this little light

I found a sewing machine.  It was next to the dumpster in my apartment building, in a battered carrying case, nestled amongst a broken lamp and stack of old books.  It might have been robin’s egg blue, now scuffed into a cloudy mint colour.  I hauled it away and, having no room in my apartment for it, stashed it in the trunk of my car (which was a hand-me-down gift from a friend: a noisy 1995 robin’s egg blue Toyota, the apple of my eye).

I laid my hands on the top of the machine and imagined myself at a big wooden table, fixing my partner’s shirt.  I could hear the whir of the needle and bobbin, feel my foot flex on the pedal as my hands expertly controlled the tension of the fabric.  I imagined myself learning everything I can from my mother, who has been sewing for decades, making clumsy replicas of her beautiful garments.  With my mint miracle I make new things.  A new pillow sham to brighten up the living room.  A tote bag for my friend.  A new blouse.

I sit, for a moment, palms resting on my vision.  And then I shut the trunk and walk away. I’ll probably never have enough space for it.

These days, I try to let things go.

The other morning I woke up to the feeling of sun on my face.  There’s nothing like it.  Even through my gauzy white curtains, the light was warm and bright.  I felt myself shimmering with a bliss I have no words to properly describe.  Then the sun rose a little higher, and I got up and started my day.

These days, I’m trying to think of hope as a sunbeam, not a lighthouse.  I used to hang my hopes on the future as a beacon, as a fixed point on the horizon. I don’t think that’s so helpful now.  Now I hang my hopes on writing postcards and the cookies turning out alright, on ‘maybe next year, but it’s nice to hear your voice’.

I savour cups of coffee, fresh fruits, cheap wine, like it’s the last time.  I take nothing for granted.  I feel attachment wrapping its tentacles around my heart, like the sick feeling I get when I imagine the day I turn the key in my robin’s egg Toyota and she doesn’t wake up.  I let that go too.

These days, there is too much to want.  In some ways even my most modest dreams seem impossible now.  But when I take time to feel the sun on my face, this little life is holding more than I could have imagined. And I try, I try to let that be enough.

When I let go of my lighthouse, even in the middle of the crashing ocean I become aware of the salty air and the sight of the mountains.  I might feel adrift, but it gives me room to make some new realizations about what I was always told was untrue – that growing old is a gift. That having nothing to do is sometimes an incredible privilege.

For now, whenever I get the chance I’ll drive my noisy car to the ocean just to see it, and when the car breaks down I’ll bike, and when the path gets flooded I’ll stand where it’s safe and look from there, and maybe I’ll lay my hands on the earth and remember the sun on my face that one time. 

And that will be my lighthouse, for a moment.

what we may be

There’s a scar on my back, now.

A long, thin line from my shoulder blade to just under my right breast.  It is delicate but unmistakable.  I was warned about this scar before the surgery, with more urgency than I was warned about the issue of heart complications, or rotting my guts with painkillers.  Most people I show it to say, ‘you can barely see it. In a while, you won’t able to see it at all.’

Underneath the skin are several layers of stitches, suturing together the muscles of my ribcage, my shoulder, my arm, my back. Everything that was cut was put back together.  More or less.

I first heard about Pema Chödrön’s immensely popular book When Things Fall Apart from a podcast.  The book, by an American Buddhist nun, has achieved a global following for its elegant articulation of Buddhist teachings.  Listening to this podcast, though, I was annoyed, listening through what I felt were the host and guest’s simpering reflections to try to hear Chödrön’s words themselves.  I bought a copy of the book.

She writes: “Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”

I have nothing to add to that.

I am not who I was, before.  As I imagine you aren’t, either.

I re-read Hamlet when my father died.  I made a repeat pilgrimage when things fell apart again, this time not for the prince but the one ‘incapable of her own distress’. Ophelia’s final appearance in Act 4 Scene 5. Usually interpreted as infantile, haunting, and tragic, her melancholic ramblings and subsequent death by drowning serve as tinder for the ignition of Hamlet and her brother Laertes’ grave-hopping sword fight.  There’s plenty of simpering over that one, too.

As I read it now, Ophelia descends into an associative free-fall as crystal clear as Hamlet’s antic machinations.  Grief transforms her, liberates her from the need of keeping together what has irreparably fallen apart.  She sees the naked emperor and smells what is rotten, and links ideas and songs like daisy chains to tell it as she senses it.  Being a woman, her ‘madness’ is mythologized; the most beautiful and flower-adorned of the Bard’s many dead heroines (though her iconic death takes place offstage and is merely relayed back to us).  But as usual, Horatio knows best – he warns of how Ophelia may spread “dangerous conjectures in ill-breeding minds.”  One who cannot, will not pretend that all is well is most dangerous indeed. Clarity can be contagious.

Chödrön warns that resisting change is simply another form of fearing death.  That the mere act of trying to rebuild one’s old self on the rubble of what has permanently changed you will be as painful as the thing that demolished you in the first place.  Hamlet tries and fails, confusing revenge for the act of grieving.  Ophelia refuses and sets herself free.

I love my scar because it is the willow tree branch that snapped and cast Ophelia into the ‘weeping brook,’ only now I am strong enough to swim.  It is the line between before, and after.  It is the gift of many more healthy years to come, which will inevitably bring slings and arrows, relief, misery, joy.  I love my scar because it has made me less patient, more honest, less extroverted, more loyal, and I’m still learning what all these things might look like in the rubble of my new life. I am too tired now not to sing songs and hand out flowers, and be as incapable of my own distress as I need to be until things come together again.  I want to see it, now and forever, as pain and healing and transformation made visible.

Long live my scar, and yours.

Things come together, and they fall apart.

We know what we are, but know not what we may be.

little piece

I’m counting backwards from 10.

I’m lying in my underwear on the roof of the casita I’ve rented in a lakeside town in the state of Jalisco, which boasts of its perfect climate. I couldn’t agree more. The sun is warm, the air is clean. I breathe easy. I float on the sounds of the call of the oil-seller and the music from the dancing carwash brothers, as a watery blue sky blankets me. This is only for now, but right now is perfect. I close my eyes.


I rustle my toes under the crisp white sheets. I look out at the snow falling on the theatre building as I nestle deeper beneath the blankets in my room in Banff. The trees sway softly, framed by their woodworked brethren in the windowsill. I breathe easy. I feel like a poet sent to a mountaintop sanatorium. A little fresh air will do me good.


The water laps up on the rocks just a foot away from our toes, and the trees rustle above us in response. We are sunburnt and lightly hung over from a weekend of camping, and the discovery of a tiny beach at the edge of a lake presented us with a perfect place for a nap. We lay our pillows and sleeping bags down right on the beach and now we are resting. A gentle chorus of snores surrounding me. It is beautiful beyond description. I think, I will never be this happy again. I think, something terrible is going to happen.


I’m counting backwards from 10.

The IV is hurting my hand but I don’t look I don’t move I listen for the sound of the oil-seller and they’re talking over their procedure for if I start bleeding and I move my toes and hear the friction of the white sheets and I am freezing cold freezing cold and it must be the snow on the trees, look at the trees, and just keep counting and thinking about I’m dizzy, I’m spinning, I’m just sleepy, but it’s okay, we stopped to take a nap so just close your eyes, listen for the sound of the water and the leaves and the


It’s March of last year, and every time I breathe in I hear this sound. This squeak. It’s particularly noticeable because at the moment of its first appearance I’m in the middle of rehearsal, delivering a long and beautifully written monologue about a woman lost at sea. At first only I hear it, and then soon others do too. It’s annoying. I make jokes. “I’m an actress – no, I’m a seagull!” (The jokes are both niche and unfunny). I go to the clinic. They give me an inhaler which does nothing, and the squeak becomes a permanent resident. It comes with me on the highway in LA, it sits under the stars with me in interior BC. It interrupts dinner parties and phone conversations. It doesn’t hurt, I don’t think.


It is written in my journals from years past, included in jokes in closing night cards, baked into memories of shows, flashed back to me through Facebook ‘memories’: sick, sick, sick. Antibiotics, clinic visit, Tylenol, nasal rinse antibiotics, steroid inhaler, antibiotics, clinic visit, emergency room, hot water bottle, antibiotics, puffer, antibiotics. Sick, sick, sick. Almost two decades of being sick during school, being sick during shows, being sick at work, being sick at home. Memories of a Skype date where I went from shivering under three sweatshirts and a scarf and a hat to sweating and shaking in a sports bra and then back to bundled up again, over and over in the course of an hourlong conversation. Of a cold shower in the dressing room post-performance, my body so hot my heart was racing. Of waking up again to a rattling wheeze, bundling up to go to the clinic for a steroid puffer to get me through the matinee. I am told repeatedly that I simply ‘work too hard’, that pushing myself is somehow the root of this persistent and unsettling inability to get better again after getting sick. After rest, nutrition, doctors visits, medications, acupuncture, naturopathy and B12 injections fail to prevent me from getting sick, I turn my focus instead to being able to deliver the finest performances you’ve ever seen from someone with a fever so intense their heart is racing fast enough to burst.


I get the appointments I have asked for (and asked for and asked for). A battery of lung tests, breathing tests, blood tests. An X-ray, which reveals nothing. I leave rehearsal for a few hours to get a test where you steadily take doses of something that gradually reduces your lung capacity to 20%, and then they reverse it once you wave dizzily at the technician telling them you can’t breathe. I did not know the nature of the test before arriving at the clinic. I take a cab back to rehearsal after. I’m diagnosed with mild asthma, which I am sure I don’t have. They give me a puffer which doesn’t work. The doctor asks me if I’m willing to get a CT scan. It’s not conventional, she tells me, because I’m young and it’s a lot of radiation. I tell her it’ll probably be worth it.

By the time the CT comes around, it has all begun. I get a ride to the hospital from a friend, not wanting to bring a Skytrain car’s worth of germs into a hospital, of all places. I wash my hands raw after. Less than a week later my doctor phones me – she can’t look at the scans, because she can’t get to her office now, but they found something. Some “thickening tissue”. She’s giving me a referral for a bronchoscopy. She tells me not to worry, not to google. She hates that she can’t see the scans herself.


The dressing room lights highlight my ever-multiplying grey hairs. I grab a pair of tweezers from my makeup case and pull them out one by one, from the root, before every show. I’m sitting between the two women playing my daughters, two and three years younger than me. I, however, am the right age for the character. I had been certain I would not get this part. Female actors in their thirties are skilled, honed, resilient. I don’t know how I’ll keep up now. Lacking an ingenue’s beauty, I hustled through my 20s on what I thought must be some kind of novel scrappy newness. What invisible hurdles am I jumping now? I collect a small pile of greys and throw them in the trash.


“You’re so young.” This is what every doctor, nurse, and lab technician says to me on a loop through this. “What are you doing here?”

The thought occurs to me, however irrational, that my body is punishing me. Punishing me not only for endless workdays and unrelenting schedules, but for three decades of pinching, pulling, scratching, shaming. I have always been angry at my body, for one reason or another, and now I feel it is angry at me.


In the week leading up to the bronchoscopy, I have a dream about my lung. I wonder about this errant ‘piece of tissue,’ as it has been described to me. It is unknown right now why it’s there, or what it thinks it’s doing, and what its plans are. But in this dream – the tissue has been removed, and for the first time I am able to take a full deep breath into both lungs.

Suddenly everything is easier. Some previously unknown capacity has opened up – not just lung, but emotional, physical, mental. I am smarter. I am more patient. I am more beautiful, more organized, and friendlier. It’s sunny every day. I keep saying to everyone “wow, I had no idea. I had no idea life could have always been like this.” Every problem that haunts my life is solved with the removal of one little piece of me I can’t even see.

Then I wake up.


The hospital is unsettlingly quiet. Every person I see is covered head to toe, only urgent eyes poking out from between a mask and cap, from behind a plastic shield. Still, the nurse banters with me as he checks me in. “Thirty years old, non-smoker, what the heck are you doing here?”

“I know,” I say. “What the fuck, right?” He concurs. “What the fuck.” He is smiling under his mask. I think. He finishes my paperwork and says “I hope it’s nothing. I’m rooting for ya.”

Two hours later, after I wake up and the doctor has finished delivering his news, the nurse comes back. I tell him what the doctor told me. His eyes are still, unreadable behind the glare of the plastic across his face.

“I wish I could hug you,” he says. “But I can’t.”


I have floated through the incredibly difficult last two years of my life on the tide of plausible daydreams. I imagine myself far from this moment of pain, which I remind myself is temporary, in a future that could become reality. I think of the shows I might do, the dream roles and venues and productions, the plays I might write. I think of the places I might go. I think ‘this is only for now, and what happens next?’ I work hard cultivate a delight in the future, rather than a dread.

This is not possible, in the 31 days between when I find out I have cancer and when I find out if it’s the kind that could kill me. Because the known world is holding its breath, turning blue, and I don’t know if I will ever step on stage again and I don’t know if I will ever walk in a place that awakens some unknown part of me, and I don’t know how I will pay my bills in six months, so I imagine nothing. The current of possible futures dried up and unappealing, I turn to the present moment. I go to a friend’s back yard to look at his new chickens, and we drink wine on the lawn getting sunburnt and blissed out. The chickens, with what appears to be a 20second cycle of discovery, puzzlement, and problem solving, reset gently over and over again, clucking softly. We drive out to a lake and I beckon my friends past the swampy shore into the cool centre, floating in the sun. We eat chips with wet hands on dirty beach blankets. When I cannot do any of these things, I sleep dreamlessly in the middle of the day.


One week last year I saw a hummingbird in each of the three countries of my life. The year after my father died, had I worked nearly every single week without stopping. When at last I was done, it was spring again. A week after closing the last show I was traveling south. I spent the day before my first flight on Bowen Island, where hummingbirds crowded the bright plastic feeder outside the kitchen window. I looked out at the Pacific Ocean, already worried about my rental car in Los Angeles. I landed in my birth city, got behind the wheel of a black sports car after an anxious 30 minutes in the rental place trying to choose between cars that all looked the same to me. When I landed at the place I was renting, I wept. The raw pressure of the year I had set up for myself cracked me open and grief shuddered out of me. As I drove around the city where I was born, the city where my parents met, I continued to struggle but was visited by the glittering hummingbirds every morning in the garden. When the plane landed at my next stop, Mexico City, I felt a palpable release. As I sat in the garden at Bosque Chapultepec, I texted a friend of mine who is wise in all ways. A hummingbird hovered in front of my nose, looked at me, and turned and flew away.


Two excruciating days after the promised appointment with my surgeon and my scan results, the call finally comes. I write everything down because my mind skitters rapidly across time and space whenever a new unpronounceable is introduced. He starts with the good news: the cancer has not spread, and is confined to the single tumour they initially located. The type of cancer is a carcinoid (not carcinoma, which I mistakenly wrote down at the hospital) and is unlikely to reappear. I will not require radiation or chemotherapy. He goes to the less-good news: because of the location of the tumour. He says, imagine the lungs are trees, (and my mind skitters to the play I am writing about a woman who studies trees, who has cancer, but doesn’t know it – oh shit I’m still on the phone) the tumour is at the roots of the trees, which somehow means they need to remove 60% of my right lung. This will make it a major surgery with significant scarring and a much longer recovery time. He says a few other things, but I say that this is fine with me. For the 31 days I have waited for this news, my mind has explored every wrinkle of possibility, every best and worstcase scenario. A scar is superficial. Pain is not forever. This is only for now. I hang up and explain this again to my partner, again to my roommate, and again to my mother. When I finally have a moment to think, I look outside and see, for the first and only time ever, a hummingbird hovering outside my window.


Every day I take a little sip of poison from the glass and chemical cocktail in my hand, hoping it will make me stronger. It doesn’t. The world, previously holding its breath is now screaming, howling, and I howl too, I text and write and talk talk talk and apply pressure to the wounds of my friends and loved ones and we try to breathe, we try to breathe. I keep going to the hospital where they inject little bits of chemicals into me, x-ray juice and names I hear five times and still can’t remember. I leave, vibrating with necessary poison, stabbed full of holes and taped up again.

When I finally make it to the ocean alone, I turn off my phone and plunge myself into the still-too-cold water. I swim, imagining the little drops of poison in my veins freezing and falling away. I lay back and look at the sun. When I get out of the water, there is a voicemail waiting for me telling me my surgery is in seven days.


On the plane from Guadalajara to Mexico City, I notice that the other person in the row with me has clearly never flown before. He’s a sweetfaced young man, anxiously rubbing his hands on his knees, checking his seatbelt, looking around wildly when the plane makes any sound. I want to talk to him, but my beginner Spanish ties my tongue. After the plane has taken off, I just look at him quickly and smile. When the plane begins its descent, though, he speaks to me. Is it okay, he asks, if we talk while the plane is landing? It is, in fact, his first plane ride, and he is scared. I smile and say yes. Very quickly my childlike Spanish gives him a task – to ask me simple questions and helps parse through my bumbling answers. It is a good distraction. He asks me what my name is, where I’m from, where I got the colour of my eyes. I ask him back. He shares my father’s name, a name I’ve never encountered in Canada. In between my stuttering sentences, I somehow manage to find the right words of reassurance as the plane continues towards earth. This is normal. That is the sound of the wheels. Don’t be afraid. We hit turbulence and he takes me up on my offer to hold his hand, darting into the empty middle seat and clutching me hard. I tell him we’re almost there, I tell him 10 more seconds, I remind him to breathe. I tell him we’re almost there and start to count, and not one second later we land. We clap. He crosses himself and kisses my hand.


“Aha, I thought it was you, but I wasn’t sure.” I’m shivering in my hospital gown, clammy from the antiseptic wipes I’ve been instructed to prepare my body with, to avoid the outside of my body contaminating the inside. A woman stands in front of me, with a squinting smile that makes me think I’m supposed to know her. She is the anesthesiologist, who has the quirky energy many in her profession share. With a blissed-out cadence, she tells me what’s happening next. They will give me an epidural for the substantial pain that comes with this surgery – it sounds gross, she says, but I’ll be grateful for it. This is what I’ve been most dreading. The idea of a needle in my spinal cord seems like an unfair summit of horror on top of an already terrifying procedure. And just like that, it’s showtime, and I’m abruptly wheeled away from my partner who at that point I am told is not able to visit me again in the hospital. I enter the theatre where the bright lights glare off the plastic masks of the surgery team, obscuring faces. The smiling woman helps me into the position where they will insert the epidural. “We’re going to give you a little something first, okay?” I nod, preparing for the thing I’ve dreaded most.

That’s the last thing I remember.


There is one thing I didn’t tell anyone. The surgeon told me, over the phone, that there was a 0.5% mortality rate for this surgery. That’s good, I said hopefully. That’s 1 in 200 people, he said gravely. Okay, I said. Thank you for telling me.

So when my eyes open to the searing lights of the post-operative ward, I take a moment to feel grateful that I am alive. And then the companion to the privilege of life arrives. Pain.


Filled with numbing substances unknown, I dream.

A director asks me to sit in on a workshop – they know I’m not well and understand completely if I can’t attend but it feels very important right now to get a second opinion on the piece. I walk into the hall, watch the work, offer some notes, everyone is pleased, but as I leave and walk the hallway everyone is shaking their head at me, part disapproval, part pity. My hospital gown reveals my back, sliced wide open and then stitched shut again with big cartoon X’s. Suddenly my legs give out, and it takes me a long time to pull myself down the stairs. When I reach the bottom I collapse in a heap, my bare and bloody back exposed, and everyone around stares sombrely at the woman who didn’t know how to stop.

My dear friend visits me from Toronto and picks me up in his rental car and we drive to Sasamat Lake. I am excited to feel the sun on my face and the water on my toes. We get there, spread out our blankets and snacks, but every time we look up at the trees lining the water, they snap shut, folding on some invisible crease and disappearing into the water. The horizon has gaps of naked plywood on it now, in sharp contrast to the sun sparkling on the water and the surviving, unwitnessed trees. If we’re going to have a nice day at the lake, we’re going to have to keep our eyes down the whole time.

I wake up, dozens of times every night. If in my dream I have a healthy body, I am alarmed to wake up in the hospital. If I’ve dreamed that I’m dead, I am mildly pleased to wake up alive.

Sometimes I feel like my lungs have become chrysalis-thick goo, clotted to the delicate butterfly wings of my ribs. I breathe roughly, heaving the sticky mess of flesh as best I can. Sometimes I feel like the spun-sugar softness of my arms has wettened and smashed sticky into the soapy hospital sheets, unable to be peeled off without skinning myself alive. I awake confused, my logic untethered by opioids into fantastical imaginings of present carnage, but then eventually I settle into the here, and the now, which is not particularly gentle.

Once the fog clears, I lay alone in the humble simplicity of the early morning and mostly just feel sad.


I get to go home, and the days ooze by in formless surges of sunlight and darkness. I enter the seesaw of nausea and pain, either sitting eyes closed and upright for hours waiting for the spinning to stop, or lying motionless in bed, little firecrackers of pain shimmering through my body every 20 seconds.

By week two at home, my body is healing but my spirit is not. I make appearances in the outside world, doing my best to look better than I feel. Though I manage not to look like someone who two weeks ago was wheeling around a tank full of blood and gore attached to a suction tube stuck in my lung, I cannot shake the feeling that a little piece of me is gone. I don’t want to look anyone in the eye. I feel small, shy. Stupid.

I spend a lot of time thinking about bodies. The beautiful bodies of my friends, the bodies under threat, the bodies under violence, the astonishing act of a body living, breathing as all bodies should be allowed to do. I think of my body. I try to thank it for its astonishing efforts of healing the massive wound on my side, its ability to protect me from the worst parts of this trauma. I try, I try, I try. This is only for now.


Every spring, I crave peonies. I am not in the tax bracket for which cut flowers are a household staple, but peonies are worth the indulgence. I love their chaotic blooms, their abundance of petals and sweet smell. I also love that their arrival heralds the subtle entrance of spring from a sodden Vancouver winter. I finally found some, during the long wait for a surgery date, in a luscious burgundy. I proudly displayed them on our butter yellow kitchen table, admiring the contrast. Every year I forget the thing about peonies: their splendour is short-lived. After perhaps 18 hours of glory, they began to drop their petals, first one by one and then in audible dumps of softly stacked beauty. The delicate scent turns into a sharp smell of decay, which perfumes the air of our apartment as subtly as before. I am petulant when my housemates comment on the mess, and leave them until every petal has fallen, leaving behind a stinking exposed stamen.

For whatever reason, my sense of smell becomes sharp in the hospital. A moment in which I realize I can smell the hospital soap on my skin is a point from which I cannot return. I feebly scrub my body with baby wipes. I agonize over smelling my own breath but cannot manage to get to the bathroom to brush my teeth. I cannot reach my armpits to attempt to stop the smell of my regenerating body. This obsession follows me home, as I beg my partner to scrub my armpits harder when I cannot, trying to balance the delicate condition of my lungs with my desire to dunk myself in sweet-smelling moisturizer, knowing full well that the chemical cocktail of deodorant does not belong near my still-raw wound. I cannot forget the deep incision in my side or the filthy hospital tape stuck to me which I may not remove. I can’t stop smelling the presence of my human flesh.


The lung is the grief meridian. This is what I’m told many, many times over the two years between my father’s death and the day they cut a little piece of it away from me. I started grieving my father long before he left this earth, as addiction ate him alive. Winter after winter of antibiotics and avoiding long distance calls from Mexico.

My mom and I flew to El Paso for the funeral, she from Vancouver and me from Toronto. El Paso is right on the border of the US and Mexico, literally a stone’s throw from one nation to the next. I landed first but I was too afraid to drive the rental car alone so I sat in the airport for hours, watching hundreds of people pass by who looked a little more like me than anywhere else I’ve been. My wise friend texted me – may she do some healing energetic body work for me? I text back, “yes please, thank you.” I don’t really believe in anything but that doesn’t really cut it when you’re dealing with acute grief. I believe in people. I believe in care. I believe in my friend.

She tells me some time later that she scanned my body and found a great terrible yucky mass filling my lungs and making it hard for me to breathe. It’s anchored to a single spot, where a small silver hook has sunk into the flesh of my lung. She says she has unhooked the mass and cleaned out my infected lungs, lined them with cool clean leaves. She urges me to find water and a tree. I thank her. I feel better.

When at last we arrive at the hotel, I dip my shaking body into the courtyard’s pool, looking out over the twinkling night lights that make El Paso and Juarez nearly indistinguishable. I sit beneath a bedraggled palm tree and breathe deeply, trying to picture the little spot in my lung that will one day make itself known to me one year later and 2000 miles North as I speak a monologue about being lost at sea and washing up on the shores of Mexico.


I can’t tell you the whole story. I can only tell you a little piece. That’s because it’s not over yet, and because it started long before the place I chose to start telling it to you. There’s the part where I get my first PET scan to ensure the cancer has departed, scheduled for the day after my 31st birthday. There’s the part 10 years from now where I’ll be sure it has returned (and be wrong). There’s the part some unknown time ago when the first cell made the wrong choice over and over again.

This body is the holder of the memories I turned to in the darkest moments of this saga, the keeper of everything I am. The little piece taken out of me would have taken my life, and it was with me when I lay in a field under the whiskey-spinning stars, it was with me rumbling along with the crack of thunder from a tropical storm atop a pyramid, it was with me clenched tight behind my heart at my father’s funeral.

This moment is not forever. I am just a little piece of the universe, and this is just a little piece of my body, a little piece of my year, a little piece of the mysterious unfurling story of my life.


I am counting backwards from ten.

I try to meditate every day. I am imagining that I am clearing my thoughts away, like a wave washing over the shore. I try to release my beloved hypotheticals and focus on the present. Sometimes when I meditate my body shakes. I notice that. I let the thought float away.

I take a deep breath.

the wicked stage


This time last year, before a matinee of a holiday show, I could not stop crying. I had circled the block for half an hour, my precious pre-show time ticking away. I got close to the stage door and then had to crouch behind an electrical box, sobbing, while audience members already started to arrive at the theatre’s doors. When I finally made it in, I still couldn’t stop, wiping off tears to apply makeup, drying my eyelashes enough to glue big fake ones on top. At warm-up, a fellow actor asked if they could try something, and I said sure. They placed a hand on my back and closed their eyes. I imagined them pulling whatever it was that wouldn’t let me go out of my body and into theirs, and then casting it down into the stage, down into the earth. They shook it off. I stopped crying.


In the last 12 months I had the privilege of spending over half of my year in rehearsal or performance, more than I’ve ever had before and more than I ever expect to have again. It had been two years since I’d been on stage. This was the life that I’d dreamed about as a kid, the immersive devotion to a life on stage. It’s harder in reality. The work of an actor is both romanticised and denigrated to the degree that it can become indecipherable when you go to talk about it. Stay grateful, but don’t be precious. Work your guts out but remember that it’s just a job.

Okay, sure.

To me, the work of an actor hinges on the vulnerability of shared imagination, building worlds, investing in them, believing in them and making them manifest. Working in a way that is at once intensely personal and relentlessly public, we try to craft something that is both delicate and durable, repeatable and spontaneous, generous and restrained. It’s impossible. If you don’t love failure, it will eat you alive. If complacency comes easy to you, you’ve doomed yourself to a Sisyphean nightmare of pointless repetition. Sometimes the delicate web of emotional investment and psychological believability is the essential ingredient in a show. Sometimes you just have to be loud enough and let your costume do the rest. The recipe is different every time.

And then there’s the reality of presence. Relentless physical and emotional presence with one another while tired, while sick, while hungry, while grumpy, while excited, while preoccupied, while stressed, while hyper, while sleeping, while sneezing, while coughing, while barfing, while menstruating, while pregnant, while grieving, while shaking, while sweating – it’s intimate, embarrassing, comforting and unavoidable. As I grow to know myself better, I realize that this is both what attracted me to this life, and the hardest part. Some are great at keeping their space. I’m not. Non-stop exposure to the lives and feelings of others leaves me feeling like a blown-out speaker sometimes. I’m still working on figuring out how to keep the volume low.

You have your tool kit – your body and mind – and fight off the lack of sleep, the proximity to communal bacteria and viruses, the struggle for healthy eating, the temptation of ‘decompressing’ late nights out, the repetitive physical activities, the exhaustion of community politics, the contagion of complaining, the fear of punishment, the anxiety of imperfection, and at some point you get yourself through the stage door in whatever state you’re in, and set down to work. This to me, is where thinking of the work of an actor as some mystical incantation to creativity is absolutely useless. This is where it feels like a trade: practical, skilled, pragmatic. Prepare the workspace and the tools, and get down to it. Because it’s not magic every day. Sometimes it’s humiliating, or boring, or annoying. Sometimes it’s like drawing blood from a proverbial stone (or making an audience believe you’re doing so, as a prop falls apart in your hands and someone’s cell phone goes off, twice). Sometimes it’s transcendent, miraculous, transporting. It’s often not. You will never know what it will be and why. You must love the mystery.


It’s the end of the year now. It’s quiet. I’m off contract and ready for some alone time. I have this particular feeling I get sometimes – like my skin is hot, like every set of eyes that looked at me this year as I sang or danced or cried or did whatever is still on me, every touch from quick changes and rehearsal hugs and onstage love is still pressed onto the surface of my skin. I’m so glad not to be acting for the next month. I can’t wait to get back to it.

Like all great loves, this one shifts with age, reveals new facets, asks to be proved worth it or not, renews itself over and over again. I have a photo of me at the stage door of the Vancouver Playhouse at 11 years old, shaking with nerves and excitement, waiting for the actors to come out. Dying to know what was on the other side of that door.

The mystery still lives.




Siminovitch Protégé Prize Acceptance Speech


I’d like to begin with some thank yous –

First off, to my family and in particular my mom, who has made this life possible for me.  To Jiv, the best person I’ve ever met at a theatre conference.

To my theatre family – my dear friends and collaborators – The Delinquents, the Matriarchy, and the incredible community in Vancouver who fuel me with their generosity and inspiration.

To Shawn MacDonald, who first named me as a playwright; Craig Holzchuh, who as Artistic Director of Theatre la Seizieme gave me my first commission as a playwright and opened many doors for me; Jessie van Rijn, whose relentless support has sparked many adventures. And, of course, Marcus Youssef, who I will speak about shortly.

I grew up on unceded Coast Salish territory, specifically the area that many call Vancouver.  As I travel more of this complicated country, I start to understand more and more how much the mountains and sea and sky have given to me.  From my heart, I thank the keepers of that land, the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh nations and the many nations of the Pacific Northwest for their long-time stewardship.  I am grateful.

This honour comes to me at a moment of precipice.

In the last few months, I’ve been haunted by one question every time I’ve sat down to write.

What could possibly be important enough?

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed.  I feel like a radio receiver that’s too sensitive to hear just one thing.  And these are noisy times.  Every time I sit down to write, I hear amongst the radio static, a million SOS calls.  The sounds of justice denied.  Of plastic in oceans.  Of gunshots and lies.

And although I feel like my work is my life, it also sometimes feels impossibly small.  My mind, my heart, feel impossibly tiny.  These days, it seems like nothing between the pads of my fingertips and a keyboard could create something louder than a whisper.

And then I come back to this word, that I heard Marcus say once about theatre.


Let’s be clear for a second – I’m a millennial and cynicism is basically a bodily function for us.  So the first time I heard Marcus say that word, I kind of gave a teen girl cringe because it was ohmygodsooooo hyperbolic and like so earnest, jeeeez.

Earnest. I’ve been described as earnest – mostly in a pejorative sense – for my entire life.  People seem to love to tell me that I’ll change, that I’ll give up, that I’ll start to see things the way they really are.  And so, much of my early writing had a protective layer of bleakness and cynicism.

Because to understand theatre – what we do – as an act of communion; an act that can restore and transform, and connect – is almost too beautiful to bear.

Working alongside Marcus – in addition to fueling neverending and (at least I think) hilarious millennial vs. Gen Xer jokes – has asked me to rise to a challenge.

To create the work like he has – his funny, surprising, poignant, messy, revelatory work – asks a lot of an artist.  To approach this work with an open, heavy, naked heart.  To see not simply the best or the worst of the world, but the complicated whole.

To believe that we can transform and restore ourselves through acts of communion requires more courage than cynicism.  It takes courage to believe that what is happening, right here, together, is important enough.

I feel now, growing in me, a sort of radical earnestness – I’m working on a manifesto but I’m too shy to share it.  So, I guess I’m not that radical yet.  But here’s what I know so far.

Earnestness is not naivety.

Earnestness can be hard won, and hard to protect.

Could I be so earnest to believe that we can write into existence worlds that are populated by all the kinds of people we know and love in our communities; that we can subvert power systems that silence and oppress; that we can listen through the radio static for sounds of humanity and hope?

Ohmigod, that’s like, almost enough to make me cringe.


Thank you, Marcus.  Thank you to the Siminovitch family, for reminding me how important this work can be.

Thank you all.

Aqui, hogar, and other simple palabras

As soon as my feet hit the ground in Mexico, I have a panic attack. Curled up on top of my suitcase in the bathroom of the baggage claim, gasping for air, it takes me a long time to realize the urgent female voices I hear are talking to me.

“Estas bien? Estas bien?”


When I was 12, my friend went to England. I have wanted to go to London terribly, my whole life. The day she traveled, I stayed up until 3AM so she could call me from Heathrow just so I could hear the air over there. She held up the phone for me so I could hear the sounds of the airport. I was too excited to go back to sleep after.

I still haven’t gone to London.


I’ve google searched my way to a beautiful restaurant in downtown Calgary. I am by myself. They sit me at the bar, between two couples that have their backs turned to me and keep elbowing me unknowingly. I am served the best pasta I’ve ever had. I tell the bartender who is serving me that it’s fantastic. He can’t hear me over the sound of the martini shaker, and I’m too shy to repeat myself. I think about taking a picture of my plate, but it’s too dark and it doesn’t look like much of anything anyway.


I’m sitting alone, drinking a glass of white wine at an airport bar, conveniently located immediately facing the gate of my delayed flight. I have my sunglasses, wallet and passport on the table in front of me. The television is broadcasting updates on the Nigerian school girls, abducted from their towns. I put my passport into my jacket pocket and zip it closed.


As she leans over the kitchen counter at her home in East Van, my mom tells me that my abuelo used to drive every day from their home in El Paso to go work in Juarez, just on the other side of the US/Mexico border. Two days later, I board a flight, YVR to LAX that my dad must have done hundreds of times. Work, home. Trabajo, hogar.


On our day off, we drive to the East LA apartment building where I grew up. I haven’t been here since I was 4 years old. Tentatively, we walk through the apartment compound and find the one that was ours – I don’t want to intrude on the current tenant’s privacy, so I take a picture of the outside of the building and we head out. Through a fence, I see a pool and memory shocks me like jumping into cool water. I only ever had one fuzzy memory of LA, and I’m suddenly looking right at it.


In LA I see fellow Chicanos evaluate me, choosing English over Spanish so I understand. Fair enough. I try not to take it personally.


On the first day of the festival, the facilitator asks us to imagine the stage as a map of the world, placing LA, Central America, Australia, China for reference. “Go to the place you call home,” she says. Hundreds of us go down to the stage, and it’s so densely packed that it’s impossible to tell where I’m standing.


After almost two years of frequent visiting, I finally have a dream about Toronto. I’m headed west along King Street, waiting to get off at Spadina so I can take the streetcar up towards Bloor. The dream is accurate and unremarkable.


Sometimes I can have a conversation in Spanish and it’s no problem. Sometimes, the words tangle up in my mouth and shame locks up every syllable. Often the person I’m trying to greet will switch languages. If they can’t, I apologize in any language I can muster, smile, and leave as quickly as I can. And sometimes with a good new friend the conversation flows freely, dancing easily back and forth across the invisible fronteras of language, meeting one another where we can make ourselves understood.


Whenever I arrive somewhere new, I have a routine. I open the window, if I can. Put lavender oil on the bedspread. Turn on the lamps and turn off the overhead lighting. Open my phone and start my white noise app. I will try to text someone at home, but the time zones almost never work out.


We’re in Puerto Morelos, a small beach town hidden between two major tourist centres on the Yucutan Peninsula. We’re sitting at a plastic picnic table outside and I’m chatting with the restaurant’s server and chef en Español, while my boyfriend holds my hand and looks over my shoulder at the stray dogs playing on the sidewalk. For the first time in months, I can breathe. My heart feels like a raincloud, heavy and full.


I text my friend.

Me, 8:56 PM: I’m really, really ready to come home.

Her, 8:58 PM: Where?


The last day before leaving is always strange. Permeated with an urgent finality, the place appears to me vivid, iconic, crystalizing into instant memory. The past leaps up to meet my foot with every step, bending time zones and timelines to create a dizzying déjà vu of alternate lives. “You were always here,” some part of me says. “Where do think you’re going now?” I look at my watch, check in for my flight exactly 24 hours before. Get on my hands and knees and feel under the hotel bed to make sure nothing is left behind. On his million trips there and back, my dad would often bring me a present. I try not to accumulate too much stuff, though. I have to carry my home with me.


The Intermission


all is calm
all is bright

I keep having vivid dreams about fires and floods.  Everything is gone.  I see the end of our world in eerie detail, and I’m immersed in the immediacy of coping, of decisions and priorities.  I see Vancouver, in particular, subjected to some immense catastrophe – but we are calm and orderly, deeply afraid but focused on the task of survival.  When the horror of the situation finally dawns on me, I wake up.

There’s a constellation of thumbprints on my heart.  One for every worry, big or small.  They show up, echoes in my subconscious magnified into devastating nightmares.

They’re surfacing with increasing regularity, because in a lot of ways I feel like these fears are coming for me now.  For us.  The undercurrent of dread in our part of the world and beyond is tangible – and I don’t need to remind you why.  It feels like we’re at the end of Act One of the sweeping drama of our times.

But we can’t be surprised, really.  We were told everything at the beginning, just like a prologue to a play.  We knew that we lived above our global means. We knew about inequality, about injustice. We knew that tremendous inequity kept us in strata.  There’s nothing surfacing now that no one saw coming.  But here we are, gasping as the curtain falls. 

through the years we all will be together
if the fates allow
until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow

So it’s fucking Christmas, and I don’t really know what to do with that.  I think about what gift I should get my mom, and then I go to sleep and dream about rotting corpses on Robson street.  I don’t really know what to make of the holidays, because in many ways it feels like a part of the big machine that is eating us alive, but also I guess they’re pretty nice too.    Still, I don’t know if we have the right to turn off the news anymore.  I don’t know if we have the right to keep buying new things we don’t need, wrapping them in paper and throwing it away.  I don’t know if we get to do that anymore. 

It’s intermission.  We’re in the lobby with our drinks and bathroom lines, talking to our dates and children and friends and spouses.  But the show will start again.

What happens in Act Two?

Tremendous acts of courage.  Startling revelations that leave everything changed.

Devastation.  Sadness.  Loss.


I don’t know what the next year will bring us.  I think I’ve read a script like this before, and I don’t like the way it ended.  So it’s up to us, now.

If any of this life that we have been given is to matter at all, we will need to be the heroes of this story.  The good people whose courage and resistance and love rewrite the narrative.  It has to be us, or it will have been for nothing.

Take the vacation time, the cookies, the gift cards, the awkward family dinners, the boozy house parties.  Make your heart strong, no matter how vast your constellation of worries.  That’s what this time is for.  Because we’ll need all the strength we can get. 

later on, we’ll conspire
as we dream by the fire
to face unafraid
the plans that we made


Stand up.  Act Two is about to begin.

East Van Love Song

It’s 8am on Commercial Drive and I’m walking to the community centre when I realize halfway there that it’s Labour Day, and the pool will be closed. That’s fine. This becomes a morning walk instead. It’s uncharacteristically quiet, except for the hiss of the number 20 and some restaurant prep cooks blasting music so loud you can hear it from the street. I grew up on the Drive, and there’s no place in the world that feels as much like home. This was the neighborhood we landed when my family moved North from Rodney King-era East LA – away from the highways and riots and tucked into the quiet greenery of East 3rd Avenue.

I’m at the age now where if I close my eyes, I can tell you what things used to be as easily as I can tell you what they are now. I remember the little Vietnamese bakery where my friend and I used to buy 69 cent spring rolls, burning our fingers and tongues to eat them before they soaked through the paper bag they were delivered in – gone. I remember playing foosball at Joe’s Café with my friend and our dads, screaming ourselves hoarse and getting calluses on our palms from the cracked handles of the table – still there. I remember the exact moment, as a young teenager, that I walked past Café Roma and realized the men were looking at me in that way – still there, but different than I remember. And even now, the smell of chlorine, chocolate milk, and white chocolate raspberry scones are inextricably linked by years of afternoons at the pool for swimming lessons followed by a trip to Uprising Bakery. I am becoming a regular again at that same pool, swimming laps under the watchful eye of the tiger mural, unchanged from when I learned to swim two decades ago.

This is a community born from resistance. Early in the twentieth century, speculation failed here. The neighbourhoods instead filled with immigrants from Italy, Portugal, and later Vietnam, Latin America, and beyond. The sidewalks hum with banter in more languages than I can count. Next to posters of Fringe shows and big-name concert are pasted posters announcing protests, anti-oppression workshops, political actions. I remember the year that a Subway opened up (near Charles, if I remember correctly,) and I remember it shutting down, no competition for the real Italian subs available just across the street. But the chains are coming and staying now, each two-year-lifespan gastropub replaced by another one. The co-ops and subsidized housing that my classmates grew up in are threatened by the arrival of new and shiny condos. Gentrification. Inevitable – and yet to me, inconceivable in this scrappy corner of our increasingly homogenous city. I now live two blocks down from the house I grew up in, the one my family was renovicted from when I was a child. Sometimes I wonder if I am now part of the problem. But when I get a notice of a rent increase and my heart squeezes so tight time stops, when my roommate and I get our taxes back and fall to the floor laughing because we fall so far below the poverty line, I think no, not me. Then I look at the low-income housing across the street, and wonder if they’ve stopped laughing about it.

One night, as I lay in bed, I heard shouting in the street. First, the familiar intonations of a regular who walks the length of the Drive with his little dog, singing and speaking to himself. Second, the clicking of high heels and the cruel millennial bleat of a woman following him, mocking him, drunk and mean. Rage stiffened my body as I prepared to hit the streets and intervene, because some resistance comes with its fists up. And then: the man’s terrifying roar, then silence: the sound of heels clicking quietly away. This neighborhood knows how to defend itself.

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In the chilly morning air, I walk past the primary school where my mom helped our neighbor with 6 adopted and foster children walk to school, where my teacher first taught me to write my own books; I walk past the elementary school that collected giftcards and donations to help my family when our house burned down; I walk past the swimming pool where an instructor taught me to resist the urge to panic when I put my face underwater; I walk past a person sleeping on the street; I walk past a steel and glass storefront selling $80 throw pillows; I walk past an elderly woman in a track jacket going for a run; I walk past an old man smoking on the patio of the Italian coffee shop; I walk past a pile of wet abandoned clothes in the park; I walk past the spot where yesterday I ate tamales outside and listened to a man sing in Spanish, thinking of my family members who have never visited my city; I walk past stores and homes that are, that were, and that will be.

This is what we’re fighting for. The unbelievable complexity of co-existence on this Coast Salish land that was never ours to begin with. Deeply imperfect, but essential all the same. With every force that seeks to make us fear the other and each other, to guard our resources, to get what’s ‘ours’, we resist. We fight for community centres and rent control, for our schools and shops. We fight oppression in all its forms. We are not all the same. We are not all fighting the same fight. But resistance lives in the met eyes of neighbors, in ‘good mornings’ and ‘do you need help?’ It lives in hot coffees for strangers and signed petitions, in your feet on the ground at protests and rallies, in solidarity. In the quiet streets of the Drive on Labour Day.

Spring Things


I’ve just returned from an incredible week at The Banff Centre as part of the 2016 Playwrights Colony.  I was there with my collaborator Molly MacKinnon working on a new piece titled Never The Last, which premiers next month at the rEvolver Festival.  I was so grateful to meet some brilliant minds from across Canada, and to enjoy the facilities at Banff.  Molly and I worked round the clock to turn out two new drafts in one week – the result will be on stage just three weeks from now!

Another nice thing: I am in great company as one of six finalists for this year’s RBC Tarragon Emerging Playwrights Prize.  You can read more about the other amazing finalists here.

It feels like a really wonderful time to be a playwright in Canada – I’m filled with gratitude.  I also just literally got home from Banff, so I’m going to bed.  Goodnight, friends.

high tide

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On Monday night at the Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards, I was honoured to received the Sydney Risk Prize for Outstanding Script by an Emerging Playwright for Selfie.  I also got to get up on stage with my very best friends in the world to accept the Jessie for Outstanding Musical – Small Theatre for Stationary: A Recession-Era Musical.


Awards are weird and wonderful (and then weird again). In an industry where merit and success so rarely meet, it’s a bit odd to take one night a year to declare a winner.  But I think the real impulse is to celebrate and to come together – to recognize the hard work and to (try to) get all our beautiful, vibrant colleagues in one room to say, as Dawn Petten so beautifully put in her acceptance speech, that this is ‘our town’.

One of my favourite phrases is ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’.  I believe this, absolutely.  It’s the guiding principle of everything I do in the theatre.  When we are at our best, we all win.  And this experience has reminded me that I have been lifted by the people in this community – I am the beneficiary of programs and people who made room for me at the table.  Sometimes as artists we live in a culture of scarcity that can trick us into thinking we can’t afford to lift everyone up, when in fact the truth is that we can’t afford to leave anyone behind.  That night reminded me of the incredible generosity I’ve been shown in my short time in the professional world, and I intend to pass that kindness on to anyone I can.  Win or lose, feast or famine, it won’t always be this good – so when the tides rise and we cast our nets, the bounty will be so much greater for having everyone on board.

thought residency

I’m happy to be a contributor to the SpiderWebShow once again, this time as a thought resident for February 2015.  What is a thought resident?  According to Artistic Director Sarah Garton Stanley, “My desire is to offer a brief holiday from the mantle of your own thoughts and to give you the opportunity to unwind over a 30-second interlude with some of our country’s most interesting performance creators.  Each month, I invite an artist to join us in our thought-space. In turn, we invite you to listen to their thoughts. New thoughts are born online each Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. It is completely free and digitally intimate.”

Pretty neat eh?  It starts today, and will have three thoughts per week until it rolls over to another artist.  Tomorrow’s thought contains the word “nudity,” so if fall short in intellectual intrigue I can always fall back on sensationalism.

Thanks to Sarah and the SpiderWebShow team for inviting me to take part.