Let me preface this by saying that this blog is far from my best work. That's what happens with a rant. Okay, here we go. 

This is my cell phone.
I take a lot of shit about this phone. People laugh at it. They roll their eyes. They are frustrated when I don't answer, frustrated that they can't get hold of me at the exact moment they want to. 

I bought it in 2007, right after I moved back to Toronto from Vancouver. At the time, it was the cheapest model available. It works and I pay about $15 or less a month to operate it. Battery life remains good. I can receive texts, though I prefer not to, and send them, though I prefer not to. Half the time, the phone is dead, mostly because I often forget that I own it, sometimes for weeks at a time. I still check my voicemail, and not just to make the icon go away.

And you know what's great about it? You don't decide when you get to talk to me. I decide. If I like you, I do my best to accommodate you, especially when it's important, because that's what communication is -- it's about more than one person. But in the end, I decide what works for me and how much and how often I'm willing to listen. It's a good system, fundamentally similar to your own (which is using your phone the way you want, for what you want). Our systems don't always mesh, but so what? Curmudgeons: We're just like you!
Nathan, for his part, doesn't even have a cell phone. So take the crap I receive and multiply it by a million for him.

As a unit, we get more pressure about our cell phone choices than we do about having a baby. And that's saying a lot.

Is it really such a big deal? I know I'm "trapped" in 2003. I like it here! 2003 was a great time for the cell phone. Why does it bother people so much? Is it so strange/wrong that I like focusing on the person or people I'm with when I'm with them, as opposed to focusing on my phone, looking ahead for something better? And likewise, is it wrong to prefer people who focus on me? Is it wrong to be irritated by last-minute "Oops! I'm going to be 45 mins late!" texts that arrive with no explanation? Wrong to want to have a conversation with someone who looks at my face rather than at his phone? When I'm with someone or doing something, that's what I'm doing. I'm busy. I'll get in touch with you another time, when I'm not busy. Why would anyone have a problem with that? I. Do. Not. Get. It.  Maybe I'm 4000 years old at heart, but I don't get it. 

I also don't get this brand-new community of earnest people who are just (finally) realizing they need to cut back on the cell phone use. There are so many articles about it, so many videos, each one more tiresome than the last.  All this earnest fucking realization garbage, about something that is obvious and simple if you use an ounce of common sense ... it's ridiculous.

Here's one called The amazing discovery I made when my phone died. (Amazing? Really?)

Here's a mini movie everyone was obsessing over about a month ago called I forgot my phone. (Gag me.) 
And here's everybody's favourite comedian Louis C.K. talking mostly about what I'm talking about in this much-less-funny blog. (And I LIKE Louis C.K. Everybody likes Louis C.K. There's nothing wrong with this bit, really. He's funny and he's right. He's so very "on-trend" -- that's the bit I find tiresome. The fact that this "realization" that should be obvious is even a trend to begin with.)
Articles about easing up on the smart phone usage are becoming like articles about "millennials." Enough, already. Guess what? Ten years ago, you didn't have a smart phone. What you've just "realized" about it isn't an "amazing discovery," it's a recent memory.

Once upon a time, I had a smart phone. I had to. For work. I checked it constantly. I rolled over in the morning and pulled it off my nightstand to check it, before I could even see straight. And then I realized how shitty that was, and how awful the constant checking made me feel, the way it activated my anxiety and bruised my soul, so I stopped. First I stopped checking so much, even though I had to keep the phone for work, and then eventually, I left the job and the phone behind.

If you think you use your smart phone too much, stop. Cut back. Be a grown up and do you. Take care of yourself.  And move on with the understanding that you are not a trailblazer. You are not even a person who is particularly interesting. You're certainly not a hero.
The truth is,  I love technology. I use technology! I have kept up with the social networks I like (such as Twitter), and this very blog, but I don't chain myself to them. I use Facebook even though I stopped enjoying it years ago, mostly because I think it's important for my work. And like I said, I text. On occasion. When I have to. I don't answer every call I receive, or every text. But that's not because I don't have a smart phone. It's because I DON'T WANT TO.

And can we also just talk for a second about email? Email, I'm all for. I love email. If you can't get me via text, why not email me? All the people who have smart phones have email on those phones, and yet, they don't want to email. Even though I like email. Even though emailing is the very best way to get in touch with me and to ensure a response. What's THAT about? Effective communication is about meeting in the middle, isn't it? ISN'T IT?

In my opinion, email is really just an improvement to something that already worked. It's practically exactly the same as a handwritten note or letter, but instant and free. I got behind email in 1995 and stayed here. Email helped me fall in love every single time it happened. It helped to solidify my closest, longest friendships. Email is great, and yet suddenly, it's not enough.

And to be fair, I think texting might be similar for some people -- just an even more distilled type of email. For some people. For many people, at least in my experience, it's an enabler of idiocy, ruining attention spans, destroying communication skills, making people even less empathetic and understanding, and even more stupid, detached, and selfish than they already were. And I don't like it. And I'm not going to start using it. Not now, or in the foreseeable future. Maybe eventually, if the climate surrounding how it's used changes and/or if I have to, but not right now. And y'all* or just going to have to ... as the kids say.
P.S. Thank god for Nathan. If I had to date in this text-obsessed climate, I don't know how I would stand it. Instead, I got in just under the wire, and hitched myself to man who is possibly even more curmudgeonly than I am. At least while the world is going crazy with the phones, we have each other. 
* Not YOU you. If I like you and we're friends and you send me a text on occasion, understand that I'm not talking about you.
I know it's not my regular day to write, but something just happened that I had to vent about so as not to explode.

I was just at the press preview for the Ai Weiwei According to What? Exhibit that is about to open at the AGO. No problem there. I write less than I used to, but I still work now and again and I've been to a bazillion press events before. They're usually no big deal. You get your snacks, you get your drinks, you get your quotes. You make awkward small talk with other journalists (who all seem to hate each other) and then you go home and churn out your piece. Easy.
Only, these days, I'm not working for a big-time, well-known outlet. I'm working for a website. And it's not a website a lot of people have heard of. And I'm using a pseudonym because I want some extra distance. As a result, I've become a nobody. In this particular instance, this was made clear by the fact that instead of being allowed a regular 5 minute interview with the person I'd come to see, I was lumped into a 5 minute "group interview" with a pack of junior mint bloggers each of whom looked to be about 20 years old. At most. 

But okay, fine. I'm not a snob. Or, I don't want to be a snob, so in to the group I went. And then I spent the next 5 minutes listening to these fucking children ask stupid/inane questions that the interviewee -- Mami Kataoka, the original curator of the show -- tried her best to answer kindly and in good faith (bless her). 

Here are just a couple of questions the baby journos asked:

1. How is the show being received in North America so far? 
The answer to this question should have been: "Have you heard of the Internet? Want to try using it?" But like I said, Mami was a sweetheart so she actually tried to answer.

2. How do most people feel the first time they see the art? 
What? How is someone supposed to answer this? Are we all supposed to be mind readers? This question doesn't even make sense. Mami, very reasonably, answered "Well, how did you feel?" 

It only got worse from there. AND as a result, I wasn't able to ask any of my actual questions. I can still write the piece, so that's not a big deal, but seriously. SERIOUSLY, you guys. I am depressed. I am now lumped in with these people. THESE ARE THE PEOPLE I AM NOW LUMPED IN WITH.

I love journalism, you guys. I really do. I don't wish I was dead at all.

P.S. The highlight of the day was actually this creep shot I snapped of Jeanne Beker, who I've worked with before, but who clearly didn't recognize me. Because I am a nobody.
Sorry Jeanne. This is not a flattering photo. That's what I get for being a creep.
Sometimes I miss writing.

Not blogging, but real writing. You know, the kind that someone else publishes and then sends you a cheque for. The kind you can brag about. (I know. Gross. Maybe I don't miss writing, maybe I just miss validation and being able to show off.)

I think this might just be part of my never ending, soul-draining self-esteem problem (as referenced in my last post), but maybe not. I hated being a journalist, sure, but that was just, you know, overall. I just hated most of it, not all of it.

Sometimes I think this is part of the problem. If I hated all of it, maybe I wouldn't feel this occasional confliction. It's like a shitty relationship with a person you once had high hopes for. You know how it is... sure, five years in, the day to day is shitty shitty shitty, and more than half the time, you hate the other person's stupid face and the way s/he breathes and the way s/he eats, but once in awhile you have a laugh together and that makes the hate less because it reminds you of what it was like in the beginning, when you thought the relationship was going to be perfect and you didn't hate anything. So you stay together and keep on swallowing the shitty for, like, a decade.

It's like that.
This is one of the images that came up when I searched "crazy" on SXC. It's by Svilen Milev.
The thing is,  I was never a real journalist. I was a hack entertainment reporter at best, with no proper training, no commitment to telling an original story, and no education in the
field. And like I said, I hated most of it – the work, the people (I REALLY HATED THE PEOPLE*), many of the product(s) I helped to produce, all of it. It was terrible. Nonetheless, I felt I had a reasonable talent. My writing was okay (probably not stellar, let's be honest) and my crazy anxiety meant I never missed a deadline. Never. Not once. And at least at the time, the pay was reasonable. (It's not anymore.) But big whoop right? The day-to-day was shitty shitty shitty and that's what should have mattered most. Problem is, everyone I met seemed to think my fancy-pants journalism career was impressive, and because I'm a weirdo with no self-esteem, I let that matter most and I stayed and stayed. (This is why the section of this blog that talks about work stuff is called The Golden Handcuffs, in case you were ever wondering.)

So blah blah blah. I might miss writing. MAYBE. I'm not sure. I did my taxes recently and that highlighted how little money I make and I kind of panicked and started thinking "I've gotta pitch some stories!" which is what I always think when I'm worried about money, since pitching stories used to be what paid my rent. 

I stay up all night chain-reading work by drug addled bloggers who seem to be media darlings (like Cat Marnell - I'm OBSESSED with her) and I start thinking "I can be like that! I can be a media darling! I like drugs! I'd get so skinny!" because at 4 am, my brain doesn't work right and pretending be something or pretending to understand something is how I operated as a journalist, so it's sort of second nature. Sometimes, I go so far as to send off an ill-formed, beggy pitch to an editor, and then, when I re-read the email in the morning, I realize how lame I sound and I basically want to shrivel up and die in shame.
This is Cat Marnell. I don't want to love her, but I sort of can't help it. Stole this photo from Vice.
I'd hard for me to focus on one thing. Everything sounds interesting to me in the short term. I meet EMTs, engineers, nurses, retail sales clerks, house-cleaners, jewellery designers, and they tell me about their work and right away I think "Maybe I should do that! That sounds interesting! I bet I could make some money doing that!" Then I waste days on the internet, pretending I actually might. Then I remember that I'm crazy and that maybe a life as an EMT won't really be like it looked on ER; and besides, I don't like other people; and besides, I'd have to go back to school; and besides, I am supposed to be focusing on the business I just started which is actually fun and sustaining; and besides, I'm so tired and it's four AM and why can't I sleep? 

And then it's four days later and I haven't done anything worth bragging about and I feel inadequate and we're right back to the beginning.


*I didn't hate all the people, and some of the publications were cool. If you're reading this, I probably liked you. Chill the fuck out.

** Hey, notice the date on this post? Yeah. Not the real date. I like publishing personal posts on Mondays and even though I didn't write this on a Monday, I dated it Monday, because I don't like aberration. THIS IS HOW CRAZY I AM. The title "Hi, crazy!" refers to me, talking to myself, in the mirror.
It’s hard to know what to say. I’ve had various posts kicking around in my brain for the past few weeks and yet, I haven’t written them. I’ve written other things instead. Non-public, “save it for your diary” type things. Pithy articles for publication elsewhere. And other things that I suppose could be posted here if I wasn’t such a chicken, but I am.

I’m afraid to write good stuff for the blog. Afriad. I'm a big chicken. That’s me.

It’s interesting to look at my stats and see that my most frequent site visitors seems to be the small handful of people who are waiting for an excuse to flip out at and about me. This is frightening. I admit it, okay? I am afraid of you guys. I don’t want to be poor for the rest of my life. (That was the most vehement threat made toward me in the last year. That I’d be sued for  something I’d written, not in the hopes of actually winning any sort of case, but simply to tangle me in something the threatener knew I couldn’t, or rather, wouldn’t weather.)

You will be poor for the rest of your life. That was the threat.

It’s not being “poor” that scares me so much as the idea of a conflict that would be so long-lasting, so draining, and so utterly not worth it. I hate to fight. Conflict of any kind makes me sick to my stomach. I also hate not writing. Or rather, not writing the things I feel it's important for me to write. These are the things that keep me awake at night. In order to sleep, I write them anyway, then I burn the evidence. This is what I’ve been reduced to, and it’s unsatisfying and depressing, but also better than nothing, I suppose.

My grandfather died a few weeks ago, and of course, I dared not write about that. I wanted to, of course. I had a million things to say. In particular, I wanted to write about the contents of his desk. I didn’t plan on it, but having been the one to clean out the small, and seemingly worthless bits and bobs from his drawers, I noted something in particular. The man was exactly like me. I knew this already. He and I even talked about it on occasion, though not lately. Still, seeing the contents of his desk brought a sort of clarity about our similarities that hadn’t existed before.
photo via (but exactly like my "new" one)
I wanted to write about how he died with more staples than a person could ever reasonably expect to use in a lifetime, and how I had the very same utterly over-the-top number of staples in my own desk (the very same brand, in fact, in the very same box), and how, having combined his collection with my own, I now have twice as many, more than I will ever use, more than is reasonable by a long shot, and along with the staples, I also have more pins, even more miniature magnifying glasses, more rulers, more pencils and more little notes written to myself and destined to be forgotten.

I kept it all.
 photo via (who knew you could sell this stuff?)
Even the notes, his notes, I kept. I combined them with my own small collection of notes containing similar sentiments: Instructions on how to be happy, how to stay calm, how to treat people. I expect these new notes will sit, along with my own, in my desk, for decades. I won’t throw them away, because I mean them to be reminders. I mean them to inspire. I will forget they are there, and periodically I will come across them and remember. They will never do what I hoped they would do or mean what I want them to mean, but I will never throw them away, because eventually, if I can keep them in mind, remember what they say, maybe they will. Eventually. It's important to be prepared. But even if they don’t, I can’t throw them away. I can’t. That’s just something true about me. Mild OCD, maybe. Probably. I don’t know. It’s just the way I am. 
So I wanted to write about the desk as a metaphor for the man, and more importantly, about how in no other area were the similarities in our personalities more obvious. Perhaps you think that’s what I’ve done here, with a little bit of stylistic cheek, but I haven’t. I haven’t. This is not the piece I wanted to write. It’s not the piece I did write, in the middle of the night, a few weeks back. That piece, I burned over the kitchen sink.

This is a nothing piece. It’s not all sycophantic treacle, so it may well be as unpalatable as the one that was burned, but neither does it deal with what’s really important. It doesn’t really examine what it means to be a person who organizes and obsessed over minutiae, who is always ready, who guards against life and the unexpected with staples and pencils and tape. It doesn’t delve into the not-so-perfect aspects of a personality that make a person a person. Culturally speaking, the dead must be revered, I've learned this. So even though I would be talking about myself in addition to another person, I know such a piece would not allowed. Not unless I want to be poor for the rest of my life. And as a result, what I’ve written here is largely useless.

And this is a sad thing, both for me and for you.
Note: this piece is cross-posted in the Chic blog. 
So the news of the day is that the little article I wrote for a Canadian home magazine - the back in the winter has finally been published. This should have been a good thing, but frankly, it's more irritating than anything else. 

Here's the cover of the issue I'm in:
Here's a cover I made as a joke that I think better describes the nature of this magazine:
Let me explain.

I was invited to be featured in the magazine's spring issue back in January. The mag wanted to re-show my home as it had recently been featured on the Apartment Therapy website. I had to provide the photos and write the copy (a 500  word article). I would not be paid. 

Usually, I would not agree to this. Having been a professional writer, I don't take particularly kindly to offers to work for free. (I mean, what am I supposed to say to that? Goody!? No money makes me feel respected and successful!?) Furthermore, I did not own the photographs, which were taken by Abby Cook for Apartment Therapy. 

However, I had just launched my shop -- Will & Bequeath -- and I decided to make an exception to the "no work for free" rule in order to get the shop a bit of publicity. That publicity would be my payment. I contacted Abby and through her, Apartment Therapy, to gain proper permission to use the existing photos (which they granted) with some simple caveats/restrictions. Here's part of the email I wrote in which these caveats were explained and subsequently agreed to by the magazine:

"Abby Cook, the photographer, retains the rights to those original photos, and if she agrees (which I believe she will) they can be published elsewhere, as long as it's more than 3 months after their initial appearance in Apartment Therapy. Your next issue is set to
come out in April, so I believe that will be fine. They just ask that she is credited by name as the photographer and that Apartment Therapy is credited as well."

As I said, the magazine agreed and we moved forward. Before beginning work on the text for the article, I asked my contact at the magazine for previous issues/similar pieces, so that I could become familiar with the publication's style. I was directed to past issues, where I noted that authors were appropriately credited with listings of their website(s) URLs, etc. Seemed straight forward enough.

I wrote the 500 words, I included a proper byline and a SINGLE reference to my shop, complete with URL. The piece went out into the void and I didn't hear from the magazine again for months.

The piece was bumped from the Spring issue to the Summer issue (not that I was informed of the change) and was only just released. Finally, someone from the production department got in touch, sending along a PDF of my piece.

Guess what? The text was butchered - cut down from 500 words to about 285. That happens, but much more importantly, reference to my store and the shop's url were removed. No url for my personal website appeared. And ALL references to Abby Cook and Apartment Therapy were omitted as well.

I'm disgusted.

I wanted to stop being a journalist for a lot of reasons, not the least of which being that it seems to be a business largely populated by people who are completely unethical. I know many fine writers who try to do good, fair work, but who are regularly cut down and limited by publishers and members of middle management who just DON'T CARE. The result is magazine and newspaper copy that is banal, badly written, and filled with egregious errors (grammatical and factual). 
Not that this is anything new. Scott Adams (Dilbert cartoonist) created the above comic almost 15 years ago.

But okay, to be fair, I read good pieces every once in awhile. Some better magazines still manage to produce readable, well-designed content. Some newspapers still manage to publish fair, balanced pieces filled with facts. Some. Not all. Not even a majority. I should have remembered this when I agreed to work for free. 

Anyway. I'm going to try to milk the piece for as much as it's worth. Maybe SOMEONE will read it and Google my name. Maybe it will bring some limited traffic to my store after all. But I'm still disgusted. I wrote the following email to the "Editor-in-Chief' after seeing the PDF, and let me tell  you, it took a lot of restraint to stay on topic and keep from mentioning the smaller issues related to the piece (the terrible layout, the lack-luster editing, the magical removal of all my carefully-placed paragraph breaks, etc.). 


I  just received a PDF of my little article as it appears in your summer issue from your production department.
 I notice that the single reference to my store (Will & Bequeath -- www.willandbequeath.com) was removed from the piece. Considering that I provided the photos and wrote the accompanying text FOR FREE, this is pretty insulting. I was a professional journalist working and writing for national newspapers and magazines for ten years and I can tell you that this is extremely shoddy, unethical behavior. At the very least, a url to my personal website -- www.jenselk.com -- should have appeared next to my byline. 

I understand that small magazines have come to worship the almighty advertising dollar at the expense of almost everything else, but I don't appreciate being mislead into working for free. Our agreement was that I would provide you with content, and that the quid pro quo would be proper crediting at the very least. Ostensibly, since your magazine didn't offer real payment for the content I gave you, the benefit to me would be publicity/exposure -- which I will not be getting, thanks to your editorial omissions. What's done is done, but for the record, I'm annoyed and insulted, both personally and professionally. 
Will such an email matter? I doubt it. I doubt anyone responsible will feel even the slightest bit of shame, but at least I said something, right?

As far as I'm concerned, this piece constitutes theft, from me, from Abby, and from Apartment Therapy. But so what, right? Such is the way of the world.


Here's the piece in PDF form, in case your interested. I certainly wouldn't encourage you to purchase the print version of the magazine after this charming business.

I say again: SIGH.
UPDATE: On July 18, 2012, I received a response to my complaint email from Marc Atiyolil, the "Editor-in-chief" and self-described "celebrity designer" responsible for Canadian Home Trends magazine. Here's what happened next.

Marc apologized for not getting back to me sooner, citing a business trip as the reason for his delayed response. (Note to the discerning reader: the email in question was sent from a Blackberry. ) Marc did NOT acknowledge or apologize for his magazine's errors/decisions and instead cited "editorial versus advertorial" guidelines and a "strict editorial mandate" for published content to be "pro industry" as the reasons for the changes to my piece. He did say the magazine would publish a "retraction" in regards to the theft of images from Apartment Therapy. However, again, no explanation for the missing credits was given. Instead, Marc's position seemed to be that my credits had been removed deliberately, in order to keep the piece from being "advertorial." 

So to sum up, this charming email contained:
  • no apology
  • no admission of error

In my opinion, it was rude, dismissive, vague and completely unsatisfactory.

Hence, this updated blog post.

Now, I've already said that when I asked to see past issues, I noted that writers in the section where I would be appearing were credited with their names and business names, and I wanted to give you an idea of what that looked like, so I made up another faux-page, demonstrating Canadian Home Trends usual crediting style.
Articles may have been badly written, pages may have featured silly designs and terrible headlines, but credits appeared. That's all I wanted for myself. 

Now, just to make everything very explicit, let's look at the emails sent leading up to and following my submission.
On Fri, Jan 20, 2012 at 12:25 PM,  <marc@canadianhometrends.ca> wrote:

Hi Jen,

I saw your home featured on Apartment Therapy! It looks great! Congrats!
Would you be interested in featuring it in an upcoming issue of Canadian
Home Trends - Canada's Home Decor & Lifestyle Magazine?

Please advise.

Many thanks,

Marc Atiyolil
Canadian Home Trends Magazine
1.866.984.0940 X204

On Fri, Jan 20, 2012 at 12:49 PM,  <jenselk@jenselk.com> wrote:

Hi Marc,

Thanks for getting in touch and for your kind words on the AT feature.

I'd be interested in being shown in Canadian Home Trends, but if you
were thinking of re-using the AT photos, I don't think that would
work, since AT owns the copyright on those.

But let me know what you were thinking.

Thanks again for your interest,

Jen Selk

On Mon, Jan 30, 2012 at 12:41 PM Canadian Home Trends Mag <amanda@canadianhometrends.ca> wrote:

Hi Jen,

I apologize for the delay in response! We would love to feature a space that you have designed to feature in our Spring (April) issue. We understand the copyright issues for using the AT photos, but would still like to feature your own work apart from that.

What we need is a 500 word article on a space you have designed, 2-4 high resolution images as well as sourcing information.

If you have any questions or concerns, please don't hesitate to contact me either through email or my phone (both listed below).

Hope you are having a great Monday and I am looking forward to hearing back from you and working with you on this issue!



Canadian Home Trends Magazine
1-866-984-0940 x205

On Mon, Jan 30, 2012 at 4:16 PM,  <jenselk@jenselk.com> wrote:

Hi Amanda,

No worries about the delay. I'm happy to hear from you.

What you're proposing sounds fine. I'm a former journalist, so the 500
words will be no problem, but I did want to ask if you would mind
sending me some samples of similar pieces from past issues? Just via
email would be fine. I admit I wasn't familiar with the magazine
before Marc got in touch, and I'd like to get a sense of the style  of
your prose so I can write something in keeping with that.

Anyway, do let me know.  And let me know what your deadline is.

Thanks again for your interest!

On Mon, Jan 30, 2012 at 4:24 PM Canadian Home Trends Mag <amanda@canadianhometrends.ca> wrote:

Hi Jen,

Glad to hear you'll be working with us on this issue!

As for samples of previous articles, your best route would be to go to www.canadianhometrends.com and in the upper right hand corner click on the Digital Copy link and then fill in the information Username: [xxxxxx] Password: [xxxxxxxxxx]

It will bring up our most recent issue.

Our deadline for articles, images and sourcing information will be Feb. 10th

Thank you for your quick reply!



Canadian Home Trends Magazine
1-866-984-0940 x205

On Tues, Jan 31, 2012 at 6:51 PM,  <jenselk@jenselk.com> wrote:

Hi Amanda,

As I'm not much of a photographer (and I have a very old and
not-very-good camera) I looked into the possibility of using the a few
of the Apartment Therapy photos in your magazine. Here's what they

Abby Cook, the photographer, retains the rights to those original
photos, and if she agrees (which I believe she will) they can be
published elsewhere, as long as it's more than 3 months after their
initial appearance in Apartment Therapy. Your next issue is set to
come out in April, so I believe that will be fine. They just ask that
she is credited by name as the photographer and that Apartment Therapy
is credited as well.

With all that in mind, would it be okay if I got her permission and
sent along some of the photos that she took? Are you okay with
bylining her as the photographer and crediting Apartment Therapy? She
took some great shots and that would make this much easier to manage.

Let me know what you think and thanks again.

On Feb 1, 2012 at 10:48 AM Canadian Home Trends Mag <amanda@canadianhometrends.ca> wrote:

Hi Jen,

That sounds great! We have no problem crediting Abby for her work and Apartment Therapy as well, just please include all pertinent information for the article.

Looking forward to seeing your feature!

Have a great day.



Canadian Home Trends Magazine
1-866-984-0940 x205

On Thurs Feb 9 at 1:27 PM <jenselk@jenselk.com> wrote:

Hi Amanda,

I've attached several pictures as well as a 500 word article. Hope
it's what you were looking for. Let me know if you need anything else.
Please don't forget to credit Abby Cook and Apartment Therapy as well.

Jen Selk

On Thurs Jul 12 at 10:28 AM <Canadian Home Trends Mag <production@canadianhometrends.ca> wrote:

Hi Jen

Attached is a PDF copy of your feature as seen in our summer issue. Along with that is badge which can be used as you see fit. Thank you so much once again for your contribution and we most definitely look forward to working with you again in the future.


Canadian Home Trends Magazine
1-866-984-0940 Ext:201

On Thurs Jul 12 at 10:34 PM <shop@willandbequeath.com> (Owned by Jen Selk) wrote:

Hi Brad,
Thanks so much for sending that along. Cheers.
Jen Selk

-End of First String of Emails-

So, as you can see, it's true that the issue of my credit/mention of my store was not directly addressed. Regardless, I hope it's clear that the information I was working with (which is to say, previous articles in the magazine that DID credit business owners) gave me a certain impression. Beyond that, I think it's clear that the Apartment Therapy copyright issue was put in no uncertain terms. 

Anyway. Where were we? Oh yes. The piece came out, 3 months late. As soon as I saw it, I complained about the lack of crediting. Marc, the "Editor-In-Chief" sent me a completely dismissive email in response. I blogged about the whole fiasco.

What happened next? Back-pedalling and threats. Angry about my blog post, the folks at Canadian Home Trends responded on July 19 with a couple of emails filled with silly legalese, and a sudden admission that they'd simply made a mistake. (These emails came from anonymous sources at the magazine's "Legal Department" and "PR Department" respectively. No contact names were provided.) The mysterious writer(s) of these emails said that all pieces submitted to Canadian Home Trends are subject to an "intensive copy-editing process" but hey, sometimes things happen and credits are omitted. Oopsie daisy!  Next, they decided to condescend to me, saying that all their writers are subject to editing (read: get over it) and that they are a BIG NATIONAL PUBLICATION and MUST conform to pro-industry guidelines, which, in their words means, they simply "cannot publish content that reflects negatively on businesses or publications." Finally, they implied that it was "unprofessional" for me to have discussed the matter in public (online).  Let's look at those emails, shall we?

On Thurs July 12 at 11:34 AM <jenselk@jenselk.com> wrote:


I just received a PDF of my little article as it appears in your summer issue from your production department. I notice that the single reference to my store (Will & Bequeath -- www.willandbequeath.com) was removed from the piece. Considering that I provided the photos and wrote the accompanying text FOR FREE, this is pretty insulting. I was a professional journalist working and writing for national newspapers and magazines for ten years and I can tell you that this is extremely shoddy, unethical behavior. At the very least, a url to my personal website -- www.jenselk.com -- should have appeared next to my byline. 

I understand that small magazines have come to worship the almighty advertising dollar at the expense of almost everything else, but I don't appreciate being mislead into working for free. Our agreement was that I would provide you with content, and that the quid pro quo would be proper crediting at the very least. Ostensibly, since your magazine didn't offer real payment for the content I gave you, the benefit to me would be publicity/exposure -- which I will not be getting, thanks to your editorial omissions. What's done is done, but for the record, I'm annoyed and insulted, both personally and professionally.

Jen Selk

On Wed July 18, 2012 at 6:06 PM, < marc@canadianhometrends.ca> wrote:


I apologize for the delay in getting back to you. I've just returned from a business trip.

Due to our strict editorial mandate for all published content to be pro industry and the editorial vs. advertorial guidelines we must adhere to as a national magazine, we were not able to publish your article as submitted.

As per our corporate policy, we will however publish a retraction in our upcoming issue crediting Apartment Therapy and their photographer.


On Wed, Jul 18, 2012 at 6:07 PM <jenselk@jenselk.com> wrote:


Your email doesn't address any of the issues I brought up in my message to you in a satisfactory way. You should be ashamed of yourself.

Jen Selk

On Thu, Jul 19, 2012 at 6:34 PM <legal@canadianhometrends.ca> wrote:

Marc, our Editor-In-Chief, received an email from you on July 12th with regards to your article in our Summer issue. Generally, any complaints are handled through our Public Relations department, but we value the writers/designers that contribute to each issue of the magazine and so our editor chose to respond personally. Your issue has been brought to the Public Relations department's attention and you will receive an official response from them shortly.

In the meantime, we request that you immediately remove from your website any emails you received from our staff and any Canadian Home Trends covers/articles/bylines. Emails and magazine content are covered under Canadian Copyright Laws and cannot be displayed without permission.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Legal Department
Canadian Home Trends

On Thu, Jul 19, 2012 at 6:52 PM <jenselk@jenselk.com> wrote:

Dear Legal Department With No Contact Person's Name Included,

Your magazine SENT me the cover to use on my website, granting me permission. Here's the email:

> On Thu, Jul 12, 2012 at 10:28 AM, Canadian Home Trends Magazine <production@canadianhometrends.ca> wrote:
> Hi Jen
> Attached is a PDF copy of your feature as seen in our summer issue. Along with that is badge which can be used as you 
> see fit. Thank you so much once again for your contribution and we most definitely look forward to working with you 
> again in the future.
> Thanks,
> Brad
> Canadian Home Trends Magazine
> 1-866-984-0940 Ext:201
> production@canadianhometrends.ca
> www.canadianhometrends.ca
> www.MarcAtiyolil.com

So, as you can see, I've used the cover image sent to me and article sent to me as I saw fit, which in precisely in keeping with the permission you already granted me.

Furthermore, as is listed on my website, when Marc chose to email me though the "contact" form on my website, he chose to submit to the following rules, as clearly laid out in my own legal section and in my site's footer, which is here produced in part:

Any text, images, or other media/communication sent to Jennifer Selk via comments on JS/W&B, via email, via text, or via phone shall be considered the property of Jennifer Selk and may be reproduced in full or part on JS/W&B or another website operated by Jennifer Selk. If you choose to comment on JS/W&B, or to comment on JS/W&B content to the site owner, your identity (which includes your full name and IP address) may be revealed to third parties via the Internet.

So, thanks for your message. Hope this clears things up.

Jen Selk

On Thu, Jul 19, 2012 at 6:51 PM <public.relations@canadianhometrends.ca> wrote:

Hello Jen,

Thank you for bringing your concerns to our attention. We value every individual that contributes to our magazine - writers, designers, subscribers and advertisers alike - and we would like to see this issue resolved as professionally as possible.

We apologize for omitting the photographer's credit and your business name. Each issue of the magazine goes through an intensive copy-editing process prior to print but unfortunately, omissions do happen from time to time. When omissions happen, our corporate policy is to print a correction notice in the next issue. In this case, it will appear in our Fall issue. We will also correct the omission in the digital version of the magazine immediately.

Earlier this week, you received a personal response from our Editor-In-Chief explaining the editorial changes made to the article itself. As an established national magazine, we must adhere to strict pro-industry editorial guidelines. Our editorial team reserves the right to make adjustments to submissions as needed. Even our most well-known design contributors have had their content edited.

To clarify for you, pro-industry means we cannot publish content that reflects negatively on businesses or publications. That includes negative references to businesses and statements that reflect negatively on the magazine industry in general. This can also include comments that would encourage readers not to support our designers and advertisers.

We hope this answers your concerns. If you have further concerns, we trust you will handle it in a professional manner and contact us first for resolution prior to posting elsewhere.

Public Relations Department
Canadian Home Trends
Phone: 866-984-0940

On Thurs July 19 at 6:53 PM <jenselk@jenselk.com> wrote:

Actually, no, this does not address my concerns.

Jen Selk

-End of Second String of Emails-

The magazine's response to the issue was completely unsatisfactory. However, wrongs were admitted this time around, and as you can see, I was told the online version of the issue in question would be corrected immediately and a correction would also be printed in the Fall issue. Hurray. (Except, why wasn't this done in the first place?)

Now, what about the whole bit about my piece having been advertorial and anti industry? It wasn't advertorial, as Marc initially suggested, but anti industry? Okay, let's say suppose it was. In my original text, I advocated spending less, using recycled and DIYed items in your decor, etc. The piece was called "Decorating on the Cheap" after all. 

But ask yourself this: If the magazine had a problem with the text I'd submitted, why didn't they CONTACT ME TO TALK ABOUT IT AT ANY TIME IN THE PAST 6 MONTHS?

Now let's talk about the real issue: The folks at Canadian Home Trends (let's say Marc) did not like the article I submitted.  I COMPLETELY understand that. Since CHT didn't bother providing any useful guidance, I wrote an article that accurately represented my design philosophy. It was about buying less, DIYing, recycling, and generally avoiding consumer culture, without sacrificing style. And the mag just wasn't down with that. Again, I understand completely. Different strokes for different folks. What I don't understand is why they weren't upfront about it. I am always an email or a phone call away and could easily and quickly have rewritten the piece to be more in keeping with what they wanted. We also could have collectively decided that I wasn't a good fit for the magazine and the piece could have been scrapped. Such scenarios are normal and to be expected in this business. But why cut the credits, lay out a hideous page, and FAIL TO GET IN TOUCH ABOUT ANY OF IT? And then, when I first shared my concern and disappointment with the end result, WHY NOT JUST ADMIT THE FUCK UP, APOLOGIZE, STICK IN THE CREDITS, PUBLISH THE CORRECTION and MOVE ON? Why the runaround? Why the rigamarole?

I'll tell you why: because I believe the magazine is now trying to divert attention away from the real issue, which is that they failed to credit properly, effectively stealing from Apartment Therapy, and from me. Was this an error or a deliberate decision? Who knows.

But now let's just be clear about another thing: I NEVER complained about the piece being cut or changed. The editing was sub-par to say the least, but I never brought that up in my messages to the magazine. THE ONLY ISSUE I brought up was the lack of proper crediting. I didn't actually care about my piece being butchered. I'm sooooo used to that. You know, owing to the fact that I've been a professional writer for, like, a decade now.  I would never never never get up in arms about such a thing. I complained ONLY about the crediting issue, as you can clearly see from the very first complaint email I sent to Marc, reproduced early on in this post. So why did the magazine respond with condescending remarks about even their most-well-known contributors submitting to being edited? You're smart readers. I invite you to come to your own conclusions.

So... why does any of this matter? Because IT DOES. Because it's just not okay for magazines to work like this. Credits don't just magically disappear, they are deleted, either on purpose or by accident, but professional publications shouldn't make that sort of mistake. And if and when they do, they should simply own up to it. 

Marc: On a personal note, I'm still disgusted with you. I'm totally grossed out by the way you've dealt with this. And as I said in my last email to you: you should be ashamed. Send me all the legalese-filled emails you want, send your PR department to try to shame me and shut me up, but know this: This happened. It shouldn't have happened. You should have apologised and owned up to your "error." And no, I'm NOT going to shut up about it. Despite your self-proclaimed "celebrity" status, I'm not afraid of you. I'm slightly embarrassed for you, because you're a bit of a joke, but I'm not actually intimidated. Get. Over. Yourself.

So proud


1 Comment

Yet another new, free local "magazine" arrived on my doorstep this week. There are a million of these publications, all of them excellent.

Sorry. I just threw up in my mouth a little bit.

Let's be honest: NOT ONE of these ubiquitous publications is excellent. Each is only a slight variation of the next, filled with trite, badly-written advertorial copy written by 19 year old "journalists" and small local business owners playing at journalism in order to promote their personal ventures.

Most of the time, I put every one of these rags right into the trash, but when a new one arrives, I can't help but flip through it (once, with hope in my naive little heart), looking for something ... better.

Today was just such a day. On my doorstep was the newly minted Village Living magazine, Issue 1, Volume 1.  As always, as I've said, I had hope. I had the tiniest glimmer of hope, which was, predictably, dashed on page 5, where, below the masthead, appears the following disclaimer:

"Village Living accepts no liability of any kind, written or implied, regarding the contents of the magazine and expressly disclaims any warranty regarding the accuracy or reliability of information contained herein."



I started blogging back in 2005. In my mind, this means I'm a relatively new blogger (because I knew people who were blogging back in the 1990s, before the word "blog" even existed). But in the real world, I'm actually an old-time blogger, one of the early adopters. And in the grand scheme of things, this means that there are still a lot of people out there who don't understand what I do or why I do it. For a lot of people, "blog" still translates into a strange conflation of negatives like scary/weird/tacky/stupid.

Call it "essay" writing and a completely different image comes to mind.
Samuel Johnson by Joshua Reynolds
I don't see the difference, personally. Personal blog posts are essays and essays are personal blog posts. The only difference, at least in my mind, is the delivery medium. The internet didn't exist thirty years ago, let alone three hundred years ago. If it had, I imagine people like Samuel Johnson would have been bloggers. And they probably would have felt great about it, the internet allowing them to disseminate their thoughts more efficiently. And people would have eaten it up. (Of course, if women were the ones producing personal essays in this imagined age of the internet, people would be screaming "shut up shut up shut up!", but that's the case with women's writing even today, so let's not go into that.) My point is that personal essays and personal blog posts are really the same thing. Anyone who says they aren't probably has an agenda that's beside the point.

But regardless of medium, regardless of intent, regardless of what we call it, one of the main problems with writing is that we can't control the reader's experience. We can't control meaning. This sounds simple and obvious, but in practice, it's hard to get your head around.

When you write something, you feel (quite rightly, in many respects) that you OWN it. That it's yours and yours alone. No matter how you share or disseminate your work (via newspaper, book, blog or otherwise) I think this feeling of ownership is universal. It's not practical, but I don't know any writer who claims not to feel it.

But you can't control meaning. You can't control the reader's experience. You can't control interpretation. For such an old medium, writing is surprisingly alive in this sense. It lives and changes and grows as it's read and shared.

This is something that's both compelling and hard to accept.

I've been thinking about it a lot for obvious (or perhaps not-so-obvious) reasons. If you read the blog regularly and saw that post I did about my grandmother and the chain of comments that followed, you probably understand. If not, I'll explain by saying this: I wrote something that made a few people angry.

Usually, when this happens, the angry people are relatively random strangers. Cranks. In this instance, the angry parties were member of my family. Not close members, but members nonetheless. In retrospect, I should have expected their reactions. Or at least anticipated, in some vague sense, that they would be angry. But in retrospect, we all should have done and thought a lot of things that we didn't do or think, so I'm trying not to be too hard on myself.

But of course, I'm still thinking about it. To save face, I could pretend that I stopped thinking about it the moment after it happened, that the harsh and shockingly off-topic personal critique just rolled off my back. But I don't really care about saving face. If someone sets out to hurt you, and you consequently feel hurt, there's nothing embarrassing about admitting that, is there?

So I admit, I've been thinking about it for the last few weeks, rolling over and over it in my mind, trying to decide what I should have done differently, if anything at all.
Image by Gaetan Lee. From wikicommons.
I once had a friend named Andy who tried to explain it to me in more scientific terms, quoting brain and psychiatric studies and the like (which I didn't understand). We all think, he said, trying to put it into terms that I would  comprehend, that we understand what other people are thinking. We are all, he said, confident in our assumptions when it comes to determining motive and intent in the brains of other people. We all think we're GREAT at this -- understanding others. But in reality, we're crap at it. We don't have a clue what other people are thinking or feeling or wanting. We only know what we might think or feel or want, imagining ourselves in a similar situation, which is something we can't really imagine correctly.

And most of the time, this doesn't matter.

We understand enough to get along. We're able to get by. Our myriad misunderstandings rarely make a significant difference in the world.

Until, of course, they do.

I've thought about this idea often over the past several years and it's come to resonate with me more and more. Certainly, I have fallen victim to the trap of  thinking I understand another person. This happens, I think, most often in romantic relationships. Imagine you approach your first husband (just for example) ten years after the fact, and you say, "Hey, remember when that thing happened? I thought you did/said that thing because you were thinking this/that. Was I right?" And your first husband will most likely say, "No, not at all. I did/said that thing because of THIS OTHER THING THAT NEVER EVEN OCCURRED TO YOU." Whatever he says, it will surprise you. But so what? You've been divorced for ten years. It won't matter anymore. And unfortunately, you likely won't have the presence of mind to talk in this way when it does matter. In the moment, so many other things take over. We assume we are understanding each other when we're not, and we think we're right when we're not. And the stakes are high and the moment is hot and no one wants to back down. It's only later that we can talk about these things clearly. I think this is just how we are -- how we ALL are. Like it or not.

So like I said ... it doesn't really matter. Except when it does. And for me, writing is one of the times when it does.
Public domain image. Photographer: William B. Folsom. From wikicommons.
I HATE the way my writing can sometimes be misinterpreted, twisted to fit a particular agenda, or simply misread and unfairly evaluated. I HATE that. But I can't control it. The only way to stop it would be to quit writing entirely. And that's not going to happen. You can't stop doing something that saves your life. Not if you want to keep being alive.

Writing a blog is complicated because despite the prevalence of the technology and the people who use it, the world is largely a tradition-driven sort of place. Anyone who bothers to blog appreciates the advantages it's brought. We understand that blogging has enabled the democratization of the artistic process and a whole host of other things as well. We understand that a blog isn't "just a stupid blog" -- a phrase used to damage credibility and cast shame. We understand that what we're doing is no more and no less than essay writing, but we don't need to call it that. There's nothing shameful about "blogging." We don't have to hide from it because we get it. But at present, there are still many more people who don't get it. And who don't like it. That's changing, but we're still in the teething and motor-skills stage of this whole thing. It's early days yet. It's going to take a bit more time.

Anyway. I write this because I've been thinking about it a lot. And because people have been asking me what I'm going to DO. What are you going to DO? they say, meaning, what am I going to do about the strange and hateful comments occasionally left by occasional readers.

And the answer is this: I'm not going to do anything. I cycled through that stage of trying to understand and assign motivation, and then I moved into thinking about how we can't really understand such things (see above). And then I stopped. So now there's nothing to do except to go on, doing what I do, writing what I write, blogging what I blog, and trying my best to say the things that feel important to say.

Periodically, I'm going to try to remind myself that I can't control meaning, but that doesn't mean that I shouldn't write and it doesn't mean that I shouldn't say what I feel like saying, exactly when I feel like saying it. There's nothing embarrassing about that, no matter what anyone would have you believe.

I'm not going to forget about it. Not exactly. I'm going to put the experience into the vault of things I draw on when trying to get my brain around the seemingly crazy things that other people do and say. And despite that bit of experience, more often than not, when trying to interpret someone else, I'm going to be wrong. But so what? Most of the time, I won't think about it at all. I'll go on, thinking I'm in the right and so will the people who disagree. Because that is what we do. That is what we all do.

The year is ending. It's been a good one, I think.
My friend Nick's first child was born eight months ago.

Eight months ago, and I only managed to meet her last week.

I've had a gift for her sitting on my desk for ages - a small, blue elephant, purchased during the Christmas rush. Plush, of course. Friendly-looking. Adorned with a jaunty red bow about the neck (a sweet addition, if I do say so myself).

I was looking forward to handing it over. I was sure the baby would like it.

But nonetheless, as I drove across the city to Nick's house (way up in North York's east end, where he and his wife decided to settle in order to get something of a decent size that was at least semi-affordable), I thought to myself, 'this is what our friendship - no wait, our lives - have come to.'

Eight months to plan a simple visit.

And then I realized I'd forgotten the elephant at home.

Which, just, you know... figures.

Nick is what I'd call a good friend. A close friend. I love him, even though I only manage to see him only a few times a year (at best). But this is what most of my close friendships are like nowadays. Almost everyone I love best is at a distance, in a different city, or working a different schedule. We're all kept apart by the demands of young families, new partners, and business trips. We exchange sporadic emails that are lovely to read, but hellish to get around to writing, and catch sight of each other at weddings and christenings and that sort of thing, when we generally find about five minutes to talk before our relatives sweep us away. I receive (and send) the occasional nostalgic text, but we never talk on the phone. (Who has the time?)

And that's just the way it is.

That's being grown up and living far away and being busy with work and grocery shopping and exercise and family obligations and all of the general hoo-ha that goes along with being a (reluctantly) upwardly mobile thirty-something living in a major city.

It's related (somewhat) to the money issue I wrote about a few weeks ago. Mo' money, mo' problems, remember? We're too busy, mostly because we think we need more money. I think that's what it comes down to.

Like I said, that's just the way it is, but at times, it's hard to reconcile with what I remember.
When I was a kid, I would take four to six paperbacks out of the school library on Friday afternoon, just to ensure I'd have enough to occupy me over the weekend. I'd lie on my living room floor, paperbacks in a pile, bowl of snacks beside me, just killing time, for hours. I was often bored. I was never busy.

Were someone to call, I'd be ready, at the drop of a hat, to do whatever was suggested. I was always free.

And my fluid, free-time filled lifestyle continued all the way through university. Once, when we were both still students at Queen's, Nick called me up in the wee hours of the morning and said, "I'm going to Toronto. Want to come?" And 30 minutes later we were on the road. Three hours later we were in the city. And by nightfall we were back in Kingston. I didn't even have to think about it. He called and we went. That was the extent of our planning.

Now it takes us eight months to sort out a simple lunch.

And I'm not even popular! That's the real shocker. I'm well-liked  (I think), but no social butterfly. And compared to most people I know, I'm positively lousy with time. I work part time. I play sports for fun. We have no children and Nate is an academic, which means he's often at home. My life is shockingly easy, and still, I find myself saying no to half the things I'm invited to, and constantly apologizing for being absent. And at the very same time, I feel like I'm failing at being busy enough. It's mental. Mental, I tell you.

I'm not sure what my point is. I guess this is just something to work on. For the time being, I've visited with Nick and I've met the baby (adorable, chubby, sweet). But the elephant is still sitting here, on my desk, staring at me.

Judging me. I can tell.
Image 1: Jellycat Junglie Blue Elephant;  Image 2: Organic Beginnings Baby Sprouts Blue Elephant; Image 3: Bimbo Plush Elephant; Image 4: Judgy Elephant; * available at various retailers online

I don't usually push my professional stuff on the blah-og. No reason, really. It's just that the blah-of is so decidedly unprofessional.

Never the twain shall meet.

You know how it is.

But today, I decided to do a little plug.

The company I work for -- Nyman Ink -- has entered this "Small Bussiness, Big Impact" contest thingy. I wrote the entry, the script, and did the voiceover for our entry video. And, I dunno... I just REALLY WANT TO WIN.

So, would you all be dears and vote? I'd really appreciate it. Just visit the contest site, watch our one-minute video, and cast your vote (by decipherig the captcha and clicking the vote button on the right side of the page).

Thanks, dudes.
I don't make a lot of money. In fact, I make very little.


This makes my parents crazy.

They bring it up every time I see them. Every time! Sometimes, people don't believe me when I say this. They think I'm exaggerating. Especially because my parents are generally careful to bring up my finances only when we're alone. Talking about money in front of guests wouldn't be polite. And as you'll see from what I am about to tell you, if my parents care about one thing, it's being polite.

Anyway. Anticipating charges of exaggeration, more than a year ago, I started keeping a running tally of each time the finance issue came up. And the tally shows that my folks have mentioned my income (usually in a disparaging way) every single time I've seen them in the past 16 months. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

Sometimes the comments are veiled. "Are you working this week?" my mother will ask. As if I might suddenly NOT be working. As if I regulary take off weeks at a time to indulge in sloth and gluttony. At other times, she takes a more straightforward approach. "Young people need to work! How do you live!? You should get a job at the government." These sorts of assertions are the most fun, for obvious reasons.

I do, in fact, have a job, so explaining that I need to work seems rather pointless. As for living... well, I am clearly alive. Sooooo... check. AND the extra 30 lbs I have hanging around my middle would seem to indicate that I'm living quite well at the moment, actually. So.

That said, I have to give her the third point. The government job thing is entirely my own fault. I don't know what's wrong with me. The Canadian government keeps banging down my door with offers of mind-numbingly-dull positions complete with bankers hours and excessive sick days. They're giving those jobs away like candy (sort of like they did for racialized women like my mother in the 1970s), but I'm an asshole, so I keep sending them away. I'm refusing to thrive, goddamnit. It's ALL MY FAULT.

My pop's comments are generally more direct. And while more pointed, they are less obviously critical to the casual observer. He favours a "just in case you're an idiot" approach to my general education, which he still feels responsible for. "Do you realize you spend more than XX% of your gross income on rent?" he asked recently. Or "You know… when you freelance, you still have to make Canada Pension Plan payments. Did you know that?" The good part is that I've learned that I can answer without even listening to his questions. Because the answer is always "yes."

Yes. YES. Yes, I realize these things, I am aware of these things, I know these things. Yes. Indeed. Yes. But thank you for mentioning it. Again. I know you only have my best interests at heart. I also know that even though I've been living on my own since 1998, I probably missed a lot of basics along the way. I am, after all, an idiot.

So... yes.


I don't initiate these conversations, I swear.
Here's the thing: in 2008, when the sub-prime mortgage crisis hit and the recession got going, a lot of people had to downsize. But not me. I downsized my life by choice. When I lived in Vancouver, that is to say, in my previous life, I made quite a bit of money. I had a whack of savings tucked away for my half of a downpayment on a house my then-partner (a total douche) and I eventually planned to purchase.

We slept in separate bedrooms but were still planning to buy a house together. Does that sound smart to you?

Nonetheless, my life looked good from the outside. My parents liked to brag about my job, which they were able to understand. ("Journalist" is so much clearer to them than "writer/editor" for some reason.) I had a huge apartment, complete with two living rooms, two bathrooms and a dining room that we never used. In other words, I had a huge amount of useless space that I filled with equally useful (but often beautiful) furniture.

My life was like a handbag. Does that make sense? Bear with me for a moment while I explain. My life was like a handbag that I had to fill up. Because why carry a handbag if you have nothing to fill it with? And if you're a woman of a certain age in North America, you can't go around with no handbag! What would people think?! So I got my handbag and I filled it up. And once it was full, I began to imagine that I needed the things inside it. I began to imagine that all those things were necessary to my life. The only solution seemed to be to get a bigger bag. Which I did. And I filled that bag too. And it started to get really effing heavy.

Up up up. More more more. That was the only way to go. Spend more. Get more. Buy more. Get married! Buy a house! Get all that documentation in order to PROVE that I'm a valuable person.

What a load.

In part, the drive to acquire was what kept me in a terrible relationship for more than five years. I was afraid of having less. And more importantly, I was afriad of what having less would look like to other people. The idea of downsizing was terrifying.

Not anymore.

For the first time in my life, I have a job I like. It doesn't pay much, but it pays enough. And it leaves me lots of time for other things, like blogging and crafting and going to baseball games and playing volleyball and reading novels, which is all, as it turns out, pretty darn great. Doing things BESIDES working is pretty darn great. Who knew?

And I know what some of you are thinking. That this is just laziness. But it's not. When I work, I work hard, but I don't work all the time. And I refuse to leave a job I like just because it doesn't pay as much as other jobs out there. Finally, I can feel good about the work I'm doing. I used to get home at night and feel ashamed. Ashamed to be part of the consumerist machine. Ashamed of the bullshit I was selling with my writing.  And now, I don't. I feel proud of the work I do, and proud of the small contributions I make. And that good feeling is worth more to me than a few extra dollars an hour. It's worth more than several extra dollars an hour. Mor that that, even.

I used to work all the time. ALL THE TIME. And I felt like shit... all the time. Now I work some of the time, and I play a lot of the time, and I feel good most of the time. It's not rocket science.

Oh, and I don't make a lot of money. It's not embarrassing. Why should it be? Rethinking the notions of ambition and success has been nothing but awesomesauce. You should try it. Seriously.
Nate and I live in a smallish apartment, which we rent. And every time my landlord shovels our walk, or fixes a faucet, or mows the lawn, I feel glad to be a renter. And when I hear my friends talking about their mortgage payments and their dry wall problems and their furnace issues and their weeping tile and their vapour barriers and their flooded basements and their condo fees... I feel AWESOME. I mean, no major disrespect to home owners, but sometimes... your problems are boring. And they sound endlessly frustrating and expensive. I don't envy you. Would it be nice to own a house? Sure. Maybe. But it might not be "worth it" to me. And to understand that, you might have to think about worth in a new way.

In March, I noticed a lot of hoopla online about ar recent study conducted by UNH psychology professor Edward Lemay and some of his colleagues at Yale University. The study showed that people who feel loved and accepted by others place lower monetary values on material possessions than those who feel insecure and/or unloved.

It makes sense, but it's not exactly common sense.

According to the study's press release, researchers measured how much people valued a specific item, such as a blanket or a pen. In some instances, people who didn't feel secure placed a monetary value on said item that was five times greater than the value placed on the same item by a more secure person.

“People value possessions, in part, because they afford a sense of protection, insurance, and comfort,” said Lemay in his press release. “But what we found was that if people already have a feeling of being loved and accepted by others, which also can provide a sense of protection, insurance, and comfort, those possessions decrease in value.”

I now own almost nothing that I couldn't live without. While I love my home and my many (many) things, the thought of getting rid of them isn't daunting in the way it used to be. I'm not saying 'all you need is love' or anything stupid like that, but still.
Halloween 2008. Nate is an investment banker/panhandler. I am a Newsie. We are poor, but happy.

Now, it's only fair to explain that Nate and are in a relatively unique position. Eventually, we expect to have to move to accommodate Nate's job, but we don't know where. We might have to go across the country, or down to the States, or somewhere else entirely. And it seems pointless to aquire too much in the meantime. But interestingly, I've also found that our meagre income actually helps facilitate our ethical aspirations. Having less, strangely, allows us to do more. Why buy something manufactured in a sweat shop when you can get something unique or vintage? Why pay someone else to do or make something that I can easily do or make myself? Making stuff, it turns out, is fun! More fun than buying stuff. As long as you have the time, of course. And I do. All these things are connected.

Since we're not caught up in the craziness of acquiring, we been able to realize that we don't need more. And subsequently, we feel able to give more -- by making donations and that sort of thing. Because we already don't have much, so what's a little less? I give more to charity now than I ever did when I had money. It's so strange.

Nate and I sleep in a double bed. I know so many people who cringe at the thought. It seems nobody wants to go smaller than queen-size these days.

I used to feel that way too.

I worried that I wouldn't be able to sleep. I worried about my personal space. I worried about being too hot or too cold or too crowded. And in the early days, I admit, the transition chafed a bit. It took us a little while to settle into a good sleeping pattern. BUT... we got used to it. We evolved. And now I love our double bed. It doesn't matter that our arms touch, or that I sometimes wake up breathing his breath, or that I occassionally kick him with my spazzy jimmy-leg. I like that closeness. He likes it too. We don't want a bigger bed. We don't need a bigger bed. This is something we've talked about
Anyway. This is a very long post and I don't really know what I'm getting at. I started out wanting to call out my annoying parents for being so ceaselessly, relentlessly critical, but the piece has morphed into something else.

I'll try to bottom line it for you, by way of an ending:

For me, having less has driven home a truth about the world that so many people fail to notice: it's no big deal. It's not a hardship. Having less has made my life infinitely better. Having less has amounted to having more. So there.

All images licensed under creative commons, from Flickr.
1) Follow your dreams Banksy image by Chris Devers.
2) Graffiti house by Miss Muffin.
3) Withou money photo by Toban Black