I tell stories

by Sameer Vasta

Snail mail boy living in an email world.

Read this first

Train travel, part one.

There are seven children under the age of six years old on this car of the train, car 4, on the way to Ottawa from Toronto. Five of them are boys, and they are all seated a few rows away; I do not get to really get to know them or their mannerisms as they spend their time mostly in their seats, spending the majority of the trip staring into iPad screens either watching videos or playing games. When they do talk, they talk loudly, but do not scream or whine. They are well-behaved children.

There is one young girl, perhaps five years old, in the row behind me, and her behavior can be considered saintly even among a train car full of well-behaved children. She barely speaks the entire ride, instead staring intently at the contents of the stack of books she brought with her in her backpack. Between naps and reading, it is almost possible to forget she is there: I hear her only when she...

Continue reading →

Hot Pink

The main reason I enjoy reading short fiction is because it is a genre that lends itself to experimentation. Unlike longer pieces of fiction, short stories provide a format that allows for play, exploration, and trial and error; it is easier to try something new and crazy in a short story because successes and failures both end after a few pages. The writer quickly moves on, and so do we, as readers.

In Hot Pink, Adam Levin experiments freely and isn’t afraid to fall flat. (He rarely does fall, in this collection.) Mr. Levin’s tinkering with form and style is akin to the rapid prototyping done by the father character in the opening story, Frankenwittgenstein: needs and appetites of the public change quickly, and Mr. Levin is doing his best to keep ahead of the changing reader expectations.

Frankenwittgenstein, like every other short story in the collection, does not end in any kind of...

Continue reading →

Not Quite What I Was Planning / It All Changed In An Instant

How would you describe your life in six words? Writing a six-word story is hard enough; the difficulty of encapsulating a whole life in a few dozen characters feels almost impossible.

Thousands of people have tackled this daunting task, and the folks at online storytelling magazine SMITH decided to collect the best ones and publish them in a multitude of collections. The first two collections, Not Quite What I Was Planning and It All Changed In An Instant, are easy to consume in a short sitting; I devoured the hundreds of six-word memoirs in both collections while lying in the hammock after lunch on a sunny afternoon. The first collection is much more powerful than the second, probably as a function of putting the best submissions in the first book without realizing that there would be enough for many more publications, but both have standout inclusions that either had me laughing,...

Continue reading →


The first thing I do when I walk into any new building is to look straight up. My eyes are drawn to the ceiling immediately, and I often stand there, just inside a doorway, transfixed by the textures and patterns in the solid above me.

I have been accused, once in a while, of having my head in the clouds, of not noticing what is directly in front of me or below my feet. I trip on cracks in the sidewalk more often than I should, and have done my fair share of walking into mailboxes. The accusation, however, is inaccurate — instead, my head is in the ceiling, in the tops of the built environment around us. Even when I am outdoors, I am admiring the structures on the street, wondering what they would look like if I was standing inside them and looking straight up at the sky.

The decision to move into our current home in Cabbagetown was made for a multitude of reasons, but part of it was...

Continue reading →

Give a little.

There’s a board game I owned about a decade ago that included a box full of cards; on each card was a deep, philosophical question. They were questions that challenged the player to think deeply and widely at the same time, and to answer in a way that reflected not just our answer to the question, but how we came to that answer in the first place.

It was an exercise in philosophy, disguised as a board game.

I don’t remember the name of the game, but I do remember that it was targeted at adults. At the time, I never questioned that targeting, but recently I’ve been wondering: why couldn’t those same questions be asked of children?

Brila, a charitable organization based in Montreal but with programs across the country, has been wondering that same thing for several years, now. The premise behind Brila is simple: young people have the capacity to think deeply and articulate those...

Continue reading →


At first, I thought that I didn’t enjoy Russell Smith’s Confidence because all the characters are the kinds of people I abhor: well-off, young, hip, upper-middle class Torontonians that don’t do anything productive with their time or money but still find it in them to complain about how life is so hard and how nobody can ever understand their existential anguish. None of them acknowledge any of their privilege, and instead use that privilege to abuse—mentally, emotionally, financially, to varying levels—those that are less fortunate than them. In between their wanton drug use and insatiable sex drives and borderline alcoholism, they whine about not being able to get everything they want, without realizing that they get so much more than the rest of the world around them.

That’s when I realized that while I didn’t enjoy Russell Smith’s Confidence, I certainly respected and admired his...

Continue reading →

Station Eleven

The opening pages of Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven introduce you to a couple of mixed race living in Cabbagetown (Toronto) who are about to face an infectious disease epidemic. As someone who currently is in a mixed-race relationship living in Cabbagetown with an infectious disease doctor, the resonance in the novel for me began very, very early.

Very quickly, there is no more Cabbagetown, no more Toronto. The Georgia Flu, a pandemic like none I’ve ever read about before, rapidly wipes out the majority of humanity; those who remain are reduced to looting, rioting, and crime. A select few form settlements and begin life anew, a post-apocalyptic life that, in Station Eleven, feels much richer than the lives we normally see in tales after the apocalypse. The man from the mixed-race Cabbagetown couple marries a survivor and trains himself to be a physician in this new world, a...

Continue reading →

A quick podcast inventory.

Here’s the thing about purging: sometimes, you end up adding even more than when you started.

A few months ago, when I said I was getting rid of all of my podcast subscriptions and then re-adding podcasts judiciously I didn’t realize that I’d be sitting here, three months later, with just as many podcasts in my queue. Some of the names are different, but in the end, I still have too many unplayed episodes in my playlist, and it looks like I won’t ever catch up.

This morning, I added Starlee Kline’s new Mystery Show to my podcast rotation. A quick response tweet from the folks at Normative made me look back at Overcast and see what subscriptions I still had, and how that list has changed since February.

  • 99% Invisible (Radiotopia)
  • Ask Me Another (NPR)
  • Burnt Toast (Panoply)
  • B.S. Report (Grantland)
  • Common Sense with Dan Carlin
  • Culture Gabfest (Panoply)
  • Dan Carlin’s Hardcore...

Continue reading →

Surfaces and Essences

If the goal of reading a book is to learn something about yourself or about life itself, then the most important thing I learned from reading Surfaces and Essences is to never ignore the sticky notes another reader has left in the front of the book.

I picked up Surfaces and Essences from the library, as I do most books, and upon opening it, I discovered someone named Libby had left a note inside to be read before beginning the book. Being slightly obstinate, I ignored her pleas to stop and read her notes before rifling through the book.

Libby's Note

The full text of her note is below. I’ve also included a photo of the note above, as I’m quite impressed with her choice of stationery and her very nice handwriting.

Stop! Before you go any farther — before you dedicate a minute, an hour, a day (or days) on this book, there is something you need to know: it’s not worth your time. There. I said it. It...

Continue reading →

Friday night fights.

My father’s favorite boxer is Sonny Liston. At least, I think it is; I haven’t asked him recently and my memory from childhood is often fickle. I do remember him extolling the virtues of Liston’s fighting technique, however, when we’d boxing matches together, so I have a feeling that I’m remembering correctly. Liston must be my dad’s favorite fighter.

My dad grew up watching Ali and Fraser and Leonard and Liston fight. When I was a kid, he’d regale me with stories all about their epic battles, and how they’d stand up in the ring and take punch after punch, waiting for the right time to strike. He’d tell me about how each fighter had their own style, their own finesse, and how those styles faced off against each other.

Soccer was my dad’s first love—arguably, field hockey and cricket followed behind that—but boxing is what he shared with me when I was young and we had first moved to...

Continue reading →

Subscribe to I tell stories

Don’t worry; we hate spam with a passion.
You can unsubscribe with one click.