street cred

As Featured on News Cult: How to Throw Shade

As it is my mission to become less vanilla and more urban/clatchet (classy ratchet), this post, written by the masterful Only Bad Chi, is very relevant.


only bad chi

Throwing shade seems to be the thing right now, right? Like, it’s trending or whatever. So I thought I’d give some tips on how to do it. Because I’m nothing if not relevant.

My understanding is that throwing shade is basically insulting someone, but in a really passive aggressive way. Which is our craft. See, you were already doing it and you didn’t even know! So the key is to make the person you’re throwing shade on (at?) not know you’re doing it, until it’s too late. #bobandweave #stealthasasnake

Like, if you’re trapped in a conversation with someone you hate/has done you wrong, like any given coworker/receptionist/police officer/customer service phone rep in the history of coworkers/receptionists/police officers/customer service phone reps, say something such as:

♦”I can totally see you being in a Sears catalogue. I think there’s something to be said for being basic.”

♦”Nice haircut! How on earth were you able to get an…

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On race and racism – Vanilla’s perspective

Perhaps because #OscarsSoWhite;

Perhaps because it is Black History Month;

Perhaps because Beyoncé turned black, and Kendrick Lamar owned the Grammys;

Perhaps because of the relentless stream of hatred spewing from our neighbor below’s Republican presidential candidates directed at anyone who isn’t a middle-class WASP;

My social media has been awash in all kind’s of posts related to racism, and specifically racism against blacks, or as Americans call them, African-Americans.

Perhaps because when Jimmy Kimmel shared this skit, I sent it to my friends, and most of my white friends sheepishly admitted they didn’t have any black friends;

Perhaps because one of my friends once told me that it wasn’t her fault she was unaware of racial issues in Montréal since she didn’t hang out with black people, the way I do – she didn’t belong to a boxing gym;

Perhaps because at the accounting firm I worked at for 5 years, which employed close to 2,000 people, I only ever saw 3 black people;

Perhaps because in my graduate accounting program at a university renown for its ethnic diversity, out of a class of 160 students, 4 were black;

Perhaps because in my first year of mechanical engineering at one of Canada’s best universities, in a class of 125 students, 2 were black;

Many of my white friends have told me that racism isn’t an issue here in Canada (*), or at least, “it isn’t as bad as the States”.

Perhaps because my friends assumed my parents would have a problem when my first serious boyfriend was half black;

Perhaps because my ex-boyfriend grew up living in Alberta, where he and his brothers were the only black kids in high-school. One day after school, on his walk home, my ex was ambushed by the “cool” kids in his grade, who held him down, and sucker-punched him in the nose and broke it, because they didn’t like his “punk-ass black attitude”;

Perhaps because my ex’s mother (white, anglo-saxon Canadian) confided in me her doubts about successfully raising mixed children in a white environment;

Perhaps because I remember the day when my ex and his roomie walked into the appartment, and his roomie, a Canadian Persian, was shaking with pent up outrage, while my ex looked blank. Walking in downtown Montréal, my ex’s roomie had been blatantly smoking a joint, while my ex walked beside him with his bike. My ex wore long dreadlocks; his roomie was clean shaven. The cops pulled up beside them, and searched my ex for pot, even after the roomie, outraged by the obvious racial profiling, yelled at them that he had all the pot on him. The cops ignored the roomie, and told my ex not to have so much attitude.

Perhaps because one time a (black) bouncer was rude to me. My ex started to speak up, and the bouncer looked at him with scorn, “what, you think you black? with your white girl, and your nice jeans? Shut the fuck up.”

One friend told me she didn’t understand why black people had to make everything about race. Sometimes, it could just be a case of bad manners, you know?

Perhaps because of 3 of my ex’s cousins moved to Montréal from Jamaica, in their early teens, and were taken in by their white cousin – a lovely man, who’d grown up in Barbados, and understood the culture shock of moving to Canada. Quebec’s education system forced them into a french high-school with remedial french lessons, and held them back academically due to their difficulties learning the language. Bored, they started acting out, fell in with a bad crowd made up of other disenfranchised non-white (mainly black) teenagers, and got into serious trouble. Their guardian pleaded with the principal and guidance counsellors to allow the boys to join the regular academic stream and the school athletic teams, so that the boys would be exposed to a wider variety of youth, with less behavioural problems and more ambition. The school replied that due to their poor french skills and bad attitude, it would be inappropriate to reward the boys with those privileges.

Perhaps because one of the boys got recruited by a gang in Montréal, and eventually got shot and killed. Perhaps because the cops shrugged and never bothered investigating. “What do you expect? He should have known better.”

Perhaps because at the boy’s funeral, I showed up in a charcoal suit. I was outraged when close to 50 young black kids showed up wearing hoodies printed with the boy’s face. How dare they show such lack of respect in their attire? I sat next to one of those kids, who cried so hard his body was shaking. He didn’t own a hankerchief, so he’d brought a facecloth, which he soaked through and through. When I tentatively gave him a hug, and patted his back soothingly, he hung on for dear life. I wondered how many of these kids would make it to 18.

Perhaps because a few month’s later, the eldest boy got arrested and sent to juvie, for shoplifting $10 worth of cheese from the local grocery store. The youngest boy started running away from home. Perhaps because I never found out what happened to them.

My friends tell me White Privilege is “not a thing” here in Québec.

I don’t have any answers. I don’t understand why racism is so easy, and why specifically racism against blacks is such a polarizing issue, even here in Canada. I do however know that to deny the problem because it is subtle; to relativise it into meaninglessness; to blame the victims for being oversensitive is not the solution. To listen, even when the arguments are awkwardly phrased; to acknowledge the hurt and rage coming from the people with the courage to speak up; to keep an open mind as to the causes and the solutions; to be kind – THAT is part of the solution.

I leave you with this article: The Cost



(*) One of my readers pointed out that Blacks make up only 2% of Canada’s population, and the stats I gave about my workplace and schooling are consistent with that %. True. However, in Montréal, Blacks make up 9.1% of the city’s population. In which case… my point that blacks are significantly under-represented in Professional settings/university degrees still stands. (stats taken fron the 2011 Canadian census).

“I’m so glad you are part of my family”

It was Cap‘s surprise birthday party last week. The young spring chicken turned 40. It was a great party, mixing in equal parts his boxing life with his non-boxing life. Cap walked around, mildly under the influence; he hugged each person, looked deep into their eyes, and told them, “I’m so happy you are part of my family.” Sometimes he’d even tell them twice!

As 2015 wraps up, what better way to close out the year than by giving thanks for this gym that has given me so much happiness, sexy summer legs, and yes, an extended family.

Beginners with no athletic background, Olympic hopefuls and pro-boxers train at my gym. The first time I prepared for a sparring session years ago, one of the pro-boxers walked up to me, and pointed to the helmet I was holding, “First time sparring? Nervous? Yeah, it’d be a pity if you broke your nose.” Nonplussed, I suggested he was not being helpful. He apologized, and continued innocently, “Does it make you nervous knowing that all the people in the gym will be looking at you, when you do your first sparring?” I stamped my foot at him. He laughed, tied my gloves for me, and then watched my pathetic attempts at sparring. I was mortified: here was a pro-boxer – a contender for a title belt – watching me swat my opponent like a kitten pawing a spool of wool. Yet he watched, and shouted tips from the sidelines. I’ve lost count of how often I’ve seen the pros and elite amateur boxers watch, encourage and guide boxers with less experience than them. After winning my first fight at a gala at the gym, the 2-time women’s world champion congratulated me and enveloped me in a big hug. It is always the pros/elite fighters who cheer the loudest at my gym’s amateur boxing galas.

During this year’s Christmas holidays, there was open training at the gym – no classes, anyone could drop in, and work the bag by themselves. Both times I went, there were a dozen or so boxers, ranging from newcomers with gloves that still had the new-leather smell, to a few elite ones. The sound system was acting capricious so we worked in silence, to the sound of the bell, the gloves hitting the bags, the heavy breathing… and the head coach singing the same snippets of White Christmas, over and over again, in his French Canadian-Italian off-key tenor voice.

I consider all of my teammates to be friends, some of them close ones. Yes, I train 6-10 hours a week with them. But that doesn’t explain the statistical anomaly of me liking 100% of my teammates. I work 8-12 hours a day with my co-workers, and while I might like (most of) them, few ever reach the status of friends – people I’d confide in, and see socially outside of work. So why the immediate connection to my teammates?

Everyone who walks into the gym is looking for an escape from the outside world. Yes, the same can be true of a yoga studio. But here, people are looking for a reprieve from the tangle of thoughts, emotions, and frustrations that is a necessary by-product of being alive through the action of hitting an inanimate punching bag over and over again. It’s a safe haven that allows a person to work through whatever they need to work through, surrounded by people doing the exact same thing. The particulars of each individual’s tangled mess is irrelevant; everyone has preoccupations, and the gym is our way to work through our shit. People who walk through the door are looking for the freedom of a few hours when socially acceptable constraints are no longer required. The punching bags become the recipient for every harsh word that was bitten back through the day, every slight that was received, every injustice, every worry. For a few hours, the world stops pushing, and we can push back as hard as we want, without any consequences. Bliss.

Boxing is an unforgiving sport. By stepping into the ring, every boxer tacitly accepts to show their true self to their opponent, coach and whoever is watching. You can’t mask cowardice or fake bravery when getting punched in the head. Every hesitation, fear, bluster and cockiness is blatantly obvious to anyone who watches. There IS no socially constructed mask to hide behind. To step into the ring, every boxer, no matter their level of experience and proficiency, has to be willing to be vulnerable, and to be seen. As such, I’ve noticed that most people at the gym don’t cling so tightly to their social personas – there is no point, when we’ve all seen their true colors in the ring. As a result, everyone is more authentic at the gym than they otherwise might be. Vulnerability + authenticity = key ingredients for friendship.

Also, it doesn’t hurt that my gym is full of good dancers who are witty, funny, party-animals. Eye-candy is NEVER a bad thing when chosing one’s friends. #priorities

Every possible nationality and demographic is present at my gym. 1st, 2nd, and 3rd generation immigrants of every background train here. Atheists will swap tips with practicing Muslims trying to survive Ramadan while training. Liberal arts students discuss career possibilities with a PhD in neuroscience or an engineering fellow. Lawyers talk to handymen and graphic designers. The political spectrum is just as diversified, as are the income brackets: the necessarily-frugal to the big-spending jet-setters. It is more likely than not that someone will have a musical accent. The amount of Franglais conversations is endless: one person speaking all in Québecois, the other responding all in English, and a Frenchie from France sprouting expressions no one has heard of before, du coup!

In a world climate that loves to label everyone and promote segregation, differences and hatred, I hold my gym to be a role model for what multiculturalism, integration and tolerance looks like in practice. On days when our planet is going to shit, when Paris gets bombed, Trump poisons peoples minds, and it is so easy to despair, I step into my gym and feel peace. I look around, and I feel hope.

Not bad for a gym that focuses on a combat sport, yeah?


I love my gym, and my people. My family. My New Year’s wish to all my readers is that you may find a similar safe haven in 2016 that brings you the same joy that my gangsta gym brings me.

Here are all the other posts that involve the gym, or its central characters:

Turns out I’m still very vanilla thankyouverymuch

My gym is located in an interesting area of Montreal. As a refresher, in the past 2 years:

  • 2 dudes attempted, and failed, to mug me at the nearby metro station (story here);
  • I got offered a really good deal (no sales taxes) on a underground artist’s music album because I am white (story here);
  • I got the most colorful cat-call of my existence, in front of one of the many strip-clubs of the area, on my way to a wedding reception (story here).

Yesterday, as I exited the metro station, and started the short walk to the gym, at the reasonable hour of 7:30pm, a homeless man walked beside me and repeatedly asked me for $5, alternating between English and French. I politely smiled and refused several times, in French – because growing up in Quebec, I’ve long accepted that it is just easier to speak French to strangers to avoid triggering words of abuse about being an anglophone and a hater (not that those unpleasant episodes happen frequently, but still. I prefer avoiding hateful comments whenever possible. And really, it doesn’t cost me anything – I speak the language well, and enjoy it. I just wished I had learned to enjoy it without the context of discrimination and sour politics. #naive #wishfulthinking)

The homeless man walked alongside me, crowding me, until he abruptly stopped right in front of me, showed me his cigarette and whispered,

C’est parce que j’ai vraiment envie d’écraser ma cigarette dans ta face.

Which translates charmingly to:

It’s cuz I’d really like to stub my smoke in your face.

He stayed there, standing in front of me, with the burning cigarette 2 inches from my face just long enough to make sure I believed him, and then he walked away.

While he did that, the full irony of the situation (I was on my way to boxing) was not lost on me. Yet I stood frozen, and scared, not sure how to handle the situation. As always, afterwards, I was left with the uncomfortable feeling having been too passive, too accommodating, too female. Wondering how I could have handled it better and more assertively.

I also wondered if any of my feelings would have been shared by Marie-Antoinette, long ago. Poor scared little (relatively) rich white girl, and all that.


Shit just got real, blogging style

As sometimes happens, a reader of my blog will reach out to me. Some missives are impertinent (read the psychoanalysis one dude gave me here), some are short messages of sympathy/humour/encouragement, some are declarations of the heart. When I first received fan mail, I freaked out. How could my little ramblings inspire such effort on behalf of strangers? Since then, I’ve grown comfortable with receiving unsolicited messages – it is a sign that my stories, although personal, trade on emotions and insecurities that are shared by my readers. My stories are relatable.

Yesterday I went for dinner with a male reader of mine. He was a stranger – meaning he is not part of my circle of existing friends or acquaintances that follow my blog. He’d found my blog via a Google search, and struck up an email correspondence with me that was witty and amusing. Over the weeks he became a faithful reader. His insights are interesting and thought provoking; he was a fan and critic of my writing. He asked that we meet up because he wanted to share his own personal dating trainwreck story, and thought it might prove to be inspiring material for a story – if not for my blog, for a short story that we could collaborate on. He’d long been encouraging me to take my writing more seriously (according to him, I’m “wasted on numbers”), and knew that all I lack is the inspiration or material to try something more substantial than blogging. I therefore accepted to meet him – what did I stand to lose?

We met in a trendy restaurant for drinks and tapas. No more awkward than one of the many blind dates that I’ve been on.

Hi! So happy you agreed to meet up! Nice to meet you. Sorry I am two minutes late – I was printing a non-disclosure agreement.

Ummmm, what?

A non-disclosure agreement. I apologize, my printer was running out of ink, so it doesn’t look very good. There are some striations. And I didn’t have time to modify it, so I just took the standard template. It is legally binding. Would you mind signing?

You know those social situations where you are so shocked, you can’t help but laugh? Yeah, this was one of those situations. Boy, did I laugh, and laugh, and laugh. And giggle as I read carefully all two pages of the NDA.

That’s the end of my post, y’all. I’m legally bound to discretion.

P.S. I can’t help but feel that my street cred as a writer is growing every day. First Strawberry, and now this. What are the odds?!

Love-making music = folkloric music

This morning, it was sun-shiny and hot, so I decided to take a long walk through my neighbourhood. I walked past a small square, on a busy boulevard, past an old man playing an accordion on a park bench. He smiled at me and called out after me:

Ça c’est de la musique folklorique. De la bonne musique! On peut faire l’amour en écoutant cette musique.

For you non Frenchies, out there, let me translate: This is folkloric music. Good music! Love-making music.

Yes, I can only imagine how many babies have been made because of these jolly toe-taping sounds.