BURN OUT 003: The Monogamy of an Idea


Is everyone burnt out on talking about burnout (or, more specifically, ‘millennial burnout’) yet? TBH, the thing that’s got me the most fucked up about this conversation is that I didn’t consult the Canadian Press Style Guide or whatever before creating my ‘burn out’ assets. The fact that this newsletter’s title is grammatically incorrect (‘burn out’ is a verb) will haunt me forever. 😩😩😩😩

(honestly idk i just found this when i googled ‘burnout meme’)

I’m not trying to be derisive; this newsletter literally takes its name after this affliction! To be very real, I guess I’m just feeling a little defensive, maybe bracing myself for the eye-rolling that often follows an idea or object being trend-pieced tf out. I hope you’ll stick with me!

Moving on: I’ve been spending my days in development for a pop music docu-series that you’ll be able to see on Netflix (🌍) and Crave (🇨🇦) in the future. We’re starting writing this week. I’m excited about the challenge of working in a different medium but, because I’m in burnout recovery, I’m still having a hard time focusing on doing one thing. Over the last six months I’ve had to learn to create boundaries around work, as well as my personal life — but especially around my ego, which was making too many decisions that would’ve been better handled by head and heart. I like what Thebe said about this tendency and/or expectation that we go full-throttle in our perceived roles for the sake of the algorithm: “The deification actually works in total opposition to what I’m trying to do, which is to humanize the situation,” he says. “One thing I know for sure is I want to be normalized. I’m here, n-gga —not in a chest-thumping way, but as in, I’m here with y’all on Earth.”

I can’t tell you how much that sentiment, and the rest of the interview, moved me. It makes me feel tactile and grounded, just like the bare plea in Robyn’s “Human Being.” Why are we wasting so much energy feeling anything less than human?

Did this get a little intense? Sorry, I’ve become obsessed with Tara Brach since summer. Burning out definitely turned me into a little bit of a woo-woo bitch!!! Let me close by sharing a few links that feel more instructive on this topic beyond the rawness of feeling:

  • On an episode of her new ‘micropod,’ Mary HK Choi referenced this phrase that the writer and novelist Alexander Chee (whose 2017 collection of essays How To Write An Autobiographical Novel was a big fav) used in an interview about process and working on one thing at a time: “the monogamy of an idea.” I love this thought, as well as how Mary furthered the analogy by exploring the temptation and instant gratification that comes when we detour into another “sparkly new” idea, after staring at one thing for so long.

  • If you're not into monogamy as praxis then here's another way of looking at it, via one of my favourite websites, The Creative Independent: world-building. “You have to think about what you’re doing as creating your own world—and then totally believing in it," says the musician Juan Mendez. “That’s the best way to get anything done. What are other people people doing? Who cares? You don’t care. Because what you’re doing matters the most to you. And you just keep going.”

  • Lastly, a plea to check in with yourself because, “Personal productivity…serves the same psychological role that busyness has always served: to keep us sufficiently distracted that we don’t have to ask ourselves potentially terrifying questions about how we are spending our days.”

Talk soon —


💄Freddie Gibbs’ most recent album, Freddie, is greezy af and no one told me?
✊🏾D’Angelo continues apace: “May I stand unshaken, amidst a crashing world?”
🙏🏾On fucking looooop: Duendita’s beautiful Direct Line To My Creator (h/t Naz)
✝️ Duncan’s newsletter about very human saints, heaven 24/7
💰A beautiful way to give back: Vivek Shraya’s new $5k grant for a BIPOC Canadian musician, between the ages of 18-28, to record their first EP.

Here's to a wholesome 2k19


Have you filled out your Year Compass yet? Are you setting achievable intentions for the year and not waste-ass goals that will ultimately make you feel bad about yourself? I hope so! The best work I did last year was on myself! That kind of labour is often not seen as work but it was (phew!), and continues to be, the most difficult project I’ve undertaken. I wanted to share that earnest truth with the hope that it might give you a wholesome perspective on the year ahead in these first few days of 2019.

Speaking of eager truths, did you see Rawiya’s entry for Slate’s 2018 Music Club? She wrote about artistic and scene-specific anti-artifice as a humanist response to the supremacy of the algorithm, streaming, and aesthetic ambiguity. AND I’M WITH IT. She also references some of my favourite records of last year: Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour, Popcaan’s Forever, Gaika’s Basic Volume, Kamaal Williams’ The Return, and Tirzah’s Devotion. All are different flavours of sublime.

After reading Rawiya’s piece this morning I thought I’d take a cue from this point:

“The artists with the most cultural impact are rarely the ones who stream the biggest. This is no groundbreaking point, of course, but I’d like to think about how to more effectively challenge the streaming-platform narrative before the robots take over.”

My tiny fist-shaking challenge to the hegemony of streaming and promo cycle directives is that I’m using my first newsletter of 2019 to tell you about some of my favourite 2018 records.

You will not, I hope, be surprised that they are all by artists from Toronto, all hard-working people who I know and respect. An unabashed appreciation for hometown vibes has been the earnest through-line of my career, something that continues to give me a sense of purpose. But what also ties these records together is that they tease out the broader mythologies of a place.

  1. Zaki Ibrahim’s The Secret Life Of Planets is a blast of optimism straight from the diaphragm. The R&B that excited me four years ago now feels cynical and detached. Zaki’s music is densely hot and features synth patterns that give me ASMR-type tingles, but more important is that it connected me to a beautiful story of life and death, as well as a range of sounds spanning soul, boogie, and house. It’s a record that sounds like the multitudinous experience of being a Torontonian, where you can be from everywhere at once.

  2. L CON’s Insecurities In Being was probably my most played album of the year. Lisa wrote, produced, and arranged the whole thing, and seeing her perform songs from it live with a full band (incl. clarinetist Karen Ng) in a sweaty loft space on Toronto’s east side last summer was one of my favourite memories of the year. The album was written in a moment of creative reckoning, and because I was experiencing something similar when it dropped I related to the vulnerability, anxiety, and self-deprecating sadness in songs like “Try” and “The Art Of Staying Tough” (featuring beautiful vocals by Casey MQ) and “Some Sort Of Sign.” But more crucially: It’s an experimental pop album about the existential burden of being a working class musician, and that message felt especially resonant as I was returning to a Toronto where live venues are closing en masse, bars are being silenced by NIMBY neighbours, violence is infiltrating music communities and discourse, the vegan industrial complex carpetbags in a neighbourhood that’s ground zero for housing activism, and arts funding continues to dwindle.

  3. This context, which is a variation on the homogenizing havoc being wreaked on big cities around the world, is the backdrop for how I hear Bonjay’s Lush Life. Listening while settling into a Toronto apartment a short walk from Lake Ontario was a much different experience than when I’d first heard the album in New York. The street facades here have changed, but Lush Life is a snapshot of the city I fell in love with years ago: loud, Dickensian, mix-up. It might be the last record that captures the ‘old’ Toronto, an under-documented place, where diversity wasn’t a corny marketing tagline but a lived experience. Of course, albums have come out of various scenes and neighbourhoods here, but I can’t think of anything since K-Os’ Joyful Rebellion that invokes the full complexity — and over a riddim too. Yesterday I walked by a signboard outside of a hair salon, advertising $15 haircuts with a beckoning addendum: “We speak: Greek, Mandarin, Cantonese, Ukrainian, Tagalog, Hindi, Spanish.” I felt relief. As we witness change, there’s a locus of this city’s composite soul in Lush Life.


Iman Omari talking about a classic J*DaVeY record on my fav music pod, Heat Rocks
Legendary Philly pop music arranger Larry Gold
Durga Chew-Bose on Recho Omondi’s great fashion pod, The Cutting Room Floor

I made a podcast

"Every form takes you somewhere else." — Eileen Myles

(image via @notallgeminis)

Did you think I’d send out that one note last week and disappear? No?!? Well I did, so thank you for believing in me!!! To be honest, this e-mail and its contents have me feeling very exposed. Before we get to that, I wanted to share a couple of things that came up for me this week w/r/t confidence. On Tuesday I texted my friend Nana Aba, “damn, I just wrote my bio and now I’m feeling myself.” And then on Wednesday, I went to Vocal Fry Studios to record an introduction for what you are (hopefully) about to listen to and the experience made me want to dissolve and slide into a sewer. 🤔 Confidence is ceaseless practice.

But as I was battling self-consciousness in putting this together, Free came through with an Eileen Myles quote that perfectly fits my life at this very moment:

“I’m a Sagittarius. I don’t belong anywhere. Every form takes you somewhere else. Writing a libretto made me understand something that theater never did […] It’s like the words’ second life. I usually feel burned out by whatever I just did. I know one should do this towering, phallic thing in their career, but I like having a wide, dilettantish, female career. Poetry’s like the root, like a cutting.”

Which brings me to BURN OUT — THE PODCAST

(image by Travie)

I do know what I’m good at though — having deep ass conversations. It’s why I do what I do for a living! And I know it’s earnest to the point of cliche, but I really care about Canadian music because it can teach us more than we currently understand about the people, communities, politics, and history of this place. Since music is often more accessible to makers than, say, a film or art practice, that insight can be really granular and precise.

This summer, I was thinking about this and the artists whose tenacity I admire: people from Toronto who just keep making stuff — even though it’s really hard to make a living, even though national arts media is dwindling, even though it might be more fruitful to just leave. People who are making things so that others can keep going.

This is the final result. A three-episode show about creative sustainability, featuring:

Shad, rapper and host of Hip-Hop Evolution, who thinks we can basically change the world by being more vulnerable with ourselves and each other;

Sydanie, rapper and mom, who shares how music can confront trauma (and offers some critical perspective on social and class politics in Toronto);

and Tanika Charles, singer and touring machine, who imparts serious wisdom about practical and spiritual ways to focus.

Thank you for listening as I take these shaky steps forward! Thank you to the artists above for being so damn open. And thank you Kawhi and Siakam.

Akua, “Offering”
Earl Sweatshirt, Some Rap Songs
“That’s where Detroit techno really comes from, diverse radio.” — Mad Mike Banks


^^^^^ plz subscribe ^^^^^

2018 was a tough one for me. I logged off, I got laid off. I purged half of my possessions and left Brooklyn. I felt unsure about my future and that of the planet. I fell in and away from love. I avoided Toronto. I stepped away from doggedly working for the first time in over 15 years. I stepped away from everything else. I stayed sober-ish. I lost my head a bit in Montreal. I set boundaries. My little brother moved across the ocean. I travelled in the same direction as him. I refocused in Berlin, I returned to Toronto. I decided to stay away from a jobby job and commit myself to freelance. I cried about putting together a fucking couch (I cried over many things).

I wanted to get all the awkward stuff out of the way so I can tell you that I’m “back,” (lol) but not like you might know me. And not like I know myself.

My pal G. has been nudging me to create a newsletter for years, as a way to stay in touch with all of the wonderful people who follow my work and care as deeply as I do about arts, culture, cities, and intangible identities. Sometimes people believe in you more than you believe in yourself. I spent many years pursuing work that paid the bills; it was good but it was writing that the American writer Rebecca Harding Davis might describe as “dollar-ish all over.” There are many reasons for that, but the only real one is this: I was too insecure to think myself capable of more.

So now, something better:

I’ve finished a fun and *~kinda~* personal project that I want to share with you within the next week or so — it’s about music, and life, and passion, and fucking up. And I want you to know about it as soon as it’s ready.

I don’t know what’s going to happen after that, but here are some other reasons to sign up for this newsletter:

- It’s a way to stay in touch; I’m still on a Twitter hiatus
- It’s a place to (re)discover some good tunes, like Phoebe Snow’s “Poetry Man” which I’ve had on repeat for weeks, or these insanely heavy electronic records from Egypt and Tunisia-via-Paris
- It’s also a good place to (re)discover some good books: like Fran Ross’s Oreo, a prescient, complex novel written before most of us were born, and smarter than everything that came after
- It’s how you’ll know what’s happening where I live (and maybe where you live too): muy CanCon
- It’ll get you a subscriber: follow-for-follow?
- It’s directly correlated to my self-esteem: please validate me
- It’s free!

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