I tell stories

by Sameer Vasta

Snail mail boy living in an email world. Over-user of the discretionary comma.

Read this first

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

One of the summer students at my previous job asked me, over soft-serve cones that we picked up from the ice cream truck on a particularly hot July afternoon, how I was able to plan for my current career, and how she should think about planning her next few years ahead. Never one to turn down the opportunity to dole out some advice—I’m still baffled when people turn to me for advice, particularly in light of the haphazard nature of my life trajectory—I told her that the best way to plan for the future is to not have a plan at all, but instead to prepare herself for the twists and turns that may come.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past thirty-three-and-a-bit years, it’s that nothing really ever goes according to plan, and that a life well-lived is one that embraces that notion of uncertainty.

For the title character of Gabrielle Zevin’s The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry,...

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There is a certain kind of friendship that is wordless, fleeting, transient, yet deep and memorable at the same time. I like to call these “subway friendships.”

If you’ve ever taken a ride on the public transit system of any major urban area, and have done so without having earbuds plugged into your ear or your head buried in a book or in your phone, you have undoubtedly made one or more of these friendships in your lifetime. The pattern is simple: you notice something funny, or interesting, or slightly unique happening on the subway or bus or streetcar, and smile; you quickly realize that someone else in a seat across the way has noticed it too, and you both make the brief eye contact of mutual recognition. Your subway friendship has begun.

In the best of these friendships, you both continue to notice odd or quirky or fascinating things, and you both look to each other each time to...

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Something new.

For the past three and a half years, I have been doing good work for a good organization. The work has been fulfilling and impactful, the people have been friendly and inspiring, and the projects have been challenging but achievable.

Everything was in its place: I had a good job with a decent salary and benefits, I loved my coworkers, I got to sit in heritage building with exposed brick and massive windows every day, and I did work that made a tangible difference in the quality of the lives of the people in this province. Perhaps most importantly, I was really, really good at my job.

A few weeks ago, I left that job for something new.

(I haven’t left forever; instead, I am taking a short-term leave from my long term job to take on a new challenge for six months. While I do expect to return to my previous workplace after this short leave, my future plans still haven’t been set in...

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Summer heat.

Some thoughts about the July gone by.

Yesterday, over my lunch break, I decided to take a walk to the park and sit outside and do some reading. My stack of library books is ever-growing, and there are only so many times you can renew a book before the system starts getting angry at you.

I returned indoors after less than ten minutes.

The heat yesterday was unbearable. With the humidex, we easily broke 100 degrees (closer to 110, actually), and the air was still and stifling. This entire week has been filled with hot, sticky days where you don’t feel like doing anything but sitting in your underwear in your air-conditioned home and eat ice cream.

It is a heat that encourages stasis, not progress.

July has felt like a month of stasis among change. I started a new job (more on that later) but still feel like I haven’t gone anywhere. Wedding planning continues apace, but instead of...

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Diversions: July

A selection of essays, articles, and blog posts that inspired me this month.

Ink - Written by Hand
I’ve had quite a few people ask me who did the gorgeous lettering on our wedding save-the-date bookmarks and our website. If you watch this 7-minute documentary, you’ll be able to easily guess it was Tanja. Tanja is one of the most talented photographers I’ve ever met, but she’s also an incredible penpal. Not only is her penmanship stunning, but she is also kind and thoughtful. I’m lucky to know her, and feel extremely lucky and blessed that she shared her beautiful script with L and I for our wedding.

Stop Buying in Bulk
I once read an article that compared the standard sizes of refrigerators in North America and in Europe and used that to explain how we went from “buy groceries many times a week” to “buy groceries in bulk every couple of weeks.” This isn’t that article, but it’s an...

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There will come a time in a conversation with a stranger or a new friend when they will ask me why my work has taken me to so many different countries, why I never stayed in place for too long. The answer I always give, somewhat cheekily, somewhat accurately, is that “I get antsy after more than three years in one city.”

It has been five years since I last moved back to Toronto. Before that, for more than a decade, I jumped from city to city every two or three years, always looking for the next new thing, looking for a new adventure or challenge or just a change of pace and scenery.

About a year after moving back to Toronto, a former friend once laughed and called me a transient, a drifter. He chuckled as he said, in jest and in good nature, that if I had been born a few decades earlier, I would have been among those that rode the freight trains, jumping off in a new town and setting...

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Small ball, long rope.

In third grade, I entered a speech competition in which we were encouraged to use “visual aids” during our presentation. At that time, I was a bit of a budding astronomer, and would pore over books about astronomy, astrophysics, and cosmology, so I knew my speech would have something to do with the cosmos.

(Aside: I once told an adult at another speech competition that I wanted to be a cosmologist when I grew up; that adult tried to correct me and say that the right word was “cosmetologist” and that it was really interesting that I wanted to work with make-up. I tried to correct that adult in the most tactful way I could, telling him that cosmology and cosmetology were completely different things, but he refused to acknowledge that cosmology was an actual scientific pursuit.)

For that speech in third grade with visual aids, I decided to talk about the relationship between planet size,...

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Canada’s racist problem.

A cultural system that values a white voice more than a black one is a problematic system that must be fixed by those same white voices. This argument is masterfully made by Andray Domise, in White Supremacy is Not a Black Problem:

We’re still living in societies that rationalize why black people occupy a lower caste status, are still being disenfranchised, still struggle to receive justice. To be black in North America is to know that our skin negates our expectation of safety, and that any manner of white violence against our bodies will be isolated, explained, and often excused. To be black in North America is to speak out against that white violence done to our bodies, and brace for the retort that “black on black violence” is a more important conversation to have. It is to know that our identities—our art, music, food, and colourful vernacular, and even our skin and hair—only...

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I revisit the books I love regularly; re-reading books, like re-watching movies and television shows, helps me appreciate the style and structure more than I could upon first re-read, when the plot drives my impression.

Starting a few months ago, I began writing reviews of the books I read. (This review of Station Eleven is a good place to start, if you’re interested in checking them out.) Those reviews are mostly based on a single read of the text; I wonder how they would change if I were to write them again, after reading each book for a second or third time.

I read Reading Is Forgetting in the New York Review of Books three times. My first read-through was to grasp the overall message of the article; the second and third readings were more revealing of how Tim Parks structured his essay and of his careful choice of language. He captured, quite well, this dichotomy of wanting to be...

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Diversions: June

A selection of essays, articles, and blog posts that inspired me this month.

Mow the lawn
There is a certain happiness I find in the mundane, in the tasks I must do and sometimes put off because I forget the joy that comes from not just the grand gestures but also in the small, everyday moments of our lives.

Revisiting Jurassic Park’s Tangled Bookish Roots
Lots of interesting facts about how Jurassic Park began as a screenplay turned novel turned screenplay turned cinema franchise. Here’s an interesting one about The Lost World: Crichton didn’t originally want to write a sequel, but Spielberg convinced him that it was the right thing to do.

Some really interesting thoughts here about the difference between technology and “tech” — one of them leading to transformation and skill-development, the other leading to comfort and ease.

Hello, let’s talk about a park
Naming a...

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