Come back for fixing up when your
black eyes have healed but
you want to be free and wild.
You were born free,
that’s the problem,
everything that’s happened in between.

Mind over matter

ter Much like days I have woken up in an unfamiliar hotel with the throw-up taste of  regret and old beer in my mouth, I wake up on a Sunday morning in Montreal with hazy reservations and a sense of other-ness from the me who has made the choices immediately preceding this day. “Shut up, shut up, do you know what time it is?” I hiss at a pair of girls in the dorm who are loudly chatting about what time their plane departs and whether or not they can switch their flight. I gain a few more hours of fitful sleep and get up for the continental breakfast at the hostel, served by an Irish bartender, a Spanish receptionist and a Puerto Rican cook in a French Canadian city. I want to be full, but not uncomfortably so. After breakfast I walk up to Provigo and buy Gatorade and an egg salad wrap and a chocolate bar and orange juice. I’m pleased with myself for fumbling through the entire transaction en francaise instead of lapsing into English, and I’m pleased to have the perfect ‘energy’ foods for the blood sugar crash ahead. I want to be hydrated and in peak physical and mental form. I’m on my way to a bright, airy third floor studio on Mont Royal to have large gauge hooks resembling fish hooks strung through the skin of my shoulder blades, be lifted off the ground and to dangle there. Why? I’m not totally sure.

I’ve sought extremes in almost every avenue of my life. Nico tells me, “You awaken the hunger crazed goblin in me that just wants to experience life at its most raw form,” and I’m flattered silly. I’m really striving for this way of experiencing my life full contact, immersing myself into this world of possibility and sensation and wonder. Music, books, writing, fighting, cooking, travelling, night time drives and foolish love and all of the follies I can commit. “I feel like myself,” usually means some sort of bad choices are imminent, fur coats and lime green wigs and bottles of contraband tequila that spill onto the velour couch of the karaoke lounge. Its physical, too. I love tattoos and piercing and scarification, as may be evidenced by looking at my body. While many of my piercings no longer survive, the scars are evident, and evil unicorn tattoos speak to my impulsivity. I sat for an hour and a half for a scarification piece on my back seven years ago- I remember how it felt waiting, I remember the mental clarity and negotiation. I remember the adrenaline trembles and, afterward, the curious lightness and feeling of being present- I have reconciled my body and my mind and come through to this new understanding. I have a 0g conch that was done using a tool like a biopsy punch- I can remember coming up with new swears as my piercer was forced to use a scalpel to separate a flap of flesh that hadn’t come free.

On New Years Day my mom and I participated in our gym’s usual New Years workout- a mile run, followed by a hundred sit-ups, two hundred push-ups and three hundred squats, followed up by another mile run. In extreme cold temperatures of -13, before windchill. We finish and we pack into our cars and drive through a white-out blizzard to Grand Valley, where a very small handful of us from the gym are participating in the Polar Dip, a fundraising activity for the local Lion’s Club. I loathe cold more than anything in the world. The mental agony of huddling outside in the cold while volunteers cleared ice from the hole sawed through 9″ of river ice was tremendous. Finally, the horn sounded and the participants plunged into the frigid Grand River, climbing out of the ice pit via aluminium ladders that stuck to our cold, wet hands and feet. It was a strange moment of feeling almost unbearably high- endorphin survival mode kicks in, and I had laser eyes for my pile of warm clothes, layering on a housecoat, fuzzy leggings, jeans, sweater and huge fluffy socks and jacket. I was cold for days after the plunge, and a friend with pretty god damn near to zero percent body fat might still be feeling the freeze.

Sometimes (many times) have worked schedules that are absolutely inane, both mentally and physically. I’ve gotten up at 4:30 a.m to jog the 5 km to the horse farm, muck 20 stalls, ride 3 horses, jog the 5 km back and get changed to go and work an 8 hour shift on my feet as a line cook. Fucking insanity. I’ve swam competitively and biked 40 km a day and mucked stalls and ridden horses and played roller derby (the last time I can remember being thin!) I have punished my body, severely, in attempts to keep it slender and strong. I finished a treeplant season which I initially resented, as, I don’t like doing things I’m mediocre at. On a planting day where I exceed 2600 seedlings in the ground, with the worst party hangover ever, I’m pleasantly surprised. I flex, topless, in the hotel room that night, dirty, rats nest hair, pants falling down. “Treeplant fat camp,” I send my mom, ignoring the pure strength and willpower that it takes to accomplish something this ridiculous, hungover, moving through uncleared alder thicket and swamp, bending over every 7 feet and cutting the ground with a spade, stomping the hole shut, never mind the blackfly swarms and the lunatic mosquito hordes and the deerflies who are repelled by absolutely nothing, not even the 30+ percent DEET obtained illegally from the states.

I let my body stop me from a lot of things. We have a complicated relationship. I’ll place an opportune pillow on my lap if I’m sitting on a couch somewhere, as if that is somehow less conspicuous than my gut. I’ll weigh myself eight times a day and pinch and prod and lace and suck in and slap, and my body is still what it is, varicose veins broken on my calves and behind my knees. “What the actual fuck,” I think, looking at the scale. Its fucking inconceivable. I eat healthy, I work out, more than most people I know. Why is this so? Why is my metabolism such an absolutely massive cunt. I go out with my peers, who throw back pints and dozens of chicken wings and burgers. “I can’t, I can’t,” I say, and it’s true, I just can’t afford that kind of decadence. I’m an optimistic size 10 and I TRY, I TRY so fucking hard, it just isn’t fair. I achieve something resembling slender, when I workout ten hours a day and don’t have time to eat. When I work for it, the closest I seem to get is “chubby but not obese, fat knees, giant boobs”. I’m 25 pounds lighter than I was three years ago at the end of the debacle that was my time living in Toronto, and I feel it and look it, but am still absurdly insecure. It shouldn’t matter, if I look at my capability to spend nights with really absurdly good looking young men and women. We eat and drink and talk and laugh and touch, and I’m still conscious of my body. How to tuck the tummy away or wear high-waisted pants or how to do a face full of makeup perfection to draw attention away. I score above myself each and every time, in my opinion, and am pleasantly surprised. “Well, you’ve just had a prom date with somebody verging on Calvin Klein attractive levels,” I think. “You’re not completely grotesque and repugnant, I suppose.” Still, every second of every day, I am pinching, poking, prodding fat, sneaking furtive glances in any available mirror and sucking in my gut at every waking moment.

The girl who is on the schedule before me for the suspension cries out during the piercing and lies still. She struggles through getting off the table, holding her shoulders still and stiff and moving in tiny, mincing steps. After a glucose tab and a couple of faint-y episodes in which she sits upon a folding chair, the hooks protruding from her shoulders linked into the rigging that hangs from the rafters, braced by a gregarious and kind young man wearing something resembling a rock climbing harness, she gets off the ground. “Down, down, down!” she cries out, immediately, and she calls it a day. She is cut from the rigging. This is pure bravery- she has struggled through every aspect of the experience, but she has achieved it, she has made it off the ground, she has said, “No!” to that which would have had her quit before even achieving lift off. Still, I am concerned. Will I struggle? Will I vomit, will I black out, will I slip out the door before it is even my time?

“Your turn!” the facilitator calls out, cheerily, and I sort of wobble my way over to the piercing table. As they pinch and pull at my skin, feeling for the best place to pierce, I’m not really there. “That seems like a huge chunk of flesh,” I can’t help but think. “Eh, the Polar Dip was worse,” another part of my brain reassures me. From my teen years, the sterile antiseptic smell of alcohol and sterilizing spray and the tray of piercing instruments laid out on blue surgical paper is weirdly reassuring. Two nostrils, a septum, two vertical labrets, a medusa, multiple nipples, a bridge, an eyebrow, an anti eyebrow. Multitudes of truly painful tattoo sessions and scarification pieces and large gauge piercings. Surely I know how to do this.



So I lie, face down, and summon something that repels panic. On the count of three, both shoulders are pierced. I carry all of my tension in my shoulders and have thick, knotted muscles and terse, thick skin. Breathing in through the nose, out through the mouth like a demented hot yoga class, the hooks are worked into place. There are some jokes about lube, I participate. I’m thrilled- they’re in, and I haven’t vomited or blacked out. I rise from the table and approach the shower curtain duct taped underneath the rigging. It’s a weird small world, the world of more ‘extreme’ body modification. The rigging is a design by my friend Steve Haworth, who was responsible for my triskelion scarification piece between my shoulder blades. The hooks actually pierce through the triskelion. My skin pulls unpleasantly, but surprisingly unpainfully, as I start to walk back and forth on the shower curtain, gripping the arm of a piercer with an extraordinary black and violet mullet and scuffed Doc Martens. “Squeegee punks,” I think, calmed. I could be a greasy mohawked teenager again with a gorgeous bridge piercing and Value Village Doc’s. And skinny, in my pleather tights and tank top. And in a moment, on my tiptoes, I felt the weirdest sensation of pressure and sort of grunted “Ugh!” in mild panic, but before I could protest I was off the ground.

Being in the air is kind of a blur. I wish I had stayed  up longer, but I did stay up, went higher, spun around, flailed, cracked jokes. And despite the fact that I have conquered this thing in my mind and my body and gone where so few have gone before, I look at the pictures and the videos I have from Sunday and think, “Fuck, am I really that fat?” instead of “So fucking cool, I’m a strong bitch!” So I still have that to work on.

I have long had a fascination with the history of body modification and tribalism, that I don’t intend to delve into too deeply here, but as a huge fan of consciousness altering experiences and physical challenges and what we can conquer when we put mind over matter, the entire thing fascinates and delights me. My mom is an amateur MMA fighter who texts me throughout- “I imagine you’re feeling what I feel before a fight right now.” She’s right. The readying, the reconciliation of pain with payoff and the capability to handle it.  Big, big thank you to the team at Montreal Suspension Group for facilitating so professionally. Your team is truly amazing.


I have driven until I could see stars,

the florid lights of insomniac apartments and neon strips receding

and slept in the backseat of my car,

remembering what is not mine to keep.

Voyeuristically explored one way streets

populated with ghosts not of my own creating

guilty as a snoop in the house of an absent owner

caught rifling through the drawers.


Alter ego existential.

I’m having a not entirely unpleasant existential crisis in the bush, participating in a circular conversation with a friend.

“But what makes me, ME?” I am truly troubled.

“Well,” he says, thinking. “The things that you do make you, you!”

“But what if I don’t do the things that I do?”

He reassures me. “I can’t do the things that you do, that would make me you!”

This conversation probably could have gone on indefinitely, or at least until we were sober, but its broken up by the arrival of a large, green moth that floats through our midst to land on the shower trailer door. It is an absurdly neon, fluffy creature, too solid to be insect, so substantial it verges upon mammalian. I didn’t remember the moth until Nico brought it up- am I the kind of person who is a reliable narrator? Do I remember the details?

A winter spent in isolation renders me in the middle of a minor existential crisis, again. This is becoming not unusual. But I’m starting to piece it back together. The things that remind people of me are useful. I receive no less than 5 messages from different people over the course of the winter to let me know they’re drinking Baby Duck. My party thing has been to buy a bottle of the frothy pink witch’s brew and pass it around a select circle until it’s gone. Pre-drink, BAM, bitches. One eventful night in Hearst, my ride back to Southern Ontario leaves me in town, having forgotten that I was supposed to drive home with him in an MDMA and cocaine fueled memory loss. To be fair, the car turned around an hour away in Kapuskasing and came back for me, but it wasn’t terribly useful, because I wasn’t in the room I had rented at the Queens. Nor was I at the Companion, where I had stolen a comforter from the staff room. I was happily ensconced in the Companion blanket in a ground floor room at the Howard Johnson across the highway, my room key for the Queens tucked deep into the recessed of my fanny pack. When, at the relatively respectable time of 8:30 a.m, I made it back to the Queens, I swaggered into the room in my dirty floral dress, a line of dried blood running down my calf from the night prior.  I have been wearing the dress for three days, and underwear are a foriegn concept.”Where have you BEEN!?” my companions exclaimed. I picked up my half empty bottle of Baby Duck from the radiator and proceeded to swill it down, washing away the alkaline throat taste and dregs of whiskey. Earlier in the night, pre bar, pre hotel jumping, pre adventuring, I had poured it into large McDonald’s cups for us to enjoy in the hotel hot tub and sauna. Did you know you get drunk quicker in a sauna…

Others send me messages about roadkill and dead animals. “I saw a dead baby kitten the other day! I thought of you!” This is not as morbid as it sounds, or, perhaps it is. I have a weird fascination with taxidermy, beginning with mice that I gutted, tanned and arranged into small (mostly Shakespearean) tableau’s, graduating to wondering if it was ‘too weird’ for me to stop on the side of my 5km run home from the horse farm and collect the fresh carcass of an opossum into my bag. I eventually decided to delay the collection until the next day, as I had no garbage bag on hand and didn’t wish to soil my backpack, but by the time I returned, the creature had been further flattened by passing traffic and bore an unpleasant scent, as well as a collection of flies and imminent maggots. I want to taxidermy my dog into an end table when he dies, with a convenient spot for a fancy glass of gin (or, perhaps, Baby Duck.) I may not be at the point that I can pull of such a feat when he passes, though, so if you know any wonderful pet taxidermists, please let me know.

I am forever tagged in posts about bad mushrooms trips, bad acid trips and excessive partying. From whence does this trend come? My first season of plant I was drifting so hard and in this weird limbo of existence. I lived, I breathed, I worked, but I was not a person. Upon being interviewed for treeplanting, a job widely regarded as one of the hardest in the world, I hesitated. I could continue comfortably, numbly existing within this purgatory, or I could bust back out and continue on this trajectory I had set early on in my life, of extra-ordinariness and asceticism and general extremism. When I spent ten hours a day walking through the forest, physically exerting myself in a way I didn’t know was possible, I came forth like a butterfly from a cocoon, selling my dirty panties on the internet and dating white boy rappers, peeing over the edge of my balcony on first gin-drunk dates and climbing bridges and playing the piano along to Buster Keaton films while straight fucked up on MDMA. “LOOK, LOOK!” we scream, pounding out chords. “In the 1940’s,” I say, fingering out a light blues scale, “They had live pianists in theaters who played along to the silent films.” This is straight up Bex. This is party Bex. This is PEAK Bex, and still, I’m screaming about Lord Byron and reading Rilke in my tent coming down off of three tabs of acid, thinking I might, just maybe, be able to learn German.

Another yet sends me a link to a CBC article about the “Sour toe Cocktail”, a Dawson City Phenomenon in which one downs a shot of whiskey that contains a preserved, frostbitten toe. I’ll play the role of the hipster here and say, “I’ve wanted to do that since before it was cool!” but anybody who knows me will attest that it is true, hence the glut of links and tags over the past few years as the severed digit shot receives more media attention. As my year shapes up before me, emerging from the darkness and stolidity of winter, the plan unravels. “Northern Ontario,” I say, “from May to July.” Then we will roadtrip to British Columbia, to the fertile and rich Okanagan for the relative vacation of cherry picking, littered with afternoons off at Kalamalka and in mountain streams, in valley towns and Lake Country beachsides, where maybe, just maybe, one of the transient vagabonds you’ve met over the seasons might appear on the sand, to blend in seamlessly with the group you’ve accumulated around you.

I’m still establishing a value system for myself, a code to live by that establishes everything from how I treat my friends to the kind of salt I buy. Its an on-going process, and this, too, will be incorporated into the bit of performance art I like to think of Bex as. The summer lies before me, rich with opportunity- what mythos can I create, what  status can I achieve? Can I piss out the window of a moving school bus, can I buy a potted plant while on acid at a Northern Ontario garage sale and make all around me worship it as another living being? Can I summarize my adventures into a cohesive manuscript and submit to a celebrity chef with a publishing line? “The Treeplant Cookbook- “Nobody Wants to eat Hotdogs on Acid.”

This is who I am.

Who am I?


Same old

Not too many weeks now until Jude and I pack our lives into my little car and depart for Northern Ontario. Actually, the packing has already began, the culling of clothes and books and supplies and packing a huge Rubbermaid bin full of spices, TVP, curry pastes, Freezies, sprinkles and other odds and ends more readily available in Southern Ontario then they are at the end of the highway in the north.  Its the time of year where the elation about returning to the bush is at its high point, but when you also start remembering all the crummy details you’ve let go over the winter. Maybe when we stop going back is when we stop forgetting the shit details, even just for the winter.

“Oh fuck,” I remember I’m going to have to coerce the bus into starting after a winter of sitting at Ryland, climb into the hood and fill it with coolant and pray that it will last through the season. A sticky-note on the dash of my car reminds me to buy chlorine testing strips at Tap Phong, a mop head, nitrile gloves. I know there’s a cupboard door that needs to be fixed, a countertop that has to be caulked back to the sink, a fridge that needs to be screwed back into the wall. The entire thing will need to be emptied, scrubbed top to bottom with bleach, swept of mouse nests and detritus. The gas lines need to be checked, the propane hookups repaired. The stoves need to be cleaned of dust and lint to prevent the fun of fireballs shooting out the doors at random intervals. Add zip-ties to the shopping list, and a 7/8 crescent wrench. Oh, and a paint scraper for the flat top, and low gauge wire to tie the burners in place so they don’t fly free when jouncing down the thawing logging roads.

Many years of restaurant experience, cafe management, bush seasons and travelling are culminating into a more organized season. My desktop is covered in laminated order sheets, par levels included, printed recipes, a day planner, a binder with handily marked tabs for invoices, orders, meal planning, vegan recipes, a pouch for pens and markers. Laminated check sheets of sundry items, a planter ‘survey’ for food preferences, allergies, and birthdays, a budget assistance sheet. I have absorbed and learned this information over the past years by exposure and practice and it is a strange and gratifying feeling to call it into service and have it there. I am forestalling what I am capable of forestalling, combating what can be combated with prep. There’s nothing that can be done in advance about days where Sysco runs late and food doesn’t arrive, the reliable roar of the diesel generator abruptly cutting out, a snowstorm blowing into the forest in the middle of May and freezing both water and propane lines. There will be days of total bullshit where something fucks up with the water pump or the bus breaks down on the side of the highway, or somebody steals the 2×4 used to secure the dry storage trailer door, or a bear invades the dry storage trailer (which hasn’t happened yet, and god willing, won’t.)

Restaurant cooking has become pretty pale in comparison. I’m tired of little boy’s egos and egotistical chefs who don’t even make good food. I’m tired of sacrificing my personal life and happiness to make absolute garbage food and listen to man-children talk about pussy and cocaine while plating meatloaf sandwiches, as if they’re rockstars of some sort, marooned in small town kitchens. I know there’s another restaurant world out there, I’ve been there, I’ve done it, but I’ve lost my access to it. There’s a restaurant world where we fire out 100 cover services in a 30 seat restaurant, laughing so hard we cry and staying late to butcher chickens and octopus and seal endless bags for sous-vide and blanch potatoes and start bread to proof and work, industriously, on every, tiny detail of sublime food made from scratch. That’s the world where I can handle the criticism and the sixteen hour days and the egotism, when my boudin blanc and my sourdough compete for attention and when the bewildered chef asks, “Are you fucking retarded?” it isn’t out of meanness, just legitimate curiosity about the fact that I can’t seem to work to his standard. And somewhere else, there’s an old Bluebird bus, where I dig a hole for the grounding plate and hook up the generator, the propane and the water, light the pilots and smelling of diesel and pine needles, the primordial cries of cranes and forest creatures echoing around, crooked cakes baking in the bus that’s parked on a slant and a bottle of Baby Duck chilling in the freezer.


I’ve just arrived home from ten days in Montreal with some of my treeplant besties, a complete contrast to the last time I spent three days in Montreal, crying in the hostel bar over bottles of Trois Pistoles and watching Don Hertzfeldt films with the indifferent bartender. Before I delve into activities and shenanigans, I’d just quickly mention how different life is having mostly conquered crippling anxiety- a few years ago, I kept myself up all night with vivid nightmares in anticipation of having to drive on the DVP in my in-law’s car the next day. Last week, I drove by myself to Montreal without blinking an eye on the rush hour 401. I struggled with some minor anxiety about the usual topics- mediocrity, inadequacy, social misfires- for a few hours before stuffing them away and getting on with my week.

The first thing about Montreal that absolutely trumps Toronto is the free street parking. In most neighborhoods outside the downtown, there’s 24/7 free street parking (if you can get past the multitude of one way streets and the frequent need to pull off impressive feats of parallel parking.) Even within the core, street parking is free after a certain time on certain days. We managed to go to a bar on the main strip of Sainte Catherine (L’escalier ) after finding free street parking. Traffic is also relatively tame compared to Toronto, unless you’re trying to head out of the city toward Ile Perrot or Laval (which, unless you’re dumping your asshole dog at your friend’s parent’s house for the weekend because he won’t stop barking) you shouldn’t need to do.

L’escalier is a fantastic, eclectic, dive-y warren of shabby chic rooms at the top of an unassuming staircase on Sainte Catherine Rue Labelle. There’s often live music- I suffered through every single note of a fusion jazz performance with the worst hangover in recent memory, nursing a cheap pint and a plate of wonderfully garlicky nachos. We ran into several people around the bar whom my friends knew- it was obviously a popular local spot.

The hangover came from the night prior, when I met up with yet another local friend and former treeplanter and proceeded to ‘get shitty’. He asks me at the Brasserie Des Patriotes “So we’re getting blackout drunk right?” while pouring drinks from the pitcher that sits before us. I shouldn’t be surprised- my first memories of him include the raunchiest game of truth or dare I’ve yet witnessed, and puking out a bus window, disspiritedly spitting bile out the crack after a triumph at boat races the night prior.  I disagree with the Google Reviewing asserting Anglos would not be welcome there. My pitiful attempts at ordering in French were received well and the server patiently engaged with me rather than immediately switching to English, which is not very useful when one is trying to learn.  There’s also a karaoke night. We quickly downed two pitchers at 14.25 a pop and proceeded on our way to the Metro. A friend of his works at a bar, he says, we’ll pop in for a quick pint.  Transit is easy to negotiate in Montreal, even if your French is poor. It’s more affordable than Toronto at 3.25 a ride or 6.00 for ‘deux passages, s’il vous plait.”

Couche Tard (I know, I know) is the Quebecois version of a Mac’s Milk. It translates literally to ‘open late’. Montreal trumps Toronto point #2- not only can you purchase alcohol at any local deppaneur or corner store, but the variety of delightful, local craft brews put Ontario’s finest LCBO’s to shame. We slam tall boys on the way to the brewery his friend works at, pausing on a park bench to drain the dregs. It’s familiar, it’s something I’ve done before, it’s a communication across gaps of time and space. His friend works at Siboire Saint Laurent , the third outpost of a local brewery, located in le Plateau. The atmosphere is more upscale, with a variety of house beers on tap (mostly high percentage), unobtrusive service and good snacks.

From here, we stumble on to Les Katacombes, a metal bar offering a swing dance night on Wednesdays, accompanied with a live music ensemble, including stand up bass. I wish, dear reader, I could tell you how much it costs, but the night got a little blurry at this point, and I can only assume by the entry stamp on my hand the next day that read “Les Katacombes” that I paid something to enter. I won’t pretend that I can dance, even a little bit, however, we obnoxiously fumbled about the floor of competent and graceful dancers, stepping on each other’s toes and twirling more often that would be called for in any tasteful choreography. When we finally parted ways to go in opposite directions, he to Lachine by metro and I to Hochelaga via my sober friend’s car, I dropped my phone in the street and a kind passerby picked it up and called my friend, who later retrieved it for me. (Montreal kicks Toronto’s ass #3.)

To be continued.


Language barrier

There’s something very humbling about having to struggle through the most basic of transactions in a language you’re not comfortable speaking. My written French is rusty, but as of high school, which was actually quite long ago, passable with a good vocabulary. Being encountered with rapid fire, colloquial Quebecois French face to face when you want a coffee is entirely different. Things don’t go the way you’ve rehearsed. In the adrenaline fueled moment, you forget how to ask nicely ‘May I have,’ and dispose of the niceties blurting out ‘Un grand cafe au lait s’il vous plait!’ In Montreal you could get away with English but it strikes me as ignorant and lazy to not even try, particularly for these basic transactions of such limited vocabulary and full of context clues to help you through. It’s too late when I remember I could have said ‘Puis je avoir un cafe au lait s’il vous plait?’ A question comes back at me, and while I don’t understand all the words, I do get ‘sucre?’ and can gratefully respond, ‘Non, merci,’ before paying with fumbling hands. I’m both proud and ashamed at the same time.

I used to suffer from severe anxiety that would have prevented me from even going out to a cafe by myself and ordering a coffee. I’d hype myself up so hard to try and go out, rehearse the language, and end up staying the three day vacation to the city in the hostel bar, drinking Trois Pistoles and crying to the bartender. Get out of your own head, get out there and struggle through- that’s how you learn and every day brings new confidence and lessons.


Bonne journee!