An invitation to connect in moderation

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A quick note before I get into it: this newsletter, just like the podcast, is work for me. If you look forward to recieving and reading this e-mail, then a paid subscription is a simple way to lend your support. Thanks 💜

Last time I wrote about walking but, things are changing quickly, so I’m not really walking anymore. I want to, but it seems like no matter what time I go outside — well, at least in the light of day — there are people everywhere. When runners pass by me (always too close!) I find myself holding my breath. I mean, people are literally dying from respiratory failure right now so I’m not trying to not breathe. What this means is that I’m now mostly staying inside my apartment, trying not to add to the number of people out on the street, trying to do my part to avoid bringing this city and province to a situation where a lockdown is enforced.

But I’m also not walking because I realized that it’s one (of many) ways in which my need for control is showing up. You know, I really thought I was good because I’m not thinking about next week, or spending much time worrying about money (there’s a difference between thinking about things and worrying about them!), or wondering what’ll happen ‘when this is all over.’ I’m okay with taking things one day at a time.

And still. Control, for me, shows up in things like the walks, which definitely make me feel good and grounded, but is also a routine that I’d developed prior to isolation. Resisting change. And not just change to my daily schedule but the elaborate rituals I’ve set up around my body and weight — walks always made me feel as though I had that ‘under control.’ Control also shows up for me with drinking. I love to drink wine. Oh my god, I love it so much!!!!!! 🍷🍷 🍷 🍷 But when I drink a couple-few glasses of wine every night because I tell myself, hey, you’re allowed to cope how you want, and then the next day I get agitated, insecure, restless, unfocused, listless — I realize that perhaps the wine itself is triggering the need to cope.

Control comes via connecting, in terms of method and frequency. I love speaking to my family and friends; I love to FaceTime with my grandma, who is turning 90 in June and is doing well. I like doing videotext karaoke with my friends (today it was “Cranes in the Sky” and we all ended up crying). I love watching my baby nephew grow up. And I want to do the right thing by being available for people. But I hate seeing the people I love solely through a device, and I really don’t care what random people with high follower counts are doing, and I am actually not bored enough to learn how to use TikTok — and I think I’ve been connecting for the sake of connecting. I forget that I use social media and constant contact to mitigate my own vulnerabilities around feeling unseen.

Please, do what you will! I’m not trying to be sanctimonious here — only accountable. Four weeks ago I thought I had this. I thought I had the meditation skills, the emotional resillience methods, the mindfulness, the cheffin,’ the routine, work-life balance, backlog of books, and prediliction for solitude to ride it all out, unperturbed. And although I didn’t spiral out in the ways I might have a couple of years ago, I still found myself challenged: emotionally wound up, militant about the damn walks, chastising myself for baking, clocking in for those nightly glasses of wine. Nobody has got this. Without getting all “fEaR iS thE viRuS,” it’s absolutely fine that the entire world is scared right now — how naive, how counter to my spiritual beliefs, to think that I’m somehow separate!

Just wanted to share this for anyone who might be working on themselves, in whatever capacity, right now: the need for control is a survival mechanism that’s very human, but it brings a lot of shit with it, a lot of old shit, a lot of useless shit, a lot of shit that keeps you (me, me, me!) stuck in one place. And the thing about coping, about control, is that it can totally be useful in a crisis — except for the fact when I stop to think about it, the things I’m trying to control don’t align with my present values, which are infinitely more expansive. These are the habits of a younger person, a much more contracted and fearful person, someone who didn’t realize what she had and just how strong she is.

I only have one real antidote to all of this, which is that you make yourself a cup of something hot to drink and listen to “Thoughts Around Tea,” by Kadhja Bonet from her perfect, perfect 2018 album, Childqueen. You might want to bookend it with “Undressed It Solitude” by Badge Époque Ensemble featuring the mesmerizing James Baley and “I Can’t Stand It” by Maylee Todd.

Lots of love,

Anupa


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ICYMI
There are two new episodes of Burn Out for your listening pleasure. I REALLY LOVE THEM BOTH! Featuring:
Casey MQ: Co-founder of the extremely popping Club Quarantine, and wunderkind collaborator of some of Toronto’s best musicians
Backxwash: A self-proclaimed ‘witch rapper’ from Lusaka-via-Montreal, who makes music inspired by the spirituality of DMX and her tribal ancestry.

"Walking is, after all, interrupted falling"

— Garnett Cadogan

A quick note before I get into it: this newsletter, just like the podcast, is work. It is unpaid labor that I’ve voluntarily taken on to feel more empowered as a storyteller and less beholden to media narratives dictated by market forces. A paid subscription to the newsletter is a vital way of supporting this work, particularly at this time. Thank you.

I hope you’ve been taking walks! At least for now, and perhaps depending on where you’re reading this from, social distancing and isolation does not mean you can’t go outside. The weather is getting better. Being outside keeps me from feeling as though my body is molding into a couch-shaped nub, and it relaxes my heart to see people still doing regular things — running, pushing baby strollers, walking the dog. Being outside has given me the ability to connect to this social experience in a way that invites contemplation and perspective, rather than fear.

On Sunday, a friend and I took a baby dose of shrooms and walked through High Park. We ended up on a bench that had been warmed by the sun, and looked out onto the quiet pond and the families traipsing up and down the hill. My friend pointed out a hawk circling above. If you follow me on Instagram, you might remember the hawk stories I posted a few months back during my morning lakefront walks. Back then I kept seeing this hawk perched on drooping boughs and flying low over the shoreline. I’d come home and Google random hawk facts, and began to feel an affinity for the bird.

Initially, I thought the hawk was an eagle. I grew up in Brampton and don’t know shit about the outdoors beyond what I learned from three years of Girl Guides summer camp. But then I read that female hawks are usually bigger than male hawks so they’re often mistaken for eagles, and I felt vindicated in my rudimentary assessment. I was also convinced it wasn’t multiple hawks I was seeing, but the same one: her. I’d send screenshots to friends from websites about the spiritual significance of seeing or dreaming about hawks. If a hawk appears in your life, it means that you should observe things around you very carefully. This bird can see not only what is happening around her, but also something supernatural. In ancient times hawks were considered as a symbol of the soul.

At the same time, I was working on an essay that made me feel feral and exposed and uncomfortable in my own skin. I took the hawk’s presence to mean that I was on the right track — that sitting in the discomfort of writing through things I’ve observed, things I’d felt too ashamed to look at more closely, to connect with, was necessary. According to my phone’s photo history, the last time I saw the hawk was a few days before I went to England in mid-January. Until Sunday, when I saw her circling high above and then swooping down to the water. I wonder what she wants me to see righ now?

On Monday after another park walk with a different friend, I strolled back down Roncy toward my apartment as the sun began its arc over the street. The air smelled like the lake. That is to say, it smelled fresh, stony, slightly peaty, and like the wind. That is to say, it smelled like the top note of the main drag of a beach town — the ones lined with stores selling pool toys, castle-shaped pails, and novelty t-shirts — french fries and gasoline being the scents that lurk below. I didn’t go to lakefront cottages until I was an adult so this is my primary association with outdoor bodies of water. And I can’t recall ever enjoying the smell of Lake Ontario from downtown Toronto, but apparently the water in the Venice canals has cleared up and air pollution and CO2 levels are dropping, so maybe something has changed.

On this morning’s walk, I saw two bloated animal carcasses that had washed up on the shore. I went close, but not too close, as if I was scared the creatures would sputter to life and nip my ankles (again — I didn’t really grow up… outside). Both were belly up and very clearly bloated so I couldn’t tell what they were, but one was brown, kind of like a beaver but without the huge tail, and the other was black and white like a skunk but also without the huge tail. I wondered if back to back dead critters was a normal sighting, a sign of seasons and water patterns shifting, or if I should call city services to remove the carcasses for, like, hygiene reasons? Then I wondered if that would be a frivolous call to make right now given what city workers are dealing with. And then I wondered if it was extremely big city and idiotic of me to react to the sight of dead wildlife within the smalls of the urban wild by calling for its removal. All I did was think, I didn’t do, and it was nice to think about something else.

I hadn’t really grouped these moments in my mind until an hour ago, while watching this fascinating short film called ôtênaw by Conor McNally, who is based in Edmonton/Treaty 6. It’s been bookmarked for a few days: I got the link from the IG stories of one of my current favourite bands, nêhiyawak, who did the film’s music.

The film is a brief overlap of Indigenous and colonial histories of the Edmonton area from the perspective of a local educator, who draws upon written and oral narratives about the area, as well as nêhiyawak (Cree) philosophy. I was moved by his description of the concept of ‘wahkohtowin,’ which I’d never heard of before. It is a well-known kinship or relational ideology that also forms Cree legal doctrine. This is what he says:

“Wahkohtowin is a wisdom concept. What it teaches is that, as human beings, we understand ourselves as enmeshed in a series of relationships that give us life. And we depend on those [relationships] for our survival. The highest form of human being — the most intelligent form of being — is the one who acknowledges that regularly and tries to live their life in acknowledgement of that. We still try to hang on to that because we know that our way of living today is not going to last. Something is going to change and we’re going to have to ground ourselves again, literally. Wahkohtowin says that the energy that comes from the giver of life lives inside of us. The things we consume contain that energy. So, the sun is the giver of life and our relative, just like the water. Every morning we get up and we drink that water and we carry it around — it’s literally our relative. We can’t live without it. Same with these trees, that grass. That’s what Wahkohtowin is.”

So I thought I might share this documentary with you all because it transported me to a space where our current reality isn’t a blip, or an end point, but part of the way of things. Where the virus isn’t something to be feared, but somehow our relative? It is definitely true that we don’t like all of our relatives. Strange comfort in these deeply mediated times.

Lots of love,

Anupa


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ICYMI: The latest episode of Burn Out is one of my favourites: a chat with Katie Stelmanis, aka Austra.

This e-mail took me a week to write

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I’m feeling impatient for spring, but also simultaneously hating the passing of time. Like, is 2021 actually just going to happen? It feels rude to be launched into the future — particularly one so anxiety-inducing — so quickly, without pleasant milestones of human progress to cheer us along the way.

My emails over the last year haven’t been exclusively cheery, but I think there was an undercurrent of optimism to them — a hint of forward momentum. I’m not feeling that right now. I don’t think many people are. Irritability is a natural response to people are arguing about handwashing on the timeline, and your family Whatsapp being saturated with hoax-y folk tales about home remedies for the virus. All of the therapists and spiritual teachers on my fav self-help podcasts say that anger is information. I believe it. I’m just not sure what to do with the information.

I am really angry right now. I’m angry about the flouting of Indigenous law and police aggression towards Wet’suwet’en camps and protestors across the country. I’m doubly angered by how plainly we’re seeing colonial and neoliberal value systems violently enacted at the expense of reconciliation and climate justice for all. U.S. electoral politics is also irritating as shit in the way it seems explicitly designed to divide people. And I’m truly disgusted by Hindu chauvinism in India and how furtively Islamophobic violence is buried into my cultural history. I don’t know how else to be in the world right now except weighed down by sheer frustration.

And nothing makes me angrier than how fucking predictable my anger is. Last week The Caravan republished a recent lecture by Arundhati Roy, where she probed the uncanny responses to this moment:

“I have begun to wonder why fascism—although it is by no means the same everywhere—is so recognisable across histories and cultures. It’s not just the fascists that are recognisable—the strong man, the ideological army … the fawning businessmen and film stars, the fear of intellectuals … and the hate-fuelled zombie population. It’s also the rest of us—the exhausted, quarrelling opposition, the vain, nit-picking Left, the equivocating liberals. And, of course, the wolves who ignored the decent folks’ counsel of moderation and sloped off into the wilderness to howl unceasingly, futilely—and, if they were female, then “shrilly” and “hysterically”—at the terrifying, misshapen moon. All of us are recognisable.”

So what to do with this basic-ass self-piteous anger that I’m feeling? I don’t want to bury it. I mean, I can’t. I’ll allow it to tag along as I go about my work day, spend time with friends and family, stop into a fully-stocked and bustling grocery store, chat briefly with an Uber driver, or participate in all of the other social rituals that have not yet been put on pause despite all the chaos. I’m not trying to be a mope, and I’m not saying panic. Really, it’s just infuriating having to move through the world as though everything is fine; that I have to capitulate to the whole project of normalcy required as part of the social contract.

I’d apologize for this morose letter, but I imagine that those who can’t handle it have clicked away by now. So, to the rest of you, here is where I land. Not for optimism’s sake, but as an act of love for the people in my life who are relying on me to help keep us together. Re: dread, we’ve been here before. Re: anger — On a good day? When the sun is shining? The anger reminds me that I am truly alive. In 2015, reminiscing on the re-election of George W. Bush in 2005, Toni Morrison wrote:

I am staring out of the window in an extremely dark mood, feeling helpless. Then a friend, a fellow artist, calls to wish me happy holidays. He asks, “How are you?” And instead of “Oh, fine—and you?”, I blurt out the truth: “Not well. Not only am I depressed, I can’t seem to work, to write; it’s as though I am paralyzed, unable to write anything more in the novel I’ve begun. I’ve never felt this way before, but the election….” I am about to explain with further detail when he interrupts, shouting: “No! No, no, no! This is precisely the time when artists go to work—not when everything is fine, but in times of dread. That’s our job!”


I’m reminded that this newsletter is about nothing more than how to keep going.


Thanks to novelist Adnan Khan for joining me on the latest episode of Burn Out. I’m grateful to be in constant conversation with writers and other artists who help me feel through all of these extreme sensitivities!!! In this episode we talk about how to actually write a book, the high school teachers that helped and (maybe?) hindered us, and the impossible project of writing about ‘toxic masculinity.’ LISTEN:

If you haven’t left a rating and review on iTunes, please do. It helps people find the show. And follow Burn Out on Instagram for exclusive memes about being fucking over it 🤣

Thanks for sticking with this one.

Lots of love,

Anupa


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ICYMI: I reviewed the new Grimes album, Miss Anthropocene, for Pitchfork.
GIVE: To the Unist’ot’en Legal Fund. Support Indigenous land defenders engaging with the Canadian legal system, which favours well-resourced corporations and industry.
SAY HI: Tonight (March 4) at the AGO, where I’ll be hosting a free talk with photographer Othello Grey.

Everything you need to grow will be given

+ new season of the podcast starts today! 🎧

Happy 2020!!!

I’ve been saying it for the past six weeks. If feels nice to be able to wish someone something when you bump into them on the street for the first time in a while, or when you send an email to a person you haven’t hit up in a couple of months. It’s kind of the nicest thing about the holiday season, the thing that gets obscured by all the ‘keep the Christ in Christmas’-type squabbling — we need to just say nice shit to each other. So happy 2020, happy valentine’s day, and, if you’re in ontario, happy family day aka thank you for a long weekend in february.

I don’t have much to say right now. Every week feels like it brings new ways of looking at a situation, new questions to ask myself, or a new discomfort to befriend. Maybe I’ll have something to say about it in the future, but for now: I hope that you’re finding small ways to be present with whatever life is bringing you!

Last week I had tea with my downstairs neighbours, a couple with a deep meditation practice. It was a nice visit — I’m very grateful for my neighbours!! — and they successfully convinced me to register for a Vipassana meditation retreat later this year. Sometimes this pivot I’ve taken toward a very different world of relating to and understanding life makes me feel weird, and it’s nice to have pals who are also journeying. Later in the evening as I was trudging home from yoga, I received a WhatsApp from them with a link to this short talk by their teacher, Ajahn Geoff. It’s called “Getting Comfortable Being an Outsider,” and the first line is: “We suffer largely because of the way we talk to ourselves.” I’m sharing with the hope it might ease the tough moments that sometimes accompany the start of a brand new year.

If you’re looking for something a little livelier: the new season of Burn Out is now here!!!!! And a big change: I’m releasing episodes every other week, instead of in batches of three. The first episode features Rosina Kazi, one-half of the long-running electronic duo LAL, and a member of various arts, organizing, and radical queer communities here in Toronto. She is an inspiration. Someone who lives by her values but has also seen them through multiple iterations; it’s a wonderful chat about how our virtues define us in multiple ways.

**cLiCk***

I’m getting more comfortable requesting that you follow (Burn Out is now on IG also!), subscribe, rate and review the podcast, and if you really like it: share the show. It helps this project grow! I did not think I’d still be making this wholesome little podcast about Canadian artists after the first three episodes, and I thank you so much for growing with me!

Lots of love,

Anupa


If you’re in Toronto: come and see Burn Out LIVE! 👀👀👀👀👀

I’m doing a live taping of the podcast at the Year 8, Volume 4 edition of Long Winter at Workman Arts, and VERY EXCITED to share that my guest for the future episode is Backxwash, a Zambian rapper living in Montreal who makes very punk music about trans identity, decolonization, indigenous spirituality and so much more.
For more info: torontolongwinter.com

015: Not a list, but if so, undefinitive

"Why should such minimal social needs be so threatening?" Adrienne Rich

Here’s what I’m feeling grateful for in the last days of 2019:

  • Year Compass: An incredibly useful (and free!) tool for looking back at the past year and planning for the next. Redefines accomplishment through the lens of personal wins rather than external successes.

  • Living by the lake. Only finally, about a month ago, did I start going for morning walks along the stretch of lakefront between Palais Royale and the Humber Bridge. Some mornings I see an old man in red Buddhist robes doing a small prayer ritual along the shoreline. He lights incense, chants, and plays a hand drum. I know he’s there before I can even see him because a small crew of ducks gathers in the shallows, near his crossed legs, keeping him company. Yesterday I stood on the bridge overlooking the rough waves created by cold wind smacking into the blue-green water. A group of ducks (buffleheads, I think) seemed unperturbed, bobbing jauntily on the rough surface, and it reminded me of my favourite Tara Brach-isms: “When we trust that we are the ocean, we are no longer afraid of the waves.” I remain grateful for Tara Brach!

  • Black thinkers like Imani Perry, Saidiya Hartman, Christina Sharpe, adrienne maree brown, and Achille Mbembe, whose ways of seeing and reframing the modern world and condition(s) keep my mind busy, and my spirit energized. Sometimes I regret not doing my masters because I would have discovered this writing earlier.

  • Vivian Gornick. Sometimes I regret not studying English or creative writing because I’ve never really understood ‘how’ to read. What I mean is that even though I’ve always loved to read, I never learned to trust my literary instincts until recently. Really, I didn’t think I was smart enough to know what was good, or useful, and I felt (still feel!) less well-read than my peers. I read 62 books this year!!!! And I’m thankful to have finally experienced the spirited gaze of Gornick, who I know I will be reading forever.

  • New friends! And old friends that became new friends! Opening up their homes and hearts in Jamaica, London, and Toronto, and showing me the possibilities.

  • Laraaji. I spent a bunch of time this year making yoga playlists, and struggled to find instrumental spiritual music that didn’t feel like a haphazard and paternalistic violation of the Hindu mantras and bhajans I grew up listening to and reciting. Hyperliteral transference of a unique world of melody, pitch, and phrasing, onto a Western classical scaffolding? 🤮 Laraaji has offered a way through. If you’re interested, here’s my master playlist that I use with home practice, to get a sense for how the music feels with movement.

  • Tuca & Bertie. Tiffany Haddish is a gift. This show, about two self-sabotaging 30-something best bird friends, was my Fleabag. Yeah I said it!

  • Golshan’s cottage:

  • Mentorship. Naturally, I asked Rodrigo to be my mentor after years spent roasting him for being slightly older than me while also asking about jobs and how to build a career. I never thought I’d have a mentor! What makes a good one? A person that you’d consider an OG, whose career and personal ethics you admire, and who sees the ethics in the professional choices that you make. As an addendum — over the summer, I thought I’d found the perfect yoga mentor: an older WOC who teaches a pared-down flow with an emphasis on meditation and breathing. Turns out that a yoga auntie is still an auntie. I was grateful to be reminded that you can still learn from imperfect people, and that my tendency to seek out elders is usually a way of avoiding my own voice and expression.

  • Free-range chickens!!! We were driving too quickly for me to capture the moment in a photo, but the most enduring mental image I’ve held this year is of three beautiful chickens sprinting in formation across a country yard. I’d never considered chickens to be particularly expressive animals — I guess I’ve never seen chickens that weren’t somehow fenced in or confined — but the freedom in their bouncy steps made me emotional! Not enough to stop eating chicken though 🙊

  • This recent piece by my friend Rawiya, about the healing benefits of deep breathing, reminds me that above all, I’m the most grateful for relationships in which both (or all) parties continue to grow individually, together.

Finally — I’m so humbled by the conversations, connections, and opportunities that have grown out of this little digital space. It has been a year of deep change, and I’m slightly mortified that some of that process was documented via a bunch of emails to mostly strangers. Your continued support of this project is a sort of kindness I didn’t think I could expect. Thank you, thank you. More to come in 2020.

Lots of love, and happy new year,

Anupa

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