’t write this for anyone else.

I write and time seems to stop existing. I can be with my pain and not have to explain it to my fingers as they exorcise ghosts.

A lot of my time is spent maintaining the expectations of others because they assume that due to my struggle with mental illness I’m somehow less equipped to deal with the tragedy than someone who hasn’t been taught adequate coping skills. They need to know I’m okay. Okay involves making jokes, saying weird things and genuinely be somewhat happy. I tell them the truth. I’m okay. Just not the same.

It takes me  around two hours to get to sleep every night.

Each morning I wake up and it takes about two minutes to realize why I’m in someone else’s house. Why didn’t the kids across the street wake me up during their recess? What happened to my home?  And then I remember it’s boarded up.  And I make peace with it for a few more minutes, contemplate getting coffee, doing whatever I have to do to get into a positive head space. Think of who I have to call and tell I love them. Because you never know.

The two minutes which are important are the ones that involved whether or not we got out of the house that night.

These are the minutes I’ve counted back a hundred different ways, sized up, assimilated, dreamed upon, prayed against. And I let it go. Because I have lived in regret. I have refused to forgive myself and it destroyed me. Yet the desire lingers. The two minutes unfold and every day I dance to its rhythm before I consciously abandon the steps.

This is the time that obsesses my roommates when we get together to have a drink and try not to put out the candle at the table of the restaurant because we have to face our fears. Watching everyone’s face darken for a second when they look down at the  small beam of light. Shaking them out of it with a joke. With a hug. With another drink.

We are together and it feels like home. Because I don’t have to explain anything or be anyone else because they know exactly what it is I’m feeling.

And we get lost in those two minutes. You know the ones I’m talking about. Because you have your own version. Where life magnified by unbelievable math, where every word and action mattered more than years you had lived previously, asleep to the reality of your existence.

At Last Temptation in Kensington Market we play grassy knoll imagining the different scenarios that may have caused the fire and what we could have done differently.

What I know is that something happened and there was a fire. I know that I smelled the fouled air through my vent. I made my way past the remains of a recently eaten bag of salt and vinegar chips,  preparing to yell at my roommate Evan for not properly knowing how to make a sandwich and searching for some earlier time this happened. He yelled twice. Once sounded somewhat normal, like he was trying to make a bad joke. The second time meant there was no time and we had to get out.

I know I was in my underwear and I needed pants.  I know that I couldn’t find my shoes.  I had one sock on.  No shoes. My fly was down and I had to adjust it when I got out of the house. It was really, really cold. Like winter chose that night to arrive or at least make its presence known. Alejandra had my jacket. I thought of referencing Curb Your Enthusiasm and decided against it.

After that I wasn’t really thinking with any traditional sense of logic.

It was like I entered the zone of Hypothetical Michael. Super surface, acting time. You’re watching your actions to keep them accurate, to seem connected but you aren’t. Wires have switched off because if you were fully conscious you’d become fully paralyzed.

It seemed so unrealistic that I didn’t really understand the consequences of what was going on. Words like panic would occur but not register.  Everything was a practical decision.

Even when we saw our neighbour in the alley. Begging us to help.

9-1-1 must be called because everyone didn’t get out. Obviously we need to try to get everyone out.

I think Evan is on the phone with 9-1-1. Check my pockets. My phone is still upstairs.

Good. What else do I do?

Our neighbor, whom I only met once, needs to get his girlfriend inside to wake up. We can’t bend the bars on the window.  How do I help?

The glass needs to be shattered. She can’t hear us through it.  Apparently I went back onto the deck to get the shovel. I don’t remember that part. I think Alejandra shouted at me not to go inside.

I must now yell as loudly as I can to try to get his girlfriend to wake up.  The flames are very bright. Pick up snow shovel. The front of the shovel doesn’t work, it’s too big, it can’t past the metal bars. I should flip it around. Shatter the glass of the window.  Take a step back. That’s a lot of smoke. I should take a step back and breathe. Hurts a little bit. How come you can’t always see smoke even when you can see fire?

Only something is getting in the way of me going about my tasks. Someone needs to comfort: the guy screaming, “Baby you have to get out.”  I shout with him. Very, very loudly, more like screaming.

Nino disappeared. Gave us his possessions. Went looking for fire extinguishers. Evan is yelling at him. He has to come back. 9-1-1 operator says a person could die inside. We are all screaming as loudly as we can. Still the panic hasn’t registered.

The first time I registered some sort of emotional reaction was with the camera man. It was like everything hit me at once.

Probably because it was something I could be angry at. You can’t really yell at a fire and expect a human response. I remember all of the feeling flooding back and Hypothetical Michael disappearing at the same time. All of this happened in somewhere between two and five minutes. At some point we all started to pray, whether we believed in God or not. When you’re that helpless any extra percentage chance is grasped upon.

And then I call my parents from Evan’s phone. I tell them what’s happened. Sort of. I got out. In case they hear about it on the news. Our only phone doesn’t have much in the way of batteries. Goodbye.

Back to Last Temptation.

When we got a couple drinks in us and made ourselves brave enough to face the light of the candles we talked endlessly about those two minutes.  What would have happened if we’d gotten the fire extinguisher instead of going outside. Marveled at the coincidental fly infestation that enclosed our house in an iron grip and ruined our mood a few hours before. Talked about how we got the smoke out of our clothing.

Felt like a bunch of ghosts stuck in a bar having a drink.

With a few drinks more heroic things were contemplated. Like breaking into the basement. Promises we would have gone back for each other.

I keep going back to Nino and the fire extinguisher.

Within two minutes the bottom floor of our house was so filled with smoke he couldn’t walk ten feet without getting lost in the smoke, without losing his ability to breathe. He couldn’t even see.  If we had been just a little bit slower, we all would be dead.  And the reality of that feels like the end of a horrifying life long game of hide and seek. Where you asked death to hide and every day you go looking for him even if you don’t know He was waiting.

What does the two minutes mean in the most real and horrible terms?

When you hit a certain level of chaos the impossible begins to feel realistic.

Like maybe at some point those two minutes would have worked out differently and time will curve and we’ll make the wrong decision and all of this will be so much worse than it already is, your heart seizes up and your brain feels overloaded and slow. And the sequence of events becomes some strange endless circle in your head, time traveling to present times you couldn’t possibly be a part of. Imagining the feeling in your parents’ chests at hearing the news. Wondering which of the nice cops or fire fighters would be tasked to tell them. Contemplating what it would be like to be the man in the alleyway and wondering if you would have somehow been clever enough to walk through fire and come out with the person you loved safe and sound.

Yes, these thoughts exist in the realm of total delusion. But so does much of human thinking. It’s hard to fight against the desire to wish for mercy when life is merciless.

Everyone is a hypothetical hero. In another timeline everyone is dead. Not from something sensible like cancer or old age or even murder where hints could be found, examined and dealt with. Two minutes. If Evan finishes Sons of Anarchy a little bit earlier and goes to sleep. If he has his head phones on and doesn’t hear the beeping, or he just thinks it is the techno our neighbours often play far too loudly.

You think death is a series of decisions until you see it. There is no villain in this story. Just mistakes you couldn’t see as mistakes until they have been made.

Everyone knows what they would do as long as they have never had to do it. Yet you wonder. Because in hypothetical conversations in safe places you don’t have to think about what it would feel like for your nerves to fall away or what a two-alarm fire means. What it would do to the people who love you if you did something stupid in pursuit of something right. What it would feel like to be able to do nothing. To tell people you did nothing and have them judge you because they suppose they would have done it differently. To enter a house full of smoke and have to take the steps back out the door and see her boyfriend and only have your hands to give him.

We did our absolute best.

Yet the two minutes don’t go away.  When we wait for the next bad thing to happen. When my roommates try to sleep and feel it slip away at the last second. With another question that can’t be answered. This is where regret and shame live. An anger at a past you can’t change. Shaking your fist at a fire and expecting not to be burned in your most private places.

You can’t know what that was in the same way I can’t understand the worst two minutes of your life. The decisions you wish you had made. That didn’t seem like they mattered and were in fact issues of life and death. Death was so close to us that night. So heavy that it wiped out air, it drank it so deep that it wiped out the world inside our house. That it tore through walls, cracked ceilings, moving so quickly it chased us outside into an alleyway. And we stared at it. And it didn’t look real. And it didn’t get us. But it was so close.

Two minutes.

When I close my eyes and let it fall away, take a deep breath and know those minutes have passed. They will never come back. Everything that will be done has been done and we all made it out alive.

I have my friends. I have my life. Everyone lived.

Time continues and carries me with it.

I have time. I have time. I have time. And every second is one I wouldn’t have had. There is no more time for lies or petty bullshit.

And we are the table. Drinking Rusty Nails, some mysterious god-ike combination of Scotch and Drambuie, and we are laughing. Hugging.  Kissing little Alejandra on her forehead. Slapping five. Calling Evan coach because he likes to make speeches when he has had a drink and has a fanatical desire to make us all happy. Me making stupid jokes about porn. Feeling the two minutes disappear in light of friendships that saved our lives. Laughing so hard we could put out the candle with out breath.

These are the people I fought death with. These are the people who will help me find life again.

My little brother Evan who has had a year from hell where concussions made him barely able to think and is somehow still strong enough to smile and make stupid jokes. Who thought he couldn’t do anything until he saved our lives and wishes he could do more.  My little sister Alejandra who knit on the deck and taught me how to pronounce guacamole as whack-a-mole. Whose presence is a light in my life I talk about with strangers.   Nino,aka the Germinator, who was willing to enter a house on fire to help a complete stranger and hasn’t met a friend he didn’t give a good nickname to. Who says Proust and who taught me beer goes good with burgers. My brave roommate Nicola who stood up and fought for his rights to be himself in a country he’d only read about.  Who found a hostel for people who had been abandoned by the city of Toronto on the Danforth with no safe place to go. Alessandro, who arrived at our apartment in a flood and left in a fire.  Alessandro, who looks like he always has hair gel like some European princess and was ready to hold an absolute stranger in sub zero temperatures, steady his voice and say everything would be okay.

And it was.

We are here.

For a moment totally free from the two minutes. Stronger than death. Nothing could break our friendship. Nothing could break us.

We weren’t going home together. But we were going somewhere.

Together as a family.

Drunkenly stumbling through the streets of Toronto raising silly cheers.

We left the bar and we blew out the candle.

We didn’t need to make a wish.


A Camera person’s reply to my story on the inhumanity of the media, my reply and a very human reply from CP24

Posted on | November 23, 2013 | No Comments

So my house burned down.

It was the worst moment of my life. You can read about it in more detail here:

The camera crews were pretty inhumane in the name of their right to cover our tragedy. So I got angry and I replied to it. One of the camera men replied to me. Using an undoubtedly fake email account But they may have been unaware that I have their IP address and each of those companies have HR people who will be very interested at finding out which of the four camera people replied.

At the end of this post is a reply from the Camera Man from CP24 that is empathetic and worth noting.

Here is the other camera man’s commentary:

“You’re a Journalist? I can’t believe a Journalist would be so out of touch with reality. You need to do something else for a living.

I was one of four camera operators on scene at the fire. This is our job. We have all been doing it for many years. This is how we feed our families. We take pride on our work. We strive to be the best that we can be and hopefully this allows us to keep our jobs.

Are you the first who has been offended or upset by our presence? No you are not and you will not be the last. I know it is very emotional for those closest to the events we cover but we do our jobs all the same. When people hurl insults at us and threaten us with violence we watch our backs and keep gathering news. If they strike out, as the sometimes do, we have them arrested for assault. Nobody has the right to strike out in violence under the law.

The follow up from the fire investigator was that the basement apartment was not legal, as it did not have a secondary means of escape in the event of a fire. He was also looking into the cause of the fire possibly being related to an overloaded electrical panel in the basement, supplying power to the whole building, including multiple kitchens, not what it was designed to do.

Maybe these are the things you should be angry about. You live in a huge city with multiple media outlets. When tragedy strikes you can be assured the media, with cameras, pencils and notebooks will arrive quickly. They will ask tough questions that may upset some, but hopefully stories about houses with illegal units and improper fire escape route will save the lives of others down the road.”

Your writing has a very creative flair. Perhaps you would be best suited to writing fiction novels.

Your writing also has a creative flair. I appreciate the compliment. I have actually written several novels while I was honing my skills at writing. I’m glad you noticed.

Your experience as a journalist hasn’t taught you a very important lesson. Commenting gives life to a story. Especially when you represent gigantic corporations who will be able to narrow down their suspects to one of the four camera men who were there that night. Maybe when they fire you, you also might consider a different profession.

Let’s assume your corporate bosses didn’t give you permission to make this comment. Because they have some degree of common sense or they wouldn’t have become incredibly rich.  You may also not be from CP24. Maybe your from City TV, CBC, CTV-2.

I shouldn’t have been specific.  You all made the exact same choice. You did what you were told and what you were told to do was get everything. And you followed orders and you got everything. Your editors made a choice and took the juiciest bits. You were a cog in an engine that ran us over and didn’t bother to scrap us off the road. Without you there wouldn’t be footage of various levels of complete insensitivity. All of you hurt us. By doing your jobs. Consider that for a second.

Now to reply to the substance of your email.

Thank you for telling me what I should care about. I assume your sensitivity training gave you insight into how to deal with trauma victims.

When I’m reeling from the stress of incredible trauma your opinion has helped put things in perspective. As I collect clothes, arrange for counselling for the trauma, hold my crying roommates I will contemplate exactly what I should be angry about.

When your life is swept away by chaotic forces you look for the human evil you can deal with. The things you can change. You can’t make a fire act more sensibly.

I hope the media can change. I hope we won’t always be this low.

We’ve helped Harvey Milk, Martin Luther King, we’ve fought for people who have been denied their rights, we’ve brought down dictatorships, we have gone to jail to protect our sources. We’ve held hands with victims and wept with them. Now we are scared because we can’t pull in the advertising budgets we need. So we make a choice. And we live and die by that choice. Why aren’t we as valuable as a source?

Why didn’t you protect us?

You do it because we are getting paid and everyone needs to eat.

But does that excuse anything?

They also pay people to break legs, to poison children and to kill innocent civilians in countries we can’t pronounce the name of. There is a reason people think of the media negatively.

You’re playing your role in an organization that isn’t built around helping the community, it’s based around serving your corporation’s interests. You allege you do this for the public’s interest and take our right to privacy yet can’t actually prove how you’ve protected us.  You weren’t there for us, you were there for the fire. Once it went out, so did your interest in your plight. Where is the indepth reporting? Where is your attention span?

Fire officials have taken three days to comb through my house to find a real answer to the question of what caused the fire. They also have a job. It’s called saving people from fire. They also put food on the table. And sometimes you have to walk through a fire to protect people at their most vulnerable. Instead you chose to film it.

Camera men or women who may or may not be you filmed seven minutes of footage which included a girl being dragged out of the apartment and brought back to life. My mother couldn’t watch it. My roommates did.

I did.

You showed me things I closed my eyes to avoid seeing. You made my hands shake and tears fall down my cheeks.

Don’t put this on your bosses. Bosses can’t run their machine if all of you refuse to take part. What would you say to your boss if you didn’t get the horrible shots everyone else did I was asked?

You say we don’t do that. We are better than that. And maybe people might think of journalists as heroes again. Maybe your company climbs up from the muck and makes some sort of stand.

Most likely you’re comfortable simply with the idea you were doing your job. And that’s understandable. Most people do their jobs and leave their questions at home. It just doesn’t excuse your behavior. Your intentions don’t erase consequences. Rich people wanted to make money and they destroyed the planet. It doesn’t change the Tar Sands. Soliders shoot children for peace. It doesn’t matter why you do something. It matters what you do.

Everytime we hurt eachother it doesn’t change because of our reasons.

The pain is real. The reasons are in your head. Evil is saying it’s not what you are doing, it’s what you are doing it for. Only history has proven that the means are all that is real which is why our life is littered with tragedies. What you were doing it for fades as all illusions do in daylight. Good ratings are gone in a blink and so is public trust.

You’re like Walter White saying you did it for your families. Admit you did it for you.

You pointed out that our landlord may have taken short cuts. And if he did, he was also doing it to support his family. Not to do evil but to feed the people he cares about. I know him.

He’s a good man who most likely made many important mistakes in pursuit of looking after the people he is closest to. He wasn’t evil. He was incredibly grief stricken and concerned about his tenants.  He comforted us even as he saw his life disappearing in the fire.

It doesn’t mean the fire didn’t happen. It doesn’t change what happened to us or my memories of the alleyway and frantically trying to break through the glass.

We can’t keep doing it what comes easily to us.  We can’t keep saying we do it for good reasons when there is no reason to believe what we are doing is good.

If your industry involves questioning what is right and wrong your questions to yourself shouldn’t end at what is legal and illegal, what puts food on your table and accept putting nightmares into the minds of victims of horrible tragedy.  Does your desire for truth mean you can’t wait a few hours to let us grieve? Our house would still be destroyed. The shattered windows and police tape would still have been pretty to put on the television screens across the nation. You can’t capture reality simply depicting it accurately. If you could capture reality you could stop it for a second. And maybe I wouldn’t be angry about the cameras.

Reality beats the shit out of people. You can’t make it better by punching us in the face as we strive to reach some semblance of normal.

I’m sure you are hurting. I’m sure that performing your role in this public circus takes it out of you day in and day out and I feel for you.  You live in tragedy and it probably haunts your dreams. Burdens like that sink deep into your skin. Or they make you numb you don’t know that you are in hell and I pointed out to you that what you do is wrong. And that made you angry because you know what I’m saying is true.

Your job is making you sick. Don’t do it like this. Think for yourself.

I wouldn’t do your job.

I used my journalism degree to create a blog that helped people with mental illness. I used those same skills to stand up for people who sometimes aren’t able to stand up for themselves. And I will use them to fight you until we are on the same side.

I also sign my name to my comments because I’m not a coward. I reply to my detractors. I’ll leave you with my favorite words you said for the world to contemplate:

“Are you the first who has been offended or upset by our presence? No you are not and you will not be the last…..Maybe these are the things you should be angry about. You live in a huge city with multiple media outlets. When tragedy strikes you can be assured the media, with cameras, pencils and notebooks will arrive quickly.”

The words missing are, “And they will leave as quickly.”





Here is an additional thought from the CP24 camera man that is honesty and heartfelt. I’m glad that my faith in media has been slightly repaired:

Let me introduce myself as the CP24 camera operator.

Firstly, before you jump to conclusions about who I am or what my motivations are, let me be clear, I’ve seen people in many situations, good and bad. I covered many stories, shot and wrote my own stand-ups, cut hundreds of hours of video, asked thousands of questions. I’ve seen joyful reunions, press conferences, international events, celebrations of life, but I’ve also seen the darker side of humanity.

I’ve seen more people die in more ways than I can count, I’ve watched helplessly as men with mortal bullet wounds take their last breaths, knife wounds, and internal wounds from violent collisions, fire, smoke, water and self destructive actions, horrific misadventures and terrible yet simple accidents.

Tragedy is part of life; it is a sad portion of the reality that is our world and bad things happen to people regardless of their socioeconomic class, status or position otherwise. There is no rhyme or reason, that’s just the way it is in the natural world.

I don’t derive any pleasure, an adrenaline rush or other “symptom” from the loss of life, property and misfortune of others. I always hope for the best, never wishing the worst and if I can lend a helping hand I always do.

Back in 2011, I was moments behind the Joplin tornado, I rushed to homes that were non-existent looking for life, vehicles that were no longer vehicles, I offered water to wandering souls still in shell shock like states, all this before reaching for my camera. Days earlier I found myself in the same position just on a much smaller scale as an EF5 tornado narrowly missed El Rino and destroyed the community of Piedmont, Oklahoma.

Closer to home, I’ve knocked on doors as houses burned before emergency services arrived and before one frame of video was recorded to my camera, I’ve assisted police officers looking for criminals, those hurt in car accidents and offered shelter to a women fleeing from abusive partner begging for someone to call 911 in the street as taxis and others ignored the pleas for help.

It is quick and easy for anyone to look at another who is documenting tragedy and pass judgement, to equate this individual with a vulture feasting on the sorrow of victims.

In 2009 I recorded my neighbour’s home burning down in Vaughan, his three children and wife in tears as their entire life simply vanished before their eyes. Through a twist of fate, I was returning home to grab some gear I had forgotten when I passed through a wall of smoke and arrived on scene before fire crews were even called. It was extremely difficult, a tragedy in its truest form was now personalised on the home front.

I apologized, but I also continued to do my job which meant documenting the drama unfolding. My neighbour was quick to pass judgement, there he was, his home burning and I was simply watching. Several hours later he approached me and apologized, I said “It’s okay, I understand, you can be angry because I would be angry too”. In his eyes, all along while his home was burning and he was helpless to do anything he vented all his anger and frustration towards me, as if I had hoped for this tragedy. He later realised he picked the obvious target and knew that I never received any joy, pleasure, admiration or pats on the back from editors, producers, writers or managers for getting the shot.

It simply was what it was, the reality of the situation and everything my lens saw, was what the world knew, the visual truth of what occurred.

In 2010, I was contacted by a mother grieving after losing her son to a terrible car accident in Brampton several months earlier. Again, I was on scene within a few moments of the crash and was helpless to do anything. Once my camera began rolling, it kept rolling. In industry terms, I overshot the story.

This grieving mother went to great lengths to find out who I was and begged me to sit down with her, so I reluctantly did. She began showing me photos of her son, an individual who I watched die yet never knew. Again, I apologized to her and she stopped me mid sentence and said “you’re the only one who knows the truth”… I was somewhat shocked at that, but the official story was sugar coated as I found out, she “wanted the truth” she said clutching a cup of coffee trembling in her hands. I explained to her that I did not know why or how the crash occurred, and that the first responders did their best.

There were delays due to powerlines near the vehicle and water complications, but I explained that whether they had been able to immediately get to the vehicle or were delayed, from my knowledge her son had suffered a major head injury and likely would not have survived either way. We went through numerous facets of the accident in great detail, and she said to me “I never knew these things on the news could happen [to me] in real life”.

Regarding the Sherdian Ave fire, I was one of the first two shooters there and I believe your confusing City TV with CP24.

Firstly, I never shot anyone grieving at the scene; this must have been City TV and secondly, your request to stop shooting is a personalisation of events. You may believe my desire was to keep shooting and I felt nothing towards you, no emotion which is fine, I don’t expect people to think I actually care because to them at the worst moments of their life I’m scum and all they want to do is protect themselves from any perceived harm.

I heard all your words, the emotion, the pain and I understood your request to stop shooting, even when you were cursing, getting angry and your Mexican fiend insisted that she put her hand on my lens hood. I did not push back, I did not comment, my one word was “don’t” when I felt threatened enough to exhibit a desire to guard myself and my gear.

As the other shooter previously commented, you are not the first to feel such anger and make threats, even contemplate physical harm in order to stop me from recording. However those are choices you chose, I can’t control the individual and if you had proceeded to attack me then that is your choice.

The reality of the situation was that there was a fire, and it was not an interpersonal experience, it involved the community, the emergency services and the TTC which spans the city. Serious questions about life, property and safety are raised as the fire marshall investigates

My job, my duty, is to document the reality of the situation as best as I can. Beyond this, I have no editorial control over what content is exhibited when or how often. I can’t control when the story is written, what shots are used, they are the decisions of my superiors and colleagues.

You may have issue with CP24 but please note this story also appeared on CFTO and CTV-TWO which have their own means of content representation. Also realise the CBC, City TV, Global and several still photographers for various papers were also on scene documenting the on goings.

You can choose to point the finger at me as the source of your pain, but don’t single me out as the only one there, don’t think I’m the dominant figure salivating at the mouth to fulfill sensationalism and provide hyper realistic breathtaking scenes to a captivated viewing audience who see’s nothing but a desire for applause from my superiors.

There are official channels for complaints, whether it’s about the format of news on television or the content therein, all of which I have no control over, but you as the consumer have total control over.

I don’t ask for your forgiveness, I don’t ask for your respect, I only wish the best upon people and I hope you and your friend(s) recover fully from this tragedy.

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  • About

    Michael Kimber is a 26-year-old journalist who suffered a nervous breakdown on November 3rd, 2009. On March 28th, 2010 when he recovered from mental illness, he began writing a blog called Colony-of-losers. About falling on your face to figure out who you are and the hilarious antics of a blond jew. What began with a few friends and his mother reading has become a cult phenomenon, averaging 10,000 views a week, receiving praise from Commonwealth Award Winner Shandi Mitchell and many others. On, November 3rd, 2010, the one year anniversary of his mental breakdown he signed with Anne McDermid and Associates, the largest literary agency in Canada. In a year he went from wearing pajamas, making his couch depression HQ to leaving his hometown for the Toronto, where he exclusively wears business suits and the armor of ancient Greeks. Don't worry, he's still choking on the feet he contently sticks in his mouth and making moments awkward just by being part of them. During these struggles he met other talented bastards and drew them into his circle. Peter Diamond became his illustrator. Patrick Campbell his video editor and part time photographer. He recently added the incredibly talented John Packman as Colony of Losers Toronto photographer. Without the support of the Colony of Losers, Michael Kimber would be nothing. Welcome to the losers and the success that comes from utter and complete failure. You aren’t alone. Follow him on If you’d like to hire him for a public speaking engagement for mental health events in Toronto, like to arrange an interview, offer millions to publish his book or for another reason contact Michael please email him. And join his facebook Colony of Losers.

    Really obvious disclaimer:
    I’m not a trained psychologist. Just a fellow traveler. If you need help seek it from the professionals. The Canadian Mental Health Association provides a help locator. You can find crisis resources provided by the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention. If you are in the states check here. It will give you services by zip code. I’d also recommend checking out I think they do great work and have been a help to me personally.

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