How I Fell In Love With Reading Again

Six tips for reading more of what you love!

First of all, I’d like to begin with what this post does not intend to do:

  • Make you feel like you *should* be reading more. As long as you are content with the amount you’re reading, then that’s what is important. 
  • Chide you about how effectively you use your time or energy. The reality is that sometimes we go through seasons of our life where we just don’t have the resources for hobbies like regular reading. The only person who can judge that is you. 
  • Tell you what you should or shouldn’t be reading

The absolute last thing I want to do is make anyone feel ashamed or guilty about their reading habits. There are no “shoulds” here, and in fact I’ve personally found they are the absolute nemesis of pleasurable activities like reading. (I discuss this in greater depth below.)

What this post DOES intend to do is share tips and techniques that have helped me to overcome the motivational and organizational hurdles that keep me from doing something I love on a regular basis. 

I have always loved to read, but for most of my adult years I have found myself disappointed in how little time I make for it. And yet, every time I would determine to read more, I’d struggle to maintain my momentum after finishing one or two books. Sure, I had a massive TBR pile… but rather than excite or encourage me, I found it daunting. Like living in the shadow of a mountain I knew I was supposed to be climbing.

So here’s how I surmounted it.

1.) I threw out the mountain (AKA most of my library)

Photo by Robert Anasch on Unsplash

Okay, okay, I know you’re panicking but hear me out. I used to have a bookshelf with over 300 books. And you know what? Most of them were there because I thought they “should” be there. (There’s that nasty word again.) They were books I’d purchased on a whim years ago and had never gotten around to, they were titles from those “100 Books You Have to Read Before You Die” lists, they were pretentious volumes I thought made me look clever. And every time I looked at them, do you know what I felt?

Guilt. Pressure. Shame.

Whenever I felt like reading, I’d look at that shelf, see everything I “should” have been reading but didn’t actually want to read, and end up turning away empty-handed. 

Eventually I Mari Kondo-ed my entire apartment and realized that almost none of the books on my shelf sparked joy. Mostly they just sparked anxiety and dread. So I donated them. Not all of them, of course, but everything I wasn’t looking forward to reading in the near future, and everything I knew I had no intention of re-reading (or that didn’t at least bring a smile to my face when I recalled reading it).

If you go this route, you can donate the books to charity, pop them into a Little Free Library, give them to friends who want them, or bring them to second-hand book shops for credit to buy books you actually do want to read in the near future. And, if you feel daunted about the whole thing, just remember that if you later find yourself wanting to read something you gave away, chances are you value it enough to borrow or purchase it again. But personally, out of the 200+ books I donated… I think I’ve repurchased two or three? And mostly on the cheap from used shops.

And yes, I know, not everyone has a literal shelf buckling under the weight of everything they’re supposed to be reading, but there’s a good chance there’s one in your head that could use a little decluttering.

2.) I started giving up regularly.

Oh wow, you’re thinking, is this possibly the worst advice list in the history of the universe? But again, bear with me.

How many times have you started a book only to find that it really wasn’t working for you? Did you muscle on through? Did you set it aside and try not to look at it? Because that’s what I did. And you know what, all that time I wasted slogging through things I didn’t want to read, or avoiding reading because that unfinished book was hanging over my head, could have been spent immersing myself in stories that brought me joy.

So now, if a book isn’t working for me, I drop it. I give it a chance (sometimes you just have to commit to a few chapters before a story really grabs you), but if I still find myself procrastinating or trying to rush through to the end so I can get to something else, I cut my losses. 

Joseph Fink, co-creator of Welcome to Night Vale, said something on the podcast Start With This once that has really stuck with me. I’m paraphrasing here, but he said that often it isn’t about whether or not we like a book. Sometimes that book just finds us at the wrong time in our lives. Don’t feel bad when a book doesn’t work for you, and you can always revisit it again at a later time. Or sometimes, it’s about accepting that the time for it has passed.

Now, I know sometimes you have to muscle through something because of work or school. Or sometimes you want to because you feel like the book is important in some way. Maybe you think it will impart some wisdom you really need, or help you to better understand a different perspective, or because it’s part of a book club you love to go to, etc. In these circumstances, what has helped me has been to take it easy on myself. To take breaks and read something light and enjoyable in between. The more I choose to focus on what I love, the easier I have found it to tackle the titles I feel I have a genuine obligation to read.

Which brings me to:

3.) I started choosing books I wanted to read.

Photo by Choi sungwoo on Unsplash

Once all the “shoulds” were gone, what I was left with were titles I genuinely felt a desire to read. This doesn’t have to be a single genre, personally I love a bit of everything, but it shouldn’t exclude genres either. There are plenty of articles about why YA is inferior, and you’ve probably had teachers who told you that magazines or comics don’t count, there’s always someone with something to say about e-books and audiobooks. But reading is reading is reading is reading. Whatever stories or genres or forms engage and compel you, that’s all that matters.

If you spend your time forcing yourself to read the most popular book of the summer, just because you feel like you’re supposed to like it, or you try to slog through some high-art classic because that’s what “smart” people do, you’ll just find yourself resenting something you actually wanted to enjoy.

Of course, I encourage everyone to diversify and try something new. I’ve discovered some of my favourite titles in genres I used to think were boring. Luckily, if you give something a shot and it just isn’t working for you, like I said in #2, you can move on to something that does. There’s a good chance there’s a book with a similar story or topic that’s written in a way that better suits your personal tastes and reading style.

For example, my daughter absolutely loves graphic novels while she’s still pretty cold about regular grade-school novels. We have graphic novels about science, we have graphic novels with gender diverse characters, we have graphic novels about immigration, and friendship, ones that talk about difficult emotions, and are also just good fun. And most importantly, she actually wants to read them!

4. I started buying fewer books.

Photo by Susan Q Yin on Unsplash

Look, these past two years I’ve read a lot of books. There is just no way I’d be able to maintain my hobby at this rate if I was buying every single book I read. Not to mention that it can be hard to call it quits on a book that you paid good money for. And so we come to my absolute favourite item from this list: I use my public library.

My TBR list is a couple of pages in my bullet journal (you can also use an app like Goodreads or Pinterest) that I build up from articles online, or from recommendations from friends, crossing things out as I read them or lose interest. When I’m in need of a new book, I refer to this list, go to my library’s website, and put a couple of titles on hold. I have to be careful to pay special attention to new or popular titles which can take a long time to come in and have to be ordered in advance, but otherwise most of my books are available for pickup within two or three days.

If you like the experience of physically perusing a bookstore, then spend a day wandering the shelves. You can also ask the librarians for help finding something that suits your tastes.

Outside of the odd special occasion, these are the only conditions in which I will actually buy a new book for myself:

  • if I read a book at the library and it leaves a huge impact on me
  • if it’s the next book in a series I know I love
  • if I’m pre-ordering a book from a trusted author
  • if I don’t have time to finish a book at the library before I have to return it, but I have a lot of confidence that it’s something I want on my shelf

Now, I am exceptionally fortunate to have a library close by with a large selection of titles, no late fees, an easy-to-use hold system, and a reasonable borrowing window. If for some reason you can’t access a library physically, many libraries now do e-book lending. If yours doesn’t, or it just doesn’t work for you for whatever reason, many cities now have book swapping groups. There’s also used bookstores where you can trade in old books you’re done with and get credit for new purchases.

Again, the same thing isn’t going to work for everyone, and it’s okay to acknowledge that cost can be prohibitive. That’s why I’m such an avid supporter of libraries, but also recognize that not everyone has access to them. Do what works for you, and if you have to put your hobby on hold for financial reasons, that’s okay. It’s a reflection on our society, not your love of reading.

5.) I learned to hack my dopamine.

Look, I’m a mom. Almost every task I finish in a day is completely undone by the time I go to bed. Some days, it’s hard to feel like I’ve accomplished anything. I appreciate having something in my life that I can check off, or easily measure how much progress I’ve made.

That’s why I started tracking every book I read. Personally, I love hand-written lists. I don’t make them pretty, just a couple rough pages in my bullet journal. (I find if I start expecting my journal to look pretty I start avoiding it, so it’s pure practicality for me). I love being able to look back and remember everything I’ve read this year (while reserving my bookshelf for favourites.)

I include everything: novels, manga, novellas, poetry collections, etc. Nothing is too short or “easy” for the list. I have considered including how many pages I’ve read, but I don’t want to value heavy reads over light ones. The point is to keep going, keep travelling from world to world, not to judge how many steps I took along the way.

I’m personally very motivated by the idea of adding new titles to my list, especially ones I’ve really connected with. Sometimes I’ll put little hearts beside those. Sometimes not. 

You can also implement a social element to this if you like talking about books. For a while I posted each book I read to Facebook, which sometimes led to conversations about certain authors or genres. It also comes up in my memories so I can see what I was reading last year. But of course, this can take a turn for the worst if it starts veering into performance with all the baggage that comes along with expecting other people to validate our accomplishments. Which is why I stopped using Facebook and exclusively use my journal these days.

I haven’t logged into Goodreads in a long time, but it can also be a nice tool to visually track what you’ve read or are currently reading. If there are other apps or techniques you’ve used, feel free to share them in the comments!

6.) I tried to make reading the easy choice.

This is a little technique I picked up from therapy to help me overcome the motivational hump I experience when I try to do pleasurable things while depressed. Once I’ve been reading a good book for five minutes or so, I have trouble stopping. The hardest part is deciding to pick it up in the first place. This is where behavioural activation comes in handy.

Basically you set yourself a clear little goal. I started with: read for fifteen minutes before bed. 

Now, create a set-up that will make attaining this goal as easy as possible. Use small, approachable steps. This might include setting an alarm for fifteen minutes before you usually go to bed as a reminder, selecting a book you have a high chance of actually enjoying, and setting it on your bedside table (or on your pillow). 

This way, when the time comes around, you’ll be much more likely to follow through (even if you don’t feel like it at first). And if for some reason you don’t, you’re a step closer to doing it next time. Once you do this a few times (and as you get more invested in what you’re reading), it gets easier and easier to do, until you find yourself actually wanting to do it.

Eventually, you’ll fall off the horse and maybe go weeks or even months without reading. Life gets hectic. The kids throw off your whole routine. You get sick. That’s okay! Reset your alarm. Set out a new book. Start all over again. Rest assured, it’s a normal part of the process. I don’t think anyone ever maintains a habit without having to rebuild it from time to time.

And again, no pressure. You decide what goals you want to set. If reading isn’t one of them right now, that’s alright too.

The other way I try to make reading an “easy choice,” is by continuing to make sure I always have a book on hand during those moments when I might have time to read it. The way I do this is by paying attention to the times and places I tend to scroll on my phone. (Nothing against scrolling on phones, but I personally find myself doing it without having actively decided to.)

For example: when I’m waiting for appointments, break times, when I’m on the bus, in the bathroom (be honest!), while I’m cooking, etc.

I try to keep my book in my backpack if I know I might have to wait for an appointment, or I keep it on the kitchen counter (in a safe spot away from spills and splatters) while I’m cooking, or I take it instead of my phone when I go to the bathroom. I don’t always choose to read it, sometimes I choose my phone instead, or sometimes I choose to do nothing at all (an underrated choice in my opinion), but at least it’s always an option. And again, nothing against technology, but when possible I try to leave my phone out of sight so I’m not tempted to play with it mindlessly, something that often leaves me feeling distracted and unsatisfied.

Ten minutes here and there can make a big difference in building a habit, and once I’m invested in a book it’s amazing how much extra reading time suddenly materializes.

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

And that’s more or less it.

These are techniques that work for me, and I hope that some other people might find them useful if they’re struggling to make reading a regular part of their lives (despite wanting to). I’m not sharing here how much I read in a year because it’s not about comparison. For one person, three books a year will leave them feeling satisfied while someone else might feel like thirty isn’t enough. We each read at our own pace in our own way, and we all have various elements of our lives that compete for our attention: work, children, other hobbies and goals. Decide for yourself what is comfortable for you and don’t worry about anything else. 

Remember, “shoulds” are the quickest way to turn a passion into a chore.

Thanks so much for reading, and feel free to share your own tips, or let me know what you’ve been reading/ what you’re looking forward to reading in the comments! For me, I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction science books lately (I particularly enjoyed Bitch by Lucy Cooke), but I’m really looking forward to reading T.J. Klune’s latest: In the Lives of Puppets.

I might make some recommendation lists soon (I find other people’s useful for building up my TBR lists so I’m never out of titles I want to read). Let me know if there’s anything in particular you’d like to see!

(Header photo by Annelies Geneyn on Unsplash)

From her least favourite animal

My daughter comes home from school
and says to me: "Mom, during attendance
my teacher asked us our favourite animals."

"Neat," I say, "You said cat, didn't you?"

"Yes Mom," she says, "but Ben said humans.
And Teacher said those are her least favourite.
She said humans are responsible for 
too many bad things in the world."

'Favourite things are people's opinions,"
I remind her, but neither of us are satisfied.

So I say:

"I think a lot of people would agree 
with your teacher. I used to. But I think
that it's a little bit of an excuse."

"What do you mean?" she asks.

I remind her of the time she was struggling
to learn subtraction and she tried
to escape through a door labelled:
"Bad at math."

Because when we believe there's something
about us that cannot change, we can shed
our fear of failure by refusing to grow.
If we're just bad at something, there's no point
practicing to get better. If humans do nothing
but harm, then what is the point of 
of fighting for, or believing in, or expecting
anything different for the future.

Look, I don't need to expound upon 
humanity's sins to her; 
she is already familiar with them.
My daughter was born into a country
where she cannot help but walk over
the bones of other children, slaughtered
by people who looked like her. At nine years
old my daughter knows the words genocide,
and systemic racism, income inequality,
global warming, mass extinction,
she knows she has inherited a violent legacy
she never asked for. And before your protest
that she is too young, I'd like to remind you
that many children younger than her
learn these concepts at gunpoint, with teachers
like hunger and disease,
standing over their parents' graves.

She learns in a loving mother's voice,
I hold her hands as we unpick knots together,
and when she cries, it is never alone.

Are we her teacher's least favourite animal?

My daughter knows the bloodprice of profit,
knows the human sacrifices that make
a billionaire, but I remind her of the little
vegan grocery we shop from whose owners
refused to raise prices despite inflation,
who break every rule of "good business"
in the interest of being "good neighbours."

Are they her teacher's least favourite animal?

I tell her the people of the Wet'suwet'en Nation 
put themselves in the line of fire, 
stand for days on end facing persecution,
to defend the water and land that nourishes us.

Are they her teacher's least favourite animal?

She watches documentaries with her dad
about the researchers and engineers 
developing the latest clean-energy hopefuls,
trying to force triangular economies
into more sustainable circles.

Are they her least favourite animal?

We talk about how poverty is decreasing,
along with infant mortality. About increases
in conservation and species-protections..
How, statistically, the world is becoming 
a better place. It isn't enough yet, but
people are still working to improve it.

Are they her teacher's least favourite animal?

Her aunt sends pictures of her new baby cousin.

Is he her teacher's least favourite animal?

Scientists have developed a vaccine for malaria.

Are they her teacher's least favourite animal?
Mosquitoes kill half a million children every year.
Could her teacher think of no animal more
deserving of the title of "least favourite" than us?

Mosquitoes are only doing what is in their nature,
but human nature is the ability to change.
Our species' entire evolutionary strategy is hinged
on our ability to override our own programming.
A mosquito cannot chose to spare a child,
but we can.

I ask my daughter what she thinks the world
could look like, if we didn't treat each other
like our least favourite animal.

She smiles, satisfied, and already
I can see the future changing. 

dark side

The Moon is tidally locked,
which is a fancy way of saying
that she cannot turn her head.
We tell her she is beautiful,
but she wonders what it means
when we've only seen one side —
the one that shines the brightest.
She worries what we would think
if we only knew how much
she loves her darkest self.


My house is haunted by a little girl,
a waist-length tangle of brown hair,
and wide eyes the colour of an angry ocean.
Her mother tells stories about those eyes:
lids thrown like blinds from the moment
she was born, greedy for light and life,
tricking the nurses into adding hours to her age.

I feel those eyes upon me a lot these days.

No one else knows that she is here,
but in those rare twilight moments
when I am permitted my own company
she follows me with questions:

Where am I? she asks me,
and: tell me a story,
and: remember when?

I don't know, I tell her,
and: I don't know any,
and: not anymore.

Then she clenches her fists, her tiny body
rocking with disappointment and rage.

You lost me, she accuses.

Maybe, I say.

Bring me home, she pleads.

How? I ask, even though I know
the steps to this waltz,
can see the circles worn into the floorboards
and feel them in the soles of my feet.

Open your eyes, she says.

I am.

Where is your wonder? Your awe? 

I gave them away, I tell her.

So find more.

I shake my head.

Open your eyes.

They are open! But all I can see
is pain and fear and suffering and
emptiness and death. 

Open them wider.

It hurts. They cannot open as wide as yours.

Be brave.

I am not.

Tell me a story.

My eyes flicker to the bookshelf
and the books I can no longer open.
To long-expired daydreams left 
to curdle and rot.
How do I tell the girl who loved
nothing more than stories 
that I am too afraid to navigate them?

Be brave, she says, but she has never 
choked on the words of a page,
never drowned in the images of a screen.
She has yet to learn that she is not the hero.
That sometimes the hero leaves people behind. 
That you don't know until you turn the page
who will be lost and who will be left 
to mourn them.

And so she can't understand 
why I cannot

Please, she begs.

Please, I echo.

My house is haunted by a little girl
whose greedy eyes,
wide and angry like the ocean,
devoured so much
she forgot how to close them,
and became a woman who could only
look away.



Author’s note:

The following short story was shortlisted for the 2022 Grit Lit Festival Short Story Contest. (Congrats to the winners, by the way! You can read their amazing stories here.) I wrote it quite some time before the pandemic when I was in the thick of parenting two young kids. I updated it for the festival amidst the fallout of the pandemic and encampment evictions here in Ontario. I played with the idea of submitting it somewhere but ultimately, I have very little time and want to focus it more on playing with stories again. Enjoy!

It started with my feet. I noticed because I had these calluses, the kind that split and bleed and make it impossible to get nylons on without tearing them. I know, it’s not pretty, but pretty wasn’t really on my mind at the time. Well, I mean, sometimes it was on my mind but then it would get shoved out of the way by teething or snot or dirty diapers or something.

Anyway, yeah. Big, dry, annoying calluses.

And then one day they were gone. I didn’t think much of it at the time; it was weird, but mundane enough that I could find a hundred reasons to explain it away. Besides, good riddance right?

It wasn’t until the toes that I started really paying attention.

This may be horrible, but I’m not even sure when they went. I mean, how often do you actually stop and count your toes? If it had been my kid’s pinkie toes I probably would have noticed the moment they vanished, but mine? Maybe it was the same morning that I realized my flats were actually comfortable for a change. Maybe it was a week before then. Who knows. Point is, one moment they were there and one moment they weren’t.

Needless to say, I was not quite as laissez faire about the toes as I had been about the calluses. There are significantly fewer reasons to explain vanishing digits than there are a bit of extra dead skin. And I was pretty sure they were significantly more important.

So I got my husband to book a precious half-day from work to watch our seventeen month-old, Toby, while I went to see Dr. Vivani.

“Have you noticed any pain? Tingling?” he asked, peeking at me over his medical mask while he examined the seamless flesh that lined the outer edge of my foot.

“No, nothing,” I answered, certain there had been no signs, no evidence that I was about to lose two rather substantial pieces of myself. That’s when I remembered the calluses: “I did think that my calluses had gotten thinner. On my heels.”

He gently twisted my foot and ran a finger along the smooth curve of my heel. He wiggled each of my eight remaining toes. “Can you feel everything? Any numbness?”

“Nope. About the numbness I mean. Everything feels normal.”

With a nod he released my foot and sat at his computer, the back of his crisp white coat facing me as he typed away. After a moment he paused and asked: “How have you been sleeping?”

My laugh escaped with a snort. He swivelled his chair toward me, his expression sharp enough to eviscerate my good humour. “I mean, not great,” I admitted.

“Why not?”

“I have a toddler,” I reminded him with a shake of my head. Dr. Vivani had given Toby all of his shots and seen him for every ear infection and rash, it wasn’t as if what I was saying was news to him.

“Sleep is essential,” he lectured, and this time I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. “It’s important you aim for at least 7 hours a night.”

I would have laughed again, but something about this sudden shift in conversation was turning my stomach.

“And my toes?”

He sighed and removed his glasses to rub his eyes. The skin around them was as dark as a thundercloud, and when he opened them I noticed the red lightning striking out across the whites. Hypocrite, I thought.

“There’s no scarring,” he said, looking up at me with fatigue and concern. “From what I can see there was never room for a fifth toe on either foot.”

“Are you trying to tell me I never had ten toes to begin with?”

He gave an almost imperceptible shrug. “Sometimes when we’re tired and anxious it can lead to confusion.”

“I had ten toes,” I insisted, glancing impotently at my narrow feet and their infuriatingly flawless skin. I looked up again, challenging him to contradict me. “Wouldn’t it say in my file if I didn’t? If I was born with only four toes on each foot?”

“I was not your doctor when you were a child and I don’t have those files. All I know is that it does not say anywhere that you were born with five.”

I fumed for the entire bus ride home, my angry sighs fogging up my glasses so that I had to constantly reposition them over my mask. The man across from me had no such problem, his nose emerging from the top of his mask like some taboo organ. For a heartbeat I met his eyes and could sense a smile in their crinkled corners. I gritted my teeth and looked out the window instead, counting the boarded-up shopfronts down Barton Street East.

We stopped at the lights just before Woodlands Park, and I tallied tents instead: only four. There were at least three times as many at the park across from my apartment, though I didn’t take an exact count. I dropped my gaze quickly, hardly noting their details, and strode across the street.

At home, T.J. – that’s my husband – comforted me while I cried. They weren’t tears for the physical bits of me that I’d lost, but for something less tangible that I could feel slipping away. They were tears of anger and embarrassment, of lost pride and confidence. The problem was, I wasn’t entirely sure who I had lost confidence in.

“He’s probably just in over his head. You said yourself that he looked tired, right?” T.J. leaned down and kissed my forehead before I buried my face into the stretched collar of his shirt. I breathed in the familiar mingling of coolant and sweat, and let my body rest against his solid frame. A month of interrupted sleep suddenly weighed heavily on me, and I wanted nothing more than to collapse against him, let him carry me into the amniotic darkness of our bedroom.

Maybe Dr. Vivani was right. Maybe I was just sleep deprived and this whole thing was a big nightmare. The toes, the appointment, all of it. If I could get one good night’s sleep…


I inhaled deeply and in that moment felt like a balloon, carried by nothing more than the inflation of an empty space inside of me. T.J. reached out, but I waved him off.

“I’m alright.” Is it really a lie when the other person knows you aren’t telling the truth?

I scooped Toby into my arms and violently kissed his fluffy curls. He giggled and I pressed him more tightly into me.

I’m alright.

He pushed me away and grabbed at my shirt. “Booboos,” he commanded.

I’m alright.

I took him to the nursing chair and fished out a breast. He stood on my leg, bending over and tilting his head sideways to nurse.

I’m alright.

He wiggled and I caught him before he fell and took my nipple to the floor with him.

I’m alright.

It was nice to be sitting down, at least.

I’m alright.

I ran my one free hand through my hair as I sighed. I rubbed my neck and reached up to fiddle with my earring, but it was missing. Along with my ear lobe.

I found my earrings near the apartment door, one on the door mat and the other hanging out of one of Toby’s rainbow-coloured rubber boots. Turns out both my ear lobes had vanished. I think I would have cried if I hadn’t gotten it all out with T.J. only moments before. As it was, all I managed to think was: Well, at least I’m going symmetrically.

“Go to the hospital,” T.J. commanded, scooping Toby up into his arms before he could reach me.

“It’s not safe,” I insisted, tilting my head toward our son, “If I catch something, I could bring it home to him.”

“And leaving him at home alone with a person who is slowly falling apart is a better option?”

I glanced at the clock, more as an excuse to blink away the hot sting of his words than anything else. “I have to make dinner soon,” I told him.

“Damn it… we’ll order out. We’ll be fine.”

I shook my head. Toby was starting to get agitated, wriggling frantically and reaching for me. What if they wanted to keep me overnight, I thought, would he sleep if I wasn’t there to tuck him in? What if I really did get sick?

I reached up again to touch my earlobe; it’s funny how you don’t notice your own nervous habits until you can’t rely on them anymore. I felt the smooth skin, tracing the firm cartilage down and around until I touched my neck. I could hear them already: “M’am, are you certain they weren’t always this way?”

“Look,” I told T.J., snatching our son from him before he could protest, “Dr. Vivani ran some blood work and said he’d call me tomorrow. Let’s wait and go from there.”

He narrowed his beautiful charcoal eyes at me.

“It’s my body,” I told him, disguising my doubts behind a confident smile. “I’ve got this.”

“Nom booboos.” Toby began reaching into my shirt. Again?! I wanted to shout, but instead I took the opportunity to escape the conversation.

“Let’s have some milk before mommy starts cooking.”

That night I couldn’t sleep, partially because of a tiny foot sticking into my jaw, but also a jolting sort of worry that cycled through my mind like an off-balanced load of laundry.

What next?

What part of me would slip away while I slept? What if it was something important this time, like my hands or my eyes? The foot tucked under my chin pulled away and Toby giggled in his sleep as a sudden panic struck me. I reached my hands up to find my breasts, brushed my fingers over my nipples and exhaled when I found them fully intact. I mean, that would be one way to wean him but I cringed to think of him so distraught, his tiny lungs screaming for that soothing reassurance while I tried to explain something even I didn’t understand:

Mommy’s disappearing, sweetie. The booboos are gone, but I’m still here.

“I’m still here,” I whispered into the comforter, clenching my teeth against the sobs clawing their way up my chest and throat.

Across the bed, I could just make out the dark mass that was T.J. bundled in the blankets against the wall. I willed him to sense that something was wrong, to reach for me, hold me, kiss me. If I could lose myself in his warmth for an hour, maybe my muscles could unclench enough to let this fear go.

But the toddler between us, in all his tiny fragility, was a chasm too deep to cross.

It was a stranger who greeted me in the bathroom mirror the next morning. The eyes were mine, if a little bloodshot, and the nose and mouth, but the face wasn’t. I was missing my freckles, my constellations, and without them I no longer knew how to navigate my features. I poked and prodded, but my brain refused to register the empty canvas as mine.

I kept my reflection in my periphery as I brushed my hair and teeth, refusing to meet her eye. I didn’t cry this time, reminding myself to be grateful it wasn’t something more important.

Dr. Vivani called shortly after lunch: the results had all come back normal. My iron was a little low, he said, but nothing some lean meat and leafy greens wouldn’t fix. I was eating well, wasn’t I? Oh, and make sure you get some sleep, he reminded me.

I hung up the phone and Toby crawled into my lap with the same copy of The Ugly Duckling I had already read half a dozen times that morning. I squeezed him into me, pouring all of my fear and frustration into a gesture of affection. He wiggled and kicked, but I thought if I could just hold him for another minute these ugly feelings growing inside of me could transform into something beautiful, something as hopeful as the white swan rising up from the worn cover of his book.

I released him and began to recite the familiar words, closing my eyes and turning the pages by memory. The warm weight of his tiny body squirmed in my lap, and I told myself that it was enough.

T.J. argued with me about going to the hospital again while I cooked supper.

“Screw the blood work. Something is obviously wrong here.”

“If it was that serious, I’m sure it would have come up,” I told him, “and I mean, it’s not like it’s really affected my life.”

He cocked an eyebrow. “Seriously?”

“It doesn’t hurt, and I can still do my chores and everything.”

“Pieces of you are disappearing, but it’s okay cause dinner’s on the table when I get home?” His voice was too loud, Toby would hear him and come investigate.

I shushed him. “You’re going to worry Toby.”

Raising his voice even louder, he shouted: “Good! So why don’t you worry a little too?”

“Okay,” I said, wanting to end the fight as soon as possible. “I’ll go this weekend.”

Both eyebrows shot up this time, so I added, “I promise.”

The ER of the Hamilton General was flooded with people trying to maintain an impossible distance. Four hours crawled by before my cell phone rang.

“You still waiting?” T.J. asked without saying hello.


“They give you any idea how much longer?”


I could hear frustrated toddler grunts in the background.

“Hold on a sec, sweetie, gotta talk to your mom,” he said and the grunts began to rise into shouts, “Shh, honey. Look, babe, you need to let the nurse know this is serious. Give ‘em hell if you have to.”

“Uhuh,” I said.

The shouts turned into crying and I took a deep breath, feeling an unpleasant mix of relief and guilt at not being there to help my upset son.

“You go deal with Toby,” I told him, “I’ll be home soon.”

“Don’t you dare leave there without –”

I hung up, stood, and stretched my arms up toward the ceiling. I checked in with the nurse who said it could be another hour or more, and reminded me that if I didn’t feel it was an emergency that a walk-in clinic or family doctor might be more efficient. I thanked her and went to the bathroom to pee.

My clit was missing. Something didn’t feel right when I wiped and when I looked down, it just wasn’t there.

I nearly burst with laughter. There was probably someone in the stall next to me, but I didn’t care because it was then that I realized it:

I wasn’t going to die.

It’s hard to explain it, that confidence, but I suddenly found myself remembering this neurology lesson from grade twelve science. See – when we’re born and start developing, our neurons makes all these connections. Too many connections. And as we grow into adults, our brain trims them back, sort of like taming a path through a jungle of vines. Things begin to make sense, we learn, and the connections we don’t use shrivel up and die. They aren’t necessary anymore.

We all know the saying, “Use it, or lose it.” It’s all about efficiency, optimization, distribution of resources.

I remembered that word, the one that had been all over the news since the COVID-19 pandemic had begun over a year ago. The shears we’d all used to prune our lives into something that could fit into the space that was left for us:


This was just a form of survival, right? And survival meant not dying, which was the entire point of coming to the hospital. I washed my hands and walked through the waiting room to the sliding doors.

Toes, earlobes, facial features, sexual pleasure… these were just extraneous bits of myself. They were the necessary sacrifices of our time, and who understands sacrifice more intimately than mothers?

I adjusted the straps of my mask over my much-diminished ears as I walked to the bus stop, tucking away the hair I had carefully curled to cover them. These are my war-wounds, I thought, why should I conceal my contribution?

I spent the entire ride rehearsing the inevitable argument with T.J., until the back door opened and I stepped down to the leaf-littered sidewalk. In front of me was an unfamiliar rectangle of grass, still green despite the frost. I braced myself against it like my own incongruous reflection, the uniquely jarring fear of reality not conforming to expectation.

By the time I understood that it was the emptiness that was wrong, the vacancy, I was already walking into the heart of it. I didn’t bother wondering where the tents were, the people they sheltered, because I was afraid that I already knew.

I tried to recall the word, the one that had given me confidence only moments before, but its edges stung like bile. I swallowed it and returned to the sidewalk, patting my hair down over my ears once more.

T.J. would be angry and, I hoped, maybe I could be too.

city girl

Give me the living lights
of these high-rise constellations,
and not just the pilgrimage of 
a billion lonely suns.
Give me the astringent musk
of a dozen factory workers
on the crowded bus home;
let our lungs pass oxygen
like relay runners
on the same team.
I'd rather be kept awake
by the drunken testament
to life on the other side
of paper-thin walls,
than spend my nights
pretending the universe
is emptier
than it already is.

Mom, why do you swear so much?

Because it's the only thing I've got 
to prove I'm not a child
aside from thirty some-odd years 
and years aren't quite as heavy
as they like to say so I'm afraid
my soul might be so light
it will float away before
its time and leave me here behind 
counting heartbeats like the ticks
of a clock always keeping pace
unable to remember when last
it raced when last it broke the rules
I've too few sins beneath my belt
too little skin beneath my nails
and too much across my knees
that never knew the pavement's
kiss and so continue to insist
that I've not bled enough for 
this right of passage and these
silly words increase my pulse
and weigh me down enough
that maybe I won't take off
in search of the conclusion
to the story of my youth
but mostly

because I fucking want to.

love language: a burning haibun

I love in apples: crisp-fresh, candied, or wrapped in my great-grandma's pastry. Her recipes were my first language, a silent tongue of peace; when have fruit and spice ever spoken of hatred? But making pie crusts with my mother taught me that words are not enough, some things have to be attempted and failed over and over until the knowledge trusts your hands so well as to call them home. When I bake a pie, every bite is a kiss years in the making. It gives without expectation. I can think of no purer way to love than this.

I love in apples: crisp-fresh, candied, or wrapped in my great-grandma's pastry. Her recipes were my first language, a silent tongue of peace; when have fruit and spice ever spoken of hatred? But making pie crusts with my mother taught me that words are not enough, some things have to be attempted and failed over and over until the knowledge trusts your hands so well as to call them home. When I bake a pie, every bite is a kiss years in the making. It gives without expectation. I can think of no purer way to love, than this.

My great-grandma's recipes
were my first language.
Fruit and spice 
taught me enough:
to trust your hands,
to call them home.
A pie is a kiss
without expectation,
pure love.

My great-grandma's recipes
were my first language.
Fruit and spice 
taught me enough:
to trust your hands,
to call them home.
A pie is a kiss
without expectation,
pure love.

grandma's first language
fruit and spice taught me to trust
to expect pure love

(note: if you're not familiar with a burning haibun, it's a really fun format where you write a passage in prose and then erase portions to make a poem. From there you continue to erase until you are left with a haiku)