A TORONTO DIARY
BY TIANA REID
But our notebooks give us away, for however dutifully we record what we see around us, the common denominator of all we see is always, transparently, shamelessly, the implacable “I.” We are not talking here about the kind of notebook that is patently for public consumption, a structural conceit for binding together a series of graceful pensées; we are talking about something private, about bits of the mind’s string too short to use, an indiscriminate and erratic assemblage with meaning only for its maker.
- Joan Didion
When am I going to make a living?
December 22, 2017
Last night while I was asleep, my six-year-old sister climbed into the king-size bed I tend to be assigned at my father’s house in Negril, Jamaica. Have you ever shared a huge bed with a tiny creature? She’s so small and the bed so big but she managed to become tucked into every single corner of the mattress. One moment—it must have been after 3am—her foot was resting on my collarbone, her toes like my necklace. I’d also wake up every few hours to find her sitting up and staring into the dark. In those moments, she felt most like my sister. The big bed felt small but then again, having just met this sister five days ago, I also felt like I had inherited our own little we-world.
Still, I don’t sleep much, and wake up at 5:30am, make Blue Mountain coffee, and begin writing. A few hours later, my sister makes us all a breakfast of callaloo and mackerel with boiled bananas and fried dumplings. Later, I pack, watch reruns of The Voice with five of my sisters, and play mermaid with the baby one.
When it was time, we all get in the van and dad drives us from Negril to Montego Bay for the flight. I nervously give out all my presents and tell them to wait till Christmas only because I’m scared they won’t like them. I feel drunk as we take selfies in the van. Outside, alone at the airport, I look at the sky and close my eyes. I’ve always longed for a little too much sun to set my head spinning. A last moment in Jamaica.
Inside the terminal, I find a spot where I can order food, and take out my laptop. There’s a delay, so I talk to everyone, and then eat a garbage turkey sandwich for dinner before falling asleep on the plane.
December 23, 2017
This latest necessary instalment of my yield to authority comes out in a bit of a boom. For a long time I hid. All of a sudden now I look good—like I’m in an eighties power suit without actually wearing one. It’s like I walk with generosity, it’s like I’m wearing tinted moisturizer. For a long time I forgot that looking good helps to feel good. Good-good. It's all air, certainly, but the air is cool and smells like aromatized cannabis, which is sadly the only weed I can consistently say I enjoy.
What I mean to say is that I’m feeling puffed up when I land at YYZ. It’s after 12am and I get stopped at the border for a secondary search with my shiny-new Canadian passport and all my books get leafed through. They ask me why I missed my flight from JFK a week before, when I am returning, what I do and why. They ask to see my phone. I do a white-girl thing that I categorically can’t pull off: I cry, cry, cry and ask to see the manager. I melt down, too exhausted to care who’s watching or what note is being made about my person. I refuse their demand for orderliness not because I wanted to but because I couldn’t not. I am like a child practicing refusal in the form of crying and screaming but I am not recognized as a child. I am an adult under the law and they don’t care that it’s late and someone is waiting for me but no, ma’am, you can’t call them just yet.
On the way home, I cry to the cab driver, and pay him in U.S. dollars. He is sweet, and I later regret taking so much emotional labour from him. I am sorry, now.
When I get to L’s she is sweet and kind and does not think I’m being dramatic.
Later, another friend texted me and joked that they recognized me from a Canadian flag-burning video we had posted on Instagram in the summer. On days like this I like jokes, I like the idea of a joke. I am reminded why I have friends. To ask things of them without worrying too much about labour.
In the morning, I try to get fresh but don’t. Whenever I arrive to a new place, even a new-old place like Toronto, where I grew up, I make mental lists of all the shit I need and want to do and see. I want to see [redacted] the most. I heard my ex and his ex (several after me) broke up. My live-in lover and I broke up a couple weeks ago (hence all my flights away from Brooklyn). Since maybe we have something in common again, I wonder if old-old ex will get a beer with me, but I don’t text him, I write this instead.
I’m babysitting my niece Nina. She’s a puppy. She has long legs and likes to cuddle. I am living at L’s while I dogsit but given my state, I feel like I should be paying for this therapeutic service.
The day is long. In and out of sleep, I watch 11 episodes of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and one episode of The Real Housewives of Atlanta.
I make popcorn on the stove with nutritional yeast. I make tempeh curry. I make garlic bread. I put chocolate chips in vanilla greek yogurt.
December 24, 2017
I wake up at 6am and take Nina out. I do a little cleaning and then get right to work. I make coffee and light a candle. I always forget how good it feels good to work after a whole day off.
After a long walk, it’s Christmas Eve dinner at mother’s. Just us. My mom’s newish apartment is in Yorkville, which is not where I grew up, but not far from where Drake, in his big black car, cut me and B off on our bicycles years ago. He said sorry as we lost our direction and minds.
For dinner we have: smoked trout pâté and crackers eaten over the kitchen sink; broiled lobster with butter, lemon, and lime; pomegranate molasses with cauliflower; steamed green beans; a cheese course for dessert; diet coke and sparkling water.
We watch Jackie on the couch. Natalie Portman’s voice as Jackie Kennedy is the furthest thing from a lullaby but it puts me to sleep fairly early. I dream about gunshots.
December 25, 2017
My gift to myself is to read Sylvia Plath’s unabridged journals on Christmas in the middle of the afternoon.
Reading Plath’s sick poem “Daddy,” British academic Jacqueline Rose described women’s writing as “essentially multiple, the other side of normal discourse, fragmented by the passage of the unconscious and the body into words.” Rose uses the word “essentially” so you don’t have to. Shhhhh, essentialism is a bad word. I don’t know anyone who uses the concept of “women’s writing” in earnest anymore, however useful it might have been at the time. “Woman writer” still sticks because people are lazy, I guess.
Family feels like a chore today but only on the way there. Driving from my white grandmother to my black grandmother’s residences, my mother told me something intense that I wrote down in my real diary, a little charted notebook my friend G gave to me on my birthday.
December 26, 2017
I wake up again at 6am, make coffee, take the dog out, feed her, and begin to work. I’m writing at a table surrounded by L’s Chanel nail polish and my mother’s old books from the 1980s.
After a few hours of typing I’m trying to pass off for writing, I go to a coffee shop nearby where they play elevator jazz and the hymns of white children crying. I stay too long.
I plan to meet C for dinner at Superpoint on Ossington. I text L, have you ever been there? She tells me to order the Caesar salad. I do. We also have broccolini with anchovy and butter sauce and a soppressata pizza with honey. And the best wine, chosen by C.
After, we want a drink or two. We try Apt. 200. Dead. And then the Drake, which, because it’s a hotel and it’s a holiday, is far too alive. At the bar we fake aliveness as C encourages me to download Tinder and gives me lessons that I fail. Tinder makes me feel lazy, it’s fine.
December 27, 2017
It’s too early. It’s not early enough. I google “amphetamine” and figure out how to work.
At night, my favorite Toronto thing to do: get L to drive as I hum sloppily out the frosted window.
December 28, 2017
L, Nina, and I wake up like the first cream cone of the summer: sweet, soft, ready. But it’s minus a billion degrees celsius outside so I don’t eat ice cream, I go outside to smoke, wonder why I still smoke, and then drink coffee in bed.
We finally make a move: dim sum at Dundas and Spadina. We eat: shrimp and pork dumplings, green beans tossed in pork and chili oil, wide flat noodles, pork buns, bbq beef ribs, shrimp noodle rolls. After that, we hit a low-ceilinged Value Village on Queen Street East in Leslieville. L finds a Proenza bag and I buy three seasonally inappropriate silk items and pray to Rihanna in the check-out line.
The next stop is the Value at Bloor and Lansdowne. I hope I don’t see anyone I know. L tells me to buy a point-and-shoot camera, and I do. Back at the crib, L and I tell each other we’re going to have a nap but instead we watch vlogs on YouTube in the dark. My alarm goes off at 4:30pm. I try and clean the pour-over coffee thing and break it. I’m sorry, I’m sorry. It’s time to leave for the airport.
We sing along to Drake with the windows down and I look outside and say, “I really do love this city” and then immediately wonder what I mean by it.